Max is chased by a crazy kid with a staple gun and ends up on the roof of Gangren, alone.
|Beginnings and Ends
Flying high over the news that he was getting out, Max raced through the maze of hallways and stairwells inside Gangren. He didn't run into another soul all the way up to the fourth floor since everybody was still in the cafeteria. It was Thursday and that meant lime Jello for desert. The line was probably a hundred boys deep, nearly the full population. For some reason, delinquents seemed to love that stuff. At the moment, Max couldn't have loved it more.
Max was in his empty room happily stuffing his few possessions into his pillow case when Zippler appeared in the doorway, leaning long and loose against the frame. Max startled at his sudden appearance but kept packing.
"Woa. It's a dead man walking!" Zippler's voice was coarse and choppy.
"I'm just standing, but I'll be walking soon, right out of here."
"Doubt it, dude. Spaz is like totally nuts over you spitting acid in his eyes last night. He's packing a freakin' staple gun with your name on it!"
Max stopped breathing and brought his attention to Zippler. "A staple gun, are you kidding me? He's crazy! Did he go blind or something?"
Zippler laughed, short little bursts that seemed to not involve actually moving any air. "You wish, dude! You wish! Then you wouldn't be so dead!"
"Do me a favor, Zippler, okay?" Max pleaded. "Don't tell him where I am. I just want to get out of here on one piece, that's all."
Again with the airless laugh. "You kiddin' me, Berger? Screw you. I just sent a kid to go get him. Should be here any sec."
Max's nerves fired all at once. "You suck, Zippler!"
"Yeah, I pretty much do."
Crap! Knowing he had to get out fast, Max left the rest of his clothes and his toothbrush in the drawer and hopped across the two beds between him and Zippler.
"Run, run, little man!" Zippler said, as Max shoved past.
In the hallway, Max froze. What to do? He was on the fourth floor. Too far to call for Mr. Braun. Could be possibly make it through the corridors and stairwells without running into Spaz on the way up?
"Berger!" Spaz's voice, not close but not far off, rose up from the stairwell. "I'm gonna' kill you, you little freak!"
Max's heart started pounding. He was screwed -- or stapled more accurately -- if he didn't do something quickly. In seconds he'd be trapped. Max ran back into the room, not sure what to do until he remembered the fire escape. Perfect! He ran to the window, and tried to open it. It didn't budge.
"Snefler found that open last night and nailed it," Zippler said.
Checking the frame. Zippler was right. It had been hastily nailed shut. Crap! That had to be against a dozen safety codes, right? Now what?
He could hear loud footfalls on the stairs, giving him only seconds before Spaz arrived. Worried that what he was about to do was crazy, he grabbed a metal stool nearby and threw it at the window as hard as he could.
Glass sprayed in every direction.
"Check it out!" Zippler squawked.
Bits of ice were still landing on the ground when Spaz showed up in the doorway, holding an industrial staple gun. He was wearing dark sunglasses, making him look a little like a blind person and a little like a mafia hit man. About twenty other kids were behind him, gore watchers. Spaz started running forward, his face twisted with anger. "I'm gonna staple your mouth shut and your eyes closed, Berger!"
Max gasped and spun around. Taking two giant steps and putting aside all caution, he dove through the hole in the window. In a cascade of glass, he landed hard on the metal landing and banged into the bars behind hit, hitting his head hard enough that things went blurry and he couldn't orient himself well enough to get up.
Spaz showed up in the window, pushing and grunting, managing only to get his head and one shoulder through. He was just too big to fit. "Get over here, Berger!"
Unsteadily, Max got up, staying clear of Spaz, who looked about to explode with frustration. His arm was extended as far as he could, aiming the staple gun at Max's chest.
Max wondered if he would be stupid enough to...
Plink! Plink! Plink!
Three staples struck Max in the chest. They bounced off, not even piercing his t-shirt let alone his skin, and fell to the metal floor below in three tiny plinks.
"Wow, Spaz," Max laughed. "I've never seen anything so pathetic in all my life."
"You maggot! I'm going to kill, I get the chance!"
Max headed for the stairs. "Sorry, but you are NOT going to get that chance, Spaz -- see ya!"
"I thinks he might," Zippler said from the platform of the fire escape one floor below. "Spaz -- there's a door down heres. I'll keep him back."
Spaz thundered off inside, heading for the floor below.
"That was pretty smart," Max said, trying to think of how to get past Zippler, who had planted himself square across the stairs leading below. "for a guy with pepperoni for brains."
"We'll see who's pepperonis in a minute, Berger."
"That makes no sense at all," Max said, trying to shove past.
Zippler shoved Max back and spread his arms. He was as scrawny but strong like a madman. "Screw you!"
A rumble arose from inside as Spax and the twenty onlookers rumbled down the interior stairs. Max felt panic rise up inside him. Zippler wasn't just blocking between him and escape from Spaz, he was between him and a foster home! Coming up with a crazy plan, Max turned and started racing up the stairs.
"Oh, now that's smart," Zippler called. "ain't nowhere to get in that way!"
Max ignored him and kept running, hoping his plan would work. A second later Spaz burst through the door and Max heard him start to give chase on the stairs below.
Max only had a two flight lead, and he hoped it would be enough to complete his plan. He put the pillow case in his teeth, and when he reached the sixth floor platform, he climbed up on the railing to bring himself eye level with he top of the building. He pushed, trying to swing his leg over it, but his arms weren't strong enough. Spaz was only one flight away now, and growling.
"Here I come, Berger!"
Only one option. Max bent his knees and jumped. His whole body lurched upward and slightly out over the six story gap between him and the ground. His heart nearly leapt out of chest as he desperately pulled with his arms and just barely managed to use the force of the jump to get his leg up over the edge. That's when Spaz reached the top landing, stretched out, and grabbed the pillow case dangling from his mouth to stop him from going any further.
"You ain't going nowhere, Berger!"
Max opened his mouth to release the pillow case. While all of his possessions in the world tumbled out, he pulled himself quickly up onto the roof of Gangren and backed away from the edge, wondering if Spaz was crazy enough to follow. He heard arguing below.
"Yous guys, get me up there, now!"
"Us lift you, Spaz?"
"A bunch of yous together! Now do it! Give me a leg up!"
With Spaz on his way, Max realized time was limited. Ignoring the bruises and cuts on his thighs and forearms, he ran to the far edge of the building, hoping against hope that he had been right about the distance to the roof of the building across the alley.
He hadn't. In his mind, he imagined it to be just six feet or so, but it was a good ten. Quite a jump, even if he was in great shape, which he wasn't. His legs were badly beaten up and he was worn out from fleeing. He looked back at the edge and saw Spaz's arm come over it, putting the stapler down on the roof before his head appeared.
"Higher, you morons!" Spaz called to his helpers below.
Max felt panic running through him like hot acid. Should he attempt the jump? Was that crazy? Was it worth dying to get out of this?
Spaz's chest rose up above the edge of the roof and then his leg while Max stood paralyzed, unable to think of what to do. He backed up and ran at the gap, stopping short at the edge, trying to imagine making it across. It seemed nearly impossible that he wouldn't fall short. Down below in the alley, six stories below, some guy was standing in a streak of sunlight smoking a cigarette near a dumpster and grease barrel. Max figured he'd probably land on the grease barrel. Ugly way to die.
He turned around to see if maybe he could negotiate with Spaz and was shocked to find him already on the roof and charging like a rhino, an ugly, murderous grimace on his face. Max's heart nearly exploded out of his chest. There was no doubt -- Spaz intended to push him over the edge. Who would ever know?
Moving quickly, Max ducked and turned out of Spaz's path.
Spaz tried to change course, but his foot tripped on an exhaust vent and he lurched forward onto the roof, a few feet from the edge. Then while Max watched, horrified, Spaz tumbled once and went right over and out of sight.
"No!" Max screamed.
Everything stopped. Literally stopped. Clouds froze in the sky. Planes stopped buzzing. Horns stopped beeping. Sirens froze solid. Max wasn't able to move a muscle, but he was aware of white light coming from all around him, radiating outward. It was if some magical presence had descended and taken over. It wanted something from Max. It wanted him to decide if Spaz should die or not. Max's answer came from deep inside him. "No -- save him. He's an idiot, but he doesn't deserve to die!"
There was a flash of light over the edge where Spaz had fallen and then the world sparked up again as if it had never stopped. Sirens, horns, buzzing planes, clouds, all came back to normal. Max raced to the edge. No Spaz hanging on. No Spaz falling. No Spaz splattered below on the grease barrel. Everything was normal.
Except for one thing.
On the opposite wall of the alley, a white shape was drifting slowly along, a tall, wide figure in the shape of Spaz, only made out of light.
Max watched it, unable to believe his eyes. What had just happened? Just how powerful was this orb he'd swallowed anyway?
"Max!" a familiar voice called out.
Max jumped and spun around. Mr. Braun had come out of the maintenance door and was walking toward him. Max shook his head, feeling tingly and unreal.
"Max?" Mr. Braun came up close, eyes concerned. "What's going on? You're all banged up and you look like you've just seen --"
"-- don't say it," Max blurted out. "It's so cliche. I'm okay, really. I got a little banged up on the fire escape. No worries. I'll heal. How did you know to come up here?"
"Gee, not sure but maybe it was the kids running down the hall screaming Berger and Spaz are fighting on the roof! Hey -- where is Spaz anyway? You push him over the edge?"
"No," Max said a little too quickly. He realized he needed a story to cover what had just happened. He knew it wasn't his fault, but he felt as guilty as if he'd just committed murder or something. But he'd saved Spaz, hadn't he? And it wasn't his fault Spaz had toppled over the edge. Spaz had been trying to kill him! "No, I meant, I...I...uh lucked out, I guess. Spaz is afraid of heights. He freaked out and headed back down the fire escape."
Mr. Braun chuckled. "Your lucky day, eh?"
"Yeah, something like that."
"C'mon. There are good people waiting to meet you." Mr. Braun turned and headed toward the maintenance door.
Max followed, feeling numb and dirty somehow, the excitement of leaving Gangren tainted now with fear of what the future might hold.