The Zero Mile Post marked the meeting of two railway lines and possibly the beginning of the city of Atlanta. Zero Mile is a series of fictionalized stories based on real life in Atlanta, Georgia.
By Nicki Salcedo
Julian held the boy down and punched his face once to get a feel for the motion. The contact with the cheek shocked him. There was bone beneath, and it hurt his hand. It hadn’t occurred to Julian that he would also feel pain.
He hit the kid again and thought, “I shouldn’t do this.” And then he thought, “I hate him. I hate his clothes. I hate the way he smells. I hate his face.” He made a third and final punch, stood up and walked away. He’d probably broken his thumb. It had been tucked into his fist. He spread and retracted his fingers remembering that you keep your thumb next to your fist not inside. Julian would need an ice pack for his knuckles and an explanation for his father.
He wasn’t a bully. He was trying to make things right. Certain people made him mad, and it was hard to predict who might trouble him.
A black woman in the store was too tall and thin and dark. She was ugly. Two men walked closed to each other, not romantic close, but just closer than was natural. Julian knew about what was right in nature. Big noses or big smiles weren’t natural. Women with unshaved legs. Men with bellies that flopped over their waistlines. People who wanted happiness. They were sick. There were so many people to hate.
Julian wanted those people to go away.
Chuck avoided the internet. Worse than a backyard beating, 140 characters would await him at night if he dared look at social media. There was a meme of his senior picture that read “Pro-Life Except This One!” This was the kindest of the insults. The rest were personal. The hatred was like a love letter from Julian to Chuck. The hatred was a disease that was spreading. Julian had caught it from someone else.
Chuck was strong with unblemished skin. His cheek had a dimple on one side. Girls liked Chuck because he did the right thing all the time. Girls liked Julian because he did the wrong thing all the time.
It took every bit of Chuck’s strength to lay on the ground and take the beating. He stayed on the pavement deciding what to do. He could’ve sat up and knocked Julian to the ground. Chuck liked to turn the other cheek. Julian knew that.
Chuck didn’t realize how much the quick beating would hurt him in the following weeks. The culmination of years of tormenting stung. He’d become accustomed to the apprehension he felt every time he saw Julian. He could understand how boxers got used to the fight. It changed the way the world looked. Too bright, too visible, too broken. Being bullied changed how the air smelled when he inhaled, now always like blood.
He wouldn’t fight back. There was no winning these arguments. He’d seen it in the world. Age seventeen and he already understood that was no such thing as debate or discussion or finding commonality. It was us and against them. Women versus men. Color versus empty canvases. Love versus hate. Hate was a good and viable choice these days.
Why not be Darth Vader? He would say he is pro the life of one, while choking the life out of another. Chuck was beginning to see the world through Julian’s eyes. Keep only those perfect and right. It’s a different kind of love. Why not destroy the world? We didn’t deserve it anyway.
Why worry about zombies on Poplar Street when there were worse things lurking in cyberspace and on the playground? Humans, happy when inflicting pain. Fearful humans hungry for flesh.
To them, Chuck looked delicious.
Chuck had learned at an early age that the worst thing to call another person was stupid. He didn’t call Julian stupid. He knew that Julian’s brain didn’t work the way it was supposed to.
Better descriptions were sad, self-loathing, sycophant. Julian sat across from Chuck at the coffee shop.
Chuck spoke in a low deep voice the opposite of his ice blue eyes. Voice like night, eyes like the morning.
“There are three kinds of people in this world. Bullies, victims, and those strong enough to be neither,” Chuck said. “The world loves extremists, no matter what they say to the contrary. You bully people until you fundamentally change who they are. You are an infection. That’s good. That shows power. If you really are a perfect specimen, show the world. Don’t just bully me. All we’ll see is what you hate about yourself and wonder who hurt you. You only hate me because I was there that day. I remember. I saw. It happened to me, but I didn’t let it change me.”
Julian and Chuck could’ve been twins, but they weren’t. They were only brothers.
Julian thought about the book deals and speaking engagements and followers he’d one day attract. Every villain needed a backstory. Chuck was wrong. One day they’d all feel his pain. Julian hadn’t changed. His power was always staying the same.
Nicki Salcedo knows the loops and the backroads of Atlanta. She is a novelist, blogger and working mom. Zero Mile stories will appear on the Atlanta Loop on Wednesdays.