What follows is a chapter from the rough draft of Mencken and the Lost Boys. Please excuse any spelling or grammatical errors. This is raw and unedited. Mencken and the Lost Boys will be published in the Fall of 2017. (Featured image by William Stitt on Unsplash) Enjoy!
Simon glanced at the score board. Twenty seconds left and his team was ahead 120 to 22. Simon wasn’t completely sure, but figured close to 80 of those points were his. He laughed, shook his head, and nudged number 55 with his elbow. 55, a tall and slender kid with patchy peach fuzz on his face, had been trying to guard Simon all night, but he wasn’t fast enough or agile enough for the job. Unfortunately, he was the best his team had.
“Watch this, you little bitch,” Simon said smiling at him. “I’m about to make this an even 100.” Simon had given 55 the nickname “little bitch” in the 1st quarter when Simon had taken the ball from him and then dunked on him.
55 frowned with determination and wiped sweat from his eyes.
“Are you crying, little bitch?” Simon said taking a defensive stance against 55, positioning himself to see the throw-in with one eye and 55 with the other. “Oh, I’m gonna make you cry because you’re my little bitch,” Simon said.
The referee blew the whistle and handed the ball to 55’s teammate who was standing out of bounds. 55 stepped right and then cut back left, hoping to shake Simon off, but Simon was too quick. Snatching the ball before 55 could get a hand on it, Simon dribbled away from the basket, out to the three-point arch. 55 covered him with intensity, as it this were the first twenty seconds of the game, not the last. Simon dribbled effortlessly with both hands, keeping his body between the ball and 55.
He glanced at the clock. Twelve seconds left. “You ready, little bitch,” Simon said. “Here it comes.”
The crowd began to chant with glee, “Ten! Nine! Eight! Seven!”
Simon lunged forward like he was going to make a drive for the basket. 55, trying to keep up with the quick step, became tangled in his own feet and fell. With a quick step backward, looking at 55 on the floor, Simon retreated back behind the three-point line.
“Four! Three! Two!” the crowd screamed.
On “two,” Simon released the ball in a graceful arch. It soared through the air. The net snapped as the ball passed through it making no contact with the rim. The crowd exploded with joy.
Simon walked over to where 55 sat on the ground. The teen’s head rested on his knees. Simon thought he could hear sniffling coming from his opponent. This was the moment Simon loved the most, seeing the other team defeated. The look on their face when they have to admit that he is better than them. Simon poked 55 in the shoulder to get the kids attention. Leaning down close to 55’s ear, Simon said, “I’d say good game but you played like a little bitch tonight. I’m a future NBA Hall-of-Famer, bitch. Don’t you ever come out on the court with me again.”
Before 55 could respond, Simon’s team mobbed him, pulling him away from his fallen opponent, screaming and jumping in celebration.
The post-game wrap up was always a slow let down from Simon. There was the coach’s speech in the locker-room intended to rally them for the next game, then the laughing and joking in the showers with the rest of the team. Then sitting at the bus stop, waiting for the bus to take him home. Then the ride back to his neighborhood, alone on a city bus, wanting to sleep, trying to sustain the high of the game, but knowing all that waited for him was a silent house, his grandmother asleep on the couch, and an old mattress on the floor of his bedroom.
Simon stepped off the bus. His eyes hurt and wanted to close. His feet dragged on the sidewalk as he walked. His stomach rumbled, complaining that there wouldn’t be any food waiting for him at home. He was so tired and physically exhausted from the game, he didn’t notice the group of boys following him.
“Hey!” a boy yelled from behind him. “Hey, little bitch.”
Simon turned to see four teens getting out of a black Ford. He recognized all of them from the game. 55 seemed to be the leader of the pack. While the other three hesitated, 55 moved with the aggressive determination of a man on a mission.
“Remember me, bitch,” 55 said.
Simon managed a smile. “Yeah,” he said. “You’re the punk ass little bitch I left crying on the court. You come back to get your ass handed to you again.” Despite the complaints from his exhausted muscles, Simon held up his fists like he’d seen boxers do in movies, ready for a fight. He could feel the adrenaline returning to his system.
“You still got shit to say to me, huh?” 55 said with a laugh. Reaching to the small of his back, the teen produced a gun.
Although Simon saw the weapon and turned to run, he wasn’t fast enough. His knee was struck with a searing pain, he collapsed to the ground, and then he heard the loud bang of the gun firing. Looking down in terror, Simon saw his blood pouring from where the bullet had torn a hole in his leg.
55 walked toward Simon, gun extended. “Who’s laughing now, little bitch?”
Tears flowed from Simon’s eyes as he tried to hold his leg and back away from 55 at the same time.
The hot barrel of the gun sizzled as 55 pressed it against Simon’s knee. Simon shrieked in pain. 55 moved in so close Simon could feel 55’s breath on his cheek. “Don’t you ever come out on the court with me again,” 55 said. And then pulled the trigger, eradicating the structure of Simon’s knee.
Before passing out, Simon watched the black car pull away, knowing the future of pro-ball he’d imagined for himself was gone forever.