CHAPTER ONE: This is The Hand.
Every day you wake up in this house is like waking up in a World War Two trench. Often, one is sprung into consciousness by an explosion of dishes hitting the metal sink, the cries of boys threatening to kill each other over the largest pancake, or by a brother’s tight grip, shaking you to end your slumber. That brother would be Desmond; anxious to inform me of the coming barrage of hellish young boy’s taunts and pranks, or of the verbal abuse of Madam Rugg the campus director, however we considered her more of a warden.
Our tiny “war-ravaged battleground” was an all-boys military school by the name of Helping Hands School for Wayward Boys, or The Hand as we had taken to calling it.
After driving three hours south of Reno, Nevada on interstate-395, you came to a small exit that quickly turned from wide asphalt freeway to vague desert dirt-road; marked only by its slight elevation of about a half-foot off the desert floor. The road, which resembled a long and winding burial mound, was the only route to The Hand’s campus; four white rectangular buildings that formed a corner-less square, centered around a large glass dome-building roughly two school bus-widths in circumference we called, The Nipple. The domed headquarters served as The Warden’s primary office and sleeping quarters. As well as the church where we attended Sunday mass. The four surrounding-buildings were named for the direction they represented on a compass, N Bldg., E Bldg., etc., and each served as a hub for the vital aspects of our existence.
N Building served as the multitude of classrooms where the boys and young men pursued a basic High School degree, with dusty and torn textbooks and sitting upon splintered and worn over-used school desks. The western-building housed the mess hall where one could get their fill of an oatmeal and bowls of “mystery meat stew”. S-Building was used as a recreation center where the young men could work out with a limited variety weights, outdated lifting-based machines, and creaky old treadmills that could barely withstand the weight of the smallest of the boys; and the eastern-building was made into an incredibly cramped array of halls and small rooms holding 4 bunk beds to a unit.
Thirty years ago, the facility was a military base used to train marines due to its high altitude and harsh climate. Now, its purpose was to house, educate, and discipline juvenile delinquents and orphaned male-youth. At one point I think The Hand may have looked like a strong, and impenetrable military establishment, garnered with bombs the size of sedans and polluted by the sounds of gunfire and drill commands. Now, it was a desert-ghost of its former self; over-ran with angsty young men and boys resembling a more militant and civilized scene from “Lord of The Flies”.
This particularly morning I wake to Des’s piercing sky-blue gaze situated inches from my own crusty face as he violently pulls me into the waking-world.
“Get the fuck up, Daemon.”
“The other seniors are up Hunter’s ass again.”
I wiped away the dust that had caked under my eyes during the night and stood up shakily before Des.
“Where are they?” I inquire, sheepishly.
“They’re in the mess hall on the other side of campus, so fucking move your ass!”
Des sounds like a barking dog, the way the rasp of his voice crackles slightly over his baritone pitch.
As he barks, Des pulls me by the already stretched collar of the white Hanes under-shirt we were all given to sleep in at night. I struggle to keep pace with him as he forces me forward through the narrow white door of Bunk Unit 9, and into the almost equally narrow hallway outside. Our bunk unit is in the first hallway to the left after entering the thick-grey-armored door that served as the only entrance or exit to the decrepit barracks.
In what feels like only three short strides we barrel out into the court-yard; greeted by the harsh reflection of the desert-Sun against the boundless dry white terrain.
The distance from E Bldg. to W Bldg. was more-or-less the length of 2 football fields, and in seconds Des’s long strides turn to a full sprint with me still forcibly in-tow. A cloud of dust trails behind us as Des’s feet glide effortlessly over white-sand, and my own tumble over each other, struggling more now to keep pace.
Des was always much more athletic than I, despite the similarity in our tall and lanky physiques.
“What’s happened this time?” I manage to choke the words out between gasps for air.
“Same thing as always; those sadist motherfuckers got bored and needed a toy to entertain themselves.” Des barks ferociously as if calling-out the perpetrators to their faces.
We come to the thick armored door that served as the identical entrance to the western-building. Des near rips the hinges from the frame as he pulls and throws-aside the heavy mass of metal. He proceeds into the dimly lit expanse of long tables and plastic blue chairs that made up the mess-hall; my self being drug behind like a child’s ragdoll. In the left the corner, near the beginning of the assembly line where the boys would line up for their daily “meal”, is a group of The Hand’s more malicious senior-boys standing in a half-circle around what sounds like an injured animal’s whimpers.
The whimpers belonged to Hunter, a junior at The Hand whose sensitivity was overshadowed only by his weight. Hunter was a portly, rosy-cheeked boy of around five and a half feet tall and of Irish decent. His dusty red hair sat haphazardly in a bowl-cut atop his round, freckle-spattered face, and two small green eyes peered out from behind the crests of his cheeks as they swelled under his eyelids like pink Hostess Sno-Balls. He was crouched in the fetal position, encircled by Gary, Dominic, and Jake. Three acne-ridden, yet tall and muscular young men, each adjourned with dark brown high-and-tight military fades. Each had brown eyes; aside from Dominic whose eyes were a similar piercing blue color to Desmond’s.
The worst part about being bullied by the three adolescent and hormonal nightmares that made up Dom and his gang, was that it was like being bullied by three clones of the same angsty prick.
“The hell do you think you’re doing Domonique!” Des Shouts, releasing my collar and stomping heavily towards the boys. Fists balled and trembling.
“That squealing pig belongs to me, and I’ll kill the man that lays a hand on my bacon!”
Hunter looks up and smiles with relief at the sight of us, despite Des’s insult.
Dominic, Gary, and Jake look in unison in the direction of the taunt, fists clenching as they turn. Ready at a moments’ notice to fight, as we had all grown accustomed.
Gary spoke first. “Funny, I don’t see your name writte-“. Gary’s words are cut short as Desmond’s first punch crashes against the bridge of Gary’s pimple-crusted nose.
Des stepped back and looked at his swelling fist, then at me with a crooked grin.
“Uh-oh. What have I done Dae?”
I grin back at him.
“You fucking prick.” I whisper exasperatedly.
Jake and Dom pounce like lions on Desmond, quickly bringing him down to the linoleum floor with a hard smack. A mass of swinging arms and loud grunts erupted as Des fights back fiercely against the stronger two boys. I take a step toward the fray and feel a hard, blunt-mass dig into my side lifting me nearly a foot from the ground, breaking my center-of-gravity, and sending me crashing against one of the long white mess hall tables. I look up just in time to see Gary charging at me once more; face and teeth covered in blood as it flows from both nostrils and drips from the cleft of his chin. He lands with a hard thud atop my diaphragm forcing every ounce of air from my lungs and brings his right fist down squarely between my eyes. Blood splatters against my cheeks and lips as he exhales hard and strikes again with his left fist. The blow glances my right eye socket and a flash of light overtakes my vision as the blood pouring down the back of my throat chokes off any attempt at reflating my lungs with precious air. I fall to the floor as Gary lifts his weight from me and I feel the hard steel of the toe of his boot dig into my ribs. I give up on breathing and lie still. The sharp bite of the boot returns to my side several times before receding to a dull thud as my consciousness began slip away from me. My vision of the surrounding room grows foggy and the grunts and taunts being spat by the boys continuing to fight sound as if they were coming from the inside of a bank-vault. I look lazily up to my right to see Des with his back pinned to the ground, kicking violently as Jake holds his shoulders and arms against the hard linoleum. Dom straddles his torso showering him with a barrage of hard jabs.