Hey kid. You may be huge, but you’ve made a pretty good living at the bottom of the heap: you’ve got an end spot at the hip lunch table and when Jennie Perkins laughs at you you’re laughing at yourself, so in a way she’s laughing with you.
Chicken out now and that all disappears. So buck up, tighten the straps of your hand-me-down backpack, and get ready to follow Grant and his friends on one last trip into the abandoned chemical plant before the city tears it down. Keep these few things in mind and you might even live to whine about it.
Do: Lag behind
No one expects you to keep up. Let Grant and his friends cross the rickety bridge first. Just yell “Hey guys, wait up,” “Come on, guys,” and “My pants!” They’ll keep your dignity, you’ll keep your limbs.
Don’t: Look behind
Because you’ll what? Outrun whatever’s chasing you? And honestly, you’re seventh graders. Who’s stalking you? You’re walking towards your gristly death, not running away from it.
Do: Eat tasty looking things you find
Life’s too short. Especially yours.
Don’t: Do anything on a dare.
Is the slim chance of social acceptance worth walking across the slippery pipe that runs over the toxic river? Of course. Do you have a chance in hell of making it to the other side? No. No you don’t.
Do: Act smart
Don’t just whine, “This isn’t a good idea.” It isn’t. We know. Move on. Wow them with “We can use that potato to power our flashlights” or “We can mix some of these old chemicals together and burn the lock off this ominous, rusted hatch in the Unethical Experiments Lab.”
Don’t: Sound smart.
Make the cool kids feel dumb and they’ll make you feel slow, helpless, and trapped in a well.
Do: Bring a bag lunch
You won’t eat it, but when you’re being chased up a ladder and a half-human blob beast grabs at you, it’ll rip open and give them a facefull of processed meat. Plus it’ll make your mom happy.
Do: Befriend your captors
Outcasts trust outcasts. They were turned into a monster by an experiment gone wrong? Trix cereal made you the boy and a half you are today! They were abandoned when they didn’t sweat high fructose corn syrup? Grant just left you to die!
Do: Give a speech
Everyone stares up at the catwalk in shocked silence, their eyes drawn to the switch in your hand. Push the red button and the room below is flooded with Chemical-X, melting Grant and friends while giving Blobbo the chemicals he needs to survive. Walk away and your only real friend dies. It’s only time in your life people will listen to you monologue.
Tell them how the smallest tragedies accumulate silently, like snow in the night, until your life is blanketed and you cannot see the ground. Tell them how you’ve compromised yourself for a smile, how you’ve worked so hard and been given so little. Tell how right the switch feels in your hand right now. Tell them the sound of rushing Chemical-X.
Don’t: Go back to the real world
They couldn’t understand you before. Will they understand you now, with liquid Grant on your hands? Have Blobbo lead you deeper into the plant, past the skulls and crossbones to the door even he is afraid to open.
Do: Drink the potion
The worst thing that could happen? Nothing changes.
Illustration by Brad Jonas