“Fairy tales do not tell children that monsters exist. Children already know that monsters exist. Fairy tales tell children that monsters can be defeated.”
You thought that monsters didn’t exist…but they do.
Everybody has the potential to be a monster.
It lives inside all of us, either hiding buried deep down in the shadows or indeed teetering on the very edge of escape.
No matter where it resides though, it is always waiting for its moment to be set free.
This particular monsters name was Richard ‘Rich’ McGrath and he had once been my closest friend.
For many years we had been as thick as thieves, always hanging around with one another down by the Spanish arch or the ‘Sparch’ as we liked to call it.
We’d spend countless hours/days/nights going on adrenaline and imagination filled adventures.
We were together every chance we got much to the dissatisfaction and worry of our poor mothers of course who would be unable to relax until our return each night.
This was largely due to the sheer number of skinned knees/elbows and the unfortunate incident of a broken bone or two we picked up along our travels.
However, the summer before we started our second year of secondary school it all just changed.
Rich hit a bit of a growth spurt and suddenly gone were the days of him being a short and awkward kid, he was now this near 6’2 giant of a man who could easily be mistaken for an 18-20 year old.
Along with the growth spurt came a sharp rise in popularity and the inevitable ego and bad attitude that comes with it. We slowly started to drift apart, so much so that by the time that school started again he had new ‘cooler’ group of friends and our friendship was but a mere distant memory.
Life went on as it always does after this; I went on and made new friends in some of the new school transfer kids while Rich grew closer and closer the ‘gruesome twosome’ that were Donnie and Max, people who seemed destined and intent on heading down the darkest path they could find in life.
Things came to a head one seemingly innocuous Wednesday when I was walking alone down an empty and gloomy hallway after a particularly intense guitar lesson in the band practice room.
I was strumming away on my air guitar when I noticed Rich and his friends sniggering as they headed into an empty classroom. Finding myself more than a little curious as to what they were up to, I inched quietly up to the now closed door and looked in the small square window.
At the back of the classroom stood Rich, with Donnie and Max standing at either side of him.
They were standing over another student who I didn’t recognize, Donnie and Max were seemingly edging Rich’ on to hit the student on the ground
From my vantage point, it was obvious former friend was undecided about what to do, there was hesitation in his movements and for a few brief moments, I harboured hopes that there might actually be a happy ending to the situation.
That hesitancy lasted only a moment however and once passed, he struck the unknown student in the stomach with two fierce kicks, this act bringing laughter to the group as he did so.
In that moment time seemed to slow down and I was left with a decision to make.
I could either decide to stay in the shadows and do absolutely nothing to help this person, who I didn’t know and who was in trouble or I could step out and face the ‘monster’ that now was my old comrade Rich’.
I chose the latter and entered the room not knowing what I was going to do when I was in there, just that I knew it was right.
My heart was beating wildly in my chest as I shouted ‘Hey! What do you think you’re doing Rich?’
The three stooges turned their attention to me instead, giving the felled student time to slip out the side door. As he left the room he gave me a quick nod of thanks and then he was gone.
While I was glad of his escape, I was now faced with the prospect of getting a kick in the stomach myself.
It came quicker than I expected, but it didn’t knock me and I decided there and then that I wasn’t going to run away and give them the satisfaction of an easy victory, I was going to stand and fight.
A brief attempt at reasoning with my former friend came nothing so I bravely took a swipe at him, thinking it was my only option. My half effort missed however and I was rewarded with another cheap shot in the back and I soon found myself on the ground feeling quite dazed as I waited for the final blow.
My saving grace however came in the form of passing teacher which resulted in my opponents quickly leaving the room via the side door.
As Rich’ was leaving he pointed his finger at me and warned me not to say a word to anyone.
Once I’d dusted myself off, I got up and left the room a little bruised but okay enough to go on for the rest of the day.
This was the first time I had been faced with the monster that was now residing within my former friend and I was admittedly a little scared at what he’d become.
I wasn’t going to leave it go though, I wouldn’t run into the shadows to hide, if something like this ever happened again, I would be ready.
So it began that over the next few weeks or so I set about coming up with some sort of a plan that I could use to stop Rich’, Donnie and Max from bullying or tormenting anybody else in the school.
There was one slight problem with this however.
Rich’ was not only a ‘Grade A’ student, he was also the the youngest ever member of the senior basketball team and was well liked by most teachers in the school.
Obviously, the people that he bullied had a very different view of him, but they were far too intimidated to speak up for themselves.
Continuing my detective work, I went around the school to talk to some of these bullied students to see if they could help me come up with any ideas about how I could put a stop all this.
Alas, all I got from them was their own wish for physical revenge on him for the humiliation he had put them through.
I explained to them that while I was going to stop Rich’ and his ‘wonder twins’ from bullying anyone else in the future, I wasn’t about to become a monster myself to do it.
With the avenues of options seemingly being closed off around me, I decided to take a different tactic.
Over the few weeks I started to make little observations on Rich’ and his daily life within the school. I noted at how he played the ‘good polite boy’ card in the presence of adults, there was nothing new here. I did however notice how he seemed to act particularly good this one girl who he seemed to like.
To me, she seemed to be a sweet type and pretty down to earth aswell. She certainly didn’t really look like the type of girl who would put up with a person that bullied others.
I’d found my way in.
It was simple enough really, all I had to do to stop Rich’ and his cronies was to make him and them believe that there was a chance that I could damage their popularity if he continued to do what he was doing to others.
I set a Friday as my target date, Rich’ would be busy at basketball practice for most of the day which gave me plenty of time to get what I needed to do done.
The first thing I had to do was to carefully put a letter into Rich’s locker (he uses the same four numbers for everything) telling him to meet me in one of the study labs.
The second thing I would have to do before everyone started filling into school was to get into the study room where I’d arranged to meet him and plant a camera. This would record the events of the exchange between me and the gang.
To do this I had to enlist the help of Tom from the A.V club, who along with having access to recording equipment and the keys for the room, was also the person that I helped get away from Rich and the ‘Dumb-believable duo’ those few weeks back.
Once everything was in place all I could do was to go on as normal with my day until the time came to go to the room.
At one or two points over the morning between classes I could tell that Rich was watching me, trying to figure out what I was at but he kept his distance, unlike his two minions who on two occasions throughout the day shoved me against a locker.
About ten minutes before lunch I gave my teacher my permission slip that stated that I could leave her class a few minutes early.
Once I had left the class I hurried over to the study room where Tom was waiting to give me the recorder control. He told me that he would be on the other end of the feed making copies of what was about to happen.
I told him that if this was going to work as I had planned, then the recording couldn’t go further than us unless I said otherwise.
He assured me that it wouldn’t and that I had his word.
After Tom left, it wasn’t long before Rich’, Donnie and Max came into the room, clearly annoyed at my ‘request’ and looking for some answers.
Before I could say anything to anyone, I was shoved to the floor by Donnie and kicked repeatedly in the gut before being grabbed by the collar and pushed rather unceremoniously up against the wall by Max.
The pain in my abdomen was excruciating as I steadied myself, I may have had a broken rib or two, but I was determined to not be cowed and so I gritted my teeth against the pain and stood tall against the trio.
Rich had stood by the door watching as the ‘action’ took place, I could see that he was still trying to figure out what I was up to, even now.
With all of this playing on his mind he walked across the room and thrust his rather large fist straight into my abdomen again, causing me to double over in a howl of pain.
“You think you’re being funny…threatening us that you’re going to tell someone about all this! Well, you don’t have the balls to do it and even if you did…who would believe you anyway!”
Ignoring his cockiness, I asked Rich how it had come to this, how he had let himself go so much in such a short space of time.
He eloquently responded by dealing me another punch, and then another.
By this point, I was pretty much beaten, I was almost on my knees with the pain but putting everything I had into staying on my feet.
“Stop, please,” I croaked.
Thinking he had won, they all continued to laugh at the discomfort I was in.
While they were laughing, I slowly got myself together and stood up straight to look Rich’ dead in the eyes and told him all about the little camera that I had recording all of this.
A big grin spread uncontrollably across my face when he heard this.
I pointed out the camera facing at us and all I could think of saying in that moment was “Smile for the camera boys!”
The look of disbelief on their face was priceless, but this soon quickly turned to anger and once again I found myself shoved back up against the wall for my trouble.
Before they had the chance to hit me again though, I said I would make a deal with them.
I told them that if they promised to never bully anyone ever again in any way shape or form and promised to apologise to those students that they had bullied, then I wouldn’t send the video to every single person in the school, including the teachers.
It was then that I saw an anger in Rich’s eyes that I had never seen before and I’m pretty sure he really wanted to hurt me at this point, but I also saw that he knew I was serious about the recording and what I would do with it.
I told them that I was willing to give them a chance to right the wrongs they’d committed and not let the ‘monster’ within them take over fully.
“Why…why are you even giving us this chance?” he asked in a surprisingly quiet voice.
“Everyone deserves a second chance,” I said, looking at him sadly. “Even the worst of us,” I finished before slowly closing the door behind me as I left, wincing with pain as I walked.
Over the next few weeks, I was glad to hear that on more than one occasion that Rich’ and Donnie had started to apologise to all those that they had bullied and were slowly attempting to make amends for what they had done.
Max though, he didn’t attempt anything like this and he alone stayed in the darkness and let his monsters win. Luckily, one of his victims came forward and made an official complaint.
Max was expelled two days later.
I guess not everyone can be saved from themselves…
Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too, they live inside us and sometimes, they win – Steven King.