Grimwood Public School was a large coed institution beside the lovely Appalachian Mountains in southwestern North Carolina. It was surrounded by trees and had quite a few still on the grounds. Cars formed a long line down the street, waiting patiently to release the students onto the covered pathway that led to three-story main building. Chase had been to public places plenty of times, but seeing so many people his own age really got his heart pumping.
Chase was a wild thing. His hair was long, light brown, and crept into his vision. Glowing amber eyes peered out through the bangs. His skin had tanned from many, many hours in the outdoors. Perhaps most notable about the fifteen year old boy was his lack of footwear. Shoes only irritated him.
When the car finally pulled up to the drop-off point, Chase’s mother, Margaret, turned and said, “Make lots of friends, Chase. And remember what I said if you are getting picked on.”
Chase nodded and nearly left his bag behind in his hurry to join the crowd. Margaret smiled as he left her boy to enjoy this new world. Chase took in all the laughter, the goodbyes, and yelling teachers as he walked down the path to the main building. The ringing bell snapped him out of the culture shock. He pulled out his schedule as he followed the crowd inside.
He got to his locker and fumbled with the lock a while before giving up on it. Margaret had shown him how to do it but it was not interesting enough to keep Chase’s attention. No matter. With a mighty jerk, he broke the lock off to gain access. A few bewildered students watched this occur and whispered to each other.
When Chase found his classroom, the teacher was not yet there. The thirty or so other kids were talking, joking, or just rubbing their tired eyes. Without the teacher, Chase did not know what to do. He stood awkwardly in the doorway but he was eventually bumped from behind when a short chubby woman waddled in.
“Settle down, settle down,” she demanded as she slapped books down on her desk.
Chase approached cautiously. “Excuse me.”
The teacher pulled glasses out of a shirt pocket and looked Chase up and down. “What do you need?”
“I am new.”
“New? Oh, that’s right.” She rummaged through her bag and pulled out a list. “Ah! You’re Chase Grayson.”
The bell rang again.
“Stay up here with me a moment and I’ll introduce you to everyone.” The teacher straightened her hair and addressed the class. “I said settle down! Now as you all know, my name is Mrs. Benedict. We have a new student joining us today, Chase Grayson. Why don’t you tell us something about yourself, Mr. Grayson?”
Chase cleared his throat. He spoke slowly, each word carefully considered. “My name is Chase. I was… homeschooled until now because I was found in the woods.”
“Well that’s new,” Mrs. Benedict said. “We have to start role call so go ahead and take a seat at an empty desk.”
Chase spotted an empty desk in the back corner of the room. On his way a big boy stuck his leg out in Chase’s path. Chase nimbly danced over it without breaking his stride and then turned to face the boy. He was chubby, but there was muscle under the fat. His head was shaved and when his eyes met Chase’s he smiled mischievously. Chase glared at the boy until the smile faded and he turned away. Only then did Chase continue to his desk. As was his habit, he pulled his feet up onto the chair when he sat. He resembled a perched bird. Once situated, he surveyed the room. Everyone was looking at him.
“Now, class,” Mrs. Benedict said. “I want you all to be nice to Chase. It’s his first day.”
Chase was slammed against a locker by three large boys, the chubby one included, when homeroom let out. The largest, Jake, had Chase pinned against the locker. The other, David, stood beside Bobby. All three had confident, condescending expressions.
“Yes?” Chase asked his attackers.
“You thought you could treat Bobby like that and get away with it?”
“Who is Bobby?”
The chubby boy raised his hand.
“Hello. I am Chase.” Chase waved. Bobby waved back.
“Yeah, we know who you are, home school kid,” Jake said.
“Not that it matters,” the David added. “Whoever you are, you don’t mess with football players here. It’s a lesson you’re going to figure out the hard way.”
“Wait,” Chase said. “You are… bullies?”
The boys laughed. “That’s a word for it.”
Chase let out a low growl and moments later Bobby was on his knees wheezing and clutching his throat, David was flat on his back, and Chase was making Jake kiss the locker. Onlookers gasped and backed away.
“My mother told me to… stand up for myself.” Chase released Jake, who fell to the floor. He then made his way calmly out of the circle and to his next class.
Lunch time came around and Chase followed the masses to the cafeteria. There were plenty of other students with packed lunches, and a line led to world-weary lunch ladies slapping food onto trays. There were a lot of places to sit indoors but Chase spotted a perfectly good tree outside. He went out, secured his lunch box between his teeth, and climbed on up. He was resting on a large branch within seconds, where he started eating. Other students watched his strange act for a while but eventually returned to their own meals.
“Hey, you! Chase!”
Chase looked below. Bobby, Jake, and David were back with two older students.
“Yes?” Chase called down.
“Come down here so we can talk,” Jake said.
“No. You cannot have any.”
“What are you talking about?”
“This is my food. Go away.”
“We don’t want your food. We just want to talk.”
Chase gave them a skeptical look and tossed a blueberry into his mouth. After he swallowed, “No. Get your own.”
“Get down here!” Bobby shouted. He kicked the tree a little too hard, and had to clutch his foot in pain. The commotion finally attracted a teacher.
“What’s going on here?” the teacher asked. He was graying but not balding, and was clearly sleep-deprived. Weary eyes glared through the thick lenses of his glasses.
“Nothing, Dr. Stevens.” The kids dispersed. Jake cast a final glance up at Chase. Dr. Stevens followed his gaze and spotted the climber.
“Hey! Get down from there. You aren’t allowed to climb trees. You can get hurt.”
Chase obeyed his elder and hopped down. “I had to protect my food.”
“Those boys weren’t after your food, kid.”
“Then what did they want?”
“Just stay out of the trees.” Dr. Stevens left with a sigh.
It was then that Chase caught a whiff of something incredible. He sniffed a few more times before spotting long brown hair. He got close and took a big whiff. The smell was intoxicating.
“Hey! What are you doing?”
A blond haired, blue eyed girl sitting beside of the object of Chase’s affection startled him and he stiffened. The sniffed girl also turned to face him. Her brown eyes met Chase’s, and they awkwardly stared at each other for a few moments before the first girl moved around the table and obstructed his view.
“What’s your deal?”
“What did he do?”
“This pervert was sniffing your hair.”
“He was what?”
The commotion attracted onlookers and even Chase knew the situation was going downhill. “I am sorry,” Chase said. “You smell very nice. I have never smelled anything like that.”
The girls calmed down. “It’s my conditioner that you smell. Here.” The brunette held out a strand of hair for Chase, who sniffed again. “You really like it?”
The blonde, not one to be outdone, held out a strand of her hair as well. “Smell mine.”
“It is very good, too. My name is Chase.” His hand shot out and the girls accepted.
“Sarah,” the blond said first.
“So what’s your deal?”
“Yeah, you don’t just go around sniffing people. You’re lucky we’re being cool right now.”
“I did not know.”
“You didn’t know that you shouldn’t sniff people? Were you raised in a barn?”
“No, I was raised in the forest.”
“You were what?”
“Wait, this is the new kid I heard about.”
“How did you know that? Have we… met before?” Chase asked, genuinely confused.
“No, I heard it from my friends.”
“Why did they tell you?”
Denis shrugged. “Stuff.”
Chase’s eyes widened. “This is… gossip.”
“Well I guess so,” Sarah said.
“My mother told me not to gossip.”
“So you’re a mama’s boy.”
“Yes, I am my mother’s boy.”
“No, it’s a phrase.”
“Mama’s boy. It means you do whatever your mother tells you.”
“But I do not do everything she tells me to do.”
“Then I guess you aren’t really a mama’s boy.”
“Then why did you call me a mama’s boy?”
Sarah’s face was turning red. “Because you… Just drop it.”
“Stop talking!” Sarah took a deep breath. “I’m okay. I’m okay. Chase, it was nice to meet you. Maybe we’ll talk to you later.”
Chase nodded and left without a second thought. Denise gave Sarah’s shoulder a reassuring squeeze before they sat back down.
Next up was art class. Looking out of the room’s window revealed a nearby gymnasium and baseball field upon which a PE class was taking place. Inside, the class was handed painting supplies and told to just have at it. Everyone started painting trees, people, or inappropriate things with their brushes while Chase found himself more at ease finger painting. By the time the instructor got around to check on him, his hands were completely concealed by paint.
“I see we have another trouble maker in here,” Ms. Eve mumbled. Ms. Eve was a younger woman with curly red hair and green eyes, not unlike Ms. Frizzle.
“Sorry,” Chase replied.
“Let’s just see what you have here.” She gently motioned Chase out of her way and examined his picture. “Oh, wow.”
Some of the other students came around to see what had left their instructor so interested. The canvas held a wonderful view of a sunlit valley through trees. Despite the means of painting, it came out very well.
“I did not think this possible,” Ms. Eve admitted. “I think I’m in love. Not that I don’t like anyone else’s work!”
“That’s pretty good, dude,” a boy said.
“Thank you,” Chase replied.
“I’m Roger. No need to tell me who you are. I saw what you did to Jake and them.”
“I did not want to do that.”
“I’m not sure many people minded either way.” Then the bell rang. “Damn. Let’s talk later. I have to get moving because my class is way across the school.”
Chase mimicked the others in cleaning up his supplies and hung his painting out to dry before moving on. In his biology class, Chase was a little surprised to see Dr. Stevens again. And later, after more uninteresting classes, Chase found himself in P.E. in the gymnasium. He shared the class with his three favorite thugs. Everyone changed into their P.E. uniforms and met on the court. To start on a fun note Coach Kel, a former college linebacker who never lost the body mass, let the students play dodgeball. Chase was picked last and wound up against Jake, David, and Bobby.
But the mistake of picking the new kid last was soon discovered. Not only could he throw like a major league pitcher, but he could dodge with ease. He would often drop to all fours underneath the high throws and dash away from low ones like a rabbit. The game neared its end and it was Chase against Bobby, Jake, and David once again. The crowd cheered for Chase’s success.
But Chase was defenseless. Every ball was out of reach and the others each had one. On the count of three they unleashed their barrage. Chase reached out and amazingly caught two balls while dodging the third. Bobby and David were out. Chase vs. Jake. Chase’s powerful throw hit Jake’s leg hard enough to make him slip and fall. Chase’s new fans celebrated. Coach Kel nodded in approval.
When everyone gathered and recounted the game, Jake picked up a ball and nudged Bobby. “Check this out.” He wound up and meant to throw the ball at Chase but his aim was off. It flew at an unwary girl instead. A split second before impact, Chase’s hands reached out and caught the projectile. The girl let out a squeak of surprise and everyone turned to Jake, whose face turned red.
“Oops,” he muttered.
“You… bothered me all day,” Chase said. “No more.” Chase threw the ball right back at Jake. It was too fast to catch and the inevitable impact against Jake’s face knocked him off his feet. With his job well done, he proceeded to the water fountain.
“Not so fast,” a voice said behind him. It was Coach Kel. “Come with me.” He led Chase into his office and sat at a cluttered desk.
“What is wrong?”
“What’s wrong? The game’s over and you just smacked Jake in the face! You don’t see anything wrong with that?”
“He… started it. He almost hit someone else when he aimed for me.”
“Is that so? Given Jake’s track record, I think I can take your word for it.” Coach Kel scratched his head and looked Chase up and down. “Oh wait, you’re the new kid. I should’ve guessed when you showed up without shoes. Just don’t do it again, you hear? Now do me a favor and tell everyone to get changed. Class is over.”
Everyone changed back into regular clothing with the exception of Chase’s continued shoelessness just in time for the final bell. Roger spotted Chase in the hallway and pulled him aside.
“Hey, dude. Want to go pick up our paintings?”
The two walked to the art room.
“That was some crazy shit you pulled in the gym,” Roger said with a smile, “not that I’m complaining.”
“Jake is bad.”
“He is. He and his cronies picked on me a lot before you showed up.”
“Probably because I’m weaker than them. Been that way since elementary school. Your painting was really good. Have you ever painted before?”
“I have not.”
“No? Looks like we have a prodigy on our hands. Finger painting… Who knew?”
“Who knew about finger painting?”
“What? No, it’s an expression.”
The boys reached the art room and found their paintings.
“What did you paint?” Chase asked.
“It’s a haunted house.”
“Haunted house,” Chase repeated.
“Yeah. Haunted houses are attractions to scare people around Halloween, my favorite holiday by the way. Why don’t you know these things?”
“My favorite holiday is Thanksgiving.”
“I get to hunt the turkey.”
Roger laughed. “You’re a trip.”
“You’re just really different from everyone I know. I wouldn’t say it’s a bad thing though.”
Then Roger grabbed Chase’s shoulder. “Hey, look. It’s Sarah and Denise.” He pointed. The girls were sitting on a bench, waiting for their rides in the carpool line. All smiles, they were having quite the chat.
“I met them.”
“At lunch. They smelled good.”
“I’ll bet they did. Why did they talk to you?”
“I smelled their hair. Their scent was good.”
“You literally smelled them? You’ve got guts, dude. Just be glad their exes weren’t around.”
“What are exes?”
“When two people get in a serious relationship, they will decide to become boyfriend and girlfriend. It’s monogamy without being married. Sometimes. You need to watch more TV.”
“Bald eagles are… monogamous. I think I understand.”
“I think you don’t. What did you talk with them about?”
“Their hair. It-”
“It smelled good, yeah, I got it. I heard they broke up just before school started but they don’t seem torn up about it.”
“Ha! Don’t get your hopes up.” Chase and Roger turned around. Jake and friends had arrived.
“Well if it isn’t the Three Stooges,” Roger muttered. “If you’re picking a fight, think again.” He put an arm around Chase. “If you got a problem, you have to take it up with him.”
“We aren’t here for you this time,” Jake said.
“We’re here for the single ladies,” David said with a smile.
“It’s rebound time.”
“Yeah, but there are three of you and two of them.”
Jake turned to Bobby and put a hand on his shoulder. “About that… Sorry, Bobby. You have to sit this one out.”
Bobby frowned and kicked a pinecone.
“Why do you two want to date them?” Roger asked angrily. “There are plenty of pretty girls in our class. Becky is single. Go away and ask her.”
“Why do we want to date them? Maybe because they’re smokin’ hot. Plus we’re the football prodigies. Ladies love men who will be rich and famous, not skinny little shits like you.”
“That’s right. So why don’t you and… Hey, where did the freak go?”
The boys looked around. Chase had slipped away. They spotted him in front of Sarah and Denise.
“What is he doing?” The football players shoved past Roger, who followed. The girls were smiling as they talked to Chase. Jake arrived.
“Hey, ladies. Sorry the freak child is bothering you. We’ll take him off your hands.”
“Actually,” Sarah said, “we were enjoying talking to the freak child.”
“Why don’t you just leave us alone?” Denise added.
“Wouldn’t you like to talk to some real men for once?” David asked confidently. “Such fine ladies deserve fine company.”
“I think we’ll be fine without you,” Denise retorted. “And that’s final.”
“Now go away before we find a fun new rumor to spread about you.”
“People believe the pretty girls.”
The boys grunted and walked off. Roger began to leave too but Chase grabbed his shirt and pulled him in.
“This is Roger. He is my friend.”
“Your friend?” Sarah asked. “Him?”
“Hey,” Roger said sheepishly.
“Anyway, keep telling us about our scents,” Sarah asked of Chase.
Then Roger grew worried. “Hold on, are you making fun of him for that? He’s new and was raised differently. Not cool.”
The girls shook their heads. “No, we’re serious.”
“He’s the only guy around here who’s ever complimented us on that.”
“I’ll bet you never notice when a girl’s wearing something new.”
Roger looked away. “Well…”
“Go on, Chase.”
“After I was adopted, I learned that people do not use their… senses like I do. A doctor said my mine were better because I relied on them more. I could smell your hair from far away. It… stood out.”
Denise smiled. “It’s nice knowing I smell good.”
“How do I smell?” Roger asked.
Chase took a big whiff of Roger while the girls made faces at the odd sight.
“At least I don’t stink.”
“What else can you do, Chase?” Sarah asked.
“He can kick ass!” Roger cut in. “He beat up Jake, David, and Bobby all at the same time this morning.”
“Why would you beat people up?” Denise asked.
“My mother taught me to… stand up for myself.”
“Yeah, but still…”
“Hey, they started it,” Roger said. “And a little while ago Jake almost hit Jessica in the face with a dodgeball just trying to get back at Chase.”
“At least keep the fighting to a minimum.”
“Guys, we have to go. Denise and I are going to check out Key Club.”
“Key Club?” Chase asked.
“You are so clueless. Fill him in, Roger,” Denise said. The girls left.
“Clubs are like these little meetings students have during or after school,” Roger explained. “They’re just for fun.”
“Are you in a club?”
“Last year I wrote for the school paper, but when the teachers realized that no one reads newpapers, they shut the club down.”
“What other clubs are there?”
Chase listened as Roger listed and described a myriad of clubs. The only one that remotely interested Chase was Art Club, but since they did not focus primarily on finger painting, Chase lost interest. When Roger finished the list, Chase just shook his head.
“Not a single one appeals to you? Picky much?”
“Is there… an outside club?”
“Yes. And archery. And hunting. And fishing.”
“No, but you could always sign up to make your own club. I don’t know if they’ll let you hunt though. Just look it up on the school’s website.”
A horn blew. Margaret had arrived. Chase said goodbye to Roger and hopped into the car.
“How was your day, sweetie?” Margaret asked.
“A lot happened. I made a friend named Roger. There are three bullies, but I beat them. And I want to make a club.”
“What do you mean you ‘beat them’?”
“I stood up for myself.”
Margaret gave Chase a look. “As long as I don’t get a phone call. And at least make sure they hit first.” Then Margaret shook her head. “I’m a terrible role model. Chase, you shouldn’t fight at all. Try to stay out of trouble. So what do you have there?” She pointed out Chase’s painting.
“We painted today.”
“It’s lovely, Chase. Keep up that work and you’ll be a famous artist one day. Now what was that you said about a club? You know I was president of the Newspaper Club back in the day,” Margaret reminisced. “They probably took that out, though. What a shame. You kids and your Internet.”
“I want to start an outdoor club,” Chase explained.
“That would be fun. I don’t think they’ll let you hunt.”
“The other clubs are not… appealing.”
“That’s not surprising given your interests. But I’m glad you’re willing to do something creative. You’re going to have quite a year. I can tell.”
That night after doing his homework, Chase and Margaret got on the school’s website to look up how to create a new school club. All that was needed was a petition form with five student signatures and the consent of a teacher. Margaret printed out the form for Chase to bring in to school the next day. Afterwards she reminded Chase how to work locks and gave him a spare for the next day.
Chase slept outside in his tree house as always. The ladder leading up to it was unnecessary for him, but any other person would need it. The tree house was situated between and supported by three massive pine trees, three stories above the ground. If anything, it was like a dorm room. It had a roof, floor, walls, electricity, and the bare necessities for living. No bathroom was built within, but there was a branch that extended just outside a window of the second floor of the house that solved that problem. Each wall had a window that provided wonderful views of the nice neighborhood and mountains. Chase decorated the walls with his wilderness gear. This included several tomahawks, a compound bow, quiver, deadly arrows, a wide variety of knives, and a fishing rod among other things. In place of a bed, there was a pile of artificial animal furs and blankets.
It started to rain. Light at first, then heavy. Soon lightning flashed and thunder rolled. Chase’s reaction to nature’s fury began. He leaped out the window and landed gracefully as thunder boomed above. And without further ado, he took off into the wilds.
Lightning flashed. Chase’s eyes glowed like an animal’s. Thunder rolled. His running speed increased. Unafraid and exhilarated, Chase dashed right through the wind and rain and branches.
The air was never fresher and it filled his lungs with more energy than Chase felt he could contain. Then a delightful scent suddenly caught the Chase’s attention. He ran in its direction without hesitation. Closer and closer, more and more potent. He burst through the last of the underbrush into a small clearing.
And right into a bear.
Chase was just as shocked as the large animal. They made eye contact a few seconds before the bear realized that this small creature could be after its fresh kill. It roared and swung a mighty paw. Chase’s head would have been sent flying had he not had his catlike reflexes. Chase ducked beneath the attack, then shot forward around the bear and with one powerful tug, ripped several meaty ribs from the corpse. Then he disappeared as quickly as he had arrived. The bear chased after the thief.
After quite a run and when he was sure the bear was well behind them, Chase climbed high into a tree like a playful squirrel. Upon a solid branch, he devoured the stolen meal. Raw. Disgusting to most, gourmet to he. There was nothing like it.