My head hits the door of one of the public toilet cubicles and the seventh grade bullies laugh, before their leader Billy comes and grabs me by the collar and says ‘Next time it’ll be the brick wall.’ He lets go and they all laugh and walk out. I’ve been putting up with this since I was eight years old. I’m twelve now.
Sometimes I escape to the Underdeep, to get away from the bullies at school. It is this cool place inhabited by creatures called Meyzots. I get there by closing my eyes and counting to eight while hopping on one leg.
I start hopping on my right leg as I count to eight … I disappear from the school and am now standing in the Underdeep. The atmosphere here is red now and almost, but not completely, dark.
It never gets completely dark here and the Meyzots never sleep, because they don’t have to. They get their energy from the goodness they feel by helping me and other kids with problems like me. I’m in a cave now. I make my way through to the exit of the cave, which is the real entrance to the Underdeep. The air is fresh and I can smell delicious vegetable soup that the Meyzot chef is cooking. The trees around me are all red with touches of gold. The scenery changes colour according to the time of day. In the morning, it’s white; in the afternoon, it’s green; in the late afternoon, blue; and in the evening it’s red.
I walk along a path leading to the bottom of a huge waterfall. The Meyzots are playing together in the pool, laughing and talking. ‘Hey Jimmy!’ says the Meyzot with the big, tough voice. That’s Binriad, my best friend. He’s about four times my height and is soaking wet as he steps out of the pool. The Meyzots are all really tall, hairy and colourful creatures.
Binriad shakes himself dry and water goes everywhere. He laughs and says to me ‘So, did you get away from the bullies in time?’
I shake my head.
‘What did they do this time?’ he asks.
‘They smashed my head against the toilet door, before taking my lunch money.’ I feel miserable. ‘Their leader Billy said next time it’ll be the brick wall they’ll be smashing me against.’ I start to cry now, because I can’t control my emotions.
‘There now,’ says Binriad and hugs me. Then he rises and says ‘You must be hungry. Come and have some soup.’
Memra the chef Meyzot dishes out a portion of soup into a bowl and hands it to me, and then dishes some out for Binriad. We eat our soup, which is so hearty and delicious that it not only satisfies my hunger, but also seems to heal my emotions a little, because I’m already feeling a bit better.
After our soup, we go for a walk through the red jungle. We stop near the sea and look up at the sky. There are way more stars here than there are on earth. And when you look up at the sky here in the Underdeep, it’s like watching a fireworks display. There are so many shooting stars and every time someone makes a wish, the star explodes and a new star appears in its place. It’s magical.
My dad left me when I was four, I barely remember him. My mum tries to make a good life for both of us and because she tries so hard, I don’t want to tell her about the bullying. One day it will stop. Well, that’s what Binriad reckons anyway. Or rather, that’s what he usually says, when we come out here to talk after I’ve been bullied.
‘So,’ Binriad says to me. ‘I was thinking.’
I watch the star explode after making my wish and then look at Binriad. ‘Of what?’ I say.
‘Well, in response to your wish just now, I was thinking that I could come with you to your world so that we can scare those mean kids at school and put an end to this bullying once and for all.’
It is a known fact to all the Meyzots and any humans who visit the Underdeep that the inhabitants of this world are not allowed to leave. ‘You can’t leave,’ I say to Binriad.
‘I want to help you,’ he says back. ‘We’ll leave in secret, and no one will know.’
After thinking about it for a few minutes, I decide that Binriad’s plan might work. So we both walk back to the cave and travel to my world together – by holding each other’s hands while we each hop on one leg and count to eight. We’re in the school toilet block now and everything is quiet so the other kids must be in class. I find some bushes at the back of the school and ask Binriad to hide and wait for me there while I finish the rest of my school for the day.
I enter the classroom and my maths teacher Mrs Bangle scolds me for being late. I find my seat and Billy the bully leader and his followers sneer at me. While Mrs Bangle writes equations on the chalkboard, Billy writes a note, scrunches it up and tosses it onto my table. Mrs Bangle doesn’t notice, so I open it up and read it. In messy handwriting, it says ‘We’re gonna get you after school Jimmy Vasco.’
After the bell rings and we all head out, I dash for the spot by the bush. But Binriad isn’t there. I call him, several times, as I search the bushes. I look around and can’t find him anywhere. The bullies are coming. I can see them running towards me. I start counting as I hop on one leg and I can hear the bullies laugh hysterically. ‘What a freak!’ they’re saying. After I reach the number eight, I’m still here. But why? Desperately, I start hopping and counting again. I no sooner say ‘three’ when Billy grabs me and then all five of them gang up on me and bash me up in turns while one of them holds me.
Fifteen minutes later, I’m in so much pain and am practically covered in blood marks and bruises. I’m too sore to even cry. The bullies have left me here and I am too weak to hop on one leg and start counting out loud.
I lay there for five minutes before my mum finds me and cries. Turns out nothing can be done about the situation because we have no proof that it was Billy and the boys who beat me up. We can’t afford to leave and I tell my mum I’ll be okay because the bullies will probably leave me alone now after all they’ve done to me. But in truth, all I really want right now, is to escape to the Underdeep and eat soup with Binriad and the other Meyzots and kids like me.
I look out the window and see a shooting star. The next morning, Binriad and seven other Meyzots appear by my bedside. Turns out Binriad got into serious trouble for leaving The Underdeep and was banned from helping any kids ever again, which drained his energy and weakened his heart. I was banned from ever returning to their world. Then the Meyzots had a meeting and decided to make an exception to their rule. And so the new rule was born: WHEN HELP IS NEEDED BY A HUMAN, AND IT IS NECESSARY TO LEAVE THE UNDERDEEP, THE MEYZOT MAY DO SO.
Binriad hugs me and I hug all the Meyzots. We march down to the school and Billy and the Bullies are already waiting for me. At first when they see the Meyzots, they laugh. But when the Meyzots bare their claws and fangs and speak in loud, booming voices as they circle the bullies, telling them if they ever bully me again, they will be eaten alive, they get scared. They all scream as people around them laugh, and someone calls out ‘Freaks!’
The Meyzots have made themselves visible to the bullies and myself, but invisible to everyone else. I thank Binriad and the Meyzots and they return to the Underdeep. From that day on, I never get bullied again.