THE CHATTER IN THE high school hallway caught Shyloh’s attention as he navigated to his first class of the day.
“They burned him alive.”
“I saw the video on the net. It was gross.”
“Was he tied up?”
“No, in this small cage. They must have been soaked the ground and his clothes with gasoline. They lit a fuse from about fifty feet away. Fzzzz, boom. Judith’s father goes up in flames.”
“Did he scream?”
“No. He held his hands like he was praying. Then he fell over and burned.”
Shyloh had to find Judith. She’d need him.
He turned and headed back the way he came. She’d be at home with her family. Her father had been captured after his CF-18 was shot down on a bombing raid over northern Iraq a month ago. Everyone thought there’d be prisoner exchange or a ransom would be paid. Shyloh wasn’t so certain. Those people were zealots, logic wasn’t their strong suit.
Would they have notified Mrs. Wolfe before the news went public? Maybe not. Nobody expected this. If military intelligence didn’t know ISIS was planning to execute Captain James Wolfe, how could they know when a video of this savage act would be uploaded onto the internet?
Students hurrying to class bumped into him. “Hey, man. Like get out of the way.”
“Aiya.” He had to make sure she was safe. He bolted to his homeroom. No teacher yet, but most of his classmates were present talking in subdued voices like at a funeral. No Judith. Understandable. No Aiya. Kevin, Trevor and some of their cohorts were also absent.
This wasn’t a coincidence. A popular student’s father, a Canadian pilot burned to death by radical Islam and one of the few Muslim students in the school is missing from class as are a half dozen skin-head punks who could be considered neo-Nazi’s except they were too stupid to understand what that meant.
Stupid, but still dangerous.
Shyloh ran from the building and across the soccer pitch toward the ravine, a wooded area that went parallel to the school grounds. It was bridged about two blocks beyond the school but a lot of students took the path down into the ravine and up the other side as a shortcut. Aiya was one of them.
This was the only place, by chance or design, Kevin and company could have intercepted her. She would never go anywhere willingly with that bunch and she was way too smart for them to trick her.
At the top of the trial Shyloh stopped. He could hear voices down in “the pit”, a clearing at the bottom of the ravine, a safe place to partake in risky behavior like drugs, sex, and fighting, It sounded like more than the usual half dozen malcontents. Maybe others taking the shortcut had come upon the confrontation and decided to watch the show?
“You people think you can get away with torching a Canadian pilot? Well, I say and an eye for an eye.”
That was Kevin, stirring up the mob. Shyloh started down, stumbling and sliding. He reached the bottom unscathed except for muddy hands and grass stains on the knees of his pants.
Aiya was in the middle of a circle of about twenty teens. Trevor and six other trolls were up front, the rest of the boys and some girls were hanging back, wanting to be in on the action while still being able to say they hadn’t taken part. Kevin was standing on a stump like a ring master.
“You people are big on stoning, right bitch? We got some nasty stones but we’re just going to wait for our surprise guest to throw the first one.” Kevin held up a rock that could smash Aiya’s delicate head. “Tracey, you called, and she’s coming, right?”
“She said she’d be here in ten minutes and that was, like five minutes ago,” a girl in the crowd said.
Shyloh pushed through the bodies and stood beside Aiya. She smiled. She didn’t look frightened. “I knew you’d come, Shy.”
“What’s going on here?” Shyloh kept his voice calm, even soft. It was important not to show fear or anger.
“We’re taking revenge on this Muslim bitch for her people killing Judith’s old man, a Canuck, a Christian, one of us,” Kevin said. “Get the fuck out of the way.”
Shyloh had taken a course on How to Defuse Impending Violence. Now he’d see if what he’d learned worked. In situations like this, you were supposed to validate the concerns of those intent on violence.
“What happened to Captain Wolfe was terrible. I understand you’re all angry, I’m angry. James Wolfe was my neighbour and my best friend’s father.”
“They’re all the same,” Trevor said. “An eye for an eye, like Kevin said.”
You needed to assure the aggrieved party you wanted to hear all they had to say.
“An eye for an eye just makes everyone blind. There are other ways we can deal with this, but taking it out on an innocent classmate isn’t one of them. It will only get you guys in a lot of trouble.”
They were listening. Shyloh didn’t wait for a response. “Megan, Joyce, Derek, Gabe, take your friends and get out of here before it’s too late.”
There was mumbling among the hangers on. Some started back up the trail.
The techniques were working. All you needed to do was listen, understand and be non threatening. He relaxed.
“Fucking pussies,” Kevin said. “Trevor shut that Muslim loving motherfucker up.”
Trevor stepped forward and punched Shyloh in the face. Shyloh staggered backward. His left eye was watering and he could taste blood in his mouth. Well, maybe the method didn’t work on everyone. Aiya came to him but one troll grabbed her by the hair and pulled her back.
What to do now? Shyloh didn’t know how to fight with his fists, had never wanted to learn. He’d watched violence glorified for good on the media, but he knew that good was only temporary. The movie ended, but life didn’t. Those defeated people, the ones whose relatives you killed, evil or otherwise, were planning their revenge and that would bring more violence. The cycle had to be broken. He’d tried to explain that to Judith’s father the last time he was home on leave.
“You know, I agree with you, Shy,” Captain Wolfe had said. “But we have to defend our way of life and it’s better to do it there than wait and have to do it here.”
That logic was flawed in so many ways Shyloh didn’t know where to begin. He loved and respected Captain Wolfe who always treated him like one of the family so he kept quiet.
Shyloh picked up a branch, swung it and hit Aiya’s assailant on the shoulder. The branch broke.
“Is that all you got, mud?” The punk let go of Aiya’s hair and started toward Shyloh.
Shyloh had hit the thug to make him release Aiya. Now he stood there with his hands at his side, non-threatening, willing to listen, to understand but, most likely, to take a beating.
“Stop.” Judith pushed through the crowd.
“Glad you could make it,” Kevin said. “We saved the first stone for you.” He tossed Judith a rock the size of a softball.
Judith caught the stone. She hefted it and glared at Shyloh, then at Aiya.
Aiya met her eyes and took a step away from Shyloh to stand alone.
For a moment Shyloh thought Judith might throw the rock though not at Aiya, at him. Then she flung the stone over their heads landing with a thud in the underbrush behind them.
“Get out of my sight.” Judith said. There was no doubt she was speaking to Aiya.
Aiya looked defiant. She took Shyloh’s hand. “He’s hurt. I’m staying.”
“Go, Aiya,” Shyloh said. “I’m fine, it will be okay now.”
She released his hand and touched his cheek, nose and lips. Her fingers came away bloody. “Thank you,” she said. As she walked toward the trail out of the ravine, she stopped in front of Judith. “My heart breaks for you.”
Judith showed no emotion. Aiya moved past her and up the path with the other students.
“They burn your father and you don’t want revenge?” Kevin said.
“The cops are coming, Kevin. I’d leave if I were you,’“ Shyloh said. His swollen upper lip made him slur his words.
“Let’s go, Kev,” Trevor said. “We don’t need to be hassled by the cops.” Trevor and the last two trolls started to leave. Judith looked like she might explode and they gave her a wide berth.
Kevin jumped down from the stump and followed. He stopped near Judith. “They take our jobs, pollute our society, and now kill your Dad and we just take it?” He began to say something more, then thought better.
Shyloh and Judith were alone. He walked up to her and held out his arms.
Judith’s right fist shot out and stopped a centimetre from Shyloh’s throat. It was an Iken Hisatsu - a killing blow delivered to crush the larynx or trachea causing asphyxiation by blockage of the air passage or rupturing blood vessels. If the opponent could still breathe he’d slowly die drowning in his own blood-filled his lungs.
Shyloh reached up and took her hand clenched in the one-knuckle fist and kissed it.
“You knew what happened, and you came here to save her instead of coming to me.” Steel-grey eyes seared into him.
“You came to save her as well.”
“No, I came to kill her.”
Shyloh drew her into his arms. Her body was rigid. “She’s not your enemy, Jude, she’s your friend and ally.”
Judith trembled. “I want to kill someone, I really do.”
“Shh,” Shyloh whispered. No doubt the time would come.
“Why didn’t he take the pill? When he knew he’d be captured, why didn’t, Shy?” Judith stopped shaking. She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. She looked embarrassed at being caught vulnerable. Aiya said her heart was breaking for her and so was his, so was his.
“I’ll never forgive him for putting Mom and my brothers through this.”
“Let me take you home, Jude.”
“Will you stay?”
For three days Shyloh never left her side. He slept on a foam mat beside her bed and comforted her when she woke up screaming. He helped her prepare meals and care for her mother and brothers. He made calls, answered calls, and received guests. He went home only to check in with his father, who didn’t seem to notice he’d been absent, and to change his clothes.
On the morning of the fourth day, Judith sat down beside him at the breakfast table. The boys were back at school, Mrs. Wolfe was back in bed.
“I’m okay now, Shy.”
“I mean you can go. Things are under control.”
“Yes. Tell Aiya to drop by when she has a chance. I’m not going back to school until after the funeral, but I’d like to see her.”
“I will. Good.” Shyloh couldn’t stop grinning. Judith and Aiya were his family, his friends, but more than that they were purpose, love, life. He couldn’t imagine moving forward without them both, together.
When Shyloh saw Aiya the next day at school her dark skin looked ashen.
“What is it, Aiya?”
“Some students were shouting racist and islamophobic remarks at Shazia and Maraam.”
Shyloh knew who Aiya was referring to. They were the only girls who wore hijabs at the school. After the incident in the ravine, nothing surprised Shyloh.
“Who? I’ll report it.”
“I already have. They’re planning a special assembly before class to address it.” Aiya seemed despondent and close to tears. “But it will only make things worse.”
Shyloh understood what she was saying. Emotions were running high among all the students after the murder of Captain Wolfe. Punishing those responsible for this racist incident could elevate their status.
“I’ll speak to Judith,” Shyloh said.
“Is that a good idea?”
“I’ll get back to you.” Shyloh had a plan. It would take courage and integrity and he knew just the people to carry it out. The next morning, Judith and Aiya walked through the main door of the high school, down the hall and into the assembly holding hands. Aiya wore a hijab.
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