“Well, if isn’t Naked Boy. Let’s see how tough an Injun he is,” Larry Jacobs said. He beckoned his friends Frank “Skinny” Callahan and Danny “Chub” Parker. The three boys approached with slow, deliberate steps, blocking the path to where the school buses parked.
Johnny’s anger boiled up. They had tormented him every day since school started. He couldn’t stand the name-calling any more. His muscles were as taut as a cat ready to pounce. Armed with red-hot anger, he faced them with fists clenched. “My name is Johnny Bear Child! You know, Bear—like grizzly bear. Keep it up, Larry, and you’ll find out what it’s like to tangle with one!”
Larry raised his fists and boldly stepped closer. “Let’s see what kind of fighter you are.” He glanced around to see where Skinny and Chub were. They had moved back. “C’mon, you guys, get up here.” The two boys joined Larry. Grinning, he said, “You don’t have the nerve to take us on.”
All the students, just released from their classes, scattered to avoid the brewing fight, except one girl. She took a few steps toward the boys, shouting, “Stop it, Larry!”
Larry stomped toward her with his fists raised. “Get outta here, Sarah, or you’ll be eating gravel, too!”
The girl gasped, turned, and bolted away. Larry laughed and returned.
Skinny whooped and imitated a war dance. “Watch out! He might scalp you.” Grabbing his red hair, he faked being scalped and screamed in mock pain. Without warning, he rushed Johnny. Johnny dodged, but tripped over Chub’s outstretched foot and plunged into the gravel. The stones gouged Johnny’s hands, but their words hurt more.
Chub gestured thumbs-up at his accomplishment. He giggled and swaggered. “Oops. Guess anybody who wears his hair in braids—like a girl—don’t know how to fight.”
The three boys circled their sprawled victim, whooping, dancing, laughing, and kicking gravel at him. Johnny dodged a kick, sprang to his feet and charged Larry, smacking into his chest with both hands. Caught off guard, Larry stumbled backward, plopped onto the gravel, and yelled, “Grab him!”
Skinny and Chub barreled toward Johnny, attacking from each side. Johnny crouched, fists doubled and ready to swing, but instead he leapt forward just as they reached him. Unable to halt their frantic rush, the bullies crashed together and fell to the ground in a tangled heap of arms and legs. Johnny dashed down the path toward where the school buses parked, around the corner of the school.
Larry regained his balance, lurched after Johnny and grabbed his braids, giving them a vicious yank. “You’re not getting away that easy, Injun.”
Johnny whirled and threw a wild punch, grunting with the effort. It grazed Larry’s shoulder. Johnny swung again, but missed. He said through clenched teeth, “Don’t you ever touch my hair again, or you’ll find out what a Blackfeet warrior does to his enemy.” Expecting to be charged, Johnny crouched, fists raised, hoping to land a few good punches before Larry could react.
Larry howled, “Oooohweee, I’m scared!” He doubled his fists and started dancing toward Johnny like a boxer. “What’re you going to do? Stomp me with your black feet? Why don’t you go home and take a bath, Dirty Foot?” He held his nose.
Still on the ground, Skinny pushed at Chub. “Get off, you fat, clumsy ox.”
“Shut up! And don’t call me fat, fart-face.” Chub punched Skinny.
They scuffled, pushed, and swore at each other as they struggled apart, then bolted to their feet and ran to help Larry. Surrounding Johnny, they poked punches at him as they closed in on him. Their breaths came in snorts.
Johnny’s eyes darted from Larry to Skinny to Chub. Which one should he attack first? Not Larry—too big. Maybe Chub. No, Skinny. If he went down, Chub would run. Sweat trickled down Johnny’s temples. Then, realizing he couldn’t win against all three attacking him at once, he faked steps to the right, to the left, to the left again, and then bolted left, hoping to fool them.
Skinny and Chub jumped right, but not Larry. He doubled up his fist and jabbed at Johnny as he ran past, smacking his cheek and nose with a sickening thud. Larry yanked his hand back and shook it. Skinny and Chub halted and whirled when they realized their mistake.
Johnny stumbled, but kept running. Blood spurted from his nose. Hurt and humiliated, he ran blindly from the bullies, across the football field and on into the hayfield beyond. He ran until his legs ached and his lungs burned, glancing back only once to see if the bullies were chasing him.
He stopped, leaned over, and rested his hands on his knees to catch his breath. Standing, he scanned the area. It was then that he realized he had headed the wrong direction to go home. In the distance, driving away, he saw the school bus he rode on. He turned and walked toward the road and home.