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Bullies by Colin Kelly

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A comparatively long "short" story!

I'm perplexed by the treatment of Lyle and Camron Sanders.  On Tuesday they have ambushed Mark and beaten him severely, threatening to kill him . . . and perhaps would have if the adult with the dog hadn't caught them.  This appeared to be a planned and organized attack, with one boy holding Mark while the other one beat on him, then both kicking him on the ground.  They run away when the adult challenges them.

Yet on Wednesday they are there in the school cafeteria, just sitting at a table.  Apparently it's just another school day for them.  This seems to indicate complete sociopathic behavior, lack of remorse, lack of concern for what they did.  

Then later we hear that they have tested positive for methamphetamine, and are told that this drug can produce unusual and violent behavior in users.   There is also suggestion that it was given to them without their knowledge. The implication is that perhaps Lyle and Camron are not responsible for what they did, because a drug they did not knowingly take triggered violent antisocial behavior.

I say, nonsense.  There is no suggestion that the drug would inspire specific anti-gay animus, or that it would cause them to lie in wait to attack someone in an apparently planned and organized ambush where they took him to a specific hidden location to inflict injury.  There is no suggestion that the drug would cause them to have no memory of what they did.  Jerry's testimony (and many other students could also testify to this) that he saw them sitting in the cafeteria the next day as though nothing had happened would be devastating at a trial.  If this behavior was truly out of character for them, they would show remorse, guilt, and probably revulsion at what they had done . . . especially since it was against someone they lived with.  They would have to account for coming home with one of them missing his shirt, and both of them probably having blood and impact injuries to themselves, and seeing nothing unusual about this.  They would have to account for not doing anything about the fact that Mark was missing, and just casually going to school the next day without saying anything to anyone.  And they would have to account for where this anti-gay animus came from "out of the blue."  A competent prosecutor could make them look guilty as hell. If they insisted on a trial, they would perhaps even be tried as adults given the seriousness of the crime, and the fact that Mark would probably have died if Jerry had not found him and acted so quickly.  I don't think a jury would have bought the drug explanation at all.

I'm perplexed that we heard nothing further about what happened to them.  In all likelihood they would take some kind of plea deal, but there's no way there would not have been severe consequences for them.   The attack would have been sensational news.  I could imagine the Sanders parents moving away when it turned out they could not deal with the negative attitude to them.  And if, as implausible as it sounds, someone had slipped powerful drugs to the Sanders boys without their knowledge, the investigation of that would have led to perhaps more sensational news.  It seems strange that that whole area of story just fell off the screen.



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I have a different take on this:

Jerry's testimony (and many other students could also testify to this) that he saw them sitting in the cafeteria the next day as though nothing had happened would be devastating at a trial.  If this behavior was truly out of character for them, they would show remorse, guilt, and probably revulsion at what they had done . . . especially since it was against someone they lived with.

Because these two sitting in the cafeteria as though nothing had happened is entirely consistent with how some teens might behave after having done what they'd done, I don't find it strange at all.  They'd cover up any remorse, guilt and revulsion because they'd want to get away with what they'd done.  They'd want to look normal.  They well may not have known the result of their aggression at that point.  They may have thought Mike would have no memory of who did it because of his trauma.  They may have thought he'd died.  They had no idea the man who chased them had gone to the police.  They were probably hoping to get away with what they'd done, no matter what they felt about it.  That's how kids think!  Many an adult would turn himself in and face the consequences of his actions.  Very few teenagers would.


As for filling out the story with legal proceedings and punishments, to me it didn't seem that that was what the story was about, and it was already a long short story.  No, it was more about how this all affected Mike, and in that regard, I thought Colin did a wonderful job.



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I have to take exception to @Cole Parker's position, but perhaps I didn't make my original point very well.


When an author includes significant story elements that raise important story questions, it is my belief that the author owes the readers some kind of answer or payoff or response to those elements and those questions.  Otherwise, what are they doing in the story in the first place?

So, for example, we have an elaborate scene in which Jerry goes to the library and tracks down the yearbook photos of Lyle and Camron, and carefully makes enlarged copies of their photos.  Subsequently, on the strength of these photos, he identifies them sitting in the cafeteria at a table.  It seems like this should be significant in some way, yet nothing whatsoever comes of this whole episode.  What is the story purpose?  

Later, we learn that their father is an attorney, and there is an implication that he may try to do something tricky to allow the boys to avoid punishment for their deeds.  We later learn that, at the father's request, they were tested for drugs, and found to have methamphetamine in their systems.  We are told that methamphetamine can cause violent behavior in a user, especially one who is not used to it, and we further learn that there is reason to question whether they took it intentionally (as opposed to having it slipped to them somehow).  These story elements cry out for some kind of payoff, yet we never hear about them again.  

Then we have the basic fact that Mark can identify his assailants, and there is a credible third-party witness who can also identify them.  It is clearly a hate crime.  Mark came close to dying, and as it is will be incapacitated for months.  The boys' parents initially seemed unwilling to believe that their boys would have done this, and the mother (Mrs. Sanders) initially comes across as a nasty piece of work.  Then, suddenly, she turns into a more sympathetic character, and actually seems to show some remorse and sympathy . . . although it's unclear whether she accepts that her boys are responsible for all this.  That is not important to my point.  The point is, these boys attacked Mark and yet we, the readers, never hear any discussion about them beyond learning that they were arrested.  It seems implausible that Jerry's family wouldn't talk about them, or that the police officer wouldn't call with some kind of update, or something.  I'm not saying the story would need to go into all kinds of detail about their charges and plea bargaining and possible trial.  I'm just saying that all this information about the Sanders boys and possible causes for what they did turn out not to lead to any kind of story answers or payoff.  Yet they cry out for something, even a paragraph saying what happened to them or what became of the methamphetamine issue.  

What I'm saying is that when an author lays out interesting and provocative story elements that seem to have played a central role in the key story events, readers want to see them tied to something that justifies the presence of those elements.  They want to know whether the two Sanders boys really were surreptitiously dosed with something, and whether it really explains what happened.  They want to know whether the boys took any responsibility for what happened.  They want to know whether this exact same sequence of events could happen again if the Sanders boys escape any consequences for their actions, or if someone keeps slipping methamphetamine to other students.  It seems to me to violate the implicit contract between author and reader to leave so much of this simply hanging.



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  • 3 weeks later...
On 6/13/2018 at 3:14 PM, Camy said:

Rutabaga, Yo! It was a great short story. And, try as you might, you can't cram a season of Law and Order into a short story.... :tongue:

It is clear that my point is being missed.  I'm not advocating that a season of Law and Order be crammed into the short story, or anything comparable.

What I am saying is that when the author introduces significant, provocative events and elements, there should be a purpose for those elements and they should pay off in some way -- no matter how lame -- rather than simply being abandoned and ignored.

If, in fact, the story won't accommodate "a season of Law and Order," then those elements and events don't belong in the story to start with.  

The truth is, while I think some of the events simply don't belong without a clear story purpose, the other ones could be disposed of in some way with a few paragraphs.  One way or another, however, they deserve to be acknowledged.  


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Bullies is set during a three-day period starting on a Tuesday afternoon and ending on Thursday evening. Without the involvement of the police there would be no story. About a third of the way into the story, on Wednesday afternoon, Cameron and Lyle Sanders were arrested for felony assault and battery on a juvenile and sent to the Juvenile Hall in Martinez where they would be held until their arraignment hearing in juvenile court. The arrest warrant was based on the recording of Michael Everett telling who attacked him; the statement of the witness who chased after Cameron and Lyle Sanders and when he caught up to Lyle he grabbed his shirt collar and pulled of his shirt; he brought the shirt to police headquarters; the police found Lyle's bus pass in the pocket of the shirt; and the witness  recognized the pictures of the two boys when shown photos from the high school student registration database. The police interview of Michael Everett was scheduled for Wednesday evening. Their arraignment in court would be scheduled by the Assistant District Attorney the following week which is outside of the timeline and focus of the story.

On Tuesday morning, the day when the attack took place, Mr. and Mrs. Sanders had left to go to Stockton to visit her mother who fell and was injured. They returned Wednesday morning after their sons left for school. They both went to work. Mrs. Sanders was called at work Wednesday afternoon when the police were at their house to arrest Camron and Lyle. She rushed home and the police told her why the boys were being arrested.

The testing of Camron and Lyle at the request and with the approval of their father and finding meth in their urine might explain the violence of their attack. How did they get the meth? Was it a factor? That's outside of the timeline and focus of the story.

Colin  :icon_geek:

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