Adolescence can be awkward, and Jenny Plural knew it better than most. With thick glasses, chunky braces on her teeth, chronic acne and a huge mop of frizzy hair, she was never going to attain to popular beauty standards. Neither did she have a sparkling personality or brilliant mind to compensate. She had only one friend, Rebecca Smiley, a girl three years her junior, who had six fingers on each hand. They spent their lunchtimes together, talking and playing hopscotch on the old concrete tennis court at the far corner of the playground. Both Jenny and Rebecca had learned that school was most pleasant the further they were from the other students. The children called Jenny nasty names, like Turd Head, and Troll, and Jenny the Pasty-Faced Witch. Rebecca, for her part, had to endure spiteful rumours about her abnormal hands. The most oft repeated one claimed she could punch through walls.
By a miracle combination of resilience, friendship and fear of being sent to hell if she committed suicide, Jenny made it to the end of twelfth grade. And so, with all the other graduating students, she prepared for the senior prom. The theme of that year’s prom, chosen by science teacher Miss Nudge, was Ghosts and Ghouls (the prom was to be held the week after Halloween, and Miss Nudge and her colleagues did not feel like redecorating the gym). To make it appear she was putting some creative effort in, Miss Nudge decided to replace the traditional titles of Prom King and Prom Queen this year with King Ghost and Queen Ghoul.
The school’s star quarterback, Zack Tyler, came up with the cruel idea of having all the seniors vote for Jenny as Queen Ghoul, so they could make fun of her. For King Ghost—and therefore the one Jenny should share a dance with—the students planned to vote for the garbage can near the gym’s fire exit. It would be the ultimate humiliation.
On the evening of the prom, Rebecca Smiley ran to Jenny’s house and pressed the doorbell. Jenny’s father opened the door. “Mr Plural, Mr Plural!” shouted Rebecca. “I just heard the seniors are planning a terrible prank for Jenny tonight! I have to warn her!”
“I’m sorry, Rebecca,” said a stunned Mr Plural, “but Jenny isn’t here. She left for the prom already.”
At the school gymnasium, beneath drooping orange and black streamers, fake cobwebs and half-deflated balloons, the senior students danced to a remix version of “Monster Mash”. Jenny swayed in a dark corner by herself, as the other students looked at her and giggled in anticipation. Finally, the moment arrived. Miss Nudge stepped up on stage to announce the King Ghost and Queen Ghoul. She held the microphone in front of her and opened the card that had upon it the two names voted by the senior students. Miss Nudge paused and peered at the card, then shrugged and cleared her throat. “This year’s Queen Ghoul,” she said, “is—”
A loud thud from the wall behind the refreshment table interrupted her, and a coconut-sized chunk of concrete raced through the air and struck her on the wrist. The microphone dropped and clunked on the stage, and a loud squeal of feedback burst from the speakers. Miss Nudge fell to her knees, quivering and clutching her broken arm. The colour drained from her face. Another thud sounded, and another chunk of concrete sped across the gym. This one hit Zack Tyler in the knee, causing enough damage to require surgery and kill all potential college football scholarships. He groaned in agony and collapsed. After the third thud, and the third flying chunk of concrete (this one crashed through the glass basketball backboard at the far end of the gym), the students began to scream and run around in panic. Chunks of concrete continued to rocket through the gym, causing bruises, broken bones, three concussions and nine thousand dollars’ worth of damage to school property. After two solid minutes of fear and destruction, the thudding and the concrete missiles ceased.
Amid the groans and sobs and first aid being administered to the wounded, everyone turned and looked at the grey dust cloud behind the refreshment table. The dust slowly settled, revealing an immense hole in the thick wall. And through the hole stepped Rebecca Smiley. “Jenny!” she called. “Are you all right? Where are you?”
“I’m here,” said Jenny, stepping out from behind a life-size plastic skeleton. “I’m fine.”
“Jenny, I had to stop them,” said Rebecca. “They were going to—”
“Oh my God!” said Zack, climbing to his feet and pointing at Rebecca. “She really can punch through walls. What a freak!”
The students all laughed and pointed at Rebecca, and shouts of, “Freak!” came from all around the room. Tears welled in Rebecca’s eyes.
“Stop it!” yelled Jenny, but the laughing and taunting drowned out her voice. “Stop it, please!”
Rebecca’s chest heaved, and tears rolled down her cheeks as she glared at Zack. She ran over to him and shrieked at the top of lungs, “I’m not a freak!” Everyone fell silent. “You all think you can make fun of people like me and Jenny, just because we’re not like you, but you can’t treat us like this! You’re all so worried about being cool, but being cool is meaningless! Don’t you get it?”
The students snickered and whispered to each other.
Rebecca shook her head. “Fine,” she said, her fists clenched at her sides. “If you won’t listen to reason, maybe you’ll listen to force.”
She drew her right fist back then slammed it into Zack’s chest as hard as she could. But she did not know her extraordinary punching ability applied only to walls. When it came to punching people, or anything else besides a wall, she possessed no more power than any other tiny fourteen-year-old girl. Zack barely moved. He sneered at Rebecca, then struck her full force with the back of his hand. She went sliding unconscious across the floor.
“What a loser,” said Zack.
“No Zack,” said Jenny, stepping in front of him, “the only loser here is you.” Jenny then poured a cup full of fruit punch over Zack’s head. The cool boys cringed; the pretty girls gasped. Zack was too furious to speak. Jenny shook her head. “I feel sorry for you,” she said. She turned and walked over to Rebecca, lifted her limp body up in her arms and carried from the gym.
Miss Nudge did not come to school the next day, instead she emailed the principal her resignation letter.
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