“Do you really think this will work?”
Zach, the old scrapyard owner, warily eyed the ‘battle armor’ in front of him, then turned to the kid. “Look, Vance, I’m really not sure about this. You better head home.”
“But you promised. You promised and they’re on their way.”
“You called them?”
Vance nodded, and Zach felt his heart sink. He shouldn’t have supported this. He thought it would be good for the kid to have a project, but he had never meant to stimulate him into actually wearing it. “Okay,” he said. “Okay, you clean up and I’ll meet them at the gate. Send them home.”
“No!” Vance shouted.
“You said you’d help me. You swore.”
“Vance, I agreed to help you build this thing, not fight some boys from your school with it.”
Zach expected a lot of cussing at that, but the boy stayed silent. It was even worse. His eyes went dark. He felt betrayed. He looked up to the old scrapper. Zach had never had any kids of his own, and a job as scrapyard owner didn’t exactly hold much prestige. Who was he to put this young boy’s trust on the line?
He looked at the pieces of the suit in front of him. There was a shield made out of a refrigerator door, a breast plate cut from the hood of a car, its bumpers serving as pauldrons, and an assortment of other scrap metal that together made up a full set of batle armor. Vance had truly put in a lot of effort, and another truth was that the whole thing looked too good to go to waste. Besides, the stories the boy had been telling about his bullies were nasty. They went beyond the classic wedgies, venturing into horrible, uncharted territory.
“Okay,” Zach finally said, “let’s get you strapped in.”
As good as it looked on the ground, on Vance the thing looked amazing. He seemed like a runaway from one of the ‘Mad Max’ movies Zach had seen in his younger days. Especially the helmet, crafted from a used-up fire extinguisher, looked amazing. It had taken quite a bit of welding, but Zach considered it to be his masterpiece.
“It’s heavy,” Vance said, slowly moving around.
“That’s the cost of protection.”
“How will I fight them?”
Bicycle bells indicated the bullies had made it to the scrapyard, and Zach put both hands on Vance’s shoulders. “You’ll figure something out. I’ll be in my office, keeping an eye out. If things get rough, I’ll come straight away, alright?”
“Alright.” The suit really boosted the boy’s self-confidence, and when the two bigger kids appeared from behind an old rusty Cadillac, he was ready.
First, the bullies’ eyes grew big with amazement. Then they roared with laughter. “Are you kidding me?” the biggest one said, almost doubling over at the sight.
Vance gathered all his courage, then assumed a battle position he’d seen in a movie Zach had taken him to see the week before. It definitely swept the laughter from the other’s faces, but was soon replaced by the meanness that came naturally to them.
“Let’s get him,” the biggest said, and they easily circled the weighed down figure of Vance, grabbing him by the shoulders and lifting him up. They were about to throw him against the Cadillac when the engine started up behind them. At the time they turned around, the Harley was already upon them, drifting to a halt, spraying the boys with pebbles. They screamed when they saw the black knight, jumping from his motorcycle and coming at them with a crowbar. The boys, dropping Vance, stood nailed to the ground.
“What are you doing with my boy?” Zach said, voice low and hoarse as inspired by another movie.
“Nothing! Just hanging out, right, Vance?”
“Tough luck, guys,” Vance said with renewed courage.
Zach stepped forward and the boys backed up against the car. “You leave this kid alone. You got it?”
Both boys nodded, then almost squeezed themselves into the car when Zach moved in even more.
“I’ll be watching you.”
He stepped back and the kids bolted. Zach could’ve sworn one of them wet his pants. He pulled Vance to his feet. “How you doing, soldier?”
Vance looked at him in amazement. “That was incredible! Where’d you get that?”
Zach shrugged. “Just a little project of my own, inspired by you, partner.”
“Yeah. Now let’s get you out of that suit. Your mum’ll be waiting with supper.”
When Zach watched the kid jump on his bicycle a little while later, waving one more goodbye, he saw that for once the child did not go home with fear, or anger. Instead, Vance went home knowing that he had a friend. One who would always have his back.
Illustration by: Lars de Ruyter