5/31/2012

Night Bird Flying - Chapter 3: Stone Free




Johnny slept in a T-shirt and pajama pants, spread in a haphazard eagle-like position in his bed.  His sheets were curled around his legs and on his body in a way that showed that he was a reckless sleeper.  His room was completely empty with the exception of the bed and the bags he'd brought in.  The walls were white and there was beige carpeting on the floor.  It seemed unbearably boring and bland, crying out for decoration, which Johnny was sure to provide whenever he got the chance to wake up from his deep slumber.

The door flew open and his Uncle Chuck stepped through bearing a bitter expression.  He walked up to Johnny's face, the faint sunrise from the window beside his bed reflecting off of his slick skin.  Chuck was literally centimeters away from Johnny's face as he took a deep breath and shouted.

“GET THE FUCK OUT OF THAT BED RIGHT NOW BEFORE I BEAT YOUR FUCKING ASS UP AND DOWN THE FUCKING STAIRS, BOY!” He screamed at the top of his lungs into Johnny's ears.  Chuck stood there and looked down at Johnny, who didn't even budge.  Chuck slapped his face around several times with no response.  He checked his pulse.  It was still going strong.

This kid must be in a coma, Chuck thought.  I'll get him out of it.  He walked into the next room and came back with a large blow horn held tightly in his right hand.  He put it right next to Johnny's ears and pressed the button on top, turning his head and plugging the ear that faced him with his finger.

The horn blared with tremendous sound, echoing throughout the house.  Chuck looked back at Johnny who was still inanimate and unphased.  He tried the horn several times, but with no luck.  He even covered Johnny's ear with the surface of it.  If I have to blow his ears off and make him deaf, I will, Chuck thought.

Nothing.  Chuck looked around the room, then suddenly got a better idea.  He spotted the Night Bird leaning on the wall by the end of the bed.  Chuck walked to Johnny's guitar and grazed one of the strings as he started to grab it.

“Don't touch that!” Johnny shouted, shooting up from the bed at the sound.
“Get up then,” Uncle Chuck said, turning and walking out of the room.  “I'll be waiting.  You have 30 minutes.”

Johnny rubbed his eyes, stretched, and yawned with the gracefulness of a cat as he climbed out of bed and walked to the bathroom.  First day of school.  Just like in Kindergarten.  Only back then, he was scared to death of whether the other kids would like him or not.  Now, he didn't give a fuck.  No use in searching for friends, he'd let them come to him, if at all.

Johnny finished washing himself and changed into a long-sleeved beige flannel shirt, unbuttoned with a t-shirt underneath and the sleeves rolled up to his forearms, then put on some jean shorts and a pair of Nikes.  He felt very comfortable physically, but mentally, he was exhausted.  He looked down at his watch.  6:30am.  He grabbed a couple of notebooks from his bags, those of which were mainly used to jot down ideas for songs he'd accumulated over the past year and put them in a thin drawstring backpack, which he threw over his shoulder.  With everything else in hand, he picked up the Night Bird, hung its strap over his other shoulder, and brought his amp with him as he walked down the stairs.  Down here, he could get a better glimpse of what the house actually looked like with the sunlight shining through.  The interior was abnormally large for a house with only one occupant, spanning into a den with a nice plush couch and a plasma screen TV, an adjacent kitchen with a dining room table, and a living room with a large state-of-the-art computer.  Johnny was impressed but barely had time to take in his surroundings for as soon as he stepped on the bottom floor, his Uncle was back on him again.

“Come on, boy, I don't have time to play 'look around like a dumb ass' with you all day.  Let's go.”

Johnny held his tongue, knowing that if he spoke up, the only outcome would be his body in a world of pain.  He headed for the door that Uncle Chuck was holding open for him.

“You bringing that guitar to school?” he asked with confusion.  “With the amp?”

“Yeah.”

“You need a case on that thing,” he said, “unless you want kids fuckin' up the tuning pegs and tearing it up.”

“If we have time, I don't care.”  The two walked outside to Uncle Chuck's Honda as Chuck closed and locked the door behind him.  “Can I drive?”

“How old is you?”

“I is 17,” Johnny responded, mocking Chuck's semi-country/proper accent.

“17?!  How long you been 17?”

“Since I turned 17.”

“Shit, I thought you were 13 or something,” Uncle Chuck said as he got into the driver's seat.  “But yeah, hell no.  I'd rather my car not be fucked up, thank you.”

“Whatever,” Johnny sighed, as he got into the car.  “How old are you, Uncle Chuck?”

“Too old.”

“Old age isn't so bad when you consider the alternative.”

“Yeah, you've got a point,” Chuck agreed, starting the car and pulling out of the driveway.  The ride to the music store was slightly tense for Johnny as he hadn't been to one since the hit-and-run incident involving his father.  He'd done most of the modifying to the Night Bird with the help of kits and supplies he'd ordered from magazines.  In fact, as they pulled into the strip mall where the store was located, he made it clear that he would remain in the car, much to Chuck's frustration.  He told him the appropriate size for the guitar case and asked him to pick up an extra Pick for backup, should he lose his current one.

Johnny sat alone in the car and took this time pulling off his shirt and carefully peeling off the bandage on his right arm.  Slowly, he revealed a stylish tattoo of a black Fender wrapped in a wild vine.  It was still sore and red around the edges but it was now absorbing the open air it had been deprived of.  It should have been taken off much earlier, but it still looked fine, even though it had been deprived of air for a day.  Johnny slipped some tat wax over it delicately as Uncle Chuck came back with a silk guitar case and a black lion-shaped guitar pick.  He helped him zip the Night Bird up and once it was set, Chuck pulled the car out of the parking space.

Immediately after pulling out, the Honda was T-boned recklessly by an oncoming SUV from the right side.  The car lurched violently, shifting Chuck and Johnny in their seats from the force.  It caught them both off-guard and took them a second to react to the accident.

“Shit!” Chuck exclaimed after a second of breath.

Johnny looked into the SUV and saw two females sitting in the front.  The driver opened her door and hopped out.  She was a middle-aged white woman with brown hair and perfect posture, wearing summer-appropriate clothing and a pair of sunglasses that hid her eyes quite well, although Johnny could still see the angst in her face.  Chuck approached her furiously.  Wait a second, Johnny thought.  He looked beside him and realized that Chuck had gotten out of the car before he hadn't even noticed.

“What the fuck?!” were the first words to fly from Chuck and the woman's mouths, almost in an intentionally quick baritone/soprano harmony.  This instantly set off a reaction between the two; a torrent of screaming, fussing and child-like arguments echoed throughout the parking lot.  Johnny sighed, holding his head in his hand, fingers covering his eyes.  So much for getting to school early.

Johnny split his fingers slightly and looked through the crevice between them at the girl in the passenger seat of the SUV.  Wow, he thought.  He was surprised at the fact that he hadn't noticed her earlier.  This girl was beautiful.  She sat, looking down at the thick novel held in her hands just above the dashboard.  Her hair was slick and black, but curled at its ends.  Her face was shadowed from the nose up by the roof of the SUV, but her pretty pink lips glistened off the sunlight that was exposed on her mouth.  However, what stood out the most were her eyes.  The hollows of them were completely black with make-up, so much so that Johnny could only tell that she was looking down by the sight of the book.

Opportunity, opportunity.  Without thinking, Johnny got out of the car, ducking low behind the collision so the bickering parents who were letting profanity and insults fly with the velocity of bullets, wouldn't notice him.  When he was at the passenger window, he tapped on the glass twice.  The girl looked up at him curiously, pushing down the button to her window until it was inside the door.

“Hello, Ma'am,” Johnny greeted smoothly.

“Hey,” the girl responded, making eye contact with him.  Her big brown eyes sent chills down his spine, but he refused to break his nerve.

“They're really goin' at it over there, aren't they?” he chuckled, directing her toward the arguing adults.  “Your mom?”

“Yeah, your dad?”

“No, Uncle,” Johnny said.  The girl nodded and went back to her book.  “I'm Johnny B.”

“Maybelline,” she responded, her eyes still on the pages.  “May for short.”

“Cool, cool.”  Johnny leaned on the door trying to take advantage of the awkward silence.

“So whatcha readin', Twilight?” he joked.

May looked straight ahead, closed her eyes, and took a deep heavily annoyed breath.  “No.”

“Hey, I was only kiddin',” Johnny said, attempting to do damage control.  He could tell that he had agitated her in some way.

“I'm sure you were,” May said, going back to the book.

The silence grew even more awkward.  “So....” Johnny started, trying desperately to break the tension.  “What school do you go to?”

“Garfield,” she said simply.

“That's where I'm headed too.  It's my first day.  Gonna be late though, looks like.”

“Well, have a good day,” May said, pressing the window button up, effectively cutting herself off from him.  Wow, Johnny thought once again.  What the hell?

“Bitch,” Johnny muttered loud enough for her to hear before walking away.  May was not phased by the insult and continued to keep her attention on her precious book.  As Johnny walked back to his car, he noticed that the argument had died down considerably.  They were both writing down information, most likely insurance related, and as soon as Johnny was back in the Honda, Uncle Chuck waved at the woman and entered the car once again.

“Got that bitch's number,” he said triumphantly, just as he started the car.

“What?”  Johnny was very confused.  “After all of that, you walked away with her phone number?  What about insurance information?”

“Man, fuck insurance.  I'll pay for the repairs myself later.  I was plannin' on giving this baby a makeover anyway.  Why didn't you go over there and talk to her girl?”

Johnny glanced over at May as her mother pulled away from the scene.  She still had her dark eyes glued to the pages of that book.  “I don't know.  Maybe she's a bitch.”

“Well, don't judge a book by its cover.  That's how you miss out on things.”

“I didn't even get to see the cover,” Johnny muttered.

“What?”

“Nothing.”

--------------------------------------------------

Johnny felt a little embarrassed that he’d been outdone by his own uncle, who was able to get a girl’s number even after arguing with her for five minutes in the middle of an empty parking lot, while he struck out during a simple conversation.  Nevertheless, he kept his mouth shut about it until they pulled in front of Garfield High School at 7:42am.  Johnny asked if Chuck would come in and get the tardy affair and registration deal situated, to which Chuck replied, “You're old enough to drive, right?  That means, you're old enough to handle that shit on your own.”

“Whatever,” Johnny said, opening the door.  His guitar case had a strap that was wrapped around his shoulder as he got out with his amp also in hand.

“I love you,” Uncle Chuck muttered before Johnny fully exited the car.

“What?” he said confusedly, turning toward him.

“I said, I love you,” Uncle Chuck repeated.

Awkward.  “Um...Okay,” Johnny said turning to exit the car.  Chuck grabbed his arm and pulled him back in.

“You not leaving this car without saying you love me, boy!”

“All right, I love you, Uncle Chuck,” he replied with irritation.

“All right...I'll pick you up at 2:15.”

“Okay.  See you.”  Johnny closed the door and watched the Honda drive away from the school.  Time to get this over with, he thought.  He walked into the large high school building and emerged within the empty halls of his new daytime habitat.

Nothing particularly special stood out about this place; It was just your average-looking high school, complete with orange and black designs for the school colors, trophy cases holding various achievements made by the alumni, and the familiar scent of drama and chaos lurking in the deepest corners of its classrooms.  Johnny walked into the office just in front of him and confirmed his presence as they handed him a schedule.  First period: World History.  Fair enough.  He left the office and followed the map he'd been given to the classroom.  It barely took him any time at all before he was standing outside of the door knocking and the teacher came to let him in.

“Ah...” the blonde teacher said with a smile as she opened the door.  “You must be the new blood.  Come on in.”

Friendly teacher.  Off to a good start.  Johnny walked into the classroom and looked around.  The teacher came over and put a hand on his shoulder.

“Class, this is the new student that will be joining us today.  His name is Jonathan Goode.  Do you go by another name?” she asked him with a little too much enthusiasm.  Johnny hadn't had a teacher this perky since 1st grade.  There was no real problem with that though.  She wasn't hurting anyone with her attitude and that was all that mattered.

“Johnny B or just Johnny,” he replied.

“Okay, Johnny B.  Where are you from?”

“New Orleans,” he lied.  He hated telling people that he was from an enormously small town, very close to New Orleans and it had been a debatable subject whether or not it should be annexed in as another territory of the city, but to this day had not achieved this.  It was better to skip the details.  All they needed to know was that he lived in the state of Louisiana.

“Oh, how nice,” the teacher said with a large smile.  “Well, I see that you're a musician by your equipment.  Are you in a band?"

"No, but I'm thinkin' about startin' one," Johnny said, to which a few students in the class snorted in quick laughter.  Johnny spotted them out of the crowd quickly.

"Well good luck to you with that, Johnny B.  I'm Mrs. Alter and this is my class.  You can take that seat over there by the window.  Class, make him feel welcome.”

By now, Johnny's perception of this school was changing rapidly.  He had never seen a class so segregated.  Not racially, but rather socially.  Pockets of different social groups stood out to him like mold spots on bread.  A group of preppy white teenagers whispered amongst themselves as soon as they saw him, acting as if they couldn't be seen, even though they were in the front row.  In the back was a group of black people, the guys wearing loose baggy clothing with sagging pants, the girls wearing their hair colored and wild with tight clothing.  They stared at him sourly.  Another group of punk rock-style students paid him absolutely no attention and the occasional loners that might have found him remotely interesting neglected to show it in anyway.  This is the 21st Century, he thought to himself, there's no room for this kind clique bullshit.

As Johnny took his seat, one of the students from the group of preppy teens turned to him once finished chuckling amongst the group and asked, "Where are you from again?"

"New Orleans."

"So why are you here, because of Katrina?"

"No.  That happened years ago, of course that's not why I'm here."

The student snorted as he held back laughter and turned back to the group who began to snicker as if they couldn’t be heard by him.  One of them was imitating his accent.  Johnny stared at them with a dangerous look.  He gazed around the classroom and saw the rest of them giving him the same smirks, conversing among their friends as they silently passed judgment against him.

He might as well have been looking at the entire school in that one classroom.  One year in this place.  It was bound to be a long and tedious one.  He had to find some way, any way to entertain himself while he endured it and starting this band was the best way to do that.  Unfortunately, based on what he was seeing now, it looked like that would be harder to accomplish than he'd originally thought.

He went through his first and second classes as if he were invisible.  He said nothing to no one unless spoken to.  A couple of random people asked him questions about his guitar and about where he came from.  It seemed like the idea of a black guy playing guitar or having such a peculiar style was daunting for such a low class of people that thought so highly of themselves.  Johnny saw no evidence of diversity within this place.  So many cliques, so many divided social groups; much worse than his old school.  At least they were diverse enough in style to get along, even if they were all mainly the same race.  It was grotesque but nothing disgusted him more than the way they seemed to look down on him every time they laid eyes in his direction.

Disparaging sneers and stares of disdain fell on him like rain from the storm of conformity.  As he walked to lunch, nothing about this stopped; it was like the Anti-Christ had stepped foot in their sacred school.  They couldn't keep their eyes off him, couldn't refrain from talking about him.  Johnny got his food, ate it quickly, and made use of his spare time by walking around the campus to get away from all of the negativity.

He made his way outside and walked behind the school, somewhere near the football/soccer field.  He needed to clear his mind of his bitterness for the place, or else he'd find himself lashing out against one of them.  It was amazing how quickly the infectious repugnance of this environment was able to make itself noticeable.  This school alone was worst than all of Louisiana combined.  It didn’t seem as if he would even be able to survive a year in a hell like this.  After a few minutes, he realized that he stopped thinking about it.  He decided to focus his mind on something else, his only solace in a situation like this: music.  As he walked, he found himself humming a tune that had just come into fruition in his mind.  He walked to the rhythm of it and began to hear an entire band play his selection at maximum volume.  The lyrics of it were nothing but muffled gibberish but the way it blended with the music made it beautiful and Johnny could still feel its impact.  He'd had feelings like this before; it was the feeling of a new song idea swimming in his mind.  He needed to get this down before he forgot it.

His plan was to go around the left corner of the school, take out his guitar and notebooks, and record what he was hearing in his head at that moment.  Unfortunately, since Johnny had entered another frame of thought, he had not anticipated what happened next.  As he prepared to round the corner of the building, someone from the other side drove their fist directly into Johnny's stomach, knocking the wind out of him.  He doubled over and dropped his things, but recovered quickly as the figure proceeded to send another blow directly into his face.  Johnny grabbed the fist that was coming toward his left side, yanked it back with his right hand, and spun the guy around, pinning him against the brick wall with his forearm at the back of assailant's neck.

“Dude, chill!” the guy grunted, his cheek pressed against the brick firmly.

“What the hell was that?” Johnny exclaimed.  “You punched me in the stomach!”

“I thought you were somebody else!”

“You were about to hit me again!  You didn't see that I wasn't the person you were lookin' for?”

“I thought you were one of his friends, now ease up, man!” the guy yelled.

Johnny grabbed the guy's shirt from the back and threw him to the ground to get a better look at him.  The guy was just as tall as Johnny but a little thicker.  His hair was jet black, his skin was pale, and thick bags rested under his eyes from lack of rest but he otherwise seemed relatively healthy.  He was wearing a green sleeveless shirt, tight green jeans, a couple of dog tags on a chain around his neck, and a pair of sandals on his feet.  It was the first view of interest, first glimpse of individualism Johnny had seen here, seeing as his appearance didn't immediately reveal what type of clique he might have been affiliated with, that is unless this guy just decided to be a little tacky for a day.

“Hey, I know you,” the guy said in wonder.  “You're the new guy, Johnny B. Goode.”

“How do you know that?”

“Everybody knows you by now,” the guy said with a smile.  “Word spreads like wildfire in this school, especially word of a newcomer who everyone thinks is a loser.”

“What'd you say to me?” Johnny said threateningly, drawing in closer to the guy.  He swung down and punched him in the face violently then snatched him up by his shirt.  The guy spit blood on the ground beside him and laughed.

“I don't know exactly what you're trying to accomplish, my friend, but you won't build any kind of reputation by beating me up,” he said with a chuckle.  “I'm just like you, at the bottom of the food chain with the nerds and the other losers around here.”

“You're not like me at all,” Johnny said forcefully.  “If you were like me, you wouldn't determine your social status on other people's opinions.”

“Social statuses aren't an opinion, they're fact,” the guy said formally.  “Otherwise, it wouldn't be a social status.  But I never said that sociality was important.  I'm just stating what others think.”

“Do you think I care what others think?” Johnny replied with anger, getting up to grab the Night Bird's case and the amp.  He began to walk away.  His idea was long gone thanks to this guy.  A potentially amazing song was now lost in the back of his mind.

“For the record, I'm not your average bottom feeder,” the guy said, getting to his feet.  “Guys like me don't actually fight back like I was trying to do.”

Johnny turned back to him.  “What, so you think you're the king of the fuckin' world just because you hit me?”

“No," the guy said, circling in front of him.  "I'm saying I'm the king of the fucking school, disguised as an average guy, because I don't let other people tell me what to do or think.  I don't fall into a category and I don't try to fit in.  I just do my own thing.”

Johnny stepped up to the guy and stared him in the face.  “Right.”

There was a long pause as Johnny kept his eyes glued to him.  “You going to kiss me or something?” the guy asked playfully.

“You're a joke,” Johnny said shaking his head as he bumped past him, heading back to the cafeteria.  “You're one of those guys who think they're so awesome because they're independent.  There's almost nothin' more deadly to the world than an ego-driven maverick.”

“I agree,” the guy said following behind him closely, “with that last statement only.  An ego-driven maverick is usually one who thinks they can rule the world by themselves.  They think they can make it all by their lonesome, without any form of assistance, armed only with their personal belongings and their own arrogant attitude, judging the judgmental, unaware of the fact that they are sticking themselves on the same level as the people they despise so much.  Yeah, that's an ego-driven maverick, all right.  Sound familiar?”

Johnny stopped in his tracks and whipped around.  “Are you tryin' to say somethin'?”

“Only when I have something to say.”

Johnny sized him up once again.  He wasn't sure what to make of him.  “What's your name?”

“Some call me the Prophet.  Some call me Tran which is short for Transcendentalist-”

“What the fuck is your name?!” Johnny repeated, losing his patience.

“Joseph.  Joseph Flits.”

“Well, Joseph.  Joseph Flits.  What's the point of you stayin' here and botherin' me?”
“All I'm trying to say, is that your decision to remain on your own in a dog-eat-bitch world is a bad idea.  You're just asking to be swallowed whole by these social sharks.  You'll never get anywhere with the attitude you have.  But there is strength in numbers, my friend.  If you want to, I can help you find the people you need to have your back and make your stay here at Garfield High an enjoyable one.”

“I don't need people to have my back-”

“I know, Johnny B, I know.  You're the tough loner that wants to be on his own, but I'm only trying to help.  Maybe you don't need people to have your back but trust me, you will need people on your side nonetheless and I can make that happen for you.  You can trust me on that.”

Johnny thought about it for a moment.  Last time he'd put his trust in someone, they'd let him down horrifically, as such with everyone else he'd trusted, which was why he had become a loner in the first place.  But now this guy, Joseph Flits, was asking him directly for his trust, a guy he'd never seen in his life before this time.  If he declined, he'd be on his own again, gritting his teeth as he went, day by day through the halls of this school, facing the horrors that it possessed alone.  But if he chose to accept Joseph's offer, he'd make the first friend he'd had in a number of years as well as opening himself up to new opportunities that would, hopefully, keep his mind off of the negative energy given off by the school.  Unfortunately, he'd also be opening himself up to being betrayed once again.  Should I risk it? He thought.

“Well?” Joseph pressed.

Johnny sighed and paused in thought.  “I need to find at least 3 to 6 people.”

“For what, if you don't mind me asking?”

“I want to form a band.”

“In your senior year?  You don't feel like its a little too late?”

“It's never too late to make music,” Johnny said proudly.

Joseph chuckled.  “Well you're in luck, Johnny B, because you've just become friends with the greatest bassist in the entire school.  And yeah, I know exactly the people you'd be willing to work with.”

“I have requirements though,” Johnny said sternly.  “I need people I can trust.  I need people that are passionate about all music but particularly my kind of music.  I need people that are easy to get a hold of and I need people that can play their instruments as good as I can play mine.”

“I need a little more to go on if you want me to find the best.  What kind of music are you aiming for and what kind of instruments?  And do you mind if they all play by ear?”

“That's fine with me, I actually prefer it.  I'm goin' for a Classic Rock sound with any kind of genre influence we can add.  I need a rhythm guitarist, a drummer, someone on keys, and a lead singer.”

“All right, I know the right people....wait.”  Joseph's face lit up.  “You didn't mention a bassist.”

“Well you were just flaunting your skills just a second ago, so I figured you were already on board,” Johnny said with a mostly apathetic shrug, but it spoke much more to Joseph.  He held out a hand for him to shake.  Johnny looked at it for a moment, then finally shook it firmly.  Joseph smiled.

“You won't be sorry, my friend,” he said with excitement.  “I'm going to make sure you make it out here.”

“You let me worry about that,” Johnny said, walking off with his new friend by his side.  “I want you to make sure we make it where it really counts.”

Stone Free by Jimi Hendrix

Night Bird Flying - Chapter 2: Highway Child




Johnny walked to the front of the line as the individual in front of him got their bus ticket and walked off.

“One ticket to Ladyland, California,” Johnny said quickly when he reached the window.

“May I please see your I.D, Sir?” the woman behind it asked professionally.

“Um....Can I not get a ticket without one?”

“Not unless you're accompanied by someone that does.  In which case, they'd have to pay your way.”

“Um.”  Johnny had not anticipated this.  Nor had he expected any of the events that transpired after he was called to the principal's office at Brooks High School.  Nothing seemed to be going his way.  Now, he was going to have to return to his mother's house and explain to her that he couldn't get a bus to Ladyland where his uncle lived, without adult supervision.  He didn't know how she would react.  She was even more unpredictable than he was.  Johnny was now experiencing one of the rarest moments of his life: awkward uncertainty.  As he stood there at a loss for words, a man stepped up from behind and crossed slightly in front of him.

“He's with me,” the man said, pulling out twice the amount of money Johnny had brought with him and handing it to the woman in the window.  He appeared to be in his 40's; he had a fairly young-looking face with the exception of a thick black and gray beard around his chin and hair to his shoulders of the same color.  “Two tickets to Ladyland, California.”

“I.D. Please?” the woman requested.  The man pulled out his wallet and showed his identification card to her, then put it away quickly.  The woman pressed a button at her station twice, ejecting two tickets from the dispenser in front of her.  “Thank you.  Your bus will be leaving at 7:45pm.”

“Alright, that's fine,” the man said, taking the tickets and handing one to Johnny.  He couldn't believe it.  This random stranger had just paid his way out of turmoil for no apparent reason.  But why?  The man walked to a seat nearest a wall of vending machines.  Johnny followed.

“Hey man,” he called after him with a level of distrust.  The man turned around as he took his seat.  “What was that all about?”

“What, Me paying your way?” the man said with a smile.  “I figured you had a valid reason for leaving this place, so I decided to help you out.”

“Oh,” Johnny replied with a bit of confusion.  He thought for a second and said, “I'm not gay or anythin', just so you know.”

The man chuckled.  “I'm not either.  I'm married, see?” He held up his hand to display a wedding band on his finger.

“Yeah, but there's such a thing as the down low,” Johnny said with a smile, but he believed the man and sat down in the seat beside him.  He put his bags on the floor at his feet.  “So you just saw me and decided to help?”

“That's pretty much it.”

“That's kind of you, man.  Do you always do stuff like that?”

“When, I can,” the man shrugged.  He held out a hand to shake.  “I'm Will.”

Johnny took it and introduced himself.  “Johnny B.”

The conversation briefly ended as Will pulled out a small book from his jacket pocket and cracked it open while Johnny slipped his guitar from around his torso and brought it to his chest.  He crossed his legs as he started to strum a few chords then he grabbed for one of the wires from his bag, plugged it into his amp, turned it on, and began to go through his scales, adjusting the tuning pegs to the right pitch.

“You play?” Will asked, looking up from his book.

In response, Johnny strummed hard and danced his fingers across the frets of the guitar, playing a random riff that he had memorized over time.  The sound blared from the speaker of the amp.  People looked his way and smiled at the display of talent.

“I don't carry a guitar across my back for my health,” Johnny joked.  “I call her the Night Bird.”

“You're left-handed,” Will said, watching Johnny's peculiar style of playing.  “And playing a right-handed guitar.  I've never seen that before; that's incredible.  You must have had to re-string it yourself.  How long have you been playing?”

“Since I was ten,” Johnny said, strumming lightly as he spoke.  “And I never needed to re-string it.  My father got me started on it and I basically taught myself how to play backwards.  He died shortly after I bought this one.”

“Oh, I'm sorry for your loss.”

“No, its all right.  He was a great man, very cool about my aspirations.  My mom never understood me, but I could always connect with him.  I'm just glad to get away from her though.”

“Yeah, I've been meaning to ask you that,” Will mentioned.  “Why Ladyland?”

“My uncle lives there.  I just recently got expelled from school because I tore the place up after they tried to get me to break up with my girlfriend.  Little did I know, the slut was fuckin' some other guy while that was going on.”

“Ouch,” Will responded.

“I know.  I don't really care though.  She was annoyin' me anyway.  But eventually, my mom found out and kicked me out of the house, so I went on.”

“So you're pretty much all alone in this world, huh?”

"I guess so.  At least I've still got my guitar.  Look out now.”  Johnny played a simple blues riff, causing the crowd to turn their attention to him again.

“Play on, brother,” called a passerby walking by with his bags in hand.  Johnny smiled and nodded at him without breaking the flow as his fingers slid up and down the strings.  It felt so natural to him, as natural as basic actions like walking or breathing to anyone else.  Whenever he was too far away from his guitar, he would grow increasingly anxious and it would become clear, just by looking at him, that he was having guitar withdrawal and needed his instrument to steady his mind.  It was an extension of his body.  Seeing the passing fan, Johnny realized something about Will.

“I noticed you don't have any bags on you,” Johnny said to Will, halting his playing.

“Yeah, all of my stuff is where I'm supposed to be right now,” Will said, turning back to his book, but mainly looking past it.  “In Ladyland.  Had my bags forwarded there in advance.”

“What are you going there for?”

“Going to see my daughter.  Haven't seen her in a while so I thought I'd pay her a visit.”

“Oh, so she's in college?”

“No, she's about your age actually, living with her mom.  I've been on business for a while so I need to get myself reacquainted with my family.”

“What business do you work for?”

“It's independent, one of my friend's many attempts to get an established company going.  I don't even know why I bother.  He's barely much of an entrepreneur.”

“He must be somethin' if he has you travelin' from state to state like its nothin'.”

“I'd be more grateful if that meant traveling by air.  I have to take a metro bus everywhere.”

Johnny chuckled.  “At least, you're gettin' paid.  I expect to see your face on a billboard in New York somewhere in the next few years.”

“Right,” Will laughed.  “And I expect to see your face right beside it down Time Square or something.  Diamond albums, the whole nine yards.  Just don't let it influence you into the wrong things.”

“You don't have to worry,” Johnny said, pulling out his MP3.  “Life constantly changes but I wont let it change me.”

“That's a good code to live by.”

“I know.  I made that promise to my pops.  I don't intend to break it.”  Johnny put the headphones in his ears, sat back, and began to play the corresponding notes from each song on his guitar.

--------------------------------------------------

Johnny sat against the tree by the lake in his tuxedo, plucking away at the black Les Paul, which he now labeled as the Night Bird, without the use of his amp.  His playing was sporadic as he began to teach himself a new riff.  He tried to keep it on rhythm but he found himself forgetting the fifth fret of his riff repeatedly, which was beginning to frustrate him.  Out of the corner of his eye, up on the hill where the funeral procession was coming to a close, he could see the attendees gathering up their belongings from the garden cemetery where his father was being laid to rest.  He could hardly sit through the actual funeral service.  As he sat listening to the apathetic preacher address the half-filled church, he watched closely, surveying his aunts and uncles and the supposed friends of his father as they bantered back and forth with each other, having irrelevant chats that had nothing to do with the event taking place.  They talked over the preacher and occasionally called out a few "amens" and "preach" to show that they were giving him a fraction of their attention.  Johnny could feel a lump in his throat.  These people acted like they were here because it was required of them, not because they wanted to honor his father's memory.  This was especially evident when he saw that once the service was over, no one addressed the casket to give their final respects to their colleague, with the exception of Johnny, one uncle, an old friend of his father's, and possibly a few others.  Not even his own mother said her last goodbye to her husband.  They all simply left as quickly as they could, as if in a hurry to get it all over with.  At the burial, Johnny had chosen to stray away unnoticed (Not that they had paid him much attention to begin with) and spend time practicing on his guitar, something that he cherished just as much as his father's life, by the lake.

A heavy set black teenager, roughly the same age as Johnny, made his way down the hill with his hands in his pockets, also wearing a tuxedo similar to his.  When he approached, Johnny paid him no mind and continued to pluck at his guitar with a degree of amateurism.

"Hey Johnny," the boy greeted somberly as he reached him.

"Hey," he responded softly.

"I'm....I'm sorry about your dad."

Johnny looked up from his guitar and made eye contact with his cousin.  "Its all right, Lorenzo."

His cousin swallowed hard and looked up at the hill where the adults were having casual conversation, some even laughing heartily as if they were attending a party of some kind.  He turned and looked back down at Johnny.

"Um, my mom wanted to know if you wanted to come over to our place and hang out this afternoon.  I can pull out the bass and we can jam like last time."

Johnny shook his head lightly.  "I don't think so, Lorenzo.  I think I just want to be alone for a while."
Lorenzo looked down in disappointment but nodded.  "Okay."

One of the older boys from the top of the hill ran down jovially, patting Lorenzo on the back as he passed by.  He was also black, but carried a soul patch on his chin and a thin mustache, despite being only a year older than Johnny and Lorenzo.  He too was one of Johnny's cousins.  "What's up, peeps?" he said excitedly, looking at the two with a large smile.  Lorenzo gave him an offended look and etched his head toward Johnny.  The boy looked at him and smacked his teeth.  "He's still down, isn't he?  Damn, when my dad died, I got over it in like five minutes.  My mom was like 'your dad died today' and I was like 'hmm' and went back to playing video games."

"Your dad was a jerk that used to beat you, Tyler," Lorenzo said sternly.  "You barely even saw him.  Johnny was very close to his dad.  Show some respect."

Tyler snorted.  "Right.  Hey Johnny, whenever you're done sulking, meet us at the top of the hill. We're getting dinner together."

Tyler turned and began to head back up the hill.  Johnny looked up at him as he began to leave.  "I'm not going."

Tyler turned back to him with a look of offense.  "What?"

"My mom told me to stay home after the funeral."

Tyler chuckled.  "So you do whatever mommy tells you to do?"

"I actually want to stay home."

"Instead of hanging out with family like a normal human being?  Really?  Pathetic."

"My dad just died, Tyler!" Johnny exclaimed.

"And that gives you an excuse to blow off your whole family, kid?  Jeez, so what, you're going to use your mother's death as an excuse to go shoot up a school next, huh?  Is that it?  Stop acting like your father was so great, he was just a regular man like every other grown up around this place."

"Don't talk about my father that way," Johnny said through grit teeth, staring up at Tyler intently.  "My father was everything to me."

Tyler pressed his hand against his face in frustration.  "Well guess what, little boy?  Everything is gone and its not coming back."

Johnny's eyes squinted and he lifted his guitar from around his torso, lying it down by the tree and standing up as he began to confront Tyler.  Lorenzo, sensing the hostility, stepped in front of Johnny protectively.

"Its not worth it, bro," he whispered to Johnny lightly.

"I used to think insensitive and inconsiderate people like you didn't exist in this world," Johnny said loudly, just barely holding back his anger.  "My dad told me otherwise but I had never met somebody who cared so little about the next person; so selfish that they don't give a damn about anybody's feelin's.  Now I'm startin' to realize that you're probably one of the people he warned me about."

Tyler smiled.  "And my mom would always told me that your dad used to talk a lot of nonsense.  It was only a matter of time before you started adopting his ability to spout bullshit on a regular basis"-

Johnny pushed Lorenzo from his grip and pounced forward onto Tyler.  Tyler was ready for it and struck Johnny in the face.  However, unexpectedly, the blow did not stop his momentum and he collided with Tyler, tackling him to the ground.  The sudden pressure that Johnny put on him incapacitated Tyler enough for Johnny to prevent another blow.  With him down, Johnny proceeded to bash him in the face repeatedly with all his strength.  He watched as Tyler began to bruise up and blood spewed from his nose and lips with each strike.  Johnny could hear screaming coming from the hill above but blocked it out of his head as blind rage took over, his eyes stretching open and his teeth gnashing tightly.  After a few minutes, he could feel hands pulling him up from the boy forcefully.  His fist was covered in blood, both his and the boy's.

"Jenna!" a voice screamed behind Johnny as he felt one of his older cousins grip tightly at his shoulder and arms.  "Jenna!  You need to control your child!"

"No," Johnny said softly, before twisting his body around and breaking free of their grip.  "FUCK YOU!"

He jerked from their clutches and turned to them roughly as they gasped at his use of vulgar language around the family.  He could see the majority of them standing around on the top of the hill as he addressed his cousins.  He saw nothing but backstabbing snakes in all of them and very few were really here on his father's behalf; most were there to gossip and speak ill of him and he wasn't even around to defend himself.  They didn't care about his father and they didn't care about Johnny.  No one did.

"You can't control me!"  Johnny screamed hysterically, his face getting red with anger.  "So stop fuckin’ tryin’ to!"

He swallowed hard and turned away from them, storming up the hill as the crowd of individuals moved past him cautiously.  They wanted to give him whatever space he required.  He kept his eyes from the lot of them as he passed by, walking aimlessly away from the cemetery as he left his guitar alone against the tree by the lake.

--------------------------------------------------

A bump in the road jogged Johnny out of his slumber.  He was in the window seat of the metro bus that was taking him to California.  His MP3 was still in his ears, hammering music into his brain.  He snatched them from his head and looked around.  There was an empty seat beside him where Will should have been.  They had spent a good majority of the ride talking and now he was suddenly gone.  Johnny got onto one knee in the seat and looked over the others in a 180 view.  There wasn’t anyone he was familiar with that he could see on the bus.  Everyone was either asleep or attending to themselves, not even noticing him.  Hmm.  He must have went to the bathroom in the back, Johnny thought.

A day or two had passed and the realization that things were finally going to change were setting in.  A microscopic-sized part of him would miss Louisiana but for the most part, he was longing to see the rest of the world.  At least then, the opportunities would begin to flow more frequently than they ever would in such a rural and negative environment.  Ladyland was outside of Johnny's comprehension, especially after his entire life had been spent in Louisiana and he'd never been to a big city aside from New Orleans.  The only part of Johnny’s appreciation for the state he was leaving had died along with him.

It went without saying that Johnny's father was the only person Johnny let get close to him.  When he died, all he left behind for him was Johnny's newly purchased dream guitar.  He would later name it, the Night Bird, after the nickname his father had been given by his students during his time as a music teacher in New Orleans.  Mere moments after the guitar was purchased, Johnny walked out of the shop only to find his father lying in the middle of the road in front of the music store.  He had been involved in a hit-and-run accident.  He was killed instantly.

Johnny hadn't been the same since.  He was already a growing novice at playing the guitar before purchasing the Night Bird, but he had never developed the habit of carrying it around everywhere he went until after his father's death.  As a result, his playing skills had grown above average to exceptional and eventually to gifted.  He'd been blaming himself for the accident and used the guitar as a constant memory of his selfishness.

In some ways, he felt that his father's soul might have migrated into the guitar and by having it around, he could feel his father's spirit with him as well.  However, that was only on a subconscious level, nothing he'd use to actually explain his actions.  He began to act out in school, accumulating barely passing grades and spray painting detailed but abstract murals in remembrance of his father in various places around town.  As he got older, he continued to remember his father, but it was clear that he was no longer the motivation for Johnny's actions.  No one, not even Johnny could explain the exact reasons for why he acted the way he did.  It seemed as if he were still lashing out, but at this point, his father's death and his rebellious attitude had formed a new Johnny B. Goode, one that carried unbridled intelligence but was tragically impulsive, his most obvious character flaw which was beginning to shape into what could eventually lead to his demise, thus his personal need to make a change.  His poor decisions were slowly ruining his life, day by day, and to a small extent, he felt that maybe this was his goal all along; to cause enough trouble for him to leave his dreadful home for good.

Almost 30 minutes after Johnny had awakened, the bus pulled into its destination: Port Electric of Ladyland, California.  As the bus stopped and everyone began to exit, Johnny got up and looked around.  Where was Will?  Johnny went to the bathroom in the back and saw that it was vacant.  Maybe he had moved to the front and got off with the others.  Johnny left the bus and grabbed his bags from the compartment above him.

He spent several minutes searching outside but with no luck.  Where could he have gone?  Johnny looked at his watch.  It was 2:30am.  No time to worry about it now.  He needed to get going.  He walked into the station and took a seat, pulling his cell phone from his bag and dialing his uncle's number.  He let it ring a few times before a groggy, exhausted voice answered.

“Hello?”

“Hey, Uncle Chuck?  It's me, Johnny B.”

“Johnny B. who?” Uncle Chuck asked with slight frustration.

“Johnny B. Goode, your nephew,” he answered in annoyance.

“Oh....Well what do you want?”

“You're supposed to be pickin' me up from Port Electric.  Didn't my mom tell you I was comin'?"

“Yeah, she did.  I'll be there in whenever.”  Click!  The conversation was over.  Johnny looked at the phone to see that Uncle Chuck had hung up.  That was okay.  Johnny had known Uncle Chuck to be somewhat of a bitter and impulsive man, almost like a reflection of himself.  He would just have to wait it out until he arrived.  So he waited...

...And waited...and waited...Johnny looked at his watch.  It was 4:04am.  Johnny dialed the number again and listened.  No answer.  He tried several more times but still received nothing.  No way was Johnny going to spend the night in some Bus Station because his Uncle was acting like a jerk to prove a point.  He got up, grabbed his things, and kept moving.

He walked down the dark roads of Ladyland, California, a peaceful but fair-sized suburban city, virtually unknown to the rest of the state despite being considered a metropolis.  Orange streetlights illuminated the sidewalks.  Though aware of the dangers that night life in this type of city might possess in its shadows, Johnny walked without fear along the path to his Uncle's house.  If anything, he was more angry than fearful.  Angry that his Uncle had been lazy and most likely forgot he was coming to visit.

Johnny continued on until he saw a sign that said “Gypsy Sun Park.”  That was the neighborhood where his Uncle lived; tracing the GPS from his phone to his uncle‘s, he was able to find his house on a map of the city, which was within walking distance of the bus station.  Further observation showed him that his Uncle's house was just as generic as the rest of the suburban houses that surrounded it.  He walked into the neighborhood and spotted the first steps that led up to the front door.  He took them and reached it, pounding on it as hard as he could.  While waiting, he leaned from the front step and into the semi-open garage beside the house where he could still see his Uncle's car, untouched.  This only added to Johnny's anger.  It wasn't like he could really do anything about it though, no matter how irritated he got.

“Who the fuck is it?” came a voice from behind the door.

“It's Johnny B.”

“Johnny B. who?”

“Johnny B. Fuckin' Goode, now let me the fuck in,” Johnny said, losing his temper.
The door swung open and an arm grabbed him by the shirt, yanking him through the doorway.  Johnny was thrown to the floor and an overhead light flew on.  A shadow lept through the air and landed on his chest, instantly slapping him in the face.

“Who the FUCK do you think you're talking to, boy?!” Uncle Chuck yelled.  “You're not in Louisiana anymore.  You're in my house.  What's the word?”

“Get off!” Johnny yelled, but Chuck threw his fingers around Johnny's throat, grasping it tightly.

“The word, bitch!”

“Get the fuck off!” Johnny yelled in a strained voice.  Chuck let go of his neck, then pulled him up by the collar of his shirt and shoved him against the wall.

“WORD!!”

“FINE!” Johnny said, through the parts of his shirt being shoved against his mouth by Chuck's grip.  “PLEASE Get the fuck off!”

“Now that's more like it,” Chuck said, letting go of his collar.  Now that the scuffle was over, Johnny could see Chuck's face clearer.  Chuck Goode was a middle-aged black man with incredibly dark skin, contrasting with Johnny's caramel complexion.  He was just as slim but a bit more robust in size.  He was also considerably shorter than Johnny.  His hair was short but he sported thick sideburns by his ears and a loose, animated face that prevented him from hiding any emotion.  Chuck was shirtless and stood in his underwear as he wrestled Johnny to the ground, leaving Johnny feeling uncomfortable and somewhat violated when they parted.  Chuck tapped Johnny on the cheek and smiled, revealing a set of straight, shiny teeth.  Chuck started to turn around and walk away but swiftly switched gears, pinning Johnny, who believed that the ordeal was done and let his guard down, back onto the wall with his forearm at his neck.

“What are you doing here?” he asked menacingly.

“I already told you, Ma told me to come here,” Johnny said between breathes.  “You were supposed to pick me up, but you took too long so I came here.”

“Oh yeah.”  Chuck finally let go and softened up a bit.  “Sorry about that.  Fell asleep again, lost track of time, you know how it is.  So what'd you do?  Get expelled again?”

“Again?  I've only been expelled once.”

“You sure?  Because I remember you doing some shit at school...busting up the place after they discriminated against you or something?”

“Yeah that's what just happened.  That's why I'm here now.”

“Oh,” Chuck said, finally getting with the program.  “So what am I supposed to do?”

“Uh, let me live here?” Johnny replied with sarcasm.  “Help me get back into school, find a job and all that-”

“WHOA WHOA, wait wait wait wait wait, hold up now,” Chuck said abruptly.  “You're what?  22?”

“17.”

“Even better, 17.  You can get a job on your own.  That's your responsibility.  I already got school covered.  I enrolled you this afternoon.  You're going first thing in the morning.”

“What?” Johnny said in surprise as he looked down at his watch.  “It's 4:45am.  What time does school here start?”

“7:15am.”

“But I don't have any of my shit together.  I haven't unpacked, I haven't gotten any sleep, I don't even know what school I'm even going to yet.”

“Bitch, you're a Goode!  Adaptable in any environment.  My brother didn't birth no pussies!"  Johnny started to correct Uncle Chuck on that last statement, since Chuck's brother wouldn't be able to "birth" anything, being a male.  He decided to let it go.  Johnny got the picture.  "You're going to Garfield High School, so you best get to shit together and in bed 'cause I'm gonna be up in your face to get you up at 6.”

“Shit,” Johnny muttered under his breath.  Grabbing his bags, amp, and guitar, all of which had scattered across the room during the scuffle, Johnny walked up stairs thoroughly irritated.  As he proceeded, Uncle Chuck noticed the guitar and called out to him.

“Boy, what do you know about playing the guitar?” he asked with a smile.

Johnny looked back at him with disdain, continuing up the steps.  “A lot.”

“Don't let me find out, boy.  I'll come up there and teach you a thing or two myself.  I used to be in a band.”

Johnny stopped at the top step and turned to him.  “You were in a band,” he repeated in disbelief with a mix of sarcasm.

“Yes sir.  Back in the 70's, I led guitar for this group called....called....aw fuck the name, but we were good.  REALLY good.  I'll let you listen to some of my records when you get home tomorrow.”

Johnny was silent for a bit.  “All right,” he said, his mind elsewhere.  “Good night.”  He continued up the stairs into the room where he dropped his things and began to unpack.  Interesting.  Just a few minutes ago, Johnny was dreading the idea of starting school again so early without so much as a break after his fiasco days ago.  On top of that, he would only be getting an hour or so of sleep that night, which wasn't nearly enough to make it through the day.  But the last thing his Uncle said gave him an idea.  A band.  Johnny had never truly entertained the thought because he was sure no one he knew in Louisiana would commit to the idea; however, it was definitely possible now.  Playing the guitar, which was originally a hobby, inner sanctuary, and in some ways, an OCD impulse, could actually take him farther than he’d anticipated if done right.  He'd have to get the right people though, people he could trust with his life.  It may be a work in progress but he'd have to establish something in a moment's time.  He was a Senior and it was already late October, half way through the semester.  If he wanted things to go his way, he'd have to make several good friends and get something together before his 18th birthday, when his Uncle could legally kick him out on the street, which he could and probably would do.  But that was enough time for Johnny to make a name for himself in this little town of Ladyland.  It'd involve a lot of hard work, he thought.  But hell, he wasn't planning on putting his time and effort into anything else in his life, so there was virtually nothing to lose.  He smiled to himself.  Time to get the ball rolling....

Highway Child by Jimi Hendrix

Night Bird Flying - Chapter 1: Freedom




"Way down Louisiana close to New Orleans,
Way back up in the woods among the evergreens,
There stood a log cabin made of earth and wood.
Where lived a country boy named Johnny B. Goode." - Chuck Berry

And Johnny couldn't have despised this life more.  He stood outside on the front porch, looking out at the clearing within the trees in front of his house with total disdain for everything his gaze fell on.  Dressed in a sleeveless T-shirt, the strings still hanging from the thread where it was torn and a large bandage patch on his left arm, Johnny kept his eyes ahead sourly.  His jeans were worn out and there were holes torn into the knees.  He was barefoot and he leaned against the column nearest the front step lazily, his hands in his pockets.

Jonathan Goode was a 17-year old African American teenager.  He was now sporting a large Afro; it formed into loose curls which spilled over his head into thick bangs that rested over his eyebrows.  His skin was caramel-colored and his eyes were a piercing light brown, strikingly efficient in catching a passerby's attention by their unusual nature alone.  Johnny was skinny, very skinny but with a slight muscle build visible due to southern hard life.  He reached up to scratched his head, revealing an enormous hand with long, slim, spider-like fingers that dug into the jungle of wool above his cranium.

“John!” screamed a strong female voice from inside the house.  “You think I was jokin'!?  I didn't mean stay out there and sulk on the porch, then come in when you feel like it.  When I say leave, I mean GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!!”

“ALL RIGHT!” Johnny belted with a deep voice that shook the floor.  His thick almost white southern accent faded in and out to a proper dialect at various times, usually changing with his emotions.  Disregarding his mother, he walked into the house and paced into his room, slipped on his shoes, grabbed his packed bags, and held them together tightly in one hand.  With almost everything he needed with him, he searched around the desolate black room, then he saw what he was looking for.  A black Gibson Les Paul; slick and beautiful with a strap attached, designed with an abstract but colorful pattern.  He grabbed it and slung the guitar across his torso, picking up the amp that lay beside it and holding it in his other hand.  He turned to walk out of the door, when a large black woman blocked the exit.

“Where you think you going with that gui-tar?” she asked with a raised eyebrow.  “You leavin’ that here.”

“The hell I am,” Johnny said with agitation.  “It's mine.”

“I'm the one that paid for it, so its mine and you gon' leave it here.”

“Dad paid for it.  I worked to get it when he purchased it, so it was mine when he bought it.”

“Don't speak nonsense in my face, boy!” his mother spat vigorously.  “Leave it on that bed and get the hell out of my house!”

Johnny smacked his teeth.  “Bullshit,” he muttered, under his breath as he slipped past her.

“Boy, bring yo' ass back here!” Johnny's mother yelled, but Johnny was already out of the house with the guitar across his back and his bags in hand.  “You tryin' to kill me, ain't ya?  You tryin' ta get my blood presha all high.  You ain't nothin' without me, boy!  You just goin' to drop out a school and be a bum like everybody else in this family.  Go on, get out a here!”

He didn't need to be told.  In fact, he was already strolling down the dirt road that ran adjacent to their house.  Fuck her, he thought.  Fuck this town; there’s nothing there for me, not anymore.  Everything that his mother yelled at him from her porch miles away went into one ear and out of the other swiftly, without a loss of momentum.  He was going to prove her wrong.  He just needed to plan out how he was going to do it.  He made a note to make sure it didn't involve the type of tactics that he used to get himself in this situation in the first place, walking down a country dirt road, unemployed and homeless, headed into a world of either endless possibilities or countless misfortune.

--------------------------------------------------

Just hours before, Johnny was sitting in the principal's office of Brooks High School.  He was now wearing a brown leather jacket, khakis and a pair of sunglasses placed firmly on the top of his head, arrogantly chewing a thick wad of gum as the man in front of him began to lay down some discipline.  He was showing no immediate reaction to any of the man’s addresses.  Johnny let his eyes wander about at the spectacles that filled the room.  It was relatively boring; a traditional office that displayed the school colors of green and silver, illuminatingly brown with an oak wood interior all around the room, and a collection of trophies on one side of the wall.  There was a display case holding the principal's most prized possession: a baseball bat, a testament of his glory days, when he was the MVP of Brooks High School's baseball team years ago.  Johnny looked at it lazily.  He did not feel nor did he give any respect to the principal.  Respect needed to be earned, and Johnny had not seen any evidence of the principal's entitlement to this as of yet.

“Do you know why you're here, Jonathan?” the principal asked patiently.

“I believe I do,” Johnny said, gently knocking down his sunglasses to the bridge of his nose.

“Mr. Goode,” the principal said, looking down at his papers.  The man, who looked as if he were in his mid 50's, grabbed a pair of reading glasses, slid them on, then squinted down at the papers once again.  “You have been absent from class 32 times this semester, tardy 12 times after being caught and forced into class by a truant officer, and you've been proven responsible for the desecration of school property through means of graffiti.  Your GPA is 1.8, yet its been proven that you know the material in the classes you take as if you had already taken them before.  You have amazing potential but virtually no work ethic.  What seems to be the problem with you, Johnny?”

Johnny stopped chewing his gum and his expression turned from complete apathy to seriousness.  “I don't think the problem is with me,” he said with a touch of sarcasm.  “Have you ever thought about it?  I mean really thought about the reason why I do this?  Did you ever stop to think that maybe its just the simple fact that it's you I'm targetin' my anger on because of how you're tryin' to ruin me and everybody here?  Do you know the drop out rate for this school?  When you were first employed in 1997, it was 14% and now 10 years later, its fuckin' 51%.  You didn't think I knew that, did you?  So what did you do?  You hire truant officers.  Seriously?  For a damn high school?  When you could've simply gone to the Board and asked for a change in curriculum, maybe employed better teachers or somethin'.  Because to be honest with you, a contributin' factor for why I don't come here is because of your emotionless, unbearably borin' teachers who don't teach us shit in the first place, your stupid rules that don't accomplish anythin', and your overbearin', arrogant attitude.  So here's your homework for tonight, Mr. Principal.  Why don't you think about ways of improvin' your corrupted ass school and your own worthless life, then maybe you'll hit two birds with one stone and solve my problem too.”   Johnny finished off his speech with a smile as he clapped his hands together with a look of accomplishment.

The principal was not amused at all.  He pulled his reading glasses from his face and gave Johnny an intense look.  “Do you think you're smart, Mr. Goode?” he said, his face growing stern.  “Because you're not.  The only reason why you're here in my office right now and not an arrested convict or out on the streets like the rest of your kind is because of my intervention.”

“My kind,” Johnny repeated, raising an eyebrow.

“Yes your kind and you know exactly what I'm talking about.  I pray you're at least smart enough to understand that.  Now....I have a proposition for you.  We can make this all go away.  The tardies, the absences, the tainted record; it can all be forgotten.  We'll even throw in a few grade changes.  All of this can be yours if you do one thing for us.”

“And what's that?” Johnny asked, unconvinced.

“Leave Rebecca,” the principal stated plainly.  There was a short pause before Johnny responded.

“What?”

“Leave her.”

“You mean break up with her?” Johnny asked, his anger swelling and his confusion growing.  “You want me to break up with my girlfriend in exchange for a clean record?  Why?”

“Because in the bible, it clearly states that intercultural marriages are forbidden and being the God-fearing man that I am, I like to abide by the spiritual law, whether you like it or not.”

“So what you're sayin' is, you want me to break up with my girlfriend because of my race.  Because she's white and I'm black.”

“That is the idea,” the principal said, his expression unchanged.

“I don't believe this,” Johnny chuckled humorlessly.  “Okay, first of all, I'm not married to Rebecca.  We're only dating.  Second, the passage about interracial marriage was in the Old Testament, which has numerous contradictions, including how you can sell your daughter into marriage and/or slavery.  Third, that passage was originally directed towards the Jews and Gentiles.  Fourth, who are you to call yourself a God-fearing man when you‘re clearly judgin‘ me?  When the bible that you claim to know so much about mentions that all men are created equal, you consider me to be inferior.  You don't fear God.  You're challengin' him with your own beliefs.  If God struck you down right now, you'd still deserve worst, you racist bastard.”

The principal smirked.  “I'm not going to try to convince you, Jonathan.  This isn’t about me, it’s about you.  Now will you accept my proposition or not?”

Johnny glared at the principal and chewed on his gum twice as hard, hoping that his anger would dissipate along with its flavor.  It wasn't helping.  He was done.  He had been pushed over the edge.  He jumped out of his chair and spit his gum into the principal's face.

“Fuck you,” Johnny said forcefully before reaching to the side of the principal's desk and sweeping his arm across it, knocking everything off.

He picked up the black Les Paul that had been leaning on the side of his chair, which he now carried around everywhere he went, even at school.  He swung it across his torso onto his back with the neck pointed to the ground and walked to the side of the room, where he spotted the principal's prized baseball bat in its display case.

“What are you doing?” the principal asked, tension growing in his voice.

“Doing God's work, Mr. Principal,” Johnny chuckled, grabbing the display case recklessly and pulling it from the shelf.

“No!!” he yelled, jumping from his chair.  But it was too late.  Johnny slammed the case onto the ground and it shattered to pieces as soon as it made contact.  He quickly reached down to pick up the bat and turned around with it threateningly as the principal stopped his charge toward Johnny.  The principal reared back and cowardly hid behind his desk.  Both fortunately and unfortunately for him, Johnny had other plans.

He walked to the exit, lifted his leg and forcibly kicked the wooden door off of its hinges.  With it, the seal that locked away his wild side flew off as well.  As soon as he left the office, he came out swinging, literally.  At the first sight of glass, Johnny curved the bat and smashed it.  He started with fire extinguisher cases then moved on to classroom door windows, jogging down the hallway as he went.

“Stop that boy!” The principal yelled at the top of his lungs, pointing at the out-of-control teen.  Johnny screamed and laughed as he sprinted down the hallways, slamming the precious bat against the lockers as hard as he could.  Most of them were now dented beyond repair.  Johnny kept going.  He was enjoying himself for the first time at that retched school.  He had had enough of its rules, its intolerance, its negative environment.  It was time to lay down some anarchy.

As he continued down the hall, two security guards came around the corner and grabbed at Johnny, one wrapping his arms around his torso.  Johnny used the bat to pry the guard from him, then swung it into the his cheek.  The blow was powerful enough to knock the guard unconscious as he collapsed against one of the lockers.  As the second guard charged forward, Johnny turned the bat around to the handle side and jabbed it into the guard's knee.  In the same motion, he directed the top of the bat into his face, causing him to fly back.  The move ultimately gave Johnny more time to flee.

Johnny was ecstatic.  He grazed the bat across the surface of the lockers as he passed.  Teachers and students began to exit their classrooms, searching for the source of all of the commotion.  Johnny gazed over his shoulder.  No one was following him at that moment.  He stopped running and looked down at the bat.  He couldn't see what was so special about it.  It was a worn out piece of wood; its decals and designs were worn out beyond recognition.  Why should the principal miss it any? He thought.  So he lifted it high above his head and a scream rang out behind him.

“STOP!!” Yelled the principal who had just turned the corner to witness Johnny's travesty against him.  He mustered all of his strength and slammed the bat as hard as he possibly could onto the floor.  Splinters of wood exploded into the air and the booming sound was as deafening as a thunderstorm.  With it now smashed to pieces, he threw the useless handle away from him and looked back at the principal, who's spirit had broken along with his prized bat.

“NO!!” The principal was on his knees, crying in agony.  What a bitch, Johnny thought as he turned back on his path.  He laughed almost maniacally as he continued along the hall, beginning to plan his escape.  He soon found the boy's restroom down the next hall he turned onto.  There was a window in there that could be opened and would lead outside to the campus.  He took a turn and busted in, heading towards the closed window.  He lifted it open as quickly as he could, surveying the area before making his escape as he slipped off the Les Paul and held it in one hand to avoid it obstructing his departure.  He prepared to climb through....until he heard someone's voice.

It was a female's, very familiar to Johnny's ears.  There was heavy breathing and the sounds of flesh caressing against flesh.  Johnny stopped in his tracks.  He walked backwards focusing on nothing but the sounds he heard, which were obviously coming from one of the stalls.  He picked one and kicked it in.  Inside, a girl was locking lips with another student and the two were half-naked.  They broke away and looked at him in surprise but their looks combined could not match the shock and terror on Johnny's face.

“R-Rebecca?” he stuttered, his voice trembling.

“Johnny....” was all the young brunette could say.  Johnny couldn't believe his eyes.  There she was, his girlfriend, naked from the waist down and making out with some ugly kid he could give a fuck less about.  He'd just torn through the school, causing mayhem, and essentially throwing his life away, all for her.  Now it was all pointless.  He'd rampaged through the school for nothing.  He gripped the neck of the Les Paul so tightly, he could feel the veins protruding from his forearms.

Suddenly, the bathroom door swung open and several security guards rushed in.  It snapped Johnny back into action.  Gone was the image of his girlfriend fucking another guy.  Gone were the thoughts of her entirely.  The only thing on his mind was to avoid getting caught.  He ran forward, dived through the open window, and stepped into the outside world.  The natural aroma of the deep south swelled inside his nostrils, bigotry and all.  It was putrid but it didn't stop him from sprinting across the school campus and down the street towards oblivion.

--------------------------------------------------

Johnny stepped into his mother's front yard to see her sweeping the front porch.  He slowed his run as she glanced up at him quickly, then looked back down at her work.  Did she know what he'd done?  Had the school already informed her of his destruction?  He walked onto the porch, careful not to step on any piles of dirt that she had swept into place to be scooped up later.

“I called your uncle up just now,” she said, keeping her eyes on the straw of the broom as she swept.

Johnny hesitated in answering as he slipped off his leather jacket to reveal his sleeveless t-shirt.  “Uncle Chuck?”

“Yep,” she said.  “He's gon' be expecting you.  So go pack ya stuff,” she stopped sweeping and finally looked up at Johnny, “and get outta my house.”

Uh oh.  “The school called, didn't they?” Johnny asked quickly.

“You think you can just go off and go wild in somebody's school like that without punishment?  Uh-uh.  You gots to go now.  You done already got ya arm all tatted up, why don't you gon' 'head and live on the street like the hoodlum you tryin' to be.”

“It's one tattoo, ma, how are you still mad about that?” Johnny asked, rolling his eyes.  His mother confronted him and slapped him on his left arm, whichh was holding the bandage helping his tattoo heal.  “Ow!”

“Boy, what’s wrong with you?!  This ain't about that damn tattoo, its about yo' blatant disregard for authority!  You 'sposed to respect them men up in that school and what you gon' and do?  You slippin' in and outta class, spray paintin' yo' little devil messages all up on the walls.  If you actually learned how to respect somebody up in this place, maybe yo' daddy would still be alive to keep yo' stubborn ass on track today.  Its too late now, though.  You gon' have to gon' and get from 'round here, before I mess around and hurt yo' ass.”

And so he began to pack.  And now he was walking along the lonely dirt roads of Louisiana with his bags in one hand, his amp in the other, and the guitar wrapped around his torso as the sun began to set behind the trees.  He knew he needed to change for the better but that definitely did not involve the interference of others, he kept thinking.  He'd be changing himself; in no way would he let someone else dictate what he should become or not.  He knew he wasn't happy with the way things were at that moment, but once he found himself in a state of mind that he was content with, he would keep things that way and let no one tell him otherwise.

Johnny put down one of his bags and reached in to grab his MP3 Player.  He put the headphones in his ear, then the player itself into his pocket as he grabbed his things and moved onward to the rhythm of the music.  The genre varied from time to time but consisted mostly of classic music, from rock, metal, to old school hip hop, the blazing guitar selections in the songs being the consistent factor of his playlist.  Music was his solace.  He needed to stop thinking and let the beautiful sounds form his thoughts for him.  He had a long road ahead of him and what better way to pass the time than through an inner cinematic montage.

Freedom by Jimi Hendrix