I can still remember that day like it was yesterday. I was seven years old at the time, and it was our first day back to school after the Christmas break.
It was Library Day.
I really liked the library. It was a great place to get lost, with all the tables and desks, and the aisles and aisles of books as far as the eye could see.
When our little class walked through those doors, we all noticed the funny smell right away. Our little old librarian, Miss Tooley, quickly informed us that they’d just put in brand new carpet during the holidays, and wasn’t it just lovely? Then we were given our instructions for the period and herded back to the far corner.
On our way, the little fat kid that everybody called Clumsy was dragging his feet and tripped over his shoelaces. He grabbed at the nearest girl to keep from falling, and in the process gave her a pretty nasty static sting. We all heard it zap.
Immediately, one of the more knowledgeable of the boys started expounding on static electricity and new carpets. It was only a matter of seconds and everybody was shuffling their feet and touching whoever was unlucky enough to be too close. Girls screamed in terror and boys hollered with delight. The place turned into an instant madhouse. Poor Miss Tooley didn’t know what to do. She just stood there with her hands on her cheeks saying, “Oh dear, oh dear,” over and over.
At first I just watched. I was fascinated. I’d never heard of such a thing. Imagine being able to shock somebody by just rubbing your feet!
I saw one boy run up behind a girl, shuffle his feet once real quick, then touch her on the back of the neck. It hardly did anything, and he walked away saying, “Dang.” I figured out pretty fast that the more they rubbed their feet, the bigger the shock.
And without really thinking about it, I started slowly shuffling my feet—back and forth, back and forth—while I stood there and watched the spreading mayhem.
Another girl got shocked. Another boy laughed. More shuffling. More touching. More screaming and laughing. I froze in anxious anticipation when the class bully snuck up behind Miss Tooley, dragging his feet on the carpet with every step. Then he zapped her on her elbow and took off running and laughing. That one even made me laugh. Poor Miss Tooley.
I started shuffling again and looked around for a likely candidate. I had to get at least one, and I figured I might as well make it a good one. Faster shuffling. Patiently watching. Waiting.
Finally a girl came sneaking around one of the bookracks to my right, trying to stay hidden. Just as she poked her innocent little head around the corner, a boy coming around the other side spotted her, zapped her on her nose, and backed away laughing hysterically—and headed straight at me.
Here’s my chance, I thought. My turn at last.
Without thinking about it twice, I took a step forward and reached out my hand for the kid’s arm, forefinger extended.
With only inches to go, he turned his head, and I discovered, to my utter dismay, that I was about to shock the class bully.
Rodney Davis. Big trouble.
I panicked. I did not want to zap Rodney. He would beat me up after school, for sure. Word was out that he’d already beat up two other kids, and one of them was a big third grader.
Too late, I hesitated. Too late, I tried to pull my hand back.
Too late—I zapped Rodney.
Oddly enough, it didn’t do the little snap-pop thing like everybody else’s. It sizzled and crackled and sparkled real mean-like. And it lasted for a long time—forever, it seemed. Long enough that half the class had time to turn their heads and still see it arcing wildly across the entire four inches of empty space from my fingertip to Rodney’s unprotected elbow. And loud enough thateverybody heard it. You’d have thought the whole building had been hit by lightning or something.
Rodney screamed bloody murder and fell on his back, frantically rubbing his elbow. He pointed at me and yelled, “He stung me! He stung me!”
Miss Tooley helped him up and tried to walk him out of the library, but Rodney kept turning around and looking at me, and kept falling and dangling from Miss Tooley’s hand. Finally, she picked him up and carried him through the double doors and down the hall.
I’ll never forget the look on his face as he stared me down over Miss Tooley’s shoulder. I half expected static or lightning to come right out of his eyes, he looked so mad and mean.
“I’ll get you, Stinger!” he yelled between sobs. “I’ll get you!”
* * *
And that’s how it all started. The name stuck like glue. I became “Sting” Fischer. And I was treated like a pariah from that day forward.
It didn’t help that I kept on zapping kids after that. Not as bad as Rodney, but still . . .
The teacher told me more than once, “Enough is enough. Quit shocking the other kids.”
I couldn’t help it. It was like I’d soaked up a whole year’s worth of static that day in the library. It didn’t matter if I never shuffled my feet. It didn’t even matter if I wasn’t standing on carpet at all. Everybody got zapped, over and over and over.
Finally, one day my teacher hauled me by the hand to the office—after getting zapped herself, of course, which just made her madder than ever. They called my mom, and I had to sit there in the principal’s office feeling like a convicted felon. When Mom got there, the teacher explained to them in great detail all about my wickedness and evil ways.
Mom listened, and the principal frowned.
I just sat there, head down, legs swinging, until the teacher had finished.
After the whole, long explanation, Mom turned to me and stared at me real hard, and said, “Stevie, you should know better than—ouch!”
She had grabbed my arm—and got zapped.
“Stevie! I can’t believe you’d do that to your own mother. Quit dragging your feet and sit up straight! What’s gotten into you? I’ve never seen you like this. I want you to apologize this instant—”
“Just a minute,” the principal said. He was standing and leaning over his desk looking at my feet. “He couldn’t possibly have been dragging his feet, Mrs. Fischer. That chair’s way too high.”
Mom leaned forward and examined the chair and the six inches of empty space between my toes and the floor. My teacher leaned around and had a look, too.
The principal frowned again. “Bring him,” he said sternly, and led the way out of the office. Mom stood and grabbed my arm—and got zapped again—and told me off again.
In the hallway, the principal gathered the school secretary, a counselor, my teacher, and the sixth grade office-aid in a circle. “Stand right here with Stephen,” he said. We joined the circle, with me between him and Mom. “Now Miss Olsen, touch Mrs. Tanner’s arm, please.”
She did. Nothing happened, of course.
“Now, Mrs. Tanner, touch Mary’s arm.”
Mary, the sixth grader, looked terrified. But again, nothing happened.
“Mary, touch Mrs. Fischer’s arm.”
“Now Stephen, touch my hand.”
He held out his hand, palm up, and I touched it.
There was a sharp, snap-crackling sound, and the telltale little blue arc, barely an eighth of an inch long, from my fingertip to his palm. Not as bad as sometimes, I was relieved to see.
He flinched a little and stared at me for a second. “Okay, everybody rub your feet on the floor and touch my hand one at a time. Not you, Stephen. You just stand still.”
I noticed that the floor was shiny-waxed tile—not carpet.
He stepped into the center of the circle, and after shuffling their feet, each of them touched his palm in turn. Nothing happened. He came back around to me and said, “Touch my hand again, Stephen.”
He didn’t flinch, though. He was more ready for it that time. For several long seconds, we just stood there—him staring down at me, like I’d just spilled my whole lunch down my front or something—and me staring back, wondering if I was going to be expelled or something.
I wasn’t normal, that much was obvious. Something was terribly wrong with me. I was a freak.
“Touch me again, Stephen,” he said at length.
Neither of us had moved an inch since the last time.
He looked at his hand for a long time, and I started to wonder if I’d made it bleed or something.
“Mrs. Fischer,” he said finally, turning to Mom. “I think you had best get this boy to a doctor. There is something mighty odd about this. Mighty odd.”
* * *
Those words have haunted me my whole life. I was a freak. I became a walking circus sideshow. I became the kid nobody wanted to touch—ever. I became the Stinger, the Wasp, the Hornet. I was big trouble.
And I was nobody’s friend.
I was just . . . Mighty Odd.