I am a beast.
A beast. Not quite wolf or bear, gorilla or dog but a horrible new creature who walks upright—a creature with fangs and claws and hair springing from every pore. I am a monster.
You think I’m talking fairy tales? No way. The place is New York City. The time is now. It’s no deformity, no disease. And I’ll stay this way forever—ruined—unless I can break the spell.
Yes, the spell, the one the witch in my English class cast on me. Why did she turn me into a beast who hides by day and prowls by night? I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you how I used to be Kyle Kingsbury, the guy you wished you were, with money, perfect looks, and the perfect life. And then, I’ll tell you how I became perfectly . . . beastly.
This title will run until May 31.
I could feel everyone looking at me, but I was used to it. One thing my dad taught me early and often was to act like nothing moved me. When you’re special, like we were, people were bound to notice.
It was the last month before the end of ninth grade. The substitute teacher was giving out ballots for spring dance court, something I’d normally have thought was lame.
“Hey, Kyle, your name’s on this.” My friend Trey Parker flicked my arm.
“No duh.” When I turned Trey’s way, the girl next to him—Anna, or maybe Hannah—looked down. Huh. She’d been staring at me.
I examined the ballot. Not only was my name, Kyle Kingsbury, there for ninth-grade prince, but I was the sure winner. No one could compete with my looks and my dad’s cash.
The sub was a new one who might still have been under the mistaken impression that because Tuttle was the type of school that had a salad bar in the cafeteria and offered courses in Mandarin Chinese—i.e., a school where the serious money people in New York sent their kids—we weren’t going to bust on him like public school dregs. Big mistake. It wasn’t like anything the sub said was going to be on an exam, so we were trying to figure out how to make reading the ballot and scratching in our choices take the entire fifty-minute period. At least most of us were. The rest were texting each other. I watched the ones who were filling out their ballots glancing over at me. I smiled. Someone else might have looked down, trying to act all shy and modest, like they were ashamed of having their name there—but it doesn’t make sense to deny the obvious.
“My name’s there too.” Trey flicked my arm again.
“Hey, watch it!” I rubbed my arm.
“Watch it yourself. You’ve got this stupid grin on your face like you already won, and now you’re giving the paparazzi a chance to snap your picture.”
“And that’s wrong?” I grinned wider, to bug him, and gave a little wave like people in parades. Someone’s camera phone snapped at just that moment, like an exclamation point.
“You shouldn’t be allowed to live,” Trey said.
“Why, thank you.” I thought about voting for Trey, just to be nice. Trey was good for comic relief, but not too gifted in the looks department. His family was nobody special either—his dad was a doctor or something. They might post the vote totals in the school newspaper, and it’d be pretty embarrassing for Trey if he came in last or even didn’t get any votes at all.
On the other hand, it would be cool if I got two or three times the votes of the next-closest person. And besides, Trey worshipped me. A real friend would want me to win big. That’s another thing my dad always said: “Don’t be a sucker, Kyle, and do things out of friendship or love. Because what you always end up finding out is the only one who really loves you is you.”
I was seven or eight when he first said that, and I asked, “What about you, Dad?”
“You love…” Me. “Us. Your family.”
He gave me a long look before saying, “That’s different, Kyle.”
I never asked him again if he loved me. I knew he’d told the truth the first time.
I folded my ballot over, to keep Trey from seeing I’d voted for myself. Of course, I knew he voted for himself too, but that was different.
That’s when a voice came from the back of the room.
“This is disgusting!”
We all turned.
“Maybe someone left a booger under her desk,” Trey whispered.
“Was it you?” I said.
“I don’t do that anymore.”
“Disgusting,” the voice repeated. I stopped talking to Trey and looked at where the voice was coming from, this Goth freak sitting in back. She was a fat chick, dressed in the kind of flowing black clothes you usually only see on witches or terrorists (we don’t have uniforms at Tuttle; it would piss off the parents not to be able to buy Dolce & Gabbana), and her hair was green. Obviously a cry for help. Weird thing was, I’d never noticed her before. Most people here I’d known my whole life.
The sub was too stupid to ignore her. “What’s disgusting, Miss…Miss…”
“Hilferty,” she said. “Kendra Hilferty.”
“Kendra, is there something wrong with your desk?”
“There is something wrong with this world.” She stood like she was making a speech. “Something very wrong when it’s the twenty-first century and this type of elitist travesty is still being perpetuated.” She held up her ballot. People giggled.
“It’s a ninth-grade dance ballot,” Trey volunteered. “To choose the royalty.”
“Exactly,” the girl said. “Who are these people? Why should they be treated as royalty? Based upon…what? The people on this ballot were chosen on one basis and one basis only—physical beauty.”
“Sounds like a good basis to me,” I said to Trey, not too softly. I stood. “That’s BS. Everyone voted, and this is who they chose. It’s a democratic process.”
Around me there were some thumbs-ups, some Yeah, mans, particularly from Anna or Hannah. But I noticed that a lot of people, mostly the ugly people, were silent.
The girl took a few steps toward me. “They’re sheep, following the herd. They vote for the so-called popular people because it’s simple. Surface beauty: blond hair, blue eyes”—she was looking at me—“is always easy to recognize. But if someone is braver, stronger, smarter, that’s harder to see.”
She pissed me off, so I jumped on her. “If someone’s so smart, they’d figure out how to get better-looking. You could lose weight, get plastic surgery, even get your face scraped and your teeth bleached.” I emphasized the you in the sentence, so she’d know I meant her and not just some general sort of you. “My dad’s a network news guy. He says people shouldn’t have to look at ugly people.”
“Is that what you think?” She raised a dark eyebrow. “That we should all transform ourselves to be as you want us to be, Kyle Kingsbury?”
I started at my name. I was sure I’d never seen her before. But of course she knew me. Everyone did. Probably had some pathetic crush on me.
“Yeah,” I said. “Yeah. That’s what I think. That’s what I know.”
She walked toward me. Her eyes were light green and her nose was long and hooked down. “Then you’d better hope you never get ugly, Kyle. You are ugly now, on the inside, where it matters most, and if you ever lost your good looks, I bet you wouldn’t be smart or strong enough to get them back. Kyle Kingsbury, you are beastly.”
Beastly. The word was from another time and place. It made me think of fairy tales, and I felt this weird tingling, like the hairs on my arms had caught fire from her eyes. I brushed it off.
“That Goth chick in English was weird,” I said to Trey when we were dressing out for PE.
“Yeah, she really freaked you out,” he agreed.
“After ten years looking at your ugly face, nothing freaks me out.”
“Oh, okay, so that’s not why you’ve been beastin about it ever since we left English?”
“Have not.” But it was true. When the girl said that thing about how I’d better not ever get ugly, when she looked at me that last time, it was like she knew stuff about me, things like how I used to cry when my mom ditched ’cause I didn’t think I’d ever see her again (which wasn’t far from what happened). But that was stupid. She knew nothing.
“Whatever you say,” Trey said.
“It was scary, all right,” I agreed. “Scary that people like that even exist.”
“And go to this supposedly exclusive school and ruin it for the rest of us.”
“Yeah. Someone ought to do something about her.”
I really did believe that. I’d been trying to act like it wasn’t a big deal, being elected prince and all, but it kind of was. It should have been a good day for me, but that witch had to ruin it.
That was how I was thinking of her: a witch. Ordinarily, I’d have used a different word, a word that rhymed with witch. But something about the girl, the way she’d looked at me with those freaky eyes, a color green I’d never seen before, made me think witch. Witch totally described her.
Later, in the gym, I saw the witch again. We were running the indoor track, but she wasn’t. She hadn’t dressed out but was still wearing the black flowing clothes from before. She sat on a bench below the skylight. Above her, the sky was dark. It was going to rain.
“Someone ought to teach her a lesson.” I thought of her words: You are ugly now, on the inside, where it matters most…you are beastly. What utter crap. “She’s no different than anyone else. If she could hang with our crowd, she would. Anyone would.”
And in a second, I knew what I was going to do.
I sped up my pace. We had to do five laps around the track, and usually I did it at a leisurely pace, because once you finished, Coach made you start something else. It was BS that I even had to take PE when I was on two school teams. But I knew Coach thought so too, so I could usually get out of it. If you gave Coach the right respectful look—the type of look that made him remember the kind of checks your dad wrote for athletic association fundraisers to make up for not showing up—you got away with stuff.
Even going slow, I finished half a lap ahead of the next-closest person and started across the track to the bench where the witch was sitting, looking at something in her lap.
“Kingsbury!” Coach yelled. “If you’re through, you can get out the basketballs.”
I said, “All right, Coach.” I started to walk away, like I was going to do it, then winced. “Oh, I’ve got a cramp I need to work out. Can I go stretch? Wouldn’t want to get an injury.”
Insert respectful look here.
“Aw, go ahead.” Coach laughed. “You’re miles ahead of the others anyway.”
Worked. “You rock, Coach!”
I limped until his back was turned, then strolled over to the bench where the witch girl was sitting. I started to stretch.
“You’re really good at playing the adults, aren’t you?” she said.
“I’m excellent at it.” I smiled at her. “Hey.” I saw the object in her lap. It was a mirror, one of those old-fashioned ones with a handle, like in Snow White. When she saw me looking at it, she quick slipped it into her backpack.
“What’s the mirror for?” I asked, thinking it was weird for an ugly chick to be carrying around a big mirror. Weird for anyone, really.
She ignored the question. “How’s your leg?”
“What?” I stopped in mid-stretch. “Oh, it’s fine, actually. Fine. I really just came over to talk to you.”
She raised an eyebrow. “To what do I owe this honor?”
“I wouldn’t say it was an honor. I was just…thinking.”
“That must have been quite an experience for you.”
“I was thinking about what you said in class. And I decided you’re right.”
“Really?” She blinked a few times, like a rat coming out of its dark hole.
“Yeah, really. We do judge people by looks around here. Someone like me…face it, I’m a lot better than average-looking, and I have an easier time than…”
I shrug. “I wasn’t going to get that specific. My dad, he’s on the news, so I know how it is. In his business, you lose your looks, you lose your job.”
“Does that seem right to you?”
“I never had to think about that, you know? I mean, you can’t help what you’re born with.”
“Interesting,” she said.
I smiled at her, the way I did at girls I liked, and moved closer, even though I almost hurled doing it. “You’re pretty interesting yourself.”
“By interesting, you mean weird?”
“You can be weird in a good way, can’t you?”
“Fair enough.” She looked at her watch, like there was somewhere she had to be, like we weren’t all trapped like rats in PE. “So was that what you came over to tell me?”
“No, actually. I was thinking about what you said, and I thought maybe I ought to…expand my horizons a little.” That was a Dad phrase. He was always saying I should expand my horizons, which usually meant doing more work. “You know, meet other kinds of people.”
“Interesting people. People I haven’t met before.”
“Exactly. So I was wondering if, um, if you’d go with me to the dance next week. I think we’d have a good time.”
She stared at me, and the green parts of her eyes seemed to flash and looked like they might boil over the sides of her skinny nose. Impossible. Then she smiled. It was a weird kind of smile, a secretive one.
“Yes. Yes, I want to go with you.”
Of course she did.