The Olympian

by . Sharpsight

Robbie was a bully.

He didn't think of himself as one, of course, but he was. He was the leader of his little group at school and he chose the targets of their fun. The criteria were straightforward. The victim should be clearly weaker than them, have something that made him stand out so that it could be made fun of, he should have little physical ability and if he were academic then all the better.

His favourite victim was a boy called Julian Weeks. He was short, skinny, with arms and legs like bits of spaghetti, physically awkward and he wore glasses. He might as well have painted a target on his chest. They nicknamed him 'The Olympian'.

Robbie and his gang picked on Julian at every opportunity and he gave them hours of fun. The only trouble was that it was difficult to get the proper response from him. He was supposed to be scared and plead for mercy but he didn't. He avoided them if he possibly could but when they caught him, he took whatever they dished out in grim silence. This disturbed Robbie most of all and he sometimes went farther than he might otherwise have done simply to get him to cry out.

As is the way of these things, the other children at school sided with Robbie. They were happy that they weren't on his hit list and would ridicule Julian almost as much as Robbie himself. His nickname became widespread and was always used with either contempt or laughter.

Julian himself made no attempt to combat any of this. They had put him on his own and he seemed content to be there. He studied alone, he ate alone and he walked home alone.

On the day of the storm, Robbie was quite happy. There had been a lot of rain recently and when the storm started in earnest early that day, his school was closed because of flooding. He settled down in front of the telly and put a game in the Xbox. He had the next few hours planned out in his head, and they didn't involve moving.

Some way into the plan his mother exercised her veto and informed him that he was going to pick up his little brother, whose school hadn't been affected by the flooding. He protested of course but the result was never in doubt. Sulking, he put on his jacket and stomped off.

Coming back some time later he was in a quandary. The rules of his 'cool' status at school required him to have no public contact with his younger brother, who was, at that moment, gleefully hanging onto his sibling's hand and trying to jump in puddles at the same time. He was dressed in a brightly coloured rain coat and boots with teddy bears on them and Robbie was profoundly grateful for the storm, which was probably keeping everyone else inside. If he could get his annoying burden home with no one he knew seeing them, that would be wonderful.

They walked along the path by the river because it was the quickest way. The river itself usually struggled to maintain its status even as a stream but the heavy rain had upgraded it and now it was deep, fast and turbulent. As they were walking Robbie was scanning ahead for anyone he knew. When a figure started to approach out of the gloom, he squinted to see who it was, unconsciously moving himself between the person and his brother. The figure resolved into the one person above all others that Robbie didn't want to see at that moment...The Olympian.

Without taking his eyes away from the approaching figure, Robbie shoved his brother to one side in order to block Julian's view of him. So intent was he that he didn't notice how close to the river he was even when his brother started to whine in fear. Robbie was only looking at his approaching enemy and moved closer and closer to the river's edge.

Suddenly he felt his arm yanked hard and he turned to see his brother slip out of his grasp into the turbulent waters with a cry of fear. Robbie stood frozen in shock. Time seemed to slow down as he saw in perfect clarity the face of his brother, eyes wide in terror and mouth open in a scream stifled by the water that rushed to fill the gap. He watched in horror and tried to move but his own fear paralysed him.

As he hesitated, he heard a splash beside him. Someone had dived in and was trying to reach his stricken brother.

It was Julian!

He clearly wasn't a great swimmer but he was trying to use the swirling currents to take him to the boy and as Robbie watched it seemed to be working. When he reached him he raised the boy as much as he could out of the water, but this left him almost unable to swim. He immediately went under himself but steadfastly refused to let the boy go too. He was again clearly hoping that the currents would carry them both back towards land but it looked like his luck may have run out. As they were tossed about in the dark waters it looked increasingly unlikely that either would survive.

Robbie had watched this drama unfold and now, finally, he managed to act. He looked around frantically for something that could help and saw a large branch the storm had broken off a nearby tree. He grabbed it and reached out towards the struggling swimmers. Julian spotted it as he came up for air and desperately reached for it. He missed on the first try and was dunked for his trouble but he tried again and the second time he got it. He pulled the boy close to him and with all the strength he could muster pushed the terrified boy in reach of the branch. Robbie's brother felt the wood and instinctively wrapped his arms around it hanging on with everything he had.

Robbie pulled with all his strength but the river wasn't done with them and the grip of the water was too strong for him. He heaved and strained but there was just too much weight.

In a frozen moment he found himself looking into Julian's eyes and read understanding there. His own expression showed his helplessness. Julian, clearly exhausted, glanced briefly at the little boy clinging to the branch, nodded, then let go.

The sudden change in weight meant that the branch leapt in Robbie's hands and his brother was pulled out of the river so suddenly that he flew for a moment before crashing onto the river bank coughing and spluttering.

Robbie immediately thrust the released branch out again but there was no one to grab it. Julian was gone.

Robbie slumped to his knees in the mud staring at the empty water, then he started to cry. His brother, dazed, frozen and still in shock clung to him.

The next day, Julian's body was recovered far downstream.

News of his heroism spread rapidly and his funeral was attended by almost the whole town. Robbie had been praised for his own actions and he had been too ashamed to admit how the tragedy had come about in the first place so he was forced to accept their applause even though every smile burnt him. He stood in the front row at the funeral and his eyes brimmed with tears as he looked at the plain box that held the remains of the boy he had ridiculed for so long and who was dead because of him.

In the days that followed Robbie changed. He became withdrawn and silent, shunning and even running from any company. He had a haunted look that never left him and which he never explained.

Then one day he walked in on a boy being bullied by some of his former friends. He went berserk and it was only the intervention of a teacher that prevented him really hurting one of the bullies. He was forced to go to counselling and while it did help him control himself to a degree, from that time on he could not tolerate bullying in any form and would always oppose it, sometimes at the cost of his job.

In the school there is a trophy case. It has the usual cups and awards for sporting achievements but now, in the middle, in pride of place, there is a black framed photograph of a skinny boy with glasses.

Underneath it says, 'In memory of his outstanding courage. Julian Weeks: The Olympian'.

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