Disclaimer and notes: Sean belongs to Marvel Comics, I am using him without their permission (and let's face it, if I asked their permission and they saw what I've been doing with their characters, they would have my butt on a plate). However, I also make no money from the use of their characters without their permission, so don't sue. This is the second story in the County Mayo series; see "Whackball" for the explanation on that. I promise there'll be no more soccer-playing after this! Feedback will be enjoyed and flames deleted at alysonmiers@softhome.net.

The Day I Learned to Scream
By Red Monster

If the teachers, or the prefects, caught them, they'd both be in detention for at least a week.

Out after curfew, unauthorized use of school property; neither offense was especially difficult to commit, or particularly harmful in their case, but they knew this was a call-home-to-parents-level activity. Not that either fourteen-year-old Sean Cassidy or his friend, Michael O'Faolain, were the type to find themselves in the headmaster's office very often. They normally followed the rules to the letter.

It was just such a great night to play football.

Unlike back home at Cassidy Keep, they actually had goals to use here at this prestigious school in Galway. They also had no adults to watch them play and tell them when to come inside--although this no longer went on back home, either. Aunt Siobhan had died three years earlier of pneumonia, and Uncle Brian had suffered a car crash that landed him on the floor of Clew Bay only a few weeks after that. Sean's parents had thought it best to send Tom to school farther inland after his parents died, whereas Sean's new school was a stone's throw from the coast.

Sean and Michael both kept quiet while they played, lest they wake up a teacher and therefore get themselves in trouble. Still, each one laughed silently every time he stopped the ball from going into his goal, and sometimes even when he failed to stop it. With the wind in their hair, the stars glittering above them, the quiet night air all around them, and the dirt under their feet, both boys could agree on one thing: screw the rules.

When they saw the dog running around the edge of the field, Michael wanted to play with him at first, but Sean stopped him; the dog would surely bark and the noise would blow their cover. So they decided to lead him back away from the school. Unfortunately, they soon discovered that the dog wanted the field for himself.

He was a medium-sized mutt, with semi-pointed ears and a body shaped much like a German Shepherd. Whether his coat was grayish or brown, they couldn't tell in the dark. All the boys knew was that when they started walking towards the dog, he let out a thunderous snarl and started running towards them, teeth bared.

"Michael, I don't think this dog is friendly," Sean whispered in his friend's ear. They turned their backs to each other and ran in opposite directions, trying to confuse the dog. Sean looked over his shoulder and saw the animal running after Michael, quickly catching up.

The football was only a few yards away. Sean grabbed it, threw it, and it hit the dog on the shoulder, before he could get to Michael. The crazy animal then turned towards Sean.

He couldn't keep running around the field; it was too confined, too plain. He then headed off the school grounds, towards the outskirts of the city. Maybe something else would distract the dog out there, or he would get tired, lose interest, or perhaps lose track of Sean. Maybe someone would be out walking their larger and stronger dog, that would overpower the crazy one to protect its master. Anything was better than just Sean, Michael, and the mutt on a field with nothing but a couple of netted goals to hide behind.

There was no one to be found outside in the city at that hour. The dog chased Sean clear out to the coast. He could hear the steady whoosh of the waves against the rocks; he could see the moonlight on Galway Bay. He just couldn?t quite tell exactly where the edge of the land was. He could, however, still hear the dog snarling from behind him.

A few hundred meters away to his right were a stand of trees. He might lose the dog in there. If not, then he was dead. With legs cramping up something fierce and his heart and lungs screaming for mercy, Sean turned to his right and made a last dash towards the trees.

Don't look back; that much was certain. But he thought he'd look down, just for a second; just to see how close he was to the end of the land overlooking the bay. Sean let his eyes fall to his left, and found that the edge was only inches from his feet. His already straining heart made a painful leap, and he tried to move a bit to the left, but in the process he tripped, and scraped his legs against the rocks as he went head-first and backwards over the cliff.

Sean screamed, and at that point he didn't care in the least how he sounded. His whole body was paralyzed except his lungs and vocal chords, and they let loose a sound that made the vicious dog whimper like a kicked puppy. Not that Sean could hear him, or was even thinking about him anymore; all he could think about was the salty air rushing past his ears and the water below.

He kept screaming for what felt like minutes before he realized he'd been falling for an awfully long time. Then he realized that the horrible lurching sensation in his stomach was gone, and he'd missed the part where he hit the water like an anvil dropped from the sky and broke his back on the rocks lining the bay's floor. Was this what death felt like? Sean stopped screaming, and opened his eyes.

There was the coast just in front of him, and the dog that had chased him off the school grounds was running for the trees with his head bowed and his tail between his legs. Below was the bay, still beating against the cliffs. Only one thing was different; Sean glimpsed some smaller rocks falling into the water near the coastline. Then he found himself falling again.

He screamed again, but this time kept his eyes open. His fall slowed to a stop, and the outside of the cliff shattered in front of him, but the rocks never came anywhere near him. He tried flying backwards, and it worked. To the side, and it worked. Upwards, to hover above the coast, and around in a circle. Back down again, and his scream created a set of wide, deep ripples on the surface of the bay. He dove until he was just above the surface, and then dipped his hand into the water before flying back up.

Sean Cassidy, age fourteen, suddenly laughed at the thought of that silly dog chasing him and his friend around their schoolyard. He let out a great whoop, and swam backwards through the air just below the precipice from which he'd fallen only moments before. He would get back to Michael at school, share the blame if he'd been caught outdoors after hours, soon, but for now, Sean was free.

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