by Orson Scott Card
LaVon's book report was drivel, of course. Carpenter knew it would be from the
moment he called on the boy. After Carpenter's warning last week, he knew
LaVon would have a book report -- LaVon's father would never let the boy be
suspended. But LaVon was too stubborn, too cocky, too much the leader of the
other sixth-graders' constant rebellion against the authority to let Carpenter have a
"I really, truly loved Little Men," said LaVon. "It just gave me goose bumps."
The class laughed. Excellent comic timing, Carpenter said silently. But the only
place that comedy is useful here in the New Soil country is with the gypsy pageant
wagons. That's what you're preparing yourself for, LaVon, a career as a wandering
parasite who lives by sucking laughter out of weary farmers.
"Everybody nice in this book has a name that starts with a d. Demi is a sweet little
boy who never does anything wrong. Daisy is so good that she could have seven
children and still be a virgin."
He was pushing the limits now. A lot of people didn't like mention of sexual
matters in the school, and if some pin-headed child decided to report this, the story
could be twisted into something that could be used against Carpenter. Out here
near the fringe, people were desperate for entertainment. A crusade to drive out a
teacher for corrupting the morals of youth would be more fun than a traveling
show, because everybody could feel righteous and safe when he was gone.
Carpenter had seen it before. Not that he was afraid of it, the way most teachers
were. He had a career no matter what. The university would take him back,
eagerly; they thought he was crazy to go out and teach in the low schools. I'm safe,
absolutely safe, he thought. They can't wreck my career. And I'm not going to get
prissy about a perfectly good word like virgin.
"Dan looks like a big bad boy, but he has a heart of gold, even though he does say
real bad words like devil sometimes." LaVon paused, waiting for Carpenter to
react. So Carpenter did not react.
"The saddest thing is poor Nat, the street fiddler's boy. He tries hard to fit in, but
he can never amount to anything in the book, because his name doesn't start with
The end. LaVon put the single paper on Carpenter's desk, then went back to his
seat. He walked with the careful elegance of a spider, each long leg moving as if it
were unconnected to the rest of his body, so that even walking did not disturb the
perfect calm. The boy rides on his body the way I ride in my wheelchair, thought
Carpenter. Smooth, unmoved by his own motion. But he is graceful and beautiful,
fifteen years old and already a master at winning the devotion of the weak-hearted
children around him. He is the enemy, the torturer, the strong and beautiful man
who must confirm his beauty by preying on the weak. I am not as weak as you