17 year old Alan Tracy strode down the corridor
of Kalvesta High feeling on top of the world.
It was his senior year of high school, and finally,
finally he was out from under the shadows of
his very successful older brothers.
Sure, teachers were always asking after one
or another of them, but his own star, as a sprint
car driver was on the rise. Just yesterday he
had taken home the trophy in the Jetmore Outlaw
He'd spent the last evening on a conference
call with all four of his older brothers, and
his father too. Although he had been teased
unmercifully, he was also praised by the people
who meant the most to him.
He was still basking in the afterglow of
that call as he headed for his first class of
the day. "Hey, Alan! Alan!"
Alan looked over his shoulder, and paused
as his friend, Lawrence Hallett, trotted to
catch up. Alan cocked an eyebrow at his friend's
serious look. "Lawrence. What's up? You forget
Lawrence shook his head, frowning. "No man.
Have you checked your blog today?"
"No. Why?" Like most of the kids in school,
Alan had his own page on World Teen, a social
networking site designed for teenagers.
"You'd better look. I went in to see how
you did yesterday, and there's someone trashing
Pulling out his phone, Alan frowned, "What
do you mean trashing me?"
"See for yourself. Look, I have to get to
class. I'll see you in gym, okay?"
"Yeah, sure," Alan responded, distracted.
He walked down the hallway, his attention on
the small screen of his smartphone. Moving on
autopilot, he reached his classroom, and took
his seat, all while staring at his phone. World
Teen was a notoriously slow site, and even though
he had the latest in smartphones, it had still
had not finished loading when his teacher, Mr.
Garman, called the class to order.
Feeling slightly put out, Alan switched his
phone off, and turned his attention to the teacher.
He might have been tempted to ignore the teacher
in some other class, but Mr. Garman was a personal
friend of Alan's father, and Alan was not willing
to risk getting grounded over something like
a post on his blog. Besides, he liked chemistry,
and Mr. Garman had a knack for making the class
When the bell rang an hour later, Alan was
disappointed. He really wanted to try the experiment
Mr. Garman had been setting up. Scooping up
his Ipad and his bookbag, he headed out the
door, and across campus to his second class,
Honors English. It was another class that he
excelled in, and anticipating a quiz on the
Hemingway book they had been reading, he forgot
all about checking his blog, until he reached
Ms. Krenwinkle's class.
Alan liked Ms. Krenwinkle, and he knew she
liked him. But he also knew that wouldn't stop
her from confiscating his phone if she caught
him with it on, so he settled into his seat,
resigned to wait a while longer.
By the time the class was over, Alan was
feeling pretty good. He knew he had aced the
quiz, and in the discussion that had followed,
he raised some points that had his classmates
raising their eyebrows even as Ms. Krenwinkle
smiled and nodded her approval.
After second period, there was a fifteen
minute break between classes. Alan pulled what
his grandma called a hand pie out of his bookbag,
and munching as he walked, headed toward the
back of the building, where his physics class
took place. Around the corner from his class
was a quiet bench that Alan sometimes frequented.
As he came around the corner, and found his
bench unoccupied, he grunted with satisfaction,
and sat down to finally see what it was that
had his friend concerned. As the site loaded,
Alan glanced at his watch, calculating he had
a good 8 minutes before he had to be in his
seat in the classroom.
Finally he was able to access his page on
the site. He started to scroll down, past the
photo showing him holding up the Outlaw Trophy,
but just had to pause with a smile. It had been
a hard fought series of races over three days,
and he was thrilled to have won.
Releasing a deep breath, the smile never
leaving his face, Alan finally scrolled further
down to the comments section. The most recent
comment, only minutes old, said simply, "That's
The smile dropping from his face, Alan read
on. Every comment was negative, and he was breathing
hard when he finally got to the cause of the
problem. It was a lengthy report from someone
named Sprintcarfan. It gave a pretty faithful
account of the championship race from the previous
day, but then it went on to accuse Alan of terrible
things. Hateful things.
"I wanted to meet this young champion,
so after the race, I climbed the fence and went
in search of him. To my great shock, I found
him hiding behind his trailer, and he had good
reason to hide. I watched as this so-called
All American kid shot what I am sure must have
been some kind of drug directly into his veins.
When he saw me watching, he asked me if I was
there for a buy. When I said I didn't do drugs,
he offered me a free hit, saying I'd like it
if I tried it. I guess my disgust showed on
my face because he suddenly turned ugly, using
vile language and threats."
Feeling sick, Alan wanted to throw the phone
as far away from him as he could. It was all
a lie, of course. After his win, Alan and his
father had loaded up the trailer and headed
home, his dad saying he wouldn't stand for Alan
missing any classes because of his hobby.
But judging by the responses the post had
received, there were plenty of people out there
who were all too willing to believe he was capable
of such a thing. Alan started to respond, then
shook his head. He wanted what he said to be
perfect, and he needed to think about it.
Checking his watch, he shut down the phone,
and headed to class, his mind whirling. Who
would write something like that? He didn't know
anybody who hated him that much. Sure, there
were kids that he didn't hang out with, but
he'd never been mean to anyone.
And why hadn't any of his friends made comments
in his defense? Lawrence at the very least had
seen it, and a lot of his friends regularly
checked his blog like Lawrence did, to see how
he did in races. Usually they were very quick
to post congratulatory notes. Where were they
Alan sat in class, growing more and more
angry at his friends, and seething at the unfairness
of it all. When the teacher called on him, he
stared blankly back, earning himself a mark
in Mr. Gupta's grading book.
He didn't fare any better in his Trig class,
and by the time lunchtime rolled around, he
was beside himself with anger. Additional negative
comments only fueled his fury, and his earlier
intention to only post his response after careful
consideration flew out the window.
He stabbed at the tiny phone keypad hard
enough to hurt. He hit the send key without
even spellchecking. He didn't care, he just
needed to tell the world that the whole thing
was a lie. Finished, he looked around the cafeteria,
where he sat in his usual seat.
His ears turned red as he realized that he
was all alone. He tried to spot any of his friends,
but none of them seemed to be around. The kids
that were there all seemed to Alan's eyes to
be looking at him and whispering.
He tried to act normally, pulling out the
sandwiches his grandmother had packed for his
lunch, but the perceived condemnation had turned
his stomach sour, and after a few bites, he
shoved the food back into his bag, and got up
and, head down, slunk away.
Why would people believe something like that?
Why would anyone say something like that? Distressed,
Alan stared out across the student parking lot,
contemplating ditching the rest of the school
It wasn't really an option. His father would
be furious, and his grandma would tan his hide.
He'd be grounded for sure, and that would mean
the end of his sprint car racing career.
Alan felt a knot harden in his throat. How
could he show his face at the track after this?
Leaning back against the wall, he hit his head
against the brick. Why? Why had he been singled
out? He was a good person, surely everyone knew
His phone rang, and without checking the
caller ID, he brought it up to his ear. "Hello?"
"You misspelled cretin."
Alan stood straighter. "John!"
"Yes. What is going on out there?" Alan's
brother John was in his senior year at Harvard.
"Doesn't look like nothing on your race car
"I'll handle it."
"Doing a fine job so far."
"Look, I just don't want to talk about it,
"You know, the primary parental unit is not
going to be pleased."
"What? You're going to squeal on me?"
"Get real, kid. I won't say a word, but all
those corporate brown-nosers follow your blog
religiously. I'd be willing to bet one or another
of them has already spilled it to Dad."
"Dad hates those guys."
"True, but that doesn't mean he won't listen
to them, especially about something like this."
Embarrassed to the core of his being, Alan
finally let the floodgates open. "Did you read
it? John, it's all a lie. What am I going to
"Alan, calm down. Of course it's a lie. Nobody
who knows you will believe this crap."
"Yeah? Well, then how come nobody came to
my defense? How come nobody said it was crap?"
Alan fought to keep his anger under control.
"John, I walked through the cafeteria and everybody
was whispering about me behind my back."
On the small phone screen, his brother shook
his head. "No they aren't. It just feels that
way because the situation is bugging you so
much. Most of the kids in the cafeteria have
no clue about that blog, and those that do,
don't really care all that much."
"Yeah? Well, what about my so-called friends?
Why aren't they sticking up for me?"
John shrugged. "I don't know, but if it was
me, I'd want to talk to you before I said anything."
Alan's jaw worked, "It's just… just…"
"It's just that you feel like you're all
alone? Like you want to hide?"
Head hanging, a deep frown on his face, Alan
nodded shortly, not saying anything.
"Yes. I know how that feels. But listen,
kiddo, you are not alone. You'll see. By the
end of the day, your friends will be there supporting
Not quite believing it, Alan shook his head.
"Just wait, you'll see. Now, let's talk about
who did this."
His voice rising, Alan practically wailed.
"I don't know! I don't know who would do this!
I'm a nice guy, you know that Johnny! I'm a
"Hey, hey, hey! Settle down there, Alan.
I was thinking more along the lines of hunting
this bastard down. Have you ever tried hacking
into World Teen's database?"
Alan's eyes widened. "Are you kidding? Do
you think I can?"
John's look was inscrutable. "Listen, I think
I'll just come home for the weekend. I have
a hankering for Grandma's cooking. Don't do
anything dumb, okay? You and I, we'll take care
Swallowing hard, Alan nodded. "Okay. Okay,
"Good. I'll see you Friday night."
"Yeah. Great. I gotta go, the bell rang."
"Yeah, me too. Remember, don't do anything
John hung up before Alan could say anything
more. Putting his phone in his bag, Alan headed
for his Auto Shop class. The shop class was
his one 'fun' class, but he had found it disappointing.
His older brother Virgil had loved the class,
saying Mr. Peterson was one of the best teachers
he'd ever had. But so far, at least, the class
had only covered things that Alan knew. And
working on the dilapidated donated junker in
the shop held no appeal now that he had his
own sprint car.
He sat through the class half excited, half
worried about what John had said. Hacking into
the World Teen database had to be illegal, and
if they were caught, the consequences with their
father would be gruesome. But then again, even
Scott and Virgil respected Johnny's computer
skills. A chance to learn at the feet of the
master was too good to pass up.
After the fifteen minute classwork review,
Alan joined his classmates in working on the
car he'd been assigned. Almost without thinking,
he replaced the coil and the spark plugs in
record time. He smiled when Mr. Peterson nodded
his approval of the work, but his mind was still
When class was over, Alan stopped by his
locker and put his books away before heading
to the gym and his team sports class. John had
said that people weren't staring at him, and
Alan tried to be objective about it, but he
still found he couldn't look people in the eye
as he headed for his last class of the day.
When he reached his gym locker, his friends
Lawrence and Justin were waiting for him. "Al,
where you been? I was looking for you at lunch,
but I couldn't find you."
"I was in my usual seat."
Justin frowned. "I was a little late, but
you weren't there when I got there."
Lawrence dismissed Justin's remarks with
a wave. "Listen, we need to talk. We need to
know how you want to handle this."
Affecting nonchalance, Alan sat down and
started dressing for gym class. "Handle what?"
"What do you mean, handle what? How we handle
this butthole that's putting those lies up on
"Oh, so you know they're lies?"
Both boys paused at the sudden anger in Alan's
voice. Lawrence cocked his head. "Yes, Alan,
we know they are lies. What, you think we even
wondered? Well, thanks a lot."
Alan looked up then rolled his eyes. "Yeah,
okay. I'm sorry. It's just been a tough day,
Justin nodded. "Yeah. So how are we going
to handle it?"
"John called. He thinks we should hack the
"Oh, please. That site's got more security
than the Pentagon."
"I dunno, Lawrence. His brother is like the
hacker king. If anybody could do it, it'd be
"Okay, so once you've hacked it, then what?"
"Then I go beat the crap out of whoever is
"Yeah, there's a plan. You beat them up and
you just prove they're right."
"Yeah, well, then, what do you think I should
Lawrence shook his head. "I don't know, Al.
Things like this are just so…" He shrugged his
"Well, for now, I'd appreciate it, if you
guys could say something like I'm not a druggie."
"We both did. And there were other people
saying it too. Didn't you see?"
Alan looked up. "I haven't checked since
lunch. The last I looked it was all nasty."
"No, everybody's commenting now. I think
people just wanted to see what you would say
"Oh, and you misspelled cretin."
Alan considered pulling out his phone, to
see what people were saying, but a whistle blew,
and all three of the boys had to hustle to get
out on the field. Alan started for the equipment
bags to get his mask and chest protector, when
Coach Daugherty called the class over.
"Men, take a knee." Alan swallowed at the
severe look on the coach's face. With the rest
of the team, he hunkered down on the turf.
For a moment, the coach stood there looking
out over the team. When he spoke, his voice
was stern. "Every few years, we have an issue
here at this school with bullying. The last
time, it was a young man who thought he could
mistreat others if they were physically smaller
than he was. We disabused him of that belief.
"Now I know you have all seen films and had
lectures over the years telling you that bullying
was not to be tolerated. I've known most of
you since you were children, and I know that
not one of you would put up with someone picking
on someone smaller. I know none of you would
sit still if you saw someone demanding someone
else's lunch money. I know I can trust all of
you to be good decent citizens."
Like most of his teammates, Alan was frowning.
He hadn't heard of any bullying. The coach was
right about one thing. If Alan had known that
some kid in his school was being bullied, he
would have taken care of it. He would have stopped
it. And he wouldn't have been alone either.
All of his friends were stand up guys, and none
of them would have ignored a bully.
Coach Daugherty continued. "When you men
think of a bully, you get a certain picture
in your head, don't you? Someone large, maybe
not too bright, with a huge chip on their shoulder,
right? And you picture the victim, too. Undersized,
no fashion sense, plays chess, not football."
The boys all laughed, nodding in agreement.
Coach Daugherty shook his head. "Let me give
you another picture. That self same victim,
this time at his computer. This time posting
insinuations and lies about the big lug. Do
you say, well, he deserves it? Or do you sneer
and tease him, accepting that what was said
was true?" The coach paused, then, looking each
boy in the eye, said, "Or do you understand
that this is just another form of bullying?
Just another way to demean others, because isn't
that all that bullying really is? A way to make
you feel better about yourself by dragging down
Alan sat very still, his eyes widening. Was
the coach talking about him? Had Coach Daugherty
seen the lies on his blog page? Embarrassed
and ashamed, Alan could not look the man in
"You know, in my mind, a cyber bully is in
many ways worse than any big kid punching a
smaller kid on a playground. A cyber bully hides
behind the anonymity of a computer. A cyber
bully spreads their poison in the assumption
that they will not be caught. They say whatever
they want with no repercussions. Unlike a schoolyard
bully, a victim of a cyber bully can't turn
to friends and teachers for help in stopping
the abuse. How can you stop someone when you
don't know who it is?
"So, does that mean that when someone is
attacked by a cyber bully, we just shrug and
say there is nothing we can do? You pat the
victim on the back and shake your head?"
Coach Daugherty shook his head and continued.
"One of the first lessons you learn from all
of those classroom films you've seen over the
years, is that a bully's greatest ally is silence.
If everyone turns away, if no one says anything,
the bully wins. Men, the same is true with a
cyber bully. You have someone posting lies about
a friend on the internet, you do not walk away,
you respond, you refute the lies. If the bully
comes back, you refute the lies again. And again.
You present a solid wall of truth to the attacker,
and to the world. You do not stay silent. You
do not walk away."
The coach stood tall and proud, looking over
the team, and the boys all responded, holding
themselves a bit prouder. The coach nodded,
then blew his whistle. "Wind sprints. Now."
Knowing the drill, the boys lined up to run
to the far fence three at a time. Alan was in
the second group, and as he waited, he heard
his teammates asking one another what the coach's
speech had been about.
Alan ignored the talk, and when Justin tagged
his hand, ran as hard as he could to the outer
fence. He understood what the coach was saying,
but he was embarrassed beyond belief that anybody
would think of him as a victim.
By the time he returned and tagged the next
teammate, the talk had died down, and everyone
was staring at him. Leif Magnuson stepped up,
saying, "Al, I didn't know about it, but I agree
with the coach, silence is the worst way to
handle it. As soon as school is out, I'm going
to post something, okay?"
Alan, looked over at the boy. They had been
teammates for the last three years, but other
than that, they hadn't much in common, and they
didn't hang out together. Alan was touched at
the gesture, and he smiled saying, "Thanks,
Leif, I appreciate it."
Leif nodded and held up his fist, which Alan
bumped with his own fist. Leif looked Alan in
the eye and said firmly, "Solid wall, man."
The rest of his team all agreed, each kid
stepping up to bump fists, each repeating "Solid
wall." By the time Justin and Lawrence stepped
up, Alan was standing tall, proud to have such
support. He looked over at Coach Daugherty who
had watched the entire scene, and nodded, his
chin held high.
When the team practice was over, Alan took
his shower and dressed to go home. As he picked
up his books from his locker, he saw several
guys typing on their phones. It was a matter
of pride that he didn't rush to see what was
being said, instead going out to his car and
waving goodbye to his friends before driving
through town to the donut shop. He settled himself
at a back table, a bag of chocolate long johns
and a cup of coffee at hand.
With a deep breath, he opened his blog and
scrolled to comments. As he saw the support
that he was receiving, he blew out a long sigh
of relief. Not only were his friends and teammates
supporting him, but other people that he'd never
even met were throwing in words of encouragement.
Sitting back in the hard plastic seat, Alan
felt as if a weight had been lifted from his
heart. John had been right, and all of his friends
were stepping up. He took a big bite of his
donut, and perked up when his phone chimed indicating
a new comment.
With a bit of a smile, he started to read,
and his heart suddenly bottomed out. Alan's
ears heated up as his breathing became ragged.
The creep was back, and this time, it was worse,
far worse. Alan stabbed at the phone, to scroll
back to the start of the new comment. Growing
more angry by the second, he read:
"Oh, please! Are you all really that
naïve? Alan Tracy's father has enough money
to cover up anything. Do you people think that
this sixteen- year-old kid, is really good enough
to beat adults? Or that Gordon Tracy actually
earned that Olympic Gold Medal? More likely,
doping runs in the family. Use your heads, people!
Daddy can pay off other drivers and other swimmers
and race officials and anyone else he needs
to out of petty cash! Come to think of it, how
many of those so-called friends painting the
rosy picture of 'Saint Alan' here actually exist?
The comments are all the same, aren't they?
Want to know what I think? Daddy didn't even
spring for group of people, he just paid one
of his secretaries to write them all! Wise up,
Alan felt as if he would explode, he was
so angry. For this jerk to come after him was
infuriating, but for his brother Gordon's Olympic
medal to be called into question was beyond
belief. His hands shook as he grabbed his phone,
ready to rip the hide off of the idiot.
Before he so much as typed a letter, his
phone beeped indicating another message. Realizing
he had to calm down before he said anything,
he took a deep breath, and opened the new comment.
Reading, he snorted. At least one of Gordon's
swim meet opponents had been reading the blog.
His response helped drain the anger from Alan's
heart. He read:
"Wait, wait! You mean I was supposed
to be getting paid to get my butt whipped by
Gordon Tracy? I started swimming against him
when I was twelve years old, and I have yet
to beat him, especially since he took up the
butterfly. Let me tell you all, I could have
been on a Ski-Doo, and I still would never have
gone as fast as Gordon. But damn, why didn't
anybody tell me his dad was paying? I coulda
been a millionaire by now! I've been robbed!"
The phone chimed again, several overlapping
tones, indicating multiple messages. Alan read
them all, almost tearing up at the support.
A number of Gordon's teammates and opponents
jumped on board, complaining about not getting
paid to lose races, including guys who'd lost
to him in the Olympics.
His eyes widened when Piers Engstrom, one
of the older men whom Alan himself competed
against in Outlaw racing joined in, bemoaning
the fact that he needed a new carburetor, but
he'd never gotten his 'loser money' either.
Within thirty minutes, there had been a virtual
flood of support from his friends, from his
teammates and from his competitors.
Alan sat back, overwhelmed. He wasn't surprised
at all of the people jumping in to support Gordon.
His brother was a great guy, and he deserved
every compliment he ever got. But he had never
really thought of himself as being worth all
of this. He tried to be a good person, he really
did, but he knew he had a temper that sometimes
got the best of him, and not always in private.
Alan decided it felt good. He started to
put his phone away, but when it chimed one last
time, he paused to read the message. His eyes
flew wide when he saw it was from his oldest
brother, Scott. He'd hoped that only Johnny
would be aware of this embarrassing mess. He
felt a bit of a lump form in his throat at the
words Scott had written.
"Obviously, anyone with access to a television
knows that my brother Gordon earned his Olympic
gold. Having been awakened time after time by
his stomping around the house at five in the
morning getting ready to go to swim practice,
I can assure anyone who asks that nothing was
handed to him. As far as my brother Alan is
concerned, his sprint car races haven't been
shown on worldwide TV yet, and more's the pity.
Any interested person can go to and see Alan
in action. I recommend it. You'll see a star
in the making. Alan has talent up the wazoo,
but don't tell him I said so. Oh, and as far
as my dad's secretary writing these messages
is concerned, clearly, you don't know her. Dad
would never dare ask her. She'd put him down
with a single look."
Alan chuckled at that last comment. His dad
didn't really have a secretary. He had an executive
assistant who was formidable in her own right.
Alan put his phone away and headed for his car.
As he drove home, he considered the day.
He decided to tell John that he didn't need
to know who the cyber attacker was. It didn't
really matter. Knowing that any further attacks
would be met with Coach Daugherty's solid wall
of truth filled him with pride and not a little
humility. To know he had the kind of support
he'd seen today meant more to him than even
winning the race yesterday.
He headed home, a smile on his face, and
lift in his heart.