'First Blood' – a classic and an inspiration

I love ‘First Blood’. Both the 1982 film and the 1972 novel by David Morrell. This is not going to be review, as I don’t think anyone should need convincing that I’m right! (My wife would disagree!)

However, I do want to say something about a part of it – in both film and book – that inspired something in my writing. I’m talking about the early interactions between John Rambo and Chief Teasle. What I find intriguing in the set up is that as a reader / viewer you can have sympathy with both parties. Rambo just wants a place to hang, and ultimately pass through. Teasle just wants to keep the neighbourhoods he protects safe and trouble-free. At this point there is no villain; it’s just that the things they feel they are both entitled to conflict with one another.

And every great story needs conflict. It doesn’t have to be good versus evil – just having a different outlook on a situation will do it.

I watched and read those sequences a number of times; Teasle questioning, Rambo being less than co-operative because he feels unjustly put upon. No clear right side, no clear wrong side. I soon decided that I wanted to use something like that in a piece of my own writing. But what scenario could I use? What world did I understand where I could make that happen?

The answer to that is simple. Teaching. Schools. I envisaged a situation between teacher and student where neither of them were technically in the wrong – there was no hero or villain – but their difference of opinion, and opposing objectives, would create a story.

That’s how ‘Peter’s Day’ came about. Now, I can’t put in here chunks of ‘First Blood’ for copyright reasons, but I can give you one of the moments were Peter and Mr Jarrett are conversing. It was absolutely inspired by the David Morell characters.

‘Peter’s Day’ extract:

“Right. You’ve got three and a half weeks with us, Peter, and in that time you’re going to put right all of the wrongs that brought you to us in the first place.”

The boy leaned back in his chair. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”

“You had a knife and wouldn’t say who it belonged to.”

“It was a craft knife. It belonged to the art department. I was taking it home to finish off some 3D work.”

“That’s not what it says in your file.”

The boy gave out a little huff. “You haven’t read my file.”

Dave had been wavering with his eye contact, but that brought him level with Peter’s face. What was he getting at? And how did he know? “I don’t like that tone, young man. Your role in this is not to question our assessment of the situation. St Simon’s looked at your case, and now it has been decided that this is the best solution.”

“Best for who?”

Jeez, I thought Laney said he was polite? “Best for you, because the other option is that you’re excluded for the remainder of the year.”

“I’d prefer that. I’d be on my own. Nobody would stare. Nobody would wonder what species I was.”

Dave frowned. Had he muttered that word out loud? He hoped not. No, he couldn’t have. “You mustn’t assume that people think like that.”

“Mustn’t I?”

“You might also make some new friends in your time with us.”

Vargas leaned forward. “Do you have an isolation room? For bad kids?”

“Yes, but-”

“Just let me stay in there.”

“I’m afraid that’s not an option.”

“Why not?”

“Because you don’t get to decide, regardless of what…” you look like, he was going to say, but stopped himself. “Of what you think is best. You need to fit in with what we think is best. You are going to join the year group for three and a half weeks and follow a normal timetable.”

“I’m not normal.”

“Yes you are, Peter. Everyone here will treat you normally. The students here are very… empathetic.”

“They’re the same as students everywhere. You think this school is special; it isn’t special, it’s just a school.”

“Like any school, you’ll get out of it what you put in, Peter, so you can make it special.” He liked that line; he fancied his approach might follow that direction from there on in.

But Peter didn’t buy the line. “You’re finding it hard to look at me, but you’re forcing yourself to. Others won’t bother. That Mrs Sillitoe didn’t bother. You also won’t say exactly what you think out loud, because you’re the deputy head, but teenagers don’t care what they say. I’m telling you, you don’t want me mixed in with all your normal kids.”

Dave began to get cross. He slapped his hand on the table. “Listen here, you don’t get to tell me anything, okay? The students here will give you a fair crack: that I can guarantee. Some will feel uncomfortable at first, but I’m sure you’re used to that, and given time there’ll be no difference between you and them, apart from maybe your overly negative attitude unless you address it, and quickly.”

“Are you telling me to get over myself? To get over this? ” His left forefinger pointed up. “Are you saying this is somehow my fault?”

I can’t win here, thought Dave. What is he talking about? Does he want to be treated like a freak? “No, I’m saying you’ll be accepted.”

“As long as I get used to people feeling uncomfortable? You think I should compromise?”

Dave shook his head. “The only compromise expected is the same for anyone on a managed move to another school. You stick by the rules and do as you’re told. We will make sure that you’re treated the same as everyone else.” Unless you like the notoriety of being different.

“Don’t put me in classes with other students, Mr Jarrett.”

If that sentence had ended with please, or had been delivered with humility and a bit of reverence to the organisation that was accepting him for the best part of a month, then Dave might have considered exploring why Peter felt that way. But the tone was that of a command, and he’d just about had enough of listening to this kid trying to tell him how to run things. You’re not the first person with a birthmark, you know. But then he looked again at the eye.

“You attended classes at St Simon’s, so it should be no different here. Just keep your head down, Peter-”

“-So no-one can see my face?”

“No. You know what I mean. Three and half weeks will fly by. I’m putting you with Nick, one of the best lads in the year.”

“Just don’t blame me.”

“Pardon?”

“When things start happening, don’t blame me. Keep me isolated.”

“Are you threatening to misbehave?” Dave had decided: Peter was definitely going into classes and he was personally going to keep track of him, every bloody hour if necessary.

“I will do what I need to, Mr Jarrett.”

“Well, you won’t need to do anything here but work. Right?”

Peter tilted his head, no doubt just to stretch his neck, but it added to the thought in Dave’s mind that the left side of the boy’s face belonged on some other creature. A velociraptor, perhaps.

“We’ll see,” Peter replied.

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