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A few years ago, I read a story from an anthology that ended up haunting me. I think the title of the story involves the boy's name, as well as another detail, making it something along the lines of "The Tale of Tommy [surname]."

The story in brief: Inspired by the superheroes he sees on TV, a boy tries to become a superhero by replacing each part of his body by metal plates, one by one, in order to protect his friend from bullies. The plan ends up failing miserably.

About the anthology

I read this story in an anthology of some sort. The stories in the anthology all had some common theme — for example, "superheroes." I remember this story as being a sort of subversion; a lot of the others fit the theme more traditionally. This was the only story I ended up reading all the way through. I also think the anthology had a bright cover.

I read the anthology somewhere between 2012 and 2017; my best guess is 2015 or 2016. At the time, the book was new to my local library. This story didn't seem very "science-fiction" on the surface, but the anthology was in the science-fiction section.

The story was written in English. I'm guessing that it was written by a white American, probably an older man. I don't remember recognizing his name.

About the story

I remember a lot of details, but I may have made some of them up or combined them with other stories.

The story is set in the United States, around the 60's. The main character narrates in the first person, as if he’s recalling a story from his past. In his memories, he is a young boy who leads a lonely life. He doesn't have any friends, and he gets picked on at school, because he's small and can't defend himself, but maybe because he's poor / geeky as well.

Then a new boy comes to school. For the purposes of this description, I'll call him Tommy, which is probably close to his real name. Tommy defends the narrator from the bullies for no obvious reason and earns himself a bloody nose for his efforts.

Tommy's situation is pretty pathetic too. He’s raised by a poor single mother. He's not particularly big or strong either, but he has a certain kind of confidence that draws the narrator to him.

After Tommy helps the narrator out, the two become fast friends. They find out that they have common interests, including superheroes. Together they like to read comics and watch Cold War-era television shows.

But the narrator keeps getting picked on by bullies. The attacks aren't letting up anytime soon, and they have the potential to do serious physical damage. Inspired by their favorite superhero on TV, Tommy decides to step in and save the narrator, in a grand gesture of friendship. He will acquire a new body made entirely of metal. Then the bullies won't be able to touch him.

Soon the details of his plan comes out — he'll systematically break each part of his body, to the extent that the doctors will be forced to replace them with metal parts.

His legs (arms?) are first. He enlists the narrator to help. The narrator is initially squeamish, but eventually Tommy talks him into doing his part. Tommy ties himself to a plank and the narrator jumps onto him, snapping his leg. Tommy is taken to the hospital, and by the time he returns, he's equipped with a metal plate in his leg, according to plan.

Tommy barely gives himself time to recover before moving on to the next phase of the plan. My memory of this part is a little fuzzy; maybe he tries his torso or another limb. Either way, it doesn't quite work, and Tommy is given a cast instead of metal plates.

Throughout this process, his mother is growing worried. Her son keeps getting horribly injured and taken to the hospital. She doesn't understand what's going on, and takes some protective measures, making it harder for the two boys to carry out their grisly plan.

The cast is a setback, but Tommy and his friend don’t let it stop them. They move on to the most dangerous part of the plan — Tommy's skull. One day, when Tommy's mother is inside the house, Tommy jumps off the edge of the roof. Mid-jump, he realizes that the roof is slippery and his angle is wrong. But at that point it's too late, and he lands wrong. His mother screams and weeps as they wait for the ambulance. There's some gory detail, like the narrator watching pieces of his friend's skull slide around.

Understandably, Tommy's mother prevents the narrator from seeing her son. The narrator waits weeks and weeks, but Tommy doesn't come back to school. Finally, he's allowed to visit Tommy in the hospital. He notes that Tommy isn't the same. He has trouble smiling — one side of his mouth droops. He can't speak clearly, and his thinking seems to be affected, too.

The story ends with the narrator in the present day, remembering Tommy and his sacrifice for their brief friendship.

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