Avi Gvili's ideas for novels and short stories arise from life itself, and therefore, affirm life and show its deep, turbulent, and joyous meaning. His first novel, Samson Turner and the Legend of Hercules, combines his decades long love for the mythology of the world with his interest in the great superhero characters of the 20th century.
What follows is the first chapter of the popular young adult novel, available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and wherever books are sold worldwide.
It’s the choices in life that make you a champion or a chump. For me the pivotal moments came when I turned thirteen. It was the summer before eighth grade.
I know it’s not an easy time for anyone—your body freaks out, growing in ways you never imagined; your voice gets deep and scratchy.
Every guy goes through this, I know. But for me it was a whole different story—I developed powerful strength.
I’m talking superpower kind of strong—the kind you read about in comic books: bending steel beams, stopping cars with your body, that kind of stuff.
Let me go back a little, and tell it to you from the beginning.
My name is Samson Turner. At the time, I lived with my mom in Queens, NY. My dad, James Turner, died some time after I was born. I never really had a chance to meet him, but I know he was a good man. How do I know? The Olympians told me. But I’ll get to that in a little while.
It was a few weeks after my thirteenth birthday that I started to feel physically different. I knew something was up sometime after when I played Man O’War on my X-Box. Usually, I clutch the remote so hard it leaves grooves in my skin. So I’m playing one day and all of a sudden, just as I’m about to get to level five, about to kick some serious butt, I look down at my hands and see the remote in two—it had broken in half! At the time I chalked it up to those hormones teachers are always talking about. But things just didn’t feel right.
Like my energy level: I’ve always been kind of hyper for my age, never able to sit still for a long time. My pre-K teacher told my mom I might need to be in a “special” class. I know what you’re thinking—what’s wrong with being special? Well, this kind of special, they told my mom, meant there was something wrong with my brain. My mom refused and I was able to hold my own for eight years, trying my best to concentrate in school.
It’s not that I didn’t want to learn. I did. I really did. It’s just that, sometimes, my mind couldn’t seem to hold onto the facts. It was as if my brain had holes in it, and all the numbers, and dates, and names, and stories I learned in school went into my ears and down those holes, only to disappear forever. No matter how hard I tried, knowledge slipped out.
Whatever, I said to myself again and again. It didn’t matter. It wasn’t as if anything was useful anyway. As long as I sat in class, drawing quietly, no one seemed to pay me any attention anyway.
At the time, though, I was like a jumping bean, so full of energy I could barely sleep at night. The crazy thing was that after about three or four hours of sleep I felt fine, not a tired bone in my body.
I used to love sleeping, especially on the weekends—you wouldn’t see me up before three in the afternoon. But those days I was up before my mom, usually trying to find something to do. One day I woke up and cleaned my whole house. Can you believe it?
Then and there I knew something was definitely wrong with me.
I tried to hide it for as long as I could. For six whole months, I strained to contain the energy that was seething inside me. After school I would run home instead of taking the bus. That’s like ten miles, but it felt like two. I didn’t even break a sweat.
It was during one day in the middle of January that Leo found out. It had been a mild winter. Mr. Woodman, the gym teacher, had let us out to the yard every day. Once outside, I could run the whole time and no one would notice. I’d fit in with everyone else. But that day, out of the blue, a humongous snowstorm hit New York. We were stuck inside the gym like cattle on the way to slaughter. If you stepped five feet in any direction you would hit someone. And you know how that goes.
We started running laps and at first I blended. But soon enough everyone tired out, while I kept on running and didn’t stop. I was the last one left.
“TURNER, TIME TO PACK IT IN!”
SKRREEEEEEEEE! SKRREEEEEEEEE! Mr. Woodman blew his whistle like ten times before I even heard him.
“Sorry,” I offered.
“WHATTAYAA GOT WAX IN THOSE EARS OF YOURS, BOY?”
“Uh, no sir.” I said, rushing past him and into the lockers. Leo was sitting on one of the benches putting on a yellow Spiderman t-shirt.
“Dude, “ he said to me, “what’re you doing?”
“What do you think I was doing? —Running.”
“Yeah, but you never liked to run. What’s up now?”
“Nice shirt,” I said. “Aren’t you a little old to be wearing comic book characters on your clothes?”
“Dude, don’t rag on spidey. You’re never too old for Spiderman.” One thing about Leo—he took his superheroes very seriously. “Nice try changing the subject though. Seriously, what’s going on?”
I didn’t know what to tell him. “Nothing, just getting some more sleep; that’s all.” Leo seemed satisfied by my answers, but I knew they wouldn’t hold him off for long.
Then, a couple of days later we were playing dodge ball in gym. Well, it’s not really a gym. It’s the lunchroom, doubling as a gym in the afternoon periods. JHS 168, in Regal Park, started to use the real gym as a classroom because the school was so crowded. You know, you’d think somebody high up would figure out we need more schools. It’s like they don’t even care.
Anyway, we got in there right after the last period of lunch. It was barely clean with all kinds of stuff on the floors. I remember one time playing basketball, I was going up for a lay-up, thinking I was so good, when suddenly I slipped on a cheeseburger patty and fell hard. In front of girls! How embarrassing!
As I was saying, we were playing dodge ball and this kid, Steven Grotis, a six-foot tall big pain in the butt, decided he was going headhunting, mine especially. Ever since 1st grade, he had had it in for me for some reason. I don’t know why. I think he just liked picking on me.
“Yo, Turner, I’m comin’ after you,” he screamed across the gym floor as he chucked the ball straight at my head.
“Sam, watch out!” yelled Leo, warning me seconds before the ball whizzed by my head. We’re talking minor concussion—that’s how hard it was thrown.
I was usually a mellow guy; nothing really bothered me too much. I guess that’s why Steven Grotis picked on me all these years: I never really did anything about it. But for some reason, that day was different. That day, I felt anger growing inside me, a rage I had never felt before, as if all the times he had bullied me came to the forefront. I felt a great desire to get even.
And I did!
I picked up the dodge ball, scoped out the gym floor and saw him diagonally across from me, laughing with his friends. He pointed in my direction. Something moved in my brain, like a flick of a switch. My heart started beating hard; I felt the blood rushing through my body, energizing my muscles. Without even thinking I threw the ball.
Before I knew what had happened there were kids surrounding him and teachers telling everyone to give him some room so he can breathe. I approached the crowd apprehensively, scared of what I might have done. —Did I kill him? I thought, as the crowd parted to let me look. There, in the center of the human circle, was the crumpled body of Steven Grotis. He was holding his head in pain. Mr. Woodman came running out.
“What happened here? Mr. Woodman demanded, scanning the crowd suspiciously.
All eyes fell on me.
“Sir, we were playing dodge ball,” I volunteered in my defense, “and Steven threw the ball at my head.” Mr. Woodman continued to eye me. I felt the blood rush to my face.
“Uh… so I threw it back at him,” I offered meekly. My defense was dazzling.
“Do you realize, Sloman, that you almost knocked this boy unconscious?”
“Uh, my name is Samson, sir. And I didn’t mean to do it.”
“That is inexcusable! I will be speaking to the principal about this, you can bet on it. You two,” he pointed to two kids who snapped to attention, “help this boy to the nurse’s office.” And you, Samel,” he pointed his bony index finger in my face, “get out of my gym. Now!”
What was happening to me? I had never been able to throw that hard before. Steven could have really been hurt. As much as I hated him for all those years of abuse, I didn’t want him injured. It just didn’t sit right with me. But I also felt powerful, thinking Steven Grotis would never mess with me again.
“Leo, I gotta tell you something,” I said to him later as we walked home from school on an unusually warm, January day. “Something’s wrong with me.”
“No kidding, dude,” Leo replied, a smirk on his face. Five foot four, thin, with blond hair that fell to his shoulders and partially covered his face, Leo often looked like he was up to something.
“What’re you hiding?” he asked.