“There’s an old story, of a man who, after everything turned to ashes, rose and became great through much blood. It’s strange really, that story, saying he ‘rose to greatness’. He wasn’t great, nor did he actually rise. But, oh, was there blood. I’m one of the only ones, in my generation, that didn’t witness it. I was still hidden behind the fence. That man himself told me about it though, and in very careful detail. He told me about how the world was, even many years after everything was ashes, people who hadn’t even seen it were scared and violent. He told me how people slowly and meticulously killed the innocent, and some still do, but he ended it- or, rather, he ended most of it He told me how angry he was, how terrified he was. He told me how he used his anger and his fear and picked up an axe and ended everyone he knew to be a murderer, and no one stopped him. He knew he wanted peace, he also knew the price he had to pay. For every life he claimed, he made a mark on his arm. When I met him there was thirty six marks on his arm, last time I saw him he said there were forty thee, but I could have sworn there were more. At the end of the day when he dropped that axe, he was drenched in blood, or so he claims, and he spoke to a crowd- a huddled and disturbed crowd who had witnessed his vengeance. He spoke to them, not to justify himself, but to gain consciousness. And he said to them, “Murder should not go unjustified. I want a world without murder, and to do so- I’ll admit- I have murdered. I will pay for this in the deepest, most internal way, I know I will. I hope you fear me as much as I fear myself, and then I hope you let me continue to lead you.” He waited for an answer just standing there, bleeding. Then a man stood from the crowd, today we only know him as Charlie, he stood up and nodded his head once. And that’s all that man needed, a ‘yes’ from good, old Charlie. So that man, still dripping from head to toe, walked back to his office, washed himself up, and started hiring. That may be ancient history for some now, but it was only about twenty years ago. When I got out of the house, and I found out about the job, I walked up to him and asked him ‘why?’ And he told me, and I was moved to accept it, that cruel and gorey job. I vowed to keep everyone I knew safe by making terrible people terrified. I knew the price I had to pay, but as long as other people didn’t have to pay it too, it was fine with me. Recently rumors have been going around about the job, almost the same rumors that allowed his greatness, these rumors have a terrifyingly fast rate as to how quickly it destroys our reputation for doing this job. I think people make false fears so that they can infect their neighbors with them, and solely for that reason. People just get bored with a safe and stable life so, to see if they’re actually still living, they go cough on their neighbors. And perhaps the only way to counter that disease is to know that you’re being infected.”
In this world death occurs often, but, as human nature dictates it, there is always sorrow when those who are lost have been loved. In this world there is a great sadness that stabs at everyone. In this world there is a certain cruelness that has to do with anything we call human.
X was about seven or eight when he figured this out. The people from before guessed about his time in books, but they never imagined it being this dark. He looked down at his mother in his arms. Blood was spilling out of her stomach badly now. He could barely see her through his own blood and tears. She looked back up at him and giggled, “Now there’s a pretty face.” X had always worn masks and completely covered his skin, not even willing to let his own mother see his face. Right now she couldn’t have seen much of his face clearly, it was covered in blood, with a large gash splitting the skin from the left side of his forehead, down over his nose, and across his right cheek.
“X, go home now-you don’t need to sit here with an old woman, go back to the house, and please don’t leave till it’s safe.” She whispered, then closed her eyes, drew a few unsteady breaths, and died.
X set her down and slowly rose. He turned and walked back down the path. By time he reached the gate it started sprinkling. He turned past the gate and walked along the fence made of scrap metal, it was so rusted now it would hardly postpone an intruders attack. He ran his gloved hand down the fence until he found the post that moves, making a hole just big enough for his mother to squeeze through. He peeked through hoping everyone was underground, and they were. They’re all afraid of the rain. He walked along the inside of the fence, then turned and went towards the house. The rain was making the old white paint peal off the house’s sides again. He went along the side of the side of the house, stopping at the little red shed towards the back. He yanked open the door, almost falling backwards. He stumbled to the back of the shed and found a shovel. He walked back to his mother the same way he had come.
X needed to hurry, it was getting dark and the rain was getting heavier, but his legs could barely move. He picked her up along with the shovel, and this slowed him even more. He walked once more down the path, to the gate, but turned and sauntered up a steep hill.
The hill was oddly not covered in trees, there’s a woods encircling the hill and the house. The only thing that ever grew on that hill was sparse patches of grass and a tree at the very top, which wilted. The ancestors of the house must have thought the hill was bad luck because they did not build the fence around it. But his mother once told him that the tree on top of that hill was her favorite tree, so He thought it would be wise to bury her there. He dug until his arms were about ready to fall off, climbed out of the hole, and placed her in it. After replacing the dirt he went around the tree and down the hill toward the small opening in the fence. He knew he needed to go inside now or he’d die himself, but he desperately did not want to go inside. He had lost his mask, a glove, and his hat during the fight, the handkerchief around his mouth was just about ripped in half, his coat was torn, and he was covered in blood. Not having a hat, or even a mask would have been ok if he wasn’t so noticeably covered in red. He has always feared people seeing his face, but he never thought people would get the chance to see the inside of it.
He went around to the front of the house. After opening the front door he forced his ungloved hand further up his sleeve and held the handkerchief on better with his other hand, luckily there wasn’t anyone on the ground floor. He normally used the stairs, but he was just too tired to take them, he had to use the elevator. He felt very lucky because no one else was using the elevator, he pushed a button and went down to the first floor. He was so tired that he could barely feel his legs, he had to lean against the wall of the elevator to keep from falling over. When the elevator stopped he tried to walk off, but instead he took two steps and collapsed. There were people on this floor, however. X could barely keep himself from slipping into the darkness, he knew he had to stay awake to keep people from seeing more skin than he was already showing. He could barely focus on what everyone else was doing, apparently they moved him down the hall to the infirmary. He could hardly make out Dr. Glen yell, “What the hell happened to him?”
X was sat up on a bed, he could feel something tugging on his face. He couldn’t even keep his eyes open while trying to push away someone who was trying to look over the rest of him, he knew the only other cuts he had were on his ungloved hand.
X woke up in one of the beds in the infirmary. His eyes felt heavy and he couldn’t lift his head. He managed to lift his left hand to see it was bandaged. He lifted his right hand and his glove was still on, he breathed a sigh of relief. Slowly He sat up, something pulled lightly on his face, and there was pain when he scrunched his eyebrows in confusion. He pulled off the glove on his right hand with his teeth and gently touched his face. He didn’t feel the plastic mask nor the handkerchief, instead they were replaced with gauze. He had been so out of it when he woke up that he didn’t notice the gauze covering his right eye. He moved his legs off the side of the bed and noticed his crutches and outer pants had been taken off and placed against a wall a few feet away from the end of the bed. It wasn’t far from where he was sitting on the bed, but he couldn’t use his legs to get there.
At least the curtain had been drawn, separating the part of the room X had been sleeping in from the rest of it, blocking prying eyes from watching Him do embarrassing things such as showing skin, practically falling off the bed, and having to slide across the floor using his hands. He straightened out his legs more using his hands, then took his crutches and set them just past his feet. He used his hands to put each one of his practically limp legs through each belt loop and past the gears where his knees fit into. Whoever had partially undressed Him fortunately left on his inner pants and shoes. Finally he fit his feet into the bottom of his crutches. He fastened the top belt around his waist, and pulled the leather straps onto his shoulders. He tested the crutches to make sure they were still working by pushing his feet down, in a way that made him look like he was trying to point his toes, pushing down on the metal plates that were positioned at the bottom of his feet. This motion stated a chain reaction where the bars in the middle of his calves pushed up, turning the gears by his knees, forcing his knees to bend. Relaxing his feet then made his knees relax.
Satisfied with how his crutches worked he clumsily stood and put on his other pants over his shoes and crutches. Then he put on his coat, trying not to notice the holes and blood stains. X suddenly felt sick, but he chose to ignore the feeling. He walked back over to the bed and put his glove back on. He looked around for his handkerchief but could not find it when Dr. Glen partially opened the curtain and stepped into the closed off section of the room, looking pleasantly surprised.
“Ah, X, you’re awake- I thought I had heard someone back here.” X hid his mouth and part of his nose with his gloved hand and turned around. He wanted to know where his handkerchief was, but he couldn’t ask the doctor, so He just gave the kind man a look of desperation. Dr. Glen unfortunately could not interpret X’s expression, but before he could ask about it Ben rushed in.
“Is he awake? Oh, thank god!” He kneeled down and but his hands around X’s face and tried to get a better look at him, completely violating X’s personal space, “Are you ok? Does it still hurt?” His questions annoyed him so he pushed Ben away, glaring at him from beneath his hand. He didn’t understand how hard Ben tried to care for people, Ben’s father was the complete opposite, and his brother tries his absolute hardest to stay out of other people’s business, Ben could learn a thing or two from them. Ben sighed and stood, still looking worried he asked Dr. Glen, “Will he be ok, doctor?”
“Yes, but he lost a lot of blood, so he needs to rest.” Dr. Glen got closer to X, speaking directly to him now, “X you need to lay back down now.” He was clearly still annoyed and shook his head no, keeping his hand firmly over his mouth.
“Why not? Don’t you want to get better?” Ben asked. X just stood there and stared at them annoyed. It’s not that he didn’t want to get better; he just wanted to find his other handkerchief and not stay in the infirmary, because, most likely, everyone has heard about his condition and will want to visit him. He just wanted to be left alone. And much to his anticipation another person entered the room. Hearing the infirmary door squeak close, Dr. Glen and Ben turned around, only to find that the person who entered was Ben’s father.
“Hi, dad.” Ben looked away finding sudden interest in the curtain.
“Ben. Doctor.” Ben’s father greeted them, then looked past them at X, “How long has he been out?”
“About eight hours, Mr. Cheever.” answered Dr. Glen. Mr. Cheever continued to stare into X, who couldn’t tell if he was trying to be intimidating or if he always glared that way, so X just looked back at him.
“Why is he covering his mouth like that?” asked Mr. Cheever.
“I’m not sure-” Dr. Glen started.
“He’s always wearing a mask, maybe he’s just… Compensating.” Proposed Ben. Mr. Cheever raised an eyebrow at Ben’s comment and managed to respond with a “hmph” and moved on with his next question.
“Where was he, how did he get those wounds?”
“We,” Dr. Glen hesitated, “Don’t know.”
“I haven’t asked him yet.”
“And why not?” Mr. Cheever was growing impatient.
“Do you really think X will ever answer a question?” Ben asked sarcastically, then bit his lip thinking he probably shouldn’t have said anything.
“He will if I tell him to,” Mr. Cheever was definitely angry now, and X wanted no part of it, so he went past them and out the door. Just before the door shut behind him he heard Mr. Cheever yell, “And where does he think he’s going?”
X rounded the corner and went through the doors that led to the stairs, Mr. Cheever followed him but when he went through the door X had vanished.
“Phantom brat.” Mr. Cheever muttered and slammed the door shut, walking back to the infirmary, anyone in the hallway pretended to ignore his hostility.
“Ben, go find something else to do.” He ordered as soon as he was back in the room. Ben nodded and left.
“What are you planning on doing with him?” Dr. Glen asked.
“X, I mean, he can’t stay in his mother’s room, right?”
“Yeah, it’s about time for him to move into the boys’ room anyway.”
“Any word from his mother?”
“No, I bet she’s gone for good, she probably doesn’t care that much about that brat,” Mr. Cheever paused, “Where do you think he got those cuts from?”
“Can’t be sure, something sharp though. Made a clean cut down his face,” Dr. Glen traced a line down his own face with his finger, mimicking X’s wound, “And on his hand too.” Mr. Cheever sighed and shook his head.
“Well if you hear any more about this, doctor, be sure to tell me.”
“Will do, Mr. Cheever.”
X pulled the book he had been reading off one of the shelves in the library. He didn’t know the title of the book because the covers were badly burnt, but luckily the precious words inside stayed intact. He sat down at the table in the middle of the small room, surrounded by bookshelves, and, as always, got lost in a book.
X woke up to the sound of the library door opening behind him. He panicked for a moment but then remembered that he had gotten a mask, glove, and handkerchief before going to the library. He turned slightly in his chair to see who had entered, causing him to become more than a little disoriented, almost tipping over. X held onto the table to try and regain his balance while his visitor moved to the other side of the table to face him. It was Darrel Muller, weak and shaky from being sick. He looked like he was coming down with something really nasty, he was pale and drawing in quick, short breaths. He was probably trying to hide it by agreeing to go down to talk to X, on some favor for someone, but he wasn’t doing a very good job at hiding it.
Darrel stood leaning on the back of the other chair, looking down at his shoes, opening and closing his mouth in a frantic search to find what he was going to tell X. Finding what he needed to say he looked up and said, “You’re probably wondering why I came to see you, um, you’re going to have to move into the boys’ room,” Darrel’s speech dropped off, sensing X’s unease.
“I know you don’t want to,” he began again, “But it’s something we all do, and you can’t stay in your mom’s room, especially if she’s not-” Darrel bit his tongue and looked uneasily at X, who stayed emotionless behind his mask.
“Anyway,” Darrel shook his head, “I’m not the guy who’s in charge of this decision- I was told to tell you: you have three hours to pack your things, then we’ll help you move into the boys’ room.” Darrel looked him in the eyes for a moment, then, feeling he got the message across, he left X alone in the library. X just sat for a while. Finally, closing his eyes with a sigh, he stood, put the book back on the shelf he had gotten it from, and left the library.
It wasn’t until late that night when they found X again, he was just wandering the halls of the sixth floor. It was even later when Mr. Cheever convinced X to stay in the boys’ room, by pulling on his arm until X just gave up. The boys’ room was large and full of beds, some full but most empty. The only distinction from any particular group of friends is that they had beds near each other, but X chose a bed away from everyone, by the wall on the opposite side of the room from the door. As much as some boys tried to ignore the new presence and continue sleeping, everyone was intrigued. But as clear as X’s self-seclusion may have been, there were many rumors going around about how he got injured, and how Dr. Glen saw his face, and one boy named Francis Mitgan was determined to get to the bottom of it.
X started to sit down on his new bed, Mr. Cheever left, and Francis, along with some of his friends, rolled out of bed and casually sauntered up to X. Judging by his height he was a few years older than X, and his tall, curly brown hair wasn’t helping X’s judgment.
“I heard you got beat up real bad, heh, serves you right.” Francis sneered. X didn’t like the sound of Francis’ voice, it bothered him on a level he couldn’t quite explain. X also wasn’t so certain why Francis was so smug either, X had always beaten everyone in the fights, even the older boys. Francis saw that one of X’s eyes was still covered in gauze underneath his mask and quickly said, “Dr. Glen’s seen your face, why can’t we? Are we not good enough for you?” Francis’ words were riling up his small group of followers into agreeing with his fowl behavior. But before things escalated too much Ben sat up in his bed and said, “Hey, knock it off, Francis. X has been through a lot today, you don’t need to make it worse. Also X can kick your ass and I won’t feel sorry for you if you get yourself hurt.” Francis scowled and rolled his eyes, then walked away in the same fashion he had come, as if he hadn’t done anything.
X lay down on the bed, on top of the sheets, without changing or even taking his shoes off. He lay flat on his back, resting his hands on his stomach, lying perfectly still, and, with some speculation from the others, appeared to not be breathing. He stared at the ceiling with the one eye he could see out of, gradually the noise of the other boys quieted and the candles went out. Every once in a while a boy would lift his head to check on X, as if he was going to insane in the middle of the night. When he got annoyed with it he rolled onto his side to face the wall. Sometime in the middle of the night he left for a while, as Mason Megg recalled. And when X eventually had returned Scheldon Arnot woke to find X had lit a candle that was on a desk by X’s bed, and in that light X was sitting on his bed with his legs crossed, reading a book. But, as Scheldon explained to his friends, when they woke up the next morning the book was gone, the candle was out, and X was lying on his back as if he didn’t move from when he first lied down the night before.
When the boys were called to breakfast, X was first to leave, but when the other boys went to the dining hall, he wasn’t there. Of the twenty or so boys that live in the house, not one of them saw X again that morning. And it wasn’t until late afternoon, when combat training had begun, when X mysteriously reappeared. You couldn’t see his face but you could tell he was exhausted. While the other boys went through the motions of old-fashioned wrestling, he sat in the shade of what was once a barn, now just a wall attached to a pile of rubble, and read a book. When the rest of the boys went back underground for supper he disappeared again, only to be found a short time after, lying in his bed on his back, just as he had the night before at bed time.
No one knew where X went, and for ten years that’s how he lived his life, based on the accounts of those who lived in the house. The most people who ever lived in the house were about sixty. Some people died, and others were born, but no one ever knew who X was. The closest anyone had ever gotten to seeing X’s skin were those brave enough to risk life and limb to glance at it. And he never spoke a word to anyone, no matter what. Some tried to explain his disappearances as him just going down to the library, others dreamt up wild tales about how he left the house completely. But no matter what rumors came and went X never seemed to be bothered. And for ten years X went visibly unaffected by the rest of the house. Until one day. A day that is said to be the day X died.
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