He was pathetic. He really was. He wasn’t a hero. And he was certainly no savior. Yet for some reason, even that did not stop him. That shining, blatant truth still did not hinder the actions he took that day.
His parents had abandoned him. Or died. He did not particularly care which it was, and this was understandable. There were three of them. A brother and a sister. He was, in all his dullness, the middle child. As circumstances quickly became clear, the older brother departed in the pursuit of money and wealth to bring home to his fractured kin. His brother truly believed he could find help. He never returned.
And so his older sibling had left him with the daunting task of caring for their young sister. She was of age, in which she at least briefly understood the depth of their current situation. As such, he poured great love and caring into her welfare and conditions. But he quickly realized that he could not protect her alone. So the two sought out the local orphanage.
And it was here where they spent the majority of their days together. Oh yes, they had some good times there, didn’t they? The children accepted them warmly, and the caretakers always made sure they were loved, clothed, and fed. The orphanage itself ran solely on the donations of the general public, and this itself was a blessing.
Time began to move its needle, and he grew into a healthy adolescent. It was then that he yearned to labor. He needed a job, any job, to provide for his sister. Heck, he practically wasted his monthly earnings all on her, purchasing anything to make her happy. Board games, toys, and books were all his excuses, his apologies, for her miserable childhood. She never complained
She especially loved to listen to music, and he would often buy her the latest CDs whenever he could afford them. You could say, he gained strength from her. He would do anything to see her smile. Anything.
And of course the orphanage. How could he forget! He had to repay the place that took them in so compassionately. One way or the other. Soon he discovered that he desired to help others, and the orphanage became the perfect inspiration. At age 18, and after years of diligent devotion to his studies, he finally earned his place in the police academy. Oh how joyous he must have felt back then! His life, filled with newfound purpose! He rushed to the orphanage to tell his sister the wonderful news, and how now, they could finally rejoice!
It was snowing when she died. The caretakers told him it was some sort of super disease. Measles it was called. No way… Was that why she was so tired lately? Was that why she was always burning up? But…she can’t be dead. She wouldn’t be so cruel as to leave him in this world alone…would she?
The caretakers informed him of her final hours. She was calling his name. Even in the red haze, she was thanking him. For all the gifts and things he had done for her. For all the times they had shared together. The caretakers said she died peacefully.
He blamed himself. Of course it was his fault. Why didn’t he notice it before? How was he so blind? So stupid? It was his studies. It had to be. He had devoted all his energy into his work, that he forgot the welfare of his own sister. He was alone. And miserable. He left the orphanage, giving everyone a broken-hearted goodbye. Even the children. And for one year, he lived in solitude.
He lost all purpose in this world. Life meant nothing. His days as a cop were melancholy, and no real action ever occurred anyway. This…this was what he gave up his sister for? Throughout this time, he contemplated suicide, but reasoned that his punishment was to carry on. He was to preserve the memories, and remind himself every day the consequences his selfishness had caused. His guilt was too much to bear. He was worthless.
It was snowing on the day his true mission began. Burglars had broken into the orphanage and stolen a fair amount of the donation money. Then they left the entire complex to burn. He was called in with the rest to hunt down the thieves. But here he was, arguing that they should stop the fires at the orphanage. They told him it was a firefighter’s job now. They told him that if he abandoned his duties, he would be released from the force.
He ran to the orphanage. He plunged into the smoke filled hallways, and came upon a sight of horror. Orange embers licked the interior, and a lone girl sat cowering in the midst of the inferno. He rushed to her, almost tripping on the floorboards. It was…Lauren? Yes, her name was Lauren. He remembered her golden hair. He asked her what had happened.
The burglars had taken the money. As earlier reported. But one of the caretakers fought back. And then hell broke loose. Gunshots were heard. Then silence. And then crackling. Lauren fearfully crawled out of her sanctuary in the closet to witness the scene before her. All of them, dead and bloody. Fire spreading everywhere. She told him the caretakers had evacuated everyone. Everyone still alive. Except for her. They had forgotten her.
He wanted to vomit. He had failed…again. Look at these children, drenched in their own blood. He couldn’t protect them. He was a failed excuse of an existence. He was a cop now. He had the power to prevent this…right? It was his fault. It was always his fault. He was no good. He deserved to die. He couldn’t help anyone. Ever. He hated myself. He wanted to hurt himself, make himself feel the pain he caused others. H-What?
Lauren screamed. The flames were growing. Fast. He realized for the first time that she was coughing. Bad. She would not make it alive at this rate…He lifted her up bridal style, and bolted for the door. She was confused.
“What are you doing?” she asked. “Shut up.” “Leave me! You can’t save us both!” “Shut up and let me help you!” “But I’m nothing. Just an orphan! I don’t have a chance out there. No one will care if I’m gone. Please, stop! You’ll die trying to save me!”
“But…you will still live.”
At this point, a crowd had gathered at the burning building. The thieves had been caught. And the firefighters were doing their job. They saw him, carrying the girl. He brought her to safety. Then, before anyone could protest, he turned on his heels, and raced back into the flames. Minutes later, he arrived with a corpse. And another. And another. Each trip took him more time, and the smoke had begun to cause internal damage. Finally, the last child had been brought out of the now smoldering orphanage.
He collapsed. He knew he could never repay his sins. But he could at least give the people who cared for him a proper farewell this time. He laid there, the snow cooling his back. Looking up, he saw the first traces of snowfall. Just like the day she died. Tears welled, stinging his eyes. He was pathetic. He was not a hero, and certainly no savior. He failed his sister, failed the orphanage, and failed himself. And yet…he saved the girl. He protected her. The same as his sister like all the times before. Before she… He smiled. He would never be able to rewrite the past. Never be able to repent for his sins. But at least he got something right in this failed, little existence of his. Knowing this brought a sense of calm to his collapsing mind.
He closed his eyes, and was immersed in the white world around him.
He was certainly famous, to say the least. The cops told the media he was just a rookie who disobeyed orders. And yet here he was, being the highlight of everyone’s day.
The reporters couldn’t decide what to call him. “Crazy Corpse Collector”? “Mad Marauder of Flames?” “Orphan Saver”? None of them sounded quite right. So they asked one person he did manage to protect. They asked for her opinion of what they dub her guardian.
Lauren, fresh from sobbing uncontrollably, answered honestly.
“Matthew,” she sniffed. “His name was Matthew.”
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