An Assassin's Birth
It was midday when I woke, the warm spring air clean and fresh to my nostrils. My body felt strange, stretched and pulled, yet still functional and indeed unharmed. I opened my eyes, closing them swiftly as the brightness of the day overwhelmed me.
I was never one to shun light, even when I was no longer within light’s shelter, and soon I forced myself to look through squinted eyes at the blue sky. It was simple enough to lie there, and I found it pleasant; but a driving urgency forced me to my feet, my limbs feeling like they had not been used in months. I felt somewhat sore, due to the hardness of the stone slab I had lain upon, yet this was not significant; an accidental to the essential. I was awake, alive, and unharmed, that was what mattered.
But what mattered most was what I was. For as I stood, the ground was farther away than it had ever been, save when I had climbed up a ladder, or stood upon a roof. I was no longer the size of my people. Therefore, either my transformation had been a success, or I was twisted into something I did not want to know.
Almost hesitantly I drew my eyes away from the sky, and down to the ground. Lithe dark blue and black feet, and legs and body of the same shade met my eyes. Supple, uninhibiting greaves covered my lower legs, and equally flexible cuisses were upon my upper legs. The short boots I wore were segmented yet still armored. My torso too was covered with flexible armor. I extended my arms, and was pleased to notice the close fitting gauntlets, the spiked vambraces, and the slim spaulders that arose from them. My fear of being a monster had left, and indeed I reigned in a desire to leap and run, to test my new form. Instead my hands ran up to my head, feeling the close fitting helmet there, the facelike visor raised out of view. Fully armored, unheightened, yet there was one thing missing, and I reached instinctively for the short blade that always was sheathed upon my back. My hand clasped the hilt, familiar yet unfamiliar, and drew the sword. My eyes followed the blade, and I smiled. No regular blade was in my hand, but a shimmering silver and deep blue weapon, bladed full three feet, slightly curved, and with a sensible power lurking within.
My old life of thievery and petty crime was behind me. I was reborn, my life now a shattered structure that I alone could erect. My eyes strayed to my blade, and I smiled.
The hands of this builder would not be of peace and unity, but of destruction and war. My new life had brought not peace, but instead a sword.
* * *
I’m shattered, the pieces of me lie all over the place, and it’s difficult for me to put them back together. How can someone put themselves back together, after they have been so brutally ripped apart? I feel as though I have had my very being torn from me. In this dark state of my mind, I am unable to cope, cope with the world colliding upon my shoulders.
How can I help others, when I can’t even help myself? The darkness consumes me, and I don’t feel the strength to repel it. Every day I am pressed, every day I feel the pain others as my burden, every day I am hurt. I suppose that I’ve just finally hit my breaking point.
No, I can’t except such a thought, I just can’t. For the memory of my family, the ones who loved me so dearly, I cannot. For them, I must piece myself back together. To help my friends, the ones who stand by my side time and time again. For them, I must pick myself up. So I can protect the weak, the ones who cannot defend themselves. For them, I must gather my wits. For all their sakes, I must rebuild, rebuild myself as a stronger man than I was before.
I chose this life, and though heaven and earth itself may test me, I shall continue. I can never gain in to the darkness, no matter how tempting it may be. The people need me, the need a hero, and for the time being that is me. So how can give up, knowing that by doing so, I’d doom them all. I must stay strong, stay resolute, my heart might be broken, but I can always repair it. I chose to be a vigilante, and I will remain one. For better or worse, I am a man of the people, a defender of justice, the protector of the weak, and the vanquisher of evil. I am a Superhero.
* * *
Rot. That’s the word that best defined what was waiting for Mr. Lester Dubois as he stepped through the doors of Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary, notepad in hand and pack on his back. Dirt was caked along the tiled floor, and mildew and moss made themselves comfortable along the wall. Fragments of glass were scattered across the ground before him, and an old desk was laying off to the side, smashed and decaying.
Katrina certainly did do a number on things.
Mr. Dubois strode in, unconcerned, and began following the route he’d taken through its halls five days a week for most of his working life. Pointedly, he stared forward as he went, ignoring the gaps where doors had once led into classrooms. At the end of the hall was the old stairwell, the cheap coating that had once kept it from being more than a glorified slab of stone now shorn away in the months since the storm. The banister, never much in good shape to start with, was nothing more than a few rotting planks, no good to anyone. He sighed to himself as he began the climb.
Second floor – home to the administration, which had never meant more than a few rooms that were envious of closets that held some file cabinets. A quick peek inside showed they’d been smashed open, the folders once resting within now scattered across the floor, ripped and battered. Someone must’ve figured the school kept a cashbox somewhere. Someone must’ve been disappointed.
He continued the walk down the grimy hall. Sweat poured off him as he went; the sun was beating down on the city that day, and in a place like this where the water’d had time to settle it was like a sauna even a few months after the fact. He’d say he’d be happy once he got out of here and out of the heat, but the simple fact was that Mr. Dubois hadn’t been much happy since the week the hammer of God had come down on his city and sent the past thirty years of his life downstream.
He rounded the landing on the next set of stairs and took a look at the third floor. Counting off to himself, he turned into the third room on the left. 3C. Mr. Lester Dubois’ third-grade elementary class, five days a week. Reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic. Inside was the same bleak picture he’d seen in the other rooms, with just one difference: he had a job to do here. Pulling a pen from his pocket, he started walking down the rows of weathered and rotting desks, flipping them open one by one, taking their contents and making notes.
Dawes, Dale. Nothing.
Pike, Michael. Two dollars in change.
Temple, Anna. Nothing.
Peters, Nick. Three dollars in change and a social sciences textbook.
And the list went. When he was done, he stood at his own desk and opened the battered drawers.
Dubois, Lester. Two ruined gradebooks, five dead textbooks, and what was probably once an apple.
He nodded, satisfied, tucked the notebook into his pack with the items from his desk, and walked out of the room.
* * *
Somewhere amidst all the medical visits, Zack Willikins got the feeling he was never going home again.
His headaches were sporadic and painful. The doctors tsk-tsked whenever they saw him try to sit up or hold a conversation. But he could barely remember things, anyway; his memory had fragmented after the car crash and still needed a hard reboot.
Car crash? Car crash. That was how he had ended up in a sterile white room with anonymous faces poring over his own, reading papers with a pretentious air that communicated simultaneously their experience and their lack of emotion toward his condition. At least, that was what he thought. It was hard to think straight.
Between bouts of sleep he caught snitches of conversation about him, about his condition. He was in danger, they said, of passing away. He wasn’t in a coma but he was darn close to it. Figures flitting by like dreams in the dark left get-well-soon cards (oh, the irony was lost on a man with a broken mind), flowers that he couldn’t smell because his nasal nerves had been scrambled in the crash, sentiments that were quickly and efficiently forgotten amidst the twenty-four-seven work his brain did to reconstruct itself.
Maybe he got the feeling he was done — over, draw curtains, exit stage right — the day the head doc said Zack wouldn’t make it, when he could only blink confusedly at his family and promptly lose concentration, staring at the ceiling instead and dutifully counting its irregularities. His brain was pounding. Maybe it had comprehended the message in the doctor’s voice through the filtering and distortion his damaged eardrums had applied; maybe it was just an emotion thing, how it could add a second meaning to a sentence even if that second meaning wasn’t intentional. In the head honcho’s case, his tone had communicated finality — as in, that was it, Zack was done for, all that good stuff that he, again, couldn’t appreciate in his condition.
He’d read and watched his share of corny hospital dramas, though, and every once in a while a scene would haphazardly reconstruct itself in his mind’s eye as if viewed through a cracked funhouse mirror. His situation included no attractive lead actress or Hugh Laurie, true, but the main premise was the same: How was he supposed to deal with dying?
The days wore by; Zack counted them by the number of times the light around him flickered out and then back on, for his incomplete memory could only recall fractions of each day as it passed. He was a broken VCR in fast-forward.
(If he did recover, he wanted to write a novel because that metaphor was too good to waste on a dead man.)
Then came the second shock.
Zack’s world was seen through a prism, all the primary colors split like edges of a diamond in his vision. That was how he watched his visitors come and go. That was how he dreamed, how he imagined he was walking a tightrope over a cliff and couldn’t afford to slip lest he bash himself on... on the emptiness below, just falling and falling without any music to occupy his time. That was also how he heard the doctors’ decision to pull the plug in a week.
A week. That was a long time. It was also a short time.
Zack was pretty sure, even in his state, that the average human lifespan was sixty- or seventy-something. He was twenty-four years old. He couldn’t die.
His mind’s response was to retreat within walls of its own design, fabricated fortresses that towered about his head and hid him from the world outside. A veil was cast over his eyes. Now he saw the hospital room as if through curtains, and he suddenly understood he had little time left.
The flickering of days was agonizingly slow. His blankets were rough; his feet were cold; his headaches returned with full force, and when they did, his body was covered in a film of sweat that served as a second cover for his skin every cold, sterile hospital night.
The doctors returned on what was the seventh day of the week but felt like the thirty-fifth to say they were pulling the plug that night. There wasn’t anything they could do, because Zack was slipping away, and oh, if only he could have spoken up and told them that yes, he was slipping away, but he was still there and he hadn’t gone yet.
The visitors that day flooded his beside in masses of color. He saw them as if through heavy fog, their features hidden behind the haze that flooded Zack’s eyes. His brain was constantly throbbing now, the scenes flickering on and off and on, and suddenly it was nighttime, and only his family was there.
The dreams flitted by his mind’s eye again. He was on a tightrope. He saw the other side. He could make it.
He wouldn’t, but he knew he could, and that was the important part he held onto even as his feet tilted off the tightrope into thin air, and he tumbled into the infinite abyss.