The Hero Complex, Marlo H., Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards, Regional Merit

The night was cold and my eyes were burning.  My bare feet kicked up gravel with every frantic step.

They were not behind me, but they would be when they saw I was gone. They were always watching me, waiting for me to crack.

But I’m not what they think I am. I just needed to see him. I had to know what happened. I needed to know I couldn’t have saved him.

The starlight-tipped spikes of the iron graveyard gate burned like torches in the moonless night. I pushed past and knew I wouldn’t leave. They would find me. Talk to me in calm voices, and pull me back. And things could just be again, until…

A crow screeched and shattered the sealed silence. The grass was icy with dew on the soles of my feet as I carefully crept past each headstone. Where was he?

I did not remember.

I did not remember.

They told me I was only eight. I would remember. I had to remember. But not because he was there. Because I didn’t see him. Not because he never came back. Because I never knew he left. I never even knew his name.

I was a breath in the frigid air as I roamed the hollow howling of the field. The hairs on my forearms stood at attention as the wraith wind brushed against my back. I jerked my head around. Nothing. Or was it…

I was on my back and in an instant my breath was gone.

The sky was blur and my neck stiff. I pulled myself up and struggled to focus on something. Anything. Then I saw it. A writhing gray stone. His name, etched in gold letters. At my feet. I must have tripped. I must have.

But something wasn’t right… 2004. I was eight. I could have saved him. A prayer might have been enough. Anything. But I did nothing. I did not remember. I never even knew who he was until last year. When I saw his face. Somewhere. Heard his name. Somewhere. And it’s as if I knew him. But then I heard those words. Those cold daggers that tore at me…

Death of stagnant air

Suffering of clenched fists

Paralysis of wailing wheels

Eternity of black and white photographs

 

I should have tried. Something. Anything. I should have seen him sooner. I should have remembered. Should have heard his name before. Should have known him. While he was still here.

But what could I have done? Could I have really saved him? Would it really have mattered? Or would I have still ended up here? In the night…at his grave…looking for …I should have remembered…

My mind lurched and the graves melted away.

Then the lights.

Then the pitch.

I woke somewhere warm.

A choking pressure.

Confined.

Or restrained?

I saw nothing.

Was I even living?

All I heard were voices.

Familiar strangers.

Something about a fever.

Did they think what I had thought

for so many months?

 

But I found

what I was looking for.

Or had I?

I guess that’s all

I really wanted.

So I suppose

I was ready.

For the soft words.

The shallow surrender.

The flat-line.