(I am apologizing in advance: this is long, and kind of all over the place, but I still hope you can enjoy it!)
A little boy sniffled, a tear falling to the ground as he cowered in the stuffy corner. A tall man, nodding with satisfaction, walked away as a small woman rushed passed him. The boy stared at his hand as blood dripped onto it. He hated bleeding; it made him feel vulnerable. That’s the last thing he wanted his mother to see. He wiped his cheek the best he could before turning to his mother with as much confidence as he could muster. She looked at him with loving eyes. She’s the reason he knew what love was. He had experienced enough hate for a whole lifetime in his meager ten years.
“Seth, you’re bleeding.” The mother tenderly wiped the tears that involuntarily fell from his dark eyes. She turned to the horrid man she called her husband, disgusted with herself.
“Sweetie, go pack up your things in your backpack and be ready to leave soon. I should’ve gone a long time ago.” Without questioning her, the boy ran down to his cramped room and started shoving clothes, socks, and books into the brown leather backpack his mother had given to him so many years ago. He picked up a small lump of fabric and cotton that used to be a small stuffed dog, remembering the times when he was too little to know what pain was.
The sound of wood splintering jolted him out of his tired daze. Looking up, expecting his father to be there, Seth noticed it wasn’t his door that had been broken. Fearing the worst, he rushed to his door, only to find it locked from the outside, preventing him from leaving. Pounding on the door, he yelled at the top of his lungs as he heard his mother scream. Silence. He quickly found a small pin and used to pick the lock on his door.
With a satisfying click, he turned the doorknob, carefully opening the door. He left his room, searching for any sign of his mother, aware his father might still be in the house. The sound of sirens broke the eerie silence that had filled the house, causing Seth to jump. He rushed for his mother’s room and screamed at the scene in front of him.
The door had indeed been broken open, there were pieces of the deep brown wood everywhere. The window had been opened and his father’s shoes had been left on the windowsill. The bed was a mess: the sheets everywhere and the mattress split open, exposing the soft white feathers that floated in the air. His mother lay near the farthest wall, not moving with a knife buried in her chest. Blood covered the wall and the floor surrounding her.
The police had entered his house without him even knowing. He was too shocked to move as a woman picked him up from the doorframe and moved him into an ambulance truck, her voice nothing more than a muffled, distant noise as the fact that his father had killed the only person to truly love him sunk into his mind, burning into his chest as tears came pouring down his face.
Why did my you go through so much pain and agony? Why did you suffer while letting me stand by? I ask myself these questions daily and I haven’t found the slightest glimpse of an answer in all of my time of pondering in this wretched place people call an orphanage. More like Hell. It’s hot, cramped, and the boys here make fun in torturing me. I don’t know how much longer I can put up will all of the imbeciles; I’m about ready to rip my own head off. Prayers to you, mother. May God bless your soul, if there is a God, and if you still are well.
He put his pen down, satisfied with his entry. He frowned at his mistakes, roughly scratched out as he had struggled to find the correct words. Sighing, Seth clicked his pen one final time and started to close his notebook as a knock came to his door.
“What is it this time, Scamp?”
A wiry boy with matted, blonde hair stepped through the doorframe, as the door was wide open already, “It’s almost time fo’ suppa’. Hugo told me to come fetch ya.” He spoke with an accent that some would call Scottish, but Seth liked to think of it as more of a rough English accent.
“Alright I’m coming. Tell him they can start eating without me.”
The younger boy nodded to the notebook Seth held in his hand, “Ye’ been writing again? Best not let Scribs’ know, he’ll come a-lookin fo’ it.”
“Yeah, yeah I know. Get yourself to dinner before they eat your meal. Chunk would gladly get his hands on any plate he could find.” The boy flashed a mischievous grin and bolted down the hallway, his light feet hardly making a sound.
Almost every boy in the facility had a nickname. Scamps had come into the orphanage without a name, so naturally, they boys had given him one. He was a curious boy that was always getting into trouble, but knew how to avoid the consequences. He was one of the few boys Seth actually liked in the orphanage, because Scamps was also good at another thing: sneaking out. The unlikely pair snuck out almost every night, to go to the city and smell some real air and taste some real food. He still remembered the kind baker that had let two dirty orphans eat their fill of cakes, bread, and doughnuts that first night the pair had snuck out. That memory was one of the few happy ones, and Seth treasured it.
Then they got caught. That was a horrible day. The two of them were supposed to get the belt, a long piece of leather used mainly for punishment, but Seth decided to take the blame. Twenty scars now lined his back, but he kept them hidden.
Something Seth never understood was how people think scars are a trophy that should be displayed. He believed that scars are more of a burden, or dark secret, meant to be stowed away, so he did just that. He always kept his back covered, which wasn’t a huge deal, especially since all boys were to remain ‘completely clothed and modest’.
The sound of footsteps on stairs brought him back to reality. He stood, stretching his back and legs, preparing for the long journey down seven flights of stairs. Seth walked across the room, his shoes causing the wooden boards to squeak slightly with each step.
He paused as a group of kids ran passed his room and down into another, much larger room and slammed the door shut. They were probably hiding something.
Dismissing the thought, he trudged over to the stairs and placed his hand on the railing. Cold, dark, steel. Seth loved steel, it fascinated him. How a substance so strong could be manipulated however the creator wants. He stared down the center of the spiraling staircase as he began his descent. He knew from the sounds coming all the way from the mess hall below that it was going to be a long, rowdy night. It was time for Fisticuffs.
Scamps stood near the back of the crowd, fiddling with his fingers. Seth should be ‘ere by now… He’s gonna miss it-
His thoughts were cut off as the room went silent. The soft thud of footsteps walking down the stairs slowly grew louder as a big figure filled the doorframe. Hugo. He was a brute, with broad shoulders that could barely fit through the doorway. Everyone was scared of him. Well, everyone except Scamps. To him, Hugo was only as big as his ego, which was basically fueled by the fear in others.
That bugged him. It bothered Seth, but he’d noticed that the older boy seemed to take more interest in the why everyone allowed one man to rule over them. Seth liked to philosophise. Scamp just like to watch people fight, like a regular teenage boy.
Scamps turned his attention back to Hugo as he paced around the circle that the crowd of boys had created, his heavy footsteps were the only sound in the wide room.
“Where is he?”
An uneasiness filled the silent room as the boys looked nervously around themselves, eventually all turning towards Scamps expectantly. Hugo was looking for a fight, and every single person knew who was going to be his next victim.
Palms sweaty, the wiry boy took a defiant step forward, “He will be ‘ere in ‘is own time,” he winced at how small and weak his meager way of speaking sounded in his ears.
Hugo’s booming, mocking laugh shook the teeth of some poor boys that had gotten too close to him, “‘On his own time’. That’s cute. What, are we six? Do you fools not know how to respect someone of your superior?”
“You obviously don’t”
The large boy wheeled around, icy eyes ablaze, searching for who had spoken against him. It had been too steady; too sure. His lips curled into a sneer and his stare seemed to pierce flesh as they danced around the room.
Sighing, Seth stepped out of the doorway leading to the stairs. If Hugo wanted a fight, he’ll get one. He was so sick of the bigger boy picking on everyone just because he thought he was better than them. The only people that could justified in doing such a horrendous act would wouldn’t even be people; they’d be gods. “I’m right here.”
His voice almost echoed off the wood embedded in the walls. The younger kids, ‘lads’ as they were called, seemed to relax. Even though no one understood him, Seth had a power about him; able to calm a room with just his voice. And that was something that Hugo did not enjoy.
“You know I don’t fight, Hugo. No, I don’t refuse to fight just to see that sweet little face of yours turn into a tomato while you throw yourself a pity party.”
Hugo stiffened, then slowly turned around, frowning, “You are late. I do not appreciate you being late to the most important event of the month,” he crouched down and raised his fists slightly, gesturing to one side, “but your late appearance took a toll on your audience. Means you are afraid. Afraid of fighting, and most importantly,” his frown slowly grew into a wicked grin, “me.”
He swung his right hand, intending to land it on Seth’s jaw. He ached to feel the crunch of bone snapping as his threat of power was silenced.
It stopped. Hugo looked astounded at his fist, which was not embedded in his face, but in Seth’s slender grasp. Seth twisted his arm around, bending Hugo’s as an awkward, upside-down angle, “I said I don’t want to fight.”
Hugo sneered through the pain and spoke through clenched teeth, “I refuse to listen to someone as pathetic as you.”
He twisted out of Seth’s grip, jabbing his elbow at Seth’s cheek, knocking him to the floor.
When a fire is ignited, it will spread regardless if you want it to or not, especially if you do not control it in time. It will ruin homes, forests, and take lives. Fire is dangerous, but it is also beautiful.
And that was exactly what Seth became. His chest burned and his deep eyes lit up with such ferocity that everyone around him took a step back as he stood and started dancing, quickly and quietly throwing his fists and smiling bigger as they all hit their mark.
The brute stumbled, surprised at the ferocity of Seth’s outburst, falling onto his back. His body was covered with bruises, but he ignored them as he stood up, laughing, “You see this?” he turned to the group that stood behind him, “Seth has shown him what he really is,” he strode over to where Seth stood confidently as there faces became level, “a monster. Just like his father.”
Hugo grinned evilly as the fire in Seth’s eyes died. He turned around, he’d just won yet another fight.
But he hadn’t stayed at Seth’s eyes long enough. They had cooled from the fire, yes, but now his almost black eyes were anything less than cold as he jumped on Hugo, knocking down to the ground.
Holding his arms behind his back with a knee, Seth leaned closer to Hugo’s ear, “I am nothing like my father. He tormented my mother and me just to show his power, just because he could. Which is exactly what you are: a hungry beast that can only be fed by fear. But no more. You will leave, and if I even hear of your presence within ten miles of this house, I will personally escort you to your grave.” Even though his voice was barely a whisper, it swept throughout the whole room, sending chills going down every spine.
He stood, kicking the whimpering heap of flesh that he dared to call a boy, “Get out of my sight. Now.”
Scrambling, Hugo ran to the door, the crowd shuffling out of the way as quickly as possible. The room was silent again. Seth calmed himself down and turned to look at the awestruck group of boys around him, “Please remember this lesson: men can only control you if you let them.”
He moved towards the stairwell, no longer hungry. He wasn’t proud of that performance. Hugo was right, he was like his father. Maybe not in the way he’d implied, but he still was right. Seth’s mother would never blow up at anyone, that was something his father had done.
Seth felt something on his cheek. He lifted his fingers to his face and jolted at the sight of his blood. When had that happened? He shivered, wiping his fingers on his pants as he was reminded that he was still vulnerable, no matter how hard he’s tried to hide it.
I hate to say it, but right now, I’d give anything to be seven years younger, back at Madame’s. If only I had a choice to not do this. I fear for my life, and the lives of those around me. Mother, if it’s time for me to leave this world, please don’t be upset at me for not joining you at your high place, if you are up there. Here’s to you. Here’s to a better future.
The sunlight glinted through the wispy clouds in the sky as the line of people slowly shifted forward towards the daunting dome that loomed above Seth. ‘For a Better Future’ read the large purple letters, which contrasted the pale white building drastically. Another shift, another step closer to the unknown.
A week ago had been when they’d sent Seth a handwritten letter congratulating him and saying that he was a part of a group of fifty people that had been selected out of all healthy, able-bodied men and women between ages nineteen and forty-seven, to be a part of an experiment that could ‘change the whole universe’. It also informed him that he was to bring nothing but his ID, if he had any, and to make sure the clothes he would be wearing were of little value to him. As he finished reading the letter, the doorbell to his small apartment room rang. He went to the door and found a tall, dark-skinned man in a black suit standing there expectantly, a bulge resting under the jacket on his right side, suggesting a gun. So, without complaint, Seth stepped out of his door and followed the mysterious man outside the complex into a black SUV.
Another step. Seth realized that in his daze, he now came next in line. He craned his neck, trying to see the sunlight one more time, not knowing if he’d ever see it again. The opaque glass doors hissed open and a woman with a clipboard. Her silver nametag read “Aliese”, and her white hair stood out starkly against her darker skin. She pushed her round glasses back up onto the bridge of her nose and looked up from the clipboard she had previously been reading. Seth’s dark eyes met her bright blue eyes as she motioned him to come inside. She then turned and walked into the building, her white lab coat following her action slightly later.
Seth quickly followed and shivered as the doors hissed shut behind him, leaving him alone in a long, cold corridor. He started walking down the hallway, his footsteps echoing off the walls, leaving him confused and dazed, as he was accustomed to only hearing his two feet in a silent room, not a million steps following his footfalls.
A door opened quickly, causing him to jump. Aliese poked her head out, “Hurry, we don’t have much time.”
His eyes took a moment to adjust to the blue-tinted light that came from the room. The door opened wider to reveal a glass cube sitting in the center of the round room. It was mainly white, but was softened by some blues that were smeared around the ceiling and floor; as if someone was tired of the white and decided it would be a good idea to calm down the brightness, but didn’t have enough paint to cover the whole room, or even in a specific pattern.
“Please stand here.”
Seth turned towards the slightly accented voice as she motioned to the cube. As he walked towards it, her pen scratched notes onto the paper she had on her clipboard. She looked up for just a moment as she had reached the wall, pressing her right hand against a specific spot. The room filled with green light and the glass nearest to Seth raised up, allowing him to enter the cube.
She looked up at him, and pity filled her eyes as she lifted her hand off of the wall, walking out the door, “Hope you enjoy your stay, let us know if you need anything.”
The door slammed behind her and the cube began to fill with water. No, not water, some sort of chemical. Seth reached down to touch it, only to scream in agony as the flesh from his finger melted off. He ran to the side panel, desperate to find a way out. He began banging his shoulder against the glass, only to find it become stronger, as if the glass had turned to steel.
The acid continued to rise, creeping up and up his feet, threatening to melt away the fabric that protected his skin. Panicking, Seth ran to the other side of the cube and hit the other side with all the force he had. He heard a painful crack, and his left arm slowly became limp.
So this is it. Accepting his fate, he slowly moved to the center of the floor and simply sat down, cross-legged and nursing his bad arm. He eventually passed out from the pain, but not before hearing the hiss of the cube door opening.
I woke up tied to a chair. A simple, weak, plastic chair. Aliese, the lab woman, closed the book she had been reading as she saw that I had awaken. I asked her how long I had been here, and she replied that I had been unconscious for a week, and it was an absolute miracle that I was alive. She continued to say that many of the other patients had died, and that only myself and a couple of others had survived. She walked over to me and slit my forearm. As blood came seeping through the wound, an anger filled my stomach and I was suddenly aware that I was being held captive. They thought I was still weak. Aliese stumbled back and stifled a scream as I stood up, breaking through my bonds. I looked down at my arm, still dripping with blood. I don’t exactly remember what happened after that, it was all a blur of steel and light. I don’t know how I got the name, but I was instantly a wanted man under that given name. My wound has healed now, and I know that I won’t get harmed again, and that I can do anything. My name is Steelheart. I’ve lost everything, including who I was. But I do not care, because now I will never be weak again.
I swore to my mother, assuring her that I wouldn’t be weak or vulnerable anymore. That day in the lab, I don’t know what happened to me, or why that small woman cut me, but I bled. That cannot happen again. If anything, remember this: I will not allow another human to hurt me again. I will not bleed again. I look down at my forearm now, and smile as I know this is the last time I will bleed.