‘She’s coming back, she is. She is. She has to.’ Steelheart crouched down, careful to avoid coming in contact with the frozen, snow covered dirt under the bridge. ‘She didn’t leave me. She didn’t! She loves me! She loves me.’ His thoughts frantically whispered inside his head, seeming to make his entire body throb. ‘But she was scared of you. You know she was. After all, who wouldn’t be?’ He cried out gently as this thought entered his eleven year old mind. “Mommy.” He finally whimpers aloud, hoping that his call won’t be in vain. He shivered, though not entirely from the cold. Had she left him? She’d been gone a long time. He finally gave in to his shaking legs and collapsed on the ground, his teeth chattering loud enough to wake the nearest town. He curled into a tight ball and tried to conserve what little heat he felt that he had left. To any outsider, Steelheart may have just looked like a lump of shivering rags, but he didn’t care what they thought. He was going to wait here for his mother. She would come back. Yes. She would have to. She loved him. ‘She loves me.’ Steelheart thought this over and over until his head ached and his skull felt as though it would cave in on his brain. He jumped up, onto his feet, startled as a stick snapped near him. Standing in front of him, is an old woman. “Come with me,” she whispers, almost like a snarl. Steelheart is afraid, but he forces his heart from his throat back into his rapidly rising and falling chest. “N-no,” he tells the woman, proud of only the tiniest quiver entwined in his voice. A man emerges from the shadows behind her and she smiles, the shadows of the new dawn reflecting from the trees and over her face, giving it an evil, gaunt appearance. “Oh my boy,” her smile twists into a leer, “your mother isn’t coming back.”
It took several seconds for Steelheart to even register that the woman had uttered a sound, much less the information her utterance had given. His jaw dropped open and his body, under its own direction, leaned up against the freezing wall of bricks. ‘I told you. I told you that she wasn’t coming back for you.’ The evil whisper in his head was back, making him cover his ears in an effort to release them from his mind. He swallowed the lump in his throat and blinked back the burning tears that had flooded his eyes. His breath came in shallow gasps, filling the air in front of him as it froze immediately. His hand clutched at his chest as he came to grips with the reality that he was alone and that his mother was never going to come back to him. That he had scared her away. Faint waves, almost like a mirage began to come from his body, cracking the bricks and melting the snow around him in a perfect circle. “Come with me, my boy. Come.” Steelheart heard the woman speak to him again and he almost shivered at how warm her voice sounded now when just moments ago she sounded evil, almost demonic. “W-who are y-you? And how d-do you know that my m-m-mother isn’t coming b-back.” The lady smiled her twisted smile again, “because she told me so.” Her simple sentence struck Steelheart’s chest like a dagger. His mother had left him, on purpose. The big man who was with the woman stepped forward when it became apparent that Steelheart was going to fall over or faint. ‘She’s never coming back. Not ever.’ That was the last echoing thought he had before his world went black.
The next conscious realization that Steelheart had is that his body was rocking back and forth. He sat up slowly in what seemed to be the back of a wagon. The wagon was so huge that Steelheart was able to stand up. He was tall and broad shouldered for his age. Almost to the point where he was too big. He stood around five and a half feet tall and had shoulders that could have belonged to an older, teenage boy. He stretched his long arms over his head and looked around in the wagon. There wasn’t much. It didn’t look like anyone used this wagon for its intended purpose of traveling. There was two small blankets, both of which he had been laying on. There was a few knick knacks here in there but nothing in particular that stood out. He saw a cloth, almost like a curtain covering what seemed to be the front of the wagon. Where the driver was. His eyes widened as flashes of memory came back to him. The man. And the old woman. Had they taken him? Where were they going?? He walked over cautiously to the flap of cloth that separated him and the driver. Steelheart pulled it back and quickly peered outside the wagon. The old woman was driving. The man was gone. The woman saw him and smiled that creepy smile again. “Hello my boy,” she addressed him, “come up here with me. You don’t have to stay back there when there’s plenty of room up here.” She patted the seat beside her with an age gnarled hand. Steelheart slowly and carefully lowered himself into the seat that he had been offered. “How’s your head?” She asked, her voice almost sounding like it could contain some pity. Steelheart shrugged one shoulder. His head was throbbing slightly towards the front, but it wasn’t anything that he couldn’t manage. Where had the man gone? The big man that had been with the woman before, did he not come? “Where…” His words came slow and sticky, and he felt as though his mouth had been stuffed full to the brim with cotton. “Where did the man go? The one who was with you?” He finally mustered up his courage to speak and got his mouth to work. The lady smiled, a kind smile, so that she almost looked that she could be some little kid’s grandmother. “He was only there with me for a time in case I needed him. And you fainted. So I ended up needing him, didn’t I?” Steelheart did his one shouldered shrug again and stared off into the thick forest of trees that they were passing. There wasn’t snow here anymore. It had all just seemed to disappear. After a while, he turned to look at the old woman. She really was old, he guessed maybe in her eighties, with hair that was whiter than fresh fallen snow. Her hair was long, handing down in free gentle waves to her surprisingly slim waist. She was fit. Much too fit for someone who was as old as the lines in her face said. “How old are you?” The question had slipped from his lips before he had realized that he was thinking it. She tossed back her head and laughed for a minute before she answered him. “Didn’t you ever learn that it’s impolite to ask a lady for her age?” She wiped at her eyes, still chuckling merrily. “I’m eighty six. And still climbing!” She added, as though this was an important fact, “I’m not gonna die anytime soon, no sir!” She continued to laugh while Steelheart looked at her strangely. He wondered while he was still sitting her with her when he didn’t even know where she was going. It wasn’t like he had somewhere else to be, but. He didn’t really know this woman. Point was, he didn’t have the faintest idea about what her intentions with him were.
After what felt like forever to an eleven year old boy, they started to pass by some sort of ranch. There were people there, the first sign of any civilization that Steelheart had seen so far on this weird trip. “Yup. That’s where we’re going.” The lady suddenly spoke as though she had read his mind. Which, knowing what he did about her, he wouldn’t be at all surprised if she actually had. “Now, watch out and mind your manners,” she told him, “we don’t usually get any boys who are as young as you are. They’re usually older teenagers, but I think that you’ll fare well, you’re quite big for your age. Eleven or twelve, ain’t cha?” Steelheart silently nodded, still holding his gaze out and towards the ranch, “eleven.” He said quietly, his voice sounding distant, as though this was all a dream. The wagon started to get really bumpy as they pulled onto a gravel road. Steelheart yanked his stare from somewhere in space and attempted to focus on his surroundings. ‘Why am I here? I shouldn’t be. My mother should have come back from me. I’m sorry mom. I’m sorry that I scared you away. Sometimes I can’t always control it.’ His thoughts ran freely as they entered the ranch through slightly rusted metal gates. The ranch was beautiful. But. It wasn’t really a ranch. At least, not really. It had gardens. Thick, lush gardens, full to the brim with every vegetable or produce that anyone could think of. Off to the right of the gardens, were fruit trees, the branches so heavy with fruit they looked like they’d snap if you released a breath. The grass was greener than any lawn that he had ever seen, mowed at the perfect length and swaying gently in the breeze. Men, no. Boys. Other boys like him were working in these gardens and plucking fruit from the trees. Others mowed the huge lawn, while a few boys trimmed hedges and others plucked weeds from flower beds exploding with colors in every shade. “This is where you are going to live now, my boy.” He looked at her somewhat strangely, “for how long?” He asked, afraid of what was to happen. She blinked in surprise, “well. Until you’re all grown up.”
Steelheart laid on the new bed, looking around at his new room. It was nice. Everything that was here looked like it could belong to people who were rich. Very rich. He mostly just stared at the ceiling and thought. His thoughts towards his mother had turned bitter and almost angry rather than sad as they had been previously. ‘Why did she have to go and leave me. I was trying to learn to control it. I didn’t mean to scare her away. I swear I didn’t.’ A single tear dripped from his eye before he wiped it away, furiously. He would not cry anymore for her. He wouldn’t. His bedroom door burst open and three big boys came in. “Well, well. The new comer is still crying over his momma.” Steelheart rose up from the bed and realized that he wasn’t quite as tall as these boys but he was just as broad in the shoulders. “Leave me alone.” The cold ice in his tone surprised him, but he held eye contact. “Leave me alone,” the oldest of the boys mocked in a falsetto voice before grinning. “Make me.” Steelheart straightened to his full height and kept staring, impressed that he wasn’t shaking and didn’t betray even a hint of fear. “Stop staring,” one of the other boys said before cuffing him in the jaw hard enough to make Steelheart fall backwards and hit his own bed. The oldest one bent down and hissed in his face, “you think you’re so cool, so strong and brave, don’t you? Let me tell you something. You’ll never be worth anything. Not anything. This is where they send the boys who have nowhere else to go. You come a nobody, and leave one too. You’re worth nothing.” He stood back up straight as everything in Steelheart boiled like hot water. He stood slowly up to face the other boys again. “You’re wrong,” he simply stated, wiping blood from the corner of his mouth. “I will be worth everything someday. Everything.” Two of the boys stared before beginning to laugh loudly. The middle boy, the oldest, almost looked angry. He grabbed Steelheart by the shoulders and shoved him against the wall. “No!” He almost shouted, “you listen to me!!! We are ALL stuck here!!! Your mother LEFT you!!! ALONE. You. Will never see her again. NEVER. You CANNOT change that. EVER. Okay??? You understand??? EVER!!!” He threw Steelheart hard against the wall and as he collided, something inside him snapped. The boy’s words echoed through his head like a bad dream. Nothing. Nothing? His head felt like it would implode on itself as it filled with all his thoughts of his mother. The words of the three boys in front of him. Of every person he’d met who had grossly underestimated him. Steelheart began to laugh, deep in his throat, before long, he sounded almost hysterical with it. He rose from the ground, his shaggy jet black hair falling in front of his eyes and casting shadows across his young features, making him look years older. “You’re wrong,” he hissed, “everyone is wrong. I will be worth everything. Everything.” His eyes narrowed as all three boys watched him with fear in their eyes. Steelheart’s mouth twisted into an evil smile that was so unlike his usual nature. “You will all see.” With that, waves of pure power started to come from his body, cracking the walks, shattering light bulbs, casting the room into darkness. The walls around him crashed to the ground as if they were constructed of paper rather than bricks. The whole house came down, it had all turned to solid steel, as had his heart. He walked calmly out, the only survivor, setting off into the world, to prove them wrong. To prove them all wrong…