Contains mature language.
The room was almost silent, broken only by the an ancient grandfather clock against the far wall occasionally ticking, accompanying each swing of it's dull bronze pendulum with an audible consequence, an infinite span of time trickling away between each extreme of the pendulum's path.
A half-dozen paces from the clock, a man sat on an aged oak chair, his elbows on his knees and his head cradled in his hands. The chair was an odd thing, clearly masterfully crafted and apparently made of a single piece of wood, but the varnish on it was worn, as if it had been left in solitude for a great many years before being sat in by the individual that occupied it now.
He stuck out in the room, a man wearing jeans and a faded green tee shirt, his long hair tied into a ponytail behind his head, and a grizzled face that was a clear sign he had neglected shaving for at least a few days. In a room that was the very epitome of timeless, with the few pieces of furniture clearly at the very least hundreds of years old, the sturdy door on the wall opposite the grandfather clock made of iron, an ornate mural etched into the metal that seemed blatantly simple and yet impossible to decipher the meaning of at the same time, the man, in his modern clothing and casual level of grooming, stuck out like a sore thumb, as if he was the focus of one of those 'One of These Things Just Doesn't Belong' puzzles you might provide a small child to keep her occupied for a few short minutes.
Finally, the man raised his head and sighed. He was suddenly stricken by how very thirsty he was, and he turned his head to be greeted by the sight of a beautiful, small wooden table bearing a filled crystal carafe next to a crystal goblet, the rim covered with a thin ring of gold. Slowly, he filled the goblet with water, before taking a long drink. The water was surprisingly cold, considering the fact that the room was the perfect temperature, neither even the slightest bit warm or cool, and the man had sat in the room for a very long time, now, during which the water certainly hadn't been refrigerated.
A quiet creak broke the monotony of the slow ticking as the door opened. There was the soft swish of robes on the marble floor, and then a voice spoke, a deep, rumbling voice that seemed more felt than heard. “Are you ready?”
He took another drink. “Is it time to go?”
“Not unless you want it to be. You have time to reflect, if you desire.”
He set the glass down. “How much time?”
“There is no limit.”
“Can I leave this room?”
“There is nothing for you outside of this room.”
“I'm not ready.”
“Very well.” The swish sounded again, followed by the creaking and the soft click of the door closing.
Time to reflect, he thought.
There exists certain roles that are forever manifested through time. The Hopeless, The Reaper, The Soldier, The Madman, the Philosopher, the Dreamer. Every man, every woman, every child embodies to some extent every one of these roles, along with countless others, but there are some rare individuals that truly come to become them.
The Hopeless—this Hopeless—was born in the year of 1990, into a small child, alone in the world.
Jack couldn't remember much of his father. He had fragments, here and there, often memories in which he knew his father was present, was around at the time the memory happened, but he couldn't recall his face.
His sharpest memory was arguably his last. The year was 1990, the month August, and his father was a Sergeant in the US Army. He remembered his father kneeling before him, the feeling of his strong arms wrapped around him, and the fresh smell of aftershave coming off of his cheeks.
Sergeant Clark Radden was killed by a roadside bomb. He was in a unit guarding a group of seventeen civilians, ushering them to the safety of a nearby town. And very quickly, Jack's world changed.
Chloe Radden, Clark's wife, had known Clark for nearly her entire life. The first 'date' the two of them shared was when she was in seventh grade, he in eighth, and it was an innocent thing that involved Clark joining Chloe's family on a trip to the movies. They had gotten married a few years out of high school, and had their son, Jack, named after his paternal grandfather, a few years after that.
Chloe found herself ill-equipped to the life she found herself in. She attended the military funeral two days after she first heard the news. She wasn't allowed to see the body—shrapnel, she had been told, had shredded through her husband, and the funeral was decidedly closed-casket. After the funeral, she picked up a bottle of alcohol, and began drinking. For the next few months, she neglected to stop.
“Mommy?” Jack asked, tugging on her outstretched hand. She was fast asleep, sprawled face-down on the bare mattress, a mostly-consumed bottle of Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey held with loose fingers. She lay unmoving, and Jack tugged her again, until she finally groaned, her eyes cracking open, murmuring unintelligibly. Finally, she recognized her son, and sluggishly sat up, unscrewing the cap off the bottle and taking a sip.
“Hand Mommy her cigarettes,” she said, gesturing at the green pack on the bedside table, her voice a low croak. Jack did so, and she pulled a cigarette and her lighter from the small box before lighting it. She blew a long stream of smoke out of her mouth, and Jack coughed.
“We're out of cereal, Mommy,” he said, and Chloe sighed. She took another swig from the bottle before stumbling to her feet and walking to the bathroom, bringing her cigarette and whiskey with her. A few moments later, she emerged again.
“Come on,” she said, walking past him with a heavy sway in her step.
The cupboards in the kitchen were mostly bare, and the refrigerator/freezer was doing an excellent job of mimicking them. Finally, she pulled a frozen beef patty from the freezer and put it on a plate before placing it in the microwave. “Hamburger for breakfast, honey,” she said, turning the dial of the microwave.
This was the life of young Jack Radden.
The next day, the same issue presented itself. Jack searched through the cupboards, the fridge, the freezer, but couldn't find anything to eat that wouldn't require cooking. Once again, he walked to his mother's room to find her sprawled across her bed, this time with a bottle of off-brand vodka.
“Mommy?” he said, once again, as he began to tug on her hand. She didn't move, and he wrinkled his nose as he saw the vomit on the bed and the pungent aroma struck him with the force of Bruce Lee's famous One Inch Punch.
“Mommy,” he said, tugging her hand a bit harder, and all of a sudden the fairly bright five year old realized that there was no gently snoring, no sound of breathing from his mother at all. The child experienced what felt like a large chunk of ice settling into his stomach. He tugged on her hand again, desperately trying to wake her up, but he knew that wasn't going to happen.
Jack sighed again, shaking his head. Once more, he took a drink of water, and he yearned for a cigarette.
He hadn't thought of his parents in a very long time.
He stared at the pendulum, slowly swinging back and forth, counting away seconds, minutes, hours, years, lives.
Just as a series of mountains can block the sun's light, so, too, can a series of tragedies block the light of humanity. It is quite possible for a person—particularly a child—to shut off emotionally, after enough hardship, sometimes quite permanently, as a defense mechanism. Of course, while it is quite an effective method of defending one's mental status, it also forces the person to grow in an...unnatural manner. Human beings are meant to have emotions. Even the struggle to overcome base emotions could be considered human, a noble endeavor to overcome anger, jealousy, pride, but if one's emotions are shut off entirely, then they are forced to grow without being able to feel happiness, or love, or the most basic shadow of hope.
And thus, the Hopeless was born. He almost certainly could have recovered from his father's death. His mother's death, following so closely after his father's, could have perhaps been something that he could eventually overcome, given enough time and love. Time, he was given plenty of. Love....
Well, no man can understand love. Not truly. Not in it's entirety. And, therefore, no man can truly say exactly how much love this Hopeless would have needed to heal, to become human. But, certainly, no matter how much was required, it was far, far more than what he received.
The force of the backhand literally lifted Jack off of his feet, seemingly temporarily nullifying gravity's effect on the boy. Jack fell to the ground, and his uncle was on top of him, fumbling in his pocket, and then there was a snap as he flicked his wrist and the polished steel blade of the pocket knife flashed in the light.
“You need to learn some fuckin' respect, boy,” Uncle Jeffrey said waving the blade in front of his face. “Or you're gonna end up just like your fuckin' father. You understand me?”
He had that acrid aroma drifting from him again, and his pupils were large, black pools of malice. This was the first time this had happened...this week.
Of course, it was only Monday.
Jack, you see, had taken out the trash. He hadn't been asked to, he merely saw that it needed to be done, and so he did so. However, he did forget to put a trash bag back in after he was done, completely disrespecting everyone else in the house, since he was, of course, purposefully attempting to make someone else finish a job he started.
He had lived with his uncle, aunt, and their three children for roughly five years. During that time, he had dealt with at least mild levels of almost every abuse conceivable—physical, emotional, sexual. He'd gotten used to it, or at least as used to it as one could. The physical abuse he considered earned. The emotional abuse he considered a pleasant alternative to the physical. And the sexual...well, it had happened, and he didn't quite see any point of complaining about it, so he didn't.
Jack wasn't cut that day—he rarely was. His uncle brandished the knife often, but it wasn't but once in every dozen or so times it was brought out that it was actually used.
It was an average Monday.
He stared at calloused hands and, not for the first time, he wondered how very different his life may have turned out if he had given into the daily temptation that began occurring at age eleven or so to sneak into the room of his aunt and uncle with a butcher knife while they lay sleeping and....
Well. The point is, he didn't ever do that, did he? He was too cowardly to take matters into his own hands. Too cowardly to stand up for himself. Sure, he could argue with himself all day long, I was just a kid! but at the end of the day, he knew that he was a coward then...and he was a coward now.
Because cowardice never really goes away, does it? No, it stays inside you, festering within, growing like a tumor, ruining what few good parts of yourself that you have left. Once you realize what a coward you are—and Jack did realize it, finally, after years, but still at a relatively young age, barely in the double digits—you are forever changed.
“I am a coward,” he said, as if he had just come to the conclusion once again, and he flinched at the sound of his voice, and realized it had been a very, very, long time since he'd had company and spoke. He stood, began pacing back and forth, once again wishing very firmly that he had a cigarette. “I am a coward,” he repeated, and then, “a goddamned, fucking coward.”