[Upload will not let me leave a line between sections, so [Break] = New paragraph/scene]
The greatest war that man shall fight will not lie on the plain.
No spear nor gun, no atom bomb, no enemy terrain.
The foe long sought, this evil fought, will share his given name.
The war between and war within will be one and the same.
From fear inane, projected blame – to seek is not to find.
The greatest war that man shall fight will lie within his mind.
When you die, they say that your life flashes before your eyes. But what purpose does this serve? To summarise what has been? To weigh the good against the bad in a final judgment of your soul? Or perhaps it is the last, desperate attempt of the ego to make sense of what has passed: to take each unique and adventitious moment and sew it into one coherent narrative.
But it was not me who was about to die. As I sat down at the table, I knew that what I was doing was unquestionably wrong. Would that in itself not be enough to define the act as evil? And yet whether it were fear or the naked recognition of my betrayal that ran the tremor through my fingers, I raised my hand and placed it on the board. And it was then that I saw not this moment, but all those that had led to it.
Ryan looked down at the yellow colouring pencil that was laid across his hands like a gift to the Gods. Now he knew that she was lying: he would have said banana too. His blue eyes were wide, watching the girl's round face as he presented her with a green pencil. Saying nothing, he studied her reaction as though in fear that she might suddenly explode.
"Spicy," murmured the girl, licking her lips. Ryan was now certain that she had eaten a large number of the pencils.
"Back to your desk, Ryan. Leave Mara alone," Melissa whispered as she passed the small boy. Holding a fistful of pencils protectively, he returned to his seat and watched Mara take a large sip from her water bottle as though she were washing the spicy taste from her mouth.
Mara had a condition known as 'synesthesia': a neurological anomaly resulting in a blending of the senses. She associated sound with colour and colour with taste. Ryan was extremely jealous of this ability as he drew a brown pencil from the pile, secretly hoping that it would taste like chocolate and terrified that it might not.
But alas, when Ryan drew the pencil across the paper, with a pink tongue poking out – as a result of intense concentration and in an attempt to capture any hint of chocolate – he could taste nothing. As a fruitless tongue slipped back between his lips, the young boy persevered with the appointed task and continued writing the fourth letter of his name. Having finished, he surveyed his work: four uneven letters that held the same meaning as his image in a photograph. A collection of wobbly lines that, when spoken, meant nobody else but him.
Turning to the right, Ryan glanced at the handiwork of the boy sat at the wooden desk beside him. He felt a jolt of what might have been excitement as he realised that he and Sam shared a letter in their name.
"Mum!" Ryan cried, with his eyes vacillating between Sam's name and his own, "Mum! It's the same!"
Melissa wiped Mara's saliva from the orange pencil and glanced over at her son. She had asked him countless times not to call her Mum in the classroom, not because she did not like to hear it, but because he was the only child in the room who had one.
"That's beautiful, darling," she whispered in his ear as she tousled his blonde hair. "And look at this!" she beamed at Sam, who at four years old – and a full year younger than Ryan – had done an admirable job. "I think this can go on the wall!"
Ryan focused on the approximation of a letter 'a' until the small square of paper was obscured by his mother as she pinned it to the wall beside the blackboard. He folded his name and placed it in the pocket of his shorts.
"Did you pick Sam because of loving him most?" asked Ryan at the dinner table that evening. His eyes were not on his food, nor distracted by the crow that strutted across the window-ledge beside him. They were looking right into his mother's face. Caught by surprise, Melissa tore her eyes from the cold plate of food she had laid for her husband. Her smile was warm as she caught Ryan's eyes across the table.
"I love you more than anyone in the world."
And it was true. In fact, he was the only person in the world she loved at all. Ryan smiled like a chimpanzee, beaming all his teeth at his mother before squeezing the final potato into his mouth.
Melissa lowered her face into her hands and watched the boy across the long dining table that stretched the length of the empty room.
"You're a good boy," she said with a wink.
With cheeks overstuffed, Ryan jumped down from the table and raced from the room. He did not want to be a 'good boy'; he wanted to be a 'naughty little scamp' like his father called him. Or even an 'insufferable sod', which he did not truthfully understand but liked infinitely more.
Melissa caught her reflection in the hallway window, ghostly in the half-light of dusk. She tucked dark hair behind her ears and ran her thumb and forefinger down high cheekbones as she assessed the bags beneath her eyes. With a sniff, she turned from the defiantly youthful image and hesitated at the door to her husband's study. Her eyes lingered on the name engraved into the door: Peter S. Lawson. Raising her chin a fraction of an inch, she turned the handle.
A severe face looked up from the stack of papers on the desk. There was a flicker of interest in Peter's eyes that dulled to indifference upon recognition of his wife. Melissa stopped in the doorway and met those cold, grey eyes, swallowing the gush of umbrage that she always felt when watching the light in his eyes fade at the sight of her. For she knew that he had no reason to expect anyone other than her at the door, and therefore that feigned spark of interest was merely the opening act in each malignant melodrama.
"Would you like me to warm your dinner?" asked Melissa in a flat tone. Peter lowered his eyes to the papers, running a yellow highlighter across the text.
"Don't worry, I'll be here a while," he muttered.
Melissa hovered in the doorway.
"Thank you," Peter added, raising his eyes. Melissa ignored the suggestion to leave.
"I've prepared the room for him."
Peter let the highlighter drop to the table and Melissa felt a twist in her gut. He did not look at her when he spoke.
"If he does not sleep in the dormitory with the other children he will be isolated. He will be different."
"He is different." Melissa replied, taking a step closer.
Peter raised his eyes to hers and saw the futile mask of determination that failed to hide her desperation. It was a look that he pitied like no other. And it made him hate himself almost as much as she.
Peter had given Melissa a child in the hopes that she would find replacement for the love that he no longer felt. But instead this child was to be used as pawn with which to stage their many battles. Battles which, to Melissa, were the peaks and troughs of her tedious life whilst to Peter were merely the tedium that he must endure.
"Fine," Peter grunted as he picked up his highlighter. Melissa stood stunned for a moment and then turned for the door.
Ryan could not have been more excited to spend his first night in his very own bedroom. The fact that his mother had made him promise not to tell the other children had made it seem inordinately exciting. Though the excitement did much to diminish the fear that he would no longer be sharing a room with his parents, it made any chance of sleep diminish also. Jumping off the baby-blue covers of his quilt for perhaps the hundredth time, Ryan raced to his window and glanced across the inky fields at the night sky. His eyes were drawn to the right, where the sky was undeniably lighter. But the full moon that he so desperately sought was evidently hiding around the corner of the orphanage.
Since it was, in Ryan's opinion, unfathomably unfair to tell him all about the full moon and then send him to bed before he could see it, he decided to find a window from which he could. And so, without a second thought, he opened his bedroom door and slipped down the corridor.
Silence hung like water in the air and Ryan moved as swiftly as he dared along the carpeted corridors, ever fearful that the sound of his limbs would travel like ripples to his parents' ears. Naturally, he knew that to see the moon he would need to get as high as he could, so he climbed the stairs to the third floor, where the wide window in the library would surely reveal his prize. But Ryan never made it to the library that night.
Outside a game of hide-and-seek, there are few advantages to being Ryan's height. But one presented itself at that moment. Between the boy and the door to the library stood two others: the door to his father's office and the door to the attic. These were known to him, respectively, as the 'leave it!' and the 'locked' doors. Had Ryan not been his height at that moment in time, he might not have noticed that in the keyhole of the 'locked' door there was a key. Riddled with curiosity, Ryan turned from his father's initials on the 'leave it!' door and turned the key. The door whispered open.
The wooden staircase that lay behind it was a category of dark generally reserved for 'under the bed'. His height may have presented him the key, but would deny him any chance of finding a light switch. The boy knew two things at that moment: the staircase would lead him closer to the full moon than the library ever could, and that he should definitely go back to bed.
Ryan crept up the staircase, feeling the silent air grow viscous against his skin. As he ascended, the young boy reminded himself that he was not afraid of the dark. George, who sat behind him in class but never saw him, had never known anything other than dark. Sam was scared of even 'hiding in the cupboard with the door open' dark. But Ryan would be the bravest insufferable sod that his father had ever known.
When Ryan reached the final step, his bravery was instantly rewarded. There lay a beacon in the darkness so bright that he understood why the shadows were all hiding on the stairs. And this source of light that lay directly ahead of him was the very prize he sought: the full moon.
It took Ryan a moment to realise that the moon was not actually in the attic of the orphanage. As he crept across the dusty, moonlit floor, he marveled at the sight of a mirror that lay before him. This mirror, larger than any he had ever seen, had captured the image of the moon that shone down through the window in the ceiling. With his mouth agape, Ryan found himself sat on the wooden planks of the attic, mesmerised by this gift that had been bestowed upon him.
As wide as he was tall and over twice his height, the mirror rested against the brick wall as though long forgotten. Though the captured image of the moon provided a clear purpose for the mirror that night, Ryan would later wonder what else in this attic behind the 'locked' door could possibly be presented within that sheet of glass. When his thoughts were loud enough to make themselves known, he would wonder why this mirror was placed where nobody could see it and, worse still, where it could capture nothing but boxes and broken things. Perhaps, with its wrought-iron frame that twisted around the glass like a stone flame, it was the beauty of this mirror that made Ryan's wondering taste sad.
Finally, when he had taken his fill of the full moon, the boy's eyes settled on the other image that the mirror presented him with: his own. Ryan stared not upon the cheeks that his mother pinched when the other children weren't looking, nor on the short blonde hair that his mother tousled even when they were. He looked instead into those bright blue eyes that according to his Grandmother would 'get him in trouble' one day and according to Mara tasted like 'fizzy'. And the eyes stared back.
With the adventures that each day brought, Ryan had been far too busy to ever look into his own eyes before. Sam's brown eyes would break if the lights flashed too quickly. George's pale eyes were broken before he was even born. And he could not look at Mara's eyes for very long since that nightmare where she had tried to eat him. But as he looked into his own eyes and they looked back, Ryan saw himself for the first time.
He had not heard the footsteps, but he certainly heard the shouting. Suddenly, the mirror had captured two more images: his mother and father. Melissa's voice was higher, Peter's was deeper and both were considerably louder than normal.
"What are you doing in here?"
In blind confusion, Ryan raced from the mirror and felt his parents' voices chase him down the stairs. He ran into his bedroom and slammed the door, feeling his small heart thumping like a trapped animal in his chest. Instantly, he reached for the small piece of paper on his bedside table. With a pink tongue poking out, Ryan sat on the floor, drawing spicy-green circles around his name over and over again.
Peter turned the key in the lock and then turned for his wife.
"She doesn't need to clean a locked room," the man whispered with his eyes fastened on Melissa's.
"I never asked her to clean it," Melissa replied defensively, rubbing her neck. She shrugged, "I never gave her the key."
Peter waved the key in her direction, "And if he comes out at night again, his room will be the one that's locked."
Burying her thoughts, Melissa turned from her husband and strode down the corridor to find her son.
Peter waited for Melissa's head to disappear down the stairs. He twisted the small, iron key in his fingers and then slipped it back into the lock.
Saturday 3rd May 1999
You are a good boy.
I saw how you wrote your name.
It's a good name.
It's the best name.
And nobody can ever take it away from you.
It's who you are.
It's what makes you special.
You must protect it.