Courtney Wilson and her husband Robert lived in Pear Valley for their entire lives, except for when they went to college. Although some people hated the town named after their success in selling pears, they felt satisfied living there. The two grew up in the same neighborhood and went to the same schools. The two started a fling towards the end of high school, but their acceptance to different schools ended that. When Robert surprised Courtney with a rose at her graduation, she fell in love with him all over again. Two years later, they married. Many people were jealous of them and their relationship. Courtney was one of the friendliest nurses at the local hospital and Robert was a great math teacher at the town’s middle school. Things were going great for the Wilsons in 2017. They moved into their first house and Courtney was pregnant with their first child. Everything had fallen into a perfect place for the happy husband and wife.
But that summer, all hell broke loose when X-Ray arrived in town.
X-Ray was a mysterious figure. No one knew who he was and no one knew where he came from. He showed up out of the blue. He penned the name “X-Ray” himself and claimed it represented how he could see right through people. He had the potential to ruin the tight knit community in Pear Valley and anywhere else he went. X-Ray was not an entirely terrifying figure, just a man surrounded by a fascinating sort of mystery. The only way to describe him, with full accuracy, was tall and thin. It was a guessing game as to why he arrived in Pear Valley. Some residents brushed him off as a rabble-rouser who was there to stir up trouble. Others were seriously concerned about the potential this man had to destroy reputations and disrupt lives. It was not as if he was stealing cars or physically assaulting people. He had one of the most powerful weapons of all: the ability to talk.
He spread rumors at an expert level and had done so on several occasions in his lifetime before arriving in Pear Valley. The rumors were not always dangerous, but most of them were. His creative mind did not have much trouble coming up with the untrue statements. All it took was a bit of research on random people and then it was free range. Spending too long on one specific rumor was not great because it was more important to keep track of who he would target for the next rumors. And he also would need to make sure to feed the lies to the right person. At first, choosing who to approach was not an easy feat for the stranger. If he chose the wrong people, his plans would go nowhere. It took a lot of brainstorming before he had a few potential ideas. The final pawns in his game were wealthy people at golf courses and bars, random customers at Starbucks, and middle aged and older women. The women were the ones who would enjoy the toxic talk and they were also the most likely to go along with it. So on a nice July day, while scouting locations around the town, he found the perfect people to converse with.
Linda Patterson and Hillary Washington were notorious for their blabbermouths way before X-Ray had arrived in town. They were two of quite a few middle aged women who loved to talk more than anything else. They spread gossip almost everywhere they went together. The middle aged women in Pear Valley were an out of school clique and X-Ray was more than satisfied with his selection. He ran into the two for the first time outside the town’s mall on what started out as an ordinary, warm summer day.
X-Ray walked up to Hillary and Linda and whispered, “You know that broad Courtney? The one on Pickerton Way?”
Hillary looked at the strange man standing in between her and Linda. He was well dressed, in all black, with a black baseball cap producing a dark shadow that almost completely concealed his face. She was skeptical of X-Ray’s intentions, but was naturally curious. She scoffed, “Of course I do. She lives with her husband, Robert. The whole town knows about that couple. They’re cute high school sweethearts, but they’re a little too lovey dovey for me.” Hillary rolled her eyes. She envied the Wilson couple. Their love was genuine and their happiness seemed to never end. She had not had that with her husband in years. She continued, “Just get to the point, sir. My friend and I don’t have all day.”
“She’s pregnant, right?” X-Ray asked. He was sure that he knew the answer, but wanted confirmation.
The women nodded and Linda snarled, “Yes. That’s common knowledge. We have places to go, so move out of the way. And who are you anyways?”
“Well, she’s hiding something.” He remarked slyly. “She had an affair with a city council member’s son. I would recommend telling Robert to get a paternity test after the kid is born. I have to go now, ladies. Have a good day and have a good time talking.” He took a few steps away from Linda and Hillary and said, “And I go by X-Ray.”
X-Ray walked away and waved to the women. Quickly rushing away, he laughed as the women gasped and stood in silence. He was excited to see how far the rumor would be spread. His work destroying one reputation was done. Now it was a waiting game to see how long until things would explode. And surprisingly, it took a few days until Robert heard the news.
A friend told Robert about what was being said about Courtney three days after X-Ray spread the rumor. He could not believe that Courtney would ever cheat on him and immediately felt suspicious while hearing about X-Ray. He confronted Courtney as soon as he arrived home later that day. She immediately burst into tears. She stuttered, “Robert, you know I would never do anything to hurt you. You know that!”
Robert sighed and hugged her tight. He assured her, “I know that. I believe you. But I found it weird how this rumor started. A stranger going up to two of the most gullible women in town and saying such horrible things about people is weird. Something seems off about all of this.”
Courtney let go of her husband and sat down on their living room sofa. She was very perplexed at the situation. She agreed, “It really is weird. I just hope no one else is affected.”
Unfortunately, there were more victims to come.
David Clark was one of the most talented athletes that Pear Valley had seen in a long time. He was a star student and runner at the town’s high school. He received many acceptances and scholarships from universities across the nation, but finally decided on going to UCLA in the fall. A week after spreading the rumor about Courtney Wilson, X-Ray decided that David was his next target.
X-Ray sneaked into a local Starbucks on a nice cool morning to order coffee and cause chaos. After ordering his coffee, he saw two teenagers sitting next to a large window in letterman jackets. Due to his extensive research on David, he recognized them immediately. Lucky for X-Ray, the boys were two of David’s teammates. He grabbed his coffee and a newspaper and sat at the table directly behind theirs. The boys, Jose and Ethan, were creeped out.
X-Ray turned to them and quietly asked, “Hi, boys. You guys were on the track team, right?”
Jose and Ethan felt scared of this man. Jose gulped and replied, “Yeah. Why do you ask? And who are you?”
“The name’s X-Ray, but that’s not important. What’s important is a secret that David Clark’s hidden from all of you.”
Frightened by the stranger talking to him, Ethan whispered, “What do you mean?”
“If I were you, I’d tell your coach to test David for anything that might have influenced his performance. That kid is definitely hiding something, if you get what I mean.” X-Ray winked and let out a disturbing laugh. The teenagers were terrified.
“Is this some kind of sick joke?” Jose asked with wide eyes.
X-Ray shook his head and said, “I wish. I have to get going now, you have a nice day.”
As soon as X-Ray was out the door, Ethan exclaimed, “Oh my gosh, we have to tell Coach G! This is absolutely insane. What do we do?”
Jose took a deep breath and answered, “No idea. But we can’t trust this X-Ray guy. He was extremely sketchy. I know what we should do. I’ll email Coach G and ask to meet as soon as possible to talk about something important in person. We tell him what that guy said and then we see what happens from there. Does that sound good?” Ethan nodded and Jose continued, “But we can’t tell anyone about this. Deal?”
“Deal.” Ethan said.
Later that day, they met with their coach, Gary, and described exactly what had happened earlier that day. As soon as they mentioned X-Ray, Gary interrupted, “Wait, it was that X-Ray fellow? Haven’t you guys heard about him?” The boys looked confused and Gary explained, “He’s this mysterious guy who recently arrived here and caused trouble by spreading a rumor about Courtney Wilson. This guy might be dangerous and I don’t think any of us can trust him. Plus, David has never been tested positive for anything that would give him an unfair advantage. I know that for a fact. I’ll test him again though, because that will be his saving grace.” Gary thanked the boys and promised he would let them know what was going on. Luckily for David, that nasty rumor never made its way throughout Pear Valley. He tested negative for any substances, like Coach Gary had expected. No one but David, the boys, and their coach knew about what X-Ray had said. X-Ray was disappointed and surprised that no one else had heard his lie, but he did not want to waste time on a potentially, pointless plot. He contemplated starting from scratch with that rumor but ultimately knew it would be a waste of time. He learned from his mistake and decided to try again with spreading a rumor through what the town called the “pear vine”. This time he had trouble on what to make up. He saw his first two bogus stories as creative and well-done, but he wanted the third to be bigger and better. And after quite a bit of thinking, he had concocted his most controversial story yet. Unfortunately for him though, he told the wrong person.
Courtney Wilson’s closest friend in Pear Valley was Miranda Chu. They had been best friends since first grade. Courtney also happened to be colleagues with Robert at the town’s middle school. When she heard about what happened to Courtney, which happened to be the same day as when X-Ray told David’s teammates the powerful lie, she went to her house to talk about the infamous “X-Ray”. Courtney warned Miranda to watch out for him and let her know of any possible encounters. One sunny afternoon, Miranda happened to meet X-Ray.
Miranda was waiting to meet her father for lunch at Pear Valley’s golf course’s fancy restaurant. Miranda and her father met up for lunch practically once a week. That day, she was excited to tell him about her time vacationing in Hawaii and show him all the pictures from her adventures there. A few minutes before she arrived there, he texted to apologize and say that he would be about fifteen minutes late, but to sit at the table and order their usual drinks anyways. At first, nothing felt out of the ordinary.
X-Ray knew that if he was to lurk around the restaurant he would need to be casual and far from suspicious. He dressed nicer than he had before, while still trying to conceal his identity, and had a feeling that the third time's the charm. He sat at the bar and ordered a coke before he walked over to Miranda’s table. He quietly sat down and tapped her shoulder. He whispered to her, “Hey, you know the man who ran for senator? He’s originally from here and he won. The name’s Bob K. Lewis Barnes.”
Miranda knew right away that she found the so-called “X-Ray”. He fit the description that Courtney had given her exactly, but there was an odd sense of familiarity that he brought. He was tall, thin, and well disguised, just as Courtney described. But his voice sounded eerily familiar and he wore a unique bracelet that she had seen sometime before. She tried her best to think of who it could be, but she did not have any idea come to mind. When he started talking, she texted Courtney, “I found him. At the golf course restaurant. I can stall. Come now.” Robert immediately headed over to the golf course.
She looked at the stranger and replied, “Yes, of course. Who doesn’t know the guy? He’s kind of a legend here. I didn’t vote for him, but he’s a really nice guy. I’ve bumped into him a couple of times. I think my dad went to school with him too. Why are you asking? And who are you?”
“The name’s X-Ray, but that’s not important right now.” He laughed and continued, “Well, he’s a phony. That whole election was rigged. He cheated his way to the top, if you get what I mean. We should all suggest another election so we can have the results fair and square. I don’t think a fraud should be representing us honest folk. That’s not right, is it?”
Miranda checked the time on her phone and noticed it had been four minutes since X-Ray had come over. She hoped more than anything that Robert would make it in time. She nodded and to stall, she agreed, “It really isn’t right. We deserve honesty from the people who are meant to make a difference for us. I really can’t believe it.”
“Yeah, it’s unbelievable. But we have to make this known so justice is served.”
“But how can we make this known?” Miranda had no intention of spreading this probable lie, but she needed to stall.
X-Ray leaned in closer to her and quietly said, “Just say it everywhere and anywhere you can. This knowledge will spread like a wildfire. A wildfire can take awhile to be put out. A lot of the time, everything is destroyed before the fire is completely gone. That’s exactly how this will go. His life will be rightfully ruined. The man deserves it.”
X-Ray checked his watch and told Miranda that he needed to leave. As he began to walk away, Miranda shouted, “Wait!”
He stopped to look at her before continuing to leave. But Robert had arrived just in time. Miranda ran after X-Ray and Robert ran towards him. They managed to catch him right out the door. He was cornered and knew he was doomed. Robert grabbed him and yelled, “Who are you? And why are you out to get people?” He decided to see who X-Ray was for himself. After pulling the baseball cap and sunglasses off the stranger’s head, he saw the mysterious figure for the first time and was shocked. Robert and Courtney’s jaws dropped. The stranger happened to be Courtney’s ex boyfriend, Michael. They were a couple for a few months before his evil side came out and drove Courtney away. He resented Robert and Courtney. The other rumors also were driven by a motive. David Clark was on the track and field team, the same team that beat Michael and his team in a state championship years earlier. The senator he sought to kick out of office worked at a legal office that had fired his father years earlier. Robert was relieved to discover who tried to split him and Courtney up.
Michael called himself X-Ray because he was certain he was able to see through any person and find every hidden vulnerability, even if he had to make some of them up. He felt as if people disguised their true selves and refrained from honesty and nobility. He was confident that no one else would see through his own. Unfortunately for him, he was wrong.