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General

I’m a really good guy, through and through. It sounds a little self-conceited, but I really am. But in my family, that’s not good enough. 

You don’t meet people like me around here anymore. I don’t expect to meet someone like me either. If I’m lucky, maybe another nice person will cross paths with me. 

Almost everyone I’ve met here have deep cuts, even the children. All I have are the tiny paper cuts of white lies on my fingertips and forearms––consequences of little formalities and camouflages of sorts. 

Some people have long, cavernous black cuts running down their backs and necks. Others have good-sized, raw, red slices on their legs and arms. Still others have scuffed knees and scarred faces.

Many cuts are raw and red, sometimes still bleeding, from being opened again. Sometimes the pain is worth the deception. People will be people, and people lie. 

It’s just the way things go. 

All I wanted was to prove myself. 

All I wanted was to change. 

All I wanted was to make my family proud. 

These were lies I told myself––a lie I scratched on myself like water scratches away a rock. Soon, there were more lies. Over my shoulders, down my back, more and more. 

I could change. 

I could kill. 

I could become one of Them. 

I could prove myself. 

Scratches settled themselves on my body like scratches on a porcelain doll. Little white things surrounded the deep one over my heart.

I could do it. 

Another cut seared itself into my skin. 

•••••

“I saw you here yesterday too,” he said in greeting, as if we weren’t standing on the edges of the bridge looking down into the winter-dark waters below. 

I didn’t even look up. I didn’t care if he was sent to kill me. I wanted to die anyway. I was a failure. 

“What’re you doing here?” he asked. “Or do I even want to know?”

I didn’t answer. 

“Come here,” he demanded. 

“Why?” I turned around and saw him standing a few feet away from me with his hands shoved in his pockets. 

“Just come here.” 

“No, you’re gonna hit me.”

He sighed heavily. “Jon, you can’t keep running from this.” 

I looked back at the tossing waves below me. “Why not? I’ve run this long.”

“You know they’ll kill you if you don’t hurry up. Philip is getting impatient.” 

I clenched my fists. I hated that name. 

“Matt,” I said suddenly. “Do you ever feel guilty? Like, at all?” 

Matt thought about it for a moment. “No. I don’t have time to feel guilty. And neither do you. Come on, man. All you have to do is kill someone. That’s it. One person. Preferably someone you love. Then you’ll be fine. No more living on your toes. You were born to spill blood. Our family has done it for generations. You’ll finally be able to prove yourself.” 

Prove yourself. Those words rang in my head all the time. I looked at Matt again. I looked at the deep rivers of cuts along his legs and arms. They were viewed as trophies in our land, not the horrible lies they really were. 

“I’d rather be dead,” I replied quietly. 

“Then I have some good news for you. Philip sent me here to kill you if you didn’t comply.” At these words, Matt pulled a pistol from his pocket and released the safety. “I wish you would’ve complied, Jon. I really do. You’ve been a good brother. At this point, it’s your choice. I can end your worthless life, or you can come with me and become someone that matters.” 

I saw the muscles in Matt’s hand flex as he prepared to release the bullet. 

Only one split second to react. 

I sprung forward and grabbed Matt’s ankle. Matt was at least one and a half times my weight, but the adrenaline pumping through my veins seemed to give me more strength. 

I pulled Matt’s feet out from under him. I heard the pistol fire and the bullet ricochet off of a nearby rock. 

Matt fell. He was slightly confused, but not too dazed to load another bullet. I jumped forward and grasped his gun-wielding hand. 

Matt’s gaze met mine. I tore the gun from his hand and pointed it at him. 

Matt’s eyes betrayed no sign of fear. “You wouldn’t dare shoot me, coward,” he laughed. “You couldn’t even if you wanted to. You’re nothing. You don’t belong in our family. You’re worthless. You’ve always been worthless, and you will always be worthless.” Matt smirked, thinking he had gotten the best of me. 

An emotion I had never felt before surged up in me. My eyes narrowed and I met Matt’s gaze. 

“You’re wrong, Matt,” I growled. The color drained from Matt’s face. I lifted the gun higher. “I’m not worthless.” 

I pulled the trigger. The slight recoil was like the guilt that passed through me––but it only lasted a second. 

“You are.”

I watched the very life drain from Matt’s body as he laid at my feet. His eyes, still fixed on my face, glazed over. 

A sudden realization of what I’d done swept over me. I had killed my own brother.  

I had proven myself. Granted, I had done it somewhat unwillingly, but now nobody could laugh at me. 

I sat down on the edge of the bridge again, thinking it over. The satisfaction of killing filled my body, and a metallic taste filled my mouth––the taste of blood. 

Is this what being a killer felt like? 

There was only one thing to do now. Go home and say what I’d done. My parents would be proud, and Philip would almost certainly recruit me as a bounty hunter. 

I had finally proved myself. 

I was finally happy, I told myself. 

A small cut placed itself on the back of my hand. 

•••••

Philip looked up from his papers as I entered the room. 

“What do you want,” he mumbled. 

I walked to Philip’s desk and tossed Matt’s gun onto his papers. 

The metal clatter caught Philip’s attention. 

“Whose is this?”

“Matt’s.” 

Philip looked keenly at me. “And where’s Matt?”

I shrugged. “Dead.” 

Philip sat back in his chair, astonished.

“So you’re telling me that you, Jon the Coward, killed your brother, one of my best hunters?”

“Yes, sir.” 

“Well,” gasped Philip, leaning back in his chair. “I’ll be darned. I thought it was going to be Matt coming home telling me you’re dead.”  

I looked down at the ground. The memory of Matt’s dead face flashed across my mind. 

“You’ve proven yourself, Jon. You realize that, right? Do you know what that means?” 

“No, sir.” 

“That means you’ve finally lived up to your family name. You’re finally good enough.”

Philip stood and held his hand out to me. 

“You start bounty hunting tomorrow.” 

I looked up at Philip’s face. His expression seemed to display genuine congratulations and surprise. 

I took his hand. It felt like the cold steel of Matt’s pistol. 

I might as well have shaken hands with the Grim Reaper himself. 

•••••

 It’s safe to say the next few years went wonderfully for me. I earned a few deep cuts and sometimes opened old ones. 

I had proven myself to my family and to everyone I knew. I had all the girls and money I could ever wish for. My name spread farther than Matt’s ever could’ve. 

Everyone feared me. Gossip said I was the Devil himself. 

Philip basked in the glory I reflected on him. He readily supplied me with bounty after bounty. 

Majesties and common folk alike bowed under my threats. I made my family proud. 

It wasn’t until one day, about five years after Matt’s death, that I had trouble. 

“This is your hardest bounty yet,” Philip said, handing me the traditional dog tag that held all the information on the bounty. 

I squinted at the tag. There were only a few words on it. 

“Where’s all the information?”

Philip shrugged. “She’s very elusive. No number. No description. No genealogy. Not even a name. However, we do know they call her the Lacerator because of her amiable habit of lacerating the life out of her victims.”

“Who calls her?” 

“The Phyladuri.” 

A shiver ran down my spine. “You’re sending me to deal with them?” 

Philip rolled his eyes. “Don’t tell me you’re afraid of those old wives’ tales. The Phyladuri are nothing but warped old people that pretend to be immortal and possess magic.” 

I gripped the dog tag. “Very well. What’s the price?”

Philip grinned. “More than you could ever imagine. Almost every king in every city has given a price for her head.”

A smile tugged at the corner of my mouth. “Deal. I start in the morning.” I turned to leave the room. “I’ll return with her head on a silver platter.”

•••••

Part of me regretted taking the bounty, but what was I to do? I couldn’t let my reputation down. I started really regretting it when I had to traverse the BloodCurdling Plains. The Plains got its name from its reputation of killing its victims. Rarely did anyone who entered them exit. 

I wasn’t scared, it was just inconvenient. I had crossed the Plains before, but it was as much as a bargain. Only the best of the best could cross the Plains.

After several hours of fighting through the Plains, I reached the Marshes of Misery. There was absolutely nothing dangerous about the Marshes except yourself. It was called the Marshes of Misery because the continuous screeching of the crows resembled screams of pain. 

The screeches of pain triggered memories––horrible memories. Memories of blood and pain. Memories of death and torment. Times I had taken peoples’ loved ones away. I started thinking of my bloodstained hands. The lives I had taken with them. 

I did it all for money and fame. No––I did if for justification. I did it to be enough. 

I did it for myself. 

A human scream broke my thoughts. 

“How dare you cross the Marsh of Misery!” 

I looked around and saw a short, fat figure shrouded in a heavy black cloak. 

“You will soon meet your match,” cackled the old voice.

“How do you know,” I called back. “You don’t even know who I am.”

“Your reputation precedes you, Jon of the Western Lakelands, the infamous bounty hunter who crushes any life that comes within his grasp,” the old voice chortled maniacally.  

“Who is my match? I would like to know their name before I destroy them.”

“The Lacerator knows you are at her heels. She is ready for you.” 

“Really,” I replied skeptically. “Who are you that I should believe you, hag?”

The hag flung back her hood, revealing a hideously wrinkled and tattooed profile. Her white eyes seemed to glow angrily at me. Her grey, stringy hair was in a mat that partially concealed her face. 

“How dare you speak that way to me!” The hag’s voice cracked and screeched in her anger. “I am a Phyladuri witch! You will soon bow before me, killer!” 

“Ha! Then show me your magic if you are what you say you are.” 

The light in the hag’s eyes dimmed a bit. “Well, I–you will soon see the fatal effects of your foolery!”

I grinned. So, the legends were fake. “Well, when you decide to work magic, let me know. I’ve longed to see magic my entire life! Until then, I will continue on my mission.” I tipped my cap to the hag as I continued on my way.  

•••••

“So, it is the Lacerator you seek?” The ancient man continued rocking without even looking up at me. 

“Yes. Where can I find her?”

“She owns a quiet cottage over yonder,” replied the man, nodding across a violent stream about half a mile down the farmland. 

“Thank you.” I turned and tripped down the stairs hurriedly. 

“Tread cautiously,” warned the old farmer. “She startles easily.” 

I nodded and continued on my way. I had walked several miles after encountering the Phyladurian witch. Extremely fatigued, I stopped in a small, tired old village for a few hours. 

I supposed the witch was right: my reputation indeed preceded me. Every person I encountered seemed to shiver at the sight of me. 

“Over yonder,” I muttered, trekking through the deep mud in the field. I’d been walking for at least an hour. At least I’d get paid for my troubles when I finished this miserable journey. 

I finally reached the river––no, let me be honest. I tumbled down the steep embankment and into the icy cold water. I screamed and was immediately ashamed at myself for doing so. 

Either I startled or attracted something with my yell because I saw something rush through the trees on the other side of the stream. I jumped up and crossed the rushing stream hastily, slipping a few times on the pebbles in the riverbed. 

I felt the ground give way under my feet as I scaled the embankment. After I climbed up, I walked toward the forest cautiously. 

Another rush of color. 

“Lacerator,” I called into the darkness. “Come meet me.” 

No sound. Just another flash of color. 

“Kings and gods have bowed to me, what makes you think you can evade my hands for long?”

“What makes you think you are worthy of veneration, murderer,” a voice boomed from the woods. “Flee while there is still time for forgiveness.”

Anger boiled inside of me. “Who are you to say this? You too murder!”

“Ha! What evidence do you have? None. Nor does anyone else. They blame me because I am the only one who has made peace with the tigers of this land. They are hunted for their skin; would you not also kill those who hunt your skin? You kill for the reward and joy of killing.”

“I have to make a living, do I not?” was all the answer I would think of. 

A dim shadow crept to the edge of the forest. Even though I could not see them, I felt as if a pair of eyes were staring into my very soul. 

“Yes, make a living you must, but living off of lives, you must not. But this is not why you do it. You do it to prove yourself. But who are you proving yourself to? Another killer? You are not proving yourself. You are simply proving a lie. This, your life of murdering, is not who you are. You need not prove yourself to anyone. Be who you were born to be, no matter the cost. You will know in your heart who you were meant to be.” 

The shadow dissolved into the surrounding darkness. 

Murderer. Killer. That’s all I was. The shadow was right. What have I done? I stumbled through fields and forests for hours. My past came back to haunt me. Every scream. Every life lost. Every cut. Every surge of pain. 

I couldn’t live like this any longer. I finally had to face it. Philip would kill me, certainly, or at least send someone to kill me. 

I deserved to die anyway. 

•••••

“It’s not right, Philip. I can’t do it anymore.” I tossed the Lacerator’s dogtag onto his desk. 

Philip laughed. “What’s gotten into you, man? You can’t just pull out. That’s not how this works.” 

“That’s the way it’s going to have to work. I’m done.” 

“No, you’re not.” Philip stood up. “You can’t bail on me, son. If you do, you can count yourself as dead.”

“Fine then. I’ve been wrong. You’re wrong. Everyone in this business is wrong. Killing isn’t the way to living.” I looked Philip straight in the eyes. I could see the wrath building up in him. It was only a matter of seconds until he shot me. 

Then Philip did something I never expected him to do. He sighed resignedly and sat down in his chair. “Well Jon, it’s been nice doing business with you. I wish you luck.” 

I was astonished. Philip waved kindly to me. I turned and began walking out of the office. I was free. Whatever happened next, I had proved myself to the only person I needed to. Me. 

Philip chuckled. “Aye, gullible as ever.” 

I looked just in time to see and hear Philip shot at me. Searing pain shot from my head to the rest of my body. Philip smiled as I fell, but I didn’t care. It was my own fault, but none of that mattered now. 

That was the end. I regretted most everything I had done with my life, but I couldn’t do anything about that now. I just hoped someone would have the courage to set things right.



November 22, 2019 17:54

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3 comments

Natasha Arnold
20:58 Nov 27, 2019

Oooh! Goosebumps! Keep up the amazing work <3

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Nechama Leitner
04:34 Nov 28, 2019

Man, this is deep. Love it.

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Rosie Greenwood
15:32 Nov 25, 2019

Oh wow, super cool. The ending is awesome. I love it.

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