Freedom of Conformity

June 1, 2013
I never knew how out of shape I was until I was running for my life.
Brambles cut deep into any exposed flesh as I tore through the thicket. Blood pulsed rapidly through my veins, my heart ready to burst. My breath came in short, strangled gasps. The only means of protection I had were the forest and the gun in my hands. However, I was paralyzed by the fear that it wouldn’t be enough. My comrades had all disappeared. I didn’t know if they’d been killed or, like me, were running.
I crouched down behind a tree to catch my breath. I desperately needed to think of a game plan. Otherwise, I wouldn’t stand a chance. I looked around to make sure no one was lurking in the shadows. Okay, I thought, I need to figure out how to fight back. If I don’t they’ll hunt me down and I’ll be dead for sure.
Looking around, I didn’t have much to work with except for dried up leaves and some twigs. There was an exceptionally large branch lying about ten feet away, but I didn’t know that running for it would be safe. I mean, not that my situation was safe by any standards, but I couldn’t push my luck. Anger welled inside me at this thought. This situation would not even be happening if I had kept my mouth shut.
I had been a low-key kind of guy until I figured out how to make the world a better place, and let’s be real. When you figure out how to make steam run a car, you need to get the word out. The only problem was the government relied too heavily on the oil industry to appreciate my idea. In fact, they were downright against it.
My first meeting had been with an agent with bad breath. His warning had been miniscule in my eyes, but even so, the government wasn’t going to stop there. After a few more encounters with the bad boys, I found myself trapped in a sadistic game of wits. I don’t even remember how I got there. I only recall my team mates shaking me awake and screaming for me to run.
I became aware that the woods had grown silent in my reverie – too quiet. Before I could get to my feet, a cloth was wrapped tightly around my neck. My attacker dragged me to the ground. Even though he could have easily crushed my trachea and killed me then, the man who was ending my life wanted it to be a slow and vengeful death. He maneuvered himself around to the front of me. I saw his pale blue eyes filled with hatred and thought, those will be the last eyes to see me alive.
But then I was free. Beautiful, fresh, clean forest air filled my oxygen-starved lungs. I drank it in with greedy indulgence, but my assassin was quick to put a stop to my recovery. The blade of an eight-inch hunting knife found itself buried in my abdomen. Somewhere an animal screamed out in pain, but the burning in my throat led me to believe it had been me. The blue-eyed killer lunged again, but I rolled out from beneath him and scrambled to my feet.
My first urge was to run, but with the blood pouring from my gut like a waterfall, I decided my only chance was to fight. After all, my time was already limited. I may as well use what I had left to take out the sucker that killed me. Unfortunately, a healthy and active man is a lot quicker than a dying one. I was back on the ground before I knew what hit me.
“You think you can escape, Rick? Think that this is a game? Well, think again, because now you’re going to die and there isn’t anything you can do about it. Bet you wish you’d listened, huh?” He was choking me again. I was starting to see bright lights and dark splotches in my vision, but I managed a grin.
“What, you think I want to be a civilian-killing robot that lets society think for me? Please. I’m a little more evolved than that,” I gasped. His eyes flared with renewed fury as he began to crush me.
“You’re funny, Rick. Too bad that’s not enough to save your life, huh?” The lights were brighter now, consuming my eyesight. Black spots dotted the light. I knew that I was dying, but I kept trying to fight anyway. I thought about my work, my freedom, my wife – but nothing could get me out of the predicament I’d found myself in. My lungs burned for air that they would never get.
Out of nowhere, I heard the glorious sound of gunfire. Friendly or not, I needed this to be over. I welcomed anything with a passion to kill either my attacker or me. I just wanted out. The weight that was suddenly smashing my chest was the man that only moments ago had been trying to end my life. The cloth had loosened its grip and I could breathe, but I still couldn’t see and every sound was muddled. There was the shuffling of feet and a lot of shouting. I was lifted to my knees and then into the air.
“How’s he look?” I heard someone whisper. Or maybe they shouted, but I was too delirious to know the difference. I didn’t know if they were friends or foes, but at that point it didn’t really matter. I was in bad shape with all the blood loss and oxygen deprivation, and I knew I was going to die any minute.
“He’s the one?” I hated hearing them talk about me. It was almost as though they pretended I didn’t exist.
“Yeah, but I don’t see what good he’ll do considering he’s almost dead. Looks like he took a knife to the gut and his neck took a decent strangling,” Their voices were growing faint, and in that moment, I knew that it was too late.
I was going to die. I had never imagined that this was how it would happen. Things were a lot more peaceful than I’d thought. The world gradually faded to gray and then light. I thought of growing up as the misfit; I’d never made many friends. All the kids had thought I was weird throughout school. I thought of my wife – the one woman who’d always loved me no matter what. I missed her. I needed her. Where was she?
The burning began to subside and my heartbeat slowed. I couldn’t tell if I was breathing or not, but if this was really it, I was proud to go down fighting. I was proud that I could stand up and make a change – be different – when they told me I couldn’t. Even in death, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

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