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A Boy Named Guilt
“Uh…Guilt Jefferson?” the substitute teacher asked while calling roll. She appeared to be about twenty-three years old, fresh out of college, and blew giant pink bubbles of watermelon flavored Bubblicious, a scent that even reached the student in the far back corner. He sighed and reluctantly replied with a whispered, “Here”. She let out a snobbish sort of snort, a reaction that made her look stuck up and unprofessional, if the gum didn’t already do it.
“Wow, such a bizarre name! That’s so weird your parents would name you that,” she said with a smirk. “Gosh if my parents named me Guilt, I would, like, never talk to them! They could have at least named you Innocent!” She laughed at herself and a few obnoxious students in the class snickered too. Encouraged by the amusement from the other students, she exclaimed, “I mean, seriously! That is one weird name. Your parents honestly named you that? Ridiculous!”
Despite the fact Guilt expected surprised reactions when people learned his name, he felt as if she had taken it too far and had no right to bring up his parents. True, he thought, it is peculiar… No one in their right mind would name their child that, but who’s to say they were in their right mind? He was annoyed she had judged him and his family. He glared at her. His mysterious blue eyes penetrated hers. She suddenly looked down, embarrassed. Her face turned redder than her chewed-all-day gum.
Guilt chuckled. Oftentimes he used his “gift” selfishly, turning it into a game for his own enjoyment. He never thought twice about using it, however, when someone cast false accusations against him. Guilt didn’t like the judgmental. She continued calling students off her list, silently hoping there would be no more strange names.
Guilt thought about the origin of his name, which caused him to think about his mother, the mystery woman he had never met. All he knew was that she had died giving birth. He felt sad for an instant until he remembered that she wasn’t important in his life, unlike his father, the man who had given him his name. Guilt knew he was unique, so the only explanation as to why his father would actually give him such an interesting name was simply for that reason.
Guilt, in the corner of his 8th grade Algebra class, sat daydreaming for the rest of the hour, thinking about anything and everything. The bell suddenly interrupted his thoughts. With a flinch, he got out of the hard, metal desk and walked toward the door. As he left, he felt the teacher’s eyes watch him suspiciously now, and he made eye contact once again. For an instant, he heard her thoughts. They were rude and unnecessary, wondering why the student with the queer name kept giving her looks.
He walked out of the room relieved, and not just because it was the end of the school day. His relief came mostly from the satisfaction of knowing how the substitute’s day would go. It was a small act, but he felt proud of it. Her comments had really bothered him. Not just her immaturity, but she couldn’t teach and obviously knew nothing about math.
As he left the school, he walked with his hands fit snugly into the pocket of his corduroy coat and the chilly air stung his nose. He had a vision of the substitute gathering papers on the desk, still flustered by him. He smiled. She was slightly perplexed by her sudden change of emotions. She released a helpless sigh and wished she could go back in time, undoing the remarks she had made. With a chuckle, Guilt walked across the busy street without a thought about traffic.
“Hey dad, can I talk to you for a minute?”
It was late into the evening and Guilt and his father were sitting on the couch reading. His father was looking through the newspaper while Guilt read an old comic book. Guilt had always been interested in reading, but he couldn’t relate to any of the young adult novels he read. The characters were too… normal, as he thought.
“What is it?”
“I was just wondering… Do you ever…. Maybe…you know, have fun using your, um, ‘power’?” Guilt felt awkward saying this to him; it was not the typical question a thirteen-year-old would ask his father.
“Have fun?” His dad looked confused. He put the newspaper down and sat upright in his chair.
“Yeah, I mean, does it ever become sort of a game?”
“I’m not sure I completely understand what you’re trying to say… we have something very unique. It’s not anything like that comic you’re reading.” His father gestured to the book on Guilt’s lap. Guilt laughed. He thought it would have been more fun if he had trapped the substitute in a web or turned her to stone. Guilt didn’t really understand his abilities; he was only aware that he had a strong affect on people’s emotions.
“Son, this is something you need to take seriously,” said his father, with a stern look threatening on his face. “Don’t think your abilities are something you can mess around with.”
Guilt told him about the substitute, laughing when he described how red her face had gotten. His father did not look amused. More than once Guilt told him of times where he used his power for himself, rather than for the “good of mankind”. His father was never entertained, and the conversation usually ended in an argument.
“You can’t just go manipulating people like that! I realize her judgment was wrong, but there are much worse issues in this world that could use us!”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Okay. Whatever.” He got up out of the chair and walked out of the room. Guilt did not realize the full extent of what he was capable of. He never made a connection between his name and his abilities.
“One day you’ll understand! One day everything will make sense to you, Guilt.”
Rolling his eyes, he walked out the front door in a huff. Guilt’s stubbornness never really got him very far, but it did get him around the block, for he walked his annoyance away whenever he had a disagreement with his dad.
As Guilt walked down the street, he jumped when a stray cat violently meowed and ran in front of him. It ran across the street and sat down in front of a mailbox. It stared at Guilt, almost teasing him, and meowed once more. Guilt forgot about the situation with his father and ran across the street, laughing as he threatened the cat that he’d come and get it. The cat seemed amused, unlike Guilt’s father, so he kept his interest and decided to play.
He chased the animal through neighbors’ yards, gasping for breath as he sprinted around corners and ran underneath decks, ruining vegetable gardens and flower patches. The two neared the end of the block, and Guilt could no longer keep up. He slowed to a stop and put his arms on his side, panting for air and laughing. He looked around and saw a shadow move in an alleyway.
“I got you now, kitty-cat!” he excitedly said to himself under his breath.
He slowly approached the alley entrance but did not see the cat. Instead he heard two deep voices coming around the corner. He quickly hid behind a dumpster.
“Look punk, I’m only gonna tell you this one more time. You either get the money in two weeks or else.” Guilt peeked curiously around the corner. Two older boys, each of whom appeared to be about seventeen, walked around the corner of the building and made their way into the alley. One was short and scrawny, the other a bit taller and muscular.
“Or else what? You couldn’t do a thing to me if you tried.”
The tall one replied by swinging a muscular arm towards the short one’s face, his fist nailing him in the nose, causing him to lose his balance and tumble backward. His hand flew up to his cheek in instinct and his nose began to bleed profusely. The nosebleed didn’t deter him from throwing a fist back, however, and they began to brawl.
Guilt peered around the dumpster in fear, his heart racing. The other boys were attacking each other now, throwing their arms in every which way, sometimes throwing in an elbow or the occasional foot. Guilt watched as the short boy reached down in his pocket and pulled out a switchblade.
“Hey man…don’t…d-don’t do that. You don’t wanna do that,” pleaded the other, stumbling backward, a look of terror covering his swollen and already bruised face. He started offering bargains, even apologies. But sometimes muscles don’t always win the fight.
Without even listening to his begging request, the boy charged forward and shoved the knife into his stomach. Letting out a cry, he fell backward, his eyes bulging out of their sockets.
With a trembling hand, the boy dropped his knife and stood there in shock, unable to comprehend what he had just done. He slowly backed away, his body shaking and his heart pounding. He couldn’t tell whether it was beating fast or slow.
Guilt accidentally let out a shriek.
“Who the hell are you?!”
Guilt wasn’t sure how to respond. His mind could only focus on the now dead teenage boy on the ground whose face had turned ghastly pale. The sight put a knot in his stomach and seemed to close up his throat; he could not find his voice to speak.
The boy did not like that response. He angrily questioned Guilt, asking him what he was doing there, throwing in a profanity every other word. Guilt stood stiffly.
“You are gonna tell me who you are right now, or you’ll end up just like him.” He pointed at the corpse in almost a panicked manner, and Guilt could sense his worry. Finally, he found the strength to respond.
Instantly, he had the epiphany his father predicted he would have one day. Everything made sense. His power became clear. Within all his thirteen years of living, he had never made the connection. Suddenly, he had a flashback, and he recalled the day in elementary school when he discovered his abilities.
His third grade teacher was discussing human feelings and had the class draw a picture representing the emotion they were assigned. She had given him “guilt”, and even at a young age, this bothered him. At the time, he knew he was different. He just never could understand what it was that set him apart.
“Why’d you give me guilt?” he asked, confused.
“Well, why not, sweetie?” she smiled, showing all her large square teeth. “It’ll be fun to compare your name to the feeling!”
Guilt looked at her, perplexed. She gently patted his back and began helping the student with “confusion”. He thought he should have had that instead.
He took his white piece of construction paper and drew a self-portrait. Guilt now understood that his picture was a perfect representation of the emotion.
Guilt’s thoughts transitioned from memory to present.
“Yes! I’m Guilt! I’m Guilt!” He was so excited that he finally discovered the truth of his gift. “Don’t worry, I’m not gonna tell on you. I don’t need to.”
The other boy stared at him, perplexed. He was feeling one million emotions at once and now it was his turn not to respond.
Guilt was happy to use his abilities now that he knew their brilliance. All of a sudden, the boy only felt one emotion instead of the many he had been feeling all at once just a moment ago. He felt guilt. He felt remorse and regret. Dishonor, sin, wickedness, responsibility and shame. Looking down at the soulless body on the ground, he began to cry.
It all made sense.
He listened as the boy cried out that he would never do anything like that again. The situation was tragic, but Guilt saw something beautiful, too. He finally realized what his father had always tried to tell him. His power was intended for the “greater good”. Maybe Guilt could not interfere with destiny, but he could prevent something from happening again. He knew the boy was telling the truth- he never would do that again, and Guilt was to thank.
He was the feeling the three-year-old child got when his mother caught him stealing cookies from the cookie jar. He was what the teenage girl felt after sneaking out in the middle of the night. A puppy’s shame after relieving himself on the living room floor. He was the cry of a teenage boy who had just killed another. He was what taught people right from wrong, and he was okay with that. Even if it caused pain.
As he walked out of the alley and down the street, he felt almost calm. He told himself he would never use his gift for his own entertainment again, but rather use it only when it was necessary.
The streetlights lit the sidewalks dimly, giving the streets a melancholy feel. As he approached his neighborhood, he could still hear the remorseful cries of the boy and could still feel his grief. He had a feeling he would for a long time.
Maybe it was a coincidence, or maybe it had never left, but as Guilt walked up to his front porch, the cat he had been chasing walked across the lawn. He stared at it, and it stared back. It once again ran back across the street, stopping at the other side, teasing Guilt to come play.
Guilt laughed and thought, Maybe her name is Fate.