Laughter. Not joyful laughter, the laughter that occurs when the proud look upon the weak. I was on display, hands bound and feet restricted. I felt the rope burns on my skin, tearing into me and rubbing my dry skin raw. I made no effort to move for I knew it was my time to go. I was content. I saw children running about the public square, sword fighting with sticks and throwing acorns at each other. I remembered a time where that would have been me, taking advantage of the freedom of my mind. Not knowing that it would ultimately become my worst enemy. I laughed at the memories of my childhood.
“Why is that man laughing on his deathbed?” I heard from the crowd.
I meant to respond but lacked the ability to as my tongue was no longer moist enough to do so. The men erupted with anger and disbelief as I continue to laugh. My life as a scientist was over. I had accomplished great things in my lifetime and was ready to discover the afterlife. I closed my eyes and smiled, imagining the vast wonders that awaited me.
“Stay back!” I saw guards approaching me with a bag.
I felt my hands become unbound and I felt sadness wash over me for a time. Where are they taking me? I pondered this. I’m sure the men would have liked to see me die. If I could have I would have requested it myself.
I heard doors open and shut, then the clunk of combat boots immediately following. Creaking. Another door. This time it did not shut and my body hit the ground at last. The bag was untied and I found myself in a dark, barren room with nothing but the bag I was delivered in and a less-than-sturdy chair. I had a strong feeling that I was being monitored. After the war all scientists were seen as dangerous because of the nuclear devastation that consumed our country. I wished to tell them that I was nothing but a peasant without vials and chemicals, however they refused to listen to my pleas.
I thought back to my days as a child, spending hours in my lavatory with household medicines, hiding from my father, trying to make something new, something nobody had created or thought of before. It was when I discovered my passion for the field of science.
My father was a strong, towering man that worked in the mines. Before my mother left him I saw joy in his eyes and contentment. The only thing seen now was pure rage and sorrow. This showed me why my mother left him and I was glad she did. I could not live to hear her screams anymore, I was done with it. However, I respected his job and often scraped remnants of coal from his jacket for my studies. He discovered this one afternoon as he returned to our closet to retrieve his wallet. He questioned me.
“What are you doing?” he asked me, demandingly.
I responded with the truth for I was not foolish enough to lie to my father. My eyes bursted with tears as he grabbed me by the shirt and hoisted me to my feet.
“As long as you are my son you will work in the mines as the last five generations of this family have done before you. You will prove your manhood as I did for my father”.
He dragged me into his room and bent me over. I was all too familiar with this and did not struggle for I knew it would only enrage him. I heard the scraping of the belt’s metal clanging against itself as he pulled it from his wide waistband. Twenty lashes. I could feel blood trickling down my back as it always did. I screamed in pure agony.
There was a nationally recognized scientific study laboratory two miles from our home. I had been researching their work for months and I believed I had stumbled upon a property that had not yet been discovered by their team of scientists. This would be my way in, my way to safety.
I found the biggest bag I could and collected all of my research and notes and placed them there. I mapped my route on a map and prepared myself for the journey ahead. I prayed that night for protection and I hoped that whatever god heard me would lead me to a better place. A place with no screams of terror, but screams of joy upon discovery. I hadn’t heard that since mother had gone.
Night struck our town and father sat in his chair with his whiskey. This was routine. He was an angry drunk, I knew this to be true. However, he had no bearings as a drunk man. I slung my bag over my shoulder and walked to the front door. I heard him yelling at our television as he always did. I needed escape. I intended to obtain it.
The floorboards creaked and moaned every step, threatening to send me through the floor with every shift in weight. I felt the holes in my socks against the rough wood as I searched for my shoes. I saw their familiar greyness by the door and put them on. My bag hit the floor loudly as I knelt. I heard my father get up from his chair. He started after me for I should have been asleep long long ago. I opened the door in the midst of his shouts.
“What are you doing?” he yelled at me.
I ran into the darkness, his raspy screams following me in the night.
I opened my eyes, shaking my head. My eyes shot with pain as the light hit them and I squinted. My childhood was something I did not often think about, it was something I liked to generally forget about. However, I saw it differently that day, I saw the goodness that came of my childhood and realized it made me the person I am and I, for the first time in my life, was thankful for my upbringing. If it weren’t for my father’s opposition I wouldn’t have had the drive to do what I wanted to do.
I wept. I realized it then, as if blinded by my opposition, that I was doing what my father expected. I was quitting, giving up. I could hear his drunken laughter, convincing me that I was too dumb to do anything but mine, that I wasn’t special I was average. No. Every cell in my body wanted to defy him, to do what he said I couldn’t, to accomplish what he said was impossible and I felt that again. I laughed to myself. I’d been here before, almost on my way out, happy and contented but my stubbornness pulls me right back in. I was glad I had humor through all of this, it kept me going in the times I needed it.
The problem was this; I was in what I assumed to be a mental asylum, awaiting my execution and I didn’t want to die. I needed something, someone to come, to realize what they were doing to me did not abide by the law. Most of all, I needed hope.
I thought of my mother and the things she used to tell me at night. “Hope is the only thing that can overcome fear. A world without hope is a world without dreams.”
She’d tell me I could do anything, that I was only as much as I put my mind to. She begged me not to listen to my father, and told me to do what I loved and what I was good at. Then, as if she’d never came, she was gone. For a time I felt abandoned and scattered. She was all I had, she put the breath into my lungs. She was my hope. I needed that again.
The door flew open, creaking wildly.
“The general would like to see you.”
Gingerly, I stood up and walked past the guard. He had an expression on his face that worried me. The general didn’t just call in ordinary people to talk to him, whenever he called for someone he needed something, and today I was hoping that “something” wasn’t my life.
The hallways were barren and empty. I felt the heaviness of my surroundings as I was escorted to the man. His door was labeled “General Hutchins”. I approached the door and was let in. Strangely, I felt as if I was being treated nicely. Almost as if they felt sympathy for me and it was good to feel that again, even in the slightest.
“Welcome, professor!” The General shouted in a low voice. I saluted the man, for I had been in the army and knew I was supposed to do so.
“I apologize for your… Inconveniences in getting here today, we have been on high alert lately, I hope you understand that. However, I need you for something.”
“You need me?” I asked, astounded.
“Yes, professor. However, there is a small catch as you may have suspected. I researched your work at your science laboratory and there was a project you had taken on personally that the laboratory required you to stop researching. Professor, the reason your project was shut down is because what you were researching was too far ahead of it’s time and with the knowledge you could have gained from itl our world would have been changed. Professor, our world needs change now and I want to offer my full help physically and financially in helping you get back into your research.”
I was taken back. I had assumed I would walk into this room to find out how many days I had left but no, I was wanted for something. I thought back to the day that was supposed to be my last. My laughter was the only thing that stood between me and death. My life was literal irony. I told myself in that moment if I live to look back on this, I would be a fool not to write about it.
“General, thank you very much for expressing interest in my work. However, what is to be with my execution?”
“How foolish of a man would I be to sever the head of a man that could get me out of this dark place? We need you professor, trust me on this.”
“General, what about the war? I could be perceived a traitor for this.”
“Professor, you weren’t researching weapons. This about the wellbeing of all mankind. Sir, I could make this worth your while.”
“No amount of money will suffice, I don’t need..”
“Professor!” He yelled, cutting me off, “Your mother is alive”
Why hadn’t she come to get me? She is alive she must have heard of me in the news. She must have. I wanted to see her, but inside I had a deep fear of rejection. She left my father for good reason, but did she leave me too? Maybe not.
“I’m going to get some sleep, General. I’ll come see you in the morning.”
“Wait, I forgot to tell you. You’ve been given a room on the upper level, enjoy.”
I strolled up to my room eager to rest but buried in thought. I had always been analytical but my thinking now was different. I remembered a time I sat with my mother on our sofa. It was a week before the night she left. She asked me, “son, what do you enjoy doing?”
“I... I…” Hesitantly I spoke, “I like to experiment with chemicals.”
“Ahhh” she said, smiling.
“You should be getting to bed, son. Goodnight”
My mind spun; why did she smile? My head hit the pillow and I embraced my dreams.
I awoke the next morning not having thought much at all about the decision I commit to making that afternoon. I knew myself, however, that I did not need it for the right choice was obvious. After laying in bed awhile I rose to use the lavatory. It was so strange, within it being the most abstract toiletries and complimentary items I had ever laid my eyes on. But, I guess that is what you get after a war; the stuff people didn’t want. A fresh outfit of clothes was on the counter for me, a gift I was sincerely grateful for after having been living in the clothes I had on for many days.
After awhile of silence, I decided to go talk to the General. I notified him that I would be taking his offer and instantly was escorted to my own personal laboratory. I stopped him as he exited the room, “sir.”
“Before I begin, I would like to know where my mother is.”
“Of course, I will escort you to her right away.”
I hung my newly pressed lab coat on a rack and we stepped, once again, into the naked hallway. It was white, but had been discolored to a yellow and it’s dry paint chipped off of it’s walls with the touch of a finger. It smelled of moisture and smoke, causing my eyes to water.
We took multiple right turns and stopped at a door that looked as if it led to an abandoned house. It was absent of light, causing me to wonder why we had stopped.
“Your mother is here. Guards.”
“Why do you need guards, she is my mother let me see…” A monstrous arm grabbed me around my neck and jerked me backwards. The door opened and the guard entered the dark room, his face crude and emotionless. I was fighting to get out of the man’s grasp but I found it to be worthless. I heard something slide across the floor continuously, bag or something, I thought. It grew louder and louder. I became anxious as I awaited my mother.
“Alright, here she is.” He dragged a body out of the doorway and dropped it. I leaped after it, screaming.
“Mom!” I shrieked. Arms caught me from behind and restricted me. My mother was gone now, she always had been but now the feeling of her that was with me was gone.
“You lied to me, General.”
“I did not, she is alive.”
“Then let go of my arms and let me see for myself.” I felt my arms free and I weakly walked over to the body that lay there. She was pale and sick-looking. I put my hand on the back of her head and knelt down by her as she lay on her back. I saw her eyes flicker to life and my heart dropped. I was trembling and shaking with her in my arms. Her mouth opened and she began to speak.
“My boy,” she whispered shakily, “be calm, my son.”
“Momma don’t go.” I shouted, my heart filled with anger and brokenness.
“It is time to go Professor,” commanded a guard. Instantaneously, his arms were prying me away from her and he lifted me. My hand slipped from the back of her head and I shrieked. Her cold head fell to the concrete and the life left her body. She was gone.
My head pounded and tears ran down my face as I sit alone in my room. I should have done more, I could have saved her. But what was the point in second-guessing myself? It was over. Done.
My will to live was now gone once again, and like before, I was content. It was most definitely my time to go, to go meet my mother in her happiest place.
The General had forgotten about all of the chemicals I had access to. Some of the most dangerous things in the world were accessible to me. So, I did it. I mixed chemicals and manipulated properties and made myself a liquid that would slowly put me out of this misery over a week’s time without me knowing it. I drank the vial.
I lay in bed dreaming of my mother, awaiting the moment I see her face full of life once again. I was happy. Life had treated me well and it was time to retire.
I slipped into a deep sleep, never to be awoken again.