Breaking solitude

July 8, 2010
Solitude was my drug. My life. My addiction. I didn't need anybody or anything, just myself and nature. I had felt the compulsion to be alone ever since my early teens. My need to be alone had alienated me from all my classmates in high school. I hadn't always been like that. Back in elementary and even middle school I had been very sociable. I would make friends easily and be able to talk and interact for hours on end. Then it all changed. As soon as I entered high school, people seemed different. I felt awkward around them, they made everything so complicated. To me it was simple. Just live. I would seek quite places away from the bustle of life. I started to resent people for trying to pull into their version of life. I became an introvert; I avoided people and their social activities. As time went on my friends all fell away and people just stopped trying to talk to me. I, Bryan C. Mcfurthfield, was free.


On my twentieth birthday I woke up at the break of dawn, like I always did. I looked around the camp that had been my home for the last for years. I was living the life I had only dreamed of before I dropped out of high school. The only worry I ever had was food and that came easily enough with the copious amount of traps and snares I had set. I was carefree. That morning I followed the same routine I always did. I woke up and checked all my traps. Then I went to my fire and laid out my food to be cooked then I sat down and began to carve.
Carving was my only hobby. I had hundreds of little wooden figurines that were scattered around camp. There were birds, snakes, deer, squirrels, alligators, dogs, and cats. I carved exotic animals I had never seen and I carved the most familiar. I carved mythical beasts and monsters. I had also carved my worst enemy, the people. I carved every face I had ever seen and more. When I started, it seemed like a fun project. I went through the basics. My family, friends, and teachers. Then I moved on to people in the town, acquaintances, and people I had seen around. Then I started inventing faces. The faces would appear in my head and I would put them into the wood. Then one day, a couple weeks after my eighteenth birthday, the faces stopped. I couldn't see any new ones. Only the ones I had carved.
The faces began to stare. I would be walking back from the stream or checking my snares, and they would look at me. They never did anything else but that look was enough. That look followed me wherever I went. After a couple weeks of that I couldn't take it anymore. I took all the people I had carved and threw them into the fire. Then I sat and watched them burn. Even while I watched them burn, the fire turning the faces black, they still looked at me. That's when I turned my back on them. I stood with my back to that fire till I felt the heat disappear. Then I looked at the fire. When I saw the ashes of all the figurines, glowing red and smoldering, I felt a crushing guilt. What had I done? The figurines that I had burned now seemed more important than I could possibly imagine. I shoved my hands into the coals searching for any sign of surviving figurines. I found a couple charred bodies but all the faces were gone. I looked at my hands. They were burned and blistered, I barely even recognized them. I spent the next month nursing them back to health.
During that time I didn't light another fire. The fire where the faces had burned scarred the middle of my camp. I never looked at it. Once I was able I tried to carve the faces again. They were all still in my head but I couldn't get them right on the wood. They weren't bad they just weren't right. I couldn't stand to look at these new faces. It felt as if they were not supposed exist in this world. So I prepared to burn them. I went to my fire and stared at the ashes. On a sudden compulsion I started digging through them. I found ten faces. They were all disfigured but I felt a joy that they still existed. The first was a bigger man; his right arm and leg were burned off. I remembered that he ran the bakery in town. The second was the mailman; he was untouched except for a charred lump on his back. The third was the local hairdresser; she had bad burns on her arms. The rest were people he had never met. They all had similar burns, but they all had their faces, Except for the last one. The last figurine was perfect except for her face, it was a charred mess. I felt that I knew who she was, but I couldn't tell who she could possibly be. The next two years I spent carving that one figurine, putting every face I could think of onto her. None of them were right.
It was my twentieth birthday about a year and a half since I started carving her. Two years since that fire. I threw down the carving into my firewood pile and stared across the meadow. I just let myself relax and forgot about everything. I listened to the sounds of nature. The gurgling stream. The wind whispering through the trees. Birds chirping at each other. Then an unfamiliar sound started to creep into my consciousness.
I sat there trying to analyze it. I knew I had heard it before. Then it came to me. That was somebody walking! I sat up quickly and looked for the hiker. There used to be hikers all the time, but none for the past two years. None since that fire.
The hiker was on a trail that went past my campsite on the other side of the stream. I got up and ran to the trail. Up ahead I saw the hiker. Her back was facing me and she was heading away. It was a back I recognized. It was a back I had been carving for the past one and a half years. I called out to her and she whipped around quickly, clearly surprised. That is when I saw her face. My hopes of finally seeing the face I had been trying to carve were crushed. Her face was a twisted mess of scar flesh. It had obviously happened from some sort of burn but had had time to heal. The sight was disturbing. Her eyes went over me and I realized how I must look. I hadn't shaved or washed my clothing for a long time. I probably looked like a crazed mountain man. Then I saw something I wasn't expecting. In her eyes I saw a spark of recognition, "BRYAN!!!" she rushed forward. "Do I know you?" my question brought her to a dead stop. "It's me, Clarisse. Your sister." I was stunned; suddenly I knew exactly who she was. I didn't know why I couldn't see it before. A wave of emotion broke over me and I fell to the ground. She ran over and helped me up. "What happened?" I asked her with, “What gave you those scars?" Her hand ran over her face, "There was a fire, a big fire, two years ago. The towns gone Bryan. I just came up here to visit some old memories." I looked at her in shock, "Well why didn't the people rebuild" I asked but I feared the answer. "There were only ten of us who survived. Everybody was at the fair, in the big tent for the opening ceremonies, there were people from all over the place. There were too many people in there. The tent caught fire and everybody panicked. It was too fast and nobody could get out. I woke up in the hospital, my face was gone." I looked at her in horror, "It is my fault, it’s all my fault!" "How could it be your fault, you weren't even there." Clarisse wrapped me in a hug trying to calm me down. I had gone into shock, crying to myself over and over again, “How could it be my fault I wasn't even there, how could it be my fault."
"Come home Bryan." I followed her blindly back to civilization through my tears. My solitude was broken and I would never go back.





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