January 20, 2009
By Justin Aguilar, Pickering, ZZ

Bodies lay lifeless where his steel had been swung, staining the formerly green earth. The cries of those slain were drowned by the din of war. The enemy’s ranks wore thin; three hundred to a thousand souls were taken by his hand, depending on whom had been asked. His name was closely associated with glory, honour, and righteousness. He had left his town a boy, unassuming and ordinary, but he would return a war hero. An artist painted a piece that hung in his home that said all. He was depicted with sharp features and bright gold plated armor, his country’s flag draped around his shoulders as the dead lay at his ankles. Surely a dramatization, but the image was one romanticized by those who he had fought to protect at home.

One of the people he fought to protect waited anxiously, her hands and voice trembling, when word came of his return home. She stood, in her best clothes, waiting along the roadside where the parade would make its entrance. She was early. The sun was just beginning to cut into the cool, sharp morning air. In that solitary moment she remembered what he promised her before he had left,

“You’ll see me again, I’m sure,” he said to her, his voice wavering. He tried to hide his uncertainty, but it was no use, it only brought her to tears. Those tears were for naught though, as she later heard of his ability and heroism from across the sea. The exaggerated tales of her beloved manipulated her memory of him. He was no longer the humble boy whom she had grown up with, no, he was now a champion, the defender of nations.

As noon finally drew near, the thundering of hooves broke the silence. Slowly, shapes were beginning to be seen from the horizon. The convoy arrived to the applause of the gathering crowd, the blaring of trumpets, and the raining of rose petals. It was an overwhelming response; surely, a hero’s welcome.

That night, within the local tavern, a feast was held for the entire town. Busy noise and the hot stench of clustered people filled the small building. That didn’t seem to affect the mood, though, as the townsfolk brightened up the room with their laughter and banter. A long table stood, with the hero deservingly sitting at its head. He politely listened to those who talked to him but said few syllables in return. He wasn’t in much of the mood to talk. During the merriment, his mind wandered, he stared blankly into emptiness. Soon, he slipped from the room unnoticed and retired to his home.

The cool night darkness brought some relief from the stuffy confines of the tavern. He stood at his front door, and took a deep breath. He looked up and down its wooden body; he felt the grooves of its texture against his finger tips. It felt familiar to him, but it wasn’t the same as he’d left it a year ago.

Finally, he turned the door knob and opened the door. He stood in the dark, with only the moonlight shining through the lone window, letting in enough light that he wasn’t in complete darkness. He took in his surroundings. Even in a cloak of shadows, he recognized the space. It was like how he had left it before he went away, the few pieces of furniture stood in its place and the artwork on the wall hung at a familiar, awkward angle.

Then, he heard the door again open. He turned, instinctively reaching to his hip to unsheathe his steel, but of course it was not there. A small figure slipped into the darkness, and as it drew nearer, he recognized the familiar face. She reached for him and wrapped her arms around him tightly, embracing him. Her heart was racing, beating almost erratically, but she felt the pulse in his chest. It barely beat. He wrapped his arms around her, but they were cold, like dead weights. She noticed his hesitation, and looked up at him. In the dim moonlight she could see his visage, it was grey and worn. His eyes weren’t powerful like the painting, they were black and empty. His face was expressionless, wintry almost. And if he had even tried to look back at hers, he’d be met with a look of disgust and angst. This man, whose arms hung around her like two lifeless branches, was not the man whom she had known before. And he was certainly not the man from the painting who she had fallen in love with. She walked away, the door slamming shut.

The feeble walls shook, and something crashed to the floor, making a metallic clang, like that of the steel hitting steel on the battlefield, a sound he knew all too well. He walked over to its source and saw a framed canvas lying face down on the floor. He picked the large piece up, and strained his eyes to analyze it. He brought it to the window to better allow his vision. Now, his face, too, turned to one of disgust and then quicly anger. He studied the man in the painting. He noticed his face, and his stature, the clean armor, and the glowing aura he seemed to be emitting. This kind of artwork was for royalty and saints, and he was neither of them. He was a killer. Killer didn’t deserve glorification like this. He observed how clean and pristine he appeared, he knew it was not like that. In battle, his breastplate had lost its luster, it became battered and bloodstained. His face, along with those of his comrades, showed a look of anxiety and fear. The fear of death, a fate he knows could have befallen him too. The painting told a story of glory, honour, and heroism when his experiences reflected none of those things. Death was the story he would have painted. But, most of all, the man in the painting emitted warmness from him, his charisma was glowing. He reflected upon his inner self, there was no warmth, only blackness and emptiness.

He threw the painting down. And with swiftness, drove the heel of his boot through the centre of the canvas.

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