SMcKenzie - Hero “The way I see it, your life is my property,” said Mitch, staring up at the newspaper clippings. He would never forget that day, couldn’t forget that day. “Please, this is crazy,” said the man, staring wildly at Mitch from behind the metal bars. Mitch didn’t look at him, just kept studying the old papers stapled to the wall. His hand reached up and scratched his mangled cheek. His skin has been really itchy since that day, sometimes making him scream out loud in frustration. He studied the pictures of the building, remembering how the flames consumed it. “I have money, lots and lots of money,” said the man, pleading with Mitch, his arms stretched toward him through the bars. “Money is meaningless now,” said Mitch, finally directing his eyes toward the man, “maybe at one time, but not anymore.” The man breathed deeply, staring at Mitch with a helpless look. Tears began running down his face, his lip quivering as he began to speak again. “What did I do? Why am I here?” “It’s not really anything that you did, more of what you failed to do.” Mitch directed his attention back to the wall, a clipping showing a person wrapped in bandages caught his attention. He reached up and touched the image, his face grimacing. He slowly turned his head back to his prisoner. “All I ever wanted was to help people, you know that?” he said, his hand still on the picture, “since I was just a kid, even if it was helping a little old lady cross the street.” He ripped the clipping from the wall, trudged toward the cage, and tossed it in with the man. “Pick it up and take a look.” He did as he was instructed, doing his best not to anger this strange person. He shook his head, staring deeply at the photo. “I don’t understand.” “Of course you don’t, once your ass was safe, you thought nothing else of it, right?” Mitch reached into the cage and snatched back the paper. He examined it again, a small smile crept onto his disfigured face. “They told me I was a real hero, made me feel like a million bucks, even though I was in the most intense pain of my life.” “Look, this has nothing to do with me, you have to let me go.” “This has everything to do with you, don’t you see?” The man pressed his body against the metal, looking as pathetic as possible. His hand reached out to Mitch, his voice cracking between words as he spoke. “Please tell me what I did, I want to resolve this.” Mitch laughed out loud as he stuck the paper back to the wall. He tore another from the collage and walked toward the man. Again, he tossed the photo into the cage. “You recognize that building?” “I know this building burned down. Just because I lived there doesn’t mean I had anything to do with it!” “I could care less how that fire started, that is irrelevant.” “Then why do you have me here?” “I rescued six people that day. The others refused to go back into the building, told me I was crazy, but I couldn’t give up.” “Wait, are you saying what I think you are?” “I pulled you from your apartment. You were unconscious when I found you, smoke was everywhere.” “You saved my life, I owe everything-” “Shut your ****ing mouth, don’t start with that!” The man quieted, staring up at the mutilated man. “The ceiling collapsed on me when I was bringing out the last. Just a kid, maybe six or seven, her family forgot she was asleep in her room.” Mitch paced the room, all the while scratching his face. His emotions were overflowing, his hands shaking. “She didn’t make it, she died in my arms while I was burning alive. They did what they could to get me out, everybody thought I was dead already.” The man slumped down, resting his head on one of the bars. His mind was full of questions as his rescuer continued ranting. “I remember how they told me what a great thing I did, even though the little girl died, I had saved six others. I was fired from the department while I was still in the hospital, told me they couldn’t afford to wait for me anymore. I didn’t have much in this world, but that job kept me going.” Mitch grabbed something from the ground and began walking toward the cage again. The smooth skin of his face was glistening in the light. As Mitch approached the man, he realized what was in his grasp. He jumped up, ramming his body against the back of the cage, trying to put as much distance as possible. “Look, I’m sorry for what happened, I truly am. Don’t do this!” “While I was layed up in the hospital, I kept wondering what I was gonna do. They told me that my insurance was refusing to pay, that I had no business running back into a burning building, can you believe that?” “That’s terrible, nobody should go through that.” “My thoughts exactly. So I wrote letters, wrote them everyday. I sent at least three to you, did you get em?” His brow furrowed as he dug into his memory. He slightly recalled getting letters in the mail, but couldn’t remember exactly what they said. “I-I can’t remember.” Mitch splashed the contents from his jug into the cage, drenching the man from top to bottom. “Stop, please stop! I’ll do anything, just stop!” “I begged for help, couldn’t figure who else to turn to. I figured if nobody in the world wants to help me, at least six people would. But I was wrong.” More splashes of liquid, the smell stinging their nostrils. The man still tried to push himself as far away from Mitch as possible. “What can I do to fix this? I can give you anything you want!” “I lost everything, my job, my home, all of my belongings. I gave up my life so you people could go on with yours, and for what?” “Because you are a good man.” “Maybe I used to be, until I saw how things really are. I never got anything back from any of you, not one ****ing letter.” The empty jug hit the floor, bouncing on the ground in front of the cage. Mitch reached into his pocket for his matchbook. “You let me outta here God damn it! I’m sorry, I’m truly sorry!” “I’m not going to kill you, I’m just taking back what I gave you.” The crazed look in Mitch’s eyes made the man scream out loud. He looked like an animal, circling the cage, pawing at the bars. “Don’t do this!” “You would be dead already if it wasn’t for me, I am the reason you are breathing today. The second I needed some help, all was forgotten, is that how it works?” “I admit it, I ****ed up. I had the money to spare, but didn’t give it to you because I felt like it wasn’t my problem. I promise I will change, anything you say, just let me out.” “That’s funny, that’s what the rest of them said, that they would change. It’s really easy to change when it’s forced on you, isn’t it?” His face was lit up as he ran the match across the rough edge, his skin wrinkled and shiny. “No! Don’t do it, please!” As the match bounced on the floor of the metal cage, Mitch remembered the little girl. He wondered how different things would be if he grabbed her first, left the rest of them to burn. As the engulfed man danced in his prison, Mitch walked into the next room. He felt a sense of accomplishment as the five charred bodies came into view. He reached up and scratched his face, then put the barrel of the pistol between his teeth.