Oh Glory: Part Three
The next few moments happened so quickly that they were a blur, like in a dream. In one moment, Darric had passed off the Draik child Mayik to his mother, and the next the ceiling had begun to collapse. With no other option, Darric fled back into the burning home, darting past flames and fallen debris back into the master bedroom, which by that point had almost been entirely consumed by flames. One window existed across the room, and regardless of all the flames that had engulfed the carpet, Darric ran through them, ignoring the sensation of the fires burning his skin.
When he reached the window, he leapt through it, throwing himself into the glass pane, shattering it and sending his form out the window. Immediately he was met with a cool blast of night air and a shock of pain as he crashed into the branches of a tree, which acted to break his fall. However, he realized he had come ablaze in his efforts to escape, as he could feel the heat burning his skin, and he dropped to the grass below, rolling over and over repeatedly to try and extinguish the flames. When he could feel no more, he scooted further away from the home, which was beginning to collapse with the fires, and laid in the grass, panting and clutching his wounds.
He had done it. Against his wildest imaginations, he had managed to save Mayik and survive, albeit injured and burned, but nonetheless alive. He stood from the grass, still shaking from adrenaline, and noticed a cascade of water jets descending upon the flames. They were finally putting the fire out, and even though Mayik and his mother were potentially homeless, they were alive. Feeling no desire to interrupt the joyous reunion of mother and son, Darric began slowly working his way away from the scene, retreating into the darkened neighborhood and making his way back to his home.
He shut his door behind him and collapsed onto his couch, severely exhausted and sore. He smelt strongly of burnt fur, sweat, and smoke, and even though the combination was making him slightly nauseous, he couldn't muster the strength to drag himself to his bathroom to tend to his state. Instead he laid there, eyes heavy with fatigue, every last effort spent saving a life, and seemingly in no time, he drifted off to sleep.
He awoke the next morning to beams of sunshine steaming in through his window, illuminating his figure and casting shadows behind him. He sat up, groggily rubbing his eyes and groaning in pain. Every bit of his body hurt, muscles sore from kicking down doors and lifting debris, body injured from burns and falling. With great effort he stood, and shuffled his way into his bathroom, where he begun the lengthy process of treating himself. He bathed to remove the smell of smoke and sweat from his fur. He trimmed out the blackened patches singed from the flames. He put medicine on his burns and bandaged up his scrapes, and finally changed into a fresh set of clothes that were not charred and ruined from exposure to fire. Although a faint smell of smoke lingered, he was patched up, and eager to see what had transpired since that crazy evening the night before.
Upon exiting his house, he was greeted by warm sunshine and brilliant light, so brilliant that he shielded his eyes temporarily. It was a brand new day, a day where everything was entirely different. He wasn't just a nobody anymore; he was a somebody. He was a hero, a lifesaver, a person that others would commend for his brave actions. Despite his darkest self-referencing thoughts, he had proven himself wrong. In the heat of the moment, he was able to show exactly what he was made of, and in his mind, had earned himself a spot in the hearts of those around him.
Upon reaching the town square, he noticed a solemn atmosphere that was a stark contrast to the bright, sunny sky. Everyone seemed to have undergone some tragedy, as the general disposition was morose. Town life was continuing, but it wasn't bustling and exuberant as it usually was. It was as if the townsfolk were weighted down by some heavy depression.
Shouldn't life be cheerier than this? For crying out loud, an innocent life was saved, a family was kept together. Did something else happen when Darric was asleep that had once again overshadowed his accomplishments? He gritted his teeth as he walked through the square, wondering what would come of all this.
It seemed as if that was true, as every person who passed did not acknowledge him or even so much as look at him. They were continuing on with their own lives, gaze downcast and solemn, speaking infrequently and in flattened tones when they did. Surely if his heroics were recognized as they should have been, Darric wouldn't be so openly ignored. He'd be noticed by those around him, whispers following him as they did Maggie during dinner the previous night before. And yet he wasn't. What had happened?
As he walked, he crossed in front of the coffee shop, where he spotted Laren sitting solemnly at a table outside, sipping a coffee while surveying an issue of the Neopian Times. Still embarrassed by the events of the dinner, Darric tried to slip into the crowd, but before he could, Laren glanced over and saw Darric there.
"Oh, um... hi Laren," Darric muttered. But to Darric's surprise, Laren didn't reply or make any gesture to show that he had heard Darric's greeting. Instead, he continued to stare at Darric, as if staring straight through him into the distance, then with a sign he returned his gaze to his coffee which he brought to his lips. Darric was in disbelief; were his actions really that abhorrent yesterday that he lost the respect of his oldest friend? Surely saving the life of an innocent child was enough to overrule that meltdown, wasn't it?
Darric approached the table and tried to speak to Laren once more, stating, "Look, I'm sorry about what happened yesterday, okay? I snapped and it wasn't cool of me." No response.
"I should have listened when you all said that we should just talk about things." No acknowledgment.
"Laren, are you even paying attention to me?" Laren sipped from his coffee.
"Laren! Seriously, stop!" Darric yelled, grabbing his friend by the shoulder and shaking him slightly. And yet despite his aggression, Laren showed no sign of recognition, no sign of anything. Just blank depression and a quiet sip of his coffee.
At that moment the coffee shop door opened and spilled out Maggie and Margaret, both clutching coffees in their grasps and both also appearing solemn and downcast. They joined Laren at the table when they sat in silence, Maggie morosely sipping from her coffee, Margaret simply staring at her cup.
"Mags, Margy, is something up? Why is everyone so down?" Darric asked, but like Laren, they didn't even acknowledge him. Instead they sat quietly, watching the steam rise out of their cups, saying nothing, doing less. Defeated, Darric joined them at the table, and sat in silence with the group, until finally Margaret broke the tension.
"I... I think we should talk about everything that happened yesterday," she said calmly.
"Yes, I agree," Darric said, a wave of relief crashing over him. "I just want to be able to apologize for my little outburst."
"This is... a really hard fact for all of us to swallow."
"I know. But it is how I felt, and I should have said it some other way."
"It's just difficult to face this as the reality of our situation, you know, after all that occurred," Maggie said.
"I just think it was something I needed to say," Darric replied. "I was going crazy keeping it bottled up inside."
"Well, it's over now. And all we can do is work past it," Laren said solemnly, drinking once more from his cup.
"And that's what I want to do, more than anything."
"It'll be a difficult thing to work past..."
"But I know in time, we'll be able to accept what happened."
"That's fantastic!" Darric smiled widely. "I'm so glad that you guys..."
"But I dunno how I'm ever going to come back from that," Margaret said sadly, while Maggie nodded.
"That sort of a loss is not something we can just 'work past,'" Maggie added. Darric gave her a quizzical look.
"Wait, what loss are you talking about?"
"I mean, after everything that happened, I feel so bad. I wish I could tell him that I'm sorry for everything."
"So tell me," Darric said. "I'm sitting right here."
"Me too," Margaret said. "I feel horrible that he felt that way. I'm worried that his last thoughts of us were negative."
"Darric was a good person. He wouldn't really think that way about us. He was just upset," Laren said firmly. As the sky above began to darken and grey, the sun retreating behind ominous clouds, the other two nodded while Darric begun to panic.
"What are you talking about, I 'was' a good person? I'm sitting right here!" Darric said frantically.
"You know, for someone who thought he was empty, he sure did affect a lot of people in town," Margaret said solemnly.
"Just look at everyone," Laren said, gesturing around them to the morose townsfolk. "I don't blame them. That was incredible what he did. I'm just... it's just hard to think about what happened afterward."
"What happened after... wait, what are you saying?" Darric asked.
"What did they say about him in the Neopian Times?" Maggie asked "I can't bring myself to get past the first sentence without crying."
"Well, he was front cover top of the fold," Laren said, tapping the issue in front of him. Darric saw his picture greeting them from the print, a black-and-white smile reaching up from the paper. "The Draik kid is alive because of him, but... we all know the rest. They're saying he's a hero."
"Well, he is a hero," Margaret said, while Maggie and Laren nodded. "I just can't believe it happened."
Frustrated, Darric took the paper from in front of Laren, and began to read the article. The title read, "Hero Selflessly Sacrifices Self to Save Neopian Child."
"Sacrifices?" But... Darric was okay...
Darric read the article, key words darting out at him from the text. Sacrifice. Town in mourning. Collapsed home. All the details were right there in front of him, as if he needed them. He remembered the heat of the flames vividly, the fear pulsing through his veins. But a final quote from the town mayor revealed to him what everyone was thinking, why everyone was acting so strangely, and most important, why nobody was recognizing or acknowledging him.
"We commend Darric for his extreme bravery in the face of danger, and honor his memory by granting him a key to the city. May his courage live on in the life of the child he saved," the text read.
And then, it was clear what had happened. Those moments of escape that he remembered so fleetingly, faint as if it were a dream... it actually was a dream, because none of it happened.
Darric had perished in the fire that night. After handing off Mayik to his mother, Darric did not escape the collapsing home. The city was in mourning for the events, happy that a life was saved, but depressed that one was lost in the process.
He couldn't comprehend what was happening. He couldn't be gone. He wasn't gone. And if he was, why was he still here, crumpling the paper in his hands, his burns still stinging his arms, the tears flowing down his face. He couldn't be gone. It just didn't make any sense.
As the sky ripped open with the clap of thunder, rain began cascading down towards the earth, sending the townsfolk to flee in search of shelter. He set the paper down and arose from the table, leaving his friends to retreat into the coffee shop to continue their attempts to make sense of everything. Instead of following, Darric started to walk down the down abandoned town roads, trying to realize the reality of his situation as the rain soaked his fur.
He had gotten what he finally wanted. He was notable for being extraordinary, his courage and selflessness marking the recognition he always desired. And what was the cost? Apparently it was his own life, as he had lost it in pursuit of greatness, even if it was unintentional. He was granted the key to the city. He was hailed as a hero in the presses. His friends who he had always envied were now discussing his achievements rather than their own. But none of it mattered, because he could not be there to be a part of any of it. He truly was how he felt all those times before. Now, he literally was empty and alone.
A ringing bell took him out of his revere, and he glanced towards to direction of the sound to see the Candy Shop. Darric gasped in surprise as he witnessed Mayik and his mother exiting from the store, the small Draik clutching a giant bag of candy. No doubt his mother was spoiling the son she almost lost, and perhaps attempting to distract him from the dark situation he was facing, both physically (as his leg now had a cast) and no doubt mentally. Darric closed in on the duo to listen to their conversation.
"Now we picked out all your favorites okay? You can eat as many as you want... just not too many... okay, only eat a few per day, okay?" the mother said, feigning a smile.
"Okay, Mommy," Mayik sighed, looking half-heartedly at the bag clutched in his fist. Upon seeing this, his mother signed and said, "Honey, let's go have a chat," taking her son by the hand and leading him to a bench under the overhang of the store. The two took a seat, where Mayik stared expectantly at his mother, waiting for her to talk.
"Honey, how are you feeling right now?" she asked.
"I'm... confused," Mayik replied. "He saved me, right? But he... he didn't..."
"He didn't make it, no." The mother nodded sadly. "He didn't get out in time."
"So then... he sacrificed himself for me?"
"Yes, he did."
"And Mommy," Mayik said, tears beginning to flow down his marble-white cheeks, "I feel so guilty."
"Honey, don't," his mother said, pulling Mayik into an embrace, where he began to sob into the blouse. "Don't feel guilty, because it isn't your fault. It's nobody's fault what happened. It was just unfortunate."
"If I wasn't in the bedroom when the sky fell in, I could have gotten out," he cried.
"Honey, look at me," she said, making eye contact with her son. "This is not your fault, okay? No one is to blame for what happened."
"But now he's gone because of me."
"Yes, he is gone. But he's not forgotten," the mother replied, taking Mayik by the hand. "He sacrificed himself to save you, and that took a lot of courage. Because of him, you're alive, and have a chance at life you wouldn't have. And that leaves you with a responsibility to him."
"You're going to live your life being brave like him, to honor what he did for you. He was courageous, like you are going to grow up to be," she said. "Hold him close to your heart, and live every moment in gratitude to him. You will carry on his memory, because he is someone you will never forget."
You will carry on his memory. Those words triggered something within Darric's mind, letting him come to a revelation about his life. The entire time, he believed that he had to do extraordinary things to lead an extraordinary life, but that was wrong from the start. Darric was great to begin with because he was great in the lives of those who cared about him, those people who will carry on his memory. Sure, he wasn't famous or well-known up until the fire, but he was well-known in the eyes of those who mattered. His memory never came from doing great things; it came from being an incredible person in the lives of those around him.
If he wasn't extraordinary, how could almost an entire town be in shock after his passing? How could his friends be stricken with grief, despite their lives being stable and fulfilling? How could Mayik, who was now happily munching on a Chocolate Chia, be alive, safe and sound and breathing, without Darric's presence? Mayik's mother was right; he would carry on Darric's memory, along with everyone that Darric had the chance to meet and make an impact on. And that is where he would leave his impact.
His mind felt as if it was finally clearing, the darkness that had been engulfing it for so long finally lifted. Indeed, even the skies above seemed to be following suit, the downpour ceasing, the clouds beginning to part. Brilliant sunlight pierced the gloom above, raining rays of luminance down upon Darric below. And in that moment he felt weightless, sincere, and free. He looked down to his green fur, and witnessed it slowly changing to a pale white underneath the sun's rays. He had reached his revelation, a clear mind of his life's worth. His heart at rest, he would be able to pass on from this existence.
Steadily, as the light continued to shine upon him, the gloominess around began to disappear as the sun's radiance broke apart the clouds above. And with each passing second that the light grew stronger, his form began to slowly fade from existence, his vision steadily turning whiter as he disappeared. In his last moments before disappearing, he witnessed the concluding exchange between Mayik and his mother. The little white Draik looked over and made eye contact with Darric, and smiled. Could he really see him?
"Are you always going to be grateful to him?" his mother asked.
"Yes, I will," the Draik replied, waving to Darric, who smiled and waved farewell in reply before disappearing.
"I will always remember him."