I never thought I would save the world or die saving it. I never believed in angels or miracles, either, and I sure didn't think of myself as a hero. Nobody would have, including you, if you had known me before I took the world's most powerful weapon and let it fall into the hands of a lunatic. Maybe after you hear my story you won't think I'm much of a hero anyway, since most of my heroics if you want to call them that resulted from my being a screw-up. A lot of people died because of me including me but I guess I'm getting ahead of myself and I better start from the beginning.
It began with my uncle Farrell wanting to be rich. He never had much money growing up and, by the time Mr. Arthur Myers came along with his once-in-a-lifetime deal, my uncle was forty years old and sick of being poor. Being poor isn't one of those things you get used to, even if being poor is all you've ever been. So when Mr. Myers flashed the cash, all other considerations like if any of it was legal, for instance were forgotten. Of course, Uncle Farrell had no way of knowing who Mr. Arthur Myers actually was, or that his name wasn't even Arthur Myers.
But I'm getting ahead of myself again. Maybe I should just start with me.
I was born in Salina, Ohio, the first and last child of Annabelle Kropp. I never knew my dad. He took off before I was born.
Mom's pregnancy was difficult and very long. It was almost ten and a half months when the doctor decided to get me the heck out of there before I exploded from her stomach like some kind of alien hatchling.
I was born big and just kept getting bigger. At birth, I weighed over twelve pounds and my head was about the size of a watermelon. Okay, maybe not the size of a watermelon, but definitely as big as a cantaloupe one of those South American cantaloupes, which is a lot bigger than your California variety.
By the time I was five, I weighed over ninety-pounds and stood four feet tall. At ten, I hit six feet and two hundred pounds. I was off the pediatrician's growth chart. Mom was pretty worried by that point. She put me on special diets and started me on an exercise program.
Because of my large head, big hands and feet and my general shyness, a lot of people assumed I was mentally handicapped. Mom must have been worried about that, too, because she had my I.Q. tested. She never told me the results. When I asked her, she said I most definitely was not. "You're just a big boy meant for big things," she said.
I believed her. Not the part about being meant for big things, but the part about me not being retarded, since I never saw my scores and it was one of those things where you have to believe that your parent isn't lying.
We lived in a little apartment near the supermarket where she worked as an assistant manager. Mom never got married, though occasionally a boyfriend came around. She took a second job keeping the books for a couple of mom-and-pop stores. I remember going to bed most nights with the sounds of her calculator snapping in the kitchen.
Then, when I was twelve, she died of cancer.
One morning she had found a tender spot on her left temple. Four months later, she was dead and I was alone.
I spent a couple of years shuttling between foster homes, until Mom's brother, my uncle Farrell, volunteered to take me in, to his place in Knoxville, Tennessee. I had just turned fifteen.
I didn't see much of Uncle Farrell: He worked as a night watchman at an office building in downtown Knoxville and slept most of the day. He wore a black uniform with an embroidered gold shield on the shoulder. He didn't carry a gun, but he did have a nightstick, and he thought he was very important.
I spent a lot of time in my bedroom, listening to music or reading. This bothered Uncle Farrell, because he considered himself a man of action, despite the fact that he sat on his butt for eight hours every night doing nothing but staring at surveillance monitors. Finally, he asked me if I wanted to talk about my mom's death. I told him I didn't. I just wanted to be left alone.
© Rick Yancey 2005. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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