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When I was in the fourth grade, I remember there being a child who rarely attended school. All schools have those kids, but James was different. He would show up to school only once a month, and when he did, his eyes were lifeless and barren, portraying an evident lack of sleep. I remember how the kids used to make fun of him, staring at the walking corpse of a boy he was, and taunting and torturing him. They would yell to the lifeless child, "Hey zombie, why the long face?!” He would stare at me during class with a look of dismay, as if he was trying to ask me, “Help me. Please, help me.”
One day, I followed him home after school. I wanted to be his friend. I wasn’t sure why, but I felt responsible for the way the others treated him. From three blocks away, I could still tell his old, Victorian home apart from all of the other modern suburban homes that surrounded it. I made a mistake then. One that haunts me to this day. He was walking down the sidewalk, when suddenly, he noticed me following him from afar. He started running. Well, I think he was running, but due to his lack of energy, it appeared as more of a hobble.
Then it happened. He was so focused on running away from me, that he wasn’t paying any attention to what was in front of him, and he ran right across a busy highway without looking first. He was hit by a car and launched 20 feet away from the black Sedan. I couldn’t move. The shock was too much. I considered running. No one would know what I had done if I ran, but I couldn’t do it. I stared at the now even more lifeless shell of a child laying there on the ground, and ran to his side. As I approached James, he suddenly sprang to life in an instant and began hobbling away. He yelled to me, his voice hazy, but clear, “Go away! Just leave me alone!” The driver of the Sedan was yelling to him, asking if he was all right, but he continued running and completely ignored the driver. He turned a corner and ran up the steps to his house. Upon entering, he forcefully slammed the creaky door behind him. I knocked on the door for several minutes but received no answer. I eventually left, knowing that there was nothing I could do but wait until I saw him at school the next day.
The walk home seemed longer than normal, but yet I only lived eight blocks away. The whole way home I was in deep thought. I couldn’t determine how he managed to survive being hit by a car going at that speed. Not only that, but he got up completely unscathed. Was he a super-mutant, like in the X-Men? I could only imagine possible reasons as to why he survived, but in the end there was only one logical conclusion, and that was that luck was on his side.
That night, I lay awake many hours thinking about how I nearly caused James to lose his life. My bed creaked as I tossed and turned, still not able to get thoughts of the events of the day out of the steel trap that is my mind. The night didn’t seem to last very long, and before I knew it, I saw the blinding ball of light slowly crawling up the horizon.
Later that morning, I arrived at school. When the first bell rang, our teacher, Mrs. Kowell, took attendance. She called out my name. I answered half-heartedly because the lack of sleep was getting to me. My friend Borris’ name was called by our plump, strict teacher. He also responded, but then looked towards me. In his normal, happy-go-lucky tone, even more annoying due to the lack of sleep, he said, “Why so glum chum? Did you not get any sleep last night?” I looked at him, a scowl on my face, and said, “I just have a lot on my mind.”
The teacher called to us from across the classroom, scolding us for talking while she was taking attendance, and then she proceeded to give us the same old lecture on how talking can lead to her thinking a student is present, when they are actually not. Then, after a few dreadful minutes of her annoying voice ringing through my skull, the old fatty continued taking attendance. She called out James' name. “Dammit! I should have known!” I thought, “Why in the world did I think James would be here?” The rest of the day played out normally, although my lack of energy led to me getting annoyed, and yelling at the other bratty children for talking too loud during Physical Education. The bell that marked the end of the dreadful school day couldn’t have come soon enough.
I walked home again. I considered going to James' house to check on him, but eventually decided that I didn’t have the energy, and would try again after I get a good night's rest. Not to mention, why the hell did I not get a ride home from school?! All of the other kids who lived within ten blocks of the school got a ride, except for me?! What was so different about me that I didn’t deserve a ride? Dammit! Anyway, I continued down the street, and my head began to hurt. As I crossed the crosswalk that stretched across the street I tripped across the curb, and landed on the freshly cemented sidewalk. I heard a voice and it still haunts my thoughts every second of every day. The voice of the one who I only wanted to be friends with: James. I looked up upon the child standing in front of me.
He grinned and said, “You nearly killed me. You're lucky I’m alive. You must live with this guilt for the rest of your life. I will not let you forget."
He turned around and pulled up the back of his tattered shirt to show me a large burn mark that was forever tainting his otherwise smooth skin. The guilt I had felt for him has lifted, and now, the curse has moved on. You will now carry the burden of guilt and join us. You will join the children who never sleep.
I sit here now many years later. I have nearly no energy and I am barely able to type this. I have missed out on so much. I am twenty four years old and I still live in my parents' house. I didn’t attend school ever again after that day. I didn’t want Borris to have to suffer the same fate as me, but yet, I still want to be released from this curse that prevents me from living the life I want to live. The guilt is too much and I can’t bring myself to end my own life, so I share my story with you all, in hopes that one of you will feel guilty for what has happened to me and take my place. Free me from my guilt. Join us.