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The Fates Are Fair





bond4154
The Fates Are Fair (Originally Titled “Passive Vengeance”)
By Ysionris Gavotte

For some reason, mountain climbing always meant something special to Elias Kilhawk, a feeling that he understood subconsciously rather than intellectually. It didn't come as a delight, or a treat; rather, it came from a familiarity, a certain set of circumstances to which he was used to. It was a type of feeling in which he surrendered himself to a higher power, to be at the mercy of gravity and height. A fluke on his part, or perhaps a snag from other parts, could prove to be fatal. It was as it was, as it always has been, and as it always should be. Elias neither liked nor hated the feeling. It was merely familiarity.

His cord still attached to the top of the cliff edge, which was a good fifty feet above him, Elias swung over to the left to better terrain, making it easier for him to navigate through the small crevices in the rock face and negotiated with the handholds there. His hands caught, and he continued his ascent. He looked out into the desert landscape for just a moment, quietly admiring the canyons that formed the cliffs around here that made such a pleasurable climbing area. Of his five-man mountain climbing group, Elias only knew one of them, the instructor, an athletic man named John Herbert, a man who had convinced him to join the mountain climbing club in the first place. Elias actually rather respected the man; he was down-to-earth, sensible, and caring. He took care not to learn the names of the other three, because he would rather not care about it. Elias was never good at meeting new people, and didn’t care to do so.

Only the instructor had made it to the top of the mountain, disappearing behind Elias’ horizon of rocks, while there was another climber above him, already struggling to make it pass the cliff edge. There were another two below him, slow, incompetent climbers, who could not find the proper consecutive handholds to bring themselves up. Elias largely ignored them as he continued his rapid ascent.

Elias made the last grab as he latched onto the edge of the cliff, swinging his weight towards the cliff face, and then pushing off it, giving him extra leverage as he placed his leg on the ledge as a pin point, and then pulled and pushed himself onto the cliff. A fellow climber, not John, but the one who had made it before Elias did, gave a hand to Elias to help pull him up, but Elias slapped it away; he never liked receiving help, and he wanted to complete everything on his own. Had John not talked him into this, Elias would’ve gone mountain climbing alone anyways.

The other climber frowned in confusion, but good-naturedly left Elias alone as he stepped back, giving Elias and his equipment enough space. Elias rolled onto the ground, panting as he unsnapped his backpack and laid it beside him. He lay face-up in the sun for a moment, letting himself bask in the rays of the sun, then got back up as he hauled his backpack over and started moving forward, thus giving space to the people below him when they made it up.

He had only made two steps when he heard a rather audible cracking sound, sharp and audible, like a whiplash on a good, dry day. Elias turned around for a second; nothing seemed to be wrong. He cautiously took another step, wary to the fact that John and the other climber had also heard the sound and were looking around in momentary confusion.

John saw it first.

“Watch out!” John bellowed as he step backwards, moving backwards toward the center of the mountain, “Elias, Johann, get back, get back! Avalanche!

The term avalanche wasn’t quite as fitting for the three on the top of the mountain, as Elias immediately realized. He looked down just in time to see a large crack form right between his feet like a lightning bolt across the sky. Elias moved his left foot away just in time as a part of the cliff, which had been hanging out to the side, broke off from the rest of the cliff face and, with a slide and a spray of dust, plummeted downwards to the ground thousands of feet below.

Rather than having large chunks of rock fall from above him, the cliff he was standing on was crumbling away.

Elias threw his backpack forward, it was just weighing him down, and started to run. He heard a metallic snap; one of the cords that another climber was attached to broke off from the cliff, and Elias heard the horrified scream from the climber as he fell away from the cliff face, fated to fall from thousands of feet up and meet a bloody end as he would undoubtedly end up splat against the ground. The thought terrified Elias, but not nearly as much as he thought it would.

Almost into a full sprint now, Elias was surprised into stopping as he heard something behind him. A cry. He turned around, and was surprised to see that one of the climbers now had his elbows and head above the cliff edge, trying to struggle his way up to safety as he latched onto the ledge and attempted to pull himself up.

“Oh, my god, oh, my god!” the man screamed as the cliff began to fall away before him, each piece seemingly taking a bit of his life with him as they fell into the infinite nothingness below, and he settled his eyes on Elias, the closest living creature in his sight, “Help! Please, oh, my god, help me!”

Elias hesitated for just a moment. He could hear John in the background, yelling, “Elias, get over here! Get over here! It’s crumbling away, get over here!” But, on the other hand, he knew that it was morally irresponsible for him not to save someone when he could, even if he was decidedly anti-social. Time wasn’t in abundance, and Elias knew he didn’t have extra seconds for him to make a decision; reluctantly, he started back towards cliff edge, moving into save this mountain climber he did not know.

But as he closed in and saw the details and features on this man’s face, as he moved forward and saw the man who he could distinguish like no other man in this crisis, he suddenly realized that individual was not a “mountain climber he did not know”. His eyes widened in surprise and shock as he settled his eyes on the face that was appearing above the rock face, begging Elias for help. Everything else was insignificant; only one name made it to Elias’ head.

Paul O’Brien.

*****

They met in middle school.

His name was Paul O’Brien, and, on the first day of their acquaintance, he had quickly made enemies with Elias. Elias was a smart, intelligent honors student, somewhat unpopular, but definitely not a nerd. Nimbly athletic, he could’ve passed any physical examination, but Paul didn’t like Elias’ attitude or his appearance, thought he was a geek, and decided to pick on him. Paul, who was an athletic jock himself, had a natural dislike for geeks, which was the result of obvious stereotypes, peer pressure, and invalid social upbringing. He called over several of his friends during lunch and moved over to Elias, who Paul had disliked when he attracted Paul’s attention by standing alone against a wall during PE class, and Paul thought Elias was full of arrogance and shit. Paul wasn’t sure why he disliked Elias; he just did. Besides, he needed someone to pick on, and Elias didn’t seem to be popular enough to command enough respect to retaliate against Paul.

“Hey, faggot,” Paul greeted Elias derisively as he stopped before Elias, who was sitting on a bench, alone, at lunch, and eating a sandwich. Elias, however, largely ignored Paul, which fed on Paul’s fire of anger.

“Hey, ******!” Paul shouted as he placed one foot on the bench Elias was sitting on, snatched the sandwich out of Elias’ hands, threw it on the ground, then stepped on it, “I’m talking to you, faggot!” He looked down at the sandwich he had stepped on. “What is this shit, anyways?” he added with disgust.

“I suggest you apologize,” Elias said calmly, but anger was laced in his voice, his tone dangerous. His fists were clenched as he tightened every muscle in his body to connect a punch with Paul. Elias wasn’t as foolish as to start a fight now and then; Elias preferred to settle things domestically, and he could tell Paul was another one of those jocks who toned his body every now and then in the gyms. But that didn’t mean he was a guy who could tolerate anything, and the blood was pounding in his ears, his anger threatening to explode his head.

Paul slapped him, hard. Elias’ head snapped one way as it made contact, and Paul’s cronies laughed as they saw this. Paul grinned for just a moment, thinking this will teach this jackass where he belongs. But the grin only lasted for a moment, Elias’ head snapped back almost immediately as he jetted himself off the bench with lightning fast speed and connected a punch with Paul’s jaw. Paul stumbled backwards, and Elias followed up with another punch that proved to be less accurate than the first; Elias’ fury had gotten the better of him, and he was fighting with blind rage, not calculatingly, and his second punch had ricocheted off Paul’s ear, hardly doing any damage at all. Before Elias could launch a third punch, however, Paul’s friends had grabbed Elias by the arms, pushed him back, restrained him as they forced him into a double-armlock. Elias struggled as he gave an inarticulate scream, shoving left and right against the arms that held him back, and it certainly attracted attention as a circular wall of eyes formed around them, watching, and only watching, none helping.

Paul swore as he wiped his hand across his mouth; it was bleeding. He looked back up at Elias, who was returning Paul’s glare with a look of extreme hatred. With Elias restrained by his friends, however, Elias was completely vulnerable. Paul stepped forward as thrust a fist into Elias’ stomach; Elias bit back a cry of pain, but Paul followed up with a punch to the face, which sent Elias’ head reeling back, and a soft, wet noise escaped his throat. Paul aimed for the stomach again, and blood came out of Elias’ mouth. As a deathblow, Paul slammed his knee into Elias’ groin, and Elias could not scream at all as he fell limp to his knees, and collapsed to the ground as Paul’s friends let go of him, holding onto his soft tissue, rolling on the floor, writhing in pain. The wall of people just looked on, none coming to help, and Elias vaguely heard the sound of the yard teacher moving in. Paul decided it was time to disappear, but said to Elias, who heard it clearly, in a menacing tone, “Know your role, faggot.”

Elias looked up at Paul despite the pain with a loathsome glare that could’ve frozen the sun and melted a glacier. But Paul didn’t mind. Because, like all his enemies, like all those who are inferior to him, they had to look up at him.

*****

Elias stopped in his tracks just as he recognized the face before him. He froze for that moment, the moment where the cliff was still crumbling away, where the ground below him was cracking and threatening to give away, where he was standing in the immediate way of peril.

“Help me!” Paul screamed as the ledge he was grabbing on with his right hand crumbled in his grip, sending rocks and dust tumbling towards the ground far, far below, “Help!” He reached out with his right hand again, grabbed another ledge just as his handhold on his left fell away as well. Paul looked pleadingly at Elias, this man who stood only five feet away from him, this man who had the potential to save his life.

But Elias was frozen there, like a man who had been struck silly in the head; and indeed, Elias was struck silly, struck by the memories that he’d rather forget, struck in full force as they all came tumbling back into place. Gone was the voice of Paul, begging him in high-pitched screams to save him. Gone was the voice of the John, the instructor, who shouted for him to move away from the cliff. Because the only things that existed in Elias’ universe at the particular moment was him, Paul, and their memories. Sound did not matter. Situation did not matter.

Memories told all.

*****

The war between Elias and Paul continued for years. Paul simply continued to pick on Elias, sometimes with his friends, sometimes by himself. Paul, athletic and muscular, was much stronger than Elias and could do very well in a fight against Elias. The fights, in fact, had raised him high in the middle school hierarchy, where he became another one of those popular jocks, respected, revered, and worshipped with no reason at all except for peer pressure and stereotypes. On the other hand, Elias had been a perfect victim. His losing role against Paul had made him less and less popular. He had few friends, none of them who would stick up for him against Paul, and people often snarled derisive insults into his face. Elias was too proud to tell his teachers or the staff about any of his troubles.

For Elias, the single child of a single mother, the only small source of comfort came from home, where his mother, an office worker who made barely enough for herself and her son despite working for long hours that prevented her from spending time with Elias, was astute enough to find out something was wrong when she found blood on Elias’ clothes despite the fact he always tried to wash it away before his mother found out. He didn’t want his mother becoming entangled in what he felt were his problems, but there was no way he could’ve hide bruised eyes and torn lips. His mother was much too tired from work to help Elias too much anyways, and she was a shy, timid woman, traits that prevented her from a promotion and restricted her wages, traits that could not help Elias, not that Elias wanted help from her. Strangely enough, Martha Kilhawk was Buddhist, and he would say to Elias whenever she came home and found Elias with another injury, “The fates are fair, my son. The world works in a circle, it will come around. The fates are fair.”

Yes, Elias thought to himself from time to time, the fates are fair. But even he knew he was fooling himself. The fates were not fair. He was just another unpopular “nerd” who was yet another victim of a “jock”. The fates were not fair. Elias was always picked on, bullied, beaten up.

The fates are fair, Elias continued to try deceiving himself everyday. It didn’t work. Because Elias was always plagued by the unfairness of fate, and suffered at school Mondays through Fridays, and on weekends too, if he was unlucky enough to run into Paul and his cronies while downtown.

Paul always found ways to pressure Elias as well. It didn’t have to be fists. He knew, as well as any other boy knew, that boys ran on pride. It was the reason they didn’t back off from fights, why they taunt each other. It was a sort of art, deterrence, where they are eager to fight to show their worth, but also glad when people pull them apart to prevent them from causing some real damage. Both one’s well-being and one’s pride are at stake, and, ironically, boys do rather well at this balancing act between near-polar opposites. It was the nature of boys, this struggle between the two aspects. Pride and well-being. Paul had mastered this, and Paul always tried to find ways to break Elias’ pride.

A run-in in the hallway caused a fuss in which Paul cut away locks of Elias’ blond hair, giving him near-bald patches on his head, forcing him to wear a cap on his head to hide the horrific display, in which people always tried to knock off the hat to take a look and have a good laugh. Paint and eggs always managed to find themselves in Elias’ lockers, and he was the one who spent the most money trying to replace his books and belongings. He was the one who was always “pantzed”, having his pants suddenly pulled down from behind, embarrassing in front of the crowds who always happened to watch. With this, Elias found his pride being challenged, and grew to hate the wall of eyes that surrounded him, always watching, causing his pride to deteriorate, but doing nothing to help him.

The fates are fair, Elias would try to tell himself every time this happened, with less and less conviction in his words, the fates are fair.

*****

As Elias stood there, simply looking down at Paul as the seconds ticked off, as the pieces of the cliff cracked and tumbled away, Paul suddenly realized that something was wrong, that an extraordinary change had taken place on the face of the man before him. Earlier, it had been full of energy and determination; it was still full of energy and determination now, but it was of a different kind, and although Paul could not place exactly what this determination was, he was suddenly frightened by it as Paul realized that this mountain climber in front of him just might not even try to save his life.

“Help me!” Paul pleaded in agony, trying to coax this young man forward to pull him up, “Oh, please, help me, don’t let me die like this! Help!”

But Elias had something different in mind. Gone was the surprise, the shock, the determination to save the strange that was never quite a stranger. Now, Elias only had contempt for the person he was about to save, who was hanging onto his dear life as death tore at Paul from below, beckoning Paul to join it in the infinite nothingness.

Help!” Paul resumed his screaming, clawing at the cliff that was slowly disappearing before his eyes.

Elias just stood there as the final part of his memories clicked into place, forming the puzzle as a whole, providing him the answer to his decision already. Elias wasn’t sure if his face twisted into a glare or a smile as he remembered it, but he suddenly recalled this piece of memory, and realized, as he had never realized before, that this memory was, indeed, a bittersweet moment.

*****

Near the end of eighth grade, the hate between Elias and Paul had long been an ordinary, customary thing. It was one that no one noticed consciously anymore, but, rather, unconsciously took it as part of their everyday life, just as Elias did not find it surprising that he, with a bloody nose, found himself soaked with urine on the bathroom floor as he looked up once again at Paul, looking down at him with a cruel, satisfied glance. One of his friends was counting the money he had taken from Elias’ pocket after a fight which had been a four-on-one; Elias never really stood a chance.

“You know,” Paul drawled, in almost a satisfied tone, “I’ve got to admit, ****** honors students just aren’t as smart as I thought they were. Or maybe you’re just an exception. But tell you one thing, all these three years? I thought you’d learn something.”

Elias tried getting back up on his feet, trying to fight Paul, retaliate in anyway possible; staying down was for the weak, he had to fight back. But Paul kicked him in the gut before Elias could get up, and Elias groaned as he tried to gasp in a world suddenly gone airless. He clutched his stomach, blooding oozing out of his mouth and nostrils, rolling on the floor in pain. He could hear laughter, derisively laughter aimed at his pain, his agony. Elias hated it all. The fates are fair, Elias tried comforting himself once more, but writhing in agony on the bathroom floor hardly helped with the effect.

“******,” Paul muttered as Elias writher facedown on the bathroom floor, “You faggot should’ve learned not to mess with me. After three years, I thought you could’ve learned that much. But now you’ve learned the hard way, as everyone else had learned, that ******-ups like you simply have to look up at me. You can try for all you want. Try it now, ten years from now, whatever. You try going up against me, you will ****** yourself on the ground, just as you are doing right now, and every time, you’ll try to hate me, but you’re just making yourself look pitiful, because, no matter what, you’ll always look up at me. I guess you won’t be forgetting that anytime soon.” With that, Paul and his friends walked up of the bathroom, laughing, fondling Elias’ money, leaving Elias and Paul’s words in the bathroom.

Elias never quite did forget Paul’s words as he tried to push himself up, his form soaked in a smelly, yellow liquid that stained his clothes and face and hands. But he took it as a different meaning, a foothold in which he could spring himself. He did not take Paul’s words as anything near submission or surrender or passiveness.

He took it as a hate in which to propel himself, in which he told himself one thing: The fates are not fair. The fates did nothing to give him retaliation, to give him power. He had to create and make his own choices. His hate branched off to everything around him, school, people, society, even his mother’s “superstitions” in Buddhism. Elias, as he had already decided before at a younger age, to be completely independent. The hate he held for Paul was his foothold. His basic motivation for doing things. His basic reasoning for making decisions. His foothold to the decisions he made was his hate, the unconscious hate that boiled in him, the hate that Paul had planted in Elias, the hate that was now being directed straight back at him.

And now, the foothold had brought him here.

The present.

Now.

*****

Paul continued to cry out, screaming for help as gravity tore at him, and the boulders around him crumbled away, leaving him hanging for his dear life on a edge that led to absolutely nowhere but oblivion. He looked pleadingly at Elias, hoping that this stranger, this young man who he did not know spent three years of hell with him, would pull him up out of certain death. Paul would’ve known that asking this young man for help was useless had Paul known it was Elias he was asking for help from, but Paul had no way of recognizing Elias. It was not that Elias had grown so much that he was a completely different face from that of the middle school year books. It was not that Paul had a horrible memory and could not remember him.

The problem lay with the fact that this time, unlike every other time in middle school, it was Paul’s turn to look up at Elias. Elias, for the first time ever, was looking down at Paul.

“Help me!” Paul screamed as he fumbled at the cliff which was crumbling right in front of him. He could no longer hang on, and the rocks he was holding onto were also sliding away, cracking away from existence, into the abyss where the nothingness awaited. Paul stared at Elias, watching him look back with a look of utter contempt in his eyes, looking down at him. And why not? Because, for once, instead of always trying to fool himself, Elias knew that this time, he was superior. He was the one looking down at Paul.

Elias was vaguely aware of the sickening thought that had sprung into his mind, that this must be how Paul felt every time they met.

He rather thought that he was bathed in bliss and hate and joy. The combination sickened him, and yet it also appealed to him; they were emotions that made him feel better as they wrapped their arms around him in a comfortable embrace. The fates are fair, Elias thought to himself as he turned around and began walking away, tuned to Paul’s every scream for help, savoring the look of horror on Paul's face as Paul realized this young mountain climber was not going to save him, was going to leave him to the mercy of gravity and death. The cliff began to crumble behind him, the rocks tumbling away to the abyss below, engulfing existence, Paul’s existence.

Elias was so tuned to Paul’s screams, taking delight in every second of it, that he barely noticed he was smiling. Laughing. Was that his laugh echoing in his mind, being drowned out by his attention to Paul’s fading screams as he plummeted down to nothingness, with only the rocks and terror to accompany him? He didn’t know. But he felt good, because, to him, and perhaps only to him, one thing was very clear.

The fates are fair.

And this time, he believed it.
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