Maurine quietly ascended the narrow stairs of the old farm house, eyes skimming over the sporadic decorating of the walls. She slows down as she nears the end of a hallway, where the latest pictures of graduating boys are located. She studies the picture in despaired silence, eyes flashing over the many boys' faces before she lands on her personal project; a boy whose hair is clearly red even in the black and white photograph. She studies his face with the familiarity and fondness of a parent; admiring his pale skin so stark against his flaming hair, blue eyes wide and chilly, and a tall and lean frame that towered above the other boy in the photo. In this photo, he and the other subjects wear similar expressions; those of anger, hurt, regret, and terror. They stand stiffly next to one another, not touching or even leaning towards the other boys. Their faces are hollow and there is a haunted look about their sunken in eyes.
But then again, that's how all the boys are when they come to McKee's House for Misguided and Mistreated Boys.
Her eyes then sink to the photo below it and she wonders, as she always does, if these could possibly be the same haunted children that were accepted into their home at the beginning of last year. The boys in this photo are smiling broadly, their faces full and colored with casual arms slung around one another's shoulders. All except one. One boy remains the same as before. Indeed, he is even in the same spot in the picture as before; in the back row on the far left corner, glaring at the camera man through the ragged ends of his hair that he refused to let anyone touch.
"Jack" the name exits her lips in a nearly silent utterance, and she raises a hand to her forehead, massaging out the migraine that leaps up at the very thought of him.
Jack was Maurine's project, that's what she always told people. He was special, and she knew Jack would be fixed into something great just as soon as… as soon as… she didn't know. She had tried every method that had been taught to her in her Psychology teachings, and he still wasn't even close to being healed. He was still so… tormented. She would still wake up from her room downstairs hearing him screaming. It had gotten so bad that he had to be separated from the rest of the boys into a room at the end of the hallway, where his shouts were more dimly heard. Except for in Maurine's case. She always heard his screams.
They were the only time he showed emotion, when he would wake himself up with his own horrified screaming and lay curled in a ball sobbing until she rushed up to comfort him. She was so used to her pattern of getting up to see him that she would lay awake on the few nights he didn't wake up shouting, and would therefore effectively ruin her night's sleep. But the screaming never completely stopped. He never moved forward, he just drew more into himself than before.
While all the other boys that were taken in had bonded with the others and slowly opened up, spilling out their pain and regret in exchange for kind new memories, Jack remained locked in his past. He sat alone, disgust painted so clearly on his face that no one dared approach him. He didn't play, he didn't even eat much, and he only bathed and did any activity when forced. He didn't talk to anyone, anyone but her. Maybe it was because she comforted him every night, maybe it was because she was the youngest staff member, maybe it was because he truly was lonely. She could never be sure.
But regardless of her counseling with Jack, he didn't improve during his year-long stay at the House. While all the other boys graduated and were returned to outside life, Jack stayed behind. And now it was halfway through his second year here, and he remained the same. His parents and the other counselors were concerned, and they had planned on sending him to a more permanent facility if he didn't show considerable improvement soon.
And that's why she was here. Here to desperately try and convince Jack to open up to the other boys, to try and heal. She poked her head into Jack's room, calling out his name softly before she realized he wasn't there. Marine crossed the room quickly, peering out the window across the grounds to try and locate Jack. She soon found him; talking and playing with the newest group of boys down by a large and shady oak tree. "Maybe he won't need my help after all" she thought, satisfied with his first interaction with other children. Maurine started to walk away from the window, and that's when the shouts reached her ears.
"What are you doing? Do you think that's funny? Do you know how completely horrible war is? Death? No! You don't know anything! I won't play with you anymore, get away from me!" Jack screamed, his face purple and his eyes wide with outrage. The younger boys scrambled away from him in the direction of the big white house, whimpering all the way.
Jack crumpled to the ground, oblivious to the bright and sunny world around him. Birds chirped, horses snuffed and shuffled their hooves in the nearby barn, and leaves rustled in the trees above him; but all Jack could hear was the haunting sound of the island boy's ululations, Simon's screams of pain and Piggie's indignant shouts. That's where Maurine found him, curled up at the base of the oak tree with his head between his knees and pale hands clutching at his neck.
She knelt beside him, letting out a puff of air to reveal her presence without frightening him, as sudden noises often did. He started only slightly before quickly turning away, but not before she caught red eyes and a running nose. Her brow furrowed in concern, and she reached out a hesitant hand to touch his shoulder. He immediately tensed up under the contact but did not pull away, which she took as a good sign.
She took her time in her positioning next to him, crossing her legs in Indian-style and taking a deep breath before reaching out to him again.
"Jack?" She spoke softly, reaching out to lift his chin off his knees. His eyes were wide and frightened as he turned toward her, and she tried to assume her face into a comforting expression to appease him. She must have succeeded, because his rigid posture relaxed and he abruptly fell backward, laying flat on his back among the fallen leaves. She held her breath as he let out a deep sigh, while running his hands through his hair.
"I suppose you are here to reprimand me for yelling at the boys." Jack said, without fear of her scolding or regret for his treatment of the boys.
"No… not to reprimand. To understand. How did they upset you?" She replied, desperately trying to cover up the urgent interest in her voice. She didn't want him to think he was being treated like a science experiment, she knew what that was like. So she waited in silence as he gathered his thoughts.
"They wanted to play cowboys and Indians. And… it was fine at first but then they started doing the ululation, and one of them hit another with the stick" He whispered, pointing to a fallen branch in the grass as his voice slowly rose "It reminded me of Ralph! He didn't even do anything! But we… I… I tried to kill him!" His voice rose to a shriek on the last sentence, and he leapt up on to his feet. Pacing in front of her, he continued.
"And… Simon! But what was he doing, coming up in the dark anyways? We didn't know! I didn't know! It's not my fault! And Piggy! It's not my fault! Not my fault, not my fault, not my fault!" He shouted desperately, and his eyes sought hers in his confusion. She was shocked, stilled by the force of his tangled confession. She watched as the light in his eyes steadied, and dimmed. He settled back to the ground, curling his knees into his chest as he rocked steadily back and forth.
"No. That's a lie. I knew. I knew it was Simon. Not at first, but I knew, after he started talking. I didn't care. I was scared… so scared… but that's no excuse. I killed him. We all did. Ralph. Ralph didn't like me, Ralph was scared of me." He paused, and Maurine stayed silent, worried that a single word from her would break the spell of admission on Jack. He continued on without her encouragement though, and she listened closely to his words while dusk faded in around them.
"Ralph was good. I was bad. I did horrible things… unforgivable things… You would hate me Maurine, if you knew. But maybe you do know. Maybe they told you. The ones back at the house." He spoke of the other counselors with a subtle contempt and hatred in his voice, and he didn't stop there.
"They keep trying to break me, trying to get me to tell them what happened. But I won't do it, it's private. Why should they get to know? Why should anyone know? They weren't there! They wouldn't understand! I'm sure even you don't understand…" He looked at her gravely, before his face twisted into an expression of malice.
"You probably don't even care do you? No one cares about ugly, evil, scary Jack! Not even my own parents! They pick me up… from the ship… and leave me here! They didn't even take me home first! They don't care, they're just scared! Of me! My own parents, scared! Of me!" He screeched face screwed up and fists clenched at his sides, up on his feet again. Desperate to reassure him, Maurine spoke up.
"I understand! I want to help!" she cried, looking at the young boy in front of her desperately. This poor boy. He was so damaged. 'No one should have to go through the things he's been through, especially not as a child', she thought to herself as she bowed her head in sorrow on his behalf. He scoffed above her, and she looked up to hear what he said next.
"No you don't! You can't help me! I don't want to be helped, I can't be helped! I can't take it back; I don't deserve to be helped!" He shouted and her eyes widened in surprise.
"Don't!" She shouted, angry tears forming in her eyes as she continued, "You… you have to try! Because if you keep acting like this, you won't ever get better! And the pain, the regret, the sorrow… It's never going to go away if you don't make an effort! I know you want to leave it behind, so please, please try. I can't help you if you don't want to help yourself!" she cried passionately, frustrated tears trickling down her face.
He blinked those china-blue eyes of his, staring at her emotionlessly, and her breath caught in her throat. What was she doing? He had just told her that the reason he talked to her and no one else is because he felt like everyone else was trying to pressure him into 'getting better', as he said. She could almost smack herself for being so tactless. In the middle of her self-punishing, she heard a peculiar noise. The sound of great, deep breaths reached her ears, and she looked up to find the source of the sound.
In front of her was Jack, crying nearly silent tears. His crying was not as emotional as hers been, but the torrent of his tears was much more intense. She sat there, momentarily stunned, before her body leapt ahead of her thoughts and she wrapped her arms around his thin, trembling frame. To her surprise, he did not push her away, but leaned into her frame as he shook violently.
And from the big white house above them, the people of the house watched the heartening scene below. Jack Merridew had finally repented, and now he was free.