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Charlie knew he was different, but he didn't know how his differences would impact the world around him. Join in his journey to discover and learn about a world set up to isolate those like him. I've known that I am different than most for a long time. It's hard to relate to people who don't believe you when you tell them you've got scars all of your body that they can't see. I can't blame them though. If I couldn't see them, I probably wouldn't believe me either. But the scars are there. I feel them, I see them. I experience the pain each time a fresh cut opens. I prefer to keep to myself because of this and only have one friend who still remembers why people look at me sideways and murmur rumors under their breath. But they don't know the real reason I wear long sleeves and long pants even in the summer. They don't know that I am reminded of what I am every day when I look at my own body: a freak.

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Chapter 1

“Throughout history, scapegoats have been used to unite people under the same agenda as a means of possessing and controlling power. In a very specific way, a person--or group of people--looking to lead will select an individual that they paint in a dark light and use to unite a populace over a common idea. In ancient times, a literal animal would be selected and sacrificed to bring peace and good fortune to the world,” Mr. Hart dragged on and on as I stared blankly out the window wishing for the end of the day. I was tired of the lecture and more tired of school. I shifted in my seat to get a better look at the clock on the wall and was happy to see that there was only three more minutes before the bell rang and signaled the end of another school day. Only four more weeks of this hell hole and then I can graduate. The thought ran through my mind like a song that I had heard play over and over again on the radio--tired and repetitive.

I turned my attention back to my teacher and saw that he had caught me checking the time. He cocked his eyebrow up and I smiled back innocently. When he turned around, I mouthed a silent “fuck you” to his back.

“You’ll note that scapegoats were often branded in some way--not necessarily literally,” he drolled on. “By this I mean that they were branded as ‘sinner’ or as ‘other’ in some way. Think of the Scarlet Letter and wearing your brand as a bright red ‘A’ across your chest, indicating your adulteress ways.”

I wrote the word “brand” in my notebook across one full page and ran my pen through the letters repeatedly and aggressively. The ink bled through to the other side and stained the tips of my fingers. When I heard the bell ring, my head shot up and I caught Jessie Milner staring at me. “Freak,” she muttered before packing her bag and heading out the door. I flipped her off and slammed my notebook shut. She has no idea what she is talking about, I reminded myself. She has no idea.

I got up to leave the classroom, but was stopped by my teacher, “Charlie, can you come talk to me please?”

“It’s the end of the day.”

“It’ll be quick. I promise.”

I rolled my eyes and walked over, “what’s up?”

“I’m just curious what your plans are after you graduate.”

“You’re really going to ask me about my future right now?”

“I’m your teacher, Charlie. It’s my job.”

“I feel like we could have maybe had this conversation a while ago. Seems like you’re slacking, teach.”

“I’ll choose to ignore that,” he said, crossing his arms. “So, what’s the plan?”

“I dunno. Get a job? Go to college? I guess we will see.”

“You’re four weeks away. I would have thought you had planned out something a little more solid than that.”

“Nope. Can I go? I’ve got stuff to do today,” I said, starting to turn around. As I did, I felt the hot pain of skin being torn spread across my back. It felt like someone had drawn a long slit with their fingernail from my right shoulder to the middle of my back. I breathed slowly and methodically in an effort to conceal my agony as I continued to feel my skin split and the sensation of warm liquid trickle down my taut muscles.

“I’d still like to talk to you, Charlie. Please, sit down,” I turned back and saw Mr. Hart gesturing toward a chair. HIs eyes bore into mine and I felt compelled to sit with him. “Now, tell me about what you would like to do with your future.”

“Mr. Hart, I really don’t have any plans at this point.” Except getting the fuck out of here.

“Really? None? You don’t have any aspirations or goals?” Mr. Hart’s eyebrows rose over his glasses as he waited for an answer.

“No. I haven’t thought about it.”

“Well, that’s disappointing. I had hoped you would have a better idea of what you want to do,” he sighed and looked at the clock. The pain in my back had increased and it felt like daggers were being forced into my skin. Whatever it is must be bad, I thought while actively trying not to grimace. Mr. Hart focused his gaze back on me. He seemed more serious and when he spoke, his voice was hard and direct, “Charlie, I am worried you aren’t going to pass my class.”

“What do you mean? I need to graduate.”

“I know you do and I was hoping to have a better idea of your next steps so that we could really talk about your goals,” he laughed lightheartedly and continued, “I was going to try and be developmental.”

“Well, sorry I couldn’t help you out,” I stood up again and walked to the door. “Bye, Mr. Hart. Maybe you can help me next time.” My back screamed at me to get out of there as I reached for the handle and opened the door.

“See you tomorrow,” Mr. Hart called out to me, “Oh, and Charlie?”

I turned to look at him and his eyes drilled into mine again.

“I know your secret.”

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