Dr. Ramby sighed, “CIPA? I’ve never worked with someone like that.”
“I know,” Dr. Gueverah replied, “You’re more experienced with people like him. They came to me, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to help him as much. Please, just read his medical file and think about it. I wrote down everything I know about him so far.” She held out a folder.
He hesitated, “CIPA? There are only 600 people in the whole world with this disease.”
“I’m aware. I believe in you, Eryx. You’ve worked many miracles in your time as a doctor. Just look at the file,” She didn’t wait for him to grab it this time. She simply placed it in his hands.
Height: 4’ 7”
Weight: 70 lbs
Diagnosis: Congenital Insensitivity to Pain with Anhidrosis. (Lack of pain and inability to sweat.)
Parents: Alia Riddle and Blaize Riddle(second cousins)
Diagnosis information: Congenital Insensitivity to Pain with Anhidrosis. (CIPA) This rare genetic mutation causes the lack of pain and the inability to sweat. It is highly dangerous and is there from birth. Young children need to be closely watched to prevent harm.
Hospital stays and injuries: (More mild )third-degree burns on feet, ten stitches in his right foot, three stitches in his lip, twenty-five stitches on his back, numerous minor burns on hands, arms, face, and back. Self-manipulation to cheeks, fingers, tongue, and lips. Broken arm, concussions, deep bruises.
KEEP ALL CIPA PATIENTS AWAY FROM HEAT. BURNS ARE HIGHLY DANGEROUS.
It is important to keep shoes, long sleeves/pants, and gloves on at all times. This will help prevent injuries.
“Burns. Yes, I’ve had a history with major burn patients. Maybe that’s why Dr. Gueverah gave me this job. She knew that I used to work with serious burns. I’ll have to go see young Mr. Riddle to understand the full situation.”
“I’ll get it!” a voice called after Dr. Ramby knocked on the Riddle’s door.
A little boy swung the door open, his shaggy dark hair was flopping in his eyes. The boy grinned up at him, showing his crooked teeth. He had a scar running across his lip, and it was very distorted, but he didn’t seem to care much.
“Hello, there, is your mother home?” the doctor asked.
“Mom! There’s some guy at the door for you.” He turned back to the doctor, “She’s coming, don’t worry.”
“Come in doctor, I’ll be there in a minute.” His mother shouted from the other room.
“Mom’s always doing stuff. Most of the time she’s yelling at me to put my shoes on. To always wear my gloves. I hate gloves, they make it hard to play with my toys.” He tugged at the fingers. “Wait– Mom called you ‘doctor’ does that mean that you’re my new doctor? Because my last one didn’t help. She kinda freaked out when she found out that I’m crazy and can’t feel it when I get hurt. You’re a good doctor though, right? You’re going to help me, right? Mom always told me I was special. But she never lets me leave home.”
The boy flopped on the floor next to the doctor. “Will I ever be able to feel pain, mister? I hate it when I can’t take my shoes off. I know why, though. I jumped on a shovel one time without my shoes. I guess the shovel was really sharp or something because mom ended up taking me to the hospital and I had to get a billion stitches. And I guess our porch gets really hot in the summer. I went outside barefoot and stood on the porch listening to the birds. And then my neighbor started talking to me. He’s super nice. Did you know that my neighbor is ten too? His name is Gavin and he’s the best! Too bad I can’t go to school with him. Mom won’t let me go to school because she’s afraid that I’m going to hurt myself like the porch did. It gave me these huge blisters all over my feet.” He lifted his feet as if to show the doctor even though he had shoes on. “They were like this big,” He curled his index finger connecting it to his thumb. It was about the size of a nickel.
“Mom wouldn’t let me take my shoes off anymore. Not outside. I can take them off only if I’m sleeping or in the shower.” He jumped off the floor as he heard his mom approach. “Mom! This is my doctor, right? He’s going to help me right? And then I can go to school with Gavin!” He ran up to her, jumping on her back. He shoved his messy hair out of his face. “Right, Mom?”
His mother laughed, “We’ll have to see. I sure hope so.”
No pressure there.
“How about you go watch some TV while I talk to Dr. Ramby?”
“Okay!” He jumped off her back and zoomed out of the room.
Mrs. Riddle sighed. “Looks like you’ve met Austor.”
Dr. Ramby laughed. “Yes, yes I have. He looks like quite the handful.”
“Yes, his energetic adventurous nature doesn’t help with his condition. Please, doctor, if there’s anything you can do to help my son, we’re going to need it.”
“I read his medical file, but that’s all I can say right now. I’ve never dealt with someone with CIPA before. If I could spend some time with him it would help me a great deal.”
Her eyebrows shot up, “T-take him out of the house?”
“Yes,” he nodded, “if that would be all right with you.”
“O-of course. Just make sure his shoes and gloves stay on. Don’t let him outside for too long, and don’t give him any hard candies. He’s all over the place, so make sure he doesn’t touch any of your equipment. I’d prefer it if you didn’t feed him. But if you have to then be super careful with what you give him. I don’t want him biting a chunk out of his tongue again. And-”
“Mrs. Riddle,” Dr. Ramby stopped her, “I understand. You’re an amazing mother and I will do whatever I can to make sure your son doesn’t get hurt.”
“Thank you, Dr. Ramby. Do you want me to go get him?”
“If you’re willing.”
The frazzled mother ran off at the doctor’s request.
She looks exhausted. The least I could do is take her son off her hands for a few hours. She needs some time to herself.
“I get to leave the house?” Austor yelled, “This is the best doctor!” He ran down the hall jumping into Dr. Ramby’s arms. “Take me away! Bye Mom, thanks so much, love you.”
“D-don’t hurt yourself. Doctor, please don’t let him do anything too crazy.”
He gave Austor’s mom a small smile, “I’ll do my best.”
“Woah, your office is awesome. Most doctor offices I go to are so boring. They have a bed and a bunch of needles. A little computer on the side. But yours is way cooler, and this bed is way comfier.” Austor plopped himself on the hospital bed.
Dr. Ramby laughed, “I’m glad you think it’s cool, kiddo. But I brought you here to look at your condition.”
“I can’t feel pain and I can’t sweat. Congesting Insensitivity to Pain with Analysis.”
“Congenital.” The doctor laughed, “and Anhidrosis.”
“Yeah, whatever. I was born with it. I already complained about it earlier. What else do you need to know?”
“I want to look at your scars.”
He scrunched his face, “My scars? Why?”
“So I can see how bad they are. So I can see the most common places you get injured. I’m going to need you to undress.”
This is exactly what Mrs. Riddle asked me not to do. But I must. It’ll be okay for just a few minutes.
“What? You want me to take my clothes off?”
“Austor, I need to see the full extent of your injuries. You can leave your underwear on if that would make you more comfortable.”
“Well, okay, if that’s what you want then I’ll do it.” He started with his shoes. He ripped them off and threw them across the room, his socks and gloves followed shortly after. “I’ve always wanted to do that. Well, here you go,” he said as he slid out of his shirt and pants, “You get to see my scraped-up body Mom always tries to hide.” He said that last part slowly, looking at the floor.
“Would you be okay with explaining some of the more intense scars?”
Austor nodded, “This one is from that shovel I was telling you about.” He lifted his right foot running his finger along the thick white scar. “And these are the blister scars from the porch.” He pointed to a few dots scattered across both of his feet.
“What about this one on your back?” Dr. Ramby pointed to a jagged scar running from the boy’s shoulder blade to the middle of his back.
“That one’s stupid.” He laughed, “I was riding my bike way too fast down a hill and smashed into a car window. Mom…she took away my bike. It was broken anyway. She threw it in the dump and never got me a new one. I guess I understand why.”
“Yes, that would make sense. I’m sorry you had to go through that.”
“Mr. Riddle, how old are you?” The doctor asked.
“Ten,” He replied.
“Right, ten. And do you have any siblings?”
“No. My parents got scared that the rest of their children would have disabilities. So they decided to have just me. That way they can keep a better eye on me and make sure I do nothing fun or good with my life.”
“What would you consider fun? Zooming down hills on your bicycle?” The doctor wondered.
“Well, yeah,” He flashed a grin, “But also going to school. I want to see other people. I love my mom and dad, but I really want to be like a normal person and go to a real school. I mostly just want to see people and make them happy. My mom wants it too. She’s a teacher, you know, and she wants to teach an actual class.”
“Well, why doesn’t your mother apply for a job at the school you would go to and become your teacher? That way she’d still be able to watch you.”
“That’s exactly what I told her,” Austor said, “But she says it’s complicated and would be better if I wait until I’m older to go to school.” The boy sighed. “I guess it makes sense since I’m all covered in scars. It’s hard to know when you’re doing something that’ll injure you when you can’t feel the injury. And Mom says that I’m too crazy. If I could feel the pain I would probably be just as scraped up because I’m always planning crazy things.” He laughed, “It’s so fun though. I usually spend my time watching Gavin do tricks on his trampoline and do sweet moves on his skateboard. He had this mini half pipe in his backyard that he goes on almost every day. If I can’t enjoy that, then I’m glad he does.”
“You’re glad he does?”
“Yeah,” Austor answered, “He seems like an awesome kid. So I’m glad that he gets to have fun. Gets to do something that I’ve always wanted to do.”
“You’re not jealous?”
“I mean, maybe a little? It looks like it would be so fun, but it also makes me have just as much fun seeing him smile like that every time he catches his skateboard after he does an awesome trick. It makes me happy watching him. But the sad thing about it is that I can’t watch him for that long. The sun comes out and I have to leave before I get a fever or get burned.”
“How do you cool down your fevers?”
“Usually take a bath, or take this medicine that Mom has. Mom says that none of them are too bad. And I don’t get them that often since our house is always cold and we don’t travel, like, ever.”
“Do you want to travel?”
“Yeah, I’ve always wanted to go to Egypt and see the Egyptian museum. Did you know that the Egyptian Museum has over 120,000 artifacts in it? It’ll take almost a whole year to look through the entire thing! But Mom won’t let me go there because it’s too hot and there’s no air conditioning. But it would be so cool. Ooh! Or the sphynx. Did you know that it’s sixty-six feet tall? And it’s 234 feet long? It’s insane.”
The doctor chuckled, “You’re quite the fan now, aren’t you?”
“Yeah,” He blushed, “I just think it’s so awesome. But I’ll never be able to go there. Not if I’m still like this.” He gestured to all of him. “But you’re going to help me, right doctor?”
“I don’t know if I’ll be able to help you feel pain. But I might be able to help you with your body temperature issue.”
Austor looked up at him, “Really?”
“I’ll look into it, kiddo, don’t worry.” He rubbed Austor’s head.
“Thank you, Dr. Ramby!” Austor threw his hands around the doctor, “I’ll see you sphynx, I’ll see you someday.”
Dr. Ramby spent the next eight years studying Austor. Watching his actions and seeing what would be best for him. He was an energetic child. That was discovered quickly. He’d gotten himself into various fights, but he didn’t care, he said. “I can’t feel the pain. It doesn’t matter what happens to me as long as they’re safe.” He had a big heart and protected those he didn’t even know.
“Doctor,” he said one day in one of his appointments. He was about 14. “Is there any way you can actually help me?”
It had been years of studying and experimenting, but the result was always the same response.
“Austor, I’m trying. I really am. The pills, the clothing, Even if I can’t fix your issue, I’ll do my best to get you to Africa. The only thing you need to do is stay out of trouble. These fights and reckless behavior are ruining your joints. Your legs aren’t looking too hot.” He moved the MRI scanner to his knees. “Austor, have you had trouble walking?”
“Sometimes my legs give out. But that’s not important. Not as long as people are safe. If I’m helping someone then that’s all that I care about.”
“What happened? What’d you do to start this?”
“Some jerk was trying to beat up Gavin. I was out on the porch when I heard him scream. I protected him. I can’t feel the pain, so it doesn’t matter if I get hurt.”
“Austor, you need to think about yourself. Look out for yourself. You use your condition for the good, and I admire that. But your legs can’t handle this. Walk around the office for a second. I need to check something.”
Austor stood up and did as he said. Dr. Ramby watched him limp around the room.
It’s interesting to see him limp. He’s not limping because it hurts. It’s simply because his leg isn’t growing properly, It’s growing to limp. There’s probably some infection starting up in there.
The doctor shook his head, “Sit back down. I’m going to tell your mother about this. She needs to know what state your body is in.”
“And what’s that? I feel fine.”
“I’m going to make you stay in a wheelchair for the next few weeks. And your left leg needs to be wrapped in a cast.” He put his leg through the X-ray. “Yeah, looks like it was sprained right there on both the knee and ankle.”
“A wheelchair? Aww, come on, doctor, you know there’s no way I’ll be able to stay in one of those.”
“I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to. I don’t want any serious infections starting up. And your leg needs to take a break. You’re sitting in a wheelchair for six weeks. It’s been decided.”
“Nope, it’s been decided.”
Austor groaned and flopped down on the hospital bed. “Fiiiiine, but only for six weeks.”
The wheelchair wasn’t his favorite thing ever. But it did help his leg. The thing he liked the most was when his mom finally agreed to let him go to school three years later.
“I talked to the school board,” she said, “I told them that you want to go for your senior year. I told them about your disease and they agreed that you could go if someone is your mentor.”
“Mentor?” Austor asked.
“Yes, I want to make sure you don’t hurt yourself.”
“Mom, I’m seventeen. I think I can handle myself. I don’t need a babysitter. I want to make friends my own way.”
“Mentor or I’ll homeschool you for your senior year as well.”
Austor moaned. “Fine. When does school start?”
“Next week, Wednesday. Just be careful, all right?”
Austor smiled, “I’ll do my best. But just know that I’m going to make sure I have fun and keep everyone safe. And how’s Dr. Ramby doing on those new clothes? The ones that are supposed to regulate my body temperature?”
“It’s a work in progress. They should be ready soon enough.”
“Good. Because I’m still set on going to Africa.”
Do you have your Band-Aids? First aid kit, and your traveling crutches?” Mrs. Riddle asked as Austor opened the car door.
“You put on your temperature-regulating clothes, right?”
“Yes, Mom, I did that,” Austor replied. He grabbed his backpack.
“Your water is at room temperature? And you have your gloves.”
“My water’s always at room temperature, and of course I have my gloves.” He raised his hands to prove it.
“You’re not going to stab yourself with pencils or anything while I’m gone, are you?”
“Lunch box and binders?” Austor’s father said.
Mom worries and Dad makes sure I have everyday necessities. Sounds about right. Austor thought.
The two of them insisted on driving Austor to school Wednesday morning, even though he had his license for over two years.
Austor laughed. “I’ll be fine. I promise.” He kissed his mother’s forehead and smiled. “I’ll have a mentor as well. And yes, Dad, I have everything I need. You two checked my bag three times before I left, remember.”
“Oh, was it only three?” Mrs. Riddle asked, “I’m going to have to change that.” She reached for his bag.
“Honey,” Mr. Riddle warned, “He’ll be fine. Are you sure you don’t want us to walk you in, Aus?”
Austor laughed again, “You just said I’ll be fine, now you’re asking if you can walk me in? I’m okay, I can handle walking into a school. I love you guys so much.” He hugged each of his parents and waved them farewell.
Austor took a deep breath. This is all I’ve ever wanted. There’s a whole school full of people who need my help. I better get started then. He smiled and walked into the school.
“But he needs my help!” Austor exclaimed as he was directed across the room. He saw a kid by himself, and he was crying. Clearly, he needed someone to talk to and help cheer him up.
“You don’t need to talk to every single person,” Aralie, his mentor, told him.
Austor looked at her in disbelief. “Yes, I do.”
“Austor, I don’t want you getting hurt.”
They were at lunch. The first two class periods had Austor hooked from the second he stepped a foot in there. The teachers were so nice and taught about the most amazing things ever. And there were so many people he could meet and help. The only annoying part was Aralie. She was so controlling and acted like she knew everything. She acted like she was an expert with CIPA when she hardly understood it at all. She had him write with round-tipped pens instead of pencils, and forced him to talk hardly louder than a whisper because she didn’t want him straining his throat.
She had good intentions, true. But they were all so controlling. Austor came to school to be free from his mother’s excessive protection. His father wasn’t as controlling, but he still made sure he followed his mother’s rules. And he came here to help people. He wouldn’t let Aralie ruin that for him.
“I’m not going to get hurt from talking to an obviously very sad kid.” Austor retorted.
Aralie shook her head. “For all you know, he could be pretending to look sad just to draw someone closer to beat them up!”
“What? No! I’m talking to him.” Austor walked across the cafeteria to the crying boy. He looked up at Austor and his eyes expanded in horror.
“I don’t have anything for you. Please don’t beat me up.” He covered his face with his arms.
“I’m not here to hurt you,” Austor explained, “I’m here to be your friend. My name is Austor Riddle, what’s your name?”
The distressed boy moved his arms away from his face, “What trick are you playing?” He asked.
“What?” Austor was taken aback, that was not the reaction he expected.
“Why do you care about me? Is there some guy who paid you to be nice to me, just to insult me and throw me away?”
Austor gasped. “I would never do something so rude to anyone! I saw that you were sad and wanted to make sure you’re okay, that’s all.”
The boy shot a glance at Aralie. She shrugged, “He’s not going to hurt you.”
He relaxed a little, “I’m Derwin…Derwin Bowie.”
“Well, Derwin, it’s very nice to meet you.” Austor put his hand out and Derwin shook it. “Now, what’s the matter?”
“People are jerks, that’s all.” He mumbled.
“Well, I’m sorry you haven’t been treated with respect. I’m here to change that.” Austor sat next to the boy and began eating his sandwich with his new friend.
Aralie sighed but sat next to them. She couldn’t leave Austor alone, so she had no choice but to join him.
“How was your first day?” Mrs. Riddle asked when Austor climbed in the car.
“Did you know that the teachers make you take stuff home to work on aside from all the assignments you had to do in class?”
His mom chuckled, “Yes, Austor, that’s a regular occurrence. School takes a lot of energy and work.”
“But I met a whole bunch of people. I think this school is starting to like me. There was this kid at lunch who opened up to me. His name is Derwin. And then there was this other kid named Patrick, oh and there was Ray. She was super nice. Roarke was a fun kid to get to know. He was super loud and talkative. And guess who else I saw!” Austor shook his mom’s arm. “Gavin! It made me so happy to see him and get to talk to him.”
He went on telling her about all the different people he met. Not one of them was the same. And in Austor’s head, they all accepted him. He told her about everyone except one.
“What about your mentor?”
Austor sighed. “We better wait until dad’s in the same room as us. I don’t want to have to repeat myself.”
His mother gave him a concerned glance, “Was it really that bad?”
“I only want to tell the two of you at the same time.”
She furrowed her brow but didn’t say anything.
A few hours later Mr. Riddle came home, and Austor began.
“It’s not that I don’t like her, I do, she’s beautiful, it’s just…” He sighed. “She’s so controlling.”
“Well, your mother is controlling too,” His father chuckled, earning an elbow to the ribs from Mrs. Riddle.
“She is, but she’s my mom, Aralie isn’t. She acts like she knows everything about me and what I need. She made me put my burn salve on my fingers even though my gloves were on and my fingers didn’t even turn red.”
His father chuckled. He was never as paranoid as his wife. He tended to make jokes about all of Austor’s injuries.
His mother gasped, “What did you do?”
“I touched the sidewalk that the sun was shining on.” Austor rolled his eyes. “I swear she’s more protective than Mom is.”
Mr. Riddle raised his eyebrows. “I didn’t think that was possible.”
“Oh, let me tell you, it is. But I understand she’s only trying to help me. So it shouldn’t bug me. Clearly, it shows that she cares about me.” Austor sighed again and sank into the couch. “And school is harder than I thought. There are so many amazing people, but there are also people who are so mean. I walked up to a girl after one of my classes. No one was talking to her, so I figured I’d be the first one to do so. She just shot me a glare, slapped my face, and stormed away! I just asked her how she was doing.”
“Sweetie, you can’t become friends with everyone.”
“I don’t know honey, but you told me a nice list of people who did accept you. Why don’t you focus on them and not the rude people.”
“I’m going to do the exact opposite. I need to know why these people are the way they are. And I’m going to start with Aralie.” He jumped off the couch and poked his mom’s chest, “I’m going to make them like me. Just watch.”
“Yes, I am. I told you this yesterday.” Austor said. He was walking down the school hallway. He turned the corner and ran into a table, “Oh, sorry,” He waved to the table.
Aralie gave him an odd look, “Is your hip okay?” She lifted his shirt to check.
“Woah, yeah, it’s fine. It wasn’t that hard.” He pushed her hand away.
“But how could you know? You can’t feel it.” Aralie protested.
“Aralie, it’s fine. Plus, bruises aren’t that big of a deal. If they were then my mom would make sure I’m way more careful than I am.”
“I don’t understand you.”
Austor stopped walking and turned to face her. Her blonde hair was pulled back in a ponytail and her big blue eyes were scrunched up with confusion. Her head was tilted to the side and her hand on her hip. She was pretty, Austor couldn’t deny that. And the way she worried about him was almost more cute than infuriating.
“Austor, you have a genetic mutation where your body can’t detect pain. You have scars all over your beautiful tan skin–” She rubbed the scar that ran across his lip, “–and you’re constantly running into things? Why aren’t you more careful than you are? Don’t you care about your body?”
“I do care about it. But I’m not sure how to be careful. Let’s say that you couldn’t taste anything you ate. Would you still eat food?”
“Well, yeah, you need food to survive.”
“But would you actually care about what you ate? You could eat an entire handful of spinach or a birthday cake that had no sugar in it and you wouldn’t know the difference because you couldn’t taste anything bad in it.”
“Yeah, I guess I could eat whatever gross thing I wanted but would never know it was gross. So I wouldn’t care. But what does this have to do with you?”
“It’s just like that. I’ve never once felt anything bad from getting cut or running into something. I could shove as many gross foods into my mouth and it wouldn’t matter, because I couldn’t taste it. You see what I’m saying?”
Aralie nodded slowly, “I…I think so. Your brain doesn’t tell you that something hurts, so you don’t care if you bleed or get bruised.”
I nodded, “Exactly.”
She smiled, “Well, okay then. That makes a lot more sense.”
“And I do know how to take care of myself. I’m not going to go chop off my fingers just because I can. And I know how to stitch up my wounds and what to do to take care of myself if I get injured.”
“Yes, yes I figured you knew that. Now, where are we going?”
“I saw someone over here this morning.” They were in between first and second period and they only had a few minutes left until class started.
“But we’re going to be late.”
“We might,” Austor replied.
“Do you not care?”
“I love school, and I love learning. Especially history. I’m just waiting for the day we learn about the Egyptians. But if someone needs help, then they’re my first priority.”
“Wait, you’re into the Egyptians?”
“Only waiting for the day I can go to Egypt.”
“Oh, my! Austor! I’ve been saving up money to go there. My parents wouldn’t go with me. They think it’s a waste of time. And all my friends call me a nerd, so they wouldn’t go with me either. But I’ve been dying to see the sphynx. Did you know that it’s–”
“Sixty-six feet tall–” Austor interrupted.
“And 234 feet long.” Aralie finished.
Austor laughed, “I’ve always wanted to go to that museum and look at the thousands of artifacts.”
“It takes people over a year to look at all of those,” Aralie said.
“Yes,” Austor smiled, “I’m well aware of that.”
I’m going to have to take her with me.
“We should so go together! I don’t have enough money for a plane ticket. I don’t even have enough for the museum. But it’ll be–” Aralie stopped. “Wait, isn’t it too hot for you in Egypt?”
“Umm…yeah probably.” He replied, “But that doesn’t matter.”
“Doesn’t matter? Of course it matters. You’d di–”
“Shh,” Austor shushed her. “The kid is over here.” The two of them approached a young lady who looked about fifteen. She had pale skin that contrasted her dark hair. Her bright green eyes were red and swollen. She looked up at Austor and Aralie with tear-stained cheeks.
Been here two days and strangers already know my name. Looks like I’m doing things right. Austor thought.
“That’s me,” He replied, “What’s going on?”
“My friends, they…” The young lady began her story. It was a very dramatic one about how her friends got in a fight with her. About a boy, of course, and how they threw her against the lockers telling her to never talk to them again.
Austor was hooked. He nodded and groaned along with the girl. They ended up hugging in the end.
“Thank you so much, Austor.” She said into his shoulder. “That was really what I needed.”
“You’re very welcome, Clarissa, now, where’s your class?”
Clarissa gestured down the hall opposite from us, “Mrs. Gilamon’s class.”
“Well then, let’s take you there.” He held out his hand to help her off the ground.
She took it with a happy smile and Aralie and Austor lead her to Mrs. Gilamon’s classroom.
“You’re just…So nice.” Aralie shook her head, “I don’t understand how you do that. But I admire that about you. It’s one of my favorite things about you.”
“I choose to look at every benefit of every person.” Austor smiled as he walked to his class. He was horribly late, but he didn’t care. As much as he loved his schooling and learning, he loved bringing joy to people’s faces so much more.
“Clarissa was a wonderful girl,” He continued, “She’s trying her best to be liked. She didn’t try to aggravate her friend. Her friend simply got jealous and acted irrationally. I’ll have to find her friend and see what’s going on with her.”
“She’s probably going to punch you,” Aralie replied.
“I don’t really care,” Austor shrugged. “She’ll just figure out that violence doesn’t affect everyone, and I’ll be able to help her.”
“You’re really going to try to help every single person in this school, aren’t you?”
He smiled, “I’m definitely going to try my best to do so. I’m even going to help you.”
Austor held strong to his promise. He spent every second he could seeking out people. He became a legend. If he didn’t know everyone’s names, they certainly knew his. People from all over would talk to him and ask him for help about anything at all. Every conversation ended with a hug and the person thanking Austor for everything he did.
Most people would get stuck up in their popularity, but Austor was such a pure soul that nothing could change the way he looked at the world, and he’d only been there for two weeks.
But then one day he didn’t come to school. Aralie called him to see what was going on.
“I…I’m fine.” Austor insisted. That was a lie. He was in the hospital. From repeated trauma from his childhood, his bones weren’t doing so well. His mother tried so hard to keep him from injuring himself. To not do crazy things. But he saw no reason to do anything other than to have fun. That morning he broke his leg trying some skateboard moves with Gavin. His mom finally let him go. She wouldn’t in the past because of this exact problem.
“I’ll be back in a few days. I just needed to check up with Dr. Ramby.” He said through his phone. He heard her sigh.
“Austor, you better be okay. You can’t go lying to me, okay?”
“I’ll be fine. I’ve been in this condition before.”
He could hear the concern in her voice and he hated that he had to lie to her.
“Tell me if anything bad happens. I want to make sure I’m there for you.”
Austor smiled, “I’ll let you know, I promise. Thanks for checking up on me. I’ll talk to you later. Thank you, goodbye.” He hung up his phone and looked up at Dr. Ramby.
“So…what’s so bad about this one? It’s just another broken leg. Why are you and Mom both making the same face?”
“Your body doesn’t heal as quickly as normal bodies do. And repeated trauma can result in a condition where the tissue around your joints is getting destroyed.”
“What does that mean?” He asked.
“You might have to stay in a wheelchair–”
“No!” He interrupted, “No, I can’t go to Africa in a wheelchair.”
“Austor, if you work out your legs anymore then you won’t be able to walk. The infection will spread to your other joints and your bones won’t work properly. You have to be in a wheelchair if you want to live any longer.”
“No! I can’t take Aralie to Africa, and it’s so much harder to give people hugs when you can’t bend down.”
“Honey,” His mom began, “I understand it’s hard to accept, I tried to keep you safe.”
“No, I’m not doing that!” He stepped off the hospital bed and stomped out of the room. He didn’t even think a second thought about his broken leg. Sure, it was hard to walk when your bones weren’t together right, but he didn’t care.
I’m not getting in a wheelchair again. It’ll ruin all the plans I have. Stupid body. I try so hard to be happy all the time. You’re making it really hard right now.
He started to walk down the hall but tripped over something and fell on his broken leg. He heard his foot crack. He glared at his broken body.
“Sometimes I really hate you,” He whispered.
“Austor,” He heard his mom call, “your leg, you can’t walk on it. It’ll spread the infection.”
He tried to stand back up. He wanted to show his mom that it didn’t matter. He could still walk.
But he collapsed on the floor and his body shook violently. He couldn’t think straight. He kept saying things he couldn’t remember.
“No,” He said as his mom lifted him, “I just want a normal body.” And then he passed out, letting the darkness take over.
Austor woke up sometime later. He was in Dr. Ramby’s room. His legs were wrapped up in casts. He only broke his leg and foot on the right side, but the left one was wrapped as well.
“What happened?” He asked.
“You had a seizure.” The doctor answered. “I’m not sure why, though. But just know that you’re going to need to stay in this bed for as long as possible. And a wheelchair is essential. No more walking.”
“Austor.” He gave him a stern look.
Austor nodded, “I guess I’ll stick with the wheelchair.” He mumbled.
“Do you want to call Aralie?” Mrs. Riddle asked.
“No,” He shook his head, “I don’t want her worrying about me.”
“You spend all your time worrying about others, and yet you hate it when others have to help you.” She sighed.
Austor and Aralie had gotten rather close. They were constantly talking about Africa and planning out how to get there. His mom was constantly teasing him telling him how cute of a couple they were. And the thing was, he didn’t care about the teasing. He couldn’t help but agree.
“How bad is the infection?” Austor asked.
“It’s only in your legs right now. You have to stay extra careful.”
“Right, but how bad is it?”
The doctor and Mrs. Riddle shared a look.
“Tell me,” He insisted.
“Well, it’s not good. If you walk on your legs anymore the infection could spread quickly into your chest and there’s a chance it could start destroying important body tissues.
“And if I don’t walk?”
“Then the same thing will happen…but not as quickly.”
Austor closed his eyes, letting out a deep breath.
I’m going to die.
“I’ll stay in the wheelchair then, there’s more I have to do.”
Austor’s mom gave him a tear-filled hug, “You’re a good kid, remember that.”
I’ll have to find a way to get to Africa in a wheelchair.
“Araile,” Austor said a few weeks later. He went to her house. He needed to talk to her. He had to stay home for two weeks, and it was torture. He missed Aralie so much and he hated not being able to meet every person in that school. But going to school in a wheelchair would also be torture.
Aralie gasped, “You kept ignoring my calls. Austor, I’ve been worried sick! I even went in the car and started driving to your house when I realized I don’t know what your address is. Austor, what’s going on?” Austor noticed the concern in her eyes as she stared at his wheelchair.
“I…” He began. “I got the tickets to go to Africa. I paid for the whole trip.” He handed her two tickets. One was for the plane, the other for the museum
She threw the tickets on the ground and wrapped her arms around him.
“What’s happened to you?” She whispered.
“That doesn’t matter. I promised I’d take you to Africa. We’re going this weekend.”
“But…you’re in a wheelchair. Are your parents going to let you?”
They don’t know why I made them take me here. But it doesn’t matter because I’m going to die anyway. I can do whatever I want to. I’ve helped almost everyone at this school just like I wanted to. I wish it was every person, but I did my best. I helped everyone but the one I’ve grown to care about the most.
“It’ll be fine. I have my heat clothes on. I just have to stay in this wheelchair and everything will be fine.”
She hugged him tighter, “Thank you so much. You’re the best!”
“It’s an all-day pass. We can go to whatever you want to see in that museum. I promised I’d take you there, no matter what happened.”
“Are you sure you can handle it?”
“Yeah, I’ll be fine. My legs are broken, that’s all.”
“Mom, I need you to drive me to Aralie’s.” He had his suitcase rested on his lap.
“Where are you going?”
Just like he expected his mom didn’t reject. She was probably thinking the same thing.
I’m going to die soon anyway, might as well do it while I’m having a fun time. Doing something I’ve dreamed of doing my whole life.
Mrs. Riddle called for her husband and pushed Austor out the door to load him into the car. His parents cried the whole way to Aralie’s house. Austor didn’t blame them, he was doing the same thing.
Aralie hopped in the car and Austor’s mom dropped them off at the airport.
“See you later, Aus,” Mr. Riddle smiled.
“Goodbye, mom. I love you so much. You’ve been the greatest mom I could’ve ever asked for. Dad, you’re so funny, I love you so much.” He gave them both big hugs then he drew away and let Aralie push him onto the plane.
“So…” Aralie began, “How come they let you come to Egypt? I thought it was too dangerous for you.”
He hesitated. But a few minutes later he finally answered her.“It’s… it’s because I’m not going to make it much longer. Dr. Ramby told me that.” He whispered, staring blankly at the chair in front of him. “That’s why they let me come. That’s why they let me use all of the money I ever saved up. I won’t have any other use for it.”
Aralie sat quietly. Austor turned to face her. “I’m sorry,” He said as he closed his eyes.
“No, thank you. You have been a blessing to my life. I never could’ve asked for a better person to mentor. It might have started off a bit rocky, but that was only because I always cared about you.” She gave him a big hug.
He smiled and she rested her head against his shoulder. They fell asleep just like that a few minutes later.
Hours later they woke up in Africa.
Aralie beamed as she wheeled Austor out of the plane.
They had to catch a ride to the museum. Some kid was easily bribed to help them. Austor deeply thanked him, hugged him, and said that he was a very kind person. He then smiled at Aralie and they made their way into the museum.
It was hot even Austor knew that. He was aware it would be hot in Cairo with the dry desert ground, but he needed to fulfill his promise with Aralie. It didn’t matter what happened to him as long as she was happy.
“Wow,” They breathed as they walked into the doors.
“It’s even more amazing than I imagined,” Aralie said. She twirled to look at the whole room.
The museum’s entryway was very spacious. There were huge statues of two Egyptian people. One male, the other female. The artwork was incredibly detailed.
“I could stay in just this one room,” Austor said, “But we need to make sure we see as much as possible. Where to first? We only have 120,000 artifacts to choose from.”
“The mummies,” She said. “I’ve been dying to see the mummies.”
Austor grinned, “I figured that would be the case. So I bought tickets just in case.” He pulled two tickets out of his pocket and handed one to her.
Aralie pushed Austor’s wheelchair in the direction of the mummy room. The room was upstairs, so they had to wait to go in the elevator. Austor didn’t mind, though. He rather enjoyed Aralie’s presence. Funny since he hated her just a few weeks before. Austor thought the mummies were a little bit creepy, but he thought it was cool enough to insist they look at every one of them.
“Where’s Tutankhamun’s tomb?” Austor asked. “I’ve always wanted to see his mask in person. Everyone’s seen his huge blue and gold mask in pictures.”
“We’ll go there in a sec, here’s the queen’s mummy!” she squealed.
There were only two Egyptian queens and she was the second one. Her name was Hatshepsut. She was the greatest queen, one of the most successful pharos in ancient Egypt. She was awesome. And so was her mummy, even if she looked like every other mummy he still knew that she was a powerful woman. Sadly she died when she was only about 50. Diabetes was bad back then.
“Wow,” I breathed, “Now can we go see Tut’s mask?” I turned my head to look at her.
She laughed. “Sure, Austor, we can go see Tut’s mask.”
They spent hours looking at all the things they studied and deeply researched. Austor was so happy he finally had someone to talk to about all this. It almost made him forget that he was about to die and that he was probably killing himself faster from the museum with the lack of air conditioning and hundreds of people heating the already heated area.
They went on a camel ride to see the sphynx. It seemed like a good, romantic idea before they did it. Camels were not comfortable and they walked really slowly. Austor wasn’t sure if that was how all camels were or if they just got unlucky.
They sat on this camel for some time talking, joking, laughing. But then Austor saw sweat drip down Aralie’s cheek and he panicked.
If she’s sweating then I should be too. I’m getting too hot. This heat-resistant clothing Dr. Ramby made me is still in the experimental stages it’s kinda horrible.
“Are you okay?” Aralie asked. She noticed my panic.
“I’m fine. It’s okay.”
“Your legs are fine on this camel?”
“They’re fine,” He replied, “I’m sure I’ll be fine.” He looked her right in the eyes as he said it.
She nodded, “I’m trusting you know your limits.” She gave him a hug and the tour guide announced that they were there.
The two of them looked up and gasped just as they did in every exhibit of the museum.
“Sixty-six feet tall,” Austor whispered.
“And 234 feet long.” Aralie finished.
She hugged him again, tighter this time. “Thank you so much,” She squealed.
“No pro–” his voice cut out as he fell off the camel and crashed to the ground letting the blackness take over.
“Yeah…he fell off…” He heard Aralie say. “…yeah…his arm is really bad.”
She was crying, Austor could tell that much. He opened his eyes and saw a familiar-looking room. He was in a hospital. His left arm was wrapped up in new bandages all the way up to his shoulder.
No, he thought, this can’t be happening. There’s no way I could’ve broken two more bones. The infection. His eyes went wide as reality set in.
“Aralie,” He rasped. “Aralie.”
“Oh, he’s awake,” She said into her cell phone, “I know, goodbye. I’ll see you soon,” she whispered and turned her attention to Austor. “Oh, Austor!” She raced over and gave him a big hug. “I’ve been so worried.” she cried.
Austor wiped the tears off her cheek, “It’s okay, I’m fine.” He tried to sit up to prove himself, but he couldn’t move. “What’s wrong with my body? Wait, the sphynx, where’s the sphynx?”
“Austor, the sphynx doesn’t matter anymore.”
“But that’s all you’ve ever wanted to see.”
“You’re more important to me than a statue is.” She replied.
“Are we still in Egypt?” Austor asked.
“Then let’s go back. You need to see that sphynx.” He tried to get up again. He managed to sit up, but it felt like weights were pulling him down back on the hospital bed.
“No, Austor, I don’t want anything else to happen to you.” Her voice cracked and her eyes filled with tears. “You had a seizure and broke more of your bones. The doctor said that some infection spread through your body. It’s eating away your body tissue. Austor, it’s getting close to your heart.”
Austor closed his eyes and felt the tears finally leak out. “Dr. Ramby told me to not break any more bones. Told me to take care of myself. Now here I go and fall off a camel. I’m so sorry I didn’t get you to see that sphynx.”
“I got a glance of it, but seriously, stop being like that. Why don’t you care about yourself?”
“Because I’m not as important as others are.” A few moments later he whispered, “How long do I have?”
Aralie sat down next to him and rested her head against Austor’s chest. He grabbed a strand of her blonde hair and twirled it around his finger.
“The doctor said about a week.” She sniffed.
Austor sighed. “Carry on my work, please. Please help everyone when I can’t. Let them know that they’re loved.”
Aralie nodded against his chest. “I’ll do that, I promise. But I have one thing to do before that.”
“And what’s that?”
“To know that you’re loved too.” She lifted her head and kissed him. He blinked back in surprise but kissed her back. He never thought he’d have the chance to kiss someone. But here it was, and this beautiful woman was the one to do it. And it was magical.
She pulled away blushing. “Sorry–” She began but Austor interrupted her.
“No, it was great. Thank you.” He smiled softly and kissed her himself.
Eventually, she pulled away and said, “Your parents and Dr. Ramby will be here in a few hours. They just need to fly here first.”
Shoot, they’re probably so worried. I don’t want to make them worried. But Mom knew she was taking a risk when she let me go.
“Thank you for calling them.”
She smiled, “No problem.” She laid back on his chest and they held each other until they fell asleep.
Austor passed away a week later, just like Araile told him he would. The infection just got too bad. Dr. Ramby tried everything he could, but there wasn’t much he could do. He had a seizure from the extreme heat, which caused him to break more bones, spreading the infection and starting to attack his heart.
Aralie held onto him the whole time. She wouldn’t leave the hospital even when the doctors told her to. He was the only one who could look past her bossy nature and find someone worth loving.
“Aralie,” He whispered a few hours before he passed away, “I’m not going to make it,” Tears dripped down his cheeks, “But I hope my work will pass on. I only went to school for a few weeks and you thought I was crazy most of the time.”
Aralie laughed, “I loved how crazy you were.”
He smiled, “Aralie, please help everyone I didn’t have the chance to meet. Please let them know that I loved each and every one of them. Especially the one standing right in front of me.”
Aralie smiled as tears streamed down her cheeks, “I love you too, Austor.” She laid next to him, and they both cried, holding onto each other.
“Austor Riddle was an amazing young man.” Aralie read, “I only knew him for about a month but I learned to love him. I know he had a strong goal in place. He spent his life studying the world of ancient Egypt and helping others. He wanted nothing more than to go to Egypt and look at the museum and the Great Sphynx. He said that if he couldn’t do that, he’d spend his life dedicated to bringing others joy. Austor did both of these.”
She looked out at the crowd. Austor influenced a large number of people, and none of them were happy to hear of his death. “I first met Austor because I was his mentor at school. I had heard of his condition and claimed I knew everything about it. I made him go way over the top with protection. I did that because I could tell he was a great person just from seeing his beautiful face. I didn’t want to see anything happen to him. He would seek out every person in need. It seemed like he could sense a person who needed help. I even saw him walk into the girl’s bathroom because he heard someone crying. He skipped out of classes just to talk to people. He never once put himself before another.
“Some could say that’s a flaw, that he should watch out for himself because of his condition, but I say it was his greatest strength. His kind loving nature helped everyone have a better life. Thank you, Austor Riddle. Thank you for everything you did.” Aralie bowed her head and stepped away from the pulpit.
“Can I say something?” A young man asked.
“Of course,” Aralie recognized the young man, “Of course, Gavin.”
“Thank you.” He walked up to the pulpit and cleared his throat. His eyes opened wide when he saw the crowd. “Man, there are a lot of you,” He mumbled. “Um, Austor was my back door neighbor. I never really, uh, I never really knew him. But he always watched me skateboard in my backyard.” He cleared his throat again, “He helped me one day when, um, when a kid beat me up. He was always there to…to stand up for me. The second I saw him at school and talked to him, I could tell he was a great guy. I talked, um, I talked to him a few times and he was always so happy and kind. He helped me, uh, be more comfortable to talk to others. Thank you, Austor Riddle.” He stepped away with shaky legs. It must’ve taken a lot of him to stand up and talk to other people.
Austor’s parents came up next. They talked about how much of a challenge it was to take care of him. It was so stressful, but also the best experience they ever had. They loved their son and cried as they spoke.
Person after person came and shared their experiences with Austor. Everyone loved him. He made an impact, probably more than he would ever know. People made a “Be like Riddle” movement at school, and everyone opened up more. Bullying and rude words were unheard of at school.
Thanks to you, Austor Riddle.
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