The hermit sat inside her hospital room, swaddled in a blanket, a book open on her lap. Today, she was reading Pascal. Yesterday, it had been Freud, and the day before, it had been Nietzsche. A floppy rabbit doll sat next to her on the bed, in a pretty little black and purple suit.
—The girl's eyes were covered by bandages. And yet she read.
The door opened. "Sweetie?" It was this hermit's mother. "Oh, you're awake..."
"Of course I'm awake," the hermit replied. "It's only five. The sun hasn't even gone down yet. What do you take me for?"
The girl's mother paused. This hermit's parents did not share her hair color—they were both black-haired, and yet hers was a deep crimson. She'd once suspected she might have been adopted, but looking at the records proved otherwise. "Well, the doctors called back. They... wanted to ask what color you wanted your prosthetics in."
"Prosthetics?" the hermit asked.
"For your..." Mother trailed off. "You know, your—"
"Ah," the hermit said, "my eyes." Mother nodded, the ever-deepening worry lines on her face illuminated by the bedside lamp with which the hermit read. "Have them match my hair."
"R-really?" Mother said, looking away for a moment. "Are you sure you wouldn't—"
"Have them match my hair," the hermit said. She didn't move from where she sat, her face still angled down toward her book. "I would like eyes that match my hair."
"Oh," Mother said. "Alright, I'll let them know... a-are you doing alright? Did you—" She looked over to the other side of the hermit's bed to see a tray with food cleared off. "Okay, you ate. Thank you."
"Of course," the hermit said.
—Her eyes were made of glass, and yet when people saw her, they moved just like normal eyes. There was no difference, not in the slightest, except for the fact that those eyes could not possibly see. And yet she saw. "Nagataka-san," said some children in her class, "are you doing okay?"
Well, it came out of one of their mouths, but all of them were seemingly thinking it. The amount of concern in this room for this hermit was really astonishing. "There's no need to worry about me," she said. "Return to your seats and consider schoolwork or something." Several of them did.
This here was a girl who cared for this hermit as a friend. A flashy sort who was just beginning to understand differentiation of the self from parental ideals through socially acceptably anti-establishment behaviors. Skirting the dress code, mostly. "Hey, Naga-chan," she said, "you're talking kind of weird. Are you really okay?"
"Am I?" the hermit said. "Hm. I see. Is there a particular way you would rather I spoke so as not to offend your sensibilities?"
The conversation went silent for a moment, just one moment, but it was a moment laden with thought. "Did something happen in the hospital?" the hermit's friend asked. "Uh, anyway... man, I can't even read any of those words."
"Ah," this hermit said with a smirk, "of course. I wouldn't expect you to be able to read French. We are twelve, after all." A wheezing chuckle came to her throat. "It's 'Le Deuxième Sexe', by Simone de Beauvoir. A foundational work of second-wave feminism. Beauvoir's existentialism is always so satisfying—she makes such salient points about the othering of the fairer sex. If you'd like, I could attempt to dictate it to you."
"Um, that sounds a little heavy?" the hermit's friend said.
—People began to ask her, once they were free of the day's education. "Nagataka-san, is it true you can—?" "Hey, Nagataka-san, can you—?" "Oi, Nagataka—?!"
"Hey," the hermit's friend said, "lay off! She just got out of the hospital and you want her to do that again?!"
This hermit's shell shook with laughter. "You don't need to worry about that. I can show them what they want to see, if they're so interested."
She chose a bush behind the school to demonstrate upon. As she walked beside it, she whipped her head around, and then the bush
burst into flames
within an instant. There was no need for the fire to be started or to spread, no, this object was simply aflame, burning, burning, and its flames did not reach any other foliage. They were controlled from their very core, their destructive nature held back by force of mind. Some who saw this shouted, and ran away in fright. Others oohed and aahed at this incredible feat.
The pyrokinetic hermit whipped her hand up, and the flame trailed into the air with nothing to burn but the oxygen in the air, whipping about like a snake which followed her movements. Then—
she directed it toward herself.
Those who were impressed beforehand became fearful as this hermit cackled within the flames her mind had spawned. Within the crackling orange light, her red hair and red eyes did not call to mind the kind, cheerful girl they had known, who had fallen and gone to the hospital—now she looked more like a demon of some long-forgotten myth.
"Are you not impressed?!" she shouted, at those who ran from her visage. "I showed you what you wished—are you sheep not amazed?! Are you not in awe of what you asked to see?! Then run! Run, why don't you?! Run from your fear! Pretend, for a moment, that you will never die! That your shells are eternal, and cannot pop at the slightest touch of a flame! Run, and be proud of yourselves for your flight!"
"N-Naga-chan..." The one person who had not run was the hermit's friend. As the flames faded and the hermit curled in onto herself, wheezing laughter escaping her lungs without end, she was the only one who stayed.
The hermit sat inside her hospital room, swaddled in a blanket, a book open in her lap. Today, she was reading Anscombe. Yesterday, it had been Hypatia, and the day before that, Ramanuja. A floppy rabbit doll sat next to her on the bed, in a pretty little black and purple suit.
—The doll's eyes had been torn out. She was beginning a project to sew big, purple buttons onto it, instead.
A letter sat, opened and read, on the bedside table. It was from the hermit's friend. It told her about what had happened in school since she had been hospitalized again. "Ageha seems to really care about you," the hermit's father had said. "You should write her back."
For a moment, this hermit girl with a mind of flame paused, and looked toward her doll. "Nagamimi," she said, "thank you for your patience." The doll said nothing.
And in 2020, after seven long years,
the flames inside her mind would have something to aim at.
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