There are many inspiring quotes about equality and justice floating around in the hazy sphere of “common knowledge” and many more buried in history tomes now rarely read. “All men are created equal,” in the Declaration of Independence, “The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice,” from Martin Luther King, “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern,” in the Bible, “Injustice alone can shake down the pillars of the skies, and restore the reign of Chaos and Night,” from Horace Mann.
Crusaders of justice have been inventing these sayings for thousands of years. “Justice for all” hangs from the highest branch of a towering tree, a fruit we cannot seem to reach, no matter how many rungs we affix to the ladder with cries of protest, acts of compassion, and blood of martyrs. Always, as a new rung is fixed, the tree raises its fruit higher.
Whenever one group finally seems to have gained their rights and their sway, escaped from their demeaning stereotypes and spread their wings, the power structure rearranges to throw some other group into the meat grinder. Celts, Christians, Native Americans, Africans, Catholics, Chinese immigrants, Mormons, homosexuals, Jews, communists, trade-unionists, Mexicans, Muslims, atheist, quirked, quirkless… Rest assured that no matter who and what you are there is someone on Earth who hates you for it, and a society somewhere in time that would have ground you into the dirt for it. The downtrodden and oppressed will always be with us. The fight for the rights of the oppressed will always be with us.
It is our duty and our sacred trust to keep reaching for the fruit, keep striving and building, grasping for it. Turn a blind eye to an injustice to your neighbor and rest assured that one day, when you find yourself in a similar position, eyes will turn blind to you, but it is not merely a matter of tit-for-tat. It is a matter of “have you a human soul?”
The people who suffer on the nightly news from war, or terror, or hunger, or persecution are not just faces. Death tolls are not just numbers. If you came across a child bleeding in the street, would you ask them their nation of origin, their religion, their sexual orientation, their quirk before helping them? These are not things that should be considered, for in a very large universe this is a very small planet and we are not so different, you and I.
Rain pooled on his eyelids until he blinked them open. The grim face of a thunderstorm gazed back, a purple arc of lightning cracking the sky. Thunder sent gentle vibrations through the asphalt. Why was he lying in the parking lot? Had someone knocked him out and left him there? That made no sense. Electric lights buzzed, casting a pale glow across the deserted school yard. No. Who would leave an unconscious kid lying in the street in the middle of the night?
The cold seeped through his uniform as Izuku crawled to his feet, ice pooling in his bones-where were his shoes? “Hello?” Silence, save the rhythmic tap of the rain. “Come on! This isn’t funny!” Was this even a prank? It wasn’t very funny-though a lot of pranks weren’t when the joke was on you. Nobody here. Head home, then? Gosh, his mother must be terrified if he’d never come home. Hopefully she hadn’t called the cops or something.
Izuku ran, leaping over puddles, zigzagging down an alleyway, skidding around a corner and bounding up his steps. “Mom?” he called, sliding through the open door into the warm light of the kitchen. She must have been frantic to leave the door open in the dead of night. Oh gosh, he couldn’t apologize enough for this. His mother, though, sat across from two men in fine suits. Cooling mugs of tea lay untouched on the table. The words were too quiet to make out, but it must be very serious business-he couldn’t interrupt.
When the group glanced up, noting his entry he presumed, Izuku waved to them, blushing and rubbing the back of his neck in embarrassment. The trio continued their quiet conversation and Izuku tiptoed away-mother would explain in the morning.
He made his way upstairs, sliding into his room. New clothes, then bed… or maybe just bed. The rain outside his window fell in torrents and he… wasn’t cold? That couldn’t be right. He was soaked, and he should be exhausted, too, but a glance at the neatly made bed stirred no thought of sleep. This was too weird. He had to go back down and interrupt them, no matter how important the conversation might be-and where were his shoes?
“You would be well within your rights to sue,” a white-haired man with sagging jowls told his mother.
“Like that changes anything,” she replied in a tone Izuku had never heard before-bitter, defeated. What made his mother sound like that? How dare they!
“Not for you, not for him,” the younger man said, handing over a set of business cards, “but for others, maybe.”
“Litigation can’t raise the dead.” She wasn’t crying anymore, but her eyes gleamed red with countless shed tears. What? Who died? Was it one of her friends from work? One of them had been ill with ulcers but what-?
“I am very sorry for the death of your son,” the older detective bowed. “If I never see another case like this it will be fifty years too late. Please seek some help when you need it. Call me if you decide to consider lawsuits, or if you need anything more.”
“Thank you, officers,” mother whispered to the men, showing them out. The door was nearly closed.
“What?” Izuku finally screeched. No one gave him a glance, save his reflection in the front window, stark against the black of the thunderstorm outside. Blood matted his hair and ran in ruddy rivers down his face, stains bright on his shirt, soaked though it was. He met his eyes, foggy and distant, no longer piercing emeralds. Fingers and left wrist were broken, twisted like wind-swept twigs. He clenched his fist-no pain, as if all this were normal now, his natural state. An engine broke the revelry, the officers departing-and Izuku stood, staring at his reflection in the window even as his mother turned out the last of the lights and sniffled herself to sleep on the floor by the couch. His eyes were the worst, that broken, empty gaze, fogged and faded. The blood constantly dripping down to his bare feet, an incessant stream like an infinite hour glass, was bad but the eyes (his eyes) were the worst.
Once he wrapped his head around the word “ghost” Izuku found he could pass through the door as if it were air, and the rain no longer soaked him. The rules of his existence were all in his head, clearly. Were ghosts real, then, or was this Izuku’s quirk? His very late but much better than never quirk? Were there any quirks like this? Some allowed a person to “be” or at least “seem to be” (and what was really the difference?) a mythical creature, and some allowed immortality or slow aging of a sort (though they were exceedingly rare) but he’d never heard of this or anything like it. Could ghosts just… be a real thing? It might not be a quirk at all. Which was more farfetched? Hard to say.
Izuku was back at school-the sun had chased away the rain clouds and the earliest students had just begun to arrive. This was as good a place as any, then, to look for “clues.” It could still be something else, right? They said he was dead, but he hadn’t seen a corpse (well-his reflection did look like one but that didn’t count) and this could all be a hallucination, still. Those quirks definitely did exist, and on the whole that seemed more likely than… whatever this appeared to be.
Izuku’s desk waited patiently. He took a seat. Kacchan arrived, a scowl glued on his face and two of his friends trailing close behind. “Guess the useless Deku couldn’t be bothered today,” Kacchan snorted, putting his legs up on the empty desk, but he had tells, an uncertain waver in his gaze, tension in his fingers. He was nervous. What for, then? Did he know about Izuku? Did he know who did this (presuming that this had really happened)? What befell Izuku yesterday in the long hours after breakfast that he couldn’t recall? Who smashed his dreams, took everything from him, and so much worse, made his mother cry all night? That had been an unspeakable thing to hear-Izuku had cried, too, begging the world to let him comfort her. He’d, well, he couldn’t do much, but someone was going to pay, someone had to pay! He couldn’t remember when he’d been angry like this before-fire crackled in his veins. His eyes must be glowing with rage.
Their teacher, mousy haired and looking harassed, shuffled in and herded everyone from their seats. “We have an assembly to attend. Get up now.”
Everyone filed out, making their way to the cafeteria which doubled as an auditorium, finding seats on the dilapidated chairs. The bushy haired principal, obviously exhausted and miserable, climbed to an elevated podium and sighed into a microphone. “As many of you likely saw in the news, a student passed away yesterday, Midoriya Izuku.” Izuku blinked. This much attention? For him? “It is to my great regret that I must inform you that this was indeed a suicide.” Izuku’s non-existent blood ran cold.
“Liar! That… can’t be right…” Izuku screamed to no avail.
The principal continued. “There will be counselors available to speak with students who feel the need. We are now aware that Midoriya Izuku was often harassed by other students. Expect to see changes in the norms here. There will be a zero-tolerance policy on bullying at this school. There may be a police investigation as well as changes in staff.” Which everyone knew was a polite way of saying “people are going to be fired.” “I would ask all staff to please cooperate with any law enforcement personnel. Students cannot be questioned without a parent present, but I would ask that students also make an effort to cooperate with investigators. I know this doesn’t feel the time for…”
Izuku missed the end of the canned speech. Kacchan had stumbled to his feet and fled the room. Amidst the general hubbub no one noticed, or perhaps no one cared. The blonde ran out of the crowd and kept running. Izuku chased him. Izuku wouldn’t have really hurt himself, would he? Why did Kacchan run? Could he have killed Izuku? No, it couldn’t be… an accident maybe?
Kacchan stopped at an alley and blew up a dumpster, then a rusty bicycle wheel, then a rat-eaten mattress which released a pungent, oily smell into the air as it smoldered. “Damn it! Damn it, Izuku!” he screamed before blowing up another dumpster. “Damn it I didn’t mean it! Why’d you have to choose yesterday to start listening to me? You never listen! God damn ray of sunshine!”
The despair returned-or rather its memory, the ripping turmoil of hopelessness, and Kacchan’s word in his ear telling him the way out… “swan dive”… the pain and the fear were more from the stress of the decision than the crushing weight of endless “tomorrows just like today” that forced his hand and sealed his fate. He stood in the eye of the hurricane when he finally chose, so calm he was almost numb. No one locked the stairs to the roof. They probably did now… The door slammed behind him as he peeled off his shoes. He wasn’t sure why- he just felt he had to. The breeze ruffled his hair as fingers found their grips in the chain link fence-metal hot from the sun-hoisted him up to see the world one last time. A few blackbirds flitted by below. Two little shrines peeked out from the foliage across a small park. It wasn’t worth it. He let go.
Izuku collapsed in a heap, gasping as the last few minutes of his life replayed in perfect clarity as if emblazoned in his mind with a branding iron.
Kacchan blew up garbage in the alley until someone shouted at him and threatened to call the police. He cursed the lady out and left, probably to find an alley with less attentive neighbors.
Izuku wandered aimlessly away, walking through fences, houses, trees, mailboxes and the occasional person. “Someone has to pay,” he choked. “That’s what I said. Someone has to pay for hurting me, for hurting her… didn’t realize I was talking about myself, though. I guess I deserve this.” He could remember how it had ended now, but the rest of the day he died was still a blank. Whatever made him choose that day to listen to Kacchan, he couldn’t remember what it was.