I take my first steps onto the checkered plains of Green Hill. I look around—it is beautiful. The lush vegetation, the nearby sea, the bright colours...
And it's being destroyed by that pesky egg-shaped man and his army of badniks. So I will stop him.
I may not look like much—in fact, being so young, with my short limbs and big head and plump little body, I look more like a cute children's toy than a hero. But behind my big, round, black eyes is determination of the likes you could probably never imagine coming from someone like myself.
I defeat the egg-man. I rejoice, and so does everyone else. A boy has saved us from the robot(n)ic menace, the news loudly declares. Worldwide, my own army of fans grows, all devoted to their new hero of a blue hedgehog. I am famous. Everyone loves me. I couldn't be happier.
My enemy returns the next year. My new little brother, a genius fox-boy, helps me this time. We have an adventure together and defeat the villain once more. We return as heroes—two-time heroes now. We are loved. We are happy.
The eggman comes back for a third time, this time convincing a knucklehead to help him. After many encounters, we finally drag the knucklehead—kicking and screaming all the way—into the light, where could see he was in the wrong. Us trio of heroes defeated the villain once again. Everyone loves us. We are all happy.
After this adventure, we all take a long break. It's nice to be famous, but I need my freedom too. We all go our separate ways and live normal lives for a few years. During this time, I begin to grow. I get taller, my limbs and quills start to get longer, my eyes change colour from black to an emerald green.
The eggman tries to take over the world again. This time he unleashes a god—the god of destruction, the personification of chaos—in a futile attempt to win. The god betrays him. We all join together and defeat it. Everyone celebrates our glorious return, hail us as heroes once more. No one minds we have gotten older, they still see we are the same people underneath our changed appearance. Everyone still loves us, and we are still happy.
But with this adventure came something new. While we—the original heroes—were treated with a hero's welcome, one of our new companions—a big, bluish-purple cat—was met with hostility. They did not like this new hero, they felt his presence intruded on the "real" heroes. To be honest, we did not particularly mind this hostility, and neither did the big cat. He was merely caught up in the events—he wasn't our friend, and he appeared to have no intention of wanting to be a hero again. We said our farewells and left.
Another adventure. I take along my little brother and the knucklehead, the eggman takes a shadow and a thief gone rogue. On the ARK, memories of past deaths surface, and new ones occur. The villain somehow turns out to be someone who has already been dead for fifty years—rather impressive, if I do say so myself. The fans celebrate our victory, as usual, but this time it's different. Their animosity toward the big cat has spread to my friends now. They only want me—not my brother, and certainly not my other friends. Still, we are all loved, for the most part. We are still happy.
But, my fans' dislike of my friends...that angered me. Who are they to choose who my friends are? For our next adventure, I metaphorically flip the bird at my fans by inviting nearly everyone I know to come along for the ride, even the big cat. The fans do not get to decide who is a hero, we are all heroes, and heroes deserve the recognition thereof.
Anyway, we defeat the villain—this time my metallic counterpart—as usual, and our victory is celebrated, as usual. But my open defiance of my fan's wishes causes a strange uneasiness in my relationship with them. Hesitation precedes smiles. I feel the feeling of others talking behind my back. I ignore them. I have no desire to change my ways just to please them. I am no longer sure how much I am loved, but I am still happy.
My shadow returns to discover pasts, relive memories of present, and flip-flop between futures. All hell breaks loose. I am shunned for even associating myself with the "gun-trotting, angsty emo". Fans start to look down on me, look down on all of us. They silently plead with me to leave my shadow behind and move on. I agree. I do not like this animosity now directed toward me. I no longer feel loved; I no longer feel very happy.
For our next adventure, I was unfortunately unable to shake my shadow, but that probably wouldn't have made a difference anyway. The flame of disaster truly burned bright—all focus is now on the scandal of my love life. It's not my fault, I want to cry out. She fell in love with me, not me with her. I can't control that! No one listens. No one cares. They hate their hero now. They hate the new, older, taller me. They hate my green eyes. They hate my voice. They hate my friends. They want everything to revert back to the way it was back when it was only me running through checkered plains. I am looked at with disgust. I am in despair.
I press on. Only me this time—no one else. My battle against the forces of the eggman becomes a world adventure. This time, though, something within me unleashes in the dark, and the world gets to see it. A beast. A monster. A freak. Fans and press alike have no issue with beating me into the ground as far as they can manage. I am openly humiliated by those who once held me close to their heart. I walk the streets only for my shoes to be spat on. I am no longer wanted; they wish for me to be dead, and treat me as if my ongoing life is a crime that must be mocked and punished. The overwhelming negativity gets to me, eventually, and I begin to agree with them. I am despised by others. I am disgusted by myself.
Throughout my downfall, however, there were still those who stayed by my side. In fact, many even said that I was not going through a downfall at all. They stood by me when everyone else left. They insisted that my faults weren't the sign of failure, they were the sign of being human. They defended me against the harsh claims made by my haters, and attacked back with equal harshness. Battles were fought over me. Neither side could win, and yet they still fought.
I couldn't take it anymore. I fled to space.
I continue my adventures. I find that the negativity back on Earth had succeeded in beating the joy out of me, my happiness. The world I lived in had turned to nothing but shades of grey. But now, living away from it for a while, I come to see that colours are now returning to my vision. I come to see the true beauty of the universe, and it awes me. I don't know if anyone loves me, but I am happy again.
I return to Earth, expecting pain to return as well. Instead, I find a celebration for me. Granted, it's a hesitant, nervous celebration, but one nevertheless. I am so happy—I realize that what I felt in space was not happiness, but merely lack of suffering. But nothing good can last. Soon, my adventure in space is regarded by many as a fluke, and by many more as nothing to be proud of in the first place. If I was on Earth during that adventure, they say, people would have been able to see the hideous creature—zombie—I still am. The lines of resentment are now deeply etched and well-travelled. Few are broken free of them.
I walk the streets, hoping to avoid any confrontations. A teenage boy walks up to me. Oh great, teenage boys are the worst. Their heroes are nothing like me, theirs are the gun-trotting soldiers my shadow tried to be. I look down at my shoes, expecting a barrage of mocking and humiliation.
I wait for a few moments. Nothing happens. I look up at him, and to my surprise I find that he's smiling.
"You look down," he says, still smiling. "What's wrong?"
Taken aback, I find myself too stunned to ignore the question and say that everything was fine, as I usually would have done. Instead I find myself pouring my soul out to him and describing in detail exactly what was wrong. I chronicle the tale—my tale—of the boy who went from the most loved of heroes to little more than a laughingstock. The tale of how everyone now hates him, and the tale of his continued sense of worthlessness.
After I finish my story, I feel my cheeks flush in embarrassment. I know I should not have said all that, but...I couldn't help it at the time. I look up to see how he responds.
He is silent for a long time. A slightly amused expression is on his face. "You know what?" he says eventually. "I think you're wrong."
I look at him as if he were crazy.
I think he understands my unspoken question, because he elaborates. "You're looking very superficially," he says. "People often don't mean what they say. Try to look deeper."
With that, he walks away, leaving me utterly confused.
What does that mean?
I continue my walk, this time trying to pay more attention to my surroundings. I notice things I've always noticed, but I focus on them more now—the little kids, still happily enthralled in my adventures, oblivious to the "scandals" I've been wrapped up in since. The continued recognition of my name as one of the legends of heroism. And, of course, the older fans who continue to stay by my side, every step of the way.
There is more though. While there are many who hate me simply because it's the "cool" thing to do, I see the eyes of even my harshest critics melt in fondness as they reminiscence about my past. I see behind the skepticism of my announcements there is hope, a prayer, that things will work out alright. I see the hatred of me in their eyes is a wall, a wall fueled by pity and possibly a feeling of betrayal.
Something clicks in my mind. They don't hate me, I think.
They're waiting for me.
I immediately stop this train of thought. I have the feeling it's going to lead me to an understanding. I don't want to understand! I don't want this pressure! I just want to be free!
And when I don't want to deal with something, I run.
I run for a long time, until day turns to dusk, and dusk turns to night. I find that my feet have brought me back to where it all began. I stop running and walk slowly across the checked fields of Green Hill, soaking in the memories. It is nighttime, but it is still beautiful here.
I see a figure in the near distance. I walk up to it. The figure is me from a generation ago, looking young and plump and as if I had never started my journey. As I stare into his black eyes, I realize he has been waiting for me too.
He starts walking up to me. I feel a bit nervous, but he just grins. He looks at me and holds out his hand. After a moment, I take hold of it. He begins to walk along the path of Green Hill, holding on to me and taking me with him. I follow. We are soon walking side-by-side, through the dark of night.
Is this what I really want to do? Is this the path I really want to take?
But then I remember: we are all just wanderers on this journey of life. We misstep all the time, and we just pick ourselves up and continue living. It's okay to change paths as often as we need to; every step is progress.
Even if this path doesn't lead me to where I want to go...you cannot do something unless you try. Learn from your mistakes, but leave the past behind.
As we journey through the path of Green Hill, I see a glimmer of light along the horizon. The sun's daily rebirth. It shines its light on the path we're walking on, bathing it in an orange glow. It makes me happy.
Hand-in-hand, we continue to walk toward the newborn sun, smiles on our faces, looking forward to a brand new day.