Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Shouldn't Someone Start Freaking Out Right Now?

I have no idea where I am or where I’ll be going, so running seems like a bad idea.  I’m not too terribly far from Nelson Boulevard, but I honestly don’t know Nelson all that well so I might get lost even if I get back there.  And I can’t very well start asking people for directions with this blood on me or they’ll just call the cops and I’ll be right back in this position.

Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.

I dig my thumb into my thigh, fighting for a moment of clarity.  Only fragments come, but they’re enough to get me started.

Okay, time for Plan B.

I drop the phone back into the bag and fish out my utility knife.  Cutting the cable ties nearly gives me a panic attack, but I have to do it if I don’t want the cops far enough up my ass to tickle my tonsils.  I stuff the knife and the busted ties back in the bag and fish her gun out.  I set it next to her and then zip my bag up and stuff it into a garbage can just as the lights give way to a Crown Vic rolling slowly across the mouth of the alley.

I take a deep breath and start to panic.

Here!  Here!  Help!

For once in my life, I’m happy my voice will never be James Earl Jones low.  I’m hitting some pretty high notes here.

The Crown Vic comes to an immediate stop and the cop riding shotgun hops right out.  My fake panic stops melding with my real panic and starts being completely overwhelmed by it.

I could get arrested.  I’m going to get brought in for questioning.  They’re gonna check the alley and find my bag and God only knows what’ll happen then.

Shotgun cop must see part of Easley sticking out from behind the garage because he pulls his gun out.  My hands spring right up and his gun twitches upward for a second before I realize he’s not aiming it at me.  The driver is out of the car now too and is following his partner down the alley, gun drawn.  The first guy pulls up short of me once he sees Easley sprawled across the ground, his eyes keep flickering between her and me.  Thankfully his gun stays pointed at the ground.  His partner, who I’m now noticing is the elder of the two, holsters his gun once he reaches the scene.

Elder Cop puts a hand on Junior Cop’s shoulder and whispers something to him.  Junior gets right to work rolling Easley over and cuffing her.  Elder sets his sights on me.

“Are you hurt?”

It’s hard to focus on anything.  Is his expression concerned or suspicious?  If they bring me in will I have to sit in the back with Easley?


He speaks more slowly.  His voice is surprisingly calm.  “Are you hurt?”

My voice is not.  “No.”

“Whose blood is that?”

I look down at my shirt and assume there’s more of it on my face.  I don’t look like I just butchered someone, but I might’ve just killed a chicken and only cleaned the feathers off.

“Um.  Hers.  I, uh, broke her nose.  I think.”  I shake my head, trying to clear it.  The good news here is I’m gonna be able to sell the shell-shocked victim spiel. The bad news is, of course, that it’s mostly true.  My ability to think clearly and coherently hit its peak when I came up with my little plan of escape, and that plan involved getting myself pistol whipped so it wasn’t exactly a shining moment of intellect.  It’s all been downhill since then.

He holds a hand out.  “My name’s officer Mitchell Abrams.  And from the look of her, I’d say the nose is pretty broken.  Tough thing to have to do, defending yourself like that.”

I stare at him for a second, wondering if anyone could sincerely be this much of a “good cop” and if so, is his partner equally “bad cop”? 

I take his hand, but I don’t think my grip’s particularly impressive today.  “I—I don’t…”

He blinks and makes an odd face.

“Shit, yeah—‘how did you guys find me?’—right?”

I really hope I’m not that transparent about everything.

“We got a couple calls, saying a woman was holding someone at gunpoint on Nelson.  We had a couple cars in the neighborhood with all this Easley bullshit going on, so we wondered if it wasn’t her.  You got all kinds of lucky, kid.”

Certainly seems that way.

“Listen, my partner’s called in another unit to come and pick you up so we can drive you to the station separate from that woman.  Nothing serious, we just need a statement.  We’ll get you checked by an EMT too.  Is that alright?”

My head feels swimmy when I nod.  When Junior Cop gets back, it’s his turn to tap and whisper.  Abrams turns back to me and this time I’m sure he’s at least a little suspicious.  He’s looking past me to where Easley was lying.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name…”


“Wesley, my partner found blood over there by where our car is now.  On the sidewalk.  Is that related to this?”

My head’s spinning and I’m feeling a little sick, but I still know a cop question when I hear it.

“Yeah.  It’s hers.”

“Is that where you hit her?”

I nod.  Just tell the truth.  Most of the truth is completely reasonable here.

“I’m sorry, I’m confused.  If you hit her over there, how did she get over here?”

The little warning bells chime in my head:  cop question, cop question!  I wish I could do my breathing exercises without him noticing.  Calm myself down, stop being so paranoid.  No reason for him to suspect me of anything.  I’m the victim.

“I…I panicked…”  I look up at him, needing him to believe me.  I’m not sure if this is part of the lie or if I’m really this strung out, but I’m in dire need of some good faith here. 

Tell as much of the truth as you can. 

“She fell and I wasn’t trying to hit her, but we just got tangled up and, and I panicked.  I was alone…somewhere…with an unconscious woman, covered in blood, with a gun nearby, and what the fuck would someone think if they found me like that?  I just…I just needed some time to think…to figure out what I was supposed to do…”  I send out all the pathetic desperation I can and just pray it sticks.

Abrams doesn’t spend long considering me.  I must look like I’m about to collapse because I see a disgusting amount of pity in his eyes.  I wanna hit him so he’ll stop looking at me like that.  Yeah, I didn’t really factor in my seething hatred of being looked down on when coming up with this plan.

“It’s okay.  Don’t worry about it, you held up pretty well.”

He smiles a small smile, rewarding the brave little soldier for his courage, and even though I really am tweaking out about this and am somehow getting exactly what I want, I still have to fight off an intense urge to ruin it all.  He may mean well and he may be one of the truly good guys, but I cannot stand being condescended to and I don’t fucking need anyone’s pity.

My face is ticking spastically and I can’t figure out what to do with my hands.

What do people do with their hands after knocking an escaped criminal out and then getting picked up by the cops with blood all over them?

My insides are swinging from hot to cold sporadically, and now I can’t contain either my anger or my panic.  Instead of saying or doing anything (which is likely to get me in even more trouble), I look at my feet and nod.

It’s literally the first smart thing I’ve done since I left the house this morning.


Things go a little sideways once we get back to the station; apparently someone felt it necessary to look into my record before cutting me loose.  I’m still a couple months away from having a certain…youthful indiscretion…expunged from my record.  Something about underage drinking and public urination, I don’t really remember the details.  What I do remember is Alan busting his balls convincing the cops to go easy on me.  If I get into any more trouble with the law before my previous trouble blows over, Alan’s gonna have an aneurysm. 

And the fact that I’m behaving so the stick up an authority figure’s ass doesn’t get worked around a bit more makes me feel a little ill.

I swear to God if I call this cop “sir” at any point, I will bash my own head against the wall.

“So, apparently the media’s gathered outside—probably looking for an interview with the man who helped apprehend Violet Easley.”

I appreciate Abrams not calling me a kid, but I also feel less like I “helped apprehend Violet Easley” and more like I “single-handedly foiled her escape”.  That I stumbled ass over elbows onto her is of no consequence. 

“We can arrange for you to be picked up around back, more privately.”  He’s sporting a pretty impressive sour puss as he says the next bit.  “We generally advise against it quite strongly, but you’re also welcome to leave out the front, if you’d prefer.”

Now that things have settled down a bit and I’m not worried about being charged with criminal costuming, I kinda think I’d like a little recognition.  I don’t actually wanna talk to any of those people, but it might be cool to push my way through the crowd, waving off all questions.  Movies always make it look so impressive.

“The front door should be okay.  I’m not looking for an interview or anything, but getting my picture in the paper would be pretty solid.”

Abrams smiles.  Oh, the rambunctiousness of youth.  “They can use your yearbook photos for this too, if you’d rather.”

“Well, I haven’t actually taken a yearbook photo since I got into high school.  I keep forgetting where they’re taking the pictures and getting lost.  By the time I get my bearings, they’re gone.”  I shrug.


I do not call Susan for a ride.  Doesn’t matter that I’m there because I did something good (hugely stupid, but good), I really don’t want her to have to take off early from work to pick me up at the police station.  Especially since I still need to pick up my bag before it gets taken to the curb and that’s not the kinda favor I really wanna ask her for.

So when I shoulder my way through the crowd of reporters, my destination is Anna’s red Ford Focus, not Susan’s green Prius. 

I see Anna’s face through the window and can’t really decipher her expression.  I see confusion and nerves, but there’s more there I’m not getting.  She pulls away from the curb the second my door’s closed.

“I know you gave me a quick rundown over the phone, but let’s try it again.”

With no cops listening in this time, I give her the uncensored story and when I finish she punches me in the arm.  Pretty hard, actually.

“You stupid asshole!”

A laugh horns in on her scolding like she might be a little pleased that I did something good, even if it was stupid and dangerous.  Or it could just be wishful thinking, but I’m gonna stick with it anyway. 

I grin.  Anna swats at me again, still smiling.

“Don’t you look at me like that.  Just because I can’t keep a straight face doesn’t mean I’m amused by your antics.”

“Well then, I might as well earn all your ire at once.  You know how I told you I had to ditch my bag?  Well…I kinda need to get it back…it’s full of fairly important things…like the costume of a fairly well known vigilante with my fingerprints all over it…”

Her eyes flit over to me and with as straight a face as she can manage, she says, “You’re only saying that ‘cuz you think you’re too adorable to earn much ire from me.”

I give her my best pathetic puppy face.  “Well?”

She smacks me again.

“I’ll take you, but there will be ire.  A great deal of it.  Heaps, even.”

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Just Think "What Would Batman Do?"

Across the abyss stands a fading figure.  Monolithic, but for the steady particle-by-particle erasing, he is Promethean, cradling fire in his palm.  Dissipating from existence while the fire flickers and struggles, he twists.  Contorts.  Multifaceted eyes like bulbous, molten gems bubble up across his brow and cheeks as his skin peels, pushed aside by something gray and hard.  And he’s gone, leaving only a small globe of flame in his stead.  I stumble backward, bumping against something hard and transparent with a solid clunk.  The world sways and tips and shatters.  I tumble across a sea of glass, each piece jagged and ugly and yet utterly the same as the rest.  I bleed painlessly—silently—from a thousand ragged wounds.

And then I’m awake and pawing at my arms and chest.  Sweat seeps from imagined gashes.  My pillow’s on the floor and my sheets have been completely dislodged from the mattress, tucking themselves unevenly around my sprawled limbs and over the edge of the bed.  I’m hot and cold and shaking and twitching.  Boone snores softly, undisturbed by whatever scene I’ve been making.  My phone tells me I have almost three hours until my alarm goes off.  I find my iPod in the dark and put in headphones.  Jim Morrison sings of crystal ships as I stare up at the ceiling, watching shadows twist and contort.

The playlist rolls through The Gaslight Anthem’s mellow backseat strumming, Against Me!’s tense bassline, and The Kill’s fuzzed out forlorn before I go fetch my laptop.  Three hours isn’t enough time to go out on the town and I’m not getting back to sleep anytime soon, so I wander the new sites until something catches my eye. 

Yet another article reporting on an anonymous member of the law enforcement community slamming OPHR.  Third this month.  I skim, picking up the important parts like claims that OPHR bullies law enforcement agencies into dropping cases so they can hand pick who has to obey the law, obligatory quotes from the anti-post-human organizations like People for the Rights of Everyday Citizens, and even someone referencing me by name.  Makes me feel a bit warm and fuzzy.

And of course, more name calling.  “Illegals” isn’t an unfair term for unsanctioned post-human costumes like myself, but it is a little irksome.  Something about the name tastes sour.


“A recent poll conducted by Channel 11 shows that 66% of people are dissatisfied with OPHR’s competence.  These numbers are up from 27% in the last poll, taken just two weeks earlier.  When asked, over 71% of those dissatisfied cited the recent escape of post-human criminal, Violet Easley, as the main source of their current discontent.  Easley, known for a spree of high-end robberies committed earlier this year was apprehended just weeks ago trying to escape a break-in.  OPHR quickly stepped in and asked that the police transfer Easley into their custody.  Shortly afterward, the first anonymous law enforcement personnel in this recent string of denouncements spoke out against OPHR, claiming that their department was ‘strong-armed into giving up a dangerous criminal’.

“The transfer has been delayed several times due to undisclosed complications before finally happening yesterday.  However, late last night it was leaked that OPHR had lost Easley right after the transfer and was starting a manhunt to find her.  This morning, OPHR issued a statement urging caution to those living or working around the three addresses shown on-screen.  These are places Easley lived or frequented, and may return to.

“Further complicating matters is yet another anonymous report from within the law enforcement community—this one from within our very own police department—claiming that they were ordered by OPHR to keep news of Easley’s escape, and the ensuing manhunt, from the public.”


I’m so caught up in the news report that I barely hear myself muttering out loud.  I wanna call Alan, and ask him how they could possibly fuck up this badly.  Tell him they’re making guys like me look bad with this bullshit.  But I don’t.  Alan’s not involved in the law enforcement aspect of OPHR, there’s not a damn thing he can do about it.  He also doesn’t know I spend my nights dressed up in a full-body costume wailing on criminals (which makes me sound like I hang out at Mafia-owned BDSM clubs…), and I really don’t want him to know that.

So, I do the next best thing:  I arrogantly assume I can do something that neither OPHR nor the cops can do and go out looking for a dangerous criminal.  I take down the addresses from the TV, leave a note (a lie) on the refrigerator, and walk to the door.  Gripping the knob, I debate the merits of bringing my costume.  If I’m gonna go out and do something stupid like this, I should keep it on me, just in case.  But at the same time, I’m not exactly comfortable with the crispy state it’s in.  Or the crispy state I was in.

Fuck it.  Better to have it and not need it.

I run upstairs, grab my bag before I can start over-thinking things, and head out the door.


In a world where the answer to the question “Why is there an overturned ice cream truck in the middle of the road?” is “Because a woman with magnet powers flipped it over.”, I’m not sure why I thought I’d be able to track down an experienced post-human criminal without any knowledge of her power, but at this point, I’m starting to doubt myself.

So far, I’ve followed every single person who’s looked suspicious and the sum of my work has been my feeling like a stalker-perv.  One woman bought an inordinate amount of food at the grocery store, so I figured hey, maybe she’s stocking up so she can properly shelter the post-human fugitive she’s housing.  I know better than anyone that active post-humans can have very hearty appetites.  What did I find out?  That Cousin Justin and his new wife were coming into town to stay with them for the week and that the woman’s kid was very excited to see big Cousin Justin again.  Congratulations to me. 

Next up was a shifty looking guy who kept eyeballing every cop and security camera he passed by.  After following him along a suspicious couple laps around a three square block area, I found out that he was some small-time pothead dropping off little baggies of fun to suburban men and women who needed a pick-me-up before heading back to their little boxes made of ticky-tacky. 

I saw a woman who bore a passing resemblance to Easley shoplifting a pair of shoes, a kid who looked like a miniature Jason Segel pocket a pack of football cards, and I’m about to give up searching around the third address the reporter listed when something catches my attention. 

A nagging sensation that I’m being watched, like when I was poking around the ice cream truck.  I’ve been ignoring it for the last twenty or so minutes because when you’re wandering around a relatively crowded area, it’s hard to ever not have a pair of eyes on you, but at this point I’m starting to get paranoid. 

I don’t have major social anxiety, I’m not freaked out by large crowds of people, and though I am a little more sensitive than most when it comes to feeling eyes on the back of my neck, I don’t usually have issues like this. 

It’s at this point that something metal jabs against my back and a hand clamps down on my shoulder.  The metal thing jabbing me makes a clicking sound that’s alarmingly similar to the sound of a pistol’s hammer being thumbed back.

“Smile.  Smile like we’re family friends who haven’t seen each other in awhile.”

I smile weakly and turn my head toward the hushed female voice.

“Face front, dipshit.  I don’t know you from Adam and I will blow your goddamn spine out through your stomach if you don’t do exactly as I say.  Deal?”

The little stretch of spine directly in front of the barrel of her gun goes icy and starts tingling.  I have to swallow three times before I can respond.


“Good.  Keep walking straight.  I’ll tell you when to turn.  Now laugh, all my friends think I’m fucking hysterical and I just told you a joke.”

Has anyone ever told you just how hard it is to act cheery when someone’s threatening to cripple you?  Cuz it is.  The sound that comes out of my mouth only loosely qualifies as a chuckle.

She jabs the gun harder into my back.  “Turn right here and keep your hands out of the goddamn bag.”  We head down a less crowded side street and I feel a sudden pang of loss for the crowd we’re leaving behind.  “Who are you and how did you find me?”

“I, uh, I don’t even know who you are so how could I find you?”

“I’ve seen you three times today.  Once at Martin’s Square, again at Prince Avenue, and then just now when I picked you up on Nelson Boulevard.  All three times you were looking around, looking for someone.  You’re way too young to be a cop, so who are you and how did you find me?”

Oh God…

“Please tell me you’re not Violet Easley…”

She jams the gun harder into my back.  “No.  And that’s your one and only question.  Left here.”

Oh sweet shit, not only did I not find the criminal I was looking for, I drew the ire of an entirely different criminal who just got the drop on me.  And I’m not even in costume.  It’s official, no one has ever been worse at this than I am.

We’re leaving civilization fast.  This street’s only one step above a dark alley.  To the left of us is nothing but a row of garages blocking the view of the apartments and to the right is an apartment building that may or may not even be habitable.

Do something!

“Really?  Because your answer leads me to another question,” and before I can stop to consider whether this’ll get me what I want or just get me shot, I ask “Are you hot?  Because I need to know whether to just feel terrified or terrified and turned on…”

Unfortunately for me, my exceptionally sexist remark gets me exactly what I was hoping for.  Miss Hostage-Taker snarls and pistol whips me. 

The second I feel her take the pistol off of my back I start leaning forward a little, not enough to run away or to avoid getting clubbed, just enough to drop my bag without getting tangled and then lean away from the hit. 

When she does hit me, I’m already moving.  A glancing blow to the head is still painful enough to disorient me a little, but a pistol that’s smacking someone is a pistol that isn’t able to shoot them through the spine.  I turn and grab her wrists as I fall, dragging her to the ground with me.  From there, all I can do is turn my hips to (hopefully) keep her from landing knee-to-groin, and bring my chin down before she lands.  Luck and heightened reflexes are on my side and her nose smacks squarely against the crown of my head. 

Hooray for finally doing something right.

She slumps off of me and lands in an unconscious heap on the pavement.  Unfortunately, I’m now covered in little splotches of her blood and I still have no idea who she is or why she pulled a gun on me.

What I do know is that she was in all three of the places Violet Easley was said to frequent, she was on high enough alert to notice me looking around at all three places, and that whatever had her on high alert was enough to get her to pull a gun on me.  I’m starting to wish there was a summer course at the Batman Academy that taught amateur crime fighters detective skills.  Hell, at this point I’d settle for a YouTube video from a Sherlock Holmes-wannabe. 

So, now what?  Found…someone, got snatched, knocked said someone unconscious, and now I’m in the middle of the sidewalk, crouched over the unconscious body of a woman whose blood is spattered all over me.  God.  Dammit.

I take a look around, momentarily thankful for the all-but-abandoned street we’re on.  No one’s started screaming yet.  I don’t hear police sirens off in the distance.  Maybe I’m okay.  I decide that’s a sign from God or the Flying Spaghetti Monster or whatever it is that runs the universe that my idiocy has been blessed.  I loop my arms under her shoulders and drag her into the nearest alley, hoping I don’t get mistaken for a rapist by an inconvenient passerby. 

Long black hair, soft cheek bones, a slightly flat nose (which might be my fault), and a long face.  Her skin’s olive.  I clearly don’t know her, but I keep staring like that’ll suddenly change. 

I set her down between two dirty, faded garages and go back for her gun.  I make sure to grab it with my sleeve over my hand, just in case I need to not have my prints on a criminal’s gun.  Into my bag goes the gun (until I can find a better place for it), and out comes a pair of cable ties.  Ankles and wrists. 

I’m grateful for the cover provided by the two garages now because I definitely look like a rapist.  Goosebumps roll across my arms and chest and I shiver.

Now, seriously.  What next?

Fragments of thought, exasperation, confusion, and God knows what else start clogging my brain, swirling too fast for me to process.  Something pulses between my eyes and I wonder if my brain’s gonna erupt from my forehead like a Chestburster.

I lean against one of the garage walls and slide down to the ground.  With my eyes squeezed shut, I start winding down.  Deep, deep breath; let it fill my entire chest and stomach.  Hold it.  Push it out.  Rotate my head, around and around.  Roll my shoulders.  Keep breathing.  Bend my elbows, clench my biceps, extend, flex my triceps.  Chest.  Wrists.  Fists.  Thighs.  Calves.  All the way down to my toes. 

And I nearly lose my shit entirely when my unconscious friend groans and rolls over.  I manage not to shriek by the thinnest of margins. I don’t even bother trying not to jump backwards.

She’s still snugly cable tied, but her hair’s different.  It’s getting shorter and blondeness is overtaking the formerly dark strands like the tide washing in.  Her cheekbones are more pronounced, her nose looks slenderer (but still a little broken), her skin’s lightened, and her ears are inching flatter to her skull.  I don’t know exactly what color her eyes were before, but they’re bright green now.  I also don’t remember there being a birthmark on her neck.

All told, this woman now bears a striking resemblance to Violet Easley. 

Okay.  Now I’ve lost my shit.

Since when the fuck are shapeshifters a real thing?  And why didn’t anyone mention that the big, scary criminal everyone’s looking for can change her appearance at will?  And holy shit, when did I start doing my post-human business without a costume?  Now is the time to walk away.  Put a call in to OPHR and just walk away.  What more can I do here?  Dress myself up and walk this woman to the PD’s lobby?  (No, daylight superheroing is not on the table for Illegals.  Tried it, didn’t like it.)  Just put in a call, pretend to be a bystander who saw someone fitting the Sentinel’s description, and then walk the hell away.  I’ll have to torch this burner afterwards, just to be safe, but life’s full of little sacrifices.

It’s only after fishing the burner phone out of my bag that I realize I didn’t copy down the hotline number OPHR posted.  Which leaves me with two less than ideal options. 

One, call the police and have them bring in Easley.  She’ll still get to OPHR and this mess’ll be cleaned up, but it doesn’t reflect particularly well on OPHR that they had to resort to such methods and at the moment, my alter-ego is catching splash damage from OPHR’s shitty PR. 

Option two is to call Alan on my burner and hope he doesn’t think it’s a prank.  Alan can pitch it up the line and OPHR can save the day and hopefully start taking the heat off of amateur crime-fighters such as myself. 

It’s during this moment of contemplation that I see the roving red and blue of police lights creep up the street.

Fucking wonderful.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Decorated Soldier

The last thing Anna did before she left yesterday was tell me to talk to Susan and ask what she thought about my costumed crusade.  Well, the last thing she did was make out with me some more, but that’s not the point.  The point is, Anna kinda sorta owns me and I’ve accumulated a fairly large debt to Susan over the relatively short amount of time I’ve spent under her roof, so the talking to Susan thing is gonna happen today, like it or not. 

And on top of that, the itch has been on me worse than usual today. 

Which is wonderful.  The two things taking up most of my admittedly limited mental capacity are two things that I really want no part of right now.  A serious talk with Susan right on the heels of a serious talk with Anna plus an intense urge to dress up in a cape and mask and punch people in the face. 

That and peeling off all the purple heart stickers Boone stuck to my clothes.  All my clothes.  The only things not stickered are my socks and boxers.  I woke up with a sticker on my forehead somehow. 

There will be hell to pay for that.

But before I can too thoroughly distract myself with thoughts of revenge and peeling stickers, I bookmark my Hellblazer graphic novel (ignoring the desperately nerdy part of me that tells me Staring at the Walls needs to be read in one sitting) and roll outta bed.  My landing’s a bit heavier than normal, but it’s a vast improvement over the last few days.

“No bullshit.”  Anna told me.  “Just ask her.”

Susan’s in the living room, weaving a pair of metallic green knitting needles throught a complex, fragile-looking spider web of purple yarn.  I think she called it lace or something.

I clear my throat before dropping into the big armchair between Susan and the far wall. 

“Whenever you get to a stopping point,” I mutter, rubbing the back of a finger against my chin. 

I need to shave.

After a few seconds, Susan gently sets her knitting down on the cushion next to her.  She folds her hands in her lap.  It doesn’t look particularly casual.  More like she’s trapping them there so they won’t fidget.

Before I can ask the simple, straightforward question Anna told me to, I blurt out “If you guys don’t want me around anymore, I’ll go.”

She cringes, from her face all the way down to her hands, before taking a deep breath.  And then a second.  It reminds me a bit of the first time we met.  A bit graver, but there’s a similar sense of her gathering herself to answer a hard question she’s been expecting me to ask.


It looks like the question hurts her almost as much as it does me.


“Out of the city?”  She continues.  “Out of the state?”

She sighs, pausing for a second to right the ship.

“This isn’t what I want to say.  What I really mean is that you don’t seem to grasp your place within this family.  We want you here.”  She emphasizes each word in the sentence, not letting me break eye contact.  “We want you to feel like you can stay here as long as you’d like.  And then when you’re done staying here to come back and visit when you’ve got the time.  When you first came here, this wasn’t a sure thing.  We could’ve talked to you and then gone our separate ways.  We wanted you to stay.  When you came to live with us, this still wasn’t a sure thing.  Not every family is the right place for every child.  But we let you stay.  We found out what you do at night.  We found out you broke the law and put yourself in danger on a regular basis.”  She smiles a thin smile.  “Admittedly, that was a little more difficult to process, but still.  We let you stay.  None of those decisions were colored by pity or feeling like we were committed to keeping you around, whether we liked it or not.  We let you stay because we want you here.  And to drive that point home, I’m going to spoil a surprise Paul and I were planning.”

She holds up a finger and walks quickly into the hall.  Her footsteps trot up the stairs, stop, and then march back down.  She comes back into the room, holding a thin binder.  Across the front in permanent marker is:  Yard Sale.

She sets the binder in my lap and sits back down.  I thumb through the pages of table layouts and item prices and anything else anyone could conceivable need to run a yard sale.  My mouth’s too dry.  Someone’s filled my insides with molasses.  My lungs and heart labor and my eyes sting.

“We’ve been planning to clean out that other bedroom as soon as it warmed up enough for a yard sale to work.  We wanted it to be a surprise.”

She folds and unfolds her hands a few times.

“We probably should’ve just told you.  I didn’t even think of how you’d see it.  An extra bedroom just sitting around filled with clutter while you had to share a room.”

We sit in silence for a bit.  Susan fidgets and I bury myself in the little binder so I don’t have to confirm or deny anything.  She starts up again.

“I’m sorry if this stupid surprise has made you feel unwanted or, or made you feel temporary, we…we just wanted to give you a proper welcome.”

Don’t say anything.  You suck at words.  Just give the poor woman what she deserves.

I shift the binder aside, slide out of the armchair, and give Susan a brief, tight hug.  It only makes me slightly uncomfortable.  And I ignore the little voice in the back of my head that tells me things are starting to stack up dangerously high in my favor, that things are gonna topple soon. 


I’ve spent the last three hours lying in bed.  Most of the first two were spent doing various anxiety management exercises.  Deep breathing, stretching, and the like.  Since then I’ve done the absolute worst thing in the world for managing stress:  I’ve obsessed.  And oddly enough, it’s the obsessing that’s helped the most.  People seem hellbent on keeping me around.  Anna, Susan, Paul, Boone…well, at least Boone doesn’t seem to actively want me to leave.  Plus, he’ll be getting his room back soon.  That’ll help.

For the millionth time, I scroll back to Polar Bear Club’s lovesick anthem, “Drifting Thing” and text Anna back during her study hall.  Susan calls up to me to keep feeling better before heading to her shift.  I close my eyes and drift off until someone shakes me awake.  Literally, I wake up to Anna shaking my leg.

Once she sees I’m awake, she steps up onto Boone’s bunk, pulls my head toward hers, and kisses me.  We spend a minute or three like that.

When we separate her eyes look really big.  She’s smiling.

I lick my lips and smile back.  “What did I do to deserve that?”

Maybe it’s the whole near-death experience I had or Anna finally being cool with what I do, but she’s spent an inordinate amount of time shoving her tongue down my throat these last couple days.  Not that I’m complaining—this is pretty much what teenagers live for—just making a note.

She rolls her eyes like I’m slow.  But the adorable kind of slow. 

“That’s one of the hidden perks of being in a relationship, dumbass.  I can make out with you whenever I want for little or no reason at all.  And I dunno, things feel better now.  Like there’s not as much stress and we can just enjoy being us, ya know?”

“And this is what I can expect from us just getting to be us?”

Another eye roll.  “Yes…

I tilt my head to the side and lean toward her.  “Just checking.”

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Bug Out

I wake up at one forty-seven pm trying to cough one or both of my lungs up.  Coughing, being a rather physically engaging activity, reminds me just how bruised, knotted, and abraded my shoulders, head, arms, and back are.  I cough and cough and cough ‘til I can barely push out anymore coughs and they subside into a breathless wheeze.

Fuck everything.

I was in bed for almost eleven hours, but I couldn’t have slept for more than four.  The exhaustion’s let up just enough to keep me from physically having to make a decision between sleeping and collapsing.  Now I’m just tired all the time, in need of rest, and not really getting it.

No, seriously.  Fuck everything.

This is probably what I deserve after staying out so late last night instead of laying around and healing.  I sit up, wincing when I try and prop myself up on a bruised forearm.  Out of the corner of my eye I see my bedside table looking a little more crowded than usual.  On top of my laptop and next to my phone is a paper plate with a peanut butter sandwich and a big Granny Smith apple.  I unlock my phone and skip past the other three text messages, going straight to one from Susan.

Enjoy the food.  Hope you’re feeling better.  Shift doesn’t start ‘til 3.  Come down if you get this before I leave.

God.  Why is she being so nice to me? 

I know she was on the verge of a heart attack when Anna called her from the hospital.  And so tight on the heels of me getting my shit stomped by Sewer Man.  I keep giving her enough time to think I’ll stay outta trouble and then getting into even more trouble than before. 

I lumber to the floor and grab the plate with one hand, carefully rolling the apple off into the other hand.  I haven’t been eating all that well the last couple days, but today’s feeling like the day that’ll change.  The first bite of the apple reminds my body just how hungry it is.  My metabolism is every bit as post-human as the rest of me.  I generally need more food than the average person to get by, so my recent fast is about to end with a pantry-raiding feast that would put a hall of Vikings to shame. 

The apple’s chewed to the core by the time I’m down the stairs.  I awkwardly switch the apple core for the sandwich and almost choke.  Peanut butter doesn’t go down quite as easy as apples do.  My eye-watering coughing catches Susan’s attention.


I manage to stave off one cough long enough to confirm that I am indeed the foster child fuck up she’s looking for.  When she steps into the hall her mouth’s a thin line and her eyes are scrunched, they make contact with me and then flit to the side.

When I finally find myself fit for speech I try to wave off some of her concern.  “Just a ‘took too big a bite’ cough, that’s all.”

It doesn’t seem to help much. 

I honestly don’t wanna know what she has to say right now.  She’s been bottling it up, waiting for me to feel better before dropping it on my head and I know bottling isn’t her thing but I just want her to keep it up.  Hearing how scared she was or how angry she is or whatever just isn’t something I’m up for.  I don’t need her to tell me what a fuck-up I am, I’ve been this way for long enough to know that all by myself.  And if I can keep her from getting going then I can keep her from reaching the end of the conversation.  The point where, spoken straight or insinuated, she tells me I’ve found the line in the sand.  She’s had all the bullshit she’s gonna have from me and maybe more and if I don’t get my head outta my ass this is over.  It’s not her fault I’ve burned through literally every capable foster family in the area and I’ll be shipped somewhere completely new if this doesn’t work out.  I got myself neck deep in shit, it’s up to me to deal with the consequences. 

Or maybe even worse, she’ll tell me there is no line.  That no matter what I do, we’ll just keep butting heads on this and she’ll keep suffering and I’ll keep hating that my crusade is more important than her pain.  Or whatever the less melodramatic version of that may be. 

But not right now.  I really can’t have either of those conversations right now.

“Thanks for the sandwich.”  I raise the plate and avoid eye contact.  “Think I’ll scrounge around for a bit more.  High metabolism and all.”

Everything’s flat and awkward.  I feel like someone’s smashed me into two dimensions.  My voice doesn’t have any life.  My brain can’t seem to do anything but remind me of how much everything sucks, myself included.

My appetite’s soured, but I can’t keep eating light or I’m gonna collapse.  I shuffle into the kitchen and grab a container of leftover chicken casserole from the fridge, plopping most of it onto a real plate.  I feel Susan’s eyes on me, but I’m hoping she’ll just swallow whatever she’s got to say.  I’m only down here for a couple minutes then I’ll be out of her way again.


“Please, not right now.”  My throat’s swollen like I’ve developed a sudden allergy to this conversation.  “Please.”

I keep my back to her on my way to the microwave and try to look like I’m casually crossing my arms and not hugging myself to keep a pathetic emotional outburst from blowing me apart.  Susan either gets the message or just gets her feelings hurt pretty quickly because I hear her footsteps head toward the living room. 

In between all the self-pity and wallowing, part of me’s screaming:  MAN UP!

The part that runs into burning buildings, the part that functions even with loaded guns shoved in my face, the part that managed to win a fight with a super-powered lunatic and do so without hurting him too badly screams at me all the way up to my room. 


I skip past one of Anti-Flag’s lesser songs to one I like more and turn the volume up on my laptop.  I don’t know what it is about two such disparate things that they have the same calming effect on me, but they do.  Angry punk snarls and digging through my bag.  They don’t calm me down so much as they offer a sort of morbid comfort.  Being angry and being mobile, they’re what I know.  So I bury myself in them.

The zipper on my bug out bag is starting to separate from the rest of the bag.  Just a little tear right now and it’ll stay little if the bag stays tucked away under the bed.  But if the bag gets any real use, it’ll be a tattered chasm before too long.  I unzip it, careful not to cause anymore damage, and start sifting. 

A heavy Swiss Army Knife with a notch taken out of the handle.  A black pouch filled with band-aids, disinfectant, and the like.  A flashlight like the one I carry in my costume.  A couple burner phones.  Few pairs of clothes that could carry me through anything short of deep winter.  Other items I’ve deemed necessary over the years. 

At the bottom are a few of my favorite comic books, boarded, double bagged, and kept in a slim padded case I stole when I was twelve.  When it really occurred to me that I was different, comics had taken on a whole new appeal.  I’d scrounged through old used book stores, traded anything I had with other kids at school, and even spent lunch money on them.  At one point I’d even snuck one of my foster parent’s credit cards and ordered a subscription of Ultimate Spider-Man. 

I’m so engrossed in what I’m doing that I don’t hear the footsteps coming up the stairs. 

Anna knocks twice and opens the bedroom door.

“Hey, neither of you idiots is answering your phone.  Is Boone here?  I need him for a project.”

I stiffen and turn around, carefully shielding the bag from Anna.  This is normally the time I would make a joke about waiting before coming in, that I could be naked or worse, playing air guitar.  Instead, I fumble with silence.

Anna makes a face.

“Is this Anti-Flag?”

I nod, still not sure how to speak without giving myself away.

“What’s wrong?  You only listen to them when you’re having a bad day.”

How could she possibly know that?  Who keeps track of that kinda shit?

It’s only now that I’m having my normal, uncomfortable reaction to one person knowing so much about me that I realize how weird it is that I’ve been okay with it for so long.  That I’ve even enjoyed it.

I grunt.  “Haven’t been sleeping well.”

She walks farther into the room and I straighten up, hoping I can stay on the floor and still keep her from seeing the bag over my shoulder.  She kneels down next to me.

“How come?”

I shrug.  “Stress, I guess.”

I don’t make any mention of the fire, but I probably don’t have to.

“Do you wanna talk about it?”

She puts her hand on my knee, running her thumb over it in slow circles.  I’m tempted to tell her the truth.  That even with the shit with Susan, our fight, getting mauled by a sewer man, and getting caught up in a burning building, this has been the best place I’ve ever lived and sooner or later the other shoe’s gonna drop.  I’ll find the line, the line everyone has and I’ll cross it.  At some point I’ll stop amusing Boone or I’ll stop being worth all the effort Susan puts in and it’ll all fall apart.

Or that Anna’s gonna get tired of me and dump me and then I’ll spend what little time I have left here miserably watching her move on.

But instead of opening up and spewing red-hot molten crazy everywhere, I do something much worse:  I lean in for a hug.

And when Anna accepts, resting her chin on my shoulder, she gets a clear look into my open bug out bag.

“What’s that?”



Say something.  It’s my bondage bag.  Everything I need for a night at a BDSM club.  My bank robbing gear.  Supplies for my afterschool job as a clown.  Something!

Anna pulls away and slides past me.  There has to be something I can do to stop her, but I can’t think of anything.  She pulls it onto her lap and starts picking through it and it’s like Susan catching me coming in the kitchen door all over. 

“What’s…”  She runs her hands over my travel toothbrush and deodorant.  Her hand freezes on the little roll of cash I’ve squirreled away.  “What’s with the bag?”

She’s trying to sound reasonable.  Working hard to keep the accusation out of her voice.  Trying to give me a chance.  But she can’t keep from looking heartbroken.  It doesn’t take her long to figure out what the bag means and when that happens I think a little part of me dies. 

“It’s…I’m not planning on…I wasn’t…” 

I try to take a deep breath, to push down the anxiety that scrabbling madly up my chest cavity, but can’t even draw a normal breath.  Anna jumps in. 

“Wasn’t gonna run away?  Wasn’t gonna leave?”  She makes a sound halfway between a scoff and a sob.  “God, I thought we were past this shit.  I get that you’re uncomfortable with this stability or whatever, but I thought you were making progress.”

Breathe.  Breathe as deep as you can.  Breathe and find your words.

“Progress isn’t the same as being better.  It…it takes time.”

I feel like that was the closest thing to profundity I’ll ever manage and what’s more, I expressed it fairly clearly, but even still, I sound whiney.  I sound like I’m making excuses.

The first time Alan set me up with a therapist, I tried to be good.  It was after Henry Campbell and the canings and by that point I’d started identifying the right choices in life and actively making the wrong ones.  It helped and after awhile it started being fun.  But when Alan sent me to therapy, he was so worked up about everything.  He launched an investigation into the Campbells, he started checking in on me more often, and then he suggested I try talking to someone.

Even at my most cynical, I’m not sure I could’ve said no to the face Alan made.  It was guilty and heartbroken and angry and hopeful and everything else in the world.  Way more than any one facial expression should be able to encompass.  So I played along.  No fucking around.

And then I started feeling like a rat trying to navigate a maze.  I wasn’t really allowed to say anything normal, to just talk to my shrink like people.  I’d try and joke about the shit food at the cafeteria and he’d imply I wasn’t eating right.  Just subtly and never accusatorily, but he was like that with everything.  I say something and he turns it a little to the left, poking and prodding me.  It’s not easy talking to someone like that.  Nothing feels safe, nothing’s relaxed.  Nothing gets to be off the record.  He’d say it was, but he was always scribbling on a fucking notepad and I knew he was giving Alan the gist of it afterward.  That was part of our agreement, Doctor Grant and Alan could exchange notes—good communication being the foundation of therapy and all.  But at a certain point it felt less like good communication and more like spying.

It got to the point where I was digging my thumb into my thigh, just to keep from strangling him.  And you better believe he took note of that too.

So I stopped telling him things.  If he asked a pointed question or just anything I wasn’t too fond of, I’d ignore it.  Pretend I was hard of hearing.  I stopped initiating anything and when I did answer his questions, it was as sparsely as possible.

Those are not conditions under which therapy flourishes (or so I was told), so I left.  Alan set me up with someone else and I didn’t spend as long trying that time.  By the third shrink I was actively sabotaging things.  Eventually Alan gave up, under the guise of giving me a little more control over my life.  If I ever felt therapy would be beneficial, all I had to do was say so and Alan would hook me up.

Surprisingly though, I told Doctor Grant about the bag.  I’d started planning one before I gave Alan my ultimatum and I started putting it together in earnest as soon as I got to the next house.

Anna runs her hand through her hair and I wonder if she didn’t pick the gesture up from Boone.  She throws her hands up and makes an exasperated huff.

“Why do you keep doing this?  You need to quit pretending that because you’re not normal Susan and Paul are suffering from…buyer’s remorse or something.  This self-pitying bullshit has to stop.”

Who’s pretending?  Just because Susan and Paul want me here, doesn’t mean I should be here.  They’re generosity isn’t an invitation for me to fuck up their lives.”

I’m starting to raise my voice again.  Starting to pick a fight with someone who’s just trying to help.  With Anna.  I need to stop fucking do this.

Suck it up.  Stop being a child and speak.

“I…I need you to be okay with me.”  It actually pains me to say that.  My chest feels like someone’s created a black hole the size of a pinhole inside it and my insides are all being sucked slowly through it.  My ears and cheek must be an impressive shade of red.  “With what I do.  I just…” 

I’m not one of those guys who collect sneakers, but right now I can’t think of anything more interesting than staring at my shoes.

I don’t notice Anna moving toward me until I feel her arm around my shoulders.  She sighs into my neck. 

“I’m sorry I keep yelling at you.  I think what you do is amazing.”  She kisses my cheek.  “Not getting into fights or whatever.  You ran into a burning building to save someone.  The police told you not to.  The fire department had given up.  You knew…things on the home front wouldn’t be much cheerier.”  She turns her head away a little bit as she says the last bit.  “I think I got blinded by the danger.  It’s hard, knowing you’re putting yourself in danger like that all the time.  But it’s…incredible.  Stupid and courageous and incredible and I think you’re the most amazing person I know.”

She goes quiet and I imagine I can feel the heat radiating off of her.

Given all the time in the universe I wouldn’t be able to come up with a proper response to that. 

She jabs the bag with her foot.  “Amazing and infuriating.  In equal measures.”

When I find my voice again, it’s small.

“You can hold onto it if you want.  Keep the bag over at your place so you’d know for sure.”

She shakes her head immediately.  “No.  I don’t want you staying here because you’re not able to leave.  You stay or go because you want to.”

We’re both silent for awhile.  I’m out of gestures and apologies and I guess Anna not sure where to go next either.

Tell her you won’t really leave.  Tell her why!

But then she perks up.  “Go to prom with me.”


“I’ll believe you if you promise you’ll go to prom with me.  You can’t just up and leave if we have plans.  Okay?”

Tell her!

I have to snort, clear a little snot out before I can speak.  It’s gotta be incredibly sexy. 

I laugh.  At my own self-deprecation, at the delusional young woman asking me to prom instead of killing me, at how my luck’s changed since moving in here. 

“No one in their right mind would ever turn down that invitation.”

She smiles a little.  “That doesn’t answer my question.  You’re not actually in your right mind.”

A real smile overtakes my face.  I can’t seem to just blurt out the super romantic thought on the tip of my tongue, so I stick with, “Of course.”

She squeezes me in another hug and kisses my cheek before pulling back, looking semi-serious.

“But if you stand me up, I will kill you.  Superhero or not.  I will find you and kill you.  On prom night.  In my prom dress.”

For the first time today I feel safe to try a joke.

“What if I bail on you tomorrow?  Would you just wait for prom night to come find me?”

“Yes.  I would give you that much of a head start because there is nowhere you could go to run away from me.”

She kisses me again, on the mouth.  Like she means it.

While we’re locked like that, lips pressed together, I mouth three words.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014


I shouldn’t be doing this without my costume.

The only way I can even come close to justifying jumping from roof to roof like this is that in this particular low-income district of downtown it’s possible for normal people to do it too.  The buildings are only about eight feet apart and the eaves on either side extend out two more feet.  My problem is that I don’t know how to jump like a normal person, so I’m clearing the whole eight feet in one go.

Someone’s tied my intestines into one big knot. 

It’s terrifying to be out doing even quasi-superhero things again, but the exhilaration isn’t lessened by that fact.  And it’s even more intense because of how stupid it is to be doing this without a mask on.  I’d never noticed how jumping around like this cuts through my hair.  It’s hard to ignore how nice the weather’s turned, even at night. 

Not that there’s really any alternative.  I can’t stay in my room not sleeping anymore and I can’t just put the costume back on. 

It’s not just that I’ve started getting bleakly philosophical about costuming, seeing my costumed identity as a jack-o-lantern:  hollow and garish.  That the Sentinel’s crusade for peace, justice, and the hope that one day I won’t feel so small feels like the pathetic pipe dream of a damaged child.  It’s that I’m honestly afraid I’ll piss myself if I step outside in it or that I’ll throw up the second I smell the cloying scent of fire wrapping itself around me. 

A coughing fit rattles my lungs and aggravates all the injuries I got from jumping out of a burning building.  I put my hands on my knees and cough ‘til my lungs are raw (which doesn’t take long considering I’ve been coughing like this all day).

There’s next to no wind tonight, but the smell of the apartment building still carries almost a block.  It stinks like the world’s trashiest bonfire.  Wood, metal, plastic, and concrete all went up and most of those have fairly distinct scents.  There was only one reported death in the fire and even though I can’t possibly smell it, I keep catching phantom whiffs of cooked flesh. 

I jump another roof.

All the construction equipment’s gone quiet for the night, but they’ll probably be working twelve hour days to get it done as quickly as humanly possible.  The neighborhood may be poor, but the slumlords who run it aren’t.  They’ll want tenants back in as quickly as possible. 

Before I jump to the building next to the burnt out husk, I see someone sitting on the roof and I pull up short.  He’s sitting on the edge, letting his legs dangle and swing lightly.  It almost looks like his feet are swaying in time to the caution tape’s fluttering, but then I notice he has headphones in and assume it’s more in time with the music.  Losing my privacy really isn’t worth a slightly better view.

I sit down on the corner of this roof.

It was a little weird.  Blaming myself for something so I can get away with something else, but it’s what I had to do to explain away my injuries. 

I was over at the apartment building visiting a friend when the fire started, that’s why no one in the building would really know me.  I fell down the stairs trying to get out, that’s why my shoulders, arms, and back are bruised and why I’m limping a bit.  I was dazed and in the confusion of that masked vigilante trying to rescue people, the paramedics lost track of me, that’s how I managed to wander off. 

“If those damn Illegals would just leave things to the professionals…” the nurse had grumbled.

I just nodded and kept a death grip on Anna’s hand.  Her fingers were bruised the next day and I must’ve spent more time apologizing than I did breathing.  Apologizing and thanking her for coming up with the lies I gave to the nurses because I was too wrecked to know what to say and too paranoid to assume they wouldn’t grill me about why I was there.  But true to Anna’s word, no one tried to stake me to the wall.

Only bits and pieces of the night really push through the mist.  After getting out of the burning building, it’s all clips and phrases.  I don’t remember a single detail of the doctor I saw.  Height, weight, gender, skin color, nothing.  Could’ve been a janitor dressed up in a lab coat for all I knew.

Could’ve been an orangutan in a doctor costume.  Or a doctor in an orangutan costume.

Back home, everyone made a big fuss about me almost getting burned alive.  Susan wasn’t working when I was brought into the hospital, but she made sure everyone was awake and waiting for me when Anna carted me home.  I still don’t know how Anna convinced Susan to stay home instead of dragging the whole house out to the hospital.  The next morning Paul even went in to work a bit late so he could wait for me to wake up.  Just to check-in, I guess.  Susan insisted I stay home from school and turned a blind eye when Anna ditched to stay with me as well.  Boone stood around and looked painfully awkward before making a bad joke about charbroiling myself and catching the bus.  I kinda got the impression he wanted to stay too, but I dunno.

A lot of that day was spent sleeping.  Not very deeply or restfully, but sleeping nonetheless.  Either Susan or Anna were in my room for almost every second of the day.  They stepped outside long enough to let me change when I sleep-sweated through my pajamas, but that was about it.  I’m a little surprised neither of them tried to follow me into the bathroom. 

It wasn’t until that night that I actually slept deeply enough to dream.  Supposedly if you’re not dreaming, you won’t be fully rested when you wake up, but I think that only goes for people who aren’t having bizarre dreams full of melting children’s toys and bones falling through the ceiling and turning to ash.  Every time I got deep enough for dreams, I was quickly and violently jerked back into the land of the living.  If my body hadn’t been so desperate for sleep, I probably would’ve kept myself awake after the first nightmare.  But as it was, I doubt I would’ve been able to delay sleep for more than a few minutes even with the nightmare adrenaline.

Tonight, however, my need for sleep isn’t quite so intense.  So here I am.  Standing on the roof of a building that’s little more than a tenement and staring at the twisted remains of another tenement.

I’m so caught up in my own shit that I barely notice when the guy sitting on the other roof gets up and turns around.  The roof access stairwell is on the other side of the building and there’s nowhere else I can run off to, so I take a deep breath against the mounting anxiety.  Not like exchanging awkward nods with a stranger is gonna kill me.

But instead of pursing his lips and nodding briefly as the Guy Code mandates, he twitches when he sees me and drops his headphones around his neck before offering a sheepish smile.

“Guess I’m not the only one who finds it kinda…fascinating.”

I shrug and hope he’ll leave me alone.

“Like, hypnotic.  I dunno.  There’s something about it that’s hard to look away from.  Even when it gets really kinda depressing to look at.  I put headphones on to block the silence, but I couldn’t walk away.  I didn’t know anyone that lived there or anything…did you?”  He blurts the question out like he’s worried about striking a nerve.

I shake my head.  “No.”

He exhales heavily.  “Good.  Bad enough that it happened at all.”  His eyes roll around the roof, like he’s looking for something that’ll spur further conversation.  “You heard that Sentinel guy busted in mid-blaze trying to save people?”

My intestines untie and retie themselves.  “Yeah.” 

My voice doesn’t sound right, it’s thin and tight, but my new friend doesn’t seem to notice.

“Fucking psycho.  The fire department was making their last sweep when he busted in.  It was getting too hot and they couldn’t risk any of their people even if there was a kid stuck inside.”  He smiles and shakes his head.  “The damn fire department wasn’t willing to risk it and he goes in there just to save one person.  Shit.”

I swallow a few times.  “Yeah?”

“Ten ton balls, man.  Shame he couldn’t save the kid, but just going in there…shit, ya know?”

I guess I’d know better than anyone.

“Shame, yeah.”  My voice is still an awkward croak.

Apparently he’s noticing I don’t sound right now because he’s got this odd look on his face.  “You said you didn’t know anyone that got hurt in the fire, right?”

For a minute, it’s pretty clear how badly I’m losing my mind because I debate actually talking to this guy.  Telling him, no I didn’t know anyone in the building, but it was my fault the kid died.  That I was the Illegal costumed vigilante who barreled into the building half-cocked and was spat back out shortly after. 

It feels like my brain is pulsing and throbbing inside my skull, desperately trying to purge itself.  I don’t know exactly what time it is, but I know Alan won’t be awake.  I’m tempted to call him anyway, tell him to set me up with a shrink first thing tomorrow.  I know it’d mean revealing my costumed escapades because I don’t think patient confidentiality covers that, but it might be worth it.

My chest feels too small; it’s not letting my lungs expand all the way.  I start my deep breathing exercises, but it’s sounding more and more like hyperventilating.  I hunch over and put my hands on my knees.

“Hey, hey, hey…”  I lost track of him for a minute and now he’s less than a foot away from me holding his hands out and looking thoroughly freaked out.  “What’s happening?”

Panic attack, you fucking idiot.

But even as I tell myself what’s happening, which should be the first step toward overcoming it, I can’t remember what I’m supposed to do next.

“Seriously, I’m calling an ambulance.”

I reach out and swat at him for a second until I find his forearm.  I grab hold and shake my head.  Between the recent smoke inhalation and the current panic attack my voice is more of a wheeze than anything else.

No.  I’m fine.”

His forearm tenses up, but he doesn’t pull away. 

It’s a mild spring night, but I’m sweating.  I’m wearing sweats and a hoodie, but I’m cold.  Either this came on way faster than usual or I was really suppressing my anxiety for awhile.

Let it pass.  It’s going to end.  It’s going to end without killing you.  Let it pass, idiot.

I keep telling myself that over and over.  My mantra.  At some point I all but fall over backwards.  I cross my arms over my knees and rest my head on my forearms.

I don’t know how long it takes, but I start to level out.  The tide rolls back out and the crushing weight of an ocean of anxiety rushes off my chest with one great inhale.  Each following breath eases the weight, steadily expanding my lungs back to their normal size. 

“I’m fine.”

He didn’t ask, but he was not asking far too loudly. 

“Looks like it.”

I turn my head away from my arms and glare weakly.  “No one likes a smartass.”

I speak from experience.

I drop my head onto my forearms again.  We sit in silence for a second.  He breaks it fairly quickly.

“You live around here?”

“No.”  I debate lying about where I live for a moment, before realizing I don’t actually care all that much.  What’s he gonna do with some stranger’s address?  “I live over in Willowwood.”

“Sounds like some fancy gated community or something.”

“Just a middle class neighborhood with illusions of grandeur.  Not all that far away, really.”

He grunts.  “I’m Brandon, by the way.”

I’m starting to feel like a child, curled up on the ground beneath him so I stand up.  When I’m on my feet I offer my hand.  “Wes.”  Smalltalk not being one of my superpowers, I offer up this little gem:  “So where do you go to school?”

“I’m a senior at South.”

South Bluffs.  Is that my school’s rival?  If I had more school spirit, I’d probably know for sure.  Not that it really matters.  “So which building is yours?”

And with that, this is officially the worst first impression I’ve ever made.  And that’s counting the times I was actively trying to make a bad one.

He taps his foot lightly on the roof.

“This one, actually.”

I nod like that’s interesting information and wish I had a question worth asking.

He breaks this silence too.

“Supposed to rain tonight.  Wondered if it’s laying off to let people like us take in the view.”

“Just waiting for the most dramatic moment to loose a downpour on us, I’m sure.”

Brandon snorts.  “Probably.”

Another pause.

I fill it with a few coughs before Brandon breaks it again, with a small smile this time.

“You’re not gonna spaz out on me again, are you?”

“I didn’t spaz.”

“You kinda spazzed.  There was hyperventilating.”

I scowl.  “You should be careful about insulting strangers.  Hitchhikers could be escaped mental patients and all that.”

That earns me a good laugh.  “Guess I assumed if you were gonna strangle me with your straightjacket you’d have done so before I fanboyed all over the Sentinel.”

“True.  Damn…missed my opening…”

“So I never asked what school you went to?”

“East.  Go Flying Badgers…or whatever our mascot is…”

Is this actually how normal people make friends?  Am I actually making a friend or is this guy just too polite to tell me to fuck off?

Probably both.

“Your school spirit blows.”

“That’s because I’m not showing my midriff, three quarters of my thigh, and there aren’t any pompoms on hand.  It’s a package deal.  And when it all comes together…”  I make an exploding motion with my hands.

He sighs dramatically.  “Shame I’m straight or that’d be a sight to see.”

I consider giving him my number, telling him to hit me up.  I have next to no friends, so whenever he wants to chill, I’ll be free.  However, my usual social ineptitude (multiplied by my current state of skullfucked) is telling me that it’d be weird considering our present circumstances.  All of four minutes ago he was trying to call an ambulance to cart me away for a panic attack. 

So, instead of doing something social, I look around a bit and wave.  “Alright, I think I’ve had my fill for tonight.  Plenty of other tragic sites to hit on my sightseeing tour.”

Before jumping the first roof, Brandon shouts after me.  “Brandon Tate.  Hit me up on Facebook if you get bored of all the sightseeing.”

I look over my shoulder.  “Tate.  Got it.”

I start jumping the gaps in what I hope is a more normal-looking way and debate just waiting for Brandon to go back inside before coming back, but I’ve already had more than my fill.  Clearly, I’m a masochist, but everyone’s got a line and apparently my line stops me shy of two embarrassingly pathetic panic attacks per day. 

Probably for the best.  Just jumping around like this is starting to give me the shakes.  Anxiety sucks.  Ejecting myself out of a third story window sucks.  Smoke inhalation sucks. 

Fuck this, I’m going home.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Nuclear Family Fission Revisited

No new story this week, but for those of you who follow the blog (real or imaginary), I'd recommend rereading Nuclear Family Fission.  I made some revisions and decided now was the time to properly introduce it into the novel.

It's a good thing people don't actually keep up with my blog or there might be some folks getting irritated by the lack of new content.  Hooray for minuscule readership!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Held Hands and Hate Crimes

The bus is abuzz with gossip when I step on.  Boone heads back to his usual group and though they immediately start talking, I kinda doubt it’s about the same thing as everyone else.  Boone’s never seemed like the gossipy sort.

Unfortunately for me, some of Anna’s friends are.

We plop down in an aisle across from Haley Zuelch and Monica Demanski.  They start chattering away before we’ve even settled in.  For the most part, I can handle the two of them.  They’re decent people.  But once a piece of gossip is on the wind, they can’t help but spread it as far and as fast as humanly possible.  I slump back against the window and Anna squeezes my hand.  I can’t tell if it’s an “I’m sorry about this” kinda hand squeeze or a “hang in there” or just “I felt you slip away a bit and didn’t wanna let go”, but I give her a quick squeeze back.  Neither of us is huge on public displays (it’s really only fun when you’re trying to make people uncomfortable and that’s not what I want Anna and I to be), but we’ve labeled handholding as PG enough for both of our tastes. 

“—like she thought it would never get out or something.”  Monica’s already on a roll.

“And of all the music they could’ve been doing that to, why did they pick Alice in Chains?” Haley makes a face as she says it, as if music about drugs and self-loathing is somehow inappropriate. 

Some people.

Anna laughs.  “Haley, did you even know that band existed before you saw their video?”

“Well…no, but I do now and I just don’t get it.”

Anna’s not one to spread gossip and she likes to give people who do a little bit of shit, but she’s a more socially normal high school student than I am.  The latest rumors hold some intrigue for her.  Which is fine, the only reason they don’t interest me is because I find most people intolerably boring so why would I wanna hear second-hand stories about their boring lives?

“And,” Anna continues, “of all the things for you to be worrying about here, the music is what you pick?”

Haley sighs, clearly a little off-put by Anna’s difficulty.  “No, I think you know what I’m most concerned about in all this—”

I don’t say “spreading meaningless bullshit about people’s personal lives that won’t matter to anyone in a couple days” out loud because last time I was rude to Anna’s friends she got so far up my ass I felt her using my lungs as speed bags.  Apparently the difference between what she does and what I do is that I’m a bit of a dick.  Oh, and I’m not actually friends with them so it just comes off as mean.  Who knew?

“—everyone knew they weren’t gonna last.  I don’t know what made her think making a video like that was a good idea…”

I’m getting so tired of catching random snippets of conversations that I’m tempted to just ask what the hell they’re talking about.  I’d much rather just tell them to shut the fuck up, but once again, frowned upon by the pretty young woman who is currently slumming it with me.  So, rather than having to spend the entire bus ride tuning the world out, I decide to give being a normal high school student a try.

When Monica and Haley both stop to take a breath, I jump in.  “So what are you guys talking about?”

Both of them give me a wide-eyed look like I’ve just asked who the Beatles are.  Then again, they probably find being behind on the latest school news far more blasphemous.  Anna just stares at me in a mixture of shock and dismay.  If I wasn’t already so sure that I’m gonna regret asking, I would sure as shit know it now.

“Elizabeth Lauter and Raj Sharma broke up yesterday.  Apparently it was apocalyptic.  I mean, they always fought,” Monica tells me this as if I obviously already knew it, “but this time she threw his iPod at him and chipped one of his front teeth before leaving.  Later that day, Raj posted a video of them online.  It was the two of them, Liz giving him a lap dance and then the two of them having sex.  All of it completely on camera.

And, like, isn’t that just the most scandalous thing you’ve ever heard?

Instead I ask, “What song was playing?”

Anna snorts and rolls her eyes, but Monica and Haley just look at me like I’m not nearly as funny as I think I am.  I get that look a lot.

I offer a sheepish smile that only Anna can tell is fake.  She squeezes my hand again and purses her lips to hide a smile.  “Just curious.  You mentioned Alice in Chains earlier.”  I shrug.  “I went through a grunge phase awhile back.”

“Is the music really what you’re most worried about?”  Haley turns a little pink when Monica scolds me.

I just shrug.  “Mostly.  I don’t care what they do with their personal time and it’s no skin off my ass if they’re dumb enough to make a sex tape.”

I can tell Monica is looking for a polite way to stop talking to me.  Apparently I’m not very much fun.  That’s okay.  I’m not all that interested anyway.  Tried to be normal.  Didn’t give a shit.

I put one earbud in and spend the rest of the bus ride stroking Anna’s knuckles with my thumb and listening to Alice in Chains. 

When we pull up to the school I hold Anna back a second to let her friends get a head start.  She smiles at me.  “You almost gave the two of them brain aneurysms.”

I shrug.  “I don’t get why you’re such good friends with them when pretty much all they do is gossip.”

“That’s just all you see them do.  They’re really sweet most of the time.  You should actually spend some time with us.”

I try not to bristle at her using “us” to describe the three of them and not the two of us.  This whole being in a caring relationship thing comes with a few obnoxious side effects—like being extra sensitive about “us” stuff.  I’m not a big fan of being sensitive about anything.  Sarcastic and irritating is so much easier. 

“I don’t know what you guys do for fun…”  But I doubt it’s my kinda thing.

“Well, it’s getting warm enough for the pools to open up.”  Anna smiles like she knows exactly what I was thinking.  “But I don’t want you to feel obligated or anything…”

I stop for a second and try to think of anything I wouldn’t do if it involved Anna in a bathing suit.

Nope.  Not a damn thing.

I smile.


Fridays in Modern American History class is article day.  Two people bring in recent news articles, stand in front of the class, summarize, and then give their thoughts on the matter.  I’m one of today’s two, me and Emerald.  Emerald, unlike me, is ridiculously smart and ridiculously interested in school work.  Her little report is gonna be way better than mine (and I don’t mean that just because I picked the first article I saw last night), so I volunteer to go first.  I may not care all that much about school, but no one wants to follow Emerald. 

I stand and deliver a monotone spiel about a failed attempt to free a political prisoner being held by North Korea.  It’s not that I don’t care about personal liberties or the poor treatment of prisoners, I just hate that Mr. Karimov thinks he can make me care by assigning a grade to this shit.  When I finish, I give a little bow (earning a few snickers and eye rolls) to lethargic applause, and sit back down.

Emerald steps to the front of the class and reads her headline.

“Murder of Post-Human Teen, Dennis Reaves, Being Investigated as a Hate Crime.”

Okay, how was that not the top news story when I was online last night?

Emerald continues.  “So, this is one plenty of people are probably unaware of since it happened a little after midnight.  But a high school kid from the Bluffs was killed last night.  The police found him with ‘Restore Balance’ carved into his back in an alley a few blocks from his house.  For those who don’t know, Restore Balance is a radical anti-post-human group that takes actions similar to the Weather Underground that Mr. Karimov mentioned in class the other day.  What makes this unusual as well as tragic is that Restore Balance, like the Weather Underground before it, doesn’t generally commit violent crimes directly against people.  They’ve vandalized, sabotaged, and even leaked secrets, but before today they were bloodless extremists.”

That’s an awfully civilized title for an organization built on a foundation of hate crimes.

“No official statement has been made by Restore Balance to take credit for the killing—”

I snort loudly enough to break Emerald’s train of thought for a second.  She frowns at me.

“—but police are working under the assumption that what you see is what you get.  OPHR has also been called in to aid in the investigation, but hasn’t released a statement of its own.”

She takes a deep breath, like maybe she’s steadying herself for another skeptical snort.  When she starts back up, her words tumble out fairly quickly.

“Personally, I’m not convinced Restore Balance is actually responsible for this.  While I am in no way sympathetic toward the cause, this is the first connection to or even allegation of murder connected to their organization.  I just figure that if they’re going to change their MO all the sudden, they’d broadcast their reasons for all the world to hear.”  She purses her lips and nods.  “Thank you.”

The applause is even more sporadic for her than it was for me.  She clearly did a better job, but she did a better job on a touchier subject.  I’m sure there’s at least one person in the room who isn’t all that fond of post-humans and there’s probably a couple people who are hardcore pro-post-human activists, but the vast majority of people just wanna get by without getting involved.  It’s that group that doesn’t want to clap too loud for fear of being labeled as having an opinion or something.

The school’s wi-fi barely covers this building, but at least I don’t have to worry about Karimov catching me on my phone.  He’s up front, pacing and lecturing and gesturing at his PowerPoint, and as long as I look up from time to time and turn the page of my notebook, it’ll just look like I’m being vaguely studious.  Which would probably look suspicious if Karimov wasn’t so focused on his lecturing. 

Lucky me.

It doesn’t take me long to find the article.  Turns out, hate crimes make for good news.  The first site reports it the same way Emerald did and I wonder if this isn’t the site she got it from.  When the next two sites are all nearly identical I’m about to give up on finding out any breaking developments. 

Ugh.  Why do the police even bother investigating crimes if they can’t solve them within a couple hours?

My knee starts bouncing without my express consent and when I stop it from bouncing, my fingers start drumming on my desk.  I’m neither Batman nor a private investigator, but I’m still having to fight off a nearly overwhelming urge to go out and try my hand at some detective work.  Which is unwise on a number of levels.  For one, I’m not a detective.  I am, in fact, the exact opposite of a detective:  some random, untrained teenager.  And, more importantly, last time I went out in broad daylight in costume I couldn’t go five feet without being gawked at or chasing people off.  Guess I’m gonna have to sit around and wait for this to get resolved like a normal person. 

I refresh each of the three news sites I’m on five times. 

No new updates.


When I get back to the house, Susan’s waiting.  Which isn’t the same thing as her just being home.  It’s easy to tell when someone’s walking with a purpose and this is the same thing.  She’s home with a purpose.  When she hears the door, she pokes her head out into the hall and when she sees me, she waves. 

“Wes, can we talk?”

No one ever asks to talk unless at least one person won’t like what’s gonna be talked about.

“Certainly seems like it.”

Susan sighs.  “No, I mean really.  Can I talk to you about something?”

“Fine.  But whatever it is, I’m reasonable sure this time that I really didn’t do it.”  Which is only a half-lie, since from the second Susan caught me sneaking into the house in-costume I’ve felt uncontrollable guilt every time she tries to have a talk with me about anything.

She gives me a pained look and clenches and unclenches her fists spastically for a second.  “Wesley.

I purse my lips and remind myself that with all the shit she puts up with from me, I probably owe her a few minutes of serious conversation, painful though it may be to admit.  “Okay.  Whatcha got?”

“Well…I’m not really sure where to start with this…I don’t know what you know…I haven’t actually had much time to think about how I want to say this…”

Oh God, just say it.  Whatever it is can’t be as uncomfortable as this build up.

“But word has gotten around that two of your classmates made a…personal video and…I thought this might be a good time to talk to you…”

No!  No, go back to the build up!

“You and Anna are both good, smart people, but I know how things can be at your age…”

I can’t possibly have done anything to deserve this!

“You’re both fairly young still and I know you…feel certain things and think a certain way right now…but I really hope you two are…”

While she grasps for a word, I wonder if it’s possible for my face to get any redder without being water boarded with auto paint.  I can feel wavy lines of heat radiating off of my ears like asphalt on a hot day.  If I could pay a post-human criminal to bust into my house and start a fight right now, I would.  Without hesitation.

My only consolation is that Susan can’t actually know what Anna and I are up to.  Not that we’ve done anything sex tape worthy, but still.  If I could keep Susan from knowing we even held hands, I would.

Susan digs her thumb into the palm of her hand.  “I don’t want to sit you down and shove a lesson down your throat.  My parents did that and it never worked.  I got mad and stopped listening.  They got frustrated and started yelling.  And after it was all said and done…I usually went out and did exactly what they told me not to.  Even if I hadn’t planned on doing it before.”

Huh.  That’s new information.  I didn’t really figure Susan for having a “fuck you!” side.  Then again, I’ve never really considered that Susan might’ve been a teenager at one point in her life.

“I think we can both agree that I’m fairly lenient with you and Boone.  I may get on your case about your…costumed activities, but I let you guys get away with a lot.  You come and go as you please, so long as you leave a note or let Paul or I know where you’re going and when you’ll be back.  We don’t harass you about homework.  We look the other way on profanity.  We respect your privacy.  And by this point I think you know Paul and I talked you up a bit to Anna’s parents when you two started dating.”

I feel real guilt well up, not the almost compulsive kind from earlier.  When she lays it all out like that, I feel like an asshole for giving her any trouble at all.

“And I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt here as well.  Paul and I talked about how we wanted to handle things when Boone started dating.  Admittedly, some of the same precautions don’t apply to him…”

What with the difficulty of him getting pregnant with another guy.

“But the principles remained the same.  We wanted to trust him and we want to trust you.  Plus, unless we want to lock you in your room, we can’t stop you from going out and doing what you’re going to do.  And I think in your case, even locking you in your room wouldn’t work.”  She smiles a tight smile that can’t decide whether it means she’s okay with that fact or if it still stresses her out.  “So I’m going to struggle to tell you the same thing I struggled to tell Boone:  we trust you, please use your best judgment, and be respectful.”

If I weren’t such a manly man, Susan telling me she trusts me would make my eyes feel a little hot and wet.  But I am, so my rapid blinking is just because something flew into my eye at an inconvenient moment.

I swallow and nod.  “Thanks Susan.”

She hesitates for a moment before reaching out and giving me a hug.  I let her, awkwardly returning her hug with one arm just before she pulls back.  This time, when she smiles it’s closer to her normal levels of cheeriness.

“Oh, and since Paul couldn’t get home in time to do his part in this, I’ll have to do it on his behalf:  sex is a natural, wonderful thing and you should enjoy it.”

Yup.  There’s a surefire way to torpedo my libido.

Goddammit Paul.


“I’m really not a fan of this socially conscious thing you’ve got going on here.”

“Fuck off, Boone.”

Susan sighs.  “Would you two stop?”

Paul throws a piece of popcorn at Boone.  “Yeah.  Don’t discourage his interest in the daily goings on around us.  If he isn’t nurtured, he might wanna stop watching the evening news and if that happens then I have to stop watching the evening news.  I like having a television majority.”

Boone rolls his eyes.  “I’m just trying to do him a favor here.  The whole ‘I’m too cool to try at school, but secretly I actually care about things’ bit is all kinds of cliché.”  He looks up at Paul with his most innocent, concerned look.  “And you wouldn’t want to raise a cliché, would you?”

Paul holds a finger up to his lips, shushing Boone.  “I’m too busy getting my way to pretend I believe you.”

Susan tries hiding a smile and swats Paul’s shoulder.  I take a minute to figure out if I can give Boone the finger without anyone else in the room noticing.  Victory without mockery is a hollow thing indeed.  I don’t quite manage it.  Paul throws a piece of popcorn at me and rolls his eyes, but he’s wise enough to know it’s useless trying to keep us from getting after each other. 

It doesn’t take long for the news to get to the murder and when it does I’m left a little cold.

Bad enough that there’s a radical organization that thinks people like me are abominations.  Being a part of any kind of minority earns you some degree of animosity.  Worse still that said organization might be willing to murder some kid for being what they see as an abomination, but again, there are some bastards looking for any excuse to gun down kids of a different color. 

And then there’s this.  Some macho high school showdown gone wrong.  Two kids never got along and it didn’t get any better when the blatantly anti-post-human guy found out what the other guy was.  Not that similar things haven’t happened before.  Gang affiliations, sexual orientation, and race have all led to violent situations like this.  But I guess it doesn’t really matter that this stuff also happens in the real world, it’s still the worst option of the three.

Those groups, those are adults.  Adults dedicated to hate.  But people my age?  Most of them aren’t dedicated to anything.  Most of them probably aren’t capable of real dedication.

But this kid?  He’s dedicated now.  They’ll probably try him as an adult.  He’ll be that guy who committed a hate crime.  And murder, at that.  He’s buried himself way behind the eight ball as far as making up for high school mistakes goes.  Might end up being easier for him to just roll into the mistake.  Especially if he serves time.

I can’t tell if I’m sadder or angrier about this.

And then it occurs to me that in an attempt to get away with it, he mutilated the other kid’s body.  Anger takes the lead.

I manage to excuse myself without swearing and walk up to my room without storming off, so when I get up to my room I feel rather entitled to some sort of outburst.  I’m sorely tempted to put a hole in the wall, but I know I’d just feel bad about it later and patch it up myself.  Even still, I consider it.  It’s not even nine o’clock, but if I’m not gonna punch something here I might have to head out and about to find something to punch.

Have you ever had one of those lives where everything seems to go wrong?