“Hey, Kid! Wake up!”
I groggily opened my eyes as I peeled my face of the glass window it was resting on. For a second I had forgotten where I was.
“The bus stopped, kid. Time to get off.” The attendant turned and walked away without saying another word.
I had a splitting headache and I didn’t remember what I was even doing on a bus in the first place. A piece of paper was crumpled in my hand. I unfolded it and began to read. Suddenly everything came rushing back to me…Everything that happened the night before. I slumped back into my chair, letting the words of the note run through my mind and wishing it had never happened.
The tree tops have always been my favorite place. When I was a kid, I spent hours each day trying to climb as high as I could up the old redwoods, hoping to one day reach the top and see the city lights from up above. I wanted to feel like I was on top of the world and where everyone could see me. My dad used to always say, “Always aim for the moon, even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” Times were different back then. Simpler.
But that was a long time ago. Now the trees were where I came to hide. The one place no one could find me.
I spent most of my life in the city, until my dad died; now we live in a small house in the hills. I don’t mind it, really. Quiet is good sometimes. He was a lawyer- a good one too. He started his own law firm right out of school, put away a bunch of bad guys and suddenly everybody and their grandmother came to him to help them solve their problems. I was too young to really understand what he did; all I knew about law was what I saw on daytime TV: adults yelling at each over who their kids belonged to.
In reality, his job was a lot different than the petty quarrels on TV. My dad put criminals away, mostly for life. He even got one guy got the death penalty for killing his wife and newborn daughter because he was coked out of his mind. The truth is, for a while, my dad did a lot of good in this sink hole of a city. Mayor Jordan would always say “Frank, if you keep this up you’ll be taking my job pretty soon!” with a big cheesy smile and a heavy smoker’s guffaw.
Like I said, that was a long time ago. No one ever really talked about my dad much now-a-days.Youy might find his name in a column in the back of the paper or maybe a mention of it in the 6 o’clock news; sandwiched in between the weather and whatever local nonsense was going on that week: bake sales, fundraisers, that kind of crap.
Sitting on the upper branches of the redwood trees made it feel like I was far away from all of that. It made it seem like whatever lame excuse I had for a life was confined to the forest floor. The sun was almost set, meaning it was almost time to get down and head home. But I didn’t want to leave, this was my favorite time of day. This is when the forest came alive.
On a branch above me, I could hear the chirp of baby birds calling to their mother for food. I looked up just in time to see a huge hawk swoop down and settle into the nest with its young. In a tree a few feet away from me, two large round yellow eyes of an owl stared straight at me through a hole in the trees trunk. Somewhere below me I could hear the clumsy rustling of a large animal on the forest floor. Probably a bear or maybe a mountain lion.
I made it down the tree pretty quickly. I swung from limb to limb until I was close enough to the forest floor to jump down. I walked through the forest seemingly with no direction; darting behind bushes and jumping over fallen logs at strange angles. If you didn’t know the way it was easy to get lost in these woods. I had wondered these forests so long that I knew them like the back of my hand. Without much trouble I made it back to the ugly stone eye sore I called home. I stopped just before the backyard turned into unkempt forest and stared at the hideous scene. The long forgotten wooden picnic table sat lonely in the middle of the yard, covered in moss and fallen debris from the trees, probably rotten through due to the rain. Positioned all around it was my dead-beat stepdad’s exercise equipment he hadn’t touched in years. Two different sets of rusty barbells with matching benches that were held together with duct tape sat on either side of the property. Strewn about the fallen tree limbs and old autumn leaves that we hadn’t bothered to rake were dumbbells of various different weights, and a makeshift pull up station.
All of it reminded me what a steaming pile of crap my life was. Living in a dump in probably the scuzziest town known to man.
I walked around the property, to the front yard. It was far less depressing than the back but still not great. It was mostly gravel which helped the aesthetic in a weird way. I walked straight towards the wooden stairs on the side of the garage leading to the attic room. My mom initially intended to rent it out but never got around to it, so I claimed it.
Sitting on the steps waiting for me was the awkward gangly frame of Peter Unger. He was tall and skinny, with long limbs, a bird chest, and a long face. Peter definitely wasn’t what you would call a looker, but the guy had the heart of a lion; the cowardly lion from The Wizard of Oz, but a lion none the less. Truth is, Peter and I had been friends since the first day of kindergarten, and when my dad died he was the only one that cared to hang out with the town buzz kill. Two misfit peas in a pod I guess.
“Were you in the trees again?” Peter stood up, towering over me as he tried to make his body take up as little space as possible as I walked up the stairs.
“Do you really have to ask?” I responded a little too curtly.
Peter wasn’t sensitive around me: others, definitely, but not me. “I still don’t get what’s so special about sitting in a tree.”
“That’s kind of the point, Pete.” I opened the door to the attic room, giving the stubborn door a nudge with my shoulder. The room was messy as usual but I didn’t really care. I tried my best to spend as little time around this place as possible.
Lying on the middle of my small bed snoring loudly was Knight my overweight beagle. He was old so we pretty much let him did whatever he wanted at this point. Most of the time he just slept, snored, and farted loudly.
Peter sat in an old La-Z-Boy that was no longer attractive enough to be displayed with the furniture inside the house. His body looked scrunched together and awkward. “Did you hear about the bon fire tonight? Chase Stevens is throwing an end of the year bash at the abandoned Miller’s barn.”
“Chase Stevens, huh? You dont say… Good old Chase Stevens.” I didn’t try very hard to hide the sarcasm in my voice.
Chase Stevens was a grade-A tool bag. He was the captain of the football team, the basketball team, the baseball team and he dated Michelle Agnes, the head cheerleader. He was basically the antagonist in any 80’s movie, complete with varsity jacket, muscle car, and cocky attitude. Pete didn’t care about Chase Stevens. What he cared about was Chase’s sister, Avery.
For everything Chase was, Avery was every bit the opposite. She was smart, funny, pretty and in almost every club Belts High School had to offer. Problem was, in all the years she and Pete had been going to school together, she had no idea he even existed.
“You realize Chase Stevens has made both of our lives a living hell since 8th grade, right?”
“We’re graduating in a month, man. The past is the past, none of that matters anymore.” Pete picked up a soccer ball off of the floor and tossed it playfully in the air, catching it as it fell and tossing it upwards again. Knight heard the soft pat of the ball hitting his hands and farted himself awake.
“Oh, really? None of that matters anymore? He and his goons filled your locker with Jell-O two weeks ago. Do you really believe the past is the past?”
He misjudged the ball in the air and it hit him in the nose and skittered to the other side of the room. Knight rolled off the bed and waddled after it. “Dude, come on. You haven’t been to a single party all year. You gotta get once in a while, man.”
“So, what? Like you’re some big party animal now?” I said with a smile. “Should I start calling you Charlie Sheen now or is that too much?”
Pete laughed under his breath. “I might not be a party animal, but I’ve been to more parties than you, that’s for sure.”
I took Knight’s place on the bed, laying down on my back staring up at the ceiling. Green glow-in-the-dark stars that had long lost their glow were looking down at me. “Chess club parties don’t count, Pete. That’s just a bunch of nerds standing around talking about math and science.”
Pete threw a half empty water bottle at me that he found on the floor. “Shut up dude, that’s not all we do…, we also play video games.”
“I rest my case, Hugh Hefner.” It was a lame joke but we both laughed.
Pete waited a few seconds before he asked his next question. “How’s Joe-the-lump treating you?”
My jaw tightened when I heard the name. Pete knew I hated talking about my lump of a step-dad; he was just being polite in asking. “Scum, as usual.”
Pete let my words sit on the air for a few seconds. “Come out tonight. Please. For me.”
Pete didn’t ask for much so when he did I knew it was sincere. If he wanted to go that bad then I guess I could stomach being around Chase Stevens and his idiot friends for a few hours. “I’ll go on one condition. Tell me the truth; you want to go because Avery Mason’s going to be there don’t you?”
His face turned red immediately confirming my suspicions. He didn’t say a word just stared at the floor and played with the sleeves of his sweatshirt nervously.
“That’s what I thought.” I let out a sigh and brushed the hair out of my face. “Meet me at the old train tracks at 9:00. Its half way between my place and yours.”
Pete flashed a wide grin and jumped up, his long limbs extending like a spring. “You won’t regret this, dude. We’re gonna remember this night for the rest of our lives.” He petted Knight on the back who was now laying awkwardly on his shoes before darting out the door. I watched him get on his bike and pedal down the driveway and out of view past the tall tree. We’re gonna remember this night for the rest of our lives, if only I knew then how right he would actually be.
Joe ordered pizza for dinner since my mom was working late at the diner again. The stench of garlic and anchovies filled the house as I waded through the hallways trying not to gag from the disgusting smell. I reached the old Maxwell House coffee can Joe hid his “emergency” money in and carefully grabbed a twenty without being noticed. He wasn’t going to miss it anyway; he usually just spent it on beer at the end of the week. I turned around to see him passed out on the couch, with the empty pizza box open on his gut. The louse wasn’t even decent enough to save some for anybody else.
I checked the clock on the microwave to make sure I wouldn’t be late meeting Pete, 8:30PM blinked back at me. Just enough time to stop by the gas station for a hot dog and a root beer. I darted out of the house and into the garage. I hopped on my bike and pedaled as fast as I could down the gravel driveway and into the one lane dirt road that led into town.
The buildings looked like a blur of lights as I whizzed through the streets, chilly air blasting me in the face and arms. Without thinking about it I zipped around street corners and through alley ways and within 10 minutes I was at the Stop n’ Go Express Gas Station. I ran in and bought a hot dog and a root beer with the $20 that I took from Joe and sat outside on the stoop and ate.
I didn’t really pay attention to what was happening around me as I was eating, a few people came in and out of the Gas Station; a child cried somewhere close by; nothing out of the ordinary really. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a tall man with an athletic build, and arms covered in tattoo’s push his way past a teenage girl exiting the station’s glass double doors. She shot him a look, and said something under her breath before she decided it wasn’t worth the fight and walked away.
I stood up and watched through the glass windows as the man continued to go out of his way to be rude to other patrons, intentionally pushing past them. It was hard to see through the glass but something was off about him. His eyes were glassy and grey and he walked with a weird gait. It looked almost as if he had just woken up from a long nap and forced himself to walk on legs that were still asleep.
“Michael!” Peter rode up next to me with a surprised look on his face. “Where were you? I thought we were meeting at the train tracks?”
I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket, 9:10 blinked back at me on the screen. Had I really been standing here that long?
“Sorry. Must have lost track of time.” I turned back to the glass window, but the tattooed man was gone.
Pete followed my gaze and stared through the glass, trying to figure out what was distracting me. “What are you looking at?”
“Nothing…I thought…” I didn’t know what I was thinking to be honest. I know I had seen the man but he had just vanished, into thin air.
“Dude, I told you to stop eating Gas Station food. You know that stuffs gross.” Pete reared his bike towards the street, antsy to get going to the party. “Come on, let’s get going.”
I looked at the half eaten hot dog in my hand and decided maybe Pete was right, maybe the questionable $1.00 gas station hot dogs were finally starting to melt my brain after all these years. I put the rest of it in the trash can and pedaled off after Pete, but I was still unable to shake the weird feeling.
We rode through town without stopping. Lit store front windows and restaurants filled with laughing families and couples slowly turned into old foreclosed store property that had long been forgotten. Some of the stores had broken windows from prior acts of vandalism, while some simply had a “Sorry We Are Closed” sign hanging on the front door. This was probably the most depressing part of town but I kind of liked it. Almost all of the abandoned stores had some kind of graffiti written on them; some crudely done others more elaborate. It was like an organic art gallery in a way. One building had a scene of a multi colored whale eating a ship on its front window, another had illegible block letters sprawled across the side of the building.
We rode until the buildings and signage were behind us. Soon we were riding along dirt trails on the outskirts of town. With a little effort and a little sweat we made it to the abandoned Millers farm. Although we knew where we were going, the large barrels of fire positioned around the property, and the hundreds high schoolers in varying stages of inebriation gave the party’s location away pretty easily. Also you could hear the noise from a mile away.
We pulled up to the tree line and stared at the mass of bodies. Some were dancing, some were sitting around smaller fire pits laughing, some tossing a football, and others milled about, chatting in their own little worlds.
The whole scene just made me feel more awkward. I looked over at Pete who had a grin plastered on his face. “You sure you want to do this? We can turn back right now if we want. Throw bottles off the power plant roof instead.” I was grasping at straws, a last ditch effort to get out of all the awkward interactions that were bound to happen.
“No way dude,” Pete just looked on at the bodies, with the same grin. He started walking and I followed behind.
As we walked a few people pointed, exchanging whispers between themselves. I couldn’t tell if it was because of me– the town outcast– or Pete–the schools king of the nerds–either way it made my skin crawl.
Pete stopped by a black jeep wrangler and started chatting with some of his Math-lete buddies. James, Tucker, and Gavin (at least I think those were their names). By the way they were hooting and hollering you’d think the entire bonfire was in their honor, like they were the only student to have defeated the great dragon known as senior year.
I hung back, not wanting to interrupt Pete in his natural environment communing around the misunderstood. Within a few minutes I felt sufficiently awkward and decided anything was better than standing here like a lost puppy. I meandered around the field, passing couples canoodling, and stoners enthralled in drum circles. I made a point to stay away from the cheerleaders and the football players positioned closest to the barn, drinking in the backs of their pickups.
I found a spot on a stump away from everyone, it was quiet and out of the way. I watched Pete, now surrounded by his chess club friends making conversation, joking, laughing, palling around and realized why he wanted to come. He was actually kind of popular in his own way. Albeit as popular as captain of the chess club, mathletes, and debate team could be. I also realized he was slowly working his way over to Avery and her group of friends, slowly building his confidence by sticking with what he knew best.
I followed his trajectory with my eyes, waiting for the moment when it would blow up in his face. I hated seeing Pete getting humiliated but this was his decision, not mine. The same feeling crept up on me as I had before back at the gas station. Like something was off. I got up and followed the tree line walking towards Pete, trying to shake off the feeling. Before I got too far I noticed a pair of eyes, staring back at me from behind a tree in the forest.
I turned around surprised and spazzed a little before I caught myself. Avery stared at me quizzically while her friend Jasmine played on her phone behind her, disinterested.
“Are you alright? You look like you just saw a ghost.”
I turned back around to the tree I had been investigating seconds before, only this time there were no eyes. “Yeah…I…thought I saw something.”
Avery looked in the direction of the tree and back to me, still confused. She tilted her head not sure what to make of me.
“Well whatever it was, looks like it’s gone, right?”
“Yeah, I guess so.” I’d had a longer conversation in the last 10 seconds with Avery than I had all four years of high school. Needless to say I was as awkward as could be.
Jasmine let out a frustrated sigh and flipped her hair like a spoiled valley girl in a movie. “Avery ditch this loser and let’s go, Jesse and Christine are waiting.”
Avery elbowed Jasmine in the side and shot her a look. Jasmine grabbed her side and stormed off towards Jesse, Christine and the rest of her group.
“Ignore her. She’s a jerk sometimes.”
My mouth got sandpaper dry almost instantly. “Don’t worry about it. Nothing I haven’t heard before.”
I hadn’t paid much attention to Avery before but I could see why Pete was into here. She was pretty and much nicer than any of the other girls in our grade.
“Are you here with Pete? You guys should come hang with us.”
“Yeah, I am actually. How’d you know?”
“Lucky guess,” she started laughing almost before she could finish. “You guys are best friends right? You two are kind of attached at the hip.”
“How do you know that?”
“I write for the paper, I notice things. It’s kind of my job,” she said with a big smile. “Come on, I’ll introduce you to everyone.”
I followed her over to her group of friends. I motioned Pete over who was only a few feet away at this point, standing awkwardly outside the boundaries of the group. Avery introduced us to the members of her clique. Some gave polite greeting back, some didn’t know what to do or say, and others, like Jasmine, didn’t show any interest. Pete’s face was bright redand he was starting to sweat. If you didn’t know Pete you might have been alarmed, but I knew better. This happened almost every time Pete was in the vicinity of a cute girl. All things considered he was actually doing pretty well. He was awkwardly opening and closing his mouth, attempting to speak to Avery but stopping himself.
“Breath, dude.” I whispered to him under my breath.
He took a deep breath and calmed himself, ready now to finally do what he had wanted for four years of high school: talk to Avery Stevens…Too bad he would never get the chance to.
In the middle of the field, one of the large barrels of fire exploded sending flaming debris flying everywhere. Everyone immediately stopped and looked at the charred circle where the barrel had been looking for an explanation. The entire field was silent. That’s when I saw him: the man from the gas station.
He walked out of the shadows of the woods like it was nothing. He extended his arm straight out in front of him and clenched his fist. Another barrel not far from the first exploded in a ball of white hot fire.
The crowd erupted in panic. The party-goers ran in all directions trying to get away from the tall tattooed man wrecking havoc around them.
In that moment I made a mistake. I felt Pete grabbing my arm, screaming at me to run away. I should have listened. I should have turned and run as far and as fast as I could like all of the other kids. Instead I stared transfixed on the figure in front of me.
He was looking around for something, blowing up more barrels as he stood. He panned the field until his eyes locked in my direction. It was too late by the time I realized it wasn’t my direction he was looking at, it was me.
His hand shot up and again he clenched his fist. This time nothing blew up. Instead I felt my body being pulled against its own will towards the man’s out stretched hands. Pete was still pulling on my arm trying to fight the force that was pulling me. It worked for a few seconds, but it was only a matter of time before Pete’s strength gave out. Within seconds we were both hurtling towards the man, dropping with a hard crash on the hard earth at his feet.
I looked up at his milky white eyes as he stared back at me on the ground in pain.
“Michael Wheeler,” he said in a deep gravelly voice. “Today, you die.”
His voice sounded like it was layered, like someone else was talking over his own voice.
He tilted his head towards Pete who was on the floor clutching his shoulder in pain. The man picked him up, again by raising his hand in front of him and held him at eye level in mid air. He put his other hand on Pete’s chest, right above his heart. He slowly formed a fist with his fingers making sure not to break eye contact with Pete still hanging in front of him.
From the ground I could Pete start to panic. His body started to shudder and convulse, as blood started to run from his nose and eyes. The man made a fist squeezing his fingers together hard. The veins in his arm snaked up his forearm, into his biceps and up into his neck. Pete coughed a wod of blood and collapsed to the ground limp.
I stared at my best friend now lying at my feet. His face was covered in blue veins and blood; his limbs were crumpled awkwardly under his body. I didn’t want to believe it but I knew what had just happened. I just stared into Pete’s lifeless eyes as he stared back at me. My best friend in the entire world, and one of only two people left who actually cared about me was now lying at my feet in a heap, dead.
Without realizing it, my body started to rise. I just continued to stare at Pete’s body below me until suddenly my head was forced to look straight. His eyes were completely white, and they looked like they were made of smoke.
“Now, you die.” He had no expression on his face. No emotion. Just, cold words. He placed his hand on my chest the same way he had done to Pete. He started to clench his fist when I felt pressure start to build around my chest cavity. He clenched more and more and it became harder and harder to breath. Harder to see straight. Harder to focus. My body began to convulse and I could feel the pressure start to build in my ears and behind my eyes. I could feel the blood trickle down my nose and into my open mouth.
That’s when it happened. It felt like a switch had flipped somewhere inside my head. Like a gate had been opened and some kind of animal was trying to get out. All I saw was red. I lifted my legs and tucked them close to my body. With all the force I could muster, I donkey kicked him in the chest, sending him flying into the side of a pickup truck 15 feet away.
I dropped to the floor, landing on my feet. My body felt white hot with anger. My senses were sharper than they had been moments before. I could feel the heat of a black bear bumbling in the woods behind me. I could feel the change in the wind as the falcon overhead landed on the high tree branch. Worst of all I could feel Pete’s body devoid of life on the ground.
The glassy eyed murderer was now standing on his feet. He tried to pull me towards him again with the same trick he had used before, but this time I was ready. I let my body go limp, letting him think he was pulling me by his own means. At the last second, before his hand wrapped around my throat, I punched him as hard as I could in the jaw, sending him flying another 15 feet.
Without thinking I jumped from where I was standing and landed on his stomach, breaking ribs under my shoes.
“Who are you?” I yelled into his face. I grabbed the man by the color of his shirt and pulled him close. “Answer me!” He didn’t respond. He only looked at me with his broken jaw and smoke filled eyes.
With one quick movement he flicked his wrist, sending me flying through the air and into the trees behind us. I pulled myself off of the hard packed floor, only to see he had made it back to his feet. He snapped his jaw back into place and stretched his torso, as though he was repairing the ribs I had just broken. Then he just stood in place staring at me.
I walked out of the trees, studying him closely. He moved his head from right to left, following my movements. What was he doing? Why was he just standing there? Is he waiting for me?
The more I thought about it the more my body burned. The more frustrated I got. I lunged at him throwing a punch at his head. He dodged it with ease and countered with a punch of his own which I also managed to dodge.
I was right. He was waiting for me attack first. “Who are you,” I asked one last time. “Why are you here? How do you know who I am?”
The man tilted his head, looking at me as If I should already know the answer to my question. “You are chosen. Therefore you must die.”
Chosen. The words rang through my head like an old bell. The kind you see monks banging on in old martial arts films.
Before I could ask, he darted towards me in a flash grabbing me by the shoulders and throwing me into the air before I could react. In the seconds of panic he reappeared next to me in mid air and kicked me into the woods with enough force to knock down trees as I crashed to the floor.
I climbed my way out from under fallen branches and tree trunks. I could hear the angry grunting of another bear somewhere behind me as I dragged myself up. I had to find a different way to fight him. He was stronger than me and quicker. Even with whatever power had recently come over me. Whatever it was it was starting to wear off anyway. I could feel myself becoming more sluggish the more damage I took.
He lifted his arm again in my direction, trying to pull me towards him. This time I fought it. I felt the tug pulling my body and I pushed back as hard as I could. With my heightened senses I could see the stream of energy wrapping around both of our bodies if I concentrated hard enough. I bolstered my feet to the ground and pulled him as hard as I could the same way he pulled me. This time he came careening forward the same way I had done earlier. Not nearly with the same power and control but I did manage to direct him head first into one of the burning barrels of fire.
Like a sack of bricks it hit me. Whatever this power was I wasn’t creating it. I was leeching it off of him. I knew then the only way to beat him was to use his powers against him.
He stood up, body covered in burns and blood. He looked at me and tilted his head the same way he had done before, “You learn quickly.”
He darted towards me again. This time I could see the energy rippling around him as he moved. I willed the energy to obey me, absorbing the very thing giving him strength. My body swelled with power, as his energy flowed through my veins. I could feel the change instantly.
I closed the distance between us in the blink of an eye ramming my fist into his nose. Blood poured down his face as he staggered backwards. I didn’t stop my advance. Before he could catch his footing, I threw punch after punch into his rib cage, faster than I thought I thought possible, I could feel the cracking of bones breaking under my closed fingers. At the rate I was firing off punched I should have been tired in seconds. Was relentless and my energy was unwavering. With each punch I got stronger. I leeched more energy, feeling more power prickle through my body until I couldn’t feel anything anymore.
Then my mind snapped.
The vision of Pete’s body dropping to the hard packed dirt flashed through my head. Then everything went red and the rage inside me took over.
I lifted him off of the ground the same way he had done to Pete and stared him in the eye. He struggled to wriggle free but he couldn’t. His body was broken. I made sure of it. I put my hand on his chest and reached out with the tendrils of energy holding his heart in my grip. It felt like a brittle little thing. I could sense his pain…no…feel his pain. I could feel his body fighting me trying to get free, and also fighting itself.
“Who are you?” I demanded again, but this time I didn’t wait for him to answer. I willed his mind open, he fought but it was no use. It was a strange feeling breaking a man’s mind open like a pistachio.
I could see shady flashes of his memories race through his mind. Him sleeping on a park bench, disheveled. A hooded figure offering a wad of money. Two people covering his head and tossing him into a van, and then nothing…just dark and pain, and misery.
A callous laugh rang through his head.“How does it feel, Michael? To break a man in half without a second thought?”
I tried to focus on the voice, trying to pinpoint where it was coming from. “You…you did this? For what?”
“To get to you of course.” the voice moved around the man’s head like a restless snake. “You were supposed to die here tonight, but this is much better. Much, much better.”
The same laugh bounced off the walls of the man’s psyche. “With all the rage in you, we don’t even need to kill you. You’ll no doubt do it for us.”
His words hit like a cement truck. I don’t know if he intended to but he got a rise out of me. I squeezed the tendrils surrounding the man’s heart, and felt his body quake under my grip. Slowly then harder. I wanted him to feel the pain that I felt.
I whipped around surprised that anyone else remained at the ruined bonfire. Standing on the outskirts of the farm property was Avery Stevens. Her face was covered in tears and she looked mortified. Like she had seen a ghost.
“Don’t do it!” she cried out.
I looked back at the man in my grip and realized she was right. There was nothing left to take from this man. Killing him wouldn’t bring Pete back. And it wouldn’t make his death hurt any less.
I dropped him to the ground. His body trembled as he dropped onto the hard packed dirt. “This was…enlightening, Michael. Until we meet again.” his words hung in my head as he laughed. Then like it had never happened he vanished.
I felt the man’s body relax slightly. Like it had stopped fighting itself, or whatever that was inside of him. He lay on the ground twisted, twitching, and broken gasping for air. That’s when I realized the damaged I’d caused.
I looked back at Avery who was looking at the scene in front of her clutching her mouth with her hands. He hadn’t done anything to deserve this. I felt his mind shattered and started to put it back together piece by piece, like a jigsaw puzzle. I had no Idea what I was doing but I knew it just felt right. Within seconds the man was breathing easier and the twitching had stopped. His breath evened out and he began to stir.
Right on cue, the loud blaring of sirens pierced the still night air. I could see the lights of fire trucks and ambulances traveling down the properties long dirt road. Avery was now standing next to me, pulling my hand towards the woods.
Her eyes were bloodshot and her nose looked like a Christmas tree ornament from crying. “Come on. We can’t be here when they come.”
As she dragged me towards the woods I stared at Pete, still and lifeless. I stared at his body and cried until we were well into the woods and my view of him was obstructed by trees and brush. Only then did I turn away. Only then did I run as fast as my tired legs and Avery Stevens would take me.
Thirty minutes later we stopped at the gravel drive to my house in the hills, both doubled over from exhaustion.
“You should…get out of here,” I said to between breaths. “Cops’ll…be here….soon.”
Avery shook her head in agreement still trying to catch her breath.
“Cut through the high school. The cops won’t take the long way; you should get home without being caught.”
She shook her head again, now standing upright. “It wasn’t your fault.”
Her words hit me right in the gut.
“What happened to Peter, it wasn’t your fault.” She swept the loose strands of hair hanging over her face and tucked it behind her ear. “I saw the whole thing. I’ll tell them the truth if they come for me.”
I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t even know how I managed to do all that let alone begun to make sense of it all.
I turned and walked to the wooden stairs leading to the attic room. “Just get home safe…and hope it doesn’t come to that.”
Taped to the outside of my door was a simple white envelope, with only my Michael Wheeler written on the front of it. I ripped it open and began reading.
Do not be frightened Michael, for in you lies the strength to do great things. You are not alone. You have never been alone. In you lies a power strong enough to move mountains, if you so will it. In you lies the strength of your father, and the courage of your best friend Peter. Do not fear what is inside of you. There are others out there with great power just like you. On the back of this letter is an address. If you wish to find answers, go to it, someone familiar to you is there waiting for you. If you choose not to, know that they will come back. You have done what they never imagined and for that they will not stop hunting you. You are different Michael. You always have been. Now it is time for you to decide, your fate.
I didn’t have to think very hard whether to go or not. The choice was pretty simple. Stay here and deal with the cops or go to this address and get some answers. Who this Vision person was I had no idea, but if they had answers and I had to find them.
I ducked inside the attic room stuffed as much clothes as I could fit in my duffle bag. I threw it over my shoulder and scooped up Knight off the floor with the other. I put him inside the living room next to Joe who was still passed on the couch, and patted him on the back, maybe for the last time. I went back to the Coffee can with the Emergency money and took a handful of money. I stuffed it into my jacket pocket and darted out the door.
I thought about leaving a note for my mom but decided against it. It was probably best that she be clueless once the cops show up.
I walked all the way to the bus depot where I caught the last outbound bus. I sat in the back and looked out the window at the town. I never thought I’d ever feel attached to this dump but I could help but feel sorry for leaving. As the bus took off I looked at the fixtures I’d grown accustomed to all these years pass through the window.
I put my head against the window and closed my eyes. The sound of the bus engine and the low hum off the AC filled the air as the passengers settled in for the long bus ride through the night.
The exhaustion of the night started to settle in as my limbs started to relax. Before long my thoughts started to escape me. My eyes started to droop until I could no longer keep them open. The rest of the bus ride I dreamt of nothing but memories of Pete…