And mother always told me
Be careful of who you love
And be careful of what you do
'cause the lie becomes the truth …
Michael Jackson, Billie Jean
October 3rd, 2007
Livingston Hall, Benjamin Franklin Academy, 147 Seaman Ave, New York, NY
Alex tried desperately to lose himself in the crowd of students making their way through the doors of the brownstone building. If he could just make it to the tennis courts he would be safe. Tennis was the preferred sport of Ben Franklin Academy and there were nearly a dozen courts in the park that adjoined the grounds of the school. The schools team always did well against the other private schools around New York and there was a certain amount of prestige to be had if one played the game well enough to make the team.
Alex wanted very much to make the team.
Anything that would improve his social standing in the school meant he was interested. While the well-heeled parents who put their children in a private school like Ben Franklin Academy paid to have teachers on staff who would not tolerate bullying, that just made the bullies smarter. Despite his money and 'trust fund kid' status that would normally put him near the top of the social heap at a regular school, at BFA, that was a minimum entry level kind of thing. It also meant the bullies couldn't be bought off. They weren't extortionists, this was sport as far as they were concerned.
But, on the tennis court he would be safe. Coach O'Ceallaigh had been to Wimbledon twice and would tolerate no shenanigans on his courts.
Alex was a small kid, 'delicate' as his mother would describe him, fine-boned and exceptionally smart. He was light on his feet and not at all clumsy, which made him a natural tennis player, but that also meant he wasn't clumsy or awkward, the normal things kids were bullied over. Indeed, his speed and skill at running made him a difficult target to corner or catch, which meant it made him a challenge.
A whistle's scream pierced the dark, fearful corners of his mind and brought Alex back to the here and now. He had made it. While a number of kids were heading to the restrooms to change, Alex had done so in Livingston Hall, which got him among the first group to be assigned a court and kept him away from the restrooms where he might be vulnerable.
“Alex!” declared the coach, beaming to see the young man already in his whites. “Good lad! Court one.”
Alex nodded and got his racket out of its case. Court one, being next to the fence had a slate practice wall on it, just a green sheet with a white line at net height to practice on. Alex got a couple of balls out of his case and casually lobbed one at the wall and giving it a soft hit as it bounced back. He was conscious of bouncing on his feet so as to loosen up his legs and get warmed up.
The ball echoed off the slate at an oblique angle, but Alex was already waiting for it. With a solid thwack! of his racket it was sent back and he was on the move, positioning himself for the return and he was off again. Back and forth, on the balls of his feet, Alex fell into an easy match of the ball trying and failing to outmaneuver him.
Finally, his heart was beating and he was warm, when Coach O'Ceallaigh's whistle brought his solo practice to a halt as he caught the ball and turned to see who Coach had put him up against. To his immediate consternation, he saw the dark complected face of Deshawn Wallace, his chief tormentor.
Deshawn's family were rich largely because they were lawyers and grievance mongers. While some unscrupulous lawyers chased ambulances, the Wallace's chased headlines. Any situation that could be interpreted as discriminatory, whether it was or not, and soon the Board of Directors of whatever company had committed a social faux pas would be served with papers bearing the names of Deshawn's mother and father. The two had built up sizable fortune in 'undisclosed settlements' that never got their clients more than a few thousand dollars, but allowed the Wallace's to live like royalty.
Deshawn was a classic school yard bully; tall, strong for his age and gifted in just about any sport he put his mind to. He wasn't shabby in the brains department either and one of the first to realize the kind of prize bullying Alex was. Worse, Deshawn had a patient personality and was persistent, just like his parents.
Grinning, Deshawn served up an opening worthy of John McEnroe, not caring if Alex was ready or not, as soon as Coach O'Ceallaigh blew his whistle. It turned into the worst time of Alex's career at Ben Franklin Academy. Try as he might, he could never recover from the sight of facing off against his tormentor and Deshawn kept his cage rattled with a withering volley of serves and backhands and forehands that had Alex trotting and panting.
Alex went down in straight sets, his poorest showing since arriving at the school.
He couldn't help but cringe at the confused look on the Coach's face at his poor showing, which only made things worse for him. Mentally, he was confounded and humiliated, while being physically exhausted and the final coup for Deshawn was that Alex couldn't bring himself to take the offered hand of his bully, which made the Coach obviously even further disappointed in him.
Alex moped at the back of the crowd towards Livingston Hall, angry at himself for letting Deshawn get to him and not performing better. Of course, no one held the door open for him so it was closed when he got to the top of the steps and tugged on the handle.
The door didn't budge.
One of the first things bullied kids develop is a fine-tuned sense of when danger is near by. The hairs on the back of Alex's neck stood up and cold dread flooded his chest. He waved his ID card at the reader by the door, which he shouldn't have to do at this time of day. It beeped and went green, but the door refused to open.
This was bad.
He spun quickly, but Coach O'Ceallaigh was no where in sight, nor were any of the other teachers. There were a little group of students coming down the sidewalk, but in a way he could never explain, Alex knew they were not people he wanted to meet just then. Swallowing his fear, he came down the steps two at a a time and bolted straight into Inwood Hill Park.
As he knew they would, the crowd of bullies darted after him.
Alex kept his head as he ran, wishing he had had time to put his racket, an expensive, custom made piece, away before this had started. As it was it was hampering his movements, and worse, it might be damaged. As he weaved through the trees, he realized he had no choice but to put the shoulder strap crosswise his body and pull it tight; hoping against hope it wouldn't snag on anything.
He leapt over a bench, startling an elderly couple as he did so and tossed a “Sorry!” over his shoulder as he kept running. This was hard, strictly cross-country, but a least he had the virtue of his tennis shoes making it easier. It was only a quarter mile from Livingston Hall to the Indian Cave. He'd be safe there, this wasn't the first time he'd pulled this trick.
Skidding to a stop by the rocky escarpment, he paused, panting and looking fretfully about. He could hear the curses of his pursuers, but not see them. Good.
Alex quickly scrambled up the rock face and shimmed into the cave, far enough that he wouldn't be seen, but he could see out. He quickly laid down on the stone and tried to catch his breath. The crowd of Ben Franklin students, easily identifiable by their uniforms, burst into the clearing and Alex held his breath. They were cursing and looking about, which let Alex get a good look.
He knew this group, Stan Kirby and his hangers on Bob Gardner and Fox Kane.
Alex held his breath as he saw Fox point at the rocks, but then a NYPD mounted cop cantered over, the officer blowing his whistle. The bullies turned and darted into the woods, looking for tangles the horse couldn't follow them into. Alex breathed a sigh of relief, once more in the cave …
He paused, looking behind him in the darkness. It almost felt like something was watching him. Alex stared into the darkness, deeper into the cave. There was the oddest feeling coming from back there. He dismissed the feeling as nerves and slowly made his way to the mouth of the cave, making sure Stanley and his thugs were actually gone. He sighed and scrambled down the cliff, looking at his now sullied and dirty tennis whites. “Perfect,” he muttered. There was no point in going back to school now. Brushing himself off, Alex turned and headed towards the nearest trail away from the school towards the Henry Hudson Bridge. From there he could get on the subway and head home.
October 3rd, 2007
Penthouse, The Stratford Building, 1385 York Ave, New York, NY
“Aren't we home a bit early, Master Alex?”
The tone of Charles Edwin, gentleman's gentleman, was one part concern, and one part disapproval, both of the young mans earliness being a tell tale of truancy as well as the state of his sweater and shorts. He collected up the boy's racket and waited for him to shuck out of the wool sweater he was wearing and wondering faintly if it was salvageable. “Don't start, Edwin,” Alex mumbled. “Are my parents home?”
The tuxedo clad butler dropped the probably ruined sweater into a discreetly concealed laundry basket in the closet and hung the racket on an organizational board of sports equipment. “No, sir,” he replied as he did so. “However, your sister, Jenna is … entertaining a guest.”
Alex rolled his eyes. If he thought the butler's tone had been disapproving of his lack of schedule keeping, it positively dripped disdain of his sisters habits and moral failings. “What is his name this time?” he asked as he followed the servant's dark cutaway coat into the kitchen.
“Her,” the butler corrected. “I believe the young lady to have been Miss Gabriella Goodkind.”
“Well, I guess she ran out of boys, right?” he groused, but the older man with his square face that displayed his emotions so clearly glanced at him side long.
“A gentleman should not back bite, Master Alex,” he said with great weight. He effortlessly added a cup and saucer to the place that was already laid out and poured a rich, aromatic tea into it as he placed it before the young man. “However, perhaps we should have a discussion about gentlemanly issues.”
“Sorry to interrupt your tea, Edwin.”
“Sharing is not interrupting, Master Alex,” the older man replied, dropping an entire lemon slice into his cup and gently stirring it. “So, tell me, what adventure has led you from your studies?”
Alex poured too much sugar into the tea and stirred it, keeping his eyes on the red colored liquid so as not to have to endure more disapproval. “Same as every time,” he muttered, stirring the tea. “Bullies.”
“Ah,” the older man replied, taking up one of the scones from the plate and putting in front of the boy. “Were our adversaries successful?” Alex looked up and the older man's face was kind. “Did they catch you?”
Alex made a dismissive gesture. “Me? Please.”
The butler leaned back and took a sip of his tea. “Perhaps these rapscallions are not the only one's enjoying the sport?”
“Edwin, I don't enjoy being chased and made to look like an scared little kid.” The boy sighed and took a bite of his mildly sweet biscuit. “Of course, there is a certain … satisfaction … in making them look like idiots.”
“Indeed, sir,” the other replied.
After a sip of his own Earl Gray, Alex looked up and asked, “You're not going to tell me to go be a tattle tale?”
Edwin's somewhat large nose turned up. “A gentleman solves his own problems, Master Alex.”
“Oh, so I should be a man and try to beat them up?”
Once more Alex was graced with a sidelong glance from the older man. “Master Alex, no one, least of all myself, would advise a young man to solve his issues with violence. Forgoing the legality of pugilism, you will find that, while some of the more cowardly specimens of the breed can be dissuaded this way, others find their prey standing up for themselves as a marker of challenge. Often leading to unfortunate escalations.”
Alex frowned at the seemingly contradictory answer. Before he could answer, a burst of raucous laughter announced the arrival of his sister and her friend. Jenna was wearing a baby-doll camisole that hid nothing and her friend, a raven haired vixen with green eyes and small collection of tattoos in indiscreet places wore only panties.
They both reeked of alcohol. “Oh, hey, Ed!” Jenna slurred, obviously inebriated. “We need some ice. Hey squirt … ” Alex was hauled to his feet by the butler and forcibly turned away from the two girls.
“Come with me, Master Alex, and let's get you clean,” he declared.
“Ah, let him get a good look, Ed!” the other girl called. “Boy's got to learn sometime!”
Their laughter echoed in Alex's ears as he was propelled down the back hall towards his room. Alex heard the Butler round on his sister and began to berate the both of them about acting like ladies and it being far too early in the day for their level of intoxication. Alex secured himself in his room and stripped out of his dirty clothes and headed for his shower.
Despite the water, the image of Gabriella Goodkind's breasts were firmly burned into his memory. Alex was not an innocent of the ways of the world and his imagination was shortly full of images and fantasies of which the elder of the 'Good Time Goodkinds' featured prominently. At least alone in the shower he wasn't embarrassed by his bodies response to his thoughts. “Yeah, like she'd give me the time of day,” he complained to himself.
The contradiction of the relaxing water and the torrid thoughts led to a less than satisfactory shower. In fact, he realized he felt rather sick having been too long in the shower. He made a cursory effort to dry himself and stumbled over to his bed. He collapsed on it and was unconscious in seconds.
October 3rd, 2007
The March of Dreams
Alex's dreams were feverish and disjointed. Seeming random images with no rhyme or reason; pornographic fantasies of girls in his class, the breasts of Gabriella Goodkind, Deshawn's smug face offering a handshake, but no matter how feverish, he couldn't seem to wake up. Alex staggered from one set of random images to the next, practically under physical assault from them, until he could bear it no longer, clenching his eyes shut he screamed for relief.
Silence suddenly fell and all he could hear was the sound of his own breathing.
Slowly, Alex opened his eyes, finding himself in an infinite, black void. He looked about but there was nothing in any direction. He looked down and found, oddly, that for the first time he could remember, he could see himself in a dream. He was naked, but the body he saw was not the body he had just bathed. His muscles were defined, almost as if someone had put the skin back on an anatomy drawing of the body's major muscle groups. There wasn't bulk, like a body builder, but my goodness was there definition!
Speaking of definition, he noted, with somewhat pleased amazement he would be a lot less self conscious in the locker room now as well. Marveling, he shook his head and whispered, “I'm not this lucky.”
“Well, that depends,” a voice said behind him. He spun, surprised to find a fox sitting in the blackness with him, his full red tail wrapped around his legs as he stared up at the surprised boy.
“Did you … ?”
“Speak?” the fox asked. It was a fine voice, a melodic tenor with distinct New York twang to it. “Yes, I did. Surprised?”
“At a talking fox?” he replied, surprising himself with his calm, cool collection. “No. I'm dreaming, after all, why should I be?”
There was something about the fox's face that seemed almost human. It was expressive in a way it shouldn't have been, but it emoted, rather like a cartoon, even though there was nothing cartoon like about the creature, which only increased the oddity. “You have a healthy skepticism!” he declared, obviously pleased. “Does my reputation come before me?”
Alex frowned and crossed his arms over his more muscular chest. “I'd have to know who you were, before I could know your reputation.”
The fox grinned, an unsettling mix of human amusement and vulpine threat. “Touche! Master Alex, I am impressed! Allow me to introduce myself.” The creature stood to all fours, then with an almost molten like quality flowed up onto two feet, his body's proportions changing into something half animal, half man, bipedal with the fox's head perched on its shoulders. The creature reaching out, manipulating its paw like a magician producing a palmed quarter and suddenly there was a business card between the pads of his toes.
Alex took the card and read in an interesting font:
Prognosticator, Instigator, Investigator
Teller of Secrets
Finder of Lost Things
The fox gave a courtly bow with much flourish. “Your humble servant, sir.”
Alex was still dubious. “Jak? Your name is Jak?”
“Well, my real name I don't just hand out for the asking,” the fox replied. “But I'm known by my nom de guerre. And I have taken a liking to you, human. I've been watching you lead your bullies on many a merry chase before using my home as your get out of jail free card.”
“You saw those?”
“You hide in my cave,” the fox replied. “I appreciate the artistry of your escape, and because of my admiration, and your body beginning to awaken, finally, I was able to attach a bit of myself to you so I could find you in the Dream Realm and make you an offer.”
“What kind of offer?”
“The best kind, my boy!” Jak replied enthusiastically. “I'm offering you the chance to square accounts with your enemies, and quite a few fringe benefits, if you're interested.”
“You're a spirit, aren't you?” Alex asked. Suddenly the blackness rippled and Alex found himself inside familiar environs. The walls were dark wood with tables and comfortable chairs placed around a deli counter. It was his favorite coffee shop, a mere block and half from home. “This is Beanocchio's,” he declared, turning back to the being sharing the table with him. The fox was human now, an athletically built, sharp faced man with slicked back red hair and the expression of a smooth, confident wise guy on his features.
Jak smiled. “Hey, you're better read than most of the breed these days! And I thought a familiar back drop might make the deal go sweeter. I gotta say though, I do have a weakness for their hot white chocolate.”
Alex looked down to find himself very stylishly dressed, obviously new, but fashionably 'distressed' stone washed jeans with a somewhat loud Hawaiian printed shirt that was open quite a ways to show off his new definition with a leather blazer. It was a look he would never have tried to pull off himself, but, for some reason he felt very comfortable in it. The young man took a sip of his favorite cappuccino before he leaned in to his table mate. “What kind of deal are we talking about, Jak?”
“You know I'm a spirit, but not the kind of deals we make?” the other demanded. “Kid, I like you, but don't try to bull shit a bull shitter, aright?”
“I'm not a wizard or anything … ”
The con artist winked at him. “You don't have to be, kid, that's the beauty of this,” he assured the young man. “What you, Alex, are is a mutant. Relax, it's just a word, happens every day. While you're sleeping out there in the so-called 'real world' your body is going through some pretty heavy duty changes. We'll get to the details in a sec, but first things first, your hallow. I like it. It's nice and wide, plenty of room for you and me. I already like you, you're my kind of human. You say the word, I move in and while we're sharing your meat, I'll let you use my powers and abilities. Think about it, yeah, the bullies have numbers, but you, you'll have mutant powers and a wise guy like me to talk you through it. Hell, in a couple years, we could run this town.”
A pair of college girls, from Mary Mount College a few blocks away based on their clothes, passed by the table. They were both girls he would have declared well out of his league, and not just on account of age; they were gorgeous, easily eights or even nines, in tight clothing that put their looks on display. The kind of girls that dated Jocks or Broadway stars, who wouldn't even notice a guy like him. But as they both passed they smiled and greeted Alex, turning to put their features to their best light.
“Ladies,” Jak purred, giving Alex a significant glance.
One ruffled Alex's hair and passed him a piece of paper as she followed her friend out. “Call me,” she mouthed at him, holding her hand to her ear. Alex looked down at the paper and found a telephone number written next to the name Amber with OXOX. Turning back to the spirit he held up the slip and leaned in.
“Are you telling me a girl like that is going to pay attention to a guy like me outside of my dreams?”
The man shaped fox was coy as he took a sip of his hot chocolate. “Girls, guys if you swing that way, whatever you want, chief. I am the definition of sexy and that aura, that certain something that the ladies find irresistible is just one of the goodies I can let you in on.”
Alex turned up his nose in a sneer he'd learned from practice. “Guys?”
The fox blurred and suddenly any thought of Amber was completely out shown by the scarlet-headed bombshell sharing a table with him in a red silk dress that was practically painted on with a neckline that went down to there, with a hemline that showed off her legs and the ankle strap stilettos and a slit that went up to here. In comparison to the walking wet dream at his table, Amber was a pale, homely three. The fox played with her spoon in her drink. “Don't knock what you haven't tried, my boy,” she purred. “Just think of the complete buffoonery you could inflict on Deshawn looking like this. You're in high school, you know how easy it is for a girl to destroy a boy.”
“Oh … I couldn't … ” Alex stammered, to be perfectly honest, he was having trouble thinking while sharing his table with the form the spirit wore. Probably due to blood loss.
The blue eyes narrowed just a bit, and her smile widened and became coy. “Sure you can't,” she drawled as if reading his mind. Her form became molten wax, like from a movie and the red headed wise guy was back. “Still, whatever you're comfortable with. Whatya say, partner? We got a deal?” the spirit asked, extending his hand.
Alex didn't even think of the consequences as he took the spirits hand and clinched it. “Hell yes!”
The coffee shop swirled and washed away.
October 7th, 2007
ICU 4, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City
The first sensation Alex was aware of was pain.
His head was throbbing in time with an annoyingly loud beep that was aggravating his headache. He tried to open his eyes, but they were encrusted and practically stuck together. As he brought a hand up to try and wipe his eyes, he became aware of voices near by, which caused confusion. Why were there people in his room? He recognized a voice and weakly called out, “Mom?”
“Oh, thank God!” she all but shouted and suddenly there was a flurry of activity before Alex could even begin to complain about his mother shouting. His hand was grabbed and squeezed. “Alex? Can you hear me, baby?”
“Evelyn, calm yourself,” another voice commanded. “Step back and let the professionals work.”
Whatever or whoever had his hand let go, then a wet cloth wiped at his eyes before someone pried one open and shined a light in it. “Ow!” he exclaimed, weakly raising a hand to ward off the pain. His eyes finally focused on an unfamiliar man in a white coat. He held up his finger.
“Follow my finger, son,” he ordered, and moved it around.
“Who are you?” Alex replied, sitting up with the stranger's help. “Why am I in a hospital?!”
“What's the last thing you remember?”
“Uh, I got home and took a shower,” Alex stammered. “I … I felt ill and lay down … ”
The doctor smiled through his beard. “That was Wednesday, son. It's Sunday.”
“Is he alright?” his mother wanted to know. The doctor turned to face her.
“He seems fine,” he declared. “We'll run some blood tests to be certain, but … ”
“Can I get something to eat?” Alex asked, suddenly aware he was ravenous.
The other man he couldn't see said, “Get the boy a meal, Evie while I have a word with him.” His mother and the doctor left and the man walked over. He was wearing an expensive suit, but that was normal for him. “Alex, how do you feel?”
The young man kept his surprise to himself. “Uncle Ted? Why are you here?”
Ted smiled and sat down on the side of his bed. “Your father was called away suddenly out of the country and, well, I love my sister-in-law, but you know she doesn't deal with crisis very well.”
Alex shared a chuckle with his uncle over his mother's foibles. “Is something wrong with me?” he finally worked up the courage to ask.
“Wrong?” Ted asked, somewhat too nonchalantly. “I wouldn't say wrong, Alex. Different, would be my word choice. How do you feel?”
“Hungry,” the youngster replied. “I had strange dreams, am … am I a mutant … ?”
The expression on Ted's face was consoling. “You are perfectly fine, Alex. In fact, you look better than I've ever seen you!” Alex held up his arm and saw the definition he had seen in his dream. Ted squeezed his shoulder in encouragement. “Don't panic, my boy. You're not going to grow odd limbs or anything. The doctors tell me your 'activation' as they call it was rather mild. Almost like something was slowing it down to make it easier for you.”
“I'm a mutant,” Alex whispered to himself and shivered.
“There will be some changes,” Ted warned warmly. “Schools for a start. Your mother tells me you've been having some trouble … ?”
“I don't want to change schools,” Alex declared as firmly as he could.
Ted sighed and shook his head. “It's out of our hands, son. There are laws. And you have to find out what new abilities you have and how to control them. Ben Franklin isn't the place to do that.”
“Well, where … ?”
“It's called Whateley Academy,” Ted told his nephew. “I've been there, it's a fine place. You know my daughter, your cousin, goes there? It's set up for things that, now, well, BFA just isn't. But don't worry, Whateley is one of the finest schools in the country. I've already worked out everything for your mother, so you need to be a man and help me keep her calm, right?”
Alex nodded with a sigh. “Yes sir. Where is it? Out in Yonkers or … ?”
Ted laughed. “Oh no, it's a boarding school. They're in New Hampshire. Once the doctors get finished and we get a meal in you, we'll see about getting you out of here and home so you can pack. You'll be on the train Monday.”
“Whateley is set up for mutants?” Alex asked. “Is it … like … a … prison?”
“Prison?” Ted chided his nephew. “If it were would I send you? Or your cousin? Come on, now, Alex, don't tell me you're reading wild rumors on the internet?” The man roughed up his nephew's hair. “In fact, I think they're a bit too loose in their regulation if you take my meaning. I'd call it a personal favor if you kept an eye on your cousin for me and let me know every so often.”
Alex Preswick-Walcutt nodded solemnly at his uncle. “Sure, I'll look out for Tansy for you, Uncle Ted." Theodore Walcutt smiled a sharks' smile.