Foreword by Elrod
This story is a continuation of a character who was initially revealed in "Business as Usual". If you haven't read that story, you should.
Sept. 6th, 2016
He was staring.
Why was he staring and why wouldn’t he stop?
I was doing my best to ignore while I plugged away at some inane game on my phone. I’m not even sure what it was called, it was just something to bide my time. Trains were always boring. My mother used to make us ride one whenever we went to visit my Dad’s parents in Mystic Falls. The difference between then and now though was that I actually enjoyed the ride. It was something wonderful for a little kid like me to sit at the window and stare out as the landscape went zooming past. I used to love it. Taking a quick glance toward the green zipping past the outside of the train, I grunted. No one ever said I was a smart kid. Thankfully I grew out of it a few years later. Trains---like most other mundane things---were boring.
Boring things were disappointing things.
It was like that stupid little song all children like to sing, “Rain, Rain, Go Away...”. Except in the song and in real life, rain often went away. Life kept going. The boring kept going. I’m not saying I wanted to die, far from it actually. Its just that day in and day out, life was the same. Nothing new happened, nothing changed. My mother and the rest of the adults in my life thought I ran away because I didn’t want to go to Whateley. Maybe they were part right. Mostly though, I ran away because I was bored. That’s the real reason I started that stupid blog too. Sure I was angry but I was mostly bored. I thought maybe if I said some hurtful things, that something cool or interesting would happen.
Then I got my wish.
I should have been more careful but I let my guard down. That’s how those MCO thugs got me. At the time I had no idea they were even looking for me but they had my picture. When they took me into custody and started questioning me, it was clear they didn’t really care who I was. Someone tipped them off to my presence and they came after me. At first I thought it was that scumbag Brody. He seemed the type. Before he screamed he wanted nothing more to do with a “freak like me”, he promised to make my life sorry. I thought for sure he called them in or something.
Then those others showed up.
Clara said they were called Epsilon.
She also said they were some kind of Think Tank.
I’m pretty certain that’s not how that worked.
I wish I remembered more though.
After escaping the motel, the next thing I remembered was waking up in Abbie’s apartment. The only thing I knew for sure was that we were safe. That I was safe. Clara promised me that and I trusted her. Hey, I had to trust someone. I lost faith in Mom a long time ago. Don’t even get me started on Summer. I’m not sure if I was ever going to trust her. My cousins were cool though. Even if Abbie did show up to drag me to that stupid school of theirs. I’d like to say it wasn’t all bad though.
Well except for one thing.
Taking a moment to look up from my phone, I locked eyes with him. He was handsome I suppose, if you liked that whole corn-fed farm boy type. I’m not going to lie though, he had great eyes. Piercing blue with those little dimples at the corners. His freckles went well with that sandy blonde hair too. Ok, he was a lot handsome. Like a young Brad Pitt. Very young, way pre-Aniston days. The thing was, as much as I might be attracted to him, I wasn’t interested. I had too much on my plate already. I’d almost been incarcerated, killed and kidnapped. All within a day or so. I had some crazy “Think Tank” chomping at my heels and now I was on a train going to “Mutant High”. I didn’t need to add a boy into the mix.
If only, he’d get the memo.
Crap, he saw me looking...
Crap, he’s getting up…
Crap, he’s coming over….
“Hey” he said, standing near my seat. “I’m Cody.”
He even had one of those farm accents.
I decided grunting was the best possible response. I was hoping it was enough to tell him I wasn’t really interested but apparently grunting meant something else where he came from. He dropped lazily into the seat across from me, completely oblivious to the fact that I wanted to be left alone. I was tempted to tell him to fuck off but my therapist wouldn’t have approved. Yes I had a therapist, not my idea. Well not initially. When Mom forced me to go to Dr. Chambers, I HATED every bit of it. I spent the first few sessions saying nothing and glaring. Hey, it was my dime, I could do whatever the hell I wanted. Slowly I started to open up though and she started to coach me on how to be more sociable. Apparently, grunting and sassing people was not the polite thing to do.
I sighed, clicking out of my game.
“I’m not interested.”
He smirked. “Great name, sounds foreign. I like foreign girls.”
He had a playful twinkle in his eye.
I rolled my eyes. “Look, I’m sure that that charm works in whatever podunk town you’re from but it doesn’t work on me.”
“Danesville, Nebraska actually.”
“Yeah, great. Don’t care.”
I picked up my phone, hoping he finally got the clue.
“You’re rude, you know that?”
I gave him the “Yeah Duh” look.
Now maybe he’d finally leave me alone.
Instead of going away though, he shifted his body, positioning himself so he was closer to me. I couldn’t help but notice that he smelled really good. It was a musky, masculine odor. There was something else, a burnt smell that should have made me crinkle my nose but it didn’t. I found myself looking at his face again, getting lost in those eyes. For a moment I didn’t have a care in the world. I could stare in those eyes all day long, they were mesmerizing…
“You ok?” he finally asked, breaking the trance.
I shook my head.
“I’m fine, just deep in thought...”
He smiled. “Thinking about giving me that name of yours?”
I toughened up. “Not likely.”
“You know if you don’t give it to me, I might just have to give you a nickname?”
I shrugged. “Suit yourself.”
I went back to my phone again, hoping he’d get the clue finally. He didn’t. He started spitting out stupid names for me but I stopped listening. It irritated the hell out of me that he wasn’t getting the clue. It also irritated the hell out of me that I liked it so much. I’m not going to lie, I liked the attention. Before manifesting, I used to have to dye my hair to get boys to look. Even then most of them were only ever interested in me to get close to Summer. I used to hate all the attention she used to get. When she started going to Whateley, I thought I might finally get a chance but boys still asked me about her. Hell, even the adults wanted to know about picture perfect Summer. It was enough to make a girl sick.
It wasn’t all bad though.
I didn’t always hate my sister.
Before she manifested and became everyone’s Pretty Princess, she used to be cool. We used to do everything together. She used to be this mousy shy thing with red hair, who spent all her time with her nose stuck in a book. That was five years ago. When Summer turned eleven, she manifested. No one in the family was surprised but me. Especially when my quiet, bookworm sister was replaced by a gorgeous blonde bombshell. The day Summer manifested was the day my problems began. It didn’t take long for my family to all but ignore me, so of course I started acting out. I started to resent everything but especially her. That’s when I started my blog too. It was just meant to be my own personal outlet, I never thought it would catch on like it did.
Then Brody came.
Looking back on it, I’m not really sure what I saw in him. I knew him most of my life, he was the kid who lived on the farm down the road from us. His family wasn’t all that dissimilar from our own actually. Except they were mutant haters. I always found it ironic in a way. They only lived a couple miles away from a family of superheroes and never knew it. When Brody started to show interest in me though, I was flattered. I was beyond flattered actually. He didn’t care at all about Summer. He thought she was superficial and ditzy. He liked me and loved every bit of it. I got caught up in it. I was so happy that someone finally noticed me, I did pretty much anything he asked or told me to do.
I let it go too far.
Everyone tried to tell me he was bad news but I didn’t listen.
He talked me into a group at school called, “Liberation”. I’m not going to lie, I knew what kind of group it was from the start but I lied to myself about it. I thought if I pretended it wasn’t a mutant hating group that I could have a clear conscience about it all. Things of course came to a head a couple of months ago. That’s when the group took that “job”. I still didn’t know the specifics of it. Mark only told me that we were going to find this mutant girl at some kind of rally and talk to her. He never said anything about attacking her. He talked me into luring her away from the crowd and they jumped her.
I watched too.
I’m not proud of it.
That’s when I manifested.
I lost control as they continued to pound on her and I rushed in to stop them. In the midst of trying to pull an enraged Mark free, it happened.
“Hey you ok?”
Cody waved a hand in front of my face, breaking my thoughts.
I lost myself there for a second.
“You’re spacing. You ok?”
He actually sounded concerned.
I shrugged. “Just thinking about something.”
“It looked intense. Bad or good?”
“None of your business actually” I snapped, annoyed.
He threw up his hands in a “I surrender” gesture. I sighed. I thought about my therapist again and how we were still working through the anger.
“Sorry” I said, a bit more calmly. “I was thinking about someone...”
He raised an eyebrow. “Boyfriend?”
I shook my head. “Not anymore.”
He smiled. “Then I still got a chance.”
I rolled my eyes. “You’re incorrigible.”
He smirked. “You say the nicest things to me, Blue.”
I sighed. I suppose it was better than most. I hid my smirk, remembering back to the time and annoyance of dyeing my hair before I manifested. I used this over the counter crap that lasted a few months but easily washed out. As soon as one color faded, I’d replace it with another. It used to drive my Mom nuts. The more she told me to take more responsibility in my appearance, the more I rebelled against her. That’s where the piercings came from too. Sadly those were gone now. Manifestation was both of blessing and curse to me. Sure I no longer had to dye my hair and I got cool powers out of the deal but I had a very low level regen which kept me from replacing the piercings that said ability healed in the first place.
Mutations were weird like that.
A few months ago, I convinced myself it was NEVER going to happen to me. Then it did. I’m not going to lie, at the time I was thrilled. I was also absolutely terrified too. A long time ago, I came to peace with the fact that I wasn’t going to be a mutant like the rest of my family. After all, my sister manifested when she was eleven. My mother told me she did the same. Even my cousins manifested at a young age. I had a lot to live up too. It got worse when I thought about where I came from. Mom’s parents were baseline but her aunt wasn’t. When Mom manifested as a child, her parents were never sure what to do with her. Her father bailed shortly thereafter but for different reasons.
Not sure what to do with a mutant kid, her mother sent her to live with her aunt.
It was from there that Mom eventually went to Whateley and met Dad.
Dad’s family weren’t so open to the idea at first, what with Mom not coming from a rich superhero background like them. Dad won them over though. It was not an easy road though. My grandfather was a bit of a big deal. He was the third Grand Zephyr, a very powerful wind using superhero that a lot of the mutant world knew and either respected or feared. His father was the Grand Zephyr too and his father before him. It was an inherited title though. My grandfather used to say the power was gifted to his father by a God but most assumed he made it up. Regardless of its origins though, it passed from the eldest son to his child when the previous name owner died. Dad was expected to take up the mantle too.
Fate had other plans though.
Now no one was sure what was going to happen after my grandfather decided to give it up. Would it pass to my uncle Thomas, perhaps his son, Brian or would The Grand Zephyr finally hang up his cape for good?
“Have you seen this!”
Why couldn’t I get one moment…
Looking up from my phone again, I saw Cody on his. He was overly excited about something. Before I could tell him I wasn’t interested, he spun his device around so I could see. What I saw was a blurry video of a group fighting in the streets. It was pretty low quality but I could make out several figures, they looked to be about our age. The video was from one of those online news sites that Summer liked to gush about. The reporter was going on about a group of amateur superheroes saving the day in New York City yesterday. From the murmur around us, I could see that a few others had picked up on it as well.
I shrugged. “Looks like some people don’t know when to mind their own business.”
I wasn’t impressed.
Especially when amateurs tried to do something that should be left to professionals.
“You don’t think that’s awesome?”
I shrugged. “There’s a reason we have professionals to do those things”.
He wasn’t convinced. “You mean to tell me if you had a chance to run out there and save the day, you wouldn’t do it?”
I sighed. “With the proper training and guidance, sure.”
I thought about launching into a whole speech about being deputized by the local police and all that nonsense but I’m not sure he really cared. He was like most people. More than likely, like most of us on this train. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that the lot of us kids in this car were on our way to Whateley. Most of them were off in their own little cliques. All I had been hoping to do was find a quiet, secluded place by a window and watch the world as it zipped by. Now I had an annoyance I couldn’t seem to shake. Sure it was a cute one but I was already starting to regret engaging him in conversation.
“I would love to be a hero!”
I smirked. “I’m sure you’d look great in spandex.”
He smiled big.
That wasn’t supposed to be a compliment.
Damn my snark.
And damn it, why am I blushing now?
Cody got a renewed sense of purpose after my accidental slip up. I think he thought it meant I wanted him around. I cursed. In the future, I was going to have to learn when to keep my mouth shut and my bitchiness in check. Though to be fair, Cody didn’t realize I was trying to be an ass. My faux pas screwed me over for the rest of the trip. After he thought I was complimenting and possibly flirting with him, Cody stepped up his game as they say. He tried his hardest to keep my attention, first trying to talk about superheroes but when he saw I wasn’t really interested, he switched tactics. He started to tell me about his home life, growing up on a cow farm in Nebraska. He told me about his parents and his six siblings. That was the only part I faltered at. I couldn’t imagine having Summer times six. One of her was enough.
The more he talked, the more I found myself relating to him.
I grew up on a farm too. Unlike him though, we had no animals there. It was an apple farm that my mother took over from her uncle. He retired before I was born, he and his wife lived in Florida now. Mom and Dad took to farm life well when they weren’t saving the world. mom’s her days didn’t last long though, she hung up her cape after Summer was born. She once told me she preferred the simpler life. She said it was a lot better than most. That was mostly on the account of her father. Whereas her mother was a hero too, her father---my grandfather---was a criminal. He died when I was little but I never met him. He lived in New York City, ran a pawn shop but did a little petty thievery on the side. Mom said he was the most despicable person she knew but it wasn’t all bad.
It led Gretchen to us.
She was like a real big sister to me.
Like Summer used to be.
“You ok?” asked Cody, stopping his current word diarrhea.
I’m not even sure what he was talking about because I was lost in my own thoughts.
I sighed. “Thinking about my sister...”
“You two close?”
I laughed. “Not anymore”
I left it at that and thankfully for his own sake, he didn’t ask. The last thing I needed was to push my problems onto a complete stranger. It was bad enough that my mother forced me to go to a therapist. The thing is and I’d never admit it to her, therapy was actually helping. If I told Mom that though she’d probably gloat about how she was right and I was wrong and it would just lead to another fight. One that would inevitably lead her back to comparing me to my perfect sister. Because at the end of the day, it really was ALL about Summer. It was a vicious cycle for me. I needed therapy because of Summer and whenever Mom would ask me about my sessions it would lead to a fight which all went back to Summer again.
“You want to talk about it?”
I laughed. “Not really.”
So he continued to tell me more about his family.
I tried to pay more attention.
It was a lot easier this time around.
And hey, it did kill the time so that was a plus.
The train pulled into a tiny little station in Dunwich, New Hampshire.
Looking out the window, I couldn’t help but smile. The town was one of those idyllic New England towns you saw in the movies and on post cards. Everything was red brick and only a few stories tall. It strangely reminded me of home, well the city outside the farm. This place was different though. What I saw looked warm and almost welcoming, home was suffocating. Grabbing my bag and my guitar---both of which I refused to be allowed to be stowed---I started following the press of people moving toward the exit. Cody was trying to stay close, somehow deciding he needed to protect me. Standing next to him, I never realized how tall he was. Or maybe I was just short.
Stepping onto the platform, I was shocked by how warm it was.
Back home, there’d been a slight chill in the air.
Here, I was almost sweating.
Well would if I could I suppose.
Ever since manifesting, I couldn’t. Its somehow connected to what I can do---pulling the water out of the air like that but I have my mother stumped. I have her mutant friends stumped too. My family has always had a strange and unusual power base to begin with. Most mutants don’t inherit powers the way we do. My uncle once told me he thinks it has something to do with that pact his great grandfather made all those years ago. Somehow the wind spirit has blessed the Spencer clan with an unusual power base. Then add my mother’s magic into the mix and things get interesting. Strangely enough, neither myself or Summer inherited any of Mom’s magical talent. Which kind of sucks to be honest because as cool as it is to make fog and throw around water balls, I would really like to weave spells like she does.
Like my cousins.
Alas, the world, she is a cruel mistress.
“Wow, its warmer than I thought” said my giant.
I grunted. “I thought it was warm where you come from?”
“It is. I just wasn’t expecting it to warm here.”
I shrugged. “Weather is strange in the north.”
Especially back home where it wasn’t strange to get all four seasons in one week.
It was clear he was about to say something in response but we were interrupted by a woman trying to wave us over. Dressed in a sharp suit and looking pretty flustered, she looked like she was trying to “corral cats” as Cody put it affectionately a few seconds later. There was a mass of teenagers around her and it was clear she was trying to get us to join. Behind her was a bus, most likely the final bit of transportation to the school. I sighed. This was my last chance. With her easily distracted, I could slip away without anyone noticing. I might even be able to get away with Cody tagging along. He was annoying but I wouldn’t be bored either. Who knows, maybe he’d shut up long enough for me to admire those dimples.
“That must be the Whateley woman, Ms...”
“You go on ahead, I have to use the toilet” I said, interrupting him.
Thinking about it, Cody didn’t strike me as a rule breaker.
He’d probably slow me down too.
Cody nodded but was reluctant to leave my side. It was almost as if he felt obligated. Annoyed, I gave him a shove and he finally got the hint. He wandered over to the group, watching me for a few seconds until he finally turned his back on me. Finally. I didn’t waste any time and made my way down the platform in the opposite direction. I still had a little bit of my cash from before, hopefully it would be enough money to buy a ticket out of this dump. Hey I told Abbie and Clara I’d get on the train, I never said anything about going to the actual school. I hated lying to Clara though. She was a good person. There was just NO way I was going to spend the rest of my school existence at that stuffy boarding school.
Especially NOT a school that my sister attended.
Satisfied, I got away unnoticed, I made a beeline for the station. I was almost to the door when someone stepped out from behind the pillar in front of me. I almost ran into him. He was tall, wearing a charcoal gray suit. At first I thought maybe he was just a clumsy business man until I felt someone else step behind me. Shit. I turned to the second person, a woman. Whereas the man was bald and probably in his late thirties, she was youthful and blonde. She was short too, barely taller than me.
“Going somewhere, Riley?”
Shit, they knew my name.
“Bathroom?” I said, hoping it was enough to fool them.
The man scoffed. “What did I tell you Kayla, Agent Price was right...”
The woman chuckled.
I sighed, defeated. “You’re with the DPA?”
The man smiled, reached into his jacket and flipped me a badge. “Special Agent Carter and that’s Agent Grace”.
The woman didn’t show me her credentials but I’d take his word for it.
They couldn’t be all bad though if Tony sent them.
Special Agent Anthony Price. My family had dealings with him in the past. He wasn’t a special agent back then but he was still one of the good guys. He helped Gretchen years ago when she was in trouble. He also helped me after the rally incident. Now that I thought about it, I wondered if he sent Clara to protect me as well? He was the overprotective sort after all. He checked in on us every once in a while, even sent presents for our birthdays and Christmas. He was the kind of man who you wanted to be on your side.
Right now though, I hated him.
I huffed. “Tony doesn’t trust me?”
Carter smirked. “What do you think?”
I sighed. “He knows I’m not cut out for this Whateley shit...”
“Its not his call and its not yours either.”
No it was Mom’s. She was still convinced that Whateley was the perfect place for me. She was hoping it would help me better understand my powers. More than that though, she was hoping someone there would help curve my rebellious streak. My therapist had already made arrangements for me to meet with the shrink there and Mom made sure I was enrolled in their martial arts class or whatever. Its not every day that a mother says she wants someone “break her daughter down and build her up” again. It was cruel and months ago, I would have rebelled even more against it. Dr. Chambers was convinced I was making some progress on that front. I still wasn’t ready to forgive my mother for all the shit over the years but it was a “step in the right direction”.
I looked past Carter, wondering if I could still get around him.
My options were limited now that the two of them had me pinned in.
There was going to the terminal and buying a ticket out of here so that option was out. I suppose I could cause some kind of commotion, maybe even a distraction but I was pretty sure they were trained for that. I bit my lip. Could I generate a “smoke screen” in here? That’s what I started to call my fog ability, saying I generated fog just sounded lame. Calling it a smoke screen made me sound like some kind of badass. Let’s face facts here, the fog was pretty stupid. Especially considering all the awesome things I’ve seen other heroes do. Not that I wanted to be a superhero but I at least wanted to possess some kind of OP talent. Alas, the only time I was useful was at parties. Maybe I should have called myself Rave Girl or something.
Mist wasn’t really my idea either.
I wonder if there was still time to change it?
When The Good Neighbors power tested me shortly after I manifested, they gave me a list of group appropriate hero names. Apparently, they owned the trademark on a lot of water and wind based name variants. It was efficient and contract binding. There really weren’t a lot of names on their that suited me though. Once it was discovered that I could generate that fog though, my mother chose for me. I tried to argue but she waved it off, telling me if I didn’t like it, I could change it later. After that, the team’s seamstress started working on color schemes, she and Mom started bouncing off ideas. Their PR market got involved too and Project Mist began. It was so stupid and I didn’t have a say in the least. In my family, it was like you weren’t a person anymore as soon as you manifested.
I now had no say in my own future.
Its the chief reason why I ran away.
No one ever asked me what I wanted.
Then again, NO ONE EVER asks the teenager what they want.
Defeated, I raised my arms in front of me. “So, this where you cuff me, officer?”
I retreated to Smart Ass mode.
Its how I tended to cope 90% of the time anyway.
A few walkerbys saw me and raised their eyebrows. One even looked like they were going to step in and make sure I was ok. Gotta love little old ladies. Agent Carter looked nervous and started to fidget. His partner was on her toes though and quickly pushed my arms down.
“We’re not here to arrest you, we’re here to take you in for a debrief.”
A debrief? Was this a spy flick?
The name is Spencer, Riley Spencer.
Doo doo doo.
Agent Grace raised an eyebrow, almost as if she could read my mind.
“Of course I can’t” she deadpanned.
She smirked and gave me a wink.
I guess I was going to have to watch myself around her.
“Kayla, stop scaring the girl” Her partner sounded annoyed. “We’re not here to hurt you, Riley. We just have a few follow up questions that Agent Fairchild failed to ask you.”
Agent Grace must have sensed my apprehension because she put a reassuring hand on my shoulder. “Its going to be ok. Clara figured you might be a little nervous so she asked us to do it.”
“What makes you so special?”
“Us? Nothing. But if you’d follow us to our car, we can explain further.”
I looked past them. The bus was already gone. There were still a lot of people at the terminal but I’m not sure they’d help even if I were to scream out. I could try running again but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t get very far. Agent Grace gave my shoulder another squeeze and flashed me a smile. I sighed. This was one of the things that Dr. Chambers and I talked about at some length. I needed to learn how to trust people more. I knew these two meant me no harm but all things considered, I was still pretty cautious. The last time two “agents” approached me, they didn’t take no for an answer and I ended up in MCO custody. Before that, the DPA wanted to hold me accountable for what happened to that girl at the rally.
So trust didn’t come easy.
Especially with people flashing badges.
Right now though, I didn’t have a choice.
I sighed. “You betray me, I’ll make you regret it.”
It was a bluff but it was one I’d do everything I can to make possible.
Agent Grace stared at me for a moment, probably trying to read my thoughts. A second or so later, she gave me a small smile.
The three of us stared each other down for a few more seconds before we walked away from the front of the building. They led me around the side to a small parking lot where the only distinctive looking car was their black Chevy Impala. I was surprised because I thought for certain that federal agents usually drove cars that didn’t stand out. It was probably the most badass looking car in the whole lot. It didn’t help that the windows were tinted black. As we got closer, I noticed that there were no plates either. That surprised me. I was half expecting there would be something that said it was a government issued car. The lack of plates told me one very important thing.
This was an unofficial visit.
I started to feel a little apprehensive.
“We’re flying under the radar today. You’ll see in a moment.”
Grace said nothing else as she reached the car first and opened the left passenger side door for me. I took a step forward when I noticed that there was someone in the car. I wasn’t expecting that. I tried to look at their face but they were wearing a hoodie and had their head turned away from me. Looking beyond that, I saw skinny jeans and designer boots. I smirked but tried to keep it to myself as I climbed into the car. Agent Grace shut the door behind me as soon as I was safely inside. As soon as the door clicked shut, the person turned their head and I saw the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen.
I had no interest in girls in the least but for her, I’d almost make an exception. It didn’t help that she was Asian. I’d always been drawn to Asian girls. Her beauty wasn’t her most striking feature though, it was her eyes.
They were gold.
It was hard not too.
She smiled. “You must be the famous Riley Spencer I’ve heard so much about.”
I was dumbstruck.
How did this girl know my name?
What else was I supposed to say?
She laughed. “I’m Jenny, its nice to finally meet you, Riley”
The car ride was quiet.
After our brief introduction, Jenny didn’t say much. Apparently she was on her way to Whateley as well but her trip got diverted to pick me up. Like me, she had run into a bit of trouble not that long ago and the DPA was being extra cautious. Like me, this DPA escort was arranged and she wasn’t too happy about it either. After that initial conversation though, she fell quiet again and stared out the window. It had started to rain a bit as we drove and I found myself staring at the raindrops as they hit the glass. Before I never really paid attention to the rain but ever since manifesting, water and I had a close relationship.
If I concentrated hard enough, I could count each droplet.
After a few hundred though, it got boring fast.
Thankfully the little shower didn’t last long and by the time we got to our destination, it had stopped.
Looking out the window, I saw a rather ordinary looking brick building. It was in the middle of the town, nestled between two identical buildings. If I had to guess, I’d say it was an duplex of some kind. Not exactly the most discreet place but I wasn’t going to complain. In the last few weeks or so, I’d seen my fair share of “safe houses”. The MCO moved me to at least three before my fateful meeting with Clara. If I had to guess, I’d say this was one was probably going to be no different.
Our escorts got out of the car first.
“Don’t bother” said my previously quiet companion as I reached for my own door. “Its locked from the outside.”
I tried the handle anyway, she was right.
Looking out the window, I saw the two agents walk slowly up to the building and disappear into it seconds later.
I scoffed. “They expect us to run away?”
“You think you could get far if you tried?”
I shrugged. “I ran from them before.”
Back before I was picked up by the MCO, I was technically in DPA custody. Things had gone pretty smooth after the rally incident for a while. The whole lot of us involved were questioned by the police but my “friends” kept their stories straight. The strange thing was, none of them mentioned I was a mutant too. I think the little H1ers were embarrassed that they allowed a mutant into their ranks. Just as well. I ended up keeping my manifestation secret for weeks after. After all, besides losing the piercings, my appearance didn’t change all that much. It was ultimately Summer who ratted me out. She caught me trying to get a grasp on my powers in the barn one day. She freaked and ran to Mom.
Mom was pissed I kept it a secret from her.
That’s when my uncle got involved. I was brought to The Good Neighbors’ base of operations, given a battery of tests along the way. The DPA arrived shortly thereafter and wanted to know more about what happened at the rally. I told only half truths though, just what they wanted to hear. They bought it for the most part but kept an agent nearby the farm just in case. The whole thing just made Mom stricter. She made me start seeing Dr. Chambers on a more regular basis and wouldn’t let me out of her sight. The adults decided the best thing for me was to go to Whateley. I tried to protest but they wouldn’t listen. Especially seeing as I didn’t have any true control over my powers. A few days before I ran away, Mom drew the runes all over my arms. She called them channeling runes and told me they’d help center my mind and make it easier to focus. They were temporary, meant to disappear when I had more control. I would have complained but they were kind of cool looking, not that I told her that of course.
I ran away right after.
I was tired of people trying to control my life.
I could only imagine how foolish the DPA looked when it happened.
Thinking back on it now, I couldn’t help but smile.
I shrugged. “Old joke.”
A minute or so later, Agent Grace finally decided to let us out of the car. She unlocked Jenny’s door first. I grunted, annoyed that she was getting preferential treatment. As soon as Jenny was free from our temporary “prison”, Agent Grace let me out too. The whole time her partner was looking around on a hair trigger, ready to strike at moment’s notice. I tried to follow where he was looking but all I saw were buildings. It was clear he thought someone might try to ambush us at any moment. Was he worried about the people after me? Turning back around, I noticed that Agent Grace was standing awfully close to Jenny.
Was someone after her too?
“Let’s move, we’re too exposed here”.
Agent Carter was definitely jumpy about something.
Not wanting to argue with the man, I followed Grace and Jenny as they made their way up the tiny front steps and into the building proper. I heard Carter sigh behind me. I gave him a strange look but he didn’t seem the sharing type. Instead, I took a look around the tiny little entrance hall. We were there for only a few seconds before we were rushed down a little hall to a modest sized living area. As soon as we stepped inside, I noticed we weren’t alone. I wanted to squeal but I contained myself.
“Hey kiddo” she said, smiling big.
I met Tina ten years ago. She was with Gretchen when they arrived on our farm. Some really bad people were hunting them and they needed a place to lie low for a while. I was really young back then, four I think. I don’t really remember much about that first visit but it wasn’t the last. Tina---much like Gretchen---became a staple in our lives. But whereas Gretchen lived at the farm when not at Whateley, Tina only visited from time to time. The last time I saw her was a couple of years ago. She came to personally escort Summer to Whateley. I remembered being a bit jealous at the time.
The Tina sitting before me hadn’t changed a bit.
Except she looked tired.
“What are you doing here?” I asked, trying and failing to keep the excitement from my voice.
She smiled. “You and I need to have a bit of a chat.”
“Agent Royce, we’ll be upstairs if you need us.”
Agents Carter and Grace led Jenny out of the room, my new acquaintence gave me a reassuring smile before she left.
As soon as they were gone, Tina sighed.
“You’re a pain in the butt, you know that.”
I sighed, dropping onto the couch as she pointed at it. “Its not like I asked for any of this...”
She smirked. “We both know that’s a lie.”
I grunted. “How much do you know?”
“Only what you told Clara but I’m sure there’s more.”
“You were on the phone, you’re a spy!”
This time I didn’t hide my excitement. It all made sense. I thought I recognized that voice yesterday. So Tina was Clara’s boss. Things were adding up. No wonder Tina stop coming around as much after she graduated college. She was off being some super secret spy girl. It would have been a lot cooler if I suddenly didn’t start to fill in some other blanks. Clara seemed to know more than she was letting on and now it was clear that Tina knew a lot more too. If I had to guess, she probably knew everything.
“I can’t tell you who I work for but rest assured we’re not your enemy and we do have your best interests at heart. We know the basics of your situation but in order to truly help you, we need to know everything about Epsilon and the deal you made with them.”
I grunted, crossing my arms. “There was no deal. Seriously. Brody came to us one day, told us some guy wanted us to scare this girl for him. That’s it. Ask Brody, he’ll tell you.”
Tina sighed, rubbing the bridge of her nose. “We would but Brody Phelps is dead.”
I fell sick to my stomach. I used to love him once. Before we became more, we were friends. Brody used to be the only true friend I had, outside of Summer. After she manifested, he was there for me. He comforted me and kept telling me that Summer wasn’t so special. I should have seen the signs back then but I was too blinded by my own rage and jealousy to really notice. I was happy to do what he wanted me to do but all of that changed at the rally. When I saw what those idiots were going to do to that girl, I couldn’t let them. Sure I was jealous of mutants and hated them but I didn’t want to harm them. When I manifested trying to help that poor girl, I saw the true Brody.
Then I HATED him with the passion of a thousand suns.
I didn’t want him to die though.
I started to tear up. “How...how...”
I couldn’t even bring myself to ask.
Tina leaned forward, handing me a tissue from the nearby box. She waited a few seconds before answering, “He hung himself in his cell. At least that’s what we were led to believe.”
“You think he was murdered?”
She nodded. “There were telltale signs of a struggle. The timeline fits too. It happened minutes after that Epsilon lawyer left the two of you in that motel room.”
Epsilon. So those scumbags killed Brody.
“Shouldn’t they be in jail then?” I sniffled.
She sighed. “In theory yes but we can’t prove it. We can’t even prove they were involved with the incidents in Buffalo. They cleaned up that mess at the MCO safe house and the incident at the motel is being reported as MCO incompetence.”
She reached to a small shopping bag sitting at the side of the chair.
“You’re still a fugitive at large, when you’re not in school, you’re going to need to wear that...”
I looked at the bag and groaned.
I could just see the outline of a wig in there.
“Isn’t there anything the DPA can do about it?” I asked, not touching that bag.
She scoffed. “Unfortunately, the MCO has more political clout at the moment. They’ve labeled you as a dangerous mutant and if it wasn’t for your cousin intervening, things could have been a lot worse. There is no actual proof that you did anything wrong, other than make a lot of fog. They are trying to use the incident to get your cousin suspended from active duty but they have no pull there. Legally, Abigail perceived you to be in danger and acted accordingly. The MCO will blow some smoke for a while but they don’t really have a leg to stand on.”
There was something she wasn’t saying but her smirk said all I needed.
I was safe for now.
There was still Epsilon. They were still out there. As far as I know, they still wanted me.
“What about Epsilon?”
She shrugged. “On paper, they’re a small entity. They have a government contract. Officially they help mutants understand and make sense of their gifts.”
Why does that sound like bullshit?
“I think you already know the answer to that.”
So these people used the mask of the government to what, kidnap young mutants?
Or something worse.
They did try to kill me after all.
At least I think they did?
“What do they want with mutants anyway?”
“We don’t know. We were hoping you might have some insight into that.”
Then she started her questions. She wanted to know everything I could tell her about the “contract” I supposedly signed with them. The thing was, I signed nothing. The best I could figure, Brody forged my signature. Not that those people cared. My name was on that stupid contract of theirs and that’s all that mattered. I told Tina that. I also apologized for lying. Not just to the initial team who interviewed me after the rally incident but to Clara as well. When she was asking me questions last night, I told her a version of events that I wanted to be true. I didn’t even give her the proper names of my cousins. Like I said, I had trust issues. The thing is, Tina knew all of that already. She had too. She’s known me since I was a small child. It was just as well though because Tina seemed to know I’d been lying all the time. I also knew I couldn’t get away with lying to her now. It was her gift. That vibrant blue hair of hers was glowing as I talked so I know she was reading my feelings.
It was impossible to lie to someone like her.
It took about an hour for her to stop asking her questions.
“So what happens now?”
She smiled with a look of satisfaction. “Now you go to school.”
“What about Epsilon?”
“You let us deal with them. You’re still a kid, Riley, its not your fight.”
She was right but why was I so worked about it then? Its not like I wanted to pick a fight with these people but I hated the idea that I couldn’t be involved either. I wanted to do something, anything. I was starting to get angry about it and Tina sensing that anger, leaned forward and put her hand on my mine. As soon as she did, I felt a soothing warmth spread throughout my body. The anger instantly dissipated and I felt like I was riding on a cloud. It was nice. Unfortunately that fluffy feeling didn’t last long but as soon as it was gone, I didn’t feel angry anymore.
She smirked at me. “I thought you didn’t want to be a hero?”
“I want to do something though!”
She laughed. “Weren’t your exact words, ‘ There’s a reason we have professionals to do those things’?”
Wait, how the hell did she know that?
My mouth hung open.
She winked then stood up. “Keep your head down, stay out of trouble and enjoy your time at Whateley. It was one of the best experiences I ever had.”
I sighed then she pulled me into a hug.
“Also, forgive your sister, she was just trying to help...”
Tina left the safe house after our conversation. Following her out of the main room, I found my two agent escorts waiting. Tina gave me another hug, told me to be good then left. I watched her leave, wondering the next time our paths might cross. Tina liked to come and go like she pleased. Now that I knew it was partially because of her job, I knew not to expect her much. It did make me wonder what Gretchen’s excuse was? Thinking about her just made me tear up, so I wiped my eyes and made sure my “handlers” didn’t notice. Turning around, Agent Grace was the only one of the two that had a sympathetic smile.
Carter grunted. “I need to check the perimeter.”
He pushed past me toward the door and was out it before I could say a thing.
“What’s his problem?”
Grace sighed. “We got new orders. They want us to sit still for the rest of the day.”
“What about the school? They’re expecting me?”
Grace sighed. “Orders are orders.”
Well no skin off my back as they say.
Grace---ever the mind reader---smirked.
“C’mon, there was some food in the fridge, Jenny’s in the kitchen waiting.”
She led me down the narrow hall this time and off to the left which opened to a modest sized kitchen. It was bright and sunny with a yellow décor, marble counter tops, oak cabinets and even a sliding glass door with a patio. It surprised me. Everything about this place felt cramped and confined. Whoever owned this place beforehand spent most of their time in the kitchen because it looked one hundred times better than the rest of the place. It reminded me so much of home that my heart ached. Though I would never admit that to Mom. The last thing I wanted her to know was how much I missed the farm. I wouldn’t give her the satisfaction. Nor would I give her the satisfaction of saying I’d rather be anywhere but there. It was a conundrum boiling inside of me. I missed home but I didn’t want to be there either.
“Nice right?” said Jenny, who was sitting at a little table.
I didn’t say anything but dropped into a chair across from her. After realizing how much I missed home, I was in a foul mood. I HATED the idea of missing anytihng about that place.
“Why are you so grumpy all the time?” she asked, delicately picking up one half of a peanut butter sandwich.
“Grumpy? Who the fuck says I’m grumpy?”
She said it like it was the most obvious thing in the world.
Then she took a small, dainty bit of her sandwich.
I scoffed then made a quick grab for the other half on her plate. I almost had it when one of her hands lashed out and grabbed my wrist.
Shit, she’s fast.
She held my wrist for a few seconds before letting it go.
“What was that about my aura?”
Man, that hurt?
She blinked, giving me confused look. “Your aura?”
I sighed. So she was pretty but as dense as my fog.
“You said I had a grumpy aura?”
She sighed. “Mǎo, what did I say about talking through me!”
Mau, who was Mau?
“Sorry, Gōngzhǔ” she said again.
There was something slightly different about her that time though. Her voice sounded off, softer and more refined. Now that I thought about it, her voice sounded like that for the last minute or so. It was almost as if another person was talking.
She sighed. “I’m sorry” she said, sounding like she did back in the car. “Its my spirit. She thinks she can use me when she wants.”
It dawned on me a second later.
“You’re an Avatar?”
She lowered her head slightly and nodded.
She took another bite of her sandwich before continuing.
“Allow me to properly introduce myself” she said, after swallowing. “I am Jiaying Wu, Avatar of the Great Mǎo Bái Hǔ.”
Jenny smiled but when she spoke, it was with that different voice:
“I am the Great Tiger of the West.”
She bowed her head in respect.
I was still really confused. I’d heard about Avatars but I never thought I’d actually get to meet one in person. To say I was shocked and surprised was a bit of an understatement.
I did have a few questions but there was still one that bothered me.
“Did your Spirit tell you my name?”
She gave me a long look and sighed. She cursed, I think it was in Chinese because I had no idea what it meant. “My sister. I swear to the Gods” she blew air between her teeth in frustration. “Wu is my mother’s maiden name, my real last name is Fairchild.”
She still stared at me blankly.
“You know, Clara’s sister?”
A light bulb finally went off in my head.
Clara had mentioned a sister. I think she mentioned something about her going to Whateley too.
“Right, Clara said something about that...”
The girl sighed.
She started rambling off in Chinese again, I smiled and nodded.
A minute or so later, Agent Grace finally brought me my own sandwich.
The rest of the meal we ate in silence.
Just as well.
Jenny might be as cute as hell but she freaked me out too.
I’m not sure who was scarier though, her or that spirit of hers?
Sept. 7th 2016 4am
Ok I didn’t plan on running again.
At the same time though, I knew I couldn’t stay either. Everyone in my life was convinced they knew what was best for me but no one ever asked me. My mother would often tell me that my sister needed more attention because she “couldn’t get dressed without falling down” and I need a therapist because I couldn’t control my anger. I needed the runes on my arms because I couldn’t control my powers. I needed to go to Whateley because I would be safe there. It was all a load of shit. I learned a long time ago to take care of myself. I knew the risks too. Besides, its not like I didn’t know what to do. Gretchen used to tell me what it was like on the streets and I’m pretty sure I could handle it.
I knew where to go too.
It was the same place I was heading when the MCO nabbed me that first time.
Smiling, I reached into my pocket and pulled out the old letter.
It was from Gretchen. She sent it to me about a year ago. The letter told me she was all right and not to worry about her. She left me a number to call her too. The letter had no return address, just a PO box in New York City. The number was a dead end too. I had a computer hacker associate try to trace it for me. Apparently it was a burner phone. My friend was able to trace where it was purchased though. Gretchen was in New York. It wasn’t a lot to go on but it was better than anything. Out of everyone in my life, she was the one who understood me the most. Besides, she was the strongest mutant I’d ever seen. If anyone could protect me, it was her.
Epsilon, the MCO, they didn’t stand a chance against her.
I returned the letter to my back pocket and slowly made my way to the door.
It was four in the morning, hopefully the two agents were sound asleep.
Before making sure we went to bed at ten last night, I overheard the two of them talking. We were supposed to be leaving here in a couple of hours. They’d drive us to the school, make sure we got registered then leave the rest up to Whateley. As soon as I was safely in their walls, no one could touch me. Safety was overrated. Besides, as soon as I found Gretchen, I wouldn’t need Whateley to protect me.
I was almost to do the door when I heard someone moving.
Jenny and I were sharing one of the two rooms. I had to wait a full hour to make sure she was sleeping before. Apparently I hadn’t waited long enough.
Turning slowly, I saw her sitting up in bed, those weird gold eyes of hers glowing in the dark.
“I’m thirsty” I said, hoping it was enough to convince her.
“I’ve never seen anyone put on their boots and carry all their things to get a glass of water before?”
It wasn’t Jenny.
“You’re the Tiger right?”
“You can call me Mao” It said, slowly getting out of bed.
“Right, Mao, look, I’m not...”
It sighed. “Running from your problems never solves anything. I should know, I have done my fair share of running. No matter how far you run, you will eventually be caught.”
Great, I was getting sage wisdom from a talking cat.
Jenny cocked her head. Well not Jenny.
Bah, this was confusing.
“You are a warrior, are you not?”
I scoffed. “Not likely.”
“Jiaying told me what you and her sister did at that inn, how you helped her stop those evil men trying to hurt you.”
How did Jenny know about that?
“Clara did all the work, I was just there to provide cover.”
She smiled. “There are many kinds of warriors in this world. Some wield swords, other words. Some are strong and some have a different kind of strength.”
“I’m not strong...”
“You’re wrong” she said, walking slowly toward me.
Mao was graceful. Jenny didn’t walk with quite the same kind of elegance. It was weird but the two of them really did act like two different people. It was almost as if there were two of them in the same body. Well, I guess there really was. I’d read about Avatars though and their spirits. I never heard of one who could take over their host at will and control them like that. I thought they just lent their Host the power they possessed? Earlier today, I tried to get Jenny to open up a bit more but she was pretty closed off. Like me, something most have happened to her. Something bad. All throughout the day, I noticed every once in a while that Jenny would drift off and Mao would take over.
After spending a few hours with them, it was easy to see which was in control.
Like I said, Mao was a lot more graceful.
More confident too.
There was this presence as well, it was hard to describe.
Before I knew it, she was standing in front of me. Apparently, Jenny liked to sleep in a t-shirt and panties. I was used to seeing another girl practically naked, I did share a room with my sister back at home. Yet, there was something about Jenny that made me blush. It was a bit off putting because I liked boys. I couldn’t stop myself from staring at her bare legs though, they were so white.
There was something else too.
Mao put her hands on my shoulders and when she did, I thought I saw faint black stripes all over her arms. Squinting, I was pretty sure it was just a trick of the light. There was a tiny bit of moonlight coming through the window after all.
“You remind me of another young woman, one who felt the best way to deal with her problems was to run from them. She was a Princess. I met her on the road many years ago and tried to help her on her journey. She was lost and confused and thought her life to be over. When I encountered her she was scared and alone but she was nice enough to share her food with me. In return, I sheltered her from the storm that raged around us. I shared wisdom with her too.”
“What kind of wisdom?”
“I told her that no matter how hard you think the world is, there’s always a light at the end of your path, sometimes that light leads you where you want to go and sometimes it leads you back to where you came from.”
“So you’re saying that Whateley is my path?”
“That is not for me to say. This is your path. All I can do is give you wisdom on your journey.”
I laughed. “Sounds like Buddha stuff”
She smiled. “He was my prized pupil.”
My mouth dropped open slightly.
Mao put me on the spot. She got me thinking too. I didn’t want to go to Whateley but I was fooling myself if I thought I could find Gretchen too. No one had actually seen her in a couple of years. I tried calling that number she gave me numerous times but she never answered. I was upset that she would do something like that to me. I was also convinced that if I just found her, she could explain to me why she left in the first place. I think ultimately though, my biggest fear was that she was abandoning us for good and she wasn’t coming back. That fear has been driving my thoughts for years. She was the only one I thought truly cared about me and she left me alone.
I started to cry.
Mao pulled me into a gentle hug. She started to sing softly but it was in Chinese so I didn’t know the words. Whatever the song was though, it was nice and soothing. It made me feel like I was floating on clouds. Much like Tina’s gentle touch from earlier. Unlike Tina’s touch though, Mao’s embrace seemed to last forever. Sadly, nothing can last forever and after what felt like an eternity but was only probably a minute or two, the hug ended. The happy feeling lingered for a bit though.
“You are still very young, you have the rest of your life to live. Don’t try to live it all in one moment, savor time like a friend. The path before you is long and though I do not know where it leads, I can tell you that the journey is worth the wait.”
I sighed. “So I should stay here then?”
She shrugged. “That is not for me to say.”
“Did your friend stay on her path?”
Mao gave me a sad smile. “She did for a time”
“What happened to her?”
She sighed heavily. “What happens to all mortals in the end....”
She didn’t finish, she didn’t have to.
She perked up a moment later. “It all works out in the end though.”
She didn’t elaborate anymore. I wasn’t even going to try asking.
“So its my Fate to go to Whateley?”
“That is Fate’s business, not mine.”
Why did I know she was going to say that?
I sighed, I was about to ask her something else when she blinked and looked around.
“What am I doing out of bed?” she asked and I realized Jenny was back.
This girl was a mess.
How could I leave that?
I smirked. “You were sleepwalking. I woke up and found you blundering about.”
“I don’t sleep walk...”
“Must be new” I said, patting her on the shoulder.
As soon as she realized she was standing there half dressed, she made a weird sound and rushed back over to her bed. She was under the covers a second later. I was amazed at how different she and Mao really were. It was almost as if Jenny wasn’t used to her body yet. When Mao was in full control, they were like Yin and Yang. It was amazing to watch. It was hilarious too. Jenny was truly helpless though. She was hopeless too. I’m not going to say that I was going to stay for her but someone had to watch out for her. At least until she got a handle on everything. I knew it was going to be harder breaking out of Whateley but I welcomed the challenge.
Who know’s maybe it was all apart of my path too?
I sighed. “You owe me one Mao” I said softly.
“What was that?”
“Was just saying I really need that drink now”.
“You guys want some breakfast?”
I grunted. “More PB and J, I’ll pass”
The four of us were in the kitchen, Carter was still in a miserable mood. I didn’t blame him. We were supposed to be at the school yesterday. It was clear that he wasn’t really keen on “babysitting” duty, as he called it last night when he thought I couldn’t hear him. He had a point though. He was a highly trained federal agent and he was being reduced to watching us kids. I would have been pissed too. I thought about trying to convince him that we were a waste of his time and maybe ask him to look the other way while I slipped off. Then I realized he had a gun. I didn’t really want to piss him off anymore than he already was.
“Why don’t we just skip the breakfast and drop them off” he snapped.
I kept my mouth shut.
Jenny did not.
“We both appreciate you doing this for us. We know how important and valuable your time is, Agent Carter.”
He opened his mouth to say something snide but one look at her shut him up.
For a second, I thought I saw a twinge of fear cross his face.
Was he scared of her?
No, not her.
It made me wonder what happened before I joined them?
“Sir” said Agent Grace, trying to take control of the situation. “We have orders. You might not like them but they stand. In a couple of hours time, the girls will be safe and we can get on with active duty.”
Did she always cuddle him like that?
She turned and shot me a nasty look.
Stop reading my mind, bitch.
She glared but let it go.
Victory for me.
As it was, Agent Grace set about making a real breakfast. Apparently there was some bacon and eggs in the fridge. While the food cooked, I started to weigh my options. I should have run last night. I know I was like a broken record, constantly skipping back to this point but maybe it was my path after all. I knew exactly where a life at Whateley would lead me. I didn’t want to be a hero. I know it was my family’s legacy and all that but I never wanted anything to do with it. Besides, they didn’t need me. They had Summer. They were already putting her face on all those Good Neighbor promo posters. Just as well. She was born for that kind of thing. Me, I’m not sure what I was born for. Maybe I’d just take my guitar and disappear into the punk world. I’m not sure if I wanted a career in music either but anything was better than posing and primping like a moron for some photographer.
There was something else too.
I’d only known the girl for a little while but I think she needed me. I could see she was struggling with something. I’m not sure Mao was the right person to help her either. The Spirit clearly had its own agenda and was using her to accomplish it. I didn’t really know a lot about Avatars but I knew enough to know that a lot of the spirits didn’t just pop up like that whenever they wanted. I made a mental note to Google the White Tiger as soon as possible. There was something about this that didn’t make any sense to me. I think I owed it to Jenny’s sister too. Clara helped me and now I wanted to return the favor and help her sister.
My thoughts were interrupted by bacon.
More importantly, bacon and scrambled eggs.
Looking around though, I noticed she served the others first.
She was a good cook though. I wasn’t expecting that, especially after yesterday’s lunch. Dinner wasn’t much either, some Chinese takeout from some place down the street.
We ate in silence, there wasn’t much to talk about.
After breakfast, the agents were all business.
“There’s only just this one road from here to the school?” asked Carter, looking at a map.
“Unfortunately yes. It was just a dirt thing when I went to school there but one of the school’s trustees paid to have it paved recently. It passes by some camp grounds and a bridge...”
I tuned out the conversation.
Carter was griping about the road being too exposed or something.
It was all pretty boring stuff.
Instead, I followed Jenny as she wandered out of the kitchen. She made her way back to the room that the two of us shared last night. When I finally caught up with her, she was sorting out some things in one of her suitcases. Jenny had three, I thought it was a bit much. Everything I owned and wanted was stuffed in my backpack. I always traveled pretty light. Then again, I wasn’t planning on going to the school. I only had another change of clothes. I’d been wearing my current outfit for a few days now and it was starting to smell pretty rank. I planned on buying something more when I got situated but now I felt like an idiot. I wandered over to my “own” bed where my pack and guitar were currently laying.
Jenny followed me with her eyes. “Is that really all you brought?”
I shrugged. “I was running away...”
“We should ask the agents to take you shopping somewhere?”
Oh god no, anything but that.
Summer lived and breathed shopping. Every chance she got, she tried to drag me to some mall back home. Then she’d spend hours going from shop to shop. She kept insisting that I buy this and that and if I protested, she’d buy it for me anyway. I had a whole closet back home full of crap I didn’t want but she bought me anyway. I think it really bothered her that I wasn’t a girly girl like her. The thing is, I didn’t really hate the mall or shopping in generally, I just REALLY HATED doing it with her. In fact, most of the time I’d manage to slip away from her and hide in Hot Topic. She always found me though and dragged me back to some stupid teen clothing boutique I had no business being in.
“I think I’ll pass...”
“Oh thank God” she groaned, almost sounding relieved. “I detest shopping.”
I was confused.
“What about all your…?”
“My mother” she interrupted with another groan. “She insisted. Truthfully, I have no idea what half this shit even is.”
She was holding up two different bottles, I think one was body wash.
I think I completely underestimated her.
Jenny looked like she belonged on the cover of every fashion magazine imaginable. Even now she was wearing a designer top, some really skin tight jeans and some very expensive boots. I thought for sure she was one of those trendy girls I detested back home. Now though, she looked about as disgusted as I was. There was something else too. She looked almost awkward as she went through some things. This was definitely NOT the type of girl who knew what she was doing.
She bit her lip. “You know, if you want, you can have some of these clothes?”
I snorted. “Anything in black?”
She rifled through her suitcase and second later held up a pair of panties.
We both laughed.
“I think I’ll pass.”
“That’s all you’re bringing?” asked Agent Carter as I walked down the stairs with my pack and guitar.
“Its all I have” I said, annoyed.
He grunted but didn’t say anything else.
“We can take you shopping, I think we have time...”
“No” snapped the senior agent, getting a glare from his younger partner. “We’re already behind as it is”
I think I finally decided that I HATED Agent Carter. Before I tried to give the man the benefit of the doubt. After all, this situation was not ideal for any of us. Hell, I still didn’t know what was going on. I should have been at that damn school yesterday. Neither one was really forthcoming as to why we waited a full day. I’m guessing it was an MCO or Epsilon related issue but I couldn’t be certain. Now that we were finally on our way, this man was being an ass. If I had to guess, I’d say being an ass was just his nature. Especially with his lack of sharing. Sure we were kids and we didn’t need to know everything but at least something our way.
Adults were dicks sometimes.
Agent Grace shot me a look.
I was really getting sick of that bitch reading my mind too.
She was still glaring.
I quickly thought up an image of a naked, hairy fat dude then watched her shudder.
Serves her right.
“Enough of that” she said, sounding cross but smiling just the same.
Agent Carter ignored the exchange, instead he went to appear manly by helping Jenny with her bags. He only half succeeded though. I watched in amusement as she easily carried all three suitcases as if they weighed nothing. I didn’t know a thing about her powers, other than the spirit. It was clear she had a little strength going on though. Agent Carter grumbled something about getting the car ready before huffing down the stairs and out the door ahead of us. I followed close on his heels. My uncle was a bit of a gearhead and I liked to linger about the garage while he tinkered away. I might have picked up a thing or two.
Stepping outside, I shuddered at the chill in the air.
It was weird.
Back at the train station, it had been fairly warm.
Here it was freezing.
“This is town is unsettling” said Mao, speaking through Jenny once again.
“What do you mean?” asked her host as the girl stepped up next to me.
“This weather is unnatural and there is something here, something that does not belong.”
“They say its Eldritch in origin” said Agent Grace with a chuckle as she stepped past us.
“Demons” growled the Tiger spirit.
Jenny rolled her eyes and let out a sigh. “Ignore her.”
“It is not to be ignored. I told you why I wanted to come to this place, I have...”
Jenny managed to cover her mouth with a hand before making her way over to the car. It was weird and comically at the same time. It made me wonder though. If there were such things like spirits and the like, surely something like a demon must exist too? I once overheard Gretchen and her old Whateley roommate talking about a girl they knew who might be a demon. They stopped talking the moment they realized I was eavesdropping for fear that they might scare me or something. As a kid, I didn’t scare easily though. Unless of course I did something stupid and got my mother angry. That woman could get really scary if she wanted, even without her magic.
I followed the Chinese girl, keeping my head down.
I struggled a bit with my hoodie, trying to use as much of it as I could to shield me from the chill. I had to admit though, there was something off with the air. I’m not sure if it was demons but there was definitely something different here. I’d heard some pretty strange things about Dunwich, most of which I chalked up to stories and superstition. Standing in the town now though, I could see why a lot of people thought this place was strange. The sky was overcast, the air tasted stale. There appeared to be no breeze yet it was definitely colder. What’s more, I knew it rained earlier and yet there were no puddles on the ground. Then there was the air. It took me a second or two to realize what was wrong.
There was no moisture.
It rained, the air should still be heavy with it, especially with those clouds.
Yet, nothing at all.
It was unnatural.
I shivered, rubbing my arms.
“Something wrong?” asked Agent Grace, casting a weary glance at a distant line of pine trees.
“The air is weird here” I said with a shudder.
“I don’t sense anything unnatural” she said but the way she emphasized unnatural made me wonder if she had in the past?
There was a story there, I was sure of it.
She turned and gave my shoulder a squeeze.
“C’mon, Whateley awaits.”
The drive out of town was quiet.
There was meandering road that lead from it and into a wooded area. According to Agent Grace, the road had once been nothing more than a dirt path but paved recently by one of the school’s wealthy benefactors. I saw the camp grounds they mentioned in that conversation I overheard earlier too. The atmosphere outside didn’t change. Staring out the window, something shifted again. Whereas before things had been gloomy and gray, now the sky was a a dull blue and the weather shifted again. There was moisture in the air again but there was something else too. I wasn’t the only one who noticed either as Jenny seemed to be less tense now. Or rather Mao seemed less tense.
We came across a small stream and a covered bridge shortly passing the camp grounds.
The sound of flowing water set my mind at ease.
But only for a moment.
As soon as we crossed the bridge, I felt nervous again.
A moment later, Jenny was holding my hand.
“You’re going to be fine” she reassured me.
“I’m not sure I can do this?”
I sighed. “All my life I’ve only ever wanted to be a mutant and when it didn’t happen, I got angry and really jealous. I did and said some stupid things. Hurt some people because of it.”
She scoffed. “No one’s perfect. Before all this” she said, waving at her body. “I was a bit of an asshole too. I was arrogant and thought the world revolved around me. I did and said some pretty stupid things. Some very wise people helped me put things into perspective. Its not easy and it will take time but I’ll help if you want it?”
I could never imagine her being a horrible person.
Maybe Mao but never Jenny. She was so sweet and nice. Maybe a little bit of a doofus but not this asshole she claimed to be. Jenny had been nothing but helpful to me. We talked a lot the last day or so. Even though she was still pretty secretive, she didn’t seem the type of person who would want to hurt someone. Mao definitely but Jenny looked like she couldn’t hurt a fly. I knew from experience to never underestimate any mutant you meet but if I had to guess, her powers were probably Esper something. I definitely didn’t want to racial stereotype her and think, “Hey she’s Asian, she must know martial arts”, I wasn’t that kind of person.
I trusted Jenny though.
Mao was a different story.
That Thing was hiding something too.
Call it a gut feeling but I didn’t trust It.
The drive over the bridge had been a short one. As soon as it was behind us, we ended back on a proper road. More trees on either side followed by a long stretch toward my inevitable doom. A few minutes after leaving the bridge, the school slowly came into view. I’m not sure what I was expecting, I thought for sure it might look like a prison. It did have a wallbut it wasn’t one of those scary tall ones.
Jenny held my hand the whole time.
After a few minutes, we came upon the main gate.
This is it.
No chance to run now.
I took a deep breath.
“Guys, welcome to Whateley” said Agent Grace, turning back to us with a smile.
No turning back.
Here goes nothing.