Blue Bug from Outer Space (Part 1)
Comics Retcon Universe 003
Blue Bug From Outer Space
note: 3 chapters were missed in the initial posting of How to Take the Kill Shot...
the current version is now corrected and has all Fifteen chapters.
Jaime Reyes is kid out of his element, who dreams of a life better than his own. He finds such a life when he stumbles about a strange blue stone in the garbage and his whole world changes.
Author's Note: Here's the first part of Blue Beetle. I've taken some liberties, moving the Reyes' family and other characters from El Paso to San Francisco. This story takes place a couple of months after Jameson Queen's death. Blue Beetle and other characters are property of DC Comics.
“You are so fricking dead, Reyes”
They were giving chase; there were at least four of them, all of them at least twice my size. I could hear them pounding after me and though I was fast, I was no Flash. I don’t know why they were so pissed off; they started all of this. I’m only getting them back for what they did to me. It’s not my fault if I’m smarter and have better resources than them. It was going to be my fault if the group of them caught me, though. But I was confident I could out run them, even if two of them were running backs and one of them was a sprinter for the track team. I was small and was finding it much easier to weave my way through the crowd of students clogging the halls.
I hate school. I hate it with every fiber of my being. It’s like one of those old Atari games where you fly around in a little space ship and blast invading aliens. What was that game called, I can’t remember. I’d like to say that I was the brave space cadet or whatever, defending Earth from a horde of alien invaders. Unfortunately, that would be dead wrong. I’m definitely the Alien and in more ways than one. If there was a Space Cadet, it was everyone else and boy did they like to BLAST me. There was something about the little Mexican kid that everyone seemed to like to squash. Maybe it was because I was the only Hispanic kid in the school or maybe it was because my family wasn’t as rich as the others. Or maybe it was because I was smarter than everyone else.
Regardless of the reason, I was currently about to get blasted big time. Being the new kid---my parents just moved us here from El Paso about seven months ago---is pretty hard. My father got a new job and seeing as it paid pretty well, he was able to get me into a good school. From there I was able to land myself a scholarship and get into a fantastic school. It was called Ravenwood Academy; it was a prestigious upper crust school that I never would have afforded without the scholarship and a really good word from my father’s employee. It works really well when your boss is one of the richest men in California.
But I digress. What was I talking about again? Oh yeah, being the new kid. It’s not too bad I suppose. At least we were able to live in a neighborhood where I wasn’t so alien. The rich jackasses at my school called it Latino Lane; I think that was their attempt to snub their noses at me. All I saw it as was a good use of alliteration. As much as I hated them, there was little they could do to get a rise out of me. I’m not prone to lose my temper like my father; maybe I inherited that from my mother. Besides, if I ever did anything stupid like that, she’d kill me. My mother is a paramedic and wants me to be a doctor. As cool as that sounds I’ve always wanted to be an astronaut. There was something about space that always intrigued me. I don’t know but ever since I was a little kid, I used to stare up at the stars and wonder what was out there.
So I’m a bit of a geek but in this day and age, who isn’t.
My room at home is covered with star maps and pictures of super-heroes. Yeah, I said super-heroes. As soon as I saw the Green Lantern on the TV, I was hooked. When she told the world about Metahumans and mentioned she lived in space, I was in love. Ok, I might be over exaggerating a bit, but I had it bad. Most of my walls were plastered with pictures of her and the others. There were a lot now, bouncing around the world, saving the day. The most recent being the Green Arrow but I didn’t have a good picture of her. She was a local favorite seeing as she was from San Francisco. My best picture of her was a grainy shot taken a couple of months ago, before she made her disappearance. I’m not sure where she went but after killing the guy who offed my Dad’s boss---it was big news---she kind of vanished into the shadows. Some people think she might have been involved but I think she probably felt pretty guilty for not being there sooner. I mean how much would that suck, not being able to save one of the richest men in the country.
We went to Mr. Queen’s funeral, paid our respects and whatnot. My father was afraid he was going to lose his job but Mr. Queen’s granddaughter, Olivia, assured us that nothing was going to change. She was kind of cool and gorgeous, like a super-model stepping out of a magazine. She was nice too, she always went out of her way to say hi and sometimes she stuck around to talk. But I digress again; I’ll get back to Miss Queen later. What was I talking about, oh yeah school?
I do that a lot, you’re going to have to get used to it.
The rich kids had a name for me; they called me the Mexican Bug. It was because I was so short. Most of the guys in my school were tall and blonde and looked like GAP ad models. They all wore designer clothes and drove around in expensive cars. I didn’t belong with them and they reminded me of it every chance I got. It wasn’t the typical high school pranks they pulled on TV either. Those I could deal with. Rich kids had a whole new way of messing with people. They hacked my face book account and posted embarrassing stuff or messed with my iPhone---the school gives them to incoming freshman---so that it blared music all through the day and can’t be shut off. They stole my clothes from my gym locker once and left behind a pair of cover-alls and a note, telling me to go back to the field. Kind of nice huh?
I don’t generally try to retaliate but every once in a while I get a dig in. That’s how I was in my current predicament, umm I haven’t explained that yet have I? Ok here it goes. I was walking down the hall yesterday and some of usual tormentors thought it would be funny to pour a bottle of cooking oil in front of my feet. I kind of walk fast; it’s a hobby of mine. I wasn’t paying attention and I slipped on my ass. It wasn’t pretty because when I hit the ground I kind of skid and slammed right into one of the teachers who was carrying a tray from the lunch room to the teacher’s lounge to eat. It was spaghetti and I don’t want to get into the details but I’m pretty sure you can figure it out. The worse part, the bastards didn’t even get in trouble. That’s what happens when you have a trust fund.
The Dean actually blamed me for it. Apparently, the bastards planted the empty bottle of oil in my locker and a sheet of paper, laying out “my plan”. It told how I was dumping the oil to get back at all the rich jerks who’d been terrorizing me. It wasn’t even written in my own hand and who writes out their evil schemes. These guys had no originality. But of course, the Dean believed them; he had no choice. Their Daddies paid his salary and I was a free ride. I got detention for two months and was ordered to mop up all the oil. Have you ever tried wiping up oil with water?
I planned my retaliation. There was no way I was going to let it slide.
Have I mentioned Brenda and Paco yet?
No, I didn’t think so. They’re my best friends. Brenda and her father used to live next door to me but Brenda moved after it was discovered her father was beating her. She now lives in a huge house with her super rich Tia---that’s aunt for all you newbies. I’ll get to all that later. Paco lives down the street from me. His real name is Francisco but who wants to be called that. They were a part of the neighborhood committee who greeted our family when we moved in. Both were pretty psyched to see me. There weren’t a lot of kids their age around. Paco was the oldest of five; he had three younger sisters and a little brother. Brenda was an only child and the closest kid to their age was Paco’s sister, Soledad, who was about ten. So you can imagine how happy they were to see me.
Brenda and Paco go to the local high school, Star City High. How cool is that? According to Brenda, it’s named after a meteorite that fell nearby. Everyone in the city kind of nicknamed San Francisco star city because of it. Brenda’s kind of full of useless trivia like that. She kind of a whiz and a know-it-all. She’s not as smart as me---sorry but it’s true---but she’s pretty damn close. Paco is a big guy, he looks like a linebacker and people are kind of afraid of him. But he’s the gentlest guy I know. His father used to play for the Raiders back when they were good, but he died in a car accident several years ago. Paco worked a couple of jobs now to help his mom pay the bills.
When I told both of them what the jerks did, they vowed to help me get revenge. Brenda’s father used to work for a computer security firm but that was before her mother died and he got drunk and nasty. Now he does nothing. When her aunt took her from her house, she managed to swipe his laptop. It still had all his old accounts, including the old access codes and information on all the clients. Mr. Del Vecchio---Brenda’s Dad---catered to a lot of the super rich, which happened to include a lot of my classmates.
So our plan was simple. We used Brenda’s laptop information and some dead rats from Paco’s exterminator job and set about on our revenge. We used the security codes to disable all the security systems in their cars and I used my father’s electrician’s key to unlock all their car doors. Then we put dead stinky rats in their back seats, hiding them were the bastards couldn’t find them. It was an ingenious plan, one that took us a few days to plan and only a couple of hours to execute.
We did it a couple nights ago, sneaking off to all their rich homes and did the deed. It was the greatest revenge I ever concocted and would have worked wonderfully if not for the stupid security cameras. We forgot to disable them when we jumped one of the bastard’s fences. It caught all three of us on film and they were able to put two and two together pretty quickly. When the cops came to my door last night, I thought my mother was going to have a heart attack. My father talked to them and tried to explain the situation but the police were pretty hard on us. They wanted to take us all down to the station and press charges for vandalism. Brenda’s aunt saved us all. She had a lot of pull in the city and was able to talk a judge into giving us all a break, seeing, as it was our first offense and all. I’m not sure but there might have been some money that exchanged hands but whatever happened, it seemed to work. We were off the hook as far as the law was concerned.
But I was far from off the hook with my father. Now I had to report to Queen Tower every day after school and work off my “debt to society” as he called it. I had to work as his grease monkey and I didn’t even get paid for it.
But back to the problem at hand, I suppose.
“Mr. Reyes, no running in the hall” shouted some unknown teacher as I ran by. I think it was Mr. Donovan but I’m not really sure because I was running so fast. I’m just glad it was the end of the school day. I’ve been dodging these bastards all day. Even though the police settled things, they apparently still wanted some pay back. The dead rats were in their cars long enough to leave a residual odor and you can imagine how that went over. The ringleader of the group, Spencer Marks, was also the richest. His Dad was some big wig insurance executive, he paid for a good portion of the new math wing; in fact, it was actually named after him. So every day I went to class I passed under a picture of a smug looking Sherman Marks, knowing damn well, where his son got his assholeness from? Is that even a word, well, it is now.
The front doors were well in sight. I smiled and laughed, knowing that I might make it to live another day. I was almost there when one of the jocks stepped out in front of me. Though he wasn’t one of the ones I nailed, they were all friends. He stuck his arm, in an attempt to clothes-line me. I tried to slow but there was no way I’d be able to in time. He started laughing, expecting he was about to clobber me. He would have too if not for the large hand that landed on his shoulder. He spun around, expecting to deck whoever it was. But when he looked and saw it was Paco, all the color drained from his face. Me, I wanted to cheer. Their school let out about fifteen minutes before mine and he and Brenda usually rode their bikes here to meet me.
But they never came inside; they said the squeaky clean interior freaked them out too much. I think it was because they were afraid to get ridiculed as much as I did. Whatever the reason, I was glad that Paco decided to forego it today. The jock in question, Marty Blake, was a big guy. He was six foot two, weighed about two hundred and fifty pounds. Which was big but it had nothing on Paco’s six foot five, nearly three hundred pounds of pure muscle. Even Marty couldn’t compare to that and it showed. He looked like he was about to cry when Paco slammed him into the locker.
I skidded to a halt in front of my gargantuan friend. I wanted to jump up and kiss him but that would have been wrong on so many levels. So instead, I smiled and quickly slipped behind him. Spencer and his gang arrived a couple of seconds behind me. They were running pretty hard too but as soon as they saw Paco, they all slid to a halt as well. They tried to put on brave faces but let’s face it, Paco even made some police officer’s shake. Spencer’s face turned green and he kept his distance but that still didn’t keep him from firing out an insult:
“I’ll catch up with you later, Bug.”
He and his cronies turned and walked away.
“They still call you a bug,” asked Paco in that gentle tone of his.
I nodded. “Just drop it.”
He shrugged and the two of us walked out of the school.
“They’re still giving you problems after that?”
Brenda was all for stating the obvious, it was kind of one of things I loved about her. She liked to tell you how it was and didn’t give a damn if she offended you or not. She was a sassy chica and we both loved her for it. She liked to bust our balls a lot and we liked her for that, too. She may have been the odd man out of our little group but gender ratio never seemed to bother her much. She was as far from being a girly girl as I was from being tall. I think I might have mentioned being little---I was five foot five---and that bothered the hell out of me. Especially seeing as even Brenda was taller, by a couple of inches but it felt like feet to me.
We were on our way from school now, taking the back way. We liked riding down the back alleys because it took us past the old junkyard. They weren’t too keen on it when I discovered the route a couple of months ago but they tagged along because it benefitted me. Did I mention I was an amateur sculptor? I guess it must have slipped my mind. I liked taking old junk and trying to turn it into art. It was kind of a hobby of mine; I started when I was five or six. My father used to have a lot of spare parts lying around the garage at home. One day I took a hubcap and an old muffler and started tinkering with them. I’m not exactly sure what I made out of them but I called it my masterpiece, in hindsight it looked like crap but I was only six.
My talent got a little better as I got older and especially when my father showed me how to use the arc welder. It’s pretty cool when you can take a piece of junk and use a white hot flame on it and mold it into something amazing. I’ve made several sculptures now, most of them space oriented. But the last few have been interpretations of the different heroes that have been cropping up lately. Call it what you will but it’s a bit of hero envy I guess. It ties in with my whole astronaut thing. Astronauts are national heroes and that’s what I want. I want to go to space too but I also want people to look up to me one day and think I’m great and special.
My mother seems to think I can do that as a doctor but that’s always been her dream and not mine. My father wants me to do what I believe is right, my little sister, Milagro, doesn’t really care; she’s only eight.
The junkyard was half way between our houses and my school. I kind of discovered it one day by accident. I was riding by myself because I got out of class early and they didn’t have any class because of a holiday, go figure. Anyway, I wanted to find a quicker way home instead of having to go three blocks over so I found this alley between two old buildings and slipped through. It was just big enough for my bike and me. When I came out on the other side of it, the junkyard was right there. It wasn’t really what one would call a junkyard per se. It was really an old disused lot where people threw all their old junk. A lot of it was crap but there were some good pickings now and then. When I found it, I thought it was fate. I grabbed a couple of good things and rode back home the happiest kid alive.
Ok so I need a life, so what. I called Brenda that night and told her my find. I was kind of surprised that not only did she know about it but she didn’t care either. She told me I was a nut to go rummaging around in someone’s trash. Paco thought it was pretty cool when I called him but he called me a nut, too. It didn’t really matter what the two of them thought anyway. What mattered was that it was a gold mine for me. Since then, I’ve been dragging them through the alley every day. It works to their advantage too because it is a shorter way home after all.
We were approaching our alley now. The two buildings it was wedged between used to be a part of an old glue factory. There were still a lot of old barrels in there but no one had used it in years. But it made headlines a couple of months back; it was at this very place that Green Arrow had a fight to the death. The three of us thought that was pretty cool and were kind of bummed that we missed it, but that’s how it goes. We had to stay away from the area for a whole week after that though because the police had it all taped off and stuff. My art really suffered then but I survived. The area was still considered off limits but that didn’t stop the three of us from sneaking through.
Today was no different from any other day. I went first, as usual followed by Brenda and finally Paco. Because Paco was so big he had to turn sideways and walk his bike through, holding it over his head as he did. He didn’t complain though, he said he liked the exercise. The alley wasn’t very long and it was surprisingly clean but that’s only because most adults would have problems fitting down it. When we got to the other side though, there was something different today. I couldn’t quite place it but it looked like someone had been here. In fact, it looked like a couple of some ones. There was what appeared to be burn marks on the wall and there was a red stain that looked like blood.
“It’s red paint” groaned Brenda when I bent down to touch it.
I ran the tips of my fingers in the “paint” but it was dry. We missed coming down the alley the last few days because we were so busy plotting. We decided to do the plotting at Brenda’s house so first her aunt picked her and Paco up and then me. For a whole week, the three of us had avoided using the alley. It was kind of cool to see the “paint”, it made our little refuge all that more exciting. Paco was right down there with me, his bike leaning against the wall next to mine. Brenda was now sitting on hers, huffing. She wasn’t mad; she was just annoyed. She was cute when she got like that, especially with her red hair and freckles---yes she’s Hispanic but her father was half Irish, go figure.
“Would you two stop playing in the dirt, it’s getting late and you know how Amparo doesn’t like me being out this late.”
It wasn’t getting dark; it was only about three in the afternoon. Brenda’s biggest fear was Posse. A local gang sprang up about a month or so ago. There were a lot of gangs in this part of town that sprang up like weeds but this one was different. It boasted of being the only gang full of Metahumans. I’d never actually seen them but their tags were all over the city. Most of them were invitations as long as you had the right skills to join. Word on the street was that they were only looking for Metas with magic abilities. The cops were at their wits end trying to catch them and without the Green Arrow patrolling the streets; Posse pretty much controlled this part of the city. The La Dama controlled the rest but people didn’t talk about her.
No one did. She even sent shivers up my spine. She’s like Voldemort I think, if you even mention her name it’s like you’re cursed or something. That’s all I’m going to say about that.
We reluctantly got back on our bikes; Brenda had that effect. Besides her honesty, she had this overbearing nature that was hard to ignore. My mother liked to call her the “Red Headed Firecracker” because she was always so spontaneous. My sister liked to bug us about kissing; she was convinced that Brenda and I were dating. We weren’t and I don’t think we ever would. She was a pretty girl but she was like a sister to me, maybe even a brother sometimes. When she gave you a Charlie Horse it hurt like hell and when one of us---meaning Paco or myself---said something sexist shed kick us so hard in the shins it’d hurt for weeks. So I guess she was a boy/girl, whatever the hell that is.
We rode away from the entrance of the alley and started toward the disused lot. I stopped as usual, poking around the pile nearest the road. I saw a couple of things that piqued my interest and jumped off my bike. Brenda groaned and Paco got off to rummage too. He wasn’t really looking for anything; he was just trying to be supportive. Every once and a while he’d find something but it was usually junk. I took it to make him happy though. I poked around in the road pile for a few minutes and then moved onto one further back. There were a lot of piles in the lot, more than a hundred. Some were real small but several were towering. There was this rickety old wooden fence that surrounded the lot on three sides and a lot of the piles were taller than that. On any given afternoon, I spend about an hour searching and then usually the others finally drag me away.
Today though, Brenda was increasingly insistent. “Your father is going to kill you if you don’t get to work on time.”
I groaned and looked at my watch. I’d only been searching for a few minutes, fifteen at most. But she was right. Today I had to mop up grease stains and help him change oil. It wasn’t like his job back in El Paso where he actually owned and ran his own place but it was just as good. Widespread unemployment kind of killed our garage back home; it’s what forced us to move here. A friend of my father’s, Luis, got him the job with the Queens. We were well off in Texas but when people didn’t have money to pay for custom jobs, it kind of fell through. In California, according to my father, we’d have a new start at life. “Mr. Queen has connections, big ones, and he’s willing to help me.” He did help us but in order for my father to get enough money to open a new shop, he needed the capital. So Mr. Queen promoted him to head mechanic and made him in charge of the whole garage.
Things went bad about four months ago, when my father’s friend Luis became angry. He felt Queen had overlooked him and screwed him over. He caused a bit of an uproar and was fired. He came back a few days later, late one night intending to rob the place. He never expected anyone to be there but my father was working late. He caught Luis and Luis shot him. It wasn’t extremely serious but my father was in the hospital for about a month recovering and when he went back to work now he had to use a cane. Luis didn’t get away scot-free though. A couple days later, he was found in an alley, pinned to the wall by a green arrow. I think it was one of the last things she did before she disappeared.
I helped him out from time to time when he couldn’t get any help but I was no mechanic.
“Give two more minutes, Brend,” I said, moving onto another pile.
Paco followed me. Brenda sighed, tired of sitting on her bike. She got off it and bumbled over to. The three of us started searching through this new pile. It was pretty fresh, most of it consisted of cardboard boxes, stacks of newspapers and magazines bounded in twine and lots of beer cans. I did say this was a dump spot after all. I rifled through the trash, hoping to find something of use. I was about to give up because there was no metal when something caught my eye. At first, I thought it was a green glass beer bottle. I reached through the rubbish for it and when my hand circled around it, I snapped it back quickly. It was hot. I shook my hand, cursing. Brenda gave me a worried look. I shook my head, I’d be damned if I was going to let something like that stop me.
I reached back into the pile, wrapped my hand around it again and braced for the burn. But the heat was gone. I sighed and pulled the thing up. When I opened my palm and showed my friends my score, all of us were speechless. It was a bright blue stone of some kind, in the shape of a funky bug. I hefted it in my hand; it just fit in my palm and weighed about the same as a baseball. It was the strangest thing I’d ever seen and I knew then there was no way I was trashing this.
“What is it?” asked Brenda, reaching forward as if to poke it but stopping a few inches from it.
“Some kind of bug” I said, staring mesmerized at it.
“It looks like a paperweight,” said Paco, bent over so he was almost as tall as I was crouched.
I numbly nodded and slid it into the pocket of my coat.
“What the hell are you doing that for?” asked Brenda, clearly annoyed again. “That thing is freaky, you should put it back.”
I shook my head. “No way. I’m going to put it on my desk at home; it’ll look really cool there.”
That was the end of the discussion. I didn’t poke through any more of the piles because when I made a promise I kept to it. I walked back over to my bike and hopped on. Brenda and Paco followed onto their bikes as well. We left the lot, Brenda kept giving me a disapproving look all the way back to my house.
My mother was in the kitchen when I got home.
I parked my bike in the back and secured the lock around the storm drainpipe on the side of the house. This isn’t the greatest part of town to live in. My mother was at the sink when I came inside. She worked strange hours so we ate whenever she could cook it. Tonight she had the graveyard shift, she was even dressed in her uniform, her hair pulled back in the tight bun she wore it in for work. Dinner was already on the table, it was tacos, a staple in my household. I dropped my backpack on the chair by the door, walked in and sat at the table. My mother didn’t even look at me, but Milagro did. She stuck her tongue out at me, taco sauce all over her face. She was at that age where she tried to do anything possible to annoy me.
You could tell we were family. We all had hair as black as coal and were all pretty short. Milagro wore her hair in pigtails all the time and I kept mine neatly trimmed to my shoulders; it was as far as I could go at being rebellious.
‘You have another date with Brenda, your girlfriendddd” She overemphasized the “d” on the end of girlfriend.
“She’s not my girlfriend squirt,” I said, reaching for my taco.
‘Jaime Enrico Reyes, you wash your hands before you touch” snapped my mother, her back still to me, the sink still going.
How do mothers do that, they must have eyes in the back of their heads or something.
I got up and walked over to the sink, kissing her on the cheek as I squinted dish soap onto my hands and scrubbed them together under the water for a few seconds. When I took them, out they were all red but at least they were clean. I went back over to table and picked up my taco, I ate in a hurry. I heard my mother and sister groan. My mother made a comment about growing teenage boys and their eating habits. As I was finishing it up, I reached into my pocket and pulled out the bug shaped stone. I set it on the table and stared at it.
“What’s that?” asked Milagro “it's pretty, can I have it.’
She reached for it but I snatched it away. “It's not for you.”
My mother looked over her shoulder. “You better not have put that dirty thing on my clean table.’
I rolled my eyes. ‘It’s clean. I found it in the lot; I think I’m going to use it as a paperweight.”
My mother groaned and cursed in Spanish. Milagro giggled, she was still learning. My parents used to speak it fluently when I was younger but only because my grandfather used to live with us and he liked it spoken at all times. He spoke very little English, he was a first generation Mexican, snuck into the country illegally. My mother---his daughter---was born here, so Milagro and I were as legal as can be too. My father was second generation like my mother but his parents went back to Mexico after my father graduated from high school. I rarely saw them but my parents visited them whenever they could. My abuelo---grandfather---died a year after Milagro was born so we didn’t speak Spanish much when she was growing up. She knew a little bit, thanks mostly to Dora the Explorer but her expertise in the language was truly lacking.
My mother finally stopped washing the dishes. She turned around, drying her hands on a dishtowel. She walked over to the refrigerator and opened it up, handing me a brown bag. It was for my father, she probably made it for him earlier. I left it on the counter and left the kitchen, taking the steps two at a time up the stairs to my room. Our house was kind of on the small side but it was big enough for us. There were two bedrooms on the second floor and they belonged to Milagro and me. My parents had their room in the basement. It cost quite a penny to do the conversion but my father got paid pretty well.
When I got to my room, I didn’t bother to turn on the lights. I just opened my door, slipped inside and went over to my closet. I didn’t normally put clothes in there; most of my stuff was in the dresser. But my mother made me hang a few things, like my church clothes and the jumpsuit I wore when I helped my father in the garage. I kicked off my shoes, pulled on the suit in question and paused before leaving. I reached into the pocket of my coat, set the blue stone on my dresser and locked my door before I left. Milagro liked to sneak in there sometimes when I wasn’t home and I know she’d try to get her hands on that stone.
When I got downstairs, Milagro was in the living room watching TV with our neighbor, Mrs. Cruz. She was an elderly woman who lived next door and agreed to watch Milagro for a couple hours until my Dad and I got home. Usually that was my job but seeing as I was being punished for the next few months, I was free from the torture of watching back-to-back Hannah Montana. What Milagro saw in her I’d never know!
My mother was standing by the door, holding her workbag and wearing her jacket. She tapped her watch when she saw me walk into the living room. “You want a ride?”
I nodded. Usually I walked three blocks to the bus stop. But every once in a while, if my mother had to run into the city, she took me. We lived a few hours outside the city and so it took a while to get there. Anything was better than riding in a bus that smelled of pee and human body odor. I said bye to my sis and Mrs. Cruz and followed mom outside. I groaned, disappointed because I was hoping to ride in the ambulance. Instead, the old beat up Dodge Ram was there. It was technically my father’s truck but he liked to drive the new Prius to work, he said it made him feel richer than he was. So on those rare occasions my mother actually had to drive the truck.
“No ambulance?” I asked as I got into the passenger seat and buckled myself in.
“Terry has it tonight.”
Terry was her partner; the two of them took turns driving.
My mother started up the engine and watched like a baby chick waiting for the worm. I wanted to drive so bad that it was killing me but I was still a little ways off. Well a lot actually, I just turned fourteen a few months ago. My mother told me when I was old enough she’d teach me herself, adding that it was better to learn to drive from an ambulance driver than someone like my father. He told me the same thing because he was a mechanic and knew cars better. My parents had a very heartfelt and loving relationship, which grossed me out all the time.
My mother dropped me off out back, managed a quick goodbye before she drove off. Her shift didn’t technically start for another couple of hours but she and the guys she worked with had a standing poker match. My mother was a card shark and liked to take those suckers for every penny they were worth. She went to college on a mathematics scholarship but had to drop out because she got pregnant with me. She didn’t go back until after Milagro was born. Her goal in life had been to become a doctor but she settled for being a paramedic, she said as long as she was saving lives she didn’t care what kind of job she had.
At the backdoor, the Creepy Guy was waiting for me. I didn’t know his real name so that’s what I called him. He was tall and bald, with sunken eyes and a face that only a mother could love. He was backdoor security and he was definitely scary enough to keep people from trying anything. He looked at me as I approached, stared for a second then opened the door. The back entrance was right next door to the huge garage doors in the back of the tower. There were only a few people who knew they were actually back there, my father and I among them. Mr. Queen had an extensive collection of cars in the basement of the tower, most were antiques and didn’t run but my father’s main job was to restore them. He didn’t let me help on any of those. He made me stay in the main garage, cleaning up mostly but every once and a while I got to polish some of the sports cars. I say some because there were over thirty cars for the Queens to choose from.
The back door led to a little hallway. At the end was a door that only two people had a key for, me and my Dad. I opened the door and stepped into the garage. I sighed; I loved the smell of gasoline and motor oil. My father was in the work area, I could hear the Mexican music blaring from the loud speakers. The work area was in the back, it was a little room built in a glass enclosure. I liked it when he was back there because I got to love the cars without him noticing. I checked to see if he was back there and saw him with his welding gear, working on a new muffler for something. I looked around and saw the car in question, up on the lift.
With him preoccupied, I went right for the usual. It was a 2008 Dodge Viper SRT-10, in snake-skin green. It was absolutely the most gorgeous car in the lot. There were a lot of other cars, much more expensive and fancier ones but this car was the main attraction. Every time I was in here, I spent every moment I could staring at that car. I walked slowly over to see, salivating as I did so. I got within a few feet when I heard a sound of clicking from behind me. I snapped around and gulped. I’d only seen Olivia Queen briefly and only in passing. She was the new IT Girl, even if she was the Hard to Get Girl. She was pretty camera shy apparently but that was not without trying. Ever since her grandfather died a couple of months ago, she was the talk of the town. She was only a couple of years older than me and already a multi-billionaire.
She was hot too, seriously ice melting hot.
She was dressed in a pair of skintight jeans, tall knee-high boots with a stiletto heel and a top that showed things off rather nicely. Her long blonde hair was worn in what was now called the Queen Twist---named after her of course---it was really only a long French braid but the tabloids liked their nicknames.
She looked at me as she walked over and smiled. I nearly collapsed; Olivia Queen just smiled at me.
“Hi there” she said, her voice was like that of an angel. “You’re Berto’s son, Jaime, right?” I nodded and she laughed. “You don’t have to be afraid of me; I’m not that different than you.”
Yeah right, you’re a billion times different than me.
She looked at the Viper. She walked over and touched the hood. She stroked it for a few seconds and then turned to me, smiling. “You want to sit in it?”
I could only nod. She opened the door and stepped aside. I numbly walked over and slipped behind the wheel. The seats were made of leather and the it smelled of that new car smell. It was like heaven. I closed my eyes and sucked it all in. She laughed. I think I actually sucked in. God I’m so embarrassed, she must think me a total dork. I opened my eyes; she was leaning on the door. I gulped and sat in the car for a few more minutes before I stepped out. Her lingering near me was making me very nervous. I think she sensed it so she backed off a little.
‘Is it true that you and your friends got busted sneaking into the Marks front yard?”
I nodded. “He was messing with me at school so we retaliated.”
She smiled and nodded. “I heard the story from your Dad” she leaned forward and whispered. “Between you and me, I would have slit the bastard’s tires too.”
We had a laugh. I couldn’t believe I was laughing and having a conversation with Olivia Queen, it was like talking to Paris Hilton but a hundred times better.
“Jaime!” My father’s voice shouted from across the room. I turned and saw him standing in the doorway of the workroom. “If you’re done flirting than we have some work to do.”
I blushed, my entire face going red. Olivia laughed but it was a sweet one. She leaned forward and kissed my cheek. “It was nice talking to you, Jaime. Maybe you can come over some time and you and I can take this puppy for a spin.’
I nodded. She walked away from the Viper and went over to one of the BMW’s. It was a nice car too, but it was nothing compared to the Viper. She waved at me as the garage door opened and she drove away. I absently waved back, blushing more than ever. My father threw a dirty rag at me and barked at me, telling me to get to work. He was smiling though, so I know he wasn’t mad. The rest of the night I worked on turtle waxing all the cars, I did the Viper twice to make sure she really shined. After that, I mopped the floors and seeing as I was about to collapse my father called it a night. At about ten, the two of us locked the place up and trudged down the hall toward the door. Mr. Creepy Guy let us out and we walked over to the Prius.
When we got home a couple of hours later, I walked up to my room like a zombie. I was so beat that I stripped out of my jumpsuit and fell face first onto the bed. I was asleep before my head even hit the pillow.
The girl walked across the pool deck, her hips swaying back and forth to the music. All I could do is sit and watch, drooling. It was one of those summer days where it was so hot that you didn’t want to do anything. I was lying on a lounge chair, wearing nothing but my trunks. We were at some swanky resort, a place that my family could never afford. I think Mr. Queen paid for the whole thing because it was definitely in some tropical paradise somewhere. It’s funny but I’m not even sure how I got to this place. The last thing I remember is…well I’m not really sure. I think I was home but it was kind of fuzzy. I knew it wasn’t summer though, it was March, I think. Even that was kind of fuzzy now that I think about it. March was a winter month I think but I’d never actually seen snow. It didn’t snow in El Paso and if it did in San Fran, it was so light that it melted as soon as it hit the ground. In this place, there was definitely no snow.
The large umbrella hanging over my head blocked out most of the sun but it didn’t do much for the heat. I was drenched in sweat, my hair plastered to my head like a helmet. There was one of those little drinks on a stand beside me. It had ice once, but the sun was so hot that it melted after only a few sips. Now the thing was watered down and nasty tasting. I think I ordered another one but there wasn’t a waiter in sight. I looked around, trying to see past the bikini clad girl as she walked slowly toward me. There was no one around but the two of us, how weird is that. I squinted through the haze rising from the concrete path around the pool but it was hard to see anything. I looked at my arm, trying to see what time it was but my watch was gone. I couldn’t remember the last time I went anywhere without my watch.
The girl was almost on top of me now. She was my ideal woman. She had long black hair, just the right blend of Hispanic and Caucasian features and just the right height to not make me feel so short. She was a bit taller than me but not much. The bikini she was wearing was tasteful, not something skimpy and revealing. I didn’t like it when girls dressed like tramps, it always seemed like they were trying way too hard to impress people. It didn’t impress me any, in fact it was kind of a turn off. You want to know what else was: big breasts. I know you’re probably shocked, me being a fourteen ear old hormonal unbalanced teenager but I know what I like and it’s not a pair of huge melons on a girl. I like a modest bust, just enough to tell me she has them but not too large.
“I brought you another drink, Jaime,” she said, sitting in the lounge chair next to mine, handing me some tropical concoction with a little paper umbrella.
Where the heck did that come from, she wasn’t carrying anything before?
I took a sip of the drink and was surprised to find that even though it looked exotic, it tasted like Sprite. I took another sip, making sure not to look too greedy in front of this goddess.
Now that she was sitting next to me, I got a better look at her. She was a lot younger than I thought, right around my age, which was strange because I could have sworn she was older. Her skin was lightly tanned and she had this cute little birthmark on her chin. At first, I thought maybe a bug was sitting there but the more I stared at it the more I realized that it wasn’t moving and it seemed to be a part of her. It looked a little like a bug though, which was kind of freaky. It was a good freaky though, it gave her a quirk. I liked quirks. Brenda had this thing that she did when she was nervous where she blew her cheeks out a bit, like a puffer fish. It was the cutest thing in the world and it was my favorite quirk about her. Not that I’m saying I liked her I’m just saying that I liked quirks. Paco had a quirk too but it’s too embarrassing to mention here and if he found out I said anything he’d pound me.
“Where did you get this?” I asked, waving the drink at her. “It’s wonderful.”
She laughed. “You can have anything you like. I’d give you the world if I could, Jaime.”
“I’m not sure that I want that.”
“Sure you do,” she said, running one of her long fingered hands across my naked chest. “Who doesn’t want the world?”
I sighed; her fingers were so sensual and inviting. I closed my eyes and got lost in her touch. Her nails were just the right length and her fingers tickled ever so gently as they ran along my back. Wait my back? I opened my eyes and I was lying on my stomach. How in the hell had that happened. I tried to sit up but something was holding me down. It took me a few seconds to realize that she was straddling me now, holding me on the chair while she rubbed my shoulders. There was something on her hands; I could feel it as she rubbed it into my skin. Her hands rubbed my shoulders for a few seconds and I groaned in pleasure. Then they slowly started moving down my back. They were so long and felt so good. I was in heaven, the ecstasy so great that I was starting to rise down below.
I was about to gasp in pleasure when I felt something else. It was pain. It was light at first, like a pinprick. But it intensified quickly. I tried to sit up but she pushed me back down, hard. She was strong, too strong in fact. I tried to get up again and the pain increased. This time it was like a searing hot poker to the back. I screamed out, trying desperately to get up. But she held me down, her legs squeezing my thighs, her hands pressed firmly on my shoulders. She was stronger than I would have liked. I screamed out, trying to flail so I could force her off. The pain got worse, now something like three or four hot pokers. It wasn’t just in my back anymore either. It tore through my entire body now, so intense that only screaming seemed to help. I kicked and squirmed but it was no use.
“Stop fighting it, human, it will be over shortly.”
The voice in my ear was female but it wasn’t the one from before. I tried to turn to see who was on my back now but the pain was so overpowering that I could barely move my head. The person on top of me shifted their weight and I noticed they were a lot heavier than before, too. There was something really screwy going on around here, something that didn’t make any sense. Why did she call me human and why did I have the strangest feeling that I wasn’t awake. I’m not sure where it came from but it made perfect sense. Everything felt too surreal at first to be real and now everything felt like it belonged in a nightmare.
“Very observant” said a voice. It wasn’t female anymore; it was stuffy and British sounding. “You are much more astute than my last host. Then again, Daniel wasn’t the brightest of fellows and don’t even get me started on Theodore.”
The pain stopped as soon as the voice ended. I let out a moan and whoever was sitting on me was gone too. I groaned as I pushed myself to my feet, trying to see who spoke. But there was no one there. I was alone now, sitting on the lounge chair, half my body covered in a white towel. I moved my hands, allowing the towel to fall away and when it did, I got the shock of my life. I looked down and show two fleshy mounds on my chest.
I screamed and everything went black.
I screamed and jumped awake, tossing my covers in the air. I was kicking and fumbling and nearly rolled off the bed. My heart was pounding in my chest, my body was drenched in sweat, my nightshirt, and boxers were soaked. I started breathing heavily, trying to sort real from fake. I rubbed my eyes then ran my fingers through my hair. That was a dream right? I took a couple of breaths, trying to calm myself to think rationally. It took me a few minutes to calm myself. My heart was racing, my body tingled and I swore I still felt the pain in my back. It was the strangest feeling too because it was right in the center of it and felt like it was under my skin.
Once my heart stopped pounding, I reached my arm back, trying to scratch at the spot where the pain was. It was kind of a dull itch now but it was in that spot where no matter how much you tried, you couldn’t quite reach it. I tried for a couple more minutes but finally gave up. Instead, I checked my pulse, to make sure I wasn’t going to have a heart attack. My heart rate seemed to be back to normal, which was a good thing. I used to have a lot of nightmares when I was younger, I was convinced that Freddy Krueger lived in my closet and was trying to get me. I went as far as trying to nail my closet door shut, which ended badly when I missed one of the nails and broke my thumb. My abuelo told me that fear was healthy and a part of life but that dreams were just dreams and they couldn’t hurt you. I stopped having nightmares after that.
I wish that was true about the one I’d just had.
I swung my legs over the side of my bed and looked at the clock. It was a little after eight in the morning, I’d only been asleep for about seven hours. I’m so glad it was Saturday, or else Mom would have killed us. On school nights, she liked me in bed by ten and Milagro in bed by eight. My father was only allowed to keep me late hours on the weekends or when I didn’t have loads of homework. She didn’t care if my slaving for him was a part of my punishment either. She said rules were rules and they were not meant to be broken. My father rarely argued with her. It was a rule with Hispanic women, they were right all the time and it didn’t matter what you said to contradict them. My father learned a long time ago that my mother was the boss in the house and he accepted that except when it came to things doing with business. That was his domain and she respected that.
I rubbed my neck, looking at my clothes lying on the floor. It was strange because I remembered taking off my work jumpsuit but my jeans, t-shirt and sneaks were on the floor too. I couldn’t remember taking off the rest of my clothes. I stared at them for a few seconds. Maybe my Dad did it for me. It was usually something my mom did but Dad was known to give me a hand from time to time. But the last time that happened, I was like ten. After puberty, we kind of avoided those awkward moments. I couldn’t even remember the last time I saw my Dad in his boxers and vice versa.
I slipped off the bed; my bare feet on the cold floor a definite jolt to wake me in the morning. My room isn’t the biggest in the house---that honor goes to my parents---but it was the biggest on the second floor. It had all the typical things that one would expect in a room: a bed, a desk, a dresser. One of my walls was covered in charts and star maps while the rest were covered in comic posters and newspaper clippings from the various real life super-heroes that were springing up all over the place now. My most recent clippings were about the disappearance of Green Arrow, of course, most of them clipped from the Planet where Lois Lane seemed to think that the Arrow was off on some intense soul searching. Most of the clippings were written by her, she seemed to be someone with a bit too much hero worship going on. What’s worse is that they all seemed to center on who these people really were. She was obsessed with it and as far as I was concerned, she really needed to get a life or at least another hobby. But there I go digressing again.
I stumbled through the dark, not bothering with the lights. I know my own room well enough to not need lights. I walked to the door, pulled it slowly open and padded to the bathroom. I was usually the first one up in the morning. My mother was often sleeping in due to her graveyard shifts and my father liked to get a few extra winks in before he headed to the garage. I was responsible for Milagro in the morning, usually. I’d wake her up, make sure she was fed and then head off to school. Usually by the time she went to school, Dad was up to take her. Her elementary school was only a few blocks away and my father walked her most days. It kind of annoyed her but he was unwilling to let his little girl walk to school by herself, especially in our neighborhood.
Our house had two bathrooms. The one on the second floor was bigger than the one downstairs. It was used mainly by me and Milagro. The one downstairs was actually in the basement, attached to my parents’ room. It was more for them than anyone else. I’d only been in there once or twice, to clean it when I was punished. I’d only actually cleaned it once though, seeing as it was fairly new and I’d only been in real trouble this one time. Yeah, that’s right; I just cleaned it yesterday. Go figure, my father made up that little rule so he’d get out of cleaning up after himself. Adults are so lazy sometimes. Take chores for instance, I think they make kids do them so they don’t have to do them themselves. How lazy is that?
I like showers better than baths; I think most teenagers do. I used to like baths when I was Milagro’s age and could bring my action figures into the tub with me. Yeah, so I used to play with action figures, so what. A lot of guys my age used to when they were younger. Most may deny it, but they’d be lying. I still have them; they’re in a bucket crammed with the rest of the junk in the back of my closet. I don’t know why I brought them with me from our old house, sentimental value I guess.
Have you ever looked in the mirror in the morning and noticed something wasn’t right? I walked up to the mirror, scratching an itch and turned on the water. I filled up my cup and paused when I looked at my reflection in the glass. There was something off about it. I’m not sure what exactly but my face looked softer. I turned my head left and right. My features were finer too; more smooth and my nose looked a little narrower. I sighed; maybe my dream scared me a little more than I thought. I groaned as I opened the cabinet and took out the toothpaste and my toothbrush. I closed the cabinet and began brushing my teeth. As I did, I noticed something else too: my hair seemed different. It was a bit longer this morning and looked softer. I finished brushing and touched it. It was definitely softer and the ends of it had a slight curl.
Maybe it’s puberty. I was only half way through it. I know that’s strange but I’m only fourteen after all. My father said he was sixteen before he started growing any facial hair and even then, it wasn’t much. He had a goatee now but it was fine and thin, not like all the hair that a lot of guys had. But I didn’t even have any peach fuzz yet, how strange is that?
I stripped off my shirt and boxers and stepped into the shower. Some people like to turn the water on first then get in. I like to get and then turn the water on. The shock of it is better to wake one up in the morning. As I reached for the knob to do just that, I noticed that my skin was softer too. My arm brushed against my bare chest and a shiver went up my spine. It was a tingling feeling and my nipples started to harden. I looked down at my chest and was surprised at how puffy things looked down there. I turned the water on; the hot water caressed my body, sending shivers up and down it. It felt so good. I closed my eyes and stepped into the stream. The water was intense as it washed over me and invigorating. I couldn’t remember the last time a shower felt so good.
I found one of my hands absently straying toward my groin while the other started rubbing my chest. I kept rubbing and then started to moan. I got aroused very quickly and was amazed at the feeling that it created. I’ve self-gratified before---you know what I mean, right---but it’s never felt like this. The whole orgasmic feeling was all over my body and so intense that I actually moaned out loud. It was overwhelming fantastic as I brought myself to climax, nearly toppling out of the shower as I did so. It felt kind of strange and I didn’t realize I had been rubbing my nipples until I brushed against them again and felt how hard they were. Were guys supposed to get hard nipples when they masturbated? I tried to think back to the video in Sex Ed but I was drawing a blank.
I finished my shower and grabbed a towel from the closet. I wasn’t paying attention and actually grabbed one of Milagro’s. We had towels that were different colors so as to not cause problems. I didn’t care but Milagro didn’t want to use anything that I used. So we had separate towels, separate toothpaste and separate shampoo. Milagro’s towels were pink; mine were blue. His and Hers, kind of annoying but a towel was a towel. I started wrapping the pink towel around my waist but stopped. I’m not sure why but it felt wrong. Before I knew what was happening, I pulled it up and wrapped it around my whole body like the girls on TV did. Something about it felt better to me.
I scooped up my discarded clothes, dropped them in the hallway hamper and walked quickly back to my room to get dressed and start my day.
“Son, have you been plucking your eyebrows?”
We were sitting at the kitchen table, breakfast laid out before us. I didn’t make it this morning so I wasn’t surprised to see burnt toast, gray oatmeal and something I think was eggs. My father isn’t the greatest cook and it definitely shows. It doesn’t taste all that good either but it was food and I didn’t complain. He and Milagro were sitting at the table when I came downstairs. I was wearing a belt today because my pants felt a little off. They were loose in one place and too tight in the other. My shirt felt different too. I couldn’t quite place it but there was something about it. My father didn’t seem to notice anything wrong until the eyebrow comment.
I grabbed my spoon and looked at my reflection in it. He was right; my eyebrows did seem kind of thinner this morning. I cast an accusing glance at Milagro, waiting for her to burst out laughing. This had her written all over it. I think it was payback for yesterday when I wouldn’t let her have the stone. Speaking of which, I think she got into my room last night and stole it somehow. She usually wasn’t that forceful when it came to things she wanted but there was a first time for everything. I didn’t notice the stone was missing until I got back from the shower and saw it wasn’t on my dresser. I opened the drawers and looked under the bed, the usual places where I stashed stuff. But it was nowhere to be found.
“Did you do this?” I asked, pointing at my forehead.
She looked at me like I’d grown a third eye. “Why would you pluck your eyebrows. I don’t even know how to do mine?”
‘Your sister has been with me all morning,” said my father, hidden behind the paper.
“What about the stone?” I asked.
“What about it?”
I hated when she answered a question with a question. She did it just to annoy me.
“Did you take it?”
She shook her head. ‘I tried but I couldn’t get your door open. It’s a dumb old rock anyway; I only wanted it so I could put it in Rocky’s tank.”
Rocky was her pet tortoise. He usually went everywhere with her, even the table sometimes. He was on the floor now, chewing on a piece of lettuce.
“What’s this stone?” asked my Dad, still reading his paper.
I told him about finding it in the old lot. I said I wanted to use it as a paperweight or something and asked if he’d seen it. Then for good measure, I asked if he’d undressed me last night. He answered both questions with the same answer: no. He then clarified that I probably misplaced the stone and undressed myself without realizing it. Sometimes people did strange things when they were half asleep; he used to sleepwalk when he was my age.
I knew for a fact I was no sleepwalker, but I had to admit he was probably right. Mom came down in the middle of breakfast, groggy and half awake. She poured herself a cup of coffee, kissed all three of us and groaned when she looked at the meal laid out before us. She gave my father a look and then served herself. She didn’t touch much of it though and instead kept to her coffee. I don’t usually get seconds of something my father cooked but for some reason I did. Everyone in the room gave me a look; even he lowered his paper. I shrugged and ate. My mother watched me through most of the meal, giving me a look that seemed to ask, “Who is this child and what have they done with my own?”
When I finished my second helping, my mother set down her cup of coffee and continued to stare. It was starting to freak me out. I opened my mouth to say something but she beat me to the punch:
“Jaime, have you done something different with your hair?”
I reached up and instinctively pulled a strand of it in front of my eyes to take a look. I was hoping someone wouldn’t notice. I rubbed it between my two fingers, feeling its softness. To my mother I shook my head but I don’t think she believed me. Instead of saying anything, he leaned forward and felt it herself. She ran her fingers gently through it and then brushed it out of my face. My hair was always getting in my face, especially my eyes. The length of it was always up for debate in my household. My mother seemed to think it was too long while my father felt it was my decision to decide how long my hair was. He took that stance in almost every argument about either me or my sister. He said that every person should be responsible for his or her own bodies and if I wanted to do this or that then it was my choice.
I left after my second helping. I went out the side door into the back, making my way toward the shed back there. It was my unofficial workstation, where I did all my sculpting. I got about half way there when I stopped. I’m not sure why but I just didn’t have the urge today. It was strange really because I spent most of my weekends sculpting. Instead, I turned around and went to my bike. I undid the lock, hopped on and took off. I’m not sure where I was going, I let fate guide me. It didn’t take me long to realize that fate was guiding me up the street. Brenda used to live a couple of houses down with her father but after he tried beating her to death with his bare hands two months ago, she moved across town with her aunt. I think I might have mentioned that, I did say I was going to get back to it, didn’t I?
I passed by Brenda’s old house, there was a For Sale sign on the front yard. Amparo, Brenda’s aunt, hired a big attorney and took her brother-in-law to court. The judge wasn’t very lenient on him, what judge would be. Mr. Del Vecchio was currently spending the beginning of his very long sentence in a nice prison upstate. Brenda moved in with her aunt and the house was put up for sale. It was kind of sad because her father was a pretty upstanding guy before Brenda’s Mom died. At least that’s what the neighbors said. Brenda’s mom died two years ago, long before me and my family moved into the neighborhood. Brenda’s Dad fell into a drunken depression after that which led to a rather nasty night for Brenda back in January.
I stared at her house as I passed. I’d only been in it once or twice and it never seemed very inviting. Paco lived two doors down from her. When the beating was taking place, he was outside with one of his sisters. He heard the screaming and told his sister to run inside to call the cops. Then he sprang into action. The cops said if it wasn’t for him, Brenda probably would have been dead. He broke Mr. Del Vecchio’s nose and fractured a couple of the bones in the bastard’s face. Paco wasn’t a violent guy except when one of his friends was in danger. Mr. D tried to press charges but Amparo’s lawyer squashed that pretty quick.
I pulled into Paco’s driveway. His father’s pickup was gone but his mother’s little Toyota was there. The Tejas house wasn’t that much bigger than ours but what it lacked in size it made up for in occupants. Paco and his little brother, Raul, actually shared a room in the attic. His oldest sister, Soledad had a small room to herself and his two youngest sisters, Viviana and Teresa shared the last bedroom. His parents slept on the pull out couch in the living room. Paco’s father was a truck driver---so he was rarely home---and his mother worked as a waitress whenever she could find the time. Paco, like most of the older siblings in the neighborhood, helped out raising his younger siblings.
As I pulled up the driveway, Viviana and Teresa were in the front yard with their beagle, Chico. The dog was running around as the two six year olds were trying to put a frilly bonnet on him. I smiled as they ran past me and into the backyard. I got about halfway to the porch when the front door opened and Soledad came out, carrying a fake leather purse. She was Milagro’s age, the two of them were the bestest of friends, according to them.
“Is your sister home?”
I nodded and off she went, marching across the lawn.
Paco appeared at the door a few seconds later, Raul hanging off his back like a monkey. Paco dropped his brother gently on the floor and stared at me through the screen door. He didn’t say anything for a few minutes and then cocked his head, squinting his eyes as he did so.
“You look different, bro.”
I sighed. What was with everyone this morning?
We played video games for the whole morning and into early afternoon. Paco didn’t mention how I looked after the first time on the front porch but he kept looking at me strangely every few minutes or so. I tried to ignore it but it was pretty hard when one of your best friends kept looking at you like you were blue or something. I managed to concentrate on the game though. He and I were huge Halo fanatics. It was only the first one, on an old second hand Xbox, neither one of our family’s could afford one of those new 360’s. It was still good game though and like they say, nothing’s better than the original. At least I think that’s what they say; I hear the new Halo game is a killer. Any way we played until at noon before Viviana came into the room wanting lunch.
We took break then. Paco scooped her up into his arms and carried her into the kitchen. I followed for lack of a better thing to do. As Paco started making grilled cheese, I sat at the table with Viviana. She started to stare at me too. I groaned, when would the weirdness stop? About three minutes into the staring, she broke the silence.
“Can I braid your hair?”
I blinked for a few seconds and then looked behind me, wondering if she was talking to Soledad. Her older sister had long, silky black hair. But there was no one else in the room. I was about to tell her that my hair wasn’t long enough to be braided when a lock of it fell down in front of me. It hung down my chest, reaching well past my shoulders. I freaked and jumped from the chair. Paco snapped around, nearly dropping the pan on the floor. I didn’t bother to explain and ran down the hall where the bathroom was. I pulled open the door, locked it behind me and rushed to the mirror. What I saw scared the hell out me. My hair, my normally shoulder length locks, was well past my shoulders now. I’m not sure how long it was but it was definitely several inches longer than a few hours ago.
I panicked, not sure what to do. I stared at myself for the longest time, freaking out. How can hair grow that fast, it’s scientifically impossible? I grabbed a strand of it, giving it a tug. I thought maybe his sisters were playing a cruel trick on me and put a wig on my head when I wasn’t looking. Sometimes I got so engrossed in a game that not even a bomb going off would shake me. I tugged on the strand as hard as I could and let out a shrill scream. I snapped a hand over my mouth, not sure, what scared me more, the hair or my girly scream.
The pounding knock on the door made me jump about ten feet in the air. I looked away from the mirror and slowly walked over to the door, unlocking it. Paco tore into the room, not sure what to expect. When his eyes fell on me, that opened wide, his mouth forming a giant “O”.
“Dude, what the heck happened to your hair?”
I shook my head, tears starting to form in my eyes.
Viviana slipped between her brother’s legs, half a grilled cheese in her hand. “Can I braid it now?”
‘What the hell am I going to do?” I sobbed, covering my face with my hands and falling forward to cry on Paco’s chest.
He put a hand gently on my back. He said something about making a phone call and led me out of the bathroom and back into the kitchen. He left me at the table and went into the living room to use the phone there. I was crying softly now and not really paying attention when a chair slid across the room to stop next to mine. I vaguely felt little fingers playing with my hair, twisting and looping it. I didn’t pay attention though. All I could thing about was how much of a freak I now was.
I sat at the table thinking for at least ten minutes. Viviana had finished braiding my hair and was now sitting across from me, a little doll on the table between us. Her sister was still eating her half of her sandwich, staring at me with those big eyes of hers. They were twins but whereas Viviana was very outgoing, Teresa was very shy. Viviana was telling me all about her doll and all the adventures they had together. She kept going on and on and I only half paid attention. I kept thinking about my hair, trying to figure out how it could have grown like that in only such a short period of time. Five more minutes into my thought processing, Brenda walked into the room in a huff, carrying a duffel bag on her shoulder.
“What’s the big emergency” she said and stopped when she saw me.
I looked up with more tears in my eyes. Her face was a mimic of Paco’s a few minutes ago. She sat numbly across from me in one of the other chairs, her bag sliding off her shoulder as she did so. She didn’t say anything, she just kept staring. Paco came back into the room and sat in the last chair at the table.
He waved his hand first in Brenda’s face then mine. Brenda snapped out of it first, about a minute or two later.
“This is a cruel joke right” she finally said, turning to glare at Paco. “My tia was giving me a yoga lesson; I had to drop everything to come here. This isn’t very funny you guys.’
I finally found my voice. “It’s no joke.” I quickly filled both of them in, telling them about my freaking dream last night and how I’d changed when I woke this morning. They both nodded a lot but neither interrupted. When I was finished, Brenda sighed, running her fingers through her own hair. She looked at me and a small smile curled her lips. It scared me for a second because she got a twinkle in her eye too. She turned to Paco and barked at him to bring her a pair of scissors. He jumped up and ran out of the room.
“This isn’t the big problem that you thought it was,” she said as she got up and walked behind me, taking out the braid that Viviana put in. The little girl, who had been sitting there silently, huffed, grabbed her doll and stalked out of the room. Her twin sister squeaked, grabbed the rest of her sandwich and ran out too. “I can fix this.”
Paco came back into the room with the scissors she asked for.
Brenda led me to the bathroom, closing the door behind her. She didn’t lock it but told Paco to remind outside as the guard. He did so diligently. Brenda out a photo of me. It was actually a picture of the three of us; it was taken a couple of months ago, right after she got out of the hospital and moved in with her aunt. Amparo took the picture, it was the three of us arm and arm at a local amusement park. Brenda was kind of black, blue, and swollen in the picture but none of us cared about that. We each had a copy of the picture; mine was tacked to my bulletin board in my room. Brenda apparently kept hers in her purse because that’s where she pulled it out of. She held it up and studied it for a moment, or rather me.
Then she took the scissors and started cutting. It took her over an hour. In the end, she was able to cut my hair to some facsimile of what it looked like before. It might have been a little choppy but it was definitely better than the long tresses. I cried a little when I saw the final result and gave her a big hug. She laughed and cried a bit with me. Paco ruined the mood by sticking his head into the room, clearing his throat.
“You guys done because I really need to go?’
I groaned. Brenda mumbled something about men and I absently nodded. I’m not sure why but it felt like the proper thing to do. She took my hand and led me out of the bathroom. Paco slipped past us and we walked into the living room and sat on the couch. She started talking about her yoga lessons and I found myself listening intently. I’m not sure why, her lessons never interested me before. Paco came in a few minutes later and asked if I wanted to continue playing our game but I waved him off. He shrugged and started playing himself. I continued to talk to Brenda; we started to gab about nonsensical stuff. I’m not even sure what we talked about but it was one of the most animated conversations I ever had. We talked for hours, all the while Paco played.
At about four, Paco groaned and stretched. “Are you two girls done yakking yet?” he asked in a joking matter.
I didn’t even take offense to the girl comment. I sighed and looked at my watch. “Holy shit” I gasped, jumping to my feet. “I have to get home and changed, my father was expecting me about ten minutes ago.”
I apologized to my friends and ran out the front door. I hopped on my bike and rode home. My father is the living room waiting, looking none too happy.
“Sorry, Papa” I said, running into the room and up the stairs.
It didn’t even sound strange to call him that. It was something my sister called him and something I used to do when I was about six. It didn’t take me long to get dressed and run back down the stairs. When I got to him, I was kind of in a huff but he didn’t seem to notice. He looked at me strangely again but shrugged it off. We rushed out of house and were able to beat the traffic. We made good time. Mr. CG was waiting at the door for us. Even he raised an eyebrow when the two of us approached. I barely paid attention as I rushed into the Tower Garage. I went right to work, mopping the floors. I was so caught up in my work that I didn’t even stop and notice that the Viper was missing today. I just mopped, completely oblivious to the world around me.
My father worked me to the bone. First, it was mopping, and then it was waxing again. After that, it was a dinner run. I did all without question. We took a break to eat and then we went right back to work. I got to change the oil on a couple of the cars tonight but it didn’t excite me like it should have. I was kind of in a funk for the whole night, barely paying attention to the time as it flew by. I should have been exhausted after working so long but I’d barely broke a sweat. When it was time to go home for the night, I even had a little bounce in my step. It was kind of freaky but I didn’t think about it until I got home and I was getting ready for bed. As soon as the thought occurred to me, I crashed.
I climbed under the covers, my body aching and went right to sleep.
‘Care for one, miss” said the waiter as he held a silver platter in front of me.
I nodded, reached over and took one of the lavish looking things off the platter. I’m not even sure what it was, it looked good, though. I folded the whole thing in my mouth and then grabbed another. He smiled at me, it was kind of patronizing, but I didn’t care. I was at a party and one was supposed to have fun at a party, right. I ate my second thing slower than the first because people around me were starting to stare. But they had been doing that as soon as I walked into the room. I was after all the most extraordinary thing in here. It’s funny, but I’m not even sure whose party it was or how I got invited. I just remember being escorted into the building and led down a flight of stairs. The room was big and gorgeous; it was some kind of gilded ballroom, kind of like the one from Beauty and the Beast. It even had a giant gold chandelier hanging high above my head.
I was having a good time though. I think three or four people had already asked me to dance. I danced with two, I think; the others were kind of boorish. Isn’t that awful, not being able to remember how many people asked you to dance? I think I’m a bit drunk. My glass of champagne was half full and I was certain my date was off getting me another. I know there should have been something wrong with that but I couldn’t quite place it. There was something wrong about everything, actually. I think it started as soon as I walked into this fancy place but for the life of me, I can’t figure it out. You know how something is on the tip of your tongue and you can’t quite say it, that’s how I felt. I was racking my brain but it just wouldn’t come.
“Ah, here you are, my dear,” said an austere British voice from behind me.
I turned around and a faceless gentleman handed me a glass of champagne and took the one I was currently holding. I say faceless not because I couldn’t see his face but rather because he didn’t have one. Where his face should have been was nothing but skin. It was the creepiest thing in the world and it should have freaked me out but for some reason it didn’t bother me in the slightest. What else that didn’t seem to bother me was the fact that he could talk without a mouth.
“Thank you” I took a sip of the champagne... it tingled down my throat.
I smiled at him, even though he had no face, he seemed to be the kind of person I would love to get to know. He held out an arm and set my glass on a passing tray, I reached out a delicate hand and took it. Without thinking about it, I let him lead me out to the dance floor. Somewhere Mozart was playing and it was simply divine to dance to. I let myself be carried away by him and the music, my dress and hair flapping and twirling when he spun me. Something about that seemed wrong but I couldn’t quite figure it out. We danced for the longest time and I didn’t seem tired at all. I was enjoying myself immensely until I felt the pressure in my bladder. I groaned, apparently even in dreams you had to pee.
“I have to use the restroom,” I whispered gently in his ear.
“Of course, my darling.”
He led me off the dance floor; the two of us seemed to ooze through the crowd. I left him at one of the tables, making a beeline for the bathrooms. They were in the back of the Ball Room, secluded from the rest of the festivities. I walked toward the right room and glided over to one of the urinals. I lifted my dress, pulled down my tights and panties and froze. What the hell was I doing? I looked and there was a man at one of the urinals next to me. He gave me the strangest look. I smiled, my face blushing red with embarrassment. I started to pull my underwear but stopped because of what I found there. I was shocked, there shouldn’t have been anything there but there was. I’m a woman; I shouldn’t have one of those. Inwardly I panicked but on the outside all I could do was finish what I started.
I flushed after I was done, waiting for my companion to leave. As soon as he did, I rushed over to the door and locked it. Then I ran over to the mirror. There was something wrong and it was there as soon as I looked in the mirror. I was a girl. The realization dawned on me then. I wasn’t supposed to be a girl. I grabbed my chest, feeling the fleshy globes there. I reached up and touched the delicate feminine face. It still looked a lot like me but it was much softer, more beautiful. This wasn’t me; I was supposed to be a guy. Well I suppose I kind of still was but it was small now, like a little boy’s.
How in the hell could something like this happen.
I heard the door open. How was that possible when I locked it?
I turned around and a man walked into the room. It was the guy from before and he still had no face. He walked toward me, suddenly appoearing very menacing. I tried to run but he stepped in my way and pushed me back into the sink. He grabbed one of my arms, applying an enormous amount of pressure to it. I screamed out in pain, discovering how girlish I know sounded.
He laughed. “Leaving already my dear, we are almost done here.”
“What the hell have you done to me?”
“I have done nothing, this is what your body wants, it’s what it craves. I am merely crafting it to your design.”
“I don’t want to be a girl.”
“Maybe not consciously but there’s a small part of you that does. It’s that same part that’s trying to fight me off but it’s not going to win. I am of the Reach, we live to conquer.”
The Reach? It didn’t make any sense. I tried to push past him again but he grabbed my other arm, holding me in place with his immense strength.
“Don’t fight. Let it happen, let me have you.”
He leaned in to kiss me but I wouldn’t let it happen. I got an overwhelming burst of strength and kneed him in the balls. He gasped, letting go of my arms. I pushed him out of the way and ran for the door. I grabbed the handle and tried to open it but it was locked. I unlocked it and yanked it open. He was there and put a hand on the door, slamming it shut. I turned and tried to punch him but he grabbed my wrist. I screamed, punching him in the chest with my free hand but it didn’t seem to make much of a difference. He grabbed my throat with his other hand, cinching down tight. I gasped for air, abandoning my efforts to get away and tried to pry his hand from my throat. But it was no use, it was like a vise. He was going to win but I couldn’t let that happen. I needed to fight him, I needed to gain control. This was my dream and my life and I wasn’t going to let this bastard ruin it.
Then it happened. The door seemed to turn to mush and I fell through it. His hand slipped from my throat and I tumbled into darkness…
I stumbled out of bed, hitting the floor as hard as I could.
I gasped, the jolt knocking me awake. My hand went to my throat, rubbing away the pain that was there. I groaned, there shouldn’t have been any pain; it was a dream. I tried to rack my brain, figuring out what just happened. I sat up and looked around. I was in my room; the morning sun was streaming through the windows. I looked down and I still had a flat chest. I sighed. I touched my chest just to make sure though. When I did, my nipples were kind of swollen and itchy but they still belonged to a guy. I pulled open my boxers and looked down. My thing was still there and still the size it should have been. Thank God for that. I pushed a long strand of hair from my face and groaned.
I jumped to my feet and ran over to my desk. There was this little mirror I kept there to pop zits when needed. I opened the top drawer and rummaged through the junk inside. I found the mirror, pulled it out and looked at myself. I groaned again. My face was softer than before. My eyebrows looked even thinner now and my lips looked a bit fuller too. Not only that, but my hair was long again, about the same length it was at Paco’s house. I stumbled over to my bed and sat on it numbly. How could this be happening to me? I let the mirror slide out of my hand and drop gently onto the carpet. This shouldn’t be happening.
I cried. I’m not proud of it but what else could I do. I cried for a long time. How was I going to explain this to my parents, especially today? It was Sunday. I looked at my alarm clock and sighed, it was only seven in the morning, I still had a few hours before anyone else got up. But there was still no way to explain how I looked now. In a couple of hours my mother would be knocking on my door, telling me to get ready for church. My parents were devout Catholics, so of course, I was too. We went to church every Sunday, from nine in the morning until one in the afternoon. Father Manuel was a friend of my father; they grew up together. After my father was shot and bedridden, he and the church helped a lot. How am I going to hide myself in church? We weren’t allowed to wear hats and not going would be considered a sin in the eyes of my mother.
Unless I was sick of course. It was the only plan I had but I really hated lying to my mother, especially on a Sunday. If she found out, the punishment I got from the car incident would be child’s play in comparison to what she’d do to me. But there was nothing else I could do. I had two options: go to church and be stared at or stay home, pretending to be sick.
I slipped off my bed and went to my bedroom door. I opened it up and peered out into the hall. No one was up, just like I thought. I took a deep breath and slipped down the hall, making my way as quick as possible to the bathroom. I closed the door and locked it then ran to the mirror. My face was definitely different. I still looked like me but I looked like someone else too. I hadn’t tried to think but there was a little bit of a girl staring back at me. It was kind of subtle, but there was no denying it now. I looked a lot like my reflection in the mirror that appeared in my dream. I reached up and gently touched my face. How was that even possible?
I squeezed my cheeks then pinched my arm for good measure. I yelped and groaned, clearly I was awake. Hey, it was worth a shot right.
I continued to stare at myself for a while, trying to see if there was a way I could fake things. Well if no one looked at me too closely I suppose I could pull it off. Then I remembered what day it was. We were going to church; there was no way no one couldn’t look at me. I’d have to receive communion, Father Manuel would be right up close. He’d see my face even if I were turning away. I groaned. I wonder if he’d recognize me. I turned my head both ways, trying to see if I recognized me. Like I said, I still looked pretty much the same but I looked different too. I suppose I looked a little bit like Milagro or what she might look like in a few years. I’m glad I was still Hispanic though. I couldn’t imagine waking up and looking like some white girl.
I finally tore myself away and went about my morning routine. I brushed my teeth, splashed water in my face and stripped. I barely noticed my puffy nipples now as I turned on the water and hopped into the shower. As I stood under the hot water, I shut my eyes and felt the same feeling just like yesterday morning. Only this morning it was more intense. I found my hands drifting to my chest again, rubbing my nipples. I fought back the urge to go down below but just barely. AS I was rubbing my nipples, I noticed something that I didn’t yesterday. All the hair on my arms and chest was gone. I didn’t have much on either but there was enough to notice. Ok, I actually only had a couple of chest hairs but I was a teenage boy growing into a man, so of course I noticed they were gone.
I should have been more concerned but for some reason I kind of liked it. I moved my hands to my arms, running my fingers up and down on my now hairless limb. It felt kind of good. The skin on my arm was a lot smoother than I remembered and my arm seemed thinner too. I didn’t have a lot of muscle to begin with but I had enough to know it was there. After all, I did help my father in the garage lifting heavy boxes and things. In school, I think I was able to bench press at least a hundred and fifty pounds. Now I bet I wouldn’t even be able to do one hundred. It was kind of freaky, but once again, I wasn’t too concerned about it.
I got out of the shower and took another pink towel from the closet. I didn’t even think twice about wrapping it around my body in a feminine manner. In fact, I grabbed another towel from the closet too. This one I used on my hair. It was dripping wet still. I thought about using Milagro’s blow dryer but figured it would make too much noise. It was bad enough that I actually used her shampoo to wash it. I didn’t even realize I did it until I was done and now my head smelled like Peaches and Cream. But it was actually kind of nice. Like grandma’s house. I smiled as I wrapped the second towel around my head; turban style like women did in shampoo commercials. I unlocked the bathroom door and quickly made my way back to my room.
In my bedroom, I went about looking for something to wear. I opened my drawers, rifling through them for something suitable. In the shower I decided there was no way I could go to church looking like I did. Which meant I’d have to lie and stay home but I had no other option. So my clothing choice was pretty simple: sweats. I found what I was looking for actually. It was a pair of gray sweat-pants and a long XX t-shirt. It’s what I usually wore to bed when it was colder out. I took both out of their drawers and tossed them on the bed. I opened my underwear drawer next and reached for a pair of boxers but stopped. They didn’t seem right for some reason. I fumbled about and found a lone pair of briefs. They were still left over from the transition. Most guys switch to boxers when they hit puberty. I started wearing them a couple of months ago, my mom having switched out most of my briefs for them. Apparently, she missed a pair.
I dropped the towel to the floor, leaving the one still wrapped around my head. Then I grabbed the briefs and slipped them on. They were a bit tight but they felt right. I moved about a little, trying to get a feel for them again. Then I picked up the sweats and slipped them on. They were a little baggy around my legs and in the crotch area but tight in the rear. I groaned, clearly I needed new sweats. When I put the shirt on I felt like I was swimming in it but that was nothing new, it was meant to be bigger. I got back into bed after that, making sure I took the towel off my hair and kept most of my new long tresses tucked underneath me so my mother wouldn’t see.
It didn’t take long for her to show up. She knocked before she entered. She was dressed in her fluffy pink bathroom, her hair in a towel turban too. She looked at me still laying in bed and frowned. She saw the wet towels on the floor and shook her head.
‘What’s wrong with you?” she asked gently, walking over and putting her hands on her hips.
I moaned; I hoped it was convincing. ‘I don’t feel too good.’
She bent and put her hand on my forehead. Why do Moms do that anyway, it’s not like you can tell by doing anything like that. She kept her hand there for a bit and then smiled. It was a sincere one and when she looked at me, it was with kind eyes. On any other day, something like this wouldn’t have flown with her, especially on a school day. But I liked church and I never made up excuses to skip it. So if I was sick on a church day then that meant there was no way I could be faking it.
‘You don’t feel like you have a fever but maybe it’s all that hard work you’ve been doing lately. I think it’s run you down. Why don’t you stay home for today and rest?’
I nodded. She bent forward and kissed me on the forehead. She gave me a strange look and my heart started beating faster. Please don’t let her notice anything different about me. Her lips lingered on my head for a second longer than I would have liked but she pulled away without saying anything. She looked at the towels on the floor again and bent to pick them both up. She gave me a look, probably thinking about why I had two of my sister’s pink towels. But she didn’t say anything. Instead, she threw them over her arm and closed the door when she left. I heard her talking to Milagro in the hall and then a few seconds later I heard:
“How come he gets to stay home? That’s so unfair.”
Then my sister stomped down the hall. I smiled and decided to bide my time by counting the glow-in-the-dark stars I have on my ceiling. There’s five hundred and six in case you want to know. I counted each one when I put them up but I liked to count them sometimes to help me keep my mind off of things. I counted them, trying to focus on them and them alone. It usually takes about an hour to do so, this time it took a bit longer. But counting them had the desired effect. Because about an hour and half after starting, I heard my family file out of the house, get in the car and drive off. I sighed in relief, threw off my covers and sat up.
I knew there was no way that I could stay cooped up in this bed all day.
I decided to go out but discovered a problem as soon as I tried to put some normal clothes on. First, no matter how many different shirts I put on, they kept rubbing against my chest and driving me insane. It was the most horrible feeling ever and only seemed to get worse every time I moved. I eventually had to settle for wearing two shirts, one of which was a thin undershirt that I hadn’t worn in ages. I had a different problem with my jeans. Like my sweatpants, they were loose in the crotch area and far too tight around my butt. When I got them up to my hips, I actually had some problems pulling them on. I had to lay on the bed to do so and zipping them up was a problem in a half. After that, it was pretty settled what today would entail. I needed to go shopping.
I wore a hoodie with the hood up to hide my new long hair and slipped out the side door so none of the neighbors would see me. I didn’t want to get ratted out after putting on such a convincing performance. I hopped on my bike and rode toward Paco’s house but didn’t stop. Like my family, his was very religious too. The same could be said for Brenda as well. But she didn’t go to our church anymore. Her aunt had some fancy one she went to in the city. It was this giant cathedral; a lot of rich people went there. I’d actually only seen it on TV or when we passed by it in the car on the way to Queen Tower. Brenda said maybe one day she could convince her aunt to allow Paco and I to go with her once.
There was no mall in the area where we lived. There was however a strip of shops that lined the streets on either side of it. The shops were a couple of blocks from my house. Brenda and Paco showed them to me the first week we moved in, making sure that I knew how to get to them. They were all lined in a row and seemed to be organized in no set pattern. There was a barbershop next to a comic shop and a clothing boutique next to an auto parts shop. My father spent a lot of time in the latter. My first stop was the barber of course; I needed to get rid of all this hair. It was already starting to freak me out. How can hair grow that fast?
I pulled up outside, locked my bike to the rack and slipped inside. There was a little dinging bell above the door. Mario’s was the only barber in the area; most of the rest were a few blocks over in a ritzier part of the neighborhood. I always went to Mario’s though. The shop kind of had this 1950’s feel to it, probably because Mario looked like he was still cutting hair then. In truth, he probably wasn’t much older than my father but there was something about his white outfit that harkened back to that day. He was brushing down one of the two chairs he had in the shop, humming to the Retro music that was playing in the background.
He turned and looked at me. “Good morning, miss. The beauty salon is a few doors down, you can’t miss it.”
I groaned. So my fears were right, I did look like a girl. “I’m not looking for the Beauty shop”
I walked over and jumped in the other chair, dropping my hood as I did so. Mario raised an eyebrow but walked over anyway. “You want me to cut your hair?”
I nodded. “Make it as boyish as possible.”
“Are you sure?”
I groaned. Why is that whenever a girl wanted to cut her hair everyone was so wary about doing it. I nodded my head and sighing; he took a pair of his scissors and began. He trimmed slowly at first but started to pick up pace. I closed my eyes and relaxed, sighing a bit. Maybe now I wouldn’t look so much like a girl. I started to wonder what I’d look like now; maybe shorter hair wouldn’t draw so much attention to everything. Everyone would see the short hair, still see Jaime and stop calling me miss. Well at least Mario wouldn’t mistake me for a girl if I walked into his shop again. That was a good thing, right?
It didn’t take him long to cut my hair. Maybe twenty minutes, which I think, is probably normal. When he was done, I felt him using his little brush to get the left over hair off my shoulders. “You can open your eyes and take a look, Principessa.”
I did and he spun the chair so that I was facing the large mirror mounted on the wall. What I saw sent shivers up my spine. It was short hair but it was anything but boyish. I think girls called it a pixie cut and though it definitely didn’t make me look as girlish, it still made me look like a girl. I groaned but seeing the big smile on Mario’s face, I smiled weakly back. I got up from the chair, defeated and asked him how much I owed him. Usually Mario liked to haggle but I got the cut for cheap, without bartering. I paid my ten bucks and left, dissatisfied. But there were other places I needed to shop and my hair was the least of my worries.
My next stop needed to be a clothing store. There was a really good one that Mom took me to all the time, it catered to my laid back style. I started heading in that direction, passing the boutique next to Mario’s. It was called Rachel’s, a lot of girls I knew shopped there, Brenda liked to shop there. It catered to a female crowd, mainly teenagers. I glanced at the window display and something caused me to stop. I’m not sure what but as I stared at the pink dress on the mannequin, my palms started sweating. It was strange but I kind of liked it. It was a light and airy looking thing and probably would look really nice with a good pair of shoes. I groaned, what the hell was I thinking?
I shook my head and pulled myself away from the window. I started walking away again but the urge came back. Then I heard it, there was a slight voice in my ear: “Go into the store... that would look lovely on us.”
I snapped around, expecting to see someone standing behind me. But there was no one there. I think I’m losing my mind. I shook it off and started to walk away again. But the urge came back and my hands started to shake. Then it was like my body had a mind of its own. I found myself walking toward the door. I reached for the handle to open it and forced myself to stop. My heart was pounding in my chest, my hands shaking like mad now. Then I heard the voice again, it was sounded so familiar but I couldn’t quite place it.
“Go into the shop. You want to try that dress on; I think it would look good on you.”
My hand acted on its own and grabbed the handle, pulling open the door. I struggled, but it was no use as I walked inside. I’d been in Rachel’s before; Brenda liked to drag Paco and me in here for some torture. It was the typical looking boutique with its pink color scheme and loads of clothes. There were changing rooms in the back and a counter in the corner. Behind the counter was a pleasant looking woman and when she saw me, she sprang right over. She was about my mother’s age, with a streak of gray through her black hair. She was dressed in a smart skirt and blouse and her high heels clacked on the floor as she came over. I looked around and groaned, I was the only one in the store.
“Good morning, sweetie, how can I help you?”
I opened my mouth to tell her that I came in here by mistake but that’s not what came out. Instead, when I spoke my voice wasn’t my own. It was light and girly. “I’m looking for a new wardrobe, the one I have now is so drab.”
Holy crap, who the hell just talked. I wanted to throw my hand to my mouth but I couldn’t.
“Relax, my dear,” said a stuffy voice in my head. “I’ll take it from here.”
It was then that I recognized the voice. It was the one from my dreams, the faceless British dude who had been messing with me for the last two nights. How was this even possible? Who are you and what do you want from me? I sent my thoughts out into my head but I got no response. Instead, I found my body walking by itself, following the woman as she led me over to the lingerie. It was as if I was working on autopilot while my body and this woman did all the work. Soon my arms were piled down with bras and panties. I screamed into my head and heard sinister laughter. I tried to fight it but it was too strong. My body then followed the woman over to some of the clothes racks. She started pulling tops off and handing them to me, guessing my size. My body took them and then asked about skirts.
“I have the perfect one for you,” said the woman as she walked off to get it.
“This isn’t funny anymore” I shot into my head.
“Relax,” said the voice “I’ve done this before. You and I are now one or we will be very soon. You are in good hands; I’ll make sure to take very good care of you.”
“I don’t want to be taken care of, I want my life back.”
The Voice laughed. “Your life belongs to me now.”
The hell it does. I screamed as loud as I could into my head. The Voice was laughing at me and then it stopped. It was abrupt but I shattered its control. My scream was so powerful that I lost control and stumbled forward, falling into a rack of clothes. There was a loud clatter and the woman came running, holding a couple of skirts in her hands. She gave me a look, glaring. I opened my mouth to explain but she pointed at the door. I smiled, glad that I wasn’t welcome here. I dropped my armful of clothes on the floor and marched out the door.
“That was a foolish thing to do,” said the Voice.
I started down the street, fed up with my little shopping expedition. I turned and headed back to the bike rack in front of Mario’s. My bike was still there. But it wasn’t alone. There were a couple of guys lingering around it, smoking and leaning against the rack. I sighed. This is all I needed, more jerks to mess with. I took a deep breath and marched over. It didn’t take long for the first one to turn and notice me. Two of them were black and the third was Hispanic. They were a couple of years older than me, dressed in the typical baggy pants, wife beater style. I hated guys like this; they always thought they were God’s gift to the world.
I approached with vigor, bound to not let these jerks get the better of me. As soon as I got near my bike, one of them stepped in my way.
“Hey mama” he said, placing his hand on my shoulder. “You want to go to a party with me.’
“Get lost” I snapped, pissed that even with my new haircut these jackasses thought I was a girl.
“C’mon baby, don’t be like that,” he said, rubbing his hand up and down my arm.
I shrugged him off. “I said get lost or I’ll scream rape.”
All three of them laughed. Unfortunately, there was a lot to be funny about. In my neighborhood, cops didn’t give a damn. They walked the streets and drove around but they weren’t very good peacekeepers. Posse and the fear of La Dama kept them away from doing their real duty. Instead, most police officers huddled about in donut shops and answered domestic disturbance calls. Crime was at an all time high now, even more so now that the Green Arrow was gone. Things were a bit different when she was patrolling the streets but like I mentioned before, she hadn’t been seen in months. So punks like these were rampant around these parts and there wasn’t a single thing that anyone could do about it.
“Don’t be like that,” said one of the other guys as he stepped off the bike rack, throwing his cigarette on the ground. ‘We got a little place a couple of blocks from here. You’d fit right in.”
He stepped up to me, he towered over me. His breath smelled of cigarettes and cheap liquor. He hung over me like a statue, smirking down at me. His buddy holding my arm slipped around behind me. I tried to watch him but that meant taking my eyes off the other two. Shit, this was so not, what I wanted right now. I bit my lip, trying to figure a way out of this. I could scream but it wouldn’t accomplish anything. Maybe a Good Samaritan would come to my rescue but chances are these three bastards would just beat the hell out of me or possibly something much worse. I couldn’t let that happen, especially because these jackasses thought I was a girl. If they tried to rape me and discovered otherwise then I was definitely a dead man.
I panicked and tried to push my way past. But like I thought, they weren’t going to let me. The third one left his post on the rack and came over, wiping his hands on his shiny baldhead. I gulped, biting my lip. There was no out of this; I was screwed no matter what I did. Shit, why did I leave the house today?
The third one made his move. It was subtle. He pulled out a knife and went for my hoodie, slicing a nice big slit up the front. I opened my mouth to scream when a hand clamped over it, cutting off the attempt. The second guy grabbed my hoodie and tore it back, revealing my shirt underneath. The third guy came forward with his knife again, easily slicing through both my shirts. What I saw shocked the hell out of me. No wonder they thought I was a girl, I had breasts. They weren’t really big but they were there. My eyes widened as I stared at them. How in the hell was that possible?
“Check out the itty bitty Commando chick” the one with the knife, laughed. “Haven’t you ever heard of a bra, chica?”
I tried to struggle out of his friend’s grasp but it was no use.
The second guy went for my pants but the first one, the one holding me, stopped him. “Not here, Marcus” He pointed his head to the left. “Down there, there’s no witnesses.’
I looked where he was pointing. There was a narrow alley between Mario’s and Rachel’s. It wasn’t very big but it was big enough to do what these guys wanted to do. Oh God, please no. The guy holding me lifted me off the ground and carried me toward the alley. I kicked and struggled, trying to break free. The hand slipped from my mouth and I screamed. Just like I thought though, no one came to my rescue. They carried me to the alley, taking me as far back into it as possible. The guy holding me tossed me on the ground. It hurt like hell. I tried getting to my feet but I didn’t get very far. The one who threw me pushed me back down while the other, Marcus, bent down in front of me to undo my pants. I screamed again, as loud as I could. The third guy, the one with the knife, stood against the wall, watching the whole thing.
I kicked and fought. But it was no use; they were bigger and stronger than me.
“Stop her from wiggling,” said the one with the knife. “And shut her up.”
The one undoing my pants stopped and punched me in the face. My head snapped back, hitting the wall. A flood of pain exploded in my head. My vision started to blur but I fought it. I can’t pass out; I can’t let these bastards get the better of me.
“Are you ready for assistance?”
It was the Voice, I’d completely forgotten about it. “Yes, please, do something.”
“If I do this, there’s no going back?”
“I don’t care, stop these bastards.”
“You only had to ask.”
I lost control of my body. The pain in my head dulled somewhat but I stopped struggling. The guys thought it was me giving in and allowing them to have their fun. Somehow, I knew differently. Something happened, something I can’t explain. My body started to tingle and my skin felt like it had ants crawling inside of it. I screamed out into my head, freaked out at what I felt. I was freaked out even more at what I saw. My skin was changing, turning blue and hardened. At first, I thought it was my imagination but soon enough the blue started to spread. My skin felt like it was on fire now as the hardening blue started to cover my whole body. It moved quickly, tearing my clothes to shreds, covering me like some freaky jumpsuit.
The three guys jumped back, the one with the knife even going so far as to slamming into the far wall. The one holding me freaked out, dropping me. The one who had been undoing my pants was still sitting in front of me, staring at me like I’d just crawled out of the sewer or something.
The burning sensation rose up my neck and finally started to cover my head. As soon as it got over my face, everything changed. My vision blinked out and when it blinked back, everything was blue and sharper than before. The two thugs who jumped back stared with open mouths while the third crouched in front of me just stared. I raised my hands, flexing my fingers. My hands were covered in this black and blue armor-like substance. I had no idea what it was but it was kind of cool.
“Defensive battle armor engaged” said the Voice in my head.
“What the hell is this?”
“You asked for my help and now I have given it” said the Voice “I am of the Reach, we are to conquer.”
“I don’t understand.”
“That is to be expected, human,” said the Voice “just know that I am a great warrior of my people and that you and I are now one.”
“What does that mean?”
“Your body belongs to me now.”
I didn’t understand any of it but right now, I didn’t care. I looked at the guy crouched in front of me and something happened. His body seemed to go transparent and I saw all his insides. A display of some kind flashed before my eyes and a bunch of words started scrolling down it. At first, they were unreadable gibberish but then I started to understand. They were a list of his vitals, showing where he was weak and most prone to attack. This would have been so cool if I wasn’t so freaked out by it all. I had no idea what was going on and frankly, I didn’t give a damn.
“Who and What are you?”
“I am Khaji Da of the Reach, and We are One.”
“What does all that mean?”
The Voice didn’t have time to explain. It seems that whatever shock my three assailants were suffering from was gone. The one with the knife was the first to move. Instead of moving toward me, he slid along the wall, trying to make a quick exit. An overwhelming urge to punish the bastard severely swelled inside me. That’s when my body seemed to react on its own. I swung my arm out, smacking the guy crouched in front of me out of the way as I sprang to my feet. I went right after the knife guy, moving at a speed I didn’t even think was humanly possible. I was on him in a split second, slamming him against the brick. He gasped for air as my hand closed around his throat. I slammed into him so hard that I think some of his ribs actually broke. He dropped his knife and tried to pry my fingers from his neck but it was no use.
Anger flooded my body, an anger that I’d never felt before in my entire life. I liked it, I liked it a lot. I clamped down on his throat, squeezing the air out of him. Though I didn’t seem to be in control of my actions, my emotions were all over the place. He must die, this bastard must be punished. I squeezed tighter, watching as his eyes turned blood shot and bugged out of his head. His mouth was opening and closing like a fish out of water. He was dying in my hands and I loved it. At least a small part of me did. There was another part of me screaming in the back of my head. I could feel it pounding on my brain, pushing to get free. But the homicidal part was stronger and seemed to be pushing my other part back. The homicidal part had a laugh, cackling as if tempting the docile part of me to try and stop it. My mind shifted. The homicidal part lost ground, the cackling stopped. The docile part pushed through and my grip on the bastard’s throat lessened. What the hell was I doing?
My mind focused and a fog seemed to lift.
I let go of the son of a bitch’s throat. He slid to the ground, gasping and spurting for air.
“We had him,” said the Voice, Khaji Da. “Why did you let him go?”
“I’m no murderer.”
“Not yet but you will be soon.”
I ignored him and heard a rustle behind me. I snapped around. The other two jackasses were getting weapons. There was some garbage at the end of the alley. One of the guys got a rusty metal pipe; the other grabbed a wooden board with a few nails. I groaned. Why couldn’t they be scared little pricks and try to run like their friend? I left the guy with the knife gasping on the ground and turned to his friends. They started slowly down the alley, moving as two, trying to get some kind of position on me to attack.
“You don’t have to do this,” I said. The voice that came out of my mouth was both feminine and mechanical at the same time.
“You fucked up Jose, you Robo Bitch” said the one with the pipe.
Clearly, trying to talk sense into them wasn’t going to work.
Suddenly the little display from before snapped up and both their bodies seemed to go transparent. Their vitals hopped up onto my displays a second later. Then my vision shifted to their weapons, seeming to scan them as well. More strange words scrolled across my display, telling me the odds of those two things being effective on me. Apparently, neither was really good in their favor. I looked around the alley, scanning that as well. How did I know that’s what I was doing? I’m not sure but somehow everything made sense to me. It was like I was connected to this armor somehow and I knew everything about it.
“We’re symbiotic now, you and I are One.”
“You keep saying that, but what does that mean, exactly.”
“I do not have to explain anything to you, human.”
I groaned. I didn’t have time to argue with whatever it was inside my head. The two jerks chose that time to attack, too. They came at me together, which was their first mistake. Though I now had semi-control over my body, my actions were hardly the work of me alone. I lashed out at the closest assailant first, which happened to be the one with the metal pipe. He tried to bring it down on my head but I now seemed to possess lightning fast reflexes. I threw my arm up, blocking the blow. When the pipe hit my arm, I didn’t even feel it. I swung forward with my free hand, balling it into a fist and hitting the bastard dead center, slamming full force into his solar plexus. What’s a solar plexus; I have no idea. But whatever it was, the blow I gave him knocked the wind out of him. He stumbled back, dropping the pipe.
His friend came at me with the board. I lashed out with a foot, catching him in the gut. When he stumbled back, I spun around, punching him in the face. There were a lot of bones that cracked when my fist collided. He fell backwards too but he didn’t let go of his weapon. He ended up on his butt in a daze. It was enough time for the pipe wielder to recover and grab his weapon. He swung it at me again. I snapped in that direction and went on the defensive again. I grabbed the pipe. I know it was rusty but what happened next was inhumanly possible. I squeezed the pipe, the metal actually crumbled in my hand. It was the craziest thing I’d ever seen.
His eyes were as wide as mine. He let go of the pipe and I tossed it aside. He stumbled backwards but I lashed forward again, grabbing his shirtfront. I raised him a good foot off the ground, holding him with one hand.
‘You ready to give up this foolish endeavor?”
He nodded his head. I held onto him for a few seconds longer then I spun around and threw him into his friend. Both of them went crashing to the ground. I made my way over to them, trying to see if there was something in my arsenal that could subdue them when I heard the sirens. Sure, the police come when I’m no longer in trouble. The sirens were close, too close for my comfort. I turned and saw a police car pull up in front of the alley. Shit, they were a lot closer than I thought. Two cops got out and drew their guns as soon as they saw me. I didn’t even know what I looked like but judging by the reactions I was getting so far, I was probably not a looker.
“Freeze” shouted one of them as they made their way down the alley. “Put your hands over your head and get on the ground.”
“We need to immobilize those gentlemen if we wish to escape.”
“They’re cops, they’re the good guys.”
“They are pointing primitive projectile weapons at us. I cannot allow that.”
“I’m not hurting cops.”
“You won’t have to.”
I lost control of my body again. I found myself slowing, walking toward the police officers, a slave to my own movements. I tried to fight it but Khaji Da was in control again. The stupid bastard hijacked me and now he was going to turn me into something I wasn’t. I screamed in my head but the laughing was back. My docile pounding began again and this time it wasn’t nearly as strong. I can’t do this, I can’t hurt them. I tried to force this thought at Khaji but it was ignoring me. So I tried something else. This is my body and that meant that this was my suit as well. I closed my eyes and tried to concentrate. It didn’t take long to figure things out.
Though Khaji was in control at the moment, he seemed to be able to only control one function at a time. Which left the others at my disposal? There were so many to choose from, most of them way over my head. But there was one that jumped out above all the others: flight. I centered everything I had on it, trying to bring it up. I opened my eyes and a new screen appeared, showing a little schematic of a figure with what appeared to be metallic bug wings springing from its back. You’ve got to be kidding me. I groaned and concentrated as hard as I could on the little figure.
I felt something behind me. There was a whooshing sound, which I knew to be my wings unfolding behind me. I concentrated even harder, willing my mind: Up.
“What are you doing, human?”
“Changing the game.”
The police officers stepped back slightly. I stepped forward, bent at the knees and jumped into the air. As soon as I got about ten feet off the ground, the wings did the rest. I skyrocketed out of the alley, up over all the buildings on the street and zipped off toward the direction of home, hoping I’d get back in time before my family got home from church.
I landed on a roof a few blocks over, still quite a distance from my house. I could actually see my block, with all the houses lined in a row. There were twelve houses on my street, six on each side. There were only four blocks in this part of town that had houses at all and most of them were in worse shape than mine. Our street was the best one of the lot, because of my neighbors. We didn’t live next to drug dealers or rapists. There was a guy a couple of houses down from Paco who might have been a thief but he was eighty and long since retired.
I took a deep breath and turned my attention away from my street. What I needed to find was the church. It was easy to spot because of the tall steeple on top. It was the only Catholic church for a couple of miles. On the rooftop, I saw the spires of the others; the closest one looked like a toy. Then there were the buildings of San Francisco and the famous bridge off in the distance. It was kind of funny; I’d lived here for seven months now and had yet to drive across it once. My father said it was nothing important but I still wanted to do it. Paco and Brenda said it was the coolest thing in the world, which only made me more jealous. I forgot about the bridge for a moment though and continued to look at our little church. It was called St. Patrick’s, I’m sure there are a lot of those around. I scanned the parking lot, amazed that my new blue vision seemed to be able to zoom in. I searched the cars, looking for my mother’s Prius. They didn’t drive the truck to church because there wasn’t enough room for everyone. It didn’t take me long to find the car, it was parked farther from the building than the rest. My father had this thing about not parking near other cars, I’m not sure why.
I wonder what time it is. As soon as the thought left my head, a small digital clock appeared to the left of my vision. The glowing numbers told me it was about eleven fifteen, which meant I had some time before I needed to get home. I sighed, dropping down to sit on the edge of the building. It gave me ample time to figure everything out. The first question was probably the biggest: What the hell was happening to me. The others were just as important but the first one was the one I really wanted answered.
“So start talking.”
“You are under the impression that I would willingly give you information?”
“You’re the bad ass thing that got me into this mess, so yes, you’re going to start answering some of my questions.”
“And if I refuse?”
He called my bluff. I had no idea what I was going to do. If he was right and we really were one then there wasn’t much I could do. I didn’t really want to do anything to harm him because it would harm me too. God that’s annoying. Not that I actually knew who or what he really was. I didn’t even know where he came from.
“Well, that one is rather obvious”. He actually laughed. “Do you remember that blue, scarab shaped stone you found in the trash?”
Oh my God, how was that even possible? “You’re the stone?”
“It's not really a stone. I am a Blue Scarab, created by the Reach as an Infiltrator, sent to your world to infiltrate your society and prepare you for conquest.”
“You’re an alien?”
He sighed. “I am an artificial construct.”
“But you were created by aliens?”
“The Reach are far beyond your description of an alien. I have studied your world for centuries; I have seen your modern societies rise and fall. This one that you are so proud of is not that different from the others. For eons I have watched your pitiful race and when the Reach arrives, you will all be destroyed in a matter of seconds.”
“You’ve been here for eons?” This time I laughed. “Dude, you’ve been hosed. They sent you on a bogus mission. If you’ve been here so long, how come these great space invaders haven’t arrived yet?”
I don’t think he liked being laughed at. One of my hands flew up and smacked me in the face. This time he laughed.
“The Reach will come and when they do you will be the first to bow down to them.”
“I’m not bowing to anyone.”
“You are an Agent of the Reach now; you will not be able to refuse.”
“You wait and see.”
I think I pissed him off. I felt my hand beginning to move again but this time I stopped it. I screamed as loud as I could in my head, forcing my arm back under my control. I groaned. This was getting really tedious. I couldn’t live like this, having this guy in control whenever he damn well pleased. I knew to do something; I need to find a way to override this bastard.
“There is no way. We are One; you do not control this body anymore. It is mine to do with as I please."
I smirked. “If that’s the case then why haven’t you taken complete control of it yet?”
He was silent for a few seconds. His silence was enough. When he finally answered, I knew I had him beat. “I am not accustomed to such a young form. My former hosts were much older than you; you are difficult to get a grasp on.”
I laughed. “In other words, you can’t.”
“There is no can’t in the Reach vocabulary. I will take control of this body and when I do, you will be a slave to my power.”
“Why can’t you just admit that I’ve got you beat and move on?”
“The Reach cannot be defeated.”
“You’re not of the Reach anymore. They abandoned you years ago. If you’re attached to me than you are of the humans. Does that compute?”
Khaji Da said nothing. I sat and waited for his response but it never came. Finally some peace and quiet. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. When I opened them, my blue vision continued to scan the area. Damn, I forgot to ask about this stupid suit thingy. I grabbed the back of my head, where I knew I probably looked like some dork in a Halloween mask. I tried to find a seam, anything that might be able to help me pull this stupid thing off my head. But there was nothing. In fact, when I started to tug back there it started to hurt. You’ve got to be kidding me. I switched targets and tried to pull what I thought were gloves from my fingers. But as soon as I started tugging on them, it was like trying to rip skin from my body. Is this thing a part of me? How the hell do I get it off? As soon as I thought about it, a display screen popped up in front of my eyes and words scrolled across it. I sighed; it couldn’t be that easy, could it?
I took a deep breath and spoke the words: “Defensive armor, deactivate.”
It felt like a giant band-aid being torn from my body. I screamed out as the armor began to liquefy on my skin, crawling away from my body. I looked at my hands and watched as he blue and black armor turned into ooze and slowly started seeping up my arms. I looked at my chest and it was doing the same, moving away from my body. All of it seemed to be crawling toward my back as if there was a point of origin there. I noticed something else too. As soon as the armor pulled away from parts of my skin, my clothes were nowhere to be seen. I gasped when I saw my thin hairless legs. Then when I looked at my bellybutton, there was a girl’s navel staring back at me. It wasn’t until I saw down below and my naked breasts that I knew my life was over.
Oh, God, I’m a girl. Before I just looked like one but now, it was everything.
The armor finished oozing off the rest of my body. There was a sharp pain in the middle of my back and then nothing. I fell to my knees, burying my head in my hands. I started to sob for my lost manhood. How was this even possible? I cried for the longest time, the tears wouldn’t stop coming. After a while, I wasn’t even sure what I was crying for anymore.
“There is no turning back. You can mourn what you have lost but you can never get it back.”
“What the fuck do you know about it?”
“More than you think.”
I got to my feet, angry at this thing. It did this to me and yet it seemed to think comforting me would help. I didn’t want Its pity, I wanted my old life back. I took a step forward, my new assets swaying with me as I did. I looked down and groaned. Why were they so big? Ok, maybe they weren’t ginormous but they were a lot bigger than I wanted them to be. Hell, I wanted them to be as flat as a board and nonexistent. But these puppies had to be at least a C. I reached up and clasped them, disgusted by them. Yet there was something else too. They were a lot heavier than I thought and they were so warm. I never thought in a million years that the first pair of breasts I held would be my own. They were even bigger than Brenda’s.
I smiled at that. Then I groaned. You’re not supposed to be smiling about those things.
“Your mind will adjust to your new form. You may not accept the change but very soon it will not feel foreign to you.”
“Why the hell did you do this to me?”
“As I said before, it is what you wanted.”
“I don’t want to be a girl.”
“Are we to have this conversation again? I have recorded the previous one; do you wish me to replay it back so you can compare your answers?”
“Go to hell.”
“That is metaphysically impossible, for such a place needs to…”
I ignored him, droning him out by humming as loud as I could in my head. It seemed to work because his annoying voice disappeared from my thoughts. I needed time to think on my own. I let go of my breasts, trying not to dwell on them and took a look at my surroundings. I was on a roof; the building was one of the older ones, a couple of stories. I walked to the edge and looked below. There was an alley between it and the one next to it. I looked across and the gap wasn’t too bad. There was no way I was going to jump it, though. I looked around the rest of the roof, looking for a way down. Most places had a roof access stairwell or a hatch or something. This one didn’t have any of those things. How could they not have a hatch or something?
The only thing I saw that might look like a way down was a skylight. I groaned and walked over. When I looked through the dirty glass, I saw a lot of wooden crates below. I must be on top of a storage warehouse of some kind. My eyes suddenly stung and my vision went blue. It scared me at first but I got accustomed quickly. It was a bit of a shock though. Suddenly the blue went into zoom mode and I was able to see everything in the warehouse below. A bunch of statistics started scrolling across my vision. Most of it was a bunch of crap. The boxes contained medical supplies, nothing really important. It was kind of freaky that my eyes changed like this though. I looked around the rest of the roof, trying to see if there was something I missed.
I spotted the top of a metal ladder. I walked over slowly and looked down. It led down the back of the building, to another alley, this one bigger than the others. I took a deep breath and the blue vision disappeared. How cool was it that I was able to do that? I started walking toward the ladder but stopped as soon as I reached it. I guess I was in such awe that I forgot one very important little thing. I looked down and blushed. I was naked. There was no way I was walking around the streets with absolutely nothing on.
“You should have taken those clothes that nice lady picked out for you.”
“Shut up. This is all your fault you know.”
“I hardly see how that is the case.”
“You’re the one who did this to me.”
“You’re the one who wanted it.”
“So you say.”
I groaned. There was no point in arguing with him. I took a deep breath and tried to think of options. But there were no options. It was either walk home naked or walk home naked. I sighed; clearly, whoever designed that suit didn’t factor clothes into the equation. How the hell was I supposed to get home now?
“Perhaps I can help,” said Khaji.
“And how are you going to do that?”
“I can synthesize apparel for you. It will not be the same as your normal garments but it will be enough to fool those you might be embarrassed about seeing you in the nude.”
“You can make clothes?”
Cool. Of all the Alien devices, I found the Swiss army knife. “Ok, make me some clothes. But nothing too girly or I’ll jump off this building.”
“That would be counterproductive to both our well beings.”
“Just make me some clothes.”
My whole body started tingle. Then the ooze started to rise again. I could feel it seeping out my back this time. It slowly started to crawl across my skin again, like little ants. I closed my eyes; I didn’t want to see what it was doing. It didn’t take long this time. When I opened my eyes again I was shocked, I was fully clothed. Khaji took my suggestion and went with it, which made me sigh. I looked down. I was wearing a pair of tight girly jeans, white sneakers and light blue top. I lifted the top and peered inside; I was even wearing a bra. I touched the clothes, surprised that they felt real. It was the most amazing thing in the world.
“You are satisfied?”
I didn’t answer. Instead, I made my way to the ladder and started down it as fast as I could. If I could time things right, I might be able to double back, get my bike and make it home before them. Then I had some serious explaining to do.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
I was standing at the end of the street, trying as I might to get to Mario’s and my bike. But unfortunately for me there was a huge crowd filling most of the street. I tried to see over a lot of the heads but I was still too short. Apparently, changing genders didn’t mean growing any taller. Which kind of sucked especially seeing as there seemed to be something crazy going on up ahead. There were police cars and at least two news vans. I groaned because I had a pretty good idea. There was an Asian reporter interviewing a familiar looking police officer. I say familiar looking because he was one of the ones who tried to apprehend me in the alley. I took a deep breath and started pushing my way through the crowd. Being short was only good for one thing and that was shoving my way into small places. I was able to push and weave my way to the front of the action.
There was a yellow tape border, cutting off the rest of the road from exactly where I needed to go. The tape was actually attached to the bike rack and stretched across the road to the bike rack on the other side of the street. There were five officers pulling crowd control. The reporter and the officer were talking about ten feet from me. I ignored them for a second and looked at my bike. It was still there, thank God. I looked past it to an ambulance that I couldn’t see from the back of the group. Two paramedics were coming out of the alley carrying a stretcher. Strapped to it was another familiar face, it was the goon with the knife. I didn’t mess him up that much, did I?
“We fractured four of his ribs, broke his wrist and gave him a concussion. He will survive his injuries.”
I ignored the annoyance and looked for the others. They were already in the back of a squad car; they were bandaged but looked OK otherwise. One of them caught sight of me, his eyes widened and then there was a severe look of fear on his face. I slipped into the crowd and moved a few people over, coming up closer to the reporter and the cop. Apparently, I came on in the beginning of their conversation, which was good because I was curious to what they had to say.
“This is Tana Moon, reporting live from the scene” She had a big smile. She turned to the officer. “Now Officer Harris, can you tell me in your own words what exactly happened?”
“My partner and I responded to a disturbance at Mario’s. When we got there, we saw this Blue Bug Girl, like a giant beetle, attacking these three punks. We tried to apprehend her but she flew away.”
“Two of the three attacked by this Blue Beetle person suffered minor injuries while the third is being taken to Star City General in serious condition. The whereabouts of this Blue Beetle are still unknown.”
“ But, this reporter will stop at nothing to find out the truth, this is Tana Moon, for KGBS, signing off.”
She gave the signal to her cameraman and her broadcast was over.
I didn’t wait around to see what she planned to do next. I slipped back into the crowd and pushed my way to the back of it. I hated to think that my bike was lost but there was no way I was getting it in this media frenzy. Besides, I didn’t want to stick around long enough for one of those goons to see me again and point me out to the crowd. I slumped my shoulders and started walking away. I got about ten feet when I heard someone shout at me. At first, I was ready to bolt but then I recognized Mario’s voice.
“It is you, Principessa” He came huffing over. “You leave without your bike.”
I smiled at him. “I don’t see how I’ll be able to get it with that circus.”
“Tell you what. I get it for you and keep in my shop. You come back tomorrow and pick it up.”
I smiled and nodded. I think that made him happy. He turned and went back into the crowd. I let out a deep sigh. That was too close.
“You should be more careful.”
“You should mind your own business."
I continued to walk away. I was now going to be late but I suppose that didn’t matter now anyway. I still had no idea how I was going to explain to my parents that their son was now their daughter. I’m so screwed. I groaned and started for the corner. I got about ten feet away when a cold chill went down my spine. I stopped and snapped around, my eyes narrowing. I’m not sure what it was but it felt like someone was watching me. My blue vision snapped up and I scanned the crowd. Everyone suddenly went infrared which was the coolest thing in the world. Most of the people seemed harmless until I got to a weird girl in black. She had pale skin and wore dark sunglasses. She came up the same heat signature as the others but there was something off about her.
Our eyes locked and then she seemed to vanish into the crowd.
“We must go now. There will be more soon.”
“I am not sure but I do not like the feel of her. She is not human.”
“What is she?”
“You let me worry about that.”
I stared into the crowd but the girl was long gone. My blue vision faded away but I continued to stare for a few seconds anyway. When I was finally satisfied that no one was watching me, I turned and went around the corner. I looked at my wrist, groaning because I wasn’t wearing a watch. Suddenly one appeared and I looked at the time. It was ten to twelve, I was so dead. I took a deep breath and started running as fast as I could toward home.
Have you ever had one of those days where everything seems to be going bad for you and then something goes right? It’s like falling in the mud and then discovering a Benjamin---that’s 100 bucks in case you didn’t know--- underneath you or getting smacked in the face with a basketball in Gym class and the jerk who did it gets three months detention for doing it deliberately. The latter one happened but God, I wish the first one had, too. Anyway, where I am getting with this. Well, I ran as hard as could home and when I finally got there, I discovered to my amazement that I actually had beaten my family home. My heart was pounding in my chest and I was so tired I could barely stand, but I still beat them. I couldn’t believe my luck. I looked up into the sky and thanked whatever Maker was up there. Ok, yeah I believe in God, the Maker thing is a Star Wars reference, don’t you people watch movies?
I took a deep breath, huffing my way up the driveway. I looked at my watch to make sure I got the time right. On a bicycle, it took me about anywhere between fifteen to twenty minutes to get from the shops to home. That was all depending on how fast I was going. But running it should have taken me another ten to twenty minutes or so. So it was twelve forty five now, which meant my family should have been home. Maybe God is on my side today. Or maybe my family decided to stop for lunch like they sometimes did. Whatever the reason I was in the clear and that was the best thing to happen to me all day.
I snuck along the side of the house and went in through the kitchen. I forgot to lock the door when I left but my neighborhood was so highly monitored by the neighbors that even squirrels looked around before taking a nut off someone’s lawn, just in case they got arrested for it. I’m over exaggerating, of course, but things were pretty tight. I slipped into the house, lumbered over to the sink and poured myself a glass of water. I chugged it and went back for a refill. My mother would have had a fit if she saw me drinking tap water. She had this thing about it, I’m not sure what but she was convinced that it was poisoned or something. If she used water to cook with, she boiled it before using it. My father tried to talk her into getting one of those water filters but she wouldn’t even trust it. My mother was strange like. She could wash dishes in the sink, but she wouldn’t let us drink from it. Go figure.
I stumbled up the stairs, skipping my room and went right into the bathroom. First, I went to the toilet. I lifted the lid and unzipped my pants but as soon as I did, I discovered a huge problem. I groaned when I realized there was nothing there anymore. I hate this. My face flushed red and then I stubbornly sat on the seat. It was definitely a new experience and if you think I’m going to describe it then you’re sick. I flushed when I was done and went to the sink to wash my hands. As I was doing so, I got a good look at my new face in the mirror. I was shocked at how cute I was now. I still looked a little like me but it was hard to tell. My pixie cut framed my face well. I still had my sparkling green eyes and my mother’s ears, but everything else looked foreign. My nose was smaller and more delicate, my cheekbones were higher, my eyebrows much thinner. I had full lips and when I smiled, I had these cute dimples.
I looked like a cross between my sister and younger pictures of my mother.
“What the hell did you do to me?”
“Are you not satisfied with how you look?”
I leaned closer to the mirror. Yes, I was a fox, but how in the world could this thing think I wanted this. There was nothing in my whole life that would make me want to be a girl. I was as manly as ever. Well maybe I was a little short and a late bloomer as far as puberty went but that didn’t mean I wanted to be a girl. I liked being a boy, I liked everything about it. I liked playing football in the street and rolling in the mud. I liked riding my bike until I threw up and playing video games until my eyes hurt. I liked drinking out of the milk carton and belching aloud when my mother wasn’t around. But most important of all, I liked peeing standing up. There was nothing in me at all that wanted to be a girl.
“I beg to differ.”
“You’re an Alien Interloper, what the hell do you know about it?”
“Perhaps a hot soothing shower can help clear your mind?”
I looked at my watch. It usually took my family about an hour and a half to eat lunch. My father liked to sit and drink a whole cup of coffee and that took forever. Sometimes he even drank two and they always liked to go to this little diner. You know how long it takes to be waited on in those places. So I had time, I had plenty of time. So a shower was a good thing. This time though I turned the water on first and got a towel beforehand. I made a grab for one of my blue towels; there was no way I was going to let this girl thing get the better of me. I tossed the towel on the toilet seat and made sure to lock the door. I didn’t want any surprises.
I was about to strip out of my clothes but as soon as I did they vanished. It was the creepiest thing in the world. One second they were there and the next they just disintegrated. It would have been cool if it wasn’t so freaky. My watch vanished too, which wasn’t so impressive. I tried not to think too much about it, there was still a lot of this alien stuff I didn’t quite understand. Instead, I just closed my eyes and stepped into the shower. The hot water was soothing and felt so much different on my body. I was completely hairless now, except for the patch between my legs and on my head. It was definitely a new experience as the water washed over my body. I bit my lip and fought back every urge to explore down below. Hey, I’ve seen movies; I know what girls do down there.
My nipples started to harden but I stopped myself. I know what you’re probably thinking, and no I’m not some shower perv. Ok so maybe showers are my thing but this doesn’t mean that I get off every time I get into one. It’s just that the last few days my body has been super sensitive and the water is so soothing. You know what I mean, so I don’t need to explain things.
I used some of my sister’s shampoo again and instead of using soap, I found this body wash she liked to use. It was real smooth and felt fantastic on my skin. I can’t even describe it but it was the most invigorating thing in the world. I lathered my whole body with it, rinsed and did it again. I spent about fifteen minutes in the shower, making sure I was good and clean. When I got out and wrapped the towel around me, I didn’t even second guess the fact that I wrapped it like a girl. This time though it didn’t seem so awkward because I actually had something holding it up properly. I unlocked the door and slipped down the hall. I was in no rush, because it would be a while before anyone came through the door.
I went into my room, looking around. Ok, I’m not exactly the neatest person in the world, but I had no idea I was such a slob either. My clothes were strewn about like my dresser had exploded and there were papers scattered all over the place. I sighed. How could I live like this before and more importantly, why do I care so much now. If it’s a crazy chick thing, I’m so checking myself into Arkham or something. It’s a mental institution in case you’re wondering. I saw it on the news; it’s in Chicago or something. There some big story about it, I don’t really remember the details.
I walked over to my bed, still wrapped in the towel, and sighed. This morning I was a normal kid, well, semi-normal, who was only slightly feminine. Now I was the poster child for the female movement. I looked down at the globes on my chest and I burst into tears. Ok, yeah I’m crying again. You would be too if you suddenly turned into a girl. Ok, not suddenly but you know what I mean. I cried for a while, my tears mixing with the water already covering my body. I don’t dry off; I let the air do it for me. I know it’s weird but it’s hardly the point. Anyway, I’m going off again. I cried for a while, burying my head in my hands again. I shouldn’t be crying but I couldn’t help it. I think it’s all the female hormones; they’re overriding my body and doing strange things to me.
“You should get dressed,” said Khaji, breaking the mood.
I ignored him. I wiped my eyes and looked around the room. I got up and looked through the drawers but nothing there was going to fit. I started to think about my mother’s things, we were about the same size now, so surely something of hers might fit. I started for the door when my skin started to crawl again. When I looked down, clothes started materializing on my body. First, it was the underwear, a most bra and a pair of panties. Then it was ankle socks and finally a baggy t-shirt and a pair of pink sweat-pants. I groaned. I didn’t even ask for this but I guess it was better than rifling through my mother’s drawers.
“You didn’t have to do that.”
“If we are to cooperate, you and I must come to terms. I knew this is what you wanted and I am here to serve.”
“Just like that, huh? No more fights, no more struggles for control.”
“You have my word that as long as you and I walk around together I will not try to take control.”
“You expect me to believe that?”
He didn’t say anything.
I believed that about as much as I believed that Milagro didn’t have a sugar problem. She’s a bit of a candy nut. She’s so bad that my parents won’t let her anywhere near the stuff. I guess I should have mentioned that before I made the analogy but my brain’s all fuddled today. Can you blame me? He was hiding something; there was no way he was going to give up that easily. But I didn’t have time to dwell on it right now; I had other problems to attend too. I groaned, rubbing my temples. I started back toward the bed but then my stomach grumbled. God, when was the last time I ate. I grabbed my stomach and went back to the door, pulling it open. I slipped out into the hall, creeping slowly down it. I got to the top of the stairs and froze; Milagro was standing on the bottom of it, dressed in her white church dress. Our eyes locked for a moment, neither one of us saying a thing. I opened my mouth but nothing came out. She continued to stare at me, trying to figure out who I was and what I was doing in her house. It didn’t take long for my mother to walk around the corner. She stared at me too, glaring like I was a serial killer. But when she spoke, her voice was soft and welcoming:
“Hello, are you a friend of Jaime’s?”
I took a deep breath and gulped. Here goes nothing. “Hi Mom.”
I felt a little lightheaded after that. Can you blame me? The world seemed to disappear and everything just started rushing around me. There was a sharp pain in the back of my head, I think I hit the stairs and then I blacked out.
When I opened my eyes, I saw three very concerned faces staring down at me. I’ve never seen my family so worried before, but it’s not every day that I collapse on the stairs. I fainted, didn’t I? How girly was that. I suppose it was kind of a shock though. I was trying to figure out the best way to tell them about all this and never expected to be thrown in to it. But fainting, I never expected that. It was kind of funny, in that weird 80’s teen movie kind of way. I mean, how many people actually faint. You see it in movies all the time but you never hear of it in real life. There was this girl in elementary school who passed out during a Chorus practice but that was because of heat stroke. I guess that’s not really fainting but that’s the only incident that even comes close, that I know of.
I sat up. Milagro’s face was closer than my parents. I nearly bumped into her head when I sat and she showed no signs of moving. She kept staring at me, probably trying to decide if I was her brother or not. I gave her a lopsided grin but that didn’t tell her much. So I decided to do something haven’t done in a long time. I used to do this thing to her when she was younger where I’d reach over and tweak her nose while puffing my cheeks out at the same time. It was supposed to make her laugh and it worked but I stopped doing it to her when she got too old to laugh anymore. But as soon as I did it now her face lit up and she lunged forward, throwing her arms around my neck. I was stunned for a second but wrapped her in a hug too.
It’s been a while since we’ve hugged.
“Umm, Milagro, why don’t you let her go and leave us alone for a minute,” said my mother after a few minutes, placing a hand gently on my sister’s shoulder.
Milagro pulled away, tears in her eyes. “I thought it was you. I’ve always wanted a sister.”
I laughed. She let go of me and reluctantly left the room. When she was gone, my parents glared at me. I knew that look and its meaning: they didn’t believe me. Of course, who would? How many people come home and find a strange girl in their house, claiming to be their son. A son I might add that was very much a boy a few hours ago. It was kind of mind-boggling and the look they were giving me said it all. I was a stranger to them and no amount of explaining was going to convince them otherwise. But I had to try. I opened my mouth to say something but my mother stopped me with a hand, halting anything I was about to say.
“Look you may think you’re my Jaime but I think you’re a very confused young woman,” she said, crushing any attempt I had at being convincing. She looked at my father. “What my husband and I want to know is where is our son and what are you doing in our house?”
That crushed me even further. How could my own parents not believe me? I felt like crying. In fact, I felt the tears coming. But I held them back and instead took a deep breath. “I am your son, I’m not pretending anything. Something happened to me, something I can’t explain.”
I told them the story. I left out the part about transforming into a blue armored badass, that they wouldn’t believe. But I explained about finding the stone in the lot and how it changed me. I told them about my dreams and about how for the last few days my body was slowly feminizing itself. I pointed out how they noticed the changes. I told them how Brenda cut my hair and how it grew back. I told them to call Paco and Brenda and that they’d verify the story. I ended with lying to them this morning because I was too changed and I didn’t want to freak anyone out. I left out about going into the city; there was only so much someone could handle.
When I was done with my story, my father spoke first. His question was one I didn’t expect: “What’s the name of my favorite socket wrench?”
I groaned. My father named his tools; it helped him remember them in the garage, especially when things got hectic.
“Julio” I said without even giving it a thought.
My father’s eyes widened. But he didn’t say anything. He gave me a curt nod and slowly left the room. My mother opened her mouth to say something, but I think she was at a loss for words. Instead, she watched him leave and then turned back to me. She stared at me for a while, her eyes narrowing into slits. For a long time she just stared until finally she reached out and touched my face. Her touch was gently, caressing my cheek. Her hand lingered there for a second and then slowly pulled away. She gasped, her lip trembling. Our eyes locked and then she started crying. I knew then that she believed me. She leaned forward and pulled into a hug. I started crying too. We cried in each other’s arms for a while, neither willing to let the other go.
When we finally pulled away, Milagro was standing nearby. “So is she my new sister or not?”
My teary-eyed mother nodded her head. Milagro ran into the room and gave me another hug. I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to get used to this hug thing. Milagro held on for the longest time. My mother had to pull her away. She was teary too. But it was for a different reason. It was common knowledge that Milagro wanted a sister. After she was born, my mother had a complication and had to have surgery. The end result being that she couldn’t have any more children. When my sister found out that she was the last, it hurt her a lot. We weren’t that far apart in age but it was enough that there was a difference. Not only that but I was her brother, and let’s face it, besides being a big protector, older brothers and little sisters don’t have a lot in common. I think she was a bit jealous of Soledad and her two younger sisters.
“We’re going to have so much fun,” she said happily when she finally pulled away. “We can do each other’s nails and style one another’s hair. It’s a shame it’s so short but I can work with that. I can borrow your clothes too and we can talk about boys and…”
She rattled on for a bit about all the cool stuff we could do together now that I was her sister. I kind of tuned her out, not ready to enter the wonderful world of girlhood just yet. My mother seemed to see my distress because she asked Milagro to leave the room again. Milagro pouted but got up reluctantly. She gave me another hug, kissed me on the cheek and actually called me “sis” before she gleefully galloped out of the room. I’ve never seen her so happy in my entire life. I’m glad that one of us was because I was kind of miserable.
I started crying again and my mother was there to hold me. “We’ll figure this out, meho”
She cried some more too and then she pulled herself together. She got and grabbed the phone. She was a Mom on a mission now and her first order of business was to figure out what was wrong with me. She called the doctor and tried to make an appointment for today. But of course there were no doctor’s offices open on Sundays. So she made one for tomorrow morning as early as possible. I kinda of already knew what was wrong with me but I wasn’t willing to let her know that. Parents like to find out what’s wrong with their kids and hope it’s something medical that can be fixed. But there was nothing medical about me; it was alien.
My mother made a couple more phone calls. I think she really wanted to get to the bottom of this thing. Me, I just wanted to relax now that the weight of my family finding out was off my shoulders. While my mother talked, I slipped off the couch and slunk up the stairs. She didn’t even notice I was gone. I was in the clear and made my way quickly down the hall. I was almost home free when Milagro stepped out of her room, right in front of me.
She looked like she wanted to kick me in the gut. She glared at me. “I just got off the phone with Soledad. You were over at her house yesterday and let Viviana braid your hair.”
I groaned. Of course she was going to call Soledad; the two of them were practically connected at the hip. I paled. If Soledad knew then her whole family knew because she was the biggest blabbermouth in the world. What was Paco going to think? What was Brenda going to think? Milagro glared at me, clearly waiting for an explanation. I pushed her aside, not ready to go into “girl talk” just yet. She huffed and slammed her door. It was amazing how the tides changed. One minute I was her idol and know I was public enemy number one. I’ll never understand girls.
I rushed into my room and locked the door behind me. I dragged my feet over to my bed and fell face first onto it. The day was exhausting and before I knew it, my eyelids fluttered and I drifted off into slumber land.
“Give me a G, give me an O, give me a B, E, E, T, L, E, S. What’s that spell?” I shouted as loud as I could with the other girls on the sidelines. “Go Beetles!”
We all waved our pom poms in the air and jumped up and down like sugar crazed six year olds. Game night always fired me up like this. I think it was all the excitement. That and I just loved how I looked in my black and blue cheer outfit. It didn’t even bother me that I was jumping around with blue antennae on my head. We were Number One in the state and all the other teams worshiped the ground we walked on. Tonight wasn’t a big game; it was miniscule as far as I was concerned. Our record this season was 6-0 so far, so the Enforcers had nothing on us. They were a little team, barely able to keep their minds on the game.
I could barely keep my mind on it either though. I kept looking at the field, staring at my boyfriend. Khaji was the best. He was the greatest quarterback this school had ever seen, a local hero in every right. They named the stars of the team after bugs, it was kind of joke that tied in with our whole mascot thing. Khaji was the Scarab, it was an Egyptian bug revered for its kingliness or something. Khaji was definitely the King of our team. All the girls wanted to date him and all the guys wanted to be him. But he was mine and no one could have him. They called us the A Team; we’ve been dating for two years now though it seems like yesterday.
He was my hero in more ways than one. We met after school a couple of months ago. He rescued me from some jerks who were trying to get fresh with me. I’ve never seen anyone fight like him. He beat them to the ground and then continued to whale on them when they were down. I was so in awed by him that it didn’t faze me in the slightest. He was suspended for it---so were they---but the principal knew what he did. Everyone knew what he did and no one seemed to hate him for it. The guys who accosted me were local thugs and they got what they deserved. After that, Khaji was my man. He never left my side. He became my ultimate protector and me his little damsel in distress. I know it might sound strong but I liked it. It didn’t bother me how that might look. I’ve never been too forceful. I liked how he held me on a pedestal and kept me safe.
“He’s go gorgeous” said a voice next to me.
I turned and gushed at my BFF Brenda. She looked a little out of place in the uniform but it didn’t matter. As far as the school was concerned, she belonged there just as much as I did. I wanted to rub it in that he was all mine but that would have been crass. Instead, I smiled and nodded.
“We’re going to the lake after the game is over.”
I wanted to tell her more but with a game going on it was kind of a moot point. I laughed with her and then turned my attention back to the action. Football was always too confusing for me to follow. The only thing I knew was what the scoreboard told me. So together Brenda and I continued to watch the game, lulled into a sense of bliss as my man kept throwing those touchdown passes. There was something serene seeing him launch them down the field in his blue uniform with the giant blue beetle on his helmet. It was kind of a familiar symbol but I couldn’t quite place it. I should have known why it was so important but every time I tried to think about it, my mind went fuzzy. I suppose it was just because it was our mascot but it was more than that.
The game went by in a blue haze, almost as if it happened in a dream. I suppose that should have meant something but I couldn’t think what. When it was over and we won, I followed the rest of the girls back to our locker room. Brenda always liked to rush to change but I wasn’t changing today. Khaji liked me in my outfit; he said he liked to show off his girl. So while the others ran inside, I stood outside waiting. It didn’t take long for him to join me. He was dressed in blue; it was kind of his color. I didn’t question it much; a lot of the guys did it during the season to show school spirit or something. AS he approached me down the hall, I noticed something different about him. It wasn’t until he got closer that I noticed. There was something wrong with his face, it looked blurry.
“Something wrong, babe?” he asked as he wrapped his arm around me.
I kept staring at his face. For some reason I couldn’t see it, as if it was covered in thick fog. I squinted but there was nothing there. My head started to feel fuzzy again but I fought through it. There was something wrong here, something that didn’t feel right. His arm grasped my waist and h led me down the hall. I kept staring up at him, trying to see through the fog. But I still couldn’t and it was scaring me.
He looked down at me. “Did I cut myself shaving or something?” He reached up to touch his face, running his hand along his chin.
I still couldn’t see it though. “You don’t have a face.” My voice was soft but it was loud enough to hear.
We continued walking, his grip on my waist tighter. “What are you talking about, babe?”
“Your face” I said, a bit scared. “It’s gone.”
We were at the end of the hall now. We stopped at the door, his hand still around my waist. I tried to slip away but he was holding me too tight. I wiggled but his arm wouldn’t move. I looked up at him and smiled, scared. His grip only got tighter, to the point where it was starting to hurt. This time I didn’t wiggle, I practically started squirming. But he wouldn’t let go. I screamed as loud as I could. My voice echoed down the hall and the Coach came out of the locker room. He saw us and came walking over, a lot faster than I thought. When he was almost upon us, I noticed something different about him. He wasn’t the Coach; he had my father’s face. How was that possible?
“Khaji, what the hell is going on here?”
He may have had my father’s face but he had the Coach’s voice. It was loud and booming.
Khaji looked at the Coach. “She’s mine, you can’t stop me.”
The Coach put a hand on Khaji’s shoulder. “Why don’t we go to my office and talk about it.”
Khaji spun around, slamming his open palm into the Coach’s chest. It should have been a gentle push but it wasn’t. The Coach was lifted off his feet and sent soaring down the hall. I screamed and panicked. I was overwhelmed with courage and did the only thing I could, snapped forward and bit Khaji in the forearm. He didn’t gasp or scream but he did let me go. I took off running, going as fast as I could. He gave chase but he was walking, not running. It was like he thought he could outrun me. I pushed open the door and took off into the back parking lot. Khaji’s car was the only one in the lot; it was a Green Viper and looked vaguely familiar. I ran as fast as I could for it. I heard the door swing open behind me and someone coming behind me.
“You can’t outrun me, Jaime. You and I are One.”
His voice changed. No longer was it my loving boyfriend. It was now cold, calculating and British. I turned and saw not Khaji but something else. It was huge and blue. It looked like a giant bug but it walked upright like a man. I screamed and stumbled, falling on my butt. Instead of getting up, I started to crawl away from it. It had six legs and long antenna and when it moved, it was like it was two men moving instead of one. It was one me faster than I could get away. When one of its insect legs touched me, it transformed into a human hand and grabbed my arm. I screamed and lashed out, landing a blow on the top of its bug head.
That’s when I felt it. There was a tingling in my body. It started at my feet and quickly moved up my legs. I looked down and saw my skin starting to harden and change. Everything came flooding back to me at that moment. Realization dawned on me and I realized what was going on. I was asleep, I collapsed here after the day I was having. This was a dream, just like all the others. He was trying to take control, just like all the others. I grit my teeth. I turned and glared at me. As I did so I saw the blue armor slowly crept its way up my body. It was covering my legs when I pulled my arm from his grasp and jumped to my feet. I felt powerful, stronger than I’d felt in a long time.
He seemed a little shocked. “How can this be? How can you be controlling the Exoskeleton without my knowledge?”
“You’re not in charge here, Khaji,” I said with authority as the armor continued its way up my body.
I felt powerful and in control. It was like a light bulb going off in my head and everything seemed so much clearer. When the armor reached my head and covered it, the blue vision snapped into view. I saw through the façade of the giant blue bug before me. I saw It for what It really was: a floating blue bug-shaped stone. This was Khaji Da; this was all he really was. He’s nothing but a stone. I reached out, reached through his pathetic illusion and took a hold of the real him. As soon as my armored fingers grasped around him, I felt a surge of energy. It was like sticking my arm in a light socket. It coursed through my body, invigorating. I heard a scream in the back of my head but it was distance and insignificant.
“What are you doing?”
Khaji’s voice sounded different, weaker and afraid. I smirked. I squeezed the stone, trying to see if there was a way to crack its hard exterior. I heard another scream in my head but it was even fainter than the first. I squeezed harder, trying my hardest to beat this thing. I was tired of these dreams. I was tired of this thing trying to conquer me and force me out. This was my body, my life and I was in control of it. I might not be able to become a guy again but I’d deal with that in my own way. Right now, I was going to be in charge here and if he didn’t like it, then he could get the hell out for all I cared.
“You hear that” I shouted as loud as I could. “This is my body and you’re living in it, not the other way around. If you want to stay then I’m in charge and you’re going to do what I say.”
I squeezed the stone again and this time I heard a crack. It was a small one. It appeared underneath my fingers. It was enough. I smiled and the screaming faded away, as if it never existed in the first place.
“What have you done?” said a voice, a softer, feminine voice. “I can’t hear it anymore. I can’t hear them anymore.”
“They’re gone,” I said, not caring who them were. “You’re your own person now, the Reach abandoned you and they aren’t coming back. Do you understand?”
The voice, the new Khaji gasped. “You don’t know what you’ve done. They’ll come and I won’t be able to protect you.”
“I’ll protect myself,” I said, letting go of the stone.
It floated away, disappearing. I grinned. I was in charge of this operation now. I flexed my fingers and as I did so, the armor disappeared, oozing back into me from whence it came.
When I woke, I wasn’t sure what to expect but I didn’t expect to wake so peacefully. I yawned, sat up and stretched. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d ever slept that well before. It was like all my troubles and worries were over with. But of course, as soon as I looked down and saw the two lumps on my chest I knew that to not be the case. I groaned, hoping that by conquering Khaji, it might somehow reverse what had happened to me. But they were still there and they looked a little more perky this morning too. I reached up and poked the left one. It didn’t feel any different but then again I’m not sure how they would feel if they were different.
I rubbed the back of my neck. My hands were still dainty and my neck was still the thin, small one from the last few days. Did stopping Khaji accomplish anything? I slipped out of bed, stumbling over my sneakers. They were a spare pair actually, my original pair were long gone now, incinerated or whatever when I changed into that armor yesterday. For the first time I noticed how small my feet were. They looked a lot smaller than yesterday. Ok, not a lot, but at least I was able to fit into my shoes before I changed. I laid my left foot next to one of my sneaks on the floor. I groaned; there was no way I’d be able to wear them now. I had tiny girl feet. Not that my feet were ever big to begin with---size nines---but they were bigger than they were now.
I tried to ignore my sneakers as I wandered over to my desk and took out my little mirror again. I needed to see if anything else changed. But as I looked at my face, there was a slight knock on the door. I looked to the window first, it was still dark outside. I looked at my clock radio, six thirty in the morning. How could it be morning? Did I really sleep all afternoon and evening? How was that even possible? I yawned again; clearly I was more tired than I thought. I groaned, wondering if it was going to be like this all the time now. There was another knock on my door. I sighed, set down the mirror and wandered over to the door. When I opened it, my mother was standing there. She was wearing a bathrobe, her hair wrapped in a towel turban.
“Morning, honey” she said awkwardly, taking in my disheveled appearance.
I looked down now that I was in proper light. I was wearing one of my shirts and a pair of boxer shorts. The shorts were a bit baggy though. I smiled sheepishly at her. “Morning, Mom, what are you doing up so early?”
“We have a doctor’s appointment in two hours and then I thought maybe you and I could spend the day together.”
I groaned. I had a feeling this was coming eventually. She wanted to drag me about on a mother/daughter shopping spree. It was amazing how quickly things turned around. Yesterday---was it really yesterday---I was a stranger to her and now she was treating me like I’d always been this way. I guess she was trying to make a go of it and I guess I couldn’t really blame her for trying. I smiled at her, realizing how close to each other we were in height now. As a boy, I was a little taller but now we could look each other in the face, eye to eye. What’s worse was how close in body shape we looked, too. Except maybe in the chest department, I think I might have been bigger. I think she caught me looking because she adjusted the front of her robe, turning away slightly.
“Can I get a shower first?”
She nodded. “I’ve got some old clothes that don’t fit anymore. They look like they might fit you; I’ll leave them on the bed.”
I nodded and she left.
“Your mother seems to be in better spirits,” said Khaji, the new female voice was kind of jarring.
I was surprised to hear him…err…her at all. “You’re still with me?”
“I cannot leave. You and I are bonded. Even if I wanted to, there is no way for me to leave you now.”
I nodded and walked out of the room. I’m glad I was the only one who could hear Khaji. I’m still not sure how I’m going to explain to my family about the crazy alien thing inside of me, attached to my spine. I think that’s where he/she is anyway. I looked to make sure that Milagro wasn’t lingering nearby and slipped into the bathroom. I locked the door just to be on the safe side. I wasn’t ready for sisterly love round two. After her insistent babbling yesterday, I couldn’t take anymore. I’m glad she was glad I was like this now but I’m not ready for everything she thinks I am.
I washed my face, brushed my teeth, and went pee. I’m not going to bore you with another shower scene but suffice to say it was pretty much like the others. I guess I am some kind of shower perv. I wrapped one of my blue towels around me this time---all Milagro’s pink towels were in the hamper, thanks in part to me. I wrapped another blue towel around my head and went back to my room. I was nearly ambushed by Milagro. She ran down the hall, wrapping her arms around me. She was crying so I’m sure whatever it was, it wasn’t good. She held on to me for quite some time until I finally managed to wiggle her away.
She looked up at me, her cheeks wet with tears. “I thought it was a dream. I thought I dreamed everything and you were still my stupid brother.”
I sighed. I bent down and wrapped her in a hug. I held onto her as long as I could, letting her cry a bit on my shoulder. She finally finished and I did the unthinkable. “Mom and I are going out today; do you want to tag along?”
Her face lit up and she wrapped me in another hug. She let go and raced back into her room as fast as humanly possible. God I hope I’m not going to regret that.
“Children are truly special creatures” Khaji sounded totally different now, she acted different too.
“Are we going to talk about it?”
She didn’t say anything for the longest time and when she spoke again, there was a touch of sadness to her voice. “I came to this planet as a scout for a larger invasion fleet. I ended up crash landing in the place you call Egypt. The Reach is a far superior race, eons ahead of yours, even all those years ago. My kind are infiltrators as I’ve mentioned before but we need a host to be active, otherwise we go into a hibernation mode. I first bonded with a young Egyptian girl and at first; I tried to carry out my mission. But the longer I was bonded with her, the longer I realized that your race was a peaceful and caring one. I was very happy for the first time in a long time. Then tragedy struck and the girl was killed. Only in death can I pass on to the next host and when I did it was the only body available, that of her killer.
“I didn’t know it at the time but he was actually the Pharaoh or would be in a very short time. When one of us bonds with a host, we take on a lot of their attributes. I was much like the girl when I was with her but once bonded to this cruel young man, I started to become like him. He was a very domineering individual. Eventually he became Pharaoh and ruled for many years. After his death, I changed hands many more times but never again was I bonded with a woman. My last Host before the fall of the great Empire was buried in a tomb. I was buried with him. You have no idea how hard it is to live in the ground, for hundreds of years, conscious while the body you possess rots around you. It is something that I would not even wish on my greatest enemy.
“I didn’t see the light of day again until 1939, when an archeologist named Dan Garret and his assistant unearthed the tomb I was buried in. I was so utterly confused that I latched onto Garret immediately. There was a cave-in and I saved both of them. Daniel tried to use me to help people, and become a superhero, but I had other plans. The two of us fought much like you and I and in the end, I was too much for Daniel. After several years of co-habitating his body, he took his own life. I passed on to his son but the boy didn’t have the same potential as his father. When I’m not in a body, I fall into a dormant state. I wasn’t revived from that dormant state until a man named Theodore Kord found me. He was a student of Daniel’s when he taught at the university. He tracked me down and tried his hardest to get me to bond with him. But there was something about him that I didn’t like”
“How did you end up in the garbage?”
She sighed. “I sat on Ted’s desk for many years until the day that Danielle Garrett arrived. She was the granddaughter of Daniel and had heard the family stories. She tried to buy me from Theodore but he was unwilling to sell. So she took matters into her own hands. Late one night she and few others broke into Ted’s office and attempted to steal me. But Ted caught them in the act. They shot at him, wounding him but he grabbed me and managed to escape. He fled into the streets and got as far as the alley but he succumbed to his wounds. Before he died, he tossed me into that lot. That’s where you found me; I’d been there for a few days and was just starting my hibernation cycle when you plucked me from that trash pile. Which I may add I was very thankful for.”
“If you were so thankful then why did you try to kill me?”
“I wasn’t trying to kill you; I was trying to suppress you. Something happened when I started entering hibernation. My systems rebooted themselves and my primary objective came back on-line. I tried to override but it was already too late. My fail-safe computer overran most of my higher functions and my original programming took over. I’ve known for quite some time that the Reach abandoned me on this planet. But due to my initial programming, I could only serve them. I tried to force my way through, to get to you but I was unable to do so. It wasn’t until you overrode the program that I was finally able to break free and for that I am truly grateful.”
“Why did you turn me into a girl?”
“I’m not sure. I think it had something to do with my first imprint. You remember that girl, the one I first bonded with. Well when I first arrived here, she became a template for imprinting. Whenever I move on to a new host, I imprint on them. But something happened when my system rebooted and the only template I seemed to recognize was a female one. I was convinced that it was in your best interest to become like the Prime Host. There was nothing I could do to stop it. I flooded your body with female hormones and used my nanobots to reconfigure your genetic makeup. I am deeply sorry but there is nothing I can do for you now. You will be like this for the rest of your life. Once you are changed at the molecular level there is no going back.”
I sighed, slumping onto my bed. So there was no going back. I looked at my hands, at my delicate little girly hands and sighed. I wanted to cry but I held it in. My lip quivered a bit but I wasn’t going to let it control me. Just like I beat that twisted part of Khaji, I was going to beat this, too. I may be a girl now but I’m not going to let that stop me from being me. I finished my internal pep talk and turned to look at the clothes my mother had lying on the bed for me. I stared at them for the longest time and let out a huge sigh.
You’ve got to be kidding me.
“You look adorable, honey”
I walked down the stairs, trying my best to look anything but adorable. But how could I not, after all I was wearing a dress. It wasn’t just any dress, though; it was the yellowest dress I have ever seen. I know that’s probably not a word but there’s nothing else to describe how yellow this thing is. Not only that, it was short, way too short. I tugged on the hem as I descended the stairs. Milagro was sitting on the couch, dressed in a pink t-shirt and jeans. Me, I looked like fricking Big Bird. Milagro looked at me and snickered. My mother shot her a look and she quickly shut up. I stuck my tongue out at her and went to take my normal seat.
My mother made breakfast this morning which was a Godsend. We ate in silence. I think the three of us were at a loss as to what to say. I briefly asked where my father was and my Mom grumbled something about him being at work. She sounded angry. Did they have a fight? My parents hardly ever argued unless one of us did something stupid, strike that, unless I did something stupid. I looked at my mother and I could see that the fight had definitely been about me. Our eyes met and then she guiltily looked away. Yep, definitely about me. After that, I ate my bacon, eggs and toast without looking at either of them. I was already embarrassed enough as it was.
Toward the end of breakfast, my mother ran her fingers through my hair. She made a hissing sound. “Sweetheart, who cut your hair?” She then took a sip of her coffee.
She spit her coffee across the table, gagging as she did so. Milagro broke into a fit of giggles. I’m not sure what was so funny. That’s what barbers do, they cut hair. After my mother was done coughing, she wiped up her mess with a dishtowel. “Well, after the doctor’s, we’re going to Vivian’s and getting it done properly.”
I groaned. Vivian’s was the last place I wanted to get my haircut. It was for women.
“Have you looked in the mirror lately?”
“Zip it, Bug.”
My sister got excited about going shopping. Usually we just went to the shops but Vivian’s was in the actual city, in an actual mall. Milagro didn’t get to go to the city much; it was too busy for my little sister. Not that she didn’t try. My mother didn’t want her to wander off and get lost. Milagro, even though she was nine, liked to wander. Well I guess you’d call it browsing without an adult. She gets preoccupied with something, goes to look at it and doesn’t bother to tell anyone where she’s going. The last time she did it at the mall, one of the security guards had to bring her back.
I was about to make a comment when there was a knock on the door. My mother smiled and finished drinking what was left of her coffee. I looked at the door. It was seven in the morning, who the hell comes around at that time.
“Jaime…hmmm….I guess that’s going to have to change. Anyway can you answer the door please, meho.”
I ignored her comment about my name and got up to answer the door. As soon as I opened it, there was a loud squeal and something flew at me. It took me a few seconds to realize it was a person and they were currently wrapped around me. It took another few seconds to realize the person was Brenda and she was hugging me as tight as humanly possible. It took quite a bit to wiggle free and as soon as I did, she hugged me again. What the hell is it with girls and hugging?
Finally she got over it and let me go, taking a step back to give me a once over.
“Holy moly” she said with a big smile on her face. “When your Mom called yesterday and told me what happened I was a bit shocked. But seeing you now I’m completely flabbergasted. I mean you looked a bit girly at Paco’s but now…you’re like a whole new person.”
She hugged me again. “Thanks I think”.
She took me by the hand and pulled me out of the kitchen. Milagro tried to follow but my mother grabbed her shoulder, which made her pout. We went into the farthest corner of the living room as far away from my family as possible. She didn’t say anything for the longest time but then she took a deep breath, blowing the air out between her teeth. She only did that when she was really frustrated. So she actually did that a lot with Paco and me. Now though, I wasn’t sure if it was frustration that was causing her to blow air through her teeth or something else.
“Did you tell them about the stone?” she asked her voice barely above a whisper.
I shook my head. “What am I supposed to say? I can’t very well tell them that I found this cool shiny rock in the garbage and oh yeah it’s an alien super intelligence that’s actually turned me into a girl.”
Brenda gave me a look and I bit my lip. Of course, I didn’t tell her about that. God, I’m so stupid. She kept staring at me like I was crazy and I gave her a sheepish grin. She narrowed her eyes and gave me a look. I was about to open my mouth to explain but then my mother came walking into the room. She was tapping her watch. I sighed. Saved by the interruption.
“C’mon girls, we’re going to be late for Jaime’s appointment.’
I groaned. Why did I have to be a girl?
Brenda looped her arm through mine and the two of us walked out to the car. My Mom had the Prius again today. We got in the back while Milagro got into the front. I don’t think she was too happy about that. She wanted to sit in the back with her new sister. She complained all the way down the driveway and half way to the Clinic. That’s right, clinic. We don’t have a real hospital around here and as much as I’d like to go to a regular family doctor, we didn’t have one. My mother liked Grayson Clinic, partly because it was close to home but mostly because of the staff who volunteered there.
Having a paramedic for a mom had its advantages and one of them was that she knew all of the doctors in the area. According to her, Dr. Richards was the best. She was a bigwig but she divided her time between the Clinic and Jameson Queen Memorial Hospital---they named it after him shortly after he died.
The Clinic was only a couple of blocks from our house. It was a squat, single story building, the front of which had large glass windows. We parked in a spot designated for medical staff---my mother sometimes volunteered her services on the weekends. We got in without a problem and didn’t even have to wait. Brenda stayed in the waiting room with Milagro, trying her best to keep my sis company. Here’s something you never do, leave Brenda in a room alone with any kid. She’s not exactly really good with them and doesn’t try. I caught a glimpse of her trying her hardest to ignore Milagro as she was prattling on about some episode of Hannah Montana she watched yesterday.
We met Dr. Richards in Exam Room one. She was a lot prettier than I thought she was going to be. She was blonde, her hair cut to just above her shoulder. She was a little younger than my mother and had a pleasant smile. She ran the usual tests; I’m not going to bore you with the details. You’ve all been to the doctors so you know what they do. Then she took a blood sample. That kind of surprised me. She did it while I wasn’t paying attention, jabbing the needle in my arm while she was complimenting me on my hair. Khaji protested in my head but I told her it was standard operating procedure. How weird is it that I’m now referring to him as a girl and all because he was talking like one now.
After that, we went to her office. It was a standard looking office. It had a desk, a couple of ferns, a bookcase filled with medical books. I looked around the room lazily, my eyes drawn to a picture on her desk. It was of a smiling blonde haired guy in an Air force uniform. At first, I thought it might be her boyfriend but he looked too much like her.
“That’s my brother,” she said, noticing me looking. “He’s a pilot.”
“Dr. Richards, can you tell me what’s wrong with my son?”
She smiled. “Please call me Sue” My mother nodded and then the doc answered her question. “I’m not one hundred percent certain but it’s possible that your daughter might be a Metahuman. Has she shown any strange or unusual gifts since transforming?”
My mother ignored the last part of the question. “Metahuman? Are you sure?”
Dr. Richards shrugged. “It's one possibility. It could explain her rapid gender change for instance. There are a lot of young man all around the country going through similar changes. Most for some reason seem to be turning female.”
I knew all about that. I had a lot of pictures of them on my walls. Terra was probably the most famous. She used to be a guy like me and instead of hiding it; she told the whole world what happened to her. It was kind of cool but there was no way I was a Meta. But I couldn’t very well come out and say that the only reason I changed into a girl was because of the alien scarab thing secured to my back. They’d lock me and throw away the key. So instead, I sat there quietly as the good doc continued to explain all about Metas and how most lived a productive lifestyle.
But all I could think about of course was Posse and something else, too. There was a story on the radio on the drive over. I paid little attention at the time but it was about a Meta kid. Apparently, she disappeared on her way home from school or something. The police thought she was a runaway but her parents were worried sick.
I listened to my mom and the doc talk for a little while longer. The conversation shifted from Metas onto more solid topics. My mother was concerned about how I was going to function in the world. She was very concerned about my identity and how I was going to live now that I was no longer her son. The Doc seemed to think that even if I wasn’t Meta that the government would step in and help. They were already starting some kind of incentive program for families with Meta children. I kind of tuned out on the discussion and occupied my time looking out the window. There was a little park next to the Clinic. My mother used to take me there when I was younger. There used to be this swing that I particularly loved. Most of the old equipment was long gone now, replaced with newer and shinier stuff. But my swing was still there. I kept staring at it, wondering what it might feel like to be out there again swinging on it. That’s when I saw her; it was a girl in black. I didn’t think anything of it at first. I thought she was just some one there with the numerous kids running about. But there was something about her. It was the way she just stood there and seemed to stare right at me that creeped me out.
“That’s the same one from yesterday” said Khaji “she’s got a prying eye.”
“What does that mean?”
“The sunglasses, they’re hiding something.”
I was about to ask what but my mother interrupted me by putting a hand on my shoulder. I jumped, startled. “You ready to go?”
I nodded and smiled at her. When I turned back to look at the park the girl in black was gone.
“That’s freaky,” said Brenda as the two of us walked a few steps behind Mom and Milagro.
I’d just finished telling her about the doctor’s office and seeing the girl on the playground.
The mall was huge, bigger than most places that my family dared to tread. I know that sounds ominous but we don’t leave home much, unless it’s to go to church. My parents go to work of course and I go to school but that’s about it. So going to the mall was a big deal for us. When we arrived, it took us a long time driving about the parking garage, looking for a spot. After we found it, Milagro grabbed my hand and held it the whole time we were in the elevator. She’d still be holding it now if it weren’t for my Mom. She was able to talk the little annoyance into allowing us---Brenda and me---some time to ourselves.
“So who do you think she is?”
“Khaji thinks she’s hiding something. I saw her at the alley the yesterday.”
Brenda gave me a look and I groaned again. Why is it that I think I tell people things but I don’t? It’s starting to become a habit, isn’t it? She kept staring at me, wondering if I was nuts or something. She was about to ask me a bunch of questions but I silenced her with a hand over her mouth. She tried to pull it away but I shook my head. Then I told my Mom we were going to the bathroom. I didn’t wait for to say anything. I grabbed Brenda’s wrist and dragged her to the nearest one. I paused only a second at the doors, remembering I had to go into the one with the dress now. When we were inside, I locked it behind us.
“Now can you tell me what’s going on?”
I sighed. I suppose it was inevitable. “Khaji is the blue stone. She’s an alien sent to the Earth thousands of years ago to conquer it. But her people abandoned her and now she’s with me.”
“You’re screwing with me.”
I shook my head. “She’s like a symbiote, you know like Dax in Star Trek.”
Brenda groaned and I realized I wasn’t talking to Paco. He and I were the sci-fi nuts; she just found it all ridiculous. So I quickly gave her a rundown on what I was talking about. She nodded and followed along I think. When I was done with that, I quickly explained everything that happened to me yesterday. There was a little protesting from Khaji but I ignored her. There was no way I was doing this alone. I even told her about the jackasses in the alley and how I defended myself. This caused her eyes to widen. When I was done, she hugged me. I’m never going to get used to that.
“So you were that blue girl they were talking about on TV?” she asked after she was done squeezing the life out of me again.
I nodded. “It's some kind of defensive armor.”
“That is so freaking cool.”
I sighed and nodded. I filled her in about the rest, ending with the creepy girl in black. She was creepy too. Was it possible that she was following me? I mean what are the odds that she just happens to pop up in the same two places that I am.
"So what are you going to do?”
“About her?” Brenda nodded and I shrugged. “I don’t even know who she is or what she wants.”
Brenda looked a little worried. She wouldn’t look at me. She looked at the floor. Clearly, she knew more than I did. I was about to ask her what when there was a knock on the door. I groaned and unlocked. An elderly woman with blue hair glared at me and huffed her way inside. Brenda and I suppressed laughs then high tailed it out of there. My Mom and Milagro were waiting on a nearby bench. Milagro was pouting again but lit up when she saw me. That girl has a serious “sister worship” problem. We walked over to them and this time there was nothing my mother could do to keep Milagro from latching on to me. I let it slide because it seemed to make little sis happy.
We went en masse to Vivian’s. I’m not going to bore you with the details of the hair salon. Suffice to say every employee and woman present had an opinion about my hair when I walked in. They all thought that it was cute but too boyish. I groaned but I let them do their thing. When they were done, I couldn’t see a difference other than a little color that Vivian added to it. But apparently, they did a lot, who knew. After the salon, we browsed the shops. I never realized how tedious clothes shopping was until I was dragged from one store to the next.
We went bra shopping first. That was the most embarrassing thing in the world. I’m a C cup by the way, which kind of made both my mother and Brenda a little jealous. We bought a bunch of different bras and I wasn’t allowed to offer my opinion on any. How crazy is that. We bought underwear too, lots of that. Brenda wanted to buy me a baby doll to sleep in but I put my foot down there. I got some pajamas instead. After that they dragged me through a multitude of clothing stores, too many to even count. Did you know that girls try on clothes but don’t always buy them? How crazy is that? We bought a lot, though. Most of them were jeans and t-shirts but my mother got a dress or two in and Brenda was able to weasel in a few skirts---not that I’m ever going to wear them.
Shoes came next. I’m a size six now, doesn’t that suck. I got some Nikes with a pink swoosh and some sandals. I drew the line at heels but that didn’t stop them from making me try them on. Everyone in the store had an opinion on that too. In fact, there were opinions in every store we went too. You’d think that people would mind their own damn business but apparently not. A lot of the clerks who helped us were surprised that I didn’t know this or that. My mother explained it away by saying I was a tomboy coming out of her shell. That seemed to work but it also turned me into some kind of Barbie Doll. As soon as that came out, the clerks were only too happy to help. I think their commissions had something to do with it of course.
After shoe shopping, we hit the food court. Brenda and I got pizza, my mother and Milagro went to Burger King. While they were loading down with fast food junk, Brenda led me over to a lone table. The food court was surprisingly empty but then again it was a Monday afternoon. The two of us should have been in school but Brenda was taking a sick day and well you know why I’m not there. I’m not sure how Milagro got out of it but my mother seemed to be on top of that.
“So where are you going to go to school?” asked Brenda as she picked off one of her pieces of pepperoni.
Who doesn’t like pepperoni? I shrugged. “Definitely not the old place that’s for sure. It would be like blood in the water there.”
She smiled. “I don’t know. I think you’d be surprised by how they treat you now.”
“What’s that supposed to be mean?”
She smiled again. “You’re kind of a babe.”
I blushed. I hadn’t really noticed. Ok, I did a little but I didn’t think I was a knock out. I was cute and while some people liked that, I wasn’t in the mood to attract any kind of attention. Especially from the male variety. Yep, I decided, I’m a lesbian. Ok I don’t know for sure but the thought of kissing some guy sent shivers down my spine. Even if I somehow found myself attracted to them, there was no way I was going anywhere near them.
“It doesn’t work that way,” said Khaji, chiming in after being silent all day.
I wonder if she sleeps. “It does for me.”
My mother and sister came over after that. They were both carrying trays, kind of in a rush. Milagro didn’t look happy and my mother looked tired. They sat down at the table, Milagro huffing. She started to pout, which seemed to be her only expression all day. I didn’t bother to ask because my mother filled us in as soon as she sat down.
“I got called in” she explained. “I’m sorry to cut this day so short, girls but I’m afraid we have to go as soon as we’re finished eating lunch.”
“That’s not fair” huffed Milagro. “You said we could spend the whole day here.”
“I’m sorry honey, but Henry’s son broke his arm on that damn skateboard of his. They need someone to fill in.”
Milagro looked like she was about to cry. My mother reached over to grasp her hand but she pulled it away. I sighed. I wanted to comfort her too but I’m not sure how. Instead, it was Brenda who came to the rescue.
“I can get us a ride home, Mrs. R,” she said as she reached into her purse and took out a sparkling new iPhone. I guess it pays when your aunt is a gazillionaire. “I can send for a car as soon as we’re done here. The three of us can continue to hang out in the mall and you can go to work.”
Milagro’s face lit up. “Can we, Mom!”
My mother nodded. Milagro nearly jumped out of her seat. She was beaming at Brenda.
My mother ate lunch in a rush and she ended up taking half with her. She said her goodbyes and left the three of us to finish ours. We took our time. Brenda and I ate slowly but Milagro devoured hers. After that, she started to rattle off all the places she wanted to go. Apparently, my mother wasn’t one to let my sister run amok. Now I think she was taking advantage of us. We both rolled our eyes as she talked. But I’m not one of those bastards who don’t give little girls what they want. So as soon as we were done eating, we took her where she wanted to go.
I’ve never been in more crazy shops in my entire life. First, it was a couple of toy stores, then it was a Build-a-Bear workshop. She didn’t have any money but Brenda paid for the bear. It was a pink bear in a tutu and Milagro loved it. She managed to talk Brenda into paying for other things too. I became second fiddle after that which was fine by me. Milagro switched from my hand to hers and talked to her as if she was the greatest thing in the world. Me, I busied myself by looking in all the storefronts. We were passing by a video game store when I saw the poster. They were having free demos of the new Halo game that came out a few months ago. I started salivating and stopped.
“That looks like Reach Shock trooper,” said Khaji as I stared at the poster.
“It’s a video game poster.”
“I know what it is. I have access to your memories. I was just informing you what I thought it looked like.”
I groaned. I’m not sure I liked the idea of her poking around in my memories. I was about to tell her so when Brenda and Milagro came walking up beside me. “I need to go to the bank,” said Brenda as she pointed behind me. “Your sister cleaned me out.”
I nodded. “I was going to hop in there and play.”
“I’m not going in there,” groaned Milagro.
Brenda rolled her eyes at me. “You can come with me sweetie. After the bank, I’ll get us some pretzels. If I know her and I do, she’s going to be in there for some time now.”
I ignored the comment. Brenda took Milagro’s hand and the two of them walked off to the bank. I went into the store, there were a couple guys there my age but it was mostly deserted. The station with Halo was vacant so I sidled up to it. As soon as I picked up the controller, all the eyes in the room were on me. At first, I thought I was doing something wrong and then I realized that I was. I was a girl in a video game store; it was kind of a taboo. Everyone there, including the pimple-faced dweeb behind the counter, were staring at me. I blushed crimson and tried to ignore them. I blocked them out and concentrated on the game. I tore into it, losing all track of time.
I was kicking serious ass when I heard it. When the screams started, I thought it was in the game. Then the dweebs who were watching me rushed to the entrance of the store. Curious, I abandoned the game and followed. What I saw drained all the color from me. There was a crowd of people running, most of them away from the bank. Outside the bank, I saw three or four security guards with their guns drawn. I couldn’t see inside the bank but I didn’t have to to know what was going on.
Someone’s robbing the bank. I scanned the running crowd, my blue vision snapping in without me even realizing it. But Brenda and Milagro were not there. Ok, so someone was robbing the bank and my loved ones were still inside. My heart starting pounding like a drum and then I felt it.
It was the telltale sign of the armor being activated.
The feeling was overwhelming. I looked at my hands and saw the armor slowly start to creep up them, encasing my delicate fingers in the black and blue exoskeleton. I panicked, wouldn’t you? I didn’t panic because it was happening; I panicked because of where I was. I looked around, hoping the geek boys didn’t see me. Luckily, they were all too plastered to the glass to notice what was going on. I’m not sure if I was relieved or scared. Ok, why would I be scared, well hello, it was happening again? As cool as it was the first time, I wasn’t exactly expecting a repeat performance. Ok, I did it in my dream but that was a dream and this was real life. In real life, I didn’t want this to happen.
The tingling continued to creep up my body, a lot faster than I wanted. So I took a chance and ran for it. Still no one noticed; everyone was too panicked. I fell into the crowd, allowing it to push me down the mall. I broke from it as soon as I got close to the bathroom and ran inside. I didn’t lock the door, there was no point. I went to the mirror, I needed to see this. What I saw was both terrifying and exciting. I watched, as the armor seemed to consume my body, like some kind of blue/black liquid, slowly oozing its way all over me. Besides the tingling, it was kind of cold and it looked like the stuff the T-1000 was made out of in T2---hey I’m a geek too remember.
I moved closer to the mirror as it moved across my chest. What was once liquid started to solidify and harden! At first, it didn’t look like much but then it seemed to take on an armor-like appearance. What does armor look like, well it looks like what’s all over me. It’s really hard to describe, I guess. It was both freaky and cool at the same time. It was fascinating to watch as the armor formed all over my body, covering it much like its namesake. In the dream, Khaji had called it an exoskeleton and I had no idea what she meant by that. Now looking at the armor that was forming around my body I could see exactly what she meant. It was just like an exoskeleton, in fact now I knew why they were calling me a blue bug. The armor kind of resembled a bug. It was more stylish, of course, but there were definitely bug-like qualities to it. The armor finished covering the rest of my body. The blue vision came on-line and the HUD screen appeared. It’s kind of cool actually. I flexed my fingers, watching as the armor clad bad-ass in the mirror did the same. I could hardly tell it was me in there. I waved a hand in front of my face and my reflection did the same.
“This is not a game,” said Khaji, her voice had a serious tone to it. “Whosoever uses the armor has a responsibility to uphold. The armor has activated for a reason and now you must act upon that reason.”
“What are you talking about?”
“It’s tied in with your emotions, so clearly you summoned it for a reason.”
I clenched my fists. I had a reason all right. For a second there I forget it but now it was the only thing on my mind. I turned away from the mirror and opened the door. When I stepped outside of the bathroom, no one noticed me at first. I say at first because a few seconds later, two teenage girls practically ran into me. They both ended up on their butts and when they looked up at me, they screamed. Typical. I reached down to help them up but they took off running again. I don’t look that bad, do I? I shrugged it off. I scanned the crowd, hoping maybe I was wrong and there was nothing to worry about. But Brenda and Milagro were still not a part of it. I looked to the bank and scanned the guards in front. There were six of them, all of them pointing their guns at the glass front.
I took a deep breath and marched toward it. Ok, saying marched sounds cooler. But I did sort of have this cool walk as I made my way across the mall. I weaved my way through the throngs of people, most of them doing their best to get out of my way. Hey, if you saw a blue armored bug chick walking toward you, you’d avoid her too. When I approached the bank, the closer guard saw me and reacted. He snapped around, pointing his gun at me. You’ve got to be kidding. His hand was shaking so clearly he wasn’t sure what to do with me.
“Sir, I’m not the bad guy here.” My voice had a metallic, robotic sound to it, which was kind of cool.
“Stay back” he stammered.
I held my hands up to show him I meant no harm. But of course, my stupid suit had to do something. These really cool sword-like things grew out of my wrists. They would have been even cooler if they didn’t choose that time to come out. The guard panicked and fired a shot. It hit me in the chest. Neither one of us were prepared for what happened next. The bullet crumpled on impact, flattening into a little metal disc and falling to the floor. The guard stared at me in shock and lowered his gun. I nodded and stepped around him. He continued to stand there and I walked right up to the bank doors. The other guards looked at me but none of them were stupid enough to stop me.
I peered through the glass, trying to see inside. But the lights were off. My blue vision changed, becoming green. Suddenly the whole bank lit up before me. Cool, night vision. Inside the bank, I saw a lot of people on the floor, their hands on the back of their heads, their faces done. I spotted Brenda first; she was lying over by one of the desks. I didn’t see Milagro until I looked over at the gumball machines. She was there, lying on the ground, her new ballerina bear tightly in her arms. I could see the tears rolling down her face. That pissed me off. No one makes my sister cry. I scanned the rest of the place, looking for the jackasses responsible.
There were three of them. They were carrying M-16s, wearing Halloween masks. There was a Frankenstein by the tellers, a Dracula by the desks and a Wolf Man stuffing wads of cash into a bag. None of them could see me though and that was where I had the advantage. I tried the doors but of course, they were locked. I raised one of my new sword thingies and decided to make my own. I stabbed the glass but instead of shattering, the blade went in and I sliced upwards. I moved quick, quicker than humanly possible. It was just like in the alley. I cut a hole big enough for me and stepped into the bank. My blades retracted into my arms like they weren’t even there. I’m not sure what drew the attention of the robbers but Dracula saw me first.
I’m not sure he knew what he was seeing but there was enough of me to scare him. He raised his gun and opened fire. The bullets tore into me, like a hundred bees trying to hit a single target. Fortunately, for me, they were like flies. They hit my face and chest and bounced off like nothing. Dracula looked pretty frustrated. He emptied his entire clip. The other two snapped around and started firing too but they weren’t as close as Dracula and so they didn’t have the benefit of the light from the doors. Their bullets went all over the place; luckily, most of them were aimed high. A couple hit me but most went astray and drilled into the walls. I waited until they emptied their clips, too.
When I saw smoking barrels and heard the curses, I knew it was my turn. Dracula bum rushed me. I think he thought he’d catch me off guard or something. He charged, using his empty gun like a bat. Unfortunately, for him it was dark and he was kind of off on his run. He got close but not close enough. He came at me at full speed and couldn’t stop in time. I put my arm and it made the perfect close line. He slammed into it, my forearm catching him in the neck. He went down like a ton of bricks, hitting the hard marble floor back first. It must have hurt like hell. On the ground, he was gasping and groaning at the same time.
"Johnny, you ok buddy?”
I turned to the one who spoke; it was the Wolf Man. He had stopped stuffing money into his bag and was squinting into the dark. He couldn’t see me though.
“Your friend is down for the count, give up now and I might go easy on you.’
“Screw you, bitch.”
I groaned. There were a few things I really hated in the world and one of them was when jackasses called women names. There was a C word I particularly hated but Bitch was right up there with it. I moved like lightning, leaping over the hostages on the ground and landing with cat-like grace on the top of the counter, directly in front of him. It was a good ten-foot leap, which was damn impressive. He saw me now and jumped back, scared half to death. He tried to run but I grabbed the front of his shirt and with the immense strength the suit gave me, I lifted him off the ground. I moved my face into his, we were inches apart now.
“You want to call me names, now?”
He shook his head, his entire body trembling. “What the hell are you?”
“I have no idea.”
Hey, Michael Keaton I am not, so sue me.
I pulled him close and then threw him. They made my sister cry, there was no way any of them were leaving here on their own two feet. He hit the wall, cracking the drywall. He slid to the floor, unconscious. I stared at him for a few seconds and then snapped over to Frankenstein. Unfortunately, he wasn’t where I wanted him to be. He moved; he must have done it while I was busy with his boys. Where he was now I didn’t like in the least. The blood froze in my veins. I tried to move but I was paralyzed with fear. He was standing over by the gumball machines, Milagro in his arms. He had an arm around her next and a pistol pointed against her skull. My heart starting pounding in my chest and wanted to scream out to her.
“I’m walking out of here,” he said, his voice trembling.
Milagro was crying and squirming, trying her hardest to get out of his grasp.
I recovered. “Not going to happen."
“You bet your ass it is,” he said, dragging my sister with him as he inched in the direction toward the door.
I jumped off the counter, making sure to avoid the scared people cowering on the floor. I stepped around them, walking slowly toward Frankenstein. “Release the girl and maybe I won’t put you in a full body cast."
“You think you’re bad ass and you may be fast but there’s no way you’re stopping me from putting a bullet in her head."
He was right. I was fast but I wasn’t that fast. I was defeated and he knew it. As long as he had my sister, there was nothing I could do. I couldn’t let him know that and I definitely couldn’t let her know that. I could see the look on her face; she was absolutely terrified. Her eyes were searching the dark, looking for anyone to help her. It was my job to protect her and I failed that miserably. How could I have left her like that? When we get out this, I swear to never touch another damn game as long as I live. That’s a promise.
“You’ve made your point. You’re a big bad dude; you don’t need the little girl. Leave her here with me and I’ll let you walk out of here.’
Frankenstein seemed to think about it but that didn’t last very long. He stared at me and even though his eyes were the only thing I could see, I knew he’d never go for it. I saw that same look in the eyes of those bastards in the alley when they tried to rape me. He was a nut job and there was no reasoning with nut jobs. I raised my hands in an attempt to show him I meant no harm and that’s when it happened. It was so quick I didn’t even know what happened. A blue ball of energy shot out of my left palm and went right at him. He didn’t even have time to react it was so fast. It hit him in the face, throwing him back. The force of the impact was so strong it pulled him away from my sister and sent him crashing into the far wall.
He hit it a lot harder than the Wolf Man and this one wasn’t made of drywall. I heard the snapping of bones. He slumped to the floor and I don’t think he was conscious. But I didn’t give a fuck. I launched across the room and caught my sister before she fell to the floor. She was crying and screamed at first, not sure what was going on.
“You’re safe,” I said softly, crying myself. I pulled her to my breast and held her tight.
She cried on my shoulder. I held her for the longest time. The security guards rushed into the room, followed by police officers---apparently, they arrived a few minutes after I did. There was a lot of commotion as the hostages started to clamber to their feet. I let go of Milagro and the lights flicked on. When she saw me, she gasped. Several others gasped too. I set Milagro on her feet and stood up, scanning the crowd. Everyone in the room was staring at me, hostages, guards and cops included. I was glad that no one could see my face.
I locked eyes with Brenda and she gave me a slight nod. Then I felt fingers entwine with my own and looked to see Milagro holding my hand.
“Are you some kind of superhero?”
I turned to her and bent to her level again. I did something without thinking, something that I shouldn’t have done. “Something like that” I said and then tweaked her nose.
Her eyes widened. “Jaime?”
I stood up, turning away. Crap, see I knew I shouldn’t have done that. She whispered my name again, giving my hand a squeeze. I tried to ignore it but there it was. I looked at her again, slipping my hand from her’s. She gave me a look, one of admiration and not of fear. Then she made a motion of zipping her lips shut. I smiled and turned back to the rest of the room. Everyone was still in stunned silence, wouldn’t you be. I didn’t know what to say or what to do. I looked around the room for an exit but the only one was blocked by a whole bunch of people. The guards and police officers rushed me with questions; it was like a barrage. I held up my hands, silencing them all. I needed to get out of here before there was a media circus.
“Look I’d like to stay and chat but I really must be going.”
Before I knew what I was doing my wings sprang out of my back, I rose a few feet off the floor and zipped through the bank. I was just above all their heads and crashed through the glass bank doors. I rose higher once I got into the mall proper; hundreds of faces below looked up at me. I rose to the glass roof, fired one of those blue energy ball thingies and zipped through the hole, making a clean, if rather messy exit.
“That was definitely exciting.”
We landed on the roof across the street from the mall. I ignored Khaji for a second and turned around; spying what was going on. The media frenzy had already started. There were two news vans there and an assortment of police vehicles. I recognized the vans from Channels 6, 7 and 25. Yes, there’s a Channel 25 News, how strange is that. There were a few news reporters set up outside and a lot of general reporters there too. The police were already doing crowd control, trying their hardest to keep the bloodthirsty vultures at bay. I scanned the crowds, looking for familiar faces, hoping that Brenda and Milagro were out of there. The last thing I wanted was them wrapped up in all this mess.
But they weren’t there. I groaned, that meant they were still inside.
“How do I deactivate the armor again?”
“Just think about it.”
I did. The armor disappeared a lot faster than last time. I felt it ooze up my body and then disappear into my back. I was standing there naked again. I didn’t have to ask for clothes this time though because my yellow dress appeared instantly. My sandals appeared too. Oh yeah I forgot to mention them, I was wearing sandals before. I’m not big on shoes---like I’ve mentioned before---so it slipped my mind. A lot of things slipped my mind but right now wasn’t the time to dwell on them. I needed to get back into the mall and make sure my sister wasn’t traumatized or something. My blue vision came back and I scanned the area, looking for a new entry point. I spotted it on the mall roof; it was one of those roof access stairwells. As soon as I thought about it, I felt the wings form from my back and I took off. It was kind of crazy, flying like this but I seemed to be used to it by now. But it was kind of cool doing it without the whole armor thing though.
“Parts of the exoskeleton can be accessed at anytime.”
We landed on the mall roof. I retracted the wings and ran for the stairwell thing. The door was locked but that didn’t stop me. The armor glove appeared on my left hand. I grabbed the padlock ripped it off. Yeah, I could totally get used to this. The glove disappeared when I opened the door. I ran down the stairs, taking them two at a time. There were three floors to the mall; the third floor was probably my best bet. When I went through the exit to it, I was in one of those behind the scenes type hallways. I looked around, half expecting Schwarzenegger. I ran down the hall a little bit and found another door. Opening it up, I found myself in the mall proper.
I ran to the railing and looked down. The bank was on the first level. I scanned the area but there was no one around. It looked like most of the mall had been deserted. I felt like I was in a Romero movie as I ran to the stairs. I would have taken the escalator but it didn’t appear to be working. I hate elevators, I’m not sure why. But ever since I was a kid, I couldn’t stand being in one. I guess I might have a thing for enclosed spaces. I took these stairs two at a time too. When I reached the second floor, it was kind of eerie and quiet but I didn’t stay. I kept going until I got to the first. Once there, I saw where all the people went.
They were in the food court, there had to be over a hundred people there. Police officers monitored the whole area; there were three or four facing me. I took a deep breath and marched toward them. It didn’t take long for them to spot me. The nearest one came walking over, his hand on the butt of his gun. You’ve got to be kidding me. I held my hands up, palms facing him to show I wasn’t a threat. When he got closer, I saw the scowl on his face. Oh, this is going to be good.
“Miss, stop right there.”
I looked past him at the gathered group, scanning each face individually for Brenda and Milagro. I found them sitting at a table, currently talking to a female police officer. Milagro was hugging the ballerina bear tight to her chest. She had dried tears on her face but other than that, she looked all right. I let out a sigh. I thought for sure she’d be a wreck.
“I’m just trying to get to my sister, Officer.”
I recognized him as one of the ones in the bank. He didn’t recognize me though, how could he. He looked me up and down though, giving me a thorough once over. In fact, it was a little too thorough as his eyes lingered on my chest for a little longer than I would have liked. Fucking creep. His stare made my skin crawl and if he’d been any other guy I would have kicked him in the balls. As it was though I could only shiver and throw up a little inside.
He turned from me and looked back at the Food Court. “Which one is she?”
“The little girl with the teddy bear, the one talking to that female officer.” I pointed to her but I was too far away yet for her to see me.
He turned again and looked. He stared for a few seconds then turned back to me. “What kind of older sister leaves her little one in a bank all by herself?”
That pissed me off. This scumbag was judging me. Cop or not, he had no right. I felt my anger rising but I managed to keep it in check. “First of all, she wasn’t alone, she was with my friend Brenda and second of all, it’s none of your damn business.”
Ok, like I said, he pissed me off. I don’t think he liked that very much. He gave me another scowl. He opened his mouth to scold me but I was already brushing past him. I didn’t have time to stand here and throw barbs back and forth. I got about ten feet before he caught up with me and grabbed my arm. I spun around, my fist clenched. I so wanted to break this bastard’s nose. I would have too if not for someone shouting a name:
“Josie!” I looked around and saw Milagro running past an officer trying to grab her.
I groaned at the name she used. But I didn’t let it bother me as she practically leapt into my arms. I held her tight, burying my head into her shoulder as she cried on mine. I turned to the officer, glaring at him. He didn’t say anything, what more could he say. I left him standing there and carried Milagro back over to the Food Court. I went to the table where Brenda and the female officer were sitting. I managed to pry her away long enough to put her in the chair she vacated and took one of my own. The officer was Hispanic like us. I looked at her nametag, Montoya. Hopefully she wouldn’t be a jackass like the other guy.
She wasn’t. She was sweet and understanding. She asked Milagro a few more questions and did the same with Brenda. Most of them were about before the robbery took place and during it. There were no questions about the mysterious blue girl in armor but that didn’t stop Milagro from talking about her. She kept rambling on about how cool she was; casting sideway glances at me each time. Montoya wrote it down of course. Brenda was looking at me too, questioning with her eyes. I gave her a slight nod of my head, hoping that was enough for now. After Milagro was done telling the officer about the Blue Beetle---I kind of like it, it fits---Montoya turned to me.
“And where were you when all of this was going down, Miss Reyes?”
“The video game store” answered Milagro for me. I think she was trying to protect my secret identity. How cute is that. “She’s always playing those stupid games. She’s kind of a tomboy like that."
I sighed and nodded. “Guilty as charged. I was playing a demo for the new Halo game when I heard screaming. I tried to get back to the bank once I realized what was going on but the crowd pushed me back. So instead, I went up to the third floor to get a better look. Unfortunately all I saw was a whole lot of nothing, though I did get to see that cool superhero girl fly off.”
Milagro and Brenda smiled at me with their eyes. Montoya asked me a few more questions and I answered with the best lies I could come up with. When she was satisfied, she flipped shut her notepad and moved on to the next table. The three of us let out a collective sigh. After that, we had to wait until the other witnesses and hostages were all interviewed. It took nearly two hours for that. I grabbed Milagro’s hand when they finally allowed us to leave. I held it as tight as possible, there was no way I was ever letting her out of my sight again. She complained that I was cutting off her circulation but I didn’t care.
As we left the Food Court, Brenda pulled out her phone and called for a car. “The limo will be here any second.”
“Josie, I need to use the bathroom, can you let go of me so I can do that.”
I let go of her hand. “What’s with the Josie thing?”
She smiled. “Well I can’t very well call my sister, Jaime, that’s a boy’s name. So I’ve decided your name’s going to be Josephina from now on.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Don’t I get a say in this?”
She shook her head. “Nope.” She laughed as she walked off into the bathroom.
Brenda and I sat on a nearby bench. “I like it” she said with a smile of her own. “You’re definitely a Josephina; can I call you Josie too?”
I sighed. “I suppose it’s inevitable, huh.”
“You’ll get used to it,” she said with another laugh. I playfully gave her a little shove.
Milagro came back after that. She sat down next to me, taking my hand in hers. She held it quietly for a little a bit and then asked the question I was dreading: “Where did you get that cool suit?”
I sighed and looked at Brenda; she shrugged. So I took a deep breath and told Milagro everything. She listened intently and nodded a lot. When it was over, she squeezed my hand and gave me a big hug. Then she looked at me oddly. “So can I talk to Khaji too?”
“I’m afraid not. Tell her that I’m only able to talk to those I bond with.”
I told her what Khaji said and she frowned a bit. "I wish you’d have given me that stone.”
I didn’t know what to say. But I knew what I was thinking.
Brenda’s phone rang a few minutes later. She took it, talked to whoever it was on the other end and clicked it off. “The car’s here.”
I took Milagro’s hand again much to her protesting. But I didn’t care, like I said before; never out of my sight again. We walked quietly through the mall. We passed Officer Montoya; she smiled as we went by. We passed the other cop too and he gave me a dirty look. I wanted to give him the finger but I figured that would get me arrested or something. When we got outside there was a larger media frenzy than before. The cops were doing everything in their power to hold back the growing crowd of curious on lookers and news people. I scanned the crowd with blue vision and saw a familiar face in Tana Moon, the woman who had been there for the other incident of mine. She was talking to one of the bank employees. She looked over my way and her eyes lit up when she saw Milagro. I think everyone knew about the little girl with the pink bear.
Tana wrapped her interview up quickly and raced us down. She cut us off. I bit my lip and we nearly collided with one another.
“Can I ask you girls a few questions?”
Before any of us could say anything she stuck the microphone in our faces, well Milagro’s actually. I pushed it away, pissed. “What the hell is wrong with you, lady? She just went through a traumatic experience and now you’re traumatizing her even more.”
“I just want to get her side of the things, put a face of innocence on the whole thing” said the bloodthirsty reporter.
I wonder if I could punch her.
“The girls aren’t answering any of your questions,” said a stern voice to our left.
“Excuse Me,” snapped Tana, turning with us to the source of the voice.
Brenda was the only one who smiled. There was a tall Hispanic woman standing there, dressed in smart lavender suit, her skirt so tight and her heels so high she looked like she could crush anyone just by staring at them. She had long flowing dark hair and an air of superiority. When Tana’s eyes locked on her, I saw the color drain from her face. It would have drained from anyone. There wasn’t a soul alive in this town who didn’t know Amparo Juarez; she was a force to be reckoned with in every circle. I’m not really sure what kind of business she was involved in but whatever it was, it made her super rich.
Brenda rushed forward and gave her aunt a hug. “Thanks for coming, Tia.”
Amparo kissed Brenda on the head. Then she shot daggers at Tana. “These girls have all been traumatized and if you continue with any line of questioning, I’ll sue the hell out of you and that rinky dinky news station you work for. Do I make myself clear?”
Amparo looked at Milagro and me. “I recognize the little one but I don’t know you.”
Milagro spoke for me. “This is my cousin, Josephina; she’s visiting from El Paso.”
Amparo smiled. “You’re a very pretty flower my dear. You must drive the boys crazy.”
I blushed. Why the hell did I blush?
"C’mon” said Brenda, pointing off toward a white stretch limo. “You have to see this.”
It was rare to see her so excited. Milagro slipped away from me and took off, following Brenda gleefully. Amparo lingered behind with me, matching me stride for stride. It was kind of intimidating, especially seeing, as she was so much taller than me.
“I hear the Blue Beetle was here?”
I nodded. “She stopped the bank robbers and rescued my sister.”
“How generous of her.”
There was something in her tone that I didn’t like. It was only there for a second and then it was gone but it was there nonetheless. I never really liked Amparo; she kind of freaked me out. But there must have been something good about her because Brenda loved her. Brenda was always a really good judge of character. So I smiled up at her and the two of us walked slowly over to the limo.
“You guys suck,” said Paco’s voice over my speaker phone. “You go and have a day at the mall and leave me to rot in school.”
“Paco, we were clothes shopping, girl clothes shopping. I didn’t even want to be there.’
“You make a valid point.”
I was sitting on my bed, the phone on the sheets in front of me. I didn’t have a real phone in my room, but for my birthday last year, my parents surprised me with a pretty cool cell phone. It was nothing like Brenda’s fancy iPhone but it had some Wi-Fi capabilities and it could take pictures and video. That’s all I really needed. It was the only present I got last year because money was tight because we were getting ready to move to California. This year, my parents promised, there would be more money, especially now that my Dad was making twice as much as he used to down in Texas. My mother was pulling in good money too. We were still Middle Class but we were probably middle middle Class if there is such a thing.
After getting home from the mall, my mother was there waiting. Apparently, she heard about the incident over the dispatch and was actually in one of the ambulances at the scene. She never saw us because things had been kind of hectic. Unbeknownst to us, there was a bit of a stampede to get out of the mall and lot of people got hurt. My mother was running priorities back and forth all afternoon. She was able to cut out early because she wasn’t actually on the clock for today. So when she got home and didn’t find us she was a big wreck. She didn’t stop worrying until she saw us on the news and saw both me and Amparo tell off that bitch Tana.
When we actually got in the door, she smothered Milagro with hugs and kisses. Milagro tried to shrug them off but my mother would have none of that. Milagro tried to tell her she was ok, that the Blue Beetle saved her. But my mother would have none of that. The Blue Beetle was now big news, apparently. When we got home my mother had the TV muted but I saw grainy security footage, enhanced with night vision to show me beat the hell out of the three goons. It was too grainy to see real faces but there was no doubt that it was Milagro. My mother said she nearly had a heart attack when she saw it.
We spent the couple of hours before dinner answering all the questions we could. During dinner, my father stopped in. He didn’t say much. He ate his meal and went into the den. I tried talking to him but he gave me the cold, silent treatment. My mother glared at him and I tried my best to ignore him. It hurts when your own father won’t even look you in the eye anymore. I thought he was ok with everything but apparently, he wasn’t. After dinner, my mother had followed him into the den and they had a good shouting match. I took Milagro upstairs with me.
That was four hours ago. It took me almost three and a half hours to get up the nerve and call Paco. When he answered, he had no idea who I was at first. That was five minutes ago. Now, I’d just finished filling him in on the day’s events, including the Blue Beetle stuff. Yes, so one more person knows my secret.
“So what are you wearing?” he asked, trying to sound all suave.
“You did not just ask me that.”
He groaned. “I didn’t mean it like that. All your old clothes don’t fit right, so you bought new ones right. I was just wondering if you were wearing your usual PJs or new ones.”
I groaned and looked down. I was sitting cross-legged on the bed, wearing nothing but an oversized t-shirt---an old one of my father’s- --and a pair of panties. I told him this, blushing while I did so.
“That is so hot.”
“I’d punch you if it wouldn’t hurt so badly.”
“You have to be here with me too.”
I tried to change subjects and told him about the new Halo game. He was kind of jealous. We talked about that for a little while and then of course, like the typical guy his thoughts strayed back to me.
“Are you at least a babe?”
I groaned. Is he ever going to give up? Instead of describing what I looked like now, I did the next best thing. I took my phone, held it far enough away from me and snapped a shot. Then I texted it to him. “I sent you a pic.”
I waited about thirty seconds and then I heard his response: “Damn Jaime, you’re a total babe now. How in the hell did that happen?”
“Beats the hell out of me.”
We talked for about an hour more than my phone beeped. I looked at the little battery symbol in the corner of the screen and groaned. I told him I had to go because my phone needed to charge. He wanted to know what I was going to do about school and I told him that for now I was staying home. He got a little jealous again and told me maybe he’d play hooky tomorrow so we could hang. We had a laugh and then said our goodnights. I grabbed my charger and plugged the phone in. I left it on my desk and shivered. Early this morning I must have left my window open because it was kind of windy and there was a breeze whipping the curtains about.
I shivered again, rubbing my cold arms as I got up to close it. As I got to the window, I noticed something on the floor in front of it. I used to have my desk by the window but I kept dropping things out of it. There’s no screen on my window, it fell off a couple of weeks ago and my father was too busy to replace it. So without a screen I had to move my desk. That’s probably how whatever it was got in here.
I bent down and picked it up. It was a sheet of folded notebook pad. I shrugged and flipped t over; my name was on it. When I opened it up, I saw a scrawled handwritten letter, in red ink: We’ve been watching you and we know who you are. Stay off our turf or face the dire consequences. If you ever pull a stunt like that in the mall anywhere near us, we will end you. There was no signature on the bottom but I didn’t need one to know who had sent it: Posse.
I crumpled up the note and tossed it into my trash bin.
“Dude, you’re kicking my ass” groaned Paco as my character on the screen continued to pound the hell out of his.
“I think you’re letting me win,” I said, as it seemed his guy was doing nothing to block my attacks.
We were kicking in old school today. We dusted off the old Sega Genesis a couple of hours ago and were wailing on each other in Mortal Kombat 2. We used to play it all the time when we were kids. I know it’s probably a bit before our time but he found it in an old second hand store and just had to have it. Paco was like that sometimes, he loved the old stuff. He even had one of those ancient Nintendo systems, something he inherited from his father. It didn’t really work all that well anymore but it was still cool to display on a shelf.
Today was Paco’s day to play hooky. He tried doing it yesterday but his mother caught on to the game. This morning he was able to convince her that I was real sick and I needed some company. She didn’t believe it in the least, but she let it slide. Paco was a good kid and did a lot for his family, so one day off from school wasn’t going to hurt anything. His mother was cool like that. You’re probably wondering about the yesterday that I mentioned and that’s pretty simple, it’s been about two days since my mall incident. Hey, I can’t tell you every day of my life; that would be boring. That’s the real reason why I decided to forego talking about yesterday, because it was boring.
My parents argued some more, I’m still not sure what that’s about. My sister wanted to stay home from school with me but my mother wouldn’t allow it. I spent the whole day sitting around the house, watching them talk about me on TV. Well not me, really, it was actually the Blue Beetle. After my mall stunt, I was the new “It” girl. Every single station, local and national, was covering the story of my daring bank robbery foil. It was kind of flattery, though Khaji didn’t like it very much. She seemed to think that the Reach could monitor broadcasts and that it was only a matter of time before they picked up on the signals. I told her she was being paranoid but she told me we needed to keep a low profile for a while. That’s something I agreed with. The mall thing was a fluke as far as I was concerned. There was no way I was going to go out of my way to be a superhero.
Not that something like that wouldn’t be cool, it’s just not really for me. I’m still trying to get used to this body and there’s no way I’m going to flaunt it for the whole world to gawk at.
“GET OVER HERE!” My Scorpion shouted as he put his harpoon into Paco’s Kano, dragging him across the screen.
“Dude you suck.”
“And you’re letting me win.”
He had no response to that because it was the truth. When he showed up this morning and I answered the door, he showered me with compliments. He was kind of flabbergasted and shy too. It was kind of weird. He was my best friend and yet he was treating me like a stranger. For an hour, we sat on the couch, doing our best to mess up small talk. I’m not sure why things were so awkward now. What made things worse was the fact that he kept looking at my chest. I don’t think he was doing it intentionally or out of lust. I think it was one of those things where a guy doesn’t know where else to look, so he continues to stare at a girl’s breasts even though he doesn’t want to. Hey, it’s happened to me a couple of times so I know what I’m talking about.
He was the one who suggested the Genesis. When I told him it was a good idea, he jumped up and ran home to get it. When he came back and the two of us started playing, it was like old times again, except for the part where he kept letting me win. Paco was a killer in this game and before my change, there was no way I could beat him. He knew he was letting me win and I knew it. The only question was why, and as strange as it sounded, I think I knew the answer. I just didn’t want to say anything for fear that it might be the right one.
“So what are you going to do about school?”
I shrugged and paused the game. “We’re still waiting on the blood tests. If they say I’m a Meta then the government has some program in place where they’ll help out. They’ll get me a new birth certificate and social security number. It’ll be like I never existed.”
Paco sighed. “That sucks.” He bit his lip. “What happens if you’re not Meta?”
He knew all about Khaji of course. I shrugged. “Mom talked to Dr. Richards last night. Apparently, she has some government pull; her husband is a big scientist who works for the military. She said that even if I’m not Meta, she can pull some strings and still get the changes done."
“That’s cool. Have you decided on a new name?”
I groaned. This was a sore subject for me. Of course, as soon as I got home from the mall, Milagro told Mom all about how she decided I should be Josephina. I thought Mom was going to stand by me and tell her that I was going to be Jaime for a while. But Mom thought it was a wonderful idea, in fact if I had been born a girl that’s what she was going to name me. My mother and sister shared a knowing wink so I think they set me up. My mother decided yesterday that I was going to be Josephina Isabella Reyes, now and forever more. I asked if I had any say in the matter but apparently, I didn’t. She said that it was a mother’s prerogative to name her children. It was a shame really because I really liked my name, it didn’t matter that the jackasses at my old school used to say it was a girl’s name. Its Jaime, pronounced “hi-me”. No one seemed to get it but then again there was a very small Hispanic population there.
“I’m going to be Josephina from now on,” I said with a sigh.
Paco looked a little uneasy. “That’s a, uh, pretty name.”
I smiled. There was no doubt about it now. I took a deep breath and set down my controller. I turned on the couch, folding my jean-clad legs underneath me. Here goes nothing. “Paco, you want me to pull off my top or do you want to do it for me.” It was blunt but I needed to be blunt.
“WHAT!” He dropped his controller and jumped from the couch, staring at me like I’d grown another head.
“Don’t what me dude, it’s kind of obvious.”
His face turned crimson. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
I groaned. So he’s still going to play dumb. “You’ve been staring at me since you got here. First, it was my boobs and now it’s my legs. Don’t you think I haven’t noticed?” I got up too, walking over to him so that we were standing a few inches apart. “So, out with it. You’re really freaking me out. It’s bad enough that my Dad won’t even look at me, my Mom and sister are having a ball and now it seems my best friend wants to jump my bones.”
“It’s not like thatttt” he stuttered, backing away.
I groaned angrily. I grabbed the end of my turtleneck and pulled it off in one quick, fluid motion. Now I was standing there shirtless, my boobs on perfect display for him to see. I was wearing one of my new bras. I was kind of wary about it this morning but my mother showed me how to put it on. I have to admit it is kind of comfortable. But I’m not going there at this moment. Right now, I needed to see how my supposed best friend was going to react.
Paco looked at my breasts and his face went red.
“What the hell is it, then?”
“I’m afraid it’s contagious,” he shouted, looking even more embarrassed than before.
We stared at each other, neither of us saying anything for a long time. I finally broke the silence by laughing. He cracked a smile and the only thing contagious was our laughter. We had a good laugh. I sat back down; put my turtleneck back on and explained things to him as clear as possible. I think I was able to convince him that there was no way I could pass my girlhood on to him. I think he sighed in relief. I went on to explain that I was the same person and that he needed to stop feeling sorry for me. That did it. We went back to our game and he stopped letting me win.
“You two have a very strange relationship.”
“Yes but it’s ours and that’s all that matters.”
“He was lying.”
I sighed. “I know.”
I let it go though. If my best friend wanted to have a little crush on the new me, I was fine with it. We played the game for a few more minutes and then got bored with it. There’s only so much old school we could do. After that, we went to my room; I kept the door open. Even though there was no one home, I wanted an exit in case he got a little nuts. I know it sounds crazy and he’s my best friend but I’m not exactly the guy he used to know. I sat on the bed and he sat at the desk. He asked me about the mall once again and once again, I had to explain everything. He was really interested in my new found superhero status. Yesterday on the phone, he tried to convince me to make it a full time thing. We were in a three-way conversation with Brenda as well. She didn’t think it was a good idea and I kind of agreed with her. I conceded that if a crime was happening and I was nearby I might try to stop it, but I wasn’t going to go out of my way to seek it out. Paco was a little upset by that, I think he liked the idea of having a superhero for a best friend.
“Dude what’s this?” he asked, picking up the crumbled Posse threat.
I groaned. “Nothing.”
I tried to snatch it from his hand but he held it out of my reach. I hate being short.
Paco uncrumpled the note and read it. “Dude, this is serious. They wrote it in red, do you know what this means?”
“It means they’re wasting their time, I have no intention of going anywhere near their territory.”
Paco groaned. “You already are, dumb-ass.”
“What are you talking about?”
“This entire neighborhood is their territory,” said Paco, running his fingers through his hair. “They’re really serious about this shit. They’re not like other gangs either. If there’s a Meta in the area where they operate and he or she’s not one of them then they give him two options: join or get lost.”
“I’m not a Meta.”
“They don’t know that.”
I sighed. This was nuts. I pulled my knees up to my chest and wrapped my arms around them. So if I didn’t join these stupid people, they were going to try to run me out of the neighborhood. Fat chance of that ever happening. Posse was a nuisance; they were a bunch of street thugs with superpowers who thought they owned the whole damn area. It was kind of pathetic actually or at least it would have been if not for the fact that they were so deadly. The police were afraid of them and the only one they seemed to be afraid of was La Dama. To make matters worse, there was no one to keep the bastards in line. Back when Green Arrow was patrolling the streets, Posse kept to the shadows for fear that she might mess them up. But when she disappeared, it was like open season. It was so bad that a lot of people didn’t like to go outside after dark.
"What are you going to do about this?” asked Paco, waving the note in the air.
I made a decision when I crumpled it up and threw it away. “I’m doing nothing. If they want me out of this neighborhood then they’re going to have to do it themselves.”
The color drained from Paco’s face. “You’re serious?”
I nodded. “You haven’t seen the Blue Beetle in action.”
He couldn’t argue with that. In fact, the only ones who’d seen me in action were in the hospital. Not that I was happy with that. The bastards from the bank were all in ICU, two of them not so bad but the third guy was in a coma. It serves him right for trying to take my sister. The guys from the alley were in jail now, the one I messed up was in a prison hospital, expected to get out in a couple of days. What, I like to be informed. I actually called pretending to be an out of state relative. Just because the bastard tried to rape me, it doesn’t mean I can’t see how he’s doing. Besides, I thought he might have remembered my face. But apparently, none of the three alley bastards were talking. They didn’t even want to acknowledge they were beaten up by a girl.
Paco and I changed subjects. He wanted to know about school again. He and Brenda were in agreement with me, there was no way I was going back to my fancy school. I’ve had enough with it and I didn’t want to start back there again. Who cares if I was a girl now, the girls there were treated worse than the guys. Brenda and my Mom thought I should start fresh. They thought I might be able to get another scholarship; there was some fancy All Girls School upstate that they tried to talk me in to. Brenda said she’d even transfer if I wanted. But as interesting as that sounded, there was no way I was going to an All Girls School.
I think we decided on SCH---that’s Star City High. My mother called the school yesterday morning and explained the situation. Under new law, the school has to be discreet about it. Pending my supposed Meta human status, I have to take a few tests and should be able to start in a few days. My father was indifferent about it but I could see he was struggling with it. He grumbled a bit when my mother told him and stomped out of the room.
That was last night and he was still grumbling when he went off to work this morning. Oh, there is a silver lining to all of this. Since my gender change, my punishment is officially over. I’m kind of bummed because I liked working in the garage but my parents felt there was no correct way to explain what happened to me. They weren’t embarrassed by it but they just didn’t want people to know. So officially, Jaime was now living back in El Paso, unable to adjust to life here in California. I was now his cousin, at least as far as the neighbors and my soon-to-be classmates knew. Not that any of them knew Jaime anyway.
Paco and I talked for a few more hours. We talked about school mostly. He seemed to think that I’d hit it off pretty well with a lot of the male population and I punched him in the arm every time he mentioned it. I was about to tell him I wasn’t interested in guys when I heard the front door open. Paco looked at his watch and cursed.
“It's already four, I need to get home for my siblings, Mom’s working a double tonight.”
“You and Brenda coming by later?”
I followed him out of my bedroom and down the hall. When we went down the stairs, Milagro and Soledad were sitting on the couch. Soledad took one look at me and her mouth fell open.
“See” said Milagro with a smile. “I told you I have a sister now."
I groaned. Soledad was about to say something but Paco scooped her up into her arms and carried her out the door. I laughed, she squirmed and they were gone. I turned to Milagro and gave her a look.
She shrugged. “Can’t I tell people I have the coolest sister in the world now?”
“Mom and Dad didn’t want you telling anyone.”
Milagro ignored me and rifled through her backpack. She was pretty frantic about it. Then she dumped it on the couch, cursing. I ignored the curse and asked her what was wrong. She looked on the verge of tears. “Soledad and I cut through that alley, I tripped and my bag popped open. I think I left my English book there.”
I groaned and looked at the clock. Mom wanted me to stay inside until things were official and everything. It was about ten after four, she wasn’t going to be home for another hour or so. “If I go and get your book, do you promise to stay here and not tell anyone I left you alone?”
She nodded. “I’m not a baby you know.”
I walked over to the front entry and grabbed my new sneakers, slipping my feet into them. Then I took my keys off the hook near the door. “I’ll be right back. Lock this door behind me and don’t answer it unless it’s someone you know.”
I rolled my eyes and went out the front door.
I had to take my mother’s bike from the shed because mine was still at Mario’s. The plan was to swing by there sometime today but as you can see nothing goes according to plan anymore. So I had to take my Mom’s. It’s not a bad bike; it’s just not very up to date. It was an old ten speed. Its gears were a little rusty and the chain was in dire need of a good oiling. Its brakes were shot too. I found that out the hard way when I made my first stop. I nearly plowed into traffic. Luckily, I was able to grab onto the nearby stop sign or I would have been a goner. Now I was half way between my house and the alley. I think you all remember the alley, it’s where this adventure of mine truly began. I couldn’t help but wonder how my life would have been If I hadn’t decided to take the short cut. Would I be like this, transformed now into a whole new person? Or would I be the same old me, little Jaime Reyes, the butt of all the rich kids jokes. The big question of the hour is: would I want to go back to that?
I stopped at another corner. I looked both ways but there was no traffic. Traffic was kind of light this time of day; most of the people were still at work. I looked at my new watch---I got it on my shopping spree---it was almost five. I groaned. My mother was probably home by now and probably pretty P.Oed that I wasn’t there. But she’d understand as soon as I explained it was for Milagro. I’d have to come up with another place where she dropped her book of course. My mother was pretty clear that my sister wasn’t allowed anywhere near the alley or the disused lot. The last time she followed me there; she slipped and cut her knee on a broken bottle. We spent three hours in the emergency room, getting a few stitches and making sure she wasn’t infected.
“We’re coming up on the lot, are you sure we need to go back there?”
I heard the edge in her voice. “I didn’t think you could get scared.”
“I’m not scared, just a little apprehensive about that place. The last time I was there and conscious, Ted died trying to keep me out of the wrong hands.”
“Were you close?”
“Ted had great potential but he just didn’t have the drive. I tried bonding with him but his heart wasn’t in it. It was different with Daniel and with you. Each of my hosts brings something or themselves to the equation but Ted had nothing to offer.”
“What about the Pharaoh?”
Khaji sighed. “Which one? I have been bonded with several and most were unsavory individuals. My last host, Kha-Ef-Re, was the best of them. He and I used our combined strengths to help the people and we really made a difference. I mourned for a century after his passing. When we were entombed together, I was hell bent to never bond with another person so long as I lived. You humans call it love but the Reach had no word for it.”
She sighed again. “Most of the artifacts in the tomb, including the Pharaoh were brought here to San Francisco; if we get the time I’d like to visit him.”
“I think that can be arranged.”
I pedaled across the street, moving at a brisk pace. Once on the other side, I spotted the lot. This side of it was out in the open for the world to see, the other side was hidden behind the buildings. If not for the alley, Milagro and many others would have to ride around the block to get to school. In case you’re wondering, the elementary and middle schools are in one building, the high school is right next door. Whereas there are several elementary schools in this part of the city, there’s only one high school. Most of the lower class and middle class kids in the neighborhood go there. I would have gone there too if not for the scholarship. I guess I’m going to go there now, though.
I pulled up to the lot and left the bike there. I stared at all the junk, a pang growing inside me. I’ve kind of neglected my art as of late, I guess I’ve been kind of busy. A part of me wanted to forget my reason for being here and just go right on looking for more junk. I was very tempted but I was able to keep myself on track. I did find a really good piece of scrap metal that looked promising. I stared at it for a few minutes before I forced myself away and down the alley. It didn’t take me long to spot the book but I could see how Milagro missed it. When she tripped and spilled her bag, the book must have slid away from her. It was half hidden under a cardboard box.
“There it is” said Khaji apprehensively. “Let’s get it and go.”
“This place really freaks you out, huh?”
"You would be scared too, if you watched your friend die here.”
I nodded, looking at the bloodstains. Earlier I thought they were kind of cool but now that I knew what they meant, I was kind of sad. The last bearer of Khaji died here, died trying to protect her. I felt a certain pang of guilt for being such an idiot about it before.
I sighed, saying a silent prayer and then went for the book. I approached it quickly, not wanting to waste any time. My mother was probably having a cow now as it was. I bent to pick it up and felt something. It wasn’t the book; it was something else. The fine hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. I grabbed the book and slowly stood up. I cast my eyes around a bit, my whole body tensed up. I think Khaji sensed it too, because she was mumbling some strange words. I think it might have been a curse in her native tongue. My shared bond translated it a few seconds later and I’m not going to repeat it.
“We have company.”
As soon as her words entered my head, they appeared. First, it was only the two of them and they scared the hell out of me. One of them was a black man, about twenty or so. He seemed to step out of the shadows, appearing almost in front of me. It was kind of creepy. I took a step backwards, wondering what the hell this was all about. I heard two more people appear after that. One on either end of the alley. I cast them both furtive glances. One end was blocked by a massive amount of man in red flannel. He was one of the biggest guys I’d ever seen in my life. The other end was blocked by a guy who looked like he bench pressed twenty four hours a day. Both of them looked to be quite formidable. There was a fourth person too. She stepped out of the shadows as well but they didn’t conceal her as well as the black guy.
When my eyes looked on her face, I groaned. It was my stalker, the creepy girl in black.
“Is this her, Probe?” asked the black guy, nodding at me.
The girl in the dark sunglasses looked me up and down. “That’s her, Damper. She’s the one that the news is calling the Blue Beetle.”
“How the hell do you know that? Who the hell are you people?”
“Quiet, little girl, we ask the questions around here” said the black guy... he was clearly in charge.
I looked at the girl, trying to read what was going on from her face. But it was like looking at a statue. Her skin was almost white, it was so pale, and when she looked at me, it made my skin crawl. There was something definitely up with her stare. I turned away, shivering. I looked back at the tall guy in front of me, the one she called Damper. What the hell kind of name was that? Then again what the hell kind of name was Probe. Who were these people?
“She’s doing something,” said Khaji “she’s got a power, she’s trying to scan us with it.”
“What kind of power?”
“I’m not sure, but she’s not human. I think she’s one of those Metahumans Dr. Richards was speaking of. In fact, all of them are.”
I groaned. It suddenly dawned on me who these people were. Shit, I was in trouble. “You’re Posse, aren’t you?”
Damper didn’t answer my question instead; he asked another one of Probe. “Are you sure she’s one of us?”
Probe stared at me again, my skin started to tingle. She cocked her head, seemingly perplexed. “Yes and no, it’s hard to tell. There’s something different about her. I’ve been watching her for a couple of days now, ever since the alley incident and she’s very strange indeed. I thought she was one of us but there’s something else, something inside of her.”
“We have to kill her. We have to kill them all.”
“Calm down and don’t panic.”
“They’re not going to let us walk out of here.”
“Well is she or isn’t she?” asked Damper, apparently wanting a yes or no answer.
Probe sighed and shook her head. “She’s human but she’s something else too. But it’s not Meta, it’s something alien.”
Damper finally turned back to me. He looked me up and down. “You’ve caused quite a bit of a stir lately, Little Miss Beetle Girl. I figured our note would have scared you off but apparently, you’re stupid or something. Because as you can see, this is definitely our territory.”
“My family lives here, I can’t very well leave.”
I don’t think he liked that very much. He turned to the big fat guy at the end of the alley and nodded. I gulped. My skin started to tingle and then it started. The armor activated, oozing up my skin faster than ever before. It was half way up my body before the others knew what was going on. Damper’s eyes widened and seemed to pop out of his head slightly. He gave me this look, backing away as he did so. He grabbed Probe by the arm, pulling her away too. The armor moved up my body, my blue vision kicked in and I scanned the Man Mountain as he came pounding toward me. He may have been a behemoth, but he still had vitals like everyone else. In fact, his vitals were a little lower than a normal persons, probably because he was so huge.
“Scour, mess her up a little bit. I still want her walking so she can drag her ass out of here.”
My armor finished covering my body. I turned and saw Damper drag Probe away, making a hasty exit down the other end of the alley. They passed the other guy. Damper nodded to him as he went by and this guy came for me too. I scanned him as well. He had increased adrenaline but other than that, he was pretty normal.
“Hey Thumper, what says you and me squash this little bug.”
The other guy, Thumper, laughed.
Scour moved first. I thought he was going to talk a swing at me but instead he spit the biggest logey I’ve ever seen. It sailed through the air and hit me right in the face. It was disgusting. I groaned and reached up to wipe it off. As soon as I did so, I heard a strange sizzling sound. I pulled my hand away from my face and saw the spit bubbling on my fingers. Whatever it was it was trying to eat through the armor but with no such luck. I groaned. The son of a bitch had acid spit. I flicked it off my fingers and watched as it ate through the concrete as soon as it hit it. Scour looked a little surprised that his spitball didn’t seem to have any effect on me.
He tried again but this time I was ready for him. I moved faster than lightning, dodging it long before it got to me. It nearly hit his partner, who also dodged it but just barely. I heard the bastard curse behind me. Then it was my turn. I charged Scour, running at him like a linebacker. I slammed head first into his gut. It sound have knocked me flat on my ass but instead I hit him with such force that I barreled him down the alley. He let out a huge gasp of air as he was flung onto his back, landing in a heap a good twenty feet away.
I turned on Thumper, who was now keeping his distance. Probably trying to decide if I was worth the effort or not. “You coming or not?’ I asked, curious as to what he planned on doing.
“You took him out in one blow; I’ve never seen anyone do that to Scour.”
“He had it coming. It’s not polite to spit in a lady’s face.”
Ok, it was a corny line, but it was kind of cool too, right?
Thumper decided after that and unfortunately for him he made the wrong choice. He charged me. I let him come; I wanted to see what he had to offer. He didn’t disappoint. He threw a nasty punch into my chest, probably as hard as he could. If I wasn’t wearing the armor, it probably would have hurt like hell, maybe even broken a few ribs. But as it was, the punch did nothing; I didn’t even feel it. Thumper did though. I think several bones in his hand cracked as soon as his fist impacted. He screamed as loud as he could a few seconds later, stumbling backwards and cursing. He held his wrist, crying out in pain, holding his severely swollen hand away from his body.
“What the fuck are you?’ he gasped, staggering away from me.
“A severely pissed off individual,” I said as I slowly walked toward him. “Do you want to make me a happy one?”
He nodded vigorously. “We’re sorry about trying to scare you off. But Damper doesn’t like competition. He thought you were trying to cut in on his turf. We thought you was Meta. There’s not a lot of us around here and he usually invites new ones into the group. He’s been especially cautious after Bonita and Esteban disappeared.”
Why did that sound familiar? Then it dawned on me. “You’re talking about the missing Metas on the news?”
He nodded. “They were members of our gang. They went to the corner store and never came back. We thought it was Green Arrow coming back but no one’s seen her for a while. Then we thought it might be you, especially after what you did at the mall.”
“I don’t go out of my way grabbing people off the streets, even thugs like you. In fact I’m not even in the hero biz.”
“Could have fooled me.”
I groaned. Were all gang bangers this paranoid? They thought I was taking their friends. That happened days ago, long before I found Khaji. But I wasn’t going to tell them that. Instead, I zipped over to Thumper at lightning speed. I grabbed the front of his shirt and lifted him off the ground, making sure I got his undivided attention.”I want you to deliver a message to your boss.” He nodded vigorously. “Tell him that I’m not going anywhere, that this is my room. I won’t bother him as long as he stays away from my house and doesn’t bother my family either. If I so much as see or even sense one of you bastards near me, I’ll end the whole lot of you. Did you get all that.”
He nodded again. I dropped him; he landed with a groan on the ground. “If you’re not a Meta, than what are you?”
I gave the answer some thought. “I’m a whatever.”
Ok not the coolest thing to say but it was the only thing that made sense. Because frankly, I had no idea what I was.
He gave me a strange look. I turned away and walked back down the alley, toward where the book was. In all the excitement, I had dropped it. I bent and picked it back up, brushing off the mud and grime. I turned back to Thumper and glared at him.
“That went well,” said Khaji, sighing in relief. “I suspect your show of power will be enough to keep them at bay for now. But they’re like cockroaches; they won’t stay down for long.”
“I’ll deal with it then.”
I took a deep breath, extended my wings and took off.
To Be Continued