The Devil Is In the Details (Part 1)
Comics Retcon Universe 011
The Devil is in the Details
Eddie Bloomberg is trying to deal with life after his change, wondering if he made a mistake when he decided to help Cassie and trying to deal with the ramifications of that decision.
Author's Note: Here's a one shot but there's a possibility of continuing it at a later date. I have to stress that it might be wise to read the whole of Some Kind of Wonderful before you read this one though seeing as it sorta hints to events in that story. I'd like to thank djkauf for the devilish good editing and DC Comics for their characters.
I never thought in a million years that I’d be going to my own funeral. You know it’s one of those things that most people don’t even think about. I mean, after all you’re dead so what’s there to think about. But me, I was one of those very few unfortunates who got to see the whole thing. Not that I was a guest, I mean how freaky would that have been. Not that anyone would notice me anyway. But I was the creepy guy who got to linger in the background---crouched behind a large tombstone no less---watching the whole thing happen. I had a pretty good turn out actually. Mom was there, crying. I’m not sure if it was fake or not. Cissie was there too, holding her hand. I saw Connor and Cassie; it was nice to see the two of them actually. The rest of the team was there, as well as a bunch of other kids from school.
You can tell a lot about a guy by how many people turn up at his funeral. There had to be at least a hundred people here or more. There were a lot more at the church for the service but it was nice that so many people came out to the cemetery, too. It made me happy to know that so many people liked me. But it also kinda pissed me off, too. Not the people, I loved that. It pissed me off that I had to die in the first place. You see it wasn’t my idea. In fact, I was fine with hiding in the basement for the rest of my life, having Cissie and Mom for company. Then I had to be the hero. Ok, so being the hero was kinda cool I guess. I mean not every guy can say that they flew through the air, smashed through a skylight and laid the smack down on a ten foot tall bronze Minotaur.
Yep that’s me. Eddie Bloomberg, Monster Slayer. Yeah it didn’t matter if it was that Amy chick who slew the beast, I helped. I suppose I should have bailed then but I’m one of those no good glory hounds. Besides, as soon as the thing was down, Amy collapsed. What kind of guy would I have been if I bailed on a damsel when she was in serious distress? So I stuck around. I stayed with her, making sure she didn’t like have a seizure or something crazy like that. Good Samaritan points and all that I guess. Yeah, I know.
I’m not sure how long I stayed with her but I know when the goons showed up. They came storming out of the elevator, guns drawn. Amy tried to tell them I wasn’t a threat but they hardly listened. They actually opened fire on me. It was a real bad time for me to find out that as soon as bullets touched my skin they melted. It was bad for them too because it turns out that when I’m really pissed off I breathe fire. Hey, it shocked the hell out of me as much as it did to them. It was cool actually. But you know what wasn’t cool, putting two of them in the hospital for second-degree burns. Yep, deep crap city.
They put me down with tear gas after that. When I woke up again, I was in a padded cell with my hands tied behind my back with some kind of flame retardant rope or something. I’m not sure how long I was in the room before someone came in to talk to me, maybe five or six hours. It was some severe looking blonde woman and she was mighty pissed. She asked me a lot of questions. I tried my best to answer them but when I didn’t she got even angrier. I think she probably would have tried something drastic if not for the dude with the white hair. He saved my ass actually. He came in and barked out the orders. He got me out of there, even brought me home. I’ve always wanted to be in an ice cream truck all to myself. It was one of those lifelong ambitions I had when I was a kid actually. It was a shame that there was no ice cream in there. Not that I could eat it anyway, it melted as soon as it touched my mouth. You have no idea how much that sucked.
When we got home, the white haired dude---Agent Faraday–read me the riot act. He told me I was to stay in my house until further notice. He said in a day or two someone would come by and they’d discuss options with me. I had a pretty good idea what that meant. It was pretty obvious that these were the people that Cassie was trying to keep me away from. She didn’t do too well with that I guess. Not that I blamed her, it was my own fault actually. I chose to help her when she called. I could have ignored it like my mother suggested. I think she knew what was going to happen before I did. But Cassie had sounded so desperate on the phone that it was hard not to want to help.
So I helped and got into a whole lot of trouble for it.
The funeral was finally breaking up. I tugged on my hood, pulling it closer around my body. It was dangerous for me to be out in the day like this, especially with all these people. But it wasn’t like I was alone actually. A few feet behind me, I had a pair of babysitters. Agents Maad and Fite, two of the most menacing looking dudes I’d ever seen. This coming from a running back with guys coming at me all the time. Fite was a giant black guy, looked like he played ball himself. Maad was a little Japanese guy but he looked like he could kick Jet Li’s ass any day. They were my official guardians now; at least until their boss decided I was too dangerous to keep in the general population. He’d already talked about locking me up. I think the jury was still out on that one.
“This blows” I said, loud enough so the two of them could hear me. I turned to them. “Have either of you been to your own funerals?”
“As a matter of fact I have” said Fite in his booming, Michael Dorn like voice. “Twice in fact.”
I shuddered. Who in the hell dies twice anyway. “Did they freak you out?”
He shrugged. “In my line of work kid, it comes with the territory.”
Maad said nothing. He continued to stare ahead, looking at me and not. His eyes roamed around, looking at the other tombstones around us. I think he thought someone was going to jump out from behind one of them and attack us. I hated to burst his bubble but I was the only scary monster hiding behind one today. At least I hoped so anyway.
“Dude, you need to lighten up a bit,” I mumbled as I turned back to the parting crowd.
People were starting to go back to their cars now. I locked eyes with Mom, she smiled sadly at me. She didn’t like this idea at all. I think she was still convinced that there was some kind of cure out there for me, something to make me human again. But apparently, Agent Faraday’s people took some of my blood and ran a battery of tests on it. Something to do with my Meta transformation, it completely rewrote my entire DNA structure. I was technically still human but I was something else too. I suppose that made sense in a way. My aunt Marla is a big movie producer, she’s involved with a horror movie series called the Blue Devil. It’s about a guy who sells his soul to a demon to get revenge on the people who murdered his family. But the demon double crossed him and turned him into a monster. It was an awesome series, Mom said I was obsessed. She once told me if I kept watching those movies, I’d turn into a demon too. You can imagine her surprise when it actually happened. After I got her to stop screaming, she was pretty cool about it.
After I was done staring at Mom, I looked over at Cissie. She was one of the only other people here that knew I was still alive. The other two were Cassie and Connor. The three of them were my only lifelines to the real world. Connor was my best friend, the best bud a guy could have. When he saw me the first time after my change, he was so totally cool about it. Cassie was the bomb as far as I was concerned; even though the first time we met, she tried to rip off my nuts. I deserved it, trust me. She was like me, a Meta. But unlike me, she used to be a guy, which kinda sucks I guess. Then again, if I were to turn into a chick, I think I’d want to be a hot one like her.
Cissie was my rock. When she found out, she accepted me without hesitation, even though I’ve been a major dick to her. She was the reason Cassie wrenched my sack. I’m not really good with girls and expressing my feelings toward them. Ever since I was little, I thought the way to get a girl’s attention was to do horrible things to them. In the third grade, I had a little crush on Susie Hansen and to show her how I felt I dipped her pigtails in red paint. Suffice to say it didn’t go over too well. I think I’m the reason she went gay actually. But Cissie was different. She shocked me when she confessed she liked me too. It made my heart sing actually. It was unfortunate that I couldn’t touch anyone anymore. As soon as my skin comes in contact with someone else’s, bam instant third degree burns. Mom and I found that out the hard way.
Cissie and I are working on it though. She’s real smart. She thinks she can get her hands on some fireproof stuff. Then maybe we can at least hold hands during our tutoring sessions. Yep, I can’t go to school for obvious reasons. It kinda sucks but Cissie is the greatest teacher. She’s real smart and takes her time even though I’m kinda dumb. But she’s real patient and doesn’t laugh at me when I screw up in Math or English.
She was walking with Cassie now, going toward Connor’s new truck. That annoyed the hell out of me by the way. The government gave him a new truck when he found out about Cassie’s powers and they wanted to stick me in some refrigerated underground bunker. Where’s the fairness in that. I stood up when the three of them walked by. She was far enough way not to see my face but she knew it was me. I told her where I’d be standing during the cemetery ceremony. She turned and looked at me. I could see her well enough to know she was crying. It made me feel like shit, making a swell girl like her cry that much for me. I wanted to go over there and give her a big hug but knew I’d put her in the hospital if I did.
I sighed. She smiled weakly. Cassie turned and looked at me, too. Then she looked at my two goons. It’s been about a week since I helped her take out that crazy bitch and her brainwashed army. The day after the incident, she raised hell when she found out they detained me. I think she might have been the reason I was released. I owed her a lot for that. I wasn’t too happy when I found out she was now working for them but she later told me she didn’t have much of a choice. The bastards gave her a choice: work for them or end up in a cell pretty much like the one they wanted to put me in to. She apologized a hundred times over for how the DEO was treating me but I told her again and again that it wasn’t her fault. It’s not like she asked them to capture me. It was my choice. I chose to stay behind, just like I chose to help her in her fight. If I hadn’t showed up when I did, that thing could have pounded them into the wall.
Fite was the only one who looked uncomfortable under Cassie’s gaze. I think he’d read her file, he knew what she was capable of.
“Scared of a little girl?” I asked with a laugh.
He didn’t say anything. But Maad smiled. I think it was the first time I’d ever seen him show any kind of emotion whatsoever.
I laughed. Then I watched as Cissie got into the truck and drove off. I watched the others leave too, one by one until only Mom remained. I waited until I was sure the others were gone then I walked toward her. It would be later when they filled in my grave. I wondered what they put into the coffin because I definitely wasn’t in there. I couldn’t help but think that maybe it was filled with stones or something. When I watched up on Mom, I startled her because she jumped. She turned around, her hand on her chest and then she sighed. She made a move to hug me but stopped, remembering.
I sighed. “I’m sorry Mom.”
She nodded, tears in her eyes. “It was a beautiful service. It’s a shame your aunt couldn’t come in, she would have loved it.”
Aunt Marla knew about me too. When she found out, she flipped. Not in a bad way either. After all, she was the woman who produced horror movies for a living. She was ecstatic and would have jumped at the chance to go to my “unfuneral” as the two of us had called it over the phone. Unfortunately, she was caught up in post production on Blue Devil X. She did promise to send me an advanced copy as a condolence though.
“I saw Cissie and the guys; it was nice that they did this.”
Mom nodded. She didn’t say anything though. She just continued to stare at the large hole in the ground. I wanted so much to hug her that it hurt inside. I felt my anger begin to rise, the fire building inside of me. My hands started to heat up, singing my jeans. I cursed again, seeing the burned hand marks I left on them. I’d been having a lot of those accidents. Anger issues were starting to become a problem with me. The DEO was trying to arrange a shrink but it was taking some time. I think they were looking for someone they could trust. As far as I was concerned, I didn’t need one. I was fine as long as everyone just left me alone. But I knew that wasn’t going to happen.
Mom’s back was to me now but she sniffed the air. “Edward is that smoke?”
I cursed and looked down. Though my pants weren’t really burnt, my hands were still smoking slightly. I sighed heavily. “Sorry Mom, I got angry again.”
She didn’t turn around. “We need to get a handle on that.”
We stayed in the cemetery a little while longer but finally we had to leave so they could finish with their work. Maad and Fite stuck to us as we walked back to the cars. They had this cool codename for me actually; they called me the Kid Devil. Ok it’s not so cool but it’s cool when they get on their radios and say things like “Kid Devil leaving the building” or “KD coming your way.”
We had two cars. Mom got to drive with Maad in a normal vehicle. While I got to drive with Fite in the back of a van. He opened the back and let me in, shivering from the cold. It was something that we got from a frozen food company actually. They used it to make smaller deliveries. They refurbished it for me; they even put a seat in the back. Not that I got to go to many places but it was still kinda cool---no pun intended---to drive around in the back of it. The best part, the cold didn’t seem to bother me.
“Into the Ice Box, KD” said Fite as he held the door open for me.
I smiled and climbed inside.
It started to rain on the way home; I could hear it drumming off the top of the van. It kinda sucked that there were no windows back here but there was an obvious reason for that. They didn’t want anyone peeking inside and seeing the red freak hidden there. The only way I knew what was going on was the little window slot that separated the front of the van from my back compartment. It was a recent addition, added so I could talk to whoever was in the front. The slot was shut now but I could hear the radio over the rain. Fite liked to listen to Jazz, which was fine by me. He was listening to some new age stuff when the music cut off.
I leaned forward and opened the slot, about to ask him what was wrong when I heard the voice over the radio.
“I repeat, the police are asking any pedestrians in the area to be on the lookout for this dangerous man. He’s driving a red Camaro, last seen going east toward the cemetery.”
Fite groaned and shut off the radio. “Damn fools can’t do their jobs so they’re asking civilians do it for them.”
The Chicago PD was stretched thin as of late. New Metas were cropping up every day and it was getting harder and harder to monitor things. I guess I couldn’t blame them. There were also reports of some masked vigilante stalking the rooftops now, taking the law into his own hands. The police were having a hell of a time catching him. They said he was like a shadow, appearing and disappearing without warning. It was kinda bad when someone in black was doing their jobs for them, better than them, actually. I thought it was kinda cool actually, glad that someone was out there cleaning up the regular mess.
I was curious about the guy in the Camaro though. “What was that all about?”
Fite groaned. “Some nut in a snake mask just robbed a jewelry store. He jumped about like a ninja apparently, put on quite a show actually. The guards tried to catch him but he was too fast. He went out the window and took off in a Camaro.”
“Did they say he was heading for the cemetery?”
Fite knew as well as I did that there was only one road there, what with all the snow cleanup from the recent storm. This was the only road open, which meant that the guy could be coming our way. Fite looked in the rearview mirror and saw the look in my eyes.
“Out of the question, Kid” he said, grumbling.
“You’re kinda a cop right?” He grumbled. “So if the guy happens to come across our path then you have to arrest him, right?”
Fite groaned. “I might assist if it comes to that.”
I wasn’t looking at him anymore. I was looking at the scene ahead. It was pouring pretty hard now and because it was so cold, it was now sleet. The front windshield was almost completely concealed by it. Fite was having a hard time driving, especially seeing as he could only see a few feet in front of him. Me, my eyes were better. I think it was a part of my mutation. I could see a good ten of fifteen feet in front of us actually. I could hear pretty well too, now. It was no surprise that I could actually hear a roaring engine coming right for us. I had a pretty good guess who it was too.
“Ummm….Don” I said, using his first name. “You might want to watch out. I think that guy’s coming our way.”
“What makes you think that?”
He got his answer before I got a chance to say anything. There was a loud screech of tires. Through the little slot, I saw the red Camaro spin out of control on the road in front of us. It swung around in a couple of circles. The van had better traction but there was no way we were going to avoid hitting him. When the crash came, I was jerked out of my seat. The sound of metal on metal was deafening. I’m not sure who hit who first but both vehicles came to a jarring and wrenching stop. I hit the floor of the van, rolling into the corner hard. I told them my seat needed seatbelts but they didn’t listen. It hurt pretty good when my head slammed against the floor of the van. The world started to spin as I pushed myself up, groaning and sputtering. My hands started to melt some of the ice underneath them as I pushed myself against the wall, sliding to standing position. I was a bit disoriented but I was okay.
I walked over to the slot but there was something blocking it. I groaned and looked around. The impact with the Camaro had caved in the left side of the van; luckily, it wasn’t the side I was sitting on. But it did help in a way because it also forced the back doors wide open. Fite locked them as soon as I got inside. The DEO were paranoid, I think they actually thought I’d run off if the doors weren’t chained shut. It was ridiculous actually; I mean where am I going to go. The only people who knew what I was were here. Besides my aunt of course but they would have caught me long before I got to Hollywood. Nope, I was stuck in Chicago. I was happy about it actually, I liked it here.
I slowly made my way to the back of the van, pushing the mangled doors open the rest of the way. When I jumped outside, the van rocked a bit. The rain pelted me, sizzling on my red-hot skin. It matted my long white hair to my head and kinda tickled on my face and hands. I pulled my hood back up, not a fan of being soaked from head to toe. I walked along the good side of the van, making my way to the driver’s side. When I got there, I found Fite slumped over in his seat, blocking the slot. I smashed the window with my elbow because I couldn’t get the door open. I reached inside to check his pulse but stopped inches from his neck, realizing what would happen if I touched his flesh. I cursed but as soon as I did so, Fite moaned.
I sighed in relief. He was alive, for now anyway.
I knew I should have probably tried to get his radio and call Maad. He and Mom left the cemetery about two minutes before us. I’m sure I could radio him and get him back here ASAP. But I couldn’t get Fite’s radio without touching his ear and besides I didn’t want Mom anywhere near this place. After all, the car that hit us was carrying a dangerous jewel thief. Which reminded me. I groaned and slowly crept around to the damaged side of the van. I half expected to find a Camaro smushed up against us. Instead, I found the huge dent but no car. There was a lot of carnage all over the road though, car carnage that it. I followed it with my eyes and found the Camaro.
The impact must have thrown the car off the side of the road. It was sideways in a ditch, the passenger side facing the air. The scariest thing was that the door was wide open. It didn’t take a genius to figure out what that meant. I took a deep breath and moved slowly over to the car. I knew I’d find it empty even before I looked inside. Wherever the driver was, he was long gone now. I sighed in relief, glad that I wouldn’t have to deal with that little mess. I wonder if he was thrown free from the crash or escaped afterwards. I searched about the vehicle just to make sure.
On the left side of it, on the side of the road facing the forest, was a black bag. I bent down and picked I up. It weighed about a pound and when I opened it, I nearly dropped it. It was filled with jewels---diamond rings, necklaces, sparkling things that I didn’t even know the names of. My eyes opened wide. The jackass took off and left his loot behind. What a douche bag? As soon as the thought entered my head, I heard the click and felt the barrel of a gun press against my back.
“Drop the bag kid and slowly step away from it,” said a hissing voice.
Yeah, hissing. I did as I was told, dropping the little bag. The holder of the gun slid around the front of me, keeping the gun trained on me. I nearly laughed my ass off. It wasn’t just some guy in a snake mask; he was wearing a whole damn suit. Well, it was made to look like snake skin actually. It was skin tight, designed to look like scales. It was kinda cool, like something some professional would wear for Halloween actually. But it was February, not October. This guy looked like a nut. The mask was kinda neat though, his face inside a giant snake’s head.
He bent down and picked up the sack, not taking his eyes off me. Luckily, I was still wearing my baggy coat with the hood up and concealing my face. I wasn’t in the mood for giving two-bit crooks a heart attack.
“What’s with the get up kid?” he hissed.
“You should talk,” I said with a scoff. “I can’t believe you left the house like that. What the hell are you supposed to be anyway?”
He smirked. “I’m the Copperhead. The last face you’re ever going to see.”
I laughed. I couldn’t help it. Here was a guy pointing a gun in my face and he actually just called himself the Copperhead. It was like he was bad villain of the week in a comic book. The Copperhead, what a fricken joke. I don’t think he liked that I was laughing at him though. He got really angry and lashed out. He spun his foot around, catching me in the side of the head. It was so quick that I didn’t see it coming. I’m not sure why he kicked me instead of shooting me but it was his mistake. The kick jerked my head to the side but nothing more. The worse thing it did was knock off my hood. As soon as it did, my entire head was visible. To say the guy was surprised as an understatement.
The color drained from his face. He took a step back, dropping his bag. He started to stutter. “D…d..d…de…monnn….”
I smirked. “Devil actually.”
I grabbed his gun, allowing it to get red hot in my hand. It got so hot that he screamed like a little girl, allowing me to have the whole thing. I tossed the burning red weapon over my head and advanced on him. He stumbled, slipping in a puddle and went down on his butt. He crawled away from me backwards, crying like a baby. All I had to do was walk toward him in a menacing matter and it was enough to scare the hell out of him.
When I finally caught up with him, I reached down and grabbed the front of his costume, lifting him off the ground. He wet himself, right then and there. I saw the wetness appear at his crotch. He looked down for a second and then passed out. I smirked and carried him over to the van, tossing him into the back and slamming the doors shut. He’d be safe in there until I figured out what to do with him. I then walked around to the front of the van just in time for Fite to wake up and miss all the action. He looked over at me and frowned.
"It was him, wasn’t it?” he asked, I nodded. “Did you at least scare him a little?”
I smiled real big.
“He caught a jewel thief, boss” said Fite, defending me to Agent Faraday.
Faraday sighed, rubbing his temples. “That may be but he broke our agreement too.”
Fite came to my defense again. “He never once used his powers to do it.”
I sat at the table, silently watching their debate. It was nice that he was going to such lengths to back me up but it was no use. It was clear that Faraday had already made up his mind. He was one of those people who took one look at the situation and decided what was best. In my case, I was a dangerous Meta that also happened to look like Satan. Not that he’d ever say that to my face of course.
That woman Chase might have though, thank God she was back wherever it is she came from. Not that it mattered though. In this situation, Faraday was the guy in charge and whatever he said was the rules.
Out on the road, it didn’t take long for the police to catch up with us. I hid in the woods so they wouldn’t see me, too many questions I suppose. The first officer on the scene didn’t really care what kind of vehicle Fite was driving. All he seemed to care about was that the Agent caught his man. When they dragged Copperhead---his name was actually Nathan Prince---he was babbling about seeing a “red demon”. I think the cop thought he was crazy or frost bitten or something. Shortly thereafter, Maad and my mother arrived on the scene. Apparently, he turned around when he couldn’t get a hold of his partner. While they were talking, I slipped into the back of Maad’s SUV. I kinda scorched the seats a bit but it was nothing that couldn’t be repaired.
Then the four of us ended up in the city at one of the numerous safe houses the DEO had in the city. That’s where we were now; Faraday arrived about twenty minutes ago. My Mom and Agent Maad were in the other room, me I was in here with the boss and Agent Fite. Fite was trying to explain the situation and it was looking like I might end up in that underground cell after all. I’m not sure if I was pissed or what. I knew I was angry because I could smell the smoke and burnt plastic from the chair I was sitting on. But I was strangely calm.
After they first apprehended me in the spa, Faraday laid out the rules. As long as I had no public displays of power I was free to live with my Mom, just like I had in the past. But if I put one toe out of line, I was done for. I think they were kinda harsh actually but I suppose it’s the way things worked. In truth, I was convinced I’d end up in the underground place no matter what I did. Faraday was scared of me; I saw it in the way he looked at me. Most of his men were scared of me too, except maybe my two babysitters and the pair that Cassie liked so much, Jay and Kate. But those two were gone now, back to DC or wherever the DEO called home.
I’m not sure why Faraday was still in the city. I think he might have been helping the authorities look for this vigilante. The DEO had an vested interest in him, I think. I mean he was not just taking out ordinary criminals. The other night---according to the rumors---he took out some nut in the sewers. It was some kind of Meta mutant like me, a Man Croc or something like that. This guy was huge; it was all over the Internet. Of course, the authorities denied it but some eyewitness shot an amateur video of the thing, it was freaky looking. Though Faraday would deny it if asked, I think he wanted this vigilante ten times more than any of us Metas.
Faraday looked at me, frowning. “What do you think, Eddie? Are you a threat to society?”
I shrugged. “I don’t think it matters what I say. You made up your mind about me the first moment you saw me.”
Faraday smiled. “You want to tell me what happened?”
So I told him. The story didn’t take long because there wasn’t much to tell. He didn’t say anything not even when I was finished. Fite did though. He confirmed everything I told him, which was strange seeing, as he was unconscious through the whole thing. I smiled at him, glad that he had my back. I hadn’t known him for very long but he was a good guy.
After a few minutes, Faraday sighed. ‘I’m going to let you go back home for now, Eddie but you need to keep your nose clean kid. It may not look like but I’m on your side. But I’m getting a lot of pressure from my boss and his bosses; they feel someone who looks like you might fire up the wrong kinds of people. There’s been some talk about dangerous Metas and what should be done about them.”
I nodded. I knew what he meant even if he didn’t say it.
After that, Faraday left and I was allowed to go find Mom. When I told her I was free to go, she sighed heavily. She got up and rushed over to me, almost making the mistake of hugging like before. The look on her face made me upset. I hated not being able to hug my own mother, especially when I really wanted to. It was cool that I had power and I had the potential to help people but it pissed me off that I couldn’t touch people to do so. You have no idea what it’s like not to be able to hug your mother or kiss your girlfriend. It was infuriating at times.
Fite drove us home in another refrigerated truck. It was lucky that they bought two. Mom made dinner but I wasn’t very hungry. To tell you the truth, I had problems eating now. Most of the stuff that touched my lips, burnt instantly. It kinda sucked not being able to eat a properly cooked meal anymore. It sucked even more that my life was so messed up now. I couldn’t play video games without melting the controllers and I couldn’t sleep on my bed without it bursting into flames. Don’t get me started about sleeping itself. I had nightmares almost every night, horrible ones about accidentally touching Cissie or Mom and then watching in horror as they burst into flames. The worst part was waking up and finding everything burnt to a crisp around me.
Most of the furniture was removed from my room. The only good thing about this weather was that it was really cold. At night I could sleep up there with the window wide open, the colder the better actually. It wasn’t flame retardant by any means but it helped. I had a fireproof mattress that cost Mom a fortune and a fire blanket. They were the only two things in my room now; I didn’t even have a TV anymore. I accidentally burnt it when I tried to change the channel without a remote. My room was a dark and cold shell of its former self, emptied of anything that once belonged to me, leaving nothing left. Whenever I sat in there---in the dark---I felt so cold and alone. There were a few times that I contemplated ending it all. I say contemplated because I could never really get past the planning stage. It was hard to figure out how to kill oneself when most of the most to do so wouldn’t work. I couldn’t shoot myself because bullets burned on my flesh and hanging was out of the question for obvious reasons. I suppose I could have jumped out a window but it turns out that I have wings too. You have no idea how hard suicide is when you can’t even kill yourself.
So instead, I sat in the dark most nights, staring at the wall. I was doing so now, wondering if they were going to change their minds. It was only a matter of time. I saw it in Faraday’s eyes. He said it was out of his hands and he might have been right but he wanted to lock me up just as much as his boss did. I mean, one look at me and you can see I’m a monster. I suppose I could run, it wasn’t out of the question actually. In fact, the other day Cassie and I talked about it. She even agreed to help me with it. We weren’t sure where I’d go, probably over the border into Canada. There were places up north where I could hide and live out the rest of my life. She researched them on the Internet for me actually. It worked out real well too because the cold didn’t affect me.
My mother knocked on the door, opening it a crack. “Honey, are you ok?”
Her tone of voice told me she’d been crying. She did a lot of that lately.
“I’m fine Mom,” I said, trying to hide my own tears. “Just thinking.”
She opened the door all the way and stood in the doorway. “I know what you’re thinking about and I don’t think it’s the smartest idea. These people are very dangerous. You might be able to run from them for a while but I have a feeling they’ll catch you eventually.”
I nodded. “They want to lock me up Mom.”
“Did they say that?” she asked, trying hard to stay in the doorway.
It was too cold for her to come into my room. It pained me that not even my own mother could walk into my room anymore.
“Not in so many words” I said “but it was clear from his tone. He told me to keep my nose clean but that his boss was seriously considering locking me up for my own safety.”
“Maybe we can write a letter to our Senator,” she said, sounding hopeful.
I smiled and nodded even though she couldn’t see me in the dark. ‘That sounds good Mom,” I said, trying to sound cheerful. “Why don’t you do that and I’ll think of something to say.”
She nodded. “Just promise me you won’t run away. I don’t know what I’d do if I lost you.”
Mom had had it hard in the last few months. Dad was in the military and we moved around a lot. We came here while he was stationed in Iraq. Things were supposed to be different but everything changed two months ago. He was killed in a roadside bombing. It nearly destroyed Mom. It took everything I had to keep her from joining Dad. In the end, Aunt Marla succeeded. She got Mom some good professional help. He was one of the best shrinks in the state and Mom was making good progress. Or at she was. Then this whole thing with my metagene happened. I’m not sure but I think she had another relapse. She was doing better but I could see it in her eyes, she was barely holding on as it was.
Even if I wanted to run or kill myself, there was no way I could do it. For Mom’s sake, I needed to stick with this. She left, leaving me alone with my thoughts. I sat in the darkness for the longest time, trying to decide what to do. Dad used to be the one with all the answers. If he was still alive, he would know what to do. He would have told Agent Faraday to go screw himself and he would have protected me until he was blue in the face. He made sure no one pushed our family around. He was a true American hero and died as one. I don’t know how many other people can say that about their Dads. In a situation like this, he would have told me that “there’s always a silver lining.” As much as I would have loved to agree with him, I just couldn’t see where one was.
Fortunately I didn’t have far to look. I’m not sure when I noticed the green glow but it grew brighter real quickly. It filled my room, so bright that I had to shield my eyes. I jumped to my feet, trying to see where the source of it was coming from. I snapped around, looking at the window. What I saw shocked the hell out of me. There was a girl outside, hovering there, bathed in a green light. She smiled at me. Then she raised her hand and flew through my window, landing gently on the floor in front of me. She looked around the room and shivered, rubbing her arms.
“It’s like a freezer in here,” she said, her breath visible.
I was dumbstruck. I knew her on sight; there were very few people in the world who didn’t know her. She was Jade, the Green Lantern. Her face was in the news all the time now. Some of the news people were calling her the Vanguard of the Meta Invasion but I saw her as a Saint. She was definitely heavenly, standing before me, looking very beautiful.
I finally found my voice. “I have to keep it cold” I said “or else everything burns.”
She nodded and then looked me up and down. “I can imagine.”
I smiled sheepishly. “You get used to it. It’s a face only a mother can love I suppose.”
She smiled. “No offense but I think my mother would die of a heart attack.”
We laughed. Then she looked around the room, frowning at how bare it was. “I love what you’ve done with the place.”
I didn’t laugh this time. “Burning things kinda takes a toll on the stuff that you own.”
She nodded and smiled sadly. “I can see where that might be a problem.” She reached out for me, attempting to touch my shoulder. I pulled back, afraid I was going to burn her. “Don’t worry; you’re not going to hurt me.”
Her hand glowed green and she touched me, showing that she could indeed do so. The only other person who had touched me and wasn’t harmed was Cassie. But she was in a whole league of her own. I’m not sure how this Jade person did it. Maybe it was her ring. I looked at it on her finger. It didn’t look like much but then again looks could be deceiving. If you looked at me, all you might see is monster and I’m much more than that.
"How did you do that?”
She held up her ring, just as I thought. “It can do a lot; it might even be able to help you.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You’ve got a great gift Eddie and don’t let anyone else tell you differently,” she said, the way she said it I knew she was referring to the DEO. “If you’re willing, I think maybe I can help you get over that handicap of yours.”
She smiled. “The Devil is in the details.”
“How are you going to help me exactly?”
She smiled and a strange green ring appeared in her hand. It looked just like the one on her finger but not as shiny. I looked from her to the ring and back again. Clearly, she wasn’t trying to give me a cheap piece of costume jewelry. It looked kinda cool on her but she was a chick. On me, that big hulking thing would look pretty damn ridiculous. But I continued to stare at it anyway, wondering if she was going to explain things. For a while, neither of us said anything, probably waiting for the other to speak.
Finally she spoke. “Do you know the story of Terra Cross?”
I nodded. “I saw it on the news.”
Terra was one of the other Metas out there. She was just like Cassie in that she used to be a guy. They did a story on her a few weeks back on Nightline. She told the world all about herself, leaving out none of the secrets. It was kinda fascinating. Of course, back then, I’d been normal and it was cool because it happened to someone else. Was I a bit jealous, well maybe a little? After all, who doesn’t want superpowers? I got mine, of course, just not the way that I wanted. I don’t think I need to elaborate on that again, I think Cassie covered all that pretty well. The point being that Terra seemed pretty happy during the Interview, well adjusted to the circumstances. But then again her powers didn’t turn her into a hulking red freak.
“I gave Terra one of these rings, I’ve given them to others too,” She said, listing off a name here and there.
I remembered her mentioning something about a ring in the interview. It gave her a costume instantly. I groaned. “I don’t need a costume.”
Jade smiled. “This one is different. When my ring detected you and your strange mutation, it did some permutations of its own. After a few days it came up with a solution and created this ring for you.” She held her hand out toward me. “Instead of designing it to create just a costume, it’s been programmed to create an identity for you. Sorta like a camouflage, one that will allow you to walk around and interact with people again.”
I was speechless. I stared at the ring. I wanted to scream “Thank You God” at the top of my lungs. But all I could do was try not to cry. These last few weeks had been pretty hard. It was not easy hiding in the shadows, trying my hardest not to burn everything I touched. But as happy as I might have been, I had some worries too.
“What about my powers?”
She smiled. “The cloak that this ring creates is like a shield too. We’ll call it a Membrane. It covers your body, shielding it and you from harm. It is quite advanced and unique, but if I’m right, it should seal away your powers, making you a normal person.”
This time I did cry, burning hot tears rolling down my cheeks. “Does this mean I can touch people?”
Jade nodded. “If my ring is correct then you should be able to live a normal healthy life as long as the ring is on your finger, that is.”
I nodded then I reached for the ring in her hand. A normal healthy life, huh. I didn’t hesitate in the least as I reached forward and took it from her hand. She smiled. I held it in my own hand for a while. At first, I thought it was going to melt like most of the other stuff I held but it didn’t. I’m not sure what it was made out of but it was the strongest stuff I’d ever held. I tried burning it, squeezing my hand around it to cause some kind of damage. Hey, I was kinda curious. But when I failed, I smiled. Maybe this could work after all.
Excitement overtook me and I slipped the ring on my finger. I closed my eyes and only one person came into my head: Cissie. She and I could finally have the relationship that we always wanted. I dreamt about it a lot actually. What guy didn’t dream about the girl he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. Ok, I’m being a little premature but I think I loved her.
Finally, I opened my eyes and Jade gasped. I blinked raised my hands, half expecting to see the clawed red talons. Instead, though I saw normal human fingers. I felt like doing a back flip. But I stopped myself because there was something wrong about my fingers. They were thinner than before, dainty even. The skin was soft and my nails were longer, rounded off into nice tips. I flexed my fingers, surprised that they looked so girly. Then I looked down and what I saw nearly caused me to faint. There were two bumps on my chest. I realized now why Jade gasped. I stumbled, a lock of reddish hair falling in front of my face. Jade reached out and grabbed my wrist, keeping me from collapsing completely.
I ended up in her arms, going forward instead of back. What the hell was going on here? I couldn’t even think about it, it was just too much. It wasn’t possible, it couldn’t be possible. I looked up at Jade---tears in my eyes---and she frowned.
“What did you do to me?”
Jade raised her hand with the ring, clenched in a tight fist. “Ring, explain?” she demanded angrily.
“Edward Davis Bloomberg is dead, declared officially three days ago and put to rest this morning. I took that into account when I designed the ring for the person standing before us. His appearance was meant to be his own choosing.”
“My own choosing” I asked, my voice sounded weird and girly. “You son of a bitch, you could have warned me.”
My anger flared but for the first time in weeks, I didn’t burn anything. At least the shield of the ring was working. Jade didn’t look too fazed by my anger, if she even noticed. She was frowning though, so clearly something was upsetting her. Something was definitely upsetting me that’s for sure. This ring was supposed to help me, not make me a bigger freak than I already was. It was one thing to be a red demon dude but it was something else to be turned into a chick. I wanted to scream and pull my hair out but for some reason the only emotion I was feeling was anger.
“Ring” said Jade, clearly annoyed. “Is there nothing you can do for him?”
“This camouflage is very peculiar,” said the Ring “it should not have manifested itself in this manner. It was not programmed to behave this way. It is possible that there is something else at work here.”
“Are you saying that I wanted to be a girl?”
I reached down and grabbed the globes on my chest, surprised that I was able to do so. I thought it was supposed to be fake and yet I could grab them. How freaky is that. I gave them a violent shake, glad that I felt none of that. “I did not want these,” I said angrily.
Jade didn’t say anything. At least for a while. Instead, she slowly walked around me, probably trying to figure things out. I was still a little confused myself actually. For starters, I was wearing clothes now. They were gender specific, so a girl’s shirt and jeans. The strange thing was that they didn’t feel like anything. I reached down and poked my leg. But the material underneath didn’t feel like jean. I’m not sure what it felt like but it definitely didn’t feel real. Well that’s because it wasn’t. This whole body was fake---like a mirage---created to shroud the real me from the rest of the world. It freaked the hell out of me that I was a girl now but if it meant going out, maybe I could let it slide once or twice. It’s not like it was my real bod anyway.
Jade came around front of me again, pointing her ring at me. A thin beam of green light shot out of it and harmlessly moved up and down my body. I shivered but not because I could feel it. I felt nothing. It just kinda gave me the willies that’s all. After the “scanning” was done, Jade sighed.
“I’m going to have to go back to my ship and run these findings through the database.”
“Is something wrong?”
She shook her head. “I’m not sure. It’s clear that you’re Meta but there’s something else. My ring didn’t pick it up before but there’s something off about you.”
I nodded. “My friend Cassie turned from a dude into a chick.”
“Is she a new Meta too?”
I nodded. “Don’t you keep tabs on all the newbies or something?”
She smiled. “I’m not privy to every single Meta emergence out there. In fact there’s probably a lot out there that I don’t know about.”
“Does that mean there’s bad ones out there?”
She nodded. “You can’t have the good without the bad.”
I thought back to what happened at the spa. I didn’t know all the details but I knew some really bad shit want down there. There was a lot of stuff that Cassie was keeping from the DEO too. After she got them to release me, the two of us had a little talk about it. All she’d willingly tell me is that there’s someone out there with a lot of power who could do bad things. I think she was trying to protect me but it definitely felt like she was talking down to me a bit. She did say that the bad chick was gone now and that everyone else involved was taken care of. There was brainwashing and drugs involved, I knew that much at least.
“You should talk with Cassie” I said, “She knows how to deal with the bad.”
Jade nodded. The two of us talked for a few more minutes. She wanted to make sure that I was going to be ok with all of this. I told her everything was going to be all right. But truthfully, I was scared to death. It was one thing to turn into a demon but this was something else. I knew I wasn’t really a chick---it was like a suit---but it still freaked me out. The worse part of it was trying to explain things to Mom and Cissie. It was great that I could touch them and things like but how were they going to react. With the ring on, Mom had a new daughter and Cissie had a girlfriend. I groaned at the latter. How in the hell was that going to work? Would she accept all this?
Finally, Jade and I said our goodbyes. She promised to look into the ring thing and get back to me as soon as she found some answers. I thanked her for help, lying to her once again about being able to deal with it. I don’t think she believed me. Hell, I wouldn’t.
I watched and waved as she flew off. Then I yawned, ready to drop off long before I trudged my lazy ass over to the mattress.
“Eddie, honey, it’s time to get up”
I heard the combination of my mother’s voice and the knocking on the door at the same time. But I wasn’t ready to open my eyes yet. I was having a good dream moments before she woke me. It involved Cissie and I were on a tropical vacation. We were lounging by the pool, basking in the glorious sun. She was in a tiny white two-piece and I was in a blue one. There were cabana boys serving us drinks in their white uniforms and this guy was sitting on the other side of the pool. He kept looking in our direction and smiling. Cissie thought he was cute but I thought he gave me the creeps. Just because I had boobs and a nice bod it didn’t mean….I let the thought stray as my eyes snapped open. Holy shit, I did not just dream that. The realization of the dream came to me quickly. Cissie and I were both girls and I was enjoying it. How in the hell could I even dream something like that. I groaned as I sat up, running my fingers through my new long hair. It freaked me. I looked at my hand and saw the ring. It didn’t look like much but it was the root of my whole problem. I glared at it and reached for it, wanting to pull the damn thing off my finger.
I hesitated though. With it gone, I’d be a guy again but I’d be that thing too. I groaned a second time, angry that my life would come to this.
My mother knocked louder. “Edward Davis Bloomberg, you get up this instant.”
I hated it when she used my full name. But I didn’t want to get up. I figured if I lay in bed long enough, maybe the memory of the dream would fade away. Some dreams do that actually. There are a lot of dreams I have and I remember them so clearly in the morning. But by late afternoon, they’ve faded away in my mind. I know some people keep dream journals but those things are for nerds. But no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that I was a chick in the dream and I was enjoying myself.
My mother knocked louder. I groaned, deciding that no matter how much I tried to ignore it there was no way that it would go away.
“I’m up” I shouted then gasped, throwing one hand to my throat and the other over my mouth.
No shit, I even sound like a girl.
My bedroom door opened and my mother poked her head inside. “Edward?”
She locked eyes with me and I saw the confusion. Then it was quickly replaced by fear. I can only imagine the thoughts coursing through her head. Here was a strange person in her son’s bedroom, a girl where a boy should be. She opened her mouth to say something but I cut her off quickly. I needed to get this over with fast, like tearing off a band-aid. “Mom” I said, removing the hand from my mouth. “Don’t freak out.”
She found her voice. “Who are you?” she asked angrily. “Why did you call me Mom?”
I sighed. “I’m Edward.”
She laughed. “Last time I checked I had a son instead of a daughter.”
“I am your son,” I said then quickly added. “I can explain.”
“You better” she said angrily. “Its not every morning that a mother walks into her son’s room and finds a half naked girl.”
Half-naked? I looked down and my eyes nearly bugged out of my head. I was no longer wearing the clothes the ring manifested for me last night. Instead, I was wearing some kind of sheer nightgown. It was made of silk and clung to my fake curves nicely. I groaned. Not only did the thing turn me into a girl but also apparently, it changed my clothes to fit the occasion. It must have thought that this is what girls wore to bed. What the hell kind of ring was this?
My mother was still glaring at me. I bit my lip. It was time for another band-aid rip. “I guess the best way to tell you is to show you.”
I reached for my finger and pulled off the ring. As soon as it was free, my façade disappeared. I didn’t feel a thing but my mother’s eyes widened and she gasped loudly. When I looked down, I was kinda happy to see red skin and no boobs. I let out a sigh of relief. My mother did too, but she was still really confused. I took a deep breath and told her about last night. She didn’t say a word; she looked from me to the ring and back to me again. When I was finished, I smiled and slipped the ring back on my finger to show her. The nightgown was gone now, replaced by jeans and a t-shirt. I’m not sure why I put the ring back on, I guess I was just tired of looking at my demonic self.
My mother finally spoke. “And you can’t change into a boy with it on?”
I shook my head. “Jade is trying to figure it out. She took some scans and said she’d get back to me.”
My mother nodded. Then her emotions got the better of her. She rushed forward and wrapped her arms around me in a tight hug. I flinched, half expecting her to scream at the top of her lungs. But she didn’t. Instead, her head sunk to my shoulder and she cried. I gently wrapped my arms around her, letting her cry. I cried a bit, too. It had been weeks since I’d been able to hold anyone and this felt good. Having physical contact again was almost worth looking like a girl. The only sad part was that I couldn’t feel her. I knew she was holding me but it was like wrapping my arms around nothing. I left that part out of my explanation; I didn’t want to upset her anymore than she already was.
After about five minutes, she let me. She brushed a strand of hair from my face, smiling. “This is going to take time getting used to. I had a handsome son and now I have a beautiful daughter.”
I groaned. “It’s not real Mom.”
She smiled. “It is to me. I love you Eddie and it didn’t matter what you looked like. But you have no idea how hard it was for me as a mother not to hold and comfort my son when I could see he was hurting.”
“I know Mom,” I said, tears streaming down my cheeks.
Mom pulled me into another hug again. This one didn’t last as long. When she pulled away, she was still smiling. “Are you hungry, sweetheart?”
I was about to tell her no but my stomach grumbled. She laughed and took me by the hand, dragging me toward the door. I tried to protest, knowing damn well that food didn’t mean much to me anymore. But Mom wasn’t having any of that. She was as giddy as a schoolgirl. It made me kinda happy actually. For so long---the last few weeks more so than ever---she’d been so unhappy. To see her like this though, laughing and dragging me about, it made me happy. When we got into the hall, Mom flicked on the lights. I shielded my eyes, not used to it. Like my room, mom kept most of the lights in the house off. She tried to limit the light so that I wouldn’t see myself in a reflection somewhere and get angry. Do you remember the Beast’s room in the Disney cartoon, how smashed up it was? Well that’s what happened to the living room the first time I caught my reflection in a mirror. It was purely accidental and I apologized a hundred times for it but I was so scared and angry.
From that moment on, Mom turned off the lights and made sure there were no more mirrors in the house.
But as she was dragging me down the hall, I noticed her bedroom door open. As we went by, I caught sight of her dressing mirror. It was on the far wall and when we passed by, I saw a glimpse of my mother and girl. I stopped dead in my tracks, pulling my wrist from Mom’s hand. I think she realized what I saw. She tried to stop me, afraid I’d flip out again. But I brushed past her and went into her room. I walked toward the mirror and what I saw made me gasp. It was a teenage girl, about sixteen or so. She had long hair that reached down her back, a fair complexion and vibrant green eyes. I looked a lot like Mom except she was blonde. The girl in the mirror looked almost Irish, which made since seeing as Mom was Irish on her father’s side. Dad of course was Jewish and before I looked a little like him except blonde.
It kinda pained me a bit that nothing of him seemed to pass over to my girl “mirage”.
I reached up and touched my face. “Is that me?”
Mom came up behind me and put a hand on my shoulder. “I’m sorry sweetheart. I’m sure this Jade person can fix it.”
I nodded numbly. I didn’t want to say what I was thinking. I was kinda cute, almost hot actually. I could see why that dream guy kept looking at me. Thinking about that made me blush and then I groaned. I didn’t just blush because some dream guy found me attractive. I felt my anger rise but I forced it back down. A part of me wanted to tear the ring off my finger but I didn’t. I saw the look on Mom’s face---it was one of fear---I think she thought I was going to get angry too. So I flashed her a smile, trying to show her that everything was all right.
She smiled back weakly. “Come sweetheart, let’s get something to eat.”
I nodded and followed her out of the room, taking one last look at the fox in the mirror. I kinda smiled, even though doing so disturbed the hell out of me. I followed Mom down the hall and the stairs after that. She went to the kitchen, turning on lights as she did so. I heard her sigh every time she flicked a switch; I think she was kinda glad not to live in darkness anymore. Once we got into the kitchen, she pulled open the curtains, allowing the morning light to stream into the room. I flinched and shielded my eyes, not used to so much brightness. When I changed, she purchased dark curtains to make things as comfortable for me as possible. I hated that she did so much to accommodate me but I think it kept her from going completely insane. But I could tell it depressed the hell out of her. It made me happy to see how happy she was now.
She fixed breakfast, something simple like toast. When I grabbed the first piece, she watched me with anticipation. The first thing I was happy about was the fact that it didn’t burn to a blackened crisp in my hand. But my happiness was short-lived. Though it didn’t turn to ash at my lips, it had no taste. Clearly, the ring was only on the surface and as soon as the toast went into my mouth, it burnt up. I groaned inwardly, sad that food would still be as bad as it was before. But I put on a good face for Mom; I didn’t have the heart to disappoint her. I smiled real big and gave her a thumbs up. She sighed in relief then set about cooking me a bigger meal. She made some bacon and scrambled some eggs. It made me happy to see her bounce around the kitchen just like old times.
After breakfast, she talked. We stayed at the kitchen table and she discussed things with me. Now that I could hide my true self behind the ring’s mirage, she wanted me to get my life back on track. I think she was a little sad that the government forced her into “faking” my death but she was happy that it wasn’t real. Now, according to her, we had to come up with something else. She was excited about it in fact. I think she was a bit upset that I’d been cooped up in the house for so long, letting my life pass me by. Now I had a chance to live again. Of course, it was going to require us to make some changes. She talked about what she wanted to do and then she set about making the first phone call, which I’m not so happy to report was to the DEO.
An Agent arrived at noon. He was well groomed with slick backed hair and a sparkling smile. When he walked into the house---dressed in his thousand-dollar suit---I was surprised that this guy actually worked for the government. He looked like some overpriced lawyer. He was even carrying a briefcase and had a blue tooth in his ear.
“Mrs. Bloomberg, my name is Damon Matthews,” he said, flashing those pearly whites of his.
My mother shook his proffered hand. I lingered in the shadows, trying to get a feel for this guy. So far, the only DEO guys I liked were Fite and Maad. This guy seemed to be like the rest. He was smug and arrogant. He waltzed into my house like he owned the place, his lip even curled a bit when he looked about. Hey, it’s not easy when I burn pretty much everything I touch. I had half a mind to slip off the ring and burn this son of bitch’s nuts. What can I say, Cassie is very inspiring.
Damon sat at the table, setting the briefcase down in front of him. He opened it up and took out a file folder. “Am I right to assume that this young lady over here is in fact your son, now?”
My mother nodded. When she called, she gave the DEO a rundown of events. I’m not sure if they believed her or not but I was willing to show them if they had any doubts.
“She is.” Mom said then quickly added. “I explained all this to the agent on the phone.”
Damon nodded. “I’m just being thorough Mrs. Bloomberg.”
And thorough he was. He laid out all the cards, telling us what was going to happen now. It seemed the DEO wasn’t going to let me off the hook even though I could mask my powers. Fite and Maad would still be around to monitor me but now they’d be in the shadows, following at a distance. Damon also seemed kinda wary of the ring. He said the government knew of them and had had dealings with Jade in the past. She explained the use of them to his superiors and how they weren’t harmful. I thought for a second he was going to ask me to take it off but he didn’t. He probably knew what I looked like without it and didn’t want any part of it. Not that I could blame him.
“Now that we’ve gotten some of the pressing details out of the way, I want to get to the legal aspect of all this” he said, taking out another folder. “In here is your daughter’s new identity.”
I spoke up for the first time. “My what?”
He smiled at me. “The new you sweetie.”
I groaned. I hadn’t even thought about that. But I guess it made sense. If I wanted to live a normal life, I couldn’t very well do it as Eddie Bloomberg. But I thought it’d be a few days before they sprung this on me. “So who am I now?”
He opened the folder, allowing me to see. There was no picture of course. But there was a name. I’m not sure if I liked it. Mom sure didn’t when she read it aloud. “Ellie Jackson?”
Damon nodded. “Before you start to complain, Mrs. Bloomberg, let me remind you that we had your son declared legally dead a few days ago. Your husband has no family and your sister isn’t married. We couldn’t create a niece for you so we had to come up with an alternative. So Ellie Jackson will be a foster child that you took in to help fill the emptiness in your heart after losing your son.”
I got angry. “This is bull shit. I can’t be related to my mother anymore?”
“Not legally on paper.”
Mom frowned. “How will I explain her to others?”
Damon nodded, tapping the folder. “It’s all in here. Ellie” he said, stressing my name. “Won’t be able to officially start to live in this house until next month. It gives you time to grieve. Then we’ll enroll her in the same high school and take things from there.”
I groaned. This was definitely bull. “Does that mean I have to leave here?”
He shook his head. “No but it does mean that you’re going to have to remain in the house for the time being.”
My Mom didn’t like that. “I just got my son back and you want him to continue to hide?”
“Just until we get everything sorted.”
I wanted to punch the guy in the face but that wouldn’t have solved anything. So instead, I angrily bit my lip. Mom continued to frown but in the end, she agreed, a little bit reluctantly I might add. Damon smiled, leaving the two folders on the table. He stood up and shook Mom’s hand. When he tried to shake mine, I blew him off. There was no way I was going to let that slime touch me. I don’t think he was too upset. He sorta thumbed his nose at me and left, Mom showed him to the door. I stared at the folders on the table for a while. They were my new life now. I wanted to scream as loud as I could. Things were going too fast. I was still convinced this new look of mine was temporary anyways, Jade was confident she could fix it. I wonder what would happen to Ellie Jackson then.
Mom came back into the kitchen a minute or two later. She was frowning. “They want you to come into the city in the morning. They need to get your picture taken and do some tests.”
I nodded. “If you think it’s for the best Mom.”
She came into the room and hugged me. I cried on her shoulder this time. This whole thing sucked majorly.
We went into the living room after that. I sat on the couch, watching TV. It felt good to be able to hold the remote again. I sat there for a couple of hours, until about two thirty. When the doorbell rang, I didn’t even think about it. I just got up and answered it. Mom was downstairs in the laundry room and seeing, as I was the only one, I had no choice. It was kinda stupid when you think about it; I should have never answered the door. I regretted it as soon as I opened it and saw Cissie standing there. She was holding a stack of books close to her chest. When she saw me, she looked really confused.
Shit. I forgot about Cissie.
“Hi” she said softly, probably a little surprised to see a pretty girl answer her boyfriend’s door. “Is Eddie here?”
I groaned. This was not going to be easy.
It wasn’t easy, well not at first.
“Cissie” I said, smiling.
She looked even more confused. She had this look on her face like she thought she should know me but couldn’t quite place me. I hated that feeling. Every once in a while it used to happen to me in school. I’m not saying I’m a jerk that forgets people but there are some people who just slip my mind. It’s really hard to remember the names and faces of everyone you meet, especially if only for a second. It was worse for me, being on the football team and all. There were a lot of people in school who thought just because they saw me on the field that they were my best friends. I hated those people, especially when they got angry that I didn’t acknowledge their friendships.
“I’m sorry,” she said, frowning. “I don’t know you.”
I smiled. “You wouldn’t.”
She looked even more confused. I reached forward and gently took her hand, leading her inside. I wanted to jump for joy. I wanted for so long to hold her hand and even though I couldn’t feel it, I knew I was doing so. I led her through the living room and into the kitchen. Mom was still downstairs so we had a few minutes. The folders that that jackass dropped off were still sitting on the table. I groaned when I looked at them. There was nothing in there that said I couldn’t tell people about all this. Even if there was, there was no way I was going to let the government dictate my life anymore.
I took Cissie over to the table and we sat down. She still looked like someone who had no idea what was going on. I hated keeping her in suspense but I needed to be sure that she could handle things. I looked into her face, trying to gauge her. She’d been very welcoming and trusting of my true form. She might have been a little apprehensive when she first saw me, but she accepted me. From the day of the revelation until two days ago, she’d been coming to my house everyday to tutor me. Two days ago that ended because Eddie Bloomberg was dead and I was no longer a student. So the last time I saw her was at the cemetery, which is pretty strange given she was there to mourn me even though I wasn’t really dead.
Finally she spoke. “Look, if Eddie doesn’t want to see me, I can go.”
She tried to stand up but I gently pushed her back down. I took a deep breath. “He wants to see you; in fact he’s seeing you right now.”
There, just like a band-aid.
Cissie looked more confused. Then her eyes roamed over my body and they widened. “Eddie?” she asked in a soft voice.
I nodded. “In the flesh, sorta speaking.”
She gasped. “I don’t understand.”
I smiled weakly then took the biggest plunge of my life. I took a deep breath and told her about what happened last night. After I was done, she didn’t say anything. So I showed her. I slipped the ring off my finger and poof, Ellie Jackson was gone. Cissie gasped and almost reached forward to touch my hand. I pulled it away quickly. She stared at me for a while, tears in her eyes. I let her look at me for a few more minutes and then I slipped the ring back on my finger. My demonic self disappeared, replaced by the mirage again. Cissie smiled but she looked like someone ran over her cat.
“Hey, it’s still me,” I said.
She reached forward slowly, touching my cheek. It sucked that I couldn’t feel her touch. She kept her hand there for a few seconds and then pulled away slowly. I reached forward and did the same to her but I didn’t pull away. Instead, I moved the hand across her face to her hair. I ran my fingers through it, caressing it. You have no idea how long I wanted to run my fingers through her hair. She closed her eyes, letting me caress her cheek with my other hand as I continued to run my fingers through her hair. Then I took another plunge. I moved gently forward, pressing my lips to hers. It was a little awkward at first. I think she was a little hesitant but it didn’t take long for her to get into it. Soon we were going at it.
After a minute or two, we pulled away. There were tears in Cissie’s eyes. I smiled and she shook her head. “I’m sorry,” she said softly.
“What’s the matter?” I asked, still running my fingers through her hair.
She shook her head, pushing my hand away. “You’re not him.”
She pushed my away violently then jumped to her feet. She dropped her books on the floor and ran out of the kitchen. I gave chase, calling to her but she didn’t stop. She ran for the front door and pulled it open violently. I took off after her but she was half way down the street by the time I got out the door. I flinched at the light, not used to show much brightness. I had to shield my eyes as I watched my girlfriend run away from me. Then I cried. I dropped to my knees on the front lawn, burying my face in my hands. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. The ring was supposed to make me normal and now I was more repulsive with it on than I was with it off.
I cried for a long time until I felt some one gently help me up. I turned and buried my face in my mother’s chest. She held me and the two of us stood on the lawn for a while.
She didn’t officially break up with me but she didn’t come back.
For the next few days, I stayed in my room, crying for most of the time. Things weren’t supposed to be this way. The ring was supposed to be the answer, not the problem. My girlfriend was repulsed by the fact that she was kissing a girl. So the ring wasn’t going back on. It was sitting in a drawer on the far side of the room, locked away. Forever for all I cared. I caused so much pain with it and I wasn’t going to do that again. I hoped that Cissie would come around. I tried calling her, telling her that the ring would never go on again. But she wouldn’t return my calls.
The day after Cissie left, Cassie came by. The two of them were friends and I’m sure they had a little “girl talk.” Cassie was already in the loop too. She worked for the DEO now, even if she didn’t want to. When she showed up, I didn’t talk much. But she did. She told me that Cissie was scared and that she couldn’t deal with it. She sounded kinda annoyed about it actually. I hated the fact that Cassie was at odds with Cissie over this but she told me that we had to stick together. As far as I knew, there were only two of us in Chicago. Amy was gone; she disappeared a few days after the spa incident. Not that anyone besides me, Cassie and Connor remembered her. It was like she never existed. Cassie said they told her that their psychic fixed things. How creepy is that? I wonder if the psychic could make Cissie forget she ever loved me. When I suggested that to Cassie, she punched me. It wasn’t very hard but it kinda hurt.
“Give it some time,” she told me “I’m sure Cissie will come around.”
But I could tell by her tone that she wasn’t very confident. It was nice that she tried though.
I talked to Connor too. He seemed to think that Cissie was being stupid. I had to agree with him there. He tried to comfort me by cheering me up but it didn’t really work. He offered to come over and play some games with me but I wasn’t really in the mood to watch him play---I can’t touch the controller because they melted in my hands. And like I said before, I’m not wearing that damn ring again.
My Mom tried to cheer me up too. She was back to wallowing too. I felt kinda bad for that but she’d have to deal with it. Yeah, I know now I’m being a jackass. But didn’t matter, nothing mattered anymore. I just wanted to crawl into a hole and die. She tried to talk to me about it but I didn’t want to talk. All I wanted to do was cry and try not to think about it. But every time I closed my eyes, I saw her face. It hurt so much that I just wanted it to stop. It didn’t help that every time my emotions got a little overloaded, I burned things. There were now several new burn spots on the carpet and a new chair was now cinders.
But it didn’t stop Mom from trying.
She knocked on the door, trying to get my attention. “Eddie, you can’t stay in there all day.”
It hadn’t just been all day. It’d been the last three days. The only time I came out was to eat and that was only once a day. I wonder if she even understood that. “I’m not coming out.”
My mother sighed; I could hear it through the door. “I know you’re hurting sweetheart, I understand your pain. But you can’t keep doing this to yourself.”
She was right even if I wasn’t ready to openly admit it. I’d been wallowing far too long and not just about Cissie. It was partly about her but it was mainly about me. I knew it was only a matter of time before she left me actually. It was hard to think that a pretty girl like her would stick around with me---a freak---for very long. I could already see it actually, her attention waning. It was little things, like how she kept coming a few minutes later each day and the way she shied away from me when I got too close. I tried to ignore it at first but it was hard too. Now the nail was in the coffin and we were done. At least she could have been remotely civil and officially break up with me.
“Mom” I said, sighing heavily. “I think I’ll lie down for a while.”
My mother sighed too. “Ok sweetheart.”
I pulled myself off the floor and wandered over to the dresser in the corner. The only time I wore the ring now was when I slept. So before when I said I didn’t wear it anymore, I was actually telling a half-truth. But wearing it while I was sleeping didn’t really count, did it? I don’t think so. Besides no one was going to see me while I slept. Not wearing the ring was dangerous too because of nightmares. Heavy emotion and I did not go hand in hand any more.
I slipped the ring on my finger; the clothes it manifested were a pair of pink pajamas. I’m not sure how it knew this but somehow it did. I tried not to think about it. There were a lot of things about the ring that troubled me and so far, I had no answers. I wanted to talk to Jade about it but I had no way of contacting her and she’d yet to show up with answers. It made me wonder if she had abandoned me too.
I sighed heavily as I lay down on my mattress and let sleep take me.
I dreamed but I’m not sure what it was about. But I saw that man again, the one from the pool side in the other dream. He was sitting in a chair, smiling at me in this new one. He didn’t look familiar but there was something about him that was really off putting. I think it was his eyes; there was no life in them. They kept staring at me, like they were burning into my soul. When I woke up a few hours after falling asleep, those eyes were on my mind for the rest of the day. True to my word, I went downstairs to eat something; I think Mom was just happy to see me out of the room. I’m not sure why but I kept the ring on, still in the mirage of the pink pajamas.
Mom didn’t say a word about it.
When I went to bed that night, I had trouble sleeping. I think I was afraid I’d have another strange dream. When I finally did fall asleep, he was there again. We were in a room together; he was sitting in that chair of his, this time next to a large fireplace. He didn’t say anything but he stared at me again. Those eyes were horrible. They were like two black pits that didn’t seem to end. When I woke up the following morning, I once again couldn’t get them out of my head.
At breakfast, Mom noticed something was wrong. “Are you all right, honey?”
I sighed, running my fingers through my long red hair. “I’ve been having unsettling dreams.”
She nodded. “Do you want me to call someone?”
“A shrink?” She nodded and I shook my head. “They’re not that bad, Mom.”
But I was lying. They were troubling, really troubling. I just didn’t want to see a shrink about it. How would I explain things anyway? Ellie Jackson wasn’t supposed to be here for another week or two and Eddie Bloomberg was dead. Who would the shrink think I was? But there were other problems, too. I didn’t want to discuss what else was going on with me. I’m not sure if it was the ring or if it was me all along but I kinda liked seeing Ellie in the mirror. I’m not saying that I’m that way but it was kinda nice. She was pretty and other than Cissie’s aversion to her, I think others might actually like her. As strange as it sounded, I was kinda looking forward to going back to school as her. Why the change of heart? I’m not really sure but I woke up this morning feeling like a million bucks, besides the creepy guy in my dreams, of course.
That night when I went to bed I was feeling pretty good about myself. That is until I dreamed again and something happened. I was in the same room as before---with the fireplace---but this time I knew I was Ellie and he was smiling. His other facial features were clear to me now too, not just his eyes. He was a sinister looking man with shoulder length white hair and a sneer. He was holding a silver goblet, his legs crossed. Then he did something he’d never done before, he spoke.
“You think you’re so clever, hiding what I gave you.”
I shook my head. “I don’t understand.”
He smirked. “It was a wonderful gift, something I give to very few people my dear. I wanted it to be something very special to you as well. After all it was a part of the agreement.”
“Agreement? What agreement?”
He waved his hand. “It doesn’t matter, nothing matters.” He got up from his chair, the goblet disappearing from his hand. He walked over to me, almost gliding across the ground. Then he was in front of me, in a blink of an eye. “This is not what I had planned for you but it is so much better.”
I looked down for the first time and noticed I was wearing a tight red dress. It should have freaked me out but I felt kinda sexy. “Who are you?”
He smiled the corners of his mouth curling up a bit so I could see his teeth. What I saw wasn’t possible. They weren’t human teeth, he had sharp incisors like a dog or maybe a vampire. “Not a vampire, nothing as bland as that. As far as a name, I have several but if you must call me by one then you can use Neron.”
“What do you want from me?”
He laughed, it was a cruel laugh. “I want your allegiance, dear girl, I thought that was abundantly clear.”
“I’m not a girl,” I stammered.
“We both know that and yet when you put the ring on, you chose this form above all others.”
“There was a glitch.”
He laughed. “We both know that’s not true. That’s why your little friend hasn’t come back because there’s nothing wrong with the ring. This form of yours was of your choosing” He walked around me, taking in my whole body. “And what a form it is. Very lovely indeed.”
I shuddered. “I have powerful friends,” I said, trying to see if I could scare this guy away.
He laughed. “The demigod?” He laughed even louder. “The Olympians have no sway over me. They cannot enter my Realm and I cannot interfere with theirs. It is a mutual understanding we have.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
He laughed. For the first time I noticed the trembling echo of his laugh. “Of course you don’t. You’re a minion, a lesser being, a means to an end. I need an army and you’re one of the soldiers. Do as I say and everything will be fine, but cross me and you’ll be sorry.”
I’m not sure what happened but it was like a light bulb. I suddenly knew what this thing was. “You’re some kinda demon,” I said with an angry sneer.
“Something like that.”
Something else dawned on me. “You turned me into that thing didn’t you?”
“A little slow on the uptake aren’t you.”
My anger flared again. “I want nothing to do with your plans. You’re a monster!”
He shook his head. “I so wish you hadn’t said that” He wagged his finger. “Now I’m afraid I’m going to have to punish you.”
A large fireball appeared in his hand. I backed up, trying to get away from it. He smiled, his vile fangs showing. Then he reared his arm back and threw it at me. I put up my hands to shield myself but it was no use. The fireball hit me and burst on my body, engulfing me in flames. I screamed at the top of my lungs, burning to death in my own dream…
When I snapped my eyes, the first thing I noticed was all the smoke. The second thing I noticed was the intense heat. I snapped up in bed and screamed. The whole room was on fire. The flames were everywhere. I looked at my hands, have expecting to see them red and taloned but they weren’t. They were human hands, Ellie’s hands. How was this even possible? I tried to wrack my brain for answers. There was just no way that I could manifest flames through the cloak of the ring. Jade promised it would shield my abilities. Unless…unless the dream was real. I shook my head, that was crazy.
A blaring noise shattered my thoughts. The smoke detector. I looked around the room, trying to see through the piercing flames. Even though I was wearing the ring, I wasn’t getting burned. So apparently, it only shielded my powers from escaping but it I still had them. I wonder if that meant that I caused this. Being burned to death in a dream can be a very scary thing, too scary in fact. Did that mean I lost control and somehow brought about these flames? Was that even possible?
My thoughts were shattered again by a scream. Oh my God, Mom.
I didn’t think about anything else as I ran for the door. I grabbed the burning hot knob and tore the door off its hinges. I didn’t even wonder where I got the strength. I ran into the hall and froze. The flames were here too. In fact, they were all over the place. I could barely see through the thick black smoke but I managed to move down the hall, making my way toward Mom’s room. About two or three feet from my bedroom, a piece of the burning ceiling dropped in front of me, a near miss. I barely dodged it. I cursed, jumping over the burning beam. The whole house was definitely on fire. But I tried not to think about it, it was just a house after all. I needed to get to Mom.
I tore down the hall, moving as fast as I could. A normal person would have collapsed by now due to all the smoke but I wasn’t normal. I’m not sure what I was but a little smoke wasn’t going to stop me. When I got to Mom’s room, I kicked open the door. She was on the bed, coughing, the whole room a sea of flames around her. I shouted for her but she couldn’t hear me over the roaring noise. So I took a deep breath and charged into the room. I jumped over her flaming armchair and landed on the bed next to her.
“Eddie” she said weakly, her face and clothes covered in black soot.
“I’m here Mom,” I said, relief overwhelming me.
She was lying on the bed and reached up for me. I bent down, allowing her to touch my face. “My sweet boy, I’m so proud of you.”
I nodded, frantic. “We don’t have time right now Mom. We can talk as soon as I get you out of here.”
She coughed and shook her head. “I’m so weak Eddie.”
I bent down and scooped her into my arms, surprised at how strong I was in the Ellie form. A few days ago, I wasn’t this strong. “Hang in there Mom; I’ll get you out of here.”
She smiled weakly at me. She reached up to touch my face but her hand dropped limply. I knew the truth but I wasn’t willing to admit it. So instead, I did what I promised and turned toward the door. I jumped off the bed and the next thing I knew I was in the hallway. I’m not sure how I jumped that far but right now, it didn’t matter. I charged down the hall, flaming debris from the ceiling kept falling around my head. I dodged it all, moving like a man possessed. When I got to the stairs, they were already gone. The whole house was a total loss, roaring with flames and black smoke. I took another deep breath and jumped.
I’m not sure how but it was like I glided to the floor. When I landed, I didn’t think about it and kept running. I went right for the front door, turning sideways as I slammed into it. I smashed it from its hinges and stumbled out into the lawn. By then there were fire trucks on my front lawn, firefighters running here and there. When I came charging out of the house I don’t think they knew what to make of it. One of the closest ones looked at me. He stared for a long time, paralyzed with shock. It didn’t last long as he shook it off.
“Miss, you need to get checked out now,” he said.
I shook my head. “I’m fine, take care of my mother.”
I held her out to him and looked down. I nearly collapsed. What had once been my mother was now gone, in my hands was her badly burned body. I numbly dropped her into his arms as the world went in slow motion around me. I heard the police sirens and saw the cars pull up. There were five or six of them. They were followed by two black SUVs. When the doors of them opened, I saw some men in suits run out. I had a pretty good idea who they were. It was especially apparent they knew who I was too because they pulled their guns on me.
I snapped back into reality after that. I held up my arms. “I didn’t do this.”
“GET ON YOUR KNEES NOW!” shouted one of the DEO agents.
I shook my head. “There was fire when I woke up but it wasn’t me.” I flashed him my hand. “This ring prevents my powers from coming out.”
They didn’t listen. I got angry that they weren’t listening. They kept shouting at me, screaming at me at the top of their lungs. They were moving in, both agents and cops, all of them with their guns drawn. My anger got the better of me. I’m not sure how it happened but the fire came. I screamed at them, shouting that I was innocent and as soon as I did, the fire came out of my mouth. It tore through their ranks, burning them on contact. It scared the hell out of me. It wasn’t supposed to happen. The ring was supposed to prevent it.
I looked on my hand, wondering if it was broken. But the ring was gone. What the hell?
The guys in front of me screamed as they flailed around in flames. I shook my head, tears streaming down my face. So much death, so much pain and suffering. I had to get out of here, I had to get away. I felt a tug at my back and a rush of air as I went up. I’m not sure what was happening but my neighborhood got smaller the higher I went. I turned in the air, noticing the red of my skin and the flap of my leathery wings. The ring failed, and I was the monster once again.
I turned west, trying to get away as fast as I could.
I must have blacked out because the next thing I knew I was waking up. Talk about rude awakenings too. Have you ever woken up in a tree, let me tell you, it’s not pretty. I groaned and twisted, a nasty branch sticking into my back. It hurt like a bitch too, especially because I didn’t seem to be wearing a shirt. I groaned, looking down at my bare breasts. That’s when it hit me, everything at once. First I was naked and a girl and second I was feeling pain. Pain as in a sense of pain, something that shouldn’t be happening because I was wearing the ring. I knew I was wearing the ring because I was still a girl.
But as soon as I looked at my hand, I saw the ring was gone.
I freaked, flailing about. The branch I was on cracked loudly and before I knew what was happening I was falling. Let me tell you, I miss feeling things. I tried to put my hands out to stop my fall and I only succeeded in creating a lot more pain. Luckily, for me I wasn’t that high up or else landing like that would have broken something. As it was, the only thing broken was my pride. I laid there for a few seconds, panting and thinking. Something had clearly happened to me and not the good something. The ring was gone---that much was certain---but with it went my lack of senses. I’m not sure if I was happy about that or not. It would be good to be able to feel things again but there were some disadvantages to that as well.
I groaned again. If the ring was truly gone then why was I still a girl. It didn’t make any sense. Not that any of this did. I tried not to think about what happened. It was too painful to think that I might have killed my mother. Every time I thought about her---in my arms---it made my chest ache. It was horrible to try and forget about it but right now, I needed to figure out where I was and where I was going. I couldn’t go back home because I was sure the DEO were looking for me now. Last night when I fled, it had been in a western direction. I’m not sure why but the only other person I could think of was my aunt Marla.
It was a stupid plan but it was the only one I had at the moment. Now all I needed to do was figure out where I was and maybe get some clothes.
The figuring out where I was part was going to be a lot harder than I thought. Looking around I could tell that I was in a forest somewhere. There was snow on the ground so that at least meant I was still in the Midwest, I think. I don’t pay all that much attention to the weather in other places. The trees all looked kinda familiar at least. I say familiar because they weren’t palm trees or something like that. They were just like the trees around my house, which meant ---or I at least hoped---I was still in Illinois. But that didn’t still help resolve my other problem.
I needed clothes.
I’m not sure how I lost mine. Well, ok technically I wasn’t wearing any. All the clothes I had on before were generated from the ring and now that it was gone. I looked at my hand and sighed heavily. I’m still not sure how that happened. As much as I tried to push that little inconvenience from my thoughts it was hard not to. Looking down was enough to confirm that I had breasts and no ring. The implications of that scared the hell out of me. No ring meant no camouflage and yet the camouflage was me as a girl. But here I was as a girl and with no ring. Did that mean? I groaned, shaking my head. I can’t be a girl. I’m a guy, the Meta change just made me into a demon. This girl thing, I’m not sure what it is but it’s not the real me. It can’t be the real me. It was only supposed to be when I was in public and only for a short time. There had to be some answers. If only there was a way to contact Jade but without the ring…
There I go again, thinking about too many things at once. I had priorities and right now, that wasn’t one of them. Clothes, they were on the top of my list. I took a deep breath and turned around in a clumsy circle, trying to decide which way to go. All I could see was trees and snow. At least I wasn’t cold. So even though I looked like a girl my body appeared to have the same powers I had before. I’m not sure how that was going to work. Did that mean I was still me somewhere inside? Did that mean I could still burn things? I shook my head. I’d worry about that later. I needed to stop getting distracted and stay on target.
I decided to head north. Don’t ask me how I knew I was going north. Let’s just say I’ve always been good with those things and leave it that. So I went north, the snow crunching under my feet as I walked. I tried not to think about it but no matter how hard I tried, the events of last night came into my head. My mother was dead and the DEO was probably looking for me. I think I killed those men too, innocent guys who didn’t deserve to die. Thinking about it made me cry and no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t get the image of me burning them alive out of my head. They were gone and I was responsible for it. I was responsible for everything in fact.
I killed my own mother. What kind of monster am I?
My mother was on my thoughts as I walked. I tried not to think about her because it hurt so much but I couldn’t help it. Every time I had a thought, I could see her face in my head. Then I saw the fire and it took every bit of will power I had not to throw up and fall to the ground in a fit of tears. I tried as hard as I could not to think about her but it was difficult. To keep myself preoccupied, I tried to figure out how long it would take for me to get back to civilization. I’m not sure how long I’d been walking but the sun was not overhead when I started so at least a few hours. Without a watch, I couldn’t tell what time it was but it had to be almost noon now.
I sighed. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been outdoors this long. Ok, so that’s not true. The last time was a few days before my change. The coach had dragged me and a few of the others out for a midmorning running. He wanted to whip us all into shape during the off-season. I think I was one of the few players who didn’t play other sports. Connor was on the baseball team like a lot of the other guys, some were wrestlers and a few were a part of the men’s track and field team. There were only six of us who weren’t what the coach liked to call “Year Rounders”. It’s not that I didn’t like the other sports---I did---it’s just that there’s so much work to be done to keep up with all of it.
It was bad enough that coach worked us to the bone even in off-season. He wanted all of us “One Timers” to keep up with the “Rounders” so that they didn’t get better than we were. It was a load of crap as far as I was concerned. But we all humored him. We let him run us through the paces and every once and while we had fun with it. Luckily, he only did it once or twice a month; football was not the only sport he taught. The Athletic department was shorthanded so the Coach---like a lot of the other Coaches---doubled up on his sports. So besides coaching football, he also coached girls’ basketball. So when he wasn’t terrorizing us “One Timers” he was off giving the girls hell.
But I’m digressing again. That last Saturday morning run was two days before my change actually. I remember it because I started to feel a little woozy toward the end. The Coach noticed and made me stop to take a breather. When I didn’t readily return he came over to check on me and could tell I looked off. He let me go home early, which was a Godsend.
Now as I crunched through this snow I couldn’t help but wonder what the Coach would think. I had a lot more endurance now than before and like I said, the cold didn’t seem to affect me. So I could walk around like this---totally nude---and not feel a thing. Ok, once again not true. I could feel it but it didn’t feel any different than if I wasn’t in the cold. For all my body knew it was sunny and eighty-five which was cool and creepy at the same time. Especially when I looked down and saw how hard, my new nipples were getting. That freaked me out some. I tried to look elsewhere but hey I was still a guy in my head and it was a naked chick that I was looking down at. I didn’t care that that chick was currently me.
Kinda messed up huh.
After walking for another hour or two---again, I have no concept of time---I spotted something green up ahead. At first, I thought t was a bush until I got closer and saw a bit of blue with it. It wasn’t a bush, it was a tent. I let out a big sigh of relief. I pushed myself further on. There were two tents and a small fire pit in the center of them. It looked like someone was out here doing a little camping. Why they were doing it in the middle of winter was beyond me. Ok, so it’s February but it’s still too damn cold to be camping.
I approached the little camp slowly, not wanting to startle whoever was in side. Just in case, they were hunters with a gun. When I got close to the first tent, the flap opened. I stopped, frozen in place. The person who clamored out of it had their back to me but I could tell it was a guy. He was about my former height with shaggy black hair. He was kinda gangly even though he was wearing a thick winter coat.
“Hey sis, why do we have to be out here again?”
The other tent flap opened. This one was facing me. A girl’s head poked out. She had black hair too---you could tell they were siblings because they looked alike. She sighed. “I need to do some research for a class.”
The brother groaned. “Its freezing out here, can’t we do it in the mall or something.”
The sister rolled her eyes. “You’re pathetic Marvin.”
She crawled halfway out of the tent and stopped. I think it was then that she noticed me. Her eyes got real big, her mouth dropped open a little. I’m not sure how long it took her brother to notice but he turned his head. I thought he was going to drop dead right there. I know I would have. I sighed and took a step forward, waving a bit.
“Hi, you guys wouldn’t happen to have some clothes I could borrow?”
“I think this might fit,” said the sister, Wendy, as she handed me one of her bras.
I blushed as I took it from her and then slowly put it on. Thankfully, she didn’t have to show me how to do it. I’ve actually seen enough girls undressing in movies and things like that to know how to put a bra on and take one off. Thank God for that. I might have looked like a real idiot and had more explaining to do. As it was, I think she and her brother were having a hard time believing the story I gave them. After getting over their initial shock of seeing naked girl in the woods, I quickly gave them a bogus story about a prank gone wrong. I’m not sure if they bought it but it was the only one I was going to give. After that, Wendy ushered me into her tent to keep me from her brother’s wandering eyes.
“So you said you’re on some kind of fact finding mission?” I asked as I finished putting on her bra. I winced at the tightness of it. Wendy was kinda flat chested but it would do for now.
She nodded. “I’m doing a research project for my thesis at Iowa State.”
Big shocker of the day for me: I was in Iowa. Don’t ask me how.
“You don’t look old enough to be in college?”
She smiled. “I’m not. I’m a brainiac. Marvin and I are twins belief it or not. Our day’s this super genius but I’m the only one who inherited his IQ. Marvin has his own talents I suppose, I’m not sure what they are but I’m sure he has them.”
We both laughed. I liked her, she reminded me of someone I could hang out with.
I finished getting dressed; Wendy sat at the other end of the tent quietly. It wasn’t all that big but it was big enough for the two of us. Her clothes were a little tight, especially around my chest area but they fit ok. I promised to give them back to her as soon as we got back to civilization. She didn’t seem to mind though. After I finished dressing, we crawled out of the tent. Marvin was sitting on a log, poking at the fire with a stick. When he saw us, he smiled. His eyes lingered on me for a few seconds longer than comfort. I shuddered a bit but masked it under the impression I was cold.
After a few seconds of silence, Wendy spoke. “Marvin we’re cutting this trip short. I want you to start packing up so we can get Ellie here to someplace where she can call for a ride.”
“You don’t have to end your trip on my account.”
“Yes we do,” said Marvin happily, as he got to his feet.
Wendy stuck her tongue out at him. Then she sighed. “It was kinda a bust anyway. I was trying to record the effects on gradual exposure to cold temperatures on the human body but my human subject was uncooperative.”
Marvin groaned as he started taking stuff out of his tent. “You wanted me to sit out here for ten minutes in my underwear.”
“It was for science.”
“Science my ass. You just wanted to see me make a fool of myself.”
“Trust me, Marv,” she said with a laugh. “You don’t need me for that.”
They bantered like that for a while. It made me wish I had a sibling. I smiled as I watched the two of them slowly take their little camp apart. It didn’t take long. I tried to help but Wendy was convinced that I was still recovering. Apparently being exposed to temperatures like this as long as I had been---if she only knew---was supposed to have adverse effects on the human body. I was surprised she didn’t whip out a notepad and start jotting notes down about me. I did help them carry their stuff back to their truck though. I wouldn’t take no for an answer. It took us three trips to walk the half mile to where they parked. When we were all finished, thankfully there was enough room for the three of us in the cab. Marvin got behind the wheel while Wendy say next to him.
It was a mistake because the two of them argued the whole time.
Ten miles and about an hour later, we found a little diner. It looked like something out of the fifties but we were certain it had to have a phone. When we pulled up it was thankfully pretty deserted. There was a big rig and a few motorcycles but that was it. When we went inside, I saw a trucker at the counter and a gruff looking group of guys in a booth. They were dressed in leather so clearly they were the bikers. Marvin nodded to them but they laughed, clearly they thought him to be as much as the doofus as he looked.
Wendy and I went to the counter, Marvin found a booth.
The woman behind the counter was in her fifties, dressed in a yellow waitress uniform. “What can I get you lovely dears?” she asked in a sweet grandmotherly tone.
Wendy smiled. “My friend here was wondering if she could use your phone.”
“Sure sweetie. All we have is pay phone though; it’s in the back next to the restroom.”
I nodded. Wendy turned and handed me some change from her pocket. I took it, promising to pay her back as soon as I got some money. It was a lie but I think it helped. I walked to where the woman pointed, finding the pay phone off to the side. In truth, I had no one to call. I suppose I could have called Cassie and tried to explain my side of things. She did work for the DEO now. But I’m not sure if they’d be able to track me or not. I groaned. I picked up the handset, about to pretend to dial when I realized there was someone I could call. I took a deep breath, inserted my quarter and called Marla.
She picked up on the second ring. “Hello?”
“Aunt Marla” I said, sighing. “It’s me, Eddie.”
She didn’t say anything for a few seconds. Then she sighed heavily. “I didn’t recognize you at first. Your mother told me what happened but I find that hard to believe.”
“Its true” I said, nearly choking up. I needed to tell her everything else too.
But she beat me to it. “They have a picture of you all over the news. An Agent Faraday called me an hour ago, wanted me to report you if you called.” She sighed heavily. “Tell me you didn’t do what I they think you did.”
I shook my head, tears in my eyes. “I can’t because I don’t know.”
I quickly gave her a rundown on what happened. The voice of the phone asked for more money so I put in another quarter.
“Where are you now?”
“I can’t tell you that. Just know that I’m safe for the moment.”
There was another few seconds of silence on her end. “I want you to come here. I’m not sure how but I want to help you. The government thinks you’re a dangerous murderer but I know my nephew…ahhh….niece or whatever you are now.” She laughed. “If you tell me where you are I can wire you some cash of something, help you buy a bus ticket.”
I bit my lip. Did I want to put her in this position? Well I had no one else to turn too so I told her my approximate location. She said she’d make some calls and wire the cash to the nearest bank. I told her to put it under the name Wendy White and asked her not to ask any questions. We talked for a few minutes more then I told her I’d hopefully see her in a few days. When I hung up, I felt pretty bad. I hated getting her involved in all of this but what choice did I have. I was scared to death. I killed my mother and several other people and now I was apparently a fugitive. I needed help and right now, she was the only one I had.
I hung up the phone and turned around, sighing. Life couldn’t suck more. Then I saw the TV mounted on the wall and the newscast.
The volume was already up. “Government authorities are looking for this girl,” said the news caster, an Artist’s rendering of me appeared on the screen. “She’s wanted in connection to a dangerous act of arson and questioning for the deaths of three Chicago police officers. If anyone has any information they’re asked to call…”
I tuned out after that, cursing. So they already had a picture of me. I looked around, hoping that no one here would make that connection. When I looked back into the diner, no one was looking at me. I’m not sure, if they didn’t notice or if they were being extra suspicious. I took a deep breath and slowly walked over to the booth where Marvin and Wendy were sitting. Wendy smiled at me when I sat down, Marvin gave me a look. I knew from that look that he put two and two together. I looked from them to the door, wondering if I could run before he ratted me out.
“It’s not what you think,” I said softly.
He didn’t seem so convinced. “Did you or didn’t you?”
I sighed. “I did but it was not in my control.”
Wendy butted in. “I believe her,” she said quickly though even she didn’t look so convinced.
“I can’t explain it, at least not here. But I swear I’m not a bad person.”
Marvin nodded. “You might be able to convince us but not them.”
He gestured his head over at the bikers. They were murmuring to themselves, one of them caught me looking and quickly glanced away. I cursed. So they did notice it was me. The worst part was that they were between me and the door. If I tried to run, they’d definitely try to stop me. I tried to weigh my options but running was the best one I had.
“We have to go now.”
“Who’s this we stuff?” said Marvin.
“We walked in with her idiot,” said Wendy sternly. “There’s no way they’re not going to believe we aren’t involved.”
“I’m sorry,” I said.
Wendy smiled. “Don’t worry about it. You can make it up to us but telling us what’s going on.”
I nodded. Then I slowly got to my feet, pretending to stretch. Wendy did the same but Marvin was too clumsy about it, banging his knee on the table and cursing loudly. I drew the attention of everyone, including the bikers. They looked at me then at the door. It didn’t take them long to realize what we were doing. They got up too, I groaned. This was all I needed. There were three of them; they were burly, far too much for the three of us kids to get around. If there was trouble---no doubt now---then they’d definitely come out on top.
“Just let us go and things won’t get complicated,” said Wendy.
The lead biker smirked. “You and zit face can leave but the pretty red head stays here.”
Wendy puffed up her chest. “Not going to happen.”
I sighed. “Wendy, Marvin and you aren’t involved with this. Take the guy’s advice and leave.”
She shook her head. “I’m not leaving you to these guys.”
The biker stepped forward. “You should have listened to your pretty friend.”
He grabbed Wendy by the arms, squeezing hard. She screamed out. Marvin rushed forward to help her but one of the other bikers punched him in the gut then gave him a violent shove. He crashed into a bunch of tables, getting tangled up in a few chairs. The bikers laughed. Wendy screamed louder as the one holding her spun her around, her back to his chest. He put his hand on her throat, glaring at me. My anger flared, I couldn’t help it. Wendy and Marvin were innocents, two people who helped out a stranger in trouble. There was no way I could let them both get hurt for me.
I’m not sure what happened but I could feel it rising.
My voice took on a dangerous, rumbling tone when I spoke. “Let her go now.”
The biker’s eyes widened a bit. I reached out toward him, my dainty girly hand transforming into a red talon. I gripped his forearm, sending red-hot pain into it. He screamed at the top of his lungs, loosening his grip on Wendy. She pulled away from him quickly, rubbing her throat. She ran and stood behind me. I continued to hold the biker’s arm as he screamed. The others stared on in horror. His two biker buddies came at me, one with a chair. He slammed the chair onto my back. It shattered but I felt no pain. I snapped around, my other hand turning into a talon. I grabbed his leather shirtfront and threw him backwards. He sailed into the far wall, cracking the surface with his body.
The third biker stopped his assault. “Demon” he whispered, making the sign of the cross on his chest.
I turned to Wendy, still holding the screaming biker by the arm. “Get your brother quickly” I said, my voice back to normal.
She nodded numbly.
I let go of the screaming biker, throwing him to the floor. I turned to the stunned waitress and trucker, smiling sadly. “All they had to do was let me go and this could have been avoided.”
The waitress nodded. Wendy helped Marvin to his feet; my hands went back to normal. I looked at them, shocked at what I did. I’m not sure what it was but I didn’t like it. I wanted to crumple into a ball and cry. Instead, I sucked it up and slowly followed Wendy as she half dragged, half-carried Marvin out the door. Once we got outside, I looked over at the motorcycles. I glared at them, fearing that the bastards might follow in retaliation. I opened my mouth and a stream of fire emitted from it, engulfing the bikes in flame.
“Holy shit” gasped Marvin as I turned to him and his sister.
“We have to go now,” I said, pointing to the truck.
Wendy nodded but Marvin wasn’t done.
“What the hell are you?” he asked.
I shrugged. “I have no idea.”
We made a couple of stops when we got into the nearest town. The first was at the nearest bank. I hoped that Marla had been true to her word and wired me the cash she said she would. I went inside with Wendy while Marvin stayed in the truck nursing his wounds. On the ride from the diner, I explained everything as best as I could. I told them my whole story, afraid that if I left anything out they’d hate me. Marvin thought it was pretty cool but I don’t think he like the “MIB” after us part. His words not mine though it did make sense. I’m not sure they believed me about the whole being a guy thing though. I told them about Cassie and they believed me a little more after that.
“You’re one of those Metas then?” asked Wendy as we walked into the bank.
I nodded. “Something like that I think.”
“Are your power is fire?”
I nodded. “I think so.”
She must have noticed I was scared because she reached over and gave my arm a squeeze. “I might not understand everything but I’m going to help.”
“Its not like you have much of a choice now” I said, sighing. “I’m really sorry about getting you and Marvin involved.”
She shook her head. “We chose to stay. Our parents taught us never to abandon someone who was in trouble.”
I nodded. “I’ll make this up to you I swear.”
At the teller, we told her what we hoped would work. She typed up on the computer and nodded at us. Aunt Marla came through big time, wiring me about two thousand bucks. I’m not sure how she knew Wendy’s bank account information but I didn’t care. Marla was a big time Hollywood Producer with a lot of connections. She did a lot of things that most people tried not to ask explanations for. When we got the money, Wendy’s mouth dropped open. Mine kinda hit the floor too. The teller smiled and we left.
“So we good?” asked Marvin when we got into the truck.
“Oh yeah” Wendy and I said at the same time.
We did some shopping after that. All three of us decided it might be a good idea to get me some kind of disguise. So the first place we went was a clothing store. We spent about a hundred in there, getting me a lot of clothes I might need. I wore a brand new hoodie out of the store, the hood up and covering my head. In the next store, we bought me a pair of sunglasses. It wasn’t much but it went a long way to hide my face at least. It took us about an hour to do all the shopping we needed to do. At the end of it we stopped at a fast-food restaurant, all three of us were starving.
“So what’s the plan?” asked Marvin as he munched on his sister’s fries.
I looked at my new watch. It was too early to strike out anywhere extensive tonight. “We should probably find some place to crash.”
“We could always go home,” said Marvin “our house is only a couple of miles from here.”
Wendy smacked him in the back of the head. “And drag Mom into this mess?”
He rubbed his head. “Bad idea, sorry.”
She glared at him. I smiled. “We can get a motel and then in the morning you two can take me to the bus depot or whatever.”
“Just you?” asked Wendy, I nodded.
“I’ve put the two of you through enough already. I need to get to California and I can’t let you guys make that trip with me.”
Marvin tried to argue but in the end, Wendy was the voice of reason as usual. He grumbled a lot through the rest of the meal. Wendy asked me all sorts of questions, in a hushed tone of course. She wanted to know all about my powers. I told her as much as I could, leaving out the part about my strange dreams of course. Then I told her more about what happened at the spa, about Cassie and Amy. Even Marvin was impressed by that. I think he got little hearts in his eyes when I talked extensively about Cassie. He frowned a bit when I told him she was dating my best bud.
We left the restaurant and drove until it was dark. We put the town behind us, trying to put as much distance from us and the little diner back there as we could. On Marvin’s road map, we found a bus depot in a town three towns over. We all decided it might be the best bet. So with exhaustion looming, we found a roadside motel. Marvin took some cash and got a room for the night. WE could only get one with a single bed, which meant he was sleeping in the chair. On the news that night, we saw the diner. I suppose it was inevitable. The newscaster talked to witnesses, including the lone Biker I left unharmed.
“It was some kind of demon” he said angrily then pointed behind him. “I mean look at what she did to my bike.”
I smiled at the charred remains.
“Who is this Red Devil?” asked the newscaster.
Marvin muted it. “That is a cool name, you should copyright it.”
Wendy hit him with a pillow and we laughed. It felt good to laugh again.
After watching some more TV, we went to bed. I didn’t feel the least bit uncomfortable getting into bed with Wendy. I thought maybe turning into a chick would make me instantly like guys like it did with Cassie. But thankfully, I was still into chicks. Wendy was really cute but she wasn’t really my type. Besides, I think I was still kinda hung up on Cissie. I thought about her as I lay there, trying my hardest to get to sleep. I thought about Wendy and Marvin too. They were complete strangers, I’d only met them hours ago and yet they were already knee deep in this.
I sighed, promising myself to make it up to them.
That night---after falling asleep---I had another dream. This one was all about fire again. I was back in my house and everything was burning. I was in my room but I wasn’t alone. Wendy and Marvin were there too. They were tied up, back to back, coughing and struggling. I tried to get to them but the flames were too high. I called out to them but they couldn’t hear me. Then I heard laughing, maniacal laughing that I knew belonged to the demon. I lunged off my bed toward them and then hit the floor hard. It snapped me awake and I found myself on the floor of the motel room. I jumped up, half expecting the room to be on fire.
It wasn’t thank God.
I sighed and walked over to the bed. I sat on the edge and looked down at the sleeping Wendy. She and her brother were good people but the dream had disturbed me too much. I couldn’t let them continue any further with me. I sighed heavily, realizing what I had to do. I know I promised them that I’d wait until morning but there was just no way I could. I had to get out of here and now. I got on my shoes, grabbed the pack with my new clothes and paused at the nightstand. I bit my lip, looking at Marvin’s keys. I sighed heavily again, debating what to do.
“Shit, I’m sorry guys,” I said, snatching up the keys.
I wrote a quick note and left them four hundred bucks. I know it wasn’t much but I promised to send them more as soon as I got to where I was going. I glanced back from the doorway before I left, hating my decision but I had no choice. There was no way I could drag them into this any further. I took a deep breath and left the motel room.
I got into Marvin’s truck; made sure no one saw me leave and drove west.
I’m not even sure where I was, not even when I got there. I spent the night in the truck, it was rather uncomfortable. I felt bad about stealing the truck but I was good with my promises. As soon as I got to California, I would definitely make sure the two of them were compensated for it. Did I want to steal the truck? Not really, but it was the only way. Or else I would have been walking to the damn bus station.
As soon as I pulled into the parking garage across the street, I left the truck there. It was almost out of gas anyway. I locked the doors, leaving a note telling Marvin where he could find his keys. Then I walked across the street to the bus depot. The first thing I did was buy a ticket---I still had a few hours. So the second thing I did was rent a storage locker. I put the truck key and another hundred dollars inside. Then I took the key and gave it to the girl behind the counter, telling her that a guy named Marvin White would definitely come looking for it. She didn’t ask any questions.
After that, I left the station, heading down the street toward a little shopping district I saw. After all, I had a few hours to kill. I was never much of a shopper as a guy. I used to go with Mom on occasion but it always used to bore the hell out of me. In the end, I always ended up in the Arcade or in some sporting goods store. I trusted her to do all my clothes shopping; after all, it was mainly jeans and t-shirts. I’m not a trendy guy, not like the other guys on the team. Mom didn’t make a lot of money either so I couldn’t afford to be in style even if I wanted too. Connor was the same way, what with living with his cousin and all. Of course, his Dad and mega rich model Mom sent him cash every week, he put most of it away for college.
Me, money burned holes in my pockets.
So as I browsed the racks, trying to decide if I should buy something, I couldn’t help but think that something had changed in me. I’m not sure what it was but it was definitely something. I wanted to spend the money but not on this stuff. Yet here I was in some clothing boutique, browsing girls clothes, wondering if that would fit me right. Frustrating, isn’t it? I haven’t been a girl for more than a day and already I was clothes shopping. It should have annoyed the hell out of me but it didn’t. That was the scary part, I was kinda enjoying it. I wonder if this is what happened to Cassie too. I never really knew her from before. I knew Connor had a really good friend named Charlie---he talked about him a lot---but I never met the kid. I guess he was kinda a loner dweeb, at least according to the other guys on the team. But if Connor liked him that was enough for me. Connor was a good guy and a good judge of character.
I pulled a pink top from a rack and held up to my chest. I didn’t even realize what I was doing until I did it. As soon as I did, I groaned. I shoved it back real quick. What the hell is wrong with me? I moved on quickly but found myself in a similar predicament a few seconds later. Now it was jeans and I was holding a pair up to my waist. I groaned, forcing them back on the rack. I gave up after that---realizing there was no way I could do this with a level head. So I decided just to bail. I made my way toward the door as quick as possible, not watching where I was going.
I ran into a girl as she was coming in. I bumped into her lightly, shoulder to shoulder. We looked each other in the eye for a moment. She was pretty, long blonde hair, sharp features. She had these eyes that were bright blue and mesmerizing. Looking at her made my heart skip a beat.
“Sorry” we both said at the same time then laughed.
I stepped to the side to allow her to pass and as she did so she wobbled, falling. I caught her, her hands falling on my chest. Both of them cupped my breasts for a second and we both blushed. She apologized with a string of curses then pushed away, disappearing into the store. I turned to see if she was all right but I lost her in the stacks. I thought about following but I couldn’t bring myself to go back into this dreaded place. I shrugged it off and went out the door. I wandered the streets a bit after that, doing a little window shopping. I finally came upon a little diner and went inside. I ordered a cup of hot chocolate, sitting at the counter. When I finished it, I reached into my hoodie front pouch to get my wallet and found it gone.
I panicked, wondering what must have happened to it. My mind flashed back to the boutique, I must have dropped it when the girl ran into me. Luckily, I still had enough of Wendy’s change to pay for the drink. After I left the diner, I ran back to the boutique and asked the girl behind the counter if she saw it. She didn’t. I looked around the shop a bit but came up empty. I would have looked more but my bus was coming. I bit my lip and cursed, all my money was in there. Thankfully, I kept my bus ticket in my pocket or else I would have been screwed.
I made my bus on time though. I did a lot of bus traveling and not just to school either. We were always getting on buses, going to away games and things like that. But this was the first time that I’d ever been on a bus like this. Earlier I bought a one way ticket, meant to take me from Iowa all the way to California. It was a Greyhound, the ticket cost about two hundred and fifty bucks and to get there it meant I had to switch buses three times but it was worth it. Anything to get as far away from Illinois and the troubles I left behind. When I got on the bus, I found a seat by the window, anxious to get things going. I stared out the window, looking at the station. It pained me to be going so far away but it wasn’t like I had a choice. The only life I had was in Chicago and now it was all gone. I might upset a few people---Cassie and Connor and maybe Cissie---but they probably thought I was an evil murderer anyway.
I wanted to get away from all that; I needed to get away from all that. Then why was I crying?
“You ok?” asked a voice from behind me.
I turned; ready to tell whomever it was to mind their own business when I gasped. It was the girl from the boutique. She smiled and slipped into the seat next to me, not even bothering to ask if she could. It didn’t matter. A girl that pretty, I’d let her sit on my lap.
“I’m fine,” I said softly, wiping tears.
She laughed. “You’re not crying because you dropped this are you?”
She reached into her pocket and pulled out my wallet, waving it front of my face. I was elated. I quickly took it from her. Then I did something stupid and opened it, making sure everything was still there. I’m glad I did, there was some cash missing. I looked at her, frowning. “You take some of this?” I asked, anger in my voice.
She frowned and lowered her voice. “I’m real sorry but I was desperate. Look I’ll pay you back but I need to get out of here.”
I got angry. “What the hell kind of person finds a wallet, steals money from it and returns it to its owner?”
She shrugged. “Look, I’m real sorry. I told you I was. I’m good for it; I’ll pay you back as soon as we get to where we’re going.”
“And where are you going?”
She smiled. “California, just like you.”
I was about to say ok but then something dawned on me. “How do you know where I’m going?”
She opened her mouth and closed it real quick, like a fish gasping for water. Then she bit her lip. She cursed under her breath. “This is going to sound crazy but that’s where I saw us going together.”
It did sound crazy. “What the hell are you talking about?”
She opened her mouth to say something but then her eyes widened. She gripped the arms of her seat and cursed. “Shit, I thought it was going to take longer than that.”
I turned to where she was looking, which was clearly out the window. What I saw drained the color out of my face. It was two guys in suits, talking to a man in uniform. The guys flashed their badges, looking all official. It didn’t take a genius to figure out who they were. I cursed, it was the fucking DEO. They were after me. I turned to tell the girl it was me they were after but her face was pretty pale. She looked like she was going to throw up.
“Are you ok?” I asked, reaching over and touching her arm.
She shook her head, her hand reaching forward and grabbing mine. I had to admit, it was kinda nice. “Look I don’t have time to explain but we have to go now.”
“What go?” I asked, “We can’t go, this bus will be leaving in a few minutes.”
She shook her head. “They’re going to stop it or try to anyway. They’re bad people, real bad people.”
I shook my head. “They’re government morons but they’re not bad. Besides what makes you think they’re after you.”
That gave her some pause. Then she reached into her purse, taking out a bottle of pills. She popped one and closed her eyes. She gripped my hand tightly, digging her nails into my flesh. I winced under her tight grip then it relaxed. She let out a big sigh and opened her eyes, tears running down her cheeks.
“You’re right,” she said, letting go my hand. “They’re not here for me. They’re looking for you I think.”
That made me pause. Then I pushed myself up in the seat, ready to bolt. She grabbed my arm, pulling me back down. She was a lot stronger than she looked.
“They’re not going to find you. The bus is going to start and the two of them will still be standing there when it does. They’ll shout and give chase but they won’t catch us.”
I looked at her like she was crazy. “How do you know that?”
“Trust me, I just do.”
I frowned. “This coming from the girl who stole my wallet.”
She smiled sheepishly. “I’ll pay you back, I promise.”
I huffed and turned away from her. I looked out the window again, trying to ignore the crazy girl sitting next to me. Instead, I watched the two Agents continue to talk to the uniformed man. I watched and waited but whatever they were talking about seemed to take longer than they thought. Then the bus engine roared loudly and the bus started to move. Soon it was moving at a good pace. I watched in shock as the two agents shouted and gave chase, trying to catch us as we slowly pulled away from the station. They gave up when it was clear they weren’t going to catch us. I smiled widely then turned back to the not-so-crazy girl sitting next to me.
She smiled. “Told ya.”
“How did you do that?”
She smiled and stuck out her hand. “I’m Rose by the way, Rose Wilson.”
I numbly shook her hand.
Rose liked to talk---a lot---and mostly about herself.
I didn’t mind though, it was kinda refreshing actually. She didn’t get into too many specifics but now I knew why she was in such a rush to get away. She was running from someone. She didn’t exactly say from who but from what I could gather, it might have been her father. He sounded like a real ass, the complete opposite of mine. Though both had a military background, her’s apparently worked for the Department of Defense. He was a Colonel of some kind, strict and overbearing. She didn’t say why she ran but I think it had something to do with a massive argument they had. It was all she said about it. The rest of her talking was about her days on the run---she’d been gone from home for two months now. What amazed the hell out of me was that she’d actually started in Washington, DC.
“DC?” I said, flabbergasted.
She nodded. “I slipped out of my bedroom late one night two months ago after…” She sighed and shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. What matters is that I’m finally on my way to California.”
I nodded. “What’s there?”
“My Mom” she said with a smile then quickly added. “I think.”
“You don’t know?”
She sighed heavily. “The Colonel” she said, that’s how she referred to her father, never as Dad. “He said she abandoned me when I was just a baby but I don’t believe him. I got a post card from her about a year ago; her address listed her in California. I tried to talk him into letting me go and see her but he wouldn’t allow it. But after recent events there’s no way I’m going to stay there with him.”
She laughed. “Water under the bridge” She sighed again. “I never thought I was going to make it this far, especially on my own. If I didn’t find companionship soon I was going to go crazy. But that’s all settled now because I have you.”
She wrapped her arms around mine and rested her head on my shoulder, smiling. Not that I didn’t enjoy it but it was a little awkward.
“You don’t even know me; in fact we’ve just met.”
She nodded. “I know but I have a feeling you and I are going to become great friends.”
We got on the bus at six in the morning and didn’t make our first transfer until five hours later when we reached Omaha. We barely got time to stretch our legs before the bus started moving again. I was a little nervous the whole time we were at the bus depot there. I had the strangest feeling that the DEO were going to jump out of the shadows and grab me. But Rose did her thing again---whatever that was---and told me that they hadn’t caught up with us yet. It made me happy when she included “us” in her bit. I’m not sure why she cared so much but she did. Another thing I didn’t understand was how she was doing whatever it was that she did. But she didn’t want to talk about it. Shortly after we left Iowa, I tried to ask her about it but she changed the subject. But if we were going to continue this journey together, we needed to be honest with one another.
I took a deep breath. “I think you and I should talk.”
We were now twenty minutes out from Omaha, having just left the depot there a little while ago. Rose was lying with her head against my shoulder, pretending to sleep. She opened her eyes and looked up at me, frowning.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” she said sternly.
“Then don’t talk,” I said, “listen.”
That got her attention. She moved her head from my shoulder and sat up. I took a deep breath. It felt strange to be so close to someone, even someone I’d just met a few hours ago. But the last day or so was all about the unknown. First, it was everything that happened back at home, then waking up as a girl, meeting Wendy and Marvin and now this. I never in a million years thought I’d be so open with strangers before, but Wendy and Marvin were good people. I’m not sure if Rose was the same, ---she did rob me after all---but I felt I could be open with her, too. Even though she probably wouldn’t admit it, I think the two of us had a lot in common.
“I think you and I are a lot alike” She opened her mouth to protest but I held up hand. “You’re different aren’t you, different than other kids our age. Something happened to you, something that you can’t explain and don’t want to talk about. Your father knows, I think, and that’s why you’re running from him. How am I doing so far?” She nodded, I smiled. Then I took a deep breath. “Can I ask you something?”
She sighed. “You’re going to whether I want you to or not.”
I smiled. “What’s your name, your real one?”
She sighed heavily. It took her a minute or two to respond. “Wade.”
She tried to explain but I cut her off. This time I held my hand out to shake hers. “Hi Wade, nice to meet you. My name is Eddie.”
Her eyes bugged out of her head after that. She numbly shook my hand.
I told her my story. It didn’t take long. She didn’t interrupt me at all, listening like a captive audience. When I got to the end, she looked a little pale though.
“And that’s who the guys in the suits were?”She asked, referring to the ones back in Iowa. I nodded, she shuddered. She leaned over and gave me a big hug, it felt nice. When she pulled away, she was crying. “I’m sorry about your Mom.”
“Thanks “I said, sadly, crying a bit myself.
We didn’t say anything for a few minutes then she said: “We can’t go to your aunt anymore.”
That took me by surprise. “Why not?”
She sighed heavily. “Trust me, I’ve been a Colonel’s daughter all my life and if I know one thing then I know how these people work. They’ll be waiting for you at your aunt’s house, the conversation you had with her on the phone was being monitored. That’s how they knew to get you at the bus station.”
I groaned, I hadn’t even thought of that. But it made sense I suppose. But I still had no choice. “I have nowhere else to go.”
Rose smiled. “Yes we do.”
She reached into her purse, rummaging about a bit. Then she pulled out a folded piece of paper. She opened it slowly and handed it over. It was computer printout showing a roughly drawn map, an address and a name in big block letters: TERROR TITANS. I was a bit confused. “What the hell is this?”
“One of the real reasons I’m going to California.”
“I thought you were looking for your Mom?”
She nodded. “I am but these people are a bonus.”
Ok “I said, looking at the sheet of paper in my hand. “Who are the Terror Titans?”
She smiled. “They’re like us” she lowered her voice to a whisper. “They’re Metas.”
My eyes bulged out of my head. “You’re kidding?”
She shook her head. “I read about them in an underground forum. They’re a group of kids like us---runaways---they went through the change and for one reason or another, they left their homes. They’re local but according to the ClockKing42, they accept members from all over.”
“He’s the guy in charge or the group. I’m not sure what his real name is but that’s his handle. Sounds pretty cool right?”
I shrugged. “I’m not so sure.”
She frowned. “But they’re like us.”
I bit my lip. I knew I was prying but I couldn’t help it. “You still haven’t explained that.”
She sighed, folding the piece of paper. She stuck it back into her purse and looked around; making sure no one was eavesdropping. “Ok, remember how I said my real name was Wade?” I nodded. “Well it is but I’m the only one who ever called myself that. You see, I’m a girl, I have been since birth. But inside I was a guy, a guy called Wade.”
“You’re one of those transgendered people?”
She nodded. “My father always knew I was different but he wasn’t willing to except that. You see he doesn’t just work for the DOD, he works for a scientific branch of it, one that until recently was working on mind control. But when the Meta human outbreak---his words, not mine---occurred, Dad switched gears. He ordered the scientists under him to figure out what makes a Meta tick so they set about finding the perfect test subject.” She sighed heavily.
“Was it you?”
She shook her head. “When they couldn’t find one, that’s when he turned to me. He was only trying to help, I think. My Dad knew what the Meta change did to some people, how it changed their genders. So he told me all about it, asked if I wanted to be his son for real. You have no idea how fast I jumped at the chance.”
“He doesn’t sound like such a bad guy.”
She frowned. “Something went wrong” She took a deep breath, tears running down her cheeks. “You see the US Government ran this experiment where they took some of their soldiers and tested them for the metagene. When they found viable candidates they got them to agree to allow them to activate the gene inside of them.”
I nodded. “I’ve met one of them.”
She smiled then continued. “My father got his hands on the same drug they used---don’t ask me how---and he injected me with it. Like you said, he might have been doing it to help me but it was mainly to help himself. He’s never been happy to have a daughter and if he could get a soldier and a son out of the deal, he was willing to risk it all. Well, suffice to say things didn’t work out as he planned.” She waved her hands up and down her body. “You see, what my father didn’t know was that in order for the drug to work properly, the recipient of said drug has to have the metagene in them to begin with. Well it turns out that I didn’t.”
“So you remained a girl?”
She nodded, crying. She tried to tell me more but it was incoherent through her tears. I reached over and pulled her into my arms, holding her tight. She cried like that for a while. Someone sitting across from us asked if she was all right and I told him it was her “time”. He turned a little white and learned not to butt his head into other people’s businesses. I felt pretty good after that. I let Rose cry herself out on me. After that, she slowly drifted to sleep, her head on my lap. It appalled the hell out of me that a father could do such a horrible thing to do his daughter. What the hell kind of government agency funded an operation like his? I thought maybe it was DEO but it was even too sinister for them. Whatever group it was, I could see why she ran from it.
I let her sleep. We reached our next transfer stop, which was Denver, that was around ten at night or so. I reluctantly woke her up. She was a bit groggy and apologetic for sleeping on me. I told her everything was fine. I helped her off the bus and onto the next one. We sat quietly after that. I knew there was more to her story that she wanted to tell but I could see it hurt her to do so. After about an hour, she rested her head on my lap and fell back to sleep. I had to wonder how much sleep she’d actually had in the last few months. It must have been rough, always on the run like that. It made me wonder if that’s what my life was going to be like, too. I know she was really excited about these people in California but they sounded kinda fishy to me.
I’m not sure when I drifted off to sleep but I dreamed again. There was more fire and laughing. Wendy and Marvin were in it again, this time they were in submissive roles. Neron was sitting in that big chair of his and my new friends were at his feet. They were dressed in bondage outfits; the black leather looked particularly unwelcome on Marvin. Neron kept laughing. He looked at me again, those horrible black eyes burning into me again.
“Join Me,” he said in that echoing voice of his. “Join me or your friends will be mine for the rest of eternity.”
There was a lot of flame and screaming after that.
I snapped awake, drenched in sweat, my heart pounding a minute.
I looked around, confused as all hell. I blinked a few times, wondering where I was. Then I looked down and smiled. Rose was still sleeping, her head on my lap. I reached down and stroked her hair. It felt good to have someone that close again. I’m not saying anything was going to happen between the two of us but it’d been so long since I’d even been able to let someone touch me. It made me feel all gooey inside. It also helped me forgot about my horrible nightmare. I tried to force it from my head. I looked out the window at the dim morning lights. I blinked again, wondering where we were now. I reached into my pocket and took out the bus schedule, comparing it to my watch. According to both, we were somewhere in Utah.
Six in the morning. I groaned, which meant I’d been on this bus for a whole day. We still had another sixteen hours or so before we got to California. The prospect of spending another sixteen hours on a bus was not very comforting at all. I tried to busy myself any way I could but it definitely wasn’t easy. Thankfully, it wasn’t long before Rose woke up. She was as bleary eyed and as confused as I was, at first anyway. She looked up at me though and smiled.
“I’m sorry,” she said, moving stiffly from my lap.
“Its fine” I said with a smile. “You looked like you needed it.”
She stretched. “You bet your ass I did.”
She excused herself after that and ran to the bathroom. She came back a few minutes later, dropping back into her seat with a sigh. We didn’t say anything for a while but then she got talking again, mainly about this group she wanted to meet. As I said before, she was really excited about them. I think it impressed the hell out of her that there were people out there who would actually take in people like us. When she said “us” though it was with sadness.
“Do you want to finish your story?” I asked after a minute or two of more silence.
She shook her head but said. “Yes” She took a deep breath. She collected her thoughts. “After injecting me with the drug, the Colonel was pretty confident that both of our wishes would come true. But when nothing happened right away, he grew kinda agitated. I think it annoyed him that the changes didn’t happen right away like in the other subjects. His annoyance and agitation grew into frustration. Then he locked me in my hospital room. I think he was afraid I was going to tell someone what he did. After all, he performed an unsuccessful experiment on me and nothing had come of it, which was real bad. I didn’t find out until later that it was an unsanctioned, illegal experiment. The Colonel thought it was a failure but it wasn’t.”
“Did you tell him?”
She shook her head. “Not at first. But he discovered something was up when I accidentally touched him and blurted out that he was going to drop his coffee mug on his lap in the next five minutes. He thought I was messing with him until he came back into the room five minutes later with coffee all over his pants. After that, things got bad. He started forcing me to touch people, trying to get readings off them. But it angered him that my “visions” only went a few minutes into the future. He said they were useless but he didn’t know how much wrong he was. After that he tried to come up with ways to make me have longer and better visions.”
She reached into her purse again and pulled out the bottle. She turned it so I saw the label. She sighed heavily. “It turns out that I can’t control when my visions come unless I pop one of these. They’re adrenaline pills, something inside of them acts like an accelerant to my ability. Once I put one in my mouth, it forces the vision to come whether I want it to or not.”
“That’s horrible” I said, appalled and then remembered she did it when she first met me. I shuddered at the thought.
She nodded, teary eyed again. “He started using other drugs too, trying to make my visions longer. That’s when I decided to run.”
I nodded. “How did you get out of there?”
She smiled. “You remember how he thought my visions were useless?” I nodded. “Well, being Daddy’s little girl---the daughter of a military man---he made sure I had self defense. Well Daddy took it one-step too far and made sure I had the best possible training. I’m currently skilled in several forms of martial arts; I’ve been a student since the age of four. I take to it like a fish to water. All the kids in my group used to call me the Ravager because I’m so vicious on the mat.”
I shuddered at that too. “Is that how you escaped?”
She nodded. “Being able to see a few minutes into the future helps when you’re fighting someone.”
She smiled. “I’ve been on the run ever since. You know the rest.”
We laughed and talked after that. She told me about the struggles of growing up as a boy stuck in a girl’s body. I felt kinda bad for her, even more so knowing that even after having a Meta change forced on her she didn’t get her wish. But she said she was content now. I found that hard to believe but according to her if she was meant to be a boy, it would have happened. She said that with sadness. I tried to tell her maybe Jade could give her a ring and make her appear like one, it worked for me except I didn’t want it of course. But she didn’t want to be a bother. So we changed the subject and I’m not sure how but we got talking about sexual orientation.
“Its really hard being in the locker room and seeing all these naked girls around me” She said with a shudder. “You have no idea how hard it was to keep myself restrained.”
“So you’re a lesbian?”
She shook her head. “Everyone else saw it that way of course. But to me, I was a healthy teenage guy getting a metaphysical hard-on for the girls around me.”
“That must have sucked”
She nodded and looked at me. “What about you?” I gave her a confused look, she sighed. “Girls or guys?”
I laughed. “Girls definitely.”
We both blushed and shared a smile. Time passed quickly talking to her. It was different being with her too, not at all like Cissie. I still cared a great deal about her but with Rose, it was like I wasn’t hiding myself. With Cissie, I was afraid I was going to hurt her. But with Rose, I didn’t have that problem. I suppose that’s not a fair assessment because Cissie didn’t stick around, so I wouldn’t hurt her. In the end, she hurt me. I tried not to think about it. Instead, I looked at my watch, shocked that so much time had passed. It was three hours from the time we woke up. Rose was in the middle of telling me about little league baseball, begging the Coach to let her play on the boy’s team. She was in the middle of her story when she stopped suddenly just after our hands briefly touched.
“We have to get off this bus at the next stop.”
She shocked the hell out of me. “What? Why?”
“They’ve got a road block up ahead. There’s a bunch of cars and everything. Someone on here recognized you from the news and called it in. The police are going to stop the bus right outside the next city.”
I groaned. “Are you sure?"
She nodded. “If we stay on, they’ll get you.”
I cursed. She grabbed my hand and squeezed gently. We got to the next town ten minutes later. We were just inside Nevada now, far from where I wanted to be. We filed off the bus with some of the other passengers. Rose talked to the bus driver, making him get our bags. I don’t think he was too happy about it but she took some of my money to grease his palms. That shut him up. I wasn’t really sure why she so anxious to get her things, they were just clothes, right. I could buy us some more. But I saw as soon as he got her stuff: she had a guitar too. She slung it on her shoulder, making sure if was secure. She carried both our bags too: my backpack and her duffle.
I reached for my pack but she shook her head. “A gentleman should carry the ladies bag,” she said with a laugh.
I laughed too, looking at the guitar case. “I didn’t know you played the guitar?”
She smiled. “I don’t”
We left the little bus depot in a rush after that. I’m not sure where we were going to but it was a lot better than being caught. I just hoped Rose knew what she was doing because I sure as hell didn’t.
To Be Continued