A Second Generation Whateley Academy Story
Kansas - “Carry On Wayward Son”
Album: Leftoverture (1976)
Carry on, my wayward son
There'll be peace when you are done
Lay your weary head to rest
Don't you cry no more
Once I rose above the noise and confusion
Just to get a glimpse beyond this illusion
I was soaring ever higher
But I flew too high
Though my eyes could see, I still was a blind man
Though my mind could think, I still was a mad man
I hear the voices when I'm dreaming
I can hear them say
Carry on, my wayward son
There'll be peace when you are done
Lay your weary head to rest
Don't you cry no more
Masquerading as a man with a reason
My charade is the event of the season
And if I claim to be a wise man, well
It surely means that I don't know
On a stormy sea of moving emotion
Tossed about, I'm like a ship on the ocean
I set a course for winds of fortune
But I hear the voices say
Carry on my wayward son
There'll be peace when you are done
Lay your weary head to rest
Don't you cry no more, no
Carry on, you will always remember
Carry on, nothing equals the splendor
Now your life's no longer empty
Surely heaven waits for you
Carry on, my wayward son
There'll be peace when you are done
Lay your weary head to rest
Don't you cry, don't you cry no more
September 26th, 2016, New York City, Evening
The blaring sirens echoed through the New York streets over the regular sounds of traffic. It was raining lightly as I sat on the apartment building stoop, my beat-up jean backpack sitting on the steps between my legs and the hood of one of my layered jackets up over my head. I was wearing two; a old second hand leather one over a cloth zippered hoodie. They were both a size or two too big for me, but together they were warm enough and kept the rain off so I wasn't going to complain. Everything I wore was second hand; jeans with a small hole in one knee, thrift store shoes, printed t-shirt with long sleeved flannel over it.
The sirens were getting louder now. I could see a pair of squad cars and a black van coming towards me with more vehicles behind them. There was a commotion from the stairwell of the apartment behind me. The Jones's were yelling and shouting at each other, no surprise by now. They'd been doing that since I was placed there two months ago. They were the latest of a long history of foster families that didn't stick. I wish I could say they had been nice, but that would be a lie.
The sirens were blazing now as the first two NYPD squad cars squealed to a stop and officers poured out, taking cover behind parked cars. The black van was armored and had MCO written on the side. It started spilling guys with riot gear, some with shields and batons and some with machine guns. A few more squad cars were coming up behind the van.
I sighed and got off the stoop, laying on my belly on the ground with my hands behind my head.
“Get down on the ground! Don't move!” one of them shouted. No shit, Sherlock. Way ahead of you. I heard the armored feet stomping across the pavement as several men grabbed me. My head bounced against the ground as a few knees pressed down on my back. Cuffs were thrown around my wrists, tighter than really necessary since I wasn't fucking going anywhere. Two of them picked me up off the ground and manhandled me into the back of the van. My shoulder hit the side of the van door and I banged my knee on the way in. There was some sort of cage inside that they pretty much threw me into.
One of them tossed my bag in while they piled into the van and closed the doors. I could hear the sirens pick up again while the van started moving. Where I was going or what was going to happen to me now, I had no idea.
My name is Shannon Dougherty. I'm a fourteen-year-old boy, part of the New York City foster care system. Apparently, I'm also a mutant.
September 26th, 2016, New York City, Afternoon
Hell's Kitchen. Yeah, it sounds corny as all get out, and you see it all the time in the comic books and movies. There's a reason for that though, and well, let's just say it wasn't happy fun land. I had never been in serious danger or in a horrible situation, mostly because I learned real quickly what not to do. Don't stare at the hot girlfriend of the Varsity Letterman, even if she had a fine ass. When someone handed you $40 and said get lost, take the money and don't ask questions. Keep your head down, you don't know nothin', you ain't seen nothin', you got nothin' for 'em.
I had stayed after school for an hour or so to run. Running was calming, something to do where I could be alone and not bugged by anyone. I wasn't that bad at it. I mean I was sure I would never be top of the team but I was good enough to compete in middle school, so hey, might as well stay in shape and get a head start for the spring. Distance running wasn't a glamorous sport but it suited me. It was me against the clock, just doing my thing.
I had a fairly lean build, not having yet hit any major growth spurt like some of the guys had. I was due for it at any time, not that it would make much of a difference for me. My hair was a little long, around my chin or so. The longer hair helped keep my face out of people's attention when I was sitting doing my own classwork in the back of the room, so that suited me fine too. If I had to be honest, I didn't exactly have a face that screamed manly action hero either. It wasn't a girl's face per say, but it sure wasn't the square jawed tough guy look by any stretch.
One perk of delaying the trip back to the Jones's place was it meant I avoided the rush of people. I didn't dislike people, but if you can beat the crowd it was usually worth it. I did a lot of walking with my running shoes tied together by their laces and worn over my neck, with my backpack slung over one shoulder. During this walk I was free to wander in my own head along the way.
It probably shouldn't come as a surprise then that I was a reader. I mean, when your life sucks and no one gives a shit about you to start with, being able to escape to be somewhere else is a wonderful thing. My favorite book was the Hobbit. I lost count of how many times I've gone into Middle Earth and pictured myself there, journeying with Bilbo, Gandalf and Thorin. It was only a year or so ago that I learned that Tolkien wrote three more books, but I'd only been able to find copies of the first two. All I knew was that Gandalf and Pippin were on their way to Gondor, and that Frodo had been captured by the enemy. Maybe one day I'd get to see how it ended. But obviously poor foster kids didn't need things like books that didn't come from a thrift store for a dollar and weren't for school.
It was nice to just pull my hood up over my face, keep my head down, and walk back to the Jones's while daydreaming I was in Middle Earth. Some days I ran through forests with elven rangers, others I helped fight goblins in dwarven holds, or rode to battle alongside the Rohirrim. One forelock of hair came down over my face from time to time, making me brush it out of the way. Most of my hair was dark, save one lock which was a more stark platinum blond.
That part was a bit odd... I had come down with a fever a few weeks ago, a really bad one. I was sick for several days. Mrs. Jones was pissed about it as I ended up having to stay in and not go to school. Apparently I ruined her entire routine by my presence, not that she did anything other than sit on the sofa and watch utter trash on the television. Yeah, sorry I got sick, I totally picked that. Anyway, once I had gotten well, I remember looking at myself in the bathroom and had a slight shock. I didn't know illness could have me go grey with just one lock of hair, but whatever. My eyes seemed to lean a bit more green since then too... they had been hazel before but they always kept their options open from moment to moment color-wise.
The kids at school thought my hair looked cool at least. I had gotten compliments from a lot of them, one or two from cute girls, including Hannah Jenkins. She was a cute skater punk girl, with a green pixie cut and band shirts. She even struck up a conversation after talking about it, which was a nice change of pace. Most of the time girls didn't even notice I existed. I just passed it off as something I had done on purpose. The Jones's didn't even notice, or if they did they didn't say anything.
Honestly I don't think they noticed me much at all, other than remembering to set a third plate at dinner. Breakfast and lunch I had at school. That might have been why Mrs. Jones was so pissed when I was sick actually; she had to get off her ass to go buy a box of cereal and some instant ramen for me to have something to eat.
I rounded the corner to the apartment building, going in through the single door after unlocking it with a key from a lanyard around my neck. I went up the seven flights of stairs and made the customary left turn to 707. Mrs. Jones was of course sitting on the sofa watching whatever garbage it was that she watched. I wouldn't know, I can't remember the last time I got to watch television. Honestly I didn't think I was missing too much.
I went through the living room and turned right down the hallway. Past the bathroom, then opened the second door on the left which was my little room. At least it had a window. Single twin mattress, on whatever the cheapest used metal bed-frame was. One three drawer dresser which doubled as an end table. That was about it really, didn't even have any posters or anything. Mr. Jones didn't want me to put holes in the wall and ruin his chances at getting his deposit back.
I put my bag on the dresser, and took out a small portable CD player and headphones from the top drawer. Most of the kids at school all had phones or iWhatevers, I made do with a thrift store CD player and old CDs. I liked older music anyway, so it worked fine. It helped drown out whatever was going on in the living room or Mrs. Jones's “stories.” I liked to listen to music during the day, and night time I got to hear the sounds of the City that Never Sleeps through my window. It was comforting, being the only night sounds I'd ever really heard. No matter what foster home I was in this year, the street still had the same sounds.
I don't even know or remember what happened when Mr. Jones got home that made him flip his lid this time. He must have been mad at a power bill or something, because before I could even really realize what was going on he was stomping down the hallway and threw the door to my room open. Yells at me about holes in the walls, but he's the reason the door barely latches, go figure.
He was a large man. Six foot two, he played ball “back in the day” at whatever school he had went to before being in the service and The Gulf. It's not like he stopped growing, he just quit growing tall and started growing around instead. Balding, usually drunk, and always bad tempered.
It wouldn't be the first time he took out aggression on me. When it had happened before I just sorta took it and waited for him to stop. This time... this time was different. This time he came barging into the room coming at me, bringing one arm back to swing. I felt a... a pressure building inside of me, and held up one hand. “No!” Suddenly, the pressure released out of me, like a stretched rubber band letting go.
Mr. Jones flew backward. Through the wall of my room, through the hallway, through both walls of the Jones's bedroom and out into the hallway in the middle of the apartment building. I was sitting up on the bed, breathing hard as I looked at a trail of destruction between me and where he had landed. He got himself to a sitting position, one arm bringing him up off the ground. Cheap lumber and drywall was everywhere. Several large pieces of furniture were toppled, two doors were now kindling and well... that was it for the deposit.
I don't even know what happened.
I closed my eyes and breathed for a moment. I swallowed, then swung my legs to the edge of the bed and opened up my backpack. Taking out my school books, I went ahead and packed the entirety of the three drawer dresser into the backpack. Everything I owned that was mine: my three books, a picture of mom and me from when I was eight, couple of spare pairs of socks and boxer-briefs. Extra pair of pants, pair of shorts, second flannel and five t-shirts. I tossed in my CD player, my CD wallet, and spare batteries. Toothbrush, toothpaste, comb and deodorant. I was still wearing my jackets and sneakers but I went ahead and tossed my running shoes into the bag. My running outfit was already in there so that was about it.
I slung my backpack up over my shoulder and left the apartment. Mrs. Jones was already on the phone with someone so I figured CPS and whoever would be on their way already to pick me up and send me back to the offices of the folks who didn't want me. I went down the stairs to sit out in front of the apartment building on the stoop to wait.
So much for a chance with Hannah Jenkins.
Unknown date, New York City, Unknown time
So that gets us back to being tossed into a cage in the back of an MCO van. Right after the cage locked and the van started moving, one of the MCO guys lifted up some sort of pistol. I had heard stories about the MCO vanishing people, figures they'd do that to me. After all, who'd miss me?
“Lights out, fucking mutant,” he growled before pulling the trigger. Sure, put me in cuffs, lock me in a cage, then shoot me. Fuck you and everything about you.
I had expected something louder. I mean, guns should have sound, smoke and fire. Life passing before your eyes or some shit. What I got was a little pfwip and then a dart slammed into me, followed by a second. I started to feel woozy, like I was just really tired and fighting to keep awake. I dimly heard a panel of the cage open before a black sack was pulled over my head and I passed out.
I didn't dream or sleep. It didn't work like that. I was awake, I was out, then I woke up again. I was in a padded white room, with a mostly Plexiglas sort of wall for the door. From what I could see of the offices and like through the door and the uniforms of people walking around, I had been taken to the NYPD. That was certainly a comforting thought... might as well have just put me in the fucking ground. I was just as worried about being lost by the NYPD as I was being disappeared by the MCO.
I still had the cuffs on my wrists behind my back, but at least the hood was gone. My head still felt fuzzy and sluggish; whatever was on those darts was still working it's way through my system. I sat up and tried to take a look at what was going on outside the cell.
“Well well, looks like Sleeping Beauty finally woke up! How's it feel in your padded cell, mutant?”
This guy looked like what I figured Mr. Jones would be if he had put down the bottle and kept up in the weight room. He was also strutting around in his MCO uniform like the prize winning peacock of the show. I decided I didn't like him. Tall with a shaved head and blue eyes, I had to wonder what tats he was sporting where they couldn't be photographed.
“That will be enough, Officer Richter!” a female voice snapped at him. “We have taken your report, you are free to leave At Any Time.”
The implied and unspoken “So why don't you get your ass out of here” was obvious to me.
“Don't forget, Lieutenant Williams,” he sneered the word Lieutenant with disdain, “It was My team that made the capture and secured this dangerous Mutant!”
“He is a child! We have taken custody of him, we Thank you for your Assistance since we all know you're just trying to make up for your wonderful showing in Central Park a few weeks ago. You Are Free To Leave.”
Officer Richter snarled then looked over at me. He hated me... the way his eyes looked it was obvious he'd love to just shoot me now. “You're lucky today, Mutant... keep your eyes open because we're watching things like you.” He turned and stormed away. You could almost hear a pin drop in the eerie silence left by his passing.
“What an asshole,” I heard someone mutter.
“Officially I'm telling you to can it, Davis,” replied Lieutenant Williams. “Just because Officer Richter is an asshole doesn't mean we talk about it in the office.”
“Yes ma'am,” Davis replied.
An African-American woman came over to the Plexiglas window with a clipboard. Her hair was businesslike and back in a bun, and her uniform has stripes on it. She looked like a lady that took no shit from anyone. I guessed this was Lieutenant Williams.
“So what's your story, kid?
"You haven't heard? I'm just a kid that'll move from house to house, school to school, turn eighteen and not have anything resembling an education so I'll obviously just have to deal drugs or something to make ends meet. I'll be arrested eventually because you Police Officers don't like that and end up in prison, just like half the other foster kids I've met. But hey, room and board, right?"Lieutenant Williams stopped, staring back at me. I just sat against one of the walls, leaning my head back with my eyes closed. Right now I was just... tired. Tired of fighting, tired of struggling, tired of caring.
I'd heard all the facts and figures about what happens to most foster kids. How many didn't get a break, how many inner city kids wouldn't graduate high school, how many would be dead before twenty five. I'd heard it all so many times that it didn't seem like a fact or a statistic any more. It felt like something that was written, like the inevitable truth of the fact that humans were mortal and we were all going to die one day.
Whenever I was in school I did my work, kept my head down, turned everything in. On notebook paper given for free from the school, with old hand sharpened number two pencils, kept in the cheapest pencil pouch and binder that money could buy. I had memorized every sports picture on the yellow Mead Pee-Chee folder, since that was the only one I had ever gotten to use. Any time something needed the internet I walked (no money for buses) to the public library and waited in line to use their stone age computers so I could do the basic assignment.
I'd had six foster families in six years. Wherever I ended up next would be the seventh. Social workers always try to tell you they'll find a place where people care; that they're putting you in a better situation. They like to claim they're “helping families” because it sounds good as a mission statement. Somewhere there are voters or investors that probably buy into the lie.
The truth is society doesn't give a shit. Rich people talk a good game about trying to help the less fortunate or making donations, but really they just want to know the minimum amount to put on a check to make you go away and get out of their face. They don't want to be reminded that you exist, it might make them actually care about another person. If you're born poor, you're expected to just shut up and die so someone else can watch their stock price go up while they swim in cash and use a toilet made of gold. I quit having dreams of a better life and a future when my life ended when I was eight.
Lieutenant Williams finally coughed slightly, and cleared her throat. “So, no parents then...”
“Mom ditched me when I was eight,” I replied. “The Jones's are fosters, and they called you, so... no.”
“I see... so what happened?” she asked. Obviously we were doing the Official Statement paperwork.
“Dunno. Mr. Jones stormed into my room in a mood, and instead of getting another beating he went flying through a couple of walls. I didn't mean to do anything, not that you or anyone else would care. Foster kid fucked up, obviously it's my fault somehow.” I moved over to one of the corners of the room, resting against the wall with my eyes closed and head back. One perk of growing up with nothing is that it didn't take a lot to make you comfortable and you had fairly low expectations.
“It wasn't your fault,” she said. I doubted she believed that. “We'll get you sorted out and taken care of.”
Right... in a pine box, six foot under. Sure thing, Sheriff.
I just listened as she walked away. Obviously there wasn't a lot for her to fill out in the family and relatives portion of the form. That was fine by me, I was used to the brush off.
It was a while later that someone rapped their knuckles on the Plexiglas wall. “Hey kid, Social Worker's here.”
I rolled my eyes and got up. This ought to be good. Wonder who it would be this time? I'd been through more Social Workers than I had Foster Families. Officer Whoever let me out of the padded room and led me over to a random room with a table and a couple chairs in it.
Today's Social Worker was an older guy... balding, pot belly, mustard stain, tie only mostly tight. At least his suit jacket matched his pants. Ah the competent hands of the Office of Children and Family Services. He was busy opening up a briefcase, taking out a file that was a good two or three inches thick. He didn't even pause to look up from what he was doing as I was led into the room.
When he did glance up, he frowned at me. He looked over at Officer Whoever with a slight scowl. “Are those really necessary?” he asked the man.
“He did assault his parents and cause a great deal of property damage,” the officer replied.
“Could you at least put his hands in front of him? When's the last time you offered him something to eat or drink since you've taken him into custody?”
The officer grumbled but acquiesced, unlocking the cuffs long enough for me to move my hands in front of me instead of behind me. I felt a... something... while he did so. Annoyance? Disgust? It seemed to go away when the cuffs were refastened. I frowned at the officer, not that it did any good. He obviously couldn't give a shit about my opinion. Being reported to a government agency though, apparently that mattered. Someone would have to do paperwork.
Social Worker continued in silence, flipping through the pages as he skimmed over them in what was obviously my file. Numerous sections had little Post-it note bookmarks and there was a lot of highlighting and notes scribbled in the margins. The fact that the only real record of my life was a three inch file that a government worker only opened because he was forced to would have been depressing if I hadn't gotten used to it by now.
“So... Mister Dougherty... six different foster homes in six years,” he started.
“Yeah, they all decided they didn't really want a puppy after all.”
Officer Whoever opened the door long enough to set down a paper cup of water and a wrapped Hostess fruit pie. Real stellar nutritious dining they had here. Still, I was hungry and wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth. I opened up the package with my teeth and began eating while the Officer went back out of the room. Mmm, stale imitation pastry.
He flipped through some more pages before asking another question. “How long have you known you were a mutant?”
“I don't know. What time is it?”
That would explain why the pie tasted so good. I had been out all night. “Since about 6PM yesterday.”
He made a note on a pad with his pen. Really talkative people person, this one. He then looked over a few notes that he had on another piece of paper. “And the MCO was involved in picking you up yesterday?”
He grunted before closing the folder up. “Alright, I've got to make some calls but I should have a new placement for you in the next couple of hours. Someone will be by then to pick you up.”
“Fun,” I said with a decided lack of enthusiasm. “Thanks, Mister...?” I trailed off, letting him supply his name.
“Thanks, Mister Tannhauser. Here's to not seeing you again ever.” I drank the water and set down the empty cup. He frowned as I got up and Officer Whoever opened the door again, taking me back to my luxury accommodations.
September 27th, 2016, New York City, Afternoon
It was a while later that I got another pair of visitors. I sure was a popular fellow today, obviously they couldn't wait to wash their hands of me so they could go back to their lives. That was kind of the way of things; everyone was all gung ho about helping the poor or taking care of the homeless up until they actually had to interact with the poor or homeless personally. Then they just wanted you to go away so they could go back to their lives and forget that the poor and homeless were real people. They'd rather write a check from a distance than actually have a chance that being homeless or poor might be contagious.
The sooner the Police Department had me not there, the sooner they could go back to thinking all the foster kids were taken care of, government was wonderful and worked without any problems, and that they were shining paragons of virtue protecting the common good.
The first was a shorter blonde woman. She looked barely out of college, and reminded me a lot of that one actress in the Bourne Identity, Julia something or other. The second looked like the inspiration for the guy on all the Hitman game covers.
“I don't know where Jason Bourne is,” I said to the blond as she walked in. She smiled slightly. I was guessing they sent her since she was cute and they wanted me to like her. Which meant that the other guy was the bad guy who was going to be an asshole. Typical.
“Shannon? I am Agent Grace, and this is Agent Carter,” the blond woman said.
“I thought Agent Carter was a cute, British, brunette?” I said wryly.
Agent Carter frowned and looked over at Agent Grace. “Why do we get all the babysitting jobs for the snarky kids?” he asked.
“Probably because you shat where your boss eats,” I said. “Everyone knows not to shit where you eat, most people forget not shitting where your boss eats.”
Agent Grace smiled again. “He's not wrong,” she said defensively when Agent Carter frowned at her.
I looked at the pair of them suspiciously as they sat down. “Why are you here?” I asked directly. “You're not social workers, they don't come with pistols.”
The two agents looked at each other before Agent Grace began speaking. “As you know there were some issues when you manifested...”
“You mean putting Mr. Jones through a wall? I didn't mean to... course he kind of deserved it...”
“Well, we have reason to believe that the extent of your abilities got noticed by certain people with an... unsavory reputation,” she continued. “We suspect that they'll take action against you and we're here to make sure that doesn't happen.”
I frowned. “What kind of action?” I asked suspiciously.
“Look kid, I'm gonna level with ya,” Agent Carter said gruffly. “The MCO... they aren't really the good guys. They're out for their own agenda.”
“So are you government agency types,” I countered. “There are no good guys, because no one gives a shit.”
“Yeah, well we don't disappear kids,” he countered crossly. “There are some people worse than the MCO.”
I had my doubts, but I'd humor him. “So you're here to take me to the next foster family then?”
“Something like that,” he said. “Alright, time to go.”
“Let's get your things, then we can be off,” Agent Grace said as they opened the door and worked their way through the precinct.
They hadn't said a lot, not that I expected a couple of Government spooks to say anything useful. Obviously there was more going on than anyone wanted to admit to, and I'm sure they all thought they were being helpful and making my life better and just making decisions for me on my behalf. Just code for doing what they wanted or what made them feel better and damn my own thoughts or opinions on the matter.
We grabbed my bag of things from the cops, then started heading out of the building. Agent Carter frowned as my stomach rumbled. “Sorry, the food here sucks,” I said half-heartedly.
Agent Grace gave him a look, then he sighed and pressed his fingers against his forehead. “It's fine, we'll get something on our way out. What's good to eat around here?”
September 27th, 2016, New York City, Afternoon
Pie. New York style. Pepperoni, nice and greasy, with proper fold and a glass of Coke. Not diet, fuck that shit. Who needs their seventies anyway?
It sat in my stomach nicely as we drove away from the city in some four-door sedan. I spent some time just staring out the window, not saying much. I mean, I was used to being lost in my own thoughts and it's not like these two cared about me anyway. I was just another day at work to them, and to be honest getting uprooted and leaving again was the only normal I knew. I suppose it was just another day at the office for me too.
Suddenly out of the silence I heard Agent Carter speak. “Grace, you see that?”
“Yes. Three of them?”
“Yeah, that's what I thought. Hey kid, open up that bag on the floor there and suit up.”
Suit up? What was he talking about. I looked down and there was a duffel bag on the floor behind the passenger seat. I opened the bag and took out a bulletproof vest and a helmet. “What kind of Sopranos shit is this?!” I asked.
“Just shut up, put it on, and hold on,” Carter said as Grace pulled out her sidearm and checked it. I put on the vest and helmet; after all, I'm not an idiot. Once I finished up Carter shifted lanes HARD and gunned it.
I looked through the back window and saw three unmarked dark cars suddenly speed out of traffic and accelerate after us. I was in an honest to God high-speed chase, and I wasn't sure what to think about that.
I decided I didn't like it once guys in suits and sunglasses leaned out of passenger windows and started shooting at us. The glass behind me cracked and I ducked down, covering my head out of reflex. Grace undid her seat belt and leaned out her passenger side window and took aim behind us, shooting back. Carter seemed to just concentrate on weaving in and out of traffic.
I was trying to stay calm, but there was a sort of... pressure building. Like background noise at a concert that was building over time. Sort of a cross between that and a headache, but it wasn't pain. I didn't have words to describe it really, not then and not looking back at it either.
Grace had turned completely around in her seat by this point, bracing herself with her feet against the seat while her back was against the dash of the car. I honestly didn't know how she managed to look so … I mean, she might as well have been having tea. I wasn't sure how well she was doing, but she was being very careful with her shots. No movie infinite ammo here, ya know?
It was then that I heard a grunt from Carter, as the car suddenly weaved a bit.
“Carter?” Grace asked from her own seat.
“I'm fine, keep shooting,” he let out through gritted teeth.
I risked looking up just enough to see blood forming on the shoulder of his suit. He had been shot. Everything was just... it was too much. My head was... it was like it was ringing without there being any additional sound. I got up from the floor, glared at the lead car and shouted at it, “Fuck off!”
I couldn't explain any of what happened next. I don't understand it, and it was some serious Gandalf shit. My brain suddenly hummed like a guitar chord with too much reverb and then it was like an invisible piano dropped onto the hood of the first car, only there was no fucking piano. The hood just crumpled down and the car flipped ass over teakettle and the roof slammed into the freeway. The car slid forward, sparks flying as the metal scrapped over pavement, rotating slightly as it did so.
The two other cars each swerved to avoid ramming into the first flipped car, one going left and one right. The first swerved into the median, slamming into the concrete and stopping while its front end crumpled from the force of the impact. The other car swerved the other way, wobbling back and forth until it fell into a roll, doors and bits of metal flying off as it traveled down the freeway and eventually stopped.
The pressure in my head suddenly released and I sat breathing heavily as I blinked my eyes several times, trying to figure out what had just happened. Grace and Carter both looked at me in surprise, 'til Carter grunted. “Good job, kid,” he said as we sped away.
If I only I knew how the fuck I did it...
September 27th, 2016, New York State, Evening
The car sounds from the freeway near the shit-pot motel we were in sounded like running water if you weren't paying attention. It was pleasant and oddly relaxing for me. Being an inner-city kid, white noise was just a constant fact of life. Cars, people, horns, radios, televisions... it all blurred together into the general hustle and bustle of the city.
I chewed idly at the burger that Agent Grace had brought back. Burgers, fries, Coke... you'd think we were a family on a road trip if it wasn't for the busted ass car in the parking spot below and Agent Carter bandaging his shoulder in the motel room bathroom.
They'd rented a room with double beds, Agent Grace had one and Carter and I had the other one. That made sense and didn't really bug me. Sure as hell beat the floor or the back seat of the shot out car.
Yeah, she was cute and all, but that really wasn't where my brain was right now. To put it bluntly I've had a couple of real shitty days lately. I mean, sure, I'd bounced foster families enough times that it was no thing, but being a mutant, beat on by cops, thrown in jail, then shot at in a car chase was a little much.
Not that it mattered on the outside. After all, no one cared and it was none of their business what I was feeling. Fuck them. Bunch of selfish assholes with their cushy houses and cushy jobs and actual hopes and dreams.
I was just trying to figure out how things were probably going to go now. Originally, I had thought I'd just be sent off to the next home, but obviously something else was going on.
I finished up my burger and ate the last couple of fries, licking the grease off my fingertips. Yeah, not the most healthy option, but who's gonna live into their 90s anyway? Certainly not someone who grew up where I did.
Carter came out of the bathroom, shirt off and arm bandaged up. I winced inwardly a bit, but it's not like I shot him myself. I crumpled the wrappers up into a ball and lobbed it towards the wastebasket in the corner of the room. Three points. I didn't really play hoops, but like most inner-city kids, there were enough hoops around that I didn't totally suck at it either.
Carter looked over at me. "Why don't you get cleaned up in the bathroom and then get some sleep. We'll keep an eye out tonight and get on the road again in the morning."
Grace looked up from the newspaper she was reading and nodded slightly. It was a local paper she had grabbed when we checked in. Something about keeping tabs on the public stories. It made no difference to me, so I went ahead and pulled out some sleepwear from my backpack and headed towards the shower.
"Hey kid," Carter said as I walked into the bathroom. "You did good today."
I turned around and looked over at him suspiciously, trying to figure out what he was getting at. "Thanks..." I said, almost with a question as to what I could have done to make him bother to think so.
September 28th, 2016, Whateley Campus, Afternoon
We had been driving for a while now, and for lack of a better word we were in the boonies. I hadn't seen a building in what seemed like forever, and now it was just hills, trees, a few rivers. It was like we were in the set of a movie or something all fantasy like. I couldn't help but be reminded of Frodo and Bilbo, and felt the words come to my lips:
“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with weary feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.”
I stopped and silence echoed for a time until to my surprise Carter spoke up from the passenger seat. “Good book, that one.” Grace and I both shot him a look of surprise. “What?” he asked, “I read.”
Thankfully there were no more shootouts on the way. No mechanical difficulties, disasters, or other major problems. Just being driven into the middle of nowhere, where no one would find my body.
A short while later a college campus that time forgot came into view. It looked like the set of an 80s movie, only by itself in the middle of no where. I wasn't sure whether to laugh, cry, or split up and look for the killer.
Grace glanced back at me for a moment, “Some of the best years of my life were here at Whateley. There are people here who can help you, and all the kids here will be just like you.”
That sounded like the same amount of garbage as a Corporate mission statement. Color me not impressed.
A pair of official looking individuals were waiting at the gate. Grace got out first and went over to talk with them. Carter and I got out of the car ourselves and I slung my lone bag over one shoulder.
“Hey kid,” Carter said unexpectedly. I turned and looked at him. “You don't have to be who they think you are. You walk your own road; they don't get to choose it for you. Take it from someone who's been there.”
That was... unexpected. I nodded slowly, “Thanks.”
He nodded back and I turned to walk towards whatever new chapter of bullshit was coming.
September 28th, 2016, Schuster Hall, Afternoon
School building names are dumb. I mean, who cares what fancy name they slap on a hall, if it's really just the math building? Most of these things are just named after some wealthy donor with small genitals who was compensating for something.
Anyway, I was now in some office in whatever dumb building they had told me to go to next. Apparently I was supposed to get a welcome kit... honestly it was sounding like a drug deal at this point. Go here, wait for the mysterious package, they'll know you're coming.
I opened the door to the office which looked pretty standard for what it was; reception counter, couple of desks, computers, chairs along the wall. If you've ever been in an office anywhere you know what I mean.
My contact today was a student here. She looked to be about my age, and was dressed in what passed for the private school girl outfit I'd seen other students in. Her hair was in a pixie cut and dyed a lavender color. She was chewing gum and blowing bubbles as she leaned against the service counter, texting or playing on her phone as I came in.
I came in and waited at the counter for several minutes, she didn't look up once. I cleared my throat, “Interesting day on twitter?” I asked. She pointed over at a sign on the desk which read “On Break, back in 15 min.” Great... she was getting an early start at that government worker attitude.
I waited perhaps another minute before a timer went off on her phone. She turned off the timer, set the phone down, blew another bubble and looked over at me. “So how can I help you?”
“I was told there would be some sort of welcome package.”
“Not one of a the rich kids, hunh? Don't worry, I'm not either.” She peered over at me. “Size medium? What's your shoe size?”
I nodded, “Yeah... eight and a half.”
After a brief rummage in a cabinet, a wrapped shirt and pair of pants were placed on the counter, along with some socks, belt, and a pair of shoes. “You can download the class schedules and information to your phone by...”
“I don't have one.”
She stopped and blinked at me, paused a moment, then blew a bubble rather loudly. “Hunh, alright.. it's okay, they've got donor phones.” Box of phone with accessories was added to the pile. “Let me guess... no laptop yet?”
I shook my head, “I travel light.”
“You'll want to make sure you stop by I.T. then, they'll get you set up with one. It'll have all the stuff you need; charger cable, case, stuff like that. Only other thing is to pick a work study... they've got some odd jobs that they have us do for some spending cash.”
“Like office assistant?” I asked.
“Something like that,” she said with a smirk. “Groundskeeping, janitorial, cafeteria, library..”
“Library?” I asked with interest.
“Yeah... not one of the popular ones, I can put you down for it. What's your name?”“Shannon. Shannon Dougherty.”
“Nice to meet you, Shannon. I'm Katie Briggs. Maybe I'll see you around. Stop by again if you have any questions.” With that she went back to her phone, blowing a bubble with a clear sense of dismissal.
It worked for me. I gathered up my pile of new acquisitions and got ready to find my way to I.T. and my room, when an honest to God fucking fairy flew into the room, muttering to herself. "Just great, more waiting, followed by jumping through more hoops. Being tortured by Blythe was less traumatic than this process."
“No fucking way,” I let out blinking.
The fairy flitted over to land on the desk in front of Katie and the lavender-haired girl looked completely unperturbed at the fantasy creature’s appearance. “Huh, another newbie? Name?”
“Ai… ummm… Vanessa Gordon,” the tiny pink-haired creature replied. Maybe she was shy around us big people, because she seemed to hesitate about giving her name. “I’m supposed to be picking up a welcome package?”
“I guess you’re that special case I was told about,” Katie said with a shrug as looked the fairy over. Then she pulled out a stack of papers and a plastic baggie with some tiny school uniforms inside. “These were altered from the measurements of a former student who was a little like you. They probably won’t fit perfectly, but they should do until you can go to Rogers' Fabric Boutique in Dunwich to get something better.”
“I gotta pay for uniforms?” the fairy replied, not sounding very happy about that.
“The school will pay for two uniforms from the boutique when you can go there to get properly measured,” Katie countered. “There are permission forms here for you to go into Dunwich to do that, but you’ll need an escort. If you need underwear or other clothes, Miss Rogers can do those too, but you’ll have to pay for them. Have you chosen a work study yet?”
The fairy seemed to deflate on the desk as she replied, “Yeah, someone suggested maintenance since I’m so small. I can get into tight places and my PK shell should keep me safe.”
“Okay, I’ll mark that down,” Katie said with a nod before jotting it down. “It looks like you have a laptop, do you have a phone? There’s information on the welcome pamphlet on how you can download the class schedules and information to your phone. If you don’t have one…”
“Yeah, it’s in my other pan…” It looked like the frustrated fairy was about to give a snarky reply before she stopped. Then she let out a tiny sigh and said, “It’s in the laptop case, along with my suitcase.”
“Everything you need should be in these pamphlets and you can report to maintenance to find out when and where they’ll need you. They’ll try to work around your class schedule. It looks like you’re in Hawthorne Cottage, you should be able to find it with the map in the pamphlet, or you can ask someone to show you the way,” Katie finished, leaving the fairy to awkwardly place papers and the baggie with her school uniforms in the laptop case.
Once she had the various papers and the uniforms put away, the fairy hefted the laptop bag off the desk and turned and looked over at me. “So, what are you in for?” she asked.
“Throwing Foster Dad number six through a wall, you?” I said honestly.
“Was an asshole to my best friend so she murdered me and put me in a clone of herself so she could torture me for the rest of my life.”
“Ouch, yeah that'd suck. Did you pee in her pool, or just piss off all the other faeries?”
"She's not a real fairy, she's a mutant. I guess I am now too," the fairy explained before hesitating. "I... would rather not talk about it. Let's just say that I was a jerk, but I was trying to protect her too. I didn't deserve her going all crazy supervillain on me with her mom. I'm not sure what's worse, being a chick, or being so small. It's not like I have a choice though. I'm... uhh... Vanessa, or Sprite, take your pick."
“Shannon. So, did you need a hand carrying that?”
September 28th, 2016, Emerson Cottage, Evening
After helping Sprite with her things and getting her to her room, I went to find mine. I stood outside the door of my own assigned room; Emerson Cottage, room 217. I was apparently supposed to have gotten a tour guide, or met my roommate, or well.. anything. Wild guess as to if that happened or not. Whatever, I was used to making do by myself.
Thankfully I had been issued my own key, so letting myself in wasn't difficult. Inside the room looked like what I'd expect... pair of beds, some desks, dressers, normal fair. The right half was obviously occupied, which meant the left was for me. My bag went onto the bed, and I set down the laptop and phone boxes on the desk.
There were a fair number of to be expected posters. Couple of Playboy babes in just enough clothing to get past an RA's standards, poster of a fighter jet, pile of dirty clothes haphazardly left on the floor, half done homework scattered all over the desk. I scanned over the homework, math. Whoever my roommate was, organized and academically inclined he was not. I mean, I missed a lot of class being bounced from school to school, but I was better than this.
“Woah, you must be the new roommate. Oh shit.. was that today? Damn, I'm sorry man. I was supposed to meet you and give you a tour 'n shit, but there were just some totally awesome thermals today, man...”
Great... I had a roommate straight out of a sitcom set in California. “It's fine, I figured it out,” I said as I turned around to look at my roommate. He was taller than I was, which wasn't that different. Blond shaggy hair, a pair of goggles on his forehead, and what looked like some kind of jump suit. He'd be considered a good looking guy, probably got all the girls. Had a big dopey smile that appeared genuine at first glance, but I knew better than to trust that act.
“Well let me at least go down and help you with the rest of your stuff,” he said while rubbing one hand through his hair.
“This is all of it.”
“Just the one... dang man, hardcore. I'm Skyler.. Blake Skyler, flier. Straight outta Cali.”
Big shocker. “Shannon Dougherty, New York. I just found out I was a mutant a couple days ago.”
“Really? Killer man, well this is the place for it. They'll get you all tested up and stuff. I got a packet of stuff for you here somewhere...” he turned and dug around in his desk before finding a folder hidden beneath a half wrapped candy bar. “Here ya go.”
I took the folder and leafed through it. All the regular info was there; maps, schedules, timetables, list of required appointments. This would have been very helpful oh, I dunno, an hour ago. Looks like they can plan for everything except stupidity. “Thanks,” I said wryly.
“Don't mention it, man... but you've got enough time I can show you the best spot in the cafeteria for babe watching... just let me change out of my flyin' suit.”
This was going to be a new chapter of bullshit, alright.
September 28th, 2016, Emerson Cottage, Night
I laid on my bed while staring up at the ceiling. The rest of the day hadn't been that bad, Blake had indeed known of a good spot in the cafeteria for babe watching as he put it. There were some seriously hot girls on this campus though; apparently all that Exemplar stuff wasn't just made up.
In a strange way though, all the stereotypical hot chicks were... well it was weird. Yeah, they were hot and looking definitely did things, ya know? But I'd learned a few things over my life about hot girls. First, most of the time they bloody were aware they were hot and that tended to make them snotty bitches if they had brains to recognize it, or they were so dumb you wanted to beat your head into a wall as soon as they opened their mouth. Second, they were almost universally always taken by some super rich, popular, well muscled type that could bend you into a pretzel. No thank you. Third, well... I'd rather spend time around cute girls with personalities and brains than super hot vapid airheads anyway.
I had spotted the office girl from earlier, Katie Briggs. She was pretty cute and hadn't seemed horribly stuck up or anything. Might have been the dyed hair; I was kind of a sucker for the punk thing.
Speaking of punk, there was one totally hot blue haired girl. Hot in the regular sense, not the freaky Exemplar way. She looked like she gave exactly zero fucks about all of the school BS, wearing her tie around one wrist and rocking fishnets with combat boots. Definitely looked like someone I'd love to talk to.
In terms of blue though, she took second place to the girl who was frickin' blue (da ba dee). Like, head to toe blue, with blue hair. Probably took a lot of shit and jokes for it too. She had some clique of people who all sat together on one of the upper levels. Obviously too cool for people like me.
The food had been really good, especially for cafeteria food. Having gone to so many schools I was something of an expert in school cafeterias, and this one definitely was top tier. Also served a lot of weird French things and words I couldn't say.
No, the reason I was laying awake in bed while everyone around me was sleeping had nothing to do with the day being bad. It was because it was too damn quiet. Yeah, it sounds weird, but the lack of sound was driving me crazy.
I had dreamed of roaming through wilderness in some exotic fantasy adventure, but my first real night of being not in the middle of the city was...
Well it was shit. It was just quiet. No cars, no people, no horns, no freeway. All the sounds of the city that never sleeps were gone, and it was just so wrong. I kept focusing on it and just couldn't relax.
It was going to be a long night.
September 29th, 2016, Whateley Campus, Afternoon
The Tunnels ran under the school like a budget subway. I mean, compared to the New York Subway it was probably cleaner. In some ways it felt more like home than the outside did.
There were a lot of workrooms, meeting rooms, restrooms here and there. Entrances into most all the dorms for folks with GSD and the like for the funky flag days. I liked using it from time to time just to avoid people.
Spotted throughout the Tunnels were a couple vending machines for people who needed a quick pick-me-up on the go, as well as a little shop. It wasn't the only shop to be sure, but this one had a L shaped counter that was part of the hallway, with the short side part of a little alcove which had four tables and some chairs in it. Just enough for someone who might want to sit and get a snack. A security shutter went up and down to close it down for after hours.
I was meeting my “Guardian” here. Weird place, but I gather he was still kind of on the clock or something. I'd passed by the shop once or twice before, so thankfully when I received a text on my phone I knew where to go.
Sitting down at one of the tables waiting was an older guy, looked Italian, dressed in a fairly immaculate services uniform. He was very well groomed, and had an old fashioned metal barn shaped lunch pail on the table in front of him.
“Mr. Rossi?” I asked as I walked over.
He nodded his head and gestured at the other chair at his table. “Please, call me Gianni. Why don't you go ahead and have a seat, Shannon.”
I inclined my head, sitting down. “Thank you.” I wasn't sure about him yet, best to be careful. I got a sense of... approval? Appreciation? Correctness? It was there for a moment, then gone.
Gianni opened the lunch pail, taking out several brown butcher paper wrapped packages, as well as a jar of olives and a jar of giardiniera. The butcher wrapped packages contained several types of deli sliced meats and a white cheese. It looked like salami, capicola, and provolone. He opened the jars and packages, spreading them out on the table between us.
There was also a thermos which he opened and poured into two glasses. It was a deep red color, and I raised an eyebrow. Gianni said nothing, reaching and beginning to eat the various bits of food. “Eat. This is some of the best in Jersey, I know a guy.”
Well I wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth, so I went ahead and had some food. I will say it was delicious. I will also say, off the record, he straight up gave me a half glass of wine. Pretty sure that wasn't official school policy, but I wasn't going to say anything. Don't know nothin', ain't seen nothin', got nothin' for ya.
“So what do you think of the school?” he asked me.
I shrugged, “It's alright. Kind of fancy.”
He chuckled slightly. “Yeah, most of these kids don't know what it means to not have everything. Some do though, some have it hard.”
I thought of the various GSD cases you saw on TV on the various copoganda shows and the pro-MCO garbage they tried to push and nodded. I definitely seemed to have gotten off pretty light all things considered.
It did bring up a question though, one that I wanted to ask him. “Why me?”
He grunted, taking another bite of capicola. It really was good meat. “Because I've been you,” he said. “Close enough to. Grew up with nothing; people just pushing you aside and walking past you. Figured you'd rather have someone that at least had a clue.”
I thought about that and nodded again. It made a lot more sense when I didn't have to explain things, where I've been or what I've gone through. Most kids got to have fairy tale childhoods and just didn't get it. “Even if you are from Jersey,” I said with a wry grin.
Gianni held up a finger and shook it at me lightly. “Watch it, Irish,” he said with a chuckle of his own.
October 4th, 2016, Kirby Hall, Morning
We traveled for what felt like an eternity through the dark, the weight of the world above our heads. The tunneled halls were still sturdy, and thankfully did not display many more signs of the violence at the now ruined gate. It would be some time before I could set foot on a boat again at least without having nightmares.
“Let us risk a little more light...”
Gandalf spoke over his staff and the small amount of light began to grow, illuminating the giant nay cavernous chamber. A series of monolithic carved columns extended to support the ceiling, each one obviously the work of years. You could fit entire cities worth of people within this single chamber.
“Gimli this... this is amazing...” I said.
The stout dwarf grunted and nodded. “That it is, horse master, that it is. It's rare to see a human with an appreciation for real craftsmanship.”
“I believe in giving credit where credit is due. You lose nothing by letting someone else know their work is good.”
Gimli grunted at me in reply, but I felt like he appreciated the sentiment all the same. It had been no small amount of time that I had traveled with my companions out of Rivendell and had gotten to know each of them at least a little.
Suddenly Gimli gave a cry of alarm and began running towards a side room, illuminated by a shaft of directed sunlight. The rest of us followed him, finding him kneeling at the side of a tomb wailing in grief. Inscribed upon the tomb were rows of dwarvish rune characters.
“Here lies Balin, son of Fundin, lord of Moria,” Gandalf read, “so he is dead then. It is as I feared.”
A brief search of the room commenced by the others, and as they began to read from a journal I knelt and laid a hand on Gimli's shoulder. “We will avenge him, friend. We will take the ring into Mordor and Sauron shall pay for what his minions have done.”
Gimli dried his eyes and nodded, placing his own hand over mine. “Yes... yes, you're right. His death shall be avenged.”
I nodded then got up. I spotted Pippin moving towards a precariously perched skeleton and quickly darted my hand out to grab a hold of his arm. “Let's be careful what we touch, yes?” I said with a smile.
Pippin opened his mouth to reply and a female voice rang out instead of the one I had been expecting. “Shannon! Shannon Dougherty!”
I blinked my eyes and looked around, refocusing on the Psychic Arts classroom I was in. Doctor Chance was a short, petite, sandy brown haired woman wearing glasses with pink lenses. She wasn't super old, pretty mom aged. Weirdest thing about her really was that she was blind. White cane and everything. How she recognized so many things... I mean, I suppose she was psychic after all.
“Back with us now?” she asked pointedly.
“Well, back to it then.” The Doctor pointed exactly towards my particular penny, even though I was a good thirty feet away from her. I shook my head to clear it and breathed out a sigh, focusing back on my assigned task which was memorizing a penny.
Alright, there was more to it than that. We were supposed to be really learning and focusing on our coin, getting all of its details down by rote. My penny was a 1997 D mint penny, tarnished from lots of use. The customary picture of Lincoln, the word “Liberty” on the left side with “In God We Trust” across the top. There was a small scratch a few millimeters away from Lincoln's nose which was unique to this penny. The outer edge was smooth, and Lincoln's forehead was shinier than the metal around it from lots of handling.
We were supposed to visualize our penny, and focus our will on it. For me, that apparently meant make it move.
They had told me I was psychic, specifically a strong telekinetic with a degree of empathy. At least those were talents I had displayed so far. Great, I had mind bullets (that's telekinesis, Kyle) and instantly knew what people were feeling. Fucking wonderful. I mean, okay I had tossed a car around, but it's not like that helped feed me or give me a place to live or people that gave a flying fuck.
It didn't bring my mom back.
I buried that thought down quickly, closing my eyes and visualizing my desk and the room around me. Seeing everything in my mind's eye, the penny on my desk, in the middle of it laying face up. I pictured the penny rising up, floating a few inches in the air and hovering over my desk. I opened my eyes.
Not one fucking thing. The penny lay there, defiantly.
It was a bad penny. A stupid, unwanted, discarded bad penny.
Just like me.
Passed around from family to family, and no one cared. Sure, all these politicians and rich people talked a good talk, but at the end of the day they'd rather have another bomb than another little boy. Another Grammy than another little girl. We should fix homelessness, but maybe after I buy myself a second yacht. They were just poor people's kids, their parents should have known better. If they'd been proper people they wouldn't have lost a job, or a home, or had bad luck.
Passed to Whateley in the middle of fucking nowhere, assigned to a fucking janitor. Yeah, let's let the shit scrubber have yet another floater. Doomed from birth to be unwanted, a nothing, just a bad penny.
No, no I refused to be a nothing. I would be Somebody.
I closed my eyes and gritted my teeth. I let my breath out and built my picture of the room. Doctor Chance at her desk, my penny in the center of my own desk. The writing on the board, the trash bin in the corner, all of the backpacks next to the other chairs and tables. All of the students, color of their coats, shoes, everything.
I focused on that stupid, defiant, little penny. And I saw it floating in the air, hovering over my desk. I could feel things tensing, like something was consolidating together inside me.
I willed it to be like this. For the world to shape itself to what I willed.
That fucking little penny would listen to Me. The room around me seemed to grow silent and still.
Suddenly a small release.
“Very good, Shannon!” Doctor Chance's voice broke the silence. I opened my eyes.
The penny was floating.
“Go ahead and get your things, Shannon. You're done for the day,” the teacher continued. I grabbed my bag from beside my desk and headed out the door as the penny dropped from the air, landing on the desk with a very satisfying clink. I turned quickly as I headed out the door.
“Hey, why are all our backpacks stacked...” I heard from behind me as the door latched.
October 6th, 2016, Emerson Cottage, Afternoon
I was in my room doing homework when my roommate came through the door. I glanced at the clock of my phone, he must have gotten out early. Ordinarily I had plenty of time to work on English before he got in before dinner. Usually he was out 'catching some thermals, man' or something for another hour after his class. He shut the door behind him and tossed his bag unceremoniously onto his bed before flopping down besides it, looking up at the 'over the bed' Playboy flavor-of-the-week poster.
“Man, I can't be Icarus anymore! This is like, super lame, man,” he let out with all the attitude of a six-year-old throwing a tantrum. He fairly oozed agitation in a spiky sort of mess, enough that I wasn't going to be able to concentrate on my work at all with him like this.
“Okay, I'll bite,” I said setting down my pencil and turning around. “Why can't you be Icarus?”
“Because some stupid upperclassman got it first!” Blake exclaimed. “We were down in the shops working, as you do, talking about what code names we were going to pick when I said I already knew what code name I was going to have. I figured it out years ago, man. Only some stupid fathead already grabbed it!”
“It was that important to you, hunh?” I dimly remembered someone mentioning having to pick code names for ID's. At least it was advised that you picked one before you ended up with one picked for you.
“Yeah man, because he built his wings so he could fly!” Blake spread his arms to his sides and pantomimed soaring through the air. I mean, flying was kind of his thing, so I could see why this was a deal for him.
“So why not go by Daedalus?” I asked.
That's right, I wasn't dealing with an academic. Sure he got machine shop and girls, but that was about the extent of it. I closed my eyes and wished for patience. “Icarus's dad, the one that made... ya know what, forget it... we can just figure something else out for you to use. You don't want Icarus anyway, he totally crashed into the ocean and died.”
“Woah, really? Dang man, I didn't know that part.”
“Yeah... name's probably cursed.” How did he only know half the myth? Ya know what, I didn't want to know.
“Yeah, fuck that guy! He can totally crash and burn too!”
Yup, not exactly a Rhodes scholar. The itchy spiky anger was beginning to fade, which was good for my chances at being able to get my homework done. “Right... so we just have to think of something else that gives the same idea.” I rubbed my forehead slightly with my fingers hoping it would help send some intelligence into him.
“Someone else who like.. made their own wings... or... oh, I know! I can be the Silver Surfer, surfing the air on like a silver surfboard I made myself!”
“How do you not know that's not an option?” I had no words.
“Really? Man, all the good names are taken!”
There was the irritation again. I was losing him. “We'll get there, you just need to think of something that describes a dude that really likes to fly or something.”
“Hey, I know, I'll be Sky Dude!”
He was serious. He was fucking serious. I opened and closed my mouth a few times before shaking my head. “That's... you know what, go for it. That's pretty perfect for you.”
“Yeah, thanks man! You're good people, Shannon.”
Yeah, well, he might be the first person alive to think so.
October 6th, 2016, Emerson Cottage, Night
The rest of the day had gone pretty according to plan once I had gotten Blake's mood settled. Homework done, dinner done, post-dinner de-stress from all of the random teenaged emotional baggage of the Crystal Hall, done. It was something I was learning to live with; dealing with knowing what people were feeling whether you wanted to or not on any given day was problematic enough. The fact it was a bunch of ramped up hormonal teenagers? I wasn't quite sure if I was glad it was coming and going due to “lack of control” or happy that sometimes it was less clear than others.
Imagine just chilling and minding your own business when someone suddenly would turn a radio on super loud, then adjust the volume down to near white noise, sometimes to a regular volume, then sometimes spiked up to full blast at random intervals. There was no escaping it; it was all about getting used to it and learning to tune out the unwanted deluge to try and pick up specific “noises” or people.
It was hard to describe to people. They'd ask me what it was like, and I'd have to respond with “How would you describe a symphony to a deaf person?” or “I don't know, tell a blind person who's never seen anything what the Mona Lisa looks like.” Yeah, you're welcome for that useful description.
The big problem now though wasn't other people. I mean, I was out in one of the lounge areas a few doors down from my room with my book and my phone, in the middle of the night, without other people's feelings and sounds to bother me. No, the problem right now was that it was still too damn quiet.
It had been a little over a week now and I still just could not get used to the fucking quiet. I missed sirens and car horns, even when others were sleeping. The area here was just... woods. For a guy that spent years reading about a great wilderness journey I apparently was really, really bad at it.
I had finished up the current read of The Fellowship of the Ring and was starting in on The Two Towers for the bazillionth time. The book starts, of course, with Aragorn just finding Boromir laying shot, when I sensed someone coming into the lounge. I looked up to see who it was.
He was a tall, black guy who had to be over six foot, and had a build like a linebacker. He looked like he'd be one of the guys with a Letterman's Jacket if you know what I mean. Clean fade haircut, had on pajama pants and a tank top, with slippers.
“'Sup?” he asked coming into the room, sitting down nearby casually. “You must be one of the new kids. I'm Tim, or Lighthouse.”
“Shannon,” I offered back cautiously. “Yeah, I got here last week.”
“Nice to meet you. I'm one of the RA's, over in room 240. Now don't worry, you're not in trouble or anything. I just thought I'd ask what was up.”
He must have seen my face start to get suspicious as he was talking. I relaxed a bit. “Nothing much, just can't sleep. It's too fucking quiet.”
He nodded, “City kid?”
“Yeah, New York,” I replied.
“I'm from Cleveland myself, so I get it. Not as bad as New York, I bet, but a lot noisier than the country kids are used to. You tried a white noise app?”
I blinked at him. “A what?”
“Here, gimme your phone.” He held his hand out, but he felt genuine and was an RA and well, I knew where he slept. I went ahead and unlocked my phone and handed it over.
He started tapping things on my phone while talking. “A white noise app comes with like, sound loops of things. Lots of people use them if they need to fall asleep to like the ocean or something. I don't like to sleep with the sound of running water, makes me want to piss like a racehorse. But, I found an app that has city noises. Put in some earbuds, play the app on a loop, fall asleep. Works great.” He handed my phone back and I could see where an app had been downloaded.
“Thanks, but I don't have any earbuds,” I mentioned.
“No problem, take mine. I have some spares.” Lighthouse reached into the pocket of his pajama pants and tossed me a small box. I opened it up and saw a pair of earbuds, plus the charging cable.
I looked over at him suspiciously, and he chuckled. “It's one of my talents,” he said. “Just know where I need to be. If you ever need anything don't be shy. I'm in the other wing, but it's all good.” He looked over at the book I had set down nearby as he got up. “Those are good books, you read them before?”
“Yeah, I've lost count,” I said completely honestly.
“What'd you think of the ending?”
I looked down and shifted in my seat. “I've never actually gotten to read the last book,” I admitted. “Just the Hobbit and the first two.”
“You should look for it, it's a good ride. Well good night, Shannon. I'll see you around.” He did a finger salute over his shoulder as he turned and walked back towards his side of the cottage.
I tried the app later that night and for the first time since being at Whateley I was able to get some good sleep.
October 7th, 2016, Emerson Cottage, Afternoon
“An hour since he vanished!” shouted Sam. “We must try and find him at once. Come on!”
“Wait a moment!” cried Aragorn. “We must divide up into pairs, and arrange – here, hold on! Wait!”
Everyone scrambled at that point, fairly ignoring Aragorn's attempt at preserving order. There was no time to waste! Frodo's very life could be in danger, and with him could go all of Middle Earth.
I sprinted through the forest, periodically vaulting over logs as I tried to find any trace of the missing hobbit. Boromir knew more than he had said about what had happened, that much was plain. Still, he was a man of honor; he would not intentionally endanger his homeland or our quest.
Still, something seemed odd about the whole encounter. I couldn't put my finger on it, but it just wasn't right. Before I could consider it any further, I heard a sound ringing through the air.
Boromir's horn. The son of Gondor was in trouble.
I drew my sword and readied my shield, sprinting towards the sound. I had no idea what could have caused him to raise the alarm as there had been no sign of any orcs since Moria. Still, Boromir also was not a coward; he would not sound his horn unless there was a good reason.
I crested over a rise in the woods and could hardly believe the scene in front of me. Boromir stood valiantly against a small horde of some of the largest orcs I had ever seen. He appeared to be defending Merry and Pippin from them. The bodies of fallen orcs began to pile in front of him, yet as I ran closer I could see an arrow strike him.
He had forgotten his shield! It must still be back at camp, left when we all rushed in our haste to find Frodo. As mighty a swordsman as he was, he could not parry every arrow.
He had not seen me yet, as he raised his horn again to blast for help. A rather nasty looking orc took aim with a large bow and sent the arrow flying. I ran as fast as I could, hopefully I could get there in time.
I sprinted for all I was worth, holding my shield up in the air. A loud thunk rang through the woods, as my arm seemed to fairly shake with the impact. Against all odds I had managed to get there in time, and the arrow that had been about to slam into Boromir had been caught by my shield instead.
“Shannon!” he called in surprise as I looked over at him smiling.
“Gondor called for aid,” I said in response. “Now let us kill these orcs!”
He smiled back at me, and the two of us turned together and charged towards the beasts, when...
“Shannon, have you finished filing those books yet?”
I sighed and looked over towards the librarian. She was an older lady, kind of short with spectacles and her hair tied back in a bun. She kind of looked like that old bird from that movie about the haunted house on the graveyard. You know, “Stay away from the light, Carol Anne!” She was strict, but nice enough. Dot the I's, cross the T's, don't misfile the books, easy peasy. Kind of made me feel like I had a grandmother to be honest. No, it was the other one you had to watch out for... that one... a little creepy.
“Almost done, Mrs. Carnahan,” I replied sincerely. I really did have just the last handful of books left. It was a calming job, refiling books. Most people seemed to barely remember a library existed until they needed something. All up on the Google-fu. For me though, this was a giant chamber of treasures. It just smelled nice and calming, and there was something about the physical weight of a book, the way the pages felt when you touched them.
Anyway, I was feeling a little bored so I thought I'd try to get some more practice in while working. I focused on the book on the top of my stack, willing it to rise. It shuddered, wobbled, vibrated but slowly, ever so slowly crept upwards in the air, floating.
I focused on the book intently, trying to get it to move over towards its spot on the shelf. This was... less than easy. Definitely harder than a penny.
But I was going to be somebody, and you didn't become somebody overnight. No way other than hard work.
October 13th, 2016, Emerson Cottage, Afternoon
It was Thursday, which meant it was a useless day. Everyone knew Mondays were horrible; Tuesday had the benefit of being not-Monday. Wednesday was hump day, so you just had to push through. Friday of course was the prelude to the weekend, and Saturday and Sunday were of course the weekend so they were glorious.
No, Thursday was a waste of a day with nothing really going for it at all. At least Monday had the good grace to suck right out loud.
I suppose it was the best day of the week to match my life right now though. Definitely wasn't a weekend of party or fun. Nothing was being horrible right out loud but, it kind of sucked just the same.
I wasn't that far behind grade wise. Yeah, I was never in honors classes or nothin' mostly due to bouncing between schools all the time, but I was able to keep up near the top of the regular classes even with the shuffle. No, the problem was once again I was eternally the new kid.
I came in about a month late, which means everyone else knew each other and what was going on, and I was just kind of thrown in. People weren't too much worse than anywhere else, but that didn't really mean anything because kids are assholes.
I mean, think about it... a lot of grown ups are assholes, right? Now, even more kids start as assholes and are taught by parents how not to be an asshole. It's like asshole is humanities default setting and you're taught how not to be a horrible human over time.
So cliques are formed already, people had already established who the popular kids or the lame kids were, and then bam, in comes new kid. Yup, that's me.
It was bad enough that most everyone in my cottage seemed to be way more... I dunno... jock than I ever was. I mean, sure, I ran, but that's really not the same sort of sport at all. Runners are loners who just do their thing, as opposed to ballers and such. Those are social people who need their groups and herds. Runners can just function on their own, totally different mindset.
Anyway, so I didn't fit in with the kids that showed up at the start of the year, nor did I fit with the jocks in the cottage. I liked books instead of videos or phones. In the time of chimpanzees I was a monkey.
Combined with not really having a family for the last six years, I guess I was just... lonely. Depressed maybe. I'm not sure exactly what the word was; I felt like shit. Things were just bleh and sucked. I went to class, did my work, did library work, got food in there a few times, went to bed, did it again the next day. Routine but... meh, fuck it.
It was dinner time, and I was headed over to the Crystal Hall, like you do, only for like the bazillionth time that day, I was getting pockets of sheer... joy radiating from people. With as down as I was feeling it was decidedly irritating.
I mean, people are entitled to feel happy at their own pace, but I swear just about Every person I was walking across was headed away from the Crystal Hall and they were all just... ugh. Fuck them for their good mood!
Going into the building, people coming out in a good mood. Getting food from the line, people in good moods. Sitting down, people at other tables in good moods. Something was fucking up, I shit you not.
Look, you might be thinking that sometimes folks are just happy. I live in a mini-city of hormonal teenagers going through puberty and high school misery. I know what they're feeling on a normal day. This was Not normal.
The thing that was odd though, they were all eating chocolate. Some brand I hadn't ever seen before labeled Punk Pink Penguin. A pair of girls one table over were gushing over a bar, radiating pure fucking happiness.
“Oh my god, you've got to try this!”
“That is good! Where were they selling this again?”
“Over there, some Devisors made it. It passed all the safety checks though.”
I looked where they were pointing and saw the table they were talking about. The blue girl was selling chocolate bars. There was predictably a line of students waiting to buy bars. Fucking predictable... hey, come to America where happiness is for sale. Learn early in life at school that if you want to feel better about yourself, just spend money.
Okay, that might have been a little harsh. Honestly if a Devisor made a good product they should get to profit from it, that was fair.
I looked down at my tray, my eaten meal gone and nothing left but a few empty plates and a fork. I just...
Didn't I deserve to be happy too?
Sure, mom was gone, and every family has shown that they didn't give a shit. Hey, it's only Shannon, let's just give him to a fucking janitor. Heaven knows I'd never amount to anything like all the rich kids over in Melville. Future leaders of the world over there, but hey, let's put the poor kid with the mop guy. He can shovel shit for everyone. Rich people need shit shovelers.
I put my hand into my pocket and took out my wallet. Twenty five dollars. I knew I had a bit of change as well, but... well it's not like I had gotten a paycheck from the library yet. Maybe...
Was I really going to just go along with magic candy bars so that I could feel happy like everyone else for once?
The happy pockets were filling the cafeteria; it was starting to run over me in waves now. Little bursts every time someone took a bite.
Dropping my tray off at the garbage and dishes in the bin, I went and stood in the line of lemmings. Part of me couldn't believe I was doing this. I waited my turn, shuffled forward a few feet each time someone in front made their own purchase.
Eventually it was my turn.
“Hi! Would you like to buy some chocolate?” The blue girl looked extra cheerful as she asked the question.
No, I thought you'd have personal computers for sale. Wasn't this the electronics store? Of course I was here for chocolate. I tried really hard not to let the snarky answer pop out.
“Sure... how much is it?”
“Fifteen dollars a bar, and we have four different flavors. Milk chocolate, hazelnut, chocolate-coffee, and chocolate-chili.”
I let out a sigh. Figures... “Yeah, I'll take one... hazelnut please.” I took fifteen dollars out of my wallet and handed it over to her.
“Thank you very much! Here you go.”
I took my loot and got out of line, heading over to the edge of the cafeteria. One little bar of high priced designer chocolate. Pretty much all I could afford, was one measly bar of chocolate.
I looked at it in my hand, wrapped with its little package. I took a breath and began to unwrap it. To be honest, even knowing that literally every person who tried it was radiating balls of happiness I still expected to be ripped off somehow. It was just the way my life went.
Still, all the same... I deserved to be happy too. I brought the bar up to my mouth, took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and bit it. And for the first time in a long time, I was happy.
Thank you very much! It started from a random thought, then a character emerged that demanded to be shown. I'm glad you enjoyed the start of the ride :)