Sunday, December, 13th, 2015
Sasha hung her head, leading Garrett onto a different path as they walked. It had been hours since they had left the sanctuary of the bush, but Sasha feared they had not made nearly enough ground toward her father’s house.
“Please, Garrett, stop.”
He silenced, looking around. “Did you hear something?”
“No. I need the quiet to think. Something you said…” she trailed off. It could not be the same person. Her father may have had plenty of the money and the staff to procure a super-powered bodyguard, she supposed if he really wanted to, but who would even think of such a thing? How could he make a think like that possible?
“What is it?”
“Tell me more about that man. Summit Freeman.”
“I couldn’t even if I wanted to,” Garrett insisted. A dark look came over her face. “That scum, that monster, destroyed everything for me. Just the mention of his name makes me…”
Sasha felt a rock against her hip. She looked around, only to find that the stones and sticks from the forest floor were rising into the air.
“I can’t even put words to it. If he were here I would snap his neck like one of these twigs,” he finished, breaking the sticks with only his mind’s influence.
“Watch what you say, Daniels,” she growled, shoving him backward.
The things he had been holding in the air fell around her. His confusion showed plainly on his face. “What?”
“You will watch your tongue when you speak of him. Now, tell me, what did this man look like?” she demanded.
“Tall. Dark hair. Umm…I don’t know! It’s been years.”
“I think you are lying. You do not remember every detail of the man who ruined your life, as you put it?”
“During our last meeting, my attention was on something else.”
“What does that mean?” she inquired, searching his face for clues.
He looked skyward. “I don’t even know anymore.”
Sasha rolled her eyes. “Hmm. How cryptic.”
“He did ruin my life.”
“There is no doubt in my mind that he did. I know what he does. What he is capable of.”
Garrett stopped walking. “You know Summit Freeman?”
He waited for her to go on, but she did not. “How? Well, I guess that would make more sense. You would have to have met him if he made you into this.”
“I was born this. Sasha Freeman.”
His sharp intake of breath preluded the string of profanity he released. He stomped in circles, kicking at the objects scattered around the ground. A tree groaned as it was nearly uprooted.
“You will give away our position!” she hissed, standing between him and the next tree he would victimize. “Get a grip!”
“Sasha Freeman. He gave you his name?”
“He is my father.”
“That’s a lie, Sasha. I know your father. He walked you down the aisle and mourned you when you were lost. To think that man stole you and took his place is insulting.”
“My God, Garrett, do you realize how ridiculous you sound?” she hissed. “Are you really so diluted that you cannot see reason?”
“There’s no other way—”
“How is it that you can insist that without proof? There is no basis in reality for what you are implying. I grew up this way. I remember being a child.”
He went through his pockets, producing the picture she had destroyed in the bathroom. It was crumpled up, he seemed to have painstakingly flattened it, and it was stained by droplets of water, but the faces were still visible. “Then how do you explain this?”
“This,” Sasha said, pointing to the bride’s face. “Who is this?”
“That’s you. Christ! I wish I could shake you. Make you remember.” Under her withering scowl, he amended, “My wife. Poppy.”
Sasha took it from him gently, squinting at it. “She looks very familiar.”
He said nothing. There was nothing he could say that she would believe.
“She looks like me.”
He nodded. “She does.” Sasha did not look back up for a while, too entranced by her doppelganger in the photo. “Will you show him?”
“Summit?” She caressed the rips in the photo with the back of her index finger and nodded.
“What would he say?”
“He will say the photo is manipulated,” she explained.
When she did not go on, he inquired, “And what do you think?”
“I think,” she dropped the photo, “that there is something going on that I do not yet understand. Something strange. But that does not mean that I believe that I could be Poppy. I could not be Poppy.”
“You can’t trust him. He’s going to hurt you; you should stay away from him.”
Sasha smiled, a pathetic sort she did not usually allow to grace her face. Not as Sasha and definitely not as Poppy. “I trust no one. My father, on the other hand, is the only exception.”
“You mean Summit.”
“Yes,” she replied. “My father.”
“He’s lying to you.”
Sasha’s entire body went even more rigid than usual. “Excuse me.”
“He’s lying to you. He’s not who he says he is.”
She stared him down, burning him with her eyes. “How dare you?”
“Stop,” she held up a hand, dropping the picture. “You know nothing about me. Not what I do. Not who I do it with. And definitely not about my father.”
“You don’t think he’s hiding something from you. He’s just an open book nowadays?”
The young woman spoke from experience. “Everyone hides things.”
Garrett turned away to retrieve the photo. “I don’t hide anything from you.”
She laughed at him. “You’re out of your mind.”
“Then why did you ask me to tell you?” She saw his eyes fill with tears before he whipped his head in the opposite direction.
“I have questions.”
He did not acknowledge her statement.
It did not matter, she went on anyway. “I want to ask him about you. Your past. Your wife. But, he does not trust me anymore. He will not answer my calls. So I will have to ask you. I want to know more about her. What happened to her?”
“Oh, where to begin? My wife was taken from me.”
“What happened to her?”
Garrett narrowed his eyes. “What you must understand is that Summit has a way of making things happen that you would think is impossible. And he doesn’t care about the cost.”
“Has he ever asked you to partake in any of his experiments?”
She shook her head. “As far as I know, he does not have experiments.”
“Of course not, he’d have hired someone new to handle those for him. And he will. When he does, you have to say no.”
She kept very serious. “Why should I?”
“They destroy lives, Sasha. I played into it a long time ago, and I want to warn you. They have you here for a reason. They made you for a reason. And now that they have you, they would not hesitate to pump you full of drugs. Make you more efficient. So you could take my place.”
She laughed again. “Take your place. Mr. Daniels, I have long since surpassed you in every way—” She would have liked to be more efficient. She had yet to hear anything bad in his warnings.
“It wasn’t a jab. It’s because of Summit and one of his doctors that I can do the things you have seen me do. That’s what they’ll do to you if you let them.”
“Hmm,” she pretended to consider it. “Supernatural strength, the ability to heal myself instantaneously…what a world you must live in, Garrett. I apologize if I do not sympathize.”
“They’ve only brought you back to hurt me.”
“Well which is it, Garrett,” she spat. “Are they hoping to keep you around or me? Answer me that.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“What did you mean?”
He sighed. “I know you think I’m crazy. I’m sure you think it’s impossible, but if anyone could find a way to do it, it would be the…the monster you call ‘Father.’”
“I am sure I will not believe it, as well.”
He pleaded with her through his eyes. “I think you’re my wife. I think they found a way to bring you back.”
She grinned. “Oh, Mr. Daniels, I do so enjoy our talks. It’s like listening to a fairytale.”
“I mean it. Please hear me out!”
“I have been hearing you out. Please, go on. When did the horror all start?”
Monday, January 21st, 1985
It took only eight injections.
The first time was agony; they had clearly shot white hot, liquid fire into my brain. Within seconds, it had spread to the rest of my body, filling me with the same pain. They would not give me pain killers or even some of mom’s booze. It could affect your medication, they had said. Medication. That was how they always referred to the shots. My normal, frail body was sick with regularity, and they were fixing me.
After a day, my mind was clearer, able to process more at once. I heard the sound of birds chirping down the block, the slight wheeze in my alarm clock that I realized meant needed replacement batteries soon, and my mother’s snoring downstairs. She had passed out in the living room again, in case I needed the reminder.
The best part was the muscles in my arms, they protruded like throbbing coils. My head ached from the shot, but I did not really care. The muscles, the extra three inches in height. If the kids from high school could see me now.
Summit and Doctor Hartl could not have been anymore thrilled the day I came back for my injections. I was not sure what they had put in the drugs they were pumping into him, all I knew was that it was working. And it was working well.
By the time the eight weeks were up, I was a staggering 6’8”. My shoulders had grown too wide to fit through most doorways, a fact that startled mom, the only one I had seen in the last few weeks. I had been excused by the doctors from school, citing the flu or something.
Doctor Hartl picked up my homework and delivered it to my teachers when it was done while I was told to stay out of sight and eat as often as I liked to keep up with my changing metabolism.
I had not seen Poppy for two weeks. We talked on the phone almost every night, but I missed her face. I missed her smell. I missed her hand brushing mine while we walked side by side down the street toward the pizza parlor. I wondered if she did that on purpose.
The final injection was scheduled for early in the morning. I had not left myself much time to be there, but Summit sent a car after seeing the atrocity I had been driving around in before. The sun was barely rising over the trees when I pulled up to the familiar lab and spoke the same words to the intercom.
“Garrett Daniels, ready to go.” My voice had grown deeper. Sexier. Even Poppy liked it.
Doctor Hartl buzzed me in as usual.
Unlike the first day, no one was there to greet me, but I did not expect them to. They would be standing in Lab 5, tightening the new straps they had needed to replace now that his strength had increased. A pile of chains had been placed in the corner of the room. I tried not to think about them needing to tie me down with those.
I shoved a granola bar into my mouth, almost satiating the sudden starvation that seemed to be a constant in my gut, kind of like my school days at lunch time. I entered the lab.
“Morning, gentlemen,” I flexed my biceps to show him the progress.
“Good morning, Garrett,” Doctor Hartl said.
Summit only nodded. “Let’s get this one over with.”
“I’m with you.” I pulled myself onto the gurney wondering what effects this next treatment would have on me. I could not possibly get bigger, could I? The last cot needed to be replaced the one from before. It had collapsed under my new weight.
Hartl went to work at tying my wrists down. “How are you feeling?”
“To be perfectly honest, I’m hungry,” I grinned.
Hartl laughed. Summit cracked an amused grin. “I’m sure you are. Hartl, do you have anything for him?”
The doctor produced a large muffin from the pocket of his coat. “I wanted to be prepared for the worst. You can have it after the treatment, you’ve got no hands.” He indicated the restraints, now buckled tightly around my wrists.
I tried not to pout and closed my eyes instead, readying myself for the procedure. “All the more reason to finish up.”
“You’re gonna feel a little pressure.”
When the medication was ejected from the syringe, the “pressure” felt like liquid fire burning and raping my flesh. I tried to be quiet but the heat grew intense. . My eyes welled up with tears. “Stop.”
“Just another second, Garrett. It doesn’t last forever.”
“I’ve had enough. Get it out.”
“Almost done,” Hartl sang. The ache would not stop, the burn erupted through my body, forcing sweat from my pores. I stayed perfectly still, trying hard not to disturb the serum coursing through my body. Pins and needles replaced the fire, unpleasantly numbing him. Was I moving? Was I breathing? I could not tell.
“Take it out.”
Tears spilled from my eyes, I couldn’t stop them. The pain was persistent. “I said take it out!”
Hartl sounded near panic. “I can’t, it’s stuck!”
I opened my eyes and found Hartl too close, grabbing at the syringe with one hand and readying a scalpel to cut my temple open with the other. Summit did not seem to care.
“Get off me!” My new muscles pushed against the restraints. They creaked but did not break.
Hartl quaked. The scalpel in his hand shook. “Freeman, the chains!”
Summit did not make a move.
I kept pulling until I could lift my arms, tearing the shackles to pieces, and I pushed Hartl away. I reached up and pulled the syringe from my head, finding barely any resistance. Why couldn’t the doctor pull it out then?
I bent down, holding my head in my hands, waiting out the ache I knew would leave me any second. The room was deadly quiet.
“God, that one hurt,” I wiped the stupid tears and stood up. “That one was the worst one, yet.”
“It’ll be the last one. I think you’re ready,” Summit replied, a smile in his voice.
“It was marvelous. Your skin healed around the syringe. And you just pulled it right out.”
I was confused. Did he say my skin healed? The pain was gone. I felt my temple for a raw hole in my skin, but there was nothing. “I didn’t have to think about it. I just did it. I’m starving, can I have that muffin now?”
“Sure,” Summit said. He tossed the muffin at me. I caught it easily.
“Thanks, Hartl, I’m starving.”
“He can’t hear you.”
I laughed, taking a quite bite of the fluffy blueberry muffin. “Why’d he go deaf?”
“In a way.”
I looked up mid-bite. Hartl’s body lay, upside down, against the wall. The upper corner of his skull had collapsed in on itself, spilling red goo down the wall and along the floor. His lab coat was nearly off and stained with the stuff. I looked at my hand and saw that the muffin had just a bit of it staining the wrapper as well.
“Oh my God,” I looked at Summit and dropped the food. “You killed him.”
The older man grinned. I will never forget that evil grin. “No, I didn’t, Garrett. You did.”
“What?” I backed away from the body. “No. I didn’t.”
Summit laughed. “It was brilliant. You pushed him and he flew. Dead on arrival.”
“That’s impossible, I barely touched him.”
“Tell that to Hartl,” Summit snorted. “Don’t beat yourself up about it, Garrett. I heard a little rumor about how he got to this point in his experimentations. It was quite grotesque.”
“No,” I shook my head, not wanting to believe it. Is this why they had done this? To create a monster? A killer? “No, I didn’t kill him. I couldn’t have killed him!”
“Get used to it, Garrett, I’ve got plenty of plans for you.”