Sunday, December, 13th, 2015
She hated running.
She never ran. What was it about him that had her running scared?
No, never scared. Confused.
Sasha had taken up residence on a rock, but she did not know for how long. She had just been reclining, staring up into the sky as it turned pink, then orange, then blue. There were no clouds, only the frigid, winter air. “What am I doing?” she whispered.
Running. Being pathetic. Being…weak.
She had to go back.
A growl from the woods froze Sasha as she pulled herself to her feet. It was an eerily familiar sound, one she felt that she had heard before. At least, she thought so. She did not have enough experience with wild animals to say that one could be distinguished from another.
Her thoughts raced as the growling came closer. If it was a bear she needed to avert her eyes, if it was a wolf she needed to intimidate…or was it the other way around? Did this area even have bears and wolves?
She could not help but look for the sound as she backed away slowly. If she concentrated hard enough, she swore she could hear something else from the darkness of the thick brush. A whisper. A woman.
Sasha saw its nose first, then the white of its perfectly straight fangs, bared to snarl at her. As it emerged from the tree line, she wondered how many wolves in the wild could be so big and flawless. The wolf’s fur was grey, without spots or stripes or marks. Its eyes were black and staring at her with feral anger and some kind of knowing. Intelligence.
She continued to back away as it left the cover of the bushes. Her lungs prepared themselves to scream. The beast came to nearly her shoulder on all fours. If it stood up on its hind legs, Sasha had no doubt that it would stand nearly eight feet tall.
“Canis,” that whisper said. The wolf’s ears flattened against its head.
Sasha made the connection as if it came from another life. She knew that name. She knew that wolf.
The beast needed only one word. “Attack.”
It lunged, front paws outstretched, striking both of her shoulders like cement blocks. Its teeth snapped within an inch of her face. Sasha reflexively shrieked, “Garrett!”
The breath was knocked from her body as she struck the ground. The weight of her attacker was crushing. Its breath was powerful. Her stomach flipped.
She screamed for Garrett again but her exclamation was cut short by the wolf’s teeth. Its jaws clamped around her throat, just tight enough to choke her and break the skin, but not tight enough to kill her. Sasha coiled her body, preparing to kick the beast away but even she knew that it would be in vain. He had at least a few hundred pounds on her.
She was not trained to fight animals.
Mere feet away, two others left the cover of the brush. The first was Contagion, arms crossed, eyes bored. The other was the Chameleon, bedecked in the same form she had taken when they had last met in the forest. Unlike her companion, she was grinning.
“There you are, Sasha,” she said. “We have so been looking forward to meeting with you again.”
Sasha could barely breathe. “That is nice.”
“I feel like you have been avoiding us.”
She mocked a shrug. “I have been busy.”
The Chameleon rolled her eyes, dropping the smile on her face. She stooped beside Sasha, pulling at strands of her hair while she lay in the grass. “As much as I enjoy our back and forths, I do have things to get back to. We can make this very quick. Tell me where your friend is.”
Sasha did not have any idea how to fight a huge dog, but she did have a vast amount of experience in withholding information despite torture. She showed her teeth. It seemed to irk the wolf, because the grip on her throat got just a little bit tighter. She wheezed, “Friend? I do not have any friends.”
She tried to scream when the teeth cut deeper into her flesh. It did not last long before he loosened his grip, allowing Sasha to cough, desperately seeking breath. When she could speak again, albeit with some difficulty, she replied, “Canis. What a unique name for a pet. Where did you come up with it?”
The Chameleon flashed a smile. “I will ask you again. Where is Garrett?”
“Who knows? I do not keep tabs on him all day.”
The grip on her throat choked her again. It lasted longer this time. Despite all of Sasha’s pride telling her to appear strong, she gagged when she could breathe again.
Contagion approached them. “Don’t play with her, Kim, we’ll sniff him out. Just kill her.”
“That barrier of his is too thick,” she snapped. “You sniff him out.”
“He can handle it.”
“If he could handle it, why would he send us? Why would he need to do any of this? Canis would have sniffed him out twenty years ago.”
Contagion picked at his nails, bored. “Canis wasn’t trained twenty years ago. Just kill her and be done with it.”
“Fine!” the Chameleon grumbled. “Canis, kill.”
As excited as Sasha was to find out what that command would get her, she was grateful when the wolf was thrown away from her by the juggernaut she was hoping for. Garrett grunted as he barreled into the animal, throwing them both into Contagion and the Chameleon. The four of them fell into a pile against a further bush.
“Contagion, spit on him!” the Chameleon grumbled. Garrett threw himself to his feet, grabbing at Contagion’s jaw. He held his mouth closed. The best shot at poisoning him that their attacker could get at was the dribble of saliva dripping on the ground, singing it.
“Mouth shut!” Garrett ordered.
Sasha struggled to get to her feet. Three on two. She had faced worse odds. She threw herself into the fray, dodging Canis as he shook himself back to awareness. She curled her arm around the Chameleon’s throat, hoping to choke her as she had done to her. “Who do you work for?” she snarled.
“Go to hell.”
“You first. Who do you work for, Kim?”
The Chameleon thrashed against her. Sasha wrapped her legs around the creature’s waist, holding herself in place when she tried to throw her over her shoulder. It was clear to Sasha that she had been trained. Extensively.
“Make it easy on me, Kimmy.”
“Get off of me!” she grunted.
Canis snarled nearby. The Chameleon jerked her head, and Sasha’s arm, in the wolf’s direction. Sasha tried to cover her mouth, but it was too late.
The wolf whipped around to face them. It bowed, drawing its lips back over its teeth.
Sasha noticed a few things as she faced her impending death. Garrett looked back over his shoulder at her. He threw Contagion to the ground by his face. The Chameleon connected her elbow with Sasha’s torso, doubling her over enough to get free. The wolf lunged at her face, mouth open and seeking her throat.
Someone screamed. “No!”
Its teeth met her neck just as its body hit hers, knocking her back to the ground. Its black eyes bore into hers. The teeth cut through her skin. As she felt the blood begin to pour down her throat and chest, Sasha shrieked with pain.
There was a crack. Several cracks, actually, but Sasha could barely hear them over the sound of her own screams. The weight on her chest fell away. The force constricting her neck immediately went slack.
She pried her eyes open. Somewhere in her mind, she expected to find the afterlife. Flames. Pitchforks. All off the stuff she really did not believe in. There was no blackness like she initially thought. There was pain.
As Sasha sat up, she looked around at the crowd convened around her. Garrett’s face spelled horror, whereas the others standing beside him appeared grave. Contagion’s visible ire grew with every passing second.
But where was the wolf?
The ground was painted with red. Sasha assumed it was her own until her eyes found the body just inches away. It was not a wolf.
The boy laying prone on the ground was naked. His head was bald, just like the acid-spitter standing beside Garrett, but he could not be any older than ten. His eyes were open and black, but unseeing. Dead. His jaw was missing. Hidden in the grass somewhere. Jagged, white teeth lay scattered around him.
Where was the wolf?
“I didn’t know,” Garrett whispered. “I didn’t…I didn’t mean to.”
“You fucking killed him!” Contagion growled, shoving at him. The Chameleon grabbed him by the shoulder, even when he spat at Garrett’s naked chest.
Garrett was staring at the body on the ground, he was not in any shape to dodge the acid sailing through the air at him. Sasha threw herself at him, knocking him onto his side. “Garrett, get up.”
He did not. She curled her arm under his armpits, hurling him back to his feet. He would be of no help, it seemed. Because of him, she would have to run again.
His eyes were glued to the body. Contagion’s eyes flared with rage. He spat at them wherever he could reach, forcing Sasha to throw Garrett into the trees. Her body curled away from the acid. Even one hit would mean death.
“If you are not going to help me then run!” she ordered.
Garrett shook his head, blinking back to reality. He nodded, outstretching a hand for her to hold. She took it. Contagion fell to his knees behind them, but the Chameleon gave chase, following them into the woods.
“Make it easy for yourself, Sasha,” she exclaimed. “Now, I am going to make it hurt!”
Garrett stopped, raising a hand. Just as before, the Chameleon struck the invisible barrier. Sasha doubled back, taking Garrett by the arm. “We have to go,” she urged.
He was not listening. He approached the wall as the Chameleon got to her feet, shrieking obscenities while she pounded her fists against it. “Come and face me you coward! How dare you hide behind your parlor tricks!”
He was calm. “I’m so sorry.”
Sasha pulled at him. Finally, he turned his back on the wall. “Garrett, I do not understand,” she whispered, leading him into the trees. “What happened to Canis? What happened to the wolf?”
Garrett heaved, but nothing came out. He struggled to get out the words, like he was talking around cotton balls in his mouth. Finally, he replied. “That was the wolf. That boy was the wolf.”
Friday, February 7th, 1986
The bed was becoming my sanctuary. I supposed I should take advantage of the time I had left in it, after all, once Summit noticed the fairly large sum I had siphoned from the bank account after our falling out, the house would be gone, along with all the finery inside. My mother would be forced back into the hole we had come from, where she would need to work to keep it. I was not going back. I could not go back. If I was not arrested for theft, rather than the murder I deserved punishment for, I would be running to avoid it like the criminal I was.
The woman downstairs expressed her worry days ago, the first time I did not leave the house to work. Since then, she had stopped asking. She never liked the answers. In fact, she resented me for being lazy, a view she had spoken out loud. I was beyond the point of caring. She had no idea of the things I had done to keep her well taken care of and as far as I was concerned, it was time for her to return the favor.
My phone rang again. This was not out of the ordinary; I was accustomed to Poppy’s calls around this time. They had become much more frequent ever since I had stopped answering, but, still, I did not pick up the phone. What was out of the ordinary was that my mother had not answered the phone by now, telling Poppy I did not want to speak to her. The sound usually got to her by now.
Eventually, the ring stopped on its own, the caller having given up. Alone with the silence once again, I closed my eyes, ready to welcome more sleep. It would only take a moment. Mary Daniels was much quieter these days, making rest so much easier. I did not miss her presence much.
I missed Poppy. I missed seeing her. Touching her. Even just our nightly phone conversations left a void in my chest that I did not know how to fill. A void I didn’t try to fill. I didn’t deserve it.
I was a murderer. Besides that, I was a danger to anyone that dared come near me. Without even meaning to, I had ended a man’s life. I had barely even touched Dr. Hartl and still managed to spill his brains out onto the hard floor. How could I let Poppy, sweet, innocent Poppy, get wrapped up in something that could get her maimed like that?
And even worse yet, I had angered Summit Freeman. I’m sure I was still angering him. Retaliation could have been imminent. He clearly had no problem with ending lives if he would ask me to do it for him, and if he was unable to cause me harm, what would stop him from hurting someone like her or my mother?
I was not naïve enough to think I would be getting away with the breach of contract and the theft.
A noise from downstairs gave me pause. The creak of the stairs had not reached me since Mary interrogated me about the job, but it reached me now. Someone was scaling the steps to my room, someone lighter and faster than my mother. As they grew closer, my body tensed up to spring, anticipating the stranger’s arrival. By the time the door had opened, I could hear the shortness of breath my visitor had developed, along with a distinct sniffle.
Poppy threw the door open with a force that must have put a dent of the knob into the wall it struck. I saw her through a little hole in the blanket, tired, sweaty despite the cold, and frazzled. Her hair stuck up from her ponytail and her glasses were bent. “What’s wrong with you?!” she exclaimed.
I could hardly believe she was really there. The words would not surface.
She grabbed at the blanket on my head. “Garrett, are you dying?”
“No,” I murmured, holding tight to the quilt. She had not seen me since the procedure, my new body would frighten her, I was sure.
“Are you sick at all?” she demanded. When she made no ground in her efforts at disrobing me, she gave up. “You don’t sound sick! You had me worried out of my mind, Garrett! Not answering my calls, never coming back to school. Your mom said you didn’t want to talk to me. Did I do something?”
I didn’t know what to say. “No, Poppy.”
“Then what is it? What’s going on?”
I begrudged having to look away from her, but I rolled onto my other side, showing her my back. “I want to be alone. Go away. Please.”
I didn’t have to see her to know what face she was making. Her gasp was clue enough. “Garrett, what’s wrong?” she asked, voice weak with her upset.
“Nothing. Nothing’s wrong.”
“No, you’re being weird. What happened? What’s wrong?” She sat on the edge of the bed, placing her hand on my shoulder. “Are you okay?”
I shook her off, though it pained me to do so. “I’m fine, Poppy, I just want to be alone.”
“You can tell me,” Poppy said. Not to be deterred, she put her hand back to my shoulder, lightly caressing it. Despite all of my strength, and my new tendency to be inadvertently violent, it raised goose bumps on my flesh. “Please, Garrett, I can help.”
I flopped over so I could see her and reared back, out of reach. “Poppy,” I snapped, wide eyed. “I’m fine, I just want you to leave. Please, leave!”
Poppy didn’t cry. She didn’t look to be moved at all. Her voice was even enough as she said, “Garrett. What happened?”
What else could I possibly say to get her to leave? That I hated her? That I never wanted to see her again? How could I possibly be so cruel? My own eyes welled up with tears when I met her gaze, full of so much concern for me already. I choked. “I did something terrible.”
Her face pursed. “What happened, Garrett, please tell me!”
I peeled the blanket off, throwing my legs over the edge of bed. My head fell into my hands. “I did something terrible.”
I couldn’t see her reaction, but there was a moment of stillness. My mutated body had startled her. “Garrett,” she whispered. “What happened to you?”
“I don’t know.”
“You look so different! Wh…How did you get so tall? So…big!”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“Garrett, what happened?”
I clenched my fists, gagging on my own tongue. “I hurt people. I hurt someone. Worse than that…I…I…”
“I killed a man.”
Silence. Complete silence.
“I killed him. Dead. He’s dead. And he’s not even the only one, I killed someone else before him.”
She stared. And stared. And stared. And still, she did not say a word.
I chuckled under the weight of my discomfort. “See? I’m sure you wish you could’ve gotten out when you had the chance.”
“What happened, Garrett?” she demanded, stone-faced.
“What does it matter?”
She kept her hand on my shoulder. “Garrett.”
I did not speak. Could not stand to even look away. Rather, I kept up that uninterrupted stare and thought of the blanket behind me. It barely took any concentration at all for me to lift it without the use of my hands. It was only then that I looked away.
Her gaze followed mine up to the blanket floating overhead. Then, she stopped breathing. “Garrett.”
“I think there’s something wrong with your blanket.”
I shook my head. “No. Poppy, there’s something wrong with me.”
“How?” She looked down at my hands, ensuring they were still in my lap. “Are there strings?”
“Go ahead and check.”
She did. “Garrett, what is this?”
“That’s what happened.”
When she did not immediately stand up and run, I went on, explaining to her the details of the experiment that altered my entire human structure. And everything that led up to it.
“Oh my God, Garrett, this is all my fault,” she exclaimed, hugging me to her chest as best she could. My size made it difficult.
“What?” I asked. “How is it your fault?”
“I went to the Brickhouse! And got you fired! That’s why you did it,” she said. In the same breath, she continued, “Oh my God, what else can you do? Can you show me?”
I almost laughed. “What?”
“Show me what you can do.” When she received no answer, she added. “Is that a problem?”
“No, no,” I mumbled. “I guess that’s okay, I just didn’t really think it was going to go this way.”
“What’d you expect? Screaming and running?”
“Kind of. I guess, there’s still time for it if you feel the need.”
She laughed, which made me laugh, as it usually did. “I don’t think it’s going to happen, Garrett. You’re like a superhero. Just like a superhero.”
“You just haven’t heard the worst of it,” I assured her while I stood. “Stay still.” It only took one hand to lift the bed, and Poppy, off the floor.
“This is so cool,” she shrieked, holding onto the sheets to keep still. “Put me down, put me down.”
I set the bed gingerly back onto the floor.
“That was so cool,” she yelled. “You are a superhero! How are you not loving this? Does it hurt or something?”
“He had me do awful things with it, Poppy. You don’t understand. He told me to kill a man, and you know what I did? I did it.”
She froze. “Why?”
“I didn’t know what else to do! He said he’d turn me and my mom out onto the street. She can’t live on the street. So I did what he said.”
She hesitated. “Are you going to do it again?”
“No. Absolutely not. I ended the contract and I’m done with it. I can’t live with myself now.”
“And the other? Was that for the contract, too?”
I shook my head. “No! It was an accident. I didn’t even know I did it until I saw the body and I can’t believe I did it.”
She held my face. “You’re showing remorse, that’s a good first step. That’s how you’re forgiven.”
“What’s the next step?” I groaned.
“Repent. You have to make it up. I think your powers can be used to an advantage.”
“What? Tell me what to do, I’ll do anything,” I swore, leaning in.
Poppy pressed a light kiss to my lips before she said anything, and smiled. I smiled back instantly, readying myself to kiss her back. “You used your powers for evil. Now use them for good.”
I nodded. “I think you’re right.” Then, I kissed her back, higher now than in any other moment I could recollect. She came up with the name. Psionic Soldier. With her help, I vowed to redeem myself.