Copyright (c) 2010 – J. P. Barnaby
It wasn’t until I was five years old that I knew, without any measure of doubt, that I was different.
My father was a large, rather jovial man, a man that I looked up to and admired more than any other in my life. He just wasn’t particularly fast. My fifth birthday came in the spring of 2000 with a glory that belied the nondescript sky and the post-snow pre-summer day. I remember it clearly so many years later because it was not just the day I realized that I was different, but it was also the first time I ever saw my father fail. Of course, parents were human and I would see it again, just as he would see me fail from time to time, but at five my parents were still super-human. I find that poetic now.
It was mid-April, and the snow had finally stopped falling onto our small down of Pedukka, Illinois. The leaves were coming back to the trees, the grass had been revealed, and even the air seemed to give off a greenish glow. Spring had finally come, and with it came a beautiful red bicycle. It wasn’t like the old bicycle sitting in the garage with its comically painted figures on the cardboard stuck into the front of the handlebars. The bike, that despite my father raising the seat as high as it would go, still bruised my knees as I rode. This new and glorious machine was sleek and stylish, made of steel and chrome, and high gloss paint. There was just one thing missing, well, a matching set of things really.
My old bike, for all of its failings, was equipped with sturdy, reliable, indispensible little wheels on either side of the back wheel. They, more than my own developing sense of balance, kept my smooth, unblemished skin from coming in direct and violent contact with the sidewalk that stretched for miles in front of our house. That one small detail, that one minor anomaly kept me from my new gift for nearly a week. A week of side-long glances at the object of my dreams and desires as I sat on the back patio, a week of my friends asking if they could ride my new shining machine, and a week of my father becoming increasingly exasperated with me.
“It’s time for you to be a big boy, Scotty,” he said on the Saturday following my birthday as we sat on the back porch. ‘You’re going to be starting school once summer is over, and you will be able to ride your bike there, don’t you want that?” Miserably, I nodded. “Well, none of the other kids have training wheels on their bikes at school, son. You need to learn to ride it properly, or you can’t take it to school.”
The next day my dark brown curls were security locked under a new plastic helmet, and my wide green eyes were watching my father give me instructions as we stood under the old maple tree next to the sidewalk. I was tall for my age, so even on the new bike, so my father had to raise the seat an inch or so. I had on a pair of my older jeans, a silent expectation that I would fail. At least they and the old Incredible Hulk sweatshirt that I wore would give me some measure of protection from the unforgiving concrete.
A few of the neighborhood kids stood scattered around in front of their houses conspicuously held a forgotten Frisbee or a plastic sword limply at their sides as they watched me. Feeling like I stood in a huge and well-focused spotlight, I lost track of what my father had been saying until he lifted the new big bike onto the sidewalk with the handlebars facing the longer stretch of pavement. Ours was just the fifth house on the street, so pointing toward Lake St. I had miles of concrete in which to figure this out.
“I won’t let go until you’re ready,” my father was saying as he held on to the back of my seat. Reluctantly, and with more than a little trepidation, I got onto the bike. My knuckles were nearly white from the pressure of holding on so tightly. My hands trembled slightly with fear and excitement, and it felt like the whole bike was vibrating from it. In that moment, I felt my determination, my sheer willpower to make my father proud solidify into a tight ball in my chest, and I felt warmer. It wasn’t the kind of warm you felt on a hot day when you needed the sprinklers to keep you cool, it was a warm that started from the inside and worked its way out.
“Are you ready?” my father asked me with a quiet determination of his own. I wanted to just nod, but I felt like some kind of verbal affirmation was required here. This was a rite of passage; it was a huge step in every boy’s life. My mother standing inconspicuously to the side snapping image after image on her old digital camera was proof of that.
“Yes, dad,” I told him quietly, closing my eyes and taking a deep breath.
And then, I was flying.
I rode fast and hard down the expanse of sidewalk with my father right beside me, his huge hand holding onto the back of my seat, steadying me. It was amazing! My knees didn’t bang into the handlebars, and I felt myself going faster than I ever could with the much smaller wheels of my kiddie bike. I looked back at my father, just a glance to see the pride in his eyes as he ran next to me. His face was flushed and sweating trying to keep up with me, and I remember clearly the moment that he no longer could.
My father’s eyes widened with fear and apology as his hand slid off of the back of my seat.
The panic swelled inside of me as I watched him bent over clutching his side, and then I turned back to the sidewalk before me to face the unknown. The handlebars wobbled a bit, but I continued to remain upright as my mind blocked the idea of just hitting the brakes. I kept going, foot by foot along the sidewalk, the fear and panic being slowly replaced with something else entirely. My father had let go, and I hadn’t fallen. I was doing it! I was riding without training wheels!
Only belatedly did I realize that I was riding right towards Lake Street.
“Scotty, stop! Walter catch him!” my mother called from behind me, and I heard my dad running again. Still, I couldn’t make my mind work through the excitement and the fear. I turned my head to look behind me, almost imploring my father to catch me. If I stopped pedaling, would I fall? What did I do? The decision was made for me in an instant when my front wheel, which had drifted off course as I watched my father, lodged in the crack between the sidewalk and the grass and the bike stopped instantly.
Unfortunately, I didn’t stop with it.
I heard my mother’s scream as I was launched over the handlebars of the new bike. It was strange how time seemed to slow as I was airborne. I saw the horror of my father’s face, and saw my mother running from much farther behind him. I remember being impressed at how far I’d ridden just before my helmet covered head slammed into the ground, and I heard the tremendous crack of my arm breaking. I slid to a stop about ten feet from my bike and started to scream.
I screamed from the pain, and the fear, and the shock of my father’s inability to protect me as he said he would.
“Scotty, can you hear me? Let me see?” My father’s voice was so close, and I felt him pull at my arm and the scream came again ripping through my throat.
“Walter, is he okay?” my mother’s voice asked, and I felt tender hands unsnapping my helmet.
“I think he broke his arm, and his leg is bleeding,” he said above the sound of my crying. My whole body felt like it was on fire, but it was especially hot in my right arm and my right leg where I had landed on the pavement. As the feeling in my arm and leg grew hotter, the pain became sharper and more focused. I screamed again, and I felt my father lift me from the ground and carrying me quickly back to our house.
“What about my bike?” I whimpered as the pain peaked, and then started to subside. The heat seemed to have peaked too because I didn’t really feel it as sharply anymore. It was more like a warm glow on the right side of my body now.
“Don’t worry about that now,” my mother said, her soft brown hair pulled back from her face, except for the small tendrils that were stuck to her damp forehead and neck. “Let’s just get you inside.” My father cradled my arm tightly against his body as he hurried across our yard towards the almost cottage-like country blue house where I spent my youth.
Of course, the house is gone now, destroyed in the fire set to cover my parents’ murder.
Gently, my father carried me through the doorway and set me down on the burgundy leather couch that was the center piece of the room. I rested my head against the arm of the couch and my father positioned my legs on the cushions.
“Carefully, Walter,” my mother urged, tears streaming down her pale face. It scared me, to be honest, because I don’t remember ever having seen my mother cry before. Was I that badly injured? I could see the blood on the torn and frayed knee of my jeans, but there was no pain. The pain had gone away with the heat.
“Mama, it’s okay, it doesn’t hurt anymore,” I told her, hoping that this would stop her tears. Unfortunately, it just made the situation much worse. My mother gasped, and slapped her hands over her mouth. My father looked back at her and held her gaze for a long moment before pulling a pocket knife from his jeans.
“He must be in shock,” she whispered to him. “I’ll get him a blanket.” She ran over to the hall closet and pulled down a large quilt. I wasn’t cold; on the contrary, the warm was still glowing a little inside me. She held on to the blanket while my father sliced my jeans opening the hole that had been ripped out during my fall. He pulled back the layer of fabric, and then he looked at my mother. Ripping the jeans down the whole length of my leg, he searched my skin and I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Then, he took my right arm gently in his hands and moved it. I just looked at him, trying to figure out what he was doing. Carefully, he helped me remove my t-shirt, and I looked down to see that everything looked the way it always did. So, why did my father look so frightened?
“Jeanette? Jeanette his arm was broken, his leg was all cut up and bleeding, I saw it. There’s still blood on his jeans, but not a scratch on him! What the hell is happening!?!”
~ – ~
It wasn’t until I was eleven that I noticed just how different my parents treated me both from the way they had been towards me, and from the way other parents were with their children. It was almost like I was a bomb they thought might go off at any moment.
I wasn’t allowed to take gym, I wasn’t allowed to go outside for recess, I was treated like an intricately spun glass antique. They explained it to the school administration as some kind of calcium deficiency which was a rare condition that my father’s brother, Doctor/Uncle Marvin, confirmed in a note. The condition, or so they explained to the school, caused my bones to be extraordinarily susceptible to fracture. As such, I was imprisoned in the school office for each gym period and each recess. I never understood this, but I was forbidden to speak about it to anyone. That wasn’t a problem since no one at school would talk to me anyway. Once I was identified as different, labeled as outside the norm, I became a social pariah.
It was the loneliest time of my entire life.
My parents never talked to me about why they had caused me to become a social outcast. Of course, I know now, but then, it was a level of confusion that my adolescent life really did not need. I had figured out that their erratic behavior must have something to do with my bike accident, the one that I’d had when I was five. Walter and Jeanette Green became completely different people after that day, and I never saw my beautiful red bike again.
For years, I was alone, I was angry, and I was scared – until I met Andy Weber.
Andy Weber moved to our small Illinois town near the end of our sophomore year of high school. His cheap, worn clothes, the old ratty backpack he carried, and most of all, his dark personality caused him to be almost instantly shunned by the self-important student body of Davidson High School. I liked him instantly. I liked the way he didn’t bow to the peer pressure, or the way he stood up to the teachers when he didn’t agree. He was everything that I wasn’t, and I never understood how we became friends. It must have been our shared unpopularity. As much as I didn’t want to admit it to myself, I also liked the way his sandy hair fell over his eyes when he was writing, or the way his muscled arms flexed, barely obscured by his t-shirt when he put on his almost retro styled backpack. The most haunting thing about Andy though, was his eyes. It was almost like he’d lived an entire lifetime behind those deep brown eyes. I think it was his eyes that became my downfall.
Slowly, without any real conscious effort, we began to gravitate toward each other. We sat together in classes, we sat together at lunch, and we looked out for each other. After a few weeks of this, we started to become friends, and I found that his social persona was just that. Andy Weber, the real Andy Weber, was a nice guy with a good heart. I promised him faithfully that I would never tell.
“My mom died when I was three,” Andy had confided in me once as we sat on his bed looking through a few of the hundreds of comic books that he had accumulated over his young life. I was never really interested in comic books, they weren’t my thing, but I had hundreds of mystery novels stacked in my room so I could relate to his love of reading. It seemed he had the same goal I did when I read, to escape the constant barrage of insults at school, the overbearing parents, and generally just our miserable lives. My sticking our face in a book, or a comic book, we could pretend even for a little while that we were someone else. We could pretend that we were someone exciting, someone that people admired.
As strange and controlling as my parents were, I don’t know how I could live without either one of them. They were my whole world up to that point. My mom took me to school and picked me up, even though we lived less than a mile away. My father helped me with my homework and played catch with me in the backyard, surrounded by the privacy fence. When I asked him once why we couldn’t play catch at the park like my friends at school, he just said that he didn’t want me to get hurt.
Maybe it was because of all of the time I had on my hands, time in my teenage years that should have been spent in social activities with my friends, but I started to get restless. As a last ditch effort to finally break hold of my parents outrageous grasp, I convinced them to let me join the chess club. It was just a few nights a week, I reasoned, and chess wasn’t exactly a contact sport. In time, they relented, but I found no more acceptance among the geeks than I did among anyone else. So, I started spending the time that I was supposed to be at chess club at Andy’s. My parents would never have allowed this, of course, because Andy’s father worked nights.
For a while, we were alone, and I was free.
It was during these nights, alone with Andy, that I found my true self.
As I look back now, I know that those small hours of freedom cost me so much more than I had been willing to pay.
I still remember how that horrific night started, like it was a stained glass image reflected on my mind by the bright flame of my own self-hatred. I had been at Andy’s, like every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday night, because that’s when the chess club met. It was the night I was going to finally tell Andy how I felt about him. Sexuality was something that we never talked about. He didn’t tell me about girls he liked, and I never told him about guys I liked, but I just got the feeling from him that what we had together was something more than just friendship.
“Andy, can you turn it down for a second, I need to talk to you,” I had told him, very loudly, over a particularly harsh speed metal song now blaring, slightly distorted, over the too small speakers. His expression, curious but open, gave me hope. We were seventeen year old boys about to embark on their first adventures. My heart raced, and I felt a light sheen of sweat break out on my forehead and palms as he hopped up and sat cross legged on the bed in front of me. Possibly sensing that what I wanted to tell him was important, he didn’t fidget or badger me as I sat quietly, playing with the zipper of the hoodie I wore.
“Scotty, come on, whatever it is, it can’t be that bad,” he said quietly, and I looked up at him. Slowly, he paled. “Are you moving away?” With his father’s job, Andy had moved more times than I could have imagined, having lived in the same house for as long as I could remember. Andy and I had been worried since he moved here almost two years ago that his father would find another job. He was happy here, and of course, I was happy with him being here.
“No, it’s nothing like that,” I replied with a soft sigh, trying to frame the thoughts that I wanted to convey to him. How do you tell another guy that you like him? How do you tell anyone? Not for the first time, I wished for at least some kind of social skills, skills that my parents had long been denying me.
“Alright, you’re fucking killing me here, just spit it out.” To anyone else, it would look like he was starting to get exasperated, but I could see the fear behind the façade. I wondered if he would consider it to be bad news.
“I like you,” I said bluntly, and even though I was trying to keep my expression completely neutral, my face flushed. I felt the heat spread through my cheeks, and down my neck. His expression went from forced exasperation to confusion in an instant.
“I know that, I like you too?” he replied, and it came out more as a question than a statement, like there was some big piece of the puzzle he was missing. Of course, there was. My eyes fell to the black comforter on Andy’s bed.
“No, I…I like you like you…” I forced out running my finger along one of the comforter seams. If I’d have looked up, I would have seen him come at me, but I didn’t. The next thing I knew, he was on top of me. I prepared myself for the blows, but what I didn’t prepare myself for was the kiss. His fingers wrapped around the back of my neck, pulling my face to his and then his lips were on mine. It was hungry and charged heavily with emotion and need. I’d never expected my first kiss to be quite like that when I had pictured it in my head.
This was better.
Andy tasted like chocolate and something close to heaven. I whimpered against his lips as he pushed me back onto the pillows and lay down next to, and half on top of me. I loved the feeling of his weight, and tangled my bare legs with his. Andy’s long hair fell on either side of our faces like a short curtain, just enough to pull us into our own little world. As soon as my mind caught up to what was happening, I wrapped my arms around his strong back, and I felt his soft moan as our mouths opened again and again against each other.
I fisted the back of his silky black hair, trying to get closer. If I could have crawled inside of him in that moment, I would have. God it felt so good.
His lips moved down over my cheek to my neck, and I heard him murmur against my skin “I never thought I’d hear you say that to me.”
~ – ~
After that school year ended, I had the best summer of my life. Andy and I got closer, I grew three inches so that I was taller than just about every guy in my class, and in the fall I would turn seventeen. The times I loved most that summer were just lazing around in my room, listening to music and kissing. We didn’t dare attempt any more with my mom in the house, and my mom was always in the house. It was enough for then. In a year we would be able to go off and have our own adventures, either together or apart, and I was really looking forward to getting out from under my parents’ control.
I should have been much more careful what I wished for.
It was towards the end of that summer that I first started seeing the shadow man.
One rare afternoon, my mom let Andy and me go off on our own and walk down to the small convenience store on the corner of Elm and Park. Of course, I had no bike, I’d never gotten another one after that first little red bringer of misery. Andy left his at my house as to not antagonize my mother. If she thought I rode on his pegs, she’d never let me go anywhere with him. We talked about the classes we’d chosen to take in our senior year since we’d gotten our schedules a few days before at registration – another rare outing for us.
“Yeah, thank God I got out of taking that Literature class. I decided on Astronomy at least that will get me out of the house at night. You took that one too, right?” I asked Andy as we rounded the corner of my street and started walking north on Elm.
“Yep, I think my dad is going to talk to your mom and see if they want to split the cost of a really good telescope instead of just buying two cheap ones. I can come over here on Friday nights and we can do our homework. A nice Meade would work, maybe even one with a computerized tracking system and software. A few of the lower end models even have USB hookups for your laptop,” Andy said, and I was surprised. Usually, Andy didn’t find anything interesting or exciting about school, but the prospect of an Astronomy course, especially one that included a really good telescope really made him engage. His eyes below the black bangs he’d grown out over the summer were bright and excited.
It was hot.
“What?” he asked coming to a stop just a block south of Park. I smirked at him, and he grinned. Looking around to make sure no one was around, I was about to whisper to him what I’d just thought, but I saw the car on the other side of the street. I’m not even sure now what made me focus on it. It was a nondescript black jeep. The soft top was down, and there was a guy just sitting behind the wheel watching us. I nudged Andy and jerked my head in the direction of the jeep.
The guy behind the wheel looked to be tall and thin, though he was sitting. The doors were off of the jeep, so I saw that he was wearing black jeans and a black t-shirt, even in the late August heat. The expensive-looking sunglasses he wore obscured his eyes, but his hair was shoulder length, wavy, and jet black, hanging loose and neat from a part on the left. His bangs hung down over the glasses, and I noticed that he had a short goatee. He couldn’t have been older than thirty, but the way he watched us made him feel menacing.
“All black, black hair, are you sure he’s not related to you?” I asked Andy, and he shook his head.
“Dude, you’ve never seen my dad? I’m supposed to have light brown hair, the black is a dye,” he replied, still looking at the jeep. “Let’s get out of here, I really don’t like the way he’s watching us, he looks like a perv.”
I glanced back over my shoulder as we made our way quickly to towards Park. The guy did look familiar, like I’d seen him on TV, or at school or something. I just couldn’t place it.
Of course, that wouldn’t be the last time I’d see him.
~ – ~
I saw him several more times over the next month, driving down our street, parked at the bank across the street from Andy’s house, even near my dentist’s office for my checkup. Each time that I saw him, he never really acknowledged me, he didn’t approach me, he just sat there….watching. It was eerie, but of course, I never told my parents, they would have locked me in my room until I was thirty as protective as they were. A few times I wondered if they saw him, if they noticed that there was a grown man stalking their son.
It wasn’t until my seventeenth birthday that things spun wildly out of control.
“Scotty, your father and I need to tell you something, could you come in here for a minute?” my mother asked on the morning of my birthday. She was sitting in the living room with my father right by her side. Whatever it was that she wanted to tell me, it couldn’t be good. I opened the soda that I had just pulled from the refrigerator, and walked slowly into the living room. Neither of them would look me in the eye.
I sat down in the floral armchair across from the couch, unconsciously perched on the very edge as if bracing myself for attack. My fingers gripped the arms of the chair, and I waited. Did one of them have cancer? Were they going to stop me from seeing Andy? Did they know I was gay?
“Scotty, this is going to be really hard for me to tell you, so I’m not going to drag it out. Your father and I have decided that you’re old enough to tell you that…well….that,” my mother stammered, and that frightened me even further. My mother never lost control of what she was saying, and I remembered feeling that suddenly, I wanted to be anywhere but in that room.
“Son, what your mother means is that we adopted you…when you were six months old,” my father elaborated, and felt my blood run cold. I wasn’t their kid? They’d been essentially holding me hostage since I was five years old, and I wasn’t even their kid? The burning in the back of my throat, and in my eyes caught me off guard. Taking a deep breath, I was determined not to cry, I wasn’t going to give them the satisfaction. My chest constricted, almost painfully as questions raced over and over through my mind. Where were my real parents? Did they know that there was something different about me too? Is that why they got rid of me? Where my adopted parents going to get rid of me too?
I remember being very scared at that point.
“Wh…why?” I asked, falling back against the back of the chair, my hands trembling on its arms.
“Why? Why did we adopt you, honey?” my mother asked, and her face remained composed, even though my whole world was spinning out of control. “We wanted to help a child that had no place to go. There are so many children in this world that…”
“No!” I stood up, knocking the arm chair backwards so that it landed with a loud thud in the middle of the living room. My parents, my adopted parents, looked at me in surprise. My mother’s hand flew up over her mouth, and my father held her hand just a little tighter. “Why the prison? Why can’t I be normal? I’ve been miserable since I was five years old, since you decided that I wasn’t allowed to play, have fun, or even have friends! Now I find out that you did all of that to me, and I’m not even your kid!” I started towards the door, and as I turned the handle I murmured just loud enough for them to hear over the sniffling of my mother “It doesn’t matter why.”
“Scotty!” my father called, the sound cut off as I slammed the door behind me. Adrenaline was coursing through my veins, and I stormed down the stairs. I had no idea where I was going, all I knew was that I had to get out of there. Looking up towards Lake Street, I saw a couple of kids playing football in a yard a few houses down. The other way, a group of teenagers stood on the sidewalk, laughing and talking. Vaguely, I was aware that these were kids that I went to school with, maybe a year or so behind me. It didn’t matter, it’s not like I was wanted there, so I opted to head over to Andy’s.
The door opened as my feet landed on the sidewalk, and I started to run. I didn’t want my parents to catch up with me, or try to stop me. Right then, I remember feeling trapped, and needing to get away from them for a while, to think. My father yelled for me again as I ran towards the street. I could cut through the Hammond’s back yard across the street from us and then it was just a few houses over to Andy’s house.
The scream took me by surprise, but no more so than the pristine blue pickup truck that slammed into my side.
Pain, such that I had never known before or since, exploded through my body as I felt myself cartwheel through the air. I had a distinct impression of the windshield blowing out as my head connected with it before rolling off of the far side of the hood. Screeching tires mingled with the screaming, and I didn’t even bother trying to put my hands up to break my fall as I connected hard with the street.
I had no idea who was calling my name. Blood was flowing copiously onto the street as I lay there unable to move. The sun was hot as it beat down on me, and I felt sweat starting to streak through the blood.
“Scott, can you hear me?” That was my father’s voice, shaken, frightened. Then lower, away from me he said, “Jeanette, we have to get him out of here.”
“Walter, I called an ambulance,” someone said, and it sounded like Mr. Hammond. Only another adult would call him Walter. “Don’t worry, it’s going to be okay.”
I could hear the tears in my father’s voice when he asked my mother what they were going to do. From where I lay on the concrete, I just wished that they’d get me out of the sun. My body was on fire from the pain, and the heat. Mr. Hammond came closer, and I could see his face. It was then that I realized….I wasn’t in the sun. Of course, I had heard of spontaneous combustion, but I didn’t really know much about it. The thought occurred to me that I was starting to burn from the inside out. Screaming as the pain peaked; I just wished that I could pass out. Between the heat and the pain, breathing was starting to become unbearable.
“It’s okay, baby. It will be over soon,” my mother whispered in my ear. I couldn’t tell if she was talking about the pain, the burning, or my life but as she said it, the pain started to subside. I didn’t know if I was just going numb, or into shock, but I was thankful for the reprieve. The burning stayed at just above my tolerance level and when I felt my mother’s cool hand on my cheek, I whimpered.
“Holy mother of God.…”
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph….”
The gasps when up all around me, and I couldn’t tell what the commotion was about, but the burning had started to subside. I felt sore and drained, like I’d just run from one side of the state to the other in a matter of minutes.
“Come on, we have to get out of here,” my father said quietly to my mother and me. The crowd that had assembled around me backed up quickly as I sat up. As I took inventory of my limbs and my torso, I saw that I had no injuries. There was blood everywhere, but no cuts, no broken bones, and no bruises. If my clothes hadn’t been ripped and soaked with blood, I wouldn’t have known that I’d been hurt. Oh my God.
My parents took away my bike after I fell.
My parents never let me do anything where I might get injured.
I was adopted.
The panic welled inside of me as I sat there on the street, surrounded by gawkers and covered in my own blood. My heart was racing, beating frantically in my chest almost as if it were trying to escape. I felt more than I heard my breath coming in labored gasps, hitching, punctuated with terrified sounds, so that I sounded just as lost and scared as I felt.
Questions popped like flashbulbs in my head. Who was I? What was I? What would happen when people found out that I was a freak? Who was that guy following me? Did he know what my body did when it was injured? I felt disconnected from my body, like it was a separate and uncontrolled entity. Sometimes, I still feel that way, even though I know the truth.
“Come on,” my father said, pulling me up from the ground as the rest of the crowd backed up even further. No one spoke. No one approached us. They just stared. I was the noontime attraction at the zoo, the carnival freak on display. My parents sheltered me the best that they could from the spectators, but soon we were inside of our house, safe – from them at least.
“Pack everything that you can into the back of the truck, we have to get out of here.” My father was more frightened than I had ever seen him. He rushed from his desk to the kitchen pulling out drawers seemingly at random. My mother had run upstairs to start there.
“Dad…I don’t…I don’t understand…” I said, stammering as I watched him rushing around, and I could almost feel him vibrating as he passed me. “Why do we have to leave?”
“Because you’re the missing genetic link in human evolution,” a voice said from near the door. My father dropped the framed picture that he was holding, and it shattered on the hardwood floor. He pulled me behind him and faced….the shadow man.
“Stay away from my son,” my father said, and his voice was much steadier than it had been even just five minutes before.
“Jason, you need to come with me, right now.” The shadow man looked out of the front door, and then closed it tight. Walking over, he pulled the curtains, and then stood in front of me again.
“M…My name is Scott…” I said, still stunned at his appearance, and what had happened outside. My whole world had just swung on its axis, and I was barely hanging on.
“Maybe… But you were born Jason Sanders. My sister named you after our father,” he said and his voice softened at the mention of his sister.
“Your sister? That would make you … what, my uncle?” I asked, my brain finally starting to catch up.
“How did you find him?” My father seemed to have caught up too. “It was a closed adoption, no one was supposed to know where he was, or who had adopted him.”
“Look, we don’t have time for this,” the man said looking out the window again. “One of those teenagers was taking video, it won’t be long before that goes viral on the internet. We need to get you someplace safe.”
“Hey man, I don’t even know your name, I’m not going anywhere with you,” I said just as my father bellowed basically the same sentiment.
“My name is Logan Jeffries. My sister, Dr. Melinda Sanders was your mother and an extraordinarily talented geneticist. Your parents met while working on their doctorates, their thesis work was on fetal genetic manipulation. They were trying to make stronger healthier babies, and as I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, they succeeded – with you.” He paused, and I took that chance to interrupt him.
“So, I’m an experiment?” I asked, starting to feel a little sick.
“I won’t lie to you, kid. You were conceived in order to further their research, yes.” Taking in my expression, he hurried to continue. “That was at first. After you were born, your mother fell in love with you…completely. You were the baby she never knew she wanted. “ He smiled at me briefly before his expression turned dark. “Your father, on the other hand, never saw you as more than just an experiment. Once the initial testing was done, and they’d done everything they could that was non-invasive, he wanted to do more extensive testing. He wanted to see just what you could do. The only way to do that was to deliberately injure you. Your mother fought him every step of the way, but when you were about four months old, she came to the conclusion that he would never stop. Your father was an ambitious man, and he wanted to start using what they had learned, he wanted to put the theoretical into application, the only way he could do that was to complete the experiment. Your mother brought you to me and asked me to keep you safe.” His eyes clouded over, and his voice got very thick. I sat down on the chair behind me, knowing that I wasn’t going to like whatever was coming next in the story.
“Once I took you and started the adoption proceedings to hide you, she….she killed him, and herself,” he choked out. It was obvious that he loved his sister very much. Why else would he go through all of this trouble, this nightmare for a kid he didn’t even know?
“H…How?” I asked because it seemed important.
“She blew up their lab while they were both working, making sure to destroy all of the evidence of your life so that no one would be able to track you. It was such a hard decision for her, because mankind would have really benefited from their research, but it might have led to you, and she felt she owed it to you to hide you as well as she could.” I looked up at my dad and he was pale.
“Now that people know, someone will come for him won’t they?” he asked Logan, and I felt the ice cold fear grip my chest. “Most likely, government people, because they can do whatever they want under the guise of patriotism. Can you imagine an army of soldiers that can’t be injured? How much would that be worth? Surely it would be something indescribable next to the life of some no name kid.”
“Dad, what do I do?” I asked just as someone knocked on the front door. Logan straightened up with a jerk and looked carefully out of the front door.
“It’s okay, it’s just your friend,” he said and pulled open the door. Andy looked shell-shocked at Logan standing in my living room with his hand on my front door. He walked hastily into the room, making sure to skirt away from Logan.
“Dude, Duncan just sent me a video of you from his phone. What the hell is going on?” he asked, and I noticed that his voice was shaking. Poor Andy, he had no idea what to think, what to feel, just like I didn’t. Andy’s eyes kept flickering to Logan.
“Andy, I don’t have a lot of time. I’m…I’m leaving tonight with Logan,” I tilted my head to indicate that I was talking about the black-haired man standing in our living room. “Come upstairs and help me pack.” I looked over at Logan and he nodded, and I grabbed Andy’s hand and pulled him upstairs with me. I heard Logan call that I had half an hour, and then we had to leave.
Shutting my bedroom door, the first thing I did was watch the video that Andy had on his phone. By a horrible coincidence, he had been taking video of his friends screwing around and even captured the first few seconds of the accident. In horrified silence I watched the truck hit me, now seeing what I had only felt just about half an hour before. The injuries looked fatal, and there was blood everywhere. After just a few minutes, I watched, fascinated as my injures started to heal themselves. Watching it felt like it took less time than the pain and burning that I had endured.
I remember thinking – was that really me?
I had always known that I was different, but I had never felt special or exceptional, just excluded. As I watched the jagged red rip in my forehead slowly stop bleeding and close, something inside of me changed. No longer the outcast, or the pariah, I now knew the reason that I was different and it was significant. When the screen on the phone went dark, I handed it wordlessly to Andy and pulled the huge backpack we used for camping from my closet. As Andy watched, still apparently shocked into silence, I packed jeans, t-shirts, briefs, socks, everything that I could fit that was clean. I took my laptop, my cell phone, and everything else of value and put it in my school bag.
There was no way that I could know what would happen, but I wanted to be as ready as I could be. I had no money, and would be relying heavily on a complete stranger. To say that I was terrified was an understatement. It would take a far greater leap of faith than I was ready to do in order to trust Logan. There was just too much left unknown and too little time.
In time, I would come to look on him as a brother, but then…
“Wha….What are you?” Andy asked, finally. I zipped up the backpack, and sighed. Sitting on the edge of the bed, I looked up at him, and quickly gave him an abbreviated version of the story Logan had told me. The more I told him, the wider his eyes became until I was sure they would pop out of his head. I couldn’t blame him, the story was rather farfetched.
Andy leaned down and picked up my school bag from the floor, slinging it over his shoulder.
“As much as I hate to say it, and as much as it will hurt, I think he’s right – you need to get out of here,” he said, looking at the floor. I grabbed my big backpack, checking the alarm clock beside my bed. We had been up here for twenty seven minutes. It was time to go.
I followed Andy downstairs and we set my bags on the floor in front of Logan, he gave me a half-smile, seemingly impressed that I followed his instructions so well. My father handed me an envelope and I peeked inside. There was a large stack of twenty dollar bills inside.
“That’s all we have on hand right now to help you, I’m sorry, Scotty,” my father said as he wrapped his arms around my shoulders in a hug that I thought might result in injuries that needed my special gift. Logan took the envelope from me, and handed it back to my father who looked indignant.
“Jason’s parents were considerably well off when they died, and that money came to me and to Jason. You are going to need that to get out of here. I will take care of him,” Logan said quietly, and after a brief look at my mother, my father took back the envelope.
“It’s time to go, Jason,” Logan said pointedly. With the fear battling against sadness in my heart, I walked over to my father and hugged him. I heard a quiet sob break from him at the loss of his son. He had loved and protected me practically my whole life, and I never once appreciated it until now. I was a horrible son.
“You be careful,” my mother said as I held her against my chest. I had been taller than her for several years at that point, and she was cradled in my arms like a child. In that moment, I could have stayed like that for days even though just hours before I was furious with her. My whole world had changed in a matter of minutes.
“I know that we have no choice in this, he is going to be hunted now and us right along with him. If no one knows he’s with you, he will be safer that way. Please, take care of our son,” my mother told Logan, and he nodded, leaning down to grab my school bag from the floor. I walked behind him to the door and Andy caught my wrist. Without thinking, I set my backpack on the floor once again, and pulled Andy into my arms. Our lips met as my hand snaked it’s way through his hair, and the gasp I heard from my mother reminded me that I hadn’t yet told them that I was gay. My mother found out quite a bit more than she ever wanted to know about her son that day. I kissed Andy, burning the memory of his lips into my mind, desperate to remember.
When we finally pulled apart, I pressed my forehead against his.
“I will miss you so much,” I told him, and it was the truth, he had been my only real friend. Now the only person I would have to talk to was a grown man and a complete stranger. Knowing that I would never be able to walk out the door if I looked back, I followed Logan to his Jeep. He threw my things into the back, and I climbed in to the passenger seat next to him.
The next thing I knew, we were speeding off into the night, driving head on into destiny.
It was just over a month later when I saw that my house had burned to the ground with my adopted parents inside. They had given their lives….for me. To this day, I can’t describe the horror that I feel when I think of them.
They were the pawns, always the first to fall in battle, but the war had only begun.