Chapter 4 - "New Faces"
Northern area, California
Grapping his jean jacket from the coat rack, James placed his had on the doorknob barely twisting it before he heard him.
“Where the hell do you think you’re going?” said James father. James looked over his shoulder to find his dad hold his favorite brand of beer in the usual hand he always had it in. He swore sometimes that the damn thing was glued to it and he refilled it when it was empty. The shaggy hair and the five o’clock shadow was also a common feature on him as well as the flannel shirt half unbutton from his collar to mid torso, hinting that he had woken from his all day nap to come harass his son.
“I’m going out with Steve. Sorry I woke you.” More than sorry, he thought.
“When where you going to tell me?” said his father in a disapproving tone that James heard so many times before.
“You were asleep. I didn’t want to wake you up.” His past memory of the first time he did wake him the came to mind, remembering the thunderous yelling that his father had done at the end of which was told never to wake him again for something so unimportant, his father scared him so bad that day. He was only a kid, but that was his dad, contradicting himself constantly whenever it suited him best, which was usually when he wanted to yell at James.
“Well that’s what I’d expect from an inconsiderate, ungrateful, useless, little person like you. You’re generation is so selfish you don’t stop and think to consider other people.”
“Yeah dad, we’re so heartless,” said James sarcastically.
“Don’t you take that tone with me boy!” yelled his dad. Somewhere inside of James the little boy he once was cowered, cringing in the corner at the sound of that voice. But it wasn’t him anymore, he had learned to bury that part of him away deep down inside so as not to show he was still afraid. He had never laid a hand on James but he didn’t need to and in a way, it was worse. Never knowing when he might lose it enough to go that far, never getting used to it, never building a resistance to the punches and kicks to the ribs. Even though he was a senor in high school, eighteen and health James never thought once that he could fight him off. Logging had given his father all the strength he needed to level anything and anyone, and the constant presence of booze in his system dampened him from felling pain.
James ignored his father’s ranting as he opened the door and walked out, because of fear or announce it wasn’t sure. Steve waited for him out front, his curly dark brown hair waving gently in the breeze as he wore a face of question.
James knew what he was asking but didn’t other to take the time to elaborate. “Just go,” said James tiredly.
James’ father opened the door to see his son and friend walk away from the house, yelling a series of curses and spiteful words, but he didn’t bother to follow his son and bring him back, it would be too much of an effort for a wasted cause.
“Another bad day for your dad?” said Steve reciting the words his friend has said so many times in defending his father. They walked along the sidewalk blocks away from James house, heading to their favorite spot. “Seriously, how do you put up with that crap? If it was me I would have gotten emancipated from the bum and moved out long ago.”
“And leave him just like my mom left us,” said James. “Yeah, I don’t like the guy but he is my father, I can’t leave family. He didn’t leave me.”
“He’s the model father alright,” said Steve. He stopped suddenly placing his arm on James making him stop in the middle of the sidewalk with him. “Look, its time you severed your ties, man. You don’t owe the guy enough for what he’s put you through.”
James shook his head. “Few more months and I won’t have to worry about deal with him. Ever.”
They continued walking down the concrete pathway. “Man you must be made of some world class stuff.” Steve put his arm over his best friend’s shoulder. “Not only are you a better man than you’re BOTH your parents, you can take that crap from him without batting an eye. How do you do it?”
James half shrugged his shoulders in jest to get his friends arms of his shoulders, and half, because he didn’t know the answer the question. “I don’t let it get to me. I just… shield myself from it is all.”
Steve turned around, walking backwards as he faced James. “That’s one might “shield” you have then my friend.”
Unnoticed by him he was walking off of the sidewalk into the street crossing, unnoticed by both of them was the 4X4 truck coming down the street, its driver currently wiping up the mess of coffee, that spilled over from the last big pot hole he hit, off his new seat covers. Both were not paying attention to were they were going, as the truck came closer and closer to a head on with the much more fragile human Steve. James saw the on coming car and screamed for Steve to get out of the way, but he responded to slowly, turning to watch the truck and then shifting his head back to his friend with a look that said it all, I am going to die.
Without thinking James shot forward with the heightened speed that accompanies an adrenaline rush in moments of excitement or terror, fueling his fight-or-flight instincts. But it wasn’t flight that was overtaking him, urging him to take his friend out of harm’s way and out of death’s cold embrace. No, it was the opposite instinct to fight that took him. Pushing his friend out of the way he planted his feet bracing himself to take the truck head on in a courageously stupid act of bravery. By then his brain processed what would happen next and it wasn’t going to be pretty. The last few moments before the truck would hit him James raised his arms against his body as a reflex to guard him as he clamped his eyes shut tight. One was a futile gesture, the other wasn’t. He heard the crash of truck hitting, metal crunching and shattering. Funny, he thought, not what I’d thought I’d hear. Or feel? He opened his eyes wondering if he was alive or dead, he felt alive, but who knows what you feel when you’re dead. He saw the houses to his right the trees surrounding moved gently in the breeze, oblivious to everything around them, he looked down at his friend resting his butt on the pavement arms behind him for support as he stares dumbfounded. James eventually turns to see the truck that was in front of him seconds ago. It was still there though not in its original form, the front end was smashed in half way parts and pieces scattered all over, but amazement that took everyone was the thing in between James and the truck. A “wall” of some kind had appeared at the last second, barely visible to the naked eye, the only thing that you saw was what appeared to be vapors moving and shifting where the wall was present, it reminded James of the same vapors of heat that came off the grill, or a large fire, escaping to the sky. It was dug into the ground at his feet in a downward incline that had started a foot away, and the far sides of the truck had peered over the edges of the wall since they had nothing to stop them.
James face matched his friend as he looked at the wreckage, lowering his forearms to his side the wall simmered away, the vapors disbursed to the nothing they had come from, the truck creaked forward a little making James jump back in a start. Freeing him from his frozen state of bewilderment, James went for his downed friend, pulled him up to his feet, and ran away.
Northern area, California
She sat at the table by herself in the crowded, noisy, club. His sat on her stool hunched over starling at the drink in front of her untouched, hands buried in her lap. Straight blond hair covered the majority of her face from any on-lookers, which was usually how she wore it. She sat there wondering what she was doing here at this place, it was for the sociable people and she wasn’t one of them, she never was. So why did I come? This is a totally ridiculous idea, I’m going crazy. Alex dared to look up at the people around her talking with there friends, enjoying the company of companions who where share their experiences of live with them. She longed for that.
Snide laughter came from behind her; Alex knew who it was instantly.
Most of all she longed for the owner of that voice to tie stones to her feet and go jump in a deep, DEEP, body of water. The Barn was a popular hangout for the under aged crowed as it was always a possibility that she would be here. Holly Perkins, the most popular girl in school, with her two lackeys right behind her at each side. Tara and Mara Felly where sisters and twins and as nasty as they come with a pretty pink bow on top and shinny smiles to make the world think of them no evil.
“Well, well, look what we have here, the little wallflower is out of her shell,” said Holly as she came around to face Alex from across the table, leaning forward her arms outstretched supporting her body.
“Call ‘Ripley’s’,” said one of the twins.
“They wouldn’t bother with her, even they have standards,” responded Holly.
“Go away,” said Alex softy, barely audible over the background noise.
“What! She speaks!” Holly stood up and placed a hand over her sternum, mimicking the gesture of someone losing their breath. “And with an insolent tongue to go with it.” Another thing that Alex hated about Holly, not only was she an ass wrapped in pretty, she was smart too. The Gods were being cruel when they made her.
The ounce of courage left her, turning her head away as Holly leaned in again. “I’d watch it if I where you, before you give me reason to squash you, bug.”
“Where talking about total ‘Splat-tage’,” said the other twin in her valley girl accent. Holly rolled her eyes at the made up word her stooge used and turned around, talking about the proper usage of the English language under her breath. Alex watched them as they left, her eyes locked onto the back of her head, filled with a fire that has been burning for years. She had come here to experiment and Holly had just volunteered herself. Alex focused her will at Holly until nothing else registered; the inner squabbling between the two girls grew louder as Holly became angrier. Her voice rose to shouts to the point that everyone was soon watching her verbally attacking her friend, who backed away to the spectators surrounding Holly. She barely noticed them as her anger grew, ranting about anything and everything that was making her uncontrollably mad at that moment. Alex’s head began to shake as she continued to stare at Holly.
Holly in her fit of madness, decided that the Barn was too much of an eye sore and whipped out a Zippo lighter and went to the closest window as she pushed her way past the confused on lookers. Lighting the curtain a blaze set off a choir of screens and gasps as the bravest tried to put out the fire, but they failed to stop the Source, who had already set a couch on fire and got a hold of some alcohol cleaner, dousing anything see could and holding the flame to the flammable liquid. The fires soon got out of control as the crowd’s worries, surprise, and awe turned to fear and panic. The gasps turned to screams, awaking Alex from her trance taking in the chaos that had erupted in the time she was away. Her experiment worked but it was the farthest think from her mind at the moment.
“Oh my God, what did I do?”
Northern area, California
Minutes before the fire
Steve and James run through the side door breathing heavily. Steve closes the door behind him as James goes to the nearest table and leans on it in exhaustion, his head hidden in the folds of his arms. Steve slides down the iron door his back to the cold soothing metal. If anyone noticed them they did nothing to make it known, they’re gasping breath and racing heart beat from the flat run over to the Barn kept them quiet.
Steve was the first to catch his breath and ask the question they were both thinking. “What the hell happened back there?”
James came up from hiding in his arms. “I… (gasp) don’t know.”
Steve reached for the crossbar on the door to help him to his feet, walking over to his friend. “You didn’t know that was going to happened, did you?” He asked the question more like a statement of confirmation.
“No!” said James.
Steve looked into the distance for a few seconds. “If that thing hadn’t appeared, you would’ve died. Saving me.”
James looked up to his friend. Steve grinned back at him. “Thanks.”
James nodded. “You take the next one.” They both chuckled over the thought of a next time.
“You should have seen it, man. The truck was completely totaled.”
James stood you, feeling strength returning back to his body. “I just hope the guy doesn’t report us.”
“And say what? That some invisible wall came out of nowhere and saved the live of some kid who would’ve been flatten' if it didn’t? Come on.”
“I guess,” said James, unsure of his friend’s optimistic certainty.
“Come on, I owe a drink at least,” said Steve slapping his friends back. James didn’t put up the usual argument.
As the walked to the counter, they notice the crowd forming to there left. “What the hell’s going on over there?” said Steve. They where half way when they saw flames shoot up on one of the drapes, then another, then the couch in that area was ablaze. The crowd panicked as Steve craned his head to see who was causing the arson and saw it was the resident “preppy” Holly! She was starting the fires?! Steve couldn’t rap his head around it; she had always been a pain in the ass but starting fires?
The crowd grew more hectic as the fires grew reaching to the rafters in seconds, soon the majority of the wall was painted in flames as it stretched out where Holly had poured out cleaner, causing the on lookers to be cut off, some where in groups that were cut off from exits. They choked and coughed as some of the working adults tried to get to them, then when they couldn’t started yelling instructions. People brushed past them in a hurry to get out of the every growing death trap of flames, falling wood, and heat. Steve watched as one girl fell into James, catching her he lifted her upright and saw that she was crying, “It’s my fault!”
“James we’ve got to get out of here!’ yelled Steve over the noise of the burning barn.
“Those people…” A beam fell from the top rafters. “…We can’t leave them!”
“What can we do?!”
Before the answer came, the creaking noise of a beam right over their heads exploded into a sound of breaking wood and came down on top of them. Like before, instinct took over James, raising his arm again to block himself from the falling debris, and as before the nearly invisible shield appeared before him in a form of a disk. The smaller pieces deflected and pounced off the barrier that guarded James but the bigger ones caused his legs to buckle and toss him back to the crying girl’s feet. Steve wasn’t going to be saved by his friend this time. The falling wood was coming too fast and the shield and its owner were already to far away to give him protection. Steve watched the burning columns come closer and closer to crushing his skull, his eyes grew as the fear took over, and every cell of his body cried out for him to move but the fear had its hold on him, preventing him from moving. His mind screamed as the beams drew closer; Move! Move! Move! MOVE! At that last second, close to his death than the truck had been, his body decided to move for him. Steel coils in his legs contracted, muscles tensed, reading him for what was to come. The coils released and Steve went backwards with a grace and swiftness that would put the greatest gymnast to shame and rival any human feat of agility and speed. He went back, coming so close to the burning wood that he could feel the heat coming off them.
A flip in the air brought his feet back down to land on the second floor railing, legs bowing as they absorbed the impact of the landing.
Steve blinked his eyes and looked down to his body resting on the wood under his feet. “How ‘Spider-Man’ was that!” Steve yelled triumphantly, shocked and awed at what he had done.
Both the girl and James looked up, amazed at the feat that his friend just accomplished. “Steve!” James came to his feet with the help of the girl at his side. He heard the cries of the few people still trapped inside, unable to escape. “Can you get to those peoples?”
Steve turned his focus to them. “I think I can.” I hope I can. “You two get out already.”
“I’m not leaving,” yelled James.
Steve ignored his friend as he looked around for something to help with the fire. An extinguisher rested on the support beam that had been worked into the railing to his right. He grabbed it and turned back to his friend. “Go!”
James hesitated, turning to the door that they had both come in from to his friend. With a grunted yell he went against his nature and took the girl by his side. Small pieces of blackened wood laid stretched across the path but James didn’t stop or slow down. Raising his forearm, he charged forward, as the shield came back to keep him from harm. The wood splintered as he through to the door, the girl right behind him.
Watching his friend get clear, Steve pulled the pin in the fire extinguisher and leaped to the spot where the trapped laid on the floor to escape the smoke, waiting for help. A hump on the wooden floor vibrated through the planks, alerting them to his sudden presence. “Get ready to move!” he ordered to the group. The large metal can in his hand that held the chemicals to stop fire felt light in his hands, as he aimed the can like a gun. The pathway that James had used was blocked by too much debris to get back out, so he had to make his own. Finger closing down on the trigger the chemicals erupted in a controlled blast that choked the fire in front of him.
“Stay close,” he yelled and moved forward spraying where the fire would block him, the path turning where it could, sometimes moving the cooling debris that could out of their way. Long seconds later they arrived at the exit, one of the few remaining windows, though not for long when Steve broke through it with the extinguisher, the way to the outside was clear. Steve enter locked his fingers to give the others a boost out of the high window and motioned them one at a time give them a heave up with his new found strength. Thud after thud the group were thrown over till he was the only one left, readying himself was a second too long for the beams gave away again causing the whole floor above to come down. Steve tried to jump clear but was pinned at the floor’s edge, immobilized under burning timber, the intense heat zapping the strength out of him, smoking filling his lungs despite his closeness to the floor making him cough repeatedly, his body protesting the substance entering his system wanting only the southing cool oxygen from outside. Its demands unmet, the body retaliated, shut Steve down inside the raging inferno.
Northern area, California
Minutes during the fire
The dream began again, like the nights before it was always the same. He was running, through the forests, over the streams, bounding from rock to larger rock. Never tiring, never stopping, the flora rushing past him in a blur as he ran faster and faster, he never knew why, was he running from something or running to something. He had know idea, never remembering the beginning or the ending just the running. But something was different in this dream, the smells were all the same, the pines and the maples, the marking of others distinguishing their territories, the smell of the water from the river near by, the new sent was something that meant only danger to him. The smell of the Burning. It was fresh in the air and growing stronger. Instinct reached from his mind to his bones, wanting him to run from the danger, it was the bigger beast than him, and it would consume him like his kind did to smaller runners. But it wasn’t instinct that made him go toward the scent to run to the Burning. A hurried run the smell in the air brought him to the edge of forest and into their territory. The animals with their different furs that walked on their hind legs, they were moving around a great burning like wounded animals, frantic and tired, and making noises that drew attention to their selves. He watched them carefully knowing what they were capable of and how dangerous they were, they used the Burning and could use it to attack him if they saw him.
A sound came from the other way; more of them jump out of their cave, watching and helping their pack. Then there came a greater noise inside the cave and the animals jumped back and made more noise at the Burning. Others came, one tried to go in, he looked on in confusion at way that animal wanted to go to there. He circled around to the back keeping his distance from the growing numbers, it was then that he heard it, a sound inside, another animal was crying out wanting to be free. The others couldn’t hear him, couldn’t help them get out, but he could. Instinct reached out again trying to stop him but he pressed on, through the small hole into the cave. Moving along the paths, the Burning reached out for him catching on his fur, he couldn’t smell in hear as well but he was able to hear the cries. He came to the animal seeing his legs trapped under wood he watched the animal move back but then slowly reach out with one of its paws. He caught his scent and smelled his fear, but not because of him. He went down further the animals paw and put this jaw around its fur lightly, pulling the animal with all he had. The animal itself wasn’t strong but he tried as well, but it was no use, the wood wouldn’t release him. He needed to move it he needed his arms strong, He needed to be as strong as the black animal was inside his head. He began feel it the strength of that body came through him as his fur changed, darkening, his arms getting longer as did his legs, body too. He was on two legs now but still leaned on his front ones, which were claws, now replaced with fingers, black and thick. His body grew out with more muscle but not as much fur, his snout came closer opening up more as the top and bottom grew out. His eyes went dimmer not seeing as much, smells were harder to smell but in this place it was better. He looked down at the other animal seeing his eye wide, no cries came from him, reaching down with his new powerful arms wrapping around the log it was no longer a problem to move off the trapped animal. Cleared from the wood the animal didn’t run, he turned his head, grunting and poking at the animal to get him going but still won’t move. The Burning was growing, they didn’t have much time, so picking up the animal was the only thing he could do. Resting him over his larger shoulder, the animal squirmed and barked but he had his chance.
He went back through the same path that he entered, moving on his three legs while holding the animal with his other arm. He knocked away the Burning that block his way with a triumphant roar and getting through the small hole by making a bigger one. Out of the cave he ran, getting clear of the Burning and the other animals, getting to save ground, but after a few moments he grew tired breathing heavily. He came to a stop at a clearing. Putting the animal he had down he went to rest in front of a large tree, exhausted and dreary, the blackness came from around him. A sign that the dream was ending is eyes closed falling in to sleep.
Sounds came first as he woke, voices talking softly in the distance, then the swirls of light and color after that. Burry vision came with the slow movement of a long sleep gone, wiping it from his eyes he began to wake up and noticed that he was sitting down. He also started to feel cold, scratching his chest he could feel flesh on flesh, looking down he saw the reason for the sudden case of chills; he wasn’t wearing clothes. The knowledge of this brought his brain to full alert covering his nudity with his long arms as fast as he could. He franticly looked around at his settings, noticing the surrounding forest and lands but not recognizing them, but the greater shock came from the voices that he heard, saying that he changed, saved the owner of the voice that was speaking. Then another voice spoke, a girl’s voice, talked over them.
“Guys, the gorilla’s awake,” said the girl with the long blond hair. “And he’s turned into a guy.”
Northern area, California
Sheriff’s County station house
The bell above the wooden door to the station chimed as the man walked in, the secretary looked up from her paperwork to take a look, he was a slim man who looked like he didn’t have an ounce of fat anywhere on his body, high cheek bones and a angular jaw line made his face a very attractive one, top that off with the bleach bond hair and the bright blue eyes made him 100%, A-Grade, piece of man. She took a quick look in the picture frame’s reflection on her desk, making sure she didn’t have anything on her face trying to smooth out the lines on her face. 38 years of living had not been kind to her. Less than satisfied she fixed her hair and addressed the young man getting up to face him eye to eye.
“Can I help you, sir?” A hint of flirting in her voice.
“Yes,” he said with a smile, teeth perfectly straight, she swooned in her head. The man pulled a badge out of the inside pocket of his black trench coat showing it to the secretary and quickly put it back. “I need to talk to the chief. We’ve gotten reports of a strange incident here in town and I’m here to investigate.”
“And what agency are you from, exactly?”
“Actually, it’s more of a Company.”
To be continued…