In Which I Have a Deadly Nightmare
X-Men was two hours long, which conveniently gave me time to find out a lot more about Jason. Gram wasn’t home, so we chatted as loud as we wanted almost incessantly throughout the film, a conversation occasionally broken off by an exclamation of “Oh, cool! Did you see what that guy just did?”
“Jason,” I asked towards the end of the film, “what’s the story with your scars?”
“Ah....” The question had caught him off guard. “An...accident. Animal attack. I really don’t want to talk about it,” he said, before hastily changing the subject. “So what just happened? I wasn’t paying attention.”
I carelessly narrated what was going on between Wolverine, Magneto, et al. I knew he knew that. He had been paying complete attention, I saw him, and besides, it was obvious he had stumbled through the explanation. No one called an animal attack an “accident;” he clearly didn’t want to talk about the real story. Bitten, I thought again.
As the credits rolled, he stood up to leave. “Well, that was fun,” he said lightly. “We should do that again sometime.”
He smiled as he walked out the door. “I didn’t expect to have a friend on the first day,” he said. “This was a nice surprise.” He shut the door behind him, and left.
Friend, I thought, mulling the word over in my mind. Over the course of my life, I’d been labeled many things. Girl, obviously, and daughter. Leader, or Alpha, a label that just about defined my life. Delinquent, that seemed to be Gram’s preferred name for me. Outcast, that seemed to be everyone else’s. Freak, monster, unnatural anomaly. Unfortunately, I’d heard all three of those a few more times than I’d like. Oftentimes they came from my own thoughts.
But friend? That was a new one.
Gram walked through the door almost as soon as Jason had shut it, her arms full of groceries. “Who was that, Hailee?” she asked.
“Oh, that’s Jason,” I said. Then I smiled. “He’s a friend.”
Gram walked into the kitchen and put the bags down on the counter. “You know I don’t approve of you being alone in the house with boys,” she said.
I rolled my eyes. ”Friend, Gram,” I sighed. “Just friend. Can I please do something for once without you worrying over me?”
She sighed. “I don’t approve of you being alone with anyone, really, but whatever, Hailee. I won’t keep you from your friends. Who is he?”
“A new student,” I said. “His dad’s a naturalist, they moved out here from the city for his job.”
I looked closely at the silver pendant around her neck. “I’ve never seen that one before,” I said, pointing at it.
“I wear it all the time,” she said, “you’ve just never noticed it before.”
“Is it...real? Real silver, I mean.”
“Yes, it is. You want to see it?” she asked, unclasping it.
“Um, no,” I said hastily. “I’m, er...allergic. I’m allergic to certain metals.”
She gave me a funny look. “No, you’re not. There’s nothing on your medical records about it.”
“It’s only just started bothering me,” I said, quickly backing up. “I might have to go to the doctor.”
Silver is a recurring plot device in supernatural mythos. Along with iron, it’s painted as a volatile element, something dangerous to many different paranormal beings -- vampires, demons, certain races of faerie. And, most famously, werewolves. No one really understands what it is about the metal Ag, argentum, that brings lycanthropes to their knees, but it does, a literal kryptonite. I don’t personally know, but I know how much power it has. To touch anything made from pure silver will burn and scar me, and even if it’s less than pure, mixed up with something else, exposure will still drain my strength and dull my senses. It pretty much puts wearing any fancy earrings out of the question, not that I would if I could.
That night, as soon as Gram had gone to bed, I pulled out my cellphone and quietly put in a number; Vic’s. The phone rang once, twice, three times, four times...I was about to hang up, then she answered. “Hello?”
“Vic,” I said softly.
“Hailee! I thought you said you weren’t going to call anymore. I thought your grandmother was getting suspicious.”
“She is, but she’s sleeping. I won’t be long. I just need a second to talk.”
“This had better be important.”
“I think it is.” I told her about Jason. “He moved abruptly from the city to the country. He said it was for his dad’s job, but it could still be a sign. Plus he has scars, and won’t really talk about where he got them.”
She was silent for a moment. “You think he’s one of us?”
“Well, what do you intend to do about it?”
It was my turn to fall silent. “Isn’t that the million-dollar question?” I finally said.
“Do you think I should approach him? Do you think he’d trust me?”
“It depends,” Vic said. “Maybe.”
It certainly looked like “maybe” was the best it got.
“Well, I’ll think about it. Goodnight, Vic.”
“Goodnight, Hailee.” Right before I hung up, I heard her whisper, “Please come home.”
“I will,” I whispered back, though I wasn’t sure she would hear me. “Someday, somehow, I will. Someday soon.”
Next day, on the way to my first class, I stopped by the water fountains outside the girl’s restrooms. I never intended to listen to people’s conversations, but sometimes I couldn’t help hearing something. Today was one of those days. I heard someone just on the other wall, having a one-sided conversation. Someone on a phone.
“Well, of course I can’t be a hundred percent certain, not without more information.” It was Becky’s voice. “But the facts are all there. Look at her. She’s fifteen years old, and strong enough to easily beat up an eighteen-year-old boy. She disappears for days at a time. She’s disposed to violence. And of course there’s all the stories about her old guardian, Sullivan. Trust me, Dad, you’re on the right track. Don’t give up the case.”
She’s talking about me! I realized with a start. I was confused, but I was sure I knew who she was talking to. See, I didn’t dislike Becky for anything she had done (though she was rather dislikable in her own right), but rather for the company she kept: not only was she dating Mark Prosper, but her father, Rory Lester, happened to be my social worker. There were few people I disliked more than him.
“Then there’s that boy,” Becky said, cutting into my thoughts. “The new one. Kingston. Kelsey. Yeah, Kingsley. Gerard Kingsley. Oh, whatever. Him. No, I haven’t seen him fight anyone. He mostly keeps to himself. His background checks out perfectly, though. Yes, I know it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a werewolf, I’m just saying you should watch him too.”
My heart jumped to my throat. Had I really just heard what I thought I heard?
“Yeah, I’ll keep an eye on both of them. Give Director Tyrone my report. I’m being careful, Dad. You too. Bye.”
Director Tyrone? Director Tyrone! I didn’t know much about the hierarchy among hunters, but I did know they were a semi-official organization, with a single leader. The “Director.” And as for Tyrone...well, there was only one hunter I knew with that name.
I stepped away from the door right as it opened. Becky and I collided roughly. She recovered quickly, and of course immediately snapped at me. “Ugh, watch where you’re going, Jackson! God!” But her eye-rolling attitude couldn’t cover the panic I saw in her eyes. She had definitely been talking about me, and did not want me to know.
Of course. I felt stupid for not seeing it.
I’d long suspected that Rory was a hunter. After all, what better target than Hailee Jackson, daughter of Thomas Jackson, on the verge of her coming-of-age? And what better cover than a state social worker?
Why wouldn’t his daughter be following in his footsteps?
Now, it seemed, they both had their eyes on Jason, too.
I had to help him. My pack and I were the only ones who could provide him asylum. But what if he refuses my help? My first thought was, Then that’s his problem. I scolded myself for the heartless thought. But it was true, I suppose. If he denied, or rejected, my help, then there wasn’t any more that I could do for him.
That night, I had an awful dream, one that would stay with me for a very, very long time.
Bi-I-ngg! “Hailee Jackson, please proceed to the principal’s office after the bell.” She gets up, unfazed. This has happened before. She will play innocent, apologize sweetly, and go on her way with a note -- a note she will promptly burn. She walks into the office, shuts the door, and waits to be told to sit down. No such thing is said; the principal simply looks at her, solemnly. Two men in black, men armed with guns, stand on one side of him, his daughter on the other. “Thank you, Rory,” says one of the men. “Director Tyrone will be pleased.”
“Thank Rebecca,” says Principal Lester modestly. “She found her.”
“Of course, thank you, Rebecca,” the other man says. “You’ll make a great agent once you graduate.” Then he turns to the girl. “Hello, Miss Jackson.”
“Uh...hello.” She wants to ask why they are here. But in the depths of her heart, she already knows -- knows there is no escape.
"I think you know why we’re here, Miss Jackson,” the first man says, as if reading her thoughts.
“I know,” she says, even if she’s lying a bit. “You’re with the...the police.”
“We really hope you won’t make this harder than it has to be, Miss Jackson. Now, if you’ll please just drop your bags and put your hands behind your back, we can get all of this over without making a mess.”
“Why? Am I being arrested? I haven’t committed a crime!” she stalls, glancing around for an escape route, her heart sinking when she finds none.
“You can cut the innocent little girl act, lycan,” snaps Agent #1.
“Do you really not know who we are?” says Agent #2. “Do you really not recognize these uniforms?” He lowers his voice, sending a chill down her spine as he says, “The man who shot your father was dressed just. Like. This.”
“Now, if you don’t fancy meeting the same end,” Agent #1 says, “I suggest you do as we say. Drop your bags, hands behind your back. Turn around.”
She wants to disobey, but is suddenly powerless to do so. Slowly, like she’s walking through quicksand, she turns, fastening her hands behind her. Agent #1 steps forward and handcuffs her. She struggles against the cuffs, only to feel the metal burning through her skin like acid on steel. Silver. In a last-ditch, hail-Mary attempt, she tries to scream for help, hoping against hope that her beloved friend Holly will come to her rescue. But the screams are quickly snuffed out as Agent #2 roughly forces a gag between her lips. She is left with nothing but to wonder, helplessly, what awaits her; interrogation? Imprisonment? Experimentation?
I woke in a cold sweat, clutching my blankets. When I released my death-lock grip, I could see threadbare rips made in the fabric by my exposed claws. Lycans having nightmares do a tad more damage than humans having nightmares, I’m afraid.
The door creaked softly open. “Hailee?”
“I’m fine, Gram. Just a bad dream.” Just a bad dream, I reassured myself.
Just a dream.
The dream scared me. It scared me because I knew, whatever I told myself to go back to sleep in peace, it wasn’t just a childish nightmare. It could happen; it would happen. Eventually, it would happen.
Maybe it would have been better, I thought, if I’d never overheard Becky’s conversation. If I was going to be taken away, maybe better if I didn’t see it coming. No, I told myself firmly. I will not think like that. I was going to survive this, and if I was, I needed an accomplice.
Wednesday afternoon, on the bus, I pulled Holly aside and told her to meet me in the woods. She, confused as she was, agreed. “Something up?” she said.
“I’ll tell you when we’re alone.”
“Um...okay, I guess.”
I took her from the bus stop down past the crossroads, past the old lonesome oak, down the crackly-dry hill, around the winding path that would eventually lead to the caves if you kept following it, off the path into the thick of the trees, and up the creek on the rocks. “In just a couple months,” she remarked softly, “this’ll all be frozen over. Ice on the rocks and everything.”
“Yeah.” I took her up to a small waterfall, a waterfall that looked like it could be a store-bought piece, a perfect stone wall with a tiny stream steadily pouring down the center. We sat down on opposite sides of the stream, and I wondered where I could possibly start.
“So, what’s up? Is something wrong?”
I took a deep breath. “Holly...I think it’s time I told you something I should have told you a long time ago.”
“You know how I’m stronger than the average person? And I disappear a lot, and the things I say sometimes don’t add up?”
“Yeah....” She had a look on her face that said “this wasn’t how I expected this conversation to go.”
“Well there’s a reason for all that,” I said, my voice rushed. How in the world was I supposed to break this to her? “God, I’m not sure what to say. I’m trying, but nothing I think of sounds real.” I tried to laugh. “T-tell me what you think I’m going to say.”
She shrugged. “Sheesh, I almost wanna say you’re a superhero or something.”
“Well, it’s a bit like that. Not exactly, but....How about I show you?”
“Okay, sure,” she said, thoroughly confused. “Show me.”
I showed her.