To Be Perfect
My name is Malik Owains, and I am an Archos; that is, I am the most recent descendant of an old race of people able to control the elements. I am on the run from the Koley, a group of mercenaries who sell Archos to be unwilling soldiers in a war that has been raging for nearly half a century. This is my story, my memories, my life.
My whole life, my mother and I have moved from city to city, blending into the population, and avoiding the Koley. My father died protect my mother and I from them, or at least that what she tells me. I was too young to remember it myself. There isn't a major city in the United States that we haven't lived in, and disappearing into a crowd has become second nature to us. I'm not even sure what my natural hair color was anymore, I'd changed it so many times. But this is the first time I'd questioned my mother about our move. She was taking us to the smallest town I'd ever been to. I hope she knew what she was doing.
It all started when I was 13, going through puberty. I wasn't what you would call "popular"; in fact, I was about as far from popular as I could get. I was constantly bullied, and rarely had any friends at all. One day, I was in the cafeteria, preparing myself for the beating I was about to receive from Carl Hurian. He was the class bully, and I was his chosen target. He made his way over to me, his massive form pushing other kids out of his way. His posse, Paul Faley and Dean Walley, strutted behind Carl, their cockiness radiation off of them like a sickness.
"Hey Cheeseface" said Carl, coming to a stop behind of me. He hadn't figured out how to use deodorant yet, and his stench filled my nostrils like a toxic gas. Suppressing the violent urge to gag, I turned towards him with a smile I'd hoped would deter the upcoming blitzkrieg to my face.
"Hi Carl. Lovely day, isn't it?"
"Yeah, it is" said Carl, and my smile broadened. Maybe my plan was going to work after all. "I tell you what. Since it's such a nice day, I'll give you a choice: Would you like me to pummel you here or outside in the sunlight?" My smile fell, as did my stomach.
"Outside I guess" I replied, resigning myself to the onslaught. Grabbing my shirt, Carl hauled me to my feet and pulled me towards the thick glass doors that led outside. He kicked open the doors and walked into the middle of the asphalt. He glanced around to check for any teachers, before turning his attention back to me.
"Can we get this over with Carl?" An evil smile crossed his face.
"Happily." He balled his meaty fist and drew his arm back, preparing for the punch. I took off my glasses and tucked them into my pocket, and closed my eyes, waiting for the punch.
But it never came.
I opened my eyes, and found Carl's fist barely an inch from my face and held there. His face was a mixture of confusion and anger at having been denied his triumph. As the strain in his face threatened to break a vein, I raised my hand and reached out. The air between Carl and I had become solid somehow and wouldn't allow anything to come between us. I heard shouts and saw several teachers running towards us across the pavement, and the "wall" between us disappeared. Carl stumbled back, holding his fist in his other hand and looking at me with a newfound fear and hatred.
"Freak!" he screamed before darting away before any of the teachers could grab him.
That was the first time we'd moved.
The old blue station wagon rumbled down the highway, every bump making it groan in protest. Giant fir trees flew past, obscuring my view of the buildings beyond. They faded in a green and brown blur as my eyes unfocused, zoning out at the same view I'd had for the past three hours. I had gotten so used to cities, I wasn't used to seeing so many trees. I looked over at my mom, Hope, and wondered what was going through her mind. Her face was a mixture of anxiety, caution, uncertainty and I could only imagine what else.
We were on our way back to her childhood home. She had lived there with my grandparents happily until my father had come to town. He was a visiting microbiologist and stayed at the only hotel in town, the hotel Hope had happened to work at. They had fallen in love and eloped when she turned eighteen and had me shortly afterward. She said she had always regretted not having my grandparents at her wedding. She had had intentions of going home and healing their broken relationship before we were attacked.
Two men had followed my mother home from work one night, and my father had died defending me and her. After that, she knew she would never be able to go home again, not without risking putting her parents in danger as well. Her past life had always been a sore spot, so when she told me last week that we were moving to her home town, I was confused.
"Hey" I said, breaking the silence. She glanced at me with her vibrant green eyes.
"Hey yourself" she said, smiling. She reached over and ruffled my hair affectionately and I batted her hand away, feigning annoyance. In truth, my hair was so unruly, it barely made a difference what she did.
"'Mom! You're messing up my mane!'" I said in my bestSimba imitation. She made a turn onto a second freeway, and judging by the angry honks, nearly caused an accident or two in the process. As much as I loved my mom, she was a terrible driver. Not that I'd ever tell her that. As she merged onto the second highway, she rolled down her window and took a deep breath the fresh air.
"Now that's the stuff" she said happily. All worry fell from her face, and her smiled broadened more than I'd seen it in a long time. She looked so nonchalant, so insouciant, so carefree. I knew then that any of the distaste I may have of this place, I could never be the one to bring an end to this happiness. I copied her and lowered my window, letting the cold air beat against my face and whip my hair around.
I took a deep breath, taking in my first experience of my new home, and my nose was assailed with a plethora of smells. Of fir and redwood trees, of the cars around us, of the cows in the nearby pasture and the ever so slight hint of sea salt. I knew the ocean was only a short drive away, but it would be colder than any of the beaches I was used to. Anyway I wasn't a Akvo, an Archos who controlled water. I wasn't sure what I was exactly, but I knew it wasn't that. I wasn't a good swimmer, or even liked pools that much, and supposedly that was a sign.
The highway slimmed to be little more than a road, and a sign was rapidly approaching. It read "Welcome to Sebastopol" in front of an empty field, dotted with the occasional tree. I didn't take that to be a great omen of my impending life. I sighed and leaned on the window sill. I hadn't meant to, but Hope had heard my sigh and looked my way.
"Look, I know it's not a city like we're used to, but maybe you'll grow to like it." she said, hopefully.
"Yeah, maybe." I said grumpily. "Why didn't we move to another city again? Why Small Town, USA? Won't it be harder to hide what I am here? It's not like we'll be able to disappear in-." She held up a hand to stop my doleful jeremiad.
"Give it a chance? Beside, I have a feeling we won't need the crowds here."
"Sebastopol is, for lack of a better word, weird." she said with a laugh. "Someone who is different will fit right in without so much as a second look. Besides, it's wine country, so we get a fair amount of tourists here. No one will pay us any attention."
We pulled around the final bend onto the main road through town and were both struck with a sight we knew we'd forget. As the weird and colorful town of Sebastopol came into view, so did a banner stretched across the street.
"Welcome home Hope" I read from the brightly colored homemade banner, and looked at her. She slowed the car and took a tired breath, leaning forward to look at the sign through the windshield.
"So I was wrong."