Part 1:The day my Childhood ended
I was sixteen; it was my first full day as a Junior. It was six AM and I was already running down the stairs.
"How many times do I have to tell you not to run in the house Jayson?" my mom said.
"Sorry," I replied weakly. I couldn't help it, I ran everywhere I went. I've loved running ever since I could walk; used to drive my parents crazy. I forced myself to walk to the counter and grabbed an apple out of the basket before turning around and heading for the door.
"Where do you think you are going young man?" My mom looked up from the stove and pierced me with her steel blue eyes. She was wearing the light green flannel gown dad had given her last Christmas.
"To the gym, I want to get some weight lifting in before class."
"Not on an empty stomach you're not."
"I've got an apple mom."
"That's a snack not breakfast." She waved at the table with her spatula. "Now sit down, breakfast's almost ready."
I looked at my dad for support. He was reading the newspaper like he did every morning.
"Do what your mother says Jay," he said without looking up, "you can spare ten minutes to put some food in you before you exercise."
I dropped my backpack by the door and sat down. They were right, but I'd been itching to really workout for the last two weeks, ever since my subscription at the local gym ran out. They only had monthly subscriptions. It took me two weeks to get the money from my job at the fast food joint down the block to pay for one, and it was going to be a waste of money to get a month's worth and only use it for the two weeks left before school.
I filled my glass with orange juice from the jug that was already on the table and waited for mom to put the customary scrambled eggs and bacon on our plate. I liked mine sunny side up, but mom and dad liked theirs scrambled, so unless I made them myself scrambled it was.
Dad folded his paper and set it aside as mom was sat down. I put my hands together and bowed my head.
"We thank you lord," my father said in his deep voice, "for this meal before us, and ask for your blessing as we go through our day. Amen."
"Amen," my mom and I repeated.
I finished my plate under two minutes. It was rinsed and in the dishwasher before the third was over. I had kissed my mom on the cheek, grabbed my bag, waved to dad and was running out the door in the middle of the fourth.
It took me just under ten minutes to run to the school. I could have done it faster, but that would have made me stand out.
Before six thirty I was changed in my gym shorts and an old t-shirt and at the bench press. I was the only one there so I threw on a couple hundred pounds of weight and started doing repetitions. I was going for endurance rather than strength so the weights were low. I did three sets of one hundred repetitions.
By the time I was done two other guys had arrived, Jud and Billy. They were two years older than I was, but they were Juniors too because of all they grades they had failed. They were bullies and had been picking on me ever since they first noticed me.
They noticed me and snorted in my direction.
"You'd think he'd have given up by now," Billy whispered to Jud.
He said that because even after lifting weights for almost eight years I still looked like a rake. I was five nine and weighted a hundred-thirty pounds on a good day. No matter what I did I just couldn't build muscle, so I'd stopped trying.
The two of them have pushed me around and thrown verbal jab at me so much now that I've grown used to them. They were part of what I considered a normal day.
Sometime I envied how they looked. Lets face it, they were jocks, plain and simple; bodies built like Hercules and Atlas and the following to prove it. Girls were always following them. The rumours were that by the time school ended last year they had slept with every girl in their grades, including some of the teachers.
Maybe that was how they finally managed to graduate because they certainly didn't have much brain upstairs.
I went through the machines doing my best to ignore them. They purposely bumped into me twice, making me drop a weight on the second time. More than once I've been tempted to show them how much weight I can actually lift, just to shut them up, maybe scare them into leaving me alone. But that would attract attention so I just did my best to ignore them.
I'd gone through all the machines and was going chin ups when Maggie yelled across the room.
"Jay! If you don't hurry up you're going to be late for class."
I didn't respond to her call and she didn't wait for me. She knew that the reminder was all I needed.
Maggie, or Magster as her close friends were allowed to call her, was my best friend. I'd known her for as long as I could remember. She lived across the street and had been sneaking in my house since should could crawl. She was a year younger than I was, but she'd skip ninth grade because she was so smart. Sometime I thought that she was holding herself back just so she could continue looking out for me.
She loved science and science fiction. Her bedroom walls were covered with pictures of robots from Japanese cartoon as well as posters of the Justicar team, in its many incarnations. Her favourite of them was Techno, although recently she had started collecting posters of Techknight too.
I finished my sets and headed to the locker room. The gym was almost full now and the lockers a frenzy of activity. I quickly showered, and was almost out when someone shouldered me aside.
"Fag," he whispered.
I looked at him walk away frozen in surprise. I didn't know him, so why had he said that? I watched as he high fived Billy.
They had found someone to help them torment me.
* * * * *
My first class was Biology, it was the only class I had with the Magster. The teacher laid out what he was going to cover over the year. I could already feel the dread forming in my stomach and he hadn't even given us an exam yet. Bio wasn't my thing.
Maggie assured me she would help me with it, I could only hope it was going to be enough.
"I'll see you at class after school." She said before disappearing in the crowd on her way to her history class. I was heading to the field for Track and Field. Our after school class was Karate, she dragged me to it when she was ten, she'd heard that the Shroud was a master martial artist and decided she was going to become one too.
I liked it. It gave me a way to work on my control. Now we both participated in a few tournaments every year. She's won a few trophies while I rarely place higher than fourth.
Track and field was run by coach Timberson. He also coached the football team, basketball team, baseball and any other sport taught at the school. The only thing he didn't touch was figure skating, which he left to Mister Milton, the dance teacher.
He firmly believed that if you weren't trying to get first place you shouldn't even bother trying.
"Not bad Mister Mortimer," he said as I was running in place after the two mile run, "with a time like this you might have a chance at first place, if Miss Cranford and Jurgen were to break their legs." He stared at me with disdain. "You might be happy with third place, but I'm not. I'm not teaching you so you can lose."
I sighed with relief when he turned to the rest of the class.
"I'm teaching all of you to win. I know the majority of you will never win, and if it was just up to me I wouldn't even bother, but the school says that I have to teach all of you so that's what I'm going to do."
Everyone was silent as he looked everyone over.
"Now give me two laps around the course."
Being talked to like that really made me want to run faster than everyone in class. Place first and shut mister Timberson up.
But that would make me stand out.
After track and field I had art. On my way there I walked by this creepy older guy. He looked too old for be a student. Maybe he was a new teacher, but the way he kept looking at me made me nervous. I worried that he might follow me, but he just stood there, watching. Only when I turned a corner did I relax.
I hoped I wasn't in any of his classes.
I wasn't bad at drawing. I wasn't great either, but at least I enjoyed it. There was something about putting lines on paper and transforming them into an image that made sense that felt spiritual, like God was guiding my hand.
After that was lunch period.
The nice thing about living just over two miles from the school is that I can run home and enjoy a freshly cooked meal instead of whatever passed for food at the cafeteria.
"Hi mom, I'm home."
"You're just in time sweetie," she replied from the kitchen, "they found it."
"What did they find?" I asked as I joined her in the kitchen.
"Listen," she said nodding toward the small television set on the counter. She was stirring what smelled like her famous cream of mushroom soup.
"Earlier today Randall Salvage pulled into the Pirate Cove marina pulling the Wandering Rose, the boat of the newlywed superhero couple Electrika and Claw. They left on it for their honeymoon a month ago and were expected back two weeks ago." The reporter was silent as the camera panned over the boat. The light was provided by powerful spotlights since the sun wasn't up.
"What do you think happened to them?" I asked my mom.
"I don't know," she said, studying the screen, "but look at the coral on that hull. It would have taken years for that to build, not one month." My mom might be a house wife, but she wasn't dumb. She mentioned before that she had been considering becoming a scientist before I came along, but that she never regretted her decision to take care of me instead of pursuing her studies. Now she listened and watched science shows throughout the day as she took care of the house.
"Tony Randall," the reporter started again when the camera was on him, "an associate of Electrika from the early days of the Justicars has been combing the sea looking for them since they went missing. While Mister Randall declined to comment on his find PCTV was able to contact John Doe, also known as Shape and the only original member of the Justicar still active with the team and he had this to say."
The image switched to a picture of a man with brown curly hair. "Patricia and Mark are two of the most capable people I know. Whatever happened to them while they were out at sea I know that they will contact us as soon as they find a way to do so."
I studied the photograph as he spoke, trying to see why his image felt so familiar. I'd never seen it up close before. Sure I'd seen him on the news before, but I wasn't the Hero worshiper that the Magster was so I'd never really paid attention before.
In the end I couldn't place him and I decided that it was like Maggie had told me before. Shape had build his face from everyone he'd met once his shape shifting ability had stabilized so everyone felt like they knew him.
"Where ever they are we send our wished to Electrika and Claw and hope they will return to us safely," the reporter said.
Mom turned the television off at that point and served me a bowl of soup with two slice of fresh made bread.
My mom's a great cook.
I ran back to school as soon as I was done eating. I was hoping to catch Maggie in the cafeteria so I could tell her about the Wandering Rose, it wasn't often I beat her on super hero news.
I could hear the banging of metal against metal as I got close to the room where shop class was held. I'd just passed the door when the curse rang.
"Holy fucking Gods!"
I stopped in my tracks just as I heard something heavy hit the floor. My family had strict rules about swearing. We didn't do it. We didn't speak God's name in vain. But that wasn't why I'd stopped. I'd felt 'something' when I heard it.
I took the steps back to the door. It was open and on the far side was a guy with his thumb in his mouth who looked to be my age. He had black hair, was wearing black jeans and a black t-shirt. His shoes were also black, as well as the trench coat that was thrown on the back of the chair next to him. He didn't look like a Goth, he didn't have pale skin, makeup or anything, but he certainly looked dark.
"Are you ok?" I asked. On the floor was a fairly large sledge hammer and next to him, on the shop's anvil was something long and shiny.
"Do I fucking look ok to you?" he snarled before putting his thumb back in his mouth. It looked swelled.
"I sorry, I mean . . ." I shut my mouth I was going to ask another stupid question. "I mean is there anything I can do to help?"
He glared at me for a moment and then closed his eyes.
"No, I'm ok," he said opening his eyes. The anger was gone from them. "It's my own stupid fault for not being careful." He glared at the hammer on the floor.
"Where's the teacher?" I looked around among the tools and workbenches.
"He isn't here yet. I'm getting an early start on my project."
I looked at the guy in black. First day and he already had a project that required him hammering metal? What were they teaching in Shop this year?
"You sure you'll be ok?" I asked him.
"Yeah yeah, I'll be fine."
"Ok then, bye."
I headed to the cafeteria to share my news with the Magster. Of course she'd beaten me to it. She'd downloaded they news report on her cell phone.
Sometime she's such a techy.
I had math after lunch and ran by the creepy guy from the morning again. His hair was brown and cut short, like he was in the army. He was wearing a blue sport jacket with a logo I didn't take the time to look at. He had pleated pants the same color as his jacket and was wearing running shoes.
Except for the fact that he made my skin crawl he looked completely normal.
Math went well. And then it was history. I was ok at both. I didn't have a third afternoon class to I headed home to start on my studying before karate class. I couldn't believe that on the first day of class they gave us homework. The year was going to suck.
I was running by the Patters property when I saw the creepy guy again. He was walking in my direction and I stayed close to the cement wall to give him as much space as possible. I kept my gaze forward, but his eyes never left me as the distance between us closed.
I was next to him when his fist came up and hit me in the face.
My feet flew out from under me and I was on my back, head ringing louder than the pain in my face.
"What a wuss," the man said as I turned on my stomach and tried to stand.
His foot connected hard enough that I flew back against the wall.
"Enough!" someone else said as I sat up, holding my stomach. I looked up to see who had saved me from this nightmare. Through the tears in my eyes I saw the man had grey hair and wore a beige business suit.
The creepy looking one wrenched his arms from the older man's grip and took a step back.
"I'm sorry about that," the gray haired man said to me. I wiped the tears from my eyes and when I looked at him again he was pointing a gun at me. "The contract didn't include causing you pain."
* * * * *
If this had been a comic book I would have pushed the gun away, kicked the guy in the shin, I would have done something.
Instead I just stared down the barrel of the gun. I didn't even Pray, I just waited to die.
The next thing I knew there was a flash of light in front of me, I was splashed with something and there were screams of pain. When the silence came back there was a man crouching in front of me.
"You ok kid?" he asked.
I tried to answer him, but my mouth wouldn't work. I was still trying to figure out what had just happen.
"You in there?" He snapped his fingers in front of my eyes a few times.
"What happened?" I finally said. It wasn't what I wanted to say, but it was the only thing that would come out. My voice was flat, and I couldn't get myself to move.
"They tried to kill you, I stopped them."
"Why?" I was finally able to move my head so I could look at him. He was wearing a sandy coloured cowboy hat and his hair fell down around his shoulders; it was light copper with darker shades in place. He had deep green eyes. His beard was trimmed short and the colour matched his hair. I wasn't trying to memorize what he looked like but the details were burning themselves in my memory
"I owed someone a favor," He replied before getting up. He was wearing a light brown trench coat over a white button up shirt, there was something round and dark under it in the middle of his chest, but I couldn't tell what it was. He had blue jeans on and cowboy boots. I watched him pull a sword out of the creepy man's chest.
I also noticed several body parts littering the sidewalk, the hand that was still holding the gun, a leg and a head.
I turned away and threw up. Then I started shaking.
"Good, you're ok, I was starting to get worried." He wiped the blood off the sword on the beige suit.
"What happens now?" I asked, barely able to even hear myself over the sound of my heart beat.
"Now you wait for the cops to get here," he cocked his head, "shouldn't be too long now. Tell them what happened don't bother covering anything up, I don't care if they know about me. I'm not going to be back here anytime soon."
"Yep, my part of the bargain's fulfilled." As he put the sword to his hip the air behind him started shimmering blue.
"What if more of them show up?" I couldn't stop myself from looking around.
"Oh, more will come for you, but not today. These two worked alone."
"What am I suppose to do?"
"Not my problem," he said as he stepped through the shimmer and disappeared.
I brought my knees to my chest and held them tightly as I heard the police siren in the distance.
* * * * *
"Jayson?" my mom asked as she pushed police men aside to run to me. "What happened to you?" She hugged me and I held on to her as tears started running down my face.
"Your son was attacked and according to the story he told us some cowboy showed up and rescued him."
"It isn't a story," I said softly in my mother's shoulders, "he was dressed like a cowboy but he had a sword instead of a gun. Then he vanished in a blue light."
"Listen here son, that's pretty unlikely, no one around here can do that."
My mom glared at the officer and he took a step back.
"My son does *NOT* lie."
"Great," the man said after a moment of silence, "another parahuman dumping bodies on the street, just what he need. Like the Shroud wasn't enough."
"Can I go home?" I asked my mom.
She looked at the officer.
"We have his statement and contact information, if we need anything else we'll contact you. The paramedics looked at him and couldn't find anything more than a few bruises, but they'd like him to get checked out at the hospital."
"I just want to go home."
"Then we'll go home. I called your father and he should be there by then."
* * * * *
After assuring my dad I was ok I went straight to my bed and curled up under the cover. Why did someone want me dead? I was just a kid. I hadn't done anything to get someone that mad at me. I Prayed to get some sort of answer, but nothing came.
At some point I heard my dad talking with Maggie. She wanted to see me, to make sure I was ok, but he wouldn't let her in. he told her that I needed to rest after what I had been through.
I didn't think he was right, I didn't think I could rest. The questions wouldn't stop. But eventually I did fall asleep. Thankfully it was a dark sleep without dreams.