I slammed on my bike’s brakes at the last possible second to before running a red light. The annoyed glares of the nearby drivers were apparent, but nobody ever really likes bicyclists. At least I had the excuse that I had a job to do, bike messengers get sort of a free pass from society for weaving in and out of traffic which I use to the absolute limit. I couldn’t be concerned with the people around me anyway, I was already running late. That isn’t uncommon for me, but this time it wasn’t actually my fault. A man found me eating lunch in the park and offered me a package, and a cool two hundred dollars, as well as an additional two hundred provided I could have it at 4254 Providence Ln in less than thirty minutes.
I’d never made it to Hartford Glen, the gated community in which Providence Lane resided, in fewer than forty five minutes, but I wasn’t about to tell that to the hooded figure offering me half of this month’s rent for a single job. I felt my foot tapping the pedals and I readjusted my grip on the steering wheel, keeping my eyes focused on the traffic light. As soon as I saw It flicker to green I was off, cutting off the Towncar that had been idling next to me and started pumping my legs rhythmically as hard as my physique allowed. I could feel the box I was delivering shifting in my backpack as my body pivoted from side to side, utilizing the leverage of my weight to lend more force to my pedaling. My rusty fixer wasn’t built for this kind of abuse, but hell, I could buy a new bike with the money I’d earn from this job. The horns behind me only encouraged me to go faster. I shifted right. Maybe a new Schwinn, I always liked the way Schwinns are constructed. My eyes were glued to the road ahead of me, searching for the most minute of car movements so that I could judge the best way to evade them without losing speed. I had ten minutes left, and I was twelve minutes out. I could close that gap. All I needed to do was pedal faster.
I was so focused on my biking that I didn’t process what was in the corner of my eye fast enough. It was a blur of darkness, moving impossibly fast towards me, I tried to turn away or slow down or something to avoid it but I didn’t have any real options. My entire left side exploded into blinding pain, I awkwardly tumbled through the air and hit the pavement with a resounding thud and rolled into an alleyway. The cool alley air felt refreshing on my cheek in contrast to the pain I felt radiating from my temple. I brought my palm to my head and tried to massage pain away, but I’m pretty sure it only made it worse. I could already feel a knot forming.
The crisp cracks of boots on pavement forced me to turn my head towards the light from the street. Ouch. I rolled onto my back to try and stave off the worst of it. My left eye seemed to be almost out of focus, so I just shut it and sort of winked up at whatever was above me. A surprisingly cute chin poked out from under the deep hood of the purple robed figure. I tried to decide whether I should be terrified or infuriated, but she chose for me. She directed her outstretched palm at my midsection and yelled
“RAKIL!” Bright jagged light bounded off her fingertips and embedded itself in my stomach. I didn’t have time to react. Every muscle in my body tensed up impossibly tight and my hands formed futile fists of agony. I couldn’t open my mouth to scream. All I could do was stare while the chin curled into a cruel smile. It felt like a taser bolt had been implanted every square inch of my body and each was activated at once. It felt like years until she finally closed her palm and chuckled to herself. She stepped over my useless body, sauntering to my backpack. It must have been blown clear when I was knocked off my bike. She bent over the backpack and unzipped it, looking inside. So much for my two hundred dollars. A few seconds of precious silence passed. The busy street couldn’t have been more than twenty feet away, why wasn’t anyone doing anything? Why didn’t anyone follow after I was clearly assaulted, quite literally, off the street. My questions were interrupted by a foul scream.
“IT’S NOT HERE!” She screamed. “WHAT DID YOU DO WITH IT?” She walked over to me and peered at my face. I don’t know how she did that through the robes, but she seemed to gain something from it. I started slipping out of consciousness, and pain blossomed in my ribs. I think she must have kicked me, because she looked like she was in pain too, and was looking at her foot. Hah, serves her right. Bitch. Try to stub your toes on my ribs again, I dare you.
I tried to say something defiant and devil may care but my mouth settled on
“What? What’s going on?” the strained look upon her face turned to disgust, and she kicked me in the ribs again. I felt one of them crack. She didn’t recoil this time. I guess she learned her lesson after all.
“I guess it’s not important that I get it. All that matters is that it isn’t delivered.” She seemed not to be talking to me any more, more justifying what had happened. Did she sound scared? Why the hell was she mugging me? I mean, I get that a package that you get $400 to deliver must be pretty valuable, but she went much further than she needed to. She seemed to take pleasure in it, and yet now she was coming off as strangely neurotic. And what’s more, a woman mugger? In a robe? What’s up with that. I started to feel myself slipping away before I could ask any more questions. The pulsing in my brain synchronized with the pounding of her boots, growing more distant. It was strangely soothing.
“This isn’t over” She said. I don’t know who she was talking to.
Everything was dark.
I love my job. Ever since I was a kid I wanted to be a private investigator. It always had a noir-esque appeal to me, and I relished the thought of bringing justice to my enemies and avoid the corruption and otherwise unsavory aspects of the police force. It gave me the opportunity to be a “good guy,” without all of those pesky “warrants” and “morals.” I didn’t read Superman Comics as a kid, I read Batman. Bruce Wayne and I even have a pretty similar origin stories, sans billion dollar estate and butler. I’m still holding out hope for the butler.
I was adopted by nice, sensible foster parents at the age of seven, after three or so years in the system. Martin and Debra. They weren’t particularly wealthy (and didn’t have a butler,) but they were about as accommodating of my quirks as I could have hoped. I can’t say their eyes lit up with pride when I confessed my ambitions to them, but to their credit they didn’t dismiss them. They allowed my then-tender ego respect, and for that I’ll always be grateful. When I turned seventeen, after I opened my presents (a canon I have to this day,) they seemed a little high strung.
“What’s wrong, you guys?” I asked. “I really love my presents, seriously.” I smiled, hoping to cheer them up.
“We just.. Have one more surprise for you, honey.” Debra said. Martin put his arm around her shoulder and gave her a reassuring smile.
“It was actually a bit of a surprise for us, too.” He said, laughing nervously.
“Really, another? You guys didn’t have to. That’s still awesome though, what is it?!” I asked. I didn’t pick up on social cues so well back then, or maybe I was just seeing what I wanted to.
“Well, Hun..” Debra began. “You’re getting a baby brother!” Their faces lit up with broad smiles, but the smiles didn’t touch their eyes, their eyes were still searching for my response. I guess I knew they had been trying, why else would they have adopted me if they could have easily had a child of their own? My stomach turned to water, and the room was swirling a bit, but I maintained a smile.
“Oh my god, that’s incredible!” I yelled. I hurried to hug them both before they could see the tears in the corners of my eyes. I had been dreading this day for years. ‘Nothing will ever be the same’ I thought, ‘Once they have their own child, they’ll never see me the same way.’ Melodramatic? Maybe, but hey, I was seventeen.
“You know this doesn’t change the way we feel about you, right hon?” Debra asked.
“You’ll always be our son, and we’ll always love you.” Martin added. I tried to believe them, but my voice would have betrayed my doubt. I hugged them harder, and tried to make tears of joy.
It wasn’t long before Debra’s belly had swelled, and they were redecorating my room. “We don’t have a guest room sweetie, and you’ll be going to college soon anyway. You understand, right?” Debra said with a hopeful smile. I could see how fragile her happiness was, who was I to ruin it? I didn’t bear any ill will to my future foster brother, but the brand new crib sitting in my now baby-blue room was a constant reminder that a turning point in my life was quickly approaching. I started forming my plan that night. A few months later, baby Charles was born, and I had made a decision. I confronted Martin first, outside of Debra’s hospital room. He was always better at listening.
“I’ve been saving all of the money I’ve earned from my job these past months, and I’ve been taking as many hours as possible.” I told him. “I have enough money together to get me started, and enough to live on while I earn my license. It won’t be easy, but I believe this is the way it has to be, Martin. I know my car is in your name, but I had hoped that with your blessing I can take it with me.”
“This is a big decision, Liam.” He told me. “Are you sure you’re ready?”
“Nope.” He laughed at that.
“That’s my boy” He said, looking down. “Always with the quick wit.”
“Take the car, Liam. Your mother and I have saved up some money for your college, but I think now it would be better used in your custody.” He looked up at me, his eyes were glistening. I had never seen him cry before. He had me wrapped in a bear hug an instant later.
“We’ll always be proud of you Liam, no matter what. You need to do this and I understand that, I won’t tether you, but it wouldn’t hurt to check in every now and again, alright? Your mother is going to have a hard enough time as it is.” I squeezed back, I knew it wasn’t just my mother he was worried about.
“Speaking of Deb, Liam. I don’t think you should tell her.” Martin said, taking a step back. “I.. I can explain things to Deb. I’m afraid if she heard your plan while you were still here, she’d never let you go. I’m not sure I should be, as it is.” He sighed. “I’m so proud of you Liam, and so scared for you.” I wiped tears from my eyes, not knowing what to say. Martin did.
“Go say goodbye to Deb and Charlie, Liam. Make sure you tell them you love them. I’ll be in the car, we can hit the ATM on the way home. Oh, by the way, where do you plan on going?” He asked, he seemed to be surprised he hadn’t asked.
“Chicago.” I croaked. Martin gave a firm nod, and I saw a tear fall to the linoleum.
“Windy up there.” He said, his voice breaking up.
“Yep.” I could barely get it out.
“You can take my windbreaker… it’s always been too long for me anyway.” He said hoarsely, with a meek smile. It was my turn to nod. The next morning I was off.
I’m of the opinion that it is of the utmost importance for all teenagers to look as surly as possible, at all times. Surliness means you’ve been places, you’ve seen things and you’re a hardened renegade for it, and nothing can pierce the impenetrable emotional armor you possess–i.e., the opposite of what essentially every teenager feels (myself included,) which is a hellish cocktail of narcissism and low self esteem that logically shouldn’t work but does anyway. That’s why I was brooding, out of the way, when my little sister was taking a picture with a life-size caricature of Goofy. It’s so easy to brood at Disney World, what with all of the screaming children enjoying themselves, as if they’ve never been through anything. They’ll see! I thought, as per my teenage angst. They’ll be poisoned by society’s filth before they hit adulthood! Good thing I’m an awakened and open minded youth, I’m no sheep! I’m an individual! Let them revel in their.. Happiness and joy…the poor saps. Go ahead and drink it in, folks, that’s what insecurity sounds like.
Anyway, Goofy was looking run down these days. Like one of the Elmos you can find around New York City near Christmastime asking for spare change. I imagined the actor wearing his suit probably had a grease stained undershirt on, and maybe a five o’clock shadow. The type of guy who wears a fedora but doesn’t have the jawline to pull it off. And he was tall, of a height with myself, which is to say he at least matched my six and a half feet. I glanced at my smiling parents and saw an inkling of what I was beginning to feel myself, a sort of uneasy dread regarding the cartoon character currently holding Katrina. Goofy didn’t seem jovial any more, he was downright looming over her. That’s when I saw them–his eyes. Not Goofy’s eyes, mind you, but the eyes of the performer inside, where you can just barely see through the mesh cutout inside Goofy’s mouth. They were mismatched. His left eye was a piercing yellow, not like daisies or sunbeams, but the color you would imagine coming as a result of mustard curdling. His right seemed to spin and focus in random places, rolling around in no real direction. It was red, the entire eye, “white” included, was red. The only reason it betrayed movement was a tiny black mark in the center. I strained to make it out. It was small and black, and irregular, like a punctuation mark. It looked like…a comma? I leaned in closer, my brooding long forgotten in curiosity. The red eye gained rigidity in it’s motions and shot forward, looking straight ahead. Goofy’s back stiffed in unison, Katrina seemed to realize what the rest of us had picked up on, and ran back to our parents with a small cry. I found myself wishing I was invisible. I felt trapped, paralyzed. I could have run, but something told me there was no hiding from…whatever it was. It was eerie how still Goofy was. Goofy is supposed to bounce and dance and otherwise be in motion at all times, like the old steamboat willy cartoons. Always with a song in his heart, moving to the music of life. Goofy’s comma eye twitched, then started rotating, turning slowly towards me. I tried somehow bracing myself, tried to find my footing and clear my throat. I’ll be damned if my voice cracked again. I glanced again at my family, but they were gone. Actually, they weren’t so much gone as I was, from Disney. Everything was gone, but Goofy and myself. It was as if we were standing in a cloudy arena. Shapes moved and danced against the walls of whatever chamber we were in, but they had no real definition. It was as if everything was in a haze, my mental faculties included. I felt as though someone laid one of those lead blankets they use when you’re getting an X-Ray directly over the surface of my brain. I fell to my knees.
I didn’t have time to react, even though everything seemed to be in slow motion. My body no longer seemed to be my own, like my entire body had fallen asleep. All that remained my own were my eyes.
“Stand.” A voice said, from within my head. All I could manage to do was numbly shake my head, I tried to speak but I could barely open my mouth. Saliva dripped onto the clouds as a substitute for vocalization.
“STAND!” Was its command. It was a voice that was not used to being disobeyed. Pain lanced up my back, numbed but significant, my muscles contracted involuntarily until I was standing. My head shot left then right out of control, under the influence of something that didn’t seem to understand the finer points of human locomotion. Finally my neck seemed to find a happy medium, and my eyes were slowly raised to meet those of my controller. I frantically tried to shut my eyes but my eyelids wouldn’t obey. Goofy was gone, in his place was some sort of creature, all shadowy jagged edges in a vaguely humanoid shape. It’s eyes were no more than an inch from mine. I felt the sheer intensity of the creature’s gaze almost radiate heat. And…anger. But I didn’t feel that the anger was directed at me, that seemed like a bullet intended for someone else. What I felt from it’s eyes was curiosity, and confusion.
“Who…are you?” said a voice. It sounded, well, it sounded British.