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We’re lying on the floor of a stockroom in a gas station. Malia and I, the chubby, middle-aged clerk and an older couple I’ve never met are lying facedown on dirty cold floors surrounded by the detritus of running a small convenience store on a highway. The young man with the gun, no older than 19 and fidgeting with the tell-tale spasms of a meth addict, is screaming. This is not how I wanted to spend my day.
I search his mind incessantly. Nothing is where it’s supposed to be. What do you fear? What do you love? What can stop you? It’s hard with meth addicts. The meth makes everything a jumble of incoherent, random images. I’m nearly giving up when I find it: a monster he’s created. A fleshy, long clawed beast with metallic teeth, dripping with black ichor.
I glance over at Malia and nod. “It’s OK,” I try to tell her with my face. I’ve got what I need.
What I’m about to do requires a lot of energy. Fortunately it’s early in the evening and we haven’t been on the road long. I should be able to summon enough to do what I need to do. I lift myself slowly off the ground. The other three hostages scolding me in hushed yells. “You’re going to get killed.” “Get down.” “Don’t be a hero.”
Malia calms them quietly and nods.
“Close your eyes and cover your ears,” I whisper back.
The young man, Josh is the name I’ve managed to garner from his racing mind, is rummaging through the locked case holding the OTC medicines behind the counter. He wants the pseudoephedrine and anything else he can get. The cash in the register will merely be an after thought. My steps are slow and deliberate. He can’t be allowed to see me until I’ve assumed the proper shape.
It’s finally transformed and I stare through the new beast’s large, wet eyes. I snort loudly and growl softly. Josh sees me and everything drops. The items in his hands, his face, the contents of his bladder. He’s pinned behind the counter. There’s no way for to escape as I make my way slowly to him. The screams get louder and louder and I drift into his mind again.
“Your soul,” my monster voice growls in his head. “I know what you did to Cassie.”
I don’t actually know what he did to Cassie. But I know she’s in his brain and there’s an immense amount of guilt swirling around her. There’s a good chance he doesn’t even remember what he did. He begins to wail.
I keep pushing every button I find. Keep morphing my beast body to suit his worst imaginings. I promised Malia years ago that the worst damage I do wouldn’t be permanent, but would be enough to effectively disable them for their natural lives. It’s a brutal task but it makes everyone safer in the end.
When I’m done, Josh is in the fetal position wailing incoherently. I’m back in my normal form and I’m exhausted. Sitting on the floor, propped up against the soda cooler. I call to Malia. It’s all clear now, everyone can come out.
They creep slowly out of the room and stare at me wide-eyed. My color is gone, my lips are pale and big dark lines have taken up residence under my eyes. Josh has stopped screaming and is now whimpering softly to himself.
I give the clerk a solemn look.
“You don’t want the kind of attention telling the whole story will bring you,” I tell him. “Erase the security tape, then call the cops. Tell them it was a weird freak accident that happened with the tape. Tell them our friend over here just came into your store and lost his mind. He won’t be able to tell them any different.”
He nods at me. He’s frightened but willing to trust me. The couple is staring at me with concern.
“You don’t look good at all,” the woman says, kneeling down by me. She’s a mother, and my tiny pale frame and consumptive look is giving her pause.
“She needs to eat. Preferably lots of protein,” Malia explains. Malia knows the drill, she’s been with me at this for a while.
We can’t stay here. I can’t talk to the cops. Despite my abilities, I’m a terrible liar and I don’t like to do my mind trick on innocent bystanders. It feels like a violation.
The clerk and the couple help Malia get me out to the car. The couple knows a diner not far and they want us to follow them there. They really need to talk about what happened. I trust Malia’s instincts on this one and she agrees to follow them.
The diner is retro looking more by lack of funds than aesthetics. Something you’d expect to find on a desert highway. The waitress is older and doesn’t look twice at my sorry state. She’s seen worse and isn’t interested in finding out more. Her feet hurt and her bills are due.
I order steak and eggs, with the steak cooked as rare as possible, and devour it in nearly one gulp when it arrives. The couple is remarkably calm for all they’ve witnessed and I appreciate their stiff upper lip.
The bloody meat, though a terrible cut, was enough to give me back my color and restore my energy. I eat my eggs like a normal human being.
“What do you want to know?” I ask them.
The husband, an older man who looks like he might work at the local branch of a bank, or maybe a kindly high school history teacher, clears his throat and whispers, “What are you?”
I’ve been asked that before. When Malia first met me, when we were tiny youngsters, she asked me the same thing.
I’m as human as you and the guy next to you. But with a major difference. I was born after my mother had been dead for about five minutes. She surprised a burglar who decided to stab her in the throat. I shouldn’t have survived. Living things are not born of dead things. But it does happen. And when it does, those particles in the universe that are attracted to death, to miracles, to things which should not be, come and attach to whatever is left standing. That was me. Tiny, two-week early neonate coffin birthed, going against all laws of natural order.
Living with these forms swirling around you gives you perspective on things. Everything is charged particles and wavelengths. Every action in context has a unique charge and wavelength. Malice, love, lust, pain, joy, grief. There is no “good” or “evil,” really. Simply actions in context that emit an energy. Our energies impress on the energies around us and drift out into the world. I can manipulate these energies, though it saps a lot of my own to do it. My mind trick is merely an ability to read the wavelengths and charges in a brain. The Secret had one part right. What you put out will affect you. Or me. It most definitely will come back to me.
I explain as scientifically as possibly, realizing they may think I’m absolutely insane.They seem to be taking it in well. Maybe they believe in the supernatural or new age bullshit. Either way, I’m grateful they are not freaking completely out.
Not everyone handles it that well. My grandparents were not prepared for a newborn who would overload the breakers when she was wet or hungry. Nor a toddler who would mess with the electronics for giggles. Knowing the two people you love the most are terrified of you is a lonely feeling, especially when you can’t control it. My grandmother’s aunt was into old world magic and decided to take me when I hit kindergarten. Things got easier as I learned control. I very nearly lived a normal life after that.
The wife sighs deeply, “This must be hard for you.”
“It can be. But then sometimes I get to save people’s lives,” I smile.
Talk turns to the mundane. Our jobs. Their children. Our dogs and cats. Their family and business. A bookstore in a tiny California town tucked into the redwoods. We should come visit it. Numbers and addresses are exchanged and we begin to leave.
“Check in on the clerk, if you’re down this way again,” I ask. I know he’s all right. I got a sense he was tougher than he looked and pragmatic. He didn’t want trouble. He wanted to run his business and raise his family.
Malia turns on the car and away we go, back into the desert darkness. We’ll find someplace to bed down for the night. Hopefully the rest of our trip will go smoothly.