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Chapter III

03/22/10

Chapter III

 

Eight months earlier

 

            The bathroom steamed like a sauna.  The curtain was pulled back and water sprayed along the floor.  Carson had never taken a shower this hot before; all hot water, no cold.  The parts of his brown skin that were still him turned red with each pelt of water.   

            Carson scrubbed his skin hard with the steel wool pad.  The floor outside the tub was scattered with pieces of a broken pumice stone and other broken devices sued for scrubbing dead skin away. 

            Carson ran the abrasive pad up and down his arms, trying desperately to remove the clear film that had hardened over his arm and most of his body.  It had no effect.  He scrubbed harder, furiously grinding the pad along his arm.  He paid no attention to the areas of flesh that weren’t covered by the film that he accidentally scraped raw in his madden attempt to shed what ever it was from his body. 

            “No!” he screamed, and threw the pad outside the bathtub.  He collapsed in the tub and let the scalding water abuse his skin.  The water hid his tears as they mingled together and ran down his face. 

            Carson couldn’t help but think about Yvette and how he had hurt her.  He was certain her arm was broken.  He had meant to grab her so hard.  He just wanted to stop her from walking away.  Carson didn’t even realize how much pressure he had applied until Yvette screamed and fell to the ground.  It was then that he noticed the hard clear layer of whatever that was all over his had and forearm. 

            Yvette’s screams had gotten everyone’s attention, and people came running.  Carson panicked.  He couldn’t explain what had happened, or tell them it was an accident.  He wasn’t sure himself what had just happened.  He was scared, so he ran.  He ran the entire eleven blocks home and went straight to the bathroom.  His mind wasn’t on anything but getting the “stuff” off his skin.  He failed to notice how he mangled the doorknob to house upon entering, or the chunk of drywall he knocked out when he miss negotiated the turn down the hallway and slammed into it with his shoulder. 

            Carson prayed silently that whatever it was would just go away.  He wanted all of it to go away, to just be a bad dream.  His mind and body calmed as he lay under the burning water of the shower. 

            Slowly, the crystal like covering began to crack and splinter like safety glass and sluff off his skin.  The tiny salt like grains mixed with the water and flowed down the drain, leaving no trace that they had ever been there.  

*****

Three months earlier

            Caroline’s legs trembled with each step.  Her father insisted on walking her to the top of the lighthouse even though she pleaded to stay behind on the ground with her mother.  He pulled her up the narrowing staircase.  Caroline’s wobbling legs felt as if they would give out on her at any minute. 

            It wasn’t enough to reach the top.  Her father demanded that she walk along the outer edge with him and waive down to her mother.  Caroline couldn’t understand what her father refused to accept about her fear of heights. 

            Caroline took one foot out on the rickety old iron walkway and froze.  She could see the ground from between the iron bars that comprised the floor and guardrails.  She retreated to the wall of the lighthouse and clung to the brick.  Her father left her there and walked the perimeter. 

            Caroline began to panic.  Images of her falling over the rail, or the entire walkway breaking free and falling filled her head.  She closed her eyes and gripped the stone wall tighter.  Her breathing became ragged and fierce.  She wanted to leave, just go away.  She wanted to be gone from there. 

            Caroline’s father came from around the side looking for her. 

            “Caroline!’ he called with concern.  He looked near the door to the lighthouse where she insisted on staying.  She wasn’t there.  He poked his head inside the tower and glanced down the steps, thinking she may have already started down. 

            “Caroline!” he called again, this time with an urgency and onset of panic in his voice.  He looked over the edge, praying that he didn’t see her down below. 

            Caroline saw her father looking for her and called out to him.  She was scared enough just being up there, she didn’t need his bad joke to go along with it.  She called out to him, but he didn’t answer.  He turned from the doorway and looked over the edge of the lighthouse.  Caroline called to him again, this time realizing that there was no sound.  She opened her mouth to speak, but nothing was there.  She could feel the words in her throat, but they never came out. 

            Caroline’s father ran around the perimeter again, hoping that maybe she was slowing making her way along and was on the opposite side. 

            Caroline screamed.  Her face turned bright red, and her neck trembled with raw force.  The veins in her temples strained against the thin layer of skin that covered them.  Silence.  Now, she began to panic.  She closed her eyes as tears welled in them.  All she wanted was to get down from there. 

            “Caroline!” her father snapped at her.  He grabbed her by the upper arm, driving his fingertips into her skin.  “What the hell did you think you were doing?  Didn’t you hear me calling you?” 

            Caroline tried to talk, but all she could do was gasp and sob. 

            ‘Bu-bu-bu” she started. 

            “Did you think that was funny, hiding from me like that?”  Her father was angrier than she had ever seen him.  He start dragging her down the lighthouse steps with the same eagerness he had pulled her up them.  ‘What’s wrong with you?” 

            “But I- I- I…”  Caroline tried again to speak, but couldn’t get her words or thoughts together.  She began to cry harder.  She was scared and confused.  Her father was the one playing the joke, not her.  She didn’t want to be up there to begin with. 

            “You’re grounded, young lady!” 

            Caroline didn’t say anything.  In fact, she didn’t speak to anyone for the next two days. 

*****

            “Breathe through the fear.” Guru said.  He sat in the distance monitoring Crash as he practiced controlling his power.  Guru wore a hooded poncho with torn jeans that were so old they couldn’t technically be classified as “blue” jeans anymore.  His long graying hair was pulled back into a braided ponytail that fell between his shoulder blades.  In his hands he held a cane fashioned from a four foot piece of gnarled wood.  The cane looked as if it had been beaten into a suitable shape as opposed to having been carved. 

            “Breathe through the pain.” Guru said with same soft mellow tone that he had before.  No one had ever heard him speak above his relaxed laid-back tone.  Of course, the kids that lived at the Factory hardly ever saw him.  The only time he was present was when welcoming new faces, or when conducting individual training sessions as he was now.  His presence was always felt, though he was rarely seen. 

            It was unusual for fourteen teenagers to live in a house without constant adult supervision and run as normal as the Factory did.  To their defense, nothing about the Factory was normal, and neither were the people that lived inside. 

            The Factory was a home to runaways that with powers.  Most normal people, both young and old, would assume that having a special ability automatically made you special.  An outcast teenager with powers is even more of an outcast than they were before.  It was hard for them without having anyone to turn to.  Someone to help them understand what was happening to them.  More importantly, someone to help them control their powers.  The majority of those that came to the Factory had tried to keep their powers a secret, and ran away after losing control in some kind of public fashion. 

            An uncontrollable public incident was what had brought Crash there.  Crash was suffering from crippling headaches that would leave him balled up on the floor clutching his pounding temples.  He thought he was just hallucinating when he saw objects hovering in front of him.  He would eventually blackout from the pain and awake amongst a scattered heap of broken and misplaced things. 

            The day at the Heroes Hoagies restaurant had put him on the road.  Crash didn’t know what happened.  All he remembered was sitting with his parents and taking a bite of his sandwich.  His head had been hurting all day, but not like normal; more of a dull ache then the usual nightmare that he been having.  His mother said something about not taking such big bites.  Crash looked towards the window.  Sunlight reflected off the chrome bumper of a passing car and hit him directly in the eyes.  Crash felt like his brain was on fire.  His headache flared and he thought his head had exploded. 

            Crash looked over at his parents with watered eyes, pleading for help.  He had kept his headaches from them, afraid to tell them what was happening for fear of the worst.  He was afraid that he might have a brain tumor.  He was afraid he was dying. 

            Instead of seeing his parents sitting before him with a look of concern over his twisted grimaced face, Crash saw his parents and everything else in the restaurant hovering above the tables.  The look in his parent’s face was fear, not concern.  Fear of the fourteen year old boy at the table; the only person still seated. 

            Crash bolted from the restaurant and never looked back.  He eventually found his way to Future City and the Factory. 

            Guru took them all in and gave them a place to live.  He tried to teach them how to control their powers so that they could return home, or just blend in with the rest of the world. 

            None of the kids that lived there wanted trouble, they just wanted a normal life.  They worked together in their own normal abnormal world within the steel and concrete walls.  A patchwork family of self described misfits. 

            The Factory was exactly what it was called.  The three story building sat on the edge of the old industrial.  The building was built, but never used after the developer ran out of money.  Some time afterwards Guru moved in with the first group of runaways and created a refuge for them.   

            The first floor was a wide open space with occasional machine presses littered along the inner walls.  The center of the floor was kept fairly clear with small bits of debris from previous training sessions.  Bits of metal, wood, and glass were separated into large drums near the rear wall.  Wooden cable spools and pallets were stacked like makeshift stairs under the catwalk. 

            The upper two levels were the converted bedrooms, bathrooms, and kitchen.  The walls of the three rooms on the backside of the upper level had been knocked out, and the floor “removed” to create a two-story rec-room.  This was where most of those that lived there spent their time; some even had a habit of sleeping there as instead of their own room. 

            Guru thumped the side of his cane with his fingers, creating a rhythmic tapping for Crash to focus on.  The young boy sat on the cold floor with his legs crossed.  Several feet over his head was a large twisted metal pole.  The large piece of metal weighed a little over 200 hundred pounds, and rocked gently in the air. 

            Crash gripped the legs of his sweat pants tight, bunching the material in his fists.  His body shook as he tried to keep the heavy object floating in the air.  Sweat began to run down his forehead and into his eyes.  He tried to keep them open and not blink as the salty drops stung his eyes.  He had a bad habit of losing concentration when he blinked. 

            “Listen to the sound.” Guru advised him, keeping up the soft tempo.  “Slow.  Relaxed.  Try and control your breathing.  Slow down your heart rate.  Try to fall into the rhythm.   

            “Gru rue…” Crash said between gritted teeth.  “I kent holl dit mch lungr.” 

            “You’re tightening.  You forcing your own energies back into yourself, instead of letting them flow freely through your body.  Relax.” 

            Guru walked closer to him, his bare feet silent on the rough concrete floor. 

            “Remember, your powers are a part of you.  It’s not a foreign entity.  Controlling them should be as normal and natural as wiggling your fingers.”   

            Guru watched as Crash struggled to keep the metal aloft.  Crash started to shake more under the strain.  The training object began to wobble as its ends dipped down and rose back up. 

            “Ok.” Guru relented.  “Let’s try and lower it to the ground.  Gently.  We don’t want to crack the floor again.” 

            Guru took his cane and slid it under Crash’s arms.  He pushed the slouching teenager back to an upright position.  He lightly took the tip of the stick and touched the bottom of his chin, and lifted it up. 

            “Sit up straight.  Breathe deep.  In your mind, picture a leaf or a feather slowly falling to the ground.  Easy.  There’s no rush.” 

            The metal hunk dropped in steady increments making its way to the floor.  Crash’s lips pursed as he fought to keep the heavy piece of junk from crashing to the floor. 

            “Remember, lowering something down is the same as lifting up.  You aren’t pulling it to the ground, gravity will do that for you.  All you’re doing is controlling its descent.”  Guru stood behind Crash, offering him guidance. 

            Crash’s breathing was harsh and shallow.  The twisted piece of junk started to slip and plummet the final five feet to the ground.  Crash inhaled sharply and caught it just a few inches from the ground.  He closed his eyes and exhaled slowly.  The metal object smoothly and gently glided to the ground.  It settled with it soft “thump” that barely disturbed the dust on the floor. 

            Crash opened his eyes and saw the misshapen metal on the floor in front of him.  He was elated to see that there weren’t any cracks in the ground underneath it.  He blew out the rest of he air in his chest and wiped his brow.  The palms of his hands were red and his fingers were stiff.  Crash flexed his fingers as he climbed to his feet. 

            “You’re doing better.  I’m proud of you.” Guru said with a smile.  “Go on.  We’ll work together again week.” 

            Crash smiled and nodded at him.  He turned and walked toward the enclosed staircase. 

            “Keep practicing and work on your breathing.  It’s your power, don’t be scared of it.”  Guru called to him in his same low mellow intonation. 

            Guru waited till Crash was gone.  He laid the cane against his leg and closed his eyes.  He took a deep breath in, moving his hands towards his diaphragm as he did.  His hands were crossed as if he was making a bird shadow puppet.  He exhaled slowly, while pushing his hands out away from himself.  The twisted metal rod slid adroitly along the floor and came to rest at a support pillar several feet away. 

            Guru picked up his cane and hobbled across the room to office room door.  If only he had done something like this earlier in his life.  Maybe things would have been different.  Not just for him, but for everyone.

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