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Category Archives: Tome of Forgotten Stories

This subcategory consists of short stories and novelettes that are a part of the “Fifth Estate” universe but aren’t a part of any larger story structure or novel. These are essentially standalone stories. And they’re not necessarily “forgotten,” they’re just not large enough to warrant their own category.

The Boy From Upstate

When it comes to stories that belong to the superhero genre or surround characters that can be described as superpowered in one form or another, they tend to follow those with the more entertaining or eye catching powers or abilities.  They also tend to follow individuals who have more of a charismatic or otherwise appealing personality.  You hardly, if ever, come across those who are nobodies with powers, traits, or characteristics that aren’t that spectacular, interesting, or eye catching, despite the fact that such individuals have to exist somewhere in that universe.  What follows is one such story, where the extraordinary traits that the person possesses aren’t that flashy, useful, or interesting.  Their mutation just makes them different.

Her name is Sadie, and according to society, she is a mutant.  However, due to the nature of her mutation, she isn’t able to be singled out from the crowd and identified as a mutant.  The extraordinary traits that she possesses, if they could be called that, consist of bright, fiery red hair, very pale skin, and unnaturally green eyes.  During earlier centuries, such traits would be a clear indication that she doesn’t fit in with the larger society when it comes to appearance.  With the modern concept surrounding the situation, she would be immediately identified as a mutant.  It’s not so much her pale skin but the color of her hair and eyes that would alert others to her condition and separate her from the rest of the community.  This has to do with her hair being truly red, not the orange that society identifies as red.  This is accompanied by the fact that her eyes are a bright green that people don’t consider to naturally occur in human irises.

However, as society changed over time, progressing and advancing as it tends to do, such differences aren’t considered that unusual.  True, members of mainstream society would look and take notice, but they wouldn’t give it that much thought.  This is due to the fact that color contacts and hair dye products have been invented and are readily available on the market for people to purchase and use.  With modern society, people with odd hair and eyes aren’t that unusual, especially in larger cities, though they might be considered a little strange.  Society just sees these individuals as people who are just trying to stand out from the rest of the group or are just expressing themselves in a nonconventional way.  Hell, there are people out there who thrive on such things and are the types who have their faces tattooed, have five hundred ear piercings in a single ear, and will have a few large safety pins pierced through both lips.  And in regards to Sadie’s pale skin, people would just think that she’s an albino or doesn’t go out into the sun all that often.  With all three traits, she might get a passing glance by others, but nothing more than that.  It is because of this that allows her to hide in plain sight.

But not everyone is that lucky.  One such individual is Conner.  Much like Sadie, Conner is a mutant with the same type of unusual characteristics.  However, with the unusual characteristics that he possesses, Conner always manages to draw the wrong kind of attention.  His unusual characteristics consist of green hair, blue skin, and odd colored eyes that consist of dark gray scleras and dark red irises.  It’s not so much the hair and the irises that draw the unwanted attention, for they can be easily explained away.  It has to do with the odd color of the skin and scleras.  As a result, he receives a lot of abuse from other people, and this abuse came from more than just kids his own age.  Compounding the problem is the fact that Conner attends the public school system.  Luckily, he has some understanding parents that he can turn to for support, which help him to deal with the situation.  Aiding in this is the fact that he has a good relationship with them.  But they can’t protect him from everything, and the abuse reaches the point where a line will be crossed that cannot be re-crossed in the opposite direction.

When this incident occurs, Sadie is working part-time at a smalltime café in New York City.  The café is accepting of Sadie’s “Gothic” lifestyle, but the management nonetheless frowns upon it.  And this is ok with her because it’s better to be thought of as a Goth then to be known as a mutant.  And adding to this Gothic look is the fact that Sadie has dyed parts of her hair black, creating a series of streaks.  But she needs to dye her roots again, and relatively soon, for her natural hair color is beginning to show though there are those who would consider it to be unnatural, and this is toward the modest end of this type of thinking.  And though she is considered a Goth, she doesn’t really dress the part.  Her attire isn’t that much different than that of the average person.  Knowing that her appearance can be off-putting to some, Sadie does what she can to provide a friendly and welcoming attitude to her customers when the situation allows for it.

During one of her shifts at the café, she just so happens to overhear a conversation between two of the customers in regards to Conner.  The conversation consists of Conner’s body being found in a farmer’s field in an Upstate community.  His body also shows signs that he was badly beaten before being left in the field.  Sadie won’t learn until later that the field which his body was found in was located not that far from his hometown.  And when she begins to look into the situation, she won’t know if his body was just dumped there in the field or if he was left for dead and died in the intervening time due to exposure.  This question won’t be answered until a later point in time.

Interested to learn more about the situation, Sadie makes her way over to the customers and says, “Hi.  I don’t mean to pry, but I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation.  If you don’t mind, could you satisfy a curious mind?”

“Oh, it’s nothing,” one of them says.  “Just some kid from Upstate got himself into a bit of trouble.”

“He had it coming if you ask me,” the other one says.

“How so?” Sadie asks.

“He’s a mutant.  What else do you need to know?”

This strikes a chord with Sadie, as if mutants disserve nothing but trouble and she should know this fact.  “So what are you saying, that he deserved to be attacked just because he’s different?” she asks.

“Exactly.  He’s just a mutant, nothing more than that.  And besides, they don’t deserve to rub shoulders with the rest of us, plain and simple.”

“And besides,” the first guy says, “from what I’ve heard, he looked like a piñata.  How can you not help but want to beat him?”

This gets a laugh out of the other guy.  These two guys are of the type who support the passing of the National Registration and Regulation Act of Individuals with Gifted or Extraordinary Abilities.  However, they don’t feel like it would go far enough if enacted.  Even though they feel like the bill falls short of its full potential, they think that it’s a step in the right direction.  And Sadie would have wanted to say more about this matter, but an order comes up and she has to excuse herself in order to attend to it.  But a small part of her was glad to have been called away at that moment.  This is because that part of her was concerned that maybe, just maybe, she would have inadvertently exposed herself to be a mutant.  When it comes time for them to leave, she’s glad to see them go.

Eventually, it comes time for her to head out of there herself.  When she leaves the café, she doesn’t go directly home, though she doesn’t consider where she is staying to be “home.”  At the moment, she’s staying at a women’s shelter.  This is due in part to the fact that she can’t find an affordable place to stay and she learned that it’s too dangerous for her to be living on the streets.  Thus, the shelter.  The reason why she turned to the shelter is because she is a runaway.  The reason for this was because she was in love with a boy that her parents didn’t approve of.  But being a teenager, she thought that she knew what was better than her parents did as well as being swept up by the feelings that she had for him.  In addition to this, the relationship she had with her parents while growing up led to a lot of animosity and hard feelings between them.

After running away, Sadie and her boyfriend managed to survive for a while in the city, and they were happy.  But this didn’t last.  He eventually broke her heart and as a result, the relationship bottomed out.  Isn’t that always the case?  As a result of the breakup, she left him as well as the apartment that they were staying at, causing her to be on her own.  But after leaving, she felt like she couldn’t go back to her parents, due to the manner in which she left.  This resulted in her sleeping on the streets for awhile, but she quickly learned that the streets of New York City are no place for a single woman.  But as a result, Sadie seriously thought of going back to her parents, but decided against it.  She wants to prove herself before going back to her parents.  And to prove herself, she wants to earn some kind of college degree.  Not long after getting off the streets and entering the shelter, she earned her GED and began to take college classes whenever she can at a community college.  She’s now 22, and though she’s still at the shelter, she’s making good progress on her associate of arts degree.  She also takes classes when she can afford them and that her schedule would allow.  She’s also looking for fulltime work so that she can move out of the shelter and get her own place, but it’s frustrating because she’s having trouble finding one.

Before heading back to the shelter, she has to go and take care of her second job, which is modeling.  The type of modeling that she does is for some local photographers as well as for some art classes.  Is she had an agent, she would be getting some better paying jobs, but not being wild about agents or knowing how to get one, she will just have to accept what she’s been getting.  And she’s been doing photo shoots for awhile.  Some of them have even had her be scantily clad, but she hasn’t done any nude shoots yet.  She also learned that she gets paid more with her natural hair color then with dyed hair, though the photographers think that it’s reversed.  It’s strange how things can work out at times.  And if any of them ask what her “natural” hair color is, she can always fall back on the line of “A girl never tells.”

But today, instead of modeling for photographers, she is modeling for an art class at the community college that she is attending.  And any person who knew Sadie before she ran away would be surprised by the fact that she is modeling now because she was the type who didn’t even like going outside.  This was due to the fact that she felt uncomfortable going out in public because she felt like people were staring at her because she thought that they knew she was a mutant.  How she changed over that intervening time.  However, she never took the time to reflect upon the progress that she made on this front.  And as she is modeling for the class, her mind keeps going back to Conner.

Once class is over, Sadie changes back into her street clothes and finally heads back to the shelter.  She’s pretty tired and would just like to lay down for a little bit.  And it’s not like she has anything to do tonight or have any other plans, other than look for fulltime work.  And since she’s taken care of all of her responsibilities for today, she has the rest of the day to herself.  And when she returns to the shelter, the first thing that she does is lie down.  She wants to try and find out some more information about Conner, but first, she needs to rest.  Sadie didn’t realize how tired she was until she was only a few blocks away from the shelter.  She’s had a few busy weeks behind her and they’re beginning to catch up with her.  So whatever information search that she’ll want to do can wait until later.  But right now, she just needs some sleep.  And as it turns out, she falls asleep not long after putting her head down upon the pillow.

With her return to the land of the living, or at least the land of consciousness, Sadie realizes that she has slept through the night as identified by the fact that morning is beginning to show itself.  She must have been pretty tired and needed the rest for she slept for well over eight hours.  In the end, it was more like a solid ten.  Seeing that morning has arrived, Sadie is taken off guard a bit, but she isn’t put out of countenance that much.  Though she didn’t have any formal plans for the night before, she would have wanted to at least do something last night other then completely sleep it away.  But she can’t do much about it now, and she doesn’t see it as much of a problem.  So she’ll start looking into the situation surrounding Conner today instead of yesterday.  Also, she’ll get an early start on the day as well.

And she actually likes getting an early start because she enjoys walking through the city early in the morning and seeing the early light of day bathe the city streets in gold.  While out and about, she stops by a bakery and grabs a pastry or two and calls it breakfast.  After getting something to drink as well and enjoying her meal, Sadie heads to the local library.  Since she doesn’t have to work at the café today, she has the leisure to do things like this during the daylight hours.  And once at the library, the first place that she goes to is where the newspapers are kept.  She will follow this by doing some internet research.  Sadie wants to learn as much as she can about what happened to Conner.  But she wants to do this by checking out primary sources first, and for Sadie, she sees the printed media of major newspapers as a good primary source to start with.  True, the internet is growing in importance and popularity as a primary news source, but there will always be a place for paper.  It satisfies a niche that can’t be entirely digitized.

And Sadie spends the entire day researching the matter, and this is the information that she has been able to obtain.  Conner was a 17-year-old high school junior who was a good student and tended to earn good grades in his classes.  But on one night, when he was taking a walk around his neighborhood, witnesses reported seeing a dark colored sedan pull up next to him, a few words were exchanged, and two people jumped out from the car and tried to grab him.  But Conner didn’t make it easy for them because he resisted their advancements and put up a fight.  However, he was quickly overpowered by the two assailants and was pulled toward the trunk of the car.  As the assailants pulled Conner toward the trunk of the car, the trunk door popped open, allowing them to throw Conner into the trunk itself.  Given the fact that the trunk popped open without the two assailants doing anything to open it, accompanied by the fact that the assailants got out from the passenger side of the car, it implies that there is a third suspect sitting behind the wheel.

Once arriving at the trunk, one of the assailant’s temporarily steps away from Conner in order to fully open the trunk door.  Once doing this, he returns his attention back to Conner and gives him two or three punches to the gut, almost doing it as if for good measure, followed by grabbing Conner and throwing him into the trunk.  With Conner now fully inside, the assailant grabs the trunk door and slams it shut.  Unfortunately for Conner, this model Sedan doesn’t have an emergency release tab attached to the inside of the trunk door which would have allowed him to at least attempt an escape.  With the trunk now closed, the two assailants climb back into the car and they all drive off.  Conner never comes home that night, or ever will again for that matter.  The next day arrives and a farmer working his field comes across a body tied up to one of his fences.  The body has been tied up in such a way that it gives the appearance that the person has been crucified.  In addition to this, the front of the shirt has been ripped open and the word “freak” has been carved into the blue skin of the chest accompanied by the fact that the face was heavily mutilated.

Since there wasn’t any form of ID present on the body, the dental records had to be checked to try and determine an identity for the body.  With an identification determined, the authorities contact the parents, asking them to come down to the coroner’s office in order to provide a positive identification.  Even though the face was heavily mutilated, it was still intact enough for the parents to positively identify their son.  Conner’s parents now have to deal with the fact that they now have to bury their child.  Checking the dates, Sadie sees that the articles and other news postings were from a few days ago.  Finding some follow up articles, she sees that at least two suspects have been detained and are being questioned, though the third suspect is still believed to be on the loose.  The two that are in custody are 16-year-old Carl King, who is also known as Carnival Carl, and 17-year-old Harvey Whitehead, III.  What allowed the authorities to apprehend them so quickly was the fact that they were boasting and bragging about what they did to Conner to other people.

Both are, or at least at one point in time were, classmates of Conner, though Carl was kicked out of school several months earlier for disruptive behavior accompanied by acts of violence, vandalism, and overtly threatening behavior.  Further condemning them, King and Whitehead had no problem spilling their guts on the matter, though they laid principle responsibility on each other and refuse to take any form of personal responsibility.  This was due in part to the fact that they were hanging out together when they were apprehended.  But it’s concluded that their primary motivation for ratting each other out is because of cowardice and not wanting to be blamed for the death.  However, despite their willingness to implicate each other, they’re refusing to say anything about the third suspect in the crime; their mysterious driver friend, though their behavior implicitly implies that there is a third.

It’s unclear to the authorities why they’re protecting this third individual given the fact that they’re so readily pointing the finger at each other, but the authorities think that King and Whitehead are doing this because they either respect this individual so much or that they so deeply fear him and what he’s capable of doing that they don’t dare cross him.  That or they’re refusing to talk about this third individual because of some misguided sense of loyalty to the individual.  All that the authorities know for sure at this time is that the dark colored sedan must somehow belong to this third individual in some way because no such vehicle has been found or otherwise connected to King or Whitehead, either personally or through any of their family members, associates, or other contacts.

Sadie learns all of this through several hours of research.  She also manages to get images of both King and Whitehead for they have been posted online as well as through news clips and broadcasts she came across.  She is also able to learn that, though they’re refusing to take any form of personal responsibility, King and Whitehead aren’t ashamed of what they did to Conner.  They even confessed to the authorities about what they did.  They did all of this against their parents’ objections and without having a lawyer present.  But even if their lawyer was present, they wouldn’t have heeded the lawyer’s advice.  And as it turns out, one of them actually had his lawyer present and blatantly ignored or dismissed him.  It appears that they are hell-bent on letting the world know what they did.  They just don’t want to take full responsibility for the act, possibly out of fear of facing the death penalty.  For them, doing the act is fine, but taking the fall for it, or at least taking full responsibility, isn’t.  Their attitude is to let the other shithead take the fall for it and is trying to throw the other one under the bus.

Toward the end of her time at the library, Sadie finally relents and checks out the website Freak Watch, which is nothing more than a site meant to monitor “mutant” activity and to openly attack anyone that they consider to be a mutant as well as any person that supports them, even if this support only exists in these people’s heads or can be seen as support in any possible way.  Talk about blindly lashing out and engaging in blatant bigotry.  There are also indications that these people are also conspiracy theorists, as seen as how they present their information and arguments.  The people who run this site believe that anyone that they consider to be a mutant, which for them is a blanket, open ended term and concept, should be rounded up into ghettos before being shipped out to concentration camps and eliminated, much like what the Nazi’s did during the 1930’s and ‘40’s.  And while exterminating the mutant community, these people think why not throw in some other undesirable groups as well, which consists of anyone that doesn’t fit into their narrow view of reality.  And all of this is freely laid out on their website.  You can see why Sadie doesn’t like visiting this site.

On Freak Watch, Sadie sees that they nakedly attack Conner and say that he had what was coming to him while at the same time holding up King, Whitehead, and the mysterious third suspect as folk heroes.  And since both King and Whitehead were caught, the site also paints them as being martyrs for the cause.  The sites sees them being apprehended as a small price to pay for the greater good of society and for humanity as a whole.  And through some convoluted line of thinking, they manage to tie in the New World Power into this entire mess; that their radical fight for equality only demonstrates why people with extraordinary traits and abilities need to be collared and eliminated.  On top of all of this, Freak Watch point the finger directly at the leader of the New World Power as an example of why their position is the only right one.  Making the situation worse was the dramatic escape that he managed to pull off from the LA County jail not long after his arrest.  And even though Sadie doesn’t approve of the actions that the New World Power is taking, because she thinks that it reflects badly upon the entire community, she realizes that those at Freak Watch would find some other way of attacking those of the “mutant” community if the New World Power didn’t exist.

Having enough of this tripe with Freak Watch, and just getting tired of research as a whole, Sadie signs off of the library computer and heads out.  Though you don’t realize it, doing things like research can be tiring.  And when dealing with people like those at Freak Watch, you can only take so much of their tripe before you become physically ill and need to put it aside for awhile.  Sadie is surprised that people can actually think like this let alone become persuaded by their arguments.

And even though she’s had enough information for one day, Sadie does continue to follow the story as it develops.  Eventually, a picture of Conner is finally shown through one of the main media outlets, and Sadie can’t help but look at it.  After looking at the image for awhile and continually returning to it to study it, Sadie has a haunting feeling that she’s seen Conner before.  After racking her brain, she thinks that he actually visited the café before, and he did so when it was her shift.  He must have visited it when he visited the city.  How disturbing is that?  She actually met Conner in the recent past and didn’t realize it until now.  Thinking back upon it, Sadie realizes why she didn’t make the connection at first.

When Conner visited the café, he was wearing jeans, gloves, a hooded sweatshirt, and a baseball cap with the hood pulled as far forward as possible and the bill of the cap down pretty low.  She didn’t think anything of it at the time, nor did anyone else.  In New York City, people tend to keep to themselves and don’t get involved in other people’s business if they can help it.  New York City is a stressful place and there’s no point in adding to an already stressful situation.  The common attitude is “to each their own and it’s none of our business unless someone makes it so.”  And Sadie is no different.  This is her city.  From what she remembers, Conner also didn’t do anything to make himself standout.  He barely lifted his head or made any kind of eye contact if the situation allowed for it.

And this behavior seemed perfectly natural for him, as if he’s been dressing and behaving like this for years.  And that’s probably what he did for most of his time in school, most likely dating to elementary school.  And though she didn’t realize it at the time, when Sadie was able to glimpse Conner’s face and see things like his eyes when he did look up, she did see something unusual about him.  It wasn’t until she was able to study Conner’s unobstructed face that the pieces finally fell into place.  Given enough time is what allowed Sadie to realize that she saw him before.  If that part of her didn’t continue to think about it, she would have just dismissed Conner as just another person passing through the café.

As she looks at his picture, Sadie thinks to herself, “What brought you here? Why did you come?  Did you know what was going to happen to you?  Did you try to escape?”  Eventually, something else comes to mind as she is studying the picture.  Why did he go back?  He had to have known something was going to happen to him.  If he didn’t, then he never would have come to the city in the first place.  The distance that he had to have travelled between New York City and his hometown is not an inconsequential one.  Sadie knows this because she checked.  It required some thinking and planning on his part.  And in the end, it was a round trip.  Was this a trial run, was there something back home that he had to return to or called him back, or did he just become scared of the larger world that he saw in front of him and thought that it was better for him to just face the fear that he was living with back at his hometown?

And as she is following the news story, Sadie eventually learns that the third suspect in the assault has been apprehended.  As he is being interrogated by the police, he actually does the smart thing by not opening his mouth.  The extent of his conversation with the authorities was that he wanted a lawyer, which was about all that he ever said to them.  And once he was lawyered up, he let his attorney act as his mouthpiece, despite goading from the authorities in an attempt to get this third suspect to make a mistake or say something incriminating.  Only people who tend to have a weak sense of pride but believe that they are stronger than they actually are will tend to have this particular ploy work on them and have that rake strike them square in the face.  The only time that the third suspect would actually talk to the police was with his attorney’s approval, and even then, it was limited and controlled.  On occasion, the attorney would interrupt his client to prevent him from saying something incriminating.

Not long after hearing about the arrest of the third suspect, Sadie decides to make her way up to Conner’s hometown and visit the place where his body was discovered.  Once arriving at the location, she finds that flowers have been left at the site as a makeshift memorial for Conner.  Seeing this brings a tear to her eye; not only because there are people out there who actually cared enough to leave flowers at the site, but it also acts as a counter argument to all of the hatred and bigotry that Sadie has come across that has been directed toward Conner after the incident occurred, even if it’s a nonverbal counter.

After visiting Connor’s memorial site, Sadie eventually makes her way back to her parents’ home.  After arriving there, she just stands outside with a part of her wanting to go up to the front door and knock.  And she just stands there for awhile, trying to decide what she should do.  But in the end, she decides not to and just walks away.  She just isn’t ready to truly go home.  She needs some more time before she can cross that bridge and to at least try to patch things back up with her parents.  She just needs a little more time.

 

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Massacre at LAX

Los Angeles was not a prime target in the events of September 11, 2001.  But as things unveiled themselves after the attacks that day, it became a secondary target for terrorist events.  The attack occurred on a Monday morning at Los Angeles International Airport.  What allowed this to occur was poor planning by officials and inadequate security at the terminals.

The structure and format of LAX was also used against the city by the performers of the attack.  This was due to the fact that both public and private vehicles were allowed to approach the terminals instead of tram access only.  From the check-in counters, people were able to clearly see the traffic moving by as well as the vehicles parked curbside.  This is still true today.

For several months that followed the events of September 11, only taxis, buses, and limos were allowed to enter the airport and approach the terminals.  But eventually, around the time of late April of the following year, private vehicles were once again allowed to enter the airport and make their way to the terminals.

At this time, vehicles had to go through a checkpoint before they were able to approach the terminals.  Even though many vehicles were stopped and searched, one managed to pass through without being molested while carrying questionable materials and questionable intentions.  It was this oversight that led to a post-9/11 terrorist attack to occur.  It was also the worst terrorist attack to occur in Los Angeles history to that point.

The perpetrators of this attack were four young men who had no outstanding physical features to draw the eyes and attention of the authorities.  The vehicle of choice was an old Plymouth Voyager.  This vehicle was chosen because of the large sliding door on the passenger side of the van as well as the two bench seats inside that had the option of being removed.

For what they had in mind, the perpetrators decided to remove the second bench seat.  This increased the cargo area in the back and allowed the perpetrators to move quickly and effectively to their equipment when the time was right to do so.  They also installed hooks that allowed them to establish a harness system next to the sliding door when the time was right.  Once they made it through security, the passengers in the back got up and started to assemble the Gatling gun they had with them as well as the harness system and the mount.  Once assembled, the Gatling gun was placed next to the sliding door of the van.

As the gun was being assembled, the driver of the van and the passenger sitting shotgun were looking for a target.  The driver took them to the upper level roadway, where the departure area of the airport is located.  With the situation as it was, the perpetrators had a greater chance of doing the most damage on the departure level than on the arrival level.  Also, more people tend to depart an airport in the morning then arrive.  The masses avoid red eye flights.

As they traveled past the terminals, it was decided that Terminal 1 would be their target.  Terminal 1 had always managed to be crowded.  In addition to this, the line of passengers who were waiting to get through security snaked its way out of the terminal building and stretched halfway to Terminal 2.  This made them a perfect target for an attack.

If security was more effective and wasn’t manned by incompetent people, this type of attack wouldn’t have happened.  It was through poor city planning and because of conscious human incompetence that allowed this type of attack to occur.  And because of a poor learning curve that exists in America, this type of attack has a good chance of occurring again.

Using the overpass on the departure level that completes the loop, allowing drivers to make their way back to Terminal 1 after driving around the airport, the perpetrators made their way back to Terminal 1.  Once they made it back to Terminal 1, the driver pulled over to the loading zone.  There, he made sure that the Gatling gun was setup and ready to go.  The passenger in shotgun was also handed a submachine gun to aid in the assault.  The driver then made sure that everyone knew what the target was going to be.

With everyone aware of their intended target, the driver pulled forward and reached the security line.  As he did, the driver positioned the van next to the curb.  This allowed the shooters to have an easier target when they opened fire.  The passenger who was riding shotgun also rolled down his window.

Once they reached the security line, the sliding door on the side of the van was pulled open as the passenger riding shotgun reached out through the window, holding the submachine gun.  Once the guns cleared the van, they opened fire upon the crowd.  The driver then accelerated, allowing the shooters to hit as many people as they could.

When the smoke had cleared and the assault was over, dozens of people had been killed and even more injured.  Among the casualties were all four of the perpetrators.  Two had died from injuries they received at the scene, one was left in a vegetative state, and the fourth was left with some cuts and bruises accompanied by a broken leg.  Since he was the only person left that was able to be prosecuted for the crime, the state went after him with a vengeance and was able to obtain a conviction, though he is doing what he can to overturn the decision.

To this day, he has never said a word about why they decided to carryout this attack.

 

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Seeing the Light

Gabriel has never liked televangelists or faith healers.  He believes that the former are nothing more then showmen and tricksters whereas the latter installs false hope in others and does more harm than good.  This dislike is why he is attending Reverend Anthony Jackson’s service, to get a measure of revenge against this group of people.  The good reverend is a televangelist who has gained some notoriety in recent years due to his large religious revivals where he claims to cure the sick and heal the injured.

Besides the usual smoke and mirrors, the show uses and exploits members of the mutant community, in which Gabriel belongs.  The mutants that he claims are cured are either people pretending to be mutants or are given psychiatric drugs to either suppress the power or negatively affect the individual.  But there were some who truly believed that they were released of their abilities, though it was the result of psychosomatic effects.

Gabriel is in his early twenties.  With the help of modern cosmetics, he has changed his hair to a shaggy brown and his eyes to a pale grey.  Due to his mutation, his natural eye and hair color are something that you would not find in the average human being.  His hair color is a bright, flame tented red whereas his eyes are an unnatural green, consisting of a light green with hints of yellow.  His mutant ability is that of personal ignition, allowing him to turn his entire body into a torch.

Reverend Jackson’s manipulation and exploitation of mutants originates from his belief that such people are sinners and their abilities are the sign of the Devil.  This sentiment can be found in a good number of people who are of the religious inclination, particularly with the religious fanatics.  This deeply angers Gabriel because such beliefs and behavior causes people to perform unjustifiable acts of persecution and violence against any person who is classified as “the other.”  More and more often, this “other” person is being classified as mutants.  Gabriel harbors a deep seated grudge against people like this due to the fact that he was a victim of such prejudice and injustice early in his life.

To gain a measure of retribution, Gabriel managed to be a part of this week’s broadcast as one of the people who need’s to be saved by faith and salvation as delivered by Reverend Jackson.  Fooling the production team wasn’t too hard.  Having a slight case of the flu helped.  What better way to fake an illness than to actually have one?

The roots of Gabriel’s anger and mistrust of televangelists, faith healers, and religious fanatics runs deep.  The key source was during his adolescence.  Gabriel was born into a family that is devoutly religious and slightly superstitious.  The faith in which they possess causes them to perceive the growing size of the mutant population as a threat to the safety and security of the human race as well as to the future and salvation of the human soul.

His family perceives this so-called “mutant threat” as a sign from the Devil.  They believe that the Devil is amassing his army on Earth and is preparing to bring about the End of Days.  It is from this framework of fear and hatred that Gabriel is born into and subsequently raised.  Due to his unnaturally colored hair and eyes, it is clear that he was a mutant fairly early on in life.

These factors weren’t clearly evident when he was in the hospital however, though they raised some eyebrows from the medical staff.  It was when Gabriel’s parents, Matthew and Ruth, brought him home that these traits became clear.  Scared and unsure of what to do, they contact their local pastor.  Pastor Arnold Ducay comes over as quickly as possible and visits Gabriel.  Ducay is a tall, scrawny man who fiercely believes in tradition.

After looking over Gabriel, Ruth asks “Well?  What’s wrong with him?”

“As far as I can tell, he seems to be a healthy young boy,” Ducay replies.  “There doesn’t appear to be anything wrong with him.  But that can be deceptive.  Whatever the Devil has done to him may manifest itself later in life.  I recommend that you keep a close eye on him.  Before I go, I’m going to give a little blessing to Gabriel as a measure of protection.”

As they were instructed, Matthew and Ruth kept a close eye on Gabriel as he grew up.  When it was time for Gabriel to start going to school, it was decided that it was best if Gabriel was home schooled.  Ruth is responsible for the schooling since she is a stay-at-home mom.  Eventually, the home schooling and the over-protectiveness causes trouble.  Like any kid his age, Gabriel wants to get out and explore the world for himself; see what the world has to offer.  But his parents prevent him from doing so.

And what exacerbates the problem is that Gabriel’s younger brother, James, is allowed to explore the world, meet other kids, and go to school that is not located at home.  The kids in which Gabriel plays with tend to be from the neighborhood and they give the impression that they are being forced to play with him instead of by their own volition.  The only world Gabriel knows is the one he is stuck in; a small, simple house with a backyard that boarders upon a forest.  He feels trapped and depressed.

The only person Gabriel sees on a regular basis, outside of his immediate family, is Pastor Ducay.  Gabriel finds this peculiar.  He can’t put his finger on exactly why this is, but Gabriel thinks this is strange and he doesn’t trust Ducay.

Whenever Gabriel asks Ducay why he comes over to visit, Ducay typically responds by saying “I just want to check in to see how you are doing.”  Technically speaking, this is true, but Gabriel suspects that there is more to it than Ducay is letting on.  Gabriel suspects that his pastor is hiding something from him.

As Gabriel got older, the restrictions his family imposed on him have remained in place.  If anything, they have become even more restrictive.  The only place Gabriel is allowed to go is into the woods out back.  It’s in these woods, between the age of thirteen and fourteen, that Gabriel discovers something about himself that will change his life forever.

He is out exploring the wilderness and is fooling around, letting his imagination run wild.  That is the only thing his parents aren’t able to control; his imagination.  As he is killing imaginary animals, Gabriel’s foot slips on the log and he begins to fall.  He tries to catch himself as he goes down; even tries to grab onto the log itself.  But both attempts fail.  He falls off the log and hits the ground hard.

Though this was a nasty fall, it’s one that he is able to walk away from.  There’s going to be bruising; most of it on his hip and on his palms, but that’s about it.  He’s going to limp his way home, but at least he didn’t break anything.  But the location in which he fell happens to be located right next to a wasp nest.

Not understanding what has occurred, and only perceiving a threat, the wasps attack.  The unexpected fall followed by a swarm of wasps attacking him is quite a traumatic event.  As the wasps sting him repeatedly, Gabriel panics.  From this panic, accompanied by his sense of self-preservation, act as a catalyst, initiating Gabriel’s dormant ability.  With the initiation of his power, Gabriel releases jets of fire.

Whenever a wasp lands on him and stings, the insect is immediately consumed by a small jet of fire.  In addition to this, Gabriel’s hands also ignite as he swats at the wasps, only exacerbating Gabriel’s sense of panic.  This eventually leads him to release jets of fire from both of his hands, which fly randomly.  Some of the wasps are stricken, but as a whole, the jets go wild.  These jets are also short in range and don’t catch any of the trees.  The only objects that catch are the wasps and some objects on the ground.  This includes the wasps’ nest, destroying it.

It doesn’t take long for the threat in which the wasps present to be eliminated.  Even though the wasps have been taken care of, Gabriel still has a significant problem that needs attending to; he is bursting into flames and it is beyond his control.  This scares him more than ever, exacerbating the situation.  As the flames grow in size, Gabriel believes that he is going to die through spontaneous combustion.

As he panics, Gabriel begins to run.  Because he is paying attention to the flames emitting from his body, Gabriel doesn’t pay attention to where he is going.  This causes Gabriel to trip over a protruding root.  On his way down, he hits his head against a rock.  Even though he doesn’t come into full contact with the rock, it is enough to knock Gabriel out for a few minutes.  But by being knocked out, it causes the flames to become extinguished.  When Gabriel fully returns to himself, he panics and thinks that he is still on fire.  When he realizes that he’s not, Gabriel gives a sigh of relief.

Gabriel sits up, his head and hip aching from his falls and his body hurting from where the wasps stung him.  He carefully gets to his feet and looks around at his environment.  His clothing is singed due to the flames and there are small fires blazing on the ground around him.  Lucky for Gabriel, there wasn’t much flammable material on the ground when he was knocked out.  Otherwise, he would be in big trouble.

With the fires that do exist, Gabriel makes his way around and puts them out.  When it comes to the wasp nest, it wasn’t burning much, if at all.  But that doesn’t stop Gabriel from stomping the nest to insure that any possible fire is extinguished.  When he comes to himself and calms down, Gabriel looks around and is so relieved that none of the trees caught fire.  Trying to put those fires out would have been near impossible to do.

As Gabriel makes his way home, he plays the incident through his head, trying to figure out exactly what happened.  He does this until he reaches the boundary between the woods and the symbol of civilization that is his house.  He wants to get inside, but he also doesn’t want to get spotted.  When he feels that the coast is clear, he hurries as fast as he can inside.

Gabriel makes it across the backyard and inside without getting noticed.  Once doing so, he thanks God for small favors.  He doesn’t want anyone to know what happened to him while he was in the woods.  He’s afraid of what would happen to him if his parents found out.  What if he gets disowned?  That frightens him.  Though they might be strict, it terrifies him to think about what will happen to him if such a thing like being disowned will cause.

Once inside the house, Gabriel goes right to the bathroom so that he can take a shower.  It doesn’t seem like anyone is home at the moment.  Dad’s at work, James is at school, and Mom is most likely getting groceries.  Otherwise, the place would be in an uproar do to the condition he is in.  At least that’s what he hopes would occur.

Gabriel takes a nice long shower.  But before he gets in, he takes some aspirin to help take care of the headache.  He cleans off the dirt and other crap he acquired while he was in the woods.  Once done, he dries himself off, moving carefully due to his hip.  The next question he faces is what to do with the clothes.  He can’t keep them; they’re ruined.  He can’t show his parents.  What would they think, let alone do, if they knew their son was a freak?

Throw them out!  That’s what he’ll do.  Get rid of the evidence.  That’s the only viable option.  And he needs to shove it deep in the trashcan as well.  They will be to obvious if he just left them on top of the garbage that is already there.  When the time was right, he’s going to the trashcan and throw out the clothes.  But as he leaves the bathroom and heads to his room, wearing nothing but a towel around his waist and carrying the burnt clothing in his hand, something stops him.  It’s his mother.

“Gabriel!” Ruth says.  “What are you doing?”

Gabriel stops dead in his tracks, panic stricken.  He doesn’t know what to do, so he just stands there, dumbfounded.

“Didn’t you hear me?” Ruth asks.  “What are you doing?”

“I– I just took a shower mom,” Gabriel replied, keeping his back to his mom so that he can hide the bruise on the side of his head.

“What for?”

“I got dirty in the woods so I decided to clean up.”

Ruth finds this to be a bit peculiar.  She then notices the welts on Gabriel’s skin that were caused by the wasps.  She hurries up to him in concern, then notices the bruise on the side of his head.

“My, God!” she proclaims.  “What happened?”  Despite her fears about what her son is or what he will become, Ruth is still a mother.

“I fell off a log.  It caused me to land on my side next to a wasp nest.  As I was trying to get rid of the wasps, I tripped and hit my head on a rock.  I’m fine.”  Gabriel conveniently leaves out the whole body burning situation.

“No you’re not fine.  You’re hurt.  And why were you trying to hide this from me?”

“I didn’t want you to worry.  Is that so wrong?”

“And how long were you planning on trying to hide this?  You thought that I wouldn’t find out?  This kind of thing is hard to miss.”

“Sorry mom.  Could I go now?”

“No.  We need to take care of this.”

“Well, could I at least get dressed first?”

“Of course.  When dressed, I want you to crawl into bed.  I’m going to grab the first aid kit and I’ll meet you there.”

“Ok mom.”  Gabriel turns and heads off to his room.

Though concerned, Ruth doesn’t feel like she was told the entire story.  She thinks that more than a few careless mistakes occurred in the woods.  She goes into the bathroom looking for something that Gabriel might have left behind.  As she looks, she comes across Gabriel’s shoes resting underneath the sink.  She picks them up and notices that they appear to have received some fire damage.  At this, she becomes deeply concerned.  Taking the shoes, she heads to the kitchen and contacts Pastor Ducay.

Once in his room, Gabriel closes the door quickly behind him and locks it.  He can’t take care of the clothes at the moment, so he throws them under his bed.  He gets dressed as fast as he can and then unlocks his door.  As he opens the door, he hears his mom talking in the kitchen.

With bathroom towel in hand, Gabriel makes his way to the kitchen.  He wants to hear what his mom has to say.  If he gets caught eavesdropping, he can just say that he was putting his towel back.  He gets as close to the kitchen as he can so that he can overhear his mom’s conversation but far enough away so that his presence won’t cause suspicion.

“I think its beginning to happen,” Ruth says.  “What should I do?  Hu-huh.  Hu-huh.  Ok.  I was wondering, is it possible for you to come over tonight?  You know, so that you can take a look.  You can?!  Oh, thank you.  Thank you very much Pastor.  I really appreciate it.”

As he listens in, Gabriel finds this conversation to be a bit peculiar as well as a bit disturbing.  What was she talking about?  And why does Pastor Ducay need to come over tonight?  Did they find out?!  Can’t be.  After his mom hangs up the phone, Gabriel returns the towel to the bathroom and heads for his room.

At dinner that night, the entire family is sitting at the table; Gabriel, James, Matthew and Ruth, as well as Pastor Ducay.  Everyone is sitting at the table, eating their meal with no one making a sound.  The silence is eerie.  After dinner, Ducay excuses himself and takes Gabriel off to one side so that they can talk in private.

Once they are alone, Ducay says, “I heard what happened to you.  How are you doing?”

“I’m doing alright, considering…”

“Good.  Good.”  Ducay looks around to make sure that no one is overhearing their conversation.  Satisfied that no one is, he returns his attention back to Gabriel.  “Gabriel.  You know that you can talk to me, right?  If there is anything troubling you, you shouldn’t be afraid to come to me.”

“Yeah, I know,” Gabriel says a little hesitantly.  “What’s this about?”

“I’m just asking because your parents are concerned about you.  And so am I.  We think that something might be wrong and that you don’t want to, or are afraid to, share it.  Is that true?”

“No.  Why?  Is there something wrong with me?”  Gabriel’s voice went up a bit, causing Ducay to look at the rest of the family and then to pull Gabriel further aside.

“There’s nothing wrong with you,” Ducay continues.  “Like I said, we’re just concerned about you.  With how the world is today, and the emergence of mutants, we’re afraid that it might have an adverse effect on you.”

“What do you mean, ‘adverse effect’?  How is it that being exposed to mutants, or even the world, going to hurt me?  If this is about what happened in the woods, it was an accident.  I’m fine.”

“Ok.  I believe you.”

“Are we done here?”

“Yes.”

At this, Gabriel turns and heads off to his room.  As he leaves, Matthew and Ruth make their presence felt.

“So is there something wrong?” Ruth asks.

“You were right.  Something has happened in regards to your boy and his…condition.  He’s keeping something from us, but it’s not going to be easy to find out what it is.  He won’t open up.  At least not to me anyway.  We need to keep an eye on him.”

Not far away from where the adults are talking, James has stopped playing with his toys and is quite obviously watching them.  He also manages to overhear their little conversation.

In the days and weeks to come, Gabriel makes more and more trips out into the woods whenever he has time to do so and when he feels comfortable doing so without being observed.  Before the incident, Gabriel used the woods as an escape from the household.  Now, after the meeting with Ducay, he goes into the woods just to get some space.  His parents “concern” is overbearing and the trips into the woods allow him to have an avenue for release.

Though Gabriel made trips into the woods before, these trips now draw the attention and suspicion of his parents.  Adding to their suspicion is the increasing number of trips Gabriel takes into the woods.  They believe that he is hiding something sinister from them and his secret is going to ruin the family’s reputation.

Besides the escape from his parents’ Big Brother mentality, Gabriel uses the woods as a place where he can explore his newly found ability.  What happened that day with the wasps both scared and fascinated him.  True, he was scared when it first happened, but as time went by, Gabriel became more and more interested in the event.  Enough time has gone by where Gabriel wants to attempt to duplicate it.  He even gets enough resolve to try.  But despite his attempts, he fails to reproduce the incident.  But that doesn’t deter him.  He just keeps on trying.

This goes on for over a month until Gabriel manages to once again trigger his ability.  He’s in the same location in which the first incident occurred, hoping that this would help him activate his ability.  Through a series of trial-and-errors, Gabriel decides that what might trigger his ability is trying to relive the incident with the wasps.  As he thinks about this, the feelings he experienced during the attack reemerge.

As the memories resurface, so does his ability.  But this time, it’s different.  Instead of random releases of fire, Gabriel focuses on a particular part of his body, localizing the event.  As Gabriel opens his eyes, he notices that both of his hands and a part of his forearms are ablaze.

This excites Gabriel but also causes him to panic slightly.  From this panic, the flames grow in size and extend down his arms.  This catches Gabriel off guard, exacerbating the situation.  This is a good example of a psychosomatic response.  The flames extend down his arms and reach his elbows.  Gabriel feels overwhelmed and begins to feel that this might have been a mistake.

In a panic, Gabriel closes his eyes and starts to mutter to himself.  He says the first thing that comes to his mind, and that is a version of the Lord’s Prayer.  He repeats this a number of times, trying to calm himself down.  Though he is still on edge, Gabriel manages to calm himself down a bit.  As a result, the flames stop spreading.  Opening his eyes once again, he notices that the flames are no longer out of control.  Gabriel is relieved, causing him to smile.

Now that he has his hands and forearms ablaze and under control, it is time for Gabriel to experiment.  First, he needs to see if he is able to extinguish the flames.  Gabriel closes his eyes and focuses.  As he does, the flames begin to flicker and die out.  He manages to extinguish most of the flame, leaving only a few flickering flames at the tips of his fingers.  Gabriel finds this a little bit frustrating.  Out of irritation, he just swats at the flames to put them out.  It requires a few attempts before it works.

Establishing that he is able to control his ability, Gabriel now wants to see if he is able to cause lightning to strike twice.  In the following days and weeks, Gabriel continues to practice.  Eventually, he feels that he has a good grasp on his newly flowering ability.

At first, he relies heavily upon his emotions to act as a trigger for his ability.  But as time goes by, Gabriel learns how to activate his ability without relying upon his emotions as much.  He teaches himself how to create balls of fire in the palms of his hands as well as how to ignite his entire upper body.  As he perfects his ability, Gabriel becomes excited and thrilled with the prospects it entails.

The only problem is that his family doesn’t share Gabriel’s enthusiasm.  Lurking behind some bushes, James looks on as Gabriel ignites his body over and over again.  As James looks on, he recalls the conversation his parents and Ducay had about his brother.  He didn’t understand what the conversation meant at the time, but now he does.  Quickly and discretely, James steps away from the bushes and makes his way home.

By the time Gabriel emerges from the woods and approaches the house, he is greeted by his parents and Pastor Ducay.  He spots James, but when Gabriel sees him, Ruth moves James behind her in an attempt to shield him.  Everyone remains quiet for a bit.  Eventually, Ducay speaks up.

“Hello Gabriel.”  Ducay says this in a sympathetic voice.  Though it sounds genuine, Gabriel doesn’t trust it.

“What’s going on?” Gabriel asks.

“We know what you’ve been doing out in those woods.  Did you really think that we wouldn’t find out?  How come you didn’t come to us for help?  That’s why we’re here, to help you.  We care about you and want only what is best for you.”

“You don’t want to help me,” Gabriel says angrily.  “I remember what you’ve said in church.  You said that people like me are nothing more then demon possessed animals.”

“You misunderstood.”

“What is there to misunderstand?  I did everything you told me to.  I prayed every night, came to church every Sunday, gave my life to Jesus.  I did everything I could to be a good Christian.  The only thing I didn’t do was tell you.”

“We know you’re upset.  And we know that you’re confused.  You think that you’re doing the right thing by trying to keep your power, but its not.  It’s the Devil trying to trick you.  We are just looking after your well being so that you can go to Heaven.”

“No you don’t!  You just want to turn me into Jacob!”

That struck a nerve with Ducay.  Ducay wasn’t expecting that and the comment stunned him.  It also angered him.  He’s being mocked by a child.  His anger shows on his face, but Ducay quickly recovers.

“Gabriel,” Ducay says.  “You are upset and confused.  I know that you didn’t mean that.  We’re just looking after your best interests.  That’s all.  Besides, what would your parents think if you didn’t let them help you?  Come on Gabriel.  Your parents need you.”  This appears to have knocked the fight out of Gabriel.  Though it still flickers in his eyes, it appears to be contained.

With the situation dissolved and everyone inside, Ducay takes Gabriel’s parents aside so that he can talk with them alone.

“Ok.  I believe that we should take Gabriel to see a friend of mine, Reverend Pearlman.  I think that he could help.”

“But why?” Ruth asks.  “Why can’t you help?”

“Because he won’t respond to me; at least not in a positive manner.  He doesn’t trust me.  We should have him meet with Reverend Pearlman.  He should know what to do.”

The next day, Gabriel’s parents take him to see Reverend Pearlman.  Accompanied by his parents, Gabriel enters Pearlman’s office.  Accompanying Pearlman is Ducay.  Reverend Pearlman is a fairly large fellow who hasn’t seen his feet since the peanut farmer was president.  The chair creeks under him as he gets up from behind his desk to greet his visitors and the teeth in his pants zipper practically screen as they struggle just to hold on.

“Welcome, welcome,” Pearlman says.  “Please, come on in.”

Gabriel can’t help but notice that Pearlman has a very small mouth compared to how large of a man he is.  Pearlman makes his way around, shaking hands with his new guests, introducing himself as he goes.  When he shakes hands with Gabriel, Gabriel notices that Pearlman has a powerful grip.  Gabriel isn’t sure if that is due to the fact that this is his natural handshake or if he was trying to send Gabriel a message.  He is unable to tell either way.

“Thank you for coming,” Pearlman says.  “I was wondering if I could talk with Gabriel alone for a minute.”

Matthew and Ruth consent and they step outside, followed by Ducay.  Once they are gone, Pearlman closes the door than goes behind his desk.  He sits down at the audible protest of the chair.  As he does this, Pearlman says “Please, have a seat.”

Gabriel does so reluctantly.

“I’ve heard a lot about you Gabriel,” Pearlman continues.  “Is it ok if I call you Gabriel?”

“I guess.”

“Well Gabriel, Pastor Ducay filled me in on your situation.  He told me everything that has happened.  And let me tell you, I understand.”

“You do?”

“Yes.  The atmosphere your parents created surrounding your condition was hostile.  This was further compounded by the strict regulation of your movement that your parents imposed on you.  That wasn’t right; wasn’t fair.  That’s why you didn’t confide in them.  Why you had to keep your situation from them.  Trusting in your parents is very important, and your parents failed to establish that.  And that’s why you didn’t react well yesterday when your parents and Pastor Ducay confronted you.  Let me ask you Gabriel, how did that make you feel?”

Pearlman says all of this with an air of confidence.  Though Gabriel doesn’t completely trust him, he finds what Pearlman said compelling.  And not completely sure of what he wants, Gabriel decides that it would be best if he answers.

“Well,” Gabriel starts.  “I felt kind of bad.”

“They made you feel uncomfortable; like you were cornered?”

“Pretty much.”

“What they did was wrong.  They shouldn’t have done that.”

“What?”

“Your parents and Ducay over stepped their bounds.  They put you in a cage then they invaded your personal space.  They shouldn’t have done that.”

Gabriel’s face drops at hearing this.

“You didn’t expect me to understand now, did you?” Pearlman says.  “Trust me, I understand.  I have come across a lot of people who are like you, Gabriel.  Your parents just have some misconceptions about the entire situation.  And I don’t think Pastor Ducay helped the situation.  But I can help.  I know what to do.”

“You…understand?  You know what I’m going through?  You’re not to condemn me to Hell or lecture me about having the Devil’s power?”

“Oh, God no, son,” Pearlman says with a little laugh.  “The situation you’re in is beyond your control.  You can’t be blamed for that.  Just because who were unfortunate enough to be born into this situation doesn’t mean you are going to Hell.  It’s what you do that will either save you or condemn you.  And I can help you.  Do you want me to help you?”

This is the first time anyone has said this to him.  He felt that everyone has condemned him.  But now, someone has expressed words of acceptance towards him and is willing to help him.  Gabriel is taken aback.  Stunned, they only thing he can say is “Yes.”

“Great,” Pearlman says.  “That is wonderful news.  I’ll be able to fit you into this week’s show.”

“What?!”  Gabriel proclaims.  He also says this loud enough for his parents to hear in the next room.

“Yes.  I would like to have you on my show.  I’m going to show how brave and courageous you are.  That is if it’s ok with you.”

Sunday comes about and Reverend Pearlman is giving one of his passionate sermons on his show.  The audience in attendance numbers in the thousands with even more people watching from home.  As this occurs, Gabriel is waiting anxiously backstage.  He can hear Pearlman giving his sermon, but is too nervous to pay attention.  Gabriel has never been in front of such a large crowd before.  He’s also going to be on television.

On top of this, he’s going to basically tell the world that he is a mutant.  That is probably the linchpin of Gabriel’s anxiety.  Though his entire life was sheltered from the world, he understands that there are a lot of people out there that don’t like mutants.  This has led to a lot of hostilities towards the mutant community.  By proclaiming that he is a mutant to everyone who has access to electronic media, it puts a giant target on Gabriel’s chest.

As time goes by, Gabriel begins to pace back and forth and muttering to himself.  “This is a mistake.  This is a mistake.  I don’t belong here.”

Gabriel feels that he got himself into something that he probably shouldn’t have.  He wants to leave.  He wants to escape.  Just drop everything and head out the door and never look back.  But that would mean leaving everything he knows behind.  He would be homeless; a runaway.  Where would he go and how would he be able to feed himself?  Beside, Pearlman has probably posted security to prevent Gabriel from doing such a thing.

So this seems to be it, he is going to stay and go on stage.  He has nowhere to go except forward with Pearlman’s plan.  Gabriel hates the situation he finds himself in.  He has been essentially gang pressed into being where he is today.  His parents fear him for what he is; Ducay loathes him for what he represents; Pearlman manipulated him with his silver tongue.  It has been a trap from the very beginning.  Everyone has had a hand in this mess, but it’s going to be Gabriel who is going to pay for it.

As Gabriel paces and stresses backstage, Pearlman finishes his sermon and the audience gives a thunderous applause.  With the sermon over, it’s time for Pearlman to bring Gabriel out on stage for the world to see.

“Now, I would like to end today with something special,” Pearlman says.  “There is a young man backstage who is waiting to come out and meet all of you.  His name is Gabriel and there is something different about him.  Though some of you might find this a bit unsettling, believe me, he is a nice young man who just happened to have lost his way.  Now, please help me welcome Gabriel Young.”

Gabriel walks on stage to applause.  As he makes his way forward, Pearlman comes up to Gabriel and puts an arm around him.  He then moves Gabriel to center stage.  Once the applause dies down, Pearlman continues.

“Thank you, thank you.  We appreciate that.  It took at lot of courage for Gabriel to come out here today and that show of affection demonstrates that Gabriel shouldn’t be afraid.

“Now, Gabriel is a God fearing child who loves Jesus.  He wants to be saved.  But the Devil, he’s a trickster.  He wants to fool and deceive us.  But with Gabriel here, he got the short end of the stick.  He has been infected by something in which science or modern medicine can not cure.  Some would even say that what Gabriel has is natural; an evolutionary step forward.

“But we know the truth.  This sickness, this inflection, is not an act of nature or even the Will of God.  It is nothing more than the hand of the Devil!  The Devil has infected this poor boy.  Why?  Because he knows that Gabriel is a pious young lad.  He wants to corrupt him, trick him into believing that what he has is natural, something worth embracing.  But with my help and yours, we will be able to save this boy.  But in order for us to save him, we need to know what we are dealing with.”

Pearlman turns to Gabriel and asks him a question.  “Gabriel, would you please demonstrate your affliction with us?”

Gabriel is apprehensive and reluctant.  A few chants and shouts of encouragement come from the audience.

“Gabriel,” Pearlman says.  “Please, show us.”

Reluctantly, Gabriel takes off his jacket and tie where Pearlman takes them and hands them off to a stagehand.  Gabriel starts to take off his shirt, but Pearlman says that that isn’t necessary.  From there, Gabriel closes his eyes and concentrates.  He then raises his arms a bit and then begins to burn.  As his arms, chest, and head turn into flames, members of the audience react with fright and start to take the steps necessary to flee.

Addressing the crowd, Pearlman says, “Relax.  Relax.  Don’t be afraid.  It’s ok.  It’s all under control.  Gabriel, could you please?”

At this, Gabriel stops burning.  Once the flames are out, stagehands come out and give Gabriel some water and a blanket to use.

“See, ladies and gentlemen,” Pearlman says.  “Everything is under control.  None of us are in any danger.  Please, relax and retake your seats.”

The audience retakes their seats, but is still apprehensive.

“Now,” Pearlman continues, “even though there is a demon within this brave young man, it appears that this foul creature hasn’t taken control of his body and soul.  But thank God that he came to us when he did.  If he waited any longer, Gabriel’s soul would have been condemned to the pits of perdition for the rest of eternity.  With the aide of the Holy Spirit, I am going to cast this demon out!”

At this, the audience emits sounds of approval, but not at the level in which they achieved earlier.

“Now Gabriel,” Pearlman says, “I’m going to need your help, ok?  I can’t do this alone so I will need your assistance.  Can you do that for me?”

“Yes, sir,” Gabriel says.

“Now, Gabriel.  I need you to do exactly what I say.  Ok?”

“Ok.”

“Close your eyes.  Focus all of your attention, that of your heart and soul, on God the father and on the Lord Jesus Christ.”  Gabriel does as Pearlman says.  Pearlman than puts his hand onto Gabriel’s head.  “Focus on the love of Christ and on the banishment of this spawn of Hell.”

And Gabriel does exactly what Pearlman says he should do.  He thinks of nothing but Jesus’ love for him and on casting out the demon.  As he focuses on this, Pearlman chants out loud a number of prayers and incantations.  Gabriel is focusing so hard on the love of Jesus, small jets of flames are being emitted from random places on his body.

As this is going on, Pearlman builds towards his climax, apparently oblivious to the fire that is being released from Gabriel’s body.  When Pearlman reaches the peak of his healing, he releases Gabriel from his hold.  Upon doing so, Gabriel falls backward into the reluctant arms of crew members stationed behind him.

At this, a cheer emanates from the audience.  Though Pearlman says that Gabriel has been healed by faith, Gabriel doesn’t feel any different.  He doesn’t feel like any heavy burden has been lifted from his shoulders or any warm, protective light shining down on him.  Nothing.  He feels exactly the same way he did before the “healing.”  Gabriel meant every thought and prayer he said during the whole situation, but he doesn’t feel any different.  As Gabriel gets up, Pearlman walks over to him and puts a hand on him.

“How do you feel, son?” Pearlman asks.

“Ok, I guess.”

“Hear that folks.  He is doing well.”  This gets a cheer from the audience.  “Gabriel.  Through the miracle of Christ, that evil spirit has been banished from your soul.  You have been freed from your burden and now you are saved.  Praise Jesus!”  At this, Pearlman raises his hand from Gabriel’s shoulder and puts it in the air.

Unsure of what to make of this, Gabriel focuses once again on his ability.  Upon doing so, he initiates it, lighting himself on fire.  His ignition is short lived, his concentration broken by surprise.  But Gabriel isn’t the only person surprised.  Everyone in the audience is surprised as well as Pearlman.  Gabriel heads over to Pearlman and drops to his knees, begging Pearlman to save him.

“Get away from me you foul beast!” Pearlman proclaims.

Scared and overwhelmed, Gabriel’s ability once again goes beyond his control, causing him to once again burst into flames.  But this time, the fire completely consumes his body.  From head to toe, flames reach up to the ceiling.  Seeing Gabriel turn into a human torch, the audience flees in panic.  Even Pearlman runs for his life.  It seems like Pearlman’s faith in spiritual intervention has failed him.

Upon seeing everyone flee, it only worsens Gabriel’s psychosomatic response.  This only causes Gabriel’s ability to further extend beyond his control.  Unsure of what to do, Gabriel does the only thing he can think of, and that is to run.  He runs down an aisle and out into the streets.

Outside, a large crowd of people have gathered, trying to see what the commotion is all about inside.  But when the people in the streets see Gabriel running out, they panic and run.  Wherever Gabriel goes, the crowd parts as if they were the Red Sea.  He runs into the streets and the people give him way.  Luckily, when he heads into an alleyway, no one follows him.

As he runs down the alley, he manages to gain some distance between him and the church.  He eventually becomes short of breath and has to stop.  He is leaning forward, his hands resting on his knees, and he tries to catch his breath.  As he does so, the flames being emitted from his body begin to die down.

When the flames do die out, Gabriel is relieved.  The only immediate problem now is that Gabriel stands stark naked in the middle of an alley.  It appears that no one else is in the alley with him or are at the apartment windows that look down into the alley.  Realizing that someone might come his way and spot him, Gabriel moves further down the alley so that he can find some cover.

Not finding anything, Gabriel eventually just plumps down behind a dumpster.  Next to an apartment building, Gabriel is pretty well hidden from the rest of the world.  Once sitting down, Gabriel realizes that he is exhausted do to everything that has happened to him today.  The running, the full body ignition, and the fallout from the emotional high, anyone would be worn out.  As Gabriel sits behind the dumpster, the nasty smells being emitted from it go unnoticed.  He’s just tired and he needs to close his eyes for awhile.

When Gabriel eventually returns to the land of the living, the day has turned dark and a heavy rain is falling.  It’s not the rain that awakens him, but a woman shaking him, trying to wake him up.  As the Hispanic woman shakes Gabriel, she finds that he is worm to the touch, despite the cold.  When Gabriel is awake, he realizes what is going on and tries to cover up.  The woman doesn’t seem to notice however.

“What are you doing out here?” the woman asks.  Finding Gabriel unresponsive to her inquiry, she asks again.  “What are you doing out here?”

Gabriel still doesn’t respond.  Noticing that Gabriel appears to be dazed, scared, and scrawny, she decides that he isn’t much of a threat.  Taking off her jacket, she puts it around Gabriel’s shoulders and then tries to help him to his feet.  At first, Gabriel is reluctant.  But the woman manages to calm him down a bit and he allows her to help him.

The woman brings Gabriel into her apartment.  Inside of the apartment are a few people, most of them family.  Everyone is surprised to see that the woman is not alone when she comes back in.  This causes a commotion, but the woman says something in Spanish and this seems to calm things down.

The woman says something else in Spanish as she takes Gabriel into the back room.  As they enter the back room, fresh towels are brought to them.  Eventually, fresh clothes are brought in as well so that Gabriel can get dressed.  Once he is dressed, the woman puts Gabriel into bed.  He is reluctant at first, but the woman insists, so he gets in.

Once Gabriel is under the sheets, the woman introduces herself.  “My name is Rosa.  What is yours?”

“Gabriel,” he replies with a slight stutter.

“It’s nice to meet you, Gabriel.”

A knock comes from the door followed by an elderly lady carrying a tray.  On it, there is some fresh chicken soup and some hot chocolate.  Once it is set down, Gabriel starts to eat.

“Good, isn’t it?” Rosa asks as Gabriel finishes up the soup.

“Yes, thank you,” Gabriel says.  Looking around, he asks, “Whose room is this?”

“It’s my brother’s.”  Before Gabriel can say anything, Rosa says “Don’t worry.  He won’t mind.  Besides, he’s currently fighting overseas.  He’s not going to care.”  After a moment’s pause, Rosa says, “You look familiar.  Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?”

Gabriel hesitates at the possibility of someone recognizing him.

“Yes,” Rosa says.  “You were on the news.  You were the kid who burst into flames on that televangelist’s show?”

“Are you going to tell anyone?” Gabriel asks hesitantly.

“Don’t worry.  You’re secret is safe with us.  I promise.  Now you should get some rest.  You’ve had a long day.”

Gabriel stays in bed and eventually goes to sleep.  The next day, Gabriel is greeted warmly by everyone in the apartment.  They invite him to have breakfast with them, which he warmly accepts.  During breakfast, a storm of questions are asked of him and Gabriel answers them as best as he can.  When he finishes, Rosa tells Gabriel about them.  She tells Gabriel that they have a lot of friends who are mutants and that they do what they can to help them.  Eventually, the conversation moves to what should be done about Gabriel.

“Gabriel,” Rosa says.  “How would you feel about moving upstate?”

“Upstate?” Gabriel asks.  “Why upstate?”

“We have some friends up there that can help you.  Help get your life together.”

“I don’t want to be a burden.”

“A burden?” Hector says.  “It’s no bother.  We want to do what we can to help.” Hector is a tall man and broad at the shoulders who is another of Rosa’s brothers.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes I’m sure,” Hector says, than pats Gabriel on the shoulder.

“Then upstate it is.”

With that, Gabriel’s trip upstate is planned.  Hector even offers to drive him.  Someone needs to take him, and since Hector doesn’t have any plans or obligations in the city, no one sees any reason to object.  In addition to this, Hector always looks for a reason to go upstate so that he can visit the community, so this offers a perfect opportunity.

The two of them drive to the community which takes a good part of the day.  Because of the distance traveled and the time required, Hector won’t be driving home today.  If he did, the trip for him would have just been a waste.  He planned on staying for a few days at the community anyway.  Upon arriving, Hector shows Gabriel around and introduces him to everyone.  And this is where he stays.  He learns a lot about his ability, how to use and control it, and that it’s not a curse and is something that he shouldn’t be ashamed of.

Gabriel makes some new friends and has a feeling that he really belongs.  His natural flame red hair grows out and he doesn’t feel uncomfortable about it.  He stays through high school and into early adulthood.  Even though he goes away for college, he always came back for holidays and breaks.  After graduation, he returns to the community and teaches the new people who arrive how to control their abilities.  But eventually, Gabriel feels that he needs to pursue his life outside of the community.  Though he likes it here, there is more he wants to do in the world.

And this is what brought Gabriel to Reverend Jackson’s revival.  People like Reverend Jackson wronged him; he’s just returning the favor.  But instead of being an innocent victim, Gabriel is a knowing participant.  Before he signed up for this event, Gabriel voluntarily hides the outward indications that he is a mutant.  This is one of the few times in his life that he does so.

Gabriel’s wait is now over.  The time has arrived for Reverend Jackson to perform his “acts of healing.”  Gabriel positions himself in line so that he’s not the first person to go.  There are about four or five people ahead of him.  By the time its Gabriel’s turn to be called forward, the situation has been setup.  Reverend Jackson does his thing on Gabriel and Gabriel plays along, doing a fairly decent job at it.  After falling into the arms of awaiting crew behind him, Gabriel gets up and addresses the crowd.

“I see the light!” he pronounces in a triumphant voice.  “And it burns!”

It is at this point where Gabriel bursts into flames.  Surprised by what has just happened, everyone breaks into hysteria.  As he watches the people panic, Gabriel smiles to himself, feeling a level of satisfaction at what he has done.

 

(c) 2009 Bradley P. Thomas

 
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Posted by on October 6, 2009 in Tome of Forgotten Stories

 

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