I still wasn’t entirely used to the face in the mirror, despite wearing it for several years now. I guess no matter how I looked, I still felt like the old me. It wasn’t a good feeling.
Blond hair in a mullet, a square jaw, ice-blue eyes, tanned skin, a perpetual five-o’clock shadow. A ruggedly handsome face, to go with my broad shoulders and muscular body. Not so tall as to stand out that much, but still a foot taller than my old form. With blue jeans and a black shirt with some random deathmetal band’s faded logo, I looked like your typical college slacker dude. The sort of guy no one would notice on the street. The sort of guy no one would expect anything from.
I headed out the door, the only plan on my agenda being to get a sandwich and a coffee, and maybe a new book. I’m still old school enough to like the feel of paper.
The food was purely for fun, of course. Eating was a habit I never could completely break. With my powers, I could eat a whole cow if I wanted, but I restrained myself from gluttony. I limited myself to the base comfort of taste once a day, as a little treat. A little adjustment of the taste buds, and you’d be astounded how amazing a slice of salami and Swiss cheese on wheat could make you feel. Fuck the drugs, a sip of honey on a modified tongue could make you trip balls better than any weed.
I exited the apartment, a large 4-plex housing unit. The whole street was lined with them, a neighborhood built in the 1930’s that had left behind much better days half a century ago. I had to step through the small throng of darker skinned youths lounging around the steps. I recognized Jamal, my immediate neighbor on the top floor. We exchanged nods. The other teens looked at me a bit warily, never quite sure what to make of me.
This particular group of loiterers liked to plant themselves on the steps of whatever apartment they could get away with. Usually, they’d switch between the ones where one of their group lived, but a few complaints had narrowed their options down, so our apartment was one of the more frequent stops. I found it annoying, but truthfully, they weren’t hurting anybody, and who was I to tell them what to do? As long as they kept the noise down.
I could feel the stares as they watched me go. Aside from Jamal, none of them had ever spoken to me, and always gave me a suspicious look. If there were talking, they’d clam up when I came out the door. I suppose hiding as a white man in a predominantly black and latino part of town wasn’t the wisest way to blend in. But it wasn’t completely unreasonable. Just three doors down the road, that whole 4-plex was a den of white trash. Who says the ghetto can’t be diverse?
It was a mile to the little coffee shop/bookstore where I liked to go, but I didn’t mind the walk. It was a nice day out, if a little hot, with the bright sun at high noon. I subtly shifted the structure of my eyes to create a tinted lens, cutting down the glare.
Aside from a couple people on their balconies and some kids playing on one of the yards, the street was mostly quiet. A few cars drove by, having to navigate through the rows parked on the street. I would have paid it no mind, save for one particular car caught my eye: a long black Cadillac with tinted windows and gold-plated rims and grill. I paused in my walk as it passed. I’d seen the car cruising through the area more than once, seen a few sketchy looking guys leaning out the window to talk some nervous-looking people in the neighborhood.
I frowned, but kept walking. Their business wasn’t mine. It was business I got out of years ago, and intended to stay out of. That’s exactly what I would have done, if I hadn’t heard several loud cracks echo through the neighborhood. On instinct I wheeled around. I was already three blocks from my apartment, but another shift of my eyes let me zoom in like a camera lens. I could see Jamal and his buddies hit the ground, clutching at themselves, as the black car peeled out and speed away. I could still see the little threads of smoke from the guns, scattering in the wind of the car’s passing. I could see the red pooling on the ground.
Before I knew it, my eyes had shifted back to normal, and I was standing over the boys. I’m not sure how fast I ran, but I must have broken the world sprinting record. I crouched down and touched Jamal’s shoulder, and the neck of the boy next to him. Both were clutching their chests, large red stains were spreading. There were five other boys present, and two girls. Between them, there were a dozen more wounds to their torsos, a couple shoulder and limb shots. One girl had taken a bullet to the neck and was fading fast. All of them were howling or shrieking in pain. Jamal clutched at my arm, tears in his eyes, looking wildly at me in panic.
I did it without thinking. Threads of flesh, fine as hairs, extended from my body, almost too thin and transparent to see. Like hypodermic needles, the tips stuck painlessly in the skin of all nine of the downed teens. I let my power flow.
Each of them shuddered as I seized control of their flesh. I moved muscles to squeeze out the bullets that hadn’t just passed through them. I forced the torn tissues to knit back together, the punctured organs to seal back up, cracked bones to melt back into place. I forced a temporary high production of blood to replace what was lost. I forced their nerves to calm, soothing away the pain. Then I let them all go, retracting my near-invisible threads.
It was over in seconds. The nine teens blinked, breathing hard, stunned. As if they had just woken up from a shocking dream, they staggered back to their feet.
“Yo, what the fuck just happened?” said one kid.
The girl who’d had the neck wound kept pawing at her throat. “Oh, god, I was dyin’. I was fuckin’ dyin’!”
Jamal was staring at me. “You… you’re…”
I pat him on the shoulder. “I guess they must of missed, huh?” I said.
“Missed?!” the kid right next to us said. He pulled on his shirt, displaying the bullet holes and red stains. “They didn’t—”
I stared at him with an intensity that shut him up instantly. “I guess. They must. Have missed. Huh?” I repeated. I swept my gaze over them. It took them a second to get the hint.
Jamal winced and pat my arm. “Yeah. Yeah. They missed. Or it was paintball guns. Or whatever.”
I let go of his shoulder, not realizing I’d been squeezing it. I gave him a less intense but still stern look and nodded. By then, others were coming over, a few people from next door, Jamal’s mother practically exploding out of our apartment.
I turned and walked away again, not wanting to stick around and answer questions. I pushed through the people running over, glaring at them when they asked what happened, so they’d leave me alone. Stupid, of course. There had been other witnesses, gawkers staring at us from their windows. The kids themselves, I didn’t know if they would actually try to say the drive-by missed their shots. Obviously with the bloodied, bullet-riddled clothes, no one would believe them if they did. And shit, I hadn’t even thought to pick up the bullets, which still had their blood on them.
I hoped, at least, that they understood the meaning of my words. Not that I expected anyone to believe the lie, but that anyone who had questions, anyone who had requests, anyone who would come to me for more of my miracle, could fuck right off.
I didn’t want the throngs of the desperate and dying banging down my door. Not again. Never again. If I had to go through all that one more fucking time…
Well. It’s not like I could kill myself. Maybe this time, I’d transform myself into a bear and go live in the woods.
I chuckled without humor at that. Being an animal was no way to live. I liked being a person. I liked the convenience of human civilization. God help me, I even liked the companionship of having people nearby, even if I barely talked to them. All I wanted was a normal human life.
All I wanted was to be left alone.