I suppose there’s always a better place to begin. When you live in a world controlled by the ebb of stories there are certain doubts one must consider when trying to explain the categorical sequence of bullshit that leads you to a given point. Someone once told me that the average human being solidifies their opinion of an individual after only two minutes of shallow conversation. In other words: first impressions really do matter. I guess that’s why I’m starting on that brisk April night, when I realized that Hollywood really is full of shit.
April 3rd, 2015. Baltimore.
I don’t think most people realize how much they can bleed before they lose consciousness. I know it certainly surprised me. As I stumbled down the steep metal staircase all I could think was: “damn, there’s goes my perfect record.” The wound in my side needed stitches, that much was certain, but that wouldn’t matter if I didn’t find a way out first.
You ever been to one of those places where reality seems somehow altered? Old bowling allies, abandoned department stores, diners after midnight…you know, those kinds of places. You can’t quite put your finger on it, but something just seems off. Maybe it’s the progression of time, or the color of the haze hanging around the edges of your field of vision. Whatever the case may be, that was precisely how the old dockside warehouse felt. The alternating corners of light and dark seemed cartoonish in relation to the pale violet tint loitering throughout the rest of the city. I moved between shadows of infinite blackness and the eerie flash red lamps. My side grew disturbingly cold, so I opted to rest for a minute near an old rusted gas tank.
My breath slogged in and out of my throat like a snake, or was that the blood? I tried my best not to look down at jagged gash in my side. No sense in making myself any sicker. I checked my watch. 10:53 pm. Damn. I hadn’t told my ride to swing by until at least 11:30. I would be dead by then if I didn’t do something. Luckily, I had the foresight to pack a first aid kit. Normally I liked to work relatively light, after all the ballistics mask and the rest of my “armor” were cumbersome enough. Still, I used to be a Boy Scout and I wasn’t about to disregard my former credo.
As I unzipped my pack I heard the metal clunk of a door bounce down through the far-reaching factor rafters. Shit, they were on my trail already. I had to move fast. As I clumsily ripped open the gauze pads my head swiveled from side to side, combing the darkness for the slightest sign of movement. Blood began to pour anew as my heart rate reached new heights. With my wounds dressed, I rolled my shirt back down and applied a healthy dose of duct tape to keep everything in place.
I had only been in the business a few months by that point, so I didn’t have all the fancy gear or costumes some of those other so-called “arbiters” possessed. Eh, who needed them. When the meta-revolution began everyone thought the same thing: “oh boy, now we’re gonna have a bunch of deranged nerds running around in ridiculous outfits with ridiculous names endangering their lives and the lives of others.” While I normally hate agreeing with the masses I had to say they were right on the money. I never considered myself an arbiter, a vigilante, a hero, villain, any of that shit. I did it because I could. It was better than any other high, and trust me, I’ve had my fair share of experience in that regard. Nevertheless, there were those nights where I got in way over my head and immediately began to regret my obsessions. Come to think of it that was most nights actually.
Suddenly, a beam of light danced across the ceiling overhead. Hushed chatter echoed from the distant vents, distorting the position and proximity of the oncoming pack. I saw the harsh glow of a flashlight poke out from the far exit, disappear for a moment, and then return. Trying my best to keep quiet, I hunkered down behind the gas tank and took inventory of my ammunition.
What? Guns? Of course we use guns, why wouldn’t we? I’m not fucking Batman or Bruce Lee or any of that shit. Other people have guns, and as recent events would suggest, I am definitely not invulnerable either. It was too dark to accurately count my remaining rounds. Somewhere between ten and six? It didn’t matter. I peered out cautiously into the murky red glow to find six dark shapes wielding flashlights and a myriad of firearms peeking into every corner.
Normally I’d shift and escape. This kind of darkness was perfect for my camouflaging ability. While some had strength, endurance, speed, or brains I could hide like no other. Well, most of the time at least. You see, when the metas started popping up most of them were pretty harmless. I read somewhere that less than .05% of the US population developed abilities, and of that relatively small number 90% never manifested to the human eye. Most people could do simple stuff that made their lives just slightly easier. An old acquaintance of mine could regrow bone at four times the usual rate. A guy that lived down the street was slightly bioluminescent, you know that kind of shit. Me, I became only slightly invisible. Emphasis on the slightly.
Like I said, normally I’d have shifted and made my escape when there weren’t looking, but at the moment my injury was making the whole cloaking process rather difficult. Besides, if they managed to lase me with the beam of one of their flashlights…well they’d see me for sure. So I waited, trying desperately to come up with a plan. My nerves were on the brink when suddenly the eerily out of place chiming of cellphone cut into the choking silence. One of the goons produced a cellphone, placed against his ear and said:
“No…no…not yet we’re still looking…well fuck man I don’t know, you’s the one that said this motherfucker could disappear n’ shit…yeah I…wait what…what you mean there’s another one?”
Then the tremors started. It was subtle at first, like a ripple just barely disturbing the surface of a tunnel. Then it grew, wider and more violent. I tried to sense a pattern in the earth-shaking disturbances, but it seemed as sporadic as the wind itself.
“We gotta go. Come on, fuck that other guy!” the same thug cried out to his compatriots. He slipped his phone back in his pocket and gestured toward the door.
That was my opening. As the troop turned back toward the exit I finally built up the courage to make a made dash for the side door. I holstered my weapon in my waistband and rose to my feet. I made it about six steps before I tripped. Oh man, I wish I could tell you that there was some grace to it. That I somehow managed to dive, tuck, and roll out of the way. Or that fell flat and kept my goddamn mouth shut. Nope. Instead I ate shit immediately, landing right on my freshly patched wound. After a slew of rather unmanly anguished cries, the hextet turned on their heels weapons and lights drawn. The one at the back of the line closest to me fired immediately. This in turn prompted the others to open up as well. Had I not been lying flat on my stomach I would have been riddled with holes. Some might be tempted to call it a miracle, but whole string of events was too pitiful for it to be any act of a merciful god.
Once the initial hail of gunfire faded, the gang’s leader raised his arm and voice in unison, crying out:
“Hold up, hold the fuck up!” The others paused, fingers itching to continue the senseless barrage. Their leader aimed his flashlight down on my prone, crippled, blood-soaked body. I turned to face him, but soon averted my gaze to avoid the blinding beam. “You down?” the leader asked.
“Is that some kind of fucking joke?” I replied. Maybe that wasn’t the best time to be using my usual brand of sass. The man stepped forward, pushing past the other thugs with his nine-milimeter trained on my skull.
“I said are you hit?”
“Well that’s another—”
“Are. You. Armed?” He repeated with greater emphasis. I considered my options. From what I could tell these guys were somewhere between trigger-happy gangbangers and highly-trained professionals, so the possibility of strict execution was definitely on the table.
“Not any more…” I said with a sigh as I gestured to my dropped sidearm that had skidded some ten feet away. The man pointed to the weapon and another goon quickly moved to retrieve it.
“Alright on your feet, slowly. If you even sneeze funny I will drop you. You got that motherfucker?”
“Yeah, yeah, this isn’t my first time being taken hostage. Just tell your little stormtroopers over there to keep their cool. I’m bleeding pretty bad here and I don’t want to get drilled just for wincing.”
Say what you will about armed thugs, they tend to be a lot more courteous when they think they have the upper hand. That’s not to say they didn’t have the upperhand, I mean, obviously I don’t even posses the finesse to run ten feet, let alone turn the tables one six thugs.
Two of them pulled me to my feet, while the others kept their muzzles leveled on my chest. They didn’t take much care for my injury, instead forcing me against the wall with their lights shining directly through the slits of my mask. I closed my eyes and kept my knuckles against the brick far above my head. Another quake rocked the building, this time rocking some dust loose from the fractured ceiling. I couldn’t be sure, but I thought I heard the squeal of tires and pop of automatic gunfire mingled with the violence thuds.
“Forget him Dice, let’s get the fuck out of here!” another of the ruffians called to their leader. “He ain’t worth it. You hear what’s goin on out there.”
“Shut up!” he called back. The man known as “Dice” approached and ripped my mask off. Little did he know I had a smaller balaclava hiding my face underneath. He rolled his eyes and removed it as well. Meanwhile all I could think about was Scooby-Doo and Adderall.
“Hmph…that’s it.” He lamented when he saw my true face. “you’re just a fucking kid.”
“Hey now!” I interjected, “I’m legal.”
Dice cocked his weapon and pressed it against my forehead. “Man, keep yo mouth shut.”
“Right, shut…got it. I just—” but the bloodthirsty glare I received from Dice and his men stalled any further snarky comments.
“Now then, that’s better. So, kid, where’s the laptop?”
There was nothing but silence. Well, okay that’s not true. Outside the crunch of metal, the distant trill of police sirens, and the continuous thundering disrupted our hard earned awkward silence.
“Dice let’s go—”
“I swear to God, if any of you move, I’ll blow your fuckin’ brains out. Now I’m not gonna ask again kid, where’s the god damn laptop?” It would seem my time was just about up. Unfortunately, as you may or may not have guessed, I had no idea what laptop he was talking about. I had just been roaming around looking for trouble when I saw the exchange going down. Thought I might snap a few pics, nab a few goods, and sell the info to the police, but I never intended for shit to hit the proverbial fan.
“Okay, look. I admit I’m not the best liar, but you gotta believe me man I don’t know anything about a—”
And it was at that point, dear friends, when I first saw her. Normally these moments of meeting have humorous undercurrents or dramatic sunlight heralding some great emotional connection. For me, it was a deafening crash, the shattering of metal, glass, and the crumbling of concrete. I guess there was a trick with the light. Sparks and electrical bursts, then only dust. I remember falling to my knees and adopting the oh-so heroic fetal position. The others followed suit. Once the rain of pebbles and debris came to an end we all slowly lifted our heads. The shadow that once reigned as king in the warehouse interior was instead replaced with a curious mix of midnight gray.
“Having a party in here are we?” a booming voice asked from overhead. As the dust settled we peered up into the star-speckled sky at a dark looming shape. The white city lights across the bay accented the features of the enormous figure with eerie etchings. At first all that came to mind was the old book of Greek mythology I used to carry around in middle school. Whoever she was she looked just like one of the old black and white sketches of the titans, looming over the Olympian gods.
“Jesus fuckin—” one of the goons choked between fits of coughing. He raised his guns and squeezed off one, two, three, four shots at the colossal woman who knelt over us. She must have been, damn I don’t know three hundred feet tall? I’m bad at measuring shit. Unsurprisingly the bullets did very little beside piss her off. Her playful smirk melted into a sore frown. Out of the clearing musk her gigantic hand raised up into the air like some prehistoric creature. She lowered it until it hovered just overhead, flicking the panicked criminal square the in chest. The force of blow made an audible gut-wrenching crack as the poor fool went careening backward into a row of plastic garbage cans. Seeing their comrade so easily dispatched the others dropped their weapons and raised their arms. It didn’t occur to me at the time, but they seemed to recognize her.
“And who might you be?” she inquired. I looked around at the others, who all kept their heads aimed at the floor in that casual sign of defeat. Maybe it was the adrenaline, the fear, maybe both, whatever the case it took me a long fucking time to realize she was talking to me. I sheepishly looked up. Even in cool, clouded darkness of that April evening I could make our her features with relative ease. She had long brownish hair reaching down to her chest. Blue, maybe, grey, maybe green eyes. Distinct cheekbones and a kind of symmetry in her face that would make even William Blake shit his pants.
“Oh me?” I blurted out like an idiot, “I’m no one.”
Her smirk returned, her fierce eyes narrowed, and soon her enormous hand glided over to me. There were a few more…ahem…squeaks and gibbers, but I must say aside from an even coat of sweat, tears, and a negligible amount of urine I handled the situation pretty well.
“Curious. I don’t think someone like you could be so lucky as to be born a no one.”
Words raced about in my head, mostly due to a strange nagging sense of familiarity. I had seen this gigantic woman before, numerous times in fact, but the fear was strangling my thoughts. Before I could muster another shaky sentence, the giantess’ fingers descended upon my cowering form. You ever been plucked before? Yeah that sounded a lot weirder than it did in my head. Scratch that. Anyway, visions of the little green aliens from Toy Story danced in my head as I watched my enemies below recede. Her fingers clamped down on me with a curious balance of force and cautiousness. The pain in my side flared up into a raging hellstorm of displeasure.
Eventually, I came face to face with her. Still held tightly between her fingers I peered deep into the god-like iris of my captor.
“You’re…not with them? I assume as much, you don’t look like a common thug.”
“Nope,” I quickly chirped in reply. “Nope, no, definitely not with them. I…I…do I know you from somewhere?”
She gave a coy smile before dropping her hand slightly. I now looked up at her. She ran her fingers through a few strands of hair before seizing a stray lock and casually twirling it about before continuing on:
“Oh I’m in the community. You may have seen in me around. Social media, I’ve been TV a few times I’m sure. Nothing major, there’s so many interesting characters these days I couldn’t expect you to remember me.”
What the hell was that supposed to mean. It didn’t matter, the circuits in my brain finally connected. She was in fact a major figure in the meta community. Well, major may have been a strong word. There were many who embraced their new found abilities, mostly for selfish reasons. But a select few, myself included, kept themselves occupied by…well doing all kinds of random shit. While I tended to work under the radar she was constantly in the limelight. About the closest thing we had to actual superheroes. Now, she wasn’t some do-gooder patriotic beacon of hope and justice, only like two of them were. No she was…complicated.
“Avin, right?” I somehow managed to choke out. Her smile spread, revealing two rows of sizeable teethe that would have easily ground my bones to dust.
“That’s right.” She paused, as though drinking in the moment. “You look like you could use some help. I heard from a friend of a friend another meta was skulking around here up to no good.”
“A-n-n-nother f-friend you say?”
“Yeah, said something about him, being in way over his head. Something about getting himself killed…ring a bell?”
See, now that I don’t care for. Sure, I was in a bit of a tight spot, and yes she did absolutely save my life, but you don’t have kick a guy when he’s down…or bleeding out. Speaking of which, as she continued to gloat she eventually caught side of profusely bloodied flank. Her smugness swiftly gave way to concern.
“Oh shit, you alright?”
“I’ll, be…” but my wince betrayed any semblance of composure I had left. She gave a reassuring nod and loosened her grip. Allowing me to slip down into her palm with a heavy plop.
“Well, hold on for just a second. I need to wrap this up here with the Sharks here…” she turned her gaze back on the pack of trembling brutes. From this height they were no more than dolls to her. “… or is it the Jets?” I could hardly believe, a cocky pop-culture reference in the midst of battle? Be still my beating heart!
“Anyway like I said,” Avin went, lowering her voice so as not to drive me deaf. “this will only take a second more.” She lowered me down toward her lap, and gently deposited me on her exposed thigh. As her hand withdrew, we locked eyes for a moment. Some strange connection was made then, I’m certain of it. I often find myself returning to that very moment in my dreams. Between the pause and the twist, between the fade and swell, there falls a singular passing flicker among a sea of moments we spent together. It all began with exchange of curious glances.
“It’s…Moss right?” she asked non-chalantly.
“Moth. Not moss.”