Nevertheless, this was no dream, and what was happening was reality.
It wouldn’t be very smart of me to deny that fact.
None of my problems would be solved if I stayed holed up in my room, never stepping out to see the light of day. None of them would disappear on their own. Though, it would be nice if they did.
I had to drink blood. Human blood. It was a necessity. The sooner I could accept that, as ghoulish as it was, the sooner I could do something about it.
What that ‘something’ was, I struggled to figure out.
How was I supposed to get blood? Going after people… had to be the last of last resorts. What about criminals? Gang leaders? The idea did come to me. Maybe I should spend my nights running around, giving bad guys bloody noses with one hand while holding a towel in the other. Could I just do that? Maybe being a superhero was for me, after all.
Maybe a better word was vigilante.
Bad guys, bad people do exist. Would anyone really care if someone gave them their just desserts? Briefly, I remembered Eduardo. He was a gang member, but he wasn’t a bad guy. He did rub me the wrong way at times, and I would admit for my part, it was undeserved, but he wasn’t evil, or malicious in any way. He had his circumstances for joining a gang. Which meant that others did, too.
Was my judgement of character good enough to decide who was worthy of a good punch in the nose? Maybe. Probably not.
I’d be better off volunteering at a blood bank.
As I debated with myself, going over everything in my head, I jogged.
It was the weekend, and I was free. Like, free. No parties, no big projects to worry about, nothing. It was still up in the air whether my mom and I would go to the church or not, but other than that, I had a significant block of time in which I could focus on myself. A free weekend. Liberating, really.
I got on another block, and continued, paying attention to every strain of my muscles, the rhythm of my breathing, the speed I ran.
Doing physical activities would seem counter-intuitive, since I’d become thirsty sooner, but I needed some actual practice with my super-enhanced body. I needed finer control, so I wouldn’t go around carelessly breaking things that I wasn’t physically supposed to break, or flying through volleyball nets. I had to keep things on the down-low, and knowing exactly how my body works was a step in the right direction.
A precaution, was what it was.
I ran down another block. I saw a telephone pole that was covered in sheets of paper. Multi-colored flyers of low-resolution images of me as Blank Face. ‘Wanted,’ they said. Not actual wanted posters, just printed papers from angry citizens.
I started slowing down.
God damn, it’s only the middle of October.
Everything, and I meant everything, happened so fast. It was almost inconceivable that it all took place within such a short time frame. It felt like seventeen weeks’ worth of events, really. I was astonished that I managed to keep it together to get this far. If you could call this keeping it together.
The wind brushed against my face. Chilly. I made a good call in putting on a sweater today.
I slowed to a stop once I started realizing the buildings around me were getting taller. Without being conscious of it, I ended up in the heart of downtown. From my place, where downtown began was ten miles, give or take. How long was I running again? I checked my watch. Noon. I started about forty minutes ago.
I really need to learn how to dial it down.
Since I was in the area, walking around wouldn’t be such a bad idea. I could take a break, regain my energy. As for getting home, I could take a bus if I really had to, but it’d be easier on my mom’s wallet if I could avoid that.
Or would Katy like to pick me up? Nah.
Not surprisingly, that run made me thirsty. Not for that, not yet, but for water. There should be water at a corner store, somewhere.
I checked around to see what I could find.
After going farther along, I found my way into a small shopping center, in the shadow of an office building. There were few people out and about in the area, making things easier on me. I didn’t find a corner store, but there was an Asian goods store. Good enough.
Metal clanged on glass as I pulled the door open. Door chimes.
I entered, and immediately the smell violated my nose. A pungent, putrescent stench. Bags on bags of rice, stacked neatly right by the entrance. I almost considered turning back around and going elsewhere, but this was another thing I needed to get used to. ‘Regular people’ food no longer had an appetizing aroma, and it was a requirement that I could stomach certain smells and odors, or risk being outed.
I’d also have to learn how to eat in front of people, too. Fake it enough to be convincing. ‘Dieting’ wouldn’t be an acceptable excuse forever.
Red and gold colored the interior of the store, various oriental snacks and knick-knacks were neatly displayed in aisles. It wasn’t just a store, I learned, there were a few tables at the other end of the space, and a menu above the counter. It was a restaurant, too.
It was my first time in here, but there was a certain familiarity about this place. Even the smell, while warped and distorted, brought me back to a younger time, a tinier me.
Already, I wanted to go back to a time like that.
The place was small, so finding the drinks wasn’t difficult. In refrigerators located at the back of the store, there were plastic bottles of green tea and water. I took a bottle of each. My mom might like the tea. There was nothing else I needed, so I went straight to the counter.
No one here. Now that I thought about it, no one greeted me when I came in. Was this place even open?
“Um, hello?” I called out to no one. “Got water, money too, if you like that.”
There was a clock by the register. A cat with a fat belly, the clock itself serving as the creature’s midriff. The second hand made three rotations before anyone came out to take care of me.
A skinny Asian kid in a white shirt passed through a curtain from behind the counter and met me at the register. Skinny, and I could’ve said mal-nourished if I wanted to be rude. His shirt looked like it was hanging off him rather than being worn. He had a deadpan expression as he tapped on the buttons.
“Hi,” he said, lifelessly.
If I’m a vampire, then you’re a zombie, dude.
I bobbed my head once, and gave him the bottles. He scanned them. He lifted his head.
Either he looked at me, or he gave me a look. I couldn’t tell from his sunken, reddened eyes. I straightened my back.
I gave him a look of my own. “Do you know me?” I asked, while simultaneously confirming my identity.
“I seen you around. At school.” He pressed another button. “Harrian.”
Harrian Wong. The kid Eric and Evan liked to tease. If using the word ‘tease’ put it lightly or harshly, I didn’t know the particulars to say for sure.
This was him.
“Oh, hey then. I didn’t know you worked here,” I said.
“My Aunt own the place. I help on weekends.” His accent was thick, but it was still easy for me to understand.
His operating of the cash register was painfully slow, like this was the first time he was doing this. That might actually be the case.
“How did you find here?” he asked, looking over the buttons.
“I was in the area. Running.”
He tapped another button. “Do you like running?”
“I don’t hate it, but it’s something I have to do.”
Harrian’s hand hovered over the machine, deciding what button he should be pressing.
Without being aware of it, he was pressing all of mine. He was so slow.
My mind went to where my wallet was. In the pocket of my shorts. I was willing to pay more for this to end already.
“Are you going to the church tomorrow?” he asked as he made his choice.
“Church?” I said, breathing out the word. He didn’t pick up the hint, my tone.
“Oh, my mom and I haven’t decided yet. It’d be the first time we went in at least five years.”
“That long?” His eyes went to me, and back to the register, again. “Sorry.”
“I only ask because you, you’re Asian, I just assume you go to the church, too.”
“No biggie, people have asked me that before.”
Another button pressed.
Mine, and the register’s.
“What are you?” Harrian asked, like it was on purpose, what he was doing.
The question made me stiffen up. “In what way are you asking that question?” I asked back, cautious.
“Vietnamese? Chinese? Taiwanese?”
A deep breath, calming me. “Right. I’m Japanese, actually. If you want to be specific, I’m half.”
“Ah. Were you born in Japan?”
“No, I was born and raised here. My mom moved from Japan a while back.”
“What about your da-”
I firmly set my hand down on the counter, rattling spare change and other loose items on the surface. Harrian jumped.
“You’re very curious about me,” I said, my voice hard. “Am I allowed to ask why?”
Harrian’s face changed to something readable for the first time since this exchange. Sheepish.
Harrian had nothing to say.
That was what I wanted, but now it bothered me.
“Is everything alright?” I asked.
When he did speak, his voice was brought down to a low tone. “I was just trying.”
“Trying?” I repeated.
He didn’t shake his head, or make any gesture. “Here.”
Harrian finally finished ringing me up, putting my bottles in a paper bag. I would’ve pursued this further, but this sad attempt of a conversation left me mentally drained and physically ready to leave. I handed him the cash.
“You can keep the change,” I said.
He gave me the paper bag, with my drinks inside.
“I’ll see you at school,” he said as I took the bag.
“Bye,” I said, trying to maintain my courteousness.
I left the store, the chimes ringing again as the door closed.
That kid was the definition of awkward. I can see why Eric and Evan would give him a hard time.
But, whatever, he’s harmless enough.
The farther away I got from the store, the more I tried to forget about it.
I still had some time to kill before I needed to head home, so I decided to check around the shopping center some more. See what was around.
Not a lot, from the looks of things.
There were a few points of interest, however. A jewelry store, a bookstore, a pet supply shop, all right next to each other. Points of interest, but not interesting enough for me to walk in.
A woman was walking her dog, coming my way. The dog was tiny, a cute little maltese, but upon approaching me, its face turned sour, and started barking. I didn’t expect it, and I backed away in surprise. I wasn’t even close enough to pet it.
“Shush, Coco,” the woman said in between her dog’s high-pitched yelps, clearly embarrassed. “She is never like this.”
“No worries,” I said, not thinking about it. I kept going, and went another way.
With the shopping center behind me, I soon came into a seedier part of town. I would have had no qualms about turning around and going back the way I came, but that was before I saw it.
Cars were parked along a sidewalk across from me, and one particular car was much nicer than the others. Someone else must’ve noticed, too, because they were huddled by the driver’s side door, working the handle.
A car thief? In broad daylight?
I looked around. No one else was nearby, and he didn’t seem to notice me. Should I stop him?
I had the power to, but was it my responsibility?
The car was black, and I couldn’t put my finger on it exactly, but something about the car seemed familiar to me. I didn’t know why.
I checked my surroundings once again. People either were not around, or they didn’t care to intervene. This city was decayed in a way I had never known before.
I know what I said before, but leaving now would turn me into an accomplice. Crap.
If I made this fast as possible, it shouldn’t a problem. Scaring him off shouldn’t be that hard.
Eh, and it’s a nice car. It’s not his to take.
I’ll do it.
But I didn’t bring my mask, since I had never planned on wearing it again. I had to improvise.
I bent down, and took out the bottles of the paper bag, setting them down, and poked two holes into one side. The bag went over my head, and I fixed it so I could see through the holes.
There, now I had a mask. I felt as stupid as I looked.
I gathered my bottles, one in each hand, and went to approach the man.
“Good day, sir,” I said when I was sure he could hear me.
He wheeled around, startled. Clearly, he was on edge. He spoke, testing his words.
“This one’s already taken, man.”
“This is my score, you better look somewhere else.”
I tilted my head, the paper bag I wore crinkling.
“Do I look like I’m here to help?”
He paused, the realization settling in. “Yes?”
I shrugged. “Is it the bag?”
I was about to close in more to engage him, but I reconsidered. Things weren’t dire, like the other times I went up against bad guys. I could take him on my own. And I should probably try to not break him, too.
“Go,” I said after thinking it over.
“Go?” he repeated back to me, saying it like it was a whole new word to him.
“I’m giving you a free pass. You can go, you just can’t take the car with you. Is that fair?”
“You lettin’ me walk away? Not gonna call the cops?”
“I’d hate for the cops to be here, even more than you would. Just go, and try not to steal anything else on your way out, okay?”
His eyes went one way, to his feet. A steel pipe.
He swung his arm down, picking it up and bringing to my head in one motion.
Ah, yes. Just what I wanted on my lazy weekend. A fight.
I didn’t even try. I caught the pipe with one hand, stopping him. The bottle I was just holding hit the ground after I blocked it.
I yanked the pipe away from him. Candy from a baby, and all that.
“Not cool,” I said.
I dropped the other bottle, and gripped the other end of the pipe. With some effort, I pressed inward, and bent the pipe in half.
The man watched, shaking.
“You, you’re,” he spluttered.
“I did warn you,” I said, “Go, or you’re getting a bloody nose.”
He listened this time, running like he had a tail between his legs. He was loud, incoherent as he bolted away from me. I should have probably went after him, in case he directed others to my presence. Or, I could just leave, too.
I looked at the pipe in my hands. I had bent it into a right angle.
My strength still found ways to leave me astonished.
Alright, I need to go.
A male voice.
I looked back.
That was why the black car seemed familiar.
A black BMW.
Katy’s black BMW.
More precisely, her father’s black BMW.
Thomas was standing right there. Like, right there.
That’s not good.