The thought had hit Harrian like a brick to the face, jolting his jet lag-addled brain awake.
Everything was foreign. The people, the sights, the sounds, the smells. Foreign from him, foreign from each other.
Harrian included himself in that, as well.
He was as much a foreigner to this place and to everyone as they were to him. Everyone was different, in their own separate worlds, just out of reach. So many different barriers that needed to be overcome, just to get to know someone.
How he expected to connect to anyone, here, was beyond him.
What was the phrase, again?
He tried remembering if there was a Mandarin equivalent.
Like a fish out of water.
Already, Harrian was doubting himself.
It didn’t help that Auntie was over an hour late.
Harrian clutched his bags and luggage, keeping them closer. He was beyond exhausted, but he couldn’t afford to let his guard down. Being in an unfamiliar place, with unfamiliar people, was putting him on edge, and all he wanted was to relax.
He wondered where Auntie was, if she was even heading to the airport right now. He wondered if she even got his texts before his phone died. He couldn’t call, his phone wasn’t set up to work internationally, yet.
They were supposed to get that taken care of once she had picked him up.
All Harrian had on him was his tablet. He sent some emails, but no response from Auntie there, either.
Nothing to do but wait, keep an eye around him. Make sure nobody got too close to his things.
Wait, and wait some more.
He’d been waiting for so long, the baggage carousel had rotated out all the luggage that was on his flight, and was already working on a new group of arrivals. Out of the group he arrived with, he was probably one of the remaining few. When his plane landed and they were free to go, he ran to baggage claim to find a good spot to get his stuff. He found that good spot, claimed his baggage, and waited, and waited, and waited some more.
A vulgar, mean phrase entered his mind. No. Shouldn’t think that, not about family.
He tried to form his thoughts in English. For practice.
That is what I get for trusting others.
But, in spite of his annoyance, sitting and moping would do him no good. He still had his tablet, and there was some battery left. Taking it out of a bag by his side, he turned it on, and loaded up the next episode of a popular medieval fantasy series.
With English subtitles. He was still practicing.
He put in some earphones, and began to watch.
Harrian got about halfway through the episode before something kept nagging at him.
Harrian had been hearing bits and pieces of other people’s conversation while he watched, but this, in particular, stood out to him. It seemed more directed.
Is this what is known as ‘rapping?’
That perked his ears.
Harrian turned to his left, taking his earphones out. He raised an eyebrow.
A little girl. A white girl. An American girl. Her hair was short and brown, her eyes a mystifying blue that he’d never seen before. Like the color of the sky, and not the smoggy grey of the city. The real sky.
Harrian was captivated, if not confused and concerned, as well.
A little girl. A white girl. An American girl. Standing before him. Yet she spoke his tongue?
The girl shook her head. “No, no, not really. I had some time on the flight so I decided to get some reading done. Mind if I take this?”
Harrian looked to where she pointed. One of his bags that he had set in the seat beside him.
“Um,” Harrian said.
“The seat, silly, I want to sit next to you.”
His eyes went back to her, staring blankly.
She stared back, her face in a bashful expression. Cute.
Harrian jolted back to his sense.
“Yes, right, of course!”
He hurried to put his tablet and earphones back in the bag and set it down, off the seat. Using his feet, he kicked the bag under, securing it there.
The girl offered a bow. “谢谢。” She then took the seat, smiling as she got settled.
Harrian didn’t know what to make of any of this.
She set her only bag in her lap, then extended a hand to him.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“Harrian Wong,” he answered. He thought back to his English textbooks. “And what is your name?”
“My name? You can call me ‘D.’”
“Like the letter.”
“Oh, I see.”
The girl – D – giggled. “That’s three letters.”
Harrian tilted his head. “Hm?”
Her giggle turned into a full, hearty laugh.
“You’re a funny guy, Harrian!” she said, chortling.
Harrian glanced away, flustered. Nothing like this was ever covered in his textbooks.
He took a moment to regain his composure, then faced her again, studying her in a different light.
She had on a light denim jacket, completely white in some splashes of her sleeves. Black tights, or some kind of fitting pair of sweatpants.
What really stood out him, however, was the belt that coiled around her neck. He recognized it as a sort of fashion statement, but seeing it stated by a girl so young made him question if what he was seeing was real.
Back where he was from, girls with her appearance only showed up in fuzzy television sets and imported magazines. Yes, he recognized that she was but a child, but aside from the flight attendants who helped lead him to his connecting flights, he’d never interacted with American girls before.
Or any girls, for that matter. He wasn’t the most popular guy back home.
Harrian couldn’t help but keep his guard up.
A question was about to leave his mouth when D sat back, reclined her head and groaned.
“Man, they’re really keeping us waiting, huh?”
She shifted her eyes so she could see him. “Yeah, we’re in the same boat, or plane, I guess. I’ve been sitting here, waiting for my ride to show up. I noticed you were doing the same for a hot minute, so I decided to come over here. Might as well kill time sitting with someone else.”
Harrian nodded, more disappointed than he wanted to admit. She didn’t come over here for him, specifically. Anyone could have been sitting in this chair, and she’d come all the same.
D put her hand on the armrest between them.
“But, you seem like a nice guy, so I guess I’m getting more than I asked for,” she said.
Harrian felt his face go warm, more delighted than he wanted to admit. He did what he could to not show it.
But, before he could get too swept up in the emotion, some things about her stood out to him.
“Excuse me, D?
She made a sound, like a pur. “Hm?”
“Were you on the same flight as me?” he asked.
“I think so? I came in from LA and I claimed my baggage here.” She pointed to the carousel ahead of them. “I didn’t take an international flight, though, if that’s what you’re insinuating.”
“Insinuating?” He’d never heard a word like that before.
Harrian nodded once, the meaning a little more clear to him.
“You flew by yourself?” Harrian then asked.
“I am impressed. This was my first time flying.”
“It’s nothing, I’ve done it before. And I mean, I still need those flight attendants to escort me around, I’m still underage.”
He stole a glance at her again, and she was shuffling through a pocket of her jacket, removing earphones and her phone. Listening to music, probably.
He wanted to talk with her some more, and anything was better than staring into space, waiting for Auntie. But, he didn’t know where to take the conversation.
“Is this your final destination?”
D noticed him looking, staring now. Harrian had to move his gaze away.
“No, actually, I still have a drive to S… Ste…”
He knew the name of the city, he’d heard it in his head and read it a million times over, but saying it was another matter.
“Stephenville?” D offered.
It clicked in his head, and he remembered.
“Yes, Stephenville. I am to study there next semester.”
D perked her head up.
“That’s cool, and a crazy coincidence, too. I’m actually headed that way, myself.”
“Yup, I’m from there, and I’d be there already if my ride wasn’t late.”
D hummed, as if to acknowledge that she heard him, and she went back to her phone and wires.
There, Harrian recognized. The conversation would end here if he didn’t say anything else.
He didn’t want that.
Harrian wanted to take the reigns of the conversation, this time.
“What is it like, in Stephenville?” he asked.
He was curious, he’d heard the stories, but firsthand accounts were alway more intriguing.
D leaned his way, untangling the wires.
“What’s it like?” she repeated back to him.
Harrian had to reiterate.
“I heard that it can be a really bad place sometimes. Is that true?”
“Hmm,” D said, thinking. She placed a hand on her face, and looked right at Harrian.
“It’s definitely a dog eat dog kind of city.”
Harrian made a face, making clear his confusion.
“I don’t understand.”
“You know, eat or be eaten, take or be taken from. You can’t afford to let yourself wander in a place like that.”
Harrian watched her, listening, trying to keep up.
What was the word? Metaphor? He didn’t quite get the exact meaning, but the tone wasn’t anything particularly promising.
“Sounds scary,” Harrian commented. He felt a pang of regret about asking, but better to know now than be caught off guard.
D shrugged. “I mean, it’s not unlike any other big city. Just keep an eye out at all times and be alert, you’ll never know when someone might sweep the rug out from under you.”
Harrian nodded again, clutching his bags, tapping his foot on the luggage underneath him.
“Thank you for the advice,” he said, earnest.
In return, D smiled a toothy smile, though a front tooth was missing.
“No problem! Speaking of which…”
D put one of her earbuds in one ear, and handed Harrian the other.
“Wanna listen to some music?”
Harrian took the offered earbud. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah, of course, let’s try and unwind. Anything helps when you just got done flying for twenty hours.”
Harrian found himself in agreement. Flying for twenty hours, plus layovers, delays, language barriers, and doing it largely by oneself, took a toll on him, and he wanted nothing more than to unwind. Listening to music with a nice girl was definitely better than doing nothing, and the music could add a cozy crutch for him to rely on. He wouldn’t be forced to come up with anything to say.
Harrian looked at the earbud, to D, then back to the earbud.
“Don’t worry,” D said, taking Harrian out of his thoughts. “They’re clean.”
He felt an embarrassment, again.
“That was not what I meant,” he said, trailing off to a mumble at the end.
Without another word, Harrian placed it in his ear. The music was already playing.
Light, easy-going music, with a jazzy undertone. A female singer, crooning in an Asian language, but not one he understood.
He wasn’t too big into music, but even he could sense a retro feel to the sound, the mix.
“What is this?” he asked, his eyes getting heavy.
“Not sure, just picked it up. Late nineties, I think. It’s just old pop music.”
“Ah,” Harrian said.
“I’d try and read the name, but kanji trips me up, and I’m beat.”
‘Beat’ meant tired, Harrian knew that much.
“I agree,” he said, before starting to unwind.
Harrian focused on the music, blocking out the bustling airport around him. It worked. The music soothed, the singing relaxed him. His eyes closed completely, and the drowsiness and jet lag got the better of him, and he began to fall asleep-
Harrian woke up.
In surprise, he lurched forward, his bags almost slipping off of him. He caught them, though, before anything could happen.
He moved his head, and saw the person he was waiting for.
“Auntie,” he said.
Auntie clasped her hands together, head lowered.
“I’m so sorry, but work wouldn’t let me leave early for you, and of course it had to be rush hour when I could leave. I know you were waiting, but I hope it wasn’t too bad?”
“No, it was not,” Harrian said. He noticed that he didn’t have the earbud, anymore. No music.
“Awesome! Alright, let’s get you out of here, I’ll help you with your bags.”
Harrian nodded, collecting his bags and-
Harrian checked his sides, the seats next to him.
Gone. The girl was gone.
Harrian checked under his seat.
Gone. The bag was gone.
The one with his tablet and earphones.
She didn’t, she wouldn’t…
He looked around, panicked but still tired. Everyone and everything was a blur to him.
How long was he asleep? When did she leave? Could he still find her?
Too scatterbrained and worn out to make a concrete decision, he looked back to Auntie.
“What? What happened?” she asked, rightfully worried.
He tried to find the words, and he thought back to what the girl had told him.
“I think the rug has been swept under me,” Harrian replied.
Harrian worked, busy as a bee.
He couldn’t say the same for his partner.
For the last half of class, Mr. Graham had paired everyone up to work on exercises over today’s lessons, and he had paired Harrian up with Jaclyn, a cheerleader.
He tried not having any expectations, but he was left disappointed.
She could have at least asked him how to handle a problem or two, and he’d be more than happy to help, but she seemed more interested in chatting with the girl beside her than practicing how to find the surface area of a cube.
He was fine with that. It was fine.
“And, oh my gosh, when everyone rushed in at the end, I did not see that coming!”
“I know, right? I couldn’t stop posting about it, I felt like such a geek.”
“So worth, though. But how are they even going to make another season when they just killed off all my favorite characters like that?”
“That’s the thing, I don’t know. If you want to find out what happens next, you’ll have to read the books.”
“Oh really? Nah, I’ll just wait, then.”
Harrian was right there, it was impossible to block out their conversation. And he knew what they were talking about.
Popular. Medieval fantasy.
He spoke before he could stop himself.
“I saw it too.”
Jaclyn stopped halfway through her next sentence, and both girls turned to him.
“Saw what?” she asked.
“That episode. I saw it too. I watch that show.”
The girls didn’t say anything in response. Was that to prompt him to elaborate further?
He took that prompt.
“I also couldn’t believe it when that wedding scene happened, but Bogart was my favorite, so it was a good thing he was not in the throne room. Who was your favorite that-”
“Were we talking to you?”
Jaclyn interrupted him.
It threw him off. Harrian sputtered.
“I just, you were talking about, and I wanted to-”
“Were we talking to you?” Jaclyn asked again, more pointed this time.
That point hit him in the chest. Dejected, Harrian returned to his papers.
“No you weren’t.”
The girls didn’t acknowledge that he answered them, and went back to talking amongst themselves.
Harrian didn’t like the feeling that sat inside his chest.
He worked another problem, and finished another. Putting his mind elsewhere helped. Anything to distract him from his unfortunate reality. That he was Harrian Wong.
The bell tolled.
Harrian was released from another long day at school.
He couldn’t wait to go home.
He scooted his table back to its original position, away from Jaclyn’s. He packed his stuff together, filing away the sheet of exercises. Anything left unfinished had to be done for homework, but Harrian had a good grip on the material. He’d complete it in time for the next class.
Picking everything up, he checked his classmates around him, Jaclyn. He’d wait for them to leave first, so they wouldn’t see him as they left. So they wouldn’t think of him.
It had already become routine. The norm. And it had gotten to the point where he didn’t think much of it anymore.
He was just waiting for it to be over.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
His time in America wasn’t turning out to be what he wanted. A change of scenery should have done him some good, to get away from the stress from back home. Father agreed to him studying abroad, although reluctantly, he would have rather not tackled the problem of his son being so weak head on.
He’ll grow up to be a man on his own, Father had said. Those who can’t grow up and take the world on their own deserve to be stomped out.
So he was cast out here, and Harrian was to grow, and find a world he could take on his own.
It didn’t quite turn out that way.
Even in another county, even in another language, Harrian was still Harrian.
The more things changed, the more they ended up staying the same.
Harrian resigned himself to that.
He walked over to his locker, hurrying now. The buses left in ten minutes, and he still needed to go to his locker on the other end of the school. He was no athlete, but it was doable, and more often than not, he could make it.
He just had to hurry, and pray they wouldn’t bother him.
There, his locker. At least it was on the first floor.
Spinning the dial, entering the code, Harrian got it open in no time flat.
He threw his stuff into his bag.
Come on, hurry, faster.
A foot entered his field of view, moving in a flash. Harrian drew his hands away.
The locker was kicked closed.
Shadows fell around him.
A small, inconsequential thought, but he noticed he could worry in English.
That had to account for something.
Harrian turned around.
Two boys. Men, if he compared their size and weight to him.
Eric and Evan.
Both football players, both taller and stronger than him. Both situated to his left and right.
Whenever he saw these two together, something was about to happen. And usually, that ‘something’ would happen to him.
Nowhere to move, nowhere to run.
Harrian immediately went on the defensive, if ‘defensive’ meant wanting to curl up into a ball and disappear.
“What?” was all Harrian could ask.
The taller and wider of the two boys, Eric, answered with his deep voice.
“Sorry, Harry, I’m actually really sorry for hitting your locker, but we were just in a hurry, and we didn’t want to miss you.”
“Same, it’d suck if you left already,” Evan said.
Harrian had no real expression on his face, his body ready to jump at whatever Eric and Evan were going to do next.
By this point, he couldn’t put it past them to not try anything, even though they had already done everything.
What else was left?
Evan approached, and Harrian backed up, but he found himself against the lockers.
Evan put his hands up.
“Hey man, that’s actually why we’re here. We… wanted to apologize.”
Harrian had to make sure he knew the meaning of that word.
Express regret for something that one has done wrong.
These two had done plenty wrong.
“For?” Harrian asked, unsure of everything.
“For being really shitty to you,” Eric said, filling it in. “We, Evan and I, we recognized the pranks and stuff we pulled weren’t exactly cool, and so we wanted to apologize for everything. Sorry.”
Harrian looked at both of them again. Their expressions were one of genuine regret.
Did Harrian believe it?
There was a lot to be sorry for. Missing lunches, ruined art projects, a light tap in the back of the leg so he’d trip in the hall. Anything and everything.
Something would happen, and he’d turn and see the sneers, and hear the laughter. He would see those two.
Harrian fantasized about standing up to them, telling them off, getting back at them in some way. It never happened. It would never happen. Harrian was aware of his own weakness. And worse yet, he didn’t want to tell anyone about it. He could admit it to himself, but he couldn’t admit it to the world.
Then being here would mean it was all for nothing.
But, despite everything they had done, Eric and Evan were here, in front of him, telling him that they were remorseful about their actions.
Too convenient, too easy.
Being cornered by the two, however, they didn’t give him an option other than going along with it.
“Is this true?” Harrian asked. His head started throbbing, remembering what they did last time.
“It is,” Evan said. “We usually do shit like that with our friends and teammates, and they’re big enough to take it, but we realized that we weren’t there with you yet, so there was a, um, what’s the word?”
“Disconnect,” Eric said.
“Yeah, that. Again, we’re sorry, and we wanted to make it up to you by being friends.”
“Being friends?” Harrian repeated it back, but even when saying it himself, he couldn’t believe it.
They wanted to be friends with him, now? With Harrian?
“Yes, friends,” Eric said, reassuring him. “And to make it up to you, we got you a little something.”
Harrian went back to being concerned, again.
Eric extended a hand, his fist as meaty as a full-sized ham, and showed him what he had.
“This is premium stuff, right here,” Eric said. “The best the school vending machines has to offer.”
“And there’s more where that came from, too,” Evan added. “Just ask us anytime, and we’ll hook you up.”
Harrian stared at the candy, unsure of what to make of all of this. This was their sign of goodwill? Chocolates?
He did like chocolates, though, he really did.
Was that enough to make up for all the pranks? Were they really just harmless pranks, only done to those Eric and Evan were close to?
Harrian wasn’t sure, anymore.
“Come on, take them,” Eric said, bringing his hand closer. “They’re actually really good.”
Harrian wanted more time to consider, but he remembered that he was against the clock. The bus would leave soon.
It was Friday, all Harrian wanted was to sit at home on his computer, maybe play some games. He wanted a break.
“Okay,” Harrian said, quietly. He took the chocolates off of Eric’s hands.
They both gave him, and each other, a thumbs-up.
“Nice,” Evan said. “Alright, Harry, that’s all we came here for, and we’re sorry again for being such dicks. If you ever want to chill or do anything just let us know.”
“Okay,” Harrian said, quietly, staring at the chocolates.
“See you,” Eric said, and they left, giving Harrian the space he so desired.
He continued to stare at the chocolates.
He didn’t have to do anything, and he was given candy and their friendship. And they asked for his forgiveness.
They seemed genuine enough, too.
The gesture was starting to get to him.
Maybe it was worth it, coming here. Maybe he could learn a thing or two about connecting with others.
Maybe he could learn to be better than just simply being Harrian.
Harrian still had a bus to catch.
He turned, opening his locker again, grabbing his backpack. He stuffed the chocolates into a pocket on the side. Then, after he was certain he had everything he needed for the weekend, Harrian ran off to catch the bus.
“What’s ‘good bye’ in Japanese?”
Alexis stared back at him. The expression she had gave him pause. For an instant, he forgot to breathe.
It made him question if he had said something wrong.
She threw her hands into her pockets, tilting her head.
“The only word I can think of is ‘sayonara.’ But I think people don’t typically say that. It implies a sort of finality. Don’t quote me on it.”
She actually answered him, to his relief, he worried that was taking too much of her time already.
He wanted to make a comment on how she answered with an American accent, how it was a little funny to hear coming from her, but he knew he was keeping her. Her face said it all. Her eyes.
Harrian accepted that.
“Good enough,” he said, summing it all up. He’d let her go. She need not to waste her time with him.
She remained there, standing, as if there was more to the conversation.
Did he miss something? A cue to say more? He knew he was no social butterfly, so perhaps there was something else he needed to add.
He couldn’t think of anything.
Did she maybe want to hear more stats about the Japanese workforce?
Harrian considered it.
Alexis spoke up.
Oh, I see.
She wanted to say properly, with that Americanized accent?
For his sake? No, he couldn’t be so, so presumptuous.
She wasn’t used to speaking in another language, and he could tell. Her lips were set in a line, as if uncomfortable after folding to produce such foreign sounds. Her expression was equally neutral, perhaps shy, if he really wanted to stretch it.
Cute, he couldn’t help but think.
Alexis grinned slightly, then turned to leave, going about the rest of her day, whatever that meant for her.
Harrian waved as she turned, watching her leave. Checking her out.
He… would, but only in a sort of far-off, unbelievable fantasy. Maybe if he was more confident in himself, he’d talk to her more, ask her out when they became closer friends. Maybe, but he knew better. She was totally out of his league, and he was…
He was Harrian.
Harrian looked again, but Alexis was already gone, out of his line of sight. He tried to stop thinking about it, about her, but his brain wouldn’t let him. A successful interaction with someone of the opposite gender. Rare. Of course his brain wanted to go over it, picking at every single detail.
He was Harrian.
Did she enjoy talking to him? Potentially, she was the one to initiate it. Did she like him? Enough to want to start a conversation, he supposed, but didn’t he get on her nerves, back at Auntie’s shop? Potentially, but he didn’t know the root cause.
I was just trying to better connect with her.
He let himself wander in his thoughts.
With the amount of interactions he had with her, he could count them on one hand, but there was something about her that drew his interest. Alluring, to put it in a word, now that his English was getting better.
Something about her.
Her eyes. Something about her eyes…
“Hey man, did you wait long?”
Harrian blinked, and his attention was back to the real world.
Evan was approaching, as chipper as ever.
A friend. One of the only ones.
”I did not,” Harrian said, hiding the truth. He did wait for some time, but he did show up early.
“That’s good. Let’s dip, then.”
“Yes, let us dip.”
Harrian picked up his bag, and followed Evan to his truck. They arrived, Evan getting the passenger side door for Harrian.
“Oh, thank you,” Harrian said.
“Problemo nada, my man.”
Harrian got in the truck, his bag at his feet. His hands were still on the straps. Four points of contact with his belongings, at all times.
Even with people he knew, he learned his lesson.
“Where’s Eric?” Harrian asked, as Evan got into the driver’s seat.
Evan started the truck, and worked on backing out of the spot.
“We’re gonna meet him there,” he said. He didn’t specify where ‘there’ was.
Harrian felt like he should ask, but music started up as soon as the truck did. A rap song that he wasn’t familiar with. Loud, and it startled, and Harrian quickly forgot what he had in mind to say.
The truck left the school, and they headed out. Harrian looked to see if he could see Alexis as they crossed the parking lot. He couldn’t.
Eyes on the road, Evan adjusted the volume.
“Did you catch the new episode last night?” Evan asked him.
Harrian knew exactly what he was talking about. “I did.”
“I think it’s the best one yet, even though they keep wrecking the main character. I’m surprised he’s even still alive.”
“Me too,” Harrian said. He almost said more, but he’d be spoiling it for Evan, by that point. The best parts were still to come.
“Shit, I might start reading the books after this season wraps up, and that never happens.”
“I happen to have whole series, if you would like to borrow a book.”
Evan glanced at Harrian, even though the truck was going pretty fast, now.
“Really? You’d do that?”
“Yes, I would.”
“Wow,” Evan said, scratching his chin. “That’s pretty dope of you, thanks. I’ve actually got something for you, too. I’ll show it to you when we meet up with Eric.”
Harrian nodded, but he felt warm and fuzzy, inside. He looked forward to whatever Evan had planned.
Things had started to turn around once Harrian had accepted Eric and Evan’s apology. The two actually became his friends, for one, and Harrian started feeling more comfortable being in America, speaking English, and being himself.
It was a feeling he thought he’d never experience.
Being with – hanging out with – Evan himself helped in that feeling. He had a class with Evan, an art class, and what once used to be a class he dreaded, became one he now looked forward to. Evan was funny, charismatic, lively. The kind of person Harrian wished he was.
Harrian made it a point to learn something from him.
“It definitely is nice to get out every now and again, right?” Harrian asked, starting another conversation.
“Definitely, but man, things have been going off the fucking deep end recently.”
“The deep end?”
“You know, with the whole Bluemoon thing, and all the riots and stuff. To think it’s all happening here, in Stephenville.”
The Bluemoon thing. Harrian heard about it, seen it on the news. The vigilante superhero taking on the notorious gangs. It sounded like something he’d read in comic books, but there he was, leaping over buildings in a singular bound. It was incredible, and a little scary.
To think it was all happening in the city he transferred to.
“Hopefully it doesn’t get too bad,” Harrian said, wishing aloud.
“Same here. If the Bluemoon is actually trying to make this city better off, he better do it right. Otherwise, with all these riots, he might as well burn everything down himself.”
That was a scary propostion, but Harrian didn’t comment on that.
“Anyway, how about you?”
“Yeah, what would you do if you had superpowers? Like, strength or flying or something?”
The question made him ponder. He daydreamed about it before, but that was before Eric and Evan made their peace with him. Now? He was content.
“I’m not sure,” Harrian answered. “I probably couldn’t fight gangs or criminals.”
“No? I’m up for beating up some bad guys. With strength like that, it’s probably a piece of cake.”
Harrian shrugged, and watched cars pass by. “Probably.”
“But who knows? There was a time when that question would have been purely hypothetical. Now, oh, here we are.”
Harrian peered out from the front window. Gray towers were replaced with brown fields of corn.
They were entering into a rural part of town.
“Where is this?” Harrian asked.
“This, is Braham Barn.”
The truck got off the road, and onto a trail. Harrian saw the broken-down barnhouse come into view. Another truck was there, parked.
Harrian had never heard of this place.
The truck rolled to a stop, and Evan put it into park.
“Come on, we’re here.”
Evan hopped out of the truck, and Harrian followed. He decided to leave his backpack behind.
“Here,” Evan said, meeting up with Harrian. “Take this.”
He handed Harrian a large bundle. Harrian grabbed it, and unfolded it.
“Put it on, it’s gonna be chilly inside the barn.”
Harrian listened, putting on the jacket, zipping it up. It was heavy, and thick with a strange odor.
“What are we to do here, anyway?”
The word stood out to him. The tone sour.
He moved to face Evan, but he was already in the distance, running back to the truck.
Then, he heard it.
Then, he saw it.
Out of the field, two dogs burst from the vegetation. Rottweilers. Sprinting.
Instinct and panic kicked, and Harrian turned to run.
Nowhere to go, except the widening mouth of the Braham Barn.
Faster, faster, faster.
Harrian ran, but he was no athlete, he couldn’t outrun animals. They were built for this, evolved to do better.
They were hunters. And he was prey.
The dogs caught him as soon as he passed through the doors, falling into the darkness.
They tore at him to shreds.
His limbs were yanked this way and that. Covering himself was useless when his arms could get pulled away again.
Teeth sank into his sides. Digging. Tooth and nail. Claws. Dark. Panic. The hurt.
No, no, no, no no no no no no no no.
Fabric flew into the air. Spit. Growling, barking.
He didn’t have the breath to scream. Pulled by the beasts. Made into a meal.
They wouldn’t stop. They wouldn’t stop. They wouldn’t stop.
Wouldn’t stop biting, wouldn’t stop gnawing.
Stop stop stop.
Where was anyone? Where was everyone?
Powers. They were talking about powers, earlier. What he would do if he had them.
He’d save himself.
Harrian reached with his power. Focusing control.
And then he remembered he didn’t have any. Of course. He was just a human. He was just Harrian.
Stop stop stop stop stop stop stop.
A sharp whistle cut through the everything.
Then, it did stop.
The dogs turned tail, and backed away.
Harrian, for his part, could no longer move. Face messy with tears and sweat and snot.
His brain could not process what had just transpired.
On the wooden floor, the high ceiling above, consumed in darkness.
He heard laughter.
Getting louder. Getting louder.
“Oh my god, shit, shit, sorry Harry, sorry.”
“I can’t, I can’t! I’m so sorry!”
Sorry. Words used when people apologized. When expressing regret for something that one has done wrong.
But why were they still laughing?
Dark, but Harrian saw their faces when they looked down at him.
Their laughter was dying down, they were rubbing the corners of their eyes.
“Man, you shoulda seen how you were running, flopping like a fucking fish!” Eric said.
“You would not make it onto the team with that top speed, my dude.”
Harrian opened and closed his mouth, gasping for air.
“See? He really does look like a fish!”
Harrian breathed out his word.
One of them answered. His ears were ringing too much to discern the voice. It was deep, though.
“Why? Well, because some gangs are looking to score with some new dogs, and I told them Rover and Russel were the best in town. People are beefing up in any way they can, now that there’s a hero in town.”
“We actually legitimately need the money, too. Can’t keep kicking vending machines forever.”
No, no, no.
Harrian was speechless. Mostly due to being out of breath, but the betrayal cut deeper than any knife.
“Did you get it?” one of them asked.
“Yeah, it’s all here. Once they see how fast they can go, others will come begging.”
It? It? It?
Tape. Film. Camera. They filmed it, him, everything.
“You’ll… be in trouble.”
“What’s that? Hey, get the jacket off.”
One of them went to work, taking the jacket off of him. They rolled him, so they could pick it up.
“Damn, it’s all fucked up now. How’s he?”
“He’s good. Nothing on him.”
“Not a scratch?”
None? None? Impossible. How? He was torn to shreds. He felt it.
“You’re going to get in trouble for this.”
Harrian managed to get that out. Clearer.
Someone bent down to see him. The smaller of the two.
“You gonna tell on us?”
“Yes… I will.”
“You tell on us,” one of them said, “And those gangs will kill you if you stop them from getting any more protection. You tell on us after, who’s gonna believe you? I don’t see a single scratch on you, and those gangs would probably kill you for that, too. Probably do it with the dogs.”
Harrian’s breathing hitched.
“Tell you what. You did good, so we can give you a cut of whatever we get, if you want. And look, we’ve been cutting class pretty often recently, so we probably have a detention coming our way. We’ll take that punishment, and we’ll think really hard about what we did, here. Right?”
“Yeah, we really are sorry. But it is a fuckton of money, and I really do need it.”
“There you go! Here, there’s a twenty, you can take the bus back. Here’s your backpack, too, we didn’t touch it.”
Harrian heard the bag land beside him. The money fluttered, then landed on his face, stuck to his cheek from the tears and sweat and snot.
Another thing fell right by his eyes. He saw it.
“See you, Harrian.”
“Wait,” he whispered, but they didn’t hear him. They were already leaving.
He heard the footsteps fade, the trucks start, the vehicles driving off.
Then Harrian was alone, on the floor, the rug swept out from under him.
Cruelty such as this knew no reason.
It was not supposed to be like this.
If Auntie lived somewhere else, if he hadn’t met that girl, starting his experience here on the wrong foot.
If they hadn’t done this. If he chose to not come to this country.
This was his fault. His weakness. It happened back at home, and it happened here. He let this happen. He wasn’t strong enough.
He let himself be taken from.
You understand now, do you?
Back against the wall, everyone was shouting.
He couldn’t hear the music.
Harrian’s attention was brought back to the now.
The school. Terrorists. People looking for the Bluemoon.
One of the terrorists barged into the room, pointing his gun at them.
He thought he was going to die. Right then, right there.
But another came in. A person with a paper bag over their head. They had moved so fast that Harrian could barely register it.
No, it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered. Nothing else mattered.
The gun was knocked out of the man’s hands. He recognized the model. AK-47. Painted black. 7.62 by 39 millimeter cartridges. He did some research after the barn.
There it was. The gun. And Evan was here too.
Everything flashed before his eyes. His time in this country.
You know what you want, don’t you?
Idiot. Stupid donkey of a kid.
Nothing else mattered.
Nobody understood him. No existing language could possibly describe his rage in a way that was accurate, in a way that connected.
It wasn’t enough.
Nobody understood him.
But one day, they will.
Harrian ran, and swept the rug out from everyone else.