I let the cool metal weave over and under my fingers. It was gentle, smooth, and soothing like running a hand through silk. I carefully concealed my hand between the cubby of my desk from the surrounding students.
Mr. Hopkin paced through the class as he lectured. "You should all know these by now. They are review questions. The Atom is the smallest particle that makes up the structure of an element." His voice rose on certain words for enthusiasm.
Despite Mr. Hopkin's effort to excite everyone, several students doodle flowers, stars, and letters in their notebooks. Others chewed down on the tip of pencil erasers and stared into space. Two other students, on the verge of sleep, were barely holding their heads up with propped up elbows.
Mr. Hopkin continued. "What particles does an atom consist of?"
A boy immediately flung is hand up. He seemed to be the only one impressed with Mr. Hopkins speech.
"Yes, Liam." Hopkin's called on the boy.
"Atoms consist of electrons that orbit the nucleus. The nucleus is made of proton and neutrons," Liam stared at Mr. Hopkins skeptically. "I know we don't talk about them in class but protons and neutrons are also made up of other particles called Quarks which are linked together by gluons. Gluons are also a strong type of force that hold protons and neutrons together."
Liam stared at Mr. Hopkins for reassurance. The other students just look at him, annoyed.
"Right," Hopkins said impressed. "Good answer Liam."
The bell rang and half the students jumped out from their seats as if they were being resurrected from the dead.
"Remember to review for the quiz tomorrow," Hopkins called to us, but most of the students had dashed for the door already. I headed to the cafeteria with the rest of the other students.
I had been staying with Rachel, Jason, and Aaron for the past five months. It turned out that Rachel was Jason's mother. Rachel explained she had been hiding away from the Coalition. She had been injected by a Conspiracy member and turned into a mongrel. They used her as an insider of the Coalition. At first she had been angry and resisted giving them any information, but shortly after she transformed, she forgot all her memories. She didn't begin remembering again until she saw Jason the day they torture him. Rachel couldn't let them hurt him so she helped him escape and made the Conspiracy think he died in the Conspiracy building explosion. Only a few of Conspiracy members knew that she had help Jason escape. She said she wanted to make Coalition think that Jason was dead too, but she had a feeling Weldon knew he was still alive.
If everything Rachel said was true, then maybe Weldon didn't save Jason because he knew Rachel wouldn't kill her own son. That still didn't make me despise him less, because he was still the murderer of my parents.
I grabbed a tray of lasagna, green beans, and an apple and sat in my usual place, a long table near the windows of the cafeteria.
"Hi Naomi," Kelsey sat next to me. Her friend Natalie sat across from us.
"Hey," I said cheerfully, trying to seem as genuine as possible. It had taken me a while to get use to my new name, but I learned to respond to it as if I had been born named Naomi. The only person who called me Sandra was Jason whose name had also been change to Jake.
"You didn't forget to—" worry blemished her face.
"To invite Jake?" I finished her sentence before she could. "I told him about it,"
"Oh," she said, stunned. "What did he say?"
"His not sure yet, but he'll let you know soon."
She smile. "Thanks Naomi."
Isn't that what our friendship is built on — Jason, I wanted to say.
She had invited me to every sport Jason played: football, track, and basketball. Even though I knew her reasons for inviting me, I accepted but not for her, but because I really did want to see Jason play. Other times she invited me to go shopping or go to the school dance, probably to pry some more information about Jason, these hangouts I had to refuse. Then, she began asking about how did I like my foster family, of course it would lead to questions like what was Jason's favorite kind of food, how long had I known him, and how did Jason end up in a foster home? That was our story that I, Jason, and Aaron were all being fostered by Rachel. Kelsey's exhausting and constant questions about Jason was enough just to deal with at school. I guess it was my fault, because agreed to introduce Kelsey to Jason. Since that day, Kelsey never came to school without elaborating her hair into curls, burying every pore and pimple with heavy make-up and wearing a dress or mini skirt. Sometimes, I thought she looked like a porcelain doll.
A throb suddenly ran through my chest, and it wasn't the pulse of my heart. I knew exactly what it was. A link to a demon. The demon was somewhere here. It was looking for me. It had to be because Aaron was on a fieldtrip so at the moment I was the only mongrel at this school. I should have known the Coalitions hunting dogs would find us again, but I didn't think the Coalition would be brash enough to send a demon to an actual high school; any student might see the demon. I needed to take care of it now before it tried to attack me off guard.
"See you guys later." I hastily jumped up, and disposed of my tray, leaving the two girls confused. I followed the throbbing to the gym. As I shut the two gym doors behind me, I made sure to molt the steel lock of the handles on the door. I molted the large, steel hair band that held up my hair into a long, thin dagger. I scanned the area. I didn't see the demon, but I still felt its presence. A dozen hurdles rested against the wall. If I needed more steel I knew where I could get it. A bit of light showered through the gym ceiling's propped open windows. That's probably how the demon had gotten in[SJ1] . Something clanged to my right from the boy's locker room. It sounded as if a nail hit the concrete floor.
"Hey, I'm right here." I called to the empty air, and slowly walked towards the slightly opened boy's locker room.
"Where are you?" I asked under my breath. I pressed the door open, quickly flipping the lights on. Barely moving across the ground, I took slow steps to catch any sudden noise or movement. I only heard the constant dripping of the showers. Nothing was here. The throbbing link of its presence had disappeared. If it was one of those shadow demons, it could vanish in one moment and appear in another place in the next moment. I slipped back into the gym. I needed to unmerge the gym door handles before lunch ended and someone tried to enter.
Before I could reach the door, I quickly turned around. A faint noise of something rolling echoed from underneath the bleachers. The bleachers were pulled out, they were usually retracted against the wall unless they were being used. I slowly walked toward them, one step at a time. I didn't sense a demons presence, but that could be because it was constantly vaporizing itself. I took a deep breath, and turned to look inside the void beneath the bleachers. Light from the screen of a laptop reflected onto a boy's tan face with brown curly hair that fell over his glasses. His laptop sat in his lap as he stared down at it. He wore headphones and nodded to blasting music that I could hear from where I stood.
Noticing my presence, he turn his head toward me and slid his headphones off his ears.
It was Liam.
"Were you calling me," he looked at me confused, and then his eyes shot open. Cringing backwards his laptop slipped off his lap and clunked onto floor. At that moment I notice a presence — the demon's. From right behind me. I swerved around and lunge the dagger at it. But it moved and backlashed me with its claws into the floor. With a glimpse, I took in its hideousness. It reminded me of the classic horror movie swamp monster. It even had gills and scales, only difference was it was red instead of green. It stood up like a person. Its claws had sliced right into the flesh of my shoulder.
Lying on the other shoulder, I notice Liam scurrying toward the gym door. I touch the ground and drew the hurdles toward the demon. The hurdles slid across the ground and bashed the demon from behind. It slammed into the ground. I quickly jumped to my feet. Liam had begun shaking the door handles and shouting for help. The demon tried to get back on its feet, but I rammed it with more hurdles and latch its arms and legs to the ground with steal. I touch one of the hurdles, merged it into a spear, and plunge it into the demons torso before it could transport. It snarled its long, sharp teeth at me. I stabbed it two more times, and it howled and disappeared.
I looked toward the gym door to see Liam staring at me. Baffled, his mouth was slightly agape. I rummage through my mind and tried to think of an explanation.
As soon as I started walking toward him, Liam dashed toward the boy's locker room. I contacted the metal through the floor and molted the handle, bolting the door. He still tried to pull the handle, but when it wouldn't budge, he began shaking the door vigorously.
"Don't," I said, "I'm not going to hurt you."
"How?" he murmured. "How did you do that? What are you? What was that thing?"
"Don't worry about it," I said. "Just don't say anything. Keep it to yourself."
"You're kidding, right? I just saw what you did, and you're just gonna pretend like nothing happened?"
The school bell rang. Any minutes students would begin filling the gym for P.E.
"Fine," I said, "Meet me at the football field near the bleachers after school. I'll explain everything. Just don't say anything, and after we can make a deal."
"A deal?" he ask, looking at me quizzically. "What kind of deal?"
"We'll figure it out once —
The gym door began rattling.
"Just don't tell anyone," I said. I remerged the hurdles and the handle on the door. Liam stared at me, stunned. I opened the door, and Coach Conner and a student who I recognized as one of the football players stood in the doorway.
"What are you two doing in here," Coach Connor asked.
Before I could say anything, Liam pushed passed me.
"Hey Coach, we were coming up with ideas for the science fair project," Liam said.
"Then why was the doors locked," The football player grinned at us and started sucking his lips, making kissing noise.
"The gym isn't a baby-making zone," Coach Connor said, folding his arms.
Liam threw up his hands. "Coach, I swear that's not what was going on."
"It better not have been. The bell already rang, get to class," Coach demanded.
"We'll work on it some more after school like you said by football field bleacher," Liam look towards me and rushed off.
I hastily walked away after him, afraid to be left alone in an awkward presence with Coach Connor and the football player. I also didn't want them to see the bloody shredded sleeve of my shirt. I barely made it to English class before the tardy bell rang. I hurry to put a sweater on before anyone noticed the tears on my sleeve. Together, the class read a chapter from the Scarlet Letter. I did my best to follow along so I could read when it was my turn, but my mind kept trailing off. How much would I tell Liam? What would I offer him? I rather just let him tell everyone, but the problem with that was if the message spread about my merging abilities, the Coalition would probably find us. The only reason why mergers' abilities were kept a secret was because of the Coalition wanted to keep it confidential. Merging was a secret weapon that the Coalition only knew about, but I had a feeling that it wouldn't be a secret for much longer.
The next two classes went by slow, which I was glad about since I was I still contemplating about what I was going to tell Liam. I didn't know much about him, except he was a genius. He was supposed to be in ninth grade, but because he was so smart he was place in upper level classes. Besides that I didn't know who were his friend? Did he have any? The truth was I didn't know much about anyone at the school except Jason, Aaron, and Kelsey; Kelsey because she forced herself into my personal space. Besides interacting with those three, I had interacted passively with other people at school.
Liam was already waiting at the bleachers when I arrived. He seemed to be fiddling with his hands.
"Hey," I said walking toward him. He jerked up a bit. "Do you know somewhere we can go, like away from people?"
"Yeah, in the alley. It's not far," He said, nervously.
"Okay, let's go."
Of course if anyone had been listening this would have sounded really bad.
I followed him to an alleyway between the school and a neighborhood.
Once we were secluded enough, he stopped and faced me.
"You're an alien, right? And other aliens are hunting you. You're hiding from them." he said, taking off his backpack and hanging it on a fence. "That would explain why you started attending this school in the middle of the year." It was like he was vomiting everything on his mind.
"More like a mutant," I said.
"So you're like Magneto from X-MEN."
"Sort of," I said.
"Aren't their others. You can't be the only one."
"There are, but they want me dead — "
"I knew it," he said enthusiastically like he won bingo. "But why?"
"Because they want me to use my powers to hurt people so I ran away."
"Can't you tell the police, the FBI, or someone?"
"They are the police, the FBI, the military, the government. As soon as I contact someone of authority, they'll find me and kill me. That's why you have to keep this a secret. Not forever, just until I leave this school."
"You're leaving?" he asked.
"Like I said, you don't have to keep it a secret for long. I won't be back after this school year. I'm willing to pay you — "
"You don't have to do that," he said, abruptly. "And you don't have to leave. I won't tell anyone."
I didn't know what to say. I didn't even really know him. How could I trust him?
"You have my word," he said.
I just skeptically stared at him.
"I know you don't trust me, but I really just wanna know what's going on" he said.
"There's a lot to tell."
"And plenty of time. Like I said I won't tell anyone so you can stay here. Beside if I told anyone, you could use your powers on me."
"What do want to know," I ask, curiously.
"That alien monster you were fighting, I saw it when my dad disappeared. There's also been more like it on the news."
Why would the Coalition send a demon after a civilian? Liam's dad probably found out some confidential information but who was he?
"What was your dad's job?"
"He was a truck driver."
Strange. What did the Coalition want with a truck driver?
"Okay," I said. "Meet me on Saturday at Farrell's Parlour at 9:00 O'clock in the evening. But you can't tell anyone."
"I won't snitch, you can trust me,"
"By the way," I asked him. "What were you doing under the bleachers?"
"Looking up information about aliens," He said.
"After my dad disappeared, I started doing research on them. They've been popping up all over the news. Anyway, I was in the gym because I was detecting a frequency."
"Frequency?" I stared at him, dumbfounded. "What are you talking about?"
"This hasn't been the first time I've seen that alien. I saw it before when I stayed in Mr. Hopkin's class during lunch like I usually do. I was listening to music through my ear plugs from my mp3 player and the signal got messed up. That's when I notice a dark shadow pass by. I thought it was an alien. I've been hoping to detect it again."
"How long were you tracking it?" I said, feeling the apprehension stream through by veins.
"Four days," he said. "That's why I was in the gym. I was doing research about what it might be, waiting and hoping it might come back."
This whole time the demon had been following me. At least four days it had been stalking me, and I had no idea because I couldn't detect it in its vapor form. It knew. It knew as soon as it took a solid form I would perceive it and track it down. It was ready to attack me[SJ2] .
"If you notice anything like that again, let me know," I said.
"Uh… Sure," he said, quizzically staring at me.
"See you Saturday," I said and walked back to the football field as anxiety festered my mind.
I actually really didn't have a choice but to trust Liam. If he told someone about my abilities, what was I going to do? Tie him up and lock him down in the basement? I didn't even have a basement so that wouldn't work. He had one more school year of high school left here just to be an average teenager, but if the Coalition came looking for me, they would also find Aaron and Jason's mother and detain them. All these years Jason had thought his mother was dead. I knew the Coalition without hesitation would rip her away from him again.
I sat on the bleachers and watch Jason play. We had planned to go to Farrell's Ice Cream Parlour after his practice. I would sometimes wait and do homework while Jason practiced. I didn't mind since it was October, and the weather was nice here in Monterey Bay, California. But right now, I couldn't do homework with worry on mind.
"Hey Naomi," Jason voice pulled me away from my thoughts. He took off his helmet, walking toward me. "I'll be ready in a couple minute, just need to take a shower."
"A shower?" I said, I just wanted to get away from the school.
"You want me to go into Farrell's like this?" He rose an eyebrow. He was still smothered in his football attire. Sweat drip down his chin and brow. He looked like a bucket of water had been dumped on him.
I snorted a laugh. "No, go ahead and take a shower."
"Cool," he said, then quizzically looked at me. "Why are you wearing a sweater? It's like eighty degrees outside."
"I'll explain later," I said.
"Okay," he looked at me, concern. "I'll be back."
I watched him walk away. I didn't want to tell Jason about the attack. I was sure he would be angry that I hadn't come to get him to combat with me, but I couldn't wait for him to get out of class. The longer I would have waited, the harder it would have been for me to detect its presence. This hadn't been the first time a demon had tracked us down. There had been three other times. One time Jason and Aaron happen to be with me. Then two other times I fought the demons alone, both times when I was walking home from my part time job. We thought of leaving our location, but the demons didn't seemed to be a real threats since we didn't find tracking devices embedded in their flesh.
After fifteen minutes Jason came out of the locker room, fresh, clean, and presentable. His backpack hung from one shoulder. He only wore blue jeans and tennis shoes. He wasn't wearing a shirt so his abs and biceps were exposed to the world, and his hair drip with actual water. He reminded me of a swimsuit model. Man, Kelsey, along with other teen girls, would have passed out if they would have saw him now. I couldn't help but laugh to myself.
"What's funny," he asked me, you know how it steams up in there.
He was right; the locker room and showers room was close by so clothes would moisten if he put them on inside the locker rooms.
"Nothing," I said, jumping down from the bleachers.
He lifted an eyebrow. He tended to over use that technique.
"I was thinking about how Kelsey would have reacted if she saw you right now," I laughed. "When are you two going to hook up?"
He shook his head. "She's not my type."
"Really," I said. "That's not how I remember it. All those girls seemed just like her that you use to bring to the institute before you decided to be homeschooled with the rest of us."
"That was like three years ago," he defended himself, while taking out of a plastic bag from his backpack and slipping a shirt on. "I didn't even know what type of girls I liked. Enough about me. What about you? I heard from Greg that you were making out with Liam in the gym."
"That's not what happened," I said.
"Then what happened?" He stared at me, concerned. "You know he's obsessed with extraterrestrial stuff?"
"Yes, Jason," I said. "I was helping him track down aliens."
Jason rolled his eyes.
We began walking.
"Liam knows… that I'm a merger," I said, ashamedly. Jason looked at me with questioning eyes. "Today, during my lunch time, there was a demon. I killed it, and Liam saw me."
"Why didn't you come get me," he said, baffled.
"You were in class, and I didn't want to lose the link."
"I could have made up an excuse to get out of class," Jason countered.
"Jason," I called him by his real name. "I can take care of them myself."
"Can. But that doesn't mean you should. You're hurt aren't you?" he pointed to my sweater.
"I got distracted and it's just a graze."
"That's what happens when you fight alone." He scorned me.
"It'll be heal by tomorrow," I said. "I have to be able to defend myself when you're not around."
Jason sighed and stared at me, upset. "That's not the point. And you didn't tell me. You didn't trust." He looked away from me.
"That's not it. I didn't want you to worry. I didn't want you involved. They're only after mongrels."
"I'm already involved. We all are. Do you expect me to abandon you and my mother? Remember what I swore?"
Jason swore he would drop out of high school and get a job to take care of all of us if the Coalition found out where we lived. Of course I didn't want him to sacrifice his life so we could live without being hunted down by demons; it wasn't fair to him plus that's not how I wanted to live always hiding, never able to contact the ones I cared about. Rachel told us that seventy-five percent of mongrels had been detained; there were only about fifty not detained, though more and more mongrels were being detained, every day.
"Just don't give up your life here," I said. You shouldn't have to deal with this."
"You are my life." He stopped walking and face me. I could see the frustration trembling in his eyes. "And my mother. And I haven't forgot about Melissa and twins either, but right now, you and mom are being hunted down. I'm not going to let that happen. I'm not going to let my father lock you up like animals and let you be sucked through some type of portal. No one should have to deal with that."
"I just want everyone to be safe, and I don't want to keep running," I said.
"We'll find a place," Jason said, assuring me.
I nodded. I hoped that he was right, but I knew realistically there wasn't a place; not that we could find.
The rest of the way we walked in silence.
As we approached Farrell's Parlour, I could tell it was busy. It was always busy. Even when I worked at Farrel's Parlour on Saturday mornings, it was packed.
"I got this," Jason said as we walked in the restaurant.
"But I get discounts," I said.
"Let me." He weakly smiled at me. "My treat."
I just smiled, though I felt a twinge of guilt.