With great power…comes a whole lot of trouble…
What if you had superpowers? Inexplicable. Powerful. Dangerous.
What if you were desperate to know why?
And what if the one man who had the answers…was a psychopath?
Drake Sinclair will do anything to discover the origins of his abilities and protect the people he loves. That includes finding Lucius Sykes, the notorious psychopath ‘gifted’ with the same abilities as Drake by a long-destroyed illegal organization called Project Midnight.
But now Project Midnight is back. And they’ll also do anything to finish what they started.
My day really began the moment the men shot at me.
To set the record straight, it wasn’t my usual idea of fun.
I crouched lower in the thick underbrush, blending in as much as I could in the black hoodie I’d worn to ward off the April chill of South Dakota. I could just imagine how the headlines would read: Local Boy, Drake Sinclair, Killed by Poachers With Lucky Aim.
Not the kind of ending I’d hoped for. Not that I contemplated my end too much.
The first poacher who’d fired at me swore as he tripped over another branch. He shook his leg to free his camo jeans and angrily pulled his jacket as it snagged on a limb. The small clump of thick trees surrounding us may have only been a windbreak, but it was still treacherous underfoot. Especially if you didn’t know where you were going. And were an idiot.
“I swear I saw something,” he said. “Really, I did.”
The second poacher growled. “You didn’t see nothing! Just a bird or rabbit. Probably didn’t hit it anyway.”
No, he did not hit me. But there was an oak tree a few yards back that was nursing two slugs and some deep resentment. I breathed out as the poachers passed, then stopped, afraid they’d see my breath. Then I realized that was stupid.
It was six thirty am. I had been out on my morning run and it was very dark. That’s probably what the poachers were thinking (not too much, trust me) when they’d come out. Dark enough to poach without being caught, but too dark to see what they were shooting at; mainly, me.
By now the poachers had moved far enough away to allow me to move. I easily leapt into the tree next to me and landed silently on one of the sturdier limbs to watch them.
They had been smart (kind of) to come to the backwoods of Dale Janson’s land. He owned so much, the back two hundred acres were almost never checked. ‘Perfect mischief ground’ my dad called it. Mischief ground.
That’s why I was here. It was the only place I could be…me.
I mapped an imaginary course through the trees in front of me, judged my moves, and jumped, leaping from tree to tree, so quiet I didn’t even rustle a leaf. I eyed one on my right and went for it, clearing the twenty-foot gap with ease.
Some called it Parkour. Free running, finding the most efficient way to move, envisioning new ways to use space. Fun, I called it.
Time to put the practice into play.
The poachers were just ahead of me. No doubt they were looking for the tons of deer that loved the fields of clover Dale Janson owned. I’d outrun a herd of them on the ten-mile run from my house to here.
“Man, you sure we won’t get caught?” Tubby poacher asked. He leveled his Remington, like it would keep him safe. The skinny one laughed.
“You scared? ‘Fraid old man Dale’s gonna catch you?” His boots crunched leaves. “Or you frightened of the spooks ‘round here? Oooh! Demons! Phantoms!”
“Nah, you stop being a baby. And trigger happy. We shoot off too much, somebody’s gonna come lookin’.”
Their shapes stood out to me in the near darkness. Time to make my move.
I hit the ground and rolled, then took off towards them. I rushed the fat one, my feet flying over the ground, coming within a foot from him and yanking on the tail of his shirt before jumping back.
“Gah!” He yelped. “What was that?”
“Watch where you point that thing! Watch it!”
I charged them again. The skinny one must have sensed something coming his way, because he swung his shotgun around and fired right at me.
Pssh. Lucky guess.
I twisted in midair, contorting my body so the slug buzzed harmlessly past and cracked! into the tree behind me. I grabbed the hood of his hunting jacket and tugged it hard over his eyes and shoved him into the fat one.
“Run,” I whispered.
I didn’t know men could scream that high.
“Go! Go!” The skinny one shoved his friend forward and together they stumbled, tumbled and tripped their way back the way they had come. I stood there and tried to keep from laughing too loudly.
When they were gone I checked behind me at the horizon, which had begun to turn a light pink. I usually liked to stay out longer. With the end of my high school senior year coming up, I had a lot to think about, and no easy answers. There were still classes to worry about, and I needed to decide what college I was going to for my psychology major. If I was going at all.
But I couldn’t hang around here. If those two goons caught sight of a black-hoodied kid running out of a forest they thought was haunted, well…that’d be an awkward meet ‘n greet.
So I started running back home.
South Dakota, to me, is split into two categories: not boring, and boring.
Unfortunately, I’d been born in the boring part. Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautiful country, lush and green in the springtime, and the sky sometimes seems like it can go on forever and ever. But this time of year the landscape was struggling to get back some color, with spots of clover and forbs sprouting up and dotting the sides of the roads. What was left of the grass after winter was valiantly trying to break through to the surface. The land was flat, flatter and flattest, and if you found one of the few hills around, you could see for miles.
My feet churned under me, the cold air refreshing in my lungs. In four minutes I had cleared Dale’s boundary at the three-mile mark. Six miles I was nearing my hometown, Maize, South Dakota (Yeah, Maize. Seriously) and hearing the hourly bell toll, and by nine miles I had to slow down, so if people saw me, they wouldn’t see a kid running faster than was humanly possible.
I should probably explain: I’m not normal.
When I was fourteen…things started happening. And I don’t mean puberty, geez. No, something far stranger. And having gone through puberty that’s saying a lot.
One day I woke up and my world had changed. My vision was sharper, colors more vibrant than they’d ever been before. Walking had almost become difficult because my muscles were so strong. I could leap farther, jump higher, move heavy objects that normal humans would find impossible. And my speed…that’s what had scared people the most. It must have been unnerving seeing only a blur and then having me appear by their side. By the time I learned to keep that in check it was too late, and some of the kids in Maize had already grown suspicious.
Had I questioned why I had my abilities? Heck yes. Who wouldn’t? My parents didn’t have them. What I’d searched for on the Internet hadn’t come up with anything except for comic book characters that looked downright silly to me. So I had been forced to come up with explanations on my own. Which led me from thinking I was adopted, to some kind of alien.
Really encouraging stuff for a fourteen-year-old who’s trying to figure out hormonal changes without freaking out the general populace with his crazy powers he can barely control. Maybe there was something in the water. Or the air. Maize was a little more in the middle of nowhere than usual, but then, nobody else had anything like this.
I turned down our gravel road at 1142 Briarsridge Lane. By the time I got to the front door I had easily caught my breath, but continued panting to make it seem like I was winded in case my parents had been watching me walk up the drive.
When all of the weirdness first started happening I tried talking with my parents, but they chalked it up to “Your body’s natural changes” and left it at that. When I subtly hinted that maybe being able to jump ten feet straight up wasn’t how normal kids went through puberty, they only seemed more confused. They loved me, but I hadn’t brought it up since, choosing instead to disguise any instances of abnormality.
I went inside and raided the fridge, grabbing some milk and leftover something that was lurking in the back. It was almost seven fifteen, so mom was gone for her shift at the hospital. I shut the fridge door.
“Drake?” My dad poked his head in from the study room. The curly hair I’d inherited from him was more of a mess this morning, like he’d just rolled out of bed. “What’s happening, kiddo?”
I scooped the leftovers onto a plate, stuck it in the microwave, then sat back on the counter while they were heating up. “Nothing much. Morning run.”
He nodded. “Good one?”
I shrugged. “Same old same old.”
He nodded again. “Glad to hear it. Well I’ve got a client at nine, so why don’t you hurry on up and get ready after you eat and I’ll drive you to school.” He retreated back to his study while I retrieved my food and started shoveling it into my mouth.
My dad was cool. For a dad, I guess. If there was a coolness scale for that sort of thing. He was a financial advisor for farmers, so he knew pretty much everybody around here. When we’d go into town for anything he’d always get caught up talking to one person or another about the latest prices of grain or a new loan for the shiniest piece of farm equipment. Usually the only way to pull him away was to have my mom drag him by his ear.
When I was done eating I hurried upstairs to my room. I kicked aside a dirty pile of clothes and searched for something clean. Though I wasn’t normally excited for school, today was a little different. Today was the day I was asking Missy Vans to prom.
Did she suspect it? No. Did she know I existed? Maybe.
But I was going to do it anyway. For the last couple months I had been figuring out whether or not I had a shot. Missy was a ‘popular’ kid, and I was…well, not as much. She was more into jocks, and I couldn’t play sports, because of the whole enhanced speed and strength thing.
But Missy seemed super nice, and was super pretty, and maybe, just maybe, she’d say yes.
So I made sure to brush my teeth twice, and put on some of dad’s cologne I’d borrowed from downstairs. I checked and rechecked myself in the bathroom mirror, pulled on my favorite black hoodie for luck, grabbed my backpack and returned downstairs. Dad was leaning against the table near our front door, munching on an apple and reading the Wall Street Journal.
He sniffed when I walked up, ready to go.
“What’s that smell?”
“Success. Can we go?”
I’m not terribly proud I have to be driven to school. I mean, I’m eighteen. I have a driver’s license but the only other car besides the one mom drives is a beat up pick up truck that my dad needs to make trips out to clients’ farms. School’s too far to walk. I can run in, but I was already going out of my way to not be more of a freak than usual.
But I liked driving with dad. He turned off our road and we hit the ‘highway’ leading in to Maize, passing rows of farm fields, and lines of lanky trees in the distance. Every now and then a grain elevator popped up, like a chubby rocket ship pointed towards space.
“What are you thinking about, kiddo?” My dad asked. He was looking over at me. I hadn’t realized I had been zoning, staring out the window, thinking about nothing much, except maybe how to approach Missy.
“Stuff,” I said.
He shifted in his seat and turned down the radio. “Well since I have you trapped in here, I thought we could take a second to talk about your college plans.”
I held back a groan. Here it came. The ‘let’s talk about your future’ conversation. It was about as well liked as somebody saying ‘here’s a porcupine. Shove it in your eye!’.
“Now your mom and I know you want to study psychology, which is great, it really is. But, you know, graduation’s coming up, and you haven’t applied to any colleges yet.” He gave me a concerned look. “It’s getting a little late, kiddo. Maybe too late. We wouldn’t mind you hanging around here for a semester. Take some time to think about what you really want and get your head on straight, but you’ve got choices to make.”
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to go to college. I did. Badly. And preferably as far away from Maize, South Dakota as possible.
“Nothing’s really stood out to me,” I said.
“What, are you looking for a sign?” My dad said, waving at a driver passing us the other way. Probably a neighbor. Or anybody in town, really. He knew everyone.
I watched a billboard for toothpaste, seriously, toothpaste, flash by. “Kind of. No, not really. Maybe? I don’t know.”
He nodded like that had made an ounce of sense. I wasn’t sure what he was thinking. Dad had gone to college straight out of high school. After graduation he’d gotten a temporary position overseas, and that had been where he’d met mom, in London, while taking a vacation break. So he’d ended up staying in London for a while, she’d ended up marrying him, they’d ended up moving to Maize, South Dakota, and both of them wound up with yours truly. I don’t have much of an accent from my British side, which sucks because I heard girls love guys with accents.
“You know, Drake,” my dad said in a voice that meant he was in teaching mode. “College is a glorious time. It’s a place to…to…invent yourself.” He glanced at me to see if I was listening. “I know things have been a little hard for you the last few years,” Understatement of the century, but yeah, we’ll go with that, “but it’s a time to change, you know?”
“I was thinking out of state,” I said.
Our stoplight was coming up. “Not in state, like we talked about?”
“I just feel…I think I need to get some distance. I’d still visit,” I said quickly. “But, if I’m going to ‘invent’, I need to really get away.”
My dad tapped his fingers on the wheel to the rhythm of the truck. We passed the drug store and the hardware shop on the right. “Drake, I’m proud of you for making that decision. And I’ll talk with your mother, but if you can get a scholarship and we can find some way to pay for this, which means actually applying,” he gave me a look, “to schools, then I think that’s okay. You have any particular college in mind?”
“Not yet,” I said. “But I’ll get a list soon. Promise.”
“You do that. Bring them to me and we’ll talk about it.” He waved to some more people, lounging around outside of their truck. I saw the tubby and skinny poachers from this morning talking animatedly to a group of men in camo clothes. Some of them were laughing at them. I ducked my head until we passed.
“So…” my dad said, a smug smile creeping on his lips. “Prom’s coming up, isn’t it?”
Thank goodness we were almost to school. “It…might be,” I said.
“Got anyone special in mind?”
“Maybe,” I said evasively.
“Is she cute?”
I couldn’t help chuckling at the ridiculousness of this conversation, and my dad gently smacked me on the back of the head, grinning. “Yeah, yeah dad, she is.”
“Great! Well bring her on home once she says yes. Let your old man embarrass you a bit.”
We pulled in to the drop off lot in front of school and I leapt out before the conversation could get any more awkward. I waved behind me. My dad rolled down the window.
“I’ll tell your mom to get out your baby photos,” he called. “Especially the one of you naked in the—”
“Dad!” A couple people were staring. My dad smirked, rolled up the window and zoomed off, the truck leaving a hint of black smoke behind it.
I’d kill him later.
I wouldn’t say I have ‘friends’ at school. They were more like acquaintances, satellite kids who hung around the fringes of the cliques, interacting with everyone, but not pledging allegiance to any one group. It hadn’t always been this way. Freshman year I’d been excited about high school. I’d joined every club I could, hung out with kids all the time. After school my friends and I would head in to town and hang out for hours, just doing a lot of nothing.
But that had been near the beginning of my…gifts.
Soon it became hard to go out anymore. I was having too much trouble controlling my strength and speed. School was almost unbearable to sit through, and I was often rushing off to the bathroom to choke down another spasm of pain, or to look at my red-faced, blood shot eyes in the mirror and try to convince myself I wasn’t going crazy.
Back then, the minute school had ended I was gone, racing home or escaping out into the countryside to be alone and figure out what to do with all these powers I suddenly had.
I got them under control eventually, but by the time I had returned to being ‘normal’ the damage was already done. Kids didn’t seem so happy to be around me. I had become that ‘weird’ kid and so I had floated from one thing to the next, finding freedom in the moments outside where I could be who I wanted to be. Whatever that was.
There were still thirty minutes before the bell. Most kids hung out in the courtyard. I spotted Colin Fritz, a kid I sort of knew. I took a seat at the bench on the other side of him. He looked up acknowledged me.
And…that was pretty much it. Conversation over.
I turned around and scouted the courtyard. I was pretty sure Missy Vans hung out with some of her friends around the benches near the art hall.
There she was!
I checked myself. I wasn’t sweating. Yet. My clothing was straight, my hair as tamed as it would be. I could do this. I could outrun deer, scare poachers, punch through bricks (I think. I’d never tried, but I was probably strong enough to), asking her to prom should be a snap.
Colin must have caught me looking and taking deep breaths and realized what I was up to. He shook his head.
“Don’t do it, man.”
“Wish me luck!”
“Dude, Kent’s already—”
I crossed the courtyard. Maybe a little faster than I should of. Missy looked up and jumped when she found me next to her all of a sudden. The conversation in the group swiftly died, and the friends she had been hanging out with turned haughtily to me.
“Hey,” I said.
Missy’s eyes flickered to the girls behind her, who were making odd faces. A small smile tugged at the corner of her mouth. She was easily one of the prettiest girls in Maize; deep, chocolate brown hair, flawless face, hands that didn’t have calluses like most of the kids who worked on their family’s farms.
“Uh, hey. Can I help you?”
I took another deep breath. “I was wondering if I could ask you something.”
Someone in the back coughed, which sounded more like a barely concealed laugh. Missy fidgeted on the bench. “Like what?”
“Well, alone, actually.”
This time it was obvious it was snickering.
“Here’s fine,” Missy said.
“Oh, okay.” I tried to ignore the rest of her friends who had started whispering behind her. I had known most of them freshman year, but after, you know, the incident, I’d fallen out of touch. I hadn’t wanted an audience, but I would take what I could get.
“So I was hoping, since prom is coming up and all…if maybe you’d want to go with me?”
The whispering behind her ceased. Missy’s eyes grew wider and wider until I was almost sure they’d pop out. This was obviously not what she had been expecting.
“Prom?” Missy said, and giggled. She was covering her mouth, small bursts of more giggles breaking through.
“Um, no.” She shot a ‘can you believe this’ look behind her. “I’m already going with someone,” more laughter, “So no, definitely not.”
My face was on fire. I was sure the entire courtyard had stopped to witness my embarrassment. And what was worse, Missy was still laughing.
I could take a hint.
My mouth was too dry to speak, so I hiked my backpack up on my shoulders and turned away from them. The group exploded with laughter.
And I had expected something else? Expected something different from kids who practically hadn’t known me for the past three years?
I rushed out of the courtyard and ducked out of sight around the side of the school. Staying here the rest of the day seemed unbearable. So I didn’t. The football field behind the school was empty, and beyond that lay open fields, and then…freedom.
I started running.
The one good thing about living in Maize is the abundance of lonely, empty, secluded back roads. Most of the roads are washed out gravel or compacted dirt, and people only used them to get to their fields, so you can go for hours without seeing another person.
That was my goal.
I wandered without a purpose, just weaving down one road, and when that reached the end or came to a cross roads, I picked a different one and headed that way.
By the time dusk came, and the insects let loose with their singing, I had wound up with my legs hanging off the rail bridge near the northern edge of town, where a grain train sometimes passed through. I picked up the gravel between the rails and threw it into the Whetstone River below, trying to hit whatever debris floated by in the turbulent water.
I kept replaying that morning in my head, and by the end of the mind loop realized how dumb I’d been. I had taken a sudden leap from obscurity in Maize, right to the top of the social food chain, and ended up falling in to the chasm in between.
Even if she had said yes, even if I got back to how involved I had been freshman year, that would have meant hanging out more with kids, kids whom I couldn’t tell about my abilities. And it would only be a matter of time before they found out, and then what? Nah, it was probably for the better.
But it still sucked.
I sighed and tossed another rock. It was getting late. I’d already fielded some texts from my dad, saying I had decided to walk home. If I waited any longer he’d get worried.
I grabbed the railing and hefted myself up.
Headlights from the cross road washed over me and I shielded my eyes, waiting for them to pass.
They didn’t. A second later, truck doors slammed, gravel crunched under boots and raucous laughter came my direction. I turned to go the other way off the bridge. It would take longer to get home, but I could run now that it was nearly dark.
I froze. Kids from school. I turned back towards the headlights. My eyes had adjusted, and I could see four of them with halos of light around their figures. A couple wore varsity jackets and carried bottles. They circled me. I knew the lead guy, Kent Williams, super track star.
They must have been backroading. It was kind of Maize’s go-to leisure activity. Pretty much the same thing I did; wander around the miles of gravel road, except most people did it in a truck.
Kent and his buddies were being a little too laugh-happy. They had been drinking, apparently.
“Heard you were asking my girl to prom today,” Kent said.
Missy? So that had been what Colin was trying to tell me. I mentally smacked myself. I should have guessed Kent would have made his move already, but I hadn’t been in the social know, hadn’t been paying enough attention.
His buddies snickered. A couple of them drew closer behind me. This was quickly turning into a situation I didn’t want to be involved in.
“Your name wasn’t on her,” I said.
Kent’s face crinkled to confusion. “What?”
Ugh. Idiot. They must really be wasted. “Never mind. Sorry, Kent. I didn’t know you already asked her.” I tried to walk past him, but he shoved me back. He wasn’t strong, at least not compared to me, but I let him push me and pretended to stumble.
“I’m not done. You’re not sorry enough.”
I wasn’t stupid. I knew what was coming next. And there wasn’t a single thing I was going to do to stop it. There were four of them, but even after training myself to restrain my strength and speed, I could mop all of them up in about five seconds.
But what would that accomplish? Questions would get asked. Uncomfortable situations brought up. And as much as I didn’t like Kent, and felt sick at how Missy had treated me, the thought of doing something like that to them made me internally cringe. It just wasn’t me.
The first punch came from the side. I saw it coming a mile away, but I let it glance off the side of my head. What horrible aim. That probably hurt his hand more than it hurt my hard head.
I decided to make this easy for them and dropped to the ground. In a second they were all over me like a pack of dogs, kicking and punching, yelling slurred words and laughing. I just curled my head in and covered it, trying not to think how I could have easily destroyed them, broken their bones, made them pay…
After a minute they let up. I didn’t hurt at all. Whether they were so drunk their strength reverted back to that of a two-year-old or my fast healing ability deadened the pain, I didn’t know.
Kent spit on my hoodie. “He’s done.” I picked my head up. Kent had leveled a finger at my face. “You stay away from Missy. In fact, you just stay away from everyone. Nobody wants to see your face.”
He laughed and backed up towards the side railing of the bridge. A couple of his friends looked back at me as he pulled out a cigarette and lit it.
“Hey,” one asked, “we done or what?”
Kent took a drag and stared down at me, his upper lip lit up in the orange glow of the tip. “Yeah, we’re done.” He wound up to deliver one more kick.
That was one too many for me. I caught his leg and leapt up, shoving him gently back. “Go home, Kent.”
Kent staggered, thrown off guard. His arms pinwheeled above his head as he tried to regain his balance. And then his back hit the railing and he was toppling over, the lit tip of the cigarette disappearing over the edge into the roaring river below.