One Year Ago
“Hey, kid. Yeah, you.” The gruff, bordering on angry voice filled the small convenience store as the grizzled man behind the counter pointed a finger at the small, thirteen-year-old girl standing near the drink cooler. “I’ve got the cops on speed dial. I see one goddamn thing go in your pockets and we’ll see how fast they can get here. You hear me, not one goddamn thing. I don’t care if it’s a stick of gum. You keep that shit out where I can see it.”
Bobbi Camren didn’t argue with the man. It wasn’t anything new. Being dark-skinned meant that the first thing people like this guy thought when they saw her was thief.
“Yessir,” she murmured instead, drawling the two words together while making a point of keeping her hands out where they could be seen. She’d only come in here to use the bathroom, but it felt bad to just do that, so she’d at least buy a drink or something.
Biting her lip, Bobbi moved to the cooler, standing by the door to look inside. In the reflection of the glass, she saw the man watching her, a slight scowl crossing his face. He didn’t want her in his store. He was convinced that she was going to steal something, and he just wanted her to leave so he could relax again. It was an expression that she had seen a lot recently. Her age didn’t matter, the fact that she had done nothing wrong didn’t matter. One thing mattered: her skin was dark.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t even as simple as that. Because while the girl’s father was very black, her mother, in turn, was incredibly white. Like, living in the Hamptons white. Bobbi’s mother had been a rich white girl who had gone down to party with some guys from the bad side of town. Which, in a place like New York City, was saying something. She had ended up pregnant, and kept the baby against her parents’ wishes. Sometime later, Bobbi had come along.
Through the first twelve years of her life, Bobbi hadn’t known anything about her father at all, only that he had run out on them. She had gone to private school and had been incredibly spoiled by her mother. Her grandparents had also done their share of spoiling her before they in turn had passed away when the girl was ten, each going within a few months of each other.
For a couple of years, it had been just Bobbi and her mother. But even that had come to an end, as Megan Camren was eventually arrested for some kind of financial fraud thing that Bobbi didn’t even understand. All she knew was that her mother was going to prison for several years.
For a while, it had looked as if she would need to be put into the foster care system. But, in the end, they had actually located her birth father. So, the girl had been sent to live with him, where she had discovered that Dennis Orsen had not actually run out on them. Rather, he had never been told of her existence. To him, his date with Bobbi’s mother was nothing more than a one night stand. He had spent over a decade with no idea that the quick fling had resulted in a child.
For just under a year now, Bobbi had lived with her father in a rundown apartment that the man could barely afford despite the fact that he worked almost twelve hours a day, six days a week. He did everything he could to provide for her, but it meant that she was left alone most of the time. Alone in a world where she was too dark to be seen as white, and too white to be seen as black. Plus, there was the fact that someone had spread the news that she had come from a rich household, so now most of the kids at school hated her for being spoiled, never mind that she’d had no choice in how she had been raised, and that she was living just as poorly as the rest of them did at the moment.
She was disliked and distrusted by both sides. White and black, rich and poor. She was wrong for everyone. Anyone who lived the kind of life that she used to live saw her as a criminal or thug, while those who were living the life that she lived now thought she was a selfish, spoiled brat. Or worse, a race traitor, whatever that meant.
The point was, no one wanted her around, something she had grown accustomed to over the past year.
“Look, kid,” the man finally spoke up while she had been lost in thought, “if you’re not going to buy anything, you need to—”
The sound of the door into the shop chiming as it was opened distracted the man, and both he and Bobbi glanced toward what turned out to be four men stepping inside. Three of the men wore suits, while the fourth was dressed in baggy cargo pants and a Hawaiian shirt that barely covered his expansive stomach. The latter was a good twenty years older than his companions, who all looked attentive and dangerous, like the cops that never took their eyes off of Bobbi when they saw her, or the secret service people that protected the presidents on TV. That was what they look like, the Secret Service. Or FBI. Or the private security that some of her mother’s old friends had had.
Seeing the fourth man enter, the guy behind the counter instantly forgot all about Bobbi. “Hey,” he started, his voice suddenly much more subdued than it had been a moment ago. “I told you, you can’t just come in here anytime you want and-”
“Is that right?” When the man in the Hawaiian shirt spoke, it was with a distinct Italian accent. “Are you telling me that I can’t enter a store that I own? Is that what you’re saying to me right now, that I am somehow barred from the premises of my own establishment?”
Since none of the men who had just come in seemed to have noticed her, Bobbi quickly sank down into a kneeling position behind the nearest set of shelves, peering around it to watch what was happening while staying as much out of sight as she could.
The man behind the counter gave a low growl while his head shook. “It’s not yours, Ricky. I own the shop just like my father did, and it’s not for sale. Not to you, not to anyone.”
Ricky wagged his finger twice, his tone curious. “Now you see, that’s curious. Because I own this street. I own this block. I own this neighborhood. So, if there is a shop inside of this neighborhood, which I own, then it would stand to reason that I own that shop.” He turned to one of his men and then gestured. “Does it makes sense that I would own every last thing in this neighborhood except for this very spot right here?”
When all three of his men silently shook their heads, Ricky looked back to the shop owner while giving an exaggerated helpless shrug. “You see, everyone agrees, it doesn’t make sense.”
The shop owner’s hand shifted a bit, and he pulled a sawed-off shotgun out from under the counter there, making Bobbi’s eyes widen as she barely stifled a gasp. “You don’t scare me,” he insisted while glowering at the man. “Now get the hell out of my store.”
Ricky chuckled low in his throat, a dangerous sound. “I don’t scare you?” he asked, clearly curious. And then Bobbi must have blinked or something, because the man was suddenly standing directly in front of the counter, having crossed the distance from the door in an instant.
“If I don’t scare you like this,” the man announced then, “maybe we should do something about that.”
Things happened really fast then, as the man behind the counter started to bring that gun up a little more directly. Before he could get it in line, however, Ricky lashed out with his hand. And then… then… then lightning erupted from his fingers, wrapping around the guy before picking him up and throwing him backwards. The gun fell to the floor, and the man started screaming and writhing while the electricity danced over him.
Wait, wait, what?! How was he…? Eyes widening with shock at that, Bobbi covered her mouth with one hand to contain her cry of fear and confusion. The squeak that emerged from her was thankfully lost against the sound of the man’s screaming.
“How about now?!” Ricky demanded while casually electrocuting the man with his fingers. “Are you scared now, you stupid piece of shit?! Or maybe–” A weird glowing dagger thing just appeared in his other hand. “Maybe you’d like a different taste of–”
“Stop it!” Bobbi was on her feet, suddenly standing where the men could see her. “Leave him alone! You’re hurting him!” Even as she spoke, the girl found herself shaking violently. Now she really had to use the bathroom.
Four pairs of eyes snapped to her, the men in suits reflexively grabbing for the guns that they had left holstered. Even Ricky’s gaze snapped her way as he let up with the electricity for a moment.
It was just enough. As the electricity let up, the man behind the counter grabbed his fallen shotgun. With a shout, he brought it up, just as Ricky spun back that way, his hand raised once more. But it was too late, the deafening roar of the gun firing filled the shop and convincing Bobbi that the entire store had exploded. She fell to the ground with a scream, while Ricky himself was taken full in the chest and crashed to the floor.
More gunfire filled the shop then, as the three bodyguards emptied their pistols into the store owner, who collapsed in a puddle of his own blood. Bobbi was still screaming, covering her ears while her face was pressed to the floor. She felt and tasted something sticky, coppery, and gross, but didn’t dare open her eyes. She just whimpered like that.
Footsteps came closer to her, and the girl wind a little more, covering her head as if that would help. Then, distantly came the sound of rapidly approaching sirens. One of the man cursed, and another said, “Ricky’s dead, let’s get out of here. We’ve got to tell his dad.”
“What about her?” another one of the men asked.
There was a pause, and then the first man replied, “I ain’t killing a kid, man. I’m just not. To hell with that. Leave her.”
The footsteps moved away from her, and then there was the sound of the door training again. Still, Bobbi didn’t move. She stayed like that, hands over her head with that sticky taste in our mouth before slowly opening her eyes to find that it was Ricky‘s blood. It had pooled out across the floor from that horrific gunshot wound, reaching as far as where she was laying. That was what she had been tasting, what had gotten into her mouth.
The girl retched a little, spitting up just as the sirens grew even louder as they reached the parking lot.
No, no, no. She couldn’t be here. She had to leave. Policeman didn’t like her. They didn’t trust her. Her mom was already in jail. They wouldn’t believe anything she said. They never did. She had to go. She had to run. Terror gripped the girl’s heart, as visions of being arrested filled her mind. They’d blame her, they’d think she had something to do with it
Every light in the store suddenly went out. The hum of the coolers was cut off entirely, as was the steady sound of a fan that had been on the counter. Even the small radio that had been quietly playing in the background was completely silent.
It was all dark, except for Bobbi herself. The girl was glowing. No, it was more than that. There were actual lines of power, of electricity, dancing over her skin. In the darkness, her form was illuminated by the lightning crackling all along her skin.
Power. She felt power, felt strength. And she felt something else, a kind of energy that she couldn’t describe. It was begging to be let out. It needed release. And Bobbi released it by lunging to her feet. Before she really knew what she was doing, the girl was running for the front door.
Running, but more than running. Her entire body was filled with so much energy that she was moving faster than she had ever moved before. Faster than anyone could move. The policemen in the parking lot, stepping out of their cars, were completely frozen as the girl raced right past them. In the time that it took them to notice the motion of her passing and turn their eyes that way, the girl was already two blocks away.
She stopped then, in an alley far away from the store. Seconds. She had been running for barely a few seconds, and she was already blocks away.
“Wh-“ Bobbi started with confusion while stumbling a little as the rush of energy completely left her. Her clothing was in tatters, the speed of her running having almost totally destroyed them. “What’s happening to me…?”
“Hey you, kid.” A voice nearby made the girl gasp and quickly turn, only to see a figure laying near the dumpster, covered in blankets and ragged coats. “You okay?” the gruff, yet kind voice asked. The clearly homeless man added, “You look pretty rough. Do you need the cops or… or something?”
Quickly, Bobbi shook her head. “No,” the girl blurted. “No, I’m o-okay. I just— I just need to go home. I need to go home.”
“You ain’t going to get home anytime soon with clothes looking like that, kid.” There was a brief pause before the bundled up figure grunted and pushed one of those coats that were piled up on him out toward her. “Take this one. It’ll do ’til you get home.”
Blinking at that, Bobbi started to refuse. “Oh, I couldn’t take one of your—”
“I got a dozen of them, kid,” the figure snapped. “Just take the coat and get home. You go straight home now, hear me? You don’t need to be out here on the streets like this. It’s dangerous.” There was a brief pause before the figure muttered, “More dangerous than you know.”
Hesitantly Bobbi reached out to take the coat. As she did so, the girl caught a glimpse of the man’s extended arm. Only, it didn’t look like an arm. Not exactly. There were feathers on it. The man’s arm was covered in feathers. She gasped, blinking up to see his eyes. And his nose. A nose that looked too large. Way too large. It looked more like a… a beak?
The nose—no, beak— parted, opening like a mouth as if the man was going to say something else. Seeing that, Bobbi let out a yelp and spun to run away, only belatedly realizing that she still had the coat in her arms. She ran out of the alley, pulling the coat on as she went while trying to ignore the man’s voice calling after asking what was wrong with her.
For a few seconds, the girl stood there with the coat pulled around her, stopped in the middle of the sidewalk as she fought to understand what she had just seen, what she had seen in the alley and back in the store. What happened? How had she gotten out of the store so fast? What happened to her clothes? What—
The sound of a wolf whistle caught her attention then, and the girl’s eyes snapped up to see a trio of men down the street who were waving at a prostitute on the corner. Except the man who had been wolf-whistling was an actual wolf. Or at least his head was. His face was covered in fur, with the snout and everything. He looked like a humanoid wolf. His two buddies, meanwhile, looked more like green porcupine things with too many eyes.
For a moment, Bobbi just stared, shock completely taking over her every sense and muscle. She simply stood there open-mouthed while gaping that way.
“Hey, you got a problem kid?” The voice came from behind Bobbi, and she spun once more to find herself being approached by four men. Three of them looked completely normal, human. But the one who had spoken, he didn’t look normal at all. Instead, the man’s head was oversized, and looked more like that of a whale or shark. When he smiled, his mouth was way too large, with several intricate rows of deadly teeth. And the way he was looking at her, it was with hunger.
“Come on,” the man started while extending his hand. “We’ll get you home.” But from the look in his eyes, home was the last place the man intended to take her. Unless it was his own.
When the girl took a step backward reflexively, the shark-man sighed and gestured for his companions. “Just grab the kid and let’s get out of here.”
The other men stepped toward her, and Bobbi panicked once more. Her heart jumped, and she turned to run. In mid-step, the nearby stoplight, along with a bright neon sign attached to a liquor store, and a car that had been sitting at that stoplight all went dead. And Bobbi felt that sudden power again. She felt that rush.
She ran. Once again, the energy coursed through her, and Bobbi found herself standing in front of her own apartment building only a minute or two later. She barely remembered running the entire way. Everything was a blur, just as she herself had been. She’d crossed the whole distance, several miles, in only a minute or so. How?! How was any of this happening? What was happening?!
“Bobbi, sweetie? Are you okay?”
The sound of the familiar voice made the girl settle a little bit, some of the panic fading out of her. It was Mrs. Gimple, the nice old lady next-door who always gave her cookies. Turning that way on the front step of the apartment building, she opened her mouth, only to stop short.
Mrs. Gimple wasn’t Mrs. Gimple. She looked more like a cross between a lizard and a peacock, a bright red-skinned lizard with multicolored peacock feathers along the back of her neck and coming out of her four-fingered hands. The woman looked at her quizzically. “Bobbi?” she asked in the familiar woman’s voice. “Sweetie, do you want me to call your dad?”
Bobbi didn’t answer. She couldn’t answer. There was a lump in her throat that she thought she might choke on. Shaking her head while terror gripped her heart, the girl spun and ran into the building. She ran all the way to the apartment, unlocked it, and threw herself inside before slamming the door after herself. Then she ran all the way to her room, dove under the bed, and pulled her favorite stuffed animal in after her. Laying there in the relative darkness, the girl hugged her bear to herself while whimpering.
“What’s going on? What’s going on?
“What’s going on?!”
“M-man, j-j-just take my money, okay?” The terrified voice filled the small, dark alley as the stuttering man pressed himself back against the cold brick wall, his eyes centered on the man in front of him. Nearby, a small, dark squirrel cowered close to a dumpster.
The imposing man, if he could actually be called man, took a step closer. His skin was rough and leathery, his face extended into something more akin to a crocodile snout filled with teeth than a normal person’s. He chuckled low and dark, shaking his head. “Money? I don’t need your money. I need your flesh. I need your bones. I need to taste them. I haven’t eaten in days, and it’s time to feast.”
“Have you considered Sizzler?”
The gator man spun at the new voice, hissing with anger before abruptly stopping. He blinked then, staring in clear confusion. “The hell are you?”
Bobbi was there. But it was a Bobbi who was a good deal different than she had been one year earlier. The now fourteen-year-old wore what looked like actual body armor, though it was unlike any armor that a normal person would have worn. It looked almost like it was made of glass, a bright blue/white glass with actual electricity dancing inside of it. The suit fit her almost like a second skin, or an exoskeleton, with a helmet that covered the girl’s head entirely. There was no visor, no open parts to the helmet at all. It was all one solid piece, with one line of electricity along where her mouth would be that bounced up and down like the line on one of those monitors in the hospital when she spoke.
“You know,” she started again with a gesture that made the electricity in the arm of her suit dance almost hypnotically. “Because you said you were hungry. You could try Sizzler. I think they’re having a sale right now.”
“Oooh.” The crocodile man licked his lips. “I’m not one to spoil my supper, but you look positively delicious.”
His mouth opened again, and this time, an enormous, long barbed tongue shot out toward her. It was as thick as a grown man’s arm, and probably strong enough to fling that grown man clear across the street. It was also wicked fast, able to snatch unsuspecting targets from a good fifteen feet away before they even knew what was happening. Just like now.
But Bobbi was ready, and she was faster. With a blur of motion, the girl snapped her arm up. A glowing glass-like shield appeared on that arm, expanding and snapping into place just as the tongue bounced off of it.
The croc-man started to yank his tongue back again. It was a motion just as quick as extending it had been. In an instant, his tongue, extended out that full fifteen feet, would be back in his mouth.
But again, Bobbi was faster. Everything slowed down, as the girl threw herself into a brief, blurred run. She crossed the fifteen feet more quickly than a gunshot could have. For that brief moment, a bullet would have appeared to have stopped in midair.
Reaching the spot right in front of the man, Bobbi’s free hand snapped up. In mid-motion, a long, glass-like sword appeared there, also crackling with energy. It cut straight through the extended tongue, cutting it off at nearly full extension. Nearby, the squirrel made a startled squeaking noise.
Even as the crocodile man started to give a startled scream, Bobbi pivoted on her foot. Her left arm snapped up, the shield on it disappearing as she pressed her fingers to the figure’s chest. A second later, he was blown backward by a blast of electricity, crashing to the ground before lying completely still save for a bit of shallow breathing.
“Oh thank God!” The man who had been about to be eaten was suddenly clutching her shoulders, seemingly oblivious to the suit that she wore. “You had a taser,” the man gushed. “Thank God you had a taser. Police, we need the—”
As the man spoke, Bobbi raised one hand behind herself. The glow of a nearby street light went out completely, leaving the alley much darker than it had been a moment earlier. Her other hand extended toward the man she just saved, and he was suddenly encased in a glowing, glass like box. As the man gave a shout out surprise and confusion, Bobbi gestured, sending the box up into the air and down the street. It would land on a roof several buildings away before disappearing to release the man. He would be safe there. Safer than he was here, where he clearly had no idea what was going on.
They never did. The humans that she helped, they never remembered what actually happened. They never really understood. Bobbi didn’t know why, but everything supernatural or strange was always somehow edited out of their memories. They saw it, and then instantly forgot it. Or their brains just filled in something more ordinary, like her having a taser. That was a super common excuse for the impossible things that she did. Things that she had been capable of ever since she had swallowed the blood from Ricky, back in the store. Ever since that night, where she started seeing the people who weren’t human.
It had taken the girl quite some time to really understand just what she was capable of. It centered around electricity. She generated some by herself, but for any of the big things, she had to drain it from other sources. Anything powered by electricity, she could absorb from and hold onto the power that she got indefinitely.
That power could then be put to multiple things. The most simple was the jolt of electricity from her fingertips. Or from any other part of her body, really. But she could also transform that electricity into bursts of intense super speed.
Or, she could turn the electricity that she absorbed into these solid energy constructs. That’s where her shield and sword had come from. It was where her armor came from (armor that meant her clothes didn’t burn up when using that super speed). It had taken quite a lot of time and energy for her to construct them. But now that they were there, she didn’t have to make them again. She simply dismissed them when they weren’t needed, and the power went back into her body. At a thought, she could summon them up again. The same went for any other construct that she made, like the box that she had just used to move the man to safety. It took hours, or even days to absorb and shape enough power for each construct. But once it was done, she could bring it out at will. Electricity shaped into solid energy and then stored away.
Weeks. It had taken her weeks to actually understand what she could do, to make any sense of it. And as far as the rest of the world was concerned… she still didn’t know. She’d tried looking up ‘hidden monsters’ and ‘humans forget’ on the internet, but it was impossible to sort through everything.
That and ‘monsters hidden in the modern world’ was a surprisingly common subject for stories, which made actual truth even harder to find. She’d spent three days off and on scrolling through one forum in particular before figuring out that they were all just roleplaying.
So what was she supposed to do? Everyone she tried to talk to about… any of this just forgot about it. Most of the seemingly nice not-humans she’d tried to talk to ran away when they realized that she knew what they were, that she could see them. More than one had said the word ‘Heretic’. Which was weird, because she didn’t even know what their religion was and wasn’t that a religious thing?
She’d gone to Mrs. Gimple’s once she’d worked up the nerve, but the woman had disappeared. Later, Bobbi had been told that she’d moved out with no warning.
She was afraid that it was because of her reaction, because the woman realized that Bobbi had seen what she really was and had run away from her.
She hoped she’d see Mrs. Gimple again. So she could apologize.
A groan then drew Bobbi’s attention to the crocodile man, who was lifting himself up on his elbows. “What the hell hit—” When he saw her, the man’s eyes grew wide. “You! You little bi—”
He was cut off as Bobbi’s sword returned to her hand, the blade snapping down close to his throat. “You need to leave,” she informed him. “Go away and never come back.”
Despite the position he was in (and speaking quite well for someone who had had most of his tongue cut out), the man demanded, “Why should I leave?”
Bobbi remembered what Ricky had said back on that day. “Because this is my street. This is my block. It’s my neighborhood. And if you don’t leave, I’m going to cut more than your tongue.”
She didn’t attack everyone who didn’t look human. That would’ve been stupid. Mrs. Gimple was nice, and the bird-man who had given her the coat that night, he had been nice too. No, Bobbi didn’t know why others couldn’t see that they weren’t human, but she also knew that they weren’t all evil. She attacked the ones who attacked others. She protected people, as much as she could, and drove out the non-humans who caused trouble, who hurt people… or worse. She did everything she could to keep them out of her neighborhood. It wasn’t easy, especially at first, but… but she tried.
The man opened his mouth to say something else, but before any sound could come out, Bobbi abruptly extended her hand. A glowing ball of energy appeared there, which she dropped into his open mouth. Reflexively, he swallowed it. Then he choked. “What the fuck!?”
“That’s my energy,” the girl informed him flatly. “I can track it everywhere in my territory. If you come anywhere within my area, I’ll know. I’ll be able to find you. And I won’t be very happy.”
With a growl, the man demanded, “How the hell am I supposed to know what your territory is?”
Bobbi’s reply was simple. “I dunno. Guess you’ll just have to leave town just to be safe.”
The man grumbled and argued, but finally left. She tracked the energy ball she had deposited in him until it left her range a couple blocks later. He was gone.
It was all she could do. She wasn’t going to kill someone like that. There had been some obvious mindless animal monsters that had roamed the streets, and those she had killed. But a living, thinking person? This guy may have been a monster, but she couldn’t just kill him. It was… it was wrong. Wasn’t it? But now she was letting him go, and he might hurt someone else. Yet she couldn’t just kill them. She kept them away from her neighborhood, away from as big of an area that she could patrol, that she could protect.
The police would have been useless. The monster would just kill them because they wouldn’t realize what kind of threat he was. They couldn’t handle it, and they couldn’t actually remember anything strange about him.
Why? Why could nobody else ever remember what they saw? Why was she the only one who knew the truth, who saw the truth? Was she the crazy one? It was a question she’d asked herself a lot over the past year. Was she crazy?
Her father didn’t remember. She told him the truth, had shown him what she could do, and he instantly forgotten. Everyone she talked to, everyone she tried to get help from, had forgotten almost instantly. There was no one out there who could help her, no one who could tell her what was going on. She was alone.
Not that that was anything new. She wasn’t black enough, and wasn’t white enough. She wasn’t rich enough, and wasn’t poor enough. She was a mongrel, a mutt. No matter where the young girl went, she never truly fit in.
But that didn’t matter. None of that mattered. Because she had these gifts. And she would use them to protect the people in her neighborhood, the people who had no idea that there was anything to be protected from. She would stop the monsters that showed themselves on these streets. She would protect everyone that she could, even if she had no idea what the hell was going on.66
“You know he’s just going to go somewhere else and hurt someone, right?”
The voice startled Bobbi, and she spun to find that squirrel from earlier. Only it wasn’t a squirrel for long. A second later, the tiny rodent suddenly grew into a girl slightly younger than she was, with equally dark skin. “That guy,” the shape shifting girl continued, “he’ll just go kill someone else.”
Sword springing back to her hand, Bobbi demanded, “Wh-who are you? How did you do that? Are you like me? What—”
“It’s okay.” Again, the voice came from behind Bobbi, and she pivoted once more to find an older girl standing at the mouth of the alley. She could barely be seen through the shadows, but the girl looked vaguely Asian.
“My name is Asenath. That’s Twister. We’re not going to hurt you. We came because we need your help with a project that we’ve been working on. Ricky Gileo, you’re a Natural Heretic of him. Which means you can get into his vault.”
“Ricky?” Bobbi blinked back and forth between the two, keeping her sword up and ready despite their apparent friendliness. “What do you mean, Heretic? Why do people keep calling me that? What’s a Heretic? What’s going on? What happened to me? Why do people keep forgetting everything that happens?”
“Oh man,” the girl called Twister groaned.
“This is gonna take awhile.”