This is the first chapter of a story I’m working on. I’m still unsure as to whether I will post more of it on this blog or not, I suppose it depends on if people are interested… But I thought I’d least put this up. You may want to read my post entitled ‘A Prologue’ first – though I suppose it’s not necessary.
The world is filled with evil.
There is an overwhelming abundance of terrible, horrible people with terrible, horrible ideas. But Sorin would argue that, perhaps, the most horrendous and appalling concept in all of existence was…
More specifically, gym class…with heart rate monitors.
Whoever invented these terrible things? In another world, Sorin thought morbidly, they would be effective for use as torture devices. But instead, they were now a mandatory part of the physical education regimen for all public high schools in the state. Everyone had to wear them for a full forty minutes, two times a week, with the goal of getting at least twenty of those minutes in the ‘aerobic’ heart rate zone.
The tight, plastic contraption was strapped around his sternum, biting into his skin uncomfortably as he jogged at a steady pace around the track. It was synched with the watch-like device on his wrist, beeping occasionally to let him know that he was above or below his ‘target heart rate’…which was a miracle in and of itself, really, because half the time these stupid things didn’t even work.
Almost as if it had heard his thoughts, the monitor let out a shrill, high pitched note. Beep, beep, beep. His heart rate was a bit too high. He slowed his gait to a fast walk, panting slightly.
Sorin glowered as he looked out over the track. It was almost summer, the school year finally coming to a blessed, beautiful end…and so, because it was nice out, they had class outside. But the merrily bright, sunny weather did not match his disposition. He walked alone, currently as far away as was physically possible from the dismal building that was his high school. It looked more like a prison than an educational facility, he thought morosely.
…He hated it here.
Being a freshman was just as terrible as he’d thought it would be. Sorin had always been a bit of a loner. He didn’t make friends easily, and, honestly, he didn’t really feel the need to.
He was, essentially, the textbook definition of an introvert. And while his peers might think that it looked sad and pathetic when he would spend his lunch hour at a table by himself, tucked away in the corner of the cafeteria, reading adventurous, fantasy, sci-fi novels about worlds that were vastly more interesting than this one as he ate…he didn’t.
In his experience, most people were mean, conceited, boring, or, as was often the case, some awful combination of the three. Or they were mean to him, at least. On some level, he couldn’t even blame them. Sorin wasn’t exactly…impressive looking. He was short for his age, with a thin, fragile frame, and a thick mop of hair that was so blonde it was nearly transparent—traits which made him look closer to a ten year old than to his true age of fifteen. And as many times as the doctors told him that this was ‘normal’ for someone with his condition, as often as he was reassured that he would, eventually, mature and grow taller and maybe even (God willing) look like he’d actually hit puberty someday… Well, the verbal promises failed to make him feel any better when he was being taunted by his much bigger, bulkier peers.
Yet the truth of it all was that he wasn’t actually teased that much. Generally, he was hardly noticed at all. Sorin was the quintessential wallflower—so pale and small that, most of the time, he practically blended in to the white washed walls of the school’s fluorescently lit hallways.
The one part of the day that was an exception to this, of course…was gym class.
The horrible necessity of needing to change clothes in a locker room made his physical inadequacies stand out like someone was hitting him with a spotlight—an effect which tended to last the entire period. This was probably due to the fact that the gym uniform, even in its smallest available size, was giant on him. Nothing emphasized small bone structure like wearing what was essentially a gray tent that said ‘freshman’ on it in big, bold letters. So, while he was usually overlooked during all of his classes in which he could sit in the back of the room, perfecting the art of being the silent, unobtrusive student, the moment sixth period came around…
Now that he thought about it, truthfully, the heart rate monitors weren’t all that bad. Annoying, sure, and uncomfortable, but at least he didn’t need to interact with anyone. Unlike when they played softball, or soccer, or, worst of all, dodgeball…
He shuddered at the memory. Dark times, indeed.
But today, he was able to keep to himself, for the most part, and daydream that he was anywhere other than the outskirts of Corning High School.
Sorin gradually made his was around the track, purposefully staying on the opposite side of the loop of the loud, chattering herd that consisted of his horrendous classmates. He may have been small, but he was fast. Every time the cluster of his obnoxious peers threatened to get within bullying range, he would sprint ahead (often to the annoyance of the monitor on his wrist, for exceeding his target heart rate, but he did have his priorities).
He was distracted, however, when he heard a different kind of laughter.
Girl’s laughter. And it was coming from behind the bleachers. Curious, and because he was in no rush at that particular moment, Sorin decided to take a slight detour and headed towards the outer ring of the track.
He came upon a group of kids that he didn’t recognize. Three of them, two girls and a taller, older-looking boy, and they couldn’t have possibly been from class, because for one, they weren’t wearing gym uniforms, and two, they were all smoking cigarettes (definitely not allowed on school property). He instantly thought to turn and walk away, but he couldn’t help but gawk at them for a moment because—they were all dressed so—they looked so—
Well, really, there was no other way to describe them. They looked so cool.
They all had on black leather jackets (despite the fact that it was rather warm outside), each adorned with varying amounts of metal studs; the girls both wore fishnet tights with tall, black, laced up boots and identical black skirts, while the guy had on a pair of black jeans so tight that Sorin felt uncomfortable even just looking at them. Two of them had the kind of inky black hair that could only be dyed, while the other—a girl with her back to him—had a messy, pixie cut that was hot pink.
The guy caught him staring. He smirked as he inclined his head in Sorin’s direction, and he must have said something to his friends, because then the girl who was facing away from him turned around…
He did recognize her. She was a student, but she must have been in a different year. He’d seen her in the halls before, but didn’t have any classes with her…and he would remember, because she sort of stood out with that look. The last time he’d noticed her, he was pretty sure she’d had red hair. Or maybe orange. She stared right at him with wide, blue eyes that were framed with thick liner, taking a long drag from her cigarette between lips that were painted red. The tip glowed as she sucked in—a tiny ember at her fingertips.
He felt like a deer in headlights. Those bright eyes were fixed on him with such an intensity that it momentarily froze him, and he wasn’t sure if it was just because the three of them were so off-putting in general, or because he just simply wasn’t used to people staring at him so blatantly like that, but he felt like he’d been caught red-handed, doing something very wrong.
Beep, beep, beep—
The monitor on his wrist snapped him out of it. Apparently, he’d been inactive too long. He quickly turned tail and ran away, the sound of their laughter at his back…
It doesn’t matter, he thought to himself firmly, though he could feel the blush of embarrassment rushing over his face like a heat wave. None of these people matter, the school year is almost over…and then, an entire three months to avoid all of them completely…
And he had plans, this summer. Big ones. He was going to get out of this tiny town, he was going to go, for the first time, to the city…and he was going to find out why, exactly, he was the way he was…
Beep, beep, beep—
Sorin glanced down at the monitor, frowning. Why was it still beeping like that? He’d started moving again…
“Oh.” He came to a stop. His pulse was racing, and, he realized now that the reason it was alerting him was because, in that moment where he’d been standing perfectly still, being stared at like that, his heart rate had gotten too high, not too low. Feeling bizarrely ashamed about it, he took a few long, deep breaths, and the beeping stopped.
Oh, no—the herd, the other boys—they’d caught up, and a tall one with particularly broad shoulders bumped into him as he jogged past, sending Sorin stumbling forward. He lost his balance and fell to the ground, scraping his knee on the rubbery, textured material that made up the track.
“I—hey—!” he spluttered, hastily pushing himself up on to his feet again.
But they were already gone. They laughed as they continued onwards, not even bothering to look back and see if he was okay. Sorin glared at their backs, wishing that now would be the miraculous moment in his life where he would suddenly develop superpowers, and that his gift would be fire, and that they would simply burst into flames mid-step under the influence of his all-mighty, furious glare—
Alas, life was not a sci-fi, fantasy novel, and this did not happen. Sorin brushed the dirt off of his knee. It was already beginning to turn an abysmal shade of violet. He bruised far too easily, he thought sourly. Just one more wonderful, lovely characteristic that he could blame on his biological parents.
Beep, beep, beep—
…He hated it here.
A few days later, however, and he was free.
Was there ever a more beautiful sound than that of the bell at the end of seventh period on the last—the last!—day of school? Sorin doubted it. He was beaming as he pulled his backpack on over his shoulders, straight out of the classroom, down the hall and through the front doors…and the brilliant sun outside smiled back at him. He had already cleaned his locker out the day before, so he had no reason to linger. Sorin Owens was the first person out of there. The bell had barely stopped ringing as he stepped out onto the concrete pavement of the parking lot, to make the short walk home, free from the awful company of the Corning High School student body—
He jumped when he saw her.
…Sorin was not the first one out, after all.
The girl with the pink hair.
She was sitting in the driver’s seat of her car—an old, beat up, red corolla—staring at him with that intense gaze again. Just staring, like she’d just been waiting there, just to stare at him—and she was smoking another cigarette. He froze as she slowly breathed out a plume of gray fog straight into her windshield, almost as if she was aiming it at him. Then she ashed it out the open window, tapping it twice with her index finger, and not for a second did she break eye contact with him. She didn’t even blink.
Feeling incredibly uncomfortable, Sorin turned and headed the other way, despite the fact that his house was in the opposite direction. He’d rather go around the entire building to avoid walking near her car. Why was she doing that? He glanced back over her shoulder, and sure enough, there she was, still watching him like a hawk. And it was so creepy, because there was no expression on her face at all. Just big, blue eyes and cigarette smoke.
He sped up his pace.
The sooner he got away from this town, the better, he thought. And he would be leaving, soon, even if only for a few days. He’d already bought the bus ticket, he had it all planned out. He’d been doing extra work around the house to save up some cash the past few weeks, and… What would his parents do, when they found out about this little excursion they were unwittingly funding? They would find out, eventually, but it didn’t matter. Whatever the consequences were, it would be worth it to finally know.
He tried to focus on these thoughts as he took the scenic route home, but he simply could not shake the feeling of that girl’s eyes on him—not after he had put a substantial amount of distance between himself and her car, not when he made it to his house, not even when he was in the secluded solace of his bedroom…and as he was sitting at his desk, examining his bus ticket with obsessive, slightly neurotic intensity (departs from the Corning Transportation Center at 12:05pm, arrives at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City at 5:55pm), he was sure that, if he had been wearing that damn heart rate monitor, it would have been beeping at him like crazy.
Sorin was…a good kid.
He didn’t party, he didn’t stay out late. He didn’t do drugs or smoke or drink. He got good grades. He was never late to class or received detentions. He kept his room clean and did his chores and whatever else his parents came up with for him to do, and he did it well and he did it without question.
He was a good kid.
As a matter of fact, the only time he could recall getting ‘in trouble’, ever, was once when he was in grade school. He had been at the glass museum with his parents (one of the few if not only interesting things to do in Corning) when he’d wandered off, drawn to a display of a glass prism that talked about color. Sorin had just been examining the reflective rainbow on the surface of the white wall mount, appreciating the beauty that was the spectrum of hues, visible through the miracle of a glass prism… when a group of teenagers showed up. They’d begun arguing about the display, about the order of the colors and what they were called, because it wasn’t listed…and, while Sorin was generally a master of blocking out distracting background noise, this particular argument had annoyed him.
How could they even be fighting about this? He’d thought as he furrowed his brows, blatantly and uncharacteristically eavesdropping on their conversation. They were spending more time squabbling than they were actually looking! And if they would just look, they could see, quite clearly, that the colors were red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. And anyway, those were just labels that were superficially placed on top of the most easily distinguishable categories, there were actually an infinite number of hues there, in between each major color, and the real magic of it all was that all of them—every single tint, despite the fact that red and blue and yellow and violet were all so very different from each other—they were all, in a sense, the same, they were all light.
So he’d been telling them all this, of course, and maybe it was just because they were so thrown off that a twelve year old (who, in all honestly, probably looked more like he was eight. Damn his perpetually small frame) was explaining color to them so vehemently, that they just…listened. And it was the only time in his life that Sorin could recall talking to a group of people that he hadn’t felt awkward or embarrassed. He probably would have gone on for a while, too, but… Well, that was when his parents had found him, panicking. And while they were relieved that he was okay, his mother, in particular, hadn’t exactly been pleased by his little disappearing act.
It was the only time he could recall being scolded for something, really.
What could he say? He was a good kid.
Definitely not the kind of devious teenager who would take advantage of the fact that his parents were going out of town for a long weekend. They were both deeply involved in psychology, his parents—a fact which he generally lamented, as they often tried to psychoanalyze him and diagnose his introversion as various mental ailments, whether they admitted it or not. And this week, the first few days of freedom he had from the torture that was high school, they were going to a symposium in, of all places, Nebraska. Even better was what the topic of discussion happened to be: Health Disparities in Youth and Families—Research and Applications.
Regardless, the point remained that Sorin’s parents would be gone for a full, four days. And because he was such a good kid, they had no reason to believe that he would do anything rash while they were gone, like throw a house party, or something. In fact, given how much they bothered him about joining clubs or functions so that he would make friends… Why, they might even be a bit pleased if he did.
He smirked. They would definitely not be pleased that he was hopping a bus to Manhattan to go visit his biological grandmother.
…A grandmother he wasn’t even supposed to know about.
His parents hadn’t planned on telling him that he was adopted.
At least, not until he was eighteen. The only reason he found out when he was a child was because of his condition.
Sickle Cell Anemia.
And…Sorin didn’t exactly fit the profile.
He’d read about the blood disease a lot. A condition which meant his red blood cells were the wrong shape, a sliver like a crescent-moon rather than a dented, circular disk. It was genetic, most cases occurring in people of African, Indian, or Caribbean descent…which his parents were not, and clearly, he wasn’t either—Sorin was so pale and blonde he was practically a ghost—but regardless of that factor, neither his mother nor his father had sickle cell anemia, nor were they carriers…
It was so strange, too, because this disease was supposed to be screened for before birth, and most babies who had it showed signs or symptoms before they were eight months old. But he, Sorin, hadn’t been screened, apparently, and a diagnosis hadn’t been made until he was four…
None of it really made any sense, truthfully, but it did explain the random, painful attacks that he would get in his chest at times.
He didn’t remember a lot from his childhood, but he remembered those. Sporadic bouts of pain that would usually strike in his chest, and they were awful, really. Indescribable. ‘Crises’. They occurred because, due to their unfortunate shape, his red blood cells would sometimes stick together and form clots. This would cause acute stints of pain that would generally not last very long, but were quite sudden and frightening to the point where they were nearly debilitating.
He was fortunate, however, in that he generally only had one or two a year. He’d read that some people with sickle cell anemia had them much more often, and that they can become so bad that hospitalization is required. He’d never had to go to the emergency room, at least…
But the sickle cells were brittle, too. Weak. A normal person’s soft, rounded red blood cells would last for about four months. His sickle-shaped ones only lasted for about ten days.
Which explained all of the random times in his life where he would become weak and lightheaded, too. He tended to become anemic when he was not feeling the greatest, as his body was low on red blood cells to fight for his immune system.
So he had it, and his parents didn’t, and it all came out of the woodwork, eventually. His mom had confessed to him when he was seven that he was adopted.
For years, afterwards, he’d asked about his real parents, but his mother wouldn’t talk. She would just look depressed and say that she would tell him when he was older. He hadn’t understood why it had made her so sad, couldn’t, as a child, wrap his mind around the fact that there was probably a good reason that she wasn’t telling him.
It was his father, the much more lenient of the two, who eventually did.
Sorin’s parents were dead.
…But even he wouldn’t say what had happened to them.
His parents—his biological parents—were dead, yes…but his grandmother was alive.
And oh, he had to give himself credit, really, because figuring that out had been quite clever on his part.
His dad had unwittingly let loose the information that he, Sorin, was born in New York City… And it had been the string he’d needed to pull on in order to begin unravelling the tangled mystery that was his birth.
It started with his Mom’s cell phone.
Sorin stealthily went through her contacts while she was otherwise preoccupied, writing down every single number with a New York City area code. He’d assumed she’d been in contact with someone he was related to, given that his condition was genetic… And he’d found one number in particular that instantly piqued his interest.
Just ‘Anne’. A first name and a phone number, and that was all.
The reason this was so odd was because his mom was a classic, stereotypical type A personality—very organized, very anal retentive—and all of the information in her phone reflected that, too. For every single contact, she had first names, last names, e-mail addresses, physical addresses, titles, business phone numbers, and so on…
For everyone except this ‘Anne’, that was.
He’d written the number down, and, ever so cunningly, had not made the fatal mistake of calling her on his own cell phone or their landline. No—Sorin had taken as many quarters as he could find and had ridden his bike to one of the remaining pay phones in town, and simply called her up.
Twelve times, in fact.
He supposed now, in hindsight, it shouldn’t have surprised him. He didn’t answer phone calls from unknown numbers, either (not that he, personally, received many calls in general, let alone mysterious ones). The problem was that not only would she not answer, but she actually hung up on him—meaning that he did not, in fact, get his money back. It was not until the twelfth attempt, just as he was running low on quarters that she finally bit.
She’d answered on the first ring, that time.
“Who is this?”
And Sorin, for a long moment…had said nothing.
Funny, how he had been focusing so intently on just getting her to answer, that when he’d finally had her on the line, he froze.
“Hello?” she’d snapped, irritated. And then, “Quit calling m—”
“Wait,” Sorin had finally managed to choke out, beginning to panic. What if she hung up, and never answered him again? “I-I think you—I think—” a quick, painful swallow, before the words came spluttering out—
“I think you may be my grandmother.”
It had been a stab in the dark. It could have been an aunt, perhaps, or a cousin, or someone else. But she’d sounded older, on the phone, and well, he had just hazarded a guess.
There had been a long moment of silence where Sorin just held the receiver to his ear, waiting, holding his breath. He’d just begun to fear the worst, that she had hung up on him again, when finally, in a much gentler tone, she’d said,
And so it began.
Talking on a pay phone wasn’t ideal, of course. He was already nearly out of change. Yet they’d had a very meaningful, if short discussion.
She had agreed to meet him. Even seemed a bit excited, in fact.
Sorin was, too.
He’d never been to the city before. It seemed odd, seeing as Corning was only about five hours away, but he hadn’t. He’d never been to Manhattan, he’d never ridden a subway…he’d never so much as taken a bus before, actually. But he’d read a lot about public transit, and really, how hard could it be?
Pretty hard, as it turned out.
Buying the ticket should have been easy. He had the cash, after all, and there was no law against selling a bus ticket to a minor…but looking like he was ten rather than fifteen didn’t help. He’d had to show them his high school I.D. to convince them he was over eleven, and even then, the woman at the desk had fixed him with a suspicious glare, like she just knew he was up to no good.
Regardless, he’d bought the ticket and he was here, now. He’d arrived at the station early—over an hour early, he couldn’t help himself—and was the first person on board the bus the moment it pulled into sight.
And he was prepared. Sorin had everything he needed. His backpack was loaded with his wallet, filled with more cash than he’d ever had on him in his entire life (which only amounted to just over three hundred dollars, but he still thought that was impressive), his phone, his charger, headphones, snacks, a large water bottle (staying hydrated was essential, given his delightful condition), a change of clothes (his grandmother had said he could stay the night, if he’d like, and he planned on it), print outs of the NYC Subway transit system (just in case his phone spontaneously combusted—one never knows), and, last but not least, his beloved harmonica, just because he never went anywhere without it (his parents hated that he constantly played ‘that annoying thing’ when he refused to take lessons for the piano or something ‘proper’, but Bob Dylan was his muse, and the harmonica was his weapon of choice).
He now sat on the bus, leaning his head against the cool, flat surface of the window as the other riders began trickling in. It was a beautiful day, and he couldn’t believe that he would be in New York City at the Port Authority Terminal in no less than six hours…
He pulled out his earbuds, putting them in and turning on one of his favorite songs as he waited for the bus to leave. His mind began to wander, drifting with the melody, running off with the lyrics…
…There’s a dyin’ voice within me reaching out somewhere, toiling in the danger and in the morals of despair—
Sorin started violently.
There—in the reflected surface of the glass, he saw someone—a girl, a girl with black hair and pale skin, like she was right there in front of him—
He jumped, turning around wildly in his seat, his heart in his throat—who—how—
…But there was no one there.
The couple sitting a few rows behind him watched him curiously at his sudden outburst. Sorin took one of the earbuds out of his ear, standing as he cautiously peered over the back of his seat, scanning the aisle…
She wasn’t there… But she had been right next to him, in the reflection! Like she had been sitting in the seat just to his left…
But he only saw a few other, scattered passengers in the bus, and none of them were her.
Maybe…maybe he had imagined it…?
Taking a deep breath, Sorin settled back down into his seat. It was just the stress, he thought firmly, just…getting overly excited. He popped the other ear bud back into place and hauled his backpack onto his lap, pulling out his water and taking long drink.
…Onward on my journey, I come to understand, that every hair is numbered like every grain of sand…
Sorin let the music soothe him, and soon his mind was wandering away from his body in the arms of the melody, just as it had been about to moments before.
The bus pulled out of the station, and he was off.