Neil froze as he came toe-to-toe with the heavy set man standing in the doorway of the classroom. He hadn’t expected to be found so easily and so soon after his mother’s death. His eyes raked up and down the man’s form, stopping minutely to catalogue the tribal tattoos on his arms and the white wife beater that barely concealed his threatening muscle mass.
Neil took a step backwards, the words don’t stop running echoing through his head. “I don’t know you,” he said, keeping his stance loose. He was ready to run, silently mapping the route in his head that would get him far away from the stranger, Mr. Hernandez, Millport, far away from Neil Josten.
“I called him,” Hernandez spoke up from behind Neil, trying hard to keep his voice nonthreatening, “Neil… I saw you light up a cigarette a couple nights ago. You didn’t use a lighter, and I know you didn’t think I was in front of the school at the time.”
“I’m from a school that specializes in teaching kids with certain… gifts,” the stranger said, motioning to Neil with the thin file he held in his hand, “we can help you learn how to control it. You’ll also be with other kids with the same or similar gifts that can help to teach you.”
It sounded rehearsed, and the gruff voice he used didn’t help to calm Neil. He was found out, he wasn’t being careful enough. He could almost feel his mother’s hands gripping his hair and thrashing him about, beating him for being an idiot. He should’ve used a lighter, he knew better. His fingers grazed his jeans pocket where he kept his fake driver’s license, a packet of cigarettes, and a pillbox.
“Neil,” Hernandez diverted his attention away from his pocket, “Professor Wymack here wants you to enroll at Palmetto School for the Gifted. Your fire… manipulation ability…”
“Pyrokinesis,” Wymack supplied.
“Right, your… pyrokinesis can be controlled. You won’t have to hide it.” Hernandez looked pointedly at Neil’s hands. He wore a pair of black leather gloves, removed only when he washed his hands or had to dye his hair. Neil held back a laugh, he could feel it bubbling up in his throat and he knew that if he let it out it would sound hysterical. He knew that the gloves made him stand out, but ever since he was eight and had first touched someone ‘gifted,’ someone like him, and had felt that surge of power, his mom had dragged him to the nearest outlet mall and forced the gloves onto his hands with the strength of a woman who was consumed with all-encompassing fear. It was always easier for them to hide during the winter, when every child wandering the streets with their moms were wearing gloves, and not just the ones on the run from murderous fathers and ambitious gangsters.
The mention of Palmetto got Neil’s attention, however. Kevin Day was at Palmetto. Kevin, with his green eyes, dark hair, and his natural pyrokinetic abilities. Neil thought back to when he and Kevin were both young and bright-eyed, when Neil’s father had decided that he would be more useful to him sold off to a mutant Yakuza group than as his successor. The Moriyama’s were willing to pay his father upwards of five million dollars for Neil, and all it took was for him to show off his abilities while sparring with Kevin and his brother Riko.
The boys, although naïve about the true intentions of their relatives, had fun playing around with their ‘gifts’. Kevin would lob a fireball towards Neil and Neil would dodge and run up behind him, tackling him and trying to touch a part of his back for a lengthy amount of time before backing up and sending a stream of flames Kevin’s way. All the while, Riko would stand back and try to interfere by blinding them with his shadows. Neil never managed to get near enough to Riko to touch him, the looming darkness surrounding him was too threatening and too familiar to his father’s gaze.
The Moriyama’s were pleased with him, Neil’s father had said as he led him away from the training field and up to the scary tower that loomed above Edgar Allen, another ‘School for the Gifted’. However, before the money had reached his father’s pockets, his mother had snatched Neil in the middle of the night and they ran far away from the dark tower, his father, and Kevin.
“No.” Neil said, clear and concise. He draped his duffel bag over his shoulder in one smooth movement and pushed past Wymack into the classroom. He still hadn’t collected his backpack from his desk, having been distracted by Hernandez stopping him in the hallway just a moment ago.
His thoughts were interrupted by a sudden and hard punch to the stomach. It had come out of nowhere, and Neil doubled over in pain just inside the classroom door as Wymack shouted “Andrew!”
Neil looked up from his position on the floor, curled into himself as he fought off nausea. A pair of hazel eyes found his, a neutral expression void of any emotion stared back at him.
"Oops, better luck next time."