Luis stared at the space above his outstretched hand, furrowed his brows, and concentrated. Unsurprisingly, nothing happened. He relaxed his slim arm, finding himself slightly out of breath from the straining of his muscles. A second later though, he was at it again, veins bulging and face reddening. Once more, nothing happened.
He released the strain in his body with an audible grunt of annoyance, before folding his arms, angrily.
He was seated on the lower mattress of a narrow bunkbed, which was the only real option in his cramped room. The floor space not taken up by the bed and the huge, ornate wardrobe was barely enough for him to stand up in, and Luis was not large. He had done his best to make the small room feel like his, despite the limited space, by colonising the walls. They were covered in posters of bands, films, and video games. He’d purchased none of the posters himself, rather, each one had been printed off from one of the computers in the nearby library. Since colour printing more than doubled the price per sheet, the pictures were in stark grey-scale. Rock-stars, space-marines, and warriors stared out from monochromatic windows to other worlds.
In front of Luis was an open notepad. On the top he’d written in block capitals ‘ACTIVATING POWERS’. Below that was a list, which from top to bottom read:
Say ‘Activate’ Physical switch Hand Motions(?)
- Concentrate hard
- Emotional thing(?)
He reached out and neatly put a line through number four.
Luis tapped number four with the point of the mechanical pencil, and made a face. Abruptly, he pushed the notepad away from himself and instead picked up his mobile phone.
Two days had past since the nine had left the small bar, and Luis hadn’t heard a word from any of them. They had shared contact details after leaving the Agency on the night of the accident, and prior to their meeting a few of them had been quite regular with their messaging. Now though, there was radio silence. Luis had sent them all a text thanking them for coming, and not so subtly hinting how much he wanted to go forward with the team. He hadn’t expected much of a response, but the silence did sting.
He’d tried to track them down online, but his social networking had proved mostly fruitless. Ayesha had a social media account, as did Jacob, the guy with all the tattoos, and both had added him. The others however, either had names which turned up nothing, or had never responded to his requests.
Seeing Ayesha was online, he sent her a quick message.
Hey Ayesha, wuu2?
A minute or so went by before her response came through. This and that. U?
Practising powers and stuff. He thought for a moment before writing another message. Yours working?
You could say that 😀
He made another face. Me too. Making progress 🙂
Luis threw the phone to the far corner of the bed and stood up, stretching as much as he could in the enclosed space. He decided that he needed to go for a walk.
He got dressed, grabbing a zip-up hoodie that said ‘Maverick’ on it in a flourishing font. He slid on his trainers, threw his notebook into his backpack, and finally, before opening the door, slid his beanie on, pulling it low down the back of his neck.
Luis’s mother was vacuuming the living room, and the piercing whine of the cheap machine should have completely masked the sound of him leaving. Despite this, Luis opened and closed the door as softly as a cat-burglar, and all-but tiptoed across the hall to the exit. He actually had placed his hand on the door handle, when the noise vanished. Luis held his breath as the blanket of sound he’d been hiding beneath was ripped off.
‘Luis?’ called a harsh, female voice.
Luis moved his lips in a silent swear and tightened his grip on the door handle, daring his hand to fling open the door and bolt for the outside.
‘Luis?’ it said again, a two syllable interrogation.
‘What?’ said Luis.
In a flurry of footsteps that sounded too loud for such a tiny woman, Luis’s mom marched to the door to the living room and flung it open.
What Mrs Regina Guerrero lacked in height, she more than made up for in presence. The hallway seemed to buckle a little at the walls when she walked out of the living room, as if struggling to contain the force of her personality.
‘Where do you think you’re going?’ she snapped.
‘Out,’ Luis said, the teenaged rebelliousness only slightly spoiled by the note of apology.
‘Out? “Out”, he says! As if he hasn’t had all day to go out! As if he hasn’t spent all day in his room, playing his computer games and reading picture books!’
‘They’re comic books, mom.’
‘Oh, well excuse me! Then that makes it fine for you to waste time all day while I slave away to make sure our house is presentable!’
‘I wasn’t reading comic books! I’ve been doing homework!’
‘You just said that you’ve been reading comics!’ she said, displaying.
Luis winced. He only ever remembered his mother’s ability to out-argue him after the argument had begun. ‘Mom, I’ve barely left the apartment since the accident. I just wanted to take a walk.’
‘Oh! So the boy gets a bump on his head and he suddenly thinks that he can do whatever he wants?’ she said to an imagined third party, ‘Where do you even think you’re going?’
‘Just a walk. I thought I might go to the mall.’
‘”To the mall”, he says! Wasting more money on who knows what,’ she said, her eyes piercing into his. He tried to maintain an expression that he hoped would convey confusion over her anger, but one that he knew deep down looked guilty and suspicious.
‘You’ll be back before nine, wait here,’ she immediately turned and walked away. The door to the kitchen hadn’t closed before she came back out of it, carrying a scrap of paper. ‘If you decide that you actually love your family enough to help this household, you’ll pick up these from the supermarket.’
She handed Luis the shopping list.
‘Before nine,’ she said, returning to the living room and shutting the door behind her. ‘And bring a scarf!’ A second later, the whine of the vacuum cleaner once more dominated the apartment.
Luis walked downstairs to the street, passing as he did through his dad’s mechanics. It was getting late, and the other employees had left already for home, but his dad was still tinkering away beneath the hood of a Honda.
His dad was small, but not as small as his mother, with a stern, serious expression. Hearing Luis walk down, he raised his head from his work.
Luis’s dad nodded once at his son. Luis nodded back.
‘Luis,’ he said, ‘You’re heading out?’
‘Yeah,’ said Luis.
‘Your mother knows?’
Luis’s father nodded, and then returned to his work.
Winter storms had been sweeping sporadically across the city for the last few weeks, the swirling kind of storms that transform every doorway into a wailing throat. Today however, there seemed to be a break in the bad weather. The streets were still wet with rain though. Luis kept his gaze pointed downwards as he walked, and he could make out a mirror image of himself walking a reflected street beneath him through the puddles and rain-slick sidewalk.
Luis wasn’t sure where he could head to test his powers. His first thought was to maybe visit a junk yard. The more he thought about it though, the more stupid it seemed. Even if he could find a good enough reason to be let in, there would be no guarantee of privacy if he did. He thought about maybe using one or other of the parks that were nearby, but that had the same problem: privacy. Even in this unpleasant weather, there would likely be a few people wandering around any of the parks. Luis ran through every business and public place he had been to in the neighbourhood, trying to think of any place to be alone in New York City.
He settled on two options that might be quiet enough: The graveyard or the docks. Both were unlikely to have too many people in at this time of the day, but both were uncomfortable prospects, if for very different reasons.
Despite what Luis’s parents told him, the area where they lived was relatively safe, especially for New York. But even here there were areas that could make anyone feel unsafe. One such example to Luis was the docks. It wasn’t anything tangible. Maybe it was just the general state of disrepair that characterised every building and the feeling of being far from any passerby, even when you weren’t far from the street. The docks weren’t a place he felt comfortable spending much time, when he had any reason to be there. They were a place to hurry through on your way to somewhere else.
The other option was the cemetery. Even beneath the overcast sky that glowed like a fluorescent bulb from the unseen sun, he founds his palms sweating at the prospect.
He’d go to the docks instead.
The area that immediately surrounded Luis’s home was strangely dominated by cars, but not in a way that the rest of the city was. There were other mechanics, dealerships, and parking lots, in addition to the housing and the smattering of other small businesses.
Luis wandered through their ranks, shoulders a little hunched and pulled together, looking small and fragile among the innumerable cars that surrounded him. The greyness of the sky above had an equalising effect on the vehicles, adding shine to the rust-buckets in the lots and dulling the glossy colours of those in the dealerships.
Luis waited on the corner, until a rumbling old city bus stopped for him. He received his ticket from the small and unsmiling man who sat behind the enormous wheel and found a seat near the back. As he travelled North-East, he saw the mechanics and merchants give way to stores, which grew increasingly upmarket.
Three stops later, a group of young men got on to the bus, a little older than Luis. They were wearing clothes a step or two more fashionable than his own. Clothes that looked clean and unworn enough to have been purchased yesterday.
A knot sprouted in Luis stomach, and he found himself looking anywhere but at the three men. He decided to stare fixedly out of the window at the streets that they were passing. Without moving, he tried to make himself appear smaller and less noticeable in the seat.
In the reflection in the glass, he saw the boys as they walked up the aisle of the bus. They passed right by him, taking up the back seats, three rows behind Luis.
As they passed, he heard snippets of their conversation. They were talking about a date that one of them had been on. Luis tried to tune it out.
Suddenly, he became intensely self-conscious. His hand shot up to his head, but he purposely slowed it, and pulled his beanie a little lower over the back of his neck. He hoped that they hadn’t seen anything.
He got off at the park, and for a second glanced at it longingly, thinking about how much easier and safer it would be to test his powers there. Even as he looked at it though, he could see at least four people making their way through it.
Walking towards the docks, Luis noticed how abruptly the streets transformed from open and living, to shuttered and dark. One moment, he was passing people. Mom’s with their kids, or people walking their dogs. The next, he had almost the entire street to himself. For a moment, Luis would feel stupid, wondering why he was going to all this trouble to isolate himself. He could test his powers here. Nobody would see. Then someone would walk past him, or a car would roll up the road, and he’d keep walking.
Finally, after walking through a few carparks that sprawled at the feet of the former factories and warehouses, Luis found himself approaching a finger of land that jutted out into the bay. It looked perfect. He had to fight a feeling of misplacement at first, as if he was somewhere he shouldn’t be. But then, he hadn’t seen any signs telling him to keep out.
Luis walked up the disused dock, stomping through the tall, yellow grass that had grown through the cracks before dying. Eventually, he judged that here was a point far enough from the path that he wouldn’t be easily spotted should anything backfire with his powers.
He jumped up and down on the balls of his feet. He shook his arms as if he was about to run a marathon. He was about to begin stretching, but thought better of it.
Okay, emotions, he thought, Let’s see some powers.