Sorry about the long hiatus, kids. Bit of life got in the way. Hopefully the next one wont take nearly as long. xoxo
Dreaming for Tyler was like watching a warn out video you'd seen a thousand times before. He could pause, stop, rewind, fast forward, but he could never change the events that played out. No matter how hard he wished and willed it, he could never save them.
He couldn't see much through his window, save the occasional street light that blurred past. His parents sat in the front, holding hands over the center console like they always did. By the look on his mother's face, he could tell they were enjoying themselves. Most likely listening to one of his father's jokes. His father's jokes were terrible, but he told them with such passion you could never help laughing at it anyway. Elise was asleep next to him, her head pressed up against the window and mouth slightly open.
Often times he would pause the dream right there; the last moment his life was perfect.
The next thing he knew was chaos followed by the deafening screech of metal on metal. His vision was a blur and he lost the ability to tell up from down as the car flipped and tumbled. When it finally came to a stop, the faint smell of gasoline lingered in the air and the snapping and popping of electrical wire hummed in the distance. But if he rewound the dream and watched it in slow motion, he could pinpoint the exact moment the other driver drifted into oncoming traffic and his life changed forever. When he slowed things down all his senses sharpened and he could hear his mother's terrified gasp as clear as a scream in a silent room, feel the jerk of the car as his father attempted to swerve out of the way, and the sudden jolt forward as the two masses collided, crushing the front half of the car like a tin can. He could feel the pull of gravity and momentum fight for control of his body while he tried desperately to maintain control of his mind. The crack of his sister's head against the side window as the back end of the car collided with a powerline was crystal clear in his slow motion replay. At the time, the smell of gasoline and cracking of electrical wires was a distant, foggy blur. But looking back now, it was a blaring siren, screaming at him to move, do something, save her.
It was too late for his parents, that much was clear to him even then. Nothing remained of the front half of the car, save the crushed bits of metal now entwined with twisted, bloody flesh that had once been his loved ones. It was the kind of image you couldn't dream up; you had to physically see it to believe something so awful could exist. And once you saw it, it paralyzed and haunted you forever.
It always took the sight of Elise's bloodied face to push him into action. His shaking, bloodied hands would fight hard against the confines of his seatbelt. He could still feel the panic creep over him when the belt didn't give way to his desperate tugging. The beat of his heart sounded more like a drum before his senses finally kicked in and he remembered the clasp. One look at his door told him it was too destroyed to open, so he kicked away as much of the shattered glass as he could before crawling out the window. His vision would swim with black dots as he attempted to stand. His consciousness was slipping, but willpower alone drove him on. The distant sound of police sirens echoed in his ears so much clearer now than it originally had. And his feet felt even heavier, like they were weighted down by bricks as he stumbled his way to the other side of the car. The pain of shredded metal ripping at his flesh hurt just as bad as it had the first time as he tugged furiously at the door. The smell of smoke filled his nostrils long before the sting of it could cloud his vision. Even then he knew he was running out of time. Tyler's tugging at the door turned to desperate pounding on the half shattered glass as he began to choke and cough. He'd never felt so weak and Elise's limp, lifeless body seemed an unconquerable distance from this side of the glass. Tyler could see the fire now, feel the heat from it as the flames licked their way up the side of the vehicle. An overwhelming sense of helplessness that was much more frightening than the flames washed over him now. She was going to die and there was nothing he could do about it. His own consciousness waned as the sound of sirens grew even louder. With one last desperate throttle from his fist, the glass finally gave way. He collapsed against he car, desperate hands grabbing for Elise. She flopped toward him limply, exposing her blood smeared face and sticky, matted hair. Reaching for her was like grabbing for smoke and his relentless yanking became more and more furious as he realized it was no use, she wasn't budging. He wasn't strong enough. He couldn't save her.. Every night the realization hit him like a sack of potatoes to the gut, leaving him aching and nauseous.
Suddenly, foreign arms would wrap around him and begin dragging him away. Tyler would fight against it was all the strength he had left, but it was no use. Elise was getting smaller by the second. How could he help her from this far away? Why was this happening? Why was someone trying to stop him?
It was never long before the thick cloud of smoke inhibited his sight of the car altogether. The flames grew taller and the man dragging him would shout something. But it was too late. Tyler couldn't hear him. Nothing mattered now. His world was a blur as he helplessly watched everything he'd ever known go up in flames. The smell of burning flesh filled the air and the urge to vomit always overtook him. Tyler stopped struggling. His whole being now begged for the unconsciousness he'd previously fought so hard against. What was the point in fighting anymore? What was the point in anything? His parents were gone, Elise was gone, his innocence was tainted, everything that made him who he was burned up with what was left of the vehicle.
The last thing he could make out before his vision darkened was another man emerging from the smoke holding Elise's limp corpse in his arms. Then there was darkness. The kind of darkness that creeps its way so deep into your soul it never truly leaves you. From that moment on that was the only dream Tyler had. Every night it played out and every morning he couldn't open his eyes without the smell of smoke stinging his nostrils, images of his sister's lifeless body clouding his vision, and smell of his parent's flesh still lingering in his memory.
And people wondered why he never spoke.
Often times they tried to make him in therapy. He'd attempted it three times since the accident. Each time he'd opened his mouth he had to choke back the scream bubbling in the back of his throat. After the third time he realized it would just be easier to stop trying. His new found silence was almost a gift. He saw things, people, their motivations so much clearer now. Without all the small talk and fake smiles, a haze had been lifted and for the first time he really saw what life was about. There was no fate, or justice, or fairness. There was only this moment and what we decided to do with it.
Now Tyler sat by the edge of some dirty canal, watching his sister laugh joyfully with her latest obsession. Elise seemed to remain unchanged, unbroken by their parents death. Something that Tyler both hated and envied about her. How could she still laugh and seek the company of others? Well, one other, really: Jack. Who was this boy, anyway? Just another washed up orphan with no last name. Tyler didn't trust him. The boy was a predator, who looked at Elise like he wanted to consume her. To what point and purpose, Tyler wasn't sure. But what made his blood boil even more was the way his sister seemed to welcome this attention, thrive on it. She was his sister. She should be clinging to him, not some stranger. The way the two orbited each other was like nothing Tyler had ever seen. The slightest twitch from one affected the other, like two stars pulled together not by choice, but by gravity. Each feeling the subtle tug of wanting to be closer but fearing the consequences of any direct contact. Tyler didn't like it. Elise was all he had left and he would protect her with his life.
More of her laughter drifted across the lot. As Tyler sat there, absentmindedly shuffling his deck of cards, he wondered what could possibly be so funny. Maybe it was just Elise over embellishing things like she always did, because he never heard Jack laugh quite so obnoxiously. That was one thing he did find agreeable about the other boy. He was quiet, never stuck his nose where it didn't belong, and didn't ask stupid questions. Jack didn't even seem to care that he never spoke. Tyler liked that.
The evening sun was beginning to cast shadows over the dirty water, and when the chill of the wind sent ripples down his spine as well as the water, Tyler decided it was time to head back. He didn't want to upset Aunt Katherine like Jack and Elise had before. As he turned to stand, it was as if Jack read his mind, because the other boy now helped Elise to her feet. They took shortcuts home now, ones that followed nearby train tracks and steered clear of main roads. This wasn't exactly the safest of neighborhoods and they didn't want to attract any attention.
"Oh come on, Jay! Where's your sense of adventure?!" Elise giggled and danced off ahead of them, where she began to walk the train tracks like a tight rope.
Tyler's mind drifted elsewhere, barely listening to their little conversation as he absentmindedly shuffled his cards. Tyler found Elise obnoxious, the way anyone would a little sister. But the slightly curly headed boy next to him seemed to be of a completely different opinion. Jack always stared at Elise like everything she did was mesmerizing and everything she said was an epic poem.
"I guess I just don't find the idea of being a super hero very exciting." Jack shrugged.
"How can you not? You'd get a cool outfit, and super powers, and you could fly around the city stopping crime!"
"If all the police in Gotham can't do it, what makes you think one man could?"
"Cuz Jay, he's super. He's better than everyone else."
Jack frowned. "Nah, no one's above corruption. Not in this town."
"What about me and you then?" Elise turned to look at Jack. "We could make this town a better place together."
Jack opened his mouth to speak but was silenced by the whistle of a distant train. Tyler's eyes flashed to Elise, who seemed unaffected.
"You know, I could be super and not even know it.." her voice drifted off. Tyler didn't like that look forming in her eyes.
"Stop it, Elise." Jack chimed in.
"I'm just saying, most super heroes don't even know they're super until.."
"Get off the tracks, Elise." Jack interrupted her. For once Tyler was glad Jack was there to voice the things he couldn't.
Elise's eyes narrowed. "No." She objected stubbornly, her feet planted firmly on the tracks. The train was drawing closer by the second. "I'm sure you are super, but I'd rather not have you break the train." Jack stated lamely, only the slight twitches of his fingers betrayed his facade of calm.
Elise turned to face the train, her eyes distant and glazed, and spoke half to herself, half to Jack. "Do you think it'll bounce right off me or just crunch until it comes to a full stop?"
Tyler's heart began to beat faster and he took a step towards her. What the hell was wrong with her? Did she have a death wish?
The next thing she said was drowned out by rumbling and whistling. Still Elise stood her ground. Tyler bolted for her, prepared to rip her off the tracks if he had to. He was half way to her when one false step sent him hurtling to the ground, where he was met with a face full of dirt. Heart pounding, he looked up just in time to see Jack tackle Elise and land on the other side of the tracks. The train hurtled passed, oblivious to how close it came to destroying what was left of Tyler's world. Between the carts he could see them, but it was just a glimpse. Elise was rolling on the ground. Was she hurt? Was she in pain? For the second time Tyler had to watch as someone else did his job for him, protected what was his to protect. His insides swelled with a feeling he didn't expect: gratitude. He was grateful for Jack. Maybe the boy wasn't a predator after all, or perhaps Elise wasn't his type of prey. Either way, Tyler could live with that.
The last cart passed and Tyler rushed toward them. Elise was rolling on the ground but she wasn't in pain. She was.. she was laughing. Hysterical, uncontrollable laughter. And people thought he was the crazy one. Jack was giving her that wide eyed expression again. Like she was an alien and he was fascinated by her every movement.
"See Jay," Elise said as her laughter died down and she regained control of herself, "you'd make a great super hero."
He would later come to think of this as the day he was created, the day he left the orphan boy behind and became the man he was. He could still remember the smell of Richard's car, a heady mixture of cigarette smoke and oil with the faintest hint of an air freshener struggling to break through. The world had seemed a blur passing around them as they drove to the Gotham Dockyards. Most of the boys had been 15 or 16 when they'd been picked to join Richard, he was still only 14. The feeling of being the youngest to be picked gave him a sense of superiority over the others. Richard had even told him that he had "potential." He, Connor, had potential! No one had ever said that to him before. His father had been more of the "tough love" type of parent and his mother had always been too wrapped up in her own life to acknowledge him. But none of that mattered now. He had a new family. Richard and the boys he took to the docks were a tight knit group. They had their own little language and jokes. Something Connor had always desperately wanted to be a part of. And now he was! No more being on the outside looking in. No more fading into the background. No more second best. Connor was taking control of his own life because he had potential. The boy felt like an alpha wolf joining a new pack. Connor felt his lips slide over his teeth in a grin at the thought.
"Stop grinning, boy. Makes you look crazy." Richard had told him, his gruff voice managing to sound fatherly in this context. "Remember what we discussed?"
"Head down, mouth shut." Connor repeated the instructions Richard had given him when they got into the car. He looked around, trying to form the words to a question he'd wanted to ask for years.
"Spit it out son, you're gonna give yourself an aneurysm if you don't." Richard said, lighting up another cigarette.
Connor took a deep breath, "What do we actually do out here, sir?"
"Sir?" Richard laughed. "Connor, that's the first time you've ever called me that. I didn't bring you out here to be just another one of the boys. I brought you out here because I saw something in you, you've got potential. Keep being yourself and you'll be fine." Richard took a drag on his cigarette, something he didn't get to do around his wife. "As to your question, what we do out here stays out here. Nobody back at home is to know about this, for all they know we work the docks. Just know this, what we do ensures the safety of everyone back home. I want you to remember that Connor, it will help."
Connor wasn't sure if he was happy with that answer but he kept quiet. "We're here." He heard Richard say as they pulled into the Dockyards.
It was dark as they came up to the barrier, Richard rolled down the window and showed a pass to the guard who nodded silently, pressing a button to open the gate. Richard closed the window as the heavy iron gate slid open in front of the car. They waited until it was fully open before Richard moved on. Connor scanned the Dockyards for signs of the other boys but couldn't see anything, the docks were dark and lifeless. He could see a freighter in the distance, sitting silently like a giant metal sentinel waiting to be unloaded. Connor strained his eyes to see more but there was nothing more to see. There were no signs of movement anywhere near the ship. Now that he thought of it, Connor hadn't seen a single person since the guard at the gate. Richard pulled into a dark warehouse, the door sliding closed behind them. The only light came from the car's headlights, which flickered out as Richard removed the keys. The engine went quiet and Connor was struck by the weight of the silence in the massive room. He could have heard a pin drop from across the warehouse. He and Richard climbed out of the car, the sound of their feet on the cold stone floor echoed in the gloomy distance. "Remember what I told you, head down, mouth shut. But keep your eyes open Connor, I cannot stress that enough." Richard's hushed voice reverberated several times through the building.
"Where are the others?" Connor asked nervously. He got a sense he was being watched, no longer the alpha wolf he crept closer to Richard. "Mouth. Shut." Richard enforced his point as he moved to the back of the car, the trunk popped open and the dimmed lights cast shadows onto the wall behind them. Without a word, Richard hauled a duffel bag out of the car and slammed the trunk shut. The brief light had killed Connor's night vision, he was blind and suddenly felt so alone. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up as footsteps echoed around them. He heard Richard grunt and then heard the duffel bag thud onto the ground in front of them. "It's done!" Richard yelled into the darkness, his own words shouted back at him soon after. "Tell Falcone he has his money!" His voice once more echoed back at him. The footsteps stopped and Connor thought he could make out some figures standing nearby.
"Tell him yourself." A voice called back to them through the darkness. "Don Vincent?" Richard suddenly sounded afraid, something Connor had never heard from him. The boy stepped backwards, closer to where he thought Richard was. His foot caught on the strap of the bag and sent him tumbling backwards into the side of the car. The room suddenly came to life with the sounds of the car alarm. Connor was dragged to his feet by rough hands. The flashing lights illuminated the room and Connor saw three men standing roughly twenty feet away. The man in the middle was tall and stern, dressed in a sharp suit that oozed money. Richard fell to his knees as he shut off the alarm, plunging the room into darkness and silence once more. Connor could hear the men laughing.
"Richard, is this the best of your boys?" I thought you told me you were bringing some bright new talent, not your standard children." The man spoke, his voice was calm but overpowering.
"Don Vincent, forgive him, he's just a boy." Richard said nervously.
Connor felt his anger rising. Richard hadn't brought him out here to be 'just a boy'. "Just a boy?" He heard himself say out loud. Oh well, he thought, might as well carry on. "I'll have you know, Mr. Vincent, that Richard has brought me on to pull his 'boys' into shape." He said, hardly believing his own voice. There was a sharp silence during which Connor felt more vulnerable than ever.
Suddenly he heard a loud laugh from the man. "I like this kid, Richard. Keep him around. And as for me 'having my money,' you haven't even begun to pay off what you owe me. You'll be hearing from us soon enough. Oh, and you boy, come here." Connor felt his own feet betray his head as they carried him across the darkness. He stopped just short of the man who was now on one knee. "Has he even told you who I am, boy?" A thin pencil mustache sat above the mans top lip. Connor shook his head. "My name is Don Vincent Falcone. I applaud your boldness tonight. But know this, if you ever speak out of turn in my presence again, I'll have my men here tie cinder blocks to your feet and throw you in the river. And if you're really lucky, I'll have them shoot you first." With that, Falcone stood up and turned his back on them. "We'll be in touch, Richard."
"Did you see that?!" Connor said, his eyes big and bright after standing up to Falcone. In his head, he was invincible, Richard would have to let him into the group now. He looked across to the driver's seat of the car where Richard sat. In the dim light filtering in through the windows he could see Richard's knuckles, white against the black steering wheel. "Why are you being so quiet? Didn't you see how we handled that? 'We'll be in touch, Richard" Connor mocked Falcone. "Ha! What a chum-
Quick as a flash Richard slammed his hands against the wheel, causing the car to lose control for a moment. Connor grabbed the door to steady himself. "Head down. Mouth shut. That was all I asked!" The man's voice was booming and angry. A tune Connor was all to familiar with. "Don't you realize what just happened?" Richard said through gritted teeth. "That man is head of the largest criminal organization in this city. The only reason you have a roof over your head is because he says so. I told you to stay quiet tonight and you didn't. Look where that got us." Connor had never seen Richard like this, he was usually so tough and cold. Connor couldn't believe it, but Richard was scared. It was then that Connor did something that he hadn't done in a long time, "I'm... sorry." He said, his eyes looking straight down at the floor.
Richard let out a long, tired exhale. "Lesson one, kid. Sorry's not gonna stop a bullet." Suddenly Connor didn't feel so invincible anymore.