The US government once lost track of a nuclear bomb, so it isn’t too far-fetched that they could lose track of me, too. This was in the 90s, it was easier to disappear back then. The internet was in its infancy, nowhere near the social media and smart-device panopticon we have now. Going home was out of the question. It was probably the first place they would look for me.
At first there was frantic running. Whatever…stuff they’d used on me in that concrete hellhole, it wore off pretty quick when I wasn’t directly inhaling it anymore. Don’t know how long that lasted. Maybe a couple of hours. I could always run faster and longer than the other kids, and I’d never needed to eat or sleep. And there’s a different kind of strength that comes from knowing you can die. Normal people call it “adrenaline”.
It was a lot of forest. Through the trees I came across some dilapidated farmhouses. As I got farther, I saw well-maintained yards in suburban homes, swing sets sitting unused in the cold and Christmas decorations that still hadn’t been taken down. Walking wasn’t the plan, it just seemed like the only option. I was fourteen. I didn’t know how to drive a car. Or how to steal one.
I didn’t know it at the time, but it was about seventy miles overall. Stone Ridge, Virginia to Baltimore, Maryland. Trekking through forests and suburbs and city streets and by the sides of highways, trying to hide in plain sight as best I could. They hadn’t put me in a prison uniform or anything. Hell, they hadn’t given me a change of clothes at all. I was still in the same jeans and yellow hoodie I’d been wearing when they took me in. My makeup had long since come off after days of futile crying and, on at least one occasion, being doused with a bucket of freezing water. Certainly not my best look, and not ideal in the January weather. But it was a whole lot less conspicuous than a jumpsuit with “Property Of Government Agency That Doesn’t Officially Exist” written across the back.
College campuses were the easiest places to blend in. No one really batted an eye at a young woman wandering around at three in the morning. I’d just go to a library, grab a textbook off a shelf, and pretend to be studying. Of course, I hadn’t even finished high school yet, and it occurred to me I probably never would.
When I got to Baltimore I caved into the temptation and ducked into a computer lab. I sat down in one of the faded red office chairs double clicked the pixellated icon for the internet browser. My fingers shook as I typed in “Littlefield, Massachusetts”. It had been a fucking shitshow back home. No way it hadn’t made the news somewhere. And it had. Rogue Superhuman Ravages New England Town, the headline read. “Rogue Superhuman”. I had a fucking name. I rolled my eyes. Then I scrolled down.
The scorched remains of homes. The burnt tree stumps. Nothing left but debris and scaffolding at my old school, or the restaurant where I’d had my birthday party the year before. The unnamed individual laid waste to the town of Littlefield, the caption read, there were no survivors. No survivors. And they were blaming it on me. I clenched my eyes shut as the tears began falling. Damn near threw the keyboard across the room. But then the door opened behind me.
I spun around in the chair, ready to flee or attack. A dark-haired young man with an energy drink in his hand and a backpack slung over his shoulder smiled at me from over the rows of boxy computers. I looked back at the clock on the screen. It was only 11:02 PM. Shouldn’t have expected to be alone in there for long,
“Sorry,” he said, “didn’t mean to scare you.” He was apologizing to me. I took a moment to breathe. He was probably just a student,
“It’s okay,” I stammered, trying not to sniffle too loudly. I thought that would be the end of it. He’d sit down at one of the other machines and do whatever he’d originally come to do. But instead he made his way over to where I sat and peered over my shoulder, setting his energy drink down on the table next to me,
“Littlefield,” he remarked, raising his eyebrows, he took the mouse from my hand and scrolled down, “you don’t believe this bullshit, do you? Folks like that have been operating for years. Like that guy in New York, that chick in Philly, or even that weirdo in Indianapolis a while back. But none of them could level a town if they wanted to.” I stared up at him,
“What do you mean?” I asked. He grinned,
“Want to see a trick?” Without waiting for an answer, he took his hand off the mouse and rested it on top of the monitor. The news story I’d been reading disappeared. In its place, a black background with electric blue text, “THE TRUTH ABOUT THE LITTLEFIELD INCIDENT: WHAT ARE THE FEDS HIDING?” across the top of the screen. I looked at the monitor. Then back at him,
“What did you just do?” I asked, glancing around to make sure we were still alone in the room,
“What I do best,” he said,
“What else can you do?” I asked. He smirked, tilting his head towards the monitor,
“With these things? Quite a bit. Now tell me,” he sat down in the chair next to me, “what’s a little girl like you doing reading about the Littlefield Incident at eleven PM on a Saturday night?”
“A, a research project,” I lied,
“Don’t bullshit me,” he said, “you’re way too young to be in college and no one is assigning work on this.” I rolled my chair backwards, eyes widening in horror, but he extended his hand, “Woah! Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you. Whatever you were doing, I won’t judge.” He smiled again. Less smug, more casual. He had the straight white teeth of someone who’d either spent years in braces or maybe never needed them to begin with, and irises so dark they were almost indistinguishable from his pupils. He seemed nice. And he had something to hide, too,
“Are you like me?” I asked. He shrugged,
“Depends, who are you?” And because in spite of everything, some part of me was still a naïve, trusting teenaged girl who wanted a friend, and because I’d just found out how alone I truly was, I didn’t run away. I didn’t throw that man across the room, even though I could have. I just responded,
“I’m not, well, normal.” My voice was sheepish and quiet but it seemed so loud in that empty room with just me and him. He chuckled,
“I’m Kyle. Do you have a name?” I did. I’d had a name. But the people who’d hurt me knew that name and I didn’t know if I could tell anyone that name ever again. So I just said,
“No name,” he said, half amused and half incredulous, “Would you like one?” My eyes darted back to the computer screen. Then back to Kyle. I couldn’t keep it up forever, just jumping from campus to campus hoping no one would find me. In my travels, few people had acknowledged me. One or two people had offered me a ride. Someone had offered me a sandwich. But no one had offered me a new name, the chance to start over, the chance to be someone else. Comfortable as I had been in my old identity, I would need a new one in order to survive. So I grinned back at Kyle and said,