[Hello Humans! Below is the beginning of Confessions of a SuperFake, a sci-fi novel with superheroes. Enjoy! -ARG]
Chapter 1: The Northern University Bus Incident
I stood over a stranger.
Barely conscious of my bloody knuckles, I watched instead of running. The unknown student splayed before me, legs on the bus, most of his torso on the frozen sidewalk. If I stuck around I’d go to prison. But the question kept my feet planted- was he alive?
I’m not saying I don’t deserve to go to prison. I probably do. I shouldn’t have fought a stranger, not on the first day of classes, and not on a crowded campus bus. His cough snapped me out of my trance, cuing me to run. Shouts followed me out the exit doors. Thank god I was nobody- anonymity allowed me to get away.
I cut through a parking lot, my feet ploughed through iced-over dew. The unreasonable cold bit at exposed skin on my neck, my fingers, my ankles. I’d intended to get to classes early enough to slip in unnoticed, just like high school.
Today I’d need extra time to wash off the blood.
I hardly paid attention during the first lecture. Northern University in Winthrop, Washington, had given me a full ride in engineering, but I desperately missed Georgia. Last week, I’d been in a balmy summer with my siblings, excitedly discussing the cool things I’d build in college. Building had been my passion all my life. This was my chance.
I’d almost blown it.
It was snowing by the time my classes were over.
I hadn’t expected snow, even flurries, in September. My second-hand tennis shoes soaked up cold slush water, unavoidable on the sidewalk. I needed weather-appropriate clothing- a protective jacket, boots.
To escape the frigid weather, I stopped at a small coffee shop midway between engineering campus and my dorm. I welcomed the painful tingling in my face from the sudden warmth. I pulled out my sketchbook.
Since leaving my family, I hadn’t designed anything. In Georgia, I’d been able to fashion fantastic devices out of materials available in my neighbor’s garage. He had so many incredible tools. I had a small collection of hand tools that I’d brought with me, but it didn’t compare to my neighbor’s acetylene torch. No materials, No Tools, No Inspiration? No designs.
My pencil sat welded to the page, waiting, trying not to think about snapping at the random student this morning. My knuckles served as a reminder that I’d sucker punched him, and not for any reason that would get an approving nod from my older brother. Not that I’d tell him; Lou would put two and two together and realize that it had something to do with his phone call this morning. If Lou decided that my parents were right, that I should be kept ignorant about our sister’s relapse, he might never tell me anything. Then that jerk student had been running his mouth about the financial burdens of federally funded healthcare, like my sister needed.
I’d just lost it.
I didn’t know if my sister would even be alive when I got back home. If I could give Leccie a kidney, I would.
I’m so damn helpless here.
I switched to my less-bruised hand, to mentally regroup. The sketchbook’s gridlines rippled, mocking me, laughing at my lack of inspiration. I leaned back in the booth and refused to look at anything. A sting on the back of my head reminded me that guy had ripped out some of my hair during the fight. I still wasn’t going to get a haircut, no matter what Mom said.
It was minutes before I noticed someone had come to sit next to me.
“What am I, invisible?” The flawlessly dark-skinned intruder had a green coat, black hair in dozens of dreadlocks, and a hand extended to me. “I’m Jordan.”
I looked at the hand, offered like a secret. After a short handshake, I put away my sketchbook.
“This is where you tell me your name.” Jordan smiled.
“Alex? Is that short for something?”
“No. Just Lex. My parents are big on L’s.”
“Can I call you Lexy?” Jordan asked. I shook my head.
“No. Definitely not. Who are you?”
“Jordan Moore. Your new best friend.” I stared at the newcomer, my supposed new friend.
“What makes you think… I don’t understand… what?” What was Jordan doing, in my booth, talking to me. People don’t talk to me. Especially not attractive, well-dressed extroverts with stunning smiles.
“You’re new here. I figure you don’t have a best friend yet.”
“Why do you think I’m new?”
“Got a loner vibe.” Jordan shrugged. “And no wind breaker. Also, sneakers. Seriously? Not a veteran of NU.” The barista brought coffee and a smile for Jordan. Heavenly steam poured over the lip.
“You want some?”
“No. No I’m good.” I looked at my hands, tucked in my lap. Jordan sipped, chatting for some time about the area and classes to take. I didn’t mind listening. Very little input was required until Jordan asked if I’d go bowling.
“I really can’t…” I couldn’t pay for bowling, or any activities.
“C’mon… My treat.” Jordan insisted.
I did need something to distract me. My normal building-based methods weren’t working.
“You free Thursdays?” Jordan asked.
“Sure.” I shrugged. “Wait, Thursdays?”
Jordan started to get up.
“Best friends hang out at least weekly.” Jordan said, returning the mug to a dish bin. Jordan couldn’t leave yet- I needed more logistics from this strange, friendly person.
“Where?” I asked.
“Meet me here Thursday, Seven-ish.”
Jordan waved from the door.
Apparently, I had a new best friend.
Post coffee-shop, in the warmth of my dorm lobby, I browsed bus routes. If I didn’t want to have to walk four miles to the engineering campus, I needed a route where I hadn’t committed felony assault. Avoid recognition. Avoid arrest.
In my hour-long search, I came across a brochure on plain paper. The route inside– labeled Northern University CHA transport– had a 6:30am stop a few blocks west, and would let off on a side road on the southern edge of campus.
I reread to make sure I hadn’t imagined it. From other maps, the stop would only be a half mile from the engineering campus, if I cut through the woods. A woodsy morning walk? Sounded almost pleasant.
My roommate hated my extra-early alarm, and I hated the pervasive cold that followed me onto CHA bus. I had my flimsy hood up and my nose tucked awkwardly under my collar. Warm face coverings seemed common on the route.
No one spoke. I preferred the silence to another fight.
The silent students trotted off northward while I lagged in confusion. I’d intended to walk through woods, not several stories of unlabeled box-building surrounded by tall pines. The black rectangular building and massive adjacent greenhouse hadn’t been on any map I’d seen.
Hoping for central heating, I followed the students inside. They must be students, to meet on a college campus and take a school-affiliated bus to a building on school property.
Inside, the crowd dispersed, leaving me to explore the unknown building. The floor shone with fresh wax, next to faded wall paint. Why wasn’t the old, well-maintained building on my maps? The question compelled me forward.
I found a large, single-stall restroom, an odd dispenser next to the hand dryer.
The unhelpful label read: You only get one. Keep it safe.
I pressed the button. A small black mask dropped down the slot.
I studied the paper mask. Leccie, my comic-loving little sister would appreciate the of eccentricity. She would have insisted I wear it. I pulled the surprisingly comfortable cord around the back of my head.
Lou hadn’t called with any hospital updates today.
I peered into rooms along the hallway, keeping a mental track of the variety- classrooms, empty rooms, small gyms.
Around seven, one of the classrooms had bodies. The instructor looked over at me, as if I’d interrupted.
“Are you going to take a seat?”
I considered. This was clearly a lecture, and but on what? I filed in and sat in the only empty seat. Front row.
“Welcome to your first class in the College for Heroic Aptitude at Northern University.”
[If you’re interested in reading more after that, the full first chapter is available at https://alpingeist.com/works/superfake. Readers welcome. -ARG]