Brightstar: The Rising Superhero
When I came too, my sight was greeted by an unfamiliar ceiling. I tilted my head to the right and realized that I wasn't in my bedroom. Instead, what I saw was a spinach coloured drape around me and a heartbeat monitor attached to me by a long wire along with a hanging IV bag. Under me was a bed that wasn't soft and wasn't hard at the same time, but enough to feel the firmness that supported my entire back.
My mom sat beside me, her breath was faint and gentle. Her eyes laid shut. She was asleep. The bags under her eyes troubled my soul. She must have been awake the whole time until her body couldn't take it any more.
A hindrance around my neck. I reached out and found a collar around my neck. It had a sleek design so no pointed edge that can cause irritation, but this thing seems to be no ordinary collar. A device with an unknown function.
When I raised my right hand near my face, I found it odd. My hand is different. No scars, no blemishes, even the pigment was different from the rest of my body as I compared it to the skin on my chest.
I tried to lean forward, but my body was too exhausted, I had to lay back down with a quiet groan. My mom woke up from her peaceful slumber and our gazes met. I leaned away when she reached for me. I was expecting a hit, but no, she held my head and pressed it gently against her chest. Her heartbeat was soothing to hear, but her gladness pained me.
She leaned away then reached down and brought out a lunch box.
-I made you your favourite, dino nuggets, and octopus-shaped sausage. I know you won't admit you like them because you think you are too old for them, but I made them anyway. So eat up!-
With a smile, I took a piece of dino nuggets and ate it. There is a sense of familiarity to the taste, I could recall a time when I was too little to do anything, My mom was there so does… my dad. They were clearly happier back then even if they were watching me slobbering over a dino nuggie.
I took another one and a few pieces of crumbs were stuck on my cheek. My mom leaned closer with a napkin and wiped it off for me. “How long was I out?” I asked her.
“What?! Wait...” I took a glance at the lunch, and back at my mom, “How did you know I was going to wake up today? You didn't know I was going to wake up today, didn’t you? You’ve been making the same lunch for three days. Just for me?”
She chopped the top of my head gently then tousled my hair. -Don’t overthink it. It doesn't matter to me if you are going to wake up today or not. It matters if you wake up without a proper meal to eat. So eat up. I don't want my precious baby to get hungry.-
I turned my gaze away, “Mom… I’m sorry.”
-Sorry for what? Getting yourself hurt? Lying to me?-
“I’m sorry for making you worry. But, the word ‘Lies’. We both lied to each other, don't we?”
Mom turned away from my question.
“I may be young, but I’m not blind. You were there, weren't you? You are the one who saved me. Using your power. You lied to me, and have been lying to me for my entire life.”
“Then tell me the truth! Who are the real you?”
The sound of the door open interrupted our moment, a doctor I knew walked in then turned to find me awake. It sent a shock into his system, and quickly he came to my side to check on my condition.
“Kenn, how are you feeling? Any sensation of pain?”
“Oh, Doc. I’m glad to see you.”
“I’m not. You almost sent me a heart attack. You came here unconscious and bloodied it as if you were just fighting a terrible battle.” The doc placed the tip of the stereoscope against my chest. It’s cold to the touch, but nothing that extreme. I got used to it over time.
“Do you have any idea what happened to me? The thing I remember was… my power.”
“Your power got out of control. Maybe because of overuse or perhaps even a random coincidence. Either way, you flew close to the sun just like Icarus.”
I caught a glance and a smile between my mother and the doctor. They seem to know each other, perhaps they got to bond during my comatose state. “I didn't even know a person's power could get out of control.”
“Oh, it happened. Rare, but it happened from time to time. It’s just that most of the accidents about them were kept in the dark by the government.”
“Why would they do that?”
“Simple. To avoid panic. Would you feel safe if you knew that your neighbour could spontaneously combust, burning half a block, or even rage uncontrollably like a beast, leaving a trail of bloody bodies behind?”
“I see the logic in it, but isn't the government lying to the people if they did that?” I raised an eyebrow at the doctor.
“It is. There’s nothing black and white in this world Kenn. We should change the topic. From what your family told me. You have the ability to change your arms into particles of light.”
“I just know about that. I didn’t know I could do that.”
“Please never do it again. I couldn't stress enough how dangerous it is.” His forehead scrunched together as he glared at me with a frown.
“I don't understand.”
“Look at your left hand.”
I lifted my left hand until it met my sight, “One. Two. Three. Four? Wait, four? Where’s… where’s my pinky?”
“You’re lucky you even had both arms after what happened. Turning your hands into particles of light may be a simple process, but the other way around? I’m just glad your body accepted the changes. Do you know what happens if your body rejects your arm? They might have died, and I might have had to cut off your arms. Do you even understand the complexity of a human body? The cells, the bloodstream, the nerve connection, and more. Luck may be on your side this time, but next time, it won't.”
I laid there, staring at my missing finger.
“Consider it a warning. Stop whatever you were doing and take it slow.”
The door opened again, a half rabbit woman, a vampire teen, and a punk girl entered the room. This almost sounds like a joke, but it isn't. Aunty Kusagi, Ria, and Jake, now dressed like a 70s Dracula gathered around me. Obviously, I stared at Jake with a raised eyebrow.
“Kenn, you’re awake!” Aunty Kusagi rushed to my side and delivered a tight hug.
“Aunt was really worried about you. She's been calling the hospital non-stop. Most of the nurses here couldn’t stand her any more.” Ria shook her head with a sigh.
“Hey, buddy. I know you’ll be fine.” Jake fist-bumped before backing away to give me some room.
“What with the vampire costume?”
“Oh. I just got off my part-time job. Too lazy to change.” Jake shrugged his shoulders.
“That’s not true. Yesterday he was dressed like a dragon. I think he quickly came here as fast as he could because he was worried about you,” commented Ria.
“Hey! Speak for yourself. You slept here for the past three days.”
“Why you! You better watch your mouth, sparkles!”
“Oh my god, you know I’m not that kind of vampire.”
Despite all this cheery atmosphere, this homely feeling, a cloud of grief hovered above me. Aunty noticed it when she looked into my eyes. “What’s wrong, Kenn?” asked my aunt.
“Nothing. I’m tired that’s all.” From the moment Aunt entered the room, she was displeased at the collar around my neck. “Aunt, what about you? What’s wrong?”
Aunty Kusagi clicked her tongues, showing her displease even more than before. She turned to my mom, “Catty, he shouldn't be wearing that thing. It’s wrong.”
-I know you hate the collar, but it’s keeping him safe.-
“What do you mean by safe?” I asked.
-The collar is a suppressor. It holds back your power at the cost of making you feel tired. Please just bear with it. I don't want to see you lose control again.-
“Those E-HAD guys. It was their idea, right? Two Paladins are guarding the hallway. Treating my own family like criminals. He didn't do anything for god’s sake.” Aunty clenched her fist and slammed it against the wall. “I don't understand why you would listen to them.”
-Enough! It’s for his own good and that is final. Stop making a fuss about it.- Mom glared at Aunt causing her to be more irritated, but she took a breath and calmed herself.
The door opened again and this time it was different. Not a family, nor a friend, not even an ally. A man who works in the shadows, a casual man, who seems normal, but isn't. A man who seems to know everything, and has been keeping a close eye on me. Bradford. I noticed my mom averted her gaze when he entered the room.
“Quite the mess you make, kid.” There it is his British accent.
“You snake!” Aunt stopped him from getting further into the room by standing in front of him.
“Actually, I am a human while you…”
“You what?!” Aunty readied her fist causing the air in the room to become heavy.
-Can you please stop making a ruckus? Can’t you see my son is still in recovery?-
“I’m fine, Mom, but she is right. Aunty shouldn't cause a scene here. There are still sick people here who deserve peace.”
After a sigh, Aunt backed away from the man while still keeping her glare on him. Bradford took out a piece of chewing gum and tossed it inside his mouth before making his way to the end of my bed.
“There’s no need for an introduction. Those who knew me, good for you, but those who didn't, it better that you don’t. Kenn, you know why I’m here right?”
“Well, that’s one of them. There’s more though. I’m here to detain you under E-HAD’s order.”
“Don't you dare! If you as much as touch Kenn, I will bring hell down upon your master and your ratchet organization,” Aunt directed her threat at Bradford.
“She’s right. If you want to get to Kenn, you have to pass through me,” Jake took a step forward against Bradford with eyes of hardened resolve.
“Me too.” Ria took out her metal bat and gripped it tightly around her hands.
Bradford let out a sinister grin and rested his gaze on my mom. “What about you Catty? Are you going to stand up to me and be a hero, just like you were before? Or are you going to stay down and finally listen to what I got to say?”
My mom shrank in her seat while turning her sight away. There’s guilt in her eyes, I noticed it the moment Bradford walked in. They both had a history with each other.
-Sister, please leave this room with those two kids.-
Aunty raised her eyebrow in disbelief at my mom, “But, Catty?”
-Please. I need you to listen to me. Just this one time.- It was the first time I saw my mom beg. It pains my heart to see it, and I know my Aunt felt much worse than me.
“O-Okay. You two. We need to give them some space. You too, Doc.”
“W-Whuh, but?” Jake glanced between me, my mom, my aunt, and Ria then let out a defeated sigh before walking out of the door with Ria. Doc shrugged his shoulders and followed after them.
Aunt stopped at the doorway, “Catty… He isn’t....” She was about to say something, but held her tongue and left the room.
“Now that we can talk freely. High Command wants me to bring you in, kid. However, I don't want that and neither does' everyone. Even High Command doesn't want it even if they don't want to admit it. We both know why, don't we Catty?”
My mom nodded her head in response.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“There’s a simple answer to that. They are afraid. Not of you, but at your family.”
“Why my family?” I turned away and looked at my mom, “What did he mean by afraid of our family?”
“Oh you didn't tell him, did you Catty?” He let out a troubled sigh while rubbing the temple of his head before continuing, “It’s not my place to meddle in your family affair, but your family has a few skeletons in their closet. So I will skip to the point. Breaking the guideline is one thing, but your power getting out of control? That’s a big no, no. Here, take a look.” Bradford tossed a couple of pictures onto my lap.
I looked closely at the photo, it was an apartment or used to be. Half the building was burned and all the stuff in my bedroom was toast. It was a total loss. All my belongings, my pictures, my clothes, my memories were eaten by the fire. Worst of all, it was my fault.
“I-I did this… What about the neighbours, are they fine? Did anyone get hurt?”
“You are lucky we were there. No one was harmed. You see now why they don’t want you roaming around? Powered is like a ticking time bomb, one mistake, one wrong move, boom. It's a rare thing to happen, but it can happen.”
“I didn't know.” I gripped the blanket over my laps.
“I’m not blaming you, kid. It’s in your kind’s nature. Powered has always been a problem, but I’m not here to preach about my opinion. I’m here to ease both sides. To put it simply, we can't detain you, but I can't go back empty-handed. So I have a proposition for you, the first one: it is the end of the line for you, kid. For the rest of your life, you need to wear that collar and never take it off, and promise me to never use your power until the end of your life.”
“What about the second one?”
Bradford nodded at me with a grin because he knew that I would ask about the second choice.
Mom directed her gaze at me with furrowed eyebrows. -What do you mean by the second? We should take the first one. You don't need to use your power. You can be a normal boy.-
“The second choice, please?” I had to ignore my mom and asked again.
“The second choice, ha? Easy, you can become a Hero again, but under my strict supervision and surveillance. If you were to say go out of control again, I will be there to contain it. High Command will have to approve of it because what choice do they have? Either let you loose or be under my supervision.”
“I’ll take the second one.”
-Stop.- Mom grabbed my wrist causing me to turn my head at her. -No way I’m letting you pick the second one. Are you mad? Are you trying to get hurt again?-
“It’s not about that.”
Bradford stepped in, “You both can discuss later, but right now, here are my conditions. First, find someone to train you. Second, if you were to work for me, I will not have someone who questions my every decision. Understand? So in the meantime think about it and we'll be seeing each other for another… six months.”
He proceeded to turn and walked toward the door, but I stopped him, “Can’t you train me?”
“Sorry, kid. I don't train your kind. Besides, I doubt your aunt out there would let me. Whatever you pick, do know I don’t really care.” Bradford opened the door, leaving a gap for me to see through.
Two figures waited in the hallway, looming over the entrance like a guard dog. The short one to the left dressed in a dark large overcoat, hiding his or her face and body, but for a few seconds, my eyes caught something slithered inside his or her sleeve. It was too quick to see, but I'm certain it was a tentacle.
The second to the right, a slender man, wearing the same type of coat, but his clothes are made to fit his slender body. His short hair is messy black. There is a strange marking on his mouth, and that’s not the strangest part about him. He literally had no lips and for unknown reason kept chugging a water bottle.
Aunt mentioned ‘Paladins. Could it be those two, was the Paladins she mentioned? After Bradford left, the two strange figures followed him. Kusagi walked back into the room with Ria and Jake.
-I forbid you to become a hero.-
“Forbid? You can't do that! It’s my choice, not yours.”
-You don't have a choice in this matter. Sister, help me with this.-
“I heard the gist of it. Your mom is right. We don't want you to get hurt.” Aunty sat at the edge of my bed and placed her hand on my leg,
“Why? Tell me why?”
They both looked at each other. Those stares weren't a regular one, nor a shock one, it is clouded with secrecy. There’s something they are not telling me. It seems they are adamant about keeping that secret as they looked away then back at me.
-It doesn't matter why.-
A feeling boiled inside me, it is rising hastily causing an ache in my heart as if something was clawing at my soul. I felt a fit of unbridled anger begin to leak out. My mind is filled with the word ‘Lies’. I gritted my teeth and glared at both of them.
That is when for the first time in my life, I saw fear in their eyes, not a regular one. A deep obvious horror of me. They weren't just scared, they stood up and took a step back. I turned to Ria and Jake, and even they were terrified of me. I didn’t understand until I looked into the reflection on the metal railing beside me.
My anger quickly washed away and replaced by my own fear. I remembered the last time I felt this. I remembered that face. A flash of my bloody fist and the sound of it hitting against a slab of meat kept repeating until Jake snapped me back when he embraced me within his arms. A tear ran down my cheek.
“I-I’m sorry. I didn't mean to get…”
“It’s okay. No one got hurt. It wasn't your fault. It’s okay, trust me.” Jake's soothing voice brought me back from my prison of fear.
“You were right, Catty.” Aunty looked at my mom with worry in her gaze.
-I don't want to be right... We need to talk,- gesture Catty while inviting Aunty Kusagi to follow her. She turned her attention to Jake, -Please take care of him. We’ll be back in a minute.-
Jake nodded his head. Both of them left the room leaving me, Ria, and Jake alone. Ria slowly took a spot beside my bed while hesitantly wondering if she could place her hand on me. She took another look at me, this time I felt her sympathy. She gently placed her hand on me.
“You don’t have to think about it, Kenn. We could have a rest first until you are back on your feet. What do you think?”
“That sounds great… Thank you, Jake. You always know what I want.”
“Not always, buddy.”
A few weeks later.
Now donned in my regular clothes, I sat on a wooden bench under a tree with split trunks, overarching branches, and vibrant green leaves. I was waiting for my friend and family to finish packing my stuff. I did offer my help with the task, but they politely refused and kept saying I should take it easy. All the wounds my body sustained had healed in record time thanks to Doc.
The breeze brushes softly against the leaves. It’s quiet here, no soul in sight. A perfect place to relax, but truth be told, all I did was relax in the past few weeks. I grew a bit sick of it by now.
“Just in time.”
I turned to the right and saw a familiar dark-skinned older man walking toward me with a thermos.
“Mr Aariv, what are you doing here?”
“I’m here to see you. It looks like I made it just in time.” Mr Aariv let out a sigh as he took a seat right next to me.
“I thought you were busy with school and stuff?”
“Not that busy, but getting a day off is a hassle. The principal is…”
Mr Aariv laughed, “Close enough. Don't tell him I agree to that.”
“I won't if you won’t tell him I said it.”
“You got yourself a deal. Ah, I miss this, the back to back banter.”
“You don't mean that. Other kids have so much better personality than me.”
“None like you. So, shall we start?” Mr Aariv popped the thermos open. Inside the lids slid two cups like a nesting Russian doll. He poured one for him and another for me then placed the thermos beside him.
“Therapy day, now? Is that why you came here?” I held the warm cup between my hands. My eyes darted to my missing pinky before raising the tea back to Mr Aariv.
“As I said before, I came here to see you, but now that we’re here, I think you might want someone to talk with. So I asked you again, how are you?” He leaned back after taking a short sip.
“To tell you the truth. Horrible. A few weeks earlier I lost control of my power. Burned down my apartment. Almost lost my arms. Actually lost a pinky. My mom wants me to stop using my power and be normal. To top it off, everyone agrees with her except for Ria.”
“Quite the week you had, but I sensed something else you aren't telling me.”
“My mom… has power. I saw it. Still, she tried to hide the truth from me. I’m surprised and… angry. I can't believe she and my aunt lied to me. I don't know why she had to lie. I’m her son. I deserve to know the truth.” My grip tightened around the cup.
“I see. So you never lied to your mom before?” Mr Aariv raised an eyebrow at me.
“I-I lied to her before about the superhero’s thing, but...”
“Tell me the truth, you aren't mad about the lies, aren't you?”
“I’m not okay with it. I understand she had her reason. What I don't understand is why she doesn't want to talk about it. Is she ashamed of it? Is she afraid? Is there some kind of secret rule or something? I need an answer, that's it. I don't understand why she can't trust me with it.”
“You can't empty a pool with a single bucket. Do you understand?”
“I do. Deep down, I know she needs time even though I don't want to admit it.”
“Correct. Just like you need time to open yourself up to me after the accident.”
The accident… the moment he brought up the word, my mind flashes a scene where my hands are bloodied. I took a sip of the tea to wash away the bad taste in my mouth and took a long deep breath in then exhaled furiously. “I know. I’m stupid, aren’t I? I kept nagging about my mom when I’m even more troublesome than her. It happened again… I almost lost control. Why is it so hard?”
“You're not that bad. You’re just a teen, trying to make sense of everything while also trying to find yourself in this world.”
“Mr Aariv, I need your opinion. You know me much better than myself. Should I stop using my power and be normal?”
“Normal… ha? We both have a different interpretation of normal.” He raised his gaze to the tree’s crown. “What a beautiful tree. I believe it’s an Elm tree.”
I followed his gaze. The rays between the leaves shimmered when a breeze passed by and shook the tree. The shades kept the area cool, but a few occasional brushes of air let the warm lights pass through and rest on my skin. This spot is truly blessed by the trees. It’s almost perfect in its imperfection.
“I don't know what to do,” those words escaped my lips.
“I think you do. The only thing you need to know is the reason why you pick that choice, and to do so you need inner strength. My advice is to look deep down inside yourself, and when the time is right, let it all out. Make them acknowledge your reason.”
“Easier said than done.” I let out a half-hearted sigh.
It came out of nowhere, a firm yet gentle palm rested on my head. It was a bit heavy, but I felt Mr Aariv held back the weight of his arm. He’s not the type to prefer human contact. In fact, I’ve seen him avoid any unnecessary handshake even though it was meant as a common courtesy. Still, he tends to avoid it causing people to view him as a rude person.
However, when he did, it was never rough or forceful, it was gentle, soft, and caring. I remembered the first time he carried me to the nurse’s office. The familiar lavender musk still hanged subtly from his arm. The only way I could smell it if I were close enough, and I don't think many people had the privilege to do so due to his strange habit of avoiding contact.
“It’s okay if you pick the first option. I’m still proud of you regardless.”
“How is it that you know me so well?”
“I wasn't lying when I said you were my favourite.” Mr Aariv took a sip of tea while we both enjoyed the solemn peace and the beautiful view.