Reformed (Excerpt)


I never thought in a million years this is what my life would be like. Yet here I am on the 15th anniversary of my barbershop. I’m surrounded by friends and family. The friends and family I never thought I would have. The mayor came out and gave me an award for the work I do in the community. Free haircuts for the homeless twice a year. Free back to school haircuts. I hire felons when most places in the city refuse. I’m just looking to give someone the shot that was given to me so long ago. The music plays and people dance. Slowly things start to wind down for the night and people begin to exit.

I start to lock up the shop when everyone is gone. Usually I liked to clean up a little before I leave but tonight is special. I can come in tomorrow and clean since we’re usually closed on Sundays. As I lock the door our local street preacher marches down the street. Preaching his usual nonsense. The end of the world is coming. The wealthy elite plan to kill or enslave us all. Nothing new, he doesn’t bother the customers they don’t bother him. He didn’t even show up to our Haircuts for The Homeless events.

Something about today just made me look at him a little harder. For some odd reason, I felt like I recognized this man. His eyes darted away when they made contact with mine. Maybe he recognized me as well. He walked a little faster after that. Against my better instinct I started to follow him. I didn’t know where he was going or why every fiber of my body told me to. I just did it. Soon he ducked off into a dark alleyway. I stood around the corner watching him as he slid into his tattered tent. I expected a cardboard box, but that just means I’ve been watching too much television in my old age. As the rain starts to drizzle in still don’t move. I wait and watch him. He uses a battery powered lantern to light up the alley.

Finally, I get a really good look at him. Pale face illuminated by the light. A few wispy hairs hang to the side of his face. His teeth chatter as he eats away at some dollar store pastries. A crooked nose and cauliflower ear from a life time of fighting. The man is practically skin and bones. He doesn’t have much time left it seems. The world has moved past whatever he was before. I think back on the things he could have been. A doctor, a lawyer, a policeman, anyone. Yet, now he was homeless. That’s when I see it.

The scar on his left arm. Clean through on both sides. I know that scar. I put that scar on him. This was Captain Battle. America’s greatest hero. A mantle passed down from generation to generations since the 1900s. But this guy, he’s the Captain Battle from my generation, James Henderson. I would recognize that face anywhere after all we’ve been through. I hadn’t seen him in person in almost 30 years, when he captured me for the last time. The same day I put that scar on his arm. I called it a gift so he would never forget me.

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Our Lady of Light


“Luz, he totally likes you. Go talk to him,” Jenna says in her stupid valley girl accent. Where did she even pick that up? We grew up in the same barrio.

“I keep telling you, he doesn’t love me. He loves the idea of me being the girl in all the internet videos.”

“Well let him believe it was you. If I was you I would be all over that. You’re like the only one who hasn’t given up that cookie yet.”

“Ugh, no. I’m not trying to end up on teen mom like you sluts. I’m trying to pass Mrs. Edwards English class so I can graduate on time. Then I’m going to become a lawyer and set my people free like Moses. Then I might have some babies. Until then, this cookie stays in the jar.”

“Oh, nuestra seƱora de la Luz,” she says mockingly.

“Soak in my light, for I shall guide the way,” I say while executing the perfect curtsy.

She doesn’t know that I am the lady of light she speaks of. It was me all over the internet. My big brother told me I needed to help our people, so I did what I could. I was tired and passed out but he scooped me up before anyone could get a good look at my face. I don’t even know how it happened. One day after school I just started getting really hot and next thing I know, my hands were on fire. I tried to control it on my own. In the end my big brother found out about it. He should have turned me in for testing like people were doing the others. Instead he helped me control it and get back in charge of my own life. I had been missing school afraid that I would burn up the school or something. I’m still a few credits behind but I should be fine in time for graduation.

A horn blasts across the school yard and I know my big brother is here to pick me up in his busted drop top Chevy. He swears it’ll be the best lowrider I’ve ever see but so far it’s just a flat gray dented piece of junk that doesn’t ever start the first time. I pick up my backpack and waive bye to Jenna as I rush across the yard to get in.

“Think about the cookie jar,” Jenna yells out as we drive away.

“What’s she talking about,” Miguel asks me looking confused.

“They’re just doing a bake sale, she wants me to bake some cookies.

“Well are you gonna bake them?”

“No, since when do I bake cookies?”

“It could help your grades,” Miguel takes my schooling more seriously than I do.

He really has been playing big brother and parent for the longest. Dad died during a shootout with police. That’s what the police say anyway. Witnesses said he was sitting in his car when police ran up and started shooting. He didn’t even get a chance to shoot back. Crazy how he got shot over thirty times and not a single one of them got shot. That’s just the way it goes. Everybody wants to do something about the crooked police, but nobody knows what to do or how to do it. Most people just talk a big game or use our pain to make money. Nobody actually does anything to the police.

Mom raised the two of us up until about three years ago. She got really sick and she can’t really work anymore. Most days she just sleeps all the time. Other days she’s awake, but crying. Every now and then, she’s the woman I remember working three jobs to raise her two kids that couldn’t stay out of trouble. Miguel joined a gang and I couldn’t help but stealing. She worked hard to give us everything she could, but I always wanted more back then. Now, I just want my mom back.

Miguel and his gang are the ones that sent me out to fight that night. The fighting was getting close to where we lived and a lot of the older folks were getting worried. The gang was going out that night and Miguel thought I would be of some help. As of right now, Miguel and his gang are the only ones that know about my powers and they’ve kept quiet just like they promised that night. I know Miguel has done some things with them that he didn’t want to or isn’t proud of. I was afraid they were going to force me into the gang or something, but Miguel made sure that didn’t happen.

“You’ve been spending a lot of time with your gang lately, what do y’all even do all day,” I ask Miguel. He looks at me like I’m crazy.

“I’m not in a gang, I’m in an urban social organization,” he says with a smile.

“I’m 18 now Miguel, I know what you do.”

“You know, being 18 doesn’t make you a grown woman. You don’t even have a job and you still go to school, probably for another year,” he says with a laugh.

“I’m more mature than you think,” I say while cutting my eyes at him.

“Don’t pout, lets go get some ice cream,” he offers a truce, that’s all I really wanted.

Reymundo’s is where we always go for ice cream. Mom and dad used to take us here when were kids. Those are some of the best memories of my life. Dad always looked so tough when we were growing up; at least out in public he was. But, when we would get ice cream he would joke and laugh like a little kid. Mom would just keep smiling and staring at all of us like the moment was perfect. Dad would always get chocolate, then tease mom for getting rocky road. He’d ask if she liked eating rocks. Miguel always got the special, didn’t matter what it was. He said he wanted to try a different flavor every time we came. I always got strawberry, on account of pink being my favorite color. I would give anything to go back to those days. When dad wasn’t a memorial in our living room, when mom was herself, Miguel wasn’t a banger and I wasn’t shooting fire out of all my pores. Sometimes I tear up just thinking about those moments.

“She’ll take a large strawberry cone, and I’ll have the special,” Miguel says ordering for us. Some things never change.

We sit on a picknick table and think about the old times, laughing about the past. We both miss those days before we had to grow up way too fast. Sometimes it seems like time is just moving too fast around me. Everything is changing and nothing is staying the same but I still don’t feel different. I still feel like a little kid lost in a world that keeps getting even bigger. I still want to be that kid but every day I wake up, I’m getting older and things are changing more and more.

Gunshots ring out and people start screaming, at first I thought they were in the distance but they were right here in front of us. Miguel slammed me from the table to the ground in a hurry. My shoulder felt like it was stabbing down into my arm. He yelled something I couldn’t make out. He pulled his own gun and shot back. I couldn’t even see who he was shooting at. He empties his clip before I could make out Hector’s face. Miguel yells at me again to get my head down, shoving me lower. Hector was from the same gang, why was he shooting at us. Who were the people with him. There’s a pause in the shooting and Miguel grabs me by the arm. It feels like it’s being pulled off.

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The Loophole (Excerpt)



The Loophole is a funny name for a bar. A loophole in law is an ambiguity. Something that shouldn’t be there. Something that allows people to get away with things that should otherwise be illegal. Most commonly are tax loopholes but there are other kinds. Superheroes and Supervillains fly around the world all day every day. Villains don’t get leniency, but if a hero steals your car to chase a villain, that’s just a lost car. It’s a loophole, they won’t do any time and you might not get your car back. Occasionally a hero will murder a villain to save the day. Loophole. 

That’s why I laugh every time I enter the bar. Mercenaries have become popular because of loopholes. Technically, we’re just heroes who take charitable donations. Make no mistake, we aren’t good guys. Sure, we all have limits but for the most part we’re willing to do anything for money. I take my usually seat in the back and wait for my first client of the day. Usually some business man who has found out his trophy wife is cheating on him. He’ll want her secret lover beat up and I’ll make a quick thousand. I’ve somehow become known for that.

I order a beer and strike up a cigarette as I wait. The other guys and girls are trickling in. Ready to make some money today. None of us are shy about our vices this early in the afternoon. Some do a little cocaine; they usually get the job done fast. The downside is they’ll make a scene out of everything and the work will be done sloppy. There are the pill poppers, they’ll take just about any job and hold you up for more cash. The needle users, never hire them. Unpredictable, unreliable, unrealistic about their prices; if it starts with un, they are it. Me, I’m a drinker. We’ll get the job done and we’ll get it done right. We just might not take the job because we’re sleeping off last night.

Speaking of turning down a job, a dirty kid takes a seat in the booth across from me with a piggy bank. The kid can’t be more than ten at the most. I don’t even know how he got into this bar. I don’t even need to hear him out. I don’t work for kids. Kids don’t really know what they want. If you take a job from a kid you’re usually pretty low on my totem poll of decent humans.

“Hey Sam,” I holler out to the bouncer hoping to get his attention. He looks at me. I point to the kid and he turns his back. Does this kid have some kind of dirt on Sam? Why would Sam let a kid in then just ignore me when I want him gone?

“I need you,” the kid says staring directly into my eyes like he really wants to hire a mercenary.

“I don’t work for kids,” it’s that simple.
 
“I have money,” he instantly responds.

“That piggy bank there?”
“Yes sir.”

“It’s not enough. I don’t even get out of bad for less than a thousand.”

“You can get more from my dad. I know where he keeps it.”

“I don’t want your dad’s money either. I just don’t work for kids. No offense.”

“This is really important. Can’t you make an exchange?”

“Do you mean exemption?”

“Yes sir, that’s the word,” such a polite kid. I still can’t help him.

“Do you know why I don’t work for kids?”

“No sir.”

“Kids can’t handle what I do.”

“I promise you sir, I can handle anything.”


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Dates


"I love you," the woman yelled out in the courtroom.

"I love you too," the man yells back fighting to say his last goodbyes as the court officers push him out the door.

The judge rolls his eyes as if he's seen this before. The lawyer promises the woman that there's hope. They have evidence a witness lied and plan to force a new trial. Still, she doesn't know if he'll be home in time. She's six months pregnant. She's hid it well so far, and not many know. But she worries that he'll be gone long after their baby is born.

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Trouble


"Well I don't not want trouble," Hamish said with a laugh

The old man had a way of getting under the skin of everyone. The booze made him abrasive, but he had a heart of gold. He'd work for anyone and charge you a fair price, but when the booze was in him it was another story. He was a different man. Nobody around these parts paid him any attention. We all knew how things were.

But today some men from out of town rode in looking for supplies. Hamish had been funning with them all day. It was quickly wearing their nerves. They let it go for a while but now their leader was here. He wasn't taking any of Hamish's lip. That's when he asked if Hamish wanted trouble. Being the smart mouthed man he is Hamish asked for it.

Still nobody expected the ornery bastard to punch Hamish right in the face. I gotta give it to the old man. He hopped right up and spit out a tooth before swinging back. He didn't do much damage and hit the ground right after, but he took the swing. The strangers laughed and had a grand time but the rest of us weren't so pleased.

Most stood around not saying anything, but a working girl rushed to Hamish's side. More heart than the most of us I guess. The sheriff finally made himself known. A little too late for my taste, but I guess that's why I'm not the sheriff. The men don't respect him, but he gets them out of the saloon without any more fuss. Hamish can drink here for free any day, or maybe for a week. He'd put me out of business any more than that.

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Voicemails


"I had a crazy week....A crazy month...a crazy year. Hell, these last few years have been wild. You know that. I've got so much to tell you...You wouldn't even believe it. This woman came into work the other day while I was at lunch. She was just wild, and the tellers had to call the police on her. When I came back it was crazy. Police were there and people were just looking like," I'm cut off.

"You have reached the allotted time for a voicemail. Please hang up and call back or press 2 to hear your message. Press 3 to delete your message. Press 4 to record again, press 5 to save your message and hang up," I press 4.

"I finished another book dad. You were the only one in the family I told about it. I always felt like the family would just laugh at me. But, you always told me to just do what makes me happy. I'm not so sure, it makes me happy anymore. I just keep putting all my problems on fictional charc," I'm cut off again.

"You have reached the allotted time for a voicemail. Please hang up and call back or press 2 to hear your message. Press 3 to delete your message. Press 4 to record again, press 5 to save your message and hang up," I press 4.

"I've been thinking about the last time we went fishing a lot. I don't know. I kind of wish we had gone one more time. I thought about going alone, but I don't really know how to find a good spot, or even clean a fish without you guiding me. There's so much I still need to learn from you. I think about that a lot too. I guess I've been thinking too much. You always said that. I just need to move and not freeze up thinking but I,"

"You have reached the allotted time for a voicemail. Please hang up and call back or press 2 to hear your message. Press 3 to delete your message. Press 4 to record again, press 5 to save your message and hang up," I press 5.

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Going Live


"This is James Allen signing off for the last time," I finish my note.

I smile at how bad my handwriting looks at the moment. I'm still standing after my 7th pill so I take another. Everything in moderation, even in death. Maybe that was the problem with my life. Too much moderation. Pursue the girl I like, but never too hard. Drop hints but don't tell her how I really feel. Hell, there were a couple of guys I probably would have banged if given the opportunity. Again, moderation, you can't just tell a guy that. Or maybe you can, I never took the time to figure it out.

I turn on No Country For Old Men, my favorite movie. Half an hour in and I eat two more pills like they're popcorn. I'm getting sleepy but the job still isn't being done. Maybe I should have went with the noose idea. I didn't want to suffocate and struggle. I thought the pills would be fast and painless. Maybe I could have gone old school and just slit my wrist. I don't know, maybe that was part of the problem. I could never decide on anything. I spent so long, letting other people decide for me that I never learned to make my own decisions.

I didn't even want to be a news reporter. I wanted to be a talk show host. I was going to run a mildly successful public access TV show. Nothing crazy, just a local alternative to late night TV. Why did I never do it? Was I too afraid? What number pill is this? How did I end up taking the news job in the first place? Oh yeah, an old ex. Did I ever make any choices of my own. Probably should have mixed these pills with liquor to do the job quicker. Ha, that rhymed. But mom and dad said not to drink.

"James, you in there," a voice comes from the other side of the door. I recognize it as local weather man Chet Storm. His last name isn't even Storm. All these young kids come in trying to make stupid pun names.

"I'm worried about you man," he fakes caring. "They said not to worry about you down at the station but something told me you needed some help."

I just keep ignoring him, but he keeps talking. I stumble to my feet, barely holding myself up. I make my way to the door leaning against the wall. I wouldn't have gone but he was threatening to kick in the door. Even in death, they'll find a way to keep the damn security deposit. I open the door, and he's standing there pissed off. I didn't know he had the spine for that.

"What the fuck do you want, Chet," I ask. It sounds good, coming out of my mouth but his face says I've slurred my words.

"What did you take," he asks like I'm a child.

"Nothing," I say closing the door.

"I can see it in your eyes."  He easily overpowers me and takes me by the arm. I try to fight back but I don't have much strength left. He drags me through different rooms until he finds my kitchen. There he forces me to sit in a chair.

"What are you doing," I ask, or try to.

"Helping you, because you can't help yourself," he says looking through my cabinets.

He finally finds a glass and fills it mostly with water before going to my fridge. This asshole is just digging through my fridge, no respect whatsoever. He grabs baking soda, is this some kid thing? He pours a little in the cup and stirs before making his way over to me.

"Drink," he demands.

I refuse and he grabs me by the neck. I can't really resist. The moment my mouth opens to tell him to stop he starts pouring the mixture down my throat and making me drink. He grabs a trash can and yanks the lid off before sitting it in front of me. Suddenly the contents of my stomach are flying out of me. What the fuck.

"Why won't you leave me alone," I ask between spurts of vomit.

"Because you were the only person nice to me when I first started. You're still the only one that says good morning and will have lunch with me. Whatever you're going through, we'll get through it together, that shit is temporary."

"I hate you so much right now."

"Well, you'll love me tomorrow."

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Upton in America


The first 90 days in America should be no problem. I'll be a legal citizen. After that I'm on my own but I refuse to go back to my family in London. They can't handle me as who I am. I'll go somewhere they can. San Francisco.

"I'm here bitches," I yell exiting the plane and twirling as I set foot on the ground.

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