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Have you ever believed in something so much, you would have died to protect that belief?What if one day you discovered the truth, the real truth, and it isn’t what you have known, it isn’t what you thought it was, it isn’t what you had spent your life believing. What if you discovered that what you were willing to die for was wrong? What would you do to redeem yourself? What would you do to find the truth? What lengths would you go to in order to set things right? Who would you be willing to become in the process? Addison Henry had a belief, and now she has the truth. The question is, what is she willing to do to set it free? For your reading enjoyment, MJ Fjeld is pleased to present: The Brides of the Fallen

Jenny Blue is an anomaly, not only on Earth, but also to the realm she belongs to. The realm that thinks she’s dangerous, the realm that tries to keep Jenny from existing. In order to be free of them, Jenny, Harper and her companions have to cross the five realms, facing Demons, Dragons, Angels and Death in order for Jenny to be free of running, in order for her to be free to simply exist. Which, as it turns out, isn’t nearly as simple as it sounds.  For your reading enjoyment, MJ Fjeld is pleased to present: The Five Realms: Enemies

A short story detailing one mans thoughts before he dies. A prisoner who’s only prison isn’t the cell he’s living in, but also the prison he’s created inside of himself. For your reading enjoyment, MJ is pleased to present: Awareness     (Content warning: This book contains content that could be offensive, ie: Language.)

 

 

The Five Realms – Chapter 1 (sample)

Prologue:

I only wear shoes I can run in. I do it because running isn’t just probable in my life, it’s inevitable. And if I’m not faster than the people chasing me then that’s it – I’m dead. I don’t see much these days except for blurred shapes and faces that I run pass. I know where to go instinctively; it’s been ingrained from years of practice, years of dodging, and years of hiding. His feet beat right beside mine, just as practically dressed, just as frantic. We both run. It’s just what we do now.

Chapter 1: Harper

I used to have a name before all of this started. It was a pretty name, but I don’t use it anymore. Too many bad things have happened with that name. Bad things happen with my new name too, but they aren’t nearly as bad as before. I can deal with physical pain a lot better than I can deal with the emotional stuff. My last life, the pain was both. This life, the pain is just physical and I find it much easier to bear. 

I don’t miss my old life; I try to forget about it whenever I can—who wants to be reminded of being tortured? Sometimes though, little things happen that remind me I’m not supposed to be in this life, that I belong somewhere else. I try to ignore those things, but it’s hard to do when I’m so different from all the people around me. That’s what gets us into trouble: my differences. Even though no one knows about me for sure, humans aren’t as obtuse as my previous life told me they were. They feel the difference, even if they don’t know what it is. Human instinct has evolved much faster than human conscience. 

I try to blend in whenever I can. I’ve gotten good at hiding, I’ve gotten good at pretending, I’ve even gotten good at lying—something that is as necessary as breathing since I came to this world. This life has hardened me, made me callous, it’s made me sarcastic, made me mean; but it’s also made me strong. My muscles are strong, my hands are strong, and my will is strong.  He is how I got my strength in the first place, and he is what keeps me strong now.

 

Ours wasn’t a typical first meeting. Actually, he found me in a dumpster, behind a restaurant known for throwing out food that wasn’t perfect.  After a few minutes of getting pizza sauce in places I’d rather not mention, I finally found a freshly baked, slightly burnt loaf of bread.  I was just about to jump out of the dumpster when I sensed something looking at me.  It was dark in the alley, but a flickering lamp at its entrance routinely showed all the stark shadows things could be hiding in.  I analyzed these shadows, letting my eyes see what the dark didn’t want me to find.  At first I couldn’t see anything; but then, one patch of shadow at the opposite end of where I was, caught my attention.  All I could see were little reflective orbs, three or so feet above the ground that flashed in and out of existence every once and a while.  It wasn’t until I had been staring for over a minute that the orbs started to rise, rising four feet, then five, then a little more.  The orbs started coming toward me then, and that was when I noticed the person they were attached to.  

I jumped out of the dumpster quickly and glanced at the exit of the alley; I’d have to run past the person in order to reach it, but I could run fast when I wanted to—inhumanly fast.  The person must have noticed me looking toward the escape route because he took a few quick steps to put himself directly in my path.  I could still beat him.  He was foolish in taking me at face value.  I knew I didn’t look like much, but in the world I came from, we were equipped with certain physical attributes that would make us lethal weapons here.  He wasn’t even an intimidating species according to this world’s specifications.  He was tall, yes, but he was thin.  The more I scrutinized him though, the more determined I was to not underestimate his light frame—his skin was stretched with lean muscles.  His feet were planted on the ground, his knees slightly bent so he had a strong stance and good balance.  His eyes were evaluating me just as I was evaluating him.  I knew what he would see though.  He would see a skinny teenaged girl with torn, baggy clothes and greasy knotted hair.  I’m sure in the dark my hair would look black to him, but it was actually brown.  He had brown hair too, though it was very light, almost golden, and curls haloed his head in unfinished ringlets.  

The boy took a step toward me and I scrambled backward, clutching the bread to my chest and getting ready to run.  He hastily threw his hands in the air in front of him with his palms facing me.  This gesture was familiar to me, I noticed it a lot when someone felt overpowered, or they wanted to stop the person threatening them or hurting them.  It was a sign of surrender.  I didn’t know why he was surrendering himself to me though.  Obviously, in this situation, he thought he had all the power.  I, after all, was just a girl. 

“Hello there.”  The boy spoke.  His voice was nice: light and soft, very warm, and reassuring.  

He hesitantly took another step forward, and I matched his with a step back; I was running out of room.  I would have to act soon.  

The boy stopped walking but kept his hands up.  I nervously glanced toward the alleyway entrance.  If I could just make it there I could lose him in the city, I wouldn’t even have to run. 

“Please don’t run!”  The boy pleaded. Could he read my mind?  I started evaluating him more closely.  “I’m not going to hurt you, I promise. I just want to get to know you.”  

I cocked my head at him. Him getting to know me would lead to a desire for him to hurt me.  This much I did know about human nature; they didn’t like what they couldn’t explain, they were afraid of it.  They liked being in control, and they eliminated those things that threatened that control.

The boy thrust his neck out like he was trying to get closer to me without actually taking a step.  “What’s your name?  I’ve seen you around here before but I never had the guts to speak to you until now.”  

Now that he said it, I had noticed this boy before too.  I was never looking for him, but I do remember seeing that curly brown hair every once in a while.  How interesting that he hadn’t acted before-hand.  How interesting that he even wanted to.  People normally avoided me whenever they could.  They could tell I was different, and they were afraid of what that difference might mean for them.  Something else I knew about human nature was that people were selfish, self-interested, and self-preserving—even at the cost of many others.   

The conversation was making me increasingly uncomfortable.  This boy’s words were defying normal human reactions. I knew that humans lied though. Lying was one of the things they did best. I decided it was better to not find out this boy’s motives and just run.  

I was to the entrance of the alley before he even processed what was going on.  I stopped and turned around briefly to look at him one last time.  He had just wheeled around in alarm, his eyes were wide, and his mouth was open when he saw me at the sidewalk.  His eyes were brown, a warm, welcoming, open brown I hadn’t noticed before.  

I turned and ran.  

I had lived in the city long enough to know my way around all the secret places people normally wouldn’t go.  I had avoided problems with the hostile humans so far; either from outrunning them, or scaring them by showing them exactly why I was not to be bothered.  I had even gained a kind of reputation, I guess, as someone to be left alone.  Some people had even tried to recruit me, bringing with them black toys that spit out hot, burning metal if I should refuse. They had found out quickly that such devices were not enough, and the repercussions of their failure were sufficient that the attempt had not been repeated.  

I ran until I was sure the boy could not have followed me.  I turned a corner into another alley and slowed into a walk.  My usual resting place was a cardboard box that had a picture of a grey rectangle on the outside of the box called a Refrigerator; it was lodged into the corner of an alley underneath some apartment windows.  I found an odd sort of comfort in listening to the human’s nightly rituals.  I walked over to my box, and pulled back the lid, freezing in place and gasping when the boy I had just run away from was found lying on my blankets.  He popped out of the box so quickly I was startled and the loaf of bread flew from my grasp.  I watched in painstakingly slow motion as it hurtled its way toward a puddle.  Sprinting is something that I rarely do, but this was a desperate time.  I sprinted and was just able to grab the bread before it landed in the water; I tottered on the edge of the dry gravel but soon lost my balance and belly-flopped into a large, cold puddle.

I groaned as I worked myself to my knees, throwing the soggy, soiled bread away in disgust.  To my utter astonishment, the boy started to laugh, and not in a polite, public sort of way, but in a way where he would start to suffocate before he took a breath and then keep on laughing.  I stood up and started wringing out my shirt, followed by my hair.  I walked toward my box, stifling the urge to smother him with my blankets and grabbed one of the two spare shirts I possessed.  I ducked inside the box, closed the lid, and changed into the dry shirt, stripping off my pants and placing the blanket over my freezing legs I then opened the lid just enough for me to lay my pants and wet shirt outside and then closed the lid again.  

It was quiet outside my box for a long while.  I was just starting to hope that the boy had gone away and was preparing to settle down for sleep when an awkward sort of tapping sounded from outside my box and I could hear the soles of shoes rubbing against the gravel outside.  I sighed heavily, curled up, turned on my side, and tried to ignore it.  

“Hey uh, mind if I open up the, uh, box? Door?”  

I did mind in fact, but I rarely spoke to humans if I could avoid it—they were emotional and rash and I was afraid prolonged contact would turn me into one of them.

The yellow light from one of the apartment windows suddenly cast its glow at the back of my box and I whipped around to find the boy kneeling at the opening of one side of the lid.  He froze at my sudden movement but then proceeded with opening the lid further and placing himself at the edge of my box and the gravel alleyway.

I tried not to be shocked at his behavior, but I found it difficult – he was very confident, this human.  

He noticed me looking at him and nonchalantly lifted up his hand and smiled.  “Hi there.”  He said casually and placed his hand back down wrapping his long arms around his bony knees.  

I frowned at him, completely perplexed and I turned on my side again, this time facing him so I could make sure he didn’t do anything hostile—as humans so often did.  

The boy turned his head to look around the alley.  “Nice place you got here.”  He must have seen the skepticism in my eyes.  “No, I mean it!  Plastic bags underneath so the box doesn’t get wet. Newspapers inside to keep you insulated. Sticks in the corners so the top doesn’t sag. You’ve got a great set-up. It took me a long time before I found an abandoned alley where people would leave me alone.  You have to gain a reputation to have a spot this good.  I kept getting bothered though, so now I mostly live in a van I found in the junkyard.”

I couldn’t help the flame of surprise from lighting itself inside of me.  I leaned myself up on my elbow so I could be closer to the boy’s eye level.  The boy turned his face back toward mine.  He had tanned skin.  Not exactly brown, but not exactly pale; it was more…olive toned.  His teeth were straight and his eyebrows were thick and dark, much darker than his hair.  His face was thin but he had a square jaw; based on the symmetry of his strong features I assumed that humans would consider him attractive.  

Finally, I tore my eyes from his face and noticed his clothes.  They were baggy, just like mine were, and also just like mine the colors had faded and the fabric was worn and ripped in some places.  His shoes had holes in them and his socks were covered in mud.  My eyes traveled back up him, he had the bumps on his arms that humans often got when they were scared or cold.  He seemed calm, so I didn’t think he was scared; although, he was right about the reputation I had that allowed me to be left alone.  The season still had winter in the air, although, humans say that the time is what they call March. 

I found his eyes again and hesitated there at their warmth.  He had a very open, honest face, and most of that was due to his open and honest eyes.   They were very inviting.  Inviting me to open my mouth and speak to this boy who was so confusing, so interesting, so frustrating.   

“Wow.” The boy said. I raised my brows in confusion and he seemed happy to elaborate. “You have the prettiest eyes I’ve ever seen.” 

I looked down from his face, uncomfortable. I knew my eyes were striking. They held a color of blue so bright and vibrant I wasn’t sure the humans had the capabilities of copying its exact shade. In my world, however, my eyes were a testament to my lineage. I had my father’s eyes. 

Slowly, I raised myself up so I was in a sitting position, making sure the blanket still covered my bare legs.  I had to slouch in the box so it would accommodate my height.  It wasn’t uncomfortable, just inconvenient.  The boy slowly lowered himself so he was sitting too and crossed his legs in front of him.  He sat there staring at me for a while.  We sat there staring at each other; until, quite embarrassingly, my stomach issued a violent growl.  I touched my hand to it and frowned as the pains of hunger stretched across my abdomen.  

“Hungry?”  The boy asked.  He looked at me with something like pity.  I felt myself getting defensive, I didn’t like that look.  

“I guess I kind of ruined your dinner didn’t I?”  He asked, seeming determined to speak to me whether or not I responded.  

I took my hand from my stomach and shrugged my shoulders in a noncommittal gesture—although I was still upset about him startling the bread from my hands.  

“No, I’m sorry about that,” he continued, doing that thing again where he appeared to have read my thoughts.  “I really didn’t mean to surprise you.  I followed you here a few weeks ago and when I realized you didn’t move around I decided I would try to talk to you.  You don’t seem to be much of a conservationist though, huh?” 

I shook my head slowly, trying to determine how I felt with the new knowledge that this boy had been stalking me.  I wasn’t upset, he seemed harmless.  I was…annoyed—I think that was the human word for it.  

“Well, that’s okay.  I’m not a shy person myself, but the nuns are always telling me I’m kind of unusual in that way.  If you want, we can go to them and they’ll give us food.  I mean, I only go every once in a while because if I go too often then people will notice and then Social Services gets involved and I have to find a new church!  I mean, I get why Social Services is important and they’ve helped a lot of kids and all that, but foster care isn’t exactly my idea of a good time. The system tries to keep the kids with whatever family members of the kids they can find; and most of the time, those people are no better. They put me with my uncle after my parents were arrested for beating me too loudly and he beat me just as bad!  So, I stupidly decided to become an emancipated minor and it’s been a lot tougher than I thought.  I do have a job though! Just…not a place to live and not enough money for food most nights.  I’m saving whenever I can.  If I can find food myself then that’s more money I can save so one day I can finally get out of this city.  You know that car in the junkyard I stay in? I’ve been fixing it up with parts people leave in there.  You’d be amazed at all the brand new things people just throw away, it’s incredible.”  The boy chuckled to himself and shook his head.  

He talked a lot.  It was actually quite fascinating listening to him. It was also disturbing. He was beaten as a child! I knew humans were bad, but I had no idea their savagery extended so brutally to the innocent. No wonder my old world considered this my death sentence.

“So, what’s your story?”  He asked, turning his eyes back to me.  “Are you emancipated too?”  

I shook my head.  

He furrowed his brows.  “So, are you a runaway?  You know I won’t report you if you are.  I actually ran away from home a couple times.”

I paused and then shook my head again.  

The boy frowned at me, then laughed and shook his head.  I was beginning to be amazed at his happy attitude, most humans were very negative but this boy didn’t seem to follow normal social habits.  “Well, if you’re not emancipated, and you’re not a runaway, then what are you?”

I stopped and just looked at him, memories from my past came to the front of my mind and I sat, stunned at the emotional force behind them.  

I looked down at my hands resting in my lap.  “Abandoned,”  I spoke, my voice sounding deep and serious even to my own ears.  

It was quiet for a long while until the boy’s hand appeared in my peripherals.  Automatically I snatched the hand before it could touch me and squeezed the wrist.  The boy issued a small sound of pain and almost as fast as I had moved, another hand came in and stabbed me in a soft spot near my shoulder that caused my hand to go mostly numb and I found myself releasing his wrist without meaning to.  I was just about to get up and hurt the boy when his hands were back up in a surrender position. 

“Wow, whoa, I’m sorry! I was just trying to comfort you but you grabbed me and it was a reaction! I wasn’t expecting you to grab me like that.”  

His wide, honest eyes had me believing him, which might have been my mistake.  

I sat back down and started rotating my shoulder.  “What did you do?”  I asked, frustrated that he had this kind of power.

He looked at me with an amused expression. “So you’re British! Well kind of… Is that why you didn’t want to talk? So people couldn’t hear your accent? Are you British? You’ve got kind of a weird accent.”

I gave him another confused look. “I do not know what British is.”

His amused expression dropped. He looked at me warily at first and then as if he was evaluating my intelligence. “They’re not an is, they’re a who, they’re a people. It’s a type of culture. The way you talk, you sound a little like them. Like the way I talk, I sound like an American.”

I nodded my head. I knew humans had many different languages and cultures for each language. I also could hear the difference between how he spoke, and how I formed some words. My words were softer, less sharp the way his were – rounded, I guess would be the right word.   

The boy rubbed his wrist where I could see an outline of my fingers. This reminded me of my previous question. My shoulder was still sore.

“How did you make me release you?”

The boy looked back at me with open, confident eyes. “I’ve been in Martial Arts since I was a kid; it’s where I work now.  A guy I knew kinda took me in when he realized the situation I had going on at home and gave me lessons for free. I just hit you in your pressure point.”     

I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant but I nodded like I did.  It comforted me that he explained his power to me, but I was still frustrated that I didn’t understand it.  

After a moment of silence, I finally had to ask.  “What are Martial Arts?”  

The boy’s eyes whipped to mine in alarm.  “You mean you don’t know?  Were you raised in a barn or something? You don’t know Britain, you don’t know Martial Arts. I swear if you didn’t look so serious I would accuse you of pulling my leg.”  He chuckled quietly.  

I got offended, he must have noticed because he was suddenly serious again.  “It was just a joke, calm down.”  His easy smile returned to his face.  “Martial Arts are a form of self-defense.  Basically, it teaches how to defend yourself against a variety of attacks.”

Hmm, fascinating.  

“How does one defend themself? What weapons do you use?” I asked, finding myself interested without being able to stop it. “Do you hit more pressure points?”  

The boy looked at me with amusement and with something close to worry.  “Uh, sort of.  You want me to teach you?”  

I was about to agree, just to see how I would fare against human defense maneuvers, but then I realized my present condition and looked toward my wet pants outside of my box.  

The boy followed my eyes and laughed again.  “Well, I guess not tonight, but how about another time?  It’s not like I’m needed elsewhere. They only have work for me on the weekends.”

I nodded, settling back into my box.  As humans went, he wasn’t the worst I had met.  He was intriguing.  He was so…happy.  Was it normal for a homeless teenaged boy to be so positive?

The boy seemed to relax as I did.  I didn’t know what he was waiting for.  Was he planning on sleeping like that all night?  I hoped not.  

I found his eyes on me again.  “My name is Harper, by the way, Harper Delfino.  Sorry I didn’t mention that before.  You distracted me.  You’re a very unusual girl you know.” 

I tensed, so he did realize that I wasn’t like him; and yet, here he was.  The more I learned about this human, the more he perplexed me.  

“So, what’s your name?”  He asked, continuing as cheerfully as before; I was still considering whether his happiness was pleasant and refreshing or just irritating.  

I paused, looking up at him and swallowed.  I wasn’t going to reveal my old name, that name was lost to me forever.  I didn’t know enough about human culture to determine a suitable name for myself so I just shrugged noncommittally again.  

Harper laughed.  “You don’t know?  How can you not know your own name?”

An uneasy feeling grew inside me.  “I don’t know because I don’t have one,”  I said finally, rather harsh. 

Harper’s smile vanished from his face and his eyebrows pulled together. His eyes shifted to the side and he looked like he thought I might be mentally deficient.  “How can you not have a name?  Didn’t your parents name you?”  

A sharp aching pain spread through my chest at the mention of parents.  Memories flowed into my mind unchecked.  I brought the blanket up to my chin and tried to contain my emotions that wanted to run rampant inside me, that wanted to debilitate me.  

“My parents are not a part of my life any longer, and so the name they gave to me is not a part of my life any longer, either,” I said simply, my voice strong, hiding my pain.

Harper’s eyes widened and then he turned his head away from me, fingering the torn hem at the bottom of his jeans.  He seemed to be uncomfortable, it was the first time he hadn’t seemed confident since I met him.  

Another long stretch of silence came between us.  My eyes started drifting until, quietly, he spoke again.  “Well, I can’t let you be nameless.  So how about I give you a new name?”  

I thought about it, and then shrugged again followed by a small nod.

Harper looked off into the distance, his eyes squinting slightly.  He seemed to be thinking.  Finally, he looked back at me and stared for a while.  “You have really pretty eyes by the way.  I know I already said it before. I noticed them the first time I saw you.  They’re so blue, but not like a clear blue or a dark blue, just a very bright blue.”  

I felt my eyebrows pulling in.  

“Jenny.”  

I looked up.  Harper was looking at me with a smile lighting his handsome face. “Jennifer Blue, that’s what I’ll call you. Jenny Blue is a song I know, for some reason, your eyes remind me of it.”  

I mulled it over in my mind.  It was a nice name.  I shrugged again.  

Harper smiled with his teeth and nodded contentedly to himself. 

I watched him while his eyes were down.  His body was relaxed, confident, and he had lines around his eyes that deepened when he smiled.  

“How old are you?”  I asked.  He had a young body, but old eyes; my old life had many people like this.  

Harper looked up at me and for the first time since I had met him I saw color rush into his cheeks; a color that often appeared when humans were embarrassed.  

“I’m seventeen.”  

I nodded.

“How about you?”  He asked. 

I wasn’t quite sure how to answer.  My old life judged time much differently than this new one.  I decided to answer him in human years, he wouldn’t understand my other age.  “I’m fifteen.”  

Harper smiled at me and then yawned.  He looked around himself.  “You wouldn’t mind if I stayed here tonight, would you?  It took me a long time to get up the nerve to talk to you and I’m worried if you send me away you’ll leave and I’ll never find you again. Plus, it’s quite a way to the scrap yard and I’m beat.”  

A tightness happened in my chest.  I had never invited a human to accompany me in anything.  Though looking at Harper, I didn’t think the tightness was an instinct of self-preservation, I just think it was nerves.  The more I considered saying no, the more that answer seemed wrong.  Harper was unlike any other human I had met before.  He was….kind.  I didn’t think kindness should go unrewarded, especially since it had so seldom made an appearance in my life.    

“If you would like,” I responded meekly, hesitantly.  “Though, I don’t have another blanket.”

Harper smiled and eagerly scrambled to his knees.  “Oh, that’s alright! If you’ll just let me in the box, I’ll close the doors and our body heat will keep me warm.”

I hesitated, but I had already agreed so I nodded my head and scooted as far into the back of the box as I could. I was not worried about defending myself should Harper prove to be someone more hostile than he appeared. I was more lethal than he knew, so I watched as Harper crawled inside, and as soon as he was lying on his hip, he reached behind himself and shut the lid to the box.  It was pitch dark all of a sudden and I tensed up waiting for an attack.  It never came.  Finally, my eyes began to adjust and I noticed Harper watching me as I was watching him; it seemed he too was not as trusting he appeared.  

Harper quickly proved to be right though, between the mixture of our hot breath and body heat, the space inside was slowly warming.  

“Thanks for letting me stay, Jenny.  Even though I’m alone all the time, I don’t like to be.”  

I nodded my head.  I knew what he meant.  Sometimes loneliness was a necessity instead of a choice, and yet that obligation did not make the solitude any easier.  

Harper yawned again and I smiled a little.  “Anyways, we can go to the church tomorrow and get some food.  They’re nice, and don’t ask many questions.”

I nodded my head again and watched as Harper’s eyes slowly dropped and then closed, and soon his breath evened out and deepened. 

I watched him for a long while.  I couldn’t judge my feelings, they were very mixed.  It was strange that Harper should be so trusting of me, even knowing the reputation I had gained.  I couldn’t understand why he wasn’t more cautious.  Though, I suspected his spying on me had something to do with it. Thinking about me now, my feelings were also mixed.  On the one hand, it probably wasn’t safe for him to remain with me; the more he remained the more he would notice what made me different from him.  I also didn’t want him to stay because I didn’t want to become like a human.  I thought they were an ignorant, close-minded, cruel species.  On the other hand, it was the first time since I had come to Earth that I had a companion.  I didn’t realize how much I had missed interacting with someone.  I was worried about what the years of loneliness had made me become, and what the further years of loneliness would lead to my becoming.  

I listened to Harper’s breaths for a long time.  Slowly, I pulled the blanket out from under me, laid it across myself and across Harper, pulled my arm underneath my head, and allowed my eyes to close; choosing instead to deal with this problem in the morning.

 

Chapter 2: Mutant

The smell in the box was foul when I opened my eyes in the morning.  

I brought the blanket up to my nose and squinted into the soft light that had reached the seam in the box lid.  Harper was sitting up as much as the box would allow and he had a naked foot propped on his knee; the smell seemed to be coming from his toes.  

I shifted a little and Harper’s eyes moved to mine.  Once again I saw a darkening in his cheeks.  “Sorry…I didn’t realize how bad my Athlete’s Foot had gotten until I took my shoes off this morning.  I guess I’ll have to break down and buy some ointment.  I don’t like using money though…” 

I pulled the blanket down from my face and breathed through my mouth.  “What is Athlete’s Foot?”  I asked.  

Harper stopped what he was doing and looked at me again with his eyebrows pulled in.  “Uh, it’s a fungus that settles in your feet because your feet aren’t clean.  Where are you from?  How is it you don’t seem to know things that normal people do?”  

There it was.  Normal.  The word that could never exactly apply to me, even in my old life.  I looked down at my ratty blanket and sighed.  “I don’t want to talk about it.”  I mumbled, angry that I couldn’t fit in, even here where the average intelligence was so much lower than in my other world.  

Harper shrugged and picked up a sock that was so covered in mud and full of holes I assumed it had stopped being useful long ago and now was simply used as a matter of habit.  

“I think you should buy new socks too.”  I said, trying to be diplomatic.  If the fungus was caused because of uncleanliness, it made sense to cover the infected area with something clean.  

Harper frowned.  “No, I’ll break at ointment but not at socks.  It’s ridiculous how much they charge for those things; it’s practically un-American.”

I had never purchased socks before, so I wouldn’t know.  “Have you ever tried looking for socks in the things humans throw out?  That’s where I find most of my necessities.”

Harper looked up at me quickly, I didn’t register my mistake until his eyes widened and then I couldn’t breathe.  

“Humans?”  He accused, “Why did you say it like that?”  

I couldn’t talk, my mouth kept popping open and then shutting but no sounds came out.  

Harper was looking so intensely at me I thought the truth would appear out of thin air just by the sheer force of his will.  “I mean, you’re human too right?” He continued when I couldn’t.  “It’s not like another species is known to exist.  You look human, you speak like a human.”  He paused for moment, and then said the words that condemned him.  “You don’t really act human though, and now you don’t associate yourself as a human.  What are you Jenny Blue?”

I looked down at my hands and tried to come to terms with what I was about to do.  No one could know about me.  They could speculate sure, but they couldn’t know.  If they did, the humans would think they had a right to experiment on me, and they did not.  I was glad that I hadn’t known Harper long; I had a feeling I would have come to appreciate his company.  I couldn’t shake the guilt that was accumulating inside for having to kill one of the few kind people this planet could boast having, but it had to be done.  

I looked into Harper’s eyes and held his attention.  I could tell he was coming up with theories in his head, applying logistics or hypotheses or whatever it was humans did when they were trying to come to a conclusion.  Slowly, I opened a vein inside of me—I wasn’t sure which, I didn’t even know that much about this ability myself—and let heat leak into my eyes.  As soon as the heat reached an appropriate temperature I could release it.  I knew what Harper would see then, this wasn’t the first time I had used this power of mine—a strange power, even by my old world’s standards.  He would see my iris overtake the white of my eyes. Soon he would be looking into a fountain of bright blue with my pupil being a tiny pinprick—a conduit for the power to come that brings death.  As soon as the whites were gone, silver lines would run through the blue in striking, violent patterns, almost like an electric storm. Then, Harper’s eyes would turn black, the skin around them would burn, and his brain would cease to function.

The heat was enough; I took a deep breath and slowly released it.  Harper’s eyes widened, and then, he shouted.  

I jumped, completely alarmed; normally when I caught someone’s attention and released the heat they were immobilized until the deed was done.  Harper’s shout turned into a loud laugh, and his mouth split up into a triumphant smile.  “I knew it!”  He shouted.  “I knew the government was doing human experimentation! I knew it!”  He crowed.  

I was at a loss.  I sat back, letting the heat dissipate, watching Harper with utter astonishment.  

Harper leaned toward me then, and I backed up as far as the box would allow me to.  “So tell me, did they abduct you when you were young or did they start on you as a fetus?  I’ve always wondered that.  What powers do you have?  How many of you are there?  Did they dip you in a vat of radioactive material?  Are you like the Hulk?  Or did they mix your genes with that of other species so you’re more like Spiderman?  I guess you would be more like Wonder Woman instead of Superman, considering you’re a girl and all.  Spider-girl?  Did they do awful experiments on you?  How did you escape?  Do you remember where they were keeping you?  Do you think we can go take it down?  Are you like contagious?  Am I going to get superpowers?  Oh, man, this is so COOL!!!  Can you show me what you can do?  Can you like shoot lasers from your eyes, or turn invisible?  Can you teleport?  What about flying!? Oh, that would be so epic if you could fly!  Could you fly while carrying me?  I’ve always wanted to fly.  I’ve never even been on a plane!  Can you…”  

I leaned over and covered Harper’s mouth with my hand.  

Harper’s eyes were so wide, and the lines around them deepened, proving that he was still smiling.  Hot breaths were blowing against my hand in rapid succession.  I couldn’t stop staring at him.  

“What are you talking about!?”  I finally cried.  

Harper removed my hand, but kept it in his grip and looked like he was trying very hard not to overwhelm me again.  

“You know,” Harper urged, and then leaned in and whispered.  “You’re not human,” he raised his eyebrows at me, “your different.”  His eyebrows kept raising, I wondered when they would stop.  “Secret government conspiracies.”  He nudged me with his shoulder.  

I paused for another moment.  

Harper sighed, exasperated.  “You’re one of the X-men, you’re a Mutant!”  

I balked at the offensive word and retreated.  

Harper misread my reaction.  “Oh don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone your secret.  I mean, even though it was pretty obvious, but that’s okay.  I’m sure the government is looking for you right?”

I just blinked at him. 

“I figure, if I tell anyone then the government will find you and take you back and I’m not about to let that happen.”

I couldn’t stop staring.  

“Don’t worry Jenny; you’ll be safe with me.  Man! This all makes so much more sense now!  I mean, I was a bit skeptical about you when I first saw you, it’s not every day you meet a fifteen-year-old homeless person without any familial ties, and then you kind of talk weird even for a Brit and you don’t seem to know a lot of stuff, but now I totally get it!  Ah! It’s just so freaking cool I can’t even contain myself!”  

He sat panting at me with those same wide, excited eyes.  I hadn’t realized that I had been subtly leaning further and further away from him all this time until just then.  

What were humans teaching their children!?  Government conspiracies?  Human experimentation?  Genetic manipulation?  How was this species not in a complete revolt against all secretive institutions?  At least he didn’t know the truth though… Not even close to it.  At least I didn’t have to kill him.  

I leaned in toward him and tried to look serious.  “You promise not to tell anyone?”

Harper looked ready to burst; he bounced up and down a few times and nodded his head so vigorously I wondered if he would have the power to stop it.  “Yes, I swear.  Only, please tell me everything.”  

I thought about it, seriously thought, but then shook my head.  Before Harper could look too disappointed I quickly explained.  “I’m not sure how to even explain what I can do.  I can show you better, though I don’t like to do… things that are different unless I have to.”

Harper settled down and nodded at me, serious.  “That makes sense.”

It was quiet for a while, Harper was analyzing me, I could tell.  I started to get uncomfortable and brought my shoulders up to defend my neck—a human habit I had learned when I was feeling insecure.  

“Well, that settles it then.”  Harper said suddenly. 

I looked up at him confused.  “That settles what?”  I asked. 

Harper’s lips tilted up in a slanted smile and I couldn’t help but feel a warming in my stomach that wasn’t altogether unpleasant.  

“That settles that I’ll be hanging around you for a while.”  He said as plainly as if commenting on the weather.  

I felt my heart rate pick up.  In the back of my mind I knew that telling him any information at all would create a bond between us, but I never anticipated that he would want to stay with me.  “Why would you want to do that?”  I asked honestly.

Harper looked up at me surprised.  “Uh, because not only is your existence pretty much the coolest thing that has ever happened to humanity, but also because I’m just tired of being alone all the time.”  Harper looked down as he said this. 

I felt a surge of sympathy flow through me.  I knew what it was like to be alone.  I also knew what it was like to wish for something other than loneliness.  

My hand flew to my stomach as a tight pang of hunger went through me.  I chewed on the inside of my cheek and thought for a moment.  It was incredibly dangerous to allow Harper to remain with me; though, I was beginning to suspect that the consequences of sending him away might be worse.  

“Well,” I started, trying to make my dry throat keeping talking.  “Do you think we might be able to find something to eat?”  

Harper looked up at me with a sigh and a sweet smile.  I couldn’t help but smile back.  

“Of course,” he chimed and began opening the box and handing me my air dried, mud caked pants.  “And I can even get you new clothes if you want.”  

I looked down at my torn shirt and muddy pants.  Clothes were a necessity yes, but a necessity that was very inconvenient on the budget that Harper and I had—nothing.  Slowly I nodded my head; this shirt wasn’t going to last much longer.  

Harper closed my box’s door while I finished getting dressed. I ruminated as I changed, wondering why, after all this time adhering to my careful rules I was willing to break them for this boy? By the time I was changed, the only answer I could come up with is that Harper made me…hope. A dangerous and deadly word in and of itself. But there was something about him! Something earnest and integral, and just plain good. I was dying to feel that again. To feel hope. Yet, I never wanted to feel that again. I didn’t know what I wanted anymore! Maybe I was just trying so hard to not be the person my old world said I was? Maybe I was using Harper as my experiment to see who was right: them or me? Maybe I really was just lonely. Maybe it was survival? Maybe it was instinctual? Maybe reasons didn’t matter, all that mattered was the decision I had made regardless of the thought behind it?

When I was done I climbed out and stood with him in the alleyway.  The world was a different place outside my box.  Suddenly, standing here with Harper my life was different too.  I knew it would take me some time to get used to, so when Harper ushered me to follow him I did, and tried—for his sake—to be okay with all of this.

***Chapter 3 release next week***