I AM LOOKING FOR A HARSH CRITIC - SO PLEASE FEEL FREE
Disclaimer: All characters, with the exception of Stuart, Kate and
Ellie are owned by Marvel/WB. No infringement of copyright intended,
certainly no commercial gain on my part.
CHAPTER 1: In Search of Redemption
Kate stood outside the large wrought iron gate wondering how to get
in. The school, according to the brass plaque on the wall 'Prof.
Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters', was set back well into the
grounds, and the building was not visible from the gates. There
seemed to be no bell button or communication system, and the gates
themselves firmly resisted her speculative shake.
A windy road, presumably leading up to the main buildings, yawned
emptily in front of Kate. What she could see of the parks was empty
grass land, no sound of children playing, no groundsman to let her
in. So here she was, three days walk and several peculiar lifts on
the road later on her private mission to save the world, and there
was nobody to let her in. Great. Well, maybe saving the world had
been a bit presumptive anyway, but what she had overheard had seemed
too... She gave a small shudder and rattled the gate again. Even
now, days after the event, the memory was difficult to put into
words, and how she was to convey her message to Xavier himself was
not a thought she relished. But then, Xavier was said to be a
powerful telepath, so maybe no words would be necessary. If only
someone would let her in.
With a final look at the empty road, Kate breathed a theatrical sigh
and slung her backpack over both shoulders, securing it tightly
around her hips. Oh well. Using the Victorian pattern in the gate as
footholds, she heaved herself up, clumsily navigating the sharp
spikes at the top. The gate shook slightly under her weight, and now
straddled atop the centre part of it, with a good four meters
between her and the ground it all seemed like a very bad idea. What
if they had dogs? What if they just really didn't like visitors? She
would have get her other leg over the gate to make her way down, and
with a frown of fierce concentration Kate wedged her right foot into
a flowery iron curl, and hung for a moment precariously on the
wobbly gate, trying to muster the courage to let go with her left.
This had definitely been a bad idea. But she would have to get down
Startled by the loud yell, Kate lost her footing, slipped a few
feet, hugged on to the spikes and turned towards the voice.
"What the fuck do you think you're doing?"
A man was walking quickly towards her across the grass. So far the
only representative of the professor's exclusive establishment, but
somehow he didn't look like a groundsman, or a teacher for that
matter. The scruffy jeans and t-shirt aside he appeared to have
mislaid his shaving gear some time ago, and surely paid staff would
look not like that. He also seemed very, very angry, with a large
vein standing out in his forehead for added menace. Not that he
needed it. The guy was built like a brick wall with a temper and
Kate was not about to argue with him. This was definitely not good.
Kate scrambled to get over to the other side and away, but he was
quicker and unceremoniously reached up with one long arm and pulled
her down to the ground.
"What the hell are you doing here?", he snarled again, shaking her
roughly by the arm, his face only inches from hers. No, that shaving
gear had definitely gone missing. As had his manners, apparently.
She drew back and tried to free her arm, but he only tightened his
grip and started to drag her up the road.
The anger in him was overpowering, and for a moment it clouded her
vision and overloaded her senses. She couldn't see where she was
going, her legs wouldn't obey her and she was only vaguely aware of
his continuing questions. What she saw most of all was the dark
swirl of his anger: raw, furious and seemingly boundless.
Taking deep breaths, Kate struggled to regain some control of the
situation. This was not the moment to conk out. She concentrated
hard on breathing: in, out, a rhythm to steady her. Why couldn't
they just have dogs like normal people? A few stumbling steps
further and feeling a little clearer, Kate decided to continue her
bid for freedom.
"Get off!" In vain Kate tried to prise his hand off her arm. He
didn't even do her the courtesy of looking at least annoyed when she
resorted to scratching. Instead, he just gave her another rough
shake which made teeth chatter and then pushed her through a large
wooden entrance into a hallway and then another room.
"Let me go!" It sounded petulant even to Kate's own ears, but this
was not the welcome she had imagined. Besides, he was making her
dizzy again with his waves of anger, lapping all around her. If
nothing else this was definite proof to Kate that this one at least
was genetically different. No human had ever shown himself to her
with such strength and clarity, and that included Kate's own husband
in their years in their four years of marriage. Her captor seemed to
have lost interest in her and Kate found herself plonked down on
what looked like a school chair.
Kate was grateful for the rest, she wasn't used to the onslaught of
other people's emotions, and the man, now glaring down at her from
his considerable height, didn't seem disposed to mildness. His anger
felt raw, and sharp, like drawing a sudden breath on a freezing
winter night. She rubbed her temple, feeling a headache coming on.
If only he would go and be angry at someone else. A slight
squeamishness was rising up in her stomach. Oh, fantastic. The last
time this had happened, she had been on a bus, listening to some boy
whinge about his parents, and how nobody understood him. And then
the sheer misery of the boy had hit her, and she'd had to get off
the bus and thrown up in a ditch. Wonderful.
To distract herself, Kate rolled up her shirt sleeve and inspected
her arm. That was definitely going to be one purple, finger-shaped
bruise. He returned her accusing glare for a moment, one eyebrow
raised in contempt.
"Stay here." He left, slamming the door behind him. Kate took a deep
breath. His thick ire had been stifling, and she felt better with
him gone, and at least one door shut between them. Taking the
opportunity to look around her, she noticed the black board at the
back of the room, the small crowd of desk chairs around her.
Definitely a classroom. So where were the students? Or the teachers?
Or anyone normal and or at least less unhinged than the last
Before Kate had time to consider wandering off, the door opened to
admit an elderly bald man in a wheelchair, followed by the angry
chap with his swell of bile in tow. Manipulating his electronic
controls, the old man zoomed his wheelchair in front of her, saying:
"Ah, Logan, you have found us another student."
"Hardly.", scoffed the one called Logan, moving to lean back against
The other man tilted his head and gave Kate a long look. "No. Maybe
you are right." He stretched out his hand. 'Welcome to Xavier's
School for Gifted Youngsters, my dear. I am Professor Charles
Xavier. And you would be?'
She shook his hand. It felt warm and dry in hers, a small comfort
against that brute by the window. She was growing less and less
enchanted with Logan's presence in the room. She couldn't
concentrate, couldn't think of the words, of how to convince Xavier.
And this was important. She had come a long way for this.
Xavier was looking at her expectantly, a small but inquisitive smile
on his face. A tendril of regret, mingled with warmth, snaked across
the room, reaching its destination. It seemed to meet up with Anger
and start a small but loud party in her forehead. Kate swallowed
hard. This was not going to be easy. What had he asked again? Oh,
her name. Right.
"Kate." She finally managed. "Kate Jackson. I have come because I
Jesus. Anger had just turned on the Heavy Metal and cranked up the
volume. And the guy wasn't even looking at her. Another man, this
one more slightly built, wearing red-tinted sunglasses and rather
more civilised garb, seemed the reason for the outburst. The object
of Logan's disaffection walked across the lawn, disappearing from
their view within seconds. Kate could have sworn she had heard Logan
"Yes, dear?" Xavier patiently enquired.
There were voices in the corridor now. She turned back to the
"I have something very important to tell you, I..."
The door opened again and the young man she had seen on the lawn
came in together with a slender black girl with striking, platinum-
Determined to get her sentence out, Kate continued. "...I have
overheard a conversation and I
The newcomer turned towards her and gave her a small smile. She
would have loved to ignore him, ignore anyone, but the sadness
behind that smile was bald and merciless. She could feel it slicing
through her now, pervading everything.
With an effort, she tore her gaze away and tried to focus on the
task at hand. Get out two sentences. How hard can it be. But God, he
was sad, sad for something, someone. Breathing deeply, she tried to
steady herself. Just say what you came to say and be done with it,
get out of here, leave those nutters to themselves.
"I have reason to believe you may be in grave danger. The threats I
They had been so full of hatred. She could feel her stomach heave.
That last part had got her Logan's full attention, and to be once
more the focus of his animosity was something she could have done
without. Speaking quickly now, she went on:
"The threats I heard
Bile rising from her stomach. Just finish the sentence.
"They were issued with detail and intent
No. With hatred. Hatred and contempt.
"Someone - I don't know his name - but he will come, he will attempt
to destroy the school and most of all he will try to kill you."
She looked up at Xavier, feeling more miserable by the second. He
didn't answer immediately, but the messages Kate got form the others
were all too clear. Shock, resentment, fear, all mingling with their
existing feelings into one heaving, roiling mass.
Kate couldn't breathe. She was vaguely aware of an animated
discussion between the four others, but the words escaped her. The
room seemed hot. Nobody was paying her any attention. How could they
stay in this room, with the air so thick and viscous? She had to get
out of here, she had said her thing, they could take care of the
rest. And if she could just leave. No air in the room.
"'Scuse me", Kate whispered and got up.
* * *
Logan saw the girl get up and somehow lose her balance. He started
towards her, but he wasn't quick enough to stop her fall. She
collapsed and lay on the floor in a crumpled heap, suddenly rather
pale and somehow smaller. Ororo came forward, and felt for breath
and pulse, and apparently satisfied with both, turned to him: "We
should take her down to the lab."
"And since when are you a doctor?" It was out before he could stop
himself. She didn't bother with a reply, addressing Scott instead.
It was a small satisfaction to watch the other man struggle somewhat
with a weight Logan could have carried with ease. But then, his
physical strength hadn't made any goddamn difference when it had
He looked out of the window, there was a group of kids out now with
a Frisbee, and he tried to find Marie among them, but it wasn't her
crowd. Why on earth was he still hanging out here anyway.
He could feel Xavier eyes boring into his back. If he didn't say
anything soon the old man would only rummage around his head again.
Telepathy. What a load of crap.
"What?" he grunted.
Xavier chose to ignore that, commenting on the girl instead. "An
interesting find. She was climbing over the gate, you said?"
"I told you where I found her."
"Yes, so you did." That patience could be so irritating. "And this
threat she is talking about, what do you make of it?"
"It's bullshit. A trap. What do I know? Why don't you have a look
and see what she's really up to?"
The professor's eyes crinkled. "Yes, but you see, this is the great
puzzle. I cannot see her."
* * *
There was a very bright light shining from the ceiling. She was
lying on something hard and not overly comfortable. And somebody was
stabbing her arm with a needle. A small cloud of frustration boiled
up around her, and Kate sat up sharply to see the girl with the
platinum hair, frowning deeply at her. She was inexpertly holding a
syringe in one hand, like an oversized pencil.
"You shouldn't get up yet. Are you feeling better?"
"Yes, yes, I'm fine." At least Kate didn't think it was possible to
die from feeling embarrassed and slightly silly. "What happened?"
"Shouldn't I be asking that? You just fainted. Scott brought you
here. I'm Ororo, by the way."
"I'm Kate, Kate Jackson." She looked around. The room was large and
spacious, with enough medical equipment to make a small county
hospital proud. Everything was either white or glass, and the lights
set into the walls and ceiling seemed uncomfortably bright to Kate's
sleep-accustomed eyes. "Some set-up you have here."
"It's the lab, Jean used to..." Ororo stopped. Sadness surged and
was quashed. "We used to have a doctor here at the school, but she
died. I tried to run some tests on you, but I couldn't find
anything." She held up the syringe as if to prove her
intentions. "Are you sure you're feeling alright? That was pretty
Kate slid off the bunk. "Yes, thanks. I'm sure I'm OK. Poor
circulation, you know."
How pathetic was that. But the truth was just too ridiculous. 'I was
overcome by the strength of your emotions' - Kate could just see the
reaction that would get her. They had an entire A&E department down
here, maybe also they had a loony bin with white leather padding and
luxury crayons to match.
"The professor, I still need to speak to him.", she reminded the girl
"Yes, of course. He's upstairs. But you should rest first,
Kate cut her off. "No, I really do need to speak to him. Will you
take me to him? Please?"
Ororo seemed taken aback by her urgency. Kate did her best to look
healthy and completely refreshed by her little interlude, and Ororo
"Alright. Come with me."
Her brooding captor hadn't provided much of an introduction to the
place, and Kate now saw that the school was much larger than it
appeared from the outside. The entire basement seemed to have been
excavated and dedicated to various uses she felt had little to do
with teaching algebra and grammar. They passed door after door which
Ororo neither commented on nor offered to open, instead she took
Kate straight back to the ground floor, the décor changing from
strictly functional to the warm opulence of cherry wood and chintz.
They arrived at another door. Ororo knocked, then entered without
waiting for an answer.
Kate was relieved to find the professor alone in his study; she had
not been looking forward to a repeat of the earlier debacle. Xavier
nodded to her. "I see you are feeling better."
"Yes, thank you."
"Please take a seat. Ororo?"
"I will be in the hall.", the woman said, and softly closed the door
Kate picked a chair opposite Xavier's desk. She could sense that
same regret in him she had felt earlier, but there was also a
searching quality she hadn't noticed before. She was intensely aware
that the man before her was telepathic and thus by definition privy
to her innermost secrets. It was not welcome thought. But then by
now he had be aware of her little party trick, and was probably not
all that thrilled to be with her either.
"Professor Xavier, I was telling you, or trying to tell you at
least, about a conversation, a threat I overheard. I'm sorry about
my dramatic exit earlier, but you must know that these
heard were meant very seriously, and definitely intended against
"Yes, and I thank you for your concern. I think we both know that
this is neither the first nor the last time that threats have been
issued against mutants, I am afraid it is an aspect of being a
minority that we simply have to deal with." He folded his hands
under his chin. "But perhaps it would help if you could tell me
exactly you heard, my dear?"
Where to start? Truth be told, Kate had heard remarkably little.
What had compelled her to go on this strange quest was not what she
had heard but how it had been spoken. But surely Xavier would know
that by now?
I was in a café in Vermont and I heard. There was a man, sitting
alone at a table, and he was muttering."
Kate squirmed in her seat. How could she convey the intense hatred
she had felt in that lone monologue without appearing either
ridiculous or insane. Why couldn't he just read her thoughts like
any self-respecting telepath? But she could detect nothing insincere
in his expression.
"This man, he was talking incessantly about how he was..." She took
a deep breath.
"How he was going to rip your heart out and tear your soul to
shreds. How he would hunt down and destroy each and every one in
this school, how he would tear of their skins and hang them bloodied
from the windows, their juices falling to the ground like their
souls dammed to hell."
It had gone on, much longer and in far more colourful detail than
that, but the old man's gaze had grown serious, a disquiet rising
from him that was not yet fear.
"I see. And you came here to tell me this? Commendable, I'm sure."
He turned his wheel chair to look out the window. She must have been
out for longer than she had thought; the sun was low on the horizon,
giving the evening a reddish tint. If she wanted to find somewhere
to camp out before night fall she would have to get away soon. She
fidgeted impatiently. At length Xavier spoke.
"And could you describe the man who said these things?"
"Of course. He was about 6 foot tall, mid-thirties, black hair,
straight and short; sinewy but not skinny, very long thin fingers."
She was sure he wasn't taking her seriously, and added with some
force. "He didn't say his name but he mentioned yours. Several
Xavier was still looking out of the window. She couldn't understand
his attitude, he didn't show any alarm, only more of the same
sadness and regret they all seemed to carry with them like emotional
Kate continued. "You should check your security, set up intruder
He turned to face her. "No, I don't think that will be necessary."
"Why not, I got in here, didn't I? So how secure can this place be?"
He almost smiled then, his expression at odds with the
disappointment seeping into the kaleidoscope of Kate's inner vision,
palpable underneath his mannered front.
"It is getting late. Maybe you should spend the night here. Ororo
will show you to your room."
As if on cue, Ororo reappeared. "Come, I will show you upstairs."
"I'm quite happy to be off and on the road if it's all the same to
"Indulge me, Kate Jackson. Just for one night? You can leave
He was looking out the window again. Night would fall soon, and Kate
wasn't fond of blundering on in the dark. Yet his invitation had
sounded altogether too final to be merely polite enquiry. She stood
for a moment, undecided. The professor seemed to have forgotten she
was there, but Ororo was still hovering, waiting for Kate to follow
Reluctantly, she allowed herself to be led away, only half-listening
to Ororo's enthusiastic descriptions of her lodgings.
* * *
As promised, her room was comfortable and large, the bed certainly
softer than anything Kate had slept on in the last few months. The
bathroom with its shower and bath tube was an almost decadent luxury
after cold mountain springs and grotty motels, and some kind soul
had emptied her backpack and put her motley assortment of tattered
jeans and t-shirts into the cupboards.
That same kind soul also seemed to have spent some time going
through her battered leather-bound copy of The English Patient with
its cuttings of random poetry and art post cards, the bookmark not
quite in the place she left it. Kate sat down on the bed heavily.
They didn't trust her. That's what all this was about. They didn't
* * *
Idiot. She had been an idiot to come here, an idiot to think she
would be believed. But Kate had always counted on Xavier's
telepathic abilities, to see the force and strength of what she had
felt where words failed her. Well, judging from this afternoon's
performance not just the words but her entire common sense
department had taken time out to catch an iced mocha at Starbucks.
Kate had never considered how her story sounded to others; it had
been enough for her that Xavier would somehow reach into her head
and verify her story. Then they would have thanked her profusely for
the warning, and maybe thrown in some tea and biscuits before waving
her off to hike into the proverbial sunset.
Instead, she had been politely but firmly told to stay in her room,
somebody had rifled through her stuff and she couldn't bring herself
to check if Ororo had actually locked her in. How could the
professor possibly believe she was lying? The others maybe, the
roughneck with the anger management problem or the guy with the
glasses. Perhaps even Ororo, though she had seemed kind. But how
could a telepath not know she was telling the truth? And for what
purpose would anyone fabricate a tale of death talk over maple syrup
Kate shook her head in frustration and began pacing around the room.
Perhaps there was some other way out of this mess. The windows were
unlocked. Encouraged, Kate went so far as to stick one foot on the
ledge outside, but a more thorough inspection of exactly how much
distance her body would cover before thudding into the rose bushes
beneath convinced her that the situation, though not wonderful,
wasn't quite bad enough for suicide stunts and broken ankles. She
went back to pacing. At least that she could do really well. The
superhero stuff would have to wait until her reincarnation as
From her abortive arrival to the bungled interviews with Xavier the
entire afternoon had been an unqualified disaster. She still
couldn't believe that she had fainted in the class room.
Tentatively, she went into the bath room to find anything different
about herself, some telltale sign that she was somehow horribly ill
instead of just plain silly.
The reflection greeting her in the mirror was the same as ever. Her
hair seemed to have grown a bit, the strawberry blond strands now
long enough to pass for a chin length bob, but not quite long enough
to make use of the optimistically purchased hairclip. The late
summer sun had brought out a few more freckles than she remembered,
and perhaps she had lost a few pounds in those endless miles up from
Florida through the eastern states, making her face look sharper,
her tall figure more boyish. But she couldn't find that she looked
in any way ill, or at least interestingly afflicted.
Deflated, Kate said back down on the back on the bed and flopped
back, arms stretched out. So her memory hadn't betrayed her: it had
been the others, with all their grieves and anger and pain, not some
mystery disease that had caused her to faint. Marvellous. It had
happened once, and that meant it could happen again. Kate could
foresee a happy future where she fell over unconscious or threw up
every few minutes to punctuate the ups and downs of the emotional
lives of the school's inhabitants. It was not a pretty view from
where she was sitting.
For the first time since acquiring her peculiar gift, Kate wished
she had spent more time in the company of others like herself. Maybe
if she'd been less indifferent to the change in herself, and more
forthcoming to meet others, she would have been able to build some
sort of defence against the sentimental blitzkrieg. But she had
always been wary of mutant-only associations, just as she had
steered clear of human-only clubs when the issue had been less
personal to herself. That reluctance now meant that she had all the
resilience of candy floss in a hurricane, and it was too late to do
On a more fundamental level, she was also beginning to seriously
regret having reject Oromo's earlier offer of dinner. She hadn't
felt much like eating then, but now her stomach was growling. It
would of course be possible to leave her room and forage for food,
or at worst get somebody to let her out, but it would also almost
certainly mean another helping of her fellow mutants emotional
mayhem, and she just wasn't ready for that.
* * *
Logan followed Xavier into the Strategy Room, trying to shake his
discomfort. It never sat right with him, going deep into the bowels
of the building. No daylight, no windows in sight, no exit apart
from that one door. The soft glow of the tactical displays wasn't
enough to satisfy his craving for light, for air. He could have
persuaded himself it was just the animal side of his nature,
demanding openness and space. The truth was harsher, and painful
still in the few short weeks since Alkali Lake.
Xavier positioned himself in front of a small console and began to
work the keyboard. Status reports of intruder alarms were replaced
by infrared imaging of the school grounds. Logan couldn't help but
sneer at the technical gimmickry. The past had shown just how easy
it was to break into the building, and they had paid the price for
the old man's misplaced faith in the human spirit and the powers of
gadgetry. This latest incident did nothing to soothe his anger,
silently burning hole in his gut.
Ororo entered, with her quiet grace that he would have found
alluring had it not been for another. She nodded to him, cast a
worried glance at the professor still engrossed in his controls and
picked a seat at the round motion display. Logan pulled up a chair,
noisily scraping it across the floor and balancing it against the
wall opposite the door, feet comfortably planted on the same
display, his long legs stretched out. He searched his shirt pocket
for a half-chewed cigar stump, lit it and let the smoke curl around
his nostrils. Ororo just stared. He supposed for school kids that
glare held some fire power, but he was used to her and not in any
mood to pay heed to social niceties. Besides, he needed to able to
see the door. Far too easy to set an ambush down here, to trap them
all in one single stroke.
Scott strolled into the room, took in the scene and with a carefully
neutral glance took a seat away from Logan and next to Ororo,
adjusting his glasses. Logan snorted. The prissy. If he held such
power in his eyes he wouldn't have hesitated to spice up their
conversation with a few fiery looks every now and again.
"I didn't find anything." Scott's voice broke the professor's
"I'm sorry?" He looked up.
"Kate's things, I didn't find anything.", Scott repeated.
"That's alright, Scott. I didn't expect you would."
Logan pulled on his cigar, ignoring Oromo's disapproving frown as he
blew out thick smoke.
"You think all that talk about somebody coming is bullshit?", he
"I'm not sure." Xavier's smile faded.
Ororo leaned forwards, elbows resting on the grey display, chin in
hands. "Do you really think Kate was lying? She seemed so genuine
Xavier sighed. "As I told Logan earlier, I cannot see her. Her mind
is closed to me. Whatever is going on in there
" He raised his hands
in a gesture of futility.
"You can't read her mind?", Scott exclaimed.
Xavier seemed almost embarrassed as his faced his former
student. "That's right. Her mind, it is mass of roiling shapes.
Nothing seems to make any sense." He broke off, then continued. "If
Jean was here
The sentence hung unfinished, yielding silence. None of them spoke.
Scott quietly took off his glasses, eyes firmly closed, and rubbed
the bridge of his nose. Ororo reached out and gently squeezed his
arm. Putting his glasses back on, Scott gave her a ghostly smile,
and looked back at his old teacher.
"There are no other telepaths here but you, Charles. And I doubt
anyone would share your power." Scott paused. "Do you think Magneto
has anything to do with this?"
Logan brought his chair thudding to the floor and began to pace
around the room, trailing smoke. "Scrawny little bastard!", he
Xavier ignored the outburst. "It is possible. He is the only person
who knows how to block my powers." He looked back at the display,
the status reports still showing all clear. "Or perhaps I should
say, was the only person."
Storm and Scott exchanged a look. They were worried about the old
codger, and Logan couldn't blame them. The professor had aged
noticeably in the last weeks, his customary optimism seeping from
with each passing day. But this wasn't the moment to roll over and
"So what are we gonna do about it?" He leaned down heavily with both
hands on the table, blowing smoke into Scott's face. "And how the
hell did this chick get in here anyway? Scooter?"
"Logan, there's no time for this.", Xavier interjected, but Scott
waved him off.
"No, that's alright. There was a fault in the circuitry of the front
"Circuitry!", Logan scoffed and resumed his prowl.
Unfazed, Scott continued. "There was a fault in the pcb circuitry,
causing the intruder alert to malfunction. It's fixed now."
"What did you do, solder it back on with a real hard stare?", Logan
"Stop this! Now!" Xavier snapped. "We have been warned of a severe
threat to the safety of everyone in this school. Until we know
whether this threat is real or not, I want you all to take this very
seriously. Logan, as you are well aware we have revised our security
arrangements only recently. There is no need to investigate any
further. Scott, see what you can find out about this Kate Jackson."
He turned to Ororo and continued in a gentler voice. "Storm, perhaps
you could spend some time with Kate, see if you can gain her trust.
I will try to use Cerebro, see if Erik is up to anything."
He wheeled himself towards the door.
Logan called out: "What am I supposed to do? Pick my teeth?"
Xavier turned slowly. "Keep an eye on her. I don't want her running
around the school planning who knows what. I'm counting on you all."
Scott rose and patted Logan on the arm. "Keep an eye on her.", he
said softly, barely suppressing a smirk "I'm counting on you".
* * *
Stuart Hunnyford gripped the steering wheel of his battered Ford van
in his thin white fingers, veering hard to the left, cutting across
the traffic behind, onto the I-495 to Baltimore. In the rear-view
mirror, he could see the driver behind him shaking his fist before
pulling past in the right hand lane, horn blaring. Stuart clicked
his tongue and returned his attention to the grubby dial on the old
radio, resuming his search for some jazz that had nearly caused him
to miss his exit. He would settle for any music really, as long as
it wasn't the endless babble about the president's new strategy of
tolerance towards mutants. Bad things had been happening since the
mutant phenomena had begun, and somebody would have to make it
Finally, he found a local station with a bebop hour. He relaxed in
his seat, almost enjoying the trip. At the ambitiously
named "Truckers' Haven" he stopped and ordered some maple syrup
pancakes from a middle-aged waitress with a cigarette permanently
dangling from one down-turned corner of her mouth, the filter
smeared in pink lipstick. Minutes later, she plonked a plate with
two greasy looking cakes in front of him. Stuart frowned at the lack
of presentation, and poured a long stream of syrup over the pancakes
before forking a large piece into his mouth. It tasted doughy and
somehow stale, not like Ellie made to make them. Ellie's were always
light but full of flavour. How Ellie had used to make them, Stuart
corrected himself. There would be no more of Ellie's pancakes.
He hadn't deserved her. She had always been too pretty for him, too
smart. No-one like him deserved to a person like Ellie. And he would
put a stop to it. He would make sure that she could never be hurt
again, that a thing like him could never lash out again, and hurt
someone as precious as Ellie. He speared another piece of pancake on
his fork, chewing vigorously. He would make sure.
* * *
Logan peered into the fridge, moving around bottles of chocolate
milk, yoghurt cartons, salad. And still no beer. He swung the door
shut and looked around the other cupboards before returning to the
fridge. Chocolate milk. Goddammit. He grabbed a bottle and headed up
the stairs. At the top of the stairwell Peter sat, apparently
engrossed in a comic book. He didn't even notice Logan until his
knees almost brushed the pages of the latest edition of DustDevil
"I thought you were looking after our visitor?", Logan asked
Peter looked up, his blue eyes wide and innocent. "She's not doing
anything, she's just in her room, I swear!"
Logan sighed and stepped around the boy. For somebody with his build
and powers he was appallingly naïve.
"That's OK. I'll take care of this now." Logan turned the key in the
lock, and after a moment's hesitation pocketed it for good measure.
He turned back to Peter. "Bog off and do your homework or
Peter grinned and jumped up. "Yes, Sir." He gave cockeyed salute
before bounding down the stairs and throwing himself on the sofa
with an audible thump, once more lost in the world of DustDevil.
Logan shook his head, feeling suddenly old. Surely he had never been
like that? But any memories he may have had of his own youth were
lost, with so many others. It had been only recently that the
present had seemed more important than the past. He shook himself
once more, flexing tense muscles in his back. With a last look at
the solid wooden door separating them from their visitor, he
disappeared into his own room. At least there wouldn't be any
trouble tonight. And if there was he would bloody well take care of
* * *
Whatever doubt Kate had entertained of her dubious status in this
house vanished when she heard the unmistakable sound of a key
turning in the lock of her door. In a world gone mad with fear and
hatred of mutants, she was held against her will not by humans but
by other mutants. Mutants like herself. And not just by any old
mutant, but by a reputable old man with the gift to read her every
thought. With a snort, she wondered if he had spied some
particularly dirty secret in the recess of her mind, some past evil
to justify this crude treatment. But there was nothing, nothing she
could remember. Her life had been ordinary at best, dull at worst.
Maybe he didn't like boring people. Kate curled up on the bed,
cuddling into the pillows. Within minutes she was asleep.
First there was fear. Undefined and sprawling, it invaded Kate's
dreams, tinting them its darker shade of night. There was anxiety,
too, but it paled and fled into the shadows of her subconscious
before shrieking pain, the agony of torture, maiming her soul. The
ruined spoils of war, fleshless, bloodless, she crawled from chaos
over broken land, a glass shard in her hand as if it were the last
weapon before the face of God. Before the pain struck again and her
body spliced open.
Gasping, Kate awoke to darkness. She sat up abruptly, then jerkily
stood up from the bed. Breathing hard, she tried to take in her
surroundings. Not in her tent, not outside, a room somewhere. The
school. She tried to be still, listen for the sounds of an intruder.
Her heart beat fast, impossibly loud in her ears. Her eyes adjusted
slowly to the dark. The bed, a night stand and lamp. Wall cupboards.
Darkness. There was nobody here. She was alone. She swallowed hard,
her hand shaking as she reached for the switch on the night light,
its warm amber glow flooding the room.
Shuddering with sudden cold, she crawled back into bed to sit under
the duvet, chin on knees. The silence stretched, unbroken. A
mattress creaking faintly in the room next to hers. It had been a
dream. Just a dream. But what a dream. She hid her face in the folds
of the blanket, breathing deeply. At length she looked up, but found
no hopeful sliver of daylight on the horizon. It was hours yet till
dawn. How long had she been asleep? Kate didn't know. She had pawned
her Tag watch shortly after leaving her husband, that last day in
Florida. That had been fine for getting some hiking gear, but it was
useless now that she was desperate to know how long the night
stretched before her. Impossible to go back to sleep after such a
nightmare, the risk of slipping back into evil and reliving the
whole misery over again was too great.
To keep herself awake, Kate padded into the bathroom, ready to
commiserate with her sleep-deprived reflection in the mirror. She
found her toothbrush and cleaned her teeth vigorously, hoping to
clear away the aftertaste of the nightmare.
It took her by surprise when it struck again. Her hands locked on
the rim of the sink, toothbrush cluttering onto the white porcelain.
Kate couldn't move, couldn't breathe, couldn't think even of
survival. The pain, the horror of her very soul, was everywhere.
When it finally stopped, she wobbled over to kneel in front of the
toilet, shoved her hair behind her ears and vomited.
* * *
Kate plopped down on the park bench, grateful for the rest. Ororo
slowly followed suit and sat down next to her. Kate raised her face
to the late morning sun, enjoying the warmth. She could feel the
puffs of concern wafting from Ororo, as they had done all morning.
"Are you sure you're alright?" she now asked.
Kate leaned back and stretched her legs from her, ignoring the other
woman's dissatisfied frown. They had had this conversation, in
various permutations, half a dozen times now. It seemed she had
finally achieved that pale and interesting look. Amazing what a
sleepless night with a bit of chucking up could do for you.
She spotted Logan The-Unshaven-One hulk around the basket ball court
some 50 yards away, chewing an enormous cigar. He stood, hands
shoved in his pocket, occasionally shifting his weight from foot to
foot. Her guard dog, Kate thought. She was definitely being watched,
and Ororo's friendly tour of the school wasn't so much for company
but to make sure she wasn't up to anything. What did they think she
would do anyway? Build an Uzi out of her toothbrush and a coat
Her eyes wandered to the main building, its quaint neo-classical
façade overgrown with ivy and Virginia climber. It all looked so
peaceful. Yet somebody in that house was giving the word 'horror' a
whole new definition. After that second attack of what she had
privately entitled The Jitters, Kate had had plenty of time to think
about what was happening. The fear wasn't her own, as she had
originally believed. It had merely crept into her dreams and given
her one of the worst nightmares in the career of her overactive
imagination. And if it wasn't her own, it had to belong to somebody
else. The only sounds she had heard in the night had come form the
room to her left, making its inhabitant her suspect number one.
That was the extent of her detective work, and maybe it wasn't much,
but it was enough for her to decide two things: One, she to get out
of here; and two, she didn't want to meet whoever owned that room.
* * *
- TO BE CONTINUED - (the story is finished, but I won't clutter up
your inboxes with the rest if no-one's interested - GsF)