Tag Archives: Comedy

It was a dark and stormy night when I heard a voice come from the attic….

My friend jumped so high his head almost hit the ceiling.

“What was that!?” He demanded of me. My parents were away, it was stormy outside, and a deep guttural voice from above us had just asked us a question.

Before I could answer he runs to my door and locks it. He’s not a moment too soon, because there is a creaking sound from overhead as the door to the attic opens. It’s decided to come down.

“Did you hear that!?” He frantically demands, looking around desperately for something to block the door.

“It’s m…” I start to say, but he cuts me off. There are footfalls outside my door, and my friend loses it.

“It’s coming!” He shouts, diving behind my bed and covering his head. He’s shaking now, but he can’t help but look at the door as a forceful knocking sound rattles the room.

A hear a squeak from my friend as I get out of bed and move toward the door.

“Don’t touch that!” He orders as I reach for the door handle. I ignore him and open the door to be greeted by what appears to be an eight foot tall jet black yeti with fangs.

“Dude the wi-fi is out.” He tells me.

“Sorry man, I’ll go power cycle the router and see if that helps. You good up there? Any leaks?” I ask.

“Naw man, it’s all good. I was just in the middle of something you know?” He says.

“What are you doing!” My friend exclaims, flabbergasted at the interaction that is taking place.

“I tried to tell you it’s no big deal.” I inform my friend. “♪Cause I’m friends with the monster that sleeps over my head.♫”

An expedition stumbles upon an ancient group of humanoid aliens

As soon as we stepped off the Appalachian trail into the forgotten village, we were swept away by the elder. He had seven eyes and three arms, and called us each by name. The strange man gathered his people to us, and told us of their story.

We took many pictures, and if there had been cell signal, we would’ve called all our friends and colleagues immediately. This was the find of the millennium!

After being regaled by the alien village elder he took us aside one by one into his lodgings, and whenever one of us emerged we wore an expression of utter awe and peace with the world.

When it was my turn to enter into the sacred lodge I was frightened, but I had no need to worry. The village elder told me everything I knew, laid my own life story before me, and told me how it would end. He spoke of my future spouse and children. He told me that my past transgressions against my fellow man were small, and were far outweighed by my contributions.

Hours seemed to pass in that lodge, but when I had emerged a mere fifteen minutes had transpired, and I too wore an expression of peace with the world.

There was food and celebration, and when the sun began to set the villagers urged us on our way. No wanting to displease these marvelous beings, and eager to report their whereabouts, we departed.

At the outskirts of the village the elder stopped to speak with me a moment.

“My son, once you have lost sight of our village you will forget it ever existed. Every picture you took will show only shrubbery, and every face that you remember will seem to be just a tree. We live a peaceful existence and cannot have our secret spoiled, but you shall carry with you, now and always, the serenity you now feel.” I was taken aback.

“Thank you friend for your gift of serenity, but how can your secret survive? Surely someone will come through here eventually.” The elder grinned knowingly.

“My son, this is New Jersey. We’ve worked many centuries to insure that no one wants to come here. Did you not see the Jersey Shore? My name is Snooki, and I bid thee farewell.”

Edit: i have been to new jersey several times, and know a few friends from there. It is a perfectly nice place IMO, but i just couldn’t resist taking a crack :).

The shifter, edited, in a downloadable format, with partial audio

Original post:[The Shifter](http://www.reddit.com/r/WritingPrompts/comments/2wb322/wp_a_shapeshifter_deals_with_an_existential/)

PDF download(free): [The Shifter](https://samgalimore.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/the-shifter.pdf)

Amazon link(if you’re feeling generous): [The Shifter](http://www.amazon.com/Shifter-Sam-Galimore-ebook/dp/B00UA6KFO0/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1425592610&sr=8-1-fkmr0&keywords=the+shape+shifter+sam+galimore)

First bit of the audiobook: [The shifter audio](https://clyp.it/iru4c20s)

Another /r/writingprompt book/novelette finished. This one was completely unplanned. I kept trying to end it as quickly as possible but the story just kept on running. It was so much fun talking with all of you as the thing came out part by part, and I am looking forward to the next time :).

If you read this the first time around, this new version is more polished, having gone through a couple drafts to remove errors. It also has a few sentences and paragraphs added in to smooth out character arcs, but the biggest change is the ending. There’s a page or two right at the climax that are entirely new, and I think will provide much better closure for the reader.

Shameless plug time! If you liked this one, there are two more(not in this series), that you might like. [Letters to my father](https://samgalimore.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/letters-to-my-father.pdf), about a daughter who leaves her father a series of letters in a desperate attempt to fix his future. And [Unhooked](https://samgalimore.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/unhooked.pdf), about a dystopian society where almost everyone spends their lives in lucid dreams, and one man decides to wake up.

That’s all for now, if you guys like the audio version I may run with that, but right now I’m just happy that this is all polished up and ready to go. Thanks again guys!

Until the next journey,


The face of romance part 5 (the conclusion)

“The resemblance is remarkable.” I continue. “I couldn’t feel any prosthetics or anything while I was having my up-close experience of your face so I figured you must have some super high tech next generation facial modeling kit or something. Can you take it off? I didn’t want to bring it up while you were having memory issues, but it’s pretty weird kissing someone who looks like someone else. I mean if your voice wasn’t the same I would’ve thought you were him.”

We both sit up on the couch. “Uh yeah, I know the guy, his name is Ryan. We work together. He saw me having a little trouble remembering my face so he let me borrow his.” This guy sure was taking this costume thing seriously.

“So does he have your face now? Did you guys swap? And how do you take that thing off. I don’t see any seam or anything.” I looked around his jawline to see if there was some transition from his own skin to the prosthetic mask, but if it was there I couldn’t tell.

“Uh no.” Ryan looks sheepish all of the sudden. “See, I can do… This.” He waved his hand over his face, and when his hand passed by his face suddenly changed from Ryan’s, to mine.

I back peddled off the couch. I had been lying to myself about what was going on, and it all came crashing down. I had been blocking out how weird it was to be talking to somebody wearing his friend’s face. I had been blocking out how abnormal it was to be this attached to somebody this quickly. It had gone completely over my head how irrational, teenage girl, first crush type behavior it was to go after a guy so hard when he clearly just wanted to forget you.

“Wait Jennifer, it’s not that bad. Look, I have a license.” He was reaching for his wallet but I didn’t want to hear it. Weird mental disorders that spontaneously went away when you kissed somebody? What had I been thinking? I stumbled into the kitchen, trying to find my way to the door.

“Jennifer please, I remember now.” Oh now he remembers everything. After he had reeled me in with the ridiculous ‘poor pathetic’ me act, made me do this whole ‘help me remember’ routine. Now he remembered. Florence nightingale syndrome, that’s what this was. Just a sick guy who I happened to fall for, and sick was right. This was sick.

He’s run around in front of me now. He’s blocking the door.

“Out of the way Jason.” I order him.

“No, Jennifer I can’t let you go just yet. You’ve helped me figure something out.” This was rich. Now that he had dropped the ‘hey I’m something cooked up in a lab by a mad scientist’ line, now he had it all figured out. Just what had he done to his face anyway?

“Helped you figure out what? Kissing girls magically heals your fake poorly defined memory disorder? Let me go Jason. I just really need to go.” He started edging away from the door. In a second there would be enough room for me to get by.

“You’ve always wanted to go to Ireland and Cacti don’t need to be water almost at all.” How had he known that?

“How did you know that?” I demand. He’s slipped away from the door enough to let me go through, but I have to hear how he’s discovered this about me.

“Because there’s something else you don’t know, but before you leave I have to tell you what I’ve figured out.” I fold my arms. I have a way of escape now, so if this isn’t really convincing I can run for it.

I don’t say anything, but he takes my silence for permission, and starts to speak.

“It’s not kissing that triggers my memory loss or gain. It’s strong emotion. My face slips when I feel it, and I didn’t realize that my mind did too.” He demonstrates his face ‘slipping’, and my stomach turns. “I know that I got really angry earlier today and somehow that made me forget all about you. Just now on the couch I felt other things really powerfully and it made me remember things.” I’d be curious to hear what these other things are that he felt at a later date. “But I don’t remember everything. I don’t remember what my real face is, and I don’t remember how this happened. I need you to help me unlock those last memories so I can figure out what made me forget you.” I looked to the door.

“If you’re about to suggest I kiss you again.”

“Absolutely not, I wouldn’t dream of it. I perfectly understand why you’re freaking out. Most people are a little unnerved the first time they see a shifter. I thought you wouldn’t because you’ve obviously heard of us.” That catches me off guard.

“Why would I have heard of you?” He was hiding something else. “And why did you say us?”

He purposefully ignores the first question. “Because there are a lot of us. Well, at least a few anyway. We’re sort of a new thing in human development I guess.”

“I don’t believe you.” I say. “Why haven’t I heard of you? A baby gets born with four arms and it makes international news. Why would someone with an ability to change their appearance, and their mind if what you’re telling me is right, not be on the front page of every news outlet everywhere?”

He opens his mouth, but nothing comes out. He opens and closes it again, but again nothing. He scratches his head, looks back at the coffee table in the living room, but still doesn’t say anything.

“Should I go talk to one of these other shifters and they could tell me why something as important as you is being kept a secret?” I ask him.

“Well you could, but I’ve never actually seen one.” Jason says. This is too perfect. If I hadn’t seen his face do the impossible twice, and with my very own eyes, I would’ve already stormed out. I would think I had been drugged, but I hadn’t eaten or drunk anything in the last few hours.

“You’ve never seen one? So really you’re just assuming that they exist.” Jason doesn’t know how to take that. He looks like that thought has never occurred to him.

“They absolutely exist. I’ve talked to plenty of other who have met them.” He says, but he’s starting to look like he doesn’t believe what he’s saying.

“Who?” I ask. Again, he can’t think of a response. It’s amazing how many assumptions this man makes. It’s like his whole world is based on lies, and he doesn’t even seem to know it.

“It’s common knowledge isn’t it?” He finally manages to scrounge up. “Like the diet coke and Mentos thing. Or the JFK assassination, it’s just something you know isn’t it?”

I shake my head. “No Jason, it’s not. Jason, I’ve had about a million conversations with other girls about how to make my face look the best. There wasn’t a single one where somebody else mentioned ‘oh by the way, there are these people who can just change their faces at will’. I work in education. I follow new developments in science because I think they are cool. Trust me, something as important as you, I would know about. Everyone would know about you if they could. Have you not noticed that other people tend to react badly when you show them that?” I point to his face. It’s probably rude, but now is not the time to make an effort to be polite. “Were you not just telling me people tend to react poorly? And while we’re talking about showing people, You’ve shown this to other people before right?”

He nods. He’s starting to look like a man standing on a sinking ship. “Why haven’t any of these other people who you’ve shown this to told other people? Things like that get around. I would call every one of my friends right now if I could, and I guarantee you that all of them would tell all of their friends. Eventually someone in the media would find out. Yet you’ve never once spoken to a reporter, or a radio DJ have you?” He shakes his head. “I bet you haven’t so much as spoken to a high school student who wants to do a piece on your for his school newspaper have you?” He’s got his back to a wall now and he’s slowly sinking to the floor. Now he’s the one whose shell shocked. Now he’s the one whose world has just been shaken up and kicked around.

My voice had slowly gotten louder and louder, and I had picked up more and more steam as I had talked it out. I had poured every bit of my pent up confusion and anger into that tirade, and now that it was out I saw what it had done to him. He was crumpled against the floor, a defeated man who had just had the rug pulled out from under him, and I realized I was looking at myself.

I uncrossed my arms and slumped against the wall next to him. I had my best friend torn from me, and he now knew that someone had been robbing him of his identity, had made him forget who he was and what he did. I had my world shaken by discovering people who could change their appearance on a whim. He had his world shaken by discovering that he was the only one. We were in the same situation, he and I. “You know there’s no one else who’s going to understand what we’re going through.” I tell him. “I don’t know how I feel about all of this, but I know that you’re the only one who can work through it with me.” He looks over at me.

“Yeah I know. Sorry for freaking you out earlier.” I shake my head.

“It wasn’t your fault. You couldn’t have known that was how that was going to go.” I chuckled at the irony. “I guess this means you’re a nice guy after all.”

He chuckles back. “You know what they say about nice guys right?”

“That they’re wonderful and amazing and always get the girl in the end?” I ask. He cocks his head considering this.

“Yup, that is absolutely what they say about nice guys.” I give him a quick peck on the cheek.

“Any new memories?” I joke. His face of defeat comes back and I kick myself. That was not the most appropriate thing to have said just then.

“No, but you did remind me of what I was going to ask before you went on your little speech. I know how to get those last memories back. I know how to figure out who or what is making me forget everything, whose been keeping me a secret all this time.” I pucker up. “I wish, no, it’s going to have to be an even stronger experience. What we have is a fresh affection. It’s new. It’s novel. While it feels strong to us it can’t compare to the bond that two people who have spent years of their lives together can experience, and what it feels like when that bond is broken. That’s why I need your help.” Now he’s lost me. “I’m going to need to tap into an emotional experience of yours.”

“What emotional experience? What are you talking about?” He moves to the wall opposite me and sits back down so we’re facing each other across the hall.

“You asked me to trust you earlier. Now I’m asking you to return the favor. Jennifer, do you trust me?” I consider how absolutely insane the last 24 hours have been. How it’s been serious, silly, world shattering, dynamic bending, craziness, I’ve experienced more firsts, more highs, and more lows with Jason in our brief time together than I’ve experienced in relationships that lasted whole months. It’s mind boggling, surprising, depressing, and thrilling all at the same time.

“I promise this is the last surprise, at least from me.” He says. I look at him. I really take a second to take him in. Is this a man I can trust? Well, one way or the other I was about find out. It was time for one more leap of faith.

“Yes Jason, one more time, I trust you.” He nods, and takes his hand up to his face. When he pulls his hands away, he’s wearing Sarah’s face.

Chapter 5

If I wasn’t sitting down I would’ve collapsed. I clap my hand to my mouth and hear myself breathe in sharply.

“I can’t believe it.” I say. “They told me they found a look-a-like. They had this whole speech about how they found people who looked just like past loved ones, hired professional make-up artists and prosthetic specialists to perfect the resemblance. He even had this demonstration with voice modulators that could replicate anybody’s speech from only a few sound bites.” He’s wearing the same supportive expression as he did that other day. It really was him.

“It was you. I can’t believe it was you.” I bury my face in my hands. I need a moment. Then I remember why he’s doing this. He needs me to access that strong emotion that connected me and Sarah. He needs me to go back to that place where I was yesterday. I need it too. We’re both in this together now, and if we’re going to get out of this I can’t hide from what this is going to make me feel.

I look up, and there Sarah is, just like the day I said goodbye to her before she left for work and never came back.

“You know, I haven’t thought about you since the last meeting. Prince charming here has been sweeping me off my feet so much that I haven’t had time to really think about it.” I feel drained. It’s been a roller coaster of emotions since lunch time. “Which I guess was the point, but I forgot how much I missed you. I would kill to talk to you right now. This is exactly the thing we used to talk about all the time.” Jason is really good at this. His supportive gaze is flawless. There’s no sign of what he’s going through behind that mask he’s wearing.

“Well, not exactly this, we never had some crazy conspiracy theory involving some miraculous new development in human anatomy and medicine. Although there was that one guy who tried to beat the world record for holding your breath underwater on the first date. Thank goodness that lifeguard was paying attention. You know they still won’t let him into that swimming pool?” I really do wish she was here. It’s so difficult doing this without her.

“We laughed so hard about that I skipped my ab workout for the next three days.” I run my hand through my hair. My eyes are starting to sting.

“Yeah, this is exactly the sort of thing I’d like to talk to you about. You know my family doesn’t really help out with this stuff and the two of us always kind of relied on each other to figure out who to trust and who to go to when we needed help. We must’ve bailed each other out of bad dates and shifty situations a dozen times each. You were always the first person on my speed dial.” Now the tears start to come. “You’re still the first person on my speed dial. I don’t know why. I’ve had your number memorized for years, even with contacts and caller ID, I still have your number memorized in case I need to call you.” My voice is cracking, and Sarah, well actually Jason, is still holding that gaze. He’s doing this thing where whenever I say something particularly heavy he reacts a little bit. A softening of the eyes, a twitch of the mouth, a slight inclining of the head, he makes sure I know he’s receiving every word I’m giving.

“There’s still so much of my life that’s tied to you. I think we’re still married on Facebook. I haven’t deleted any of our text messages. I probably never will, I guess because I need that. I don’t want to forget you Sarah. I know this hurts now because you’re gone, but I know that the pain is going to slowly fade with time, and when it heals I’ll still be left with all the good times, the laughs, and the love. I want to still hold onto that Sarah. So I guess for now we’re still going to be married, and I’m going to hold onto as much of you as I can. I know it’s cliché, but I feel like as long as I don’t let you go, you’re still here.” I pause to wipe my face, and get the strands of hair out of my face that have somehow stuck themselves to my nose.

“I said it last time, and I’ll say it again. I’ll remember you Sarah.” I hope that’s all Jason needs, because I don’t have anymore. I’ve reached my emotional limit. I return my face to the sanctuary of my hands and let loose.

Jason comes back over and puts an arm around my shoulder, not saying a word, just pulling me in so that I don’t have to be alone in this. He lets me have my moment, my time to mourn, and doesn’t rush my in anyway.

I’m not sure how much time has passed when I finish, but when I look up the shadows on the walls have lengthened considerably.

“Thank you.” I say, grateful that when I finally look up he’s wearing his own face, the face that I decapitated fruit with. “Not just for right now, but for yesterday too. You let me say goodbye to her, and you knew how rough that was on me. So you prepared the best first date I’ve ever been on to help heal the wounds. Thank you for that.” He kisses me on the forehead and gives me a squeeze.

“You’re welcome Jennifer.” I take a cleansing breath and give myself a shake.

“So do you have something equally as awesome planned for our second date?” He nods his head.

“You gave me what I needed. I remember everything now. I know who did this, and I know what I’m going to do about it. I’m not sure if I’d call it a date, but I’ve found that taking action can be equally as cleansing as laughing your guts out.” He wears a new expression now, a determined expression. “You want to help me bring some scum bags to justice?” I nod my head.

“Good, because we’ve got work to do, I’ve got a list of supplies you need to buy, and I’ve got some research to do. I’ve remembered some things that they really wanted me to forget. You remember how I said I’ve never gotten sick?” I nod. “There was a lot more to that than meets the eyes. I have a…. unique application for shifting.” We’ve got to move quickly. I go to work tomorrow, and it’s going to be a memorable day.”

I’m sitting at my desk, waiting for Marcus to show up for work, when he walks through the door. “Good morning Marcus.” I call to him as he comes through the doors. He waves to me, quickly making his way to his office door.

“Good morning Ryan, I had a late night, so please excuse me while I slip into my office.”

“Like your new coat.” I call to him. He waves again as he slips inside and prepares himself for the day. It looks to be a fairly light day. We don’t have any clients coming in for several hours.

This is a good thing, because a female of interest just popped into view. From the security cam in the elevator I could see Jennifer, the girl who had almost ruined our little operation, pressing the button for our floor.

“Security come to floor 6 immediately.” I call into the radio. “We’ve got Jennifer coming up.” We had sent a team to her apartment last night, but she wasn’t there, and her car was gone. This morning we had sent a team to the school she worked at, but she wasn’t there either, and her supervisors had no idea where she was.

Apparently she needed some resolution from Jason. We would give her some resolution, but not the kind she wanted. I checked the feeds to Marcus’s office to make sure he wasn’t going anywhere. He had a hat pulled down over his face and appeared to be taking a nap. It was unprofessional of him, so it was a good thing this wasn’t a real job.

The bell for the elevator sounded, and our security was right in place. As soon as she stepped out two large men pinned her to the ground, and two more gagged and bound her.

“Interrogation room.” I said. “Make it quick, and get somebody down here to cover for me in case Jason comes out. The interrogation room was right next to Marcus’ room. We put the same soundproofing on it as we did his room. You could set off a hand grenade inside and no one would hear a thing.

They forced her inside and pushed her into a chair. I closed the door tightly to insure nobody who walked in would hear a thing, and rounded on the girl who had almost cost us billions.

“You just had to come back and see him again didn’t you?” I ask, rolling up my sleeves. “You couldn’t let prince charming go. You had to come back one last time to say goodbye.” I un-holster my sidearm and set it down on the table beside her, just inside her peripheral vision. The gun is a small thing that I keep hidden for special occasions.

“Now, here’s how this is going to work. You’re going to tell us everything you know about Marcus. The man you knew as Jason, and then you’re going to tell us everyone else who knows about him. And if you’re really good, we’ll let you live.” Her death wasn’t strictly speaking necessary. The memory serum we had concocted from Marcus’s blood would wipe her memory without killing her. She was an asset we could control, but we needed to know how far things went. I might dispose of her anyway, just because of all the trouble she caused, but I would decide that once this was over. Covering up a disappeared person was difficult, but for the right occasion, it could be arranged.

We were going to have to cut down on Marcus’ social life. This was the second person we had to interrogate this week. The grocery store had been a slip up we could’ve easily avoided too. Perhaps we could tell Marcus that the company now had a plan to provide grocery delivery. Maybe a grateful client could offer this service at a discount. We would think of something, but we had to minimize that kid’s social time.

“What are you guys talking about? Why are you doing this?” She asks, looking around terrified at all the guns in the room. Security had brought out the large assault rifles to make an impression.

“Don’t play innocent, you really expect me to fall for that? You honestly think I would believe Marcus didn’t show you his trick to impress you on your little date?” I for one couldn’t believe that such a useful talent would not be utilized to impress any potential women in his life.

“What special talent? Are you talking about his accents? I know he’s really good at that.” She’s eyeing the pistol sitting next to her head. “Who are you guys? Are you with the government? Why are you doing this to me?” She was good, and if she hadn’t been missing from work completely unannounced I might believe her, but her story had an odor to it.

“Why weren’t you at your house yesterday? Why didn’t you show up to work this morning? Were you trying to contact Marcus?”

“What, whose Marcus?” Now she had slipped up. I had told her earlier in this conversation who Marcus was. She knew something, and she wasn’t letting on.

“Look me in the eye Jennifer.” I lean in close so I can see if her pupil’s dilate. “If you really have nothing to hide than you won’t have any difficulty with what I’m about to do.”

I pick up the gun and point it at her right hand, the little finger of her right hand.

“If I get even the slightest sense that you’re lying to me, you’ll be out of a finger. The people I work for have a lot of money, and something of an expertise in biology. We will have no trouble covering up any spontaneous acts of violence that might be about to ensue.” I chamber a bullet in the gun. “We’ve spent years doing research on Marcus and we have learned quite a bit. Now then, have you ever heard of shifters?” Jennifer’s expression suddenly turns from terror to smug confidence.

“So that’s it.” She says. “You work for some big corporation that’s doing research on Marcus. You’re trying to keep it quiet so nobody else can compete with you.” She had just earned her right to be one of those lucky few worthy of becoming a missing person. I pointed the gun at her head and fired twice.

Her head cocked back backwards over the chair and I started to think about what method of disposal would be the best, when Jennifer’s head tilted forwards again. The two bullets are sticking out of her head like horns. They’ve barely penetrated the skin.

“Haven’t I always told you it’s not the face that matters. It’s what’s underneath that counts.”

“Shoot him!” Ryan called out. All four guards were happy to oblige, opening up with their thirty round magazines and on full auto, and not letting up until every round had been fired. I weathered the hail of bullets without flinching, staring directly at Ryan as he also emptied the remaining six bullets in his clip.

When they were finished, and it didn’t take long, I stood. I grew six inches taller, my hair shortened, and my face morphed into Jason’s.

They couldn’t do anything but watch. None of them had thought to bring spare ammunition. They hadn’t even known they were going to shoot me.

I shook myself and 128 bullets fell to the ground. Most of the bullets don’t even have blood on them.

“You never seemed to be a fast learner Ryan.” I said. One of his henchmen took some initiative. He drew a knife and tried to stab me in the arm. It stuck in less than a centimeter. I looked at his knife, and then at him.

“That’s adorable.” I say, before grabbing his wrist, twisting it ninety degrees to slam him into the table, and then breaking the knife off at the hilt. It’s amazing what a little pressure applied the right way could do.

“You seem to underestimate me a lot too.” He was doing it right now. If the man had any sense he would’ve started running the second he realized I had survived a double tap to the head.

“Rush him!” Ryan shouted, stepping back to let the three remaining guards jump at me. It’s a pathetic attempt. I throw the hilt of the broken off knife at one of the guards, knocking him out, morphing my wrist allows me to put an inhuman amount of spin on the blade. As the second of four guards falls, I apply a chokehold to the third, and stare down the fourth as he tries to dislodge his friend from my grasp.

When the guards slumps unconscious in my arms I just stare at this friend. He tries punching me out a few times, but succeeds only in damaging his fist.

Once he’s hurt his hand to the point where he can’t throw any more punches I point to a chair.

“Sit.” I command, and the guard doesn’t even look to Ryan for confirmation before sitting down.

“Now then.” I say, turning to address Ryan, who has still defied all reason by not fleeing for his life. “Your guards are disabled. This room is soundproof so you can’t call for help. If you try to use your radio I’ll break it, and I’m sure by now you’ve figured out if you try to leave this room I won’t let you. So, what options do you have left?” Ryan checks his radio and glances at the door. I’m somewhat disappointed he doesn’t at least try to see if I can stop him, but I guess he just lacks either the courage or the initiative.

“You know we have a lot of money.” He says.

“Bribery, that’s quaint. I’m honestly insulted that you think a little cash is going to prevent any of this from getting out. Did you forget you tried to shoot me a few seconds ago?”

“I wasn’t trying to shoot you. I was trying to shoot Jennifer.” I almost laugh at how absurd his defense is.

“And you think that makes it better?” I ask.

“How much have I done wrong to you Jason?” Ryan asks. “You’ve started to remember a lot clearly, how far back does it go?” He can’t leave the room so he walks over to the table, and picks up the broken blade of the knife.

“Do you remember what we used to do with these?” He looks at the blade, watching the sunlight glint off of it. “Do you remember how we used to take bets on how much force you could take before we could break your skin? I’m impressed you remembered how to do it.” I don’t have to hold back. I could just take him out right here, right now. I do remember what he’s talking about. It’s a memory that I’d erase if I could.

“I remember when we first discovered that you could harden your skin like that. Of course that was after we learned to modify your memory, or else I wouldn’t have dreamed of disciplining you that hard, but thankfully you didn’t remember. You didn’t even have any scars on your smiling face when you came into work that day.” My anger is boiling again. I can feel myself begin to reflexively imagine those floating spheres. Those spheres he had used to channel my anger into my memory and forget.

“We found that you were not so resilient to fire. Which was unfortunate, we’ve been having such luck manufacturing isolates from your skin as body armor. We had hoped to sell other isolates as fire retardents, but alas, it was not meant to be. I still kept the photos though. The burn patterns were most intriguing.” I can see the spheres now. Like a beaten dog I’m forced into the pattern I’ve been through so many times.

“You’re starting to feel yourself fade aren’t you Jason. And the beauty of it is you can’t help it. You have been our slave for so long that you don’t know how to be free, and it’s your own anger that’s to blame. If you just kept it under lock and key we wouldn’t have been able to do any of this to you.”

“Good thing there are emotions stronger than hate.” Jennifer says. Ryan spins on his heel. He was so focused on me he didn’t notice Jennifer enter the room. His mouth drops open in shock, and Jennifer shoves a gas grenade in it and pulls the trigger. She pins his arms behind his back as the thing goes off, and he faints.

“Coward, didn’t even have enough guts to get knocked out by the gas.” She says through her gas mask. “Don’t go anywhere.” She orders the remaining soldier. “We wouldn’t want to insult you be leaving you conscious.” I give the soldier a nod, and we step out.

“Freeze!” A guard shouted as soon as we stepped out of the room. I threw myself between the six guards who had appeared, and Jennifer. I grabbed her has mask off her head and threw it at the nearest guard. That was enough to provoke them.

Again, I felt the sting of over a hundred rifle rounds striking me, and then falling to the floor. Again I shook myself while the guards checked their weapons to insure they were working. One burned his finger when he touched his barrel to see if it was warm.

“Boo.” I said, and the guards scattered like flies. Some ran upstairs. Some fled down, Some just dashed into whatever room was nearby.

“Anymore coming?” I asked Jennifer. She had run through the security camera feeds before she had stepped inside.

“No, that was the last of them. I already placed a call into 911 as well. The police should be here shortly.” She said.

“So that’s it then.” I surmise, sliding into Ryan’s former seat. Jennifer perched herself on the desk.

“Yeah, looks like. You aren’t worried about the police at all? I’m sure there’s a decent amount of what we’re doing that’s illegal.” I shrug.

“Maybe, but I know I’ve got a pretty clear case of self-defense.” I point to my chest and forehead. “They did shoot me quite a bit.”

“I think I’ve got a good case for self-defense too.” Jennifer says. “When the guy who was sitting at Ryan’s desk got spooked by all the commotion you were causing, he came into your office with a gun. It wasn’t a problem since I had already set off the first knockout gas grenade and was hiding behind your desk so he couldn’t shoot me, but yeah, I think it’s pretty clearly self-defense. I’m slightly worried about what I did to Ryan, but when they review the tapes I think they’ll come down on my side.”

“Did you get a chance to look at the archived tapes?” I ask.

“Yes, I didn’t get a chance to check very thoroughly, but there are records that stretch back for years. These guys weren’t terribly worried about getting caught it seems. And if I could get access to them I’m sure the cops will.”

She kicks her legs absently against the desk while we wait for the police to show up. We had considered trying to purge the record of what we had done here. Maybe steal some kind of evidence and try to take down the corporation from the outside, but we had to be real. Neither of us had any kind of experience in that sort of thing. If we hadn’t used my morphing skills to aerosolize an anesthetic capable of rapidly knocking out grown adults then we would’ve been in real trouble.

Even with my abilities this would probably only work once. There were ways around toughened skin and improvised chemical agents.

No, we had decided it would be best to let the authorities handle this. Besides, neither of us was confident we could erase any record of our involvement, especially with all of the witnesses.

“You mind taking this thing off?” Jennifer asked.

“Right, sorry.” I say, reaching over and touching Jennifer’s leg. When I make contact all of the skin that had disguised her as me slid back onto my body. It was trick we had picked up when I had kissed her good night. With some high heels and bulky clothes I could lend others a cloak of sorts for a time. It wasn’t nearly as good as what I could do to myself, but as long as people didn’t look too close, it would do.

We can now hear sirens. The police are getting close.

“We’re both crazy. You know that right?” Jennifer asks.

I nod. “Undeniably, this was hair brained and poorly executed from the start. We only guessed at my being able to stop bullets because you couldn’t remember if they tested that. We weren’t sure about the videos providing enough evidence to convict these guys of what they’ve done to me, and we definitely didn’t know what they had in store for security. We’re lucky it was just assault rifles and knives. I wasn’t sure if I could take anything stronger.”

“I don’t mean that.” Jennifer said. “Although that’s certainly true, I mean us. There’s no way you should’ve put all that effort into me. It’s amazing how much you could put yourself aside and be there for me.”

“And it’s almost frightening how hard you fought to bring back my memory.” I add. “Some people go their whole lives not knowing if someone would be able to be with them through a time like that, and you did it after only one date.”

“So we’re in agreement. We’re both crazy.” Jennifer says.

“But as long as we’re crazy together. I think we’ll be alright.” I say.

Jennifer laughs. “I don’t think you have to worry about us being separated any time soon. I’m dating a guy who can stare down an assault rifle, and also happens to be the biggest discovery in modern medicine since penicillin.”

“And I’m dating an implausibly loyal girl who stood by me when she literally thought I was crazy.” I stand up and sit next to her on the desk. “By the way, there was something I wanted to show you. You know that face I wore on our first date? The one I’m wearing now?” Jessica nods. “It’s not my real face. I finally remembered what I’m supposed to look like.” I waved my hand in front of my face to transition into my real face.

“Well, what do you think?” I ask. Jennifer is staring open mouthed at me. “Come on now, I don’t know what girls like in terms of faces. Do you like it?” She’s not saying anything. “I can change back if you want. I’m not super emotionally attached to it.” For an answer, Jennifer leans forward, as if hypnotized, and kisses me.

“Don’t change a thing.” She whispers.

We hear boots coming up the stairs. Jennifer snaps out of her trance and hops off the desk. We both lay down on the ground with our hands behind our heads.

“You ready for this?” I ask.

“Please.” Jennifer says. “You’re not getting out of our next date that easy.” Right as the SWAT team bursts down the door, she gives me another peck on the cheek. In the same spot she always does.


It was a rough ride, at least at first. It’s not easy being in a relationship with a medical miracle. He would get called away all the time on every kind of strange operation or mission you could imagine.

Some missions were medical. His cells had remarkable qualities and he could use them to fight some otherwise incurable diseases. The CDC would call him if there was some outbreak of a new and deadly disease they wanted quelled. And periodically he would go to a local children’s hospital and cure everyone in the oncology ward. It wasn’t something he could do very often. He explained to me that an expenditure of that kind of energy needed time to recharge, but he still managed to make it down there at least once a month.

Other missions were political. Various government agencies would consult with him and get him to provide perfect disguises for their operatives on special highly sensitive missions. He would always demand a full debriefing of what was going on and why. There were more than a few missions where he walked because he didn’t agree with what was going on, but he was still a part of bringing to justice six of the world’s top ten criminals.

Lastly, some missions were purely sentimental. After the corporation that tried to hide him was taken down he started up a new one that did exactly what the old one claimed to do. Brought people in who needed to say goodbye, and gave them a chance to make their peace.

He had a lot of demands on his time, but he said he couldn’t do half of it without me. I’ve read through thousands of classified documents while he was off at children’s hospitals, so he could go straight to a black op from work.

I debriefed him on the intricate biochemistry of novel viruses so he could better target his treatments. Not that I knew biochemistry, but I learned.

To this day I still sit up with him and hear all the stories about the people he’s helped heal, both the good and the bad. If you ask him, he will say that it’s his favorite thing that I do for him.

But my favorite thing that he’s done for me, was at our wedding he became Sarah one last time, so she could give an embarrassing speech.

the face of romance part 4

I can’t believe I met such a great guy out of the blue like this. These blind date things never seemed to work out. Yet, here I was, swapping cheesy jokes with a multi-talented guy in a medical field. What more could I ask for? As soon as I left the school I worked at I whipped out my phone. I smile when I see the picture of him soaked in diet coke that’s now my background, and started texting.

Jennifer- Hey cutie, wanted to let you know I’m planning on buying a few paintball grendades. Better pray we’re on the same team :).

Jason– Sounds like fun, hey, my phone recently had a glitch, remind me who this is again?

Jennifer– That stinks, deleted all your contacts huh? Well this is Jennifer.

Jason– I don’t know any Jennifers. I think you have the wrong number, sorry :(.

Jennifer– That’s funny, anyway, I know we agreed to rent markers there, but I couldn’t help but give myself an advantage :).

Jason– It sounds like a lot of fun, but I really don’t know any Jennifers. Enjoy the paintball!

Jennifer– Jason this joke is starting to get a little old.

Jason– It’s no joke. As much as I love paintball I really don’t know any Jennifers.

Jennifer– Okay Jason’s friend, you’ve had your laugh, now hand the phone to Jason I’d like to talk to him now.

Jason– Ah, okay, you definitely have the wrong number. This is Marcus.

Jennifer– What? No, I can see our text conversation from the rest of the day. We were just swapping cheesy jokes.

Jason– The first text I have from you is the one about paintball grenades.

Jennifer-That’s not right, look, I can forward you the other texts. I promise you we’ve been talking all day.

Jason– That really wouldn’t prove anything, and talking all day? That doesn’t sound like me.

Jennifer– Jason, you’re starting to worry me. Are you okay? Are you in the hospital?

Jason– I’m fine, just got back from work actually. Are you okay? You seem to have a very strong memory of something that never happened.

Had I fallen for a guy with some serious mental disorder? This had gone on far too long for it to be a joke, and Jason didn’t seem the type that would play such a mean spirited trick.

Should I just end the conversation now? I don’t know if I could be with somebody who just forgot everything once every few days. Clearly he doesn’t remember me so if I just stop right now it’s not like his feelings would get hurt.

I think about it. I think about just pressing delete on your conversation and removing him from my contacts. He asked me what my name was so it’s obvious he already deleted me from his contacts.

Thinking that thought hurts, and it moves me to hit delete. If I mean so little to him that he’d just delete me from his contacts then I should do the same to him. I’m not going to be toyed with like that.

I put my thumb over the delete button.

“It was fun while it lasted Jason.” I say in memory of our wonderful date.

Then, right before I erase our conversation a thought occurs to me. ‘If he has a mental disorder, why would he delete me from his contacts?’

Jennifer– Jason, you said your phone had a glitch? Are any of your other contacts deleted?

Jason– No, everything else is here. Photos, contacts, conversations, listen, I really have to go.

Something else is going on. There’s no way he loses all memory of me and has me, and only me, completely erased from his phone. Something very wrong is going on.

Jennifer– No, Jason, I’m sorry you don’t believe me, but I think you might be in danger. I’m calling you now, please pick up, just one conversation, and if you don’t believe me I’ll leave you alone. Just please pick up, just this once Jason.

I give him a little time to read the text, and then I press call.

The phone rings once.

‘I’ve got to think of something to convince him. Something that most people wouldn’t know about him.’

The phone rings twice.

‘Would blowing up watermelons be enough? Do lots of people do that?’

The phone rings three times.

‘Maybe it’s a new fad, gotta try something else. Something more personal.’

The phone rings four times.

‘Pick it up Jason, please pick it up. Something personal, what about his superpower. Empathy was it?’

The phone rings five times.

‘It’s going to go to voice mail soon. No, empathy isn’t deep enough. I’ve got to go more personal than that.’

“Hello? Is this Jennifer?” I feel lighter when he says my name, but I can’t let my emotions overpower me right now.

“You have a deep seated need to help people. It’s the driving force behind what you do. Healing, in particular you want to heal, but not the body, although that’s important. You want to heal the mind. You want to reach inside people, take the negative, and mold it into something positive. You’re a mind healer Jason.” I try and think of some old prayer from grade school to recite while I wait for his response. It was a shot in the dark, but it was all I had.

“Jennifer right?” Jason says.

“That’s right.” I say, trying to keep my voice steady.

“Well Jennifer, you have my attention. I don’t know how you knew me well enough to rephrase my personal motto ‘it’s what’s underneath that matters’, but I want to find out.” He tells me his address. “Meet me as soon as you can.”

“I will.” I say, as soon as he had started giving me his address I had grabbed my keys and my shoes, and was already halfway out the door. “I’m coming Jason.” I hang up the phone and sprint to my car.

It took a lot of restraint not to speed and blow through red lights, but getting pulled over wasn’t going to get me to Jason any quicker.

He was waiting on his doorstep when I arrived. I was impressed that he lived in his own townhouse at his age, but I didn’t have time to admire his neat little garden or his well kept car. I had a mission.

I reflexively run to hug him, but he catches me by the shoulders and holds me at an arm’s length. It’s nice to feel his touch again. I can still feel a ghost of his finger where he brushed the drop of watermelon juice from my face.

“I know that there’s something big going on here, but this is all a little fast and I’m going to need to take this one step at a time. I don’t know what to think or feel about this, and until I do we’re going to have to keep this professional.” I nod. It’s not what I want, but if it’s what he needs then I can give it to him. He gestures to the spot next to him on the porch and we both sit down.

“First things first.” He says. “How did you know all that about me?”

“Because we went on a date.” I say. He nods. It was pretty obvious I thought we were dating from the messages, and from me going straight for the hug. This is just confirming suspicions for him.

“When did we go on this date?” He asks.

“Last night, it started a bit before sundown, and you took a phone call halfway through, which is fine, and we finished a little after sundown. It was a very short and sweet date.” It warms me up thinking about it.

“Last night? I don’t have any memory of that.” He says, looking out at the grass on his lawn.

“Do you have any memory at all of last night?” I ask, concerned about how deep this problem goes in him. He doesn’t answer right away. There’s confusion on his face. It’s like he’s trying to find the missing piece to the puzzle.

“I remember some old Disney shows right before I went to bed, and I remember scaring a lady at the store.” That surprises me, but I try not to show it. Why on earth had he scared a lady at the store? I would have to ask him later. Maybe he spilled some of that diet coke and Mentos during the checkout. It was probably something innocent like that.

“But those two events are separated by almost two hours. Which isn’t that weird. It’s not like I keep a running log of my day, but I’m remembering quite a bit about buying some snacks, and I can’t think of what I did with them.” He stands up.

“Yes, I’m remembering buying a watermelon, a lot of rubber bands, some diet coke, and a few breath freshening strips. It’s for a few games I like.” He explains to me.

“I know, diet coke and Mentos roulette along with exploding watermelon hot potato.” He nods.

“Right, sure, for our date that I don’t remember.” He takes his keys out of his pocket. “And if we had that date then I would’ve used all the supplies, and there should be nothing left in my house.” He unlocks his door and I follow him inside.

We move silently to his pantry as he opens cupboard after cupboard. There are no supplies in any of them. He checks the basement, his office, the living room. He walks through every room in his house, and finds nothing.

After completing his search he sits down on the couch in his living room and stares unblinkingly at the coffee table. I sit quietly next to him. I want to put a hand on his shoulder or something to help him through this, but I know it would only confuse him.

“Assuming we have been dating, how long has it been going on?” He asks.

“We were going to have our second date this weekend. It was going to be paintball.” This also surprises him.

“I blew up watermelons with you on the first date? You must be special.” I hide a smile. I can tell he still doesn’t completely believe me. The facts are there, but the totally absent memory is something that’s hard for him to justify. It’s hard for me to justify too, but we’ll figure out why it’s missing later. Right now all I want is for him to remember what we had shared the previous evening. What I wanted to share again this coming weekend.

He’s still staring at the table. He needs something else. He’s on the tipping point, but there’s still something missing from the puzzle. I wanted to give him whatever it was, but I was out of ideas. I had nothing else to remind him of what happened. Jason was going to have to meet me halfway.

“Did we kiss?” He asks.

“No, well not really, but it wasn’t that I didn’t like you. It’s just that I don’t kiss on the first date. I know it’s kind of old fashioned but it’s helped me avoid getting attached to a lot of guys that I shouldn’t get attached to. Not that you’re a guy I’d avoid getting attached to. It’s just it’s hard to know after the first date you know? I totally would’ve if I had known this was going to happen.” The last part slips out without me thinking about it and I clap a hand over my mouth. My face feels warm as it begins turning the color of the inside of a watermelon.

I can’t believe I said that. Right when he needs facts and unbiased information I blurt out this monologue about how I don’t kiss on the first date and end it by admitting I wanted to kiss him. I couldn’t believe myself.

Jason, still staring at the coffee table, rubs his hand on his chin, considering what I’ve just told him.

“This may sound a bit weird, but I’m going to need you to kiss me on the cheek.”

My heart skips a beat. I hadn’t mentioned that I kissed him on the cheek.

“Of course.” I say, wishing to kiss more than his lips.

He’s still staring at the table, trying to pull in the memory of yesterday. It makes it awkward, him not even trying to look at me while I lean in, but I don’t really have much choice in the matter. I can’t ask him to make it romantic at all if he’s not even sure we’re an item. I’m not using to giving kisses as a memory aid, but I do it anyway.

Just like last night I lean in and gently brush my lips against his cheekbone, making sure to place them in the same spot I did last night, and slowly kiss his cheek.

He reels back like I’ve just shocked him. He’s looking at me like I’m some lion that’s escaped and might decide to eat him at any moment. It hurts to have him look at me like that, but I stay calm for him.

He reaches out with his right hand. I watch it draw nearer, fearful of what he might do, but I don’t move. His fingers draw near to my face, and he caresses the side of it, in the same spot where he caressed it last night.

“It blew up while you were holding it didn’t it?” He asked.

I bounce on the couch with excitement. “You remember!” I shout.

“Not much.” He says. “It’s still very blocky. I can only remember small scenes, almost like screen shots, but it’s something.”

“What do you remember?” I ask.

“I remember blasting myself with the bottle of diet coke. I remember the watermelon exploding. And the way you were getting so scared about putting on more rubber bands.” He smiles again when he talks about the rubber bands. It’s the first time I’ve seen him smile today and it sort of makes this whole ordeal worthwhile. The way he’s pulling at my heart strings, the worry that something was, or is, happening to him, the rushed drive over here. Even the sitting on this couch right now unsure of what’s going to happen next, it’s all worth it to see him smile.

“Man you squealed when we started going over 400.” He touches his cheek now, and he’s still smiling, but it’s different somehow. I like his smile right now better than I did before. I’m not sure why I like it more, but I do. “And your kiss.” That’s why I like it more, because the smile was about me. I was making him smile.

“And what else?” I prod him. Now the smile fades.

“That’s all.” He glances back at the coffee table, like it could give him the answers he was looking for. “I don’t remember how it ends, so there must be more to that memory, but that’s all I have.”

“You don’t remember anything about the phone call?” I ask. “You don’t remember anything about what you asked me or what I asked you? And you don’t remember anything from today about organizing our second date?” He looks guilty, like a chastised child.

“I’m sorry. Like I said, I know there’s more, but I just can’t remember it.” My stomach drops, now I really am out of ideas. Well, not completely, there is one more thing I can try.

“Do you trust me?” I ask him, knowing that what I’m about to do might cause more harm than good.

He finally turns and looks me up and down, considering my question. His eyes move to the spot on my face he’d been caressing just moments before, and his hand moves to the spot on his cheek where I had kissed him.

“Yes.” He says. “Yes I do.”

I move quickly so my courage doesn’t fade. I lunge across the couch and knock him down, positioning myself above him, and before he can protest I slam my lips into his.

My lips finally meet his, and I wrap my arms around, leaning into him as I firmly press my lips into his. My breath catches and I inhale sharply as he returns my embrace. Reaching up with one hand to grab the back of my head at the spot just above the neck, and wrapping his other arm around me in a fierce embrace.

It all goes so quickly and before I know it I’m pulling back, breathing faster than before, and looking him up and down to make sure he’s okay.

I should say that I tried to pull back, he stills has his hands on me and he stops me from pulling away more than a few inches. His hand on my head caresses my check again and he says.

“My loyal mare, you came back.” I swoop back down for round two.

“Yes.” I say between our squished lips. “But don’t call me a horse again.”

“K.” He replies, and it’s a discrete period before either of us says anything else.

When we do manage to disconnect from each other there’s a significant lag while both of our brains speed back up from romantic slow motion time, to real life time. My brain speeds up first, which is understandable. He’s just had a rush of memory that no doubt added to the experience.

The first thing I notice is that of all expressions, the one he has chosen to wear is concern. He doesn’t look joyful, or overwhelmed with emotion. He just looks concerned.

“Are you okay?” I ask. He must’ve realized the expression his face had taken, and quickly flipped back to happiness.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine, and I remember so much. It’s just a lot you know?”

“So you remember everything?” I ask.

“Almost.” He says.

“Well that’ll have to do, because I want to know why your face looks just like some other dude’s I met the other day. Do you two know each other? His name is Ryan I think.”

Face of romance part 3

No sooner do I hang up the phone then Jennifer calls.

“Do you live like three feet from here or something?” I ask sarcastically.

“I’m actually in my car right now. How’s the clean up going? Did your work thing get sorted out?” She inquires. This day just won’t quit. When I get home I’m going to have a long hot shower, watch a couple reruns of some old Disney shows while eating microwave pizza, and then I’m going straight to bed.

“Uh, pretty good, I’m already done. The work thing wrapped up and I was planning on driving home soon, but I have a manual transmission and my speaker phone is terrible so I can’t exactly talk and drive at the same time if you know what I mean.” I’m not trying to blow her off, but this is kind of weird.

“Oh I know. So how about we play a game?” I glance up at the sky.

“You know it’s going to be dark soon right?” I ask. Did I press a ‘everything is going to be unexpected and crazy’ button when I woke up.

“Sure do, give it twenty minutes until full dark. No need to worry though. I’m nice and safe in my well lit and locked car.” It’s a good thing the crime rate is super low around here. Worst comes to worst I can always just find a piece of that watermelon to throw at anybody who tries to attack me.

“Alright, let’s play. You know this is weird right?” On the one hand this is kind of cute. On the other hand this is genuinely odd behavior that I’m not 100% sure how I feel about.

“You know what else is weird? Making someone blow up a watermelon using the elastic tension in rubber bands. Then making them open a couple bottles of coke and Mentos before whisking them away after you’ve only been talking for tops thirty minutes.” She had a point. I guess she was just returning the favor. I lean back on the park bench. It was probably unrealistic to make someone to do a bunch of extremely unorthodox stuff without expecting some sort of retaliation.

“Fair enough, let’s keep this pretty quick though yeah? I’ve got to be in to work early tomorrow and I still need to get home and unwind.”

“Sounds reasonable to me. I don’t want to take up too much of your time, just enough so that you feel the same fish out of water vibe that I’m feeling right now.” She was being understanding and cognizant of my time. That calmed my apprehension about making the phone call so quick.

“So how does this game work?” I ask.

“Well, it’s pretty straight forward. I ask you a question. Then you ask me a question. You can’t repeat questions, and you have to answer honestly. We already did the fun part of the date, and almost entirely skipped the getting to know you bit. So I thought this would be a good way to wrap up the evening.” It was a very straight forward game, but it also sounded like the perfect conclusion to our date.

“Good this sounds to me. Fun it should be.” I say in a perfect Yoda impression. Being able to physically morph your vocal chords, and the rest of your respiratory tract, makes it super easy to do spot on impressions every time.

“That was so good! Where did you learn to do that?” She asks.

“Stick around, and you’ll see how deep the rabbit hole goes.” I say, this time going for Lawrence Fishbourne as Morpheus. “Does that count as your first question?”

“No, no, that was uh. We hadn’t started yet, clearly.” I’m delighted that my surprise rapid fire funny voices are having a flustering effect on her. “No, uh, no, my first question is, uh, if you had a superpower what would it be? Besides doing silly voices I mean.” The increase in pitch in her voice tells me she’s having a good time.

Going for a deep growling batman I respond. “I always thought cheesecake summoning was pretty cool.”

She’ laughing out loud on the other end. “You should totally get a job doing this. But cheesecake? Seriously? You’re not going to go for flight or anything?”

“In all seriousness I’d like to go for mind reading.” I’ve decided to mix it up and use my normal voice. “I’m pretty good at reading people, but I don’t like how any empathy I feel is incomplete. I can only guess at how someone is feeling and I really just want to like copy and paste their emotional state on my own so I can really understand what they’re going through.”

“That sounds more like empathy than mind reading.” She comments. “But that’s really cool. I like the spin you put on it. That’s honestly one of the more thoughtful answers I’ve gotten to that question.”

“My turn now right?” I ask, still using my boring old regular voice.

“Yeah totally, fire away.”

“You’ve got to ask yourself one question.” I say, going for dirty harry. “If you had to be dropped onto a desert island with one person, who would it be?” The sound of her giggling is music to my ears.

“That’s a tough one, but I think I’d have to go with my dad.” She says. “I know like the president would be really cool, or a survivalist would be really useful, but honestly. If I’m going to stuck somewhere and I don’t know if or when I’ll ever get out. I want my dad with me. He’s just always been there for me, and my mom is great and all, but if it’s a life and death kind of thing, there really isn’t anyone I trust more than my dad.” I mentally gave her a whole bunch of bonus points. They say you can tell a lot about a person by how they treat waiters and waitresses. I think the same is true for parents. Your mother and father are two people who basically have to put up with you no matter what. So how you feel about them can tell you a lot about how they’re going to feel about you once the honeymoon phase is over. Deciding to take the most important man in your life on a scary vacation instead of any other guy, even when other guys were more capable than him, was a definite good thing in my mind.

“I respect.” I say in my unaccented voice. “I think it’s important that you have strong relationships with your parents.”

“Well, they kind of raised me you know? They’ve seen me at my worst. If I’m going to be stuck somewhere desolate I want somebody who really cares for me like that.” Very cool, that was very cool of her. “So my turn, I think we will do one last question each and then I’ll let you go. I know it’s really starting to get dark and I don’t actually want you out and about without any light.”

“I appreciate that.” I don’t even have to look at the sky to tell that it’s sundown. The light’s already starting to fade, and before too much longer I was going to have to use my phone as a flashlight to find my way back to my car.

“So last question then, if you could have any kind of horse, what would it be?” That was certainly random. No more random than anything else had been this day, but still random.

I pop into a southern accent for this one. “I reckon just a regular old mare. Nothing fancy, just reliable and loyal, she just needs ta be there when I call and get me safely through the journey. Y’all talk about racing thoroughbreds or warhorses, and that’s all well and good, but for me, just a steady companion is all I need.” There’s a noise from the other side of the line, it sounds faintly like ‘awww’, but I can’t be sure.

It’s only after I answer this question that I realize I’ve heard it before. It was one of those ‘figure out your future’ kind of questions. You asked them about how you’d climb on boxes or use ladders or something, and at the end of it they’d tell you some blurb about how you’d succeed in life. I never put much stock in them, but I remembered this question was about your future spouse. Supposedly the way you answered this question reflected how you thought about your hypothetical future lifemate. If you answered something outlandish like a unicorn, people knew you had unrealistic expectations. I didn’t think there was much truth to it, but I think I had just knocked it out of the park with my answer.

“Alright, now you ask me one.” She said. It’s getting dark enough to the point where you’d have trouble reading a book, so I try and make it quick. I say the first thing that pops into my mind, and unintentionally ask something that’s a little too close to home.

“How do you feel about dating coworkers?”

“Are you trying to tell me something? Lol, um, I think it’s something to be frowned on. I mean, I’ve dated classmates before and even that gets awkward. It’s fine in theory I guess, but it’s just not something that works out in real life. I see that ending badly most of the time.” Well, I made her feel bad earlier with all that talk about work. It was only fair I made myself feel bad. Some part of me was glad that she had that attitude, it would certainly serve her well in her career, but it was going to make it so much harder when I had to tell her I was the shifter she had visited earlier.

“That’s the sensible approach.” I say. “It might be something to try once, but definitely not anything to make a habit out of.” I’m trying to get her to back off her stance a little bit.

“I don’t think even once, but yeah, not something you want to mess around with.” So much for getting her to back off a bit. Talk about when you’re in a hole stop digging.

“Hey, I want to respect your time. It’s now full dark and I know you’ve got a busy day tomorrow. I’ll let you go now. Thanks for a wonderful time, and thanks for putting up with my phone call.”

“It was my pleasure. I’ll text you tomorrow with plans for our next date.”

“I look forward to it, have a good night.”

“You too princess.” And then the conversation was done.

I slipped my phone. Think for a moment, then take it out and turn it off. I don’t care if somebody else has something they just have to tell me tonight. I’m going to bed.

The next morning I trudge into work with a sense of apprehension. I know Ryan is going to say something to me, and I’m not going to like it.

My fears are magnified when I step out of the stair well and see that Ryan is talking to someone I don’t recognize at his desk, and it’s not a griever.

The two glance up at me when I walk in. A few whispers are exchanged, and then the strange man departs. I can’t know this for certain, but my gut tells me that was some high level supervisor who somehow knew about my unprofessional foray with a patient last night.

“Hey Jason.” Ryan says. “Why don’t we step into your office for a quick chat okay?”

“Sure thing Ryan.” I say, and when we’re both inside I close the door behind me.

“Nice face by the way.” He says.

“What?” I ask, confused.

“Your face, normally you just wear somebody’s from the office. Now you’ve got this new face on. Where did you get it?” I had completely forgotten that the face I was wearing was not my own. Which was somewhat a good thing. I had internalized this new facial structure to the point where it was my natural resting face. It was a bit like learning a new way of folding your hands, and then folding your hands that way often enough so that it became a habit.

“Internet.” I say. “But that’s not why you called me in here is it?” Ryan sat on the edge of my desk.

“No, no it’s not. I’ve been thinking about it, and I’m really not comfortable with you seeing this girl. Are you sure there’s going to be a second date?” He really was serious about this.

“For sure, she called me back and I’m going to be texting her about the next time we’re going on a date during my lunch break.” I began to wonder if Ryan had a bad experience with this sort of thing in the past. His concern was clearly starting to become excessive.

“That’s unfortunate. Have you thought about breaking it off man? I mean it’s not just that you’re sort of working together.” That was flat out not true. In all probability I would never work with this girl in a professional capacity again. I folded my arms and found a wall to lean against. “You’re like a therapist, or a priest or something. There’s this emotional bond

“No, no I haven’t. I actually kind of like her and am optimistic about how far this could go. I’m not going to break it off just because you’re a little apprehensive about this. I’m sorry man, but it’s not like I’m a therapist or a priest, and it’s definitely not like I’m a doctor. All three of those people see their patients on a regular basis. Also, and most importantly, none of those people are shifters. She didn’t really talk to me. She talked to her friend who I happened to look just like at the moment. The worst thing about this is really just that I know some personal stuff about her that she might not be comfortable with me knowing.” Ryan drummed his fingers against the desk when I had finished my little speech.

“So you think you’re going to see this girl again?” He asked, once again, discrediting my dating skills.

“Yes, I ‘think’, I’m going to see her again.” Using air quotes around the word think.

“Well you’re going to feel differently later, so just prepare yourself.” With that he got up and went to prepare the first client for me.

You’ll feel differently later, he says. Ryan was crossing the border between being concerned and being flat out rude. What was his deal? Was this something that had happened before at this company? Was this something Ryan had done? Either way he was projecting some negative past experience onto me, and it was not called for.

I push my frustration with Ryan aside for the moment and sit down at my desk. As I bring my computer online I remind myself that I’m here to help others and not to fume over work place drama. I calm myself and try to think about the people who I’ll be seeing shortly. They’ll be sensitive spots and I need to be focused to make sure they have the best possible experience.

An image pops up onto my screen along with a description of the deceased and a little blurb on their relation to the griever. It was time to go to work.

It’s a busy day, and the time passes quickly. When you’re intently present to someone you don’t really notice the clock, and I don’t notice it’s lunch time until I get a cheesy dad joke from Jennifer.

We have fun exchanging cheesy joke after cheesy joke. We talk a little bit about how much fun yesterday was, and then we progress into discussing where we’re going to go for our next date. We eventually both agree on paintball, and then Jennifer has to go. All in all, a rather pleasant lunch break.

I’m feeling refreshed, and have almost forgotten about Ryan’s little rant this morning when it was time for my first post lunch griever.

I thought something was fishy when she was the exact same age as Jennifer. She had a similar career path too, only, more high profile. This new griever instead of going on to teach volleyball Post College was an Olympic track athlete who had lost her friend in a very tragic training accident.

The manner of death being included struck me as odd. That’s normally a detail that’s excluded, and I only grow more suspicious when a photo of the griever pops up. They don’t send me photos of grievers, and the photo looks fake. Not because there are obvious editing marks or Photoshop artifacts, but because the photo is too good.

Normally to get me photos they scan in something from an official document. Something that could be accessed by law enforcement, like a driver’s license. There’s a plain background. The person’s hair is normally skewed, and they have a fake looking smile on typically. I see a lot of photos like this and I can tell that the photo of the griever is not a driver’s license photo. The background is some tropical island. She’s got a smile that looks improbably white, not to mention gorgeous, and her hair has been obviously prepared just for this photo.

To say nothing of her looks. I didn’t want to think about it too much with a date later, but suffice it to say meeting someone as attractive as her was statistically impossible for anyone who didn’t work in the modeling or entertainment industry.

I have to remind myself again that however odd this file may be, there’s a real person here with a real problem that they need to have a real solution to. I force my suspicions down, and use the mirror to adopt the face of the loved one who has passed on.

The door opens just as I finish, and I put on my professional ‘supportive and understanding’ face.

The girl walks in, and she looks just like her photo. Her hair has been done cut and styled in the same way. She’s smiling in the same way. I think she might even be wearing the same clothes. She waves at me as she eagerly comes and sits down in front of my desk. With a controlled delicacy I move to the chair next to my desk and wait for her to start.

“Hey, I’m Linda, nice to meet you.” She extends a hand, but I don’t take it. This is ridiculous. The smiling and bouncy behavior I get. Everyone deals with grief differently. Just this morning I had a mother who dealt with her loss by laughing about it. Some people are just like that. I didn’t judge. I was just here to help.

Her bouncy reaction to her friend’s passing I could understand. What I didn’t understand was why she was trying to talk to me, and not her friend. Both Ryan and whatever therapist refers them here discuss in detail how this is supposed to work. They explain very clearly that they’re not to talk directly to me, at least not until they’ve said their goodbyes to their friend. It disrupts what they’re here to do and makes it harder on them to move on, and me to do my job.

Even with the ridiculous picture, her improbably good looks, and the breach in protocol, I manage to keep a lid on my frustrations. I’m positive somebody is messing with me now, but I still maintain my supportive expression and gesture for her to continue.

“What’s your name?” She asks. That was it. I was done. This was an insult to me, and to her friend. People came here to move on from a heavy loss in their life, not to play games.

“What’s your name?” She asks again, playfully touching my knee.

“Get out.” I say through gritted out.

“What?” She asks, pretending not to see my obvious displeasure at her behavior.

“Get. Out.” I say. Biting off each word. She’s taken aback by my strong negative reaction. I don’t know why. This was clearly a bad move on her part.

“The door. Is there.” I point. “Leave.” She resists, but when she sees just how tight my jawline is. She leaves.

I count to thirty to try and keep calm but this is an outrage. First all of Ryan’s meddling, and now this. I don’t know how she had done it. She would’ve had to fake a death certificate and a doctor’s note. Not to mention slipping through our own information gathering system. We had some really smart people on staff. It was their job to keep this sort of thing from happening.

Ryan, he should have stopped this. I hope it’s just an honest mistake, and that he didn’t let that woman through on purpose, but I’m going to find out. This was not what I was here for. I don’t wait for the end of the day, or even a break in the shift. I burst out of my office to confront Ryan here and now.

“What is your problem?” I demand. If I had been paying attention I would’ve noticed that there weren’t any patients waiting in line. The office is empty except for me and Ryan.

I do notice that Ryan doesn’t react very strongly to me breaking protocol and storming out of my office. But I’m too angry to really care.

“What do you mean?” Ryan asks, trying to pretend like he didn’t just let some random girl with obviously suspicious documentation slip by.

“That girl.” I point to the door. “Did not come here to grieve. That girl came here because she wanted to take a shifter on a date. Why did you let her in?”

“That girl?” Ryan asks, mimicking my pointing motion. “So you have a problem with ‘that girl’ taking you on a date, but not Jennifer.” I ball my hand into a fist.

“Jennifer followed protocol perfectly. I told you, she has no idea that I had anything to do with her seeing a shifter. She thinks I’m just some guy her friend set her up with.” Ryan’s eyes narrow ever so slightly when I mention her friend setting us up.

“So that’s how you two met.” He says in a whisper that he doesn’t think I can hear.

“Why does it matter how we met?” I demand. I want to punch my fist into his desk, but I’m going to control myself. I start mentally reaching for some trick to calm myself down.

“It doesn’t. Say you look pretty angry Ryan, do you want to punch my desk?” Now I want to punch more than his desk, but I control myself.

“Yeah, I think you want to punch my desk. By the way, did you see that guy I was talking to earlier? He was from security. Because you’re talking to a patient outside of work I’m going to need to see your phone.”

“I don’t believe you. You’ve never asked for this before. How do I know you’re not just going to sabotage my phone to end things with me and Jennifer? I mean, clearly you have no problem breaking rules to mess with me. Why would I trust you now?”

“You can not believe me all you want, but if you don’t want to have a meeting with security later today I’m going to need to see your phone.” I glance at the security cameras pointing at this desk. At least if he’s lying I can report this incident and have proof.

I take my phone out and set it on his desk in a less than gentle manner.

“Thank you.” He unlocks it right in front of me. He must’ve been watching through the camera in my office to get the password. I can see he’s doing something to it. “Now, do you feel angry right now Jason? You’ve got me poking at you all day trying to get you to break things off with this girl you clearly have a thing for. I’m letting strange women into your office. Your sacred space, the very same space where you met this girl, and now you’ve got me rifling through your phone doing who knows what to it.

“How are you feeling?” I’m trying to keep a lid on my boiling emotion, and his prodding is not helping. I definitely should not vocalize how I’m feeling. I’m having enough trouble avoiding doing something I’d regret, giving voice to that kind of strong emotion will not be helpful.

“I can see you’re about ready to pop. That’s good.”

‘Good! He thinks white hot rage is a good thing!?’ I shout inside my own head.

“Now, you’re about ready to explode aren’t you? You need some help getting a hold of it don’t you? Well you’re in luck. Do you remember that I’m the one who taught you how to maintain that ‘supportive’ smile you’re so good at holding? I also know all the tricks to getting around inside your brain.” If I had been thinking straight this should’ve scared. I wasn’t thinking straight. “As much as you hate me right now you’re going to have to listen to me in order to get rid of your anger.” He finishes messing with my phone and sets it down on his desk. I’m now the sole focus of his attention.

“Ryan, I know you just want to do some really unfriendly things right now. You need to channel those feelings. Focus on them, think exactly why I’m making you feel this way.” I don’t want to follow his command, but I can’t afford to ignore him either. He’s offering me the only way away from this anger. I heartily obey his command and start listing off the many reasons I’m boiling over. He’s trying to break things off with this girl for me. He took my phone. He let that girl into my office. He’s got this bond supervillain relaxed way of completely shredding my peace of mind.

“Good, now see those reasons floating in front of you like little balls. Each reason is a sphere hovering before you. A white hot sphere, see them like that, white hot burning spheres.” It’s such an odd command but I can see them before me, little floating pictures wreathed in flame. “Excellent, now merge them together, everything, all of it, flow it together into a single glowing white ball. See all the little reasons tumbling around inside this white hot ball. Fantastic, you’re doing great.” I added his relaxed encouragement to the white hot ball.

“We’re getting there Ryan. Let hat ball burn. Let it spin, and let it burn, hotter and hotter, brighter and brighter. It’s so hot you can feel the heat.” I really can. I can almost feel the heat it’s burning so hot in my mind.

“Now comes the fun part, let it cool. Let it relax until it’s just a soft white globe. Like a ball of pudding floating in the air.” I can’t believe he thinks this is going to fix my anger. If anything it only….it only…. Wait, why was I angry again? Something about a girl and phone? I think it was bad, but I really shouldn’t get this mad at work

“Perfect, you’re calming down now. That’s great, now think about the girl. You remember the girl? Put her face in the globe. Put her number in the globe. Put your meeting in the globe, and definitely put your date in the globe. Put everything in the globe that has to do with her, every last scrap of memory that has to do with her, down to the cut of her hair when you first saw her.” I feel like I shouldn’t do what he’s telling me, but now that the globe has cooled I feel like it’s just pulling things out of me. I see every memory of Jennifer appear inside of this great white orb. Her name was Jennifer right? Wait, what was I thinking about it again.

“Almost there, just a little further. All you need to do is add your name.” I want to hold onto my name. I try and grasp onto it harder, but the orb’s magnetism is too strong. I feel my name rip free from my mind. “and now add your face.”

It’s the last thing this shifter was holding onto, and I can see it leave his mind. The instant he lets it go His face reverts to that of the last girl he’s seen. We paid her good money to do her part, and she had gotten under his skin perfectly. Very good, now let the orb dissolve. Imagine it melting like a ball of snow. You see it spreading out and sinking into the carpet. It’s going….It’s going….Now it’s gone.” This new man, this freshly formed man snaps up straight as soon as the orb is done melting. He won’t even remember what he’s been doing for the last several minutes.

“Oh, hey Ryan, I thought I’d… I’d um.” He fumbles. “What am I doing out here?”

“You were just heading home Marcus.” I tell him.

“Marcus?” He asks. I point to his chest.

“Marcus.” I say.

“Oh right, I’m Marcus.” He face palms like it’s the most obvious thing in the world. “Sorry man, so I was just heading home?”

“Yup, it’s been a light day with patients, and you worked so hard yesterday we figured we’d let you out early.” Right on cue a security guard pops out of the stairwell. “Here, you’ve been feeling a bit out of sorts so James here was going to escort you to your car.”

‘Marcus’ turns to see the guard. “Oh hey James. I’m Marcus.” The guard nods to ‘Marcus’, acknowledging him, and ‘Marcus’ begins to walk over to him.

“Hang on a second there Marcus.” I say. “You don’t want to forget your phone man.” He turns and I pass it to him. “Yeah, that glitch you were telling me about is annoying but I think I fixed it. You shouldn’t have any more trouble with it.”

“Yeah, that glitch, yeah, man that glitch was annoying wasn’t it?” I hope that guard was properly debriefed. His mind would be fragile for a few more minutes and he needed to be kept away from anyone with a strong personality.

“It sure was. Hey, one more thing buddy. You’re still wearing the face of a patient. If you’re having trouble remembering what your face looks like, just use mine. I don’t mind, and I don’t get out much so there’s not much chance that anyone will recognize you.” And if anyone did make the connection I would hear about it and see that the little slip up was resolved.

“Oh yeah, I probably don’t want to walk around looking like a girl do I?” He jokes, smirking a bit.

“That could get awkward for you.” I comment, mirroring his smirk.

“See you tomorrow Ryan.” He says, waving goodbye to me.

“See you tomorrow Marcus.” I wave back.

As the door closes behind the security guard and ‘Marcus’ I mentally pat myself on the back. Another crisis had been averted. We had spent too much time molding ‘Marcus’ for some girl to ruin everything now.

The face of romance part two

“Yes? But I mean diet coke isn’t that bad. I’m a Pepsi girl myself but I don’t look down on diet coke. My parents are actually big diet coke fans.” It’s adorable that she doesn’t know what’s coming next.

“Oh yeah? Big fans huh? Well do they typically take their diet coke with Mentos?” I produce an opened pack of Mentos and set them on the table.

“I see, we’re doing the diet coke and Mentos thing next. That’s cool.” I put a hand to my chest as if I’ve been struck.

“I’m hurt, after that fantastic display of nutritious mayhem you think I’d do something as normal as the diet coke and Mentos experiment?” I pick up the six pack and show her the bottoms of the bottles. “See how I’ve taped them up so you can’t see the bottoms? That’s because one of these suckers has a Mentos in the bottom.” I set the pack down in front of her. “And you’ve got to figure out which one.”

“What? No they don’t. You can’t drop a Mentos in there without it exploding. There’s no way you could’ve stowed one in here.” I’m happy that she’s still in the immersive bubble I’ve provided her, and happy that she’s taking a genuine interest in what I’m doing for her.

“Ordinarily, maybe you’re right, but I’ve got a trick.” I produce a pack of those mint flavored breath freshening strips that dissolve on your tongue. “I wrapped the Mentos in these little mint flavored strips and then dropped it in. That way it didn’t make contact with the diet coke right away, but the strip is dissolved now.”

“So why hasn’t it already exploded?” She explains, picking up the bottles and examining them one at a time. “I’ve seen the videos, there’s no way these bottles could contain that massive amount of expanding foam that the Mentos would cause.”

“The reaction needs air to proceed.” I told her. “So right now it’ll just sit quietly, but as soon as you pop the cork on one of those bad boys, it’s all over.”

She puts the bottle she’s holding down and thinks about it for a second. “Wait a minute, the Mentos displaced a little soda when you dropped it in. I can just pull an Archimedes and put them next to each other to measure the water level.” I’m grateful for the fact that she didn’t. It wouldn’t have worked, but her unwillingness to spoil my trick tells me she wants to play, even if she could cheat and figure out the answer.

“I thought of that. If you were to line them all up you’d find that no two have the same amount of diet coke in them. The difference is miniscule, but I took the liberty of shuffling the water levels by opening them all up, and dumping little teaspoons of diet coke from another bottle into the five that didn’t have the Mentos.”

Jennifer looks at the rubber bands still on the table, the watermelon that’s been cut in half, and the little bits and pieces of the fruit that had been destroyed in the prime of its life. Then she looks at the diet coke, and the opened pack of Mentos on the table.

“Jason, you have way too much time on your hands.” She declares.

“I know, so waste a little with me.” I tap the bottles of diet coke. “Make your first choice.”

She mulls it over, tipping the bottles up to look at the bottoms again, placing a few side by side to gauge the water level. She even shakes a few to see if she can hear the Mentos rattling around. It’s all for nothing. I made sure there was no way she was going to figure this out. She bites her lip, but then a lightbulb goes off behind her eyes.

“Aha!” She declares. “I’ve got it.” She slams down the bottle she’s been examining and rounds on me. “You know which one has the Mentos don’t you?” I nod.

“Yup, you caught me. Which is why you’re going to pick which bottles I open as well.”

“But that’s the trick. All I have to do is read your expression really carefully and you’re going to let me know which of these little bottles you’ve rigged to blow.” She claps her hands excitedly. I love seeing her like this. So care free, so joyful, being with her is like watching a kid get excited for the first snow of the year. Only better because I knew that I was the one doing this for her. I was making it snow.

“You can certainly try princess, but I have to keep a poker face for a living. Do your worst.” I know talking about work is a mistake as soon as the words are out of my mouth.

“Oh yeah, that reminds me. What do you do for a living?”

I knew this. I knew this. I had practiced this. Me and Ryan had a cover story for just these sorts of situations. I just couldn’t remember for the life of me what it was.

“I help people.” I say as casually as I can. It’s a lame response and I know it, so I do what worked last time. I misdirect. “And you’re stalling, pick a bottle princess.” She raises an eyebrow as she extends a hand out over the bottles.

She passes her hand back and forth over the soda containers, intensely  studying my reaction as she does so. She’s getting playful with it, pretending to go for one bottle, but then changing her mind and reaching for another. Like everything else she’s done, it’s adorable. It doesn’t’ do her any good though, my poker face is phenomenal.

“You’re good.” She says at last, randomly pulling over a bottle to herself.

“Point it at your face.” I tell her.

“What? That wasn’t part of the rules.” She objects.

“Clearly you’ve never played Russian roulette before. You have to point the dangerous object at yourself. If people playing real Russian roulette just fired off rounds into the air it wouldn’t have a reputation as a phenomenally unintelligent thing to do, but it does, so you will.” She puts her hand on the cap but doesn’t twist it off.

“Come on, as soon as you undo this one you’ll get to pick one out for me.” That motivates her, she quickly rips off the cap, wincing as she does so, and to her relief, nothing happens.

“Hey, you’re a lucky girl. Now pick one out for me.”

“Hold on a second.” She says, putting the now open bottle back on the table. “Now you’re the one who is stalling. I asked you what you do for a leaving and I’d be curious to know what kind of profession involves both having a great poker face, and also helping people.” She’s leaning into the conversation and her eyes are doing this playful dance on her forehead. It’s like she thinks they’ll hypnotize me into giving her an answer, and in a way they do.

“I work in a medical office.” I say. I think it’s true. Ryan tells me there’s a lot of medical equipment in the building so I think it’s a medical facility.

“A medical office.” She replies, not convinced. “What kind of medicine are you doing that requires you to keep a poker face?”

I try to think of a kind of medicine with a funny name or that works with embarrassing parts of the body, but my mind isn’t quick enough. “Well you know people come in with some pretty heavy issues. If somebody’s got something big they have to get off their chest then you can’t exactly break down in front of them.” I can see the crack that suddenly appears in her otherwise perfect mood. I know she’s just been reminded of what happened earlier today and I’m kicking myself.

Part of me wants to finish what I’ve started and just tell her. She’s had a few laughs. She knows that I’m a nice guy, and this would be the perfect Segway into that conversation. Maybe we could even have a session while we were out here.

The crack in her mood widens and the silence is starting to drag on noticeably. I can’t do it. I can’t bring her down again. Not so soon after bringing her up.

“But hey, you haven’t told me what you do for a living yet.” I point out. “Why don’t you pass me a bottle and tell me about it.”

No longer caring about trying to figure me out, she just gestures to the nearest bottle. I pick it up and get ready to open it, but I pause, waiting for her to start her story.

“Now you tell me what you do and I’ll see if I can add a punctuation mark to your story.” If I had been thinking I would’ve realized I already knew what she did. If I had been thinking I would realize that she and her roommate both wanted to go into the same field, and they probably worked together. If I had been thinking I wouldn’t have had to watch her struggle with trying to put on a brave face in front of me.

She was a trooper for sure. If I didn’t work with people who struggled with grief for a living I might not have seen it. The slight droop in the lips, the decrease in eye contact, but I did work with grievers for a living, and I knew before she spoke a word that she was thinking of Sarah.

“Well uh, I played a lot of volleyball in college.” I had to think fast. I had to snap her out of this. She was about to dig herself a deep emotional hole and I had to stop her. I want to pop the cap off the bottle and spray Mentos and coke foam everywhere, but this is the wrong bottle.

“And I just liked really being outside and doing athletic stuff.” She glances to the side, an indicator that she doesn’t want to have this conversation, and I seize the opportunity to grab a Mentos from the open sleeve and hide it in my palm.

“So I figured, hey, I could do this for a living.” I rip the top off and quickly dump the Mentos inside and raise the now erupting bottle to my face.

“Om, nom, nom, nom.” I say as the sticky sweet mixture sprays a surprisingly strong stream right at my mouth and eyes. I have to close my eyes as the foaming liquid works its way up my nose, into my mouth, and even some in my ear canal.

It’s over quickly, and as I sputter out the dietary soda and mint candy I hear that Jennifer is laughing again.

“Hah! That’s what you get for making the watermelon explode in my hands.” I’m mentally sighing with relief that happy Jennifer is back, but outwardly I have to pretend I’m annoyed.

“I totally did not make it explode in your hands. It was total chance, and besides. This is way worse. I mean look at me.” My front is so soaked a passerby might have thought I got sprayed by a hose. “I think it might’ve even got in my phone.” With genuine concern for my mobile device I pull out my phone to make sure it’s still okay.

When I hit the unlock button it mercifully comes to life, but I don’t even have time to be relieved. Because I see that I have one text from Ryan. ‘Tell me you’re not dating a client’.

I manage to keep my face from shifting, but not by a very large margin. Jennifer is laughing hard enough that she doesn’t notice I’ve suddenly gone stuff.

“Is it damaged?” She says, drumming her feet on the ground in mirth.

“My ego? Completely destroyed, but the phone is fine.” I slip it back into my pocket and start doing mental damage control.

‘She doesn’t know anything. I’m fine. Ryan doesn’t necessarily know anything. I mean, unless he had me followed me or something. I just need to call him back and explain everything is okay.

“What’s up next skipper?” She asks, starting to settle down. “Are we going to use dry ice to shatter bananas?” It’s a really good idea, but I need to wrap this date up, and wrap it up now.

“Something work related just came up actually, so as lame as it is we’re going to have to pick this up.” I gesture to the mess of soda, watermelon bits, and rubber bands soaked in fruit juice. Jennifer sticks out her lower lips and mock pouts.

“Aww, but I was having fun.” She says. I shrug, trying to make myself seem relaxed, and not like I might be getting fired from my job as soon as this date is over.

“Sorry, duty calls. I can pick it up myself though. It’s fine. You should go home and think about how you’re going to convince me to go on another date.” I start putting caps on bottles as she stands up.

“Oh I’m supposed to convince you? I thought the gentlemen always pursued the lady.” She’s got her fists on her hips and is rocking side to side like a target blowing in the breeze.

“Most gentlemen don’t have their own personal collection of weapons of mass destruction. This sort of special treatment doesn’t grow on trees you know. You got to work for it. So go on home, and think about how you’ll talk me into it.” She slithers back down for a minute and looks at me as I try and focus on cleaning up.

“Well, I’ll need your phone number first.” I quickly spit it out. Then she folds her hands and loses the spunky push pull dynamic. “Then I’ll just let you know that this is genuinely the most fun I have had in quite some time. I don’t want to put anything on you on the first date, but I really needed this right now, and I want to at some point let you know how much this meant to me.” That catches me off guard, and when she leans in and kisses me on the cheek it catches me even more off guard.

You would think that since I had already felt her lips on my forehead twice the cheek wouldn’t make that much difference. I mean. It’s only a few inches away, and it’s still not really a full romantic kiss. Why would it matter? But it does. I’m not sure why. Maybe the skin is more sensitive there, or maybe not. It’s probably the vulnerability that it entailed. She was trusting me with her emotions. She was letting me know that she believed I would buoy her up, and keep buoying her up.

“I’ll call you later yeah?” She says.

“For sure.” I say. I pause my clean up to watch her walk off. She turns to wave goodbye just as she passes out of sight, and I return her wave.

Her meekness right at the end had calmed my nerves about Ryan and his text, once she’s out of sight I hurriedly shove every bit of trash into a large bag I have with me, throw it in a nearby garbage receptacle, and call Ryan. Right before I hit dial I see that his text is ninety minutes old.

“Where are you right now?” Ryan asks.

“Out for a walk.” I say. It’s true enough. I’m walking back to my car as I tell him this. ‘He doesn’t know anything for sure’. I tell myself. ‘Play it cool and you can get out of this’.

“Sure you are, her name was Jennifer right?” I put a hand to my forehead. The thought occurs to me to try and keep up with my paper thin charade, but if I’m going to be seeing her again anyway then it’s sort of pointless. If things went well enough with Jennifer they’d find out eventually. I might as well come clean. Who knows, maybe if I just cut straight to the point Ryan would go easier on me.

“Yeah Ryan, it was Jennifer. The last girl I saw for the day.” I hear a disappointed sigh come through the phone. It’s like that sigh your parents would give you when you handed them a report card with a low grade point average. It was the, ‘you can do better than this’, sigh.

“Look Jason, how long have we been working together?” He asks. I can tell he’s really going to give a speech. If it was going to be a short reprimand he would’ve already laid it out.

“Seven years Ryan, two in high school, four in college, one year post college.” I inform him.

“How the time does fly. I could’ve sworn it wasn’t a day over four, but look Jason. I know you didn’t sign any kind of agreement about this sort of thing. There’s no rule that says you can’t date somebody whose come to see you, but man, it’s real unprofessional. This sort of thing happens very often at all, and you could be out of a job.”

“I know. I know.” I say, hand still to forehead. I find a bench to sit down. This is not the kind of conversation you have while you’re out and walking. “But I didn’t know she was going to come and see me. A friend set us up before she ever came into my office. It felt weird, but things happened so fast and I just wanted to make her happy.” Ryan sighs again.

“Alright Jason, I trust you, but this is not going to make things easy. Why don’t you come in a little early tomorrow and we’ll smooth things out okay?” I feel the conversation move toward a conclusion, and it doesn’t sound like I’m getting fired.

“Sounds good Ryan, sure thing, first thing tomorrow morning, bright and early.” I think I let a little too much happiness into my voice because Ryan sighs, for the third time during this conversation. “You sound too chipper. Did you kiss her?” He asks bluntly.

“No, no, nothing like that.” It’s probably the most adamantly I’ve ever denied kissing a girl. “Totally G rated Disney type stuff.”

“Are you going to see her again?” Ryan asks.

“Uh yeah, I think so.” I tell him.

“When she said goodbye it wasn’t like a polite formal thing. She didn’t use the word friend at any point.” Despite the seriousness of our conversation I’m a little offended that Ryan is doubting my dating skills so much.

“No I’m pretty sure she was into me. I’m expecting a call from her before too much longer.” I hear the fourth sigh of the conversation. He really should work on a more original way to express his disappointment. After the third sigh it really started to lose its expressive power.

“Okay, okay, we can still make this work.” Ryan says. “Just uh, just come in early tomorrow okay?”

“Will do.” I say.

“Alright Jason, I’ll see you tomorrow.” Ryan says.

“Goodnight Ryan.” I move my thumb to end the call when I hear some frantic protest on the other hand.

“Wait! Shoot, shoot shoot, did you tell her what you do? Does she know you’re a shifter?” Ryan asked.

“No, no, we talked a little bit about jobs, but I kind of figured that would be a sensitive topic so I just said I worked in a medical office.” Now I was genuinely offended. I understood that this could be a big deal, but it wasn’t like I was a doctor, and I almost never had repeat patients. In fact, therapists typically came down pretty hard on anyone who went to see a shifter more than once. It could be therapeutic to say goodbye when you missed the chance, but anything else and you were just fooling yourself into thinking that the shifter was actually your friend.

The more I think about it the more Ryan’s reaction seems out of place. He really should have given me enough credit to know I wouldn’t talk about being a shifter, and we didn’t have a doctor patient relationship. It was more like getting an MRI and getting the technician’s number. It probably wasn’t something I should make a habit out of, but it definitely wasn’t as career ending as Ryan was making it out to be.

“Okay, okay, that’s good. I think we’re good. Well, anyway, I’ll see you tomorrow Jason.”

The face of romance

“Goodbye John.” The griever said, touching my forehead to theirs as they left. It had been a long day, their must’ve been a large accident or something. That’s what usually caused a rush like this. A large number of people didn’t get the opportunity to say their final words to a loved one before they passed, and needed me to duplicate their appearance so they could have a chance to get give a proper farewell.

I took a few breaths to clear my head, confirmed with Ryan that this griever had been the last one, and slipped back into my normal appearance. Only, I couldn’t. Everything still seemed fluid. My nose kept changing its mind about what size it wanted to be. My hair shifted between various shades of brown and black. Even my eyes danced from one color to the next. They couldn’t even agree on one color between the two of them. I looked like a Husky with different colored eyes.

A mirror didn’t help. It only seemed to illustrate my problem, allowing me to look on with growing dismay as my facial features seemed to change faster than the numbers on a slot machine.

Facebook, I had a Facebook. There must be a picture of me on there somewhere. I log into my profile and am greeted with Ryan’s face on my profile. It was a joke at the time. ‘ha ha, look Ryan. I’m you!’. It didn’t seem so funny now. I open up my past profile pictures and find that every single one is me playing a joke, and even my tagged photos all look like different people.

Some are promotional from work, others are just me goofing around and showing off for my friends. I think some might be me, but there are too many different faces all tagged as me for me to even begin to sort out which is the real me.

I snap my phone shut. This can’t be real. How can I not remember? I always remembered. I tried to do it by muscle memory. ‘Okay, work is done, griever leaves. I confirm with Ryan that I’m done, and I……’ Nothing, the face I slip into is not even human. ‘Come on, one more time, work is done. I confirm with Ryan and…..’ I’m too preoccupied with my Husky eyes, and give myself a dog’s face.

‘I’ve got a date tonight. How will she even know it’s me? Oh wait, maybe I sent her a face pic.’ I scan through my phone again, hoping that I’ve sent somebody a photo of my face, only to come up empty handed again. Apparently I like playing games with my face through text as well.

I’m starting to panic now. ‘Is there no record of my face anywhere? Driver’s license, of course, I had to take a proper photo for a driver’s license.’ Feeling a sense of relief well up inside me I pull out my wallet and extract my driver’s license.

My stomach feels like it’s going to fall out when instead of a photo I see. Government licensed shape shifter, appearance variable. I forgot that because my face could be anyone’s they had told me I didn’t need to take a photo.

I start to crumble into a ball. If even the government doesn’t have a photo of me, then there really is no hope.

“Hey Jason.” Ryan calls out to me from the next room. “Buddy I know you’re off for the day but we’ve got one more. Are you up for one last griever?”

I rise to my feet. Ryan has already displayed a photo of the loved one on the monitors. Underneath her face is my personal motto. It’s not my face that matters, but the person behind it. I had almost forgotten. It is not my nose or my eyes that make me who I am. It’s my heart and soul, and those never change.

“Absolutely Ryan, it’s not trouble at all. Send the griever in.”

I rapidly scanned the file Ryan attached with the deceased’s photo. It detailed her physical appearance so I could duplicate it, and gave a brief bio on the person coming to grieve. Our research team was fantastic about deciphering information concerning the relationship between the griever and the departed. Many of them were retired law enforcement who could find out a lot about someone without having to badger them for information. It allowed me to know as much as possible about the whole situation without the griever having to be pestered a lot about the obviously delicate subject of the departed.

The griever was a twenty something female, just out of college, and the departed was her roommate. That fact stung me. I knew that meant she was going to be heading back to an empty apartment for the next few weeks, or maybe even next few months.

I examined the scan of her friend and used a mirror to insure I exactly duplicated her features. The griever would be coming in any second, so I absorbed the last few details about how the two had known each other through a collegiate sports team, and shared aspirations to be gym teachers.

One of the researchers managed to find a few sound bites of the departed, and I begin an audio loop of her in my earpiece so I can begin to formulate a way to duplicate her voice. Having her vocal chords certainly helps, but there’s more to speech than just physical structure. The voice is like any instrument. You can’t just have the equipment, you have to know how to play it as well. Thankfully, this was my job, and I am something of a master at duplicating vocal patterns as long as I can have a few sound bites to work from. The door to my office begins to turn. I checked my appearance one last time as the door opens and the young lady walks in.

Oddly enough, Ryan doesn’t send me any photos of the griever. It usually doesn’t matter because I’m not going to duplicate their appearance. It’s no more important for me to know the appearance of the griever than it is for an employer to know the appearance of someone they’re interviewing. That is, unless the person they’re interviewing just happens to be the same person they’re going on a date with later.

When a shape shifter gets surprised they have a tendency to rapidly shift through different appearances. I’m very grateful that I’ve been doing this since high school and have developed the professionalism necessary to maintain my appearance even under extreme emotional duress.

“Hey.” She says. ‘I don’t even know her name.’ I realize. I can’t think of what to say, but I know how to look, and this isn’t about me saying anything anyway. They’re not here because they want to pretend their loved one is still alive. They’re here to say goodbye. So usually I just listen, and adopt a very practiced expression of hope and understanding. I’ve been told by some of the people who trained me that it’s a bit like one of those movies where the protagonist is dying, but doesn’t want anyone to be sad. Right before they go they show you this expression that says ‘it’s going to be okay’. That’s what I aim for, and expressing that very specific emotion is now almost second nature for me.

She’s still standing in the doorway, so I gesture to the seat in front of me. I walk out from behind my desk and sit in another chair facing the one I’ve indicated she should take.

This can be an understandably awkward situation, and I typically have to guide the griever through the first few steps. It’s all about body language, and patience. They’re here to talk, and I’m here to listen.

She shuffles her feet for a bit, glancing nervously at me like she thinks I might bite, but I just keep making gentle eye contact and waiting. I lean back in the chair to communicate my ease to her.

The young lady scrounges up the courage and comes over to sit beside me. She doesn’t say anything right away, but that’s normal. She may have planned something out in her head in advance, but it’s just like giving someone important news in real life. Once you’re actually sitting in front of the person everything you planned on saying tends to go out the window.

“I watered your cactus.” She finally says. I twitch my lips ever so slightly outwards to indicate the hint of a smile. She takes this little bit of active listening as permission to continue. “It’s silly I know. I’m not even sure you’re supposed to water cactuses, cacti, whatever you call them. What am I doing? I don’t even know the plural for it and I’m trying to take care of it.” She snorts a little, finding humor in the ridiculousness of it. I can hear that there’s starting to be some excess mucus building up from her tear ducts that’s being funneled to her nose. “It’s just like when you would go to Europe you know? I would take care of your stuff for when you get back. Which is stupid. I mean, because you’re not coming back.” Her eyes are starting to go red now.

I lean in to the conversation now, folding my hands so that they rest just a few inches from hers. “It’s like if I just keep acting like you’re going to come back then you will, and I know you’re not, but I still feel like you’re going to. Like if I just keep trying to show you that I care then one day I’ll look up and you’ll come walking through the door, shouting ‘sup’ to me as you hang up your lacrosse gear. Just like you did in college.” She wipes away her first tear. “You remember college? Man we were bad, but we had so much fun. I still remember how you spiked the coaches coffee with a ghost pepper. He turned so red, and boy did you run laps.” She laughs a bit again as she wipes away the second tear.

“I just wanted to have more memories like that with you. You were only 23. We were supposed to go to Ireland together, and give embarrassing speeches at each other’s’ weddings.” There’s a steady stream now, and her sentences are punctuated with heavy breathing and snorting sounds as she tries to hold back the mucus that is now starting to come out of her nose.

“I miss you so much.” Her voice cracks on the last word. I take her hands in mine and maintain a firm but gentle pressure as the waterworks really start to flow. She slumps forward and I touch my forehead to hers. There’s some small corner of my brain that starts using the physical contact to stir up some unprofessional feelings, but my need to be here for her squashes it. I’m here for her, not for me.

It’s several seconds before she can calm down enough to continue. I just keep maintaining that steady supportive pressure through her hands as we have our heads pressed together.

“And I know we’re going to have part soon. I mean, I guess that’s the point of this. So we can part ways on friendlier terms?” She pulls her head back so she can make eye contact. The impact that her outpouring of emotion has had on her makeup is substantial, but I keep that supportive gaze on her eyes as she finishes her thought.

“I want you to know that I’ve always thought of you as a sister, and I’m going to be there for your family as they go through this. I’m going to make sure that your memory makes them stronger, that it makes all of us stronger. You won’t be forgotten Sarah. I promise. I’ll carry your memory.” She snorts again, thinking of something funny, but still crying as she thinks of it. “Even when I’m too old and sick to remember it myself. I’ll make other people remember it for me and tell me about you.” She kisses me on the forehead.

“I’ll miss you Sarah. I loved you like my own sister, and I’ll always remember you.” She touches my cheek and takes a big shuddering breath.

I touch her cheek back and say, in Sarah’s voice. “Thank you.”

We sit for several long moments like that. I now have one hand on her shoulder, the other is holding her hand, and I’m looking at her while she’s staring at my shoes. Her breathing is agitated, like she’s trying to catch her breath, but it slowly returns to normal.

After her breathing steadies she releases the hand that’s holding mine and removes my other hand from her shoulder. I fold my hands in front of me as she begins to compose herself. She becomes aware of how wet her face is, and begins wiping it with her hands, and producing handkerchiefs to clean herself up.

There’s a glass of water nearby for such occasions. She takes a few sips and pats herself down with the handkerchief one more time.

Finally, she makes eye contact again. Her eyes look like she’s been pepper sprayed, but no tears are coming. “Goodbye Sarah.” She says. A final tear rolls down her cheek as she bends over to kiss me on the forehead one more time.

She stands up and straightens her clothes out, observing all the moist spots. She hasn’t composed herself enough to be embarrassed by it, and she shouldn’t be embarrassed anyway. Our waiting room is perpetually full of people who are a bit of a mess.

The girl, whose name I still don’t know, walks to the door. She turns the knob, and as she opens it, turns back. I’m still maintaining my appearance and my supportive facial expression.

“Thank you.” She says, this time I know she’s addressing me, and not her friend. I don’t respond verbally, but just give a slight nod of my head to indicate to her that I understand. Reaching for her handkerchief she closes the door.

I exhale loudly, thankful that the walls are soundproof. “What are the odds?” I ask the ceiling. “I should go buy a lottery ticket or something.” I slip into Ryan’s appearance subconsciously. I’m thinking about how she must be thanking Ryan and me for our work.

“Well, I guess this means I’m not taking her to see that new Nicholas Sparks movie.” I had already read the reviews. He managed to kill off all three protagonists in this one.

Then it really hits me. “The date!” I exclaim. I’ve only got two hours to prepare, and I’m going to be stuck in this office for the next twenty to give Ryan time to gracefully clear the waiting room. Clients always felt weird about seeing me afterwards, it stalled out the grieving process somewhat if they saw me as someone other than the person they had lost. So I had to wait until Ryan had a chance to clear everyone out.

I dash over to my computer and start fumbling through the file, desperately trying to find a date that would work. One of her other friends had set us up, so I knew very little about the girl.

Volleyball was clearly out. Come to think of it, they probably did a lot of sports together in college. Best to steer clear of any kind of athletic activity. They were doing reruns of ‘The Land Before Time’. That was Definitely out. Matter of fact, it was a depressing time for movies in general. Best to just skip the movie portion of the date.

Dinner somewhere? That was too cliché, this girl needed something special. I was going to be the first real social interaction she had after dealing with the death of her friend, I really had to go all out for her. If not because I wanted to see her, then just because she really needed to have a good time right now.

It had to be something really far out there, something that would completely get her mind off things. Something that she had never done before and couldn’t possibly be something that her friend or her had ever done together. Video games were too common, so they were out. TV and movies were definitely out, way too normal. Rock climbing was too athletic, dancing was definitely something that her and Sarah had done together at some point. Girls liked doing that kind of thing.

I mentally go through every date that I’ve ever had seen middle school. Every prom, every dance, every football game, every social, every time I have ever showed a girl how to enjoy life, and I come up short. Nothing seems to work.

Then I suddenly remember something me and my guy friends used to do in high school. It was dumb. For sure it was dumb, entirely juvenile. But maybe that’s just what she needed right now. I started to smile a little. There was also no way she had done this with her friend.

I checked my watch, it was almost time for me to make my exit. When Ryan opens the door I take off like a shot, shouting some hurried explanation over my shoulder as I race for the stairs. There’s no time to lose. I’ve got a few stops to make, and a whole lot of rubber bands to purchase.

I hectically dash through several stores to pick up what I need. I’m so preoccupied that my face starts flipping features at one of the checkouts. I don’t notice until I see that the cashier is looking at me like I’m a ghost. She’s reaching for the phone to call security when I pull out my wallet.

“Ma’am, it’s okay. I’m a certified shifter. See, this is my license.” She takes the card and flips it over, shuddering as she does so.

“There’s nothing to worry about. I’m just going to finish checking out and I’ll be on my way.” With a trembling hand she passes back the license to me. Shifters aren’t very common, and usually people only hear about us if they’ve been referred from a therapist.

“Well, um, could you uh, just um.” She fumbled with some of my purchases as she stared gawking at me. “Pick one?” She finally asked.

Feeling very unprofessional I put a hand to my face to help myself concentrate. I became aware of the unfortunate fact that I still didn’t know what my face was, and I was going to have to have a face for her.

Normally I went with people from the office. They were basically family to me, and if anyone mistook me for one of them they usually understood. Or I could just pretend to be one of them, but that was not going to work today. I was going to meet with someone who would have to associate a face with me and no one else.

“Sorry, yes, just hang on a second.” I tell the cashier as I pull out my phone. I need to concentrate. I need to find a face to model and find it quick.

A celebrity was my first thought. They’re all good looking, so that would probably score me some points, but there was the obvious flaw of people recognizing it, and I think the whole ‘well isn’t that a strange coincidence’ line would wear thin after a while. It had to be someone decent looking and somebody neither I nor she would know.

Reddit! Perfect, I would go on /r/fitness, scroll through a few pages to find somebody without much karma, and look for a pic. They would probably be good looking, and in all probability we would never meet him.

I begin furiously searching for a post with a pic of the OP when the cashier says. “How were you going to pay for this?” The cashier asks. I didn’t buy much and I’ve just been standing here, one hand on my face, holding up the line, for some time now.

I finally happen upon the perfect post. He’s about my age, attractive, and I can honestly say I’ve never met him before. He looked vaguely Australian, at least he had the hat for it, so as a yank I was probably pretty safe.

There’s a good face pic in his pull-up tutorial. I quickly memorize his face, forward the page to my gmail, and adopt my new face.

The cashier is gawking again. Even knowing what she was going to see, she still didn’t quite believe it.

I’m tempted to become a cat to really mess with her, but I restrain myself. The cashier doesn’t say the typical ‘thank you for coming here, you have this many reward points’ but. So I just wish her well, and be on my way.

I have to call the girl to let her know the change of plans. I came up with a lame excuse for not going to see the movie and just told her to meet me at a popular nearby park. There was no hint of sorrow in her voice, and she was very understanding about the change of venue.

Good, everything going to plan so far.

I just barely have enough time to get home, change, make sure I’ve got the facial features down so they won’t slip while I’m on the date, and dash right back out the door.

My arrival at the park only precedes hers by a few minutes, and I’ve only just laid everything out when she walks up.

Instinctively I want to wave her over, but then I remember that neither of us knows what the other one looks like. A bit of an oversight on our part. It was a pretty normal thing to exchange photos before meeting, but I guess, me being me, I don’t really think about these things, and she was probably too preoccupied to think about it.

I pretend not to notice her and instead focus on my setup as she walks over. I’m hoping the oddness of my setup will clue her in that I’m her date.

“Hey?” She waves as she gets closer. “Am I supposed to be meeting you?” She asks. I fidget with one of the items and then stand up to return her wave.

“If you’re supposed to be meeting the most dashingly handsome man on the east coast, then yes.” I say.

She laughs. “No actually I’m supposed to be meeting the world’s humblest man for dinner.”

“You’ve come to the right place.” I exclaim, pointing a thumb at my chest. “World’s humblest man at your service.” I give a little bow and stretch out a hand to shake hers. “I’m Jason, glad to meet you.” I want to bite my tongue as soon as the words are out.

I shouldn’t have used my name. She knows that the shifter she just met was a Jason. I’ve given myself away.

“Jason.” She says, shaking my hand. “Nice to meet you. I’m Jennifer.” She looks momentarily like she’s remembering something from a dream she had. “That’s funny. I think I just met a Jason earlier.”

“I’d love to meet the chap.” I say, fumbling for something to distract her. ‘I’ve got to misdirect her. I’ve got to misdirect her’. I glance behind me and realize I’ve laid out the perfect distraction.

“But unless he’s got a few hundred rubber bands and a watermelon I think you’ll find I’m much more interesting company.” I step to the side and gesture at the almost 700 rubber bands and the small sized watermelon I’ve laid out.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” She says, putting her fists on her hips in disbelief. “What on earth are you going to do with several hundred rubber bands and a watermelon?” She asks. I mentally congratulate myself on my distraction. “Make a giant slingshot?”

“Better.” I say, sitting down and patting the seat next to me. She obediently sits down, staring fixedly at the watermelon as if expecting it to suddenly turn into a carriage. “We’re going to make a bomb.”

She tried to stand up when I said the word bomb, but I anticipated this, and caught her elbow.

“Oh come on you big baby, it won’t be that bad.” I could sense she didn’t really want to leave because she sat back down quickly. “Here, it’s easy. You just take a couple rubber bands.” I picked up a few to demonstrate.

“Stretch’em out, and then wrap it around the watermelon.” The rubber bands twanged into place around the middle of the melon making a slight thunking sound.

“See? Easy as pie.” I shove a few rubber bands her direction. She picks up two rubber bands and just like I showed her, twangs them into place around the large green fruit.

“Not so bad.” She says, gaining a measure of confidence.

“Not yet.” I smile maliciously at her, before she can think about that too much I pick up another four bands and slide them into place around the middle of the melon. “9.” I count off. She picks up another two.

“Eleven.” She says after wrapping them around the melon. Soon we get caught up in a contest of who could put the most rubbed bands around the melon. We’re shoving each other out of the way in an effort to put the most on.

“100.” I intone. She doesn’t even blink, just putting on more and more bands.

“200.” I count off after several more minutes. She starts to slow down a bit. “Is this dangerous?” She asks. “203

“You can’t ask that now. 207. We’re already over 200 rubber bands in!”

“210.” She replies. “Seriously though, is this going to hurt?” She asks.

“214. You’re slowing down chica, and you’ll be fine.” She’s still somewhat boisterous as we continue to create our own little WMD, until we get to about 300.

“303.” I count off.

“No really, that’s like a lot of rubber bands. Have you done this before?” She asks, forgetting to count off.

“Have you ever lived before? 310.” She tries to pull back a bit, but we are just starting to get to the point where it’s fun.

“Coward! Be ye woman or be ye melon! 314.” I pass the watermelon to her and she rapidly throws on a measly two bands before quickly passing it back to me.

“Say it!” I shout as I grab four more elastic bands.

“316!” She squeaks.

“320!” I shout, enthusiastically applying my processed rubber to the green ball. We press on as more and more bands pile on.

“Oh my gosh, it’s starting to flatten out. Does it normally do that? 389.” It’s true. The melon has now lost its spherical shape.

“393, and yes, we’re getting close now. Any minute this thing is going to be in your hands, and then suddenly it won’t be.” I do my best to sound like I’m telling a ghost story.

“395.” She spurts out, pulling away from the melon as soon as the rubber bands are on, like it’s a bee that might sting her.

Just before I launch into my grand finale speech, I take just a few heartbeats to take her in. I see in her face excitement, joy, loosely veiled as fear, and hope for what was about to what happen. It was everything that had been missing from her face when last I had seen it. She mistakes my pause for hesitation, and now it’s her turn to goad me on.

“Hey, you got me into this, if I have to keep this up then so do you.” I’ve never been so happy to be taunted by a girl.

“Right you are lass.” I quickly throw on five bands and shove the ticking time bomb to her.

“400.” I declare. We’re getting very near to the end of it. Any rubber band could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. It’s like a game of hot potato now. Each of us applies our few pieces of elastic and then immediately passes the device on to the other person so they don’t get caught in the explosion.

“472.” I count off, by the time the words are out of my mouth Jennifer is already adding her own.

“474.” She spits out.




“486, hey.” She says.

“490.” I cut her off.

“There’s a little juice flowing down the….” One instant the watermelon is in her hand. The next it’s not. There’s a great squelching sound, and she’s gaping at the empty air where the watermelon used to be. Half of the melon is cut quite smoothly in front of her. Like a great cook has neatly sliced it down the middle. The rest of it is in bits and pieces everywhere.

On her face, every bit of worry, every trace of fear, is gone. In that moment she has forgotten all the trauma of earlier, and is now, for just a few fleeting instances, a kid again. She’s staring at the pieces of melon that are scattered around the table and on the nearby grass. I’m just staring at her. I want to make her feel whatever she’s feeling right now for as long as possible.

I wipe a piece of juice from her forehead, and she turns to address me.

“That was awesome!” She starts bouncing up and down like a kid that’s just gotten just what they wanted for Christmas.

“Well then, let’s see if we can go for double or nothing.” I pull a six pack of diet coke from underneath the bench.

“Ever heard of Russian roulette?”

Baby Team Six part two

Side note to the audience, this is still very much over the top and cheesy, that is all, enjoy!

Hey guys, quick side note, went back and did some work with part one. No real major changes, but I decided since the prompt said GAME+ to add achievements, and rambaby is going for a no kill run this life. So if you see bolded text, those are Life Score achievement pops. Enjoy!

“Wake up and smell the cocoa puffs John.” Ryan tells me. “Evil waits for no baby.” I snap awake expecting a delicious and well balanced breakfast. I’m pleasantly surprised to find that there’s no cereal. Ryan has instead prepared my favorite dish for me, victory.

I’m no longer in the barracks. I’m in a gym, laying in the middle of a wrestling mat. Ryan is sitting at a table with a clipboard. Next to him is a line of soldiers that stretches to the doors, and from what I can see, around the building.

“These boys don’t think you’re for real John. You’re going to be heading up this outfit, and it looks like you need to earn some respect so I organized this little meet and greet for you.” As Ryan turns to address the first hulking beast of a man in line I make a mental note that somebody changed my diaper and put me in some pajamas while I was asleep. Ryan still has his same old sense of humor.

“Sergeant Brooker, what is your military experience?” Brooker listed off an impressive list of accommodations, tours of duty, and tier one outfits he had served with. I didn’t pay much attention. His war experience was clearly readable in the many scars that crisscrossed his face. I mentally stored one of the countries he had served in for a future one liner.

“And this man thinks he can take me on?” I ask.

“Yes sir!” The man shouts, staring me down as he does so.

He addressed me as sir? Ryan must’ve told them my rank. I start sucking on my thumb and with my free hand wave at him for to approach. Sergeant Brooker looks at Ryan for confirmation.

“Are you really going to let me have a go at the little potty trained terror?” He asks.

“He’s not potty trained.” Ryan informs sergeant Brooker. “He’s wearing a diaper son. You might want to take that into consideration when you’re taking him down.”

“I am too potty trained!” I shout indignantly, thumb still in mouth.

I just think diapers are more comfortable is all. I only get to wear them without stigma for a few more months, might as well get the most out of them.

“Go get’em sergeant Brooker. Show your commanding officer what you’re made of.” Sergeant Brooker walks slowly into the circle on the mat that indicated the boundary for the fighting area. It wasn’t the confident kind of slow walk, nor even the careful slow walk of someone sizing up an opponent. It was the ‘Somebody is going to stop this any second now right?’ Kind of slow walk. He had challenged me not because he wanted a piece of me, but because he expected someone to decline the fight. He hadn’t anticipated actually getting pitted against a two year old.

Tier one military units are trained for a lot of things, but toddler combat was one of the few things they don’t teach you. He walked right up to me and just stared down at me. I continued sucking my thumb as I looked back up at him. He was obviously considering what the best way to take me down without hurting me was. I was burdened with no such worries.

He apparently thought picking me up would help somehow. As he bent down to pick me up I headbutted him in the throat, if I had done this as an adult, it would have likely caused permanent damage. As a toddler, it merely meant he had a little trouble breathing all of the sudden. I took advantage of this moment to leap onto his shoulders and apply a chokehold with my legs. Sergeant Brooks tapped out after only 3 seconds.

20LS:Knuckle sandwich for breakfast, score a takedown within five minutes of waking up

“Next!” I shout, as I release sergeant Brooks. “You did alright son.” I tell him in my squeaky prepubescent voice. “I would’ve been worried if you punched a baby in the face without any kind of hesitation. They don’t make babies like me in Egypt do they son?” Sergeant Brooks stares at me like he’s seen, well, like he’s just seen a toddler take down an elite career soldier.

“No, no sir they don’t.” He croaks out through his bruised throat.

“Too right they don’t, now scooch to one side lad. I’ve got some of your friends to show off for.”

“Corporal Wallerstedt.” Ryan indicates the next gentlemen to step up, and once again begins his long list of qualifications for this individual. I try and crack my knuckles but it’s really hard to do with my under developed fingers. It’s hard to look intimidating as a two year old, and that innocent thumb sucking technique won’t work twice. These guys know I mean business now. I’m going to have to try harder with this next guy.

As Ryan finishes I wave the guy over and drop into a fighting stance. I’m probably half this guy’s height, and less than third his weight. This was going to take some doing, but I still had one advantage. My opponent had no experience fighting people my size, but I had plenty of experience fighting people his size.

As corporal Wallerstedt steps into the ring he also adopts a fighting stance, and he has enough respect to bow to me. It’s a sign he has respect for my skill, and I return the bow, and thus the respect. It’s not this guy’s fault he’s about to get owned by a two year old. They just don’t train people for that.

Wallerstedt tries to use his reach to his advantage by throwing out a sidekick. It’s a good idea, but he doesn’t count on me rolling under his leg and jabbing my shoulder into his knee. He is off balance and surprised by the speed of my roll. He collapses onto his front, and I pin his right arm behind him.

This is a mistake as he’s so much stronger than me he just pulls his arm away, but I correct quickly and throw another leg chokehold when he tries to stand up. I feel uncreative using the same takedown, but with my weak arms it’s really my only way of forcing these guys to tap out.

“Looks like you just got baby sat.” I inform Wallerstedt from on top of his head as soon as he taps out. “I could do this all day. Keep them coming Ryan!” Ryan is grinning like a fool as he waves up the next soldier.

“I’ll set them up John. You knock them down.” After I had taken down sergeant Brooks a few of the soldiers in line had left their places and come to sit with their recently beaten comrade. After I had taken out the corporal Wallerstedt about a quarter of them left their spots in line. Half were remaining after I felled the third tier one operative, about a quarter were left after the fourth fight, and by the time I had bested the sixth person, who was one of the outfits female operatives, everyone had sat in a circle around the gym mat.

“Ladies and gentlemen.” Ryan announced. He put down his clipboard and began to walk around the group. I stood at attention and watched him as he made his way around the circle.“As you can see the reports were accurate. You are addressing the nearest thing to the physical embodiment of martial prowess that has ever walked the face of the earth. This little baby, as so many of you called him the morning during the debriefing is in fact captain Francis Timothy Walker reborn. We don’t know how or why, but as you’ve clearly seen, no other mind could’ve found a way to take down not one, but six tier one operatives each with several years of experience under their belt.”

“Some of you thought this assignment was a joke. It isn’t. It’s deadly serious.” I happened to be checking to make sure my diaper was still dry at this point. I quickly pretended to be dusting my legs off. “You were assembled because you come from the elite of the elite, the best of the best as the saying goes. We found that John Doe was the only man fit to lead you into combat. The mission this unit was assembled for is of the utmost secrecy and importance. Ladies and gentlemen, we’re about go where no baby, and no tier one operative has gone before. Dismissed.” The soldiers quickly and efficiently jog out of the building at the final order from Ryan.

“You seem to be in an inspiring mood.” I tell Ryan as he joins me in the middle of the mat.

“I wasn’t exaggerating John. There’s been some troubling information that’s come up through the intelligence community. Someone is planning something big, something bold. Something that is designed to cause so much chaos that someone very important will get an itchy nuclear trigger finger. We need your team to find out what it is.”

“That’s who those guys were that came after me this morning?” I ask.

“Possibly, we’re still interrogating them, but they’re not cracking. These guys are good. They very well could be behind it, but we can’t know for sure. Walk with me John.” He says, leading me into a nearby hallway. “We’re going to get you kitted out for your mission.” We go through a few security checkpoints guarded by more soldiers, and into what I can only describe as a cross between a toy shop and a gun store.

“What on earth is all this?” I ask pointing at a wrack of baby supplies such as diapers and pacifiers. Ryan being the learn by doing kind of guy picks up a light blue pacifier and hands it to me.

“Put it in and hold your nose.” I’m perplexed, but Ryan and I have been through more operations that almost got us killed then most people have been to the dentists. Which I guess isn’t much for some people, but the point is I trust the guy, so I put the pacifier in and plug my nose. Ryan throws something at my feet that produces a cloud of green gas. He has strategically taken several large steps back so the gas doesn’t hit him.

“Take a breath through the pacifier.” Ryan advises me. I oblige and too my surprise find that I haven’t just inhaled a large lung full of ominous green gas.

“That will filter any gas that isn’t corrosive enough to cause damage to your eyes.” The gas gets sucked into the ceiling by some ventilation system. I remove the pacifier and inspect it.

“I’m impressed. I never would’ve guessed that this thing doubled as a partial gas mask.” It looks exactly like an ordinary pacifier, and believe me, I’ve seen a lot of pacifiers. My mom has not understood which cereal I wanted to eat for breakfast so many times.

“It also comes in tactical colors.” Ryan informs me. “Not that we think you’ll want one of those. The whole point is to blend in.” He walks back to the table and picks up an ordinary looking bottle full of milk.

“I don’t suppose I can drink this?” I ask as he tosses it back to me.

“I don’t think you should, give the lid three good bites and then toss it that way.” He points towards a sealed steel bunker at the end of the room. I oblige him and give the lid a few good chomps. I’m somewhat mournful as I toss the bottle to Ryan. It’s past my breakfast time.

Ryan chucks the bottle into the bunker at the end of the room. The bottle sails through the only open door, which promptly slams shut behind him. No sooner does it click shut then the whole stainless steel room lifts off the ground and comes crashing down into several different pieces.

“That room had walls of solid steel three inches thick and was cryo-welded to the floor.” It now looks like a giant stepped on it. Or like a very angry toddler kicked it over.

“So rambaby wasn’t enough. You had to turn him into 00diaper.” I comment sarcastically to Ryan. He was grinning like a fool again.

“You should’ve seen the faces on the government contractors when we asked them to design this stuff. We spent an entire two hour meeting convincing them that this wasn’t a joke and we actually wanted Kevlar footy pajamas.” Kevlar footy pajamas, the Navy SEAL in me rejoiced at the idea of fully body Kevlar protection. It would provide excellent protection from all manner of bullets and bladed weapons. The special operative in me loved the idea of having minimized weak spots. The little kid in me rejoiced at the idea of pajamas that would keep you super warm when you went to bed, and had those little plastic things on your feet that let you slide around on linoleum floors.

“Do they come with dinosaur designs?” I asked, hopping up and down, scanning the shelves for the mystical pajamas. “I really want raptor ones. My mom got me triceratops footy pajamas for my birthday and you know they were cool and all, so I couldn’t get mad because she really put a lot of thought into it, but I really want raptor pajamas.” Ryan put a hand over his heart like what I said hurt him.

“What kind of tier one operative walks around in triceratops footy pajamas? They aren’t even a predator.” He reached up onto a high shelf and pulled out a set of velociraptor footy pajamas that were just my size. “We also have T. Rex as a backup.” I give off a little squeak that would have very likely undermined my authority with the troops, and practically trip over myself taking them from his hands and slipping into them.

“Normally I would dramatically shoot you at this point to demonstrate their bullet stopping potential, but your skin is really sensitive to bruising and I’m not sure your bone structure can withstand a shot without fracturing. I mean, your pajamas will stop bullets, at least anything at or below a 5.56 round, but it’s still going to do a lot of damages.”

“So for now it would be best if I didn’t get shot.” I surmise. Ryan shrugs “If you can.” I spy something out of the corner of my eye. I slide over on my footy pajamas and point.

“Please tell me that those are real.” There on the low hanging shelf next to some ninja stars that are stained green is a box of my favorite O shaped cereal.

“Well, sort of, you remember that green smoke I threw at you when you first came in here? All I did to generate that cloud was throw a few of those at your feet.” I open the box and carefully pull out a handful of multi-colored cereal.

More in the comments

“Oh yeah, I was wondering about those.” I pick one up and twirl it between my fingers. Despite the fact that the last time I did this I was three feet taller the piece of metal flits easily from finger to finger.

“I’d be careful with those. They’re tipped with poison that’ll drop someone twice your size almost before they feel the pin prick, so be careful with them. I’m not 100% sure how your small physiology will respond to that volume of toxin. An adult will process it out of their system fast enough to avoid any lasting damage. I don’t know if the same can be said for you.” I carefully replace the ninja star and look around the rest of the bizarre armory.

“I’m noticing that there aren’t any guns.” I say.

“Yes, we did some testing and concluded it would be impractical to give you firearms for several reasons. First, they would draw too much attention. Footy pajamas are normal for a two year old, and even ninja stars aren’t an abnormal toy for little boys, but guns, even if we tried to make them look fake. They would be too obvious. Rifles were completely out of the question, and even if you paint it and stick on one of those orange pieces, a firearm still looks like a firearm. To add on to that, they’re too large for you to handle smoothly, we would have to give you lower caliber rounds, and very downsized pistols in order for you to be able to shoot them with any degree of accuracy. All in all, the take down power of the kind of pistol we might be able to give you wasn’t worth the attention it would draw. We thought it would be best to give you a number of light weight options for stealthy takedowns. After all, half the point of you being you is that people don’t check babies for dangerous weapons.”

During Ryan’s rather longwinded explanation about the lack of guns I inspect my footy pajamas more thoroughly. I notice that there are several pockets that look as if they were designed to hold some of the gear laid out here. There’s a compartment for the pacifier, one for the ninja stars, and one that looks just right for a cereal holder.

I fill up a container with cereal while he’s talking and stow it in the appropriate pocket.

“I know you’re eager to get on to training.” Ryan says. “But we figured we would start with Close Quarters Combat as it’s going to be the skill that has changed most with your new body.” “I agree.” I say, slipping a few ninja stars into side pockets. “I don’t expect to be training with these anytime soon as I am sure I’m still fairly skilled in their use.” I throw one of the ninja stars and it imbeds right in the middle of the forehead of a dummy that was setup about ten meters away. I had to put a lot of arc on it because my wrist is not that strong, but that just makes my point even more thoroughly. “However I do expect that those bad guys are going to come swooping in at any moment. If they’re half as deadly and well networked as you make them out to be then they’re probably staging an attack on this place as we speak.”

“You underestimate us.” Ryan says, slightly offended by my statement. “Still, you’re right. We learned a long time ago that you should always take your opponent seriously and not get too confident in your own power. Besides, everyone else on this base is either armed or could be armed in moments.” Ryan had been carrying two pistols on him the entire time. I stow the pacifier in the last available pocket and zip everything up.

5LS: Silent but deadly, acquire your new stealth gear

I wonder if there was somewhere I could go see my total score. “Ready for breakfast, I mean training, ready for training.” I correct myself. Ryan laughs.

“We’ve got you covered old friend. It is past your breakfast time isn’t it? Let’s go hit the mess hall.”

The mess hall is practically empty when we show up, just a few guys who were on duty during the morning meal grabbing a quick bite before heading back to their bunks for some shut eye.

Ryan grabs bacon, eggs, and toast. I’ve been thinking about milk and cereal all morning, and find that someone has conveniently left out a bowl with milk and orange juice on the side. I thank the chef who no doubt had the foresight to provide an age appropriate meal, and sit down with my old comrade.

“Are we still using that old deal?” I ask Ryan as I pour milk over my cereal and start stuffing my face.

Ryan is meticulously cutting up his food into bite size chunks.

“You mean the one where we don’t talk about current missions during meals? Absolutely, nobody else on this base is going to do anything but talk about missions. Both of us need someone to talk about other stuff with.”

“Awesome!” I’m relieved that it’s not going to have to be all fate of the world all the time with Ryan. “On that note, how did they drag you into this? You retired a few months before I did. You’ve been out of the game a while man, how did they get you back in?” Ryan takes a few measured bites of his eggs.

“Isn’t it obvious? I came back for you John. When they told me that they had created a new and exciting outfit I turned them down. It wasn’t until they mentioned you that I took them up on it. I knew you would want a friend in all of this, and who better than the man who remembered to bring the extra flashbangs on the smash and grab ops because he knew you tended to leave them behind.”

“That was one time alright? Can’t a guy make a mistake? And what about you, mister forgets to turn his safety off when he’s sighting his rifle? Besides, we were snipers. We weren’t supposed to get close enough to use flashbangs. Remember when we took down that African warlord? The one who was killing all of those babies? Didn’t need flashbangs then did we?” A few soldiers on a nearby bench hear me mention this op. One of them leans over to ask me a question.

“You guys were on the golden lion op? I heard that you had to crawl through a snake infested jungle for two days to get into location for the shot.” Technically speaking we probably shouldn’t be discussing classified ops, but my existence was probably officially denied by the government, and Ryan was old enough that most of his enemies probably thought he was dead anyway. What were they going to do? Fire us?

“You heard right soldier.” Ryan responds. “John here even had a python crawl over him.”

“And on top of that we had to take the shot with old Russian tech rifles from the second world war so they wouldn’t know it was an American job. Speaking of Russian tech, you remember the Siberian op Ryan?”

As we start swapping old war stories soldiers slowly start to congregate around us. I notice as more and more of them start asking questions that they are not just Americans. It seems most of the NATO countries and a few of the non-NATO American friendly countries have sent representatives here as well. I’m particularly glad to see some Swedish troops in the ranks. Winter warfare is my Achilles heel and there are none better than the swedes at doing black ops in the snow.

Me and Ryan talk about everything from basic training to selection for the tier one groups, to active duty, to retirement. I’ve had these memories swimming around in my head for two years and it’s great to finally get to share them with people who understand and appreciate them. The other soldiers join in with stories of their own in a giant story swap that would probably make any intelligence officer pull his hair out. It’s great to hear what the community has been up to since my retirement and rebirth. When the time for breakfast has passed and we have to head back to the gym for CQC training I’m feeling rejuvenated both body and soul. It’s going to be a good day.

When we enter the gym I find that the mat is surrounded by six of the largest soldiers that I’ve seen yet.

“You did well against those guys this morning.” Ryan says, taking up a position on the outside of the mat. “But there were two major problems with your fighting style. First, you were defensive and reactionary. If you had made the first move on those guys they would’ve thrown you around the mat. Second, you could only take them on one at a time. We’re going to be dropping you into some hairy situations and you need to be able to handle yourself against large groups of combatants.” He indicates the men standing around the mat. “We will start with just six today.” Just six he says, any one of these guys was at least triple my body weight. If we were going by body mass the equivalent challenge for adult me would have been a crowd of 24 equally sized men. This was going to be fun.

“We’ll start with two at a time and work up from there. James, Phillip, have a go at him. You saw what he was capable of this morning, you don’t need to hold back. John, would you care to relieve yourself of your personal arsenal? This is unarmed combat.” I remember the men breaking into my parent’s house. How much easier would it have been to just throw a handful of knock out gas pellets at them. I’m loathe to relinquish my personal weaponry so soon after having acquired it, but I dip into my pockets and reluctantly pull out the equipment. It’s fortunate that I did, at that exact moment there are a series of rolling explosions that shake the base. A siren wails and a voice comes over some loud speakers.

“Full alert, full alert, battle stations, base under attack. Repeat, full alert, base under attack, battle stations.” The six men bolt for their weapons which they’ve left at the side of the gym and Ryan pulls out his pistol as he shoots a question I don’t hear into a walkie talke he’s produced from a back pocket.

“John!” He shouts. “It looks like your first mission is going to be a little sooner than we anticipated.” I place my pacifier in my mouth and ready a handful of cereal.

“It’s play time, let’s go make some friends.” The six gentlemen who were going to be my assailants moments before report back in full combat gear.

“Ready for orders sir.” They intone in unison.

“You’re up John.” Ryan says, drawing a pistol and falling into position behind me. “Show these guys that all they’ve done by coming here is to wake a sleeping baby and fill him with rage.” I ready a ninja star and take position at the front of the troops.

“Gas masks on, roll up this mat and you three take up positions behind it. You other three take up defensive positions on the sides of the gym. Ryan, you’ve got the door we just came from. Stay out of sight and take down anyone who tries to flank us. These guys are coming for me. You can bet they know where I am so you can bet they’re going to be here any second. Let’s roll out the welcome wagon boys.” The troopers are good, by the time I’ve finished giving orders they’re already in position. I take up position behind the mat with them.

“Tangos at the door.” One of the troopers whispers to me.

“Copy, non-lethal shots if you can. We want live prisoners to get information if at all possible.”

“Roger.” The soldiers confirm with me silently. I toss a handful of pellets at the door so that when the enemy squad breaks in they are immediately dazed by the cloud of green smoke. The troopers are efficient as always. Quick controlled shots from the men behind the mat drop the door breachers, and the men on the side quickly close in to cuff them. The enemy is down before they ever get to fire a single bullet.

“Stow them against the wall and return to your positions. You can bet there will be more of these guys. See that Ryan?” Ryan doesn’t respond.

“Ryan come in.” Still no response. I turn around just in time to see two men in combat gear that is all too familiar to me at this point.

“Flank!” I shout as they bring their rifles up. I loose two ninja stars just in time. They drop, and their buddies behind them are so surprised that they don’t see the next two coming. I only brought four, so the fifth guy bringing up the rear gets a swift kick to the knees and a chokehold applied with more force than is strictly speaking necessary.

“Ryan!” I shout, ducking into the hallway where the five men have come from. Ryan is slumped against a wall, a half dozen other enemy combatants sprawled at his feet.

“Sorry John.” He croaks. He’s in a bad way.

“Medic!” I shout. “We need a medic!” I’m at his side in a heartbeat, trying desperately to apply pressure on his wounds, but there’s just too many.

“Medic!” I shout again. One of my own squad comes through the door already producing bandages and tourniquets.

“It’s alright John.” Ryan says. “I had a good run. You know I did.”

“Medic!” I shout a third time, even though the medic is already at my side and treating wounds as fast as he can.

“Got something to ask you old friend. Will you write the letter to my wife and kids? I want them to hear from someone who knew them, and who knew me. I don’t want some generic government goodbye letter. I want it to be personal. It’ll really help them pull through. Will you do that for me John?” His voice is so weak I can barely hear it. I grab one of his hands and hold on because it’s all I can think to do. I hear gunfire from the gym behind us, but I’m not paying attention.

“Absolutely, you know I will Ryan. I’ll. I’ll. I’ll write them the best last letter that ever was.” Ryan nods and closes his eyes.

“Go do what you do best John.” He says, and then his hand goes limp.

Life long friends 100LS: Be the best friend a man ever had

Little kids often only have enough space in their heads for one emotion at a time, and with those words Ryan kicks out all sadness and replaces it with a burning desire to go repay the fools who’ve done this to my oldest friend.

I rush back to the gym, ninja stars and gas pellets at the ready, to find that the men I left there have already cleaned everything up.

“To the door! We’re going on the offensive. Stack up!” The troops comply and within seconds we’re bursting through the door and onto the base. It’s a sorry sight with many buildings burning and casualties from both sides everywhere, but no guns are out. Teams are sweeping to the base perimeter, but no one is firing a shot. There are no enemy helicopters and troop transports pulling in. The fighting is already done.

“No! No it can’t be done already!” I shout. My troops have dutifully take cover in nearby positions. They’re ready for a second attack that will not come.

“This isn’t fair!” I shout. There should be enemies for me to take my vengeance out on. It can’t be done already.

“Sir, it’s for you.” One of the troops hands me his headset.

“Thanks trooper.” I say, putting it on.

“Ready to take the fight to them?” A scrambled voice comes over the headset.

“Just tell me where they are.”

Baby Team Six part one

Book project Number 3! This is not the mysterious third book project I keep alluding to. That is now project number four. I’ll say briefly that the mystery project is now to the point where I’m looking for an agent. Now then, this is a new comedy project that just started today due to a very inspiring prompt over at reddit.com/r/writingprompts. It’ll be five parts, and probably a bit shorter than unhooked. Parts will come out every 3-4 days, with the first part coming out this Saturday at about noon EST. Now then onto Baby Team Six part. Fair warning, I am a big fan of cheesy action movies.

After death a text window pops up: Welcome to new game+. You will begin you life anew, but retain all knowledge, skills, currency, and items you choose to carry over. The challenge and enemies will be adapted to your level accordingly.

Life was okay until I turned two. The body and brain can’t utilize past knowledge much before then. But once I turned two, oh boy.

“Jerry somebody’s broken in.” I heard my mom whisper to my dad.

What? I don’t remember our house ever being broken into. And my parents would’ve told me about that at some point for sure. Our family didn’t keep secrets like that.

“I told you I should’ve gotten that Glock.” My dad whispers back. I can hear voices downstairs now. Several of them, and several bolts being pulled back to chamber rounds in what sounds like are very large guns.

“We’ve got to protect the baby.” My mom tells my dad.

No, this baby’s got to protect you. I roll out of my bed and hit the ground. Thankfully being a baby I am very light weight and therefore make very little noise. I run to the top of the stairs before my dad can open his door to sneak over to my room.

I move noiselessly to the base of the stairs and peak around the corner.

A normal person would be scared at a group of thugs stacking up on the stairwell like a SWAT team. A normal person would’ve probably begged for their life when they saw all the assaults rifles, shotguns, and body armor. A normal toddler would’ve wet themselves and passed out. But a normal toddler also didn’t do three tours in Afghanistan.

“It’s him!” The first one shouts, bringing his gun to bear. I’m too weak to fight him directly so I dive under him, pulling the pin on one of his grenades as I duck under.

“Don’t let…” I cut the second guy off with a strategic punch to his reproductive organs, and sprint into a nearby bathroom, jumping into the tub and covering my head just in time to hear the grenade go off.

This is going to be an interesting childhood.”

Life was rough enough as a SEAL team six member the first time around. This was going to be a challenge worthy of the world’s deadliest toddler. The time for resting in my cradle and dreaming of Barney was over. The time for sleeping in safe houses and dreaming of bullets had begun.

I stood up and dusted myself off as I hopped out of the tub. My parents were not made of the tougher stuff that I had been created from. They were still upstairs, no doubt wondering if they were being bombed. A hand grenade explosion inside is loud enough to damage you’re hearing. I stride through the aftermath of the handheld explosive and take note of my fallen foes.

They bear no insignia, but there equipment is a little too advanced for just a random group of thieves. I’d finish going through them later. My parents were probably terrified out of their minds right now.

There’s still some smoke from the explosion whisping about me like a cloak when I stride into my parents room. They’re cowering underneath the bed. I can’t blame them. They probably thought the Germans had come back for thirds from Uncle Sam.

I knelt down next to the bed, sticking my head underneath. I make eye contact with my quivering father and while the smoke continues to drip off me I tell him.

“Nobody’s breaking in while this baby’s onboard. Now come out here. You have to start cooking up a cover story. Nobody’s going to believe someone in diapers could do so much damage.”

“Well…..” My mom mumbles.

“I told you the gas fire was an accident. I totally know how to sauté lobster. My fine motor function just hadn’t kicked in yet.” My mom shrugs, clearly not buying my story, but they both exit the bed.

They don’t know about my skills. They can’t possibly know. It broke my mom’s heart the first time I left the military, and I had been eighteen at the time. It would kill her to send off her child before he turns three. And my dad, I wasn’t sure how he would react, but I couldn’t imagine having a son with lethal hands for weapons that still needed diapers some days could be good for his mental health.

Until tonight they had no idea of what I was capable of. Now they would have to learn fast to stay alive.

“What could we possibly tell the police about the men downstairs?” My dad asks.

“Gas leak maybe?” I provide. “We do have a gas stove.”

“It’s in the kitchen though, and they’re in the hallway. At least, I think that’s where the sound came from.” She scowls, suddenly remembering how old I was. “What on earth was that anyway? And what’s all this about a cover story. What happened? Why aren’t you in bed young man?” She puts her hands on her hips in an attempt to give me a stern motherly look. It doesn’t quite have the desired affect.

“Evil never sleeps, and neither should I.” I tell her. “I was defending this castle from the malicious men who lurk in the night. I am not what you think I am. I…” I’m cut off by the sound of the phone ringing. There are now sirens in the distance, but I expected sirens. I didn’t expect anyone to call at this early hour of the morning. We didn’t have any close friends or relatives nearby. Who could possibly be calling us?

“Hello?” My father asks. My mother is still trying to glare at me. Although her heart isn’t in it anymore. Her fists have slid off her hips and she keeps glancing worriedly over at my father.

“What? Yes, he’s here.” My father, looking as if lady fate herself has personally smacked him, hands me the phone.

“This is the doomsday baby. To whom am I speaking?” The person on the other responds through one of those voice scramblers that makes your voice sound super low and intimidating. Hearing it makes me acutely aware of the fact that my own voice won’t change for at least another eight years.

“Who I am is not important. Who I represent is what’s important, and I represent some very powerful people.”

“Like Disney!?” I ask excitedly. I wish I could say I was faking my enthusiasm. My parents has used the Lion King to lull me to sleep.

“Umm. No.” The voice sounds momentarily unsure of itself. “I represent the combined power of the United Nations. There’s no time to explain anything. Those boys who tried to take you out tonight will have backup rolling in any second. We’re sending a chopper to you, but it won’t get there in time. You need to move your family. Now, and ditch the tracking device in your diaper.” Who would put a tracking device in a diaper, that was low. I reach and locate the deivce, thanking my lucky stars that I hadn’t drunken any water before bed. I pull out the blinking red device.

How had my mom missed this thing when she was changing me? I must’ve taken every ounce of action here out of them when I had come into the world. I throw it on the floor and stomp it until the light goes out.

“On it.” I tell the man on the other line.

“Good luck Rambo baby. We’ll see you on the other side.” The line goes dead, as does the power to the house. I look out the window and see that even though the sun is still down the streetlights are off.

They must’ve cut the power to the whole block. The sirens are real close now. I can see flashing lights in the distance. *Oh no, the police are going to get caught in the cross fire.

“Get to the attic!” I order my parents, dashing for the stairs. “There are more coming!”

“Yes…….Dear.” My mom says. I have no time to verify that they are following my instructions. I run to the kitchen and dig through the cabinets. I know what I’m looking for has to be here. Ah, perfect. They won’t know what hit them. I take two bottles of chemicals and start filling some water balloons with their contents, making sure to memorize which water balloon holds which chemical. I fill about ten before I hear the police pull in out front. I’m not sure this will be enough, but I’m out of time. I throw the water balloons into two small plastic buckets. The kind that are used to build sand castles at the beach, tuck a knife into my diaper, and make for the door.

The officers have just formed a preliminary defensive pereimeter around my house. They’re behind their cars. Their guns are out, and one of them is about to turn on a microphone.

“Get back in your cars!” I shout. “They’re coming!”

“Just make it so us.” The man with the microphone says, his voice booming through the small cul-de-sac. “We’ll protect you from them.

“No you fools.” I say, almost to the line of cars. “I’m here to protect you!”

Just as I say this I reach the line of vehicles. Two black vans come tearing up the street, jack knifing about ten meters from our position. The side doors roll open as the police turn to see who the newcomers are.

They’re greeted with the rattle of automatic weapons as a couple of floor mounted belt fed LMGs open up on the unsuspecting officers. The men in uniform dive for cover as a hail of led thunders down on their cars. Thankfully they’re well enough trained to know that the engine block is their best protection, and a quick once over of the police response tells me most have suffered only minor wounds.

I place the two buckets of water balloon chemical bombs in front of the officer with the microphone.

“You need to throw these at the van!” I shout over the roar of the AK-47s that have joined in with the LMGs.

“What!” He shouts back. “Kid this is no time for a water balloon fight!”

“These aren’t ordinary water balloons!” I yell. “Besides, it’s not like your troopers are throwing anything else at them!” It’s true. All of his officers are still bunkered down behind their vehicles, waiting for a lull in the oncoming fire. I don’t think a single retaliatory bullet has been fired. “You need to throw them because my young arms can’t throw that far!”

“Alright kid.” He reluctantly reaches down and picks one up.

“Make sure you throw them all at the same spot!” I yell as he pitches the first one. It splatters right in front of the LMG of the left vehicle to no effect. The LMG gunner notices him and sends a series of bullets right through the spot that the policemen’s head had occupied moments before.

“It didn’t work!” He yells. “And I nearly got my head taken off!”

“Just one more!” I yell, handing him a balloon filled with the second kind of chemical. “This balloon has a different chemical that the first one needs to react!” He stares at the balloon in his hand. I can tell he’s wondering if it’s worth it. The last one had nearly cost him his life. Why should he try again?

“How old are you?!” He asks.

“Two!” I hold up two fingers in the peace sign like my mommy taught me. That convinces him. He should try again because no ordinary two year old fills water balloons with deadly chemical agents.

The officer pitches the second water balloon right where the first one landed, and this time he’s rewarded for his efforts. A large plume of orange smoke rises as soon as the second balloon splashes onto the remains of the first.

A cloud of the poison materializes, but the LMG gunner whose van the cloud is appearing in front of, doesn’t notice until it reaches his face. He doubles over coughing after only inhaling a couple of breaths. The gun he was manning goes silent.

“Throw the rest!” I shout. The officer sitting next to me needs no encouragements. I hand him balloons, and he throws as fast as he can. It’s a miracle he doesn’t get mowed down by the remaining LMG, or the squad of troops who have taken up positions in the surrounding cars.

The entire section of street the two vans are parked in soon becomes blurry behind a haze of orange smoke. Enemy gunfire beings to die down, and friendly gunfire rises to fill the gap. The officers begin peeking over the hoods of their car and taking potshots at the enemy.

“Run for it!” I hear one of the enemy shout. Many foes lay sprawled out on the ground, and when the vans speed off, they leave many of their comrades behind.

As the officers begin to cheer. I grab the nearest officer by the belt to get his attention.

“What is it kid?” He asks.

“That’s a deadly chemical spill down there. You guys need to evacuate these houses and get those downed men to a hospital as soon as possible. The gas will soon dissipate and you need to get chemical response teams here to neutralize it.” The officer looks confused that a two year old is telling him this, but one look at the downed men where the vans used to be kicks him into gear. Some of them are coughing, but if any of them are going to survive the police need to act quick. They may be bad guys, but they’re still people. They also happen to have highly valuable information about whose sending these hit squads.

As ambulances speed onto the scene, and the police begin resuscitating the downed hitmen, I hear a chopper on approach. The lead officer walks over to me as the chopper appears, circling overhead.

“Kid, who are you?” He asks. Now that his blood pressure was returning to normal after the firefight he was fully comprehending just how crazy it was that a little kid ran out of a house with chemical bombs and instructed pinned down officers in their use. Two year olds should be worrying about how to pronounce the word ‘chemicals’, not throwing them at people, and in lethal doses to boot. To say nothing of the fact that this little kid had maintained a cool head under the withering fire of multiple assault rifles and a brace of high powered Light Machine Guns.

The chopper descends, and someone throws a rope ladder out of the side. I grab a hold of it and begin to be pulled skyward. I cast an eye on the remaining pockets of orange chemical fumes as I give my response.

“I’m the baby whose gas does more than just stink.” The officer either can’t think of a response, or I don’t hear it over the chopper’s whirring blades. I give him a salute as I ascend the ladder and pile into the waiting helicopter.

There are several highly armed men and women inside who throw me respectful salutes as I slide into my seat.

“You guys must really want me alive.” I say over the headset that’s handed to me.

“Yes sir.” The man across from me barks. He’s at least twenty times my age. The grey is starting to show in his stubble.

“So you’re not going to believe I’m just some cuddly kid that was at the right place at the right time?” I throw on my most innocent face.

“Sir, we know you didn’t need the police to handle those terrorists.” The older man replies curtly.

“Terrorists you say?” I scratch my chin. “What would terrorists want with me?”

“HQ on the line.” A female voice pipes in. It looks like it’s one of the pilots.

“Patch them through.” I say, tapping the appropriate button on my headset.

“Glad to have you with us Mr. Doe.” A scrambled voice tells me over my headset.

“I don’t know any Mr. Doe. You must have the wrong number.”

“I’m quite certain I telephoned the proper top secret stealth chopper whose existence I am legally bound to deny. My mother taught me to always check the numbers twice.” The scrambler isn’t strong enough to mask the sarcasm.

Stealth chopper? This thing was loud enough to wake up everybody on the block. Then again, the non-stealth military choppers I was used to would’ve woken up everybody in half the town.

“Well you better check again because I don’t know any Mr. Doe.” I retort.

“There won’t be, because you don’t exist yet. We’re in the process of changing your name to John Doe. It should be finalized within the hour.”

“You can change my name?” I ask. “Who are you guys?”

“We can do many things Mr. Doe, or shall I call you Rambo baby? Well no matter. It would be careful to list the things we can’t do Rambaby. We are powerful people. It’s not safe enough to discuss who we are over this radio connection, but all will be revealed as soon as you land.”

“This is all a little sudden. You guys couldn’t have called a few days ahead to my parents. Just a courtesy call, ‘Hey, Mr. and Mrs. Rambaby what’s your schedule like Tuesday? Free? Excellent, you’re going to be assaulted by some terrorists and you might want to make them snacks or something’. It’s the sort of thing polite people do.” My comment earns some snickers form the soldiers in the helicopter.

“Polite people don’t use voice scramblers and send noisy choppers into the middle of sleeping neighborhoods to wake up people’s dogs. We prefer the term professional Mr. Doe, and like I said, all will be explained to you as soon as you land. I’m surprised you haven’t asked why we’ve changed your name for you though. That was what this call was about.”

“To protect my family right? The same reason why Batman doesn’t go by his first name. Although now that you mention it, why didn’t you just give me a codename? As I recall it was you who named me Rambaby.”

“Because codenames are for people who go home to families. New names are for people who will be associated with us more permanently. Meditate on the meaning of that for the remainder of your trip.” The headset switches back to the channel that the helicopter crew is usuing, and I can hear the tail end of a conversation about me they’ve been having.

“Like the grim reaper but in a family friendly package.” The first female pilot says.

“And cuddly.” The second one adds.

“You should set her up with your niece.” The first one suggests.

I was married in my last life, to a woman. We had four children, all of them were biological, and all of them were mine. Intellectually I am acutely aware of the biological and emotional benefits of a close relationship with a female. However, developmentally, I still think girls are icky.

“What do you think about dinosaurs?” I ask the man with the stubble across from me in an effort to change the subject so I don’t have to hear any more about girls. The adult type girls were fine, like the pilots. It was the ones closer to my age I didn’t want to hear about.

“Coolest things ever to walk the planet.” He responds without missing a beat. “Got a favorite?” He leans forward, propping his elbows up on the rifle that’s laying in his lap.

“Velociraptor.” I say. “They’re so quick and smart. And those claws! Raptor claws have got to be the most awesome dinosaur fossils ever. I wanted one for my birthday but my parents said I was too little. I’d poke an eye out or something.”

“Good old raptors, nice choice, but I think you have to go with the king.” He presses his elbows against his chest and waves his hands around to simulate really short arms.

“T. Rex?” I ask.

“Absolutely.” He says, returning to his leaned in position. “Baddest predator to ever walk the earth. I asked my wife for a tooth fossil for our anniversary but she got me a leather massage chair instead.”

“Dude, you got ripped off!” One of the other men in the chopper chimes in over the comm channel.

“I know right.” He says, turning to face the soldier who had spoken up. “I mean my call sign is Rex, and everything.”

“Boys, you know this is an official military channel right?” One of the female pilots asks. “Every word that’s spoken on her is heavily encrypted and sealed as top secret. You’re supposed to talk about important stuff.”

“T. Rex is important.” The man with the stubble exclaims. “That’s what I’m saying. T. Rex doesn’t get enough respect.”

“A bet a raptor could take down a T. Rex.” I say, rejoining the conversation.

“Ouch.” The man says, grabbing his side to illustrate that he’s pretending my words physically hurt him. “That’s a low blow kid.”

“Well, maybe not any raptor, but the right raptor, in the right place at the right time. Don’t get me wrong, T. Rex is super dangerous, but that’s why the raptor might win. Things that are big and scary tend to underestimate the little guy.” The stubbly solider appreciates the not so subtle subtext of my words.

“I’m with you kid. It’s why we’ve put such an effort to bring you in, but just remember.” He sits up straight and gets serious for a second. “These people that are after you. They know what you’re capable of, and you can’t always count on your deceiving appearances.” I nod appreciatively. It’s solid advice. Not that I had really used that tactic this morning, but I would have to keep from relying on it.

The chatter dies down to quick bursts of military speak between the pilots and some far off control tower. I take the opportunity to observe the awesome view that the chopper affords. I have memories of sky diving from low earth orbit, and the ‘me’ in my memories isn’t impressed by skimming the treeline in a chopper, but kid ‘me’ thinks this is the coolest thing ever.

My parents were planning on taking me to the county fair next week. The ferris wheel would’ve gotten me about as high as this helicopter, but it wouldn’t have been even ten percent as awesome. This was a great way to experience heights for the first time.

“Hey.” I address the stubbly solider whose been keeping me company. “What’s going to happen to my parents?” I feel kind of selfish for not mentioning them earlier. The immediate danger was dealt with, and the police had arrived. I think I even saw SWAT pulling up to my house, but now that I had quiet moment I wanted to know what became of them.

“They’re being escorted to a safe location. Don’t worry. They’ll be safe.” The man assures me. “We’re not going to let the world’s most dangerous toddler become an orphan.”

“Will I get to see them again?” I ask. A momentary surge in childhood emotion prompting me to express an uncharacteristically weak emotion.

“I don’t know kid.” The stubbly man says. A trace of a frown entering his face. “I just don’t know.” That saddens me, and I have to distract myself with the awesome view once again.

The sun is coming up, and it’s not long before we fly into a landing strip on a military base. There’s at least a hundred fully armed men and women in formation to greet us as we land. My escort from the chopper exits the chopper and fans out to take up defensive positions. It’s just for show of course. Probably some tradition of this outfit. I liked it. It showed that these people took their missions seriously. Well, except for the dino talk.

“Greetings commander Francis Timothy Walker. Captain of the sniper detachment from red team of seal team six. Honorably discharged after twenty years of service to serve as contract advisor and instructor for the training of future SEALs. Died January 2nd 2013 in a hospital bed, surrounded by his family and loved ones.” The man addressing me snapped to a salute. My jaw dropped, this was the first thing tonight to truly surprise me.

When I had accepted my mission to be sent back I had expected a lot of craziness. The late night intruders were obviously the upgraded enemies. The secret government outfit seemed kind of par for the course, but seeing my old spotter still alive was breath taking. I hadn’t known he was still alive, and he had greeted me with my full name and rank. How had he known it was me.

“Ryan.” I say, running forward and leaping up to hug him. The way he hugged me, spinning me around like a favorite uncle, was unprofessional, but somehow appropriate. He sets me down and ruffles my hair affectionately.

“We’ve been waiting a long time for you Francis.” Somebody coughs that I don’t see. “I mean John. We’ve been keeping track of you for a while John.” He emphasizes the word John each time he says it.

“What do you mean? How did you guys know? Is this common knowledge?” We start walking towards one of the barracks as we talk. To a casual bystander it may have looked like a grandfather taking his grandson out for a walk. Not two of the world’s most cunning special operations operatives discussing intelligence on a very important op, me.

“We’ve known for about 18 months. You remember when you were six months old and your parents thought you had cancer so they took you in for an MRI?”

“Oh yeah, I remember that, but the tests came back negative.” I say.

“See that’s weird.” He says as he opens the door to the barracks.

“That the tests were negative?” I ask.

“No.” He responds. “That you remember. You really shouldn’t have that good of a long term memory yet. Anyway, the results from the test were, shall we say eye opening? Eye opening enough that they eventually made it to some of our boys who monitor these things. We had a devil of a time getting the medical community to bury the matter. We had to bribe a lot of people to keep that data under wraps, but as soon as we got the report we started watching you.” We walked over to the bunk that was to be mine. He didn’t have to tell me it was going to be my bunk. I don’t think anybody else in the military was allowed to sleep with their teddy bear and a fuzzy power ranger’s blanket.

“We did a lot of digging. We went through your parent’s employment history, medical history, family history, and interviewed dozens of their friends and relations. That all turned up nothing. There was absolutely nothing about your parents that could have created that remarkable brain in your skull.” He pulled back the blanket as if preparing to tuck me in.

“Then one of our boys had the bright idea to compare the MRI to other brain scans of soldiers. We didn’t think we would get such a close match to yours. We thought we’d get some correlations, maybe something to tell us what we were working with. When it turned out that your brain, I mean your current brain, was an almost exact match to your old brain, we didn’t believe it. We thought it was a coincidence, a fluke, a random chance.”

“What changed your mind?” I asked, sitting down on my bunk as Ryan sat on the bunk next to me.

“We bugged your room. It wasn’t legal, but I had a hunch, and we’re a black ops outfit anyway. Legal is more of a cautionary word than a hard rule. You talked in your sleep. Not much, just whispering a few words. Not many, and nothing too conspicuous, but we started cross referencing your night time rants with your old files, and every single word you spoke was a codename for an operation. Your parents would think they were meaningless, that you had heard them from a movie or from one of your friends, but we knew better. So we watched you. We didn’t know what to do with such a discovery so we waited. We waited for over a year until the people watching your crib’s camera feed reported the sound of a grenade going off.”

“Yeah about that.” I say, stifling a yawn. It’s been a heck of a day, and I was up to early. My two year old metabolism is telling me to go back to bed. “How did those people know about me? You guys I get. It makes sense, but they didn’t have access to my records or my brain scan. How could they have known?” Ryan shrugs.

“We don’t know John. We were hoping you could tell us.”

“Well I don’t know nothing.” I say. “Do you at least know who they are?”

“We’re working on it John, but for now you’ve got to rest. Go to sleep.”

“Sleep, I’m (Yawn) fine.” I cover my mouth in a vain attempt to hide my sleepiness. My bed does look awfully soft and warm.

“Sure you are. You may be a big strong navy SEAL on the inside, but on the outside you’re a two year old who missed his nap time, and you’re going to be very grumpy if you don’t go beddy-by.” He gently pushes me down into the mattress and I instinctively snuggle down into the covers.

“But I need to start finding bad guys.” I say, but my eyes have already closed.

“We’ll wake you up in a few hours John, and when you do we’re going to teach you to fight.”

“I already know….how……to fight.” I say, beginning to drift into unconsciousness.

“You know how to fight like a man John, but when you wake up. We’re going to teach you to fight like a baby. Rest now, the fun begins when you wake up.”