The whole crew was back together that summer.  Alex would invite me over to swim in his uncle’s pool, and I caught up with Neal and Jason.  I was attending church again, so I inevitably spent time with Evan and helped him organize the others into a worship band.  It was really interesting to see Dan volunteer his time, given his behaviour at school.  His “new leaf” was thus far staying turned over.

            But, as much as I spent time with them, I kept my secret to myself.  As my faith deepened, my friendships stayed casual, superficial.  I couldn’t risk them getting involved.  It was my way of protecting them.

            Because, as much as things seemed back to normal, I knew that the world wasn’t what it seemed.  I looked for danger in every shadow.

            I saw a lot of shadows, but no danger.  Working the midnight shift, I went in to work in the dark, and drove home before the sun came up.  My life became patterned, routine, and dull.  I should have been lulled.  But I was still busy training my body physically, sleeping in the morning and spending my afternoons jogging in the wooded hills, using a stick for a sword and decapitating dummies made of wood and buckets.  I smiled at these “games,” as they reminded me of my childhood.

            I found exultation in physical experience:  the sun on my skin, the wind in my ears, my body flexing, twisting, running.  Raw potential was forged into muscle, speed, dexterity.  I was making myself ready.

            In late April, on a dreary cloudy morning, I drove home in the rain.  The wipers sluiced rivulets of water off the glass, but I could barely see in front of me.  The storm clouds hid any light from the sky, and I would have missed the car on the side of the road if not for a sudden flash of lightning.  I pulled over to the muddy shoulder of this desolate country road, letting my headlights illuminate the back end of the car, a few feet away.

            I opened the door and got out, reaching into the backseat for a tire iron.  I wasn’t stupid.  Within seconds my jacket was soaked, water trickling down my hooded shirt collar to soak my skin.  It wasn’t just pouring, it was flooding.  I stepped through mud puddles that were ankle deep.  I could hear the steady beat of the rain in my ears, a constant hum.  I walked to the car cautiously.

            I held the tire iron in my left hand, down at my side, and knocked on the driver’s side window.  I peered within, cupping my face against the glass to keep rain out of my eyes.  The car was empty.

            “Hello?” I called, yelling into the rain. 

            Three of them came out of the trees at the sides of the road, a triangle around me.  Dressed in black, they all carried knives.

            “Are you kidding?” I asked, looking at each in turn.  They didn’t answer, and instead rushed at me.

            The first to reach me had come from the trees across the road.  I stepped aside deftly, slapping my tire iron across the window to spider-web it with cracks, and then I grabbed the back of his head and slammed him into the window.  His head went through with a crack, and I pushed down, using the sharp glass to tear through his neck until his head toppled bloodlessly into the car.

            I turned and saw the one on my left coming close.  He tried a slash with his long knife, but I slapped my tire iron down on his wrist.  He was strong enough that he didn’t drop it, but it left him off balance.  I grabbed his hair with my right hand and drove my knee into his face as I slammed his head downwards, breaking his jaw.  I dropped him in the mud at the feet of his friend stuck in the window.

            This left me near the hood of the car.  I expected the third to go around and come at me from the road, but instead he clambered up on top of the car.  He leapt at me, going for an airborne tackle.  He jumped high, seeming to hang for a moment in the air.  Time slowed, and I realized I could see every detail, down to the water droplets bouncing off his dark coat.

            I whirled quickly, rolling in the mud and coming to a crouch as he landed on the road.  Before he could turn, I flung my tire iron like a boomerang, catching him in the back of the head.  He fell over, and I picked his friend’s knife up out of a puddle.  I was on him before he could get to his feet, drawing the blade across his neck swiftly, its razor edge making short work of him.  His hair dangled from my hand, his head bobbing like an obscene plastic grocery bag.

            I turned and threw it at his friend, who had pulled himself up out of the mud.  He caught it, and stared at his dead companion’s empty face.  He looked up at me a second later.  Now a solitary assassin, he stood facing me as lightning and rain filled the sky.  There was a moment of silence, as if I was being measured.

            I stood in the rain, dripping wet, and pulled off my coat and hooded shirt, laying them across the hood of the car.  My t-shirt was just as waterlogged, so I pulled it off.  I felt the water on my skin, trickling down the newly defined curves of my muscles.  I was in the best shape of my life, and knew it.

            “That’s three and a half of your friends, so far, if you count the one I blinded.  The first one, I killed before I took working out seriously.  You’re supposed to be nearly immortal, yet I killed your two friends here in less than two minutes, when it was three against one.  I don’t know if you studied statistics, but I don’t like your odds.”  I said, waiting for him.

            He decided to try to change the odds.  He pulled a gun and I threw my knife.  It caught him in the shoulder, which forced his shot wild.  I was on him within seconds, slamming my knee into his face repeatedly, and then I had the gun.  I held it to his neck and pulled the trigger until I could rip his head free of his neck, his torso falling into the mud.  I roared with the thunder, a primal celebratory war cry, even as I wondered, in the back of my mind, if I would ever be the same.

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