When I glanced across the room I saw he was staring at me again. There was something familiar about his face. The dark skin and the pale eyes. The way his mouth had an almost permanent sneer. I had looked into those eyes before, and felt terror. Slowly he rose, then began to thread his way through the closely packed tables towards the dark alcove in which I always sat. His eyes stared into mine, glancing around only once, making sure his gang were close by. There was no fear now, after all I'd been through, this was just an inconvenience. The stale smoky atmosphere swirled around him as he stopped right against my table. His bulky frame blocking out some of the heavy beat of the live band. He looked me in the eye for a moment, then looked me over, the sneer never moving from his mouth. He spoke through crooked lips "Dun I know you!" It wasn't a question, more the sort of thing a cat would say when teasing a mouse. "Yeah, I'm famous." I replied, mimicking his accent. "You been in the paper, you're one of them freaks!" He leaned towards me and spat the last word in to my face. "That's original, I haven't heard that one before."
The sarcasm was wasted. He looked over his shoulder and shouted across the room, "Oi! come and have a look at this freak!" Again he put the stress on freak. His gang started to push their way across the crowded bar. He didn't take his eyes off me until his boys had assembled. "See this fing ere, this is what's known as a freak, he's had doctors inside him, doing all sorts of dirty things to him. I bet he enjoyed 'em all." "You're pretty tough with your playmates around, I bet your a little pussy when you're alone". I taunted. He spread his hands on the small table and leant forwards until his nose was almost touching mine, I winced at the smell of cheap beer and even cheaper cigars blowing from his mouth. "Ooo! aren't we the smart boy, wasn't so smart before though was ya! Laying in that bed all 'elpless! I'd know your face anywhere, little boy wiv a nasty disease in a' hospital bed. Name wasn't John Dericson then though."
The memories finally connected in my sub-conscious, I was whisked back to the orphanage in which I had spent my formative years. An image of the hospital wing formed in my brain. I remembered the bed, large, white metal frame. The machines, beeping, pinging, endless rolls of green paper covered in black waves. The kindly nurse smelling of nicotine. The old doctor, rough, short tempered. And Jaton Wilsa. Ten years old. Dark skin, pale eyes. That sneer starting to become permanent. He stared into my eyes, then, one by one, switched off each machine in turn. Finding the switches then looking back to watch the fear as his grubby fingers clicked them off.
A burst of clapping brought me back to the present, the live band had finished its set. Had I not been a little pre-occupied I would have clapped too, they were quite good. Jaton stood back, arms folded in triumph. "Jaton Wilsa! I thought you'd be dead for sure. How many people want to smash your face in with something heavy? Every one you've ever met I would think. And it's Ericson, Jorn Ericson. Get somebody to read the paper for you?" Jaton lunged forward and grabbed the edge of the table, his knuckles whitening, the veins pumping in his tattooed arms. "Freaks like you should be put down! Stand up and let me put you out of your misery, I don' even 'it wimin sitting down!" I sighed loudly and stood up slowly. I was easily 18 inches taller than Wilsa. His gaze followed me up, his wrath deflating slightly with every inch, which was just the effect I had been hoping for. The sneer subsided and his chin dropped, leaving him gawping like a dead fish. "You were saying something, boy!" This time I leaned into his face. "Shit! They screwed you up real bad, freak!" Wilsa looked round, checking his gang were still there. "Guess I'll just 'ave to use old equaliser."
The pulsing lights glinted off something as he jabbed forward with his right hand. This was all old hat to me, almost a daily occurrence at one time. I slapped his advancing fist down on to the table with my left hand and extended my right into his guts. He groaned and doubled up in pain. The genetic "enhancements" had left me very tall, with a lot of strength in my upper torso. Two of Wilsa's goons stepped forwards, both had produced similar knives from equally mysterious, and no doubt sweaty, orifices. I was about to do the same to these two when two massive hands appeared simultaneously on each of their shoulders. The knives disappeared, I still didn't see where. A surprisingly smooth and cultured voice spoke from behind the gang. "Perhaps the gentleman would like to be left in peace for the remainder of the evening."
As one the gang members turned and walked silently away, dragging Wilsa with them. The two dark suited bouncers escorting them to the door. Halfway across the room Wilsa turned and mouthed something, I didn't see what through the thick air. But I could guess.
These events had happened regularly since I had been "released" from the Foundation hospital nine months before. From a safe cocoon-like environment to a roman arena in one week. Me and several others, although we were keep apart I knew there was more than just me. It was as if I could feel their presence, a kind of warm glow at the back of my head. I don't know what happened to the rest, the warm glow disappeared when the van I was taken away in left the hospital.I haven't felt it again since. I was placed in a community tower block in the middle of the city to "integrate and adapt". Get to meet normal people, see how they live. But the Genetic manipulation I had been subjected to had left me too different. I was seven feet four inches tall, most of which was rib cage. But I weighed only eight stone thanks to my honeycomb bones and lightweight organs. If they had seen my back they would truly have freaked out. At first I ignored the comments. People pointing, whispers behind hands. Then some of them got braver, started to say things out loud. Always the same set of words; freak, mutant, animal, hunch back, devil-spawn.
The bitter irony of it was that scum like Wilsa had rights, they were protected by modern liberal attitudes towards criminals. But because the genetic surgeon saved me from a terrible wasting disease, he could do what he wanted with me, and did.
As closing time approached I finished the one drink I could afford and left. I didn't like crowds, people tried to leave a gap around me, it was embarrassing. Outside, the cool wind blew a few spots of rain left over from a shower across my face. It was welcome after the close environment of the bar. Although it wasn't any cleaner, but where is these days?
I looked up and down the street for the tell tale sign of exhaust smoke, Wilsa would be here somewhere, waiting. If not tonight, then tomorrow. Walking up the street I scanned the road ahead from side to side, checking every shadow and dark alley. I suppose I could have ran, or waited for the crowds to turn out, but what was the point? If it wasn't Wilsa it would be somebody else. Besides I'd had enough practice at this, I could handle myself. Sure enough, a few hundred yards ahead a battered Vauxhall screeched out of a side road. At this point I wasn't too worried, at least he hadn't brought a van load of his cronies. The car came straight towards me, head lights on full, bumping up the kerb and stopping just in time. Wilsa and several others leapt from the car, I don't know how they all got in, never mind out so quick. Wilsa approached, the others, following instructions, hung back. But not too far. They were all armed with various neanderthal weapons, clubs, wooden poles etc. Wilsa had his hands behind his back. He was managing to sneer and grin at the same time. No doubt he would produce some monstrous club laden with spikes, watching me for a suitably impressed reaction. He wasn't disappointed. I had been over confident this time, It looked like I would pay a heavy price.
- Copyright Steve Dean