We walk to the bus stop and wait in silence. I look at Julia and she looks away. She stares at me like I am some sort of carnival freak, but she is too ashamed to admit it. I’m okay with it. I suppose I could have sprouted some wings or forced out a halo and that might have answered her doubts, but I don’t feel like going there. I don’t need her to believe in me, but it would be nice. I have kept my secret for a long time, surrounded by people I wanted to help, unable to tell them that there was a God who cared. The problem is I can’t quite believe it myself.
I watch every car that passes us with a growing sense of anxiety. We are out in the open and so very easy to spot. Our dingy, colorless clothes and unkempt appearance stands in stark contrast to the well-manicured lawns decorated with summer flowers of every shape and hue. Five minutes of tortured silence comes to an end as the bus heading downtown stops before us. The door opens with a hiss that reminds me of biblical temptation. Is this the easy road taking us from the path of the righteous?
We get on the bus and make our way to a pair of empty seats near the back. I look at each person as we move down the narrow aisle. Most of them are focused on something else, anything preferable to their fellow man. The few who glance upward do not look for long, seeing only a pair of poor people in a part of town they do not belong in. It’s possible some of them could remember us if asked, but most of what they remember will be vague images. People remember things in broad strokes; the details are added to the flotsam of their daily lives.
Julia sits next to the window and looks out at the rows of track houses. “You know I used to live in a neighborhood like that. All neat and orderly, each house a variation on the same theme. God I hated it. It felt like a prison. I was different, or at least I wanted to be. I didn’t want to fit the same precious little mold of my parents and I knew I had to get away from all of that conformity if I was going to be anything special.” She looks at me for the briefest moment before looking back outside. The houses roll past as the bus begins to move. “Now I would give anything to have it back.”
We ride in silence the rest of the way. Every time the bus stops and lets someone on my heart races. I need to calm down but I can’t seem to get there. I need a moment of grace, but my mind and body will not cooperate. Using the powers within me has left me in turmoil. Thoughts and emotions that I could master in a blink have taken over. I feel Him hovering on the edges of my existence. He is calling to me, ready to take me back. Part of me wants to heed his call, but I can’t leave Julia, not with Albert searching for us. I won’t abandon her.
As we enter the outer edge of downtown the bus stops and a couple more people get on. I look them over and dismiss them as another couple of early morning commuters, but the taller of the two spots me and stops. His hesitation lasts only a moment, but it’s enough to warn me. He knows who I am. The only person wearing a suit who would know me is someone who works for Albert. He takes three more steps toward us before he reaches inside his coat and pulls out the biggest, blackest gun I had ever seen.
I push Julia down and dive to the side as a bullet hits the seat where I had been sitting. I move as fast as I can, getting close to the tall man. I grab his wrist and push. His aim is spoiled and the bullets pierce the thin metal roof of the city bus. The short man is drawing his gun as I push with my legs, sending the tall man backwards into his partner. More bullets fly off their mark, smashing windows and seats, barely missing the other passengers. Reality catches up with surprise and my world explodes with the noise of gunfire and screams.
I act without thinking, doing my best to get the guns away from them and keep the people on the bus from getting hurt. I smash my fist into the nose of the tall man. I am satisfied by the crunch of it breaking before he falls to the ground. In all of the chaos I lose site of the short man for a moment, only to find him again, out of my reach and aiming his revolver right at me. I throw up my hands, intending to create a shield to stop the bullet. The crushing pain in my shoulder is the first clue that I have failed.
The impact spins me around and slams me into a seat. I have been hurt before, but nothing like this. I can’t catch my breath or focus. All I can do is moan. “Oh, God,” I whisper. I roll over and look up to see the short man standing over me. The tall man is behind him and his face splattered with gore.
“You little shit. I should kill you right here and make my life easier,” says the short man. There is menace in his eyes and I believe he could do it, but something is holding him back.
“What’s stopping you, jackass?”
“Screw you. asshole. If Hector didn’t want to talk to you I’d have ended you already, so get your ass up and off the bus.” Short man looks at Julia cringing in her seat. “You too, bitch. Hector wants you both.”
The rest of the passengers are crying and cowering in their seats. I can’t blame them. Guns are scary enough, but guns being fired within the confines of a bus you’re on? Terrifying.
“All right, we’ll come, just don’t hurt anyone else.” The pain is incredible, but I stand just the same. I grip the edge of a seat and try to focus. There has to be a way out of this.
I reach out while catching my breath, trying to find something or someone I can use to help us get away. I know Hector by reputation only, but that reputation is bad. Opening myself up to the emotions of a bus full of terrified passengers is risky, but I can’t think of anything else to try that won’t end in my rather immediate death. Most of the people reek of animal fear, some with regret, and others shame, but toward the front of the bus is a man twitching with need and anger. I give his emotions a little push as I take Julia’s hand.
I keep my link to the angry man open while we move out of our seat and headed toward the front of the bus. I push on his anger, feeding it, bringing it closer to the surface until the moment the short man is standing beside him.
“Son of a bitch! You’re making me late to court!” The angry man erupts out of his seat, slamming his fist into the face of short man, knocking him into the seat across the aisle. Tall man tries to bring his gun around, but an old woman strikes his arm with her purse, knocking it away.
The bus erupts in a violent melee. The passengers turn on the two thugs with a vengeance; even the bus driver gets in on the action. It is a little satisfying and horrifying all at the same time. It is a train wreck I cannot look away from.
“Justin, you’re glowing.” Julia’s words cut through the noise, startling me out of my morbid fascination. I look down at my hands and sure enough I am. The power flows out of me like a river, stronger than it ever had when I was bathed in His grace. What is happening to me?
I try to focus, but it is hard, far harder than it should be. I feel the power flowing out of me, manipulating the emotions of everyone on the bus, sending them into a frenzy. I pull at it, slowly drawing it back until it hovers about me like a silver nimbus. It stays there for a moment before dissipating. The other riders stand and look at the two men they have beaten. They are oblivious to my presence. The thugs lie on the ground, battered, bloody and unconscious. They are going to need a hospital soon if they were going to live.
“Justin…” She’s afraid. I can understand that. It’s not every day you see the light of Heaven made manifest. Of course being shot at is hardly normal either.
I look down and see the hole in my shoulder. It hurts, but the Light and the adrenaline is keeping me vertical for the moment.
“I know. Hold on.” I ignore the pain and draw the Light in even further until it winks out around me. I feel my connection to the people on the bus turn off like an old water faucet. The passengers look at one another, look at me and look back to the two battered gunmen.
I consider saying thank you, but decide that the effects of whatever I have done is going to wear off soon, so I grab Julia’s hand and drag her off the bus. Standing just outside the passenger door I watch the bus driver return to his seat. He shakes his head, clearing away the mental fog. “You might want to get those two guys to a hospital, even if they did try to rob you.” The pain of the lie makes me want to vomit, but I don’t want to be connected to this bus.
“Yeah. Good idea. Thanks kid.” He shuts the door and drives off.
“I know, Julia, just shelf it for a moment. I need to get off the street. This really hurts.” I still can’t believe I got shot.
“Holy shit! You’re hurt! Oh my God, Justin, I’m so sorry. I didn’t even notice. There was just so much going on and you were glowing.”
“Calm down, Jules. Just get me to a church, any church.” I sag under the weight of my own body, unable to ignore the waves of pain crashing through me. My knees shake and I fall. Darkness fills my sight before I hit the floor.