That Which We Hate

Posted: April 29, 2013 in Single-run ("One off") Stories
Tags: ,

Dirt, he decided, tasted decidedly foul.

All the more so mixed with his own blood.

However, the taste of soil and blood in his mouth—a few stray dry pieces of grass sticking to the bloody split at the corner of his mouth—as least gave him clarity. That was a welcome thing if he was going to get out of this mess. Because when the fist had connected with his face and his face with the ground, he had felt certain he’d be out cold.

“Get up, nigger!” the older teen shouted. He was a senior, and Hugo struggled to remember his name. He wasn’t sure he’d known it all that well even before his brain had gotten rattled.

Jim…Joe…Jack…Josh!

Josh was the name. He played varsity football. But why the fuck did Josh just blindside him? Hugo struggled upward, arms shakily getting him into a push-up-like position, then onto one knee in a crouch.

angry-teen“I said ‘get up’ you fucking nigger!”

Hugo spat out blood, but was relieved that no teeth followed. “I’m not a nigger,” he blurted. The statement made his gut twist coldly and he felt like a coward. His skin was brown, and he lived in Pouco Brasil—New Judah’s “Little Brazil” neighborhood. That had been the home of his family since his grandfather, after whom he’d been named, emigrated here. A light-skinned Brazilian who married a dark-skinned one and started a life in the United States at the age of 21. An act Hugo’s own father had repeated when he put bachelorhood behind him—marrying an even darker-skinned woman at 23. Almost paradoxically, Pouco Brasil was both a microcosm and a mirror image of Brazil. Like the homeland, Portuguese was the local tongue and skin colors ranged from pink to dark brown. Unlike Brazil, though, the rampant racism toward darker Brazilians was nowhere to be seen—though often the paler denizens of Pouco Brasil transferred that racism onto blacks of African-American rather than Brazilian-American heritage.

Just like I just did, Hugo thought. What a little shit I am. A coward.

“You look plenty black to me, shithead. Get up! Take your fucking medicine!”

“Medicine for what?” Hugo cried out as he stumbled to his feet and shakily took three steps back from his attacker.

A thin blonde girl—a junior named Stacy, came into view. “Leave him alone, Josh. Jesus! There’s nothing going on between us. I’ve barely said 10 words to Hank all semester.”

Hank. She called me Hank, Hugo realized.

“Josh,” Hugo warbled, “the only people who call me Hank are most of the fucking school. And most of the fucking school doesn’t give a shit about me or just doesn’t like me. That’s why I tell them to call me Hank. If your girlfriend liked me and we were doing anything, she’d call me by my birth name: Hugo.”

“Fucking spic nigger, right?” Josh shouted. “Fucking Little Brazil bastard bussed in here. I saw you giving my girl the eye today. I’m gonna fuck you up!”

Josh advanced on Hugo and Hugo backed up more. He wasn’t a fighter under normal circumstances, and he was totally outmatched by a football player, even one who was a receiver or kicker or backup quarterback or whatever the hell Josh was.

Thank God he isn’t a lineman or I probably would be missing teeth.

“I was probably giving the eye to some hot Latina behind her,” Hugo retorted.

“Oh, so now you’re saying my girl isn’t worth looking at compared to some wetback slut?”

Josh advanced faster and Hugo retreated in the same way.

Hugo’s head was spinning, and suddenly the world around him started not to make sense.

No! Not now!

It was something that had been happening a lot over the past few weeks and he’d been afraid to say anything to his dad for fear he’d end up getting looked over by doctors. And he hated doctors, and more so hospitals. His mother had died in one when he was five and the memory of visiting her hours before her death had never left his memories. Nor the memory of visiting his grandfather—who’d driven the both of them off the road while drunk—two days before that and having him die a day later.

Hugo tried to focus, and found the world slipping even farther away from comprehension.

No.

Not the world; the people, he realized, and stopped trying to escape Josh as he realized there was a kind of halo around the older teen’s head. A bubble, maybe? Stacy had one, too. It was like a color but it also seemed like a sound and somehow, Hugo felt like he could even touch it from afar. How can something that shouldn’t even exist be something I can see and hear and touch?

Panicked and not sure what to do, Hugo touched the halo of Josh’s head with his eyes. Or his mind. Or…something. The sensation was both nauseating and exhilarating, and Hugo was almost more curious what would happen than he was afraid of being pummeled.

Josh stopped, and looked confused. And then that confusion became something else. Worry? Hugo wondered.

Then it became something so much worse.

Rage.

Before Hugo could react, Josh was punching him in the belly. The ribs. Over and over. And finally, a blow right to the side of his head that made Hugo’s left ear peal like a church bell. And as the ringing screech reached its crescendo, Hugo hit the ground again.

This time, though, he was unconscious and didn’t taste the dirt or the blood.

* * *

Hugo smiled when Andrea walked into the room. He winced as that made the scab of his injured mouth break open, but he didn’t stop smiling.

A small and rare burst of happiness, even if he was in the place he hated most: A hospital. His father hadn’t even been to visit him yet—apparently, there was something going on at work that he couldn’t get away from.

Or maybe he hates hospitals more than I do and for the same reason, Hugo thought, and that made him feel even more alone. Not to mention more grateful for Andrea.

“Hey, Hugo,” she said, and punched his bicep firmly. “By the way, the doctors told me you didn’t get hurt there, just in case you think I’m heartless. What have I told you about playing rough? What did you do to Josh, anyway?”

“Nothing. He thought I had the hots for his girlfriend.”

teen-girl“No, Hugo. What did you do? There’s all kinds of talk running around the school since you got admitted here yesterday. They haven’t even suspended Josh because there’s talk you provoked him and he was acting in self-defense.”

“What the hell are you talking about, Andrea?”

“Well, Josh is telling the school you tried to make some unwanted advances on his girlfriend and then you sucker-punched him after school saying you were going to get rid of your competition. But to his close friends, he’s telling some weird stories. Only to a few people, because it’s so weird, but I’ve heard some things because I’ve got my ways, you know. To them he’s saying you messed with his mind.”

“I didn’t…I mean…” Hugo paused. “After he started in on me, when I was trying to get away from him, I started seeing something weird and I guess…I dunno…I think maybe it was something psychic. I’ve been feeling weird lately. Could I be a transhuman?”

“I don’t know, dude, but Josh says you changed.”

“Huh?”

“He told his buddies that suddenly, it wasn’t you there. It was a police officer that looked a lot like you and he says you must have had him seeing things because you hit him with a ‘psychic blast’ that stunned him and that’s the only reason he hit you. That’s his story to his friends, anyway. I think he hit you first. But it’s all bullshit, though.”

“What do you mean…bullshit? How? Maybe I did blast him…”

“Hugo, I don’t know exactly what the fuck Psi crap you did to him, but it wasn’t a ‘blast.’ He’s a terrible liar and only his friends would believe him. I think he did see a cop where you were. Josh hates cops. His stepfather is a cop and beats him silly sometimes. There’s no one he hates more than that guy except his mom for marrying the bastard to begin with. Plus, Josh has gotten picked up by the cops at least three times for drug possession or being drunk in public. If his dad wasn’t a cop, he’d have been in jail a few times already.”

“Great,” Hugo said. “I have a transhuman power that makes me look like a cop? That has to be the lamest shit around.”

Andrea smiled.

She was Hugo’s best friend in high school and had been since fifth grade. Maybe his only real friend in any school. A fellow sophomore and a fellow outsider, though people liked her more than him—he was more than an outsider; more like an outcast. But she was his friend and he kept her close. Maybe because when she smiled, like she was doing right now, the whole world lit up. If he wasn’t so happy being her buddy, he’d probably have been dating her by now.

Or if I wasn’t so chickenshit.

“What?” Hugo asked. “Why are you smiling?”

“I doubt you’d have a power that specific, dumb-ass. But I think it’s cool you might have one at all. And when they’re sure your skull is OK and they clear you to get out of here, we’re gonna find out just what it is you do. I think I already have a good idea. But you’re probably almost right; it’s probably even more useless than making yourself look like a cop.”

* * *

In one of the more heavily forested edges of Whitley Park, Hugo stood 10 feet away from Andrea. She smiled again—that enchanting smile that kept her on the periphery of so many cliques in high school and not as much the loner as he was. There was also nervousness in that smile. But expectation as well. And, Hugo thought, a hope for something amazing.

“What are we doing here, again?” he asked. “And why am I standing so far from you?”

“Here’s what I think,” Andrea said. “I think you’re a Psi and I think you can make people see you as the things they hate most.”

“Okaaaay. And so…why again are we here? And why am I all the way over here?”

“I want you to try it on me.”

“Why?”

“Science. Curiosity. Morbid curiosity, maybe.”

“I don’t want you to hate me, Andrea. You’re the best friend I have.”

“Oh, don’t be stupid. Josh doesn’t hate you any more than he did before—well, maybe a little more, since Stacy broke up with him. Not that I expect that to last. I just want you far enough away so that if I go trying to assault you, you can stop what you’re doing or at least run away until whatever you do wears off. Not like I want to beat you up any more than you already are.”

“I dunno…”

“C’mon! If you’re transhuman, let’s find out. You should probably learn to use what you have so that you don’t get into trouble if it kicks in again. Learn how to control it and shut it off and stuff.”

Hugo wasn’t even sure he could do what he’d done again. And if he could, the thought of Andrea hating him, for even a little while…

“Hugo! Earth to Hugo! Seriously, you need to work on this. And there’s no one else who’s likely to volunteer to be the guinea pig. Do it!”

For a moment, Hugo heard the “Do it!” in Josh’s voice instead of Andrea’s and remembered the senior telling him to “Get up!” He thought of the things Josh had called him. For a moment, he felt a flash of anger toward Andrea, and it made him sick.

And then the halo appeared—the bubble around her head that was tangible to him and calling to him. No, not calling; singing. And there were colors there, or something like colors, because he had no name for some of them—nor for the almost-scent of them that tickled not his nose but something deeper in his mind.

“C’mon!” she urged impatiently.

Hugo touched her there. At the edge of that aura. His mind to hers.

He saw a similar play of emotions on the sophomore’s face as Josh had expressed, and Andrea snarled. Stepped forward. Stopped. Almost lunged at him. There was something wild in her eyes.

Hugo panicked, and tried to disengage from her mind. For a moment, it seemed like he couldn’t. Her halo seemed sticky. It seemed to want to pull him in. But with something like the feeling of a wet, growling rubber band, he was out again.

Andrea’s face was confused. She swayed a bit and he thought she might fall. She blinked. Closed her eyes. Opened them again to look at him. And sighed. Her smile was nervous at first. Then elated. The world lit up as it always did when she smiled.

“Fuck, Hugo! For a moment there, you looked like a person made of damn snakes. All kinds of snakes. Slithering and hissing.”

Hugo didn’t know what to say.

“I hate snakes, Hugo! Godammit, I was right.”

* * *

Hugo’s face still hurt. And his ribs. And his kidney. But his father’s words hurt more.

“Don’t do that again, Hugo,” Eduardo said. “Don’t pick fights, especially fights you can’t win.”

“I didn’t Dad!”

Eduardo Silva_1999Eduardo waved away his son’s word with a double-flick of his wrist. “Don’t! There aren’t going to be any charges. Your word against his, and that girlfriend of his is the only witness. She doesn’t want to say anything about either one of you. Don’t fuck with another boy’s girl, boy.”

“Dad, I’m telling you…”

“Enough. Son, it’s just you and me, at least for the next couple years, and then you’ll be off,” Eduardo said, a strange hitch in his voice that Hugo couldn’t place. “No one left but you and me,” he added, and Hugo could see the memory of his late wife Monique in the man’s eyes. The memory of Hugo De La Silva. Hugo remembered how it was only weeks after both of them were buried that he’d changed their name to simply Silva, as if to wash away the memory of his own father. Almost as if he knew what his son was thinking, Eduardo put on a pair of sunglasses and mumbled something about going out for a little while. “Just stay out of trouble. Now go. I love you, Son.”

As Hugo headed for his room, he wondered—as he had so many times before—why his father’s voice seemed pained when he said those three words that most boys all wished their father would say—even if they wouldn’t admit it.

* * *

“Why are we here?” Andrea said in Whitley Park, almost exactly where they’d met before two weeks earlier.

Hugo laughed.

“OK, déjà vu,” Andrea admitted with a grin. “We’ve switched roles. Seriously, though, why are Odium_15-yr-old_01we here again?”

“Because something’s been nagging at me, Andrea. There was something more.”

“What?” she said, and now she was intrigued instead of wary.

“When I did that…thing…before…I felt something. Something pulling at me. Like there was another level. But I didn’t touch it.”

“What do you think it is?”

“I don’t know, but maybe there’s more to my power. Maybe I can do something more useful than encouraging people to attack me,” he said with a chuckle. “I figure I don’t need to have a way to make people dislike me more. What do you say? Be my guinea pig again?”

She didn’t hesitate. “Oh why not? Hit me, baby!” she said, and rolled her shoulders back a few times to relax, then clasped her hands in front of her. “Ready when you are.”

Hugo reached toward her again—the aura was easy to pull up now. He’d been able to master the art of perceiving it in anyone at will now without being under duress. He’d also been able to toss away his glasses, though he wore them around his dad. Everyone else he’d let think he was wearing contacts now. He was pretty sure his vision was better than perfect now, but that power—a Sensor power, he guessed—wasn’t foremost on his mind.

As he pressed forward into her psyche, he saw Andrea tense and become angry. Then he let the pull he’d felt before draw him to the next level. No, the next layer. He sensed nothing beyond it, and simply felt that new part of her mind. Stroked it and pushed. Activated it as he had activated hatred before, and hoped it wouldn’t simply make her more angry.

Her demeanor changed almost immediately.

She looked terrified.

But she didn’t run. Unlike the hatred which had spurred her to almost pounce, this terror seemed to root her in place. He wondered what she saw now. Probably still snakes. That’s what he figured. But they didn’t evoke the same feeling in her now. Fear instead of anger.

He didn’t release the connection. It felt comfortable, and since she wasn’t going anywhere and she wasn’t attacking, he figured he could talk to her a bit and then end this.

“I wasn’t sure…I thought it might be…” he started. “I remembered a teacher saying something about how we hate what we fear. Or fear what we hate. Or something like that. From some Shakespeare play or something. Because most people deep down fear something, and that’s why they hate it. Like Josh and cops. And calling me a nigger. He was really just afraid, but I had to push deeper to get that going. You don’t really hate snakes; you’re afraid of them, and we both should have realized that.”

Andrea’s eyes were wild now, and Hugo felt a pang of remorse. He had to break this off now. Why hadn’t he just done it already and told her his thoughts afterwards?

Because this feels good.

That’s what it was. Good. Really  good. Sexual? No, not that. He was inside the walls of her mind and doing this made him feel right. No, that wasn’t it, either.

Complete.

For the first time since he’d been a little boy who still had a whole family, he felt real again. He felt whole.

Andrea was shaking. She was…

Oh God, is she having a seizure?

Hugo pulled out of her mind, and rushed to her as she fell to the ground in the throes of violent spasms. Her mind probably filled with the horrifying, terrifying image of him as a mass of snakes that wouldn’t leave her alone. Filling her with hopeless fear.

Hugo ran.

She needed help. He couldn’t carry her. He needed to find a phone.

Then he ran back to her.

I’m an idiot. She has a cell phone in her purse. I don’t, but she does.

Hugo called for help. And prayed. And waited as he held her shaking body in his arms and hated himself.

* * *

“What the hell did you do to her?” his father shouted.

“Nothing!” Hugo cried. It wasn’t true, he realized, but he hadn’t done any of the things that were running through his father’s mind right now. Of that he was certain.

“What were you doing in Whitley Park? What were you two doing? What did you do? Her parents are angry. They’re talking about the police, Hugo! Did you give her drugs? Did you try to rape…”

“No, Dad! I didn’t touch her. Except when I was trying to help her after the seizure. I swear!”

“Bullshit!” his father roared. Hugo rarely saw his father angry, and this was the first time in years he’d even shouted. Even now, though, the man was restrained despite the harshness of his words. Of all the things Hugo feared, being beaten by this man wasn’t one of them. His father had never raised a hand to him, not even to spank him. “Hugo, something happened. First that football player; now this! What’s going on? What are you into? What did you do?”

Hugo’s mind reeled. He already felt horrible for pushing too far with Andrea. If her parents thought he had done something, he knew the police wouldn’t find any evidence of anything. A rape kit would prove they hadn’t had sex. Her body was uninjured because he hadn’t attacked her. A toxicology report would show her clean; he knew she’d never done anything harder than pot, and even that rarely.

“Dad…I…I’m a transhuman. It just happened. It happened when Josh beat me up. I mean, it came out then; it’s been happening for a while, I think. Andrea was helping me figure out my powers. It just got out of hand.”

For a moment, his father simply stared. Then shook his head. “No. No no no. I won’t have you making tales. Tell me what really happened.”

“It’s true.”

Only one way to prove to him. Only one way to show…Andrea didn’t attack me right away. Dad doesn’t hit me or hardly even yell. I can show him and pull back before he loses control. I won’t push to that second layer…

Hugo reached out to his father’s mind and felt the connection. It seemed as if Eduardo’s eyes squinted and as if some emotion crossed his face. Hugo couldn’t be sure. But he knew he’d done it, and held the connection for a few seconds. He paused.

“What did you see, Dad?”

“What are you talking about, Hugo?”

“What did you see, just now, for just a brief flash? What did I look like?”

“You look like you, Hugo. What are you on about?”

“No. I changed. You saw something else. What did you see when you looked at me just a few seconds ago?” Hugo’s voice was pleading now. He didn’t understand.

“I saw you, Hugo. What the hell else do you think I would have seen?”

Hugo’s breath caught in his throat. For ten seconds, he couldn’t breathe as his father looked on, dumbfounded.

Oh, God. Oh, no.

It was clear suddenly. His father, made motherless when Hugo was just a baby and the boy’s grandmother had succumbed to cancer. Eduardo’s wife, Monique, taken from him when Hugo was only five. Dead because Hugo’s grandfather had been driving her home drunk off his ass. His father raising him since then, all alone. No other family. Everything lost to him. Raising a son with the same name as the man who’d killed his wife so carelessly.

I am the one thing my father most hates in this world.

Hugo probably could have poured his power into his father for hours and the man wouldn’t have struck him. He was that good at bottling his anger. Every single time he’d said he’d loved Hugo, it had been a lie. Hugo was a burden. The greatest pain in his father’s life. His father hated him, and probably didn’t even really know it.

He hates me. My father hates me. I’ve put my only friend into a coma and if she wakes up she’ll hate me, I know it. My father has hated me since I was five and it was just the two of us. I’ve never had anyone but Andrea and I’ve destroyed that now, too.

Hugo realized he was crying. He looked into his father’s nearly placid—if slightly confused—face and realized that the calm affect was just a mask. Behind it was hate.

Hugo turned and fled. Ran from the house. Down the street. Into the heart of the city.

* * *

There had been fear at first.

Odium_15-yr-old_02He couldn’t go back to school; not that he wanted to. He couldn’t go see Andrea; not that she’d want him to even if he could. He couldn’t go home to the lie of a loving father.

He was 15 and alone. Hated and hating himself.

Then, after a day or so, there had been comfort.

He was free.

Always a loner, lucky to have any casual friends at all and luckier still to have had a true friend in Andrea.

He’d managed to call the hospital under the pretense of a being a relative seeking to visit Andrea, just to find out what he could. She wasn’t in a coma anymore—that much he discerned. But she was in the psych ward now, and he wondered what trauma he had wrought. What damage was done to her mind and her emotions.

With no money and no place to stay, he’d become frantic. He’d targeted a guy he thought looked like a shithead anyway. Hugo made the man hate him and then made him afraid of him. As the stranger cowered in a corner of an alley, Hugo took the man’s wallet and ran.

The money carried him for several days, and he was even able to get a cheap room for a couple nights. In the Hollows—the poorest neighborhood and most violence-ridden one in New Judah, lots of hotels took cash and didn’t ask questions. And Hugo knew he had little to fear from those who lived in that place.

Now, more than three days after fleeing his home, he wasn’t sure how he’d ended up in front of the main branch of New Judah’s library downtown. Oh, he knew he’d taken the bus, but wasn’t sure what drew him here. And then he considered how English classes had been one of his few bright spots in high school. Reading and writing. Hugo knew he wasn’t especially book-smart, but he was pretty good at that stuff.

And now he was inside the library. In the reference section.

He was a transhuman. A transhuman with no more family and no friends. His father had worn a mask for 10 years in front of his own son—a mask that looked like his own face. Looking into the face of a son whom Eduardo had so often said had his mother’s eyes.

I can put on a mask, too. A real one. I only have one way to live now—off my powers. No other future. I can put on a mask; maybe a costume. I can survive. Alone. Like I’ve always been.

He was, he realized, the embodiment of hatred. That was his identity now. His self. His future.

But hatred wasn’t enough. The word was too weak. It didn’t express just how freakish and just how wrong Hugo was. It didn’t truly speak to who and what he was.

He pulled a thesaurus from one of the shelves. Flipped through it until he found the entry for hatred. Looked down the list of synonyms, and almost smiled. He found the word he needed.

The name he needed.

I am Odium.

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