Book Title: GIFTED Teens: Empathy (Book1)

Chapter One:

He stood in front of the porcelain sink in the steaming bathroom, looking upon himself in the mirror. What looked back at him was not entirely shocking. His eyes were like oceans, vast and sea green, with baggy dark circles lying under. He reached his left hand and laid his fingers under his left eye to stretch them farther, exposing the pale pink flesh below his eyelids. With a yawn, he stretched, and the mirror's fog cleared even farther. Below his eyes there was a simple nose, nothing extraordinary about it. In fact, the only strange thing about his face, besides his baggy eyes, was the thin scar running vertical directly between the cleft under his nose all the way down to his upper lip. It was as if nature itself was sealing a terrible secret.

After yawning again, he pulled the dark blue towel from around his waist and threw it to the floor before opening the bathroom door. He shivered as the brisk air infiltrated his pale white skin, and goose bumps began to appear.

It was the middle of September, Saturday the fifteenth, and already the fall air began to make its way down the deserted town. It didn't have to travel very far, there wasn't much there. People in the town were drawn to the park, but too afraid to play there long. There was a library, in which the books were outdated and rarely checked out. There was a public pool that was never filled, and the brown muck that sank its way to the bottom was never removed. Despite the derelict appearance of the town, there was a sense of community held by the people, and it was the only thing that the tattered land was held together by.

After dressing in his ordinary garb, a simple band t-shirt and ash grey jeans with a pair of matching Converse sneakers. He rustled his short black hair in a shower of droplets to speed its drying. His room was a mess; the floor was barely visible underneath the mountain of clothes and empty video game boxes. The bed wore only a crumpled midnight black comforter, and there was a layer of dust on the windowsill.

He shrugged at the mess. It wasn't a statement that he was untidy, only the existential lifestyle he became accustomed to. If it did not harm him in any way, then he would overlook it, and that went without saying for any situation.

Pouncing down the sea foam colored carpeted stairs, he turned into the kitchen. As usual, it was immaculate. His mother was very committed to keeping the house, besides his room, very clean.

He opened the stainless steel door on the refrigerator and pulled out a container of orange juice, the light inside the fridge flickering. He opened the top and from the living room his mother muttered: "Get a glass."

"Yes, mother", he lazily muttered back. With another shrug he pulled one of the three glasses from the cupboard.

"What are you doing today? Going to meet your hooligan friends and catch God knows what disease in that forest?" his mother asked.

"Yes, mother," he replied mechanically.

His friends were not held in high regards by the townspeople, and for what, they weren't too sure. His band of comrades had their own way of passing the time, and it usually meant hanging around in the forest on a large boulder that was plastered with graffiti and cigarette butts. But that wasn't why people generally avoided them. Though there was not really a large religious movement where he lived, his friends were surely going to be living an excruciating afterlife if people had any say in the matter.

"I hear Jenkins is looking for a warm body down at the store. Maybe you should head over there. Could do you some good, it builds character and puts money in your pockets."

Toby Jenkins was probably the only adult in town that would not shy away from the very sight of his friends, and for that, Mr. Jenkins was spared from 'hooligans' loitering and pillaging what they could. He was a nice man, in his early thirties. Clean cut and educated, he told the parents of the unruly children that it was merely a phase they were going through, and in time, they would be outstanding citizens.

But what poor Mr. Jenkins did not know, was that the town was not a best place to open his business. Most of the business owners and parents had begun to revert to a barter system, trading goods for services and so on. What this meant for Toby was that people rarely had a need to traverse the four street blocks to get there and purchase anything. How the small store had stayed open so long was a mystery to anyone.

Taking note to respectfully decline Toby Jenkins' request – because surely his mother would have already volunteered him for the task—he muttered: "Ok, mother."

After downing two glasses of orange juice and placing the glass lightly into the empty sink, he turned to leave. He grabbed his black messenger bag, adorned with multiple pins and band stickers, and threw it onto his shoulder. Before he opened the mahogany door, he turned to his mother.

His mother, Grace Willow, was a middle-aged woman with auburn hair that was tied back into a bun behind her head. She was slightly overweight, but despite her size she was courted by a couple of men recently, which made her on-point about her appearance. She was wearing full makeup, which was a good thing to, for her face was littered with holes from her youth. Whether it was from smoking at an early age, or from terrible teenage acne, he did not know. She wore a grey sweat suit, and was lazily laying on the eggshell white couch flipping through channels on the television.

"Would you like me to get you anything while I am over Toby's store?" he asked.

"Nah, but thanks for asking" she said genuinely, her eyes appearing to brim with tears.

"Okay, see ya later then." He stated before closing the door behind him.

His relationship with his mother was estranged. He loved her, for sure, but over the years it appeared to him that she was unwilling to see he had grown into a young adult. And there was the fact that she had a conniving nature to her that was unsettling. Whatever she could do within the natural boundaries of family ties that would allow her to get her way, she would. This meant feigning sickness and being overly emotional was a normal occurrence to his everyday life.

He walked, almost mechanically, to his favorite spot, where he knew his friends would be. He passed the row of houses of people he never made an effort to meet. When he neared the corner store, he paused.

It was Luz's Grocery, but the name was misleading. The store did not have your generally excepted good for a grocery store. It carried the normal junk food, candy and sugary carbonated drinks you would expect. You could even get your cigarette and alcohol fix, but did it have milk or eggs? No.

He walked in, trying to be discreet, but he knew that Luz would see him and greet him warmly.

"Hello, Alec! How are you?" she waved from behind the thick clear glass casing separating the consumer from the cashier. She was an older Hispanic woman, whose daughter also worked on occasion behind the counter. Her black hair was thick and wild in a bunch of curls held only by a small marble clasp in the back. As friendly as she was, Alec did not generally speak to her often. Luz certainly did not understand that he was not very talkative.

Alec waved, walking to the drink fridge that was concealed behind a wall of potato chips and warm three liter sodas. After opening the door and pulling out a canned coffee drink, he walked over and placed the drink down on the clear counter. It was clear for a reason, for under it were stacks of penny candy that were surely meant to incite the screaming tantrums of small children, forcing their parents to pitch in a few extra cents to squelch their child's wrath.

"Just this today?" Luz asked as she lifted the drink and shook it slightly, to get Alec's attention.

Alec nodded, hoping to keep the conversation to a minimum. Luz was one of those people that could talk your head off, and Alec did not converse much with anyone outside of his circle of friends. After buying the drink, he waved goodbye, which was met with a superfluous wave by Luz, and continued walking down the street.

He approached the middle school, Benjamin Stern, which was only a block away from the entrance to the forest. The tall monochrome building was a sore sight, and not from its structural covering. The middle school had been a bit of a stain on Alec's history. During class, other kids would disrupt the teacher and it was very commonplace for police to be on school premises at any given time during school hours. How he had avoided so much trouble was a wonder. But other kids generally avoided him, and for that he did not make many friends. The faculty was concerned for him and they often coupled him with other kids in an attempt to make him more social. The truth was, he didn't like many people, seeing them only as pawns in the game of life, and if they came and went without so much as a greeting, it was not something he minded.

Passing the school, the entrance to the forest appeared from behind the school. The chill air swept the branches back and forth, the foliage of autumn's inevitable change creating a canvas of colors across the grey sky. A gravel path lay under Alec's feet as he trudged mechanically forward, drinking out of the can he purchased.

He could hear the voices coming faintly from the center of the woods, his friends preceding him, as usual, in their daily routine.

The forest drew him and his friends in naturally, it being a secluded place where few tread. They even brought a few things to make the area into a haven they could escape to. There was a mattress that was held suspended in the branches of a tree they could sleep in if they so wished to sleep, and there was a large white cooler that held snacks and drinks. Should the inventory become low, it was only a matter of going to Toby's and grabbing what they needed.

As he approached the center of the forest, the air blew heavily against his side, and branches swayed in front of him. He breathed deeply from the crisp, clean air and held still for what seemed to him a comfortable eternity. It was moments such as these he could cherish as they were void of the drama the normal world he lived in shoved in his face. As the wind subsided, he continued further. The path became clearer and the large boulder was in sight. On the top, there were his friends.

A girl turned her head before the others finished their loud talking, and she peered at him silently. She wore strange clothing, but it fit her nicely. Her hair was an unnatural red and though the bangs covering her left eye were clearly tended for, the back of her hair was tangled and intentionally not styled. A tiny white top hat sat on her head, cocked to the left, and around the length of the top was intricate lace, sprinkled with feint glitter glistening lightly in the few rays of sunlight escaping the treetops. Her makeup was also unordinary. Her eggplant lipstick covered only the middle of her soft lips, and her delicate face was covered in a light powder. Her eyelashes were curled and mascara was generously applied with the same glitter from her hat sparingly thrown on top. Upon her chest was a frilly scarlet top, the curls of fabric hugging her breast teasingly, and it was held in place by a white corset that had blooming roses stitched in the side, the matching scarlet petals falling to the end that hugged her frame tightly. Below her corset was a short bushy white dress that ended before her knees, where white and violet stockings met a pair of black and white Converse high top sneakers.

Her name was Ophelia Parson, and though she was odd, to say the least, she was Alec's best friend. She continued to look at him, her head tilted to the right, and she crossed her legs, the dress swishing over so as not to reveal her womanhood. He felt his face become hot, so he looked behind her and continued to walk.

As he neared about a yard from the large boulder, the others, Nick, Dmitri and Kelly saw him as well. They neared the edge of the rock and stood beside Ophelia.

"Hey, guys" Alec said, and he finished the canned drink in a large gulp, placing it empty on the gravel.

"You are late. Typical", Ophelia said with a wink. She took a fan matching her outfit from behind her and begun to seductively fan her face.

Alec bowed before the rest in a grand gesture. He rounded the rock and begun to climb where they chiseled makeshift steps and the weather helped wash away the debris. When he reached the top, he sat near Ophelia, making sure he was careful to avoid falling off of the side. Nick, Kelly and Dmitri continued their conversation about a trip to the mall later during the day. He felt at ease, the worries of the world slipping away, which did not take long for him.

But this was Ophelia did naturally, for there was a secret Alec and his friends shared amongst each other. They each had a gift, if you could call it that, which made them unique.

Ophelia had the ability to negate the other's gifts, and being around her was easier than the other three. Just being in her vicinity made you normal, in a paranormal sense, and though it took no effort on her part, she would avoid the others at their request should they ask for it.

Nick Flood was a vampire, but not in the bloodsucking avoiding daylight sense. He was more of an emotional energy drainer, and he needed to feed very rarely. Should he go too long without nourishing his body, he would become extremely irate and his appearance grew from vibrant to pale and ill. To feed, he need only come in contact with an overly stimulated person, and it was easy for him. He was handsome, his high cheekbones and chiseled dark skinned body was appealing to many, and given the fact that he was a pansexual, he rarely went without feeding. He could be invited to any gathering and he would go, often turning it into a blast and leaving with more energy than anyone who went. If the rare occasion appeared that there was nothing going on that he could feed from, he would ask Alec to use his gift and feed from him instead.

Kelly Starks had a stranger gift than Nick. She could manifest shadows, much like apparitions ghost hunters sought after, and they would do her bidding. They had a very ironic flaw in that if the person did not see them, they could not touch anything, and it took a large amount of power for Kelly to summon them. As such, Kelly was very good at finding ways of alternative energy sources. Her room had a makeshift alternator which she used to aid her in her bidding.

She was a loner, clinging to the company of her summoning when the companionship of her friends was not available. As such, she was also the oddest of the bunch, and given Ophelia's lavish garb, that was saying something. She wore only black from head to toe, and her clothes were often adorned with chains and spikes. She wore heavy eyeliner, and rarely smiled. Her hair was dyed black, and she had pink highlights, the length of her hair tied behind her head in a velvet ribbon. This made her appear as a shadow herself, and in a group of her apparitions, she was hard to spot if she covered her face.

She had four types of shadows she could control, and she named them after what they could do. There were standers, golems, cherubs and sprinters. Though she admitted these types to the others, the level of power she exhibited made it hard for the others to believe that there weren't more.

Standers were stationary shadows with large, bulky arms. They were traps, in a sense, that could grab a hold of someone and not let go. They were the easiest to avoid, as they were slow when they had to move, but in a group, they were as deadly as the rest. Golems were large gargantuan shadows that were very easy to see. With medium speed and the ability to do serious damage to both the person who saw them and the surrounding environment, they were feared. Cherubs were child apparitions with an evil metaphorical name and small fly-like wings. Alone, they could do nothing more than annoy you. They did have a piercing scream that could capacitate you in agony, and since they could make it easy for you to spot them, it meant that coupled with another apparition you were as good as caught. And last, but certainly not least, there was the Sprinter. Sprinters were pure evil. They were weak as one, but rarely would Kelly use only one Sprinter. They did what their name implied: sprint. They were ungodly fast, and their job was to herd the escaping person into a group of Standers or a Golem. Their face was contorted in what appeared to be agony, and none of the Sprinters ever looked similar to another of its ilk.

Dmitri Nolowsky hadn't fully grasped at what his gift was. He was a small boy, though he was as old as the others in his circle of friends. His short spiked hair was bleached blonde, and often he would wear a gasmask and industrial goggles in a steam punk fashion. He wore large boots that had at least a three inch thick heel, which were accompanied by baggy pants with many clasps and zippers. He often wore a backpack, and in it were books of varying topics from physics to astronomy and the occult. From what the others could see, he was just a super intelligent bookworm, and who knows, maybe that was his gift. It was lackluster, but since none could pinpoint the beginning of when any of them begun to have their gift, it was not a topic they generally dwelled upon. Dmitri's gift was used only during homework, and though they were all outcasts, they had impeccable grades.

Alec had a very powerful yet flawed gift himself. He was a very unemotional dull person for a reason. He could sense and project emotions of varying degrees upon anyone. If there were too many emotions in one area, he would be stricken with a terrible migraine. This meant that he often avoided large gatherings and definitely his mother when she became overly emotional. But that was not the extent of his power. He could also take any injury from another person and place it upon himself, as he had wildly increased regeneration. As a defense mechanism, he could then project the pain of an injury to another person, but the injury would remain on him. It was rare that he had to use this power as a defense, but he kept it as an ace up his sleeve in case things got out of hand. The only person he could not use his healing gift on was Ophelia, and it bothered him that someone so close could not benefit from it.

While the other three were talking, Alec turned to Ophelia and placed his hand on her. She looked over and swept the hair from her face so they could see into each other's eyes.

"You know it won't work around me, and yet you still try. I guess I should get used to you touching me." She said with a coy smile.

Being thankful that he could not sense the meaning of her words, he smiled back. He felt warm around her, the way a normal person would. He liked her, more than friends, but he was afraid of how she would respond. It was both convenient and irritating that he could not tell how she felt. Her flirtatious manner was directed at everyone and he could not tell if her advances to him were genuine or just how she acted normally.

In the distance, there came a siren, and through the spaces between the red hues that the leaves were dressed in, there was a flashing red and blue light in the distance. Alec and Ophelia sighed.

"He's here again guys" Ophelia said. They stopped talking and came to the edge of the boulder. They too sighed heavily and sat next to the two, their legs dangling over the edge. "Tell me now if I have to step away."

"No. We try settling this with words first" Dmitri said, his heavy boots meeting the length of the other's legs despite his smaller size.

They waited for the inevitable confrontation. It was an altercation they were used to. Charles Wilson was an active police officer that always came to bother them. At first, it was bothersome that he always came to break up their fun, but in time, it was amusing.

And sure enough, he walked down the gravel path to where they were sitting, his face smug. He wore the usual blue police officer suit with a pair of black sunglasses. His belt had a gun which was holstered, and as he approached he held his belt around his waist.

"As usual, the mystery gang is loitering on private property" he said.

"Oh? Who owns it? I was unaware that you could buy a forest, Officer Wilson" Ophelia jeered. The others chuckled next to her.

"We've been down this before. You're right, of course, it is public property. I came here to ask my favorite delinquents some questions. What do you know about the robbery?" He pulled out a notepad and a pen from his pocket and begun to write some notes.

"You know we don't know anything about a robbery!" exclaimed Nick. "Besides, you haven't told us what place was robbed."

Officer Wilson continued to write notes. He scribbled fast on the pad in what appeared to be accusing the gang of a crime.

"Actually, it was on the news, I think. It was a liquor store down on Mulberry and Park, right?" Kelly asked. The others looked at her with stern faces, and she shrugged, knowing that they did not go near the liquor store last night.

"Yeah, and the witnesses say that a group of kids broke the window, raided the register and stole a few cases of beer." Officer Wilson looked up from his pad and lowered his sunglasses to look at them, taking the time to see into their eyes one by one.

"Well that solves it then. We don't drink. We're underage remember?" Alec stated as matter of fact. It was true, besides Nick who was an avid partygoer, they did not like alcohol.

"Yeah right, I believe that" he said as he continued to write on his pad. "Well I'll be in contact with your parents. Tell me where you were last night, each of you."

Ophelia huffed loudly. "This is getting nowhere fast. I was at home, doing homework. You can ask my mother. Now if you will excuse me." She pushed herself off the rock, landing gracefully on the gravel with perfect balance. As she passed the officer, her dress swishing back and forth as she walked, the others left sitting on the boulder tensed as the feeling of being blocked was drained out of them. They each turned to each other and grinned.

Alec felt the blocking from Ophelia leave, and he fought to drift back into his unemotional stupor. He felt Kelly's irritation, Nick's amusement, and Dmitri's curiosity hit him, and it was a task to keep his head from swimming. Officer Wilson was feeling confused as Ophelia passed him, but Alec held onto that feeling. With concentration, he felt the confusion grow inside Officer Wilson's head. It was like warm air connecting their heads together across the three feet span separating them apart.

Officer Wilson placed his hand to his head. He put his notepad and pen back in his pocket and looked worried at the entrance to the forest. Alec could tell that he was successful in his work, when the officer walked away. His footsteps resonated loudly against the pebbles and gravel on the path.

They waited until the flashing lights disappeared and they turned laughing at each other. The tree rustled and Ophelia appeared from amongst the trees. She walked closer, her face beaming with success and once again the pressure of her gift hit the rest, making Alec ease and sigh in relief.

"Well that was more annoying than usual. I mean seriously, would we rob a liquor store?" Ophelia asked.

"I might" Kelly shrugged and smiled as the others looked at her bemused. "Oh come on!" she said punching Nick in the shoulder. They all chuckled and continued their conversations as normal as they would on any other day.