Read below to read the text of the story, or listen above, or pre-order Becoming Hero here:
With comics: https://www.amazon.com/Becoming-Hero-…
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*Solve Skye’s math puzzle for a chance to win $100, in every book.*
Skye is the storm-tossed comic character out for revenge on the author who murdered his family. Jace is the math-loving #blerd trying to escape his father’s deadly legacy. When their worlds collide, Jace must choose between the real world he’s always hated, and the comic book world he’s always loved–and Skye must decide if killing his author will save his world, or damn his soul.
New guy stood over me hand outstretched, reeking of banana peels and park benches.
“Hey,” he said, yanking me to my feet. “I’m Caleb.”
“Hey Caleb. I’m Jace.”
“Jace, like Jason?”
“Yeah, but spelled like the son in the Expanded StarWars Universe, not like the second Robin.”
He was the first person I’d met outside of the comics shop who got the reference. “The son of a rogue, instead of the rogue son.” His wicked grin softened. “You okay?” He glanced down at my forearm.
I looked, and regretted it. I didn’t think I was frightened by blood. It wasn’t much—just a scratch, just—just—dizziness swept my forehead and my whole body felt weak because holy crap they almost flayed me because of Dad they almost—! I opened my mouth to say nothing.
“Is that a no?” he asked.
I swallowed. I. Wouldn’t. Make. It. Fun. For. Them. If I wasn’t scared, they couldn’t scare my dad, and they lost.
But I wanted them to scare Dad! I wanted to get out of here! Of this stupid neighborhood, and this stupid high school where my stupid teacher who I trusted let slip in class that I even had a dad, and stupid Jerome, and stupid everyone who said I wasn’t “Black enough” because I was a nerd, as if the math in my brain somehow released neurotoxins that killed my melanocytes because that made sense—oh wait, no, it didn’t! It really didn’t!
“I’m fine. It’s just a scratch.” I broke my gaze away from it to look Caleb in the face, noticing now the industrial bar piercing his right ear. “Are you hungry? Because after that I could eat a bookshelf.”
“Yeah—uh, yeah, I haven’t eaten in a while.” His face colored a little: he meant a very long while. He wasn’t from around here, and he wasn’t dressed well enough to be a lost tourist—not that we got tourists around here on the regs, but hey—so I pegged him as a runaway right away. From where, I wondered?
“Why a bookshelf?” he asked.
“I like books.” I shrugged, and pulled my hoodie up against his inquiring stare and against the frigid wind tickling my hot cheeks. “Come on. I’ll—I have stuff at home.”
And that’s how I chose to bring a violent stranger into my house.
My breathing slowed, and the chill began to evaporate my sweat as we passed dingy brush littered with trash, and dead bushes crowded against the alleyway walls, and the yellowing grass that clung to the cracks in the whitish half-paved gravel…we turned onto another street, past the big abandoned red brick building on the corner, and for a second I didn’t hate West Baltimore.
I always don’t hate West Baltimore when I pass red brick. There’s a lot of that here: the big factory-looking thing, with its lone chimney jutting into the grey sky like a bold unmoving middle finger thrown up against all the struggle and change and turmoil; the rows of brick apartments huddled side by side like tall, thin soldiers, shoulder to shoulder against the cold, some of them rounded with feminine bulges, towers and buttresses, powerful women in a protest line holding together their neighborhood…all old, old buildings. Sometimes a new mural will go up, or street art that actually means something. That day a black phoenix rose against one of the grey-walled buildings, framed in purple fire.
We’d almost reached my dad’s apartment when we passed a different strain of graffiti. This tag was about cops, and my shoulders sagged.
I caught Caleb watching my reactions.
“What?” he and I asked at the same time.
He laughed. I sighed.
“You got opinions about that,” he nodded back towards the angry wall-scars. “Mind if I ask what they are?”
“Man, I don’t even know,” I said. “My first day out in driving class I got a DWB, with my teacher in the car, with the car marked Student, and they still made us get out while they patted us down and yelled at me and searched the seats because I ‘fit a description.’ That guy you just whupped, Jerome? His older brother was shot by police who broke into the wrong apartment for a bust.” I paused, wondering if I should really tell Caleb why Jerome hated me. Caleb waited, listening so intently, so openly, I kinda had to: “My dad’s a police officer,” I said.
“Ah. So you’re caught in the crossfire.”
“There’s no crossfire. I’m minding my own business.” I sealed my lips, and he minded his own, too.