Fight or Flight

I don’t think I can escape this house without spilling blood. I live in a small town just outside of Bristol with a population of only 20,000. It’s safe to say that everybody knows everyone’s business. As a child I was what people would refer to as normal. I played football with my mates, went to school and misbehaved like and ‘normal’ teenage boy. I struggled through my GCSE exams and completed a BTEC National Diploma in Sports Development and Coaching before I enrolled onto a Sports Coaching degree; and it is at this point that everything went wrong.

I joined the University’s football team as a central defender. The position isn’t relevant but it leads me to an important moment in my life, a moment that will change everything. Our team had a corner, and as usual, I went up to assist my team in scoring a goal. The ball floated towards the goal in what felt like slow motion. Everyone’s eyes were on the ball as we all made our way to make contact with it. I was a second away from heading the ball when everything went black. As I opened my eyes, I could hear the rhythmic tone of a heartrate monitor and the distant noise of a busy hospital. As my eyes regained focus, I could see my mother at the side of my bed holding my hand whilst my sister left the room calling for a nurse. The next few hours were blurry for me, the nurse put that down to concussion. The earliest thing I remember was when the doctor arrived.

“Hello Edward, my name is Dr Phillips.” He greets me in a calm, professional manner. “I have been overseeing your treatment and care since you were admitted here. The nurses and your family have informed me that you are struggling to remember what happened in the moments leading up to you losing consciousness. I have been told that you went for a header during a football match and was struck by the goalkeeper, who I believe was trying to punch the ball away.”

“It wasn’t an accident Eddy! He was looking right at you!” My mum held her hand up as if to silence my sister.” The doctor continued, “We need to do some tests to make sure there is no permanent damage to your brain.”

I was in hospital for a few days until I was given the results. The doctor entered the room and closed the door. “Edward, we have the results of your MRI scan. The good news is there is no permanent damage to you brain and therefore you are fine to go home today.” While a big smile spread across my face, my mum leant back in her chair and looked up to the ceiling as if to thank God. “I would like to add, however, that we detected some swelling in the hypothalamus that, although we are not concerned, we would like you to come back for further scans.” I agreed, however at the time, I would have agreed to anything if it meant I would have been able to go home. The rest of what he said was not important. I left the hospital and went home. After a couple of days, I was back at university continuing with my studies, and I thought all was back to normal, but unfortunately, it didn’t last long.

In the busy, slightly chaotic canteen, I was confronted by Jacob, the goalkeeper who had knocked me unconscious. With his shoulder’s back and his chest pumped out, he looked like a gorilla attempting to exert his dominance. Followed by his entourage he approaches me, standing only a couple of inches from my face, I knew he was trying to intimidate me, and although I hate confrontation and have spent my teenage years trying to avoid fights, I wasn’t about to submit to him. That would most certainly have paved the way to future torment. This way would at least give me a chance to leave with some shred of dignity.

“Edward! Your sister has been flapping her gums, telling everyone that I attacked you. I have my parents asking me questions 24/7, my coach won’t pick me and the college want me to go to anger management meetings! So what are you going to do about it?” I didn’t have the confidence to tell him that he was showing, quite clearly, why he was being asked to go to anger management.

“I’m not going to do anything as technically I didn’t see anything.” I know that wasn’t what he wanted to hear but I couldn’t give in.

“Well if you don’t tell your sister to back off, I will!” He went too far. I may be no match for him in a fight, but I will not let anything happen to my sister. If I had to take a punch to satisfy his deranged ego, then so be it.

“You stay away from my sister or else you’ll have me to deal with!” This wasn’t going to end well. He smiled and looked at his followers. I had seen this far too many times in movies. Any moment now he will strike me. I just have to take one punch, fall to the ground and that will be it. Here it comes, his right hand clenched as he begins his right hook. His face is strained, he is putting everything in this punch. I could see the look of hatred in his face which puzzled me as the only interaction I had with him before was the incident on the football pitch. I close my eyes, preparing myself for the strike. I waited for what felt like eternity, but nothing happened. When I opened my eyes I was baffled at what I saw. Jacob was curled up on the floor screaming in agony whilst clutching his hand. What had happened in the brief couple of seconds? Had someone blocked him before he made contact with my face? I turn to my friend, looks terrified, shifting his gaze from me to the bundle of mess cowering on the floor. “What happened?” I asked inquisitively, causing my friend to jump out of his skin like I had crept up behind him and shouted in his ear. He looks at me like I’m some sort of stranger.

“Did you not feel that?” He responded, baffled at my question. “He gave you everything he had and your cheek didn’t even ripple! What are you?” I couldn’t answer him. All I wanted to do was run, and so I did. I ran so fast my surroundings seed to blur around me. I reached my front door and took off my battered trainers. I heard mum cleaning the kitchen. I exhaled forcibly to try and evacuate any tension that may be brewing inside me. Mum didn’t need to know what had happened. I hoped that Jacob would feel too embarrassed to tell any tutors what really happened so right now, I felt like I was in the clear.

“Hi Mum” I greet her like I would on any other day.

“Hi love, you back for lunch? Did someone give you a lift?” I’m confused by her question as I assume most of my lunch break is gone. As I turn to sit at one of the kitchen chairs I glance at the clock and I’m perplexed. Only 15 minutes had passed since I had started my lunch and 5 minutes since the altercation with Jacob. How did I make it home so quickly, and why is my right arm stinging?

“My God Edward, what did you do?” Mum grabs my arm and examines it. Blood from a gash in my arm seeps through my white shirt. How did it happen? I think I know where it happened. There is a gap in a wire fence that I cut through to shave off a couple of minutes off my journey home. I always use it but I don’t remember catching myself on the sharp edges. As mum opens the medicine cabinet, removing a small first aid kit. As she places the bag down on the kitchen table, her phone buzzes on the glass. I answer the phone for her and select speaker mode.

“Hello this is Dr Phillips. We’ve had the results of the brain scan back which has shown that Edward’s hypothalamus has scan tissue on the surface that has prevented the swelling from subsiding, although the blood is able to move freely. Now I would like to repeat what I said before that this is not life threatening, however, I must ask, have you experienced any changes in your mood, or body that would cause you concern?”

Mum looks up at me awaiting a response, equally as interested in what I had to say. “No I haven’t.” I lie, scared that if I told them the truth, I would be taken back to the hospital where I would be strapped to a chair and experimented on. I’ll admit I’ve seen too many films and have read too many comics to make me paranoid, but I couldn’t see any other outcome.

“Why do you ask doctor?” Mum enquires.

“The hypothalamus controls your fight or flight response by activating two systems, your sympathetic nervous system and adrenalcortical system. I know I’m using a lot of words that do not make sense, but basically if you found yourself in a fight or flight situation, your nervous system would kick your body into gear and the adrenalcortical system increases your heart rate, your pupils dilate to take in as much light as possible and your muscles tense up, preparing you for whatever was about to happen. Now because of the scar tissue, your fight or flight response could increase up to ten times the amount a healthy person would experience.” That explains what happened earlier in the canteen and how I got home so quick. I wasn’t about to confess to what happened so I excused myself, explaining I had to get back to college and left the house.

I had 15 minutes to get back to college which was at least 30 minutes away on foot, even if I was running at normal pace. I tried my hardest to recreate what had happened earlier but I was generating the same speed as before. Earlier I was running away from, what I felt would be a retaliation from what had happened in the canteen. In this moment all I needed to do was get back to college. My life wasn’t in danger; well, not until I got to the entrance. Waiting for me was Jacob and his four followers. Jacob was sat on a bench hunched over, holding what looked like a broken hand. It’s was too late for me to hide, they had spotted me, jumping to attention like a gang of meerkats. They surrounded me, cutting off any escape routes I could have used only seconds before.

“You are in big trouble Edwardo! My hand is busted. I might not be able to play football again. That means no scouts, no scholarship, no chance to play professionally. I kind of had all my eggs in that basket. You’ve taken my future away from me. I think I need to make us even.”

“Edward? What’s going on?” Oh God, bad timing. My caring sister ran out of college in my direction, but one of Jacob’s minions grabbed her before she could get to me.

“Oh, darling sister has come to the party. What are you studying? Beauty isn’t it?” Jacob reaches into his pocket and pulls out a Stanley knife. I move forward but I’m blocked by two of his goons. “Someone give me a lighter!” He demands. The spare minion walks over to him with a lighter and lights it. Jacob holds the blade over the naked flame, admiring it as it is engulfed by heat and light. “What good will a beauty therapist be if they look ugly and disfigured? It would be easy to hurt you Edwardo but hurting your sister; she will always look at your scar and know it was because of you.” He walks over to my sister who is pleading with him to let her go, turning her face and body away from him.

My heart is pounding, she cannot suffer because of something I may or may not have done. I must do whatever I can to prevent her from being harmed. I pounce at the closest thug, shoving him out of my way like I was striking a helium balloon. The next person attempted to rugby tackle me, but his effort proved futile as I didn’t move an inch. I pick him up and tossed him aside like a bag of rubbish. The guy with the lighter approached me quickly drawing his fist back to strike. I became so in tune with my surroundings that time slowed down. I had enough time to make my next move before his fist was propelled forward. Catching his fist in my hand like a tennis ball, squeezing just enough to hear his knuckles crack and his voice reach a higher than usual pitch. That was enough to subdue his gang. All my attention was on Jacob. He had taken this too far and I was in a position to do something about it. In the beginning it was a petty squabble of jealousy and ego. But now he had taken it too far. I wouldn’t let him hurt my family and if I had to make an example of him, I would.

As I approached him he held up his free hand up in the air, dropping the blade to surrender. I grab him by the neck and lift him up. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I took it too far. Just let me go and I’ll leave. You won’t see me again.” I can’t think straight my senses are on overload. I hear his words but I cannot process it. My grip tightens to cease his pleas. I see the look of pure fear in his eyes and then suddenly it hit me. I liked it.

This wasn’t what I wanted. This wasn’t the person who I wanted to be, my sister even looked scared of me. I had to stop. I lowered him down but drew him close to me. “This is over” I told him. “You leave my sister and me alone. This has gotten way out of hand.” He nods his head quickly in submission. I drop him like a bag of shopping. He grabs his belongings that had fallen out of his pockets and runs away without looking back. I looked around expecting to see expressions of joy and relief from students who Jacob had tormented for years, but nothing. They stared at me like I had just killed a puppy. My sister who I had just saved from mutilation had a look of horror on her face. I could see that she was trying to speak but she couldn’t find the words.

The longer I stayed there, the more people appeared. Teachers arrived to usher the students back into the building. I thought someone would come to help me but instead they kept their distance. I was a monster to them, not a hero. What I had done, my first show of power and I had, to them, assaulted five students. Regardless of what they were about to do to my sister, they were blinded by the show of unnatural power from a child.

I had to run, I didn’t know where so I did what any scared child would do. I ran to my Mum. In a blink of an eye I was stood outside my front door looking up at the bronze knocker that had been weathered by too many winters. My hand was shaking as I tried to insert the key into the lock. What was I going to say to her? I could deny all knowledge when the college comes knocking. I could lie and say I had help. It would be so easy but at the same time impossible. For I could never lie to my mother, not even when I was little and would break a vase or potted plant. The lie would hurt her more than the deed and would break the trust, never to be healed again.

I opened the door and saw Mum in the kitchen. I decided I wasn’t going to beat round the bush, I was just going to tell her and whatever she said, I would take it from there, which is what I always said when I had no idea what was going to happen next. I rushed in giving her no time to say hello. “Mum I need to talk to you! I was lying when I told the doctor I hadn’t noticed any changes.” She had a lot to process as she looked at me like a deer in headlights.

“OK let’s sit down and you can tell me what you mean.” As we made our way into the lounge, police sirens rang through the house. “What’s going on outside?” She asked, making her way to the window, peaking through the netted curtains like one of those nosy neighbours. I joined her and panicked as I saw two police cars parked outside our house, blocking the road to stop cars from driving past. Our neighbours came out from their houses to get a front row seat to the show, gathering together to gossip about something they knew nothing about, especially our next door neighbour, Mrs Turnbull, who will always ask Mum how we all are, what we have been up to and any plans for the near future. When I was in hospital she actually visited several times, usually whilst the doctor was talking with us. She would position herself just outside of the room, within earshot of course. I would see her turn her head slightly to try and listen in on the conversation, grabbing any bits of gossip she could. I bet to her, this situation was like a buffet of news for her. She looked like she was concerned, but behind those ‘caring’ eyes, she was thinking about who she could tell.

“I’m going to go outside and find out what all the commotion is about.” As she walked towards the door I intercepted her, blocking her way.

“No you can’t do that!” I screamed at her unintentially.

“OK Edward! How did you get in front of me? I didn’t see you move from your seat.”

“This is what I need to tell you, before they break down the door.” I needed to tell her everything, but I didn’t have much time. “Today at college, a boy attacked me, and I didn’t feel a thing. He struck me square in the jaw and shattered his hand, and a minute ago, the same boy and his mates were going to hurt Susan and I stopped them. I stopped them without breaking a sweat.”

“What do you mean a minute ago? Where is Susan? Is she ok?” Mum was clearly struggling to take this all in. She was panicking at the thought of her children being in harm’s way.

“She’s fine Mum, the teachers and security came before I disappeared. I needed to escape and that’s when I appeared outside our house seconds later. My body can change to keep me alive. If someone strikes me, my body toughens up like steel, if I strike them, it’s like I have hit them with a train. I don’t know how or why, but I know that it made everyone afraid of me. That’s why the police are here. I hurt people Mum, but I didn’t mean to.”

Tear began to flood my eyes, blurring Mum from my view. I was scared, no not scared, terrified. If they took me away, I didn’t know if I was ever going to see my family again, if I was going to keep my freedom or if I would be put in a cell to keep the public safe. But another part of me, let’s call it the devil on my shoulder, knew that if I didn’t want to go, there was nothing they could do to make me, and that frightened me, for I didn’t want to be seen as a monster.

Mum approached me with her arms out ready to embrace me, to try and take the pain away. I so desperately wanted that to happen, but I know it was futile. As her skin touched mine, there was a knock at the door.

“Mrs Anderson.” A commanding voice bellowed through the door. “It’s the Police. We wish to speak to you and your son.”

“It’s OK.” Mum tried to reassure me. “We’ll just talk to them, we have rights, I’ll call a lawyer if I have to. “She moves to the door slowly, she pauses, looking at the handle, hesitating. I want her to change her mind, to walk away and call for help, but she doesn’t. She exhales forcefully, relieving any tension and reaches for the handle and that’s when my world collapsed. My heart raced like I had just escaped from a pack of rabid dogs. My mouth was dry and my hands were shaking. I had to get Mum and get away from the door!

“Mum no!” I yelled, launching myself towards her, grabbing her shoulder and pulling her away as if she was a piece of cobweb I was trying to get passed. Unaware of my power, I threw her from the hallway to the kitchen like she had been attached to a bungee cord. Her body slammed against the wall like a ragdoll being tossed aside by a child having a tantrum. She fell to the floor and remained motionless on the cold tiled floor. Blood rushed from my face. I had attacked the one person who had done nothing but care for me and show me unconditional love since the moment I was born.

“Mrs Anderson is everything OK in there? Do you need assistance?” The Police Officer asked, his commanding voice replaced with concern.

“Call an ambulance!” I screamed as I raced to her, rolling her lifeless body onto her back. Her eyes are closed, I allowed my mind to convince myself that she was unconscious but fine. I draw from my memory the ‘ABC’ from the first aid lesson we had at school. Her airway was clear, I lowered my head to hers, tilting it sideways to feel as well as listen out for any signs of breathing, but I couldn’t feel anything! I pinched her ear, waiting for the blood to rush back, but nothing. My initial thought was to panic, but that would have been too easy. To hide myself in a corner and burst into tears, but it’s not going to help my Mum. I begin CPR as the front door swings open with police, storming the house like water breaking through a dam. They grab me, pulling me away from Mum whilst restraining me in handcuffs. At that moment I didn’t care what they did to me.

“Help my Mum!” I scream over and over again whilst the officers read my rights to me. If felt like a lifetime before the paramedics arrived. As the officers lead me out of the house, I heard the paramedics use technical terms that made no sense to me and didn’t tell me if she was going to be OK. As I left the house I am blinded by the light like I had been in captivity for years. The entire street is flooded with people who looked like they were here to see a celebrity. I could hear the fabricated tone of the camera phones capturing the image of a teenage boy being guided to a police car after his world has been torn apart.

The noise was unbearable. “Did you kill her Edward?”

“What have you done?”

“You’ll be OK son”

“You’re a freak!” The angry mob was scaring me. The now familiar feeling of my heart pounding, eyes dilated, I needed to get out of this situation. I make one last glance at my house and my heart breaks. The two paramedics that were helping Mum left the house without her. Their heads are down, the look defeated. The Police Officer restraining me leans in and whispers in my ear.

“How does it feel to be a murderer son?” I wanted to rip his throat out! My blood boiled, I knew I had to get away otherwise I don’t know what I would have done. I pulled the handcuffs apart like I had been attached to paper chain mail. I shove the officer with all my might, sending him through the crowd, making a gap like Moses parting the sea. I seize my opportunity and make a run for it. Like a flash I disappeared from that hostile environment. The buildings surrounding me quickly turned to green trees and fields as I escape the city and anyone who may look for me.

From that moment I never stopped running. I wanted to, but the moment I settled, I seemed to draw attention to myself. I sometimes go back to check in on my sister. She has moved in with our aunty and uncle. I don’t let her see me. It would be too distressing for her. Instead I observe from a distance. I just want to make sure that she is safe and is as happy as she can be. I hope that one day we will be able to reunite. But until then, I am going to try and use these powers for good. To help people who aren’t strong enough to help themselves.

Wish me luck.

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