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Yesterday seemed like a distant memory.
James was awakened by both the feel and sound of his stomach rumbling. Fortunately for him, his nose detected the aroma of whatever mouth-watering concoction Uncle June was whipping up in the kitchen.
He rolled out of bed and knocked out 25 one armed push-ups with each arm in less than a minute.
Despite the burden he had accepted, he felt more excited than nervous. While he could not be certain that the beautiful supernatural woman currently living with them cared about him as a person and not just a walking buffet, he was going to take the situation one day at a time.
James could practically taste the delicious breakfast smells tickling his nose. He dressed in a pair of gray jogging pants and an old holey t-shirt from his favorite action anime.
“Morning Unc, something smells good."
Suddenly, time slowed then ground to a halt as his eyes swept past his seated uncle and to Johari approaching the table carrying a carton of orange juice.
“Morning James. Your uncle said this is your favorite breakfast.”
Three plates had been set on the table. Sausage links, piles of fried potatoes, fresh cut fruit, and bagels were arranged neatly on a large metal serving tray in the middle of the plates.
“You did all this?”
“Just a small token of appreciation.”
“You are such a nerd.”
He smiled and fought the impulse to stuff his face. Instead he speared a single sausage and savored it.
“It’s really good.”
“Michelle’s been calling you by the way?”
“My best friend. I just saw her yesterday.”
“You’ve been asleep for three days.”
“Three days?” He nearly choked on his next sausage. Johari slapped his back. “What are you talking about?”
“That night when we left Johari’s. You agreed to be bitten again. You’ve been out of it since.”
“Damn. Three whole days. She probably thinks I’m trying to avoid her.”
“Why would she think that?”
“Because she wants me to do something. Probably carry a washing machine up a flight of stairs or something.”
“Are you avoiding her?”
“No ma’am. Last time I checked, an incredibly brilliant and beautiful woman bit me and I passed out like a wuss. What did you tell her Unc?”
“Told her you had a horrible contagious rash."
"Sometimes I hate you so very much."
“I love you too, kid. In all seriousness, this is what I was worried about. Three days is way too much time between bites. What if Fox showed up while you were dreaming about your wedding day?”
“First, stay out of my dreams old man. Secondly, maybe you can dust off your rolodex and call in a league of extraordinary grandpas.”
“Such ageism. Thought I taught you better. Hang tight dummy.”
“Where you going?”
“Dust off my rolodex. Go work out or something. Johari, I’ll get the dishes when I’m done.”
As he left the kitchen, the door bell rang.
“He’s in the kitchen,” he heard his uncle say. A moment later, a less than pleased Michelle stormed towards him.
“You better have the world’s best reason for ignoring my calls James Martin Mitchell.”
“You must be Michelle.”
Michelle did a double take at the sight of Johari. James shrugged his shoulders and ate some of the fruit on his plate.
“Hi. I’m sorry. You are?”
“Michelle. This is my Master Johari.” The ladies shook hands.
“Long story. Tell you about it later.”
“Are you ok? You haven’t been at school. Ignoring my calls. I could strangle you.”
“It suddenly occurs to me that I attract very violent people. Look Shelly, things got weird for a bit, we’re handling it. I promise I’ll explain everything as soon as I can.”
“You better.” She snatched one of his potatoes. “Mmm. That’s good.”
“Thank you. All in the seasoning.”
“I like you already. Scooch.” She hip checked James and joined him in his chair then began eating his potatoes.
“No, no. Help yourself.”
“You two are close.”
“Not usually this close. You ladies get to know each other better. Uncle June’s absence is making me nervous.”
In the spare bedroom that served as his uncle’s study, James watched Uncle June tap away at a keyboard.
“Kitchen got too hot to handle?”
“Just making sure you didn’t fall and break a hip. What’s up?”
“You’re not going to like it.”
“Lay it on me.” James crossed the room and stood roughly an arm length away from the older man.
“One bite every two hours.”
“Won’t that kill me?”
“No. But you will go into a coma. The question is for how long.”
“That’s a step up from being dead.” His uncle turned to face him.
“You’re a strange guy, you know that?”
“I get it honestly.” He gripped his uncle’s shoulder. “Don’t worry so much. I trust you with my life. I’m ready.”
Uncle June sighed then spun back around to face his computer.
“Done. Listen kid. I know I bust your balls sometimes, but I’m proud of you. Try not to get yourself killed.”
“That’s usually the plan.”
“Soon as Michelle leaves, let’s tell Johari about the plan.”
James returned to the breakfast table first.
The ladies were giggling like old friends.
“What’s so funny?”
“Silly girl stuff,” Michelle replied. “Nothing a manly man like you would be interested in.”
“Yeah right, you’re probably talking about me.”
“Told you he was conceited.”
“See, you were talking about me. Traitor.” Michelle stood up and punched him in the shoulder.
“I got to get going.” She leaned forward and whispered, “Hold onto this one, I like her. See you tonight Johari.”
“Bye Shelly. She’s pretty great, don’t you think?”
“She has her moments. You two hit it off pretty well.”
“It’s a woman thing.” Uncle June returned to the room.
“What’s happening tonight?”
“Silly girl stuff.”
“Okay kids. Here’s the plan. Johari, the only way this works is you bite him nine times over the next eighteen hours.”
“Is that safe.”
“Nope. But it’s better than the alternative. He’s ready. Are you?” She grabbed James’ hand and gave it a squeeze.
“Let’s get stronger together.”
Eight hours later, James was well aware of the fact that he was dreaming but nonetheless, everything felt very real.
To either side of him the crumbled remnants of buildings spilled out into the street.
The taste of ash settled on his tongue and inhuman wails cried out to him. Horrific caricatures of people poked deformed heads from around corners and cast misshapen shadows on walls.
Despite his disquiet, James found it horribly amusing that every time he dreamed about a beautiful woman or having super powers, the dreams ended abruptly. Yet this one seemed determined to last until it showed him every monster of this strange world.
Another chorus of wails assaulted his ears, but the pitch was different. It was more off-key than stereotypically ghostly.
The world became fuzzy and he was thankful that it meant the end to this madness. He was less thankful when he recognized what had broken the dream world's hold over him.
His uncle had been singing at him. Uncle June had a serviceable voice, but had apparently decided it would be more fun to torture James with attempts at high notes that a man not classically trained should attempt.
"Good, you're awake," Uncle June remarked. “Got a surprise for you downstairs.”
James muttered a response then pulled the sheet away from his body. Sadly, Johari was not cuddled next to him this time. What sort of guy missed waking up next to a dangerous super-human capable of overpowering him and puncturing his neck with her teeth?
If anything, James was concerned that he had no real complaints about being thrust into a world he thought existed only in fiction.
So far that world included his uncle who was basically a policeman of supernatural entities; a man that beat him up to make him strong enough that a beautiful woman could give him super powers by biting him; and the beautiful woman who eventually did bite him. It was a strange new world indeed.
A distant sound became more intelligible and James moaned as he realized his uncle was singing at him again.
“Okay, okay. I'm up.”
James touched his neck where he had been bitten seven times at this point. It tingled at his touch but otherwise felt okay. He did feel tired, but not exhausted.
On the bright side, his uncle was grilling meat again. Meat made him happy.
What awaited him in the kitchen almost matched his expectations.
Uncle June sat in his usual spot. A wonderful aroma did fill the kitchen. There was even a beautiful supernaturally strong woman occupying another chair. However, it was not the woman he had anticipated seeing.
He opened his mouth, thought better of it and sat down to the right of Uncle June.
“This cannot be good. Good morning Ms. De La Luna.”
“Good morning James. Your uncle has informed me of the complication that has arisen.” Her hair had been pulled into a ponytail and she looked remarkably attractive in a sundress.
“So, where’s Johari?”
As if on cue, Johari entered the kitchen. A step behind her, Michelle followed.
“Why is she here?” James noticed how his master frowned at the sight of the other woman.
“Well look at you Casanova; got women just lining up to cook for you.” Michelle took the seat next to him.
“Hey Shelly. This might not be the best time.”
“Why did you take a Servant?”
“Why is that any of your business?”
“It won’t change the end result. He’s here.”
“She’s not wrong. My contacts put him within the city limits.”
“Is this when you let me in on your secret? Master? Servant? What kind of fifty shades of freaky are you into?"
“Can I eat before I get accused of being an undercover freak?”
Uncle June snatched his fork out of his hand.
“But food.” His uncle gave him a death glare. “Right.”
“Can you buy us any time, Elisa?”
“I won’t fight him if that’s what you’re asking.”
“Just stall him. Take him to dinner or something. Please.”
“Very well. I am curious as to how this will play out. Be careful Professor. I am fond of you.”
“I love it when you get all mushy. Let’s go James.”
Six minutes later, his uncle was rummaging through his closet.
He retrieved a metal lock box similar in dimensions to a shoe box. Opening the box, he revealed what looked like a glove with a raised bracelet on the wrist.
“This is a Voice Initiated Personal Enforcer Revolver. V.I.P.E.R. for short. It has a dozen functions.” Uncle June showed him a green bullet. “Tranquilizers. If you hit him with a few you might slow his movements enough to restrain him with this.”
He handed James a metal cube slightly bigger than James’ palm.
“Try not to slug it out with this guy. Here’s some blanks. We’re going to practice as much as we can.”
Three hours into their training, Uncle June stopped him.
An hour later, the trio of James, Johari, and Uncle June joined Elisa and the man called Fox at the Blue Moon night club.
Blue Moon was the most popular night spot for a hundred miles. Tonight however, the only people inside the building were the five of them.
“Come with me and nobody gets hurts.”
“Malcolm?” James and Julius looked at Johari. She was on first name basis with yet another guy that was probably going to hurt him a lot. Why did that name sound familiar? The answer hit him a moment before Malcolm tried to hit him.
This was the man who had easily scored the highest in James' tryout class. He must have been observing Johari the whole time.
Malcolm kicked him away but was blindsided by a kick from Johari. He quickly grabbed her punch and upper cut her in the stomach in one fluid motion. Johari was tossed aside just in time for Malcolm to block James’ flurry of punches.
James jumped backed and fired three tranquilizers at the man. Malcolm easily eluded the projectiles and grabbed James by the V.I.P.E.R. and the throat. James struck Malcolm in the jaw as hard as he could with his free hand.
It felt like punching a brick wall, but Malcolm acknowledged the blow by dropping him then kicking him in the stomach.
Johari knocked Malcolm down with an overhead right that landed flush with the man’s temple.
James fired twice more but Malcolm recovered and avoided the tranquilizers.
Malcolm defended expertly against both James and Johari as neither of them could land more than a glancing blow.
James intercepted a kick meant for Johari but bought Johari enough space to stun Malcolm with a right hook to the chin.
Taking advantage, James tackled Malcolm to the ground.
They scrambled for position; each landed an elbow or short punch during the exchange.
The moment Malcolm gained top position again, Johari kicked him as hard as she could to the side of the head.
Malcolm fell over and James ejected the cartridge from his V.I.P.E.R. He tossed it to Johari just as Malcolm got back to his feet.
Johari did her best to fend off the ferocity of Malcolm’s attack as James shook loose his disorientation.
With all his remaining strength, James hooked his arms under both of Malcolm’s arm pits then clasped his hands together behind Malcom’s head.
Malcolm over powered him in two seconds, but almost immediately after, James heard a satisfying smack.
James fell back as Malcolm staggered. Johari had smashed the remaining tranquilizers into Malcom’s face.
As he began to lose consciousness, he felt Johari kiss his forehead and he smiled. She held him and he drifted off to sleep.
James had no idea how long he had been asleep. What he did know was the he felt incredible.
He stripped off his clothing from the fight and pulled on a pair of sweat pants and t-shirt.
As he approached the kitchen, he counted more voices than he anticipated. Once he entered, he could do nothing but shake his head.
"We're going to need a bigger table," he suggested as his eyes took in the scene before him. Uncle June had ceded his usual chair to Johari and was at the stove. Elisa sat adjacent to Johari and seemed a bit more animated. Michelle was practically sharing a seat with Johari laughing it up like she had subbed in Johari as her new best friend.
Most surprisingly, Jabari decided to grace them with his presence. He casually leaned against the wall and gave James a nod.
"Good morning everyone," James finally said as he got closer to the table.
"Good job not dying.”
“No thanks to you. Would have been nice to see you punch somebody else’s face for a change.”
“My hands were tied. Literally. But that is a story for another time.”
“So what’s next?”
“You are going to get some proper training. You’re still pretty sloppy.” His uncle placed a stack of pancakes in front of him. “Enjoy. Boot camp food sucks.”
“Welcome to my world kid.”
“My little man is all grown up.” Michelle pinched his cheeks for emphasis.
“This has been an interesting few days.”
“Feel free to swing by anytime Elisa.”
“I may take you up on that offer. For now, I’m happy that your nephew is adjusting to his new role so well. He could prove to be quite an asset.”
“I get first crack at him after boot camp.”
“We do have unfinished business.”
“Shall we take our leave Mr. Kennedy?”
“Oh yeah, I’m kinda working for Ms. De La Luna.”
“I expect nothing less from a man of your considerable talents.” Johari gave Jabari a hug. “Don’t be a stranger.”
“Ah. You do care.” She punched his shoulder. “Ouch. So violent.”
"Before you two leave,” Uncle June interjected, “a toast.” Everyone grabbed a glass. “To good food, better teammates, and the best of things to come.”