Connor felt goose bumps on his arms as he stared at the brick wall at the end of the wide alley. He considered climbing it but it was easily twice his height. For an incoming high school junior, he was significantly shorter than his friends and the red wall stared back at him intimidatingly. His pulse quickened as he turned around in the sickly yellow glow of the streetlights. He took a few steps away from the wall and flinched when his foot landed in a puddle. The splash of the water seemed to launch a mixture of odors into the night air. Conner only recognized a few, scrunching his nose at the intensity of the unpleasant scents. However, as he attempted to escape the sudden influx of smells, he only opened himself to more. Refuse and stale food scraps threw their stench to the passing breeze and overwhelmed him. He coughed as he wished for the sudden overstimulation of his senses to pass and hoped that his head would clear so he could determine where to run to next.
The ragged apartment complex on the left side of the alley showed promise but as he examined the service door, he concluded that it would make too much noise if forced open. Connor quickly glanced over his shoulder. The bars closed hours ago and there wasn't a soul in sight. As far as he knew, he was alone. He convinced himself to risk the noise and grasped the door knob firmly, surprised that the metal bent slightly when he did, and twisted. The sharp crack of the lock failing filled his ears, louder than he anticipated. The knob came loose in his hand as he took several quick scans of the alley. It was too bright in his opinion but he was thankful that he would be out of the open soon enough. He gave the door a gentle push but it didn't budge. Connor thought that there must be another lock, only visible from the other side. As he prepared to break it as well, the sound of footsteps stopped him cold.
The muffled, rhythmic cadence of shoes on damp concrete echoed through the empty streets. The approaching stranger's scent reached Connor before long, although the moisture in the air seemed to dilute this as well. He knew he would definitely draw attention if he broke the second lock yet he would surely be seen if he remained in the alley. As he evaluated his options, the footsteps grew louder. He was about to try getting a running start at the wall when the approaching stranger appeared at the end of the alley. Connor froze and tried to size up the figure he saw.
Although the streetlights bathed the majority of the alley in light, the man stood just outside their reach. Connor stared at the silhouetted figure and knew that he had been spotted. A multitude of scenarios rushed through Connor's mind; none of them pleasant. The only explanation that made sense was that the man was about to mug him or worse. However, in light of the recent events in Connor's life, he feared more for the man than he did for himself.
Moments passed in silence until the man stepped into the light and spoke to Connor. "Good evening, young man. It's an awfully strange night to be wandering the street all alone, isn't it? Although, I believe you wouldn't have any difficulty handling yourself."
Connor struggled to understand what the man meant by this. His growing unease was only slightly offset by the man's appearance. He was a middle-aged man with traces of grey in his otherwise dark brown hair who wore crisp, black, casual pants and a loose, tan jacket over a white collared shirt. Nothing indicated that he was on any drugs or that he was desperate to rob Connor for money. Still, there was something that Connor suspected the man was hiding, something just beneath the surface.
"Am I correct, Connor?" The stranger's voice rolled across the moist blacktop and through the misty air, catching Connor off balance.
"H-how do you know my name?" Connor stammered at first before finding enough composure to add force to his question. He slowly began to back away from the door but the stranger remained at the end of the alley.
"Relax; I only wanted to make sure I have your attention. Before we start off on the wrong foot or you go about making any assumptions about me, it would be best if I introduced myself. My name is Dr. Daniel Valmora and I want to help you." the man said calmly.
"You didn't answer my question." Connor replied.
"I work for a special division of law enforcement." Dr. Valmora reached into his coat pocket and produced a silver badge in a black wallet. "We are tasked with handling special cases such as yours. We have been monitoring you ever since you were checked into the hospital. The official reports say you were involved in a common animal attack but we both know different. We know what really happened and we know a great deal more, Connor."
"Then you must know I'm dangerous. You must know what can happen around me. I don't want to kill you but you've forced me into a corner here!" Connor raised his voice, hoping he could convince the doctor to leave him.
"I know what you are, Connor. It must scare you, but believe me when I say that I know who you are. Who you are is what is important, what really matters here. You are not dangerous. You are not a monster. And you are most definitely not a killer."
"How? How do you know that? You can't be sure! I'm not even sure!" Connor took another step backwards.
Dr. Valmora paused, hoping to calm the young man at the end of the alley. "I won't pretend to know everything about you. The only information I can be certain of is what is on your records. But that doesn't really matter here, does it? Knowing your birthday, blood type or medical history won't help us right now. However, I've been doing this job for a while now and I can guess that you ran away because you don't want to hurt anyone."
"I don't think I have a choice with this."
"There is always a choice, Connor. Especially when it comes to who you want to be. I can help you if you'll let me." The doctor spoke firmly but in a reassuring tone. "You can leave this alley unharmed and you are free to run out of the city and go wherever it is you planned on going. I won't stop you and my people will not get in your way. You have my word."
"How do I even know I can trust you? You already said you know so much about me." Connor's heart pounded inside him as beads of sweat began to roll down his face despite the cool air. "For all I know you want to lock me up and run experiments or tests or whatever it is you people do!"
"Connor, if that was what we wanted, we would have secured you five minutes ago. There was a time when we did use force. It was a bad idea from the start. We have learned from our mistake. We don't want to hurt anyone any more than you do." Dr. Valmora pulled the left side of his jacket away and reached for an object under his arm. Connor strained to make out the object but he was fairly certain that he knew what it was before the doctor drew it. In the yellow light at the alley's end, Dr. Valmora held a pistol out to the young man.
" Connor began. Dr. Valmora cut him off by ejecting the magazine into his palm with a soft click. He placed the weapon and its ammunition on the ground that glistened with the rainwater and streetlights. The doctor stood up and walked to the other side of the alley and raised his hands.
"My superiors used to hate it when I did that." he said. "The first time I disarmed myself they had a few words for me in the debriefing. I told them that it was my choice and I saw it as the best way to prove that I meant no harm. I know that you don't want to harm me but you're afraid of what you think you can do. You think that you're a danger to your parents and friends but we can teach you to control yourself. There are others like you and we have a facility deep in the wilderness where they can show you how to handle everything. I won't force your decision, Connor. I only wish to present you with options." Dr. Valmora gestured to the open street. "It's your choice."
Connor stood motionless. Somehow, he felt himself relax. He thought about his plan to run away and realized a multitude of factors he had overlooked. His plan was full of holes and he feared that any one of them could lead to more trouble. The man at the end of the alley seemed to offer him a future. Although he had little reason to trust him, the sincerity in his voice was a start. His final thought was that he needed support and Dr. Valmora and his organization appeared to be able to provide it.
"What about my parents? Or school?" Connor asked.
"I have a team awaiting my word to pick them up. They will join us before we move to the facility. Your time there won't extend past the end of the summer and you can be back in school by the start of the year. I won't lie to you and say your life will be normal by then but we can help you adjust." Dr. Valmora said.
Connor glanced back at the wall and nodded. He had made up his mind and met the doctor at the end of alley. "Besides, when you've been in my line of work for as long as I have," Dr. Valmora said. "You'll find that normality is rather boring." Connor smiled and shook his hand. The doctor winced at the strength of his grip.
"Sorry." Connor said sheepishly.
"It's alright. But that will be among the first things we'll teach you to control. For now, let's call our ride, shall we?" Dr. Valmora tapped a button on his coat and spoke into his collar. Connor could make out a message of confirmation coming from somewhere near the doctor's head but his attention soon fell to the black pistol still lying on the asphalt. He walked over to the weapon and picked up both it and its magazine. To his surprise, the magazine did not appear to be loaded with normal bullets. Instead, the clip had several small silver-tipped darts filled with a translucent blue liquid.
"Ah, thank you." Dr. Valmora said as he took the pistol from Connor. He loaded it and returned it to its holster as Connor looked at him quizzically. "Tranquilizer pistol. Potent, but non-lethal. Don't worry; it's only for the real monsters."
As a green SUV pulled around the corner and approached the pair, Dr. Valmora answered him. "Another thing we'll have to teach is how to recognize those who have made different choices. They are out there and every day we try to keep people like you from repeating their mistakes. Today, you made the right choice. But I think that's enough for now. Our transport is here."
The driver opened the door for them and Connor took a seat, eagerly waiting to discover what the doctor and the organization would teach him. For the time being, he felt that he had a chance to regain his future, even if it would not be exactly typical. He supposed he could try to find a new state of normality or he could embrace whatever came his way. He thought about the doctor's words as the doors closed and decided that whatever happened to him, all that mattered was what he made of it for himself.