Read The Games Heroes Play Online

Authors: Joshua Debenedetto

The Games Heroes Play

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CHAPTER 1

 


WHO HERE THINKS
they have what it takes to be a hero?”

Jay sat on the edge of his seat, leaning forward as if being a few inches closer to the speaker would prevent him from missing even a single word.  Jay had heard this talk already the year before, when he pretended he needed to use the restroom, and instead took a seat outside the auditorium doors.  Nevertheless, the words felt fresh and new, and each syllable increased Jay's anticipation for what was to come next.

“...The process will be long and hard, but when you leave you will be fit and ready to come home and protect the world...”

Every year the Academy gave this same talk to
the graduating class of
every
middle school
around the world, looking for the next batch of students for them to train into superheroes.  The inspirational speech was always followed by the offering of tests in order to determine if a given student contained inside of them one of the three abilities required for admission.  In the school gymnasium waited the first test, an intricate obstacle course designed to weed out the common track stars from the superhuman speedsters, those who could run and move with amazing speed and agility.  In the weight room sat the second test, consisting of a series of weights that the students would need to lift in order to prove their physical capabilities.  Jay heard a rumor that the first set that the students are asked to lift is 1,000 pounds, and that the weight only increases from there.  Only a true muscle could lift their way into the Academy.  These were not the tests that had Jay itching with anticipation; he had struggled through far too many gym classes to even
attempt either of these.  It was the third test that held all of Jay's hopes, the only test where Jay had any chance.  In the third test they look for the mind readers.

“...The Academy needs the best, and we will find the best...”

Jay realized his chances were bleak, even on this last test, but he could not keep himself from wondering if he had simply missed the signs, or if he had a power that simply lay dormant, waiting for this test to pull it out of him.  To be a speedster or a muscle would have been evident by now, but to have that special mental vision is an ability that can sometimes be misconstrued, and Jay hoped desperately that he would be one of those who simply misunderstood what was going on; who had the power but did not know it.  He knew mind reading was typically discovered by the start of middle school at the latest, and he was now about to graduate from middle school, but the dream was still t
here, and Jay held onto it
.

“...There are three tests to choose from, one for each of the three types of heroes...”

Since Jay had heard this talk before, he knew it was nearing the dramatic conclusion.  As soon as the representative from the Academy finished with his speech, the students would be allowed to go to the test sites and be tested. 
The advantage is mine
, Jay thought to himself, since he not only knew when the speech would end,
he
had also measured and tested to find the quickest route to the mind reader test site.  Sitting right next to the door gave him the final edge to guarantee that he would be the first to enter the testing site, and the first to find out if an ability lay dormant inside his head.

That is, he would have been the first to the testing site, if an asthma attack did not begin at the very moment the speech ended. 
Not now!
Panic began to set in as the other students started shuffling past him and out the door, while he could only sit there trying to breathe.  He pulled
out his inhaler and took a puff.  It was enough, but by the time he was able to make his way to the test site, a long line had already formed.

It always happened like this; Jay was surprisingly athletic for all his health problems, but in the end those problems always won out.  He would start each gym class as the star player in any game, but before long something always went wrong. 
An asthma attack.
 
Migraines.
 
Bad knees.
  The only upside was that he did not have to face any one of these issues on his own; each problem he faced was one also encountered by either a family member or a friend.  Jay's mother had severe problems with asthma, so despite the burden it caused him, it reminded him of her, and he at least knew he was not alone. 
Got to look at the positive
, Jay thought with as much of a smile as he could muster. 

He looked down the line to see if he could guess how much of his class had decided to try this test.  He quickly concluded that the entire class must be standing in this line. 
So nobody wants to try the other tests.
  Jay was disappointed, but he was not surprised that nobody thought
themselves
able to compete as a speedster or a muscle.  It did not take the Academy's tests to tell Jay that this was an unexciting school, and nobody here comes close to either of those categories.  Still, the Academy makes a point to offer all the tests to all the schools, and this school would be no exception. 
I'll wait my turn, even if I have to wait all day.

 

 

JAY COULD NOT decide if he regretted wearing a watch that day.  On the one hand, trying to guess when the second hand was at the twelve was one of the few sources of entertainment he could come up with.  On the other hand, he might have been better off not knowing that it took
four hours and thirty-seven
minutes before he could get in to be tested.  Finally he found himself walking through the door into the small room where an official looking man sat waiting for him.  Up until this point nobody had been admitted.  He never asked when people walked out of the room, but he could see on their faces.  Jay had always been good at reading people’s faces. 
Maybe that is the first step to reading minds?

Jay sat down across the table from the man administering the test. 
Is he a reader?
  Jay could not help but think. 
It doesn’t matter; all I need to focus on now is this test.
 

“My name is Lieutenant Rogers, and I will be administering your mental vision adequacy test today,” the man began, in a bored, formulaic tone.  “I will hold up a card, and you will tell me what I see.”

“Sounds good, let’s begin,” Jay blurted out in response. 
So much for keeping a professional attitude
, he though
t
.

“First card
,”
Lieutenant Rogers said, holding up a card. 
This is it!
Jay thought.  He concentrated on the card, trying to visualize what was on the other side. 

“A fire truck!”
 

Without a word or expression, Lieutenant Rogers put that card away and held up a new one. 
I guess
I was wrong
, Jay decided. 
Ok, now I really need to get this one, I can’t miss too many of these.  Think, think, think….

“A mousetrap!”

Lieutenant Rogers silently put that card away, and held up the next. 
Two down, none correct.
  The fear began to overcome the excitement. 
Maybe I’m not a reader
, Jay thought. 
No, I need to keep trying; this is only the third card.  What am I seeing…what is coming to mind…

“The card is blank!”

Lieutenant Rogers gave a half chuckle, and put down the card, lifting the next.  Jay knew that laugh.  It was not the “congratulations, you got it!” type, but more of the “nice try kid, but no, still wrong,” kind.

After what seemed like an eternity of failed attempts, Lieutenant Rogers dryly called “last card” and held up another card. 
At least it’s almost over
, Jay thought with despair.  One card left, then he can go back to sitting in a classroom for the remainder of the year, leading a normal life of asthma and achy joints. 
This card is useless
, he thought to himself. 
Why
even answer; no matter what I say, this one card will not change the fact that I had missed all the others.  How many were there, 1
00?  200?  Probably more like fifty
, but even
with that many, it still left
fourty
-nine
incorrect guesses.  That is more than enough to prove I am normal.
 

Jay looked over at Lieutenant Rogers.  He was sitting there, looking at the card, clearly wanting to hear the response and leave
.  If I can’t win with this guess
,
I might as well wake this guy up,
Jay decided, and he began spewing the first things that came to his mind.

“It’s a couple walking through a park, with a three headed dragon in a lake behind them!  Nobody notices the dragon, except a phoenix in the upper right corner which is scared out of its wits!  The man in the picture is named Bob, and he's eating a hot dog with ketchup, mustard, and relish.  The girl is named Sarah, and they have two kids, but the kids aren’t there.  Bob loves Sarah, and is looking forward to surprising her on their anniversary next week.  He’s taking a few days off from work for them to fly out to New Jersey where she grew up.  Bob knows she’s
been wanting
to go, because Bob is a reader.”

Jay had been leaning back with his eyes closed while he recounted his tall tale.  Now he looked at Lieutenant Rogers.  Lieutenant Rogers had dropped the card on the table at some point during the story, and was looking back at Jay with what looked like shock and confusion.  Jay looked down at the card.

Two squiggly lines.
  Jay glanced back at Lieutenant Rogers, who was still eyeing Jay suspiciously. 
Why is he looking at me like that?  If I were to guess by his face, I would say I got the card right, but clearly that is not the case.  Maybe he is shocked by my imagination?
  Without a word, Lieutenant Rogers looked away from Jay and reached his hand into his pocket, as if to pull something out.  Apparently he changed his mind, because his hand was empty when it reemerged.    Without warning, Lieutenant Rogers sprang up from his chair and walked briskly to the door.  Turning back to Jay as if he almost forgot he was there, he mumbled something that resembled “wait here” and disappeared through the doorway.
    

 

 
                                               

 

“WE HAVE
A
reader.”

Captain Williams had not noticed Lieutenant Rogers before hearing his words.  He was displeased by the lieutenant making such a declaration in an unsecured location.  He motioned to Lieutenant Rogers to check the area.  Once he got back with an all clear, Captain Williams allowed the conversation to continue.  “How many correct?”

“None, sir.”

“None?
Clarify Lieutenant.”

Lieutenant Rogers opened his mouth immediately to speak, but quickly realized he needed to choose his words carefully.  He continued slowly, taking the time to phrase what he was saying correctly.  “He…did not get any of the cards right, exactly…but he did…read my mind.”

“Are you telling me you were thinking of something other than the cards?”  Captain Williams meant this to be a jab at Lieutenant Rogers, but after the words came out he realized his statement sounded a little more comical than he had intended.  Of course the lieutenant was thinking of something other than the cards; he had been sitting there for hours at a school that clearly had no promise.

“It was the last card, sir, and he had not gotten any right previously.  I was thinking about the card at first, but he took a while to answer, and my thoughts strayed just a little,” Lieutenant Rogers responded nervously.  He had thought this would be exciting news; he did not realize that he would be getting himself into trouble.

“Ok Rogers, what did he see?”

“Well, sir, it was actually a mixture of a few things.  The first was the walk Sarah and I went on last week…”

“Your wife Sarah?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Ok, so he knew you took your wife for a walk.  Sounds like nothing more than a fair guess to me.”

“No sir, he did not say
I
had gone for a walk, he said it was on the card.  He guessed that the card was of a couple named Sarah and Bob going for a walk through a park.  He knew I had
eaten a hotdog with ketchup, mustard, and relish, and that we have two kids.  He also knew that I am planning to take Sarah to New Jersey for our anniversary next week.”

Captain Williams was not sure how to respond.  Lieutenant Rogers had always been such a professional soldier, but now he was breaking down.  Why could he not see this kid was playing some sort of trick on him?  “Lieutenant, that is very impressive if he was really able to learn all of that from you in such a short time. 
Think about this rationally though, you and your wife went for a walk in an open park.
  Is it not possible that this kid was there?  Maybe he saw the two of you.”

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