This week week we are highlighting the five stories that won prizes in this year’s short story contest. To start us off, we will look at Luke Durivage’s runner-up story, “Savior.” Our judges thought this was a “fun, speculative read,” and, despite its unorthodox structure, found its pacing and building tension a good example of the short story form.
It was a snowy afternoon, in downtown New York City. I was glistening with sweat, running away from my tortured past. Men were chasing me, I looked back for a moment to see how many were there, there were eleven, all wearing black suits and ties. The quick glance was not a good trade off for the loss of traction that ensued because of it. My long dark brown locks of hair were swinging in front of my eyes, and my glasses became smudged with the seemingly perpetual falling precipitation. These distractions did not phase me as I approached my goal of escaping The Agency. I knew they could not catch up to me, but for an extra precaution I hastily turned into an alleyway and hid in a thankfully empty dumpster. My heartbeat slowed as I waited and listened for my pursuers. Once they passed, I counted to ten then jumped out of the dumpster and ran in the direction opposite of the men. I’ve been held at the agency for as long as I can remember, experimented on like a human guinea pig. They apparently need a sort of “super” soldier for a “cold war” between us and the Russians. I did not fully understand what they were doing to me at The Agency, the shadowy figures would not even tell me the name of the organization because of “confidentiality.” All I know for certain is that I was left with a sort of power, a power that is not possessed by anyone else. I can run, fast, very fast, and my power allows me to outrun anyone on Earth, even though I am only sixteen years old. I felt incredibly hungry, but I thought that I could not enter any store or talk to anyone, because I put the people around me in danger. My stomach’s moaning however, led me to disobey my own rule. I entered a small bakery, I was greeted by a pleasant smell of toasted bread and sweet cannolis. The floorboards creaked and the walls oozed mold, but it was a warm and seemingly safe place. The man running the store saw me come in and greeted me with a friendly expression. His balding head was covered by a hat that read “Yankees” on it. He asked me what I wanted, I was too scared to say anything. The man thought I was a poor boy because of the dirty rags that I was given as clothes. The man said that since I remind him of his own son, he would give me some bread. This man seemed genuinely nice as he handed me a loaf of pumpernickel bread. Since he had no other customers to attend to, he brought me to the back of the little store and felt obliged to try to help me. He asked where my parents were, I told him that I didn’t know. He briefly spoke about how if I was really all alone, he would let me stay with him for a while. Even though I’ve just met him, and only know his name by the tag on his shirt that read “Sam.” I felt like he was the first person I’ve ever really trusted, my only friend. He asked me my name, I told him I don’t have one, he seemed surprised but began to console me and told me I “had it rough,” he had no idea. He tried to call the police in case anyone was looking for me, I knew this was a waste of time. Eventually someone did come, an erie knock on the door startled both of us. After Sam brought me a blanket, he went to check who was at the door. A man in a black suit and tie entered the store, I was still in the back, this prevented me from spying on the encounter. I heard a gunshot, then Sam hit the floor. I started running as soon as the I heard the gunshot. I swiftly left through the back exit before the agent could find me. I was alone again, I realized that only normal people can have friends, and I’m not normal. I was roaming the city for a few days, eating out of garbage bins and hiding in various alleys. I eventually stumbled upon a worn manhole, permeating the air with a nauseating odor. I stared at the manhole for what seemed like thirty minutes, fascinated by what may lie underneath, as I’ve never seen anything like it. It was like a doorway to a new world, my unquenchable thirst woke me from my trance. I tried asking strangers for a drink, none would even listen to me. Eventually I grew desperate and realized I had to use my powers in order to survive. I saw a young man holding a water bottle. Once he sat down on a street bench, in order to read the newspaper, I sneaked behind him. I casually snatched the water bottle from his side, thinking he hadn’t noticed. Then, convinced he was not paying attention to his surroundings, I took his wallet as well, thinking that I could not survive without some way to get more palatable food. Unfortunately, as I was walking away, the man yelled, “Hey! That kid stole my wallet!” and I started to run. I noticed that everyone was staring at me and calling me names, I felt embarrassed and wanted to get out of the situation. So I kicked it into overdrive, I bolted away from all the people on the street in seconds, and found myself drawn back to the manhole when I finally stopped running. I felt lightheaded from all the running. I drank from the water bottle then took a nap. When I awoke, I saw police searching for me, apparently there was a lot of money in the man’s wallet. I tried to check what was so important in the wallet, but I was spotted by the police. They started to chase me, but I realized that my only way to escape, is to enter the manhole. I opened the rusty manhole and began to climb down the slimy metal ladder. Some police were too big to fit down the manhole, others were too repulsed by the smell. Either way, they stopped chasing me, I was safe. I started to walk down the disgusting corridors, next to a river of waste. A rat came up to me, trying to climb on to me. Scared, I kicked it into the waste, hoping that was enough to keep it away. I started walking again, but after about five minutes, the rat came back. Not only was it still dripping with waste, but it brought a mischievous horde of rats. I started running again, but I was too tired to run as fast as I potentially could because I had just ran away from the police. Rats started climbing up my leg, biting bits of flesh clean off my body. I was trying to run, but I was not fast enough. I was on the verge of losing hope when, like an angel coming from the heavens, a girl who looked about a year younger than me appeared. The girl held out her hand and uttered the word “stop” in a demanding voice, louder than I expected could come from a girl of her size. To my complete amazement, the rats stopped, and went back to the depths from which they came. I thanked this angel, and tried to catch my breath. I asked what her name was, she, in a now harmonic voice, told me she did not know. I called her “Angel” from then on. I never knew there could be others like me, I asked Angel if there were more, she affirmed my suspicions. Angel then led me to a compartment in the sewer system. The room was less grungy than the rest of the sewer, but still contained a pungent smell. There was not much to this room, I only saw blankets and food rations along with a box of supplies containing necessities such as bandages. There were nine other kids, all around my age, sitting around in the room. As I stepped inside, each of their eyes darted to mine, inspecting me like a stray dog that they want to figure out what to do with, or more accurately, how to get rid of. A big-boned boy, about two years older than me, called out to Angel angrily, “Why would you bring an outsider here?” Angel replied, “He’s not an outsider, he’s one of us.” Angel introduced me to the boy, she told me that he was their leader, and that he could lift a car with his bare hands. From his barbaric expression and confused stare, I started calling the boy “Bar.” Another boy jumped up from his seat, he exuded confidence but looked rather weak. He exclaimed, “Do not trust him, he’s probably a spy.” Despite the accusation, Angel kept defending me, “He might be able to help us!” I did not understand what they needed help with, but I knew they would not be happy if I opened my mouth. My accuser, the youngest of the bunch, could change his size by growing or shrinking. I called him “Munchkin” because of his feeble stature when he is at his actual size. The seven others stood in awe of me, like I was an alien who just landed. Angel started to introduce me to them. She showed me a set of twins, with only a slight difference in eye color to differentiate them. One could control fire, I called him “Diablo” because of his devilish smile, the other could control ice, I called him “Frost” because when he stood up, a pile of frost was left on the floor. I greeted them eagerly, but they did not seem as eager to meet me. Angel then introduced me to a boy with a vacant expression, I called him “Spitter” because of his tendency to spit acid. He was probably the most excited to meet me, even though he could not tell me so. Spitter could not talk because the acid in his saliva fully dissolved his tongue. A girl with big blue eyes and fair hair appeared behind me, I called her “Blink” because she could teleport to a different location quicker than I could blink. A curly haired boy approached me timidly, I called him “Echo” because his ability allowed him to scream so loudly that his voice had an inherent echo. Echo passed me a pair of ear plugs so I would be able to keep my hearing if he ever used his power in my presence. The plugs looked used, but I thanked him wholeheartedly. Next, I met a kid with completely blacked out sunglasses. I called her “Beam” because if she were to take off her sunglasses, a laser beam would most assuredly destroy much of the room. I felt bad that she would not be able to see the world the way I do, then I realized that I was in a sewer, which is not the most pleasant sight anyway. Finally, I was introduced to an innocent looking girl who was strapped to a wheelchair. I called her “Star” because unfortunately, if she was unbound to the chair, she would float away to the stars. After greeting all the kids, they seemed to be let their guard down around me a bit more. I briefly turned to Angel and mumbled, “So what’s your power then? How did you stop those rats?” Angel responded, “I can talk to animals and control what they do.” Next, I felt it appropriate to ask her what her mysterious “plan” was that she mentioned earlier. The others looked at her as if she was forbidden to tell me, but she shot them a glance back and decided to tell me. She explained, “We all got these powers from a place called The Agency, and we all ran away. But now we want to go back and free any other kids that might be there and bring down The Agency once and for all.” I was unimpressed with the lack of any real plan to bring down the agency, but I smiled and told her that sounded incredible and that I was on board. I told the Angel and the others that I escaped The Agency too, and that I was fast. They instantly sympathized with me and started to treat me less like an outsider. Angel was happy to hear that, but it was getting late so she persuaded me to rest because of my long journey from captivity. I awoke to the bustling of the kids getting ready to go somewhere. I asked them what was going on. Bar told me that they were going to get more supplies because they were running out quickly and they could not support another kid with the food available. I told him that I would help, he allowed me to come with them as long as I stayed with them and followed his command, I agreed. Bar led us to an old, decaying warehouse, decorated with graffiti. A large sign just above the entrance read in large red letters “Jerome’s Storage” and was covered in rust. Bar ordered Blink to simply teleport inside and retrieve a few more rations, this is what they have been doing in order to survive, so she was used to this duty. I peered into the warehouse to watch Blink, she appeared next to a crate and stealthily opened it. Bar boasted about the genius of his plan, especially due to the fact that they have never been caught. In actuality, the team has never been caught because there has never been security guards watching the supplies at night, until today. As I was watching Blink, I noticed her simple, yet elaborate elegant moves, like she knew exactly how to move her body in order to get the job done in the most effective way possible. Blink seemed as graceful as a ballerina, but this performance did not last long as I noticed an armed guard patrolling around the warehouse. I tried to warn someone, but it was already too late, the guard spotted Blink. Blink panicked, she had never ran into an issue like this, and did not know how to handle it either. Once Blink noticed she had been spotted, the guard was right in front of her, holding a pistol directly at her. Blink froze, her gloriously self-possessed mindset shattered in this time of danger. The guard, shaky from his intense state of nervousness, fired a bullet. Blink grabbed hold of the rations and teleported back to us, immediately falling to the ground once she was with us. Blink was shot, it was only a minor graze above her left shoulder, but blood was gushing out of it quickly. Bar froze, this had never happened to him, he had no idea how to handle this situation. I told Diablo to use his powers to cauterize the wound, he followed my instructions, despite Blink’s apparent agony. I wished we could have gone to a hospital for her, as watching her convulse in pain deeply upset me, but none of us trusted hospitals or any other organization because we feared they might be associated with The Agency, and they could have a way of finding us. Frost used his power to numb the wound, which calmed Blink down a little bit. Bar picked up the rations, and we travelled back to our only safe haven, the sewer. By the time we returned to our base, Blink was in much less pain, and she started to thank me. One by one the group said that I should be the one leading them instead of Bar, because Bar did not know how to handle the situation earlier and I took charge. I immediately denied their request, as it seemed like too much responsibility. But after Angel and Star started to persuade me to reconsider and said that I was much more heroic than Bar, I eventually decided that it could be fun leading a team. Bar was furious, his temper took over until he had no idea what he was doing. Bar rushed over to me, his face red with rage, taunting me by calling me an outsider and saying that I could never lead the team as he could. Angel stood up for me, telling Bar to stop being a bully. Bar pushed Angel to the ground then picked me up by my shirt and brought me outside to an empty park, covered in snow. Everyone followed us to see what would happen next. Star tried to calm him down, but this only made him angrier. Bar ripped Star out of her wheelchair and taunted her, telling her, “say hi to the sun for me!” Everyone was shocked, Star was screaming in horror, floating away to her seemingly imminent demise. Bar then stomped over to me, ready to strike with all of his admittedly impressive might. Even with his advantage of size and power, I did not cower, I stood my ground. Seeing me stand up to Bar after he committed such an atrocity, the whole team sided with me, telling Bar to stop. Bar persisted in his advances toward me. Munchkin stepped in, growing to a size three feet taller than Bar. Despite Munchkin towering over Bar and attempting to intimidate him, Bar picked munchkin up and threw him twenty feet away. Frost tried to freeze Bar’s legs to the ground, but Bar used his incredible strength to break the ice with ease. I sprinted back to the manhole and started to open it as I waited for Bar and the others to catch up. Once they arrived I shouted for Spitter and Beam to attack Bar. Bar laughed and said that they listen to him not me, then he told them to attack me instead. There was a brief pause and a moment of tenseness until Bar screamed, “What are you waiting for?” to them. To my relief, they listened to me, officially sealing me as the group’s leader. Spitter expectorated corrosive acid onto Bar’s leg, his calves literally dissolving until bone became visible. Beam then followed up with a shot of energy to the same spot, knocking Bar off balance. As Bar was cursing them and screaming at the top of his lungs, I pushed him into the sewer, a thirty foot drop into putrid sewage. I celebrated with the others, thanking them for their help. Once Munchkin finally caught up to us, we mourned Star. Angel began to cry, I consoled her, proclaiming that nothing like this would ever happen again. After a long moment of silence, Munchkin asked, “So, what now?” Everyone looked to me to decide what we were going to do next. After a short period of contemplation, I told them, “We’re going to The Agency.” Everyone looked at me like I was crazy, but I told them that they could trust me, I had a plan. It was midnight, and we returned to The Agency, much to the dismay of the rest of the team. I remembered my time here, the inhumane tests that they used to run on me, torturing me until I could not bare anymore pain. After being turned into human science experiments, we all had something in common, we ran away from this horrific place. This was the first time that we ever returned to The Agency, and it made all of us anxious. Blink asked me what my plan was, I told her that we were going to free every single kid that was being held in The Agency. Although they were scared to go back into The Agency, they never doubted my leadership. Blink teleported all of us inside, and we roamed the hallways in search of the tormented children. There were not many agents at night, but we still exercise extreme caution just in case. We turned a corner and suddenly we were face to face with two agents. Echo screamed out of fear, immobilizing them, but also alerting any other agents of our location. We started to run, incapacitating any other agent we saw. Eventually we stumbled upon a room with a sign that read “Subjects 21-30,” and we entered the room. We found ten scared, severely malnourished kids pleading for us to save them. Spitter and Beam started breaking the locks of the small compartments that the kids were forced to live in. Once the kids were all free, we instructed them to wait here with us and Blink will teleport all of us for our escape. Echo stood lookout, crippling the hordes of agents with his intense screaming while the rest of us entered the nine other rooms, rescuing a hundred kids. Diablo and Frost started to help Spitter and Beam destroy the locks. Diablo incinerated some of the locks and Frost froze some others, shattering them. The Agency was in complete lockdown, agents were swarming towards us. We were overwhelmed by the agents, the situation was looking grim until we finally finished freeing all of the kids. Once we freed the last kid, I hastily ordered Blink to teleport us. Not a second later, we were standing in an abandoned subway station, four hundred feet from The Agency. We were bursting with joy, even though the kids were too weak to show their excitement, this would be the happiest moment of their lives, their first taste of pure freedom. But our job was not over, these kids had nowhere to go, and neither did we. I needed to inspire them, show them what they had to do to survive. I told them, “We must keep moving, we can never stop hiding from The Agency. We must travel as far away from The Agency as possible, stick with my friends and I, you can trust us.” A young boy, about five years old, coated in a layer of dirt and grease, asked me, “Thanks mister… mister… what’s your name?” I smiled then looked down and responded, “I… I guess I don’t really have one.” Angel stood by my side and smiled, then she looked into my eyes and told me, “You know what? You gave each of us a name, maybe we should give you one. You saved us, all of us, from The Agency and from Bar. We should call you… ‘Savior.’” I told her I liked that name, she blushed. Everyone’s eyes darted to the large entrance to the subway station. Like a gift from the heavens, Star floated inside the station. About an hour after Bar took her out of her wheelchair, she realized that she could control her power, she could fly. We were even happier now, staring at her in disbelief. She grinned from ear to ear as she landed next to me. Our reunion was cut short as we heard agents nearby. We had to run, I’ve been running ever since I escaped The Agency, and I do not know if I will ever be able to stop. Our journey, running as far away from The Agency as possible, is not over, and it will not be over for a long time. At least we can all go on this journey together.