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Awakened: The Mind Agents, #1

Awakened: The Mind Agents, #1

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Awakened: The Mind Agents, #1

245 pages
3 hours
Feb 28, 2017


A Psychic Superhero Is Born…

Jack Ellis is on the run. Government agents are hot on his heels. A deadly terrorist also has him in his sights. Jack Ellis is only 17.

Why are they after him? Because they know something he doesn’t—he has a paranormal gift that could make him an incredibly powerful teen superhero … or get him killed.

Join Jack as he discovers his awesome new psychic ability, enrolling in a spy academy with other psychic kids (including a teen girl with a uniquely romantic telepathic gift). Jack and his new friends must race against the clock and break every rule to develop their hidden extrasensory powers in time to stop an out-of-control psychic terrorist who could destroy the world!

Feb 28, 2017

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Awakened - Igor Max


Gum and Paperclips

Jack bursts in with a slam of the screen door against the trailer’s inside wall and that familiar metallic whine as it closes behind him. His keys make a loud clack when he throws them at the table. He tosses his backpack on top of the exposed spring on the couch.

Janice? he calls out to the house.

He hears clumsy rummaging in the kitchen.

That can’t be good.

He rounds the plywood divider to see Grandpa in his mangy pink bathrobe preparing a meal.

Whoa, whoa, Grandpa. What are you doing? He rushes to his side and finds he’s poured a box of dried mac-and-cheese noodles into a bowl and is unscrewing the cap of a bottle of fabric softener.

No, no, no! Jack says, lifting the bottle out of Grandpa’s reach. He’s at least five inches taller than Grandpa now. Where did you get that?

Leave go of my milk, you brat! Let me eat!

Grandpa, where’s Janice?


Jack thumps his back against the fridge and brings his hand to his forehead.

Grandpa turns slowly to face Jack. Get out of here! Leave me alone! What are you doing in my house?! He rattles off a string of insults and reproaches.

Jack blocks them out and tries to remember if he put all the laundry and cleaning supplies in a box in the back closet. He’s sure he did. He looks around the kitchen. There are dishes piled in the sink, a hammer and some nails on the countertop, and an unopened box of once-frozen lasagna in the dish strainer covered in condensation. There’s an upturned laundry basket on the floor and clothes strewn through the trailer.

Janice didn’t show up today, Jack says incredulously, more to himself than Grandpa.

I told you to stay back! Grandpa turns back to his cereal.

Jack marches into the back room and puts the fabric softener in the closet, then marches back, kicking the laundry basket out of his way.

Everything you need to eat is in here, okay, Grandpa? He motions to the refrigerator and surrounding cupboards.

Grandpa scowls at Jack, his mouth agape. His wisps of white hair twist up off his liver-spotted dome. You’re talking crazy. Now where the hell is my spoon?

Jack puts his arm around Grandpa.

Get your hands off me! he yells. Then he softens. Wait, I think I remember you.

Yeah, yeah, it’s me.

You’re the one who tried to feed me the poison! He starts throwing punches at Jack.

Jack pushes his flimsy fists back and says, Okay, Grandpa, okay. Nobody’s trying to poison you. He leads Grandpa to the table and sits him in the torn dinette chair.

He notices one of the sliding doors is open to the back yard and a scattered pile of blown-in leaves has accumulated.

Despite the cool air coming in, Jack suddenly feels overheated after his vigorous walk—okay, run—home from school. He throws off his leather jacket. He remembers he wanted to hang out with Bee after school, but he didn’t see her in seventh period. Everybody got called to homeroom to take some kind of state-mandated test. His mind wandered during the test and he lost track of himself. It was just a bunch of weird multiple-choice questions with shapes. Next thing he knew he was home. He didn’t intend to get so worked up, but it was one of those trips home where his mind got going. He couldn’t stop the spiral of his thoughts. He thought about his life, how he got here. It all traces back to the accident. He doesn’t want to think about it anymore, but it hangs over him like a storm.

What happened to my breakfast? I made breakfast!

I’ll get your cereal. Jack pivots to the kitchen with a sigh.

He picks up the bowl of noodles. He’s about to pour them back into the mac-and-cheese box they came from, but can’t find it, so he dumps them in the open garbage bag on the floor. He pours a fresh bowl of Special-K, and then opens the fridge and scans for milk. There’s a splash or two in the carton. He twists off the cap and gives it a whiff. It’s okay. He empties it in the bowl and adds a bit of water from the tap to top it off. He pulls Grandpa’s spoon out of the sink and gives it a quick rinse.

Grandpa mumbles angrily about a dog coming into the house and terrorizing him earlier in the day. Jack half-listens, glad at least that Grandpa’s not screaming at him.

He sets the meal on the table in front of Grandpa and sits across from him.

Grandpa spoons the cereal into his mouth, glowering at Jack with a quivering lip. You get away from me. You’re trying to make me sick.

Oh, thank you, Jack. That was so nice of you to serve me some cereal so I don’t eat bleach, Jack says, mockingly. You’re welcome, Grandpa. Anytime.

He exhales loudly and sits back, feeling only slightly guilty for unloading at Grandpa, who strikes him at that moment as more of a stranger than he’s ever been. When Gary married his mom after Dad left, Grandpa refused to go to a home, so Gary invited him to move in with them. Gary couldn’t afford any kind of nursing home. Jack’s mom was livid, but kept her mouth shut about it, at least to Gary. Sophie liked having Grandpa around. To her, he was like a new pet.

The thought makes Jack smile.

A heavy pall quickly comes down, however, wiping away his smile and any fleeting joy at her memory. If they turn off the heat this winter, or try to repossess the car, somebody’s going to figure out what’s going on here. And when they do, Jack will be a ward of the state. And there’s no telling what will happen to Grandpa. Sometimes Jack feels like his life is held together with gum and paperclips.

So how was your day, Gramps? I’m glad you survived it at least. So far.

Grandpa narrows his eyes, slurping.

Jack waits for a reply. It doesn’t come. He pulls his phone from his pocket and checks his messages. Nothing. He taps Janice’s number.

Yeah. She’s somewhere loud.

Hey, Janice. Jack.

Jack. Oh no! Oh, Jack, honey. I’m kicking myself right now. I should have called. Is everything okay?

Yeah, no shit you should have called.

Luckily, yeah, though Grandpa was just about to have some bleach with his cereal.

Oh, honey, I’m so sorry. You know I stop in when I can. Deloris was sick. I had to go in.

I was sort of counting on you. Jack wishes he could be more forceful with her, but it’s not like she gets paid. He feels like if he’s too hard on her, it’s possible she’d stop helping out, and then he’d really be in trouble.

I come by when I can, like I says. I love you guys, you know that. You’re the best.

Just, next time, text me or something? If you can’t make it, you know.

Jack knows where the conversation goes from here. He’s opened the floodgates.

I know, I know. I just—I couldn’t. She was crying and there was vomit everywhere. You don’t want to know.

Jack hears the insecurity in her voice. Grandpa almost put himself in the emergency room on her watch, and she’s got problems. She’s reaching out for someone to caretake for her, and Jack is handy at the moment. He usually is when he gets stuck talking to her. He reluctantly tries to fill the need, to keep her coming by, but keeps his distance at the same time, trying to give her any kind of signal he can that she shouldn’t go too far with him.

Hope she’s feeling better. Jack buries his chin in his chest.

I think she’s going to be all right. Hundred and two fever. Can you believe that?


She hates the thermometer. And sometimes there’s no arguing with her, but this time I could feel the heat on her head. She was burning up. Jack listens. It’s why she helps.

Good luck with everything. I’ll see you around, okay?

Yeah, see ya, hon. And, oh, if you see Jingles outside, could you let him in my place?


Thanks, kiddo. You’re the best.

Jack slaps his phone on the table, face down. He puts his head in his hand and looks at Grandpa.

You should be in school! Watery milk drips down Grandpa’s chin. A kid your age. And your hair’s in your face. You look like a girl.

Jack feels no need to school Grandpa on his outdated notions of gender identity. He gets up and pats him on the back. I’m in school. Don’t worry about me.

He takes a look in Grandpa’s room. He’ll need to give the sheets a wash in time to get him to bed by dark. It’ll be a stretch. He’ll have to help him take a shower, and then clean the kitchen. And somehow squeeze in his homework. And pay some bills. And maybe that gum and those paperclips hold together for one more day.

Crumpled Remains

Jack holds between his fingers the crumpled remains of Grandpa’s October social security payment, minus the rent, the gas, the phone, and the Epsom salts he had to buy the other night after Grandpa fell.

A little less than five dollars.

Jack plods down the aisle, twisting and crunching the crumpled bills as if hoping they might reproduce in his hand. The harsh fluorescents burn his eyes. Tinny Christmas music rains down with them, no less an assault on his senses. Not only are its jingles and hollow sentiments coming too early in the year, it’s achieving the opposite of its presumed goal of putting him in a festive mood.

The cheapest milk is a dollar fifty. Jack grabs the half-gallon and tucks it under his arm. That’s a big morning fit from Grandpa averted.

In the bread aisle he find buns. He thinks they still have some ketchup in the fridge. A picture of a burger begins to form, and the more he thinks about it the hungrier he gets. In the freezer section he spots some frozen patties. They’re two forty-nine. He pulls them out and walks toward the registers.

He glances at the round sticker on the buns. On sale for two dollars. That’s $3.50 with the milk. Over five with the patties. He’s going to be at least a dollar short.

He stops walking and looks at the ceiling, not sure if he’s beseeching a power on high to somehow grant him an extra dollar, or cursing it. Standing still for a moment, he decides he’s cursing the music and lights that drill into his mind and mock his circumstance.

He almost convinced himself that it would all come together, that the paperclips wouldn’t snap. He smelled the charred meat as he scraped it off the hotplate, heard the fat sizzling, tasted the succulent first bite.

He doesn’t know whether to laugh, cry, or scream.

He makes up his mind quickly. He’ll do none of the above. He’ll do what he has to do to make it all happen.

He’s done it before.

And he’s getting the good stuff, too, something fresh.

He lobs the patties back in the freezer and walks to the meat counter. A packet of fresh beef on a little styrofoam platter wrapped in cellophane beckons. Four fifty-nine for a pound. This package, not the tasteless stack of frozen patties, is the more deserving centerpiece of his vision. It’ll be tastier, juicier, but perhaps most important of all, it’ll fit down the back of his pants.

He walks down the baking aisle and makes a show of looking at sprinkles, shredded coconut and chocolate chips, backing up enough to seem to get a good look at the options, all simply to appear to be scratching his back absentmindedly.

He even picks up a bag of brown sugar and inspects it to really sell the effect.

That’s all it takes. This is the grocery store, after all, not nearly as dicey as the electronics store. When he got away with his backup drive, his tactic for getting through the card reader was ingenious. The trick is the way you talk to the cashier.

Here, they have no security to speak of. He considers it safe to assume they practically don’t even care. They throw away enough spoiled or expired food every hour that Jack would have to steal a pickup truck full every night just to come close to the same amount.

There might be some minimum wage rent-a-cop half asleep watching the feed from one or two cameras in some dirty break room in back. Jack imagines how bored that guy is, chewing his gum, monitoring this miserable, fluorescent-lit perdition for eight hours straight before slogging home to watch Fox News and fall asleep on the couch in his boxers.

Jack tells himself that even if that guy saw something, would he want to get up from his chair and run after somebody like Jack? The guy hasn’t sprinted in ten years. He’d probably have a heart attack if he ran 50 feet.

But Jack plays the game they make him play. He’s not proud of it. If life could just be a little less of an uphill battle for him, if it could just cut him a little break once in a while, he wouldn’t have to do this. He’s never been caught, at least not since that first time, and he’s confident he’ll never be caught again. Because he’s smart about it. He’ll be back taking that first savory bite of his burger before Grandpa has time to turn over in his bed.

His mind spins the other scenario. Maybe they’ve beefed up security at this location. Maybe it’s some kind of pilot program. Maybe the supervisor is back there, or a new guy, somebody young and eager, somebody in training. That’s when they’d come after him.

If they confronted him in the aisle it wouldn’t be a problem. He’d hold the meat out like he planned to pay for it all along. There’s nothing they could say. If they cornered him at the exit—and that would be the best place to get him—he’d make a run for it. There’s no way they could catch him. He’d hop through yards in the dark and disappear into the night. They wouldn’t know what hit them. And he wouldn’t be worth the bother either.

Or maybe today is the day his luck runs out. Maybe this time there are more security guards on the shift. Maybe they brought the local cops in for some kind of training. They’re cracking down and they want to make an example out of somebody. They keep a close eye on Jack. They play back the footage of him in the baking aisle. They zoom into his back-scratch and point. Watch how he misdirects. You see that? We got him. They watch him stand in the checkout line like nothing’s going on, and lie in wait. They let him think he got away with it, and then they pounce on him when he gets to the parking lot. That would be the smart way to do it. Get him after the theft has officially happened. When he tries to run, they call in the police chopper and put a spotlight on him. There’s nowhere he can run. They take him to the police station. Maybe arrest him. He’s sent to Juvy for sure. The unraveling begins.

He wrinkles his brow and mutters to himself, Come on. Bring out the choppers? Get real, Jack.

He walks confidently down the aisle toward the cashiers at the front of the store.

He’s the only one at the register. The cashier is about his age with dyed dark hair and Emo makeup. He smiles at her and makes brief eye contact as if to relate to the fact that she has to spend several hours a day under these lights. He sets the milk and buns on the conveyor.

He takes stock of the cameras by the registers as he leans against the counter. There’s one directly above them, one just above the exit, and one at the end of the closest aisle, none of which, he’s sure, can see any kind of bulge around his lower back.

They go through the customary script: Did you find every thing you need? I sure did, do you need a bag? etc. But the real conversation is going on with his body. He flicks his long bangs to one side while he goes through his wallet to communicate slight desperation. A simple ploy, to be sure, but subtle enough to encourage a mild camaraderie, should she get suspicious, or play this by the book later when it really counts. She maintains a slight, wry smile, but his read on her is that she

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