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The first time that Wendy Walker got into a fight was also the first time she noticed the mysterious lump on the back of her shoulder- Tessa Seward had forced her arm around her throat- and realized that it might have the capability to take her life. Little did she know that the dime-sized lump would lead to the creation of a hero. In a way, she later reasoned, if not for that gargantuan girls' ability to grind her victims into human pretzels, allowing them to view sides of their bodies they couldn't see without a mirror, she would have never saved the world. Instead, she probably would have died of cancer. Wendy eventually grew to be grateful that the incident had happened, but she wasn't grateful that day. That day she was angry.
That day started out like any other day... unfortunately. Wendy woke to the sound of someone pounding on the bathroom door down the hall as if their life depended on it. Then came the screaming:
"DENISE! You stole my lip gloss! I'm gonna kill you!"
"I didn't steal anything! It was in here already!"
The bickering continued as Wendy got out of bed and struggled to change into her school clothes in the dark, tripping over junk in the cluttered bedroom. When she accidentally banged her knee against the dresser, a voice hissed, "Thanks for wakin' me up," along with various choice words.
"So, your snoring drowned out World War Three down the hall, then?" Wendy replied, whispering so as not to wake any of the other girls. She was answered with a broken flip-flop hurled at her head.
Trying to ignore the bruises forming on her knee and forehead, Wendy hobbled down the hall to stand in the ever-growing line for the bathroom.
"Good morning, Roxanne..." sighed Wendy, rubbing her head.
"Didn't manage to dodge Kate's flip-flop today?" She smiled sympathetically.
"Nope. I guess it could be worse... on Wednesday the closest article of footwear was a combat boot."
Their conversation was interrupted by more banging.
"Liz, I swear, if you don't quit pounding on the door, I'll flush your precious lip gloss down the toilet!"
Of course Liz couldn't hear anything over her incessant banging. Denise opened the door just long enough for Liz to view her 'Berry Bliss' lipgloss swirling in the commode.
Liz clenched her fists as her eyes bulged.
Wendy put a hand on Liz's shoulder. "Liz, please don't yell, you'll wake the-"
Liz threw back her head and screamed. "DENIIIISE!"
Wendy and Roxanne scowled. "-Baby..." Wendy groaned as te baby wailed and shrieked from the makeshift nursery. As Roxanne tried to calm a seething Liz, Wendy rushed into the little room. The odor hit her like a semi-truck as soon as she opened the door.
"Ugh... smells like Miss Turner forgot to change you... again..." Wendy gagged as she scooped up the screaming child.
"Don't cry, Gwen, don't cry, baby... let's get you cleaned up, huh?" Wendy changed the baby as quickly as she could while she held her breath.
"Will breakfast make you feel better, Gwennie?" Wendy asked, looking into the little girlls' teary eyes. A strange look appeared on the baby's face.
"Yech... I'll take that as a no," Wendy wrinkled her nose at the spit-up on her shirt.
"Roxanne?" Wendy called over the sound of both Gwen and Liz's wails. "Where are the baby wipes?"
"Downstairs- Denise, please get out of the bathroom, we need to get ready for school- in the kitchen, I think..." She called back.
Wendy held the baby on her hip as she made her way down the stairs and into the kitchen.
"Wipes, wipes, wipes..." she sighed, rummaging through drawers and cupboards.
Suddendly, Miss Turner entered the room. "Wendy, exactly why are you excavating my kitchen?"
"Just looking for the baby wipes," she responded shortly.
"Well, hurry up and find them. You're going to want to have time to fix your hair and clean that stain off your shirt. What is that, oatmeal?" The woman hacked as she exhaled cigarette smoke.
Wendy subconciously pivoted her body to shield Gwen from the lingering cloud. "It's baby vomit; you forgot to pick up oatmeal... what's wrong with my hair?"
Miss Turner cocked her curler-covered head. "Oh, hon..." She said, fingering Wendy's dark, chobby bob. "You did this on purpose?"
Wendy grit her teeth as one of her many rings yanked a loose curl when she moved her hand away to spritz air freshener throughout the room. Miss Turner wrinkled her nose when she got a whiff of the baby.
Wendy's fingers tensed when she located the baby wipes and cleaned off Gwen's mouth, then dabbed a wipe on her shirt.
"You know, maybe it'd smell better around here if we had another pair of hands to help clean up Gwen every once in awhile..." Wendy hinted as she walked off and set Gwen down in her playpen in the living room, not bothering to soften her irritated tone.
She heard the air freshener can being set down with a clatter.
"Are you saying I'm not doing my job?" Miss Turner's voice called out with a steely edge.
Wendy spun on her heel, grabbing her backpack off of the couch and pulling a knit cap on her head.
"Well, I'm not saying you need a vacation." Wendy avoided Miss Turners' death glare as she stormed out of the room, preparing to join the other girls at the bus stop. She felt claw-like nails on her arm as she was tugged backwards.
"Look at me."
When Wendy tried to pull away, the iron grip tightened.
"I said, look at me!"
Wendy whipped her head around and stared into the woman's face, her blue eyes frightened, yet fierce.
Miss Turner clenched her teeth. "Don't you talk to me like that again, do you hear me?"
Wendy's face grew hot. She could practically feel her blood boiling.
"Do I make... myself... clear?" Her voice grew dangerously low and quiet, her gaze burning into the teenagers' skull.
Wendy jerked free, setting her jaw. "Crystal." She raced out of the house and down the sidewalk to the bus stop, scanning the crowd of kids for Roxanne's long, auburn ponytail. She opted not to call out her name, for fear her voice would crack.
"Wendy? Wendy, what happened?" Roxanne asked when she noticed her friend's bedraggled, stricken appearance.
"Shh..." Wendy lowered her eyes and turned her back. Just what she was afraid of- Roxanne's sweet, concerned tone of voice- the 'the-person-I'm-speaking-to-is-probably- about-to-cry' voice- had caught the attention of Tessa Seward.
Wendy had witnessed the kind of mockery and humiliation Tessa was capable of- in the cafeteria and the halls at school, on the bus... in her home. Tessa lived in the basement by herself. All of the oter girls were afraid of her- that's why it was so crowded upstairs. Wendy had tried to reach out to her multiple times, only to be shut out... sometimes literally. She had come to think of her relationship with Tessa like electricity. She's always around. She is to be respected- because she can be dangerous if not dealt with properly. Tessa had never harmed or embarrassed Wendy before, but Wendy feared the day when she would.
As the bus pulled up, Wendy kept her voice level. "I'll tell you about it later, okay?" Her nerves, already frayed from her showdown with Miss Turner, threatened to disinigrate at the thought of being publically humiliated by the she-beast. Tessa gave an amused glance her way.
Wendy took her seat next to Roxanne, keeping her peripheral vision on Tessa at all times.
Suddenly, Wendy cringed, hearing the sound of a leather bus seat creaking and squeaking under the weight of a certain beefy girl, three seats up and to the left, right next to little Lea- the new resident in the girls' home. The third graders' blonde head was just barely visible over the bus seat and Tessa's bulky frame. All at once, Wendy's previous fears vanished and were replaced by a fear for Lea's well-being. She knew how difficult it was to be the new girl- especially without the support of loving parents.
Roxanne noticed Wendy's intense gaze.
"Oh... poor Lea..." Roxanne bit her lip.
Wendy's brow furrowed. "She's talking to her... Tessa's saying something to Lea..." Wendy murmured.
As the bus began to roll, Wendy began to feel sick. Lea rarely made her prescence known at the home, but when she did, she seemed very unsettled and anxious, which wasn't surprising, being in the same house as Miss Turner, but all the same... she didn't seem like the type of girl who would be comfortable sitting next to a person like Tessa Seward.
Her thoughts were interrupted when she heard a small voice.
"Stop... please, stop it. Give her back..."
Wendy's eyes darted over to the two girls. Tessa was holding a small doll and dancing it on the open bus windowsill.
"Look, Lea... Dolly's dancin' for ya!" Tessa sneered in her scratchy, throaty voice. THen she pretended to gasp. "Uh-oh! Hope she doesn't fall!" Tessa gripped the doll between a meaty thumb and forefinger, the doll's legs blowing in the wind. One of the delicate felt shoes disappeared in the breeze.
"Oh!" Lea gasped. "Please, please give her back! She was a gift from my mo-" She suddenly stopped. Wendy froze, unable to tear her eyes away from the scene.
Tessa's eyes widened in mock surprise, settling the doll tightly between her knees to ensure its captivity.
"From... who?" she asked. Lea lowered her head and repeated herself.
"Sorry, I didn't hear ya! From your... mouse? Your mustard? Your... monster? Your..." Tessa hummed, tossing Lea's doll back and forth in her hands.
"My... my mom!" Lea choked, her breaths quickening.
"Your mom?! Well, Lea, your mom wouldn't want you to cry. Or play with dolls. Would she, Leaky Lea? Now, would she?"
Lea buried her face in her hands and began to weep.
"Please give her back, she's all I have left!" Lea pleaded, her face red and blotchy. "I'll do anything!"
"Anything? For this old thing? You're too old for a dolly, Lea." Tessa smirked, then raised her voice an octace, waving the dolls' hand and dancing her precariously on the windowsill.
"Yeah, Lea. You're too old for me. Don't be a baby... Bye, bye, Lea..."
Tessa's tightened fist around Lea's doll turned into three fingers... two fingers... one finger hooked under the dolls' collar...
Wendy held her breath- she couldn't take it any longer. Her heart ached for Lea as it pounded.
"STOP!" Wendy shouted frantically. Roxanne's eyes widened. Lea jerked her head around. All of the chaos on the bus turned to uncomfortable silence.
Then Tessa's head slowly turned. Her beady eyes seemed to appear even smaller. She had an undeniably smug look on her face. She set the doll on her lap and grinned.
"Wendy? Why are ya freaking out? It's just a doll!" Tessa smirked. "You're not gonna cry, are ya? Please don't tell me you play with dollies."
Wendy's fiery emotions fueled a burst of confidence. "Actually, I don't. And if I did, what would give you the right to harass me about it?" Wendy stepped into the aisle and stopped in front of Tessa, looking her in the eye. "You know exactly why that doll is important to her. Just give it back." She spoke fiercely.
Tessa's jaw dropped slightly for a second, then her voice tensed. "I don't have to do anything you say. So what if we live in a girls' home?!" SHe tightened her grip on the doll, whispering, "We're all on our own here. I don't need anybody."
Wendy blinked, then swallowed. "No. That's why we need to stick together. And... and if you don't want anyone, fine. Be alone. But don't make it harder for the rest of us."
Everyone could tell Tessa was getting insecure. Her reputation was draining every second. She was getting desperate. Her face turned scarlet and her tone darkened.
"I may be alone around here. I may be the most hated girl on this bus. Both my parents may be in jail, but I've got one thing going for me. They're alive. And no matter how many friends you have, how pretty or smart or nice you are, nothing will ever change the fact that you're really the one who's alone."
Wendy felt her fists clenching and her face felt like it was on fire. Tears had begun to spill down her cheeks.
"Shut up. You... you don't know anything. They could still be out there... you don't know... you don't..."
"Face it, Wendy Walker. There's nothing you can do about it." Tessa's eyes grew wide, surprised at her own cruelty.
"Shut up!" Wendy shouted.
By this time, the bus was in an uproar. Kids were screaming, teenagers were shouting profanities at Tessa in some attempt to defend Wendy, the bus driver was yelling through his own bewilderment, and through it all, Tessa couldn't control herself. She couldn't contain her rage and jealousy. Even though no one else could hear what anyone was saying over the yelling, all eyes were glued to Tessa and Wendy, and they all could guess exactly what she whispered into Wendy's ear as se let Lea's doll slip out the window.
All at once, Wendy felt like the world was moving in slow motion, like they were underwater. Lea was screaming and frantically grabbing the air out the window, Roxanne was trying to restrain Wendy, and before she could even make sense of what was happening, Wendy felt her fist make contact with Tessa's jaw. Then the rest sped by like a blur.
Tessa screamed and lunged at Wendy, who was scrambling backward down the aisle, tripping over backpacks. Roxanne grabbed Tessa's arm, only to have her ponytail used as a whip to send her head crashing into the wall. Tessa pinned Wendy against the back emergency exit, preparing to do whatever it took to make her furious feelings disappear. Wendy ducked at the last second as Tessa's fist made a spiderweb-shaped crack in the glass.
Suddenly the bus swerved and lurched to a stop as the girls lost their balance. The bus driver stood and ordered Wendy and Tessa to get off of the bus, his voice frantic.
Wendy tore down the aisle, stumbling down the steps, her eyes wide with fear. Tessa followed in hot pursuit.
"Girls! Girls!" The bus driver shouted, panicked. When Tessa burst through te door, the driver tried to stop her, but she was too furious, too livid to be reasoned with. She shoved past him, pinning Wendy's upper arms to her sides.
"Tessa, stop!" she shrieked, struggling to free her arms. Desperate to escape, Wendy kicked her shins and butted her forehead into her face.
Tessa pulled Wendy in front of her, then wrenced Wendy's right arm across her throat as she coughed and gasped. She swore she felt her right wrist make contact with her spine, hearing a sickening popping sound.
The world slowed once more as Wendy's life flashed before her eyes. Her right sleeve slipped, allowing her to view her shoulder while it was under her chin. The last thing she remembered was spotting a large, dark lump on the back of her shoulder and realizing that it seemed unfamiliar. Then Tessa slammed her into the concrete, and everything went dark.
As Wendy began to drift into consciousness, she could sense light above her through her eyelids. Blinking, she found herself staring at fluorescent lights rolling by above her. She began to panic when she tried to sit up but couldn’t- she was strapped to a rolling gurney.
All of a sudden, the pain came surging back. Her shoulder felt like it was on fire and her whole body ached.
“Oh! Oh, Wendy, thank God you’re awake!”
Wendy rolled her eyes back and saw Roxanne rushing alongside the gurney with a relieved expression on her face.
“Wha- what happened to your face…?” Wendy grunted.
The whole left side of her face looked puffy and bruised.
“Tessa slammed my head into the bus wall by my ponytail, remember? But forget about me, are you alright?!” she exclaimed, panting as they turned a corner, paramedics calling out instructions to each other.
“Oh, never bet-” Wendy coughed, then groaned. “-ter. Ugh, my shoulder’s killing me…”
“Oh, Wendy… Tessa was relentless. When you were out, she kept going strong. Once the bus driver called an ambulance, he called the cops on her. It took him and two guys on our bus to pull her off of you and keep her down. Wendy, when I get my hands on her, I’m gonna-” Roxanne tensed.
“No, no, don’t even think about it. She’s fast for a girl her size. And even stronger than she looks.” Wendy wheezed. She stared at the ceiling. “I can’t believe things escalated that quickly. Is Lea okay?”
“Yeah, I think she’ll be okay. I told her I’d help her look for her doll tomorrow- but she was mostly worried about you. She told me she felt like this whole thing was her fault.” Roxanne replied shaking her head, holding the door of the emergency room open for the paramedics to push the gurney in.
“No… no way. I’d do it again tomorrow if I had to… well, if I wasn’t in the hospital…” she paused. “I shouldn’t have let things get so personal. I shouldn’t have let Tessa get to me… I still can’t believe I punched her… I’ve never done anything like that before.”
“How could the things she said not get to you?” Roxanne put her hand on Wendy’s arm, who flinched. “Oh, sorry… I mean, given Tessa’s size, punching her probably wasn’t the smartest choice, but I definitely don’t blame you for-”
Just then, two nurses entered the room.
Wendy tapped the tall brunette nurse on the arm, then winced from the movement.
“Ah, I noticed a lump on the back of my shoulder that I’d never seen before- I was wondering if someone could check if it was-” Wendy paused to cough. “-anything to worry about while I’m here- I don’t normally get doctor’s checkups.”
As Wendy spoke with the nurse, the male nurse patted Roxanne on the shoulder.
“Mind if I ask you some questions about your friend?” he asked kindly.
“Ah, sure.” Roxanne nodded, glancing at Wendy being checked out in the big, white room before she walked away.
Once the two of them were seated in a pre-op room, the nurse pulled out a clipboard.
“Okay, I’ll need to know some information about your friend. Name?” he asked.
“Seventeen- her birthday’s November 3rd, 1995.”
“Okay, what are the names of her parents?”
Roxanne was cut off. At that moment, Miss Turner burst into the room.
“Sorry about the delay, I had to finish the last couple minutes of Wheel of Fortune,” she said, chomping her gum. She flipped her frosted blonde bangs out of her eyes as she took a seat.
Roxanne raised her eyebrows. “I sent you a text saying to meet me at the hospital; Wendy was hurt.”
“Well, it didn’t sound very urgent…” Miss Turner trailed off, checking out the handsome nurse.
Roxanne rolled her eyes. “Anything that has the word ‘hospital’ in it is gonna be urgent,” she sighed.
Miss Turner leaned forward and held out her hand to the nurse. “Hi, I’m Marsha Turner. Nice to meet you, Doctor.” she smiled sweetly, lingering in her hunched position to show off her plunging neckline. Roxanne gagged.
The nurse shook her hand. “Ah, nice to meet you too, although I must say, I’m not a doctor, I’m a nurse,” he chuckled nervously, obviously feeling awkward.
“Oh.” Miss Turner’s face fell slightly, disillusioned.
“So, I’m guessing you’re Wendy’s mother?” he asked, pulling his hand away to grab his pen.
“Oh, heck no… I mean, ah, no, I’m her guardian. She and Roxanne here both live at my home for girls,” she replied, caught off guard.
“Oh, okay…” he said, writing down information. “So, how exactly did this happen?”
“Well, their parents… died…” Miss Turner cocked an eyebrow.
Roxanne put her head in her hand.
“No, no, I men Wendy’s accident…” the nurse replied with a weird expression on his face.
“Well,” began Roxanne. “Wendy was in a fight on the bus… it was mostly the other girl; she dislocated her shoulder, I think, and knocked her unconscious. She was beating on her pretty hard… she may have even cracked a rib or something…”
“I see…” he mused. “And I heard her mention something about a strange lump on her shoulder earlier, although I realize that’s unrelated to her accident today…”
“So, what are we talking cost-wise here?” Miss Turner interrupted.
“Ah, well, I suppose it mostly depends on whether or not an operation would be necessary… although if that lump really is cancerous, it could be rather costly to have it removed, especially if the cancer has spread…” the nurse replied, rubbing his chin.
“What?! I can’t afford cancer!” the woman exclaimed.
Roxanne gave her a dirty look. The nurse raised his eyebrows.
“We’re barely getting by as it is! I don’t even have the money for my monthly massage!” Miss Turner continued, throwing up her hands.
“Monthly massa- so that’s why we couldn’t pay the electric bill last month…” Roxanne scowled.
“I mean, sure, every once in awhile I’m able to squeeze in a pedicure…”
“What?! Miss Turner, we need money for winter coats! And groceries! And the water bill! Speaking of, did you pay that?” Roxanne narrowed her eyes.
“Oh, now that you mention it, I don’t think I did… I had to fit in my laser hair removal appointment. Trust me, I needed it. Momma was gettin’ hairy.” Miss Turner nodded.
“Ugh! I can’t believe you. You’re so selfish! We girls are suffering from your lack of responsibility!” Roxanne blurted out.
Miss Turner smacked her on the leg. “How dare you! Who changed your alls’ diapers?!”
“Mrs. Bartley,” Roxanne crossed her arms. “Our neighbor.”
“Who?” Miss Turner wrinkled her brow.
“The same woman who rescued us from that shady babysitter you left us with when you went to Mauii!” she exclaimed. “Oh, this is hopeless! What about Wendy’s medical bill? I don’t know what we’ll do if she actually does have cancer!” Roxanne bit her lip.
“Well,” the nurse cut in. “I’d have to consult Wendy’s doctor, but I think there’s a solution for your problem- the possibility of a big bill and not a lot of money? There’s an experimental treatment Wendy may be eligible for if she does, in fact, have cancer.”
“Oh, good. We’ll do that.” Miss Turner replied, gathering her purse and standing up.
“Uh, hold on- we need to ask Wendy first- you said this treatment was experimental?” Roxanne asked nervously.
“Yes- but all of the tests so far have been promising. Wendy would be the first trial. Now, because of the treatments’ experimental nature, you wouldn’t have to pay for it- she’d get paid for volunteering.” he replied as Miss Turner’s eyes widened.
“You all would pay us?” Miss Turner’s jaw dropped.
“She would be paid, yes.” he said. “Quite well. It would be sent straight to her savings account.”
Roxanne glanced at Miss Turner and could practically hear cogs turning in her head. She’d find a way to get ahold of that money.
“Um, I’ll talk to Wendy about it… see what she thinks.” Roxanne said, slowly standing to her feet.
“Oh, I’ll do it. I think it’d be best if she heard the news from me…” Miss Turner stepped towards the door. “Thank you for speaking with us, Doctor.”
“He’s a nurse,” Roxanne whispered, following her out the door.
“Oh, right.” she snapped her fingers in indignation.
“Ah, Miss Turner? I’m going to the bathroom- her room’s on the third floor. Just ask the receptionist.”
Roxanne chuckled to herself as Miss Turner, whose lack of punctuality had just been used against her, sped off. She waited for her gullible guardian to enter the elevator, then she quickly walked to the receptionist’s desk down the hall.
“Ah, excuse me? I’d like to see Wendy Walker, please?” she asked politely.
“You’re going to have to wait about forty-five more minutes, hon,” the lady said, checking her computer. “Your friend just had some anesthesia when they popped in that shoulder of hers.”
“Oh… okay…” she sighed. She’d have to stall Miss Turner- it’d probably take her less than forty-five minutes to realize she’d been duped. Roxanne hoped she’d be able to reach Wendy first- she didn’t want that greedy woman to guilt her into giving her the treatment payment for some reason- or worse yet, try to pressure her into doing something that could be potentially dangerous. She pulled her cell phone out of her pocket and called her home phone.
Bridget, a younger girl at the home, picked up.
“Hello? Who’s this?”
“It’s me, Roxanne.”
“Did Miss Turner find out I faked being sick to get out of school?!” Bridget exclaimed.
“Do you really think she’d care if she’d noticed?” Roxanne asked impatiently.
“Oh, um… no. Duh. But anyway, what is it?”
“It’s kind of a long story, but I need you to stall Miss Turner- can you do that for me? Like, call her or something.”
“Oh, yeah, sure. I’ll call her. Bye!” Bridget laughed, hanging up.
Roxanne glanced up and down the halls. A couple minutes later, she heard the elevator door ‘ding.’ Miss Turner came racing out, holding her cell phone to her ear.
“Roxanne!” she huffed. “Bridget’s on the phone- she says the house is on fire- I gotta go!”
She could hear Bridget screaming her head off on the other end like a maniac.
“Oh! My baby!” Miss Turner yelped as she ran out the door. Somehow Roxanne knew she was talking about her designer purse.
Awhile later, she got the ‘okay’ from the receptionist, then made her way to Wendy’s room, just down the hall. She quietly walked inside and pulled up a chair next to the bed, lightly tapping her hand.
“Wendy?” she whispered.
Wendy groggily opened her eyes. “Roxanne? Is that you?”
“Yeah, yeah, it’s me. Are you doing okay?” Roxanne asked.
Wendy sighed deeply, looking tired and broken. “Yeah, I think so. I got a biopsy scheduled for later today to check out that lump… mole… thing. Goodness knows we haven’t been getting regular check-ups and probably won’t ever get them, if we have to depend on Miss Turner to get us here.”
“Yeah… speaking of the lump… and Miss Turner… we were speaking with a nurse in a pre-op room, and he was telling us that if you did happen to have cancer, you would be eligible to volunteer for an experimental treatment- I think I tipped him off that our funds are, ah, less than stellar when I was arguing with Miss Turner- he said… let’s see… he says the results of previous tests were promising, but you’d be the first to try it. And he said you’d be paid a lot for doing it.” Roxanne paused and looked around the drab, off-white room. “I really hope you don’t have cancer…”
“Oh, me too… I can’t believe this is all happening right now. This has been the worst day ever…” Wendy rolled her head back and groaned.
“I really felt like I had to tell you about the treatment as soon as possible- Miss Turner was probably going to guilt you into doing it, and say something like, ‘It’s the least you can do for the girls- we could really use all that money to pay the bills,’ and then turn around and spend it on shoes or something. I just… I don’t want you to feel like you have to go through with this, if it’s necessary. And if she tries to pull any “for the children” stuff on you, don’t listen to her- we’ll be okay. I’d rather have our water and lights shut off forever that to have something bad happen to you from that experiment…” Roxanne gave her a sad smile.
Wendy took her hand. “Thank you, Roxanne… for everything. So… you said the tests for the treatment were good?”
Roxanne nodded. “That’s what he said.”
“Then… if it turns out I do have cancer I think I’d go through with the experimental treatment… it’s not like we could pay for anything anyway. But I wouldn’t give Miss Turner any of the payment… I’d send it to your savings account to keep it safe while I’m recovering, so she can’t spend it deceitfully. I know you’ll use it to help the others and take care of them,” Wendy exhaled.
“Are you sure?” Roxanne asked. Wendy nodded, then sighed. She turned on a T.V with a remote sitting on a small table nearby as Roxanne settled in beside her.
She straightened Wendy’s blankets. “What do we do now?”
“Now…” Wendy swallowed. “We wait.”
“Wow…” Wendy took in her surroundings. “I didn’t know I’d… be on display…” She stared at her reflection in the glass viewing window. Doctors and other important looking people sat on the other side, pens and clipboards at the ready. A nurse had her stand in front of a metal table tilted at a forty-five degree angle facing the window. She shivered.
Roxanne patted her reassuringly on the back. “Don’t worry… you’re totally rockin’ that hospital gown.” Wendy bit her lip.
Roxanne paused for a moment, began to tap her foot worriedly, then stopped. “How do you feel about all of this?”
Wendy gave her a crooked smile. “How do you feel about fifteen grand?”
Roxanne’s eyes widened. “Gee, that nurse sure wasn’t kidding when he said you’d be paid well. I guess since you’re the first one to try it, and all… and the stakes are pretty high… Wendy? Now, you can back out whenever you want, okay?”
“Ah…” Wendy said shakily as a nurse gently applied pressure to her shoulder to have her lean back and step into the footholds at the base of the table, then strapped her forearms down.
“Wouldn’t want to have to stick you more than we have to if you were to move. This’ll hurt, but it’ll be over before you know it,” she said quickly, then rushed off to prepare.
Wendy glanced at her friend. “…I think it’s a little late for that,” she gulped.
Another nurse began to lead Roxanne out to the viewing room. She stopped and turned her head.
“…So you’re going through with this?” she asked, her eyes wide and anxious.
“I don’t think I have much of a choice…” Wendy trailed off.
At that moment, a tall, dark haired doctor entered the room. Wendy guessed he’d be the one to perform the experiment, because the viewers had all stood immediately and talked amongst themselves in anticipation, as if waiting for a show to start. She imagined that she was trapped on the other side of a movie screen, right in the middle of some creepy lab scene. As she watched the doctor and his assistants prepare several large injection vials, she wished that she’d been born with a less creative mind- she began to imagine all sorts of spine-tingling side effects of the experiment. Although she did imagine outcomes as wacky as ‘the injection needle becoming stuck in her arm forever,’ nothing would have prepared her for what happened after the experiment that day.
The doctor began his presentation. “As some of you already know, I’m Richard Moscovitz. Thank you for attending today, I can assure you that you won’t regret it.”
“I might,” Wendy thought.
“It has come to my attention how unpredictable and unreliable cancer treatments can be- radiation sometimes works, but not always. When it does prove to be successful, it can be trying on the patient and can take numerous attempts to ensure the cancer’s elimination. But what would you say if I told you all of that was over- that there is a way to defeat cancer efficiently?” Dr. Moscovitz held up one of the injection vials. “What would you say if I told you that the formula within these vials not only has the power to erase cancer from the body entirely the moment it enters, but can strengthen the weakened cancer patient to their prime, if not better?”
A stout bald man in the viewing room rose to his feet and adjusted his spectacles as he pressed the viewing room to experimentation room intercom button.
“I’d say that proposal seems altogether illogical. It can’t be done,” he said. The viewing room became abuzz with argument as the man took his seat. Wendy raised her eyebrows and glanced at Dr. Moscovitz, who chuckled to himself and straightened his collar. He seemed to be radiating confidence.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please!” the doctor called, raising his hand for silence. When the commotion settled, he glanced back and forth at his audience. “You all are about to witness the start of something amazing. A miracle, the beginning of a new era! Something that will change… the world.”
And in a way, although different from how he expected, he was right.
Dr. Moscovitz raised an injection vial as he spoke once more as nurses began to rub Wendy’s arm with rubbing alcohol. She took deep breaths in attempt to calm her pounding heart.
“The reason that this formula can cure the entirety of a patient’s cancer is that it’s programmed to- it contains hundreds of microscopic nanobots. They enter the bloodstream, locate the cancer cells, destroy them, and re-strengthen the body all in record time. Nanobots are a highly efficient technology- if all goes well with this experiment, and I’m quite sure it will, all kinds of diseases and ailments could be cured by the same technique. Nanotechnology is…” Dr. Moscovitz paused. “…the technology of the future.”
Then he stepped over to Wendy, whose mind was still trying to wrap itself around the very idea of this technology, and gestured to her as he pulled a photograph out of a file on the desk nearby.
“This girl has a cancerous lump on her shoulder approximately two centimeters in diameter.” he said, holding up the ‘before’ photograph that had been taken the day before of it. “And in mere seconds after she has been treated with the formula, Wilma Walker here will be rid of it forever.” he lowered his voice dramatically.
“Uh, it’s Wendy,” Wendy whispered.
“Oh, yes, of course- Wendy will be rid of it forever- no reoccurrences whatsoever. Miss Walker?” The doctor turned to face his uneasy patient. “Are you ready to help me make history today?”
Wendy shifted her weight on the table and chuckled nervously. “I think so… now would be a fine time to be having second thoughts, wouldn’t it?” she said as she stretched her constricted arms.
Dr. Moscovitz laughed grandly. “Oh, Winnie. You’re such a witty girl. Alright, ladies,” he said motioning to his assistants. “Let’s begin.”
At that moment, three other nurses approached, all holding injection vials identical to Dr. Moscovitz’s large one. Two stood on her left, and one on her right, next to the doctor.
“So… are we doing these one at a time, or-”
Wendy was cut off. “Oh, no, we’re doing all four at once- I think it’d be better to get them all over with…” a nurse nodded.
Wendy glanced at Roxanne sitting in the viewing room. She gave her a small smile and held up her crossed fingers. Wendy exhaled shakily and focused on a tiny crack in the ceiling. “Okay… I’m ready…” she said.
Wendy felt two pricks on her upper arms and two on her forearms, then held her breath when the needles slid inside. She could practically feel the cold, nanobot-infested sludge churning though her veins. Wendy clenched her fists and grit her teeth.
“Right about now the nanobots should be locating the cancer cells,” Moscovitz explained.
At that moment, Wendy felt a burning sensation surge up through her arms to her shoulder. She cried out, tensing her body.
“In only a matter of seconds the lump will be disintegrated,” the doctor called out over Wendy’s shouts. The table thumped as she twitched and shook.
Wendy watched the tiny crack on the ceiling turn fuzzy as the nurses quickly unstrapped her arms and helped her step out of the footholds of the table. She stumbled and panted as they turned her around so her back was to the viewing room, a nurse gripping her under each arm to keep her stable.
Dr. Moscovitz pulled her hospital gown sleeve up so the lump was visible.
“Observe!” he announced proudly.
Wendy whipped her head around and caught a glimpse of her shoulder’s reflection in a monitor. Her eyes widened and her jaw dropped as she watched the lump shrink before her eyes, appearing to be sucked underneath the skins’ surface. She imagined hundreds of microscopic nanobots destroying it atom by atom.
“It’s… it’s gone,” she breathed.
The people on the other side of the viewing window gasped and rose to their feet, erupting in applause.
“I’ve never seen anything like it!”
“Job well done, Moscovitz!”
The doctors and scientists praised him and relived the moment amongst themselves as they exited the room through a back door.
Dr. Moscovitz grinned and patted Wendy on the back. She cringed.
“How do you feel, Wanda?” he asked, following her as the nurses helped her to a chair.
Ignoring his third flub, she tried to focus on keeping the room from spinning out of control.
“Ah, a little sore! And cancer free… thank you, sir,” Wendy smiled, relieved that it was over.
“Anytime, anytime. Now, you better get changed soon; you and I are due for a press conference downstairs. Everyone will be pleased to hear of this scientific breakthrough!” Dr. Moscovitz exclaimed, heading out the door.
Wendy wrinkled her brow. “Press confer- everyone?”
Just then, Roxanne burst in the room, rushing over to give her friend a hug.
“Wendy! Oh, I can’t believe it worked! The lump just disappeared! Can you believe it?!” she beamed.
“No… no I can’t!” Wendy laughed.
“How are you doing? Did it hurt really badly?” she asked.
Wendy rubbed her tender arms. “I was screaming and writhing, wasn’t I? Now I understand why the nurses strapped me down!”
“Well, I’m just relieved you’re alright. Now what was that the doctor said about a press conference?” Roxanne cocked her head.
“It’s downstairs- and soon. I guess it’s a big deal!” Wendy said.
“Are you kidding?” Roxanne grinned. “I just witnessed… A miracle! The beginning of a new era! Something that will change…”
“…the world!” the two of them said together, imitating Dr. Moscovitz’ dramatic tones.
Roxanne laughed. “But really- I’ve seen the pioneer of the cure for cancer… and you’re it. You’re like this hospital’s poster girl!”
Wendy rolled her eyes and laughed as she stepped into an attached bathroom to change clothes. “Yeah, okay, Roxanne. I’ll see you at home after the conference.” she chuckled.
When Wendy stepped into the press conference room later that day, she found herself squinting. Big, bright lights were directed at the table where Dr. Moscovitz was sitting. He patted the chair next to him, motioning for her to sit. “You’re late,” he mouthed. She blushed. The conference had already begun- it was live.
As she seated herself next to her doctor, she was flooded with questions, her name filling the air. She point to a young blonde reporter.
“How does it feel to be the first person cured of cancer with Dr. Moscovitz’ new treatment?” the lady asked, holding out a microphone.
“Well… pretty good, I guess. I have to admit I was worried at first- but I’m so relieved. This morning when I woke up, I had cancer, and now it’s gone! It was amazing,” Wendy replied.
Once more, the room was filled with shouts of ‘Wendy!’
“Ah… you,” she pointed to a reporter wearing a red bowtie.
“Would you recommend Dr. Moscovitz’ treatment for other cancer patients?” he questioned, raising his microphone high in the crowded room.
“Yes, I would- I’d also recommend anesthesia beforehand- but I suppose that’s just my fear of needles talking,” she grinned, shrugging her shoulders.
Her audience laughed. Wendy answered question after question, becoming more relaxed as the conference went along. Then, right in the middle of it all, something strange happened.
The reporters had begun asking Dr. Moscovitz more questions. As Wendy sat quietly, she thought she heard a squeaking noise. Glancing up as nonchalantly as she could, she realized the noise was coming from a hanging, metal light fixture to her left about six feet away from where she was sitting. But it wasn’t swinging back and forth. It was suspended at an angle… facing her.
Startled, Wendy gasped.
The reporters and camera crew looked her way.
Dr. Moscovitz stopped speaking and looked at the odd light fixture, then at Wendy. He clapped his hand over his mouth and shook his head.
“Oh… no. It- it can’t be. How could this happen?!” he exclaimed, his eyes growing wide. Wendy wrinkled her brow and scanned faces in the room, wanting an explanation for his outburst.
A reporter stuck her microphone out at him, breaking the shocked silence. “Dr. Moscovitz! Do you believe that this was caused by your experimentation?”
“Wha- what is she talking about?” Wendy whispered slowly.
“I-I don’t quite understand the meaning of-” he stammered.
Another reporter held out a microphone. “Wendy!” he called amidst the growing chaos. “Do you plan to sue your doctor for the unfortunate side-effects his treatment has caused?”
“I don’t understand… what side-effects?!” Wendy grew worried, noticing the reporters staring at her intensely.
“…This was an entirely unexpected result; I assure you that if I had noticed any sign of something like this happening, I would not have gone through with the treatment… I suppose this resulted from some sort of mutation within the nanobots… The type of nanobots used was highly intelligent and advanced- it seems they have begun to take over the body of the subject in an extremely unexpected way…” Dr. Moscovitz fumbled.
Just then, the chain of the light fixture squeaked again, capturing everyone’s attention.
“It… it’s like she’s magnetized!” a voice in the crowd cried.
By now, Wendy was standing up from her seat, struggling with the light fixture. The chain had extended to its full length, the light from the fixture shining in her face. Whenever she moved away, it moved with her.
“What- what’s going on?!” Wendy exclaimed frantically. She swung at the fixture with such force that she lost her balance and flipped over the desk, hitting the ground. The camera crew moved back, instantly, as if they were afraid.
A young reporter held out her hand to help her up. As Wendy extended her hand, beginning to feel dizzy, she was shocked when an older reporter pulled the lady away from her reach.
“Careful, Linda!” he warned. “The girl could be contagious!”
Wendy stumbled to her feet, frightened, then caught a glimpse of herself in the television monitor and cried out, putting a hand to her face. She felt cold, smooth metal growing on the left side of her face- over her cheekbone, up her forehead, across her temple, and closing in around her eye and ear.
All at once, sound from her let side seemed amplified and her left eye’s vision began to sharpen, contrasting with her right eye. She could barely make out the image of herself in the television monitor- frantic, confused, and clutching her partially metallic face in horror.
“Dr. Moscovitz! Please tell me I’m delirious!” Wendy choked. He didn’t answer.
Dr. Moscovitz slid his cell phone back into his pocket. “Don’t worry, ladies and gentlemen, I’ve contacted the hazardous material workers to escort Miss Walker to a sterile room to be quarantined until further notice,” he announced.
“What?! You can’t… we don’t need to-” Wendy stammered, then shrieked. “Oh! Oh, no!”
The metal was spreading. A patch grew on her right upper arm, then shot down to her fingertips. Wendy suddenly cried out and clutched her left leg. She felt cold, hard metal making its way from her thigh down to her toes.
Wendy’s jaw dropped as her hands trembled. Lifting her right arm, she stared at the reflection in her palm in disbelief.
“M-Moscovitz!” she yelped, turning his way. “What have you done to me?!”
Through the shrieks of the crowd, some courageous reporters shouted more questions. One of the camera men moved closer as they gathered around her like vultures.
“Please! Turn the camera off! No more questions!” she pleaded. The reporters were obstinate, all desperate to be the one to cover the phenomenon.
“Can’t you see I’m in the middle of a crisis?!” Wendy shouted, raising her hands to shield her face. “Enough! Leave me alone!”
At that moment, three men in yellow, plastic suits and helmets entered the room and approached as the large camera was sucked from the camera mans’ hands, attaching to Wendy’s metallic hand. She shook her arm violently in agitation. Just as a hazardous material worker reached out to restrain her from behind, she flung her arm to the side. Both the man and the camera flew to the side and smashed into the wall. The reporters gasped and retreated.
“Let me go! Get off of me!” Wendy struggled as the second worker began dragging her to the door. Frightened, she flailed and thrashed her arms.
Suddenly, she felt a strange sensation in her right arm, then rocketed out of the man’s grasp. Wendy shrieked, hanging on to a dangling light fixture high above the floor. She swung three hundred sixty degrees with her feet out in front of her and felt her metal foot slam into the man’s helmet. He crumpled to the ground as her feet landed squarely on either side of his head.
Wendy gaped over her shoulder at the destruction she had caused.
“What’s happening to me…?” she cried, panicked. Her eyes widened as the final worker approached. Wendy scrambled out of the room and raced down the hall. The sound of her metal foot hitting the ground banged loudly as she ran faster than she had ever ran before. Power surged through her leg as she sped up.
“Look out! Get out of the way!” Wendy yelped as she ran. A nurse pushing a short metal cart with syringes on it screeched and dove out of her path. From several feet away, the sharp syringes attracted to her metal skin and shot at her like bullets. She raised her metallic arm as a shield to deflect the syringes as she leaped into the air to clear the cart.
“Whoa!” Wendy shouted. Her metal foot was sucked down onto the cart as she careened through the halls, skateboard style.
“Get back here!” the worker yelled, dodging nurses and doctors as he raced after her.
Wendy turned a sharp corner and ducked her head as her cart flew through open elevator doors. The doors slid shut just as the man reached her.
He pounded on the doors. “If your side effects are contagious, you could contaminate people!” he shouted.
Wendy pressed the third floor button quickly. She panted, catching her breath as she yanked her foot off of the cart.
All of a sudden, the elevator made a low, groaning noise and the sound of grinding gears filled the air- something was wrong. Wendy froze. Her nanobot-infested, solid metal limbs were too heavy for the elevator!
A blood-chilling crack pierced the air. Wendy screamed, gripping a hand rail as the elevator plummeted. Her body tensed, preparing for impact. Suddenly, the elevator screeched to a halt. Wendy exhaled.
She heard a distant-sounding ding, then gasped. “Well, this isn’t the third floor!”
The doors had slid open to reveal a brick wall. Wendy hung on to a handrail and carefully stuck her head outside of the doors and looked up. High above her, she could see light shining from the open elevator doors above. The elevator had fallen between floors.
Her first reaction was to press the emergency button, but she stopped herself- the last thing she wanted was to attract a doctor’s or hazardous material worker’s attention and have them take her away. She had to get out of the hospital.
Wendy moaned and looked at the ceiling in exasperation.
“Thank goodness for emergency exits,” she sighed.
She climbed on top of her cart and shoved at the exit door. It popped open with a resounding bang and flew into the air, disappearing down the shaft.
“Wow… I guess I don’t know my own strength,” she thought nervously.
Wendy kicked her leg hard to shake the cart off of her foot, then pulled herself up out of the exit and on top of the elevator.
Taking a deep breath, she began to shimmy up the thick cables. At one point, her hands slipped and she flipped upside down, her back slamming into the cable- her inner metal foot was the only thing keeping her attached to the cable. Her heart pounded as she pulled herself upright and kept going.
When she was about level with the open elevator door, she heard another ding. Wendy quickly swung her legs and vaulted herself through the doors at the last second, then stumbled and fell onto the floor. She squinted her eyes, adjusting to the light. She could barely make out a gloved hand stuck in front of her. Wendy grabbed it and stood to her feet.
She froze. “Oh, no…”
Before her stood a tall figure clad in yellow- a hazardous material worker. As he pulled her arms behind her back, snapped on a pair of handcuffs, and led her away, Wendy scanned the faces that stared at her. A shocked receptionist. A fascinated doctor. A frightened nurse. And a little girl who gazed at her from an open hospital door with a mix of curiosity and horror, like the image of the big yellow man pulling the nightmarish metal girl away was something she had never seen before- and never wanted to see again.
Wendy decided to accept the truth. No one was ever going to treat her the same again. She was a freak. An outsider. Some kind of Frankenstein-esque mistake. A monster.
For a moment or two, Wendy was at peace. When she first woke up, she had forgotten where she was. After she opened her eyes, she realized she was living in a nightmare.
She was lying on a cot in what looked like a very simple hospital room. The wall opposite her had a large window on it- several hazardous material workers walked by, some escorting contagious people to their new quarters for who knows how long. One worker stopped in front of her room and pressed an intercom button.
“Wendy Walker?” he asked.
She sat up slowly. “What’s left of me,” she replied, narrowing her eyes.
“I have a message for you from Dr. Moscovitz- Friday morning you will be escorted to St. Augustine’s Medical Institution to continue your quarantine. There are some specialists there that wish to examine you in your, ah-” the man paused. “Current condition. After speaking with them, he said they had expressed a desire to conduct a research study based on any changes in your behavioral patterns due to the side effects of your experimental cancer treatment.”
Wendy put a hand to her head in bewilderment. “Wha- Friday? That’s tomorrow! What about my friends? Do I get to say goodbye?!” she exclaimed.
He glanced to his left. “I think you have some visitors,” he replied, leaving the intercom on and walking away.
Suddenly Wendy realized she didn’t want to be visited. She didn’t want anyone to see her this way. She quickly curled under her blanket.
Wendy heard a knocking on the window.
“Wendy? Is she in here?” Liz’s voice asked.
“Yeah, I see her hair from under the blanket,” Bridgit replied as Wendy mentally kicked herself in the face.
“Wendy, please let us talk to you. We heard you had to be sent away tomorrow; we wanted to see you again before you left,” Roxanne asked.
“I-I’m not decent,” Wendy called.
“Just c’mon out, we drove all this way to see you… oomph!” Denise wheezed as another girl, probably Roxanne, elbowed her in the stomach.
“Wendy? I wanted to thank you for helping me on the bus,” Lea said shyly.
“And I wanted to apologize for throwing shoes at your head,” Kate sighed heavily, as if someone insisted she apologize.
“Please, go away- ow!” Wendy exclaimed. As she turned over in bed, the bed shifted and pinched her arm between the bedframe and the wall. She jumped up, rubbing her tender forearm. The blanket was still covering her like a curtain. She stood there for a moment, unsure what to do.
“Wendy? If the side effects caused you to look funny or something, we promise not to laugh,” Roxanne said.
“Laughing’s not what I’m worried about…” Wendy could see them through the thin blanket: Roxanne, Liz, Denise, Kate, Bridgit, and Lea- Miss Turner must have stayed home with Gwen. They all wore protective masks, gloves, and plastic clothes coverings, crowded in front of the window and watching her intensely. She felt like she was in a zoo.
All of a sudden, they started chanting her name and begging.
“Please, Wendy? We just wanted to say goodbye…”
“Yeah, I’m sure it’s not that bad…”
“C’mon, Wendy, please?”
“Guys, cut it out,” Wendy said.
They continued to chant her name and giggle, hoping to make her laugh.
“Just stop it, okay? I really don’t want to-”
“C’mon, Wendy! Wen-dy! Wen-dy! Wen-dy!”
Finally, she lost it. She turned and ripped the blanket off of her head, balled it up, and threw it on the bed.
“Look at me! Just look at me!” she cried. Wendy spun around and stared at them, her face burning.
The girls stumbled backwards, silenced by the outburst of the metallic stranger.
Lea had shrieked, her eyes wide with fear. Denise and Liz had stared back at her for awhile, stunned. Bridgit had gasped, covering her face. Kate had yelped, caught off guard, and turned away. One by one the girls left, shocked by what they had seen. Only Roxanne remained, her head lowered, breathing slowly.
“Roxanne?” Wendy stepped closer and placed her metal hand on the glass.
Roxanne jumped, startled, and stared at Wendy’s hand in disbelief. She began to shake her head, her breaths quickening.
“Roxanne, please…” Wendy whispered.
Roxanne stared, transfixed, at Wendy’s hand for awhile longer, then suddenly looked into her eyes.
“No… no…” she murmured, backing away slowly.
Wendy placed her other hand on the glass, her eyes pleading. “Please… please, Roxanne, I need you… don’t leave…”
As Roxanne turned and ran down the hall, tears rolled down Wendy’s cheeks. She gazed at her reflection, crushed. When she wiped her face, she cringed. Her metal fingers scraping against her metal cheekbone made a high-pitched squeaking sound. As she buried herself under the blanket on the humble cot, she hoped she wouldn’t rust.
The next morning Wendy was awoken by the sound of the heavy quarantine door opening. Two men wearing masks and plastic gloves stood in the doorway.
Wendy rose to her feet and eyed them warily. “Are you two my escorts to St. Augustine’s Medical Institution?”
The taller man nodded as the shorter man handed her gloves and a mask. Wendy took them and sighed as she put them on.
“What, no haz mat suits?” she asked.
The taller man cleared his throat. “We were informed by your doctor that after running some tests, he doubted your condition is as contagious as those attending the press conference speculated, if at all- he did advise the three of us to wear gloves and masks when exiting the quarantine wing. Although you’re unlikely to be contagious, the specialists at the medical institution are still quite eager to begin your research study and examination, however.”
Wendy shuddered as she left the room. An escort accompanied her on both sides. She guessed her destruction of the press conference room and elevator had something to do with the high security. Noticing the tall mans’ handcuffs on his belt, she decided not to try another escapade.
As they made their way through the halls, she tried not to stare into the large windows of the occupants’ quarters, but she soon realized she needn’t bother being polite- they were all gawking at her. One diseased man in particular looked her way with a fascinated expression on his face and pointed to get his visitor’s attention.
“Lookee there,” he crowed. “It’s a robot-girl!”
Wendy glared at him as they walked past, her face turning scarlet.
“Robot-girl? IT?!” she thought angrily, staring straight ahead.
“Don’t mind Mr. Johansson, he hasn’t been the same since he was diagnosed,” the taller man said kindly.
“Yeah, he’d probably blend right in in the Psych Ward,” the shorter man chuckled.
Wendy shook her head, trying to forget the incident as they exited the quarantine wing and removed their masks and gloves.
“How long does it take to get to St. Augustine’s?” she asked, wanting to change the subject.
“About a half hour car ride to the airport, a two hour plane ride, and about another half an hour car ride to the clinic,” the taller man replied.
“Are you sure, Dwayne? I thought it was about an hour to the clinic,” the shorter man said as he threw his gloves away.
“Pretty sure, Brian, although I could be wrong-”
“Wait, plane ride? It’s not here in Indiana?” Wendy exclaimed.
“No, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,” Brian replied.
Just before she was about to freak out, she remembered her encounter with the other girls the other day. She wondered if they’d even miss her; they were probably all too afraid to see her again.
“Whatever… let’s go,” Wendy sighed.
After a silent half an hour car ride that felt like three hours, Wendy was almost relieved to reach the airport. But as soon as she entered the building, she felt self conscious.
Dwayne and Brian never left her sides. Even when she exited the restroom, she found them stationed on either side of the door. And it wasn’t like they could pass for a very protective father and uncle either. With Dwayne’s handcuffs and Brian’s militaristic, straight-ahead gaze, Wendy felt like a juvenile delinquent.
Not only was everyone staring at her, but they were avoiding her, too. When she stepped in line for the water fountain (Dwayne and Brian accompanying her, of course), those already in line caught one glimpse of her and left. A toddler passing by who stopped to stare with a terrified expression on his face was rescued by his mother who scooped him up without making eye contact. The only people who reacted to the sight of her in a positive way were a couple of foreign-looking tourists who snapped her picture, but that was just embarrassing.
Before the three of them boarded the plane, they had to go through the metal detector in baggage first. Wendy sighed, then stepped inside and put her hands behind her head. Almost immediately, the detector went off, beeping loudly. As Dwayne and Brian jumped forward to explain her situation, Wendy lowered her head, humiliated, feeling all eyes on her.
She hastily wiped away a tear as they took their seats on the plane. Wendy watched cars and houses get smaller and smaller as they took off. Suddenly she became entranced- she realized her left eye’s vision was growing sharper and sounds on her left side seemed amplified like it had during the press conference.
Wendy looked down at the earth below. Not only could she see tiny cars, but she could read their license plates and hear them honking hundreds of miles below her.
She ran a hand through her hair. “What…?”
“Something wrong?” Dwayne asked.
Wendy pulled her gaze away from the window. “I… I can see and hear everything… Moscovitz said the nanobots were capable of restoring a cancer patient to better than their prime, but I don’t think he would’ve expected this…”
“I don’t think anybody expected any of this,” Brian replied, gesturing to her metallic limbs.
Just then, a stewardess approached with a refreshment cart.
“Beverages and snacks?” she asked politely.
As Brian and Dwayne ordered, Wendy tried to ignore a strange scraping feeling in her metal arm.
“I’ll have a root beer,” Wendy said. The stewardess stretched and strained in the tight aisle to reach a root beer can from the bottom corner of the cart.
“Oh, don’t worry about it; I think I can reach it…” Wendy said, stretching her arm past Dwayne and Brian. All of a sudden, her arm extended to practically three times its length.
Dwayne did a spit take as Brian choked on a pretzel. A man across the aisle from them looked at his beer bottle and set it back down, shaking his head. The stewardess gasped, removing her glasses to clean them. Wendy closed her dropped jaw, plucking the can from the cart. She watched in awe as her arm slid back to its original size.
The stewardess placed her glasses back on her face and blinked, slowly moving along to the next row of seats.
Dwayne and Brian looked at Wendy in amazement, who was busy trying to shake the root beer can off of her hand.
“I don’t believe it…” Brian breathed.
“You better believe it- they said we had an interesting assignment, didn’t they?” Dwayne whispered.
“Well, I think they confused interesting with insane,” Brian replied as he watched Wendy attempting to nonchalantly remove her broken root beer pop tab from her forehead.
“Um, I’m going to try to take care of this whole…” Wendy helplessly shook her root beer hand. “Situation…” she mumbled, getting out of her seat to go to the bathroom.
“Ugh, what is wrong with me…?” Wendy whispered when she clicked the tiny bathroom door shut.
She uncurled her metal pointer finger from the root beer can and moved on to her middle finger, only to have her pointer finger get stuck again. Then she tried catching the edge of the can on the rim of the toilet seat and pulling it off, to no avail. Wendy growled impatiently.
“So this is my life now,” she thought. “One unfortunate metallic self discovery after another. Always getting stuck to things. Looking like some kind of cyborg. What am I going to do looking like a cyborg at the prom? Or on my wedding day?” Wendy caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror and froze. “Who am I kidding? No one’s gonna fall for a human-robot hybrid! What am I going to do?!”
Then she paused to pry the pop tab from her forehead.
“Get it together, Walker,” she thought. “One step at a time. Just don’t panic…”
At that moment, the plane tilted forward in the turbulent skies, causing Wendy to stumble into the tiny bathroom door, her soda exploding everywhere. She yelped as the lock unlatched and she fell forward, finding her metal arm and leg attached to the metal doorframe. Wendy sputtered and struggled to free herself, blinking as root beer dripped from her hair.
Dwayne nodded in agreement. “This assignment definitely falls into the ‘insane’ category…”
“So…” Brian began as they pulled onto the interstate to the clinic. “What exactly happened with the extendo-arm and the root beer volcano…?”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Wendy replied, picking at a hangnail. She glanced out the window and watched rain begin to fall.
“The root beer thing,” she thought, “…was not my fault. But why did my arm stretch out like that? Is that part of the whole ‘nanobots taking over the test subject’ deal? I didn’t do that voluntarily… did I?”
Dwayne and Brian began discussing what would happen at the clinic again as Wendy tried not to listen… thinking about a bunch of scientists poking and prodding her made her feel ill. She wished there was some way she could get out of this.
Wendy rested her metal arm under the car window. Suddenly her eyes widened as she noticed the metal door lock inches away from her hand. Before she could even move her arm away, the lock popped open with a click and the door flew open. Wendy was ripped from the car and flew through the air, plummeting over the guardrails and into a roadside ravine, landing flat on her back. She opened her eyes and squinted at the trees above her.
“I’m… I’m alive…?” Wendy whispered, wiping raindrops from her face. She gasped. Underneath her in the clearing was a girl-sized crater, the deepest indentations being where her metal arm and leg had landed. She looked back at the road high above her and scooted farther back into the foliage. She wasn’t for sure what she was going to do next, but she was not going back.
Wendy stood to her feet, preparing to venture farther into the woods. She pulled her hood over her head and looked up at the cloudy skies. Loud cracks of thunder echoed and lightning temporarily brightened her path. Suddenly, she screamed.
Wendy clutched her head and crumpled to the scorched ground. The pain that raced through her body dulled, then numbed. She could feel her once impeccable vision and hearing dissolving. Then something deep in her brain clicked, and she was out cold.
An hour or so later, a figure peered into the clearing. A flash of lightning illuminated the scene- a teenage girl, clothes and hair soaked with rain, laid sprawled in the mud amidst a large dent in the earth, not unlike a human meteorite. Something glinted on her face. Glasses, perhaps?
The figure stepped closer and knelt next to the girl. She wasn’t wearing glasses… as he wiped from mud from her unconscious face, he gasped. His fingers grazed not skin, but something hard and cold. Another flash of lighting streaked the sky, giving him a clearer look. Metal.
“Okay, so red to car, black to girl?”
“No, black to car, red to girl.”
“Are you sure this is safe, sir?”
“I’m quite sure. I’ve watched her story on the news; I think I understand the mechanics that go along with- Jane, what are you doing with that Brasso metal polish?”
“I was just shining her arm and leg, sir. It works pretty well.”
“Well, stop it for a minute and step back. She seems to have been shut down by the nanobots in response to head trauma; I don’t know how much time we have left. I’m ready to jump-start her.”
Wendy felt as though she was drifting between comatose and heavily sedated states. What were they talking about? Jump-start?
Wendy jolted to life, shocks zapped through her system. She looked around wildly, panting and blinking as her blurred vision slowly began to clear.
Four teenagers and a middle aged man were looking at her in amazement. When she stirred to jump up, she almost lost her balance- she was sitting in a wheel barrow in a garage.
The man stepped closer. “How do you feel?”
“I… I…” Wendy stammered. She glanced down, noticing a jumper cable hooked to a car clamped on her freshly cleaned metal thumb. “Where am I? Is this some kind of St. Augustine’s experiment?”
The man chuckled. “You’re not at St. Augustine’s. I- David Gray- found you unconscious in a storm, so I brought you here for the night to get you up and running again. Lighting and metal don’t mix, you know.”
Wendy slowly stood to her feet and unclamped the cable from her thumb, eyeing the spectators warily. “Who are you pe- augh!” Wendy yelped as she stumbled backwards, pointing at one of the teenagers. “Your… your eyes, they’re…”
A girl with chestnut-colored hair pushed her bangs out of her face, looking back at Wendy with an amused expression. Her green eyes sparkled.
“They’re huge!” Wendy blurted out. She was right. Her eyes were as big as apples. Wendy glanced away uncomfortably as the girl continued to gaze her way, grinning.
“That’s Jane,” the man smiled. “Kids, be polite. Introduce yourselves to our guest.”
Wendy stood perfectly still, eyes wide.
Two guys approached, one with a strong build, biceps bulging, and the other tall and lanky.
“You’re… you’re…” Wendy yelped, putting her hand over her mouth.
“Ripped?” the muscular boy laughed as the others rolled their eyes. “I’m Charlie.”
A bright green glow had started to shine from deep inside him, radiating from his skin and his white-blonde hair.
The other boy put his hands in his pockets and kept his head lowered, letting his tousled, sandy locks fall in his face. “I’m Nate.”
Just as Wendy was about to sigh with relief to see a normal looking face in the room, a bottle of Brasso slid from the roof of the car. Nate caught it- without removing his hands from his pockets. He blushed bright red as he turned to set the bottle down on a work bench, revealing a third arm growing out of his back. Wendy’s jaw dropped.
“And I’m Robin.” another girl said primly, extending her hand.
A dumbstruck Wendy shook it just as the others called out in protest. Wendy felt a shocking, buzzing sensation fly through her body.
“Oh! Ow!” she yelped, pulling back her hand. “Ouch…”
Robin frantically attempted to fix her once perfect, cascading blonde ringlets, now an explosion of frizz.
“Oh, my hair…” she whimpered. “My I.S.S is acting up again; it’s both a blessing and a curse… usually a curse…”
Wendy wrinkled her brow. “What?”
“Internal static shock…” Robin sighed.
Just as Wendy had decided to bolt, the door of the garage made a creaking sound and rolled open, revealing a huge, dark silhouette in the night.
“What… what… is that a bear?!” Wendy trembled, flattening her back against the wall.
The others laughed as the figure stepped into the light of the garage.
“It’s just Patrick,” Charlie grinned. “He’s more like a giant leprechaun than a bear!”
Wendy screamed. She had been scooped up by a husky, lumbering, teenage redhead, easily eight and a half feet tall and built like a brick wall.
“Please, don’t hurt me! I’ll be leaving soon, I didn’t mean to-” Wendy yelped, cut off with a suffocating bear hug.
Patrick’s laugh rumbled as he held her out at arm’s length. “I leave to get some exercise, and when I come back, there’s a girl in my garage!”
Mr. Gray folded his arms. “So that’s where you were… I found her when I was out looking for you!”
Wendy swallowed. “Please put me down…”
“Oh! Sorry!” Patrick laughed, setting her down as she slid to the floor, numb with disbelief.
“That’s Wendy Walker. Mr. Gray heard about her on the news,” Jane replied.
“Ugh, that’s right. The whole thing was filmed…” Wendy moaned, pulling her knees in to her chest. “I- I don’t know what I’m going to do! I can’t go to the examination clinic. I… I just can’t!” Wendy raised her eyes and met the man’s gaze. “Please… please don’t send me back.”
“Don’t worry- no one deserves to be treated like that… not even for science. But I’m sure your family must miss you terribly…” The man rubbed his chin.
“Actually, sir, I don’t have a family… I had some friends back at the girls’ home, but after they saw me like this… I doubt they’d be comfortable living with me anymore,” Wendy replied with a heavy sigh.
At that moment, she noticed the five kids and the man exchanging glances.
“None of us have families, either- well, except Robin, Mr. Gray here is her dad… but… he’s kind of taken us under his wing when we were in tough spots.” Charlie looked at her kindly. “We live in this ‘abandoned house’ secretly to get away from it all… nosy neighbors…”
“…prying doctors…” Nate sighed.
“…paparazzi, ‘intrepid’ reporters…” Jane shook her head.
Robin knelt next to Wendy. “The six of us are like a big, happy family… right, Dad?” she said, glancing at her father.
Mr. Gray stepped forward, not getting Robin’s hint about the crowded home. “I realize this is all a lot of information to take in in a day, Wendy. But they all have experienced life in the public eye before they came here, and… it really took a toll on them, their self esteem. I believe they’re much happier living together here… I home school them as well, of course…” he looked down at the forlorn, metallic girl. “If you agreed it would be the best lifestyle, I could give your guardian a call… ask to have your files sent over…”
Wendy was silent.
“Would you miss your guardian?” Patrick asked.
For the first time all day, Wendy smiled. “Ah, no, and I don’t think she’d miss me either. It’s just…” she studied a crack on the concrete floor, then looked up at six, concerned faces. Strange faces, yes, but kind faces. People who seemed to genuinely care for one another.
Wendy took a deep breath. She didn’t want to intrude when Robin seemed opposed to the idea of another person in the house, but what choice did she have? “Okay… I guess I’m in…”
Charlie patted her on the back. “Congrats. You’re one of us now,” he laughed.
As the others gathered around to welcome their new guest, Mr. Gray shook her hand firmly as she slightly cringed at his greeting: “Wendy? Welcome to Mutant Academy.”
A couple hours later, Jane opened the door to her and Robin’s bedroom.
“So… you’re sure you’re okay sharing a room with us?” Jane asked tentatively, blinking her wide eyes.
“Oh, um, yeah. Back at the girls’ home I used to share a room smaller than this with six other girls, one of which regularly pelted me with her shoes.” Wendy replied as she sat down on the spare bed. She noticed Robin and Jane’s raised eyebrows.
“So, yeah, this’ll be good. Just, ah, don’t be giving me any good-night hugs, hey, Robin? Heh, heh. Am I right?” Wendy smiled nervously. Robin cocked an eyebrow as Jane chuckled softly, then settled into awkward silence.
Wendy glanced around the room. It was painted a pretty turquoise with the girls’ personal items on the dressers and pinned on the walls. Long, light curtains grazed the light blue carpet.
“Oh, these are pretty curtains…” Wendy said, reaching out a hand to touch them.
“Don’t!” Robin exclaimed as Wendy jumped. “We leave all the curtains pulled shut. For… privacy purposes.”
“Oh… okay…” Wendy blushed. She supposed it would be for the best to remain hidden, but now every time she looked at all of the floor-length curtains it would only remind her that she had something to hide.
“So, uh…” Wendy fumbled to change the subject. “Uh, do all the guys share a room, too?”
“Charlie and Nate do… Patrick has his own room, though. Sometimes he gets violent when he’s dreaming… and when he’s awake.” Jane replied eerily.
Seeing Wendy’s frightened expression, she added, “…But not on purpose, though… He’s really a big softie. He just doesn’t know his own strength yet, I guess. That’s why Robin’s dad felt it was so important to bring him back home when he slipped out to exercise… he could’ve attracted unwanted attention.”
“Yes,” Robin sighed, climbing to her bed on the top bunk. “Pat joined us a couple years ago. Apparently he used to be even wimpier than Nate before his doctor gave him some growth hormones. They were perfectly safe, but for some reason he was the one in five thousand to react really weird to them.”
“Huh,” Wendy looked at her new roommates. “So… what about you two? How’d you end up in… ah, Mutant Academy?”
“Well… I was doing the whole ‘being paid for volunteering in medical experiments’ thing too, like you did… it mentioned it on the news…” Jane began. “I decided to volunteer to try out ‘bionic contacts’- they said they were contacts that expanded over your eyeballs and somehow… well… I don’t really remember the scientific terms for it, but they were supposed to make blind people able to see. And they did- I could see after that… really well, actually. Sometimes, if I focus on something long enough, I can see through it. But… pretty soon after that, my eyeballs themselves expanded. Luckily my face structure shifted a bit along with them, or else they would’ve popped out of my head. My grandmother, whom I was living with at that time, was horrified. She’s very old-fashioned and superstitious , you see. She never trusted doctors- she thought they’d put some kind of curse on me… she sent me away. Luckily, I found this place.”
Wendy broke the silence. “If it means anything, I think your eyes are really pretty… they look like shiny, granny smith apples.”
Jane smiled. “Thanks… you look cool, too. Kind of a permanent steam punk thing going on.”
Wendy sighed. “Yep. Permanent… so, um, Robin. How long have you had your… I.S.S?”
“About… nine years. I was eight years old when I was playing in my tree house and got caught in a storm. The tree was struck by lightning and I barely escaped the fire… soon after that, I realized I possessed the ability you experienced today.” Robin replied quickly, seemingly still miffed about her ruined hair.
“And the others…?” Wendy questioned.
“Charlie used to live with his uncle near a sewage treatment plant… turned out some toxic sludge had been dumped there, too, and when he got too close… bam! He mutated into a buff glow-stick.” Jane giggled. “He joined us when his uncle passed away.”
“Nate was the first to join my dad and me when my dad began taking in kids. He was born with the third arm and was picked on constantly because of it. Since he’d previously lived in an orphanage without a family, I guess he felt he had nothing to lose when he ran away and met us.” Robin said. “So, what about you? Any part of your story get left out on the news?”
“Well, um… I don’t know. I never saw it; I don’t know how much they filmed…” Wendy shrugged.
“Would you like to see it? I bet I could pull up the video on the station’s website on the laptop,” Jane offered.
Wendy hesitated. “Sure… I’ve been pretty curious.”
So the three girls gathered on Wendy’s bed, watching the video from the laptop. Suddenly, Wendy felt sick… reliving the scariest moments of her life was like pouring salt on an open wound.
“Whoa… this must be a new video. We saw the first part of the press conference on the news. It ended after the metal started growing on her face and her doctor was trying to explain himself,” Robin whispered.
Jane and Robin watched in awe as they watched their new roommate smash cameras and knock out full grown men.
Her voice sounded unfamiliar coming from the laptop: “Let me go! Get off of me!”
Robin and Jane gasped as they watched her zip into the air, swing from a light fixture, and kick another hazardous material worker down to the floor. They cheered and laughed.
“Look at her go!” Robin grinned.
“She’s goin’ on a rampage!” Jane chuckled.
“I bet the others would wanna see this,” Robin pointed at the screen.
Wendy shook her head, her cheeks flaming. “No! No, I’m embarrassed enough that the world has seen me have a breakdown!”
Robin smiled. “Don’t be embarrassed! That video was crazy-awesome!”
Wendy stared at her. “What do you think that was?! Some kind of stunt? A joke? Trust me, I wasn’t laughing when no one would fill me in on the fact that I was transforming into some kind of human magnet on live television! Do you… do you really think I was trying to attack those people? Because in reality, I was a little distracted with the painful foreign substance swirling through my veins that was causing me to lose control of my own body!” Wendy exclaimed, pausing the video.
Robin and Jane were stunned.
“We’re sorry, Wendy. I guess we had forgotten you hadn’t had time to adjust…” Robin stammered.
“Yeah, we’re really sorry…” Jane bit her lip. “We’ve been used to talking about things like this for awhile now like they’re no big deal, so…”
“Please…” Wendy covered her face with her hands. “I… I just need some time alone…”
As the two girls stood to leave the room, Jane put a hand on Wendy’s shoulder. “Just tell us if you want anything…” she trailed off.
When the girls had shut the door behind them, Wendy stared at the paused image of herself on the screen, standing in the doorway of the press conference room with a ridiculous, bewildered expression on her face.
Wendy clicked the laptop closed and whispered, “I want… to forget.”
The next morning Wendy awoke to the sound of a clanging cowbell ringing through the halls.
“Rise and shine! Time for brunch, ladies!” Mr. Gray’s voice called.
Robin and Jane got out of bed almost immediately. Wendy grunted and put her pillow over her head.
“Aren’t you coming to brunch, Wendy?” Robin asked.
“Um… I guess…” she mumbled.
Wendy followed Jane and Robin down the stairs and into the dining room where Mr. Gray and the guys were already seated at a long table eating pancakes, eggs, and bacon.
Wendy took a seat near the end of the table next to Nate, who was holding a frozen steak to a black eye.
“What happened to your eye?” Wendy asked, plopping a pancake on her plate.
“Patrick dreamed he was wrestling an alligator last night… he has a habit of sleep-fighting,” Nate rolled his eyes.
Wendy glanced at the gigantic boy squeezing syrup on his leaning tower of pancakes.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
Mr. Gray, who had started eating beforehand, stood from the table. “Well, I’d better start preparing Monday’s lesson. Now, just because it’s Saturday doesn’t mean you all can’t study,” he announced.
After he left, the table was awkwardly silent.
“So, uh, Wendy! How’d you sleep last night?” Charlie asked, shoveling a forkful of eggs in his mouth.
“Well… alright, I guess. I’m still kind of trying to find a sleeping position where I’m not sore in the morning,” Wendy admitted, holding up her metallic hand, then setting it down on the table. At that moment, she heard a sliding sound.
Wendy glanced down at the table and gasped. Food flew everywhere as everyone’s silverware was sucked from their hands and plates onto her arm and face. She wrinkled her nose, flicking a piece of egg off of her chin and pulling a strip of bacon out of her shirt.
“My bacon,” Patrick sighed.
All at once, everyone began to laugh. Even Wendy smiled as she redistributed the silverware.
“Sorry about that… I guess I’m going to have to learn to eat left-handed,” Wendy apologized with a chuckle as she took her seat, automatically reaching for the metal saltshaker with her right hand. She scowled as it slid across the table away from her metal fingers.
“Are your magnetic poles switching back and forth?” Nate asked curiously, sprinkling salt on her eggs for her.
“Heh, heh… bipolar.” Charlie smiled.
“Ugh, this is all so annoying!” Wendy exclaimed. “I need a vacation.”
“I think we all do… I’ve had a major case of cabin fever,” Jane sighed as the others agreed.
Suddenly Robin got a devious look on her face.
“I think I know what can fix that,” she grinned, motioning the others to follow her to her bedroom.
When they were all inside the bedroom (Patrick had some difficulties getting through the doorway) Robin closed the door and faced them.
“We… are going to a party!” Robin announced happily, keeping her voice low.
The others stared at her in shock.
“But… isn’t that the whole idea of living like hermits? To stay hidden?” Wendy questioned, cocking an eyebrow.
Robin huffed. “I was going to try to be nice and invite you to this party with us as a welcoming gesture or whatever, but if you don’t want to go…”
“No, no! Tell us your idea!” Charlie interrupted. “I’m sick of being cooped up in here too, but… exactly how do you plan on going without attracting attention and blowing our cover?” he crossed his arms.
“Well, Jane, remember that poster on the telephone pole you read from our room a couple weeks ago?” Robin asked.
“You mean the one at the top of the hill two blocks down?” Jane asked. Wendy’s jaw dropped.
“Yeah, that one- it was advertising a party at 406 Trevvy Avenue tonight… and the best part… it’s a costume party!” Robin squealed. “A costume party in late December! Can you believe it?”
“I didn’t mean we should actually go!” Jane bit her lip.
“Okay, so it’s a costume party. I still think a three-armed Frankenstein or whatever would draw attention,” Charlie laughed, giving Nate a playful shove.
“And a glowing Neanderthal wouldn’t?” Nate grumbled.
“I have it all figured out… we’d all show up in costumes that would hide our mutations, either that, or make them seem fake. I already know what I’m going to do- I’m bringing one of those shocker things you can attach to your hand to disguise my I.S.S in case it flares up, and I’m dressing up like a clown… but I amped it up a bit. See?” Robin said proudly, pulling an outfit from her closet. She had a short red tutu, probably from when she was younger, blue jewelry to match her bright blue pumps, a plunging v-neck yellow polka dotted tank top, and a Styrofoam red clown nose.
“I threw it together myself… I’ll be a real looker at that party,” Robin grinned.
“More like a real hooker,” Jane laughed.
Robin growled. “Anyway, you all need to come up with good disguising costumes… we’ll sneak in and out through the shed. Now go, hurry! The party is tonight, you know!” she whispered, shooing three bewildered guys out the door.
“Shed? How would…” Wendy asked.
“Since we’re here secretly, if we ever have to leave the house for any reason, we always go at night through the shed exit in the backyard- when Robin and Mr. Gray first moved here, he built an underground tunnel leading to the shed- he didn’t want to attract attention to the doors, he wanted to make the house seem as abandoned as possible. Then we sneak to the garage to the car.” Jane explained, then turned to Robin. “I really don’t think this is a good idea…”
“C’mon, it’ll be fun. Don’t be a party pooper! I’ve been dying to get out of the house ever since Mexican Night when Patrick stunk up the place after he ate those fireball burritos,” Robin wrinkled her nose at the memory. “And I even thought of a disguise-costume for you- we could cut cat ears out of paper and attach them to a headband, and you could paint part of those really big sunglasses of yours like big, bright cat eyes to hide your real eyes… we could paint a little nose and whiskers on your face… it’d be so cute! Please…?” Robin gave Jane her best puppy dog face.
“Well… as long as we’re really careful and quiet when we leave and come back… I have been awful bored lately; a party would be fun,” Jane smiled.
“Great! Now we just need to come up with a costume for Wendy.” Robin bit her lip as they turned to face their new roommate.
“What- me? Oh, no, I couldn’t… I mean, I really appreciate your ‘welcoming gesture’ and all, but I doubt a costume could disguise this metal… and I mean, c’mon. I just got here… the last thing I need is to betray Mr. Gray’s trust and have him kick me out,” Wendy shook her head, then paused, glancing at Robin warily. “Unless, of course, that was one’s intention…”
“What? No! I’d never do that!” Robin exclaimed defensively. “I mean, I’ll admit, I wasn’t wild about yet another guest… seems I’m always having to share my dad… but it’s not you. You’re cool. I know I’ll get used to you eventually. I always do.”
“Um, thanks.” Wendy smiled. “I think.”
“And don’t worry about Mr. Gray one bit. Sure, he gets upset sometimes, but he’s very kind.” Jane reassured Wendy, then paused to stare at her, deep in thought. Once again, Wendy felt as though Jane’s eyes were like searchlights in her soul.
“I think we could make her metallic glove, boot, and face areas look fake if we covered them with silver duct tape,” Jane suggested suddenly.
“Good thinking, Jane! But I can’t think of what- hold on, I got a text… from Charlie? Why is he…” Robin grabbed her phone off of her dresser and huffed as she read the text. “Ugh! ‘Keep it down, loudmouths, and get busy! Our costumes are almost done and they’re wicked!’ Wicked? Already?!” Robin looked up. “The guys think their costumes are going to be better than ours.”
“We better get a move on if we’re going to leave on time… what could Wendy dress up as…?” Jane thought aloud.
Wendy plopped down on her bed with a sigh. “Um… I don’t know… some deranged man in quarantine said I looked like a robot…”
“Mm, maybe… if we really wanted to show up the guys at that party we all have to look good, though…” Robin tapped her finger on her chin as Wendy rolled her eyes.
They started to brainstorm as Jane began creating her cat headband and sunglasses while Robin got dressed. When Robin paused to pose and smile in front of the mirror, Jane giggled.
“The clown costume is kind of hoochy… oops! Sorry…” Wendy clapped her hands over her mouth. “That was mean. If I only had a heart, right?”
Suddenly, Robin and Jane looked at each other, gasped, and began to run around grabbing supplies. Robin pulled a glitzy, silver-sequined mini-dress out of her closet with a flourish.
“What? What did I say?” Wendy laughed.
Jane re-entered the room holding a silver funnel.
“Wait…” Wendy wrinkled her brow, looking back and forth. “Metallic-silver outfit, duct tape, red heart necklace… funnel… no.”
“Yes!” Robin and Jane laughed. “Tin-Man Girl!”
“Tin-Man Girl…? Oh…” Wendy sighed. “Okay, I’ll do it… for the party…”
Awhile later, Wendy sat on Robin’s vanity stool as Robin stuck the final piece of silver duct tape onto her metal and Jane applied the last touches of glittery eye shadow for her.
“And now, the piéce de ré-sis-tance…” Robin giggled, speaking with her best French accent.
Wendy reluctantly placed the hands in her lap that were guarding her head as Robin placed the funnel atop her raven ringlets.
“Ta-da!” Jane and Robin smiled as the three of them looked at Wendy’s reflection.
“This is degrading,” Wendy said flatly.
“Aw…” Jane pooched out her lip.
“But… I guess I can abandon my dignity for one night,” she gave in with a chuckle.
“Alright, fantastic! We’ve spent a lot of time on these costumes, so we’d better get going…” Robin lowered her voice. As the girls prepared to sneak out of the room, Robin paused and smiled at Wendy.
“We did a good job on the costume, Jane. Wendy looks hot. Work it, girl!” Robin snapped her fingers as Wendy blushed, embarrassed to be caught with her hand on her hip, strutting past Robin’s mirror.
“Cut me some slack… ‘till now my coolest costume was from the second grade- a sheet with eyeholes that didn’t have a stain,” Wendy smiled, cocking her funnel jauntily to the side.
The girls held their breath as they stepped lightly through the house, making their way to the little door in the floor in the basement. Jane grabbed a flashlight from a desk drawer and handed it to Robin.
Robin opened the door as slowly as possible, careful not to let it creak. A smile crept onto her face as her foot landed on the first stair and she gestured to the others.
“Girls? It’s showtime.”
“So… is it always this dark?” Wendy asked once Jane pulled the door shut behind them.
“That’s what the flashlight’s for,” Robin said, clicking it on.
Wendy gazed around the tunnel that looked like a hallway-shaped cave as they walked. Robin’s heels clicked on wooden flooring, echoing loudly.
Suddenly, Jane stopped dead in her tracks, causing Wendy to run into her.
“What is it, Jane?” Robin asked impatiently.
“I think I heard something… like a gnawing, chewing sound,” Jane replied.
“Do you think there’s an animal down here…?” Wendy whispered.
“Well, whatever it is, ignore it. I know we’re crashing this party, but I don’t want to be too fashionably late. C’mon, let’s keep going,” Robin beckoned, leading the way.
Wendy and Jane glanced at each other nervously and followed.
The noise was getting louder… whatever it was, it was around the corner…
At that moment, Robin shrieked and jumped back.
“Oh! Patrick! You scared me!” she gasped.
“Sorry…” Patrick licked his lips. “Chicken?”
Patrick held out a large bucket of fried chicken.
“Sure,” Wendy smiled, taking a drumstick.
“I got hungry,” Patrick explained as Charlie and Nate struggled to squeeze past him in the narrow tunnel.
“Hey, so are you guys ready to… whoa,” Charlie’s jaw dropped. Nate ran his hand through his hair and smiled.
Patrick looked up from his chicken bucket.
“Hey, you guys look nice!” he laughed.
“He’s right, you all look good,” Charlie smiled.
“No kidding,” Nate said.
“Thank you,” Robin replied politely. “I’m a clown, as you know, Jane’s a cat and Wendy here’s a Tin-Man Girl!”
“Clever,” Nate smiled.
“It was Jane and Robin’s idea,” Wendy blushed, taking a bite of her chicken.
“So, who are you all supposed to be?” Jane asked, straightening her cat ear headband.
“Nate’s the Hunchback of Notre Dame- we put pillows on either side of his back-arm and threw a cape over it to cover it up, Patrick’s wearing a horse costume we made out of the brown afghan in the living room-”
Charlie was interrupted.
“So, how’s the horse costume going to disguise his size…?” Robin asked expectantly.
“He’s going to walk on all fours- he’ll look like two people in the suit,” Charlie explained. “And I’m wearing this monster mask to hide my face if I start glowing.” He pulled a green, grotesque mask over his face, muffling his voice. “Rawr.”
“Nice,” Jane smiled. “Are we ready to go?”
“I know I am,” Robin grinned excitedly, squeezing past the guys. “Now remember, when we exit the shed and go to the car-”
“Yeah, yeah, go quickly, stay low, stick to the shadows,” Charlie yawned. “Let’s go already.”
Robin unlocked the shed door at the end of the tunnel from the inside and stuck her head outside the shed.
“Okay, the coast is clear. Let’s go,” she whispered.
Wendy’s heart pounded as the six of them made their way across the backyard in the dark.
“All fours, horse,” Nate hissed.
“Oh, right.” Patrick dropped down into a far from graceful trot.
“Headlights! Get down!” Jane whispered, panicked.
They all froze and fell to the ground as headlights from a car passing by illuminated the side of their house on a hill.
“I feel like a criminal. Or a hunted animal,” Wendy said, only to be shushed.
She paused briefly when they rose again to admire the Victorian-style house, beautiful but very old with its peeling yellow paint.
“So that’s what the house looks like,” she thought.
They stealthily slid along the walls and waited while Robin opened the garage door, then they all piled into the car.
“I’m driving,” Charlie announced. They rolled down the driveway slowly, then he flipped on the headlights one he was a little ways down the street.
“Woo! Sweet freedom,” he cheered.
“I can’t wait!” Robin grinned. “Wendy, are you excited?” she asked, her hazel eyes sparkling from the rear view mirror.
“Yeah! But… are you sure the duct tape disguises my metal alright?” Wendy asked, examining her taped up arm.
“Totally- it just looks like you covered a glove, boot, and part of a mask with tape and put them on,” Jane reassured her.
“Alright, here we are… geez, it sure is crowded around here,” Charlie said as he parked the car. The large house’s windows were bright with multi-colored lighting and rattled from the vibration of the music.
“It’s crowded for a reason, Charlie,” Robin said as they exited the car and made their way up to the front door. “This party is going to be awesome.”
“This party is so not awesome! We should’ve stayed home!” Jane moaned.
“I know, I know, quit rubbing it in,” Robin snapped.
“Patrick! Get away from our car! Now!” Charlie shouted.
“What’s wrong with you, Patrick?!” Nate exclaimed.
“Um, guys…? I think I know what happened…” Wendy called from the front doorway, holding up an empty brownie plate. “He ate them all.”
“So? He’s eaten tons of brownies at a time before… AUGH!” Robin yelped, jumping out of the way of a broken windshield wiper hurled her way like a spear. “Hey!”
“Were they ‘special’ brownies?” Wendy bit her lip as the others’ jaws dropped.
“This is not good,” Nate groaned.
Wendy sighed, remembering about an hour before.
The party wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t fantastic either, just as she had expected. Robin had been dancing her heart out, Charlie was trying to pick up girls with cheesy mask-related ‘Beauty and the Beast’ lines, and Jane, Nate, and herself were awkwardly making small talk with other partygoers in the living room while Patrick pigged out in the kitchen.
“Um, this is a crazy party, huh?” Nate smiled at a girl wearing a vampire costume.
“It will be when people start chowing down on those ‘special’ brownies Stan brought,” A guy laughed, straightening his Indian headdress.
“Oh… yeah…” Jane chuckled nervously.
“I’m going to get some chips… I’ll go warn Patrick,” she whispered to Jane, leaving for the kitchen.
She tapped Patrick on the shoulder.
“Hey, aren’t you supposed to be standing on all fours to hide your size?” she lowered her voice.
He turned around, holding an empty plate.
“Did you… what was on the plate you’re holding…?” she asked nervously, taking it from him.
“Brownies…” he growled with a belch, sitting on the ground. “They were goooood…”
Her eyes widened. “Patrick! Those had marijuana in them! You ate them all?!”
He nodded as the guy wearing the headdress came in and attempted to step around him to grab a snack.
“No! My food…” Patrick scowled, yanking the boy away by his leg and pulling him to the ground.
“Hey! What’s your problem, man?” the boy exclaimed.
“C’mon, Patrick, let’s get out of here,” Wendy said, taking his arm.
“You get out of here…” Patrick huffed, his eyes wild and dazed. He scooped her up off the ground and carried her out the door.
“Hey! Put me down! Little help, guys?” Wendy called to Jane and Nate as Patrick carried her out the front door.
Then he set her down outside the door and proceeded to stumble around the front yard, yelling and kicking things.
Hearing the commotion, the others joined her on the porch.
“Oh no, he’s gone ‘Hulk’ again…” Charlie groaned.
Wendy was jolted back to the present when she caught sight of Patrick gripping the sides of the hood, wrenching it off of the car.
“I think the marijuana is messing with his brain- it set off the violent streak…” Jane trembled.
“Guys, we’ve got company…” Nate warned, pointing to the dozens of partiers gathered at the door and windows.
Just then, Patrick raised the hood high above his head and aimed it at the house, roaring nonsense.
“Everyone, look out!” Robin shrieked.
Wendy leaped in front of the crowd, feeling the duct tape rip away from her arm as it extended to deflect the hood hurtling towards the people who screamed in surprise. So much for laying low…
Patrick growled at Wendy who was using the hood as a shield.
“Patrick… please, calm down, this isn’t you…” she said, approaching him slowly.
He turned around, panting hard as he went to the car again, punching dents in the roof.
“Wendy, be careful! He doesn’t know what he’s doing!” Nate called.
“C’mon, man, get a grip!” Charlie yelled, trying to stop Patrick from ripping the doors off of the car.
By now, the crowd was shouting, cheering, and taking videos with their phones.
“Please, don’t!” Jane pleaded to them. “Guys! We have to get out of here!” she called to her friends.
“Not without Patrick; we can’t leave him here to destroy everything!” Charlie shouted back. “Patrick, whoa!”
Patrick had yanked Wendy’s “shield” from her hands and pierced the edge of it into the top of the car, like a chip stuck in a bowl of dip. He roared again, lifting the car itself above his head and prepared to throw it at the screaming crowd.
Suddenly, Wendy felt a pulling sensation from inside her.
“Oh… oh, no,” she mumbled as she grabbed Jane’s arm to keep herself from sliding.
“Wendy, what are you doing?! Ow!” she exclaimed.
Wendy flew through the air and knocked the car from Patrick’s hands as her leg involuntarily attached to the trunk. The car landed on the street with a crash and began to roll backwards down the hill towards the lake, Wendy dangling upside down on the end.
“Wendy!” Robin shrieked.
At the last minute, she reached out her arm and was sucked onto a lamp post, cringing as the already demolished car crashed through a fence and plummeted into the lake below.
Wendy joined the others as they fled, disappearing down the dark street to return to their fortress of solitude after their failed attempt to have the best night ever.
“Okay, I think that qualified for the worst plan ever,” Charlie panted, pulling off his mask.
“Oh, I don’t know, I think it went pretty well!” Nate rolled his eyes.
“Ugh! It would’ve been fine if some idiot hadn’t brought pot brownies,” Robin sighed.
“How are you feeling, Patrick?” Jane asked as they made their way through the tunnel.
“I think I’m gonna puke… what happened?” he moaned.
“Well, you ate an entire platter of special brownies and lost it, then terrorized the party by throwing stuff at people and destroying the car. Luckily Wendy caught the car hood you threw at us and wasn’t crushed to death by the car rolling into the lake… other than that, nothing much…” Charlie scowled.
“Let’s just hope the lamp posts didn’t provide enough lighting for the videos everyone took of the whole thing- if it goes viral we’re doomed…” Jane worried.
“Oh, no… I’m really sorry, guys…” Patrick hung his head.
“Don’t worry, I don’t think anyone was hurt… I may have thrown out my back grabbing that hood out of the air, but other than that, no…” Wendy winced.
“Well, on the bright side, if that whole experience was Wendy’s initiation, she definitely passed…” Nate smiled to himself as he pulled the pillows and cape off of his back.
“I have to admit, it was pretty cool, but we can never speak of it… any of it.” Robin whispered, pushing the door at the top of the steps open. “We’d be dead if Dad found out…”
They jumped in surprise and froze as they saw Mr. Gray looking down at them, eyebrow raised and arms crossed.
“If Dad found out what?”
“Dad! I… I…” Robin stammered as he helped them out of the tunnel.
“Go on,” he said, tapping his foot.
Robin sighed. “I’m sorry, Dad, it was my idea… we went to a costume party.”
His eyes widened. “A costu- well, that would explain the outfits… I am very disappointed in you… all of you. We live this way to keep you all safe! Do you think anyone at the party suspected anything?”
“Um… yeah…” Charlie stalled, putting his hands in his pockets.
“What happened?” Mr. Gray put a hand to his head and closed his eyes.
“Well… Patrick ate a ton of brownies that ended up having marijuana in them… he kind of had an episode…” Jane bit her lip.
“What?! Patrick…” Mr. Gray crossed his arms.
“The bad news is people filmed it with their phones… the good news is no one was hurt and now you have an excuse to get a new car…” Patrick smiled sheepishly.
“You know we don’t have money for another car- it was filmed?! People have videos of you destroying my car?!” Mr. Gray put his hands on his head.
Wendy stepped forward nervously. “And of me too, I’m afraid… my magnetic, nanotech abilities kind of got exposed in all the chaos… people were in danger, sir… I’m sorry. I understand if you’d rather me move back to Indiana…”
“Wendy,” Mr. Gray said with a little smile. “I’m not going to send you away. And thank you for protecting those people, the last thing we’d need is a lawsuit on our hands… But no, as long as you want to stay here, you’re welcome.”
“Thank you, Mr. Gray. I do like it here… if it’s all the same to you all, I would like to stay.” Wendy smiled.
“Very well, then. We’ll just have to play it by ear… if we don’t hear about those videos, we’ll probably be able to get away with laying low for awhile until this all blows over…” Mr. Gray placed his hand on his bristly chin.
“Um… I think you all would want to see this…” Nate called from across the room, pointing at the television.
“That’s… that’s us!” Jane said.
“So much for letting it blow over…” Charlie sighed.
“Breaking news- reports of manic party crashers, this just in. Someone or something destroyed a car and threatened local teenagers with the wreckage.” The anchorwoman announced. A video clip of the kids trying to calm Patrick throwing car debris appeared on the screen. “In other news,” she continued. “The partiers reported sightings of the very same metallic girl who mysteriously disappeared on the way to St. Augustine’s Medical Institution for quarantine and further examination.” A video clip of Wendy grabbing the hood out of the air, metal arm gleaming, appeared on the screen, followed by a picture taken of Wendy at the chaotic press conference, her expression dark and her gaze deadly.
“If found, call 1-800-946-S.A.M.I to report her reappearance to prevent possible contamination of the general public.” the voice finished.
Mr. Gray shook his head, then Jane broke the silence.
“‘Reported sightings…?’ Sounds like they’re talking about Bigfoot or something.”
“Yeah! They didn’t even mention how she saved those people from being Patrick-food,” Charlie exclaimed.
“I didn’t eat anyone!” Patrick crossed his arms, then he paused. “Did I?”
“No, Patrick,” Nate sighed.
“I- I’m not even contagious!” Wendy blurted out as Robin scooted away nervously. “Really, I’m not! And that picture, ugh! I look like a serial killer!”
“I thought it looked pretty cool,” Charlie chuckled.
“Gee, thanks,” Wendy rolled her eyes. “I’ll try to remember that when they drag me away to St. Augustine’s! Oh, no… what a mess! What are we gonna do?!”
“Well, I’ll tell you what we’re not going to do, we’re not staying here,” Mr. Gray said firmly. “We’ve got to move.”
“What?!” the others exclaimed.
“Again?!” Robin moaned.
“Yes, again. And it’s not anyone’s fault for the exposure… not Patrick, he was under the influence, and not Wendy, she was protecting people. Of course, the whole situation could’ve been easily avoided by obeying the rules and staying home…” Mr. Gray gave them ‘the look.’ “We’ll talk about that later, but right now you all need to start packing. We can’t give reporters a chance to discover our location.”
“But… how will we move?” Jane asked. “The car’s… gone…”
“That’s going to be the tricky part- I think we’re going to have to hitchhike- we don’t have money for cab fare for someplace far away. But we’ll have to be very careful… we don’t want to give your secrets away.” Mr. Gray replied, pacing the floor.
“Oh, dibs on the non-window seat,” Wendy said as the others gave her a strange look.
“Unless you all enjoy being sucked out of a moving vehicle, trust me, you won’t want me sitting next to a metal door lock,” she added.
“Wha- oh, never mind… Dad! Where are we hitchhiking to, exactly?” Robin cut in.
“Well, it would have to be some place far away… some place heavily populated, where we couldn’t be found easily…” Mr. Gray mused. He snapped his fingers. “I’ve got it! We’ll visit Vernon; he’ll help us find a place to stay! Now hurry, start packing. We need to leave as soon as possible. Oh, and Wendy- your files arrived from the girls’ home. I’ll have them sent to a lock box in National Bank and Trust right away… now, where is my suitcase…?” he said, dashing off.
As he left the room and the others began scrambling around looking for their belongings, Wendy stopped Jane.
“Hey- who’s Vernon?” she asked.
Jane turned to face her with an anxious yet excited expression on her face.
“Vernon Gray is Robin’s uncle… he lives in Manhattan!”
“So, hitchhiking to New York, huh? This oughtta be interesting,” Charlie commented as they carried their belongings through the underground tunnel.
“Yeah, I still can’t believe it- New York is a place where big things happen! N, Y, C!” Jane sang in a lilting, breathy voice.
“I just hope we don’t have to actually live with Uncle Vernon… he weirds me out,” Robin sighed. “He’s so snobby, and- I don’t think he likes me.”
“Oh, he likes you… of course, my younger brother and I don’t always see eye to eye about how to handle your I.S.S, but… ah, here we are,” Mr. Gray said, fumbling for the doorknob on the inside of the shed door. “So, you all are wearing your disguises? Don’t forget your coats… now, Patrick, don’t forget to hunch down… are we ready? Alright. Now remember- quickly and quietly.”
The teenagers slipped into the night single file behind their professor leading the way. They each held onto each other’s coats so as not to lose each other in the dark. Wendy inhaled sharply, caught off guard when she touched Nate’s third hand rather than the back of his coat.
“Sorry,” she apologized. “How… how can Mr. Gray see?”
“He’s wearing night vision goggles- he didn’t want a flashlight to give us away,” he explained.
They walked in silence for a while. Wendy lowered her head, letting her large jacket hood cover more of her face. Mr. Gray had suggested she wear long sleeves, gloves, and a jacket with a big hood to hide her metal skin when hitchhiking. Luckily the December weather made her disguise more natural. Jane was stuck wearing her giant sunglasses at nighttime.
After a couple hours of walking, Jane whispered, “Geez, Louise! I can’t even see my hand in front of my face!” she gripped the back of Wendy’s coat tighter.
“Sh, sh…” Wendy whispered, cocking her head. “I think I hear something…”
She could barely hear the sound of tires driving over bumps and gravel on the street. When she turned around she didn’t see any cars- it must have been her metallically improved hearing.
“Mr. Gray- I hear a car coming from a ways away… should we wait by this stop sign over there and ask for a ride?” Wendy whispered, crossing her fingers in the dark. Her feet were starting to hurt.
“Yeah, Dad, please? I’m really tired,” Robin said.
“Well… alright. Get your thumbs ready,” he sighed.
The seven of them stood next to the stop sign in a dim pool of light from a gas station nearby. Several minutes later, a large old pickup truck with its top on rolled to a stop.
The window rolled down to reveal a bearded, middle aged man.
“You folks need a ride? Where ya headed?” he asked gruffly.
“New York… if you could drive us awhile in that direction, we’d really appreciate it,” Mr. Gray responded.
“Hm…” The man squinted at them. “How many?”
“Seven… some of us could ride in the back there,” Mr. Gray pointed.
“Mm… I guess it couldn’t hurt; I’m goin’ close to that direction anyway… hop in, y’all,” the man agreed. “Name’s Brown, by the way.”
Wendy, Robin, and Charlie hopped in the backseat, Jane, Patrick, and Nate climbed into the covered trunk, and Mr. Gray joined Mr. Brown in the front.
Robin wrinkled her nose. The truck had a strange odor and the floor was littered with junk.
“Sorry ‘bout the smell- my cat Furball was birthin’ a litter back there the other day,” Brown commented as Robin gagged and squirmed.
“Ugh, I’m allergic to cats,” Charlie scowled, snuffling his nose.
“Oh, don’t worry about that… Furball’s in the back,” Brown said, pulling onto the highway.
Wendy heard muffled shrieks and shouts behind her, looking through the little window to see an orange cat hissing and yowling at the three in the back, then pouncing onto Nate’s face.
Brown clicked on some twangy banjo music on the radio, accompanying Robin’s whimpers, the snuffling, and the screaming. When Wendy thought she saw the door lock twitch, she quickly sat on her metal hand from her perch on the middle seat hump, banging her head on the ceiling.
Wendy groaned. “Ow… maybe we should’ve kept walking…”
Robin tapped Wendy’s shoulder. “Ugh, Wendy…” she whispered. “I don’t know if I can do this hitchhiking thing all the way to New York…”
“Don’t worry… ow!” Wendy grimaced as the truck hit a bump and her head hit the ceiling again. “It can only… ow! It can only get better from here…”
“Alright, kids… I think this is going to be the last ride to New York; we’re getting very close,” Mr. Gray announced, bringing the single file procession to a stop next to the side of the road. “This is perfect timing- it’s still nice and dark out.”
As they waited next to the bus stop, they began to reminisce about the previous days.
“Phew, I’m glad we’re almost there,” Robin sighed.
“Mr. Brown’s stretch was definitely the worst… ouch,” Nate winced, pulling Band-Aids off of his scratched-up face.
“I don’t know… once Furball stopped twitching, I thought it was kind of fun,” Jane smiled.
“It was weird, dudes,” Patrick shook his head. “It’s like she communicated with the cat… with her eyes…”
“I still think the last one takes the cake, man…” Charlie interrupted. “I still can’t believe Mrs. Jones beat me with her purse and kicked us out!”
“Well, you were glowing… most people’s reaction to spontaneously glowing green skin isn’t, ‘Oh, well, that’s nice…’ She was an old lady, Charlie, they scare easy,” Wendy chuckled.
“Luckily we were far enough away from home that she probably didn’t recognize us from the news, but still- If there’s any way you can control that while we’re in public, I suggest you do so… even though ‘disappearing’ will be easier in New York than in a suburban neighborhood, you all still need to be careful,” Mr. Gray commented.
They waited for a couple more minutes, then Jane broke the silence.
“I think we’re gonna remember these past couple of days for a long time. You can really get to know someone after spending hours and hours on end with them… the stretch with Lilly was the best!” Jane chuckled.
Wendy smiled, remembering the longest, yet most enjoyable ride. The large old VW van was really spacious and the laid-back hippie lady made them feel comfortable and welcome, almost seeming as if all she ever did was give rides to hitchhikers. Eventually the teenagers had become so relaxed with Lilly’s soothing voice and funny jokes that they were coaxed out of their usual, indifferent silence and had begun to enjoy themselves. Charlie and Robin were keeping up an intense game of ‘slug-bug’, Jane and Patrick had discovered each other’s love for comic books and were discussing their favorites, and Wendy and Nate played countless rounds of ‘Truth or Dare’ and ‘Would You Rather.’
When ‘Dancing Queen’ by Abba came onto the radio, Lilly cheered and cranked up the volume.
“I used to groove when I would listen to this song in high school. Can ya dig it, kids?” she asked.
“Oh, yeah. Totally radical,” Jane laughed as they began all singing along.
“You can dance… you can ji-ive! Having the time of your… li-i-ife…” Wendy sang, then giggled.
“That sounded good, Wendy! Sing some more!” Charlie grinned, shimmying in his seat.
“Oh, no, I’m just being silly… I don’t have sweet, golden tones like Nate does,” Wendy laughed as Nate smiled sheepishly.
“I think she’s an Abba angel,” Patrick sighed dreamily with a goofy voice.
“Really, Wendy, you’ve got a good voice!” Robin exclaimed, trying to make herself heard over Lilly singing her heart out.
Wendy blushed, laughing. “Well, thanks, but I’m afraid you must be quite tone deaf, Roxanne, ‘cause-” she paused.
Robin cocked her head. “Who’s Roxanne?”
“Oh, just…” Wendy began. That whole name flub really caught her off guard; she hadn’t thought about her old home in a long time. She looked around the van filled with her friends, laughing, talking, and singing, friends who considered her to be part of their family. In that moment, Wendy realized she had finally begun to adjust- she had finally moved on.
“…just an old friend of mine,” Wendy had replied simply.
Wendy was startled out of her day dreaming when the bus pulled up, its doors squeaking as they opened.
“Let’s go,” Mr. Gray said, leading them to the bus and paying the driver their fare.
Wendy automatically tugged her large hood farther over her face and kept her head down as they boarded the back of the bus, trying to seem as inconspicuous as she could as she rested her feet and settled down for a nap. When she woke an hour or so later, she peeked out from under her hood and saw her first glimpse of the Big Apple, still a long ways away. Its lights glittered and shone in the night like a cluster of stars.
She smiled to herself, unable to contain her excitement.
“Almost there,” Wendy whispered.
By the time the bus had come to its stop in Manhattan, the teenagers had been asleep for a while. Mr. Gray gently shook them awake, rubbing the sleep from his own eyes and putting his glasses back on.
“We’re here; we made it,” he whispered with a smile. “Now, it’s getting light outside… keep aware of yourselves.”
Wendy stumbled as she walked down the aisle, her legs and ankles stiff and numb. She stomped down the steps to regain the feeling back in her toes, then gasped when she stepped onto the sidewalk and looked around.
Skyscrapers surrounded them, reaching the clouds. The honks of taxis and beautiful strains of street music filled the air.
Wendy inhaled deeply, then coughed- the smell of exhaust was a little overwhelming, but she smiled when she got a whiff of a schwarma café. She could get used to this place.
The six of them talked amongst themselves excitedly as Mr. Gray led them down a staircase in the sidewalk to a subway station, only inhabited by a woman and her little boy. He bought their metro tickets and grabbed a map, trying to decide which train to take.
“So… pretty big place, huh?” Nate asked aloud as they set down their luggage for a bit.
“Oh, yeah… I can’t believe we’re here! Oh, here…” Jane paused, leaning closer to Nate. “Fix your coat, quick,” she whispered. A couple of fingers were sticking out the bottom of his heavy coat covering his third arm.
“Oops,” he said, tugging at his coat.
“Uh, Robin. The hair?” Charlie chuckled.
Robin scowled, trying to smooth out her rising strands, then went ahead and braided it.
“Hunch, Patrick,” Robin said quickly, gripping a ponytail holder between her teeth.
“Oh, right,” he remembered, squatting lower. “You okay, Wendy?” he asked.
She nodded and pulled at her hood again absentmindedly, her gaze on the little boy walking near the edge of the train platform, his focus on his handheld video game.
“Billy! Come over here,” his mother called, then turned and continued to talk on her cell phone.
The boy ignored his mother and continued shuffling his feet, laces dragging on the ground.
Wendy continued watching, cringing as he tripped over his untied laces. She began to inch her way over, wanting to warn him to be more cautious, or at least help him tie his shoes.
Then came the scream.
Wendy’s hands flew to her face as little Billy’s arms flailed wildly as he lost his balance, tumbling onto the tracks far below. Wendy cried out in surprise.
His mother turned her head sharply, alarmed. “Where’s- Billy! Oh- God! Oh, Lord! Billy!” she shrieked, rushing over.
Wendy watched, stunned, as the frantic woman dropped to her knees, stretching her arms down to her son.
“Oh! Oh, I can’t reach! Oh… someone help! Help, please!” she screamed.
All of a sudden, Wendy found herself running forward as her friends called after her, shocked.
Without bending down, she outstretched her hand, letting her arm stick out of her jacket sleeve, the metal sections clicking as they extended. Billy’s mother shrieked.
By this time, the screaming had caught several people’s attention from above ground. The pedestrians began to make their way down the steps, gasping and pointing.
“Billy, take my hand,” Wendy called.
His eyes were wide as he pointed to the metal arm snaking down to him. He yelped and scooted away.
“I’m not going to hurt you, I promise. Take my hand,” she urged, kneeling down.
Hesitantly, he stretched out his arm and took her hand. As she began to pull him up, he cried out again.
“Ow! Ow! My foot!” Billy winced.
Peering down into the darkness, Wendy could see that his foot was stuck.
“Okay, don’t worry, I’ll-” Wendy paused and cocked her head. From deep inside her metal ear she could hear a distant rumbling.
“Oh, no, it’s coming- Billy, I’m gonna pull again, okay?” Wendy called.
“What- what’s coming? What is it?” Billy’s mother asked nervously.
Wendy pulled again, only to have Billy shout out in protest.
She turned to the helpless mother. “The train.”
She took a deep breath and jumped onto the tracks, then began trying to work his foot out.
“Wendy! Hurry!” Robin shouted, panicked.
Billy began to whimper as the rumbling got louder.
“Almost got it… almost there…” she panted.
Suddenly, the train’s horn blared its warning.
Wendy clutched the boy and impulsively held out her metal arm, eyes wide.
She and Billy flew back and up into the air, carried by a magnetic wave. Wendy’s metal leg clanged as she crashed into a hanging sign. They fell onto the platform with a thud, panting as the train roared by.
Wendy slowly stood and helped Billy to his feet, coming face to face with the flashing cameras of the pedestrians from above ground. Her friends rushed to her side.
“Wendy… you did it!” Jane breathed.
“Oh, I’m so glad you’re okay!” Robin said, giving her a hug.
“Good thing for the metal repellant,” Charlie chuckled.
Billy’s mother squeezed past the growing crowd.
“Billy!” she exclaimed, kneeling down to embrace her son. She looked up at Wendy.
“Thank you… so much,” she sighed. The woman peered into Wendy’s face.
Wendy reached up to tug at her hood, finding that it had fallen.
“Ah…” she bit her lip.
“Who… who are you?” Billy’s mother asked.
“Um… I…” she stammered as her friends pulled her aside.
“Ah, Wendy? I think you should see this,” Nate whispered, leading her and the others to their professor’s side.
“Mr. Gray!” Wendy gasped.
Mr. Gray lay propped up against a wall with a hand to his head. When he removed it, it was blood stained and revealed a gash. The sign that Wendy had knocked into laid a couple of feet away.
“Dad! Oh, Dad!” Robin wilted.
“Someone call 911!” a voice called out. “A man’s been hurt!”
“Don’t… don’t worry about me, I’ll be okay… ah!” he winced. “Listen, take the next train- it’ll take you to Vernon’s apartment building- apartment 312- he’ll take care of you all while I recover.” he instructed. He tried to stand up, then collapsed.
“Dad, I-” Robin protested as the next train came to a halt.
“Just go- I don’t want you to miss it,” Mr. Gray exhaled, pointing.
The six of them made their way onto the train, staring out the window as Mr. Gray was being loaded onto a stretcher.
Wendy caught Billy’s eye as the doors squeaked shut. He waved. She smiled a sad smile, mouthing, ‘Bye.’
As she turned and held onto a handrail, she caught Robin’s eye. She tucked a blonde ringlet behind her ear, then turned away.
“Don’t worry,” Patrick whispered. “She knows it was an accident. She’s just scared.”
Wendy sighed as the train started rolling. “I hope so.”
Wendy couldn’t keep quiet anymore- the teenagers had remained silent on the ride so far. She turned to Nate, keeping her voice low.
“Was it my fault?’ she whispered.
“What- Mr. Gray’s accident?” he replied, facing her.
Nate put a hand on one of her sagging shoulders. “But… you didn’t mean to do it- you ran into the sign and it hit him. It’s not like you were aiming for his head.” he said with a shrug. “I think he’ll be okay. He’s tougher than he looks.”
They were quiet for a while.
“Don’t worry about it,” Nate said. “We trust you; we know you’re a good person. I mean, you risked your life to save a child, for Pete’s sake- and I have to say, you looked pretty awesome while doing it…” he paused to chuckle. “It’s like… I’ve always felt kind of self-conscious being at the ‘Mutant Academy’, and now… I don’t know… seeing you do the stuff you’ve done- protect strangers at a party from flying car parts, jump onto subway tracks to grab a kid… it makes me feel like we’re all more than just freaks, you know?”
“Gee, thanks,” Wendy rolled her eyes.
“No, no, I mean… it’s like we can do more than hide… we can make the best of the lives we have. We… or you, anyway… have a purpose,” Nate replied.
“And what’s my purpose? To constantly ding-dong-ditch Death’s door?” she chuckled. “Be the poster girl for a suicide hotline?”
“I don’t know.” Nate said with a smile. “But you… I don’t know. I’m just a three-armed dude. You have potential. You can do great things… you already have.”
Wendy laughed. “You can multitask like nobody’s business.” Nate rolled his eyes, then Wendy ran her hand through her hair. “…But potential? For what? I mean, it’s not like I can control…” she pointed at the metal on her hooded face. “…all this. Lots of the stuff that happened was just luck- if my metal repel didn’t turn on on the tracks, Billy and I…” Wendy swallowed. “We could’ve died. I don’t… it’s not like I know what I’m doing, I just… I don’t know, I just jump into things and don’t think about the consequences.”
“Who knows? Maybe those nanobots are attached to your brain. Maybe you’ve been controlling them this whole time.” Nate suggested.
“That’s an idea… although I must not’ve been thinking at all when my hand caused my soda can to explode all over the plane,” Wendy agreed.
“Don’t worry. You’ll get a hang of…” Nate gestured to her face. “…‘all that’ eventually. What matters is that your heart’s in the right place.”
The train came to a lurching stop. When Wendy regained her balance, she glanced at Nate.
“But will that be enough?” she whispered.
“Now you’re thinking like one. You may as well accept some credit,” he replied.
“Wait- thinking like what?” Wendy wrinkled her brow as they exited the train.
Nate looked back over his shoulder with a smile on his face. “Like a hero.”
“Well… this is the place. Apartment 312,” Robin sighed.
“….Are you going to knock on the door, or…” Jane trailed off.
“Okay, okay…” Robin huffed, knocking quickly.
“Coming, coming,” a voice called from within the apartment.
“That Vernon?” Charlie asked.
“No, it’s Santa Claus,” Robin whispered sarcastically. “Yes, it’s Vernon! Ugh, I don’t want to be here…”
At that moment the door opened, revealing a tall, light haired man with a strong build.
“Ah, my favorite niece… and company… from David’s ‘Mutant Academy,’ I presume?” Vernon raised his eyebrows.
“I’m your only niece.” Robin said flatly.
“Do come in, come in…” he gestured with a sigh, stepping aside. “Have a seat.”
Wendy stepped into the apartment behind the others, glancing around. It was relatively large and well furnished. They set their luggage on the floor and sat down in the living room, not saying a word. Wendy sank into a leather armchair and exhaled, letting her muscles relax.
“Aren’t you going to sit down?” Vernon asked Patrick, who was bending down to stretch.
“Nah, it feels good to stretch after ‘hunching’ for a couple of days…” he sighed contentedly.
“’Hunching?’” Vernon asked.
“Uh, yeah… we’ve been hitchhiking ‘incognito’ for a while- our cover was blown back home. Dad thought it’d be best if we moved to avoid any more exposure… although on the way here, that’s what happened, not to mention Dad getting hurt then hospitalized in the middle of it all… but anyway, he thought it’d be easier to ‘disappear’ in a big city like Manhattan, so… yeah.” Robin said. Wendy felt uneasy, sensing an edge to her voice. “We’re not here for good or anything, Dad just sent us here ‘till we can find a place of our own-”
“No, no, feel free to stay. No trouble at all…” Vernon trailed off. “Ah… would you all like some lunch…? I suppose I could order-”
“Yes,” the guys replied quickly.
“Alright then, I’ll make the call… you all can remove your disguises if you wish; make yourselves comfortable… just mind the light switches, Robin, I think we’d all prefer not to eat in the dark,” he called as he left the room.
Robin blushed as Charlie snickered.
“You caused a power outage?” he chuckled.
“One time!” she hissed as they took off their heavy coats in the warm room. Jane happily removed her giant sunglasses and Wendy placed her gloves on top of her hooded coat, stretching her fingers and popping her knuckles. Robin cringed at the grating, squeaking sound.
“Alright, the food should be here any min-” Vernon paused as he re-entered the room, his jaw dropping at the sight of his odd guests. He cleared his throat. “Well, if my brother was here right now I would applaud him- his job is not for the faint of heart, is it?”
Charlie let loose a nervous laugh, his glow illuminating his reddened face. Jane looked down at the floor.
“Very well… we’ll set the table- by the time we’re done, the Thai food should be here,” Vernon announced, motioning towards the kitchen, eyeing the teenagers as they passed him.
When Charlie passed Wendy forks and knives from a kitchen drawer, she backed away.
“How about you take care of those?” she said.
He gave her a quizzical look, setting them down on the counter.
“Not good with silverware, remember?” Wendy whispered.
“Is there a problem?” Vernon asked, entering the room.
Wendy jumped, startled, then grabbed the counter for support.
“Ah, it’s nothing, I just…” Wendy stammered.
Just then, the silverware slid down the counter and attached to her hand and face.
“She’s got magnetic issues…” Jane smiled, pulling a fork from her cheekbone. Wendy sighed, then took a step back when she realized Vernon was staring at her intently.
“How did that happen? How is it possible?” he asked, squinting.
“An experimental cancer treatment- she was injected with nanobots,” Nate said.
“The metal part was unintentional… something went wrong, I guess…” Wendy mumbled.
“It’s quite fascinating, I must say…” Vernon mused as Robin pulled napkins from the napkin holder.
“Here, Robin, I’ll take those for ya… I can handle those…” Wendy chuckled nervously, avoiding the man’s gaze as she took some napkins from her friend.
“Wendy, don’t-” Charlie exclaimed.
Wendy yelped, shaking her metal hand in pain.
Robin scowled as she tried to fix her poufy hair. “I think you should just not touch me.”
“Ow!” Wendy winced with a twitch. “Sorry.”
“That’s interesting…” Vernon said with a peculiar expression on his face.
Just then, the doorbell rang.
“That must be the food; I’ll get it…” he said as he walked off.
“Jane, would you loan me a ponytail holder, my hair’s a mess,” Robin said as Jane handed one over.
Wendy helped finish setting the table, careful to keep her metal hand tucked behind her back.
“Alright, the food is ready…” Vernon called, setting the boxes on the table. “So,” he said awkwardly. “I know what happened to Robin and…” Vernon gestured politely.
“I’m Wendy,” she said, scooping some food on her plate.
“Right- so why do the rest of you all attend the Mutant Academy… besides the obvious?” he asked.
“Well… I’m Jane… I can see from really far away… sometimes through things…” Jane paused. “My grandmother thought I was possessed…”
“I’m Charlie… along with the glowing, I got buff,” he said proudly.
Vernon raised his eyebrows. “How nice. And you?” he asked, looking at Patrick.
“Um, I’m Patrick… I’m kind of hefty… and violent… but only when I’m sleeping or under the influence,” he said quickly.
“And you… I don’t see anything wro- er, different about you,” Vernon corrected himself, pointing to Nate.
“Ah…” Nate gave his third arm a little wave over his shoulder. “I’m Nate…”
Vernon choked on his food, then coughed.
“Oh… I see…” he murmured.
“So, uh, Vernon, what do you do?” Jane asked quickly, wanting to change the topic.
“Oh, me? Well, I went to college in the scientific field… I still dabble a bit… but now I’m a counselor. My clients tell me about their problems, and I do my best to help them figure things out… they’re all the same, though…” Vernon sighed.
“Your clients?” Charlie wrinkled his brow.
“No, their issues… I believe the root of society’s social and emotional problems has to do with the lack of… uniformity.” Vernon paused, glancing at Robin sipping her water, her tresses still crackling like a fire. Robin noticed his gaze and narrowed her eyes.
“Everyone looks and thinks so differently from one another…” Vernon continued. “…some with advantages, some with disadvantages. Children come to me saying they’re picked on because they wear glasses, or are a different race than their peers, or are too heavy… I had that problem all through school, but once I got fit things went better for me… several adults complain their coworkers think they’re better than they are because they’re more intelligent and make better money, or they still look similar to the way they did in college… sometimes I think things would be so much simpler if everyone came from the same mold… a better mold… I never was a very good counselor, but I found a way to simplify the process- hypnotic maneuvers work quite well. The client doesn’t have to worry themselves about opening up and it cuts the session time in half… not to mention double the payment.”
“How so…?” Nate asked.
“I can be quite convincing,” Vernon said with a little smile, smirking.
“I don’t know if ‘different’ is the problem… maybe insecurity… oops!” Wendy exclaimed, trying to shake a fork off of her finger. Vernon was quiet as he eyed silverware drawn to his dinner guest like magic.
“It’s always the ones with the advantages who question my theories.” he murmured under his breath. “The ones with power could assist my progress.”
Wendy distributed forks, apologizing, then she took a drink. This would definitely take some getting used to.
After dinner, the teenagers began to get ready for bed- they were exhausted. The girls would share the spare room and the guys agreed to camp out in the living room.
Wendy padded across the dark apartment after changing into some pajamas Robin had lent her a couple days ago when they packed. They were soft and pink… a little too large for her, reminding Wendy she was far from matching Robin’s ample hourglass curves.
Just as she was about to open the bathroom door, she stopped it- it seemed to be occupied. The sounds of Jane and Robin’s voices were muffled as they brushed their teeth. Wendy waited, standing with her back against the wall, waiting for the bathroom.
“Well, this is a blast from the past,” Wendy thought to herself, remembering the girls’ home.
She sighed deeply, staring boredly around the apartment, letting her imagination run wild. Wendy tried to forget the girls’ shocked faces when they saw her in metallic form for the first… and last… time. She wondered how her parents would have reacted if they were around… surely they wouldn’t have turned their backs on her.
“If they were around,” Wendy thought, “I wouldn’t have to eat gross Thai food in a strange apartment.”
Maybe they would have helped her with the whole thing… she imagined a mother reminding her every night she was beautiful. Maybe her father would have worked hard to replace all of the metal handles on the kitchen drawers with wooden ones… that he whittled himself! He would insist to her mother to trade their nice silverware for plastic utensils so she wouldn’t have to eat left handed… her loving mother would readily agree, of course…
Wendy was pulled from her daydreams- she thought she heard her name whispered from the bathroom. Curiously, she pressed her metal ear against the wall- what could they be saying?
Wendy began to feel guilty for eavesdropping and started to walk away, but stopped when her amplified hearing picked up something peculiar.
“I just… I’m angry with her right now, okay? If only she wasn’t such a… a show-off…” Robin whispered.
“What do you mean?” Jane asked.
“Well… I don’t know. She seems to have difficulties laying low, if you know what I mean… because of her, we got busted at the party, now my dad’s in the hospital, not to mention that’s the second time she ruined my hair… I just feel like ever since she came, it’s been one bad thing after another,” Robin continued.
Wendy backed away from the bathroom, eyes wide. She quickly walked away, hastily wiping her eyes.
“Robin…” Jane sighed. “Are you done?”
“Yeah… thanks for letting me vent to you, Jane, it feels good to let it out.”
“You don’t really mean that stuff, do you?” Jane asked.
Robin shook her head. “No… I don’t. I really like Wendy, I do… she’s so sweet; she’s a good friend. She’d never try to hurt anybody… she’s always trying to help people. I’m just stressed, I guess… I really don’t like it when my uncle’s around. I think ever since he got picked on at school for being chubby, he’s dead-set on him being like everyone else… having a shock-y, twitchy hermit of a niece doesn’t help his case. He wants everyone to be the same… so stupid… ugh…” Robin lowered her head as her voice began to get shaky.
“Mr. Gray?” Jane asked softly.
“I’m… I’m so worried about him,” Robin sniffed. “I just hope he’ll be okay… I’ve never been away from him for so long; we’re always together…”
Jane gave her a comforting hug as Robin wiped her eyes and took a deep breath.
“I really need to apologize to Wendy… I’ve been taking all my stress out on her; she must think I hate her…” Robin whispered as they stepped outside the bathroom.
Jane squinted. “I don’t see her around… maybe she went to bed already. We’ve had a looong day.” she said.
“Or maybe she went to get a decent snack… that Thai food was gross,” Robin chuckled through her sniffles.
Jane giggled, patting Robin on the back as they made their way to the spare room for a much needed night’s sleep.
Wendy stumbled through the dark apartment, going through doors and down stairs, tripping and knocking into things. She just had to get away and take a breather.
“How could Robin say those things?” Wendy thought, her mind racing. “Has she felt this way this whole time? And… a show-off? I was only trying to help! The last thing I want to do is show off this clunk bucket of a body- show it off to a paper bag for my head and a dark room for my pride, maybe…”
Wendy suddenly realized she had no idea where she was. She hadn’t thought to try to remember her path as she walked blindly through the building while she sorted through her emotions.
“Did I walk into a closet…?” Wendy thought as she accidentally knocked over some items on a shelf.
She glanced up, noticing a strange, flashing light shining through a large metal air duct overhead.
“What the…?” she murmured. “I wonder…”
Wendy raised her metallic arm above her head and sucked the grate off of its hinges, then let herself be attracted up and into the duct.
She crawled forward a bit, drawn to the light shining through the heat vent.
Below she could see Robin’s uncle Vernon busily working away in what looked like a lab. Lights flickered from the ceiling, and several odd machines glowed and flashed. Test tubes gleamed, filled with various liquids.
Just as Wendy was about to scoot closer for a better look, her hand got stuck on the bottom of the duct. Sighing with frustration, she yanked and pulled her arm away- and pulled a large sheet of the rusty metal along with it. Wendy shrieked and landed on the ground with a thud.
Vernon jumped. “Wendy!” he exclaimed.
“I… um…” Wendy stammered, standing to her feet. She pried the sheet of metal off of her hand, letting it clang to the floor. She shuddered when several spiders on the floor scattered around.
“So… this must be where you ‘dabble’…” she said with an embarrassed chuckle.
“Well, yes, this is my laboratory- sorry about the spider infestation, by the way- but what are you doing up from bed?” Vernon asked, setting a test tube in its holder on the table.
“I’m seventeen, Vernon,” Wendy rolled her eyes. “I just… went for a walk to clear my head.” she sat down gingerly on a stool, eyeing the tools and tubes on the table.
“Have you been crying?” he asked, peering into her face.
“No…” Wendy turned away. “How’d you know?”
“Your cheek is rusting,” he replied. “What happened?”
She wiped her face with her arm. “Well… I overheard Robin talking to Jane… she’s really upset with me. I hate that, because I like her- all of them. She said I was a show-off… I think she feels like it’s my fault we had to move and my fault her dad got hurt.”
“Is it?” Vernon asked, taking a seat.
“W-what?” Wendy turned to face him.
“Is it your fault?” he repeated.
“No! Well- maybe… I’d like to think that it wasn’t… I really wasn’t trying to show off. Both incidents I was helping people. I was… just trying to help…”
“With what? Making a name for yourself? Proving someone wrong about something, hmm?” Vernon pried.
“No. What would I have to prove? I’m just a girl who escaped quarantine. I lost my friends back home because of it. I don’t have a-” Wendy paused, surprised by how much she was opening up to someone she’d just met- maybe it’s what she needed.
“Exactly.” Vernon nodded.
“What do you mean?” Wendy wrinkled her brow.
“Maybe you were trying to prove to everyone back home that you’re more than a mistake.”
The word ‘mistake’ plunged into Wendy’s heart like a dagger- she knew it was true. The thought of ‘proving herself’ never crossed her mind at the party or at the subway station, but he did have a good point. He was a counselor, after all…
“…And… what is it you don’t have?” Vernon asked.
Wendy lowered her head. “A family… I’m an orphan,” she sighed. “I just wish I could find out what happened to my parents. I’ve been through so much in the past couple of days; things keep going wrong… I feel like I could have a little hope if I knew for sure they’re out there somewhere.”
Vernon put a hand to his chin. “Maybe you can.”
“How?” she questioned. Now he had her full attention.
“David didn’t have you all pack up and leave without personal files, did he? I know I’m the smarter brother, but I’d think he’d have the sense to-”
“He did.” Wendy looked up eyes wide. “He got them sent from my girls’ home to National… what was it… oh! National Bank and Trust here in Manhattan. Do you think my files… oh… do you really think…!”
“Of course, Wendy- I would think all orphan guardians would have to have information on the orphans’ parents if at all possible. Did your guardian never tell you anything?” Vernon questioned.
“No- I know she’s terrible, but-”
“Maybe she knew if you knew that your parents were alive, you’d run off and she’d lose money.”
“Oh… you could be right… but enough about Miss Turner…” Wendy swallowed. “I have to get to that lock box… I just need to get away…”
“Do you know the lock box number?” Vernon raised an eyebrow.
Just as she was about to kick the piece of air duct across the room with frustration, he pressed a key into her palm and said, “1995- David’s been sending me texts about my guest’s information- he said he’ll be in recovery for a while longer.”
“Oh, thank you! I’m glad to hear Mr. Gray’s doing okay, too… alright, I’d better be going…” Wendy turned to leave.
“By yourself?” Vernon called.
Wendy stopped. “I… I feel like I should do this by myself. I want to be alone when I find the truth about my parents.”
“I don’t know if David would appreciate me letting one of his mutants roam the streets of New York, but maybe it would… soften my conscience if I could help you with your problem…” Vernon said, standing up.
“Oh, you’ve helped so much already-”
“I mean your metallic problem,” Vernon said.
Wendy blushed. “Oh… I see…”
“I know a great deal of the scientific field- perhaps I could get to work on concocting an antidote for you if I had a… DNA sample?” Vernon said, picking up a syringe.
“Oh, I don’t know about that… the last time I got a shot, it turned me into some kind of steampunk-chick…” Wendy shook her head.
“Nonsense! I won’t be putting anything in, just taking a little out…” Vernon said smoothly, leading her back to a stool.
“Oh, well… alright then…” Wendy cleared her throat as he gave her a little push down on the stool.
He smiled a bit as he rubbed her arm with a bit of rubbing alcohol and prepared the syringe.
“What’s the first thing you’ll do with your metal-free body?” he asked.
“You’re that sure that this is going to do something?” Wendy asked.
“It’ll do something, all right…” Vernon said. “I promise, your DNA will do great… great things.”
Wendy closed her eyes and held her breath as the needle slid into her arm. For some reason, the thought of being stripped of her newfound abilities didn’t seem as appealing as it might have when it first happened.
“Just think… if you do find your parents and my… antidote is successful, you’ll look like part of the family and not like part of some cyborg exchange program!” Vernon laughed as he extracted the needle.
“Heh-heh… yeah…” Wendy chuckled weakly, watching Vernon hold the nanobot sludge-filled syringe up to the light.
“Perfect… excellent…” he grinned.
“Well, ah… thanks for the, uh… thanks for the shot. I better get changed out of these pajamas and into my disguise if I’m going to the bank… Vernon? I, uh… I kind of stumbled upon this place… which way’s your apartment?” Wendy asked.
“Out that door, up two flights of stairs, first door on the left,” he instructed.
“Okay, thanks. You- you won’t tell the others where I went, will you? It’s… kind of personal.” Wendy bit her lip.
“Of course… and before you leave, come right back here- I’ll pack a backpack for you with a scarf, an extra hat, and some money- I’ll get a map for you, too.” Vernon said, setting his syringe in its holder.
“Oh, thank you- so much. I’ll be right back…” Wendy called as she headed out the door.
As soon as she left, Vernon grabbed an old backpack from the closet, then took a little bag from his desk drawer labeled ‘Keepsakes for Robin.’ He flicked a few more spiders off of the velvet bag with a scowl, cursing himself for not calling an exterminator sooner.
“It’s been a long time since I put this together- I can’t believe I was going to give this stuff away to that moody, bratty little sparkplug…” Vernon growled to himself, dumping his diamond-encrusted wristwatch, her mother’s sapphire necklace, her grandfather’s silver cufflinks, and other valuables into the backpack, then put a remote controlled lock on the zipper from the inside, ensuring Wendy wouldn’t discover the items prematurely.
“Heh- these could easily pass for stolen lock box items…” Vernon made a mock sad face. “Won’t David be disappointed to hear one of his precious mutants is a thief?” he shook his head. “He should have raised them better!”
Vernon activated a magnetic tracking device, then hid it in his fist. Ever since Wendy’s comment at dinner about his ground-breaking, world-changing ideas, he knew she couldn’t be trusted to hang around when his plans surfaced. Wendy was too concerned with the ‘good of mankind.’ Life as she knew it.
“And with that kind of power…” Vernon thought, recalling her shocking abilities he’d witnessed. “…who knows what kind of tricks that girl could pull. She might get in my way. And as for the other little mutants…”
Vernon pulled his trusty watch on a chain from his pocket, and swung it back and forth like a pendulum, watching it gleam in the flickering lights of his laboratory.
“Wouldn’t want to take any chances…” Vernon chuckled. “Who knows? Maybe the scapegoats of society could be of use to me…”
He stuffed the watch back in his pocket when he heard the doorknob jiggle.
“Here you are, Wendy.” Vernon announced, handing her the backpack. He circled ‘National Bank and Trust’ on his Manhattan map with a red pen.
When his pen clattered to the floor, she bent down to pick it up. She felt him give her a pat- on the back of her metal arm, strange enough, but a nice gesture, she supposed…
When he passed her the map, he called, “There’s your destination… now go find your destiny.” Wendy grinned, waving as she left the room.
Vernon placed a hand in his pocket, feeling his watch.
He smiled darkly. “…while I find mine.”
Wendy rubbed her gloved hands together, then crossed her arms. It was absolutely freezing outside, and dark, too. She quickened her pace and rushed down through the sidewalk into the same subway station she’d arrived in- the same station where she’d saved a boy’s life- and injured her professor.
Pulling the map out of her pocket, she studied the intricate crisscrossing patterns- it looked more like the central nervous system than a subway map. When she finally figured out which train would send her in the direction of the bank, she lowered the map and found herself face to face with- herself.
Dozens of posters were taped up in the station, all bearing the photo of her with her arm around Billy- with her hood off. Under the picture read, ‘Quarantine Escapee- If found, contact St. Augustine’s Medical Institution for Possible Contamination Prevention. Reward- $1000.’
“…What?” Wendy breathed, pulling her hood farther over her face.
As she boarded her train, she kept her head down.
“Dwayne and Brian must’ve tracked me down, or someone must’ve contacted the institution…” Wendy thought, biting her lip. “Now I really need to lay low… I’m wanted!”
“Hey, Uncle Vernon? Do you know where Wendy is? I haven’t seen her all morning.” Robin asked as her uncle calmly sipped his coffee and read the paper.
“I’m afraid I do- I saw her dash out the door last night- said something about never coming back…” Vernon murmured.
“Oh… oh, no!” Robin put a hand to her head. “Why didn’t you stop her?!”
“Well, she seemed pretty upset- who am I to keep a girl in a place where she doesn’t want to be with people she dislikes?” he shrugged.
“She said she didn’t like us?” Robin asked.
“Wendy didn’t say she disliked the other mutants’ presence per say, but- I would think it was obvious through her actions and body language- I suppose no one took notice.” Vernon said with an air of indifference.
“Hey- what’s going on?” Jane asked as she entered the living room, the others following her.
Robin turned to face them, her voice shaky. “Vernon said he thinks Wendy never liked us- she’s gone.”
“What? She’s- gone?” Jane’s jaw dropped.
“Oh, man… she’s alone in New York?” Nate asked.
“We gotta try to find her.” Charlie said. “Find out why she left.”
“I wonder why- I thought we were having fun…” Patrick sighed as they all took a seat in the living room.
“It’s my fault- I’ve been taking out my stress on her- I guess somehow in my mind I reasoned that us getting exposed at the party and my dad’s accident was her fault… but it wasn’t, it totally wasn’t…” Robin bit her lip. “This is all my fault.”
Charlie put his arm around her. “Don’t beat yourself up, Robs. That won’t help anything, it’ll be okay…” he sighed. “I’m sure it’s not your fault…”
“It’s too bad Wendy has left us… such a tragedy…” Vernon sighed. “I would bet anything it was the numerous differences between the six of you that drove her away.”
“What do you mean?” Jane wrinkled her brow.
“Well… for one, her mutation is so much more advanced than the rest of yours- she’s practically superhuman. Perhaps she felt you all were beneath her. Holding her back from her true potential.” Vernon suggested.
“I… I think she’s capable of amazing things too, but I never noticed her showing any signs that she felt that way towards me,” Nate spoke up.
“Why would she? She probably didn’t want to hurt your feelings… after all, the only thing different about you is that you have an extra arm where a spine should be,” Vernon laughed as Nate glared at him.
“Hey! What are you saying, anyway?” Charlie asked angrily.
Vernon held up his hands. “No need to get defensive; it’s just the facts. Like I’ve always said, the root of society’s social and emotional problems comes from the lack of uniformity in the world. We need a better mold; start over.”
Robin crossed her arms. “So how do you plan on changing the world?” she asked sarcastically.
“Allow me to explain,” Vernon began.
“Wait, he’s serious?” Patrick asked.
“If people were the same, they wouldn’t constantly butt heads and hurt each other. There would be no competition or jealousy if everyone was identical in appearance and mind. But it wouldn’t be enough if people were the same- humankind needs a fresh start- a new and improved, advanced look. That’s where Wendy’s DNA comes in, but I’ll explain that part later…” Vernon said. The teenagers gave him strange, quizzical looks. “Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve- now, what big, special event happens on New Year’s Eve in New York City?”
“…The ball drop…” Charlie said slowly, eyeing Robin’s uncle warily.
“Precisely. Not only will thousands of New Yorkers be there to witness it, but it will be broadcast on television and the Internet world wide. I plan to attach one of my more advanced hypnotic devices to the ball- when it drops at the end of the countdown, the device will be activated and all who gaze upon the ball will fall into a deep… obedient sleep. Not only will everyone be of one, uniform mind, but they will have improved, more durable physical abilities- After gaining control of the events’ PA system, I will instruct the populace to take multiple copies of Wendy’s metallic DNA.” The kids stared at him, jaws dropped.
“You may be wondering,” Vernon continued, “How I could possibly pull this off myself- the truth is, I can’t. I need the help of the Mutant Academy- for crowd control, mostly. I realize most people would be too hard headed to relinquish their quirks, petty problems and their precious individuality willingly, but once they try things my way, I don’t think they’d give it a second thought, to be honest.”
The teenagers sat still, dumbfounded.
“They wouldn’t give it a second thought because they’d all be brainless zombies!” Robin exclaimed.
“I wouldn’t help you with something like that in a million years,” Charlie declared. “Sheesh, Robin, I knew you can get crazy sometimes, but I didn’t know you got it from your uncle!” He turned to face a strangely placid Vernon. “You’re insane, man.”
“The whole thing is totally unethical,” Jane crossed her arms.
“You can’t be serious! Count me out,” Nate said.
“You’re a loon!” Patrick blurted out.
Vernon stood quietly for a bit, a sly smile on his face.
“Very well,” he said simply, switching the VCR on his television to DVD. “Enjoy the show… I made it myself…”
The five of them went from wondering why Robin’s uncle was speaking to them on the T.V to not thinking at all as the expert hypnotist lulled them into a murky state.
They were instructed to obey his every command, to protect the New Year’s Eve ball, and to fight anyone who got in their way.
“You shall use your mutated abilities for my benefit,” Vernon instructed in the video. “Use them wisely in combat if the need arises. When I snap my fingers, you shall be completely in my control.”
When they heard the sound their heads snapped up, faces blank and eyes expressionless.
“Perfect,” Vernon smiled. “Robin. Follow me to the laboratory- you will be the first of many. It would be dreadful if the DNA formula was flawed, wouldn’t it? How embarrassing.”
When the two of them reached the lab, he sat her down on a stool and poured the formula in a syringe.
“Part improved, metallic DNA, part mind-numbing, all for the beginning of a new age.” he said. “For you, Robin, a small, experimental dose- unlike Wendy’s permanent, large dosage, you must be given another to prevent it from wearing off…”
Robin’s eyes remained glazed over as she was injected with the formula.
“Excellent… it’s working even more quickly than I hoped… mutants! Come down here at once!” Vernon called.
The others shuffled down the steps, then awaited their next command.
“Behold…” Vernon gestured to Robin as she stood.
She transformed before their unblinking eyes- one arm, leg, and part of her face turned to solid metal- but rather the metal being around her eye and stretch to her ear like Wendy, the bridge of her nose to the bottom of her chin changed, her mouth not unlike a grate.
“Marvelous, Robin dear, you’ve never looked better,” Vernon sneered. “Come, mutants. You must train for the big day tomorrow.”
Robin’s hands crackled and popped as her hair began to frizz.
Vernon smiled. An idea grew in his brain as he recalled Wendy’s severe reaction to Robin’s static shock.
“Should Wendy ever discover my agenda and attempt to stop me,” he thought. “Robin’s identical strength, abilities, and I.S.S as an added bonus will be quite the challenge.”
Unbeknownst to Vernon, before he corked and pocketed another vial of formula to give to Robin later, a small, venomous spider crawled inside…
Wendy grunted and rubbed her back, sitting up from a park bench- her bed that night. Time to move along.
Her stomach growled and grumbled. A hot dog vendor’s cart across the street caught her eye- seemed like as good of breakfast as any.
As she crossed through the park, she loosened the drawstrings of her hood, lowering it even farther over her face. She still couldn’t get those posters out of her mind. Was the act of risking her life mentioned? No. But there was a money reward for her return- like a lost and found item, or worse- a criminal. Even if she wouldn’t be subject to numerous tests, she didn’t want to be taken away. Wendy needed her freedom.
When she reached the hot dog cart, she said, “One hot dog with ketchup and mustard, please.”
Wendy’s stomach gurgled loudly. The vendor smiled to himself as he made her breakfast.
“That’ll be three ninety-nine, sweetheart,” the vendor smiled.
“Alright…” Wendy replied, pulling her backpack in front of herself, wrestling with the zipper. “I’m sorry, um…”
The line grew behind her. People complained loudly.
“C’mon, just put a little muscle behind it, kid!”
“I need to get to work!”
“Listen, I’m losing customers.” the vendor sighed. “Next time, get your money out before you order… or at least fix your backpack. Next!”
Wendy was bumped aside by the next person in line and sent on her way. She hurried a ways down the sidewalk, turned a corner, then sat down on a bench. Wendy continued pulling at the backpack’s zipper without luck.
She sighed. “Guess I’m not eating ‘till I get back…”
Wendy continued on her way, shivering as snowflakes began to fall. When she reached over to press a street crossing button on a pole, her gloved metal hand stuck to it. Wendy pretended to lean on it leisurely when people passed, then she pressed her foot to it to give herself more leverage, only to remember it was her metal foot. Using all of her newfound strength, she tore her limbs from the pole. Wendy bit her lip as she tipped it back into place from its skewed position from the cracked concrete.
“Free samples! Free cinnamon bun samples!” an elderly man’s voice called.
“Now that’s breakfast,” Wendy thought, quickly crossing the street.
She made her way over to the man and plucked a bun from his tray.
“Thank you, sir,” she smiled gratefully, keeping her head down.
“Oh, you’re quite welcome, miss,” he said kindly. He reached for her hand to shake it, then a strange look appeared on his face when his fingers made contact with hers.
“Your hand, it’s-” he mumbled.
“Oh, you know what they say about New York hardening you… heh-heh…” Wendy chuckled nervously as she walked away, taking a bite from her cinnamon bun. That was close. Too close.
After walking for hours, taking another subway ride, and walking some more, Wendy finally reached National Bank and Trust by about five o’ clock. She entered the stately building and booked it straight to the bathroom- she’d been traveling all day.
All of a sudden, the lights went out and the buzz of voices she’d heard earlier disappeared. Closing time. Wendy decided to take advantage of the dark, vacant situation- she couldn’t risk getting recognized from those posters. Avoiding security guards, cameras, and getting into the vault could be a challenge… suddenly, she got an idea.
Wendy grabbed several paper towels, careful to pull them from the dispenser quietly so as not to make a sound, crumpled them, and squirted some hand soap onto each one.
She poked her head outside of the ladies’ room entrance. Wendy spotted two guards at the opposite end of the large room. Luckily they were facing the other way, talking to each other.
Quietly she slid along the walls. Each time she saw a camera above her, she slowly extended her metal arm up to the vaulted ceiling and stuck a soaped up paper towel over it.
Wendy peeked around a corner, then crept down the hallway- there was the vault. She reached her hand into her pocket, somehow comforted by the lock box key. Wendy’s heart pounded as she realized how close she was to possibly discovering the whereabouts of her parents- she prayed they weren’t six feet under.
Pressing her metal ear next to the giant lock, she listened for clicks deep inside the tumbler as she turned the lock. She exhaled when the door creaked open, slipping inside.
“1995, 1995…” she whispered, then pulled the key from her pocket when she found the box. She slid the key into the lock, opened the box, then sifted through the papers.
There it was- a manila envelope with her name on it. Wendy sighed with relief as she closed the box, pocketed the key and hugged the envelope to her chest. Just then, she heard a high-pitched beeping sound.
Wendy jumped and spun around, then realized where it was coming from- she pulled a small, circular device off of the back of her arm.
“What…?” she thought. She froze when the sound of footsteps got louder and louder. “We’ve got a report of a robbery,” a guard spoke into his walkie-talkie.
The vault door opened quickly as the two guards shone flashlights into the area.
Wendy stayed perfectly still, not moving a muscle from her last-minute position attached to the vault ceiling. She was careful not to swallow the device she’d stuffed in her mouth to drown out the sound.
“Nobody here- maybe they made a break for it,” one of the guards said as they hurried off down a different hallway.
Shaking from surprise, Wendy extended her metallic leg to the floor, then let her body follow as she slipped out the door and rushed to the exit.
Just as she was almost to the door, she heard a loud ‘ka-chink!’ sound from behind her. Startled, the still beeping device fell out of her mouth and her backpack strap slid off of her shoulder. The backpack that had refused to open before now lay open- inside were several shiny items… and an open lock attached to the inside of her zipper. Wendy’s hood fell when she flipped her head up.
“Hey! Someone’s over there!” one of the guards shouted as they ran towards her. “She’s got valuables!”
Eyes wide, Wendy left the backpack where it lay and dashed out the door.
“Come back here!” the other guard shouted, chasing her out of the bank.
Clutching her envelope, she thought, “Um, I think not.” Wendy disappeared into the crowded sidewalk, trying to distance herself from the guard. She flew down some subway stairs, stumbling over the last few, and leaped over the turnstile.
“Hey!” the guard shouted, his footsteps pounding down the stairs.
Wendy dove through the train doors just as they were closing, panting as the train roared away. She pulled her hood back over her head and glanced at the other passengers giving her strange looks, eyebrows raised.
“You rob a bank or somethin’, kid?” a middle aged lady asked with a chuckle.
Wendy froze, then burst out laughing as she got up off of the ground. “Ha! Good one… yeah…” she said nervously. She wasn’t guilty, but escaping an angry security guard made her feel more like a criminal than ever.
Back at the bank, a very sweaty guard mopped his brow.
“I lost her, Rick,” he shook his head.
“Did you… notice anything peculiar about her face, John?” Rick asked as he stared at a piece of paper.
“Ah… no… I was focused on her back… too fast…” John panted.
Rick held up a ‘Quarantine Escapee’ poster and pointed to the picture. “She had metal… on her face… like the girl in this photo.”
“Yeah…” John said, squinting at the picture. “You think they’re the same person?”
Rick stared at his partner, then shook his head. “How many robot-girls- I swear, sometimes…” Rick sighed in disgust. “John- whenever she’s found and reported… we’ve got our robber.”
Wendy sat exhausted on the subway, still holding the envelope as tightly as she did when she first got her hands on it. She decided to wait to open it when she was totally alone- if it contained bad news she didn’t want to burst into tears in front of a bunch of strangers.
She hadn’t gotten a chance to figure out what happened at the bank. Where in the world did that beeping thing come from…? And the backpack full of valuables?
Suddenly, everything began to fall into place.
“That awkward pat I’d gotten from Vernon on the back of my arm?” she thought. “That was him attaching the circular thing… and he had to be the one to put those valuables in the backpack; he packed it himself. It only unlocked once I was in the bank- that doesn’t make sense- unless… he knew when I’d be at the bank because the beeping thing was a tracking device meant to give me away! Vernon tried to frame me?!”
Wendy was bewildered. She realized he wasn’t the friendliest person- although he did talk to her when she was upset… now there seemed to be a good chance he was just trying to get on her good side; gain her trust. Why he tried to get her in trouble, she didn’t understand. The only thing she could remember that he might not have liked about her was the fact that she disagreed with his theories- he did seem passionate about them. He kept talking about the ‘lack of uniformity’ and a ‘better mold.’
All of a sudden, Wendy felt a vibration in her back pocket. She jumped with a giggle, grabbing her cell phone quickly. She blushed as she pressed it to her ear, avoiding people’s stares.
On the other end, it sounded like a background noise- Wendy switched the phone to her metal ear- now everything was easy to hear. One of the mutants must’ve butt-dialed her.
“Come on, Patrick,” Vernon’s voice sighed. “If you don’t assert yourself, your size is useless to me… Jane, remember, your job as lookout is essential- if you spot anyone trying to stop me from attaching the hypnotic device to the New Year’s Eve Ball, let Charlie or Patrick know- they’ll stop them. Nate-” Vernon laughed. “With that extra arm, you’ll make the perfect pack mule- here, hold these loudspeaker supplies, I’ll want people to know me before they obey- Robin! I swear, ever since the injection, you’ve been as clumsy as Wendy was. Once the ball drops, I know everyone’s minds and appearance will be as one for the good of mankind, but silverware, coins, and paperclips flying through the air and sticking to people every five minutes is going to be annoying… they will be stronger and more powerful, however. That’s the important thing.”
Then Wendy heard Robin say in a monotone, hollow voice-
“What is it?” Vernon replied.
“How should we address each other on the mission? We don’t want to be able to be tracked down by our names.” she said flatly.
“Good thinking- I order the five of you to answer to these code names… let’s see… Charlie is now Glow Guy, Patrick will answer to… The Whopper, Nate will be… Tri-Arm, I suppose Jane could answer to Cat-Eye… and you, Robin, a couple of hours ago I would’ve suggested Lightning, or something to that effect, but now I believe it would be more suitable to call you… The Iron Maiden.” Vernon laughed wickedly. “Alright, mutants- let’s go to Times Squa-are-are-”
The phone crackled as it lost service. Wendy stuffed the phone back in her pocket, shocked. Her mind raced to make sense of what she’d just heard.
“Vernon believes in his theory of uniformity so strongly he’s going to hypnotize people without their consent?! And what he was saying about Robin being as clumsy as me after the injection… and that ‘Iron Maiden’ code name… Robin’s had an injection of my DNA! He wasn’t going to make me an antidote at all! He said people would be ‘stronger’ and ‘more powerful’… that’s what he must’ve meant when he was talking about the lack of uniformity and needing a ‘better mold’- The others must’ve been the first to go, mind wise… they never resisted Vernon’s weird orders, and Robin’s voice… When the ball drops at midnight, Vernon’s going to instruct them to take copies of my DNA once they’re hypnotized- everyone will be mindless, metallic drones!”
Once the train stopped, Wendy stumbled off, her thoughts jumbled and frantic.
“I cannot look at that ball at midnight unless I want my brain to have the mental capacity of creamed corn- I’ve got to get away…” Wendy thought. She gripped her manila envelope as firmly as she could with her shaking, gloved hands and folded it, sticking it in her pocket for safe keeping. As she walked through the subway, she remembered Billy and his mother- and imagined them losing the ability to think for themselves; being injected with the formula sludge…
Wendy shuddered at the thought. She realized she was the only one who knew of Vernon’s convoluted plans…
Suddenly, she caught sight of another ‘Quarantine Escapee’ poster- her face was covered with a big splotch of red spray paint. She continued walking, shaking her head, and found another splotchy poster. And another… and another…
Wendy swallowed hard. “Am I that hideous to look at that people are covering up my face?!” she thought as she turned a corner. Then she stopped and stared.
There on the brick wall in the same red spray paint were the words ‘Metalligirl Forever.’
She was silent for a long time. “They don’t hate me… they’re protecting me,” Wendy whispered.
As she studied the graffiti-covered wall, visions of a lifeless world, drained of variation, freedom, and justice flooded her mind. Wendy remembered her conversation with Nate on the subway- he called her a hero. There were people out there who thought she deserved to be protected.
“But what can you do?” a little voice in her head echoed.
Wendy took a deep breath. She had to do something. She had to try. After one last look at the painted wall, she started up the stairs and took off running for Times Square.
She’d return the favor.
Wendy squinted as she looked at her surroundings. Bright lights shone everywhere and people were crowded shoulder to shoulder for blocks, all ready to witness what could be the end of life as they knew it.
She scrambled onto a bench near the back of the crowd, cupping her hands around her mouth.
“Hey! Do not look at the ball at midnight. Hey!” Wendy shouted. Her voice was swallowed up in the excited uproar.
“Hey! You have to listen! Something terrible’s going to happen! Hey! Please lis- ugh!” Wendy choked as she was tackled and pinned to the ground, the wind knocked out of her. When she opened her eyes, she was face to face with Nate, his eyes dull and dazed.
“Nate! Get off!” Wendy coughed, then continued to shout. “Don’t look at the ball at mid- mph!”
Nate covered her mouth with his third arm.
“Do not interfere with the Master’s plans,” he said flatly.
Wendy squirmed under his grip, then extended her metal arm and shoved him off.
“Sorry- you’ll thank me later,” Wendy panted, dashing away.
Nate clicked on an earpiece, then said, “Tri-Arm to The Whopper- rebel force heading your way. Over.”
“What am I going to do?! No one can hear me! No one will listen!” Wendy thought as she ran, then froze. Patrick was charging towards her!
She yelped as he scooped her up and flung her over his shoulder as easily as he would a backpack.
“Patrick! Put me down! Stop! Where are you taking me?!” she cried, pounding on his back and kicking her legs.
“I need to keep an eye out on the premises. The Iron Maiden will see you now,” he replied, hanging her by her hood on a tall street sculpture.
“The Iron Maid- Robin…” Wendy remembered. Out of the corner of her eye, she thought she saw familiar faces- Dwayne and Brian.
“Ugh! Perfect timing… someone must’ve reported me…” Wendy thought, struggling to unhook her hood as her feet dangled above the ground.
“There! I found her!” she heard Brian say as they approached.
“Wendy?! What are you doing up there?” Dwayne crossed his arms. Wendy chuckled nervously as her former escorts stared up at her in disbelief.
“Oh… you know… just hanging around…” she sighed, slightly swinging back and forth.
“Heh-heh… good one,” Brian smiled.
“But listen- at midnight, the New Year’s Eve Ball will be activated as a hypnotic device- Vernon Gray is trying to turn everyone into metallic drones- once people are under his power, he’s going to order them to take copies of my DNA!” Wendy exclaimed. “You have to believe me!”
Dwayne shook his head. “Come on, Wendy- you need to come with us to St. Augustine’s- we can’t risk you spreading your condition!” he said as he reached for her foot.
Wendy swung her legs out of his reach.
“Ugh! How many times do I have to tell you people?! I’m not contagious!” she groaned.
At that moment, Robin raced towards them, metallic skin gleaming. She extended her arm up to the sculpture and hoisted herself up to Wendy’s level.
“Busted,” Brian said.
Wendy rolled her eyes. “Really?! Guys, I’m telling you, she was injected with my metallic DNA by the same guy who’s trying to control-”
Wendy gasped as Robin grabbed her collar.
“Do not reveal my Master’s plans,” Robin said firmly.
“Robin, he’s not your master, he’s your uncle!” Wendy exclaimed, exasperated. “I know you’re in there somewhere, snap out of it!” she slapped her hard across the face.
Robin’s gaze remained expressionless. “Physical confrontation has no effect- the ball has the power…” she said as her metallic arm shot up to a nearby skyscraper like a grappling hook. “… the ball must be protected.”
And with that, she grabbed Wendy’s arm, rocketing up into the New York skyline.
Wendy screamed as they flew through the air, landing with a thud on the roof. She wrenched herself from her grip and checked her pocket for her envelope- still there. She backed away slowly.
“Robin, please- you’re in a hypnotic state. You don’t realize what you’re doing…” Wendy said carefully, keeping an eye on Robin’s new sparking fingers, her hair frizzing like a blonde cloud.
“I must protect the ball… the ball…” Robin replied in a monotone voice. She raised her crackling, popping hands as she approached.
As Wendy raised her hands to protect herself, she felt her hands being sucked onto Robin’s. She screamed as a continual static shock flew through her body.
Robin repelled her away, causing Wendy to slam into an exhaust vent. As she prepared to strike again, she stopped and turned as the sound of Vernon’s voice echoed over the loudspeaker. “Greetings, New York… allow me to introduce myself…”
“It has begun,” she said solemnly.
Wendy turned to face the ball, its pole mounted a couple of buildings away.
She clenched her fists. “Not if I can help it.” Her heart pounded as Vernon spoke of his agenda as their future leader, his confident face plastered on display screens everywhere. Below, the guys were boarding up the entrances to the building as shocked spectators looked on helplessly. Wendy raced off the roof of the skyscraper, extending her metal leg to the next roof.
She stumbled on the landing, relieved she’d made it safely across.
Several buildings away, Jane tapped Vernon on the shoulder. “I’ve spotted a rogue mutant.”
“What?!” Vernon exclaimed angrily. “Who-”
“Wendy’s coming, Master,” Jane said flatly.
In the distance he could see Robin chasing Wendy over the rooftops, their metallic limbs flipping from roof to roof like slinkies.
“Stop,” Robin ordered.
“Yeah, right… Robin!” Wendy yelped, stumbling from the edge of the New Year’s Eve ball roof. Robin had grabbed her leg and was trying to pull her down, swinging on Wendy’s stretched out leg like a vine.
“You fool!” Vernon shouted down to her. “What do you expect me to do if I run out of DNA copies?! I need her alive!”
At that moment, Wendy felt the magnetic grip on her leg loosen. She looked down to see Robin sliding down her leg as the metal on her hands began to melt away.
“Useless little… I’ll take care of it myself,” she heard Vernon say.
Wendy scrambled onto the roof top and stretched down her arm, her heart fluttering in her chest the same way it did a couple days ago when she extended her arm down to Billy in the subway.
She grabbed Robin’s arm and pulled her up to safety- safety for Robin, anyway. Wendy turned around and froze- Vernon swallowed the last drops of her DNA formula from a vial.
“Now Wendy,” he said smoothly as Wendy watched him transform in horror. “Mr. Gray won’t want to hear that you attacked your… future professor. He’ll hand the position right over when he realizes how far the mutants have fallen without guidance… robbing a bank, naughty, naughty…” Vernon clucked his tongue.
“No… no…” Wendy shook her head.
“I know we don’t see eye to eye,” he continued. “But I’m quite sure that by midnight, you’ll be willing to comply. I won’t have to get…” Vernon glanced down at his metallic arms, pleased. “…nasty, will I?”
Wendy’s eyes widened as her jaw dropped. “The spider infestation… Vernon…”
Vernon had sprouted two more legs from a solid metal midsection, his limbs now metallic and spider-like, dripping with greenish venom. His eyes had taken on the bright green color as well, accenting a psychotic gleam- his brain having been saturated with poison, he was on the verge of insanity.
“I’m not Vernon anymore…” he said as he came towards her. His pointy, insect appendages clicked on the roof as the hairs rose on the back of Wendy’s neck.
He motioned to the others on the roof. “She’s Cat-Eye, she’s the Iron Maiden…” Vernon slowly scratched a needle-like claw on Wendy’s metallic cheekbone as she trembled, the sound not unlike nails on a chalkboard.
He hissed in her ear. “I’m Lead Venom.”
Wendy lifted her head to meet his eerie gaze.
“I’m not Wendy Walker anymore,” she said, glancing at a display screen across the street. It was like looking in a mirror- and the girl in the mirror wasn’t the same girl that she used to be.
“Who might you be, then?” he asked with a smirk.
Wendy set her jaw. “Metalligirl.”
She tore past him, leaping onto the balls’ drop platform and radiated a repelling force from her hand, shaking under the weight. Wendy jumped as Vernon’s pinchers clawed at her feet.
“Get down from there immediately! It’s useless to fight progress!” he yelled over the protests of the alarmed crowd.
“This is wrong, Vernon! I will never stop fighting!” Wendy shouted back, her vision blurred by the nearing, brilliant ball. She panted as her hands made contact.
Vernon growled in frustration, climbing up onto the platform. He grabbed her hair and yanked. As Wendy twisted and writhed, her envelope flew out of her pocket and fluttered to the street below like a piece of confetti.
“NO!” Wendy screamed. Tears flooded her eyes as she prayed one of the guys would catch it.
“Uh-oh, Metal-li-girl,” Vernon cackled. “Better go get that, can’t find your family without it… unless you want to stay up here with your new daddy!” Vernon tickled her chin with his pincher, laughing wickedly.
Wendy screamed, furious. Power surged through her metallic leg as she kicked him in the chest off of the platform.
She began to crumple under the weight of the ball as its gears grinded against each other. Wendy sweat and shook as she heaved the ball over her head, her tears dried by the icy wind blowing from a giant exhaust fan behind her.
Still supporting the weight of the ball with her empowered metal hand, Wendy lifted her metallic leg behind her, feeling the attraction between her foot and the whizzing blades. With one last burst of energy, she flung her foot forward and fell to the ground.
From the street, the panicked crowd watched in awe as the metallic stranger risked her life for them. They gasped and cried out as glass exploded everywhere and the balls’ frame splintered and burst as the blades chopped away, grinding to a halt.
Robin and Jane snapped back to life, looking around them in amazement.
“We’re free…” Jane whispered.
“She did it… Wendy saved us…” Robin covered her hand with her mouth, overwhelmed. “Where’s- where’s Wendy? Wendy!” she called, frightened.
From the rubble and debris, Wendy slowly rose to her feet, greeted by the relieved applause of the crowd.
“You!” Vernon roared, picking himself off of the ground. “You’ve ruined everything! I was going to save society- create a utopia of uniformity!” He clenched his claws as he made his way to her.
Wendy stared him down. “Your idea of uniformity isn’t utopian- it’s apocalyptic. And if my metallic DNA has a single drop of my hard headed-ness in it, you’d be stuck with a worldwide rebellion. Millions of people would be just itching to give you what you deserve.”
Wendy stood her ground as Vernon came closer, then jumped, startled.
As Vernon came just inches from her face, he suddenly tensed up and twitched, falling to the ground with a thud. Wendy met Robin’s gaze, her palm still outstretched and popping with static.
Robin shook her head and looked down at her uncle, his spidery legs still twitching in his unconscious state.
“I always knew something was off about him… lightning and metal don’t mix, you know,” Robin whispered with a little smile.
The crowd cheered as they watched the girls on the screen reunite and make their way down the fire escape.
“Sorry I kept repeating ‘I must protect the ball’… was it creepy?” Robin chuckled as they set foot on the sidewalk.
“Like a zombie. I swear, all of those monotone voices are going to pop up in my nightmares…” Wendy laughed, then stopped suddenly as she noticed Dwayne and Brian coming towards them.
“Just wanted to let you ladies know that you don’t have to worry about ol’ ‘Lead Venom,’” Brian said. “When he wakes up, he’ll find himself in a straitjacket in St. Augustine’s Psych Ward.”
“Oh, and Wendy?” Dwayne asked, pulling out his handcuffs as she held her breath. “Good work- Happy New Year.”
Wendy sighed with relief as he let the cuffs fall to the ground. She was free!
“That really was great, Wendy. You should’ve seen your friends- even though they were slightly terrifying, they were doing amazing stuff. I bet you all could make a great team if you wanted to be- the world could use people like you all…” Brian was cut off.
“Brian! C’mon, we’ve got a spider to squash!” Dwayne called. Brian waved as he walked away.
Wendy smiled. Brian was right- the six of them had the potential to do great things- and if the world didn’t know of them before, they knew of them now.
Just then, Charlie’s voice called out, “There! There they are!”
The guys made their way through the crowd and embraced their friends.
“Man, I’m so glad you all are okay… did I hurt anyone?” Patrick asked, concerned.
“Oh, boy- it’s like that costume party all over again,” Jane rolled her eyes with a giggle as the six of them walked down the sidewalk together.
“Wendy, I am so sorry I tackled you- it won’t happen again… can you forgive me?” Nate asked, placing a hand on her shoulder.
“No way- that was humiliating…” Wendy turned away as Nate’s face fell. She peeked back over her shoulder with a devilish smile. “Everyone knows in the right conditions I could’ve pinned you twice in that time.”
He laughed, relieved. “Oh, okay… but all the same, I hope this makes it up to you…”
Wendy’s face lit up as he placed her envelope in her hands.
“Oh my gosh- thank you so much! I can’t believe you caught it!” she exclaimed, throwing her arms around his neck. “Thank you!”
Nate smiled as Patrick and Charlie gave him thumbs up.
“You’re welcome- I guess I had a slight advantage, being Tri-Arm…” Nate grinned.
“Well?!” Patrick exclaimed. “Let’s grab a bite at that schwarma place over there and open that bad boy!”
The teenagers cheered as they charged into the café, slightly calmed from their victory high as they stood in line.
“You know…” Wendy said thoughtfully. “I’m actually kind of glad I got beat up back in Indiana- I would’ve never noticed my cancer lump, never gone to the hospital and gotten treated, never turned metallic, never met you guys, that would’ve been a bummer… I would’ve never ended up in New York with a very important New Year’s resolution…” Wendy glanced at her friends with a “serious” expression on her face. “…justice.”
When they finally ordered and stuffed their faces with Grecian food, Wendy made a toast- “To Tessa- without her, saving the world would’ve been impossible.”
After they had their fill, they all stared at the crumpled, sauce stained envelope in the center of the tiny table.
“So…” Charlie asked, smiling. “Are you excited?’
Wendy carefully wiped her face with her napkin, took a sip of water, and dumped the tables’ trays.
“Wendy… are you stalling?” Jane asked quietly.
She lowered her head and nodded. She couldn’t stand not knowing, but the thought of knowing for a fact that her parents had died was unbearable. Maybe she’d look inside the envelope some day, but not today. She wasn’t ready.
“I can’t do it,” Wendy exhaled with a little smile. “I need to hold onto the hope… if I’m meant to be reunited with my family, I will be.”
“Well…” Nate said kindly. “Until then, you’ve always got us.”
Wendy smiled. “Thanks- you mean that?”
The others laughed in agreement.
“Of course!” Robin exclaimed. “You’re like a sister! Once in Mutant Academy, always in Mutant Academy.”
And in Wendy’s heart, she knew Robin was right. These five would stick with her no matter what… they were her family. And even if the world changed around her, for better or for worse, Wendy was ready for it. That wall of graffiti deep in the heart of New York reminded her of one thing- she would be Metalligirl forever.