Author's note: I just had to write more. I get hooked on my chracters, and I have to finish with them.
Caged Bird With a KeyThe morning light bled through my blinds, warming my skin, as I woke up, twisted in the mangled sheets on my bed. I was lying parallel to the foot of my bed instead of laying length-wise-the normal way-and I seemed to have misplaced my pillows.
I glanced at my alarm clock, the red letters displaying ten a.m., and I wondered idly why I hadn’t heard any commotion downstairs. Usually when I slept in this late, Mom would march upstairs, and throw one of my own pillows at me to wake up. But she didn’t come, and an anxious feeling twisted up in my stomach. What if my dream hadn’t totally been a dream?
I fought my way out of my covers, vaguely aware of the pain in my torso as I scrambled out of bed, and darted down stairs. I was breathing heavily once I reached the bottom, but I was happy. Both of my parents were alive.
I froze when my Mom looked up, and I saw her red eyes, not bloodshot from too much alcohol. These were teary, mourning eyes. Dad wore the same expression, although he tried to hide it when I looked at him.
“Riley, come, sit down.”
“Do you want anything for breakfast, Rainbow?”
I shook my head, and sat down warily at one of the kitchen chairs.
“Riley, do you remember your Great Aunt Marsha?” Mom asked, leaning over to pat down a clump of my hair that was sticking up.
“Isn’t she the one who lives in Florida?”
Mom nodded, her lip trembling ever so slightly, “Yes, she did. Your Great Uncle Hubert sent us a letter saying that Marsha died yesterday because of heart complications.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. I hadn’t known Marsha all that well, but my parents adored her.
Mom swallowed hard, glancing at Dad. He nodded, so she continued, “Her funeral is supposed to be in two days, and Hubert sent plane tickets so that we could go… but he only sent two.”
“Mom, you guys have to go. You loved Aunt Marsha more than anything.”
“But what will you do? You’re too old for a sitter, I know, but I hate to think of what kind of trouble you could get into if we left you alone.”
“Mom, I promise I would never. I know how much you two worry about me, but it’s not necessary. I’ll be fine.”
Dad sighed, and put a hand on my head, “We’d like to believe you, Rainbow, but given the certain circumstances…”
“I think what your father is trying to say, is that we trust you not to throw a party while we’re gone, but what would stop you from dressing up, and confronting some bad guys who are robbing a convenience store?”
“I’ve actually been thinking a lot about Glimpse lately,” I admitted, and they exchanged a worried glance, “But not for the reasons you guys think. I’ve actually been thinking about calling it quits. Hanging up my cape…figuratively speaking.”
“Why the sudden change of heart?” Mom asked, trying to hide the hopeful glint in her eyes.
“…I just figure that it would be nice to live past my teens. I almost died, and I’m only seventeen. There are so many things I haven’t done yet, and I wouldn’t get to do, if my heroics were to kill me.” I answered, looking out the window thoughtfully. It was sad, how easy the lies came. I had been lying so long now that I could do it looking into their eyes. I was sick. I hated myself; what I had become.
“Well, as long as you promise to stick around the house…” Mom said, looking at Dad.
“We’ll trust you, Rainbow, and we expect you to act on your words. If you get lonely or if you need help with something I guess you can call Andrew or Ronda from church. You know our cell phone numbers, and we’ll call you when we land.” Dad said, kissing the top of my head.
Mom shot up from her seat, “We can’t waste anymore time, our flight leaves at one, and we still need to pack, and get through the gates.” She sprinted to their bedroom, with Dad following lazily behind her, throwing me an I-hope-we-can-trust-you look.
I sighed shakily, and got up, taking a box of cereal from one of the cabinets. I sat down, not bothering to grab a bowl or milk. I just ate the cereal out of the box, not tasting it, just shoving it in my mouth to keep from screaming at myself.
My hand reached in again, and met something not cereal. It was hard plastic, inside a plastic bag. I pulled it out, and saw that it was a prize. Since when had they begun doing that again?
I turned the toy over and almost choked on the cereal that was in my mouth. The toy was a miniature of Black Wrath. “What kind of sick world am I living in?” I asked, talking to myself: the first sign of insanity. I checked the box, and at the bottom it had a label that read ‘Surprise toy inside. Collect them all’, and had a picture of several different people I knew: Black Wrath, Red-Pseudo, and Glimpse.
I paled when I saw a picture of the toy labeled Glimpse. It was a miniature with pink hair, and a silver dress, with light up hands and a disclaimer that batteries were not included.
“Are you okay, Riley?” Mom asked, and I looked up, not sure what expression was on my face.
“Yeah I just realized that I don’t like Cocoa Puffs.” I replied, stuffing the toy back in the box, and closing it before I got up to put it back in the cabinet.
She toted in her suitcase, already packed.
“That was fast.”
“We’re only going to be gone for two days, so I’m packing light, besides, airplane terminals often loose excess baggage. I tried telling that to your father, but you know how he gets when he’s around funerals. He thinks if he’s not perfect the dead will hate him for it.” She chuckled softly.
Mom busied herself straightening up the kitchen, in a brighter mood, possibly caused by my lie. She dumped the coffee pot, rinsing it out. She scrubbed the sink, and washed the counters, making everything spotless in the time it took Dad to get done packing, and heft his large suitcase into the living room, and set it by Mom’s smaller pink suitcase.
“Margaret, I think its time to go,” he said, itching his now cleanly shaven face. I could tell he had razor burn. It had been three years since I saw him without some sort of facial hair, and now it was like meeting him for the first time. He looked ten years younger, but his eyes seemed older somehow. They looked tired, and were still red from crying.
“Right,” Mom said, and hugged me, her arms too tight. “Love you.”
“Love you too.”
She passed me off to my Dad, who hugged me a little more gently. He stroked my hair for a moment, and then let go, “Be good, Rainbow. We’ll be in touch.” I nodded, and walked them to the door.
When they were gone, taken away in a yellow taxi that smelt like rotten cheese, I paced in the apartment. I picked up the phone, and then set it down. I walked upstairs and then back down, deciding against getting dressed just yet. I flicked the TV on, and then off again when the channel it was set on began talking about crime rates again.
I sighed, and trudged upstairs again. I took my time, combing each tangle out of my hair. I brushed my teeth like I was going to the dentist’s office, taking the time to floss. I added a layer of mascara on my eyelids and some foundation too.
After that, I spent an hour staring at my closet, trying on every possible outfit combination I could, trying to stall myself from going where my mind was unconsciously telling me to go, but the stalling only lasted so long. It was only two hours after my parents had left that I walked out of the house, and boarded the big blue bus with an Anti-acne Ad on the its side.
I yanked the cord, to tell the bus driver that I needed to get off, and clunked down the short steps before I came face to face with the dimmed windows of Putrid Fashion store. The bus coughed, spewing a black smoke that would probably give me lung cancer, and ambled away. The sign on the door said closed, but I knew Cally was there, because I saw a tiny lamp shining from where she sat behind the huge poster-covered counter that was as high as my chest when I was standing up.
The bell rang when I walked in, and I heard Cally sigh, “Can’t you read? We’re closed.”
I walked around the counter, seeing her large black combat boots propped up, before I actually saw her. Her face was hidden behind a magazine with a sad clown picture on the front of it. “I said we’re closed. Don’t make me call the cops.”
I leaned against the counter, chuckling softly, “Now is that anyway to talk to an old friend?”
Cally looked up at me sharply, her eyes scrutinizing my face. “I don’t-hey wait,” she said, looking at me closer, putting her magazine down, and standing up. “You do look familiar. I know I’ve seen you from somewhere.”
“I’ll give you a hint; you told me that I was your most valued costumer.”
“I spew that crap to all the people who come back here.”
“Fine, I’ll give you another hint. You once told me that my pink hair was overused, and you thought that I’d look good with blue hair.”
“Glimpse?” Cally asked her face paling. I smiled, and she ran over and hugged me, “I thought you were dead!”
“Not quite,” I huffed, clenching my teeth through the pain. She had hugged me too hard.
“What happened? Black Wrath has been on so may talk shows saying that he finally vanquished you, and here you are, alive; a brunette.” She said, releasing me from her hug to play with my hair.
“The pink was a wig, Cally. As for my death, that was grossly exaggerated.”
“I figured as much,” she replied, a little smugly, “I never took you as having enough guts to actually dye your hair. So what brings you down here?”
“I need a …costume,” I replied, and she smiled brightly.
“Yeah! Glimpse is back in business!!!!” She exclaimed, tugging me through the curtain to her back work station. She didn’t hesitate with the measurements. “Have you lost some weight?”
“Probably,” I replied, and then groaned softly when her hands brushed the tender spot on my stomach.
Cally stared at me confused, when I hunched over slightly—not my usual fitting behavior—and lifted up my shirt. She gasped when she saw the blackish blue bruises that were twice the size of the actual scar where one of the bullets had hit me. “Is this why you haven’t proved Black Wrath wrong about killing you?”
I swallowed hard, and stood up straight again, not answering her. Cally sighed, shaking her head. She continued with the measurements, making a tsking sound when I winced again while she was doing a bust measurement.
“What are your ideas for this one?” She asked, slightly less into it than before.
“Do whatever you want,” I replied, sinking into one of her chairs shakily.
Cally nodded, and set to work, and I closed my eyes, waiting. I’m not sure how long I sat like that, an hour maybe two? Cally seemed to be taking her time, not that I minded much though. I was just enjoying being in her artistic presence. My phone rang, making us both jump, and I answered it on the second ring. It was Dad.
“Hey, Rainbow. Where are you? I called the home phone, but you didn’t answer.”
“Oh, I’m just visiting one of my friends.”
“Your not too far from home are you?”
I sighed, “No, Dad. I’m just a few blocks away.”
“Okay, good girl. I called Andrew, and he said that he can’t come over tonight, but he can tomorrow, just in case you get lonely.”
“That’s nice,” I replied, leaning my head against the wall, and closing my eyes again.
“Oh, before I forget, your Mom and I are staying at Aunt Violet’s house, you have her number right?”
“Yeah, it’s in my contacts list.”
“Okay, I’ll let you get back to your friend. Call us if you need anything. Love you.”
“I love you too,” I replied, and snapped my phone shut.
“That your Dad?”
“Is there something wrong?”
“No, my parents are away for a couple of days, and they’ve been antsy about leaving me alone ever since they found out that I’m Glimpse.”
“Was that after you got shot?” Cally asked.
“Yeah. My boyfriend convinced me that I needed to tell them, but I think it would’ve been better to let them think that I was mugged. They don’t trust me anymore. Mom gets this scared look on her face every time I head for the door.”
“Okay, try this on,” she said, handing me the costume. She didn’t leave like she usually did, but I didn’t mind changing in front of her. Cally was different from the girls in the locker room. She wasn’t judgmental on how people were physically. I let my skirt fall to the floor, and I unbuttoned my shirt, trying to ignore her narrowed eyes when she saw my second bullet scar, on my chest.
The costume she made was meant for winter, with long sleeves. It was a black body suit that zipped up on the side to give me easier access, instead of the back. She tossed me the second layer, which was similar to one of my other costumes. It was a bright blue sweetheart style swimsuit.
I stepped into the matching blue snow boots that cut off at my ankles, and she handed me a pair of fingerless blue gloves that I put on as well.
“I love it,” I murmured, “Do you know where I can find a blue wig?” I asked.
Cally studied me for a moment, “I think I might have one, wait here.” She disappeared inside a large walk-in closet filled with shoes, and other pre-made accessories, and came back with a short bobbed wig, and a longer wig.
“I’m thinking short, to spice things up.” I said, and took the wig from her, tucking my hair in a cap before I positioned it on my head. I posed for myself in the mirror, a smile ghosting at the corners of my mouth.
“Don’t do anything to make me regret this,” she murmured, her hands fidgeting with my costume as she made slight adjustments, pinning things where she thought they looked good.
I widened my eyes in a faux innocent expression, “Cally, I would never…this is for the future; when I’m better. If Glimpse is coming back from the dead, she might as well do it with style.”
Cally scrutinized my face dubiously, “Well, you’ll look fabulous when you do decide to get back on the horse.”
“How much do I owe you?”
“One hundred,” she answered.
I nodded, and walked back to my purse, hunching over slowly to dig the thick wad of cash I had made in tips at my parent’s café. I thumbed through the money twice, making sure not to short change her, and then handed it over. Cally didn’t bother counting it. She stuffed it in the padding of her bra-a place she had once claimed was the only safe place to carry such a wad in New York-and hugged me.
“Just please promise me that you won’t rush anything. You’re too good of a friend to loose again.”
“I promise,” I whispered, not trusting my voice. I felt dead inside. I could see my face in the mirror. It was a face of a liar. My expression was smooth, my eyes flat and lifeless staring back in a false sense of sincerity that Cally didn’t see.
Cally released me from her embrace and excused herself, claiming that one of her contacts was playing tug of war with her eyeball. I changed quickly out of my costume, and pulled the snug blue sweater dress on, before I packed my costume in the empty gym bag I had brought.
Cally didn’t come back. I passed wordlessly by the closed bathroom door, and tried to ignore the soft sobs floating out as I left. She knew I was lying. She knew I was probably going to die. If only I knew, but then again, I didn’t know much of anything.
I made a list of pros and cons of actually following through on my thoughts of traveling downtown and busting up a few badies, but that list was cut prematurely short when I heard the strangled screech just a few feet away.
I scanned the sidewalk for the source of the shrill elderly scream, and finally my eyes caught sight of a fragile old woman going toe to toe with a mugger who was trying to steal her purse. The woman clutched onto her dime-store purse for dear life as the mugger tugged violently on the straps calling her every bad name under the sun. The old lady swatted him on the head with her umbrella, but he was determined not to let go.
With a moment’s hesitation to glare at the oblivious passer-bys, I ditched my gym bag at the mouth of the alley, and socked the mugger in the face without missing a beat. He reeled back, having not seen my attack, and flopped down on his butt. He sat there for a moment, stunned, rubbing his stubbly jaw. But then he was angry. He shot up to his feet with murder in his eyes. I hoped to appeal to his fragile side. Maybe this guy had a condescending mother, so I took on the condescending Good Samaritan.
“You should be ashamed of yourself, picking on an old lady like that! Who do you think you are?”
“A dangerous man, Babe; someone who doesn’t appreciate being punched by a mouthy kid,” he growled, wiping the corner of his mouth as blood dripped down his chin. His fist was hard and fast, something I had known was coming, but not had enough time to dodge. I crumpled around it, absorbing the full impact before my knees buckled uselessly beneath me, and I bunched up in a painful heap on the ground.
The man laughed at how easily I succumbed to his fist, and he kicked me a few dozen times in the stomach, and once in the face to get his point across. I watched him walk away in his chunky black combat boots in that I’m-the-man attitude, forgetting how to breathe. The old lady, who had been standing by and watching the whole time snatched her purse up from the ground, and dusted it off, swearing about the now broken strap. She waddled away in the opposite direction the mugger left, not even bothering to look at my writhing body as she walked by.
The alley floor was anything but inviting. It was hard and cold, with a grimy slickness of rotting trash and tiny rocks that jabbed painfully into my skin as I laid there, with no possible hope of getting up anytime soon.
I didn’t realize that I had passed out until I woke up some time later. The sun was erased from the sky, kissing the horizon as the moon danced its way up past the clouds. Neon signs flickered on, advertising greasy cheeseburgers, liquor, and whore ‘peep shows’. I groaned softly and picked myself up off of the groaned, fighting back tears as the pain hit me. I leaned against the rough brick face of the alley wall, against the profane graffiti as my body threatened to collapse again.
All I wanted to do was sleep, but I knew it wasn’t safe here. Cally’s shop was not in a friendly neighborhood, if the mugger and the feisty, unsympathetic Granny was not enough of a clue. It wasn’t considered ‘downtown, downtown’ but it was one gang away from being considered part of the ghetto.
When I was sure I wouldn’t collapse again, I limped slowly out of the alley, hunching over to pick up my gym bag that thankfully no on had deemed valuable enough to swipe while I was seeing stars. I sank down on the bench, not stretching out in a lying position that my body was begging for, afraid that unconsciousness might take me again.
The bus heaved to a stop, coughing and hiccupping a lot like Andrew’s car did, and I dug around in my pocket for some lose change, dropping it in the deposit box before I took my seat in the vacant middle of the bus. The only other passenger was a scraggly looking man with a graying beard passed out in the back bench with a half-drained whiskey bottle wrapped in a paper bag, dangling loosely in his fingers.
I pulled the cord for the breaks, and stepped off again when the bus neared my apartment. “Have a nice night,” I called weakly to the bus driver, who looked even wearier than I did, and he nodded before he leaned over to pull the lever that pulled the door shut.
My cell phone rang, and I jolted in surprise, dropping my gym bag to dig quickly through the pockets of my dress.
“Riley, thank God,” Mom breathed, “Why haven’t you been answering the phone? I’ve been calling for an hour now.”
“I was in the shower,” I sighed.
“Are you okay? You sound a little…off.”
“I’m tired, that’s all. Cally really wore me out.”
“My friend. Did Dad not tell you that I went to visit her today?”
“No,” she said, “But I suppose that’s to be expected. He got wasted and he’s passed out drunk with your Uncle Joe in the living room. Are you sure you’re okay?”
“…I love you.”
“Me too,” I replied, and waited for the sound of her hanging up, but I didn’t hear it, so I added, “I’ll talk to you tomorrow. Love you, Bye,” and hung up after she responded with another ‘I love you.’
I sighed, jamming my phone back in my pocket, and hunched over to pick up my gym bag, groaning softly, and clutching my stomach as I stood back up.
I looked up, and my breath caught in my throat. It was Stanley.
“What are you doing here?”
“Are you okay?” He asked, stealthily ignoring my question. He walked towards me slowly, his face hidden in the shadows, even when he stopped to stand directly in front of me.
His hand slid over the top of mine. He peeled it back from my stomach, and raised a concerned eyebrow, “Riley, you’re bleeding.”
“I glanced down to find that his statement was true. Warm blood bubbled up from my sweater dress. Stanley steadied me when I swayed dizzily on my feet. I felt a sharp prick in my arm not a few seconds after that, and I looked in time to see that Stanley had jabbed me with a needle.
I stared at him in a muddled confusion as I collapsed. Stanley caught me before I could fall, and he swept me up into his arms as if I weighed nothing. He paused to grab my gym bag, and then carried me away from my apartment, down the dark sidewalk. I wanted to know where he was taking me, but my mind couldn’t fight the drugs. The blackness took me.