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Author's note: I just had to write more. I get hooked on my chracters, and I have to finish with them.
A lot of things can happen in the brief second it takes the flash on a camera to catch life and preserve it on a screen. A person can blink, or forget to smile, ruining the shot, forcing the photographer to take another. Andrew believes these are the best kind of pictures, the ones that people frown at because they are imperfect. He loves them because they show our true human nature, instead of the stiff, lifeless portraits that we as society have become accustomed to. He loves these pictures, because they can make a statement that no one could miss; could change two lives so completely.
Lately, my life has been like that; a flash, with every event happening so quickly that it gives me whiplash as I’m thrust from one event to another, with no time to catch my breath. Three months ago, I almost died. I almost died because of a secret I was convinced I needed to keep.
I had been shot twice. One in the stomach; it had passed clean through. The other missed my heart by a half inch, and lodged itself there, only to be taken out sometime later. But those are the breaks for a superhero. You protect everyone, and everything, even to the death—in my case almost death.
Now that I think about it, life can not go on without an event to start it. If I had not been out patrolling the city in the afternoon instead of my nightly patrol, Andrew wouldn’t have had a chance to take a picture of my secret identity being revealed. If he had not blackmailed me with that picture, I wouldn’t have gotten to know him as well, which would’ve meant I’d be dead right now. He was the one who distracted Black Wrath; he was the one to carry me out, just before Black Wrath’s lair exploded. He was the one who called 911. He was the one I loved.
Andrew saving me also caused several different things to happen indirectly. He was the one who gave me the courage to tell my parents what I had been really doing when they were sleeping soundly in their bed. He was the one who told them that he had been secretly seeing me since he had moved in a few blocks away.
Needless to say, my parents weren’t too thrilled about either truth, and I think it would’ve been better to keep up with the lie. They hated Andrew when they learned that I had a boyfriend at all, let alone a twenty two year old man, when I was still only seventeen, but they had to choke back their sour remarks, and betrayed glares around me, because otherwise I’d pout or mope around, and the doctor had told them that I was at a high risk for depression given the circumstances.
School was the major issue on my list of things that made me unhappy. After missing out on three months of homework, I flunked all my classes, and my scholarship was revoked, leaving me school-less, so now I’m home schooled by a lady from our church, who used to be a teacher. She comes by a few hours every week, and crams six hours worth of lecture into an impossible hour, and then leaves with her check and a ‘God bless’.
Number two on my unhappy list was restricted movement; the third, was the way my mom got around me, as if she couldn’t handle looking at me being temporarily crippled, but wished I’d stay that way so I couldn’t do anything dangerous like crime fighting that could get me hurt worse.
I heard the ding on the microwave, and I struggled up from the sofa, and walked—well, not quite walked, more like limped—to the kitchen. I hummed happily as I snatched up a potholder from the top drawer, and grabbed the plate of piping hot pizza bagels, but that happiness went away very quickly. It was almost as if she had a radar sense, or had some kind of chip in me that tracked my every movement, telling her that I was in the kitchen. Either way she found me.
Mom snatched my pizza bagels from out of my hands, and dumped them into the trash. “This’ll make you sick,” she said. Without saying another word, she took a bundle of carrots, and celery, and dumped them into a blinder. Once it was an orange-green mush, she poured it into a smaller cup and then handed it to me.
“Mom,” I complained, making a face at the unappetizing vegetable smoothie.
“Don’t “Mom”, me,” she snapped, and busied herself rinsing the blinder out in the sink. I sighed, setting my cup of liquid vegetables on the counter before I hobbled back to the couch, and eased myself down on the couch again, grunting softly, because this tugged at the stitches holding me together, beneath my shirt.
“Aren’t you going to eat?” Mom asked, offering the smoothie.
“No. I think I’ll try wasting away into nothing. I’ve heard it’s not so bad,” I replied, hefting one of my textbooks into my lap. I had been doing nothing but studying for what seemed like a month, which was as long as my mom had been denying me solid sustenance; three weeks longer than what the doctor directed.
Mom plucked the textbook out of my hand, and replaced it with the smoothie. I took a half-hearted sip, gagging slightly on the bumpy clumps of vegetables that weren’t as liquefied as the others. Mom smiled, apparently pleased with my effort to choke the smoothie down, and she handed me the remote to the TV; a decision she almost immediately regretted.
Channel 27 had huge letters rolling across the screen that read: Where is Glimpse? Before a spunky blonde woman in her early twenties, and an older brunette man came on the screen, discussing what they think happened to Glimpse.
Mom quickly seized the remote from me, seeing the distressed look on my face, and the way I leaned forward involuntarily, wanting to hear more. Channel 213 had a man pointing to a pie chart stating that in the past three months, New York’s crime rates had skyrocketed by 25.6%.
On channel 345, a comedian was cracking jokes about how Glimpse’s nappy pink hair must’ve killed her. Channel 356 was Tom and Jerry, but Mom was flipping through the channels so fast that she didn’t even notice. Channel 372, a talk show host was interviewing Black Wrath himself, talking about how he was doing well for himself now that he had no one to stop him.
The TV went black, and Mom flung the remote before I could grab it away from her to turn the TV back on. It took me a few tries, but after the fourth try, I finally was able to get myself off of the couch, to stand up. I bit my lip, and clutched my stomach for a moment, and then set the vegetable smoothie down on the coffee table before I started to head towards the coat closet.
“What are you doing?” Mom asked nervously.
I didn’t answer.
“Where are you going?” She demanded, although she already knew. I was headed towards the closet, to grab my costume. Ever since she learned of my superhero alter ego, Mom had placed my costumes in the downstairs coat closet, so that they could be under her surveillance, to make sure I didn’t decide to sneak out.
“Riley, answer me!”
“You heard them! Something needs to be done. This is all my fault.”
“No,” she breathed, shaking her head desperately with wide pleading eyes as she put herself between me and the closet. “You can’t. You’re hurt.”
“I’m better. Besides, I promise not to fight. I’ll pick some loser criminal robbing a gas station. Common criminals fear me. They always give up without a fight,” I replied. That was a lie. They always fought. No matter if they were only packing a little handgun, or a switchblade, they always fought.
There was a knock at the door, and Mom ran to it frantically, so relieved when she saw that it was Andrew. “Andrew, Oh Andrew! Its terrible! Stop her please. I can’t loose her. She wants to be Glimpse again.”
“Riley,” Andrew called sternly, and I froze, but not because of him. I had grabbed the wrong uniform, the one I had almost died in. The fabric was torn, and crusted with my blood. The fabric quivered in my fingers. “Riley, why do you keep doing this to yourself?” Andrew sighed, shaking my hand gently from the costume.
I shuddered, and backed away slowly, allowing him to close the door. I didn’t answer him. I couldn’t. I couldn’t tell him that I had become addicted with the thing that had almost killed me. I couldn’t tell him that I was suffering from withdrawal; that I needed to be Glimpse.
“Margaret,” Andrew said, refusing to tear his eyes away from me, “If you’d like, I’ll take those costumes and store them at my house, you know, to lessen the temptation.”
“I think that’s a good idea,” Mom sighed, trying to ignore my crestfallen expression.
“I was also wondering if it would be okay if Riley spent some time with me today. I just want to take a walk, nothing big; probably just around the block and back.”
“I don’t know…”
“Remember what the doctor said. Riley needs her exercise too. She’s not getting any stuck up here all day long.” So now I’m a dog. Great. Andrew is taking me for a walk.
“He’ll have to leave those costumes here if you go with him,” she said, looking at me.
“Don’t worry, I’ll take good care of her,” he replied, and then he extended his hand invitingly towards me.
I sighed, “Let me change first. My pajamas are for private display only.”
“Okay,” he chuckled, and I attempted the stairs. It took me about five minutes, with several stops and “are you okays” before I finally made it up to my room. All month I had slept downstairs on the couch, not having the strength to climb the stairs, so my room smelt stale and unused when I opened my door.
I grabbed a pair of baggy shorts, and a plain blue t-shirt, stepping into a pair of flip flops when I was done dressing.
The walk downstairs wasn’t as bad, especially since Andrew helped me down halfway, letting my shaky hand grip his. Mom choked out a goodbye, and we exited through the dark café.
“How does an ice cream cone sound?”
“Are you trying to seduce me?” I teased.
“Is it working?”
“It’d work better if you bought me a soy dog instead.” I answered, winking at him alluringly.
He chuckled, stopping to kiss me on the lips once we were out of my Mom’s sight.
We walked three blocks, and stepped into the chilly hotdog restaurant. Behind the counter, Benny greeted me with a big smile, and popped a soy dog in the microwave oven without me even having to ask for it. “What’ll ya have?” He asked Andrew.
Andrew studied the red and yellow menu hanging just below the dim fluorescent lights. “I’ll take two phillies fully loaded.”
Benny smiled, as if Andrew were his new favorite customer.
“Why do you do that to your mother?” Andrew asked when we sat down on the bench just outside of Benny’s Hotdog Express.
“What eat solid food behind her back?” I joked, although I knew what he was referring to.
Andrew rolled his eyes, wiping the ketchup from the corner of his mouth, obviously not amused. “You know you’re not healed enough, and yet you seem to be able to delude yourself into thinking you are, and you scare the crap out of your Mom. I just want to know why you’d risk giving her a heart attack over something you’re not well enough to do in the first place.”
I sighed, “I just get so angry. People think Glimpse is dead. Criminals are running amuck, and Black Wrath is their leader.”
“That’s how New York is supposed to be. It’s not New York without people getting mugged, or banks being robbed,” Andrew replied, brushing his lips lightly against mine. I drew back, and placed a hand on my stomach while the other clamped down hard on my mouth as bile rose in my throat.
I stood up as quickly as I could, and staggered to the alley, upchucking my soy dog. Andrew was at my side in a flash, pulling my curls out of my faces as my stomach heaved painfully.
“I should take you to the hospital…or call your parents,” he murmured, not moving to do any of these things.
“I’m fine,” I coughed, wiping my face with a napkin that he handed me. I stood up straight, my hands shaky.
“C’mon, I’m taking you home,” Andrew said, and he put a supportive arm around my waist, careful not to accidentally touch my stitches. I glanced to the other side of the street, as we made our slow return back to my apartment, and I looked away just as quickly, when I saw a light-skinned dark headed man with a bright pink burn mark on the top half of his face from his hairline to the tip of his nose.
It was Black Wrath. He had to be. I quickened my pace, too chicken to glance back to see if it really was him without his mask on.
Mom practically jumped me when we came home feeling the need to play twenty questions in a high pitched voice when we showed up a little earlier than she thought we would.
I threw a disparaging now-you-see-what-I-have-to-live-with look over at Andrew. “I’m fine,” I replied to her first question, too tired to answer the other nineteen questions she fired off after that. I sank down on the couch, stretching out lengthwise. Andrew picked my legs up carefully, slipping under them to sit down before he set them on his lap. He removed my flips flops from my feet, and massaged my feet for a moment before he gave them a gentle tickle that made me laugh.
Mom left the room, cooling down.
“I love you,” He whispered.
“Love you more.”
The next day, I had a two p. m. doctor’s appointment that my mother drug me to. Andrew drove separately, and followed us, claiming that he was there for emotional support while Dad fended for himself against the big crowd of college kids that flocked to the café for ‘breakfast’.
Andrew sat diligently in the waiting room while the doctor looked me over, and Mom stood like a hawk in the corner with her arms across her chest.
“She’s doing just fine, Mrs. Giovanni. I’ve never seen someone recover as quickly from such a severe injury as Riley has, but I suppose that’s because she’s young. The young are always versatile. She’s got quite a ticker too,” He commented as I buttoned up my shirt.
The doctor helped me into a sitting position, because he saw that I was struggling, and then offered me a hand, helping me slide off of his examination table. I loosely tucked my shirt into my shorts when I was standing up again.
“Yes we’re very lucky,” Mom replied pleasantly, but I could still detect the false note in her voice. This wasn’t good news. She would’ve been happier if he said that I needed to rest more, instead of suggesting a light to moderate five minute exercise per day until I started to build up my strength again. She would’ve been happier if he told me it was way too soon to be eating pizza, and other solids instead of lecturing her about forcing me to drink those nasty smoothies when it wasn’t necessary anymore.
Mom gave him a stiff smile, and walked out of the examination room, a hand placed firmly on the small of my back, gently propelling me forward. When the waiting room came into sight, I saw that Andrew was hunched over a magazine. He looked up, and saw us, tossing the magazine aside, and stood up with a slightly embarrassed blush to his cheeks.
I wanted to see what he had been reading, but he walked over to me, blocking my view. Andrew kissed me on the forehead, and pulled me away from my Mom’s controlling hand. “So what did the doctor have to say?”
I opened my mouth to answer, but Mom cut me off, “Who cares, he’s a quack.” Her lower lip jutted out slightly in a pout with her arms across her chest.
“He said that my recovery rate has been faster than what he expected,” I replied, throwing her a disparaging look. I knew that Mom was upset, because she was afraid that once I was better, I’d become Glimpse again, and possibly get myself killed in action, but she could’ve at least acted a little happier about my current condition.
“Margaret, Riley wants to go back to her old school, so I thought I might extend my invitation to take her. I’m sure that Kevin is swamped at the café, and with you helping him, I’m afraid her wants will go neglected.”
“Go back?! Why on Earth would I let her go back to that place? She gave the better most of three years there, and they revoke her scholarship because she missed a couple months to recover?”
“Mom,” I sighed, glancing around, because she was making a scene. “I’m just going to grab my things from my locker.”
Mom sniffed angrily, and glared at Andrew for bringing the subject up, as if he were her own personal bane of existence. Then she looked at me, pleading me silently not to go.
I set my jaw stubbornly, and she let out an exasperated sigh, rubbing her forehead with her thumb, trying to smooth out the worried creases. “Fine, but I expect you cell phones to be on at all times!” She snapped, and then stormed out, throwing her purse violently over her shoulder. I glanced anxiously up at Andrew.
“She’ll be fine,” he assured me, “She knows that you’re safe with me, she just doesn’t want to admit it, because she wants to take care of you herself.”
The school was only half lit when we drove up, Andrew’s car hiccupping when we finally pulled into the nearly empty visitor’s lot. The school was just as vacant looking when we walked in, but of course that was normal. Classes had let out four hours ago, and all the clubs, two hours ago.
We passed the teachers lounge, one of the only rooms that seemed lit, and that’s where most of the late-stay teachers and coaches were, eating their fill of free pizza. It took me a moment to remember my locker combination, but finally the numbers came to me, and I quickly opened the creaky red metal door.
Inside, I could tell they had gutted it, stripped the locker of all the borrowed textbooks, worksheets, and workbooks. All that was left was my Hello Kitty pencil bag, and a few notebooks. I dumped the notebooks in the recycling bin, and shut my locker. The sound echoed ominously in the hall.
I led Andrew down the hall to my old music room, throwing out comments every now and then on the way, pointing to my old science lab, English room, and the gym, where the screeches of tennis shoes against old wax on a fake wooden floor could be heard as the basketball team rapped up their five thirty practice.
I was surprised to find the light on in the music room, and hesitated momentarily, before I got up the courage to open the door. Mr. Sidle looked up from his work, and jumped up in surprise from his computer chair. “Riley, what are you doing here dear? Shouldn’t you be resting?”
“I’m…um…here to pick up my cello.”
His face fell slightly, and he moved slowly around his desk so that he sat down on the front of it. “I’m sorry, but that cello belongs to the school. Your parents were making payments on it, but since it’s not fully paid for, and the fact that you’ve been terminated as a student, I can’t let you take it home.”
I felt my face pale. I started to see fuzzy dots in my vision, “Not…mine?”
Andrew pulled a chair up, and forced me to sit down. I collapsed onto the chair, and put my head in my hands.
“Riley, are you okay? Do I need to call the nurse?” Mr. Sidle asked, fanning me with a page of sheet music.
“It’s not mine. I can’t take it home.” I murmured, repeating the words to myself, hoping that they’d make a little more sense, but they didn’t. My life meant absolutely nothing without my cello. Without a cello, what was there to live for?
“Wait, you said her parents were making payments, how much more do they owe?”
“Three hundred,” Mr. Sidle replied, his eyes locked on my face.
I heard Andrew fumbling for his wallet, and then the muffled crinkling of new money before he slapped it on Mr. Sidle’s desk. “Now get that cello.”
“I can’t, they’ve already packed it in storage. It won’t be brought out until next year.” He replied, sounding absolutely heart broken. He never liked to be the bearer of bad news. And then I saw him freeze from the corner of my eye, and after a moment of complete silence, he laughed, laughed loudly, jumping up to his feet, and darting into his instrument closet. He returned a minute later with a battered black case.
“Riley,” he said, and I looked up at him vaguely, “If you don’t mind taking an older cello, this is the one for you. It was given to me on my fifteenth birthday, and I’ve cherished it throughout my life ever since. I’m old now, and I focus more on other’s musical talents besides my own, so this cello gets neglected. I think its time for it to find a new home. It can be yours if you’ll have it.”
He laid the case in my lap, and Andrew held it there as my hands numbly undid the clasps. It’s true what they say about books and their covers, but it still came as a shock to me that the old proverb applied to cellos as well. But there it was, that ugly black case with chipping leather, and a black handle that was held together by three layers of silver duct tape. Inside was a slick bodied brownish red cello gleaming in the dim light of the classroom. Its partner, the bow was lying beside it; looking just as magnificent.
I lifted the cello out of its case carefully, studying it with an awed expression as Andrew slid the case from my lap, before he handed me the bow. The metal leg touched the floor, and I laid the instrument across the length of my body, bearing the familiar weight on my chest with a silent glee. I was only able to play for a short while before the pain in my torso became too great to ignore, but in those few moments, I fell in love with the rich tantalizing resonance of the cello once again. I felt my soul weep, and I hunched over, trying to hide the tears as they streamed silently down my face.
Andrew reacted in concern, sliding the instrument gently from my shaking hands. He asked me if I was feeling okay, and many other things along those lines, but when I looked up, I saw that Mr. Sidle understood my tears. These were not tears of pain. They were of life, of love, of pure unbridled joy.
“That is the most beautiful cello that I’ve ever played, thank you.”
“And now it’s yours,” Mr. Sidle replied with a smile as he tried to nondescriptly slide the money back into Andrew’s hand. Andrew refused to take it, and they had a silent stand off, with both of them glaring each other down. Finally, Mr. Sidle caved, and accepted the money grudgingly.
Andrew placed a hand on my head, and I grinned up at him while Mr. Sidle was packing my cello away in the worn case. Andrew took it from him before I could, so I just had to settle for holding his hand that carried the case.
“I’m sorry, I don’t believe we’ve officially been introduced,” Mr. Sidle said, extending his hand.
Andrew shook it, “No, I don’t believe we have. I’m Andrew.”
“And what is your relation to Riley?”
“Well, I was just a friend of the family,” Andrew replied, pausing warily. I leaned into his side encouragingly, “But recently, Riley and I have realized that we love each other too much to keep up with the big brother, little sister routine, so I guess technically that makes us boyfriend and girlfriend.”
Mr. Sidle’s eyes softened when he looked at my blissful smile, “Well the best of luck to you then. Now, Riley, you must play for me someday when you’ve become a master. Only then will my life be complete.”
I blushed and promised I would, and then we left his room, with Andrew carrying my cello, and me clinging onto his arm. It was only when we were in his toasty car did he comment on the fact that I was trembling.
“I guess my adrenal glands just don’t know when to quit. I thought I’d have to figure out a new future for myself, so that got my adrenaline going.”
He sighed, slightly bemused, and pulled out his cell phone, “Well I can’t let you go home like this. Your mother will never let me take you out again.” So he called my Mom, and told her that he was taking me to his studio, and he didn’t know what time we’d be back.
It wasn’t a complete lie, but it wasn’t the complete truth either. Andrew showed me a few of his photos in his studio, but before I realized it, we were on the couch with lips locked, my hands in his silky hair, and Andrew trying to remind himself that I was still healing.
A knock came from the door, and Andrew pulled away from my lips with an annoyed look.
“One of my clients. I forgot I set up a consultation for today,” he sighed, grabbing his shirt off of the floor, and putting it on as he walked towards the door. I smoothed my hair.
Andrew opened the door, and I gasped quietly, shoving my glasses on, and letting my hair fall down like a curtain around my face. At the door was a man with an arm around a leggy brunette. He introduced himself to me as Gar Den, and the voluptuous brunette was his wife Trixy Den. I knew that these were quickly thought up aliases, that the man was actually the unmasked Black Wrath, with his scar unconcealed.
They were both dressed well, him in a black and gold three piece suit that probably cost more than our apartment’s annual rate, and his wife was stunning in all white. She wore a fifties style sleeveless dress with white pumps, a diamond choker, and a shawl made of arctic fox fur. That shawl probably made all former members of PETA roll in their graves. It made me almost sick to see the poor remains of at least ten foxes sown together just so she could cover her bare shoulders.
“We’re not interrupting anything are we?” Black Wrath asked, pleasantly, stepping inside Andrew’s apartment. “We did set an appointment for seven, but we can come back if you’re busy.”
“No, you aren’t interrupting anything,” Andrew replied, taking Black Wrath’s coat. Trixy kept her shawl on, her eyes wandering around in a disgusted manner at Andrew’s decorating skills before she sank down on the couch across from me, giving me a coy smile at my slightly disheveled appearance.
I looked away, blushing, and bit back a surprised yelp when I realized that Black Wrath was now practically in touching distance. I moved away from them, and grabbed my coat, ready to bolt before Black Wrath discovered my resemblance to his former adversary, Glimpse.
“Riley, if you’re headed home, call your Mom first, or wait for me to walk you home. You know how she hates it when you walk home alone.”
“Yes, New York is a very dangerous place at night,” Black Wrath added with a careful smile, scrutinizing my face very closely. I could tell by his expression that he was wondering where he had seen me before. I was surprised that he hadn’t put two and two together, especially since I was in Andrew’s apartment, and he had been the one to help me escape sudden death, but I suppose Black Wrath had no reason to believe I was Glimpse.
As far as he was concerned, Red-Pseudo had killed Glimpse and let her remains be crushed and buried under the demolished old school house they had used as a secret lair. Glimpse hadn’t foiled any of his recent crimes, so she must be dead.
I nodded and turned away from them, not giving him any reason to doubt his assumptions. I grabbed my cell phone from my purse, and disappeared down the hall, and locked myself in the bathroom.
Dad answered Mom’s cell phone, and it sounded like they were in a crowded place, not the café though; the café couldn’t hold that many people.
“Dad, where are you guys?”
“Hey, Rainbow, we’re at the Blue Flamingo. I decide that I’ve been working too hard, and your mother has been worry too much, so I treated us both to dinner and a few drinks. Is everything alright? You’re not alone are you? We can come home if you are.”
“No, I’m still with Andrew. I just figured I’d better check in,” I lied.
“Good girl. Anyways, I’m going to have to get off here. Mom is a little tipsy from the shots she drank, and I’m afraid if I leave her alone too long she’ll jump up on the bar and start singing karaoke without me.”
“Don’t wait up,” he said, and then he hung up.
I sighed, and snapped my phone shut, shoving it in my pocket before I trudged back down the hall. They looked up when I reentered the living room.
“I guess I’ll be sticking around here. Mom and Dad are busy. Is it okay if I go take a nap?” I asked, jabbing my thumb back in the direction of Andrew’s room.
“Sure, kid. I guess you have had a long day, haven’t you?” Andrew replied, extending a hand towards me, inviting me for a goodnight kiss, but instead, I looked around the room, and gave him a small wave before shutting his bedroom door behind me.
I laid down with my head at the foot of the bed, so that I could hear what they were saying, and I closed my eyes, listening hard. I didn’t hear anything suspicious. Everything sounded completely legit. Black Wrath wanted a series of photos taken of his wife as an anniversary gift to her, and they discussed places they thought would make a good composition.
I’m not sure exactly when, but sometime in the midst of their discussing the pros and cons of different lenses, and how something would look in sepia, I fell asleep. I woke up sometime later to the soft shifting of weight on the bed other than my own. I opened my eyes and found that Andrew had laid down beside me, with his head at the foot of the bed too.
“I like this fungshway style of sleeping,” Andrew commented when he realized he had woken me up. “Although I do have to wonder if you always sleep like this.”
He leaned over me, and kissed my lips tenderly.
“Are they gone,” I whispered.
“Mmhmm,” he replied, kissing my jaw, his lips traveling down to the base of my throat, and his hands wrapping themselves around me so that I was pressed against him in a questionable manner that made my heart beat faster, and my breath catch in my throat. I think he had misread my question.
I twisted out of his arms before I lost my senses, and struggled into a standing position on the floor, and he propped himself up on his elbow with a confused look as I darted to the window, peeking out of the blinds.
“Riley, what’s wrong?” He asked. When I didn’t answer, he sighed, and I heard the mattress springs creak before I felt his arms wrap gently around my waist.
“That man, Gar, that’s not his real name.” I said, searching for some unseen attack getting ready to happen.
“What? How do you know?” He asked.
“I’d recognize that face anywhere, he’s Black Wrath.”
Andrew was quiet for a moment, and I turned around in his arms, to see the expression on his face. It was worried. It was worried, but not because he had unknowingly had a powerful malicious super villain in his apartment without even realizing it. This look was concerned for my health, for my sanity.
He placed a gentle hand against my forehead, “Are you feeling alright?”
“Andrew, listen to me! Take the space between ‘Gar’ and ‘Den’ what does that give you? I’ll tell you, the worst alias I’ve ever heard. Garden. Please.”
“That could just be a coincidence,” Andrew replied after a moment of silence.
“What about that scar?” I growled.
“He was burned in an apartment fire. He was lucky to be alive.”
“No. No! No!!!! I gave him that scar! Gar is Black Wrath! Why can’t you see that?!”
“Riley, I think you need to calm down. I understand that this has been a difficult adjustment for you, but you must understand that it’s not healthy to go looking for bad guys in every stranger that happens to have a funny scar, or looks similar to your nemesis. Mr. Den has been a faithful customer for five years, and I can assure you, he is the nicest man that you will ever meet.”
I made a disgusted sound, and broke his embrace. I stomped to his door, threw it open, and stalked out, grabbing my purse, and my coat.
“Where do you think you’re going?” He demanded, grabbing my wrist, “You know you’re not supposed to walk alone.”
“How can you be so blind?!”
“Riley,” Andrew sighed.
“He’ll come for you Andrew. Then he’ll figure out that Glimpse isn’t dead.”
“Mr. Den is not Black Wrath!”
“He’ll know I’m Glimpse, and he’ll get me!” I sobbed, “He’ll kill my parents, Andrew. That’s what he told me!”
“Mr. Den won’t be killing anyone,” Andrew said, pulling me to his chest and holding me there despite my attempts to break his hold.
I cried, soaking the front of his shirt, my hands clutching the fabric, hoping that it would give me comfort as my knees buckled beneath me, and my vision dotted out.
Was he right? Was I so obsessed with being a superhero that I saw my arch nemesis everywhere?! Or was I just going insane…? Yeah, that was probably it. I was going insane.
The world came back to me slowly, and I blinked against the bright bulb of a small flashlight, confused. “Where-“ I started, and then I remembered. I was still in Andrew’s apartment, but now, I was lying on his bed, tucked under the warm covers. Stanley sat on the edge of the bed, and tucked his flashlight away, and proceeded on with his checkup as if I hadn’t spoken. “What are you doing here?”
“I called him,” Andrew said, and I looked to my right. He was sitting in a chair that he had drug into him room, his hand on his chin. “You fainted.”
“He figured it was better to call me, than an ambulance. He didn’t want to frighten your parents unless it was completely necessary,” Stanley added.
“Mom!” I said, sitting up quickly, but Stanley pushed me back down.
“It’s okay Sarah is on the look out for you parents. They’re still not home yet.” Stanley said. “How are you feeling?”
“A little light headed,” I answered, “but otherwise I’m fine.”
“Is there something that made you upset?” He asked, “Your blood pressure is through the roof.”
I glanced over unwillingly at Andrew, who was pinching the bridge of his nose. Stanley followed my gaze, and lifted an eyebrow, “Did you guys have a fight?”
“More of a silly disagreement than a fight,” Andrew replied, standing up. “You see, Riley is convinced that one of my clients just so happens to be the notorious Black Wrath, when I know for a fact that he’s not.”
“He is too,” I insisted, trying to sit up again. Like before, Stanley prevented me from doing so. He threw Andrew a drop-the-subject look.
“Well there is nothing wrong with you, other than your stress level, which is the very thing I suspect made you faint in the first place. So I suggest holding off on this little dispute until you’re feeling better,” Stanley said, packing his things up. I sat up, and scooted off the bed, standing up cautiously. The walls stayed where they should, thankfully.
Andrew drove me home after Stanley left. He said nothing, and I said nothing, so the goodnight kiss that he attacked me with was quite a surprise. His hands were angry as they held my face still, his lips rough and forceful, but I can’t say that I minded. I stepped out of his car, breathless, shut the door, and nodded as he sped off, his tires screeching as he took a curve to fast.
When I made it upstairs, I saw that my parents were already home. Mom was passed out on the couch, one shoe on, the other I tripped over in the doorway. I could hear Dad’s soft snoring from their bedroom, so I sighed, and took the stairs up to my room.
That night I dreamed, which didn’t happen too often. This time, my dream was a nightmare:
I opened my eyes when I heard a muffled scream from downstairs. It belonged to my mom. I heard an identical lower pitched sound that come from my dad, and I flicked my lamp on to find Black Wrath standing in my doorway, his knife, already bloody from slaughtering my parents.
“I knew you couldn’t be dead,” He whispered, walking towards me. “It was just too easy. Now, I will kill you myself.” He raised his knife. In the gleam of his blade, I saw my reflection, two wide brown eyes, a pink mouth opening in horror.
I woke up to the sound of my own scream.
The 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.
My limbs were limp and useless at my sides, as if severed completely from my body. My head was heavy as an anvil, lolling tiredly from side to side as I tried to pull myself from the icy grip of the drugs tugging on my mind. A hurricane of sounds buzzed chaotically in my ears. An ice pick froze the inside of my left arm, and my skin was chilled, lying on a glacier. A diamond of soft light cascaded from up above me, tantalizing my blurry eyes.
I blink once, twice, and again, slowly regaining my senses, the severity of things starting to dim as I regained consciousness. I looked around me, and I saw that I was alone; alone in a dark sterile smelling room with an IV dripping a curious pink liquid into my vein as the soft whisper of the machines tracked my vitals.
I closed my eyes, and fought back nausea as I slid the needle out of my skin. When I was sure I wouldn’t throw up, I rolled from my back to my side, and struggled into a sitting position. I gripped the side of the metal table I was sitting on as my body swayed forward dizzily.
The room was enveloped in a cloak of darkness, with the exception of the one set of florescent tubes illuminating a one foot perimeter around my table. I slid to my feet, testing my balance cautiously, and then ventured away from it, shuddering when I saw the tray of surgical instruments glistening menacingly not even a foot from where I had been laying.
I felt my way to the closest wall, and then groped for a light switch, flicking the lights on when I found it. But I shouldn’t have. The switch only triggered a few sets of lights, but the things once masked by the darkness, made my stomach turn. The room was larger than I had expected, twice as long as it was wide with locked cabinets containing preloaded needles, and things that could be mistaken for torture devices. Sinister computers lined the wall, towering over me by at least ten feet. And then there were the stasis chambers, a dozen of them, filled with a slimy green liquid, each containing a person.
I was drawn to them, like a fly to honey, when I should’ve stayed away. I set my sights on only on, afraid that I might overwhelm myself if I tried to look at each sleeping face in the mass of tangling wires and green goo. When I stepped closer, I saw the face of the girl in her stasis chamber. I saw her wavy brown hair floating. I saw her small button nose, sprinkle lightly with freckles. I saw the unconscious twist of guilt on her small mouth identical to my own. I saw me.
Surely she couldn’t be me. This had to be some kind of trick. I thought about calling out to Stanley, “Ha, Ha, nice try. You’ve had your laughs, now come on out.” But I couldn’t. My voice stuck in my throat, and I reached out, pressing my palm against the glass. Two things happened when I did this: Her eyes opened, and her fist reared back, and punched through the glass knocking my square in the jaw.
I tried to catch my balance as my feet slipped on the slime that gushed out of the broken tank, but the girl leapt on top of me, and we both crashed to the floor, me on bottom, her sitting on my lap. She scratched my face with a feral snarl, and bit my arms when I tried to fight off her surprisingly sharp nails. I tried to fend her off, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t fight. I couldn’t process this. All I could think was she had my eyes.
And then she was gone, shot off of me by a brilliant beam of light that blinded my eyes momentarily. I watched her land hard against another stasis chamber, and then disintegrate in bubbling green ooze, her girlish wails becoming inhuman screeches until there was nothing left of her. I let out a shaky breath, expecting the same fate for myself, when I looked up to the shooter, practically standing over me now. I didn’t recognize him at first without his glasses, or EMT uniform, but the latex gloves helped me make a connection between the grim faced killer and Stanley.
Stanley was wearing a dark midnight blue coat that hung past his calves, black boots, and a black jumpsuit, with one hand holding the enormous gun that had killed my attacker in less than five seconds. I tried to stand to my feet, but I slipped on the ooze and fell again. Stanley looked slightly bemused as he picked me up with one arm, and carried me with such an ease that I thought for a brief second he might have some kind of super strength.
He set me down on the table I had woken up on, and turned his back to me, laying the gun down on a different table, just across from me, pausing to dig around in his coat. His hand pulled out one of the three egg shaped green cartridges strapped to the inside of his coat, and I watched him with a wary curiosity as he reloaded his gun. I stared at him quizzically as he turned back to me, but Stanley said nothing. His hands probed lightly along my head before tugging my shirt up slightly to check the stitches I must’ve torn open when the mugger was kicking me.
I glanced down and saw an ugly bruise starting to form, but also a clear film holding me together instead of the black stitches originally put in by one of my surgeons two moths ago. He laid me down, and his hands, feather light searched for any serious injury. I moaned softly in a spot where the mugger had gotten me twice directly in the same spot as a kick before, and Stanley glanced up at my face before he looked to where his hands rested, frozen in the spot that triggered the moan.
“It’s best if you remain silent, and relax,” he replied, cutting me off. He rolled my shirt back down, and grabbed some disinfectant, slathering it on the shallow claw mark on my face as he avoided looking into my eyes.
I stared at him, willing him to look at me, but when he finally did, I lost my nerve, and I looked away quickly. “She was…and she looked like…and I…” I blurted, unable to say what I was thinking.
“I’m sure by now that you’ve realized I am no EMT,” Stanley sighed, surveying my reaction for a conformation. When I gave him a no-duh look, he smiled slightly and continued, “And Sarah Sidle isn’t really a police officer.”
“Then who are you?”
“Well, my name isn’t really Stanley West, its Stanley McKinley, and I am a scientist.”
“Merely security around here.”
“Here? Where is here?”
“McKinley labs. I work for my brother Cain, I have for fifteen years. I had always thought he was crazy when he talked about DNA, cloning, implantation of unimaginable abilities in the most normal of human beings, and even the creation of a new being in a test tube. I thought he was crazy when he had people experiment on him, and I was furious when I found out tests were also being preformed on me without my consent.
“But we’ve stuck together, and our progress has been phenomenal. We have successfully cloned a dozen DNA strands,” he said gesturing to the stasis chambers, “We have created powers in humans, we created you.”
I stared at Stanley incredulously as he waited for his words to sink in, “My parents-“
“Your parents were our lead scientists. They were brilliant kids fresh out of college, just as captivated as I had become to be. They wanted to make a difference, and Cain convinced them that the Glimpse Program was the way to do it,” He said, cutting me off again. “From DNA they submitted from their own bodies, we birthed a child in a test tube, a child with powers beyond our wildest dreams. But then your parents became too attached. Every experiment, every blood test or tissue sample taken was like pulling teeth.
“To them, you are their child. It didn’t matter to them that weren’t normal. Eventually, my brother got bored with the program as usual, and decided to shut it down. We couldn’t risk our competitors to get a hold of the progress we made, so we had to destroy everything, even you. But your parents wouldn’t have that. They stole you away, took on new identities, and raised you as their mild-mannered daughter.
“However, we knew where they were at all times, and I convinced Cain to let you live, to see how you would turn out. Perhaps we could use you in the future. So Cain took a special interest in you, spending a small fortune in secretly keeping your parent’s café afloat, sending you to the best private school in New York on a ‘scholarship’. He even submitted the name Glimpse to the media when you decided to become a crime fighter.”
I sat up and bit my lip, trying to process all of this, “So what you’re saying is that my whole life has been set up…I don’t believe you.”
“Riley, whether you believe it or not, your opinion does not change who you are.”
I set my jaw, starting to become angry, “Why am I here?”
“It was time for you to come home,” he replied simply.
“I was home! Until you drug me to this place,” I growled, sliding off of the table. I stormed away from him, towards the only door in the room. “I want to go home. I don’t want to stay here.” I tugged on the knob, but the door didn’t budge. There was a key bad on the outside, and the inside required some kind of card that you were supposed to slide on a panel bolted to the wall.
“You can’t leave, Riley. You belong to us. We own you. It’s time for you to accept that. It’s time to grow up and accept your destiny.”
“That being,” I demanded, and his mouth formed a hard line. “Being your puppet right? Well what if I don’t want to? Are you going to shoot me?”
“If it comes to that,” he replied, and then I saw an oh crap look cross his face when he realized that he had walked over to me unarmed, his gun at least twenty feet away, still sitting on the table.
I permitted a smile as I kicked him in the face, once in the jaw, and then as hard as I could in the head. I dodged his fist when he tried to fight back. I landed a punch to his stomach that had him doubling over, and while he was at my level, I gave him a clean right cross that knocked him out cold.
I paused only a moment to make sure he wasn’t faking, and then I picked his pockets, stealing his car keys, and his employee access card, swiping it on the panel. At first, it acted like it didn’t want to work, and I began to panic, because I heard a soft moan behind me, which meant Stanley was coming around. I flipped the card around, noticing that I had swiped it the wrong way, and the door swung open.
I ran to my right without hesitating, looking at the odd wooden beam running down both walls. I saw signs with arrows pointing left and then right and I paused momentarily to reach a sign hanging overhead that said, “A9” with an arrow pointing left, “Clinical Transplant Laboratory”.
I ran down that hall, nearly tumbling over an abandoned wheelchair. The next hallway was thankfully one with a wall full of windows, overlooking the city. I grabbed an old IV stand sitting by an empty gurney, and I picked it up, bashing it against the glass. To my dismay it didn’t shatter. It barely made a crack. I hit it again and again, until I was panting wildly, but the glass still didn’t break.
“What is this place?!” I growled angrily.
“It’s an old hospital,” Stanley said, and I gasped in surprise, whirling around to see him leaning against a wall with his arms across his chest watching me with a bemused grin. “It was condemned ten years ago, and Cain bought it and fixed it up.”
“This is where you tried to take me before isn’t it; that night I was shot at the robbery by that rookie cop?”
“Not a cop, but yes,” he answered and slouched off of the wall. And then he was standing beside me. I stared at him with a mixture of shock and confusion. He had moved so fast his body had been a blur. Stanley put a finger under my chin, and raised it up with a smile, cocking his head to the side, “Now are you going to be difficult again? I can tell you right now it’ll be no use. We’ve Glimpse-proofed this whole building. It’s a fire hazard, really, but it’s necessary. If you come without a fight, I promise I won’t let anyone hurt you.” He continued, stroking my hair affectionately.
I furrowed my brow in confusion. His words didn’t make since. If I was their ‘creation’ why would anyone want to hurt me? And then I got my answer. An army of Black Wrath’s henchmen appeared from around a corner, shoulder to shoulder, each carrying at least two weapons supposed to ‘hurt’ me.
I faltered a step back, which only brought me that much closer to Stanley. I bit my lip, and threw up my hands, willing them to shoot an energy beam at them, but nothing happened. My hands didn’t glow. My hands didn’t burn. My hands were normal hands, and I was toast. I looked back at Stanley for an answer, and he put an arm around me, tapping my nose as if he thought that I was completely adorable for thinking I could use my powers that had never failed me before, “Riley, the funny thing about you, is that you may have extraordinary abilities, but a little bit of the right drug makes you just like everyone else.”
“Glimpse, Dear, I’m so glad to see you again! Oh how I’ve missed you so! I’ll be honest; my life has been a tad boring without my favorite little nemesis foiling my plans.” Black Wrath said when the henchmen forced me into his office.
“Hello. I’m not sure what you want me to call you. Is Black Wrath fine or maybe Cain? I wouldn’t want to be too presumptuous by calling you Daddy.” I hissed. Finally everything made sense. All these years, Black Wrath played the roll, pretending not to know who I was under the pink hair, and yet he knew my every weakness. He built traps to test my potential, and baited them with his robberies, all to train me. I felt so used.
Black Wrath chuckled with pleasure, “Call me whatever you wish, Sweet one, but keep in mind we’ll be working together from now on.”
“Working together, huh,” I said, pursing my lips as I looked him up and down. He was lacking one signature blood red coat, and his black boots I had become so accustomed to, but he was still wearing his black phantom of the opera style mask. He wore a black suit with grey pinstripes, and shoes so shiny that you could see your reflection in them. All he was missing was a matching fedora, and a Tommy gun, and I would’ve mistaken him for someone in the mafia.
“Yes, I’m rather pleased to finally call you as part of my team,” he replied, and then extended his hand to the two white armchairs sitting in front of his desk before he slid into his own chair. “Please, sit.”
“I’d rather stand.”
“As you wish,” He replied, and leaned over to grab a glass, swiveling from side to side in his chair like a child would as he poured himself a scotch.
I looked around curiously. His office had once been a meeting room for doctors, to discuss patient’s prognosis. He had a large white board pushed against the wall behind him, with a simple map crudely drawn in red dry erase marker. To the left was a counter holding a hulking espresso machine that hissed menacingly; no doubt stolen from a coffee shop. To my right was a large flat screen TV with a black leather couch sitting directly below it, and its red twin across from it, facing the TV, where a few henchmen dared to sit and chat quietly amongst themselves.
“What sort of ‘work’ will we be doing together?”
“Oh, this and that,” He replied, sipping on his scotch to hide his coy smile. I knew that any sort of work for him would include doing something illegal, but I had to admit, I was impressed by his confidence. We both knew I wouldn’t do anything for him willingly.
“And if I refuse?”
Black Wrath laughed, and a few henchmen stifle chuckles into their fists. “I’m afraid that’s not an option, my sweet. You see, I have ways of making people do what they don’t want to. You escaped the infirmary, which is the only reason why we’re having this discussion at all. My dear brother, Stanley had created an override chip, one that he was supposed to implant in you, but you escaped before he could. In theory, it will wipe away all your freewill, making your mind putty in my capable hands. It’s rather interesting, actually.”
I glanced at Stanley from the corner of my eye as he sat down on the edge of Black Wrath’s desk. He raised an eyebrow, studying my expression with an open curiosity, as if he expected me to react differently than the smooth faced façade I was wearing.
“By the way, I’d rather like to see that process if you don’t mind, brother.”
“That’ll be fine,” Stanley replied, still watching me, “The surgery is less invasive than one would think. We can do it in here, if you’d like. I promise I won’t ruin your upholstery.”
“Do you have all that you need?”
“I sent one of your lackeys to get my bag.”
“Wonderful,” Black Wrath said with an excited grin, clapping his hands in delight. My stomach sank.
“Ah, here he is now,” Stanley said, standing up. I turned my head a fraction of an inch to see who it was, and I caught sight of Andrew weaving in and out of the forest of henchmen. I didn’t stop to think. I broke the henchmen’s grasp on me, kicking one in the groin, flipping the other onto the ground by his wrist, and palm striking the one pointing the gun at me in the nose. I ran to Andrew, nearly tackling him.
My arms constricted around his waist, and I felt like crying. I pressed my face into his shirt, inhaling his soft cologne, letting its soft caress calm me. I stretched up on my tippy-toes, and kissed his lips desperately, as if this would be the last time. All the while wondering why he didn’t hold me; why he didn’t kiss me back. He was a rock under my fingers, motionless under my lips.
“Are you okay? They didn’t hurt you did they?” I whispered urgently, tugging on his sleeve when he didn’t answer.
His face was smooth as stone, his eyes flat pupils, unblinking as they stared back at me. I furrowed my brow, and my eyes traveled down his arm to find that he was the one carrying Stanley’s doctor bag. I dropped my embrace like a hot pan, and stumbled away from him, betrayal and horror written all over my face.
I felt Stanley’s hand on my shoulder, not comforting, just guiding as he pulled me away, farther from Andrew, to the front of Black Wrath’s desk. He pushed me, and I flopped down in a white armchair, trying to comprehend what had just happened. I couldn’t trust anyone anymore. Everyone had lied to me; my parents, Black Wrath, Stanley, and now, even Andrew.
I sat still without fighting Stanley’s hands as he made me lean forward. I didn’t try to escape as he brushed my hair aside, and swabbed the nape of my neck with an alcohol pad. What was the point? My parents grew me in a test tube, my arch nemesis has been training me secretly to be one of his lackeys for the past two years without me even realizing it, and my boyfriend just so happened to be one of his henchmen.
Black Wrath chuckled, watching me with a bemused grin as he stood up and walked around his desk so that he was standing in front of it. And of course he had to rub salt in my wounds. “I do say Andrew! When I told you to get close to her, I had no idea you’d get that close.”
“I was doing my job, and truthfully it wasn’t that hard.”
I let out a shaky breath as Stanley instructed me to do, and I felt a painful prick in the back of my neck as Stanley slid a needle in my skin. The drugs hit me almost instantly. My head slumped further into my lap as if I was a lifeless rag doll, and when I did move, it was only because Stanley was the one moving me.
He had Andrew clear Black Wrath’s desk, and then he scooped me up into his arms, and stretched me out on top of the desk where he had already laid out his scalpel, and all the other surgical instruments he would need. Stanley grabbed a thin throw blanket from one of the leather couches, and threw it over me as Black Wrath dismissed his henchmen. But the blackness didn’t come.
Black Wrath sank down in his computer chair, pouring himself another scotch. He pulled out another glass, and poured scotch into it before sliding it beside my head. Andrew leaned over me to grab it, avoiding my eyes, and then sat down in one of the white armchairs, holding the glass, but not drinking. He held it to his temple, closing his eyes for a moment, as if he had a headache. Stanley squeezed his long fingers into a new pair of latex gloves. But the blackness didn’t come.
He picked up his scalpel after marking the area to cut with a pen. He turned my head to the right, and I stared at Black Wrath’s chest, rising and falling at a relaxed pace, because I was too tired to move my eyes to look at his face. Stanley made the incision in the shape of a small ‘X’ on my left temple, but I didn’t feel the bite of the blade. I could feel the pressure, the pins-and-needles tingling of my numbness, but no pain. But the blackness didn’t come.
I felt warm blood ooze up from my sliced skin. I felt it pool on my cheek until it finally overflowed, and dribbled down my chin, and wetted my lips. I could taste the rusty salt in my mouth, as the blood worked its way in between my parted lips. Stanley sponged my temple, wiping the blood off of my face with his other hand. He inserted the dime-sized chip. But the blackness didn’t come.
I felt the tugging and pulling of my skin as he worked it closed, and applied a clear layer of dissolvable stitches. I heard the clank of metal hitting the metal water basin as he dumped all his instruments in it to be cleaned. Stanley wiped the remaining blood from my face, scrubbing where it had already dried, and stuck to my hair. I felt him turn my face towards the ceiling again, and I saw his eyes in a blurry haze as mine fluttered tiredly against the bright lights overhead. And then the darkness finally came, and took me, and for a moment, I wished it would just keep me.
Caged birds and puppets are almost same in a way. They both sing, or dance, with a nauseatingly joyful attitude without the bittersweet wondering of what life might be like outside those cheap steel bars, or without someone’s hand shoved up their backside, telling them what to do. In a way, I’m like them too. I can’t bring myself to feel unhappy, or angry, not after being shown the plans to rob the banks, not after being shoved into a van, squeezed between two henchmen who seriously should consider starting a diet other than crispy crèmes, not even after hitting all three of the planned banks in an hour’s time.
I didn’t feel proud. I didn’t feel happy; not even when Black Wrath praised me for a job well done when I returned with enough loot to make Donald Trump look poor. I didn’t even feel sad at the fact that I had been reduced to a mindless drone thriving solely on his word alone. I didn’t feel anything. I couldn’t. I wasn’t told to.
“Marvelous job, Precious,” he said, circling me with a proud look on his face with his hands clasped behind his back, to keep from hugging me, “Why I ever used dim-witted henchmen in the first place is beyond me!”
I stared blankly at nothing in particular. Black Wrath studied me for a moment with intense concentration, and then his fist swung up, as if to hit me, and stopped just an inch from my face. He bobbed me lightly on the nose, laughing delightedly because I hadn’t flinched, I hadn’t even blinked. I couldn’t. I wasn’t told to.
“Sir, we’ve made the news,” a henchman called, glancing back at us from where she sat on the leather sofa.
“Turn it up,” Black Wrath replied, and grabbed my hand, “Come, dear one, let’s hear what New York’s media has to say about our new Villainous.”
My legs moved mechanically upon his order, and my body followed him until her came to a stop in front of the large flat screen. My eyes tracked the images on the TV, my mind barely able to register what was going on as they showed footage of the blue haired girl—me—robbing the Parkinson’s bank, swooping in and out of the broken windows as she quickly loaded the stolen money into the idling vans.
“This leaves us to wonder if our deceased heroine isn’t dead after all,” She paused momentarily, as the TV zoomed in on the footage, freezing it, and simultaneously displaying a picture of me in my pink wig saving a bus full of kids last year, “And if this so-called She-Villain is our beloved Glimpse, God have mercy on us all. This is Betty Collins, saying, goodnight.” The anchor lady said with a fake concerned look on her face as the TV cut form her to a Long John Silver’s commercial advertising their Baja Fish Tacos.
“Well, I do say you have the media’s attention now, my dear Glimpse,” Black Wrath smiled, stroking my blue wig adoringly. I was still dressed in the costume Cally had just recently made for me, and a small part of what was left of my mind wondered idly what she would think of Glimpse now when she saw her work being used on someone E-V-I-L. “How’s about we really give them something to talk about, hmm? Why don’t you pay your parent’s a little visit?”
“Cain,” Stanley said, as if he was about to object, and then he lost his nerve, “You’ll have to be more specific than that. She’ll actually visit with them if you leave your order like that.”
“Very well. Glimpse dear?”
I felt my body straighten at attention, and Black Wrath permitted a smile, “I want you to go to your apartment, and I want you to kill your parents. Wait there if they aren’t home. They’ll have to come home eventually. Do you understand?”
My head bobbed up and down without my permission, and my body turned, marching out of his office. My mind fought weakly against his command that I knew I wouldn’t be able to resist, and the chip zapped me, erasing my silent mutiny before I could act on my thoughts. It was like I had never thought to do except what I was told. It was like the thought had never entered my mind.
The flight was a short one, with the cool wind making my body shudder, the only freedom from the chips control. I walked upstairs at an even pace to the beat of ‘Must Kill’ ‘Must Kill’ repeated like a bad nursery rhyme, or a drill sergeant yelling, ‘Left. Left. Left. Right. Left.’
I threw the door open, and my body paused for a moment, as the chip assessed this new problem. Black Wrath had calculated for the possibility that my parents might be home, or not be home, but he hadn’t calculated this. My whole apartment seemed to be filled to the brim with people, familiar faces bombarding the confused chip. My eyes searched mechanically for my parents, as the chip told me to do.
“Oh no, Riley! So it’s true!” Mom cried, and I wished she hadn’t. My eyes had missed her heart shaped face hidden from me by Mr. Sidle’s lanky figure.
“Why, Riley? Wasn’t it bad enough you were Glimpse?” Dad demanded, standing up from where he sat on the couch. “Talk to us! Don’t just stand there!”
“Directive: Must Kill,” I said, my voice reminding my body of the task at hand. My hands began to glow with a white hot energy that scorched my skin. Hushed cries of surprise filled my ears but I didn’t care. My body headed towards my Mom first; the easy, most vulnerable target of the two.
Mom scrambled to her feet, wearing a terrified expression, “Riley, Honey, what is wrong with you?”
“Must kill,” I replied reaching out to her with a glowing hand. My mindless body did not anticipate a resistance. It didn’t think to stop and consider how my dad might react to the fact that his daughter was trying to kill his wife.
My face hit the floor first when he shouldered past me, careful to avoid my deadly hands. He swept my mom away from me, back to the safety of the group of friends and old teachers.
“Why are you doing this, Rainbow?” He asked, stepping towards me hesitantly. My hand reached up to grab him but he dodged it. I was only able to snag part of his shirt for a second before he ripped away from me. The second was enough though. Where my fingers came into contact with the fabric, there were now holes, exposing his pale hairy stomach.
“Careful, Kevin,” Mom murmured.
“Must kill,” I insisted, spreading my arms out wide so they couldn’t escape me.
“She seems to have been hypnotized, or something,” Mr. Sidle suggested.
“Maybe there’s a way to snap her out of it,” Mrs. Karen, my old math teacher said.
Mr. Sidle dashed to where my cello sat in its black case propped up against the kitchen cabinets, distracting me enough that my parents were able to flit out of my reach, and stand in the open doorway. They didn’t leave.
Mr. Sidle cracked my case open, and began to play the song I had wrote. He hit a few wrong notes, but the melody was strong and intoxicating, making me hesitate a moment further to listen, and then the chip zapped me again.
“It didn’t work!”
“Maybe this will,” Benny said. It was odd seeing him out of his Hotdog Express restaurant, but it was even odder to see him hefting my cello up in a batting position. Before anyone could stop him, he swung the cello around, and he hit me upside the head with it. I fell to my knees like my legs had been cut out from under me. He hit me again, this time even harder, and I could hear the sound of splitting wood against my skull. I was out cold before I even made it to the floor.
I’m not sure how long I laid there unconscious, but I woke up to the sound of voices.
“Did you have to hit her so hard?”
“Well, I didn’t see you coming up with a plan to stop her.”
I moaned softly.
“Shhh, I think she’s coming around,” Mom murmured, “Riley, Are you okay?”
I groaned softly, and blinked, noticing that despite the possible danger, Mom was the closet to me, sitting Indian-style as she held my hand. I lifted my hand, and the whole room flinched except for her. I rubbed the sore spot where Benny had hit me, incidentally my left temple, where the chip had been implanted. I looked over at Benny, and he was still holding my cello he had cut me down with.
The front was smashed in, the strings mangled beyond repair, split in half, and dangling tauntingly.
I groaned, “You had to use my cello?!”
The room relaxed, and a few laughed, including my mom and dad. Mr. Sidle proffered a thin smile, but I could see in his eyes, that he was silently mourning the death of such a beautiful instrument.
“Would you care to explain what’s going on now, Rainbow?” Dad asked, sinking down to a kneeling position beside my mom, who helped me to sit up. I sighed, my head throbbing in my aching hands. That white hot energy had really done a number on them. They were a bright crimson, possibly burnt.
“Black Wrath is Stanley’s brother. Stanley kidnapped me and brought me to Black Wrath’s lair which just so happens to be an abandoned hospital. They implanted a chip in my head that makes me do what they tell me to do. Black Wrath had me rob those banks, and then, he told me to finish you two off.” I replied, neglecting to mention Andrew in this whole mess. It hurt too much to think of his betrayal.
“They told me…they told me everything about how I was really born, and who you two really are.”
“We love you, Riley. All that is in the past,” Mom replied.
“You realize that I’m going to have to stop them, right?” I whispered, “Maybe…even kill them so we’re safe again.”
Mom exchanged a glance with my dad, and turned back to me, straightening the blue wig on my head. “Well, I guess kick some butt then,” She replied, and I smiled.
Whether or not the chip still had some affect on my freewill, I had no problem with honoring my mom’s request. She told me to kick butt, and I did just that. I cut down the first wave of henchmen in a matter of minutes, and knocked Red-Pseudo out on my way to the elevator, melting his guns while I was at it.
Five floors of crappy music, the elevator finally came to a stop, and the doors slid open with an audible ‘ding’, and I was met with the long barrel of a bazooka. I shot the henchman who was holding it with a thick energy beam that sent him fly down the hall into an old nurse’s station.
I picked the bazooka up, and carried it to a janitor’s closet, where I stashed it out of sight, so a henchman couldn’t come along and decide he’d give it a whirl. I heard Black Wrath’s command to wait until he told them to fire when I opened the door to his office, and walked inside. A good thirty, to forty henchmen waited for me with Black Wrath in their midst, changed into his usual clothes, the blood red coat and black boots.
“Hmm, so there’s what, like thirty of you guys,” I said, “And one of me. I don’t think that’s too fair. Are you sure you don’t want to call reinforcements? I’d hate to beat you when you’re outnumbered.”
He gave me an irritated smile, “I had hoped that our partnership would’ve worked out, but seeing as how the chip no longer affects you, I’m sorry to say that you will have to die.” I waited, but no death came, no shot from a single gun and I laughed at the expectant look on Black Wrath’s face as he waited for his henchmen to shoot me down. He had forgotten to tell them to shoot me.
I didn’t give him time to realize his fatal mistake. I jumped into the pile of henchmen, taking four on at a time until they were all unconscious; all thirty of them, until it was only me against Black Wrath. He stood by the windows, bending over to grab out the long dagger that he always kept in his boot. He beckoned me forward with a taunting finger, and I was surprised that he didn’t disappear in a cloud of smoke when I did come at him. I was surprised that the window in his office wasn’t ‘Glimpse-proofed’.
We crashed right through the glass, and I had to remind myself to fly when he disappeared out from under me, and I saw the ground rapidly approaching. I landed lightly on my feet, and cameras flashed wildly. I looked around, and saw that the police had taped off the perimeter. I saw my parents elbowing in beside the reporters.
Black Wrath appeared in front of me, and I barely ducked in time as he attempted to stab me. I grabbed his arm, and let my hands go white hot like they had when he ordered me to kill my parents. As much as this raw energy hurt me, it hurt him even more. He let out a strangled cry, dropping his dagger, and clutching his arm. I had burned a hole right through his coat, his shirt, and part of his arm, so that he had a red burn in the shape of my hand in his skin. I shot him in the face with an energy beam, kicked him in the stomach, and sent him flying into the side of a police van.
He shot up to his feet angrily, and disappeared before the cops could grab him, materializing a few feet away from me, digging a small silver disk out of his coat. “You see this, my dear nemesis? This is the remote control to the chip in your head. I had Stanley add a self destruct button to the chip in case something like this should happen. You will surrender to me, and take out those police men, or I will push that button, and you can say goodbye to your life.”
I looked at him incredulously, “Do you think I value my own life over theirs?” I gestured to the police, to the media, to my parents, and curious onlookers. “You have nothing on me.” I shot the device out of his hand just the same, and I knocked him out with a few well-placed energy bombs.
The police moved in quickly, cuffing Black Wrath. “If you have something, I suggest you use whatever thing that can hold him. I didn’t hit him that hard, so I doubt he’ll be out too long,” I called, and an elderly police officer smiled.
“Oh don’t you worry, Black Wrath is going away for a l-o-n-g time.” He replied, as his men snapped some sort of white collar on Black Wrath’s neck, and matching cuffs on his hands. They yanked him up to his feet, and stowed him in the van. The police that had gone into the building followed Stanley out. He walked freely, no handcuffs, with only one gun pointed steadily at his back.
He smiled when he saw me, and pressed two fingers to his head to say goodbye, as he walked without a fight to the van. Andrew followed them, snapping pictures. I wondered why he wasn’t in handcuffs, but I assumed it was because he had posed as a gutsy photographer. He walked straight up to me, dropping his camera on the ground, and he kissed me. Just flat out kissed me!
He pulled back with a smile, and I slapped him hard across the face.
“Ow!” He complained.
“You deserve it! Heck you deserve more than that, but murdering you would make me look worse,” I hissed, walking away from him.
Andrew grabbed my arm, and whirled me around, ignoring my struggling, “Riley, It was an act. It was all an act. Stanley said Black Wrath would kill you if I didn’t help him. It killed me what they did to you. Honest. I love you, and that’s never going to change. Please. Please! Forgive me.”
I stared at him in disbelief. I wanted to trust him, to believe every single word he was saying, but how could I?
“Kiss me,” I said, not caring. I couldn’t take it anymore. I couldn’t hate him, not even if he was truly a stooge carrying out Black Wrath’s will. I loved him to much.
“What?” He asked, a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.
“I said kiss me! Do it before I change my mind, you idiot,” I growled, yanking him down to my level with a fistful of his shirt in each hand. Andrew laughed and did as he was told, his lips soft as mine angrily molded into his. His hands gentle as my nails dug into his skin.
“You think this is over?! I’m not going to jail until you’re dead!”
I looked up from Andrew’s lips, and saw it was a henchman who had broken away from the police. He nudged the self destruct button with his toe, triggering a loud beeping noise in my head that made me drop to one knee, and before anyone could stop him, he crushed the remote under his heel.
“Riley! Riley, are you okay?” Andrew asked, tugging me back up to my feet as a group of police officers jumped the henchman. But the damage was already done.
Stanly broke away from the police, and to my side. My parents ducked under the tape and fought there way to me. “He hit the self destruct button on the chip. She had five minutes,” Stanley called.
“Can’t you get it out of her?” Andrew shouted, shaking Stanley, who looked at me miserably, death in his eyes. The answer was ‘no’ I knew it, so I drowned out his shaky reply, hugging my mom and dad. Mom was sobbing uncontrollably and hugging me, dad’s face was pale as he held us both. Andrew held my hand, his eyes locked on my face, and Stanley closed his eyes with guilt.
“I love you,” I said, tugging away from my parents.
“No!,” Mom sobbed, reattaching herself to me.
“It’ll be okay,” I lied. My face was smooth as I smiled at her, and for once, I was glad that I was a great liar. I removed her hands gently, passing her off to Dad. He held her firmly, kissing my forehead, his eyes red as tears streamed silently down his face.
I turned to Andrew, and he grabbed me, planting his mouth on mine before I could say anything. His hands were rough, as they held me against him, as if some how he hoped to fuse us both together, to become one being, so we could die together. He reached up and yanked my wig off, along with the wig cap, and my hair cascaded down my back. I couldn’t get enough of his lips, knowing this would be the last time, but I had no time to stay and enjoy it any longer.
I broke his grasp, and said a strangled goodbye, tears streaming freely down my face. I didn’t look back as I flew out of his reach. I kept my eyes on the sky, ignoring my reflection in the windows as I flew up the side of a building. Higher. Higher. And a little more. I broke through the lowest clouds.
Now, I realized with a pang of regret that I had flown over this city a hundred times, and had never once stopped to just enjoy the view, and even now, I couldn’t do that. I flew higher still, where the air was cold; making goose bumps rise on my skin, even under the warm costume that Cally had made for me. I flew until the air was so thin that I became light headed, and flying no longer seemed like a constant fight against gravity.
I closed my eyes smiling as I made a mental list of the things I would miss. I only made it to three. One and two were my parents, in no particular order, because I loved them the same, with all my heart. Number three was Andrew.
And then I was a flash; a flash of white light, brighter than the sun; brighter than anything I had ever seen before…