New Section: Superhero Musings

Back in the summer, I tried to make a superhero blog. I was going to dedicate it to reviews of superhero shows and movies. Unfortunately, I made all of two posts on that blog before abandoning it.
However, after last night’s Arrow episode, I have realized that I still have a lot to say about these shows, and since this blog is (relatively) active, I might as well add that content to this blog. I’m not sure what to call this section (everything clever I can think of is already taken), so for now I’ll label them as Superhero Musings.

The first entry in this new section will be posted later today.

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Sophomore, Undecided

There’s a new kid moving into the dorm room next to mine. I haven’t gotten a chance to talk to him, but considering it’s a few weeks into the semester already I’d say he had an issue with his past roommate, or maybe his room was damaged. Either way, he was somehow able to convince someone to give him a new room. Normally, I wouldn’t care, but I had just started to get to know the girl who used to live there. I’d talk to her regularly, being her neighbor and all, so now I’d have to reschedule everything to fill in those gaps.

I have a month of scheduled “meetings” with Brooke on my calendar still, in red. It’s written in sharpie. We never really had meetings, but she’d always want to talk at six on Mondays and Wednesdays, so I got used to scheduling it in along with my classes, special events, and so forth. I should probably go to the store and buy white-out. I’ve been meaning to go to the store anyway; I’m out of tissues.

Brooke was a sophomore, undecided. She would play earth sounds or Disney soundtracks when she was in her room, which was most of the time. My first interaction with her was at the water fountain. She was drinking, and as I waited my turn to fill up my water bottle, I noticed a paw print pendant dangling from her neck. I thought about complimenting her on it, then noticed it was a squirrel’s print and thought better of it.

She made quick eye contact with me as she walked back to her room.

I realized her room was next to mine the day I was rushing to get to a sorority meeting. I’d grabbed my laptop (just in case) and dropped off my backpack, but realized after I’d closed the door that I forgot to grab a snack too. I groaned and threw open the door, snatching a granola bar from the container on my desk and stuffing it in my pocket as I ran out of the room and into Brooke.

“Hey,” she said awkwardly.

“Huh,” I grunted back and skirted around her, the same necklace catching my eye. I quickly placed her as the water fountain girl, but in my rush wasn’t keen on getting to know her any better.

“I like your hair!” I think she said as I leapt down a stairwell. I had just dyed it black, so that’s probably what she said. I forgot about the brief encounter until I realized in the middle of the meeting I was drawing a squirrel on a stray envelope.

On Mondays, Brooke went to the arboretum. She took me with her once, sometime in the middle of winter. I was doing anthropology homework with my dorm room door open, which is always a mistake, but I always forget because the room feels so stuffy with it closed. Because of the “come bug me I’m totally free” vibe my open door was giving, Brooke swung by and tapped on the wood lightly. I never get unsolicited company so I glanced up expecting to see someone at some other person’s door; I jerked a little when I locked eyes with Brooke.

“What do you want?” I spat before I could change from “studying in solitude” mode to “being a decent human being” mode.

“Are you busy?” Brooke bit her lip and glanced at my pile of papers and open textbook. Her pendant swung as she leaned against my doorframe.

“Uh…doing some homework. Why?” I shuffled a couple of papers around and debated continuing to work on it to make her take a hint and go away, or put them in the textbook and listen to what she wanted. I ended up just holding the papers awkwardly in my hands.

Brooke took a step into my room. “Would you like to go to the arboretum with me? I usually go with my friend Nellie but she’s busy today.”

I looked out the window at the dark sky and did some quick logic statements in my head. Brooke might go even if I said I couldn’t go with her, and the thought of a girl wandering through the woods at night on her own sounded risky.

“For how long?” I asked, setting down the papers.

“Oh, just a half hour or so.” Brooke smiled. “I just love the fresh air, ya know?”

“Ugh. Fine.” I slammed my textbook closed and threw on the coat that was slung across the back of my chair. “Let’s go.”

“You don’t have to if you don’t want to.”

“Nah, I need a break from studying anyway.” I patted her on the shoulder with one hand and pulled on my hood with the other. She followed me down the stairs, her footsteps either silent or being drowned out by my own. A couple of times I glanced back to make sure she was following me.

My boots skidded instantly when I stepped onto the icy sidewalk. I tensed my leg muscles to lower my center of gravity and walked on like nothing had happened. “So,” I said, sticking my naked hands in my pockets and glancing at Brooke. “None of your other friends could come with you, or what?”

She shrugged. “I have a couple of friends back home, but Nellie is my only real friend here.”

“Where is home for you?” I asked automatically, and she ducked her head.

“Well, I guess I’d really call Ann Arbor home.” She somehow got the end of the tie string of her jacket into her mouth, and she was chewing it slowly and methodically like a cow. “We moved around a lot. My mom and little brother live in Grosse Point now.”

I nodded. Probably because I couldn’t relate at all. Two parents, stable living conditions, loved my life and home and all that. I considered saying “that sucks” like you’re supposed to do when someone is venting to you, but Brooke wasn’t venting so I thought she might take offense to my false empathy instead. So I just nodded.

I was relieved when we made it to the arboretum entrance without any close calls with cars. It’s a common occurrence for me to almost get run over, especially with the icy conditions, especially at dusk, and especially when I’m with another person and I don’t know their street-crossing habits. I have an intricate system when it comes to streets without traffic lights; I slow but don’t stop, lock eyes with the driver of the first car that reaches the intersection, make sure they let me in, start crossing the street, then check the other side of the road to make sure I’m not run over. Brooke decided to just scamper across every street so I held my breath and ran after her.

A few cars were in the parking lot but I couldn’t see anyone on the trails of the arboretum. The long shadows of trees hid the rocky path, so I paused at the edge of the forest, nervous I’d trip over something. Brooke ran ahead, skipping lightly.

“Don’t you have homework to do too?” I asked as I caught up to her.

“A little.” She pointed at the sky. “Full moon tonight, though, didn’t want to miss that.”

I looked up at the moon. I’ve always preferred the new moon, when you can see the stars more clearly and even the Milky Way if you’re in the right place.

Brooke led me down the path that led straight to the river. At first it cut straight through a field of dormant peony beds, but past the garden it dipped down into the thick forest. With the cover of trees, I had to walk slowly so that the barely-lit stairs didn’t trip me. Usually the arboretum is beautifully serene, but in the dark quiet of dark it was somehow more intense, putting me on edge, like there was something lurking behind every tree. I swear I’m not afraid of the dark, but this dark was different. Less static, I guess.

When we reached the foot of the stairs, Brooke dashed to the river. I almost ran after her to prevent her from doing something stupid like diving into the freezing water, but she went for the tree next to it instead. She swung herself onto the leaning trunk and shimmied up the tree into the branches.

I strolled up to the base of the tree and looked up at her, crossing my arms. “Do you do this every time?”

She crouched in the branches and started down at me. “Usually, yeah.” Shifting her gaze upwards, presumably towards the other trees around her, Brooke let out a loud chatter. It took me a few seconds to realize she was mimicking a squirrel’s call.

“What are you trying to do, raise a squirrel army?” I called up to her. I heard my voice echo softly among the trees, so I quickly glanced around to make sure we were alone.

Brooke went silent and tilted her head. “No. I just feel more like myself when I’m here.”

“Here as in…” I tapped the tree trunk. “In a tree, making noises?” I almost laughed, but caught myself. “You’re nuts. No pun intended.”

But Brooke wasn’t listening to me anymore. She sat in the tree completely still, listening to something. I bit my tongue and listened too. There was the constant sound of my breath first and foremost, and past that I could hear the rustling of branches in the wind and the soft gurgling of the non-frozen portions of the river next to me. It was creepy.

After I’d heard everything I could and my fingers were completely numb, Brooke decided she was done doing whatever it was she was doing and climbed down the tree.

“Okay. I’m ready to go back,” she said, and that was that.

I never asked her about her necklace. Where she got it, how long she’d had it. I’m guessing one of her friends or maybe a family member knew about her obsession with squirrels and got her the necklace for her birthday.

***

Since she moved out of her room, some people are moving Brooke’s refrigerator out. It’s the last thing remaining that suggested anyone lived there last semester. She must have ordered it through the University; I’ve gotten those rental offers via email but never bothered to check the rates. As I sit in my room, I can hear the banging of the equipment through the wall. Definitely one of the drawbacks to living in a dorm: thin walls. Whenever Brooke played her music I could hear it, so I got used to either studying elsewhere or wearing headphones.

Night is the worst. When I’m trying to go to sleep and someone in the next room (usually not Brooke—she’s not the type) is having a late-night party or just talking and laughing obnoxiously loud, I just want to smash my head through the wall and yell at them to shut the hell up.

I’m usually a sound sleeper, but I’ve been woken up twice by noises (besides my alarm, of course). The first when the fire alarm went off at four in the morning. The second when Brooke was screaming in her sleep.

I’d gone to bed early (and by early I mean midnight). When I jerked awake a few hours later, I had a feeling some noise had woken me, but I was still in the process of waking up so I was certain it was the hallway fire alarm again, and I silently cursed the idiot who set it off. I sat up and looked around, waiting for the much louder room alarms to begin. Only the familiar darkness of my room stared back at me. Then, a second shriek jerked me fully awake, and I realized it must be Brooke. I kicked the covers off of me and stumbled out of bed, tripping over a pile of something as I went to the light switch. Temporarily blinded by the sudden light, I kicked around the room until I found my pants. I pulled them on and headed out the room amidst more screams.

The guy in the room on the other side of Brooke’s was peeking his head out the door. “Go back to sleep I got this,” I mumbled, and he must have understood me because he quickly slammed his door shut. I crossed my fingers, made a wish that Brooke was just having a bad nightmare, and rapped on her door.

The screaming stopped, but I stood in front of her door in silence. I knocked on her door again and stared at her door decal. The second “O” in her name was falling off. Probably needed more tape. I made a mental note to tell her to fix it.

“Hey Brooke!” I put my ear to the door. “Everything okay in there?” I waited a few seconds before adding, “You’ve kinda woken up the whole hallway with your screaming.” Finally, I heard some rustling and a thump. I jumped back as the door opened slowly.

“Margaret?” Brooke’s face appeared in the small crack of the door. It looked like she’d been crying, but Brooke kind of had one of those faces anyway, so I ignored it and vaguely gestured towards her room.

“You were screaming. It woke us up.”

“Was I?” She didn’t seem to look surprised, or maybe she was just so tired that no emotions were showing on her face. “I’m sorry.”

“No, I…” I scrunched my nose and narrowed my eyes at her. “Are you going to be all right?”

Brooke nodded her head quickly. “Yeah, ‘course.”

She started to close her door, so I grabbed it and blurted out, “If you’re having nightmares, you can talk to me about it. I used to get them all the time.” Go back to sleep! my mind quickly shouted, though whether it was directed at me or at Brooke, or both, I don’t know.

“No, I’ll be fine.” Brooke lowered her eyes. “Good night,” she said, and slammed the door.

I sighed. Okay, fine.

Now it was just past four in the morning and I wasn’t tired at all. It would probably take me an hour to get back to sleep, and who knew if Brooke would start screaming again.

I spent a good twenty minutes staring up at my ceiling before getting back up and grabbing my dreamcatcher from its place at the head of my bed. I went back outside with a roll of scotch tape and pasted it onto Brooke’s door. After a moment of thought, I took another piece of tape and fixed the “O”.

***

She left at the end of the semester. I came back from vacation to find her name stripped from the door. I didn’t notice until I went to ask her how her break had been. I realized too late that I never got her phone number.

Sometime the next day I ran into Nellie on my way out of the dorm. She recognized me and flagged me down at the stairs.

“Hey! Margaret, right?” She flashed me a grin, and I frantically tried to place her. Luckily, she took pity on me (she probably could see the panic in my eyes) and pointed to herself. “Nellie, Brooke’s friend? We met once at a play?”

“Oh, right.” I nodded like I remembered. “Hey, what happened to her anyway? It’s like she died or something.” Heat flared in my face as I realized I had no idea what happened to her and I was about to be seriously embarrassed and judged as insensitive if she really was dead.

Nellie nodded. “Yeah, it was kinda sudden. She dropped out and moved back in with her dad, she didn’t tell you?”

I shrugged. “We weren’t really that close.” I tried to go down the remained steps and head off to my class, but Nellie grabbed my arm.

“Do you want her phone number? I’ve got it right here.” She waved her iPhone in front of my face. I don’t know why it surprised me that the case was a bright pink.

I pushed her away. “Uh, no, I don’t really think that’s necessary.” I cringed at the disappointment in Nellie’s face, but I was going to be late for my class if I didn’t get a move on, so I ducked my head, flipped my hood up, and pushed through the flowing stream of students on the sidewalk.

I nearly tripped on a squirrel while crossing the diag. It was so fat and fluffy and kickable and I probably would have screamed at it if I wasn’t in a public space. Instead, I pulled my bare hands out of my pockets and breathed on them, wondering who was going to replace Brooke, and regretting not stopping for a minute and getting her number from Nellie. In my flustered state, I wondered also if I’d brought the right books to the right class Guess I’d find out when I got there.

Drive-In

Why does every overgrown field by the side of a rural freeway have a swing set? They’re always either metal or some god-awful pastel color with chipping paint surrounded by little rusting metal objects that look vaguely like farming tools. Not that I’ve ever worked on a farm, but you know. Rusting metal things in an overgrown field out in the country? Probably farming related.

In the little town where a few friends and I spent a couple of days last summer, the drive-in movie theatre has not only a swing set but one of those merry-go-round spinning things that you always see in movies slowly turning with a metallic squeal as a low wind blows through an abandoned playground. I think it’s supposed to signify loss of innocence, or maybe change. As in, the playground used to be full of laughing happy children and now they’re grown or moved away or dead or whatever the genre of the movie calls for. It’s been used so much that at this point if I see an abandoned playground in a movie I groan and tune out for a minute until the scene changes.

I usually watch horror movies or those new Marvel films, but Meggie wanted to go to the drive-in and it was only playing Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail. I hadn’t known Meggie long enough to feel comfortable to suggest we go somewhere else instead. Plus, she was the one with the car. It was a double feature, Meggie was insistent that we see at least the second one, and I hate going to things in the middle of it, so we decided to go to the whole thing.

Nick had stayed behind, so it was just me, Meggie, and Katherine. I wondered who would be the third wheel. With the four of us, Meggie is the odd one out because neither Nick nor I know her well, but the entire reason she came on the trip with us was her friendship with Katherine. The third wheel would have to be me or Meggie.

I sat shotgun and let Katherine sit in the back.

The most words I’ve ever said to Meggie to date were in the car that day. We talked about school mostly, since we all go to the same university. I don’t remember specifics. I remember wondering when we’d see each other again, hoping maybe I’d pick the activity and Nick and I could get to know Meggie better. I saw her a couple of weeks ago walking down South University. I think I waved.

At the drive-in, Katherine leaned on the divider to watch the movies. We shared popcorn and Meggie gave commentary on the movies the whole time. To be honest, I wasn’t really paying attention to the movies as much as I was enthralled by the way Meggie talks. She’d get excited about a line in the movie and she’d throw her head back and squeal, her curly black hair bouncing as she tapped my arm. “SO CUTE!” she’d say, or something along those lines. When an important part was coming, she’d grab my arm and look me straight in the eyes. “So this scene is integral in establishing” whatever it was that scene was establishing at that part. Most of her words flew over my head because they whizzed by so fast, so I mainly just looked into her green eyes or watched the curl of hair that kept falling in front of her face over her lips before she brushed it away.

In between movies I tried to remember the main plot points of Sleepless in Seattle in case Meggie wanted to talk about it more. I remembered Tom Hanks and whatsherface on top of the Empire State Building, and a backpack. I think they found each other over the radio or something. I still don’t really know.

Instead of talking about the movie, Meggie decided to ask me about my love life. Katherine immediately cracked up. “What? What did I say?” Meggie asked, smiling at the joke she wasn’t in on.

“I have no love life at the moment, that’s why she’s laughing.” I rolled my eyes back at Katherine, and she scrunched her nose at me.

“Oh. Well, is there anyone you’re interested in?” Meggie raised her eyebrows and bit her lip like she was waiting for me to come out with some gushy story about a crush of mine.

Before I could say anything, however, Katherine stuck her face between ours and whispered “She has a type!”

“A type?” Meggie laughed. “Yeah, me too. All my boyfriends have had hazel eyes. My current boyfriend’s eyes have a bit of blue in them but it’s basically the same thing.”

Katherine rested her head on her clasped hands. “Margaret’s into dark hair, light eyes. I think it’s the ‘opposites attract’ thing with the hair.”

“Everyone likes light eyes,” I said quickly.

“Not me.” Katherine leaned back in the seat and put her hands behind her head. “I’m into those really dark eyes, you know, the ones that look almost black?” She sighed. “Now those are some pretty sweet eyes.”

“Dark hair, light eyes, you said?” Meggie echoed. Her head tilted slightly in thought. “I think I know a couple of great guys that fit that description. I could hook you up!”

I smiled uneasily and shrugged. “I’m not really looking for someone at the moment…”

“But you obviously want someone!” Katherine stared at me with the look she gives me when she’s sharing a secret (which she does a lot). “Someone with black hair? And light, maybe, I don’t know, green eyes?”

Meggie laughed. “That could describe me!”

Katherine joined in, slapping me on the arm. “Yeah, it could, couldn’t it?” Sudden heat ran up my neck and into my cheeks. I giggled weakly.

“Guess I’d be perfect, wouldn’t I?” Meggie grinned at me.

“Yeah!” Katherine grabbed Meggie’s arm and she exploded into more, higher-pitched laughter.

I stuck a grin on my face. “Haha, yeah, guess so. Hey, I’m going to go get some air, okay? It’s a bit stuffy in here.” I fumbled for the car door handle for a few seconds before throwing it open and stumbling out. I shook my head at the two of them, pointing at Katherine. “Stop trying to hook me up with your friend,” I said with a smile. Meggie laughed even more.

Outside the car, I took a deep breath to clear my sudden dizziness. Looking around, I spotted the small playground with the spinning contraption and the swings behind the parked cars. I walked over to them and sunk down into one of the swings. The grass tickled my ankles, and I dug my toes into the dirt. The swing rocked slightly.

“Hey,” Katherine called, jogging up to me. She hadn’t even given me a moment to sit and think in silence. She sat in the other swing and leaned her head on the chain. “God, I love swings. Remember that time in like, first grade when we argued over what we would name our tiger if we ever got a tiger as a pet and I got so mad that I just left and swung on the swings for the rest of recess?”

“I’m not mad at you,” I snorted, rolling my eyes.

“Mmhmm…” Katherine grabbed the chain and stared at me over her arm with wide, expectant eyes.

I sighed. “Why are you trying to hook me up with Meggie?”

Katherine swung closer to me. “Because you two would be so cute together because you’re both so adorable!”

“Did you miss the part where she is in a relationship already?” I raised an eyebrow.

“Yeah, well…” Katherine looked down at the overgrown grass. “I don’t like her boyfriend.”

“Apparently she does,” I retorted.

The swing flipped as Katherine stood up. “But you do like her, don’t you?”

I shrugged. “Yeah of course I like her, so what? What do you want me to do? Tell her to leave her boyfriend so she can date someone she basically just met a few days ago?” Katherine stood with her mouth open for a second, then seemed to think better of what she was going to say and instead steadied the swing.

“Yeah, guess that was weird of me, huh?” She smiled. “Sorry about that. Next movie’s about to start, wanna come back to the car?”

“I’ll be there in a minute.”

I let the swing rock back and forth a little. The chains clinked, and I stared up at the rust-covered metal. These kind of swings always looked like they’d break in a second. I looked over at the spinning contraption. It was faring no better.

“She is really attractive, isn’t she?” I said to it. It squeaked in response.

I sighed. I wasn’t looking for a date. I’m not looking for a date. All my friends are in relationships, but I’ve been focusing on my studies. How do they find time to devote to their significant other? I’ll have time to date later in life, after college, or maybe senior year when I’ll have less credits. I’ll be fine.

And yet I can’t stop thinking about sitting on that swing and watching Meggie lean out of the car and wave to me as the next romance started.

Errands

After my long chemistry lecture and lab, I decided to make my Tuesday even longer by going grocery shopping. I think I figured I would just get the bulk of my work done in one day so I could stay in my dorm room and watch Netflix the rest of the week.

I stepped onto the bus bound for Meijer, quickly swiped my card and rushed to grab a seat in an empty row. I dropped my backpack in the seat by the window and sat in the other one. After only a few seconds, the bus doors wheezed shut and we were off. I dug through the front pocket of my backpack and pulled out a few extraneous mechanical pencils before finding my iPod, then stuck the earbuds into my ears and put the songs on shuffle. The opening riff from “Thunderstruck” began, and I leaned back and closed my eyes.

Even with the lyrics blasting into my ears, I still saw equations for chemical reactions scroll on the back of my eyelids. The worst part is that they weren’t even in my handwriting; they were notes that my chem buddy wrote in my notebook. He kept getting frustrated that I was taking too long to write something down and stopping mid-equation to stare out the window. I’d been out late Monday night getting my Halloween costume, so I had a great excuse to be a bit spacey.

The eradication of chemistry from my brain was almost complete by the middle of “Immortals”. I tapped my knee on every other beat and let my head roll back and forth. I swayed forward as the bus came to a stop, but kept my eyes closed and pressed the earbuds further in. When I felt a tap on my shoulder I first pretended like I hadn’t noticed, but after the second one I stuck a smile on my face and looked up. “Uh huh?”

“Would you mind if I sat next to you?” is what I’m pretty sure she said. Fall Out Boy made her words kind of garbled, but the woman had her hand on the back of my seat in an obvious gesture. I leaned back and stared at the three empty seats just across the aisle, then narrowed my eyes at her.

“Sure…” I scooched over and rolled my fat backpack onto my lap. Resting my head on top of it, I watched the lady sit down and place her leather purse on the seat. I’m guessing she was either my age or a couple of years older. She was dressed like she was going to an upscale party, or maybe she just enjoys wearing fancy dresses. I watched her pale beige high heels tapping on the floor of the bus as she crossed her legs. The maroon fabric of her dress shifted across her knees, catching flashes of daylight in its folds.

After a few seconds it became painfully apparent that she was looking at me. I lifted my head up and looked at her nose for a heartbeat before taking one earbud out. “Yeah?”

“U of M student?” she asked, smiling at my Go Blue! shirt. Her long black hair swooped down her face as she tilted her head.

I nodded. “Yup.”

“Yeah, me too.”

“Cool.”

I put my chin back onto my backpack. The bus took a right turn. The song ended and there were a few seconds of only the rumbling of the vehicle.

“So where are you headed?”

I groaned. “Meijer.”

“I’m going to Joann Fabrics, so that’s the stop I’ll be taking!” The lady squinted at me and smirked. “Do you want me to stop talking?”

I’d planned on listening to my iPod for the full forty minutes, but after only one more song I found myself skipping all the rest because none of them felt right at the moment. Finally, I turned the iPod off and stuffed it back into my backpack. I turned to stare at the lady. She was fiddling with her phone.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

She smiled and put the phone down. “Elaine. You?”

“Margaret.” I studied her more closely. “You’re not in one of my chem classes, are you?”

“Chemistry? No.” She reached into her purse and pulled out a small notebook. She held it up in front of her face, the cover of the notebook displaying the words “Diff EQ” in curly purple writing. “I’m an engineering major, so if you’re in any of those classes I might be there.”

“I haven’t taken differential equations yet,” I admitted.

Elaine set the notebook down on top of her purse and nodded at the bus driver. “What do you think he’s been talking about?” she asked. After I adjusted myself to the random change in subject, I glanced up at the driver. He was having a conversation using his radio, but from the seat in the back all I could here was a garbled mess of static.

“Sometimes they get calls about some person who doesn’t know what bus they need to take,” I suggested. “Maybe it’s one of those.”

After about ten minutes, we discovered the actual topic of conversation. My stomach lurched as the bus suddenly took a turn it wasn’t supposed to take. The road we were on now was unfamiliar to me, and as I stared out the window I suddenly got the feeling that the bus had shrunk to half its normal size. A loud buzzing started in my ears, so I couldn’t hear what the bus driver had started saying to the passengers. It felt like my chest was too thin and my heart would just pop right out of my body so I pressed the backpack closer to me, but the feeling persisted. To my horror a stream of tears decided to pour out from my eyes, so I stayed facing the window without actually registering what was going on outside.

“Are you okay, Margaret?” Elaine put a hand on my knee and I flinched.

“Yeah yeah, I’m good,” I gasped, the words coming out more strained than I’d hoped. “Just…just casually having a panic attack, no big deal.”

“Panic attack?” Out of the corner of my eye I saw her fishing for something in her purse. “Here, want some water?”

The part of me that was freaking out told me that I should just sit there and suffer, but my rational part won after a few seconds and grabbed the water bottle that Elaine was holding. I took two sips and sank low into my backpack.

A minute later and I was completely fine. “Well that was embarrassing,” I mumbled, handing back the water. “That hasn’t happened in a while.”

“No, it’s all right,” Elaine consoled me. “I know a couple of people who get panic attacks about things. Oh, I think this is our stop.”

“What? It is? I didn’t hear anything the bus driver said.”

“Oh. The section of the road that Meijer is on is blocked off because of some kind of accident. We have to get off on this road and walk. I wonder if the road’s blocked off for pedestrians as well.”

“Guess we’ll find out when we get there.” I shifted my backpack around and put the straps on as the bus came to a halt. Elaine and I thanked the bus driver and stepped out onto the sidewalk, looking around to take stock of our current location. We were on the same north-south road as Meijer, and my always reliable inner compass located the direction in which we needed to walk.

We started off in silence, which I broke after a minute by blurting out “See this is why I don’t take the buses.”

“You mean, the panic attack?” Elaine shifted her purse strap on her shoulder.

“Yeah.” I grimaced. “I hate buses and I hate unexpected changes. You combine the two and yippee, you get the exact right condition for a Margaret-style claustrophobic spectacle!”

“Are you okay now? Do you want me to carry your backpack for you?”

I laughed. “You can carry my backpack if you want, but besides the feeling like there’s a weight sitting on top of my chest I’m fine.” I stretched my shoulders and pointed to the spot right in the middle under my clavicle. “This right here. But that’ll be better in a little while anyway so it’s all cool.”

Elaine nodded. “If you don’t want to take the bus back, I’ll walk with you to campus.”

“I said it’ll be better,” I protested. “And you’re wearing high heels!”

She grinned and shook her head. “I’ve got friends who get panic attacks, remember? I’d be fine with walking. Besides, I wouldn’t mind spending a bit more time with you.”

I stuck my hands in my pockets and blushed. “Yeah, alright. You seem okay. Like, not the murderous type or anything.”

She chuckled, and I looked into her cool green eyes. I could feel the pressure lifting off of my chest already.

“Oh, one condition though,” I added.

Her eyes sparkled as she raised her eyebrows. “And what would that be?”

“You get to carry my backpack on the way back.”

Part 3

Every day. Every freaking day. Dominic ran out of his house and down the street. He didn’t stop running until he reached Anthea’s road, a couple of streets down. He stopped himself at the intersection and held his knees, struggling for breath. He felt a bit better, but his step father’s words were still ringing in his ear. “Damn kid can’t do anything right” “Where the hell did you get such clumsy fingers?” “If you drop another can I might just drop one on your head, you hear me?”

“Yes, dad.” Dominic stood up and ran his fingers through his hair. “Sure, dad.”

He looked down the street. He could see Anthea’s little blue house. Sure, it was only five o’ clock, and trick or treating didn’t start until six. She wouldn’t mind if he came over a bit early. Thank goodness he still had his costume on. His house was toxic. He wasn’t about to go back in there.

He trudged to her house and knocked on the door a couple of times. Mrs. Hayes answered the door. “Dominic?” She smiled. “Just can’t stay away, can you?”

Dominic feigned a smile. “Yeah, guess not.”

“Well, come in.”

Dominic gratefully came into the house. He was a little surprised to find Meredith already sitting at the kitchen table, in the middle of a chess game with Anthea. Only Meredith looked up as Dominic came into the room.

“Hey, Dom.” Meredith gave him a quick wave, then went back to concentrating on the board. She only had her king, knight, rook, and two pawns left scattered on the board. Dominic smirked. One of these times Anthea was going to lose. It was unnatural for someone to win that much.

“Hey, Anthea,” Dominic said loudly, tapping her on her back to get her attention. She jerked, and one of her pawns collapsed on the board. She whipped her head around.

“Don’t…don’t do that,” she snapped, putting one hand to her back and staring at Dominic. Dominic took a step back.

“Whoa, sorry. What’s wrong?”

Anthea relaxed and sighed. “Nothing, just a bit jumpy today. Probably since it’s Halloween.”

“Oh…Okay…” Dominic didn’t think that made much sense, but he didn’t question it.

Anthea took Meredith’s rook with one of her knights. “Check. Help yourself to some of the candy on the counter, Dominic. My mom bought way too much.”

“Thanks!” Dominic made his way over to the counter where a large bowl was sitting. He looked for anything chocolate and chose one at random.

“So what route are we taking?” he asked, popping the candy into his mouth.

“Same as last year, probably,” Meredith said. “We got a decent amount of candy.”

“Yeah, I remember that.”

“Okay I give up.” Meredith tipped her own king over. “Hey Dom, let’s go make sure our costumes are good.” Dominic followed her into the downstairs bathroom. They used the mirror in there to make minor adjustments to their capes and hats.

 

Anthea played with her black knight, staring after Dominic. She had never held a secret from him, should she…

She set the knight down. No. No one finds out. One person is enough.

 

Jason wandered through the streets of Toronto, searching for something to steal. His eyes rested on a family sitting by the fountain. He smiled and walked around the other side, passing by them. As he passed, he twiddled his fingers behind his back. He imagined his fingers were grabbing the wallet in the back pocket of the man…

The wallet twitched. Just as Jason walked by the family on the other side, the wallet flew out of the man’s pocket and landed in his hand. Jason quickly placed the wallet in his own pocket and walked on.

He smirked.

 

Meredith was helping her mom with Thanksgiving pies when her cell phone rang. After wiping flour off of her hands and excusing herself, she swiped her phone’s screen to answer it and went into the next room. “Anthea?”

“I have fuzz,” she said. Meredith’s phone reception was a bit spotty, so she wasn’t sure she heard that right.

“Sorry, you have…what?” Meredith plugged her left ear with her finger and brought the phone closer to her other ear.

“I…have…FUZZ.” Anthea’s voice sounded breathy, like she had just been running.

“I still don’t…fuzz?”

“Fuzz, Meredith. On my antennas.” It had been a few weeks since Anthea had shown Meredith her extra limbs, but Meredith immediately knew that’s what she was referring to.

“Okay, so you have fuzzy things growing out of your back. Seriously, Ani, you should get those things looked at. Maybe amputated or something.”

“But I think I know what they are now!”

Meredith huffed. “Antennas?”

“I just called them that because I knew you would know what I was talking about. But from now on I’ll be referring to them as wings.”

Meredith laughed. “Seriously? What, do you think you’re some kind of angel or something?”

“I’m dead serious!” Ani’s voice sounded even more forced now. “You haven’t seen them lately. They’re wings, I tell you!”

“All right, all right.” Meredith lowered her voice. “Do you want me to come over to your house or something?”

“At some point.”

“Well, thanks for being specific. I don’t know what you called me for then.”

“I couldn’t keep this to myself,” Ani whined.

“Yeah, well. Next time you have to tell me about your ‘wings,’ just fly on over here, won’t ya?” Meredith chuckled to herself.

“Fine.” Ani’s voice sounded hurt, and Meredith felt a pang of guilt. “But don’t complain when I wake you up in the middle of the night with a thump on your roof.”

 

When Meredith jerked awake in the middle of the night two weeks later, she thought Christmas had come early. She could have sworn she’d heard Santa’s reindeer on her roof in her dreamy haze. Fully awake now, she realized that was nonsense and that she should go back to sleep. But something had woken her up.

 

Anthea lay dazed on top of Meredith’s roof. She still felt like she was dreaming even though she felt sharp pain shooting up through her right foot. She must have sprained it when she landed.

She noticed that Meredith’s window was open, despite the cold. Crazy girl was probably going to get sick. But then she was always cold-blooded, preferred the cold anyway.

Anthea slid down the roof, careful not to put too much weight on her ankle, and slipped through the window.

 

Meredith glanced around her room, trying to spot anything that might have made a sound in the draft while she was sleeping. She nearly choked as something fell into her room from outside. The dark shape made a large thump onto her floor beneath her window and began to grow.

Meredith tried to yell to the shape to go away, but her scream felt like a knife slicing her throat. Her fingers fumbled for her lamp shade pull string next to her bed, and when they finally found it she yanked on it like it was her only source of tangible comfort. The light flooded the room, and Meredith was blinded for a second. When her eyes had adjusted, she stared in shock at her best friend standing in the corner of her room with only her pajamas on.

“Ani?” Meredith held her hand over her fluttering heart and blinked spots out of her eyes. “What the hell are you doing in my bedroom in the middle of the night?”

“To show you these.” Anthea limped towards Meredith’s bed, and something behind her rustled. Meredith stared in awe as bright blue feathered wings unfolded behind her. They filled up most of that side of the room, and they twitched and swayed like they wanted to be flying.

“What the…” Meredith sat up in her bed. “Can…can I touch it?”

Ani walked closer, and one of her wings stretched out to Meredith’s bed. “Sure, but be careful. They’re still fairly new.”

Meredith reached out her hand and tapped a feather with her finger. It felt smooth and strong. And very very real.

“Okay…” Meredith took a deep breath and looked at her friend. Her friend with wings. Ani has wings. She actually…has…wings.

“Meredith?” Ani tilted her head. “You’re not freaking out on me, are you?” Ani took Meredith’s stunned face in her hands. “I can’t afford to have you freak out on me. Not now.”

“No, no.” Meredith cleared her throat and swung her legs around her bed to rest on the floor. “I’m still here. I’m still sane. For now.”

“Thank goodness.” Ani folded her wings back up and sat down on the end of Meredith’s bed. “Because I’m not completely sure I’m sane.”

Meredith took her blanket and put it over her friend’s shoulders. “Yeah. Going out in the middle of the night, in December, with only your pajamas, and crashing into people’s houses unannounced. Yeah, you’re pretty cracked up.”

Anthea laughed. “You’re the one who left your window open.” Meredith realized that Anthea had red streaks down her face. Despite her joking and supposed calmness, she must have been crying.

“Hey,” Meredith said soothingly, wrapping her arm around Anthea’s shoulder. “We’ll figure this out.”

“Yeah, I know.” Anthea rested her head on Meredith’s shoulder and broke her strong facade. “I know.”

 

Sitting on an overturned dumpster and leaning against a brick wall, Jason thumbed through the day’s earnings. One hundred twenty one dollars and twenty six cents. Not bad.

He shifted position to flex his cramped wings. The puny things looked more like a plucked chicken than anything else, but he was hopeful they would become something more impressive soon. These chicken wings aren’t giving me any luck with the ladies, Jason thought with a chuckle. He thought he saw the edge of a blood red feather peeking out from among the gray fluff covering his wings, but maybe that was wishful thinking.

 

When Anthea woke up on stacks of pillows on the floor, it took her a few frightening seconds to realize she has spent the night in Meredith’s room.

She jerked up. “Meredith? What time is it?” Anthea heard a grumble from the bed next to her, then saw Meredith’s hand grab for her clock.

“Five in the morning. Why are you up so early?” Meredith set the clock back down and pulled the covers closer to her. Anthea wanted to go back to sleep too, but she had to get home before her mom noticed she was gone.

Anthea got up and stretched her aching back. “Remind me again why I’m sleeping on the floor?”

Meredith groaned and threw her covers back off, giving Anthea a dirty look. “Because your freaking wings would take up the whole bed. There was no way we could share. Now please let me go back to sleep.” Meredith covered her face with her covers and sighed.

Anthea grinned. “Fine, grumpy guts. You never were a morning person.” She set the pillows next to Meredith’s bed in a neat pile and went over to the still open window. Cold air blasted in and made her shiver, but it also filled her lungs and made her feel more awake, alert, energized.

“See you later,” Anthea said to the bed. An exaggerated snore answered her. She laughed and stepped out onto Meredith’s roof.

The wind buffeted Anthea, making a whistling noise through her feathers. She crouched and turned her head towards her house. Though it was still dark, she could still see the outline of her house because of the porch lights they left on every night. Anthea got up, took a deep breath, and let the tilt of the roof pull her down towards the edge of the house. Just as her right foot kicked off from the edge, she unfurled her wings and held her breath. She felt gravity pull her towards the bushed in Meredith’s yard, and her whole body jerked as the air caught her wings and slowed her descent. She glided for a second or two before beating the air with her wings to gain height. Only then did Anthea let herself breath. That part will take a lot of getting used to. Good thing I’m not afraid of heights.

Her landing was a lot smoother than her first one. She shimmied down to her own open window and popped into her room.

She quickly jumped into bed, tucked her wings underneath her, and pulled her covers up over her. Despite her quickly beating heart, it only took her a few minutes to drift into sleep.

 

Midnight, or some time around there. Perfect time to practice.

Jason sat cross legged on one side of the dark alley. There were a dozen empty Vernors cans lined up in a row about four meters away from him. Jason took a deep breath and flicked his finger upward towards the can farthest to the left. It jumped off the ground and floated up for a meter before pausing in midair. Jason kept that one there as he lifted the other cans in the same way. When they were all stationary in a neat line, Jason twisted both hands and envisioned them stacking on top of each other. The light-weight cans easily shifted position with his movement and made a vertical line.

Jason relaxed his hand, and the cans dropped back to the ground with a clatter. He turned his attention to the unopened paint cans lying behind the now unorganized pile of soda cans. Each weighed at least four kilograms. Raising both hands in front of him, one palm up to lift them and one palm out to steady them, Jason slowly lifted the cans, higher than he had lifted the soda cans. Despite the brisk wind whipping through his tank top, a warmth spread through his body, radiating from the base of his neck and creating a solitary bead of sweat on his forehead. Once he was satisfied with the height the paint cans had gained, he lowered his steadying hand and jerked his other to the left. The cans smashed against the brick wall, breaking open and splattering dark paint over the bricks.

Finally, Jason leapt to his feet and walked down the alleyway until he was standing next to a broken down Mini Cooper. In an effort to not completely melt his brain, Jason placed his hands on the rusting metal. He found out early on that direct contact made telekinesis a lot easier.

Jason put his right foot slightly back and closed his eyes. Three breaths should do it. One…two…three…

As he exhaled his third breath, Jason lifted his hands. The car creaked after him and reluctantly let go of the cold ground. He slid one hand off of the car and held it there for a few seconds before dropping his other hand. The car quivered in the air, then dropped with a crash to the ground. Jason leapt back as a hubcap clattered next to his feet.

Well. Not bad.

Jason left the dripping walls and wrecked car behind him as he walked out of the alley.

The police are going to have one hell of a time trying to figure out what happened here.

Run Home Children: Updates

After five years of participating in NaNoWriMo, I finally “won” this year with my novel Run Home Children. I celebrated on December 1st with a bag of chocolate donuts and a night of binge-watching Jessica Jones.

Now comes the fun part. Typing up my story and making massive edits.

Luckily, I have the entire thing written out. Most, if not all, of the scenes of the book are written. There is a beginning, middle, and an end. At this point, I have a complete first draft. As this is the second time I have succeeded in such a feat, and the first where the book I completed is the first book in the series, I am ecstatic to be one step closer to having a novel published.

Look for more updates, and more chapters, for Run Home Children in the coming months!

Drained

The kid had a nightlight on top of his cabinet, so the first room tonight wasn’t as dark as I’d hoped it would be. I think it was supposed to be Noah’s Ark. It glowed with a sickening orange light, and there was a ceramic giraffe on it that had one big glowing eye that shined right on the boy’s throat.

I slithered under the bed, curled my fingers around the electrical cord and tried to force it out of the socket. I figured that since I’d been able to do that easily when I was alive, I’d be able to figure it out. Guess my reasoning skills leave something to be desired.

With the light still shining, I crawled up the side of the bed and across the pillow in the half that was still in shadow. Thankfully, the kid’s head was untouched by the luminous giraffe, and I was able to press my fingers on his temple. I lowered my head and inhaled.

The smell of chocolate cake and burnt candles filled my mind. The boy was dreaming about a birthday. I sighed and sunk deeper. Wisps of his dream drifted across my vision. As they brushed against me, I drank in their warmth and brightness. When I’d had enough of the little bursts of happiness, I let myself drop fully into the dream.

For a moment I ignored the boy and stretched my limbs, relishing the feeling of depth in my fingers and toes. Eyes closed, head raised, I breathed in the bubbly emotions. I slid my eyelids open and smirked.

The birthday boy stiffened at the sudden appearance of a ghastly shadow figure in his dream. Before he could taint it with too much fear, I leapt forward and ripped the fresh dream from his body. Within seconds I’d consumed it and fled the boy’s mind.

I receded into the shadows, and he sat up in bed and screamed.

The remnants of his dream within me trickled out to my stretching fingers, but I still felt empty. This house was spent, so I drifted through the wall and out into the moonless night. I passed the next few houses, shying away from the light pouring out of their bedroom windows. Finally I reached one that was completely dark.

In the first bedroom on the second floor lay a little girl, no more than five years old. The covers bunched around her body appeared simply as splotches of navy blue and gray under the pale starlight peeking in through the window, but as I slid down the window ledge it I saw it was covered in superheroes, leaping and crouching in every available space on the fabric. Just below the girl’s chin, spider-man was slinging his web in my direction, clinging to a cartoon wall in a ridiculous and humanly-impossible position. I chuckled, then perched on top of the girl and considered the superhero for a moment longer before resting my palms against the child’s forehead.

As soon as I entered her mind I knew I’d be getting nothing good from her. The fragments of a nightmare hissed around me. I brushed the nightmare aside with one hand and prepared to slide away, out of the house, in search of better dreams.

In an instant, the girl’s eyes flew open and her hand snatched my outstretched arm.

We were too shocked to do anything but stare at each other for a silent second. I suppose I’d forgotten how much there is to see inside a person’s eyes, especially when they’re wide with terror. When I regained control of my thoughts, I decided to simply fly up through the ceiling as fast as I could; the girl’s grasp was making me lightheaded, which is a crazy sensation for someone without a physical head. I bunched up my energy and pushed myself off the child, but intense pain, the first pain I’d felt since my death, burst in my chest and sent me tumbling back.

I reluctantly looked back down at the child. Somehow she had a tight grip on a spot where I was pretty sure my heart would be if I were alive. If I weren’t so rattled I’d have appreciated the role reversal. I sighed as the warm, happy dreams inside me dripped down the girl’s arm; an entire week’s work was bleeding out of my body. When I felt I couldn’t give any more, I collapsed into a quivering shadow on her sheets.

The girl’s shadow passed through me as she sat up. I jerked my head up and saw her face peering down at me, and the bright twinkle in her eyes made me cringe. I frantically tried to figure out what that look meant. Was she relieved? Or maybe upset, enough to hurt me more? Was she some kind of angel, living on earth to protect children from lost souls like me?

Slowly, she reached out to place her hands on me, and I shut my eyes.

Guilt trickled into my body. I flinched as it spread to my head and made way for the fear and wariness that quickly followed. Faster and faster, melancholy mingled with glee and confusion with curiosity. With a screech, I pushed free of the girl and dove off the bed. I fell to the floor with a thud and rushed to the open window. Instead of taking off into the air, I crashed to the ground and lay in the bushes, hugging myself against the chaos that was swirling inside me.

I could feel dozens of emotions. They competed for my attention, pushing their way to my mind. I trembled as each new emotion surfaced. I felt anguish, pleasure, longing. I felt terrified. I felt a thousand points inside of me tugging and tearing me in a thousand directions.

But I didn’t feel empty.