High School Heroes Book 2: Camp Hero
Some of you may remember that we posted the entire first High School Heroes novel, in parts, here a while back. We have a bunch of stories set in this universe, and we have some new comics coming out for it.
So, we thought it was about time to bring you the next chapter of the saga. This one is called Camp Hero, and it continues the story of Christine and her friends as they discover that they aren’t the only super-powered teens out there.
Missed the first book? No problem. It’s all available for FREE here!
Now, without further ado, here are the opening chapters of Camp Hero.
I don’t understand how it came to this. How could I have been so right and yet so wrong all at the same time? If I could travel back in time I might very well stop myself from ever starting on this foolish crusade. What was I thinking? I wasn’t Moses, trying to free the slaves from Egypt amidst the terrible plagues.
But you could probably part the sea with a thought, the voice in my head interjected. Plus, I don’t think Ethan would like you with a bushy white beard.
Shut up! I told it.
I didn’t have time to argue with myself. One of those “plagues” had pretty much come to life and was, at that very moment, scaling the wall to get me. I didn’t know what to do. Once again, I was all alone. My friends were somewhere, far below, dealing with problems of their own. They’d be of no help to me.
Its scaly head came into view over the edge of the building. If I didn’t act now, the thing would chomp me into oblivion. I looked around for somewhere to hide, but all I saw was the flat, cracked, cement roof, offering no cover of any kind. There wasn’t even access back into the building, and I’d used the last of my power getting myself up here.
The phrase, “Trapped like a rat,” entered my head, not for the first time.
This’ll teach you to follow your dreams, Christine, the voice said.
I sighed, ready to face the inevitable. At least I’d succeeded in my self-made mission. No matter what happened, even if I was soon swallowed by the jaws of this hulking beast, I would know that I had at least made sure they were all safe.
The lizard-like eye widened when it saw me. I stood my ground, knowing there was little else I could do. I would show the monster no fear and would go down fighting. Besides, something would come to me at the last second, it always did.
Or would it?
Never Ending Battle
Three Weeks Earlier
Flying. I really enjoyed it. One might think it would be scary, soaring through the air with nothing holding you up but sheer willpower, but it really was exhilarating. The wind in my face, and Pittsburgh shooting past below me – it had to be what freedom felt like.
I wouldn’t be able to do this soon. In another month – give or take – my mother would have a baby. Since she just started her new job, I promised I would take care of the baby after school. I couldn’t very well fly with a baby. What if I dropped it?
Chris. The voice filled my head, like so many did on a daily basis. This one, however, was calling me by name. Could you concentrate on our mission?
Is it too much to ask that you call me Christine? I asked my mental invader. And it’s not a mission! We’re a bunch of idiots chasing a car on the highway!
The car weaved through traffic in front of me, speeding down Interstate 396 at over a hundred miles an hour. The flashing lights of police cruisers lit up the cloudy afternoon as they diligently pursued their suspects. If I’d learned nothing else in the last few months, they wouldn’t catch the car. Like when those crack-addicts jacked the woman’s mini-van with the baby still in the back seat. We found the cop cars crashed in a ditch as we came by in pursuit.
No – the only ones who could stop them were us.
Yeah, but I’m the best at it, my mental invader added.
Ethan, I swear, you’re a child. I looked down at the ground, trying to find my boyfriend among the traffic. He should have been able to catch that car by now, seeing how fast he could run. Where are you, by the way?
Got caught behind a bus, he answered.
He’s lying, another voice echoed through my skull. This one belonged to Savanah. He stopped at a hot dog stand.
I was hungry.
You’re always hungry, I added. Now, catch up.
I’m right behind you, Ethan groaned.
Loser, Savanah said.
I flew closer toward the evading car. I finally got a good look at it – a white 1987 Chrysler Conquest, or so the news report said. It certainly looked its age and was hardly something I would make an escape in. Actually, I was surprised the thing could even do a hundred miles per hour. I half expected to see nuts and bolts flying off the thing as it rumbled across the pavement.
As I skimmed lower to the pavement, I caught my reflection in the windows of a building and felt the revulsion for what I saw. My half-eaten lunch threatened to revisit me at the sight. I looked absolutely hideous. I swore, when I agreed to come on these stupid little quests the others insisted on, I would never wear anything like this. Yet, here I was, skin-tight, black spandex covering my body from my neck to my ankles, and an ugly purple mask that covered my forehead and my cheeks, leaving only my mouth uncovered. I hated it. I think that’s why they made me wear it.
Actually, it was so you matched the rest of us, Ethan chimed in.
Really? I asked. So, this has nothing to do with wanting to see your girlfriend in something tight and black?
Well, there’s that too, Ethan admitted.
You do know, we can all hear you, the fourth member in our group, added.
Shut up, Pete! I screamed into his mind.
I was right behind the tiny car now. Close enough that I could see three people inside, but not much else. The reporter on the television at school wasn’t too clear whether the men inside were “armed and dangerous.” I didn’t see any guns. The three men didn’t look at all concerned with the police cars chasing them. They didn’t even look back at their pursuers. Very odd.
I projected the image of the car into my friends’ heads. Ethan would be pulling the other two behind him on skateboards. I’m actually surprised Savanah could stand on one of those things. I guess super-strength did have its advantages.
The cops were a good twenty yards behind. Four blaring squad cars weaved their way through traffic. The traffic was one of the many reasons they almost never caught the suspects.
Two cars ahead of the Chrysler, the drivers of which were too blind to see a high-speed car chase quickly coming up behind them, blocked its path. The driver of the Chrysler apparently didn’t feel the need to swerve around them, so he plowed headlong in between the two unsuspecting vehicles.
The two cars both flipped sideways and their momentum carried them into the air. Even above the sound of the grinding steel came the ear-piercing screams of the people inside. One of the cars was going to fly over the divider and crash into oncoming traffic. The other would land in a ditch on other side of the highway.
I stopped myself in mid-air and reached a mental hand out toward the cars. Both stopped dead in the air, but their passengers continued screaming. Unfortunately, I added to their terror as I instantly lifted them another ten feet in the air, making the unlucky driver of one car tumble onto the ceiling of the upturned vehicle. The cop cars – which apparently had no intention of stopping – passed harmlessly underneath them. One officer looked up at me and the cars in awe as they zoomed by.
A second later, a black blur streaked past as Ethan, towing both Peter and Savanah, carried on the pursuit.
I’ve got this, Chris, Ethan thought.
Have a good time, I said as I set both cars down on the highway’s shoulder.
Landing next to the cars, I checked on the people inside. I didn’t see any serious injuries, though they were pretty shaken up. My own heart was racing, both from the exertion, and the massive amounts of adrenaline coursing through my body.
“You okay?” I asked.
The man in a business suit clutched his chest like he was having a heart attack. He looked up at me through his cracked driver’s side window like I was some kind of phantom. His mouth hung open as he gasped for breath. His hand never left his chest.
This guy worried me. I really didn’t want to give him mouth-to-mouth if he went into cardiac arrest. “Are you okay?” I repeated, a little slower this time, hoping he might understand better.
His eyes finally focused on me, as if he just noticed I was there. He clenched his jaw and nodded.
An ambulance siren blared from down the highway. He wouldn’t be left here for long. “Rescue workers are on the way,” I said and ran to the other car.
It was a woman with a young boy in the back. Both seemed fine. If anything, the boy looked as if he’d had an awesome time as the car flipped end over end. I made sure they were both fine and prepared to catch up with the others. They had to be a few miles ahead by now, but I didn’t think I’d have a problem catching up.
Just as I was about to take off, the window of the woman’s car shattered. I spun to see what happened. The driver’s side window lay in pieces on the inside of the car. The woman slumped to the side, shaking, her eyes closed. Sticking out of her neck was a tiny dart.
I took off without hesitation, flying as fast as I could along the highway after the Chrysler. They were aiming for me, and I wouldn’t give them a second shot.
Guys, we’ve got Agents.
What else is new? Savanah answered.
The Meta-Human Detection Agency – one of those unofficial government agencies no one ever hears about. It seemed like every time we went out, they were waiting for us. Almost like they…
Damn. Why didn’t I see it sooner?
I put on an extra burst of speed, forcing myself past my own speed limits. Another wave of nausea hit me, but I didn’t allow myself to stop. I had to catch them.
Back off the car! I screamed in my head.
Why? Ethan asked.
It’s a trap! They’re Agents.
In the distance, Ethan and the others weaved through traffic just ahead of the squad cars, trying to catch the Chrysler that was still speeding up the highway at faster than possible speed.
How can you tell? Peter asked, always the first to believe me – probably because he still had the biggest crush on me.
Look at how old that car is. It’s crashing through other cars at a hundred miles an hour. Look at the men in the car. They haven’t looked back once to see if they’re losing their pursuers – like they don’t care at all. They supposedly just robbed a bank, but I don’t see any guns inside the car. It’s a fake!
Silence. They were considering my words, yet still maintaining their pursuit. Ethan backed off a little. Mistake.
The Chrysler’s back window folded down and the man in the back stuck his head out. He grasped something in his hand, but I couldn’t tell what at this distance. I could see that it wasn’t a gun, nor was it large in size.
He threw the object on the street behind the car. It rolled toward Ethan and the others. I closed my eyes, knowing they would have no time to avoid it.
A half-second later, an explosion rocked the air. It wasn’t anything big, but as I opened my eyes, I saw Savanah flying up in the air, screaming. The object had exploded under her skateboard.
Savanah shot through the air like a kid’s toy. I needed to catch her. At the rate she was falling, she would land on the pavement right before the pursuing police cars. Savanah couldn’t take that kind of pounding.
She reached the apogee of her arc (yeah, I pay attention in science), and began her descent back to the highway. As her body flipped end over end, her eyes caught mine for just a second. But I was still over a hundred yards away, there were only seconds before she’d be road kill.
With one last burst of speed, more than I thought my body could handle, I covered the length of a football field in less than three seconds. The strain on my neck and shoulders was intense. I thought that one of my limbs might rip off from the force of the wind rushing past.
Savanah, now only feet from the highway, reached out.
I swooped low. My hands clasped both of hers. I swung her back up and away from the pavement, letting her toes just barely scrape the blacktop in the process.
“I hate it when you’re right,” she shouted.
“How’s that different from any other time you hate me?” I replied.
I soared straight up, and for the second time waited for the police cruisers to pass harmlessly underneath me. Then I flew forward again, Savanah in hand, intent on catching that car and causing some real damage. These Agents really needed to be taught a lesson. A thought, I knew, shared by the girl dangling in my arms.
“Just drop me on the hood,” she said. “I’ll take care of the rest.”
I nodded. The Agents never resorted to deadly force before. They always tried to incapacitate us – like they only wanted to capture us. Quinn said it was because they wanted to see what made us tick. But I think there was more to it – much more.
Speeding up again, I closed the distance between us and the Chrysler. Below us, Ethan bobbed and weaved through more of the small exploding balls the Agent seemed to like dropping. I worried he wouldn’t be fast enough to evade them all. If that happened, he’d be badly injured, if not killed.
They say things always happen at the worst possible moment. In this case, while holding an extremely heavy girl, and chasing down the Agents, my cell phone rang.
“Grab my left hand!” I shouted at Savanah. She swung her right arm over so both her hands now gripped my left.
With my free hand, I reached into my pocket and retrieved my ringing cell. The screen simply read: Home.
“You’re not seriously going to answer that?” Savanah asked.
“I’ve got to. It’s my parents.”
I flipped the cell open and already heard my father’s voice blaring out of the earpiece. “Where are you? I called the school, they said you’re not in class!”
Ugh! I thought. Why did he have to call the school first?
“Sorry, Dad,” I said as calmly as I could, with 100 mph wind blowing in my face. “I’m helping Mr. Quinn in the storage room.” Quinn would vouch for me, like he had the last three times we’d been caught out of class. So I was safe.
“I don’t care what you’re doing,” my father yelled. “Your mother’s in…”
“Look out!” Savanah called.
Pulling the phone away from my ear for a second, I banked left, practically throwing Savanah from my grip, as I avoided a grenade launched from the rear of the car. The small ball spun through the air, passing within inches of my head. A loud BOOM shook the air behind us. The shockwave nearly sent me tumbling to the ground. It couldn’t have exploded more than ten meters away from us.
I put the phone back to my ear.
“Christine, what in God’s name was that? It sounded like an explosion.”
“Sorry, Dad,” I blurted. “Savanah dropped a couple of boxes, and my cell fell.”
“Okay. Listen, your mother’s gone into labor. I’m taking her to the hospital.”
I fumbled my phone – and Savanah. I would have a baby brother by the end of the day. I definitely wasn’t ready for that. I was supposed to have another month to prepare. They couldn’t just spring this on me now.
“Ummm… uhhhh,” I stammered into the mouthpiece.
“Drop what you’re doing and meet us down at the hospital. I’ll deal with Mr. Philmore tomorrow if he gives you a problem.”
“Chris,” said a voice from below me.
Savanah was looking up, dangling by one arm as I gripped her hand tightly. Below, the Chrysler still sped along the highway.
“Hold on a sec, Dad,” I said, then turned my attention back to Savanah. “What?” She really should have known better than to interrupt. Did she really want my father to know what we were doing?
“Drop me, Loser!” she said.
Instantly, I let her go. Savanah fell the thirty feet from my hand to the car below. It only took a second, but it felt like forever. As she fell, I brought the phone back up to my ear.
“Dad, I wouldn’t take 396.”
“What?” He sounded confused – probably because it was the first time in my life I’d given him driving advice. “Why not?”
Savanah crashed on the hood of the car, crushing the hood and the engine block and causing the car to skid to a halt. Metal crunched and bent and the windshield shattered. Sparks and bits of glass flew in all directions. Savanah stood on the hood of the car like a warrior overlooking her opponent.
“Just trust me on this. Traffic’s gonna be a killer.” I hung before my father could say anything else.
I landed next to the car – it came across like it crashed into a brick wall. The passengers inside didn’t look any better. Besides all of them looking a little woozy, it appeared the driver had hit his head on the steering wheel pretty hard. Even though there was carnage all around, the thing that stood out the most were the MHDA patches on each of their shoulders.
“I really, really hate it when you’re right.” Savanah balled up her fist, and reached back like she was going to punch the driver.
I grabbed her arm and held tight. One of her punches would have caved in his skull. “You can’t kill him!” I yelled.
I glared at her until she dropped her arm. She knew why I wouldn’t allow it.
“You can’t keep holding back because of what happened with Tommy,” she said. “Eventually, it’s going to be us or them.”
Any further response was interrupted by the screaming sirens of the cop cars. Ethan and Peter stopped a few feet away, both looking over their shoulders at the vehicles.
“I guess it’s time we make a hasty retreat,” Ethan said.
Peter nodded his agreement.
The police cars screeched to a stop a good twenty yards away. The door shots open. Cops jumped out, guns aimed at us.
“Freeze!” one of them shouted.
“See you back at school,” I said.
I grabbed Savanah, and flew off before anyone could react. Ethan did the same, running off and pulling Peter behind him.
I couldn’t wait to see the news that evening. I wanted to see the MHDA explain why three of their men were arrested.
I arrived at the Jefferson Regional Medical Center in record time. It was only about ten minutes from school, but flying back from the scene, explaining the situation to Quinn, changing into normal clothes and driving my car, it took closer to twenty.
My car was so slow compared to how I was used to traveling, either in Ethan’s arms or flying. I didn’t even want the car anymore. Not that it wasn’t a cool car. I’d managed to buy myself a nice ten year old Mustang with only 20,000 miles on it. Uncle Murray knew a guy and got me a great deal. I only held on it to keep up the appearance of normality.
I ran to the reception desk. “Penny Carpenter. She’s having a baby,” I told the nurse, who was busily copying data from several file folders into the computer.
“Maternity ward’s on the fourth floor,” she said without even looking up.
I stepped into the elevator and went up to the fourth floor. I was intent on asking the nurse about my mother, but it turned out I didn’t have to. As the elevator doors slid open, both my parents whizzed by – my mother on one of those rolling beds and my father running beside her – going toward the delivery room.
“Mom!” I shouted, but I’m pretty sure she didn’t hear me.
Before I could follow, they were through a double door and gone. All I could do now was wait.
So, I waited in the waiting room along with all the families waiting for other mothers to deliver. But I sat alone, thinking about how my own life would change with the little bundle of joy about to be brought into the world.
Not that I was upset over it, but the new baby meant my carefree days were over. I wondered how the others would take it when they found I was finished saving the world with them. Ethan was the only one who knew about the deal my parents made me agree to.
The deal was pretty simple. My dad had started a new accounting firm, and my mother needed to work until the business took off. Until then, I had to go home straight after school and watch the little bugger. Not my idea of fun.
After squatting in that uncomfortable chair staring at the blank gold-colored wall for several minutes, I decided it was definitely a mistake not to bring my homework. I might be there for a while, and I needed something to pass the time. I put my feet up on the coffee table and stared at the news scroll on the television.
The man came to the chair next to mine and started reading the Pittsburgh Tribune. I use the term “reading” loosely. It was more like nervously flipping through the pages, trying to take his mind off his wife, who was still in the delivery room. A quick glance inside his head showed he was definitely not taking a word of it in.
As his eyes wandered about the paper, I glanced at the pictures on the back page. It happened to be the sports section, and while I’m not into sports, my boredom got the better of me. Judging by the headline, “Pirates Still Seeking Treasure” and the picture of a player with his head hanging low and rubbing his forehead like he had a headache, I could tell the baseball team’s losing streak was continuing. Not that it mattered, but I really hoped they’d win soon.
While I was trying to read the shaking words of the article, one of the nurses stepped into the room. “Mr. McGregor.”
The man lowered the paper and looked up. His legs were shaking, causing a loud crinkling noise, as the paper rattled in his lap. For the first time, I realized his age. He couldn’t be more than five or six years older than me.
The nurse smiled at him. “Congratulations. It’s a boy!”
He threw the paper on the low table, and nearly tripped on my outstretched legs as he hastily stumbled toward the door. “Oh my God! It’s over? I’m a father—where’s Sandy?”
“Relax, Mr. McGregor.” The nurse managed to grab the man before he crashed into the door frame. “Your wife is fine. Come with me and you can see her and the baby.”
She led Mr. McGregor out of the room. Before the door shut, I heard him ask, “Did she name the baby yet?”
I wondered what my brother’s name would be. My parents had been throwing names back and forth, but so far they hadn’t picked anything yet. I just hoped his name wasn’t Chris. Christine and Chris – I shuddered at the thought.
If I had my way, his name would be Moe. One syllable – easy to remember. It didn’t get any better than that.
I picked up the half crumpled newspaper off the table and smoothed it out as best I could. At least the man left me some reading material. I couldn’t believe the headline. I think my heart actually skipped a beat. I guess it was only a matter of time before it happened, but that doesn’t make it any easier to take in. I sat up in the chair and began reading.
High School Heroes on the Prowl
By Gloria Tennan
Recently, the city of Pittsburgh has been invaded by a group of teenagers who see themselves as the city’s new law enforcement. Over the last two weeks, local police report sighting these teens at no less than eight crime scenes.
Reportedly, these “heroes” have stopped each of the crimes in progress before local law enforcement could respond. But are they truly a Godsend? Or are these four young adults just vigilantes out seeking attention?
Where do they come from? And why do they flee the scene when police arrive? If these children are truly here to help, why do they refuse to show themselves? Why refuse to speak with police? The answers are obvious: These teenagers know the illegality of their actions.
Wearing masks to hide their identities, the vigilantes act like characters out of a comic book. But these children are no Superman or Captain America. The brutality shown on some of the suspects they have apprehended has been appalling. One man was reportedly sent to the emergency room with internal bleeding. He spent two days in the intensive care unit before being released to police custody.
Sgt. Eric Carlson of Pittsburgh’s fifth precinct has this to say about the teenagers: “Their illegal activities do not help the police. Instead of going out to catch real criminals, we must waste our time cleaning up their messes. I don’t think they realize how many suspects they catch are released because they weren’t apprehended by the proper authorities.”
Mrs. Bernadette Franklin, one of the first to spot the costumed teens, said, “They scared me one night. I saw them chasing a man down the alley by my apartment. These kids should be arrested for disturbing the peace!”
Not everyone in the greater Pittsburgh area sees the four youths as a threat. Captain Falcon, another costumed “superhero,” said, “I think they are doing a fine job. I’ve always said a true hero is someone who will do what others won’t. These kids seem to be taking that message to heart.”
When asked to reveal his identity, Captain Falcon declined to comment.
I stopped reading, disgusted with what it implied about us. I tried to push the stupid thing out of my mind. The harder I tried, the more I thought about it.
The article didn’t mention our powers. That had to be news, though. Gloria Tennan made it seem like we were just four regular kids running after criminals, wearing ski masks and carrying baseball bats.
Whoever read that article would surely hate us.
Maybe that’s the point, the voice in my head said.
Gloria went out of her way to make us look bad. She conveniently forgot to report the man sent to the ICU was on some kind of hallucinogen and was firing a gun into a crowd, screaming about “deranged zombie dwarves.”
Peter shocked him real good. Normally even a low-level shock would be enough to knock out a horse, but whatever the guy was on kept him going. Ethan broke his wrist and Savanah punched him several times, just to get the gun out of his hand. Then to get him to calm down… I didn’t want to think about what we had to do.
If we hadn’t done what we did, there’s no telling how many people he might have killed.
About ready to go down to the Tribune and use my power to make Gloria punch herself in the face – over and over – I instead decided to go to the bathroom and splash water on my face to cool off. I couldn’t get over that she never mentioned our powers in the article. Even if she meant to tear us down, that still had to be news.
The voice in the back of my head returned. How absurd would her article be if it talked about a “flying girl” and a “boy who made lightning”?
The voice was right.
After a few minutes – and several facefuls of water on my face – I exited the bathroom, and saw my grandparents entering from the opposite side of the waiting room. I resisted the urge to run up to them squealing like a little girl on Christmas. Instead, I waved until my grandmother pointed me out to my grandfather, then came over.
“Hiya, hun.” She kissed me on the cheek. “Any news yet?”
I wanted to say, “Do you see a baby?” but figured that would be rude, especially toward my grandmother, and shook my head instead.
“How’s my girl?” my grandfather bellowed as he scooped me up into one of his powerful hugs. I hugged him back, but only half-heartedly. He must have sensed my lack of enthusiasm, because when he let me go, his eyes narrowed at me.
My grandmother, totally oblivious that anything was amiss, continued on about the little bundle of joy my parents were bringing into the world. “I can’t believe he’s gonna be here tonight. It seems like only yesterday your mom told us she was pregnant.”
I remember that day vividly. Thanksgiving – the day my grandfather gave me his journal – a book that would have a profound impact on my life from that day forward. Even though I’d read it through already, I still kept it on my nightstand. I glanced through every now and then, as if the pages held some great secret I had yet to discover.
Do you need to talk? My grandfather’s voice echoed through my head. I had actually inherited the ability to read minds from him – all my powers, actually. Essentially, anything I could do, he could too.
I shook my head again, but pointed to The Tribune, lying where I’d thrown it. If anyone would understand what had upset me, it would be him.
“I’m going to sit and read the paper,” he said to my grandmother. “You two can talk for a while.”
“That’s fine, dear. Christine, why don’t we go to the café downstairs and get some coffee? We could be here a while.”
My grandfather was already hidden behind the paper, reading the article on the front page. Reluctantly, I went with my grandmother, not at all interested in chatting with her.
The elevator was crowded on the way back down to the lobby. I did my best to keep my cool, but I think a bit of my fear radiated from me into the other people inside, because when we stepped out of the elevator, everyone was shaking.
“Cold in there,” my grandmother said, rubbing her hands over her arms.
I didn’t respond. I had to let her think she was shuddering because of a chill. The truth would have been too much for her to take.
She led me through the lobby to the little café. “How’s school, hun?” she asked as we approached the doors.
“Fine,” I muttered. Truth was, with all the running off I’d been doing the last few weeks, I was sure my report card would be abysmal when it was issued in a couple of weeks. Quinn had told me not to worry about it, but at that point there was just no amount of studying I could do in math and science to catch up. “Classes are good.”
“That’s great!” She was way too excited about it. “Getting all A’s, I hope.”
“Yeah,” I lied, “all A’s.”
The air filled with the scent of coffee and baked bread, making me hungry. It was also pretty crowded. I wondered if there was ever an hour where there wasn’t someone in the café. In a hospital, I supposed someone needed coffee and snacks at every hour of the day.
I got hot tea, which I loaded up with a ton of sugar, while my grandmother got a coffee. Then we sat at one of the tables. She continued her idle chatter about school, and what she thought the new baby’s name should be. Somehow I doubted my parents would be naming him Frank, after my grandfather. I tried my best to pay attention, but something was really bothering me. So, I merely nodded at all the right places, which seemed to satisfy my grandmother.
At first, I thought it was still the article bothering me. I was still angry with Gloria Tennan, and really wanted to thrash her. She needed to be taught a lesson about writing things about people she knew nothing about. But after sitting and pretending to listen to my grandmother for about twenty minutes, I realized it was something closer.
Not something, the voice corrected. Someone.
I took a mental scan of the café. The couple in the corner were waiting for their mother to get out of surgery. The little boy at the counter was upset because his mother wouldn’t buy him a cookie. The old woman at the booth by the window was on the verge of tears, trying to decide whether to pull the plug on her husband. Everyone seemed normal.
Everyone that is, except the man sitting two tables behind me. He was there when we walked in. He had no drink, nor any food. As I sent out a mental probe in his direction, I also realized he had no thought waves whatsoever – at least none I could sense. He was completely blocked off from me.
I pretended to get up and throw out my empty cup, passing the man’s table as I did. I got a good look at him while keeping my gaze fixed on the garbage ahead of me. He wore a Yankees baseball cap, and a long, loose-fitting, black coat. His face was mostly hidden by the brim of the cap and large mirrored sunglasses that covered the top part of his face, but I could still make out the pointed jaw. Gloves covered his hands, one of which held some high-tech cell phone I’d never seen before. That didn’t shock me. There were thousands of different phones out there, and just because I hadn’t seen this one didn’t make it weird. What was strange, however, were his boots. They looked more like a woman’s, with the tall heels and tighter fit, than a man’s.
He must have been an Agent. There was no other explanation. Either they knew about my powers, or they suspected I was one of the four heroes racing around Pittsburgh. I took the image in, making sure I wouldn’t forget, in case I saw this man later on. I wanted to be ready. Agent or not, if he tried anything, I would use my powers to take him down.
I sat back with my grandmother, my back facing the man, but my mind focused on nothing but him.
“I think we should go back upstairs,” I suggested. “Grandpa’s probably getting lonely all by himself.”
“Oh, I’m sure he’s fine.” She waved her hands as if to say my suggestion was crazy. “You two talk all the time. It’s time you spent time with me.” Her visage was suddenly very grave.
It was true I tended to lean more on my grandfather nowadays, but I didn’t realize I’d been putting my grandmother out by doing so. I honestly didn’t know how to respond. I really wanted to get out of there because of the man behind me, but I didn’t want to upset her.
“So, how is that little boyfriend of yours? Your father tells me the two of you have been pretty much inseparable since Christmas. Do I hear wedding bells in your future?”
I couldn’t believe she’d ask something like that. “Grandma, I’m only sixteen.”
“I know, hun,” she said. “But sometimes a girl just knows things like that.”
The man shifted in his seat. I tensed and prepared to fling his table at him. But he made no other motion.
“Ethan is just my boyfriend,” I tried explaining. The words came out a little angrier than I would have liked, probably because I was so preoccupied with the Agent. “There’s really nothing to tell.”
“Have you… you know… gone all the way?”
“I’m just asking, hun,” she said. “When I was your age…”
I held up a hand before she could continue. “I really don’t want to talk about this.”
The man shifted again. This time I felt him turn toward the door. I wrapped two tendrils of energy around the base of the table, prepared to flip it on top of him.
“From what your father tells me, he is an incredibly nice young man,” my grandmother continued. “I just want you to be careful, that’s all.”
“I’m careful,” I told her, then added, “and no, we haven’t… you know.”
She breathed a sigh of relief that sounded almost like, “Thank God.”
The man stood. My grip on the table tightened. Something was going on, but I couldn’t be sure what, and I wasn’t about to give myself away until I was sure I had to.
Outside, through the window, two black SUVs crashed headlong into each other, causing an explosion of sound that shook the tables in the café.
I spun to gawk at the commotion, as did everyone else in the café. A few men in business suits got out of one of the SUVs and started looking at the other one. My grandmother stood and watched the situation play out with a mixture of confusion and interest.
The man, also quite confused, dashed through the café doors into the waiting room, only to appear outside by the two trucks a few seconds later. He pulled off the Yankees cap and began pointing and yelling at the men in the truck.
When he removed the cap, long, flowing blonde hair came down to his shoulders, which I thought was strange. Only when he took off the sunglasses off and threw them into the face of one of the men did I realize – he was a she.
A very well disguised woman.
A second later, a large hand came down on my shoulder. Turning, I saw my grandfather standing over me, with a concerned look on his face.
“What happened?” he asked and gave me a wink.
My grandmother explained about the car accident.
“I hope nobody was hurt,” he said. But I felt the insincerity of his words. “I came down to find you two.” He looked down at me. “Your baby brother, Conner Carpenter, has arrived..”
My grandmother let out a squeal of delight.
“Conner?” I asked. Strange name for a baby.
“Yes,” he said, laughing. “Come on, you two. Let’s go up and meet him.”
Looking at the crashed vehicles outside one last time, I was ushered back toward the elevator. I couldn’t help but wonder whether my grandfather had something to do with that.
The Other Grandparents
As it turns out, babies are incredibly tiny when they’re born. I mean, I always knew that, but seeing a bunch of newborns for the first time made me fully realize it. Little Conner had to be among the smallest of them all. I could only look at him through the glass of the maternity ward, but I swore he could fit in my hands.
Because Conner was premature by almost a month, the doctor insisted on observing him for a few days to make sure everything was normal. My mother was released the following morning, but she wouldn’t leave the hospital.
“I’m not leaving him alone,” she told my father and me. “He’d be so alone and scared.”
I wanted to point out that Conner probably had no idea where he was, being only about eighteen hours old, but the stabs of mental anguish and fear that shot from my mother made me refrain from commenting.
My dad had to go back to the office, and my grandparents went back to our house to rest, which left me to watch over my mother. So, I pretty much sat there, bored, across from the maternity ward, and caught up on my English reading – Hemmingway was so boring. At least I don’t have to go to school.
Ethan came up to visit, apparently skipping math class. “Congratulations, Mrs. Carpenter.” He hugged my mother – he was always so polite. Then he gave me a kiss, making sure it was only on my cheek.
“How are you, Ethan?” My mom seemed genuinely pleased to see him. She always did. For some odd reason, my parents actually liked my boyfriend. It made me wonder whether it was because Ethan was so charming, or the fact I had a boyfriend at all that made them so happy.
“I’m fine, Mrs. Carpenter,” he said, “I see you got your figure back.”
The smile never left her face, but the baseball bat she beat Ethan with in her head felt real enough to me. It only lasted a second. Then she must have decided he was paying her a compliment rather than making fun of her weight.
I looked at the time on my cell. It was almost noon. My grandparents said they’d be back around then. Since my mother wouldn’t be alone for too long, and since I wanted to talk to Ethan, I said, “Me and Ethan are gonna go get a snack downstairs. Want me to get you anything?”
“Bring me up a coffee.” She reached into her purse. She hadn’t slept all night, and had to be well past the point of exhaustion. So when I saw her pull a twenty out of her wallet, I thought it was a mistake. “Get yourselves some lunch.”
We walked down the hall and stepped into the elevator. Thankfully it wasn’t too crowded this time. The ride down was quick, and we were back in the café where the woman had been watching me yesterday. That was exactly what I wanted to talk to Ethan about, but since I hadn’t had any breakfast, food was the priority.
I got a grilled cheese and some fries and Ethan ordered a BLT. While we waited for our lunches to come off the grill, Ethan asked, “Are your mom’s parents coming?”
“As far as I know,” I answered. “They should be here this afternoon.”
“Where do they live?”
I realized then, that though he’d met my grandparents on my father’s side, he’d never seen the ones on my mother’s. “New York City.”
My grandparents almost never left the city. They thought it was too much of a hassle when everything they wanted was at their fingertips. The last time I saw them was when my parents threw a surprise 40th anniversary party for them. I was in 8th grade then, so that made it over two years ago. It has been a long time.
We grabbed our sandwiches and a couple of sodas and sat at a table. Before I could even put ketchup on my plate for my fries, Ethan bluntly said, “So what do you need to talk to me about?”
“What do you mean?” I shoved the corner of my grilled cheese into my mouth before he made me explain.
“Come on, Chris. I don’t need your ability to know when something’s bothering you. And something’s definitely bothering you. What is it?”
I sighed, put down my sandwich, and went into the whole tale about the woman watching me yesterday and how my grandfather had saved me from revealing my powers. I explained my suspicion that she was an Agent, but I really had no way of proving it.
Ethan glanced over his shoulder, as if he might find the woman sitting in the café again. “Is she here now?”
“I don’t think there’s anything to worry about. It might have been just a coincidence.”
It was amazing that a boy who lived his life behind the pages of comic book, in which there was no such thing as coincidence, refused to see the facts.
“You’re an idiot.” I took another bite of my sandwich. “They know about us. And they very nearly got me yesterday.”
“Christine.” He rarely ever said my full first name anymore unless he was saying something important. “What if that woman just happened to be in the waiting room yesterday when you came in? What if those Agents were here for someone else? We don’t even know if they’re MHDA. For all we know, they were undercover rent-a-cops.”
He paused and finished his sandwich. I had barely even noticed him eat any of it – that happened a lot. He ate so fast that if you weren’t watching, you’d miss the whole meal.
“What if I’m right?” I asked simply.
“Then we’ll deal with it. But think about this for a sec. Even if they identified you – after they cleaned up the car crash, why wouldn’t they have come upstairs to detain you?”
I had no answer for that.
Ethan nodded his head. “See? Like I said: a coincidence.”
I hated to do it, but I could think of no other argument and had to concede. “Maybe you’re right.”
I wanted to smack the smug look he gave me right off his face.
Instead, I scooped up some fries and threw them at him. He shifted to the side so quickly my eyes barely registered the movement. The fries soared past his head and landed on the floor.
Grabbing another couple of fries, I mashed them into the ketchup before shoving them in my mouth. “I hate you.”
“I know.” He still had on that cock-eyed grin he wore whenever he knew he’d beaten me. He knew I hated when he did that.
I really had to control myself. While most people thought “if looks could kill” was just an expression, for me it was a reality. In a second, Ethan could be convulsing on the ground, dying at my feet.
Barely looking at him, I finished my grilled cheese. “Let’s go back upstairs,” I ordered.
“Whatever you say, Chris,” he responded.
We threw out our trash, and headed back to the elevator.
When we got back out on fourth floor, we saw my mother, sitting in the same spot she was in when we left. My grandparents were standing there next to her. All three looked incredibly tired. Immediately, I felt bad.
“I have to go back downstairs,” I said, showing Ethan my empty hands. “Forgot my mom’s coffee.”
I turned back to the elevator, just as it dinged and the doors opened again. Two old people stepped out, nearly running into me. Neither seemed to notice I was there.
“I don’t understand why you couldn’t park close to the entrance,” the woman complained. “We wouldn’t have had to walk all that way and we could’ve gotten the less crowded elevator.”
They pushed past me. “It’s a rental, Judy,” he argued. “You want to pay $300 because some dolt parks too close and dents the door?”
“Well, next time you can drop me off by the door and then go park.”
“Don’t tell me what to do, woman!”
“Grandma!” I shouted, getting their attention before they really started yelling at each other. “Grandpa!”
Grandma Walker, my mother’s mom, spun, and her frown turned into one of those fake grins people give when they’d been caught in an embarrassing situation. “Oh my God, look at you!” She spread her arms wide and stepped toward me. “I can’t believe how much you’ve…blossomed.”
My cheeks reddened and I turned my face away as she wrapped her arms around me in a less than enthusiastic hug. It’s always embarrassing when someone looks at your chest. It’s far worse when it’s your own grandmother doing the staring.
Grandpa Walker also hugged me, then went to congratulate my mother.
“Ugh, I can’t believe you’d wear that,” my grandmother chided, looking over my mother’s shirt.
I stifled a laugh. Those were the same words my mother always used in response to my outfits. It was sort of poetic justice to hear her get the same treatment.
Then Grandpa Carpenter walked up to shake hands with Grandpa Walker. It was a very surrealistic moment for me. Up until that moment, I had never seen both sets of grandparents in the same place at the same time.
The whole scene seemed wrong somehow – kind of like if Superman walked into a room and a second later Clark Kent came in behind him. It just shouldn’t happen!
“Gary,” Grandpa Carpenter said, grasping my other grandfather’s hand.
“Frank,” Grandpa Walker responded.
Yeah, it’s official – the world’s gonna explode.
The day only got weirder when both sets of grandparents came back to stay at the house for the night. My father went to the hospital to be with my mother after he got off work, so I was stuck babysitting the elders.
I made dinner for them, which Grandma Carpenter insisted on helping with – like I could screw up making spaghetti with tomato sauce from a jar. As we sat and ate, all four of my grandparents got into a conversation about how different things were raising a child then as opposed to now. I tried my best to tune them out, but they got overly enthusiastic.
“I’m telling you, Frank.” Grandpa Walker slammed his hand down on the table, “these kids are too spoiled today.”
“Yes,” Grandpa Carpenter agreed. I think he did it more so my other grandfather didn’t destroy our table. “They have many things to keep them occupied.”
“Occupied?” Grandma Walker chimed in. “More like separated. Kids today have no social skills. They spend all their time behind a computer, or with a cellular phone attached to their ears.”
I wanted to add my opinion, and insist that I wasn’t like that. Yeah, I had a computer and a cell phone, but I didn’t use them all the time. I went out and had fun and…fought crime. I never got the chance to say anything though, as the old people kept talking.
“And they don’t read anymore,” Grandpa Walker added. “Telling them to go read a book is like telling them to go solve world hunger.”
“Christine reads,” Grandpa Carpenter said in my defense. “I actually gave her one of my old books to read.” He gave me a wink just then. I knew the old book he spoke about: his old journal.
I winked back.
“Christine’s different,” Grandpa Walker insisted. “She’s not your normal teenager. Heck, she’s never been normal.”
“Gee thanks, Grandpa,” I said. It’s no wonder Mom hasn’t made the effort to see them in a couple years.
“I don’t mean it that way, dear,” Grandpa Walker continued. “I think you’re a sweet young girl and, unlike most teenagers, you have your head on straight. You were never one to shy away from learning, and you were never into those silly computer games.”
Grandma Carpenter grabbed my forearm with her wrinkly hand. “I think Christine is just fine the way she is.”
“I’m not saying she’s not,” Grandpa Walker argued. “I’m talking about other kids.”
We resumed eating for a moment. I threw down a couple bites of spaghetti, even though I really wanted to jump up and get away from the table. Lying on a bed of nails, with cinder blocks on my chest, would have been more comfortable than the way I felt sitting with all four of my grandparents.
“Why don’t you ever come visit us, Christine?” Grandma Walker asked. “I mean, we haven’t seen you in…” She stopped to think for a moment.
“Since your anniversary party,” I explained.
“Right,” she agreed. “All I’m saying is, your grandfather and I aren’t getting any younger. We would like to see our grandchild more often.”
“I’ll try,” I said, not really meaning it. I couldn’t imagine spending a few days – alone – with the two of them. Staying with them would be a special kind of torture – the kind CIA agents reserve for the nastiest of terrorists.
“All I’m saying is, you have a car now and we’re only…” She looked at my grandfather. “About how long did it take us, Gary?”
“Six hours,” he said between bites.
“We’re only about six hours away.” She took another bite of spaghetti, and then wiped her mouth. “Get in your car one weekend and come to New York. I remember you liked it very much the last time you were there.”
Yeah, I thought, when I was eight. Tall buildings would excite any third grader who’d never seen them before.
Grandpa Carpenter covered his mouth as he tried to stifle a laugh. He snorted deeply instead, and everyone looked at him. “Sorry.” He wiped his mouth with a napkin. “Just swallowed too fast, I guess.”
I shook my head at him and smiled. For once, it was a comfort knowing he could hear my thoughts.
“I’ll think about it,” I said. I had to come up with some excuses as to why I couldn’t go see them. Luckily, I had a few excuses that were absolutely true. “I’ve got two more months of school, almost. I’ve gotta concentrate on that first. And Mom has me looking after the baby so she can work.”
After dinner, my grandparents all sat and watched the television. Both of my grandfathers fell asleep within minutes of sitting down. I really don’t understand how people fall asleep sitting up. It’s just strange.
I watched for a while, then migrated down to my temporary bed, which was a simple air mattress in the basement. Grandparents Walker were stealing my bed while Grandparents Carpenter would be sleeping on the sofa bed.
At least it’s only for a couple days, the voice in the back of my head reminded me.
“Yeah, I know,” I answered, adding a long drawn out sigh as plopped down on the air mattress.
It was still pretty early, but as soon as my head hit the pillow, I was asleep.
Like what you’ve read? Well we have more parts coming over the next few months. But if you can’t wait to read it, the book is available on Amazon, or on our website, here!
Also, if you like the content above, we have plenty more for you! We will always post stuff you can access for free, but we also have premium content for our premium subscribers. Want to access this content and see what it’s all about? You can be hitting that Subscribe Now button below and starting a 7-day free trial!