360 Days Ago
I couldn’t honestly, rightly say how the rest of that day went. It was mostly a blur of confusion and denial. I had to wait for Whiplash–I mean, Gesmine, one of my best friends, to walk away from where she had murdered Paragon. Then I had to escape that rooftop, hiding in one of the offices while policemen hustled past me. On my way out, I was seen by one of the other cops who was ushering people out of the building. He didn’t stop me, however. Why would he? Paragon, the most powerful and amazing superhero in the world, had not been killed by a teenaged girl.
Except he had been. It just hadn’t been this particular teenaged girl.
I didn’t go back to school. I took the bus back home, walking the last few blocks. Then I locked myself in my room and ignored everyone and everything. My parents eventually gave up on trying to get me to talk, dismissing it as the same horror that everyone else was feeling. The death of a hero.
That was how the next few days went. School was cancelled for a couple of them, and I pretended to be sick for the other. My parents knew I wasn’t, but they didn’t press the issue. They were worried, because I wasn’t eating. I wasn’t talking on the phone. I wasn’t… doing anything. I was just lying in my room, sometimes in bed and sometimes not. I watched the ceiling, I watched the walls, I watched everything and nothing. And mostly, I thought about what had happened, about what I had seen.
Part of me wanted to go to the police. Another part wanted to tell my parents. Still another part wanted to confront Gesmine. I chickened out of all three options. Hell, I didn’t even talk to Aldridge despite the twenty messages per day he kept leaving. He was worried that I had seen Paragon fall.
If he only knew.
Finally, on the day of Paragon’s big funeral, I stepped out of the house for the first time. My parents thought I was going to the funeral. And why wouldn’t they? As far as they knew, I’d been completely shell shocked and inconsolable for days following his death. They thought the funeral would give me closure.
I was going to get closure, but it wasn’t from any funeral.
Gesmine. I was going to Gesmine’s house. Not to talk to her, no. I wasn’t that stupid. Not anymore anyway. I was going to her house because this was the one day that I knew for a fact that Gesmine, as Whiplash, was going to be busy, and for how long. Paragon’s funeral was a huge deal. The President of the United States was going to be there, along with every hero, both costumed and otherwise, that could be brought in. There was absolutely no way that she would miss it.
Which meant that I could search her house for… what, for that knife she had used? For evidence? Because as silly of a child as I had been, I knew that I couldn’t just accuse one of the world’s great superheroes of murdering another. It would be my word against that of a girl who had saved millions over the two years she had been an active hero.
No, I needed proof. If Paragon was going to get any justice, and he deserved that, then I had to go about this carefully. Because as fast as she was, the very second that Gesmine knew that I knew what she’d done… well, I wasn’t naïve enough to think our friendship would stand in the way after what she had already done.
It took ten minutes for me to reach Gesmine’s house, cutting through alleys and a small park. The route was as familiar to me as the walk from my bedroom to the kitchen. I’d known Gesmine Montana for years. At least, I thought I had. I’d thought she was a friend.
Now she was a superhero.
Now she was a murderer.
Now she was a champion of justice and right.
Now she had murdered the world’s greatest hero in cold blood.
I stopped in the alley behind the other girl’s home. Resting my sweatshirt-clad arms on the chainlink fence, I watched the house for a few minutes. As much as I was positive that the girl I’d thought I knew was gone, I had to make certain that Vick, her father, was gone as well. Her mother had been neither in the situation, nor mentioned, in all the time that I’d known Gesmine.
For all I knew, she’d killed her too.
After moments of assurance that stretched into minutes of stalling, I opened the latch of the gate and stepped into the Montana’s backyard. A wind chime tinkled nearby, and I very nearly screamed. One of the pathway stones shifted just a little under my feet, and I nearly twisted my ankle trying to get off what my mind said was some kind of landmine.
I may have been slightly high strung, is what I’m trying to say.
After what had to be thirty seconds but felt more like that many hours, I stepped up on the wooden patio, passing the spot where, years ago, Gesmine and I had carved our initials into the railing along with the initials of the boys we wanted to marry.
S.C. next to the single letter P. Savannah Crest and Paragon. And slightly to the right of that was Gesmine’s own wedding pledge, G. M. next to M. F. H. Gesmine Montana and… I had no idea. I’d never been able to get her to tell me whose initials were M.F.H. Years later and I still didn’t have a clue.
Once I reached the sliding glass door, I tried it on a whim. It didn’t budge. That was okay though. That wasn’t the way I expected to get inside. Instead, I continued around the patio to the short steps that led around to the front of the house.
After checking the driveway, I jogged across to the side of the garage and flipped up the panel that hid a keypad. The code to make the garage door open was the same as Gesmine’s birthday, 1127. I’d known it since the day she sent me into the garage to get a better shovel so that I could help her bury a time capsule. We’d done the same thing for school, but Gesmine wanted to bury, in her words, a better one.
Oh Ges, please tell me what happened to you.
I input the code, and the garage door began to rumble up. I waited just long enough to be able to duck under the rising door and then quickly moved to hit the button on the wall that would stop it. I pushed the button again to make the door go back down, then breathed out and turned the knob on the simple wooden door that led from the garage into the house itself.
It opened, and I stepped through into a kitchen that was as familiar as my own. I had spent so many days at this house, coming through this very door. I had sat at the kitchen table for dinner so often, at least once every couple of weeks, that I had a regular seat.
I knew Gesmine. I’d known her forever, or at least long enough that she would have told me if she was a superhero. She knew my obsession with them.
Yeah, and look where that got you. The guilty portion of my brain pointed out. Trying to kill yourself to get Paragon’s attention.
But I wasn’t trying to kill myself. I knew he’d save me. I just wanted to get close to him. I just wanted him to notice me. That’s all I wanted, his attention for just five minutes. I wanted to be more than just a silly, nothing little girl. I wanted to touch greatness. I’d had this argument with my own brain over and over again. It always ended the same way.
I was an idiot.
But, idiot that I was, I was not going to stop until I knew what had happened to my friend. If Gesmine was evil, whatever that word meant anymore, I wanted to know why. I was going to find out the truth, everything she had hidden from me, and everything that had brought her to what she did on that roof. I needed answers. And Paragon deserved justice. No one else was going to get it for him. I owed him that much, no matter what it cost me.
From the kitchen I made my way upstairs to Gesmine’s bedroom. Another place I knew by heart. Her bed sat in the back left corner just past the closet. Unlike my own bed, hers was neatly made. Her entire room was always spotless.
I guess it’s easy to be tidy when you can clean the entire house in the time it takes someone to finish asking you to pick up that sock.
I wasn’t sure what I expected to find. A journal, maybe? Something that said, ‘Dear Diary, here is a succinct summary of how I became a superhero, why I never told my best friend, what turned me evil, and why I killed the world’s greatest superhero. P.S. Also, here is my super-secret weakness that takes away my powers so that I don’t stab whoever reads this fifty bazillion times. Love, Bizzaro Ges.’
Yeah, fat chance. But maybe there would be something that told me what I should do.
Unfortunately, before I had time to do more than gaze around the room and realize I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do, the front door slammed with the force of a dozen angry mothers.
I froze. Was Gesmine back? No, she wouldn’t leave the funeral and that would still be going on for hours. But who was it, then?
Footsteps on the stairs. I had to move. Looking around frantically as the heavy thumping came closer, I finally threw myself under the neatly made bed, cursing my inability to escape cliché the entire way.
“Where the hell is it?” The furious demand made me frown as I lay on my stomach. I didn’t recognize the voice. There were only two people who were supposed to be in this house, and this angry male was not Ges’s father. He sounded younger, maybe a few years older than I was.
“I swear, she brought it inside.” Another voice protested. This one I did recognize. Potter Vames, an old man that lived next door. His name wasn’t really Potter, but he was always working in his flower pots, so Gesmine, Aldridge, and I had started calling him Potter as kids. He hadn’t minded, and often gave us a handful of those little butterscotch candies.
I heard a disturbing crack, and then the floor shook as the old man fell onto his side with a cry of pain that made me flinch. What the hell was going on? I hugged the floor and bit back a whimper of confusion.
The younger man spoke again and I saw his foot come down on Potter’s hand. “Now, you were told what would happen if I didn’t receive exactly what I asked for.”
“Please,” the old man’s voice shook, “she’s only a child. My granddaughter–”
His tormenter interrupted, stepping down harder on the man’s fingers to draw a pained cry from him once more. “Your granddaughter was going to be just fine and dandy, until you started to play games with us.”
I could barely make out the old man’s head as it shook back and forth rapidly. “Not playing games. I swear. I swear she had it in here.”
The younger man’s voice was suddenly much closer, as he leaned down almost to his victim’s ear, and I jumped. “Then why is my scanner not detecting it? See this?” I saw the edge of what looked like an oversized smart phone. “It should be going ‘beep beep beep’. It’s not. You know what it’s detecting, hmmm? Bupkis. I think it’s time to call Dayle and tell him to put the kid in the ground.”
“No!” Potter’s weakness seemed forgotten, as he bellowed his denial and started to rise. His resistance didn’t last long, however, as a sickening crack filled the room and then the man fell face first to the floor and lay still, clearly unconscious as he bled from a wound in the back of his head.
“Idiot.” The younger man spoke distastefully. “I was going to let you say goodbye to her. Oh well.”
I hadn’t even known that Potter had a granddaughter. Now she was going to die, unless I did something.
But what? What could I possibly do? I wasn’t a fighter. I’d never thrown a punch in my life. I could use my phone to call the police, but what good would that do? The guy would be gone long before they got here, and it sounded like all he had to do was make a phone call to have the poor girl killed. The cops wouldn’t be able to stop that either.
No one could stop it. No one was here. No one but me.
My eyes closed as I heard the guy grumble while digging his phone out of his pocket. I spent a moment wishing with all of my heart that instead of me being here, it was someone like Eric James, the guy that lived down the street from me. Eric had been a bad kid when he was my age. He’d run with gangs, gotten into trouble with the cops, and in general fulfilled every cliché of the ‘bad boy’.
Then Eric’s little brother had been killed in a drive-by shooting, and that had apparently woken Eric up. He’d gone into the military for a couple of years before coming back. He’d tried to join the police, but they wouldn’t take him with his record, in spite of his military service. He hadn’t let that stop him though. Despite not being a cop, Eric was a familiar sight, walking up and down the streets he used to terrorize, keeping the peace. He wasn’t exactly a superhero, because he didn’t wear a mask or a costume or anything, and if anyone tried to call him one, the best he’d do is glare at them. But he did help people that needed it, and beat the crap out of the people who needed that.
If only he was here, instead of me. Or at the very least, if only someone was here who could fight like he did. Someone who could actually stop this.
My eyes opened.
I knew what to do.
Turning my head, I heard the guy start to dial as his pacing brought him closer. I saw him near the edge of the bed. I had to stop him before he finished making that call.
My foot lifted nearer to my chest as I lay on my side, waiting another heartbeat before lashing out. I kicked as hard as I could, straight at the guy’s knee. My kick connected solidly, and this time the crack was a welcome sound. Also welcome was the sound of the guy’s sudden scream of pain, as well as the sight of his phone tumbling to the floor.
I was out from under the bed an instant later. The guy was down to one knee, facing away from me as he howled in agony. When I came up behind him, he started to push himself up on his one good leg and turn. There was a gun in his hand, a gun that had been used to bash the back of Potter’s head in, from the sight of the blood on it.
There was no conscious thought. My hand went out and caught his. He was stronger than I was, but my fingers found the pressure points at his wrist, twisting here and jamming my thumb there. Then the gun was falling to the floor as the guy yelped from the pain coursing through his hand.
The guy still couldn’t stand, and I took advantage of that. My right arm snaked around his neck and I bent my elbow just enough to place the crook of it against his Adam’s apple. Then I used that hand to grab my other arm, holding onto it as tight as I could while my free hand shoved against the back of his head.
He fought. He fought hard and as long as possible. If I hadn’t taken him by surprise, if I hadn’t disabled his leg immediately, if anything else had gone wrong, he would have escaped. And then he probably would have killed me.
But nothing went wrong. Not for me anyway. I waited until I was certain he was unconscious before releasing him. Then, as his body fell to the floor, I slowly straightened.
My heart hammered as confusion engulfed me in that moment. How? How had I done that? I’d never fought anyone before. I’d never done anything like that before, ever.
My eyes found the poor old man bleeding on the floor, and I grabbed for my phone. Then I paused, frowning in thought. Instead of using my own phone, I knelt and picked up the psycho’s with a glance toward his unconscious form. Carefully, I dialed 911 using that phone.
When the operator picked up and asked what sort of emergency it was, I deepened my voice as much as possible and gave a twenty second summary of the situation. I told her where the men were, that the younger one was the bad guy and that he’d taken the older man’s granddaughter, and not to let him near a phone. Then I hung up.
Before the cops could get there, I wiped off the phone I had borrowed and then dropped it on the floor. I took a moment to search through Mr. Psycho’s pockets until I found a set of keys along with a remote unlock button.
What was I doing? The police could find Mr. Vames’s granddaughter. It wasn’t my business. I should just stay and tell them everything I knew.
And yet, my feet were already carrying me down the stairs and to the front door. I half-careened through the door, raising the remote while thumbing it a few times.
A dark green, almost brand new SUV beeped in acknowledgement as I pointed the remote toward it. That was the one. I jogged that way, glancing over my shoulder with the paranoid thought that Crazypants might have woken up and chased after me. But the sidewalk was empty except for myself.
Pulling the door open, I stepped inside and then looked around. “Please, please, please…” I was looking for something, anything that might give me an indication of where the bad guys were holed up. Because after my selfish actions had ended with Paragon’s death, I was not going to sit around and do nothing while Potter Vames’s granddaughter was killed. All thought of finding out the truth about Gesmine had vanished. All I cared about was stopping this murder.
My eyes found a GPS in the dashboard. I closed my eyes and sighed. If Aldridge had been here, he could have used that to find out where the car had been. That was his thing, not mine.
Opening my eyes, I looked down at the GPS once more. I put the key in the ignition and turned it just enough to get the car battery to turn on so that I could get power to the GPS. Then my fingers fairly flew over the buttons, bypassing what looked like a security lock feature and then accessed the history faster than I was normally able to get into my own e-mail. While I stared in astonishment, I was bringing the GPS history up, eliminating single routes, and settling into the one route the vehicle had taken the most recently and most often.
The route was on the map, and the GPS was telling me to pull away from the curb and make a U-turn.
Okay, this was crazy. But even as I thought it, I was closing the car door. My eyes fell on the manual shifter and I flinched. I couldn’t drive a manual. My father could, he never drove an automatic, calling it the lazy way. But I’d never even started to learn. If he was here…
My foot pressed the clutch down, and my hand shifted the SUV to neutral. I kept the clutch pressed firmly down while turning the key the rest of the way in the ignition until it started. Then my hand moved the shifter from neutral into first gear.
I pulled away from the curb smoothly, taking the U-turn the GPS requested, and then began to follow its instructions.
Not only did I have no idea what I was doing, I had even less idea of how I was doing it. I had never fought in my life, and yet I had knocked that man out without much trouble. I was not a computer person, and yet I had made the GPS sing and dance for me. I had never driven a manual, and yet here I was.
What the hell was happening to me?