It wasn’t Kelly getting naked that bothered Jackson. It was what came afterward. Sure, her parents were supposed to be out all day, but sometimes they came home early just to try to catch her out. That wasn’t the nerve wracking part, it was that this thing had already made them move her from New York City to Buffalo.
“How do I look?”
“Naked,” said Jackson.
Kelly turned around.
“Honey, does my bum look big in this?”
“Big in what? You’re naked.”
“Big in your face.” She feigned shoving her bum in his face. “Seriously, stop being afraid of my parents. You could kill both of them.”
“I don’t want to do that. I don’t like killing, unlike you,” said Jackson, getting a little testy.
“I take the direct path, Jackson. That’s what people with super powers or extraordinary skill sets do: they provide people with a direct line.”
“So that’s why you need C4 plastic explosive?” said Jackson, and he kind of smiled as if he’d actually won a round.
Kelly said nothing as she put on seamless underpants. Over that she put on a black with purple trim one-piece form-fit costume with a central layer of carbon fibres.
“If I gain an ounce this thing begins to feel a little tight. The week before my period it feels ghastly and the week of my period it squelches down there.”
“Yeah, well, you don’t know how jealous I am of your shirt, gauntlets, pants, and boots. I mean, they even put themselves on you already cleaned and pressed.”
“So, Kelly, what happens if you have to put this costume on really fast?”
“Not going to happen, sweetheart.”
Kelly put on gym socks, explaining she sweat a bit in this thing. Then she put on boots and closed all the buckles. Kelly explained that the buckles meant the boots stayed on no matter what. She showed her treads.
“They’re designed to help with traction and climb things like walls. It won’t keep me on anything sheer, but it helps.”
“Stone walls, brick walls, not glass, got it.” Jackson realized he kind of liked naked better than instructions on combat tools.
She put on gloves and a two-holstered belt. The gloves incorporated wrist bands which she explained were to help her hold on. She slipped on a backpack and unholstered a weapon which turned out to be a kind of taser with eight sets of wires on a cylinder. When the trigger was pulled, the cylinder rotated to bring the next set of wires to the top of the gun where they could be most accurately aimed. The wires came out when the charge was done.
“It’s like the old pepperbox black powder revolvers, where each chamber had its own barrel and the whole thing turned.”
“What did you expect to have to do, stop a riot?”
“Twice,” said Kelly and then she put on the mask. It was a purple domino mask attached to a black cowl. Her hair came out the bottom, flowing to her shoulders.
“The front of the mask, your gloves, and the stripes on your boots are purple. Doesn’t that stand out in the dark?” asked Jackson.
“If you know what to look for, yes. But the eye tends to slip over it if there isn’t a clear picture in the mind. In other words, if you haven’t seen me in bright light you’re very unlikely to spot me in the dark.”
“What were you called, Kelly? What was your codename?”
“The original woman was Catherine Theresa Hernandez. She was called CTH. She committed suicide – bipolar and she thought she could handle it on her own – so I took over her codename and pretty well her costume.”
Jackson looked at his phone and it was a second or two before Kelly realized he was checking the net.
“You won’t find much,” said Kelly.
“There’s heaps. New Yorkers can’t keep anything to themselves. It says here you were the sidekick …”
“Partnered to a mentor,” said Kelly with an admonishing finger in the air.
“… to The Dark. Really? Him?”
Kelly, CTH, looked to the ground for a while.
“Yeah. And, yeah, he’s gay. His costume is the only black thing he wears except for shoes and belt. He started out on the rooftops of gay bars as a surprise bodyguard for gays on their way home. It cut down on the number gangs beating up gays. The Dark expanded out from that. It was at that stage that I joined. My parents are as progressive as can be in public, but when they found out The Dark was gay they immediately moved me to Buffalo.”
“Is that why you became a conservative?”
“I’m not a conservative,” said Kelly. “They don’t even have a name for my politics.”
Kelly and Jackson looked toward the stairs as if they were guilty of something.
“Kelly are you up there?”
Jackson held up his hand to keep her silent, then he held up two fingers. Kelly nodded. Her father wasn’t alone.
Then they heard two voices talking low. Both voices seemed to be male. Then one voice got sharp. There was silence for a moment and then Kelly’s father’s voice came up the stairs again.
“Kelly, if you’ve a boy up there, that’s fine. But if you’ve left the house when you said you wouldn’t, you’re in trouble because you left the door unlocked.”
Jackson and Kelly looked at each other, knowing they had blown it. Jackson felt a creeping sense of deja cruel, a tingling inside his arm, across his stomach and extending its fingers under his face. He found himself speaking, not caring if he was heard.
“The burned down district we advise,
“a bastard’s slaughter shall arise,”
“This bitter truth rolls off our tongues,
“something wicked this way comes.”
Jackson expanded in size and his muscles rippled like instant steroids. Pants became breeches and shoes became boots. His face distorted until it was no longer Jackson’s face at all. He took hold of his now-long hair and pulled his head off his shoulders. A burst of flame erupted between his shoulders where his neck used to be, and from one end to the other his shoulders were enclosed. Once again a horse stood by him.
“Do you ever use the same horse twice in a row.”
“Not if I can avoid it, Kelly. Get back, here he comes.”
“Are you out of your – aargh.”
Kelly jumped up on her bed and drew out a couple of her special knives with the handle in the middle and a blade at either end. Some kind of glop was coming under her bedroom door. Against all physics it was raising a portion of itself to form a mouth that spoke with her father’s voice.
“Kelly, I don’t mind if you have a boy up here but your mother and I want to meet him first. We want to know if he comes from a good family. Good family is very important …”
“Because you want to help the poor but you don’t want to actually know them. You …”
“Kelly,” shouted Jackson. “Later. The floor’s getting cold.”
Kelly jumped onto the horse’s back and the horse trampled the glop under under hoof as it crashed through her bedroom door.
“Your actions show a lack of maturity, young lady …”
The horse galloped down the hall, turned, and then looked back at Kelly as if to say, ‘Stairs? … again … really?’ Then the horse turned and dove down the stairs with Kelly bear-hugging its neck trying to convince herself she was CTH and not afraid of anything. The horse hit the stairs half way down, then hit the ground floor and turned to what was left of the living room.
While CTH and the horse did that, Jackson felt things get colder. He heard the floor boards crack. Twin Giant fists, about a foot across each, burst from below. The hands found Jackson and pulled him through the floor and down into the living room.
The bed followed Jackson, crashing on top of him. The Glop poured down the hole and turned into what Jackson guessed was a good likeness of Kelly’s father. If the Glop knew that …
“You bastards have been watching this house for a while.”
Jackson grabbed the Giant by the shirt front, spun around and used the momentum to throw the Giant straight through the scenic front window of the house.
“There’s a scene everybody can enjoy.”
Just then, Kelly – Jackson corrected himself, CTH – rode into the living room.
Jackson used the technique CTH had taught him and landed his foot full force through the Glop’s chest. The Glop just reformed around his leg. With that padding he kicked the Morbidly Obese Man.
The Morbidly Obese Man was very cold. Near as they could tell, he could get as cold as or colder than liquid nitrogen. He could walk across water because he froze it. Twice, now, he’d brought brought part of a building down by making structural supports brittle by freezing them.
Morbidly Obese Man could also freeze glop around a monster’s leg. The shape changer shattered, the fat man fell, and the Giant that Jackson had thought would be gone for a while tore the front yard maple tree up by the roots and rammed it in Jackson, sending the monster through a plaster-on-wood frame wall. ‘No nice, light gyprock here,’ thought Jackson. A second ram of the tree put Jackson into the next room, separating him from his own head.
Kelly got off the horse and the horse rushed forward and lashed out with its front hooves as best it could, but the ceiling was low for a horse on the large side. It seemed more designed to carry an armored rider than a cavalry officer.
Morbidly Obese Man was getting up and the Glop was starting to defrost. CTH retreated, picked up Jackson’s head, and threw it through the hole in the wall. She hadn’t even drawn her blades when Jackson crashed back into the living room. He hit the Morbidly Obese Man with his head and then knocked him into the kitchen.
“You know what to do, CTH.”
Kelly knew. She wished she were going to throw a phosphorus bomb but instead she ran into the kitchen and put her finger up the tap and sprayed water on the Morbidly Obese Man. He was out cold, to coin a pun, so she could encase him easily. But it still felt juvenile compared to something that exploded.
In the living room, the Giant was pulling the tree out of the house. He threw it into the street and tried to climb through the window. People in the neighborhood seemed to be climbing over their back fences so they would not be seen trying to get away.
The Glop had defrosted enough that it could start collecting together. Jackson’s horse trod across it but stomping on something with the consistency of pus only made it go squish.
The Giant flailed from out the window, but even with his size he couldn’t get much leverage. Jackson got in some good punches but he couldn’t knock the Giant out. Jackson realized he could hit the guy straight in the face or the chin, what he couldn’t do was force the head far enough back that the nerves would cut out and he would fall down unconscious. At best, Jackson was only going to put the Giant’s lights out when the two were standing toe to toe.
“I personally find that very disappointing,” Jackson said to no one in particular as he tried to stretch his fist further into the Giant’s face.
CTH continued to spray water on the prone form of the Morbidly Obese Man. She wished she had a funnel and hose to make the spraying easier, but he was so cold nearly everything she sprayed at him froze instantly. It would not finish the dead man off, but it would encase him and take him out of the fight. It was the Glop they wanted to finish, the Giant was still living and he might be pulled back from this. The only problem with that, thought Kelly with all the spare time she had, was the Giant seemed to be the one with the brains.
As it was, if they could encase Morbidly Obese Man long enough, they might just be able to put him into a blast furnace or something and cremate him.
CTH listened to the fight in the living room: nothing substantial, though she’d like to know what Jackson was muttering in there while he helped destroy the house.
Suddenly the muttering wasn’t half the problem destruction of the house was. There was a loud cracking and half the kitchen floor shattered due to Morbidly Obese Man’s cold. Like a flower dipped in liquid nitrogen, the floor broke into pieces and he fell into the basement. When he hit the cement floor, the ice broke into pieces and he was free.
Jackson was into the kitchen in an instant. He saw CTH hanging on the edge of the kitchen sink while it slowly shifted from the wall.
“Stay there!” she screamed.
CTH swung her legs froward, then back, and brought herself up onto the counter next to the sink’s drain board. She then took a long step and threw herself into space. She arched gracefully, caught Jackson’s shoulder and used that as an anchor to bring herself round and to land. Then she drew out a couple of phosphorus-magnesium bombs.
“I’m going to fry that frozen son of a bitch. Just got these mailed in.”
“No, that won’t unfreeze him.” Jackson grabbed the bombs. “How do I trigger these?”
“Pull the pin.”
He turned and ran into the living room where the Giant was pulling apart the frame of the house, trying to get the second story to collapse on him and CTH.
The Glop was pretty well defrosted, so that was perfect. Jackson pulled the pin of one of the bombs and threw it into her. The sticky Glop held on, not sure what to do with the thing. Clearly, she didn’t recognise it. Then the bomb went off.
Phosphorus and magnesium with an oxygen supply burned bright. The Glop folded over itself covering the burning mass. It smoked, it crackled, and the Glop burst into flames before folding over itself again.
“I can see you. Everyone can see you. No one will miss you. They’ll all see you for what you really are. When that thing finishes burning, you’ll be too scarred to ever blend in again.”
The Glop folded over one more time and then it was like all the moisture in it boiled at once. The steam rose, putting images on the ceiling. They weren’t as violent as the images of the poison, but they were just as ugly. Then the Glop turned into a dried out corpse covered in scars that was starting to burn everything around it.
The Giant was pulling out the last support in that wall. It was enough, the whole house fell forwards.
Jackson burst out of the house trying to catch the Giant, as if he could force him to put the house back like it was. But the Giant jumped from the ground to the top of the property line fence, from there to the roof of the neighbor’s garage, and from there he leapt into the yard on the far side of the block and was gone. There was no way Jackson was going to catch something that could run as fast as a car but didn’t have to take the road.
Maybe the cops had a chance, but Jackson doubted it. They couldn’t go around the block fast enough and the Giant could always change direction just to throw them off the trail.
Jackson turned. Somehow he knew. Dead. He lifted the wreckage and crawled into it. He was already hidden before the police ambled to the scene with sirens blazing. Jackson found the body quickly. He took a lock of hair. Then he held it.
“I just didn’t move fast enough,” he said.
He shifted under ceiling, wall, furniture, and roof until he came to the hole the Morbidly Obese Man had made. Jackson put his arm down the hole, holding his head by the hair.
“About time you got … here,” said CTH. “What’s wrong?”
She was the only person who could read the expression on his face when it was misshapen like that.
“The horse died.”
She seemed to know how important that was. She held his head in one arm and kissed him. Jackson slid into the basement. Apart from the hole in the ceiling and the wreckage where Morbidly Obese Man had made his escape, it was reasonably secure.
CTH started taking off her costume while Jackson started turning back to normal.
“These things happen to us. They happen to us on rare occasions so they don’t happen to other people all the time …”
“I know the drill, Kelly. I just like my horses.”
“Have you lost any before?”
Jackson changed the subject.
“You look good, naked,” he said in what was one of the worst transitions ever.
She turned to give him a better view, all the while looking very sympathetic. She hid her costume and started getting dressed in whatever was folded in the basket from the last laundry day.
“What about shoes?”
“I live here. I just need socks to keep up the facade.” There was shouting outside. Kelly hugged Jackson tight. “I’m really sorry.”
“It’s not like it’s your fault, honey. It’s my ancestor’s.”
Kelly stared at him, then time began to press. They ran to the sounds and started yelling and pounding like two trapped teenagers. It was some time before they were dug free, enough time to get their stories straight, certainly.
When they were pulled out, Detective Martinez was there. So were Kelly’s parents. The house was destroyed but they had already found the dead horse in the living room. They also found the corpse which was right where the fire had started. They had also found out from reappearing neighbors why the maple tree that was taller than the house had been pulled up by the roots – something about a superstrong giant. There was also a trail of ice—fire notwithstanding—which led from the house through the back yard to the shattered back fence. Some of the house showed cold damage, too.
Detective Martinez knew the names of both of teenagers, and they both called him Ig, which was short for Ignatius. He didn’t seem to take kindly to any other police officer talking to Kelly and the person whose arm she kept hanging on to.
Kelly’s father came up and interrupted their conversation with the Detective.
“Kelly, I really want to hear anything you have to say.”