Ordinary people. No weapons carried, so the metal detectors missed the real threat. And then in a flash of light, the three were standing above the crowd, faces hidden hidden behind smiling masks. One of them lifted his hand, and the bank tellers were pulled into the glass. And back. And forward again with a harder impact each time. A man had lunged for one of them, stabbed him with a pocket knife. Just a laugh and this horrible flickering as he snapped his own neck around to look at the idiot who tried to play hero, before unhinging his jaw and swallowing him whole. The final one looked from camera to camera, turning them to watch.
"Jackie, what is this I'm reading?"
The flustered teacher had held her back. Every second the lines for lunch would get longer.
"Well you said write what we thought kinetics would do to the world."
"I said write the sort of societal effects would result from the development of abilities beyond the normal, not to submit some kind of natural-born-killers thing. Although, saying that some people would like this kind of message. I would submit this to our short story competition if I were you. Bit dark but..."
"Well what the hell do you think they're going to do!?"
"I'll give this a B+ if you can explain why."
"People are idiots. Violent idiots. Trying to burn down the school anyway. Nobodies going to fight crime or solve hunger or cure diseases. They're going to pick fights, get in trouble, hurt the wrong person."
"What if you were one of them, would it change your life?"
Jackie's jaw slipped down and up again like a goldfish while she found the words.
"No. Nothing would get any better. Maybe I'd just get my own in. Now can I get my lunch?"
Jackie. Jack. Shade. Whatever.
She had to admit she was a bit of a mess at the moment.
On the other hand Maddy (Madeline) had spent an entire afternoon calling her Jacqueline. She must pay. Jack was a street away, hiding in the bushes. Some kids would egg or TP homes. Weren’t many people into rampaging, tearing up mailboxes, clawing up the grass, scratching the houses. Jack knew some people into that. Sequestered from the street lamps, she focused on the shadows cast across two floors of ghastly pink "domacile". Closed her eyes. Pictured them, sculpted from darkness and memory, shaped by instinct and practice. Fangs and claws. Snout and tail. The outlines of trees looked less like branches now. The imprint of leaves substituted for hair and bristle, with little gaps of streetlight that seemed to stare and look about until they met her. She couldn’t see it, but the cool feeling about her cheeks was the trickle of inky black leaking from her eyes. She howled, and the impressions of wolves that stepped out from the dark howled back. And as her pets tore up Mad’s “Best in Neighbourhood” prize-winning lawn, she could only do her best not to laugh.
Lesley Blaise took another swig of water. Still had the taste of boiled swede in her mouth. She could scarcely remember the last time they had a meal that you couldn’t cook in a crock pot or over an open flame. Too many stews and casseroles. Not that they had a fridge. Cooler could fit in the back of the car though. She remembered something...something about secondary effects of the thermodynamic component of...
“Radio’s dead.” Chandler stopped fiddling with the thing’s knob.
“Rest its overworked machine spirit. Make flights of toasters sing thee to thy rest. So, driving game?”
“Kay, you first.”
“Suck up, tired of insects.”
“Sick of ants. Sycophant. You did that one last time.”
“Damn, your’s then.”
“Bombastic. Religious type. Stoic, likes visuals.”
“Ascetic. I’m looking at one.” she hissed the last bit between grinning teeth.
“Hardly a hedonist. Give me a hard one.”
“Very painful, no longer cross.”
He grew very silent. Come on come on…
“Give up. Point to you.”
“Are you sure?”
A dozen howls cut through the night.
Sure enough, a street down and wham you’ve got all these spooky shadowy dogs prowling about. Growling. Tearing up somebodies lawn.
“Chandler, they are adorable.”
“Names please, Burnout.”
“Cat tuba, they are adorable.”
An annoyed grunt from the man. Shade watched. Clearly they didn’t get the memo this neighbourhood was hers to terrify. On the other hand, two scruffily/stylishly dressed vagabonds complimenting her pets was hardly a daily occurrence. One of the living silhouettes growled as she tried to introduce herself to it.
“So he goes by Chatooga,-” she jabbed a thumb in her friend’s direction. A heavy leather coat covered in sew on patches that dragged the floor, a bald head and a set of welding goggles that covered his eyes. “And I’m Burnout. Or Blaze. I don’t think we should have to use just one name. We wanna meet your master!” A red bandana drawn over her mouth and nose. A sleeveless jacket. A set of driving gloves. A mess of red hair. Something familiar in the news...
“So we were thinking, they go on rampages, they control smoke, we could totally use someone like that!”
Oh. A couple of weeks back they’d been in the paper. Pyros. Unhinged. Violent. And while this kinda wasn’t close to where she lived...she hit a speed dial. Pick up Tox. No luck. A text then.
-Help. where r u? Pyro @ my place-
-Fox n I r on r way. Keep busy-
They hadn’t seen her yet...better make an entrance. A cloud of darkness expanded from the bush, bit of cloud cover, hard to make stepping out of shrubbery look spooky. She kept it around her, let little corners flick and twist like tendrils, brought it close to them, and then dispelled it. Calm stance. Badass, but not stressed out. Would’ve helped if she wasn’t shorter than them but the dim streetlights cast just enough light on her face to let them see the empty, reflective eyes, the gloopy flow that cascaded down her cheeks and dissipated into coiling blackness.
“They call me Shade.”
“Nice threads.” Jack could take a compliment. The little approving nod and thumbs up was going a touch far.
“This. Is my turf.”
“Well duh, how else were we gonna find someone like you?” We were hoping, well I was hoping, that we could recruit?" Great. They were idiots. Could be an act? She could probably take em. Play along for now....
“Ok, one, wouldn’t I be a third wheel?”
“How else do you make a tricycle?” No hint of irony in her tone. They really were.
“And two, don’t know if you follow the news, but I’m an umbrakinetic.”
“What.” The man in the goggles was scowling.
“Shadows, not smoke.”
“No.” Some weird, sorta heat haze around his head?
“What do you mean no?”
“Shadows are the absence of light, or rather a dark band created by an object obscuring light cast onto the rest of a surface. It has no substance. Darkness isn’t a thing.”
“Chandler, don’t go telling people what their powers are.” Blaze scratched her nose. “It’s rude.”
“It...doesn’t make sense.” Getting all defensive, making himself smaller. Maybe push him if Blaze says something stupid again.
“So? I can make fire go all wibbly. I mean, these guys don’t exactly have a smell.”
“And that. Just. Dogs. Out of smoke.”
“Shadow.” Jack corrected.
“I could maybe try that? Fire dogs. Hellhounds! Nah wait, that’s way too much effort, like, I’d have to do every leg. You must be pretty good at this.”
“Nah, these pups just do their own thing unless I boss em around.” Jack could only hope they could get here fast enough. Talking to these two was like trying to put out a lit firecracker. With your fingers. And then lighting it again.
“See! Nonsense!” The man was getting a little too worked up, stopped to clench and unclench his fist a few times. His head stopped shimmering like an unlit gas oven.
“GET OFF MY LAWN!”
Aw damn somebody was making a fuss. By now they just knew to call the cops and try to ignore it whenever shadow dogs show up. Some people arguing on the street? That was manageable. At least until the fire-guy’s head started burning. Like, actually on fire. The concerned suburbanite wisely closed his screen door, locked the screen door, and stepped back inside.
She had her dogs close the distance, circle around, not look like a threat, no growling-bad girl. Get them close and then take them out before backup? The lady in the bandana was petting one. The man with the dumb name flipped.
“THEY’RE EVEN SOLID? GAAAHHAHAHAHHA!” He thrust a hand into the mass of shadows to grab something inside. The dog let out a dying gasp and started to melt as fires kicked out of its eye sockets. Jackie was terrified and awed in equal measure. This was easily the most metal thing she had seen.
She shook off the lingering wish for a camera. Got the rest of her mutts to back off. Why can’t it be the nice, stable ones that get powers? More people like her. Ok, maybe less like her but she’d settle for like, one ‘Jack’ as the cap on how crazy someone was allowed to be before it was a no-go on parahuman abilities. You must be this sane to set yourself on fire. Another text?
“Hang on, I’ve gotta take this.”
-lure them out-
Jack made a call.
“Long time no see.”
“Are you in danger?”
“I can’t really talk, I’ve met these two people, they seem nice.”
“I’m thinking we could all meet up somewhere?” She turned to the two idiots. “You staying close?”
“Jack is there a problem?”
“Yeah, we were gonna be leaving. Before we get sirens.” No sooner had bandana finished than a noise started in the distance.
“Yeah, but maybe we can all get together?” Come on two conversations here, pick up on the message.
“Ok, me and Lucas are free tonight.” Better than nothing.
A half hour of awkward conversation later, a phone call to get her friends coming the right way, a detour to hide their car, and a short walk to a little overpass and, wow. No street lamps this far out. No light but what the car had made on the way in, and a fire held tight in the man's hand, and stretched out like a lantern.
Just some sleeping bags and a barbeque pit. A little wicker man or scarecrow made from stray twigs. A load of candles lying on the floor in little circles. And a smell like roast chicken? No, just a couple of blackened pigeons.
Shade didn’t know what she was expecting but this wasn’t really it. The car boot was pried open, and a couple of marshmallows liberated from a mini-cooler. A kebab stick offered to her as the goggles dude (Chandler?) sat down, crossed his legs, and let his head start burning. Like a campfire or something. This was weird, but she didn’t want to offend just yet. Needed that backup. Bandana girl had introduced herself again as Ms Blaise (how many names did this idiot have?)
She asked why Shade was still covering herself in shadow. Something something powers. They actually bought it. Goggles took his lenses off. Bandana pulled down the cloth. Munched for a bit on toasted mallow, and then “You look pretty short. You stick around the same place. Live there?”
“No. What made you think that?”
“Don’t worry, just thinking. I like it out here. Pretty quiet.”
No, anything but casual conversation. How long before she could just get some backup and fight these morons.