Meredith smoothed her hands over the swell of her stomach and frowned, deep in thought. The closer they got to her due date, the more she was afraid. It had only been a dream, hadn’t it? So many years ago… It had to have been. That blithe childhood promise couldn’t have been real. Dennis put an arm around her shoulders, never knowing that his own thoughts intersected hers so well.
She leaned back into his grip and smiled.
She looked down for a moment and then smiled.
“Of course it is.”
She ignored the lingering fear as she went and opened the window to try and bring the heat down some.
The leaves were falling as they came home together with their son in the backseat of the car. The little boy was fast asleep, tucked in with his little white blanket in his little tiny green onesie.
“He’s so quiet…”
Meredith glanced back and smiled.
“He’s sleeping, Dennis. Let him stay that way.”
When they got home, Meredith carried their son inside in her arms, a huge smile on her face…until she heard the voices arguing.
“Listen, you old hag, I was here first.”
“Old hag! Who are you calling an old hag, swamp thing.”
There were two old women standing together in the living room, glaring daggers at each other and periodically shooting glances at the `it’s a boy!’ banner over the fireplace.
They turned to face the terrified new parents with twin expressions of glee.
“You’re finally home. Time to settle up, dearie.”
If I’d known I wasn’t going to survive prom, I sure as hell wouldn’t have spent so much time worrying about the color of my dress. But instead, I pretty much wasted the last week of my life getting ready for this. I mean, at least I’m leaving a pretty corpse, right? I hope. Oh…oh no. What if I’m not? That would just be the absolute worst. What was that sound? Did…did my phone just start ringing? Oh shit. Mom. Ringing…ringing…ringing….aaaaand she hit voicemail. I’m so grounded. Wait…no. You can’t be grounded if you’re dead. At least my eyeliner game was on point. I think it was. Where’s Malcolm? Oh, there he is. That really doesn’t look comfortable. I wonder why he’s lying on the hood like…oh…there’s the blood. Guess he died too. I wonder if he found the light yet. I haven’t seen it.
The guy was always at the subway station playing guitar with his case open for tips, until one day he wasn’t. The guitar was still there, but he wasn’t. Stepping closer, I looked to see if there was any sign of where he’d gone. But no, just a guitar case with a few bucks in it and the guitar propped against his stool. I’m honestly not sure when I reached out and ran my fingers across the strings, listened to the tone. The next thing I knew, I was sitting on that stool, strumming quietly. It didn’t seem to matter that I’d never played before. The music flowed from my fingers like a thing alive. Trains came and left, but I didn’t get up off that stool. Most people just walked by, not a single one of them noticing that I wasn’t the guy who usually sat there with his jeans and t-shirt and cap. They never noticed the pressed suit with a jacket and a tie. And I never once thought of the board meeting that I wasn’t at. All that mattered was the music. I had to keep making the music. I was always there at the subway station playing guitar with my case open for tips, until one day I wasn’t. The guitar was still there, but I wasn’t. Not that they could see. And when a young girl came and began to strum, we were all there, those who played the guitar and became one with the music.
I am not reckless.
1. utterly unconcerned about the consequences of some action; without caution; careless (usually followed by of):
to be reckless of danger.
2. characterized by or proceeding from such carelessness:
When I leapt onto the back of the train, I was very precise. I made sure my handholds were good and solid as I climbed up to the roof and I watched ahead for trains, signs or overpasses that might threaten my progress. There’s actually a pretty good amount of clearance on most trains, since their sizes have variance to them. One. Two. Three. Four. I counted the cars as I passed over top of them and then finally climbed down to go in the door of the one I was looking for. Precision. Planning. I am not reckless. I know exactly what I’m doing. Taking a seat, I smiled up at the conductor.
“I thought I told you to stop being so reckless.”
He never listens.
So, I’d say I was having the worst day of my life…but I’m not really sure that covers it anymore. Yesterday was just another day, minding my own business and going to class. Today? Well, I’m currently sitting about two feet off the ground watching my body chase after a squirrel. I don’t even know why. If it’s got any actual biological functions working, I don’t know what they are. Oh, right, I should probably give you some background here, huh? I’m Tess and I’m…I was? I was a medical student here. Sometime last night, someone screwed up pretty bad in one of the experimental labs on campus. Something about working with a strain of rabies? I don’t know the details. Anyway, something happened and now we’re having our own personal zombie apocalypse. And I got killed before I got my coffee. Oh, speaking of coffee. My now creepily animated-body decided to dump the pot of coffee over me…it? Sure, it. Maybe her. I don’t know. How do you refer to your own corpse? Seriously, Universe, last week when I said it would be exciting to live in an episode of Supernatural, I meant as a major character, not ‘Ghost on the Left’. So yeah. Anyway, current working theory on the whole coffee pot incident is that physical addiction remains post-reanimation. I’m half tempted to go down the frat houses and see if any of those idiots have gotten turned yet. That could prove my theory. What would a zombie be like on hallucinogens? God, this would be a glorious thesis. Too bad I’m a little too dead to be a doctor now. Oh, look, I’m off again. Was it another squirrel? Oh…oh…nope. Campus police. Poor guy doesn’t stand a chance. No, you idiot, get off the segway and run. Dammit. Oh, huh, looks like the impulse that keeps us from biting down on our own flesh is gone. Wacky. Also, zombie-me is now missing the tip of her tongue. I’m not overly surprised that instinct goes. I mean, seriously. That’s not exactly rocket science levels of brain function, but it’s still slightly above lizard hindbrain, which is what appears to be in control. The fine motor is largely gone and it looks like the center of balance might be screwed up. I wonder if that’s a common trait or if zombie-me sustained damage? I need to figure out how to haunt a computer or something because I need to take notes on this. I wonder if zombie-me broke my tablet?
This time. This time was sure to get their attention. For the last ten years, I’d fought and struggled and climbed my way up the corporate ladder of the criminal underworld and I was finally ready to go big time. But no. The big shots weren’t looking for a new member, not right now. There needed to be an opening. Well, I’d make an opening! The plan started simple enough, just get a job in their main headquarters. It didn’t have to be anything special. So, here I am, helping out the officer manager. It’s the perfect gig, really. I came in early this morning and swapped out the coffee makers for the ones I’d spent the last month building. They were absolutely perfect. Now, to just make sure I got all of the upper alphabet soup outside.
“Excuse me, Sirs, but there’s a situation outside that requires your…personal touch.”
I could see the looks of glee. They were assuming it was one of those useless heroes. Oh no, far from, my soon to be friends. The head honcho gave me a smile and gestured peremptorily for me to lead them out. Once we were all outside and the correct distance, which I had calculated painstakingly. I lifted the top off the table I had set and poured them each a cup of tea. The looks of glee on super villain faces turned to ones of confusion, but only for as long as it took for me to push the detonator button in my pocket. And as their corporate headquarters imploded dramatically, I smiled at them over my tea.
“Gentlemen, I have an offer you simply can’t refuse.”
It’s not like the comics.
My name is Brooke, but most of the world knows me as the Cobalt Crusader. Not exactly the name I would have picked if I’d had a say in it, but you know how these things work. But pretty soon, they’re gonna have a new name for me. The latest victim of the Bronx Ripper. He started out as a two-bit serial killer, nothing special. The kind of guy the detectives go looking for. Sure, I kept an eye out, just like I always do. But I’m in it to protect people actively. I don’t solve crimes. Then he got a name and people finally realized what his MO was. Whoever this guy really was, he thought he was Jack the Ripper. He said so in the letters he was sending to the NYPD, talking about being the Ripper reborn to finish his work. He does his research too, the bastard. He knew how the armor plates in my suit work, knew exactly where to get me with a knife to bypass the armor. And he knew my fighting style. Now he knows my face. And I’m on the floor with nothing. The armor is worthless, the training means nothing, and I’m out of tricks. I’m not like the other heroes. I don’t have powers, just the stuff I made. He’s setting up a camera now. All I can think is to wonder what time it is. Will my face, my name, and my death be on the 6 o’clock news or the 11 o’clock? I’m beyond the point of fear. Fear is good, it helps you survive. But when there’s no hope, the fear goes too. Now all I have is the pounding of my stubborn heart as he turns on me with that knife of his. It’s not like the comics. Never let anyone tell you it is.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” the news anchor was pale, unusually shaken, as he tried to pull his words together. “It falls upon me tonight to express a sorrow that cannot be described.”
The doorbell interrupted the news and Joe sighed, getting up from the couch. He dropped his greasy slice of pizza on the counter and stalked towards the door of the shabby apartment. Whoever was at the door started to bang on it, rather urgently.
“I’m comin’, I’m comin’. Jeez, can’t a guy eat in peace?”
When he opened the door, he looked up several inches into the face of the police officer standing there.
“Sir, are you Joseph Tucker?”
“Yeah, that’s me. What’s this about?”
The officer looked uncomfortable for a moment and then spoke again.
“I’m here about your daughter-“
“Brooke ain’t home. She’s never home on time. What’d she do this time?”
The silence was interrupted by the news anchor’s voice.
“The hero we knew and loved as the Cobalt Crusader has died at the hands of the Ripper.”
The officer looked at his partner and then gestured towards the television.
“We’re going to need you to identify the body. It’s…it’s an honor to meet you. It was a pleasure working with your daughter.”
Joe didn’t know how to respond to that in the slightest.
It was their song. It had been playing on the radio when he’d sat down at the counter in the diner for the first time and she’d leaned over to ask him what he’d have. Of course, neither of them remembered that. What they both remembered was it playing on another radio on another night when the pair sat in his car down by the river and watched the stars.
“Don’t worry, give it a few months and we’ll have licked those Krauts. I’ll be home for Christmas.”
“I promise. We’ll be right back here, Trace. Lookin’ out at those same stars.”
It was playing on the radio again when the news bulletin broke in to tell the world that the Allies were on the march. And again when she was up with the sun, to meet the sickness which had plagued her mornings. When she got her best friend to take her to the hospital, the song was ending just as they arrived. When their son was born, she sang the song to him in hushed tones, telling the newborn babe that soon he’d get to meet his papa.
“He’ll be home for Christmas, he promised.”
When the telegram came, the radio was as silent as the tears on her face.
“Alright, this is experimental trial…One hundred thirty eight…B.”
Derek spoke to the camera, hands trembling as he moved to press the ‘on’ switch. The array lit up almost immediately and the whole thing started to hum.
“Phase one appears to be operating normally…” He picked up one of his instruments. “Phase two power generation appears to be as expected…” There was a long pause and suddenly the needle shot upwards. “Oh…oh no…Not again. Please, not this again.” He dove for the power button, but it didn’t matter. The machine was already smoking. He jumped for the camera instead and dove behind the protective paneling just before it blew. “Well, that was the same malfunction from trial…um…seventy three, I think. So…”
“Derek, are you alright in here?”
He looked up into the face of Professor McKenna and sighed.
“Yes, Professor…I just had a malfunction. I’m alright.”
“You nearly blew yourself up, Derek. Grab your notes, check the prototype for flames and come get some dinner. You need to take a break and redesign or you’re going to kill yourself with one of these `malfunctions.’”
Derek sat down in the cafeteria, spreading his designs out while he tried to simultaneously shove a chicken tender into his mouth.
“You’re still working on that? You know it’s never gonna work, right?”
He didn’t even need to look up to know that was Alexis. Little miss perfect Alexis with her grants and stipends and published papers and all that. She dropped into the seat opposite him and scoffed.
“I mean, seriously, you can’t just pull energy out of nowhere, Derek, that goes against all the laws of physics.”
“As we know them…” was his only response.
“Ugh…whatever. Continue to wallow in your failure while I’m putting an astronaut on Mars.”
She strode away, heels clicking on the tiled floor, and he returned his full attention to finding the flaw in his design.
Hours turned into days and days into weeks and Derek still didn’t have a new prototype. The flaw was there, he knew it was, he just had to find it. Weeks into months and the snow fell hard around the campus as Derek burst into the lab with a tiny box in his hands. He set up his camera, hands shaking and set the little cardboard box on the counter. It was only a few inches high, not the giant bulk of lights and switches and diodes he’d had before. No, this one was simple, sleek and elegant. And most importantly of all, just as Alexis walked in to demand to know what he was doing, the little chrome sphere started to glow and lifted into the air.
“Making it work.”
The night air had a chill, just enough to promise that the seasons continued to turn. It was her favorite time of year because of that promise, and because of what that promise meant for her. The young woman smiled, gazing up at the stars over the bus stop. The country was so quiet at night and she would miss her mother some, but the city called to her heart and her soul just as it did every year. She shouldered her bag and watched two children run and play under their mother’s watchful gaze. They’d noticed the chill now, their breath fogging in the air. He would be here soon to take her home. She brushed her fingers through her hair, checking to be certain the brightly red flower she’d left was still there. They always brought each other something small, just a token of the life they led when the other wasn’t around.
The black car pulled up to the curb and the woman smiled brightly, love shining in her eyes as he stepped around to open the door for her. Her bag on the seat, he pulled her into his arms. She leaned against him, taking in his scent of lilies and orchids. He kissed her forehead gently.