* * *
So Damon practiced—at home, on his brother.
Eldon was willing—he stood still in the east room until the darkspace appeared. Then he tried to outrun it by dashing into the living room. Eldon was no Vee, of course, but he could run pretty fast when he wanted to.
After a few times, Damon thought the darkspace was coming faster. Then Eldon nearly collided with Mom as she was carrying a basket of laundry through the living room. “Your power is not a toy,” she scolded Damon. “You don’t want El to fall and hurt himself like he did just before we moved to the district.”
Damon hated it when she brought that up. It was years ago and he could barely remember it.
“But I need to practice,” he insisted.
Damon told her about the Power Club.
Mom set the basket of laundry on the floor. “Damon, I don’t want you hanging out with those boys.”
“It’s bad enough that the district looks the other way and lets kids pick on each other. But letting them form a club without adult supervision? What if someone gets hurt? You were lucky last time. A guardian angel was watching out for you and Eldon.”
Damon rolled his eyes. He knew his mother wouldn’t budge when she started talking about guardian angels.
So Damon tabled practicing for a few weeks until school began. On the first day of class, his new teacher, Mrs. Fox, told the class about special programs that would train them to use their powers for the military or to work in the district when they grew up. But Damon couldn’t wait that long. Not with the Power Club in his very own neighborhood.
Recess was the only other option. Kids were allowed to run around the playground and test their powers, with the teachers only hanging back to make sure no one went too far. On the first day of class, Damon told his pals, Andy and Arick, to meet him on the upper level of the playground, by the basketball poles.
Andy went first. He stood facing one of the basketball poles and took a deep breath, then let out an explosive frost that covered the entire pole in seconds. Next, Damon tried creating a darkspace around another pole. Arick timed them, studying a stopwatch through his thick glasses.
“He’s got you beat by four seconds,” Arick said seriously.
Damon and Andy started to try again on different poles.
“Hey, don’t freeze all the basketball poles!”
They turned to see four older boys running toward them. Eighth graders.
“Basketball poles are for playing basketball, dummies!” one of the boys, who had blonde, shaggy hair, taunted them. “You’re going to ruin them!”
“No, we’re not.” Damon said. He knew that Andy’s frost breath would wear off in a few seconds and there were never any lasting effects from his darkspace. But the older boys didn’t seem to care.
“Get lost!” the blonde boy shouted. He stood in front of one of the frozen poles and looked up at the sky. Then Damon watched amazed as the other’s body began to glow, the air around them turning very hot. The melted ice drained off the basketball poles and evaporated on the playground.
One of the other boys bent over and transformed himself into something resembling a large, metallic ball. Then all three of the other boys began to toss him around and throw him toward the hoops, ignoring Damon and his friends.
Damon knew it was useless to protest that they had been there first. One didn’t argue with eighth graders if one hoped to live.
“Come on,” Arick said, with resignation.
They ran to the lower playground, where a swing set, a jungle gym, and a mock castle waited. The lower playground was for younger kids, but they had already had their recess, so the playground was deserted.
“What are we doing here?” Andy asked.
“I want Damon to try his power on me,” Arick said in a self-important tone.
Damon understood what Arick meant. As Arick’s glasses had gotten thicker over the years, his radar sight had increased. Damon stretched out his arms and released the darkspace over himself, Arick, and part of the playground. When Damon’s night vision kicked in, he saw Arick take off the thick glasses and put them in his pocket. Then Arick wandered around, as if he were seeing the swing set and the jungle gym and the mock castle for the first time. He sauntered around the castle and through the swings and, to Damon’s astonishment, never collided with anything.
“This is too easy!” Arick shouted in Damon’s direction. “Can’t you do anything else?”
Is that the best you can do? The Power Club’s rejection echoed in Damon’s mind, and being driven away from the basketball hoops made those words seem even louder. I’ll show you!
He concentrated, trying somehow to make the darkspace stronger. Maybe I can make it solid! But his efforts seemed to have no effect on Arick, who climbed the jungle gym and swung off of it with abandon.
Then Arick stopped swinging. He sat up on the metal bars and looked around as if he were lost.
“Damon? Damon!” he shouted, scared.
“I’m right here,” Damon replied, opening a soundspace.
Damon commanded the darkspace to go away, and, instantly, it vanished. Arick looked around, blinked, retrieved his glasses from his pocket, and put them on. Then he cautiously climbed down off the jungle gym.
“I don’t know. Everything sort of disappeared. It was like your darkness somehow got . . . darker.”