Sunday, April 27, 2014

"False Alarm": A Power Club Short Story (Part 3)

          Denise hated to disturb her father while he was working, but he always seemed to be working, just like her mother. Denise stood in the doorway of the den. It was lit only by the gold and green desk lamp on her father’s desk. In the glow of the lamp, her father sat hunched over his desk, pouring over paperwork. Probably more loan applications, Denise figured, from people who had to move into the district when one of their children developed a power.
            “Daddy?” she said quietly. When he didn’t acknowledge her, she turned to leave.
            “What is it, Neesy?”
            Denise didn’t like it when most people called her “Neesy,” especially not her brother, but when her father used that nickname she’d had since she was a baby, she didn’t mind.
            “Daddy,” she began, hovering in the doorway, half wanting to run, half wanting to stay, “what would you do if you thought something bad was going to happen but wasn’t sure?”
            Gerard Evans leaned back in his banker’s chair and stroked his chin with the earpiece from his reading glasses.  Denise thought the reading glasses made him look much older than he was. “What do you mean?” he asked.
            Denise didn’t know how much she should tell her father about what she had seen on the bus. “What if you thought something bad was going to happen, like say, a building was going to catch fire and a lot of people were going to die?  Would you tell the police?”
            Her father’s eyes narrowed, but not in a way that seemed mean. It was more in a way that suggested he was thinking. To Denise, he always looked kind when he was thinking, and she knew it was because he wanted to help people who came into the bank and needed money. But sometimes, he had told her, he couldn’t give them the money they asked for, and that broke his heart. Denise sensed that his heart was breaking now.
            “Come over here,” he said quietly.
            She approached the front of the desk and stood there, like she imagined customers of the bank would do. After all, her father was vice president, a very important position. But he reached out and guided her over to his side and then turned in his swivel chair and faced her. “Denise, tell me what you think you saw.”
            They had had this conversation before, and it always went badly. First there was the time Denise told her mother she should get the tires on the car checked. A week later, one of the tires went flat. Then there was the time she had stayed up all night studying for a pop quiz in social studies—sure enough, Mrs. Glinton gave a surprise quiz the very next day.
            It was useless to lie to him so she told him everything she had seen on the bus, about the dirty chalk-white building catching fire at night. Denise hadn’t been able to get the image out of her mind all day. It was going to happen. She knew it.
            Gerard Evans leaned forward in his chair. Even at home, he wore the white shirt and dark, striped tie he wore at work, although the tie was loose at the collar. When she was little, Denise used to pull on the tie. Wanting to go back to the way things used to be, she resisted the impulse to do so now.
            “Neesy,” he began, “you know that if you start to develop a power, I’ll have to report it to the district, don’t you?”
            “Yes,” she said, knowing where this conversation was leading.
            “And you know that if you develop a power, that’s the end of going to school outside the district. You’ll have to say goodbye to your friends and go to the same school your brother goes to. Do you want that?”
            Denise frowned and shook her head.
            “Then why do you keep letting on like you can see the future?  Honey, you know that’s not possible. In all the powers the district has catalogued, no one has ever been discovered who can reliably predict the future. No one.”
            She loved it when her father talked this way—using words like “catalogued” and saying no one could reliably predict the future (there had been a few crazy people who tried to get into the district by claiming they could see the future, but they were always found out to be phonies). When her father talked that way to her, Denise felt grown up.
            “But, Daddy,” she said, “it felt so real. I even smelled smoke.”
            “We’ve talked about this before,” her father said. “It’s called Phantom Power Syndrome. Kids whose brothers or sisters have powers sometimes feel left out, so they think they’re developing a power, too. It’s a type of jealousy.”
            “Jealousy?” Denise blurted out. “Daddy, I’m not jealous of Vee. He uses his power to cheat at games. He gets away with things no one ever sees him do. Daddy, I don’t want to live in the district forever. I DON’T WANT A POWER!”
            “Okay, okay.” He had been trying to calm her down while she was speaking, and finally, he managed to shush her by telling her not to wake her mother and brother, who had already turned in.  “Well, if you see any more of these things, you come and tell me, okay?”
            “But what if I’m at school or on the bus, like today?”
            “Then you tell your teacher or the principal or some other authority figure. I’m sure they’ll investigate and everything will be all right.”
            Denise nodded. She knew her father was just telling her this to make her feel at ease, and it worked. If her father believed she didn’t have a power, she didn’t have a power, and that was that.
            “Okay, now go to bed.” He swatted her on the leg as she ran toward the door. She reached the doorway, then paused and looked back at her father, who was already hunched over his paperwork again.
            “Daddy,” she said, her voice feeling hollow as if it were coming from someone else, “I think you should give Mrs. Patillo the loan.”
            Gerard Evans looked up from his paperwork. “Who’s Mrs. Patillo?”
            Denise shrugged and ran out of the room.
            The next day, as the school bus approached the dirty chalk-white building, Denise held her breath.  She wondered if the images would return, but they did not.  Denise watched the dirty chalk-white building pass and began to relax.
            Two hours later, she was called to the principal’s office.  When she arrived, her father rose from the chair in front of Mr. Sturgeon’s desk.  His face was pale.
            “Daddy, what’s wrong?  Did something happen to Mom or to Vee?”
            “No, honey,” he said in a reassuring tone.  “They’re fine. But, Neesy, I need you to tell me something.”
            “Okay,” she said, uncertain.
            “Last night in the den, do you remember telling me I should give a loan to someone named Mrs. Patillo?”
            Denise nodded, confused. She didn’t think her father had been paying that much attention.
            “Where did you hear that name?”
            Denise shook her head.  “I must’ve made it up.”
            Her father blinked.  “About an hour ago, a woman came into the bank and requested a loan so she could open a bakery.  She said she’d just moved to the district and her kid—the one with the special power—hadn’t even started school yet.  Neesy, her last name was Patillo.”
            Denise stared at him, not fully understanding—or wanting to understand.
            “Neesy, did you see Mrs. Patillo last night, in the den?”
            Denise shook her head.  “No, it was more like she was whispering to me.  I heard her say—” Denise stopped, realizing where this conversation was going.  “I don’t have a power!  I DON’T HAVE A POWER!”
            Mr. Sturgeon, who had been sitting quietly behind his desk, said, “Maybe you’d better shut the door.”
            Denise thought he was talking to her or her father, but someone behind her shut the door, and, for the first time, Denise became aware of a fourth person in the room.  She turned to see a man she didn’t know.  He had the serious, upright demeanor of a police officer and wore a dark suit with a stylized eagle above the breast. Denise recognized the symbol instantly.
            “Daddy!  You told the district?”  She felt betrayed.
            “Neesy—” He tried to put his arms on her shoulders, but she shook away from him.  “Neesy, if what you saw is true, about the building catching fire, the authorities have to know.  You don’t want people to get hurt, do you?”
            Denise blinked tears and sniffled.  “No.”
            The man from the district leaned forward, hovering just over Denise’s head.  He smelled like cigarettes.  “Denise, you’re a brave little girl for telling your father what you saw. We're going to take you to the District Center so they can run a test on you. It won't hurt."

Sunday, April 20, 2014

"False Alarm": A Power Club Short Story (Part 2)

 [I'm not quite sure this section is as strong as it needs to be. Feedback is appreciated.]
            A police officer boarded the school bus and casually walked up and down the aisle, smiling at each child.  Denise was well used to this practice by now, but it still unnerved her.  It was a daily routine for officers to make sure no children with powers had snuck aboard the bus before it left the district.  Denise didn’t know what would happen if they actually caught a kid with powers, but the idea had never bothered her until now.
            Sheila Torvald, who sat in the seat next to Denise, whispered, “How can they tell if one of us has a power?”
            “Maybe they can’t,” Denise whispered back.  “Maybe they just want us to think they can.”
            “Or maybe they look for kids who have moles in the center of their foreheads," piped Billy Underwood from the seat behind Denise. "That's how you can tell a kid's getting powers."
            “That’s stupid!” Denise shot back.
            “What are you kids whispering about?” said the policeman.  He was now at the front of the bus.  There was no way he could have heard them.  Denise figured he probably had a power, too, like some district police officers did.
            “Nothing!” Sheila, who liked to be in charge, answered for them all.
            The policeman—a handsome man with grey eyes and straight eyebrows—approached them. 
            Denise looked away and pretended she was thinking of something else.
            The policeman turned around, headed back to the front of the bus and announced, “All clear!” to the other border guards outside.  After he left, the bus resumed its trip into the city.
            After the bus passed the border gate, Denise raised a hand to feel her forehead.
            “What are you doing?” Sheila chided her.
            “I think I'm getting a cold,” Denise lied, and quickly rubbed her nose.
            “What are you looking at?” Vee said with great annoyance as he looked up from the checker board.
            Denise had been studying her brother’s face, looking for a mole anywhere—between his eyes, on his cheek, under his chin—but she could see no mole, unless it was hidden underneath his bangs.
            “Do me a favor,” she said.  “Do this.”  She shook her head.
            “Just do it.”
            “MOM!  Denise is telling me what to do again!”
             “Denise, stop telling your brother what to do,” her mother called without looking up from the futon, where she sat pouring over research from work.
            Denise glared at her brother.  He always did what Denise told him to do when Mom wasn’t present. But when she was, he did whatever he pleased.  Denise hated that.
            Vee’s hand blurred over the checkerboard.  The rapid sound of his black checker hitting the board in several spots sounded like tiny guns firing.  When the blurring stopped, three of Denise’s red checkers had been removed from the board.
            “I bet you didn’t see THAT coming!” Vee crowed.
            Denise smiled.  No, she hadn’t.    
            “Kids with powers do NOT have moles on their foreheads,” she told Billy Underwood the next day.  “My brother doesn’t.”
            “Neither does my sister,” echoed Sheila Torvald.
            “I didn’t say every kid with a power has a mole,” Billy replied, nonplussed.  “It’s only when they’re getting powers.  My dad says the mole goes away after awhile.” Billy's dad, a dermatologist, should know, he asserted.
            For the second time since yesterday, Denise felt the desire to feel her forehead for a mole.  She had meant to check in the mirror last night or this morning when she was brushing her teeth, but she forgot.  Her failure to predict Vee’s checkers move had put her mind at ease.
            It was silly.  She didn’t have a power and didn’t want one.  As for the mole—Billy was just plain wrong, no matter what his dad had said.
            The bus paused at a stoplight. Denise took the chance to study people the nearby buildings.  One was older than the other buildings, yet it seemed majestic.  Huge, rectangular windows held court over the street,  and the paint of the building—once pristine white, she imagined—had faded to the color of dirty chalk.  It wasn't a good looking building, but Denise found herself drawn to it.
            Suddenly, flames came from nowhere and engulfed the building. The huge picture windows burst, sending glass everywhere.
            Denise jumped as the smell of smoke surrounded her and filtered into the night sky.  Night?  But it’s still morning.  A surge of panic overcame her as she turned to Sheila and Billy, but they continued to chat away, oblivious to what was going on.  No one on the bus acted as if anything was wrong. 
            Denise turned back to the building, but its unbroken picture windows stood there in the morning sun, glaring at her as if she had seen something she wasn’t supposed to see.  There were no flames.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

"False Alarm": A Power Club Short Story

It's been awhile since I've posted anything, but I want to thank everyone for stopping by and checking out the blog. Here's the first part of a Power Club prequel I wrote about a year ago. Enjoy.

            The tiny spider inched its way across the bathroom sink, up the faucet, down the faucet.  It circled the drain twice before it must have realized it was being watched.
            Denise laid her hand in front of the spider, as much to block its path as to say hello.  “Don’t be afraid,” she said softly.  “I won’t hurt you.”  She hoped the spider would crawl into her hand.  She could almost feel its tiny legs crawling into her palm, like little mechanical arms, working together.
            “Who are you talking to?” came her brother’s voice from outside the open bathroom door.  “OOH, SICK!”
            Something blurred past Denise, creating a gust of wind that blew her golden hair into her face.  There was a loud SLAM! against the counter.  When Denise looked for the spider again, all she saw was an ugly black mark.
            “VEE!” she screamed.  “How could you?”
            Vee, who had already left the bathroom, reappeared in the doorway.  “It was just a spider,”  he said with a shrug.
            Denise rolled her eyes and brushed past her brother.  If she had to explain it to him, he would never understand.
            Vee, never one to let matters drop, not even for a nine-year-old, followed her into the kitchen.  “I was doing you a favor.  How come you’re not scared of spiders like normal girls?”
            Denise turned to face him.  At eleven, she towered over her brother.  Her height gave her a sense of superiority, even though Vee could be on the other side of the house as soon as she uttered a syllable.  Mostly, though, she bristled at the phrase “normal girls.”
            “Vee, you’re so ignorant,” she said, using a word she’d recently learned in school—the normal school she went to, not the special school Vee had to go to.  “Mom’s not afraid of spiders.”
            “Mom’s not a girl.  She’s a scientist,” he said, plopping down in his favorite chair at the breakfast table.  “When are we going to eat?  I’m hungry!”
            Denise checked her watch—the new one with the pink band and glittering hands, a gift from her father for getting an A on a science quiz.  She had just enough time to fix Vee breakfast before her school bus arrived.  Vee would loiter for awhile and then run to his special school, which was only two blocks away. He could be there in a few seconds.  Denise didn't mind waiting on the bus though. She could talk to her friends on the ride to school, which took her through the old downtown, past shops and office buildings that stood several stories high. She got to see things her brother couldn't, because he wasn't allowed to leave the district.
            She pulled the breakfast cereal out of the pantry and the milk out of the fridge.  It wasn’t her job, Denise’s mother had told her, to feed Vee.  He was old enough to take care of himself.  But Denise loved the ordinary tasks of taking care of the house and making food.  They gave her the feeling of being normal while living in the district among kids who had special powers.
            “Are you going to clean up that mess?” she said as she sat down at the head of the table, a spot normally reserved for her father.
            “What mess?”
            “The mess you left in the bathroom.  The spider?”
            Vee looked as if it were already a distant memory.  “You’re the one who likes to clean house.  You do it.”
            “Vee,” she said in her strongest mother-voice, the voice Mom would surely use if she didn’t have to go to work so early.
            “Oh, all right.”  Vee blurred, vanished, and then reappeared a split second later.  “Done!”
            Denise thought she should check to make sure Vee had disposed of the spider’s remains, but decided against it.  Mom and Dad wouldn’t check.  They had told Denise they trusted her and Vee to do as they were told.  Denise thought they should be stricter, especially with Vee. 
            “No, you can’t go to Taylor Gardner’s house after school,” she said absently.  “You have to come home and do chores.”
            Vee, stuffing a spoonful of Raisin Bran into his mouth, hadn’t said a word.
            “How’d you know I was going to ask if I could go to Taylor’s?”
            Denise felt uncertain.  It was like she’d heard the conversation before it had happened.  She could hear it all, from Vee’s high pitched first request to his whining in protest and her ultimate refusal.         
            “I just knew,” she said, refusing to look him in the eye.  “Finish your cereal.”

Click here for Part 2. 

Sneak Peak at My Answers for the Local Author Fair Panel

On Thursday, November 5, I will be one of four authors participating in the Local Authors Fair Panel through Woodneath Library Center, Kansa...