Saturday, May 10, 2014

"False Alarm": A Power Club Short Story (Part 5)



[One more scene from the work in progress.]      

Part 1   Part 2   Part 3   Part 4

       The next day, the officer boarded the bus and briefly glanced at Denise, just as he did most of the other kids.  Denise allowed herself to breathe normally only after she was well away from the district.  There was no vision this time, neither when the officer came aboard nor when the bus passed the chalk white building.  In fact, there was no vision the next day, either.
            But the following Monday, Denise received a shock as she reached her usual seat on the bus.
            “Where’s Sheila?” she called around. Sheila always boarded the bus before Denise. She looked around to see if Sheila had decided to sit somewhere else, but she was nowhere to be found.
            “Where’s Sheila?” she repeated to Billy Underwood, who lived next door to Sheila in one of the lower-income neighborhoods in the district.
            Billy shrugged. “I dunno.  She wasn’t at the bus stop.  Maybe she overslept.”
            “Sheila wouldn’t oversleep.” Denise had stayed over at Sheila’s house several times and knew her friend always rose early--a trait that annoyed Denise because she often liked to sleep late.
            “Maybe she developed a power,” Billy offered with a smirk.
            Denise made a sound of disgust and took her seat.  Billy, as usual, was of no help. Denise knew it was normal for kids to miss school at times, but she couldn’t stop worrying about her friend.  She had a feeling, like sandpaper rubbing against the back of her heart, that Sheila was connected with the vision somehow.
            At recess, Denise found Sheila sitting at a curb at the edge of the playground.      
            “Why weren’t you on the bus today?” she shouted as she ran up to her friend, trying no to let on how worried she’d been.
            Sheila looked as if she hadn’t slept in a week.  “Mom took me to the doctor.  I’ve got a fever.”
            “Why didn’t you stay home?”
            “We can’t afford a sitter.”  Sheila coughed into a tissue.  “Mom said I’ll be all right if I stay away from other kids and don’t strain myself.”  Her voice was barely a croak.
            Denise watched some of the other girls running around the playground.  She longed to join them, but she didn’t want to leave her friend by herself.
            “It’s okay,” Sheila said, apparently guessing what Denise was thinking.  “I’m used to being alone.”
            Denise started to walk off, but something held her back.  It was as if she had some sort of feeling about Sheila.  The sandpaper feeling returned.
            Sheila  croaked, “Why do you keep staring at me?”
            Denise shrugged, figuring that if acting dumb worked for Billy Underwood, it might work for her.
             “Denise, you’re starting to bug me.  Like I said, just leave me alone.”
            “Well, all right,” Denise said in a huff.  She turned and jogged over to join some of the other girls climbing on the monkey bars, but a hacking cough from Sheila jolted Denise’s attention back.  It sounded like a cry for help.
            Sheila sat on the curb as if nothing were wrong and pulled a fresh tissue out of her sweater pocket. 
            Denise stared at her friends fingers and slowly walked back to her.
            “What is it now?” Sheila almost whispered.
            “What’s that on your fingers?”
            Sheila smiled.  “Like it?  My mom painted them last night.”  Sheila splayed her fingers, revealing five painted-on sunflowers.
            “Oh,” Denise said.  She didn’t mean to sound disappointed, but for a moment she expected to see something else.  “I mean, they’re great,” she said, trying to recover quickly.
            If Sheila noticed the awkward compliment, she didn’t let on.  “Mom painted her own nails the same way,” she prattled on.  “Except she painted butterflies instead.”

Saturday, May 3, 2014

"False Alarm": A Power Club Story (Part 4)



Part 1.   
         The man from the district had lied. The tests did hurt—and there was more than one of them.
           Of course, Denise had gone through most of the tests before when she went to the doctor: Nurses drew her blood, tested her eyes, and even sent her through a machine that scanned her brain. Vee had gone through these tests many times as the district tried to keep track of how his power was growing, and Denise had joked about him: “They can’t scan for your brain because you don’t have a brain.” But this time it was no joke.
            Denise had patiently cooperated with every test, but she couldn’t wait to go back to school or even go home. But a doctor with a thick black mustache and a shaven head came into the waiting room and told Denise there was one more test she had to go through: He wanted to see if she could predict what was going to happen.
            Denise held her father’s hand as they followed the doctor down a long, windowless hallway. The parts of the District Center she had seen so far resembled and ordinary hospital or doctor’s office, but this hallway seemed to go on forever, and Denise got very scared as she passed underneath a row of old-fashioned circular light fixtures that lit the hallway. The metal discs surrounding each light resembled a witches cauldron, and she thought of the story of Hansel and Gretel being tricked into going into a witch’s house so the witch could eat them.  She held her father’s hand tighter.
            The doctor led them into a room which had a large booth in the middle. It resembled one of those booths used by the family doctor to test Denise’s hearing every year.  She began to relax when she saw it, thinking this test wouldn’t be so bad.  The doctor made her sit in a chair in the center of the booth and attached wires to her arms and forehead. Denise felt like a lab animal in one of her mother’s experiments.
            The doctor then turned and whispered something to Denise’s father. He nodded slowly and started to leave the chamber.
            “Where are you going?” she asked, her voice suddenly nervous.
            Gerard Evans turned to face his daughter with an expression that seemed almost sorrowful. “They can’t test you with me in the room, Neesy. It’s going to be all right. I’m just going down the hall to call your mother and tell her how things are going.”
            For some reason, Denise hadn't even thought to ask her father if he had told her mother that he was going to take her back to the district to be tested. But he must have told her. Of course, he had. Suddenly, the idea that Denise’s mother and brother may not even know where she was and that she might not ever see them again entered her mind, and she began to squirm and try to pull the wires off her arms and forehead.
            “I want to go home!” she cried.
            The doctor kneeled at her side and began carefully reattaching the wires. Despite his tough appearance, he had a gentle touch and a soothing voice. “It’s going to be all right,” he said in strong, even voice. “I know this is scary for you, Denise, but it won’t take long and we really do need your help.  If your vision was correct, all those people could be in danger.”
            Denise, in spite of herself, began to calm down a little. “Then just make them leave the building!  Shut the building down!” she argued.
            “We can’t do that, Denise,” the doctor said with a reassuring smile.  “We need to know if your vision was real first.”
            Denise glanced at her father, but Gerard Evans stood in the doorway of the booth, his face drooping and his eyes looking sad and scared. Denise had never seen her father look so helpless before.
***
            “Okay, Denise,” the doctor’s voice boomed over the intercom.  He had moved to a small room to the side of the booth and watched Denise through a glass window.  “A series of images will flash on the screen in front of you.  I want you to tell me what they are going to be before you see them, okay?”
            Denise wanted to call for her father again. Instead, she nodded once.
            “Here’s the first one,” the doctor said.
            Denise concentrated, and an image popped into her mind.  “A cat.”
            The image of a baseball appeared on the screen.
            Denise let out a breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding.
            “Here’s the second one.”
            Denise pretended to concentrate.  A new image appeared in her mind.  “It’s . . . a balloon.”
            The image of a horse appeared.
            This is easy, she thought.  All she had to do was let her imagination wander and say whatever popped into her head.  Whatever it was, she was bound to be wrong.
            “Here’s the third one,” said the doctor.
            “An airplane.”
            There was a pause. “What kind of airplane?”
            The question threw her. 
            “I don’t know . . . the old kind, with a propeller.”
            The image of a kitten appeared.
***
            “It was a lucky guess,” her father argued with the doctor.
            “Maybe,” the doctor replied in a soft voice, as if he were trying too hard to be polite, “but she did get the kind of airplane right, even though it was the sixth image, not the third.”
            Denise sat in a cold, metal chair by the doctor’s desk while he talked to her father.  She understood more than she let on.  For instance, when the doctor said she had been right forty percent of the time, she knew that was a good sign.  In school, forty percent would be failing.  For the first time in her life, Denise wanted a grade of F.
            The doctor sat back in his chair.  “So, the tests were inconclusive.  I’d like you to bring Denise back for further testing next week.  If she does have an emerging power, it will show up in comparative brain scans.  Meanwhile, if she has any further visions, report them to the district police immediately.”
            Her father’s expression dropped.  “But suppose it was just a false alarm.  The burning building—”
            “Mr. Evans,” the doctor interrupted, “I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that failing to report a super-power is a crime.  It can get you and your family in a lot of trouble.”  He then glanced at Denise and looked sorry, as if he had forgotten she was in the room.
            Denise glared at the doctor’s feet.  She had never been so angry before.  The doctor was going to get her dad arrested if he didn’t turn Denise in again! 
            Well, there was one way to solve that problem.  Denise simply wouldn’t tell her dad or anyone else if she had any more visions.
***
            “It was a false alarm,” she told Sheila Torvald on the bus the next day.  Of course, word had gotten around that the district taken Denise to be tested.        
            Billy Underwood leaned over the back of Denise’s seat and stared at her.
            “What are you doing?” she asked.
            “Checking to see if you have a mole,” he answered.
            Suddenly, the kids in front of Denise were on their knees and leaning over the backs of their seats, staring her in the face.  The kids across the aisle were leaning into the aisle as if their faces were magnetically attracted to hers.
            “Get away from me!” she yelled.
            “Denise has a power!” someone whispered.  Someone else said it louder, and then everyone chanted it.
            “Pipe down back there!” Marge, the bus driver, sounded like a tank.  No one ever got out of line on Marge’s bus.  Denise was usually afraid of the large, heavy-set woman, but, for once, she was glad to be on Marge’s bus.  It immediately grew quiet, and the other kids turned around and faced forward.
            The bus stopped at the border checkpoint, as usual, and a policeman boarded to check for kids with powers.
            “You better hide!” Sheila whispered to Denise.
            “Where?” Denise whispered back and immediately wished she hadn’t.  After all, why would she have to hide?
            The policeman boarded the bus and did his usual inspection.  He paused when he reached Denise’s seat and watched her.
            She felt very nervous, though she didn’t know why.  She wanted to look away but found her attention being drawn toward him, almost as if she were being compelled to look against her will.
            and then she was somewhere else.
            Everything was dark, and there was a terrible smell around her.  She tried to breathe in and gagged.  Smoke.
            Oh no! No! No!  She had been here before.  In one of her “visions”.  No, it’s just a dream.  It’s not real.  She tried to make herself wake up, but she couldn’t.  The smoke was everywhere, and someone nearby screamed.
            She found herself running even though she didn’t want to run.  She was taking strides her young legs couldn’t possibly take.  She found herself running through a room—it looked like an office with desks and computers.  Denise’s hand—no, the woman’s—reached out.  Her fingernails had butterflies on them.  The woman’s hand touched a door—it was very hot.
            —“Hey, Denise!  Wake up!”
             Denise blinked.  Sheila was sitting next to her on the bus, shaking her.
            “What happened?”  Denise asked.
            “You zoned out.   We’re at school now.”
            Denise looked out the window just in time to see the school parking lot roll into view.
            “What about the policeman?  What did he do?”
            Sheila looked confused by the question.  “He just stared at you and left.  I guess that proves you don’t have a power after all.”