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Chapter XXXIX

  

            Acrid smoke congested the city streets and blocked the sky.  Walter Morrison likened it to the theorized dark skies of a nuclear winter.  The end of the world.  As he observed the cries of horror amid the death and destruction that greeted him outside the front door of the news station, he couldn’t honestly say that it wasn’t. 

            Walter’s arm shot out instinctively, blocking Scarlett as she tried to walk around him.  Her mind was ticking away on everything but what was going on around her.  She wasn’t aware of the carnage at her feet until she bumped into his arm.  Her eyes blink several times, as if she were a computer switching programs.  

            Scarlett’s mouth open to say something crude and obnoxious, but the words caught in the back of her throat.  Most of them. 

            “What the !@#$ is going on?” Scarlett asked, panic started creeping into her voice. 

            “Isn’t it obvious?” Walter said, his voice flat and low.  “We’re at war.” 

            “At war? With whom?”  The realization hadn’t hit Scarlett yet.  She was still standing tall and looking around like a tourist staring at skyscrapers. 

            “Does it matter?’  Walter answered.  There was a deep heavy tone in his voice that he’d never used around Scarlett before.  He dropped down to his haunches, trying not to be seen. 

            He looked up and saw Scarlett still standing in curious wonder. 

            “Get down!” Walter grabbed her by her top, almost ripping it off of her, and pulled her down to the sidewalk. 

            “Gibby, dammit!” Scarlett cursed, being forced to the ground.  She paid too much for her clothes to have them man handled by a cameraman that didn’t know his own strength. 

            “Do you know how much – Oh my God!” The on air reporter was about to verbally rip into her partner about the price of her clothes and the designer that made them until she saw the dead body inches away from her. 

            “Gibby, what the hell is going on?  What the hell is going on?” 

            “I don’t know.” 

            The hulking cameraman stayed hunched down as he made his way to the news van, dragging the shocked reporter behind him. 

            “Just keep your head down and get over here behind the van.” 

            “What van?”  Fear made the young reporter exaggerate, but not by much. 

            The news van was beyond salvageable.  The side windows had been blown out, and the tiny fragments crackled under their feet as they moved. The large sheet of safety glass that used to be the front windshield hung from a thin piece of rubber seal like a modern art wind chime.  The roof had been split and was peeled back along the incision like parting waves. 

            Even from where they were it was evident that something large and heavy had struck the opposite side of the van.  Judging by the slight incline, Walter assume that whatever it was that had hit the van was embedded in it and propping it up on the street facing side.  Gibby prayed that the sliding door would open and that it wouldn’t cause the van to shift and roll over. 

            He grabbed the door handle slowly and gave it a mild tug.  When the van didn’t budge, he tugged harder.  The door jostled, but didn’t move.  Walter stood a little taller, lowered his shoulder, and rammed the side door.  The van shook but didn’t teeter.  Whatever was lodged on the other side must’ve been heavier and stuck tight. 

            The cameraman pulled on the door handle again, this time it moved.  He pulled the door out and slid it back along the outer wheel track.  He reached inside, standing on his toes, and tried to sift through the disheveled mess of broadcasting equipment.   

 

            “Gibby.  Gibby.”  Scarlett tugged on her protector’s sleeve.  Walter turned to her.  She was looking away from him and pointing at the ground two yards away.  Lying on the ground was what appeared to be part of an arm, but it wasn’t human.  There were three clawed fingers, and a clawed stump on the underside that could be considered a thumb.  The skin was a mucus green color and looked like beaten leather that was peppered with a scale like pattern that neither of them had ever seen. 

            “What the hell is that?” 

 

            Walter took a long look at the dismembered limb before turning back to the van’s contents. 

            “It’s another reason for us to get out there and find out what the hell is going on.”  He tried to focus on what was before him and not on what was awaiting them amid the chaos.  He had learned during his first combat reporting assignment that he couldn’t think about the danger that could be coming.  If he was going to survive, he had to focus on what was in front of him at that moment.  Being afraid of what could be coming would only compound his fear during a real crisis, and cause him to freeze at a crucial moment.  That moment would make all the difference between living and dying. 

 

            Scarlett couldn’t tear herself away.  It was too much for her to process.  Maybe if she had know what was going to greet her outside the station’s doors she could have mentally prepared herself, but being ambushed by carnage – she was on the verge of breaking down. 

            Walter grabbed her by the back of the shirt and pulled her down the street; yanking her up and down like a human spring to stay out of sight. 

            “Follow me, and do as I do.  You wanted a Pulitzer… Well, you’re about to get it.” 

 

******

 

            “Damn you, Hudson.” Diamond Dog cursed.  He moved his body between the creature that stood closest to him and Electric Blue. 

            The hulking creature approached the teens slowly, savoring the moment.  The menacing grin it wore would make the devil envious. 

 

            “C’mon!” DD screamed.  “If you’re going to kill us, then kill us!” 

            “Yes.” The beast garbled through its extended jaw mouth. 

            “Nope.”  Came another voice not belonging to either human.  DD and Blue looked up, as did the beast. 

            Hovering above the pair was a boy, roughly fourteen years of age, dressed in worn jeans, new sneakers, and a leather jacket over a stained t-shirt with the words “!@#$ Me I’m a Hero” across the front.  The young boy, beyond his manner of dress, was unimpressive in his appearance.  His face still carried the baby fat he should have lost years earlier.  His hair was disheveled to the point that it wasn’t a fashion statement.  It was clear he had just gotten out of bed half an hour earlier. 

 

            “I’m pretty sure I’d lose my superhero badge if I let you kill them.  Aw, who am I kidding?  Badges? I don’t need no stinkin’ badges.” The boy’s smile conveyed that he was oblivious to everything going on around him.  To him, this was fun and games, not life or death. 

            “Kid Prodigy?’ Diamond Dog blurted.  He knew of the teen hero, but had never seen him in the flesh. 

            “Just Prodigy now.  I’m not trying to end up like Kid Paladin.”  

            An energy beam extended from the tips of his fingers.

            He wielded his arm like it was a sword.  He swung his arm down at the creature, the energy sword slicing through it as easily as it had the air.  The monster was split cleanly in two.  Thick yellow blood oozed from the severed veins and arteries.    

            The other creature turned to run. 

            “Not so fast, round boy.”  The energy beam around Prodigy’s hand receded to a glow around his fist.  He made his fingers into a gun and pointed at the retreating monster. 

            “Pchow.” He said, shooting with his finger gun.  A ray of energy extended from Prodigy’s fingertip and stretched across the street.  The golden streak of light passed through the back of the creature’s head.  The monster stopped for a moment.  Its body shook, and then it fell to the ground dead. 

            Prodigy blew a stream of air over his fingertip.  He tipped his imaginary hat at the two older teens, like a television cowboy. 

            “There’s a new sheriff in town, and his name’s Kid Prodigy.” The boy said.  He suddenly caught his slip up and tried to correct it.  ‘I meant Prodigy.  Prodigy!  Dammit!” 

 

            Diamond Dog stared in amazement, looking at the younger teen.  He looked from the young hero to the dead creatures, and back again. 

            “Ki – Prodigy!  What the hell’s going on here?’ 

            “Oh nothing.”  Prodigy said in a cocky manner that was supposed to be nonchalant.  “Just saving lives and getting girl’s phone numbers.”  He looked over DD’s shoulder at Blue.  “How you doin’?” 

            “She’s taken!” DD snapped at his rescuer.  He moved his head into Prodigy’s line of sight. 

            “Ooh, touchy.” 

            Diamond Dog wondered what was worse – death or being saved by Kid Prodigy. 

            “Look, can you help us out here?”  DD turned and showed the teen the inhibitor cuffs. 

            “What the… Why are you guys wearing…”  Prodigy looked at the two older teens.  His jaw suddenly dropped as he realized who they were. 

            “I know you!” he exclaimed.  “You’re the Yesterday Town heroes!”  Prodigy landed beside them and held up his index finger.  He created a small flame like energy bulb on the tip of his finger and used it like a blowtorch.  “Now hold still.”

            Prodigy cut through the cuffs with greater ease than he made it seem. 

            “Hot damn!  Imagine meeting you guys here!  What the hell are you doing in cuffs?”  The impudent hero asked while cutting Blue free from her bonds. 

            Diamond Dog shot a deathly glance at detective Hudson, who was still cowering on the sidewalk.  “Let’s just say we were tried and convicted in the media court.” 

            “Ah!” Prodigy sighed.  “I’ve had my trouble with the public, too.  Opinions are like farts.  Everybody has one and they want to share them, no matter how much they stink.” 

            DD frowned at the less than creative analogy. 

            “Yeah, I guess.”    

            The older boy turned to Blue and put his hands on her shoulders.  “You okay?’ 

            “About as good as you.” She said.  Her head stayed high.  “It doesn’t end, does it?”

            “I don’t… It will.” 

 

            “Hey!” Prodigy called, breaking DD and Blue’s moment.  “What about him?” 

            The younger boy’s body started rising back into the air as he pointed down at detective Hudson. 

            “Leave him.” DD said.  He took Blue’s hand and started to walk away.  Broken glass and concrete crunched under his heel.  He stopped and looked at the devastation surrounding him.  The front of the hotel was blown open and offered little in the way of refuge.  Inside people were huddled together in groups, hoping that they’d be safe because they were together.  They looked out at the three powered teens, but were afraid to move. 

            DD grabbed detective Hudson by the collar and drug him into the hotel.  He slung his limp body at the closet group of people, who were hiding behind a sofa.  He looked at the eyes that stared at him over the tops of tables, chairs, and counters.  “Take him!“

 

            “All of you listen!  You need to move from this area!  Everyone move to the kitchen!  Try and stay in the middle of the building!  Watch your exits and keep them clear in case you need to escape quickly!” 

            Diamond Dog walked out of the hotel for a second time with his head held high. 

           

            “There’s your good dead for the day.  C’mon.  We can go to ’82 and have a drink.” Prodigy said.  He was already flying in that direction. 

            “What?!  There are people dying out here.  We need to stay and help them!”  Blue shouted. 

              “Ha!” the baby fat faced boy chuckled.  “It’s where all the heroes have gathered.  It’s where I was headed when I saw those things coming at you.  Dr. 253 has a plan.” 

 

            DD looked at the girl to his side, Blue, his unofficial girlfriend.  There was so much he wanted to say, questions he wanted to ask, but the time never seemed right for them.  Once this was all over – once things had settled down – he’d say the things he’d been wanting to say for weeks, and ask the question that had been on his mind for just as long.  For now, he settled on something more appropriate. 

            “You ready for this?” 

            Blue looked at him, his eyes sank deep into the pools of hers.  He expected a comforting smile.  Instead, he got a look that was hard and determined. 

            “Do we have a choice?” 

            “We’re about to do something stupid aren’t we?”  Diamond Dog asked.  The two had started sprinting after Prodigy. 

            “Yes.”

            “We’re heroes, aren’t we?” 

            Blue’s eyes softened a bit as she turned to look at her unofficial boyfriend.  Her eyes apologized for the answer she was about to give.  “Yes.” 

            “Damn!” 

 

*****

 

            Walter and Scarlett moved cautiously down the street staying low and out of sight.  They dashed from hidden area to hidden area.  Walter kept them moving, never staying in one spot of too long.  Scarlett did her best to keep up. 

            Her mind raced with thoughts of what was going on.  More importantly, she wondered if she was going to live through it all.  She had seen more dead bodies in the past two blocks then every horror movie she’d ever watched.  She barely had time to even think about it.  Walter kept them on the go.  It took all her focus just to keep up with him. 

            Walter pulled them quickly into an alley and behind a dumpster.  Scarlett’s eyes scanned around as she tried to catch her breath. 

            “Is it…”  she huffed.  “Is it just me, or are we moving towards the fighting?” 

            “That’s ‘cause we are.” Walter responded bluntly.  “We’re following the path of destruction.  This is where the heroes will be.  Believe it or not, this is also the safest area to be.” 

            “That seems highly unlikely.”  Scarlett said in her usual skeptic tone. 

            Walter grabbed her wrist and sprinted out of the alley.  “Time to move.” 

             The cameraman pulled her to a mangle of cars destructively formed into a makeshift barrier.  Blood dripped from the twisted metal.  Scarlett didn’t know where the person, or persons, were inside Picasso like wreck, but she was certain they were dead.   

            “If we go back the other way, we may run into stragglers or who knows what, and without the benefit of help.  Going into the fray, we know the heroes will be there.  Besides, that where the story is.” 

            “Yeah, I guess.” 

            The two moved again, taking shelter behind what remained of a stonewall. 

            “Ok, how about this?  People need to know what’s going on and what areas to stay away from.  You can’t do that from the safety of a hotel room in the next county.” 

            “This is what I asked for, I guess.”  Scarlett took a deep breath and blew it out slowly.  She sighed as she resolved herself to her present course of action.  ‘Ok.  Let’s do it.” 

            Walter smiled.  “Glad to have you on board.  Now, see those over turned cars on the next block?” 

            Scarlett looked.  The cars were about fifteen yards away with no large structures in between to hide behind. 

            “That’s our next point of cover.  We need to get there as quickly as possible.” 

            “First things first.”  Scarlett said.  “I’ve got to get rid of these heels, they’re killing me.  Do you see any place where I can get something better?” 

            “Yeah.  I think we passed a Louis Vuitton a few blocks back.  Take my credit card.  Make sure to tell them that Walter sent you.” 

            Scarlett cut her eyes at the large cameraman.  “Don’t be an ass.  I’m not gonna make that distance in these shoes, and I certainly can’t do it barefoot.” 

 

            Walter quickly looked around the corner of the brick wall. 

            “We can stay here much longer.” 

            He took another peek. 

            “I see something, but you’re not gonna like it.  Look to your right.  Three o’clock.” 

            Scarlett peered around the left side of the wall.  Diagonal from her was the body of a young woman; a pool of blood outlined her head. 

            “I don’t see – oh!” 

            The dead girl was dressed in a yoga pants, a tank top, and sneakers. 

            “She seems to be about a size seven.  It’ll be a tight fit, but it beat bare footing it for the next three or so blocks. 

            “Gibby, I don’t think I…” 

            “Come on!  We’ve already been here too long.  We gotta keep moving.”       

            Scarlett turned to face the wall and extended a leg out towards the girl.  She got her foot as close as she could, try to match the size.  They’d fit. 

 

            “Well?” Walter inquired. 

            Scarlett’s face soured.  “They’ll fit.” 

            “Good.  I’ll take the left one you get the right.  Ok?” 

            Scarlett gave Walter an unseen nod.  The lump in her throat threatened to release the contents of her stomach if she dared open her mouth. 

            “One.  Two.  Three!”

            The reporter and the cameraman darted from behind the wall and grabbed at the dead woman’s shows.  They snatched the shows from her feet and raced back behind the wall.  Scarlett saw a gym bag laying near the body and picked it up as she hid back behind the brick shelter. 

            She tossed the bag to Walter while she pushed her foot into the laced shoes. 

            “Find her purse!” 

            “What?!” 

            “Her purse!  If I’m going to steal the shoes off a dead woman, I’m going to at least know who she is.  Who knows, if we make it out of this, her family might like to know that she helped saved lives.” 

            Walter gave Scarlett an awkward look that couldn’t be explained. 

            “Or something.  I don’t know, just do it.”  

 

            Walter fished a driver’s licence out of the purse and jammed it into his front pocket.  “Got it!  You ready?”

            Scarlett had both shoes on and was crouched down beside her partner ready to run. 

            “Yeah.” 

            “Let’s go!” 

 

            The two news people sprinted out from behind the broken wall.  Scarlett shivered as she took long strides in the dead woman’s shoes.  She didn’t have a good feeling about any of it.  An image of death appeared in her mind like something out of a Shakespeare play.  She tried to shake the feeling; dismissing it as an affect of the death that surrounded her.  But, the feeling was much more than the hundreds that had already died.  It was of a bigger more disparaging death. 

            The only comfort she could take was that the feeling wasn’t of her own death.  As she followed Gibby into the breach, there was no doubt in her mind that she would live through it all. 

            She wondered who was the image of death for, and why did it bother her so much?

 

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