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Chapter IX

06/21/10

Chapter IX

 

Eight months earlier

 

            Carson walked down the sidewalk with the causal nature of a madman.  He was nervous, through and through.  His pace would hurry with an urgency to see her, then suddenly slow to a crawl, afraid of what was waiting for him.  Yvette’s house was another two blocks away.  The distance seemed like both the longest and shortest two blocks he had ever walked. 

            For Yvette’s house to only be nine blocks away from his, it had taken Carson over thirty minutes to make it as far as he had.  Every other block, it seemed, he would stop and contemplate whether he was doing the right thing.  Errant thoughts ran through his head, telling him to run, while at the same time convincing him to stay. 

            This is a mistake.  What am I going to say?  I shouldn’t be doing this.  I have to see her.  I need to know if she’s okay.  What’s wrong with me?  What am I? 

            It was the last question that plagued Carson the most.  What was he?  What was he becoming?  The “incident” had been an isolated one.  In the three days since he had hurt Yvette, nothing strange had happened to him.  His skin was normal.  There was no trace of whatever it was that had been on his skin.  Carson started to doubt that anything had ever been there to begin with. 

            It was a known fact that mixing drugs could have adverse psychological effects.  He had been taking vitamin supplements for weightlifting and diet pills for late night energy.   For all he knew, what happened that day could have been some kinda of over-the-counter ‘roid rage.  The clear sheath on his skin was just a figment of his imagination.  Nothing from that day was as he remembered it.  Maybe, he was just a monster.

            Carson stopped again.  He looked down the street towards Yvette’s house, then looked back at the direction he had come from.  Maybe it would be better for them both if he just went home and never talked to her again. 

            If only it were that easy.  It was bad enough that he had been ditching school the past three days, hiding out from everyone.  But, he couldn’t hide away from Yvette.  He loved her.  Carson had felt it from the day he’d seen her across campus.  He had no idea who she was, but something about her drew him in.  It had taken most of the school year for him to even talk to her, and even then it barely went beyond “hi.”  It wasn’t until a chance encounter at the park over the summer that the two of them actually talked and had a conversation.  Carson had come close to telling her he loved her that day.  Luckily, he was able to restrain himself to the third date. 

            Carson forced his legs to move and continued the path to Yvette’s house.  He loved her, so he had to talk to her.  He had to tell her he was sorry, even if he didn’t know exactly what he’d done. 

            *D-Ding-do – Ding-dongggggg* 

            The doorbell chimed on top of itself as Carson pushed the button.  He had tried to hold his hand steady, and resorted to using one hand to try and steady the other.  Even still, he pushed the button twice and held it for too long. 

            Carson took a deep breath, but couldn’t hold it.  He tried to straight out his clothes.  He was in the middle of tucking his t-shirt in when the door opened. 

            Yvette’s father stood in the frame of the front door.  Carson saw the man’s eyes change from welcomed greeting to pure hate. 

            “What the hell do you want?” Leo Pembry asked.  His hands balled into fists as he looked right at Carson.  The boy who hurt his baby. 

            “Mr. P-Pembry.” Carson stammered.  “I just want to see how Yvette’s doing.” 

            “How she’s doing?!  You broke her arm!” There was no civility in Leo Pembry’s response.  He wanted to grab the teenager and break him.  Break him the way he had broken his daughter.  He wanted to snap him in half.  Break his bones one at a time and hear him scream with each crack.  She was daddy’s little girl.  He was supposed to protect her from harm, and Leo Pembry felt as if he had failed.  Revenge was the only option left. 

            “I didn’t know.” Carson started.  He assumed that her arm was broken, but didn’t know for sure.  Knowing made his heart sink.  His stomach was already tied in knots.  He felt sick and was afraid he was going to throw up.  “I didn’t mean to-“

            “Didn’t mean to?!” Leo Pembry snapped back.  “Her arm was broken in two places!  What were you trying to do?  What would you have done if no one else had been around?” 

            “I-I just wanted to stop her from walking away.” 

            Smack!

            Carson had no idea what had happened.  He suddenly found him himself falling backwards.  He tumbled down the two brick laid steps of the Pembry’s porch and landed in the grass.  Even as he sat up on the ground, Carson wasn’t aware of what was going on.  When he saw Yvette’s father stepping outside, fist raised, and droplets of blood on his shirt he realized he’d been punched. 

            Carson reached up to his face and felt the blood that poured from his broken nose.  He held his bloodied hand out to Leo Pembry, trying to get him to stop. 

            “Mizzer Pembee.” Carson called to him.  “Please, don’t do this.” 

            “I just want to stop you from walking away.” said Leo Pembry. 

            Leo Pembry smacked Carson’s hand out of the way and punched him again.  The second punch was sloppy and at a downward angle.  The older man lost his balance and fell on top of the young boy. 

            Carson was dazed.  He had been hit harder than this on the football field, but those times, he knew it was coming.  Even when he was hit from behind, he had a game awareness that prepared him for a possible tackle.  This was different.  He had been hit twice with his guard down, and was completely disoriented. 

            Yvette’s mother had come running to the front door.  She screamed at the sight of her husband beating Carson on their front yard in the middle of the day. 

            “Leo!  Stop!” cried Nora Pembry.  “Leo, you’re gonna kill him!” 

            Leo Pembry was on top of Carson.  He grabbed the boy by his shirt and lifted his head off the ground. 

            “Yvee’s, gonna need surgery because of you.” 

            Punch

            “They’re gonna need to put pins and screws in her arm.” 

            Punch.

            Carson looked over at Mrs. Pembry and up to the second floor window.  His right eye had started to swell shut, but he could see her.  Yvette.  She watched the fight from her bedroom window.  The curtains were pulled around her, so only her face showed.  It was enough for Carson.  He reached up to her.  He wanted her to see he was sorry.  He didn’t mean to hurt her.  If that meant taking a beating from her father, then so be it.  He wouldn’t fight back.  Let him do his worse. 

            “I’m gonna kill you.” spat Leo Pembry. 

            Crack!

            Leo Pembry drove his fist forward.  Instead of hitting the familiar giving flesh of Carson’s face, his fist slammed into a crystal-like facet that broke his four fingers. 

            “Aarghh!” Leo Pembry screamed.  The older man recoiled from Carson.  He held the wrist of his broken hand, staring at it in disbelief.  Carson watched as Yvette’s father started to retreat.  He saw the horrified expression on Leo Pembry’s face and tried to understand what was going on. 

            Carson tried his best to focus on what was happening.  His right eye had completely swollen shut, and blood flowed steadily into his left.  His hand moved to wipe the blood from his good eye.  There was an odd sound, like a glass orb rolling across rough concrete.  Carson looked over at his other arm, still outstretched, reaching for Yvette.  Even though he couldn’t see it clearly, he knew instantly what had happened.  It was back. 

            Carson crawled backwards along the lawn, trying to run away from himself.  It wasn’t a hallucination, it was real.  It was happening.  Just like it had happened three days earlier. 

            The crystal like covering surrounded his arm and went under his loose fitting shirt.  Carson grabbed the front of his t-shirt and ripped it open.  The crystal casing had not formed over his entire body yet.  He watched through a blurred eye as his pores extruded a clear heavy viscous fluid that quickly hardened into crystal like cells.  To the naked eye, they appeared to grow straight out of his skin, and spread downwards like a shining parasite, or cancer. 

            There was very little cleavage in the crystal structure.  A smooth surface, with a lattice that conformed to the definition of his body.  An almost perfect covering that was on a few millimeters thick.  The crystalline covering reflected in the light making it blatantly visible to the naked eye. 

            The sunlight hit the various facets and refracted, shining miniature rainbows at each lattice parameter.  Had Yvette not been gripped in an emotional blender of fear, panic, and shock, she would have found Carson to be the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.  At that moment, he looked like a walking celestial. 

            The image of him standing on her front yard, shining, glowing like a heavenly body was imprinted in her mind.  No matter how she felt about him, whenever Yvette thought of Carson, good or bad, that was how she saw him. 

            Yvette’s mother screamed into the phone from the doorway.  “We need help!  Please hurry!  You’ve got to get the policy here now!  He’s a monster!  My daughter’s boyfriend is a monster!” 

            “What the hell are you?” questioned Leo Pembry. 

            Carson looked at the injured man, then over to his wife.  He could see her lips move in almost slow motion as she said the word “monster.”  Carson looked up at the window where Yvette had been standing, watching the entire event.  She was gone.  The curtains had been closed tight. 

            Carson turned back to Leo Pembry. 

            “I don’t know.” Carson said in a desperate whisper.  He turned and ran away from the Pembry’s house.  He ran away from Yvette, the girl he loved. 

            He ran away from everything he knew to be his life. 

            He ran away from the world as he knew it. 

*****

 

Present Day

 

            Celia sat uncomfortably in the cheap, hard, plastic chair in the guidance counselor’s office.  She pulled herself up straight, pulled her feet up on the seat, and hugged her legs.  Her chin rested atop her knees, and she rocked softly in the chair. 

            Jonni reached over and tapped the front of daughter’s legs, telling her to put her legs down.  Celia ignored her, and continued to cradle her legs.  Jonni gave a slight smile and turned back to the guidance counselor, Patrick Heathmore. 

            Charles sat along with Jonni in one of the more comfortable chairs, though you wouldn’t know it by his posture.  He sat with his chest high and back straight as if the chair were forcing his posture to conform to its rigid standards.  That was how he was.  Having been in the spotlight for several years as a hero had taught him how to convey respect and confidence.  He never slouched, even at home.  It may have been one of the reasons his company was so successful; on a suburban level.  Looking at him made people take notice and pay attention.  His very nature screamed “trust me.” 

            Celia wouldn’t say anything, but she liked having Charles come to the school on matters like this.  Hardly anyone showed her mother respect, at least not on the level Celia believe she deserved.  Celia would look in their eyes as they talked to Jonni, and could almost see them re-imagining scenes from her book and not paying attention to her at all.  It wasn’t like that with Charles.  When he spoke, they listened.  If he wanted to interject in the middle of their sentence, they shut up.  In those moments, he made her proud.  It made her want to call him dad. 

            Patrick Heathmore began the meeting by clearing his throat and putting on a rehearsed smile that was supposed to break the ice and set an even tone for the meeting.  Charles countered his “controlled environment” move by arching his back and sticking his chest out.  Charles took control of the meeting and held it out of the guidance counselor’s reach. 

            Patrick shuffled papers on his desk and fiddled with his pen.  He tried hard not to look intimidated.  He failed miserably. 

            “Mr. and Mrs. Reinhart, let me begin by saying that Celia is an excellent student.”  Patrick riffled through the papers he had shuffled and pulled out a print-out with Celia’s grades. 

            “Looking here, she’s received primarily A’s and B’s in all her classes.  She’s got a C in Phys Ed, but that’s because she doesn’t dress out most of the time.” 

            Jonni looked over at her daughter in mild disappointment.

            “I figured it was time the members of this family stopped running around in tacky uniforms.” Celia said with more sarcasm than was needed.  Jonni tried not to be angry with her, given the nature of the situation, but Celia made it difficult. 

            “Umm, yes.  Okay.” Patrick answered.  “As I was saying, Celia is an excellent student.  Her teachers have nothing but positive things to say about her work.” 

            “We’re aware of Celia intelligence and dedication to her schoolwork.” Charles butted in.  “We see her report cards.  Please, let’s get to the matter at hand.” 

            “Yes.  Okay.” Patrick said.  Again, Charles had snatched control of the meeting from Patrick.  He wasn’t use to not being in charge.  In his position, he normally dictated the schools position and advised of the necessary actions that were being taken.  Like everyone else in town, he knew of Charles Reinhart’s long past alter ego, and in truth it frightened him.  He didn’t understand how a normal man could transform into such a large furry beast.  Charles was a hero, but deep inside, Patrick was afraid he might kill him. 

            “Well,” Patrick began again.  “Celia’s been having problems with some of the other students at school for quite some time.  Most of them have been very minor ‘altercations’ if you will.  Nothing that the principal, nor I, felt the need to involve the parents of either party.  The majority of these incidents involved Francesca Corder.” 

            Patrick grabbed a folder from the bottom of the paper stack and opened it.  He flipped through the file and pulled out several pages that were held together with a paper clip.  He slid the clip off and set it to the side.  No one noticed as the clip vibrated slightly on the paper blotter. 

            “Now, I spoke with Francesca and her parents yesterday.  I understand that you’ve spoken with them as well.  Is that right, Mrs. Reinhart?” 

            “Yes.” answered Jonni.  “I spoke briefly with her father.  We’ve come up with an amicable solution to what happened on Tuesday.” 

            The overhead lights flickered a bit.  Within a few seconds the air conditioner turned on. 

            “I’m glad to hear that.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t excuse what happened.” 

            “Doesn’t it?” Charles questioned.  ‘I understand the two girls got into a bit of a skirmish, but both families have worked it out, so no harm, no foul.  Right?”  

            “Not entirely, I’m afraid.  The school has very strict policies on fighting.  While the policy states that the individuals involved will be suspended for a time period to be determined by the school, the school system also reserves the right to expel either party if there is a proven history of violence.” 

            “No!” blurted Celia.  The lights flickered again.  She lowered her legs to the floor and reached forward, grabbing the edge of Patrick Heathmore’s desk. 

            “Mr. Heathmore, don’t you think this is a little extreme?” questioned Jonni.  “You said yourself that prior to what happened the other day, the incidents were so minor you didn’t feel the need to involve the parents!  Now you’re saying that they show a pattern of violence?  I disagree!” 

            “Yes, well…” Patrick nonchalantly retreated in his chair.  Though Charles had not moved or uttered a word, Patrick kept his eyes on him.  He had not been fully forth right in his prior statement regarding Celia’s other skirmishes.  They had been minor, but that wasn’t why he never brought them to the attention of the parents.  The truth was the large former hero that sat across from him.  Patrick’s fear of Charles Reinhart had forced him to dismiss any thing that would have brought about a face-to-face meeting with the large suburban plumber.  His plan had worked well until two days ago.  The fight with Francesca was something hat could not be swept aside.  Even now, the guidance counselor found himself sweating uncontrollably. 

            “We take the protection of the students at the school very seriously.  We can’t allow someone we feel may be a danger to the student body or faculty to freely roam the halls.” Patrick finished. 

            “This is bullshit!” cried Celia. 

            “Young lady!” Charles called to Celia. 

            “This is a bunch’a crap!” screamed Celia.  “This was all Francesca’s fault!” 

            The air conditioner in the office sputtered and stopped blowing.  The lights started flickering again. 

            “Mr. Heathmore…” Jonni started to speak.  Patrick didn’t let her get started. 

            “I assure you, we are quite serious.  You not only assaulted Francesca Corder without provocation…” 

            “My daughter is not a threat to the members of this school.” stated Jonni. 

            “Hold on now.”  Charles tried to stop the situation from getting out of control.  

            “The school feels that given the previous incidents and the attention that is brought to her by the notoriety of her parents…” 

            “Hold on now!” 

            “She’s a menace to this school.” 

            “She’s just a teenage girl.  These things happen occasionally, no matter who their parents are.” 

            “Mom, my head hurts.” 

            The overhead lights fluttered in such a rapid sequence that it gave the room an almost strobe light appearance.  Charles couldn’t help but take notice.  He knew the wiring in the building was old, but this was uncommon. 

            “Are you aware of the kind of destruction she’s capable of?” asked Patrick.  He reached into his desk drawer and withdrew items one at a time and laid them on the desk. 

            “Here is Francesca’s cell phone.” 

            He reached in the drawer again. 

            “Her music player.” 

            “Mom.” 

            The screens on the phone and music player lit up brightly.  The two items began to vibrate, as did the other metal items on the guidance counselor’s desk.  A low buzz filled the air. 

            “Jonni?” called Charles. 

            Patrick reached in the desk again and pulled out a piece of cloth that was powder blue in color. 

            “No.” cried Celia.

            “You act like my daughter’s going to bring a weapon into the school.” Jonni defended. 

            The screens on the music player and cell phone continued to get brighter until they blew out completely.  The casings cracked, and began spurting tiny sparks of electricity.  The sparks quickly grew in intensity and reached into the air.  Bluish-white threads of electricity arced between the two electronic devices, and traveled to the other metal objects on Patrick Heathmore’s desk. 

            Charles watched in bemused fascination.  He looked over and saw Celia was still holding onto the edge of the desk.  Her head was tilted back and her eyes were opened.  He could see the pain she was experiencing on her face.  Patrick and Jonni were too busy arguing to notice any of it. 

            “Jonni!” 

            “Not a menace?  This is what she did to the shirt Francesca was wearing.”  Patrick opened the powder blue shirt up for everyone to see.  The slim fit tee was stretched out of shape.  There was a large rip to the side of the neck, and a smaller tear on the left sleeve.  The words “Fly Me Courageous” were still legible. 

            “NO!”  screamed Celia. 

            Patrick and Jonni stopped argue at the sound of Celia’s scream.  For the first time, they noticed the changes in the room.  A current of electricity wound through the air and hit the t-shirt in the counselor’s hand.  Patrick dropped the shirt immediately as it bursts into flames. 

            Patrick was frozen in his chair.  He felt the crotch of his pants suddenly become wet and warm.  The release had been a long time coming. 

            Charles grabbed Jonni and pulled her away from Celia, even as the frightened mothered reached out to grab her child. 

            “No!  Don’t touch her!” exclaimed Charles.  He pulled the two of them back away from Celia. 

            “Oh my god.” said Jonni.  It was all she could say.  Any other words escaped her. 

            “Mommy!” 

            The room started to fill with arcing streams of electricity.  They zigzagged from the electrical outlets, overhead lights, and the guidance counselor’s computer in the far corner, and flowed into Celia.  The bright jagged currents of electricity spread out from Celia like disconnected lines of a spider’s web.  He body lifted from the chair and hovered in the air, suspended by the bands of electrical current. 

            Celia screamed as her body became supercharged.  She couldn’t control the flow of free traveling electrons as they passed in and out of her body with reckless abandon.  Her body jerked and fired off micro-bursts of electricity with each convulsion. 

            Celia tried to speak. but spat out bright deadly sparks instead.  She screamed and an electric bolt fired from her body randomly.  The bolt blasted into the ceiling and ripped a hole into the room above. 

            Charles moved Jonni behind him and forced the two of them down to the floor in a squatted position.  Charles’ shirt ripped with ease as his chest expanded and his torso started to elongate.  His pants followed, with the stitches breaking along the seam.  Mini arcs flailed towards him like the arms of a jellyfish, as his body became a larger target.  In less than a minute’s time he was fully transformed into Wooly Mammoth. 

            Wooly Mammoth lifted the desk in front of him and turned it up on its long end, providing a modest cover.  He backhanded the door to the guidance counselor’s office, knocking it off its hinges, and sending it rocketing down the hall.  He grabbed the frightened staff member and pulled him, chair and all, out of the path of electric death.  He spiraled the wheeled chair out the door and into the hall. 

            “Jonni!  Go!” shouted Wooly Mammoth.  Jonni sat in fearful amazement.  Her daughter was almost invisible in the blinding flashes and streams of electric current. 

            “Not my baby.” sobbed Jonni.  “Not like this.  It’s too soon.” 

            “Go!” Wooly Mammoth commanded.  Jonni regretfully retreated, leaving Celia when she needed her the most. 

            “CeCe, honey.” Wooly Mammoth said calmly.  “Try and relax.” 

            Celia screamed again.  Another bolt of electricity shot from her.  The bolt slammed into the upturned desk and blew it into wooden splinters.  Wooly Mammoth was knocked back by the blast.  Splinters of wood were embedded in his skin.  The electricity in the air made his fur stand on end.  His fur burned as the tips came in contact with random arcs. 

            “CeCe, you have to calm down!  You’ve got to try and control this!”  Wooly Mammoth moved closer to his step-daughter.  His steps were slow and with extreme caution.  He had to get her to calm down.  Her anger and fear were feeding into her sudden power burst.  If he couldn’t get her to stop, there was no telling what would happen. 

            Celia screamed again.  Another bolt released itself from her body.  This one blew a hole in the outer wall, opening the room to the outside.  The evacuated school could see into the room now.  They all watched.  Some in fear, other’s in amazement. 

            “It hurts!” Celia cried.  It was the first intelligible words she had said since it had all began. 

            “I know,” said Wooly Mammoth.  “I know it hurts, but you got to try and control it.  You’re the only one who can.” 

            “I can’t.  I don’t know how.” 

            “You can do it.  Just calm down.  All you have to do is calm down.” 

            “I’m scared.” 

            “Me too, CeCe.  I’d do it for you if I could, but I can’t.  Just try and relax.  Just close your eyes, and breathe deep.” 

            “I’m trying.  It’s not working.” 

            “It will.  Un-ball your fists, and spread out your fingers.  You can do it.” 

            Celia slowly opened her hands.  She closed her eyes and tried to breathe normally.  She could feel her body become heavy.  Her body gradually lowered to the ground.  The blindly white light dimmed, and the arcs lessened. 

            Wooly Mammoth moved closer, but with the same trepidation.  He could start to see Celia again.  Unfortunately, staring into the intensity of the electricity had left him somewhat blinded.  What colors he could see beyond the spots in his eyes were distorted and washed out. 

            It wasn’t much longer before the currents had died down completely, and Celia was looking like her normal self.  The electric charge had burned all of her clothes off, and singed the ends of her hair.  She dropped down to the ground, naked and exhausted.  Wooly Mammoth patted down the singed areas of his own hair before bending down to pick her up.  He cradled his step-daughter against his chest. 

            Wooly Mammoth looked for something to cover her up with, but it was hopeless.  The entire room was a burned out wreck.  The entire room was blackened and charred.  Small pockets of fire burned in various places.  He could hear the fire trucks as they rounded the corner. 

            Slowly the world came back into focus mentally.  Wooly Mammoth could hear the people outside jabbering on, make statements and accusations about things they knew nothing about.  He could hear the school’s fire alarms blaring in the halls, and smell the smoke from the fires that originated from where he stood. 

            Wooly Mammoth carried Celia out through the hole in the wall and along the schoolyard.  Jonni ran up to him with a sheet from an ambulance and draped it over her daughter.  The two of them pushed through the crowd.  Everyone wanted to get a glimpse of Celia.  They were nosey, rude, and obtrusive. 

            “MOVE!” yelled Wooly Mammoth.  The crowd parted, police and rescue included. 

            They left their car at the school, and walked the entire way home.  Charles carrying his step-daughter, and Jonni holding her hand.  They both knew that this would be the last bit of peace that they would have for a long time.

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