…then you’ve read the first chapter of the novel (for the most part). Here’s the short story in its original form. I thought it would be fun to give folks a chance to reread it before the novel comes out next week.
I crouched behind the table in the bank lobby cradling my unconscious boyfriend and watching the robbers yell and wave their guns around. One of the masked men slapped a bag in front of the teller window and demanded all of the money in the cash drawers. Another man wearing a gray ski mask shoved the bank manager toward the vault. The security guard lay dead in front of the bank entrance.
Blood dribbled down the side of Jack’s face where one of the robbers had clobbered him for refusing to give up his cell phone. I glanced at the bag holding our cell phones in the middle of the floor and then at the robber yelling at the teller. I was sure I saw blood on the barrel of his gun.
The woman next to me was crying and saying over and over “Someone make them stop.”
Crap. She had to go there. I could have stopped the bank robbers easily…if things had been different. If I hadn’t rejected my so called sacred destiny and most of my family ten years ago at my seventh birthday party.
My eyes strayed to the last robber who stood near the ATMs. He had barely moved since the robbers had burst into to the lobby. What was he waiting for? This was a robbery, shouldn’t he be robbing?
My mom would have wasted no time jumping into action. I imagined her springing silently over the table, knocking out the first robber, and then swinging from the light fixtures to attack the other robbers from above. Then she would have brought Jack back to consciousness and found a way to bring the security guard back to life.
Okay. Maybe that last part wouldn’t have happened.
I took Jack’s hand. It lay limp in mine. I tried to calculate how long he’d been unconscious but I was so shaken up but the suddenness of the robbery and the quick succession of them demanding our phones and Jack getting knocked out that my sense of time was off. Jack was so pale and still; I was worried he might have a concussion.
It doesn’t matter what Mom would have done. My mom couldn’t do anything because she was dead. Dead at the hands of terrorists while she was trying save thirty schoolchildren. I was one of those schoolchildren. My powers hadn’t manifested yet, but I still ran to help her. When she saw me her eyes widened in fear and her shields slipped just a little. But it was enough; enough for the blast from the bombs to hit her, sending her spinning deeper into the inferno. My last memory of Mom was her yelling at me, “Run, Olivia, run.” And, shame on me, I ran to safety along with all of the other children.
That’s when I decided there was no way in hell I was ever going to follow in my family’s footsteps. I wasn’t going to be like my grandfather, my aunt, or my mom. I wasn’t going to be a superhero. Nothing crappier than a life of pain and secrecy coupled with an ungrateful public and an early death.
But, in the dark of night I could admit my guilt. Mom would still be alive if I hadn’t have distracted her.
The first robber yelled at the bank teller, “Hurry up, dammit.” He glanced in the direction of the vault and shouted to the gray masked robber. “Dude, get your ass in gear.”
The teller was shaking as she shoved money into the bag. She dropped some on the floor and bent to pick it up. I heard her retching.
I wanted this to be over. I wanted Jack to be Okay. I wanted to go back to the normal life I’d been pursuing for the past ten years. Since I’d rejected my destiny at seven, the normal course of events–full powers manifesting at thirteen, intensive training and mentoring by another superhero, my first challenge–hadn’t happened. Somehow I’d managed to reject my potential powers such that that they were a ghost of what they would have been. I got to be a normal kid; albeit one with a dead mother and a sad father. The superhero side of the family barely acknowledged me, though I got rather pointed presents from them on birthdays; X-Men comics, collector’s swords, and the latest Batman movie.
I leaned forward and my long hair brushed Jack’s chest. Another reminder of how I was different from my family. Long hair, tight jeans, wide cuff bracelets, and revealing tops. All normal attire for a high school student, but my mom would never have allowed me to have long hair; too easy to grab in a fight. And tight jeans…forget about it…it’s hard making a flying leap if you are worried that your jeans might split. As for the bracelets, I could hear Mom saying, “I’m not Wonder Woman, I don’t need bracelets to stop bullets.”
So where did superheroes come from? Well, superheroes have been around as long as humans have existed. I guess there could have been superhero dinosaurs but that’s not the point. My family came into being to protect humans from evil. All of the myths about people flying and doing heroic deeds. Superheroes. Comic books and graphics novels? My Uncle Peter likes to joke that one of my ancestors needed money so he wrote the first superhero comic book.
I was shaken from my reverie when the first robber started yelling at the bank teller again. The robber by the ATM was still, as if he’d been locked in place by my uncle’s freeze beam. I looked around the lobby at the rest of the hostages; mostly older people with a random sampling of folks scattered around.
If Jack were awake I would be furious at him for insisting on depositing his seventeenth birthday check the old-fashioned way, using a teller. He was quirky that way.
My heart leapt when Jack groaned and his hand tightened in mine. His eyes fluttered open and we stared at each other for a moment before he said, “Ollie, what the hell?”
I tried to smile, but failed. I kept my voice soft. “Do you remember where we are?”
He tried to turn his head to look around but winced. He looked at me with panic. “The bank, right? It’s being robbed.”
The yelling bank robber noticed us talking. “Shut up!” He lifted his gun suggestively. “Or it’ll be more than the barrel of a gun you feel.”
The lady next to me muttered, “Keep quiet, you two.” She wiped the tears running down her face.
I nodded, not wanting to call more attention to us. I felt an ember of shame but I pushed it down.
Jack attempted to sit up and I helped bring him to a more comfortable position where he could see what was going on. His lips tightened when he saw the dead guard.
The bank manager and the gray masked robber came back from the vault. Gray Mask gripped the manager by his arm and dragged him over to Yelling Guy. The manager was shaking and sweating. Gray Mask gestured impatiently to Frozen Guy who jerked into motion and slowly moved to his side. The robbers held a hissing conversation that left all three men angry.
Still holding on to the manager, Gray Mask faced the rest of the lobby. “Who knows how to access the records of safety deposit box owners?” His voice was calm and reasonable which made his next words so chilling. “If you don’t come forward, I’ll shoot this useless bastard.” He aimed his gun at the man’s head. The manager’s knees buckled but the robber shook him hard. “Stay with me, asshole.” He looked back at the hostages. “Hurry up.”
He pulled the hammer back on the gun.
There was a profound silence before an older man stepped forward. He wore a blue suit and red tie. He spoke quietly. “I can help you find the information.”
Gray Mask nodded. “Good man.” He looked at the manager. “You go sit over there and don’t move or my associate will shoot you.” He nodded at Frozen Guy. The manager scuttled off and sat as if his legs could no longer hold him.
Frozen Guy seemed to slump as he surveyed the lobby. His eyes darted around and he shifted from foot to foot restlessly.
The blue suited man came over to a desk, sat down and started typing on the computer. Gray Mask stood beside him, his gun held loosely but obviously at the ready. He spoke so softly to the blue suited man that I couldn’t hear his orders. Or, truthfully I didn’t try. Though I’d rejected my powers I still had better senses and more strength than humans. When I’d gone out for soccer it had been a moral dilemma for me, since I was so much better than everyone else. I told myself I would try to hold back and I did. Mostly.
The retching teller reappeared and handed Yelling Guy a bank bag. He took it, and said, “Idiot,” and reached through the teller window and whacked her on the head. She dropped out of sight with a thud.
Jack stirred next to me. He was gritting his teeth and muttering. “We’ve got to stop them, Olivia. They’re going to hurt more people.” I put a quelling hand on his shoulder.
Jack’s the one who should have been born into a superhero family. He was the guy who stopped bullies from beating up geeks. He never passed a homeless person without giving a handout. If he’d had powers he would have ended the robbery in seconds.
I was afraid he was right about the robbers. If I’d had my phone would I have the courage to call my aunt or uncle, even if they’d probably hang up on me for being a major disappointment? I looked around the lobby at the scared and shaking people. An elderly couple clutched each other’s hands and seemed to be praying; a man in a suit sat with his arms around his knees and shivered.
Yes, even though it would mean groveling, I would call my family to save these people.
That thought made me feel a little better about myself, a little stronger. I straightened up and then froze. One of the hostages, a small man dressed in construction worker clothes, was moving slowly towards the desk where Gray Mask stood. I instantly saw his plan–if he could get close enough he might be able to overpower the robber and take his gun.
Gray Mask turned around and I almost yelled to the small man to watch out but he had already stopped moving.
“What are you doing?” Gray Mask said and my heart beat hard until I realized he was talking to Yelling Guy. “Don’t stand there like an idiot. Start clearing out the vault. We don’t have a lot of time before the police get here.”
Yelling Guy looked sullen but headed into the vault. Frozen Guy started to follow but Gray Mask waved him off.
Jack and I shared a look, both thinking the same thing. Why had the robber and manager come out empty handed? Why was Gray Mask interested in the list of safety deposit box owners?
Gray Mask said to the man at the computer. “Hurry up.”
The man answered. “There is no one by that name in our records. Is it possible the box was rented under a different name?” He was so polite it was disorienting, given the circumstances.
“Dammit.” Gray Mask looked furious for a moment and then he narrowed his eyes at Frozen Guy who sidled over. They held a soft conversation and then Gray Mask leaned over the man at the computer. This time I strained to hear while I watched the construction worker move closer to the desk. “Look under Careen.”
Careen. I knew that name. My high school nemesis was Mindy Careen. She wasn’t like a superhero nemesis, just a run-of-the-mill bully who had it in for me for some reason. Though I don’t think bullies really need a reason.
She had an older brother, Gary. I remembered that he was a smart kid, had gotten into MIT and was on the path to making something of himself, as my dad would say. Then he disappeared and there were rumors of burnout and drugs.
I looked more closely at Gray Mask. No, he didn’t look familiar. I stared at Frozen Guy. Did his lips or the shape of his eyes look familiar? Possibly.
Jack shifted beside me and I saw him watching the construction worker. Great, now Jack would feel like he had to help the man. I gripped his hand and he looked at me. I shook my head slightly and he shook his head back, rejecting my warning. Before I knew it he stood up and staggered to the middle of the lobby, holding his head and moaning.
Gray Mask jerked around with his gun aimed at Jack. I scrabbled on hands and knees to shield Jack. If I had my powers I could have stopped a bullet for him but now all I could do was hope Gray Mask wouldn’t shoot. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the construction worker slip closer behind Gray Mask.
To distract the robbers I started crying. My tears weren’t completely faked and I had to fight the urge to give in to a crying jag.
“Stop it!” Everyone froze when Gray Mask snapped out the terse statement. He whirled around, pulled the trigger and the construction worker dropped without a word. The gunshot echoed around the lobby and someone screamed. I gasped and then my heart almost stopped when he aimed the gun at Jack. He said. “No heroes.”
“How do we know you’re not going to kill us all anyway?” Jack snapped.
Gray Mask shrugged and waved his gun from side to side. “Maybe, maybe not.”
I wiped the tears from my face and reached for Jack’s hand. He gripped mine tightly and gave me a comforting smile. He shifted, preparing to get up. I sighed inwardly. My options were narrowing.
I stood up slowly, Jack’s hand slipping from mine, my heart pounding and blood rushing to my head. All eyes and guns were on me. I swallowed hard.
Jack said. “Ollie, what are you doing?” He sounded panicked and tried to grab my leg. I stepped away from him and faced Gray Mask and Frozen Guy who were both watching me; Gray Mask with a sardonic quirk to his mouth and Frozen Guy with eyes wide.
I said. “Let everyone go now. You can finish up without us.” I tried to sound confident, like Mom would have in this type of situation.
“Oh, yeah?” Gray Mask grinned. He raised his gun and said. “Certainly without you.”
Everything slowed down. I heard the gun fire and Frozen Guy yell, “Olivia, no.” I saw the bullet moving toward me. If I ducked it would go past me and hit Jack.
I breathed in fear and my breath filled all the corners of my body. In space of that breath and the next I begged for help from my dormant powers. Drawing on the faint stirrings I’d ignored for so long and asking for more.
As I breathed out, power filled me as if the breath leaving my body made space for it. I felt electric. Everything, even the air around me, was sharper and clearer than anything I’d ever experienced. I had awakened my powers and I felt complete like the last puzzle piece had been put in place inside me.
I reached out and felt my hand harden like armor. I plucked the bullet out of the air and felt it hot in my hand before flinging it down where it buried itself in the floor.
Dead silence followed. Gray Mask cocked his gun, but I didn’t give him the chance to fire again. I leapt forward and kicked the gun out of his hand and then whipped around to deliver a solid punch to his jaw, knocking him down. He cursed at me as I pushed him to the ground and held him under my foot. I kicked the gun under a desk, my mom’s words ringing in my head–“No guns, ever.”
I heard another shot and a bullet whizzed by my left ear. I spun around and saw Yelling Guy standing near the vault. Grabbing a marble pen stand from the desk I threw it and knocked him out before he could yell anymore.
I glared at Frozen Guy, or Gary Careen, as I now knew him to be.
He swallowed hard and tossed his gun aside. “We were just going to get my inheritance. Just what’s coming to me.” He looked at me, his eyes defiant through the holes of his ski mask.
I glanced at the dead construction worker near his feet and at the dead security guard. “Was all this worth your inheritance?”
He licked his lips and rubbed his forearm. I had a feeling that his inheritance would end up in his arm or up his nose. Pitiful. I felt sorry for Mindy, to have a brother like this. I vowed to be nicer to her, no matter how she treated me.
“You could let me go.” Gary said with a crafty look in his eyes. “Let me take the money in the bag.” He gave me what he must have thought was a winning smile.
I looked at him for a minute before turning to the ex-hostages. “I need rope, belts, something to tie up these guys. Someone call nine one one.”
Everyone stared at me, shock on their faces. Finally several of the men undid their belts and started tying up the robbers. Jack came over to me with his belt and I stepped away from Gray Mask to give him room.
I grabbed Gary and yanked off his stupid ski mask, revealing his pale and sweating face. He tried to pull away but I held on tight as the man in the blue suit and the bank manager used a network cable from the computer to tie him up. He was twitching and whimpering about getting his due.
“Ollie, what did you do?” Jack tightened the belt around Gray Mask’s wrists. He was gentler than I would have been. When Jack was done he faced me.
I attempted a grin. “Um, you know, adrenaline rush. Strength through fear.” I turned serious. “He was going to kill you. I couldn’t let that happen.”
Jack bent down and touched the floor where the bullet had entered. I clenched my hand which was back to its soft fleshy self. Jack cocked his head to frown at me but didn’t say anything.
I couldn’t bear his questioning look so I turned away to survey the rest of the scene while I took a personal powers inventory. Okay, super strength, check. Super armor, check. Super speed, check. What other powers were in my reach?
And then I saw that the praying elderly couple had covered the bank guard with a coat and someone else had covered the construction worker. And I remembered that with all these amazing powers come duties. I had these powers not for personal gain, but to keep people safe. And I failed the bank guard and the construction worker. Just like I’d failed my mom.
I felt myself shrinking back into turtle mode, thinking I could hide from heredity. But I knew I couldn’t, I felt too awake. I couldn’t stuff all these powers back into the closet. I’d been too late for the two men but knew Jack wouldn’t be alive if I hadn’t stopped the robbery. Knowing that helped.
A little old lady picked up the bag of phones and upended it on a desk. People grabbed their phones and started frantically making calls. Someone must have called the police because I heard sirens outside. I retrieved mine and Jack’s phones.
I heard Uncle Peter’s warning echoing in my mind. “Don’t let the police know who you are. They’ll either arrest you or make you join up.”
I bent down next to Jack, handed him his phone, and said quietly. “Jack, please don’t say anything to the police. I don’t want to answer a lot of questions. Please?” He nodded but I could tell I’d better answer some questions for him later.
Okay. That was later. I had to get through now without causing too much talk.
The police burst in and all was confusion. When my fellow hostages pointed to me as their savior I was ready with my excuses. Adrenaline rush. Strength through fear. When asked about the bullet in the floor I widened my eyes and said that it must have hit my bracelet. I’d even used my new strength to push a divot into the wide cuff. I claimed not to remember much and even cried a little.
Finally, after the other hostages were questioned they released us from the bank. Trailing behind everyone with Jack at my side I stepped into the bright sunshine blinking and bemused by the television crews outside.
Microphones were shoved into my face. “Is it true you single-handedly stopped the bank robbers?” “Can you verify that you have super strength?” “Did you really stop a speeding bullet?”
Oh crap. So much for staying under the radar.
My phone rang. It was my Uncle Peter. “Hello, Olivia.”
(originally appeared in the anthology ‘Change is in the Wind’ from Second Wind Publishing – http://www.secondwindpublishing.com/#!product/prd15/2410202601/change-is-in-the-wind)