Chapter Nineteen

Monday, December 14th, 2015

It had taken hours to get him to shut up his boyishly optimistic crowing, though it was only with bad news. Sasha had tuned him out long ago. She had her own thoughts to work out.

Summit could not have known that Canis was a freak like the others. It was not possible. If he did, that would mean that he had known about Contagion and the Chameleon’s existence and had not told her. He was her best friend. Her only friend. He told her everything.

At least, she thought he did.

Summit was a liar, even if she had thought herself immune from it long ago. Her resemblance to Garrett’s Poppy was too striking to be a coincidence. Somewhere in all of this, she could feel that her father had withheld something from her.

The expanse of trees thinned, threatening to reveal them to the brightly lit outside world. Sasha stopped, halting Garrett as well. “What?” he asked.

“We ran out of forest.”

“So? Don’t you know the way?”

“Of course. My problem is that my face is broadcasting on every news channel from here to London and I am without my mask. If someone sees me, they will call the cops and our excursion will be over.”

Garrett rolled his eyes and crossed his arms. His chest puffed out a bit. “As much as I respect the police, I would not be worried about them if I were you.”

“I think you would be opposed to killing them if it came to it.”

“Why does it always have to come to it?” he hissed.

“You said you would do anything for me. You killed for me already—”

“And I meant it. I’m only implying that there could be an alternative to just killing anyone that gets in your way.”

Sasha chuckled. “Right. An alternative. They will throw me in jail, Garrett. What are you prepared to do then?”

“I have some sway with the police.”

“Correction: you had some sway with the police, but I would say a vast majority of them are retired or dead by now. If you really want to help me, then please find me a way to keep hidden.”

He bit his lip. “We need a car.”

“Best thing you have said all day.”

“Do you…” he began. “Um…I’m assuming you know how to hotwire a car?”

“Hmmm, I love it when you talk stealing. Unfortunately, no. It never came up in my course on practical skills. Usually, I just stab the driver and take it.”

“Of course you do,” he deadpanned. “I guess I’ll take care of the car, then.”

“If you think you can handle it.”

They waited until midday to seek out a car, by Sasha’s demand. It would be easy to blend in then, and plenty of cars to choose from. She kept to the shadows while he did his work.

Garrett stood beside her for a long time, watching the cars go by. She could practically feel the regret pouring off of him, more than likely wondering why he had agreed to sign on for such a horrendous dead.

First eggs, now this?

Sasha chuckled to herself but Garrett was not amused. “Are you ready to jump in?”

“I am ready whenever you are,” she countered with a roll of her eyes.

He chose a bland, four-door piece of garbage. It was not at all what she would have chosen for herself, but she would not complain. Not when they were so close to making it home. He threw himself into the road ahead of it, causing the driver to veer into the next lane. The other cars driving alongside of it honked and skittered in every direction.

“Sir, I need your car!” Garrett yelled, smashing his fist repeatedly into the hood with enough force to make a dent.

Sasha figured that was her queue. She walked casually toward him, just as he pulled open the car door.

The old man in the driver’s seat looked confused. “I’m not supposed to, it’s my brother’s car and—”

“Please, get out of the car!” Garrett cried.

She had to suppress the guffaw in her throat. “Your way looks very efficient, Garrett.”

He scowled at her.

“I just need to pick up milk, my wife wants cereal—”

“Get out of the car!”

Sasha approached the man, fisting her hand in the material of his winter coat. She tossed him out onto the asphalt. Another car honked and veered around him, but she did not look to see if he had been struck.

Garrett pouted. “You said you’d let me do it.”

“I thought I would save you the humiliation of the worst carjacking in history. You should thank me for it. It was pathetic.”

“We’re stopping traffic.”

“Then get in the car.”

Saturday, February 8th, 1986

I ducked, covering the boy with the top half of my body when the ceiling creaked and dropped another plank and surge of embers. The kid screamed, curling into me, despite his initial reluctance to follow. It took no more effort for me to cradle him to my chest, but the plank collapsed me for a mere second. My spine suffered what must have been a break, but it repaired itself almost instantly. “Shh, shh,” I whispered.

The kid was beyond the point of being comforted.

The fire was fairly run of the mill. Assumed electrical. No foul play was suspected. Unfortunately, the building was four stories high and full of apartments which meant full of families, as most of the buildings in Newark seemed to.  I’d arrived without Poppy only fifteen minutes ago, despite her begging and pleading to come along. I’d insisted on leaving her behind, knowing I would not be able to concentrate if I was worried about her outside.

The large collection of blaring sirens and lights had been enough of a beacon to lead me into downtown Newark, but that was my goal in the first place. In addition, the smoke stack rising from the flames spelled bad news. The police had been afraid of me, even raising their guns when I approached. “Excuse me,” I had said, turning to the fire.

“Don’t move!” It was more than one officer that made the demand, but I did not falter in my steps toward the building.

“I said don’t move!” another announced.

When I still did not stop, there was a shot. There was a sharp pain in my shoulder, followed by the warmth of blood flowing down my back. Then, it was gone.

“Hold your fire!”

I was unmoved. I turned to them, finding faces in varying degrees of shock. A light clink of metal on concrete drew my attention downward. A bullet lay at my feet, flattened. I presumed from the impact to my back.

“I said,” I countered, “excuse me.”

A loud explosion echoed behind me. Firefighters flooded from the front door like water, coughing up bits of the air from the building. “Third floor is collapsed. Stairs are gone. There’s no way we’re getting up there,” one reported, unable to see me through the smoke.

Someone was screaming high above us.

“Is that a kid?”

“The first and second floor are clear, there’s no way to get any higher.”

A woman threw herself through the crowd, shoving strangers out of her way. “My son,” she shrieked in heavily accented English, “my son, it’s my son! He’s on the fourth floor!”

The leader of the squad of police peeled his eyes off me only enough to hold her back from the apartments. “Ma’am, I need you to calm down.”

Another scream from the fourth floor window pushed me back into motion. “Don’t move, freak!”

“Mommy!” the kid screamed again. It was all the motivation I needed.

There had been a few more shots before I entered the building, all of which fell uselessly to the ground. A burst of fire exploded from the front door as I entered, torching my skin, but it repaired itself as quickly as it came. “I’ll be right back,” I promised, looking at the woman who did not look back, still screaming in the captain’s face.

Inside the lobby was a hell even I had never seen before. The walls were black where they were not engulfed by flame, but that was not much. The hall was separated on both sides by four apartments, each with their doors open, and the stairwell was just passed them, against the left wall. Fourth floor. Knowing that they would be unstable, I dove across the room, throwing open the entrance to the only stairwell. The steps were crumbling, even at the very bottom. My first step put my foot through the wood.

“Crap,” I growled, viciously extricating myself from the splinters. I tested the step above that. Even in its prime it did not seem very sturdy, but it held my weight with a loud creak of protest. I was just as careful with every step above that, bringing me up to the second floor. And that was where I stopped, because the next flight of stairs was laid out in a pile of lit wooden shards on the ground. “Alright…it’s fine. I can work with this.”

The third floor’s landing looked to be about ten…maybe twelve…feet above my head. Getting up should have been easy, my main concern was that it, too, would crumble beneath my hands. Pushing the thought to the back of my mind, I crouched low, putting all of the strength I could into my legs, and threw myself up and over the ledge of the third floor. The ground beneath me groaned, threatening to drop me. The last flight of stairs was just as reluctant to hold me, but I managed to makes my way to the top floor, coughing and sputtering from the smoke hanging around me.

My eyes, thankfully, did not burn as badly as my lungs. “Hello?” I called into the dark.

There was no answer.

I yelled, “Hello?”

“I’m here!” someone called back.

I followed the sound down the hall to one of the furthermost doors. “Where are you?”

“Here! I’m here.”

Really helpful. Throwing aside the door, I entered the apartment. “Follow my voice! I’m at the door.”

“I’m scared!”

“I know, but you’ve got to trust me.”

I squinted through the smoke, watching the small body detach itself from the closet.

“Follow me. I’m here,” I continued, waving to him.

Tears were streaming down the small boy’s eyes. The smoke was almost too thick for me to see him, and vice versa. When he was close enough to get a good look at me, he stopped. Shaking his head, the kid took a few steps back, ready to run.

“No, no, no,” I pleaded. “Come here, I’m here to help you!”

The kid just kept backing up, kept shaking his head. Then, the roof gave way.

I threw myself the few feet it would take to reach him, covering him with my massive body. The flaming planks came down on my spine with a force that would have paralyzed a mortal, but I was resilient, and I threw the fallen ceiling from us instantly. The child cried, clinging to my suit, though he desperately seemed to want to get away.

“Shh, shh,” I urged, looking for the fastest way out.

The ground was next to go, sending us falling to the third floor with a duet of screams. I held tight to the boy. “Hey,” I whispered soothingly, leaning back to look at my companion. The boy, however, was not listening. “Hey!”

Shocked, big brown eyes gazed up at me.

“What’s your name?”

“D…David.”

I smiled, even if it was not visible through the mask. “Nice to meet you, David. I need you to give me a hand, okay? I need you to hold on tight so I can get us out.”

David obliged, taking as much of the material of my costume into his little hands as he could. No sooner did the floor collapse, sending the building down in a heap around us. The weight was extreme, even for Garrett, but it was nothing in comparison to the impact of my forearms hitting the cement foundation. David fit himself into the curve of my chest, pressing his head against my bicep.

Screams echoed around us, muffled by the stack of wood and flaming debris crushing my back. My abnormal strength was not enough to get us free, but it was not my only option. I called forth the knowledge I had so far used only for parlor tricks, like lifting the blankets for Poppy, and let my mind dig us out of our shallow grave.

“Wait! What’s that?”

I willed the ruins to throw themselves away from us and they did. Within moments, precious sunlight became visible again. We gulped the fresh air the moment it was available, facing the reporters and emergency services with faces that explained our exhaustion better than words. The ruin that had only just been crushing us remained floating above our heads.

 

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