"The Us" Preview
…I leaned against the tree, looking up at James on her wooded perch of gracefully curved branches, fireflies dancing lazily all around us, their soft yellow-green glow enchanting in the drowsy night warmth.
I was suddenly reminded of a Miyazaki movie entitled Grave of the Fireflies, and while I hadn't actually seen the film, I couldn't help back but think back to a small glimpse I had caught of it once, where the two main characters sat together in front of a kerosene lamp, watching the fireflies waltz about the flame. This scene, in James' grandparents' backyard, held a similar peace, and I wished that the moment might last just a little longer, that morning might be delayed just a bit more so that we could enjoy the night in communal silence under the cool milk-colored moon.
"Amy?" James murmured, her voice barely reaching my ears through the thick silence.
"…When did you first know that you could…do what you do?"
The question caught me off guard; none of the Us had actually talked about when we had gotten out powers so much as what to do with them. What to do with our abilities had seemed almost natural. This, however…Was harder.
"Well, when did you know?" I countered in a defensive tone.
James glared at me. "Don't avoid the subject. When?"
I hesitated again. "I'll tell you if you tell me," came the classic answer, the one that I had heard so many times in books and movies.
"Alright," James shrugged. "But you first. I asked."
I sighed, shifted my weight against the tree trunk, and began in what I hoped was a reflective tone. "I was living in Albuquerque, and my mom and I had been in our apartment for about a year. We were comfortable and happy with our lives; heck, the biggest concern I had was playing too much Pokémon and having weird nightmares because of it."
I managed to get a tiny smile out of James with the Pokémon comment. I grinned at the memory, too, thinking of how innocent and silly I had been back then.
"Anyway, I was about eight or so at the time when I did my first 'summoning.' It was an accident, really. I had just been playing around with a few of my dinosaur drawings –which sucked a horse's rear end, by the way- and was tracing the outline of this one pencil-and-paper scrawl of a velocioraptor and talking to myself like I tend to do when it blinked at me.
"At first, I couldn't tell if it had really happened or if my dreams were starting to get to me again. But then, it blinked at me, just like before, and started to come off the page. Actually, it sort of peeled off, like a stamp or something, and instead of being flat like you might expect it to be, it got more and more 3-D as it clawed its way into existence."
I took a breath, surprised at how easily the words seemed to flow when I usually stuttered and faltered. I continued, "And then, it was just standing there, this little eight-inch dinosaur, paper-white, looking a heck of a lot more detailed than I had drawn it as, though still not quite proportional, standing there on the page like it was the most natural thing. Then it just…faded. Like that." I tried to snap my fingers to demonstrate just how quickly my creation had vanished, but only succeeded in making a pathetic slipping noise.
"After that first summoning, my drawings seemed to explode with detail; every day I somehow found a way to make each dinosaur and horse and dragon look more and more like the image in my head. And whenever I couldn't sleep, or I was home alone, I would always take out one of my drawings and give it a little taste of life." I paused, the words finally coming out in their usual awkward fashion, "I-I never told my mom…about any of it. Somehow, I always knew…She wouldn't look at me the same, would see me as something to be feared. And I don't like it when people look at me like that…Not at all."
I finally fell silent, the night closing around us again. I felt almost six years of secrets releasing themselves from me, and I wasn't sure if I liked this new weightless feeling. Still, I waited patiently for James to speak, taking in the sound of the crickets and cicadas.
"I was a year younger than you were," James began quietly, her voice rising in volume with each moment, "And I didn't have security; I had fear."
That immediately grabbed my attention; I half spun around to look at her, her face barely visible in the dim light, and though her eyes were hidden in shadow, they nevertheless conveyed sadness.
She didn't appear to notice my reaction. "I remember that it was a little after my seventh birthday, and I was home alone, just Revenge and I. Of course, he wasn't called 'Revenge' then; my mom kept on calling him 'Scruffy'." She made a face at the name, but continued, "I was playing with him when Dad came home from the pawn shop, smelling an awful lot like beer. I remember that he was really angry, angrier than I could ever remember seeing him. He slammed the door behind him, yelling and cursing the whole time. I grabbed onto Revenge's neck, I guess because I was scared; I needed something to hold and squeeze…
"Then, Dad turned on me, which was something he'd never done before, and tried to hit me. I ran, trying to find some place to hide, and Dad chased after me. I almost got to my room before he caught me by the shoulder. He must've had something in that hand, because I felt something sharp tear into my shoulder, and I remember me screaming, Revenge barking, and Dad yelling. It's amazing someone didn't hear us, really.
"But, just as I was sure that he was going to do something really horrible to me, he let me go, my shoulder throbbing, and I opened my eyes –I didn't even remember closing them- and I saw him staring at me like I was a monster. He ran off, tripping over his own feet, and I just stood there, dumbfounded, wondering why he had looked at me like that. Then, I glanced in the bathroom mirror and I saw it…Just before it disappeared. I'd conjured an illusion without even knowing it."
James swallowed, her voice a little rough from speaking. Her voice dropped in volume again, her taunt whisper bringing stinging tears to my eyes, "I never, ever told anyone about it; and even though my dad didn't remember, I couldn't help but think that he thought of me as some sort of horrible demon. I learned how to control my powers, and I managed to appear normal on the surface. I went to school, I made friends, but they were the shallow kind…Not like you, not like the others. You guys are real; you didn't run when you all found out."
"If we had ran, we probably would've tried to get away from each other as much as you," I replied dryly, feeling like a jerk for reasons I didn't understand.
James fixed her gaze on me and managed a little ghost of a smile. "Probably," she agreed.
I tried to smile back, but I felt like a hypocrite. Suddenly the firefly-lit scene wasn't peaceful; it was darkly mysterious. I wanted to retreat inside, but I was afraid that if I did, I'd somehow be running away from James for real.
After what seemed like a lot longer that what must've been just a few minutes, James slid down from her perch and brushed herself off, as if she had been covered in clouds in dust. She offered up a semi-happy expression, and headed for the door of the back porch, fireflies buzzing softly in her wake. I walked after her, suddenly wishing that I could have her grace and poise, wanting very badly to make her laugh again with my klutziness and lummox demeanor.
I wanted somuch to make her feel better.
Emotion bubbled over, and I wrapped a comforting arm around her slim shoulders as we walked, holding her against me. She leaned into me, just a little; she felt almost like a small, frightened child.
Without a word, we stepped back into the cool, safe house, and out of the backyard, out of memories. It was a relief beyond what words can express.
This is a preview for an up coming story of mine about superheroes, entitled "The Us." The concept was something that my friends and I came up with one day last summer, and I've been trying to write it ever since. More to come soon (hopefully); hope you enjoyed. Shalom!