"Kaylene! Look out!" The words came clear over the noise around me, cutting through the screams and car horns and general chaos that permeated the air. I looked back, knowing that only one thing would incite such a call. A car was flying at me, speeding through the wind with a loud whistle, and I stood in its path, too terrified to move.
Now, I can assure you that it wasn't my fault that I was in the midst of such chaos to begin with. If fingers had to be pointed at anyone, I would blame Ms. Jennifer. Ms. Jennifer was the art teacher at Walden Private High School, and also one of the youngest teachers. She was always going around with her brown hair long and loose, wearing flowing skirts and dangling jewelry, and holding to a firm conviction that she connected to the students on some spiritual level.
It was her idea to go on a field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and it was her who had somehow overlooked the fact that only I was at all eager to go. Thus, it was her the blame could be placed on.
Still, despite the muttering of the students, we had gone, and so it was that after a long day we were back on the bus, moving slowly through traffic towards our school.
Personally, I had liked the field trip. I was an artist at heart, someday to be the next Claude Monet or Jack Kirby. As the bus headed back, I sat with my knees braced on the seat ahead of me and with my sketchbook out, hurrying to put down the lines of a new idea inspired by some of the art I had seen. Next to me sat my best friend, Jessica. She was talking away, pausing every few moments to cue to me that it was time to emit a "Uhuh" or "Oh". She knew I wasn't really listening, but then I knew that she wasn't really talking to me, but rather was speaking to relieve boredom and organize her thoughts. It worked out nicely. Jessica and I had a system like that, and it was just one of those things that fit perfectly into place in our lives.
When I did glance up at her, she was still talking, hand gesturing wildly in testament to the continuous movement she seemed to always be in. The sunlight filtering in from between buildings was catching in her blue eyes, making them shine. Her long blonde hair hung loose and straight behind her, shifting slightly with every gesture she made. I smiled, infected by her own excitement.
"...which is why it is so great to be on the team," she was saying, most likely in regards to her latest sport. I let out a semi legible grunt, and returned my gaze to my sketch, trying to get the texture and line weight as perfect as I could.
Behind me a large group of the drama kinds and band kids had started the wave game. They would wave at any cars we passed, and break into the sort of rambunctious cheers that made the bus driver scowl whenever somebody waved back. They were on their fifth success when a new sound filled the air.
A loud, screeching, grind boomed from in front of the bus. Before I could even try and find the cause, the bus was stopping, the driver hitting the breaks hard and sending us flying into the sticky leather seats. I got a face full of the cool leather, but was saved from being thrown fully forward thanks to my legs being braced on the seat ahead. Some of the other students weren't so lucky, and a moment later the sound of cries, shouts, and colorful explicatives rose to a roar.
I groaned and pushed myself up, shoving my glasses back up my nose. The blur ahead of me came into focus then. There was a SUV, lying on its side, stopped barely a few feet from the bus. Inside it, I could just barely see a girl, held in place by her seatbelt, with her dark hair falling in a pile around her head.
Behind that, behind the line of skid marks and green scrapes of paint along the asphalt, stood a man. He was big, really big, and breathing in great, heaving breathes that sent his muscles up and down. He looked like the body builder sort, like one of those people in the three-in-one workout machine commercials that they would assault SyFy channel watchers with at 11 pm. He was also barely clothed, wearing nothing but a pair of black boxer shorts that surely had to be failing at holding back the frigid early spring air. His only other attire was a ski mask, cut to just cover his eyes and nose, raveling wildly at the bottom in testament of a lack of hemming knowledge.
The problem with big cities is that they have a lot of violence. Gang violence, criminal violence, and super villain violence were all abundant. This guy, with his powerful throw and ridiculous outfit, fit perfectly into the super villain violence category.
Naturally, this meant that we had to do what all sane people do when confronted with a villain. Every student broke out screaming, the noise loud enough to drown out the chorus of car horns from outside. Then, despite Miss Jennifer's shrieked demands that we proceed calmly and in a single file line, we all began poring out of our seats and pressing our way towards the back emergency exit.
I myself began shoving my way out, my sketchbook clutched tight to my chest. I briefly considered fleeing through the front door since I was so close to the front of the bus anyways, but the thought of getting any closer to Mr. Boxers was not a pleasant one. Instead I joined the throng of students, forcing my way back.
I had almost reached the exit when a thought more chilling than the villain reached me. My backpack was still on my seat. I really should have kept going. It was the smart thing to do. I should have gotten out of the bus and escaped before things got worse. People get killed by villains all the time. It doesn't even matter that half the villains left in the world are worthy of being laughed at. They are still dangerous. Just the week before a guy calling himself the "Supreme Earth Overlord" had killed a dozen people in Central Park in an attempt to take over Manhattan. He had been stopped, but that didn't bring the dead people back. Dead was dead.
So, I really should have kept on fleeing. A backpack wasn't worth death, and with Mr. Boxers standing so close to the bus, death seemed possible. Still, my pencils, cell phone, and favorite art books were all in that backpack. Even the shirt I had been making for Jessica was in there. I had spent weeks making that shirt for her. I couldn't lose all that work now.
My priorities were way out of whack, and that meant the backpack mattered more than immediate escape. I decided that if I moved fast enough (and contrary to what Mr. Zekowski the Gym teacher claimed, I could move when needed) I could probably get it and get back out. I had been in the back of the line to get out of the bus, so I had a clear shot back to my seat. With my eyes zeroing in on the corner of bright green fabric just barely visible ahead of all the darker blue seats, I began to head back.
"Kaylene? What the heck?" cried a voice behind me as a hand latched onto my arm. I spun to see the dark hair and slanted eyes of Jake Sato.
"I need my backpack," I said, trying to pull away from him.
"You have got to be kidding," said Jake. He didn't let go. His eyes went to the window, as if drawn there by the sounds of screaming, honking horns, and chaos that drifted in. Following his gaze, I saw that Boxers still hadn't moved. He was just standing there, his body moving in time to his heavy breathes.
I gritted my teeth and pulled towards my backpack. "I'm not," I said through clenched teeth.
For a moment Jake held onto me. Then finally, he let go and threw his arms into the air. "Fine. Go."
I went. I ran to my backpack, and zipped it open. As I stuffed my sketchbook back into it and zipped it closed, I took a moment to survey the situation. Boxers With a Temper was moving now, walking with deliberately slow steps towards the SUV. Inside it, the dark haired girl was stirring and starting to claw at the seatbelt holding her in her seat.
His approach was a signal in my own mind to get moving myself. I spun around out of the seat and almost ran into Jake. He had followed me.
"Are you done?" he asked. His voice seemed to curl on the words.
"Yeah," I said. I wasn't sure if he could even hear me over the noise from outside.
"Good," he said flatly before grabbing my hand and starting to run towards the back exit. I ignored the sudden tingle that went through my arm, and tried to focus on not falling as we ran. We reached the back of the bus, and out of a small bit of defiance, I ignored his attempt to help me down by jumping down myself.
A moment later, Jake was shoving me aside and to the ground. My skin burned like fire where it scraped on the ground, and for a second I wondered what his problem was. Had I offended him? Had I made him mad? Was he suddenly reverting to his childhood behavior? Then the sound of shattering glass and the shriek of metal on metal sounded behind us as the SUV crashed hard into the bus. Jake threw himself over me to shield me from any far flung glass.
I lay there, dazed and shocked. Luckily, Jake could focus, for the second he deemed it safe to move again, he was up and practically dragging me after him. It took a moment, but I managed to get my feet back under me and was able to run after him without his help.
It was just starting to seem like we were going to make it. We were certainly making it further away as we weaved around cars and made our way opposite of Boxers. Then I looked back. The SUV was flying at us. Inside, I could see the somehow still conscious girl, her mouth opened in a little round circle of terror. I was pretty sure my face mirrored hers as I shoved Jake to the side and fell on him hard enough to knock my glasses down my nose again. The rush of wind as the car passed overhead was strong enough to pull several strands of my hair from my braids and fling them across my face.
Mr. Boxers-With-The-Attitude was coming closer again. He was screaming now, I realized. He was yelling about how this is what she got. She deserved this for dumping him. She couldn't dump him. I briefly wondered who "she" was. The unfortunate girl in the car?
I looked up and pushed my glasses back on. The colorful blurs became cars again with Boxers working his way through them to get to his car. If anyone got in his way, he would just bat them out of the way. One portly man learned this as he tried to get out of his car which boxers was right by. Boxers grabbed him and threw him to the side, and it was with a sickening crunch that the man hit the wall of a nearby building and fell to the ground.
Cold panic swept through me. With my heart making its way into my throat, I watched as Boxers came closer, tossing cars out of his way as he made a path toward the SUV. I was going to die. To get to his girlfriend, he was going to have to move right past Jake and I. We were going to end up just like the poor man lying in a still heap on the sidewalk.
Under me, Jake was trying to move. He was yelling at me to move, but I couldn't. I was frozen like a deer caught in headlights with my eyes locked onto the approaching end.
I didn't want to die. I still hadn't become a famous artist. I still hadn't finished Jessica's shirt. I still hadn't beat the latest Final Fantasy. I still hadn't had a date, or even kissed a boy. I had to much to live for to die.
Then the calvary arrived. Just when I was sure that it was over, with Boxers looming up in my vision, a ball of water slammed into him. He staggered back a step, and then flew back as a rush of wind roared over our heads and flew into him. From a ways away people began to cheer. I found myself suddenly able to move again, and was able to follow the source of the cheers with my gaze. A block away, standing proudly in the air between the towering buildings of the city, stood one of the most iconic sights in modern history.
She was tall and slim, with a blue scrunchee barely containing the blond hair that swirled around her in the wind. Her outfit was a mix of renaissance and arabian inspired garb, with a tube top vaguely reminiscent of a bodice and pants that seemed to have been pulled off of an arabian princess costume. Her mask was a blue masquerade mask. From every long limb came the sound of bracelets and anklets dancing together in the wind, and the glints of gold caught my eye as the sunlight reflected on the many coins sewn onto the bottom of her outfit and pants. Everything about her seemed to sing with noise as she danced closer, bursts of water appearing under each step and leap she took through the air. This was Blue, one of the city's best superheroes.
"Can you stop gawking and move?" came a disgruntled voice from beneath me. Oops. I quickly rolled over then and pushed my way up just as Blue went dancing over our heads, calling to Boxers the Wannebe Villain about the jail time he was sure to enjoy soon.
The battle started in earnest then, with Boxers responding by sending a car Blue's way. Even as Blue swept it easily aside with a wave of her hand and a flow of wind, I knew I needed to move still. We wouldn't be safe until we were further away.
Jake seemed to have the same idea, and as soon as I started running again, he quickly joined me. His longer legs allowed him to easily pull a few steps ahead of me, and I focused on his black shirt as I followed.
It really did seem like we were going to make it this time. Then a thought occurred to me that made me stop and turn back. I recognized Blue's outfit. And not just in a "I saw it on the news" sort of way. No. I recognized it in a "a sketch just like that is sitting in my sketchbook" way. Why was a superhero wearing an outfit I had drawn?
It was just as this question passed through my mind that I noticed what Blue was doing. At the time, it consisted of being hit by a rather nice convertible and being sent flying into a building not far from me. I screamed and ran again, this time veering for the sidewalk so I could have a clearer route out. It occurred to me as I ran that perhaps New York wasn't a good place to live. When people abandoned cars to flee, villains like Mr. Boxers suddenly had a lot of ammo.
"Kaylene! Look out!" The call cut through the air, shouted from somewhere in the crowd.
I turned just as Boxers picked up another car and threw it. Perhaps he had bad aim, or just a really misplaced grudge, but this time the car came flying at me. For the second time that day, I was sure that I was bound to die.
Yet instead of being crushed into the glass facade of the shop near me, I found myself being shoved aside by a blast of wind. I landed hard on the sidewalk as the car flew over me. For a moment I just lay there, my hands throbbing and my side burning from sliding along the concrete. When I did roll over and look up, it was to see that Blue had survived and was pelting Boxers with wind and water again.
I took a moment just to confirm to myself that yes, I was indeed still alive. Then, before another close call could happen, I was up and running for the crowd that had gathered as soon as Blue appeared.
"Are you stupid? Why did you stop?" yelled Jake as I came to the edge of the crowd. He had been waiting for me, and he looked furious. I felt my cheeks burning as I looked down and shoved my way further into the crowd, gasping for breathe. Maybe it had been stupid, but he didn't have to be so mean about it. He didn't have to yell at me like that. He hadn't yelled at me like that since near the end of middle school, back in the days when he was still borderline bully. It hurt.
Jake took my silence as not enough of an answer and followed me. I could feel his glare digging into my back, right through the layers of backpack and clothes and straight to my racing heart. I didn't stop until there were a good ten people between us and the edge of the crowd, and when I did stop, it was to turn and watch the battle. I was rather hoping that if I seemed engrossed in it, Jake might pay attention to it also.
Blue was winning. Every time a car was sent her way, she would easily dodge or flip over it. She returned the attacks with blasts of wind that each sent Boxers staggering back a few steps. Every time he tried to make for the battered SUV, a wall of wind and water would rise up and halt his progress. Still, despite Blue's efforts, he wasn't going down.
Cheers rose from the crowd as a blast of sizzling light hit Boxers from behind, sending him tumbling forward. The cheers increased when, flying from where he had been between the massive buildings that lined the street, came the Amazing Teen.
Next to me, two girls sighed and swooned. Jake, who had still been glaring at me, finally broke off the glare long enough to roll his eyes. The girls were right to swoon though. With his skintight red, white, and blue bodysuit and messy brown hair, the Amazing Teen was pretty gorgeous. Only the fact that he had been the Amazing teen for about 30 years and was old enough to be my dad stopped me from swooning over him like the neighboring girls.
With two superheroes on the scene, the battle was wrapped up fairly quickly. A short while later, the police and paramedics were forcing their way through the crowd. The black haired lady had been helped out of the car by Blue, and considering all she had been through, she was in pretty impressive shape. She was beat up and bruised, but able to walk. The guy throne against the wall away also alive, though he was probably going to be hurting for awhile.
The crowd was starting to surge forward, realizing that all was safe now. I let the flow of the crowd pull me along. I wanted a closer look at Blue. Blue and The Amazing Teen both noticed the approaching crowd, and with a wave, they left. The Amazing Teen went flying away in one direction, and Blue literally danced over our heads in the other. The short look I got of her confirmed it though. I wasn't crazy. That was my outfit.
Suddenly I wanted to get out of the press of bodies and elbows. Despite the cool spring temperate, it was sweltering in the midst of so many people, and the stench of smoke from damaged cars was mixing with the smell of too many bodies. My head started to pound. I began pushing my way through the crowds until I made it to a slightly emptier spot against a mexican restaurant. Leaning my forehead against the cool glass, I tried to think of everyone who had seen my sketch.
It was a long list, including Maria Riverson the drama queen, Angie Peterson of the popular crowd who had insulted it, and even the hunky Luke Mohr. Still, none of them had seen it for long enough to actually remember it so precisely. The only person who had was Jessica. The picture had been for her, and she even had a copy of it. But she wouldn't have sold it to Blue, and she couldn't be the hero. It was a preposterous idea. She would have told me if she were.
Thinking of Jessica, I started to wonder where she was. I hadn't seen her since we all started fleeing from the bus. The sight of her blond head and red and black leatherman was nowhere to be found. In fact, it seemed like most the people from my class were gone. Even Jake had gotten lost from my view sometime in the last little while. Really, in the chaos of the aftermath, I wasn't going to find anyone.