The itch returned while Bedevil stared at her phone, pressing the “Play Recording” button over and over again.
“Ms. Dawson, this is Julian calling from the Titan Tower. I’ve reviewed hundreds of candidates for my team, and I wanted to let you know that your merits put you at the top of the pack. I’d love to extend you an offer and have OPI transfer you to my office. If you’re interested, please call me as soon as you can, I’d love to set up an interview. Ciao-”
She pressed the end call button. She’d listened to that recording dozens of times tonight.
Some days were harder than others.
Pawpaw whined at the edge of her bed. His cute head trembled as he stared at her, begging with his beautiful eyes to let him up. He shook his tail so hard she felt it through the bed.
“Oh, come on, you old mutt,” she said.
Pawpaw hopped up onto the bed. He was a golden retriever, and he belonged to her dad. Well, before her dad divorced her mom, anyway. Then he’d dumped Papaw on them, and Bedevil took Papaw with her when she moved to New York. He was getting up there in years, and the frequent moving around was getting harder.
Her unpacked boxes taunted her by the closet. She tried to muster the energy to unpack them, and defy her itch. But she couldn’t even shift out of bed. She used her power to pull the guitar by her nightstand over.
“What do you want to hear tonight, paw?” she asked her dog.
Pawpaw whined in excitement. His tail thumped on his hind legs.
“Excellent choice,” Bedevil said. She started to strum out a song her mom and dad loved, when they were still together. “This one goes out to you, mutt. And all you, cats.”
Somewhere in the dark of her room, one of her cats mewled.
She played gentle chords, picking them with her fingers and accenting that with tendrils of telekinesis. “So many words just to say I love you~,” she sang. “You can just say I love you~”
“Or better yet~
Don’t say anything at all~
Just sit here with me~
Interlock our fingers~ Come on, paw, hold my hand
Breath on time~”
Strum, strum, strum. C-major, a-minor, f-major.
“Be the other half of my rhyme,
And say, I love you~”
She howled, and Pawpaw threw his head back and howled with her.
The guitar clattered against her wall as she used her power to set it down. The strings sounded and hummed for a long time after that. She listened to the buzz.
The buzz. She should get buzzed.
The itch wasn’t going away. She put a hand on Pawpaw who whined with glee. She stroked his fur, hoping that would calm everything down. Hoping his happy squeals would distract from the unopened boxes, the barely furnished apartment, the lingering smell of e-cig vapor.
Pawpaw did not make the itch go away.
The itch would go away if she could summon the courage for therapy. And it would go away if she took more walks. And if she ate better. And if she stopped smoking. And drinking.
And, and, and. There were a billion ands in her life, and she was god damn tired of them.
A billion ands, a billion ifs. ‘If only I’d been born earlier, if only I’d started at Megajoule’s team earlier, if only I’d been on duty the day he died…’ She let the thoughts skitter around her brain. She let them echo into the well, like so many pennies carrying wishes to the water.
What was Bedevil wishing for? She couldn’t change anything. Mega was dead. She was an inch from losing her hero status.
She popped her e-cig out of her pocket. She wished they still had Marlboros around. Or any real tobacco product, actually. The UWC never outlawed it. There just weren’t any companies beyond homesteader farms that grew it anymore. No profit.
She breathed in the bubblegum flavored vapor, held it in her lungs, and let it out through her nose. She wanted to get drunk. But she had to be back at the Heroics Center at 9 AM again tomorrow, and if Director May caught her hungover again, she’d get cycled somewhere else.
Would that be so bad? Houston sucked. It was stupid. Marcy May was stupid. Bedevil was stupid.
So she was gonna go get twisted and kick the shit out of some thugs.
Pawpaw whined at her the whole time she got dressed. She couldn’t meet his sad eyes. He hated it when she left for the night. You were gone all day, mom. Please don’t go out tonight, mom. What if you don’t come back, mom?
Bedevil put her stupid red jacket on, grabbed her stupid kitsune mask, and put it under her shirt. She rushed out of her apartment, her animals trailing her the whole time. They had food and water, they’d be fine.
Her complex overlooked a pretty decent part of town. Being one of the top heroes in the country had its perks, and OPI housing didn’t usually skimp out. She’d been in a couple of shitholes, true, but never for very long. Usually only as a stop on her way to an apartment like this one, which had a view of River Oaks and 610. Inner Loop Houston surged out after the highway, stabbing the sky with hundreds of crowded skyscrapers.
She rode her elevator down to street level and hopped on the sky-rail right above Westheimer. The muggy heat was unbearable even at night. She’d just finished a stint in Brazil. Brazil! Now she was sweating her ass off in this terrible bog.
First stop: a liquor store off on Westheimer near downtown, a tiny hole in the wall place that sold swill made from rats, she assumed. A 750 ml bottle of Everclear, $40. A refill on her e-cig charges, $8.
She chugged the bottle and loaded her e-cig with another charge, and she jumped on the sky-rail to East Downtown.
Bad side of Houston was bad. Trouble abounded in the alleys between apartment blocks and busted strip centers with flashing screens trying to draw attention to a failing business. Bedevil read that the American Dream was dead, and it died at the dawn of this century. Start-up businesses and mom and pop stores had no place in the UWC. It was corporations and their hundreds, no, thousands, of tendrils. If you thought you found a small business, you just had to check the UWC financial records to see the truth. Bedevil made a habit of that. She liked to guess which megacorp owned what tiny franchise. Her favorite Don’s Burgers back in California- owned by McDonalds. Her new favorite coffee place in Houston- who woulda fucking guessed, Starbucks?
But the one exception was liquor stores. Any sorry asshole could start a liquor store. From city to city, they never changed, but they never abided by some corporate mantra either. You didn’t need to brand liquor or dress it up in shiny colors. She suspected there was a family mob style thing in each city that ran all of the liquor stores, because all the liquor stores in Houston were owned by Greek stereotypes.
But hey, Bedevil wasn’t complaining that most of the liquor stores had a gyro place next door. It was just a hobby: finding out where things connected. That was a tenet of telekinesis, too. Find out where you could grab at things and hoist ‘em around.
She drained her e-cig charge on her walk while she looked for trouble. She had a few more charges from the refill but she didn’t want to use anymore tonight. Her mind already buzzed from the Everclear and nicotine, anyway.
She needed to find the trouble before she blacked out. Which would be soon.
It didn’t take too long. She walked past a trio of guys hanging out by one of the hundred strip centers between the Heroics Center and her apartment. They smoked, laughed, jeered at each other. Like jackals nipping at a kill.
The light in their eyes went out as they spotted their next prey: her.
“Hey, girl, where you headed?” one of them asked.
“Home,” Bedevil answered, stopping to put her e-cig away. “Where you headed?”
“Maybe home with you,” he said. He stepped out of the shadows. His face, a predator’s. His posture, ready to attack. “How ‘bout it?”
“I think you’re headed to a morgue,” Bedevil said. She put her kitsune mask on. Not that she really cared if she got caught, anymore. The mask was little more than a formality. “You and your friends.”
The man laughed. He lunged forward.
Bedevil fought through the oncoming drunkenness and flexed her power. She launched the thug up into the sky with a flick of her wrist. She wrapped herself in telekinetic energy. Invisible to the naked eye, but solid enough to fists, knives, and bullets.
Knives flashed out of the other two men’s pockets. One rushed her and she smashed a fist into his stomach while his knife bounced off her thought-woven shield. She struck with her muscle and with her telekinesis, hit with the strength of ten boxers. The man fell with a groan while the next bared his teeth and held the knife out at her. He waved it. Trying to ward her away.
She shoved him against the wall with her power, extending her hand toward him in a little dramatic flair. The man she’d thrown up to the sky came down, and she caught him with thought. Suspended in mid air, he was helpless against her telekinetic kick to his ribs. Fucking punk.
She stumbled, the world spun, and she dropped her telekinesis for a second. Someone struck her on her face.
Her cheek flared and slicked with blood. Shit, she’d let down her guard. The man against the wall cut at her with his pocket knife, knicking her hand and stabbing into her forearm on the downswing. She screamed and kicked him in his crotch, hard. He doubled over, and she smashed the back of his head with a People’s Elbow, enhanced by her power.
He went down and his friends didn’t get up. She leaned against the wall, breathing heavy. Three men moaned in agony while she pulled the knife out of her arm. She hissed; it fucking hurt, even with the Everclear kicking in.
Still, they were out of commission. The thought of finishing the job tempted her: three criminals, potential rapists, murderers, and thieves dead? Yeah, that sounded good. But she was losing control, and she couldn’t say with certainty that she’d win a continued fight.
Bedevil stumbled away from the strip center and down Westheimer until she made it to the sky-rail again. She rode that all the way back to her apartments, her itch sufficiently scratched. She rode the elevator up and clung to the railing. She found her door, put her key in the lock, and remembered nothing else about the night.
She woke early the next morning to Pawpaw whining in her ear.
“the fuck?” she asked, squinting her eyes against the dawning sun breaking through her window.
Pawpaw wagged his tail and nestled his nose under her arm, trying to get her up. “Okay, okay,” she said. “I’m up.” She must’ve made it back in after she blacked out. She’d learned to trust Black Out Bedevil. Black Out Bedevil took care of her. Black Out Bedevil left her a slushy in her freezer
She smelled her arm pit. Damn. She needed a shower. Five cats crowded her bedroom door, meowing impatiently as she stepped around them. “Yeah, yeah, mama’s here, hang on.”
She made sure their bowls were filled again, gave Pawpaw a doggie treat, stripped down in her living room, and trudged to her shower, wondering what to do about her cheek.