G for Gabe
A for Able
B for Beautiful
E for Enough
as I resurface.
ARC 2: THE DEVIL YOU KNOW
A phone rings. A tiny square of light pierces the tessellating dark. I answer.
A girl burps on the other end of the line. “hullo? I have a missed call from the you.”
I whisper into the phone so that whatever it is I’m trapped with doesn’t hear me. “Please, help me.” Voices skitter away from me, Megajoule saying, “Gabe, Gabe, Gabe, Gabe,” over and over again. Flashfire calling for help. “GAAAAyyyyyyAABBBAAAAA.”
“Jul-” She stops. “G-Gabe?” I know her voice. Ruby. Bedevil. “Oh, my God, Gabe, are you okay?” She slurs through that question.
As low as I can speak, “I don’t know where I am.”
“Uh, uh, okay, um, shit.” The phone scratches as she shuffles around on the other end of the call. The scratch echoes into the dark, growing and bouncing off the hallways trapping me like a bird’s cage.
A car horn blares. I’m standing in the middle of a road in the woods, stumbling like a drunk man. Tail lights shine crimson on the trees and pavement. Why couldn’t you stop and help me, asshole?
“Do you- can you see any street signs?” Bedevil asks.
There’s one ahead. I read it to her: “Decker Prairie.”
Bedevil taps her phone. “What the hell are you doing out there?”
“I don’t know.”
I don’t know.
I don’t know.
I don’t know.
“Gabe! Stay with me. Stay there. Do you see anywhere you can sit for a minute?”
A Sonic juts out of the dark, gleaming gold and scattering the darkness. “Fast food. Sonic.”
“Okay, a Sonic on Decker Praire… Near the highway?”
There is a large highway just beyond the Sonic. “Yes,” I think I say.
“Okay, I’m coming. Stay there. Do you want me to stay on the phone?”
“Yes,” I think I say.
If I turn left or right I’m looking down a hallway. If I look behind the monster’s just over my shoulder. A face made of ink, of insect parts, of blood, and the bodies of my friends.
“Okay. Okay. Shit.” She fumbles with keys, opens a door. “Hang on. I’m coming.”
The phone shrieks as air blasts over the microphone. I wince and pull away, limping toward the Sonic. I huddle behind the dumpster, holding the phone out.
“Gaaaaaabe,” Megajoule whispers from inside the trash heap. His voice crawls out with the roaches. “Gaaaaaaabe.”
“Oh, Mega,” Bedevil moans over the phone. “Ohhhhh.”
I hang up.
A few seconds later, my phone rings again.
“Gabe! Are you okay?” Bedevil asks. “You hung up.”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know if you’re okay?” she asks. Wind rushes on the other side of the phone. “I’m hurrying. I’m twenty minutes away. Where are you? Did you… are you drugged?”
“I’m having an experience.”
“Okay, that sounds like you were drugged.”
“It doesn’t matter.” I put the phone down next to my head. “Nothing matters.”
“Gabe! Gabe, don’t you dare hang up on me!”
“Okay.” I curl up next to the dumpster. Finger in the back of my brain, digging, digging, scratching, scratching.
“Are you still there?”
“I am here. But I don’t know where I am. There are parts of me that are not here.”
“Just breathe, I’ll be there soon.”
I wait for a very long time. I hear her voice coming from the phone but the words are muddled like I’m hearing them through a wall of water.
Tendrils wrap around me.
Where is Maisa? Is she okay? Doc? Do they know who I am?
A hand presses against my chest. “I’m here, I’m here, Gabe.”
Her voice is lovely, summer sweet. She moaned in my ear once. That was nice until it wasn’t.
I can’t breathe.
Saw Off’s voice in my ears, but she isn’t here: “Can’t breathe, babe.”
“Gabe,” Bedevil says. “Gabe.”
A door opens and shuts. A cold hand touches my head. Bedevil yelps. “Jesus Christ, you’re blazing!”
“It’s okay, watch, I’ll woosh it away.” I exhale heat from my mouth, sparks and embers, where am I? Bedevil gasps. Where am I? Where am I?
“Shhh,” a hand strokes my hair. “Shhh. It’s okay, J- Gabe, I’m here.”
Shhh. Shhh. She is gentle, and rocks me to sleep.
The fractal of fear closes, folds in on itself. All my molecules rearrange and combine again.
I wake, a scream tearing out my mouth. I’m in a bedroom I don’t recognize. Heavy curtains block out all the light. A dog jumps onto the bed and starts howling. I leap out of the bed, crash into a night stand, still shrieking at the top of my lungs.
Bedevil slams open the door. She’s swallowed alive by her basketball jersey and gym shorts, both clearly for men orders of magnitude larger than her.
Three cats screech and pounce from hiding spots, charging out of her bedroom.
“Where… where am I? Where am I?” I gulp air down like water and I’m dying of thirst. Like I haven’t breathed in ages. My stomach knots and twists, and I almost blow chunks right there.
“Easy, it’s okay,” Bedevil says. She approaches me like I’m a wild animal, her hands up. “You’re in my apartment.”
A TV buzzes through the walls. Even though the voice is dull, I make out someone saying, “Jason DeClaire.”
My legs wobble like a baby deer, but I fight my way to the door.
Bedevil holds a hand out to stop me. “Gabe, wait!” I don’t stop. I need to know.
I stumble out into a huge living room. A TV almost bigger than the wall shows the news. Flashfire’s face is blown up on the screen. The reporter speaking, the same one from the night I clocked Krater, stares right at the camera so hard I feel like her eyes are burrowing into my skull.
“The Heroic Underground and the 2nd Amendment, both self styled vigilante groups, were present on the Taylor Jade estate during the firefight. Videos and photos of the incident were released on an internet channel reportedly run by the Heroic Underground. The footage portrays Tim Prince running a brothel that trafficked children on the estates of Taylor Jade, a local software designer.”
The clip cuts to still images of Tim Prince picking up an assault rifle, flashes forward to him walking up the stairs like he was out to buy groceries, and walking into the room. They can’t show the rest on television. “FIS corroborates that this footage is authentic, undoctored, and shows the young son of Senator Alexander Prince killing-”
Bedevil mutes her TV with her telekinesis. In a soft voice, she says, “It’s been all over the news. About Tim Prince.”
“I wasn’t fast enough, I wasn’t there for them, and he killed them.”
Bedevil’s face twists into the first phase of her ugly cry.
“How did he do it? He always saved the day. He never came up short.” I can’t restrain the tears.
I collapse to my knees, my hand still on the TV. I hate crying, and here I am, anyway. Crying in front of the girl who humiliated me just yesterday because of the same god damn reason I can’t seem to stack up. The same reason I let my best friend down, and let those kids get killed.
“I’ve tried so hard.” I can’t fight it anymore. My face feels like its gonna slough off with the tears and snot. I did everything wrong. I’m doing everything wrong.
“He saved so many people. The way you looked at him in that Titan Tower clip. In the pictures of you two. Not just you. The way everyone looked at him. No one has ever looked at me that way. They only look at me like I’m a fuck up. I’m a fuck up who can’t even stop a two-bit city level slaver. I’m a fuck up whose friends can’t count on him. I’m a fuck up. I’m a fuck up.”
In the back of my mind, a voice tickles: Gaaaaaaaaaaaaabe.
“He left and I’m stuck here. Everyone wants me to step into his place. But he left me, too.”
Bedevil interrupts my pity party: “Gabe?”
I try to muster my voice. No good.
“How old were you?” Bedevil asks. She’s on her knees, too. “When you left that lab?”
I clear my throat. “Seventeen.”
“Julian didn’t become a registered superhero until he was 22. He got high school, he got a degree. He was engaged.” Bedevil sniffles.
“Gonna rub in all the ways he’s better than me?”
“No. He got to be normal. You didn’t.” She leans against the TV and looks at me. Her eyes and nose are red. “You got dealt a shitty hand. Why are you comparing yourself to him, then?”
Bedevil exhales like I physically hit her. “Yeah, I guess I walked into that one.” She sniffs and wipes her nose. “But it doesn’t change what I’m trying to say. You’re comparing yourself when you’ve started twenty miles below where he started.”
“Everyone compares me to him. Everyone except my best friend.” I point at the TV. “And I still let him down.”
“Well, how do we fix that?” Bedevil asks.
Bedevil straightens her posture. “I’m gonna help you. We’re gonna get your friend.”
“You want to help me?”
“Yes, I want to help you.”
“Why? You don’t have to make up for yesterday.” Yesterday, she destroyed me. I don’t think she’s the one who can rebuild me. “You don’t owe me anything.”
Bedevil draws in a really long breath. She sighs that out, and says: “Okay, a long time ago, I promised Megajoule that I would help him make the world a better place. No matter what. He’s gone. You’re here. You’re trying to make the world a better place, aren’t you?”
I don’t know what to say to that.
“Please, let me help you.” She stares at me, waiting on an answer.
I know she’s only promising to help because of Megajoule. And yet, I still say, “Okay. Help me.”
Bedevil’s mouth opens, her eyes widen, as if she didn’t expect that answer. “Okay! Okay. Let me get dressed.”
She floats into her room and throws shit around. Five cats screech and run out of the bedroom, and her big labrador lumbers out behind them. The dog wags his tail at the sight of me, trots up to my lap, and stuffs his head into my hands for pets.
“What’s… what’s this guy’s name?” I ask, unable to sound chill about the dog.
“Pawpaw.” She floats back into the room, wearing sneakers and jeans instead of her gym shorts.
Pawpaw is a beautiful dog. He smiles the way only labradors can. “And your cats?”
“Tim’s the white affectionate one, Bob is finicky and jet black, Carl is huge, fluffy, and will kill you, Lyle is huge, fluffy, and will love you, and Kyle throws up all the time.” A Hello Kitty backpack orbits around her while she gets ready.
“Affectionate Tim, Finicky Bob, Killer Carl, Lover Lyle, Bedevil Kyle,” I say.
“’Scuse me?” She shoots a warning glance across my brow.
I cough. “Nothing. And Pawpaw.” I stroke the old pup’s head. He tries to kiss me. Like mom like son, I guess.
You know, for someone who owns six animals and was also a sloppy, drunk mess for most of the two days I’ve been aware of her, I’d have thought her apartment would smell like shit. It does not. Her apartment has a vague citrus scent, a chemical lemon smell that’s pleasant enough.
“By the way, that watch of yours was busted. Your phone, too. They’re on my dresser, if you still want them.”
Welp, now I can’t contact Doc or the Underground. “Damn.” I wonder how that happened. Maybe when Tim Prince used his power on me.
Still not sure whether I should call him Pandahead or Tim. Pandahead is kind of a ridiculous name for a bad guy, but in the right tone of voice it could be menacing.
Tim, well, there’s no saving that one. “There are some who call him… Tim,” I mutter to myself, chuckling at the Monty Python reference.
“Sorry?” Bedevil asks.
“Are you hungry?” Bedevil stuffs her vigilante jacket into the Hello Kitty backpack.
“Help yourself to my fridge.”
Her kitchen makes my whole apartment look like a shitty closet. The counters look like they cost more than an average car, each drawer has knobs of shining steel. Everything is in much better condition than I’d have given her credit for.
My stomach grumbles as I open the fridge. There’s one full bottle of Everclear, two half used up bottles of vodka, a near empty bottle of tequila, two six packs of beer, a half eaten hoagie, uncovered french fries, and a piece of roast beef missing a bite, totally out in the open.
“Damn, wonderkid.” I close the fridge door. I may be hungry, but I have self respect.
“What was that?” Bedevil asks, calling from the living room.
“I couldn’t decide between the alcohol or the roast beef chilling with the old fries, so I’ll go ahead and starve.” I step out of her kitchen.
We’re still on the shaky ground of ‘was that a joke or are you just an asshole’ so she gives me a funny look. Whatever would follow that look is interrupted by her phone going off. Her ringtone is an angry girl shrieking the words, “I’M NOT GONNA SING YOUR SOOOOOOOONNNNGGGG,” over the heavy chugging of a guitar. Bedevil blushes and quiets the phone. She hisses at the caller ID. “Shit. Shit. Marcy May.”
With a look of horror, she says, “OPI city director.”