Home Run protects children. Home Run saves children. That’s all I wanted them to say. That’s all I ever wanted to do. I staked his name — my name — on that ideal.
I blast through the air. If I’m fast enough, If I’m strong enough, if I can fly, if I hurry.
I can stop it. I’ll save the kids, rush back and get Flashfire.
You’re not him. You can’t do everything he did. He could have done it.
I rocket over the trees, above the lawn, aimed right at the balcony. My flight is so fast the trees shake with heated gusts trailing behind me.
“GABE!” Drone shrieks over the watch comm, over the screaming wind. Over the gunfire inside Taylor Jade’s mansion.
There is a black hole opening inside of me. I trail behind my body, letting it run by itself.
I know I’m too late.
I crash into the balcony, rupturing the railing and shattering the glass windows as I land.
Bodies litter the floor of the upstairs, blood seeps into the carpet, stains the walls, even marks the ceilings. Most of the corpses belong to clients, rich, older, doughy. A few of the dead are Pandahead’s men. Only some of them are dead from bullet wounds. One man has chunks of flesh stripped from him.
There’s an open stairwell in a circular domed room. Most of the bodies are here. This is where he turtled in when he knew he was under attack.
Mr. Gold stands at the end of the hallway leading out to the front balcony. He’s trained his gun into the right room. “Put the pistol down!” he orders.
“It was one of the clients!” Pandahead shouts, his voice still running through the electronic filter of his mask. “He went insane, started killing everyone. I had to shoot him!”
Mr. Gold steps into the room.
I know I am too late. My body walks in slow steps toward the room. My flesh crawls, my muscles tremble. My body creeps to the end of the hall, my hand presses against the bloody walls for support. My legs are jelly. My stomach revolts.
I step into the doorway.
Pandahead stands by the bed, cradling his thermos in one hand, and holding a pistol in the other. He sees me, and says, “It’s Home Run! Arrest him!”
Mr. Gold whirls around and aims his gold gun at me.
I pay attention to neither of them.
I’ve never seen a dead child in real life. My body is cold and numb, I can’t even speak. The few that survived the immediate execution press their hands against the bullet wounds. They know they have to stop the blood, they just don’t know how. They don’t know they’re already beyond saving, barring a miracle. The clients that hid behind the children are also mostly dead, too.
Gabe falls into the black hole in my chest and Home Run emerges.
“Why?” Home Run’s voice is a deep well of fury rising up to the surface.
Mr. Gold’s gun shakes. He looks back and forth between me and Pandahead.
“One of the clients-” Pandahead says, pointing a pistol at one of the older men. An assault rifle sits on top of his chest, a single bullet hole in his forehead.
Home Run makes a single declaration. “No.”
“Home Run.” Mr. Gold’s voice wavers. From his expression, it’s clear he’s being torn in half.
Home Run addresses Mr. Gold. “He did this. He’s the one I’ve been trying to stop. The sex trafficking ring.” I can’t speak longer than a few words. My lungs wheeze out air. My mask is wet.
“I’m going to-” I reach a hand out for Pandahead.
Mr. Gold steadies himself. “Hold.”
Home Run is bulletproof and so does not care. He rushes forward, grips under the helmet of Pandahead, and wrenches it upwards.
I recognize his face. He’s the senator’s son, Tim Prince. He’s young. He’s younger than I am. He’s got black, disheveled hair, eyes like pieces of black coal, and a grin that he stole from the Devil himself.
He cackles, his voice no longer modulated. “Wow, you’re strong.”
“Home Run! Stand down!” Mr. Gold alternates between pointing his weapon at me and Tim Prince.
Tim Prince can’t do anything, he’s at my mercy. He doesn’t even try to get free but tosses the pistol to the bed. He grasps his thermos in both hands. “You know what you have to do, Mr. Aguellar. Arrest the mask. Or I’ll be having a strongly worded conversation with your boss.”
Mr. Gold wavers, his gun dips.
“They’re gonna nail you to a wall, now that they know who you are,” I say.
“Home Run! Let him go or I will fire!”
Tim Prince grins. “Do as he says, Home Run.”
Home Run, Home Run, Home Run. Invoking the name of a cloak that isn’t even real. Fine. I won’t do this as Home Run.
I’ll do it as Megajoule. I let go of Tim Prince and take off my mask.
Mr. Gold gasps. “You’re… I know you.”
Tim Prince guffaws. “Are you for fucking real? Fucking Megajoule?”
“You can’t be! You died!” Mr. Gold says.
Tim Prince stares up at me, his eyes dark. “He’s about to.” He pops the top off the thermos.
A wave of ink shoots from the mouth of the thermos and washes over my eyes. The world tears in two around me, and I’m not in Parlor anymore. I’m in Dresden’s hideout, surrounded by masked mercenaries. A mass of limbs, machetes, and billy clubs swarming me in the dark, fists that burn, eyes that blaze. There is no floor, there are only the bodies of children, dead or dying.
“What- what- what is this?” Mr. Gold asks, his voice seeping through the rotting wood.
His voice pulls my mind back to Parlor. Tim Prince shoves his way past Mr. Gold. I flail, fighting to stay out of the grasp of the Dresden’s crew swarming around me.
I’m in two places at once. This nightmare place and the real world. An earphone in each ear, one playing a threnody of dissonant strings, the other the sound of cars crashing into each other. The weight of mountains falls on my shoulders, but my feet can’t touch solid ground. Hands tear free of the mass of children, black, mottled, twisted like thrown in a fire. The corpse fingers grip my ankles.
The door of the hideout opens just a sliver, and Bedevil stares out from the crack. Her eyes are torn out, the skin around her mouth missing in chunks. A tongue torn in two hangs from her lipless mouth, and her voice cries out, “GAAAAAAYYYEeeeeeBAAAA.”
I try to ground myself in the real world. It takes all of my willpower to concentrate, but I fight to return to my mind. Mr. Gold is on his back, his hands curled into his chest. He stammers single syllables, sounding like a terrified baby. “W-w-w-wha-”
Tim Prince chuckles. “That’s the end game, friends. That’s what this universe is crawling toward, including our world, all the worlds. That’s the dark waiting for us at the heat death. That thing is the essence of that death. Entropy, silence, damnation.” His voice wavers. ““You know, I used to be like you guys, convinced the world had a purpose. Convinced that we had a purpose. I went to marches, I went to protests. People loved that shit. A senator’s son rejecting his father’s legacy and picking up a poster? Hell yeah, fucking rock on, dude. Tim pauses. He’s looking into the thermos like Gollum at the ring. “Fear. That thing is fear. It feeds off of it. When I first felt it like you’re feeling it now, I knew. I knew that no protesting, no marching, no amount of fighting or superpowers would ever put that off. This thing is the apex predator of all existence.”
“It’s… a fucking… thermos…” I hiss between teeth that refuse to open. Hands grab my arms, and I can’t even use kinetic energy to free myself. It won’t flow, like the dam’s caught.
“Wow! You’re stronger than I thought. So much fear and you’re trying to fight it.”
“I’m not… going… to let you… use your power…”
Mr. Gold whimpers.
Tim Prince shakes his head. “That thing in there is not my power. That’s something else entirely. In fact, I’ll let you in on a little secret: I don’t have a power.”
There is no way I believe that. I can’t move. That’s a power. “You…?”
“I am one of the bottom 2.5% that never developed a power. Sucks, doesn’t it? Meanwhile, you, wow. You creamed Krater. We couldn’t be more different.”
I stumble, clinging to the door. I can hardly form the words: “But… you have power… over fear… I am…”
Tim walks up to me and flicks my forehead. “Silly. You don’t need a superpower to have power over fear. Fear is a fundamental part of being a human. It’s fundamental to the universe. If you don’t believe me, look behind you.”
He grabs my shoulders and turns me around. The world goes dark as if someone threw a blanket over all the lights. I’m back in the hallway.
Bedevil opens the door to the apartment more. Her face is caved in, just a black hole, and her voice comes from all around me. “Why did they pull him from the grave? Why? Why won’t they let him die?” A scream wants to escape from me, but it’s caught on my vocal cords.
The dead Dresden mercenaries and children open their mouths to speak. “GAAAAyyyEEEEEEBBBAAAAA,” they shriek in chorus, their voices overlapping. The finger in the back of my brain turns into a knife plunging through my core.
“You’re afraid of the same thing I am. The same thing everyone is afraid of. We’re all afraid that nothing we do matters. And do you know the worst part?” Tim Prince leans in close. “That’s the truth. Nothing we do matters. I see your fear. You fight so hard. You fight so well. What a shame that it counts for nothing. One day they’ll forget.”
“They made you,” Megajoule says.
“They’ll bury you,” Mr. Gold continues.
Bedevil sniffles. “They’ll forget.”
“That’s god damn right,” Tim says. “We get one ride. It doesn’t mean jack shit that I profit off human trafficking. Even better, I perform a valuable service to this city while I do it. All of us will be spirited into history and maybe we’ll get a footnote or if we’re very lucky, a page in some asshole kid’s history class book. Will we care? No. We’ll be dead. We’ll all die.”
I fight against the hands gripping me. Tendrils of telekinesis criss-cross my chest, pulling me toward Bedevil, pulling me into the floor. I can’t move, I WANT TO MOVE.
If you were to see one, you’d think that maybe God poked a pencil in the fabric of the universe, or something.
My thermal sense. There’s no heat around me at all. There’s nothing but cold void.
Bedevil’s ruined body floats out of the apartment toward me. Her body twists and unravels; she’s a rag doll and someone’s pulling her threading out. The corpses of children swirl up around her like she’s puppeteering them with telekinesis. Arachnid legs as wide as trees rip from this mass, stringing corpses along their tibias. Blood splatters at me, and a face forms out of their flesh: Megajoule. A green-rotting tongue lolls out of his mouth. “GAAAAyEEEBA.”
That scream that’s been trying to tear out of my throat finally makes it, ripping from my mouth like a tumor. The world tips forward.
“GAAAAAYEEEEBAAAAA,” Megajoule shrieks. His face twists, and then it’s Bedevil screaming at me.
The insect legs pull more bodies from the writhing mass. Remise dances on the end of a spider paw. Drone hangs from a noose held aloft by a claw. The face transforms into Flashfire, and the tongue becomes Epione. He bites down, ripping her body in half. He screeches in a voice folding in on itself, a voice like a landslide.
“I don’t know what I’m doing, night after night,” I say, the words pulled from my mouth like molecules into a black hole.
I’m in three places: I’m stumbling through Parlor. I drag my red hot hand along the walls and they catch fire— The hands and tendrils bind me in the ruined Dresden hideout. I fight for every inch, I scream and grunt, I push with every ounce of strength— I’m in the shower in my apartment, wishing the water would burn me away.
I’m being divided. Ripped apart.
“Spaghettification,” Megajoule jeers.
Bedevil weeps, and says, “One path that you can’t get off, one path taking you into the shadow. Forever. There is no escape from a black hole, Gabe.”
I’m at the amusement park, staring Krater down. He’s as tall and wide as Houston. He’s made of steel, of bedrock. “I protect children from you.”
Bedevil whispers into my ear. “Oh, Mega. Mega. Megaaaaaa, oh my Gooooooooooodddd.” She moans as she rides out her orgasm. Four places. No. I’ve lost count.
Megajoule takes his turn in this chorus of horror. “The howling dark would come up at you. An infinite abyss stretching further and further out. Light would wrap around the hole, and as you passed the horizon, the universe would actually fall away behind you. It would shrink and shrink into a pinprick until all around you is the dark.”
I’m sinking into the corpse void.
“It will devour you,” Mil-dot says.
A fractal blooms out of the void, a tesseral pattern woven of dark hallways, dripping with blood, echoing with the moans of rich men raping little girls, cast over by an uncaring world, where nothing matters at all.
The world is a pinprick behind me. I’m falling. I’m falling.
One path. One path into the dark.
Say, everything’s going dark.
I’m falling into the fractal of fear. The Fear. “Julian!” I scream. “How do I fight the Fear? How do I stop it?”
“There is no escape from a black hole, Gabe,” Megajoule says, but he’s across the event horizon from me now. Redshifted into oblivion, sucked into the pinprick behind me. Dark hallways on dark hallways on dark hallways on dark hallways.
“They made you,” Pandahead says, his voice still in my head. “They’ll bury you. They’ll forget.”
I summon all the energy I can. I pull all the heat in around me. Even the energy of falling into a black hole. I have to escape. Before I cross the event horizon. Before every particle is stripped from me and spirited away into the inky night.
I rocket into the sky.
I fall into the dark.
Please, God, if you’re listening, don’t let me die here.
I don’t even know who’s speaking anymore.
“You’re afraid that nothing matters.”
Molecules, torn apart, one by one, into the dark.
“You’re afraid you’re just a sum of questions.”
When I answer them, will I disappear?
Who am I? Gabe. G for Good, A for Able, B for Beautiful, E for Enough.
What do you want? To save the world, even though that’s stupid.
Where are you going? I don’t know.
What are you afraid of? That this is all a cosmic joke.
What do you need? I need a soul.
What are you? A ghost with a stolen body.
Where? I don’t know.
What? I don’t know.
Who? I don’t know.
Why? I don’t know.
I don’t know.
I don’t know
I don’t kno
I don’t kn
I don’t k