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   Chapter 1 Truth, Justice, And Drowning In Toxic Sludge

Blog of a Teenage Superhero By m i c h e l l e p a k Characters: 14190

Updated: 2017-11-28 19:05

Ten hours of Chill-fi “Human Music“ above.

You don“t need superpowers to defend truth, justice, and the American way. You just need a pallet that doesn“t turn at the words "breaking and entering."

Take right now, for instance. I“m at the edge of the Silver Dollar Strip, where the city turns to rust and gnarled tree roots and the moon sinks low in the sponge of gray clouds. I skim my fingers over the dozen or so “No trespassing“ signs scattered throughout the forest, hopping the loops of barbed wire half-buried in the mud.

"Monet!" Finn shouts in the left ear of my headset. "Kai“s bullying me!"

"I am not!" Kaito shouts in my right. "He“s so freaking delicate. It“s like I“m riding shotgun with a Cattleya Orchid."

"He took my calzone, Monet. You know how I feel about him taking my food."

"You know how I feel about Finn in general." Kai huffs. "He“s a pathetic, little—"

"Yeah! Well, you“re a jerky little emo brat, and I-I“m taller than you!"

In case you“re wondering, no, I am not a mother and no, these are not my derpy kids. These are my best friends. Finn, seventeen, the guy with the intel and Kaito, also seventeen, the guy with the Pizzastar delivery car.

"Guys, we“re about to see a supervillain." Me, this time. "I“m not your mom. Cut it out."

"Mon-neet!" Kaito whines. I click him off and click on a chill-fi ten-hour edit of “Human Music.“ I stumble onto the driveway and drag my feet across the gravel to clean off the mud. It“s a cute little cottage, with a front porch and a swinging tropical-print love seat. Vines climb up the yellow siding. The windows are boarded up with red shutters, the planter boxes filled with tiny white flowers. I slap the crowbar against my thigh, notepad tucked neatly under my arm as I step up onto the creaking porch. I crouch below the window, ear pressed against the wall. Low voices murmur and laugh.

I rise, adjust my starched collar, and knock on the faded pink door. "Mr. Preston?"

The voices silence. I exhale a holed-up breath.

"Mr. Preston! I“m glad you“re here! I was texted an anonymous tip about your meeting with a Masquerade tonight." I pull out the notepad and fumble with the pencil tucked behind my ear. It makes me feel like one of the old reporters, the ones with “Press“ stuck in the bands of their pork-pies. "As in, the villain Masquerade. The one wreaking havoc and terror. You wouldn“t know anything about that, would you?"

The silence is so thick my dubstep gives it a heartbeat.

"Okay, great. I“m just going to pry these shutters open and snap some pictures myself."

"Monet!" Finn shouts. The chill-fi zaps off. "You can“t just cut us off like this. We“re on a mission."

Kai cuts in too. "Yeah, hasn“t anyone taught you about stranger danger or anything?"

Precisely. "And that“s why I“m doing this alone." I drop my voice into a whisper and step to the side, the porch creaking under my feet. "The mayor already knows me and my dad. If you guys get involved, he“ll hurt you to shut you up."

"And he won“t hurt you, too?" Finn“s voice is quiet and shaky.

"Yeah, Mo“," Kai says, "this is kind of stupid. Even more than it usually is."

The guys are at my command. I make them the best coffee to be had by the Silver Dollar Shore and they follow my plans. Easy. "Yeah, well, if I end up in tiny slivers at the bottom of the Silver Dollar Surf, everyone“s gonna know who did it."

I crouch low in front of the window and pry the shutters open with one, two, three tugs of the crowbar. It makes a croaky little sound. The panes beneath are frosted blue. I lift my camera. The room is average enough, luxury Americana, straight from the catalogs. There“s a chestnut coffee table with a fruit bowl on top, pastel paintings on the back wall, and sure enough, a balding, pot-bellied mayor sitting on the couch. Beside a hooded figure.

I wave, smile, and take as many pictures as my giant old camera will allow. It“s a beaut, this camera. I fished it out of a dumpster somewhere and it“s got a good, heavy feel in my hands. Plus, I love slapping prints down on my boss“s desk. The mayor catches my eye and smiles.

And that“s when it hits me that maybe the boys are right.

"Guys, guys, I“m going." I spin around on my heels. Glass explodes behind my head, shards whipping out behind me. I duck, but not fast enough to avoid at least a dozen or so nicks to the back of the head. I can“t help a little cry of pain.

"Monet, what“s happening?" Finn. His voice is calm. "Are you okay?"

I open my mouth to respond, but a hand grasps around my throat. I“m yanked back through the window, kicking and screaming. I grip the fingers and try to pry them off my neck, but they just sink deeper into the delicate flesh.

"I take that as a no. Locking in on your location. Stay strong."

"What“s happening?" Kai, again. "Monet, answer me! What“s going on?"

I“m dying, Kai, that“s what“s going on. "Choking, for the most part."

"What should I do with her?" Masquerade asks, dangling me a couple inches off the shag carpet. Mayor Preston stands up from the couch and sets his Coke on the table. The man gives me a hard appraising look as I scramble and scream, arms flailing, legs kicking out. Then I drop, limp against the villain, too tired and weak to breathe.

"Ms. April O“Neil. What a pleasant surprise." He sniggers this. I never pegged him to be much of TMNT fan. "Or Ms. Jackson, I should say. You share a remarkable resemblance with your father."

My throat is scratchy and raw. "Flattered," I say, "Would you mind answering a few questions? Or do you usually have supervillains attack your house guests?" I can barely choke out the words, gasping even to breathe.

"Look." Masquerade huffs. He has a young voice. "Should I kill her or do you want to monologue at her?"

"I“ll kill you!" Kai screams as Finn cooes at him in hushed, mothering tones in the background.

The mayor shrugs. "She has friends. They come here or she dies. Tell them that."

Masquerade drops me. I hit the floor in a wheezing puddle, the headset wrenched out of my ears. "Really, sirs." My chest heaves. "I just wanted you to answer some questions, is all. The superheroes are gone. What happened to them? If you“re innocent, I can clear your name."

"A junior reporter." The mayor steps forward with a catty yawn. "The apple doesn“t fall far from the tree. Did your father send you? Or are you all prying scum?"

"My job is to learn the truth." I rise shakily to my feet. "And I“ll do anything to get it."

Masquerade groans. He“s wearing skinny jeans, half in costume and half in casual dress. His hair is tied in a neat blonde bun to the nape of his neck and he“s giving his cloak a rest for a hoodie. He“s still wearing his usual white mask, though, the one with the curved slits for eyes and a grin set into the bottom half. "Your friends are stupid, Monet. And so are you. It“s best to keep out of the affairs of beings higher on the evolutionary scale than you. Didn“t your dad tell you that?"

"Quit spewing your crap." My fist

s are trembling. "And what are you? Thirteen, fourteen—"


"Interesting. Taking your hormonal stress out on the city. Sounds completely healthy." I spin the pencil through my fingers and wrap it across my knuckles. I touch my aching throat, tracing each swelling bruise on my neck. Then I scribble illegibly in my notepad and back toward the door. "I“m sixteen too. Care to help a friend out and let me go?"

Masquerade pounces. I hit the ground beneath him. My heeled shoe slams into his stomach, my curled fists thrown in rapid-fire uppercuts. It gives me just enough space to worm free of his caging arms. My laces are already half-untied by the time I take off running down the hall. I race past the kitchen, and past the shut up doors. There“s a window at the end of the hall. Masquerade breezes past me and leans against the curtains, that eternal grin burning on his mask. "Going anywhere, Miss Jackson?"

"Back off!" I kick off my heels and lunge for the door to my right. Just a little bedroom, maybe meant for a child. The walls are painted a soft shade of pink, a quilt drawn up over the bed. White furniture. A little bear tucked against the pillows. I suck in a gasp and race for another curtained window.

"Running like a rat in a maze." Masquerade snorts behind me. His young voice has taken on a deep quality, low and throaty. I whip around, backed against the nylon drapes. My shaky fingers fumble with the locks on the bottom of the glass. This was a bad idea. I should“ve been sneakier, stealthier. But I never thought the man would try to kill me.

The Prestons and the Jacksons have always feuded. The mayor is a wealthy politician, and my father is a reporter who has his salary slashed every year because the Journal can“t afford him. Or any of its employees, really. I“m not even on the payroll. Mayweather just slips me twenties in pink envelopes and I cover zoning meetings. Is it legal? Probably not.

But is it necessary? Absolutely.

"I suggest you not jump." The voice becomes a low, sultry purr. My heart slams against my ribs. The window won“t budge. "If you want a lead, I can give you a lead. That warehouse out back, there“s some bad stuff happening there." He lifts his mask up by the chin, just so I can make out the twitching smirk on his lips. "It isn“t safe behind here for you mortals. Chemical pollution. The swamp is contaminated."

"Good one." He steps forward. I point my crowbar at his chest. "Don“t come any closer."

"Or what? You gonna pry me to death?" Another step. The smirk widens.

"I“ll bash your brains in, that“s what." I whip around and slam the crowbar into the glass. Again and again. A crack shows in the surface, long and slender. Nothing for me to work with. Now, I could pry the window open. That“s a crowbar“s function, after all. But I was hoping to break the glass since the whole process would have been that much quicker.

Now Masquerade“s got his gloved hands around my wrists. I wriggle and bash the crowbar against his stomach and thighs, kicking, screaming. Maybe you“ve never fought a supervillain before. Maybe you don“t know the feeling of being held by someone who wants to hurt you and has all the crushing power of a locomotive. My stomach locks up, my voice pitches up into a perpetual cry, and all my strength goes into my twitching hand. I swing and swing and swing. He grunts. His grip tightens. Bones bend and creak. Stars explode in front of my eyes. "Quit fighting! Stupid mortal—"

"Hey, hey!" Kai“s voice. Not from the headset this time, but from the other room. "Let her go!" My heart sinks that much deeper in my chest. I“ve endangered them, just like I said I wouldn“t do.

"Please?" Finn adds.

I swing around, faint and bleeding, and hit the floor. I drag myself back to the window on my knees with the last of my strength. My jeans tear. My shoulders strain at my blazer, arms yanked taut behind me. The pain is sharp and sudden.

"I“m going to break your wrists," Masquerade says coolly, "unless you chill out."

"Do it, then." My socked feet graze the window. I jerk my hand to the side and wrench it out of the divot between his thumb and forefinger. A little trick Lady Self-Defense taught me when Dad sat me in front of all those martial arts training Vhses so if someone tried to hurt me, I could fight back. Smart planning on his part! "Who needs wrists anyway? You can“t type with them. You can“t even dial 911 with them."

I swing the crowbar at his throat. The sharp edge cuts his skin, and he recoils with a yelp. This time, I bash the window open with a few hard whacks. No wire screen. "Guys, guys, guys! Go! Now!" I throw myself out of the open window, but Masquerade grips me by the coattails of my blazer.

"What did I just say, Monet?" His voice is measured and clipped. "You see all that. That“s all dangerous chemicals down there." And sure enough, when I look down, the watershed is half-submerged in a milky swirl of red and white. The goo surrounds the warehouse like a moat. It“s much deeper than a swamp. It“s a little more of a lake.

"What is it?" The curse of having an inquisitive mind. The goo pulses and snaps, bubbles brewing on the surface and popping when they reach the air.

"None of your business," he snaps. "If I drowned you, no one would know. It would be an unfortunate accident."

I squirm. The acrid fumes make my head spin. Kai and Finn need time to escape, time I have to buy them. I drop the crowbar into the spitting brew and watch it sink. "You have a bad attitude."

"I“m deciding whether or not to drop you, Monet." He sighs from deep in his throat. "Don“t speed up the process, okay? Now, if you“ll behave, maybe I“ll drag you back into this house and brew you a cup of hot tea."


"So long as you beg for mercy."

I know this tactic. It“s a way to demoralize the victim and make the attacker a straw-hero in the victim“s mind. Look how merciful he is. He saved me when all I could do was beg. This can lead to all sorts of bad destinations. Stockholm Syndrome, for instance.

"No thank you." I wrench my blazer out of his grasp and catch the shutter with my sweat-slicked hands. Masquerade leans out the sill, his glove pressed against his masked cheek. He sighs dreamily.

"I gave you a choice, Juliet."

This isn“t even happening on a balcony, so his reference game is pretty off. I reach out to grasp one of the loose siding slats. He slaps my hand away. Joints snap. I yelp. He snatches up my free wrist in his glove, his masked face edging toward mine. The other hand dangles limply at my side. My vision has gone spotty, and all I see are stars.

"Beg, or die."

I shake my head.

He lifts me higher, and just when I think he“s taken pity on me, he drops me into the hissing bog below.


Working on a new superhero story between Stolen Souls and Damsel【ed】. I haven“t worked out an update schedule, but I“m thinking along the lines of something weekly, like every Monday. Anyway, I hope you like this and would love to read your comments!


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