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   Chapter 5 Schoolyard Fight

Blog of a Teenage Superhero By m i c h e l l e p a k Characters: 15744

Updated: 2017-11-30 19:04


Early light filters through the gymnasium“s high windows. Watery shadows splash the orange-brown floor. Kids squirm on the squeaky bleachers, legs kicking, chin tucked into hands.

"And that," Persephone Jameson finishes with a polite smile, "is why you should vote for me."

I crane my neck. I“m leaned against the whitewashed wall on the far side of the gym, thrumming my fingernails in the wall“s ruts. My knees are curled to my chest, chin propped up on my knees. The pressure behind my eyes is building.

"Speech... speech... speech." I groan, digging my fingers into my scalp. My throat is scratchy and dry, hands clammy, pulse pounding in my wrists. I volunteered for this. Last year, last day of school. The school counselor asked for tributes.

"Yeah," I said, cheeks stuffed with homemade donut. "Sure. Show me the clipboard." And I scrawled my name in the “Vice President“ column, because shoot for the moon, am I right?

Persephone, or Percy, strides across the gym, heels clicking the polished floor. She“s going to win. Students are clapping. They never clap for student council electees. Most of them have other things to worry about, like the aforementioned "wings of crushing adulthood," or how gawky the geek kids running for student council look.

Percy smiles down at me. She“s pretty in your salt-of-the-earth kind of way, freckles sprinkled across her nose and cheeks, red hair pulled back in a neat ponytail, heart-shaped face. She“s a cheerleader, and a popular girl, but she“s never been mean to me, if that“s what popular cheerleader girls are supposed to be. Her presence still makes me squirm, though, like I shoud bow or step aside or ... something.

"Good luck."

My hands are trembling. Worse than last night, even. I give Percy a little smile and she thumbs-up me back. I clench my shaky hands around the hem of my hoodie. All half-glazed eyes are on me. I swallow back the lump in my throat and step up to the middle of the gym, surrounded on all sides by bleacher-bound bored kids.

A stand-up mic is hooked in the center of the floor. Thick wires race from the corners of the gym, taped up to the mats. I step up, thumping my fingers on the mic-head, scanning faces. Anyone could be Masquerade. Anyone could be out to get me.

"Um." The mic squeals and makes an angry shriek. I pat it the way you“d pat a snarling dog. Kai is playing poker in the back row over an open binder with a couple of his bored friends. Finn is asleep in the front, face tucked into a girl“s shoulder.

"Look," I say. I“m a reporter. I specialize in the truth. "You don“t care. I get it. The student council doesn“t affect your life, except maybe picking out the themes for Prom and the homecoming dance, which you guys probably don“t care about all that much either. So, I should probably shut up and let you guys go about your way more interesting day, but—" I suck in a shaky breath.

My knees are knocking as I fly, baby, fly through the rhetoric. But? But what? I draw up another long breath, which I hope will look like a dramatic pause to whoever cares enough to listen. "I promise to, uh, cut the bullcrap, and represent you guys, I guess. And, I don“t know, figure out where Red Comet went? Great. Great. Thanks, bye."

I do a little princess wave and step away from the mic. Finn is awake now. And laughing. In fact, so are some of the kids. But not in a excitable way. More in an awkward harr-harr-harr way of sleepy kids drowning in their own drool. And the teachers don“t look all that impressed either. Mr. Branders leans on his pool cue, locking me in a dead-stare that tells me I“m on his delinquent list. For life.

School hasn“t even been in session for three hours. I settle beside Finn“s girlfriend and lean back on the bleachers.

"Nice," she says, flipping her ponytail over her shoulder. Finn jolts and sneezes when her hair tickles his face. She“s a cool person to look at. Two piercings in her left ear and one in her eyebrow. Her blonde bangs frame her face in a way that only works in the magazines. She offers me her hand like she“s the politician of the exchange. "I“m Kat."

"Monet." I give her hand a shake that lasts a second too long and leaves us blushing and scanning the gym to avoid each other“s eyes.

We watch the two would-be presidents go at it. And by “go at it,“ I mean explain how uniquely qualified they are for the position. They even have notes, binders and notebooks and index cards and everything. I drift out, mentally noting all the blonde, long-haired guys in the vicinity. There“s three in Kai“s poker group alone.

"Hi," says a boy in skinny jeans with a winsome white smile. His mussed hair is short and brown, so I relax and allow my stomach its customary somersault. He“s cute. A little short, but most guys are to me, and he“s got that sun-kissed tan most the surf boys“ wear. He“s even got freckles, and his eyes so brown they look almost black. "As Monet said, I don“t think most of you care about the results of the election."

I smother a squeak in the wrist of my hoodie. Cute Boy knows my name.

"But you“re trusting your representatives with a lot of responsibility."

Finn rolls his eyes, but he“s leaned in and listening, chin propped up on his hands. So are some of the other kids. The candidate has such a smooth voice, as deep as a teen“s can be, and his smile is charming and sweet. The way he presents himself, so seriously, makes the council seem to actually matter. The cheese to my cynicism. My heart is pounding. So I have a supervillain to think about. So I have superpowers. But whoever this boy is, he“s got my attention, and my heart.

He waxes on about responsibility, makes promises, and shoots another round of beautiful, heart-melting smiles at the audience. I wake up a little more as he paces and talks about Red Comet. "She“s our hero," he says, "and so is her team. This school was built in her honor, and as students, we have to show that we too can be heroes and protect ourselves. Govern ourselves, even. Maybe Monet is right that you don“t care, but I do. I“m Max Preston, and I would be honored to serve as your council president."

I wish I could have another cup of coffee. Not just for the caffeine boost, but for a spittake. Preston. Preston.

Sure, “Max Preston“ is the cutest name I have ever heard, as well the most American, and my tired brain can“t connect that dimply face and those big brown eyes to the man who tried to have me killed last night. Actually, it can, but it sure as heck doesn“t want to.

Finn laces one hand behind his head, knocking his elbow into Kat“s shoulder. He pulls out his phone and pokes it with the other. He“s chuckling to himself, drawing out the boy“s words in a gravelly hero voice. "I“m Max Preston, and I would be honored to be your president." And, yeah, even if it“s a wonderfully sincere way to end a speech, I can“t help a little, twitching grin. Of shock. Of complete and utter disbelief.

"Preston?" I whisper. "There are a lot of Prestons, maybe—"

Finn flips his phone around. He has a picture pulled up of Mayor Preston standing in front of a red-trimmed door with his arm draped around a peace-signing Max. The boy looks particularly cute in this picture, with his starched collared shirt buttoned up to his throat, and his dark hair messy and mused. But it“s the Cheshire Cat grin on the mayor“s flabby face that has my insides twisted up.

Max steps down and his opponent, Chip Hardwell, a tall boy with beautiful blonde locks and a demeanor that screams, “I don“t want to be here, some parent-teacher-terrible friend is forcing me to talk to you, someone help me, I want to die,“ gives his speech.

It“s as apathetic as mine, but not as winged. He throws around some buzzwords, grumbles a catchphrase, and then he pulls the mic off the stand and drops i

t, much to the delight of the kids and the chagrin of the adults. He“s on my suspect list, but I like him.

"Now!" Principal Laurel strides across the gym floor, her clunky boots jingling. Sure enough, she“s wearing little decorative spurs on her heels that look just as sharp as the real things. All I know is that I don“t want to get on the bad side of this hyperactive sugar fluff. "You will all get to vote in class, but first, we have some rules to talk about."

Two freshman move the projector and unfurl the screen. The lights dim, something I didn“t know gym lights were capable of. A fuzzy picture of Red Comet fizzles into frame.

Red Comet is a classic hero. Her red-streaked hair fans out behind her, her side-bangs hiding a single eye. She holds her head up, a beatific smile gracing her elegant features. The red mask fits her face cleanly and I“m gawking.

"Good morning, students. It looks like I can“t be here today."

There“s an uncomfortable rustle in the crowd. Kai pounds down the bleachers, sending little plastic chips flying. He swings down beside Finn and elbows him hard. I fidget with my sleeve, wishing I had enough foresight to wear that one stupid black band. But she isn“t dead. Can“t be.

It“s my job to learn what happened. And for a second, the stuffy gymnasium and the uncomfortable silence of my peers has all but vanished as I focus on my hero“s face. She“s standing in front of a white background, no clues to be found there. Her hair is blowing back, wisping against the screen most dramatically. Must be a fan.

"But that doesn“t mean I can“t talk about the responsibilities of our future citizens. You each have a student handbook—"

A kid in a stiff black jacket races through the beachers, throwing thick pink booklets over her shoulder. One lands in my lap. I flip through the pages and squint down at the squiggly print.

The mayor has a cute son. Masquerade knows who I am. My heroes are gone. My head is spinning, spinning, spinning.

"Now," says Red Comet, puckering her glossy lips, "one of our first rules at this high is that as responsible students, you must—"

Masquerade bursts through the screen. Shreds of canvas flutter up into the stuffy air. For a whole second, the kids in the bleachers are frozen. I am too. Because just for a moment I decide it“s all a hallucination from my exhausted mind.

But then the students scream and I“m dragged back down into my reality of complete, exquisite crap. Masquerade“s black cape hangs limply behind him, his baggy hood casting a shaky gray shadow over his grinning mask. He“s changed up his style, a little more streamlined now.

A thermal black shirt and skinny black jeans. A bulky belt with enough compartments to fit at least a toolbox or two. Even in the darkness, I can make out each glossy stitch on his shirt and the outline of every muscle in his chest.

Red Comet is still talking about our responsibilities when Masquerade floats up into the air and kicks over the projector. It hits the ground. Lenses shatter. Plastic crunches and crumples in. I flinch, thinking of my camera.

"School“s out," he says with a low, choky laugh. "But don“t thank me. I only need one or two of you as my hostage, so please, feel free to run." He makes a shooing motion over his shoulder, laughing.

Kids surge down the bleachers and hightail for the doors. Teachers shout for swift and orderly evacuation. Finn and Kai have barely enough time to shoot me what I suppose is a meaningful glance when they“re overrun by the throngs of desperate kids.

In Silver Dollar, supervillain-fighting is left for the superheroes. Taking on one of these guys is like taking on a grizzly bear. Stupid, unless you“re a trained professional. And even then it still errs on the side of “Pretty Dumb.“

A kid bumps me. I collide into Percy, who is still wearing a smile, though it“s worried. "You good?"

I nod.

"Move it, beanpole!" shouts another kid. I“m pushed out the doors, bobbing above a sea of heads. I grab hold of a door, flatten myself against the wall until the mob passes, and race in the opposite direction of the side exit.

And that leads to the drama room.

Public speaking has never been my forte. When you type up an article, you can edit it, backspace it, make it stronger or make it disappear. But when you speak, sometimes you phrase things wrong. Sometimes you stumble over your words. Sometimes you can“t remember what you“re supposed to say and stare blankly out into the abyss, wondering what went wrong, why this always happens to you, and hello darkness my old friend.

But our drama teacher is the coolest person in existence, and I like to hang by her classroom. It“s a wonderful place. The purple canopy ceiling glitters with hanging stars. Tie-dyed mats are spread across the floor, woolly cushions replacing the usual plastic chairs.

But it“s the costume closet that matters the most in this equation. The door is never locked. I kick it open and weave through the smothering folds of fabric. The darkness pushes in on all sides, cold and heavy. At the end of the closet where she keeps the fake superhero gear for when we put on our inevitable “Superhero Appreciation Play.“ All I need is something to strike fear into Masquerade“s heart. Something to make me look a little tougher than I am now, a little more of a hero.

My fingers snag around the neck of a long satin cape. Black. I snap on the matching mask and run. My sneakers squeak on the polished floor, sleeves of half-disregarded clothing catching on my shoes and around my ankles. And I thought my room was a mess.

The light is blinding. I throw up my hands and hiss. Which I“ve begun to do a little too much of, it seems. I might as well call myself a vampire.

"Alright, Masquerade!" I shout, testing my voice. I need it to go deeper, a little huskier. Something to make me imposing. I take off into the hall, blinking hard to adjust to the two sweaty eyeholes. The plastic has already begun to cut into my brow and now my head pounds hard. "Alright, Masquerade. Alright Masquerade? Alright, Masquerade..."

I turn the corner. My nose burns from the antiseptic and bleach school smell. The floor glitters in the light of the thousand or so windows. Red splashed here, a little blue splashed there. The artwork is impossibly beautiful. Landscapes and portrait work, faces chalked up in every color. I steady a painful breath and race back toward the gym, cape swishing in my tailwind.

I hadn“t planned on using my superpowers, but if there“s ever been a time to test them, it“s now.

The doors squeal when I throw them open, thunking hard against the whitewashed walls.

Masquerade whips around, phone in one hand, a choking hostage clutched by the throat in the other.

Funnily enough, that choking hostage is Kai.

Face gone pale, eyes gone buggy, his mouth twisted into a half-scowl. He kicks and squirms and cusses until Masquerade squeezes him even tighter. My friend falls frustratingly limp and all at once I can“t breathe.

"Well, well, well." Masquerade turns. He flips his phone around so he“s filming me. I glare into the lense."A new hero, are we?"

I throw the hood up on my stolen cape. Most of the new heroes have them, since it“s pretty impossible to hide your identity without one. "Let the hostage go." I make my voice deep and husky, much to Masquerade“s amusement, who is chuckling again. My heart pounds in my throat. I curl my fists, ready for a rematch.

"I don“t know. I have a bone to pick with this one, and maybe some money to make off a benefactor who doesn“t want a dead teen splattered at the base of his building. Toodles!"

And with Kai gasping and clawing in his grasp, Masquerade jets past me, so fast he“s a blur. I hit the ground running.

It looks like I swung myself a superhero gig.

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