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   Chapter 22 The Fall

Blog of a Teenage Superhero By m i c h e l l e p a k Characters: 15528

Updated: 2017-12-05 19:04


^^Percy“s less than edgy favorite song

I decide to find Percy. Chip is her Finn and Max is her Kai. She“ll know how Chip became a pawn in Masquerade“s game and why Max is crying every other minute. She has to.

Music blasts from the speakers, neither rock nor chill-fi or cheesy broadway, but all still pretty okay. We skimped on a DJ and made a playlist we paid some kids to man on an old laptop.

The Dipper Donut van is idling in its usual spot, but there are other vendors as well. Grease-sizzled hot dogs, burned sliders, deep-fried cinnamon rolls, which all taste just as awesome as they sound. One cart sells maple-bacon flavored cotton candy. I“m halfway to heaven, savoring every greasy, sugar-filled bite. But Max won“t eat. He“s withdrawn into himself. His smile becomes broader, faker. His grip tightens around the crook of my elbow.

"What“s wrong?" I ask him periodically, but he won“t answer. He just laughs, and it“s this tentative, broken sound. Fairy lights are strung across the canvas roofs of tents. Teachers and students alike pull us aside, president and vice president as we are. I“ve almost forgotten about that now. Max certainly has. He barely forces out a grin and a sleepy nod.

Admission was an okay seven dollars, and for what it“s worth, the kids seem to be having a pretty okay time. For a dollar, I buy three turns to knock over glass bottles with a baseball. I knock them over on my first try, nearly smash them. The kid behind the folding table regards me wide-eyed as he hands over the fat plushie of an east-coast superhero.

I give it to Max and he presses it against his heart. I think of making a joke about getting him a stuffed Penguin to fit in his Batman Villain rogues Gallery, but I“m not supposed to know about that, so we play a few more games, most of them with him standing behind me, watching in contemplating quiet as I crush the ring-tosses and pinballs and that one weird game where you bang a bell with a mallet to test your strength. I“m careful not to destroy the rental machine, but I do win top score, and with it, a bear, a felt turtle, and a fake-silver watch. None of it raises Max“s spirits. His every muscle is tensed, face cut up with hard lines, shoulders folded in. At first I think he“s sick. I touch him on the forehead, and the skin is cool. He shivers at my touch. So, I take him by the cold hand and lead him away from the tents and into a clearing, my skirts sticky with dew. "Come on, like slam poetry?"

"It“s fine." His eyes have taken on a milky, clouded quality, like when“s he“s looking at me he“s looking into something I can“t see. "I“m just not feeling great."

"My kiss of death, huh?"

He pulls the purple toy hero tighter under the crook of his am. His face pale, lashes fluttering. I guess he feels safer with the Onyx me than the me me.

"Okay, no slam poetry, then. How about your dance?"

He lifts his head, his smile crooked at the edges. Moonlight traces the curves of his plastic mask, the slight hook of his upturned nose, his greased hair curling up at the back. His chest rises and falls with shallow breaths. "I“m freaking you, aren“t I?"

"A little."

His eyes cut toward the sleepy faraway blink of fairy lights. We“re standing in the grass, the starlight reflecting off his mask. The grass is cold and wet and crunches under our feet. My breath quaking, I want to fiddle with his crooked lapel, fix the floppy carnation with the broken pin.

Kai and Finn are shouting at each other in the distance. Which isn“t unusual, I suppose, but the two normally know to hide their mutual loathing until they“re in my apartment. Heads swivel toward them, and like the disappointed parent they“ve made me, I can only clutch my face in my hands and sigh.

"I“M GONNA SHOW YOU A GOOD TIME, YOU POMPOUS LOAD OF ASS—"

"Has it occurred to you that I DON“T WANT TO SEE A GOOD TIME, ESPECIALLY NOT WITH YOU!"

They“re screaming. A tent collapses, and from our clearing, I watch the green tarp wriggle with the shapes of two fighting boys. Kai emerges in seconds, Finn rolling on his back, squirming to escape the smaller boy“s grasp. Metal rods roll and whoosh as they crunch the grass.

"I HATE YOU, I HATE YOU!"

I break into a run, the hoop skirts gliding over the soft green blades. Max catches my hand. "Wait," he says, though I don“t know what there is to wait for. My friends are fighting and if I don“t stop them they“re gonna drag out the boys in blue, which means the end of this pretty okay carnival I sowed with my own sweat.

The song changes. A remix of Peace and Love on the Planet Earth is playing, Percy“s favorite. It

Percy pulls out the needle, bringing on a spray of blood. I slap my hand over the wound, numbness working up the skin in itchy tingles. "Please, please go," I tell her.

She shakes her head, zipping my purse open. "Please," I beg as she undoes my cheap paper plate mask and replaces it with the black one. She pushes a strand of hair behind my ear as I struggle to my feet, her eyes trained on the blood dripping through my fingers. "Percy—"

"I“m not gonna let him take you!" Her eyes are narrowed, hard and glittering.

"I don“t plan on giving him the chance," I say, squinting at the darkened horizon. The form is gone from his perch. Her jaw clenched, her chin quivering, Percy holds her head high as I fade at her side. My eyelids are heavy and half-lidded. A cold wind whisps through the clearing, a shiver over my skin that brings on gooseflesh. I whip around, sleepy, my arms swinging out, uncoordinated and ungainly. A flash of grinning white mask catches my eye, black robes swishing in the wind.

"Are you trying to stop her heart?" screams Percy.

Masquerade is aiming a thin plastic rifle at my chest. He chuckles deeply and swings the weapon at her throat. "Persephone, Onyx, my favorite girls."

Percy steps back, tears welling up and spilling down her heart-shaped face. He cocks the gun at her, thumbs the trigger. I launch at him, wired on adrenaline, and bash my knee into his stern. He hits the ground skidding underneath me, but my thoughts are coming slower. Blackness and silences. I have to cling to Percy, protecting Percy, to anchor myself between this world and that one.

He swings. His knuckles catch my jaw. It clicks. Pain bursts. I scrabble for the gun, one hand around the muzzle, the other pushing down on his mask. Percy helps, dropping down and raining blows on his stomach. But my strength is waning. My left hand won“t respond. It falls limp. That whole arm goes cold. My head folds to the side, the vessels in my face and neck squeezing shut. But I fight, kicking and scratching and swinging. Masquerade flicks me off, watching me fight off the numb and fatigue with that fixed grin. And then his head swivels up toward Percy.

"I can“t believe you. The first thing you do is sell me out."

"You can“t believe me?" Her voice is raw. "Oh, I“m sorry, am I supposed to help you, now?"

He aims the gun at her heart. I hear the click of the dart, watch his gloved fingers find the grooves in the weapon“s side. "It would“ve been a heck of a lot better for you if Chip had just kept his mouth shut."

I swing myself to my feet, stumble in front of her. "Get out," I slur. The needle slices into my chest. I hit the ground from the double dose. The impact of the drug slams me. My body shuts off, can“t move, heart is beating so fast I think it“ll tear through my chest. "Run!" My vocal chords are stiffening, the sound a bark that thrums in my throat. Trapped in my own frozen body.

She doesn“t run. She stays with me, guarding me. I hear the click of the shot, feel her body topple, her fingers entangling with mine.

We hold hands as we fall.

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