Power crackled through him as Larry rose through the clouds. He was a phoenix. No…that wasn’t right. Phoenix’s were creatures of fire. He was a god. A god of thunder and lightning. He was invincible. The clouds around him rumbled with the weight of his power, swirling about him like a grey cloak.
He soared over a city that shone brightly with light. It wasn’t nearly as bright as his though. Lightning blazed out around him, hotter than the sun. He smiled. This was better than a trip on mushrooms. He closely observed the city below and saw individuals as points of light. Millions of people glowed with their own inner energy, each a different color. It was beautiful.
Suddenly he was searching for something without knowing why. No, someone, he thought as he lost his breath. He should be way too far away to see her at all, yet every detail of her perfect face was visible to him in HD 3D as if he stood right beside her. The aura radiating from her was rainbow colored and spread out in all directions for miles as thin tendrils of light. Her body was slender yet shapely, curving in all the right places. She was the kind of girl he could only dream of. Except now he was a god. Surely a god deserved someone as amazing as the goddess before him?
A thrill of excitement went through him and then out of him, lightning arcing towards the object of his affection. No! The lightning struck the girl and a brilliant flash of white light engulfed the world. There was nothing but the sphere of white rapidly expanding towards him. He tried to get away and then the white world turned to black.
He woke up in a cold sweat, tangled up in his sheets. A nightmare. It’s just a nightmare. It’s not real, he told himself. It was a mantra he said every night now. It seemed to come back every time he closed his eyes and he couldn’t shake the feeling that it was a memory.
But that couldn’t be possible. He was asleep in his bed, a thousand miles away from Sunlight City when it exploded. And he couldn’t shoot lightning! Just…make some sparks. Deadly sparks, as he’d learned after the incident. Another nightmare, but a waking one. He’d only shown his powers to one person before Sunlight City had disintegrated.
His cousin Milo had come to him almost as soon as the news broke that a freak had been hit by a lightning strike and detonated in an explosion that put most nuclear weapons to shame. He’d found Larry in the driveway, waxing his new electric car. It didn’t really need waxing, but he found the act of moving his hands in a circular fashion over his new ride soothing.
“It ain’t natural, man,” Milo said drunkenly. “Lightning don’t strike in Sunlight city. Or if it does, it hits the towers. They’re too tall, man. Too tall to let lightning strike some girl.”
“She was in the suburbs. They said on the news the girl it hit was in the suburbs,” Larry had said tersely, trying to hide the doubts already eating him up inside.
“And how do they even know that?”
“They were having a family barbeque. Her father was uploading video he was taking live to a relative.” But Milo was unconvincing even to his own ears. “They played it on the news.”
“No. No way. It wasn’t real lightning. It was a freak. Some freak like you! I’ve seen you and your sparks. Maybe you did it.”
Larry regretted ever showing his cousin his abilities. He’d used them to jump start Milo’s car a few weeks before when the battery died on a camping trip in the middle of nowhere. Milo had thought it was pretty cool at the time, but then again Milo had been pretty high that whole trip. That’s why he’d left the car’s lights on and radio playing too long in the first place.
“You’re crazy, Milo. I can’t shoot lightning. Besides, we’re a thousand miles away.”
“Yeah, a thousand miles away. So what? Lightning can go far man. I read some shit in science class about lightning on Jupiter going a thousand miles. What’s a thousand miles to a freak with powers? Huh? What’s a thousand miles? Ain’t shit. A thousand miles ain’t shit. And you know what, you ain’t shit. Fucking freak, you killed ‘em,” Milo’s voice was rising then and Larry began to fear the neighbors would hear.
“I didn’t kill anybody! And who is them?” Larry shouted.
“My parents! They went to Sunlight City on business and you fucking killed them, you bastard.” Milo’s eyes were bloodshot and Larry had wondered if he was on anything besides the alcohol.
“No. No way. Why would Uncle Gerry and Aunt Lilly be in Sunlight City? Mom and dad never said anything like that. They always tell me when your parents are going on a trip like that.” He began to wonder if it was true though. He was usually pretty close to his mother, but lately she’d seemed distant. He wondered if he was to blame. He hadn’t told her about his powers and maybe his attempt to keep the secret from her was pushing her away. That or the drugs. I’ve been keeping too many secrets lately. Maybe I need to see someone. Do they have therapists for freaks? How do I go see one without my mother finding out?
“You think they’d tell you? You? You know what I mean by business? They were looking for a cure for you freak. They heard some doctor in Sunlight City might be able to cure freaks like you. Oh yeah, I told ‘em. I told them all. Your mother knows, but she don’t believe it. Said I was imagining it or making it up. Said I was tripping, that I was a bad influence. But my parents believed. So they went to see if they could cure their precious nephew.”
“You told them? What the hell, Milo, I trusted you! We’ve grown up together. You’re like my freaking brother and you told?!” Too many emotions had run through Larry’s head for him to process them all. He still hadn’t, for that matter. The truth was that they had grown up together, but besides a fondness for certain illegal substances and video games they didn’t have all that much in common. Milo was in a popular rock band while Larry was a Goth geek. They shared few friends in common and didn’t hang out nearly as often as they once had.
Even so, the betrayal hit him like a hammer blow and he wasn’t sure how to handle the idea that his aunt and uncle were dead. When his father had walked out on his mother when he was five, they moved to be closer to her brother Gerry and they had helped to raise Larry. He didn’t know how to feel about the fact they’d died trying to find a cure for his abilities. Abilities he had never seriously considered in possible need of curing until now.
“Of course I told! You’re a freak man. I thought you needed help, but now I see you’re just a monster. Whether you shot the lightning yourself or not, you killed my parents.” Milo had closed the distance between them while shouting, grabbing on to Larry’s arm. Now he threw a drunken punch. It was slow and clumsy but, even sober, so was Larry. The punch slammed into Larry’s glasses, breaking them.
Larry reacted instinctively, sparks flying from his fingertips and coursing into Milo. There was a smell of charred flesh and Milo started convulsing. His grip briefly intensified and then he let go, falling to the pavement. He didn’t look like he was breathing.
“Holy fuck,” Larry said in horror. “Oh shit.” Tears welled up in his eyes and he fought the urge to throw up. I didn’t mean to kill him. How did this happen? He was horrified, staring at his hand, unbelieving at what he’d done.
His mind started racing in panic, unsure of what to do. He looked around frantically to see if anyone had seen. There didn’t appear to be any witnesses. No one can see him. If they see the body, mom will figure out he was telling the truth. She’ll know I killed him. I can’t lose her too, not like this. What do I do?
He’d stared at his shiny new car and an idea came to him. Oh no, not that. Please not the car. But he didn’t have much time and no other brilliant ideas were forthcoming. Dammit.
He opened the driver’s side door and dragged Milo into the driver’s seat. He propped him up the best he could and then climbed into the passenger’s seat, buckling his seat-belt. Please let this work. Taking a deep breath he started the car and then let the sparks flow from his hand in as controlled a fashion as possible. He’d been practicing this trick for weeks and there was never a time he needed it to work more than now.
The car began to move. Yes! He backed up out of the driveway using his powers. It took more mental effort than he was used to expending on anything, but he knew he couldn’t be the one in the driver’s seat. Even if he made it look like an accident, his mother blaming him for his cousin’s death was too much to bear. But if he could control the car with his powers, he could make it look like Milo was driving drunk without a seat-belt, something he’d been caught doing more than once. She would be horrified that he’d been in the car as well, but there was no way he could be held responsible for Milo’s death. The most he could be blamed for is buying a car with poor safety features.
The car slid out of the driveway, Milo dead at the wheel. If anyone sees us now, it’s going to look like Milo’s driving while asleep at the wheel… He needed to do this quickly. He’d given his sparks a little more juice and the car picked up speed. It wasn’t designed to be the fastest car in the world, but he hadn’t needed it to be. Once the car was going sufficiently quickly he’d swerved it into one of the trees that lined his road on the right. The driver’s side took most of the impact, airbag failing to open as he fried the electronics. It was risky, but he’d gotten the desired result. The steering wheel crushed into Milo, caving in his chest. Well, truth be told, the desired result was to send Milo through the windshield into the tree. But a steering wheel through the chest should be sufficient.
Larry’s seatbelt held and fortunately he’d aimed right so his side of the car didn’t cave in enough to hurt him. He’d suffered no more than some serious bruising, though none of it was as bad as the bruise Milo left on his arm or the possibly broken nose from Milo’s punch. He’d wiped blood on the dash board for good measure while waiting for the firemen to come pry apart the car with their jaws of life.
Now the scene played over and over in his head during his waking hours, but it was always the nightmare in the clouds that filled his dreams. He didn’t know what it meant or what he should do about it. He clearly had greater problems, given he covered up Milo’s murder. It was self-defense some part of him claimed weakly for the millionth time. But he didn’t think the police would believe that when he barely did himself. More likely the accurate term would be manslaughter, but he suspected if they ever figured it out what he’d done then he’d be charged with a lot more than that.
He’d gotten away with it though so far, at least concerning the law. More concerning was his mother. They’d started an investigation into why the airbags hadn’t gone off. He hadn’t expected that, though he knew his plan wasn’t the most thought out one to ever grace the earth. He’d managed to lie convincingly enough about why Milo was driving his car for the police. But he wondered if his mother’s denial would be enough or if she might put the pieces together, accept he had powers, and realize what he’d done. If the investigation revealed the air bag system had short circuited, would his mother figure it out?
A thunder crack over-head broke him from his thoughts and he moved to the window next to his bed. A spectacular lightning bolt split across the sky and a few seconds later another thunder bolt shook the house. He noticed the pitter patter of rain. Unlike in Sunlight City, storms were a nearly daily occurrence here. He’d always found the sounds of Storm Valley comforting, but now he found himself continually on edge.
Maybe it was the memory of the lightning bolt that gave him his powers. There were an average of twenty-two deaths from lightning a year in storm valley, despite the many attempts to put up lightning rods everywhere. He probably should have been one of them when he tried to run through the park while a storm hit. Was pretty high then too. Dammit, I need help. The lightning hadn’t hit him directly, but it struck a tree he was beside. The shock carried into him and he was able to smell his flesh burn. Yet when he awoke he was none the worse for wear, and shortly thereafter the sparks began. He’d since learned to control them and even use them to manipulate electronics like his car.
He’d liked his powers before the incidents with Sunlight City and Milo, but lightning lost the majestic beauty it once held for him. He’d researched as much as he could about freaks, or the Gifted, as the media was now forcefully calling them, and could find no solid evidence that a particular stressor should lead to a related power. But he still believed it was because of the lightning that his power came about, responding to the current that had coursed through him.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” came a soft voice from behind. A sudden prick stung his neck and he whirled around, trying to see who was there. He saw no one, though for a moment he thought the air had shimmered a moment. What the hell? Am I imagining things while awake now? I haven’t even taken anything today yet!
The pain in his neck was very real though, but it was numbing quickly. In fact, everything seemed to be numbing. He was losing sensation in his extremities. He lost the ability to stand and fell backwards onto his bed. What’s happening to me?
“I wish I could see it with my own eyes,” the voice continued, seemingly from thin air. “But my own eyes have been blind for many years. So I guess Momo’s eyes will have to do. I will admit, it wasn’t as impressive as the lightning bolt you shot at the girl in Sunlight City. That was truly something to behold.”
Larry tried to scream. Whether to call for help or deny the accusation, he didn’t know himself, but either way all that came out was a soft cough scarcely louder than a whisper. His invisible attacker chose to interpret it as the latter though.
“Oh don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t just you. You’d be surprised what some of my teammates can do. Power boosting is just one of the talents required to get you in position. Unfortunately, you’re a disposable pawn. A shame, since have potential. But your usefulness to us is about at an end. So it’s lights-out for you.”
There was the softest of touches against his rapidly numbing skin and Larry went blind, suspended in a world of darkness without sight or feeling, hearing only the pitter patter of rain against the roof and the occasional rolling thunder. It would be the last thing he ever heard.