Fiction – “Kinetica” by Rachel Bender

My mistake was moving to a small town. It would’ve been easier to lose myself, become anonymous and faceless, in someplace like Chicago or St. Louis, but it seemed like there’d just be too many temptations in the city. All I’d have to do is walk past one mugging in a dark alley and I wouldn’t be able to help myself. The hero sickness would rear its ugly head again.

So I moved to Feldspar, population five thousand, eight hundred and four: a quiet, pretty little town where nothing interesting, as far as I could tell, had ever happened. My fancy fine art degree landed me a job at Bob’s Fast Print, cutting laminate and reproducing bad clip art – about what I expected, and I was so pathetically grateful not to have to apply to Walmart that I didn’t care that a monkey could have done my job. I’d carved out a little place of my own in Feldspar, its one and only sign shop monkey, and settled in looking forward to a quiet life.

A couple of months later, a couple of drunk high-schoolers decided to snatch an old lady’s handbag right on my way home from work. She was screaming – in outrage rather than pain or fear, I realize that now, but her voice just cut through the facade of Normal I’d spent two months building and hit me straight in the heart. I put one of them on the ground – half a block away – with a single punch and tossed the other one onto the roof of a four-story building. I turned back to the old lady – was I expecting thanks? – but she was already tottering away, clutching her handbag, squawking into the kind of cell phone I couldn’t afford.

By the next day my secret was all over town.

***

“This you?” Bob, he of Bob’s Fast Print fame, slapped the newest edition of the Feldspar Enquirer down over my pile of morning clip art. I didn’t even have to look at it to know the headline: “Super Hero Debuts In Feldspar.” I’d thrown my copy in the trash before coming to work.

“There’s no space between ‘super’ and ‘hero,’ ” I said, and got up to retreat to the coffee machine.

Bob followed me. “Seriously, is it you? Should I be raising your pay? I didn’t think I had a real superhero working for me.”

The pay raise thing might’ve been tempting if I’d thought he was serious. “I’m not a ‘real superhero.’ The paper exaggerated.”

“How do you know it exaggerated if you won’t even look at it?” Bob thrust the paper in between me and the coffee machine.

I pushed it away. “The fact that it’s the front page headline is a big hint, Bob. Can we just get to work?”

“Seriously, Julie, you did something awesome.” Bob folded his arms, the paper sticking out from under his elbow. “Why are you acting like this is a bad thing?”

My heart – or something near it – seized. “I did not do something awesome,” I snapped. “I did something incredibly stupid, and blind luck is the only reason I’m in a headline on page one today, and not an obituary on page four.”

Bob’s mouth dropped open, but in a metaphorical sense, I had shut him up, and that was enough for me for the foreseeable future.

***

I masturbated furiously that night, sitting on the end of my bed with my eyes glued to my reflection in the mirror on my closet door. My vulva was the only part of my body I was touching; the other hand was clutched in the blanket. I didn’t have much in the way of breasts, but what was there jiggled in time with the motion of my arm.

As I worked, they were what I stared at: the right, more or less just a normal breast, and the left, hitched up a little higher and tighter by the scar that puckered the skin from nipple to sternum. Even its jiggle seemed unnatural to me, not as fluid as the right breast. Considering the bullet that had made that scar had come within a millimeter of my heart, a deformed breast was a gentle price for my idiocy.

Next time the price will be higher. Don’t do this again, Jules.

I hit orgasm, eyes wide open, mouth gaping. My breath rattled in my lungs; my skin shined itself with sweat that turned from hot to cold even in my stuffy bedroom. Slowly, prickling all over, I peeled my hand out from between my legs.

Damn, I’m ugly when I come.

***

Bob’s Fast Print was closed on Sundays, so I didn’t have to face him the next day. I did have to face another article in the Feldspar Enquirer about “Super Heroes”– on page two, this time, and it was more of a North American spandex-watching guide – and a cop knocking on my door at nine in the goddamn morning.

“I’d like to ask you a few questions about the incident you were involved in two days ago,” he said, completely cool and professional in the face of my sleep-ruffled hair and fluffy bathrobe. He was handsome in his way, mid-thirties and trim, one of those all-American types with blond hair and blue eyes and no visible flaws. He did absolutely nothing for me. “I can come back if this isn’t a good time.”

“No, no,” I grumped, “might as well get it over with. ” I waved him inside. “Do you want coffee, Officer…”

“Arnie Malone, and no thank you.”

“More for me.” I slumped back behind my plate of scrambled eggs in my breakfast nook, which also served as my lunch nook, my dinner nook, and a dumping ground for my sketchbooks and watercolor pads. “I was expecting you earlier, you know. Did you actually receive a report, or did you read about the whole thing in the paper yesterday?”

“Miss Fletcher made the decision to press charges yesterday evening,” Officer Malone answered. “Marcus and Adams will probably agree to a plea deal, but we want a thorough investigation on the books. Just to be – er, thorough.” He flashed a sheepish grin at the minor slip in his “Don’t Worry, Ma’am, I’m A Professional” mask, and suddenly I liked him a lot more.

“Okay.” I shoveled another bite of egg into my mouth – they were starting to get cold. “Ask away.”

He asked me to tell what had happened, in my own words, just like in the movies. He picked over minor details until what had been blurred and fading in my head was crystal clear. He asked me if I could recognize the purse-snatchers if I saw them again, and I said probably yes.

Then he asked, “What was going through your head when you rushed those boys?”

I poked at the eggs with my fork for a moment. “Nothing. My head wasn’t really… I mean, it wasn’t my brain in the driver’s seat. You know?”

Officer Malone nodded understandingly. Maybe they taught him how to do that in cop school. “You put yourself in a lot of danger,” he told me. “The Adams boy had a switchblade on him, and you’re not invulnerable.”

“I know. I won’t do it again.”

“Okay.” He stood. “Thanks for your help. I think I have everything I need. We’ll be in touch if we need anything else from you.”

I stood too, and shuffled out from behind the table to get the door for him. “Good luck with the rest of your investigation, Officer Malone.”

There went that sheepish grin again. “Arnie.”

What the hell, I thought, and gave him a grin. “When you come see me in plain clothes, I’ll call you Arnie.”

Officer Malone saluted me, without a hint of irony. “Yes ma’am.”

Then he left, and I locked the door behind him and went back to my cold scrambled eggs and cold coffee.

***

Good old Arnie was not my last visitor that day, but he was by far the most polite, which rose him up to the level of Apollo and Jesus Christ in my head.

At nine forty-five, there was a reporter from the Feldspar Enquirer, wanting an interview with the “Super Hero of Feldspar.” I shut the door in his face. At nine fifty-two, there was a reporter from the Weekly Star, the local newspaper of Feldspar’s neighboring town Belton, wanting to know if I was an alien. She got a door in the face too. At ten fifteen I ignored the knock on the door to go take a long, hot shower, despite the heat already climbing both inside my bedroom and out. When I came out, they were still knocking – as the representative for the local morning talk radio program told me crossly, as if that were my fault. He got nothing, just like the guys from the TV station, the kids from the high school paper, and the guy wearing an honest-to-God tinfoil hat. I’d always thought that was hyperbole.

Around three, the little girl from across the hall knocked on my door to give me a picture she’d drawn of me rescuing Miss Fletcher – crayon stick figures, with me drawn in pink with a big smile and the flailing ‘bad guys’ drawn in brown. I made sure she saw me stick it on my fridge.

An hour later, Miss Fletcher herself showed up, all smiles and thank-you-dear and it’s-so-nice-to-meet-a-young-person-with-a-sense-of-responsibility. I wouldn’t have opened the door, but she was carrying a pie. It would have taken a far more heroic person than me to turn that down.

***

“Hey, Hero,” Bob greeted me on Monday morning, and I rolled my eyes.

“If there’s another article about me, don’t even bother,” I informed him. “I don’t want to know.”

Bob raised his hands peaceably. “Okay, okay, Miss Amazon,” he conceded. “I won’t push. But you know, I think you should really consider embracing this thing.”

So much for not pushing. “Not interested.”

“I’m not saying, go out and foil evil and rescue kittens from trees and all that,” Bob went on, following me as I took my coffee and stack of orders to the workshop in the back. “Just, you know, as a gimmick. It could really drive sales.”

I picked up the first order. “Ed Atwater wants a decal of Calvin peeing on a Chevy logo,” I reported thoughtfully. “Doesn’t he drive a Silverado? I think someone’s unclear on the concept.”

“You could be… The Samurai! Whoo-chah!”

“I’m Korean,” I lied.

Bob dropped his ‘samurai’ pose. “Well, nobody else has to know that. They used Italians to play Indians in the movies back in the day. Oh, right, Native Americans,” he corrected himself, drawling out the words as though calling them that was such a hardship.

“Somehow I don’t think Hollywood’s portrayal of the indigenous peoples of America is looked on too fondly by actual Native Americans,” I said, allowing a smile to show on my face.

“Nobody likes Hollywood’s portrayal of anything,” Bob answered. “I don’t like their portrayal of fat, balding forty-something white guys, but you don’t hear me bitching about it.”

“That’s because you still get to be the hero vicariously. Native Americans get to be plot devices or sidekicks. And Asian chicks like me are either sex objects with no personality or damsels in distress.”

“What about the Asian chick in that James Bond movie?”

“Damsel. She may have had a gun, but she never once rescued herself. Not without Bond’s help, anyway.”

“Well, yeah, ’cause the story was about Bond! She could’ve rescued herself off-screen while Bond was busy doing something else, you don’t know that…”

I grinned. I redirect conversations! Like the ninja.

***

Even a superhero gets boring if she doesn’t do anything. I was averaging two phone calls a day – half of them prank calls, from the purse snatchers’ friends, I supposed – and one visitor at my door a day for about three weeks. Rescue my cat! Beat up my archnemesis! Open this jar! As people started to get the hint that I wasn’t going to be their metahuman-on-call, the visits petered out and the phone stopped ringing.

Two months after the Second Stupid Thing I Did, I looked up from some truly execrable TV show and realized something: I was bored. Hellaciously, mind-bendingly bored.

I sat back with my bad television and a satisfied smile. Just what I wanted.

***

I’d developed an understandable aversion to banks after the First Stupid Thing I Did (And I Have The Scar To Prove It), but the ATM outside Feldspar First National was out of order and I wanted cash for groceries. When the two guys in ski masks stormed in, I was too busy doodling in my purse-sized sketchpad to notice until one of them bellowed in my ear to get on the ground, now, bitch! For a moment I froze, thinking inanely I’m going to die on an empty stomach, then Ski Mask bellowed again and I did the smart thing for once in my life and dropped to the ground with everyone else.

Unlike my first bank robbery, this one was over quickly. The men were professionals. They took all the money they could carry and left as soon as they could, snatching purses as they went, including mine; but I’d hidden my sketchbook under my body, so at least they didn’t get that.

***

“You could’ve done something.”

The man in the tinfoil hat was jogging alongside me, keeping pace easily – either I was a slower jogger than I thought or the man was fitter than he looked. For once, I didn’t have to ask him what he was talking about. Just like my act of stupid, selfless heroism a few months ago, the bank robbery was all anyone could talk about.

“Do what, exactly?” I asked him, and turned a corner onto a residential street. He turned with me.

“Use your powers. Fight evil. Save the day!” he persisted when I pretended to ignore him. “Don’t you see, Jules? Those guys didn’t just show up there. They were sent there, so you could stop them!”

“I don’t suppose you’ve considered the possibility that your grasp on reality is slipping again.”

“I’m the only one in this town with a grasp on reality!” His voice went strident, its pitch rising. I said nothing, and after another block and a half he’d calmed down.

“Next time,” he said, with the confidence of the truly deranged, “you’ll be ready for them.”

“You’re a nut, Ed.” I turned another corner. “And your decal is stupid. You’re basically having Calvin piss on your own truck.”

Ed thought about that. “Better to fool the government,” he confided.

***

When I got back to my apartment, the picture-drawing little girl was in the hall, but she just gave me a reproving look and turned away. Mack the mailman didn’t pause to chat. I got another prank call, from someone who sounded far too old to be in high school.

“She didn’t beat up the bad guys for us,” I muttered to the phone. “She’s a witch! Break out the torches and pitchforks!”

I pulled the phone jack out of the wall and nuked myself a TV dinner. Screw the world: I was going to be a couch potato and no one was going to stop me.

***

I braced myself for Bob’s “Hey, Hero!” as I walked in the door the next day. Bob just glanced up, gave me a cool once-over, and went back to reading the Feldspar Enquirer.

Oh. Well. Okay then. I put my purse down at my desk and snuck a peek at his paper on my way to the coffee machine. It was an article about the bank robbery. Son of a bitch. There better not be anything about me in there.

“I’m gonna need to leave a little early today,” I said to no one in particular. “I got an appointment at the dentist.”

“Do what you gotta do,” Bob answered flatly, noisily turning the page.

“Thanks,” I said in the same tone, and plopped down at my desk. In a fit of employee pettiness, I opened up my personal email account without even touching the day’s work orders yet, even though I’d checked my email before I left the apartment. What the hell is his problem?

“Why didn’t you do anything?”

And there it was. For all of Bob’s faults, he couldn’t keep up the passive-aggressive thing for long. “What,” I asked him, “do you think I could have done?”

Bob spread his hands in a “you tell me!” gesture.

I groaned and ran a hand through my hair. “They had guns, Bob. I have super strength but I’m not bulletproof.”

“Neither was anybody else there!”

“Well, there’s no difference between them and me!”

“Yes there is!” Bob was shouting now. “I couldn’t have tossed those goons out a window! You could!”

His fury snapped into focus for me. “You were there too, weren’t you?”

“Thanks for not noticing.” Bob tossed the paper aside like it’d offended him; it fluttered to the floor like a dead crane. “God, Jules, you have a gift. I don’t understand why you won’t use it.”

“Same reason you don’t whip out a tumor and wave it around at parties.”

“My uncle used to do that. Well, it was an infected gallbladder. He kept it in a little jar and passed it around every time we got together.”

“Okay, that’s gross. And so not the point!” I waved my hands in front of my face as Bob cracked a grin. “It’s not a ‘gift,’ Bob, okay? It’s a curse. A stupid, useless curse and it does not make me a hero.”

“Guess not,” Bob snorted.

And that, that contempt, pushed me into my life’s third act of monumental stupidity. “Look at me!” I shouted, and when Bob’s gaze snapped to me, I lifted up my shirt up to my collarbone. I hadn’t worn a bra that day, so there was nothing in between him and my breasts – between him and my scar.

“That’s from my first bank robbery,” I told him, voice shaking. “I was sixteen. Some idiot in a clown mask pointed his gun at the receptionist. I decided to be a hero. I got as far as ‘Stop!’ and he shot me.” I let the shirt fall back down, rumpled and untucked. “It took them eight hours to get the bullet out and stop the bleeding. It was a millimeter away from puncturing my heart. I came within a millimeter of dying. I’m strong, and fast, but he had a gun. That’s the only thing that mattered.”

“Jules…” Bob’s voice was quieter than I’d ever heard it. Good for me. “I’m sorry.”

“I have to go.” My hands were shaking as I grabbed for my purse.

“Now?”

“I told you I have to leave early.”

Bob looked like he wanted to argue, but I was out the door before he could say anything.

***

I didn’t dare look at myself that night, let alone touch myself. I went to bed with my clothes still on and pulled the covers up over my head, welcoming the feeling of slow suffocation. The phone was unplugged, so unless someone went to the trouble of knocking on my door, I was safely alone for the night.

I hadn’t known I would miss the positive attention.

Back in high school – after I’d discovered my metahuman powers, and before I’d discovered how useless they were – I’d gone through an ‘embracing my Japanese heritage’ phase. I’d bought books on famous samurai and the bushido code. I told myself that the samurai were my role models. I’d even gotten a wooden sword and posed dramatically with it. After I got out of the hospital, though, I donated all my samurai books to Goodwill. I couldn’t remember a single tenet of the samurai code now, or any of the famous warriors, but an image from one of those books floated in my head: a woodcut of a stern-faced samurai preparing to commit ritual suicide, hara-kiri.

“You had one messed-up society,” I told the image. The samurai in my head just glared.

Groaning, I flung the covers off and stumbled to the bathroom. The harsh fluorescent light transmogrified me, making me pale and greenish and sick with my hair hanging down in a tangled mass, more Sadako than samurai. Not the type to stab myself in the gut for a point of honor. Not the type to embody honor or heroism.

“There’s no honor in suicide,” I said to the sick thing in the mirror.

I suspected that my revered ancestors knew that. But that was the thing about hara-kiri, wasn’t it? A sword to the gut was less painful than the burden of shame in your heart. Suicide wasn’t the honorable option, it was just easier than living with yourself.

***

Bob stopped calling me ‘Hero,’ but other than that, things mostly settled down to normal, and people forgot.

I followed the goings-on in St. Louis with socially acceptable mild interest. The enemies du jour were called Spikeys by the news anchors; no one had sussed out if they had a name for themselves. They were a bipedal silicate-based life form, translucent all through so you could see their organs like a high school alien biology diagram. Except they never held still long enough to be studied. They were fast, vicious, and – well, they were called Spikeys for a reason. They put St. Louis’s chief superhero, Titana, in the hospital with a punctured lung in one of the few fights she’d ever lost.

Still, according to the reports, they could be hurt, and killed. Bullets would slow them down. A lot of bullets could shatter them. I read the articles online, watched the footage, and went on with my life. I remember thinking that I’d buy the comic of Titana Versus the Spikeys if and when it was ever published.

Then the Spikeys came to Feldspar.

***

Someone was screaming – not in outrage, but in true terror. There was a sound like glass squealing and shattering and a ringing, bell-like roar. I was in the back of the jewelry store at the time, looking at the clearance section; I had plenty of time to see what was coming through the storefront window.

Spikeys. The TV footage didn’t do them justice.

They didn’t just bust through the window – they took big bites out of it, crushing the glass between a thick upper jaw and twin lower mandibles. Their hunchbacked stances, bristling with rows of spines, still towered over the six-foot-five security guard, who wisely kept his distance and fired two shots into the nearest Spikey’s face. The Spikey, its face cracked and dripping clear fluid, shrieked in affront and lashed out with a thick-clawed hand. The guard went flying, trailing blood like a bright red ribbon.

He landed on a jewelry case, tumbled, and went thud at my feet, breathing shallowly. As the Spikeys advanced, crunching glass and jewelry in their jaws with equal ravenousness, I pulled the guard to his feet and half-draped him over my shoulders. “It’s gonna be okay,” I muttered, because that was what people said in comic books, and headed in a half-jog toward the door marked Employees Only.

Rattling, inhuman footsteps pursued us; the guard breathed a curse in my ear. I turned, the guard’s body as my pivot, and lashed out wildly with a fist.

It hit the Spikey’s claw and shattered it all the way up to the elbow.

As the Spikey shrieked, the guard and I both fell, balance and strength leaving me. I lost my power! was my first hysterical thought, but another shriek sent me scrambling to my feet and tugging at the guard, and his pain-stiff, bulky body came along as weightlessly as it had before. I dragged him out the employee door and headed for the exit.

By the time I got him outside and into the care of the paramedics, I thought I had it figured out. When we were moving, the guard was light. When we stopped, he was heavy. My freakish strength wasn’t what I thought it was. It needed movement to work – a push, a throw, a punch.

Or maybe it was movement itself.

“Got any extra ammo?” I asked the guard as he was strapped to a gurney for transport, and, dazed, he indicated his tool belt. I found a clip and emptied it into my hand: six bullets.

“What–?” a paramedic demanded.

“Don’t ask,” I told her, and lit out for the jewelry store at a clip no one normal could match, beginning Stupid Thing I’ve Done Number Four.

Back through the employees-only door, I noted with relief that I was the only human there. The bad part was, I was the only human there – no superheroes from St. Louis, no gun-toting backup. I fisted my hand around the bullets as one of the feasting Spikeys – the one with the shattered arm – swing its muzzle around to orient on me.

“You don’t have a gun,” I told it.

My arm blurred. The thrown bullet hit supersonic speed right before it hit the Spikey between the eyepits. The Spikey shattered to the shoulders, toppled, and crashed to the ground.

The other four Spikeys shrieked and charged. I panicked, fled behind a mostly-intact jewelry case, and threw my second bullet. It missed, but my third hit my target in the chest, blowing a hole in it. It dropped.

Three left. Three bullets. Make them count. I threw, hopped back out of the reach of claws, and threw again, and two Spikey corpses tangled the legs of the last one standing. It fell backward, and though it didn’t have much facial expression to it, something about its body language as it picked itself up expressed that it was rethinking the advisability of charging me.

Behind it, I could see flickers of blue and black out the half-eaten window: Feldspar’s finest had formed a barricade around the entrance. If the last Spikey ran, he’d go right through them. “Sorry,” I told it, and threw my last bullet. It hit at the base of the Spikey’s throat.

The Spikey fell apart before my eyes, spilling into shards and glass-blood, and I tasted it sharp and silvery in the back of my throat. I looked down at my empty palms and, just for a minute, tried to picture them in Spandex gloves.

Nah. Spandex is a privilege, not a right. I scrubbed my hands on my jeans (were they that slick a second ago?) and stepped carefully over the dead Spikeys, dead glass crunching under my sneakers. Standing at the window, I held up my hands in a peaceable gesture to the cops outside.

“Julie! What happened?”

It was Officer Malone, not leaving his post behind his car even as his fellow officers were relaxing and milling. “I put myself in a lot of danger,” I answered sheepishly.

“What about the Spikeys?”

“Unless I know less about alien biology than I think I do, they’re dead.”

Officer Malone rose from his half-crouch, warily trying to confirm my report visually. I moved to one side politely, though I didn’t think he could see anything from where he was.

Someone shouted from the back of the cluster of cops, words I didn’t catch. Someone else turned the shout into a bawled order. Officer Malone, halfway out from behind cover, ducked back again. “Julie, get back!” he relayed. “There’s another–”

A baleful whine like a sick jet engine drowned out the rest of his shout, and for a moment the sunlight fractured around us as if it were shining through turbulent water. I turned back toward the employee exit and a column of heat slammed into the room from above, turning the Spikey corpses into puddles and throwing me back.

My vision cleared after a moment. The air was still hazy with heat, but I had a good, clear view of the monster descending through the hole it’d just made in the roof. Like the Spikeys, it was fishbowl-clear and bristling with sharp protrusions. Unlike the Spikeys, it had a squatter stance and a heavier build. Unlike the Spikeys, it filled the room – especially when it spread its wings, glowing faintly from the bulbs in the ends: naturally-occurring thrusters.

Unlike the Spikeys, it was going to kill me. I could feel it in the hum of its thrusters, making its whole body sing.

“Down!” Officer Malone ordered, and I dropped, hands over my head. A hail of bullets burst through where I’d been, singing their own death song. They rattled against the King Spikey’s glass hide, making it scream in a voice that stabbed hotly through my eardrums as they chipped away at it. For a moment I thought I was going to live after all, but then the bullet rain started to die down, and I could see how little damage it had done to the monster. The King Spikey was pitted, cracked, and furious, but nowhere near dead.

Damn.

Someone shot a round that pinged off the King Spikey’s eyepit; another hit slightly lower, making the monster snap his head up with a harsh snarl. I closed my eyes and waited for my life to start flashing in front of them, but all I could think of was the useless Stop! leaving my lips as a bank robber’s bullet tried to hit me in the heart…

…tried to, but failed. I’ve been wrong about my power all this time. If I could stop a bullet in my flesh, I could speed it up.

Stupid Thing I’ve Done, Number Five: I thrust my hand up above my head, directly into the path of a bullet. It ripped through my flesh and screamed, echoing my own voice, as it accelerated past what any matter was meant to bear. It hit the King Spikey and punched a hole in its lower torso.

The King Spikey died slowly. I passed out, cradling my hand to my chest, before I heard its final scream.

***

“St. Louis, huh? You’re moving up in the world.”

I made a dismissive gesture at Bob with the mitten of my bandaged left hand. “The Super Saints are still a pretty podunk operation compared to what they have on the East Coast. Don’t get too impressed.” I fumbled my coffee mug, trying to get it into my pack. “Who came up with that name, anyway?”

“Titana, I heard. Naming things isn’t her superpower.” Bob caught the mug before it fell. “Listen, Jules, you call if you need anything, right? You’re still one of ours around here.”

Small towns. Go figure. “Sure.” I patted his shoulder solemnly with my good hand. “I promise.”

“Great.” Bob nodded. “Gonna miss you, Jules. You’re the best assistant I’ve ever had.”

“Your next one will shoot laser beams out of her eyes and be able to leap tall stacks of orders in a single bound.” I shouldered my pack – awkwardly – and let Bob get the door for me. “What the hell? I thought we were done with the investigation.”

Officer Malone – no, Arnie, I could see a green short-sleeved polo from the shop door – waved at me from his squad car. “We’re your escort to the bus station,” he explained. A feminine hand waved from the passenger-side window, explaining the ‘we.’ “Hop in.”

“Don’t let Ed order any more stupid decals,” I told Bob by way of goodbye, and escaped into the squad car before he could think of an answer. As I buckled in, the smartly-dressed woman in the passenger seat reached around to offer a handshake. “I’m Maria, Arnie’s wife. It’s good to finally meet you.”

Oh well, so much for that daydream. “Likewise.”

As Arnie pulled away, Marie started to laugh, her voice inviting me to join in. “Oh, look what Bob’s done to that sign!”

I looked. Bob’s Fast Print was no more: now, it seemed, it was Samurai Print, complete with an armored figure with a long sword and a flying ponytail.

“Asshole,” I said, but I was grinning.


.

About the Author

Rachel Bender was born in Tuscon, Arizona and since then has lived in seven states and two other countries. She has been telling stories since she could talk, and has never stopped looking for magic in ordinary things. Currently she lives in Virginia.