Inspired by: SHAZAM! By Haining-art on DeviantArt
The presence hovered around him like a cloud of body odor. She smelled it before she saw him, before she turned to look and find his face. There was the noise of twenty people in a small, warm place, the rain outside, the swish click of the door opening yet again— And the overwhelming vision. A vision of a young man almost as radiant as God, his eyes the color of lightning, dressed in scarlet and gold.
So she turned, expecting… Something. A titan. A great hero, with broad shoulders and a contagious grin. Not the small boy she saw at the counter, placing ragged dollar bills and a handful of change on the bar, asking for hot coco in a voice too quiet to hear over the noise of people and rain. But he was wearing red. Ragged, faded red, with holes in his cuffs and the drawstrings of his hood well chewed.
“Kim? Kiiim?” Lizzie asked quietly, shaking her arm. “What’s up? What did you see?”
Kim took a deep breath, breaking her eyes away from the boy, and her mind away from the vision. She closed them, breathed out, cataloging the sounds of people talking and drinking, the latte machine whining, the hum of the heating, the rattle of rain on the roof.
Kim opened her eyes, watching the rain drizzle into the small alley that their window looked out on. Overgrown grass and weeds, stretching up to the knees of the crabbed tree that spread above the roofs nearly touching on either side. There was a couch too, missing all the cushions and most of the back. No one was huddled on it today. It was undoubtedly soggy.
Lizzie took a noisy sip of her frothy drink.
Kim looked over, smiling weakly. “The boy, who just came in.”
Speaking of him brought it back. The lightning ranged around him, dancing. And he was grinning like his life was complete, like joy had broken into him and filled him up.
“The little scruggy looking one with the adorable face?” Lizzie’s voice drew her back again, out of the storm.
Lizzie looked thoughtful. “Alright.” It was a testament to their years together that she didn’t have doubt dripping off her face and voice. “Do you think we should talk to his parents first?”
Kim winced. The first couple of meetings were awkward enough as it was. “We could… give him a flier?” Kim suggested. She wasn’t very good at the talking to people part of recruitment.
“We don’t have any.” Lizzie said encouragingly. “But good thought.” Then she turned and waved.
Oh Lord. She was waving him over.
He had a soft, quiet voice. “Umm, yeah?” Quieter then the rain.
Ranging from sweet as the soft spring mist, to the rolling roar of thunder (what else!). Storms of all kinds, those that refresh and those that destroy.
“We’ve got an extra muffin.” Lizzie was saying. “Did you want it?” She gestured to the chocolate muffin sitting, untouched, on the counter.
Bad move, Liz! Kim thought. His parents will have taught him about accepting food from strangers. Kim kept her gaze firmly out on the drizzle.
“Umm…” Hesitation. And then, surprisingly, “Yes please. Thank you ma’am.”
“No problem honey. Hey, we’re thinking of starting an after-school program for Meteora Elementary. Could I ask you a couple of questions real fast?”
Of course, after taking the muffin.
“Sure.” The boy said, clearly trapped.
“You like super heroes?” Lizzie said.
“Oh, yeah!” It was like flipping a switch. “My favorite is Napalm! Fzhoom! Fzhoom! Fire everywhere! Do you read his comics? Did you read the one where he takes on Albatross? It was sooo cool!”
Lizzie didn’t. She was abysmal with comics. She thought everyone was MetroMan. Kim winced. She was probably about to say the thing about Mars rocks. She always said the thing about Mars rocks.
“Oh yeah. I loved the one where he had to steal the Mars rocks–”
“Lizzie!” Kim interrupted, still not turning around, afraid to look at the boy. “That was MetroMan! He’s talking about Napalm. He was the one with the red hair in Revengers 2.”
“Oooh, yeah!” Lizzie said, recalling the only super hero movie she’d ever watched. Groder had taken her out, as cover for his infiltration of the black-portal in the movie theater. He’d gone and fought strange hate monsters. She’d watched the movie. “I remember him. I liked the bit where he shot fire from his hands.”
Kim rolled her eyes and asked the boy, “Are you talking about the new one where he takes on Albatross, or the old one with BlueBullet?” She’d liked the old one way better, since the plot actually made sense.
“Woh, there was a cross over with BlueBullet?” He asked, clearly excited “When?”
“Uhhh, like twenty years ago now, I guess.”
“Napalm is that old?”
“Dude, he’s been my second favorite since like, grade school, and look how old I am!” Kim said. She turned around, without thinking, and her eyes landed on him, without thinking.
The air left her. The light left her.
“Duuuude!” He was saying, and only his bright, glowing voice showed her the way. “I had no idea! Did you read them all? Do you have them?”
Lizzie responded in the dark, her voice tinny and muffled. “Lord, does she have them! Boxes and boxes! It’s the only thing in her room!”
Which was an exaggeration, of course. Kim didn’t care. She was trying to breathe.
“That is so cool!” He said, clear and strong, full of wonder.
The light filled her eyes, her mouth, her nose, her ears, buzzing out the people, the rain, Lizzie’s laughter.
There he was. Floating in the storm, the clouds boiling around him. In reds and golds, lit up from within, and from without. Lighting sparked out of his glowing white eyes, out of his mouth, out of his finger tips. It crawled up and down him, like huge ants, lept off of him and returned to him.
He raised an arm above his head, and the lightning swarmed up it, gathering in his palm. Burning, so bright that only his eyes glowed in the face of it.
“Come forth, my enemy!” He called, and his voice shook the clouds.
And she felt the darkness, stirring behind her. Stronger then she had felt anything in her life.
“Lady, lady, are you okay?”
The black came. And with it the suffocating feeling of the end. A glimmer of light remained.
It went out.
Kim tried to scream.
There was no sound.
“Hey, lady, come on now. We gotta go outside now, miss. Come on now.” She followed. She couldn’t move, but she followed. Crying, starving for air and for light.
“Almost there now.”
Eternity broken into chunks by the quiet rhythm of his calming words.
Rain, on her face.
Kim breathed in.
Life returned, and the darkness was merely her eyelids.
“Kim? Kim!” Lizzie was saying, panicking, but trying to keep it quiet.
She kept them shut.
“You should be quiet please, ma’am.” The boy, a boy again, said. “She’s probably trying to calm down.”
Kim felt a smile crawl onto her face. Because Lizzie went quiet, and no matter how many times she tried, she’d never gotten Lizzie to be quiet when she was recovering from a vision like this.
Kim took another deep breath, feeling the rain on her face and hair, and the small warm palm in her hand, and Lizzie’s arms around her shoulders.
“Thanks.” Kim managed, after another shuddering breath. It came out as a whisper. “Sorry. Not sure what happened there.”
She opened her eyes and looked. And now she could see him, just a little boy in a ragged red hoodie. He was looking at her, the panic and concern buried deep, deep inside of him.
“Don’t lie, Kim.” Lizzie said, in her rolling-her-eyes voice.
“I don’t normally go catatonic in coffee shops.” Kim sniped back, still watching the grey-eyed boy watch her. Grey eyes. Kim looked up. The same grey as the sky. She smiled. The boy gave her a weak smile back.
“Thanks for getting her out. What’s your name?” Lizzie asked.
They were sitting on the back steps, on damp wood. Kim could feel the water soaking slowly into her jeans.
“Jason.” The boy said quietly. “You guys?”
“I’m Elizabeth Stern. You can call me Lizzie please. This is Kimberly Bude–.”
“Kim.” Kim interrupted. She looked out. Grumpy pigeons huddled under the eaves across the thin street. Grey sky, grey sidewalk, black road. And green, of course, eternal and abundant, sprouting out of the cracks in the concrete, overflowing the places assigned to it between the street and the sidewalk.
“Lizzie,” Kim found herself saying, “Could you fetch our drinks and Jason’s muffin?”
“Sure!” Lizzie said, again without question. She unwrapped her warmth from around Kim’s shoulders and walked back inside.
Jason was looking at her, with curiosity in his storm cloud eyes.
Kim was curious too. She took a soft breath, clearing herself out the way, wondering what she was going to say. “Do you have plans for dinner tonight?” She asked him, calm and confident.
His look grew dark but, and he seemed as surprised as she was, he shook his head.
“May we have the honor of hosting you? We live on Y street, and the plan is mashed potatoes and ham.” It was, too. Cray was home, and she wanted Groter to cook. And that was the only thing Groter would cook.
“Umm.” He said. “I’ve got to check with my mom.” He lied. She saw it on him like darkness. But it was not harm or malice, only fear and caution.
“Of course. And if you want to bring anyone else you can.” Kim pulled out a business card. It was pale cream, quickly turning a grimy grey in small pools as rain dripped onto it. It had her name, her address, phone number, centered on the card. And to the left of it, the black cross in the yellow circle.
He took it and inspected it. “Woh, you’ve got business cards? What do you guys do?”
“Follow God.” Kim said, not sure what else to say. “Keep things… out of the world.” She caught his look. Oh, it was the same look they all got. Doubt, fear, wrapped up tight. And a tiny core of hope, deep inside. He was only nine. He shouldn’t have been so suspicious, at nine. “Don’t worry.” She grinned at him, surprising herself. “We only want to feed you dinner tonight.”
He nodded, and pocketed the card.
“It’s at seven-ish.” Kim said, standing up as Lizzie came out of the shop with three drinks and two muffins. “Don’t worry if you’re late. And if you call we’ll give you a ride to and from.”
Lizzie walked down the two steps and handed Jason the muffins and a cup.
“We leaving?” She asked Kim.
Kim nodded. Lizzie shrugged.
“Bye Jason!” She said. “It was nice to meet you.”
Jason nodded absently, looking at the muffins.
They waited until they were a block or two away to start talking again.
“Okay.” Lizzie said, as the rounded the last of the big glass windows and started passing the high old roofs on their way home. “What?”
Kim shrugged, ducking under a low hanging branch. “I invited him to dinner. He’ll come.”
“Oh.” Lizzie blinked. “Okay. His parents–”
“Not an issue.”
They walked in silence for a bit longer. Kim counted concrete slabs, to help herself stay calm. They were uneven, rolling up like whales. The trees on either side of them seemed happy though, branches dancing in the rising breeze. The green was startlingly rich against the general background of grey.
“Soo…” Lizzie continued after a while. “What did you see?”
Color caught her eye and, as always, Kim looked up to catch sight of the sprawling deep purple house at the top of the hill. They passed it slowly, and Kim caught sight of a few more wooden tiles that had fallen off of the front.
“Him.” She said, quietly. In a way, she was afraid that speaking it would be too heavy. That it would tear the world into pieces. “Older. The storm delighted in him. The darkness was coming. Is coming.” Once she started she found it hard to stop. But the closeness of the rain made the world seem private. “He called it out, with lightning in his hand. And I, I couldn’t breathe, or see, or anything. I could only hear his voice, urging me forward.”
They walked, the soft rhythm of shoes marking the silence. Kim’s flats flopped. Hiss, soft sound of lifting, pat of her toe, thwap of the heel falling, thump as her foot hit the ground. Lizzie was in sneakers. Her sounds were simpler.
“We’ve never had someone so young before.” Lizzie said, after they had rounded another corner, and started on the long downhill. “You think he’ll join right away?”
Kim shrugged. She didn’t know. It hardly mattered. He’d come when the time was right.