Monday, January 28, 2013

Fire Lily, Issue Two - Chapter One


Robert Neville hoisted his black and blue Ultraman backpack over his shoulders, kissed his mom on the cheek, and stepped out into the hazy spring sun. He was only nine, but the walk to his bus stop was a short one, and he'd made it hundreds of times before. Wearily he trudged across the sidewalk, stopping only once to relocate a slow-going snail to a spot beneath a moist leaf. If he knew his mother wasn't watching from the kitchen window, he would have made a B-Line right back inside. There was an essay due in class today. It wasn't yet written.

A chilly wind cooled his bare arms, but he didn't much mind. There was something peaceful about the slight chill in the mornings that preceded a warm day. It reminded him of summer camp, when they'd wake early and sip hot chocolate before rushing off to the soccer fields. Days like that were not long off. Those thoughts were all that stirred him toward the big blue sign. Just a few more days, he reasoned, can't wimp out now.

The sign pole was cool on his back, even through his nice Rescue Guardians t-shirt. He stood away when the wind blew. The combined chill was too much, even on such a nice day.

An engine rumbled over the hill, towing the familiar yellow bus into sight. A pair of red lights blinked up and down as an arm reached out with its stop sign. Even though it was sunny, the white strobe lights on the roof pulsed rhythmically. Robby raised an eyebrow. His bus never used the lights, except on rainy days.

It pulled up with a wheeze and an exhaust-ridden snort, then the door squeaked open, folding like an accordion. Robby grabbed the railing and hauled himself onto the first black step before looking up at the driver. He paused. The driver looked down and smiled. Long blond hair streamed out from beneath his orange cap. He bounced his foot impatiently, staring at Robby with squinting green eyes.

“Hey kid,” he said, “you getting on?”

“You're not my driver,” Robby answered nervously. He dropped his foot from the air, placing it back on the cool pavement below. “Where's Doug?”

“I'm your substitute. Doug's sick today.” The driver squeezed the wheel, knuckles glowing.

“Sick...” An uneasy feeling stirred Robby's stomach. He leaned back to take a glance at the number on the side of the bus, but a voice called out before he could see it: “Robby, get on the bus! You'll make us late!”

He recognized that voice, and looked up to see Anna May peering down at him over the first seat. She motioned with her hands for him to hurry up.

Mrs. Neville watched her son from the kitchen window. He climbed onto the bus, the door unfolded behind him, and he was never seen again.

*********************

Lily placed a cup and a kettle on the glass coffee table. Quietly she poured the light brown liquid from the kettle's nose, holding it just a little higher than she should to make a waterfall. Just the way her grandmother liked. The old woman smiled and flashed a kindly old gaze before drifting back to the caffinated cascade. Her wrinkled hands turned up from her lap, half reaching for the kettle.

“Oh, dear, thank you. That will be enough.” The old woman smiled kindle and twisted a finger through the looped holder on the cup, using her other to bring up the shining white plate. She sipped lightly, swooshed it around her cheeks, then swallowed and smiled with satisfaction. “You brew a nice cup. Just how I like it.”

“W-w-well, you t-taught me how,” Lily stammered. Her arms snapped up her coat sleeves as soon as the kettle was down, folding tight before her breasts in the body-baked oven.

“Are you cold?” Her grandmother's lips pursed and the steaming cup clacked down on the plate. “You can have some tea. Should I turn up the thermostat?”

Before Lily could answer the old woman had picked herself off the couch and started across the room. She held her weight on the furniture, but Lily rose and guided her gently back to a cushion.

“N-no, no. It's fine. I'm alwuh-ways cold.” She gave a smile and a shrug before sucking her arms back in.

“Always,” her grandmother looked up slyly, “are you sure?”

“Pretty shuh-sure.” Lily lowered herself to the floor, sitting cross legged. She wondered if she should fetch the tea cup across the table, but her grandmother simply dragged the table by the leg until her drink was satisfactorily before her.

“I see.” Her grandmother smiled patiently and took another sip. She let it sit for a long while, and Lily thought she hadn't noticed the swallow before a loud gulp left her throat. “You know, there's someone who's never cold.”

“Oh?” Lily looked up curiously. Her grandmother was always full of stories of outlandish people she'd met throughout her long life. People who could breathe under water, who could leap through fire, twist their necks all the way around. The kind of stuff she probably picked up watching Ripley's Believe it or Not. Lily wondered if the old lady could discern reality from fiction.

“Yes, they've been talking about her a lot lately.” Her grandmother placed the cup on the table and made as though she were looking for something. “I forget what they call her though. They say she can fly, too. Her name is some kind of flower. Rose, or Lilac. No, no, more dynamic than that. Was it Snapdragon? No, I don't think so.”

The woman's wrinkled blue eyes gazed into Lily's. Her cracked lips turned up. “Oh yes, I remember now. It was Lily.”

“W-what?” Lily was taken aback. An object rose in her throat as sweat broke out on her neck, but she swallowed it back down nervously.

“Yes, I believe it was. Fire Lily they call her, because her whole body bursts into flames and she's as beautiful as a flower in full bloom. At least, that's what the news says. An odd coincidence, don't you think, dear?”

“Yuh-yuh-yuh-yes, very-ree odd.” Lily glanced around nervously. Feeling her grandmother's eyes searching over her, she quickly added: “Some kuh-kids at schoo-ool mentioned it. Th-they think it's me.”

“And is it?”

“I wish.”

“I see.” Her grandmother laughed suddenly, blowing out loud hoos and has from the depths of her tremendous belly. She patted herself on the chest and tossed her head back, stabbing her large nose into the air. Then she wiped her eyes and smiled knowingly. “I suppose we all wish we were special, don't we, dear?”

“Yes.” Lily nodded. “I guess so.”


***************

STUPID NAME

Smoke rose from Lily's furious fingers. Keys clicked beneath their tips, pleas from their melting faces to be free of the heat. Lily didn't notice. She stared intently at the screen, wanting to say more. Anger raged inside her, building intense and hot each moment it was given to stew. But there was nothing more to say. Reluctantly she gave her keyboard a reprieve, still unaware of the damage she had done.

OH?

The reply binged in.

I THOUGHT IT WAS CLEVER ;)

IT'S NOT CLEVER

Her fingers were dashing once more, the keys beginning to sweat.

MY GRANDMA ALMOST FOUND OUT TODAY. YOU SHOULDN'T HAVE USED MY REAL NAME ANYWHERE AT ALL.

HONEY, I'M A REPORTER. JUST WAIT UNTIL YOUR BIRTHDAY. THEN WE'LL TALK ABOUT REAL NAMES.

YOU SAID YOU WOULDN'T.

I SAID I WOULDN'T FOR NOW.

BIT-

She stopped, thought a moment. Slammed out the rest of the word and tossed it through the web.

YOU BET ;)
HEY, CHECK THIS OUT. WEIRDNESS IN YOUR NECK OF THE WOODS.

A link popped on screen. Lily followed it, cooling her fingers as she did. The laptop was expensive, and it was the only one she had.

The page flashed black before the rest of the site loaded. It was a web version of Spread the Word, a local paper run by a high school dropout and a sometimes-friend of Lily's mom. The page was set up to resemble an old fashioned printed paper, but it only barely passed. The sidebars were cluttered with unformatted text and flashy ads, one of which rebelled and shoved the article halfway down the screen. Only the headline could be seen beneath the barely clad bodies of a tan-skinned couple on distant shores.

STOP! NO CHILDREN TODAY!

Lily raised an eyebrow and read on.

 --------Today was like any other day at Lilac Hill Elementary School, except for nearly forty missing children. School officials have largely refused to comment, but one teacher came out to speak with us. First grade teacher Mrs. Stew reported twelve children missing from her class today. With no word back from parents, Mrs. Stew did a little investigating of her own and discovered that all of the missing children were assigned to the same bus route. Bus number twenty-one, driven by Richard Cabby.

We contacted Rick (he insists) and he was more than open to telling us what happened.

“I was just out doing my usual route, y'know?” says Rick, a 43 year-old local man who has driven the same bus route for nearly twelve years. “I was runnin' a little behind because when I got to the bus this morning, it wouldn't start. I couldn't figure it out, so I got one of the mechanic guys to take a look at it. He fixed it up without too much problem, but by the time I was on the road, I was about twenty minutes behind schedule. I managed to pick up a few kids—two or three, usually the ones that end up running to catch up with me—but I figured everyone else had gotten sick of waitin' around and driven or walked. I had no idea they'd all up and disappeared.”

Rick feels terrible about the whole thing, and wishes for the safe return of the students. He has been temporarily relieved of duty until the investigation has been resolved. But it seems like that won't be any time soon. We managed to catch up with one of the parents of the lost children, and what they had to say makes this case a bit more puzzling.

“I don't understand it,” said distraught father Ned Tuckson. “I saw my girls get on the bus this morning. Sat right on my porch and watched them climb on in. What do you mean they didn't show up? Isn't it the school's job to get my children to school safely? And what's all this about the driver being late? I don't buy it. Their bus was right on time.”

Similar reports to this have been coming in from all the other parents. A bus right on schedule accepting their children right inside. Naturally all eyes are on Rick Cabby, who was taken into custody shortly after our interview. The local police have refused comment.---------

MISSING KIDS?

MISSING KIDS.

SO WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO?

MAKE THEM UNMISSING, SUPERGIRL. LIGHT UP AND GET YOUR BUTT OUT THERE.

I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHERE TO START.

Lily squeezed her forehead between two fingers and slammed her eyes shut. How was she supposed to solve this one? Visit the bus stops and look for clues? Interview the parents? She was wanted on a charge of vigilantism for the Taser fiasco not long ago, and Damage Control's intervention left a bitter taste in the mouths of the PD. That meant asking to interrogate the driver was out of the question.

A deep sigh escaped her lips. She was a kid who happened to have freaky powers. She wasn't a superhero, and more than that, she wasn't a detective. And she never would be. What was she expected to do?

START BY LOOKING FOR ANY OUT OF PLACE SCHOOL BUSES.PATROL AROUND TOWN, MY DEAR.

…....... I CAN'T FLY, AND I CAN'T DRIVE.
ARE YOU STILL IN TOWN?

WELL, KIND OF...

PICK ME UP.

BUT...

I CAN'T GO WALKING AROUND ALL ON FIRE. THE CITY IS TOO BIG TO WALK AROUND ANYWAY. I NEED A CAR. PICK ME UP.

UGH
FINE
BE THERE IN TWENTY

SundayScott signed off.

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