MOONSTONE CLIFFHANGER FICTION
This week we bring you the first half of a SUPER HEROINE story appearing in the recently released Moonstone collection, CHICKS IN CAPES! The staff behind this project, from editors through the writers, artists, and all others involved are women and put together not only super hero fiction from a feminine perspective, but also produce some of the best action, drama, and adventure you’ve read anywhere in a long time! Enjoy Elaine Lee’s tale, MISCHIEF, this week on CLIFFHANGER FICTION!
by Elaine Lee
Her side and rearview mirrors blazed like a terrible binary star.
The giant SUV trying to climb up Mischief’s tailpipe had three banks of retina-searing lights all trained on the back of her ’92 Honda Civic. It felt like the mothership had descended from on high and now had her tiny vehicle caught in the grip of its tractor beam.
Mischief leaned forward over the wheel beyond the range of the blinding mirrors to peer through the windshield at the road ahead. She blinked a few times to clear the spots from her eyes, and a double yellow line swam into view. No shoulder. Well, she’d be damned if she’d let this guy push her into going faster. Didn’t he know there were large numbers of suicidal deer just waiting to leap at any car that dared to drive on this road?
Not that a crash would hurt the guy behind her. That thing he was driving looked like the box her car came in. It wouldn’t need airbags. A slave to hurl himself between the driver and the shattering windshield probably came standard. Mischief took a deep breath and tried to calm down.
In truth, a crash wouldn’t hurt her much, either. Not much could these days. But it would crush the Civic with her computers in the back seat, and those she would definitely miss. Perhaps in the event of an accident, she would have time to alter the Civic’s molecular structure as well as her own. Perhaps. But she couldn’t count on it.
Frustrated, Mischief raked the wayward bangs from her eyes and the hair touched by her moving fingers changed color from its usual nondescript sand to a shining blue-black.
How the hell did she get here? Driving down County Route 1 in upstate New York with all her earthly belongings in a rust-bucket Honda borrowed from a friend? How had her life gone so horribly awry that she felt the need to escape it entirely?
Mischief’s secret identity, Wendy Webber, sat in a Williamsburg coffee shop called The Present Tense shooting skater zombies with a harpoon gun. A tester for Death’s Head Games, Wendy often drifted over to the Tense to game on her laptop while tossing back espressos, thus avoiding the acute cabin fever that came from working and sleeping in the same 10 x 12 ft. room. She had half an espresso, three harpoons, a tenth of her life force, and no resurrection draughts left. The zombies were closing in.
“Yum!” said their leader. “Ill brains, Brah!”
Bells tinkled as the front door to the Tense swung open and a young man with artfully rumpled hair, wearing skinny black jeans, a gray hoodie, and a vintage leather jacket entered and loped toward Wendy’s table. He slung a dirty canvas messenger bag over the back of a chair, fell into the seat, scanned the shop to see who was watching, and struck a pose that said, “You don’t know me yet, but you will.”
Theo always looked as though he were waiting to be discovered. She loved that about him—loved his utter lack of shame. And she had to admit that he certainly had “it,” whatever “it” was. She loved that about him, too.
Wendy had enough shame for the two of them, which would’ve been surprising to most people, had they known what she was. People with super powers were supposed to be…well…super. Tiny and flat-chested, Wendy certainly didn’t look super. Though cute as the proverbial bug’s ear, she always seemed to have a coffee stain on her shirt or a button missing. Bad hair days were the norm. Worse, she looked back on her life thus far as a horrifying daisy chain of embarrassing moments and missed opportunities.
How the hell do you get ahead in a career, any career, when you’re running off to fight crime every few minutes? Super villains were not, by and large, very accommodating and refused to confine their criminal activity to the hours between 6:00 and 11:00 pm. And a gal could hardly put “superhero” on her résumé.
She imagined the interview, “Well, yes, there is a two year gap in my work experience, but I was actually being held prisoner in an extra-dimensional warp by a space-altering super-mutant with some really nasty mommy issues.”
Don’t call us. We’ll call you.
Super villains certainly had it easier, as far as making the bucks went. Steal a priceless diamond. Hold a world leader for ransom. Hire yourself out to an evil corporation that’s wrecking the environment for fun and profit. And if all else failed, you could sell your patented death ray on eBay. There were no similar options for a superhero. If a hero charged for her heroics, could she even call herself a hero? Somehow Wendy didn’t think so.
So she had suffered through a succession of McJobs, the best of which was her current gig with Death’s Head. It was more fun than slinging hash, she could make her own hours, and nobody asked her the kinds of questions about her life she’d have to lie about. Even if they did ask, she could say something like, “I have to fly out to Montauk and defeat some super villains who are melting the beach sand into glass to make a giant lens with which to fry Manhattan,” and they would just laugh and think she was moonlighting with another company. Death’s Head didn’t care what she did when she wasn’t killing their zombies.
Currently, the zombies were munching down on the brains of Wendy’s avatar, so she quit the game without saving and turned to Theo. “I have something I want to talk to you about.”
“You should do your hair like that,” Theo said, nodding toward a girl with a shock of white hair that listed slightly to starboard atop her head.
“Good idea. I’ve always wanted to look like a toilet brush,” quipped Wendy, mentally kicking herself as soon as the words had left her mouth. “Anyway, I need to talk to you about something.”
Theo heaved a big sigh. “What have I done wrong now?”
“This isn’t about you,” Wendy said, trying hard to sound reasonable. “It’s about me.”
“Oh, wow! You’re breaking up with me. You’re breaking up with me, right!”
“It sounds like you’re breaking up with me.”
“No, I love you, Idiot! I just need to talk to you about something important. Can we take a walk? Maybe to the park?”
Theo looked around the coffee shop. “You’re scared I’ll make a scene here.”
“I just want to tell you something that I don’t want everyone else to hear.”
“Oh, my god, you’re not…? Are you? Because that would be…”
“No, no, no, no, no, no, NO!”
This was not going well. Not at all. During the early days of their relationship, Wendy had decided against sharing her big secret with Theo. Having had several relationships with fellow superheroes go super sour, she desperately wanted something normal. As normal as any relationship could be that began with a big lie at its core. But that had been almost a year ago and, though they had thus far avoided the talk about sharing a place, most of Theo’s belongings had migrated to Wendy’s apartment. In every way that didn’t include sharing the rent, they lived together. And if things were ever going to move forward, she would have to fess up.
“Okay. I’m going to tell you, but you can’t freak out. You have to keep your voice…”
Wendy’s cell chirped, signaling a text. She held up a finger to signal “one second” and grabbed the phone. The text was from her last ex.
“Ur needed. Emp State. Stat.”
Wendy pocketed the phone, stood, slipped her laptop into her bag and gave Theo a kiss.
“This’ll have to wait. Something’s come up.”
“Tell you later,” she said, tossing a twenty onto the table and spinning on her heels.
“Wait a minute,” Theo called as Wendy made for the door. “We were supposed to go to the flea market to look for old vinyl!”
To the sound of tinkling bells, the door swung closed behind Wendy. Still on the move, she quickly scanned the street, looking for a place to change. There! An alley! That would do. As she ducked between buildings, she suffered a twinge of guilt about the way she’d left Theo.
“Another damn daisy for the chain,” Wendy muttered to herself. She was beginning to feel like Marley’s Ghost.
In the shadows behind a dumpster, Wendy stripped off her pleated mini and tee. Immediately, the molecules that made up the fabric of her ordinary black tights began to combine with available particles in the air surrounding her. Metamorphosing into material with the tensile strength of spiders’ silk, this supple, shining armor crawled over her body to become a revealing black costume. And as the costume manifested, Wendy’s body changed with it, becoming taller, more voluptuous, her freckles fading, while her fair hair grew and thickened, its color brightening to a shining red-gold. On her feet, the shabby Converse high tops were transforming into black boots, with white starbursts emblazoned on the sides. Within seconds, Wendy was gone—in her place stood Mischief.
Mischief reached to touch the brick wall beside her. The hard surface beneath her hand seemed to soften and give way, opening into a compartment in the building’s side. She shoved Wendy’s clothes and laptop bag into the hole and immediately, the brick surface grew over it, hiding her belongings from view. Tapping effortlessly into her power, she heated the air immediately surrounding her lower body, rose above the buildings on the resulting updraft, and took off toward Manhattan.
On her way to the Empire State Building, Mischief had a few minutes to think about how things had been left with Theo. This was the third time Wendy had tried to tell him about her super half and it was the third time she had failed. Maybe this really was a sign. Things were going pretty well, for the most part. Did she really want to risk what was, by any accounting, a pretty good thing? Why rock the boat?
“Oh, great!” Mischief thought.
The fog was rolling in and the SUV’s three banks of lights were creating an envelope of glowing mist around her car that was impossible to penetrate with normal human sight. And normal human sight was all she had to work with, as her powers didn’t include X-ray or Infrared or any type of Thru-Fog vision. She couldn’t see anything until she was practically past it. What was it with fog lights? It was Mischief’s experience that fog lights only served to illuminate the fog, while great numbers of large ruminant mammals hid safely on the far side of the glow, biding their time. Was there a shoulder now? She couldn’t tell.
Mischief realized she was clenching her jaw and tried to relax it.
It would be easy to blame her current problems on Theo but, truth be told, she had never been lucky in love. As was the case with most female superheroes, Mischief had always had problems with her personal life. Several relationships with male heroes had turned into nasty competitions as, she’d been told, when a writer marries another writer or actor dates an actor—only worse. You live together, you work together, you accidentally rip the fabric of the space-time continuum together. It gets tense.
And what do you do when an affair with a super-jock is over? Changing the apartment locks is a joke when your ex can walk through walls.
Still fretting about the way she’d left things with Theo back in Brooklyn, Mischief circled the Empire State Building and spiraled down toward the 102nd floor observatory. She’d only had this new power, something akin to flight, for the past few months. Though it might be more correct to say she’d only realized she had it a few months ago. Her power was constantly revealing itself. Initially an ability to alter her own substance, which included shifting shape to mimic other beings, it had gradually expanded into the power to alter any object in physical contact with her—in this case, the air beneath and around her.
Cooling the warm updraft that held her aloft, she lightly touched down on the observatory deck. As she looked out over the borough of Manhattan from the vantage point of its tallest building, she was slightly shocked to realize that this was her third or fourth battle with super villains at this very location. What was it about the Empire State Building that attracted this sort of thing? She vaguely remembered once thinking that superheroes primarily caught bank robbers and foiled assassination plots. But ever since her own powers had manifested, Mischief just seemed to fight other beings with superpowers with all the resulting destruction of private property. No wonder so many “normals” hated them!
“Look! It’s Mischief!”
Speaking of normals, the tourists had spotted her and were calling that name. God, she disliked that name! A mishearing of her chosen hero name, Ms. Shift, printed several years past in the Daily News, had been picked up and endlessly reiterated by mainstream media hacks and Internet bloggers alike, resulting in a moniker that hinted at a less-than-forthright character. Once the name had stuck, she had never been able to shake it off.
“Mischief! Where? Over there!”
Tourists were surrounding her now, cameras clicking, instant images snapped with cell phones already speeding through cyberspace toward various news and networking sites. Tomorrow would be hell, but there was no time to think about it now.
“Where’s the fight,” Mischief thought, realizing she could feel the building trembling beneath her feet. This wasn’t good.
“Get down!” she shouted to the crowd, “Cover your heads!”
The crowd scattered, some screaming, others running in circles, all doing anything other than getting down. The building’s trembling became a violent shaking, and most of the uncontrollable mob was thrown to the observatory deck. There was a weird half-moment of perfect silence, then the wall before Mischief exploded, and Amp walked through the falling rubble.
“Lookin’ good, hot stuff,” he said, brushing cement dust from the bright red spandex that made the most of his natural attributes. “Glad you could make it.”
The guy knew how to make an entrance, she had to give him that. How many men were there who could pull off red Spandex? Though Amp’s power to drive bursts of concussive force into anything he touched didn’t require that he have an inordinate amount of muscle, the skin-hugging outfit certainly did. So, when Amp wasn’t engaged in thwarting super villains, he pretty much lived at the gym; just one of the things that annoyed her about him back in the days when they were dating.
“Happy to see me, babe?”
“Not especially,” Mischief said flatly, “but you’re certainly happy about something.”
The interesting bulge in Amp’s Spandex was a byproduct of his talent for amplifying and focusing available energy. In short, blowing up walls gave him wood. It had been a problem during their brief relationship, as Mischief had never known when he was truly interested in her or when he just needed to work off some excess energy. She’d begun to feel like his exercise bike.
“You know, you could help me with this,” he grinned.
Mischief was about to tell Amp just what it was she’d like to help him with, when a giant tentacle burst through the hole in the wall, grabbed Amp, lifted him high into the air, then tossed him high over the barbed wire coils at the top of the observatory wall.
“Cephalopod!” Mischief yelled, as a second tentacle wrapped around her waist.
In an instant, she had stretched herself thin as a strand of linguini, slid from the Cephalopod’s grasp, then bounced back into her previous shape, leaping over a third tentacle to hurl herself over the wire just as Amp was passing her on his way to a date with the street below. Mischief dove, compressing her substance into a lead-dense arrow. Once past him, she turned in the air, returning her body to Mischief form and grabbed him.
Marshalling her power, she tried her trick of heating the air to achieve an updraft beneath them, but the Spandex-wrapped hunk in her arms was far too heavy to get much of a lift. What a lousy time to learn the limitations of her new ability!
“Hey, babe, try to land under me, will ya? I just replaced the suit!”
Mischief briefly considered dropping Amp and flying back to Brooklyn, but thought better of it. She concentrated on expanding the fat cells in her body and prepared herself for impact.
“AUMmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!” came the awesome sound, as though all the world’s Hindus and Buddhists were chanting the sacred word at once and in perfect harmony.
The numinous tone reverberated in Mischief’s ears, filling her head with light, surrounding and buoying her up, and slowing her velocity until she found herself, Amp still in her arms, bouncing on a spongy cushion of sound. Her first thought, “I’m alive,” was followed quickly by, “Oh, crap!”
With a high-pitched whine the sonic pillow deflated, dumping Mischief and Amp unceremoniously onto the sidewalk. Mischief scrambled to her feet, not an easy task at her current size and density, and spun to face The Vibe, a large part of her mass hurrying to catch up with the rest of her so that she appeared to undulate. He stood before her, glowing with violet light, his “aura of self-righteousness” Mischief sometimes thought when she was in a particularly bitchy mood.
“Thanks,” she said, meaning it.
The Vibe gazed at her with that maddening look of concern, so favored by mainstream newscasters when they wanted to convey empathy for whatever person they were eviscerating on air. Head tilted. Slight smile. Tiny, vertical line between the brows.
“I hope you understand that this is said with love, but you need to lose some weight,” crooned The Vibe, flicking a speck of orange light from his otherwise pristine violet aura. “Just for your health. I’m worried about your health.”
Flushed with embarrassment, Mischief glanced down to see great mounds of flesh pushing over, rolling under and poking out through the formerly sexy cut-outs and plunging neckline of her skimpy costume. She looked like a ten-pound sausage in a five-pound skin.
Embarrassment and guilt were the emotions Mischief most associated with the time she had spent in domestic less-than-bliss with The Vibe. He just seemed to have that effect on her, though he would surely say “no one can make you unhappy but you,” which would serve to make her just that much more unhappy. It had taken her nineteen months to realize that the source of her misery was the gentle, thoughtful guy in her bed. He was classically passive-aggressive, which had finally sent her running toward Amp, a more straightforward soul.
Directing energy through the repulsive gelatinous mass encasing her, Mischief quickly diminished the fat cells, returning her body to the voluptuous figure she preferred while in super-persona, then turned toward The Vibe, perky breasts aimed at him like twin torpedoes.
“Healthy enough for you?”
“Sarcasm is the lowest form of humor,” The Vibe admonished.
“Maybe ‘low’ is what I’m going for!”
“That makes me so sad,” The Vibe professed, oozing sincerity.
“Heads, up!” Amp yelled. “Incoming!”
A beam of energy tore across the sidewalk to explode a nearby hydrant, and water burst from the hole.
“It’s Blast!” Mischief shouted, throwing herself sideways to avoid a second beam.
As she hit the sidewalk, the pavement beneath her gave way, becoming pliable foam that bounced her back to her feet as a taxi behind her burst into flames.
Blast, a truck-sized Neanderthal with shoulders like goalposts, stepped from the building’s entrance, psionic fire in his crazy red eyes. Amp dropped to his knees and, hands on the pavement, sent a shock wave into the concrete that ripped a jagged path of rock-like debris straight toward Blast. With a laugh like a donkey’s bray, Blast loosed a beam of psionic flame that stopped the advancing rock, blasting it to gravel and ash.
“Amp be’s a silly little man!” Blast chortled.
Behind the stretched Spandex, Amp’s manhood shrunk visibly. His face turned as red as his suit. Aura humming like a fluorescent tube on steroids, The Vibe inhaled from his diaphragm, preparing to loose an acoustic blitz.
“AUMmmmmmm…” he began, his sound-force swelling toward the inevitable crescendo.
The Vibe was knocked off his feet, his sound bomb dying mid-hum. Encased in his aura, now a fear-tinged green, he rolled backward like a pill bug, knees to chin, away from the heart of the battle.
“Vibe fight like girl!” Blast guffawed, his gargantuan shoulders heaving up and down.
“I’ll show you how a girl fights, you lumbering dimwitted hunk of meat!”
Mischief sprang forward, dodging a psionic flare by stretching her substance around it as it passed. The Blast hurled another. She deflected it with her belt buckle, which she stretched into a mirror, and kept advancing. Another blast knocked her feet from under her, but her bones were rubber by the time she hit the street. She rolled upright and began to run at the Blast once again.
“Get back! I’ll take care of him!” both of her exes shouted at once, dashing past her straight at the Blast.
As different as her superexes were, they had one thing in common—super-sized egos. As she tore through the space between them determined to get to Blast first, Mischief thought warmly of her very normal boyfriend, Theo. When she got back to Brooklyn, she would tell him everything, the whole shebang. They would laugh about it then make love. Then they would…
Something hit Mischief’s head. Time wobbled and the world spun. As the ground rushed toward her in slow-motion, she could feel herself losing control of her power, her costume going crazy, swarming like insects over her numbing skin. Its super-strong fabric ripping itself to pieces, the costume slithered and wriggled like a thousand blacksnakes on crack, finally disintegrating, as her semiconscious body morphed into shape after shape, running through its entire repertoire of colors, contours, and sizes, to finally settle into the form of Wendy Webber. Wendy Webber on a bad hair day, naked as the day she was born.
“Naked!” was Mischief’s last thought, as she slipped into unconsciousness to the accompaniment of many clicking phones.
END OF PART ONE, Come back next week to catch the conclusion to this super heroine funfest at MOONSTONE CLIFFHANGER FICTION!!
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