…And don’t forget to thank our lovely editor for not taking a flaming, anthrax-contaminated pitchfork to my genitals during this last, update-less month.
I stood in a random duplex in a random street by the beach that would decide the fate of the world.
See, when you say it that way, it sounds a lot cooler than it really is. I feel like that’s the way life works: everything could be made to sound amazing. Really. Here’s an example: a man-child gets kicked out of his dad’s house, goes and meets a nerd who has a crush on him, makes his younger brother look like an idiot, and gets to go home happy. Looking at it one way, it might sound like the life story of more than one college graduate.
In another light, it might look like the plot of Thor, which I saw and realized that my life would never be the same again for having such wonderful concepts. Anyway.
Kenneth followed me inside like the trusted sidekick he would swear up and down that he wasn’t, knowing full well that if I were about to get stabbed for the upteenth time in the last forty-eight hours, then he’d both run me to the hospital and find a way to save the day himself. Or ask the Jack to make another stable time-loop. One of the two.
Samantha, the third Familiar in when-did-Henry-find-you numerical order, had let us inside the place with her own brand of front-door keys. In her case, that meant kicking the door down Gerard Butler style and telling us to sit wherever there was room. The two chairs, folding table, and carpeted floor didn’t look very comfortable, though.
I’m not exaggerating, sorry to say. The living room of this very real dump defined the word ‘sparse’. I didn’t know if it was better to acknowledge the space and laugh about it, or to try and pretend like this wasn’t a weird situation.
“Hey, fuckbags,” Samantha walked past us and crossed into a hallway, which probably extended into two bedrooms and the bathroom that was the size of a closet. From what I could tell, my on-campus apartment was bigger than this place, and probably cheaper. I thought that was impossible. Next thing you know, Mel Gibson will be in movies again.
“Yes, dear Samantha?” A voice called out that I didn’t recognize.
“The kid Paloma’s banging is here,” she replied, “So’s the sidekick.”
Drop it, Kenneth. Please? It’s only until we’re safely away from time travel paradoxes and dimensional plots.
He folded his arms and sneered. “I’ll do it, but I don’t like it,” he said, “No, sir.”
A bit of tossing and turning came from down the hall, but someone was definitely moving around. I debated going in and seeing if I was dealing with another drug-addicted young girl with powers.
Lo and behold.
Standing in the doorway wearing men’s boxer shorts, a large sweater with the USC logo emblazoned on the front, and her hair pulled to an awkward bun on the side, was a girl who had to be somewhere around twelve. The deep red eyes told me what was clattering around in the bedroom. I didn’t want to make a deal out of it.
Ken pulled me aside. “Was that kid smoking in there?” He whispered.
The girl smiled a groggy smile as she pulled glasses out of the sweater front pocket and put them on. She looked like the smart girl Carina didn’t.
“You’re Henry Collins,” she said with a yawn.
“That’s my name, don’t wear it out.”
She giggled for a moment, then giggled some more probably against her sober will, and went back to looking at us. “Are you always this funny?”
Outside of my own private narration?
Paint me amused.
Samantha pointed to me, and then back to the girl, and shrugged. “Henry, that’s Marigold. Ten bucks says you don’t know what she does already.”
“I’ll bite. She’s a Familiar.”
Samantha waddled past the three of us and crossed into what was supposed to be a kitchen, in the very back by the screen door, while groaning with the power of a senile old man. “We didn’t shake on it,” she called as she opened a fridge older than me and Ken put together. “Take a seat on the floor, if you don’t like the chairs. This might take a bit.”
I collapsed under my legs, while Kenneth slowly budged a hand from his defensively crossed arms. He pointed to Marigold as though she were a hardened criminal and sexual offender.
Not to be confused with a hardened sexual offender, mind you.
“Is this your place?” He asked, or accused, judging by his tone.
“It’s my humble abode,” Marigold said. “Samantha and Evangeline helped me pay the bills after my roommie moved out, but yeah, this is me.”
Ken folded his arms again and nodded like a wise kung-fu master, complete with the understanding sigh.
“Call me Goldie, by the way,” Marigold—er, Goldie—said. “Marigold sucks.”
But Goldie’s supposedly better? It fit more, I guess.
Samantha walked back to us with an ominous red cup of liquid. “I told you to sit, kid,” she barked at Kenneth. He fell faster than I did at the noise. I didn’t blame him; Samantha’s voice might as well have been a bass speaker. Goldie and Sam herself sat across from us, making this something of an underground pow-wow.
After Samantha took a long swig from whatever illegal substance she had stashed in a minor’s fridge, she looked back at me. “You’re not asking the obvious question.”
There’s an obvious question?
Goldie’s hand shot up. “It’s about me~!” She sang, “You’re not asking about me being the fifth Familiar.”
Good point. This whole thing was predicated on there being four. What was a fifth—
“I’ll explain that! Palomie’s technically the third and fourth Familiar-kid, since she’s all split into two and what-not. You know all about it.”
I held a hand up at Kenneth when his mouth started to babble. This part wouldn’t help us, but it would be good to know for the long run.
Goldie continued, “She used to have the back room here. It sucked when she left. Especially since her brother…mmm!” She grunted like she had just bitten the last chocolate chip cookie to ever exist.
Samantha cut me off from pointing out that the Jack of All Trades was at least six years older than Goldie. “Paloma’s back up in the Ultima plane right now, and she can kick some holy ass, but you can’t. Not yet.”
“Yeah, I can,” I tried to defend myself, “We were kind of heading out to do that now.” You know, that whole final confrontation thing. My finest hour? The title of this story arc said so.
“But you’d die~!” Goldie added a sadder note at the end. “Forest would pick you to shreds! We’re here to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
“Evangeline put in a call to that Operator friend of yours,” Sam downed another gulp of maybe-absinthe. “Before she had to go off and work for Captain World-Domination, anyway. There can’t be any mistakes when you to fight that kid. He’s nasty strong; this will be a close call. So no mistakes. None.”
“Why not? You can’t just…” I bobbed my head back and forth as mime-language for ‘time loop me again if I fuck this up’.
“Nope~! Palomie only had you looping for as long as it took for you to put her back together. If you fuck this up, we’re done!”
“Luckily for you, we’ve got your eleventh-hour superpower,” Samantha said. The red cup got tossed across the room to land perfectly in the kitchen sink. I didn’t want to think about the level of practice that must have required.
“Eleventh-hour superpower.” Kenneth repeated the words in a desperate attempt to not be left behind in the plot jargon. “What, you’re giving him an Infinity +1 Sword?”
“What?” He looked around at us, “I play video games too, you know.”
“This isn’t a game, moron,” Sam used a refreshingly light insult, “But yeah, that’s the general idea.” She turned back to me, “See, Paloma’s got the power to hold Evangeline off for longer than a Terrence Malick flick, but you don’t have—“
Hold the phone. Paloma’s going to fight Evangeline?
“Well, yeah,” Goldie shrugged. “Who did you think she was going to fight?”
I hadn’t put much thought into that.
“Maybe you should’ve~!” Goldie smiled a smile that promptly lost any sense of drive and melted into a relaxed sigh. The poor kid must have been flying higher than a kite held out of a moving airplane headed for Jamaica while listening to a Dandy Warhols cd.
That didn’t make much sense.
The Evangeline vs. Paloma part, I mean, although either case works with the line. Still, this needed some explaining. It didn’t make any sense. Evangeline’s bonded to Forest or whatever, but she still wants me to win this fight thing. Isn’t that it?
“Not exactly,” Goldie’s optimism sank with her mental capacity. “See, technically, Evangeline’s not here right now.”
Meaning she was what…up in the Ultima plane?
“Close. She’s in another subsector of reality. Which one isn’t too important,” Sam handwaved a detail that was probably more complicated than it was worth, “But the thing is, Forest will be using her powers to take you down.” The careful phrasing of the words didn’t make this feel any less foreboding.
“It’s not as bad as it sounds, though,” Samantha backtracked. “Paloma’s going to weaken Evangeline from the not-Earth side of things, but if you’re not tethered to her the way Forest is to Evey, then this whole thing ends with your head on a plate.”
“I get it,” I probably lied, “So you’re giving me her powers.”
“Why didn’t you say that from the beginning?” Kenneth said. “I didn’t understand half of the shit that came out of your mouths, and I don’t think I understand what we’re really doing here, but I understood that part. Give Henry powers. I’m jelly, but I get it.”
I had a feeling that if Sam were directing this scene, the next shot would be Kenneth being thrown out drunken-bar style. Luckily for us, her cup had gone dry and the world was out of time.
Goldie grabbed my left hand; Sam took the other. Granted, ‘took’ is a loose phrase. Escaping from a drunk woman and a mentally soaring little girl would take about as much effort as it would to just get up and leave with no questions asked.
“Close your eyes~!” Goldie sang, her voice drawing the word ‘eyes’ out until her vocal chords gave out, “We’re giving you an early birthday present. Don’t be naughty!”
“Seriously, jackass, do it,” Sam said. “We don’t want to die, either. Hurry it along.”
I did as I was told.
The electric shock that coursed through my veins could have powered a third world country. With Sam and Goldie working like electric plugs, I felt raw power flow from them to each side of my body, crashing into one another as they met in the middle and built. My hands began to jitter; my head began to pound. It was like being reincarnated as a childhood dance song.
“Henry, are you alright?” Ken’s voice called out to me. “You’re looking kind of…”
“Kenneth, do you remember ‘Everytime We Touch’ by Cascada?”
“Oh. Well then, yeah, I’m fine.”
I actually felt like a god, but that might have been a bit much.
Read the next installment here.