Tina Belcher looked up from the tiny green horse dancing in the palm of her left hand when she heard her sister coughing. "Louise, are you alright?"
Louise bent over as she coughed some more. She sat up, swallowed a few times then turned to her sister. "What is it that tastes like smoke?" She looked at the bed she was in and the room they were in. "I'm in the hospital? What happened? I was hit by lightning!" She tossed the sheet to the side and examined her fingers and toes. "Well at least everything seems to still be intact and working."
"What were you doing in the school?"
"Geeze Tina, can't I get one moment to recover?" Louise turned to her sister. "I was looking for you. Where were you taken to, and what's that in your hand?"
"Oh, nothing." Tina closed her hand as she willed Emerald to disappear.
"Never mind that for now. I'm starving. I could eat a horse."
"Horse, horse, who said anything about a horse?"
Louise frowned at her eldest sibling. "Yeah, too small. Tell them to bring me a cow, well done."
"I'll get the nurse." Tina stood up from her chair, then turned back to Louise. "Was Gene with you last night?"
"No, last I saw of him was when we were sent to our rooms after we told our parents about your abduction in a green bubble."
"Green bubble? There's no green bubbles. That's my Louise, always joking." Tina rushed from the room.
The nurse knocked on the open doorframe. "Good morning, may I take your vitals?"
"You can keep them. Just bring me a glass of water and a brunch buffet."
"I'll have to ask the doctor before you can eat anything. I have your name as Louise Be Lecher?"
"Belcher. B-e-l-c-h-e-r. Louise. L-o-u-i-s-e."
The nurse measured Louise's temperature, pulse, blood pressure and had her follow his finger with her eyes.
"So, what's wrong with me?"
"Nothing I can see."
"Does that mean I at least get a cup of water?"
"One, but you'll need to sip slowly."
Louise waited for the nurse to leave then hopped out of the bed, intent on refilling her cup from the sink. She stepped back, climbed back into the bed and lay down.
Tina dashed into the room. "Louise, what's wrong?"
"I'm working on it." Louise closed her eyes and concentrated on the feeling. Then she looked up as she twisted her hand in midair. "The room is turning very slowly this way."
"Very funny Louise... Wait, how did you figure out which direction north is? Have you been to this hospital before?"
"We all have, but I've never been in the emergency room. What I want to know is where you went in your bubble."
"There was no bubble." Tina turned to the door. "Hi Mom and Dad."
Their parents followed a doctor into the room.
"Good morning, Louise, I'm doctor Yan. How are you feeling today?"
"A little dizzy, but I guess that's expected when you're hit by lightning."
"It came in from the window."
"I think that explains these notes then." The doctor knelt in front of Louise and shined her flashlight in Louise's eyes.
"Can I have my hat and clothes back?"
"You didn't have a hat on when you were brought in here and your clothes were badly burnt. It's all consistent with a lightning strike. The current went around rather than through you so you looked burnt, but it was just your clothes."
"So, she'll be okay, doctor?"
"Let's see about that dizziness first, mister Belcher. Can you try standing, Louise?"
Doctor Yan held onto Louise's hands as she sat up and then stepped onto the floor. Louise's first few steps were unsteady, but she quickly learned to filter out this new sense of motion and focus only on the pull of gravity she had felt all of her life.
"See, I'm fine."
"Okay, I'll let you go. Please give us a call if that reoccurs."
"I've brought her clothes, can she change back now?"
"Yes, that's fine, Mrs Belcher."
"Where's my hat?"
"I found it at the school."
"So hand it over, Dad."
"It was badly burnt. I threw it away. We'll get you another."
"Can this day get any worse?"
"Let's give her some privacy so she can change." Doctor Yan led the rest of the Belcher family out into the corridor and pulled the curtain shut at Louise's door.
Tina and Linda hovered over Louise on the walk to the car. Linda silently buckled Louise into the backseat then walked around and sat in the front passenger seat and turned back towards Louise as Bob backed the car out of the parking lot. "So do you know where your brother is?"
"The last moment I saw Gene was when we were sent to our rooms."
"And why did you go to the school Louise?"
"I went looking for Tina."
"Well as you can see she's fine."
"Fine, fine? She got scooped up in a green bubble. How is that fine?"
"You were just traumatized. Tina was actually grabbed by some mean men in a green van. Right Tina?"
"Oh, and what did these mean men look like?"
"They put a bag over your sister's head, so she couldn't see them."
"Then how is she here now?"
"She escaped the first chance she got. They shot at her while she was running away. The police even found gunfire residue in her hair so it all checks out. Your sister was very brave last night."
"How did the residue get in her hair if she was wearing a bag over her head?"
"She couldn't very well run with a bag over her head, so she took it off first. Right Tina?"
"Who's telling this fairy tale, Tina or you Mom?"
"You know how shy your sister is. She's been traumatized, even more that you were."
When they got back to the restaurant Bob and Tina went downstairs to open for lunch while Linda took Louise upstairs.
Linda insisted on washing Louise herself and then satisfied there were no injuries anywhere on her daughter, dried her off and dressed her.
Louise then put her hoodie on over the green dress, in place of her missing hat.
Mort looked up from his hamburger as mother and daughter entered the restaurant. "Louise! Good to see you're back on your feet, but you really ought to sit. I've been hit by lightning and it can really mess you up."
"Fine." Louise sat on the stool between Teddy and Mort. "I'll have a cheeseburger, fries and a chocolate shake, Dad."
Bob looked at her from the window between the kitchen and the front counter. "Isn't that a bit much?"
Louise looked around the dinning area, where Tina had stopped taking the order of a young couple seated at one of the tables, then turned back to her father. "Come on dad. I was sent to my room without dinner and they didn't feed me anything at the hospital. I'm starving here!"
"It's okay Bobby." Lina grabbed a tall cup and walked to the shake machine. "Let's humor her for today. She can have the leftovers for a snack later."
Louise's small mouth could only bite off a fraction of the cheeseburger at any one time, but these nibbles followed in swift procession and the cheeseburger vanished quicker than an unfortunate cow that had fallen into a piranha infested river. Louise threw the last handful of fries into her mouth, chewed twice, swallowed and washed it down by scraping out the last of the shake with her straw. "Another please!" She raised the cup in her right hand while pushing the empty plate forwards with her left.
"Absolutely not!" Linda stood across the counter from her youngest daughter.
"Come on Mom. I'm starving here."
"That's enough out of you, young lady. Go up to your room and I'll come check on your tummy-ache later."
"The only thing my tummy is aching for is food. Talk some sense into her, Dad."
"You heard your mother. Go to your room."
"Fine parents you two are." Louise stomped out the door then up the stairs and to her room. She opened the door to her room then slammed it shut without entering. Instead she turned and tiptoed back to the family kitchen.
Balancing on a dinning chair she again felt the strange sensation of the world turning around her. She held on for a moment to fight it back then reached to the back of the top shelf for Bob's secret stash of potato chips.
She had just finished off the bag of chips and a glass of orange juice when she heard footsteps coming up the stairs. She relaxed when she heard that they were lighter than an adult's. "What's up Tina?"
"Just coming up to get my coat."
"Mom needs me to get copies of this missing flier she drew of Gene."
"Let me see. Oh this is perfect. Mom draws Gene even stupider than usual. I'll tag along."
"Okay, I'll get my coat."
"Oh, wait a minute. I'll be right back."
Tina was waiting with her coat on when Louise emerged a few minutes later. "If you've made yourself sick you shouldn't come along."
"I only pooped. A big smelly poop. Let's go find Gene so he can make jokes about Louise the smelly pooper."
"That was quick. You just ate."
"I think it's from Friday's lunch. So much has happened that I never got the chance until now."
The sisters went down the street and made fifty copies of the missing flier then returned to the restaurant.
"Louise, are you sure you're well enough to go around handing these out?" Linda asked as she taped one of the copies against the glass front of the restaurant.
"I'll be with Tina. I won't let her out of my sight, but aren't you afraid that those mean men will try to grab her again?"
"I think they've learned their lesson. But Tina, if they show up again be sure and teach them a new lesson."
As they crossed the street Louise looked up at her sister. "What is it with you and Mom today? One moment she says you're shy and helpless, the next moment it's like you're invincible."
"I can be all those things." Tina opened the door to Jimmy Pesto's.
"What are you kids doing here?"
"Jimmy Pesto, my main man. Could you please display one of these missing brother fliers my mom drew in your window?"
He took the flier from Louise. "Stupid Bob can't even keep track of his own kids? Sure, I'll help out. Anything else I can do for you two?"
"Can I have some food please?"
"They don't even feed their own kids? Sure, I've got a calzone just out of the oven. Give it a few minutes and... What are you doing, that's too hot to hold."
Louise didn't respond until after she had eaten the whole thing and licked the still molten cheese off her fingers. "It stings a bit, but it's still so good."
"You hear that? Even the kid from the so-called restaurant across the street loves my food. Louise feel free to come over any time they don't feed you."
"Thanks Mr. Pesto." Louise turned to her sister, who was artfully crying on Jimmy Junior's shoulder. Louise got halfway to her sister when she was suddenly surrounded by twins.
"I don't know what I'd do if I lost Ollie." "And I don't know what I'd do if I lost Andy." "But I do know what I'd want if I lost my brother."
"And what is that?"
The twins grabbed Louise tightly. It took her several seconds to even wiggle her arms free. She froze for a moment then hugged the twins to her. "Thanks."
At the cake store Louise scored a cupcake and then she skipped Reflections "Because the Cranwinkles hate me", in order to rush home for another bathroom break.
And so the sisters continued down the street to Wonder Wharf then around to the next street.
Two dozen shops later Louise looked at the reduced pile of fliers in Tina's arms. "So about halfway?"
"If it's too much of a drag you can just go home. I'll finish handing these out then I'll find Gene."
"How? Are you going to wave a magic wand and bring him back?"
"Something like that."
"Ha! I knew it. Your alien friends have Gene, don't they?"
"Can't be. There was only one and he's gone now. It's not the aliens."
"So you were abducted by aliens!"
"Aliens? There's no aliens. It was mean men in a green van, like Mom says."
"Why is Mom covering for you? What have you done?"
Tina was about to reply when she looked at a car approaching them. The driver was talking on his phone and hadn't seen the girls. Quickly she raised her left fist and pointed it at the car. The car continued to close on them.
Louise grabbed her sister around the waist and tried to shove her out of the way. It was like pushing against a wall. They slowly started to move but Louise's shoes slipped across the asphalt and flailed in midair for what seemed like seconds.
Finally Louise found something solid to push against and launched the two to the side. She risked a glance behind them and saw that she had pushed against the front of the car that had somehow slowed to a crawl. The fliers hung scattered in midair and there was a dark red haze behind them with scattered tiny lightning flashes in it.
"Did I hit my head against the car?" Louise thought, but was unable to speak against air that seemed impossibly dense, if no heavier than usual. For what seemed like a half dozen seconds the girls drifted clear of the car, off the road, over the sidewalk and towards a building.
Louise turned around to be in front of Tina and braced herself against the wall to strain with all of her strength to bring her drifting sister to a stop. Exhausted she dropped to the sidewalk and watched as Tina slowly drifted down on top of her. The only sound Louise heard was the pounding of her own heartbeat in a silent almost motionless world. She struggled to calm herself down.
Suddenly the car resumed its usual velocity as the sounds from all around returned to her. She watched the fliers scatter off the car as it swerved slightly to the side, then pushed against her sister. "Get off me!"
"So that's how that works." Tina glanced down at her ring, then stood and helped her sister to her own feet. "Sorry, guess I don't know my own strength. Are you okay, Louise? Did I hurt you?"
"Your strength! I was the one who pushed us out of the way while you just stood there and tried to wave the car away."
"Oh, ah yes. That must have been what happened. Thanks Louise."
"Well, there goes our fliers." Louise watched them scatter on the breeze.
"I'll get them." Tina held out her left hand but nothing happened. She looked at her ring. "Is it empty?"
"Is what empty?"
"Sorry, Louise, but we've got to go home now. I need to check something out."
"Check what out?"
"Oh, nothing important."
The girls walked back home where Tina dashed upstairs while Louise walked into the restaurant and sat on one of the stools. "Another cheeseburger please!"
"Another?" Linda turned to her daughter. "You really are trying to make yourself sick. Did you distribute the fliers? Any sign of your brother?"
"Yes, widely and no nothing. Can't I at least have some french fries?"
"No, not another bite for you until dinner young lady. Do you have a fever?" Linda put her hand against Louise's forehead. "I guess not. You're probably just all nervous about your brother. Don't worry about it, I'm sure he's okay somewhere. Why don't you go up to your room and do your homework?"
"Fine mother you are, starving your own child like this."
"Just go to your room and rest now. I mean it. If you're still ravenous in the morning then I'm taking you right back to the hospital because they must have missed something."
Louise went upstairs and was almost to her own door when she noticed a flash of green light under Tina's door. She threw open Tina's door. "What happened?"
Tina quickly hid her lantern behind her bed with her right hand while waving with her left hand. "Who said anything happened? Everything's fine. It works okay. Nothing to worry about here."
"You're acting loonier than usual since the aliens abducted you Tina."
"Who said anything about aliens? There's no aliens."
Louise was about to continue the argument when her stomach rumbled. "Yeah, right." She closed Tina's door and went to the bathroom.
A few minutes later with her gut emptied and her hands washed she when to the kitchen and ate two bowls of breakfast cereal. She washed bowl and spoon to not leave any incriminating evidence behind.
Louise had just gone to her room when she heard her two parents climbing the stairs.
Bob knocked on Louise's door then motioned her to follow him inside Tina's room.
Bob closed Tina's door and stood there for a moment. "I'm afraid there's been an update that may concern Gene. Somebody saw a boy who may have been Gene walking towards the marina last night and now they've found some wreckage from Kurt's seaplane."
"But no bodies?" Tina asked
"No, no bodies. The Atlantic is a big ocean. Now I need you two girls to be strong for your mother. Please go sit with her in the living room while I make dinner."
"Okay Dad." Tina nodded to him, the grabbed Louise's arm after he left. "Can you cover for me tonight?"
"What? You want me to sit alone with Mom while she's like this? Why? What are you going to do?"
"Something important. Just trust me on this, Louise."
"No way. Your running off is what started all of this. If I have to put up with Mom then so do you."
"What is it? What's your great plan?"
"I'm sorry. I can't tell you."
"No dice. You owe me for nearly getting us both killed today." Louise pushed her older sister to the living room, where the girls sat on either side of their mother.
Twenty minutes later Louise fidgeted at the smell of dinner being prepared in the other room. "Come on, Mom. It's no use flipping channels. All the local news stations have their commercials at the same time."
"Mom, can I be excused to do my homework?"
"Tina, 'homework'? Okay sweetie, just wait until after dinner. One moment. Get the atlas out."
"Here," Linda flipped through the pages and stopped on a map of the East Coast, "... we are, and here off the coast is where they found the wreckage. You took navigation in the Thundergirls, didn't you?"
"Well, don't go too far in your 'homework', and take your compass."
"What are you two talking about?"
"It's just Thundergirls stuff. I thought you weren't interested in the Thundergirls, Louise sweetie?"
Louise frowned at her mother, but decided to follow her hunger to the kitchen rather than argue the point.
A few minutes later Linda looked at Louise's empty plate. "Well I guess all that snacking didn't ruin your appetite."
"I think you've had enough for tonight, Louise."
"They didn't feed me at all in the hospital."
"You were only there for twelve hours and you've eaten enough for three days since."
"No buts, young lady. Go to your room."
Louise waited in her room until everybody had settled down. She put on her hoodie again then carefully opened her door. Her hunger had settled down while she rested, but now she wanted answers. She opened Tina's door and found her sister missing and the window slightly ajar.
"Not this again." Louise closed the door behind her, and went to Tina's window. "Tina left by her window? What is she, a witch?"
Louise opened the window and looked up then down the wall. "No obvious footholds, but perhaps there's something hidden?" She leaned out the window and ran her hand along the smoothness of the wall.
Suddenly she was hit again by the sensation of the Earth turning around her. She closed her eyes then reopened them as she felt herself slipping. She cried out "No," but was cut off as her breath was stopped. No, not entirely stopped. It was the air itself that had changed and become impossibly dense. She raised her hands to her mouth but felt no obstruction. Clear air was suddenly as dense as pudding. Then she noticed that her own limbs were the only things moving. Even her fall down the side of the building had stopped.
Well, not completely stopped. She was still falling, only very very slowly. For what seemed like half a dozen seconds she slowly drifted down in a world without sound or motion. When her feet finally reached the ground she had to push with all of her strength for what seemed like a few seconds to slow herself down and come to a rest with her knees slightly bent. She relaxed and straightened up and as she did the sounds of the city returned, traffic and wind.
"It's me. I'm doing it." Louise started to run down the alleyway and as she did she focused on that same feeling. After each step she seemed to hang longer in the air with a longer period of effort pushing against the ground to launch herself floating in silence. She looked up and saw that she was about to run into a building. For what seemed like a few seconds she flipped around in midair to brace her feet against the wall. Then she pushed off at a right angle. She looked back at the way she had come and saw the red haze and yellow lighting following her for a short distance and fading off further back in her path.
She ran for what seemed like hours through the frozen city, but saw no sign of her brother or sister. As the hunger returned she headed back towards home and stopped just across the street from the front of their restaurant. She looked up at their apartment and saw her mother looking down at her. She slipped back into super speed, zipped around the block and bounced off the building walls back to Tina's window. She closed the window behind her, carefully opened Tina's door and stepped out.
"You shouldn't go through your sister's room like that."
"Oh Mom, there you are. I was just checking on Tina, but she seems to be missing."
"She's just worried about Gene. The same as you are. I can see how you digest your food so quickly. What's it like?"
"What's what like? My gut? I'm just hungry, that's all."
"It's okay. I'll make you a snack. You'll need a code name. How about the Scarlet Streak?"
"That sounds gross and bloodthirsty, but I think that whoever it is you're talking about will like it."
"Oh? Well I'm sure there will be no bunny hats for the Scarlet Streak."
"Of course you, my daughter Louise, will get a replacement pink bunny hat. But the Scarlet Streak isn't anybody's daughter. She's somebody mysterious and unknown and so she isn't going to wear anything that reminds anybody of you. That's an impressive visual effect she's got and so I'll make her a costume that's mostly scarlet with little lightning streaks as accents, with a smooth headmask to minimize wind resistance. And until I've finished that she isn't going to stop, or start, anywhere anybody can see her. She'll just be a scarlet streak dashing on the wind. Be sure and tell her that, Louise."
"I'm sure she'll keep that in mind, Mom."