Little Moment: They (Mostly) Come Out At Night
By Eric 'Erico' Lawson
Mr. Smoothie's (Franchise # 4226)
November 16th, 1998
The nice thing about working the 'graveyard shift', Deke Jameson thought, was that basically nobody bothered him. The job sucked and it was boring, but it gave him time to work on his woodcarving. And smoke grass out back when he took his 'break.' His mom always thought he should have been a professional gardener, but that was too much work. So, he grew his own Mary Jane (saved money that way), whittled at sticks, and was happy to let the world go on passing him by.
The radio was on an easy listening station and locked there; the frequency dial was in the manager's office, which was locked when she left every night. The cash register had maybe 50 bucks in it plus change, and really, who robbed a frozen smoothie stand? Gas stations, sure, but that was another reason he'd picked Mr. Smoothie's. It was boring. He liked boring.
Except tonight, it wasn't boring. Someone was coming up to the counter out of the dead of the night. The drunks never bothered to get a smoothie, they always wanted french fries or a burger or something else equally greasy, and there were plenty of burger places around town for that. Maybe a College kid, up late studying and looking for something relatively healthy to keep him going through a cram session.
He tried to focus in on the figure coming to the doors, but the light outside around the picnic tables had fizzled out, so he was left with shadows until it got closer. Deke frowned. Big fella.
Athlete, maybe. He blinked as it got closer and a huge, red thing with four arms bent down to fit underneath the front awning.
No, not an athlete. And not human, although it dressed like one. Cargo pants and a white T-Shirt with black lines? Deke pulled himself off of the counter and stood up, blinking wildly. Wow, his latest batch of bud was really good, if he was seeing this.
"Hey, buddy." The eight foot tall thing said in a gravelly voice, blinding green eyes shining. "You still open?"
"Til midnight." Deke heard himself say. The words didn't taste right, though. They felt swimmy. "Are you real?"
"Huh." Deke rubbed at his eyes. "Thought I was more high than usual."
The alien snorted at that. "What's on the menu?"
Deke gestured vaguely up and over his shoulder. There was a board full of flavors and varieties up there, from the usual (Peach, blueberry, strawberry) to the insane (Kelp, wheatgrass, persimmon). "I'm thinking you'll want a large."
"Hm." The thing deliberated for a bit, cocking his head from side to side. "One large strawberry spinach, one medium blueberry."
"Yeah, okay. That'll be $4.85." The red alien reached one of his lower arms into a pocket of his pants and came out with a fiver, slapping it down on the counter. Deke blinked once, then spun and got to work.
Three minutes later, he slid the smoothies over the counter and cha-chinged open the register, putting in the note with Lincoln's face on it.
"Keep the change." The alien said, picking up the smoothies. "And thanks. You're the first place that didn't panic and call the cops."
"For ordering something?" Deke asked, too addled to process the off-hand remark clearly. The giant red-skinned alien laughed a little as he left, heading for the tables. Deke tracked him as he slipped back out of the light from inside of the smoothie stand, and he could have sworn that there was somebody else waiting for the alien when it showed up. Took one of the smoothies, too, but he couldn't see too well. The other one was smaller, but then, next to an eight foot behemoth, who wouldn't be?
Deke grunted once, then out of a need to do something with the sudden return of boredom, reached for a napkin and got out his pen. He started sketching the thing that had been his only customer for the last three hours.
Might make a decent wood carving.
November 29th, 1998
It was getting colder now, even in the temperate California climate, and Deke was wearing a pullover jacket. Company policy dictated that he had to wear the stupid hat and keep his nametag on the outside of the jacket, though. It was cold enough that anybody with a lick of sense was staying indoors, and sales had been going down. He hated waiting around the extra hour on Fridays and Saturdays before closing up. Wasn't that the whole point of the clock ticking over at midnight, that it was tomorrow? Really, staying open until One in the morning on Sunday was stupid, because that was an extra hour of sleep he could be getting back at his apartment and…
"Uh, hi?" A young girl's voice spoke up nervously, breaking him out of his reverie. He blinked a few times and glanced down to see who was walking to him.
A kid, a girl that didn't look old enough to even be in junior high, was standing there in a dark black and purple leotard, with green eyes peering out from behind a mask with fake cat ears. Bright red hair hung behind her head, stopping short of her shoulders.
"Shouldn't you be in bed, kid?" Deke asked.
"Yes." She scoffed, and rolled her eyes a bit. "Not like that stops some people from deciding we have other things to do besides sleeping."
"Huh." Deke said, leaning back and stopping there. He wasn't sure how to answer that. "Sooo...you want a smoothie, then?"
"You sell anything else?"
"Nope. Just smoothies."
She looked up at the board of options, and her eyes went wide. "Wow. That's a lot of choices."
Deke chuckled a bit. "In orientation, we learned that the company got started up by a vegan beatnik back in the 60's. Some of the flavors don't sell well, but corporate says they stay."
She looked a little harder. "Can you mix flavors?"
"Yeah. Strawberry-banana's pretty popular."
"How about pomegranate-rosehip?"
Deke's mouth opened and closed a few times as he worked out the sound of that menu choice. "...Never made that one before."
"Perfect." And she was grinning like there was some secret joke only she knew. "One medium pomegranate-rosehip, and one blueberry."
"You want regular milk or almond milk?"
"Wow, you have that too?" The grin on her face reached devilish intensity. "Make the pom-rosehip almond milk."
Deke shook his head and got to work. It took him a little longer, because he had to throw out the small opened container of almond milk and crack a fresh one. But he eventually got it all settled, and turned back to the counter to settle the bill.
She had gotten up onto one of the barstools and was holding his newest woodcarving, the one of the red, four-armed alien from last week. It was rough and unfinished, and…
"Hey, put that down kid, it's not finished yet!" Deke snapped. She startled and did actually drop it, but thankfully not so far that it broke when it clattered onto the serving counter. "Geez, you make a habit of grabbing other people's stuff?"
"Sorry, I...sorry." She stammered out. "It's different."
"Yeah, so was he." Deke set down the smoothies. "That'll be $3.78." Another five dollar bill crossed the barrier between them, and he pushed back a one and change. She took the bill and shoved the change back towards him. "Kid, your change…"
"Keep it." She said. "Coins are too noisy." She picked up the smoothies and got ready to turn around, but paused long enough to look at the figurine he'd been working on. "Oh, one thing." She said in a too bright voice. "That thing should have four eyes."
"Yeah. Four arms, four eyes. Obvious, right?" She suggested, and trudged off for the table at the very back of the pavilion. Deke stuck his head out of the front opening and watched her walk off, and this time, he could have sworn that something the size of a small dog was standing on two legs on the table, and complaining in a high-pitched voice as she sat the heavily doctored smoothie down next to it.
He stared at the girl and her strange little pet for a few seconds more, then shook his head and reached for the carving again. "And they say Vegas is weird."
February 4th, 1999
The smoothie stand cut its hours in December and January, but the start of February saw closing time revert back to normal from the 7 P.M. close that corporate used to reduce costs in the deadest months of the year. Deke resumed his usual evening post with a grin and a chuckle, and a lingering sense of trepidation. He'd cut back on his harsher blends and was growing a more mellow variety now with some cuttings he'd gotten from down south. After his experiences last fall, he wasn't in a hurry to get anywhere near as torched as he'd been then. He didn't need to be seeing aliens that he might have imagined, he just needed to take the edge off.
His brain had given him plenty of inspiration, though, and now there was a little wooden figurine of a four-armed alien standing on a base behind the counter that he kept fiddling with. Something about the feet kept giving him all sorts of trouble, because he couldn't figure out what they were supposed to look like, and it wasn't perfect yet…
And then a sudden rush of wind and a blue blur screamed past the front of the stand, kicking up a loose bit of paper in the lot and making him yelp backwards. When the dust cleared, a blue-skinned dinosaur in a freaking track suit and helmet was standing there, and that red-haired girl with the cat mask was right beside him. Her hair was a little singed, and there was soot on one of the dinosaur's sleeves.
"Woah." Was all Deke could think to say. The dinosaur cocked its head to the side, then looked to the wooden carving.
"You made that?" The dinosaur rasped, seeming rather impressed by it.
Deke blinked. "I thought I mellowed my weed out. I'm still seeing things."
"No, we're real. And you shouldn't be smoking that junk anyways." The girl said, rolling her green eyes behind her mask. She slapped the dinosaur on the chest and turned back to the table. "And if you get me anything besides strawberry, mister, you're in so much trouble!" She shouted over her shoulder.
"Yeah, yeah." The blue dinosaur muttered, shaking its head. It turned his attention on Deke. "Glad to see you're open late again. We really needed something to drink."
"Yeah. I'll bet." Deke motioned to the dinosaur's tail, just finally noticing an ember stuck to it. "You've got a bit of...uh, fire there." The thing blinked, glanced back, and then hissed before patting it out with clawed fingertips. "What happened? Burning building?"
"Explosions." The dinosaur said, nonplussed when Deke stared at it, not sure if the alien was telling the truth or making stuff up. "I'll have a...let's try the orange durian blend. Never had durian. And a strawberry for the dweeb. Two larges."
"Extra thirsty tonight?" Deke guessed, getting to work. The strawberry was easy, but the Durian...there was only one small bit of it, wrapped carefully in a package kept up in the freezer with instructions to do not thaw until immediately before consumption. Deke had heard horror stories of a batch of the fruit spilling out on a highway somewhere that had resulted in calls to the local water treatment plant over smell complaints. It was illegal to sell in some countries.
Even a small bit of it stank to high heaven, and Deke held his nose as he ran it through the blender with the other ingredients. He held it out to the dinosaur at arm's length, and even the thing flinched and reeled away a little. "Dude, that smells nasty."
"You asked for it." Deke grunted, taking the fiver the dinosaur passed back and quickly ringing up the sale. "Just do me a favor, if you decide to dump it out, can you take it a few miles away first? As it is, my boss is never going to believe I actually sold one. I don't need people complaining about the smell."
The dinosaur took a quick slurp, and its face brightened up. "Huh. Tastes okay, though." And then it snapped a hand out, picking up the wood carving with a free hand. "You made a statue of Fourarms."
"M...the alien. That's his name." The blue dinosaur explained, after a bit of hesitation.
"A little obvious, isn't it?" Deke said over his shoulder. "He's got four arms and his name is Fourarms?"
"Hey, Fourarms is an awesome name!"
"Whatever you say, man." Deke held out his hand for the statue. "Can I get it back?" The dinosaur did hand it back, thankfully, and Deke handed it the dollar bill. "You want the coins?"
"Nah, you can keep the change."
"Heh. That's what she said last time." Deke rolled his eyes. "So, Fourarms. You friends with him or something?"
"...I guess. Why?"
"Just wondering. I mean, this is twice now I've seen that girl, so…" Deke shrugged. "Weird things seem to happen on my shift."
"You want us to leave?"
"Naah. You're not bothering me." Deke waved it off. "Just drink that junk quick, before the smell sticks to everything. And for the love of God, don't get any on you."
The dinosaur blinked, then smiled, and Deke couldn't help but shiver.
"Bro? Don't get any on her, either." Deke quickly warned him. The dino's face fell a little.
"Spoilsport." It pouted. "Oh, that statue? You've got the feet wrong. He has two toes, kind of like a claw."
"I was wondering about that." Deke murmured. The dinosaur blitzed over to the same table in the back of the pavilion as the girl and her pet thing had sat at after last Thanksgiving, and the two fell into easy conversation, too soft for Deke to hear. Soft until the dinosaur shoved his biohazard-level smoothie across the table to her, and she let out a little shriek and waved at the air in front of her nose before using her straw to take a sip. He could see them clearly, at least, because the pavilion's lamp had finally been fixed. Deke brushed off the encounter and got back to his statue, starting the long process of altering the red alien's feet to match the description given.
"Fourarms." The smoothie salesman muttered, wondering how he was going to explain to his boss why they needed to re-order frozen Durian.
March 20th, 1999
The next time that Deke saw that crazy girl who liked to hang around with aliens, the sun hadn't even gone down yet, which was weird even for her and her pets. Weirder still, they didn't walk up to the counter like usual. Instead, with the furious sound of beating insect wings, a giant green insect with eyestalks came crashing down behind the stand where he'd been on a smoke break, and she jumped off of it and tucked and rolled. The mask was the same, but she was wearing blue jeans and a purple shirt with a blue jacket.
"Holy...okay, what the hell?!" Deke got out, a hand to his chest. The thing groaned in a high, squeaky voice as a spindly leg and one wing twitched, and the girl stormed over, her eyes glowing with purple fire.
"Something with a lot of sugar. A lot." She snapped.
Deke's mind raced for the right smoothie for the occasion, and he found himself asking a very stupid question. Stupid, in that it might get his face caved in. "What the hell happened? Flew for too long?"
"Vampire bats. Real ones." The girl snapped, and Deke finally caught sight of the multitude of tears in her jacket, and then flicked his gaze to the bug, who was peppered with bites that were oozing green fluid. "Hurry up!"
"Right. In that case…" Deke dashed back into the smoothie booth and tore the refrigerator doors open. The shop may have been started by a hippie vegan, but corporate had managed to expand the menu. Not enough for chili dogs, but enough that they could compete a little bit with the ice cream chains.
One sloppy spoonful at a time, Deke put together the unhealthiest, most sugar-laden combination he'd ever tried. It was something he'd only ever imagined and never had the guts to try, mostly because the sugar drop would have made him feel miserable for the rest of the day.
He ran out back and held out the El Grande sized smoothie, the continuing glow from her eyes still making him shiver. He had been able to feel her staring at him, even through the walls. "There. One max-sized Vanilla-Blueberry-Pineapple-Carrot-Butter Rum Smoothie. Pay me after."
She gestured for the cup with one hand, and a bright pink glow surrounded it. Deke leapt back and made a gurgling noise in the back of his throat as the cup was ripped out of his hand and floated through the air down next to the bug alien's open mouth.
"Drink it, Doofus! Now!" The girl ordered, and he could hear the panic at last. She'd been mad before, but now she was afraid for it. Worried for the alien. It grabbed at the straw and started sucking the ridiculously sweet mixture down, and after a few gulps, it came up for air and groaned.
"Oh, wow. Sugar rush."
"Yeah, I'm sure that's not all the blood you're missing at all." The girl snapped at it. "Keep drinking, I'll be right back." At least the burning glow had faded from her eyes, although Deke still swallowed a little when she came up to him again and sighed. "Sorry about scaring you. I was just…"
"Is that bug pal of yours going to be okay?"
"Stinkfly squishes easy, but he bounces back quick enough." She reassured him, laughing a little. "Good thing it wasn't Ripjaws." She added, and it sounded like a joke he wasn't in on. "How much do I owe you?"
"That one goes for $3.50 on its own." He gestured to her jeans. "You actually have pockets this time, any chance…"
She laughed and nodded, digging out four singles. "Yeah. I'll take the change this time."
"Done." He went back inside, rang it up and came out with two quarters. "I just realized something. I never did get your name."
"It's Lucky Girl."
"What?" She asked, with a bit of an edge in her voice.
"That's actually not a bad name. That blue dinosaur said the big red guy was called Fourarms, and yours is better." He paused. "It's a fake name, right? Like a superhero thing?"
She brightened up at that, and was about to say something when the bug cut in, his voice much stronger. "Hey, Dweeb! You have got to try this! It's like drinking all the flavors of a soda fountain at once!"
"There is no way I'm getting backwash from Stinkfly!" She shouted back at him. She turned back around, considering, and Deke chuckled.
"Hang on. I'll get you a small of what I made for him. There's a little left over in the mixer."
"I've got a little money left…"
"Keep it." Deke waved her off as she reached back for her pocket again. "You came in here and I honestly thought you were going to roast me. You were panicking pretty bad. You could use a break, and nobody else is going to want to drink that." She sank to the ground at that, and finally let her exhaustion take her.
When Deke came back out with the leftover 'sugar-bomb' smoothie, he reached down and picked up the stub of the joint he'd been working on when he'd been interrupted. She took a long sip of the mix while he puffed up again, and made a face.
"Ugh." She said, her face wrinkling up. "I can't believe he likes this."
"To be fair, you're not bleeding out like he was." Deke glanced past Lucky Girl and stared at the bug. "Wait. Is that blood?"
"It's fluid that should be inside of him, and isn't." She shrugged. "But it's healing up. I think. It usually does." The bug threw out a thumbs-up towards them as it sat up at last, still slurping happily away at the mix. She turned her attention on him and frowned. "You really shouldn't do that, you know."
"Smoke?" Deke cocked his head to the side.
"Yeah, in general. But especially that."
"Cigarettes kill you. This just mellows me out." He protested.
"Still isn't good for you." She muttered darkly, and he got the feeling that she was used to winning arguments. "Don't you want to do something with your life?"
"Besides make smoothies for an insane little girl who spends her nights hanging around with aliens?" Deke countered dryly.
She pointed a finger at him. "Just...would it kill you to not smoke that junk? It makes you smell terrible."
"Kid, I work at a smoothie shack, I carve things out of wood nobody wants to buy, and I smoke pot so I can forget about all of that." Deke rolled his eyes.
"I'd buy one." She muttered under her breath.
He lowered the joint away from his mouth. "What was that?"
Her head came up, and there was determination in those green eyes behind the mask. "I'll tell you what. You, stop smoking that junk. For a month. And I'll buy one of your carvings. If you make it of XLR8."
"The blue dinosaur."
"Oh." Deke thought about it. "Ohhh. Terrible name."
She snorted once. "Try telling him that."
May 15th, 1999
The closer they got to summer, the busier the smoothie stand got. Deke had kept up with his carving, and stupid as it sounded in his head, he had stopped taking a joint with him when he went to work. Not that Lucky Girl or any of her alien friends had been around lately to make sure he was holding to his promise, but…
A clearer head had been good for some things, and worse for others. But it was terrific for his craft.
He'd worked his way up from the small pieces, and had started making carvings out of larger blocks, starting with split firewood logs as a base, even staining and finishing them after. The complexity of the pieces meant that most of the work he ended up doing at home, using his spare time during the quiet moments of running the shack to either draw up new designs, or read woodworking or craftsman's journals for ideas. Through it all, the inspiration remained the same; the strange aliens who always showed up after everyone else had gone home. To his surprise, there was one group of firefighters in their logo-emblazoned T-Shirts one night who took one look at the blue dinosaur alien he'd just finished and brought with him as a good luck charm and bought it from him on the spot for $40. He'd lost the statue of XLR8, as 'Lucky Girl' had called him, but gained a new source of income in an unlikely place.
His personal form of insanity had apparently become a form of mass delusion in Bellwood, and every person who saw his wooden figurines that went a little bit pale and didn't get them confused with that trashy 'Super Hero Alien Buddies' TV show asked to buy one. Just to have some proof that they weren't crazy. That it was real.
Deke knew better than to tell folks how he knew how to carve them so accurately. He ended up making halfhearted lies about 'folks coming in and telling stories', and how he just guessed at what the aliens looked like.
But to his surprise, his work was getting better. Cleaner. Practice and a desire to make the best piece possible was driving him now.
The smoothie stand was about a quarter mile off from the local community college, and they got their fair share of business from the instructors and students there. Deke perked up when he caught sight of another dedicated smoothie user on the way to the stand, following his usual jogging route. The teacher was rail thin and tall as a lightpost, and he had a routine. He'd jog in spandex with a fanny pack, a baseball cap with the school's softball team logo on it, and a shirt that read, 'Philosophy; It's Only Hard if You Think About It Too Much.' He'd to the stand. He'd order a small kiwi/bean sprout/alfalfa smoothie, down it all in a hurry, then immediately dive back into the rest of the route. Deke started to turn to get the ingredients out, but stopped and did a double take. There was someone else beside the professor today, a more heavyset fellow about the same age as his usual customer, and because of that, the jog was going slower than usual. So, he waited, waving as they got closer.
"Evening, professor." Deke greeted the tall, thin fellow, who was wearing his usual philosophy T-Shirt. "Who's your friend?"
"Ah, this guy? Colleague of mine from the art department." The philosophy professor grinned. "He told me his doctor wanted him to lose 25 pounds, so I thought I'd introduce him to my self-inflicted form of suffering. Added bonus, he's never been to a Mr. Smoothie's before." He gestured to his friend. "Go ahead, Phil. Order anything you like, but it has to be a small, and you have to include at least one vegetable in the mix."
"And here I thought vegetables only came in salads." Phil the art teacher complained, a heavy sheen of sweat over his face and neck. He sidled up to the counter and looked up at the 'wall of ingredients', then whistled. "Just how many ingredients do you have up there?"
"I stopped counting months ago." Deke chuckled. "But, for a first timer, you'll probably want to stick to just two flavors. Maybe...carrot and apple? Good for smoothie virgins."
"Yeah, that sounds good." Phil said, looking back to his fellow teacher. "How about you, Stan?"
"He knows what I like." The philosophy teacher said laconically, and Deke realized for the first time that he actually had a name to associate with the jogging teacher.
Deke got to work, putting the industrial grade blenders through their paces. As he worked, the art teacher leaned over the counter a bit and whistled appreciatively. "That's some decent work there."
"Hm? It's just a smoothie, man."
"No, not that. Those wooden statues there." Deke paused in his work and followed Phil's finger, up to the row of his most recent carvings; one more each of Fourarms and XLR8, as Lucky Girl and the blue dinosaur had informed him, and finally, one of the strange eyestalk bug alien who'd all but died not more than six feet from the dumpster. "Very unique."
"Oh. Yeah, okay." Deke started his blenders up again and finished prepping their smoothies, then set them on the counter. "That'll be $2.74, Stan."
The first teacher came up, zipped open his fanny pack, and pulled out a wallet. He placed three singles on the counter and scooped up his drink. "Keep the change, Deke."
"Heh. Thanks." Deke looked back to Phil. "I sell those, if you're interested."
"Really? These statues?" Phil cocked his head to the side and scrutinized the one of Fourarms in more detail. "Wait. Could I see that one?"
"Yeah, hang on." Deke got the Fourarms carving down and set it down for Phil to see. "He goes for 35 bucks if you're interested."
Phil picked it up and stared at it carefully, turning it around in his hands. "I thought I had imagined it." He uttered softly, and his fingers traced lines around the outstretched limbs of the red alien. "I was at a symposium in San Francisco last summer, and...and this...he was there. I didn't think it was real the next day. That thing, jumping over all of our cars on the Golden Gate Bridge, and…" There was a glazed look in Phil's eyes, and he finally shook himself out of it. "How much did you say?"
Phil dug out his own wallet and slapped down a pair of twenties. "It's worth more. Consider it a tip that a starving artist deserves. Your technique is rough, but you have a lot of talent. Have you ever considered working in other mediums?"
"Clay? Marble? You could even make a plaster of paris mold and then do some casting, make a lot of these all at once that way."
"Ah. Well, I…" Deke wavered a little. "Never tried, actually. Can't afford it."
Phil smiled. "You ever thought about taking a class in College? Learn about it for cheap that way. And community college is a lot cheaper than those noisy four-years. Just buy the one class." He got out a business card from his wallet and handed it over. "Think about it. If you're interested in branching out, sorry, wood joke there...give me a call. Because I think you'd do some terrific work."
"Uh. Thanks." Deke blinked a few times, and waved as the two professors took the Fourarms carving and their drinks and went off to one of the nearby picnic tables to drink.
With nobody else coming up to demand a sale, Deke had a few moments to lean back and relax. He stared at the card in his hands with the art professor's contact info on it, turning it this way and that. He couldn't help but hear Lucky Girl's voice, a month or so ago…
I'd buy one. If it's of XLR8.
"Everyone has their favorites." Deke exhaled softly, and smirked a little bit. Strangely enough, he didn't miss the buzz of his homegrown ganja. A pair of twenties were in his pocket and his shelf was a little emptier. More work to do when he got home…
Him? A College kid?
This was pretty good too.
May 19th, 1999
Working at a smoothie stand was long and tedious work, characterized by frequent bouts of boredom dispersed with brief moments of either casual work or frantic output...although he was spared the 'lunch hour rush' due to the hours he worked. There was plenty of time to think, and before he'd quit because of a promise to a little kid, plenty of time to smoke as well.
But in the year and change that he'd worked the stand to closing, Deke had never, not once, been robbed. Staring down the barrel of a pistol was a surreal experience for him, and there was no trace of the THC he'd relied on for months to sustain him. No chill at all, just fear and terror.
"Come on, man! Move it!" The first of the teenagers in ragged flannel and baggy jeans with a red do-rag snarled, the smell of chewing tobacco on his breath. The second one holding the gun didn't say anything, but he looked way twitchier, and his hand was shaking a bit. Not a good sign.
Deke reached into the register with shaky hands and came up with all the money that was inside of it. The first kid snatched it out of his hands, thumbed through it, and then swore.
"I said all the money, you stupid reject!"
"That is all the money!" Deke insisted. "What the hell did you think, huh? That this was a bank? It's a fricking smoothie stand!" That apparently wasn't the answer that either of the kids wanted to hear, because the first one pulled up a gun out of the waistband of his own pants and took aim at him.
People liked to talk about seeing their lives flashing in front of their eyes, but all Deke saw was blinding pink. And then the pop-pop of a pair of gunshots went off and he screamed and fell back, expecting to be dead.
But he wasn't, and the pink he'd seen was still hovering in the air, a translucent sheet like glass a little cracked but still standing. Then there were loud, crunching footsteps and the two hoodlums screamed like little girls.
"Fun's over, creepazoids!" A familiar growly voice snapped out, and there was the noise of metal being crunched into a ball. Deke pulled himself back up to his feet in time to see the giant red alien with four arms and four eyes-Fourarms-standing with its teeth bared and growling into the terrified faces of the two would-be robbers and killers, holding them each up by a leg and with its other two hands having crunched the guns into scrap. It dropped the ruined weapons to the ground, and then lifted them up a bit more so its other two hands could grab their heads. "I think you two need a time-out." And then it clunked their heads together, just hard enough to knock them unconscious.
The bodies were dropped to the ground, and then Fourarms turned to Deke. "You all right, dude? That was a close call there."
"I...I...you…" Deke stammered. The pink glass in midair disappeared, and Lucky Girl came walking up out of the shadows, a faint pink glow around her hands. "You...saved me?"
"It's what I do!" Fourarms crowed, flexing his arms like he was in a Mr. Universe competition. And then the girl punched him in the side of the leg with a scowl, and the giant alien had the good sense to flinch. "Well, okay. It's what we do."
"Yeah. Thank goodness for this guy that you can't sleep without running yourself into exhaustion first." She went from irritated with a shade of twitchiness to outright concern, and her green eyes lost that eerie glow behind her mask as she looked at Deke. "You okay, though? You're in shock. You need to call the police, tell them you were robbed."
"No, he wasn't robbed, he was almost robbed." Fourarms corrected her. "And we stopped it. Good save with the guns there." He added after the fact, and a bit of his bravado melted away as he looked down at the two unconscious hooligans. "That was...close."
Deke still hadn't moved, and didn't move until Lucky Girl hopped over the counter, went over to the phone, and handed it to him.
"Call the police. Now." She ordered him, and Deke shakily tapped out 9-1-1 and put it to the side of his face.
"911, what is the nature of your emergency?"
"Yeah, I'm...I'm at Mr. Smoothies, out on Lexington and 54th? I just...there were these robbers, and, I was…" He turned to look back at Lucky Girl and Fourarms, and froze.
They were gone, as if they'd never been there, and only two unconscious thieves and a mangled pile of gunsteel and shattered wood was left to give evidence to the scene.
"Sir? Sir, are you injured?"
"They saved me." Deke whispered, sinking to the ground, and he realized he was crying. "They saved me."
July 28th, 1999
It had been quiet after that; the police had come by and arrested the would-be robbers, collected the flattened bullet rounds from the ground, and taken his statement. The next day, his boss had called him at home to make sure he was still doing all right. But he hadn't seen either Lucky Girl or any of the aliens she hung around with after that. A month went by, the longest that he'd gone without a visit from them, and Deke began to wonder if they'd left Bellwood entirely, or had just stopped...whatever it was they did that allowed them to impress firefighters, scare art teachers, and save a former drug addict. He wondered if they would even care.
He kept working though, both at the stand, and on his other projects. He had a promise to keep, after all, and after the robbery attempt, there was news to share. If they ever came back.
Two months and change later, he finally saw Lucky Girl and one of her alien friends again, and it was like no time had passed at all. No, he caught himself as the giant red alien Fourarms strolled down the street without a care while Lucky Girl rode on his right shoulder. Time had passed. Something was different. He just didn't know what. The alien seemed more relaxed, and Lucky Girl was laughing at something it said. Despite himself, Deke broke out into a grin as they got out from underneath the streetlights and came marching up to the stand.
"If it isn't two of my favorite heroes." Deke said, and they both glowed under the praise. "Was beginning to think I'd never see you again."
"Yeah, well." Lucky Girl's smile dimmed slightly, but she didn't lose it. She looked over to Fourarms and made a slight movement with her head, and it picked her up and set her down. "Busy summer. Sorry. I didn't think you'd miss us much. How have you been? Since...you know."
"Rattled, at first." Deke said. "I'll tell you both all about it after we get you situated. What are you thirsty for? My treat this time."
"Seriously?" Fourarms brightened up fast. "In that case, El Grande sized...lavender and lemongrass." Lucky Girl whipped her head back around to stare up at him, and the jolly red giant rubbed the back of his head with one hand. "I'll share?" It asked sheepishly. The grin the girl in the mask gave the giant alien could have replaced the sun.
"Make mine a small blackberry mint. Since 'tiny' over here is sharing his." She laughed, and went running when the massive alien started chasing after her playfully. Deke rolled his eyes and got to work, and in short order had both of them prepared. He walked them out to the table they were sitting at...Fourarms sitting on the ground beside it cross-legged, actually...and took a seat himself.
"One Lavender/Lemongrass and one blackberry mint." He said, setting the order down and adjusting the small satchel case he'd brought out with him. "I'm kind of glad you two came by, actually."
"Oh?" Lucky Girl asked, pulling the straw out of hers and shoving it into Fourarm's much larger cup without a care in the world. She took a long sip and made a face at it, and the alien chuffed.
"It grows on you." She responded, taking one more sip for the road before pulling her straw back out to work on her own smoothie. "Sorry. You're glad? Why?"
"First off, my manager?" Deke reached into his satchel and pulled out a small credit-card sized piece of plastic. "Wanted me to give you two this." It was blank aside from the Mr. Smoothies logo on the front, and Lucky Girl flipped it over twice before looking back at him for an explanation. "There's about 250 dollars pre-loaded on that certificate. It'll work at any Mr. Smoothie's. The way my boss figures it, you probably don't get a lot of thanks for what you do, you two and the rest of your alien friends. So...Well. Free drinks. For a couple of years, at least, given how often you stop by."
"That's awesome." Fourarms gushed, and it swiped the card from Lucky Girl to admire it.
"Hey, Doofus. Take it easy." Lucky Girl criticized him. "Heroes don't ask for stuff, remember?"
"Yeah, but...well, if they give it to us…" The alien reasoned. The girl rolled her eyes and sighed.
"Fine. But don't go getting a swelled head."
"Good." Lucky Girl turned back to Deke. "You said first off, though. What else are you hiding in there?"
"You made me a promise about three months back, Lucky Girl. Remember what it was?"
She thought hard for about ten seconds before she caught on, and her mouth parted into a surprised 'o'.
"I don't have that much money on me." She admitted. And Deke guffawed exactly once.
"Not a problem. After that, I got started on making a whole bunch of carvings. Fourarms here, XLR8, that flying bug thing you showed up with once...People are actually buying them." He leaned an arm on the table and looked across to the girl, and then to the giant alien off of his left shoulder. "Believe it or not, an art teacher from the community college nearby even bought one of Fourarms here. Said he liked my work, asked me to give him a call. This fall? I start a couple of art classes. Between what I'm getting from my woodcarvings and the scholarship the guy got for me? I'm set."
"That's incredible!" Lucky Girl squealed happily. "I'm so happy for you!" And she was, that kind of joy was infectious and impossible to fake.
"So, I figured, I owed you two a little something as well." Deke went on, reaching into his bag. He came up with a slightly larger statue of Fourarms, carved from much harder wood than before and painted to match the creature sitting in front of him. Fourarms grabbed it and brought it up close to his four eyes.
"Oh, man. This is the coolest thing I've ever seen!"
"Really, Doofus?" Lucky Girl deadpanned.
"Okay...second coolest." The alien amended, and he looked to the strange emblem on his shoulder for half a second. "But it's totally radical. Thanks, man."
"Don't mention it. And I have one for you as well, Lucky Girl." Deke went on.
"One of XLR8? You didn't have to, you know…"
"It's not XLR8." Deke winked at her, and when he set the next statue down, he watched her face as it froze in surprise.
The alien and the girl stared at the second statue for several seconds, until she finally reached out and poked at it with a finger.
"Go on." Deke encouraged her. "It's yours."
Lucky Girl picked it up like it was a priceless, fragile treasure. "It's me." She breathed.
"It is you." Deke confirmed, and she looked at the carving of herself; a girl with painted red hair, tiny green eyes behind a mask, and a dark purple and black bodysuit. "Even got the leotard."
"Unitard." She corrected him. "Leotards don't cover the legs."
"Ah. Unitard. Got it." Deke said. "You like it?"
"I love it." She admitted, pulling it close to her chest. "Thank you. But you didn't have to. Stopping bad guys, being heroes...it's what we do."
"Hm, maybe." Deke admitted. "But you saved my life." She opened her mouth to respond, but he cut her off with a shake of her head. "Before that. When...when you told me that you'd buy one of my statues. You may never have gotten the chance to, but other people did. You saved my life, kid, even before you two stopped those robbers from shooting me. So...thank you." He gave her a slow nod, then held out his hand to the giant alien. "And thank you."
Fourarms clasped hands with him and shook it once, and Lucky Girl spoke for the both of them. "You're welcome." She said, still grinning to beat the band. "You're probably going to go on and be some big famous artist after this. Who are we supposed to get a smoothie from when you leave?"
"I'll leave instructions." Deke said, meaning every word of it. "Real simple ones, for the deadheads who work the closing shift. 'Take the money, make the shake, and no screaming.' Should be easy enough. Although, given the reputation you two are getting around town? Might not be much of an issue." The two looked at each other again, something unreadable passing between them, but Deke didn't catch it. He shrugged and got back up. "I'll leave you to it. Night, Lucky Girl. Night, Fourarms."
As he walked off, he could hear them still arguing, mostly over the fact that he gave the girl top billing over the alien, and a hundred different other little things that got said between slurps before they both finally finished them off, got up, and went strolling off back out into the night, back into a town that didn't really know its heroes all that well.
But in a small and obscure smoothie stand, there was one aspiring artist who did.
And it was a start.