It was Friday morning and I was in in the middle of my final exam. The Metropolis University hall was filled with hundreds of fellow law students eager to make their mark and prove their legal worth. The hush of the room was spoiled only by a quiet murmer of someone muttering in the background. Flush with nervousness, I looked around the room then opened my exam booklet.
I couldn't read the exam booklet and didn't know why. It took me a whole three minutes to realise it was written in gibberish.
I can't read gibberish. I'm verbally fluent in it. The same way I'm practiced in talking rubbish and shit and can recognise when someone is blowing hot air up my ass. But reading gibberish is a whole different ball game and completely beyond my capabilities.
I looked down at my knees, searching for inspiration, then suddenly realised my legs were bare. I wasn't wearing pants. Wait a minute...
I wasn't wearing anything at all.
Before I could finish freaking out, a phone rang. Since we were all the middle of an exam, I thought this was especially rude. Phones should be turned off. It was disrupting my concentration and drawing unnecessary attention to my nakedness.
The phone rang again and I woke with a start. I was at home in bed and the phone was ringing. I ripped off the bed covers and checked.
Yep I was wearing pajamas.
I fumbled around bleary-eyed until my hand landed on the phone. The clock said 6am.
"Hello?" I asked the receiver, "This better be good."
"We found your car."
I sat bolt upright in bed. This was the best news I'd had all week.
The voice was Donnie Zabrowsky. Donnie was my neighbour, and he was a cop. For nearly a week he'd been on the look out for my car, after it was stolen outside a service station. The fact that it had been stolen by an invisible man whilst some scumbag held a gun to my head spoke volumes about my life.
I was supposed to be a newly created superhero. My success rate at deterring crime so far was... unpredictable.
Getting my car back would be a definite positive step. Of all the super powers I could have been blessed with, super speed was not one of them. A superhero who had to catch the bus didn't strike me as particularly threatening.
"Meet me outside the station," Donnie told me on the phone. Then before I could ask how I would get there, he hung up. Donnie is not the kind of guy to waste words on the phone.
The knowledge that my car had been found motivated me into action. I leapt out of bed and practically floated to the door. When I got to the door and realised the handle was at least thirty centimetres lower than expected, I looked down.
I wasn't practically floating. I was actually floating.
This put a whole new perspective on things. I was so shocked I did a double take, and then I fell down.
Thirty centimetres isn't very far to fall, but of course I landed oddly, tripped, then fell on my bum. I sat on the floor too stunned to form words, which is pretty much how I am most of the time.
I had flown! Levitated! Whatever...
This was a new power. A solid power. Not some mental hoojickey that may or may not exist.
I am Kate Lowe, Subliminal Charm! Let criminals everywhere quiver and shake in their boots at the mere mention of my name, for I will follow them wherever they dare to hide!
Also, my leg kind of hurts.
My ankle was already swelling. I'd twisted it and probably sprained it. Nothing felt broken. Maybe I could develop magical fast-paced healing abilities now?
Wait for iiiiiit.
Well fuck me.
I grabbed hold of the bed and pulled myself upright. I showered, got changed and limped into the kitchen for a triple chocolate crunchy nut protein bar. I had protein bars now because everybody knew superheros should be beefed up. Even the female superheros could not be excused if they were weedy. The packaging swore up and down that the triple chocolate crunchy bit did not subtract from its many vast nutritional achievements and I had chosen to believe it.
Why? You wanna make an issue of it?
After the triple chocolate crunchy nut protein bar I figured I'd be choc full of crunchy goodness and enough energy to replicate the levitation incident. Since I wasn't sure how I'd achieved it in the first place, I had a broad spectrum of things to try and infinite opportunity to be successful.
At least that's what I told myself as I stared at my feet and concentrated on levitating.
I concentrated on how much my ankle hurt and how much I didn't want to have to walk to the bus stop and catch public transport.
My ankle started throbbing. No levitating occurred.
Hmmmph. I didn't have time for this. And what kind of superpower was levitation anyway? It wasn't nearly so cool as say blowing things up or having lazer eyes.
"You stink," I told my feet. They didn't respond nor appear offended so I wedged them into a pair of sneakers and limped out the door.
The bus stop for the 79 sits on Main street about six hundred metres from my apartment complex on Smith Street. So far I have only caught the 79 once and I count the fact that I am still alive as one of my greatest achievements.
The number 79 bus is the public transport equivalent of the abandoned shed behind the football oval in high school. It's the place where people go to bum smokes, buy drugs and share bodily fluids. You can see things on the 79 that you would be ashamed to tell others about.
The bus driver is a hairy bearded bikie with a lead foot and poor hygiene.
Fortunately the bus seemed quiet today. I jumped on, bought my ticket and slid past the old lady who was muttering to herself and clutching four hundred plastic bags. There was a teenager at the back of the bus who was holding a paper bag and looked like he was sniffing something in it.
I chose to sit half way down, opposite a blonde guy in his mid twenties. He looked like the safest person on board. He was wearing jeans and a t-shirt and seemed relatively normal.
His eyes were hidden behind an awesome pair of face hugging Oakleys. Blondie flashed me a million dollar smile and I had to remind myself that the type of people who catch the 79 are not generally flirting material. Of course this didn't say very much for me either.
The bus dropped me on in central Metropolis and I walked the four blocks to Metropolis Police Station. By the time I got there my foot was swollen enough to make my shoes feel tight, my ankle was screaming blue murder and I was cursing the dirty scumbag who'd stolen my car.
Donnie was waiting for me in the station parking lot next to a beat up blue and white police car. I didn't ask why he couldn't come and pick me up straight from my apartment, and he took one look at my face and thought better of asking me what had taken so long.
"Where's my car?' I asked, searching the station carpark and coming up trumps.
"C'mon," said Donnie, "I'll take you there." He said it as though it were a peace offerring, and he looked concerned and consoling. This instantly got me suspicious.
I got into the cop car, "Exactly what state is my car in?"
"I dunno yet," said Donnie, starting the engine.
My car had been dumped on the side of the highway out of Metropolis. There were already three policeman there when Donnie pulled up.
One was directing traffic because evidently the general public are too stupid to drive around a vehicle on the side of the road without assistance. The other two were eyeing up my car with one taking notes.
Donnie waltzed up to the note taker. I shuffled and tried to favour my good leg.
"This the owner?" the note taker asked Donnie.
"Yeah," replied Donnie, "Reported it stolen last week."
"Of course," said the note taker as if he didn't believe it.
I looked over my car. Someone had clearly been joyriding in it. There was a huge scratch that stretched the length of the car down the left side and one of the side mirrors was smashed. The front end of the car was crumpled and someone had scrawled obscene messages on the windows.
I felt my lower lip quiver.
"It's ok," said Donnie. He put his arm around my shoulder and guided me towards the car. I couldn't remember Donnie ever putting his arm around my shoulder. "This is all completely repairable," he assured me.
Well if Donnie said it, it must be true.
"Does the note on the back mean anything?" the other office asked. He pointed his pen at the rear windscreen.
Someone had scrawled across in big red drippy letters, "I'm watching you."
"Creepy," said Donnie.
"Thought it might mean something," said the note taker.
Everybody looked at me.
The note was definitely creepy, but since I didn't really know the guy who had stolen my car I couldn't think of anything really good to explain it. I shrugged, "Your guess is as good as mine."
"Hmmm," said Donnie, "Let's open the trunk. You got the keys?" Everybody looked at me again. I wasn't too thrilled with the attention. I reached into my pocket for the keys. My hands came out empty. I tried my industrial sized handbag. I pulled out my wallet, my phone, my house keys, mints, cough lozenges, tampons, lip balm, tissues, spare ammo for my Desert Eagles, pepper spray and a handful of pens but no car keys.
The four male police officers looked at me like I'd dropped down from Mars.
"Uhhh," I informed them, starting to blush, "I guess I left them at home." There was a moment of silence as they all bit their tongues to keep from making some gender related wisecrack.
"No problem." One of the fellow police officers finally broke the silence, "I've been waiting all day to use this." He held up a crowbar.
"Sweet," said Donnie.
I said, "Gulp."
They planted the end of the crowbar between the trunk lid and the bumper. The lid groaned in defiance for a few minutes before it finally crashed open with a bang. Donnie and the other cop peered in side. I was standing five metres away out of the line of any flying trunk lid debris and couldn't see.
"Hmmm," said Donnie.
"Damn," said the other cop.
"What?" I asked in concern, then when Donnie didn't reply, "What is it!"
Donnie came over to me and put his arm back around my shoulder, steering me away. "C'mon," he said, "Let's go get a drink. This might take a while."
"What's in my trunk Donnie?" I tried to dodge around him.
He caught me easily, "You don't want to see." I shot him a dirty glare and scrambled out of his grip on my shirt. He didn't try to stop me the second time from approaching my car.
I looked in the trunk. It was mostly empty. Except. Well. Mostly empty.
There was an eye. In the middle of my trunk was a disembodied eye. It had little entrailing bits out the back that looked slithery and seemed to tremble in the slight breeze.
I looked at the eye, and the eye looked at me.
I'm watching you.
"Oh my god," I said, "I think I need to sit down." Donnie led me away from my car towards the bushes. He said me down on the grass and pushed my head between my knees. I took big gulps of air until the dizziness passed and wondered why someone would want to put an eye in my car.
Heck I wasn't even that interesting to watch.
"You alright," asked Donnie, when I'd started breathing easier.
I responded with a question, "I'm not getting my car back, am I?"
"Not anytime soon."
"It's ok," I told him, "I don't want it. You can keep it."
I sat in Donnie's cop car until he was done at the scene of my car. As far as I was concerned, my car was deceased. This was the scene of a murder. Some cold-blooded soul had tortured my Eunos, traumatised it, and then dumped it in a ditch on the side of the road.
And then they had put a disembodied eye in it, and whatever had happened to the owner of that eye I didn't even want to think about.
Donnie slid behind the wheel and drove us back to the police station.
"C'mon," he told me, and ruffled my hair, "Let's get the paperwork done and then I'll take you out for pizza." Pizza sounded good. Chocolate mousse and icecream sounded better. The chocolate crunchy nut protein bar in my stomach gurgled unpleasantly.
We left the car and walked into the station. I hadn't been in too many times and the bustling busy vibe took me off guard. It felt like some place where everybody had somewhere to go quick without much being achieved.
"Grab a seat here for a minute and don't move." Donnie directed me into one of those uncomfortable plastic bench seats made to hold the public masses in queue in the hopes that they'd eventually give up waiting and leave.
Then he disappeared into the throng. A creature in its natural habitat.
"Sure. Why not?" I told the empty space where Donnie had been. I sat on the chair. An alarmed yelp came from nearby.
"I don't fricken' believe it. I thought I said you keep her away from me. Are you freakin' kidding me?" I turned to the source of the voice and found a tall guy with black ruffled hair in a beat up bomber jacket. I recognised him as the guy who'd held a gun to my head not one week before. His right hand was spasming and probably it had something to do with me but I wasn't too beat up about it.
There was a cop standing with him looking confused.
I looked at servo stranger guy, smiled my best winner and gave him a little pinkie finger wave, "Hi there." Servo stranger narrowed his eyes and looked peeved.
"That bitch is trying to kill me," he informed his cop buddy.
I couldn't blame him. This was not entirely untrue. Actually I was trying to kill his partner who had made off with my car. Unfortunately my talents aren't always accurate and now servo stranger was cursed with the uncontrollable desire to shoot himself. So far he'd survived by being in jail.
"You're not letting him out, are you?" I asked the cop that was with him.
The copy shrugged, "He made bail."
"Are you serious!" I said, talking more to servo guy now, "You can't go out. You'll be dead in like thirty seconds. Heck I'm carrying. You could steal my guns. Shit, get away from me!"
"See," said servo guy, "This is exactly what I mean. That woman is cursed. I changed my mind. Put me back in. I don't wanna go." His right hand had curled into a claw and his left eye was twitching.
The attending policeman looked between us, clearly confused.
I threw up my hands, "It's alright. I'm leaving. Tell Donnie he knows where to find me. He can bring me the paperwork home if he has to."
I stalked out the door and was half way across the carpark when I remembered the pizza. Dammit.
I loitered in the carpark for a few minutes impatiently listening to my brain argue with my stomach over what was important. Eventually my stomach won so I meandered over and leaned against the bonnet of Donnie's cop car until he came out.
Donnie trudged over to me. "I'm sure this is not where I left you," he said.
"I need that pizza now," I told him.
"Yes ma'am," he saluted. Donnie looked at his watch, "It's still early."
"I'm in mourning," I said.
After pizza Donnie had to go back to work. He went armed with a truck load of paperwork that would probably get lost in the bowels of the precinct never to be seen again. Since I still didn't have a car and was now on my own, that left me back where I started - the bus.
The bus ride home felt a bit like deja vu. The same bus driver was driving and the same crazy old bag lady was sitting up the front. The sniffer up the back was missing but the blonde guy got on just one stop after I did and wandered down the aisle. He took a seat opposite me again. He was still wearing the jeans and t-shirt, but now he had acquired a blue sports jacket.
"Hey, weren't you on this morning." He threw me another winning smile. He was easy enough on the eyes that I was flattered he remembered me. I figured after the day I had maybe it was time to forgive him the poor choice of transportation and flirt back. After all, I was catching the same dodgy bus route.
"Uh, yeah," I said. Sometimes my verbal powers of communication amaze even me.
Blondie leaned over his seat and extended an arm. Even behind the sunnies I could tell his eyes were smiling. He held a relaxed charm. "Name's Ed," he said.
I shook his hand. He had a firm grip and warm hands, "Kate."
"Nice," he said, as if my name was so awesome that it automatically implied I must be awesome too, "You catch the bus often?"
I twisted a stray lock of hair behind my ears and tried not to look embarrassed, "Not usually, but I'm having some issues with my regular method of transportation."
"I hear ya," said Ed. He cast a nervous glance down the bus in the direction of the driver. I could totally understand his unease. Maybe Ed's car was stolen too.
"Hey," said Ed, leaning over in my direction, "Do you think you could help me out?" I'm automatically suspicious of people who ask for help within five minutes of meeting me, but who was I to judge until I'd heard his request. Maybe this was the start of a pick-up line. Maybe he was going to confess he desperately needed a dinner date and ask for my number. These things were unlikely but not impossible, and I'd never know if I didn't let him ask.
"Maybe," I responded, "What do you need?"
Ed looked nervous. He shakily unzipped his jacket, "Can you tell me what the numbers read? I can't see them upside down."
I looked down at his shirt. Some sort of electronic device was strapped to his chest. There was a small digital display in the middle. A bunch of numbers was scrawled across it and the last number was slowly flickering, changing. My brain was numbed. I felt that odd sensation when you know your mind is processing events too slowly to keep up. I couldn't seem to find any way to speed up the neurons and instead kept getting caught in a loop going nowhere.
Ed was looking at my face with deadpan concern.
"Is it really long?" he asked, "I don't want to wait a really long time." I was still staring blankly at his chest.
Bomb. Neurons crashed together and the word exploded in my head, echoing in all the little dusty corners of my mind that usually remained inactive.
"Holy shit!" I said, "You've got a bomb."
"What!" shouted the crazy bag lady down the bus, "Bomb!"
"Shhhhhh!" Ed hushed me. He'd suddenly developed a crazy gleam in his sunglasses, "Quiet or they'll all want one!"
"Did you say bomb!" bawled the bag lady. She waved her walking stick in our direction. I thought I heard the bus driver swear and swerve to miss a taxi. The bus tilted just as the bag lady was getting up. She flailed, shrieked, and plastic bags flew everywhere. Half of them were upside down. They hung in the air like mini blimps and the air conditioning vents blew them down the aisle towards us.
"Wow," gushed Ed, "I knew this was a special occasion but you didn't need to bring balloons."
I was already getting out of my seat and backing down the aisle towards the door and the driver. The plastic bags battered against my head and I flung them away. Somehow I regained enough brainpower to check Ed's digital readout before I got too far away to read it. I tried to work out the seconds and milliseconds thundering past, but couldn't. Either we had five minutes, or five hours, I wasn't sure which.
"Oh my god," I said, and ran to the front of the bus.
"There's a bomb on the bus," I told the bus driver. I used my best cool, carm, collected superhero voice I could muster. It came out squeeky and high pitched.
The bus driver was weaving through peak hour traffic on Main Street. The lights were green and traffic was banked up through the intersection. Somebody honked their horn and I saw a double finger wave being flashed out the window of a green stationwagon. The bus driver looked tense and harassed.
"Lady," he said, "I saw that movie and it wasn't that good. Get back in your seat and sit down." I couldn't believe it. There was a bomb on the bus and he didn't believe me. Worse yet, he thought I was causing a scene.
"I'm dead serious," I squawked indignantly, "The guy up the back has a bomb strapped to his chest."
"You might be serious," the bus driver informed me, "But you aren't dead." Then he looked me squarely in the eye, "Yet." After that he turned his attention back to the road and ignored me.
Holy moley. We were all going to be blowed up. I could have less than five hours to live. I could have less than five minutes. Somebody had to do something, and quick. I put my hands on my knees and started hyperventilating. It took me another two minutes to remember I was the one who was supposed to be a superhero. I was the one who was supposed to be saving the day.
I turned back the bus to find the bag lady pointing and waving her stick at Ed.
"That's some lame-ass bomb you got there," she told him, "I seen bigger explosives in my mail box. Hell when I was your age, I put bigger explosives in mail boxes."
"It's big enough," said Ed, affronted.
"You aint going to blow up anything with that little thing," crazy bag lady dutifully informed him, "Well, maybe your wanger if you keep slouching like that." I noticed Ed immediately straightened.
"Nobody knows good posture these days," the crazy bag lady went on, "When I was your age, my mother made me stand two hours a day with a Wilson's Encyclopedia on my head just so I wouldn't slouch like that. Can't tell now but I had a good back then. I would never have slouched, not even with a tiddly little bomb like that stuck to my bits."
"It's not tiddly," Ed fretted. I watched the numbers on his display rapidly spiralling downwards and felt a bunch of bright lights and panic alarms go off in my brain.
"You need to stop it," I told him, "You're going to blow us all up."
Ed immediately brightened. "You really think so?" he asked. I screamed inside my head.
In the heat of the moment, I panicked. I really wanted the bomb not to go off, but somehow couldn't muster the faith or even the focus of thought to train my new, highly unstable super powers in Ed's direction.
So in the spur of the moment I did the only thing I could think of.
I picked Ed up and flung him out through the bus window.
On reflection, not the wisest move.
The glass was made of reinforced plastic, but I still threw Ed with enough force to shatter it. Shards sprinkled all over the seats and the road. I heard the bus driver turn in his seat and say something that should never be repeated.
Ed flounced along the pavement on his behind. A crowd of pedestrians splintered around him, then continued on their daily commute without more than a glance. Somehow, miraculously, Ed's bomb did not detonate.
"See," the crazy old bag lady croaked, sucking on her gums, "I told you that bomb was lame-ass."
Ed came to a stop, looking stunned. He peered down at his read out, which was still counting down. We had less than a minute to go. I guess that answered the minutes versus hours question.
I looked up. We were in front of a government building. People were streaming out of the building and Ed was slowly getting swallowed up in the mill of people. He followed my line of vision and noticed the same as I had.
"Sweet," he said, "I'm getting blown up and sticking it to the man."
Ugh. I needed to do something quick. Throwing him out the window hadn't achieved anything except to put him on the pavement in the midst of more potential victims.
I looked around and couldn't think of anything except watching Superman on the news flying circles around the Earth trying to turn back time.
All of a sudden I was in the air and Ed was in my arms. When I'd been hoping for this earlier in the day, I must admit this was not what I'd had in mind. We were going up. I looked down and saw Main Street disappearing. The little people on the sidewalk became miniature and the street cars looked like matchbox models. Apparently I was flying. Now of all times.
Up, up and away, I thought. Then I felt myself falter.
Ed and I stopped in mid air.
"Uh-oh," I told him, "I really don't want to fall."
Ed looked down at his meter. "Damn," he said, "This is going to be so much less fun up here."
"You're probably only going to get me up here," I said, "Maybe you should just turn it off. You can always try again later." Right after I checked him into the crazy ward.
"Hmmm," Ed considered the proposition. He took his sunglasses off and wiped his forehead with a handkerchief from his pocket. I had time enough to notice he only had one eye. It was time enough to freeze my gut.
"Maybe you're right," said Ed. Then he looked down at his time read out. The numbers clicked into place at zero.
"Oh well," said Ed, and then he exploded.
I guess there comes a time in every superhero's life when they drop the ball and don't manage to save everybody. I didn't manage to save Ed, but I suppose I did manage to save all those innocent pedestrians and the crazy lady on the bus. I'd like to know, but I'm not sure how other superheros deal with this kind of failure. In the moment, I handled it the only way I knew how: a mixture of shock and stunned disbelief.
Little pieces of Ed were floating around, wafting in the breeze. I was apparently unscathed. I suddenly recalled this was not the first time a blast in my vicinity had completely failed to affect me. I wished I could have remembered that about five minutes ago.
I looked down, and then I didn't something so completely not out of character that I should have expected it.
By the time I got home it was mid afternoon. I'd landed in the ocean just off the Queensland boardwalk and dripped my way home. It was a long walk. There was no way I was catching the bus.
On the way home, I'd dried the components of my mobile phone out and rung my insurance agency. Of course they wanted to wait and assess the damage to my car before contemplating any possibility of me buying a new one. I said something nice to the insurance lady, then told the dial tone what I really thought of her after I'd hung up. Just another joyous moment in another joyous day.
I let myself into my apartment. There was a note taped to my door so I peeled it off and read the contents as I clicked the key in the lock.
The note said: Hope your day was a blast. The writing looked an awful lot like the paint on my car. I shuddered and walked through the door.
That's when I noticed. Someone was lying on my couch, and it wasn't Donnie...