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Friday, December 31, 2021

F³ What We Take into The New Year

             Cassie was out with friends for a New Year’s Eve party, and I had expected Nikki to drag me to yet another grand ball or party at the Fairhaven Club with the city’s elite, but instead we watched bad horror movies with Elvira hosting. It was like a normal date night, and the best New Year’s Eve in memory.

            “Do you know,” she began, interrupting the commercial for the latest spray-on sealant, which I muted. “I have never been one to truly celebrate the new year. The world’s claims of a time of rebirth or reinvention held no interest for me.”

            “Well, yeah, immortality’ll do that to you.”

            “I witnessed historic revolutions that promised to shake the pillars of nations, and was part of the smaller, personal revolutions in countless lives, and the constant I saw was that change doesn’t happen with the tick of a clock from one second to the next.”

            “So you’re not going to be resolving to lose weight next year? I only mention it—”

            She put a finger on my lips, silencing me. “To try and distract me from a melancholy thought. I appreciate the misdirection for what it is, but allow me to finish, Matthew.”

            I nodded.

            “The seconds, minutes, hours, or even days, weeks, months, and years to not produce change. I have never regarded the calendar as having any power over my outlook on life as the decades and centuries have produced very little change in society or in myself. However, I look back at this year as one of remarkable change, of intimacy with you.”

            “Um, well, I—” I stammered, but she again shushed me.

            “Do not think I am looking for some long-term commitment, Matthew. Merely take it for the compliment that I intend that for the first time in a long time I have looked back on this year and regret its passing, yet I also look forward to what the new year may bring, not because I resolve to make changes, but because this chapter of my life, with you in it, continues.”

            I gave her a small grin. “I never really thought about it like that. Especially in recent years with all the craziness, I’ve kind of looked forward to the new year as a way to leave the old behind. But you flipped it. The parts of the old year you choose to take with you into the new. And for what it’s worth, I feel the same way. ‘If that new year leaves the ground and you’re not with me, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.’” I tried not to lay my Bogart impression on too thick, but couldn’t help but slip into it.

            “I’ll allow the sentiment, but please leave the impression in the old year.”

 

Friday, December 24, 2021

F³ Christmas Story

             For a change, I didn’t have any weirdness going on at Christmas. Nikki hadn’t dropped by, I hadn’t seen the kid, and Nick was staying far away for all I could tell. It was just me and Cassie on the couch watching Christmas specials. The tree twinkled merrily with gifts underneath, and we had hot cocoa, made from Ma’s special powdered mix. I need to make sure we called Florida in the morning. Hopefully we could get the video working, though sometimes Ma and Dad had difficulty with the tech. Heck, sometimes I had problems with the tech.

            I picked up the remote, ready to select the next film, highlighting The Santa Clause, but Cassie shook her head.

            “Not that one, Uncle Matt. We used to watch that one all the time, but now. . . .” she trailed off.

            “Okay, Cassie. We don’t have to watch that one. How do you feel about National Lampoons?”

            She nodded slowly, but as the intro to the selected flick started up, she wasn’t really seeing it. I put an arm around her shoulders, and she leaned into me.

            “I miss them, Uncle Matt.”

            “Me, too, Kiddo. Now, your dad and I, we loved this movie, because your grandpa, well, he kept trying to do the same thing with the lights, only your dad and I were the ones to do all the real work. He was the supervisor, you know? Anyway, even though we were working at it, we still made some fun out of it. Did you know that a strand of Christmas lights is strong enough to support a ten year-old’s body weight?”

“What?” she looked up at me.

“True story. We were scared of sliding off the icy room so we used extra light strands as safety ropes.”

“That worked?”

“Oh yeah. See, the lights in those days were big and needed a lot of juice, not like the skinny strands of lights they have, now. And for all that your grandma worried about us doing crazy things, she never once had a problem with grandpa sending us onto an icy room. Guess she thought we were safe as long as we were ‘supervised.’”

Cassie chuckled at that.

“One time your dad slipped and went over the eave. And there I was up at the top, making sure to belay him. But grandpa, all he says is, ‘You dropped the staple gun. I’ll toss it back up to you.’”

“Nuh uh!”

“Oh, yeah, to you they’re nice grandparents who give you stuff. To your dad and I, they were slavedrivers, though we did get hot chocolate once inside, and your grandma’s cinnamon ring.”

“That sounds good, can we have some, now?”

“Sure thing, but don’t tell Grandma, tomorrow morning. She wanted us to save it.”

Friday, December 17, 2021

F³ Motion in The Ocean

             I didn’t widen the gap between fingers, but I did pump up what I thought was the electricity flowing out of me. It shouldn’t result in a bigger arc, but it did. A fat stream of white lightning danced between my fingers. But it was more jagged than normal lightning, too, or at least . . .

            “It’s fuzzy,” I said.

            “Yeah,” Nat said.

            “Like Kylo Ren’s lightsaber,” Kate said.

            “Never mention those movies,” Jack said.

            “I didn’t say I liked them,” Kate said.

            “They’re definitely explosions,” Nat said.

            “What the fuck is exploding?” I asked.

            “Yeah, it’s not like he’s packing C4 or something,” Kate said.

            “Packing, heh,” Jack said.

            “It feels like lightning inside you?” Nat asked.

            I thought about it, then nodded. “As far as I can tell.”

            “The charge is the same?”

            I hadn’t thought about that. Never had to think about the charge, before. Even positive lightning was really negatively charged. It just moved down a different pathway than typical lightning, from the top of the cloud to the ground instead of the bottom of the cloud.

            I closed my eyes and thought about the lightning inside me, feeling the charge move around my body. Electricity swirled around my stomach, as normal, exactly the same as every other time . . . except the direction it moved. I had never noticed before, never even thought about the direction the electricity flowed until now, but it went clockwise through my stomach. But not now. Now it mostly moved counterclockwise, and it did so automatically.

            “Um, I don’t know, but it’s moving the opposite direction,” I said.

            “What?” Nat asked.

            I shrugged. “Beats me.”

            “That’s fucked up,” Jack said.

Friday, December 10, 2021

F³ Jinxed

             “What do you see?” Jack pushed his face about as close as possible to my fingers.

            “Little explosions.” Natt said. “Just a line of explosions stretching from one finger to the next.”

            “The fuck?” Kate and Jack said.

            “Jinx,” Kate got out first. “So no talking.”

            I looked close. Storm riders could see things, but it wasn’t as easy as flipping a switch like Superman and his various visions. It took a lot of concentration to try and focus at a great distance or down close. More than once my eyes went cross-eyed trying to get there, but finally I was able to see what Nat described, like tiny fireworks going off.

            “Screw that,” Jack said.

            If something is exploding, it has to be caused by something. Why am I thinking fireworks? Wait, is something moving? I can feel it leaving my finger, but am I imagining what I’m seeing? What is—

            The sparks disappeared as I lost all concentration at the sound of a loud slap. Jack went reeling, as if he had been dealt a Hollywood special effects slap.

            “Motherfucker!” Jack rubbed at his cheek as he sat up.

            “What? You get slapped when you break a jinx,” Kate said.

            “No, I buy you a fucking soda!” Jack said. “Fuck! I think you loosened a filling.”

            Nat shook her head and growled something under her breath, then turned her attention back to me.

            “Okay, Reilly, do it again, but maybe make it bigger so we don’t have to squint as hard. And the two of you kindly shut the fuck up or I’ll put my foot in both your asses.”

            “Kinky,” Kate and Jack said together.

            “Jinx,” Kate said.

Friday, December 3, 2021

F³ The Curse of Being Jack

             I frowned, thinking about Nat’s question. Electric arcs, whether lightning or between my fingers, were generally blue. It had to do with the temperature. The hotter it was, the bluer it was. White lightning—not moonshine—wasn’t actually a thing. Generally, any white associated with lightning was just light blue or as a result of gases in the atmosphere being ionized.

            “I don’t feel any heat at all,” I said.

            “How can that be?” Nat said.

            “I look like an expert?”

            “Most of the time I think you’re a moron, but you have a habit of having strange stuff happen to you.”

            “Gee, thanks.”

            “Learn how to take a compliment,” she grinned, but it slipped as she leaned in looking intently at the arc.

            “Don’t touch or you’ll be just like Jack.”

            “God, that’s gotta be the worst fucking curse in existence,” Kate said.

            “Only because you bunch of losers can’t handle my awesomeness,” Jack fired back. “It's a curse, really.”

            “I’m sure you regularly handle your ‘awesomeness.’” Kate did the air quotes.

            “Shh,” Nat hissed. “I think I can see something here. I don’t think this is lightning.”

Friday, November 26, 2021

F³ The Fix

             After the ovation, Nikki and I bowed out to let the kids dance, though I noticed Cassie wasn’t one of them. I expected her to be canoodling in some corner, but instead she and Rick stood talking to a group of other students near the buffet table. Most of them did that thing where they had in-person conversations while simultaneously checking and writing things on their phones, a skill I could never master.

            “Something troubles you, Matthew?” Nikki asked. “You’ve got that crinkle around your eyes when you are engaged in a mystery.”

            “They didn’t sneak off,” I said, “which means it’s something else.”

            “Ah, yes, I’m sure it must be off-putting to you that your niece did not sneak away to enjoy in forbidden fleshly—”

            “Please don’t finish that sentence,” I broke in.

            “I thought you were comfortable with her exploring her sexuality, especially in a controlled, trusting way.”

            “Comfortable is not the word I’d really use, more like accept it as a necessity, kind of like my dating a vampire.”

            “Oh, and I never want you to feel comfortable, at least not in that way. It’s too much fun keeping you off-balance.”

            “Mm-hmm.”

            Cassie’s had trouble making friends since moving here, but she’s got a knot of people around her, now. Hmm.

            “Oh, Matthew, I will make you regret so tame a response. I—are you actually looking at your phone?”

            I was too focused on scrolling into the social media app to tell if her shock was genuine, and I knew I’d regret it later, but I had to make sense of this. And that’s when I saw the pics and videos on Cassie’s page. More than that were all the comments and praise to her for having such a cool uncle.

            I loved that, but I had a concern, too. “Is this going to cause problems for you?” I showed Nikki.

            As a vampire, photos and videos showed up blurry, usually a dead giveaway of her supernatural presence.

            She smiled at the media, scrolling through, then she bent close to my ear so others wouldn’t overhear. “Not at all. I’m very impressed by the technology, today, which makes corrections to the focus. Our fluid dance can explain any blur, especially as some of it has affected you. Do not worry. But you do seem to have solved the mystery.”

            “Yeah, my niece used us to elevate her social status. Clever.”

            “Do you plan to reprimand her?”

            “Nah. She might have to live with us showing up to all her dances from now on, though. I don’t think she thought that part through.”

            “Indeed, I look forward to more of these.”

Friday, November 19, 2021

F³ Fever

             Those dancing competition shows, the ones with the celebrities and their perfectly choreographed routines had nothing on me and Nikki. We’ve been dancing for years, so a routine didn’t matter. We didn’t need it. We created it on the dance floor. With a look or a touch, we indicated our next moves. Here a slide to the left, there a twirl. Spin out then back in, lean down as far as my back would let me—vampires have dense muscles and pack on the pounds! A dip, then spin her around behind me. She whirled me around, then we danced back, her hand pushing me, then a high kick and her ankle on my shoulder. My fingers got a trace of fishnet along her calf before her leg came back down and she’s pulling me forward by the tie before I pull her spinning into me again. Her arms went around my neck and her leg lid up my hip. My hand caressed and held her thigh as the song ends.

            And like that, awareness of the rest of the floor finally snaps home. The floor was empty, aside from us, a solid throng of people ringing all sides, and they’re all clapping and cheering, Cassie going at it the loudest.

            But I’m still wrapped up with Nikki, her breathing quick. Seeing as she didn’t need to breathe, that meant she was excited. I was, too, and sweating and panting with the effort.

            “Dress made of flames for a devil, but also for a burning fever. You in on this?”

            “Not this time, Matthew. I suspect we are both pawns in your niece’s scheme, though I am willing.”

Friday, November 12, 2021

F³ The Move

             “Boo,” Cassie hissed at me on the dance floor.

            Rick gave tiny shakes of his head with big eyes darting to Cassie. Clearly, this wasn’t his idea.

            “What?” I shrugged.

            “You two are better than this. Come on, enjoy yourselves.”

            “It’s your dance, not ours. Why don’t you work on cutting a rug?”

            “We’re trying, but we haven’t put in the time that you two have.”

            “Git gud, scrub.” Cassie had told me that often enough whenever we played games as she trounced me. It felt good to send it back to her.

            Her glare tried to fire a rocket at me. But then it turned into an evil smirk. “Fine.” Taking Rick by the hand, they marched off the floor.

            I shrugged as the song trailed off. I began walking Nikki back towards the punch bowl when the familiar strum of a bass began.

            “Clever girl,” Nikki said.

            “Too clever,” I answered, spying Cassie walking back from the DJ.

            I felt Nikki’s irresistible tug on my arm, pulling me back to the dance floor as “Fever” played.

            Nikki will never not dance to this, and I like it, too. Question is, how did Cassie find out?

Friday, November 5, 2021

F³ Devilishness

             Despite my initial hesitance over Nikki joining me in chaperone duty, it worked out really well. Instead of being a solo killjoy wandering around acting as the fun police, I got to do so with Nikki’s help. However, she wasn’t as interested in violations of school policy as much as the classlessness by which they went about it.

            “That will be enough of that,” she chastised a group of girls dressed as witches and vampires who tried to hike their skirts up past what the school allowed. “You will ruin the look of your dresses, and lower yourself to the level of a common trull. Show some sophistication, ladies. Sexuality is not about how much skin you show, but how your presence commands attention. You’re dressed the part, now act it. Take the boys to the dance floor and show them who you are.”

            She has a point, at least tonight.

            Nikki demonstrated by taking my arm and marching us back onto the dance floor. We kept it tame, not wanting to show up the students who seemed to only know how to sway back and forth to the music. Well, except for Cassie and Rick. They didn’t do any grand waltzes, but they at least stepped and showed off some other moves during the slow songs.

            Nikki wrinkled her nose and sniffed in my ear quite loudly.

            “That’s not my cologne,” I whispered. “I’m guessing it’s not the food, either. Let me guess, drugs or booze.”

            “Very astute, Matthew. The four boys in the corner I believe are hiding a bottle or a flask. A very low-quality whiskey, I believe.”

            We circled that way, and I left her to confront the guys in the corner. Of course, their lookout spotted me, and I couldn’t see which one of them pocketed the flask, and I wasn’t about to search them.

            “Gents, liquid courage is overrated, especially when you have gals waiting for you to come ask ‘em to the dance floor.”

            “We don’t have—” one dressed as Tony Stark said.

            “Shut up, man!” Hawkeye cut in.

            “We’re gonna get busted,” Spider-man said.

            “Relax, I’m not a teacher, and I’m not interested in busting you. I want to make sure everyone has fun, tonight. Now, everyone’s in costume, so you don’t have to worry so much. Let go, have fun, be the costume. If you pass your flask over, I’ll point out a group of gals just waiting for you to get them on the dance floor.”

            Surreptitiously, Hawkeye passed over the flask, which I pocketed. Then I pointed out the witches and vampires to them. “Tell them the Devil sent you their way.”

Friday, October 29, 2021

F³ Tradition Denied

             I did the Spock eyebrow and squinted at Cassie.

            “What?”

            “There’s definitely more to this. And you know I’ll figure it out.”

            “Of course,” she admitted, “but will you figure it out in time?”

            “Cassandra,” Nikki grinned, “you have already made my night. I shall delight at keeping your uncle deliciously off-balance so he doesn’t deduce your secret.”

            “Well played,” I said. “But I’m not licked yet.”

            “Emphasis on yet,” Nikki said.

            My head whipped towards her.

            “Distraction achieved,” Cassie said, triumphantly.

            Dang, need to work on that.

            “As much as I want to continue the distractions, I believe your date has arrived.” Nikki stepped to the side to show Rick Hale walking up the sidewalk.

He was dressed as a more generic buccaneer, while Cassie sported the captain’s tricorn hat. Rick’s mom waved from the car.

I gave a tentative wave back as Cassie brushed past me. She immediately got in close, putting their faces side-by-side as she took a selfie of the two of them.

“Rick,” Cassie began a rapid-fire delivery, “this is my uncle’s friend Nikki, and this is my Uncle Matt.”

Nikki inclined her head, politely.

I reached out a hand.

Before Rick could take my hand, Cassie continued. “Uncle Matt is a private investigator. He really wants to intimidate you by telling you, that he owns a gun and he can track you down, but that’s not necessary because I will keelhaul you myself. We’re all good, right?”

Rick and I shook, both of our hands kind of limp. Him no doubt because of the intimidation, mine because Cassie had stolen the winds from my sails.

“Okay, we’ll see you there!” She turned Rick around, took his arm, and walked out to Rick’s mom for their ride to the dance.

“Oh, Matthew, you look so deflated. You were truly looking forward to dragging out the intimidation of that young man, weren’t you?”

“No, not really. I mean, it’s a tradition, right? And how often do I get to intimidate someone?”

“Never, dumpling. You’re too adorable.”

Friday, October 22, 2021

F³ Dealing with Devils

             “Cassie, you almost ready? Your date’s going to be here any time,” I yelled down the hall.

            “Almost, Uncle Matt,” came her answering yell.

            I was about to retort when the doorbell rang.

            “He’s here! Come on, shake a leg. You don’t want to give me too much time to torment him, do y---” the word died on my lips as opened the door to see Nikki in a dress made of strips of cloth cut to look like individual flames. An appropriately infernal dress given the two horns on top of her head and the plastic pitchfork she wielded.

            “Tormenting is my job, Matthew.”

            “What are you doing here?”

            “It’s Halloween, Dumpling, where else would I be? We must go dancing.”

            “I can’t. I’m a chaperone for Cassie’s school dance.”

            “Oh, I know. I am your co-chaperone.”

            “Wait, what?”

            “I invited her, Uncle Matt,” Cassie said from behind me

            I turned to see her dressed as a pirate, a far more conservative version than what Nikki had worn a couple of years ago.

            “I didn’t want you to be bored talking to teachers and other parents,” Cassie smiled

            “Somehow I think it’s not that simple,” I rubbed my chin.

            “Deals with the devil seldom are,” Nikki grinned.

Friday, October 15, 2021

F³ Breaking and Entering

            I took measured steps towards the student dorm building at DeGradi University. I modified my pace to reach the building door at the same time one of the residents opened the door. I tried to look semi-officious with a short-sleeve button shirt and plain tie.

I also carried the most magical prop in all bureaucracy, a clipboard. I even slapped a DeGradi U sticker on the back to make it look more official. Better than that, the ID badge around my neck screamed official. It was really easy to pull images off the internet and photoshop them into something believable, and thanks to social media like Instagram, everyone posted pictures of everything. It just took some creative web searching and some time. Though the badge looked official, it wasn’t. It didn’t possess the NFC or RFID chips to get me in. Even if it did, have the chips, it had no encoding, and I didn’t have the expertise to do any of that stuff.

“Hold the door!” I shouted ahead, quickening my pace up the short steps.

The young man glanced back, then held out a hand to keep the door open as I approached.

“Thanks,” I smiled, stepping past the badge reader.

Friday, October 8, 2021

F³ After Effects

             Two hours later, we were all miserable. Not because of a hangover, but because the bartender had had enough of us and kicked us out, and our metabolisms had taken care of what buzz we had. Storm riders burned through calories like two year-olds burned through candy.

            And after all of that drinking, we still had nothing.

“Bored!” Jack said.

We were all sitting on the low, stone wall of a nearby fountain. Kate stared at the water while Jack occasionally belted out curses like he had Tourette’s Syndrome. For that matter, Kate did, too when she yelled for Jack to “Keep your labia closed!”

I created a tiny spark between two fingers. The centimeter long white arc was as long as I could manage, and even it gave off little white pops.

Nat turned from looking at the fountain to stare at my miniscule lightning with glazed eyes.

“You’re a mean drunk, aren’t you?” Jack said.

Kate slapped Jack upside the head. “Yes.”

I started touching each finger to my thumb, transferring the lightning to each new finger in sequence. Each time it switched, there were initially more pops, but they quickly dissipated.

“Hey! No hitting without prior consent and a firm commitment to honor safewords and wear high heels.”

“Stop switching fingers,” Nat said.

I immediately stopped, holding the arc between thumb and ring finger.

“I promise to honor safewords and make you wear high heels,” Kate said.

“Switch again,” Nat said.

“Har har,” Jack said. “So, are we negotiating?”

I moved the lightning to my pinky. Big pops, followed by a steady stream and tiny pops as I held the arc.

“Think you better talk to Anna Maria, first. I don’t like poaching,” Kate said.

“Switch again,” Nat repeated.

I moved the arc to my index finger.

“We’re not exclusive,” Jack said. “She’s currently hooked up with this couple from Sweden.”

“Isn’t that a little out of her area? Thought she was covering Spain.”

“We swapped. I got tired of beer and brats. Wanted something more Mediterranean.”

“Is it hot?” Nat asked.

“The arc?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

I thought about it, concentrating on the sensation near my fingers. The Reilly Tingle—Shit! now I’m calling it that—was there, but I didn’t notice any real heat.

“No.”

“Why is it white?”

 

Friday, October 1, 2021

F³ Mebatolism

             The girls left us. Not so quickly that we couldn’t follow, but it was very much two groups as they surfed down to the nearest town underneath the thunderstorm. We didn’t even know the name of the place, or even what state. We just wanted to go to the bar and get hammered. And for that, we had Jack to thank. He bought.

            “I love you guys,” he slurred.

            “I hate you, too,” I said, and laughed.

            Kate belched her reply, “Fuck you both.” That was a thoroughly impressive feat.

            Nat held her head like she was nursing a hangover, but she was a lightweight, mostly tapping out after her first bottle of Jack Daniels. “Maybe you three should slow down.”

            “Nonsense!” Jack yelled at the top of his lungs, “I have the mebatolism of a thing with a high mebatolism.

            “You’re wasted,” I laughed. “It’s not mebatolism, it’s mebatolism.”

            “What I said!”

            “No, not mebatolism, metalobism. No, wait. That’s not right.”

            “Melobotomism,” Kate said.

            “Yeah!” I pointed, spilling half my bourbon. “No!”

            “I’m telling you it’s mebatolism,” Jack insisted.

            “No, it’s meta. It’s very meta,” I said.

            “You’re meta!” Jack punched me in the arm. “Anyway, my mebatolism won’t let me get drunk. ‘Cept, I might have to go puke.”

            “Rum, please.” Nat said.

            “We’re out of rum,” the bartender said.

            “Why is the rum gone!” we all yelled.

           

 

Friday, September 24, 2021

F³ Making Things Worse

             We all recovered fairly quickly. I had a cloudboard under me before I had reached the apex of where the explosion threw me. Nat and Kat had done the same. Jack didn’t recover so much as bounce off the cloud about fifty feet away. Where he had exploded was now a spherical divot in the cloud, like someone had taken an ice cream scoop to it.

            “What the fuck was that?” Jack asked as soon as he righted himself. “Why do I sound funny?”

            “You sound fine to us,” Nat said.

            “Why are you talking like that? How are you talking like that? Step off the reverb switch.”

            “Fucking Christ!” Kate swore. “He’s hearing double, just like Reilly did.”

            Nat and Kate turned their attention to me, and by attention, it was twin gazes of contempt and hatred.

            “I have no idea what I did,” I said in defense.

            An explosion sounded as Jack tried to fire off lightning in my direction.

            “Two of them, now.” Nat sighed.

            “I say we leave their asses and get hammered,” Kate said.

            “Really tempting, right now, but they’ll probably kill each other.”

            “Having trouble figuring out why that’s bad. Not like they’re any good to us like this.”

            Another, albeit lesser, explosion sounded.

            “Oops,” I said.

Friday, September 17, 2021

F³ When in Doubt

             I jerked into full consciousness, which freaked me the hell out as before it was always one of those gradual-waking things. But my eyes snapped open, I gasped, and scrambled to my feet, assuming a martial arts pose from my Kung Fu movie binge with Nat.

            “You look fucking ridiculous.” Jack said, sitting on a cloud chair.

            “Fuck you.”

            “I wouldn’t enjoy that.”

            “I’d enjoy watching that,” Kate said. “You seriously need to get fucked over, Jack.”

            “Harsh!” Jack said, but no one was taking his side in this.

            “So, what now?” I asked.

            “We’re kind of running out of ideas to try,” Nat said.

            “Which is why I zapped him,” Jack smirked.

            “Which didn’t help at all,” Nat continued.

            Jack shrugged. “Hey, when in doubt, throw lightning at the problem.”

            The words pissed me off, and stirred something. It felt like a latent charge in me. The tingling on my skin increased. I’d say I was absorbing an ambient charge, but my skin never tingled while doing that, before.

            Whatever, just go with it.

            As usual, I ionized a channel and let loose. A pencil-thin . . . something shot out of my hand, sending out pops of white light as it flew, to collide with Jack. As soon as it hit him, he exploded, sending us flying.

Friday, September 10, 2021

F³ A Few Words

             I was already swearing. I couldn’t hear it, but my throat felt the strain of me yelling “God-fucking-dammit you fucking moron Jack! You son of a bitch, don’t you ever think of not leading with your dick all the fucking time! You have any fucking clue how much that fucking hurts? You’ve always been a dickhead, but now you’ve graduated to full-on anal-douche-nozzle! Fuck!”

            I would’ve continued, but the pain caught up to my anger. I crumpled in a ball of conflicting pain sensations. Nerve endings were on fire, like a supersized version of that tingle from before, and my eyes hurt, too, leftover from the explosion’s flash, which seemed brighter than it should have.

            My ears were still useless, just that weird doubled cacophony and the ringing, but my eyes cleared enough to see Nat and Kate were chewing Jack out. He was unfazed with his twisted grin, and he stretched out a finger towards me, probably to fire another bolt but Nat deflected his hand while Kate smacked him upside the head.

            “Fucking stop, you frog-toed-taint-pustule!” I shouted, then passed out.

Friday, September 3, 2021

F³ Almost Like . . . Jack

             “You’re going to have to do better than a tingle,” Kate said.

            “Well excuse me if I don’t have the vocabulary to properly describe something I’ve never felt before.” I didn’t try to keep the acid out of my voice. I was frustrated. “It doesn’t feel electric, not really. No shock or anything. It’s not hot, it’s not cold, not really.”

            “Not really?” Nat asked. “Come on, Reilly, give us something to work with.”

            “It feels like. . . .” I stretched storm rider senses into the feeling. There was something there, something almost familiar. “it feels like. . . .” Nothing. Absence of something. How can that be when I feel it? “It feels like. . . .” Almost like. . . .

            “Here I come to save the day!” The unmistakable voice of Jack Dailey announced as he landed on the cloud “Iron-Man-Style.”

            “Jack,” I said.

            With his sideways grin he said, “I hear you’ve got a problem keeping it up.”

            “I—”

            Before I or the girls could say anything more, Jack shot me with a lightning bolt. As soon as it touched my skin, I felt the explosion.

Friday, August 27, 2021

F³ Reilly Tingle

             Riding in a harness behind Nat as she rode lightning hurt worse than the first time I rode a harness with Jack Dailey. That time I was just terrified. This time I was pissed because I couldn’t ride it myself.

            Like losing part of myself.

            We landed on top of the anvil of the largest thunderstorm we could find, currently making its way over Chicago. The storm was kicking out inter- and intra-cloud lightning every couple of seconds. This was a nasty storm. It might even be strong enough to warrant breaking it up before it ripped the barrier between planes of existence. That was our primary job, after all. Don’t allow the nasty bugaboos bearing tentacles for lips or eyeballs for teeth into our reality. Turned out that the power of mother nature was more than reality could actually handle, so we had to kind of moderate it.

            “Well, this is weird,” I said.

            “What?” Nat said.

            “I’m feeling something.”

            “What?”

            “I don’t know.”

            “Does it hurt?” Kate asked.

            “No. It just feels weird. Like . . . like when you try and two push magnets of the same pole together. A push against me.”

            “Weird,” the women said, together.

            “Also, there’s a random tingle.”

            “Like a spider-sense?” Kate asked.

            “Nerd,” Nat said.”

            “You know it, bitch,” Kate fired back.

            “No, not like a spider-sense.”

            “You have a Reilly tingle. It better not be where I think it is.”

            Nat laughed at that.

            “No,” I said.

            “You’re sure?” Nat said suggestively.

            “I will if you keep up like that!”

Friday, August 20, 2021

F³ Stop The Negativity

             Nat and I slumped on the park bench, staring cirrostratus clouds high in the sky. Kate late on her stomach on the grass.

            “I hate Iowa grass,” she said. It’s not green enough. Vancouver. Vancouver has awesome grass.”

            “I hate grass,” I said.

            “Well, yeah, cuz you’re from this area.”

            “No, I’m from Colorado.”

            “I’ve been in eastern Colorado, it’s the same as here.”

            “Well, I’m from the mountains.”

            “And the grass there?”

            “It sucks, too.” Nat said.

            “Hey,” I said, but didn’t put any emotion in it. “Whatever. Don’t fucking care about grass.”

            “Hey, stop being so negative,” Nat said. “Cynical, I get, but I won’t let you be one of these depressing bastards.”

            “Wait!” Kate sat up. “That might be it!”

            “Reilly’s negativity affected his lightning?” Nat was skeptical.

            “No, but his lightning’s negativity might have something to do with it. We almost always fire off negative lightning. It’s our default. But what about positive lightning?”

            Nat and I exchanged looks.

            Would that work?

            “We need to get you back up to the clouds, on top of an anvil would make it easiest,” Kate said.

            “That’s going to be a long cloud surf,” I said.

            “Screw that,” Nat said. “You’re riding bitch.”

Friday, August 13, 2021

F³ Lousy Peanuts

             Nat paced in front of the park bench, tapping her chin with a forefinger as she made her loop back and forth. Kate sat on the back of the bench, leaning forward, staring, but not actually seeing Nat. Her look was far off and pensive. I sat and openly sulked while eating my cobbler.

            Stupid cold cobbler. Stupid whatever this is preventing me from using lightning. I like using lightning. I’m pretty good at it, too. Chain lightning, riding lightning, ball lightning, I got those down. Sure, I can’t do the lightning sword that Jack showed me. . . .

            I got more depressed and shoved a double spoonful of cobbler in my mouth. Peach magma burned my tongue and I had to suck down some water to stop myself from spitting it out, but it launched a short coughing fit.

            The women looked at me, Kate rolling her eyes, Nat shushing me.

            Stupid women treating me like I’m four. I’ll show them. I’ll take this next bite without a drink!

            I did, and they didn’t notice even as I opened my mouth and fanned a hand to dissipate the heat.

            I finished my cobbler and sat, staring at the grass between my feet.

            This sucks. What if it’s permanent? What if this is a side effect of the Jack Frost powers? Always thought it was strange that the Frost lightning was greenish. Never took the time to study that. Maybe I should go see Maddy and see what happens when we use those powers again. Maybe it’ll reboot me? But how would I even get there? It’ll take forever cloud surfing. Might even be faster to fly commercially. God, that would suck.

            “I hate flying commercial; their peanuts suck.” I muttered.

            “Shh,” Nat said automatically.

Friday, August 6, 2021

F³ Nobody Likes It Cold

             “Wait,” Nat said. “Why did you both say ‘ow’?”

            I rubbed the back of my head where Kate had hit me, feeling as if I had been zapped with static.

            “He zapped me. Or maybe I zapped him.”

            “And you felt it?” Nat asked.

            We both nodded.

            “We’re storm riders, we hold onto lightning bolts for a ride. A zap of static shouldn’t do dick to us.”

            “Yeah, well, tell that to my noggin,” I said. The zap had felt weird besides feeling it at all, though.

            “And my hand,” Kate said.

            “Kate, were you holding a charge? Were you trying to zap him?”

            She shook her head. She was shaking her hand, too.

            “Reilly?”

            “I just popped, so didn’t have anything left.” I said, scratching the spot she hit.

            “So it might have just been the static created by her hand in your hair?”

            I shrugged. “I guess.”

            “It didn’t feel right, though.” Kate said. “My fingers kind of went numb for a second. Now it’s pins and needles.”

            “What about you, Reilly?”

            “My head itches, but that’s it.”

            “You all should probably take your cobbler and go,” our server said, suddenly, the Iowa twang, plain.

            “Why?” Nat asked.

            “You’re acting weird, and people are staring.”

            We looked around and did see that people were staring at us. They didn’t flinch as we eyed them, either.

            “Okay,” Nat said.

            “Aw, man, I don’t want to eat cold cobbler,” I said.

Friday, July 30, 2021

F³ Playing with Lightning

             “So how do we fix it?” I asked, scuffing my stockinged feet on the restaurant carpet.

            “Do we look like doctors?” Kate said.

            “I know for a fact that you’ve been a nurse, a rather nau—” Nat began.

            “Not the point and not the time,” Kate said. She wasn’t scandalized, just irked at the change in topic.

            I brought fingers near to the window sill. Instead of a tiny arc of static electricity, I got a pop, an actual explosion, about the size of a Pop Rock.

            “Would you stop that?” Kate asked, still irritated.

            “Well, until someone comes up with a plan, there’s nothing else to do.” I said.

            I shuffled my feet again, and popped the window sill.

            I wasn’t just playing. I mean, of course I was playing. I had the power to make explosions. What guy wasn’t going to play with that? But I was also trying to figure it out. The problem was control. Other experiments had the charge exploding once it reached a certain level or from holding onto the charge for a certain time. Now I was watching carefully, stretching my senses along the miniscule charge to understand exactly what was going on.

            “How do you put up with him?” Kate asked.

            “He’s not as childish as Jack Dailey,” Nat said.

            “True.”

            “Would Jack know anything about this?” I asked.

            I squinted at the space between my finger and the sill, still too far apart to discharge. I felt the charge in that gap. In order for lightning to fire, it had to travel a channel of ions, almost always to a positive source, usually the ground.

            “He’s never heard anything like it, but he’s coming out to have a look for himself.” Nat said.

            “Oh, fuck me raw,” Kate swore. “Maybe I should go back to my territory.”

            “Stick around, Kate. Not like any of us know what this is. We need all eyes on it.” Nat said.

            “I’m going to hit him.”

            “If he does what?”

            The channel felt clear. I brought my finger closer, and then the tiny static charge left. An instant before the pop, I felt something wrong, not with the channel, but with the lightning itself.

            *Ker-pop*

            “Not if he does anything.” Kate said. “I’m just going to hit him. Like this.”

            I felt a hand smack me upside the head.

            “Ow,” Kate and I said.

Friday, July 9, 2021

F³ A Bug

             “What-what the-the fuck-fuck was-was that-that?” Someone yelled. My hearing was doubled again, unfortunately, and my vision swam with stars at warp speed, but going every direction. My stomach did a barrel roll, a forward somersault, a back flip, then landed on its back and gave up moving. Heat came next, like sitting too close to a bonfire, and my marshmallows definitely felt toasty.

            The doubling subsided more quickly, this time, and the stars receded from my vision. I propped myself onto my elbows to see Kate helping Nat to her feet.

            “So what happened?”

            “You blew up,” Kate said.

            I looked myself over, and, not seeing missing limbs or gory body parts strewn about, disagreed.

            “I’m still here.”

            “Yeah, but as soon as my lightning touched you, it exploded, like ball lightning,” Nat said, dusting her jeans with her hands. “Air came out of you, too, blowing us back. What the hell is wrong with you?”

            “How would I know? I’m still kind of the new guy. Don’t you have wise guys for this? Where the hell is Gandalf or some other wise guy?”

            “We can put something on the forums, but as far as I know, nothing like this has ever happened, before.”

            “What, so I can’t use any lightning, anymore? That’s a giant fricking bug in the system. That’s like three-quarters of what I do. What fun is life if you can’t zap things?”

            “Blow me,” Nat said.

            “What she said,” Kate added.

Friday, July 2, 2021

F³ Totally Sort of My Fault

             “The hell it’s not your fault,” Kate said.

            “I believe him,” Nat said.

            “That’s cuz you two are fucking.”

            “I am able to disagree with people I’m fucking.”

            “Look at the damage. This was a storm rider. Ursula didn’t do this.”

            “Ursula?” I asked.

            Little Mermaid baddy,” Nat said. “You’re right, Kate, but I don’t think it’s his fault it happened. He’s a clueless idiot.”

            This was the part where I was supposed to object, but in the world of storm riders, it was kind of true, even though I had been one for a few years, now. Seemed there was always something new to learn.

            I shrugged and nodded. “Listen to the lady, she knows what she’s talking about.”

            Kate glared at me, but after a few moments, softened. “Okay, so what the fuck happened?”

            “Reilly, you have any lightning left?”

            I shook my head.

            “Take some of mine.” She held out her hand, palm out.

            I threw up the Vulcan salute, holding my hand close.

            “Okay, I can see why you fuck him,” Kate said.

            “Live loooooong,” I said.

            “You can have him, if you want.”

            “Here I am being traded like a piece of meat, to be used for sex. I’m so happy,” I grinned.

            I reached out with other senses, creating a positive charge in my hand to receive the lightning from Nat. Blue white electricity arced from her hand to mine, and then I felt something, a wrenching, of something wrong, and then the world exploded.

Friday, June 25, 2021

F³ Not My Fault 01

             I woke to screaming by Natalie and Kate. I had been yelled at a lot, so thought nothing of that. I did wonder why Kate was there, though. Her territory was the Pacific Northwest, whereas Natalie looked over the Great Lakes area. I had the in-between up to the Rockies.

            “Why’s Kate here?” I said. At least I thought I said, the words echoed and muffled in my head.

            They were still screaming, but I couldn’t make anything out. I tried to sit up, but couldn’t. I was sore, everywhere, as if I had spent all day yesterday working out. I felt drained, too. I was out of lightning and air, which was not generally a good thing for a storm rider. We absorbed both ambiently, and I had been full up not that long ago.

            Or maybe not. How long was I out?

            “Whoa!” I made the time-out T with my hands. “I can’t hear you, so save your voices.”

            The muffled sound was gone, but the echo was still there.

            The two women looked at one another and began speaking in what I assumed was quieter tones. Their mouths didn’t open as wide.

            Kate nodded to whatever Nat said, then they waited.

            Ten minutes later, and I was able to hear clearly. I still couldn’t sit up, though.

            “What the fuck happened?” I asked.

            “You tell us!” Kate yelled.

            I shrugged my shoulders.

            “Reilly, what’s the last thing you remember?” Nat asked.

            “Waking up.”

            Nat smacked me upside the head. Kate followed on with her own.

            “Ow. Okay, I was cloudsurfing chasing this . . . thing. Seven tentacles on its butt. I hit it with some lightning and it went down. Don’t’ remember anything after that.

            The women looked at one another. Kate hauled on one arm and Nat the other, getting me to a sitting position.

            I looked around. I was in a crater.

            “This is not my fault.”

 

Friday, June 11, 2021

F³ Evasion

             Nikki stepped back, but not to leave, not to recoil in horror from me, but to sit in the chair in front of the desk. She carefully arranged her skirt, showing the perfect amount of leg according to some arcane formula only she knew, but I couldn’t argue with the results.

            “That won’t work, Matthew.”

            “Hmm?” I said, still staring at her legs. She wore some kind of micro fishnet, the holes in the stockings bigger than in regular nylon—who am I kidding, Nikki wore silk—and ordinary fishnets.

            Wonder if they factor into her equations.

            “Staring at my legs will not relieve you of telling me the story.”

            “How about your heart. That’s looking fairly unprotected, right now.”

            “My breasts are not enough to distract a mind like yours for long. Do credit me with knowing you like I do.”

            “Do you?” I flounced in my chair, sending up puffs of dust. “I don’t think I even know myself, anymore.”

            “Stop evading, Matthew. You were gone for weeks. Jennifer and Jessica were worried sick. Your curt messages did nothing to allay any fears. They—we—deserved better than that.”

            I took a deep breath, prepared to argue the point, especially as the events of the past week flew through my head. I hadn’t realized it was weeks, here, but it made sense. Time was relative, according to Einstein, and he didn’t have to take into account mythological realms. I blew out the air as a long sigh. “Yeah. Yeah, you do. I could offer up excuses, but that was lousy. I’m sorry.”

            “The best apology is an explanation. You might be able to fool mortals, as they have not seen what I have, but I perceive a change in your down to your soul. You have been through much in the time we’ve known each other, and though you have suffered through traumas, I have not seen the like affecting you so.”

            I gave a slow nod. “It’s still pretty raw in my head, Nikki, so don’t expect a tight story like one of Marlowe’s.”

            “As long as there is a femme fatale,” she smiled.

            “Ha! Yeah, you could say that. More than one, actually. God, where to start?”

            “As with all stories, Matthew, the beginning is traditional.”

            “Okay, you ever heard of Storm Riders. . . ?”

Friday, June 4, 2021

F³ Coming Back

             I stared at the door. A piece of cardboard had been taped over the glass, covering my name and profession, which was probably for the best. But what surprised me is that the place hadn’t been rented out to some other business.

            I tried my key, and it worked. Another surprise. I had skipped out without paying the last month’s rent, so I fully expected both a seizure of property and a changing of the locks by building management.

            I flicked the lights on, and the old fluorescents took time to flicker back to life, as if unsure of how they were supposed to do that. Jen’s desk was still there, covered in a fine patina of dust that I tried not to stir up. I passed through into my office, my soles echoing strangely on the floor. I hung my hat on the rack, along with my coat. The feel of the place was entirely different, now. Colder, lifeless, exactly the spirit I left it in.

            I pulled up the blind, looking out at the darkness, but here my name was still on the window: “Matt Allen Investigations.”

            “It’s about time,” the breathy, seductive voice made me jump out of my skin. Only one person could do that to me.

            “Hey, Nikki.” I didn’t turn to look at her.

            “I think I deserve much more than that, Matthew.”

            “If you say so.”

            “What happened to you? You were able to elude even my resources.”

            I shrugged.

            “I much prefer your usual demeanor to this taciturn version.”

            I shrugged again.

            A slight prickling of neck hair was all the warning I had before she spun me around, traversing the distance from my door to the window without the clack of a single heel.

            Cold hands held my head, forcing my eyes to meet hers. I stared into those ancient blue depths. I wanted to lose myself in them, but I wasn’t feeling it.

            She looked into my eyes, then flinched back. “What darkness has moved into your soul?”

            I looked away, not wanting her to see any more. “Life,” I said.

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