Welcome to the New Normal

A Close Call

Sunshine and Nightmares and Mothers, oh my!

A Denny McCloud Story

Thursday, 06 May 2027
McCloud Residence
1255hrs
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Denny biked from the Cozy Coffee, turning down any offers for a ride home. She wanted to be alone to think and take in the crazy events of the day.

Crazy might just begin to cover it. Yah think?

When she got to the corner of her street, she slowed to a halt and leaned over her handlebars, craning her neck for a glimpse of her driveway. Her mother’s car was gone.

Thank you, God.

Her father was at work and so getting cleaned up without him knowing was already a given. Her mother, however successful her business, had irregular hours and Denny could never be sure if she’d be home or out during the day.

Better make good on it while it lasts.

Denny garaged her bike and got upstairs in short order. She paused as she caught sight of herself in the bathroom mirror.

“Oh mannnnnnnn….

Her neck of her tee was stretched out past her shoulder and torn in places where Jason’s claws must have snagged it. The rips were tinged with blood but thanks to Miriam’s healing touch, no wounds waited for Denny underneath when she stripped off her shirt. Not even a bruise. Dried blood marked where her injuries had been, a macabre body paint from a particularly rough rave perhaps. A knee was torn out on her jeans and Denny sighed. The shirt was a loss but the jeans paradoxically looked studio-chic. She shucked out of her clothes and got into the shower and washed the grime of the fight off her. Dirt and suds and blood went swirling down the drain and Denny wished she could rid herself of her worries just as easily.

What am I gonna do? I’ve got superpowers. So does Miriam and the others. Aside from Miriam, she wasn’t sure they were friends, exactly, but adversity had thrown them together and like shipwreck survivors it had bonded them in a way that the usual process of becoming friends could not. So if not friends, then … what? I don’t even know these people. Teammates? Special Ops Squad? The Scooby Gang?

Denny lathered her short hair with shampoo to get the drywall dust out of it and thought some more. Whatever we end up calling ourselves, we’re gonna need to train up our powers. If we were better at using them, what happened at Franklin U would have gone a lot smoother. Hell, with training maybe Jason wouldn’t’ve Hulked out and maybe Deirdre wouldn’t’ve gone all Black Canary when she saw my dragon and maybe-maybe-maybe —!

Denny ducked under the water with a growl and got that shampoo out of her hair. She turned off the water with a snap and stepped out to towel off.

I can’t believe I’m thinking like this. Like it’s some sorta Twilight 2000 after-action review. But this isn’t a game. This is not a movie. This is real. People have powers and are getting killed for having them … or by them. Speaking of which, I wonder how banged up I really was before Miriam Healed me?

A grue ran down Denny’s spine and she couldn’t fool herself into thinking it was just from being wet from the shower. How close had she come to dying today? And had she, how long before her mom and dad got notified? Would her friends gotten implicated? Would they now be in jail as her parents retrieved her body from the morgue?

Geez, Den. You’re still here, living and breathing and flying off the handle. Get a grip.

She wrapped herself up in her towel, grabbed her ruined clothes, and minced to her room. Once the door was safely closed and the clothes hidden in her stash, she got dressed and bellyflopped on her bed, her origami dragon and cat on the spread in front of her. She frowned as she studied them. The strong light of afternoon shone down on them, illuminating every fold, every crease and plane of them, picking out the texture of the paper from which they were made. And yet in her mind’s eye, Denny could see the cat’s fur standing on end in the coffee shop, see the sharp points of its claws as it hooked and tossed the mob goon around the room like a catnip mouse. She remembered how the scales glittered iridescently on her dragon, could see the light glowing through the delicate membrane of its wings.

They had both come to life today. Grey Kitty had chosen her moment without any conscious thought on Denny’s part. The dragon, however …

How did I do that? I just reached into my pocket and threw him out there and shazam! How does that even work?

Overheated from the shower and weary from the day’s events, fatigue rolled over Denny in a grey velvet wave. Lying prone was a mistake, she realized as she succumbed to it. Her last conscious act was to curl her fingers around her paper animals to hide them from view should anyone walk in on her. The fatigue won and Denny racked out on her bed fully clothed.

Gold light surrounded her. A warm breeze breathed gently on her skin. She was floating somewhere infinite, surrounded by numbers and symbols and her paper animals. Sheets of paper waved sinuously in and around them and Denny knew they were her drawings, though she could not recognize any of them. She just knew, the way she always knew impossible stuff in her dreams. Like she was in the Matrix and had just downloaded instructions on how to fly a Huey. Boom, the knowledge was just there. She had paper in her hands, a square sheet that she folded and unfolded and refolded. A shape was forming under her fingers, something … no. She rapidly unfolded the paper back to its original square and smoothed it flat against a solid breeze that served as a tabletop. No, that wasn’t right. She tried folding it up again, but nothing would resolve. The paper shifted, refused to take her folds, running like melting wax from her hands to whip away into the golden light around her.

The time isn’t right, she thought. Wait.

The breeze blew, kissing her face with delicate warmth, bringing with it the scent of flowers and … sulphur? That smell. She knew that smell. It was the Post-it note monster from her nightmare, the one that wanted to destroy her work. The air she floated in grew heavy, darkening to ruddy amber, and like a fly trapped in the ancient sticky resin, Denny found it almost impossible to move. The odor of burning paper grew stronger, making her eyes and nostrils sting. Heat grew at her back, making her skin prickle under her clothes, and Denny knew with that uncanny certainty of dreams that the monster was close. The air grew thick and choking and oily black. Her drawings and animals wavered like mirages, collapsing under the weight and the heat before melting away. It was hard to breathe. Sparks flickered in her vision. The monster was here, just behind her. Denny could hear it rustling as it reached for her, could hear the hiss of singeing paper in her ear. Able to move only her eyes, she saw her hands start to smoke, her fingers blooming red and then black as her flesh burned away while she watched …

Denny sucked down a breath to scream and blinked, the late afternoon sun from her window striking her straight in the eyes. She yelped and rolled off her bed and hit the floor with a thud that brought her all the way awake. Panting from fright, she looked at her hands—nope. No burns. Front or back. She checked her skin. A little pink from lying in the sun from her window, but otherwise unharmed. Twisting around and getting to her knees, she checked her bedspread. The afternoon painted two strong rectangles of sunshine on it, which explained dreaming of burning alive. Her dragon winked at her, the iridescent paper from which it was made shining in the sun. The grey cat, however, wasn’t there.

Oh no. What if the cat came back in her panther form? What if she decided to find another unsuspecting human to toss around? What if—? No, no, no, no, no….

“Praow.”

Denny got a head butt from under the bed and with a small relieved cry, she sank to the floor to take cat into her arms.

“Where have you been, huh?” Denny whispered, holding the cat up to her shoulder and stroking its back in long firm strokes, impossibly happy to see it alive and unharmed. “Gimme a warning or something, willya? Can’t have you running around loose.”

“Denny?” came her mother’s voice from the end of the upstairs hall.

“Case in point,” Denny whispered and gently got the cat off her shoulder and under her bed again. “Hide.”

Denny rose to her feet and mussed her hair and tried to look sleepy instead of scared. Just in time too, as her mother opened her bedroom door.

“Denny? I heard a loud thump. Did you fall down? Are you okay?” Helene McCloud stepped inside and closed the door, concern plain in her features and her tone.

“Yeah, Mom. Sorry. I fell asleep reading and must’a fallen off the bed. No worries.”

“You’re sure?” Helene smoothed a cool hand over her only child’s forehead and cheek, before kissing both. “You feel warm. Are you running a fever?”

“No, Mom.” Denny suffered the caress and the kiss, hoping her mother wouldn’t pick up on the fact that she was excruciatingly aware of the cat under the bed. Be still, Kitty. Be still. “Just sleeping in the sun. I might’ve picked up a sunburn.” She turned under her mother’s hand to inspect herself in the mirror. A teense bit pink. Hopefully it would look like she’d been kissed by the sun and not blushing from lying. In the mirror, she saw her mother sweep the bed with a critical eye.

“At least the foot of the bed is pointed toward the closet and not the door. It’s bad luck to put the bed in the death position.” She shook her head and regarded her daughter in the mirror. “You’re getting tall. You’re still growing. You should eat. Dinner will be in another ten minutes. Perhaps you should mark your book with a piece of paper and come help me set the table.”

Denny caught her mother’s pointed look at the bed and saw too late the origami dragon lying in plain sight. And no book, despite her story. Turning around, Denny saw her mother was already moving out the door.

“And brush your hair,” was her mother’s parting remark before the door softly closed behind her.

Her knees going to water, Denny dropped onto her butt on the floor and put her back against her bed. The cat jumped in her lap and started making biscuits, her claws gently tugging at the denim of her jeans without raising any snags.

“That was close,” Denny whispered to the cat and stroked its ears, tears rising as she was overwhelmed by relief and what she was surprised to find was love. How was it possible to love a paper object so much? “You cannot let anyone in this house see you, understand? Mom’s burned my stuff once before. I don’t wanna come home one day and find out she’s burned you, too. Is any of this getting through to you?”

“Praow,” chirped the cat and with a flick of its ear, it leapt from her lap to her bed to her open window, there to curl up on the sunny sill for a nap. A fall of curtain hid it from the door and Denny could only hope it would jump to the porch roof below if anyone walked in while she was gone.

Sighing, Denny brushed her hair into order, flapped her shirt to rid it of the cat hair, and went downstairs to join her family for dinner.

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