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Chapter 5.1

I’ve started rewriting, but I haven’t seen it all the way through. iI’m only 80% confident that I know what happens. This version of Chapter Five is significantly different from the original, but since no one has seen the original, I guess that doesn’t matter. Chapter Five is pretty long, too, so I’m going to give it to you in pieces.
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“How do you know this is it?”

Jeff was just barely speaking directly into Lisa’s ear. The wind was still rushing past them, so they could hear each other only if their lips were right up next to the eardrum, an arrangement that suited Jeff just fine.

“I don’t,” Lisa whispered back. “But it’s got to be either this one or the one across the street.”

They hovered over an apartment complex with a neglected pool in the center. The water was covered with floating leaves, which were as brown and dingy as the surrounding walls. He set down behind a flimsy black railing on the second floor overlooking the pool, and Lisa seemed a bit too anxious to get her own feet on the ground.

Jeff, still in his tights, mask, and glasses, felt out of place and wished he had taken the opportunity to change clothes when he’d had the chance. He told himself that he just didn’t want to be recognized from the video footage, and that this had nothing to do with how silly he looked in front of Lisa. He also knew that the second thought would have never even occurred to him ten minutes earlier, before his nose had gone and complicated his thinking.

Lisa scrambled down the stairs to the front gate and quickly returned. “It’s the right address,” she said.

“Which means,” Jeff said, “that his apartment is 212, which would be – ”

“Right over there,” Lisa finished, pointing at an apartment directly facing them from across the pool. The lights were on, but the front room looked empty.

“Right,” Jeff said. “So now what?”

“Now,” Lisa said, “you get us in there and we look for information.”

“I get us in there?” Jeff sputtered. “Just how am I supposed to do that?”

Lisa’s face hardened, which Jeff took as a sign that she hadn’t thought this through, but she didn’t want Jeff to know that. Jeff smiled. I’m more perceptive than you think I am, lady.

“What’s so funny?” Lisa snapped, misreading Jeff’s smile.

“Nothing’s funny,” Jeff answered defensively.

“Fine,” Lisa said. “Then do your job.”

Jeff did a double take. “Excuse me? My job?”

“I don’t know,” Lisa said just a little too loudly. “You’re the one with the – the tights,” she said, waving her arms absently in Jeff’s direction.

“So?”

“So – kick the door in.”

“Ah, good plan,” Jeff smarted back, pressing the tips of his fingers together.

“You’ve got a better idea?”

“No,” Jeff said, “but doing nothing would be preferable to pounding down a bearing wall and waking all the neighbors.”

“You don’t have to pound down the wall! Just the door!”

“Oh, really?” Jeff was shouting now. “You know how this works, do you? A lot of experience in breaking and entering?”

“Never mind, then,” she said quietly, and then she ducked below the railing.

“What?” Jeff turned to see what had changed her demeanor so suddenly. Then he saw it, too.

There was someone in David’s apartment.

An older guy had just walked in front of the window, between a small break in the curtains. He was old enough to be David’s grandfather. Or great-grandfather. He was smoking a cigar and gesturing wildly, talking to someone just out of sight.

“That’s Leo Chakiris,” Jeff whispered, now stooped down next to Lisa.

“He’s a geezer,” Lisa said.

Jeff nodded. “Been around the block a few times, I guess.”

“Who’s he talking to?”

Jeff vaulted over the railing, and Lisa made a gasp of protest before remembering that Jeff could do that sort of thing without falling to the ground below. It’s impressive, isn’t it? Jeff thought, tiptoeing through the air delicately like a ballerina en pointe. He knew it was silly to waste time showing off, but he couldn’t help himself.

He floated over to an angle better suited to see deeper into the apartment, or, at least, to see who Leo was talking to. And there he was, just on the other side of the window.

Walthius.

Jeff put his hand over his mouth to keep his jaw from falling to the pool below.

“What is it?” Lisa whispered. Jeff motioned for her to come over and look. She ran around the side of the second floor closest to where he was hovering.

“That’s your friend, isn’t it?” she whispered. Jeff, too stunned to talk, nodded absently. Lisa didn’t seem shocked – just puzzled. “What’s he doing in there?” she asked.

Jeff tried to summon some words to answer, but it was all he could do to shrug helplessly. He could think of no earthly reason why Leo Chakiris and Walthius could possibly be in the same room together, let alone that room.

“Is he a prisoner?” Lisa asked.

Jeff shook his head. “I don’t think so.” Walthius looked perfectly relaxed, and he wasn’t all that far from the front door. He could have made a break for it if he wanted to.

That seemed to confuse Lisa even further. “Is he a friend of David’s?”

“Not that I know of,” Jeff answered.

“Then how do those two know each other?” Lisa demanded.

Jeff shot her a look. “And how am I supposed to know that?”

“I don’t know,” said Lisa, annoyed. “He’s your friend. If anyone would know, it would be you.”

“You’d think so, wouldn’t you?” Jeff said, turning his attention back to the front window.

Things were starting to get heated. Leo Chakiris yelled “no!” so loudly that it almost shook the walls. Jeff and Lisa stared at each other, wide-eyed and shocked.

“What was that?” Lisa whispered.

“We need to know what they’re saying in there,” Jeff whispered back. He crouched down and practically crawled up to the door. He gently placed both of his hands on the door’s base. Lisa waved her arms in a frenetic silent protest, a panicked look on her face.

“I’m not going in,” Jeff whispered harshly. He then put his ear up against the door in the hopes of hearing the low volume portions of the conversation.

Lisa opened her eyes a little wider and then dropped down and scurried over next to Jeff to join him in his eavesdropping.

“- bleachers full of dead teenagers,” Jeff heard Walthius say. “Is that really…” the last part of the sentence dropped off.

“What did he say?” Lisa whispered. “I couldn’t hear it.”

“Neither could I.”

“Did he say something about dead teenagers?”

“I think so,” Jeff hissed.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I don’t know.”

Lisa looked slightly manic. “Is he talking about us?”

“Look,” Jeff hissed, exasperated, “I can’t very well listen to this and give you a play-by-play at the same time.”

Lisa shot him a dirty look.

Leo Chakiris was talking now. “Earthquakes happen when they happen, kid,” he said. And then Walthius said, “Oh, don’t give me that,” and then the conversation dropped down too low to make out any actual words.

“ ‘Earthquakes happen when they happen?’ ” Lisa repeated. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

Jeff shushed her, probably a little too loudly. Was it his imagination, or had the conversation inside stopped after he shushed? His heart seemed to stop until he heard the low rumble of voices again. But was someone coming toward the door?

Jeff heard distinct sounds of movement, and he motioned Lisa to make a break for it, but she just stayed there, her arms wrapped around her knees, paralyzed with fear.

Someone was standing right in front of the other side of the door, which Jeff was sure was about to open.

But it didn’t open.

“That’s right, another hero,” came Walthius’ clearly audible voice from just inches away, blocked only by a thin piece of wood. “Wal-me-thius did it before, and now I’ve done it again.”

Huh? Wal-me-thius? Jeff had no idea what that was supposed to mean. Is that like “Me, Walthius?” Shouldn’t it be “I, Walthius?”

Lisa looked confused, too. “Who is – ”

She didn’t get a chance to finish. An explosion rocked the entire building, blowing the door off its hinges and out into the courtyard, and Walthius along with it. He came flailing out directly above Jeff’s head and behind a massive wooden chunk that slammed up against the metal railing and splintered in every direction.

That cleared the way for Walthius, who arrived at where the railing used to be just a split second after the top half of the door. Walthius arced slightly upward and before he dropped like a stone on to the patio below. In that briefest of moments, just before he fell, he managed to make eye contact with Jeff.

Walthius was smiling. Smiling!

And then he was gone.

Jeff was about to scream, but then he heard Lisa screaming for him. He turned to face the apartment which was now engulfed in flame. Lisa had been pulled into the center of the room by the backdraft, and she was hysterical, screaming but still cradling herself, rocking back and forth almost in a fetal position, a stream of blood mixed with grime was trickling down from her forehead. Jeff could barely see her through the wall of flame that stood between them.

She herself was not on fire, though. Indeed, she seemed to be sitting in the eye of a blazing hurricane. Jeff walked through the flames as the heat shattered his glasses and consumed his mask. He was blinded by the brilliant, searing flames. He could feel the hot wind rushing past and hear the crackling flames engulfing everything around him.

Then he got to the center of the room, and Lisa.

The entire building was being consumed now. Jeff wasn’t injured at all, but the smoke was making it impossible to breathe. He grabbed Lisa and leapt upward, pushing effortlessly through the ceiling and soaring into the night sky, still struggling to see anything. The cool breeze rushing past him revived his spirits, and after a minute of staring upward, he thought he could actually see stars – real ones, not the ones burned onto his retina by the colossal blast.

He looked down, and despite his myopia, he could see the apartment building being devoured by flame. As he got closer, he realized it was better than he’d thought – the flames were actually localized, focused primarily on the one apartment. Thankfully, the majority of the building was essentially intact, and the other tenants were gathering out near ground zero, looking frazzled but unharmed.

Good, Jeff thought. I don’t have to worry about them.

“Walthius!” he shouted. No answer. He knew there was no way anyone could have survived a fall like that, but he refused to let himself believe it. He was hovering above the pool, away from the prying eyes, hands and questions of the other bewildered residents. With Lisa, bleeding and unconscious, cradled in his arms, Jeff looked everywhere for a glimpse of his other friend. He was practically blind without his glasses, so he squinted with all his might. All he could see was blobs of motion, which he guessed were probably people.

“Walthius!” he shouted again. He saw a blue blur over to his right and whisked over to see if it might be him. It wasn’t. Not even close. It was a very old woman who didn’t seem pleased to see him.

“Excuse me,” Jeff asked. “Did you see a…” he stopped himself. See a what? A guy with wavy hair come flying over the balcony? How could he possibly ask this question without freaking her out anymore than she already was?

“You’re the devil!” the lady yelled. “The devil!”

“Probably,” Jeff said, turning his back on her and gliding out over the pool.

The pool.

Jeff felt a rush of hope as he considered the possibility that the trajectory of Walthius’ fall might have landed him in soft water instead of hard cement. The pool was wavy and the water was disturbed, but there was no one swimming. Walthius landed in the pool. He was all right. He wasn’t dead.

So where was he?

Lisa moaned.

Jeff looked at her and then glanced up at the balcony, which was missing a large section of railing. He saw blobs of bodies up there, too – a mass of people demanding answers. In a corner of his mind, he wondered whether they had gotten a good glimpse of his unmasked face, but that did not distract him from his purpose.

Wherever Walthius was, he didn’t need him right now. Lisa did. Jeff floated upward past the angry horde, far from the chaos and back toward the real stars.

Quantum of Meh
Capitalism Doesn't Suck

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