David had kept the taxi waiting as he knocked on his mother’s front door. She hadn’t answered, which came as a disappointment but no real surprise. She hadn’t answered her phone either, and David had no idea where she was. He now had nowhere else to go but home.
So he climbed into the back seat of the cab, gave his apartment address, and closed his eyes, desperately hoping to drift off to sleep. He had the beginnings of a headache, which was starting to bother him. Still, it didn’t keep him from drifting off until somebody spoke.
“Wild night, innit?”
It took him a couple of seconds to realize it was the cab driver talking to him. “Yeah, pretty wild,” David muttered, closing his eyes again. Take the hint, David thought. Shut up and let me sleep.
“Terrorists. In LA. Who’d a thunk it, huh?”
“Yeah,” David said. “Look, I’m kind of tired. You mind if I…”
“Don’t let me bug ya,” the cab driver said earnestly. “No problem.”
David thought that was the end of it until the guy turned up the music. Idiot!
For a fleeting moment, he thought he felt his hands swell, but he buried that feeling with ease. This guy’s annoying, but he’s not going to die for it.
“Could you…” David began.
“Too loud?” the driver said. “Sorry.” He turned down the volume dial. The music was still annoying, but it was just white noise. It didn’t take long for him to drift off to sleep.
He started dreaming almost immediately.
David knew he was dreaming, which allowed him to distance himself from what he knew was coming. His mind cast back to an unnaturally warm January in Bel Air, the night he had chosen to come back to his father’s house. He knew he was supposed to be excited – he was standing up to his mother, he was becoming his own man – but he knew how the story ended. Every time, he tried to talk himself out of doing what he did then. But that was why he was here, wasn’t it? That was the way real life had played out, and he had to follow suit.
Those were the rules of the dream.
He heard himself scream again as he looked into the dimly-lit pool and saw the lifeless eyes staring back at him from the bottom. He had screamed before, in the real world, but his heart wasn’t in it the way it was the first time. He wasn’t surprised. He knew how improbably odd and strange they were, how they looked desiccated, mummified, bone dry while surrounded by water. But he still screamed, out of duty to the dream more than anything else.
He turned at the appointed time and saw the familiar figure coming toward him.
Only this time, the dream changed. His hands swelled up; he reached out to grab him before he had a chance to speak. I could squeeze the life out of him faster than popping a zit…
No! That’s not the way it works!
But he couldn’t help himself. He could feel the tiny body between his colossal hands, feel the life draining out of him the way it had abandoned the figures lying like dead weights in the pool behind him…
“Sorry, man,” the real-life cabbie said, “it’s one of those special reports. They just broke into the music. I didn’t mean to wake you.”
David rubbed his eyes and tried to get his bearings. He had come out of that dream so many times before, but never to a reality that was just as strange, or even stranger…
“There’s been report of another terrorist attack in the Reseda area,” a voice from the radio voice intoned. “Details are sketchy, but – “
Click. The driver had turned the radio off.
“I’m sorry. Really,” he said. “You can go back to-”
“Turn it back on!” David ordered fiercely. The driver, looking startled and somewhat annoyed, sheepishly complied.
“- in an apartment complex. The masked stranger from the earlier Westwood incident was sighted, along with his female companion, who bystanders say was injured in the blast.”
A female voice broke in. “Todd, why this apartment?”
“Well,” the first voice answered, “we know very little, but one report say this apartment was being rented by David Chakiris, son of Olympus Studios Chairman and CEO Leo Chakiris.”
David thought his heart was probably still beating, but he couldn’t be sure.
His sense of purpose, however, had suddenly returned.
She was alive. For the moment, that was enough.
Jeff was grateful for each and every one of Lisa’s breaths as he carried her out of harm’s way back toward the UCLA emergency room. He knew there were likely closer hospitals, but his sense of direction was lousy; he couldn’t see the signs without his glasses, and he didn’t want to take chances. Even without glasses, it was easy enough to follow the freeway route back over to the West Side and then back to the place he’d dropped off Vikki. He flew hunched over her, almost backward, in order to shield her from the wind resistance, which allowed him to travel far more quickly than would have if she were conscious. He made it from Reseda to UCLA in record time.
Once he got to the hospital, in the blink of an eye, he was able to swoop in, deposit Lisa in the lap of the startled nurse on duty, and then swoop back out again.
He used the next few minutes to hover and think.
He was balanced on his back, drifting through the now-cloudless night as if he were floating lazily down a stream. His body was perfectly at ease while his mind was racing, and he wasn’t sure what to panic about first. Where was Walthius? Not that he could have helped. Both Lisa and Vikki were wounded. He was now a wanted terrorist. His parents were probably about to have a joint heart attack. And his car was trashed, totaled. Not to mention the killer giant on the loose, or the movie studio head who was probably nothing but ashes. So where to begin?
He looked down at his ankles, which were glowing in the moonlight. Stupid tights, he thought. What was Walthius thinking?
Jeff looked at his arms and realized for the first time that the tights had escaped the explosion entirely unscathed. He checked his torso and his legs for signs of burns or scorch marks. Nothing. Not even some fraying around the edges. It was perfectly intact. It was even clean. How does that work? Jeff thought. There was more to this suit than spandex.
What was Walthius thinking?
His thoughts of self-pity took a detour to consider this new evidence. Walthius wasn’t the least bit surprised when he heard the news about Jeff’s inexplicable transformation. Walthius prepared for all this. Walthius had this miracle suit ready made for the occasion. Walthius was at the home of the giant, talking to a studio executive.
There was more to Walthius than met the eye.
Somehow, Walthius was at the center of everything that had happened. Clinging to the thought of this infused him with a new confidence.
But it also made him mad.
Jeff didn’t understand the particulars, but he knew Walthius somehow did. That didn’t strike him as fair. He wanted to know why. Why would he know all this without confiding in me? Without telling me everything? The friend he’d known for over a dozen years was now a complete enigma.
Just who was Walthius, anyway?
“I’m her brother,” David told the nurse. “I need to see her right away.”
“I’m sorry, what?” she said. David could barely hear her – the emergency room was alive with activity in every corner, filling quickly with victims from David’s attack earlier. David had even thought he’d recognized one of them, and was terrified that maybe they recognized him, too. He was sure that at any moment he might be discovered. His agitation was not out of place in a hospital that was seeing more than its share of action tonight.
David looked out the front window to see his cab pulling away. He wasn’t even sure he was at the right hospital, and now his ride was gone. He turned back to the nurse and hoped things wouldn’t get too messy.
“Didn’t you hear me, lady?” David said, shouting. “I said I’m her brother.”
“Whose brother?” the nurse asked. She was speaking blandly, unruffled by the frenzy around her.
“Coming through!” yelled an orderly directly behind David. David dodged a stretcher that almost rolled directly into his back. Watch where you’re going, he thought. He felt his hands begin to swell…
“Her brother?” said another nurse sitting on the other side of the station. “Is that what you said?”
David exhaled slowly. His hand seemed to do the same. He turned to the other nurse, smiled, and said, “That’s right.” Maybe this one would be more sympathetic, he thought. There will be no need for a more… physical solution.
The other nurse wasn’t smiling. “Who did you want to see again?”
David’s hand twitched again.
“Look, it doesn’t matter anyway,” said the first nurse. “We’re too busy right now for visitors.”
“I need to – ”
The nurse cut him off. “Sir, if you’ll just take a seat, I’ll call you over when things calm down.”
“Are you even listening to me?” David’s voice was rising. “Because I just need you to listen to me…”
A burly man in an official-looking uniform appeared from what seemed to David like out of nowhere. “Would you come with me, please, sir?” the man said. His voice was polite, but his hard eyes were not.
David stared back at him. You think you’re tough? I’ll show you tough…
No. No, I won’t. It was like holding back a river with one outstretched hand, but David managed to keep the giant-sized rage from drowning him. The rage river slowed to a trickle. David was back in control.
“Would you like to come with me, sir?” the guard asked again, exactly as he had the first time, which made it all the more threatening the second.
“It can wait until tomorrow,” David said, smiling pleasantly. He walked toward the door and waved at the nurse, who had gone back to her business and didn’t notice him. He waved at the guard, too, who saw him and didn’t wave back.
“Fine,” David mumbled, and, out on the street, he turned to go. He made his way to the parking lot when he saw an ambulance turning toward a different rear entrance. They pulled someone out of the back on a stretcher, and they started wheeling the patient in to the hospital. Paramedics, nurses and family members were swirling around the scene. Another ambulance pulled up behind them. It was total pandemonium.
All that lying about being her brother was just a waste of time, David thought. In the end, it was too easy. He made use of the confusion to slip in through the rear door unnoticed.
I’m in, he thought.
He breathed a sigh of relief, and then he set off looking for Vikki Dennis’s room.
Unable to assuage his anxiety, and having nothing much better to do, Jeff was now distracting himself by playing what amounted to a superheroic game of chicken. How low could he go without being spotted? He was bobbing up and down in the dark above all of the comings and going around the emergency room. He began by hovering about ten feet above the heads of the visitors, and then lowered it to five feet. In one manic moment, he actually brushed up against a woman’s head, which he was sure would be the end of the game. Instead, the lady just reacted as if she’d felt a stiff breeze. She patted her hair down and kept moving.
Nobody ever looks up, Jeff thought. I could do this all night.
Or I could do something else.
As soon as he thought of the plan, he put it into motion. The ER sliding doors opened, and at just under the speed of sound, Jeff whisked into the waiting room, hoping that the entry into the actual hospital wing would be open.
They weren’t. So Jeff clung to the eight-foot ceiling, just a couple of feet above the nurses, and prayed that no one looked up.
No one did.
The room was jammed, but no one had the time or interest to look toward the ceiling. Jeff crabwalked a few feet to see whether the movement would attract anyone’s attention. Still nothing. Jeff resisted the urge to chuckle. After a moment, the doors opened, and Jeff darted into the main holding area and practically glued himself to the ceiling. He banged the door on the way in, making a fairly loud noise, and Jeff looked back to see if anyone would notice the source of the disturbance.
This time, someone did.
It was a toddler, a blonde, curly-haired little moppet who saw Jeff up where Jeff shouldn’t have been. Jeff made eye contact and waved feebly, and then quickly put his “shushing” finger to his lips to keep the kid quiet.
The kid’s eyes grew as big as saucers and filled with tears. His mother, who was consulting with the doctor next to her, turned to pick her up.
“What’s wrong sweetie?” she asked.
Jeff was sure that the kid’s next move would be to point in his direction, so he dashed from the ceiling to an open closet and, after landing without making too much noise, he gingerly shut the door and flipped on the light.
It was a linen closet.
Sheets and clean surgical clothing adorned the utilitarian shelves. Jeff saw an opportunity to get out of his tights and into something less noticeable, and he wasn’t about to let that pass. He rummaged through the piles until he found a pair of blue XL scrubs. Then he grabbed his tights by the neck and started to pull them off.
The tights vanished in his hand.
The instant he’d taken action to remove them, they’d removed themselves. Jeff wondered if the opposite would be true. He dropped the scrubs and concentrated on making the tights reappear.
Which they did, the moment the thought entered his mind.
“Nice,” he said aloud. He started playing with it, imagining the tights on and then off, over and over, realizing that the clothes responded to his every whim.
This could come in handy, Jeff thought. Or, if I don’t watch what I’m thinking, this could be downright embarrassing.
Jeff donned the scrubs and tentatively opened the door, looking to see if anyone would spot him.
The coast was clear.
He strolled out confidently, passing each room, looking for either Vikki or Lisa. He saw an old man, an old lady, and a guy with a broken leg until he almost ran directly into a bed being wheeled into a nearby empty room with an IV-wired Lisa Meyer on top of it.
And she was awake.
“Lisa!” he blurted. She looked at him, and, even as groggy as she was, her eyes brightened in recognition. The orderly wheeling her looked at him quizzically, and a doctor came up behind him.
“Can I help you, sir?” the doctor asked.
“Uh, yes,” Jeff fumbled, “I need to see the, uh, patient, with the uh, thing with the – “
“He’s my husband,” Lisa said, and the doctor nodded, smiled, and walked away. The orderly took them to a semi-private room in which the other bed was empty. He also smiled, told Lisa to press a button if he needed anything, and then he was gone.
Jeff decided they could talk freely. “A little early to be thinking about marriage, aren’t we?”
Lisa smiled wearily. “I didn’t mean to embarrass you,” she said. “It’s the only way they’d let you stay.”
“You didn’t embarrass me,” Jeff said, sitting down at the end of her bed. He didn’t tell her that he felt a small electric thrill that she could imagine being married to him, even under such bizarre circumstances. “Are you all right?”
“They don’t think I’m your accomplice anymore, which is a good thing,” she said. “I told them you’d rescued both me and Vikki, but I doubt they bought the part about the giant. They must think I’m delirious. They even gave me a breathalyzer test, which was kind of a laugh…”
“That’s not what I meant,” Jeff said. “It’s not about me. It’s about you. Are you all right?”
Lisa’s face softened. “A nasty concussion and more bruises than I can count, but nothing’s broken or badly burned,” she said. “I got off easy. How about you?”
“Yes, you,” she said. “Are you all right?”
Jeff shrugged. “Indestructible as always.”
“Any idea what happened back there?”
“A lot of help you are,” Lisa sniffed.
Jeff began to protest, but Lisa let out a small, simple laugh. “Knock it off, Jumper,” she said gently, taking his hand in hers. “You saved my life. Thanks.”
Jeff was taken aback. “Anytime,” he whispered as he felt his pulse quicken.