Precursor to the actual chapter:
Except the hospital!
There it was, shining in the distance. The UCLA Medical Center. It wouldn’t take too long to get there, either. They were moving much more quickly now since Vikki had picked up the pace and toned down the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. It was probably because her arm, which had no doubt been at least bruised in the fall back at David’s house, was now seriously broken and misshapen. She was in real pain, and she couldn’t afford the energy to sustain her previous performance.
“Just a little farther,” Lisa implored, even though Vikki’s stride was longer than Lisa’s, and the shorter girl had to scramble to keep up.
Yet Vikki’s eyes were starting to glaze over. I’ve got to keep her moving, Lisa thought. She’s going into shock.
“How… how much farther?” Vikki asked, her voice tiny.
“Just until we can get to the hospital,” Lisa said. “It’s just up ahead.”
“How far up ahead?” There was a note of muted panic in her voice. She thinks it’s too far, Lisa thought. And she’s probably right.
“It’s where you need to be, sweetie,” Lisa reassured her, trying to sound as soothing as possible.
“This sucks,” Vikki sulked.
Lisa nodded. “It sucks big time,” she said, all the while trudging forward.
The girls passed a handful of people along the way, and none of them volunteered to help them, despite the fact that Vikki clearly needed medical attention. She was starting to weigh heavily on Lisa’s tiny frame, and Lisa wasn’t sure how much longer they could maintain forward motion. They were passing under some fairly bright street lamps, which was not, in Lisa’s mind, a good thing. It made them more visible then when they had walked past the dimly lit running track. Lisa would have stopped to rest, except she knew that Vikki was being propelled by pure inertia now. If they stopped, she would pass out, and this would all be over.
Lisa kept scanning behind her, praying not to catch a glimpse of David, or, at the very least, to see him before he saw her. She did her best to stick to the shadows. Part of her brain was telling her that surely they were safe, that David had lost their trail and given up.
Her gut told her otherwise, so they kept moving forward toward the bright red sign.
“He hurt me,” Vikki muttered to no one in particular, no inflection in her voice. She was on autopilot now.
“I know, honey,” Lisa said, sympathetic for the first time. “He hurt a lot of people.”
And he’s far from being done, she thought, as they made their way forward.
The truth was that David had just about given up.
It wasn’t because he had lost his murderous intent; it was that there were simply too many places they could have gone. He was slightly worried about the scene back on Sunset, but he thought it highly unlikely that he would actually be caught. The police would have a hard time imagining that a scrawny kid could have tossed cars aside like playthings. They might, however, want to ask him some questions, and he was in no mood for interrogations. The guilt he had wrestled with back at his father’s house had receded into memory, or someplace deeper. He felt none of it, anyway, and it was almost as if it had belonged to someone else. In a few more minutes, it would be gone completely. David already had a hard time even recalling what it had felt like.
Instead, he was enjoying moving beyond David, or beyond what David had been before. Now he was something Other, something new, yet ancient, something with a destiny he could embrace, or, at the very least, a destiny that had embraced him. There were no more doubts. All that was left was a bright, shiny purpose, gleaming like a diamond in the noonday sun, leading him through the darkest places of his soul.
It all begins, he thought, with the death of those girls. Then we’ll see where the wind takes me. He smiled as he savored the possibilities. There was no door closed to him now. At least, no door that he couldn’t rip and tear and power through with his bare hands.
There’d be time for that later, he said. First, I’ve got a couple of girls to kill.
Wait a second, he thought. Is that a hospital up ahead?
“Look, I’m not trying to make fun of you,” Jeff assured Walthius. “I know this is serious.”
“Serious as a heart attack, my friend,” Walthius agreed. “If you’re going to do this hero thing, you’re going to do it right.”
“Okay,” Jeff said. He stepped back from the fantasy, with the option to return when the moment presented itself. “So now we’re talking,” he said, as much to himself as to Walthius. “Now we’re getting somewhere.”
“So, with all things considered,” Walthius continued, “it sounds like you’re going to need some help.”
“Right.” Jeff was nodding vigorously. “That’s right. Help. So what do I do?”
“Well, step one is pretty obvious,” Walthius said.
“I know it is.” He breathed out a sigh of resignation. “I just have no idea what to say to her. ”
Her? You idiot! Not her! Think, Jeff, think!
Walthius regarded him coolly. “Say to her? Say to who?”
“Say to them!” Jeff said.
“What do you mean, who’s them?” Jeff said, far too defensively. He needed a “them,” and then he came up with one. “My parents! Them! I totaled the car! And soon everyone at school is going to hear about this. You should have heard Lisa Meyer after I fell off the bleachers. ‘You sure are a good jumper.’ Like I’m a kangaroo or something. What a –“
Walthius interrupted him with a clean slap across the face.
“Ow!” Jeff said. “That really hurt!”
“Yeah,” Walthius said, “it hurt me.” Walthius was now clutching his own hand in agony.
Jeff rubbed the side of his face with his hand where Walthius had made contact. Of course it hurt! Didn’t it? He couldn’t tell. If there had been any pain, it was gone now. Maybe he only thought it had hurt because Walthius had taken him by surprise. And Walthius was now opening and closing his fist, apparently trying to shake off some of the sting. “If someone doesn’t believe you, just have them slap you. One time. That’s all it takes.”
“What did you do that for?”
Walthius started wincing. “I may have broken something.”
“You focus!” Wealthiest shouted back before returning to wincing. “Focus on step one,” he said in a pained voice.
“No, you’re not. You’re blubbering about your little personal kerfuffles. I’m talking about step one.”
“All right,” Jeff said, humoring him. “I’ll bite. What’s step one?”
“Step one: tights.”
Walthius reached under his seat and, with his good hand, he pulled what looked like a shirt box. He tossed it into Jeff’s lap.
“Open it,” he said. Jeff complied, and then he gasped.
He lifted out a gold and brown unitard with a large sunburst on the chest. It was attached to a white, nylon cape. Jeff let out a long, low breath. If anything, this was an even more surreal moment than the first time he flew.
“So?” Walthius asked. “You like?”
Nope. He didn’t.
Lisa kept glancing behind herself. Did she hear something? Was she being followed?
She had tried to stay off the main path, cutting through bushes and the darker parts of campus. She knew she had gone too far when she hit Sawtelle, which was too far west. To the right of the girls, bathed in creepy moonlight, was the veteran’s cemetery, which struck Lisa as a bad omen. She could see the edges of nearby Westwood Village and the throngs of people crossing Wilshire from the Federal Building. She felt her heart skip a beat as she realized she was probably more exposed than ever, and too far away from her goal.
“Are we there?” Vikki breathed, barely able to get the words out.
“We’re almost there, honey,” Lisa lied. “It won’t be long now.”
Vikki ignored her and kept going straight on her originally programmed course. Lisa had to grab her to get her to make the sharp turn back toward the hospital. She shifted her sideways, which jostled her broken arm. Instinctively, Vikki let out a blood-curdling scream.
They could hear that from a mile away, Lisa thought.
“Where did you get this?” Jeff demanded. They were about a mile away from the Wilshire onramp, just on the other side of the Federal Building.
“I didn’t get it. I made it,” Walthius said. “That’s bending the rules, I know. Even Peter Parker made his own suit. I should have let you make it. But circumstances being what they are –“
“You made this?”
“You can’t get something like that off the rack,” Walthius said. “You gotta have your own colors.”
“You made this,” Jeff said again, still disbelieving. The thing was, it was actually pretty good. It had clearly taken some time and effort – more time and effort than Walthius would have had after he had gotten the phone call.
“When did you make this?” Jeff asked.
Walthius shifted in his seat. “You don’t like it.”
“No, that’s not it. It’s just –“
“It’s the school colors, I know. I should have picked something else. And that sunburst on the chest. Let me explain. It seems a little gaudy, I know, but it will come in handy if you have to -”
“What are you talking about?”
“Look, if you don’t like it just say so.”
“I didn’t say I don’t like it. I just don’t understand-”
“Did you see the mask, too?”
“At the bottom.”
Jeff fumbled around the bottom of the box and found a black, Zorro-like linen mask. Walthius had clearly thought of everything. It made Jeff unusually queasy.
“Something wrong?” Walthius asked.
“Yeah, there’s something wrong!” Jeff blurted. “I’m supposed to wear this?”
“What did you think you were going to wear?”
“Well, unlike you, I hadn’t planned all this in advance.”
Walthius let out a sigh. “Do not tell me,” he said impatiently, “that you’re not willing to do the tights.”
“How did you know –”
“Never mind that!” snapped Walthius. “It’s the tights that matter.”
Jeff just stared at him with his mouth hanging wide open. Walthius broke away from watching the road and stared back. Jeff thought for a moment that he could establish some kind of psionic connection, where he could scour his friend’s brain and discover something that might explain all of this. Maybe this is just one more of my superpowers, Jeff thought. I’m sure it is. I know I’m feeling a connection here…
Then Walthius blinked. “So that’s a no, then?”
“A no. On the tights.”
“Really? That’s what you were thinking?”
Walthius turned back to the road and rubbed his face with his hands. “You can’t read minds, you idiot.”
Jeff’s pride was bruised. “Who said I could?”
“The tights, you moron! You’ve got to wear the tights!”
“Why should I?”
Walthius began to sputter. “Because… because…”
“Because it’s the tights, man!” Walthius said. “That’s self-explanatory.”
“Not to me, it isn’t,” Jeff said, “Why should superheroes was all feel this unyielding urge to dress up in silly clothes?”
“They’re superheroes, you dolt. That’s what they do.”
“Well, yeah,” said Jeff, “I mean, sure, they can move mountains and everything, but can’t you do that in a pair of jeans instead of a leotard?”
“Look to the classics, my friend.” Walthius said. “The classics. If you’re going to quote Peter Parker, you have to dress like him.”
“But I don’t look like him.”
“So he’s got muscles that ripple when the wind blows. I’m six foot four and weight 165 pounds.”
“So who wants to see a guy with a caved-in chest and a pair of chicken legs in a unitard?”
“Are you going to take this seriously or not?” Walthius asked. They were finally at the onramp, at the end of the line to get on to the freeway. Jeff decided that the rest of the ride might go more smoothly if he played along.
“Yeah, I guess so.” Jeff sighed, giving in. “Fine. What’s a pair of tights between friends?”
“Good,” Walthius said, satisfied.
They drove in silence for a moment.
Then Walthius spoke. “Well?”
Jeff stared at him. “Well, what?”
“Well, nothing!” Walthius shot back. “Aren’t you going to put them on?”
Jeff looked like he’d been hit in the head with a frozen duck.
David turned to face the noise. That was a girl’s scream, he was sure of it. And it wasn’t that far away.
David ran out to the end of the street and turned on to Sawtelle, where he saw two girls crossing the street before the lights had changed.
They were at least three football fields away from him. So close, and yet so far. Too far to run and catch them unawares.
But close enough.
Jeff kept protesting, but once he realized that Walthius would not be denied, he began undressing in the passengers seat. His legs were too long to fully extend them as he removed his jeans, so he arched his back up and slid the wet, heavy denim off his legs. He was left in his soaking wet underwear, and realized he would have to take that off, too. He looked left and right, as traffic was moving too slowly to prevent any curious onlookers from peeking in on him. As soon as he was convinced that none of the other drivers were paying attention, he ripped off his undies and with lightning speed, he yanked on the tights, flailing against the space constraints and smashing his elbow through the window, sending shattered glass out into the street.
“Watch it!” Walthius shouted.
“Sorry!” he said to Walthius, and then “Sorry!” he said to the car next to him, waving and grinning sheepishly before slinking down and ducking his head below the window. He tried to scoop up the bits of broken glass that had fallen inside instead of out, and then he went to open the door to dump it all into the road. In his frenzied state, he lacked the control to keep from ripping the door handle clean off the side.
“Oh, that’s real nice,” Walthius moaned. He had to moan pretty loudly, too, since the newly absent window was welcoming in all of Santa Monica’s nighttime cacophony.
“I said I was sorry!” Jeff yelled. “I didn’t do it on purpose!”
“Of course you didn’t,” Walthius yelled back. “Anyway, how do they feel?”
Jeff looked down at himself. The truth was they felt pretty good,. They were dry, anyway. And while there were no rippling muscles to speak of, his skeletonic frame meant that there were no unsightly bulges, either.
“They feel good,” Jeff said. “They feel really, really good.”
Walthius smiled. “I thought they would,” he said.
“Where do you want these?” he said, dangling his shredded briefs in his hand.
“Oh, man!” Walthius said. “You were supposed to leave those on!”
Jeff laughed. “What, you think Superman leaves them on?”
Walthius shook his head. “Superman wears those yellow things on the outside.”
“Yeah, great,” Jeff said. “I’m not wearing these on the outside.”
“Toss them in the back, then,” Walthius ordered. “It’s time for step two.”
“This thing is okay now, but I’m pretty sure that when I stand up it’s going to start riding up my crotch,” Jeff complained. “And it’s not long enough.” He looked down at his exposed white, flabby thighs, and it undermined his confidence to leap tall building without looking like he was waiting for a flood.
“Who cares. We’re at step two now.”
“All right, fine,” Jeff said. “Step two.”
Jeff tilted his head, “There’s a step two?”
“Step two,” Walthius said. “A name.”
There was a line of parked cars all along Sawtelle, the last bit of free parking available before heading into Westwood. David started running down the side of the cars, and in an instant, both of his arms had ballooned to giant size, along with, for the first time, his feet, which burst out of their shoes. They provided the power to dash down the hill at breakneck speed. He was definitely running faster now, picking up cars as he went and throwing them as he gathered steam.
He got it down to a pattern: two steps, throw car. Two steps, throw car. Soon he was lost in the rhythm of it.
The girls were entering the village now. He couldn’t see them. He did see a few horrified people on the other side of the street, which made for good target practice.
You should all feel lucky, David thought. You each get a car of your own.