“Hey, I need to talk to you.”
Rachel appeared by my side almost out of nowhere, her footsteps hidden by the cacophony of chatter and locker slams that were typical of the average high school passing period. I got a whiff of her perfume and was about to comment on how nice she smelled, but she cut me off, which was surprising. She was usually nice. And sweet, and funny, and caring, and I was hopelessly in love with her since the first grade.
“I… I’ve got something to tell you. It’s a secret, and no one knows about it.”
My mind spun into overdrive, and my fingers suddenly started twitching involuntarily. Was this about the love note I left in her locker several days ago, but then assumed had vanished after she never talked about it? Or was it about the time when he had mustered up the courage to ask her to the Homecoming dance, only to turn tail at the last second after Kevin from the swim team had cornered her first?
Rachel leaned in closer. “I’m dead serious,” she whispered, and her eyes betrayed her nervousness as they flitted around the corridor. My earlier thoughts disappeared; she wasn’t in a romantic mood, I could tell. “What’s going on?” I asked, with increasing apprehension.
“Okay, look. In thirty seconds, the President is going to walk through that door.”
I was silent for a second, then scoffed – loudly. Several freshmen turned to stare. “What are you talking about? The President? Do you think I’m stupid or something?” I asked, a bit more quietly.
Rachel pursed her lips. “Just watch, will you?”
I sighed, humoring her and watching the doorway at the end of the corridor, arms crossed. “Look, Rachel, I don’t know what’s up with you, but – ”
The rest of my sentence was cut short when a sudden shout of excitement carried from behind the door, followed by rushing footsteps, loud voices, and finally, the President swept into the hall, looking like he owned the place (he probably did, actually).
As a veritable swarm of students surrounded us, I glared incredulously at Rachel, who didn’t seem to be the least bit shocked by this. Her face betrayed annoyance and a hint of resignation.
My voice shook. “Rachel,” I asked slowly, as we were swept away in the ever-increasing volume of clamoring students and teachers alike, “what – is – going – on?”
She grabbed my arm and pulled me out of the vortex, heading upstream past the gawkers. “Let’s go in here,” she motioned to a now-deserted classroom. Only when the door firmly shut behind us did she let go of my arm. “Okay, look, I know you must think I’m a bit… weird right now,” she said, pursing her lips and sitting down in one of the mini-chairs. The room was a neutral gray and helped calm my head a little.
“No, just – ” I took a seat opposite her, leaning across and touching her knee. “Just – what’s going on? Can you… I mean, did you…” I motioned to the commotion outside, which did not show any signs of abating soon. “Did you do that?”
A hint of hesitation. “Yes,” Rachel sighed. “Yes, I did.”
I did nothing; I wasn’t sure if I trusted myself to speak. The silence lasted for a while.
“It’s not that I can predict, y’know, the future,” Rachel explained, breaking the tension. “But it’s really, really freaky – I can say something, like, something will happen, and it’ll happen exactly that way.”
“Show me again.”
Rachel sighed. “Okay,” she thought about it for a second. “In one minute, the President is going to collapse from a heart attack.”
I grimaced. “But he’ll be okay,” she added as an afterthought. As if that made things much better.
We both held our breaths for one minute, then there was a collective scream from the hallway outside and the sounds of rushing footsteps. I heard someone call for an ambulance. Rachel shrugged. “See? It’s always the same.”
“But… wow,” I said. “How…?”
“I don’t know!” Rachel growled, shivering. She glanced worriedly at the shut door. “It’s scaring the crap out of me, and I can’t figure out what to do with it. And do you know what the worst part is?”
“There’s a worst part?”
“Everything that happens – everything that I make happen – it’s all normal to everyone else. It’s almost as if that’s the way things were supposed to happen and there’s always an explanation for everything. I should be causing chaos, but I’m… I’m not.”
“Do you want to cause chaos?”
“Well…no!” Rachel said, defensively. “Of course I don’t! But it’s weird – I can make something happen that shouldn’t, ever, be allowed to happen, and the world – the world will accept it, and move on as if nothing was ever wrong.”
I frowned. “I’m not sure I follow.”
“Just…just watch the news tonight,” Rachel told me. “Then you’ll understand.”
“The President of the United States collapsed today after a sudden heart attack that send paramedics scrambling for help,” the TV blared that evening, the anchor breathless. Mother looked up from the dinner table. “Oh, how horrible!” she exclaimed. “Can you imagine?”
I very well could, and I turned toward the television, praying that neither I nor Rachel were mentioned. “Fortunately for the United States, he is alive and his condition is improving, according to his doctors.”
My dad, an ardent opponent of the President, let loose a comical sigh. “Oh well,” he said, turning back to his pot pie, “I can dream.”
Mother shot him a glare. “Charles!”
I wasn’t paying much attention, though; I anxiously awaited the anchor’s next words. “His heart attack came after a last-second and highly-lauded decision to reveal the next branch of his domestic education strategy at a local high school, surrounded by teachers and students from the district. According to school staff members, the incident was contained quickly, with the students instructed to go home before lunchtime.”
“News of the heart attack spread quickly on social media, as – ”
This was as far as I heard, as mom turned off the TV and stared askance at me. “What?” I asked her, feeling self-conscious.
“They just said that the students were sent home early, didn’t they?” She asked.
“Then why didn’t you come home? I saw you come in at the same time as you always do.”
I caught myself. “Ah,” I muttered. I hadn’t known that everyone else had been released early; Rachel and I had simply hid in that empty classroom, assuming that everyone was… elsewhere. Now that he thought about it, it had been monumentally stupid to think that classes would have returned to normal.
“I was… hanging out with Rachel,” I said. Not quite a lie, but what was I going to tell her?
“Rachel?” My mom’s eyes narrowed slightly. Dad cracked a smile. “That’s great, hun!”
I blinked. “Huh?”
“I really like her,” she said, enthusiastically. “Don’t you, Charles?”
“Oh, absolutely,” he said, wiping his mouth with a napkin. “I really do.”
I sighed. “It’s not like that, mom.”
She grinned as I stood up to leave. “Don’t stay out too late,” she trilled as I grabbed my bag and headed out.
“I won’t,” I flashed a smile before I closed shut the front door.
“Hey, in here!” Rachel motioned to me from underneath a tree, at the neighborhood park where we used to play when we were young. I snuck a quick glance either way across the street before I jogged over. “Hi.”
“Hi,” she breathed. “Did you tell anyone?”
“Of course not,” I said. “I promised, remember?”
She smiled, although it was a little strained. “Yeah. I… I know I can trust you. Right?”
I nodded. “You’re safe.”
Rachel pinched her brow. “I didn’t know who else to go to, really. My parents…” she trailed off.
“Hey, you practically grew up in our house anyway. My mom basically considers you family.”
“So,” I said, anxious to see some of her powers again. “Try something else.”
Rachel sighed. “Fine, alright.” She closed her eyes, then opened them again. “Hey, answer me one thing, though.”
“On a scale of one to ten,” – a small, hesitant grin spread across her face – “just how cool is this?”
“Eleven.” I laughed. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s creepy as hell. And could possibly be very annoying.”
“And it has the potential to destroy the entire universe as we know it.”
“But, given all that, very cool.”
She rubbed her hands together. “Okay, here we go. What do you want to happen in the world?”
“How far can we go? I mean, can we wish for… world peace or something?”
Rachel shook her head. “Nope. I’ve tried. Has to be some kind of specific action or an event.”
“OK, let’s see now…” I looked around the park. There was a child on a swing, a couple of soccer moms laughing on a picnic table. Nothing very interesting was going on, although he now realized that they had the power to change that.
Before I could mention this to Rachel, I heard a shrieking noise; a sudden scream was coming from the swings. The situation was quite different from what I had seen just a few seconds ago: a man in a dark suit was wrestling with the child on the swing, while the moms were yelling hysterically. In the parking lot, a van with its door open was revving its engines.
Rachel and I looked at each other; we both knew what we wanted it to be. She closed her eyes for a split second.
Within thirty seconds, the van’s engine had sputtered out, one of the moms had produced a firearm from her purse, and two police squad cars surrounded the park, sirens blaring.
We exchanged a high-five from behind the tree, and I picked up my jaw from the floor. “That was amazing, Rachel.”
She grinned. “Yeah, it’s kind of nice, you know,” she grabbed my arm and led us away from the commotion. “I wonder what else we can do with this.”
“You can do pretty much… well, anything!” I exclaimed. “Save a kitten from a tree, bring criminals to justice, save people from a burning building…”
My mind was dizzy with the possibilities. The world’s first superhero! I mean, she had the looks, and if she could hit the gym a few times she would look like she jumped straight from the pages of a comic book… and she would need a costume, of course. I already had one in mind; white, with a crease of silver and her logo in the middle, of course. It was going to look amazing.
The positive aftereffects of what I considered to be our origin story hadn’t fully washed away when Rachel gasped. “Stop,” she whispered.
“What is it?” I asked, scanning the neighborhood. A cat scurried from the top of a fence post, but apart from that, everything was quiet. “What?” I repeated.
“Hold on,” she held a finger out in front of the air as if she was beckoning to an invisible being. “There’s…I feel… something.”
I shivered. “What, is this one of your powers now, too?”
“I’m not sure,” Rachel murmured under her breath. “Just… stay still for a second.”
The wind blew sheets of dead leaves around our feet as the sun slowly inched down into the horizon. The sky grew dark in a matter of seconds. “Huh,” I said. “That’s kind of foreboding.”
Rachel barely threw me a glance. I looked at her; she was visibly trembling. “Hey,” I attempted to put my head on her shoulder, but she snapped it away. “Hold on,” she said. “I’m concentrating.”
I sighed. “There’s nothing here.”
“No,” Rachel cut me across. “There’s absolutely something here. I’m sure of it.”
“Just… something’s off. Something’s not where it should be.”
“Maybe it was that thing you did earlier?”
“No,” she told me, exasperation creeping into her voice. “Remember what I said? Everything I do falls into place perfectly, like it was intended to happen. No,” she returned to scanning the air, “something is definitely wrong.”
“Well, whatever it is, I – ” I never got to finish that sentence, as the force of a thousand screams tore through my brain. It was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before; the closest analogy to make would have been a lightning strike to my eyeballs. I was thrown back and landed hard on my back, my head cracking as it thumped against the pavement.
“What the hell was that??” Rachel breathed, apparently affected as well, although not as severely as I was. She was rubbing her ears and bent over double.
“I don’t know,” I coughed as I struggled to my feet, seeing stars. I had barely finished the sentence when another wave struck, this time dislodging little bits of concrete from the sidewalk. I laid prone on the street, looking up at the sky, with barely any energy to breathe.
Rachel pulled me up by the arms; she seemed to be less affected by it, although she was staggering a little. I looked quickly at her. “Did you do this?”
She shook her head, then her face turned white as she noticed something behind me. “Oh, no,” she breathed. I turned around and followed her gaze; although it was dark, and the trees obscured most of my sight, I could readily make out the telltale flickers of flashlights moving through the woods.
“Police?” I whispered. Rachel shook her head. “No, I don’t think so. I could’ve taken care of the police. These are… something different.”
As the men behind the flashlights slowly emerged, I noticed they were all wearing black suits and sunglasses, even in the dead of night. I felt like I was in the next installment of Men In Black and wondered if Tommy Lee Jones would be making an appearance.
“Who are those men?” I asked. Rachel was visibly shivering, even though the air was warm. “I don’t know,” she said, fear in her eyes. “And I know everything.”
I noticed they were all holding scary-looking machines with their hands; it looked like a radar dish on top of a very advanced-looking toaster. I realized that those had probably sent out the shock waves from before.
Retreating from the horde, a thought popped into my head. “Whoever they are, I don’t think they want to be friends,” I pointed out. “Can you make them go away?”
Rachel shut her eyes for several seconds. “I just did!” she said, confused. The people continued to advance, almost as if a super-human with psychic powers hadn’t tried to will them all into non-existence.
They crept closer. “Well, it’s not working!” I yelled, backing away. Rachel stood still, rooted in place.
I cringed as they raised their machines again. The last thing I remembered, I was knocked down on the ground, Rachel’s screams still echoing in my ears as a shade was thrown over my eyes.