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HARPER KINGSLEY

Science fiction and fantasy author


SQUARE: BLACK FRIDAY

by Harper Kingsley


Title: Black Friday
Author: Harper Kingsley
Setting: Universe B
Framework: Heroes & Villains
Characters: Vereint Georges, Sandra Georges, Patrick Georges
Genre: superhero, sci-fi

There were times when young Vereint Georges thought his family was weird. Thanksgiving was one of those times.

They bundled up in their winter coats and climbed into the station wagon at ten in the morning and headed to Willsbury, the next town over. Shining Star Grove wasn't big enough for its own movie theater, so they had to make the 45 minute drive in the snow to make the 11:15 matinee showing of Mr. Garbello's Balloon.

Vereint wasn't very enthused about the academy Award nominated movie, but he was happy to be out of the house. Plus they were going to Chang's Chinese Buffet afterward, which was always a treat. His mom didn't believe in wasting money on restaurants and always said things tasted better when they were made at home. Except her version of egg rolls had been really terrible--he'd seen her scrape most of them into the garbage and wished she'd done that before making him eat one.

Dad switched on the radio as soon as they were in the car. He was the driver and he had control of what they listened to. Considering the radio only caught four stations and one was religious and two others were country western, it wasn't like there was much to choose from. They always listened to the tinny sounding rock and roll station, and Mom would sing along and she sounded better than the people on the radio.

Vereint sat or laid in the backseat shivering until the car heated up. The orangey-brown vinyl always took forever to warm up in the winter and his bare legs stuck to it in the summer. Dad said he wanted to get a new car, but it hadn't happened yet. Vereint figured they would be stuck with the station wagon forever.

"You want some cocoa back there?" Mom asked.

"Yes please."

Vereint stuck his face in the notch between the front and back seat and watched her carefully unscrew the thermos and pour the cocoa into the plastic lid-cup. "Be very careful not to spill it. And watch out because it's hot," she cautioned.

"Yes, Mama." The cup was only half-full and he was careful not to slosh when he took the cup and leaned back in the seat. He sipped, his eyes half-closing at the heat against his chapped lips. "Thank you."

The cocoa was chocolatey and sweet. He idly wished for a couple of marshmallows, but it was still good plain.

He looked out the window and drank cocoa, listening to his mom sing with the radio. They were one of the only cars on the road, nearly everyone else tucked away in their houses as they did whatever people did on Thanksgiving. Everything he knew about the holiday came from TV as his family didn't celebrate it.

I really love the Amazon Fire TV Stick. That's why I bought two of them.

One for the TV in the living room and one for the Kid. It has a much better connection and interface to Hulu Plus than the app that's installed on our so-called "Smart" TV. (The TV is actually pretty dumb, but the picture is beautiful. Pretty but dumb.)

His dad was 1/8th Native American and refused to celebrate the genocide of his ancestors. Vereint wasn't sure what that meant, as to him Thanksgiving seemed more to be a day of eating too much food and watching the parade on TV. From what he'd seen in movies and shows, people didn't do much more than eat on the holiday. All he knew was that his family had never celebrated Thanksgiving for as long as he'd been alive.

They'd started seeing movies when he was old enough not to cry as soon as the house lights switched off. He was fourteen now and they'd been going to the movies and Chang's Chinese Buffet for nine Thanksgivings in a row. It was their family tradition.

Vereint sometimes wondered what it would be like to have one of those Thanksgivings he'd seen on TV, with turkey and stuffing and the entire extended family in one place, but it was more an idle musing than anything else. He enjoyed their trips to the movies and the rare treat of a meal in a restaurant. They had Christmas for the family gathering thing.

"Do we have to see Mr. Garbello's Balloon?" he asked. "The TV commercials made it look so boring."

Dad didn't look away from the road. "What, you don't want to see a three hour movie about a man and his imaginary hot air balloon?"

"It's three hours?" Vereint slumped down in the seat, pressing his knees into the seat back in front of him. He was careful not to spill the last sips of cocoa, propping the cup against his stomach. "Someone call the coroner. I don't think I'm going to make it."

"But it's cultural. It will be a good experience for you," Mom said.

"How can it be good for me if I die?"

"Well, then I guess it's a good thing we're actually going to see Commander Quack," Dad said.

Vereint quickly sat up, catching the cup before it could fall. "Commander Quack, really? Wow, I didn't think you'd let me see it."

"You're fourteen now. You're not a little kid," Mom said. "We talked about it and decided that you're old enough to see a movie about a giant talking duck interacting with real people."

"Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!" Vereint squirmed excitedly, his seatbelt the only thing holding him down. "Commander Quack. Steven in my class saw it and he said it was so cool. Commander Quack is a duck from outer space that crash lands in Central Park in New York City. He needs to get help to fix his ship and go home, but scientist guys want to dissect him or something."

"Well, you know so much about the movie that maybe we should see something else."

"Dad!"

"Okay, okay, settle down." Dad laughed. "We're still going to see Commander Quack."

Oh, I have so many feelings about Jupiter Ascending. Saw it with the fam and it was super entertaining, plus there's that one fanfic I read that completely warped my mental worldview. Seriously, that story is a 100% button pusher, and I read it before I saw the movie and again afterward. It is the perfect complement.

Vereint grinned excitedly. He never would have thought his parents would let him see Commander Quack. They were usually very strict about what he was allowed to see, which was why he'd had to watch The Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles at Duv's house. His parents had thought it was too violent.

But now they were taking him to see Commander Quack, which was rated PG-13. It was the best day ever!

* * *

Vereint was quiet leaving the theater and couldn't meet either of his parents' eyes. Steven hadn't mentioned any of that. He'd gone on and on about the fight scenes and the funny stuff. He hadn't said a thing about the creepy stuff.

Commander Quack was a four-and-a-half foot tall duck. He'd had a ducky girlfriend on his home planet that Vereint suspected might have been a duck prostitute. But she was a duck same as him; Gloria was human, and even though it had cut away before the kiss, Vereint was pretty sure they'd had sex.

Gloria had walked out of the bedroom in Commander Quack's shirt and he'd followed her out a few seconds later smoking a cigarette.

Vereint couldn't look at his mother and father. He just knew they were never going to let him watch a grown up movie ever again. He was going to spend the rest of his life watching stuff like The Mouse and the Motorcycle and Witches. It made him want to punch Steven right in his liar face.

He wordlessly followed them to the car. The drive to Chang's Chinese Buffet was awkward and silent. Vereint leaned his head against the window and tried to clear that awful movie from his mind. It had been boring and embarrassing, and having Commander Quack be a duck hadn't saved it at all.

They reached the restaurant and it was hard to be miserable when faced with the pure awesome of Chang's Chinese Buffet. Everything was red and gold and there was so much food he didn't know where to start. Though he couldn't help eying the big mound of peel-and-eat-shrimp and the whole row of sliced fruit and brightly colored gelatin.

"Come on," Mom said, and she walked around with him, scooping and tonging food onto his plate. She believed the first plate should be healthy at least and always made him eat vegetables and grilled--not fried--meat.

"Can we get some shrimp too?" he asked, dodging around one of the three other people at the buffet tables.

"I don't know. Do you think you can handle delicious, succulent shrimp?"

"Yes!" He nearly cheered at her smile and hurried to fill a clean plate full of shrimp. "Succulent," he mouthed.

"Not too much. What if you can't eat all that? There's no reason to waste food."

"I won't," Vereint said. He planned on eating all these shrimp and going back for more. Plus there were strawberries and pineapple peeking at him from the next table along with almond cookies with real almonds. "I'm gonna eat it all."

She held her plate out with a nod and he scooped some shrimp next to the tangle of lo-mein and steamed potstickers. She always wanted him to eat healthy, but said as an adult she could eat what she wanted. He couldn't wait to be an adult too.

She filled a little cup with cocktail sauce. "Do you want some?"

"No, I like mine plain." He shifted from foot to foot, watching her drip Sriracha and soy sauce over her steamed mussels.

"You don't have to wait with me if you don't want to," she said. "Your dad's already back at the table."

"No, I'll wait for you." He liked the little smile she couldn't quite hide. Besides, he could tell she was almost done, and there was something oddly mesmerizing about the way she prepared the mussels. She liked to let the flavors absorb while she ate everything else, then she would scoop the mussels out of their shells with her fork.

"All done," she said. "Come on."

He followed her back to their table, careful not to spill anything from his plate. Once there, he suffered having a napkin stuffed into the neck of his shirt before grabbing one of the pieces of skewered chicken and taking a bite. "So good."

Dad looked at Mom and said something too low for him to hear. They both laughed and it was such a warm sound that Vereint kicked his sneakers against the table leg excitedly.

In case you didn't know, this is where Vereint ends up: Heroes & Villains. You get introduced to all of the characters and storylines that take place in Allies & Enemies, though you could read them both as standalones.

To be honest, I am very fond of Allies & Enemies. There's just something about Darkstar kicking ass and taking names... Plus some of the scenarios introduced expand outward into other storylines (the Blue Fairy; Franz Caulder; From Diamond to Coal, etc.).

Other families ate turkey on Thanksgiving. His family watched a movie and ate at a Chinese buffet. He didn't know which was supposed to be better, but he knew what his family did.

Vereint smiled and kicked his feet as his mom told one of her rambling jokes and Dad looked at her with the softest eyes.

He loved the holidays.

* * *

By the time they got home it was nearly eleven o'clock and Vereint had to be shaken awake and led to the house like a little kid. He might have complained, but he could barely keep his eyes open and all he wanted to do was climb into his own bed.

"I love you. Goodnight," he mumbled at the Mom-shaped blur.

She laughed and kissed his forehead. "Sweet dreams."

"Mm." Vereint stumbled up the stairs to his room and flopped across his bed, barely managing to kick his shoes off. One tube sock slid halfway down, but caught on his heel and dangled over the edge of the bed. He thought about reaching down to either pull it up or take it off, but his feet looked so far away that he didn't bother.

Vereint buried his face in his pillow and tucked his hands under his chest and went back to sleep. He'd had such a great day that ...

...

Vereint's eyes popped open with a gasp. He held perfectly still in the darkness, the only light the red glow of his alarm clock--2:22. He didn't know what had woken him, but his heart was beating fast.

There was a muffled cry and the sound of flesh hitting flesh. The murmur of a stranger's voice. His mom pleading quietly. A shout--Dad's voice--loud with pain and fear and rage.

There were people in the house. Someone was hurting his parents, maybe killing them.

Vereint slipped off his bed quietly and went to the closet to grab his baseball bat. He wished it was a gun or a sword. At least the weight was comforting in his hands as he crept to the top of the stairs and peered down.

Mom and Dad were kneeling on the hardwood floor in their pajamas, their hands tied behind their backs. There were three men dressed in dark clothes moving around, stuffing the fine silver and Dad's coin collection into sacks. They all wore the same sneering clown masks. The fourth man was holding a jagged bladed knife against Mom's throat while he stuck his right hand in through the neck of her nightgown, touching her.

Vereint didn't know what to do. The knife looked wickedly sharp and there were four men and only one of him. He hated being so helpless but charging out there would only get someone--Mom--killed.

Holding his breath, he slipped backward, intent on getting to the phone in his parents' room.

A hand fell on his shoulder and he instinctively lashed out with the bat. The man caught it with his hand and stars burst behind Vereint's eyes as he was punched hard in the cheek.

There are five of them, was all he could think as his arm was twisted painfully behind his back and he was hauled down the stairs.

"Oh God, please don't hurt my baby!"

"You lied to us." The man with the knife did something painful with his hand and Mom shouted. "You said you were the only ones here. I guess you'll have to be taught a lesson about what happens to liars." The knife glinted dangerously, moving up from Mom's neck toward her face.
"Have you ever heard of a Glasgow smile?"

Vereint tried to twist away from the man holding him, but there was a horrible popping sound as his shoulder dislocated and he screamed at the pain. "Mama!"

"Don't you hurt my baby!" Mom didn't seem to notice the blade so close to her face. Her blazing eyes were focused on Vereint and the man holding him. Her pupils expanded, blown impossibly wide, and some invisible something happened.

The man holding Vereint let him go with a horrific sounding shriek. Tearing at his face with his fingernails, he stumbled backward to collapse against the stairs. His mask fell on the floor, staining the rug with the blood pouring from his eyes and nose. He full-body twitched, blood pooling beneath his head from his ears. He didn't get back up.

"What the fuck did you do, you meta bitch!" The knife made to plunge into the side of Mom's neck.

Vereint had known for a couple of years that his parents were special. Mom could push people with her mind, just a little, not enough to be considered a superpower. He'd never seen her do anything like what she'd done to the man on the stairs. It must have been a stress born breakout event, one of those once in a lifetime things that happened when a metahuman was pushed to the emotional limit.

Dad's breakout was violent and terrifying. Vereint wanted to look away, but he was trapped in the moment.

Dad could create bubbles of force. He needed to use his hands to focus them or do anything, but it was still cool to watch him lift and move bales of hay. He'd get this steely look in his eyes and move his spread-fingered hands and whatever he focused on would move too.

With his hands tied behind him, he should have been completely helpless. With his sudden breakout... he was deadly.

The man with the knife was flung so hard away from Mom that there was a cracking sound when he hit the wall. Then waves of force whipped around the room and there were agonized screams and splashes of blood and more than anything Vereint wanted to look away.

He couldn't move. Couldn't blink. The horror etched itself behind his eyes as what had once been human men were torn apart by an invisible force.

He huddled on the floor holding his hurt shoulder, and he watched the men die in front of him. Dad looked like an avenging angel, his usual mild expression wiped away by a terrible rage. Vereint had never seen anything like it.

He'd never realized that people had so much blood in them before. He could have gone his whole life without knowing.

...

"Are you all right?" Mom's hands were warm against his face as she checked his eyes.

Dumbly, Vereint nodded. He felt like his throat was squeezed too tight shut for talking, but he didn't want to worry her.

"Honey, look at Mama, okay?" He followed her crooning command and his breath caught in a hitching gasp. "In a few minutes Dad is going to take you to the hospital. You dreamed someone broke into the house and in your panic you fell on the stairs."

"Sandra!"

"No, Patrick. He doesn't need something like this in his memory. Let it all be a bad dream. I'll clean everything up while you take him to the hospital." Mom's eyes bored into Vereint's and he felt the world slip sideways and strange. "This has all been a bad dream. None of it was real. The memories will fade and you will forget everything that happened since you went to bed last night. You had a bad dream and fell on the stairs. What happened to your arm, Vereint?"

His voice came from far away. It didn't sound like him speaking. "I had a bad dream and tripped on the stairs."

"Good boy. Now go with Daddy to the hospital. Have a peaceful nap on the way and wake up with the memory that everything is all right and we love you."

Vereint nodded and climbed to his feet. His dislocated shoulder hurt when he moved, but it was a distant pain.

He walked to Dad and let himself be bundled into his coat and boots. Then he followed his dad to the car. He'd had such a scary dream and he'd fallen and hurt himself.

Vereint wished he hadn't been so clumsy. The nightmare that had woken him was already fading away and didn't seem very scary in retrospect. So to have been so frightened that he'd tumbled down the stairs... it seemed ridiculous.

"Come on, buddy," Dad said.

Vereint winced when his seatbelt was clicked, but it was a bearable pain. Daddy was here and everything was going to be all right.

He leaned his forehead against the window and closed his eyes. It was an hour and twenty-five minute drive to the hospital and he felt tired and achy.

He slept the whole way, comforted by the tinny rock and roll coming from the radio and the rush of warm heat from the vent.

* * *

Mom made him mac and cheese for lunch, then made his favorite meal for dinner. He might have complained about all the fussing if it hadn't felt so nice to know that Mama and Daddy loved him so much. Plus his arm still ached in the sling and it felt good to be taken care of.

And now you know how Heroes & Villains: Psychotic could happen. Set sometime during Allies & Enemies, this short highlights some of the instabilities of Vereint's psyche.

He noticed the runner was gone from the stairs when he went up to change, but he didn't say anything. Mom must have gotten rid of it after his tumble. Better to blame an inanimate object than his own innate clumsiness for the accident. He must have worried her so much.

She'd even cleaned the whole house while they were at the hospital. There was the sharp scent of Lysol, Pine-sol, and Lemon Pledge beneath the pumpkin spice of her favorite air fresheners.

She kept touching him--his arm, his good shoulder, his face--as though assuring herself that he was all right. He felt bad for worrying her. What if he'd broken his neck? She might have lost her mind.

"I love you, Mama," he said seriously, catching her hand in his. He was surprised to note that his hand was bigger--when had that happened?--but she still seemed so much stronger than him. She was his mom and she took care of him, loved him more than anything. He knew it.

"Oh, baby," she hugged him, "I love you too. My good boy. My handsome, brave boy."

He tugged her down onto the couch next to him. "Watch a movie with me? Please?"

"Of course. Anything for you, baby."

Vereint felt warm inside as his mom fiddled with the remote control, turning the TV to a show about a teenaged girl that fought vampires. He was excited to find out it was a Black Friday marathon.

"I'm going to be a superhero someday," he said during a commercial break.

She stroked a hand through his hair. "You can be anything you want to be."

He sighed happily and rested his head against her knee. Her fingers massaged across his scalp and the strange heaviness that had lingered in his chest all day was soothed away.

Mama was here. Everything would be all right.

"I love you."


=THE END=