Baker's Dozen – Chapter 06-07
Written by argonaut :: [Tuesday, 29 July 2014 15:53] Last updated by :: [Friday, 14 August 2015 22:07]
Bobby yawned as he joined the crowd of students making their way toward the main entrance of the school building. He’d stayed up late the night before, trying to find out as much as he could about the new world his wishes had brought into existence.
As soon as he got home yesterday afternoon, he’d run upstairs to his room, eager to turn on his computer and begin browsing. His room looked the same as always, except that a large poster was now hanging on the wall by his bed – a life-size photo of Cindy Corliss, in her tiny skirt and midriff-baring tank top, pointing at the camera like Uncle Sam in the old recruiting poster. “I WANT YOU – TO PUT A STOP TO BULLYING!” the poster proclaimed in large, bold letters.
When Bobby stopped staring at the poster and turned toward his desk, he noticed something else that hadn’t been there before – a row of three-ring binders running along the top of his bookcase. Stepping closer, he saw a copy of People magazine lying on top of them, sealed in a clear Mylar bag. Cindy, arms akimbo, was beaming from the cover. The magazine was several years old, with an August date above the logo.
“YOU GROW, GIRL!” ran the caption. “From petite pixie to pillar of power – CINDY CORLISS describes her incredible transformation into the WORLD’S STRONGEST GIRL!”
Bobby peeled back the tape on the Mylar bag and took out the magazine. Carrying it carefully across to his bed, he sat back against the pillows and began to read.
Apparently, up until a few years ago, Cindy had been the tiny, timid little girl that Bobby remembered.
“My dad’s a six-footer,” says Cindy. “And my three older brothers are even taller – so at 5-foot-1, I was definitely the runt of the litter.”
But then puberty hit-”like an atom bomb,” in Cindy’s words.
“Cindy was outgrowing her clothes as fast as we bought them,” recalls her mother. “For a while, she was borrowing her brothers’ shirts and jeans, but soon even those were too small for her.”
By the time her growth spurt tapered off, Cindy was nearly a foot and a half taller – but even more remarkable than her towering stature was her amazing strength.
“About the time I started getting taller, I began to notice that things seemed lighter than usual,” says Cindy. “Like when I was cleaning my room, I found I could move my bed and bureau around like they hardly weighed anything at all!”
Soon she took over the workout room her brothers had set up in the basement of their home.
“I was stacking five, six hundred pounds on their barbells and curling them like hand-weights,” she recalls with a grin. “But even that got way too easy before long.”
Bobby’s eyes strayed from the article as he began looking at the photographs. There was Cindy, tearing a telephone book in half – and in her family’s living room, holding a sofa overhead with her brothers sitting on it – and out on the driveway, lifting the back of her father’s pickup while he changed a tire. At the end of the article was a full-page photo of Cindy at a construction site – Bobby remembered that her father was a local contractor – wearing a pair of cut-off jeans and a football jersey that she’d probably borrowed from one of her brothers. Poised and smiling, she stood balancing an enormous girder on one shoulder while a couple of workmen looked in in amazement.
Bobby was still gazing at the photo when his mother called him to dinner. Slipping the magazine back in the Mylar bag, he went downstairs, untucking his shirt to cover the erection bulging in his trousers.
Back in his room after dinner, he inspected the row of three-ring binders on his bookcase. The spines were neatly labeled: “CINDY-1,” “CINDY-2,” “CINDY-3” … Stretching out on his bed, Bobby opened the first binder.
It was filled with newspaper clippings, magazine articles, and computer print-outs, tucked into clear plastic page protectors and all devoted to Cindy Corliss. The pages were dated in Bobby’s careful handwriting and arranged chronologically – beginning just a month or so after that issue of People had come out.
It was weird to think that he’d been collecting these for several years, but was now reading them for the first time. It was as if he had a kind of selective amnesia. His family, his friends, his home, his school were all familiar to him, but anything related to Cindy – and the others he’d used his wishes on – was a gap in his memory. Well, these clippings should be a good way to start catching up.
Apparently Cindy had decided that with great power comes great responsibility and had thrown herself into the role of a super-heroine. The magazine article hadn’t mentioned that Cindy had any powers besides super-strength, but here she was, blowing out a brush fire with a puff of super-breath – flying to the rescue of a stranded rock-climber – shielding a convenience-store clerk from a gunman’s bullets with her invulnerable body ... Maybe her other powers hadn’t kicked in when the article was written, or maybe she was keeping them secret at first.
Turning a page, Bobby came upon an article that jogged his memory. Last year a cruise ship had broken down in the Gulf of Mexico. The story was all over the news. Food and water were running low, toilets were backed up ... the ship didn’t reach port for what, three or four days? But now he saw that the story had a different outcome. There was Cindy, with an enormous anchor chain slung over one shoulder, pulling the ship full of cheering passengers behind her as she flew toward harbor.
Bobby continued turning the pages of the binder – slowly at first, then faster and faster. Slow down, he told himself. It was going to take more than one evening to bring himself up to speed on Cindy and the other supers.
He glanced at the clock on his bedside table. It was long past his usual bedtime. He closed the binder and put it carefully back on the shelf, then changed into his pajamas. But before he went to bed, he rummaged around in the top drawer of his bureau until he found what he was looking for – a lanyard with a card-holder attached. He’d worn it last summer, when he had a job picking up trash and cleaning the restrooms at the town park. He slid the card into the plastic frame and slipped the lanyard around his neck, then turned out the light and went to sleep.
Now, approaching the main entrance of the school building, Bobby spotted Kenny Travis in the crowd of students just ahead. He quickened his pace, but before he could catch up with his friend, he heard someone calling his name.
“Hey, Baker! Wait up!”
Bobby turned around. Kurt and Mike were shoving their way toward him. He waited, somewhat apprehensively, as they drew closer, remembering what Cindy had told him yesterday morning: “I wouldn’t put it past those guys to be waiting for you ...” He doubted that they’d do anything with so many other students around, but he slid two fingers under his shirt to touch the card – just in case ...
Kurt cleared his throat. “Hey, listen – about yesterday morning-”
“It was all a big misunderstanding,” Mike blurted. “We were just messing with you – that’s all.”
“We heard you like comic books,” said Kurt, holding out a plain white envelope. “So we got you this – just to show there’s no hard feelings.”
“Uh – thanks,” said Bobby. He looked inside the envelope and saw a ten-dollar gift certificate from Argo City, the local comic book store. “That’s real nice of you.”
“So we’re cool, right?” Kurt asked.
Bobby slid the envelope into his pocket. “Yeah. We’re – we’re cool.”
“And you’ll tell Cindy if she asks?” Mike added anxiously.
Kurt grinned with relief. “Thanks, man.” He slapped Bobby on the shoulder.
Mike punched him lightly on the arm. “You’re okay. Catch you later.”
Bobby winced as the two upperclassmen hurried off. His arms and shoulders were still covered with bruises where Cindy and Megan and Ms. Bartlett had been manhandling him yesterday afternoon. Or should that be “girl-handling”? He wondered.
Turning, he saw that Kenny had been listening to his conversation with Kurt and Mike. “Weird, huh?” Bobby remarked. He didn’t know whether Kenny had heard about his encounter with the two bullies yesterday morning. “What do you suppose that was all about?”
Kenny shrugged. “I guess they remember what Cindy did to Brad Henderson when she caught him picking on that freshman.”
“Oh, yeah,” said Bobby – though he had no memory of the incident himself.
“And they figured they’d rather not be hanging from the top of the flagpole by the back of their boxer shorts.” Kenny chuckled, savoring the recollection. “That was classic.”
The lobby was noisy and crowded, full of students hurrying to their first-period classes, stowing stuff in their lockers, or standing around chatting. Bobby scanned the crowd, looking for pretty girls and imagining them with super-powers. He saw Tina Sinclair tugging peevishly at the door of her locker. It appeared to be stuck. Bobby grinned as he pictured her tearing the metal door from its hinges with one dainty finger, then crumpling it into a ball like a sheet of newspaper. But he was determined to use his remaining wishes wisely. He wasn’t going to give a girl super-powers just because she had a cute smile or pretty legs or big –
“Hello, Bobby,” cooed a voice behind him.
Bobby turned around. His eyes were drawn to the shapely contours of a tight pink sweater. “Uh – hi, Kristi,” he stammered, lifting his gaze.
Kristi Lambert eyed him for a few moments, smiling enigmatically, then moved on without another word. Bobby stared after her. Was it his imagination, or had she been giving him the once-over? But as he watched her stroll off down the hallway, he realized that it wasn’t just Kristi. A lot of students seemed to be staring at him – some surreptitiously, others openly.
“What’s going on?” he asked Kenny. “Everyone’s looking at me. Is my fly open or something?”
“Nah. They heard something was going on in the weight room yesterday with you and Cindy and Megan and Ms. Bartlett. There’s a rumor they were fighting over you until Ms. Briggs broke it up – like you’re some kind of super-babe magnet.”
Bobby grinned. “Really?”
“Yeah. ‘ Course, most of us figure you just did something stupid to piss them off. So what was going on, anyway?”
“Uh – I’ll tell you at lunch, okay?”
“Okay. And don’t forget the meeting after school.”
“Right.” The comic book club was meeting to discuss the upcoming Tri-State Comicon.
Suddenly students began scurrying to the sides of the lobby, pressing close to the walls and leaving a wide open path along the middle. Up ahead, Megan Danforth was coming around a corner.
It was a game day, so she was wearing her cheerleading uniform. The pleats of her short skirt swished rhythmically against her thighs as she strode imperiously down the lobby, chin raised, ignoring the stares of her schoolmates. Bobby gazed admiringly at the fitness-model physique his wish had given her – the shapely thighs, the firm abdomen, the broad shoulders and sculpted arms. Two other cheerleaders followed a few feet behind her, one to her left, the other to her right, like attendants at a royal procession.
I’d better apologize for what happened yesterday, Bobby thought. Smiling in what he hoped was a conciliatory manner, he stepped forward as Megan approached. “Hey, Megan,” he said. “Listen, I’m sorry about --”
Megan gave no sign that she’d seen or heard him. But as she passed, she swerved slightly, brushing a hip against Bobby’s ribs. The impact knocked him off balance and sent him sprawling into the row of lockers. Red-faced. Bobby picked himself up off the floor, trying to ignore the snickers of his schoolmates. That’s gonna leave a bruise, he thought ruefully as he rubbed his side. As if I don’t have enough already.
He picked up his bookbag and began hurrying toward the science wing. Rounding a corner, he saw Cindy Corliss up ahead – easy enough, amid a crowd of students most of whom barely came up to her shoulders.
“Cindy!” he shouted. “Hold up!”
She turned and spotted him. For a moment, it seemed to Bobby that a smile flickered across her face – but then her mouth turned downward in a pout and her eyes darkened with reproach. With a toss of her head, she quickened her pace and moved on.
Bobby sighed. I guess she’s mad at me, too, he thought. Maybe I can talk to her later – let her know I’m sorry ...
As he passed the door to the library, he stopped to peer through the window. A thin, grey-haired woman in a tweed jacket was sitting at the librarian’s desk. It was Mrs. Stickney, a retired English teacher who remained on call as a substitute. She must be filling in for Ms. Bartlett …
“Good morning, Mr. Baker,” said a voice behind him. Bobby recognized the accent.
He turned around. Mrs. Briggs, in her snug black leather outfit, stood regarding him with her arms folded and one eyebrow arched inquiringly.
“Uh – good morning, Ms. Briggs,” Bobby stammered.
“Shouldn’t you be in the biology lab about now?” The hallway was nearly empty; the first-period bell would be ringing any moment.
“Yes, Ms. Briggs.”
“Well, then.” She clapped her hands. “Spit-spot! Off to class!”
“Yes, Ms. Briggs.”
Jeez, thought Bobby as he hurried off down the hallway. Cindy and Megan are pissed off at me, Ms. Bartlett’s been fired, and Ms. Briggs is on my case.
So far, his wishes sure weren’t turning out the way he’d hoped …
Bobby picked up his tray and looked around the cafeteria. He spotted Kenny and Malcolm at a table by the far wall. Weaving his way through the noisy, crowded room, Bobby set down his tray and took the seat next to Malcolm’s.
“Hey, guys.” As he reached across the table for a napkin, he heard a voice behind him.
“Got room for one more?”
Bobby looked up into Darcy Malloy’s cute, freckled face. “Hey, Darcy. Have a seat.”
As Darcy slid into the chair opposite him, Bobby regarded her curiously. She was wearing an extra-large white lab coat, buttoned all the way up to the collar, that hung loosely on her petite frame. The sleeves were rolled up past her wrists and the hem fell just a few inches above her knees. Her red hair was pulled back tight against her scalp and tied into a ponytail.
“So what’s with the lab coat?” he asked.
Darcy rolled her eyes. “I didn’t have time to change out of my leotard after dance class,” she explained. “So I put this on over it. I figure it’ll keep me in dress code until the school day’s over. Speaking of which – I think I can make it to the meeting this afternoon.”
“Cool,” said Bobby. “Are you still going to the Comicon?”
Darcy nodded. “Yup. My costume’s almost finished.”
“Who are you going as this year?” asked Malcolm.
Darcy grinned. “You’ll have to wait and see.”
“Red Sonja?” asked Kenny hopefully.
“Ha! In your dreams.”
Darcy was the only girl in the comic book club, but she was rarely able to attend the meetings, since she was also a member of the math team, the chess team, the engineering club, and the debate team – not to mention dance and gymnastic classes. Bobby sometimes wondered how she found time for all those activities while maintaining her 4.0 grade-point average.
“Hey, Bobby,” said Kenny. “You were gonna tell us what was going on in the weight room yesterday.”
Darcy leaned forward eagerly. “Yes, let’s hear it.”
Bobby swallowed a mouthful of macaroni, considering. He wasn’t going to tell them about the card, of course, but he wasn’t sure what else he should keep to himself. But before he could say anything, a hush fell over the cafeteria and all eyes turned toward the entrance.
Megan was standing in the doorway, scowling darkly as she looked around the room. Then she stormed toward a table where a bespectaced upperclassman was sitting. Bobby noticed that she was clutching a sheet of notebook paper in one hand. Dishes and silverware jumped as she slammed the crumpled paper down on the table.
“Eighty-one?” she snapped. “B-minus? That is not acceptable.”
The upperclassman turned pale. “Sorry, Megan,” he stammered. “But it was a tough assignment. I’ll do better tonight – I promise.”
Bobby and his friends were watching along with everyone else. “Uh-oh,” said Malcolm. “It looks like Brett’s in deep doo-doo.”
“Forget it,” Megan was saying. “You had your chance. Just one more thing.” Leaning forward, she flexed her right arm once, twice, three times, her bicep swelling with each repetition until it was the size of a baseball.
“Get a good look, loser,” she sneered. “‘Cause this is the last time you’re gonna see that up close.”
The shapely bulge seemed to have a hypnotic effect on Brett. He reached forward with trembling fingers – but before he could touch it, he yelped in pain as Megan grabbed his wrist with her free hand.
“Ah-ah-ah,” she chided him. “Look with your eyes.” She released his arm and turned around. Students quickly looked away as Megan scanned the cafeteria.
Off in their corner, Bobby and his friends were talking in low voices.
“Poor Brett,” sighed Darcy.
“Hey, he knew what he was getting into,” said Malcolm.
“I don’t think he had much choice,” said Kenny. “Man – whose bright idea was it to give that chick super-powers?”
Bobby nearly choked on a mouthful of macaroni. “Wh-what do you mean?” he asked, reaching for his glass of milk.
Kenny gave him a puzzled look. “It’s just a figure of speech.”
“Yeah,” said Malcolm. “Like anyone in his right mind would give Megan super-powers on purpose.”
Darcy’s eyes narrowed. “What I wouldn’t give to take her down a notch.”
“Don’t look now,” whispered Kenny, holding a napkin to his mouth. “But I think she’s coming this way.”
Sure enough, out of the corner of his eye Bobby could see Megan striding toward their table. She stood looking down at them with her arms folded and her chin raised. The room was quiet. Bobby was aware that everyone was looking in his direction.
“Bobby Baker,” Megan drawled.
Bobby looked up. “Oh – hi, Megan.”
“Do you know anything about trigonometry?”
“Uh – yeah, sure.”
“Good.” She snatched a pen from Kenny’s shirt pocket and scribbled something on a paper napkin.
“This is the assignment for tomorrow,” she said, flicking the napkin toward Bobby and dropping the pen on the table. “Slide it under the door of my locker by 8:00 tomorrow morning. Number 614. Think you can handle that?”
Blushing, self-conscious, Bobby folded the napkin and tucked it into his shirt pocket. “Okay,” he mumbled. But then –
“Just who do you think you are?”
Startled, Bobby looked up. Darcy had leapt to her feet and stood glaring up at Megan. She was half a head shorter than Megan, but in her oversized lab coat she looked even smaller.
“You think you can order people around just because you’re a cheerleader and you’ve got super-powers?” Darcy’s green eyes flashed indignantly as the words tumbled out of her.
“Uh, Darcy, it’s okay-” Bobby started to say, but she turned on him angrily.
“You stay out of this!” she snapped.
“That’s pretty much the way it works,” sneered Megan. “I guess you still haven’t figured out who’s the top dog around here.”
“You know what they call a female dog, don’t you?” Darcy retorted.
Everyone in the cafeteria was staring at them, tense, silent, scarcely daring to breathe.
Reaching down, slowly, deliberately, Megan grabbed Darcy by the front of her lab coat and lifted her off the floor. Darcy clutched at Megan’s wrists, struggling to break her grip, but it was no use. Her legs thrashed helplessly as Megan, holding her at arm’s length, drew back her free hand, palm out …
To Bobby, time seemed to slow to a crawl as he watched Darcy struggle, saw the fear in her eyes. Megan was seriously pissed off; with her strength, and in the heat of anger, who knew what she might do?
Darcy’s in this fix because she was sticking up for me, Bobby told himself. And she did say she wanted to take Megan down a notch. Okay, let’s level the playing field ...
He slid his fingers between the buttons of his shirt, touched the card hanging around his neck. Keeping his eyes fixed on Darcy, he murmured: “I wish she was super!”
For a moment, it seemed to Bobby that Darcy’s lab coat was shrinking. The rolled-up sleeves were inching up her forearms, the hem was sliding up along her thighs, the front was straining against her chest. Then he realized that the coat wasn’t shrinking – it was Darcy who was getting taller. Her feet were touching the floor; she was standing eye-to-eye with Megan, confident, unflinching, as Megan swung her arm round and struck her squarely on the cheek.
Bobby jumped as a sound like a thunderclap split the air and rattled the windows.
Darcy smirked. “You call that a slap?”
Next moment, Darcy’s arm lashed out at super-speed. It moved too quickly for Bobby’s eyes to follow, but its effect was plain – and immediate. Students leaped back in alarm as Megan hurtled backward between two rows of tables and slammed into the far wall. Sitting amid fragments of cinderblock, she glared at Darcy from behind the strands of dark hair that had fallen across her forehead.
Darcy’s freckled face broke into a grin. “Now that was a slap.”
Darcy’s lab coat, too loose on her just a few moments ago, was now dangerously tight. The hem came barely halfway down her thighs, the shoulder seams were splitting apart, and the top buttons were popping from their stitches. Darcy tugged impatiently at the coat’s lapels, tearing off the remaining buttons and splitting the fabric down the back. With a shake of her arms, the torn garment slid to the floor.
Darcy’s leotard had morphed into an Olympic-style swimsuit – snug, black, and shiny – while her leg-warmers had turned into a pair of calf-length black boots. A jagged yellow streak ran down the front of her costume like a bolt of lightning, and a red sash was tied loosely around her hips. Her long ponytail swung gracefully behind her, gleaming like polished copper. Gazing at her bare arms and thighs, Bobby could see that his wish had not only made Darcy as tall as Megan, but given her the same buff physique.
Megan was standing up now, brushing dust from her uniform. Her dark eyes narrowed as she glared at Darcy. “That does it,” she growled. “You’re going down.”
Next moment, a streak of blue and yellow shot across the cafeteria and a loud crack! Echoed from the opposite side of the room. Turning, Bobby saw Megan and Darcy rolling around amid the chunks of cinderblock that littered the floor, scowling, grunting, thrashing about like a pair of divas in the wrestling ring.
“Fight! Fight!” The shout filled the room as students swarmed forward, holding their camera phones overhead to record the brawl. Caught in the surge, jostled this way and that, Bobby climbed up on a table – partly to escape the crush, partly for a better view of the battle.
Megan was scrambling to her feet. Grabbing Darcy’s ponytail, she swept her arm up and around, slamming her opponent’s head against a table. Dishes and silverware flew in all directions as the table buckled. Megan raised her arms over her head... but before she could bring her fists down, Darcy rolled onto her back and lashed out with her legs. The soles of her boots struck Megan’s abdomen like a pile-driver …
“Ooof!” Doubling over, Megan shot backward across the room and through the window overlooking the schoolyard. Pieces of safety glass exploded from the frame. Darcy sprang to her feet and leapt after her opponent. Students pressed forward, crowding against the shattered window to watch the progress of the brawl.
Bobby was just about to jump off the table to join them when he felt something strike the top of his head – something small and hard like a pebble. He looked up. Dust and plaster chips were falling from a large crack that ran from one end of the ceiling to the other. A piece of tile the size of a table top broke loose and fell to the floor. Terrified, Bobby looked round the room. Cracks were spreading across the wall where Megan and Darcy had crashed into it. Slabs of cinderblock were breaking loose; the wall might collapse at any moment.
Frantically, Bobby waved his arms, shouted a warning, but the other students were too intent on watching the fight to notice their danger, and chattering too loudly to hear Bobby’s shout. What to do? There were lots of girls at the back of the crowd, standing on tiptoe and jumping up and down for a better view of the brawl out in the schoolyard. Maybe if he gave a couple of them super-powers, they could save their schoolmates?
He was just about to slip his fingers under his shirt to touch the card when a voice rang out – calm, clear, and authoritative.
“Your attention, please!”
Bobby looked up. Ms. Briggs was hovering above the tables, arms upraised, hands pressed against the ceiling, pushing it back into place. And over at the far end of the room Cindy was propping up another part of the ceiling on her outstretched arms like a female Atlas.
The next minute was like a dream, as one image after another flashed through Bobby’s mind – students streaming toward the door and out into the hallway under Ms. Briggs’ direction ... Megan and Cindy holding up the sagging ceiling ... Darcy rushing back and forth along the wall in a blur of super-swift motion, pushing slabs of broken cinderblock back into place, trying to delay the wall’s inevitable collapse …
Dazed, Bobby followed the other students toward the door, coughing in the dusty air, bits of plaster raining down on his head and shoulders. He paused to look back, but Ms. Briggs laid a hand on his shoulder and pushed him firmly through the door and out into the hallway. He was the last to leave.
A moment later, the room caved in.
With a long, loud rumble like the sound of a passing freight train, plaster and cinderblock came crashing down in a thick cloud of greyish dust. The din lasted for no more than a few seconds, but Bobby’s ears were still ringing as Cindy and Megan and Darcy stepped into the hallway, brushing dust from their clothes and shaking bits of plaster from their hair. Bobby heard sirens off in the distance.
Ms. Briggs’ mouth was compressed into a thin, tight line as she shifted her gaze from Megan to Darcy and back to Megan. “Well?” she demanded. “What happened here?”
“She started it!” Megan said defiantly.
“Hey, you threw the first punch,” Darcy retorted.
“That? That was barely a tap.”
“And besides,” said Darcy, “I was just sticking up for Bobby here.”
Ms. Briggs seemed slightly surprised to see that Bobby was still standing there. “Well, Mr. Baker,” she said. “This is getting to be something of a habit with you, wouldn’t you say?”
The wail of sirens outside grew louder, then stopped. Ms. Briggs sighed.
“Now listen,” she said. “I’ve got to make sure the building is properly evacuated and then I’ll have to talk to the police and the superintendent and goodness knows who else. Cindy, would you please help Mr. Prescott with the evacuation? As for the two of you-”
She turned to Megan and Darcy as Cindy hurried off toward the main wing. “Do you think you can call a truce while you wait in my office?”
Darcy nodded meekly. Megan shrugged. “Yeah, sure.”
“All right, then. Off with you. And take Bobby with you. See to it that he leaves the building with the others. No, wait.” She held up a hand. “On second thought, I’d better escort him myself. Well, what are you waiting for?”
As the two girls started off down the hallway, Darcy leaned toward Bobby and murmured in his ear. “Sorry, Bobby. I guess I won’t be at the meeting after all.”
Bobby got up from the dinner table and took his bowl of ice cream into the living room. His father and his younger sister Amy were sitting on the sofa watching a local news program. Bobby sat down next to them.
Naturally, the incident in the cafeteria was the top story.
An attractive brunette in a dark blue blazer and matching skirt was standing in the schoolyard. Behind her, yellow tape cordoned off the mound of rubble where the cafeteria had once been.
“This is what remains of the Middleton High School cafeteria,” the reporter was saying, “after it was destroyed earlier today during an altercation between two of the school’s super-powered female students.” Some jumpy footage of the brawl – obviously from a student’s cell phone – appeared on the screen. “The other students were evacuated and no injuries have been reported – but parents are understandably concerned.”
A forty-ish woman was speaking angrily into a reporter’s microphone. Bobby recognized the mother of one of his classmates. “These girls are weapons of mass destruction in miniskirts,” she was saying. “Put them in a school full of regular kids and you’re asking for trouble. We need to get them out of that school before something like this happens again.”
The reporter was back on the screen. “Principal Paul Prescott was unavailable for comment, but he released this statement: ‘The school will be cooperating fully with the authorities as they investigate this incident. The safety of our students has always been our top priority.’ Assistant Principal Emily Briggs will be speaking at an open meeting in the school’s auditorium later this evening. WMID-TV will be bringing you live coverage of the event-”
Bobby’s mother had come into the living room. “We should go to that meeting,” she told her husband. “Bobby could have been hurt – or killed. Maybe that woman is right.”
“It was no big deal,” Bobby said. “We all got out and nobody was hurt. Besides, Cindy didn’t have anything to do with that fight. Why should she be punished?”
“Bob-by loves Cin-dy,” Amy piped up in a sing-song.
“Shut up, you little pipsqueak,” Bobby muttered, his face reddening.
“Bobby,” said his father, raising an eyebrow in warning.
“Be nice to your sister,” his mother told him.
Amy stuck out her tongue. “Yeah! Be nice to me – or you’ll be sorry when I get my super-powers.”
Bobby scowled. “What are you talking about?”
“It could happen. I’m just a few months younger than Cindy was when her powers kicked in. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get to be big and strong like her. Then we’ll see who the pipsqueak is. So there!”
“That’s all we need,” Bobby’s father muttered. He picked up the remote and switched to a cable news channel.
“The O’Reilly Factor is on,” the host was saying. “Tonight – a high-school cafeteria ... demolished during a fight between two super-powered female students. Parents want the girls removed from the school – but the ACLU says ‘Not so fast.’ Our legal expert Megyn Kelly will analyze ... “
“Dream on, kiddo,” Bobby told his sister as he got up to take his empty bowl back to the kitchen. Super-powers for that annoying little brat? He shuddered at the thought. No way.
Bobby took a box lunch and a bottle of water from one of the long tables by the door and stepped into the gymnasium. The room was full of students and loud with the hum of conversation. Looking around, Bobby spotted Malcolm sitting on the floor by the far wall. He walked over and sat down beside him.
Bobby inspected his lunch – a cheese sandwich, some carrot sticks, an apple, and an oatmeal cookie. He peeled the wrapping from the sandwich and took a bite.
“So,” he said. “Have you seen Darcy today? Or Cindy or Megan?”
Malcolm shook his head. Apparently the girls hadn’t been in any of their morning classes.
“Hey, guys.” Kenny was staring at the screen of his smartphone as he sat down next to Bobby. “Well, it’s official,” he said. “Darcy and Megan and Cindy have been ... “ He squinted at the screen. “They’ve been ‘suspended pending further investigation’ yadda yadda. Mr. Prescott just sent out an e-mail.”
“Why Cindy?” asked Malcolm. “She wasn’t involved in the fight.”
Kenny shrugged. “It looks like we’ve got a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to super-chicks.”
The boys sat in glum silence for a few moments.
There was a crackle of static from the loudspeaker on the wall, followed by Ms. Briggs’ voice. “Would Bobby Baker please come to my office? Bobby Baker, please.”
Bobby stood up amid a chorus of jeers and hurried out of the gymnasium. What now? He wondered. This must have something to do with the fight in the cafeteria. Was he in some sort of trouble? Hey, I didn’t have anything to do with it ...
Except – he admitted to himself – he did. If he hadn’t given the girls super-powers, the whole thing never would have happened. But there was no way Ms. Briggs could know that ... was there?
The door to her office was open. Ms. Briggs was standing at her desk, packing some books in a carton, but she looked up when Bobby tapped on the doorframe.
“Ah, Mr. Baker,” she said. “Thank you for coming so quickly.”
Bobby cleared his throat. “Sure.”
Instead of her black leather outfit, Ms. Briggs was wearing a sleeveless lavender jumpsuit with an oval cut-out on the right thigh. Its snug fit accentuated her lithe, slender figure. Her smile was warm, cordial. Bobby relaxed a little. Maybe he wasn’t in trouble after all.
“I suppose you’ve heard about Cindy and Megan and Darcy?” she asked. Bobby nodded. “Well, now that they’re no longer here, my services won’t be required any longer. So – I’m leaving, too.”
“Oh. I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Thank you. But I didn’t call you in here just to say good-bye.” She sat down on the front edge of the desk. “Do you know the old saying about having a tiger by the tail?”
“I think so. It means you’re in a dangerous situation, but you can’t just walk away from it, so you’ve got to hang on.”
“That’s the idea. Well, it seems to me, Mr. Baker, that you’ve got a tiger by the tail – or should I say, several tigresses. So I want to give you this.” She picked up a small object from her desk and handed it to Bobby. It was a shiny metal cylinder, about the size of a cigarette lighter. But as Bobby reached out to take it, it slipped through his fingers and fell to the floor and rolled under the desk.
Blushing, Bobby got down on his hands and knees and began groping for the cylinder. Suddenly one side of the desk rose up off the floor. Bobby looked up. Ms. Briggs was holding up the heavy desk on the tip of a finger.
“Hello?” she said, after Bobby had been gaping up at her for several seconds. “Just because I could do this all day doesn’t mean I want to.”
“Sorry,” Bobby mumbled. He grabbed the cylinder and stood up as Ms. Briggs lowered the desk.
“This is – well, think of it as a pager,” she said as Bobby inspected the cylinder curiously. “If you should ever require my help, just flip open the top with your thumb – that’s it – and press the red button there. That will send out a distress call on a special radio frequency that I’ll recognize.”
“Cool,” said Bobby. “Just like Jimmy Olsen’s signal watch.”
Ms. Briggs raised an eyebrow. “I beg yoiur pardon? Whose what?”
“Never mind.” Bobby slipped the cylinder into his pocket. “Where did you get this?”
Ms. Briggs smiled enigmatically. “I know some people. Now mind you,” she went on sternly. “Don’t get the idea that I’m your valet or chauffeur. This is for bona fide emergencies only – especially ones involving your ... special friends. Is that understood?”
“All right then. I’ll let you get back to your lunch. And I’ve got to finish packing. Good day, Mr. Baker.”
“Thanks,” said Bobby. “Um – I’m sorry you’re leaving.”
Ms. Briggs smiled as she extended her hand. “Thank you, Bobby. Who knows? Perhaps we’ll meet again.”
In fact, she was sure of it …
The school library closed at 4:30. The hallways were nearly empty as Bobby shouldered his bookbag and headed for the lobby.
A light drizzle had been falling all day. The rain had stopped, but the sky was still grey and overcast, matching Bobby’s mood as he trudged out of the building.
He’d had the card for three days now. He’d used five of the twelve wishes. And for what? He thought morosely. Cindy and Megan and Darcy were banned from the school. What would they do now? He wondered. And Ms. Bartlett and Ms. Briggs were gone, too.
Bobby sighed. By giving them super-powers, he’d taken away their normal lives. If it hadn’t been for his wishes, the girls would still be going to school and hanging out with their friends and doing normal teenage stuff. He wondered if any of them would give up her powers if she had the choice, go back to being an ordinary high-school student – or an ordinary librarian or assistant principal.
He thought about the letter that came with the card. “All wishes are non-revokable,” it had said. The letter should still be in his desk drawer where he’d put it. Maybe he should take a look at the fine print on the back. It might tell him something about --
His thoughts were interrupted by a shout behind him.
Bobby turned around. Kurt Larsen was coming toward him with long, swift strides.
“Hey, Kurt,” said Bobby. “What’s – oof!”
Scowling, Kurt thrust out an arm and pushed Bobby against the brick wall of the building.
“Hey!” Bobby protested. “I thought we were cool.”
“That was yesterday,” Kurt growled. “Things have changed, so listen up.” He jabbed a thick finger against Bobby’s chest. “Right now – yeah, we’re cool. But if you cross me again, watch out.”
“That’s funny,” said a voice behind him. “I was about to say the same thing.”
Kurt spun round. Cindy was glaring down at him with her arms folded across her chest.
Kurt jumped back in alarm. Then he pointed an accusing finger at Cindy. “You’re not supposed to be on school property,” he told her.
Cindy met his gaze. “I’m not,” she said.
Bobby glanced down. Sure enough, the soles of Cindy’s boots were several inches above the damp grass.
“Now you listen up,” said Cindy. “And be sure to tell your friends. Leave my b-- I mean, leave Bobby alone. Or else-” She glanced up at the flagpole in the schoolyard. “Capeesh?”
Kurt shrugged. Trying to appear nonchalant. “Yeah, I capeesh.” Turning, he ambled off with his hands in his pockets. Cindy watched him until he stepped out of sight round a corner of the building.
Bobby let out a sigh of relief. “Thanks.”
Cindy shrugged. “You’re just lucky I … happened to be passing by.”
“Listen,” said Bobby. “I’m really sorry about what happened in the weight room the other day. It’s just – well, I got to talking with Megan and-”
Cindy brushed the apology aside with a wave of her hand. “Hey, it’s a free country. You can talk to anyone you like. It’s not like we’re – going steady or anything.” She averted her eyes. Bobby stared at her. Was she blushing?
There was an awkward silence.
“Anyway,” said Cindy. “I’ve got to be going. I just got word about a wildfire in Colorado. Be careful, okay?” Raising her right arm, she shot upwards, then turned to the west and flew off. Bobby stared after her until she was only a speck against the overcast sky.