Excerpt - "Winter's Awakening: The Metahumans Emerge"
We drove in silence for a few hours, each of us lost in our
thoughts. Maze, my devoted and domesticated coyote, woke us from our trance with an annoyed whining sound.
He had to find a bush, and quick. I’d been so caught up in our worries that I’d completely neglected my best friend. A green road sign gave us hope of a roadside reststop three miles ahead.
Several other cars were already parked near the building that housed the restrooms—men's on one side, women's on the other—and vending machines with picnic tables in the middle.
Alik pulled into a spot and parked the car. When I opened the door, Maze leaped over me and flung himself out of the truck to make a beeline for the first blade of grass he could find. My brothers and I piled out of the truck next, stretching the stiffness from our muscles.
“So, Meggie. You gonna share your plan with us anytime soon?” Alik asked, trying to sound casual.
“Yeah, I’ll share. I was just working through some logistics,” I started.
“Wait, hold that thought,” Evan held up a finger to me. “Bathroom breaks first.”
“Fine, but promise me you’ll leave the plumbing alone.” Alik raised his brow and planted his hands on his slender hips.
“But, Al—” Evan started.
“No buts! We don’t have time for you to save the world’s water supply right now. We need to keep moving.”
Evan shrugged, “Fine. I won’t try to fix the plumbing in these public restrooms.”
Alik squinted at Evan suspiciously. “Do I need to check your pockets for tools?” he only half teased.
“Can I use the bathroom first?” Evan rolled his eyes and started walking toward the left side of the building.
“If you must,” Alik elbowed his brother.
“Meet you back here in a couple minutes, Meg,” Alik called over his shoulder.
“Good luck,” I laughed.
Boys! I made my way to the right side of the building. Having taken care of his own needs, Maze fell into step beside me, trotting happily as he sniffed the air.
As we approached the ladies room, we came across a disheveled woman with unkempt red hair waving one hand while the other held a phone to her ear. She was yelling and cussing like a sailor at the person on the other end. I tried not to stare though she acted as though she wanted an audience to her over-the-top behavior.
As we passed, the woman looked up and did a double take at Maze. She took several steps back before barking, “What the hell kind of dog is that?”
“The loyal kind,” I offered with a hesitant smile. The woman scowled and went back to her arm-waving, loud conversation on the phone.
Leaning down, I whispered into Maze’s sensitive ears, “Wait here, big guy.” To his credit, Maze sat back on his haunches, panting even in the shade, and kept a wary eye on the loud woman.
The moment I walked in, I heard a little girl squawking from one of the stalls.
“Mama, I need toilet paper!”
Looking around, I saw no one.
“Mama!” the girl squealed.
I waited for a voice to come from another stall, but all I heard was the echo of the girl’s sniffles.
“Hang on, sweetie,” I said calmly. “I’ll pass you some paper.”
“Oh, okay,” the voice responded softly.
I ducked in to one of the empty stalls and gathered a large supply of paper for the girl. All the time, I kept waiting for her mother to come rushing into the bathroom, chattering some reasonable explanation for having left her daughter unattended. No one came.
“Here you go, kiddo,” I said, discreetly offering the paper to her from under her closed door.
“Thank you,” she said.
“You’re welcome.” Feeling a surge of embarrassment coming from the little voice I added, “It’s happened to me, too. I’ve had to yell for my mom to come help me plenty of times when I was younger.”
I hurriedly took care of my own full bladder while still listening for a mother that never came. I was getting worried.
We unlatched our stalls at the same time. A redheaded little girl no older than three stepped out and looked up at me. Her face was grubby except for the track lines left by her tears. Something about the dejected, fearful look in her reddish, brown eyes made me just want to bundle her up and keep her safe. I knew immediately who her mother must be. Inwardly, I cringed before scolding myself. It is not for me to judge.
“Hi,” I said with a smile.
The little girl’s lips quivered, as if she wanted to talk, but was afraid to.
I watched her hurry to the sink and stand on tiptoe trying to reach the faucet, but she was too little to reach the knob.
Dejectedly, she looked over at me as I washed, white soap foaming in my hands.
Eyes downcast, she started to shuffle out of the room, unwashed.
“Can I help you reach?” I asked softly.
She turned and smiled hesitantly before returning to the sink.
“My name is Meg. What’s yours?”
“Ashley,” she shrugged.
“All right, Ashley. I’m going to lift you up, okay?”
“Okay,” she whispered and glanced nervously back at the door.
I followed her gaze, confused at the fear I sensed in her.
“We’re just washing hands, okay?” I reassured.
“I’m not supposed to talk to strangers,” she whispered.
“Oh, of course. Do you want me to find your mommy instead?”
She shook her head no, keeping her dark eyes locked on me.
“Well, let’s get you cleaned up, okay?”
I lifted her easily and held her against my hip as I turned on the water and pumped a palm-full of pink soap to rub onto her grimy little hands. Dirt was wedged under her little nails, but I pretended not to notice. Once she was all rinsed off, I set her down carefully and passed her several paper towels.
Self-consciously, she patted her hands dry then tried to wipe her face. Her efforts didn’t accomplish much.
“If I get the towels wet, we can wipe your face even better,” I suggested.
The little girl held the towels out to me and nodded happily.
Two minutes later her little pink skin shown through. The toddler looked happy as she smiled at her reflection.
“Now, let’s go find your mom,” I held out my hand and she reached up to hold it without hesitation.
Just then, Maze whined from outside the door.
“What’s that?” Ashley whipped around to look for the source of the sound.
“Oh, that’s just my coyote, Maze,” I smiled nonchalantly.
“A coyote?” the little girl gasped and held herself closer by ducking behind my legs.
“Yeah. Don’t worry. He won’t hurt you. He’s just a big ol’ softie,” I reassured.
We stepped out into the sunlight and nearly collided with an impatient Maze.
He took one look at the little girl and sat back obediently. He tipped his head to the side and let his tongue loll out of his mouth, playfully.
Ashley clapped her hands together and giggled. “He’s big!”
“Yes, he is. He’s my best friend.” I smiled adoringly at his handsome face.
“Maze, this is Ashley. Can you say hello?” I asked.
Obediently, Maze lowered his huge head and gently bowed at the girl before raising one paw to “shake hands.”
Ashley looked back and forth between me and Maze.
“He’s very nice,” she nodded, taking his huge paw in her small hand.
Maze couldn’t resist. He leaned forward and licked the girl’s cheek in one, long, slobbery show of affection.
That’s when the redheaded woman stepped into view. Without even bothering to hang up her phone, she went on a rampage. Others who had been coming and going from the restrooms stopped to watch, but my focus was on the little girl beside me.
“Ashley!” the woman screamed, “What the hell do you think you’re doing, you little brat? I told you to hurry up in there! Who is that girl and why are you playing with her wild animal?”
“I’m sorry ma’am. Your daughter needed some help in the bathroom and I—”
The mother reached out and yanked her daughter from me as if I were on fire and just kept ranting. “Are you stupid or something? I should just let you get kidnapped! That’ll teach you a lesson!”
“But, Mama, she didn’t do nothing to me. She’s nice!” Ashley tried in vain to explain.
I winced at how the little girl shook with fear.
“Don’t you back-talk me!” The woman reeled back and smacked her daughter’s freshly cleaned face hard enough send her toppling to the ground. Instantly an angry, red welt blossomed on her cheek.
She may as well have slapped me with the shock and pain I felt burst from the little girl. I knew not every parent was as loving and kind as my mother, but I had never witnessed anyone ever physically abuse a child right in front of me!
“Stop!” I yelled and reached for Ashley’s hand, though I hadn’t thought through what I’d do if she reached back. Then again, I hardly ever think anything through. That’s just the nature of my emotional beast.
I saw Ashley’s lower lip quiver and silent tears flow.
Maze was growling at the nasty woman. His lips pulled back to show his long, sharp teeth warning her to back off.
“Did you touch my daughter? You pervert!” The woman began screaming at me. Over her shoulder, she yelled, “Chucky, write down that license plate number. Better yet, get the baseball bat. This girl here thinks she can molest your daughter!”
I had never felt rage as I did that moment. Never.
“Shit, Raylenda Joe, what are you screaming about?” a man’s voice barreled across the space.
Marching past the violent woman, I stepped near the picnic tables and looked around. Alik and Evan seemed to have just realized the drama must have involved me. They were already setting their vending machine snacks down on the hood of the truck. I watched them move quickly toward me.
Raylenda Joe saw them coming too and decided to change her plans. She dragged Ashley by the arm back to their car and shove her in.
I was right on her heels. I reached out and yanked the phone out of her hand.
“She’s going to have to call you back,” I growled and ended the call.
A sloppy man in a soiled tank top and crusty blue jeans rounded the car, holding a bat high over one shoulder. He hadn’t seen my brothers’ stealthy approach from behind. In one swift motion, Evan relieved him of his weapon and Alik yanked his greasy arms behind his back.
“I’m pretty sure my sister wants a word with you,” Evan warned as Alik moved him away from the car.
At first, I didn’t notice the on-lookers as they held up their cell phones, recording the whole exchange, but knowing wouldn’t have stopped me anyway.
“Ashley, honey? I’m going to have a little talk with your parents over here, okay?”
“Are you gonna hurt them?” she asked, still holding her hand to her hot cheek.
“No, honey, but I’m going to make sure they never hit you again.” I smiled sincerely at her worried expression.
To her mother I narrowed my eyes. “Let’s go for a walk.”
Just as any other bully, this woman was all bark. I got the feeling she wasn’t used to people standing up to her. Her mouth opened and closed like a fish breathing air, but she said nothing.
My brothers held back, letting me handle matters.
Maze couldn’t stand it any longer. He broke into a barrage of ear-piercing barks punctuated by snarls and snapping jaws. “Easy, Maze. I got this.” I leaned down and smoothed the Mohawk of fur standing on end down his back. “Go keep Ashley company, okay?”
Maze huffed angrily at the two humans, but backed away and trotted to the little girl whose face was pressed to the closed car window.
“Alik, memorize every detail of their faces, get their license plate numbers and memorize every programmed number from this phone.” I tossed him the greasy device belonging to Raylenda Joe.
“Copy that,” he smiled menacingly—eyes locked onto the child’s parents. His hand reached up and snatched the phone from midair without looking.
“Evan, go see if you can fix the air conditioning in their car. Ashley should never be left alone in a vehicle on a hot day without air conditioning,” I added, glaring at the mother.
“I’ll just grab a couple tools from the truck,” Evan smiled, happy to get to fix something.
“As for you two,” I started, “if you ever lay a hand on that child again, I will personally hunt you down and end you!”
Applause broke out in the crowd that had gathered to watch the drama unfold. I ignored everybody except the two poor-excuses for parents standing in front of me.
“You can’t do shit, lady! She’s our kid and we can raise her how we see fit!”
Just then, a wave of sickness roll over me.
I went with my gut.
“You’re both drug addicts and a child abusers. How fast do you think I could get the cops here to search your car and take pictures of the welt you just put on Ashley’s face?”
“And witnesses!” someone yelled from the crowd of on-lookers.
“I got the whole thing recorded,” another voice offered.
“Do you hear that? You may be Ashley’s parents but that gives you no right to endanger or abuse her.”
Chucky, who had remained silent and fidgety so far, spoke up. “Nosey piece of shit—what can you do to me that my shotgun can’t fix right up?” he threatened. His tongue sounded thick in his mouth, but his bloodshot eyes were devilishly sharp.
With a sneer, Chucky exploded into a loud, wet cough and leaned back. Before it registered what he was about to do, he spat a thick, hot wad of phlegm at my face.
I screamed, “You pathetic, vile human being!” just getting started.
“Where do you get off? Thinkin’ you’re all high and mighty!” he hissed.
The crowd surged forward as the temperature in the space heated up.
Alik was struggling to hold me back. I felt my skin burning under the greasy, wet assault. A handful of tissues were passed to Alik who gave them to me. I scrubbed my face raw wiping myself clean. I hadn’t experienced the feeling of being violated since I was a little girl Ashley’s age.
I trembled with anger.
The crowd’s heated reaction paled compared to my brother’s. Alik wanted to kill man for assaulting me.
He’d have to get in line.
“Let me handle him!” Alik’s voice was a guttural growl.
I took a slow, deep breath. Steeling my gaze, I forced myself to focus. “I promised Ashley I wouldn’t hurt her parents. I got this—stand by.”
My brother scowled at me but let go of my shoulders. “I got your back.” I heard the forced calm in his voice. From the corner of my eye I saw my brother’s red face and the vein in his forehead standing out angrily, but to his credit he held back.
Evan jogged back to join us. In his blackened, greasy hands, he held Chucky’s baseball bat.
I felt my white-hot anger narrow to a focused, precision point.
“I’ll give you three reasons you should be very afraid of us coming after you,” I smirked. “Reason number one: Pass the man his bat, Evan.”
Evan glanced at me, surprise in his face, but to his credit, he said nothing. He leaned forward and held the bat out to the slimy guy. “I highly advise you just do as she’s asked.”
“Go to hell, you smart ass prick!”
“Then again, some people have to learn things the hard way,” Evan jabbed sarcastically.
Suspecting what was going to happen, the boys stepped back giving me a wide berth.
“Here’s your chance, Chucky. Let’s see how much damage you can do to my face with that.” I held my hands coolly at my sides and waited. The man’s eyes darted around at all the cell phones recording everything.
“You heard her,” he yelled at the crowd, raising the bat above his shoulder. “She’s telling me to hit her!”
“That’s right, you sorry excuse for a father. Try to hit me, or would you prefer your wife have a go?” I turned to the woman staring daggers. “Ma’am? Oh, wait. Maybe you only like hitting little kids,” I pushed.
With my attention on his wife, the cowardly man heaved the bat at my temple. Instinctively, I caught the wood midswing with a solid thwack and snatched it away. In one swift motion, I shattered the thick bat over my knee and tossed the splintered halves back at his feet.
The crowd gasped and whooped.
Once the crowd died down, I continued. “Reason number two, name anyone programmed into your wife’s phone.”
Chucky’s previously defiant resolve flashed uncertain.
“Anyone at all,” I pressed.
The couple exchanged unsure glances.
“Fine,” Alik said as he sauntered back to my side. “I’ll just start from the top, alphabetically: Amy cell 575-555-2726—321 Greenview, apartment 21A Las Cruces 88011, Charline Mom home 575-555-0989—5480 Cardinal Parkway, apartment 433 Las Cruces 88011, Denise Lee 575-555-7623 East Main Street, number 39, Las Cruces 88001. Should I keep going?” he paused momentarily for effect. “With forty-seven contacts, we could be here for a while—and that doesn’t even count the entire phone log. I got that, too. Oh, and TrashyGirl31, your highest level on Jelly Crush is only three? Wow.”
“How the hell did you—?” the man started.
Alik tapped his temple and pinched his lips together into a menacing sneer.
“As you can see, Chucky, we have plenty of people we can contact to keep tabs on you and make sure Ashley isn’t being mistreated,” I admonished.
The couple started looking very uncomfortable.
“Evan, you’re up,” I called, risking a glance over my shoulder to check Ashley. I had to peer between the shoulders of people crowded around. Maze was patiently letting the little girl play with his ears as he sat in the backseat with her. Her hair was dancing in the cool breeze of the air conditioning. Evan’s got some awesome skills.
“Ev, share your medical analysis of these two,” I prompted, returning my attention to Chucky and Raylenda Joe.
“Of course.” He stepped forward, clasping his dirty hands behind his back, and focused on the two. “Based solely on observations—red eyes, dilated pupils, irritability, excessive talking (he looked pointedly at the mother), scabs and sores on your loose skin, not to mention the distinctively bitter odor to your clothing—it is clear to me that you’re both under the influence of narcotics.
“My educated conclusion is ‘crystal meth.’ You began using six to eight weeks ago. From the belongings I saw in your unkempt car, you’ve lost your jobs and your home. Currently, you’re living out of your vehicle. From the angle of your parking job, you’ve come from the west where you probably spent your last dime on your next fix, undoubtedly stored in the glove compartment based on Maze’s reaction to the scent. Oh, and you don’t have enough fuel to get you back to Las Cruces.”
Both Chucky and Raylenda Joe stood silently fidgeting, eyes darting nervously.
I spoke to the crowd. “Has anyone called 911 yet?”
No one said a word.
“That needs to happen. Someone please call the police.” At least four people started dialing the emergency number, holding their fingers to their other ears so they could hear the dispatcher.
I watched the husband and wife start to inch toward their car. Alik must have noticed, too. “Is anyone willing to stay with these two until the police arrive?” Alik asked.
Hands shot up and several voices volunteered.
“Great, thank you,” he nodded to the raised hands.
To me he whispered, “Okay, Meggie. We have to go. Now.” He nudged me away from the vile excuses for parents.
I let him lead me a few steps before I stopped to looked back at the two and felt wave of pity for them. “This is a wake-up call. Get your lives in order, for Ashley’s sake. I’ll be in touch.”
“Oh Chucky, Raylenda Joe—just in case, I’m going to rig your car so it won’t drive,” Evan nodded toward the dirty sedan. “Don’t worry, I’ll make sure it can still idle with the air on so your daughter stays comfortable.”
Evan turned and jogged back to the car, lifted the hood and pulled out a pair of wire cutters from his back pocket, getting right to work.
Alik and I followed him to the vehicle. “Hi, Ashley.” I smiled trying to keep the worry from my eyes.
“Hi, Meg.” She looked back to where her parents were escorted to a picnic table by several people. “Are mommy and daddy mad?”
“They’re unhappy with me and my brothers. They’re not mad at you,” I assured, patting her slender shoulder carefully. Ashley flinched.
“Does your shoulder hurt, honey?” I asked.
She nodded and looked into her little hands. “Mommy pulled me really hard.”
“I know. I’m sorry.” I moved to sit beside her and offered my hand for her to hold. She threaded her little fingers between mine, making my heart tighten in my chest. “Listen Ashley, the police are coming to help your parents. They are kind of sick right now and need help to feel better and not act so angry all the time. Okay?”
Ashley nodded yes, but confusion was clearly written in her reddish-brown eyes. “I don’t want you to worry. I’ll be calling to check on you from time to time. Do you have a favorite relative? Someone very nice to you?”
Ashley’s eyes brightened. “My Grammy Charlene reads to me and plays dollies with me and lets me lick the spoons when we make cookies!” she offered excitedly.
“Your Grammy Charlene sounds awesome, honey. Listen, if mommy or daddy hurts you, I want you to tell her right away. My brothers and I will work with your Grammy to make sure you’re safe. Do you understand?”
Ashley looked up at me and nodded before scampering into my lap and wrapping her good arm around my neck. I hugged her back, swallowing the emotion tight in my throat.
“You’re such a brave girl,” I patted her scrawny back affectionately.
“Meg? Are you an angel?” she pulled back and looked at me seriously.
“No, sweetie. I’m just Meg.” I helped her sit back on the bench seat and moved to stand.
“Grammy says angels are everywhere.”
“I like the way your Grammy thinks,” I smiled. Reaching out, I smoothed her wild, red curls away from her innocent eyes. Ashley grinned widely, leaning into my hand like an affectionate kitten.
Evan shut the hood of the car. “All set,” he said.
“I have to go, Ashley,” I said softly.
The little girl nodded, “Thank you.”
“You’re more than welcome, little one.” After Maze jumped out of the car, I waved once more before hurrying to our SUV.
Three minutes down the highway, we passed two speeding police cars. I thought a simple prayer for the little soul I left behind.Start writing here ...