I’d somehow managed to hide the cuts and bruises from my Mom; save for the screaming in my face the rest of the night was a blur. The words “grounded until college” lingered, though I didn’t grasp their meaning until I woke again the next morning. I was also nursing the worst headache of my life.
She drove me to school, and I pretended to not be half-dead. Gods, I could barely stand; my stomach was churning, my muscles aching, my ribs were on fire, and I was struggling to keep my eyes open. No problem, right? I just had to hide the pain for seven hours, and then I could go home and sleep.
That was, of course, if Dr. Vortex wasn’t coming for me. Ugh, screw my life.
It wasn’t until I was inside that I saw Tanya again; she was waiting for me, and noticed me first. She stepped up to make sure I could hold myself upright, and pressed a hand to my back, the one spot that didn’t feel like it was going to erupt into flames.
“Tell me everything,” she said.
I swallowed the sickness in the back of my throat and inhaled. “Well, for starters, you’re not allowed in my home anymore, and I’m not allowed in yours…”
“Right, so your Mom still hates my guts. Go on.”
“She says she’s going to be the one driving me to and from school every day,” I continued, “that she’s going to call the house phone to make sure I haven’t wandered off, and that I’ve lost cell phone and TV privileges.”
Tanya snorted. “She’ll enforce it for all of a week, and then she’ll realize discipline is too much of a hassle.”
“I’m more worried about the killer Carl Sagan who wants to lock me in his basement.”
The first bell rang and we shuffled like zombies in the direction of our lockers, but then we were stopped by the principal’s voice blaring over the PA. “Attention, students. First period for all classes have been pre-empted, and you are to gather in the auditorium for an important announcement. Repeat: first period for all classes have been pre-empted, and you are to gather in the auditorium for an important announcement. That is all.”
“If this has anything to do with Adrian and the basketball team making regionals I’m going to throw up,” I said.
“I’ll bring the bucket,” Tanya added.
Every student from the freshmen to the senior packed into the auditorium while being herded like cattle to their seats. The room was abuzz with chatter, but something was off; maybe it was just the ringing in my head, but the mood was tainted with a presence I didn’t recognize. A chill ran down my flesh as the weight of oxygen dropped in my lungs.
Tanya grabbed my arm and whispered sharply, “KC, look, by the stage.”
Police, at least four of them; they stood in pristine black uniforms and were chatting with the principal. Something was very, very wrong.
A hush filled the room as the principal took to the stage and waddled toward the podium. “Quiet, please,” she began, and for once the student body listened. Her fingers clutched at the wooden edges as she steeled her resolve; nobody in the room could deny the blanket of dread she radiated. “It is with a sad heart that I announce that this morning the bodies of Mr. Randall Drew and his partner were discovered in their home.”
The words struck like a tidal wave with the brunt of the force crashing against realization; it was Dr. Vortex. It had to be! Who else but Tanya and I knew what he’d been driven to? Who else stood a chance to rat him out and make him vulnerable?
A piece of my chest had been snatched away and was replaced with terror; anyone could be next, anyone at all. Gods, why hadn’t I tried to stop him sooner? Because I was a wreck, that was why. Funny, that didn’t seem like all that good an excuse.
“Police are asking anyone who might be aware of anything leading up to this incident to please come forward,” she continued. “Students, we know this is a difficult time. Counselors will be made available after this assembly for those in need.”
“I can’t be here,” I whispered.
Tanya jerked her head. “What?”
My body was on auto-pilot and I was standing from my seat, and then shuffled through the crowd in the direction of the exit. That place wasn’t safe anymore; no place was until I’d taken care of Dr. Vortex.
The pain faded as adrenaline took over and I sprinted into the hallway. All I needed was a place to transform and it was hello, Glimmer Girl, and goodbye…
I stopped in my tracks. There, standing by the lockers was the man himself, Dr. Vortex; except he wasn’t in the same costume I’d last seen him wearing. Instead he wore a suit and tie, the same kind he’d started in when he approached Tanya and I in the parking lot.
My fists trembled; in fear, anger, maybe both. My shoulders arched up and swallowed my neck while I readied myself to swoop like a hawk.
“You killed him, didn’t you?” It wasn’t really a question.
“Randall and I were roommates in college,” Teddy mused. “We graduated honors and our doctorates together, as partners. You might not think it, but I held a great affection for him. However, that affection pales in comparison to the mission set upon me by fate.”
“And now you’re here to terrorize my school!?”
The villain grinned. “On the contrary, I’m your substitute science teacher. I heard that there was a last minute opening. I believe you’re in one of my classes; fourth period, correct? You’d be surprised the places a man of my power and influence can reach.”
My teeth ground like bricks. “You’re not going to hurt anyone here. I’ll make sure of it.”
“And how do you plan to do that, exactly?”
“By using everything I’ve got,” I snapped. “Come on, Vortex. Why don’t we take this outside and settle this once and for all?” You know, where I’m the only one getting hurt.
He huffed and snickered. “You certainly talk like a comic book hero,” he said. “Alright, outside it is. Here, there, it makes no difference. You know that you can’t hide from me, and I know just how to flush you out; we should settle this sooner rather than later.”
Dr. Vortex vanished in a blink and I ran. The further I was from the school, the better.
It was time for a showdown.
To be continued…