Shimmer – Halloween Special 2014 – “Cracks in the Mirror”

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Part One

You’re never too old for trick or treating, but having a sister in grade school helps.

Angie shuffled with the other kids, knocking her pumpkin bucket with each step. She explained to the old woman at the door the meaning of the princess gown, silver skin and clothes hanger antenna, received her treats and clunked back to where I was waiting by the sidewalk.

“What did you get, kid?”

“She was giving out whole candy bars,” she beamed. “Not just the fun size ones; big ones!”

“Real candy bars?” I echoed. “Damn, you’re getting spoiled!”

We looked to make sure the traffic was clear, but there was nothing save kids and their parents. Most of them were wearing costumes off the rack; some weren’t even trying at all (especially the adults).

“Come on. Let’s try the houses across the street.” I held out my appendage for her.

Angie squealed and flew back. “Tanny!”

“If you don’t want to hold my tentacle then you need to get on my other side,” I teased.

Decorated houses and candle-lit pumpkins kept the twilight alive after the sun set. A chill wind blew, collecting leaves in miniature tornadoes and prompting Angie to cuddle up close as we walked. Yep, it was definitely October.

Somewhere between Coulson St and the next crescent as Angie had gone to another door I heard someone call “yo, Tanya!”

It should have been Kaira; I knew her voice, but it wasn’t. Instead I turned to face a woman dressed in orange and gold with white tights, a mask, and free flowing hair. In other words it wasn’t Kaira, but her alter ego.

The look on my face must have been priceless. “You’ve got to be $#@&%ing me,” I coughed. “You dressed as Glimmer Girl!?”

KC grinned and cupped her hands behind her head. “Nobody’s going to know it’s me,” she laughed, “and it’s the only chance I’ve had to socialize in costume. Can you really blame me?”

“You’ve got a secret identity to protect,” I huffed.

“Yeah, and nobody’s going to suspect a thing if I’m casual about it,” she reasoned. “Besides, like a dozen people from school have seen it already and say I look nothing like her.”

“Seriously?”

She nodded and contained her laughter. “Adrian even said that ‘Glimmer Girl would be insulted if she saw a, you know, dressed up as her,’ like he had any sort of clue.”

I laughed so hard that spittle came out my nose; what I would have given to have seen that!

Angie wandered back, staring between me and her bucket, then to the superhero by my side, posing with one hand on her hip. Her eyes widened as though she were seeing something supernatural; which, you know, she was, even if we were playing it down.

“Are you really Glimmer Girl?” she gasped. Oh boy.

The other girl bent down and grinned. “Don’t you recognize me? It’s me, Kaira. I’m just wearing a costume, see?” She peeled away her domino mask; weird how a small piece of latex or whatever it was made all the difference.

Angie rubbed her eyes. “You look just like the real Glimmer Girl,” she whispered.

KC snickered and leaned closer. “Want to know a secret? I am the real Glimmer Girl.”

Angie twisted her nose, stepped away and pouted. “Nuh-uh. That can’t be true! You’re not nice enough to be the real Glimmer Girl.”

Oh my god; I couldn’t stop laughing.

“Are you saying I’m not nice?” KC huffed.

“No, you’re nice,” Angie explained, “but you’re not as nice as Glimmer Girl.”

“This just keeps getting better,” I cackled; tears were pooling in the corner of my eyes.

Kaira inhaled slowly, stood up and fought to keep a straight face. “Well excuse me for not being perfect,” she chided and replaced her mask.

“So, you tagging along for trick or treating?” I pressed.

She shrugged. “Maybe in a while. I don’t know; I’ve got a weird feeling about tonight.”

“It’s Halloween.”

“Yeah, but… weird, even for Halloween, you know?”

“Not really,” I hummed. “You’re just being paranoid.”

“Maybe.”

The Princess Robot reached up and tugged my arm. “Tanny! They’ve got a haunted house over there, and they say it’s okay for kids to go in! Can we?”

I let her drag me away. “Looks like I’ve got to go. Catch up for coffee later?”

“It’s a date,” KC smiled, and started for the end of the road.

“Tanny!”

Angie was going to have my arm if she wasn’t going to have the rest of me, so I let her lead.

You could tell a lot of work had gone into the haunted house; there were animatronic hands flailing from the dirt, webs around the front door, and an old, rotted sign that read ‘THE WITCH’S CAVE.’ Smoke snaked from the entrance, highlighted in putrid green and the cackle of harpies.

My sister froze; I gave her a nudge. “You ready, kiddo? All tricks, no treats.”

She steeled herself. Who knew what PG horrors were going to jump out and take her by surprise?

“Then let’s do it.”

We stepped inside, passed the speakers blaring laughter, and followed the dimly lit path through the main room. Chains rattled, and zombies moaned as they reached out for Angie; they were stopped short by the shackles on the wall.

My little sister squeaked and buried herself under my arm; the zombie winked as he pointed us to the back door.

A woman in black waited by the entrance to darkness. She looked like Morticia Addams, give or take thirty years, and beckoned us with rolling fingers. “Are you ready to enter the witch’s cave?” she teased. “Double, double toil and trouble; fire burn, and caldron bubble…”

It was scary stuff for anyone under ten, meaning that Angie trembled every time I stifled a yawn. Still, this was her first time; we stepped inside, past the curtain and into blackness. There was nothing save for my sister’s hand gripping with all her might.

“Is something supposed to be happening?” I asked.

“Tanny?”

“It’s okay, kid. We…”

Her hand jerked away. What the hell was going on? Suddenly my footing vanished. I braced, ready to hit the ground, but it was gone, and I tumbled into darkness .

Then something struck my back, and forced the air from my lungs. I opened my eyes, struggled for breath, and looked around for Angie. Was she okay?

The darkness had gone. In it’s place was long grass under a full moon. Where was I? I stood and saw the fence, then the house that it had belonged to.

Fighting my way through the out of control lawn I called for my sister. “Angie? Come on, squirt. Where did you go?” There was no sign of her. Oh hell, if she was lost…

I stepped up to the back porch and knocked on the door. It seemed weird that all the Halloween decorations were gone; there were no trick-or-treaters, just the Autumn breeze that ran colder than usual.

The door opened and from it sprung two barrels. I stumbled, fell flat on my ass, while the rifle continued to follow me.

“Who are you?” the owner demanded. “What do you want?”

Words tripped in the back of my throat, long enough to wear away the gunman’s patience.

“Talk!”

“I… I’m looking for my sister.”

“She’s not here,” he growled. “Now leave before I shoot you dead.”

What the hell was going on? “Mister, I don’t know what kind of haunted house this is…”

He shot into the sky, cracking the air, cocked the hammer and readied the second shot. “I already warned you,” he said. “You made a big mistake trespassing here.”

Before I had the chance to run a wall of fire exploded from inside his home, slapping me in the face with wind and heat; which was better than the debris that took out the man with the gun.

I picked my glasses up from the ground, inspected the crack in the lens, and put them back on. There was a figure in the house; tall, slender, blonde hair, not coated in shadow but bathed in light from another world.

“What the hell, KC?” I choked. Then I saw her; the woman with the black gloves, fishnet stockings, and a smirk like the devil. If that was supposed to be Glimmer Girl then they’d done a weird job of it.

Suddenly the woman stopped and gasped.

“Tanya? No… no, that’s impossible…”

Somehow I got the feeling I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

She grabbed me by the collar and held tight as we blazed to the sky. Wind whipped my hair and my feet dangled as we met the clouds; the hoodie pinched under my arms, keeping me from looking down. (Probably a good thing.)

“Who are you!?” she demanded. “What are you!? Ghost? Zombie? Vampire? Alien? Clone? … Shapeshifter!? Tell me right the @#$% now or you become street pizza.”

The resemblance was uncanny; she looked like Glimmer Girl, sounded like Glimmer Girl, but the rage was somebody else. The Kaira I knew didn’t make those kind of threats.

My feet kicked but found no ground. Did she really have it in her to drop me?

“Listen, I don’t know what’s going on,” I rasped, “but you know me, right? A-and I know you; you’re Kaira Cade. We’ve been best friends since grade school but… but something about you is different; and me too, am I right?”

She gave pause and leered. The fire was alien, but the green eyes definitely belonged to Kaira. Had something happened to her? Even worse, had something happened to me?

“You’re Tanya Truman,” she huffed. “Okay, what’s my favourite drink?”

“Chai latte… with a shot of vanilla…”

She pulled me closer. “What did the other kids used to call us on the playground?”

“They called you ‘Fairy Floss’ and… me ‘Lard Guts.’ Come on, KC; ask me a hard one!”

The fire around her faded to a dim hue as we scaled down the clouds. Soon my feet were touching down, and stumbled to support my weight.

The stranger, my friend, looked away and clicked her tongue. “Tell me how you’re still alive,” she muttered.

I stood in silence. What kind of a question was that? I peered around to catch Kaira’s eye, but she wouldn’t meet mine.

“Am I supposed to be dead or something,” I said in as soft a tone as I could manage. “You know what’s going on better than I do, KC. Last thing I remember was walking through a crappy haunted house, having some guy point a gun in my face, and Glimmer Girl showing up in a costume like out of Rocky Horror.”

She glared at me. “Haunted house? Glimmer Girl?”

“Yeah, you know, because it’s Halloween? Trick or treaters, people decorating their homes like graveyards, kids egging the houses when they give out toothpaste instead of candy, et cetera.”

Her mood turned. Kaira laughed and nursed her brow. What was so funny?

“Oh, honey,” she hummed, “you mustn’t be from around here. If anyone tried to pull that @#$% they’d be shot dead in an hour. Give anyone an excuse and your life is forfeit. I can’t imagine how you know anything different.”

“I don’t get why that’s so funny.”

“Because,” she explained, “it means that you’re not the Tanya I know. The real Tanya is still a pile of ash sitting on top of her bio-dad’s TV set, right where she belongs.”

Kaira was smiling, but the anger was still there; somehow that was more unnerving. I started to back away until I reached the edge of the rooftop.

“Another Tanya,” I echoed, “like… from another universe or something?”

She nodded and leaned back, crossing one leg over the other.

“If she was your friend like I was your friend then why do you sound glad she’s dead?”

Kaira leveled her gaze on me and smirked. “Trust me, if you knew her like I did then you would have done the same.”

I ran my fingers along the ledge, ready to cling for life. “Does this mean… are you going to…?”

“No. Why should I? I can see it in your eyes; you don’t nearly have her nerve.” She propped herself up and sauntered to my side, leaned close, stopped when I hesitated, then brushed her fingers down my cheek. Drawing closer she whispered hot into my ear, “It’s a good thing, too. Even though I buried her I never realized just how much I miss her… missed you. Maybe we can relive some old times before we send you home.”

My feet reacted before the rest of me, and I sprung a distance from her. “I-I’m not comfortable with this. You’re not my Glimmer Girl, and… no, I’m not doing this.”

“Glimmer Girl,” she chuckled. “No, I’m not Glimmer Girl. My name is Laser Lass. Has more of an edge to it, don’t you think?” She laid hard emphasis on the ‘k’ and licked her lips. What did she want from me?

If it hadn’t hit me before then it definitely had right then; this was not my Kaira.

“I think there’s been some kind of mistake,” I uttered.

My stomach was doing backflips. Nothing about this place, about her, felt right; it was sick somehow, rotten in a way beyond description. It soaked into my pores and ran cold. It was Milestone City alright, but it was not my home at all.

“What’s the matter?” Laser Lass teased. “Scared to take a walk on the wild side?”

That’s when I remembered; “Angie!” How could I have been so stupid!? “We were trick or treating together! What if she’s here too, alone?”

Kaira scoffed. “Your kid sister? Ugh. Let her fend for herself for a change. It’ll be good for her; harden her up.”

“I’m not leaving her alone in this hell hole!”

“You better watch your mouth,” Laser Lass warned. “It may be a hell hole, but it’s my hell hole, and anyone who disrespects it is disrespecting me.”

There was that anger again; she wanted an excuse, any excuse. She didn’t care about this place; that much was obvious, but a false sense of pride was all that she needed to send me after her native Tanya. God, what had I gotten into?

I swallowed the hard lump in my throat and lowered my head. “Sorry,” I told her. “Please, I know this isn’t the kind of thing you usually do, but if you’re anything like my Kaira… if you want to do something to make up for what happened to your own Tanya…”

Her grimace remained frozen. Was she anything like the KC I knew at all? There had to be some good in her; there just had to be!

“You’re not going to be like this all night, are you?” Laser Lass yawned.

“Like what?”

“Like, ‘oh, we need to find my pet brat’,” she mimicked. “‘Please, KC, if there’s any good left in you’; blah, blah, blah. You know for a second I hoped you wanted to do something fun, like sniping at cop cars to keep them on their toes, but no; I get lumped with the bleeding heart suck-up with a misplaced sense of familial responsibility.”

It was strange hearing those words; worse somehow considering it was her.

“She’s my sister,” I growled. “She’s six and not cynical enough to survive this place. Don’t you care at all?”

Laser Lass crossed her legs again. “Nope.”

My fists clenched. “Fine. Then I’ll go and find her myself.”

“Good luck getting down from here,” she teased. “Fifty floors up, and the only door is locked. So unless you can fly…”

My eyes leveled on her; the attitude, the antogonism, the smug sense of superiority. She was just going to toy with me all night, wasn’t she? That was unless I upped my game.

“Yeah, that’s not a bad idea.”

I stepped up to the ledge, one foot after the other, and balanced over the yawning dive. It was a long way down; the wind howled as if to warn me, but I couldn’t back away. My chest clenched as my balance shifted; instinct demanded I turn back but I remained steady and plummeted into freefall.

Somewhere between the fortieth and twentieth floor I realized what a stupid idea it was, and that in moments I would be dead; not only that, but dead in another universe. My family would never get to see my body, and Angie would still be trapped. I’d made a terrible mistake…

Before the pavement hit a flash of light swooped in and grabbed me, circled the block and slowed. Laser Lass still held enough momentum so that it hurt when she slammed me into a brick wall, then pulled away so that I had room to drop, cough and heave.

“Are you demented!?” she roared. “Are you trying to get yourself killed!? What the hell were you thinking!?”

Despite the pain I was smiling. “You… do care…”

She stopped, considered herself and kicked a can down the alley; second best thing to kicking me, I supposed. “No, I don’t give a damn about you,” she seethed.

“Right,” I coughed, “and that’s exactly why you’re not going to help me look for my ‘brat sister’.”

Weird that I still knew her well enough to get under her skin if I had to; maybe she really wasn’t all that different.

“Fine,” she huffed, “but we do it under my terms.”

At last I could ease some. This was what I knew; Glimmer Girl… Laser Lass coming to save the day, even if she was a callous witch from Hell.

* * * *

Part Two

She was more confident than the Kaira I knew, or maybe she was just obnoxious; it was hard to say for sure. The few eyes that dared to look her way failed to sway her; her gaze remained locked on her goal every step.

“Where are we going?”

Laser Lass didn’t answer; she just kept walking, heels clicking against the pavement in purposeful strides. Even in civilian attire her aura seemed to shine, and all cast in it were destined to despair.

She marched into a street forgotten by the world; most of the lamps had blown, the asphalt was layered in cracks, lawns had dried out and houses were missing windows. Had it always been this way? The school was only three blocks away; things in that direction didn’t look any better.

“Hey,” I called again. “Tell me where we’re going.”

The would-be model tossed her hair back and clucked. “I’d tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.”

Was that supposed to be funny? To her, maybe; she wasn’t smiling.

She crossed into a mound of dirt that passed as a yard where a path should have been, and to the collection of paint stripped wood that might have once been a house. It had a roof; maybe there were people still living there, somehow. Kaira grated the rusted hinges of the screen and banged on the door.

“Come on,” she sighed. “Answer, you piece of $#@%.”

The door inched, revealing the sliver of a man behind it. His eyes were dark and heavy, and the rest of his frame remained hidden under a flannel shirt older than he was. With fists concealed beneath his sleeves he fumbled with the door chain and stuttered a greeting.

“S-s-sorry,” he muttered.

It wasn’t until that moment that I realized whose presence I was standing in. Were it not for his voice I wouldn’t have known; everything I was accustomed to, the bulk, the bravado, the self-important sneer had all been stripped away. His slack jaw, however…

Adrian looked like he’d seen a ghost.

“Shut up. Don’t look at her like that,” Kaira barked, and shoved him back inside. “I want your help.”

He looked down at his feet. “S-s-sorry…”

“Hey, leave him alone,” were the four words I’d never thought I’d say in defense of Adrian Dempsey, but this was the night for impossible things.

“No, I don’t think I will,” she huffed. “I don’t know what this guy is like back on your world, and I don’t care, but here he’s a snot-nosed punk who needs to know his place. Give him an inch, he takes a mile; that’s why you need to pull the leash tight.” She turned to him and growled, “isn’t that right, dog?”

“Y-y-yes…”

Her tone dropped like a brick. “Yes, what?”

“Yes, M-M-Miss Kaira.”

Okay! Just when I thought things couldn’t get any weirder my trip to Hell dimension USA just received a XXX rating. There was no way what I was seeing could be real; Kaira and Adrian were a ship that should never have set sail on any world.

“Our acquaintance here has lost her sister,” she informed him. “I need you to drive around town with her and find the brat before any trouble goes down.”

He looked between the two of us, paused, and looked down. “I thought… her… h-her sister… she’s in foster-”

“Wrong girl, wrong brat,” she groaned. “It’s a long story, and I’m not in the mood to tell it to you. Now, do what I say before I castrate you bare handed.”

He grabbed his keys and shuffled past us, not daring to look up. What had she done to him? A part of me wanted to think he’d deserved it, especially knowing the Adrian of my world, but seeing him suffer like this…

“Adrian will take you where you need to go,” Kaira hummed. “I’m going to check my own sources. If I find anything, don’t worry, you’ll know.”

“That’s… comforting.”

I reached after Kaira as she walked away, tried to find something to say, but her interest was somewhere else; she was seriously leaving me with him. What the hell? I looked to Adrian, who just shrugged.

Maybe he was different in this world; it didn’t mean I had to be happy about it.

* * * *

We drove in silence for the better part of an hour, neither of us talking. It was actually a relief; he was too shy to say anything, and I didn’t feel like sharing. All I cared about was Angie and how she must have felt so lost and alone.

Most of the landmarks were the same, but a few had changed; like the Lovin’ Spoonful, which for whatever reason had been replaced with a tattoo parlor. Somehow, I couldn’t see the store owners back home having a problem with that.

“What?” Adrian hummed.

“Huh?”

“You made a noise,” he said.

“Did I?” It must have been subconscious. “I was just thinking… everything’s the same, but it’s not the same.”

“Yeah,” he said. His tone was heavy with meaning.

I tutted and looked away. “What would you know about it?”

He turned a corner and sighed. “A lot. Like, you; you look like you, but now…”

“But what?”

A smile curled his lip, barely worth noticing. “You’re not a spoiled @#$%& like you used to be. I don’t think you’ve ever given a damn about family before.”

The question shivered along my spine and onto my tongue, but I had to ask. “Why do you think I don’t care?”

“Because,” he breathed, “I was there when it happened. When they took your Mom to the psych ward, you laughed. When they dragged your sister away into foster care you threw a party. Now you’re back from the dead you’re worried about her. You’ve done a complete three-sixty.”

“You mean one-eighty?”

“Whatever,” Adrian laughed. “I don’t know how you’re not dead anymore, and I’ve seen too much weird $#@% to think about asking, but I like you better this way.”

Really? Because I still hated his guts; not that I was going to say that out loud.

My gaze was probing the alleys when the car skidded to a halt. I was just about to curse the driver when I peered ahead and saw a man standing in the middle of the road; white coat, goggles, and a chin that sharpened to a point.

“What the hell is this guy doing?” I grunted.

Meanwhile, Adrian was as stiff as a board; he bit his lip and seethed as sweat ran down his brow. What it anger, fear? He trembled when I gave him a shove. What was going on?

“Drive,” I told him.

He didn’t respond.

“Drive!”

Still nothing; every muscle in his body tightened until his face turned furious pink.

“My business is with the young woman in the passenger seat,” the man called. “Come with me, and I promise that no harm will come to you.”

Me? What did he want with…? Wait, that face-

Adrian stomped on the pedal, filling the air with screeching and the scent of burning rubber. In seconds his car flew forward, straight through the figure standing in the road. Before I could scream it was over; I was flat on the ground and the roaring engine was fading into the distance. Somehow Adrian had managed to leave without me.

The figure plodded toward me; crap! I scrambled to my feet, but tripped. When was this nightmare going to end?

“Please, don’t be alarmed,” he said. “I’m sorry to have startled you. Are you hurt, Ms Truman?”

I stopped. Hearing consideration from Dr. Vortex was perhaps the spookiest thing to have happened during the night, but it was still a welcome change. I turned to him, tried my best to slow my breathing, and lifted myself to my feet.

“You’re a good guy,” I panted. “Honest to god?”

“As good as can come from a world as wretched as this,” he added. “I understand that your home is considerably different. I apologize; your coming here was never my intention. Rather, I sought the aid of your friend, Laser Lass’s counterpart.”

“You mean Glimmer Girl?”

“Indeed.” He offered me his hand. “Now I’m here to help you return.”

I reached out, then stopped. “I’m looking for my sister,” I told him. “Last I saw her she was with me in the haunted house, but… I’m worried she might be out here.”

“Your sister, Angela, is safe where you left her.”

My chest released. I wouldn’t know for sure until I saw with my own eyes, but just hearing the words was more than enough. Thank god she didn’t have to live through this horror. How would I have ever explained it to her?

“Thank you.”

He smiled, took my hand, and the world faded.

Home sounded so far, despite being gone only a few hours. I exhaled as if for the first time; I would never take my own bed for granted again.

* * * *

Part Three

“We need to move quickly,” he said. “Like all things the multiverse is in constant motion, and the window to your home will soon close to us.”

He said ‘we’, but I was idle at a station as he worked. His laboratory was huge; bigger than the warehouse the other guy used, and less cluttered. My eyes poured over the gadgets and gizmos, some as small as my hand, some as large as a truck. Together they formed an impressive, if incomplete arsenal, that would probably give Laser Lass, and Glimmer Girl too, a run for their money.

“Where are we?” I wondered aloud.

“Once upon a time this was a bunker for the war effort in World War II,” he muttered. “It was forgotten when the United European battalion pushed back against the combined US-British imperialist regime, and toppled the tyrant, Winston Churchill.”

I blinked and tilted my head. “Wait, America were the bad guys in World War II?” Somehow I kept imagining guys in swastikas marching down the street; that’s how it should have gone if we’d lost, right?

The doctor paused a moment. “We were ruled by a fascist government with eyes on global conquest. I understand that things on your world are much different.”

“Depends who you ask.”

He fussed over a device of some sort; it was a silver ball, but more than that. Don’t ask me what it was, because I had no clue; all I knew, all I needed to know, was that it was going to get me home.

“Your name is Teddy Fellows, right?” I asked. “Like the other guy.”

“More or less.”

“Are you called ‘Dr. Vortex’ as well?”

My savior fretted and continued to watch his work. “They call me ‘Mr. Shift.’ It’s not a title I’m particularly fond of. Neither is ‘Teddy’, as it happens.”

“So what would you like me to call you?”

“Ted,” he smirked, though it was kind of a fake, forced smirk. “Ted is fine.”

I wasn’t going to argue; even if he looked like my least favourite maniac he was my home ticket, and you know what they say about gift horses.

“So, Ted; how do you know my sister is okay?”

His attention remained fixed on the work; his words were barely more than idle rambling. “I and my counterparts have the technology to see into other universes, though interacting with them, let alone entering them is another matter entirely. Crossing from one reality to another requires skill, timing and, though I’m not a believer, a lot of luck.”

“So you saw her.”

“And so will you, soon,” he muttered, almost as an afterthought.

Suddenly, the bench started to tremble. A screwdriver rolled onto the floor, followed by this machine and that as they lost their balance. The shaking moved through my body and threw me down.

Mr. Shift screamed and jumped on top of me, “GET DOWN!”

The bolted door flew across the room and buried itself in the concrete. A wave of flame as bright as the sun singed the hairs off my arms, and probably other places. I looked up to see what came after; no points for guessing what, or who.

“I should have known you were behind this,” Laser Lass grinned over the crackling. “You really thought you could throw me off with an alternate version of my dead friend?”

Mr. Shift said nothing; he was already to his feet and throwing objects at the villain. Poles, rods, debris; anything he could draw into his influence at a moment’s notice converged on her with accumulated force, but she dodged every one.

“Stop!” They didn’t stop. I scrambled to my feet and roared to be heard. “KC, he’s trying to help! You don’t have to do this!”

Laser Lass bounced off the walls at sub-light speed, and Mr. Shift was struggling to follow. She halted, he lunged, and in a split she was behind him, blasting the scientist to the ground and setting his coat ablaze.

“Helping, huh?” she laughed. “Helping who exactly, Teddy?”

I ran and grabbed her arm. “He’s helping me get home. That’s what you want too, right?”

The villain grinned, peeled off her mask and threw an arm around me. “You know, maybe I like having Tanya back. You might not be as fun as the old one, but given enough time I can break you.”

“Stop talking like you don’t care,” I huffed. “I’m not some toy. I’m your friend, and I know you care about me, or else you wouldn’t have saved me.”

She paused. Her arm dropped and she stepped away, wide eyed. Had I said something wrong? Then she started to laugh; giggling at first, but soon erupting into a cackle. Tears welled in the corner of her eyes.

“You think I give two $#%&s about you?” Laser Lass hummed. “Honey, I saved you because you’re bait. Guys like Mr. Soft-as-Shift here are suckers for a pretty face, even one as pudgy as yours, and it was only a matter of time before he came back for you.”

I couldn’t believe that Kaira, any version of her, could have said that. She had to be joking, right? Maybe I could have convinced myself of that if she didn’t throw me to the ground and kick me in the stomach; she was even laughing while she did it.

She pointed down with a single finger and arched her thumb up as if cocking the hammer of a gun. With a wink she took careful aim, savoring the moment my heart stopped.

“You should have known better than to bring her here, Teddy,” Laser Lass teased. “Now you’re going to have another dead girl on your conscience!”

It was over in a flash.

Cold swallowed my body as I tumbled. One moment I was breathing and when I opened my eyes… I was still alive, on the other side of the room. What the hell?

Mr. Shift bellowed at the top of his lungs. “Ms. Truman! The device! N-!”

A bolt shot through his chest, clean through with no blood. At first I wondered if it was real; then his eyes glazed over and any ounce of fight he might have had melted away. Mr. Shift, Ted, collapsed to his knees, swayed as if in slow motion, and heaped to the ground. That was it? Was he really…?

“You…” There were more words; they weren’t coming. Laser Lass already knew what I wanted to say.

She stepped over him, like he was dirt, less than dirt, and bore down on me.

I pleaded with her, “okay, you killed him! Just let me go home!”

“Sure,” she shrugged. “You can go, but I’m coming with you.”

Shaking my head was instinct; she replied by tightening her lips.

“A whole new world,” Laser Lass mused; “a chance to see how it could have been. You really think I’m going to miss out on all that?”

It was no use biding my time. Turning on a surge of adrenaline I dived for the silver orb, springing from the ground that was shattered by the villain’s beam. Less than a second felt like a lifetime as my fingers hungered for the device, my way home, my freedom!

“That’s mine, you b-!”

A veil came down, then silence. The world was gone for all of a moment, and when the curtain came away I was face down in the grass, squeals and laughter coming from every direction.

I looked up and the world had changed back; kids trick or treating, having their fun in spite of the fall.

Was this home; really home? It seemed too good to be true.

A pair of feet squished against the grass until they reached where I lay. The three and a half foot munchkin bent down and pressed against my shoulder. “Are you alright, Tanny?” Angie asked. From the sound of her she’d been worrying about me.

Kaira, the real Kaira, was right there beside her, still in her Glimmer Girl costume. She wasn’t a monster anymore, so why was I still shaking?

“Tanya, where have you been? Are you okay?”

I curled into a ball and started crying. It didn’t matter that I was a teary mess right there in front of everybody. They didn’t know what I’d just been through; they didn’t know!

* * * *

Epilogue

Once upon a time there was a universe, and in that universe was a galaxy, and in that galaxy was a planet, and it was called Earth; not just any Earth, but MY Earth, and it was good. You know why? Because it wasn’t like any other Earths; imperfect as it was everything was more or less how I liked it, the people were essentially good, and best of all it had coffee shops where they were supposed to be, and not tattoo parlors.

I nursed the mochacino in my fingers and sipped; it was the best damn mochacino I had ever had, probably for all of the reasons stated above. Could it have been better in any other universe? No. Maybe. Who cares? This one came from my home, and I needed it more than anything else.

Kaira leaned forward and bit her lip. “Are you okay?” She knew the answer, of course.

Had it been anyone else my story would have been too fantastic to believe, but after all we’d been through the impossible didn’t seem much of a stretch. She listened to every word, mortified but curious, and wanted to know everything about… you know; her.

“Yeah, I’ll be fine,” I lied. “I just don’t know how to deal with… all of it. There are no words, you know? It’s all so big.”

Another sip of mochacino helped to take the edge off, but not by much. I’d decided I didn’t like telling this story, even though I needed to get it out while it was fresh. Talking was supposed to be therapeutic, and I couldn’t wait for the whole damn night to be behind me.

Kaira looked down, as if ashamed, then brought her gaze back to mine. “You know that person,” she explained, “Laser Lass; you know she’s not like me, right? I’d never do any of those things. Maybe she wants to hurt people, but I don’t.”

“I know,” sort of.

The rage in her eyes was gone; the hate, the sadism, the cold indifference, and while I could reason that it wasn’t my Kaira that had put me through Hell my brain couldn’t pull them apart. In the end they were the same person; not twins, not clones, but Kaira Cade, living the same life on two worlds. What was I supposed to make of that?

We sat in silence and finished our drinks. One of us had to say something. Kaira was the first to crack.

“I guess I’ll see you at school on Monday,” she muttered.

“Yeah, for sure. You don’t need a ride home?” I didn’t want her to say yes; maybe I was just used to asking. Somehow I felt guilty to be so relieved when she turned me down. Was I really holding this against her?

I watched as she left the shop and turned a corner; she’d fly away when people couldn’t see her, just like Laser Lass would. All the while I wondered; what would it take to push my KC over the line?

Hopefully we’d never find out.

End

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