Tuesday, March 7, 2017
Genre: Horror/Science Fiction
By Daniel Skye
PART ONE: TOXICITY
Sasha spent thirty minutes in the bathroom, applying her purple lipstick and other cosmetics, straightening her hair, curling her eyelashes.
Riley had walked over from her house and was waiting downstairs in the kitchen. Sasha’s mom was sleeping off a hangover, so Riley brewed a fresh pot of coffee and made herself comfortable.
The recently widowed Ms. Corelli didn’t have to work another day in her life. She inherited her husband’s fortune after his untimely passing. And so she spent her nights drinking, bar hopping, and trying to recapture her glory days. And she did her fair share of bed hopping as well. Half the time, she wasn’t even home when Sasha woke up in the morning.
When Sasha came downstairs, Riley was sitting at the kitchen table, using her history textbook as a coaster for her coffee mug. Tina was also awake and eating a bowl of cereal that Riley had fixed for her.
Tina’s outfit that day was a pink princess costume, with glittery pink wings that Tina decided to include in her ensemble. Sasha wasn’t sure if she was supposed to be a princess or a fairy. But since their mother was rarely around to see Tina off to school, Sasha let her sister dress herself. And if Tina wanted to dress as a princess or a fairy or a ballerina, Sasha was fine with how her little sister chose to express herself. She could’ve dressed up as a pirate or a Leprechaun for all Sasha cared.
“Ready to go?” Riley asked.
“Yup. I just have to drop Tina off at the bus stop.”
“Ugh, I hate the bus,” Tina groaned. “The seats are always dirty and sticky. Why can’t mom drive me to school and pick me up?”
“Well,” Sasha started, making the words up as she went along. “You see, mommy is actually a super-secret spy for the government and she goes on top secret missions at night when you’re asleep. So she needs her rest in the morning.”
“I’m ten years old,” Tina said, glaring at her sister. “I’m not an idiot.”
Sasha sighed. “Mom loves you, Tina. She just has a lot of problems. She still means well. Now come on, let’s get you to school.” Sasha got Tina’s lunch and put it in her backpack. “I made you a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for after school. It’s in the fridge.”
“What kind of jelly did you use?”
“Relax. I used the grape jelly. I know you hate strawberry.”
Tina gave her sister a big hug around the waist. It was as high as Tina could reach at her age. “You’re the best,” Tina said.
* * *
It was Friday morning and none of them were fully awake. They all wore looks on their face that said, “Half of me is still in bed.”
There’s no place like home, Sasha thought, daydreaming of her warm, cozy bed.
Milton was on his second Redbull and starting to perk up a bit.
“Did you guys know that 7-UP used to contain lithium? In fact, it was originally called Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda,” Milton shared.
“I’ll file that under LIGF, for Like I Give a Fuck,” Riley said.
The five of them met in detention, just like the Breakfast Club. Which is ironic, since most of their classmates refer to them as the Breakfast Club from Hell.
There was Tucker, the antisocial delinquent. Sasha, the spoiled rich princess. Noah, the jock. Milton, the nerd. And Riley, the apathetic weirdo.
Despite their differences, the five of them were inseparable. Their bond extended beyond the social barriers of their high school cliques. They didn’t care who judged or ridiculed them. The five of them had more in common than their classmates could ever imagine.
Noah’s superhuman strength made him a force to be reckoned with, both on and off the football field.
Tucker could teleport…anywhere in the world. It saved him a fortune on gas.
Milton could read minds. For years, he thought he was going crazy, hearing voices. Until he came to realize that the voices were in everyone else’s heads, not his own.
Riley could conjure fire with the will of her mind. A rare and unique gift, but a dangerous one. Play with fire and you inevitably get burned.
And Sasha could move or manipulate objects without lifting a finger. If she concentrated hard enough, she could control a person’s thoughts or manipulate their actions.
Take Ms. Federico, her tenth grade science teacher, for example. Everybody knew she was a dyke, but she still wore a faux wedding ring to try and fool people.
One day, Ms. Federico took it upon herself to humiliate Sasha in front of the entire class. And nobody humiliates the princess and gets away with it.
Before class was dismissed, Ms. Federico rose from chair and unwillingly walked across the room, to Melanie Brown’s desk. She had no control over her actions. Sasha was pulling her strings now.
With the snap of Sasha’s fingers, Ms. Federico was forcing her tongue down Melanie’s throat. Sasha had never liked Melanie, so she saw this as an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.
Ms. Federico was relieved of her duties that afternoon. And Melanie Brown still sees a shrink.
They all had their individual talents and abilities. Naturally, they couldn’t expose these powers to the world. The government would lock them away in some top secret underground lab and poke and prod at them twenty-four-seven. The public would fear them. People always dread the unknown. They fear what they cannot understand.
Tucker and Riley decided to grab a smoke in the parking lot before the first bell. And even though Sasha, Noah, and Milton didn’t smoke, they decided to join them outside. It was better than sitting around in homeroom and waiting for the chain-smoking hall monitor to call your name.
“Got a light?” Tucker asked Riley with a cigarette dangling from his lip. She touched the tip of the cigarette with one finger and it ignited.
“That is so cool,” Tucker said. “I wish I could light a chick’s cigarette with my finger. It’d be so romantic.”
“Yeah, I’m sure it wouldn’t freak them out at all,” Riley said, rolling her eyes.
They saw Mr. Grayson, the gym coach, pull up in his Buick LeSabre. He got out of his car and shot them all a look of disapproval as he walked inside.
“Something about that guy just rubs me the wrong way,” Milton said.
“He probably orders well done steaks,” Tucker said.
“What’s wrong with a well done steak?” Noah asked.
“Nobody orders a well done steak. Only psychopaths order well done steaks.”
“My dad orders well done steaks,” Riley said.
“And your dad helped spawn a basket case.”
“Don’t call me a basket case,” Riley snapped.
“Well, to be fair, you are the Ally Sheedy of our group,” Noah pointed out.
“Then wouldn’t that make me Molly Ringwald?” Sasha asked. “She hasn’t been relevant in thirty years.”
“Hey, there’s a party tonight,” Milton interjected.
“Who doesn’t know about that?” Tucker said.
“Meh,” Riley said, disinterested. That was just her personality; apathetic, indifferent. But she also had a vile temper. And with a power like pyro kinesis, it made her a living, breathing weapon.
Tucker finished his cigarette and stomped the butt out with one of his boot. “Well, see ya.”
“What, you’re not going to class?” Noah asked.
“It’s Friday. Who goes to class on Friday? I’m gonna head to the beverage distributor and pick up some beer for the party. See you guys tonight.”
* * *
The Liquor Barn was five minutes away. Tucker made it there in under sixty seconds.
“Hey, Apu,” Tucker said as he strolled past the register.
“It’s Muhammed, dick,” the clerk corrected him.
Tucker grabbed an eighteen-pack from the back and brought it to the register. The cashier didn’t say anything, just tapped the laminated sign that was posted below the register. The sign that clearly said, “We DO NOT sell alcohol to minors. You must be 21 or older to purchase alcohol.”
“Nice sign,” Tucker said. “How much for the beer?”
“Can I see your ID, please?”
“I left it at home. Just ring me up, man. I got to pregame before the big party tonight.”
“That’s very nice. I still need to see your ID.”
“Come on, man. Don’t hassle me. I didn’t ask to see your green card.”
“That’s it, get out before I call the police.”
Milton stepped in front of Tucker and slammed a twelve-pack on the counter. “Sorry about my friend,” Milton apologized to the clerk. “I’d like to pay for his beer and mine.” Milton flashed his fake ID, which looked real enough for the clerk not to question it.
“Just get that Neanderthal out of my store,” he said, accepting Milton’s money and handing him his change.
They grabbed their beer and left in a hurry.
“Where did you come from?” Tucker asked.
“I decided to duck out and join you.”
“Since when do nerds cut class?”
“What can I say? I’m a rare breed of nerd.”
“And when did you get a fake ID?”
“Oh, about a month or so ago.”
“Jeez, you’re full of surprises today. Well, let’s start pre-gaming. I’d say let’s take my car, but I don’t have a car.”
Tucker pulled a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos from his leather jacket and opened them up. “I didn’t pay for those,” Milton said.
“I know. I swiped them. Five finger discount, dude.”
“Can you go one day without breaking the law?”
“Can you go one day without lecturing me?”
“Damn, remember when the small bag of Doritos was just ninety-nine cents?”
“What’s it up to now?”
“A dollar, forty-nine.”
“Well, at least the bag is bigger.”
“Yeah, more room for them to fill the bag up with air and rob you of chips.”
A lime green Ford Pinto cruised past the Liquor Barn. A young man wearing a black stocking cap stuck one hand out the window and made a gun with his thumb and index finger. He fired one imaginary shot at Tucker and sped off, tires smoking.
“Friend of yours?” Milton asked.
“Quite the opposite. Come on, let’s go.”
* * *
2:30 PM. Quitting time at the Redfield Chemical Plant for Hank Albright.
Today was the day. The day Hank Albright popped the big question.
Hank’s palms were clammy. His hands were trembling. Hank struggled throughout the day to focus on his daily tasks. The thought of rejection terrified him. And that thought was beginning to consume him.
What if Lucy says no? Hank wondered. I can’t handle that kind of rejection.
He spent all morning, all afternoon just staring at the clock, waiting for 2:30 to arrive. Hank asked his supervisor if he could leave early that day and surprise Lucy at work. And his supervisor was more than happy to oblige.
Hank was in such a rush to punch out, he failed to notice the warning at his console. A chemical leak was imminent.
Years of neglect and decay had rusted and damaged the pipes of the Redfield Chemical Plant. Some pipes were damaged beyond repair.
And now a large buildup of pressure was threatening to cause a catastrophic leak. As Hank Albright jogged through the parking lot, got in his car, and drove away from the plant, one of the exterior pipes could no longer withstand the pressure. The pipe cracked, releasing a toxic cloud of yellow smoke that drifted through the air and headed straight towards the road.
* * *
Fred Masterson was an alcoholic. It wasn’t hereditary. Fred drank because he drove a school bus for Redfield Middle School.
Everyone in town knew that Fred was a lush. But as long as he didn’t drink on the job and endanger the welfare of the children, nobody cared about Fred’s private life. As far as everyone was concerned, Fred didn’t even have a private life.
He lived in a small apartment above a bowling alley. He never married, never had kids. He wasn’t seeing anyone. He was quiet, unsociable, kept to himself.
Fred had five more stops to make. Tina Corelli, Jordan Segal, Ryan Urig, Greg Rawden, and Ava Bloom.
Fred came to a red light and swallowed two aspirin dry, no water. The purple vein in his forehead was bulging, throbbing intensely. It wasn’t a hangover. It was the sound of the children all singing off-key.
“Hail to the bus driver, bus driver, bus driver. Hail to the bus driver, the bus driver man. He drinks and he cusses. He stinks up the buses. Hail to the bus driver, the bus driver man.”
The light turned green and Fred made a left onto Oxford Avenue. Tina Corelli’s block was the next stop. Fred drove two blocks down Oxford before he came to a stop in the middle of the road. A dense fog had enveloped the area, making it impossible for Fred to see the road ahead.
But this was unlike any fog that Fred had ever encountered. It was a thick, yellow smoke that floated through the air.
“Kids, close your windows,” Fred instructed them. But the yellow smoke was already seeping in, invading their tiny lungs. The children coughed, retched, covered their faces with their shirts or jackets to stop themselves from breathing it in.
Fred opened the door and screamed, “Everybody off the bus!”
Tina, pale as a ghost, got up from her seat and rested one hand on Fred’s shoulder. Fred howled in pain. Tina’s yellowed fingernails dug into his shoulder, but Fred barely felt it. The pain he felt was internal. An intense burning sensation spread through his body.
Fred was being burned alive…from the inside.
* * *
Sasha drove Riley home after school and helped her pick out some decent clothes and make her look presentable for the party. She straightened her jet-black hair for her and applied a little blush to give her pallid skin a healthy glow. But Riley drew the line when Sasha tried to get her to put on lipstick and mascara.
“So if you could fuck one of the guys, who would you fuck?” Riley asked casually, like she was asking Sasha what her favorite color or flavor of ice cream was.
“What? We’re alone. They’re not going to hear us. Milton can’t read our minds from this far away.”
“I know, but…it’s gross to think about doing it with your friends.”
“God, you’re such a square. You need to get laid more than I do.”
“Well, hopefully this party will be the solution to both of our problems.”
“For the record, I’d fuck Milton.”
“I’ve got a thing for nerds. Sue me.”
“The party starts at six. That still gives us time to grab something to eat.”
“You want to go back to your place?”
“Ugh, no. I really don’t want to see my mom, especially if she’s half in the bag. Let’s just grab something to eat in town.”
“Have you heard from Noah?”
“No, but I saw him outside after school. He said he’ll meet us at the party.”
“What about Milton and Tucker?”
“They both cut class. Milton text me. Said they’ll meet us there.”
“Milton cut class?”
“I know. I’m just as shocked as you are.”
* * *
Four missed calls.
Noah’s mom was going to kill him. He called her back as soon as he noticed her calls and text messages.
“Where are you?” his mother cried. “Why didn’t you answer me?”
“Sorry, mom. I accidentally muted my phone. What’s going on?”
“It’s your brother, Jordan…He’s missing.”
“Missing? What do you mean?”
“They found the school bus on Oxford Avenue, a few blocks from the chemical plant. They found Jordan’s backpack on the bus. But they didn’t find Jordan or any of the other kids on board. And Fred, the bus driver…he was…oh, God…Noah, he was burned alive.”
* * *
Tucker and Milton were already buzzed when they showed up to the party. Milton was a lightweight, and it didn’t take much for him to get drunk. Tucker had been drinking all day and he wasn’t throwing in the towel anytime soon. He was ready for a wild, unforgettable, and possibly regrettable night. His breath reeked of beer, Cool Ranch Doritos, and bad decisions.
Sasha and Riley arrived a few minutes later and Sasha helped herself to one of Tucker’s beers.
“Holy crap,” Tucker giggled. “Your cheeks are glowing. Are you wearing makeup?”
“Just a little bit of blush,” Riley mumbled.
“Did you score?” Tucker asked Sasha.
“Yeah, I stopped off and bought a gram from your buddy, Draven. He said he might show up tonight.”
“He’s not my buddy. He thinks I ripped him off.”
“Of course I did. But that’s not the point. He doesn’t have any proof. He just assumes it was me.”
“But it was you.”
“Who’s Draven?” Milton asked.
“The guy with the stocking cap we saw outside of the Liquor Barn.”
“Ah, now it all makes sense.”
Sasha took out a gram from her purse and grinded the weed up with her fingers. Tucker watched her fingering clumps of what looked like dirt or dry moss as she packed it into a glass pipe. She took the first hit.
Tucker immediately recognized the smell of inexpensive Mexican produce. And by the smell, he could tell Sasha had neglected to remove the seeds and stems.
He accepted the pipe and lighter from Sasha. He took two hits and offered the pipe to Milton.
“I’ve never smoked before,” Milton confessed, like it was some monumental revelation.
“First time for everything,” Tucker shrugged.
Milton took the pipe and Tucker showed him how to hold and light it. Milton exhaled just as fast as he inhaled, coughing up a thick cloud of smoke.
It wasn’t long before the lingering smell of marijuana attracted several other partygoers who wanted to smoke with them. By then, Riley had wandered off in search of something stronger than beer. Pot was never her thing. And if she was going to socialize and have a fun time, she needed hard liquor.
In the kitchen, she found an unguarded bottle of rum and poured herself a glass. She mixed it with some coke from the fridge and downed it in one gulp.
“That’s a lovely shade of black,” Draven said in regards to her dress. She hadn’t seen him slip in through the backdoor. “Where’s your pal, Tucker?”
Milton, drunk and high for the first time in his life, was thinking out loud. “Do you think the citizens of Gotham and Metropolis have superhero insurance? I mean, think about it. Superman comes crashing through your wall. Who pays for that shit? I doubt homeowner’s insurance covers the damage. What do you guys think?”
Sasha was on the verge of cracking up. “I don’t think you should smoke ever again,” Tucker said. “It was a bad idea.”
Milton was the first to see Draven pushing his way into the living room. The party was so crowded, all he could see at first was the stocking cap on top of his head. But as he pushed and shoved his way through the crowd, Milton could see it was him.
And Milton didn’t need to read Draven’s thoughts to know what his intentions were. He was there for Tucker.
Sasha’s phone buzzed. She fished through her purse to find it and saw one new text message from Noah.
“On my way to the party. Need your help. Jordan and Tina are missing.”
TO BE CONTINUED