Showdown: Part 4

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The only visible effect of this magnetic web is that my name badge strains upwards from my shirt, touching itself to Regina’s chest.  Since she’s already lying on top of me, this is an almost imperceptible motion.  Despite this, Regina goes wild the instant I magnetize her.

“What did you do?  WHAT DID YOU DO?” she yells, slashing at my face with her remnant of glass.  Panicked, I pull my arms in to protect myself, and she lays open the back of my left forearm almost to the elbow.  As I push her away, I can feel the glass stuttering against the bone.

I risk a shocked look at my arm, and weirdly, there’s almost no blood in the gash.  The walls of it are corpse-white with fine beads of blood, and at the bottom is an even whiter glint of bone.  I have enough time to think, “Is this a new power?”, and then the blood pours forth, as if it was waiting for me to notice.  There’s a frightening quantity of it, mixing thirstily with the rain and ice and staining it all pink.

Regina, meanwhile, is writhing on the floor like she’s being electrocuted, grinding glass and ice recklessly beneath her.  She’s screaming, too, and tearing at her clothes as if they’re burning her.  Clutching my forearm, I just stare, until I realize it’s not just her clothes she’s ripping.  It’s the skin of her arms, too, and her stomach and face.  She’s raking her nails across all of it as if she’s trying to flay herself.  And judging by the blood that’s appearing, she might succeed.

“Stop!” I shout uselessly.  She ignores me, of course, continuing to tear at herself in the spreading puddle of blood and water.  “Stop it!”

She’s beyond hearing me, but I can’t watch her tear herself to pieces in front of me.  Without a plan, I pry myself off the floor and lurch towards her, blood spurting through my fingers as I grip my torn arm to my chest, part of my cast flapping against my calf.  In two steps, I’m next to her, and I reach down with my bloody hand to grab her wrist.  “Stop!”

Her eyes snap open and lock onto mine, and she hisses like a cobra.  “Pus!”

She scrambles backwards across the floor, leaving a bloody trail as she goes.  “Your rot!  Infected me!  Clean it off!  Rain!”

She’s heading for the circle of the ruined skylight, but as she approaches, lightning begins striking in a furious onslaught.  Bolt after bolt crashes into the tile, turning the hall of the museum into a deafening, blinding inferno.  It’s reaching for her, the fingers of the storm groping blindly and greedily across the floor.  Regina skids to a halt, the fury ebbing from her face and being replaced by fear.

“I can’t touch the rain,” she says in bewilderment.  “I can’t feel it!  You took it from me!”

Rage suffuses her features again, and she reverses direction, clambering to her feet and launching herself at me.  And I, completely out of tricks and dangerously light-headed, wrap my fist around a chunk of ice and clock her in the side of the head.

Regina crumples at my feet, and I sway over her, dropping my ice and willing myself to stay upright.  The lightning has stopped, and it sounds like the hail has, too.  My back is stinging with a hundred different cuts, my head is crashing in a whirlpool of pain, and I can feel loose flaps of skin swinging back and forth from my forearm, heavy with blood.  I have so many problems that I can’t figure out where to start to fix them, and so my brain focuses on one that it can solve: I don’t have my crutches.

I make it about three shuffling steps towards them before I realize that there’s a figure standing in the half-melted doorway of the museum.  My eyes are still dazzled from the lightning and all I can be sure of is that it’s human, or at least human-shaped.  So I say, “Help,” sag to my knees, and then pass out.

I open my eyes again in a hospital bed.  I’ve got wires running to a heart monitor on my finger, tubes taped to a needle inserted into the back of my hand, and enough bandages to wrap a small mummy.  I can feel a dull ache in my left arm, and my back feels like I’ve been very carefully placed on a bed of nails.  Neither of these bother me particularly, though, which I figure is probably due to whatever’s in the IV bag that’s draining into my hand.

It’s not until I attempt to sit up that I realize that I’m also handcuffed by my right wrist to the hospital bed.  Even after I hear the clank and my arm stops short, it takes me a minute to figure out what’s happened: am I stuck on something?  Tangled in equipment?

I’m just processing it as handcuffs when someone clears their throat in the corner of the room, and I look over to see Officer Peterson straightening up from where he’s been slouched in the visitor’s chair.  He looks like he’s had a rough night — not compared to mine, but rougher than he’d expected when he headed into work, and probably several hours longer, too, since it’s light outside now.  He regards me tiredly.

“We’re going to talk for a minute.  Because there’s a lot that I don’t understand about what’s going on here, and I don’t like that.  At all.  And I think that I’m not going to be any happier after we talk, but at least I’ll be differently unhappy.  And I can work with that.”

He pauses, looking like he wishes he could light a cigarette, then says quietly, “I want to know what happened last night.”

My brain’s not up to telling a good lie, so I just stick to the most basic truth.   “The storm smashed in the skylight.  That woman and I got cut up pretty badly by the glass.”  I shrug, trying to convey that the world is a funny place sometimes.  Halfway through the shrug I discover that I’ve apparently got stitches in a lot of random places in my back, and instead convey that I’m an idiot who should learn to lie still and convalesce.

Peterson fixes me with a gimlet stare.  “While I’m sure that is technically true, it doesn’t actually answer any of my questions.  Not even the simplest one, which is: what was she doing in there in the first place?  And definitely not the harder ones, like: why does she appear to have self-inflicted claw marks?  And why did lightning strike each time we tried to take her outside of the museum?”

I shift uncomfortably, and Peterson presses the point.  “An EMT is in the burn ward today because he was hit by lightning trying to put an unconscious woman into an ambulance.  They eventually had to wrap her in a rubber sheet to move her, and she’s been causing malfunctions in any machines that get within a foot of her.”

I jerk involuntarily, rattling my handcuff, as I realize that it’s not safe for the hospital to have me here, either.  The panic recedes as I further realize that I’m currently hooked up to machines, and they’re working fine.  Which means that my power must have faded — which means I must have won!

Peterson watches my face intently through all of this, seeing the rapid progression from fear to relief to happiness.  He leans forward in his chair, alert.

“This is the second time this week I’ve found you at the center of unreasonable lightning strikes.  People are getting hurt.  I need to know if this is going to keep happening.”

I take a guess.  “The storm cell that’s been hanging over the city — it’s breaking up, right?”

Peterson nods, and I continue, “Then no, it’s not going to keep happening.  I — would you believe me if I said I was trying to help?  And I think I did, actually.  I just — can’t exactly explain how.”

“And the woman we found.  Would she agree with this?”

I snort a laugh.  “Not likely!  She’d probably tell you it was all my fault.”  A thought strikes me.  “Is she — is she going to be all right?”

Peterson smiles.  “She’s a lot better off than you are.  We’ve already talked to her, and yes, she believes this is your fault.  Her story is… interesting.”  He turns that eagle stare on me again, searching.

I look down at the bedsheets, and after a moment, Peterson says, “You say this is over.”  I nod.  “In your opinion, is it likely to restart?”

I could say, “No, I built up her personal magnetic field to the point that it disrupts her ability to influence the ionization of the air around her.”  I could say, “No, whatever force granted her the power to control the weather has probably taken it away again, now that I’ve passed the test.”  I could say, “No, but until I figure out what’s going on, something else is going to start up; maybe something worse.”

I could say any of these, but when I look Peterson in the eye again, my nerve fails me, and I simply mutter, “No.”

He looks dissatisfied as he stands up.  “I’ll take that response for now, Mr. Everton.”  As he unlocks the handcuff from my wrist, he adds, “At some point, I’d like a more complete answer from you.  No matter how it sounds.”

I say, “And Re– the woman?  You say she’s doing all right; is she out of the hospital?”

“She’s talking to a psychiatrist before she’s released,” says Peterson, and pauses.  “I take your point.”

With that, Peterson leaves me alone.  I take stock of my situation, consider my options, and close my eyes to go back to sleep.  It’s a luxury I’ve been denied too often lately.

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