Saturday, August 22, 2015

Crossed Off: Isolate (Part VII)

Starla and Alec arrived at Marissa’s house just before dinner time. Things were a bit awkward at first, so Mrs. Mendegale decided to make things more awkward by starting the conversation. “So, Miss Wakefield, I am pleased to finally have proof that Marissa’s penpal isn’t a forty-year-old man in his mom’s basement.”
Alec nearly spit out his food.
Mother!” Marissa chastised.
“Don’t insult the company, dear,” Mr. Fanchild complained to his wife.
“I’m just trying to lighten the mood,” Mrs. Mendegale insisted.
Alec nodded and spoke before finishing his green bean, “that’s what I’ve been trying to convince my friends.” He squinted and jabbed his fork towards her. “You and I understand each other, Mrs. Mendegale.”
She smiled, and for a few minutes, the only noise heard was the sound of silver on porcelain.
Starla caught Mr. Fanchild eyeing her wheelchair a few times, unable to resist his curiosity, but also unable to voice it. “I have a rare degenerative disease,” she volunteered. “They haven’t even had time to name it after someone yet. The full name is something I can’t pronounce, but that’ll probably change to Wakefield Syndrome in a few years.”
“I’m sorry, I was staring.”
“Don’t worry about it,” she told him genuinely. “The disease operates with a bottom-up structure. It started in my toes and has worked its way up to my waist. Eventually, it will reach my neck and I’ll be fully locked in. The doctors aren’t sure whether I’ll even be able to move my eyeballs or eyelids.”
“I’m sorry,” he repeated, but this time for a different reason.
“Starla, Alec, and I are going to meet some friends at the skating park,” Marissa said, changing the subject. “We’ll need to leave soon.”
“I wish you wouldn’t go there,” Mrs. Mendegale said. “It’s far too dangerous. And what about her wheelchair?”
“Well, it will roll down the ramp a lot better than my feet do, so I think she’ll be all right.”
“That’s not funny.”
“So is your face.”
Mrs. Mendegale closed her eyes and sighed before looking to Alec, the only other adult in the room besides her husband. “She learned how to think for herself last week, and we haven’t figured out how to reset her to her factory settings.”
She gave her mother a playful grimace as the only reply.

Marissa pushed Starla down the sidewalk while Alec meandered in the street nearby. “I’m not sure if I’m up for a large crowd tonight,” Starla admitted. “Do you think there will be a lot of people at the skate park tonight?”
“We’re not going to the skate park. We’re going to The Dust Fountain.”
“No one goes there,” Alec said. “Why are we?”
“I have a present for you.”
“And what might that be?”
“Well,” she began, “Tristan found that superhero league in Missouri, and Sendoa met that cloner guy in France, I figured it was time for me to contribute.”
“You don’t mean...”
“I do. I too found someone else with superpowers.” Marissa reached down to give Starla a hug around her neck. “It would seem that you’re all coming together like a jigsaw puzzle. I say that it’s meant to be.”
“Marissa,” Starla whined. “I came here to isolate myself from these people.”
“She’s not a these people. She’s my best friend.”
Therasia?” Alec guessed.
“That’s right.”
“Why didn’t you tell us about her before?” Starla asked.
“You asked me to keep your secret, and she asked me to keep hers. But you’re here now, and I’ll be the last to admit that death comes for us all, but I kind of feel like you should meet her before you stop being able to speak. Don’t wanna be morbid or anything.”
Alec looked like he was planning an escape route.
“It’s fine,” Starla said to calm him down. “She’s right. I’m not going to be myself for much longer. I have very little to lose. Maybe René was wrong. Maybe I’m the one person who doesn’t have to fear people finding out about abilities. What’s the worst they could do to me?”
Alec moved over and stopped the wheelchair by the armrests. “I can think of a thing or two, and I’m not the psychopath. Imagine what they could come up with?”
“If I do imagine that, am I not one of the psychopaths?”
“Starla,” he said in his fatherly voice.
“You can leave,” she said.
“Like hell,” he said, releasing her.
They came up on the Dust Fountain, an ancient relic of a time when the local government was attempting to revitalize the area decades ago. The commissioning of the large fountain nearly bankrupted them. If not for a rich man dying during his travels west who fell in love with the town and bequested his fortune to it, the fountain could have been all that remained. Instead, it was left almost perfectly alone; a kind of holy ground to act as a reminder of what might have been. It was never cleaned or maintained, and was only allowed visitors on rare spiritual occasions, but still it remained standing tall. Through rain and wind, it never crumbled, and no one really knew why. “Won’t we get caught here?” Alec asked as they approached. “I assume people walk by all the time.”
“Sure, if we’re above ground,” Marissa agreed. “But we’re going downstairs.”
After they had finished lifting Starla’s chair into the fountain, Marissa took a water bottle out of her purse and stuffed it inside the mouth of the large horse statue. “Therasia’s cousin discovered this,” she went on as the water drained from the bottle. “Rain can’t reach it accidentally, but some kind of catch is released when it fills up with enough water.” Once the bottle had been emptied, the entire statue twisted and revealed a winding ramp. “She’s hoping to use this as her superhero lair some day. No one else is aware of its existence, as far as we can tell.”
“Oh, my God,” Starla said. “This is amazing!”
“It’s like it was designed for you. You would think they’d have built it with stairs.” She took control of the wheelchair and headed down backwards, keeping Starla from rolling too quickly. “We have to hurry. Once the water drains all the way, the statue closes back up on its own.”
“This is brilliant,” Alec admired.
“Be prepared to say that again.”
They reached the bottom of the ramp and found themselves in the lair’s antechamber. Lit torches lined the wall, yet it was unrealistically cold. A girl walked in from a door on the other side of the room. She outstretched her arm while she was still a good distance from them, as if to shake their hands. “You must be Alec and Starla.” A large flame slowly grew from her hand and crackled softly. “My name is Therasia Jarvi. It’s nice to finally meet you.”

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