SFX: [Passing train]
“Where are we going?” Aiden asked.
“For some reason… maybe these handcuffs I’m wearing, I doubt we’re actually going to Disneyland.”
“No shit, Junior. But maybe later, if you’re good!” Aiden stared as the woman ate her third sampling from a bag full of cheeseburgers… violently somehow. He’d never seen anything quite like it.
They sat across from each other in one of the train’s roomettes, their knees interlocking and rubbing against each other in the crowded floorspace. Aiden looked through the window of the train as the chilly grey countryside sped by. It was undoubtedly the furthest from home he’d ever been, though time was… fuzzy. A blob of ketchup and mustard fell from the burger and landed on the barrel of the gun in her lap. She was wearing jeans and a red sweater, both of which draped from her frail figure like a bedsheet. Her grey hair, which had been unruly when she first attacked him, was now in a neat low ponytail.
Aiden squirmed, trying to put space between his legs and hers. “How did you get a gun onto a train?” he asked. “How did you get ME onto a train? And who the hell are you?”
The woman wadded a burger wrapper into a tight ball and grabbed another from deep within the greasy bag. “You hungry? You’ve gotta be hungry by now. Not as hungry as me, but still.”
Aiden stared. The woman smacked her lips, and a chunk of pickle fell out of her mouth.
“Fine. I’m Nat Gillum.” She said it with a flutter of her hands, like she expected Aiden to know who she was.
“Am I supposed to…?”
“Seriously? The crown princess of GillCo? I’ve been missing for thirty fucking years!” Her voice sounded almost hurt. “Was I not on the news or anything?”
“I was born in 2007, ma’am.”
Natlaie stopped chewing and blinked. “If you die in your sleep, know it’s because of every word in that sentence.”
“If you’re gonna kill me just get it over with,” Aiden said, looking out the window again. They were surrounded by mountains and rock formations. He didn’t know where they were, but it was certainly the farthest from southeast Tennessee he’d ever been.
“Oh, come on. If I was gonna kill you, why would I go to all this trouble?” Natalie finished the burger and wiped her hands on her jeans. “Alright, alright. I’ll prove I’m on your side. Ask your questions, go ahead.” She picked up the gun, licked the ketchup and mustard from the barrel, and released the magazine into the floor with a click. She held up her hands. “Fire away.”
“How did you get me onto this train?” Aiden repeated.
“Nobody asks questions when a white woman has a sleeping kid in a wheelchair. I even got your ticket for free.”
Aiden almost laughed. “That’s fuckin awful, you know that right? Like, I’m a hostage and I feel bad for my part in it.”
“Hey,” she snapped through a guttural belch. “Respect your elders.”
“What’s that?” Natalie said. “What does that mean?”
“I know you’re scared… what did I hear them calling you? Aiden?” Natalie said, leaning back and propping her socked feet on his armrest. He grimaced. “But you’re special. You’re going to see sooner rather than later that I just want to help you out.”
Aiden couldn’t suppress a laugh. “Are you kidding? You seem like a great person!” He was dead meat anyway, he saw no need in being polite. He was oddly proud of himself. Like he’d unlocked a level of smart-assness he’d never thought himself capable of.
“Oh, he’s got claws!” said Natalie, her eyes half-shut. She yawned. “But you’re right. I’m a spectacular bitch. Let me tell you a story. In the 80’s, when we were ramping up to build our facilities, we found a grad student named Chris Harlowe. Until recently…” she gestured toward Aiden. “Mr. Harlowe was the smartest, most powerful son of a bitch I’d ever met in my life. He turned those little tricks you guys do into applicational science. He figured out how to make bubbles. Little pockets of reality right next to our own. Of course, it was like stepping through a portal to Mars. Barren planet, no atmosphere. It was like going to Earth as it was when it was new — when the moon was so close you’d swear you could reach out and touch it. Sound familiar, yet?”
“Now, Mr. Harlowe had a family. A wife, two young girls. All three of which had grotesque little talents of their own. The girls were identical twins, but their powers were different. One could become invisible. The other could create and control the flow of water. She had this routine where she would dance to it for close friends they trusted. Honestly, it was cute. And the wife could see glimpses of the future. I’ve wondered how much of this she could see coming. How many nights of sleep she lost.
It was suggested to Mr. Harlowe that he should work with GillCo to help regulate some concerning uses of magic. Gently at first. To help us find and stop people with powers who were misusing them. No differently than you might for someone misusing other weapons. But no. And he let us have it. Chewed us up and spit us out. ‘We ARE NOT weapons!’ he yelled. He shattered a glass against the wall, too, for show. Full of expensive whiskey, I remember it like it was yesterday. ‘We’re human beings!’ he went on and on. ‘And we’re not dangerous!’
“He stormed out, but we knew he wouldn’t go to the press or anything. You Wielders like to stay hidden. But still. We needed him.
“One day, Mr. Harlowe got home from work. His wife and one of his girls — the water one — were dead on the living room floor. The invisible daughter was nowhere to be seen. Well… I mean to say she wasn’t there. The phone rang, and it was her. She was crying. She told him that they had killed Mom and Sister Harlowe, and that they were watching her. That he’d never see her again – that she’d be killed just the same if Dad didn’t do the work he was called to do. So guess what he did?”
Aiden bit the side of his tongue until he tasted blood. “You’re telling me that someone… like me… actually helped build that place?”
Natalie laughed and picked the dropped ammo up off of the floor. “Christ, kid, that’s what you take from that story? No prison was ever built by anybody who didn’t belong in it. That’s not the point.”
“Then what is?”
Natalie put the magazine back into the gun.
“‘Good’ is subjective. You have to look out for yourself. You’ll see what I mean when you have to choose between being good and being dead. If there’s ten people in a room and nine of them have knives, but one has the power to cut someone in half with his mind like you do, who’s really the one in danger?”
“But why do you need me?” Aiden asked, voice trembling.
Low, Intense music
“Deep down, I know you can feel that this thing that you have is something that doesn’t belong. It’s not natural. You probably don’t even want it, do you?”
Aiden shook his head, tears heating behind his eyes.
“And you’ve seen it do damage, haven’t you? Now imagine that power in someone who wanted to hurt people. So, think of it this way. You’re gonna help me make this world safe, again, for the other nine people in the room.”
Aiden felt the tug of gravity as the tracks rounded the base of a mountain, but it felt as though invisible hands were wringing his heart out like a rag. He thought of the others he had met. The power they had over their surroundings. They had helped him. They had shown him kindness. But if his power had ripped a pickup truck in two like a sheet of paper, even by accident, what could their stories be? Who had they hurt? Did they deserve or even want powers that could do such things to innocent people?
Aiden groaned and put his ear, flush with anguished heat, against the icy window. He wiggled in his seat, unable to temper the nervous energy boiling in his chest.
Natalie only smiled at him.
The engine revved as the tires lost contact with ground. She’d been driving offroad, through grass and dirt. A sign that read “Cliffs of Dover” and the post it had been attached to flew through the air after cracking the windshield. In that moment, Giselle’s mind worked faster than reality. The song dissolved into a screaming verse that she’d never taken the time to learn the lyrics to, but it certainly matched her mood.
“If I’m wrong, this is it. And that’s okay.”
But she wasn’t wrong. And she knew as much. She loosened her jaw and screamed as the hood of her BMW — the Sweet 16 present she hadn’t even wanted, that her Dad’s assistant had taken her to get on her last birthday — slammed into the surface of the river. She heard screaming from the cliff above in the moment of silence before the car started filling with water.
She waited until she knew the car was completely submerged before she started trying to break the windshield. The music and lights sputtered out as the car lost power. Giselle had never been religious, but as she smashed the brick into the glass with as much force as she could muster, watching the web crack and grow, she grunted something akin to a prayer.
“I want none of this life.”
“None of this wealth.”
“None of this guilt.”
“They can rot with their power.”
“I’ll not watch from a fucking throne…”
“As I cause the world to burn.”
Giselle tumbled into the backseat when the force of the rushing water slammed into her. It chilled her skin, but the fire still roared inside her.
“See you in hell.”
Now, it was to be as it had been in her dreams. Just as her subconscious had been trying to tell her for years and years on end.
The first had come when she was seven. She sat naked underneath no tree she’d ever actually seen, alone in a forest she’d never even heard of. If she dreamt of daytime, sunlight would kiss the dirt of the forest floor, and the sensation of her bare feet in soil filled her with euphoria she’d never known in her waking hours. If she dreamt of night, the fireflies would swirl around her as she explored, lighting the way for her.
Each night, she dreamed she was free from banquets and ballrooms, hair salons and beauty contests. In one breath, she would be herself. In the next, a squirrel. In another, a cardinal. Or, her favorite — a majestic doe. She’d sprint through the woods, leaping over logs and drinking from streams.
As her youth progressed, the dream had evolved. They got more complicated, and sometimes darker. After puberty, she would dream about making love or giving birth underneath the same tree. In one dream, she saw her dad in his business suit at the base of the tree, a rotting corpse with beautiful flowers and mushrooms blossoming from a gouge in his head — the only purpose higher than himself he’d ever actually served.
In these dreams, Giselle learned how to find herself in other places. She didn’t know where these other places were, or how to describe them. But within these dreams, she learned to find herself as she existed somewhere else, as another expression of nature other than human.
She had never done it while she was awake. Somehow, as she got older, something inside her told her she could, but that she had never yet done anything to deserve it.
Giselle took a final breath as the rush of water stopped after having filled the car to the roof. The chill covering every square inch of her, even her open eyes, filled her with life that she’d never felt before. It gave her a glimpse of things to come.
She exhaled, almost slowly enough to count the air bubbles as they left her lungs. When her chest started to burn, she simply allowed her mind to dream of herself in another form. There was no sensation. Her body neither stretched nor shrunk. It simply was replaced by another. In the rearview mirror, which had broken off with the shattered glass and sunk to the floorboard, she saw her own eyes residing in the form of a bright yellow fish, with scales the color of her hair.
She was free.
Two glorious weeks passed, during which she tested the limits of her abilities. She lived as dozens of different types of creatures without once returning to her human form. She ate, slept, drank and breathed nature. She was good at it. She had both the instincts and the knowledge of her old self, as well as the heightened senses of whatever creature she would become. If she was threatened by a predator, she simply became a larger one unless her energy had depleted for the day, in which case she would run and hide. Perhaps her previous life had allowed her to grow accustomed to becoming invisible.
All the while, she stayed near her previous home. The mansion on the hill. Watching. Waiting. Listening. News crews and paparazzi stood outside the gates, informing the public of the missing heiress. Once the police called off the search, the cameras remained, now bemoaning the loss of Princess to the Savatier Oil Empire.
One sunny winter day, the crews cleared the way as her family, dressed all in black, opened the gates and left the estate in a caravan. Giselle followed them in the air as a finch.
She waited outside her own funeral, perched on a power line, breathing deep into her tiny lungs. She celebrated the death of the person hundreds of other people were pretending to mourn on the other side of the church doors.
After about an hour, people Giselle had never seen filed out of the church. Business associates trying to score personal favors, no doubt. Her mother and father stood stoic, neither smiling nor crying, performing their best impressions of bereaved parents as they shook hands and kissed cheeks of those who passed by.
When Giselle had seen enough, she flapped her wings and soared low over the funeral party. She shat on her dad’s suit, rose high on the wind, and flew.
MUSIC: Giselle theme
Cooper’s voice woke her. He wasn’t bothering to whisper.
“Well this is a world-class boner.”
She took as deep a breath as the pain in her sides would allow her to take. In a
moment of meditation, she focused her mind on her body; her vessel. Cracked jaw from the gun stock the brute had slammed into her head. Two broken ribs. No concussion or other damage internally, but her mind still chattered and shook from the sound of that damned gunshot. She breathed again, focusing on the pain in order to propel herself through it. Rather, to allow her recognition of it to pass like a leaf on the current. She did the same for the mental trembles left in the wake of the fired shots, but those jitters always took a bit more time to subside.
Eventually, she felt her heartbeat drop to a normal rate. She was still aware of the injury in her jaw and side, but she felt it now as the hollow buzz of energy and firing neurons it was, rather than anything like pain.
She opened her eyes. They were on an indoor loading dock, sitting with their backs against a wall and their hands tied. There were no trucks at the dock, nor did it seem like there had been for decades. The concrete stairs by the dock were crumbling, and only a handful of the dingy lights hanging from the ceiling were actually lit.
Their captors were nowhere to be seen, but Giselle could hear muffled voices on the other side of the wall. She strained and twisted to see a window that passed through into a guard station area.
“Well, that was over fast,” Eric said, propping his head against the wall. “Pleasure adventuring with you all, but we came up just shy of saving the world. Bummer.”
“What are you talking about?” Hazel said. “We’re just getting started!” She flinched. “I could use a spot of your magic cotton candy smoke medicine if you’ve got it, though. Unrelated, can that stuff push bullets out of thighs?”
“It could if I had it,” Eric said. “Blart Team 6 must’ve snagged it.”
“I smuggled my notebook in my waistband, so I’ve got that if we can get untied.”
Still scanning her body and mind, and the draining energy in each of them, Giselle hoped she had enough power left for one more transition, but she hadn’t tested her limits this much in nearly a decade. She willed her body away from this reality, and replaced it. Her consciousness stayed still, but her body shifted into a new frame like slides in a projector. The plastic zip ties that bound her wrists snapped and dropped to the floor.
“Fuck me!” Cooper cursed, sliding away from Giselle, who was now a large golden bear. She smiled and patted him on the head with a huge, furry paw.
Taking care to stay below the windowsill as to not be seen, Grizzly Giselle reached her arm across Cooper and behind Hazel, who sat opposite him. Her bounds broke with a flick of a claw.
“Hell yes! Non-lethal damage, I imagine? So not an axe...” Hazel said, pulling the notebook from her pants. Without taking much time to think, she drew a mailbox on a severed pole, which materialized on the ground. With a grunt and a wave of the paw, Giselle instructed Hazel to follow her.
“What about us?” Eric whispered. “You’ve literally been shot!”
“I fight better when I’m in a teeny bit of pain,” Hazel replied. “Besides, you boys will be safe here!”
Giselle grunted in agreement.
The pair crawled around the corner and sat in wait by the open office door. Giselle smelled reheated leftovers and heard the ambient noise of a football game on a laptop.
“How fresh is this coffee?” One of them asked.
“Couple hours. Make some more, who the hell knows when the cops will actually show up to take those shitheads off our hands.”
“And we don’t need to do nothing else?”
“Nah, and don’t look at those files they took, neither. Corporate will want to know what they saw, but they’ll have our asses if we poke our noses where they don’t belong. You’re better off ignorant.”
Giselle counted the voices. There were only four of them. This wouldn’t take long.
“Alright,” Hazel whispered. “How we gonna do this? I’m thinking a distraction. Something funny that dudes like, like a sex doll or weight bench. Or maybe--”
Giselle stood on her hind legs and roared so loudly that the echo rattled loose concrete on the busted stairs of the loading dock.
“FUCK!” yelled one of the guards, unholstering his gun a moment too late. Giselle slammed a paw into his arm, sending the gun skittering across the floor, then clawed him across the face with the bear equivalent of a full-on bitch slap. He fell backwards into a desk and pulled his legs into a fetal position as the other three guards ducked for cover.
“More of a melee gal, I like it,” said Hazel. “Coop! Music?”
Giselle knew it was in her head, but she’d swear she could hear the song echoing off of the walls. It was a song she hadn’t heard in years. In fact, the last time she’d heard it, she was gasping for breath and trying to kick out the windshield as her car filled with water. “Miss Murder” by AFI.
“EXCELLENT CHOICE!” Hazel yelled.
As though it were a toy, Giselle flipped one of the desks to find a brutish guard hiding underneath, like a spider under a rock. She picked up and threw him across the room and into a wall of surveillance monitors that busted under his weight.
Another guard attempted to flee. He leapt from his hiding spot and bolted to the door, where he was met with a mailbox, swung like a baseball bat.
Sfx: Metal crunch
“Hey!” Hazel shouted with glee as the man wallowed beneath her. “This is the one that shot me!” She slammed the mailbox into his head once more, causing a sound like a car crash as the metal crunched into his skull.
Sfx: Metal crunch
“DON’T YOU DARE KILL ANYONE!” Eric shouted from outside. Hazel and Giselle stood over the last remaining guard.
“Not even one?” Hazel whined.
“I was joking! Sheesh, chill,” she said, lifting the cowering guard by the collar. She looked to Giselle. “I set, you spike?”
Giselle nodded. With a fierce golf swing, Hazel slammed the mailbox into the man’s chin so hard that his feet lifted off the ground. With both paws, Giselle slammed back to the floor. Standing amongst their glorious battlefield, Hazel held out a fist, which Giselle bumped with a furry paw. It wasn’t Giselle’s preferred method of resolving conflict, but she had to admit to herself that the fight had scratched an itch she didn’t know she’d had.
She allowed her human form to return to her, and wondered if it had been a mistake to do so before they’d escaped.
Giselle scanned the room and pointed to one of the only remaining desks that hadn’t been overturned. There sat Eric’s vape, the folder they had found, and the old pricing gun. She picked a utility knife off the floor and cut their friends’ binds as Hazel grabbed their things.
Within a moment, the group was freed. Giselle huffed the pleasant smell of Eric’s healing vapor as he fanned it among the party. She watched the wound in Hazel’s thigh as, seemingly unbeknownst to her, a bullet crawled its way out of the wound, leaving not a scratch behind.
“I hear sirens…” Cooper said. “We need to go. Like ten minutes ago.”
Giselle kept up as much as her limp would allow as they exited the building and ran into the parking lot.
They found themselves facing the same hole in the fence they’d crawled through when they arrived. Only now, Eric’s car was nowhere to be seen. The sirens grew louder.
“No. No. No…” Eric moaned. “What do we do?”
“Only one thing we can do,” said Giselle, looking toward the generic delivery van for Smallish Deborah Happy Snax. She, Cooper, and Hazel ran toward it.
“We are not stealing that!” Eric shouted. “I’ll fuck with GillCo all day, but that probably just belongs to some dude with a contract job.”
“I don’t see what choice we have,” Hazel said, scrambling up to the van and placing her sketchbook on top of the logo wrapped on the side. Within seconds, the branding shimmered like a mirage and the writing shifted into something new. It now read:
POSSUMS ‘R’ US! BIRTHDAYS! MITZFAHS! GENDER REVEALS!
There was a smiling possum hanging upside down from the hook of the U in the word “Possums”.
“Um…” Giselle stammered. “You can certainly think on your feet.”
Hazel smiled, proud. “I guarantee nobody will mess with us.”
“MY VERBANUM!” Eric shouted.
Cooper ripped open the rolling door, grabbed Eric by the shoulder, and nudged him inside. “I’ll get you a new one! Right after you tell me what that is.”
Giselle slid into the driver’s seat and found the keys in the glovebox.
SFX: Engine starting
SFX: Tires on gravel
The Possums ‘R’ Us van squealed out of the drive. The group caught their breath in mostly silent heaves, but Giselle still clearly heard music as her eyes traced a webbed crack in the windshield.
She sighed. “Where the hell are we supposed to go now?”
This concludes chapter 7 of pockets. Thank you for listening.
Magic weirdos is an independent production with limited resources, so word of mouth is essential to the show’s success. If you like what you hear, please consider sharing a link on social media, or with friends and family.
Thanks again, and stay weird. The world depends on it.