Gatekeepers #0

A story by Aaron Daniels

The familiar mix of apprehension and excitement whirled in Evey’s chest the second that she saw that police had formed a blockade on Vernon Odom Boulevard. The usual press of traffic had dammed up there, and many motorists were already waving their hands, honking their horns, and waving angrily out of their open windows. Some were turning off onto other roads in the hopes of getting around the obstruction. Evey took a different approach. She pulled her car off into an undeveloped lot and got out. Her hair was up in its bun, she was already in uniform, and she was glad that she had chosen boots that were as functional as they were professional. That meant that the three blocks between her and the blockade would be easy to traverse, so she took off at as fast a run as she could manage. As she got close, she located the officer in charge and made a beeline for him. She drew up to him and flashed her public action ID.

“Glamour,” she said, citing her codename. “What’s the situation?”

The policeman – a Sergeant Edwards, she saw – looked at her with a mix of relief and tension; it was a look she was very familiar with. What she was not familiar with was the small flicker of both recognition and confusion. Maybe it was the uniform.

“Some sort of structural failure,” Edwards said, pausing to bark orders into his radio. “The apartment building –” he jerked his chin toward to the three story brownstone that had been cordoned off “– is falling apart from beneath. We’re not sure why yet.”

“Any injuries or casualties?” Evey asked, scanning the crowd. While there were EMT workers in evidence, they didn’t seem to be treating anything worse than shock or hyperventilating.

The sergeant shook his head. “There’s been nothing worse than cuts and scrapes so far. But there’s a girl, six, named Lily, unaccounted for. Her mother says that she has a habit of running off, so it’s hard to say where she is right now.”

Evey looked the apartment over from roof to foundation. It was a brownstone, something that came a dime a dozen in most northern cities, composed of plain brown blocks and concrete. The main difference between this one and others like it was that there visible, gaping fissures in the walls, and good fifth of the roof was missing.

Evey locked her eyes on Edwards’. “I can find her.”

“Hm,” he said, then nodded. “Okay. You know the usual spiel about liability and all that, right?”

Evey offered a tight smile. “This isn’t my first time at the rodeo.”

The officer nodded and talked into his radio, saying, “We’ve got a certified Extra coming in, people. Give her room to work, and back her up if she needs it.” There was the usual chorus of affirmations, then the police line parted, and Evey ran straight for the entrance. Just inside was a pit the size of a Jeep off to one side, and she pulled the flashlight out of her jacket and held it up in a reverse grip. She shined the light into the pit and saw nothing but broken floorboards and disheveled cinder blocks.

She’s not there, Evey assured herself, then ran for the stairs and up to the second floor. The girl wasn’t likely to be in anyone else’s apartment, so Evey stuck to the public areas. Maintenance closets. Stairwells. Laundry room. But they were all empty.

“Lily?” Evey said in a clear, practiced voice. “My name is Evey Bloom, and I’m here to help you!”

Evey heard a whimper from up above her and poured on all the speed she could muster. An apartment’s door stood open, and the random bits of junk and thick layer of dust within identified it as having stood empty for some time. She pushed the door open to find a slender girl with bright red hair on the far side of the room . . . and nothing but a chasm between the two of them. Evey crouched down to the girl’s level and gave her her brightest smile even though she didn’t feel it.

“Hi, there,” Evey said. The building groaned and shifted, making Lily screech. But her eyes were still on Evey. “My name’s Evey. Are you Lily?”

Lily nodded her head.

Evey kept smiling at her. “Good to meet you, Lily. I’m going to help you, okay?”

Lily looked at Evey then gave a significant, wide-eyed look to the hole that separated them.

“Oh, that?” Evey asked as she turned off her flashlight and put it back in her jacket. “Don’t worry about that. Let’s just pretend that the floor never went anywhere.”

The little girl gave Evey a confused look, and Evey turned her focus inward and took a deep breath. Making this happen always took a crystal clear moment of imagination and a leap of intuition. Beyond that, Evey had never found explaining it easy, but the best that she could say was that using her power was like painting or sculpture – the whole creation was already there but waited to be given life by the artist.

Instead of a piece of marble or a canvas, however, her medium was the world itself.

Evey waved her hands toward Lily as the world grew still for a moment as if expecting something to happen. Then a gray-purple recreation of the floor that had been there just moments ago flickered into life almost like an old television set coming on.

Lily gasped and looked up at Evey. “Are you a superhero?”

“Yep!” Evey said, and then the building groaned even louder than before and tilted backward behind Evey. Lily screamed again, and it was a struggle for Evey to keep her feet as the hallway behind her collapsed outright. Evey took a deep breath and rushed forward, picking up Lily under one arm and calling on her power while she threw her hand toward the wall. It was easy to imagine that the window had been taken out for repairs, and in a wave of gray-purple static it was as if it were so. Evey leaped out of the window that wasn’t there and started free falling. Focusing and throwing her hands beneath her, it wasn’t much of a stretch to think that there would be a landing pad for anyone who might need to jump from the window there. And so it came to be in a wave of static. Evey landed on the pad, Lily letting out a tiny, frightened noise, and they bounced a couple of times before they settled down onto the pad. Keeping Lily under her arm, Evey slid off then banished the pad back to the possibility from whence it had come as it disappeared with a soft clap. Evey rushed away from the failing building and out into the open street, where she handed Lily to her mother. Both of them cried openly as they embraced one another.

She joined Edwards again, and he nodded at her. They turned to watch the building as firemen and policemen made an increasingly wide perimeter. Onlookers had gathered around to watch by then, and all the residents of the building had already been moved to a safe distance. While the emergency workers continued, the building failed more by the moment as it sagged and buckled.

Edwards turned to look at her. “Good work.”

“Thank you.”

“Sure,” Edwards said, eyeing Evey’s uniform. “E. Bloom. Evelyn?”

Evey winced. “Evey is better.”

“Fair enough,” he said, nodding. “Say. I’ve worked with Summit security staff before, but I’ve not seen you around. You new?”

“Today’s my first day, as a matter of fact,” she said.

Edwards guffawed. “Welcome to Akron! But this is small potatoes as far as Summit business goes.”

“I . . . see,” Evey said, offering a small smile. Then she looked down at her watch and made a silent “oh.” “And if I don’t get moving, I’ll be late for that first day. Pleasure working with you!”

“You, too,” he said as she ran back the way that she came.

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