Author’s Note: BRIGHT DECAY is a superhero sci-fi about a girl who can stop time. As of June 2019, the 90k-word novel is available on Amazon. Right now, you can read the first three chapters for free, here on my website.
Chapter 1 Affinity
The bell tower struck the hour, mainly for sentimental reasons. Skylar watched with mild surprise. The thing never actually worked. In her four years here, she had only heard it chime once.
It was a dull, growling sound. She had the misfortune to sit on the closer end of the field. The bell rang out throughout the campus, a low hum in her bones. Twelve o’clock never sounded so sweet. When the echoing faded, Skylar was free. Free to do everything and nothing with her life.
She stood from her plastic chair and sulked away. The Class of 2020 were throwing their caps into the air, reminding her to remove her own. She carried it in her hand.
As she exited the stadium, she came across the small patch of garden and the stone plate, installed as a memorial to the Fallen One. The bell tolled for him, a depressed student who had wished to turn his life around. The only way he had known was to jump off the tower.
He was two years older than Skylar, the teacher’s assistant in her Biology class. They had talked once or twice, not enough for her to shed tears at the memorial they held under the tower.
Skylar eyed her classmates of four years. She was never one of them, never a part of something. They cheered and hugged each other. Their parents were coming down the bleachers. Some were sniffling with tears in their eyes, which was a bit too dramatic. The scent of perfume and fresh bouquets, the smell of new clothes and fabric, attacked her mockingly.
Wading through the students and parents, she carefully avoided being hit by the caps. Apparently, not everyone threw them at the same time, and not all of them could catch their caps once they fell.
She walked across the lawn in front of the school gym, perhaps for the last time. The graduation was fun the first few minutes. By now, she had had enough.
Skylar passed through the exact spot where the body had splattered. There were no stains of any kind. A stone plate and that’s it. Few students slowed down when they walked past. Perhaps it was less ignorance, more that they didn’t want to color their big day gray.
She didn’t realize she cared, but she had been there when he jumped. Far away, but she was there. She had slipped out of the classroom with the excuse of going to the restroom, and ended up sitting on the science building rooftop.
It was a late afternoon. She had been staring at the highway. The bell tower was thrice taller. Dread and confusion took a hold of her when there were commotions underneath. The gym class arrived at the scene first, almost immediately after. A few girls screamed. They called the ambulance, but he was long gone.
Zachary Duncan had taken a leap. If he had survived, he would gain superpower. If he had died, he would stay dead.
Even as Skylar lived a lonely existence, she never felt the need to gamble on life.
“Where’re you going?”
Ah. She heard a female’s voice behind her. Crisp and pleasant, with a slight accent. Most importantly, familiar.
“Alysia.” Her voice was low and scratchy from the lack of use. Skylar cleared her throat to make it work. She turned around to greet her friend. “I thought you were ditching the ceremony.”
“I tried. Turns out I can’t pick up my diploma unless I walk the stage,” Alysia answered nonchalantly. She had her hair tied up in a messy bun.
“I didn’t see you walk.”
“But you’re here.”
Skylar had stopped trying to understand Alysia. She was a different breed. Skylar followed the rules because it was easier, Alysia broke them because it was easier.
“I had to come to school, anyway. Forgot my stuff in the locker.” She wasn’t wearing the graduation cap and gown, but her usual t-shirt and the pastel blue pajama pants she wore to school.
“Did you get it?”
“The custodian had clipped all the locks. I found it at the front desk,” she explained. “My soccer bag looked important enough that they didn’t throw it in the trash.”
Skylar glanced at the navy-blue duffel bag clinging on Alysia’s shoulder. It looked full but not heavy, probably containing her dirty laundry and gear.
Sensing her curiosity, Alysia smirked and tugged the loose zipper closed.
“There’s something I want to show you,” she said. “But later. We need somewhere private.”
Alysia nodded. “You wanna grab ice creams first? I’m literally melting.”
“Okay.” Skylar looked away. “Sounds great.”
Her mind drifted. There was something important in that bag.
They were walking together, heading toward Alysia’s car in the parking lot. A white sedan she had bought two years ago. It had already seen three owners before her. The numbers on the license plate were legible, but not the state logo on that small, metal canvas. The silhouette of a blackbird looked gray underneath a layer of dust. Skylar knew the words written there: “Ravenmont” on the top. On the bottom, with a smaller font, read: “the ever-changing state.”
After Alysia unlocked the car, Skylar opened the passenger door and began peeling the black gown off of her. She wore a white t-shirt and dark shorts underneath. They were wrinkled, but not badly so.
The traffic in the parking lot was horrible. They were stranded among a sea of mechanical machines, crawling forward now and then. Skylar turned on the radio. It was playing Top 40 Hits. The same old song she had heard a hundred times.
They chatted mindlessly about the ceremony. Alysia had all the information about who was going to what college, who was going out of state, and who was working minimum wage at Lou’s Deli.
Skylar didn’t care all that much. She knew what she was going to do. She had detailed plans of rotting inside the two-story house she grew up in. It had been left behind by her parents, so it was technically hers. She was going to watch bad documentaries on aliens, browse the internet, snack on grocery store junk food so she could avoid interacting with a food delivery person.
“What are you going to do?” Skylar asked. “Didn’t you get into that college in Ridgewood?”
“I’m not going. My parents aren’t paying the tuition and I’m broke. RSU isn’t terribly expensive, but still,” she said absently. Fingers tapping on the steering wheel. “You?”
“Nothing.” Skylar was glad that she asked. “Just going to stay home, I guess.”
“Seriously?” That got her attention. “You’re wasting your youth, girl.”
“The house is paid for. Malcolm is in college and in debt. Not counting him, I got enough money to live frugally for the rest of my life.”
“You sound so old, Grandma. We should stop by Petshop and get you a cat. Or twenty.” Alysia wrinkled her nose.
“Said the girl who dyed her hair gray,” Skylar countered, reaching out to pat her head. Alysia dodged away, giggling.
“You’re seventeen. Do something with your life! I know normal high school graduates are excited about their future.”
Alysia let the car inch forward and stopped, almost touching the pickup truck in front of them.
Police sirens fast approached.
“I’m doing fine, but…” Skylar drifted off.
A sharp honk interrupted the conversation. Tires screeched.
“What the…” Alysia muttered, extending her head out of the window.
A crash, the sound of metals crumpling. Someone cried out.
The sirens rushed past and disappeared into the distance.
“I think there’s an accident,” Skylar told her, who was opening the door to have a look. People were getting out of their cars, curious and afraid of what had just happened.
Alysia got out and locked her car—it wasn’t going anywhere soon. Together the two of them approached the crossroad.
A small car was flipped over, its wheels slowly spinning. Smoke rose from the hood and the jammed door. Another car was parked several feet away, with skid marks trailing behind. The front was smashed, but the car was otherwise intact. The driver was scared but uninjured. He struggled out of his vehicle and broke down among his friends.
“A car accident,” Alysia agreed.
“A car chase,” Skylar told her what she heard from the crowd. “Didn’t you hear the sirens?”
“A car chase in Wilkindale?” Alysia wrinkled her nose. “Are you joking? Nothing ever happens here.”
“Don’t ask me.”
Skylar quickly collected information from the gathering crowd around them.
“Looks like there was a cop car chasing some escaped criminal.” Skylar gestured at the flipped car at the intersection. “They almost hit that guy. He swerved and crashed.”
“Sucks to be him.”
Students and parents who had been crossing the road had gotten over the initial shock. They erupted into conversations. Others went about checking on the overturned car and hoping to get the jammed car door open.
“That cop didn’t even stop to check on him. It’s their fault he’s in an accident,” Skylar commented.
“It’s a car chase. Do you see them stopping to check the collateral in the movies?”
Skylar thought she made sense. They stood on the side to observe.
They watched the wrecked car slowly turn to gold.
Impossible. She blinked, and then blinked again. Not hallucinating. It’s real. Liquid gold spread from the top of the car on the pavement, and continued its way upward. It reminded her of a bucket of paint pouring down, but it was defiant of gravity and…it went up. The color washed over the machine, slowly and smoothly. Soon the entire car looked like a golden statue with a smooth coat, and a metallic reflection, shining under the early summer sun.
The audience gasped. Those standing too close were backing away, afraid that touching the gold would infect them.
“Is that…real?” Alysia said to herself. The crowd was murmuring things along the same line, eyes fixed on the brand-new existence.
Skylar snapped out of the initial shock. It was something uncommon, no doubt.
“Are you alright?” Skylar asked. Alysia looked like she could be sick.
She nodded, eyes fixed on the golden car. “What the fuck is that!” She scoffed. “I mean, it’s kind of cool, but what the fuck.”
“Look! The gold stopped spreading.”
Hearing the comment, Skylar studied the vehicle again. Indeed it was the only thing that turned gold. The asphalt road around it was still asphalt.
“Is it someone in the car who did it?”
“Someone activated their power, I guess,” Alysia muttered. “I never heard of power like that. It must be new.”
Sirens approached. Someone had called the police. In the deafening silence, tires screeched against ground. Two police SUVs had arrived. Car doors swung open, and the cops came out running. They were wearing bulletproof vests and holding pistols in their hands.
Red and blue lights flashed. Radio chattered. Directions passed through the ranks. Fire trucks and ambulances were on the way.
A man exited from the back seat of the second cop car. He looked to be in his thirties, well-built and towering. In fact, inhumanly so. He unfolded himself to get out of the car, and strode confidently toward the scene. He was dressed like the cops but his uniform was sized larger. An orange-colored patch on his vest identified him as a powered individual. It was an equilateral triangle, with a small circle in the place of the bottom line, but the circle was small enough that it didn’t touch the triangle’s two sides. The Araesow Delta.
Standing among his colleagues, he was two heads taller than the tallest. From where Skylar was standing, she could see his eyebrows knitted into a frown.
Students and their families gathered on the sidewalk to watch. Some of them cheered upon seeing the uncommon human on the police force.
“That’s Deputy Sheriff Wallace,” Alysia informed. “He’s an uncommon.”
“Yeah,” Skylar said. It was quite obvious but she wondered how Alysia knew his name. “I can see that.”
“He can punch through a wall.”
“Okay.” Skylar eyed his arm muscles. “I figured as much.”
“He’s the only uncommon on the police force. Wilkindale is too small of a town.”
Wallace drew closer to the golden car. He carefully touched the top and then examined his hand. His hand didn’t turn. That was good news. The gold had solidified. He whispered to the sheriff, a balding man on the heavier side, humanly so.
The onlookers took out their devices to film the scene. The crisis was no longer life-threatening for them. No one was turning into a lifeless shiny statue. The display of superpowers entertained them. Theories were spreading, none of which were reliable.
Wallace pushed the car with his left hand, as easy as pushing a lunchbox across a table. He reached for the driver’s door and ripped it off. The gold was a coating. It didn’t reach the mechanical parts in the hinges. He bent down, level with the driver, blocking others from seeing who was inside. People craned their necks as the conversation continued.
With an arm, Wallace helped the distressed driver out of the tangle of seatbelt and airbag.
Alysia sucked in a deep breath. The driver was a familiar face. A student in their graduating class. He was still wearing his gown, though his cap was missing. He looked unharmed, except that he had gold as his skin color.
He looked like one of those street performers in downtown Duskim. But he was the real deal. He looked like a living statue without painting himself gold.
“Fuck, it’s Palmer,” Alysia swore. “Now he’s literally the golden boy.”
Skylar stared. The new uncommon’s facial structure had become more generic, but it was still easy enough to see him as one of the popular kids. Skylar remembered seeing him around the campus, laughing and talking loudly with his crews.
Wallace patted his shoulder in reassurance. The student seemed dazed, but physically fine. He looked at his hands incredulously. Flexing his fingers, he examined the golden coat with a neutral expression. Then the corners of his mouth stretched, slowly and numbly, into a smile.
“I’ve never seen a person gain their power,” Skylar said, eyes still fixed on the scene.
The deputy was talking to Palmer. The other cops held back his parents, who had been inside another car when the crash happened. It was for their safety.
“Well, it’s usually not this tame,” Alysia huffed loudly beside her. “The show’s over. Let’s go get ice creams.”
No one got hurt, but Skylar wouldn’t exactly call a car crash “tame.”
It was still unknown if the golden boy’s power would turn a normal person into a statue. He could turn inanimate objects, it seemed; and his power didn’t work on Wallace, who was an uncommon. It was known that uncommon humans weren’t exactly human.
“Wait. See if he might turn back to normal.” Skylar took Alysia’s sleeve as she was turning away. “Otherwise he couldn’t live a normal life, could he? Everything he touches would become gold.”
“Guess he’ll be eating bricks from now on,” Alysia snickered, then her face fell. “And he’s gonna be rich. Shit. Why is everyone else excelling in life?”
“It’s not fair,” Skylar said, suddenly angry.
“Damn right it isn’t.” Alysia scoffed. “Wait, what’s not fair?”
“Why does Palmer get power when he got into a car accident that won’t really kill him, and Zachary killed himself but doesn’t get it?”
“Well, that’s the way it is. People die. Otherwise, we’d all be immortal superheroes. The overpopulation is already bad enough.”
That was quite morbid. Skylar was going to say something, but was interrupted by a spark. She turned her head in annoyance, which quickly turned into horror.
Something was cutting the air. She wasn’t exactly sure how, but a bread knife was floating in mid-air, slicing down and creating a blazing shape. The crowd scattered to get away.
Alysia let out a squeak and evaded the space. The knife was directly behind her, cutting out a rectangle. Once the lines were connected, Skylar realized what it looked like. A door.
“Thank you, Carver.” A voice came from inside the suspended door. Everyone had stopped what they were doing and stared.
A foot, wearing a black suede flat, extended from the inside of the door. A woman in a business suit appeared and stepped out onto the ground. She smoothed out her blazer, dusting off imaginary dust, and inspected the scene around her. She looked like she was in her forties, though appearing younger with her impeccably curled hair.
The “Carver” was nowhere to be seen. Skylar saw a human shape ghosting beyond the door, but then the rectangle disappeared as if it never existed. The woman strode forward. The audience parted to make way. She tilted her head, seemed to throw a glance back.
Alysia shifted her weight in discomfort.
“Let’s get out of here,” she mumbled quickly and dragged Skylar toward her car.
“Wait—” Skylar saw the woman talking to the deputy and the new uncommon. “Do you know who she is?”
“Didn’t you see that pin on her collar? She’s from D.U.R.M.A.” Alysia said with disdain. “Golden Boy is a new uncommon. She’s going to take care of him now.”
“And the Carver?”
“You don’t even know who he is? Fine, he’s not that popular.” Alysia glanced at Skylar. “He also works for D.U.R.M.A. One of the precious assets. He creates these doors. They open to anywhere in the state.”
The crowd was clearing. A tow truck came and loaded up the golden car. The not-golden parents found it safe to hug their son and cry.
The D.U.R.M.A. woman was telling the deputy to sign some document. They got into the cop cars and left for the station.
“How do you know about all this?”
“I do my research.”
Skylar knew Alysia was secretly a nerd, but she wasn’t expecting this. Skylar herself knew about uncommons, though her knowledge was limited. She had only done school projects on uncommon influence on the society, had seen the viral videos of them displaying powers, had known the general few who had celebrity status.
Carver seemed like a secretive one, working to open doors and not stepping through them. Alysia had probably done some serious research to find out about him.
Either way, school was over. Perhaps if she got bored of wasting her youth, she would go see the world. But now…
“So, ice cream?”
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