by Jennifer Dyer
I grasped the store’s icy door handle. Darkness swallowed the shapes around me—the garbage dumpster, the stoops, the litter windblown to the curbs. Why did this place have to be in such a dump? Then again, we didn’t want just anyone shopping here.
The net reporters called our cadre of crime fighters Supes (pronounced soups) thanks to the “dashing” investigative journalist Rocky Cliff who thinks no one knows his alter ego is Bicep Man. I told him people would start asking if we ran with the Chicken Noodle Gang. He didn’t get it. No one was surprised.
Anyway, words from last night banged around in my head. Stay here, Chem. Those are real bad guys, Chem. Do what you do best, stay in the lab. We’ll call you if we need the crime scene swept.
The bell dinged as I stepped inside. A humanoid shape lurked behind a counter, but the thirsty shadows guzzled away the light in here. Her voice sounded as though she gargled with gravel. “Can I help you, Chem?”
I didn’t bother asking how she knew my name. It was that kind of store.
“I… don’t know.” I glanced at the dingy shelves. Would it kill her to dust once in a century or something?
She cackled, as if she’d heard me. I glanced her way again. She nodded. “Look to your hearts content, young hero. But remember: always check the price.”
I wandered down the first isle. What had I come for? Something…more. I was sick of staying behind while the rest of the team flaunted their super skills for the net reports. Glarin Maren could glare people into submission with that nasty one-eyed stare. The Young Curmudgeon could shame even hardened criminals into surrendering with one of his lectures—I hear he supplements his income by speaking at public school assemblies. Flame girl—well, that’s self-explanatory. I always keep a fire extinguisher within reach. And stupid Rocketman flying in at the last minute, blaring his always-handy theme song. So many others, but they were all special. Not me. Sure, I was a chemistry freak, but what good is that when running after bad guys?
I passed the front shelves with the typical, shiny packages. A grinning boy flying, cape streaming behind him. A small girl lifting a bus over her head. A kid outrunning a racecar. Flight, strength, speed. Too flashy for my taste. And the cost? Everyone in town wanted The Bench Presser to help them move. Then there was the Doppler Effect with his astigmatism. Made running in narrow spaces tricky. And no one could keep up with him.
No, I needed something…special.
I turned a corner and ran into Gravel Woman. I still couldn’t see her well. It was as if shadows followed her wherever she went. She grasped my arm. It was like having five ice cubes squeezing my skin. “You seek something better?”
She led me deeper into the store. Our feet left a trail in the blanket of dust. No mop had ventured in here since before the great lizards walked the earth.
I picked up the nearest box. It was black and cold to the touch, no writing on the front. “What’s this? Freezing powers?”
She pointed to a sticker on the back. “Telepathy. Use with caution. Price Code B & D.”
I stared at the words. What would it be like to hear people’s minds, to know what they’re going to do? I could stop crimes before they occurred. I could catch people on the run. I could—
Gravelly pointed me to a sign on top of the shelf.
Maybe if I bought this one I’d know what she was thinking, the crazy old bat.
Her eyes widened.
Wait, had she heard me, especially when I thought of her as an old bat?
She nodded. I gulped. If I were telepathic I’d hear what everyone thought…everyone. And I’d know what they thought of me. And I’d never be able to forget.
Gravel lady nodded. I set the box back on the shelf.
I moved to a red box with rainbow-colored swirls. “Animal Shape Shifting. Price Code A, B, C, D, E.” I didn’t bother to pick it up.
I picked up a green box. The words “Size shifting” grew and shrank. My head swam, like when I stood on a bridge over moving water. I skipped the Price Code.
A blue box had what looked like a string of paper dolls across the front. I grabbed it. The box felt rubbery, like clay. Across the bottom someone had scrawled, “Doppelgangers.” The sticker said, “Can duplicate self. Price Code B, F.”
In a fight it’d be great to have more than one of me—I’m pretty smart. But then what happens to the extra me after the fight? He’d want my life. And I guess he’d take some of my friends with him. No thanks.
A box with starbursts of orange caught my eye. The sign read, “Teleportation. Price Code A, B, E, F.”
I heaved a sigh and thought of Curmudgeon. Sure, he made the nets daily, but he worked all the time, too. Did he have a life outside of yelling, “Get off my lawn!”? And what about Glarin Marin? Yeah, a photo of her that didn’t melt could fetch big creds, but what did she do on her nights off? And what about—
My phone buzzed. Doppler texted, “Gottta sitttuattttion. Dead guy and ?toxin??? Need you at the labbbb.” Sometimes he moved so fast he couldn’t stop punching buttons. And forget about understanding him on the phone.
I shoved the phone into my back pocket and headed toward the door. The shop keeper cleared her throat. “Can I put something on hold for you?”
I smiled back. “Nah. Thanks. Have a good night.”