2. No Brimstone

The sky in Houston was gorgeous with only a few clouds and a temperature that made it comfortable to wear shorts without sweating. Aja was standing with her parents, sisters, and brother in the uncommonly high-ceiling foyer of the downtown Houston Public Library. She’d just picked up a few books while her parents met some people to discuss a party that was being held at the library the next day. The library was grand, even in the overly large city of Houston, Texas. The room in which she stood had marble columns, and marble floors and routinely held galas for three to four hundred people. Aja and Lilly often thought of this place like a palace and dreamt of living there.

After Mr. and Mrs. Keen finished their meeting they called for the children to come along outside- it was time to head out. Aja, Lilly, Lada, Jareth, and Ekko all followed together into the warm, but-not-too-warm, late afternoon air of downtown. They exited the building onto the red brick sidewalks that ran the length of Smith Street. The children gathered around their father as he was down on one knee, “So, who’s up for a little snack? You guys were great, thanks for hanging in there,” said Mr. Keen.

Five little smiles were surrounding this man, as he’d expected with news of a snack. It wasn’t often that the family was able to splurge on such a treat. It wasn’t because they were poor, but items like cookies or ice cream were not all that common.

Mr. Keen stood up to grab his wife’s hand and lead them south a few blocks to a shopping plaza when arose a tremendous boom. The vibration was so intense that it would have led one to think the sound to come from everywhere at once. Within seconds there was a thin layer of dust sweeping, at a quickened pace, through the air. Lilly look at Aja whose ears were bleeding with the pressure of the boom, though she didn’t seem to mind- or perhaps she didn’t notice.

The boom. It was impossible to call it a blast, in the instant that it happened there was no brimstone or hell-fire that often accompanies such a sound.

With nearly all sound muted for the Keen family of seven, Mrs. Keen screamed out something that was indiscernible to anyone, but, Lilly noticed her mother was looking past her to the twins Jareth and Ekko who were standing behind her. When she turned to look her eyes widened as she watched them both sink into a chasm that suddenly opened up beneath them. Before anyone could get to them, they were gone as the sidewalk closed up- as if it ate them. And though none of them could hear there was no mistaking their mother's cries of ‘no’ and ‘why?’

There was little time to protest what just happened as unexpected heavy rain swept in. It was so hard that it began to crush the cars and buses along Smith Street. It took the family only seconds to realize, as they looked above their heads, that it wasn't raining at all. The glass from the Wells Fargo Plaza was beginning to rain down on the streets below. 71 floors of glass began to fall upon the citizens of Houston below. At first, it was close to the building itself, but as the seconds ticked by the Keen's watched as the sea of glass was getting closer and closer to them. Mr. Keen seized his wife’s hand and yelled for Aja to grab the remaining two. Aja didn’t hear or see him; she was transfixed by people being crushed to death by feet of glass.

Her father was about thirty feet away when he realized his children were not behind him. He looked on as Aja’s trance broke and she turned to see her father a heartbeat before she was knocked to the ground from behind.

When she caught her breath, she remained still, laying on her stomach, with Lilly on her back and Lada to her right also in the prone position. Aja turned her head left and then back to Lada who gave a straight-faced smile. Glass continued to fall and settle all around them.

After what seemed an eternity the sound slowed to a trickle. It was only then that Aja realized they were in a dire position. Their little sister Lada saved her and Lilly. Lada was able to create a force field, or more technically a matter-field, out of nothing but air. She’d only recently learned how to extend her power beyond herself.

Aja began to open her mouth, “-.”

“I don’t know, Aja. This is the longest I’ve ever had to hold a field,” Lada said to her sister knowing precisely what she was going to ask. It took Lada quite a bit of concentration to make an impenetrable force field. And even more to hold back some five-plus feet of glass from crushing them.

Lilly had a moment to chime in trying to keep it light, “I’m impressed, sis. I’ve never known a seven-year-old who could do what you’re doing right now.” She didn’t know anyone else with her power. Not that others didn’t, but the Keen’s always kept to themselves.

“Guys. Hey- I’m starting,” Lada paused after nearly ten minutes of holding the field, “I’m starting to get tired.”

Aja looked above here looking for a way out. "We could-"

“I love you guys... I'm sorry,” said Lada interrupting her sister with a straining voice.

“We love-”

Lilly’s sentence was cut short in an instant as several tons of glass crushed the three of them into the sidewalk of Smith Street.

Lada was the first to wake, and she did so crying. She was closely followed by the twins Jareth and Ekko who weren’t necessarily crying but were in obvious anguish. Like a mother-hen on duty, Aja quickly sat up at the sounds of her siblings in distress moving first to Lada who still had tears streaming down her face. She kept repeating, “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to let you down.”

“What are you talking about, you didn’t let me down. I’m right here,” Aja assured her as she hugged her closer.

“I had a dream that we died under a pile of glass. It was falling on us, and I couldn’t hold my field anymore, and-”

Aja stopped Lada, “It’s ok. It was only a dream.” She got up from Lada’s side squeezing her hand and walked over to her brother Jareth, “You ok bud?”

He looked at her, “I had the same dream. Me and Ekko went down a hole. It was scary.”

Aja held Jareth’s hand, “It was only a bad dream. You’re here, with me, us. We’re all safe…” As she trailed off, she turned around to see Lilly still sleeping. Though her auburn hair lay across her eyes, Aja could still see them flicking back and forth beneath her eyelids. Aja walked over and knelt down beside her, “Lilly… Lilly, wake up.” She didn't wake. Aja bent down near her face and lightly yelled her name again, “LILLY!”

“She said go away,” Aja turned to see Lada shrugging. “Her, not me,” she said pointing at her still sleeping sister.

“Is Lilly still in there?”

Lada shook her head, her thin blond hair still stuck to her face from crying and dream sweats. “She said what she said and left,” said Lada.

Aja bent down again to her sister, “You either wake up, or I’ll get a bucket of water and water-board your ass right here on this living-room floor.” That seemed to have gotten her attention, Lilly turned her head away.

“She’ll be back in a second,” Lada said aloud. “‘Please, don’t pour water on me again...’ she wanted me to tell you that.”

A few moments later as the rest of the kids were folding their blankets, with Aja helping Ekko, as five-year-olds were not known for their blanket, folding skills, Lilly opened her eyes with a start and stared at the ceiling. “Wow, that was a weird one,” she said aloud knowing at least Aja, and Lada were looking at her. She sat up rubbing her eyes then looked to Aja, “What are you looking at me like that for?”

“Your dream, was Lada holding up a building worth of glass and down a hole?” said Aja.

Lilly nodded.

“Christ’s sake Lilly, you were projecting again. To all of them! Us!” Aja said sweeping her hand across the rest of the children. “You didn’t bring the Parker’s into it did you?” Aja asked wide-eyed.

“I, I don’t think so,” Lilly said as if ashamed.

Aja shook her head and continued helping her brother and sisters pick up the living room sleeping accommodations they’d been sleeping in over the last three nights.

“Good morning kids,” came an overly-happy voice from the kitchen doorway.

“Hello Mrs. Parker,” Aja said without turning around, though not necessarily unhappy. “We’re almost done cleaning up the room.” She finished and turned to see Gary and Tricia standing next to one another in the doorway as if they were contemplating changing their mind.

Gary spoke next, “You overheard us last night, didn’t you? I’m sorry, we tried to talk quietly, we didn’t mean to alarm you. Really.”

Lilly and Aja looked at the two adults standing in the doorway with little expression on their faces. It was Lilly that spoke, as she understood the best, “There are no hard feelings from us. We knew it wasn’t to last; five is a lot to ask for.” As she finished her last word, she looked over to Lada and the twins to see some confusion on their faces.

“Yes, well, who’s up for some breakfast?” asked Gary trying to change the subject for the moment. “Go ahead and finish up in here and I’ll see if I can whip up something to eat.”

After Gary and Tricia left the room, the children turned and finished folding the blankets and putting the place back into order. Lilly used her telepathy to tell the rest of her siblings that, in short, they were leaving today for a new home. After finishing, Aja gathered the five of them together letting the twins go first. Breakfast was a helping of flapjacks and scrambled eggs. At first, it was admittedly hard to tell if they were dehydrated eggs or not, however, given the dire times and the smallness of the apartment it was a good guess they were powdered. Nonetheless, the fact that any of the children had to think whether it was one or the other was a valid sign they were good. The thoughts of good food were interrupted by the inevitable.

“So, as you know,” Tricia started, looking at Aja, “we don’t feel comfortable keeping you-”

“What Trish means is,” said Gary quickly cutting off his wife with a slight glare added,”we don’t feel this is a safe situation for you. Or us for that matter.”

Aja nodded.

Gary continued, “I’m going to call the service in a few minutes. But I wanted to let you know that it wasn’t because we don’t want to help you.”

Lilly, listening to the Parker’s thoughts gave Aja a gentle nod to signal they were, so far as she could read, telling the truth. The only thing she sensed that was not being spoken was how scared the wife was.

Gary stood to go into the other room to make the call. Tricia and the five kids sat in silence eating for a moment before Tricia said, “I want you all to know that this is hard for me, well, both of us. We wanted to help your kind,” she stopped turning red in the face. “I didn’t mean-”

“No offense taken ma’am,” said Lada without looking up from her food. “We are our own kind.” She looked up at Tricia with a genuine smile before going back to her flapjacks.

“I was so worried all night too,” Tricia continued. “I woke this morning crying from one of the most horrific dreams I’ve ever had.”

Lilly and Aja both did a quick eye shift to one another without her noticing. Aja then gave a stern look to your younger sister who returned a shrug.

Tricia, looking up at her kitchen ceiling trying to recall, “Well, I don’t mean to scare you, but you were all in it and, and- your parents. Well, I think they-”

They were all listening, mid-bite when Gary returned and cut off his wife’s conversation. “Mr. Newman will be here shortly,” he stated as he sat down. “I believe he’s the one who brought you here,” he looked around the table, “Everything ok?”

“I was just telling them about- oh, never-mind,” Tricia concluded with a twist of her lips. “Anyway, Mr. Newman’s on his way here now?”

“Yep, he said he’d be here, shortly, like I just said.”

Lloyd Newman. He’d been the agent that was assigned to the Keen kids. Lloyd, as Aja preferred, seemed to know his way around Seattle and the good/bad side of modifieds in the city. Jareth asked him once if he too was a modified but he clammed up as if he couldn’t hear the question. It was assumed he wasn’t from then on and Lilly couldn't tell anyone otherwise.

It was understood, clearly as Aja could convey to her siblings ranging from eleven down to five, that Lloyd Newman was someone who was there to help. The children took her word and followed her lead.

A buzzer rang from near the front door. Gary looked down unto the street to see a tall, balding man wearing wire-rimmed sunglasses looking back up at him. Gary turned to his wife, “He’s here.” Tricia went the door release and let Mr. Newman in while she waited at the door for him. Gary joined her a moment later.

Aja and the others just stayed in the kitchen when he entered the apartment. A six-plus foot man stood in front of the closed door and made an effort to do a friendly wave towards the five pairs of eyes looking at him. He turned to Gary, and his facial expression changed. Aja looked at Lilly giving her an eyebrow raise and a tilt of her head towards the door.

Lilly clearly understood Aja was asking her to snoop on the conversation, ...to hide NOW! Ms. Keen, if you’re in my head, I need you five to hide NOW! Ms. Keen, if you’re... Lilly’s eye opened wide, “Aja, we need to hide. Now.”

Aja looked back to Lloyd and Mr. and Mrs. Parker who were still in their conversation. She stood up leaning over to Lilly and had her “tell” the rest of the kids to follow her. She moved to the living room door, “Mrs. Parker, I’m going to bring Ekko and Jareth to the bathroom before we go.”

“Ok dear,” she replied.

All the kids followed. The Parkers paid no attention as they made their way down the narrow hallway. Then came the sharp thud of a massive fist pounding the metal front door. BoOm. BOOm. BOOM!

Gary made his way to the peephole and found himself staring at a magnified badge and the words ‘land Security’ in view. “May I help you?” Gary asked as he looked back at a shrugging Lloyd Newman and a frightened wife.

“Mr. Parker,” started the man pulling his badge away from the peephole to reveal a stocky gentleman with a perfect salt and pepper Caesar haircut and a well-kept goatee. He continued in with a slight Bostonian accent, “I’m Agent McCarty with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. I’d, ah, I’d like to ask you a few questions.”

This is part of my short web-serial, fiVe. Read the rest of the series here.

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