A glass of sweet tea sitting on the coffee table, sweating a ring that would never come out. Mom was sitting on the couch reading a novel and watching TV, except she wasn’t really doing either. I knew because she was staring at her book, but she hadn’t turned the page for five minutes. Mom was a quick reader and spending more than a minute a page was odd.
I sat on the tile floor with my back against the loveseat, trying to beat the last boss on Donkey Kong for the Gameboy Advanced. It was harder than it looked. I had been trying to beat him for hours and had gotten more game overs than I could remember. But I think I had figured out the secret to beating him; there was always a secret to every boss. You couldn’t just go in and punch ‘em up. There was only one weak spot and there was only one way to get him to reveal it. Figuring that out was the hardest part. Once you got the boss sitting with head spinning and stars popping around his head, the level was easy.
I hadn’t knocked him off his feet yet, but I was getting close. I could feel it.
I heard the door unlock from the outside. Mom jumped up and faced the door, pulling up her capris and smoothing down her shirt. I put my game on pause and stood up, myself, making sure I was in front of her.
The owner of the house, Miss Ashby, walked in with a bag of groceries and smiled briefly at my mom. I could feel my mom shiver.
I didn’t want to see my mom like that. I mean, no one liked seeing their mom go white-faced, but fear looked especially terrible on mom because of how strong she used to be. I was only nine when Dad died and Ashby took Mom and me as her prisoners, but I remember the way the world used to be. Mom and Dad didn’t used to be the only ultra-heroes. There used to be tons of us. All over the US. It was awesome until some of us thought that if they wanted to stay ultra, they’d have to stop being heroes, and others just plain went off the deep end.
All the bad stuff I hadn’t thought was possible started happening. Betrayals. Traps. Massacres. Murders. Hostages.
Mom and Dad held out longer than anyone else. They were incorruptible, as unstainable as surgical equipment, so it made sense that Mr. Ashby had to use a sneak attack to take Dad out.
Mom had fought Ashby for a long time, but she hadn’t done much against her lately, even when she touched her and sucked the life out of her, first once a day, then more often. I had a bad feeling that it had something to do with me.
“Lu, go to your room,” said Mom.
“Stay, Lu,” Ashby told me as she set the bag of groceries on the kitchen table and came into the living room.
Tears welled in my mom’s eyes. “Please, no,” she said barely above a whisper. “I don’t want him to watch.”
“What if I said ‘no’?”
Mom stared at her hands, shaking. It looked like she was shaking from fear, but I knew better. Her hands had started shaking about a month ago. Too much shock. Ashby had damaged my mom and I hated her for it. When we got out of here, she would still shake and we would have to be reminded of her every day. I hated her for that, too.
“Go to your room, Luis,” said Ashby.
But what could I do? I pocketed my Gameboy and walked down the hall, heart pounding in my ears.
I snuck back up the hallway towards the living room as close as I dared. My mom gasped but she didn’t cry. She had gotten weak, but she was still strong.
I didn’t hear anything for a long time. Then the rustle of the couch and a long exhale. A thunk and the sound of a glass.
A rustle as Ashby got to her feet.
“Shit,” she said. “Shit, shit, shit! Come on, wake up! Dammit, undo! Undo!”
I hurried back to my room. I knew exactly what had happened and what I had to do. I quietly closed my door and took the packed backpack out of my closet. I think Mom had known this day would come.
“Do you think you could squeeze between the bars on your window?” Mom had asked me one day.
“You bet,” I had answered. “I can fit through anything.”
“Good. If anything happens to me, you need to take your backpack and go through your window. Immediately. I want you to go into the desert, as far as you can go, find a good hiding place—I mean a superb hiding place, one where not even you would look—and stay there for five days. Can you do that?”
“I think so.”
“Don’t eat all your food on the first day, okay?”
“I know, I won’t.”
“Good, good. After that, I want you to go north, as far east as you can go. You know which way north is, right?”
“Left from where the sun rises. Over there.”
“That’s right. See? You’ll do fine. You’ll do just fine.”
I had thought at the time it was hypothetical, but the way she had hugged me and stroked my hair, I realized that she had known Ashby was going to kill her.
I heard Ashby coming down the hall. I shoved my bag through the two-story window. I pulled my head and shoulders through the window and pushed off away from the house, the way I had envisioned so many times.
I hit the ground and rolled. I grabbed my backpack and sprinted towards the rocky desert. Ashby would come after me, but there was no way she could outrun me, and if she took her truck, there’s no way she’d get into the canyon. The sun was setting and soon I’d have the night on my side.
I thought of Mom as I ran against the setting sun. I would cry once I was safe. First, I had to survive. For her sake. For Dad’s sake. I was an ultra-hero, the last true ultra-hero.
I would come back once I was stronger. I would make Ashby regret what she had done to us, I would make her beg for her life, and then I would kill her.
A/N: This is not a good day for Ashby. First, she kills the ultra-hero she was supposed to be monitoring. Then, Luis, the single most important thing to Sato, is gone. Oops.
There are a lot of things I don’t like about I Am Countersink. (Fear Me.) and as I struggle through editing it, I’m playing with the idea of changing it quite fundamentally, keeping what I like and changing what I don’t. This scene is part of Countersink 2.0.