In The Gospel According to St. Rage by Karen Eisenbrey, Seattle high-schooler Barbara Bernsen started a band and developed emotion-fueled superpowers. In Barbara and the Rage Brigade, she gathered other young people with powers into a superteam. Meanwhile, in Dormant by LeeAnn McLennan, Portland teen Olivia Woodson Brighthall rejoined her supernormal family when the powers she’d suppressed as a child started to manifest and she needed training to control them—training that included battling and capturing monsters. A few short months after the events of Dormant and Rage Brigade, Olivia and Barbara join forces for an adventure of monstrous proportions!
A Saturday morning in late February
Interstate 5 between Seattle and Olympia
St. Rage is going on tour!
Well, a mini tour.
OK, fine. One show out of town.
It’s actually Trollrocket doing a mini tour, with my new fave band Shit Magnet Theory. The opening act they had lined up for Portland dropped out, so they asked us. (This makes sense if you know: 1) their bass player is our bass player’s dad; and 2) we opened for their album release last summer and did not embarrass ourselves.) We’re not too proud to be the second choice.
And it’s a good excuse to go to Portland and check out some rumors about superhumans fighting monsters. It might be just that—rumors plus Portland Weird—so I haven’t mentioned it to anyone else yet. Not like I even know where to look for that kind of action. To be fair, the action usually finds me.
We pull up outside Whitney’s dorm before 10:00 a.m., which feels early for a Saturday. Before I can text Whitney, she’s already there to meet us. She must be as eager for this trip as I am. Mom agreed to drive us as far as Olympia as long as we got an early start. She wasn’t willing to give us a ride all the way to Portland or let me borrow the car—driving in Portland is expert level. Fortunately, neither option was necessary. She parks the PT Cruiser–we call it the Pumpkinmobile–next to an unwashed white van that will take us the rest of the way.
I’m crammed in the middle of the backseat between Carol Anne and Darrin, so I’m the last to leave the car. (I’m sure Darrin’s more uncomfortable than I am, being a foot taller and twice as wide, but it was his choice. He’s not in the band, but he’s my emotional support human and I am his.) We let Whitney’s brother Dee ride shotgun because he’s still growing. The cargo area is crammed with instruments and sleeping bags, but this car holds a surprising amount of stuff.
When he climbs out of the car and towers over Whitney, she pretends to be surprised at the sight of her “little” brother. “Who’s this beanpole?” She hugs him around the middle. He’s more than a foot taller than she is now.
“New color?” He pats her turquoise curls.
“Lime green was too high school, but I’m not ready to break the color habit.”
Their dad’s side of the family is Black and their mom’s is Japanese. Whitney adopted a tough punk-chick look back in middle school to avoid the “What are you?” questions. Nobody asks Dee; they just assume he’s Black. He started wearing glasses last summer. He needs them, but hopes they’ll make him seem more serious and less dangerous. In reality, I’m the dangerous one, but nobody gives a medium-sized white girl a second look.
Whitney’s boyfriend climbs out of the back of the van. Yep, our tour transport even comes with a driver. Ike and Whitney bonded over her vintage drums and their shared BIPOC status at one of our early shows and have been inseparable ever since. If I remember right, he has three Filipino grandparents and one Venezuelan. He’s chill and a calming influence on Whitney; I’m happy to have him around. He’s the same age as Whitney and me, eighteen, but looks older with his new mustache and goatee.
Ike greets Dee with a fist bump. “Hey, little bro! So your parents let you come on a road trip with all of us bad influences?”
“Oh, I’ll keep him out of trouble,” Whitney promises, grabbing the back of Dee’s hoodie.
Dee grins. “Barbara insisted she needed the cello part on a couple of songs.”
“Well, it’s true.” Also, he’s in the Rage Brigade. The more of us, the better if any super business comes up.
My phone vibrates in my pocket. What, five messages? We were so packed into the car, I couldn’t reach it. They’re all from “Vee.” I’m still getting used to our keyboard player’s new nickname. Between school and her barista job, she’s with other Olivias everywhere, so I get it.
Don’t wait for me. Got called in for a work shift. So disappointed! You’ll be great.
I text her back so she’ll know I finally got the message before I share the bad news.
“Vee says not to wait for her. She got scheduled last minute for a work shift,” I announce.
Whitney peers into the empty Pumpkinmobile. “What about Travis?”
“He rode down with Trollrocket. He’ll meet us at the venue.”
“Good to hear,” Whitney says. “As long as we have Carol Anne on guitar, we could get by without bass, but it’s better with.”
We get busy transferring our stuff—four sleeping bags, four backpacks, two guitars, and a cello—from the car to Hunk o’ Junk. Ike and Whitney’s bags and her snare drum are already loaded, next to Ike’s toolbox. We could have squeezed Vee’s keyboard in, too, but it would have been tight. There’s room for a small box of cassette tapes. We had fifty made for our EP release so people could have a physical copy, though that was probably forty too many. But who knows, maybe we’ll sell a couple tonight!
The back of the van is packed full, but it could have been worse. We’ll be sharing amps and the rest of the drums, so we don’t have to haul a lot of gear. And we won’t even have to sleep in the van like Travis did the last time he went on tour with Trollrocket—my Aunt Liz has space to put us all up for the night.
Mom closes the hatch. “Call when you get there and give Liz a hug from me. Have fun. Be careful.”
“I’m always careful.”
“Uh-huh. Just don’t go looking for trouble.”
“I don’t do that, OK? See you tomorrow night.”
She gives me a hug, climbs back into the car, and with a cheery wave drives off. I join the others in the van. Hunk o’ Junk has seatbelts for ten, so the six of us have room to spread out, a welcome change. I snuggle up next to Darrin, of course. So sue me, I never had a boyfriend before. He doesn’t seem to mind. Whitney’s up front with Ike, Darrin and I are in the next row, Carol Anne is behind us, noodling around on my acoustic guitar, and Dee sprawls all over the back seat.
“Road trip!” Ike calls.
How cool is this? Like we’re a legit band on tour. Other than one practice over winter break, we haven’t all played together since our dream gig last summer, but still.
I text Travis: Pulling out of Oly now. When’s load-in?
I’m working out the final set list when he replies a few minutes later.
At 7 you will get here in plenty of time
After a moment, he sends another line, a quirk of his texting style I have gotten used to.
What is our set
I tap out a quick reply: Will send soon.
We had a good short set in August, but I’ve added a few new songs since then and don’t want to leave anything out. Whitney has her sticks in hand, tapping out her parts on the dashboard while listening to our EP and various demos over earbuds. Carol Anne works out the one song she and I will both play guitar on.
“Troll,” Dee mutters from the back. “Pow! Gullible dumbass. Boop! Aw, Skittles for a good guy. Nazi! Biff bam pow!”
“What game are you playin’ back there, little bro?” Ike calls.
“Don’t mind him,” Whitney says. “He likes to battle bad guys on the internet.” She winks at me over her shoulder. She knows what Ike doesn’t: her brother punches bigots and harassers online. Not kidding—he literally reaches through screens to deal out physical punishment right there in the comments. Or rewards; good guys get bags of Skittles dropped into their laps. In his identity as Gruff, Dee’s the hero of the internet.
Ike nods. “I feel ya, man. Lost cause, but take down a bigot for me, OK?”
“Got one!” Dee crows. “Pow!”
Just your typical road trip with secret superheroes.
There’s not much to see out the windows—farmland, outlet malls, billboards. I nod and doze, until—
“Wah!” Ike exclaims. “Spider!”
The van swerves. The car coming up on our left honks and sails by as Ike corrects back into his own lane.
A spider—not that big but still, a spider—dangles from the visor, right in front of Ike’s face.
“Not cool, spider dude,” Darrin says. “Back where you were.”
“Ha, like that’ll … whaddayaknow.” Ike wipes his brow. “It’s gone. As long as it stays there.”
“Stay there,” Darrin whispers.
“It will,” I say aloud. “We don’t call him Bug Lord for nothing.”
Ike laughs. “You gettin’ delusions of superpowers there, Darrin?”
“Since you brought it up … What do you think, Whitney?” I ask. “Should we bring Ike into the circle of trust?”
“OK, but maybe not while he’s driving.”
“Sounds serious,” Ike says. “Am I gonna love it or hate it?”
“Oh, you will absolutely love it.” Whitney points to an exit coming up. “Pull over up here, Babe. I need coffee, anyway.”
The exit takes us to a little cluster of businesses: espresso stand, gas station, food truck. Ike parks near the espresso stand and we all pile out. We haven’t been on the road that long, but it feels good to stretch. Even though the spider incident woke me up some, coffee sounds good.
Dee orders hot chocolate. “Wouldn’t want to stunt my growth.” He smirks at his diminutive sister.
“So what’s the big reveal?” Ike asks.
I look around. It’s not crowded, but there are a few other customers. “Not in public.” Back in the van, we settle into our seats again and sip our hot drinks. “OK, Ike, get ready for a bucket of ice water. Some of us can do … weird shit. Dee wasn’t playing before, and Darrin really can talk to insects and arachnids.”
“All arthropods, actually,” Darrin adds. “Crustaceans and isopods, too.”
I turn to him in surprise. “Wow, really? That’s cool—you’re discovering more about your powers.”
“Powers? Like actual superpowers?” Ike sips his mocha and gazes at Whitney. Like I said, he’s always chill. Nothing fazes Ike. “What’s yours, Whit?”
“Layin’ down the beat,” she deadpans. “Barbara’s the one with real powers. Show him something.”
“Mine aren’t made for small spaces,” I say. “Maybe when we get to my aunt’s.”
“It’s cool. Dee, yours is on your phone, right? Give us a demo.”
Dee slurps down the rest of his cocoa and squeezes up front. I lean forward to watch, because this never gets old. He pulls up his favorite gaming blog. It’s written by a girl, which is apparently too much for some dudes. He scans the comments for someone currently online.
“Oh, misogyny and anti-semitism!” Dee’s fist disappears into the screen. “Right in the snoot!”
Ike’s eyes light up. “Yes! Dude!” They fist bump and Dee returns to his seat. Ike puts the key into the ignition. The starter whines but doesn’t catch. He tries again. The engine refuses to turn over. “Aw, c’mon! When we’re only an hour away? Those little monsters have the worst timing.”
“Monsters? Where?” My heart hammers and I regret the coffee. I know nothing about fighting monsters. If they’re big bugs, Darrin can deal with them. Otherwise, I have the strongest power set. But I’m not really a fighter.
“Calm down, Barbara,” Whitney says. “He means the gremlins that supposedly cause all the trouble with the van. Like it never occurred to him a car almost as old as he is might have problems.”
“I know all about old cars,” Ike says. “Gremlins are more fun.” He taps the fuel gauge. “We should have plenty of gas, but maybe this is broken. We’ll fill ‘er up over there and find out.” He gestures toward the gas station across the road. “One of you girls, get up front and steer. Guys, we’ll push.”
“Sexist much?” Whitney flexes a muscle. She’s tiny but athletic. “I’m pushing, too.”
“Fine, but don’t make Darrin look bad.”
I wave Carol Anne toward the driver’s door. “We can’t risk the lead guitarist’s fingers. You steer, I’ll help these guys.”
“That’s generous of you,” Ike says. “I think we’ll manage.”
“She’s stronger than she looks,” Whitney says, trying not to giggle. I’m not as athletic as she is, but reasonably fit under my baggy sweatshirt.
“Right, superpowers.” Ike rolls his eyes. “OK, go ahead.”
When we’re all in place behind the van, Ike instructs Carol Anne to release the brake and put it in neutral. We all push, but Hunk o’ Junk has a lot of inertia and we’re trying to move it uphill. Darrin grunts, Ike groans. Whitney mutterswears, and I’m tempted to join her. It’s all we can do to keep this stupid van from rolling backwards. I was already worked up about non-existent monsters, now I’m exasperated and worried someone might get a hernia.
Wait, I can use that. I stir a pinch of remembered rage and a dash of concern into my frustration, and the familiar burn kindles. Stepping back to dust off my hands, I channel that emotion into a shove. Hunk o’ Junk leaps forward and everyone cheers, running to catch up.
“Way to go, Darrin!” Ike yells.
Darrin laughs. “Nope, that was all Barbara.”
“She didn’t even touch it,” Ike objects.
“Exactly.” Darrin winks at me.
The van rolls across the road and right up to the gas pumps. Carol Anne brakes, puts it in park, and climbs out, paler than usual and trembling. Oh, right. She doesn’t drive.
Ike fills the tank. The fuel gauge shows full, so it wasn’t broken. Even so, we’re full of hope when Ike tries to start again. Still nothing, and now the starter sounds tired, too.
“Well, it was worth a try,” Ike says. “Some connection probably rattled loose. I can fix it, but it could take awhile.”
He coasts the van into a parking area next to the gas station. I call Aunt Liz.
“Hello?” She answers before the phone rings.
“Hi, Aunt Liz, it’s Barbara.”
“Well, hello, rock star! Had a feeling it might be you. What’s the problem?”
“How did you …?” I don’t know why I’m surprised. Aunt Liz is intuitive to the point of psychic. I’m not the only one in the family with abilities. “Never mind. The van broke down, so we won’t get there in time for lunch. Ike thinks he can fix it, so maybe it won’t be too bad. He says we’re only about an hour away, once we get going again.”
“Well, I’m glad you’re safe. What time’s your show?”
“Music starts at nine, load-in’s at seven.”
“It’ll be fine. Call me when you’re on the road again and I’ll order some pizzas for when you get here.”
While Ike gets out his toolbox and opens up Hunk o’ Junk, the rest of us kill time with burgers and little bags of potato chips from the food truck. Followed by more coffee, which I almost immediately regret. I’m jittery enough already. But shoving the van kinda took it out of me. Aunt Liz said it’ll be fine, though, like she knew. And the gas station has a restroom. Yeah, it’ll be fine.
I finish the set list and share it with Carol Anne and Whitney. We get both guitars and Whitney’s sticks and snare out of the van so we can run through it. Our sound is pretty small with no amplification, but it feels so good to play and sing with these two again. When Whitney plays the marching riff that opens “Huge Guy in the Mosh Pit,” Darrin jumps up and starts slam-dancing with Dee. It’s theoretically possible Darrin was the original huge guy I wrote the song about, long before we met, but there’s always at least one at any show. By the time we get to the end of the set, the barista and the burger dude are both grinning and swaying to the beat.
Before the last chord has faded, I have a grin of my own. “I have missed this so much!”
“I like the order,” Whitney says. “Isn’t eleven songs kind of a long set for an opening act?”
“They’re all under three minutes, and I probably won’t talk much.” Assuming we even get there. No, gotta stay positive.
I text Travis again. We had a breakdown so will be later than expected. Will see you at venue. Here’s the set list. We’re playing everything so hope you remember your parts!
He replies almost immediately. I hope the van gets fixed
That is a long list
I will practice all my parts
I will see you at the venue
Maybe I should practice all my parts again, too. It would pass the time and give me something else to think about while we wait.
Aunt Liz said it’ll be fine. I hope she knows what she’s talking about.
The previous Friday evening
Mt. Tabor Park, Portland
“Ollie, catch!” My cousin Zoe tosses her backup whip at my outstretched hand. I see it easily even in the dim evening light. I grab it and pivot around to face the tree monster that has been terrorizing folks in Mt. Tabor Park for the past two days. The whip isn’t my weapon of choice. I prefer a sword or better yet, my superpowers of fire and ice, but my sword is stuck in the trunk of the tree monster and we have an audience. Not a good time to display my powers.
“Oh man, this is so crazy.” Our unwelcome, very drunk audience of three twenty-something guys starts clapping when Zoe and I each get a length of leather wrapped around a swinging branch.
I grit my teeth. Why isn’t the glamour working? It usually shields normals—people without superpowers—from seeing our heroic deeds. While the guys focus on us, I don’t want to blow our cover as supernormals by shooting fire or ice at the monster.
“Woohoo!” The drunkest of the guys stumbles forward, maybe in a misguided attempt to help us. “Take down the pissed-off Ent! Ahhhhhh!” He screeches when a branch whacks him across his back.
More branches slash through the air, hitting Zoe on the forehead. I jump to one side, avoiding the roots shooting up from the ground. I barely keep my grip on the whip as I stumble. Zoe uses her free hand to swipe blood from her forehead.
Aunt Kate told us its method of attack was usually to send out roots that snatched at or tripped people. I was not expecting this much action.
My cousin and I give each other determined looks then yank hard on the whips, stopping the crazy tree for the moment.
Our fan club has managed to pick up their battered friend. One of them runs at the tree, yelling. “Try hurting my friend again and I’ll kick your ass!” A root grabs his leg, flipping him to the ground.
“Stop!” Zoe yells. She tosses her own whip at me and I catch it in my other hand, digging my heels into the ground to hold the tree monster while Zoe marches over to the rowdy audience shouting, “Go away.”
“You need help!” The guy who’d been flipped by the root counters as he struggles to his knees. “Don’t you?”
Zoe puts her hands on her hips, glaring down at him. “No, you’re getting in our way, get out of here before…” She glances up, her eyes widening. “Oh no, you may be too late, there’s more coming. Run, you fools!”
The guys are freaked enough to listen as she herds them away. They disappear down the gravel trail. I mentally roll my eyes at her fake out; we both know this monster never travels in packs.
Its leaves buzzing in anger, the monster yanks its trapped branches hard, pulling free of one of the whips. “Zoe!” I yell.
She darts back, grabbing her whip while I pull on mine. “You’re clear to attack!” She hits the monster in quick flicks.
Finally! I fling the whip aside and hold out my hands. Streams of fire shoot out from my palms, igniting the tree monster. It flails around, burning and bubbling until all that’s left is a few twigs and some hot coals and ashes. My sword clatters to the ground, glowing red from the heat.
“Holy heck.” Zoe bends over, bracing her hands on her knees. “That thing was fierce.” She rolls up her whip, attaching it to her belt before doing the same with her back-up whip.
I pull up my sword from ashes on the ground and check it for damage, relying on my fire powers to protect my skin from the hot metal. “Yeah, from what Aunt Kate said, I thought it would be more still and less whirling dervish.”
Zoe frowns at the remnants that are beginning to drift away in the evening breeze. “And, even weirder, this thing usually lives in less populated areas.” She gives me a lopsided grin. “There’s a reason you hear about so many people falling off hiking trails around here.”
My foot kicks one of the beer bottles left by our fan club. I pick it up. “How come those guys could see us? Why didn’t the glamour work on them?”
“Oh, sometimes inebriated people see us, but they have to be really drunk. I guess the glamour acts on normals’ basic disbelief that superpowers, magic, exist, so when alcohol lowers inhibitions they can see us better. They generally forget or think it’s a crazy dream.” Zoe sneers in the direction they’d fled. “It doesn’t happen that often. We’d better get out of here, though.”
The crisp February air feels good on my face as we run at super speed from the park, down through various neighborhoods, until we reach the Eastside industrial area on the Willamette River and the warehouse owned by my family, the Brighthalls. I’m glad it’s not a school night so we don’t have to rush home after reporting to Aunt Kate. Life as a supernormal is easier when I’m not juggling high school history and chemistry.
According to Aunt Kate, the Brighthalls are a fairly new supernormal family, having been established not long after the Great Cataclysm about two hundred years ago. As I spend more time back in the world of supernormals after my seven-year hiatus, I am constantly reminded of how much the Great Cataclysm shaped our world. Everything from how supernormal families were given areas of the country to protect to the current supernormal Government Council in Colorado. And, of course, making the supernormal abilities of mind reading and mind control illegal.
I shake my head to clear my thoughts as Zoe and I enter the warehouse through the inconspicuous door leading into a dim, dingy office. The office is just a decoy in case anyone from the street sees us enter. Once inside with the door closed, we go through the inner door and step into the interior of the warehouse.
Most of the inside is wide open space with ceiling rafters set up in an obstacle course for aerial training, a laser tag area in the far corner, weightlifting equipment scattered about, and designated classroom space near the middle of the room. The water tank where my cousin Hugh trained is gone.
The only occupant is Aunt Kate, working in front of her impressive array of monitors. The other ‘rents, or parents to the rest of the world, are elsewhere.
One of Aunt Kate’s monitors shows the image of our rope walkway through the rafters above us. I look up to see a small camera hovering near the ceiling. Aunt Kate mutters to herself as she glances up, watching the camera float down onto her outstretched hand.
“Hey, Mom,” Zoe greets her mother.
Aunt Kate smiles at us, the pensive look fading from her eyes. “Hello. How was the hunt?” Her gaze sharpens. “I don’t see the quarry.”
“I’m sorry.” I wince at her look. “We couldn’t subdue it enough to catch it. Um, so I burned it.”
“Too bad, I was looking forward to studying it.” Aunt Kate sighs. “It’s okay, stopping the monster always takes priority.”
Zoe unhooks her whips from her belt and tosses them on one of the couches framing our informal classroom area near Aunt Kate’s workspace. Slumping down on the couch, Zoe props her feet on the coffee table. I wander over to the kitchen, fill two glasses with water, and grab a couple of cookies from the stash. I toss a cookie at Zoe, who catches it instinctively. Munching on my cookie, I bring my cousin water. Then I remove my sheathed sword, set it down on the table, and join her on the couch.
Aunt Kate brings up a map of Portland on the main monitor. Scattered around are red dots showing monster hunts. “I feel like we’re seeing more monster action in Portland recently.” She taps her finger on her lips thoughtfully.
“Should we worry?” I ask. I’m still getting used to life as an active supernormal. It has only been a few months since I reconnected with my supernormal family. I’m still unsure about what is and isn’t usual in the supernormal world.
“Nah, probably not.” Zoe picks up a small hand weight, leans back, and tosses it up and down. “Mom just likes analyzing stuff.” She picks up another weight, juggling them. “Hey, you noticed Kevin bailed on us, yet again?”
“Yeah, third time this month.” I run a hand through my short hair. Our family was still reeling from the tragic events of last fall but Kevin had lost the most.Though I understand his grief, I miss the cousin who’d been the first of my family to welcome me back without reservation.
“Well, I think we need to take him out to do something that’s not hunting for monsters, not training, not,” Zoe waves her hand around, indicating the warehouse, “here.”
“What did you all do for fun?” I ask. “Before I came back?”
Zoe shrugs. “You know, stuff like gaming or, ah, family stuff.”
I shake my head at her pitiful response. “OK, clearly I’m going to have to take the lead here.” I think for a minute, wishing I could reach out to my non-superpowered friend, Anna, for ideas. Like most normals, she doesn’t know about my other life, so that’s not going to happen. Thinking of Anna does remind me of going to shows. “Hey, what if we went to see a band play, something like that? The Hawthorne Theatre usually has good all-ages shows.”
“Not a bad idea.” Zoe tosses a dumbbell at me and I catch it one handed. “I like it.”
I pull out my phone. “OK, I’ll check the listings; see what’s coming up soon.”
Next on Far from Normal:
In Episode 2, an unexpected guest in the audience catches the attention of the Rage Brigade and the Brighthalls, bringing the two groups together.
Can’t wait? Far from Normal is now available as an ebook!
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