Last time on Far from Normal:
In Episode 1, Barbara hit the road with her band to play a show in Portland and check out rumors about monsters in the Rose City, little knowing that the night before, Olivia and her cousin were fighting a monster in Mt. Tabor Park.
It’s almost six o’clock by the time we pull up in front of the house Aunt Liz is borrowing while she’s in Portland as a visiting professor. It took a couple of hours of tinkering for Ike to find Hunk o’ Junk’s loose connection. He had the tools to fix it, so it could have been worse. We had to get a jump start from a big white guy in a pickup truck, so it could also have been better. At least no one brought up politics, and the guy turned out to be a Trollrocket fan. But Mom was right about Portland being expert driving level. I thought Seattle was complicated. How naive I was! We got lost once because Ike decided he knew better than his phone lady. Lesson learned, I hope.
Aunt Liz comes out to meet us while we’re still pulling backpacks and sleeping bags out of the van.
“Welcome!” she calls as we troop up the steps. “Pizza’s on the table. I wasn’t sure what you liked, so I got one pepperoni, one veggie, and one plain cheese.”
“Perfect, we’re hungry enough to eat anything, I think.” I give her a hug. “Any crazy dreams lately?”
“Well, there was one with you and a really big guy.”
I laugh and introduce her to Darrin, followed by the rest of the gang as they fill her cozy living room. It’s one of those charming old houses with built-in bookcases and heavy woodwork. Too bad we don’t have time to hang out. We drop our sleeping bags on the floor and descend on the pizzas in the next room like … well, like starving teenagers on pizza.
Whitney’s already wearing her stage outfit, black muscle shirt and jeans, but Carol Anne and I both need to do a quick change. We take our backpacks into the bathroom. I peel off my sweatshirt and dig out my red flannel.
Carole Anne takes in my black jeans and fitness tank. “You’ve been wearing your supersuit all day? Expecting trouble?”
“Not really. It just seemed like a good idea. Comfortable, and no bra straps to worry about.” Also, this is what I was wearing when Darrin and I saw Shit Magnet Theory on Valentine’s Day. I pull on the flannel shirt and I’m all set.
Carol Anne shimmies into a sleeveless seventies-vintage maxi dress in a bright floral print. “What do you think? Wild, right?” She twirls to show off the full skirt. Her waist-length chestnut hair twirls, too, like a shampoo commercial from that era.
“You won’t blend in, that’s for sure.” I spin her around again for the psychedelic effect.
She grins. “You’re in black, Whitney always wears black, Travis usually does, too. Somebody needs to be colorful. And polyester packs well.”
“I can’t argue with that. You look great, as always.”
We join the others and head out to the van.
“Break a leg!” Aunt Liz tells us. “I can’t wait to hear you play.”
“Wait, you’re coming to the show?” I ask.
“Wouldn’t miss it! I haven’t been to a rock concert in over twenty years. I even took a nap so I can stay up.”
“Here, then.” Carol Anne digs into her coat pocket and passes Aunt Liz a packet of earplugs. “It’s gonna get loud.”
The venue is near enough that we don’t get lost on the way. The Hawthorne Theatre is on the corner, taking up about a third of the block, a square brick building with white columns lining the front and sides. It’s not the biggest venue we’ve played, though still big for us. And our name is on the marquee! That is a first.
Ike pulls around to the side parking lot so we can unload, then goes to park the van. As usual, we’re the first band to arrive, but Trollrocket shows up in time for sound check. Travis is with them, and as Carol Anne predicted, dressed in black T-shirt and jeans.
“I’m glad the van got fixed.” He blinks deliberately, three times. He’s trying to stare less and blink more, like a normal person.
“It didn’t, we had to hitchhike,” Whitney says, completely serious. “But you could have covered for us, right?”
Travis’s eyes widen, blinking forgotten. “I don’t know, a whole set of just bass parts and backing vocals?” He nervously ruffles his dark hair.
“She’s kidding,” I assure him. “The van did get fixed, and we are ready to play.”
“I wish Vee could have come,” Travis sighs. The two of them got together the same time Darrin and I did. Super awkward couple, but also super cute. The first time she kissed him, he discovered his electricity powers. We haven’t figured out how to use them yet.
As the headliner, Trollrocket gets the most extensive sound check. I love their heavy, sludgy sound, but conversation is not possible while that’s going on. Once they’re finished, we get a quick line check for levels and balance, and then it’s all hurry up and wait until showtime.
“Protein bar?” Carol Anne asks. She’s carrying the snacks because her coat has pockets.
“Maybe after,” I reply, and drain a bottle of water. “Whew, I’m starting to overheat. I wish I’d worn short sleeves.”
“Let’s fix that.” Carol Anne slips my flannel shirt off and ties the sleeves loosely, low on my waist. “Now you have that grunge vibe.”
“Remember when I said I liked your band because the singer was cute?” Darrin asks. “I’ve changed my mind. The singer is totally hot.”
My face is literally hot and probably as red as my shirt, but that earns him a kiss before I send him out to watch the show. When we walk onstage, he’s right in front, ready to video our set. I can see more floor than audience behind him but I suspect that will change once the music starts.
I strap on my plug-in acoustic guitar and start the single-string intro to “Don’t Know How to Start Over.” After I sing the first verse, Carol Anne joins with chords while Travis doubles my part on bass and Dee adds a cello drone. I’ve practiced this song with everybody individually at various times, but this is the first time we’ve performed it as a full band. I like the sound, though I miss Vee’s keyboard part.
That’s the only song I feel confident to play in front of people, though. I take off the guitar for “Something of Mine” and Whitney’s theme song, “Punk Rock Drummergirl.” The stage lights make it hard to see much, but the crowd is filling in up front, a good mix of teens, young adults, and adult adults. Mostly white folks, but that’s not surprising in Portland. Darrin moves back to allow shorter people to get closer. He can still video over their heads. But there has to be a huge guy in any mosh pit, right? The dude right in front of me is nearly as big as Darrin, dressed in oversized flannel, baggy jeans, and a beanie, with an impressive red lumberjack beard. Oh, and a Trollrocket T-shirt! Nice. He’s really into these faster songs, jumping and flailing around. The crowd is still thin enough that people can stay out of his way, but that’s not likely to last.
“Thanks, everyone! We’re St. Rage from Seattle and we’re gonna slow it down a little.”
We move into a series of three ballads, ending with “The Leaves Were Wearing Her Lipstick,” a song I wrote for Carol Anne. She borrows my guitar for that one, changing the tuning and pulling out a slide to give it a melancholy sound. Dee’s cello adds to the autumnal vibe.
Then we pick up the tempo again and Beard Man starts moshing in earnest. I was wrong before. I think he’s actually bigger than Darrin. Like, by a lot. He’s tall enough to look me in the eye when I’m up on the stage, at least two feet higher than the floor. And … he’s getting wider, too. Impossible, I must be overexcited. Nope, definitely wider. His T-shirt strains over his chest and his pants and flannel shirt are no longer baggy. Even his head is expanding, and the beard along with it. His beanie can’t contain his bushy hair. And are those … horns? It’s hard to tell with the beard and the moshing, but I could swear he also has tusks. By the time we get to “Huge Guy in the Mosh Pit,” he’s looking down at me, his forehead wrinkled in what looks like distress.
I’m a superhero, but I have no idea what to do. Am I supposed to fight him or help him? Or is this something I’m doing? Like a new power manifesting at the most awkward time? That can’t be right; wouldn’t other people be affected, too?
The people around him give him as much room as they can, but other than that, no one seems to notice this obvious transformation. No one except a couple of very fit-looking teenagers who sidle up next to him. The girl says something to him. I can’t hear what, but he turns to look at them and shakes his head. They each take an arm and drag him (gently) out, the crowd parting before them. Either they’re even stronger than they look or he isn’t resisting as much as he seemed to want to. A third, younger teen meets them about halfway back. She and I lock eyes for a moment, then they leave the theater. A gangly kid who looks just like Dee follows them out. I look to my left to be sure. There’s an empty chair, and his cello is in the wings. He doesn’t play on any more songs, so he technically doesn’t need to be on stage. But way to keep him out of trouble, Barbara.
The crowd flows in to fill the space where Beard Man was as if nothing unusual had taken place. I pull my attention back to the show long enough to finish the set.
“Thank you, Portland! We are St. Rage. Stick around for Shit Magnet Theory, followed by Trollrocket. Good night!”
What I wish I could say is, What the eff just happened here?
Outside the Hawthorne Theater
Zoe and Kevin hustle the huge troll outside, around to the alleyway. I follow, making sure no one from the crowd comes with us. It wigged me out that the lead singer of the opening band seemed to notice the troll’s transformation from lumberjack guy to troll guy. She looked shocked but still managed to keep singing. And I couldn’t be certain, but I think she saw Zoe and Kevin lead to the troll out.
Something to worry about after we deal with the troll.
A tall Black teenager, around my age, saunters out the door holding his phone up, but I’m distracted by the troll, who’s speaking almost intelligibly. And the guy probably won’t notice us because of the glamour.
“Aw goats.” The troll chews out the words while shoving its meaty hands in its pockets, its flannel shirt ripped down the back, showing more of the Trollrocket T-shirt, also ripped from its sudden growth spurt. The rest of what it says is too hard to understand through its tusks. It keeps tugging on the flannel shirt in a vain attempt to hide the rips. I think it says, “Like shirt.”
Zoe, Kevin, and I exchange startled looks. This was outside standard operations, to quote my Uncle Dan. Usually the monsters went for either fight or flight. Troll Guy just seems annoyed that its disguise fell away and its favorite shirt was ruined.
Something else bugs me. “You can talk?” I look at my cousins. “Do you understand it?” It would be rude to attack a monster that’s only talking, not fighting, wouldn’t it?
Zoe frowns and shakes her head. “No, not really.” Kevin just shrugs.
The monster takes a deep breath in and out, exhaling a truly gross smell. Its body starts to shrink down. “Yas, yas.” The monster looks human again as it gives us a sheepish look and mutters something unintelligible, but I think it said, “Trollrocket, how resist?”
“The lead singer of the band saw you turn troll,” I say to it.
Zoe raises an eyebrow. “Oh yeah, she did?” She looks at Kevin who watches Troll Guy intently, almost like he was daring the monster to run so he could get into a fight. “Kev, did you recognize the lead singer?”
Kevin shakes his head without taking his eyes off the troll. “No, she didn’t look familiar. Where are they from?”
Zoe answers. “Seattle, I think.”
I don’t know of any supernormals in Seattle. Supernormals are still rare across the world, making up a very small percentage of the world’s population. Because there are so few of us, most supernormals know about each other. A quick glance at Zoe and Kevin shows me they don’t know of any supernormals up I-5 either. Maybe the ‘rents do.
Zoe flaps a hand as if she’s shooing aside that worry for later. She grabs Troll Guy’s arm, gripping it tighter when it tries to pull away. “We need to take you in, you can’t be here.”
The troll growls, waving its other arm and trying to tug away.
“Seriously?” Zoe starts to pull it to the street while Kevin follows close behind. I ignore my discomfort over hauling in what seems like a nice monster or at least a neutral one.
The monster digs its heels into the concrete. Broken chunks of concrete fly out behind it. It seems to concentrate hard as it manages to articulate. “Help you!” Its face turns crafty and it tries to wink but instead, blinks both eyes, one after the other in a weird rhythm.
“How?” I blurt out, ignoring Zoe’s frown and head shake.
“Enchiladas … …river …” The rest is lost in spitted growling and Troll Guy glares in the direction of the Willamette River out of sight to the west of us. “Bridges.” I think that’s his last word.
“Bridges?” I repeat.
Kevin shifts, bringing up his hand as if in protest before he drops it. I’m certain he’s thinking about the fight last fall under the Hawthorne Bridge. I quickly change the focus. “Did he say enchiladas?”
Zoe interrupts my questions. “Look, we can’t let it go. If for no other reason than Uncle Dan will—”
“Hey!” The teenager I’d noticed earlier marches up, aiming his phone camera eye at us. “Leave him alone, that’s harassment.”
We all stare at the guy, surprised he’s able to see us and the troll. Zoe snaps, “Go away, dude, you don’t understand.”
He aims his fist at his phone screen, hesitating then lowering his arm to his side. What’s that about?
I try to find something to say that will get him to leave, but while I’m searching for the words, the troll takes advantage of the distraction and yanks its arm out of Zoe’s grip. Breaking into a lumbering run that is deceptively fast, it disappears down the street.
“Um,” I say while Zoe spins around to glare at the guy. He backs away, but I put a hand on my cousin’s shoulder. “Hey, what did you see?”
His eyes are wide with excitement. “A troll, like a real troll! He was pretty big but then he shrank.”
Before we can comment, the door to the venue opens and a bunch of folks come out, talking about how cool the opening band was. The boy’s eyes widen, and he darts back inside.
I start to suggest going back to watch the show, as Zoe narrows her eyes, saying, “Didn’t you say you thought the lead singer saw us?” I nod. “OK then, let’s go find out if she remembers anything.”
We slip back into the venue where the second band is setting up. People mill around, laughing and talking about the show. I scan the crowd, hoping to see the lead singer.
“Hey.” Zoe nudges me. “Check it out, they’ve got stuff for sale.”
Kevin leans around her, his interest piqued. “They were good.”
“Come on.” I head for the table. The singer and the bass player sit behind the display of merchandise. The guitarist and the drummer stand nearby, talking with the boy we just saw outside. Now I recognize him: the cello player.
The lead singer sees me and perks up. “Hi! What happened to the big guy?”
Zoe and I glance at each other with this proof that I was correct. I say, “Um, hi. Gone. Ran off down the street. What did you see?”
She looks at her bandmates, who are all watching me and my cousins. “We saw a really huge guy get a lot bigger until he was filling up the mosh pit. Like the song, you know?” She holds up a tape, pointing to one of the titles. I can’t help but grin when I read the title: “Huge Guy in the Mosh Pit.”
“OK, so fiction became reality.” I can’t resist. “Hey, can I buy that? You’re really good. I’m pretty sure my Dad has a tape deck at home.”
She grins. “Sure! And there’s a code on the back if you want to download the digital version.” She starts messing with a tablet. “This is the first time I’ve used the Trollrocket card-reader. Hang on a sec.” She frowns. “Travis, what’s the Paypal login again?” More fussing until finally she holds it out for me to swipe my debit card.
We finish the deal and I pocket my new tape. I take a deep breath. “I’m Olivia, ah, Brighthall.” It’s still strange to use my supernormal family name when the rest of the world knows me as Olivia Woodson, but if I’m meeting other supernormals I need to use a family name they should know.
Oddly, none of the band members react to the name Brighthall. I thought everyone knew our name after my cousin Emma caused all kinds of havoc last fall.
“Hi, I’m Barbara Bernsen.” Barbara smiles and introduces the rest. “This is Travis Oakley, our bass player. His dad plays with Trollrocket. These two are Carol Anne Cochran, guitar, and Whitney Pratchett, drums.”
I don’t recognize any of those family names. I glance at Zoe and Kevin and they shake their heads.
Barbara continues. “Whitney’s brother Dee joined us on cello tonight, and absolutely killed it! Darrin and Ike over there are our road crew, and that’s my Aunt Liz, who is kindly putting us up tonight. And funny thing, we have an Olivia, too, on keys, but she couldn’t come on this trip.”
“What do you mean I couldn’t come? I’m sitting right here.”
I blink. Wait, weren’t there only two people sitting at the table? Now there’s a dark-haired girl on the other side of Travis who I could swear wasn’t there when we walked in. Her hair is in a pixie cut like Zoe’s. And there are two more people I haven’t met suddenly hanging out with the road crew: a tall blonde woman in a long-sleeved plum-colored dress with brown boots, holding a bulging backpack. And a shortish guy with messy brown hair wearing an orange Route 72 T-shirt with a dark-green hoodie. He stares in our direction with an unnerving little smile on his face.
“When did you get here?” Barbara says to the newly arrived people. She sounds as startled as I feel.
“What do you mean? We rode with you in the Hunk o’ Junk,” the dark-haired girl says.
Barbara opens her mouth like she’s going to say something, closes it, then holds out her hand. “Show me your phone.”
The other girl’s eyes widen. She nods and digs out her phone to show Barbara a text or something.
“That explains it,” Barbara says. “Based on the timestamp, you must have sent this text right after we finished the set. Do you know why you’re here?”
“No clue. It just says to be here.” She pushes her too-long sweater sleeves up and I remember seeing her do that on stage while playing keyboards. I also remember watching the band without a keyboard player.
I open my mouth to ask what is going on and why they are looking at the girl’s phone, but Barbara keeps talking.
“OK, I guess we’ll find out later. Olivia, meet Olivia.”
The other girl waves. “I go by Vee now.”
“Call me Ollie,” I reply automatically.
Barbara points at the other two. “And those two are Rachel and Jimi.”
Still weirded out that they don’t know who the Brighthalls are, I point to Zoe and Kevin. “My cousins, Zoe Brighthall and Kevin Brighthall.” I emphasize Brighthall each time hoping the Seattle folks will mention their supernormal family but no one reacts.
Zoe’s face shows the same confusion as I’m feeling. “Where are you from?” She demands. “Why don’t we know you?”
“Seattle,” Barbara replies, looking taken aback.
“I’ve never heard of anyone from Seattle,” Zoe states as she crosses her arms.
The band stares at her like she has three heads. Finally, Barbara says, “What?”
“There are no families up in Seattle,” Zoe says. “It’s just us and the Hallowfields in the Pacific Northwest.”
“You know what?” I jump in before this gets any freakier. “After the show, we should take them to the warehouse.”
“The warehouse?” Zoe sputters. “Have you lost your mind? We can’t take them to the warehouse without knowing more about them.”
I face her. “They saw the troll. The ‘rents will want to know.”
Next on Far from Normal:
The Rage Brigade visits the Brighthall’s warehouse, learning a possible origin for their powers. Giant centipedes are on the move.
Can’t wait? Far from Normal is now available as an ebook!
Listen to St. Rage on Bandcamp!
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