Image of cover for Far from Normal, a Rage Brigade & Supernormal Team-Up by Karen Eisenbrey and LeeAnn McLennan. Illustration of two teen girls back to back, one holding a guitar, the other with fire and ice balls in her hands. A giant centipede looms in the background.

Far from Normal: a Rage Brigade & Supernormal Team-Up–Episode 3

Image of cover for Far from Normal, a Rage Brigade & Supernormal Team-Up by Karen Eisenbrey and LeeAnn McLennan.
Illustration of two teen girls back to back, one holding a guitar, the other with fire and ice balls in her hands. A giant centipede looms in the background.
Cover art by Michaela Thorn

Last time on Far from Normal:

In Episode 2, an unexpected guest in the audience caught the attention of the Rage Brigade and the Brighthalls, bringing the two groups together.

 

5. Powers

Barbara

Saturday night

The Hawthorne Theatre, Portland

Just as the conversation gets interesting, the music starts up, rendering further talk impossible. Shit Magnet Theory plays fast and LOUD. Darrin grabs my hand so we can go hear “our band.” Travis takes over the merch table. Travis and Vee.  I’m still at that surreal stage where I remember both timelines equally. I remember the ride down in the roomy van with only six of us, and the crowded ride with all nine. I remember Rachel asking for extra pickles and stealing some of my salt and vinegar chips. I remember the show with and without keyboards. Why did Vee text herself to be here? It has to be more than just playing the gig, awesome as that was. Based on when she sent her text, I suspect it has something to do with those kids who came up to talk to us.

And speaking of the … Brighthalls? I think that’s right; they repeated it enough. They’re listening to Shit Magnet Theory, too, but they seem more interested in us than in the music. Especially the tall one, Zoe. She’s staring at me like a suspicious cop. Ollie looks like she’s trying to have fun, but she’s also watching Zoe watch me. And Kevin just stares at his shoes, his arms wrapped around himself. That’s how some people listen at shows, but it seems like something else is going on with him.

They were really interested that we could see Beard Man. They want to take us to some warehouse. Should we go with them? They’re strangers and this is not our town. What if they’re serial killers? But one of them bought our tape, and I did want to check out those rumors about unnamed supers fighting monsters. I’d bet anything these kids are part of that. If it comes down to a fight, we have them outnumbered.

An incredible Trollrocket set is almost enough to make me forget the whole thing. But the Brighthalls are waiting for us in the parking lot when we go out to load the van. I guess we don’t have the option of sneaking away.

“So where’s this warehouse?” I ask, all neutral and not at all suspicious.

Zoe frowns. “I can’t just give you the address. Why don’t we—”

“I’ll ride with them, as a navigator,” Ollie says.

“Two Olivias in one van?” Ike says. “OK, as long as you keep the nicknames straight.” He does a quick head count. “We’ve got thirteen people here. I only have seatbelts for ten.”

A car parks behind the van and Aunt Liz gets out. “I can take two or three passengers. Carol Anne? Whitney?”

It’s spooky how she always knows what’s going on without being told, but hey, it solves our transportation problem.

“OK, follow the van.” I climb in next to Darrin. Vee, Travis, and Dee get in the farthest back seat. Rachel stoops to pick up something from the ground. She’s stuffing it into her backpack as she climbs in next to Jimi. Ike is driving, of course, and Ollie rides shotgun. Zoe and Kevin are still standing outside. “What about you two? We could take one and Aunt Liz the other.”

“We’ll run. See you there!” And they take off.

It must not be that far. Ollie gives Ike the first few turns, then leans around the seat.

“Thanks for doing this. Zoe can be a lot.”

“It’s cool,” I say.

“So everyone in your group has powers?” she asks.

“Have what, now?” I don’t talk to just anyone about my peculiar abilities even if she did buy our tape.

Ollie gives me a skeptical look. “If you saw the troll, you have powers.”

Troll? OK, that’s close enough to a monster. The rumors are apparently true, so I guess I’d better be open with her. “Well, all of us in the van. The two that went with my aunt don’t, other than their musical chops, but they help in other ways.”

“Wow, you’re open with normals? That’s … different.”

“Good thing Whitney didn’t hear you call her a normal,” Ike mutters.

“Not just any normals,” I say. “A few were too close to keep out of the circle of trust.”

“So what kind of monsters have you fought?”

“Um, the human kind?” I’m not sure how to explain what we do.

“We’re more like social justice warriors,” Rachel says. “De-escalation, standing up to bullies, that sort of thing. We totally neutralized a pastor who was using mind control on his flock.”

“Mind control?” Ollie pales and her voice shakes. Weird, when she seemed so fearless with the troll.

“Hey, maybe we should go around and introduce ourselves.” I look back at my group. “Say your regular name, your hero name, and your superpower or powers.”

“And your preferred pronouns,” Rachel adds.

“Right, thanks. I’m Barbara or St. Rage, she/her, and strong emotion makes my meaningless gestures meaningful.” I cup my hand to my ear, and the whispering in the back seat is clearly audible. “Yes, Travis, Vee played well tonight, but please try to focus.”

“Thank you for not birdshitting me,” Travis says. “I’m paying attention now.”

Everybody chuckles. Darrin leans forward and introduces himself. “Darrin or Bug Lord, he/him, and I communicate with arthropods.”

“Let’s hope your little spider friend got out of the van when we stopped for coffee.” Ike gives his visor a worried look. “Don’t ask it.”

“Aw, spiders are friends to all of us,” Rachel says. “I’m Rachel or Trash, she/her, and I collect random stuff that turns out to be useful. Including this super person.” She ruffles Jimi’s hair.

Jimi grins shyly. “Hi, I’m Jimi or Tempus, he/him or they/them; not picky. I know the time and temperature, and I can hear the soundtrack—you know, like theme music. That huge beard guy? Surprise ally.”

Ollie shakes her head and laughs. “I doubt that. We probably won’t see it again, the way it took off.” She looks back at Dee. “What about you?”

“You can call me Dee or Gruff, he/him, I guess, and I punch trolls and Nazis through the internet. And I want to know more about that real troll. Be cool if Jimi’s right about him.”

“Not a chance. Monsters are rarely helpful,” Ollie says. “How about you, other Olivia?”

“I told you, call me Vee. Hero name is FuturePast, she/her pronouns. I can text myself in the past.”

Ollie puts a hand up. “Wait, you can what? Text yourself into the past?”

“No, in the past,” Vee says. “Sometimes I get this overwhelming urge to send a text with a particular message when something bad is happening. My past self receives it and if I do what it says, things turn out different. No idea how it works, but I apparently did it to be here. I also have no idea why. All the text said was to come on this trip, and bring Rachel and Jimi.”

“We always find out eventually,” I assure her. “I trust your future self. Your past future self. Whatever. Next?”

Travis sits up straight and stares at Ollie, unblinking. “Travis, he/him, I cause electrical outages sometimes.”

“Not in the van!” Ike yells. “I just fixed it.”

“I don’t know if I could do it on purpose, anyway,” Travis admits. “And I don’t have a hero name yet.”

“Well, we need to fix that right now,” Vee says. “What about Sparky?”

“No!” Travis and I say in unison.

“Is that everyone?” I add when the laughter has died down.

Ike lifts one hand from the wheel. “Ike or the Fabulous Izzy J, he/him or él. I drive this Mystery Machine.”

Oh, right. There is one normal in the van. Ollie gives him a long look. She shakes her head and directs her attention back to the rest of us. “Ah, she/her, and we don’t have superhero names, but I guess it might be Icy Fire or something.” She pauses, smirking at what looks like an internal discussion. “I have the basic power set, plus fire and ice. So you all have hero names, and a team name, but none of you belong to supernormal families?”

“Basic power set?” I ask. “And what’s this about families?”

“You know, supernormal families. That’s how it works. Basic powers are superstrength, superspeed, enhanced senses?”

We all shake our heads. Ollie breaks off to direct Ike through a few more turns and into a parking area next to a big warehouse. Aunt Liz pulls in beside the van. It was a longer trip than I expected but Kevin and Zoe are already waiting by the door, not even breathing hard. OK, I guess superspeed is a thing now.

They wait until we’re all out of our vehicles to open the door and turn on the light. Talk about anticlimax. I was expecting a high-tech, secret hero HQ, not a crummy little office with a cheap desk, dented filing cabinets, and a beige computer from the nineties. There’s barely room for all of us to cram in here. To be fair, it was probably never meant to hold fourteen people.

Ollie whispers something to Zoe and Kevin.

“Normals? Really?” Kevin curls his lip as he looks our group over, like somebody stepped in dog doo.

Ollie smiles apologetically. “Sorry, but only people with powers are allowed inside the warehouse.”

“Technically, only supernormals are allowed inside,” Zoe says. “We don’t know if that’s what they are.”

“Come on, Zoe, they’ve got powers. What else would they be?”

Zoe points at Ollie and opens her mouth like she’s about to argue, then drops her hand and shakes her head. “Fine. We still shouldn’t let anyone in before we’ve checked with Mom.”

“If I know Aunt Kate, she’ll be too curious to turn them away,” Ollie argues. “And we’ve brought them this far …”

Zoe clenches her fists, but nods. “Grr. I hate it, but you’re right. But no normals. The rest of you can wait here if you want. The computer’s better than it looks if you want to play games or watch a movie.”

“Dee gets to go in and I have to wait out here?” Whitney’s indignation could peel the rest of the paint off those cabinets.

“It’s OK, we’ll fill you in afterward,” I assure her.

“You will not,” Kevin says. “Zoe, I don’t think—”

“They saw the troll,” Ollie puts in. “Aunt Kate is going to want to talk to them.”

Carol Anne, Whitney, and Ike settle themselves at the computer. Zoe opens an inner door, then closes it again when Aunt Liz lines up with the Rage Brigade.

“It’s OK, honey, I’m far from normal.”

“Aunt Liz has dreams about the future and sets off car alarms,” I explain. “She knew about the troll hours ago.”

Zoe frowns. “It’s not that. Where do I know you from?”

“If you read historical biographies, you might know me as Elizabeth Bernsen, PhD.”

“No, that’s not it …”

“Paranormal romance, then?”

Zoe gasps. “You’re Eliza Burns!”

Ollie and Kevin exchange a look. Ollie cracks up laughing and Kevin scowls at her.

“Zoe reads romance novels?” he asks. “Since when?”

“They’re my guilty pleasure, all right? I listen to audiobooks while I train. And they’re full of monsters, so there.”

She opens the door again and ushers us into … the high-tech secret hero HQ of my dreams. Wow, these people are serious. There’s a ropes course in the rafters, a boxing ring, all kinds of workout equipment, weaponry, and in the middle of it all, what has to be a command center.

Our new friends lead us over there. A tall woman with short, dark hair is peering at screens and making notes.

Ollie clears her throat. “Aunt Kate? You know how you’re always talking about the missing supernormals?”

“Mm-hm,” the woman says, still focused on her screens.

“I think we found them.”

 

 

6. Bugs

Olivia

Early Sunday morning

The Brighthall’s Warehouse

Aunt Kate jerks her head up, eyes wide as she stares at me before turning her gaze to the Rage Brigade. Or at least those with powers. I’m still processing the idea of normals and supernormals working together.

“What did you say, Olivia?” she asks, setting down her pen. “Who are these people?”

“Hello, I’m Liz,” Barbara’s aunt (and paranormal romance novelist) greets Aunt Kate with a wry smile. “I think we’re here because the kids need some answers.”

I’m not sure if by kids she meant us or them but she is right that we need answers. And I have to tell Aunt Kate about the Troll Guy who got away and his confusing offer of help.

While I’ve been fretting about the two competing concerns, Aunt Kate has gone into full-on investigation mode. She leans forward, asking, “You all have powers?” Everyone nods but before anyone can speak, she continues, “but you don’t know why?”

 “Wait. There’s a why?” Barbara manages to say. “I guess we hadn’t thought about it much more than just life-changing stuff.”

I try to put myself in her place, but I have trouble imagining my reaction if I’d unexpectedly developed superpowers. In my world, born into my family, powers were a given.

Barbara’s Aunt Liz says, “All I know is there’s usually someone in the family who has weird things they can do.” She shrugs. “Until I learned Barbara’s friends also had powers, I wrote it off as a family oddity, but now I’m wondering about the origin of the powers.”

Aunt Kate wears an expression of excitement. “Well, there is still a lot to talk about, but I suspect that you are all from lost branches of supernormal families.” She smiles at me. “Like Olivia alluded to.”

“Supernormal?” Rachel asks. She’s still holding her overstuffed backpack. Everyone else left their stuff in their van.

“Yes,” Aunt Kate assumes her lecturing voice. I grimace a little. “Supernormals are lineages of families born with abilities. Everyone has a standard set of powers as well as a significant, extra power.” She continues, explaining all about powers.

I know all this already. The only variable is which significant power would manifest at thirteen. My fire and ice powers had come late at fourteen, just a few months ago, but that was because I’d suppressed them when I was denying my heritage.

Barbara murmurs to me. “But we don’t seem to have the, what did you call it, the basic package.” At the same time, her aunt asks my aunt the same question.

Aunt Kate taps a finger on her lower lip. “Interesting. You each have your own power though?” Everyone nods and repeats the roll call of powers from the van while Aunt Kate, Zoe and Kevin listen intently. “Fascinating. I wonder if the lost branches intermarried with normals enough to dilute the basic set of powers, but not the significant powers?” She frowns at the group, but I know she isn’t really seeing them while she absorbs the new-to-her data. “Mmmm, so I wonder why the basic powers were lost. Are they weaker at the genetic level? And some of you seem to have more than one significant power.”

“You keep talking about the lost branches of families,” Jimi says. “How did they get lost?”

I speak up. “Back about 200 years ago, a supernormal with mind control abilities tried to take over the world, at least the supernormal part of it. Before he was stopped, he killed about 80% of us, of all supernormals, using his mind control to explode their brains.”

Barbara and her crew all stare at me, wide-eyed. Barbara says, “Oh wow, that’s like—”

“The worst power someone can have, and illegal to use.” I shake my head at Barbara hoping she’ll clue in that I don’t want her to mention the guy she talked about in the van.

I relax when Barbara says, “Ha, who knew mind control is real.” She side-eyes her friends who look confused but don’t speak.

I try to convey thanks with my eyes. Hopefully I will find the chance to tell Barbara about my almost boyfriend, Ben, and his mind control powers. Though I’m not looking forward to her reaction when I tell her where he is because of them.

Aunt Kate mutters, “Mmmm, I wonder…” She trails off as she turns to her computer, nodding to herself as she types.

There’s an awkward silence while everyone waits for her to continue, but my cousins and I realize she’s in research mode so we may have to wait a while.

“Stop it!” Zoe snaps. I whirl around, alarmed to see Darrin, aka Bug Lord, ambling in the direction of our containment area where we hold captured monsters until we can take them to one of the refuges.

Darrin stops walking but keeps looking at the door to the containment area. “There’s a really loud, pissed off … something … in there.” He squints. “Not a bug, but sort of bug adjacent, if you get me.”

Zoe glances at Kevin, who oversees the containment room. “What’s in there?”

Kevin rubs his forehead. “Um, just the clubtail you and I caught a few nights ago. They’re coming for it tomorrow,” he adds, referring to the supernormal team responsible for taking the creatures we catch to one of the hidden sanctuaries around the world.

“I can hear it.” Darrin looks excited. “Usually they don’t talk to me.” He bounces on his toes. “I think it’s trying to tell me something.” He shakes his head. “Wow, it’s really mad…”

Barbara moves to stand next to him. “Can you hear words?”

I frown, watching Darrin for his answer. The prevailing belief among supernormals is that all of the monsters are mindless creatures, but even when I fought a monster like the whirling tree thing from last night, I wondered if that was true. And I couldn’t shake the idea that the troll had been trying to tell us something.

“No,” Darrin answers Barbara. “I’m getting images and emotions.”

The rest of the superpowered Rage Brigade cluster around Darrin and Barbara. Jimi, the guy who said he could hear soundtracks, whatever that means, says to Kevin, “Can we see the bug thingy?”

Kevin looks a little more alert than he has in a few months. He glances at Aunt Kate, who has pulled out of research mode to follow the conversation. She says to Darrin, “You can speak to bugs?”

“Well, they usually just listen,” Darrin answers. “Like, I can tell a fly to go away and it does.”

Zoe cracks a smile. “Like Ant-Man.”

Aunt Kate says, “I suppose there’s no harm in letting you see the clubtail.” She stands up and goes to the door to the containment room. She enters the access code and the lock clicks open. Darrin is already crowding the door, but Aunt Kate holds up a hand. “Wait a moment.” She opens the door slowly and the lights come on. With a nod to Kevin, she indicates he should go in first. She gives Zoe and me glances that let us know to keep alert as we follow Darrin, who moves eagerly into the large room filled with cages of varying sizes. And types of confinement for monsters that need water or dirt to live.

Darrin heads directly for the only occupied cage, a birdcage the size of a minivan. Behind me, Rachel blurts out, “It’s a humongous dragonfly.”

“Not exactly.” Kevin speaks as he shadows Darrin. “It’s a clubtail, which is related to prehistoric dragonflies.” He blocks Darrin from sticking his hand through the cage wires. “Hey, stop it, it might eat your hand.”

I ask Darrin, “What is it telling you?”

He shakes his head while leaning forward until he is almost too close to the cage. I see Aunt Kate step forward, but Darrin leans back. “I think … something about … OK, I see a river with a bunch of bridges. Maybe Portland. And these creatures are swimming … they look like really big centipedes. Like really big.”

“Oh!” Dee, the guy who could punch white supremacists through the Internet, holds up his phone. “You remember I recorded the troll guy? He was talking about bridges, too!” He jerks his phone away when Zoe reaches for it. “Hey!”

She says, “You can’t show it to anyone.”

“What troll?” Aunt Kate and Aunt Liz ask at the same time.

Barbara shrugs. “Huge guy in the mosh pit turned out to be a huge troll in the mosh pit.” She says to her aunt, “I bet you couldn’t really see the details from the back, but he had a crazy growth spurt.”

“And we got it out before it hurt anyone.” Zoe hunches her shoulders, obviously still fuming about the troll’s escape.

I jump in. “But I think the troll was trying to tell us something.”

Aunt Kate shakes her head. “Olivia…”

Kevin speaks up. “It could have been trying to say something. It seemed upset, maybe more than just about being caught. But either way, we should investigate.”

“Funny thing,” Dee says, still using his body to shield the phone from Zoe who lurks behind him. “The video is all blurry, like the phone was shaking or something.” My cousins and I share a grin.

Dee continues. “But the sound is OK.” His brow furrows. “I can make out some of the words. And the troll says something about …” He pauses, pressing play before holding up his phone with a suspicious look at Zoe. I hear the garbled speech of the troll, but can’t catch anything intelligible. “Did you hear that?” Dee looks annoyed when everyone shakes their heads. “Maybe it’s the troll thing, you know, like I can find internet trolls so I can hear real trolls? But who cares why, I hear him saying something about big centipedes, he calls them Chilopodas.”

“Oh, I thought he was saying enchiladas,” I comment.

Dee grins. “Kind of sounds like that. Troll Guy is mad about them.” He shrugs. “I didn’t get any more because he took off.”

Kevin glowers at Dee. “I seem to remember you interrupting us.”

Zoe says, “Any idea where the Chilopodas are going?”

“Um, the dragonfly, clubtail, I mean, is pretty upset so I’m not sure,” Darrin says.

“Are the Chilopodas going to threaten where it lives?” Aunt Kate asks with an interested gleam in her eyes.

Darrin listens, his brow furrowed. “I think, no.” He nods, suddenly looking more certain. “Okay, I think I got it. The centipede things are coming here to feed on something that’s only out every few years or something, and this one,” he waves at the clubtail who was flapping its wings angrily, “it’s pissed because it’s gonna miss getting the scraps left behind.”

Aunt Kate pulls out her tablet and starts swiping.

“Where are they going?” Barbara asks, adjusting her hat as if she’s getting ready for a fight.

“I don’t really know Portland all that well, but there’s a bunch of houseboats. And some beaches.” Darrin rubs Barbara’s back as he answers.

Zoe’s eyes get wide. “Aren’t there a lot of floating homes around Sauvie Island?” She turns to Aunt Kate. “We need to stop this before the people living on the boats get hurt or see the monsters during their feeding frenzy. Darrin, can you get any idea of when this is supposed to happen?”

Darrin has a little smile on his face and hasn’t stopped staring at the clubtail. He blinks when Zoe repeats her question and Barbara gives him an affectionate nudge. “What? Oh, sorry, it’s just neat to hear instead of just speak at.” He gestures at the clubtail, which is hovering at eye level, its multifaceted eyes wheeling in what I guess is annoyance. “It’s kind of hard to tell, it doesn’t think about time like I do, but the images have a full moon on a clear night and it’s a full moon tonight. And it’s clear.”

“Tonight!” Barbara bounces a bit and I see her lift off the ground a few inches before she floats back down. “We can help you.”

Zoe protests “Hey, wait a minute—”

Uncle Dan stomps into the containment area wearing his glaring frown. “Who let normals into the waiting area?”

 

Next on Far from Normal:

Barbara faces off against Olivia’s Uncle Dan and the two groups team up to manage the bug-monster feeding frenzy.

Can’t wait? Far from Normal is now available as an ebook!

Copyright © 2022 by Karen Eisenbrey and LeeAnn McLennan

All rights reserved.

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