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 5

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

In Episode 4, Barbara faced off against Olivia’s Uncle Dan and the two groups teamed up to manage the bug-monster feeding frenzy.

9. Plan A

Barbara

Early Sunday morning

Outside the Brighthall’s warehouse

“What is going on?” Whitney glares at us as we come out of the warehouse with the Brighthalls. Carol Anne’s eyes widen at the sight of their swords and whips.

Ollie’s Uncle Dan waves a hand at our normals. “They can’t come.”

“Hey!” Whitney and Carol Anne say in unison.

Ike adds, “Can’t come where?”

Ollie gives me a conspiratorial look. “Hey Uncle Dan, shouldn’t we go so we’re not too late?” She winks at me behind her annoying uncle’s back. “We’ll catch up to you there,” she tells me. I assume she means everyone in our group, not just those of us with abilities.

“Here, call yourself on my phone so we’ll have each other’s number.” I hold out my phone. “In case we get lost or something.”

“Good thought.” Ollie takes it and taps in a number. Her pocket buzzes, so I know it worked. She hands my phone back and the Brighthalls take off running.

It’s obvious Ollie understands how to manage her uncle almost as well as her Aunt Kate does. I hope we’re not forcing a situation that will get her into trouble, though. I wouldn’t want to be on Dan’s bad side if I had to deal with him every day.

Aunt Liz says, “I gave these three the highlights—abilities, lost superpowered families.”

“OK, update.” I talk fast—time is passing, and I don’t want to miss this opportunity. “We’re going on what the Brighthalls call a mission. There are some big centipede things swimming up the river for a special snack. They may get too close to some floating homes, so we need to redirect them before they cause a problem or get seen by normals.”

“And we aren’t invited?” Whitney crosses her arms.

I shake my head. “We’re a team. Everyone goes.”

I use the drive to catch my breath and think. Ollie’s crew seems to have some serious family trauma going on. In spite of or maybe because of that, I can’t help liking Ollie, Zoe, and Aunt Kate. I don’t have a good sense of Kevin yet, but if he’s so down that even Shit Magnet Theory can’t cheer him up, something really bad must have happened. And Uncle Dan grates on my last nerve, but Jimi called him an “adversarial ally.” He’s probably a good person at heart. Maybe someday I’ll know the whole story. For now, I’m looking forward to seeing other supers in action; supers who actually know what the heck they’re doing.

Traffic doesn’t amount to much in the middle of the night. We pull up to the appointed meeting place, a surprisingly rural-looking spot for how close it is to the city. A small commercial building near the water with a well-lit parking lot. And Ollie, Zoe, Kevin, and Dan are already there ahead of us. Superspeed would be incredibly cool.

“It’s 1:30 a.m.,” Jimi announces. “Thirty-eight degrees.”

Yeah, I was not prepared for it to be this chilly. I have my hoodie, but I wish I had a real coat, like Carol Anne’s down parka with the fake-fur lined hood and real pockets.

“Here’s the plan,” Dan says. “Time Guy, keep us informed on the time. If there’s no sign of these things by 5:00 a.m., we’ll pack it up and head home.”

So we could be standing around in the cold for over three hours? Oh, the glamorous superhero life.

“Kevin will bounce up and watch for the Chilopodas,” Dan continues. “When he sees them coming, Bug Guy will warn them off. If that doesn’t work, Power Outage Guy will knock out the power, the monsters will leave, and we’ll all go home. Sound good?”

Kevin jumps and is just gone. He comes down on the other side of the lot and takes to the air again.

“Hey, I could help with the recon part,” I say. “If you want.”

“How do angry gestures help?” Dan asks.

This guy is like a fuel tank for me. Can I take him home? No, that would be bad. I don’t answer, I demonstrate, jetting into the air, no flapping. I soar over the river. Only after I’m in the air do I remember I’m wearing a hat. Not invisible. It’s dark enough even in the moonlight that no one will see me, probably. I make finger binoculars, which for me are like real binoculars. No good in the dark, though. I shift my hand position till I have night vision goggles. The river’s surface is placid in the moonlight. I glide back to the parking lot.

Uncle Dan manages to look impressed and annoyed at the same time. “You didn’t say you could fly.”

“Sorry, I think of it as another gesture power. But yeah, I can absolutely fly.” And it almost always gets me into trouble, but maybe this time it won’t. “No bugs yet.”

After that, Kevin and I take turns going aloft. Just after Jimi announces 1:58 a.m., Kevin spots a weird disturbance in the water. The critters are coming.

Darrin stands at the water’s edge and shouts, “Stay away from the houseboats!” He listens a moment and shakes his head. “These things don’t take orders. Let me try asking nicely. Hey, friends, could you please stay away from the houseboats?” He listens, frowning. “I’m getting a ‘No, thanks’ vibe.”

“Try again,” I encourage him. “They must be listening.”

Darrin nods and takes a calming breath. “Hey, out there! Stay away from the shore!” He listens again. “Nope, they’re still coming this way.”

Dee turns abruptly toward the other end of the parking lot. “Did you hear that?”

Before anyone can answer him or ask what he means, Dan grabs Travis. “OK, Circuit Breaker, you’re on. Time to be a—”

A guttural voice shouts from somewhere behind our vehicles, interrupting Dan’s pep talk. I can’t make out any words, but I have the same problem with the typical death-metal singer. A hulking shape lumbers out of the shadows where Dee was looking a second ago, yelling and waving its arms. Two more follow.

“Trolls!” Dan barks. “Zoe, Kevin, take care of them.”

I blink and Zoe is gone. Kevin bounces high and comes down behind the trolls, sword drawn. The lead troll stumbles, off balance, and Zoe reappears next to him, rubbing her shoulder. The troll roars again.

“We shouldn’t fight them without even listening,” Dee says. “What if they’re here to help?”

“Dee’s right,” Ollie says. “The one at the concert tried to talk, I’m sure of it!”

“We don’t have time for this!” Dan says. “Knock the power out. Now!”

Travis closes his eyes and concentrates. The bright lights on the building and around the parking lot dim, then brighten. He tries again with the same result.

“I’m still learning to do this,” he explains. Trolls roar in the background.

“I’ll help,” Vee says. “First, you need a name. How about Blackout?”

“I like it,” Travis says. I nod in agreement. Way better than Sparky.

“Good, I like it, too.” Vee grabs his head, and kisses him like none of the rest of us are watching. The lights go out and we’re all standing around in the dark. Vee giggles. “I guess now we know why I’m here.”

So did it work? I put up my night-vision goggles again and wish I hadn’t. Giant centipede things swarm out of the water, antennae waving wildly. A houseboat capsizes, a lightpole falls, and they’re heading right for us, Darrin a few steps in the lead.

“Run!” I scream, little knowing where running might get us.

Ike and Whitney scramble into the van. Vee dives in after them. Carol Anne trips over her long skirt. Rachel catches her before she hits the ground and they both take cover in Aunt Liz’s car. Travis stays put, eyes closed as he concentrates on keeping the lights out. The troll fight rumbles and roars past the cars. Zoe’s whip wraps around one troll’s ankle, bringing it down. With barely a pause, she plants her foot on its back and hogties it with her other whip. Kevin bounces onto another troll’s back and punches it with his sword hilt. It staggers and drops.

As my eyes adjust, I can see more in the moonlight. I let the goggles go. Ollie draws her sword and Dan pulls out a quarterstaff. Weapons, good idea, except …

“Hey! What about ranged weapons?” I shout. I make a fingergun and fire a bolt of terror and rage into the swarm with a half-formed idea of driving them back without hurting them.

“Good thought!” Ollie shifts her sword to her left hand. A fireball appears in her right and she pitches it at the head of the nearest giant bug. It just misses, but hits the one behind in the side. The creature skitters sideways from the impact but keeps coming. Ollie flings another fireball and this time hits her target. One bug’s head explodes. Its body twitches and curls up. The bugs screech and keep coming.

So much for not hurting them. I wish I could put up a force field to protect everyone, but we’re too spread out. I fire my fingergun again, using the fireballs to aim. My shots don’t penetrate their exoskeletons and my aim isn’t good enough to hit their moving heads. Ollie throws a few more fireballs, but she’s not throwing strikes anymore, either. Not that it makes much difference, because there are dozens of these bug monsters and they are …

“Darrin, are they giving you anything?” I shout.

“They’re freaking out because they can’t see. Confused by the fireballs, but attracted, too. Angry about missing their snacks. And absolutely not listening to me!”

Ollie slices off a bug leg but the rest of the bug keeps going, right over the van. The roof collapses with a metallic groan. Another one tries to go under Aunt Liz’s car and rolls it onto its side, windows shattering and occupants wailing.

The third troll pounds into the middle of the bug swarm, grabbing one and lifting it overhead. Kevin descends from the sky, holding his sword in two hands. He swings downward and splits both the Chilopoda and the troll’s head. I am thankful for the darkness that hides most of the gore.

Closer to my position, one of the centipede monsters grabs Travis in its jaws. He screams, then goes suddenly silent, torn almost in two.

The lights come back on.

This is not what we signed on for! I thought we were observing and managing, not fighting and dying. How could I have—

~~~

Traffic doesn’t amount to much in the middle of night. We pull up to the appointed meeting place, a surprisingly rural-looking spot for how close it is to the city.

“It’s 1:30 a.m.,” Jimi announces. “Thirty-eight degrees.”

OK, what?

Vee’s staring at her phone.

I lean over to look. “What are you telling you?”

“How did you know?” she asks.

“Deja vu. I’m learning to trust it. Did you maybe send yourself a text from about 2 a.m.?”

“Yeah. It says, ‘Plan A won’t work.’”

“Well, now we really know why you’re here.” I glance past her at Travis, then climb out of the van and find Uncle Dan right where I already know he will be. “The chipotles or whatever they are will show up just before two, and Plan A won’t work. Do we have a Plan B?”

10. Plan B

Olivia

Early Sunday morning
Cider Plant Parking Lot

Puzzled by Barbara’s statement that Plan A won’t work, I blink a few times. I feel out of sync, as if my mind is one place while my body is somewhere else. “I thought Travis d…” I trail off, honestly not sure what I thought. I pick Travis out of the group, as wisps of … memory maybe … tell me I should be glad to see him alive.

Uncle Dan frowns at Barbara. “Excuse me?” He rubs his head irritably. “Young lady, I can assure you I know more about tactics than you do. And I haven’t outlined the plan yet.”

Barbara shoves at her hat, saying, “I think you’d better listen to Olivia.”

There’s momentary confusion as my uncle and cousins look at me and the Rage Brigade all look at their Olivia, who’s holding her cell phone clenched in her hand. Barbara shakes her head. “I mean Vee.”

I’m impressed and amused at Barbara’s assertiveness.

Vee takes a deep breath. “OK, so as I said earlier, I can text myself from the future.” She holds up her phone. “Looks like I sent this around 2 am.”

Jimi mutters, “It’s 1:34 a.m., thirty-eight degrees.”

I say, “OK, I have many questions, but I think the most important one is: now what? If Plan A didn’t work, we need a Plan B.”

Zoe frowns at me. “You believe this? We somehow flipped back in time via cellphone?”

“That’s not how it …” Vee trails off, her forehead wrinkled. Travis edges over to stand very close to her and she grabs his hand tightly.

I answer my cousin. “Yeah, I do. I kind of remember … something bad, people dying.” I avoid looking at Travis, not wanting to remember him being torn apart. I focus on convincing my family to trust Vee’s powers. “Don’t you feel anything off? Like a really intense deja vu?”

Uncle Dan crosses his arms, glowering at the world, while Zoe ruffles her short hair, leaving it sticking up in spikes.

Kevin surprises me. “Yes, I do.” He stares at Vee. “That’s a handy ability you’ve got. I wish, ah, I mean, it would have been nice to have you around four months ago.”

I wince and reach out a hand to Kevin, thinking exactly the same thought. If Vee and her ability had been with us during our fight last fall, maybe Kevin’s brother Hugh would still be alive. And Ben Hallowfield wouldn’t have made a fateful decision that got him in trouble with the supernormal government.

Barbara and the Rage Brigade exchange puzzled looks, but Kevin continues speaking before anyone can ask what he means. “Uncle Dan, what would be a good Plan B?”

Uncle Dan doesn’t speak for a moment, running his tongue across his teeth. Finally, he says, “Does any of the deja vu,” he barely hides the sarcasm, “give you a clue about what went wrong?”

Barbara answers. “The lights, when we blew them, the centipede thingies got mad and swarmed us.” She swallows hard. “It got bad.”

Uncle Dan taps his fingers on his crossed arms. “OK, let’s see if Kate has any ideas.” He pulls out his phone, putting it on speaker. When Aunt Kate answers, he starts off with, “Hey Kate, the Phone Time Flip girl says Plan A didn’t work. Got any ideas?”

“You all experienced going back in time?” Aunt Kate sounds excited. “What are you feeling right now? Do you remember much? Vee, do you recall the moment when you sent yourself the text?” She reels out the questions too quickly for anyone to answer.

“Kate, focus!” Uncle Dan barks. “Do you have any data that can help us?”

“OK, OK. In fact, I do have some information, I don’t know how much it will help but here you go.” She pauses. “Harmful things include vinegar. Attractive things include fertilizer.”

“Fertilizer?” I ask.

“Yes, they make their nests in water near fertilizer plants. I guess they like the nitrogen-rich runoff.”

As a group we all stare at the water. Uncle Dan snaps us out of it, striding purposefully back and forth in front of us. “Let’s call fertilizer Plan B and vinegar Plan C. This is an agricultural area. There should be a source of fertilizer nearby.”

“At two in the morning?” Vee asks.

“It’s 1:36 a.m.,” Jimi puts in. “Still thirty-eight degrees.”

Uncle Dan scowls at him. Before he can continue his speech, Darrin interrupts.

“Does it matter what kind of fertilizer? My moms have a little organic farm—they use a lot of chicken manure.”

Somebody suggests finding a chicken coop, someone else wants to find an all-night garden store, another voice calls for breaking into the nearest shed. I can’t believe we’re arguing about fertilizer or thinking of stealing it, whatever the time is. And it’s a shock to realize most of the group doesn’t have to follow Uncle Dan’s orders. Whatever we’re doing tonight, this is not our typical monster hunt.

Next on Far from Normal:

Barbara uses her silliest power to bait the bug monsters.

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

Copyright © 2022 by Karen Eisenbrey and LeeAnn McLennan

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