“It’s Christmas!” Shay and I shouted simultaneously, running up to each other and hugging.
Ever since demons had torn apart the city and almost ended the world, Shay and I had been really busy. With people looking to Lightning Bee for hope and inspiration, and Panda always on patrol, looking out for thieves trying to take advantage of the state of the city, the two of us had barely gotten the chance to be ourselves.
“Well, Christmas Eve anyway,” I said, Shay squeezing me hard.
“Who cares?” Shay replied. “Christmas is Christmas, and damn it, we’ve earned ourselves a good holiday.”
I squeed with joy.
“Can’t wait for dinner tonight! You making your re-fried bacon stuffing?”
“You know it,” she answered, high fiving me with great force.
Excited as we both were, there was still one thing lingering over us that was impossible to ignore. But damn if we couldn’t try to just for the next 48 hours.
“Shay!” Malcolm, having spent the night sleeping on my floor, screamed from the other room.
Since Eve moved out, Malcolm had her apartment all to himself. He missed living with other people though, so he often crashed here.
“What’s up, dude?” my sister asked.
“Do I…do I really have to wear this?” he asked.
“Yes!” Shay answered, clearly having been asked this several times already. “You’re the only one of us big enough to fit in the suit.”
Sighing, Malcolm accepted his fate, and joined us in the living room, wearing a Santa Claus costume, big fluffy beard included.
“Merry Christmas, Malcolm!” I said, taking as many pictures of him with my phone as I could.
“Kid, delete those pictures, or I swear to that God you believe in, I will break your arm.”
There wasn’t a tinge of humor in his voice.
Gulping, I started deleting pictures.
“Oh come on,” Shay said, putting an arm around him. “You look great.”
“You exhibit true jolliness,” she smirked, flicking the bell on top of his hat.
“Get a room,” I joked, plopping down on the couch, next to where the mail was sitting.
The two of them did a lot of frankly adorable stuff, but obviously they were just friends. I mean, Malcolm was like 40 years older than us, and I was one of his best friends. No way would there ever be anything between them.
Malcolm grabbed Shay, and sat down in the chair next to the couch, the former pulling the latter onto his lap.
“What do you want for Christmas, little girl?” Malcolm asked mockingly, using a deep,”Santa” like voice.
“Um,” Shay said, using a high pitched voice I’d never heard before. “I’d like a 12 Millimeter Crimson WarEnder, a GM Armor bulletproof vest, aaaaaaaand…a pony.”
The two of them laughed, and Shay stood up.
Never, I thought to myself, reaffirming the obvious that these two would always just be friends.
“Yo…ho ho,” an exhausted Joey moaned, coming into the house, wearing a roughed up and torn Santa outfit.
“Raina’s security?” Shay, Malcolm and I asked simultaneously.
“Raina’s security,” he answered, taking a seat.
“I really need to convince her to stop doing this to you,” I said.
“Please do,” Joey moaned, taking off his hat and scratching his head. “Hey, why are you wearing a Santa outfit?” he asked Malcolm.
“Trying it on for tomorrow,” he answered. “Lightning Bee, Panda, and “Santa” are going to be handing out gifts in the park, all courtesy of Raina.”
Shay rolled her eyes.
“Why are you in a Santa costume?” Shay asked.
“It’s a favor for Captain Troyan,” he answered. “Or, Alex as he asked me to call him. Anyway, he asked me if I wanted to be Santa for the charity drive the precinct is holding, and I jumped at the chance. I just came by here cause I wanted to show you how cool I looked…security sort of ruined that though.”
Shay, seeing that Joey looked down about this, walked over to him and gave him a kiss on the cheek.
“You look fine,” she said, brightening up Joey’s face.
While that was going on, I started going through the mail.
Junk mail, junk mail, junk mail, I thought to myself as I went over it all. In just a few moments, there were only two envelopes left: a normal white one and a manila envelope with a huge bulge.
My hands tensed up as I saw who the regular envelope was from. My eyes widened, I really wanted to just tear it up.
“This is definitely for you,” I said, reaching out my arm toward Shay.
Shay took it, and after reading what was on the envelope, I could see in her eyes that she knew why I’d turned sour.
“A Christmas card from Dad,” Shay said. “Wasn’t expecting one of these from him this year.”
“When was the last time you even spoke to your parents?” Malcolm asked.
“We haven’t talked since we got evicted. That’s not that long, but they were really pissed.”
“What about you, Carter?” Joey asked. “How long since you spoke to your folks?”
I shot him a hard glare.
“Not since I dropped out of college.”
“Wow!” Joey shouted. “But that’s like, four years!”
“And if I never talked to them again, it wouldn’t be long enough.” I sighed. “Just open it, Sis. I know you want to.”
As Shay ripped open the envelope with her thumb, Joey spoke.
“Look dude, I know your parents weren’t the best, but it’s Christmas. Even if you don’t fully forgive them, you should at least talk to them.”
“Joey,” I swallowed. “When I was in high school, my dad praised the kid who pushed me off a Goddamn mountain.”
Joey, and even Malcolm’s, mouths opened upon hearing that.
“I retract my statement,” Joey said, as Shay pulled out the letter.
“Dear Shay,” she started reading.
He didn’t mention me. I’m shocked.
“Another year has gone by and your mother and I couldn’t be more proud of you. You may wear a mask, but we can tell that…you’re Panda?! Holy crap, how did they figure it out!”
“To be fair, magic is all that keeps people from knowing that Carter is Lightning Bee,” Malcolm said.
“We don’t know that that’s magic,” I said.
“Kid, with everything we’ve seen, how else would you explain it? You don’t even wear your goofy goggles over your eyes.”
“Hmph,” I said, crossing my arms.
I was already in a bad mood thanks to the letter, and the last thing I needed was my goggles being made fun of. Why didn’t anyone think they were cool?
“Anyway,” Shay said. “To congratulate you, we’ve enclosed $40 cash. Don’t spend too much of it on…” she stopped reading hesitantly.
“Just say it,” I said, knowing it was gonna be something bad.
“Don’t spend too much of it on your no good brother,” she moaned. “Merry Christmas, Mom and Dad.”
“You can just feel the warmth,” Malcolm mocked.
“Here,” Shay said, handing him the money from the envelope. She smiled. “It’ll really piss dad off if he knows you used it all.”
I smirked, and took the money.
“Thanks Shay,” I said, giving her a hug. “What would I do without you?”
“Lets hope it never comes to that,” she laughed.
“So what’s in the big envelope?” Joey asked, munching on a donut he’d pulled out of his coat pocket.
“Let’s find out!” I shouted, allowing my Christmas spirit to take hold of me once again.
Opening up the manila envelope, I found, of all things, a VHS.
“God damn him!” I shouted. “Bastard couldn’t even let us have a good Christmas!”
“What is it?” Malcolm asked.
I showed him the tape, specifically the label.
“Smog,” he growled.
“Are you kidding me?” Shay asked, snatching the tape out of my hand. “Who the fuck even uses these anymore?”
“Um,” Joey said, fear in his voice, present just from the stories we’d told him of Smog. “You guys have come up with a way to beat him, right?”
The rest of us jung hung our heads low.
“Don’t even know how to stop Gordon,” I lamented.
Shay was nervously tapping the tape against her hand. Even though she’d never met Smog, she still hated him for all the people he’d murdered, as well what he’d done to Malcolm. Besides that though, she had other reasons. She’d never told me but Malcolm had figured it out. She fancied herself the world’s best fighter, but against angels and demons, that title meant nothing.
Not to mention that since she took Raina’s spot on the team, she’d also taken Malcolm’s position as leader. And that meant she felt more pressure and responsibility about our incoming killer than either of us.
“We need to watch this,” Shay said. “We’re gonna watch it, find out what he wants, kick his ass, and enjoy Christmas!”
“Yeah!” Joey cheered.
“And, how exactly are we going to do any of that?” Malcolm asked. “Sure, Raina got us stocked up on anti-Demigod weaponry, but Olivia used that stuff on him too. And do you remember what happened?”
“He cheated,” Shay said as I said, “He turned into knock out gas.”
“Plus, where are we even going to find someone with a VCR?” Malcolm asked.
We sat in silence for a few moments.
“Actually,” Joey said. “I think we know someone who does.”
“Well, this is unexpected,” police captain Alex Troyan said as he opened his front door, seeing me, Shay, and Malcolm, all in full costume, on his porch. “To what do I owe this pleasure?”
It had been awhile since I’d seen Captain Troyan, and he looked quite a bit different from our last meeting. He’d put on a noticable amount of weight, he had 5’o clock shadow, and his suit was wrinkled all over.
Shay held up the VHS tape.
“It’s imperative that we watch this,” Panda said, using her modulated voice. “And one of our informants told us you had a VCR. May we use it?”
“Well,” Troyan said, sipping some of the whiskey he had in hand. “I don’t like you,” he said pointing at me. “And, I don’t like you,” he continued pointing at Malcolm. “But,” he sighed, “you have been doing a solid job paying tribute to one of the world’s greatest heroes,” he said pointing at Shay. “So fine,” he finished, walking back into his house and gesturing for us to follow.
I knew Troyan didn’t like me before because he thought I was just “playing hero”, but I’d helped save the world. Why did he still not respect me?
Troyan’s house looked big from the outside, though it seemed to be smaller on the inside. It was certainly nicer than any place I’d ever lived, with good quality furniture and white walls with no cracks in the paint. I wasn’t blown away or anything, just impressed. By this point I could tell that it was a pretty standard middle class house, nothing like Badrah’s house or Raina’s mansion.
“Why do you think he doesn’t like us?” I whispered into Decker’s ear.
“Don’t know, don’t care,” Malcolm replied. “It doesn’t matter what he thinks of us. We’re just here to watch the tape.”
Shay walking behind Troyan, and Malcolm and I trailing behind her, we made our way downstairs to Alex’s den.
With brown walls and a matching recliner, there were VHS tapes, DVDs, and Bluerays all over the den.
“Wow Captain,” I exclaimed. “Shay never mentioned you were a movie buff.”
The next thing I knew Malcolm had struck my stomach with his elbow, sending a jolt of pain through my body.
“Hm?” Troyan grunted, turning to us.
“Uh, um,” I mumbled, unsure of what to say.
Panda put a hand on Troyan’s shoulder.
“Your ex-officer Shay Myers is that informant I mentioned before.She’s quite useful.”
“Whatever,” he said, chugging the rest of his whiskey before slamming the glass down on a table situated between the recliner and the TV.
While he was setting up the VCR, Shay came over to us.
“Bee,” she whispered. “Watch what you say. And Decker?” She punched him hard in the stomach. With a smile she said, “Don’t hurt my little brother.”
“You’re all set,” Troyan said. “Any chance I can see what’s going on?”
“I’m afraid not,” Panda answered. “You and your men can’t stop this. If you saw this, it’d just put you all in more danger.”
Shaking his head, he left the room and said, “Fine.”
“Anyone else think that guy has a few screws loose?” Malcolm asked.
“He’s definitely changed,” Shay answered. “But we have bigger things to worry about right now.”
With that, Panda popped the tape into the machine.
And on screen, after a few seconds of static, was Smog, this time dressed as a soldier from feudal Japan and his hair as blue as ever, standing in a dark room.
“Here we go,” I mumbled, noticing that Malcolm was holding his arm close to where his other arm used to be.
“Is this thing on?” Smog began. “I have no idea why Gordon was so insistent on me using outdated tech. Regardless,” he smiled wide. “Hello Carter.”
I clenched my fists.
“I assume you’re watching this with some of you friends. Raina, I hope you’re appreciative of your get out of death free card.”
Either he didn’t know that Raina had left the team, which would be weird considering he knows everything else, or he recorded this a long time ago.
“Malcolm, Bang, whatever you’re calling yourself these days, how’s that stump treating you?”
Shay put her arm around Malcolm.
“Olivia, have you told everyone yet who you used to be?”
The three of us exchanged concerned looks.
“”Joey, I…oh who am I kidding? You are such a worthless human being, I’m just gonna kill you the second I see you, not even gonna bother with torture.”
He laughed maniacally.
“We’re all agreed Joey never gets put up against Smog, right?” I asked.
They both nodded.
“Eve,” he shook his head. “There’s something about you that’s just not right.” He continued in a jovial tone. “But don’t think I’m not gonna figure out what it is!”
“And last of all for greetings, Shay Myers. From what I’ve seen, you’re quite strong for someone who’s just an ordinary human. But you know what? And, Carter, you’re gonna want to hear this.”
His grin wide and his eyes bulging, he put his face right against the camera.
“I’mma rape her. I’mma rape her so hard that she will lose her will to live. She’ll beg for death. And only when you, Carter, fail to save her, will I grant her that death.”
My entire body tensed up, fuming with fear and rage, and blasts of electricity started shooting out of me in all directions. Holes were getting blasted in Troyan’s walls and racks of movies were knocked down.
Thankfully, before any real damage could be done, Shay wrapped her arms around me, and simply whispered, “That’s not going to happen.”
And that’s all it took to calm me down. She’d never lied to me before, and she never would.
Regaining my cool, I saw that Malcolm has paused the tape while I was freaking out. As such, we hadn’t missed anything.
Malcolm pressed play on the TV remote, and the video continued.
Smog clapped his hands together.
“Now then, onto the matter at hand,” he said, moving back into his original position. “Our game has been fun I’d say. I’ve killed dozens of people and you’ve failed to scratch me in both of our encounters. Overall, quite enjoyable. However,” he said, lowering his head. “It’s time for our game to end. So here’s what’s gonna happen. On New Year’s Day, I am going to walk into City Hall, and kill anyone there.”
“No you won’t,” I whispered.
“From 2PM till Midnight, I’m going to be hanging out alone in the Hall’s basement. In that time, I want you to come for me. I’ll be going for the kill, so don’t expect me to mess around like last time. And, in the all too likely event that none of you can stop me…” he chuckled. “I will wipe out the entire population of Bluejay City.” Once again, he laughed maniacally. “Can’t wait to see what you throw at me.”
And with that, the tape went to static.
With those final words, he’d left all three of us in shock.
It wasn’t until Troyan came back into the room that one of us spoke.
“So, are you all…”
Malcolm interrupted him in the only way he could at this moment.
Christmas dinner was far from the most enjoyable it had ever been.
It was bad enough that Raina didn’t come, choosing instead to be with her dad. And since she didn’t come, neither did Olivia, which meant no Eve as well.
But that was poultry compared to what we’d learned.
In one week, Smog was gonna come and kill us, along with millions of other people.