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Charity Begins at Home

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April 20 - Pencil shavings. Harassed for not having textbooks. 3rd period group work stolen by Julie-Anne and Rebecca. Emma offered to buy me a new book bag if I could play her a song on the flute. She just wouldn’t stop. I thought about using my power on her. It was different than before. I couldn’t stop thinking about it for the rest of the day, turning the idea over in my head. I can’t do that, because I want to be a Hero, and they don’t let murderers join the Protectorate. But, if no one ever learns it was me, then what’s the harm? I just have to be careful and not let it be linked to bugs. That’s what I couldn’t stop thinking about all day. Even now I’m thinking of ideas. I could make her choke on a fly, then pull it out afterward with other bugs. Or I could cut her with razor blades held by flying bugs. Poison can’t be that hard to find, and a bug in her breakfast

 

I set my pen down. These aren’t the sort of things a hero-to-be should be thinking, much less writing down. But, really there’s no harm just in imagining. I’ve done it before, come up with fantasies where the trio get their comeuppance, sometimes quite violently, but that was back in the fall, way before I’d gotten powers, before I’d gained the ability to actually act on them.

But… that’s not exactly true. I always could have brought a knife or even a gun to school if I’d really wanted to. I never did, because it was never worth it even when I had nothing. Now? I’ve got something to lose, so I’m definitely not going to do anything. So… there’s no real harm in fantasizing, not if I’ll never act them out.

Either way, these ideas probably don’t belong in my bullying journal, not unless I want to out myself when I finally present it as evidence. I reluctantly tear out this page, rewrite the relevant parts on a fresh page, and put the bullying journal away. After a minute of deliberation, I pull out a fresh-ish notebook to continue the fantasy. It’s better to let it out, right?

 

[scene break]

 

Another night out on patrol. Another long, aimless walk through the too-quiet city and I’m back here. I didn’t plan on coming here again tonight, but… I didn’t plan not to.

Almost everything in the neighborhood is quiet. There’s a couple people watching television in a basement, but that’s on the other side of me. In the Barnes house though, Zoe and Alan are asleep, and Anne is still absent.

Emma though, she’s pacing in her room. It takes a minute to put together a coherent picture with just my sense of bugs’ locations, but it feels like she’s on her phone. She might be talking, but I can’t make out sounds through my bugs. Just as well, I wouldn’t want to hear her voice any way. She seems agitated though, judging by her body language. I’d call it worried, if she were anyone else. The Emma I know doesn’t worry. She doesn’t care enough to.

Carefully, I make my way to her backyard. Her window is curtained, but I can see that her light is on. I watch her window despite not being able to see into it, and catch a shadow of movement. I wake the bugs in her house and move more inside to get a better picture of her room. I watch her with my smaller insects - mostly flies and a handful of mosquitoes - and keep my bigger bugs to the unseen crevices of her room - under the bed, behind the dresser, in her dirty clothes hamper.

It’s with them that I find what I didn’t know I was looking for. Mom’s flute, or at least the case, shoved in a corner under Emma’s bed. She kept it. She stole it, defaced and destroyed it, stole it again, and then kept it. I… I thought she’d have gotten rid of it. If I knew she had kept it under her bed this whole time, I would have broken in and taken it back already, but I didn’t even think to look.

I didn’t even think to look.

I bite down on my frustration and silence my scream before it escapes. I keep still my body and the bugs inside Emma’s house, taking out my hate with the rest of the bugs around me, focusing on a colony of ants tearing into a caterpillar and, when that’s dismantled, turning them against each other in a suicidal frenzy. Scenes such as that play out across the dozens of yards within my range.

The only thing that stops me from siccing my bugs on Emma is the fact that if I use my bugs on her, she wins. I won’t be able to be a hero if they can track it back to me. But heroes stop robberies. We bring justice, and what’s more just than getting back my mom’s flute?

I unlock the back door with the spare key and quietly close the door behind me. The smell of laundry detergent permeates the room and a wave of nostalgia almost knocks me off my feet. It’s just the laundry room, but it takes me back to days long past, when Emma and I would romp through here on our way to and from her back yard, covered in mud and grass, Aunt Zoe yelling for us to wash up before we tracked filth everywhere.

My eyes close as I center myself. I’d made up my mind, and I’m already inside. Turning back won’t accomplish anything. I keep my eyes closed to hold off any other strong emotional reactions, using my bugs to navigate my path through the kitchen and up the stairs, picking up a knife on the way. With years of practice not yet worn away by the time away, my feet avoid the louder steps as I ascend to the second floor.

My heart races as I hear Emma’s muffled voice on the other side of her bedroom door. I grip the knob with sweaty hand, and slow, carefully, turn it. When she’s facing the window, back to the door, I open it as slowly as I can to keep quiet.

“...promise, I’m not trying to tell you what to do,” stresses Emma. Her voice is weird, with none of the confidence she commands at school. Whoever she’s talking to must be terrifying. A villain? Did she fall in with a gang or something? That would figure: Winslow isn’t big enough to hold her attention forever, it makes sense she’d want powerful friends. It makes what I’m about to do easier, at least.

When the door’s open enough, I squeeze through. She’s still facing away as I approach her, still whispering desperately on her phone. “No, no you’re right. You’re the predator-” a cape name? It isn’t familiar. “-just be careful, okay? Yeah. I know.”

I stand there, in the middle of her room, right behind her, eyes still closed, knife in hand. I take a deep breath in preparation for what comes next. An acrid combination of Emma’s many perfumes invades my nose and I snort in disgust.

She turns around, a scream on her lips.

I lash out in panic.

She stumbles back a step, raising a hand to the hole across her neck, and her scream dies as a wheeze. Even that goes quiet when I sink the knife into her stomach, then jerk it out with a disgustingly quiet slrnk. She falls to the ground and curls up around her gash, staining the carpet red. She stares up at my mask in terror and inches away: the only movement she can make. The person on the other side of the phone is yelling now, tinny and unimportant.

I finally open my eyes to look at her. Confusion fights with fear for space on her face, but louder than either is her raw pain. When she reaches for her phone, I pick up a foot and kick it away, under her nightstand. The girl on the other end - Predator - is still making a racket, and I know I should leave soon. She might be on her way here, and who knows how fast she can move?

I crouch down, reach under the bed, past the other thing littering the space, and grab what I came here for: my mother’s flute. It doesn’t feel real in my hands, but I know this case. Recognized the name etched onto the bottom with my bugs, and holding it I’m even more sure.

I turn to leave the same way I came in, sparing one last glance at my once-closest friend. Pain and lostness. She looks cold. My shoulder slump and in memory of all the good times we shared, I go back to her. Crouching beside the only friend I can remember, I drive the knife into her again and again to put her out of her misery. She doesn’t have to suffer, even though she should.

Only when her eyes go hazy and unfocused and she looks almost at peace do I leave: back downstairs and out the door, locking it and replacing the key behind me. A full bodied exhaustion grows with every step I take, but I force myself to keep walking, to get home and be done with this night.

When I finally do return to my house, I sink heavily onto the back stoop, unable to take another step. My body is tired, and I feel like I ran a marathon, but, now that I’ve stopped moving, my brain fills with a cottony buzz. Every thought dies half formed in my head, ideas cut short by the loud static that fills my skull with so much itchy fluff: every thought but one. A single thought forms and isn’t lost to the dim buzz:

Emma is dead. My best friend, the first and last true friend I ever had, is dead, and by my hand. I killed her. I killed Emma.

The thought smooths out the static and, instead of the feelings I expected to feel, bone deep satisfaction suffuses me. The bullying is over. It has to be, with the head cut off; at the very least, I’ll not be as much of a target as before. I have a real chance at being left alone, now, and I didn’t have to wait and rely on some dispassionate authority to fix my situation; I did it myself.

A smile grows across my face, not big enough to show teeth, but persistent. Emma’s dead! For the first time in a long time, I’m looking forward to school. I can’t wait to see how things will change without Emma. Maybe I’ll finally be able to pull my grades up, or join a club, or even make a friend… Though, thinking on it, there’s no one in Winslow I’d want to be friends with. I could transfer? I haven’t tried that in a while. The last times I tried, the administration threw out my applications, but maybe my luck is finally turning around.

…I should go inside, get to sleep so I can face tomorrow as well-rested as possible, I decide. But when I push myself to my feet, I’m shocked cold by the sight of the knife still in my hand. I didn’t realize I still had it, but I must’ve brought it home with me, which is… bad. Really bad. I can’t keep this,-can’t keep a murder weapon! That’s like, murder 101. I need to get rid of it in a way no one will be able to find it or trace it back to me: same idea as not using my power to kill: its all for the sake of being a hero.

I also need to clean the blood off my costume. My arm is soaked, and the rest of me is splattered with the fluid. It’s tacky, pinching and peeling my costume uncomfortably in ways I didn’t notice while I stayed moving. Fuck, I hope I didn’t leave a trail. If I left a trail of Emma’s blood, that’s the end of it all. I sweep the ground along the path I traveled, using my bugs to search for any blood. I find nothing, and let out a held breath. The only blood in the area is on me and the stoop I stopped on. I’ll need to be more careful next time.

Hypothetically, I mean. There’s not going to be a next time, of course.

Anxiety relieved for now, I peel off my costume and, after checking to make sure it can be opened, drop it by one of the basement windows: a small one that I’m pretty sure is more for ventilation than light. I don’t want to get any blood in the house, after all. Down to a sports bra and compression shorts, I shiver, then head inside and down to the basement, setting hemovorous bugs to clean the blood from the spot I sat. I retrieve my costume and lock the window, then lay it out across Dad’s old workbench. Regular machine washing is a quick way to ruin spidersilk, but the spiders that wove it are unsurprisingly good at cleaning the material. The knife I stash in the coat chute to take care of in the morning; I’ll toss it in a dumpster or something. I don’t know. I’ll figure it out in the morning.

In my room, I have one last thing to take care of. Finally, I let myself focus on the true fruit of the night: Mom’s flute. I bite my lip to contain my excitement as I flip the latch.

Empty.