Experiment X: Christmas

Snow and Fire

            Sue, Ryan, Shawn, and I were the only ones awake. The rest of the house was still sleeping soundly when we found ourselves in the kitchen, stumbling around with half-open eyes scrounging for food like starving animals.

“I’m going outside to train.” Sue held a granola bar in her hand and headed out the door.

A chill wind crept into the room before she closed it behind her. Shawn was pouring himself a bowl of cereal. He had pulled on a pair of jeans and a black tee shirt, his feet bare. His blond hair was still wet from a shower and a lingering scent of fresh rain hung on his skin. Ryan was microwaving a bunch of bacon. He was still in his pajamas and his head was freshly shaved. He smelled like a campfire that had just burnt out, the beautiful scent of the embers trapped inside of the coals. I was attempting to make the house smell like fresh coffee. Shawn had recently bought a bean grinder and it filled the room with the intoxicating aroma. I sat on the countertop, sipping the coffee and taking in the noises around me, letting them each find a place in my head: the buzzing of the freezer, the creaking of the floorboards in the old house as they settled, the fuzzy electricity from the turned off television on top of the refrigerator, and finally the snap behind the outlets and the water slowly wavering through the pipes.

Sue was only gone for a moment before she stormed back into the house. She slammed the door behind her and stood at the threshold fuming, glaring at Shawn. There were flecks of white crystals that glimmered against her black hair. Her cheeks were a brighter red and her fingers looked pale.

“What?” he questioned, putting his spoon down.

“You said snow was good!” Sue pointed at Shawn. “I said it was pretty from the windows, and you told me it was fun! It is so cold!”

Shawn couldn’t hold his laughter in, his muscles quivering as he shook with it. Ryan just looked confused, glancing back from Sue to Shawn.

Ryan and Sue had never experienced snow before! They had only seen it falling from the windows in their cells at the Lab. Ryan may have only seen it once or twice in passing as he was escorted through the halls between his drug-induced comas. They didn’t even show the weather’s mystical changes on the television screens that only played brainwashing propaganda.

Ryan and I stood up and went outside to see how bad it was. I imagined that there would only be a dusting along the property, covering the shell casings in the meadow and layering the half-burnt targets with something a bit less menacing.

There were six inches on the ground, large white clumps of snow still piling on top of the blanket. I could only hope that Mark had remembered to put the weapons away before he trudged himself back upstairs late last night.

Dressed in only socks, sweats, and a tee shirt, Ryan walked to the snow, putting a foot in the fluffy white powder. It melted quickly beneath him and he looked at me. “Is it supposed to do that?”

“Well, no.” I placed a hand over a spot and smiled as it gave way to my heat, disappearing below me at an alarming rate, causing a small puddle and refusing to melt. “Not this fast.”

“I hate it.” Ryan’s eyes shifted to a bright red and he headed back inside. I heard him open up the fireplace, lighting his hand before lighting the wood.

“At least help me clear the driveway!” I called in to him.

I heard him groan loudly before coming back outside, still without shoes. His legs lit up with dancing, captivating flames before I could say anything. “Your boyfriend is putting a lot of layers on Sue and keeps talking about something called sledding.”

“Yeah, it’s a winter thing. Wanna try it after we clear the driveway?”

“If it involves snow, then no.” He walked past me, the snow melting beneath his footsteps.

I followed suit, lighting my own skin with flames to make a path through the cold. I held my arms out, palms facing outwards as I focused my energy on the molecules around me. I imagined the atoms becoming agitated, vibrating closer towards combustion. Ryan followed suit until massive flames began to sweep the driveway clean.

Once the area was done, Ryan smiled and headed back inside. “It’s better in here,” he called after me. “It has coffee, bacon, and fire.”

I rolled my eyes, but jogged in after him.

The others, finally awake, were walking outside now in a stupor, eyes alight with wonder and curiosity.

Ryan and I, the only two Fire Elements, wanted nothing more to do with it.

 

Destructive Christmas Tree

            Cups of hot coffee in hand, dishes with leftover bacon grease and small bits of eggs in the sink, Ryan and I sat in front of the fire. Every now and again, one of us would make the flames rise and fall with our fingertips or lit another log ablaze. Minutes passed peacefully as we sat there in silence, the greedy cracking of the fireplace was the only sound between us. Shawn and Mark appeared back inside as the sound of a car began to pull out of the driveway.

“No worries, Jess is driving,” Shawn said as they passed quickly through the kitchen.

Ryan and I turned our heads back to the enchanting flames. Jess would keep the others in good hands. She wasn’t raised in the Lab and could handle the weathered roads.

Our silence was interrupted with the sound of a loud bang, as something seemed to crash through the house towards the living room. I felt my eyes flicker red, my fingertips sparked. Ryan pulled his gun out, his eyes also blazing with the color of the flames. We heard scrambling upstairs and Jack soon appeared from the doorway that hiding a half spiral wooden staircase beside the walk-in fireplace. He wore only jeans, his gun drawn and his eyes a brilliant blue. We moved towards the living room silently, cautious and on-edge. We were expecting retaliation after the last attack, but not this soon; Jack took the lead, Ryan and I close behind. Jack rounded the corner and his gun dropped. The sparks in my fingers faded and Ryan holstered his weapon. A massive fir tree had broken through the large carpet of Jack’s living room floor, the top of it nearly brushing the ceiling. Chunks of wooden floorboards stabbed through the carpet to make way for the trunk. Shawn was staring at it in awe and Mark gazed upon it with his arms crossed.

“Why is there a tree growing the MIDDLE OF MY LIVING ROOM!” Jack shouted, water dripping from his fingertips.

“Shawn told me to do it,” Mark spoke casually as he walked past us.

“Why?” Jack looked at Shawn.

“Christmas!” Shawn’s eyes were lit up. He looked so thrilled with Mark’s handiwork. There was lightness about him, something I hadn’t seen in him since I met him. Perhaps this was the last holiday he got to celebrate with his adopted family before he was captured, tortured, and molded into a weapon.

“What the fuck is Christmas?” Jack shook his head. “And why does that mean a tree has to be growing in my house?”

“Shawn said it’s something about a bearded man that breaks into your house via your chimney, steals your food, and leaves you presents.” Mark was beside us again, appearing like a ghost, coffee in one hand and a muffin in the other.

“I’m going back to bed.” Jack stuck his gun in the back of his pants and headed back upstairs, mumbling something about it being too early to deal with Shawn and Mark’s shit.

 

Whiskey Lips

            “You should fix this.” Ryan told his younger brother.

“You don’t like it?” Mark crossed his arms. He was a few inches shorter than Ryan. His dark hair was growing back a little and there was stubble around his chin and jawline. “I think it’s festive.”

“You don’t even know what Christmas is!”

“Yes I do,” Mark nodded. “Fat man breaks into your house, steals your food, and leaves you gifts.”

I suppressed a laugh and Shawn appeared at my side, interlocking his fingers with my own. Steam escaped between the two of us until our Elements evened themselves out. Mark groaned, but agreed. He stood in front of the large tree and held his hands out. Palms facing the new addition to the living room, he slowly brought his hands down. The tree shrank in size, retreating back into the ground like a snake burrowing into a hole. Mark moved his fingers and the wood planks of the floor began to intertwine, molding back together.

Mark looked back at us “There’s nothing I can do about the carpet.”

We headed back into the kitchen, sitting around the table and letting the fire warm the space around us. Jack joined us after a few minutes and made Mark promise that he wouldn’t make any more trees grow through the floorboards of his house. Mark nodded before pressing a bottle to his lips. Ryan stood up from his seat by the fire and snatched the whiskey from his brother’s hands. He threw it back into the freezer and glared at him. I didn’t blame him. It was too early for Mark to be dipping into the liquor already, kissing the bottle as if it were a magical being that could whisk all of his demons away.

 

New Grounds A Change In Scenery

            After we finished eating and drinking, Mark suggested we head out to the woods. We never really ventured into them, only Mark and the other Earth Elements had spent a lot of time in there, safely tucked among the trees and brush.

“I want to try a few new things, and the snow will make it a bit more challenging, but I need you guys to come with me,” he told us.

Ryan declined the offer to join us, not wanting to step foot near the snow. He declared that he had already had enough before sitting back in front of the fire. So, it was just Mark, Jack, Shawn, and myself that decided to brave the winter weather. At first we headed towards the meadow, passing the pool and making our way down the steady slope towards the woods, but Shawn stopped dead in his tracks.

“I feel like you’re cheating if we use Jack’s woods.” Shawn looked at his friend suspiciously.

“I’m going to win this no matter where we are.” Mark turned on his heel with a gleeful smirk on his face. “We can go somewhere else.” He was cocky as he walked towards the garage.

We climbed into one of Jack’s cars with Shawn at the wheel. He drove us towards the Lab, but not close enough to see that damned fence. Shawn parked the car on the edge of the street and we trudged through the snow into the unexplored forest. None of us had packed any weapons with us, and a sinking feeling found itself in my stomach. Why did I feel so naked without my knives?

I am a weapon dammit.

I don’t need the knives.

“Okay, what are we doing out here?” Shawn jumped around. I think the snow gives Jack and him energy.

“I’m going to take you guys out,” Mark smiled, “if you don’t see me first.” He paused a moment, studying our faces as we looked at him. “No, not with a bullet. I don’t have a gun on me remember? Just, don’t let me catch you. Got it?”

“No.” I shook my head. “We’re never going to see you coming!”

Jack grinned, “Yeah. Challenge accepted.” He nudged me, “It’ll help us strengthen our own senses. Besides, snow is uncharted territory for him.”

The trees were close together, the branches at the top of the trunks brushing together as if they were shaking hands in the frigid air. The snow was piled on the ground in a thick blanket, covering the brush and putting the animals to sleep underneath a pillow of white. There was no clearing overhead and no chatter of others around us. No smells of bleach or rising smoke from a fireplace. We were alone here and everything was calm. Mark jumped up into a tree and disappeared, his entire being completely invisible to us now. We couldn’t hear him rustling above us. We couldn’t see him moving around, not even a sway in the branches or a drop of snow gave him away.

“I thought snow was new to him,” I raised an eyebrow and looked at Jack.

“It is!” he laughed. “The guy’s good.”

The three of us stood around in a triangle formation, our backs to one another so that Mark wouldn’t be able to sneak up on us. We moved around in circles, scanning the treetops for him. But, all was silent. I could imagine Mark sniggering to himself while he watched us like the perfect predator that he was.

“So, guys,” Jack spoke softly. “We can’t stay here. I saw a weird concrete thing underneath a hill a few miles east, let’s go there.”

We agreed and followed behind him, the snow making far too much noise beneath our feet, slowing us down. It took a second before Jack remembered it was water that was in our way and he began to lift it with outstretched arms and flung it in large chunks into the trees around us.

“Is this a Christmas thing?” he asked Shawn and I.

“What? Trudging through the woods while a strange man who can disguise himself like everything around him hunts you down? No,” I laughed, “not in my family. Shawn?”

No answer.

“Shawn?” Jack shouted, stopping short. I heard the hitch in his chest, the drop of adrenaline into his blood as he twirled around, water dripping from his fingertips, his eyes wild.

“I think Mark has him.” I confirmed, looking around for him. There wasn’t a trace of Shawn near us, and he had disappeared without so much as a flutter of a sound.

Jack shrugged, satisfied with my answer and kept towards the safe-spot. He began to ask me what Christmas was, or if a fat man really did break into your house and steal your food. Before I could answer, I felt a hand around my mouth, the edge of a cold finger pressed up against my nose. Within an instant, I was pulled back away from Jack.

“Don’t light yourself up,” I heard Mark calmly instruct. “Look down at your hands.”

I did as told. My skin was the color of everything around me, meshing perfecting with the scenery that Mark so effortlessly matched. I never expected he that would be able to control his powers so well, melting it into another person. It was exciting and terrifying. He began to walk backwards, still holding me against him, my skin morphing as we moved. Like him, I was invisible. Jack was oblivious, still asking about Christmas. Mark set me behind a large tree and snuck back out. I watched Jack, unable to see Mark. In a few seconds, I saw him appear before Jack and scream. Jack jumped and shouted, fists raised and mid swing until he saw whom it was.

“Snow didn’t hinder your abilities at all!” Jack scolded with a smile.

“Watch this,” Mark stepped behind Jack and wrapped an arm around his neck. “Look at your arm.”

Jack’s jaw dropped and his eyes lit up with awe. “Ryan is going to be so proud of you. Mark, this is incredible!”

 

Missing Person and the Song From Everywhere

            “Where’d you put Shawn?” I asked looking around, trying to hear his heartbeat and his rush of blood.

Mark raised an eyebrow. “I didn’t take Shawn. I thought he trudged a different way. I wasn’t paying attention, I wanted to get you guys first before finding him.” He looked around, his eyes narrowed. “Why? Is Shawn gone? Where he is?”

“We don’t know!” Jack was frantic. “Shawn! Shawn! Matt is going to kill me.”

“Shawn!” I joined Jack, shouting his name but not receiving a response.

Mark closed his eyes and took a deep breath and demanded that we stop shouting. “I hear others,” he mumbled, “why didn’t I hear them before?”

He looked up at a tree and ran towards it, pushing himself up by running up the trunk until he could grab hold of a branch and swing himself up farther. He disappeared into the trees, his body completely in tune with Mother Nature in both body and blood. It took a few seconds, but he began to sing.

“Tell me what you think you believe, caught in a crossfire, trouble at sea.” His voice bounced against the tree, taking up space around us. “Every single day I feel gold underneath, I see the locked doors but I got the key.” His voice was all around us and there was absolutely no way to tell exactly where he was. It came from the sky and from the ground. “I’ma give you second just to catch your breath. ‘Cause I can see your heart is jumpin’ out your chest.” We heard a gunshot echo through the trees.

That bastard did bring a weapon with him! I guess I shouldn’t be that surprised.

A body appeared, soaking the snow in red, the blood slowly seeping into the fabrics of the blanket. “I know you gave it all, ‘cause I’ve already seen your best. It is time you accepted this.” Another gunshot and another Earth Element lost his camouflage and fell a few yards from us.

Mark kept singing, firing shots every now and again. He didn’t go silent. “Southeast, 100 yards Captain.” He shouted from the trees, “Catch and shoot. Chest level.”

A handgun fell from trees and the second the weapon hit Jack’s hand he fired in the given direction. A body fell. We were surrounded. Jack threw the gun back up into the air and it disappeared into the trees.

“Karen! To your left, aim up, blast ‘em.”

I raised my hand and demanded the molecules to vibrate, firing the blast to my left. Someone was thrown backward, mid-jump, into a tree. We kept following Mark’s lead, trudging through the woods, on edge and alert.

“Got ‘em!” Mark shouted. We heard him jump down from the canopy of trees, dropping his disguise.

 

Blood Betrayal

            Shawn wasn’t in good shape. He was knocked out cold. A large bruise took up the left side of his face, painting it black and purple. Blood trickled from the corner of his lip. Someone wrote ‘traitor’ on his inner forearm in thick black marker; there was no way to tell it was someone who was Lab-loyal, or someone who had lost a friend to Shawn’s hand when he was initially under the influence of the Murder Chemical. Blood pulled around his leg, a spot at his thigh a bit darker than the rest. I couldn’t wrap my head around how someone could have bested Shawn. The moment he was threatened, he regressed back to the killing machine he was created to be. I kneeled beside him and wiped the blood from his lip, gently shaking him in an attempt to wake him up. He groaned but didn’t respond any more than that.

“Where do we take him?” I looked at Jack.

“Wake up dude!” Mark slapped his face gently with a cupped hand. “This is no time to sleep, get up. You need to walk.”

Shawn groaned and his eyes finally opened. Of course he would awaken for Mark. Jack hoisted him up and let him lean on him as we walked out of the woods. Mark’s gun was drawn and I kept my hands lit up. Mark led the way, while I took up the rear, keeping my eyes open for any attacks that might come up on our tail. When we got to the road, Jack cursed. One of the assailants had let the air out of the tires of his car. We’d have to walk. A few blocks down the road, a red pickup pulled off to the side. A man with a shaved head, broad shoulders and a red beard stepped out from the door and jogged towards us. I quickly shook off the flames and Mark lowered his gun, finger still on the trigger.

“Do you guys need any help? A ride maybe—” he stopped and his eyes glazed over, his jaw unhinged. “Shawn?”

“How do you know him?” Jack asked defensively.

Shawn’s head rolled up. “Oh, Caleb.”

“Come on, I can take us to my place. I have medical supplies there, I can help. I’m a doctor.” He jerked his head to the side to summon us forward.

“Can we trust him?” Mark asked, not moving from his spot. “Also, who the fuck is Caleb?”

“That is Caleb,” Shawn’s voice was weak. “Yeah, we can trust him. He’s my brother.” He looked at Jack, “One of the adopted ones. We’ll be okay. Congrats on the doctor-thing.”

With Shawn’s okay, we piled into the bed of Caleb’s truck. Shawn kept going in and out of consciousness and Jack pondered aloud how he could’ve kept walking without complaining despite there still being a bullet in his leg. He was most likely drugged with heavy sedatives. It was the only thing that could explain someone being able to bring him down. Shawn didn’t lose fights—he ended them. The drive was short and quiet. Save for, of course, the tumbling of the engine, the static from the silent radio from inside the cab, and the wheels turning against the pavement packed with snow. Caleb let us into his house located a few miles south of where we were, opposite of town. It was a small brick cape cod with a quaint little chimneystack. The driveway was long and trailed through the woods. The small patio held two plastic chairs with a table between them. Jack hoisted Shawn up and carried him into the house, laying him down on a wooden table in a room adjacent from the kitchen. Caleb gave us each a glass of water and told us to make ourselves at home in the living room. He would take care of his brother. As we walked towards the living room, I snatched a phone that was left laying on the countertop and slipped it into my jacket pocket when the guys weren’t paying attention. It could be handy.

Mark refused to leave Shawn’s side. Shawn wouldn’t have left his. “I don’t trust you.”

Jack and I left the room, giving Caleb his space to work. As much as I thought the situation was weird, it was better than going to a hospital where we’d have to hide our existence should Doctor Keller not be in. Shawn only needed to be checked out quickly—get the bullet removed and something for his broken eye. We sat in the living room, staring at the wooden planked walls and eyeing up the trinkets that lined shelves high up on the wall. The television set was turned off and I was rather certain that it was unplugged, but I didn’t bother getting up to find out. We sipped on our water, waiting for Caleb or Mark to appear. I had never expected to meet any of Shawn’s other brothers, and I’m sure Mark and Jack didn’t either. It was unlikely that Shawn thought he’d ever run into them again. I finished my cup and felt a shiver in my bones.

I tried to shake it off but it held onto me with a vice grip.

“Jack, I’m cold.” I looked at him, terror slowly starting to fill my eyes. I knew this feeling. Doctor Grey forced this into my veins when he tortured me.

“Light up.” He instructed, his voice calm and stern.

I couldn’t. I stared at my hand, doing my best to will the molecules around me to surround my skin in flames, but nothing happened—nothing but a chill in my veins. Jack held his hand up, eyes narrowed, but not a single droplet of water fell from his fingertips. In the room that held Caleb, Mark, and Shawn we heard a gunshot, a crash, and a string of curse words from Mark before silence overcame us once more. We both rushed to the other room, but a steel door shut us out. Jack grabbed a chair from the kitchen table and slammed at the door until the piece of furniture was nothing but splinters. I tried to light my hands to melt the frame, but no heat could be produced and I was nearly vibrating with cold. We couldn’t break through it. There was nothing we could do.

I heard a roll of tires eating up the gravel driveway with several more falling behind it. The vehicles circled around, closing in on the front half of the house.

“I informed Thaddeus that I have acquired his Subjects before I got out of my truck,” Caleb spoke through the door. “I was hired at the Lab just two days after you lot escaped.”

 

Electronic Ally

            My heart sank, my blood turned to tar. This couldn’t be it. We couldn’t be getting recaptured so soon. My hands were shaking as flashbacks of being force-fed ricin and being held hostage in tanks filled with mustard gas filled my head. Jack nudged me.

            “Everything will be okay.”

“Shut up.” I rolled my eyes. “We need to call Ryan and Matt.”

“Matt I’m okay with, but Ryan?” he was staring at the front door, fists curled. “No one is going to survive if we bring him in. Mark’s down, Ryan becomes the nuclear weapon,” he looked at me, “you know, the whole reason they kept him in a coma.”

“Fine then, I’ll call him,” I pulled out the phone that I had found earlier and dialed, waiting for the answer.

“Yes?”

“Mark’s down.” I tried to keep my voice low. “We could use your help. Bring Matt. Jack and I don’t have our Elements.” I didn’t wait for an answer from Ryan before I hung up. I knew Matt could track the signal and I knew they would arrive.

Jack took the phone from my hands, threw it on the ground, and stomped on it. “We talked about this!” he scolded. “No phones! We shouldn’t have anything on us that could track us!” he took a deep breath, calming his anger. “Why did you have a phone on you? Where’d you get it?”

I knew it was dumb to carry a device that could be easily tracked, but it wasn’t mine. “I found it on the counter as we walked through the kitchen.” I told him. “I swiped just in case.” I watched his lips curl up. “I was able to call for back up and you got to destroy something of Caleb’s.”

“Who knew a phone could be such a good ally.” He stared at the smashed bits of technology at his feet.

 

Confronting the Devil

            We stepped out, our eyes scanning over the military vehicles with Guards lined up around them. They were in full gear, bulletproof attire with helmets complete with dark face shields. We had to confront them head on, without weapons or our Elements. We needed Ryan and Matt to show up. Each one of the Guards held a rifle across their chests. In the middle of the line up stood Thaddeus. His lab coat was tucked up under a winter jacket and he wore boots instead of his usual pointed dress shoes. His arms were crossed and there was a smirk upon his lips.

“It’s time to come home now.” The words felt like venom as they somehow seeped into the pores of my stomach.

One of the Guards next to him stepped forward and raised his rifle, pointing it at us. “Hands on your heads Subjects!” The line was tired. “Fingers interlocked!”

Just as we began to do as told, muscles shaking with the fear of having to go back, I saw flames lick up the snow on the driveway, clearing a path for a roar of two engines. Ryan and Matt rode up on two street bikes, Ryan opening a path through the winter mess with his own Element. When he got closer, Ryan swung the bike to a sudden stop, throwing it to the ground, and sent a blast towards one of the military vehicles. The heavy truck and everyone around it went up in flames. Matt jumped off his bike, pulled out his own weapon, and shot down two Guards.

“Cover me, Kline!” Matt shouted.

Ryan sent a blast of flames towards two Guards, laughing as their skin lit up. He walked towards them, his hands raised and the vehicles lifted from their spot. Bright orange and red fires cascaded from them and blanketed them in Ryan’s wrath. Thaddeus ducked away, two Guards safely removing him from the spot. Not that it mattered. The only people who could kill the head Lab Coat weren’t capable of fighting in this battle. The anger in me boiled. He was right there! I could have gotten him! Still, it was rather satisfying watching Ryan confront this army of Guards and have the upper hand so flawlessly. I watched in awe as he stepped toward a Guard who was pointing a rifle at him. Ryan grabbed the gun and heated the metal beneath his skin until the Guard was forced to let go, his hands burning. Ryan shoved the gun under the man’s chin and pulled the trigger before lighting him in flames.

“Where the fuck is my brother?” He shouted.

“Well, he was rather easy to find in the woods,” A Guard smirked. He had green stitching on his clothing: an Earth Element. “Just like when I shot him out of that tree. But, it was Shawn we needed.”

Jack and I looked at each other and then back at Ryan with wide eyes.

Ryan grabbed the rifle from the man he had just killed and, with lightning speed, shot the kneecaps of the Guard who had taunted him. I couldn’t help but wonder if this sharp shooting skill ran in the Kline family. He walked to him at a fast pace and used the butt of the gun to knock him onto the ground. He wouldn’t let the Guard get another word in before he started stomping on his skull.

“You. Almost. Killed. My. Brother.” Blood splattered and I could hear the crunch of bone beneath Ryan’s foot.

“Ryan!” Matt’s voice came from beside me and it made me jump. “Mark’s inside. Crushing that dead guy’s skull isn’t helping anyone!”

Matt grabbed my arm, pulled up the sleeve of my shirt, and jammed a needle into the crook of my elbow. I had gotten used to needles, so the pinch and pressure didn’t bother me. “You’ll have your powers back in no time.” He spoke before doing the same to Jack.

Ryan joined us, blood splattered along his clothing and speckled on his face. Sparks lit up around his fingertips and his eyes were a dark, deep red with flecks of black in a hauntingly beautiful color. He pushed us aside and kicked the front door down.

“You could have just used the doorknob,” Jack sighed and followed. “See? He’s a bomb.”

“He’s fun.” I jumped on the balls of my feet as I followed him. How could I not be excited by this destruction caused mostly by flames? I too was a Fire Element after all.

We pointed the door out and Ryan sent an explosion of flames from his hands into the steel barrier. It ripped from its hinges and flew into the room, smashing against the opposing wall and bringing down anything that was housed upon it.

 

So this is how it ends, Captain?

            Matt stepped in first. He lifted his hands up to his waist, palms facing the ceiling. Thick roots burst through the floorboards and wrapped around Caleb’s legs. Matt moved the roots in dancing motions, taking the ends of them and stabbing them through the tops of Caleb’s feet. Ryan pushed Matt aside and stood before Caleb, who was screaming in pain, tears streaming down his face. Ryan lit a hand and began punching Caleb’s face, breaking his nose and eye socket.

Shawn was restrained to the table, unconscious and still bleeding. Blood had seeped through his pant leg and a trail once again trickled from the corner of his mouth. Mark’s hands were tied above him to a hook on the wall, a bullet wound in his shoulder. His head hung low, his eyes fluttered against the sedatives that Caleb must have pumped through his system after he was shot. I stared at my hands, cursing at them to light up. Slowly, I began to feel heat rise to the surface. Finally, my skin began to glow and my palms gave off a white light. I went to Mark and held the chain that kept him hostage until the metal weakened and I could snap it. Mark stood, swaying on unsteady feet and hugged me tightly.

“Thanks,” his words were shaking. “I can’t go back.” He whispered the statement and I hugged him back.

I went to Shawn, lit my hands and snapped his restraints with ease. “Matt!” I called out. “Do you still have any of that stuff left to get our powers back?”

“Yeah.” He walked to me. “Why?”

Ryan and Jack were discussing what they would do with Caleb, trying to find out if he should drown in his own home or be encased in flames.

“I have an idea.” I told him. “Help me stand Shawn up, face him towards his brother.”

He helped me move his younger brother. Jack and Ryan pried themselves away from Caleb and held him up, holding him from the sides.

“Give him the stuff.” I instructed.

Matt looked at me with hesitation. “You understand that this a really bad idea, right?” He held the syringe out.

“Yes, trust me though, okay?”

He sighed but released the liquid into Shawn’s bloodstream.

I stepped in front of him. He began to sway his head, his eyes barely opening. “I love you, and I’m sorry.” I punched him in the face before ducking from his view.

His head snapped up and his eyes flew open. They were glowing brightly and his face went straight. He touched the spot on his chin where the blood had trailed and looked at his finger before looking up at his bruised brother. He cracked his neck and pushed Ryan and Jack away from him. Each of us stepped behind him. Mark found his firearm and held it, finger resting on the trigger. This was risky. The Murder Chemical was taking over.

Shawn was gone.

Weapon 32784 was front and center.

If Shawn only locked in on his adopted brother, the rest of us would have enough time to restrain him once he was done.

Shawn didn’t move from his spot, staring at Caleb. He slowly moved his hand in a twisting motion and Caleb’s hand followed suit until it snapped.

“What the hell?” He screamed, his pain bouncing and echoing around us. “Please don’t kill me, I’m your brother Shawn. I-I was only trying to help!”

Shawn stepped forward and began hitting his adopted brother until his face was hardly recognizable—blood pouring from his nose and eyes. Shawn looked around until he spotted a piece of glass on the floor near where the door had landed. He walked to it calmly and picked it up, twirling it in his hand. He stood in front of Caleb and smirked.

“I’m not going to kill you,” he held the glass to his lip. “My hippy brother is.”

Years ago, Shawn had mentioned that his adopted brothers, Caleb and James, would make fun of him for believing Matt had powers, or that he even existed. When Shawn told them how Matt could make flowers grow from his palm, or make the roots in the ground sway like water, they told him Matt was nothing but a hippy and a figment of his wild imagination.

Matt’s eyes widened and I could see the fear in him. Still, Shawn wasn’t targeting us right now. Perhaps we were safe. Still, we kept our guard up. Shawn handed the piece of glass to Matt and stepped aside. Matt grinned, his eyes turning a bright green. He held his hand out and made a small flower with tiny white petals and a bright yellow center grow from his palm. He watched Caleb look at him in awe as moss grew on his fingertips before he sliced into Caleb’s neck. Blood poured in torrents, spraying on Matt and Shawn and soaking Caleb’s shirt before he fell over. When Shawn turned around again, he narrowed in on Mark—most likely because a gun still dangled at his side.

“Nope,” Mark walked quickly, water already dripping from his nose. He lifted his gun and slammed it against Shawn’s temple, dropping his friend. “I’m not dealing with that right now.”

I looked around at the scene that unfolded around us. Ryan gave Mark a piece of wood from a shelf to bite into while he dug the bullet from his shoulder. He cauterized the wound shut once he retrieved it. Mark groaned in pain and kicked his feet. Ryan stood him up before doing the same to Shawn. Matt, Jack, and I held Shawn down in case he woke up and snapped. Matt gave him a dose of some of the sedatives that Caleb had lying around and we gently shook him awake. Shawn looked at Caleb and rolled his eyes.

“So, this is how it ends Captain?” Shawn glanced over at Jack. “I can’t even trust my brother?”

“We can’t trust anyone.” Jack patted his shoulder. “You know that.”

 

The Comfort of Flames

            We walked out of Caleb’s house, limping and not looking back. Ryan lifted up the street bike he had thrown to the ground and kicked it to life. “Mark, hop on.”

Matt did the same and summoned Shawn to him. Jack and I could walk, we didn’t have any bullet wounds in us and the drugs that Matt injected into us had countered the Element Blockers we had been slipped. We left the driveway in silence, slowly making our way back home. Jack stared contently at his feet as they crunched into the snow. I watched a smile slowly creep up on his face. He paused and bent down, examining the ice crystals and watching them slowly melt under his fingertips as he touched the cold substance. He grabbed a handful and shivered, but didn’t drop it. He closed his fist around it and watched with satisfaction as it compacted in his palm. He dropped it and began to walk again. It was a bit difficult to see Jack as someone so innocent. He was a weapon, a warrior. He had survived more than most of us. Hell, there were only three survivors left standing after the torture the Subjects of Experiment A were put through: Ryan, Matt, and Jack. They could efficiently kill an entire SWAT team with little effort but had never experienced things like snow or Christmas.

“So, is this a normal Christmas thing?”

“What?” I asked, feeling a bit lighter as I watched him play with the fluffy ice in awe. “Killing Caleb or snow?”

“Both.”

“No!” I laughed. “Murder is not a Christmas thing!”

“Well?” Jack’s voice was dramatic, “How else am I supposed to deal with traitors that try to kill my friends or a fat man who breaks into people’s houses and steals their food?”

“There is no fat man!” I couldn’t contain my giggles.

“Okay, what about the snow then?”

“Well, sometimes.”

By now we had reached the end of his driveway. A thin layer had piled up on the blacktop, covering up the handiwork that Ryan and I had done earlier. Streaks of exposed blacktop for the street bikes to make their way to the garage snaked their way up the path. The snow had finally stopped and the sky was white. The air was chilled and everything was silent. It was peaceful and serene. We stepped through the threshold into the kitchen, kicked our boots off, and shook the cold from our shoulders. I stood over the fire that Ryan had going and placed my hands in it, sighing as the heat found every last fiber in me. Jess walked into the kitchen with Trish at her heels. She carried a small pine tree, decorated with glass ornaments and a glittering star on top. Jess placed the tree in the center and helped Trish set tiny presents around it; each one had one of our names scribbled on the shiny wrapping paper. Sue came into the room, a small present in hand and walked to Mark, who sat by the fire with his brother discussing his new found ability. He talked about how he wanted to be able to chill his body to match the temperature of the soil beneath him but couldn’t quite get the hang of it. The fire warmed them and cast shadows across their faces. Sue sat beside Mark and handed him the wrapped gift. Mark looked at her confused.

“Jess told us that we give each other gifts on this day,” she placed it in his hands. “It’s okay that you didn’t get me one. Jess got me this necklace,” she showed him a bright green pendant hanging from a thin silver chain.

Mark shrugged and opened the gift. It was a new sight for one of his handguns. Not that he really needed one, but he smiled wide. He embraced Sue and kissed her forehead.

“Thanks.”

“Now you can keep up with me,” Sue smirked.

Everyone exchanged gifts as the fire crackled and filled the room with warmth and heat, burning away the burdens of the day.

 

What’s Next?

            The night grew around us. A chill swept through the house, creeping in through the cracks of the floorboards and the old windows. Most of the group had gone to sleep. Shawn was just now fully waking up; the bruise on his face was already fading to a light purple. The bullet wound on his leg was beginning to heal as well, and he had vomited up whatever was making him bleed from his mouth earlier. Jack, Mark, Shawn and I sat around the living room. Mark and Jack sat on the floor eating a bowl of chips while zoned into the television screen, watching late night shows. Shawn was lying on the couch, his head on my lap, reading a book. I sipped on a cup of hot tea, watching the television.

“Jack,” Shawn put his book down.

“Hm?” Jack spoke through a mouthful of food.

“What’s next? What do we do?”

We all looked at him, just as curious as Shawn.

Jack looked up and sighed. “We find your other brother, James, and make sure he’s not going to turn us in.”

“If he is?” Mark asked before stuffing a handful of chips into his mouth.

“We kill him.” Shawn went back into his book again, his face straight. “I kill him.”

 

 

(Disclaimer: The song that Mark sings is called Gladiator by Zayde Wolf. I highly recommend checking it out!)

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