According to any superhero lore, the next step in an origin story after the initial origins part and figuring out how to control the powers is an epic training montage with a debut pop song with a suitably awesome rhythm playing in the background as the hero (or heroes) discovers the range and extent of his powers—or builds a super suit that will later be exploited by the villain of choice.
I wasn’t going to have anything to do with it.
Robbie said I was being paranoid. Angie said I was being silly. Anyone who’d just gotten an amazing superpower would surely want to give it a little road testing. But I wasn’t just anyone. I was a freak accident.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. I tried it out a bit, and just like Angie said, if I thought about fire, I would get fire. My powers were easy to control, easy to use, and for all that I could see, well-nigh limitless. But there’s something about me that I’ve never admitted to anyone. For all I complain about being a freak and about wanting to control my freakishness, there is a part of me deep down inside that likes it. I don’t like the chaos and disorder that my accidents tend to create, or the pain they cause (I’d had a crush on Cory when he sprained his ankle, so I was really upset about that one). But I do like the uncertainties that they create. The potential they have for a good story. As much as I hated it, I also loved it, because it was a part of my identity. What I didn’t know was how much of a part of my identity it was. Would I eventually come to love creating these accidents?
I had no intention of finding out. And so long as I didn’t use my powers, I wouldn’t be tempted to find out. That was my thinking, at least. Not very logical, I admit, but it made sense at the time.
I started avoiding Robbie. I knew we’d both put a lot of thought into how our abilities could be used and controlled, and I knew how his worked. His worked on a kind of a “what if” basis. Static things that aren’t affected by elements of uncertainty (read, human error) are relatively easy to predict with a great deal of accuracy. Which is why as a weatherman, he’d be right every time. But when trying to determine what’s going to happen next, he needs to account for everything that may happen between now and that potential outcome. I’m a freak accident, remember? I wanted a superpower that would allow me to prevent the accidents from occurring when I knew how bad they’d be. So I needed to be able to predict which courses would lead to an accident. So what would happen if I had an apple instead of an orange at breakfast? I would break three plates and set the alarm off. Ok, then I’ll have an orange, because if I do that, I’ll only break one plate and scare the cat.
Robbie knew the outcome he wanted (me using my powers), so all he needed to do was work through a series of what if’s that would lead him, and me, to that outcome. But first he needed to develop stamina and control over his abilities. So he spent a great deal of time in the darker parts of the Manor.
Angie was just happy to disappear as herself and reappear as a bird or a cat or a dog. Once she figured out how to make herself taller (which was unnerving), she walked around school two inches taller for a whole day. People kept giving her double takes when they walked by her. She said it was a great way to build up control and stamina—not that she cared about training, she just thought it was funny.
They montaged. I kept to myself and did my homework alone. It was easy to avoid them because they spent most of their time in the Manor, honing their skills.
It was inevitable that Robbie would eventually find just the right situation at just the right moment to get me to play along. After several weeks of not talking to each other, I’d fallen asleep working on a math assignment (go figure), and it was one of those naps that make you forget what century it is, when Robbie burst into my room shouting, “Come quick! It’s an emergency!”
Having been startled awake by my loud, flying twin brother, my first thought wasn’t that he was going to trick me into using my powers. My first thought was that there was a human who was soon going to die with a pencil in his eye. I was still too bleary and confused to object when he dragged me outside and shoved me into the car. Before I could get my bearings, we were somewhere downtown surrounded by a bunch of abandoned buildings. Then somehow I knew where we were going. If I’d thought about it (and been more awake), I would have known exactly what was drawing me onward. We stopped outside an old mill with most of the windows broken out. I didn’t need Robbie to pull me out of the car or push me towards the building. I went on my own. If I’d ever been in a trance before, I would have said that that was what it felt like. Before I knew it I’d walked right inside the open door to the building.
In my little experiments with my powers, I’d never gotten much beyond a little bit of fire, and I was too afraid of burning down the neighborhood to release my control on it, so I could always just blow it out like a candle flame. What was growing inside that building was new born and hungry. I could feel how it had started. A can of kerosene splashed around and a match dropped on the floor. It hadn’t started more than ten minutes ago, but it was already engulfing the room it had started in, and it was spreading beyond it. The whole building was a mass of wood and brick, probably slated for demolition years ago.
I walked right into the room where the fire originated and into my own origin story. I was enveloped in fire, but it didn’t hurt me. The moment my skin made contact with it, I could feel and see everything it touched. I could feel it eating through the wood in the walls and the linoleum on the floor. I could feel it crawling into other rooms, feeding off the detritus left behind by years of drifters and kids making trouble. I breathed in deeply, taking in the smoke and the fire together, and as I breathed, the fire began burning faster. With a strange sense, I knew that I could put the fire out if I just told it to go out. I also knew that if I tried, it would hurt. And I knew that if I wanted to, I could destroy the whole building in a matter of minutes. It was a kind of exhilaration that is almost impossible to ignore, and is impossible to give up. Not knowing how much power I had, but the feeling of that fire at that moment.
I have no idea how long I stood there before I realized that my fire was eating through parts of the ceiling, and I figured I should probably stop the fire before the building collapsed on top of me. I’m not sure how I knew, but I knew that if I tried to put it out all at once, something bad would happen. So I started willing small sections to go out. It was oddly satisfying to see it go out with a sudden puff. But it was too little, too late. [Pentimento]
Because then the ceiling fell in and that was how I discovered that, while I am immune to fire, I’m not immune to smoldering debris.