She Looks Like… “This”

Introductory Note : The following short story takes place some time after the later events of Bonnie’s New Auntie.


The early-morning autumn leaves on the valley-sides – though resplendent in their brilliant, fourth-quarter reds, oranges and yellows – were, in fact, scarcely noticed by most of the shoppers inside the mid-sized Franco’s Lowball Costs grocery-store.

Some had come to this small, Canadian resort-country town just to see the trees in their all-too-brief glory; others were here on more prosaic duties such as “closing up the cottage”, while still others – locals, mostly – were stocking up on supplies for the impending winter months.

A quick glance at license-plates in the parking-lot would have revealed mostly Ontario-registered automobiles and RVs, although there were also plenty from New York State, various New England principalities and a few from points further afar, like Texas, Florida or even the vehicle of some brave adventurer from California.

The place was very busy; the queues starting at the checkout-counters were all five or more family-groups deep, forcing some of the lines back up the aisles containing foodstuffs. Though the store had not yet started its late fall interior heating, many of the mostly Caucasian (with a sprinkling of visible minorities, mostly from the Greater Toronto Area) shoppers had arrived somewhat over-dressed in anticipation of cool outdoor weather. Extraneous outer clothing-layers were thus being ruefully removed, up and down each queue.

The lengthy delays in the shopping-lineups provided (or, more accurately… “imposed”) ample opportunity for idle chit-chat, amongst those waiting for their turn at the counter.

Conversations covered all the usual bases, ranging from the outcomes of local junior sports games to more weighty events, for example “man, am I ever glad that I live up here and not down there… did’ya hear about how Florida got hit by three monster hurricanes in a row, this year?”. There was also some passing commentary about even more unusual events supposedly occurring in the United States; but this was mostly dismissed as “more of that ‘conspiracy-theory’ nonsense that they’re always brewin’ up, on NeoNet… ain’t worth the bits and bytes it’s floatin’ around on”.

There was, of course, the usual grumbling about escalating prices for everything, though, the fact that Canada’s currency was at a 100-year high compared to its beleaguered U.S. counterpart, certainly did take some of the “sting” out of the cost of a bag of salad or a loaf of bread.

About two shopping-groups’ distant from the cherished objective of the checkout-counter, and almost precisely in the middle of the eight distinct queues, a young, already-tall, teenage Caucasian lad with never-combed brown hair and the unkempt beginnings of a stubble-beard, had all the time that any kid of his ilk would have needed to win arguments with his parents by means of repetition and exhaustion.

“Come on, Dad,” he too-loudly complained, “I’m almost old enough to drive, you know; and way up here, the cops are never gonna catch us! Why can’t I at least take her from here, to the cottage? It’s, like, only ten miles or something!”

“Fred,” interjected his mother (a thin-framed, forty-something woman with a close-cropped hairdo),

“That man over there… you see him?

“Yeah – sure I do,” answered the father, who was a somewhat-overweight, clean-shaven, balding man in his forties.

“So what?” queried Fred.

“He was staring at your daughter,” warned the mother.

“So maybe he’s a pervert or something,” interjected the teenager. “Dad – about the car –”

“Just a sec, William,” temporized the father, as he shot a quick glance at what appeared to be a Caucasian male in the next queue over to the right, compared to the line that his own family was stuck in.

Actually, the balding, late-40’s-aged, cheaply-outfitted object of the wife’s attention (the guy reminded Fred of a used-car salesman) looked so similar that he might have been Fred’s own brother, although he seemed to be leading a quite different clan. This included a pre-teen boy with a distinct copper-tone to his skin (Fred figured this kid to be either Hispanic or some other ethnic group), another dark-haired male child about the same age but definitely Caucasian, and two teenagers.

One of the latter was an obviously-pretty, brown-eyed female Caucasian with long, auburn-brown hair. The second was a white male with close-cropped black hair, perhaps a bit younger but somewhat taller than the brown-haired girl (he was a bit taller than William). All of the junior-aged crew in this group were dressed in casual street clothes.

Fred’s son was about to whine again, but he had, like his father, been distracted by the other line-up.

“You’re imagining things,” countered the father,. “I don’t see anything. The guy’s got four kids – didn’t you hear him telling them “no beer, some of you are under-age”? And no, William, you’re not getting behind the wheel, at least not until we get to the cottage and you’re not on a public road. You think I want us to get it impounded up here, and then have to rent a car to get back to Delaware? No way, José!”

“Well, I just… oh, never mind,” complained the teenager, who then moped, briefly looked down at the floor and shuffled his feet.

The grocery-buying queues continued to move forward, and, coincidentally, Fred’s family, and the one that he and his wife had been arguing about, were both next-up for the checkout-counter in their respective lines.

It was at this point that Fred himself began to be slightly concerned, for he saw the Hispanic-looking boy in the other queue point at Fred’s six-year-old, pig-tailed, bunny-head-dress-wearing daughter Casey (or – oddly – at the caped-super-heroine doll in Casey’s hand). He stared intensely at the little girl before looking in another direction.

For a second or two, Casey stood transfixed in place; despite prodding from her mother, the wide-eyed little girl refused to move. Initially, both Fred and Beatrice were worried that their daughter was having yet another of her epileptic sessions, but eventually, Casey came to her senses and stopped blocking the line.

The man in the other line-up, between snatching various grocery-items from his shopping-cart and depositing each in turn on the checkout conveyor-belt, whirled in place and started talking to the brown-haired young woman following behind him, although the conversation was unfortunately just out of earshot.

Weird, too, how just a look from that boy, almost sent Casey off the deep end… shit, I sure hope she holds it together while we’re up here… I hear that our Bronze Low insurance coverage doesn’t work up here.

That’s all we need – a kid in hospital for a week, while we go to the poor-house…

“Daddy!” interjected Casey, who was staring upward at her two parents.

She looked as if she’d seen a ghost. “Daddy! I got to tell you something!”

“Not now, dear,” said Beatrice. “Daddy and I are busy paying for our groceries.”

“But it’s important!” persisted the child. “Really important!”

“You have to go to the bathroom again?” sighed Fred.

“No,” said Casey, “But –”

“Then it will have to wait until we get out to the car,” countermanded the father.

Sullenly, Casey looked downward; but – holding her superheroine-figurine up in front – she started to mumble something clearly directed at it.

“She really believes all that crazy stuff about these ‘super-heroes’, you know,” quietly related Beatrice to Fred, upon seeing their daughter talking to the doll. “I wish William wouldn’t show her all those videos, after we told him they’re off-limits for her.”

“It’s just a phase,” he whispered back. “Part of growing up. Go easy on both of ‘em! We didn’t have any, uhh, episodes, coming up here. Let’s not set her off, you know?”

“Yeah,” conceded the mother.

But it appeared that, despite the parents’ efforts, William had overheard, as he whispered to his sister, “Don’t worry, ‘Case… I think they’re true, too. Dad and Mom just don’t know how to tell the real social media videos, from the fake ones.”

The little girl solemnly nodded in agreement.

Meanwhile, the rest of what Fred guessed was the strange man’s family, continued to empty their shopping-cart. Though he was preoccupied by his own duty to do the same, he had enough time to notice a few unusual things about what the other group had purchased.

For example, no flour or baking-goods were in the cart, but there were no less than five large packages each of regular and icing sugar; there was enough ice-cream to sink a battleship, and – despite the fact that there was a big sale in the store for fresh steaks and even though local trout was in season – the only “meat” on the checkout-belt was of that faked, inferior vegetarian stuff. Along with a three-deep-stacked pile of canned-goods, there were a lot of fresh vegetables, probably too many for five people to turn into salad-material, before some of it would go bad.

Finally, though the other party seemed to number only one adult, two teenagers and two pre-teen boys, the amount of food being acquired was far in excess of what a group of this size would ordinarily consume in a week or thereabouts.

Well… nothing really strange about that, he reasoned.

Just stocking up for a long stay somewhere… but it’s already autumn?

With all that food, looks like they’ll be eating it for a month or more…

Hope they got some nice warm duds, ‘case the temperature takes a dip…

The curious-looking man in the other queue seemed to have finished his grocery-bagging duties in record time. He stared intently, but this time, his gaze was directed – oddly, without so much as a spoken word – at the copper-hued, dark-haired boy.

The boy nodded as if in agreement, then grabbed hold of the shopping-cart’s rear handle-bar (he was only a head’s-worth taller than this, so it was evidently something of a struggle) and, accompanied by the rest of his family tagging along behind, pushed the cart in a direction aimed for the door of the shopping-center.

Holy crap, silently noted Fred.

That cart’s filled way past overflowing – must weigh a ton – but the kid’s maneuvering it as if it were empty.

Must be a damn strong little bugger… Will could never have managed something like that, when he was the same age…

Wonder why he’s pushing it by himself, when there’s two bigger kids to help out? Or even that other, white boy?

Wait a minute, there they go… sure seem to be in a hurry to get out of the store.

Maybe going out to start the car?

The man, meanwhile, had taken up a position with his back up against the grocery-store’s front picture-windows. His eyes were closed, but, unfortunately, whether to the left or to the right, there was no way that Fred and his family could get out of the establishment without going right by this guy.

Maybe he’s just taking a pause for the cause, or something, Fred postulated.

But there’s something I don’t like about his, uhh, manner.

What the hell’s he doing, just leaning back like that?

Why isn’t he heading out with the rest of his group?

Not sure what it is, but whatever his ‘issues’ are – he’d better keep ‘em to himself.

At this point, Beatrice and (somewhat reluctantly), William, had finished reloading the now-paid-for groceries, into their own shopping-cart.

The teenager looked up at Fred.

“Well?” he said.

“’Well’, what?” responded the father.

“You gonna take the cart outside?” asked the teenager.

“No… you are,” directed Fred.

“Why do I have to do it?” complained William.

“Because I have to have my hands free… that’s why,” evenly stated the father.

“Uhh… why’d you…” stammered the son.

“Just do it, for God’s sake!” countered a frustrated Fred. “It’s just a shopping-cart and all you got to do is ‘get it to the car’. Not a lot to ask, so… enough!

“Fine… fine… whatever you say, dude,” sullenly retreated William, as he positioned himself behind the cart and began to push.

He turned it to the left – pointing towards one of the store’s two front-exits – and, to Fred’s relief, got easily past the strange man, as did Beatrice. However, just as Fred himself, with Casey’s hand held securely in his own, tried to walk by, the odd-behaving man came to life; his eyes opened and – with no apparent provocation – looked the father right in the face and said,

“Hey, there, Fred – uhh, Fred Beaumont, isn’t it? How’s it going today, man?”

An annoyed Fred stopped in place (with tightened grasp on his daughter’s hand) and responded, “I don’t know you, mister. What’s this all about?”

“It is ‘Fred Beaumont’… isn’t it?” continued the strange man. “Oh, and – your daughter’s name is ‘Casey’, right? Hi, honey! Hey, you look like you’re about Elissha’s age… she’s my youngest, by the way –”

Beatrice and William stopped all forward motion and turned their attention to the conversation.

“As a matter of fact… yes, it is,” answered an increasingly-annoyed Fred. “How’d you…”

“Oh… you could say that a really nice lady told me,” pleasantly mentioned the man. “A very unusual lady, in fact.”

Shit, he realized.

This guy must be a cop or something!

How else could he… or maybe he’s one of those fuckin’ crazy cult-members.

Do they got them up here in Canada, like back home?

Don’t think they do.

But if he’s a cop, this could be really bad news – what did we do?

We didn’t do jack shit!

Okay… so I did lowball it, when the border-guards asked me about how much cash we were bringing across the border… but that’s just because the good old Yankee Dollar’s not worth a bucket of warm spit, up here!

Surely that’s not enough for them to sic a detective on me!

Anyway… I got rights… I think… so better bluff this cop, find out what the hell he’s aimin’ at…

“Look, mister,” challenged Fred, “I don’t know what this is all about, but you’re disturbing both me and my daughter. Unless you got some – uhh – legal reason for me and my family to hang around here… we’re heading out. You understand?”

The strange man let out what sounded like a sincere sigh, and explained,

“I don’t blame you for being – uhh – confused about all this; and for the record, I hate having to do it every second time that we drop by a place with crowds of people… funny, you know – I’m a salesman by trade and I never minded doing cold-calls, but somehow, this feels kind of awkward. I apologize for that. Anyway… here’s the deal : my son Tommy noticed that little Casey there is holding something very special, in her hand; and we’d like you to join us in the overflow parking-lot – you know, the one in the back, away from the street – for a quick little, uhh, ‘get-together’. I promise, it’ll be worth your while. With me so far?”

“I got no idea what you’re talkin’ about,” parried Fred. “For starters, we don’t know you from a hole in the ground –”

“Oh, I can fix that,” interrupted the strange man.

His voice lowered, as if he were trying to avoid being overheard by passers-by.

“My name’s ‘Bob Billings’,” he said. “Son’s Tommy George, daughters are Sayuri and Elissha. He’s out back with his, err, ‘mother’; the girls are at home today. The other three that you saw with me there in the checkout-line, they’re just some Canadian friends helping us to shop for food.”

Now it was William’s turn to stare as if having seen a ghost, at the strange man.

Dad!” he called out, rather more loudly than would have been appropriate.

“Not now!” countermanded Fred.

“But Dad – don’t you realize who that is? Who he’s with?” persisted the teenager.

The strange man spoke in William’s direction,

“Oh, come on, kid,” he requested, “Let’s keep that as ‘our own little secret’ for a short while… not spoil the surprise. You mind?”

“Uhh… sure, man,” nervously responded William. “But… holy shit! You mean she’s –”

Billings had an insouciant grin on his face as he winked at the teenager.

He continued,

“Now, you see… here’s the thing. My better half has this kind of crazy rule – I think it’s completely impractical, but she insists on it – that if we see a child carrying anything, especially a doll, that, well, is kind of all about her… we invite ‘em to a little meet ‘n greet, somewhere private enough so we don’t scare the horses, in this case, ‘round the back of the building. You get what I’m saying?”

“Bea,” said Fred to his wife, “We’re going. Come on.”

He looked at William and pointed towards the door.

“Mom!” exclaimed the teenager, “We can’t! You and Dad don’t understand –”

Casey broke contact with her father and said, “Daddy… I want to go with the nice man.”

“You’ll do no such thing, young lady!” snapped Fred.

William released his grasp on the shopping-cart and said,

“I’m going with Case, Dad. And you and Mom had better come with us.”

“Mr. Beaumont,” interjected Billings, “Or ‘Fred’, if I can call you that – call me ‘Bob’… I don’t blame you for having your guard up; it’s exactly what I’d do, if some random guy accosted me on the way out of a grocery-store, like I’ve done to you and your family. But please believe me – this is the chance of a lifetime. You, and especially your daughter, will regret it as long as you live, if you pass it up. Just come with me around to the back, bring your whole family with you – none of you will be harmed in the slightest. The opposite, in fact.”

“You aren’t making any sense,” protested Fred. “What’s this all about? Like, a cult, or something? You don’t look like a cop, to me.”

“A… ‘cult’?” queried the strange man. “Funny you mention it like that… you know, I suppose that in a way, you could consider the ‘New People’ like ‘yours truly’, to be in a ‘cult’… but not the kind you’re familiar with. Tell you what – I’m going to head out now; I’ll wait by the side of the building, and it’s up to you to decide what you and your family are going to do. Listen, Will… I know that you know what’s going on here, but the thing is… she asked me not to spoil the moment, so please don’t tell your folks, if you don’t mind? They have to figure it out, for themselves. Some crazy thing about ‘free will’ or whatever. Oh-kay?”

I thought this guy spoke English? wondered Fred.

But he’s pronouncing a few words, oddly…

“What the hell’s he talking about?” whispered Fred to his son.

“Dad… he’s not fuckin’ kidding, about ‘the chance of a lifetime’,” answered William. “You gotta let Case go back there! Not to mention me. I can’t believe that you haven’t put two and two together, yet!”

Various members of his family had to stand aside as annoyed grocery-shoppers navigated around the huddle, immersed in conversation as it was.

A frustrated and cornered Fred Beaumont shot a glance at his wife.

“What you want to do?” he demanded.

“They could be planning to rob us, or something,” noted Beatrice.

“I’m told that there are security-cameras overlooking the rear parking-lot,” commented Bob Billings. “Which actually isn’t too great for us, but… if it’s of any interest, my family and I – who are the only ones you’ll meet back there – we, ahem, have no need of money. We got all we need and then some. Actually, if you’re short, I’ve got no doubt that we can hand you over a few nice little pure gold coins… they tell me that each one’s worth about ten grand American, probably about half that up here. But oh well. ‘Money comes, money goes’… you know?”

Beatrice bit her lip.

“Fred… you know how much we need for Casey’s treatments…” she forced out.

“I can’t give you a guarantee,” inscrutably mentioned Billings, “But my guess is, your daughter won’t have to deal with epilepsy – or anything else, for that matter – after we have our little get-together. Did you know that I used to be 65 pounds overweight? Just look at me!”

Somehow, the man’s frame revealed that the claim was likely true.

“So you are a cult then… right?” challenged a wary Fred.

“Like I said… ‘no kind of cult that you’ve ever heard of, before’,” evenly responded Billings. “But why take my word for it? Just come back and see. No obligations, no threats, no promises. Oh-kay, one only : you’re in for a very unusual experience. That’s all I’ll say.”

He turned and started for the door.

The two parents exchanged anxious glances.

Eventually, Beatrice said,

“Oh, come on, Fred… it’s bright daylight out there, and if anything bad happens, I’ll just scream!”

Her husband rolled his eyes and replied,

“Fine, then… but it’s on you, Bea… they didn’t let me bring our guns across the border – we got no protection, if –”

“Dad,” broke in an exultant William, “With who’s waiting for us back there… if we get into trouble, I’d use harsh language… ‘bout as effective as an AR, or a H-bomb.”

Fred’s face wore a thoroughly puzzled look, as – reluctantly with every foot-step – he led his family to follow the stranger, out of Franco’s Lowball Costs.


William and Casey beat Beatrice and Fred by a full six paces, in rounding the right-hand edge of the grocery-store’s front-side. The “Billings” guy was slightly ahead of them. The overflow parking-lot actually did have quite a few vehicles; Fred assumed that these cars belonged to the store-staff, because – unlike the rather frenetic activity in the front-lot – they were mostly unattended, with nobody coming and going.

The three Canadian youngsters were standing off to one side, chatting idly among themselves.

“Hey, Sari!” everyone heard the self-proclaimed salesman, call out. “They’re here… but Holy Sales Job, Batman, did it ever take some fancy talking to get them interested! You owe me big-time for getting them back here, my dear.”

At first, none of the Beaumont clan had any idea of who Billings was addressing. Yet – in the next half-second – William pointed to one of the vehicles about sixty feet away, in the shadows at the far end of the parking-lot. He excitedly exclaimed, “Is that her?”

What the hell, mused Fred,

Not two seconds ago, I just looked at that car! There was nobody near it, but now there’s some girl sitting on the hood, with her back turned to all of us.

She must have been hiding on the far side of it, then jumped up on the front of the car.

But how’s it that neither Bea nor I, saw her do that?

“Hi, Fred, Beatrice, William and Casey,” came a friendly greeting, from the “Sari”-girl. “I am glad that you decided to join my family and I, as Bob suggested.”

Though the pronunciation of the words was perfect, her voice had a light, hard-to-place accent.

Where’s she from? idly speculated Fred.

France? Germany? Sweden?

No, gotta be somewhere else. Maybe Finland?

Maybe somewhere, like, further away?

New Zealand?

Nah… heard one of ‘em once, they all talk like the Aussies, down there –

The new girl rotated quickly in place, while still seated on the car-hood (weirdly, she didn’t seem to use any of her limbs to effect the move; it was as if a gust of wind, or something like that, had turned her around). Then she effortlessly jumped down so as to be on the side facing Billings and the others.

“It is so nice to meet you all,” she remarked, while walking forward at a steady pace. “Let us, ahh, get to know each other better… shall we?”

Then she momentarily paused and called out backwards, over her shoulder,

“Oh-kay, Drew, Eyrie and Kevin!”

The three of them walked forward, toward the “Sari”-girl.

In a few seconds she had advanced far enough out of the shadows that Fred, Beatrice and their offspring, could finally see her clearly. She was about five feet eight inches in height (much shorter than either Fred or Bob Billings), with a lean, boyish, small-boobed figure, entrancing green eyes and long, golden-blond hair cut into a bang over her forehead.

She had a flawless, soft complexion despite wearing neither make-up nor any of the other, commonly-used personal appearance-enhancements. She was dressed in comfortably-stylish, semi-casual clothing, including a business-like blouse (Fred couldn’t tell if she was wearing a bra; he hoped not), dark slacks and tastefully-embroidered slippers.

And Mr. Beaumont ruefully considered that he sure had been right about one thing : this girl was, indeed, surpassingly beautiful, in an odd, deceptive way that only fully revealed itself on the third or fourth time that he got a good look at her. It was as if he had to be suspicious about her beforehand, to really identify or appreciate her face or figure.

Hmm, salaciously mused Fred,

Where have I seen that girl before?

Oh yeah, now I remember!

The “Swim-Suit Special”… yeah, that’s gotta be it.

Too bad that Bea made me throw it in the trash… should have got the “digital” version, could have hidden it on the communicator, but anyway, well, imagine that!

Anyway… she must be that guy’s daughter… way too young to be his squeeze.

And there was something else about her – it was a feeling impossible to place. As she drew progressively nearer, her presence – a feeling of being in the vicinity of someone much greater than oneself, like a boyhood fiction-hero or a star athlete – grew apace. Yet outwardly, all that Fred and Beatrice beheld, was simply a well-dressed, supermodel-quality young woman.

As the three behind her continued moving forward at a steady pace, the “Sari”-girl closed the distance with the newcomers with unnatural speed (she seemed still to be just walking, but each step somehow counted for two or three); but – to the parents’ consternation – she bypassed Fred and Beatrice altogether, instead stopping right in front of Casey, then bending down on one knee to be at eye-height with the child.

“Hi, dear little one,” she greeted with a broad, cheery smile, while looking Casey right in the face.

Man, mused Fred,

That’s quite a set of teeth she’s got there… yeah, pearly-white alright, but there’s something weird about ‘em…

The wide-eyed child just stood there, staring.

“It’s, uhh, an honor,” stammered William.

“The honor is mine,” politely said the “Sari”-girl. “You can tell your friends all about it, soon… but not right now, oh-kay?”

“Oh, yes, for sure, your, uhh, majesty,” instantly replied the teenager. “Is that what I’m supposed to say?”

“It will do,” answered the young woman with a suppressed giggle and a warm smile in William’s direction, “But it is not exactly the right thing. Do not worry about it! Please relax. We will be friends, shortly. Or so I hope.”

“So do I,” the teenager managed.

He looked totally awed, or, perhaps, out of his depth.

What the F… what’s gotten into him? wondered Fred.

She’s just some cute model, or whatever.

He’s talking as if she’s a queen or something!

“She is,” mentioned the auburn-haired girl, who had just arrived, along with her two compatriots, within easy speaking-distance. “You don’t know the half of it, dude!”

William did a double-take at this new-found teenager.

Holy shit, he reflected,

Ms. Alien Angel’s a “11”, that’s for sure… way better than how she looks in the pictures on Neo… but that brown-haired one – how is it that I didn’t realize how cute she is too, at first glance – she’s a “9.5” at least… wonder if she’s got a boyfriend… oops, that tall dude next to her, he’s probably… damn!

“Drew’s my brother,” responded the auburn-haired girl with a wry look on her “girl-next-door” face and an odd twinkle in her eye – though William hadn’t said a single word of his observations, out loud. “My name’s ‘Eyrie’ and my younger brother is ‘Kevin’. We’re Canadians from Toronto, by the way, but, uhh, well, we seem not to be hangin’ around home base very much, these days. ‘Welcome to Canada’, nice to meet you, dude, and, ‘thanks for the compliment’.”

“Hi,” offered Kevin.

“Yeah… it’s all cool,” spoke up Drew. “Don’t sweat it none.”

“But I didn’t say anything…” protested William. “How’d you –”

“We’re with her,” evaded Eyrie. “You’ll find out soon enough.”

“Hey Tommy,” called out the younger brother, “You didn’t spill the beans yet?”

“Nope,” responded the copper-tone-skinned boy, who had stationed himself not far from the “Sari”-girl. “I win the bet, Kev! You owe me one of those chocolate bars – the kind you can only get up here.”

“Aww…” whined Kevin. “She only gave me a gold coin – I can’t use that to buy… well, you know.”

After a bemused giggle, the “Sari”-girl – turning her attention to Casey – took over the conversation, noting “Now, little one… I see that you are holding something – excuse me, someone – very special in your hand.”

“It’s… it’s my dolly,” hesitatingly answered the little girl. “Of the person who I like the most, in the whole wide world.”

“And who might that be?” teased the young woman.

“Karey Maredj”, Casey stated, in a low voice just a bit more than a whisper. “The Storied Watcher. Who saved all of us on Earth from a comet. She’s my favorite super-hero!”

Oh God, thought a frustrated Fred.

Here comes that damn conspiracy theory again… I’m going to cut Will off NeoNet for good, this time –

“That is a wonderful way of saying it, sweetheart,” cajoled the new girl, “But it is actually pronounced, ‘kar-AYn may-RAY-jeh’. May I have a look at your dolly, please?”

“Uh-huhh,” complied Casey, as she handed the figurine to her interrogator.

“Now, you see,” purposefully described the young woman as she pointed to various aspects of the doll’s vestments, “The way in which she is dressed – understandable since whomever designed your dolly never had direct contact with, ahh, the real thing – but it does not closely resemble how the Storied Watcher’s war-children, actually appear. For example, regard robust Vìrya Ahn’jë… see how the toy-designers have her scale-mail colored in blue, whereas, in fact, her tone is that of black with flickering blue-flame; and see how they have made Vìrya I’ëà’b’ as a target-shield… but in real life, she is circular-round.”

“How do you… how do you know those funny-sounding names?” warily inquired Casey. “They were on the box that my dolly came in, but I could never say them right.”

There was a broad smile on the young woman’s face as she cryptically replied, “Maybe someone will teach you, very soon. They are the names of living beings, you know… and they are listening to us, right now.”

“Oh my God,” whispered William to his uncomprehending parents. “That means she’s –”

“I see that you’ve also been following all those silly stories circulating on the NeoNet,” complained Beatrice, in the direction of the still-kneeling newcomer. “My daughter’s room is full of stuff like that doll. At first we thought it was just a phase, but, well… to be frank with you, we’re worried that she’s regressing into a fantasy-world. And frankly again, Miss… you’re not doing much to help us, and her, to get out of it.”

The three Canadians broke out laughing, upon hearing this.

“’Fantasy’?” offered Eyrie. “Uh-uhh. Ma’am… ‘reality’ around here is a lot weirder, as you’re about to find out.”

“Yeah,” added Drew, “You’re about to get a lot further into it.”

“What do you mean?” anxiously demanded the worried mother.

“You see, Casey,” smoothly continued the “Sari”-girl, “When I notice a little one such as yourself having taken a figurine of Karéin-Mayréij – Comet-Destroyer, Guardian of Earth – to her heart, it means so much to me. Foremost, it means that you are interested… and being interested in a thing, is the first step towards knowing that thing, or that person. But moreover, your dolly reveals that the spark of nobility is already within you, Casey. It means that you are dreaming of being greater than you had ever dared hope to be. It means that you deserve, and have earned, the singular attention of the Storied Watcher, herself. Do you understand what I say?”

The little girl nodded affirmatively, while commenting, “You… you sure do talk nice.”

The “Sari”-girl threw her head back and let out a hearty (though, gentle) laugh; in so doing, she revealed four unusually-long incisor-teeth.

“Can you… can you help me fix my dolly, so she looks like the real thing?” hesitatingly requested Casey.

“Here it comes,” cynically whispered Bob Billings to his grinning adopted son.

I never get tired of seeing her do it, Uncle Bob, sent the boy.

This is what Mom’s meant to do.

You know it – and so do I.

Yeah, sent back the ex-salesman.

Something way beyond you or me, kid.

“Why… of course,” said the “Sari”-girl to the child. “But to do that… we will have to have something to compare your dolly with. Would you like to see this?”

Casey silently nodded agreement.

All around could hear – or, perhaps, detect, using some heretofore-unrealized mental sense – the notes of an exciting, portentous melody, issuing from everywhere and nowhere.

“Behold!” spoke the “Sari”-girl, with rising grandeur in her voice, “If you would know what Karéin-Mayréij – her war-children, too – really look like – she, and they, look like… this!

Those around the place (even the “New People”, despite their advanced powers) perceived a blinding, microsecond-brief flash of light; and when eyes were able to re-focus, they saw the mighty Storied Watcher – clad in iridescent black scale-mail, suffused throughout with tiny, dancing motes of blue flame, with a skull-cap on the top of her head, a small shield on one arm, a deadly sword in a scabbard on her belt, two sinister-looking daggers just above her ankles and a dark cape flowing from her shoulders – still kneeling on the pavement, directly in front of an astonished, half-terrified young child.

There was a wave of heat which fortunately lasted only briefly; and there was also a different feeling, one that none could really make sense of. To the humans in the vicinity, it felt as if they were in the face of supernatural divinity; and not even the likes of the Storied Watcher’s erstwhile boyfriend, could tell whether or not this was the truth. She somehow looked much taller and larger than before; but her newly-revealed presence was physical, mental, emotional and psychic, all at the same time (though, in fact, her actual dimensions hadn’t changed).

Casey would have run – as would have her gasping parents, though not their elder son – but she, like they, was frozen in place by a combination of fear and awe.

The psycho-music ebbed, though it was still faintly audible.

The intimidating, fire-flickering alien-female – a dim, whitish-silver glow coming from the inner-parts of her eyeballs – uprighted herself and explained, “I came here meaning to purchase some food for my family; luckily, Bob and Tommy have already accomplished that task, so I have some, ahh, ‘free time’ in which to come to know you better – but mind you, not an unlimited time, as soon, we will likely have a lot of ‘interested onlookers’, crowding us. Fred, Beatrice, William and Casey… I say, ‘welcome’, to all of you… especially to your little one!”

She bent over slightly to directly address the trembling child.

“Sometimes, Casey,” mentioned Karéin-Mayréij, “The Gods have plans for me, and for you. I believe that this is one of those days. How long have you had that little figurine of my likeness?”

“Six months… I think,” haltingly answered the half-terrified child. “Mommy bought it for me for my birthday, because it was what I most wanted in the whole world. She had to order it special because it was sold out of all the stores.”

“Hey Hon,” quipped Bob Billings, “When are we going to go and beat up those businesses that are profiting off your, uhh, ‘intellectual property’? You ain’t getting a penny of royalties from those dolls, you know – not to mention all the other merch that they’re peddling, in your name.”

The Storied Watcher threw her head back and chuckled – revealing, for a half-second, some alarmingly-sharp canine teeth – and replied, “As I seek neither riches nor material reward, I would have to say that doing such, is an, ahh, ‘low priority’, my love… and besides, the more little ones like Casey here, who want to hold me in their hands – or next to their hearts – well, the better that would be, from my perspective. Casey… when you got your dolly, did you ever do such? That is, ‘dream of meeting me’?”

“All the time, each and every day,” earnestly answered the child.

“She’s not the only one,” managed William. “This is just too cool!”

A thought – it might have been a whisper, but somehow, his ears didn’t register a sound – came into the teenager’s head.

It is too cool… isn’t it? came the thought, in a female voice that must have been Eyrie’s.

Every time Angel Lady does this, it never gets ‘old’ for us. Even though we’ve seen it many times before.

It’s a, like, ‘mystical’ thing, you know.

Way beyond us… and we’re a few steps ahead of you, dude.

“These kids look up to you, Sari,” opined the ex-salesman. “I’m just glad there are no ‘Bob Billings’ dolls –”

“I wanted to buy one, Mister,” contradicted Casey’s sweet little voice, “They’ve got your whole family, you know. But Mommy said, ‘one doll is enough’… and anyway, your one was sold out, too.”

Billings sighed, looked wearily up, shook his head and said, “Oh… wonderful! That’s it, my dear – we need to have a stern conversation with a few marketing managers, I’m afraid. Do we have any ‘New People’ lawyers?”

A wry smile showed on the serene face of the Storied Watcher, as she replied, “I have done the best that I could, to avoid becoming entangled with these ‘lawyers’ to whom you refer; they seem to thrive on pointless confrontation so as to unnecessarily lengthen disputes. As to these dolls, however… I would like to obtain the full set – although I hope that the manufacturers have done a better job in reproducing your likeness, and that of Tommy, Elissha and Sayuri, than they have done of my poor self! Casey – would you be able to advise me, as to where I could, ahh, ‘place an order’?”

“Oh, for sure!” excitedly answered the child. “You just go to NeoNet – there’s this store, and –”

By now, her parents had partially recovered from the shock of what they had just seen.

Fred was barely able to manage,

“Holy crap! I mean, we never expected…”

Karéin-Mayréij smiled and replied, “I get that a lot, you know. And the next thing is… well, do you want to know what it is?”

“Yeah… of course,” stammered the father.

“It is, ‘would you and your family, be my friends?’,” explained the alien-girl.

“Sure we will… but why?” asked Beatrice.

“I need friends,” stated the Storied Watcher. “I never seem to have enough of them.”

“Someone like you? With all your, like, super-powers?” interjected an incredulous William Beaumont.

“Someone exactly like me,” confirmed Karéin-Mayréij. “And one of the greatest of the ‘super-powers’ available to mortal beings, is, ‘having a friend’. To struggle alone against adversity, is a fool’s game. In time, you will understand how correct this motto, actually is.”

“Can I be your… friend, Mrs. Storied Watcher?” requested Casey’s timid little voice.

The alien-girl bent over, holding her distance to slightly more than where the burning essence of her war-armor, would become uncomfortable for mortals.

She said, “Casey, I would be greatly honored, if you – and William, too – would be my friends. Though I should caution you, ‘being a friend of the Storied Watcher’ sometimes means, ‘exciting and unexpected things may happen to you; and when they do… you must be ready. Do you understand? If so, are you, ahh, ‘alright with that’?”

“I’m good with that, Ma’am!” quickly answered the Beaumont teenager.

“Be there no formality when you address me,” corrected Karéin-Mayréij. “Just ‘Karéin’ to you… your family too.”

“Cool, Karéin!” excitedly repeated William. “Can’t believe that I’m doing that!”

She shot him an odd look.

“Perhaps, my young friend,” observed the Storied Watcher, with a far-off, regal look that was now familiar to Billings and the others, “In time… you and Casey, will do many more things that scarcely can you now envisage.”

Whoa, sent the ex-salesman, to his alien girlfriend.

You mean, “they’re going to join the team”, Sari?

That will be, ahh, up to them, she silently responded.

My quest is, among many other things, to bring the Holy Fire to mortals; but each person, must decide for himself or herself, whether to accept her.

“Well… fine,” he said out loud, to the bewilderment of the Beaumont family (though, not to that of the others in the vicinity). “I suppose I the grand scheme of things, there are still a lot more of ‘them’, than there are of ‘us’. ‘Needing all the help we can get’, I guess.”

“There you go, dude,” supported Drew. “Like… ‘you can fit all of us New People into a phone booth’ – if there were any of those things, any more.”

“Casey,” offered Karéin-Mayréij, “In the interim – before we, ahh, do our ‘Nee-oh Net shopping-expedition’ – would you like to go for a ride? With me, I mean.”

“Sure… but where?” innocently asked the child.

“Anywhere that you want to go… on this planet, that is,” answered the Storied Watcher. “Although I would prefer to keep our trip within the northern hemisphere… that is, the half of the Earth that is north of that imaginary line that humans call the ‘ee-quay-tor’. Of course we can go anywhere, but visiting the South Pole, for example, might take a little more time than your parents would be comfortable with, so –”

“How are we going to get there?” interjected a visibly-excited Casey.

“The same way how I travel to most places to which I go,” smoothly explained the alien-girl. “By soaring up in the sky, as would a rocket-ship.”

Karéin-Mayréij pointed upwards with the index-finger of the dark scale-mail gauntlet on her left hand, and as she did, a small jet of blue flame shot in the same direction.

She added, “The force of gravity that binds ordinary humans to the surface of this world, means nothing to the New People… nor to me. We learn how to defy it, just as you learn how to walk.”

“You’ll have to get used to Vìrya Ahn’jë,” quipped Kevin McGregor. “To keep warm, I mean. It’s damn cold up there! Even for us… and we’re used to Canadian winters, of course.”

Sending an envious stare toward the two Toronto-born teenagers, William queried, “You mean, you guys can –”

With shared smirks, phlegmatic shrugs and a barely-visible glow in their eyes, Eyrie and Drew slowly began to rise off the pavement. In a second or two, they were a foot or so off the ground. Then they gradually came back down. A second later, the younger Canadian boy mimicked the action.

“Well… Tommy’s still teaching me, you know,” said Kevin McGregor. “Still getting the hang of it.”

“It’s freakin’ awesome, dude!” teased the Canadian girl, “You’ve got no idea. I’ve already hit 8,000 meters and 600 kilometers per hour, but Kev’s right, if you don’t keep your force-field up, it’s effin’ freezing when you get above the cloud-layer, and you’re, like, gasping for air.”

Force-field”, thought an envious William.

I read on Neo that these “New People” were, like, super-powerful… but Jaysus…

You don’t know the half of it, dude, came a random thought.

And the fact that you can hear me, is very good news for you.

“Yeah,” added Drew, “And it’s damn scary flying at night, especially at low levels in bad weather. One time about a month ago I was doing, like, 300 clicks or so, wasn’t paying attention – was just using my ‘human eyes’ – and I ran right into the side of hill. Nothing hurt but my pride, don’t you know… but I learned my lesson. I’m sticking to day-trips, for now.”

“Before you get any bright ideas,” continued Eyrie, “Did I mention, she keeps tellin’ us that we’re only supposed to go flying when nobody’s around, ‘to avoid causing a scene’. Isn’t that right, Angel Lady?”

“Do you want ‘pah-par-at-see-men’ besieging you with their cameras and incessant, privacy-invading questions, everywhere you go, my sister?” patiently counseled the Storied Watcher. “My arts tell me that they are on their way here, as we speak. This is, for better or worse, my fate; but I would prefer it not to be yours, not until you are ready. Is there any wisdom in the words that I speak?”

“Yeah,” ruefully admitted the teenager. “But it’s not my fault that I can’t, like, go invisible, like you do – so when Drew, Kev and I, uhh, ‘lift off’, everybody and his dog, gets to see us.”

“Perhaps, in time, you will learn of some other way to conceal yourselves,” proposed the alien-girl, with a kindly, supportive smile. “Powerful are you now; greater still, yet will you be. Much awaits you and your brothers, noble young super-hero Eyrie McGregor.”

“Wow,” said the Canadian teenager, as she exchanged stares with her brother. “Well, that’s good to hear.”

“Now just a minute, Ms. Mayréij –” protested a visibly-nervous Fred Beaumont. “I don’t think –”

“Just ‘Karéin’”, she corrected. “I do not have a last name… at least, not that I know of.”

“Okay, fine, whatever,” acknowledged the father. “It’s just that my daughter is much too young to go off on some, uhh, ‘flying-trip’ off to God-knows-where. And there’s something else; she has a physical condition. She needs constant accompaniment by people trained to support her, if she has a sudden, uhh, episode, so you must understand, we can’t –”

“I know it,” evenly replied the Storied Watcher. “I believe that this malady is called ‘epilepsy’, in your language, is it not?”

Casey put her hands over her ears and whined, “Don’t use that word! I don’t like it! I hate that thing!”

Again, Karéin-Mayréij came to rest on one knee, rather closer to the child than would have been comfortable considering the burning essence of the alien-girl’s weirding-armor; but somehow, this did not seem to faze the little girl.

“Casey,” said the Storied Watcher from under gold-glowing eyes, “I understand how you feel about this cruel thing that so afflicts you. I feel the sadness and frustration, right in your mind; and ‘can I really do that?’… yes, I can. What would you say, if I told you that I can cure this ‘epilepsy’, so it goes away and never, ever comes back?”

The child didn’t get an immediate chance to respond, as Beatrice interrupted,

“Please don’t say things like that to my daughter! Epilepsy’s a neurological condition… and it’s incurable! Frankly, I’m amazed that she hasn’t had a seizure in the last ten minutes – usually flashes of light, or excitement set her off. But whatever you are, there’s nothing you can do about it. All you’re doing is setting my daughter up for terrible disappointment. Please stop!”

“Mom,” cautioned William while he grabbed his mother’s forearm, “Chill! You got the faintest idea who you’re arguing with? She can, like, blow up the whole effin’ planet –”

Karéin-Mayréij arose and pivoted in place, turning to directly face the instantly-frightened human woman.

Though it had never fully waned, the alien-girl’s supernatural presence seemed to be waxing from second to second, as she temporarily diverted her attention to the Beaumont teenager.

“Actually, you know,” she noted with an insouciant shrug, “It is just a ‘comet’ that shattered under my burning wrath; and I would have to blast my way down through thousands of kil-o-mee-ters of rock, to reach the core of this planet, then to do the same –”

“I personally saw her do about a mile of bedrock, up in Alaska, you know,” observed Bob Billings. “I’m sure she’s good for a lot more than that.”

The Storied Watcher laughed and said, “A big challenge… one that never would I do, in any event. But could I? Perhaps. Now let me tell you about something that I can – the Gods and your mother willing – yea, that I will do.”

She turned to address Beatrice.

“Honored sister,” cajoled Karéin-Mayréij, “I realize that you speak only in what you perceive to be the best interests of your daughter… and in that, no reasonable person – certainly, not me – could fault you. But hear me now! My essence and substance are different from what has ever been on Earth; I can do things that the untutored call ‘miracles’. One of these is, ‘curing maladies that defy mundane treatments’. I will be honest – there may be some issues that can defy even my arts; but so far, none such as these have I encountered, ere I woke up on the fourth planet from your star. So doubt me not! However…”

“’However’… what?” uneasily asked Fred.

“Do you remember how I said that I would be honest with you?” mentioned the Storied Watcher.

“Please do,” requested Beatrice.

“Oh-kay,” complied the alien-girl. “Here is the – ahh – ‘trade-off’. I can cure Casey’s epilepsy-disease; of that, be assured; but, in so doing, I must change her… irrevocably. Her innate life-force will be supplemented by the enervating power of the Holy Fire – whose blessed name is Amaiish in my own tongue – and she will come to possess one or more of the ‘super-powers’ that you earlier heard Drew and Eyrie, speak of. That is, your daughter will become a ‘super-being’. Her life will be much longer than would otherwise have been the case, and many other blessings will she have bestowed upon her; but she will no longer be, ‘human’, and – as a ‘super-being’ – she will be expected to behave accordingly. For example, if there is a house-fire, and she is there, she must use her weirding-powers to save lives, as best she can. As Casey is not of the age of decision, you must decide on her behalf.”

“You probably don’t have a lot of time to chew this over,” unhelpfully added Bob Billings. “Usually the paparazzi track us down in a half-hour, max, from when we show up on anybody’s security-camera. Which, let me remind you, was a bit less than a half-hour ago, from right now.”

The Amerindian boy – who had been taciturn up to this point – spoke up.

“My mom’s an angel, you know,” he declared. “You don’t say ‘no’ to an angel!

“Let her do it!” plaintively demanded Eyrie. “It’s the greatest gift that anyone could ever get. Honestly.”

Utterly out of their depth, Beatrice and Fred Beaumont stared helplessly at each other.

Jaysus,” the father – completely unaware of the enhanced auditory abilities of those in the vicinity – whispered to his mate. “I thought we were gonna, like, maybe get a few quick bucks out of these jokers, but –”

“I don’t like it, Fred,” argued the wife, sotto voce. “I mean… a ‘super-being’ for a daughter? What if she, I don’t know, has a fit, and fires a death-ray or something, at us? Or –”

“The whole idea is to cure her of those ‘fits’,” contradicted an insincerely-smirking Bob Billings. “And I’ve got three ‘super-beings’ as kids, and we do just fine!”

“Yeah, but you can go invisible, and you’ve got a force-field to protect you from those death-rays,” observed Drew McGregor. “And about those mind-blowin’ green lightening-bolts that you can fire –”

“Whose side are you on, anyway?” countered the ex-salesman. “You do a sales-job, you never mention them little ol’ ‘negatives’, up front… let the customers figure them out, for themselves!”

An exasperated Karéin-Mayréij sighed wearily and looked upward to the heavens.

“We are not ‘selling’, anything here,” she stated. “We are offering up a path of greatness, nobility and – not incidentally – good health, to a dear child, whose sincere dreams of same can be fulfilled here, now, today. Casey’s mother and father seek to protect her out of love and duty, as any good parent would do… as I did myself for my three little ones, not very long ago. They must decide what is best for their daughter, and never would we disobey their word. So I say to my brother Fred and sister Beatrice… choose well!

Except for the faint pseudo-notes of war-songs (more than one, evidently, although it was hard to tell whose were actually playing) in the distance, silence fell momentarily upon the group. But eventually, Beatrice Beaumont forced herself to say,

“Casey… sweetheart… do you remember what the doctor said to us, before we came up here? About, like, how your, uhh, ‘problem’ might get worse, the older that you become? And how you would have to take more and more of those drugs, for the rest of your life?”

“Umm-hmm,” confirmed the little girl. “’Member what I told him?”

“Yeah,” answered the mother. “The drugs are ‘yucky’, but you were okay with taking them. Right?”

“Right,” replied Casey. “They make me feel awful sometimes, but if you and Daddy say I have to take them, then I will.”

“So… you don’t want to go with Ms. Karéin, then?”

“Yes, I do,” contradicted the child.

“But I thought you said –” stammered Fred.

“I want to go with Ms. Karéin, because I want to be like her,” explained Casey. “I want to be a super-hero. I want to learn how to fly, up in the air, like she does. I want to save people. It’s what I was meant to do, all along. Do you understand, Mommy?”

“No!” protested Beatrice. “You’re way too young to know what all that means, sweetheart! We want you to just be a daughter – our daughter –”

Ooo-ooo-ooo, sounded the entrancing, adrenaline-pumping chords of a slowly-waxing war-song, somewhere far off.

It seemed that the intimidating, divine presence of the Storied Watcher had surged along with the pseudo-music, as her next words were heard.

“They belong to you, yes, of course they do, for as long as you all shall live,” she claimed, “But they also belong to the world… to the service of your human brothers and sisters. A moment ago, your daughter spoken not in the voice of a child, but in those of the veritable Gods, themselves. Fred, Beatrice – I feel your thoughts of worry and unease, and never would I condemn these, they are perfectly natural and appropriate – but all children grow up sooner or later; yours will just do so, a little earlier than usual; and when they do, they will be as giants among men and women. This is what Fate has chosen for these two –”

These two?” feverishly speculated William’s racing mind.

Does that mean…?

Congratulations, dude! came the narrow-cast from Eyrie McGregor.

Welcome to the team!

“And it will be up to your son, as the elder one, to guide his sister, as the Holy Fire flowers and burns in each one’s heart,” continued Karéin-Mayréij. “It will take some, ahh, ‘getting-used-to’, but do not be scared! You will still be their parents, and they will still be your children. They will go to school, they will do everything that ‘normal’ children do… but they will have, ahh, a few more lessons to learn. I believe that these are called ‘ex-tra-coor-ee-kew-lar activities’, in Eng-lish –”

“Yeah,” muttered Drew, “Like, ‘don’t take your eyes off where you’re headed, when flyin’ at night.”

Ha, ha, maliciously sent his sister.

“Can you… can you really heal her?” tremulously asked Beatrice. “No, uhh, B.S.?”

With a steely – yet friendly – look in her eyes, the alien-girl replied, “Yes, I can. As surely as you see me here before you, today… this blessing, will the Storied Watcher of the Many Worlds, give to you and your child, asking nothing except your trust, in return.”

She got down on one knee, folded her hands in front in a prayer-gesture, looked up with a combination of supernatural grandeur and mundane humility at the man and woman and concluded,

“You can say ‘no’ and we will accept that, always being friends thereafter… but I beg you to say ‘yes’! Say ‘yes’, good parents! Open the path of nobility, for the next and future generations of Clan Beaumont of Milford, Delaware!”

How the hell does she know where we come from? mused an overwhelmed Fred Beaumont.

“Forgotten who you’re talking to, man?” chided Bob Billings. “So I’m told, I’m her ‘better half’… and most of the time, I don’t have a clue what the hell she’s up to, or what she’s capable of.”

With Karéin-Mayréij still maintaining her borderline-unnerving submissive-gesture, Fred asked,

“So how do you cope?”

“I kind of just go with the flow,” indifferently mentioned the ex-salesman. “‘Learn a new thing every day’, if you know what I mean. She can do this for your kid, you know. Let her. Please.

They both noticed that – apparently despite her best intentions – a wry grin had appeared at the far edges of the Storied Watcher’s mouth.

“What’s so funny?” idly inquired Billings.

“I do so try to be dignified – to respect the gravity of a situation,” she explained, “But always, dear Bob, do you, ahh, ‘bring me down to Earth’ – is that not how one says it?”

She looked downward, avoiding their eyes.

There was another prolonged pause; but eventually, Beatrice spoke,

“Maybe I’ll regret saying this… but if there’s even a chance of Casey being cured of this thing, I’d never forgive myself if I said ‘no’. So I guess that’s a ‘yes’. Fred?”

The Beaumont father – at his wit’s end – followed suit with, “You’re probably right about ‘regretting it later’, but yeah… I guess it’s worth a try. One condition, though.”

An exultant Storied Watcher, joy on her face (which was matched by the expressions on those of William and Casey), arose to her feet and asked, “And what would that be, friends?”

“If they start to, uhh, fly off somewhere – or do crazy, super-powered stuff like that – can we call you up, so you can come over and read ‘em the Riot Act?” demanded Fred Beaumont.

“Read them… read them the what?” responded a perplexed-looking Karéin-Mayréij. “That sounds like something from a play? Like, an ‘act’ of a theater-production, on stage, I mean?”

As giggles and guffaws went through the throng, Billings corrected, “No, no, hon… the ‘Riot Act’ is something that the cops warn unruly crowds about, like, they take a bull-horn and say, ‘everybody go home, or you’ll be arrested’ or whatever. It basically means ‘warning somebody that they’re misbehaving’… you get it?”

“Another Eng-lish ‘saying’,” grumbled the alien-girl. “That one cannot possibly know how to interpret, until it is explained. Oh well. Now I know about the ‘Riot Act’, as it is called. Hooray for me. Anyway, Fred, Beatrice – do not worry about this issue. Not only will I provide you with a way to, ahh, ‘call for me’, but moreover… I will introduce you to other human parents of ‘New People’, who have lately ended up in the same situation that you, happily, will shortly find yourself in –”

“Simon and Geraldine… right?” interrupted Drew McGregor.

“Uhh… yes,” answered the Storied Watcher.

“You might want to brief ‘em first… you know?” teased the male Canadian teenager.

“I am sure that all will be well,” parried the alien-girl. “I mean… the Billings clan of Phoenix have truly figured out how to cope with such issues as Fred raised, a minute ago –”

“You mean like when Dylan melted half of Mr. Simon Billings’ car-engine, when he tried to mimic what you did to start Mr. Bob Billings’ coche, back in, like, Idaho or whatever?” quipped Eyrie. “If I were you, Angel Lady, I’d hook Fred and Beatrice here up with our own Mom and Dad. They’re coping with the, uhh, ‘super-being’ thing, a bit better than those folks down in Arizona, if you know what I mean.”

“Except for the ‘we want our RV back’ thing,” maliciously added Drew. “Ever since you built that space-ship out of it, that is. Dad can’t get the insurance-claim processed until he can tell them, what really happened. He tried, but they didn’t believe him. Can’t blame them… I wouldn’t, if I was them.”

“Yes, but I did that to save… oh, forget it,” complained the Storied Watcher. “I will, ahh, ‘get around to that, real soon now’. I keep being called away to handle airplane-crashes, flash-floods and train-wrecks. ‘Priorities’, you know.”

“Can we take back saying ‘yes’?” nervously requested Beatrice Beaumont.

“No take-backs, stamped it, no rub-outs!” cheekily exclaimed Tommy.

“No!” contradicted Casey. She rushed over to the flaming embrace of Karéin-Mayréij, who held the child tightly. Beatrice and Fred were initially shocked and terrified, as they expected Casey to be badly burned. But – to their mutual astonishment – the little girl seemed not to be harmed in the least.

“How does it feel, little one?” gushed the Storied Watcher.

Nice,” replied Casey. “Like I’m getting stronger, all the time.”

“It’s started,” evenly mentioned Bob Billings.

“Hey, William!” called Eyrie.

“Yeah?” replied the teenager.

“Close your eyes,” demanded the Canadian girl.

“Why should I?” he countered.

“It’s just a quick test,” she claimed. “You’ll feel something weird, like, surrounding you – kinda hard to describe, there’s nothing I can really compare it to – try not to fight it. Then you’ll feel yourself lifting up a bit. I’ll count to three, and then I’ll let you down; but – with your eyes still closed – try to imagine landing on one of those rubber mats that they have on the floor in Judo class. Except think that there are, like, three of them piled one on top of the other, between you and the pavement. Got it?”

With a look of trepidation William shut his eyelids, muttering, “This sounds stupid, but as long as she’s on-board with it – hey, Karéin, you are on-board, aren’t you –?”

“Oh… for sure, young prince,” came back the bemused-sounding reply.

“Young… what? Whatever,” he said. “Okay, go for it.”

“Here we go,” declared Eyrie; and now, all in the vicinity heard the exciting, warbling notes of her personal war-song, as – to the surprise of none, save the boy’s parents – his feet started to slowly lift off the surface of the parking-lot, rising at a speed of about an inch every two seconds. He stopped at a height of perhaps a foot.

“Holy crap,” inveighed William, “No shit, it feels ‘weird’… like I’ve got little hands pressing in on me from everywhere, pushing up… but there’s nothing solid doing it, I can tell… damn…”

“Oh-kay,” continued Eyrie. “Now, don’t let your feet hang down – keep ‘em flat to the ground. Three-count, and down you go. Remember – you’re landing on a big cushion, right under your shoes. Ready?”

Her psycho-music was still playing – albeit, in a more muted way – in the background.

“As I’ll ever be, which is ‘not at all’,” muttered William.

“Consider yourself as getting off easy,” maliciously interjected Bob Billings. “I had to hop a hundred feet into the dark, when I took my own first ‘jump into the unknown’.”

“Three… two… one,” counted the Canadian girl. “Down we go!

The planet’s gravity worked on William and he dropped; but at a height of about six inches, his downward motion ebbed considerably, and then – with his feet no more than about an inch off the ground – he stopped entirely.

He was floating, albeit at a marginal height, over the pavement surrounding the grocery-store.

“You might want to open your eyes,” instructed Eyrie.

William complied, and – half-afraid – he looked downward.

Something’s wrong here, he thought.

But what the hell is it? I don’t see –

There were satisfied smirks on the faces of everyone except his parents (whose expression was one of wide-eyed, wary amazement).

“What’s so, uhh, ‘interesting’?” he asked.

“Put one foot out and step forward,” suggested Drew. “See what happens, dude.”

Reluctantly, William did so, extending his left foot. To his surprise, he immediately discovered that this dropped down as if he had missed a step on a ladder or staircase, partially unbalancing him; fortunately, however, the distance involved was minuscule, and he remained upright, though leaning forward at an awkward angle.

“Now move the other one,” requested Eyrie.

“I feel like a little kid learning how to walk,” mumbled William.

As he moved his right foot, it, too, dropped down, until both of his feet were firmly-ensconced in normal fashion, on the surface of the parking-lot.

“You’re not learning how to walk,” smugly counseled Eyrie. “Not that, at all.”

“Well… what, then?” peevishly responded William.

“You’re learning how to fly,” she answered, with an overjoyed look. “You were floating, a bit off the pavement, until you started walking forward – which, as we get told, signals to your brain, ‘turn off the telekinesis’. You know what that all means?”

Eyrie’s war-song, never completely extinguished, now sounded somewhat louder.

“Uhh… no, not really,” uneasily replied the American teenager.

“You’re one of us now,” observed Drew McGregor. “Welcome to the alien side, man!”

“That… that fast?” stammered William.

“Took two seconds for your sister to learn how to ignore Angel-Lady’s permanent-campfire armor, you know,” added Eyrie. “Not a half hour before we met you in the store, if she or you had tried that, you’d be in a hospital for six months, if you survived long enough to get to an ambulance. Like my bro’ said, dude… ‘welcome to the New People’. You and Casey are on the high-road, now. Buckle up – it’s gonna be quite a ride!

“It feels nice in here,” came the child’s contented voice, from within the Storied Watcher’s cradling arms. “It’s warm… but in a funny way. I don’t think there’s words for this, Mommy and Daddy.”

Nervously, Fred Beaumont reached out in the direction of the Storied Watcher, until his finger was almost in contact with Vìrya Ahn’jë’s burning surface; but upon pushing forward yet, he yelped in pain, muttered a muffled curse and tried to soothe the pain of a seared finger-tip, by inserting it into his mouth.

“I… I don’t understand,” he said. “Touching you is like touching the fire from a blow-torch! How is Casey –”

“Because she’s a ‘super-being’ now,” evenly interjected Kevin McGregor. “Like Tommy, me and the rest of us.”

“Her personal force-field protects her, and her clothes as well,” explained Karéin-Mayréij. “This is usually one of the first weirding-arts to develop in a New Person – as is the mind-push-pull power, just demonstrated by newly-discovered young prince William. Like many other aspects of the Holy Fire, I do not know why this is; but I have accepted it. Although… when first I, ahh, landed on this planet, this blessing was often late-coming to the New People, and that fact placed many members of my family – not least, my beloved Bob and Tommy – in terrible straits –”

“You can say that again, Sari,” grimly noted Billings. “It was hell. We almost died, due to the tender mercies of the U.S. government – they wanted us dead, for reasons good, bad or indifferent. I still honestly don’t have a clue how we survived the whole nightmare. You new, New People recruits don’t know how good you’ve got it –”

“You never told us that the damn U.S. government was hunting you!” shouted an alarmed Fred Beaumont, more loudly than would have been advisable, considering the proximity of grocery-shoppers only a hundred or so feet away. “Does that mean they’ll be trying to hurt –”

“Chill!” requested the ex-salesman with a “hands-down” gesture, “That was then; this is now. Sari, Tommy and me – along with a few others of us – visited the White House and kind of reached a working arrangement with them –”

“Only after we wrecked the Oval Office, though,” added a smirking Tommy. “After we scared the President shitless –”

He suppressed a giggle, upon receiving an exasperated, cautioning stare from his alien “mother”.

The Amerindian boy, and Kevin McGregor, exchanged “high-fives”.

“Well, yeah… we did kind of do a number on him – that much is true,” elaborated Bob Billings. “But at the end of the day, he had to call off the goons that were chasing us, and so far, our little ‘truce’ has held admirably. Truth is, folks – we’re the meanest S.O.B.’s in the valley… capiche? Even without Sari’s help, neither the President of the United States, nor any of the other ones at his level, have much of a chance against us. They all know that. So don’t worry. The kids are alright, if you know what I’m saying.”

“It’s true, Dad,” mentioned William Beaumont. “I saw a bunch of videos on Neo, and it looked like Karéin and the rest of them had, like, made up with the President. Or maybe it was that he had made up with them –”

“Much more the latter,” smugly observed Bob Billings. “He didn’t have much of a choice.”

“Our relationship with the American government has certainly, ahh, ‘evolved’ over time,” carefully stated the Storied Watcher. “Right now, I would describe it as ‘polite, if not always completely cordial’. The President has his duties and jurisdiction; the New People and I, have our own. There is much for us to do – for example helping people to survive and recover from natural disasters and other such mishaps – that do not bring us into conflict with human governments.”

“Like the rest of us,” she continued, “William and Casey will have to learn how to use their abilities, always in the service of others – never for their own aggrandizement; and to make this clear, I will shortly have a solemn pledge for both of them to repeat in my presence. They will have to fully agree to its terms and conditions for the Holy Fire to flourish within them – just as you will have to learn to accept many other developments – some with which you will likely be unfamiliar and unprepared – while your children grow, both in age and weirding-powers. But do not be afraid! This is a great thing… a wonderful thing!”

“I guess we’ll have to see,” commented a clearly-worried Beatrice Beaumont. “Since we’re in too far to get out.”

“So… what do we do now?” asked Fred.

“The publicity-men are on their way here,” advised the Storied Watcher. Looking kindly downward at the child’s cradled figure, she asked, “Casey… have you decided where you want to go?”

“I want to go see that big tower that leans over,” demanded the little girl. “But… I kinda forgot what it’s called, or where it is. If you can find it, can you fix it? So it’s standing straight up, I mean.”

Karéin-Mayréij laughed and replied, “The building to which you refer is called the ‘Leaning Tower’, and it is in a city called ‘Pisa’ on a sea-coast in the country of Italy, far across yonder Atlantic Ocean. Could I, ahh, ‘straighten it up’? Sure I could – but I should not, because as New People, we use our powers when we have to, not just when we want to. Still, if I were to take you there, just to look and to touch it… would you come with me, Casey?”

“I sure would!” excitedly squealed the child.

“Across the Atlantic Ocean?” protested a frightened Beatrice Beaumont. “That’s thousands of miles! Apart from it being terribly dangerous to try to cross it – we’ll be waiting here for a day or more, before you could get back –”

“Actually, it will take us a little less than an hour to travel there, and another to return,” diffidently countered the alien-girl. “As I recall, it is about 7,000 of your ‘kil-o-mee-ters’ distance from here. Of course I could travel much faster than this, but to do so would require flying into above the strat-o-sphere for both parts of the trip, and I would not want to, ahh, ‘stress’ your children too much. Their force-fields are yet undeveloped, and might not fully protect them in the outer atmosphere.”

She paused for a second and added, “I should also point out that factoring in travel-time, it will be early evening in Italy, when we arrive. In other words, we may have trouble finding a rest-o-raunt where we can order a nice, authentic pizza. Ah… such are the issues with flying to the far side of a planet!”

“You can’t – nobody can –” stammered Fred.

There was a smirk on William’s face as he accosted his father, saying, “Dad… remember what I said to Mom? Don’t forget who you’re talking to, here! Did you hear what she did to that big, uhh, what was it –”

“It was the Washington Monument, in the city where the President lives,” triumphantly reminded Tommy. “Mom sliced the top third of it clean off, by blasting it with her energy-beams! And she dropped the top part into the President’s front lawn –”

There was a malicious grin on the Storied Watcher’s face as, under brightly-glowing eyes, she interrupted, saying,

“That was kind of ‘impressive’… was it not? Well, after all, at the time, the President was not taking me seriously… so I felt that I needed to, ahh, ‘get his attention’. I would say that I succeeded! As I understand it, the American government is trying to figure out how to put the top-part of that obelisk back where it belongs; I really must head down there to assist them, ‘one of these days’. Lamentably, I have so many other priorities on my scheduling-app, you know. In any event – time is growing short; if we are to leave here before the pa-par-at-zee show up, it must be in the next few minutes. William?”

“What?” asked the teenager.

“Are you coming?” pressed the alien-girl. “With us, I mean.”

“But I’m too big for you to carry, like I guess you’re going to do with Case, there – I’ll fall off, and –” he nervously argued.

“Just put your arm behind my back, crossing my neck,” instructed Karéin-Mayréij. “Vìrya Ahn’jë will no more hurt you than she has done to Casey; and my own tel-ee-kin-ee-sis is powerful enough to lift an ocean-liner-ship over my head, so I suspect that I will have no trouble ensuring that you will, ahh, ‘stay with us’.”

Shit,” inveighed William. “I mean, I always wanted to see Italy, but our class trip got canceled when the, uhh, ‘comet’ thing came along – look, Case, couldn’t you pick something a bit, like, nearer? Maybe New York City, or –”

“Nope!” smugly responded the little girl. “We’ve been there, anyway. I want to see that bending-over tower!”

“Okay, fine, whatever,” retreated William. With a worried expression he stepped over to come alongside the alien-girl; then, wincing all the way, he gingerly draped his left arm over the Storied Watcher’s supple shoulder.

“Damn,” he managed to say. “Case’s right – this is, like, the ultimate in weirdness… I can feel how hot it is, but somehow, it doesn’t hurt. Crazy stuff.”

“Now, now, young prince… Vìrya Ahn’jë is not an ‘it’; she is a living being, and much can you learn by conversing with her and her other siblings, who adorn my body,” gently chided Karéin-Mayréij. “You and Casey will have plenty of time to do that, as we go forth… once you have recited the ‘pledge’, that is. Are you ready?

William and Casey both silently nodded.

Her ethereal, stirring, inspiring war-song – with the sounds of an orchestra of violins and other, less familiar musical-instruments, detailing its melody – waxed rapidly in the background.

The alien-girl looked skyward. Her eyes were glowing bright-yellow. The heat of her divine presence became oppressive (although, inexplicably, this did not seem to affect the two Beaumont children, who were up close with her).

“To Pisa!” she called out. “Back in two hours, friends!”

With shocking speed – far more than, Fred and Beatrice realized, a human being could withstand – the mighty Storied Watcher rocketed upward, almost too fast even for more-than-human eyes could track.

The two bewildered, heart-sick Beaumont parents huddled together, with both leaning forward from the stern-end of a nearby car.

A genial smile on his face, Bob Billings slowly approached them. He turned to the three Canadians and asked,

“We gotta put the groceries away… but say, do you kids know of any good restaurants around here?”

– END –