Electricity

An unauthorized sequel to “She’s a Marvel” on Guiding Light

 

By Brantley Thompson Elkins

 

"Frizz" Roberts hated being called that.

"My name is Bob," he'd insisted at first.

But you didn't argue with the Carnage brothers, not if you cared about your health. They didn't even have to beat on you; all they had to do was sit on you.

Was this fair? Roberts might have gotten his hair frizzed by that wacko Light Bulb lady, but word was that she'd already wiped the floor with Dash and Bash. Only you couldn't ask Dash and Bash about that, any more than you could ask them if they'd ever tried out for Mr. Clean commercials aimed at the black community.

"His name is Frizz," Dash had told other inmates at the county lockup.

"That's just what is," Bash had echoed.

After the initial catch, the fresh fish supply seemed to dry up, and there weren’t any further sightings of the Light Bulb Lady.

“Maybe her battery ran down,” Granny Dave ventured when the subject came up in the cafeteria one day. The Carnages had dubbed him Granny because he’d been zapped for snatching a purse from a little old lady.

“Without her juice, can’t be much use,” Bash opined.

“Without her magic, her end be tragic,” Dash said.

“You talk like you know where to find her,” noticed Trussed Tommy, who got his monicker from how he’d ended up after trying to burglarize a jewelry store.

“To us she’s no mystery, tomorrow she’s history,” Dash declared.

“Easy to stop, she’s only a cop,” Bash added.

Frizz and Granny and Trussed were mystified until the Carnage brothers explained that their nemesis hadn’t been wearing a disguise when they caught up with her after their escape Halloween night.

“Attackin’ us with a vacuum cleaner? That Harley bitch could never be meaner,” Dash complained.

“Take her on animally, take on her family,” Bash promised.

Rape and murder.

“But how’re we going to get out of the joint?” Frizz asked.

“Outside these walls, be guys with balls,” Dash said.

“For something dire, we got to hire,” Bash added.

The Carnages had connections outside. Everybody knew that.

***

When Harley got home from work, late as usual, the mailbox was filled to overflowing with the usual crap: Fund-raising letters from the Ingrown Toenail Foundation, Friends of Dodos and every other cause-of-the-month. Credit card offers from half a dozen banks.  Political flyers from assorted bush-league Republicans and kerry-league Democrats, accusing each other of first-degree mopery and the like. Blake versus Jeffrey for mayor: hold your nose and vote. Supermarket and department store circulars. Nothing real except….

Susan. It was from Susan. After years. She was almost afraid to open it.

She was shoving the rest of the mail into an already overstuffed wastebasket when the voice of her youngest son interrupted her.

“What’s garmonbozia?” asked five-year old Jude.

“What’s what?”

“Grandpa told me not to cause you any.”

“Daddy,” Harley called out. “Daddy!”

Buzz Cooper came down the stairs, trailed by seven-year old Zach, who was chattering incoherently about cowpersons and native Americans. He must be getting that from school.

“Something the matter, Harley?”

“What the hell is garmonbozia?”

Her father had that look he had when he was amusing himself but nobody else.

“Oh, it’s just from David Lynch. Twin Peaks. Means ‘pain and sorrow.’”

“In what language?”

“I don’t know. He just made it up. Anyway, Jude was getting a little rambunctious, so I thought—“

“How about sticking to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? I love you, Daddy, but sometimes…”

Her train of thought was interrupted by the arrival of Gus, who’d been held up at the police department by a sit-down with A.C. Mallet on a new investigation.

“I don’t want to hear about it,” Harley said.

“You won’t. But Rick called. Thought you were still there and wanted to know if you were doing okay. I told him you were.”

Rick. Jude’s father from a one-night stand when she was on the rebound from Phillip Spaulding, Zach’s father, in the wake of their divorce. They’d vowed never to tell anyone about their brief encounter, but after she’d  found out she was pregnant…. And then Gus had blown into town, an FBI agent looking for local cooperation on a mob investigation. Gus, who’d never been married, never had any children. Who wanted one with her. As she wanted it.

Gus, who’d performed the breech delivery of Jude in a jail cell in a hick town called Brewster’s Point. It seemed funny now, but it sure hadn’t seemed funny then: the local heat running her in for speeding, refusing to believe she was a cop, and locking her up before taking off for the night. She’d tried to call Rick – Dr. Bauer – but ended up getting Gus instead. Like a knight in shining armor, but without any medical knowledge, he’d come to the rescue, trying to free her from the cell and managing to get locked in himself. Fortunately, Rick had been quick on the uptake about the misdirected phone call, and showed up just in time to talk Gus through the procedure.

And how had she rewarded him? Fallen for and married Gus. And, just recently, given him an electric shock that left him lying on the floor at Cedars Hospital while she sauntered off as if nothing were amiss. Yet Rick had never complained, had ever figured out how to bring her back to normal after her spree as the Guiding Light.

“Are you all right,” Gus asked now, the concern obvious.

“Just thinking. About the night Jude was born.”

Now Gus looked embarrassed.

“I love you,” Harley said. That did the trick.

Then she remembered the letter.

“This just came from Susan,” she said, opening the envelope, then glanced at the letter.

“She wants to come see us for Thanksgiving.”

Her father’s face lit up. “I haven’t seen her in ages.”

“I’ve never seen her at all,” Gus added. “Just heard about her going to that boarding school for the performing arts. And now she’s at…“

“Julliard. Studying drama.”

Harley read further.

“She’s all worked up about a play called The Coast of Utopia by Tom Stoppard.”

Gus shrugged. He wasn’t into high culture. Neither was Harley. But she was proud of her daughter, happy for her, even though they’d had too little time together since her adoption, and that time often troubled. Susan had been devastated when her adoptive father Jim LeMay had died in a fire six years ago, and had shut Harley out. They had parted on good terms, but…

“Well, I’m dying to meet her, of course,” said Gus, who drew Harley and Buzz together and clapped his arms about them.

Zach and Jude laughed with excitement. They didn’t know what this was all about, but they knew something good was happening.

It was going to be a very happy Thanksgiving.

***

“But remember Shakespeare in Love?” Susan was saying, “I got you to see that when it came out. Stoppard wrote the screenplay for that.”

Harley indeed remembered. She’d loved the movie, and she’d loved Phillip. It had been the year before Zach was born. Zach, who now loved to play cowpersons and native Americans, if he could find any native Americans at school. Only right now he was busy with turkey. Jude was fiddling with the stuffing.

“Hey, I saw that, too,” Gus said. “It was a scream.”

“The thing is, Stoppard can appeal to the general audience and still put in tidbits for – well, people like me. Like that funny bit about the nasty little boy feeding mice to alley cats.”

“What’s so funny about that?”

“The boy was John Webster, who went on to write nasty plays like The White Devil and The Dutchess of Malfi.”

“Oh,” said Gus.

“He’s not a nasty little boy.” Zach chirped up.

What? Harley wondered.

“Johnny Webster’s in my class. He likes Spider-man.”

“Maybe he’ll write for Spider-man when he grows up,” Harley suggested.

“Nah, he wants to be a fireman.”

“Captain America,” interrupted Jude. He was really into comic superheroes, from watching Saturday morning TV. But he was starting to read the comics now.

“They’re our myths, like Zeus and Neptune,” Susan said. “Superheroes, I mean.”

She doesn’t know the half of it, Harley thought.

And at that thought, she felt a sudden dread. Something wasn’t right. Sounds outside that shouldn't be there, too stealthy to be picked up by normal hearing.

Someone’s at the door, someone’s at the door…..

But as she felt the dread, she felt something else. Power, flowing into her. The lights flickered and died.

“Damned Springfield Power & Light!” Gus said. “Can’t they get their act together?”

“Stay where you are, all of you,” Harley said in a low but clear voice. “We’re under attack. Not a word from any of you.”

And she headed for the door.

***

The three men in ski masks at the front door were the best hit men money could buy, and the Carnage twins and their mob friends on the outside had money to burn. That they’d also been given the green light to gang rape the lady cop in front of her family before they slaughtered them in front of her eyes was just icing on the cake.

They’d been real quiet coming in, left their car a block away with the getaway driver cruising around and waiting for a call on his cell phone to pick them up. But then the lights had gone off in the house, and they heard the door open. They quickly drew their silenced automatics. They were pros. They knew they’d have to change their plan, even if they didn’t know why.

But their leader, a guy named Frons, figured a bluff might still make things go down easier.

“Is the lady of the house in?” he asked. A lame idea at this time of night, but housewives were so dumb…

“I’m no lady,” came a voice from the darkness.

Then came flashes of lightning and the sound of shots, and burning heat in their gun hands.

They hadn’t even fired; the bullets had cooked off in the chambers and in the clips. As the stabbing pain in their hands began to register, as they involuntarily dropped their weapons, they saw that the automatics were actually glowing a dull red.

Frons had seen the woman only briefly, in the light that came from her hands. Just an ordinary housewife…

“Call 911!” he heard her shouting.

He sensed that she was approaching him now. His last thought before she knocked him out was: Bash and Dash lied to us. They’re gonna pay.

***

“This doesn’t go outside the family,” Harley told Susan after the uniformed cops had shown up to collect the still-dazed shooters.

“Nobody else knows?”

“Rick. But he’s cool about it. And the Carnage twins. They must have set this up. I should have thought of that,”

“But you… a superheroine… like in the comics. It’s so incredible.”

“I’m a cop. That’s what I am. And a wife. And a mother….”

“Like a lioness defending her cubs.”

“Kinda like.”

Gus was putting the kids to bed. They hadn’t seen anything, but they’d sensed what had happened.

“Mommy zapped the bad guys!” Zach had said proudly.

“Wonder Woman!” Jude had responded.

And from Buzz: “That’s my daughter!”

She remembered then, that night when Daddy had given her the idea to become the Guiding Light, without even realizing it -- a world of people suffering, "searching for a light, something to guide the way."

She had believed then. Her powers had gone to her head. She had a sense of mission. It was such a rush to be running around in that sexy outfit, catching bad guys, rescuing people. And it was really cool to make the kitchen appliances do their thing with just a wave of her hand.

But she couldn’t even touch Gus, couldn’t comfort the children. That was the price. And in the end, it was a price she hadn’t been willing to pay. She’d have to take a shower soon, power down. The lights were back up; Gus had found the circuit breaker in the dark as soon as she’d sounded the all-clear.

Susan nodded now in understanding. She’d keep the secret.

“You’ll come to my graduation next year, won’t you?”

“That soon?”

“I’m a quick study.”

“Any prospects?”

“Lincoln Center Theatre, for starters. I’d love to have been in The Coast of Utopia, and—“

“I mean….”

Susan blushed.

“I’ll tell you tomorrow,” she said. “I really should be getting back to the motel. We’ve got a whole weekend ahead to talk about ships and shoes and sealing wax – and men.”

It was just as Harley was bidding her good night that Gus came back down.

“Let’s go to the lighthouse and watch the stars,” he invited her.

An odd request, at such a time as this, and yet somehow an appealing one.

“But the children….” she hesitated.

“Buzz can look after them.”

Buzz was looking at her now, as if he understood.

“Too much garmonbozia tonight,” he said. “You guys need to get away for a while.”

He was right. Pain and sorrow. The thought of what might have happened gnawed at her inside, even if she was outwardly calm. Yes, she needed to get away for a while.

But first, that shower.

***

Gus had brought a shopping bag with him to the lighthouse. Harley had assumed it held wine and glasses, and she was right – but not entirely right.

The night was crisp and clear and star-filled. The new moon was a sliver in the sky.

“Did you ever wish upon a star when you were a child?” Harley asked.

Gus shook his head. “How about you?”

“Just to get away from Fifth Street.”

The wrong side of the tracks, Gus knew. She’d been born into poverty, but whatever else had happened in her life, she’d gotten away from that. Her life had been comfortable, if not always happy.

“You got that wish, for sure.”

“Well, what would you have wished for, if you had?”

“Someone like you.”

“That’s silly. I mean really.”

“When I was a kid, the Wonder Woman show was on TV. I heard the older kids at school talk about how they’d ‘like a piece of her,’ but I didn’t know what they meant. I thought Wonder Woman was fun, I had a crush on her -- but I didn’t know what I was supposed to want to do with her.”

“And now you do?”

“Now I’ve got my own superheroine.”

He reached into the shopping bag, pulled out the costume he’d saved.

“Put it on,” he whispered. “Put it on.”

“Is that all I am to you, a childish fantasy?”

She was teasing him; he saw it on her face.

“No. A grown-up fantasy.”

“But it’s chilly out here.”

“I’ll warm you up.”

“Well, I could go along with that. But you’ve got to play fair; you’ll have to turn around. No peeking until I say, ‘Ready.’”

Harley knew Gus would play fair with her, and he did.

“Ready,” she called out.

Gus turned to face her, and gazed in admiration. He had known her, intimately, for five years. He knew her body as he knew his own. And yet, since Halloween night, it was as if he had seen her for the first time. He had seen her in her costume; that too was familiar to him. Only the last time they had met here, it had been a sad occasion: a night of renunciation of her powers for his sake. This was a night of celebration. The Guiding Light had been reborn, for the sake of those dear to her. But no one else would see her as he was seeing her now; she was dressed not to kill, but to thrill -- she was for his eyes alone....

“It’s still chilly, you know,” she said, and shivered a little.

He came to her then, embraced her, kissed and caressed her, felt her naked abs, her legs through the mesh, her breasts through the halter, her secret place through the shorts. He knew what lay beneath, and yet it was as if he was feeling it all for the first time.

“Let’s go inside,” he said, and she was grateful for the shelter of the lighthouse control room – deserted as it nearly always was, operation of the facility having been computerized. He brought out the wine then, and the glasses. They toasted each other: “To our love” – what better toast could there be? She had felt his arousal before; now she could see it against his trousers.

“How can you stand it?” she asked.

“I can’t.”

“I’m getting wet.”

“Then we’d better get home. The kids will be sound asleep by now. And Buzz needs his.”

And so they came home, to a home they knew and yet seemed new to them. They retired to a bedroom they knew well, and yet which seemed like a honeymoon suite. Harley did a slow striptease from her costume, and when she and Gus made love, it was like their wedding night, full of joy and wonder.

I’ll bet I’m pregnant, Harley thought when she woke the next morning. There was no way she could know that, of course – unless it was another superpower….