I was afraid of the dark. It terrified me, never having control over the level of brightness around me.
I never turned the lights off at my house, not even when I left in the mornings to work at school. I needed electricity to survive, as humans need air and fish need water.
I craved the wires and circuits and volts more than anything else.
Eventually, I took to shocking myself with the light sockets around my house for fun.
I relished swing-sets and trampolines, marvelling at how the simplest things reminded me of all the times I flew over the city.
I relived the battles I fought amid the clouds with Daze, imagining I felt sparks zipping through my veins again, humming and crackling as I called lightning from above.
“Your powers are your mask, but mine are my soul, my whole being.
You will never understand what it feels like, to be merged with something so strong it becomes your whole identity!” I had crowed.
Daze had laughed. “I’m glad. I would give up my abilities in a heartbeat, if it meant saving my loved ones.
Even in doing that, I wouldn’t lose myself; for what am I, without love?” She sent a stream of icy wind my way. “But you, Sparks? What would you be, without your abilities? I’ll tell you.
“You would be nothing.”
At the time, I had gritted my teeth and shaken off her words. But now, the exchange had never seemed so relevant.
All at once, I was angry again.
How dare she taunt me like that? How dare she spit those words in my face, and then go on to call herself a hero?
Anger festered inside of me as I glanced at my TV, which was transmitting a live report of Daze visiting a children’s home. My teeth clamped together.
I grabbed a box of teabags from my cupboard and tore out of the house.
“Spark- Mia Schnapp? What are you doing here?” Daze’s eyes swept over me. “It’s odd seeing you in civilian clothes.”
I pulled the box of tea from my coat pocket. “You said we could have a chat, remember? I hope now’s not a bad time.”
“I didn’t ask.” I pulled her by her wrist over to a window in the corner, away from all the cameras and prying ears.
“We are beyond lucky to have a hero like Daze protecting our city, along with her partners, Emer and Ruby,” a reporter was saying.
On the other side of the room, an interviewee smiled at a camera and tossed her dark curls out of her face. “She’s the kindest person I have ever known. She treats everyone with respect.”
I turned to Daze. Her eyes were lighter than robin’s eggs, but nowhere near as fragile. I felt air prickling around my ankles and knew she had anchored me to the spot.
“What is this about, Mia? I’m in the middle of a live stream.”
“Don’t call me Mia.”
“What am I supposed to call you? I can’t very well just say… well, you know… can I? Everyone would recognize you.”
The invisible wind clamped around my ankles had tightened as she spoke. I clenched my teeth and set my hands on my hips. “Why do you care?”
“I wouldn’t, if I was allowed.” Her voice rang with disdain. “My team requires heroes to help villains adjust back to civilian life after their powers are Stifled.”
“Heroes?” I scoffed at the word as I tore several packets of tea out of my box, needing a physical outlet for my anger. “You’re not a hero.
In all your life, when have you ever said something kind to anyone who didn’t already love you, and meant it? Everyone can do that, you fake. It’s nothing special."
Dropping the box, I lifted the tea packets in front of her nose and ripped them to pieces. Fragments of tea leaves drifted between us. A thick scent arose and sweetened my thoughts. “Chamomile."
She ignored the leaves that had fallen in her hair as she leaned forward to capture my gaze. Her eyes flashed, but I could tell my words had soaked deep into her, even while she denied it.
“Mock me all you want,” she whispered, “but when have you ever done any different?”
I clenched my fists. Hesitated.
A woman pulled on Daze’s arm. “Ma’am, we have to go. You were supposed to meet with the mayor’s wife seven minutes ago.”
Daze nodded. “Right you are.” She simpered at me over her shoulder as she stepped away. I waited until she was gone and then stormed out of the room.
Several hallways later, I heard a boy talking in one of the hospital rooms. “Mommy, you said Daze was coming today.”
“I know, sweetie. But there’s lots of other kids she has to see, and I don’t think she’ll make it to us today. But here, look, I’ll read you a story instead. Is that okay?”
“This is the story of a frog called- oh, Brent! It’s okay, sweetie, it’s okay.”
Their door was half-open as I passed it, and I saw Brent wearing a hospital gown, crying in his mother’s arms as she whispered comfort into his hair.
He sniffled and wiped his eyes on his shirt-sleeve again and again, desperately trying to stop his tears. “I was looking forward to it,” he confessed.
I reached the end of the hallway before I decided to return. No matter how I tried to repress my thoughts, a lump had risen in my throat and sympathy throbbed against my skull.
Yes, I would return, but I needed to stock up first.
Half an hour later, I knocked on the door of Brent’s room with an armful of coloring books, jumbo crayons, glitter glue, and action figures.
I’d bought at least one thing from every shelf in the kid’s section at the dollar store, unable to hold myself back. “Excuse me?”
Brent’s mom rushed up from where she was seated beside her son to hold the door for me.
I dumped my load at the foot of Brent’s bed, warmth tingling at the base of my spine when his eyes immediately lit up.
“Take it all,” I told him. “I’m sorry you weren’t able to see your hero today, but maybe this can cheer you up a bit.”
“Thank you,” his mother breathed. She took a moment to recover herself. “Brent, what do you say?”
“Thank you!” He tore the packaging off several toy cars and began racing them around the edges of his pillow.
“It’s no big deal,” I told his mom. “I’m glad he’s so happy.”
She nodded, her eyes misting. “Me too. I was afraid he wouldn’t be the same after the heart transplant, but-”
“He’s a great kid,” I told her.
When I entered my driveway that evening, something was different. My bones were humming, my veins thrumming. I was alive.
The sun had long-since set, but I could still see fine, my vision piercing even the darkest corners of my yard.
When I stepped onto my doormat, my feet hung suspended in the air for a split-second before returning to the earth.
When I shut my front door behind me, I snapped my fingers and a spark flew from my fingers. It sank into the wall and ran through the wires, illuminating all the lightbulbs in my house at once.
A smile found its way across my face. My powers were back; I had been given a second chance. And this time, I had a new goal.
This time, I was going to be better than Daze. I was going to find an identity more rewarding than simply having fear-inspiring abilities.
I was going to help people when their days felt dark, and do everything I could to see their faces light up like Brent’s had. Anything to feel that warmth spilling down my spine again.
In short, I was going to be a hero.