“What happened here?”
Lara walked along the darkened Ezzard Charles Drive slowly, with Jason close behind. Glass covered the sidewalks along the downtown Cincinnati street, and the streets themselves were littered with broken bottles, garbage cans, rocks and bricks. Smashed and burned-out storefronts and cars lined the four-lane road, and even the glass doors to police headquarters were boarded up. The street was even darker than usual, most of the overhead lights having been shot out by gunfire. The only light came from the headlights of Jason’s red Plymouth Neon, parked a short distance away.
She looked behind her at a large Art Deco-style building at the other end of the street. Darkened, and with an empty parking lot, the Union Terminal building housed a couple of museums – but due to the nearby destruction, the normally busy building was closed.
“Riots, a couple of days ago. But things have been quiet since the curfew took effect.” Jason sighed as he surveyed the damage. His voice was a mixture of anger and sadness at what he saw. “I’ve driven down this street so many times, and I’ve been to Union Terminal at night before. It’s all so…surreal.”
Lara nodded as she turned around to return to the car. She moved slowly, as if she were in a little shock at what she saw. “Speaking of curfew, we’d better go. I don’t want you having to explain me to the police.”
“Right.” Jason climbed into the driver’s seat almost at the same time Lara entered the car. He started up the engine and turned the car around slowly, heading back toward the highway entrance only a block away. Stunned silence prevailed in the car until it had entered the highway and reached cruising speed. By then, Lara had reached over to turn on the radio.
“Strange town, huh?” Jason gave Lara a half-hearted smile, which Lara returned immediately. She knew that it saddened him to see such destruction. But it was something that had to be seen – something that, when shown on television, simply did not have the same impact it had in person.
“You think everything will be okay here?”
Jason turned to look at Lara for a moment. “What do you mean?”
“Well…when the riots hit Los Angeles a few years ago, most people didn’t even see it. L.A. is such a big city…but this city’s kind of small. This kind of thing affects everyone.”
“You’re right, it does.” Jason nodded. “At first, the riots were just downtown…easy enough for most people just to ignore it. But the night before the curfew took effect, the riots spread – storefront windows in Madisonville were smashed, and a small take-out store had been burned down only five miles from my home. I’ve never been in the place, but I’ve driven past it dozens of times.”
“Wow.” Lara leaned back and sighed. She had been in many dangerous situations before – but for the most part, her own home had always been relatively safe, kind of a haven away from the rest of the world. “Were you scared?”
Jason nodded again. “A little, at first. When I initially heard the report…one night, the eleven o’clock news announced a riot in progress in Kennedy Heights. I remember actually loading a shotgun from the basement and sticking it in an easy-to-reach closet.”
“Yeah, but…what good would that do against a riot?”
“I dunno.” Jason shrugged as he turned off the Ronald Reagan Highway exit. “I just hoped that if I had to use it, I could just scare people with it. I don’t really want to see anyone hurt.”
Lara smiled. “That’s kind of what I thought. I know you as well as you do.”
“Yeah, I know…the whole figment of my imagination thing.” Jason paused as he checked an intersection near a stop sign at the end of an exit ramp. “After we get the car home, how about if we go and visit some people? Touring riot damage is so depressing. I’m supposed to be entertaining you.”
“No, it was…eye-opening. I’m glad you took me to see it. You’ve given me something to think about…that’s better than any kind of cheesy entertainment.”
“So…” Jason said as the car pulled up the driveway and into the garage. “Do you want to visit some of my relatives in town?”
“No thanks; I’ve met them already.”
Jason laughed and turned the car off. “Okay…we’ll surprise some people out of town instead.”
Lara turned up the thermostat a couple more degrees as she looked across a somewhat fancy three-room hotel suite in Romulus, Michigan. Sitting in a deep chair at the other end of the room was Jason, wrapped in two blankets and wearing a bright yellow zipped-up jacket.
She sighed to herself and shook her head as she sat down in the small desk chair across from him. “I told you to bring a warmer coat. It’s really cold flying that high up.”
“I guess I should…have listened,” Jason said between his chattering teeth. “Don’t worry…I’ll warm up sooner or later.”
“I hope so.” Lara reached for an apple sitting in the fruit basket on the table. “I already have the thermostat turned up to eighty. If I turn it up again, the sprinklers may go off.”
“Funny.” Jason took a deep breath as the shivering finally slowed down. “I’m just glad I know the manager of this place from work, or this room would cost a fortune.”
“Either that, or he saw me,” Lara said as she waved a corner of her cape at Jason, “and decided to keep any questions to himself.”
Jason smiled and shook his head. “This practical joke had better be worth it. Do you still have the map?”
Lara nodded. “I still don’t know how to follow it, though.”
“That’s what taxicabs are for.”
Lara raised an eyebrow. “You’re certain there’s no train?” she joked.
“Funny girl.” Jason stood and tossed aside the two blankets. “I’m much better now. Let’s go.”
“Okay.” Lara headed toward the window quickly, lifting Jason by the back of his belt as she ran straight out onto the balcony. She heard Jason gasp as she leapt over the fourth-floor balcony railing and landed on the sidewalk below softly, dropping him to his feet next to her.
“Do you have something against elevators, Lara?”
She shook her head, laughing at the sarcasm in Jason’s voice as she stepped over to the curb to hail a taxi. “Come on, admit it…that was much more fun then an elevator, wasn’t it?”
“Uh-huh.” Jason dismissed Lara’s question as he climbed into the back seat of the cab. As she climbed in next to him, she handed the map to the driver. They had an hour-long ride ahead of them.
“Holy cow!” A man of medium build stood in the doorway of his home, a worried look on his face as a woman with clear eyes and wild blonde hair, slightly taller then himself, stood in front of him in a black costume with white stripes and a cape. The evening sun glared from behind her, giving her an unearthly halo as she greeted him with a soft smile.
Having seen a mixture of similarly dressed heroines in fantasy – comic books – he wasn’t sure if he was hallucinating, dreaming, or only seconds away from a painful death. He stood with one hand on the door, half-considering slamming it shut in case of trouble. “Um…Birdy?”
“No…I’m Lara Night. You’ve probably heard of me. Kevin, right?”
“Yeah, but…well…I didn’t think you were-”
“Real?” Lara laughed as she turned and pointed toward Jason, standing at the end of the sidewalk. “You’d be surprised at who’s real. I suppose you know Jason.”
“Yes.” Kevin stepped through the doorway to look past Lara as Jason headed up the sidewalk toward him. “But I thought he’d be taller.”
“Everyone says that,” Jason interrupted as he walked up to the porch.
“Aren’t you going to invite us in?” Lara looked at Jason, and back at Kevin, giving him a sly grin. “I promise I’ll try not to break anything.”
“Sure.” Kevin nodded and stepped aside, ushering Lara and Jason into his house. He followed quickly, holding Lara’s cape to keep it out of the door as he closed it behind him.
“Easy on the cape, Kevin.”
“Sorry.” Kevin looked almost frightened as he suddenly let go of the cape. “I…I didn’t mean to-”
“Don’t worry about it.” Lara shook her cape vigorously. “I just wanted to make sure it doesn’t wrinkle. Dry cleaning this thing is a pain.”
Kevin breathed a sigh of relief and turned to face Lara, measuring her height with his eyes. “You two are both shorter then I imagined. Aren’t you supposed to be at least as tall as Supergirl?”
“No, she’s a liar,” Jason told him. “She’s only five-foot-seven.”
“Shut up!” Lara shoved Jason gently before laughing a little. “Don’t listen to him. He actually adjusted all of his websites when he found out I wasn’t five-foot-eight.”
“This just seems too strange…you, a fictional character, standing in my living room.” Kevin shook his head and blinked twice as the two followed him into the living room. “I’m sorry, that was rude…do you two want anything to eat or drink?”
“I’ll have a Coke.” Lara ignored Kevin’s lapse in politeness as she sat down at the end of the living room couch, glancing over at Jason as he sat next to her. “He’ll have one too.”
Jason looked at Lara and gave her a mock frown as Kevin headed toward the kitchen. “You know, this ‘figment of my imagination’ thing is really starting to get on my nerves.”
Lara shrugged. “Imagine how I feel.”
“So tell me, Lara,” Kevin said as he returned to the living room and handed her a can of Coke. “Has Jason been drooling over you too much?”
“No, he’s very polite.” Lara looked over at Jason and smiled. “Besides, his type is more down-to-earth then us superheroines. And he has this rule about not getting involved with his ‘actors.'”
Kevin laughed as he handed Jason his drink. “What kind of rule is that?”
“It’s because part of my job is to protect my actors.” Jason took a sip of Coke. “To keep them safe from places like the Aurora Universe. Who knows what that writer does with the characters-”
“Oh, I think you know exactly what happens at the Aurora Universe,” Lara interrupted. “You read some of those stories.”
“Only the less…um…explicit ones. And so do you!”
“Hmm.” Lara took a sip of Coke and put the can down on the coffee table. “I just wish Sharon Best would quit sending me e-mail proposals.”
Kevin squinted and shook his head. “Marriage, or business proposals?”
“Neither.” Lara picked up the can again and took another sip as Jason and Kevin stared at her in stunned silence. “What?”
Jason rolled his eyes quickly before rising to his feet. “Lara, we’d better get going. I’ve got to send you home.”
“Send her home?” Kevin looked at Jason, then at Lara as the two stood before him.
“Yes, I’m kind of stuck here. Jason has to write me back home.” Lara reached her hand out to shake Kevin’s. “It was nice meeting you.”
“I’m not going to even pretend to understand that.” Kevin shook her hand quickly. “But thanks for visiting. And Lara…feel free to visit me any time.”
“Sure, why not?” Lara nodded and smiled at Kevin as she grabbed Jason’s arm tightly. In a bright flash of light which suddenly filled the room…they were gone.