You’ve probably heard about me.
Well, probably not me per-se, but some of the things that I have accomplished.
Yeah, I know. The news pinned it all on Captain Heroic or whatnot. Well, who knows why? The most important part is that it was actually me all along.
This is the story of me, one Naomi Winterbloom, and how I became Fabulous.
I wasn’t always fabulous, you know.
Sure, you know my last name. It’s only attached to WinterCorp, one of the biggest names in medical and technological research and advances. But you wouldn’t know it to look at me. My mother and father are basically useless trust fund babies, living fat off the hog that is my grandfather’s pride and joy. Sure, I live in a big house-one that the people around these parts call “The Estate” (and yes, it is just as foreboding and dark inside as it looks on the outside) but it’s dark and empty in there. I remember when I was only 7 years old and I drew a picture of a giant shadowy building with one square yellow window.
“That’s where I am,” I told the teacher.
That’s pretty much what it’s like at home. My parents pay for the bare minimum to keep me in (very expensive) private school because it is What Is Expected Of The Rich. But they are rarely ever home. And to look at my room, you might mistake it for a maid’s quarters from the lack of pretty much anything beyond the basics. Yes, I am clean, have some basic clothing, and I get my own laptop too. But I still am expected to walk to school, and I only get to have 5 uniforms (one for each day of the week) and two “weekend outfits”. I am taken care of, and I am presentable. I am the face of the average, of the “good enough” life, and I know I should not complain about the roof over my head and the bed I sleep in and the people who come and silently keep the house in pristine condition and magically deposit my clean clothes and meals at my door.
But there is only one big, aching, heart-wrenching problem with my life.
My parents prefer to spend their money and their time on themselves.
know you probably don’t want to hear about it, but I have a stupid ridiculous fantasy. There’s this flyer I found on the ground while I was walking to school when I was in 6th grade. It shows a happy family at a nearby amusement park smiling and eating ice cream while the mom is about to wipe a dribble off the kid’s cheek and the dad is grabbing at the camera so he can take a picture. Everyone is so happy in that photo, so much so that I could practically feel it like a heat that I have never experienced in my life. I know it’s silly to want something that cliché, but the truth of the matter is that I would pretty much settle for my mother to give me a hug, or my father to look at me the way he looks at his Ferrari collection; someone to enjoy time with-someone who is wanted and not simply tolerated or obligated to.
For all the starving children in the world, I would give up my food for the soul sustenance of love.
I have a map on my wall. It’s a map of the world that I got out of a National Geographic magazine I picked up at the thrift store. I have two little flags that I made out of push-pins-one for Mom, and one for Dad. Whenever they tell me where they are going, I always put the push-pin in the place on the map so I always know where they are. It somehow keeps them close in a way that they never are in person. Even when they’re right next to me, they’re still a million miles away.
They never send postcards.
But let’s not stay fixated on sad things.
My grandmother was the only light in my life. When she came to live with me, the world surged full with color and sunshine. It’s like remembering a cartoon world when I think back on those years as a young child. Somehow everything distorts and the color is unreal, bright.
She had an interesting accent, one that I always said made it sound like her language was wandering. Sometimes, she sounded kind of Slavic, but there was a hint of French and Italian in the way that the words moved in her mouth as she built sentences and they erupted from her lips almost song-like.
She was the only one who knew me. My grandmother was special. She knew that I was too. My parents dismissed me as an obligation and a nuisance, but from the moment that my grandmother first held me, she knew that I was the one she had been waiting for.
You see, I can speak in a very different sort of way. With my mind, that is.
It’s not something that you immediately get good at. My grandmother grilled me every day, teaching me how to get into someone’s thoughts, how to read other people, how to project myself. Obviously, she was much more skilled than I was, but then again, she was very impressed with how quick of a learner I was. I could read people very well, feel their emotions as they felt them and manipulate them at will. No one knows that I am actually quite socially awkward, because I simply nudge them in the right direction.
It’s not like I can plant thoughts or make people do things they don’t really want to do. In all accounts, I probably have as much control over others as the average stage magician-I only help people do what they already want to do in their hearts without inhibitions. People taste differently in their minds. It’s much easier to understand someone once you’ve caught the flavor of a person’s psyche.
Of course, that was before the accident.
That’s when the color died again.
I remember the house, dark like a shadow-looming over me. I was only 6 years old, but I walked home myself that day because Grandmother was not there to meet me at the schoolyard gate.
I went from door to door-it seemed endless, calling out for her with my small voice. I used my mind to push as far as I could outward, searching for the cinnamon and apple scent that I knew so well.
There was nothing.
I cried and cried, my voice swallowed by the sheer enormity of the darkness. It wasn’t until late that night, I heard a soft knock on my door. It was Grandfather. He never visited. He lived with his work. My heart felt full of water and blood. I knew what he was going to say before he said it-the bitterness and pain washed over me like a wave of vinegar.
“There has been an accident.” he told me, gravely and without emotion, “Your grandmother is not going to be able to see you anymore.”
He turned away.
My heart stopped beating for just a second, as I held my breath, hoping the moment was not real.
He turned back.
“She would want you to have this.”
He drew his claw-like fingers, gnarled with arthritis, into his coat and pulled out something shining on a silvery chain.
It was a pendant with a jet black stone, covered in a silver cage of thorns. In the middle of the stone, I could make out a white shape, but it seemed to continue changing in the dim light of my bedroom lamp.
He held out his arm as though he wanted to keep his distance from me. I grabbed the dangling pendant, clutching it to my chest, the tears already coming back to my eyes.
“We will bring servants to help with your school and home needs. You do not need to worry.” His voice was toneless, and in the memory, his face is in shadow-I can’t see his eyes.
I stared at the stone, tasting a hint of the cinnamon and apple taste on my tongue, the sorrow pouring out of me in waves. My grandfather struggled to keep his composure. I know it was my fault and did not care.
There were reports of the entire city block having spent an entire night in tears for no apparent reason.
But I know that reason was me.
Skip forward a bit to my 16th year of life.
I spend a lot of time by myself. I’m so used to it by now, but I’m never really lonely. At least, that’s what I told myself each day like a mantra.
I never take off my grandmother’s pendant. It’s the only thing that makes me feel like I’m still alive inside. The cool weight of it next to my skin helps me to feel some kind of connection, even if that connection is old and far away in the ether somewhere. I don’t kid myself about the afterlife. As far as I know, there isn’t one, but in some way, that’s good. I don’t want to worry about going to the Other Place, you know, the one where you burn forever.
So, it’s the summer, a week before school starts, and I am off doing some nature hiking in the hills above the city. There are all these old lime kilns and other abandoned buildings hiding between the trees, mostly eaten by nature, but I often find various things to photograph such as various wildlife or the striking beauty of nature slowly devouring the manmade.
I remember stepping down into this one deep lime kiln, because I saw a flash of something that looked like it was glittering in the dark. It looked like the earth had bunched up, turning the kiln on its side, so it was more like a cave than anything. As I went further in, I realized that someone had knocked in the bottom of the kiln and dug a fairly well-supported tunnel through it. The shine turned out to be an old oil lamp hung up on a hook near the far left of the entrance. I carry a flashlight when I photograph for lighting purposes, so I followed the corridor quietly, knowing full well that I could be walking into danger. But then again, danger is really the only thing that makes me feel truly alive-the heat of blood pumping quickly through my veins and the rising beat of my heart always makes me smile through the fear.
But that’s when I heard it. A wet sucking sound, like someone walking in wet galoshes. Something was coming towards me, but I couldn’t see a thing. The darkness overtook everything in the tunnel, and I realized that the walls were moving like midnight jelly.
I could feel waves of fear that weren’t coming from me. Run! Something told me. Hide!
An inky tendril extended from the ceiling. It sees us. A white circle extended from the tendril.
Oh god. It was looking at me.
I turned, trying to run, but the goo encircled my feet like thick mud. It snaked up my ankles and over my thighs, pulling me down into it, suffocating me. Long tendrils were encircling my stomach, my breasts, my arms, licking at me stickily. And then I felt the tendrils going up my nose and down my throat and I couldn’t see anything anymore.
STOP! I screamed with everything my mind had in it. You must let me….let me live…..
I felt the puzzlement of the creature, whatever it was, just before I blacked out.
When I came to, it was dark and cold. I was laying on the ground, feeling the dirt crumbled around me I felt around for my flashlight, and when I turned it on, the tunnel was as it had been before-earthen with support beams placed strategically around by whomever had made the tunnel so that it wouldn’t cave in.
“What the hell.” I said to myself, wondering if I had just been hallucinating or if there was possibly a gas leak somewhere. But then I noticed that my clothes were ripped to the point that I was practically naked. “Oh shit.”
I panicked, wildly waving the flashlight everywhere, but there was nothing to be seen.
“Crap, now I need new clothes to replace these old torn ones.”
And suddenly, I was wearing a black skirt and red blouse, just like one I had been eying in a store window the day before.
And at that moment, I knew where the creature was.
It was in me.
But that wasn’t quite right. I held out my arm thoughtfully and then threw my flashlight as hard as I could with the other. A tendril shot out, grabbing it and yo-yoed it back to me.
I realized-I did that.
I’ll be damned if the goo creature hadn’t bonded with me. Our thoughts were like one-but it seemed a touch more id-y than anything else. Feelings like hunger, anger, fear, flooded into me, heightened by my own mood.
I made my way back out of the lime kiln and into the sunlight. The sun was much lower in the sky than it had been before. I had been unconscious for at least 6 hours, and all I knew was that I was hungry as hell.
I headed back into town, following my rumbling stomach.
But I didn’t care.
I wasn’t alone anymore.
I have named my creature Ecthel. Why? Because that’s kind of how it feels in my head, and it’s the easiest, closest translation to human language. Plus, I like calling it Ecky.
I never had a pet, especially not one with a pet name, and ESPECAIALLY not one that is basically now an extension of my body. What Ecky feels, I feel. What I eat, nourishes Ecky too.
And when I cover my face and fight evil, Ecky fights with me, as part of me.
I am never alone.
And I am stronger for it.