The school bell rang, shrilly dismissing all the middle schoolers out to the yard for lunch. Intense bargaining and deal making began immediately.
“I’ll give you my goldfish and pickles for one of your raspberry chocolate chip cookies!”
“I don’t like almond milk- you can have that for free.”
“Give me a few of your gummy worms and you can have a bite of my sandwhich.”
“Your mom brought you CHIPOTLE?? Luuuckkkkyyyyyyy.”
The dust and grass and asphalt all blended together into a buffering cocoon of “outside”; a haven away from the sterile, boring classrooms where their academic studies were traversed. The weather was perfect, the sun wasn’t too bright, a couple of kids had pulled out their Bey Blades to battle with- lunch was going swimmingly. The teachers were just relieved that everyone seemed to be getting along today.
“You can’t DO that!”
“Can’t do what?”
“Move your hands!”
Two kids, a young white 5th grader named Billy and a tall 4th grade Armenian girl name Ethel, were engaged in a sizzling game of hot hands. Ethel’s voice surfed a wave of accusation that crested over the entire lunch area. Billy cut his eyes to the crowd of kids slowly gathering around them. He had moved his hands- this girl is faster than I thought!- but there was no way he could admit that to his schoolmates. Not only was she a younger grade than he, but she was a girl.
His parents had been trying to teach him that boys and girls are equal and that he shouldn’t think that way; and usually he was really good about it. Mistreating people was simply not in his nature.
Deep down… where his real thoughts lay submerged in the sunken enclave of Atlantean reflection… he knew that getting beat by a girl meant something different when you were a boy. Maybe it wasn’t supposed to, but, well, since when were things ever what they were SUPPOSED to be?
“You keep moving your hands, before I do anything. I can’t hit them if they’re not over mine. That’s how the game is played.”
Billy said the only comeback he could muster, with as much gumption as possible.
Ethel was well on her way to a good screech, when Nambdi walked up, dark skin gleaming magically in the sunlight. Nambdi was the new kid- he’d transferred from New York at the beginning of the spring semester a few weeks ago. His African accent was a source of wonder and delight for many of his new schoolmates, even though he still refrained from talking much. Apparently today was a day he felt like talking. His voice cut into their spat before Ethel could really let loose some steam.
“How about we settle this the old-fashioned way.”
The two kids looked at him confused (although Billy was secretly grateful for the distraction).
“Thumb war. We used to play it all the time at my old school. When the kids would argue, the thumb war would settle all.”
Billy and Ethel’s eyes burned holes into one another, but right before Billy wilted, Ethel extended her right palm out to the left, fingers running vertically from sky to earth. Billy extended his own hand, and their fingers locked together, thumbs erect and at the ready. Nambdi nodded approvingly, joining them in the ritualistic chant.
“1, 2, 3, 4! I declare a thumb WAR!”
The scenery instantly shifted. Blue sky melded with the dripping yellow rays of sunlight, pooling together into the crackling, swirling black and green asphalt. There was a loud POP and a flash of light, blinding the two contestants.
** ** **
Ethel opened her eyes.
She was standing on a giant pillar, easily some two thousand feet in the air. The whole pillar was strewn with vines, and some odd pink and purple foliage. Blue armor decked out her whole body. Through suddenly perfect vision, she could see the ten miles across the distance over to Billy who adorned a similar pillar, but was clad in red armor. Nambdi floated on a cloud above them, washed in a ball of white light.
His voice boomed through the air, awakening some instinct deep within her. She grinned and leaped off the top of the pillar, zinging through the clouds. Billy’s eyes widened for only a second, before he sprang out to meet her there. Time slowed around them as massive swords appeared in their hands. Sparks flew. Sweat quickly filled their eyes. Billy grunted as the point of her weapon found a chink in his armor. Feeling a surge of energy though, he let go the sword, tightening his fist upon release, and a wrist laser popped up blasting Ethel from the sky.
Billy let himself fall, sensing the position of the ground beneath him. He landed on a flat surface- still far above the ground- with the pillar stretching up into the sky behind him. Ethel crashed back into the pillar she’d hailed from, tumbling to her own flat surface. Annoyed, she threw her own sword aside and slammed knuckles together. A low hum, and tingly feeling ran down her back. What just happened?
Uh oh. No time to think. Billy was diving down towards her, spraying her with laser-fire. Ethel rolled evasively, coming up with her sword back in her grip. Billy’s left hand came up, and extended in her direction- a gaping maw of bottomless death. She braced for impact, then her eyes widened as she saw a torpedo the size of an asteroid eject from his extended hand.
There was no way to dodge this. Her sword clattered to the ground; useless yet again.
When the super projectile was only 50 feet away, she felt the return tingle down her back. A blue beam flashed out from someplace she couldn’t see, enveloping the entire torpedo in shimmering, plasmic energy. Billy cringed in surprise, barely avoiding crashing into his own weapon as he jerked swiftly to the side, landing in a roll and coming up just inches away from Ethel herself. He gaped. There was a strange, almost cannon shaped device protruding from her back. That’s where the beam was coming from. All compulsion for their war temporarily forgotten, he turned his gaze skyward, wondering what she would do.
This thing is heavy.
The psychic strain of sustaining the sun-blotting explosive was starting to wear on her. She wanted to do something spectacular, but it was getting harder and harder to breathe, and any moment now Billy was sure to snap out of his reverie and take advantage of the situation. With an enormous pulse of will, she nudged the torpedo over to the wide chasm between the two warriors’ starting points and let it fall.
Billy was on her instantly.
Time slowed again as she fielded the incoming lasers with a single armored palm, sliding under the godlike hammer that came swinging from his chest, snatching it as she went by. Ethel turned her slide into a rocket boot assisted somersault, reaching back as far she could manage with the hammer still in her hand-
Billy plummeted off the side of her mountain, brain hazy from being clocked in the head with his own weapon.
But Ethel was far from done.
She leaped up and out, hurling the hammer down with all her might. The mystical weapon went screaming past Billy. What was she even aiming at? …Oh crap. Concussive waves from the earth-rattling explosion of the torpedo slammed Billy against the side of the mountain, his armor cracking as nuclear fire and catapulting rocks smashed into him. He landed in a heap at the bottom.
Ethel, still propelled in the air by her rocket boots, finally saw the arena for what it truly was and laughed with genuine mirth. Of COURSE! She raised her hands likewise; her fists curled together, facing each other, her thumbs raised high like flags in the dirt. She closed her eyes, exhaling, drawing power from the light, the air, the armor, her thumbs…
And then she brought her fists together.
** ** **
All Billy saw was a jagged crack of lightning split the air, briefly illuminating the now goddess appearance of Ethel hovering there with eyes closed.
Then the two mountains, backed by their giant pillars, closed in on him and he was unable to think anything else.
** ** **
Ethel blinked. Her hand was still curled into Billy’s, but now her thumb was firmly fastened down on top of his. She looked over at Nambdi who smiled graciously.
“You have won my friend.”
Billy’s blue eyes had a dazed, milky complexion to them.
“Is he… going to be alright?”
“He’ll be just fine. He’s re-negotiating with himself if it really is all that bad to lose to a girl.”
Everybody laughed- Ethel included- as she released her hand from Billy’s and walked away.
Nobody saw the feral shadow leaking into his pupils.
Joshua Evans is a prolific writer and sci-fi/fantasy enthusiast who believes story is central to everything and that mythology can change the world. He currently hosts two youtube shows- The Truth About Superheroes and Comic of the Week. If you would like to further be a part of his cosmic psyche, you can join him on Twitter and Instagram (@comicsinspire) or simply subscribe to this story reel… and remember- sharing is caring! Cheers!