“Try lifting your legs up next time,” Blackout said, coaching Fern from the other side of the backyard.
“I’ve been lifting my legs up,” responded an exhausted Fern. “But if I lift them any higher then I’ll be in the fetal position. Nobody flies in the fetal position, Blackout. It sucks the cool out of flying.”
“You could call it a cannonball or something,” C.K. shrugged.
“Just run the camera, C.K.,” said Fern.
“I’ve got you falling down in slow motion from 6 different angles.”
“I kind of like the cannonball idea,” Blackout said with a finger on his chin.
“I’m not doing the cannonball.”
“We’ve already been out here for 45 minutes trying to get your flaming ass to fly,” cut Blackout. “It wouldn’t hurt to try it out, Jesus.”
Fern blew a weighty cloud of smoke from both nostrils. His tailbone was bruised. His wrists were probably sprained. His ego was visibly dented.
There was one hole in his kickass superpower: he couldn’t fly. It was something that had plagued his villain game since day one. Yellow Bolt could fly. Frigidier could fly. Fucking Eagle Eyes could fly. Why not The Terriferno? He focused another tiny explosion in his palms, got to his feet again, and jumped while he fired it just below his heels. For an instant he rose higher, maybe an extra foot into the air, before plummeting down to the squishy grass of the lawn and rolling onto his back.
Blackout shrugged, “Told you you should’ve tried the cannonball…”
But Fern’s anger was focused on the stupid, grey sky. It had been cloudy all day, and the ground was still wet from an overnight rain. His red, leather jacket was on the porch, so the moisture from the grass soaked into his black t-shirt, mingling with droplets of his sweat to create a sticky-sweet odor.
“Fuck it,” he groaned from his spot on the ground.
Blackout gathered his lips to the corner of his mouth while he observed the parade of basketball-sized burn-spots dotting the lawn. 45 minutes and Fern was no closer to flying than C.K. was to slapping a baby.
Then there were shuffling footsteps on the back porch.
A collective cringe crept over their faces.
“I know ya’ll not out here messing up my lawn, again!”
Fern remained very still, hoping to turn invisible.
C.K. stopped the video. This was gonna be ugly.
Blackout smiled with all of his teeth, “Hey, Gram!”
“Don’t give me no bullshit, boy,” she said, shuffling to the edge of the three steps leading onto the lawn.
“What?” Blackout asked. “We were just finishing up out here.”
Gram covered her mouth with one hand while surveying her backyard through thick, orange-tinted glasses, “Oh, my Jesus.”
“We’ll clean everything up, Gram,” assured Blackout, still with that schmoozy smile. “It’s not so bad…”
“How do you clean up burnt grass, Blake?” Gram shot. She wasn’t having it today. “Does Captain Chintzy over there have a super green thumb?” she pointed at C.K., who looked around before realizing she was talking about him, then seemed mildly offended.
C.K. squinted his eyes and offered a solution, “It wouldn’t take much to get some grass pallets from the—”
“I don’t want other grass, dammit!” cut in Gram. “I want you to figure out how to not burn my grass in the first place! Messing up my yard for weeks!” She took another breath and bellowed again at Fern, who was convinced he wasn’t yet spotted. “Weeks!!”
“What’s all the fuss about over there?!” came a voice across the tall, wooden fence lining the backyard.
“Go back inside, Esther,” called Gram over the fence with a wave of her hand. “I’m handling my business over here.”
A head heavy with rollers peeked over the wooden posts, eyes narrowed, evaluating the scene. “Well your business is now the whole neighborhood’s business,” complained Esther. “And I don’t want no part of it.”
“Then don’t take no part of it!” Gram was furious, now. “I’ve been telling you to mind your own business for damn near twenty years now!” She walked closer to the fence to yell even harder.
Fern sat up and watched the two women begin to bicker. C.K. edged nearer to Blackout and whispered, “I take it this happens often.”
“It hasn’t even started, yet.” Blackout stated grimly.
He made eye contact with Fern, gave a quick tilt-of-the-chin towards the back door, and edged closer to the porch.
Fern got up, exceedingly slowly, then crept towards the door, as well.
“I wish you would stop hollering so the whole world can hear you at all hours of the day and night!” yelled Ester, rising slightly higher above the fence.
“And I wish you would stop leaving your filthy slime all over my front yard when you take out the trash!”
Fern had caught up to Blackout and C.K. on the steps when he turned around to see Ester sling a large, purple tentacle over the top of the wooden posts.
“What did you say!”
“I said,” Gram sucked in an abnormally large breath, “YOU SLIMY!!!” Her voice reverberated and shook the fence, as well as the ground, and sent Ester’s rollers into a cacophonous rattle.
“Inside! Quick!” Blackout panted, rushing for the door.
But Gram cried over her shoulder, “You better not go nowhere!”
The three froze.
“Especially you, Matchstick.”
Fern curled the corner of his lip into a half-cringe, half-snarl.
“I’ll have some words for you three when I’m finished with Ol’ Sticky Fingers over here.”
Ester rose to her full height—some eight feet off the ground—and waved her tentacles around in a wild fury. “You’re gonna get it this time, you wrinkled Bull Horn.”
Then Gram and Ester were tangled in what was possibly the most rancid and disquieting encounter Fern had ever witnessed.
C.K. raised an eyebrow and glanced helplessly at Blackout, then Gram and Ester, then back to Blackout.
Blackout nodded once with a solemn assurance, eyes still following the scuffle in front of them, and quietly opened the back door. He let C.K. and Fern scuttle by first, then pulled it closed behind him.
Fern made a motion to throw the deadbolt, but Blackout intercepted his hand.
“That,” he said, “is the biggest mistake you will ever make in your life.”
Fern thought he glimpsed a tear in Blackout’s eye.
Then they all backed away, carefully, from the door’s trembling frame.