Nel didn't feel like going to shoot hoops before everyone else was up the next morning, or the morning after that. Installing new deadbolts on the door probably wouldn't deter Norm from coming into her room but it helped her sleep now and then.
She kept waking up from a recurring nightmare of Norm in the room watching her sleep with an evil grin on his face. Nel found herself becoming more angry than scared the more she thought about it. She hated herself for being so weak. Maybe she didn't even belong in the same group as the other PME's.
For his part Norm seemed to bide his time. At classes and at training he did as he was told and to the instructors he seemed compliant enough. They were normals and they had no clue that Norm was becoming more and more evil by the day. Whatever his past was, it was eating him from the inside and he was losing his humanity.
Nel checked her messages and saw a news alert flashing. She had alerts for PME-related news on her laptop and now on the cellphone.
The news sites were reporting that an attack and invasion of the island nation controlled by Mahatani Narvi was now imminent. An international naval flotilla was within striking distance and it could all happen at any time. This kind of news would just push the narrative that all PME's were insane and violent.
The build-up around the Baltic countries was still going on. The Russians showed no inclination to change their mind about invading. If the US government decided to draft Marcus and his friends, that would just make it more likely Norm would act. In a way it was a good thing he had convinced himself that Marcus and her were an item.
She had to give Marcus some sort of warning though.
Nel would find them in the gym at this time of day. Wanting to fit in, she looked through her wardrobe and found tight white lycra shorts and a white sports top that was a teeny bit too small. If Norm happened to see her with Marcus, dressed like that, it would reinforce his delusion about their relationship. Although she wanted to give the warning before something set off the stalker.
She was no stranger to the gym, of course. She was in there at least a couple times every week keeping in shape. Nel wasn't a bookworm by any stretch of the imagination. When she walked in it didn't take long for the three muscular young men to notice her. She gave them a big smile as she climbed onto one of the treadmills right near where they had congregated.
“Hi Marcus.” She said. The other two teased him for a couple seconds but he gave them a look that made them stop.
The treadmill was still going at a slow jog pace when she looked at him again, “I need to tell you something. In private.”
She hopped off the treadmill and walked to the back corner of the gym. He took a second before getting up to follow with his friends throwing one more teasing hoot at him.
“What did you want to tell me?” he asked in a serious tone, not impressed with her bad flirting act.
She looked around the gym and got closer to him. She put her hands on his shoulders so she could tell him lightly in his ear. Nel knew that this position would look kind of intimate to an observer.
“Someone is stalking me. He thinks me and you are a thing. He might get dangerous eventually.” She told him.
“Who is it?” He asked, his muscles tightening. She could feel the physical strength increase just having her hands on his shoulders. She felt warmth radiating from him on her face, which was still right next to his.
“The last thing I want is for you to fly off the handle and confront him!” She said, “Listen, all I am saying is that you need to be wary. Be ready.”
“Just tell me who it is.” He told her, putting a hand on the small of her back and pulling her closer.
“No offense. I don't him to know that you know. Promise?” She asked. He thought about it for a second before he nodded. “Okay,” She sighed, “It's Norm.”
“Norm?” He was bemused, “Ah, right. His power boost came recently. I guess he's all swelled up now, thinking he's all that.”
“Maybe, just don't let your guard down. He might even be watching right now.” She whispered into his ear, putting her hand on the other side of his face.
Marcus grinned. “If you really want to put on a show, Nelson...” Marcus said, pulling her into his arms and pressing his lips against hers. She didn't resist. Somehow she felt that this was bound to happen eventually. Marcus was always very attractive.
Suddenly it ended and the two were staring into each others eyes. The feelings of wanting Marcus had mostly evaporated. He smiled. She felt a bit used, kind of. Maybe she liked it a little too.
“You dog!” She said and pushed her way out of his arms. “Just be careful around Norm, but try not to let him know you suspect anything.”
“I got it.” He told her, standing as if he expected her to hit him. Nel had thought about it, but that might blow the little cover she had given herself with the evil Norm. She walked toward the exits, Randy and Rocky were checking her out, again, as she passed. “Later, boys.” She told them as she passed.
Hopefully Marcus wouldn't go directly to Norm and start something. Hopefully Marcus would not be dumb enough to attack Norm without knowing the full extent of his power. The last thing Nel wanted was for Marcus to get hurt. She felt bad that she had used him as a shield.
“Oh, crap.” She said, to an empty corridor. Nel suddenly realized that she actually did sort of like Marcus. Not that it made any real sense, but there it was. Then he walked directly back to her room to change into something less sheer and tight.
Nel was tired. She was tired a lot lately. She blamed sleep deficit and she blamed Norm for that. When she had changed back into her jeans and a loose crinkly black top she decided to take a little nap.
Kimberly Nelson had been sleeping in the crib in the back bedroom of the apartment. A nearby space heater had been left on, because it was a cold winter day. Momma was in the kitchen and dad had left for the store, not that little Kimberly knew that at the time.
Some clothing that had been folded had been left too close to the heater had caught fire, this spread to the drapes and to the big bed nearby. Momma didn't notice because she went outside to help dad carry in some things. This was something else she had heard later on.
Somehow the fire had fully engulfed the apartment while they were downstairs getting bags out of the trunk. There might have been something in the bedroom that had exploded but Kimberly had never heard of anything that would do that.
Kimberly had woken up to a world of yellows, oranges and reds. It was interesting to her. When the crib collapsed she was able to stand up and walk around. Things like blankets and her binky burned or jut melted. She was kind of upset about her toys melting away but she was more fascinated by the way everything looked different and shimmered.
“Momma.” She said leaving the bedroom. She wanted to show her mother the weird way the other room looked. Instead she found that the whole place looked the same way. The stove had flown across the living room and was a wreck, it had exploded. The flames were shooting out of the gas hook-up on the newly exposed wall. This shooting flame tickled Kimberly, it made her giggle.
Then it danced. Little Kimberly didn't care that her little night shirt and her diaper had completely burned off. When she twirled around in a circle the shooting flame went around her and danced with her. The three-year-old clapped because the flames did what she wanted them to do.
Where was Momma and Daddy? They should see this, this was fun!
Suddenly the door burst inward. Big shapes that looked like monsters ran into the apartment and Kimberly was scared of them. One of them grabbed her and picked her up. “I found her!”
Kimberly cried because she didn't know this monster-person. Then she was outside and the yellow-orange-red world was gone. She kind of wanted to go back, it was home after all. Then there was Momma and Daddy and some people wearing orange and white.
“My baby!” Momma said kissing Kimberly, who smiled and giggled. Mommy and daddy looked confused though. “She's not even burned a little.”
They brought her into a little room in the big van and put something over her face and there was cold air. Momma and Daddy and some strangers were talking and looking at her, sometimes they just sat silently.
Then the stranger had asked Momma and Daddy about the Pink Moon...
Nel sat straight up. She was still on the bed and it was now late afternoon, almost dinner time for the Adama Boarding House. How much of the dream was real? She had never dreamed, or maybe remembered, about manipulating the fire before. But she remembered the feeling that three-year old Kimberly Nelson had in the dream.
She walked straight to Elise. After a couple knocks at the door her friend answered. “Nel!”
Elise had been doing her toenails and she had tissue between her toes. No wonder it took extra time to open the door.
“Do you have a candle?” Nel asked as she sat on Elises' bed.
“I think so. Somewhere. Why?”
Nel didn't know how to answer. “I want to borrow it.”
It occurred to Nel that trying her experiment inside of the building was probably an invitation to disaster. Elise found the candle and lit it for her and Nel took it out to the courtyard. She sat it on the ground at the center of the basketball court.
She could see some of the others getting curious. A few people came out of the cafeteria and stood against the far wall as if they didn't think they would be noticed.
Nel took a few steps back from the candle. She closed her eyes and tried to reclaim the feeling from earlier. It was a bit nerve-wracking that people were watching, and if nothing happened soon they'd probably be teasing her.
Nel closed her eyes and probed her mind. She knew the power was there, it had apparently been there all along. Forgotten. Finally she was ready.
Nel bid the small flame to rise high in the air and the thin stream of flame stretched up to a height level with her head. She reached out with both hands and the flame became a small ball of fire,floating between them. Nel dropped one hand spun around and the thin line of flame encircled her before cming to rest in front of her as a tiny ball of flame again.
There was a smattering of applause from the others and a hoot or two.
“Weak!” a voice behind her said. Nel looked back to see Norm leaning against the basketball goal post, obviously not being impressed. He pointed at her and a forcefield of energy surrounded the tiny ball of flame and snuffed it out. “Hardly worth writing home about.”
Then Norm walked toward her and past her, “Time for dinner.”
Norm was right, though. She had discovered a power, it was not the blossoming. Nel could only hope that her power blossomed before it was too late. The clip-clop noise of Elises' shoes announced the presence of her best friend behind her.
“Don't listen to him, that was cool.”
When they reached the cafeteria everyone was standing. Nel and Elise were a little confused but pushed through and saw what was going on. A highly decorated soldier, a General, and some subordinate soldiers were in the cafeteria.
“My name is General Patrick Mulligan, US Army. I am here because of what happened today in the South Pacific and what is happening right now in Lithuania.” He told them. “I'm here to recruit warriors!”
Nel felt her stomach flip-flop.
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