Sheryl’s cellphone buzzed and almost caused her to drop her latest batch of super juice. Carefully, she placed the canister with the thick, red liquid on the counter, and then she checked her notifications. The newsfeed highlighted another article about the governor’s star-studded fundraising ball this weekend. It shared behind-the-scene photos of Viva Hotel’s kitchen, and an interview with the celebrity chef who had crafted the menu.
Sheryl scanned the paragraphs, hunting for information she didn’t already know. Halfway through her reading, the phone beeped and informed her of an incoming call.
“Hey, girl,” Lana said before Sheryl could say hello. “Got plans tonight?”
Sheryl glanced at the tools and odds and ends cluttering her small dining table. “Well…”
“Cancel them.” Lana’s voice bubbled with excitement. “Because I need to talk. In person.”
“Are you sure we can’t over the phone? I sorta have a project brewing.”
“Pleeease, Sheryl. You can do your Découpage stuff tomorrow. We haven’t seen each other since the accident and I need to…well, come out to you about something important, face-to-face, before I chicken out.”
I knew this day would come. This is significant to her and she needs my support. Sheryl combed her fingers through her hair. “I’ll be at your house in thirty minutes. We can talk all night if you want.”
“Not my place. I’m texting you an address. Please, come with an open mind.”
“Okay.” Sheryl didn’t know what to make of Lana’s cryptic response, because she had always been open minded.
“See you soon.” Lana hung up.
Where the heck am I? Sheryl compared the address in the text to the one on the GPS app on her phone to make sure she had arrived at the correct location.
The three story warehouse in front of her was on the outskirts of the old manufacturing district. Broken windows dotted the upper floors and graffiti tattooed the front. The 2008 economic meltdown had hit the downtown and working class areas hard. Years later, the city’s revitalization efforts hadn’t reached most neighborhoods.
Crooked, dirty politicians. They syphon the funds before tax payer dollars can reach the places that need the most help. Sheryl brooded as she dialed Lana’s number.
“Are you here?” Lana answered on the first ring.
“I have the wrong address. I’m on Bay Avenue, but—”
“That’s correct! Come into the building. Elevators are in the hall on your right. Hit ‘G.’ Remember, keep an open mind.”
The line went dead.
Lana did always want to own her own business…and, I guess, with the right contractor and reaching out to her new niche… Sheryl looked out the car window at the dark neighborhood, where the streetlamps hadn’t worked in years. She sighed and pushed open the door.
Fear prickled the hairs on the back of her neck with each wary step she took away from her sedan. Broken glass crunched under her sneakers. The building’s rusted door creaked when she shoved it open and the stench of urine and rotting garbage assaulted her nose before she even walked through the doorway. Sheryl jumped at the sight of rats scrambling over a brown pile of something bloated and dead. Choking down a scream, she clutched her purse and cellphone to her body as she sprinted to the elevators.
Ew, ew, ew! Why this place, Lana? I hope she’s not really going crazy.
Lana’s father had called Sheryl twice a day since the accident. At first, he was checking up on Sheryl, but over the last few weeks, he expressed concern about Lana’s mental state. According to him, Lana’s personality had flipped from a funny, bright, and adventurous microbiologist to a secretive, obsessive introvert who disappeared for days.
Sheryl had told him to be more understanding and patient. They’d gone through an event no one else could relate to. Out of thirty scientists, two had survived the effects of the toxic gas. PTSD was only natural. The doctors were still trying to determine what the long lasting impacts would be to their minds and bodies.
Sheryl couldn’t admit to her friend’s father that she too felt and behaved differently in unexplainable ways—or at least she couldn’t explain without sounding as if she belonged in a padded cell.
This corrupt, intolerant world would never, ever comprehend, Sheryl thought as anger bubbled beneath her skin. The elevator tremored as gears warped. Calm down, she warned herself. Now isn’t the time or the place.
After a slow descent, the elevator screeched to a halt at the ground floor. The doors jerked open half way. Sheryl squeezed through, grating the skin on her legs, and stepped into a long hall that glowed with yellow light.
What the…She trembled with more fear now than she had outside. Maybe Lana does need psychological help.
At the end of the hall were thick metal doors, which slid open to reveal a cavernous space.
Lana squealed. “What do you think?” She stood in the middle of a room surrounded by boxes, crates, tables and huge objects covered under white tarp.
“Aaah…” Sheryl hugged her body and walked around, surveying the space with apprehension written on her face. “What is all this?”
“Okay, man. Okay. Pull up a crate and let me explain.” Lana paced and fiddled with the belt of her trench coat.
Sheryl sat down, marveling at how amazing Lana looked. Gone was the chubby woman who had struggled with her weight and adult acne. “You look amazing, healthy. I was worried about you. Your dad said you weren’t doing well.” She left off the ‘mentally’ part.
“He needs to mind his business.” Lana waved her hand as if shooing a fly. “I’ve been on a journey of self-discovery. Since the disaster with the experiment, I’ve become a new person. Someone that is still me, but not the me I was pretending to be before.” She bit her lip. “I may not be saying this right…The person I am now can’t abide injustice. I have a responsibility to this city, maybe even this planet, to protect the downtrodden. And, I can only do it by being truthful about who I am.”
Sheryl bobbed her head, her heart swelling with each word. They were in different places, but this was exactly how she felt, because she had become passionate about crime and punishment since the accident as well.
“We are truly kindred spirits.” Tears welled in Sheryl’s eyes. “You don’t know how honored I am by you confiding in me. I’ve had the same need to be my authentic self and I can’t hold it back any longer either.”
Lana placed her hand over her heart. The childhood friends stared at each other for a second and then embraced. Giggles burst from their lips as they held each other tightly.
“We’re sisters, forever,” Sheryl whispered in Lana’s ear.
Lana released her and walked a few steps away. “I’ve taken my dream to the next level.”
“Of course, tell me.”
“You’ve heard on the local news of a masked vigilante who has been thwarting crimes around the city?”
“Yeah.” Sheryl rolled her eyes. “Some loon with too much time on their hands.”
Lana ripped off her trench coat, then pulled a mask over her face.
Sheryl gasped and covered her mouth. “No.”
“I am Sunbeam.” Lana placed both hands on her hips. “Shining the light of justice on evil no matter which shadowy corner it lurks in.”
“Aaah…” Sheryl gaped at her friend’s banana colored, spandex cat suit which had a sun embroidered over the chest. “…Wow …This went into an unexpected direction. I thought you were… you know, coming out of the closet. I have a whole speech memorized.”
“Um, never mind. So, this isn’t going to be some kind of chic, underground, gay nightclub?”
Lana cocked her head, giving Sheryl side eye.
“You know what? Forget what I said. Go on with your thing.”
“Behold!” Lana bellowed as she whipped the tarp off a large object. “My super computer. Built by me. I used the settlement money to buy everything here and most of the neighborhood. This will be my new crime fighting lair, my Stellar Citadel of Righteousness.”
Jeez, I spent hours on that speech. I had a quote from Oprah and everything.
“I want you to be my sidekick.” Lana bustled around the room throwing off tarps and opening boxes so fast at some points her image blurred. “Together we can rid the city of criminals as Sunbeam and Solar Girl.”
Sidekick? Typical Lana, always the damn star and expecting me to follow in her wake. Her dad was right. Sheryl plastered a smile on her face as she always had since middle school.
“First, I need your help right away.” Lana typed something into the computer and ten mugshots popped onto the enormous screen. “There’s been a strange pattern of recent crime sprees. I stop them and hand the perpetrators to the police, after a few days, their brains are wiped.”
Sheryl’s eyes widened and her heart skipped a beat. That wasn’t in the news. “How? Like amnesia from a brain injury?” She considered Lana in a new light and was afraid of what she saw. “Were you…very violent when you apprehended them?”
“No more than necessary.” Lana shrugged one shoulder. “It’s as if the synapsis in their brains stopped working in some areas.” Lana’s fingers tapped over the keyboard. “I hacked into their hospital records.” X-Rays of brains slid on screen. “You know more about biochemistry and the brain than I do.”
Sheryl stacked crates in front of the computer and studied the criminals’ medical records and police files. Before she realized the time, three hours had past. Lana had stayed busy, unpacking and setting up equipment. When Sheryl stood to stretch her legs, the room no longer looked like a giant storage unit, but like a real laboratory.
Impressive, she thought with a hint of jealousy.
Lana walked to her side. “Any ideas?”
“A few.” Sheryl picked up her purse from the floor. “Judging by the medical reports and my educated guess, these men were under the influence of a mind controlling drug, or something. They were probably test subjects because some had more deterioration than others as if the person controlling their actions was testing how much and which chemical cocktail to use.”
Lana scratched her chin and begun to pace. “I had a feeling this case was bigger than it seemed. Those men didn’t have a history of violence or criminal activity.”
“And, they all worked in the food service industry, as cooks or waiters or caterers.”
“Really?” Lana sat at the computer and swiped a police file on screen.
“Where are my car keys?” Sheryl fished around in her purse.
“You can’t leave. We have to investigate.” Lana turned to face her. “My computer can cross reference the chemicals from the blood tests to show where the toxins came from and who in the area bought them. I’m going to shut down the master mind behind this, because who knows what he’s planning next?”
Sheryl heaved a sigh. “Forget this. It’s crazy. Hand over everything to the proper authorities.”
“The new me, Sunbeam, can’t do that.”
“The world is so unfair, Lana.”
“I know, together we can make it less so.”
“We could have. But, you’re insane.” Sheryl pulled a gun from her purse.
Lana furrowed her brows. “What are you doing?”
“Making the city a better place.” Sheryl leveled the gun at Lana’s chest. “Sometimes, a wrong does make a right. To bring about lasting peace, the status quo must be disrupted, with discord and strife.”
Lana slowly rose from her seat with her hands up. “We’re like sisters. I don’t understand.”
“You never do.” Sheryl squeezed the trigger twice. Two tranquilizer darts filled with red liquid embedded into Lana’s chest. “I’m sorry, Sunbeam.” Sheryl watched her old friend collapse to the ground. “You were always full of yourself.”
“Solar Girl?” Sheryl snorted. “I’m forty-three, and no one’s sidekick. After this weekend, the world will know my name… Discordia.”
I hope you liked this week’s flash fiction post.
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Sunbeam on Justice Copyrighted by Stacy Benedict 2018