Chapter 4: Chicks love a superhero

When does anything ever begin?

For Elisabeth Dahle it began a week ago, and it has just grown more and more disturbing until now.

"Look, Anja! Can you believe it?"

"Believe what?"

The two women in their twenties have stopped before a newsstand. The brown-haired one points at a glossy magazine of the weekly type that caters to rumors about the rich and famous. More exactly, she points at the picture of Mystic Mark and Lina Lilla, an upcoming young country singer with lots of long pale blond hair and a chest that most women could not even afford even if they knew where to find a bra for it. "This weeks hottest couple!" screams the headline.

"What a shame!" says the one called Anja, a slim and energetic young woman with black hair cropped short.

"I'd say! Whatever does she see in him?"

"Huh? He is hot in a tux. She is just some country banshee."

"Anja, you must be kidding!"

"No, I hate country music. I'd vote for any party that would forbid that horrible genre. I'd join the Hamster Liberation Front if it could help!"

"Not that. The mystery guy. You think he is hot??"

"Well, he's wearing a tux."

"That's it?"

"Well, he's male."

The debate fades as Elisabeth moves away from the newsstand and the two older girls. Will I be like that, ten years from now? The escalator in the mall is packed. The stairs are almost empty. She takes the stairs – two and three steps at the time. There it is again. This is really, really weird. It's been like this for the last week, and it just seems to grow stronger. She just seems to grow stronger. She can run without getting winded, even up stairs. This morning, she lifted the couch as if it was filled with just wool. It's kinda creepy, but she shouldn't complain. It could have been the other way around. Then she would have been really worried.

She reaches the burger shop almost five minutes before her shift starts. "Afternoon all!"

"Hiya Beth!" That's Sven.

"Wow, Elisabeth, you're really beautiful today!" And that's Kirsten.

"You think so?" Elisabeth is flattered – she doesn't get a lot of compliments, except from the occasional drunk or retarded male customer. "I found my hair was long enough for a real ponytail now."

"Whatever it is, you sure look good. You've got ... like, the glow."

Now Elisabeth is confused. Glow? But she just nods and smiles. Luckily that comes easy – all the job training. Kirsten smiles at her and carries on with the work, and Elisabeth hurries to change into work uniform, wash her hands a last time and get ready as her shift begins.

"Heh, did you see that?" Sven asks later, when she moves from the register to burger-stacking duty in the back of the room. "Your line was like twice as long!"

"It sure felt like it! Not a moment's pause."

"No, really. People drifted to your line. It was kinda funny."

"Wish it was me who was irresistible, but most of them were girls anyway."

"Perhaps you are irresistible to girls!"

"And you are incorrigible!"

As Kirsten is about to go, she says casually: "You know what, Elisabeth? I think perhaps we should meet more often outside the job. Like, eat something Chinese for a change, shop, do some girl things together."

"Woo!" goes Sven. "Hot chick 'n' chick action!"

That would have been a lot more funny if Kirsten hadn't actually colored a sweet pink. Elisabeth blinks, barely able to believe her own eyes. Surely that's not what it looks like. She's worked here for two months, she knows these people. Kirsten isn't that kind of girl. Or is she? No, she used to be all about boys and stuff. Until just recently. And now she's acting kind of funny. This is growing stranger and stranger with each passing hour.

It's already dark when Elisabeth jumps on her bike and starts pedaling home. She has a lot on her mind. Why has she suddenly become so popular with the customers? Why does Kirsten act so strange? It's all so frustrating. She is leaving the mall behind and taking out her pent-up energy on the bike. She is starting to feel better. Strange that she doesn't grow tired anymore. She used to tire all too fast, but that is a thing of the past now. Perhaps all that biking really helps. Strange how slowly the cars are all driving tonight. Even though there's not really a jam – there is space between the cars, but people don't seem to take the hint and speed up. Or ... she looks down at the road, and gapes. The ground is moving at a dizzying speed. Suddenly her reality adjusts with a snap. The cars are not driving slowly: She is biking at or above the speed limit. Something that should not be nearly possible on a bicycle. And the bend in the road is coming up way way too fast. She clamps the brakes. The bike wheels lock, but the road is already disappearing to the left and she is going straight ahead. Then she is flying, a very strange sensation when you do it with a bike. Then the front wheel hits something in the dark, a log or a stone or whatever, and suddenly she is flying without the bike. It is an even weirder experience, and then it ends.

She is alive. In fact, if life is defined by the heartbeat, she has rarely been so alive. It is pounding like it wants to get out of there. Sounds like a good idea anyway, to get out of here ... whatever here is. The world has stopped moving, but it is still not right. Despite the almost total darkness, she can sense that there is something basically wrong. Such as for instance her standing upside down, or at least at a rather steep angle. In some kind of bush. She feels around, and everywhere she touches there are thorns. Except they don't sting through her skin. They seem to all be made of hard rubber, or something ... they bend before they come through the skin. She feels her face. Not a scratch. But her clothes ... ack. First the bike and now the clothes.

I am invulnerable. I just crashed at the speed of a fast car, and plowed through a big patch of wild rose bush, shredding my shirt to pieces. And I don't have a scratch. She wants to laugh hysterically. I am super-strong, and invulnerable. And I'm standing with my head down in a rose bush.

She is going to stay here for a long time, unless someone actually saw her drive off the road. Even then, finding her in the darkness cannot be an easy thing. Hopefully not. She has no particular wish to be found like this, it would be really really humiliating. But whatever superpowers she has suddenly found, flight is not one of them. Well, except when colliding on a bike. Instead, she starts to snap the branches, one by one. It takes a bit of time to rip them all off, but eventually she starts to slide towards the ground.

She is almost horizontal when a cone of light sweeps the area. Then it comes back, and some guy calls out: "Oh my god! I think we've found her!" She snaps a few more branches. The light is directly on her now, as the guy is coming up behind her. Snap. Snap. "She's alive! Don't try to move, miss. You must be badly hurt." Snap. Snap. She wants to ask him to kindly stop shining that flashlight at her backside, but decides against it. A few more ... Snap. Snap. The remaining branches bend completely under her weight, and she slides down on the ground. Shakily, she gets to her feet and turns. In the light from the Maglite she looks down and verifies that not only her shirt, but even her bra is in tatters. With a yelp, she turns around and jumps. Shocked, she realizes she is sailing over the treetops. As she lands, this time she hits the ground with her feet, and start to run immediately. She runs all the way home, not once looking back.