The Flying Woman — Chapter Three

The Flying Woman is now in production. A cover is in the works. The interior design is in progress. And the manuscript is done. It shouldn’t be too much longer.

But in the meantime, here’s one more preview chapter…

(For a draft of Chapter One, click here, and for a draft of Chapter Two, click here.)

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Copyright 2018 Daniel R. Sherrier. All Rights Reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

The Flying Woman

–a novel–

by Daniel Sherrier

3.

As she descended in the elevator, Miranda considered what she just did. She had never felt any physical attraction toward Ken Shield. But, on an intellectual level, she acknowledged that he possessed many fine qualities. He wasn’t right for a brief, passionate fling. A guy like him qualified as long-term boyfriend material. And Bianca was wrong that Miranda avoided long-term boyfriends—never mind that the longest of her numerous relationships lasted five months, back in high school …

But yeah, Ken seemed like a decent option. What was the harm in a couple of dates?

The elevator carriage settled, and Miranda expected to find Officer Hoskins somewhere along the well-lit path, ever vigilant as he stood guard over the park. But once the door opened, she saw only a long, vacant stretch of brick surrounded by topiaries and impenetrable darkness. The park did span several acres around the tower. Perhaps something demanded Hoskins’s attention.

Miranda kept her phone in hand as she began her brisk walk, reminding herself that this was one of the safer parts of town. Still, her parents had issued many warnings about the dangers a city held after dark, and her mind replayed the greatest hits. Miranda felt her ears expanding to catch even the faintest rustling of leaves.

She heard something else. Not leaves or wind or any scurrying critter. Nothing from nature. Nothing natural.

A moan. It was coming from somewhere behind those bushes. Miranda’s senses all dialed up to maximum.

She decided to ignore it and stay on the path, stay under the lights. Keep her eyes on her phone and check the hell out of those text messages. Or pretend to while secretly poised to dial 9-1-1 if the need arose—a need like someone leaping out and strangling her.

Whatever it was, Officer Hoskins was probably already on it. That explained his absence. But what if he was the one moaning?

“I’m hurt,” the moaning person called out from the darkness, her voice hoarse.

It was definitely a woman’s voice, not the policeman’s. And he wasn’t around to respond to the cry for help.

This could have been a trap—some creepy man lurking, sheathed in the dark, ready to throw the first unsuspecting good citizen into a black van. And if not, well, really, what could Miranda do to help? Aside from the simple task of dialing 9-1-1.

It would be the right thing to do, in case someone was suffering. Miranda could make the call and run away.

“Help. Please.”

Miranda wanted to keep walking until she exited the park, but her feet refused to budge and she cringed. She remained physically capable of forward momentum, just not mentally.

Her stomach folded in on itself, threatening to incite debilitating queasiness unless she did the right thing. If she walked away, she’d spend days or weeks dwelling on whatever she walked away from, constantly checking the news for any hints about what the hell this was. All food would lose its appeal, and she would look back on the concept of sleep with nostalgic fondness.

She considered running back up to Ken, but he was nearly half a mile above the ground. And someone right here might be hurt.

Miranda dialed the digits 9-1-1 and positioned her thumb over the “call” icon. Without hitting it just yet, she advanced toward the source of the moaning and commanded herself not to dissolve into a shivering mess of nerves. She did not heed herself. Her shaking thumb almost jabbed “call” by accident.

Didn’t happen, though. A flash of light cut through the park for just a second, and she stopped. Where did it come from? Not the park’s lighting system. Was it … Fantastic Man? Was she about to meet Fantastic Man? This seemed more like something he should handle, not her.

“That was me,” the woman said, each word scraping against Miranda’s ears. So scratchy and parched. She wasn’t far, maybe only a few feet into the darkness. “Want to make sure I … have your attention.”

Without stepping off the path, Miranda dared to look between the bushes. A new source of light flickered low to the ground, revealing a much older woman lying on the grass. The light came from the strange electricity that was cascading over her unusual outfit, which looked like a superhero costume—emerald tights with a scarlet cape. A deep red symbol occupied the center of the chest, the silhouette of a bird’s wing melding into a fierce, sharp beak. The costume lacked a mask, though. But this woman had to be at least fifty, maybe sixty, and Miranda had never seen her before. Surely if an older female superhero had emerged, she would have dominated the news as much as Fantastic Man did, probably more so on account of her unexpected demographic affiliation.

Or was she a supervillain? Was this a trap? Was Miranda stupidly falling into a trap?

The woman was clutching her side, pressing her hand against a dark liquid …

Blood. The super electric woman was wounded to the point where she was bleeding all over the grass. Miranda did not care to stick around to learn who did the wounding, nor did she relish the idea of running away and unwittingly intercepting such a person.

The woman reached toward Miranda with her free hand, which glowed as bright as a standard light bulb, no more intense than that. The electricity never sparked beyond her elbow, so the hand appeared safe.

“Come here,” the woman said. “Help me up. The pain … is too great.”

If she was actually in pain. Miranda started to wonder. The injury seemed real, but the woman almost looked like she was smirking. Miranda’s eyes were still adjusting to the aura of electrical light, though, and she wanted any excuse to get the hell away with a clear conscience.

Paranoia was not an excuse to let someone suffer, so Miranda started to reach for that bright, quivering hand. And paranoia froze her anyway, after only an inch of movement.

“Should I call an ambulance or the police?” Miranda asked, continuing rapidly without pause, “And who are you and where is that electricity coming from? Am I in danger just by standing here? Are you going to kill me? Please don’t kill me.”

The woman chuckled through gritted teeth, as if Miranda had told a joke. “Just grab my hand, dear.”

So many dangers a city held at night … “Where—” Miranda cleared her throat to stop from squeaking. “Where did you come from?”

“Very far. It’s quite a story.” The woman coughed, and her scratchiness worsened. “Come here and I’ll tell you all about—”

Another loud moan. She writhed, and the electricity sparked brighter, flashing like lightning. In that split-second of illumination, something glinted across the field, and the glint looked person-shaped. Miranda tensed, and hoped her imagination was embellishing a garbage can, which was indeed a possibility. But still …

Time for 9-1-1. Miranda tapped her phone, but the screen had shut off from disuse. She was about to wake it up, but the woman managed to speak again.

“Not much time. Come here.

She sounded so forceful, almost rude, but why wouldn’t she be? She was clearly in agony, probably dying, and the only person close enough to help her was struggling to lift a finger. Another lightning flash would have been helpful—Miranda could have confirmed if the glinting had reflected off some mundane, harmless object.

But if there was a dangerous individual nearby, what safer place to be than beside a super-person, even a wounded one?

“Okay,” Miranda said, stepping further onto the grass. “Let’s, um, get you out of here.”

Miranda reached forward. The strange glow warmed her, and it brightened and grew hot as the woman reached up. Miranda wasn’t sure if this was the best course of action, but she’d still be able to live with herself afterward. If she was still living, that is.

The electrical woman’s fingertips brushed against Miranda’s, casting an unexpected chill.

And the woman quickly withdrew. She gazed at her own shivering hand, horrified by it.

“You were willing to help me,” she said. “And I almost—but why do I feel this way? I’ve never—”

The woman descended into nonsense, most of it inaudible, something about a strange sensation in her head, an unnatural migraine she was struggling to identify. Her rambling further devolved into incoherent utterances about good and evil, during which Miranda was utterly baffled about what the hell she should do.

Before Miranda could make any decision, the woman landed on a clear question: “What have I done with my life?”

The woman hacked out the nastiest cough yet, and her whole body convulsed. She required serious medical attention that Miranda had no idea how to render. Where the hell was Officer Hoskins? She tapped her phone’s screen, but it wouldn’t turn on. The battery died. It had been halfway charged minutes earlier, but now the phone was useless.

And the woman was still convulsing, ever more violently, her electric energy intensifying …

A brighter glare washed over Miranda, and she raised her hands to shield her eyes from the light. Her arms itched, and the sensation swept across her skin, passing an instant later, only to be replaced by nausea. She could feel nothing beneath her feet, as if she somehow lost track of the ground. But that, too, passed, and the light dimmed.

She lowered her arms, and the woman was gone. In her place, charred grass formed a silhouette, like a crime scene outline.

Did Miranda just watch a woman die?

She did. The woman died, some kind of supernatural death that didn’t even leave a body behind, and if Miranda reported it … who would believe her? Maybe more people these days, but still … what concrete information could she even supply?

Queasiness overcame her after all, forcing Miranda to her knees as she dry-heaved. Lightheadedness arrived next, followed by crawling skin and a vague sense of movement as the night faded away.

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