I was six, the day I burned down the house.
I remember it quite well, even if it was thirteen years ago. It had been a week after Annabelle had died, and I was supposed to be feeling the sadness; but it just wasn’t coming to me. I didn’t understand what any of it meant, and I had no aim to, either. All I got was that my parents weren’t happy, and no amount of jokes would change their mind. That, and the fact that they didn’t want to play with me, or send me to school, or read me bedtime stories. Actually, I never had a bedtime story again. I had to get myself ready for school after that, along with Liz and Hayden. I had to figure out games to play with them, instead. I had to be independent when I was six.
I think that’s how we got given the powers. When we take hold of some sort of reality; or realise that some things change. That’s when we’re granted them. Hayden, the youngest of us, and not even two when Annabelle died, found his gifts when he was threatened. When he realised how bad his friends were, and how desperately he needed to change, and get away from them. For Liz, it was after her first break up. She’d been dating some guy when she was thirteen; he was two years older than her, and slept with three other girls during the course of their relationship. She was young; pretty dramatic for her age, and I think she just wanted to feel something after feeling so crushed. I guess a boiling hot shower didn’t work.
Anyway, when the powers reached me, it was an accident. I was the first, so I didn’t tell anyone about them for years. I practiced carefully and in secret after, until Liz told me what she’d found. The house was quiet when it happened; feeling so empty. We should’ve been having a blast; it was a Wednesday morning and we weren’t in school. But Liz and Hayden were left in bed, and I was wandering the house, finding that my Dad was busy in the cellar, breaking things while he tried to fix something else. Mum was upstairs, asleep. She slept a lot after Annabelle died, which, after I grew up, became understandable.
I was sitting in the living room, a plastic cup filled with squash in one hand and a biscuit in the other. I’d gotten them myself, and was sitting on the floor, watching a TV show of some sort. I don’t know what happened; maybe my hand jogged, maybe something made me jump, but my squash spilt everywhere and I started to cry. It’s a childish thing; but something so many children do. I cried over spilt squash, because no one told me not to.
Eventually, as it stained the carpet, I went to find a towel. When I returned, I pushed it over the squash mark, trying to get rid of the rid tinge to the carpet. Through the tears, and the effort of pushing the towel, I strained my arms and my hands, and fire burst out from them. The towel caught fire, and with that, the carpet. I jumped back, the tears stopping out of pure surprise. I had no idea what to do. I didn’t know what put out fires, and I didn’t know if they were dangerous. So I stood there, watching, until it spread, making the television set spark, and the fire roar in return. Not until it had covered over half of the room, and I was bathed in the heat as I watched, mesmerised, did I decide to tell someone.
I didn’t know it was called fire at the time – I probably should have, but I think I forgot the word suddenly. It left my mind entirely. I walked calmly upstairs, and into my parent’s room. I tried to shake my Mum awake, but she groaned and swatted her hand at me.
“Go away,” she mumbled. I remember that clearly. I told her that there was a problem, and then she told me to tell Dad instead. Shrugging, I left the room and went to the cellar.
“Daddy,” I said. “There’s a problem.” He looked at me, and I don’t know what he said, but I think it had a ring of ‘it can’t be that bad’. I told him there was a bad problem and, annoyed, he followed. The fire had taken over all of the living room, and attached itself to the wooden doors and flooring of the dining room, the way we came. I remember Dad panicking and shoving me through the dining room and out of the house. He went back in for our family and most important possessions.
Slowly, the house went up in an inferno. My family and I sat across the road, watching firemen put out the flames. When I read books about people with powers, as I got older, I saw that every one of them did something terrible with their gift, and they all stopped using it. I found it funny that I didn’t. When I hit fifteen, I realised why. I realised that I couldn’t be afraid of the fire. Being afraid of it gave it a power it didn’t have.
Beep… Beep… Beep…
There’s a heart monitor next to Hayden’s hospital bed. I want to shut it up so badly, but I wouldn’t be able to handle it if it stopped. Mum and Dad have been in during the night, and have gone home for some rest, but Liz and I stayed. It’s long past visiting hours, and the nurses have tried to move us over and over. We won’t though. We won’t leave Hayden.
I watched him get stabbed; the hooded man pulling the knife out of his back as he collapsed onto the ground. I roared in anger when I saw it. All of my pain, misery and grief from the previous thirteen years had left me at that point; channelled into my hands and out in all directions, in continuous waves of fire. I lit up the street, burnt man after man – I don’t know how many are dead. I just know that I picked up my little brother, called for Liz, and ran.
Liz was burnt in the fire – which means she’s been treated by a nurse already. Luckily, the burn wasn’t very bad, and will heal nicely – even if she does have a faint scar on the side of her face. Liz hasn’t mentioned the burn. She didn’t say that it hurt, nor did she get angry at me for accidentally burning her. All thoughts went straight to Hayden, and didn’t get distracted by anything else.
Beep… Beep… Beep…
As I sit, waiting for Hayden to wake up, I start to wonder why we were attacked. We haven’t been attacked before – but every super hero team deals with it at some point. They just don’t go down so easily. Who would attack us anyway? All of those robbers, rapists (and a couple of potential murderers) couldn’t have all been friends, could they? No one could know all of them, and still have enough people to attack us like that.
I want to ask Liz about it, but I know she won’t tell me anything. For once, she doesn’t know more than me. I watch Liz for a few seconds, dragging my eyes from my brother’s helpless body. My sister is holding a plastic cup of water from Hayden’s bed side table. She dips her finger lightly in the top, letting small cracks of ice travel over the surface. When she lifts up her finger, the ice melts.
Who would attack us? Only we knew when we were going out, and where our route is. Unless someone’s been watching us… unless one of us said something…
Hayden takes four days to wake up. Four days of no Endgame sightings, no missions, no leaving the hospital for anything other than a shower and a change of clothes. When he wakes up, we’re not allowed to see him for a while. They say the knife might’ve punctured a lung. Something like that, anyway. I blurred out their voices whenever they spoke to me.
When we’re finally allowed to see him, Liz texts our parents so, and we sit down by his bed. He smiles weakly at us.
“How’d the fight end?” He asks. I scoff – as if that is the first thing on his mind.
“Pretty okay,” Liz says, leaning back in her chair. “Jack, here, got very angry, shot fire in every direction. Maybe killed a few people.” Hayden raises his eyebrows.
“No way,” he says quietly. I just shrug.
“I don’t know. We got you out of there as quickly as possible.” Hayden nods, his eyes wandering around the room.
“How did you get that mark?” He asks Liz. I see him try to lift his arm, but he doesn’t have the energy for it. Liz automatically touches the burn across her cheek and winces slightly.
“I was caught in the flames,” she says quickly. “No big deal. Not life threatening.” Hayden doesn’t comment, although I see that he would like to. Part of me knows him well enough to tell that he would like to be yelling at me right now; make me feel even worse about what I did. But he doesn’t have the effort, and I take this as a blessing in disguise.
We all sit in silence for a while, wondering what to say next. We can’t ask how it feels to have a knife in the back, and we also can’t use that sentence anymore without Hayden saying how it actually feels. Instead, I decide to voice the thoughts I’ve been having.
“So, how do you guys think that group managed to attack us?” Hayden visibly stiffens, but Liz just shrugs.
“Our patterns are predictable,” she tells us. “They probably just watched us for a while.”
“Yeah, but why would they want to attack us?”
“Maybe we fought one of their friends, I don’t know.” Hayden sits quietly, watching the two of us as we speak.
“But it just doesn’t sound right,” I say.
“It sounds perfectly logical, Jack. You do some good deeds and you’re going to get some hate.”
“But we haven’t done that many bad things. Like, half the men we caught didn’t even spend a night in jail in the end.”
“Maybe it’s just them, back for revenge,” she suggests. Before I can say anything, she continues. “Jack, it is probably a revenge thing. Get over it. Nothing too bad has come out of this. We’re all okay. When Hayden’s better we can start again.” Hayden’s still silent, and I want to ask him why. But instead, I tell the truth.
“I don’t think we can.” This gets their attention. Liz and Hayden, who haven’t looked at me since I brought up the conversation are now staring directly at me.
“Why not?” Hayden asks.
“Because I can’t fire bend anymore,” I reply. Liz sits up.
“You can’t?” I shake my head, looking at the bed. I didn’t really want to bring it up, but I seem to be the only one suspicious about the attack. And if this is what it takes to maybe get them to take me seriously – I’m going to have to do it.
“No, I haven’t since the other night.”
“Why not?” Hayden asks. Sighing, I run a hand down my face.
“I think these gifts we have are powered by emotions. My fire seems to be powered by anger, and hate, and fear. But since I let go of everything when Hayden was hurt, and I used up so much of my bad emotions…” I trail off, looking at my siblings.
“You’ve lost the power source to your bending,” Liz concludes. I nod. We sit in silence for about a minute, only breathing can be heard, and the sudden worry that fills the room. If I don’t have a gift anymore, how am I supposed to protect them when they use theirs? That’s why I do The Endgame. I do it to protect them, and their notion of being heroes. I never wanted to be one. I just liked having the power.
“It’s my fault,” Hayden says quietly, looking at his hands.
“No,” I say immediately. “It’s not your fault. You didn’t do this.”
“But I did,” he protests.
“That bloke hurt you, Hayden,” I tell him. “It wasn’t your fault that he did that.”
“It was my fault,” he says. “Of course it was my fault.”
“How could it possibly be your fault?” Liz asks. Hayden hesitates before sighing.
“A while back I went out for a while, and ended up in a town not so far away. There was this guy…” Hayden continues the story. He explains everything he can; from the ‘brick’ in the afternoon, to the man in the night. He tells us about a card with the word ‘Omega’ on it, and how he thought The Endgame was useless without an enemy. He explains how he just went with it, and suggested that they should try and attack us – but after a few weeks, didn’t think it would happen.
Throughout the story, I feel my body boiling with anger, but even with my clenched fist, no fire can be summoned to burn my brother the way Liz had been. I would never hurt him; every part of me is against that. No part of me will ever want for him to be in pain – but he’s crossed the line. When he’s done with the story – completed with a round of “I’m so sorry! I didn’t know this would happen!” – I stand up, scraping my chair back as I go.
“You didn’t mean for this to happen?” I all but growl. “Hayden, this was so reckless – how could you think that this was a good idea? I’ve lost my gift! Liz is burnt! You’re in hospital, and they’re going to come for you for payment. And do you know how much hit men cost?” Hayden meekly shakes his head. “Thousands! Possibly millions, I don’t know! All I know is that they’re going to find you – and you are in a hospital with the mark they left – and they’re going to kill you, and probably us as soon as they realise that you double crossed them.” I breathe for a second, before getting even angrier. Still no fire.
“No, you know what? This wasn’t just a double cross. That would’ve been having them do the job and not paying them at all. This is like a quadruple cross! You’re not paying them. They did half of the job. They attacked you. And you’re about to lead them to the rest of us.”
“That doesn’t really sound like a quadruple cross,” Liz puts in quietly. I turn on her.
“Don’t even try it,” I warn. “This-“I turn to Hayden, shaking my head. “This is unforgivable.” I leave straight away.
I probably should’ve stayed in the safety of the hospital, and worked things out with my brother. That would’ve been the sensible, responsible, older brother thing to do. I don’t do that. I catch three buses and step off when I reach a town about three times the size of Halcombra. Using Hayden’s story from memory, I work my way through the streets until I step near a dark, dirty place. Then, I tie my bandana around the lower half of my face, and pull my hood up.
What I’m doing is stupid, and I’m entirely aware of it. But I’m angry. I’m angry at Hayden. I’m angry at this Omega gang. I’m angry at the fire. I’m angrier than I’ve felt in a long time. I reach the top house, empty and dark, where Hayden said it would be. I try the fire again. Nothing. I take a breath and trudge up to the door. No fire. Not even a tiny flame.
I bang on the door with my fist.
Not even a bit of heat.
I can hear the yells from inside the house. It’s late, admittedly; it took a long time to get here. I think that by this point, if I don’t have my fire, the sensible thing is to run away.
But I don’t.
I don’t have my fire, but I’m not going to be a coward about this.
The door flings open in my face, and a man is standing there. He stares at me for a few seconds before letting out a non-humoured laugh. He calls for some of his friends: “Hey, get out here!” I don’t move at all as the door fills up with equally tall, lanky men. They each have their own individual sneer on their face, and I just glare up at them all.
“You know, we get paid even more if we kill this one,” one of them says, flicking a finger towards me. No one moves though, they just watch me for a few seconds. I take another breath, before reaching up and pulling down my hood and my bandana. I stare them in the eyes. They don’t move.
“A few weeks ago, a kid came along here and asked one of you to kill The Endgame. Who did he ask?” Really, I don’t ask a question. I demand the answer. There’s a feeling set in me that feels like I can kill a thousand men. One of the guys at the back pushes forward. He’s tall like the others, with dark slicked back hair.
“That would be me,” he says.
“And who ordered for the earth bender to be stabbed?” I say next. The guy at the front jabs a thumb at a blond man with an ugly glare.
“That would be him,” he tells me. I don’t say anything straight away, figuring out what I’m going to do. “What,” he says, interrupting my thoughts. “You gonna kill us or something?” I shake my head.
“No. I’m not. But I’ll tell you something different. I don’t care how much money you get paid for this kind of thing. I will never care about that. But you should probably know that you stabbed the only person who would’ve paid you.” There are a few confused looks throughout the group. “My little brother asked you to attack us – to attack him. And I hope you’re proud.” I step away, turning my back and walking back down the path and in the direction of the main road.
I’ve said all I wanted to. I can go home now.
I should’ve known, really, that it wouldn’t be that simple. Because when I reach the end of the path, they move forward, following me.
“We are proud,” one of them says. “Very proud. And you know, if we don’t get the payment, we get it another way.” They move closer and I stop walking. “I notice there was a girl in your team, she would make a very lovely priz-“I swing my arm around I anger, punching him in the face. He stumbles backwards, before everyone else surges forward.
“Where’s the fire?” One asks.
“Yeah, the fire that killed Donnie?” Says another.
“You are the fire guy, aren’t you?” I step away, into the muddy puddles that immediately soak into my shoes. The guy I punched is back up. They close in on me quickly, and I see others coming out from the house. Swallowing, I wonder where the fire is, myself.
“You can’t take us all,” someone says, noticing I don’t have the powers. “And neither can the others.” That gets to me. The fact that they’re going to go after Hayden and Liz after this. And that’s when I realise it. If anger, pain, fear – if they were the gift’s power source, why don’t I just replace them with determination, with my urge to protect my siblings? I can full my power, with my power.
Fire sweeps out of my fingertips as soon as I realise this and a smirk appears on my face. With my hands ablaze, I stare at them defiantly.
“When we’re done here, if I ever see your faces again, I will get them locked up-“
“Well you’ll never see a face again,” one taunts. I move my feet for balance, and turn my arms summoning as much power as I can to my hands, before directing it at him. It hits him, shoving him back into a wall with the force.
“Locked up underground,” I tell them. Then the fight begins. I can’t say exactly what happens, besides my fire being more powerful than ever. It shoves them back, burns their skin, and sets the rubbish alight. Part of me wishes for Hayden and Liz to be here, fighting by my side, but the rest of me says that I’m doing this to protect them. Not to put them in even more danger.
As we fight – knives and fists against fire – a storm breaks out overhead; lightning and thunder crashing all over the place. As I glance up at it, someone tackles me, sending me back into a wall. My head hits it with a thump, but I force myself not to think about that, or the pain from where I bit down on my tongue. The man has a knife and uses it to first stab it into my arm – just for the pain of it all, I think – making me see red. I can feel the blood trickling out, and I know it’s not long until he moves onto the other arm – or just stabs me in the chest.
And in this moment, thunder and lightning raining down around us; the memory of Hayden saying about the bits of oil on the ground on fire; and the feeling of so much power burning up inside me that I have to let it out somehow, I get a really, really stupid idea.
I’ve never tried it before, but as the man pulls out the knife, and the lighting strikes above us, I raise my injured arm to the sky and summon as much of the lightning as I can. It sweeps down in an arch from the sky, lighting up the area and the faces of the men around me. I picture it running through my body and into my other hand, and it does exactly that. It feels exhilarating. Beautiful. Powerful.
The lightning shoots out from my other hand and straight into a line of oil, spread from a tipped over oil barrel to a nearby parked car. The flame roars suddenly, and there’s a loud noise as the car explodes. I’m shoved up against the wall by the pure force, but the flames that lick against the enemies around me don’t affect me at all. I lightly brush them off my clothes and walk away, pulling my hood up as I leave the scene.
I notice that my anger with Hayden hasn’t gone entirely – but I’m not feeling it as powerfully as before. I swallow, turning onto the main street and walking towards the bus. I laugh in my head – you wouldn’t see Iron Man riding the bus, would you?
But I’m also so tired; aware that Omega won’t be bothering us anymore, but also that I was responsible for that. There’s a pang in my body, as I realise what I just did. But, shoving it down, I tell myself that it was for my family. For my siblings. And I decide that we should stop being The Endgame. We shouldn’t have enemies, or missions that are uploaded to YouTube. We should be silent in our actions, take on the everyday battles and enemies – at least, until we’re older. Until we’re more powerful, and more realistic with our aims. And however much I love seeing myself on the news, using my talents against people who are doing bad things – I know that they were given to me for a reason. Not to be seen on TV. But for good. For some greater good than what we’ve been doing.
For some bigger cause.
Finished: (of a task or activity) brought to an end: completed.