I think I first realised something was off when I was having a shower. It was possibly – no, definitely – the hottest shower of my life, with the heat turned up to nine – the hottest setting – and the power on full. Here’s where the issue came about: I was cold. I was actually freezing and I just couldn’t understand it, because as I left the water run down my body, I could feel the heat of it. I knew it was there. I knew it was hot. My body wasn’t taking it in, though. When I gave up on the shower, the next sign came about. My shower has a glass door, leading out to the bathroom, yet, as I placed my hand against it to push it open, it wasn’t steamy.
The glass was completely transparent, with the small smudges of dirt and dead flies scattered about. But it wasn’t fogged up. That’s probably where I should’ve told someone that something strange was going on – yet, for some reason, I didn’t. I didn’t say a word, and let it pass by without another thought. I think I just wanted to pretend that it didn’t exist; that there wasn’t going to be an issue and the life I’m currently living wasn’t endgame. I wanted more time.
“Stop acting all brooding, Liz,” a voice says from behind me, pulling me from my trance. I turn around to face Jackson, my older brother, who I notice is ready for tonight’s mission. I roll my eyes at him, walking past and towards the ladder on the far side of the attic – or, well, our ‘secret base’.
“I’m never brooding, Jack,” I say as I walk. “The full definition is a person who is in deep thought about one that makes them sad, angry or worried.” As I look back, I see that it’s his turn to roll his eyes. He follows after me to the ladder, as I start to climb down.
“Stop reading dictionaries for fun, Liz. It’s probably the reason you have no friends,” he tells me. I pause on the climb and look up at him, a single eye brow raised.
“What, like there’s only one reason?” I ask, completely not buying it. Of course there are lots of reasons. Jackson scoffs, and I continue climbing down to the second floor of the house.
“No, there’s lots. You eat with your mouth open. You’re a know-it-all. You didn’t think Miley Cyrus was ever going to make it as a serious performer-“
“Hey, I wasn’t the only one who wasn’t bowled over by Hannah Montana,” I tell him, jumping down onto the landing. I move away from the bottom of the ladder and watch as he climbs down.
“Yeah, but you’re the only one who mentioned the show when trying to run for Head Girl,” he says, not looking at me as he climbs.
“I thought it would make me seem less swayed – less likely to just go for any silly idea posed,” I protested, crossing my arms across my chest.
“You were going for Head Girl,” he tells me, jumping onto the floor and looking at me. “Not Prime Minister. They didn’t care whether or not you were going to be swayed by people’s ideas. More that you actually wanted the role for more than your CV.” I cough, looking away.
“I’ll admit that in hindsight, it wasn’t a great idea to say that the reason I wanted the role was to help me into college,” I say. “But it doesn’t mean that they didn’t respect the honesty.” I head down the landing and to the stairs, with Jackson following in tow.
“No, they respected the honesty. Just not you.” I drop the conversation and jog down the stairs, taking the jacket from the banister and pulling it on as I go. Jackson is right behind me.
“Are we meeting Hayden there?” I ask, moving towards the door.
“Yeah,” my brother responds. “But I still think this is a bad idea.” I shrug, pulling the front door open and turning back to him.
“I’m not crazy about the idea either. But if our little brother wants to get himself into trouble, helping him out of it is the least we can do.” Jackson nods, reluctantly, and locks the door behind us. The three of us live in the middle of nowhere, one bus ride from a small town with no real credentials. The roads are mainly used for tractors and cattle, and on the weekends we work on a nearby farm. Our parents are away for the week, meaning that Hayden, our fourteen year old brother, thought it was about time to bring out the old bandanas and jackets and go and either rob a store or attempt to be a super hero.
Normally, under any other circumstances than the ones we abide by, robbing a store, or being a super hero wouldn’t be condoned. The only difference is that, if we rob a store, no one would believe it was us – and being a super hero? That’s actually possible.
Even though what we’re about to do is as far away from being a pedestrian as possible, Jackson and I pull out the weekly riders and take the bus to town. We hop off near a post office after a long ride of listening to old ladies gab about this and that and the new hair dresser who always forgets how long the hair dye has been in.
From the post office, we walk along until we find the city hall. Sitting outside, hood over his head, bandana already pulled up and possibly sleeping, is Hayden. Jackson makes a show of waking him up; pushing him off the concrete wall he’s lying on and into a bush on the other side. Our brother makes a lot of grumbling noises as he gets up, but doesn’t complain to Jackson. This is his one chance to do something reckless – he’s not stupid enough to blow it over a petty argument.
“So where are we heading?” Jackson asks him, shoving his hands into his pockets and looking around the empty road. The sun is going down and nightfall is approaching, meaning that the few people who are still out will be making their way home soon. Such is the way of a small town.
“The corner shop down the road,” Hayden replies, jumping back over the wall. I nod and pull up the bandana, so it’s covering my nose and mouth. I may not be Head Girl, and may not have a large group of friends to hang around with, but I have at least a mild reputation, and I need it to stay intact.
“So, what are we playing tonight?” Jackson asks from behind Hayden and I as we walk down the road in the direction of the corner shop. I glance over to Hayden and spot the glint in his eye. I know the answer before he says it, and it always gets my skin crawling.
“I think we should be the bad guys,” he says, shoving his hands into the pockets in his jacket. Being the criminal when you’re a child is one thing; your friends forget about it quickly and you can be the super hero the day after. Being a criminal at any other time? It’s real. It’s serious. It’s jail-worthy.
It’s a criminal offence to hold up a shop – even though they mainly like to say ‘at gun-point’, we’ve never held guns in our lives. I think the bloke a few fields away from our home has a shot gun, I hear it at night when he runs out of his house, shooting it into the dark as he yells about ‘sheep rustlers’ and ‘hooligans’, there to take his sweet corn.
A criminal offence: an act harmful not only to some individual, but also to the community or the state (a public wrong). Such acts are forbidden and punishable by law
I remember reading that one the day after our first robbery. It wasn’t a real robbery, but we just kept the clerk entertained, while the other took handfuls of chocolate bars and sweets. I felt so guilty after, but Hayden made me promise not to own up to anything. We’d gotten away without a problem, so why should we make one?
I swallow at the thought as we make it to just a few shop fronts away from the target. There, we turn to look at each other, and I take a few slow, deep breaths.
“Alright,” Jackson says reluctantly, his voice muffled by the black and white bandana. “We all know the drill.” Hayden and I nod, and we start to walk down the street as a group. I clench my fists a few times, inwardly angry at Hayden for choosing to be the criminals tonight. He always preferred Loki to Thor; Hydra to Captain America, the Nazis to the rest of the world. It was like a sick fascination to him; that people could somehow have that badness inside them.
I like to think of Hayden as a good kid – because he is most of the time. But he once came up to my room and told me something he’d figured out. All of those villains, he’d said, they had the darkness in them. But what if everyone has the darkness, but the villains are the only ones who are smart enough to tap into it? It’d made me wonder afterwards, whether those villains were truly smart, hacking into their deep seated feelings of hate. Was that a clever thing to do? Then, I’d try to work out whether that’s what Hayden was trying to do; find his bad side and see if it made him more powerful.
I tried to shake the thoughts from my head as we reached the window of the shop – of course Hayden isn’t a villain. If anything, he’s the super hero. In whatever story this is – he’ll be the super hero, even if he’ll be robbing a man tonight. I swallow, but just as we reach the door, two men barge past us and into the store. They’re dressed in black like us, with bandanas covering half of their faces – but instead of walking in empty-handed; the man furthest away is holding a gun down by his side.
I immediately feel panic rise in me, and then feel Jackson’s arm, pulling me back, Hayden alongside. He takes us away, moving us from the shop until we’re a few stores down, and standing in between two buildings, in somewhat of an alley. I’m breathing heavily, trying to work through the image of a gun.
Then Jackson takes charge.
So often on these nights, Hayden would be in control. We’d let him have this power, because the rest of the time, as the youngest, he’d have none. But now it’s Jackson. Hayden’s as frozen as I am, and we wait in silence in the alley, Jackson’s arms around us, pushing us up against the wall. Then we hear a gunshot.
“When they run past,” Jackson says as soon as it happens, trying to drag us from the sound and the thoughts we have in our head. “Or out of the shop,” he continues. “We’re going to take them down.” He gives Hayden and me a single look each, before nodding. “We are super heroes tonight,” he tells us. “And we are going to be super, okay?”
Three more gunshots sound after the first, and we’re waiting in stark silence for the sound of footsteps. I glance around at the darkened windows along the street of the houses above the shops, and I notice that not a single light turns on. Either they’re all asleep now that the sky is fully black, or they’re all pretending to not be home. They can’t get in the way of that gunfire, no matter who needs saving.
Then a single bell from the door rings out into the night, and there are the sounds of feet, running. Closer and closer, the sounds come, louder and louder. They’re almost upon us when Jackson jumps out of the alley. Without a second thought, and with only a glance at the two men, my brother punches his fist forward and a burst of fire shoots out in the direction of the criminals. I hear the sound of surprise, and decide I should help.
I move out into the street light, and look at the men, one pointing a gun on us, but both looking equally afraid. The one without the gun has a bag of money, and I watch as his fist tightens on it. Then the action starts.
The gun man moves his finger to the trigger and I slid a foot forwards, pushing my arms in his direction in a swift motion. Ice appears at me feet, crackling quickly along the ground. It splays out in all directions; which often happens when I use it, but my hands are making the real magic. A tower of ice protrudes from the ground, capturing the gun in a misshapen block, locking his hand to the gun. Next to me, I notice Jackson shooting fire and the other man from his hands and feet, before going into a proper fist fight. Hayden is nowhere to be seen.
The gun man struggles to pull his arm free, and I immediately drop the ice to the ground, giving him back the gun, before forcing it to climb up his body. He’s moving the gun to point it at me, and I shoot another block of ice at his hand, slamming it and the gun into the wall. There’s a moment of silence between us, as he stares at me, before I place my hand on the gun and yank it free.
Meanwhile, Jackson and the other man battle it out, Jackson briefly lighting up the darkness with small flames aimed at the man, but the criminal is too strong. He fights back, knocking my brother’s feet out from underneath him. Before I can send any ice in his direction, the man is slumped on the ground unconscious, with rubble all around him from a block of bricks, the size of my head, slammed into his.
A body jumps to the ground next to us, and Hayden gives me thumbs up. I then glance at the gun in my hand, and freeze around where I hold it, hoping it to mask my finger prints. I slam it into the original gun man’s head, knocking him out, and dropping the weapon on the ground.
By the time I’ve done this, a heavily breathing Jackson is jogging towards the store. We follow, briefly stopping it pick up the bag of money as we go. Once instead, I see the issue my brother has thought of. Both of us clamber behind the counter, and I open the till, stuffing as much money as I can back inside, before placing the bag on the ground. Jackson, however, is ordering Hayden to find a phone, seeing as we didn’t bring our own.
On the ground beside my brother, is a man, his chest soaked in blood and his eyes open in shock. I crouch down on the other side of him, not wanting to look at the seeping dark red stains. I take his wrist, trying to find a pulse. I knew there wouldn’t be one, but I’m proven correct as we crouch here. I can hear Hayden’s voice, saying that there’s a man who’s been shot. Quickly he hangs up the phone, and my brother stands up.
“We need to leave,” he tells us, but his voice makes little sound through the bandana.
“What?” Hayden asks. “But the ambulance is coming.”
“Yes,” he agrees. “And so will the police. We used our powers, guys. We have to go.” He looks at the two of us, and I stand, nodding.
“Okay,” I reply. I look out the shop front for a few seconds, and I look at a lit window with a woman’s silhouette. “But we need to go in a way that we can’t be found. I think we have a witness.” My brothers follow my gaze, and the three of us look up the woman who is staring directly back.
“Agreed,” Jackson says. He climbs over the counter and I follow, before we step outside. Then he seems to have an idea. “Super heroes, huh?” I hear him mutter before turning to Hayden. “Give her something to look at,” he tells him. “And get us up on the roof.” Then he turns to me. “Tag the wall.” I nod, and turn to the shop, two stories high with an apartment above. The sounds of sirens are ringing in the distance, and I know the woman – maybe more – is watching us.
I raise a hand to the wall, and I draw moisture from the air, forcing it to freeze over against the brick work. A word appears amongst my outline of ice, before I lower my hand. Hayden then readies his stance, and shoots us up on a two-storey high block of pavement. As we go up, I see what I wrote, levelled with it. The word ‘endgame’ is outlined in ice, and although I only see it for a second, the picture is imprinted in my mind.
When we reach the roof, the three of us jump over. Then, Hayden turns and slams his hands downwards, the palms facing the ground. The block of pavement shoots back down into position, with only a crack along the line where it’s separate.
The three of us give one last look to the spectators – the ground-moving must be noisy, with a few more than we started with – before the lights flashing from the ambulance and police light up the road. We run.
The next morning, as I’m tying up my shoes so I can go and feed the chickens in next door’s farm, I notice that the tips are stained with blood. I pull it off and let water run over it in the sink, trying to clean it with my finger nail. Jackson comes downstairs and watches me for a few seconds, before picking up his own shoes and running the tap next to me. His are much more coated, seeing as he stood in a puddle of the shopkeeper’s blood.
“I went back after you two went to bed,” he told me. I raise my eyebrows at him, turning and letting the water run straight into the sink.
“You did?” I ask. He nods, placing a shoe on the work top and focusing on a single one.
“Yeah, they’re calling us heroes. A few are saying we’re the bad guys, but that woman you spotted-“
“The one from the window?” Jackson nods.
“Yeah, she said she watched the whole thing. She vouched for us. Then more and more people started saying they’d seen the fight and the powers and-“
“Are the police looking for us?” I interrupt again. He nods.
“Of course they are. We wrecked a street, took down some gunmen and alerted the paramedics to a dead man.” The news of the shopkeeper being dead doesn’t surprise me. I already know that.
“They’re calling us super heroes?” Says a voice from behind us. I turn and look at Hayden, and Jackson nods.
“’The Endgame’, some man said. We’re probably on the news.” Hayden runs towards the living room, and switches on the TV. He also pulls out his phone and starts scrolling through pages.
“I’m surprised he’s excited about this,” I mumble. Jackson nods, obviously hearing me.
“Me too. But I think it’ll wear off. He likes the villains, that one.” I sudden thought occurs to me, and I look up at me brother, swallowing.
“What if he becomes one?” I ask. Jackson sighs, but doesn’t answer me. “Jack,” I say. “Seriously, what if-“
“I don’t know, Liz,” he says. “I could never hurt the kid. We’d persuade him back. I hope.” The two of us look over to Hayden, who’s flicking over to the news channel and watching it for the first time with enthusiasm. I hope he doesn’t change sides. I hope he realises that being good is better. I really hope so.
“Jack!” He says suddenly. “Liz!” I can hear the news of our area, changing subjects, and I shut off the tap, leaving my shoe on the draining board. Joining Hayden, I take a seat.
“Last night, a robbery at gun point and murder took place on Eden Street in Halcombra. A shopkeeper was brutally murdered as seen on this tape-“a square in the corner of the screen with a still image of the security camera footage. It’s the two men, one pointing a gun. “After the shopkeeper – Daryl Blake – was killed, the two men were stopped and knocked unconscious; one in a block of ice; by whom locals are now calling ‘The Endgame’.” The square changes to outside footage of the three of us standing on the street with the men knocked out. “They have been witnessed – and proven via security cameras – to have super powers, of fire-“ the square enlarges and has footage of Jackson shooting fire. “Water or ice-“ Me, capturing the man in ice. “And earth-“ Hayden shoots us up to the roof with a block of pavement. “There are two big questions here: if there is fire, water and earth – three of the four elements – where is the air? And are these people here to save us, or to be a new vigilante force we didn’t ask for?” As the screen changes, Hayden mutes the television.
Before we speak, my mind answers the questions. We are not a vigilante force, or going to save anyone. At least, I have no aim. I don’t know what’s going on in my brother’s minds, though. As for why there aren’t four of us, while we can command the elements, that answer is simpler. There were four of us, originally. Jackson came first, then two years later, me. Three years after that Hayden came along, and a single year later? Annabelle. She was premature by two months and didn’t make it a week. But if I were to guess, I would say that she would’ve been granted some form of air power, and we would’ve been whole.
Sadly she didn’t make it, and part of me registers that I might have to explain that to a reporter one day, if we continue being ‘The Endgame’. It was an endgame for us to be these people – there was no way around it, but it was not an endgame for it to happen without Annabelle.
“So are we super heroes?” Hayden asks. He looks excited about it, which surprises me, but I consider saying no. I don’t tell him that though – if I did, he would probably stick around with wanting to rob shops and banks (I’ve seen his blue prints for the bank in town). If I tell him yes, though… it might put him down the right path. I send a glance towards Jackson before replying.
“I want to say yes,” I tell him. Jackson sighs from next to me, but doesn’t put up a fight as he runs a hand across his face.
“There’s no fighting you, is there?” He asks.
“Two against one,” Hayden agrees. Jackson groans and steps forward.
“Fine, but on two conditions: one, we do not tell anyone about this – let alone our parents.”
“Agreed,” Hayden says. Jackson puts a hand up.
“Two: I am in charge.”
“Not agreed!” Hayden cries.
“I am the oldest, the smartest and the most responsible,” Jackson lists out. “You are the youngest, most annoying, and one hundred percent rash in all decisions you make.” Hayden crosses his arms in a huff.
“Do you agree with this?” Hayden asks me. I just shrug.
“Yeah, why not?” Jackson smiles.
“Two against one,” he says, quoting Hayden. My younger brother just rolls his eyes, and I realise that something has shifted. Something is born; something new; something endgame.
Endgame: the final stage of an extended process or course of events.