From the author: She thought it was going to be one of those normal look-after-your-younger-brother-days. It wasn't...
HOW CANDY GOT HER BROTHER BACK 7249 words
By David Perlmutter
“Over here!” he said. “Come on.”
“All right!” I answered. “I’m coming. Only don’t get too far ahead of me.”
“Got it,” he answered.
He slowed down, but not by much.
We were off in the woods near our house. It being summer, and neither of us, therefore, being tied down to school all day, we were pursuing our own, different form of education. Or, in this case, he was, and I was following along.
The advantage of being ten years older than your younger brother, as a teenage girl, is that he looks up to you, in more than one way. Particularly in a way he wouldn’t do if you were closer in age. You’re someone who has more life experience than he has, and you can give him some guidance on that. But you aren’t a jaded, stiff-necked adult yet, so you can be more receptive- and perceptive- about silly things that he says and does.
The dis-advantage is that you are almost automatically condemned to being his babysitter when the adults in your life aren’t around. Whether you like it or not.
I’ve told Finn often that he’s lucky to have me for a sister, and he knows it.
Especially after what happened after we found that lousy magic staircase in the woods on this day that I’m telling you about now.
Finn had found it first, of course. That’s not surprising- he’s the smart one in our family. What was surprising was the fact that he seemed to view what he had found with an incredible amount of awe. He and kids younger than him can develop those kind of passions early in life for weird things. But, usually, it doesn’t last. When you get to be my age, maturity and life experience kind of kills your ability to be awed by anything- even if you like it a lot.
Consequently, when he told me about exactly what he had found, I was skeptical, to say the least.
“Stairs?” I said. “In that big patch of nothingness, over there? How could there be stairs if there’s nothing for them to be attached to?”
“That’s what has to be discovered about them,” he said. “They have to lead to somewhere- or something. Stairs always do.”
“And you want to find out where they lead to. Right?” I said, raising an eyebrow.
“It couldn’t hurt to make a short visit. But I don’t believe they’re a permanent thing…”
“Then, if they’re not a permanent thing,” I said, stopping, “why should we even bother with them?”
“Come on, Candace,” he implored. “Where’s your sense of adventure?”
There it was, the “A” word again. I’ve already been on a few in my short life, on account of the special “gift” my boyfriend left me when he died. Some of them I nearly died on, and others I was beat up so bad physically and emotionally on that I’ve barely recovered. On the other hand, it’s helped me go from a sheltered “kid” to a girl with a lot of power, and a ton of friends, admirers, and especially enemies. But they don’t know half of the toll of what I can do, and what I’ve heard and seen, has done to me. Not even Finn, and I’ve shared a lot of my tales and secrets with him, so he knows better than anyone else.
But adventures are usually thrust upon you- you don’t choose to go on one. If you go looking for them, you just get into trouble. Besides, after being forced to look after Finn for the umpteenth day in a row, I didn’t want to get him- or me- into that kind of trouble.
“Finn,” I told him, “you know, or you should know, better than that. I am not about to put both of our lives in danger to help you investigate some will o’ the wisp frivolity that you probably invented just to get me outside…”
He pulled out his last resort, a cute, bug-eyed little boy face.
“I didn’t make it up,” he continued. “I saw it there- honest. I just want to make sure it wasn’t some sort of optical illusion. I won’t be long looking at it- I’ll…”
“Fine!” I held up my hand to stop him blathering, and gave in. Not without a warning, though.
“We can go: on one condition. You are not going there by yourself,” I ordered. “Understand? I stay one step behind of you at all times. Mom would kill herself if you smashed yourself up for no good reason. But she’d kill me before she did that.”
I spoke about Mom with a cheeky amount of rueful comedy in my voice that broke the tension that had built up between us. Then we proceeded onward.
Fortunately for him, the stairs were still there when we got to the place where he said he’d seen them. They were located on the banks of the creek that runs through the forest like a jagged knife cut on a piece of skin. Just stairs, going upward with no end in sight, and no sense of what, if anything, they were connected to at the top.
Looking up at them, I had a sense of dread. I didn’t want to go up the stairs to look. But it wasn’t up to me. It was up to Finn, and he definitely wanted to.
Before I could stop him, he had taken off, in a brisk run, across the creek to get to the staircase. There was a brief pause to take off his sandals, so he could walk across the creek barefoot, but that was the only thing that stopped him. I was also slowed down by having to remove my own sandals, but I was further slowed by the need to roll up the bottom half of my jeans so they wouldn’t get wet. I was cursing myself for having chosen to wear them on this day, among all of them.
When I finally got there, he had his foot on the bottom step, showing me that they were, indeed, a real thing.
“Solid,” he said.
“Yes,” I concurred, sarcastically. “That is an apparent fact.”
We looked up at them. It was even more obvious than before that they were a formidable thing, real or not. They were made, it appeared, out of some solid wood, and painted white. And a seemingly endless layer of red carpet was laid over the top of each step, for another unexplained reason. All of this was apparent and explainable even to someone like me, since I’m not much of a scholar.
What was still not explained, or even explainable, was why the things were out here in the first place. Were they trying to lure some gullible creatures into some sort of trick or trap? There was certainly every potential of that happening. My maternal instincts certainly gave me a sense of that. So I told Finn brusquely that it was time to move along, and walked off as if he was obeying me.
But he wasn’t. So I turned back.
“Didn’t you hear me?” I demanded. “I said…”
“I want to go up there,” he countered, in a stubborn, determined voice.
“Oh, you do, huh? Any idea of what you might be facing up there?”
“I don’t know. But I intend to find out.”
“How else? Climb up them, and see what’s there.”
“Are you insane? Have you any idea how dangerous that might be?”
“A lot less dangerous than the scrapes you’ve been in.”
“Don’t go comparing apples to oranges.” I was starting to lose my temper. “When I’m off doing my job, I have my powers and abilities to protect me. Sometimes, they’re not even enough. It’s an entirely different situation for a normal, civilian boy to walk in to what could easily be some sort of supernatural spider’s web. You could walk up that thing and never come out of it alive. No, Finn. You got curiosity in buckets, kid, and I admire you for that. But even that has its limits. Especially if gets you into trouble.”
“Couldn’t I just…?” he insisted.
“I only want to…”
“I said no, and I meant no.”
“What are you afraid of?” he demanded. “Mom?”
“Yeah,” I said, nervously.
“I don’t know why. She’s a fairly reasonable person….”
“…with you. She doesn’t ask as much of you as she does me right now, Finn. I mean, you’re just a kid.”
“No need to insult me,” he said, with wounded pride.
“Sorry,” I answered. “But you know what I mean. She lets you get away with a lot of crap, because you’re still at an age where you can smile and be cute and play innocent. Every little kid has that kind of power, up to a point. I know I did, once, long before you were born. But it stopped once I stopped being a ‘little girl’ and transformed into a ‘young lady’ in her eyes. Since that happened, all she’s concerned about with me is me acting ‘properly’ and ‘respectably’, even though she never tells me what those things even mean. But she demands a lot of me looking after you, in particular. Somehow, I’m single-handedly responsible for whether or not you get healthy or sick when we’re off together by ourselves. It hasn’t happened yet, but, if you were to bust an arm or a leg on my watch, she’d nurse you back to health and confine me to the house for not doing my ‘duty’ the right way. Even if you deliberately did it on purpose to make me look bad.”
He was shocked at the very idea that he would do such a thing, if the look on his face was any proof.
“I would never do that,” he said. “You know that I love and respect you too much to do that, Candace.”
“And me you,” I responded. “You’re too sensitive and intelligent for that sort of tomfoolery. I only wish you were intelligent enough to not want to potentially risk your life like this.”
He gave me the cute, bug-eyed little boy face again.
“All I want to do,” he pouted, “is to walk up a small number of the steps. Not all of them. It’s the only way I can confirm whether or not there’s anything at the other end of the stairway. Is that so wrong?”
I tried to get him to give up the act by giving him the best stern face I had. It was a losing battle.
“All right!” I shouted, giving up. “Go and look up the darn things if you’re so stuck up on them. I’ll wait for you here. But no more than five minutes at the top. Then, you come back, we go home, and you forget about all of this.”
He agreed, and breathlessly went up at a fast clip. As I said I would, I waited….
Five minutes. Then ten. Then fifteen. Twenty.
Finally, my patience wore thin.
“Finn MacCool Van Draanen,” I bellowed. “Get down here!”
“I mean it!”
Still no answer.
“Is that how it’s gonna be? Well, I’m coming up these steps, Finn, and you better be ready for me to drag you home when I do!”
Not that I was actually going to do that. But he knows the sound of my voice, and that it really means something when I get mad. Usually, when I give him a command, he does it immediately, no questions asked.
Not this time. Somehow, and for some reason, he was being extremely defiant of my mother-granted authority. I wasn’t having any of that.
I stomped my way up the stairs. My long legs and shapely feet helped me rattle them greatly as I went up. I was so mad that I didn’t notice how long the staircase was going up. That was probably why Finn was taking so long, and not because he was giving me sauce, like I thought he was. But my anger at him completely blinded me to that possibility.
It took much longer than I had assumed it was going to take. But I did get to the top….
Only to discover I was now very high up in the air.
And, worse, Finn was nowhere in sight!
The staircase was a free-standing structure. If you stepped off the edge of the top step, you would just fall off into…nothing.
Was that what happened to Finn? Had he fallen off? Was he back down on the ground- dead?
And what would I tell Mom?
I was convulsed with mental agony for several minutes. I replayed what might have happened over and over in my head, along with the various ways I predicted Mom would react if I told her. It was horrific. Trust me: nobody can be tortured worse by anything than their own brain.
Eventually, I got myself together, and tried to piece together what had happened.
Finn’s not an idiot, I told myself. He wouldn’t just disappear like that. And certainly not on purpose. He would have come down right away once he saw what was there, and tell me about it. In detail.
But, if he hadn’t fallen off, why didn’t he come down when I called him?
Then I saw what the cause of his disappearance was.
It was a disc of light, in something of a trapezoidal shape, hovering a few feet away from where I stood on the top step. It gave off a sickening golden hue from within. Coming from inside, I heard noises emanating from what obviously were otherworldly, evil beings. Along with a noise that was unquestionably that of a mortal human…
I knew I had to do something. This was one time when being a mortal human being wasn’t going to cut it. A superhero was the only person with the kind of physical and magical powers to counterattack the kind of overpowering threat lurking in there that was imprisoning my brother.
Fortunately, I happen to be a superhero.
I knelt down on the top step, and mumbled the oath that transformed me under my breath. Immediately when I finished, Candace Van Draanen, the red-haired mortal human I was most of the time, vanished. In her place was my heroic secret identity, proudly clad in a purple sweatshirt and sweat pants and yellow steel-toed boots, which showed off to perfection a super-strong, super-fast, and super-beautiful body. The emerald ring I wore on my hand was now glowing, and I throbbed with vigour, from the top of my head to the bottoms of my feet. I was now Candy Girl, the most powerful teenager in the universe!
If she couldn’t rescue Finn, then nobody could.
I applied my mighty powers to that task immediately. Looking across at the trapezoid, it stood to reason that, if I concentrated my abilities in one giant leap, I might be able to jump into or through it if it were possible. But could it be done?
Only one way to find out, I told myself.
I concentrated all of my strength and agility into a crouch, and then into a full-body leap. As I flew towards the shape, I braced for impact, in case it was solid and rejected my effort. But that wasn’t necessary. My jump was directed at the widest part of the shape, and it was porous enough to allow me to pass into and through it, as I had hoped. After a combination somersault and dive on the ground, I was inside.
As I got to my feet, I was surrounded by the evil beings I had just heard. They were all big fellows, most as tall as I was, or bigger, and pretty formidable looking. Their attention was completely focused on me as I soon as I entered the room. Not that I wanted it.
They needed to push off. And, if necessary, I would have to push them myself.
“Get away from me!” I barked.
They didn’t listen. So I started to give them a reason to get away.
I aimed my ring at one of them, and it shot a blast of emerald light at it that knocked it to the ground and dissolved it into the ether. A couple more of them pinioned me, holding my arms tight, but they hadn’t counted on me being stronger than them. I demonstrated this by slipping their grips, lifting them both up by their necks, and throwing them in the opposite direction, where they collapsed and faded away the same way the first one had. There was only one left, and he expired as soon as I gave him a brutal kick.
I got a moment to get my breath back, but then I was tapped on the shoulder from behind. Quickly, I spun around- and faced someone very unlike who I had just beaten.
She looked like a girl about my age. She was wearing what looked like a wedding gown, minus the veil and train. Her hair was as brown as mine was red, and immaculately coiffed. Her eyes were black, and her nose had the shape of an eagle’s beak. But she wasn’t pleased to see me, if the icy glare she gave me was any sign. I gave her my sternest no-nonsense look in return.
“Who are ya?” she drawled, in an aggressive nasal voice.
“Candy Girl,” I answered, proudly.
“What d’ya want?”
“I don’t think that’s any of your business.”
“Everything here is my business. I own this joint.”
“Oh.” I switched to a friendlier tone. “Well, then, maybe you could help me find my brother, Miss…?”
“Lilith. Let me guess: He’s a human being, like you?”
“Well, it’s gonna be hard for your to find him, then. Most humans don’t last long here. They can’t take it, if you get my meaning.”
“What about you?”
“Yeah. Aren’t you….?”
Her eyes and teeth suddenly took on a very serpentine glow.
“I am not one of you mortal weaklings!” she screamed, in a horribly un-human voice. “I am LILITH, QUEEN OF THE DEMONS! This is my domain, and you have profaned it with your very presence! Leave now, or I will destroy you!”
“Not without my brother,” I said, standing firm.
“So, you’re not scared of me, mortal?”
“Why should I be? I never heard of you until now.”
Abruptly, she returned to the human-like form by which she had first met, hand on chest, and looking very shocked.
“You never heard of me?” she said.
I shook my head.
“Well, as I just said, I’m Queen of the Demons. I run things here in Gehenna- or, as your people call it, Hell.”
A chill went up my spine. It was going to be hard to get out, indeed.
“Technically, it’s me and my husband, Asmodeus-my King,” Lilith continued. “He’s not so much, but he’s a big improvement over my ex. You might know him. He was the first one of you humans.”
“Wasn’t he married to Eve?”
“Yeah. But I had him first.”
“What about….Satan?” I said, choking on his name. “Is he….?”
“That schmuck?” she said, dismissively. “He works for me and Asmodeus. Down below.” She pointed with her hand. “I know what you’re thinking. No, you don’t all go there if you did bad stuff in your life. That’s just maximum security, for the real hard cases. But Hell’s not just there. It’s everywhere we want it to be, when we want it to be. We can hook anyone into doing bad whenever and wherever we feel like it, with the right persuasion. But we’ll take in anyone who feels they belong there, as well as the folks who bumble their way within our bounds, by “accident”. Such as through the system of magically appearing and disappearing staircases that you’re by now familiar with. You’d be surprised how many gullible people get in here through them.”
“Like my brother.”
“Exactly. To say nothing of you, fire-head. What are you, to be able to beat up my demons so easily?”
“I’m a superhero. I can handle worse than that, easy.”
“Superhero?” She scoffed. “One of those big-mouthed, people-saving, do-gooder types, huh?”
“And you want to get your brother out of the nastiest place on Earth, and you besides?”
“That’s about the size of it.”
Suddenly, her voice, manner and face reverted to her aggressive, serpentine tone.
“Well, you’re gonna have to get through me first, BITCH!” she shouted.
“Bring it on, snake woman!” I challenged, balling my hands into fists.
She blasted out light from her fingers and hands at me. I ducked some of the blows, and deflected one on my chest. Then I struck back with some emerald light, and she deflected it with her body, too. This carried on for a few minutes, as we advanced closer to each other with each blast we shot. Finally, we were close enough to grab each other, and I got a better look at what I was up against.
She was as tall as I was, and probably as strong. And she wasn’t going to let me go without a fight. I’d give her one, if I had to.
“This is getting us nowhere,” she declared. “We could be here all day. How ‘bout we settle which of us is stronger the way you mortals usually do?”
“How?” I asked, cautiously.
“Wrasslin’!” she drawled. “One fall. You win, you and your brother can get out of here.”
“And if I lose?”
“You both stay here. Forever.”
The thought of being in Hell for life terrified me. But what choice did I have if I wanted to free Finn?
“Okay,” I said. “But I’m a lot stronger than I look.”
“Please,” she answered, with catty confidence. “You’re one to issue warnings.”
“You need one when you fight me, big mouth,” I replied.
We got into position, locked arms, and, on the count of three, I gripped her tight, and pushed forward with all of my strength. She did the same.
The world’s mightiest teenager against the Queen of the Demons. Sounds like some cheap, faked TV scrap, doesn’t it? But this was real. My brother’s life- and mine- were on the line, and she and I both knew it.
We seemed evenly matched, at first. Our combined, forced might was enough to make the ground rattle as if an earthquake was present. All the while as we stood, grunting in pain and exertion through our teeth, we both looked for a moment of weakness the other could pounce on to take the advantage.
For a while, it seemed like a deadlock. She had the advantage of being- well, an ancient deity- with strength built up over the millennia. I, on the other hand, was a young woman in the prime of my life, with superhuman strength. Did either of us have an advantage, or would it just be a standoff until we ran out of juice, whenever that was?
Then came the moment when it seemed like she was weakening, and I would win. Her legs buckled, I charged forward with her hands in my iron grasp, and she was forced back towards the nearest wall. If I could just get her off her feet, and on the ground long enough for a pin….
Just when I thought I could drop her, she mumbled something I couldn’t hear, and her eyes began to glow a demonic red. With a surge of power, she broke my hold. And, before I could put another one on, she put a crushing one around me. Her strength was now greater than mine, and I was quickly dropped to my knees. After giving me a debilitating punch in the face, she forced me to the ground and pinned me.
She had won, and I had lost.
Lilith celebrated her victory by holding me up by my hair, and spitting an acidic substance into one of my hands, creating a burning sensation that paralyzed me. My fabled invulnerability didn’t protect me from every single way I could possibly be harmed, it seemed.
“You jerk!” I shouted. “You cheated.”
“How?” she demanded.
“We were supposed to be wrestling, and you used magic to beat me.”
“That’s not fair.”
“You’re pathetic,” she spat. “Did you really think I was gonna play ‘fair’, and let you embarrass me in combat on my own home turf? Perish the thought! I have an abominable reputation to uphold. Now, then. As I won the match, you and your brother will now be enjoying my company here for eternity. And I’ll be taking this, besides, so you can’t escape.”
“Hey! What are you….?”
Before I could say or do anything else, she had stripped my emerald ring from my hand.
And, suddenly, the mighty Candy Girl was gone, and the (comparatively) meek and helpless Candace Van Draanen, in her tank top, jeans, and sandals, was in her place. And, to my discomfort, feeling every bit of the pain I had just endured as a superhero. Like usual when I change back. Only this time, it meant I wouldn’t be able to fight back against what Lilith planned to do to me next.
Then Lilith added insult to injury by putting the ring on her own hand!
“Hey!” I snarled. “That wasn’t part of the deal. I need that ring. Give it back!”
With what power I had left, I leapt to grab the ring off of her hand. She made herself transparent, and I flew through her. I crashed on the ground, and groaned in pain once I hit the rocky surface. But I made another attempt.
She snapped her fingers, and I found myself trussed up in yellow rope that bound my wrists and ankles together tightly. If Candy Girl was still around, she would have busted through that trap easy. But Candace? Not a chance.
“As you mortals say,” Lilith growled at me, “you mess with the bull, and you get the horns. Now, be a good little girl, and don’t bother me no more. Besides, you’ll have more than enough trouble trying to free yourself from them ropes, now that you ain’t super no more. ‘Bye now.”
From out of nowhere, a trap door opened beneath my legs, and I fell through it.
As if I needed more humiliation….
Once I landed, I tried to make sense of where I now was.
Now that my superhero secret identity was dead and buried- at least for the time being- I knew I was not in a position to free myself. Let alone Finn, wherever he was now.
All that could be done, it seemed, was for me to stand there with my weak limbs bound, like some lonely soldier on sentry duty, in a barren, burned out, and extremely hot place. I was waiting for something to happen, just like I had for Finn earlier. Only now, it was for eternity.
Occasionally, I would try to summon the strength I needed to free myself, but I had none of the power I needed to break the ropes. So I descended into loathsome mental self-torture, like I’m prone to at my worst. When things are going bad, I’m like that when I’m alone. And even, sometimes, when things are actually going good.
I relentlessly argued with myself, trying to figure out what happened by dissecting the details of everything that happened, from when Finn showed me the staircase, to my humiliating defeat by Lilith. If I’d only been able to get Finn to understand why I didn’t want him to explore the staircase in detail, or if I’d been able to be physically strong enough to outwrestle Lilith, none of this would have happened.
This led to me crying, in the greatest kind of self-pity.
I hadn’t cried like that in quite a while. Certainly not since the death of Cantus. My first- and probably only-boyfriend. And also the fellow from which I inherited the emerald ring that allowed me to transform into a super-powered righter-of-wrongs.
He fell to Earth from out of nowhere, into the lake on whose beach I was serving as a lifeguard, with no skills at swimming. Naturally, I did my duty and pulled him out of there. And, if you knew what he looked like, you wouldn’t be surprised to learn I fell in love with him almost from the moment I looked into his face.
It was the best summer of my life. He and I were as in love as you could possibly be. The only thing that could possibly throw a wrench into it was that he was an alien from another planet. And not only that, a right-wronging superhero powered by a gleaming emerald ring. Some girls might have been turned off knowing that. Not me. It only made him more attractive to me knowing that. Even when it turned out that we couldn’t make physical love, on account of the biological differences between his body and mine, it didn’t stop me from loving him deeply and passionately. Just as he was in love with me the same way.
Ultimately, it was the fact that he couldn’t adapt completely to the atmosphere of Earth, and that it essentially weakened and diminished him the longer he stayed, that led to his death. Just before he died, he asked me to take his ring, and to take over his superhero duties if I wanted to. Which I did. What better way to honor you, I told him, than to wear your ring as you did, fight the same battles you did, and win them?
If only I knew what I was getting myself into, I might not have done it. But I had the kind of love for him that makes you want to do whatever you’re asked of by the person you love, regardless of what is asked. And that’s how I became Candy Girl, whose might, valor, and power made me braver than I might have been otherwise. She’d helped me make friends and gain attention that I would never have known otherwise. So I had so much to thank Cantus for.
But now, she and the ring were gone. Thanks to the treachery of that termagant Lilith, my life as superhero and protective big sister were done.
And what of Finn?
What was going to happen to him now that I couldn’t save him? He was smart for his age, for sure. But was he any match for the Queen of the Demons and her entourage?
The thought of that made me cry again, and louder.
My wailing attracted unwanted attention. The same kind of demons I had fought successfully earlier came to surround me again. This time, I was powerless, and they had the advantage.
They were all about to jump on me, at the same time, when a loud voice cried out:
“Shaddai! Destroy Satan!”
The demons were scared stiff and tried to run off, but were vaporized into thin air. That was when whoever it was had said what had destroyed him made his appearance.
He was a balding old man, dressed in a simple white robe and red tunic. Not exactly a knight in shining armor, but he’d do.
“Thank you, sir,” I said, gratefully. “But, if you don’t mind me asking, who are you?”
“Wait.” I was scared. “You’re telling me you’re the leader of the evil Transformers?”
“Damned Hasbro!” he snapped under his breath. Then, returning to me, he continued.
“No. I happen to be an angel.”
“Why are you down here?”
“Because Lilith, my mortal enemy, put you down there. And we in Heaven can’t have that.”
“Ah. I see. If she’s the source of evil in your universe, you must be one of the good guys, then.”
“To answer your second question now,” he continued, “I came to get you out of this situation. Per special request from somebody else you already know.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“You’re Candace Van Draanen, aren’t you?”
“Also known as Candy Girl?”
He knew my secret identity! And that meant, if he decided to blab about it publicly…
“How did you know I was her?” I demanded. “I need to keep that a secret.”
“Not to me, or all of Heaven, it isn’t.”
“I told you. I’m an angel. We’re supposed to know and see everything. How else are we gonna help people with their problems when they pray to God? We gotta know what’s up with them to help them, especially if they won’t tell us straight up themselves. That’s especially true for the ones who are out guarding you human beings against the temptations of Lilith and her ilk. Santa Claus ain’t got nothing on us being able to see you and hear you the way we can, ‘cause God himself said let it be so. It’s not unlike you and your superhero buddies going out and saving the world all the time. Only you deal in the secular threats, and we deal in the sacred ones.”
“I’m not going to be able to be a superhero if you give away my secret. That is, if I get out of here and get my ring back.”
“You think I’m a gossip columnist or something? We don’t tell about the things we know. Even she who must be obeyed can’t make us. The only time we let people know about our secrets if they really want our help, and/or the world is going to be at stake otherwise. When it comes to the superheroes with secret identities- ‘cause they don’t all have ‘em- it’s strictly hands off. We got a gentlepeople’s agreement with them- they don’t bother us and we don’t bother with them. Beating evil’s a full time job, and we all got to do our share. So don’t even think about us ratting you out, ever again.”
“Okay, I won’t.” I was starting to feel better about him. “So who was it who requested that you come down here to help me?”
My eyes goggled and my jaw dropped.
“Cantus is in Heaven?” I said, in shocked.
“Why wouldn’t he be?” Metatron answered.
“He was an alien….”
“That doesn’t matter. He was on Earth when he died, so we got him. Besides, he was more than qualified to pass through our pearly gates. He was a fella who spent his whole life fighting valiantly against evil, same as us, and going through torture in the process, like you and we both do. And he never did anyone wrong, and was always kind to whomever he met. But you, being his girlfriend, would know that better than anyone.”
“I would. He loved me more than anything, and I did him, too. It’s wonderful to know he still thinks of me like that, even where he is now.”
“Well, enough of that. You must be itching to get vengeance on Lilith, and rescue Finn, as well.”
There was no point asking him how he knew who Finn was, or what his relation was to me. He just knew.
“I am,” I said, ruefully. “But I can’t do it when I’m trussed up like I belong in a butcher shop. Is there any way you know of for me to get out of here? I’ve pretty much exhausted all of my ideas for it.”
“This might come in handy.”
He had my ring!
“You found it!” I exclaimed. “But how did you…?”
“Again with the questions!” he snapped. “She was taking a nap, and I slipped it off easily. Trust me: she’s got enough power-granting rocks in her collection that she wouldn’t miss it. And you need it much more than she ever did.”
I nodded in complete agreement with what he said.
He placed the ring back on the finger it belonged on, without needing to ask me which one, of course. I mumbled my prayer, and I was out of my civilian identity and back in my Candy Girl identity and duds in a flash. My restored superhuman strength made short work of the ropes that had held me prisoner.
“Wow!” I said, as I observed a flexed arm muscle. “Not only am I back in business, but, somehow, I’m stronger than I was before. I certainly feel that way.”
“I took the liberty of adding additional power to your source,” he said. “Lilith weakened it in the course of your battle. That’s how she was able to beat you. But I put some magic firewalls in. Now you have your original power multiplied a couple of times. More than enough to thrash her and put her in her place. Or anybody else who tries to tangle with you, for that matter.
“Well, I better be getting back to Heaven. But remember: we’re on your side, whenever you need us.”
“I can’t thank you enough, Metatron. Make sure you let Cantus know I’m always thinking of him.”
“He knows. Especially now that you’re doing his old job, and very well. But now’s the time to show Lilith what you think of her.”
With that, my rescuer disappeared. And, with a flying leap and a raised fist that crashed easily through the floor above me, I was off to rescue my brother from Hell.
Once I had crashed my way through to the top, I ran rapidly between the rooms to try to find Finn. I found him just in the nick of time.
He was lying, unconscious, in a room full of demons. They were going to take advantage of his being out cold to do who knows what to him. Not on my watch!
“Beat it, chuckleheads!” I shouted passionately, as I made myself known.
The demons rushed as one to attack me, but I blasted them with some emerald light. Turned out it wasn’t just my super-strength that was torqued up thanks to Metatron. Before, I’d only been able to give the demons debilitating wounds with the blows from my light. Now, I could burn them to a crisp, right on the spots they stood on.
I revived Finn once I’d killed them off, and he held me tight.
“You were right, Candace,” he said, “and I was wrong. I should have listened to you, but I was so curious about…”
“Yeah, but you- and I- couldn’t have known it would lead to all this,” I said. “When I told you I wanted you to wait, or to avoid this all entirely, I was just trying to make sure you didn’t get hurt.”
“It reminded me so much of being abducted by aliens. They treated me like some mute object they were going to sacrifice for some reason. Nothing I said helped my cause. Then I saw something so frightening that I shrieked and passed out. I might have stayed that way- and become dead- if you hadn’t come.”
“Well, I know one thing for sure. We’re getting out of this place now, and fast.”
“Sooner the better.”
“And keep this in mind. If I forbid you to do anything dangerous, I’m not being mean or insensitive. It’s because I want you to be safe. Because I love you.”
“Same here,” he said, hugging me.
“Not so fast!” said a new voice.
Without a word of warning, Lilith was on the scene again. I protectively stepped in front of Finn, to protect him from what might happen next.
“What are you doing back up here?” she snarled. “You shoulda been carrion by now.”
“Ask your pal, Metatron,” I answered. “Thanks to him, I’m back in business, as you can see.”
“That dumb schlemiel!” she cursed. “Always getting in my business. Well, you ain’t leaving so long as I can help it.”
“And how can you be so sure of that?”
“You forgot already? I whipped your ass once already today, and I can do it again.”
“The only reason you ‘won’ was because you cheated. You used your magic to weaken me and strengthen yourself just when you needed. And then you stole my ring. You’re not tricking me with any more of your mind games, Lilith.”
“I cheated, huh? Well, it should be obvious to you that evil people don’t believe in being fair. Neither do good ones, either, as far as those busybody angels are concerned. But they aren’t around for me to strangle to death for giving me lip. Whereas you ARE!”
Bearing her fangs, the likes of which any vampire would envy, she lunged forward to grab at my throat.
But now she was no match for me. I pushed her aside easily when she came at me, and again when she did again. After she failed to stop me a third time, I stopped her. I aimed my ring at her midsection and aimed a blast at her midsection, which, as she screamed in pain, tore a big hole through the center of her gown. And her body as well. She slumped down to her knees, and then, weakened and diminished, faced me again on her feet.
“Okay,” she said. “You win. I’m licked. Whadaya want? That I should give you my kingdom, because I can do that…”
“I don’t want anything more to do with this place!” I growled.
“What do you want, then?”
“That’s obvious. To get out of here. With Finn. Immediately. With nobody stopping us from going. And one more thing.”
“You are going to get rid of those dumb stairways, and never use them again. The only beings of my race who should be here are the ones who deserve it. And you and your husband and your demons stay off Earth from now on! We got enough bad things happening here without you adding to them. In particular, you stay away from me and my brother. If you even try to lure us into this place again, I will grab you by your ugly face and I will beat you senseless. UNDERSTAND?”
“So be it,” she said. “I should care about you and your Earth. Get out of here, you thug! And take your little relation along with you.” And she walked away. “You make me so mad I could plotz!”
So I lifted Finn onto my shoulders, and, with my ability to fly restored, we high-tailed it out of there. Turns out we emerged back onto Earth not too far away from where we had seen the staircase. It was now gone, as I had commanded. Once we were back home and safe, I took the ring off and went back to being Candace- for the time being, anyway.
Maybe I scared Lilith enough to sour her on the idea of invading Earth permanently. Or maybe she’s just biding her time until she can restore her strength enough to battle me again.
I don’t know that for sure. But I do know for sure that the two most important men in my life- Finn and Cantus- are safe and sound where they are right now. And, for me, that’s all that really counts.
This story originally appeared in Original to this site.
Are the world's mightiest girl superheroes about to let an intergalactic cabal buy and sell Earth under the citizen's noses? Not likely! But it'll be a lot tougher to stop them than they thought....
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