Mommy bursts through the door.
I jump up from the bottom step. “You got one!” I squeal, spotting the box she’s carrying.
She’s panting and shaking. She slams the door shut and slides the bolt across just as something crashes into the other side.
“I want that box, Lucille!” a big voice shouts. It’s Mr. Clarke, Bobby’s daddy from next door. I know from when he shouted at me for breaking his window with my ball. “My boy needs those pieces!” He bangs and bangs, and the door shakes.
“So does my boy!” Mommy shouts back before pulling me away. “Let’s make some hot cocoa and find out what’s in our box, shall we, Cole?”
Mommy closes the kitchen door so we can’t hear Mr. Clarke. I slurp my cocoa at the table, watching, my tummy full of butterflies, as she cuts the box open with the kitchen scissors.
I try to stand up on my chair to see inside.
“Sit down.” Mommy says. “You’ll break your neck.”
I slap my hands on the table. “But I can’t see.”
She rolls the sleeves up on her baggy pink sweater. “Sit still and Mommy will show you.”
She reaches into the box and starts pulling out shiny silver things, putting them on the table.
“What are they?” I say.
“I think…” she says, picking up a long silver tube, “this might go around your arm.” And she slips her hand into the tube and pulls it up her arm, like a long bracelet.
“Why would the space men give us jewelry?”
She laughs. “I don’t think it’s jewelry.” But then her face turns serious and sad, like it does when I ask about Daddy.
She looks at me and smiles. “I think it’s a superhero costume.” She grabs the heart-shaped silver thing and squishes it against her boobies. “See?”
“Bobby says the space men won’t answer our army because they’re preparing for battle, and that they’re dropping the boxes from their ships to ‘make the fight fairer’, because otherwise it wouldn’t be ‘good sport’. Is he right?”
Mommy leans in and tickles my chin with her long nails.
“Stop it, Mommy!” I say, giggling.
She laughs, then goes quiet. “I don’t know what the space men want, but Bobby’s right, they might not be friendly. That’s why we need to make our costumes, because superheroes are…?”
“Brave!” I shout, bouncing on my chair.
“And they never…”
“That’s right!” She bangs her fist on the table. “Let’s get to work.”
She rips up one of her old shirts, stitching and gluing strips to the “breast plate”. I start feeling fuzzy and warm, and Mommy goes blurry.
I see Mommy’s hands, stitching… I feel them stroking… lifting me…
I wake up in my bed to Mommy shouting. “Wake up, Cole!”
“Be quiet, Mommy.” I pull my sheets over my head.
A massive bang makes me jump and throw my sheets off. My whole room shakes.
“The space men are coming. Put your costume on.”
She helps me into my costume, then pulls my swimming goggles over my head.
“Are we going swimming?” I ask.
“Superheroes need to protect their eyes.”
She carries me down the stairs, and picks up a long stick — taller than me — from the floor and gives it to me.
“Is this the mop handle?”
“No. Your magic spear. Careful,” she says, tapping the point at the top, “it’s sharp.” She grabs a hammer from the shelf next to the door. “When I open the door, run for the car. We need to get to Uncle Mitch’s.”
“Because he has lots of guns?”
“Because he’s family, but yes, that too… Ready?”
I stamp my spear. “Ready.”
“One, two, three!” she says, and flings the door open.
We run, but I see the aircraft in the sky — the explosions, the booms — and I can’t feel my legs. Mommy pulls me down the path, then suddenly lets go of my hand.
Our car is driving away up the street. Bobby’s looking out the back window, crying. Mr. Clarke sticks his hand out the driver’s window; his middle finger is up.
Mommy runs after them. “Wait!” But she’s too slow.
Our car zooms away. Mommy runs back to me.
“He was a wearing superhero costume,” I say.
“What?” she says, puffing.
“Bobby had a superhero costume… but they left us.”
“Anyone can wear a costume. It’s what’s underneath that counts.”
The sky cracks, like thunder. The clouds part, swirling and bubbling, and a huge space ship, like a black pebble, glides out. The sky fills with orange and smoke as our aircraft fire at the space men. Our neighbors scream and run. They look so afraid; they make me feel afraid. I try to run but Mommy grabs my arms and kneels next to me.
“We have to run, Mommy!”
“Listen, Cole!” She’s using the voice that always makes me listen. “There’s nowhere to run. We have to stay and fight to protect each other, because… we’re superheroes. And superheroes are brave… and loyal, and…” Her eyes go watery and red.
“They never give up!” I shout.
She smiles, tickles my chin, says, “You’re damn right they don’t,” and stands up, pumping her hammer into the air.
Her frizzy red hair blows behind her, showing her serious face and fierce eyes… She looks like a ferocious lioness, like she did when she kicked Daddy out for hurting me.
A funny feeling creeps up from my belly — the same feeling I got when I came second in the school spelling bee.
I’m still scared but I hold her other hand and raise my magic spear, ready to face the space men…
An old brown car screeches to a stop outside our gate and Uncle Mitch climbs out, holding his massive shotgun and grinning like he does when he watches those car crash shows.
Mommy smiles. “Well, he’s no Superman, but he’ll do.”
Leanne A. Styles is a crime and science fiction author living on the south coast of England. She regularly has short stories and flash fiction pieces published online, with works appearing in Daily Science Fiction, Every Day Fiction and 365tomorrows. When she’s not busy writing, she spends her time supporting people affected by cancer.