The hero of my story “Shades of Red” (which should be available in the next month or so over at A Thousand Faces, stay tuned for more details!) was the Scarlet Ranger. She’s super strong, nigh invulnerable, kicks ass with the best of them (what am I saying, she is the best of them), and is the most beloved superhero of her city. She’s flirty, can cuss any damn boy under the table, and looks really hot wearing your sports jersey the morning after. She’s pretty much become my Buffy. In “Shades” she’s the veteran superhero who has to bail everyone else out of trouble when the fit hits the shan.
Originally, she was pretty much just a cardboard cutout, however. She was there to get killed in the first five pages. The rest of the story would be about the two-bit loser villain who inadvertently managed to kill her and how he deals with it. There was a whole thing. That story, however, morphed into what became “Shades of Red,” in which the Ranger takes the central role. Even while I was writing “Shades,” I had a lot of trouble getting a handle on her personality, up until the very end, when certain events I won’t give away happen and her reaction is just priceless. After writing that moment in the story, I had to go back and rewrite much of the earlier dialogue and interactions, because I finally had a handle on her.
Well, it’s been far too long since I’ve dipped into the Scarlet Ranger well, so I thought I’d take a little gander into her secret origin… (almost 1500 words!) Bloody hell, I’m enjoying this. Maybe I’ll make this my supernatural story.
(It’s Nee-kay, by the way, not like the shoe.)
Edit: I just realized the small television in the story is probably anachronistic. I don’t know. Were there TVs small enough for that in the ’70s?
The Awakening of Kelly Sienna
The little girl, her brunette pony tail floating in mid-air, spun the chair as fast as she could. She focused on the red vinyl, resisting vertigo. After a few pushes, she let the spins overtake her, and she dropped giggling to the floor of the salon. On the television on her mother’s station, a reporter and several soldiers trudged alongside a tank down a jungle road.
“Stop it, Kelly,” the little girl’s mother, Elizabeth, admonished. “You’ll make yourself sick.”
Tuesdays were always slow at the salon. Kelly’s mother and two other stylists, Carol and Jessica, sat around cleaning the mirrors for the third time that day. Kelly climbed back into the chair so that she could properly slouch and pout. She watched the television for a moment. The reporter held his hat as a pair of helicopters flew overhead. The sound was turned down, so she couldn’t hear any of what he was saying.
“Will daddy be home soon now?” she called to her mother.
Elizabeth glanced at the television, and her lips tightened. “Soon, baby, soon.” Carol and Jessica exchanged sympathetic looks, then went back to their unnecessary cleaning.
A car screeched down the street, and Kelly perked up at the sound of metal clunking against metal. Then the unmistakable clink of shattered glass. Car horns honked, and people cried out, first in anger, then in alarm.
“I swear that light down there is broken,” clucked Carol. She stepped out the front door to look down the street. Kelly couldn’t hear the bell hanging above the door ring, though. She heard more brakes squealing and crashes growing increasingly louder.
“Oh God!” Carol cried. She jumped back into the salon and slammed the door closed. “It’s a monster! I-”
The rest of Carol’s warning was lost in the sudden whirlwind of activity outside. The front wall of the salon was little more than a pair of huge windows, affording Kelly and the three stylists a view of the entire street beyond. A cluster of people ran and stumbled past in a panic, screaming and looking back over their shoulders. A car shuddered to a halt right in front of the salon, and Kelly saw the driver throw up his hands in terror. Seconds later, Carol’s monster slammed across the hood.
Kelly had never seen anything like it. The creature had a human body, but huge and thickly muscled, dressed in a sculpted breastplate and some sort of leather skirt. But its head was that of a massive bull. Long horns curved up from the top of its skull, shattering the car’s windshield. The front of the car crumpled under its weight. Steam erupted from underneath the hood, and a massive pool of various oils splattered across the road.
Carol and Jessica screamed and ran for the back of the salon. Kelly felt her mom’s arms wrap around her, but couldn’t tear her eyes from the scene in the street. Kelly gripped the arm of her chair, white knuckles wrapping around the arm rest.
“Kelly! We have to go, now!” her mom shouted.
The bull-thing snorted and struggled to wrench free of the car’s engine block. Before it could stand, though, another figure entered the fray. An angel landed atop the car, straddling the monster. Kelly stared, eyes wide, her breath caught in her throat. She’d seen a few pictures of the hero Nike, but had never imagined her so beautiful. Her short black hair was bound tightly and decorated with a thin wreath. A slight sheen of sweat glistened on her pale skin. A long white dress belted by a red sash wrapped around her lean torso. Her gorgeous feathered wings flexed at their full span. She perched atop the vehicle’s hood in simple sandals. Nike wasted no time, bending over the monster and pummeling it’s chest and face with heavy blows that shook the windows. The creature roared its fury.
“The back is blocked! Liz, help!” Carol cried. “This old chair is in the way!”
“Mommy’ll be right back, baby!” Kelly’s mom vanished, but Kelly hardly noticed. Her eyes locked onto the two combatants.
The minotaur suddenly reached up past Nike’s fists to grasp her milky neck. Nike choked and gripped his forearm for a moment, then the beast hurled her away. Straight at the salon.
Kelly gasped and spun the chair to face away from the window. She heard the shatter and felt the shudder through the chair. Nike crashed heavily through the front desk and tumbled across the floor. Her hand fell into Kelly’s view, just a few feet away. Kelly eased a peek over the back of the chair.
The minotaur leapt from the remains of the car and slammed through what remained of the salon’s front door and window. Nike rolled to her feet, seemingly unfazed by the attack. A wing swept just inches from Kelly’s face.
The two combatants grappled mere feet from Kelly’s chair. She watched the muscles twitch and strain. The minotaur roared and snorted, Nike grunted with exertion but occasionally let out an exaltation of joy whenever she managed to land a solid blow.
Kelly glanced back toward the back of the salon. Carol and Jessica cowered behind Elizabeth. Kelly’s mother mouthed to her, gesturing for her to stay still. It’s going to be okay, just hold on! Elizabeth’s eyes twitched from the two warriors to her daughter, and she swayed a bit, as if trying to work up the courage to run out to her child, just waiting for an opportunity.
Nike’s eye caught Kelly’s, for just an instant. Then the hero grasped the bull’s horns and hurled her opponent toward the opposite wall. She leapt away as the monster crashed through the far wall and into the deli next door.
Elizabeth instantly rushed to Kelly’s side. She scooped her daughter up from the chair. “We have to go now!” she said, firmly but calmly in her Mom voice.
Suddenly the floor shook, and dust sprinkled on them from the ceiling. The battle waged back into the salon. The minotaur charged blindly, Nike clinging to his head and horns, feet skidding across the floor, scrabbling for purchase on the slick tiles.
“No!” Elizabeth cried. She twisted and ducked below the small shelf where the stylist kept her assorted supplies. Nike and the minotaur slammed into the wall just inches away. Jagged chunks of shattered mirror rained on the floor. The wall collapsed under their weight, and bricks and sheetrock fell all around. Kelly clenched her eyes shut and covered her ears. It sounded like the entire city fell around them. She felt her mother’s grip tighten. Kelly finally screamed.
Kelly woke to the sound of brick scraping on brick. She hurt all over. She tasted something thick and wet in her mouth. She took a tentative, shaky breath, and instantly started coughing uncontrollably as she inhaled a cloud of dust. More bricks and debris pulled free, and she felt steely, cold hands grab her shoulders and haul her out into the open air.
Nike held her aloft for a moment the same way Kelly might have held a doll. Dark eyes met her own. Nike’s mouth formed a hard line. “I am sorry, child,” she said in a husky voice. “I should not have let Moloch conscious for so long. I have failed you all.” Nike cleared a space with her feet, then gently set Kelly down on the cracked tile.
Kelly felt tears welling up, and her chest quivered. “My…my mommy…”
Nike kneeled beside her. “I am afraid none of these women survived,” she said. “If your mother was among them, she is with the Elysium now.”
Kelly understood only parts of this explanation, but she understood enough. She’d heard enough on the news about distant wars and her daddy’s friends to know the word “survived.” Her face fell, and her shoulders shook with anguish.
Nike’s delicate brow furrowed. Her eyes wandered to Kelly’s clenched fists. The woman took the girl’s hands in her own.
“You have strength within you to overcome this,” Nike said. She leaned forward. Kelly felt soft lips, lips like her mother’s, graze her forehead. At the goddess’s kiss, Kelly’s physical pains fell away, and the tension bunching up her shoulders eased. A warmth spread from her heart to tingle in every part of her body.
“And I will forever lend you my strength,” Nike continued. She pulled free her scarlet sash and wrapped it around Kelly’s clenched fist.
Kelly sniffed and watched as Nike stood. The hero strode to the inert form of the minotaur and heaved him up over her shoulder. She looked back at the young girl. “May you wield it with better wisdom than I.”