No answer. Wren groaned and shoved a few more things aside in the fridge. "DAAAAAD!" he called again. "WHERE'S MY SOY MILK?!"
When his voice echoed hopelessly around the cavernous innards of the mansion, he shut the fridge door and stalked over to one of the many enormous touch screens that decorated the walls. He flipped through to the master security feed and selected a frame, which enlarged to fill the screen when he did so. Maniacal laughter spilled out of the speakers, accompanied by dramatic violins and trumpets that sounded like it was coming from the old record player again.
"And now!" the voice announced, "The time has come for you to witness-"
"Dad," Wren said pointedly, folding his arms and frowning.
A man in a lab coat with his back to the camera paused briefly, then continued his rant. He flung his rubber-gloved arms wide and cried out again, this time to the crash of lightning overhead. "Now the time has come for you to wi-"
"Dad!" Wren barked again.
The record player skipped and stopped, and his dad twitched and turned around, peeling his goggles back from his face. "Wren, you may not have noticed, but I am very busy right now!"
Wren didn't care. He was getting annoyed. "Where's my soy milk?"
"That's what this interruption is about?" his dad blustered.
"You didn't throw it out again, did you?"
"Listen to me, young man," he said, lowering his voice and glancing furtively over his shoulder at the hero strapped to the table behind him, "that vile liquid is an abomination, and I will not have it in this house!"
"Well I bought it, so leave it alone." Wren stuck out his bottom lip on the side with the piercing and stood with his hip cocked to one side, radiating sass.
His dad continued to pitch a fit, but he got tired of listening and switched the screen back to the homepage, with the Vortex Industries logo rotating slowly in the corner. Another day, another losing battle against his dad's ridiculous rules. Wren rummaged through the pantry and found a bag of his favorite vegetable chips and a half-finished tub of hummus in the fridge, then carried it all up to his room.
"Hey, Wren," a voice called at him from one of the cages hanging by the stairs.
Wren gave him a high five on his way up. "Hey, Sky, what's up?" Sky Surfer was one of his favorite heroes. Not too brilliant or very gifted in the powers department, but captured frequently meant he was someone Wren saw a lot of. And since Wren knew where all the trick latches and trap doors were, and he had unlimited fridge access, he was someone you wanted to be friends with if you were a hero who was still trying to get his bearings in Doctor Vortex's neck of the woods.
"Just hanging out," he said with a goofy grin. "You know, same old, same old. How's the weather out there?"
"Nice. Sunny." Wren tossed him a chip and waved to excuse himself up the stairs. "Talk soon, man. I got homework."
"Always so responsible," Sky Surfer sighed wistfully. "We'll make a hero out of you yet!"
Wren rolled his eyes and continued up the stairs, waving or saying hello to the various heroes lining the pathway. "Violetta, good to see you! Ah, Storm Surge, I warned you about the sewage lines! Got mixed up with the hounds again, eh, Minigun?" He grinned as he rounded the top of the stairs and set off for his room. The plush carpet muffled his steps, even with the enormous combat boots that swallowed his feet. He could have easily had a computer the size of the one in his dad's underground lab, but a slim laptop was more his speed. He loaded up VIM and spread his books out on his bed, balancing his snacks on the edge of the desk so he could reach them. He started with history. It was the hardest subject for him, but through sheer determination and hours of studying, he still managed an A. A-, sometimes, but still an A. And if he was going to do anything with his life, he needed a bulletproof GPA.
His computer made the "someone's online" sound, and he glanced over to see who it was. He grinned again and sent a message. A window popped up on the screen.
'Back to work, you fool'
He laughed aloud and wrote back. 'How did you know I was doing homework?? rude'
'because that's all you ever do'
Maggie was his best friend, not entirely because she was Captain Candela's daughter, though it annoyed his dad enough that it did help. More importantly, she didn't treat him like either a celebrity or a demon spawn, though he had come to love the second one because it was so outrageous. Wren dressed dark and scary sometimes, but he didn't really want to be evil.
He finished the history questions and moved on to math. Maggie was a super-genius when it came to numbers, and it was no secret that her parents worried about that. It was usually the smart kids that became villains, or at least the successful villains had started out as smart kids. But Maggie didn't have it in her to be evil. She wanted to run a business.
Another new message. Maggie usually didn't bother him while he was studying, even when he said it was okay. But this wasn't Maggie.
'Are you tired of paying full price for your ray guns and doomsday devices? Henchmen uniforms costing you more than an arm and a leg? Then come on down to Deadly Dynamo's World of Surplus, where-'
Wren groaned and closed the message window, then took an extra second to block the sender. Another spambot, as usual. He was always getting emails and instant messages intended for someone much more evil. They really needed to up their security protocols and get an antivirus software, but his dad insisted it was fine.
He was in the middle of a multi-step algebra problem when alarm bells and sirens pierced the air, reverberating around the mansion. He rolled his eyes and tried to ignore it, but when it didn't stop after a few seconds, he slid off the bed and went over to his window. It overlooked the front lawn, a swath of green against the magnificent rows of trees and marble statues lining the property. Beyond that was their view of the city. It was all very impressive and expensive, but for now, Wren was looking at the front gate. A neon orange shape was trying to climb over the top of it.
"Great," he mumbled. The dogs were already running full tilt across the lawn and jumping at the intruder. Wren wished he could roll his eyes harder as he went to his bookcase and stood on the pressure plate hidden under the carpet. When he pressed the switch hidden under the second shelf, the floor dropped out from under him, and he slid down a tube that spat him out on the ground floor, directly below his bedroom window. He put his hands in his pockets and lazily walked over to the scene of the commotion.
"Hanging out?" he asked wryly.
"Do not mock me!" the hero cried, panting and struggling to stay atop the barbs of the fence. The dogs jumped and barked relentlessly, froth building up around their tongues. "I am the Golden Griffin!" A hapless pair of costume wings sagged pitifully on his back.
"How about Sergeant Safety Cone?" he offered instead. The poor guy had to be color blind if he thought that was a shade of gold.
"Silence! Waaaaah!" He disentangled himself from the top of the fence, then fell and hit the ground with a hard thud. Wren called the dogs off, but not before one of them ripped a sizable chunk out of the Golden Griffin's spandex pants. Boxers covered in hearts. Heroes were so typical.
"Look, man, I'll let you go just this once, okay?" Wren opened the pedestrian gate next to the main one and held it open. The dogs walked in circles around his legs, now hurting for attention more than anything else. "Why don't you take up directing traffic instead? I hear the force is always hiring."
The man collected himself, tried to stop crying, and shuffled out the gate. "I will return!" he tried again, halfheartedly. "With a vengeance!"
Wren shook his head and closed the gate with a loud clang as the would-be hero scurried down the leaf-covered drive. He dug a few old bacon snacks out of his pocket and fed them to the dogs, then shooed them away, back toward the kennels. How was a kid supposed to get any work done under these conditions? Thankfully he really only had his English homework left, and that was a cinch. Wren did a lot of reading whether he had to or not.
He didn't see his dad until Doctor Vortex called him down for dinner. He wrinkled his nose as he sat at the other end of the absurdly long table. "Really?"
"Wren, must we really go over this day in and day out?" his dad said, annoyed. "Protein is vital to success."
"That's what lentils are for," he grumbled, trying not to look at the oversized stuffed goose gracing the center of the table. He helped himself to the cinnamon sweet potatoes and arugula salad. It was a shame about the brussels sprouts and pearl onions; normally he loved them, but he could smell the bacon grease from his seat, so he'd have to pass on them this time. "How was work? Busy?"
Doctor Vortex shook his head in disappointment as he selected samples from each dish. "These heroes will put me in an early grave," he complained. "Of course, if I had help..."
"Well, dad, I'd love to, but I'm busy trying not to fail out of high school." Wren knew he was scowling - he had a habit of scowling and slouching, as had often been pointed out to him - but his face lit up when one of the servants set a small bowl of seasoned tofu next to his plate. Greta winked at him. She was like a grandma, except with even better cooking chops.
"Oh, I remember those days," the mad doctor sighed. "That was when I discovered I was truly evil, you know," he added, pointing at Wren with the tines of his fork.
"You know what's pure evil?" Wren asked through a mouthful of tofu. "The meat industry."
"Don't talk with your mouth full. It's unbecoming."
Wren kept his mouth shut. Sometimes it was better not to push all his dad's buttons at once. He sipped at a glass of carrot juice. "Learned something cool from Mrs. Sellers today. Did you know prostitution grew out of prohibition?"
His dad raised an eyebrow, the perfect complement to his curled mustache.
"Yeah, it's kinda cool actually. See," Wren paused and wiped his mouth with a napkin before continuing, "there was a loophole in the law - in New Orleans, anyway, I don't know about anywhere else - where alcohol could be served in hotels on Sundays. And a hotel was any building that had at least ten beds in it. So all these saloons started putting beds in their upstairs areas, and voila: prostitution." He grinned, so proud of himself.
"Am I paying too much for this school again?"
Wren just cocked an eyebrow and went for his carrot juice.
He dropped an apple and a pudding cup in Sky's cage on his way up to his room for the night. One of the hounds howled outside, probably on cue, assuming some hero was trying to sneak in through the storm drain or burrow under the electric fence. He grabbed his phone and told the room to play some Beethoven to drown it out. The next day was a busy one as far as school was concerned, and he needed some sleep.
Wren flipped some of his hair out of his face as he waited for someone to come to the door. It was a very careful just-as-long-as-halfway-down-the-ear side fringe, since that was as long as his school allowed, but that meant it wouldn't stay tucked behind his ear. He had been trying to think of ways to shave half his head and get away with it. So far, no luck.
Movement flickered behind the side windows, and the tall, heavy white door opened, revealing an upper-middle-aged man in tennis whites with a pastel sweater tied loosely around his neck. "Oh, hello, Wren," he said with a small smile. "Maggie's not ready yet, but we have extra waffles if you're interested."
"Thanks, Mr. Lumen, but I already ate." He was more of a banana oatmeal kind of guy, anyway.
"Well, better wait inside, or the Mrs. will wring my neck." He stepped aside, and Wren shuffled past him, careful to wipe his feet on the welcome mat first. The two-inch thick treads on his boots had a habit of tracking mud, especially when he walked the whole way to the bottom of their driveway first, which he usually tried to if it wasn't raining too hard. Even then, he would've, except Greta's husband, Hans, would always insist on driving him as far as possible.
Maggie's house wasn't quite as huge as his, but to be fair, it probably wasn't hiding a secret underground lair, either. (Well, that might not be true. Candace Lumen must have had a secret operations room or whatever it was heroes had, probably hidden away behind a swinging bookcase or under a specially-triggered hatch.) Wren set his backpack on the floor and sat at the kitchen table. Maggie's mom was just bringing out a fresh pitcher of orange juice.
"Hey, Wren, you're just in time for breakfast," she said warmly, wiping her hands on her apron after she set the pitcher in front of him.
"That's really nice of you, but I'll just take some juice." He poured it himself. Sometimes he got tired of having everything done for him.
"Maggie! Wren's here, get the lead out!" Mrs. Lumen called up the stairs.
Maggie rounded the corner into the kitchen a minute later. She'd put her hair up in pigtails and braided them with red ribbons.
"Halloween isn't til tomorrow," Wren pointed out, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
"I'm getting a head start," she said. "Also, Halloween is every day. Jerk." She smeared a waffle with peanut butter and folded it around some banana slices.
"Alright, you two, better not be late," Mrs. Lumen said, shooing them away so she could start getting the table cleaned up. Wren slung his bag over one shoulder and followed Maggie to the door. He was taller, but she had gotten used to keeping up with tall people, so frequently he was the one who had to catch up.
Maggie skipped down the street like she was much younger. "Did you finish your costume yet?" she asked.
"Mostly," Wren said. "I just have to finish the tail and reattach one of the eyes. They're just marbles. They don't want to stay."
"Well, get it together, Wrennington, because we are going to win Best Costume or die trying."
"Or you'll kill me, is what you mean," he corrected.
"Yeah, pretty much." She twirled in a circle as she skipped, but she still managed to stay ahead of him.
Wren kicked a rock down the sidewalk. They traveled in relative silence most of the way, until they got into the city itself and he saw something he recognized. It was painted on the side of a building peeking out over the top of a cinder block wall topped with barbed wire. He must have passed it a million times without realizing it was there. "Hey, these guys sent me a spam message yesterday," he said, pointing up at the name. Some of the paint around the last S in the name was wearing off from the brick, but it was still readable.
Maggie stood on her toes as if it would help her see better. "World of Surplus, huh? Sounds boring."
"No kidding. How desperate do you have to be if you're advertising through IMs?"
They had separate classes first period, but they would meet up again for second and third. Maggie bounced down the hallway to Spanish, while Wren shuffled off to History. He really did try his best, but often he found himself reading through other parts of the textbook during the lectures, trawling for interesting information. He handed in his homework and settled in to listen. If he could manage even a page of notes, it would be a success.
Thankfully, the teachers seemed to be in a good mood, what with Halloween being on a Friday, so he didn't have to take much work home with him. Maggie had to stay after for band practice, but he promised (via text) that he would spend every waking moment working on his costume so it would be perfect for the contest tomorrow. They were doing Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf. Maggie insisted on making everything from scratch, but Wren had gotten one of those hat-scarf-gloves combination things and just added stuff onto it. The claws were cool. He'd made the gloves detachable in case he wanted to wear them outside of the holiday.
He passed the surplus place on his way back and stopped outside of it, slightly curious. It was a three-story brick building, square, with an opening at the front of the wall to let customers park inside. Large bell shaped lamps on curved stems hung over the edge and presumably lit up the name at night, and a cartoony villain burst out the side of the name, with lightning bolts clutched in his hands.
Wren stood and watched the front of the building from the other side of the street. Cars filtered in and out of its entryway. A long iron gate on rollers stretched across the opening, and he assumed it closed at night. Whenever customers opened the doors, he could see inside for a moment. It looked like it had the concrete floor of a warehouse, and beyond that were rows of shelves. Like any other store.
He chewed on his lip ring. Interesting.
His phone buzzed. Mags was texting him, telling him to send progress pictures of his costume to prove he was actually working on it like he said he would. He smirked softly to himself and kept walking as he replied. She might believe him if he said he had to do his homework first.
"Haven't gotten arrested yet?"
If it were possible for his mood to have a smell, Wren's would have been one hell of a kind of sour. He forced himself to keep from whirling around in anger and casually stuffed his phone back into his pocket. There were better ways to handle this than the ones he was considering.
So he threw on his best game-winning smile and turned. "Haven't lopped that rat's nest off your head yet?"
The hero pretended to coif his perfect sculpture of platinum blond hair. Wren was convinced he paid someone to polish it twice a day. With shoe shine. "Freely wandering the streets as if you're not just a common criminal. You've got me impressed, Wren. And I mean that," he added, placing a meaningful hand over his heart.
Wren could've growled, but he pulled the mask of his composure on tight. "Actually, I was hoping to run into you, Tripp."
His eye twitched, and he seethed. "It's Trifecta," he snarled at Wren.
Wren just kept his cool grin. He could see why his dad loved pissing off heroes so much. But to his credit, Tripp - "Trifecta" - wasn't like any hero he'd ever met. He was one good hairdo away from being a villain. "Is it? Haven't seen you in the papers lately for any good deeds. Maybe saving the world's just not all it's cracked up to be." He pretended to shake his head in disappointment. "Or is that just you? I forget."
"Watch your mouth, villainous scum," Tripp growled.
"Villainous Scum? Pretty sure that's on the bottle of toilet cleaner," Wren said, mockingly holding his hands up in surrender. He couldn't stop laughing. "Oh, please don't hurt me, Mr. Clean!"
He had gone a step too far. Tripp reappeared in front of him and knocked him to the ground hard enough to rattle his eyes in his skull. Wren was so stunned he couldn't get up right away, and when he finally sat up holding a hand against the back of his head, it was to the tune of Tripp's bubbling laughter.
"Looks like you need to be reminded who the hero is around here," Tripp said, towering over him with his arms folded and a gleaming smirk.
On any other day, Wren would have mumbled a reply, peeled himself off the concrete, and shuffled home with little more injured than his pride. But something about the sight of Tripp looming and leering at him with that stupid platinum-colored shiny "T" on his chest - even on his damn t-shirts - well, Wren...snapped.
When he finally woke up, it was because a kid was nudging him with the front wheel of his bike. "Hey mister. Hey mister. Hey mister."
"Nrrgh," Wren managed. Things were swollen, bruised, and maybe even broken. His lip ring felt like a handcuff. He shifted around and realized he was in the bushes at the edge of the park. Which meant he was miles away from home. He sat up, slowly, body screaming in pain, and tried to brush some crisp leaves out of his hair with his one good arm.
"Are you homeless?" the boy asked, tilting his head slightly.
"No, I'm not homeless," Wren moaned. He forced himself up.
"But you're sleeping in the bushes," the kid insisted.
Wren didn't know a lot about children, but he knew how to freak them out, so he made a huge show out of pulling the silver ring out of his busted lip. He was even a little pleased when some blood ended up smeared along his teeth.
"I'm gonna go," the boy announced. He pedaled away, but not without stealing some backward glances at the weird, lanky guy he'd discovered in the bushes.
Wren knew he would have to face the music at some point, so he might as well get it out of the way. He dialed Hans.
"You should have called us sooner!" Greta said in a huff as she dabbed at a particularly large cut over his eye.
"Ow!" Wren yelped. He hated peroxide. "I didn't really have a chance, Greta. I'm sorry."
"That boy is nothing but trouble," she continued, talking over and around him as she nursed his various wounds. He was seated on the edge of the tub and trying to remember to hold an ice pack under his chin as he talked.
"It was my own fault. After he knocked me down the first time, I made the mistake of fighting back."
"Keep that on your chin, dear," Greta said, pushing his hand with the ice pack toward his face again. She sighed and shook her head. "Wren, I know you're a peaceful boy, but I'm surprised at you, letting someone push you around like this. And we'd best make sure you-know-who doesn't see you like this," she added with a knowing look.
Wren groaned. He hadn't even thought about that. Nothing like a lecture from his dad about the dangers of letting heroes win and why the Natural Order of Things© dictated that he thwart them at every turn. Maybe he could say he fell down an elevator shaft full of rocks.
He stood slowly, bones creaking like an old man's, once Greta was done patching him up. He had plenty of jars of concealer and foundation for just such an occasion, but the swelling would be a dead giveaway no matter how many pounds of cream and powder he applied. He checked the clock on a wall screen - it was past dinner time, but his dad must have been working late again, or he would have heard about it by now. He wasn't hungry anyway; it would be all he could do to keep something down.
Wren didn't often use the elevator to the upper floors, but this time he didn't think he could navigate the stairs without falling. Luckily, the elevator was in a different part of the house, so he didn't have to face all the captured heroes like he normally did. Sure, most of them were pretty cool - if a bit bumbling - but some weren't so nice. He was the son of a supervillain, after all.
When he did get to his room after plodding miserably down the hall, he found his backpack waiting for him, along with a bowl of Hans's almost-famous "allium soup," a stack of saltine crackers, and a pot of tea. He settled in to work on his homework, glad there wasn't much. Then he remembered he still had his costume to work on, too, and he sighed.
Speaking of which, he had quite a few unread messages from Maggie.
'okay bruh even you don't take THIS long to do your homework'
'i'm going to the store with my mom but when i get back i expect a photo album detailing your progress'
'did you drop your phone in a lake or something??'
'Okay, Wren, I know 110% that you're not mad at me, so now I'm just getting worried. Please text me back or something.'
It wasn't quite 10p.m., so he decided a phone call would probably be safe. She picked up almost instantly.
"What the hell, man? Are you okay?"
Wren hadn't technically done anything wrong, but he still felt a twinge of guilt when he heard how worried she sounded. "Yeah, I'm sorry. I ran into Tripp on the way home."
"Are you freaking kidding me?" There was a slam, like she had banged her fist on the desk. "We have to do something about that guy."
"That's the problem. I tried."
Maggie groaned. "Oh, Wrennels, don't you know better? He's 'the Trifecta,'" she said, using the voice she reserved for mocking stupid people. She was right, though. He had the three most-wanted superpowers: super strength, super speed, and flight. And Wren had picked a fight with him.
"Yeah, I won't forget that for a while. Well, I better get to work. Haven't even started on the costume yet."
"Do you want help? I can sneak out," Maggie offered hopefully.
Wren poured himself some tea. It was something rich and spicy. "It's okay. I'll see you tomorrow, assuming I don't keel over in the middle of the night."
"You'd better not. I can't be both characters myself."
Wren was smiling when he hung up, but he still felt like garbage. He drank as much of the soup as he could at once - onions, leeks, garlic, and potatoes, all pureed into golden pepper-studded bliss - and then set to work. It was going to be a long night.
"How's my hood? Is the edge coming up again?" Maggie sounded anxious as they waited outside the amphitheater.
Wren inspected the seam where the red hood met the cloak spread over her shoulders. "It looks fine. Very professional."
Maggie breathed out to steel herself and stepped in place a few times, as if getting ready to run a marathon.
"It'll be fine, Mags," Wren said, tugging his hat down lower over his eyes. "Mine kinda looks like Chewbacca, on the other hand."
"Well, maybe if you stopped running around getting your ass beat after school... I'm sorry. That was mean." Maggie held up her basket. "Muffin?"
"Aren't those for your granny?" Wren asked with a grin. A familiar voice flickered into his range of hearing. It dissolved his smile into something else entirely. "Oh, look, Tripp dressed up as himself. How pathetic."
Maggie shook her head sadly. "We should take pity on our lesser peers, Wrenderson. Such a beacon of justice and mercy I am fated to be." She acted like she was going to pull a dramatic faint. "Really I just want to introduce his face to Shadowbreaker."
"Careful, his hair might try to ask it out," Wren said. Shadowbreaker was her mom's sword, a shaft of pure light that was her signature weapon. He wasn't even sure Maggie could touch it without getting burned, but he figured she would probably be the next closest person who could besides her mom.
"Do I need to teach you another lesson, twerp?" Tripp asked from behind him.
Maggie pushed Wren aside before he could answer. "Picking on innocent people again, Tripp?
Tripp snorted. "That's a funny way of putting it."
"Just back off," Wren muttered, not looking at him. His cheekbone was bruised under the makeup he'd applied with a paintbrush, and his lip was still too swollen to wear his piercing.
"That's what I thought," Tripp said breezily, raising his chin as if staring into a distant spotlight. "If you know what's good for you, you'll crawl back to the gutter where you belong."
Wren didn't feel the surge of angry heat in his chest this time. Now he just wanted to go back to a world without Tripp.
Maggie didn't feel the same way. "Step off, Tripley, or I'll make you regret it."
A flicker of annoyance broke his serene expression. Maggie smirked. No one - no one - used Tripp's real name. But there was nothing he could do in a room full of witnesses, even if those witnesses were busy fawning over each other's costumes.
Tripp stalked away without further incident. Wren tried to shake it off. The contest was about to start.
The office administrator's amplified voice echoed around the room, but it was muffled where they were. They waited in a fog of building anticipation as she ran through the introduction, the categories, and a few attempts to get the whole assembly excited. First were the individual costumes. Tripp would likely be entering that one, dressed as himself since he couldn't think of anything else. Wren and Maggie offered high fives to everyone as they filed out onto the stage. He was kinda bummed they would have to find out the winners secondhand, but at least they would get to watch the teachers' category. That was always the funniest one by far.
"Okay, we're up," Maggie said.
Wren was feeling shaky and excited as they stepped onto the stage from the wings. It was like being a rock star and walking out to the cheering of an adoring crowd. Maggie skipped across the stage, pigtail braids trailing out from inside her red hood, while he slunk along behind her, claws up. When she abruptly stopped and turned around, he flung his hands behind his back and straightened up, pretending to be on a leisurely stroll through the woods. He even managed a few seconds of the Thriller dance before they had to make way for the next competitors. They were laughing and grinning uncontrollably, so much that Wren almost forgot how much his wounds were stinging.
There were a Kylo Ren and Rey, Justin Bieber being chased by a police officer, a Pokemon trainer and a Charmander - Wren had a feeling they wouldn't win unless there were points for classic combos, but it was pretty cool to be right in the middle of it all, anyway. He loved theater for the same reason.
"Thank you, everyone, for these amazing costumes! What a turnout this year! If everyone could please cast their votes, we should have a final tally for you here in a minute..."
It was like a game show in a lot of ways. Every seat came equipped with a handheld screen, kind of like a phone, where people could make their selections. It had been the invention of their newest assistant principal, one of the few authority figures Wren genuinely liked. Not quite a hero, Dr. Sine was a brilliant inventor. Managing student affairs gave her plenty of time to work on her crazy inventions, and even though some of them didn't quite work out, her graying hair never lost its gravity-defying style.
"Alright, ten more seconds to vote! Choose wisely, everyone! The winners will receive our Trick-or-Treat grand prize!"
Wren grinned and pretended to claw and Maggie's arm. First prize was two giant buckets of candy, a stack of Halloween movies, popcorn, all the essentials for a quality holiday. Wren was kind of hoping whoever won would be planning to go to a party or something and take pity on them and let them have it instead. Not that they couldn't buy all that stuff, but winning made the candy that much sweeter.
"The results are in!"
Something moved out of the corner of his eye. The lights were bright, and there was a good amount of stage blindness, so he couldn't see the crowd very well.
"Are you ready?"
Something rustled overhead. He knew they dropped confetti for the big announcement.
"The winner is-"
Wren heard a metal clang right before hundreds of eggs rained down on him. Shells pummeled him and burst open against his body. He flung his arms over his head, but it was over as quickly as it had started. Cold yolk seeped into his clothes. He peeled the hat and arms of his costume off, hoping it had caught most of the mess, but some of it was still smeared on his face, his jeans, everywhere. But what really killed him was Maggie.
Silence had descended on the room, and Wren knew everyone was staring at them. But he only saw Maggie. He knew she had spent weeks on her costume - pattern drafting it by hand on giant butcher paper with her wizard-like math skills, spending hours shopping for the perfect fabric and trims, sewing the whole thing with the machine her mom had gotten her for her birthday. It was more than a simple hooded cloak since she had added little embellishments, like a wide strip of embroidered ribbon around the edges, dark wood buttons, and decorative criss-cross lacing on some of the seams. She was so proud of it that she even talked about how she wanted to run around in it after Halloween was over, just because it was so perfect for fall.
It was ruined. Hopelessly. There would be no way to clean it without destroying it.
Wren saw the flash of movement again and turned around. Tripp was still in his seat, but he was grinning like a mad fox. Wren brushed off the sudden flock of teachers who wanted to make sure he was okay and instead herded Maggie backstage. Her face was frozen in shock and devastation.
"Mags, are you okay?"
She didn't answer him. She didn't even meet his eyes, not really. Moving mechanically, she unfastened the cloak and let it fall from her shoulders. It had shielded her from most of the egg mess, except for a small smear of egg white and a piece of shell stuck on one cheek. Maggie was tough, usually tougher than Wren. So when she latched her arms around him and cried hysterically into his shoulder, it took him a moment to react. He held her loosely and just waited for her to calm down.
Wren recalled how he had felt just a few minutes earlier when Tripp had bugged them in the hallway. How he had retreated, wanted to hide, just wanted to let the hero win if it meant Wren wouldn't have to face him. He remembered the rage that had blinded him as he tried to land a punch, right before Tripp had knocked him senseless. This feeling was similar, but it was a slower-building flame, less a shower of sparks and more the beginning of something stronger. Tripp had always been something of a bully to him, but this went too far. This time, Wren realized with the cold shock of someone who had just jumped into a swimming pool in the early spring, he wanted revenge.