It was the explosion that woke Frankie up. Her heart was pounding, she was drenched in sweat, and the noise was like someone firing a shotgun into a metal trashcan. And yes, somehow, she knew what that sounded like; it was the whisper of a memory in her throbbing head: her grandfather’s farm in eastern Pennsylvania, blowing up Coke bottles, shooting at road signs. Her old life. She knew that stuff.
But what she didn’t know was why her leg burned like it was on fire, or why her head was bandaged in white gauze like a mummy (she could see it in the blurry mirror across from where she lay), or why her right wrist was handcuffed to a hospital bed like she was some sort of criminal. Was she a criminal? She couldn’t remember. Her memory was fuzzy—almost there, but not quite.
What did she remember? Her name. Her brother’s name—Cruz. Where was he? She knew they were virtually homeless now, squatting in DC, and that their mother hadn’t been around in a few days. Frankie knew her birthday was last Monday, which was how long ago now? She’d turned fourteen. Did they normally handcuff fourteen-year-olds? Seems a little excessive. Not like she was an axe-murderer or anything.
At least, she didn’t think she was. Who knows, maybe she was a desperate bank robber.
Frankie blinked her eyes while listening to a soft ring¬ing in her ears. Concussion, she thought. Her head felt like someone had whacked it with a bowling pin, and that made her think of bowling with her grandparents in Pennsylvania once upon a time, and then she remembered her bowling average was 122. Weird. She thought she should be a better bowler than that… But right now, she could hardly focus. The lights in the hospital room were dimmed almost to nonexistent, and a nebulous grayish blur collected at the corner of her vision with occasional shiny spots here and there. Her brain was protesting, not working as quickly as usual, as if it were mad at her for the rough treatment it had received. But for the life of her, she couldn’t remember what that rough treatment was. Something to do with falling from up high, right?
It did no good to try and swing her legs over the edge of the bed. The chain of the handcuff was short enough to give her very little room to move. A pillow was propped under her left knee, so she strained to look down and see why her leg was burning. No such luck. Her head swam and she felt like throwing up. Frankie was pretty sure she had a broken rib. Wow, someone beat the tar out of her maybe. No, that wasn’t right. Where was Cruz?
Wait. Wasn’t there, like, an explosion just a few seconds ago? Now she heard screaming and shouting, fighting and scuffling from somewhere below her. And another explosion rocked the hospital and vibrated the windows. Hey, it was dark outside. Frankie could see a crescent moon looking green and bored and forlorn hanging in the empty blackness. Buck up, Moon! At least you’re not shackled to the bed with a broken rib and half a memory. Why was she so sweaty?
Oh, yeah, people were fighting outside. Was that nor¬mal? Now it sounded like they were arguing with each other. She caught snippets of different voices, “…going on? Don’t move,” “…should’ve told us,” and “…discuss this later, please?”
“Um…” Her voice cracked ’cause her throat was parched. “Hello? Mr. Policeman? Nurse? Anybody? I’m still handcuffed to the bed. Can I get a drink of water?” There was no response from the voices outside. “Well, can I at least go to the bathroom? Hello?”
There were a few seconds of silence, and then there was a loud bang! on the door to her hospital room. Before she could even be startled by the noise, the door suddenly disintegrated, and Frankie knew that was odd. Not often do doors disinte-grate. Shards of it whizzed through the air, harsh white light split the dimness of the room, and she finally remembered to scream while yanking on her handcuff, which did nothing more than suck the wind out of her as a rib stabbed with pain. Her calf muscle felt like it split open, and her head throbbed to the pulse of her galloping heart.
A middle-aged man, hand glowing, in a floor-length trench coat, barreled into the room, closely followed by three, uh, kids. Like her own age, or maybe two were a little older. How come they weren’t handcuffed?
All right, wait, that man’s hand is glowing a golden color…
Frankie screamed again and pulled even harder on the handcuff, so much so her wrist started bleeding. Two of the kids pushed past Glow-man and approached her bed.
“Gee, Wiz, did ya hafta give it so much juice? Cadence blew up the door!” A short boy with choppy blond hair that fell in his pale blue eyes gave Glow-man a sour look. “Scare her half to death, why don’t ya!”
Frankie started to shout for help, but cut off suddenly when she heard the boy speak. “Gee-whiz?” she mumbled, almost incoherent.
“No, gee… Wiz. Like his name is Wiz.” The boy with the chewed up hair smiled down at her. The handcuffed girl was taller than he was, which was typical. She looked sort of Latina, but with lighter hair and greenish eyes. She was nice looking, in a terrified, handcuffed-to-the-bed, don’t-kill-me kind of way.
“Don’t call me Wiz, Quincy, it’s disrespectful,” the man in the trench coat said as his hand grew dark.
Quincy rolled his eyes and pushed back his sweaty, uneven bangs. “My uncle. Thinks we should always call him ‘Professor Linden.’ ’Course that was before we blasted our way into a hospital and knocked out the cop in front of your room. Seems stupid to call him Profes¬sor now, huh?”
“Can we hurry this up? That… thing’s coming. No way a refrigerator’s gonna slow it up for long.” This came from another boy standing just behind Quincy. He was a black kid with a Jamaican accent and frizzy dreadlocks to his collar, and he was kinda pudgy too. He seemed a little older, maybe fifteen, sixteen.
A third kid, a bossy-looking girl with an upturned nose and glasses, was peering nervously out the shat¬tered doorway. Her light brown hair was wafting in the wind.
Wait. Wafting? What wind? They were inside. There was no wind.
“Hey, get away from me!” Frankie shrieked as the second boy pushed around Quincy and leaned over her, raising his hand toward her cuff.
“What’s your problem, girl?” The Jamaican boy jerked his hand back like she’d tried to bite him. That gave her an idea. If he tried it again, she would bite him.
“She’s freaked, Mal. You’d be too if someone just blew up your hospital room.” Quincy smiled down at her again, turning on the charm, and pointed a thumb at his chest. “It’s okay, really. We’re the good guys.”
“Oh, really?!” She sounded like she didn’t believe him. That hurt a little...
“Hurry up!” Wiz yelled, storming over to the bed. “We’ve got, like, five seconds before that Fire ele¬mental’s on us.”
“Fire elemental?” Frankie asked, forgetting herself for a second.
“Well, there’s no Water elementalists here,” Quincy said as if everything were now explained. “We’re a little outmatched. Hence the explosions. We slammed it into a refrigerator.”
“Right,” Frankie nodded. She addressed the only adult in the room. “Uh, will you explain what’s going on here?”
“Later,” Professor Linden said. He looked nervous, like he knew what was locked in the refrigerator was bad news. “Mal, get rid of the handcuff. Let’s go!”