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Fight Some Crime, Or I'll Tell Mom

Rachael K. Jones grew up in various cities across Europe and North America, picked up (and mostly forgot) six languages, and acquired several degrees in the arts and sciences. Now she writes speculative fiction in Portland, Oregon. Her debut novella, "Every River Runs to Salt," is available from Fireside Fiction. Contrary to the rumors, she is probably not a secret android. Rachael is a World Fantasy Award nominee and Tiptree Award honoree. Her fiction has appeared in dozens of venues worldwide, including Lightspeed, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Strange Horizons, and all four Escape Artists podcasts. Follow her on Twitter @RachaelKJones.

Randall's weird power is refilling anything empty. He's been doing it for as long as he can remember, although he keeps it quiet. Cheetos bags--poof! Overflowing with cheesy goodness. Sprite bottles--bang! Topped off and fizzy.
It doesn't always work perfectly. He once tried to refill the air in a flat tire for Mom during a road trip, but that just exploded the rubber. He thinks it has something to do with volume and mass, physics or whatnot. He has to know the proper heft of a thing when it's full. He's never picked up a whole car tire before, and anyway, how heavy is air?
Nobody knows about Randall's secret except his little sister Meg, who has been extorting bonus Halloween candy from him ever since she found out. "Fill it up again, or I'll tell Mom you're a wizard," she'll say, shaking an empty pillowcase at him well into January (she usually quits by Easter).
Randall doesn't mind. Mom wouldn't believe Meg anyway, not if she overlooked the whole tire incident. "Fine. But don't call me a wizard," Randall says.
"Then what are you?"
Randall considers it while he hefts the pillowcase. "Superhero." He hands the cavity-mine back to her. The word feels right, somehow.
"Oh yeah? Why aren't you fighting crime, then?" Meg asks.
She has a point.
When Randall sneaks out to look for crime to fight, Meg appoints herself his sidekick.
"I'm too young to stay at home alone," she reasons, which is fair. Mom works the late shift Thursdays at the gas station, which makes Thursday primo crimefighting time. (Mom's always too tired when she gets home to notice anything amiss. Mainly she just props up her feet and complains about all the boredom and standing and occasional shoplifters.)
Randall doesn't admit it, but bringing Meg along makes superheroing way less boring. Mostly they just pick up littered wrappers and look for homeless people to give the refills to. When they get tired, Randall gives Meg a piggyback ride home.
"We need to think bigger," says Meg. "We're not fighting crime. We're just fighting hunger. Which is great and junk, but it's hardly Batman-level stuff."
Randall can't argue with that.
Meg forces Randall to practice his power. She hands him empty wrappers and bottles, gas canisters and even wallets (turns out he can't refill money). He'd make a pretty good vending machine, but anything besides food is harder. Meg wants him to refill an empty pool, but Randall just floods the whole park.
"Sorry," Randall says, slapping his head. It used to be their favorite hangout spot, and now it's just a chlorinated swamp. "I just can't really gauge how much is enough if I can't hold the thing."
"Maybe," says Meg while they wring out their wet socks, "that's not a bad thing. We can work with that."
Randall doesn't like the way her lips curl when she says it, but Meg's always been the smart one. He trusts her.
Not that he would tell her that.
It takes weeks to try out Meg's new plan. It's not easy to find a real live crime in progress when you're just a kid, and even harder to get close enough to do anything about it.
But after Mom complains again about shoplifters at the gas station stealing snacks when her back is turned, they try tailing her to work. It means a whole lot of boring sit-and-wait behind the parking lot. Randall helps Meg with her homework those nights, or they take turns napping.
But then something does go wrong.
It all happens very fast: shoplifters caught in the act, Cheetos and Slim Jims stuffed under their shirts, and Mom chasing them out, yelling. The criminals swing into their idling car. It shifts into reverse.
That's Randall's cue to top off the getaway car's tires.
He expects the explosion. He doesn't expect the shrapnel from the hub cap. There's a strange, soft thud, and Meg's slumped over staring at the spreading red in her middle. She collapses onto the pavement. Everything's chaos and police sirens and Mom yelling, and all Randall can think is that if the shoplifters wanted free Slim Jims, he could've given them some without all this hassle.
Meg is starting to whimper. Randall catches her in his arms, feels her familiar piggyback weight shifting, dribbling out. With all the tenderness and care he never bothered with before, he thinks, Refill. Because what's the point of superpowers if he can't get this thing, this one really big thing, absolutely right?
"Hang in there, sis," he mutters, pressing into the weight of her, trying to keep the blood flowing exactly right until the ambulance arrives. "You're gonna be okay."
Meg's eyes open, two glittering slits. "I told you so," she mutters, stronger than he expected.
"Told me what?" Randall asks.
"You suck at this Batman stuff. So you're definitely a wizard."
Randall nods, relieved beyond measure, relieved by the exact right weight of her in his arms. His heart refills to overflowing. "Sure, Meg. I'm a wizard. Whatever you need, I'll be it."
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, June 9th, 2020

Author Comments

I wrote this story as part of a flash fiction contest. I love stories about unusual superpowers, especially seemingly useless powers in the hands of people who don't really intend to exploit them. This one is fondly dedicated to my own brother and sister, who are probably not wizards.

- Rachael K. Jones
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