Kevin was already through the front door before he had time to think about what he was doing.
He stopped briefly to assess the Esther-shaped hole in the wall in front of him. She’s dead, Kevin thought again. One punch, just like that. What am I doing?
He tried to silence the rapidfire stream of questions that was bubbling up inside him, like Who is this guy? and Why did he kill Esther? and How is he so strong? and Do I even know how to use a gun?
Heavy footsteps made the ceiling above him creak. Upstairs, Kevin thought, forcing down his clamouring thoughts. He spotted a staircase through a door partway down the hall and headed towards it. Carefully, quietly, he made his way up the stairs, hoping to catch Caleb by surprise.
Poking his head out of the door at the top of the stairs, Kevin looked left and right to see where the superpowered psycho had gone. Several doors looked like they had been kicked open, up and down the hallway.
Then Kevin heard Caleb’s voice. “Long time no see, little brother.” It was coming from one of the open rooms at the far end of the hall.
Little brother? thought Kevin. Oh. Oooooh.
“You thought you were safe at home in bed, didn’t you?” Caleb continued. “As long as your big sister’s around, mean ol’ Caleb can’t hurt you, can he? Well here I am, and guess what: Esther can’t save you anymore.”
Move! thought Kevin, scrambling up the last few stairs and down the hallway.
Just before he made it to the door, Kevin heard a scream and a splintering crash. He dove into the open doorway and saw Caleb standing over the wreckage of a bed, with a smaller, pale-looking man–presumably the younger brother, Max–lying at his feet.
“What?” Caleb roared.
“No!” Kevin yelled.
Caleb spun around as Kevin pulled the trigger.
“Um…” said Kevin. “Heh?” He turned and ran.
Caleb dove after him, grabbing at his heels. Kevin sprinted down the hallway, trying to remember how to get back to the stairs. Too late, he saw himself slide past the correct door. Caleb was too close behind for him to turn around now.
Desperate, Kevin turned into the next open door he saw, put his shoulder down, and aimed for the window.
Then he heard a Clunk! and an Oof! He stopped. There was silence.
Kevin took a moment to fidget with the gun, finally finding the safety switch and disengaging it. Maybe Andy’s right. Maybe I should play more Call of Duty, he thought. He held the revolver out in front of him like he’d seen people do on TV, and inched towards the door.
He swung into the hallway, ready to shoot at the slightest provocation.
Caleb was flat on the floor, blood pooled at the back of his head. A heavy vase was lying beside him.
Kevin thought about checking Caleb for a pulse, but figured that might just wake him up if he wasn’t actually dead, and decided to leave well enough alone. “Andy?” he called. “Was that you?”
No one answered. Then Esther popped her head out of Max’s bedroom.
“Kevin!” she said.
Kevin nearly fainted.
“Are you okay?” said Esther.
“I… Me?” said Kevin. “What about you?”
“I’m… okay,” said Esther, flexing her neck. “Pretty sore, though. Do you think you could stop pointing that gun at me?”
“Oh. Sorry.” Kevin lowered the gun and clicked the safety back on. “Why aren’t you, um?”
“Dead?” said Esther, finishing the thought. “Well…” She dropped her eyes. “I guess I’m tougher than I thought.”
“Tough? No way. Not unless you’re…”
“Special,” said Esther.
“Uh, yeah. Are you?”
Esther nodded glumly.
“It’s okay,” said Kevin. “Look.” He held his hand up and summoned a neat pile of bacon onto the carpet.
Esther laughed. “You make bacon?”
Kevin shrugged. “Pretty stupid, right?”
“So are you completely invincible, or what?”
Esther shook her head. “No, I’m just… tough. Honestly I didn’t think I was this tough, but here I am. Of course, Caleb’s lost a lot of blood, is heavily sleep-deprived, and just got back from flying around the world again, so he may not have been operating at the peak of his strength.”
Kevin squinted. “Flying around the world? Huh. You’ve got some kind of family… What about Max? Is he okay?”
“He’ll be fine. Physically he’s no worse than he was before, right Max?”
Kevin heard a low moan from inside the bedroom.
“Caleb got to him yesterday when I wasn’t around and hurt him pretty bad,” explained Esther. “But, um… When certain people are near me, they get tougher, too.”
“Wow,” said Kevin. “That’s pretty sweet.”
“In some ways,” said Esther. “Caleb didn’t think so. But then, it never worked for him, just for Max and my parents.”
“I can see how he might resent that.”
“Yeah. I guess I’ve been finding more and more that there are lots of things physical toughness can’t protect against. Max has trouble with self-confidence and making friends, I’m an emotional wreck a lot of the time, and Caleb, well…” She gestured to her fallen brother. “You can see how he’s ended up.”
Kevin looked down. “Did you do that?”
“Is he dead?”
Esther knelt beside Caleb and frowned. “I don’t think so. I wasn’t sure if it would actually hurt him or not, to be honest, but I had to do something.”
“Yeah,” said Kevin, “I know what you mean.”
Esther looked up at Kevin. “You know, you didn’t have to come in here,” she said. “He might have killed you!”
“I guess,” said Kevin, “and it turns you didn’t really need me, either.”
“That’s not true,” said Esther. “If he hadn’t been chasing you, I wouldn’t have been able to surprise him. He would’ve just come downstairs and found a way to finish me off with a knife or something, and then gone back at Max again…”
“Then I guess I’m happy to have played the decoy.”
Esther stood. “Thank you, Kevin.” She leaned forward and kissed him lightly on the cheek.
Kevin heard sirens.