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Barbie for Girls

by Donna M. Nowak

Part 1 appears
in this issue.

For some time my heart and mouth felt frozen. I had always wanted to be true to Patty, to never betray her trust. Now that I had been confronted about my identity head on, I couldn’t lie to her, but with the knowledge would be a heavy burden and even danger. “Why are you asking me this?”

“The phone was off the hook so I picked it up. It’s true what that lady said, isn’t it? Please tell me, Aunt Barbie. You are her, aren’t you?”

“It isn’t safe for anyone to know who Barbie Battle is. Do you understand that?”

“I want to know.” Patty’s lip trembled.

I pulled her into my arms, sighing deeply. “Yes, Patty, it’s true. But no one must ever know. You have to pretend I never told you. You have to promise with your whole heart and soul.”

“Because you don’t want to sign autographs?”

“Because it would never be safe to help people again. Can you promise?”

Patty nodded happily and threw her arms around me.

“And now I have to help someone, sweetie, so I have to leave you here alone.”

“But can’t I come?”

“No.” I was firm, the aunt again, not the super-heroine. “You must stay here, Patty. If you are going to keep my secret, as you promised, you can never ever go anywhere with Barbie Battle. I want you to be safe. You can leave all the lights on and watch television. The door will be locked. But don’t leave the apartment for any reason or answer the phone unless you hear that it’s me on the answering machine. Promise?”

Patty squared her small shoulders as she nodded.

* * *

The night was terrifying as I flew, invisible, through the downpour, swaddled in my thermals and yellow mack. Cold and dampness still seeped through my pores, particularly at the higher altitudes, and lightning was always a danger, each bolt’s temperature hotter than the surface of the sun. Debilitated by my efforts, I perched temporarily on a huge Neptune gargoyle embossing the upper regions of the historic building now home to The Extown Sun.

A drenched pigeon, ensconced on another Neptune extending from a wing of the building several feet away, eyed me warily, blinking against the rain. He appeared foolish with his matted feathers, but probably no more ridiculous than I. Last minute jitters gripped me, which the savagery of the weather intensified. Was this a trap that I flying into? For some moments, I listened to the rain gurgling in the drain pipes and thundering around me, then made the giddy descent to the lighted alleyway below where Kroeger’s Meat Store was located.

Hovering above the ground for seconds, my breathing labored, I quickly located the door with the number 3 and entered. It was indeed hard to distinguish this genuine door from the painted doors around it.

Once inside, I struggled in a panic to remember the exact directions which were in the pocket of my mack. Dare I use the pen light? It was unheated within the abandoned structure and black as pitch. I listened, shivering, for the slightest noise around me, my heart thumping, and brought out the slip of paper and pen light.

Shining the pen light around me carefully, I determined that the narrow room was unoccupied and faced a flight of stairs, also bearing signs of disuse. Keeping the paper firmly in my hand, I ascended to the 20th step, counting slowly and meticulously. Then I slipped through the trap door.

It was a tunnel bathed in a lurid green hue, possibly an old subway or sewer, unnerving like the room of a funhouse. In the confined space, it was impossible to hover and I felt conspicuous and vulnerable. All around me were the sounds of running water.

The only thing to do was to keep moving forward, but fear and damp kept me viciously cold and unnerved, my eyes straining for deception. The tunnel seemed to go on forever and burrow further downward. Just as my nerve was giving way, I came to a door.

For some moments, I stood in indecision, hyperventilating. What if I were now indeed trapped in the bowels of the tunnel system? What if my doom would be sealed once I walked through the door? But I had come all this way and it was now or never. With steely resolve and a silent prayer, I entered.

The contrast was startling for several minutes, although it was still dark. Here was an entire world underground, a room filled with cushiony couches and shelves of toys and dolls. I recognized a lampshade one of my neighbors had put out for trash months ago and with a start, one of Muriel’s own dolls. Tentatively I walked across the carpet, heart thumping.

“I’m glad you came.” The whisper was familiar, the voice from the phone call. With a small scream, I whirled around. A tiny figure stood in the shadows and I trained my light in that direction. The dwarflike woman with lemon hair blinked round, frightened eyes and held up her hand to shield her face.

“Who are you?”

“I’m Fenella Gilheaney, Muriel’s former teacher.”

“Miss Gilheaney?”

Miss Gilheaney laughed weakly. “Yes.”

“It was you who kidnapped Muriel?”

“No, not like that. Let me explain quickly and I’ll take you to Muriel. My brother is the Hooded Evil. He was once a great man, a firefighter and hero, but he lost his wife and only child, a girl, in a fire brought on by a terrible thunderstorm. His wife had been a scientist and the combination of some chemical and the fire and my brother’s DNA caused this freak change in him. He turned against the world and has been haunting thunderstorms ever since, filled with malevolence.

“You are one of the few super powers who stands in his way — at least, until Muriel. Muriel was quite apart from other children and when she showed this extraordinary interest in gravity and chemistry, I suspected what I now know. Through me she’s lived here safely and comfortably, away from my brother’s wrath. But now he has been using the tunnels. It is no longer safe. You must get her out immediately. I’ve been following your career and... I know you care.”

“But how could you kidnap your own student and cause this kind of heartbreak for three years? Do you understand how wrong that was, not telling her family?”

Miss Gilheaney spoke plaintively. “It was my only choice. I couldn’t tell Muriel’s mother or any mortal. It would mean betraying my brother and putting Muriel at risk. He’s a broken man, don’t you see? Muriel flew the day she went to mail the letter. She landed on the roof of the school where I was alone, grading summer school papers. That’s why she disappeared into thin air.”

“She’s a super power?” I whispered in disbelief.

“Yes. I had her climb in the window from the roof. She was terrified. My brother saw her flying although she wasn’t developed enough to see him and he landed on the school roof afterwards. I had to act immediately to protect her. This had been a bomb shelter built by my father. Hyram — my brother — never knew about it. It was the only secure place I knew. But now he’s found a way in and it’s no longer safe. I can only entrust another super power.”

My head was whirling. “Where is Muriel?”

“Come.” We traveled to the back of the room and Miss Gilheaney pushed at a panel of the wall which opened. A girl sat in one of the oversized chairs in a sitting room filled with battered school books and turned to look at me. Muriel! She had changed immensely, but it was that same cleft in the chin, the unmistakable resemblance to Ava. How could we ever make up for the loss of time?

With a cry, I ran to her and folded her in my arms.

“Hurry! You must leave! He’s been coming in here during storms. Take her with you. I heard the Princess is impenetrable. But she must never leave it then.”

Ignoring this last, I whispered into Muriel’s ear, “You’re going home.” Bundling her into her coat, I hurried her through the trap door.

Muriel turned to Miss Gilheaney imploringly.

“Go, go, dear. Don’t worry. I promise you I’ll be safe.”

Muriel knew the way without the aid of my light, but when we got to the door, she seemed confused. “It’s never unlocked. Miss Gilheaney usually opens it,” she whispered. “She’s kept me safe.”

The mixed emotions in her voice pained me, but I gave her hand a comforting squeeze. Cautiously I tried the knob and found it open as I’d left it. We moved through the green tunnel, our sweaty hands locked together, and, with the aid of my notes, by-passed all the booby traps. No threat materialized from the darkness beyond a scraggly rat and at last we were above ground again.

Without a moment to lose, we sped through the whirling storm. I kept Muriel below me beneath my mack like an eagle with its prize. Just as we were descending to the side terrace of my apartment, a bolt of lightning lit the sky and revealed the Hooded Evil on a neighboring rooftop, deathlike red eyes peering at us from the folds of his hood, almost indistinguishable from the smokestack nearby.

Quickly I dived to the balcony and unlocked the terrace door, ushering Muriel inside. “Stay here with Patty, my niece. Don’t let anyone in. Lock the door — quickly.” I stood guard as she did so and drew the curtains and then turned to see the hooded figure like a giant ray swooping down from the sky, the edges of his cloak vibrating.

Summoning all my strength, I ascended and hovered high above the sea, wanting to take attention away from the apartment. His wrath was tremendous. He unleashed an antenna and hoisted it like a javelin, but just then a thunderbolt struck the antenna with a deafening crack and sent him hurtling like a deflated balloon towards the black, tempestuous waters below. The wind whistled piercingly in my ears as I followed.

The Hooded Evil was my nemesis, but I could not be merciless. As his limp form disappeared beneath the water, I swept down, gagging against a blast of salt water that lashed my face, and caught hold of his hood, hoisting his limp and heavy body with all my strength into the air. My fingers clenched bony arms fiercely and with quarry in tow, I soared off in the night.

The Hooded Evil was bedraggled, but breathing and the few officers in the lobby of the local station were shaken awake by our sudden presence. “Please secure him and get a doctor! He’s the Hooded Evil, responsible for the rash of bank robberies and aborted plans to overthrow Extown. His sister Fenella Gilheaney, the schoolteacher, will explain everything to you. I will have her come forward to plead his case. But you must keep him locked up. He has the ability to be invisible as I do.” In illustration, my form dissolved in the air. The Hooded Evil’s hood had fallen back from his face, revealing humanizing lemon hair.

Jimmy, my stoic doorman, nodded as I entered the Princess, creating a puddle on the lobby rug. “Wicked night, isn’t it?” he offered. I could barely grunt in response.

Patty was curled on the couch, fast asleep, and Muriel was on the cushions below her, holding fast onto Suzy-Q. My address book lay open on the floor and before I had time to comprehend, Ava darted from the bedroom and grabbed me with a scream of hysteria. For awhile, both of us merely sobbed. Muriel had called her and she had come at once; she would have flown, if she could. But she needed to know everything, everything.

It was time for Muriel and I to come out of the shadows and sort things out. Pulling an afghan around me, I put some hot chocolate on the stove and sat Ava on the sofa. “Sometimes, Ava, I don’t use the door,” I began.

Copyright © 2007 by Donna M. Nowak

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