“The hot lunch menu says that it’s called “Mystery Pizza,” I said. The pizza appeared to be crust covered with baked beans, red onion and cheddar cheese.

The only thing I found mysterious was that someone could actually believe high school students might recognize it as food.

Cassie said, “I’ll eat it if you don’t.”

She’d come with her usual three trays worth of food and had already finished half.

“Don’t worry about it,” I said, “I’ll deal.” I picked it up and ate it. What other option did I have? I didn’t particularly feel like listening to my stomach growl for the afternoon.

“Hey there ‘Bad Influences’,” Vaughn said, putting his tray down between the two of us, “Ready to save the world?”

Cassie and I both replied simultaneously, Cassie saying, “Not that loud” while I said, “Not here.”

Granted we were sitting at the back table in a corner with basically no one around. Still, you don’t talk about superhero stuff in a high school cafeteria—at least not loudly.

“When did I become a bad influence?” I asked.

“Ah don’t worry about it, “ Vaughn said, “you’re not. I just didn’t want you to feel left out.”


Cassie scowled for a moment and then said, “What I don’t understand is why I’m a bad influence at all. It’s not as if I brought you to parties. I brought you home because you were too drunk to drive.”

Vaughn poked at the pizza with his fork.

“Look, I don’t know. I think she’s decided everyone she saw me with just before going into rehab is a bad influence.”

He laughed, “Of course, now she thinks you’re a crazy stalker too…”

He turned to me, “She told you about climbing through the window, right?”

“Yeah. Friday night,” I said.

“Wish I could have made it. I swear, it’s like Mom never stops watching me.” He picked up the pizza, took a bite. “You know, this stuff is okay. Better than the ‘Mystery Casserole.’ I never did figure out what was in that.”

He chewed the pizza thoughtfully for a moment. “Did she tell you about the shingles?”

Cassie looked away from the table.

“She jumps out the window and starts yanking on the grappling hook only it doesn’t come out. It’s stuck. Only she yanks again and there’s a ripping noise and geez… ten shingles came down with the grapple. It was hilarious—the shingles were raining down and my mom was finally too shocked to shout at anybody.”

“About Friday,” Cassie said, her face slightly reddened, “Daniel and I worked out a patrol schedule and a response procedure if one of us gets attacked. I’ll get it to you after school.”

“And I’ll get to use it when they finally let me out of my cage,” Vaughn muttered.

For a few minutes after that, we just ate.

Cassie finished first. “Did either of you see the news over the weekend? There were a bunch of fights in Chicago on Friday night and a few more on Saturday and Sunday.”

“Oh yeah,” Vaughn said, “All the Chicago supers were in on it plus Defenders groups from both coasts.”

“Fighting gangs, right?” I had paid some attention to the news this weekend.

“Not just any gangs,” Cassie said. “Powered gangs. Not hugely powerful individually, but there were a lot of them.”

“And CNN said that even the normals had military grade weapons,” Vaughn said.

I zoned out while they discussed the highlights.

“… Guardian opening a gate like he did when we fought the Grey Giant…”

“—that fire guy—“

“Supernova dusting the building…”

“All that water just pouring through downtown—“

I could see how the Superhuman Affairs Branch guy would have been in the office on a Friday night. From what I’d read, the major action would have been finished by the time he’d called me.

“Vaughn,” I said, “weren’t low powered gang members your grandfather’s MO? Addicted to that ‘power elixir’ stuff and rampaging through the city?”

“Shit, yeah,” Vaughn said. “You don’t think he’s alive, do you? That’d be way too much like a comic book.”

“No. I was thinking more of the stuff you passed on to Stevie and company back when you were on drugs.”

The expression on Vaughn’s face managed to move from shock to despair faster than I’d thought possible.

What he would have said next I don’t know because Cassie’s friend Kayla had walked up to the table, a tray of food in her hands. Kayla was a little taller than Cassie and always seemed to be tanned.

Previous to this year, I’d almost never seen her apart from Cassie.

“Mind if I sit down?”

Still halfway into the conversation we’d been having, we were silent for a moment.

“I can go if you don’t want me,” she said, looking at Cassie.

“No, no,” Cassie said, “Sit down.”

“We were just talking about Chicago,” I said.

“Oh,” Kayla said, “all those poor people who lost their homes.”

Funny how that aspect of the weekend had never entered our discussion.

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About the author


Bio: Jim Zoetewey grew up in Holland, Michigan, near where L Frank Baum wrote The Wizard of Oz and other books in that series. Admittedly, Baum moved away more than sixty years before Jim was even born, but it's still kind of cool. Jim didn't attain his goal of never leaving school, but did prolong his stay as long as possible. He majored in religion and sociology at Hope College, gaining enough credits to obtain minors in ancient civilizations and creative writing—had he thought to submit applications to the relevant departments. He attended Western Theological Seminary for two years. He followed that up by getting a masters degree in sociology at Western Michigan University. Once out of school, he took up the most logical occupation for someone with his educational background: web developer and technical support. Simultaneously, he finished all but three credits of a masters in Information Systems, a degree that's actually relevant to his field. He's still not done. In the meantime, he's been writing stories about superheroes and posting them online at He's still not sure whether that was a good idea, but continues to do it anyway. He's also not sure why he's writing this in the third person, but he's never seen an author bio written in first person and doesn't want to rock the boat.

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