The woods were thick around her, the air clean and warm. Behind her, the boys whooped and yelled as Ryan pretended to race their son. It was Toby’s eight birthday and he had wanted to go to the Mark Twain National Park. It was one of his favorite things to do and she had packed a picnic, most of which was on Ryan’s back. The river wasn’t far ahead and there they would lay out the blankets that were in her backpack and set up lunch. They were already in their swimsuits and the rest of the daylight would be spent playing in the river. Melody smiled, a warm contentment suffusing her as Ryan yelped in mock horror as Toby beat him to the next bend and their son’s clear laughter rang through the trees.
She had the blanket spread out on the ground by the time the boys arrived and the picnic was quickly laid out and devoured. Moments later, they were all in the water, splashing and playing. They boys were still playing energetically by the time she went to dry off on the beach and she lay down on the blanket to bask in the warm sun.
She hadn’t realized that she had dozed off until a sudden scream woke her and she started from the blanket. Ryan screamed out her name again and she looked to where he pointed. Down from the pool where they always swam were rapids but they had always kept an eye on Toby. Confused, she stared as Ryan yelled something intelligible at her and then started to swim with powerful strokes towards the rapids. It suddenly occurred to her that she didn’t see Toby’s head.
As she ran along the bank towards the rocks, she idly wondered why Ryan didn’t fly. He was an amazing swimmer but it would have taken him seconds to fly there. A cold fist clenched in her stomach as she reached the rocks ahead of him and scrambled awkwardly over them.
“Where is he?” she cried, trying to see Toby.
Ryan answered, his face white with terror. “I saw him go under over there. Mel, lift the rocks! Change the water!”
She had just jumped to another large rock, but his words made her freeze. “I don’t have any Powers, Ry. You know the virus took them away.”
He just stared at her incredulously, the current drawing him closer as he tread water. “What the fuck Melody! For God’s sake, get him! He’s right there.”
“I don’t have any Powers Ryan!” she screamed and turned towards the water again, trying to find Toby. The foam cleared for a moment and she realized that the blue beneath the water was her son’s trunks. She pointed down at him and turned to her husband. “He’s there Ry! Get him, get him!”
With a curse, Ryan began to swim again, diving underneath once he got to where their son lay. Eons ticked by as she waited for him to surface and when he did, it was without their son. “He’s caught underneath a rock, woman!” Ryan yelled, spitting water and breathing in air in great gasps. “What are you waiting for? Move the fucking rocks or change the water!”
She was shaking so hard that her bones hurt. “You’ve got super strength Ry. You can get him,” she managed with effort. “I can’t do anything anymore.”
The disgust in his eyes pierced her heart as he stared at her. “You’d let him die rather than chance using your Powers? You heartless bitch!” He dove under again.
Melody collapsed to the rock, rocking and praying. When Ryan came up again, his face was twisted in grief and frustration. “Damn you woman! He’s dying down there.”
“I can’t!” Melody sobbed. “Please. . .please Ryan! Get him! Oh God!!!”
“You selfish bitch!” She was hauled to her feet and being shaken violently before she even knew her was out of the water. “You won’t! You can and you won’t!”
Her tear filled eyes opened to a face she didn’t know, contorted with rage. “I can’t,” she gasped between sobs, “the virus took them. You know that! Oh Ryan please get him.” Her knees buckled but he wouldn’t let her fall, his grip on her only getting harder. She closed her eyes against the savage hatred she saw in his face, felt her bones creaking under the pressure of his hands, knew they would break soon if he didn’t stop. And still Toby lay under the waters and she knew that he was beyond saving. “Please,” she whispered, opening her eyes to look into his. “Please.”
“You could shape the world if you wanted, Mel,” he growled at her. “Atoms at your very command. What is a nanobot to you? Nothing but atoms arranged that can be rearranged if you only tried.” He shook her hard once and she felt her spine crack. “You are happy to be normal, happy to let this handicap you. You’ve always been afraid to be what you could be. I’ve always hated that about you. You never tried, never wanted to know how powerful you could be. And now our son is dead.”
He let her drop and threw himself back into the water. He had broken her back, she realized as she dragged herself to the edge of the rock, her shoulders screaming in pain. Her mind reeled from his violence. He would never had done that in his right mind, never have done that ever. Somewhere she knew that Ryan was incapable of hurting her. . .it was a nightmare. . .she had to wake up. But that thought slipped from her mind as the scene below her captured her attention. The water made his and Toby’s forms ripple but she knew that Toby had stopped moving. She bit back a sob as Ryan twisted and pulled under the water to no avail. “I can’t help,” she whispered to no one. “The nanobots have taken my power.”
He’s right, her mind screamed at her. What are they? Atoms! They stopped you in the beginning but you could have changed them long ago. They are part of you and you can change the very fabric of the Universe! Your son is dying!
_This is a dream! It’s just a dream!
You’re too cowardly to embrace what you can do. Look at them.
Gone, both of them. Your fault, my fault._
Toby!!!!!! The cry ripped from her soul to vibrate to the air around her, shimmering as composition of the water changed in an instant and the rock holding Toby dissolved. Ryan broke the surface a second later but Toby was already coughing out the liquid oxygen that she had changed the water to. With a groan, she repaired the damage to her body and rose to her feet as her husband flew himself and Toby easily onto the rock. Ryan smiled at her, steadying Toby as the boy coughed and gasped in air.
“I knew you could do it Mel.”
“You hurt me.” She shook her head with confused betrayal.
“He had to,” Toby informed her solemnly as he spat out the last of the liquid oxygen. “You can’t let fear rule you Mom. He did what it took to make you realize that you’ve had the ability to fix yourself the whole time.” He came over to hug her but she stayed stiff in his arms, staring daggers at Ryan.
“You don’t know what you’ve done Ryan.”
Toby grinned, his face earnest and excited. “You can transform the world Mom. Just like me. Whatever we want. Whatever we desire. We can remake everything. Look at your fingers. See, the nanobots are sliding out.”
She pushed him away. “No Toby. We can’t.” He started to protest but she held up a finger, shining silver with the remains of the bots. “We shouldn’t.” Her gaze found her husband’s once more. “Why? Why Ryan?”
His features clouded. “I had to. You have always had the ability to do more than you did. But it’s easier for you to just sit around and say you can’t do it, let the rest of us deal with the danger and put ourselves at risk. All because you’re afraid of your powers Mel. And the nanobots finally gave you something to hide behind forever. You’ve always been scared. It’s one of the things I just hated about you.”
“I should be scared! You should be too!” She swept out her hand and Ryan flew from the rock and struggled helplessly in the air. She heard Toby cry out but caught him in a column of ice. “I can do this. I shouldn’t do this. But I can. I want the nanobots back. I need them!” She could feel the flow of the world around her, each atom resonating in a sea of fluidity. She could shape it all as she wanted, life to rock, rock to water, water to plant, plant to man. It always was at her fingertips and she trembled with the temptation and the terror it brought. “No one should be able to do what I can. It’s too much. We’re heroes Ryan!”
“No, Melody,” Ryan stated calmly as Toby twisted to free himself, yelling for her to stop. “I was the hero. You were always too afraid. Cowards are never heroes.”
Her mouth opened in denial and then she closed it with a shake of her head. “I’m not a hero Ryan,” she answered him finally. “You’re right. I’m sorry.” With a sad smile, she gestured and felt the molecules of the air twist around her. Her family shimmered and faded, removed and remade. With an agonized pulse of pain, something exploded in her brain and then the world began to morph and her scream was lost in the wails of the tortured elements around her as her powers began to remake reality.
Melody woke with a shriek, throwing herself from her bed violently. Staggering as her feet hit the ground, she made her way to a wall to steady herself, her breath coming hard and rough. She willed the overhead light to turn on and slid down the wall with relief as it predictably stayed off. Shaking, she made her way to the switch and turned on the light, needing to see the room and let the nightmare fade from her mind. She lifted her finger to her eye, looking to find the errant thorn. They had been clearing one of the roads that morning; the thorn had apparently taken time to fester and work its way into her finger. Not seeing it, she found her magnifying ruler and turned on a lamp to look at it more closely. Squeezing, she gently scratched the object free of her finger. A violent shudder took her as she looked at it. The tiny piece of metal glinted gently under the light before she rubbed it violently away.
“No,” she told herself firmly. “Stop it Mel. Just a random piece of metal from one of the tools. It was only a dream.” She turned off all the lights and made her way back to bed.
She was still awake when the dawn broke the next morning.