This week is shaping up to be decidedly super. My husband and I are halfway through the Netflix adaptation of The Umbrella Academy graphic novel series (more fangirling on that later!). I have my ticket to see Captain Marvel this weekend in the fancy Dolby theater at our local AMC (the one with leather recliners that rumble, surround sound, and gorgeous projection). And yesterday, Divine Five: Dawn published, an anthology of superhero origin stories, which just so happens to feature my story “Shock to the System.”
Fun fact: I’m wearing a Wonder Woman shirt today in celebration, but I digress…
This was such a fun project! The editor/publisher, Timothy Pulo, simply provided me with a location (Marseilles, France), a name (Nikolas Travers), and a superpower (but I’m not spoiling that part for you!), and said, “Uh, go for it!” So yeah, the story was completely up to me. I had full reign to create the world, the relationships, the storyline, and the character of Nikolas. That kind of freedom is so liberating! And I had a blast writing my very first superhero story. (Although, I think it’s fitting to apologize to my protagonist, Nikolas. I put the poor kid through the ringer!)
Here’s a sneak peek of my story:
Excerpt of Shock to the System
By Tiffany Michelle Brown
Three blocks later, the métro sign appeared. Nikolas nearly sank to his knees in relief, but the thought of Marceline propelled him onward. He raced down the concrete steps, past a group of figures who wore dark-colored trench coats and argued in harsh whispers—Drug deal gone sideways, Nikolas thought—and into the underground tunnels of Marseille.
He was greeted, as always, with the stale smells of urine, mold, and grit, but the foul odors barely registered, because Nikolas had somewhere he desperately needed to be. There was a short, yet slow-moving line at the métro turnstile, and he briefly considered jumping the barrier, but knew he’d regret the decision later. He stood in line, like everyone else, then fed his métro card into the turnstile and pushed onto the platform. An overhead announcement proclaimed the next car would arrive in five minutes.
Nikolas ambled to the knife edge of the platform, ignoring the yellow safety line, and peered down the track, into the cavernous tubes of the métro line, as if he could summon the car with his mind. Of course, nothing of the sort happened. All Nikolas could see was darkness.
Nikolas sighed. Of all the nights to be late. Though perpetual tardiness was his status quo, he’d promised himself—and more importantly, he’d promised Marceline—that he would arrive at her place at a decent hour that night so they’d have ample time to celebrate.
And he’d broken that promise.
Flushed with disappointment, Nikolas reached into his pocket and retrieved his cell phone. The time was 8:02. He’d meant to arrive at Marceline’s an hour ago. And, of course, there were a slurry of text messages from his girl.
At 6:45: Still planning to be here at 7? I’m making your favorite! J
At 7:20: I’m guessing the métro is backed up or you left a little later than expected? I’ve got dinner ready for whenever you get here. Give me a call and let me know what’s up?
At 7:50: Nik, if you’re still at the office…
At 8:01: I’m not mad (well, maybe a little). But now I just want to know you’re ok. Call me?
“Idiot, idiot, idiot,” Nikolas muttered. “And for what? A medical app? An email that could’ve waited until tomorrow? You have to make this right.”
Nikolas paced the platform wildly, thinking through what he’d say once he got Marceline on the line. He concocted harebrained excuses—the office was under siege! He practiced over-the-top apologies—I’m sorry to the moon and back! He considered chucking his phone in the trash, so he could explain that he’d lost his mobile and couldn’t have contacted her.
In the end, he settled on a simple apology, coupled with an assurance that he was fine and on his way. They would talk more once he got to Marceline’s. He took a deep breath to steady his nerves, took a step away from the platform—and his ankle rolled.
Suddenly, Nikolas was pitching past the yellow safety line and toward the buzzing tracks of the métro. As he fell, he thought of Marceline—her golden, cat-like eyes, the raspy way she laughed, the way he felt safe wrapped in her arms—and sadness swept through him.
But then he stopped, mid-flight, and was pulled backward with a sharp jerk. Nikolas stumbled away from the rails, gulping in air, his body a patchwork of fine tremors. Beside him, a woman wearing a black trench coat stood calmly, as composed as a statue.
“Merci, merci,” Nikolas managed between shaky breaths. “You…you saved me.”
“Yeah, I did,” the woman said. “I had to. You’re him.”
Nikolas frowned. What did she mean? “Have we met?”
“No. This is our meet-cute. Charmant, oui?”
Nikolas wondered fleetingly if she was high—and then decided she must be. All the signs were there. She’d been reckless enough to save a man tumbling onto the métro tracks, risking her own life (although she’d seemed preternaturally strong). She was talking in riddles with utmost confidence. And it looked like her eyes were all black—so perhaps her pupils were dilated?
“Sure,” Nikolas said. “Listen, I’m really, really grateful. I don’t have much on me, but can I give you a little something?” He produced his wallet, but the woman caught his wrist before he could offer her anything.
“No,” she said. “You’re all I need.”
“O—kay,” Nikolas said. This exchange had become truly uncomfortable, and the woman still had a grip on his wrist. A really firm grip that Nikolas wasn’t sure he’d be able to break. “Thanks again, but I need to be go—“
“Could you tell me the time?” the woman asked, her black eyes peering into his.
Nikolas lifted his wrist—the one free of the woman’s grip—and glanced down at his watch. 8:05.
“Huit heures…” he began, then felt fire in his wrist as the woman wrenched him to the side—not further into safety but toward the humming track.
She’s strong—too strong, Nikolas thought.
And then his feet left the earth and he flew. But this time he knew the mysterious stranger wouldn’t halt his fall. She’d initiated it this time, and Nikolas had no idea why.
As he tumbled, Nikolas heard the screams of passengers waiting on the platform, but they sounded warped, like he was underwater. He felt a sickening jolt as his body struck and bounced like a ragdoll. Heat seared through him, and it ran so hot, he almost felt cold. Nikolas’s back arched and his limbs stiffened as an electric current swept through him, painting his world in pain.
To find out what happens on the other side of Nikolas’s fall, pick up your copy of Divine Five: Dawn today!