Black Friday is here and we’re discussing the season with Kelly Meding’s Renee “Flex” Duvall from Chimera.
A mysterious and dangerous conspiracy deepens, threatening the superpowered Rangers and pushing Flex to join forces with one of her team’s mortal enemies: a Bane called Chimera.
Growing up with blue skin never made Rene “Flex” Duvall feel like at outcast. She learned early on to put people at ease with her wit and exuberant personality. So she’s certainly not going to let her façade crack when she and her teammates suddenly face a new breed of genetically manipulated and brainwashed Metas: the well-trained teenage criminals known as the Recombinants.
When a desperate battle leaves one of their friends wounded, Renee and Ethan follow a clue to Manhattan Island, where the Banes have been imprisoned. There they find a Bane named Chimera, who refuses to cooperate despite possessing information that could help them stop the Recombinants. Chimera’s emotional scars are as devastating as Renee’s physical scars, and soon the two find common ground in shared pain. Against her better judgment, Renee forms an alliance with this Bane. They both can gain much from working together, so the only question is who has more to lose by cooperating . . . .
I Was Thirteen My First Time
Okay kids, true confession time: I have not, nor will I ever go shopping on Black Friday. No so-called deal is worth the hassle, the stress, or the close quarters with insane, bargain-crazy shoppers. No thank you.
Christmas shopping should be about finding something perfect for someone you love, not fighting with another person for a five dollar blender. Not cutting someone off to get into a parking space. The whole thing makes me crazy, and that’s probably because the first time I ever went Christmas shopping, I was thirteen and my foster mother was as calm and collected as anyone I’ve ever known.
A note about my crazy life. Until I was eight, I lived in a compound of sorts, full of people who hated and feared Metas. We didn’t go to the mall for jeans, and we didn’t head to Target for Christmas ornaments. Supplies were brought in and divvied up. Hell, I’d never even heard the word “Christmas” until I was rescued by the Ranger Corps and taken to live in Los Angeles. And even then, we didn’t really celebrate Christmas at the Ranger Headquarters. We kids were too busy training, and the adults were too busy fighting a growing war with our enemies.
Christmas didn’t become a thing until the War ended, we all lost our superpowers, and I was sent to live with a kind, aging couple named Alfred and Joan Wimbley. They took me into their lives in the summertime, and I saw my first real Northeast autumn leaf change. I had apple cider and went on a hay ride. I went on my very first Christmas shopping excursion, and it was lovely.
Let me set the scene: you’re a traumatized thirteen year old with trust issues, living with very kind strangers who do odd things like teach you to bake cookies and let you ride horses. It’s a surreal existence, the second time your life has started over. You haven’t experienced true winter in five years, and it’s getting colder all the time. It’s even snowed twice.
Your foster mom Joan wears floral dresses and lets her gray hair flow long and free. She declares that the first Saturday in December, you’ll both drive into town and do your Christmas shopping. You aren’t sure what that means, and the idea of going into town terrifies you. You’re still blue, after all, and this is a really small town. You don’t want to cause any trouble for Joan, so you ask if you can wear her pancake makeup. She laughs and says, “Don’t be silly, sweet pea.”
No one’s ever called you sweet pea before Joan, and you like it. It makes you feel wanted. So on Saturday you wrap a scarf all around your neck and chin, hoping it blocks as much of your face as possible. Joan drives a rickety old pickup into town, which is the size of the whole Ranger HQ back in L.A., and you’ve never gotten over this. The old compound was small, sure, but this town is teeny. Joan parks on Main Street, which is transformed into a wonderland. Pine garlands wrap every lamp post. Wreaths hang from every doorway. Twinkle lights sparkle around window fronts. Snow from last week’s fall still lingers in piles on sidewalks and alleys.
It’s another world, and it takes your breath away. And you aren’t alone in this wonderland. Families and couples meander up and down the sidewalks, bags in hands, chatting and greeting in passing. They know each other. This is as much a shopping experience as a chance to see old friends and catch up—for them. Not for you, not really. You’re home schooled, and you’ve only met a few of the neighbors. This is as much a new experience as it is an exercise in controlling your anxiety. You won’t fail.
You follow Joan into an honest-to-goodness five-and-dime style dry goods store. It’s amazing. It’s everything. Racks of clothes and shoes, stands of cheap jewelry, out-of-print books, craft stuff, fake flower arrangements, household goods in off-brands. You wander up and down aisles of delight, until you make a right turn and discover the Land of Christmas. It’s more than you ever dreamed.
Eight different Christmas trees done up with unique themes. Boxes of twinkle lights in a dozen colors. Ornaments of every shape and shade. Glass and plastic. Round and square and spirals and diamonds. Nutcrackers. Garlands. Packs of something shimmery and silver called “Icicles.” Wreaths made out of holly and pine and grape vine and plastic balls.
“You should pick out an ornament for the tree,” Joan says. You don’t realize she’s followed you, watching you gawk at everything. She points at the shelves and baskets of individual ornaments. “Anything you like.”
You want to say you couldn’t possibly choose, but the idea of getting your first ornament—the first thing that’s yours, that you chose yourself for your entire life—is too good to pass up. The wide world of this glorious store is yours for the taking, and it’s overwhelming. So you wander the rows, poking into baskets, seeking the ornament that speaks to you. It will mean something when you see it, of that you’re sure. You pick at wooden animals and unicorns and gnomes and snowmen. Trees and reindeer and candy canes and glitter-covered shapes that you can’t even name. None of them are right.
No shelf goes unsearched, no basket unturned. You end up in a dark corner of this wonderland where big yellow “Sale” signs dominate every shelf surface. Years-old relics of Christmases long ago, left behind and forgotten. Marked down to impossibly low prices and still overlooked. Dusty packages and chipped paint. Unwanted and homeless, like you. Each item is a treasure to be acknowledged, and you take your time inspecting each one. Giving each a moment of your time, because nothing deserves to be ignored.
In the bottom of a plain brown basket, buried beneath dozens of oddball ornaments, you find it. Two plastic letters. R and C, with the C overlapping along the R’s tail. Both bright blue with a white edging. The letters are attached to a piece of white ribbon. The surface is a little scratched, but you don’t care. This is home. This is the symbol for the Ranger Corps. A dollar seems too little for such a treasure, and Ruth is more than willing to buy it for you. This is your first purchase from your very first Christmas shopping experience.
And it’s perfect.
Meet Kelly Meding!
A native of the Delaware seashore, Kelly Meding briefly attempted life in the bustle of the Northern Virginia/DC Metro area, before retreating back to the relative quiet of the Eastern Shore. She lives in a small town near the beach, with a neurotic cat who occasionally meows at ghosts. Kelly received her Bachelor’s Degree in Communication in 2002 and she hasn’t used it since, preferring instead to wile away her non-writing hours on the sales floor of a national retail chain. After discovering Freddy Krueger at a very young age, Kelly began a lifelong obsession with horror, science fiction, and fantasy, on which she blames her interest in vampires, psychic powers, superheroes, and all things paranormal. When not writing, she can be found crafting jewelry, enjoying a good cup of coffee, or scouring the Internet for gossip on her favorite television shows.
Want to purchase ’s novels?
Please help spread the word: Tweet: #BlackFriday is here. Celebrate the chaos with #holiday #stories and #contests by 26 authors (Nov29-Dec24) http://wp.me/p3SIUp-atz
Thank you Kelly for taking part in Literary Escapism’s Black Friday!