“Night Flyer to Cobra. Come in, over.”
Raindrops hit the window like bee-bees. Jessie opens the window an inch. Mom will probably kill her later, but the room is too stuffy. Humidity and heat and other things. Summer’s got a death grip on September and refuses to let go. She lets the mist cool her sweaty face before putting the walkie-talkie back to her mouth.
“Night Flyer to Cobra. Come in. Over.”
It was raining. Jessie peered through her bedroom window at the street below, looking for David-Not-Dave’s car. She’d never seen it before, but Jessie figured she’d know it when she did. David-Not-Dave probably drove something big and flashy. Like a smile with too much teeth.
It wasn’t a car, but a U-Haul that finally pulled into the driveway. Even in the downpour, her mom ran out to meet him. They hugged and kissed and probably didn’t care that Jessie hadn’t agreed to this. Not even a little.
That night, she skipped dinner, choosing instead to build a pair of wings from cardboard and lavender boa feathers leftover from the previous Halloween. All she wanted was to get up, go out, fly, fly away and never come back. Most of the feathers fell off on the climb through the attic window.
Through the open window, Mom and David-Not-Dave’s laughter carried on the wind and swirled around Jessie’s head like gnats. She swatted at them and nearly lost her footing.
She waited for a good gust, the kind that shook newly sprouted buds from trees, and jumped.
Adam had been slithering through the leaves, hunting for fallen birds’ nests. He found Jessie, arm bent at a funny angle and feathers sticking to the blood on her scalp. When he told her about it later, he said that she’d looked like a griffon trying to fly to the moon. Adam said he knew lots about weird things like griffons and gorgons. He called her Night Flyer. She punched him so he wouldn’t think she liked him, and then told him his fat neck made her think of a snake. Like a cobra.
“Night Flyer to Cobra. Quit being a git. Come in. Over.”
Jessie’s stomach growls. She left the table halfway through dinner, anxious to get Adam on the two-way. Her mom and David had been acting weird all day, like Jessie was in trouble. There’s no way they could know about the cherry bomb—Adam has it for safekeeping since his parents are too spaced to notice anything—but Jessie has to be sure.
She digs under her pillow for the Pop Tart she keeps stashed for emergencies. It’s a little smashed, but it’ll do.
There’s a sharp ping from her two-way, then static, then, finally, Adam’s voice. “Cobra to Night Flyer. What’s going on?”
“Took you long enough.”
“I couldn’t find the radio.”
Jessie can almost hear the shrug.
“June suspects something.”
Her mom’s name is Rachel, but Adam hates using real names. He says other people can listen in if they’ve got their stereos in just the right spot. They use code names, just to be safe.
“Impossible,” Adam says. The two-way crackles and Jessie only catches half of what he says next. “—nd it.”
“Say again, Cobra? You cut out.”
The two-way clicks. It sounds like he’s blowing real hard into the receiver. “I said there’s no way anyone coulda found it.”
Jessie doesn’t like the way he says it. Like he’s trying to convince himself. “You sure?”
Click. Whirr. Static. “I’m sure.”
She halfway believes him. “Okay.”
“Want to play the game?”
David-Not-Dave’s voice carries through the thin wall dividing her parents’ bathroom and her bedroom. He’s singing.
“Yeah,” she says.
Adam reached out to cover her eyes, only to have his hands slapped.
Jessie took a step back. “What are you doing?”
“You have to close your eyes for it to work.”
She raised an eyebrow. “So just tell me that. Don’t touch me.”
He reddened. “Fine. Close your eyes.”
“What are you gonna do?”
“Nothing. You’re gonna do it.”
Arms crossed over her chest, Jessie relented. “Now what?”
“Think of a place.”
Adam scoffed. “Not a real place.”
“Then what place?”
Grass. Sun. Clear, blue sky. A windmill in the distance, gently nudged by an intermittent breeze. A sunflower shot up behind her, spraying her neck with soil.
Adam shifted his weight, mulch crunching beneath his shoes. “Where are you?”
Jessie squirmed, feeling his gaze on her without opening her eyes to see it. Sunlight burned through her eyelids and she started to tear. “I don’t know.”
“Tell me,” he said.
“You first,” Adam says.
The Pop Tart is gone, but her stomach is still growling. She considers sneaking into the kitchen after Mom and David-Not-Dave have gone to bed.
“No,” Jessie says. “You first.”
Adam is quiet for a long time. It wouldn’t be the first time he’s chickened out. Of all the times they’ve played The Game, Adam has only gone to his place twice. Maybe he doesn’t need his the way Jessie needs hers.
She taps the button on the side of the two-way, which will send a tone to Adam’s. She’s met with static.
Click. He’s blowing into the receiver again. Something cracks, like a tree limb. “Okay.”
“Where are you?” Jessie asks.
“No.” She flips open her blinds. If she stands at the right angle, she can see the window of Adam’s corner bedroom across the street. “Really. Where are you?”
“That’s not how you play the game.”
“Don’t say my name!” His voice cracks.
The lamp on her nightstand flickers.
Jessie flinches. “Geeze. Cobra. Sorry.”
Click. Crack. Whoosh. The two-way feels warm in her hands.
“Come in, Cobra.”
“Just give me a minute,” Adam says. “I’m not sure where I am.”
There are footsteps outside Jessie’s room. She leaps into bed and stuffs the two-way beneath her pillow to muffle the sound. Technically, Adam stole them from the sports shop downtown. Technically, they owed him for the faulty hockey pads. They hadn’t even protected him from one of Jessie’s punches.
“Jess?” Her mom calls through the door.
Jessie holds her breath. Wills her to go away. Leave Jessie alone.
Fading footsteps. She’s gotten her wish, though it feels too easy.
“You there, Night Flyer?”
“Roger. Close call.”
Click. Smack. Whirr. “There’s someone here.”
“That’s not the rule.”
Jessie’s quiet. Hurt. He’s never told her to shut up before. Not like that.
He continues. “Smells funny. Like breakfast.”
“—Dad always messes it up. Burns everything.”
Whirr. Smack. Click. Growl. “Someone’s here.”
It might be the static, but Jessie thinks Adam’s voice is shaking. Lightning flashes in triplet, casting harsh light over his house. Adam’s room is black.
Jessie stabs the button. “Where are you?” She demands.
“—running. I’m scared.”
“Where are you?” She’s frantic now, face pressed against the cold window, flinching with each crack of thunder. Something’s wrong. This isn’t the game.
Smack. “I don’t know. I don’t know. Don’t know don’t know don’t—”
“—know don’t know don’t—”
Jessie kicks her bed. Kicks the desk. Kicks anything that’ll make a nice bang. He’s trying to scare her. Boys were always doing that. Pitching spiders on her or shouting at her or making her believe in monsters. Not this time.
“It’s not funny. I’m not scared. Just stop it.” Her voice shakes harder than she wants.
“Jessie—” Click. Smash.
Her heart falls through the floor. He broke the rules. This isn’t a joke.
“Adam? Adam listen to me. Tell me where you are.”
Adam’s scream nearly shatters the two-way.
Clutching the radio like a lifeline, Jessie races across the hall to her mother’s room. The door is locked, but she knows how to pick it. A fingernail inserted into the lock, twisted just the right way.
Mom’s sleeping. David-not-Dave is snoring. Jessie doesn’t care.
She flips on the light. David-not-Dave shudders awake like he’s been electrocuted. Mom sighs.
“What is it?” Mom says, still half-asleep.
“Adam. He needs help. Get up.”
David-not-Dave rolls over. “I told you we should’ve gone with the therapist.”
“Shush, David.” Mom says. She looks at Jessie. “Let’s get something to drink, sweetie.”
“No!” Jessie thrusts her two-way at her mother, as if Adam’s blood is on it. “Listen!”
But there’s only static. She stabs the button, over and over. Her finger throbs from the effort. Adam’s hurt. She can feel it. Why won’t anyone help?
She’s shaking, but hardly notices. Mom’s got her wrapped in a blanket that smells like cigarettes. Smothered.
“Kitchen, Jessie. Now.”
Still wrapped in the blanket, she follows Mom to the kitchen. She protests the entire way—Adam is in trouble; Adam is hurt; I have to save him—but Mom only shakes her head. She spoons coffee into a filter and fills the well with water.
Jesse starts to feel hopeful. Mom only drinks coffee before work, when she has to be awake and ready for anything. Maybe she didn’t want to talk about it around David-Not-Dave. Mom is on her side. Mom will help.
The coffee finishes brewing and Mom pours some into a mug they got on vacation last year; the handle is shaped like a flamingo, neck bent at a sickeningly sharp angle.
“Is this one of your stories?” Mom says.
Jessie drops the blanket on the floor, tears stinging her eyes. Stabs the button on the two-way again. “Cobra. Come in, Cobra.”
A brief moment of static before the voice breaks through. It’s not Adam’s voice. Too deep and gravelly. “Help me, Night Flyer.”
“There!” She shoves the thing into her mother’s hands. “Did you hear?”
Mom pales. “I didn’t hear anything, sweetheart.”
“Liar!” Jessie’s crying. Can’t see. Can’t think.
Mom tries to hug her, but Jessie pulls away. Mom’s touch feels like an electric shock on her skin.
Jessie shivers so hard her joints crack. Mom tries to touch her again—another shock straight to Jessie’s core.
“Help me, Night Flyer.”
Jessie kicks Mom’s shin. Mom cries out, diving for Jessie’s flailing legs. Hands curl into fists, hurling indiscriminate punches.
David-Not-Dave shouts something from upstairs.
Mom pins Jessie to the ground. The cold tile feels like needle pricks against her cheek.
Mom slaps Jessie’s face. Jessie freezes.
“Don’t you remember?” Mom’s face is contorted, monstrous. She’s going to let Adam die.
Jessie pushes against Mom’s weight, but she’s too weak.
She gnashes her teeth. Adam’s pleas whisper from the two-way.
Mom brushes the hair from Jessie’s sweaty forehead. “Adam died, honey. Remember?”
The two-way screams.
Jessie closes her eyes, throat constricted. Thinks, Come in Cobra. Over.
Katrina Monroe and the Dark Side of Fiction
Night Flyer to Cobra
Katrina Monroe is an author, mother, and professional haterologist. Her favorite things to hate include socks that fall down, grape-flavored anything, and the color 'salmon.' Grab her books here.