“I have her,” Zone yelled, carrying the old woman through the smoke spewing from the hallway.
Titan ushered him past, his other hand supporting the collapsed roof beam. Zone hurried to the apartment’s window, the unconscious woman limp in his arms. An orange glow enveloped them. The fire was closer than Titan was comfortable with. They were the last ones; the rest of the small apartment building was empty of the living and the fire was too far gone to stop the collapse.
Zone reached the window and handed the woman to the firefighter waiting in the ladder basket. He followed the instant she was clear. Titan felt a small chunk of brick shatter against his head as it fell, another couple chunks of roof following it.
He counted to twenty as the basket withdrew with its three occupants. Once he estimated the ladder had been pulled back to a safe distance, Titan released the roof as he rushed to the window. A quick glance at the window told him the firefighters had pulled everyone back. He jumped and the concrete below his feet cracked at his impact site. Behind him, the top floor of the apartment building completed its collapse. Flames and smoke billowed into the night sky.
After the photoshoot and news interviews, the team piled into the black SUV for the drive back to the Mormont Building. An orange glow flickered around Titan’s vision as he closed the door to the car. A couple blinks dispelled it. He’d been staring at fires all day, after all.
Back at their building, a headache formed in the back of his head as they filled out their reports. Despite the severity of the fire, they’d managed to get everyone out more or less unscathed. With the forms completed, they dispersed without chatting. Owen caught a small frown on Galvanize as he passed Owen by.
Owen rubbed his eyes with one hand as he opened the door to his room, his knees weakening and head pounding. He hadn’t gotten sick in years. Something was causing this, something he hadn’t been exposed to before.
Those thoughts vanished as he collapsed onto his bed, the frame creaking in protest beneath him.
* * *
Owen cracked his eyes open, taking in the sight of his pillow just inches in front of his face. Not under him of course, that would have been comfortable. A bleary eyed glance at his alarm clock told him it was 9 AM. His mask pressed into his face.
He peeled it off as he sat upright. It wasn’t like him to forget something like that. The hazy memories of yesterday came back to him in pieces. A glow he’d ignored. The sickness, now gone without a trace. There was an excellent chance a power was at work. Someone wanted him unconscious for a reason.
He searched his room. He didn’t have anything of particular value, but it never hurt to check and make sure nothing was amiss. Nothing. His two photos hadn’t moved. His strongbox still had all of its contents undisturbed. Everything was as he remembered it last.
If there were answers, they weren’t in his room. The others might have seen or felt something he was missing. He poked his head out his door. The tap of the sink in the kitchen was on as well as the TV.
He headed towards the sounds in the common room. Galvanize gave him a small wave from the kitchen as he drank a glass of water. Hexcellent sat on the couch as always, playing another videogame. Nothing seemed amiss.
“Good morning,” he said to Hex, beating the snot out of some poor collection of pixels on the screen.
“What?” she asked, tearing her eyes from the screen to glance at him for a second.
Owen’s brow furrowed. “I just said good morning. Why?”
“What kind of made up language is that?” She paused the game and turned to face him fully.
“What did I say?”
With complete and utter conviction, Galvanize said, “You’re speaking English.”
“Gosh darn it, what on earth is wrong with you two?” said Hexcellent. Owen blinked. Something was wrong. Something was horribly, horribly wrong. From the look on her face, Hexcellent had realized the same thing. “Did I just say that? No. Gosh no.”
No one could understand Owen. Hex had apparently either suffered some sort of horrific personality altering head injury overnight or couldn’t speak profanity. Something was off with Galvanize as well, something Owen couldn’t quite his finger on.
“Something is wrong with our voices,” Owen said. He couldn’t hear anything wrong with his voice, but Hex obviously didn’t feel the same way.
“OK, what the heck are you saying?”
“I can understand him too, Hex,” Galvanize said.
She looked between the two of them, mouth ajar. “What!?” she finally managed.
“What did I say?” Galvanize asked.
“You keep saying you can understand him,”
Galvanize’s eyes widened. “Oh no. I think I can only tell the truth.”
Owen sighed and kept his mouth shut. No use adding to the confusion. He tried to think of anyone who could alter multiple peoples’ voices like this. Unfortunately, no one sprang to mind.
“I think he meant he can only lie,” Hex said. Owen nodded. At least that couldn’t be misunderstood.
Galvanize pointed and said “No!”
Hex paused for a moment. “I think he means yes. And stop talking, that just makes everything more confusing. Big man, what could possibly be up with you?”
“I have no idea what you guys think I’m saying.” Owen shrugged. Body language seemed to carry the message just fine.
“I don’t think he knows what he’s saying,” Hex said. Owen and Galvanize nodded. Hex reached for her phone. “It’s just our voices. Maybe there’s a way around this.”
“What is going on?” Bubble Bubble asked as she joined them in the common room, rubbing sleep from her eyes. “I heard some raised voices and I thought that was weird because that never happens here.”
Owen suppressed a sigh. BB never used so many words just to ask a simple question like that.
“Titan can’t talk right, I flipping can’t either, and Galvanize can’t tell the truth.”
“That has really got to suck. I wonder what’s going on,” BB said. “Wait, did I just say that out loud? Why am I still talking aloud? Can I stop it? No, I can’t, I’m still talking. No, stop, no.” Her eyes widened in horror as her mouth disobeyed. “I can’t make it stop.”
She clapped her hands over her mouth. Her jaw kept working, though her words were muffled enough that Owen couldn’t understand most of it. She seemed to be saying every little thing that come to her mind, the majority of which being some variation of confusion or panic.
Hex sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. “Don’t worry, BB. I can only say stuff like darn, and stuff, no matter how hard I try.”
BB lowered her hands to say, “Truly yours is a life of suffering,” before clamping them back over her mouth again.
Hex flipped her off. She grinned when she realized her fingers couldn’t be censored. “Oh! Ha! Hahahahaha!” She laughed as she waved both middle fingers in front of BB.
As amusing as it was to Hex, it wasn’t helping them with their current situation. Owen grasped her arm, making sure not to fracture any bones, and gently pushed it down. Hex got the message.
“So what can we do?” Galvanize asked.
“Hang on. I just downloaded one of those translator thingys you talk into. Say something,” Hex said as she held up the phone to Owen.
“I’d like this shit to stop now.”
The phone beeped. “It says you’re speaking Mongolian,” Hexcellent said, reading the translation of what he’d said. “Heh. You and me both. This stuff needs to stop.”
BB spoke up, “I think I stopped. Oh thank god. Wait, no. Damn it. I said that out loud. And why am I explaining every little thing to myself like an idiot? I’m not an-”
“Golly gee willikers.” Hexellent made a sort of strangled choking noise not unlike a cat coughing up a hairball when she realized what words had just exited her mouth. She curled up into a ball on the couch, her back to everyone else. “Kill me,” she muttered.
Owen joined her on the couch and patted her on the shoulder. As irritating as their messed voices were, Owen’s livelihood wasn’t irrevocably tied into his image quite as much as his teammates’. If anyone caught Hex using a term like golly gee willikers, or Galvanize lying about the most obvious things, their careers would take an unpleasant hit.
Zone flailed his arms as he rushed into the room. He looked like he’d just come from the gym, if the sweat on his brow and the gym clothes were any indication. Owen opened his mouth to ask what was wrong, then caught himself.
Hex uncurled when everyone turned to look at Zone. “What? Did Timmy fall down a well?” Hex asked when Zone just stood there.
“I don’t think he’s trying to communicate,” Galvanize said. Zone glared at both of them. Galvanize just hung his head, mouth firmly shut.
Zone flailed his arms around after a moment.
“Seriously, Zone. Can you not talk?” Hex asked.
He pointed at Hex.
“Are you serious? You can’t fudging talk?”
Owen managed to hear an, “Oh come on,” from BB.
Zone just stared.
Hex glared. “Yes, I just said fudging. You aren’t the only one with problems. Titan here is speaking in Mongolian, we had to use a translator thingy on my phone.”
Zone straightened up at the mention of the phone. He fished his own phone out of his pocket and typed. Nothing appeared on the screen. Galvanize rushed off to the kitchen.
“Hang on,” Owen said, holding out a hand for the phone. He hit the “a” key. An “a” appeared on the screen, the cursor blinking in mockery of Zone.
“Here, don’t try this,” Galvanize said as he returned, offering a notepad and pen.
Zone grabbed them and slapped the notepad on the desk. He scribbled the pen on the paper. The paper stayed pristine, as if he’d done nothing to it at all. Zone’s head hit the table not long after.
Galvanize’s phone rang. A moment after he answered it, he jerked upright and held out a hand to the others. “OK. I won’t tell them.” Galvanize hung up and said to the team, “No one coming up to see us. They don’t have anything to do with this. We definitely shouldn’t grab our masks.”
It took them a second to parse what he had said.
“What else did they say?”
Galvanize just shook his head and said, “I know. Mr. Greene didn’t seem to trust them.”
A few minutes later, with the team assembled with their masks on, greeted an old woman who strode into the common room. The small angel earrings she wore glinted in the light as she walked.
“I’m Josie. You pulled me out of that burning apartment. I noticed my necklace was damaged, and I wanted to make sure nothing was wrong with anyone I may have come into contact with. The second I said something that fussy man downstairs told me about this.”
It figured Mordent and Mr. Greene would be watching their team with concern over the latest developments.
“Titan, say something,” Hex said.
“Yeah, he thinks that’s English or some such. All of our voices are messed up.”
“Is that so?” Josie asked. She grabbed Zone’s chin and stared at his eyes. She slapped away his hand when he tried to resist. “Stop squirming. I see. Ha! This is an easy enough fix.”
She released Zone’s chin to grab a length of string and five metal beads from her pocket. Each glowed orange in her hand before she threaded them onto the string. She handed it to Zone.
“Here, wear this. The power is originally from you. It would have worn off in a month anyways, but I doubt you kids would like being stuck like this for that long. One of you wears this for the next twenty four hours and it’ll be like nothing happened.”
“Wait, why did this happen? Why did any of this happen?” asked Hex. “Why could I recognize I was speaking gibberish when Titan couldn’t? Why could all of us except for Zone use work-arounds. Why? Why?”
“Oh, I have no idea. The stronger the power, the more unpredictable the object’s effects. You folks just got unlucky. I was trying out a language power. I’ve been wary about powers that alter the brain in the past, but since I retired I figured I’d experiment. Then the fire happened.”
“You guys can understand me now?” Owen asked.
“Yes! Fuck yes! Shit. Fuck. Balls. Yes! Thank fucking Christ.”
Josie simply smiled. “If anything else comes up, I’m at the old Brewster Motel, out by the old car lot.” She left.
“I’m not talking ever again,” BB murmured the instant the elevator door closed.
“Yes,” agreed Owen. “Let us never speak of this again.”
The crazy, zany, and completely NOT CANON! interlude you’ve just read is part of the Serial Fiction April Fool’s Day Swap, 2015 Edition. The mindblowing gag post you’ve just read was written by Syphax, who normally writes the story The Stoneburners, found at http://stoneburners.wordpress.com/ .
Drew Hayes, who normally writes this story, today has created his own piece of tomfoolery for Caelum Lex found athttp://www.caelum-lex.com/ .
For a full list of all our April Fool’s Swappers and their stories, as well as dozens of other serial novels that will tickle your fancy, check out The Web Fiction Guide at
Thanks for reading and remember, the best way to support your favorite serial novelist is to tell all your friends about them.
And, lest any of you feel bitter about the story that updates once a week being used for an April Fool's swap: Behold! Actual Chapter 75. I'll link it on the side bar come Thursday, but for now only those of you who stuck things out to the end get to read it. :-D