The Spark at the Core

Submitted into Contest #58 in response to: Write a story about someone feeling powerless.... view prompt

120 comments

Drama Urban Fantasy Transgender

Liz gasped and drew on the spark inside her to defend herself. Nothing. The tiny, flickering flame had been extinguished and she couldn’t even feel the embers. 


“I can do that,” said the man looming over her. Her cheek stung from the backhand he’d used. “What I gave you can be taken away.” 


Fear. Bright, blooming fear. It had been so long since she’d felt it and even longer since she’d felt it this intensely. She sat, silently, desperately searching inside herself for the spark of power that would give access to her flames. 


When she’d first been gifted, there had been classes to help her draw out her power and control it. She had, in the beginning, veered wildly between being unable to summon the smallest flame on an upturned palm to unconstrained destruction as the flames engulfed her. There had been exercises in focus and precision and though she hadn’t needed them for years, she ran through them again in her head. 


The man watched, with a small smile and an air of smugness. 


“It’s pointless,” he said. “The sharp prick you felt?” He was referring to the jab that had made her jump when she’d leant back in the chair. Something sharp in her shoulder but when she’d looked, there had been nothing there. “Hidden hypodermic needle containing the antidote to the formula I gave you.” 


His smile widened as her eyes turned round with horror. 


“I warned you and you didn’t listen. So confident that you were untouchable.” He stepped close and ran a finger down the side of her face. “But not so much anymore.” 


She shuddered. 


He was right: she had thought she was invincible. As leader of the American Heroes, the public loved her and, of course, her ability to cover her body with flames meant she was literally untouchable unless she chose not to be. She’d been so cocky about that. 


“No more Solar Flare,” he said, leaning so their faces were level. “I can even take away Liz, too, if you push back with this.” He huffed a soft laugh at the small sound of terror that escaped her. “Oh I can reverse any surgeries, withdraw access to any hormones. I can take away any aspect of your life. I built it; I can bulldoze it.” 


Years of fear and struggle and hope. Years of proving her moral fibre, her bravery, her empathy. Years of applications and interviews and tests. 


The American Hero Association had made her work for it but they’d fulfilled every dream. She had been crafted into the person she’d always wanted to be and, best of all, she’d been able to make a difference. People listened when she spoke and donations to domestic abuse shelters and LGBTQ+ charities had doubled in the two years she’d been at the helm. She had stopped an asteroid from hitting Earth last year and had helped save an entire city from a volcanic eruption only last month. 


People trusted her. Enough to tell her personal stories about Jim Darcy, head scientist. Stories that led to them crying on her shoulder using phrases like ‘forced me to’ and words like ‘dirty’ and ‘ashamed’. 


So she had investigated and had been repulsed by what she’d found. She’d uncovered evidence of crimes leading back to the programme’s origins over thirty years ago. Careers that had flourished or floundered depending on the responses of the young hero. Most of the heroes who could boast two powers had spent time in his quarters as well as his lab. 


She had her own story, too, but she’d assumed that her experience was an isolated one. The statistics were so much worse for people like her anyway. 


He leant forward and pressed his nose to her hair. Bile rose in her stomach. 


“Those files will be deleted as soon as we are done here. I will tell the directors that a virus has interfered with your abilities and if - if - you can show me that you’re a good girl and can follow instructions, maybe I will let you have the formula again.” He inhaled slowly and she felt his grin stretch across the side of her cheek. “This is my kingdom, you little bitch. You take the scraps I throw you and be grateful. I’ll be having the same conversation with all of the interviews on that tape, too.” 


The fear, the horror, the revulsion. They melted away and Liz saw what was left behind. She would not let him touch another vulnerable person, no matter the consequences to herself. 


In all his arrogance, he’d forgotten that she’d grown up in a bigoted neighbourhood, fighting for the right to be counted as a person. 


She didn’t need her flames. 


He lifted his hand to her shoulder and she exploded into action. The heel of her hand rammed into his nose to disorient him, surprising them both with the speed and strength of it. It had been so long since she’d had to use physical violence and she had a momentary pang for the loss of her fire.


Blood flowed freely from his broken nose. She took advantage of the distraction and spun out of the chair. Two steps put her behind him.


Sharp kicks to the back of his knees drove him down and she aimed the same part of her hand at the base of his neck, putting in as much force as she could muster. 


It seemed, though, that he’d given himself the same shot that she’d had all those years ago: his recovery was too quick to be anything else. The results of the formula manifested differently in everyone, activating deeply buried genetic code. Some activations were more impressive than others and though his superpowered agility would not put him on the cover of magazines, it was certainly enough for him to evade her hand and throw her off balance. 


Snarling and flicking specks of blood with every quick twist, his retaliating blows came ferociously fast and it was all she could do to block. The impact of a shoulder hit sent spasms down her left side. An open-palmed blow to her chest sent her staggering back.


Suddenly she was 19 again, afraid and pulling on all the self defence and martial arts that she’d gleaned from movies and through dojo windows. Dodge, parry, duck.


She relied purely on instinct and slowly, slowly, she began to gain ground. He was a scientist who barely left his lab and no amount of agility could hide the fact that he was not a seasoned fighter.


She sidestepped a vicious jab to her kidneys, feeling the air rushing past her side, and slammed her open hand sideways into his throat. His attacks stopped abruptly as he fought to breathe instead. 


An elbow to the head followed and he slumped to the floor, still struggling for air. She rubbed it, regretting her choice of attack. At least he was down.


Liz looked around, heart beating too quickly at the base of her throat. He should be out for a bit but she needed to make sure he was secured before he woke up. She yanked computer cables from the walls and began looping them around his wrists and ankles. 


When she was finished, she looked at the unconscious man who had ruined so many people’s lives. It would be so easy to end his but that would be a hollow victory. She wanted to see his life torn apart, as he’d promised to do to her. His career, his relationships - all in tatters because of her. 


She looked down at him, scorn curling her lip. He stirred and, realising he was bound, struggled against the ties. She watched for a moment to make sure the ties held. After a moment, he gave up and looked at her with a mixture of despair and terror.


Liz smiled and leaned so that she was looking directly into his eyes. Her voice rang out clearly through the room.


“With or without my flames, you are going to burn.”



September 05, 2020 09:03

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120 comments

Harken Void
18:37 Sep 07, 2020

Hey Laura! I managed to read your story, and I'm glad I did. I liked the idea of a superhero group (and her name, Solar Flare). You managed to convey all the necessary information we needed (hero, vilain, superpower...) in a way where it wasn't an exposition, but rather part of the story. I liked the idea of a formula to enhance some part of a person's genetic code to gain superpowers. Pretty cool :) That last line was superb. One thing I would love to see is Liz saying something - she didn't have a single line of dialogue. Now...

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Elle Clark
20:33 Sep 07, 2020

Hi Harken! Thank you for your brilliant comment. You know, I actually hadn’t even clocked that I’d made her speechless and that is an excellent note. I will make the end line speech - thank you for that!

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Harken Void
13:19 Sep 08, 2020

You're welcome!

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S. Closson
05:22 Sep 07, 2020

You did an excellent job with this story. For it being as short as it was, it was a very fleshed out story. The amount of description was just right, in my opinion. Liz's real fire being the one inside and not the one taken from her was an great ending, I was really pulling for her to take that schmuck to the cleaners. If you have the chance, I'd appreciate it if I could get your feedback on 'Stains of Shame'. Keep up the quality stories!

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Elle Clark
21:04 Sep 07, 2020

Thank you so much! I’ll check yours out ASAP!

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Rayhan Hidayat
23:48 Sep 06, 2020

So, so awesome. I ADORE the dual meaning to “powerless,” that was so clever. The short length is the best part: you quickly establish the main character and their abilities, the superhero system, and why the reader should hate the villain, before delivering the perfect ending. It’s short and sweet, like a little Cadbury square. Now I’m no English teacher, so I don’t know how sound my critiques are, but there really isn’t anything I can say to improve your already clean and digestible writing style. But, I did notice this is one of your fi...

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Elle Clark
03:29 Sep 07, 2020

Thank you so much! Those are really useful tips for the fight scene - I will edit (probably tomorrow) and then ask you for a second opinion, if that’s okay? I spent way too much time on those two or three paragraphs and have been messing around with it every so often. I think what I should have done is go find three fight scenes in my favourite books and then just brazenly plagerise but my heart just won’t let me. So instead, there’s my ‘she hit him, then he hit her, then she hit him in the throat’ masterpiece. So I’m grateful for any tips t...

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Rayhan Hidayat
03:46 Sep 07, 2020

No problem, and sure, I’ll give it a re-read if you like! Also just wanna say there’s nothing wrong with your fight scene; it flows and reads well, and you shouldn’t really go too descriptive for a short story. This is just how I tend to write action! 🙂

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Elle Clark
06:02 Sep 07, 2020

Ha, thanks. I can’t resist fiddling with it though. Would you mind casting your eye over it? I’ve shortened the paragraphs and added some extra detail. Shortened some sentences too as I’m not sure long-winded explanation is necessarily helpful.

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Rayhan Hidayat
06:20 Sep 07, 2020

Yep, already it’s way more immersive, especially when you mention the spasms on her left side. The way I see it is that flashy moves are reserved for cinema, but little minutiae of sensation are what make literature entertaining. Just my take on it. And btw, I have a new story out if you’re interested. Would love a Miss/Mrs Clark review if she can spare the time 🙂

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Elle Clark
06:38 Sep 07, 2020

Brilliant, thank you so much! I can’t see Mr/Mrs Clark? Have you definitely put it up?

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21:08 Sep 05, 2020

“This is my kingdom you little bitch” Ugh I hate that guy! I selfishly wanted her to kill him but yours makes a better ending. Who doesn’t like a story about the gal kicking the guy’s ass. No one that’s who. Get em Liz! Enjoyable read 👍🏼

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Elle Clark
21:09 Sep 05, 2020

Ha- I completely agree. I was aiming for a murdery end but I’d built her up to be a highly moral character who fought for the little guy and it would’ve been too out of character for her to do anything other than use the law. Thanks for the comment!

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Deidra Lovegren
17:47 Sep 05, 2020

Artfully written, per normal. Of course the superhero community has a casting couch... Having spent my younger days working in Washington, DC, this fully resonated: congressmen with too much power and too little income impotently (or potently?) using their status/prestige to groom/tame/subjugate women on their way up. I'd like to burn all those oleaginous blobs down who "bumped" into me repeatedly on the subway or gave long "hugs" in the elevator in the 1980's and 1990's. I pray this has diminished. Interesting though, as my 11th graders...

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Elle Clark
18:30 Sep 05, 2020

Thank you! This comment gives me so much hope - the whole ‘children are our future’ feels like it could well be true this generation around. My generation most complain about not being able to afford houses or comfort eating avocados so I don’t think we have made the progress that I think we were capable of. Sadly, I do worry about your kids not being aware of the #metoo movement, despite the hope it shows. It’s that whole horror story trope where a character says, “I don’t believe in demons” and the other says, “Well they believe in you...

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Philip Clayberg
21:52 Sep 28, 2020

Wow. Makes me look at Johnny Storm in The Fantastic Four (I grew up on the comic books and cartoons in the 1970s, not the later live-action movies) in a whole new way. Ditto for Drew Barrymore's character in "Firestarter". I can just imagine Liz leaving the building the lab (or operating room) is in and behind her the building is in flames from foundation to roof-top. "Never mess with fire. It could come back to ..." (she was about to say "bite" but changed her mind) "... burn you." Please write more of your story. I do want to know...

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Elle Clark
05:52 Sep 29, 2020

Haha, thank you so much! What a great comment!

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C.J 🤍
18:41 Sep 17, 2020

Awesome job!!!! Could you please read my new story?

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Jonathan Blaauw
05:16 Sep 17, 2020

Great story! Please read mine!

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Elle Clark
06:09 Sep 17, 2020

You thought I was joking? No karma for you!

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Elle Clark
06:10 Sep 17, 2020

Especially as I got excited but you don’t have a new one up!

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Jonathan Blaauw
06:46 Sep 17, 2020

Don't I? Are you sure? Like, sure sure? Did you check thoroughly? Oh, it's not ready yet. That's why. Hopefully tomorrow. I just wanted to test - I'm the kind of person, when I see a sign saying 'Do Not Push The Button" I immediately have to push the button. I'm very glad you're sticking to your guns. You are a much better writer than your bio suggests, by the way. Just thought you should know 😀

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Elle Clark
06:48 Sep 17, 2020

God, is it that badly written?

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Jonathan Blaauw
09:43 Sep 17, 2020

Nooo! It's perfectly written. Just that you're better than you describe yourself as. It's fine, that's what I'm for - to remind you!

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Jonathan Blaauw
06:35 Sep 18, 2020

Someone restored my point! Ha, your plan was foiled! I have a new release when you get a chance. No hurry.

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Jonathan Blaauw
06:40 Sep 18, 2020

Congratulations, you have been invited to a special, pre-release screening of J.Blaauw’s new story. Date: Whenever you’re able Time: See above Place: My page Dress: Formal Entry fee: 1x ‘Like’ of the story will be required for entry. RSVP: Not necessary See you there! 🎉🎉🎈🎈

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Amogh Kasat
07:59 Sep 07, 2020

It's a wonderful story! Please read my latest story

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C.J 🤍
19:55 Sep 05, 2020

Loved your story! Could you please read my story

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