Cloak: Chapter 3
A new novel, presented in serial form.
Carmen reared back her Thread and stuck her arm straight up. Thread shot to the underpass, anchoring rapidly to a bolt. Carmen Zipped upward just as the Cutlass rushed under her, and she swung wildly on the Thread from the force of air. She hauled herself onto the bottom of the underpass, using the Thread for support. On edge, she prepared to fight once the driver whipped around.
But the Cutlass kept speeding toward the playground, turned sharply, and soon disappeared down the block.
Carmen exhaled, and slowly lowered herself down to the concrete. I’m hungry. Dinnertime.
She jogged back to the house, and was greeted by the whole family spilling out the door, led by Asha.
“Mama!” She yelled, careening into Carmen’s legs. “Where’d you go?!”
Ty and Deshawn reached her next, and Lenore and Zati were almost in tears.
Ashley still had Jaleia on her hip and looked mad. “Are you crazy, girl? Running out the door with nothing but a spool?”
“You could have been ambushed!” Chris shouted.
Carmen looked at everyone, and suddenly felt sheepish. “The Blade is gone. Whoever it was. I’m sorry everyone, I don’t know what I was thinking.” She touched her children’s faces. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“You didn’t even have your Cloak, Mama,” Lenore chided. “What would you have done if you had to fight?”
“Gotten real tricky with Thread?” Carmen laughed. “I really don’t know what I was thinking. I guess I was just…I can’t believe a Blade was so close to our home.”
“And in the daytime,” Pops remarked.
“Well, it ain’t no coincidence,” Ashley declared. “They didn’t just happen to be in the neighborhood. There is nothing around here they’d be stealing.”
“Blades or no Blades, we gotta get dinner on the table, y’all!” Big Mama called from the front step.
They filtered back inside, the mood more somber. Carmen took up her spools for carrots, cucumbers, and potatoes again, though she had to disentangle them since everyone’s Thread had dropped so suddenly before. Ashley stayed in the front room, keeping peace with the kids and chatting with Pops and Chris. Big Mama was silent for a while, then spoke.
“You know Tanya’s Cloak got cut last week?”
Carmen nearly dropped a spool. “For real?”
Big Mama nodded sadly. “Mmm-hmm. She and her sister were out raiding in Center City, met up with four Blades.”
“How close to her Cloak Heart was it?”
“I’m not sure. But she’ll have a hard time raiding till she gets that fixed.”
Carmen noticed the cucumber knife wasn’t pressing hard enough to cut all the way through anymore, and refocused her will. “That’s a real shame.”
“And did you hear about Tamir?”
“You always hear before me, Mama.”
“I suppose I do. Well, Tamir got a long strip sliced off his Cloak a couple days ago.”
“When will he mend it? He’s supposed to teach Deshawn.”
Big Mama gave her a look. “Is that all you’re worried about? Don’t you feel bad for Tamir?”
Carmen grimaced. “Yes, I do, of course I do. Was he alone? Do you know how he got away?”
“Well, he wasn’t raiding. Fool boy was Looping around Penn’s Landing. It was just two Blades, but they jumped him, grabbed his spools.”
“Oh, Lord.” Carmen refocused on the potato spool this time, after the knife scattered a bunch of potato chunks onto the floor. Why did her mother always tell her news like this when it was time to work? “So they got a strip of his actual Cloak? And all his spools? Goodness, that is a lot of power for them.”
“His mama said he had one spare green one. He ran, picked a lock nearby, and got through the building before them, got away.”
“Did the Blades cut the lock of the building?”
“Don’t ask me, I wasn’t there. But they were probably strong enough, after slicing through his Cloak. Anyway, his mama and auntie are working real hard on mending that cut edge before Tuesday.”
“They’re so good. So solid. Tamir’s a lucky man.”
Finally, all the food was ready and everyone gathered around in the kitchen. As always, dinner was a circus with all the kids together, but the adults were somewhat subdued. No one could stop thinking about the Blade in the lone Cutlass. Who was it? Carmen kept thinking. Why would they come here? And all alone? Is it the same car I thought I saw on Broad?
The raid that night was full of yellow.
A big yellow moon on the horizon. Yellow mums in the church garden. Yellow Thread to find for Elaine. And four blonde lady Blades that showed up to cut any Thread or Cloaks they could. Their deep red leather jackets gleamed, the strange, long collars extending down their shoulders.
“You girls missing a frat party?” Carmen said when they first ran into the church’s garden. She addressed them standing on a wooden bench. “Temple University housing is a few blocks west.”
As usual, the Blades didn’t speak to her, but the ringleader–the blondest one–looked like she wanted to. Instead, they tried to split up and circle around her. Carmen leaped in the air–Cloak taking her higher than normal–and glided over them, landing a dart in the shortest Blade’s neck as she passed. It was a tricky shot, but the tube and every dart had Thread wrapped around it, so it could be willed to fly true.
The other three charged at Carmen, but on landing she willed Spin. Both Cloak and Carmen began to twirl rapidly, Cloak flaring out. The Blades kept trying to leap at her, but got knocked to the ground every time. Why do they keep trying? Carmen thought, amused.
Lift, Carmen thought as she started to get dizzy–and in the moment where her Cloak transitioned, the ringleader struck. Damn! Carmen felt the inch-long nick slice in her Cloak as if it were her own skin–but it was more than that. A small bit of the will in her Cloak was burned away into the metal of the Blade. That felt like a sharp scrape on her own soul. She stalled for a split-second in mid-air, shifting her will around the small cut, but it was long enough for a wiry blonde to grab her elbow and yank her sideways.
Carmen kicked out, willing Stiffen! Strike! The wiry Blade stumbled back and the ringleader doubled over as the corner of Carmen’s Cloak pounded her gut. Phew, Carmen thought. With that stolen bit of will in her Blade, she’d have struck home a lot easier. Off-balance, Carmen fell on her right side and rolled, avoiding a cut from the last Blade, who wore an intricate braid. Flailing out with her left hand, she signaled her kids and willed Harden! Resist! The braided Blade swung forward to strike again, but fell heavily over Carmen’s curled form, safe inside her rock-hard Cloak. Three darts from Carmen’s kids had hit their marks, and all of the blonde Blades were now tranqed.
Lift, push, Carmen willed with a grunt, trying to get the body of the braided Blade off her back. “Thanks, babies. I needed you then.”
Ty, Deshawn, and Asha lowered themselves from the roof with Thread. “We got you, Mama,” Ty said.
Asha wandered examined the fallen enemies. “Mama, you should get a braid like this girl.”
Carmen brushed off her knees. “Really? Why? I like my twists.”
“So you can remember how we always win.”
Carmen laughed. “Now, girl, we try real hard to be careful, and we work as a team. But we can’t get cocky. I got a little cut tonight.”
All three of the kids cried out and demanded to see the damage, but Carmen shook her head. “Nah, nah, it’s not the time. I’ll mend it with Big Mama. Boys, take care of these lady Blades. Asha and I are gonna go look for Thread with Lenore and Zati. Come in once you’re down, boys, it’s cold out.”
Once inside the church building–which had been renovated in the past few years, but had a long history–Carmen crouched down to talk to Asha. “Now, do you remember how to find Thread, baby?”
“Umm–only a little bit.”
“Alright then, I’ll show you. And keep your hood up, baby, it’s cold.”
They started down a long hallway with lots of windows letting in moonlight. There were wall hangings and side tables with runners or doilies. Perfect.
They came to the first wall hanging, a woven image of the Garden of Eden–complete with a darker-skinned Adam and Eve.
“Okay, Asha, first, hold onto your Cloak Heart.” Asha turned and fumbled a bit with her Cloak, searching for the Heart. Carmen held up the bottom right corner of Asha’s Cloak for her, revealing the thick, zigzagging twelve-inch length of red Thread that formed the Cloak Heart. Asha’s little fingers found the Heart and gripped it tight.
“Now, keep ahold of your Heart, and slowly start running your other hand over this fabric,” Carmen guided her daughter’s left hand onto the wall hanging.
“And I’ll feel a little zing if I find Thread, right?”
“Good memory, baby, yes. If you feel something special, like a little zing or tingle, then tell me. I’ll start at the top and you start at the bottom.”
Asha started rubbing the hanging quickly back and forth on the bottom edge.
“No, no, baby, nice and slow. Be careful, we want to find all the Thread we can.”
“Because Thread is very hard to make, and it’s our job to find Thread for the Cloaks in our Circle. It’s hard for us to make all we need nowadays. And we sell some Thread to other Circles. Let’s get started.”
Holding onto her own red, zig-zagging Cloak Heart, Carmen slowly passed her fingers over the finely woven fabric. You never knew where Thread might turn up, but old churches like this often had some. If a fellow Cloak had crafted things for the church, they likely had used Thread in parts of it–to make the item durable, but also as insurance for the future. Churches were more stable and long-lasting than homes, and even though a Cloak might lose their home–or the contents of their home–to Blades, they could hopefully retrieve Thread from a church. If they never needed it, then it was a considered a gift to future Cloaks who might find it.
Zing! Carmen paused, concentrating. Maintaining her touch, she strongly willed, Relax. Ravel. Reel. Slowly, a strand of green Thread wiggled out of the woven trees of Eden and wound into a neat circle in her palm. Carmen showed it to Asha.
“See? This Thread was hiding, just waiting for somebody to get it out. Did you feel anything yet?”
“Yes, lots of times!”
“Baby, you gotta tell me! Show me where.”
“On the river, and on these tree roots, and in the grass, and…” Asha scrunched her nose, thinking. “Oh, in these flowers!”
“That is a lot of times. And Elaine will be so happy, those flowers will give her some yellow Thread. Nice attention, baby!” Carmen kissed her forehead.
Asha nuzzled back. “Thanks, Mama.”
Carmen placed her hand to retrieve the Thread in the grass, and Asha jumped up and down, grabbing her hand.
“No, no, I wanted to do it!”
“Asha, you can’t–”
“I want to do it!”
“Please, please, I want to do it!”
Carmen took both her hands and crouched down, looking into her eyes. “Asha.”
She kept fussing and wiggling, trying to pull away from her mother.
“Asha. I know, I know it looks fun to get that Thread. Does it look fun to you?”
Asha sniffed. “I want to make it wiggle.”
“Listen, baby, it is really tricky to get Thread out when it’s already woven. You have to focus so much. When you’re eight years old, you can do it, okay?”
“No, I want to do it right now!”
“You can’t do it right now. But you can hold the Thread when it comes out, okay? And you can put all the Thread in your bag. Sound good?”
“Can you say sorry for fighting?”
“I’m sorry for fighting.”
“I love you, baby. Let’s keep going.”
Carmen retrieved the Threads Asha had found, and then sat her down with a granola bar. There might be more Thread in the Eden weaving. It took a long time to go through all the textiles in a church. They only ever got through a few in a night, especially with the threat of Blade reinforcements speeding them along.
This really was a fine weaving. Carmen admired all the different shades of green in the trees and grasses, the tightness of the fabric. Even in the dim light, it looked vibrant. As her hand passed over the figures of Adam and Eve, her eyes closed in memory.
“They were naked, and not ashamed.”
“Yeah, but they were married. By God.”
“Then let’s get married.”
“Oh, now you want to get married? Now that I’ve birthed you five babies?”
“Sure, why not?”
“Tyrone, I just don’t believe you.”
He kissed her bare shoulders. “Maybe you should this time.”
“Wooooo wooooo wooooo!”
Carmen ran toward the sound, shushing furiously. Ty and Deshawn were running down the hall, pretending to be ghosts yet again. “Boys, boys! Be quiet!”
They slowed as they approached her, laughing and waving their Cloaks around. “Sorry, Mama. We finished with the Blades, and it was cold out there.”
“That’s fine, Ty, just be quiet! You know better.”
Deshawn handed her a piece of paper. “There was a funny note in one of their pockets.”
Carmen handed it back. “Deshawn, you know we just take the Blades and any spools. We’re not trying to be all up in their business, just stop them from wrecking Cloaks and Thread.”
Deshawn shifted impatiently. “But, but–”
“No, Deshawn, I don’t have time to worry about every little Blade we fight.”
“Mama.” Ty took the paper and read. “Slice the kids before her.”
“That’s what it says, Mama. ‘Slice the kids before her.” Tyrone handed her the note.
It was on thick, creamy paper the size of a business card. The note was hand-written, and signed, “-M.”
“I don’t like this.” Carmen said out loud.
“Does somebody know about us?” Deshawn asked.
“Is somebody gonna get us?” said Asha.
Lenore and Zati came down the hall. “What’s everybody looking at?” Zati asked.
Carmen showed them the note.
“What does it mean, Mama?” said Lenore.
“It means we’re leaving, right now.”
“Oh, I need to pee,” Asha said.
Deshawn nodded in agreement. “Yeah, me too.”
“Really bad,” Asha said, dancing a bit.
Carmen kicked her exasperation out of the way. “Okay, then let’s go, fast. Did you girls see where any bathrooms were?”
The twins shook their heads. It took an absurd amount of time to find the bathrooms. Every minute they spent searching, Carmen felt more and more nauseous. Why now? Why can’t they just hold it? What does that note mean? They finally found bathrooms on the other side of the church down in the basement. Who designed this building?
“Okay, okay here are the bathrooms. Deshawn, Ty! Come on. Deshawn, you said you had to go! No more flashlight tag. Stop it. Asha, come on, let’s go. Anyone else need to go? Boys! Now!” Why doesn’t my urgency transfer to them? Freak!
Once she heard the flush of the toilet, Carmen felt the need to go too. So she took thirty seconds to pee. It was often hard for her to remember to take bathroom breaks, because somebody always needed her. When nature called, she usually ignored it. And ignored it. And ignored it.
When everyone was finally ready, Carmen ushered them out of the church as fast as she possibly could. Just as they were going out the garden gate, Deshawn whispered, “Mama! We forgot the Blades!”
“Dang it! Everyone back in. Wait here, I’ll grab the Blades. Asha, stay with Lenore and Zati. Oh, and obscure yourselves!”
Carmen rushed through the garden paths. The blonde Blades lay where they had fallen, and their weapons were lined up on the bench. Carmen fumbled with the Blades, nicking her left thumb knuckle in her haste. Just as she’d gotten them wrapped, she heard the sound of engines and saw yellow lights coming down the street.
To be continued.
Cover image by Elise Matich