Title: Through the Cracks
Author: Jordanna Morgan (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Archive Rights: Please request the author’s consent.
Characters: Leo, Zapp, Klaus, Steven, Zed, Gilbert.
Summary: The one occasion when something didn’t collapse in Hellsalem’s Lot.
Disclaimer: They belong to Yasuhiro Nightow. I’m just playing with them.
Notes: Written for the prompt of “crack” at Fan Flashworks. My thanks to Badly Knitted for giving me the idea!
(And hey, I finally get to do a little baseball-geeking in a fic—with the bonus pleasure of writing about woe for the Yankees.)
Through the Cracks
“…So then she says, ‘You wanna suffocate me? Those are my gill slits!’ Hah!”
With a grimace, Leonardo Watch squirmed away another quarter-inch from the guffawing Zapp Renfro, and tried to focus on the scenery flying past the car window.
Theoretically, the mileage between Manhattan and the Bronx was short, but this drive had become a road trip from hell—or at least Hellsalem’s Lot. The traffic in the old, normal days of New York City was nothing compared to the multispecies crowds and nonsensical obstructions that filled the streets now. It had already taken nearly an hour to get from Libra headquarters to 154th Street.
The ever-patient Gilbert Altstein was behind the wheel, navigating the mess. Klaus von Reinherz sat beside the butler in the front passenger seat, oblivious to the world as he leafed through a folder of reports. As for Leo, he was jammed into the back seat, trying to tune out the bawdy tale Zapp was recounting to Zed O’Brien. Presumably Zapp thought their piscean confederate would appreciate the details. Granted, it wasn’t very easy to read Zed’s expressions, but judging by the fact that he looked like he wanted to crawl out the other window himself… yeah, Zapp was probably mistaken.
And all this misery just because of a little report of gremlins overrunning Yankee Stadium.
…That is, gremlins was the popular frame of reference people were coming up with to describe the beasties that were currently eating their way through the concessions stands and tearing up the bleachers. Based on the pictures that were starting to appear on Facebook, Leo would have gone more with demonic troll dolls.
Anyway, it wasn’t as if Yankee Stadium saw any professional sports happening these days. The Great Collapse had forced the Major League team to relocate to the state capital in Albany. (Perhaps “Albany Yankees” didn’t have quite the same ring—but just try signing an All-Star to play in a stadium that could be leveled any day by a passing grudge match between giant monsters. Not to mention the logistical nightmare for visiting teams trying to travel back and forth through the Barrier.) On the other hand, fortunately for the sector of the local economy that relied on fan patronage, baseball was one human activity the alterworlders had a particular fascination with. Now the ballpark hosted games between teams of various species, giving the term interleague play a whole new meaning.
Leo hoped he and his fellow Libra agents would at least score season tickets from this stupid errand.
At his shoulder, Zapp was still talking. Leo sighed and leaned his forehead against the window. Whatever they were about to wade into at the stadium, he was pretty sure it couldn’t be worse than actually getting there.
Mercifully, they weren’t far off now. Once they had crossed the approaching Macombs Dam Bridge, Yankee Stadium would be directly ahead of them.
Out of boredom, the young man opened the glowing blue orbs of his eyes, cranking his uncanny vision up a notch. Colors spiked and outlines stood out in sharp relief, showing him new details of the scenery that other people would never notice in a close-up inspection—much less in a glimpse from a passing car.
Like almost everywhere else in Hellsalem’s Lot, the streets and buildings were spiderwebbed with cracks of varying width and depth. As if the stress placed on the infrastructure by mere humans hadn’t been bad enough, alterworlders were even rougher on it. Seismic events or violent impacts were an everyday occurrence—and random fireballs were not too uncommon in some areas, either. The city was in a constant state of rebuilding. It was a heyday for the racketeers who ruled the construction business. Most of those mobs weren’t human now, but they operated in largely the same ways.
For some time after he first acquired the All-Seeing Eyes of the Gods, Leo had been rather afraid to climb up most staircases, or linger anyplace that was more than one story tall. The sight of all the cracks and warps that were invisible to other people freaked him out. They made tolerably sturdy structures look to him as if they might crumble at any moment—and then there was the major TMI of seeing what sorts of things liked to live inside the deeper fissures in walls. (Especially in Hellsalem. He was pretty sure he had spotted some of those little horrors in soup bowls at the alterworld diners he, Zapp, and Zed had optimistically tried in the past.)
In time, he had learned where the dividing line was between acceptable wear and legitimate structural damage, and he recovered some trust in the safety of duly inspected-and-approved architecture. It still weighed more upon his thought processes than he liked, though. Normal people didn’t pause to consider the integrity of every building they stepped into… But then again, normal people didn’t live in Hellsalem’s Lot either. It was basically a fact of life that one wasn’t safe in even the most solid buildings there. Besides, the city presented any number of worse ways to go than being crushed in a building collapse.
…This line of thought was getting morbid. Leo grimaced, shook his head, and focused his attention on the Macombs Dam Bridge as it loomed ahead. Past the nineteenth-century stone end piers that anchored it, the camelback swing span looked vaguely like something a gigantic spider had constructed, its network of metal girders standing tall and white against the morning sky.
In Leo’s eyes, again, there was the more intricate spiderwebbing of cracks through the steel and concrete. Stress fractures glimmered along the girders, while miniature canyons branched outward from quite conventionally-visible potholes along the four-lane road bed. It had been a while since the bridge saw any significant renovation; years before the Great Collapse, at least. It had to be sturdy, just to have withstood a century-plus of even non-supernatural old New York City, but…
Leo opened his eyes wider, dialing in his vision a little more intently—and his hand abruptly fell on Gilbert’s shoulder in the driver’s seat.
“Mr. Gilbert, stop the car now!”
With a small noise of surprise, Gilbert pulled the car to a stop as quickly as he could without causing a collision. Fortunately, most of the traffic was on the other side of the bridge, heading out of the Bronx instead of into it—which might have had something to do with Yankee Stadium’s gremlin problem, come to think of it.
The fairly abrupt braking jostled the passengers. Zapp grunted an objection as he was thrown against Leo, but the younger man didn’t notice. By the time the car skidded to a halt, he was reaching for the door handle.
“Leonardo?” Klaus queried, twisting around from the front passenger seat—only to find Leo’s seat behind him already vacant.
Free of the vehicle, Leo ran another several yards along the eastbound lanes of the bridge, his luminous eyes wide and active. He wasn’t even aware of the honks and epithets behind him, as his excursion forced the few other oncoming cars to swerve or stop. His attention was entirely consumed by what he was seeing.
At the level his vision was now shifted up to, the cracks in the bridge glowed. Most of the surface was a mess of dull red-orange scars; but less than a hundred feet ahead, the spectrum grew hotter, intensifying to a series of yellow-white slashes that nearly cut across the entire roadway. As Leo wandered into the inner lane, looking across the divider to the westbound side, he saw that the fissure spread there as well.
He did know what the average wear and tear on a street looked like to his eyes—and this was not that.
Klaus called his name again. Leo blinked, closing his eyelids over his supernatural orbs, and quickly jogged back to the car.
“We have to get this bridge closed,” he panted to his comrades. All of them had stepped out of the car by this point, and were staring around at the bridge’s superstructure—completely unable to see what Leo saw. “It’s cracked. It looks like it’s ready to split in two any minute!”
Gilbert looked startled, and Zapp looked dubious. Zed tilted his head to one side. Only Klaus responded with immediate action: he reached into his pocket, whipping out his cellphone.
“I’ll contact the DOT immediately,” he said briskly, without a trace of hesitation. “Zapp, see if you can stop the westbound traffic at the other end of the bridge. Zed, Gilbert, please do the same on this side.”
Leo could have teared up and hugged Klaus for having such faith in him.
Although Zapp still appeared to be less than convinced, he rolled an eye and made a grimly amused sound. “Always wanted to ruin the day for a bunch of commuters,” he murmured, and ran off toward the far end of the bridge.
From that point, the day simply got a whole lot longer.
It was evidence of Klaus’ connections that a road crew showed up fairly quickly (by Hellsalem standards, at least) and barricaded both ends of the bridge. After consulting briefly with Klaus, the bemused engineers quizzed Leo about his view of the damage. He told them what he could, explaining where the critical fissure was, and how bad it looked to him—not that he really understood much about the exact mechanics of the problem. All he was sure of was that the bridge was broken and dangerous, and it needed to be fixed right now.
Eventually, the five Libra agents were sent on their way. With the bridge closed, they were forced to find an alternate route to Yankee Stadium. That added another forty-five minutes to what was already the worst trip Leo had been on in a while. (A whole week, easy.)
The delay had probably cost the stadium another hundred million dollars in damage; but when they finally got there, they dealt with it. Or Leo’s bloodline-wielding companions dealt with it, anyway. His job was mainly to act as a spotter, using his eyes in the infrared range to pick out any gremlins that tried to evade capture.
Not that he didn’t have a run-in with a few of them himself.
…His expense account was definitely going to be owed the funds for a replacement of clothing.
By the time the ballpark excitement was over, it was late in the afternoon. The Macombs Dam Bridge was still closed—and swarming with even more DOT personnel. It took another long detour for the Libra agents to arrive back at headquarters, looking decidedly more ragged than when they had left that morning.
When they walked in, Steven A. Starphase didn’t blink at their assorted bites and scratches, their chewed-up clothes, or the fistfuls of matted gremlin hair that clung all over them. He did look directly at Leo, waving a notepad. Having been informed of the bridge situation by Klaus, he had apparently kept himself updated about it by phone.
“You were right, Leo. The engineers found serious structural damage to the bridge. I was told that with the continued weight and vibrations of regular traffic, it could have buckled at any time. It’s a wonder it hadn’t already.” Steven smiled encouragingly at the tired younger man. “You may have saved a number of lives today.”
Leo wanly returned the smile. That was nice to hear… but all he really wanted right now was a hot shower, a meal, and some sleep.
It probably said something that having saved a few lives felt routine now.
He just hoped that something was good.
© 2016 Jordanna Morgan