by E. A. Blevins
The elementary school basement was off-limits due to flooding after the tornado and how the cafeteria had collapsed into part of it. The maintenance guy had told Lucy’s dad he’d spotted a snake down there, but the water was almost all gone and Lucy didn’t see the snake as she crept down and crouched on the next-to-last step.
She was supposed to be in her dad’s office. He was the vice principal and had to be there while everything got fixed. The principal would have been there, but he had to get a tree off his house, and Lucy couldn’t stay home because her mom wouldn’t be there and her sister Hannah had a broken arm and wouldn’t babysit her anymore anyway after Lucy tried to jump off the roof that once to see if she had a super power.
So she was stuck with her dad, which wasn’t terrible because he had to keep leaving his office, and Lucy could go wherever she wanted so long as she got back before him.
Lucy eased one Cinderella sneaker into the basement lake. The water only covered the bottom half, so Lucy did what any enterprising young snake hunter would do: she jumped in with both feet.
Lucy turned toward the voice and spotted the flicker of a flashlight coming from around a corner to her right. The beam bounced off the water and lit the ripples as someone moved in her direction.
She splashed behind a stack of broken desks and ducked into a low crouch. She didn’t mind getting wet, but she didn’t want to sit down. Her princess sneakers already felt soggy and cold.
The maintenance man stopped by the stairs and swung his flashlight both ways. Lucy ducked further down and watched him through a break in the stack of desks. He hesitated, shining the light past her into the dark basement. “Hello?”
Lucy breathed through her mouth to make as little noise as possible and held very very still. Finally, he gave up and splashed back to what he’d been doing.
Lucy looked behind her.
In the darkness way way way back, she saw something glinting.
Lucy took a step out from behind the desks, but it disappeared. She stepped back, and it reappeared.
She forgot about the maintenance man and even about the snake as everything in her pulled toward that tiny light.
She kept the general direction in mind as she sloshed toward it. Every now and then, she’d find the right angle again and it would sparkle at her. Twice she had to go around piles of junk she couldn’t squeeze through or climb over, and she almost lost her bearings both times.
And the water was getting deeper.
Not long after she found herself in water above her knees, she smacked her nose on a wall. It was too dark to do anything but feel around. Lucy touched her fingers to cold damp stone, probably concrete blocks like the walls by the stairs, and moved along it until she caught the glint again to her left.
Moving faster, Lucy waded toward it; she lurched forward, and her ears and eyes both stopped working. She panicked for a second before she realized she was underwater and swallowed some as she kicked and floundered to her feet. She coughed violently, rubbed the water out of her eyes, and looked up at the huge hole in the wall just above her.
She’d fallen into a storage room. A mop floated nearby, and sunlight pierced the far part of the room, which had collapsed. Lucy squinted up at it. Was that what she’d seen? She decided that it was the wrong color.
There, on her left. She half walked, half swam over to the purplish glow in the corner, then held her nose and ducked under the water to grab it.
It—no, they, there were two of them—were hard to lift. Waterlogged and big as her favorite teddy bear. She lugged them into the light to get a better look.
Really old boxing gloves. Worn out brown soggy messes.
Except they still had a faint aura of purple around them, almost pink in this light. She turned them over and couldn’t figure out where it was coming from.
So Lucy did what any brave explorer would do: she put them on, soggy interiors and all. The weight disappeared as they settled on her hands, and Lucy drew in a slow, deep breath.
The gloves felt snug, as if they’d been made for her.
“Cool,” she whispered as she turned her hands in the light, watching the way the sun slid along the cracked leather and the purplepink glow crept up her arms and settled against her skin.
She felt powerful. Strong. Like she could do anything. She floundered over to the hole in the wall and pulled herself up with barely any effort.
Curious, she tugged at the gloves. They slid off and landed with a heavy plop! in the water; she fished them out and clutched them to her chest as she made her way back to the basement entrance.
What could she carry them home in? She didn’t have her backpack.
Maybe she could find something in the office. There were all sorts of things in the lost and found, and she thought she remembered seeing a backpack in it when she’d been spinning in the secretary’s chair trying to see if she could make herself throw up.
She zipped by a small group of workmen at a water fountain in one of the uncollapsed hallways. They stared at her, maybe because they wondered why she had boxing gloves, but whatever they thought didn’t matter so long as they didn’t tell her dad.
She ducked into the office and dodged behind the office counter to root through the lost and found box.
Lucy snuck a glance to her left and noticed that her dad’s office door was open. She crept closer and peeked inside.
No one there.
Her eyes landed on the corner where her dad had left his briefcase.
It was a big fat teacher’s briefcase, so he could carry all his vice principal stuff in it.
And it was perfect.
Lucy hurried over to it, set the gloves down, and opened it up. She wasted no time emptying all the papers and stuffing them under a nearby chair, then replaced them with her gloves. She had a hard time latching it, and it looked kinda bumpy, so she lay it flat and pushed on it with her foot.
That didn’t work, so she stood on it.
That helped a little, so she got off and jumped on it with both feet.
“Lucy An Song, what are you doing?!”
Lucy raised her eyes to her dad’s face as she crouched on his briefcase. “Nothing.”
“Then why are you soaking wet?!”
She looked down at herself.
She’d dripped water all over the floor, and his briefcase, and probably left a trail from the basement.
Maybe that was why those workmen had been staring at her.
But her dad wasn’t done. “Is that water coming out of my bag?!”
She sat on the bag. Her dad glared, but she didn’t know what else to do.
She dragged herself off the bag, waiting for him to change his mind, and kept her eyes on him as she moved her hand somewhere near the latch.
She poked the latch. Nothing happened.
Her dad glared harder.
She slid her finger toward the latch and nudged it.
“One . . .”
“Two . . .”
She turned the latch and the flap plopped open, spilling her boxing gloves.
Her dad leaned forward. “What are those?”
Lucy snatched them up and held them as hard as she could against herself, not minding the cold water that squished out onto her shirt, and gave her best pleading look. “Can I keep them, Daddy? Can I? Pleeeeeease? Oh please oh please oh pleeeease?!”
Her dad, far from saying no, dug a hand into his tidy hair and stared at her.
Lucy gazed up at him with all the hope her little heart could muster.
He made a noise somewhere between a groan and a sigh and collapsed into his desk chair. “Oh for goodness’ sake. Fine. But they’re staying outside until we can sanitize them.”