Elle Spellman shares an extract from her new book, She’s Bad News.
On my way back to the flat, I changed my mind and headed into town instead. I could hardly think straight after Dr Caulton’s verdict that everything was perfectly normal. Going home would only result in me pacing around restlessly, being a nervous ball of energy while getting lost in a sea of NARCIS-related Google searches that I already knew would lead me to nothing. So far, my research had hit a brick wall. I needed to up my game.
And firstly, I needed to talk this through.
Walking through Fitness Heaven, which took the top floor of one of the large Brutalist buildings that overlooked the main shopping centre, I felt mildly self-conscious in my holey leggings. I swiped the rarely-used ID card Chloe had given me at the entrance and awaited the beep of the door before wandering through in search of my friend, inhaling the heady aroma of bleach and sweaty body parts with every breath I dared to take.
Chloe didn’t expect to see me. I followed her booming voice to the studio and poked my head round the door, watching as she yelled orders at the twenty or so ladies in her Ab Blast class. “Aaaaand ten squats, ladies! That’s right!”
I crept along the far wall, giving her a thumbs-up, somehow enjoying her shocked look as she caught sight of me sidling towards the group. She mouthed ‘what the hell?’ and continued with her class as I joined in. The other women hadn’t seen me. They were too busy squatting, some more enthusiastically than others.
“What did I tell you, Julie? I SAID SQUATS! Remember, I will make you fit and toned but ONLY IF YOU WANT IT! YOU HAVE TO REALLY WANT IT!”
Sergeant Chloe was in full force. I bobbed along to the music that was pumping around the studio, bending and stretching in unison with the other women. My knees and legs felt great. I wasn’t even burning up a sweat.
I carried on, marvelling at the feats my body could now undertake. Squats, push-ups, press-ups…I exercised along to the dance track as though I’d been working out my whole life. Before the weekend, any fitness prowess I did possess amounted to a meagre jog. Even at primary school I could barely manage a cartwheel, and struggled as tiny, golden-haired Katie Graves mastered Olympic-standard flips on the hard blue mats.
I had to admit, this new ability was amazing. But so new. And probably the reason why Chloe was staring at me, agog. As soon as the class had finished and everyone piled out, Chloe bounded over, concern on her pixie-like face.
“Bella? Is that you?” she laughed. “Or is it some kind of cyborg?”
“What? Come on, Chlo. I’ve been here before.”
“Not counting the Self Defence class.”
“Err…in that case, you might be right.”
She had a point. The Fitness Heaven ID card in my pocket was practically brand new. As much as I wanted to go more often, I just didn’t have the time.
I took a deep breath, feeling my cheeks go warm. “So, there’s something I have to tell you.”
Chloe’s smile faded. “Oh no. What did you break?” she asked.
“Nothing! Well, the communal door, but someone’s coming round to fix it. I think I learned some new Spanish curse words from Shirley. But I think I have….well, this is going to sound strange, but I think I have super powers.”
Chloe opened her mouth to speak, then closed it again. She looked at me, confused. “What?”
“I have super powers. Kind of.”
“Right. So I did hear you correctly. Super powers…like Wonder Woman? Bel, what are you on about?”
“I have…okay. I know it sounds extremely weird. I’m not Wonder Woman, although that would be awesome, but I can do loads of amazing things now! I can run fast, I can lift heavy weights, I can…well, just watch.” I rushed over to some of the weights that were stacked in the corner, ready for another class. I started picking them up, as though they weighed no more than a bag of sweets. “See? Simple. And there’s the fact I can now see and hear everything. Smell
everything, too. I mean, you should be pumping some Glade through the air con here. The stinky ghosts of so many feet that passed through these old corridors…”
“Hey! Okay, okay. I need to think,” said Chloe, staring at the weight I’d just placed casually on the floor. The one bulky, grown men would wince and grunt at as they tried to manage it. “You think you have super powers.”
“Yep! Or something like that. You know, it’s really hard to explain without it sounding stupid.”
She reached out to touch my forehead. “Are you sure you’re not still hungover?”
“No! Not at all. But you know that tablet I took? Ultra-Boost?”
“Shh!” Suddenly Chloe grabbed me by the arm and ushered me out through the studio to the tiny office just outside the main gym. She slammed the door shut behind her, locking it closed and standing in front of it as if hiding from an axe-wielding murderer. “Sorry, Bel. I just can’t have any talk of that sort of thing in here.”
“So super powers are fine, but Ultra-Boost is a big no-no? It’s a slimming pill, Chlo! Not crack cocaine. I didn’t rock up here to do a line.”
“Quiet! You know how I feel about that kind of thing. It goes against the Fitness Heaven brand ethos. One whiff of using any methods besides good old-fashioned nutrition and exercise and I could be in big trouble! There are clients in here that would be all over that Boost stuff like flies on a turd. So…what exactly is going on?”
“Well,” I began. Then I stopped. I took a seat in the plush leather swivel chair and spun around a bit, trying to think of the best words to use that wouldn’t make me sound bat-shit crazy. “I think the pill, er, messed with my body a little.”
“What?!” Chloe’s pale blue eyes became saucer-like, and she rushed to me, looking me up and down. Not that there was any point. I looked just the same as I normally did. I flexed my arm, but it was still as it always was. Ever so slightly jiggly. Not a bulging muscle in sight. My sudden strength wasn’t visible in the way my body looked, and it seemed the Ultra-Boost hadn’t helped me drop many pounds. Of course, I was right. It was bullshit.
“Are you alright?” asked Chloe.
“I’m fine. In fact, that’s the problem. Hence the abilities.”
Chloe raised an eyebrow and leaned against her desk. Of course, it wasn’t going to be easy news to take in. “What kind of abilities then?” she asked. “Is it just the strength and sense stuff or do you have something cool? Like laser boobs?”
“You know, lasers that fly out of your boobs.” She held her hands up against her Fitness Heaven top, fingers like guns, and made pew-pew noises.
“Er, no. I think there’s something wrong with these.” I reached into my bag and pulled out the little pot of Ultra-Boost pills.
“Bella! I threw those away!”
“I know you did, but I saved them. These must have something to do with what’s happened to me. What if this pot becomes evidence? I can’t take any chances.”
“And are you one hundred per cent sure you’re not still hungover?”
“Honestly? I don’t think I was hungover in the first place.”
She didn’t look convinced.
“Those pills. Are they steroids or something?” asked Chloe, her expression quickly morphing into one of anger. I didn’t even have to ask to know what Chloe thought of steroids. “Please say they’re not.”
“No. I checked them out. Ultra-Boost is a regular slimming aid. Steroids, Chlo? Do you really I’d do something like that?” First one diet pill, then some strength enhancers. Clearly I was well on my way to a stint at The Priory.
“I don’t know! Research for one of your stories, maybe?”
“Not this time.” I slumped back in the chair, a little annoyed that Chloe would think I’d willingly take a drug for research purposes. Then I realised; I had taken the Ultra-Boost after all,
albeit under the impression that it would do absolutely nothing. Was there a difference?
I told Chloe about my strange predicament. And Dr Caulton’s verdict of raging hypochondria. She stood, listening intently, before she took the pot of pills from my grasp, twirling it round in her hands, inspecting it. “So you think this stuff did it?”
“It’s the only reasonable explanation. I did eat that dodgy curry the other night, but I don’t think it would have caused anything like this. If it did then half of Hartleybourne would be zooming around with super speed. And that was the mild veggie option: I wouldn’t even want to think about what the vindaloo would do.”
“Oh God. Something like this would put the gym out of business if it was on the general market!” Chloe replied, horrified. “This is worrying. But if it was to do with Ultra-Boost, wouldn’t other people be reporting the same symptoms?”
“Yep.” Chloe tossed me the pot of pills and I caught it immediately. My reflexes were enhanced as well. Bonus. “That’s just it. I’ve been researching this stuff online. There are hundreds of reviews for Ultra-Boost, but nobody’s reported anything out of the ordinary. In fact, most of the reviews give it four to five stars. A few say ‘it’s okay’. The worst of them all was ‘it made my intimate rash worse, but I dropped half a stone in a week!’ For a product that has that many customers, there’s bound to be more people who have had a less than perfect experience, surely? Either NARCIS are removing any negative feedback, or thousands of people across the country are bowing down to their wizardry.”
“So what’s your next move?”
“I need to track them down. There’s no address anywhere online. They’re almost impossible to locate. I just wish I knew where to look next.”
Chloe smiled. “I know you, Bel. You’ll find it! You’re an investigative reporter, no matter what Layla says.”
“Thanks, Chlo.” I was grateful that she had always had my back. It was nice to know that someone did.
“So…” said Chloe, “does that mean you can hear things in, say, another room or building?”
“Strangely, yes. If I concentrate, I can pick up a lot. My ears are like scanners. Not good for when I’m trying to sleep.”
“Could you, by any chance, ‘tune in’ to Guy From Upstairs for me?”
I stared at her, aghast. “Chlo! I came to tell you my secret and that I’m worried and you want me to spy on men you fancy?”
“Not spy. You said you were landed with these powers, yes?”
“It sounds so silly when you say ‘powers’.”
“Okay. Then we’ll call it the…” she leaned in – as if to whisper Voldemort – “…P-word.”
“That’s worse!” I couldn’t help but laugh.
“P-word. I like it. It has a good ring to it. Anyway, it’s not spying as such. It’s just casually listening in. Think of it as putting your powers to good and charitable use. Don’t let them go to waste! Like, can you imagine if Wonder Woman just moped about Themyscira all day? Or if Peter Parker chose not to become Spiderman?”
“But it’s not -”
I rolled my eyes. Obviously, there was no getting out of it. “Fine. I will. But you’ll owe me!”
“Not a problem. Just tell me what food he likes. Or what he watches on TV. Anything that might come in useful! So, are you going to tell anyone else about the P-word?”
I hadn’t even had time to think about it. It was a tricky one indeed. Sure, I called them powers but were they? I was simply a person with an undiagnosed issue, not some fictional hero like Spiderman or Wonder Woman, but after Chloe’s mention, my mind flashed back to the comics my brother Cameron used to read as a teenager. Brightly-dressed heroes in painfully tight Spandex, battling it out over the city with the big villains. Ordinary people gifted with extraordinary abilities, who took to hiding behind everyday identities. All fictional superheroes; far-fetched personalities in capes and tight suits, but I could, even back then, see why they preferred to hide. To blend in. Keep
a low profile, keep your ‘lives’ separate, and enjoy a whole other kind of nightlife.
“No,” I replied, finally. “It’s hardly something I can easily drop into conversation. And I want to find out exactly where these new abilities came from before I do anything else. This is just between us, okay?”
“Sure, babe,” said Chloe. “Sorry for freaking out. But…well let’s face it, with a bombshell like that, why wouldn’t I?”
“It’s a bit of a shock. Trust me. But…wait a minute.” Suddenly my gaze fell on the Ultra-Boost. On the side of the plastic pot, next to a blurb of nonsense, was a tiny black arrow. How had I not noticed it before? I brought it closer, scratching at the arrow with my nail. Sure enough, peeling it back revealed an additional panel, listing all of the ingredients that I’d already found online. I scanned it once more, ensuring there was nothing I’d missed. There wasn’t – but there was something new beneath the various chemical names. A tiny line of text that made me want to jump with unfathomable joy.
Manufactured by S-Pharm, Herts.
It was vague, but it was all I needed to know. “Chlo, I think I have something!” I pulled out my phone. Within minutes I had brought up a list of every pharmaceutical company in the surrounding area. There was no direct result for ‘S-Pharm’ and many of them had generic names. But as I scanned the list of results, my eyes suddenly landed on the closest possible answer. SegPharma, in Hitchin.
It was the nearest possible match. And it was in Hertfordshire. There was no phone number, but there was, at least, an address.
“Hitchin?” asked Chloe, peering over my shoulder. I grabbed a Post-It from her desk and jotted down the details. “That’s quite a drive.”
“Maybe, but I need to know for certain. So I’m going to pay S-Pharm a visit. Just like BodiBurn.”
“But BodiBurn…” Chloe stopped, looking down at the desk instead. I knew what she was about to say. That my solo road trip to take down the bunny-killers had ultimately amounted to nothing.
“Look, Chlo. I know BodiBurn was a wasted journey. You can say it. But that doesn’t mean I can’t try. I know I’ve been trying for years but…well, this is different. My health is at risk here. And other people’s health too.” My determination was back. I was raring to go. “All I want to do is ask them a few questions, but if it comes to nothing then at least I can say I gave it my best shot.”
Chloe grinned. “Then go for it, Supergirl,” she said, rushing over for a hug. “Ouch! Bel, you really need to work on controlling your strength because you’re going to squish me to death.”
What would you do if you woke up with super powers?
For Bella Brown, life hasn’t gone according to plan. She’s almost thirty, still living in her uneventful hometown, and her dreams of becoming an investigative reporter have fallen by the wayside.
That is, until she wakes up one morning to find she’s been gifted with some amazing new abilities. What’s a girl to do with heightened senses, super speed and the ability to lift a truck one-handed? Bella quickly discovers that her new powers can easily help her land front-page leads at local newspaper, The Hartleybourne Gazette.
Soon Bella’s out every night chasing down local criminals for stories, while keeping her powers a secret from everyone besides flatmate Chloe. But when a burglary-gone-wrong accidentally turns her into the mysterious Hartleybourne Heroine, Bella finds herself on the front page for the wrong reasons. Her secret becomes harder to keep as she tries to track down the source of her powers, and especially when crime reporter Matt Gilmore is intent on unmasking the town’s new vigilante…
Suddenly, having an extraordinary life is far more dangerous than she ever imagined.
Elle Spellman is a writer and comic book geek living in Bristol, UK. She’s been writing since a very young age, spending her childhood afternoons penning stories about fictional adventures, and illustrating them too. She tends to write contemporary fiction with kick-ass heroines and a little bit of magic. Her other interests include running, wine, red lipstick, the paranormal, and all things Batman.