Thursday, December 12, 2013

Sewer Rat

No.  No, no.  No, no, no, no, no.  Under no circumstances am I going to chase this guy into the sewers.  The woman he attacked said he had claws!  Do not go chasing after him, you moron!

Dammit all to hell…who runs into the sewers anyway?  Seriously!

I look up and down the street to make sure no one’s going to run me over while I’m not going into the sewers and trot over to the still-dislodged manhole cover.  I hear a couple footsteps and then just the hum of a restless city. 

Oh God, why do I do these things?

I slide the cover over with my foot and feel my way down the ladder.  Ladder’s really a misnomer here, it’s more like a few overly wide U-shaped metal rungs anchored into the surrounding concrete and covered with foam padding that squelches when I squeeze it.  Oh, and covered’s also something of a misnomer, turns out that when people walk on foam padding it tends to deteriorate so the rungs are covered with foam the same way the Hulk is covered by his pants. 

My footsteps sound a lot louder than the other guy’s had.  I wonder how far sound carries down here.  Not far enough for me to hear the other guy is all I can tell.  Smell, on the other hand, must travel for miles because I swear to God that I can smell every bit of raw sewage packed in down here.  It must be able to travel through time as well—there’s no way I’m only smelling today’s sewage.  This has to be the accumulated scent of a thousand years of sewage, past, present, and future. 

I really hate myself for doing this.

Most of the light bulbs strung across the ceiling are missing, giving the remaining bulbs a feeling of oases among the darkness.  I pull my flashlight out and click it on.  I’ve heard this model’s prone to dying out early, but until then it shines like someone shoved a supernova in one end.  The beam reaches a dead end on my left, but can’t make out the end of the road to the right.  Guess right’s the way to go. 

My eyes are watering and my nose is burning, but I force myself to take slow, methodical steps, keeping on the balls of my feet.  I can’t stay perfectly quiet, but it’s better than the hollow booms of my first few steps.  I flick the beam around the tunnel, looking for some sign of a disturbance.  My boot squelches worse than usual and I gag on a painfully intense smell.  I can’t bring myself to check what I just stepped in and try to get as far away from it as possible before scrapping my boot against the concrete ledge. 

Something scrapes and clatters and I spin around, flicking the light across the tunnel in front of me and back where I came, in case whoever I’m chasing somehow doubled back on me. 

Nothing.  The only thing I hear is my own rough, slightly panicked breathing.

Shit, that’s unnerving.

My hair’s standing up on end like someone’s watching me, but odds are I’m just losing my nerve in the darkness.  This is the part where I would normally (does that word actually mean anything to me?) tell myself to take some deep breaths and keep moving, but I’m worried that if I breathe too deeply I’ll inhale half a dozen infections and die down here.  

Skip the breathing and just move, asshole.  Standing around talking to yourself isn’t doing much.

I don’t get very far before I hear another scrabbling sound.  It sounds like a giant rat running across concrete.  Giant and quick and aware that I could hear it for a second because the scrabbling stops almost immediately.  My stomach’s a helium balloon that some douche bag kid couldn’t keep a hold of and is now floating around my abdomen.  I stop.  Pinching my nose helps with the smell enough to let me take deep, slow, and most importantly quiet breaths.  Someone turned up the bass on my heart when I wasn’t looking and the thump, thump, thump of it is starting to hurt my head.  I’m not willing to go so far as to close my eyes for concentration, but I try and focus on everything I can hear down here.

My heart’s slamming around my chest.  Okay, move on.

The occasional faint slosh of what I’m going to pretend is just water.  Tune it out.

A drip somewhere.  Ignore it.

A wheeze.

Something wheezed.  Something nearby wheezed.  If that guy had kept running once he got down here I shouldn’t be able to hear him breathe no matter how hard I concentrate.  If I can’t hear his footsteps, I shouldn’t hear his breathing.  Which means he’s not running away. 

My heart’s beating so hard I’m gonna have a bruise on my chest soon and my ears are starting to ring.  The flashlight’s beam is wobbling around because I can’t keep my goddamn hands steady and my breathing’s not nearly as quiet as I’d like it to be anymore.

Walk away!  Walk away and leave this guy to someone else.  Drop the cops a tip and let the professionals deal with this one.  They’ll bring floodlights down here and flush him out.  They’ve got guns and the training to go with them.  Hell, they might even bring down one of the Registered costumes that OPHR keeps on-staff. 

Walking away is where the smart money’s at. 

Running as fast as physically possible sounds even better. 

I ignore the sane, rational part of my brain and take another couple steps forward, coming to a split in the tunnel.  Keep going straight or veer off to the right?  I hear another scrabbling sound to my right and turn in time to see someone hurl himself at me from the ceiling.  I have a second to recognize that he’s a big guy and his fingers look awfully sharp before he hits me hard enough to knock the flashlight out of my hand and the air out of my lungs.  He tackles me to the ground and stars ignite behind my eyes.  I bring my arms up around my head without thinking and feel him dig into the sleeve of my jacket.

Claws.  He actually has claws.  Claws sharp enough to scrape through leather maybe?  God, I hope the Kevlar holds.

I try to roll out from under him, but he’s a big guy and every pound of him is pressing down on me.  I only manage to roll onto my side.  He starts cutting into the leather on my shoulder.  I turn my face into the ground, try to ignore the sewer water soaking my mask, and throw an elbow.  It connects with something solid and he shifts his weight a bit.  Thankfully he stops clawing at me for a second as well.  I roll again, this time getting my hands under his leg and lifting it as I do so, and manage to get free.  The floor’s too slick to get any traction and I skid trying to get up to my feet, finally catching a break.  While I was rolling and slipping, he was trying to hit me with another flying tackle and went sailing over my head.  He hits the wall, falling into a harsh cone of light. 

It’s the first good look I’ve gotten of him.

He’s big.  Like, prize fighter a few years past his prime big.  Beat to shit jeans and what was probably a white t-shirt at one point are the only things that seem real about him.  He looks like a comic book villain.  Ichy-Thump disorder, or whatever that dry, scaly skin thing is, makes his skin look like a cantaloupe rind.  His finger nails are thick and unevenly pointed like he’s filed them down that way.  He bares his teeth at me and growls like a fucking animal.  His eyes are too narrow and there’s something wrong with the lids, they’re red and irritated.  The skin deal is one thing, but I can’t even fathom why he’s acting this way. 

He moves like an oversized dog, pushing himself on all-fours.  Two galloping steps and he’s slashing at me again.  I take it on the forearm, hoping my jacket holds, and hit him in the mouth.  He staggers back a step and growls again.

There’s something very wrong with this man. 

Not that that changes how dangerous he is.  Particularly because I think he’s realized he’s not gonna get through my jacket very easily because his next slash is just a feint and when I move to block it he slams his other fist up under my ribs.

Ow.  Shit, ow.

My turn to stagger backward, but my defiant psycho-growl sounds more like a groan.  He keeps after me, swinging at my head, stomach, and shoulder while I duck, sidestep, and block.  He overswings and stumbles forward; I plant my foot on his shoulder and shove him over. 

I don’t actually wanna hurt him, but he’s obviously violent and I’m obviously gonna get my arm ripped off if I keep play-fighting with him.  Goddammit.

He lunges at me again, all animal-rage and hyper-aggression.  I don’t know if this’ll actually work but supposedly it’s a good way to knock someone out.  I also learned about it from a YouTube video about Muay Thai so there’s a good chance I’m gonna get decapitated for trying it.  Either way, he’s giving me the setup and I can’t turn a chance like this down.  I bring my rear leg forward, snap it back, and launch my whole body forward.  He only catches me with glancing blows on my side and off-shoulder.  I catch him square on the jaw with the better part of 170 pounds behind my fist.  I think I hear his jaw break.

There’s no staggering, no growling, he just collapses and I very nearly fall on top of him.  I dance around his sprawled body and crouch down immediately to check his pulse.  I have to take my glove off and his skin feels pretty freaky but I’m immensely relieved when I feel his pulse drumming on.

Jesus Christ.

I fall over backward, barely noticing the cold filthy water that’s soaking through my jeans.  It occurs to me that I haven’t even cable tied the temporarily incapacitated, violently unstable sewer-man.  I push myself up off the ground and grab a pair of cable ties.  With the adrenaline draining, I’m starting to feel a bit less than sunny.  My rib’s tweaking, my arms and shoulder are bruised and throbbing, and the customary comedown sickness are all making movement a monumental chore.  I need to call the police in to deal with this guy.  Tell them to bring the non-lethal gear. They never talk about this post-dustup shit in the comics.

I reach into my inside pocket and hope I didn’t break another phone.  It’s just a burner but I can only afford so many.  Thankfully, it comes out in one piece and none of the important buttons are missing.


The operator answers quickly, calm and professional.  I tell her he’s not well, that he needs help.  I wonder if she’ll actually pass the message along.  I have absolutely no idea how the police decide who to actually take seriously, they’ve gotta get prank calls out the ass.  Kids claiming to be a costume that just busted a bank robbery up or crazies thinking they’re Batman.  Better them than me.  I’d lose my shit.

This guy’s heavy enough that picking him up really aggravates my everything.  Picking conscious people up is one thing, picking unconscious people up is something else entirely.  Lots of dead weight distributed over almost six feet of body makes it hugely awkward.  There has to some trick to this that I don’t know.  There’s no way in hell I’m gonna try and haul him up to the street, so I drop him at the foot of the ladder.  Anyone looking down the manhole won’t be able to miss him.

Up the ladder (ribs and shoulder muttering mutinies all the while) and out onto the street and it hits me how exhausted I am.  My phone tells me it’s 3:17am.  I yawn.  There are two ways to guarantee a yawn:  watch someone else yawn or check the time after two in the morning.  I rub my eyes, ignoring the seam of my glove scratching uncomfortably against the bridge of my nose.

I really don’t wanna be standing around in the middle of the street when the cops show up.  Costume vigilantism isn’t all that legal.  I also really wanna be home and in bed.  Winter’s gone, but it hasn’t been a terribly warm Spring. 

And yet for some stupid fucking reason I’m climbing a nearby fire escape instead of skipping home.  I stop at the third story and wait. 

Apparently, the police aren’t nearly as worried about prank calls as I am because they show up pretty promptly.  One cruiser rolls up and two cops step out.  They’re both strapped with tactical armor around their upper bodies and bright yellow taser guns on their hips.  That’s a good sign.  One mutters something into his radio and the other looks the street over like he’s expecting to find the suspect unbound and foaming at the mouth instead of tied up at the bottom of a hole. 

I lean back into the shadows a bit.  One of them keeps checking the street for free-roaming psychopaths while the other pokes his head over the open manhole.  He says something I imagine to be along the lines of “Holy shit, look at this!  There’s a dude in the sewer!” and his partner stops checking the street and jogs over. 

It suddenly occurs to me that they might have some trouble getting the guy out of the sewer as well.  And that’s only if he hasn’t woken up and decided to be uncooperative.  Normally, the slapstick humor of two people struggling to carry around a flailing burden of a person would be nothing short of delightful, but this whole deeply disturbed human being aspect of it is sucking the fun right the hell out of everything. 

Maturity blows.


It took them a second car with two more cops in it to haul the guy out of the sewer and by the time they got him to the street he was awake and fairly disagreeable.  Seemed more scared than angry or defiant though.  If I could get all four of their badge numbers and drop them all glowing words of praise without including somewhere in there that I was the masked vigilante that called them in the first place, I would.  Nobody’s laying into him with nightsticks or screaming at him with guns drawn wondering “why the hell isn’t he responding to my clearly-worded and in no way panic-inducing demands?”.  The ties are holding and the cops have added a set of their own handcuffs and though everyone’s hands drift to the grips of their tasers from time to time, things look surprisingly solid.

I make my way up the fire escape and start in the general direction of the forest preserve.  

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Brief and Uneventful Interlude

I hop to the next roof and look around.  No criminals sneaking around wearing black and white striped jumpsuits or carrying around bulging bags with big dollar signs on them.  No bloodied college preppy gasping and pointing down a dark alley, shouting about two men who just stole his wallet.  Nothing.  When someone parallel parks and walks across the street I’m tempted to jump him for jaywalking.  Instead, I sit down on the edge of the roof and let my feet dangle out over the abyss, my heels smacking against the brick.  I hear cars wheeze and rumble and hum by on the streets nearby.  Windows light up from the inside while others extinguish themselves.  The sharp bite of exhaust fumes has faded now that the only consistent traffic is coming from a few streets over.  I look up and see a faint light pulsing and shimmering across the sky in lieu of actual stars.  It would probably be soothing if it wasn’t so freaking boring.  It’s times like this that I’m glad I don’t have awesome powers like Spiderman.  If I did, I probably would’ve webbed that jaywalker’s ankle and dangled him from the streetlight. 

As it is, I just sit and kick my feet and wonder if I’ve been out long enough to call it quits for the night.  My phone tells me I’ve been out for almost two hours without catching even the faintest whiff of crime.  I swear to God, at this point I’d settle for lecturing a little kid about the merits of sharing. 

Of all the weeks for the city to go crime-free, why now?  The first spring thaw is upon us.  It’s still not warm, but it’s not cold enough for snow anymore.  Criminals should be flocking to the streets to revel in the joyous departure of winter’s cruel embrace.  Pillage!  Plunder!  Do something!

When an older woman drops her purse and a young kid in dark clothes with her hood up actually returns the purse instead of just running off, I decide I’ve had enough.  Maybe if I leave now I can make out with Anna a bit.  Gotta find a way to salvage this night.


I get home and no one’s in the living room.  The kitchen’s empty too.  Not terribly unusual.  It’s past Paul and Susan’s bedtime and the magic of the internet can make any room in the house a living room for teenagers, but without all the pesky social interaction that living rooms bring with them.  I trot up the stairs just as Boone starts shambling down them bundled up in horribly mismatched blue and black flannel shirt and bright red sweats. 

“How’s it going, Hero?”

I flip him off.  He laughs. 

“That well, huh?  What’s that?  Three empty trips in a row?”

I debate just shouldering past him but that would be admitting I’m frustrated and it’s never a good idea to show weakness in front of Boone.  I grunt.

“Something like that.”

I’ve actually gone out four times this week and haven’t found a damn thing.  He laughs again and walks past me. 

“Must be cuz you’re so goddamn good at this.  Criminals are too scared to go out at night.”

I wish I had something to throw at him.  But I don’t, so I settle for sending Anna a text asking what she’s doing.  I get a quick response:  tv in the basement by myself.  I drop my superheroing bag in the closet and turn right back around, stopping long enough to let her know I’ll be over in a second, then I'm down the stairs and out the kitchen door.  I cross the street and circle around the back of Anna’s house, shuffling down the thick cement steps to her basement door.  I send another text—knock, knock—and wait.  She fusses with the bolt for a second (because they refuse to accept that their can of WD-40 is lost and just buy a new one) before opening the door, face freshly scrubbed of make-up and slightly pink.  She’s wearing black sweats and a comically oversized gray hoodie.  I make a sad face.

“Boone was being mean to me and tonight sucked; can I hang out with you?”

Anna rolls her eyes and turns away to hide her smile, but leaves the door open for me to walk through.  After I close it behind us, I give her ass a quick squeeze.  She spins around and smacks the holy hell out of my hand.  Mind you, I’m quick.  Like, really quick.  So I could’ve pulled my hand away, but what fun is dating if you don’t play the game?  She grabs a handful of my shirt and pulls me toward her—play the game.  She has to look up at me a little to make eye contact.

“Is that all I am to you?  A toy to play with?”

I hang my head and give her my best chastised look.  “No ma’am, but I am more than willing to just be a toy for you to play with.”

She struggles to keep her frown from crying mutiny and flipping upside down.  Right as the battle looks completely lost she bounces up onto her tiptoes and gives me a quick kiss.  My heart does that stupid swoopy, flippy thing it does around Anna.  If I listened to it, there’d be no game.  Just me puking up everything I feel all the time.  Stupid fucking emotive stomach.  Returning to the soles of her feet, Anna grabs my hand and leads me over to the couch.  She plops down and waves at the TV.

“I was watching Psych for awhile before bed.  Care to join me?”

Honestly, it barely matters what the first sentence was.  I sit down next to her and drag a blanket over us. 

“Haven’t you already seen all the episodes like seven times?”

She nods cheerily.  “Yup.  Still funny.”

She’s halfway through the episode, so Shawn’s already launched into a nonsensical rant about shark toast.  When Gus starts translating, I loop an arm around Anna’s shoulder and she scoots closer.  She props her head against the hollow beneath my collarbone and I rub my thumb over her arm.  That’s amore.  

Change Is Good for What Ails Ya

Alright, some fairly large changes have been made to the Wesley Chronicles story.  I'm mostly happy with what I've been doing, but one fairly obvious problem has been the Wesley-Anna relationship.  I like them together.  She's good for him.  But there's the whole foster family thing to get over and that was always a nagging problem.  Today I was finally motivated to get off my ass and fix the problem.  And I did.  Boom.  Just like that.  Anna's outta the house.  She's now a neighbor, the daughter of a family that has been friends with the Rhodes family (Susan, Paul, Boone, and Wes) since before either family had kids.  Her relationship with the Rhodes family reminds me of the Dille family I used to live near when I lived in Charleston, South Carolina.  I used to walk over there and spend tons of time with them, especially during the summers.  I practically lived there and I've always intended to write about someone who had a similar relationship with a neighbor family.  Now I have.  And now the Wesley-Anna thing is a bit less creepy and illegal.  Hooray me!

None of the changes are final at this point, I like the idea but it'll prolly take me a couple tunes and tweaks to get all the details ironed out.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Date Night

“Goddammit!  I’m so sick of him doing this shit!”

Susan lets us get away with a little profanity from time to time, but two in one sentence bellowed across the house is enough to push her buttons.  “Wesley, watch your mouth!”

I clamp my jaw down hard enough that I immediately have to run my tongue around my mouth to make sure I didn’t chip any teeth.  I storm into the kitchen, failing to keep enough self-control to stave off the look of a teenage boy throwing a temper tantrum.  Whatever.  My pride’s taken worse hits.

Susan’s putting what look like tinfoil footballs in the oven.  The sight of foil-wrapped hot sandwiches, normally enough to calm even the mightiest of tantrums, doesn’t do much considering Anna and I are eating out tonight.  “Don’t you guys get sick of it?  I can’t use my gift to fu—” it takes a staggering amount of willpower to keep my mouth clean “mess with Boone.  Anna only uses hers for little things, not much call for force fields.  You and Paul don’t even have powers!  Don’t you guys get sick of Boone using his to…screw with you?”

Susan turns to me, one foil football still in hand and the oven standing open, pouring out waves of heat.  Concern replaces the anger.

“Susan, the oven…”

She blinks a few times, like she’s returning from a daydreamm or something, and puts the last hot sandwich in and closes the oven door.  Her voice is quiet and awkward, like she’s trying to restrain herself.

“What did Boone do?”

I don’t know what it is in her voice that’s making me itch, but something feels wrong about all this.  “N-nothing.  Nothing, he’s just being Boone, y’know?”

She chews on her lower lip.  “No, Wesley, I don’t know.  What did Boone do?”

“He…I don’t really know.  He did whatever it is he does, animates things, I guess.  I was—” I look away, wondering if there’s any way to avoid talking about Anna and my Date Night.  It’s an awkward situation, honestly.  Susan cares about me.  She cares about Anna.  She wants us both to be happy, but she’s not a huge fan of…us.  It’s really not a particularly good idea to let your pain in the ass foster kid date your best friends’ daughter.  Especially when said daughter is practically an adopted member of the Rhodes family as well.  “I was getting ready to go out tonight and Boone busted into the bathroom and messed up my hair.  But, not the same way I’d mess up his hair.  After he ruffled it up, it…” now that most of the anger’s drained out of me, I’m feeling like a seven year-old tattling on his mean big brother “it started moving and hissing like it was a bunch of little snakes or something.”  I hang my head.  “It was nothing.  It only went on for like two seconds.  I shouldn’t have come down here screaming like I did.  Sorry Susan.”  I raise my voice so it’ll reach the living room.  “Sorry Paul.”

Susan’s still giving me an intense, worried look and I’m really starting to wonder what it’s about.

“Susan, it’s fine.  Really.  He’s just being Boone.”

“Wes, how often does he do that kind of thing?”

She doesn’t sound mad, like she’s gonna go upstairs and wallop Boone over the head.  She doesn’t sound exasperated, like all the brotherly (does that apply to us?) horseplay is driving her nuts.  I have no idea where she’s going with all this.

“I dunno…more than a little, less than a lot.  He made a paper airplane fly around the room like an F-16 awhile back.”  I’m not really sure what she’s looking for here.  “It’s not all the time or anything.”

Her puzzled, worried super-stare is really freaking me out.

“Wes.  Do you know how many times I’ve seen Boone do something…special like that?”

“I’m starting to think that I have absolutely no idea.”

“Once.  In the nearly eleven years since Boone came to live with us, I’ve seen him do something like that once.  Paul and Anna might have seen more, but if they have it isn’t much.”

I blink.  I’ve been here for less than a year and I’d prolly need more than just my two hands to count the number of shows Boone’s put on.


She nods.  It takes me a minute to come out and ask the sixty-four thousand dollar question.

“So why show me?”

Susan presses her lips together, internal debate raging across her face for all the world to see.

“When did he start doing these things?”

“I don’t know, around the time I started parading around town in a ski mask to fight evil.”

She gives me an expectant look like I’m supposed to have made a connection somehow.  Goddammit, why do all the women in my life seem like they’re constantly a step ahead of me?  I shake my head and shrug.

“It’s because he envies you.  He envies that you can go out and show off your powers.  That you can help people and then have people on TV and on the internet talk about you like you’re this wonderful person doing these wonderful things.”

Oh dear God.  I still don’t get it.  I don’t consider myself a dull person, but if it keeps taking me this long to reach the center of the maze then I might have to reconsider.  I make a face.

“He wants to impress you, Wesley.  He wishes he could do the things you can do, but since he can’t he wants to impress you instead.”

If I’d been drinking anything I swear I would’ve done a spit take.  But Anna’s words come back to me (too fucking busy being jealous and thinking how fucking cool it is that you can do what you can do!) and I start feeling like the slow kid in class again.

“Impress me?  What I can do?  His deal is way cooler than mine.  All I can do is bench press a lot, run fast, and get hit in the face a lot.  He can…I don’t even know what exactly he can do but he takes inanimate things and animates them.”

“A gift that you’re being encouraged to use.  By the media, by the public, and even by your family.”  Susan says the last bit gingerly.

“You say it like the world’s telling me I’m awesome and should keep doing what I’m doing.  Most of the people encouraging me in the media aren’t personally fond of me, they just support the whole caped crusader thing in general and for every one of them there’s another person saying we’re lawless vigilantes trying to relive the old west Golden Era of American Violence or whatever.  And then there’s the bigoted sect of assholes who think all the freaks should be buried in a mass grave.”

Susan winces.  “But you are being encouraged.  Boone’s parents weren’t bad people, but they were rather poorly equipped to raise a child like Boone.  He—he scared them.  What he could do scared them and so they lashed out at him sometimes, especially when he actually made things happen.  They’d punish him for it, despite the fact that he really wasn’t in control of what was happening.  They made him hide what he could do.  It was traumatic for him.”  She makes an uncomfortable sound.  “I hate talking about him behind his back, but…this feels important.  He’s trusted you with his gift.  You need to know how rare that is.”

Alright, this is freaking me out.  Boone’s not supposed to have serious things going on in his life.  He’s supposed to be an asshole that doesn’t care about anything.  This feels wrong.  I blink and turn away from Susan and check my phone.  It tells me it’s time pick Anna up.  I wander across the street, taking the time to unwind a bit.  Mrs. Riley answers the door with a tight smile.  I don’t think she’s wild about her daughter dating someone with my colorful history, but I don’t have a record and Susan and Paul vouched for me.  That last bit must go a long way with her.  That and the fact that this is just a first date.  She’s probably holding onto the hope that Anna’ll come to her senses and dump me.

We swap terse small talk as she walks me upstairs to Anna’s door.  Music floats through the hallway and I can faintly hear her singing along.  Something soft and mellifluous.  Guster, maybe?

Mrs. Riley knocks on Anna’s door.

“Almost ready, hun?”


Why am I even trying to read this?  Most of the words don’t even make sense to me.  What’s qategna?  Injera?  Kibe?  I should just let Anna order for me.  Don’t know the first thing about Ethiopian food.  I’ll just—envies you—dammit, I can’t even not understand a menu without—how many times—all that shit Susan said popping into my head.  This—

I almost jump over the back of our little booth when something brushes against my leg.  Anna jolts back, looking a little alarmed, and then laughs.

“That was just my foot, Wes.  You were being so quiet…I just wanted to say hi.”

Well played, Wes.  Really.  Two dates in and you’re already spazzing all over the place.

I give her a sheepish smile.

“Sorry, kinda off in my own world for a second there.  So are you gonna help me order or am I just supposed to jab my finger blindly at something on the menu and hope it’s good?”

She smiles again.  “Jab blindly.  You’re cute when you flounder.”

I stop myself from opening and closing my mouth soundlessly like a fish and instead give Anna a glare.  She smiles even wider and pats my cheek.

“There it is.  Adorable.”

I’m still glaring my half-hearted glare when the waiter comes back.  I don’t remember his name and he’s not wearing a nametag but I remember it started with an ‘E’.  Anna orders a sambusa appetizer and an assa watt meal (oh God, what does that even mean?).  E looks expectantly at me.  I shoot Anna another glare out of the corner of my eye.

“I’ll have whatever—” I stop short of giving up and making Anna pick for me “you like best.  What’s your favorite meal?”

E returns my smile and after a moment of thought decides on yebeg tibs watt.  I don’t even know if that’s a real thing.  He takes our menus and heads back to the kitchen.  Anna snorts.

“Nice save.”

“I thought so.”


It’s not the deepest hour of winter or anything, but tonight’s definitely carrying a chill.  Anna’s fingers are twined between mine and I wish it wasn’t so cumbersome to walk and huddle for warmth.  I’d be an even bigger fan of winter dates if we could manage that.  She lifts our held hands and wedges them into my jacket pocket.  I’ve offered her my jacket twice now, but she just keeps smiling, calling me stupid, and telling me I’ll freeze.  I’m tempted to ask a third time just to see her smile.

A little voice in my head tells me that Anna absolutely owns me.  This is only our third date and already I’m inclined to agree with it.  I don’t even know what movie we’re seeing tonight.  Probably something awful.  I picked the restaurant so Anna gets to pick the movie.  Last time she picked the food and I picked the after-dinner entertainment.  Her taste in food is generally better than her taste in movies, so this whole switching off thing might not work out.  I can only hope she doesn’t wanna watch the whole thing.

I drop an extraordinary amount of money on two tickets for something called Within and Without and wonder what I’ve gotten myself into.  We skip the concession stand and head straight to the theater.

Less than a quarter of the way through the movie Anna starts whispering in my ear.  “I’m so sorry.  This is awful.”

Because I’m such a good boyfriend, I don’t even tell her I knew that coming in.  I just make a sad face and nod somberly.

She smiles.  “We don’t have to stay.  I didn’t think it would be this bad.”

I shake my head and whisper back, “You wanted to see this.”

She’s trying so hard not to laugh, whether at my pain or at my attempt at chivalry I’m not sure.  “No, this is so bad it skips straight past ‘it’s so bad it’s good’.  No one should suffer through this.”

Someone in front of us shushes, making more noise than our whispering.

Anna moves closer, cupping her hand around her mouth to muffle the whisper even more.  “There ya go.  We’re obviously not welcome here.  Let’s take the hint.”

I smile this time.  I can take a hint.


You just couldn’t fucking resist, could you?

I growl and open the front door instead of kicking it off its hinges.  I drove around for an hour after dropping Anna off just to make sure I wouldn’t get home before Susan and Paul went to bed.  Boone’s still up, but unless I wanna drive around ‘til two o’clock (and fill up Susan’s car while I’m at it) just to guarantee a little privacy, I’ll have to live with that. 

It wasn’t even a good joke.  Pissed her off over a joke that wasn’t even funny.  Why am I like this?

Not that I’m a mind-reader or anything.  I couldn’t actually know she’d get upset, right?

Yeah, cuz most girls would love jokes like that from the guys they’re dating…

Dammit.  Four dates.  Four damn dates and I’m already screwing it up.  Not that I’m all that surprised, four dates is the longest relationship I’ve ever been in without suicide-bombing it into oblivion (not that anyone really needs to know that).  But there’s no way I’m insecure enough to try and sabotage things.  Even I’m not that dumb.

Nope, just dumb enough to sabotage things accidentally.

“Shut up, brain.”

“What’d you say?”

Apparently Boone’s still awake and watching TV in the living room.


“How’d the date go?”



“Fuck yourself.”

Boone laughs and I tromp up the steps to our room.  I close the door behind me and unbutton my flannel, tossing it onto my “not quite dirty” pile.

Apologizing would be a good idea.  It was a dumb joke, but it wasn’t a huge deal.  I didn’t beat it to death and she wasn’t super-pissed or anything.  Just apologize.  She’ll accept and then move on.  That’s how real couples do things, right?

Hm.  Now that I think about it, I’ve never actually apologized to a girl I was dating for being a dick.  Usually when it’s time to apologize, I’m right where I want to be—intentionally in trouble and uninterested in reconciliation.  Hell, I'm not sure I've ever apologized for being a dick to anyone.  Ever.

Not that I’m looking at an overabundance of choices here.  It’s really just apologize or ignore it and hope it goes away.  Not that ignoring it is without its charms.  Bad enough that I fucked up in the first place, but what good does it do to revisit it?  I’ll feel shitty, Anna’ll probably get a little mad, and that might lead to an actual fight. 

I freeze with only one arm through my hoodie.  Jesus Christ, am I actually thinking about not apologizing?  I was giving serious consideration to not apologizing to Anna.  I’m really trying to sabotage this.  I pull my hoodie down over my head a little more violently than necessary and hear the sound of stitches popping or whatever it is that makes that ripping popping sound in clothes.

Start thinking up an apology now, asshole.  No way am I getting out of this.

I start running through lines in my head ranging from “Anna, listen, about last night…” to “So, how ‘bout that terribly tasteless joke…”, fully expecting to dream not-quite-obscure dreams about Nazi sympathizers and verbal miscues.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


“I’d like to start class off today by expressing my heartfelt gratitude to all of you for deeming your term-papers worthy of such tremendous effort.  That only sixty-two percent of my classes turned their papers in on time has done nothing to dampen my spirits and that the average grade was a full twelve points below last year’s average is of no great importance.  I believe the blood, sweat, and tears that so clearly stained each and every paper is worth more than all the As in the world.”

Mr. Karimov stops for a second and looks around the class, dark eyebrows furrowed intensely.

“Now, have I made my sarcasm clear enough for everyone?”

There’s a general murmur of assent.

“Good because I’m going to give many of you a chance to give this assignment a second shot.  Anyone who got a B on this paper will be exempt from the rewrite but are welcome to give it another go.  Those of you who got an A will not be turning in rewrites at all, congratulations to you.  The rest of you will be required to rewrite your paper and turn it back in to me a week from today.  I’m handing you back your papers today complete with mark-ups and suggestions for improvements.  Take them home, read my marks, and come back in a week with a stronger second effort.  I know you all are capable of far better than this, I saw it on your earlier papers.  I will be taking your highest grade and putting it on the books.  Your lowest grade will be thrown out.  I hope you all appreciate this because I feel I’m being extraordinarily accommodating.  Are there any questions?”

Kevin Whelk leans over to me and whispers, “Twenty bucks says I’m under 50%.  I didn’t start my paper ‘til the night before.”

I arch an eyebrow.  Kevin’s a nice enough guy, but they’ve invented pet rocks with better study skills than him.  No way I’m taking that bet.  “I’ve never wanted a B more in my life.  No fucking way I’m rewriting that paper, it was bad enough the first time around.”

“What subject did you get?”

“Reconstruction of Western Europe after World War II.  You?”

It takes him a second to remember.  Not a good sign.  “How people treated veterans after the war.”

When Karimov finally gets to me I skip all the feedback and jump straight to the last page.  Big and bright green: 

Would it be inappropriate to yell “fuck yeah!” in the middle of class?


There’s a subtlety to the art of superheroing.  It’s not all punching and jumping around roofs; there’s staking out the right part of town, figuring out which person to hit and which to rescue, and understand that when you hear “Help!  Someone please help m—” you need to leap into action.  It takes most people years to get down all those nuances; I must be a fast learner.  I scramble down the old apartment’s fire escape, crossing my fingers that it holds the whole time, and take off running the second my feet hit the pavement.  I see them across the street.  They’re struggling against someone’s garage door down a little dirt series of driveways.  I really don’t think now is the time to start examining sexism in the world of street crime, but I figure the guy is the bad guy here.  One, he seems far less interested in getting away than she does and two, he’s got the look of a man who wouldn’t sound like a woman when he cries out for help.  Plus, he’s the one holding a knife.


He looks over when I shout and freezes for a second—long enough to get himself kneed in the balls by his would be victim.  He doubles up, nearly dragging her to the ground.  I don’t know if she breaks his grip or if he shoves her down, but either way she’s on the ground and he’s limping away like that’s actually gonna earn him a clean escape.  I chase him down and shoulder-tackle him into a waist-high chain link fence.  He hits it and flips over it, landing in an awkward heap on the other side.  It’s pretty much the pinnacle of physical humor, but it does make a bit more work for me.  Life’s full of little trade-offs.

I hop over after him, toss him back over the fence, and hop after him again.  Apparently he dropped his knife at some point because instead of trying to stab me to death he awkwardly punches me in the hip.  I kick him in the chest and wrench his arms behind his back, cable tying his wrists.  I grab his ankle and drag him back to the mouth of the driveway, puffs of icy breath and dirt trailing behind him.  I don’t quite get all the way there before the woman tackles me hard enough that it takes me a second to realize she’s hugging me and not attacking me.  It’s a perfect sitcom moment.  A complete stranger just barreled into me, wrapped her arms around me, and is crying into my chest while I stand there awkward with my arms held out like I’m not sure if it’s okay to hug her back.  When I make out the words “thank you” repeated a couple times I figure it’s safe to respond in kind.  There’s a subtlety to all this.

The last person I’d “saved” had just been role-playing with her husband.  She called me a pervert and he threw a bottle at my head.  This is infinitely more satisfying. 

Plus, I might actually get home early enough to catch Anna before she leaves.  It’s a good night.



“Living room, Wes.”

“Good cuz I’m cold and I need someone to listen to how awesome I am.”

I set my backpack down at the foot of the stairs and wander into the living room.  I’m a second away from rambling on about how well tonight went when I see Susan on the couch next to Anna.  Wow.  That got awkward fast.  Is seeing your foster mother supposed to be this awkward?  Didn’t we talk about this so we could stop the awkward?  Prolly should have thought about how we were gonna make this less awkward.  Do we sit silently and appreciate that we’ve worked out our differences in opinion or do we talk openly about it like everything’s all wonderful and whatnot?  I try to think of anything we’ve said to each other that would suggest a solution.

Susan told me I should come to her if I needed any help, but I think that’s just cuts and bruises, right?

Paul seemed unusually torn on the matter.  Proud of me helping people, but guilty that he approves a little?  Worried that I’ll get hurt, but pleased that I’m making something of myself?  Happy that Susan and I are on speaking terms, but worried about Susan’s stress?  I don’t know.  Paul’s hard to pin down.

Anna’s too happy that I talked it out with Susan to think about much else.

Boone isn’t here but I know he’s snickering somewhere.

I clear my throat.  “What’ve you two been up to?”

Anna leans over the arm of the couch and her hair falls over half her face.  It’s a little tousled and really attractive. 

“Nothing really.  She’s been knitting, I’ve been reading.  How about you?”

Susan’s still knitting, but she’s slowed down a bit.  I guess now’s the time to set the precedent one way or the other.

“I got a hug from the woman I helped tonight.”

Anna gives me an odd look and I rush to clarify.

“I stopped someone from hurting her and she was so panicky and grateful that she pretty much tackled me and cried into my jacket.  Took almost a full minute before I felt like she wouldn’t fall apart if I let go.  I stayed on one of the roofs nearby until the cops arrived, just in case.  Usually when I do that I just act like I’m leaving, but she was so freaked out that I actually pointed out where I was gonna go.  Had to ask her not to tell that police I was still around, just in case.”

Anna and Susan are quiet for a second and while they’re grasping for something to say the toilet flushes in the other room and Paul pokes his head into the living room. 

“Oh, hey Wes.  Thought I heard you getting in.  I’m calling it for the night.”

“G’night, Paul.”

He waves and heads upstairs.  I get the impression that Susan wouldn’t mind following him just to get away from this conversation.  I wonder if I made the right call.

“What did the police do when they got there?”  Susan asks.

I shrug.  “Same thing the police always do when some asshole gets caught trying to cause trouble, made sure she was in one piece and weren’t too gentle about tossing him in the cruiser.”

Susan purses her lips.  “It’s ridiculous the amount of street crime we have to live with.  I really hope Mayor Shaw was serious about looking into the police’s methods.  I don’t know how there can be this much trouble if they’re doing their jobs.”

“Lotta people say most of the cops aren’t doing their jobs cuz they get paid better to look the other way, but I dunno if that’s just people trying to turn a rough city into Gotham City for the sake of drama.”

Susan shrugs.  “You always hear things like that when someone’s trying to lay blame for something.  It’s been stirred up lately because of all the…” she gestures at me “mixed feelings toward this costumed situation.  People wanna know why this is happening, and one of the easiest ways to acknowledge their existence is to peg them as an extension of people’s dissatisfaction with the legal system in general.”

I swallow heavily.  “I take it you’ve spent some time thinking about this?”

She nods.  “Have to know what my kids are doing with their lives.  You should see the statistics I came up with when I thought you were getting into boxing.”

I’m not sure I wanna know the answer, but it feels like I need to ask the question anyway.  “So what do you think of all the…” I gesture at myself “mixed feelings toward this costumed situation?”

Susan looks over at me for a minute.  “All that matters is how I feel about you, and I believe I’ve made that quite clear, Wesley.”

I make a face.  The motherly affection card.  It’s the foulest form of cheating, the lowest of hits below the belt, an attack against which there is no defense.  Dammit.  I sigh and admit defeat.

“Thanks, Susan.”

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Growing Pains

It started out as paranoia, but at this point I know Anna and Susan are talking behind my back and breakfast today just reinforces it.  Whispers that die out the second I walk into the room, meaningful looks exchanged when Anna and Susan see me, and just a general sense of unease when all three of us are in a room together.

I’m getting that same vibe from them when they walk into the kitchen this morning.  Anna doesn't usually come in and eat with us on school days.  I start downing my eggs a bit faster.  Susan’s been extra awkward lately, like she’s had something to say that she just can’t get out and as far as I’m concerned the longer we go without discussing my costumed business the longer it’ll take her to tell me she can’t let me keep it up.  I don’t really wanna have that argument because I have no intention of stopping.

I pick up my plate and tip it back, shoveling the last two or three bites of egg into my mouth.

 “Wes, would you sit back down?”

“Can’t.  Already running late.”

“Wesley, I’m trying to be respectful of your—”

I shrug my backpack up onto my shoulders, walking backward toward the door, “Sorry.  School.”

I’m out the door before I stop to think about what a ridiculous dick I am.


“Anna, please—”

“You have to talk to her, this isn’t just going to go away if you ign—”

“No.  Anna, no goddammit, not righ—”

“You can’t just ignore her feelings, We—”

“This is my lif—”

“What you’re doing affects everyone arou—”

“Well I don’t hear Boone giving me shit for—”

“That’s because Boone’s too fucking busy being jealous and thinking how fucking cool it is that you can do what you do!”

The entire hall’s watching us now.  Some people are pretending they aren’t but others have stopped their conversations and are openly staring at us like one of us is going to hit the other any minute now.  I’m not so sure Anna won’t hit me.

I lower my voice.  “We can’t do this right now.  We have eighth period study hall together.  I won’t duck you once classes are over and we can talk about it on the way home.”

I can see her working it over.  She isn’t happy with me.  I think if she could find a way to strap a shock collar around my neck, she would—just in case.  “Fine.  When this conversation happens though, so help me God if you are insensitive enough to say anything remotely resembling that she isn’t your mother I will kill you where you stand.”

Nice to know that my reputation precedes me.


Anna’s already sitting at her desk when I walk into the room and I have to remind myself rather firmly that I promised her not to cut and run.  Yeah, I know.  I’m a bitch.

She doesn’t say anything when I walk past her; just makes brief eye contact and goes back to her book.  I sit down behind her and choke on silence.  If Boone were here I would hate him for the shit he’d be giving us but at least it wouldn’t be so goddamn quiet.  But he’s not and it is and it’s my fault.  My hand is actually twitching, wanting to tap her on the shoulder but not having anything to say.

This is insane.  I’ve become that annoying idiot in every stupid, angsty teen drama that whines about everyone and is universally reviled by moviegoers, readers, and/or TV junkies.  And now I hate myself for whining about whining…more whining!  Just wonderful! 

The bell rings and Mr. Mitchum reminds us all to shut the hell up and not disturb our neighbors (I’ve always liked Mr. Mitchum).  Anna pulls a book out of her bag and starts working. 

Oh fuck this.  Deal with this like an adult.  Or at least the closest facsimile of one you can manage.

I tear a page out of my notebook and scribble on it.

Am I being an asshole?

I fold it up and drop it over Anna’s shoulder.  She stiffens a bit when it falls in her lap, but she picks it up and I hear the soft crinkle of unfolding paper.  After a minute she arches her back, grabs one hand with the other, and pulls her arms up over her head, stretching.  Her hair falls over the front of my desk.  I try not to think about the view I could be getting right now if I were sitting somewhere else.  I don’t figure my libido for much of a problem solver, though it’s trying quite hard to convince me otherwise.  Her hand opens and my little square of paper tumbles down onto my desk.  She lowers her arms, lifts her hair, and goes back to her homework.  The moment passes.

I open the note.

No.  Just self-centered.

I scribble and pass.

I’m not sure that’s much better.


A little.

Close enough that you’re still pissed.

Not pissed.  Frustrated.  Confused.

Fuck.  I owe Susan an apology, don’t I?


Gah!  But I’m not wrong!

Now you’re being an asshole.

Ugh.  Slow down.  Think about what you mean before you say it.

No, I mean I know I’ve been acting like a three year-old, but going out on the town like I do isn’t wrong.  Right?

It takes Anna awhile to answer.

No, but it is illegal and dangerous and it affects everyone around you.  You may be the one running around and getting into trouble, but we’re aiding and abetting or whatever.  Listen, this note’s getting kind of dangerous to keep passing.  Just pocket it and we’ll talk after class.  Okay?

I jam the note into my pocket instead of doing something stupid and smart ass like passing the note back to agree with her.  Probably the first decent thing I’ve done since all this started.  Now, all I have to do is sit around for another thirty-five minutes and pretend to be able to focus on anything other than how much I suck.


“Shut up, Boone.”

“What?  I haven’t even said anything.”

“I know you haven’t, but you will.  So, shut up.”

Boone looks between Anna and me, leading our procession out past the huddled student masses and onto the sidewalk.

“Dude, who or what got wedged up your ass?”

I’m not sure why I’m snapping at him, but I can’t seem to stop myself.  “Don’t you have someplace to be?”

Boone gives me an odd look.  “Fine, fuck you.  I’m heading downtown anyway.  Anna, your boyfriend needs a reach around or something; he’s kinda being a dick.”

Anna puts a hand on Boone’s arm.  “Stop teasing him.  Please?”

Boone throws his hands up and rolls his eyes.  “Fine!  I’ll see you guys later.”

We’re silent for a little while before the crowds thin out enough for us to talk.  Anna sighs.

“Well, that wasn’t a very good start.”

“I don’t need his shit on top of everything else.”

“He wouldn’t have said anything if you hadn’t antagonized him.  He’s not all that happy about this clusterfuck either.”

“There’s only so many times someone can pick fights before they lose the benefit of the doubt.”

Silence again.  Why am I so bad at this?  I take a deep breath and try again.

“I’ll talk to him tonight.  I have no idea what one says to Boone to try and have a serious conversation, but I’ll try anyway.  Just know that if one of us ends up dead, I tried as hard as I could.”

Anna takes my hand and squeezes.  “Thank you.”

I rub my eyes, trying to push back the headache boiling up behind them and hope Anna doesn’t let me walk into a light pole or something.  I’m gonna end up with an ulcer and it won’t even be my costumed life that gives it to me.  “Why do I feel like you’ve already figured out how this is going to end and you’re just trying to lead me across the finish line?”

“Because I’m older and wiser than you.”

“You’re barely a year older.”

“True, but girls also mature faster than boys.”

I nod my head in concession.  “Well I can’t speak for men and women as a whole, but it certainly seems true in this case.”

Anna puts her hand on my cheek, gets up on her tiptoes, and kisses my other cheek.  “Keep making stupid jokes.  It’s a far more appealing sort of childishness.”

“Pfft.  They’re not stupid; they’re disarmingly clever masquerading as stupidity.  You’d be amazed how often it works for me.”

She snorts.  “How are you still talking?”

“I’m not really sure.  I think my off switch was broken by one of the many blows to the head I’ve received.”

“Oh my God, who actually answers that question?”

“Guess I do.”

Anna makes an exasperated sound and shoves me into a newspaper dispenser.


The woman at the front desk of the hospital recognizes me as “one of Susan’s” and starts chattering away the second she’s told me Susan isn’t due for her dinner break for another eleven minutes.  I smile and tell her everyone’s doing great and really wish she would move her hands so I could see her nametag.  Bless her heart, she’s a sweet woman just dying to know how her favorite family’s doing but I don’t recognize her at all and I’m gonna run out of bland pleasantries before she runs out of breath and has to inhale again.  I jump in the second she pauses to shift our conversation from one family member to another.

“I hate to be rude, but this food’s cooled off while I was walking over here and I was hoping to have it heated up and all ready to go when she gets into the cafeteria.”

She clicks her tongue.  “You really are a sweetheart.  Do you know where the caf is?”

“Yep, thanks.”

“Alright, well be sure to swing by before you leave.”

“Wouldn’t dream of ducking you.”

I smile as I leave and hope she gets off before I have to come back through the lobby.  Down a hallway to the left and then down the stairs and I push the cafeteria doors open.  I rush toward the back and hope Daisy’s working.  I don’t know any of the other cafeteria workers and I don’t think I’m actually allowed to use their microwaves.  Sure enough, as I get a little closer I see her frizzy beehive of orange hair bobbing above the short line of hungry people.  Daisy’s tall and thin and has a thing for purple and blue dresses.  She’s a dead ringer for The Magic School Bus’ Ms. Frizzle.  Susan calls her the Friz, but I’m not sure I could get away with it.  I raise my hand over my head and wave.

“Daisy!  Hey!”

She waves back, careful not to swing her ladle around too much and hit someone with green bean juice.  Daisy has a smile that nearly cracks her face in two and she isn’t stingy about using it.  “Wesley, darling, have you eaten?”

“No, that’s actually what I wanted to talk to you about.”

“If that’s not the start of someone asking for a favor then I don’t know what is.”

If I had more time, I might banter a bit more but I’ve got all of two minutes before Susan gets off for dinner.  “Heh.  I’ve kinda got myself in a tough place with Susan and I’m looking to run a Hail Mary to get back in her good graces.”

“Well, who am I to keep you from making nice?  You know the drill.”

“Thank you.  If Susan comes in before I get back, can you keep her from ordering anything?”

“You got it.”

The microwave’s back behind a mixer big enough to blend Hansel, Gretel, and their two fattest friends together into a wonderful pie filling.  I put our plates on the counter and surround them with Tupperware.  I drop a slice of meatloaf onto Susan’s plate and slide it into the microwave.  While the meatloaf is spinning round and round, I load three slices onto my own plate and pop the tops on the salads.  The bell tolls and I stick a couple rolls on Susan’s plate and hit the go button again.  I repeat the whole process with my plate and poke my head out of the kitchen.  Susan’s sitting at the end of a table, looking a little bewildered.  I toss rolls onto my plate and reheat it before gathering Susan’s plate, salad, and little cup of dressing.  I get halfway across the room before she notices me.  Her confusion deepens before she remembers to smile.

“Wesley, what are you doing here?  Is everything okay?”

“That’s what I’m hoping to sort out, actually.  But first, a bribe.”  I drop the food in front of her and smile.  “I’ll be right back.”

I repeat the process but this time I tuck a twenty ounce bottle under each arm.  It takes a moment longer than before to unload my food, lest I ruin my good start with a carbonated assault on Susan’s person.  We eat in silence (or what passes for silence in a relatively public cafeteria) for a minute before I decided that awkward chit-chat is better than awkward silence.

“How’s your food?”

“It’s wonderful.  Very thoughtful.”

“I made the rolls.”

She laughs and takes a bite of a roll that clearly came out of a Pillsbury tin.  “They’re delicious.”

I swallow enough spinach to choke myself and blurt, “I’m sorry I suck at this and if you have the time and energy after your shift tonight we can talk about all the stupid shit I’ve been running away from talking about.” 

Oh, wow.  That was bad even for me.  Don’t smack your head against the table repeatedly while chanting “stupid, stupid, stupid”.  Don’t do it.  This doesn’t need to get any worse.

She sets her roll down and puts her hand on top of mine.  “Let’s just eat for now and worry about all those happy thoughts afterward.”

Susan doesn’t eat quickly, but afterward still comes too soon.

“So when does your shift end?”

“Nine.  How’d you get over here?”

“Took the bus, why?”

“Take the car back home.  It’s too cold to be standing around at the bus stop.  You can come pick me up at nine and we’ll start sorting this out then.  Deal?”

I fidget a bit.  “Deal.”


Neither Susan nor I really know how to start so we spend the entire ride home making small talk.  How was your day?  Not too bad, how about you?  Isn’t the weather just delightful?  Don’t you wish one of us could say something important?  I’ve got the house keys in the door before I stop myself.  If we go inside with Anna and Boone and Paul we’ll get caught up in whatever’s going on in their lives.

“On TV, people always sit on their front steps and talk.  That or they poke their heads in through open windows.  Does anyone ever do that in real life?”

“Not really.  Enough people have heated or air conditioned homes they can have discussions in that sitting outside has become largely obsolete.”

“Ah.  Well, how about we do it anyway?  I always thought it made things seem more important.”

She smiles thinly and sits down, squirming a little in the silence.  “I hate to start this off with a cliché, but it all seems so obvious in hindsight.  It worried me that you and Boone and Anna were all so fascinated with these masked vigilantes, but it would never have occurred to me that one of you was going out there doing what they do.”  She shakes her head.  “I had a hard enough time agreeing to let you box—which I assume was just a way for you to cover all the cuts and bruises—all the violence that comes with this isn’t healthy.  Boxing is a sport, of sorts, there are rules and limits and protection.  This costumed business, it’s even more violent and it has none of the protection, none of the rules.  It’s—it’s real violence, for lack of a better term.  People out to hurt and kill each other and there is no aspect of it that impacts human beings in a healthy way.”  It takes a moment of fumbling for Susan to find her words and when she does they all come out in a rush.  “I appreciate that you’re doing this to do something good and that you’re not a child and that if you want to keep doing this, Paul and I are truly incapable of stopping you, but I cannot consider myself your parent and not at least talk to you about all this.”  By the time she’s done she’s a little hunched over and breathing shallowly.  She looks brittle.  I should do something comforting, but I can’t seem to lift my hand.

“But you want me to stop, don’t you?”

She nods.

“Would it help if we talked about what I actually do?”

“When I found out, I went online and did some research but it was all a little spotty.  Second-hand accounts, terrified victims, and anonymous statements given by police officers who don’t have an official line to support because of how damn crazy this superhero business is.”

Alright.  Start at the beginning.

“First one happened on accident.  Big hooded boy with a knife meets mousy little girl with a purse.  A tale as old as time.  No mask, no hood, no secret identity.  I just saw him before he saw me and I stopped him.  The woman freaked out, crying and hugging me until the police arrived.  It was—good.  And I mean, I don’t know, but isn’t that the kinda shit people are always so hyped up on?  People helping people?  One of the most popular entertainment mediums in the world is based around the concept of people with the ability to help helping.  There has to be a reason everyone’s so obsessed with superheroes, real and fictional.”  I rub my nose with my knuckle and grasp for words.  “I’m getting better at it every time I go out; better at helping people and better at protecting myself.  I don’t think I’ll ever be a name brand superhero, saving the world every month, but I can make people feel safer walking home at night.  I can cut down on people busting up local businesses.  I—I can help people.”

Silence.  Raging internal debates rule the day.

“It never even occurred to me.”  I can’t tell if she’s talking to herself or to me.  “You know, I think I could read every parenting book every published and I wouldn’t find a single tip on what to do when your son or daughter is a superhero.”

“Maybe you should write a book.  ‘So Your Child Wears a Full-Body Stocking and Fights Evil in the Dead of Night’.  It’s a little wordy, but I think I’m onto something.”

She smiles thinly.  “You’re going to get hurt.  Really hurt.”

“People get hurt every day.”

“Now is not the time to be flip, Wesley.” The fragility leaves her momentarily and I backtrack quickly.

“I’m not being flip, that’s just how it is.  You can’t go through life expecting to avoid pain.  Mind you, I’m asking for quite a bit more pain than is usual, but I figure that’s balanced out by the pain I help other people avoid.”

Another pause.

“This isn’t healthy, being exposed to the kind of violence you’re being exposed to and taking the lives of others onto your shoulders.  You’re making yourself responsible for so much more than anyone your age, or any age for that matter, should.  How can anyone ever know that they’re able to handle all that?”

I scratch my cheek, listening to the little bit of stubble crinkle.  “I’ve heard people talk the same way about having kids.  Not that having kids and fighting crime are the same thing,” Although there are some striking similarities.  “Just that no one really knows if they’re gonna be ready for it, ready to take responsibility for another life, and yet people kinda have to jump in.  They have to take a leap of faith at some point and just trust that they’ll be up to the task.”

Okay, that had to have scored me some major points, right?

“Plus, if I get myself in any real trouble I can have Paul as my lawyer!  I’ve got all my angles covered!”

She gives me another weak smile.  “It’s freezing out here.  I’m gonna go inside and talk to Paul about this.”  She kisses my temple before standing up.  “You’ll just have to survive the embarrassment of being kissed in public this one time.  We all care about you, Wes.  Especially me.”

I stop her before she gets to the door and hug her quickly and awkwardly.

“Yeah, me too.”

I give her a minute or two head start so I can avoid her and Paul on their way upstairs before heading in myself.  Anna’s waiting in the foyer.

“How’d it go?”

“Won’t really know until tomorrow, but I don’t think I did anything too fucking stupid.”

She bounces onto her tiptoes and puts her arms around my neck.  “Thank you.”

“Yeah, but now I’ve gotta talk to Boone and I’m fairly certain he won’t be nearly as pleasant or cooperative as Susan.”

"I've gotta head home now, but text me an update after you talk to Boone."  Anna squeezes my hand.  "Good luck."

Boone’s sprawled across one of the recliners in the living room, one leg draped over the arm and the other on the footrest.  He’s watching Pulp Fiction.  Samuel L. Jackson’s double daring Brett to say “what” again. 

Alright, just like a band-aid.

“This scene always makes me want a cheeseburger.”  I mutter.

Boone looks over his shoulder at me.  “Shut the fuck up, man.  I don’t wanna drive out to Wendy’s just because you got me craving a burger.”

Samuel L. Jackson shoots Brett in the arm and starts quoting a semi-fictitious Bible passage.

“Hey, about earlier, I uh—”

“No.  No, no.  If you apologize…I’m going to cry.”  He sniffles and wipes the back of his hand across his face.  “I, I can’t handle this right now.  Oh—oh God!”

“You are such a pain in the ass, you know that right?”

“Deal with it.”

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Table of Contents

Okay, so I have a little gizmo on the side of my blog that organizes and directs people to the stories I've written for my current project (still need a better name for it, I've got three or four possibilities and I don't like any of them haha), but I think I want a post that acts as a table of contents so I can post a link to a specific post that lets people start from the top and just roll through the stories.  Considering I've only got four followers and scarce few readers this might be completely gratuitous, but hey, if I don't take my writing seriously who will?  So here it is, a nice, clean table of contents.

Stories in Chronological Order:
The Atomic Punk

His Name Is Alan Thompson

Golden Age Wesley

An Origin Story (Because Who Doesn't Love Flashbacks?) (Part 1)

An Origin Story (Because Who Doesn't Love Flashbacks?) (Part 2)

Growing Pains


Date Night

A Brief and Uneventful Interlude

Sewer Rat

The Comedown

First Time

Magnetic Moment

Held Hands and Hate Crimes

Nuclear Family Fission
Miscellaneous Stories to Appear Later:
Night Watchman