Saturday, July 27, 2013

And Now We Rewind a Little Bit

I've got a pretty firm grasp on this story's chronology.  It's before Night Watchman and after The Atomic Punk, almost exactly halfway between the two actually.  Not a lot of setup required for this one, hell, I probably didn't even need to write up a primer post for this story, but with the shift in identity and how out of order I've been writing these I figure it can't hurt to keep things clear.  This is Wesley working under the same identity as he was in The Atomic Punk.  Enjoy.

PS - I've started a separate tab for stories set in this superhero universe called "B-Listers", it's below my Followers tab and above the About Me tab.  So, if anyone wants a quick and easy way to find just those stories check it out.  I'm also working on a title for this universe and, as you can probably guess, the current working title for it is B-Listers.  I pretty much made it up on the spot when I decided to make that tab, so I'm still not sure how I feel about it.  If you've got any other suggestions, lemme know in the comments.

Nuclear Family Fission

The apartment building looks like someone crammed every star in the sky inside it and then pulled the pins all at once.  I doubt there’s a rooftop in the city that the fire isn’t visible from; or if not the fire than at least the light bleeding into the sky.  I have no fucking idea what I’m doing but before I can think too hard about it I’m heading toward the fire.  Sprinting and jumping across rooftops like being able to bench press a lot or throw a good punch will do anything to stop a building from burning to the ground.  Not that common sense matters much at this very moment, every costumed do-gooder knows it’s in the fine print of their contract to save at least one person from a burning building each year.  Guess this is a chance to fill my quota.

I’m a block away when I start to notice the heat.  The biggest fire most people (and before this, myself included) ever deal with is the bonfire they build with friends in high school and sometimes those are enough to make people sweat.  By the time I’m scrambling down to the street I can hardly breathe.  Although, that might be as much the anxiety as the heat.

The police and I won’t ever be friends, but they usually let me be since I never step too far out of line.  And because I never really stick around to play meet and greet.  This time, however, they start rushing toward me when I drop in behind their hastily erected barricade.  

Police and Fire Department personnel only, I guess.  

But while they’re hustling over to tell me something along the lines of “let the professionals do their job, kid” a woman catches sight of me.  She shoulder tackles one of the officers manning the barricade to get a little closer to me and starts screaming just as the officer recovers his composure and wraps his arms around her waist and pulls her back.  It seems like she’s caused trouble before.

Please!  You have to save my husband and son!  They’re still inside!

No way any sane, reasonable human being goes gallivanting into a building this far gone without some serious training and a flame-resistant onesie so I ignore the sane, reasonable part of me that’s screaming incoherently in the back of my head and trying to pull the plug on my arms and legs.  Fuck him.  If he didn’t want to be a hero he should have tapped out before we left.

 “Which room?”

She starts struggling against the officer again, “413!

I run.  The police are trying to keep everyone safe as well as keep a sharp public image so when I duck their outstretched arms and run directly toward the burning building, their only real choices are to use force to stop me or to let me go.  No one wants to shoot or brain a teenager who runs around town helping regular folk, so they let me go.  A large part of me wishes they’d hit me with the nightsticks instead.

The fire department’s already cut down the door, so I miss out on the drama of kicking it in.  The ensuing scene in the apartment lobby more than makes up for any drama lost at the door.  The air is rippling, the mailboxes to the right are so hot they’re actually glowing, smoke’s boiling across the ceiling, and bits of the wooden banister to the left are flaking off and falling to the ground like little comets streaking through the atmosphere.  I’m dripping sweat.  I can feel vapor lock starting to take hold of my brain.  My legs are starting to wobble and it feels like the soles of my shoes have melted into the linoleum.  There’s a family stuck up in room 413 that’s going to burn alive if I don’t go up after them, but I can’t seem to get the message out to the my body that saving them requires movement. 

It’s at this point that a particularly brilliant idea strikes me and I press the back of my hand against the mailbox faceplates.  My gloves are made of Kevlar and Kevlar’s highly heat resistant, but the second I put my hand to the metal my skin starts burning.

There goes the vapor lock.  I’m taking the stairs two at a time, reminding myself not to use the banister.  Motes of flaming ceiling fall like molten snowflakes.  I’m having flashbacks to Saturday morning cartoons as a kid when something gets really hot and melts through the floor and I have a vision of one of those bits of ceiling melting through my not-entirely-fireproof jacket. 

I start moving faster. 

I’m only halfway up the second floor stairs when the banister finally gives way and, engulfed in flames, collapses.  I pretend that something—anything—collapsing inside a burning building isn’t ominous and keep taking the stairs two at a time.  I start up the third floor stairs and the elevator comes howling down the shaft.  The sound of the car grinding against the walls in a freefall is deafening.  The sound of it hitting the ground floor is physically painful.  The building shudders and I finally lose my sea legs.  I bounce off the wall and into the banister which crumbles against me, raining hot ashy wood down on my head, shoulders, and back.  I scream and throw myself back down onto the landing.  I don’t know if I’m on fire or not but I’m rolling around the ground gibbering incoherently anyway.  I can feel my eyes watering, but the tears evaporate before reaching my cheeks.

I push off the ground and kick out the nearest window.  I’ve heard of back drafts before but I’ve also heard of burning the fuck alive and that fear wins the day.  I barely look to see where I’ll be jumping before throwing myself out of the building and it’s not until I’m out of the fire that I remember how to take a fall.  I land on my feet and let my knees bend, launch myself forward, and tumble shoulder-first over the pavement.  I end up on my back.

People are surrounding me, someone’s screaming, and the fire keeps eating the building from the inside out.  My lungs feel sunburned and the rest of me just feels heavy.  I wonder if I’m smoking.  I recognize one of the people standing over me as the cop who was restraining the woman earlier and my survival instincts finally take a backseat.  The woman.  All at once I understand the screaming.

 “You left him to die!  You were supposed to save him!

Oh god.

I get up on one knee and see the officer isn’t restraining her anymore because her soot-darkened husband and the firewoman who probably saved him are trying to.  The building behind me shudders again and the heat flares up.  I put my hands up and this time the tears don’t evaporate.

“N-no, it’s—it’s not like that…” 

She’s flailing her arms and kicking off the ground, enraged, despairing, shattered, and hateful.  If they let her go her only thought would be how many times could she hit me before they grabbed her again.  “He was five!  He worshipped you people!

No.  No.

“I-I’m sorry.  I tried!  I tried to save him!”


He worshipped you people and now he’s dead because of you!

I run.  I tear off down the street and cut down the nearest alley.  I need to get away.  Away from the fire.  Away from the crowd of onlookers.  Away from the sobbing woman and the child I left to die.


I don’t know how I got back to the forest preserve and I have no idea what time it is when I find my bag.  I’m sure it took me longer than normal but time doesn’t feel right.  I don’t know.  What do I want with my bag?  Why do I feel so hot?

My bag starts growling.  I dig around until I feel my phone rattling at the bottom of the bag.  Pulling it out, I slump down against a tree.

“Hello?”  My voice sounds too small.

Wesley!  Holy shit, what happened?  I saw the fire on the news but the police are keeping reporters back and all I saw was you falling out the building!”

The ground’s shuddering again and the window gives way under my foot.  “I’m not sure.  Anna—I-I don’t know what—I’m at the forest preserve.  Where are you?”

“Wes, stay put.  Just stay where you are, I’m gonna come get you.  Okay?”


I wrap my arms around myself, close my eyes, and dream of fire.


“Oh God.”

Branches snap and leaves crackle and Anna skids on her knees next to me.

“Fuckohfuckohfuckohfuck, Wesley, are you okay?  Oh God, were you burned?”

She’s running her hands gently over my jacket.  Unzipping my jacket and hoodie and checking my shirt, I let her prop my upper body on her lap and feel around my back.  It takes her a minute to be sure my skin’s not flaking off but the second she’s satisfied she pulls my upper body against her stomach and squeezes until it hurts.


“Sorry.  I’m sorry.  You sounded so awful on the phone and your jacket’s ruined, I was—I’m still freaking out.  You need to get to a hospital.”

“I can’t.  They’ll ask how I got away.  Can’t tell them that.”

“Wesley, you don’t look good and smoke inhalation kills people.  You can’t walk this off.  We can tell them you wandered off in a daze, they’ll help you, it’s not their job to stake you to the wall.  What happened?  What’s going on?”

“I—Anna, I think I killed a little kid.”

“What?  Wes, what are y—”

“He was five.  He wanted to grow up to be like me.  He wanted to grow up.”

“Wes, stop.  Stop, slow down.  Did someone die in the fire?”

“I dunno h-how he got left behind, but his Mom was o-out of the building and a firewoman pulled his Dad out of the fire.  They must’ve brought h-him out by the fire escape while I was ins-side, but couldn’t find the kid.  She was screaming.”

Something wet splashes against my neck, the water feels cool against my grimy skin.  “Oh my God.  Wesley, stop.  Stop.  There was a fire.  Someone dying is not your fault.  It’s—it’s like a force of nature, people aren’t capable of stopping things like that.”

“What’s the point of being this w-way if I can’t do things other people can’t do?”

She pulls me harder against her and buries her cheek in my hair.  Her tears wind through my hair down to my scalp.  “Stop.  Shut up.  Please.  Jesus Christ, please stop.  I don’t know what to say to you, I—I can’t make this better.”  She squeezes until my raw skin screams at me.  “I’m taking you to a hospital right fucking now, even if I have to drag you back to the car.”

“Anna why aren’t my thoughts making sense?”

“I think you’re in shock.”   She ducks her head under my arm and wraps her arm around my back.  “Come on, help me stand you up.  This is gonna hurt both of us if you don’t give me something, okay?”

I stand up.  My legs don’t completely understand what I’m asking them to do but they figure out a rough approximation of walking quickly enough.  “Okay.”

I see the information kiosk near the parking lot when Anna asks if I’m still with her.  I don’t know how to answer so I vomit quicksilver thought.

“I wasn’t too young to remember it, you know?  Them abandoning me.  They put a note in my pocket so the priest would know not to work too hard looking for my family.  So he’d know no one cared.”

I guess that was the wrong answer because Anna doesn’t say anything, just makes a small, wet sound.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Fast Forward x2. Fast Forward x4. Fast Forward x8. Pause...Play

This next story is related to my previous post (The Atomic Punk), but it is not the next story chronologically.  It skips ahead a fair bit, actually.  I'm never one to give plot points away to much of anything (just ask my friends, if anyone asks me what happens next in a movie or book I just smile like an asshole and tell them to wait and find out), but I do need to let you guys and gals in on a detail or two so you're not lost.

What you need to know:

A bit of time has passed.  I can't say how much because I honestly don't know yet.  I have a rough chronology of the events that are to come mapped out in my head, but this story stubbornly defies said mapping.  It's got bits that make me think it belong one place and bits that make me think it belongs another.  That said, fuck it.  It works perfectly well as a stand-alone story.  Plus, I can always change some details later if I decide I've chosen the wrong place for this story.

Wesley's working under a new alias now.  Things got a bit rough for him and he changed his vigilante identity recently to avoid the heat.  He's a little roughed up and he's spent some time reconsidering how he does what he does.  Is he good enough to keep doing this?  What happens if he screws up and someone gets hurt?  You know, the same questions you and I ask ourselves before we put on our colorful full-body stockings and/or jacket and hoodie ensemble and go out into the night looking for miscreants, ne'er-do-wells, and nogoodnicks.

And with that I finish yet another self-indulgent rant to an audience of illusory fantasies concocted by a delusional writer clicking away at a keyboard in the dark.  But hey.  It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy to pretend that someone out there is listening to my pedantic soliloquies.

EDIT:  This story changed places.  It now takes place before Nuclear Family Fission and Wesley is still running around under his original alias, Sentinel.

Night Watchman

I hate fighting people who actually know what they’re doing.  Thief One must have some experience with kickboxing or something.  She ducks my cross, slams a knee up under my ribs, push kicks me back, and follows it up with a roundhouse kick that nearly dislocates my jaw.  I hit the ground.  Spots of purple and yellow bruise my vision and I hear something metallic rattle toward me. 

“Grenade!  Get clear!”

Someone just threw a grenade and I’m lying on my back half fucking blind.  I scramble up onto my elbows and see the little metal cylinder tumbling toward me.  I start rolling.  Once.  Twice.  Three ti—boom.

The first thing I feel is the pressure.  It’s like being hit by God in the first salvo of a heavenly pillow fight and suddenly I can’t breathe.  Next thing is the sound.  I’ve had someone fire a semi-automatic handgun right next to my face, twice in rapid succession and this is still the loudest thing I’ve ever experienced.  If I wasn’t so horribly discombobulated I’m sure I’d feel myself bleeding from the ears. 

People are shouting but I can’t make out the words over my sudden ability to hear the torturous shriek of dog whistles.  It’s like the worst superpower ever.

Why are people yelling?  What—grenade.  Shit.  Gotta get up.  There’s a heist that you’re sleeping through, idiot.  Get up!

“Guh…if you…douche bags make me throw up inside my mask…there’s gonna be a reckoning…”

One of the thieves says something along the lines of “Wait, …still fucking talking…him the hell up.”

Okay, someone’s gonna come over here and do something unpleasant to you…you should do something about that…

I roll onto all fours and get a glimpse of someone walking towards me.  I’m up on one knee by the time he gets to me and takes a big swing at my head.  It is the end all be all of haymakers, he’s trying to take my head clean off with one shot.  Thankfully, I kinda figured he’d try something like that.  I throw my left arm up to keep his punch from cracking my skull and hit him in the groin with my right hand.  Hard.  He doubles up.

Sorry, big fella.  I'm really not proud of that, but this next bit you definitely deserve considering someone in your posse threw a goddamn grenade at me!”  Uppercuts were a little overrepresented in 80s and 90s action movies.  They're risk and slow.  They leave you pretty exposed if you mess up, so you don't wanna throw one if you aren't sure it'll land.  However, if you do land one, the fight tends to be over.  I don't put everything I have into this one, but his feet still leave the ground when I hit him.

I bounce up to my feet, hoping I don’t look as wobbly as I feel, and get a bead on Lady Thief and Ringleader Thief.  Ringleader Thief pulls another concussion grenade from his satchel and tosses it at my feet.  Lady Thief keeps working on the door.  The grenade hits the ground a foot in front of me and I suddenly wish I knew more about military ordinance.  Like how long the fuse of this particular grenade is.  Three seconds?  Ten seconds?  Doesn’t matter.  The toss was so good the only thing I can think to do is kick the holy hell out of it and hope it doesn’t go off on impact.

My aim’s a bit off and the grenade explodes before it lands back in the guy’s lap, but it’s close enough to get a surprised shout out of him.  I can’t tell if he was thrown or if he dove out of the way, but I can tell he’s not where he was before and he’s not entirely upright. 

I know it’s harder to hit a moving target and all, but I still haven’t gotten used to how goofy it feels to run zig-zagging at someone.  It doesn’t help that my brain spends the entire time screaming Serpentine!  Serpentine! like a drunken lunatic.  But considering these people are armed well enough to have grenades, I figure the awkwardness costs me little enough.

The zig-zagging slows me down a bit, but the guy wasn’t expecting his own grenade to come sailing back at him.  He’s slower.  I lace my fingers together and shuffle the last two steps to set myself up.  I bring my hands around like I’m swinging a baseball bat, turning my hips and shoulders into it.  I catch him somewhere above his ear and he crumples without any further fanfare.

And then the woman who so thoroughly beat my ass earlier shoots me in the chest.  Sharp crack.  Bright light.  Bone-crushing impact. 

I can’t feel part of my chest. 

I hear footsteps.

You suck!  You suck so freaking much!  You suck on such a monumental scale your brain can’t even comprehend it!

If this were a movie this is the part where she would say something dramatic and then rack the slide of her already loaded gun, giving me time to do something graceful and impressive.  But sadly, this is real life and art doesn’t always emulate life so she skips the first two steps and just aims her gun at my chest again.  The Kevlar held, so I’m not dying, but I’m sure one of my ribs is fucked up which means this next part is going to hurt even if I can avoid getting shot again. 

I roll onto my right shoulder and immediately kick at Miss Elektra-wannabe’s knee.  She can’t dodge from this close, but she turns enough so that rather than breaking anything I just sort of shove her off-balance.  This time the gunshot’s almost deafening and the muzzle flash leaves little sun spots in my vision, but at least she missed.  Chips of concrete patter against my jacket.  I start regaining feeling in my chest and it’s like a hundred angry protesters have started picketing all forms of movement and they aren’t too worried about the teachings of Gandhi or the Dalai Lama.  Since I can’t send the police out with high-pressure hoses, I ignore them.

I wrap my legs around hers and twist as hard as I can.  I look like I’m having a violent fit of some sort, but I’m all of 170 pounds of superhuman spastic and I’ve anchored myself to the Elektra-wannabe so she comes tumbling down.  She gets her arms under herself in time to not break her face on the floor, but she loses the gun in the process.  I roll on top of her and the fight’s over before it starts.  Doesn’t matter how good she might be at fighting from the ground, it’s never a good idea to have to do so and it’s an even worse idea when you’re down face first. 

I’ve got enough cable ties to keep anyone from getting too excited. 

I call the Zach Mathis, the owner of this fine establishment, on the burner phone he gave me and let him know I’ll meet him in a few minutes.  Next up is a letter to the police, explaining the neatly wrapped bundle of criminals I’ve left them followed by a call directing them to said bundle of joy.  Good Samaritan that I am, I even remain anonymous.  No glory necessary, folks.  Really.  The satisfaction of a job well done is more than enough reward for me.


I pick the bullet out of my jacket while I’m waiting for Mathis to show up.  It hit one of the trauma plates and stuck there.  I’ll have to replace that sometime soon; the bullet burrowed most of the way through the steel plating.  But until then I’ll just swap it out with one of the plates covering my sides and hope I don’t get shot there anytime soon.  Fingers crossed.

I shift my weight and the bullet clicks against the cheap flip phone in my pocket.  The protesters’ have their picket signs wedged under one of my ribs and are jumping up and down on them trying to dislodge it.  It hurts when I breathe, walk, talk, sit, stand, and shift my weight, and that plus how awkward it is to sit alone on a park bench waiting for someone while wearing a costume is really giving me a deep appreciation for this job.

I take the bullet out and roll it around in my hand.  It’s smashed to hell where it hit the plate and the edges are a little sharp.  Guess that means I can’t turn it into a douchy souvenir necklace.  Eh.  I’d really only have worn it once then left it to gather dust in some derelict corner of my room.  This just cuts out that in-between step. 

“Hey!”  Mathis is doing that sort of whisper-shout that carries nearly as far as a scream in a quiet, empty park like this.  He’s trotting toward me in the same blazer and jeans he was wearing when we first met and it looks like he slept in them at least one of the nights in between.  “Hey, uh…shit.  I don’t actually know your name.”

I let him get a bit closer before saying anything back.

“Yeah, I kinda wear the mask to keep that to myself.  That and to scare little kids.  Let’s just stick with the name the media pinned to my lapel.  As much as it pains me to have it said in conversation.”

“I guess that’s fair.  Sentinel.  Not a bad one, as far as this costumed craziness goes.”

“Had to make nice with a reporter to keep from getting stuck with Kid Justice.”

Mathis smiles and rubs a knuckle over his nose.  “Well, I guess it’s time to get down to brass tacks, huh?”

“I told you when you asked for my help that I’m not in this for the pay.  This is a purely perks-only gig.  Perks and glamour.”

“Lotta perks and glamour in the costumed heroing business?”

“Minor league celebrity is the shit, let me tell you.”

“Tough to sustain that kinda life style without a little money in your pocket.”

“Yeah, I’ve got a paper route for spending money.”

“Listen.”  He’s starting to sound a bit exasperated.  That’s happening a lot lately.  I wonder if it’s something I’m doing.  “You spent almost fifteen hours over the last three nights watching over my place.  I wouldn’t stiff my night watchmen and they’re under strict orders to comply with any armed criminals.”

“I also got shot.  Don’t forget that.”

“Oh Christ, kid, you’re killing me here.  They shot you?”

I smile and poke my finger through the bullet hole while Mathis wrings his hands a bit more.  “Kevlar and trauma plates.  They keep my insides inside.  Doesn’t keep my jacket from getting a bit mangled, but life’s full of little trade-offs.”

He practically lunges forward at that.  “Your jacket.  If you won’t take any money then you have to let me buy you a new jacket.”

I wriggle my finger around in the bullet hole for a second.  Shit.  I’m gonna feel like such a whore for this.  “It’s not cheap.  Jacket.  Kevlar.  Trauma plates.  I had to pinch my pennies for months to afford this one.”

“Well, that’s one of the perks of running something of a successful business.  I make better money than a paper boy.”

“Yeah, but do you get to ride around on a sweet ass bike and get chased by mean-spirited dogs?”

Mathis holds his hands up in surrender.  “Okay, okay.  You’ve got a one-liner for everything.  But we really need to settle on this jacket thing.  Please?

The more I think about, the more I think it really might be my fault that people are always exasperated when I’m around.


“Finally found yourself a nice, rich benefactor to give you all the trinkets and baubles and shiny things your heart could desire and all you asked for is a new jacket?  Shit, your jacket only got wrecked because of the job.  That shouldn’t even factor into your payment, that’s part of the supplies, man.”

“I still feel bad that I let him buy me a new jacket at all.”

Boone shoves me a bit.  “You are such a bitch.”

“It’s a nice fucking jacket.  It’s got higher quality trauma plates than my last one, better cut-resistance, and it comes with inserts for cold weather and warm weather.  The only thing he didn’t do was get it custom tailored.  It must’ve cost him a fortune.”

“Found the one guy in town decent enough to pay his debts in-fucking-full, and you puss out.”

“Fuck you, I didn’t puss out.  I didn’t want anything from him in the first place.  That’s not why I do this shit.”

Boone snorts.  “Tool.”

I take it back.  Everything in the world is Boone’s fault.  Even when he’s got nothing to do with anything, it’s always his fault.