Tuesday, October 29, 2013

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

Solomon Grundy,
Born on a Monday

I can’t keep the grin off my face.  “Wanna know something cool?”

Boone looks at me blankly for a second, opens his mouth and then closes it.  “Too easy.  Yeah, sure.”

“I sent you a link.  Check it out.”

Boone stares for a little while longer before looking down at his laptop.  A couple clicks and his eyes start flitting across the screen.  He frowns.  “A mugger got mugged.  You mind-blowing son of a bitch, you.  Where ever do you find these things?”

I keep grinning.  “It was me.”

“You mugged a soccer mom?”

“No, you jerk-off, I mugged the mugger!”

Boone blinks a couple times.  It takes him longer than usual to find line up a putdown.  “If you wanna cookie, you’d have better luck with Anna.”

I’m too giddy to care that Boone’s an asshole.

Christened on Tuesday

I tuck the ski mask into my hoodie and pull the hood up with a flourish.  Voila!  I present to you, the amazing Ski Mask Man!

I look like a hobo was inspired to turn superhero.  My jeans are spattered with various colors of paint, stained with dirt, and worn through in more places than one.  My hoodie’s a size too big and it still has a couple thin blue chalk lines crisscrossing the battered front.  At least the mask is new.  Not that it improves my appearance at all, now I look like a hobo and a thief.  Whatever.  Fuck it.

I step into the hall and listen for a minute.  The wind chime clink, clink, clinks, but the rest of the house is silent.  It’s two in the morning, even Boone’s sound asleep.  I poke my head out the back door and hope the neighbors are too.  The last thing I need now is for some well-meaning soul thinking they’re seeing a burglar and calling the cops while I’m out of bed.  Susan’d probably think it was a kidnapping. 

I hesitate.

Do it or don’t.  No more time to sit and wring your hands.

One deep breath pushes me out the back door and into the night.

Married on Wednesday

“Two more encounters with that idiot in the red hoodie made the news last night.”

Boone stares pointedly, but I keep myself immersed in writing.  This paper on Harry Truman won’t write itself.  He keeps going.

“He dolled himself up a bit, though everyone seemed to recognize him well enough anyway.  Apparently he has a tough time shutting up, bantering and making bad jokes like an idiot twelve year-old.  Plus, putting a jacket over that ratty hoodie doesn’t make the guy look any less homeless.  Kinda stands out among the superhero crowd.”

Boone looks up again.

“What would his mother say if she saw him out in public dressed that shabbily?  Shameful.”

I can’t stop my ears from going a bit red.  I really do look like shit. 

Boone must’ve been waiting for some kind of reaction because he snorts softly.

“Someone’s even given him a name.  Which is weird, you know?  The media usually treats these costumes like people in the olden times treated their kids, don’t name them ‘til you know they’re actually gonna survive.”

We sit quietly for a minute, mouse clicks and keyboard clacking drift between us.

“You’re gonna get killed, you know that right?”

I look up and Boone’s smiling his best shit-eating grin.  He’s particularly gifted.  I’m not on his level, so I settle for a small smile.

“Yeah, probably.  So what?”  I look back down at my paper and it occurs to me that I’m forgetting something.  “So what name did they give me?”

“The Sentinel.”  He gives a small shrug.  “Not a bad one, as far as names for costumed nutballs go.  It’s a little…” he puffs out his chest, lifts his chin, and plants his fits on his hips.  “But hey, you’ve gotta be a bit pretentious to think you’re gonna play dress up and save the world.”

“A little pretentious.  A little cracked.  But a whole helluva lot more fun than everyone else.”

Oddly enough, Boone doesn’t shoot me down.

Took ill on Thursday

I yawn long enough to make my eyes water and drop my forehead onto my textbook unceremoniously.  Something bounces off the back of my head and Boone doesn’t bother stifling his snort.

“D’ya know what’s wrong with kids these days?”

I lift my head, one glossy page stuck to my forehead.  “Is it you?  Because it seems to me like you’re what’s wrong with everything.”

He continues as if I didn’t say anything, “No work ethic.  Lazy good for nothings, the lot of you.”

It takes me a while to finish off a second yawn before speaking again.  “You know you’re one of those kids these days, right?  And you take pride in being a lazy good for nothing.” 

I pick the pen he threw at me up off the floor.

“True enough, that’s why I threw my pen at you.  Can’t do my homework without a writing utensil.”

I flick the pen back at Boone who ducks, letting it sail over his head.  It bounces off the wall and lands less than a foot away.  He stares at his fallen pen for a moment before sighing melodramatically and ripping a page out of his notebook.

“Well, there’s no saving it now.  Best to just cut my losses.”  He rolls off his chair and onto his bunk.  “Speaking of cutting losses, you look like shit.”

Boone folds the paper over and back, over and back a few times and then licks his fingers before making the last fold.  He sets the airplane on his palm and pinches the back of it for a minute.  The second he lets go, the place his fingers were billows a thin pillar of black smoke and rumbles across his palm, taking off just as it reaches his finger tips.  The plane soars through the air, banks, loops, and nose dives into the trash can where it burns to nothing in less than a second like flash paper.

I raise an eyebrow in his direction, but Boone’s already tucked in behind his laptop, ignoring the obvious question.  One of these days I’m gonna have to figure out what’s up with his powers.

Grew worse on Friday,

Climbing up to the top bunk makes my ribs twinge.  I might have to talk to Boone about trading bunks if this getting my ass kicked thing starts to crop up with any frequency.  Ow, ow, ow, ow.  For future reference:  don’t let the bad guys get you on the ground.

I plop down on the bed too hard and wince.  You know your life is sad when even your mattress hurts.  It’s even sadder when your winces hurt too.  I’m gonna have to figure out how to explain why my face is purpling so spectacularly. 

Maybe I joined a boxing club or something.  And I’m really, really shitty at it.

Owwww…boxing club hurts.

Died on Saturday,

Anna’s trying to keep her voice casual, but it’s not working all that well.  It’s kinda like watching a thinly-iced pond starting to crack under the weight of some idiot teenager.

“Wes, what happened to your face?”

I start to say something about not being born with her natural good looks and wishing she’d have the good graces not to mention it, but the line dies in my throat.

 “Got myself punched a couple times.”  I smile and feel strained and more than a little fake.  I really need to get better at lying.

Major fissures cut across the pond.  “Any particular reason or just because you’re a smartass?”

“Way I saw it, I’d get hit either way, but I think he might’ve hit me a bit harder than was entirely necessary because of the smartass thing.”

The fissures widen and large plates of ice drop into an abyssal plane of fire.  “So what you’re saying it that you wanna get punched in the face again?”

I’m almost half a foot taller than her.  I outweigh her by who knows how many tens of pounds.  I’m a post-human with better than average strength, stamina, quickness, and a good tolerance for pain.  My face is bruised because a group of wannabe gangsters took offense to it and expressed that distaste with fists, boots, and a baseball bat.  I took that beating and made jokes while I did.  I even managed to disarm one of them cleanly and whomp him with his own bat.  I look at Anna and have to work very hard not to step back.  I don’t know what kind of feminine voodoo she’s pulling, but it has to be cheating. 

“And in case you’re thinking of explaining this away like you did with Susan, I’m not all that inclined to believe that our school has a fucking boxing club.  I also know that Boone doesn’t believe that you box either.  He’s actually under the impression that—you’re gonna love this—” she doesn’t say it like I’m gonna love it at all, “That you’re going out on the town dressed up in a ratty hoodie and jeans and a ski mask, playing superhero.”

Oh.  This is somewhat less than ideal.

“Right now, I’m not sure if I appreciate your silence because it means you’re not lying to me or if I’m even angrier because you’re still not telling me the truth.”

Yeah, this is probably the part where normal, emotionally-healthy human beings come clean and beg for forgiveness.  Not that there are too many “normal” or “emotionally-healthy” costumed crime fighters out there.  Still.  I’m feeling particularly ill at ease here.

“Yeah…so I, uh, kinda suck at this, don’t I?”

Nothing.  Not a smile, not a nod.  This might be the most painfully uncomfortable moment in my life.  I have nothing to say that’s good enough, but I open my mouth to try anyway.

“I, uh—”

“This isn’t some random fucking foster home, Wes.”  She shoves me.  “You aren’t here on a temporary basis.  This isn’t a layover that lasts until you do something stupid or they change their minds and ship you back.  You’re part of their family, you asshole.  That means a lot to them.  The people here care about you.  That means you don’t get to keep secrets like this.  You keep secrets like ‘oops, I didn’t study for my test’ or ‘I’m going to a friend’s place to drink or smoke and watch movies that don’t make sense if you’re sober’.  It also means that if you pull any shit like this again, I will smother you in your sleep.”

I have absolutely no idea how I’m supposed to respond to that.

She takes a deep breath.  “And you’re going to tell Susan and Paul about this.  They deserve to know.”

I open my mouth, but she cuts me off again, a little softer this time.

“I know it won’t be fun, so you can take a little time to figure out how to say it.  Don’t take advantage of that.”

Wow.  Anna’s kind of the best.  Ever.  Of all-time.  Who needs to know how to express yourself when there’s someone who just gets you?

“Can I play the emotionally damaged orphan card here?” 

She gives me a sour look. 

“Fair.  Can I plead idiocy on a monumental scale?”

That seems to make a better impression on her.  I can’t tell if I see a smile on her face or if it’s a desperate desert-traveler seeing a mirage, but I jump on it.

“Woefully stupid and unbelievably unworthy?  I could grovel if that’d help.  Seriously, I bet I’m really good at groveling.”

This time I definitely see a smile.  She wipes it away quickly, but I know what I saw.

“You can start by telling me what you’re actually doing out there.”  Her words warm up a bit at the end.  “Boone says you’re helping people.”

Buried on Sunday,

I’ve gotta find a proper phone booth to change in.  There are only so many times the Sentinel can sneak in and out of the Rhodes’ house in full-costume before someone notices.  It’d take way too long to get to the industrial district, find an abandoned warehouse, change, start patrolling the city, fight crime, get back to the district, change back, and then get home.  I’d be walking in the back door just in time to walk out the front door and catch the bus.  I need to think up another idea.

I unlatch the fence and pull my bag out from under the old plastic jungle gym.  I unzip it enough to stuff my mask into it, pleased that I’ve finally managed to get my mask off without having to pull my hood down first.  I’d rather not be seen in full-costume and sans mask, but I really hate wearing that stupid fucking ski mask.  It doesn’t breathe all that well.

I turn the key and unlock the backdoor, letting myself into the kitchen.  It takes me a second to realize that it’s a bit too bright in here and another second after that to notice that the light’s coming from the open refrigerator that Susan’s standing in front of, wide-eyed and rigid.


She lunges away from the refrigerator and pulls a rather large bread knife from the block, holding it out between us.  Her hand’s shaking, but her grip’s firm.

Shit.  My hood’s still up.

“Get the—”

I flip my hood back and keep my hands up, “Susan, Susan, Susan!  It’s me!  It’s Wes!”

I can’t tell what she’s thinking, but she stays rigid for a few seconds before letting out a slow, rattling breath and lowering the knife.  She still looks like she might stab me.  I flick on the lights.

“Wesley,” her voice has an edge to it that I’m not really loving.  “Why the hell are you sneaking in through the back door at four o’clock in the morning?”

She’s not yelling, but there’s a difference between volume and anger.  One doesn’t necessarily need the other.

I open my mouth to lie or stall or make a bad joke, but my mind’s boiling over with Susan-related observations.  She’s put the knife down, but she’s giving me a look that more than makes up for it.  She’s twitching a little; a shoulder tic here, a restless hand there.  She’s also looking me up and down, trying to make sense of how I look.  I wonder if she’s already made the connection and is trying to ignore it or if she hasn’t noticed the recent news reports on me. 

“Wesley, I’d like to take a look at your bag, please.”

This time I don’t even consider trying to lie or stall, I just hand her the bag and resign myself to the depths of Davy Jones’ locker.  She unzips the main pocket and starts fishing around inside.  Out come my blue athletic shorts, my gray t-shirt, and my black ski mask.  She lingers on the mask, not letting it fall to the counter with the rest of my stuff.

Her voice gets quieter still.  “What are they calling you?  In the news?”

I have to swallow and clear my throat three times before I can say anything.  “The, uh, the Sentinel.  B-but Boone, Boone calls me the Homeless Hero…”  I can’t force a smile; my face is made of wet concrete.

Her anger abates for a moment, replaced by something harder to look at.

“Boone?  Boone knows?  Boone knows, but you weren’t going to tell me?”

That one hits hard enough to make me flinch.

“It—you just worry about me—I don’t—” I can’t seem to pick one train of thought to stick with, my mind keeps shifting gears without asking my permission first.  “I didn’t, wasn’t trying—”

“So the fact that I’m a caring person somehow means that I can’t be let into your life?”

The anger’s rising now.  I’ve had fistfights with criminals that have gone better than this.  Honestly, I don’t think I’ve had any that have gone worse.  I open my mouth to say—I don’t know, something, but Susan cuts me off.

“Go to bed.  Take your stuff upstairs and go to bed.  It’s late and I don’t think either of us are in any condition to talk about this tonight.”

I blink a few times and open my mouth soundlessly before just grabbing my stuff and leaving the room.

That was the end,
Of Solomon Grundy

Anna knocks and pokes her head in the room.  “Whatcha working on?”

I stare at the pages for a few seconds before crumpling them up and tossing them at the garbage can.  Only one actually hits the mark.

“Nothing.  Some stupid fucking English assignment.  Connecting my life to a poem.  It’s not going too terribly well.”  I stretch my arms up over my head.  “I find myself surprisingly unwilling to talk about my life to a poem.”

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