Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Golden Age Wesley

Oh, hey there. 

Looks like I’ve got a car thief tonight.  That’ll break up the monotony of purse-snatchers and muggers nicely.  Hopefully without all the unnecessary hassle of post-human powers.  I don’t need my monotony broken up quite that much.  I’m cool with beating up normal criminally-inclined folks. You know, just doing the whole Golden Age Batman thing, but without all the forcible exposure to mind-altering substances and the freaky costume.  My dialogue’s also cheesier.

I’ve had ska-punk stuck in my head all day and it’s hard not to hum Streetlight Manifesto as I scale the side of the building (we’re going down, down, down to Mephisto’s Café, we’re going down. Right?  Right!).  This particular apartment building has deep window ledges that my hands and feet fit into nicely and none of the bricks come loose.  People underestimate the value of not getting splattered across the sidewalk, but I’ve developed a certain appreciation for it since I started parading around town in a makeshift costume.  I’ve also grown to appreciate Spiderman’s web shooters and Batman’s grappling hook.  Climbing down buildings is a major pain in the ass.  Seriously, try it and see.

My feet hit the pavement and I still can’t get that damn song out of my head (And I knew you when you were you, before they twisted all your views.  Before you came unglued).  It’s just so damn bouncy.

This guy must not be a particularly gifted car thief because by the time he’s cracked open that god awful beige beater I’m two cars away from him.  He leaves the door open and gets half-into the car, leaving one leg dangling out while he starts working on the wiring under the steering wheel.  I get a sudden, childishly spiteful urge to close the door on his leg.  But, being the good guy of this story, I take a more diplomatic approach.

“Hey, asshole!”

He shouts and jumps, smacking the back of his head against the steering wheel.  I stop short of actually laughing but allow myself a happy snort.  He stumbles out of the car and clumsily pulls a switchblade from his pocket.  It takes him another full second to actually open the knife.  I groan.  Goodie.  I guess now’s the time to figure out how slash-resistance my jacket is.

“Who the fuck are you?”

My heart’s all atwitter, but he sounds genuinely panicked.  It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside knowing that at least one criminal scumbag finds me intimidating. 

I roll my eyes with as much melodrama as I can muster and mutter to no one in particular.  “No one seems to understand the mask.  I’m the meter maid and I’ve—”

Car Thief lunges at me, knife-first.  This is neither an unexpected turn of events nor a particularly impressive plan of attack.  One of the perks of being a post-human is that, minimal though my powers may be, I’m a teensy bit quicker than the average ne’er-do-well.  I sidestep and shove him, stepping back a bit.  Hmm.  Maybe I don’t really know what diplomacy means.  I try again.

“Chill, chill, chill.  You haven’t actually hurt anyone yet—”

He steps toward me and swings his knife at my stomach like he’s trying to open me up from end-to-end.  I step back and step back again when he brings the knife back across.  I grab his knife-wrist before he can start swinging again and try something more tactful than diplomacy.  Maybe I’ll even manage to avoid violence.

“Seriously, it’s not too late to just pay whoever owns this car for the damages and walk—”

Rather than peacefully surrender, he slams his knee into my side, just above my hip.


I wrench his arm down, slamming it against the trunk of the car.  The knife comes free and I kick the back of his knee.  He hits the ground and swings a wild backhand at me, like he thinks blindly flailing limbs are his ticket to freedom.  I turn my hip a bit to make sure he doesn’t catch me somewhere delicate and tip him over with my foot.  I kick the knife away to keep him and temptation from becoming any better acquainted.

“Okay, one of these days you’re gonna look back on this and feel bad that you tried to stab someone who just wanted to help.”  He’s on his back, looking around for a way to escape or something to hit me with.  “You’ve really only got two options here.  One, you chill the fuck out, let me call the police and tell them that you’ve seen the error of your ways and that you cooperated.  I imagine they might go a little easier on you if that’s the case.  Or two, you do something stupid like—” He’s tensing up like he’s about to launch himself at me or something.  “Try and tackle a true-blue post-human crime fighter, in which case I will bounce your head around this parking lot like a damn basketball until the cops arrive and tell them to add assault with a deadly weapon and attempted murder to the whole cracking a car open thing.”

He stops readying himself to jump me, but he still looks like a ferret juiced up on speed.  I crouch down to put myself at eye-level with him and hope it comes across more as reassuring and peaceful than condescending.

“I really think door number one’s gonna turn out best for everyone.”

Whether he believes that I actually want the best for him or that I’ll actually use him like a sports ball, I don’t know, but he lies down on his stomach and mutters something compliant.  I toss him a cable tie and give him my winningest smile before remembering that everything below my eyes is covered and that even my eyes are shaded by my hoodie.  How the hell do comic book artists make characters look so damn expressive even with their masks on?  It’s one of life’s greatest mysteries.


Susan keeps looking over at me like her eyes are magnetically drawn to the ice pack I’m holding against my side.  Round-cheeked and starting to put on a few “middle-age pounds”, as she calls it, Susan’s short and her strawberry blonde hair is cut in a neat page-style.  I don’t say anything about why I’m icing and she doesn’t ask.  Don’t think she’s not a caring, concerned mother or that I don’t merit her attention because I’m adopted, we’ve just been experiencing some…tension, lately.  It’s hard to imagine, really:  a protective, loving woman who takes a bitchy teenager into her home and then doesn’t want him to go out and risk his life wearing a costume and breaking the law.  It’s a topsy-turvy world we live in, I know.

I still can’t tell if she’s told Paul about my alter-ego or not, although it’s hard to imagine her keeping it from her husband.  Either way, Paul’s kept himself completely neutral.  Just think of him as Switzerland.  He digs peace, cheese, and chocolate.  Paul tosses a Milk Dud up in the air and catches it in his mouth, looking far too pleased with himself for a forty-seven year-old man who’s playing with candy.

I like Paul.  He’s good for Susan.  Counterbalances some of her insane worrying.  Paul’s tall.  Taller than me and Boone and a whole lot taller than Susan.  His face is long and slightly angular and he’s got a neatly trimmed beard that has recently started showing the gray march of age.  When Susan isn’t around to hear him, he calls it a traitorous bastard that’s betrayed his otherwise youthful appearance, but seems rather proud of his decision not to color the gray hairs.  Paul’s a weird dude.

Anna’s camped out in Paul's study doing homework and Boone’s over at Devon Ringer’s house tutoring him, according to Susan.  It’s nice that Susan looks for the best in him, but I know better.  If Boone’s teaching anyone anything, it’s guerilla warfare adapted for the suburban high school environment.  Guerilla warfare sounds like fun and homework sounds even better, but I decided that feeling awkward around Susan while Paul chills out and watching a TV rendition of The Matrix in which Carrie-Anne Moss says “shucks” takes the cake.  Sometimes I question my decision making. 

We get to the part of the movie where Cipher starts killing members of the crew when Anna comes in and plops down on the other side of the sofa from me.  Paul holds a Milk Dud up and gestures to Anna to catch it.  She holds her hands out.  Paul looks a little disappointed that she’s not catching it with her mouth, but he tosses it anyway.  Anna doesn’t have great hands, but she does have pretty good reflexes.  The chocolate bounces off her wrist and stops a couple inches from the floor.  Anna’s holding her hand palm-out at the Milk Dud.  Paul rolls his eyes and smiles.

“Is there a five second rule on force fields?”

Anna makes a face.  “Calling it a force field makes you sound like a cartoon scientist from the eighties.”

“Well, what do you call your invisible projections of force field-like energy?”

“I try not to call them anything.  It’s like giving yourself your own superhero name—kinda weird.”

Susan looks over at my side again.  Anna picks the Milk Dud up off her not-a-force field and relaxes her hand.

“I like ‘barriers’.”  I offer.  “Sounds grounded, but still pretty cool.”

Susan frowns slightly.  Paul seems to like it though.

“You know, that’s pretty good.”  He throws a Milk Dud to me.  “Have a candy.”

I’ll hate myself three minutes from now when I can’t unglue my jaw, but Milk Dud’s are too damn delicious to turn down.

Paul and Susan say their goodnights when Neo and Agent Smith start charging across the subway platform, emptying their clips into air instead of each other.    

“You’ll miss the best part.”

Paul looks back at me, “I already know how it ends.  Bruce Willis was dead the whole time.”

I like Paul, but he’s an odd duck.

Anna and I sit on opposite ends of the couch, watching squid-bots crack open the Nebuchadnezzar like a can of tuna.  I ponder the vaguely cannibalistic overtones and remember the car thief I left for the police.

“I stopped some douche bag from stealing someone’s shitty car today.”

Anna waves her hand at the sad-looking ice pack passed out on the floor next to my feet.  “I was wondering what that was for.”

I tilt my head from side to side.  “He wasn’t entirely cooperative.”

“Despite your assuredly polite requests that he cease and desist immediately?”

“Hey!” I stick my lower lip out and feign hurt feelings.  “What makes you think that I can’t solve problems with words?”

Anna gives me a look.  “Future results may not be predicated entirely on past performance, but it does give a pretty good impression.”

“Ouch.  Logic and truth hurt.”

She snorts.  “Poor baby.  Am I ruining your moment?”

“Yeah!  I mean, he wasn’t immediately open to the idea or anything, but I managed to convince him without going all Punisher on his ass.  I was so—freaking—impressive.”

She looks at me for a minute, scooches over a bit, and slouches, resting her head on my shoulder.  “Well, look at you, crusading for world peace and brotherly love and whatnot.”

She mocks, but over the slowly rising thud of my heart I hear pride.  Score.

And then the front door opens and Boone kills the moment.  Anna sits up and turns her head to the foyer.  Dammit all.

Anna calls out, “How’d it go?”

Dark, menacing muttering drifts in before Boone answers.  “Watching that kid try to comprehend trig might’ve been the dumbest damn thing I have ever been a part of.  And I was there when Wes was starting out his career as a C-list crime fighter.  At least Wes showed a bit of enthusiasm and spunk, Ringer just sat there and stared at me with big, blank eyes, mouth hanging open.  I swear to God, I expected a bit of drool to roll down his chin at any second.”

The thought of tutoring anyone in trig sounds appalling.  Hell, the thought of taking trig at all sounds pretty terrible.  What with all the douche baggery and all the time spent looking bored, it’s pretty easy to forget that Boone’s not a complete idiot.

“I’m gonna go lie in bed and weep for humanity a bit.  Try not to wake me when you come up, Wes.”

Anna leans back into the cushions, leaving an exaggerated feeling of cold in my shoulder.  Neo’s making a phone call to the machines, but I can’t really focus on what he’s saying.

Make a move, dumb ass!  Do something!

Either my arm weighs way too much all of the sudden or I’ve come down with a premature and incredibly intense case of Parkinson’s because my arm is shaking as I pick it up and put it around Anna’s shoulder.  She turns to me, looks at my arm and then up at my face, but doesn’t move away.  I can actually feel all the blood in my face draining like a cold waterfall cascading down my neck and into my chest.

I’m reading this right, aren’t I?  This isn’t some grand delusion I’ve concocted, right?  Has she always been this intimidatingly attractive?  When did her eyes get so bright?  Oh God, why am I still talking to myself?

I chew my lip and struggle to keep my eyes on her.  “Do me a favor.  Close your eyes for a second.”

She gives me a small smile and squints a little.  “Why?”

I look down.  “It’ll make life easier for me.  Please?”

She tilts her head and then closes her eyes.  For a second I almost call the whole thing off.  A second after that I stall and tell myself I’m admiring how beautiful she is (don’t judge me).  My stomach twists and turns and I half-lunge at her to get myself moving.  I gently put my hands on her waist and she leans forward slightly.  Even I can read what that means.  I kiss her.  She’s soft and warm and smells like vanilla and honey.  Her hands squeeze my shoulders and we stay locked like that for some time.  I don’t count the seconds or anything; I’ve got better things to do. 

We separate and the world comes back into focus.  I didn’t even realize how intensely I was tunnel visioning until I realize that the television’s been on this entire time and I didn’t even notice.

My heart’s beating too fast, like it’s about to rip free of the arteries and go bouncing around my chest cavity like a nuclear-reactor driven Mexican jumping bean.  Her eyes can’t seem to stay focused on any one part of me, but rather flit from place to place, face to chest to shoulder to knee back to face.  She presses her lips together and keeps them that way for a moment.

“This seems like a bad idea...”

I nod, my mouth too dry to actually form words, and kiss her again.  This one’s much shorter and less all-encompassing than the first, but it still leaves me tingling.

Anna breaks the silence after a moment.  “Boone bet me ten bucks you didn’t have the balls to do that.”

It takes me a couple tries to get the words out, but I manage.   “Did you take him up on that?”

She nods, regaining her composure faster than I can.  Maybe women are more advanced at this age.  “Seemed an affront to your honor that I could not abide.”

My smile widens and I wish I could say something clever, maybe something about chivalry but my mind’s a little floaty and my mouth isn’t quite working right.  I open and close it but nothing comes out.  I think it’s gone a little numb.

Anna laughs, leans in, and kisses my cheek.

“Well, now that I have you good and flustered, I’m heading home.  Sleep well.”

I nod.  I don't stop nodding until Anna closes the front door and snaps the bolt home behind her.  Yeah.  Sleep.  That’s what I’m supposed to do now, right?  Sleep comes after Anna which comes after foiling car theft.  Yeah, that makes sense, doesn’t it?

Brain scrambled, lips numb, stomach twitching, and heart pounding, I stand up (and add my legs to the list of things not working quite right) and head for the stairs.

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