Been a while since I participated in a flash fiction challenge, what with having another kid and all, but I’m back. This was kind of a difficult challenge to take on because it required us to choose from a genre, a setting, and an element to include. I chose ‘superhero’, ‘Wal-Mart’, and ‘Tattoo’. The story is a bit longer than usual, but it is what it is.
Super in Vain
Most have never met a true hero. They see them on the news or read about them in newspapers, maybe even hear about them at the bus stop or water cooler. And I bet you those that have met a hero have never met a superhero.
Until five years ago, they didn’t exist. Sure, we had the comic books, the movies that have been redone again and again but with better special effects and new actors, we had Comic Con, the TV shows, the lunch boxes, and action figures.
But superheroes didn’t really exist. Again, not until five years ago.
That was when I woke up floating three feet above the bed, the sheet I had been sharing with whatshername draped over my body but barely touching the mattress. As I clung desperately to that flimsy sheet, trying to find a way down, I realized that the girl I’d spent the night with was dreaming of being trapped in a hurricane while trying to get away from me. The wind kept pushing her back.
I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think most regular heroes have tattoos. I haven’t done the research. I know a hero can be anyone, but is the average hero a guy that was locked up for five years for an attempted robbery, a robbery that would never have been necessary had his grandfather had the money to keep a roof over his head?
Since I suppose I’m the first superhero, at least that I know of, I guess I set the precedent for tattoos. The yellow smiley-face on my right bicep? The one that doesn’t look so yellow anymore? Yeah, that’s the Wal-Mart mascot. I lost my virginity in the locked break room at the local Wal-Mart. My girl at the time and I hadn’t even worked there. We’d simply seen an opportunity and gone for it. The name of the store doesn’t cross my mind without bringing memories of that day.
My left arm possesses a half-sleeve of intertwined quotes or sayings I’d found inspirational while serving time in prison. One day, I plan to extend it further, maybe add some superhero sayings.
No one ever told me I was a superhero. I dubbed myself one. A guy that can fly, a guy that can read minds, that’s super enough. It’s the hero part I’ve been working on. While my intentions are generally good, I have to work on the selfless thing. Would I risk my life to save someone else’s? Not so sure about that. And how would I even pull off the superhero look? I’m covered in tats. Who would take me seriously? There’s no way I’m putting on tights and a cape to convince anyone I’m there to help.
Since I’ve told no one of my abilities, I’ve continued to keep a low profile. I’ve been off probation for years, so it’s not the law I’m afraid of. It’s the people and their opinions, judgment, rejection. The regular people. The people that shop at Wal-Mart.
Where I’m standing now.
The air feels too thin, too circulated, and the lights are too bright. I’ve been standing in the same spot for ten minutes, in a main aisle, just listening. People are wondering if I’m dangerous, or crazy. I’m probably some of both.
Sometimes I wish I didn’t care what they thought, but I do. If I’m going to earn their trust, I have to care.
I’ve spent the last five years trying to figure out how I acquired the powers I did that night with the stranger from the bar. I tried tracking her down to find out if she’d noticed anything funny that night. Never succeeded.
So I started honing my new abilities. I also started working out at the gym three or four hours a day so that if I did have to put my powers to work, I’d actually have some kind of advantage in strength. The guys at work (I’m in construction) think I’m trying to take my mind off something, but they can’t figure out what. They think I’m clinging to the memories of some lost love.
A woman about my age passes by. She checks me out. Thinks that if she weren’t in a relationship with her current boyfriend who’s just okay looking, she’d totally advance on me. Then she thinks that, being thirty-three years old, she doesn’t have time to waste by throwing away a good man for looks.
I guess that’s one advantage I have. If nothing else, I can attract solely by appearance. People tend to trust good looking people, don’t they?
I haven’t trusted anyone in a long time. I’m always picking away at brains, thoughts, dreams, to find that criminal that will make me. Maybe once I’m dubbed a superhero, my life will again have purpose.
I can’t hear enough on ground level so I close my eyes to concentrate. I feel the ground disappear beneath my feet. My face feels more circulating air, which means I’m directly beneath a fan in the ceiling.
At first no one sees what I’ve done. No one tends to look up while shopping in a store with twenty-four-foot ceilings. It gives me a chance to listen to those across the building. The customer service manager passing along the back wall is thinking about how he’s going to tell his boyfriend he’s been cheating on him. The woman working behind the counter in electronics in worrying about her doctor’s results. The kid standing in the candy aisle is pondering how easy it would be to stuff a box of Hot Tamales in his pocket. He walks away without doing it.
And then I hear it. Everyone hears it. A gunshot. Screams.
I knew there had to be a reason I was drawn here today.
A shout erupts from one of the check-out tills. “—all the fucking money, bitch!”
A girl begins to babble incoherently, but she’s thinking she’s about to die. She’s thinking that her hands are shaking so badly that the robber is going to notice and kill her for it.
“Do you want to die, bitch?”
She cries out in terror.
I listen for the robber’s thoughts. There are none. I don’t understand why.
“Now! Empty the fucking till!”
Before I know it, I’ve managed to cross half the store at ceiling level, not by flying, like Superman, not by swinging on a line of web like Spiderman, but by simply thinking about being there. I’ve tried filming myself ‘flying’ in the air, but to this day I can’t tell if I simply move too fast for camera, of if I’m actually teleporting.
Either way, I know this is going to be my big break, the chance for everyone to know that I exist.
I plan to drop down on top of the robber, force him to the ground, and snatch away his gun. But I somehow miss my mark and drop down on the counter between him and the girl. The robber is startled by my sudden appearance and shoots.
I should have expected that.
Before I feel the pain, I see the blood gushing from my stomach. I manage to swing a weak punch at the robber’s stunned face, and another man tackles him from behind. As they fall to the floor, the gun slides away.
I fall off the counter as pain paralyzes me.
It wasn’t supposed to happen this way.
I can hear the thoughts of bystanders as my vision grows dark. Some wonder if it’s a joke, if this was all staged. After all, how could I have been hanging from the ceiling at the exact moment a man tried to rob the till beneath me? Unless I myself had planned to rob it as well. Some wonder how I’d gotten up to the ceiling in the first place. Others wonder how I had the strength to cross the beams. The last few minds wonder how I managed to survive the jump, and how ironic that I should only to succumb to a bullet wound moments later.
I, too, wonder why, but I know I’ll never receive an answer.
© Lindsay Mawson 2012