Ever wonder what being a super hero with embarrassing powers would be like? Well I have. And that’s the subject of today’s story. I tried to keep it light-hearted and funny. Hopefully it makes you laugh. It was surprisingly easy to write, which means it may not be nearly as funny as I think it is. It’s also the single longest selection of new writing I’ve done this month, and was done in less time than most other days. Hopefully this is a good sign.
As always, enjoy.
Writing Challenge, Day 14 – Worthless Heroes (Working Title)
By E. W. Morrow
Word Count: 2402
“A wallet, a phone, and a ballpoint pen.”
I’d been looking around the room, trying to decide the least awkward place to take a seat, when a man sitting near the back called out to me. He had his legs propped up on the back of the chair in front of him and one eyebrow cocked in anticipation.
“What?” I asked.
“In your pocket,” grinned the man, “you have a wallet, a phone, and a ballpoint pen. Am I right?”
“Um, yeah,” I said, reaching into my right hand pants pocket.
“Not that one,” the man said. “Left pocket.” I moved to check, but he held up a hand. “No, wait, not yet. The wallet is a black trifold with 2 dollars in it. The pen is a blue Bic. Your phone is an iPhone, a few generations old, and the hard drive is 300mb from being filled up.”
“That…sounds about right,” I said.
“Want me to tell you the last four numbers on your debit card?”
“No, I believe you. How did you…”
“Name’s Paul,” the man said, extending an arm in greeting. His grip was firm, but not rough. It was a good, honest handshake. Almost too honest.
“Hi. I’m…” I began.
“Zach Wilson, 5’11”, blue eyes, brown hair. You live at…”
“Yes, alright,” I cut him off. “I get it. Nice trick. How’d you do it.”
Paul smiled at me and rubbed his chin a few times with the pad of his thumb. Then he lowered his legs and gestured at me to take a seat next to him. The rest of the crowd was still mingling, but with a definite drifting movement towards the chairs. I slipped in the row of chairs and sat down next to Paul, who promptly put his feet back on their perch.
“It’s what I do,” Paul said. “It’s why I’m here.”
“That doesn’t seem like a very useless…” I began, but apparently he’d been expecting this.
“Take your wallet out of your pocket.” he said.
“Take your wallet out of your pocket.” he repeated. I did as he asked. He stared at it sharply for several seconds, and then gave a theatrical sigh and slumped in his seat. “Nope, I’ve got nothing. Try putting it back in your pocket. The right pocket, this time.” Once again I did what he told me to, and once again he screwed up his face in concentration. “Yeah—hngh—maybe. ALMOST! Gah—nothing. Move it back to the left.”
“So, wait, you’re saying…” I said as I put my wallet back where it had started.
“Yep. I can tell the contents of everyone’s pockets, provided everything they have in their pockets is in the left pants pocket.”
“That’s—specific.” I said lamely.
“Yeah? No shit. Guess I do need to be here after all.” he said sarcastically. “I can just call my parole officer and tell him I’m a changed man.”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean it like that.”
“Yeah, I know. I’m just messin’ with ya.” His smile had returned.
I was about to ask him another question when a tall, slender woman approached the podium at the front of the room and leaned into the microphone. There was something slightly odd about her movements but I couldn’t tell quite what. She cleared her throat and the room fell silent, save for a few mumbled apologies as the stragglers shimmied down rows on their tiptoes, trying not to step on any feet as they found their seats. The woman at the front of the room gave a calm, pleasant smile as the room settled down. When it was quiet enough she started into her speech.
“Hello everyone. My name’s Martha…” She said it in the clear, confident tone of someone who had gotten good at public speaking over many long years of reluctant experience.
“Hi, Martha.” chorused the everyone in the audience except Paul and me.
“…and I have special powers.” she finished.
“And that’s super.” chimed the audience. Martha smiled as the ritual concluded, unperturbed by the mediocre amount of enthusiasm in the audience’s responses.
“I see a few new faces here tonight. I want to take this opportunity to welcome you to this Limited Powers Anonymous meeting. I just want all of you to know that you are not alone. All of us here at the LPA are here for you. You are not alone.”
As she spoke, and as I payed more attention to her movements, I was suddenly able to put my finger on what was odd about her movements. They were fast. Fast and sudden, like each one was a knee jerk reaction to something only she could see. It was a little unsettling to watch.
“Here at LPA we have a motto. Those of you who have been here before, please, what is our number one belief?”
“No one is useless. There are no small powers, just small heroes.” the crowd droned. Martha’s grin grew even wider as she basked.
“That’s right,” she said, clutching her hands together and placing them over her heart. He’d made the motion so fast I was surprised she hadn’t knocked herself over. “Before we get started tonight, I’ll tell you a little about myself. I’m a stay at home mom. My husband is a real estate agent. My youngest child is now in middle school, and my oldest is away at her first year of college. I founded this chapter of the LPA after my youngest started attending school full time. Up until then motherhood had been a full time job, even for me.” she giggled slightly at that last statement. A few audience members chuckled along.
“My special abilities first manifested themselves when I was just a little girl. I found that I was faster than the other kids in my class at everything I did. On the blacktop at recess, eating lunch, doing lines in English. At the end of the year I was faster than any child in the school, and when I came back from summer vacation, I was not only faster than any of the children in the entire school district, but faster than most professional athletes. Eventually the growth of my powers plateaued. At my fastest I could run a mile in five seconds flat, though I’m not quite that fast anymore.” Again, she giggled. This time I chuckled a bit to. I wondered if she was even aware what a double entendre was.
“But, there was a drawback,” she continued sadly. “I could run a mile in five seconds, and it felt like I had run a mile. I had super speed but not super endurance. When you have super speed, you have to make an effort to slow down. I was always dangerously skinny growing up. I burned through food so fast I didn’t even have time to notice I was hungry. Lactic acid built up in my muscles, causing terrible pain and cramps on a daily basis. I stayed home a lot. Lying in bed was the only way to be sure I wouldn’t burn myself out. By high school I was forced to drop out because my grades were slipping. My parent’s home schooled me from then on. I never did get to go to college.” A glint of a tear shone in her eye.
“But, then, one day, when I was out on my weekly walk, I passed by the scene of a terrible fire. Children were screaming. A woman was wailing and throwing herself at the line of fire fighters trying to keep the crowd at bay. It was a scene right out of a comic book. I couldn’t just stand there. Literally, I had too much pent up energy. I pulled three children out of the fire. To this day I count myself lucky that there were no adults in the building. I wouldn’t have had the strength to carry them.”
“And from that day on I refused to let my powers be a burden. I started meditating, learned to control my heart rate and breathing. Now I only spend one day a week in bed. I have two beautiful daughters, something I never thought would be possible. And I’m—I’m happy, for the first time in my life.” There was some heartfelt applause when she got to the end of her speech. It was obvious that the others had heard it before, but still they found it in them to be moved, to be supportive.
“I thought we’d start the meeting off tonight with a bit of free sharing,” she continued after a polite length of time. “If there’s anyone here who would like to share with the group, please, oh…”
A tall, hulking figure had stood up in the front row and made his way to the podium. He must have been 6′ 6”, even with the slight hunch to his shoulders. Martha smiled and made space, taking her seat in the chair a few paces to the right.
“Oh boy,” muttered Paul. “This should be good.”
“Hi,” said the man. His long black hair hung over his face like a mane. “I’m Clarence.”
“And I have—I have special—special powers.” his voice was shaking, but not with fear. The crowd responded as before, but sounded much more hesitant this time.
“And that’s super.”
“Is it?!” shouted Clarence. “Because I’m not so sure any more. Nobody believes me. Every time I try and tell people I have a super power they laugh at me. Sure, laugh at the guy with the super power. How many of them can see through solid objects? Huh?” he actually seemed to be waiting for an answer, staring out through his mane of hair at the audience.
“None!” he shouted after no answer was forthcoming. “None of them can. But when I tell them that they tell me to prove it. They hold up a book or point to a patch of wall and tell me to look through it. I tell them it doesn’t work like that. It has to be taupe. I tell them I can only see through things that are taupe. And they laugh! AGAIN! So I tell ’em, I say, grab something taupe, I say, and I’ll look through it. And do you know what they do?” Again he paused and again nobody in the crowd answered him.
“They go out, and they bring back things that aren’t taupe! And I’m not sure if they’re even doing it on purpose. Do you know how many colors look like taupe! A whole fuckin’ LOT!” Flecks of spit were flying from his mouth now and I was glad I couldn’t see his eyes clearly. “Not brown. Not dark-brown. Not leather! TAUPE!!”
At this point Martha was beside Clarence. Instantly beside Clarence. She gripped him by the elbow and patted him gently on the shoulder several dozen times a second.
“There, there,” she cooed as she led him back to his seat. “Let’s all thank Clarence for sharing with us today.”
“Thank you Clarence.”
“That was pretty mild, actually,” Paul whispered in my ear. I almost laughed but caught myself in time. I managed to pass the sound off as a sneeze. I leaned over to respond but Martha was already back at the podium.
“Now,” she said from into the microphone. “We have time for one more person to share before we break into groups. Is there anyone else who would like to share?”
“I will!” shouted one of the audience members situated around the middle of the crowd. He stood and, with some difficulty, lifted something large and red over his head. It was bulbous and rubbery and flopped as he made his way triumphantly to the front of the room. The rest of his body was encased in a flexible tube of an off-brown color. The tube expanded in the middle, stretching outward due, presumably, to the bulk of the person inside. Suddenly I realized what the red bulb was. It was the head of a match. It looked like whoever was in the get-up had tried to make his very on human matchstick costume but hadn’t been able to find a light enough shade of cloth to for the stick. Instead of the usual tan color you would expect the majority of the outfit was what I could only describe as…
“TAUPE!!!” shouted Clarence, glancing up for the first time just as the human matchstick walked in front of him. “Oh my god why are you naked under there! Have you no shame!!!”
Clarence had surged to his feet but quick as he was, Martha was quicker still. She placed herself between Clarence and the newcomer an was waving frantically at those seated nearby.
“Come now, let’s get you outside to cool off,” she was saying as she grabbed several of the burlier men from the crowd to restrain the behemoth of a man.
“What’s wrong with you!” he shouted as he let himself be led away.
“I!” shouted the man now behind the podium, “am MATCHSTICK MAN!”
“More like rude man!” shouted Clarence from the doorway. “Disgusting man!”
“While working late one night at a matchstick factory I came across a band of international matchstick thieves stealing our latest shipment! They chased me through the factory and up onto the catwalks above the matchstick vats!”
“Do matchsticks come in vats?” I asked Paul. He had to bite his lip to keep from laughing.
“I slipped and fell into the vats, but by some twist of fate I emerged alive! I am empowered by a bond with matchsticks! BEHOLD!” From a inside one of the sleeves of his shirt the self proclaimed matchstick man pulled out, yes, it was a matchstick. Not sure what else I had expected. He held it aloft and screamed “AND THERE WAS LIGHT!”
The matchstick sputtered and flared to life. The man continued.
“And with this power, I will light a fire to warm the world and chase out the darkness! I will go forth and take my light to the four corners of the w—Ow, son of a bitch.” During his rant the match had burned down the length of the short wooden stick, burning his fingers. He dropped the still burning speck and stamped on it furiously when it hit the carpet.
“Okay, let’s take a break there, shall we?” Martha said, sounding exhausted.