BY ETHAN LEVENTHAL
Copyright is held by the author.
WHEN I’M not fighting crime and foiling evil terrorist plots, sometimes I like to watch the news. I’ll sit down on my homemade couch that I myself commissioned, look around at my beautiful subterranean lair, and flick on my flat-screen TV. Union United is my favourite channel, but it would be negligent of me not to acknowledge that National Geographic also helps me stay sane. When I get bored of the animals or plants, though, Union United is where I go for the praise. They tell me how good of a job I’m doing, and sometimes, when I get back from a particularly messy fight and I’m covered in blood and gore and wondering if what I did was right, that’s all I need to hear.
Last night, though, everything was different. When I got back from an expedition where I saved a whole city from this particularly heinous villain, all I wanted to do was sink down and listen to Union United praise me. I’d been forced to kill the man, this very tidy-looking, well-spoken fellow who might have convinced me he was an upstanding citizen if I hadn’t used my super hearing to locate the positions of all the bombs he had planted around the city, and I wasn’t happy about having to dry-clean my suit for the third time this week. I’m still not happy about it.
So, I plopped myself down on the couch and turned on the news, but it wasn’t set to Union United. Instead, there was this angry, black-haired man on the TV, yelling about something. I was tempted to turn it right back off, but my name — my superhero name, of course — was crawling across the bottom. I waited for him to stop yelling and begin to praise me, but after a few moments, I realized he wasn’t going to do that. He was angry at me.
I’ve heard rumblings about this movement recently. Apparently, it’s sweeping the country. As a close friend puts it, “it’s become trendy to hate people who make a difference,” and really, I couldn’t agree more. All these people — usually misguided youths and their crazy, indoctrinating parents — hate me for what I do. When I save a bus full of people from a villainous bus driver who was plotting to drive off the Brooklyn Bridge, they cry and yell at me. When I stop people from smuggling nuclear devices over the border and into our great country, they beg for me to stop. It’s insane! Do these people not want to be saved?
You see, it wasn’t always like this. The masses didn’t despise me as they do now, those phony news channels didn’t criticize me. In the past, I had always been encouraged to be like that. I mean, what parent wouldn’t want a son like me, right?
My father sure was proud of me. It was around the age of 16 when I had my first real showdown with the enemy, and Dad first told me how he loved me. I was in the home my family still owns, in my little Neighbourhood back in South Bend, Indiana — before I got famous and traded small for big city, of course. I lived with my father and grandfather. We had been forced to move to a smaller house after Louisa left my father in the dirt. I still had a bedroom to myself — what self-respecting family wouldn’t give their only kid his own bedroom, come on — but we no longer had a swimming pool or a tennis court out back.
It was a sunny day, the type of day where Grandpa would come downstairs with two fistfuls of sunscreen and slap it across each of our faces — Dad and I — whether we were going out or not. Even back then, I didn’t need it. I had my full array of powers already. Super hearing, super strength. A heart plated in gold. A soul encapsulated in titanium. A winning mind, and a charming smile. Obviously, I was radiation resistant. But Grandpa was a traditionalist. Sunscreen or sunburns, he’d say. And no relative of his was going to walk around all red; we were better than that.
My high school girlfriend Allie and I were out back when I heard them. At first, it was only the sound of their footsteps. They were moving in ways that you wouldn’t usually hear. Thumping hard against the concrete with every step, stepping toe-first as if in a sprint. Even before I knew what they were doing, I could already tell they were out of place. Then, I heard the gunshots.
My father had already drilled into me my place in the world, so it was no surprise to myself when my feet hit the dirt, and I was — utilizing my super speed, of course — standing on the other side of my house, right in front of them, making myself big. Dad had told me I was the last line of defense. I protected those similar to us, those who shared our values, and, whenever I questioned who that really was, my father always warned me that there were many people who didn’t; who would gladly see us fall from grace, gladly see us die.
However, when I stood in front of this enemy, preparing for the first real challenge of my young life, I hesitated. These were just boys, laughing and playing with toy guns. One of them was coughing from so much laughing and held an inhaler in his left hand. Sure, they dressed differently from me: with tracksuits and colorful sneakers instead of tight-fitting khakis and polos, but were they really that different?
Then, Allie approached. When she saw the look on my face, my look of confusion, she stepped in front of them. I wondered, for a second, why she did. Did I look threatening in that moment? Was she being protective of these kids that she didn’t know? Was she putting herself between them and me? Here was Allie, the only person I trusted outside my family, looking terrified at the sight of me.
Then, I realized how wrong my first impression had been. These were men. Every single hand had a type of weapon. There were guns, knives, machetes, and in one’s left hand, a pipe to smoke all kinds of drugs with. Allie hadn’t betrayed me, either. These thugs were taking her hostage. She wasn’t terrified of me. She was simply looking at me, terrified.
It was a quick fight. With my grandfather and my father watching on, I dispatched one, and then another, until our Neighbourhood was homogeneous again. I saved Allie without a scratch on her, and pulled her close for a kiss. She smiled shyly, she blushed heavily, and the look in her eyes was one of pure love and adoration. My father came down from his third-floor bedroom’s balcony, and after Allie and I had our moment, he gave me the only hug I remember from my childhood. We went out to get ice cream, and Dad even let us indulge in the shop that we all knew was way better, even though it was in the bad part of town. My grandfather came. That day, they both showed me how much they valued me.
Things were good then. Now, with all my worries about the worsening state of the world, and all the traitors across my country that hate me while I save them, I look back at that time and think about how perfect it was. I even cry sometimes about it. What could’ve been, right? And, just to pile on, there’s Rosa, plotting away at an attempt to kill me, even if I can’t yet prove it.
Who’s Rosa? Oh, right. You don’t know. Rosa is my arch nemesis. The calculated, devilish bastard has been after me ever since she moved to my country. She has telekinesis — the most common superpower among villains, but she knows how to use it better than most. She convinced the border patrol to let her through even though her bag was full of weapons. She convinced this nice, freckled couple to sell her their house in the nice part of town even though she didn’t have a penny to her name. She even convinced the local hospital to hire her as a doctor, even though she’s never even been to college! I’m not even sure if they have college in her home country. Education probably stops at the middle school level. Of course, I say convinced. What I really mean is that she used her powers on them. All it takes her is a flick of her wrist, a jerk of her neck, and she can have anything she wants.
I’d caught wind of her first when doing my regular surveillance of the South, making sure there wasn’t anyone suspicious trying to uproot the locals’ way of life. I’d flown by the biggest town in the biggest state in the whole area, and just happened to hear someone type my name into their phone. I’d become pretty good at hearing when people were discussing me — whether that be from hearing someone saying my name in a hushed voice, crowds chanting my name at a convention, or times like these.
I swooped down to get a closer look, landing on a nearby house. I saw this little, concerned-looking woman who barely spoke any English in this massive house. At first, I thought she was just the cleaner, or even a security guard, but the way she moved around struck a chord with me. She was treating it like she owned the place. I followed her for a few days, and found out all the things I already told you. How she’d gotten across the border, how she stole the house, how she talked her way into a job saving people, where she probably did way more harm than good.
I probably would’ve left her alone. I wasn’t vindictive. Even though she had already committed crimes, even back then, there were far more dangerous telekinetics out there. Ones who used their powers to rape our beautiful women, to kill the men who protected our country. Still, I figured I’d better keep tabs on her.
And how right I became. Now, as her influence grows and grows over the historic state where she resides, she plots the world’s destruction. She sometimes holds large parties in her house, and all the influential people attend, even those I used to call my friends. When she knows I’m watching, she smiles and acts well, pretending to be a “good” immigrant. She’ll talk about how thankful she is for this fantastic country that gave her all this, preach about farmers’ markets and fast food like she actually indulges herself, and sometimes even talk politics and pretend she shares my values. But, when she thinks I can’t hear her, her mask falls off.
Twice before, I’ve tried to stop her. The first came early on in her “budding” career as a doctor. She had just diagnosed this upstanding young man with cancer, but I could tell from my heightened senses that he was perfectly fine. There she was, ruining this man’s life. A football player who, according to her, would no longer be able to play football. A valedictorian who would have to drop out of school. I thought at the time just as I do as I’m retelling it now: how could she do such a thing?
I waited until the hospital began to close for the night before making my appearance. I stopped her just as she was packing up for the night. I confronted her.
Sadly, I don’t remember much about that first battle we had. It wasn’t a battle of strength — no, it would have been too easy for me, and wouldn’t have honored my father’s good name to strike a woman down like that. Instead, it was a battle of wits. I’m not even sure we spoke a word to each other. Instead, we pushed into each other’s minds, taking mental swings at our consciousnesses. Somehow, she won. She beat me. I walked out of that room that night feeling proud of myself, feeling like I did the right thing, but when I looked back a week later — when I look back now — I find myself questioning my every move. Why didn’t I arrest her? What could she have said, what could she have done to defeat the most powerful superhero this world has ever seen?
That was the first time. After that, I made resolutions, I trained hard. In the time that passed after that first encounter with Rosa, I battled some of the strongest villains of their time and vanquished every single one. Still, I could feel Rosa looming over me, watching my every move, plotting her next attack. Waiting for the exact moment to strike me, just as I was her.
My move came first. It was during one of her famous parties, and I hadn’t even planned it in advance, it had simply become opportune.
I was doing my nightly patrol, having had a few drinks, as I always did, when the nights became long and lonely. I had already saved a woman from some despicable mugger. She had dropped her ID in his restaurant, and he used it to his advantage. He ran out to the street, as she walked to her car, and he called her name, only having known it from reading her ID. She turned around, and he jumped upon her, trying to yank her bag away. I swooped in first.
I was already on this high, with the thanks I had received from the old lady, when I passed by Rosa’s mansion and realized she was alone in her bedroom as the dinner party carried on below. She would never expect it, I thought.
I entered the house through an upstairs window, and crept towards her room. I opened the door, and then I was inside, blending into the background. She scribbled quickly in her notebook, her left arm shaking, undoubtedly planning something. She took her phone out of her pocket, and again typed my name into it furiously. Who were her co-conspirators?
Without a second thought, I went for her. None of the mental-battle bullshit of before. I wanted to kill her, then and there.
The first swing missed and hit the bookshelf behind her. As I told you before, I was already a few drinks in, and while I was perfectly capable of dealing with the random, day-to-day villain like the mugger before, I might have been in over my head trying to fight my arch-nemesis at a time like that.
The first swing missed, and so did the second. She was startlingly quick, dodging first left, and then right to avoid me. She yelped, first trying to talk me down, and, after seeing my rage, hurrying out of the room. I growled, and followed. She took the stairs at speed, and it was all I could do to keep up. Finally, though, she made a mistake. She hesitated at the bottom, and it was just enough time for me to catch up.
I grabbed her by the collar, and pulled my fist back to strike a first and final blow. Rosa had fear in her eyes, and for a couple of seconds, I really did believe I had won.
A familiar voice called my name, and the sheriff of this town walked over. I knew him well. but judging by the look on his face, clearly not well enough. Rosa had not been the one to make the mistake. I had.
While I was busy trying to capture her, trying to kill her before she could take over the world, she was cleverly running towards an audience. She knew she held power, and she might have even suspected she had more than me. She had coerced me down the stairs, and looked vulnerable at just the right time.
Now, I was standing with my fist cocked back, ready to strike, and the whole room was full of emissaries, politicians and all the influential people I could possibly think of. They had watched me do it. Watched me about to hit this helpless, tiny woman. How my super hearing abandoned me that night! Had I not sensed they were there? Didn’t I know she was having a party? And I wasn’t even wearing my suit.
That’s why I have to stop her. Do you see how clever she is? Do you see how powerful she’s become? I’m not even sure I can, anymore. She’s growing more and more powerful by the day, and I’m fading into irrelevance. If she waits long enough, she won’t even have to kill me. I’ll be as weak as the average loser.
That’s why people are seeing me less and less. That’s why even Union United talks about other things sometimes – complaining about the economy, pretending they care about all people equally. That’s why depression is flooding our young population, without me there to stop the onslaught of horridness that comes their way.
You really do die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become a villain. For me, and for my favourite channel.
Though, I’m not done yet. I may just have one final trick up my sleeve. She may be more powerful than me, she may even be smarter than me, but I have the ingenuity of my father and his father before him. Some of their ideas may be crude, this included, but it may just be what it takes…
As I approach the front door of her house, the weight of the gun hidden beneath my stylish cape makes me uncomfortable. I can tell there are six bullets in it, with another cartridge in my front pocket if anything goes awry. I expect I’ll only need one, but with Rosa, I can never be too careful. I can also tell that Rosa doesn’t know I’m coming. From my super hearing, I sense that she’s all the way at the other end of the house. She’s alone. I’m sure of it. I knock on the door, making sure not to use too much strength.
I can hear her coming, and take the gun out. I aim it at the door before she even opens it, my finger on the trigger. The look on her face makes me hesitate.
She’s just a normal person. She’s done nothing wrong. Why would I shoot her?
I scream a battle cry, and pull the trigger, all too aware of her telekinesis.
I breathe a sigh of relief. A wave of tranquility comes over me. I step over her body into her house and look for her mobile phone, just for my own peace of mind. Just to confirm my suspicions. I find it, unlock it, and go to the messaging app. I type in my own name, and wait for all the hits to appear, but none come.
I chuckle to myself before flying off. She was even more cunning than I had expected.
Ethan Leventhal is an author of climate and political fiction from California. He is currently attending Warwick University in England’s midlands. “I Hear You!” is his second published work.