Burkk the Jerk
In Wynsumheord, this story is told,
About a man both strong and bold.
His magnificent muscles were grizzly as a bear’s.
But, where his brawn abounded, his brains were scarce.
From the village of Hangra, he traveled to us...
On the day he arrived, he stirred up quite a fuss.
“Brother!” Magnar shouted as he ran into the room, “You’ll never believe who’s come to town.”
“The Misfits of Taungoun?” I asked with much interest, “It’s been a while since we’ve seen their traveling show.”
“No, Syndri,” he laughed, “It’s a person we know.”
“A person?” I pondered, “Family?”
Magnar nodded as his smile broadened. My eyebrows furrowed as I tried my hardest to figure out who it was and why Magnar was smiling and chuckling so.
“Have you given up?” he grinned impatiently as I inhaled and parted my lips, “It’s Burkk!” Magnar blurted before I could speak.
“Our cousin Burkk?” I grimaced as I remembered the last time he visited.
“Yes, yes,” Magnar laughs, “Good old Burkk the Jerk.”
And, as he spoke, who chanced to barge through the door? Burkk himself. Magnar was muscular, but Burkk even more so. He was taller and thicker too. He wore a thick coat of fur and a Viking’s helmet wherever he went and whatever the weather (no matter how hard I try, I cannot recall him wearing any other garb). His hair was ruddy, wooly, and unkempt. He never bothered even trying to braid it, let alone comb it. His beard was thick, and his voice was deep.
“Hello, my cousins!” he bellowed, sending wafts of ale our way (for he always drank in the taverns).
Magnar ran over to greet him, but I stood still in my place. Burkk always seemed happy to see us, but I had no fond memories of him. Before I knew it, he was before me, grinning, he laughed and punched me in the stomach jovially (but roughly nevertheless)
“Syndri, my good man!” he growled as I winced, “Stronger than last time I suppose, but you must eat more. You’re too scrawny, lad. You need more meat on those bones.”
I sighed and rolled my eyes as soon as I recovered from the pain. By this time, Burkk and Magnar had found seats in the sitting room and were deep in conversation.
“So, what brings you to Dryhtenhaven, cousin?” Magnar asked him.
“I have not come for fun and games,” Burkk said loudly with his dirty feet up upon our table, “I have chased me an adversary from Hangra.”
“Shan’t we be privy about it?” Magnar murmured, “Perchance he be lying in wait outside for you?”
“There be no fear in my bones,” Burkk laughed, “Come what may, I shall smite the bastard!”
“Whoever might your enemy be?” Magnar asked, “Whence come he and why?”
“Nevermind all those details,” Burkk arose, “With your help, we shall kick this idiot’s--”
A loud crash outside startled us all and interrupted Burkk (quite welcome was the disruption, for Burkk minded not his manners or his language). Burkk ran outside and yelled loudly.
“Show yourself!!!” he roared.
“Shan’t we have a plan first?” I spoke as I followed Magnar outside after him.
“Nonsense!” Burkk screamed, “We shall fight to the death!”
I shook my head. How serious was this, really? I never took Burkk seriously. Suddenly, a mad clad similarly to Burkk leapt out from the brush and tackled him to the ground. They tussled and fought, grunting profanities and insults at each other as they pelted each other with their fists and pulled each other's clothes.
Magnar and I stood and watched, unsure of what exactly we were looking at. Finally, they pushed away from each other and flung to their feet. Both growling through gritted teeth, they drew their weapons and struck them against each other's. I would have surmised they both were drunken, for their weapons fell to the ground more than once, and the other waited for the opponent to collect it again before attacking again.
Shaking his head, Magnar finally decided to intervene.
"Halt at once!" Magnar screamed, drawing his sword and standing between them, "What be this matter for which you two fight?"
Both the men stopped and considered for a long while. In that moment, they each seemed to glean their brains to no avail.
"...We fight to fight!" Burkk roared as he lunged at his opponent once again but stumbled and fell to the ground faint with drunkenness.
The other man then rose up against Magnar, but my brother delivered a punch that sent him to the ground lying alongside our cousin. I stared in confusion at all of this.
"They'll wake after a while," Magnar smiled, patting me hard over the back and leading me towards the house, "Never spend too much time in the tavern."
This grand misadventure was one of his many.
Had he ever triumphs? I can’t recall any.
So, who was the ‘villain’ and who was the ‘hero’?
By The Shining Lord’s heaven, we never may know.
Two Incompetent Fools
Two incompetent fools. That’s what they were. Oh, and doppelgangers too. It is truly interesting to note how much they were similar, even if they were on different ends of the spectrum. Believe me, they were very similar. Their greatest similarity; their idiocy...
How did they meet? How did their lives cross? Well, it started on December 31. It was Saturday evening, and Cynwrig was casually walking down the beach, enjoying the fireworks.
Suddenly, they came pouring from different buildings and surrounded him. Armed Response arrested him. To his great confusion, since he had a very clean record. And yet, there he was placed at the other side of the table, facing the accuser. And he was charged with a petty crime; stealing two boxes of candy, three boxes of fireworks, and somebody’s leather jacket.
Honestly, if I wanted to steal something, I would have gone to more effort than just stealing...such silly stuff!! He pleaded. But, they didn’t believe him. And he was thrown into the cold cell...He hit the floor and sank into despair.
“I did not! I immediately sat up straight and planned my escape, and how I was going to catch the real criminal.”
Shush it, Cynwrig! I’m telling the story here. And don’t lie. It’s a trait most unbecoming. As I was saying, he hit the floor and sank into despair. He folded his arms around his legs and he cried like a baby for an hour or so.
Somewhere far off, he later heard the countdown for New Year. 3, 2, 1...The fireworks exploded into the night sky.
He finally picked himself up from the floor and trudged to the barred window. Longingly, he stared out. Suddenly, the whole world started shaking. He fell to the ground, huddling against the power of the earthquake.
The earthquake broke his prison wall, setting him free. He was incredibly lucky, I know. But, it happened. He jumped up, rushed over the debris, and disappeared into the night, laughing maniacally.
“It was not maniacally. It was victoriously!”
Shush it! Please excuse him. He has no manners. As I was stating, he disappeared into the night, laughing MANIACALLY.
He kept running, his thoughts shifting between just disappearing, or trying to find his doppelganger. He realized (somewhere in the dimness of his mind) that he wouldn’t be able to walk the streets without having his name cleared.
Seeing as he was very unfit, he quickly tired of the running, and he had to slow down to a snail-paced walk. He dragged his feet for an hour, his choices still playing in the back of his mind. Then, he heard the sirens behind him. He was in the middle of a well-lit street, the lights glaring down on him.
Frantically, he ran up the one house’s pathway. Without knocking, he rushed through the door, right into the living room. A gray-haired woman looked up, her hands stilling and her knitted work falling to the ground. Her eyes grew big and round, and then she screamed. Well, yelled. Her vocal chords were too worn for actual screaming.
Cynwrig stumbled over his feet, before a vase was flung at his head. He tripped into the kitchen, rolling onto the table, and falling on his nose when he rolled off the other side. Groaning, he rose, suddenly hearing the sirens stopping outside of the house.
He pushed through the kitchen door, trying to stop the bleeding of his nose. He missed a step and tumbled over the watering hose, which resulted in his crashing through the neighbor’s hedge. He lost his footing and fell headfirst into the swimming pool.
Gasping for air, he panicked, yelling out for help. Yes, he was panicking, seeing as he cannot swim.
“That’s not -”
Stop it, right now! I want to finish this story very quickly, so zip it, Cynwrig. Excuse me...Where was I? Oh, right. Our hero was busy drowning. Until he finally got tired of kicking (it took him about twenty seconds before he tired of it), and he put his feet down. And he stood up, realizing that the water barely reached to the lower part of his ribcage.
Blushing, he -
“I did not!”
BLUSHING, he quickly hurried out and into the house.
He rounded the corner and stepped into the living room.
Stay right there, or the living daylights will be blasted out of you! A voice commanded him to a standstill. He froze, and waited. A light flicked on, and there HE was. The true criminal. He was wearing a leather jacket (yes, the stolen one) and he was munching on some candies, while his right hand was holding a gun. This weapon was focused on Cynwrig.
Our hero realized his dilemma. And our villain realized his own. If Cynwrig moved, he would be dead with just one shot. But, if Cynwrig moved, he would realize that he was actually in a very favorable position.
Well, of course, he didn’t know it yet. But, he felt like being a hero. So, he took his chances (he’s an idiot, but fortunately he made his move in this case).
A black cat jumped onto the sofa next to the villain, and he was momentarily distracted, stretching out to pet his...well, pet. Cynwrig rushed forward and lunged at our villain.
And our villain...He screamed...Like a girl.
“I did not! I was startled, but I did not scream!”
Don’t you start too, Clay. You screamed. You screamed so loudly and so shrilly that the police was immediately drawn to the two of you.
Now, Clay screamed. And then the two started rolling on the ground, trying to overpower each other. Cynwrig was trying to strangle Clay. Clay was biting at Cynwrig’s neck and shoulders. I will not attempt to explain the taste of fabric and flesh. Truly, I find this matter very disgusting...
Suddenly, the front door was kicked open.
Armed Response! What’s the distress? It rang through the hallway. Clay immediately let go of Cynwrig and rushed away. He dove through his window, into his backyard, and fell flat on his nose. Breaking it...
“And Cynwrig realized that it was hero time, so -”
Stop that! Cynwrig...Well, Cynwrig realized that he was still a wanted man, but that he had only so much time to clear his name. He noticed the gun and picked it up. He rushed to the window, and just as he was about to jump out, the forces swarmed into the room.
Stop right there! You are under arrest! Throw the gun to the side, and raise your arms! Cynwrig turned and pointed at them, pulling the trigger. Nothing happened. He stared at the item in his hand, as if to think it back to working condition. An impossible task, actually, considering that it was not loaded.
He yelled, throwing his hands into the air and then diving out of the window. The bullets flew over his head. Panicked, he didn’t even look where he was going. He just got back onto his feet and rushed ahead. And then he,
“He noticed Clay and dove him to the ground, valiantly capturing the criminal. So, he got pardoned and -”
Cynwrig Carlton-Smith, stop it right now! I am telling the story here. Go sit in the corner with your index finger on your lips!
“Please don’t make me do that!”
Okay, now that we have some peace again; don’t you dare start, Clay! So, Cynwrig wasn’t looking where he was going and barged ahead, bumping his head into something solid. Suddenly, he fell forward, on top of Clay...Into the swimming pool. Both idiots shot up again very quickly, gasping and crying out for help.
The Armed Response Force exited the house, surprised to see two identical-looking people panicking in a swimming pool (that they can actually stand up straight in!). Unsure of what to do, they decided to arrest both. But Cynwrig would have nothing of it (he recovered first). He jumped onto Clay’s back, almost drowning the poor guy.
Here! Here is the crook! I caught him for you! He yelled and wove with his one free hand. Clay started tugging at the clamp around his neck.
You liar! You are the crook! I’m an honest citizen! He desperately tried to save his hide. The leader of the forces stepped forward, unsure of the protocol that he was supposed to follow in this situation.
Okay...I have a question for you two. The one that gets it right gets to walk out of the swimming pool freely. He then decided. Both eagerly looked up.
At what time does McGinty’s pub open? He asked, and glanced down at his watch. Both stared at him, dumbfounded for a bit. Neither one of them expected such a question. Come on! At what time does McGinty’s pub open?
“Let’s stop the story already. This is getting too long.”
Oh, stop it, Clay. You just don’t want everybody to hear how you answered the question like only a fool could.
Uh...11pm? Cynwrig offered, slowly letting go off his hold.
You idiot! McGinty’s open at 10pm. It says so clearly, on the notice in the window! Do you never pay attention to your surroundings?! Why, I can even remember the note underneath the time. “No cops allowed!” Yes, that’s what it says, you fool! Clay snarled out.
Very good! You, sir, are free to exit the swimming pool. The chief said pleased. Smiling all-knowingly, Clay exited the swimming pool and approached the chief. With one swift motion, the chief stepped forward and cuffed Clay.
What?! This wasn’t the deal! He screamed furiously.
Ah, but I was trying to find the criminal, sir. And the store that was robbed was right across McGinty’s pub. They saw you standing on that street corner for hours, and surely you looked around you a lot. Only somebody who was looking around a lot would have paid so much attention to a silly notice that never gets followed anyways.
And so, Clay was captured. Not even really by our hero...Oh well, that’s life. Cynwrig was also arrested; for entering a house without permission and scaring the inhabitant.
“I can’t help it if that woman was so sensitive...”
Our hero got a week in jail. Clay got three months.
“Hmmphh...I should have also gotten a week...”
And this is the end of our story. Thank you for sticking with me until here. Considering all our interruptions...Yes, you two, I am glaring at both of you!
Cool Under Fire
Traveler and Rædis were currently in a situation that, across their adventures together, they took great precautions to not allow themselves to fall into. However, when they agreed to help a police detective friend track down and apprehend a lunatic who had been terrorizing a city on a world they were both quite fond of, the ensuing confrontation might as well been inevitable.
Despite the care and cleverness they took in discovering the identity and ultimate location of their quarry, when it came down to actually apprehending the villain they found themselves being quite liberally shot at by him.
They had taken up a defensive position behind a large concrete pillar on the fourth level of a parking strcture. Their suspect was taking pot shots at them from about thirty meters away. He was standing in the open, pacing back and forth attempting to get a bead on the pair while casually licking off shots from from a gun of ridiculously large caliber. To call it a pistol would be misleading. It was a hand cannon. To describe it in any other way would greatly understate its true size and power.
He was also taunting them between shots but his words were lost in the deafening report of the madman’s weapon as it reverberated off the concrete walls and low ceiling of the garage.
Both Traveler and Rædis had been in combat type situations before in their respective, individual exploits. Traveler had involved himself in four major conflicts in his journeys through time. The first took place five hundred years prior to his birth on his homeworld of Earth. He had been interested in this particular war since learning about it in school during his teen-aged years. Once he had mastered the ability to confidently travel to the time of the war and learned the skills required to ingrain himself successfully within the chosen time beyond any suspicion about who he was or where he came from it was remarkably easy to join in the conflict.
His choice on involving himself in this potentially fatal endeavor was simply because he wanted the chance to pilot a particular war machine he had become obsessed with upon first learning about it in his formative years. He used to build models of the machine and imagine soaring the skies, locked in razor sharp combat as if one with its amazing abilities. After having become adept at time travel and being a naturally gifted pilot to begin with, he was confident enough in his skills to be able to survive the conflict. When coupled with the training he received and the faith he had in the companions he made in this undertaking, he was fearless when truly faced with his own mortality for the first time in his life.
This was also the first time he was compelled to take life. He reconciled this most serious of issues by falling back on his training and operating under the premise that it was either his adversary or him. He also dehumanized this moral conundrum to a degree by rationalizing that he was pitting his machine against another and not the life of its human pilot. He fared well in his first foray in war and came through it with some distinction and numerous accolades. Then, exhibiting great discipline for a fledgling time traveler, made sure he erased almost all of his involvement in the war save for the beneficial outcomes of his actions for the faction he put his life on the line for.
His next three involvements in war were choices he made to aide groups of people he had come to like very much. They had, what he deemed, to be a bright, positive and amusing outlook on their existence and sought to better their world for the benefit of their kind and those they came into contact with. However, on each one of these occasions, these benevolent civilizations were under threat of brutal subjugation by hostile alien races and he viewed his involvement as just and the right thing to do. Also, in the third conflict, he had involved himself with a woman. It was one of the very few times in his life he allowed somone to know exactly who he was and where he had come from. It could be argued that it was the first time in his life he had truly loved and had genuinely been so in return. In this instance he not only fought for her kind, he fought for her.
When she was subsequently killed in the conflict and her death established as an immutable fact in the pool of time and space this became the first nail in the coffin of his heart. He began to realize that if he wished to continue his adventures in time, for the sake of his sanity, it would be best to avoid establishing such deep emotional ties with the majority of the people he would meet.
The pain he experienced when he lost this woman was almost enough for him to abandon time travel entirely but as his perception of the fourth dimension increased he could not deny himself the sheer, unique joy of playing with it. It was just too damned fun.
Rædis, although never involved in a full scale war, spent some time in the service of a police force on a particularly hostile planet he had visited early on in his expeditions after leaving his isolationist homeworld to explore the galaxy.
The agency he joined welcomed his unique abilities of being able to adopt various appearances, his heightened senses and the amazing computational prowess of his mechanical mind. He proved invaluable as an undercover agent and his indefatigable nature made hours of overtime and long stake-outs effortless. Plus, his curious, easy going manner made him well loved by his fellow officers and partners. He never excepted overtime pay and had a prolific record of closed cases.
His exceptional police work won him several prestigious civil service awards and like Traveler, he enjoyed the thrill and challenges of his job despite its inherent dangers. He also found great satisfaction in helping bring a modicum of peace and justice to an unsettled populace.
The nature of his police work rendered him no stranger to violence and though he was very good at de-escalating volatile situations he was no less skilled at dolling out considerable physical punishment in the execution of his duties.
The first time he was compelled to take a life was in the defense of another officer during a bank heist gone horribly wrong. He felt justified in his actions and though harbored considerable disdain for violence he had no sympathy for those that chose to inflict it upon the innocent. When motivated to violence he met it with cold, machine-like detachment and dealt with his feelings about it afterward.
So, neither friends being strangers to strife yet, having successfully avoided it for quite some time, managed to get themselves taken off guard and completely unprepared to deal with the homicidal psychopath now attempting to murder them with his massive handgun. The lunatic laughed and released two more rounds into the pillar they were flattened behind. They creased the corner of it sending chunks of debris whizzing past Traveler’s face. He winced at both the flying particles and the roar of the gun then turned to look at Rædis whose normally expressive face was cool and composed.
Rædis had dropped his human appearance and currently looked like the Silver Surfer in a fine suit. His eyes, however, shone bright with excitement.
“You didn’t happen to bring a gun of our own?” Traveler asked over the tone ringing in his ears. His hearing having been muted significantly by the repeated blasts of the psycho’s weapon.
Rædis, who could automatically protect and augment his hearing in the event of loud noises, shook his head.
“No. I suppose you didn’t either.” he replied so that Traveler could actually hear him.
“No. I don’t even own a gun.” Traveler shrugged.
“We really should have thought this through a bit before deciding to try and take him ourselves.” Rædis laughed.
“Well, if we make it back to the ship we can always use the time machine to try this again, if you like.” Traveler laughed back as the sound of another shot exploded through the garage. The villain then began screaming something inexplicable at them which was good because he wasn’t shooting and also inadvertently buying them time to think of what to do. Traveler looked at the few vehicles parked closest to them.
“We could hit him with a car.” Traveler suggested.
“Not a bad idea but it would take even me too long to get into one and start the damned thing before he lights me up with that cannon he’s got.” Rædis said, negating the idea.
“Aren’t you like, bullet proof in your natural form or something?” Traveler asked. At that moment the maniacal man concluded his rant and fired another shot their way. This hit the very vehicle Traveler was looking at. The round punched through the thing’s tough composite outer shell, through the thick slab of battery that powered it and exited the other side, stopped only by the concrete wall of the garage. Smoke drifted up from the holes it left in the machine which was quickly followed by blue flames as the battery began to burn. Rædis had no idea where his friend had gotten this idea.
“What!? No! Are you shitting me? I’m not bullet proof. Even if I was I wouldn’t want to get shot. Especially by that fucking hand howitzer.”
Rædis then looked down and saw a fist sized chunk of concrete at his feet that had been blown out of the pillar they were hiding behind.
“Oh! I have an idea.” he said with a sly smile as he reached down and picked it up.
“Awesome. What’cha thinking?” Traveler said, now a little worried as the burning vehicle grew in intensity. They were now stuck between a rapidly growing fire and an insane killer with a huge gun. “Whatever it is, make it quick.” he added.
“Well, I haven’t heard any empty shells hit the ground after any shots and our man here has fired seven rounds at us already since he paused to scream at us. Which means he’s only got one left in that particular piece before he has to reload. It’s an eight round cylinder. I need you to draw his fire for me.”
Traveler saw the rock Rædis was holding and understood his friend’s plan.
“Draw his fire. Right. No problem.” he said somewhat sarcastically. Except, his particular flair for bombast over-road his sense of self preservation. Rædis was counting on this and knew his friend well enough to know he’d come through.
Traveler searched the pockets of his jacket and found the silver speckled super ball he had been carrying recently to amuse himself with when nothing else was going on and he couldn’t smoke. He carefully snuck half his face around the jagged edge of the column.
“Hey asshole!” he called as loud as he could over the ringing in his ears. He could already feel the heat of the burning car growing uncomfortably hot against his exposed skin. The man with the gun paused in his pacing as he saw the edge of Traveler’s face peeking out from the pillar.
“Catch!” Traveler yelled and hurled the ball towards the man, bouncing it off the pavement halfway between them. The ball arced through the air towards the gunman. Not knowing what was thrown at him was merely a harmless ball, he raised his gun to take aim at it.
This was all the time Rædis needed to slip from behind the battered column and whip the concrete chunk at the maniac, side-arm and with great speed and viscious mechanical accuracy. It caught the man in the side of his head, just behind his temple. His head snapped violently to the side and he dropped unceremoniously to the garage deck instantly and without a sound. As if to have the last word his gun went off a final time when it impacted the floor. Rædis and Traveler both recoiled instantly back behind the column as the crack of the absurd weapon receded into the air.
As his hearing began to normalize, Traveler could make out the sound of sirens approaching from the streets below. He peeked from behind the column. Rædis was already halfway to the downed man. When he reached him, he picked up the gun.
The barrel was at least half an inch in diameter and eight inches long. Its eight chambered cylinder held rounds that were at least twice as long as normal bullets. He popped it out and ejected the spent cartridges, clearing the weapon. Traveler joined him.
“Holy shit. Look at the size of this thing.” Rædis said, turning the weapon over in his hands. Its chrome finish was blackened by powder burns.
Traveler looked down at the man who had been shooting it at them. He was bleeding profusely from the wound caused by the concrete rock Rædis perfectly pitched at his head. He nudged him with the pointed tip of a black, zip-up boot.
“Is he dead?” he asked.
“No.” Rædis said. “I made sure I didn’t throw it that hard.”
“Good. This bastard killed a lot of people and the cops need to know what he did with them, exactly how many, and where they all are. This guy’s mind is going to take a long time to pick. That was an outstanding pitch, Rædis. Well done.”
“Thank you. It’s been a long time since I’ve done any work like this.” the machine said with a satisfied, electric sigh. “It feels...good.”
“I can’t believe you were once an actual cop.” Traveler chuckled and shook his head. He pulled a bent a cigarette from an arm pocket and ignited it with a bite on the filter. The man at their feet groaned faintly. Rædis kicked him once across the jaw, dislodging it and knocking the man back into unconsciousness.
“Then again, I suppose I can.” Traveler said as he considered the brutality of the kick.
By this time, the cops were now closing in. They could hear the electric whine of their vehicles and the squeaking of tires on cement as they wound their way up the levels of the garage.
The car that was burning behind them popped and fizzled. Heat and black smoke billowed from the machine as it melted into a bubbling pool of mush around its frame.
“Let’s get out of here before the sprinklers-” Rædis was cut short as a foam fire suppression system began to flood the burning spot, releasing hundred of gallons of the stuff at high pressure into the fire.
Traveler grabbed the unconscious killer by the foot. Rædis took the other and together they drug him off to face the law.
Challenge Announcement + Drafted Pieces
This will not count
If you are looking for a challenge to join please check out a challenge I just started. It ends in three weeks and I’d love to see what you’ll right.
Filling word requirement by adding drafted pieces:
I find my highs go at the same pace as my lows
When I feel my best I am soon at my worst
I can’t walk the balance required
I can’t talk about the same struggle anymore
I want new words
I want to not feel like my life was a set up
for a wicked punchline
I want to think differently
and not be reminded of all the reasons I shouldn’t whenever I try
For us summer has gone and fall is coming but for them the first rays of summer have yet to grace the blossoms on the apple trees. As the rain falls in the night leaving dew in the morning to be friends with the mist we see a young girl and a boy only half her age watching the ships leave the shore with curious and patient eyes. The girl’s braid blows in the breeze weaving amongst the sunlight and pollen that has slicked the windows of the town.
Mighty Man vs The Incredible Bulk
Nobody knew where it came from, whether it had crawled from under Mrs Ball’s desk, dropped from the ceiling or materialised out of thin air. By the time the first girl screamed, Mrs Ball was wrapped in numerous tentacles as the thing with too many eyes leered at her.
In mass panic, the kids pressed to the back of the classroom trying to put distance between themselves and the horror show that was unfolding. Mrs Ball, now almost lost behind the slithering limbs that gripped her, opened her mouth but no sound came. Had she been trying to scream or scold the nightmare beast, none could tell.
More of the girls were screaming now, as were some of the boys, and the throng pushed even harder against the wall. Cries of pain and fear were drowned out when a section of the wall began to collapse, steam hissing from the edge of an opening which was appearing. Some of the children thought they saw twin red lasers painting their way around the impromptu doorway, but in the madness and clamour they would not have been surprised to see fairies and goblins too.
In the heat-haze surrounding the fallen wall, a man appeared. He was dressed in a high-collared bright red one-piece with vivid yellow trim, and not so much a neckline as a navalline as it revealed so much of his muscled chest.
Seeing him, most of the girls swooned. As did some of the boys.
The stranger strode forward.
The creature shot out a tentacle, catching the man on the side of his head and knocking him to the floor. It squeezed Mrs Ball one last time – horrific snapping and wet gurgling reached the ears of those nearest – before letting her withered carcass drop and writhing itself over to the fallen man.
Somewhere on its quivering mass (body was too normal a word for it) a mouth opened and a fetid stench filled the room. More tentacles reached for the man and pulled him closer, drawing him to the black maw.
From the stranger’s eyes, beams of brilliant ruby lanced out to the monster cutting through the slime and cartilage. The thing hissed and boiled, shrank as the scarlet light intensified. All of its eyes widened and from its mouth came an unusual noise:
Then the thing was gone, with nothing to prove its existence but the poor teacher’s body and the lingering aroma of fried snakeskin.
School was let out early that day as the faculty and the authorities tried to make sense of what had occurred.
Although the kids in Mrs Ball’s class had witnessed a nightmare which would break the mind of even the most hardened war veteran, their youthful spirit and years of videogame inoculation left them with no lasting emotional scars. Despite the panicked crush and the half-ton of wall which had been demolished, only one of them suffered a physical injury.
Richard Richards (‘So what?’ he often said to the kids that would tease him about his name. ‘My parents have no imagination but at least they have a human child.’) pressed his hand against his temple as he walked home. He was no longer bleeding but the wound was stinging intensely.
Richard turned to see Griffin Dempsey chugging toward him as fast as his portly frame would allow. He and Griffin lived on the same street and had known each other for as long as they could remember. They had never considered themselves friends, despite the number of times their parents forced them into playdates.
‘Ricky,’ Griffin panted as he reached Richard.
Richard nodded his greeting, then turned and continued walking.
‘That was – was mad what happened – to old Buster,’ Griffin said between breaths, using the nickname the kids had given Mrs Ball. She was not their favourite teacher. It didn’t help that she taught maths, what many considered the worst subject of all, or that she graded tests harshly. Last week, she had given Richard a C- for an algebra exam. Richard was old enough to know that it didn’t matter what x represented, there was no buried treasure underneath it.
‘Mad,’ he agreed, indifferently.
‘I know, you know,’ Griffin said, still struggling to breathe normally.
‘I figured it out.’ Griffin sounded pleased with himself, as though he finally understood a great secret of the universe. Such as what x equalled.
‘Figured what out?’ Richard snapped. His temple was throbbing and he had no patience for Griffin’s riddles.
‘That you are the man in red, that mighty man.’
‘Mighty Man?’ Richard squeaked. His voice was higher than he would have liked and he felt his face flush with embarrassment. But he did like the ring of the name.
‘You weren’t there,’ Griffin said. His breathlessness was now down to excitement rather than exertion. ‘When everyone was crowded at the back of class, I noticed you weren’t there. No-one else noticed, but I did.’ He beamed with pride. ‘And that cut on your head,’ he continued, his words coming faster, ‘it’s in the exact same place that that monster’s squid-arm-’
‘Tentacle,’ Richard corrected.
‘-yeah, that monster’s tentacle-arm hit the man. I know it was you.’
Richard stopped and looked Griffin squarely in the eyes. He was about to tell Griffin that he had an overactive imagination, that he was ready for the loony-bin. He wanted to point out that he was a thin fourteen-year-old boy not a six-foot grown up with muscles the size of melons.
‘I don’t know what happened,’ he said meekly. ‘I just wanted to help Mrs Ball and then, suddenly, I was.’
Griffin’s eyes bulged with the revelation. It seemed he had only half-believed his suspicion and, now that Richard had confirmed it, he was ready to burst with exhilaration.
‘I know exactly what happened,’ he blurted. ‘You Shazam!ed into an adult and laser beamed the arse off that tentacle-armed thing. Ricky, you are an honest-to-God, real life, spit in the eye, strike-me-down-if-I-lie superhero.’
Already blushing, Richard turned a deeper shade of red.
‘But I didn’t control it. It just… kinda happened because I hoped someone would save Buster.’
‘That’s it!’ Griffin shouted. With a stern look from Richard, Griffin composed himself and continued at a more conversational volume. ’That’s what superheroes do. They provide hope for the rest of us good guys, the ones downtrodden by society’s dictators and evildoers – such as maths teachers and monsters. Yes, they battle the supervillains and take on alien invaders, but they do that to show the rest of us that there is a reason to live, to fight. That is the superpower that all superheroes share, giving us hope.
‘Speaking of superpowers, what else can you do?’
Richard shrugged. ‘I dunno. This is the first time this has happened.’
Griffin quickly looked around, scanning the street.
‘Can you laser beam that lamppost with your eyes?’ he asked.
Richard focused on the light. His eyes narrowed.
Griffin held his breath in anticipation.
A minute passed.
‘I don’t even know how to switch it on,’ Richard said.
They continued walking home, silent for a while.
‘Maybe it’s because the lamppost wasn’t trouble,’ Griffin hypothesised. ‘Maybe your powers need both hope and imminent danger.’ With fake concern, he added, ‘I hope I get home soon or my dad is gonna kill me?’
‘Your dad, the world’s biggest pacifist?’
‘Okay.’ Griffin admitted defeat. ‘I just wanted to see if you could run really fast.’
Richard liked that idea. If he could rush home at the speed of a train, he’d be free of Griffin and his incessant rambling that much sooner. After all, the wound on his head was threatening to turn into a major headache and he really wanted Griffin to shut up.
Danger and hope.
There was no flash, no expensive CGI transformation. There was just Mighty Man, lifting Griffin in his arms and hurtling through the streets.
When they stopped outside the Dempsey house, Griffin was wincing in pain. Wafts of smoke drifted from his hair and his exposed skin was red and bright. Small holes dotted his clothing, which released a charred odour. A solitary flame danced on the strap of his backpack, but Richard quickly blew it out.
‘Ouchouchouchouch,’ Griffin mumbled. ‘What happened?’
‘I think we went too fast,’ Richard said. ‘It looks like you’re covered in friction burns. Sorry.’
Griffin grinned, then winced as the movement caused more discomfort.
‘’Sokay,’ he managed. ‘Small price to pay – ow – for testing your superp-ow-ers. Let’s meet up after tea – ow – and see what else you can do.’
Richard nodded his agreement, though he had no intention of joining Griffin again, then trudged to his own home.
The following day, there was a ruckus in the school office. As Richard’s home room was next to the office, he, Griffin and the other children heard everything.
‘How could this have happened?’ a man boomed.
‘Sir, please don’t raise your voice,’ snivelled Miss Duke, the secretary.
‘I am not raising my voice,’ the man shouted. ‘I just want to know how you let my mother die.’
Another man joined the conversation. Richard recognised him as Mr Stern, the headteacher – stern by name and stern by nature. Griffin caught his eyes and mouthed, ‘There’s gonna be trouble now.’
‘Now, now, Mr Ball,’ Stern said. ‘There’s no gain in verbally assaulting Miss Duke. What happened here yesterday was a travesty of the greatest order-’
A sudden crash from the next room, coupled with a yelp from Miss Duke, gave the children a start.
‘I demand answers!’
‘There’s no need for violence, Harry,’ Stern placated.
‘Violence? I only hit the damned wall. If you want to see violence, by God, I can show you.’
Griffin pulled Richard to one side. While fear was plastered all over the other kids’ faces, Griffin’s eyes were alight with excitement.
‘You’ve got to get in there,’ he whispered. ‘You’ve got to save Miss Duke and laser beam that guy who’s bullying her.’
Richard didn’t relish the thought of wading into a confrontation with a grieving son, but the word Griffin used tugged at his heartstrings: bully. His father has instilled in him a mortal dislike for such people and Richard knew that he could not stand by while someone was suffering at the hands of one.
Richard nodded to Griffin then-
-Mighty Man left the classroom and bounded into the office.
Stern, Miss Duke and Harry Ball all stopped and gaped at him. (Richard noticed the look on Miss Duke’s face as her eyes danced over his rippling chest, and he smiled inwardly.)
Richard was stunned by the size of Harry, a man big enough to carry the world on his shoulders. He seemed too large for the room, and was almost a broad as he was tall. The muscles in his neck were so thick there was little distinction between where his neck ended and his head started. His arms were so big, a normal weightlifter could use them if they found the heaviest bars in the gym were not enough of a challenge.
Large as he was though, Harry was not slow and was the first to react to Mighty Man’s appearance.
‘You look like a freak. I bet you had something to do with Mum’s death.’
He stomped forward and Richard felt the room shake with each step he took.
Then there was another presence in the room. It had the wings of a bat and the probiscis of a mosquito, if said mosquito was of a monstrous size. It flitted quickly through the air, preventing Richard from catching any more detail, and emitted a high-pitched screech.
As Miss Duke ducked behind her desk, Mr Stern looked on with mouth agape. Harry swung a punch at the creature, bellowing his rage and confusion.
Richard focused his eyes on the thing and willed his laser vision to blast it. Nothing happened.
The batsquito dodged Harry’s attack, swooped over his head and dove at the big man’s neck.
Richard tried to rush forward to catch the beast before it struck Harry. He moved only at his regular speed.
The thing landed on Harry. Blood splattered as it tore into his flesh.
‘No more death,’ Richard screamed. He grabbed the thing by its wings and yanked it away from Harry. The hole in his neck was clotted by a lime green substance, probably some vile secretion from the creature’s probiscis.
With fear fuelling his strength, Mighty Man held the beast in his hand and squeezed, pressing on the thing from all sides and crushing it into a fist-sized ball of squirming leather and bile. At the end, just before it popped out of existence, it gave a feeble ‘bleh.’
At break, Richard and Griffin found a quiet corner to talk.
‘What happened?’ Griffin asked. ‘Did you laser him?’
‘No. No, I tried but I couldn’t,’ Richard said. ‘He got bitten by a bat-type thing. I think it infected him or something. Turned him green.’
‘Bat-thing? Well, did you laser that?’
‘So where is the bat-thing now?’ Griffin glanced around, checking to see if it was creeping up on them.
‘It’s gone,’ Richard assured him. ‘I crushed it.’
‘With superstrength?’ Griffin’s voice was full of awe.
‘I guess so.’
Griffin’s forehead creased in confusion. ‘Yesterday you had laser eyes and could run at the speed of light-’
‘Not really the speed of light.’
‘Whatevs. Really fast. And today you have superstrength.’
Watching his expression change as the penny dropped reminded Richard of a sunrise. Into the depths of the night, a sliver of light is cast and, with increasing speed, the darkness pales until day holds reign.
‘I’ve got it,’ Griffin said with a triumphant air. ‘You’re getting new powers every day. This time next week, you’ll be the Avenger’s League all rolled into one.’
Richard wasn’t so sure.
They didn’t have to wait a week. Trouble found them within minutes.
The ambulance had arrived shortly before the morning break and, under able to lift Harry onto a stretcher, the paramedics had been working on him in the office. Now, as the younger children ran and hollered and skipped and the older ones dared each other to ask out a member of the opposite sex, the office wall exploded out in a shower of brick and dust. Mr Stern’s car, always parked closest to the school building, disappeared under a torrent of debris.
Silence descended across the playground as all eyes turned to the devastation.
A paramedic crawled through the hole in wall. She reached out to the supervising teacher, opening her mouth to say something. Before she could speak, she was pulled sharply back by an unseen hand.
‘Better get ready,’ Griffin hissed at Richard.
One large, green foot stepped from the office. The supervising teacher collapsed to the floor in a dead faint.
An equally huge hand lurched out and gripped the outside wall.
Then the head emerged.
Richard recognised Harry’s features in the same way he recognised his own face in his baby pictures. The hint of the person was there but the dimensions were all changed. Harry had started off as a big man; now he was ma-hass-sive. His crewcut was the same salt-and-pepper but his scalp was now a shining green. Horn-like protuberances jutted from his face and neck.
The head turned slowly, emerald eyes glaring at the children.
Harry moved forward then suddenly stopped. With impatience on his face, he jerked forward again and the wall trembled.
‘Hooaaaaaaar,’ he rumbled in a baritone that reverberated Richard’s bones.
‘Reeeeeeeeee,’ he spat as he thrust himself at the opening.
With a final, ‘Berrrllll,’ Harry broke free from the office, scattering more bricks across the playground.
Now that his full nine-foot frame was revealed in all its hideous glory, the children screamed and ran away.
‘You gotta do something,’ Griffin pleaded, but Richard was no longer there.
Stepping forward, Mighty Man approached the knock-off Hulk.
Harry glared at Mighty Man.
‘Hoaaaar! Reeeeee! Berrll!’ His voice was like a hammer blow striking at Richard.
Richard stared at Harry. Laser! he thought. Burn! he tried. Fire!
Nothing worked. No matter what he tried, he couldn’t seem to activate the laser beam vision that had beaten Mrs Ball’s assailant. This was how it had been with the bat-mosquito; Richard figured he would just have to take Harry down using his superstrength. But there has a big size difference between the bat-type creature and the hulk which stood before him now, and Richard wondered if he would be able to defeat Harry as easily.
‘Hoar-ree-berl,’ Harry yelled, pounding the floor with his fists. Concrete chips sputtered in all directions.
Richard rushed at Harry.
Well, he wanted to. Just like in the school office, he actually only loped forward in his usual canter. Bending low, he threw his arms around Harry’s left thigh and pulled, attempting to unbalance Harry and bring him crashing to the floor. He strained and grunted, but could not move Harry an inch.
‘Hor-ri-ble,’ Harry moaned and kicked his leg up.
Richard felt himself lifted from the ground. Unable to keep hold on Harry’s leg, he continued to rise. His stomach folded around itself as he though he were on a rollercoaster. It wasn’t until he looked down and saw the Google maps version of his school that he realised how high Harry had kicked him.
A bird squawked at him as he crossed its flight path. A white-tailed eagle, he noted, all the way from the Isle of Wight. Richard was surprised and pleased with this once-in-a-lifetime encounter, though more surprised that he could feel pleasure while being hurled into the sky.
As his ascent slowed, he knew he was as good as dead. Gravity would claim him and drag him down, conspiring with the ground to flatten him like a pancake. A raspberry filled pancake.
Reaching the apex of his flight, Richard closed his eyes. He hung there for a moment…
…and a moment longer…
…then opened his eyes again.
The ground was not rushing toward him. He was not falling to his squelchy death. He was floating in mid-air, neither rising nor falling.
I can fly, he realised.
Aiming himself at Harry, he rocketed down, colliding with him in a painful tangle of skin and flesh. As Harry tumbled to the ground – crying ‘Hor-ri-ble’ – Richard dropped from him, quickly rolled away and got to his feet.
Harry’s arms and legs thrashed wildly as he floundered on the floor. His weight was preventing him getting up. He resembled an upside-down tortoise, limbs uselessly pushing at the air.
Believing one more strike from high above would finish his opponent, Mighty Man leapt into the air.
And landed a foot away.
He tried again, putting his arms out to cut through the sky, but was on the ground within a second. Richard knew that, to Griffin and the rest of the children, he would look like he was jumping up and down in victory.
But the only victory Richard had was a new insight about his superpowers. The laser vision had been used to banish the tentacled monster; super speed had gotten Griffin home quickly; an immense strength had crushed the bat mosquito; Richard had been saved from death by the power of flight. Mighty Man had lots of powers, Richard instinctively knew, but he could only use each once.
‘Hor-ri-ble,’ Harry said sadly.
Richard approached him warily.
Harry was still flailing his arms about but now with less vigour. A huge, green tear escaped the corner of his eye.
Richard’s heart went out to Harry. He was not necessarily a bad man; he had just been angry in the grief of his mother’s passing.
‘Hor-ri-ble,’ he whined quietly.
‘No,’ Richard said softly, ‘you’re not horrible.’ He gently placed a hand on Harry’s cheek. It was cold to the touch.
‘No,’ Richard repeated. ‘You’re Harry Ball.’
With an empathy beyond his years, Richard wept for Harry.
Their eyes locked together. Harry smiled. As he began to vanish, his mouth moved one last time.
The words were not spoken aloud, but Richard read the sentiment in his eyes: thank you.