Chapter 1: I Always Knew I Was Special
Another Friday afternoon bus ride home from work. Fifteen to twenty minutes spent in the olfactory stew of a cross section of the city’s population. It could be the end of any weekday– bumpy, cold and mostly silent. I could be anybody, except that I’m not– I’m the guy who’s screaming loudly in his mind.
I’m the guy covertly waiting for someone, anyone to wince.
I’m the guy who’s about to change everything.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Everyone goes through that phase in their childhood where they feel that special connection to superheroes. We all cut up strips of fabric and poke holes in it for a mask. We all tie bedsheets to our back for capes.
Everybody does it.
Not me though.
I mean, I did do that, but then I realized something. It’s more than just the outfits. You don’t need an outfit if you’re just Clark Kent. I mean, if you’re content to be that. To be just a photo-journalist. Just Peter Parker. Just a bullied, curly haired, pasty skinned kid. Just Mike Wheatley.
I was still just Mike Wheatley though. Even in the best mask lined with the best glitter and a cape with little printed Millennium Falcons speeding up and down its billowing magnificence. Even if I could make the best ‘swoosh’ and ‘pow’ sound effects on the block. …I was still just me. ‘Little Mikey McWheatthin’ if you caught me before my growth spurt.
No one could fight crime and save the day with an alias like that lurking under their masks. Not without something cool like metalmancy to back it up. I wasn’t content with it. Not with my name or my hair or the fact that I got winded walking a mile. Not with the fact that grandmas still crossed the streets unassisted. Not with the knowledge that somewhere in the city, some other kid was counting my lunch money.
I would need more than the coolest cape, best mask, and above-average mouth noises to prevail over this level of evil.
So the rest of the kids could waste their time playing dress up. Me? I was going to spend my time finding my super power.
I meditated for days in my cave of silence. Thinking. Pondering. Planning. Tapping into the universe and asking for a message of purpose and power.
Mother always wanted me to stop for pedantic things like taking out the trash. Cleaning my room. Eating.
She never quite ‘got it’.
She never understood that there was an off chance I might be ‘Plant Man’…and in such a case would have no need for human food any longer. Just an open window and water.
Maybe I needed my messy room to discover I was Cameleon-Man or Trash-Guy. Did she ever think of that? Think that putting my socks away could have cost the world an amazing master of all things grimy and smelly? (Lucky for her, she’d never have that on her conscience. An experiment years later in college proved that idea a flawed one.)
Then one day as I was roused yet again from my research in the tomes written by the sages of Marvel, DC, and Image…it hit me. I was special… I always had been. It’s what I had intuitively known from that early age. The piece of myself I was missing. A life of being average was my kryptonite. It weakened me. Sapped my strength… And the longer I stayed immersed in it, the longer I would stay frail and helpless. The longer the world would go without the hero it needed.
I was special. Destined for greatness. I just had to devote a little more time and a lot more focus to figure out what my power was and how to access it.
I began work faster than any other fifth grader had ever set down homework before.
My first thought was manipulating fire.
My sweater caught before I did, and for a fleeting minute I thought that maybe my power was instead being fire resistant. (Oh how handy the men in red and yellow would find me! So many delicate damsels with singed faces would look up at me with tears of gratitude!)
My doctor later assured me that I was not.
A month of creams and bandages had me thoroughly convinced.
Next I felt that special tingling for aeronautics. Natural aeronautics. I could fly. I knew it. All walls became my perch. No window ledge was safe!
…I broke nearly every bone in my body save for my skull, spine, and toes.
(Whoever it was that invented steepled roofs should be hanged from one, in my opinion.)
Now, I still have no conclusive evidence that the bones that remained unbroken through that experiment aren’t somehow invincible, but after thinking it over, I hopes that’s not the case.
Designing a super-heroic name for that particular power would be such a headache.
“The Virtuous Vertebrae”?
“The Spectacular Spine”?
Both titles better suited to a chiropractor’s clinic than a prospective member of the Justice League.
Moving forward, I tried to manipulate other elements of course.
Ice manipulation? I got mild hypothermia.
Hydromancy? Pruny skin and a turtle bite. (I marked off animal communication there as well.)
Air bending? Wind burn.
My romp as the Master of all Granular Matter just ended with sand in places you don’t want to hear about and my potential power over static electricity left me with the worst bout of rugburn Southern Detroit had ever seen.
I wasn’t dissuaded though. Each try, each attempt, at least warded off that impending creep of the mundane. It kept the poison that was normalcy staved off for another month or week. It kept my power, whatever it was, fresh and waiting just under the surface.
Over the years, I yelled at mirrors. I stared at spoons. Once, I ate over 6 pounds of spinach in one night… Nothing.
As years marched forward, I found the time I was able to devote to my inevitable discovery more and more limited. Middle school was hard enough as mild mannered Mike, and high school…well the less said about high school the better.
No one wore capes or masks anymore by the time I was moving out and off to college, I’d learned that even the search for superheroism was an endeavor best kept concealed, covered-up, and very, very secret. Late nights and closed labs became my best friends until graduation.
My master plan of diving head first into the ranks of those who knew heroism better than anyone failed on tries 1-55. Argue as much as you like for one company over the other, but it seemed the one thing Marvel, DC, and Independent comics had in common was an absolute lack of interest in hiring me. (Apparently, there is such a thing as too much enthusiasm).
It was probably for the best though. I mean, how obvious would it be to have a hero writing his own stories? Too much of an inside edge. My nemesis would catch onto me, and that, undoubtedly would put my beloved girlfriend in danger. …Eventually. Once I got a nemesis.
…And a girlfriend.
Still other than ‘protector of the planet’ (or at least the state), nothing else interested me. I didn’t much care what I did, I just needed money for food and rent and time to spend doing what I actually gave a damn about.
As luck would have it, it seemed that’s exactly the attitude needed to obtain a desk job in over-the-phone customer service. It was as unobtrusive and seemingly unimportant a title as a secret identity could have gotten.
Fate works in mysterious ways.
After my job at customer service had me psychiatrically tested (I still don’t see what the big deal was. Taking 20 seconds out of a phone call to try remote viewing the person on the other end’s house is not a significant cost timewise, is it? What’s the last thing you did with 20 seconds?), I had to become a little more…introverted with my endeavors.
No more outlandish holidays to remote locations looking for power-charged treasures. No more weekend trips to the space museum to lay hands on the moon rocks.
Even with these cut backs, I still have to check in with Dr. Vorgeois weekly. It’s very difficult to convince a licensed therapist that you were kidding about wanting to be a super hero when he has a file with your complete medical history in it.
I can already feel the ‘normal’ seeping into my skin. Draining my power. Even now as I jiggle in the bus seat over yet another speedbump. I have to lay low until all this blows over.
You see, I’ve figured it out– ‘normalcy’ is my kryptonite. I have to avoid that trap, that complacency, at all costs.
I also have to avoid diagnoses that might land me in a padded room though, which makes my situation a precarious one and brings us right back to where we began.
Last week I felt my mind touch something…someone. Only for a moment along my bus route, but it was there as warm and real and awkward as accidently making hand to hand contact on the subway.
I’m still not sure if I’m telepathic, or if I happened to mentally bump into one, but it’s the best lead I’ve had.
I’ve been riding the bus a lot lately, screaming at the top of my brain and looking around for a response. Covertly eying the other passengers with the most subtlety I can manage. Sometimes I get caught. Sometimes I get a dirty look or someone scootches farther from me.
I know it’s worth it though…or at least I thought I did right up until Friday.
Friday when I closed my eyes and yelled a mental “Hello?!” to the telepath I knew was somewhere in this city.
Friday when a dozen or more voices screamed back in terror and my body went airborne before my eyes even had a chance to open.