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Average Man!

November 10, 2013

Some people might forget but I have a big love of superheroes, and superpowers in general.  I’ve tried learning to draw and it just doesn’t really work, my hands are the hands of a troll and refuse to create beautiful things.  So, many times I’ve written out these sorts of ideas.
“Average Man!” is one of these ideas, basically coming out of the question ‘what would it really be like to live in a world with superpowered people?’  The problem I’ve run into is that some short story markets simply refuse to publish stuff involving superheroes, and out of the superhero short stories I’ve written over the past year this one admittedly has a long beginning that seems to turn people off. 

It’s worth it though, I promise.

 

A light drizzle began to fall down from the cluster of gray clouds that hung above the steel canyons of Manhattan. Almost as one, people began to pick up their pace, their strides lengthening and the clicks of their polished shoes on the sidewalk becoming a rapid staccato. Collars were popped, umbrellas were opened, and free newspapers were sacrificed.

As was always the case in the City, people were on the move.

All except one man, who stood huddled beneath the overhanging canopy of a corner convenience store. Hands stuffed into his light coat, Michael Ginsberg was very much regretting that he hadn’t taken his umbrella with him when he left the apartment that morning. As his right hand grasped the small box in his pocket, he reminded himself that, in all fairness, he had had a lot on his mind.

Still, as the clouds became darker, and a soft peal of thunder rolled up Second Avenue, Michael started to really wish he had remembered his umbrella. A look at the weather report on his smart phone only confirmed what his eyes were telling him, that the storm was going to hang over the city for most of the evening. It wasn’t as if the city couldn’t use the rain, he just didn’t want to be a sopping wet mess on tonight of all nights.

Another horde of people began to surface from the subway station, instantly shifting from a bright and diverse horde of humanity to a near faceless mob of navy blue and black umbrellas. Michael watched them as they expanded out of the broad cement stairwell. Water plunked against the taught fabric of their umbrellas, catching the soft light from the white and green lamps that stood above the wrought iron of the subway station’s entrance.

His face immediately broke into a smile as a beautiful woman began to walk by him. She was dressed in a fashionably cut tan trench coat buttoned up to her throat, and holding a dark black umbrella above her head. Even with her dark hair flowing past her shoulders and a shimmering pair of pink lips, she was just another face in the crowd. One of the dozens of women that had passed him by.

Except for the shoes.

They were a pair of platform pumps, with a slight peep toe. A zebra print of green and purple made them burst like a rainbow against the suddenly dreary blue and gray street.

Even when dressed conservatively, she liked to be heard.

“Grace!”

The young woman stopped in mid-stride when she heard Michael’s voice. She turned slowly and immediately frowned when she saw him. Walking beneath the dripping canopy, Grace lowered her umbrella and shook her head in disappointment. “Baby,” she lifted one of her soft pale hands to his clean shaven jaw, “I told you it was going to rain this morning.” Even in heels she had to turn her head up slightly to kiss him.

Michael returned the kiss, before chuckling slightly, “Sorry, I know you told me, I just… I had a lot on my mind this morning.”

Her hand rested on the nape of his neck and she ever so carefully massaged his tight muscles. “Work’s been pretty crazy these past couple of weeks, huh?”

“Yeah… work.”

Grace rolled her eyes while her fingers danced down his shoulder and arm before finding their partners in his hand. “Well, lucky for you, I thought to take the big umbrella today.”

They stepped out from beneath the rain-free canopy and out onto the street, joining the quick moving stream of other drab umbrellas. As they walked a cold wind blew up Second Avenue, forcing the pair to huddle just a little closer for warmth.

“Where are we going again?” Her eyes slowly trailed up to Michael’s face.

His own eyes were paying attention to the building numbers as they walked, trying to calculate exactly how far they’d have to go through the rain not only to get to the restaurant but also after dinner on their way home. “Oh, it’s this… little place Matt and Julie told me about,” Michael gestured vaguely ahead of them, “They said it was really good.”

“Matt says a place is good as long as they’re willing to put a fried egg on a burger.”

Michael sighed, “Yeah, but Julie’s not like that. If she says a place is nice….”

“Then she means it’s expensive.” Grace tugged Michael to a halt and looked up at him, “Honey, I don’t want to go to some place just because they’re going to upsell us every chance they get. You know that, right?” Her hand once more ran up his arm, gently rubbing it before giving him a squeeze.

Michael kissed her once more, “Yes, Grace. I know that you’re just as happy if we stay in and order Thai food from the down the block but I… I wanted to take you some place nice, ok?”

She laughed, “Alright, I just…”

“What?” Michael asked, trying to study her face for some sign that she knew what he was doing. He swore to God in his head that if anyone had let slip his plans for the night, he would hunt them down.

“Just… nothing.” Grace smiled, and looped her arm into his before she began to walk once more.

Michael nodded while his hand slipped into his coat pocket and gripped the small box. With practiced stealth, he carefully removed the box from his coat pocket and into the front pocket of his slacks. All he had to do now was hope that it wasn’t making an obvious bulge. He didn’t want to ruin anything for the night, or worse get into some dumb sitcom-like scenario because of the bulge in his pants.

Reaching the restaurant found them racing across the empty avenue as the rain picked up in intensity. Despite it being technically rush hour, the stop lights had conspired to keep the horde of taxis and cars two blocks north.

As they slipped inside of the intimate and dimly lit restaurant, Grace softly suggested, “Maybe we should just walk down to 14th street after dinner. The rain might let up by then.”

Even though Michael knew it wouldn’t, he only said, “That sounds like a great idea.”

Within a few minutes they were seated at a window side table, with a full view of the street. As they looked over the menu, and waited on their drinks, there would still be the occasional burst of people on the sidewalks as they were expelled to street level from nearby subway stations. After they ordered, Michael couldn’t help but admire his girlfriend as her deep brown eyes jumped from person to person passing by.

The gentle curve of her jawline rested against her delicate fingers, causing her cheeks to plump up ever so slightly. Beside her pink lips, the only other makeup she wore was a pale green eye shadow that complimented the simple green dress she had worn to work that day. After a moment of Michael watching she suddenly became intensely aware of herself, and shuddered slightly.

“Sorry, I was just…”

“Honey, it’s fine,” Michael replied with a soft grin and a light laugh, “Long day at work?”

“A little bit, ultimately just… kind of boring. What about you?”

“I’m, uh, I’m lucky I got away.”

“You don’t have to go back tonight, do you?”

“No, it’s not that bad.”

She pouted, “When is this big crunch going to be over?”

“Soon, I think. Maybe even in the next couple of days.”

“That’s good.”

“Yeah, but you know how it goes. One project will get wrapped up and they’ll have us rushing to finish something else in a few weeks.”

She frowned, her soft hand reaching across the white table cloth and gripping his fingers in hers. “But you like it, right?”

“Of course, I wouldn’t want to work anywhere else.”

“Good.”

Their hands broke apart as the waiter brought over their appetizers. A small bowl of soup was set down in front of Michael, and he couldn’t help but breathe in its scent while steam began to billow into his face. Across the table, Grace had a small plate with several pieces of toast, an arrangement of pickles, and a small cup on it. The cup had a shiny film across the top of it that made Michael cringe a little.

Yet, Grace’s knife immediately dug through the film and pulled a cold chunk of brownish mush from it. The mixture reminded Michael of the cheap tuna salad they would serve in his high school cafeteria, the kind of stuff that you would serve with an ice cream scoop. Her knife smashed it down into a piece of toast before spreading it ever so slightly and biting into it. She smiled while sitting back in her seat.

Michael had long ago become accustomed to Grace’s love for foods he didn’t really get. He also knew that as much as she did enjoy staying at home and ordering food online, she much preferred things she could get in classy restaurants.

“I know it’s mostly fat,” Grace said as she began to dig into the cold meat spread once again, “But I love this stuff.”

Michael shook his head and carefully brought a soup-laden spoon to his lips, “I know you do.”

“You should try it,” she teased holding the remainder of her toast point toward him, “Come on, it’s rabbit. How often do you get to have rabbit? Let alone rabbit rilette?”

“I don’t know, this soup is pretty good.”

She snorted and popped the rest of the rilette covered toast into her mouth, “I’m sure it is.”

“I’m sorry I don’t have a love of weird spreads like you do.”

“Tapenade and rilette are not weird.”

“I didn’t even know those were words until I met you.”

“Oh, come on.”

“I still couldn’t spell them if my life depended on it.”

Grace merely laughed, and Michael smiled. He loved it when she laughed, and he loved it even more when he was responsible for it. There was something musical to it but always, as if on cue…

She snorted at the end, and would always instantly cover her mouth and nose while her cheeks flushed in embarrassment. As Michael’s grin grew wider, Grace narrowed her eyes at him, “Shut up.”

“I didn’t say anything.”

“And you won’t.”

“I would never say anything.”

“You better not.” She slowly brought her hand away from her face, though her cheeks were still very red.

“Wouldn’t dream of it, Grace.”

She leaned in across the table, “I bet you dream of it all the time.”

He leaned over and briefly pecked her on the lips, “Never.”

Grace smiled as she leaned back into her seat.

“Grace…” Michael said softly, trying to force his voice to gain confidence and volume as his shaking hand dipped toward his pants pocket. “I, uh… I, uhm…” He laughed awkwardly and pulled at his too tight shirt collar. Why had he even worn a tie today? “I, I really thought I was going to wait till uhm, till dessert to do this, uh… it… it just seemed more of what you do, right?”

“Oh my God,” Grace’s voice was barely above a whisper, her deep brown eyes locked on his traveling hand.

“But I really don’t think I can get through the rest of this without, uhm, wow… this is not how I imagined it going in my mind,” Michael shook his head, trying to collect his suddenly unfocused thoughts as he lifted the small jewelry box onto the table. Grace’s eyes went wide at the sight of the small black box and its thin gold trim. “Uhm, I was… I wanted to ask you…uh, wait… I think, hold on, I should be on one knee…” Michael slowly began to rise and push back his chair from the table.

The whole world came to a crashing halt at that exact moment.

For a brief second, Michael had thought his heart had stopped. That he had achieved an amazingly perfect moment. This was what doing something that you would remember for the rest of your life felt like.

In reality, it was his body reacting to the intensity of the situation around him.

Glass burst through the air as a fiery body crashed through the nearly wall-sized window they were seated next to. Their table and appetizers were instantly obliterated into thousands of pebble sized shards as the body blew through it. At first the whole thing seemed limp, merely digging into the hardwood floor of the restaurant as it slowly divested itself of its momentum. Yet, it quickly became apparent that the body was coming to a standing position as it slowed, purposefully digging its heels down into the ground as it destroyed a half dozen tables.

Michael was thrown away from the table as it exploded, as was Grace. He slowly staggered to his feet, gazing across the small area of the now darkened restaurant for what he hoped to call his fiance by the end of his next sentence. He caught sight of her, laying unconscious on the floor with blood trickling down from her forehead. She was covered in dust, and glass chunks, and her dress was coated in his soup.

Struggling to a standing position, Michael was forced to throw himself to the ground once more as a literal ball of fire came soaring toward his face. Looking up through the fingers that Michael quickly realized would offer little protection from a flying orb of fire, he saw that the flaming body was no longer actually a flaming body.

It was Captain Prism, one of several superheroes based out of New York City. Michael had no idea if Captain Prism had ever served in the military or owned a boat, but Superheroes just had names like that. For some reason though, Michael had always imagined that Captain Prism was taller.

He was still a very impressive man. After all, he was standing straight after being literally thrown through a window while on fire. As he stood there in a tight fitting jumpsuit of white and blue though, Michael had to guess that he was maybe 5’9” at most. That was at least two inches shorter than Michael.

The man was glowing his signature white light, suddenly dazzling the restaurant patrons who had been dining by the light of a few dim wall sconces and table candles. The white light flared into a literal rainbow as several more fireballs burst down from the sky. Captain Prism remained unharmed, however the fireballs careened away from him, crashing and exploding against the exposed brick of the once-charming bistro.

Captain Prism marched forward, and Michael turned his head to see someone descending through the raining skies. A sneering bearded man in flowing robes of black and a shade of green that reminded Michael of toxic waste on Saturday Morning Cartoons flew through the skies by invisible means of propulsion. He lifted one of his ring-encrusted fists, a large ruby on his right middle finger glowing a sinister scarlet, “Say your prayers, Prism!” Another blast of fire seared across the sky, trailing steam around it.

Prism smacked it away with another beautiful sweep of his arm, shouting something in response.

Michael couldn’t pay attention, his ears suddenly ringing as the ball of heat exploded behind him. He suddenly felt like he was standing in the center of the street on a hot summer’s day. He turned around to see the posh wood bar was now aflame, the occasional bottle bursting into shrapnel from the sheer intensity of the heat. Looking across the restaurant, he saw that Grace was still lying unconscious on the floor.

Lifting himself to his arms and legs, Michael began to crawl across the floor, doing his best to remain unnoticed. Other restaurant patrons were taking similar precautions. A few line cooks and dishwashers were ushering people into the back kitchen, and presumably out a side door. However, like everyone else, they didn’t want to venture to close to the gaping hole in the wall, lest they be spotted by the deranged villain surfing on the air currents above them.

Another fireball came streaking toward him, and Michael rolled away. As he completed the roll, he rose to his feet and cursed under his breath. “Screw this, I’m coming Grace!” He shouted as he started to run across the restaurant.

He could suddenly feel the heat of another fireball racing toward him, growing stronger in the fractions of a second it took him to lift his foot off the ground and have it touch down again.

Michael suddenly felt like he was hit by a professional linebacker as his whole body seemed to go one way while his head snapped back in the opposite direction. As he was suddenly hurtling through space at breakneck speed, his fingers clamped down on the ring box that he barely remembered still having in his own hand. “Grace!” He screamed as she, and the entire restaurant became a blur.

Everything then screeched to a halt as he was suddenly standing on his own nervous legs once more. Michael turned to find that his savior was a lithe man wearing a tight suit of burnt orange with dark black piping. He had just been saved by the Streak.

“Woahtherebuddy,” the famed super speedster’s words ran together before suddenly taking on an astounding deliberateness, “Are you ok?”

“Grace!” He suddenly shouted, staring back at the restaurant which was roughly half a block away. The robed man was still throwing fireball after fireball at both Captain Prism and the restaurant behind him. The whole building looked like a giant had scooped out a chunk of it, and even now he could hear the straining of metal. Michael started to run forward, knowing his girlfriend was still there, unconscious and bleeding.

Instantly the Streak stood in front of him, grabbing onto his shoulders with both hands, “Hold on there, man. That place is about to collapse.”

“Then I need to help, Grace!”

“No, you’ll be killed. If not by the building, then by this Crowley wannabe.” The Streak applied a bit more pressure to Michael’s shoulders.

“Then go save her!”

“I will but you need to calm down.”

Suddenly the building groaned once more, and Michael’s eyes widened as the whole second and third floors came crashing down into what had seemed like the perfect spot for a marriage proposal less than a half hour ago. “GRACE!” He screamed, and shoved all of his weight against the superhero.

“Buddy, you have to calm down.”

“No!” He shouted, spit flying from his mouth as tears streamed down his face, “You were supposed to save her!”

“She might be fine, just trapped, calm down right now.”

Michael slammed his knee directly into The Streak’s crotch. The superhero let out a pained shout as he crumpled onto his knees. Michael didn’t wait for him to connect to the ground before he started running. He huffed and puffed as store fronts raced by him. Dust and rain stung into his eyes as he raced for the mass of rubble that now occupied the space he had been sitting in just moments before hand.

He practically threw himself on the rubble pile, grabbing at chunks the instant he could pry his fingers against them. Michael’s hands began to sting as he yanked at superheated chunks of steel, copper, and brick. He didn’t care though, even as he began to feel blood trickling down his palms.

Another gout of flame erupted just a few feet from him.

Michael leaped away from it. Falling onto his back, Michael was forced to gaze at the battle above him.

Captain Prism was hovering on a cloud of red, yellow and orange, his arms throwing bolts of indigo and violet toward the ring-wielding robed man. The older villain’s hands were glowing several different shades, each color one of the different stones embedded in his rings. He was protected by a globe of dark green light, his eyes glowed a brilliant bright blue, and as he blurred through the rain-filled sky he left a series of violet after-images in his wake. Fireballs seemed to be constantly racing from his right middle finger.

The superhero’s head snapped to Michael on the ground, before his rich tenor cut above the din of the storm, “Streak! You were on crowd control!”

The burnt orange figure seemed to wink into existence before Michael’s very eyes, “He kicked me in the balls, Prism!”

A slim feminine figure suddenly squeezed through the rubble. She was cloaked in a hooded cape of dark navy, with a rich purple trim. Underneath, Michael could see a tight suit of purple-dyed leather.

“Ghost!” Prism called down, “Is anyone alive down there?”

“It’s hard to tell, I think so.”

That was more than Michael needed to hear as his hands once more dug into the rubble, trying to reach his unconscious beloved. High above him, a cackling voice made some pithy comment about the three superheroes present. He pushed it from his mind, grabbing at a particularly large chunk and tugging it away. His fingers were quickly becoming raw, but Michael pressed on, yanking at another heavy chunk of brick.

Once again, the Streak winked into existence, resting on the top of the pile a few feet above Michael. “Look, man, I get it, your lady is under there but right now it’ll be better if you just let me take you away from here, and let us and the emergency crews do their jobs.”

Michael shook his head, enraged by the superhero’s words. He didn’t say anything as he continued to dig into the rubble with his bleeding hands.

Another fireball flared above him, where the Streak had been standing just a moment before hand. “You’re just a target sitting here, dude. Don’t you see that?”

He grabbed at Michael’s shoulder, but Michael shrugged him off before shouting back, “If you’re not going to help me, then shut the hell up!” He dug into the rubble with renewed fervor, slowly starting to create a hole into the thick pile.

High above them, a punch cracked with the sound of thunder as another local hero arrived on the scene. Michael looked up for a moment to see the new hero, decked out in blue and gold, hammer blow after blow upon the bubble of emerald light. For a moment, the bearded villain gripped his left hand, and the emerald orb glowed even stronger. The bubble suddenly expanded with great force, sending the new hero flying into a nearby apartment building.

Ghost, her navy blue cloak swirling in the air around her, suddenly appeared behind the flying villain. Her body easily passed through his force field and her hands dove into his chest. The man screamed in pain, before his whole body glowed bright pink, suddenly ejecting the heroine away from him.

“Excuse me, one moment,” The Streak said before rushing away in a cloud of dust. Michael’s head naturally turned to see the burnt orange blurred after-image that lent the man his name run up a building before rushing directly through the sky. A sonic boom burst across the street, forcing Michael against the rubble, and causing several windows around the battle to shatter. The Streak hurled himself bodily into the villain’s force field at Mach one.

The green orb shattered, and the villain shrieked in what sounded to Michael like pain.

The hero in the blue and gold tights rushed toward the villain while Captain Prism began to glow bright white once more. Ghost swooped in, catching a falling and barely conscious Streak before he crashed into the asphalt below.

Michael turned his attention back to his tunnel, digging down deeper and deeper. Even then he could hear the sirens of emergency vehicles rushing to the scene. Blue and red lights began to cover the gray buildings as they surged on Eighteenth and Second from every direction.

Dogs started to race by him, sniffing at the concrete as they went. Firefighters began to pry away at heavier pieces of debris, and paramedics were already rushing people to hospitals. A few people were even raced to doctors on foot. While all of this happened around him, Michael dug down deeper and deeper until he found her.

He yanked away the last rock, unveiling her dust covered but still beautiful face. Emergency workers raced forward, having cleared away a much wider path than he had. He pulled her away from the rubble that covered her, tears blurring his vision. As he tugged her into his lap, he fumbled for the ring case he had held on to for the past hour. Michael wanted to make some joke at that moment, something about the restaurant having really bad service or how he had decided to wait till after dessert after all.

Instead though, he pried at the gold seam with his dirt and blood encrusted fingers finally unveiling the ring. In comparison to the stones that villain had sported, Michael suddenly found his diamond lacking. Still, he slid it onto Grace’s left hand all the same.

Michael could feel the lack of warmth in her fingers but he slid it on. It wasn’t the type of question you really asked a woman if you weren’t certain of the answer. “I know you probably wanted a… uh, fancier cut,” he choked out, as he held onto her hands, “But, I… well, I figured a classic Old European was the best way to go.”

He didn’t know how long he held onto her hand.

All he knew was that it felt warm when the paramedics finally stepped forward and put a hand on his shoulder. They didn’t say much, and neither did he. He just sat there on his knees, his hands bloody and raw, while they took Grace away. He could faintly hear the zipper right before they loaded her into the ambulance that would take her away.

Michael wasn’t sure how he ended up on the curb, but someone had explained something about identification of the remains to him. He was holding on to some card they had given him that had a bunch of numbers and addresses written on it. Michael stared down at the card, trying to make sense of the mysterious symbols written on it, and what they had to do with Grace but he just… couldn’t.

A man in a burnt orange suit sat down next to him, and wrapped a muscular arm around his shoulders. “I’m sorry, man, I should have… “

“No, it’s uh…” Michael shook his head, “She was… it…” Michael tried to make words come out of his mouth, but all the escaped from his throat was air.

“Well, I’m sorry, anyway. It shouldn’t happen like this.”

“No, it shouldn’t.”

“Do you have someone you want us to call, or somewhere you want us to take you? We can put you up in a hotel for the night if you don’t want to go home.”

“No, I…” Michael shook his head, wiping his hands against his eyes, trying to gather his unfocused thoughts. “I, uh… I really should get home. There’s so many people I need to call.”

“Alright, man,” The Streak said, squeezing his shoulders once more, “Just don’t be alone right now.”

“Right,” he nodded, “… right.”

Slowly, Michael stood up, the superhero’s friendly arm falling off of his shoulders like the rain.

As he walked down Second Avenue to the 14th Street subway station, Michael could feel the drizzle slowly come to a stop.

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