superhero short story – rough draft

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Here is the first draft of a short story I’ve been working on. I’d love any comments, especially because I can’t decide how to end it. The assignment is a story about a superhero, and the behind-the-scenes issues she deals with.

*******

My typical day begins at 7 a.m., and if I’m lucky I’ve gotten a couple hours sleep. I smoke my first bowl as the coffee brews, and again, if I’m lucky, I won’t hear any voices until I’m safely at work on time. The best I can do for my sanity is stay as high as humanly possible, which is why my paycheck is for data entry from a temp agency – I don’t get drug tested and I don’t work anywhere long enough to get to know anyone. I don’t have time for happy hour drinks with coworkers, or birthday parties, or baby showers; and if I show up to a two week assignment late or looking as miserable as I usually feel, no one bothers to report it as long as I get my work done, and I move on to the next job. I wish I didn’t have to work menial jobs, but no one pays me to do good deeds; in the least, I’m grateful no one arrests me for how the good deeds get done.

I would give anything to stop the voices in my head. They come at me from every direction, insisting upon my attention, intruding upon the pathetic remains of whatever life I wanted for myself. The voices cannot be ignored –that I’ve learned from experience. The moment I sense the terror I instinctively know the source, and choosing to let it go only ends in a self-hatred worse than tracking it down – knowing that I alone can help, but do nothing – is a shame I cannot bear. Sometimes I wish I was never born. Usually I wish I was never born.

***

I’ll never forget the first time I heard the voices. They coincided with puberty, although I didn’t make that connection until I was much older. I’d started out as one of those children parents brag about when confronted with children of rival parents: “She’s in the first percentile in height and weight, and not an extra ounce of fat on her!” And later, “She’s taken her first steps, and only six months old!” But disregarding physical attributes, that was where the bragging ended. Other kids began talking and learning to write, and my competitive parents could only counter these milestones with my ability to swim an entire length of a pool underwater and perform a flip in gymnastics, or fly six feet into the air off a swing set unscathed. Great feats for a toddler, but when it comes down to it, a parent’s first wish is for a genius child. Plenty of tough, dumb kids out there already.

I’m not saying I’m dumb, though, I just took a little longer than most in that category. I don’t know what percentile my brains would have been in because my parents only recorded the positive aspects of my development. But I can’t blame them for that.

So understanding the voices took a while. I remember standing on the shore of the lake with my grade school friends, mostly boys with whom I could climb trees or jump off big rocks. I was a typical tomboy, the only difference between them and myself was I had recently started bleeding from a place I previously had no idea existed. Another girl was with us, but unlike me, being in the first percentile of anything physical, she wasn’t burdened with the early onset of womanhood. I was poised to skip a stone across the water – I held the record for most skips – when the first voice took over my mind, freezing me in place. It was terrifying. It wasn’t so much a voice as an impression, but I’ve never found any other way to describe it, given that I wasn’t recorded in any percentile for my mental faculties.

She was whimpering.

Scared.

Cringing in expectation of pain.

None of which were feelings I had experience with on any personal level, then or now, and I was frightened.

“C’mon, ya big sissy, throw!” Jeffery had just made a three-skip toss, and the group took my hesitation as deference to the better competitor. Pathetic, really, only three skips, but how could they know what was going on in my head?

I dropped the flat stone into the shallows and walked along the shore toward the voice. I had no idea how I knew which way to walk, it was simply a compulsion I couldn’t control. I heard the boys laughing and yelling behind me in triumph.

I climbed up a pile of rocks and past a clump of bushes– I can still see it in my head as if it happened only this morning – and saw a woman and a man. She had long, dark hair and was wearing a red bikini, presumably at the lake to sunbathe with her boyfriend. At that moment, though, she was cowering in terror on her blanket. He was big, much bigger than me, even with my first-percentile size at that age, standing over her menacingly.

I was close enough to see him gesticulating angrily, could hear he was shouting at her, but not quite close enough to make out his words. I could see a half-dozen beer bottles littered on the shore near the blanket.

She was the voice. She was inside my head. I knew it for certain the moment I laid eyes on the scene, but I had no idea how or why it was happening.

He was going to hit her. I still don’t understand how I knew this as well, but she believed it, so I did, too.

I walked forward, slowly closing the distance between us. I didn’t want to, but I had no control over my legs. I had never seen anything bigger than the occasional school yard scuffle – boys rolling on the pavement punching, or girls pulling hair and kicking, all for the juvenile slights of childhood – and my parents rarely had angry words within my hearing; I had no idea what could make her so afraid.

I didn’t know why he wanted to hit her, or why she sat there waiting for it to happen. I would have never let a stupid boy hit me. But my body kept moving in their direction, and my eyes were glued on him, and I started to cry. Her emotions were taking over my head and I began to feel like he wanted to hit me, too. I kept walking.

She noticed me as I approached, about 15 yards away, and he followed her gaze; the three of us frozen in an unbearable triangle of silence. I felt his eyes on me, an awkward girl in cut-off shorts and a t-shirt, barefoot and sobbing.

I remember him smiling at me.

Not at me, maybe, but toward me. Or because he felt he had a power over women, all women, myself included. That’s what it looked like, although I don’t get the voices very often from men, and definitely not when they’re in charge.

He was daring me to come closer, or wanting me to run away and forget what I saw. I’ll never know which, although I’ve since learned to tell the difference.

I felt my tears mingling with the snot from my nose and wiped them away with the back of my hand. I went from scared to angry in a split second, and recommenced walking with a determination to destroy him.

***

I look back on this memory with mixed feelings. As a Protector, it was my first job, my first calling, and as wholly unprepared as I was, I completed the task. I stood my ground and he didn’t hit her, although I can’t say he didn’t do it later when they were out of range of my unasked-for sense. I was proud I had helped someone. But as a young girl, the experience was traumatizing – feeling another person’s complete helplessness was an emotion that scarred me at that age and left me depressed, regardless of what my parents tried to do to cheer me up. They finally attributed my moodiness to “becoming a woman,” which, when I think about it, began the shift from an otherwise happy childhood.

***

Over the years my sense has expanded, both in distance and sensitivity. And my ability to lie to people increased in proportion to it. My parents couldn’t know what I had to do, sneaking out of the house at 1 a.m. when a voice woke me up, or they would have locked my windows and bedroom door. A young girl doesn’t have any business roaming the streets at night seeking out danger. I had rigged a crude rope ladder long enough to reach the ground from my second floor room, attached to the legs of a massive chest of drawers. It was simple enough to shimmy down the rope and jog in the voice’s direction until it was located.

It seemed so easy then, as compared to now.

I developed a little-girl-lost persona to help those women. I wasn’t a genius, but I thought it was pretty damn clever. I’d come close to the house and the unmistakable sounds of shouting would made it clear where my help was needed. I’d ring the doorbell, or knock as loudly as I could, until the yelling stopped and the door opened a crack. An eye would peek out, usually a man’s.

“What do you want?”

And this is why my plan was so clever. No one expects a visitor during a domestic incident; the neighbors are usually too afraid to become involved. And, even better, no one expects that visitor to be a young, frightened, crying girl. I’ve since learned to control my crying, mostly because I’m so high, but back then I hadn’t figured that part out. I’d stand on the porch sobbing, greenish goo running around my mouth and down my chin from my nose, and I wouldn’t say a word until he asked again. It was a very disarming sight.

“Well, what do you want?”

“I’m so lost!”

I would let the tears take over for a minute and pretend I couldn’t get a breath, trying to speak but wheezing and coughing instead.I had it down perfect. The sight of a hysterical, lost child was usually enough to bring out any evolutionary familial instincts, whether he had children or not. The fight would dissolve as the couple redirected their energy toward helping a missing child in the middle of the night. I would take my time, forgetting where I lived, how I got lost; sometimes my parents were dead and I had just moved to town to live with an aunt, sometimes I was on vacation with my parents and didn’t know which hotel I had wandered away from, crying the entire time. Half an hour and it was done. My memory would suddenly come back, and she would drive me to a fictitious house and I would walk back home and climb in my window. I’d lie in bed squirming with adrenaline, and hope for an hour of sleep before school. But I had the satisfaction of knowing I had helped.

Sometimes, though, a lost girl wasn’t enough if too much alcohol was involved. At those times I resorted to pounding on a neighbor’s door to wake them up and call the police. I had to stick around, hiding in the bushes to watch the outcome, just to be certain my job was done; I never let the cops see me, though, and stuck to the shadows as I made my way back to my bedroom.

***

My parents noticed my increasing depression – I wasn’t able to process the emotions I was dealing with – and that I no longer spent time with my friends. I didn’t get many calls during the first years while my sense was developing, but the few I did wore me out, physically and emotionally. Withdrawn and silent, I could only sleep in small bursts after school while pretending to study; eventually, my parents got letters and calls from my school telling them I was not participating or turning in homework, and I was skipping swim practice to nap in the quiet locker room.

I refused to talk to them about my secret life and ended up in mandatory sessions with the school psychologist twice a week. I had to make a decision – come clean about my activities, or find a better way to hide them. I chose to hide by letting my parents think they got the upper hand in my life. I let them put me on anti-depressants, and in return, I asked to be enrolled in a Kung Fu class instead of my normal after-school sports. I was less than a year away from starting high school, and the little girl act wouldn’t last much longer. My parents were overjoyed that I wanted to participate in an activity again, although I think they were saddened with the loss of their dreams of a star-athlete child.

I was also sent to remedial classes. It was my first lesson in swallowing my pride; I was always so tired I couldn’t concentrate on my school work, but there were more important things to do besides study, so I put up with the teasing and managed to make it to high school.

***

Anticipating a voice makes it hard to fall asleep, so at first I was grateful when the anti-depressants allowed me to get a full night’s rest. The drugs made me mellow and sleepy, and when they kicked in at full strength I missed my first call. I was awoken at 2 a.m. – normally I expect a voice anywhere between 10 p.m. until then if it’s going to happen – and I couldn’t get out of bed. I could barely move. My arms and legs felt as if they were filled with concrete, and my head was swimming as if I lost my equilibrium. A voice jolts me awake with my sensitivity to the emotion, and normally I can jump up and be out my window within a minute or two. That night, though, when I tried to jump out of bed I only managed to fall onto the floor, smacking my forehead on the nightstand and seeing millions of tiny stars floating behind my eyes.

I continued to hear her silent fears, I felt her being punched and kicked. I cried out in pain with her as I laid there, certain that my face was swelling up as agonizingly as hers was. I couldn’t move.

My parents were awakened with my screams, and rushed to my room to find me tangled in a blanket, thrashing on the floor, tears squeezing out from tightly closed eyes.

“Please, no more! I’m sorry! I won’t do it again!”

My father picked me up and they pinned me to my bed – they thought I was having a seizure. The voice became a continual weeping moan; the violence had ended, yet the pain remained acute. I cried for another hour at the horror I had witnessed.

The anti-depressants stopped the next day when I managed to convince my parents the drugs were the cause of my fit. I needed something, though, so I could stop reliving those nights.

***

I learned to drink in high school. I was scouting out new places to skip class for a nap when I stumbled upon a group of kids hiding behind a maintenance shed. They were passing a bottle between them, taking small sips, and quickly hid it when they saw me watching.

“What’re you looking at?” They stared at me coldly, but didn’t tell me to go away.

I didn’t have any friends in high school, having become “too weird” for the kids I grew up with, and the few I was friendly with at martial arts classes didn’t go to the same school.

“Can I try?” I asked, although I wasn’t even sure what they were doing. They had looked happy as I spied on them, and I wanted desperately to be happy, too.

After a few moments of whispered conversation between them – probably deciding that I was a loser and wouldn’t tattle so why not? – the bottle was held out to me. I joined their secret circle and took a sip.

It felt like I was drinking liquid fire. My throat burned when I swallowed and the taste was awful. Tears welled up in my eyes as I tried not to cough. The kids’ cold stares turned into mischievous grins as they watched my reaction to their liquor.

“Take another sip. Do you like it?”

I swallowed again, a big mouthful the second time, and soon after I enjoyed the warmth spreading through my chest and down my arms. The feeling was pleasant, and safe.

That was exactly how I wanted to feel: pleasant and safe.

Only one of those kids became my friend for a short time. Neither of us were interested in taking a few sips once or twice a week, so Nathan and I began meeting after my Kung Fu class every night. He was a senior, with older brothers in college and a borrowed fake ID. He provided the alcohol; I gave him the money I earned from chores and what I could take unnoticed from my mother’s purse.

I lost my virginity to Nathan.

By then, my parents had given up the fight to make me into a normal child. I was sullen and a loner, and as long as I kept up with school work and my one after-school activity, they left me alone. They didn’t notice when I started drinking daily, as long as I made an effort to mask my breath and didn’t drink to excess.

I hadn’t gotten a call for close to a month after I started drinking, which was unusual. The daily agony of my emotions had eased up, or I drank them away, and I got careless.

My parents were at a dinner party and I had invited Nathan over. In the safety of the house we finished an entire bottle of vodka and I went well past the usual point of tipsy. I was fall-down drunk when I heard her voice.

The pain of the call wasn’t bad, though, because of the vodka. I knew I had to go, and I felt like I could handle anything, as long as I could walk. I quickly made an excuse to get Nathan to leave, then headed out to find her. Thankfully, the distance wasn’t too great because I was stumbling over curbs and scraping my hands and knees on the sidewalk.

In my early teens I still hadn’t had to resort to violence on a call, but that night I left my house with violence on my mind. I was self-righteous and angry and was going to teach that guy a lesson he would never forget. No woman he was with would ever have to be afraid again.

I barely made it up the stairs of the apartment building. My head had started spinning, and I was crashing into the walls as I located the correct
door. I pounded on it in a fury, hearing the sobbing of the woman, ready to kill that man for what he was making us feel.

The door opened. He stood with his hand on the knob, ready to slam it shut on a nosey neighbor. Instead, he saw a girl swaying, holding onto the doorframe to keep her balance. He paused, silent, as he took in the scene, not sure what was happening.

I vomited all over his legs, and fell to the ground.

It was an effective strategy, but one I don’t wish to try again.

I don’t remember making my way home, but woke up on the couch with my furious parents standing over me. I threw up again in the living room, and spent most of the night dry-heaving into a bucket. I managed to convince my parents it was the first time I had tried alcohol, and they decided that my two-day hangover was punishment enough, if I promised never to drink again. I did promise, not because I wasn’t going to drink, but because I never wanted to feel that awful again. I had learned the meaning of moderation.

***

My parents became more vigilant in their watch over me after that night. They left me no opportunity to sneak off by myself between school and bedtime, but didn’t think to warn my teachers I might be doing anything wrong during school. I was on another scouting mission to find a quiet spot on campus when I discovered marijuana. The situation was quite similar to my first sip of alcohol, but easier since I was now acquainted with a few of the kids experimenting with different substances.

After my first inhale I immediately felt the release of the mental anguish with which I constantly lived. I didn’t get giddy and giggly like the rest of the group, but I was at peace. I soon made connections with the various dealers at school, and have been a regular pot smoker ever since.

I started sleeping better, but able to respond when called. My homework actually became more interesting and my grades improved slightly, which helped ease my parents off their close watch over me. They sensed I was finding my way back to a normal life, and while that wasn’t true, outwardly it appeared so. Everyone was a little happier.

***

As was expected, I didn’t go to college. I would have liked to go through that part of life as a normal teenager, although I’ve been to the local campus for enough calls to know it’s not as fun as it’s made out to be for everyone. More women have traumatic, life-changing experiences in college than you could possibly imagine, and I’m happy I could at least stop a fraction of those events from taking place. I give women back their lives before they are mired in the emotional damage which happens after they are attacked; I can only hope they make better choices in the future of who they spend time with, or recognize a dangerous situation before it gets out of control. I hope they educate their friends on personal safety, but that’s not something women talk about very often.

I hope the men I’ve encountered learn that physical violence is not okay in any situation. Some never learn, and the few repeat offenders on the calls pay my price – I will cripple them in a manner similar to what she will feel emotionally. Maybe they will finally understand. Maybe they will end the cycle of violence.

If it was that simple, though, I’d be enjoying a normal life with friends and a family. I didn’t ask to be a Protector, but I’m finally at peace with my purpose. My life is a mess, not what I would wish on anyone, but what is one life in exchange for many?

******

Thanks for reading!

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