It took until four o’ clock the next morning for David to regret his decision. Bolting upright from obnoxious yellow covers, he sprinted to the unrelenting pounding from his bumpy front door that could, at any moment, reveal to his mom the old man with cicada-brown boots, his supposed ‘employer.’ His breathing skipped alongside his steps down the fuzzy stairs. Once he opened the door, the same scuffmarks from yesterday’s fight on his employer’s red undershirt drained the energy from him.
“David Tolkien, are-“
“Please, I’ve just woken up,” he swatted at the air.
“My apologies,” he whispered, hunching his shoulders to David’s level. “In brief, it is time to depart. Don your suit and ready your courage.”
Even through searing eyes, David could see the stains on the t-shirt and boxers that made his pajamas. “Just a minute.” He quietly slammed the door and stumped back upstairs with a wobbling head.
His discarded blanket wasn’t the only obstacle in his way past flacking wallpaper to his folded, coiled hamper. Near everything languished on the floor. Old clothes were in the closet, old college books were far under his bed, and old trophies (from computer club to “I tried archery!” at Indian Guides) took all shelf and desk space. After he snatched on some jeans, he just barely remembered to plug in his scalding laptop before tucking a near-diminished bag of hard pretzels into his pocket and gliding back down the stairs.
Thankfully, Cicada-Man allowed for him to run back and take a jacket after he stepped into the mind-beating cold illuminated only by pristine lampposts. On their walk to the train station, the only noises to be heard were the scampering of too many raccoons across the homes of Coltivatore, homes with every color and shape yet all at the same height.
David’s chapped lips parted to try a conversation beginning, but any possible starters were fogged behind the sleep lost trying and failing to grasp who Cicada-Man is. A blast of wind accompanied the halting silver tube on the railroad tracks. Both of them were admitted into the bleached, lit hall of chairs inside by a man who either knew Cicada-Man or had too many folded rolls over his eyes to admit surprise.
The man clicked his silver tool three times while walking towards them. David’s thin partner already had three bills and two coins to give. As David wrestled the unfoldable wallet from his jeans and flipped through the notes inside it in a vain ritual, the man with an unpolished “CARY” on his pin stood still.
“Ummm…” After the rows of barely visible houses had faded into barely visible limping forests, he turned to his right. “Could you…”
“Of course! But only this once, though.”
David could see a small tear in the loose gloves as they unzipped the third of several pouches on the tall one’s belt. More singles flopped out. They were welcomely scooped up by Cary, who pushed down on this belt machine to hand three new coins to Cicada-Man.
“You two have a nice day,” he smiled as his footsteps echoed in the empty box and once again left David and Cicada-Man in silence. David couldn’t help but be amazed by his leader’s posture: completely rigid, coat-hanger shaped, still alert and poised in case the neighboring seat tried to bite him.
Cicada-Man still appeared fascinated by the miniscule store lights flying past the pitch-black window.
“That’s your name, right? All of the articles-“
“That is my old name, correct,” boomed his response. He turned to face David, the lips on his tan face in a small smile. “I much prefer the one you bestowed, however.”
“Right, right. So you could’ve told them to call you that.”
“In all the superhero literature I’ve read, the hero is always christened by others, preferably those they save from a crime.”
“…but that’s not always true. It didn’t happen to The Ares, it didn’t happen to Dr. Thunder, I think it-“
“Really? I did not know that.”
“Yeah.” David moved the back of his sticky shirt off of the hard cushion. “I’m just going by the movies though, mostly.”
“I see. I don’t recall the details of comics that well. Have they changed things that much since 1989?”
A shrug from David later, Cicada-Man continued, “I see.” He went back to twisting his legs in an inhuman form of preparation.
Long seconds passed. David stammered out, “So you probably have a superhero origin story, then.”
Cicada-Man jumped at this, facing David and bringing his own palms to waist length. “Very well! I shall recall the path that brought me on this crusade, but only quickly… to talk of one’s self for too long is supreme vanity!”
David’s eyes darted around for a polite way to say ‘maybe later’ to the vanity-shunning man ready to unload his life story.
“Years ago, I worked in a tall office, a building I cannot disclose for risk of revealing my identity. It was lunchtime on that dark day when I saw the face of evil itself.”
The listener leaned in tentatively.
“I shall never forget that man: he was of strong figure and of clean brown hair. He could never look anything in its eye. He worked a couple of cubicles across from me; we talked sporadically. But that is of little importance.
Right before the register of the cafeteria, they had rows of candy for anyone interested. This man took a bag of Reese’s Pieces, put it in his pocket, and paid for his salad and coke with money from an overstuffed wallet. I was the only witness to this crime, and was too weak to stop it.
I knew from this moment on I was destined to atone by fighting crime wherever and whenever it occurred. To do so, I had to quit my occupation to uphold this mantle, and this is all I have to say on the matter.”
He sat down in a hurry, not even taking a glance to David’s slacked jaw.
“Are you serious!?”
“Would I dare joke about such a matter!” Now his bony shoulders seemed to poke out from under his brown armor.
“I just think it’s a big leap,” said David as he tried to become one with his deep red seat.
“Of course! That’s why people fall into those deeds!” Cicada-Man’s voice had begun booming no louder, but it now slurred all his words together in spit and force. “When crime is not glorified, it’s pushed aside! And nothing will get any better if my own apprentice believes I’m telling a story! Do you take me for a liar?”
“Very well! For this anger I unleash (which I must apologize for) will not be a righteous one when utilized by your foes! You cannot shrink down when evil strikes. You have adopted my cause; you must now embrace it.”
They spent the rest of the first day’s ride in silence. Eventually, David could see tunnel lights outside the window as a calm female robot voice reminded all two of them where one could escape in case of fire.
Cicada-Man didn’t turn as the train slowed, but directed to the floor, “Listen: I did not intend to embarrass you. Forgive me; I was taken aback to hear the same disbelief from a fellow hero instead of another passerby.”
“Don’t mention it.” David could see muscles protruding out of Cicada-Man below his wrinkled face. With a small rock of the car, the doors floated open across the hall.
“Off we go, then.” Cicada-Man took large steps out the train car. Behind him, his partner inhaled a cold breath and stood up, wondering if he could find a less embarrassing way to die.