Before he even reached his oaken door, David could smell a stream of scents seeping out from inside. Through the window, he saw hundreds of glowing dots, each at different heights. He stuck his key in and took a hollow breath before opening the door.
The stream became a wave that shriveled all his mucus and made him squint. Each candle, all bright colors and all two feet big, added to the mix of mints and fruits strangling the air. They lay on the dusty piano, on the clear coffee table, and on every brown box that covered each bit of splintering floor not containing carpet.
A woman walked in, without rhythm, from the dining room, her face still bony under big cheeks. “Are you okay?”
“Yes, mom. Volunteering took a- little longer today. Boss is a real- hardcase, and, and- I’m sorry, are you done with the candles yet?”
“Oh! Yes, I guess I am… they weren’t working out anyway.” She loosened up her shoulders before grabbing a candle (causing part of the bookshelf to shake) and blowing it out.
“I’ve got it, really.”
“If you want to help, that’d be great, honey.” She grabbed two white ones in jars that read ‘Christmas at the Beach.’ “Still gotta save some for me!”
Once David had folded up another box from the basement and brought it up, his mom articulated, “David, I was talking about finding something to occupy your time when I told you about ‘staying out of the house this summer.’ I didn’t mean it like that.”
“I know, I know.”
“So why didn’t you answer my calls?”
“I don’t know. I forgot, I guess.”
“I shouldn’t have to make you promise to talk, David.”
David put away the candles surrounding the lamp before turning it on and continuing, “Well, a lot was on my mind. The boss is a pretty strict guy, pretty tight grip.”
“If hospitals don’t work for you it’s ok to change. I just want you moving.”
“But I like- well, I’m not sure about the boss anymore. And the hours are pretty bad. I might like what it stands for, you know? Reminds me of my Indian Guides trophies. Come to think of it, the boss might be the one sore point, but it’s not like I’m going to start my own hospital or something.”
His mom’s brown hair swished across her neck as she turned her head. “Is he just having you work long hours, or what?”
“It’s partially that, he’s also kind of a bigot.”
“Well… if you really want to stay…” David’s mom knocked an elbow into the unlit candle on the mantelpiece, causing it to tumble and bounce on the floor. “You can always talk to him about those things. Make him understand.”
“And if he doesn’t?”
Her green eyes lit up as she itched the back of her head. “What kind of spirit is that?”
22 minutes after David’s mom had joined his dad in bed, he stepped out of his room, his iPhone used as a flashlight and opened to “The 10 Most Satisfying Cases of Hecklers Getting Destroyed.” He was soon emerging from the basement with numb toes, sliding out smoothly a long box with ‘PRECOR M9.33 TREADMILL’ on the side. Already assembled and sticking out, it was pulled slowly and quietly from the box until it land with a soft ‘thud’ and a sprinkling of dust. David caressed his aching muscles. Now that it leaned on the beige wall, he stepped on the rough belt with meticulously tied shoes and pressed ‘Quick Start.’
After a while, he saw the limp plug, lying in a mimic coil. He bent down and picked up the coil with his other hand on the board for support. Once he finally wiggled it into the small outlet at knee-height, the treadmill beeped and spelled out with green dots, “CHOOSE QUICKSTART OR A PROGRAM TO BEGIN.”
He turned his head upstairs. His heart rate slowed enough for him to lift his hand from the ‘speed’ button and press ‘Quick Start.’
‘3,2,1’ read the screen until the belt began to move at ‘0.1.’ He reached for the upper Speed arrow, only to see it was dented in. Speed had already increased to 1.7.
He kept with it until 9.4, when he grabbed the sidebars and hoisted himself above the loud whirring below. His pale arms began to tremble. Looking around him, he gave a deep exhale and tentatively put a foot to the far left.
It caught on the 13.9, sending David falling up and back. His chin slammed on the belt, and his belly surfed the treadmill until it slid off, leaving David’s chin in the path like a punching bag.
His chin felt like a used lottery ticket by the time he rolled into the fetal position and put his hand on it. Upstairs thumps sounded. He unplugged the treadmill, put the box on top of it, and scurried back to his room.
The next three days fell into a rhythm: 4 a.m. departure, sandwich distribution, midday restocking, more sandwich distribution, investigation of a strange noise that turned into a wire cat or a scattered gust, sandwich distribution, a sandwich for dinner, sandwich distribution, 9:40 train home. David did not say a word to his employer until the fourth day, when he answered the pounding at his door.
“It’s Saturday,” he yawned.
“It is. Evil knows no weekend,” declared Cicada-Man.
So David shivered in the staggering walk through the town’s wet lawns, Cicada-Man paid his sidekick’s ticket for the sixth time (and told David for the sixth time, “But only this once, though.”), and both of them traversed the path David practically sleepwalked through. At 2, they were near the West Side, in a neighborhood with skinny buildings and a schoolboy-colored food stop, when they saw a boy in the alley of dirt bricks.
The boy had a bright yellow t-shirt and a shaved head, and twirled around his glitter cross necklace with stick fingers. He leant by black etchings on the wall: a S, a D, the face of the devil, a crest, and a Tombstone for Gizmo, Lorenzo, Bozo, and Jinx. At the mouth of the alley, Cicada-Man pulled out a sandwich chunk, then held that hand up to stop David.
“You are to know that you are not the only type of sidekick in this world,” said Cicada-Man. “Some willingly join the profession as their call to duty, but some are orphaned youths that must be sought out. It is part of the good achieved by the superhuman. Come join me, and you shall have company in our quest against evil.”
As they approached, the kid scowled at them, and something in his pants shifted. He had stopped kicking his right foot on the shaded wall behind him.
“Wandering orphan child, victim of misfortune and tragedy, worry no longer. I know you seek companionship and brotherhood, and I shall give it to you. For I am CICADA-MAN, The Terror and Savior of Chicago.”
Silently, the child shuffled over to Cicada-Man before jumping up, pulling out a gun, and hitting the back of the vigilante’s head with its butt. The hero slid into a pile of spray cans as the gun was pointed at David. David’s eyes, wide for the first time in half a week, saw another devil head in the form of the mugger’s right arm tattoo.
“Empty the pockets. And I’m 19, assholes.”
“Prepare for battle!” Cicada-Man’s bolted his torso from the mound, his goggles lopsided.
“He’s gone,” enunciated David.
“For how long?”
“Impossible.” He stood up, rattling the hot cans into the street. “We shall find this man and bring him to justi-“ After double-checking his pouch belt, he asked David, “What did he take?”
“Oh, nothing. Just your sandwich bags, grappling hook, hammer, pepper spray, pocket knife, handcuffs, flashlights, duct tape, wallet, and keys. And my wallet and keys and iPhone. You know the only reason I make do with the 4 hours of sleep you permit me!”
“Calm yourself! It was ill-advised of me to do battle with a disguised ninja, I admit.”
“What in the… GANGSTER! GANG-STER! Honestly, do you think gay people are seductive sorcerers too?”
“Who else could match forces with a superhero?” asked Cicada-Man while dusting off his armor and cracking knuckles. “And for the record, there is nothing sinful about the gays, but the gay act.”
“So what do you expect them to do?”
“Procreate! As God intended humanity to do.”
David shot his arms out to the side. “7 billion present and accounted for, I think we can take a break with the whole procreation thing!”
“In this age, all the homosexuals wish to marry, when regular couples do not! Can you not see where this will lead!?”
“No. No, and I don’t care anymore. If you want to go after that freak and get yourself killed, that’s fine by me. I’ll find my own way. For now, I’m going to find a phone.”
David stomped out of the alleyway as Cicada-Man called out, “We will meet back here, then!” before running in the other direction. He past by some soaring, rusting cars and sooty houses, so focused on the ground that he bumped into a long, black dress.
“Sorry…” David craned his neck up to the towering woman in black with the thin nose.
“You were having a heated argument with an enemy, yes?”
“Can we trust you?”
“David scanned the skinny grey lampposts and dark clouds before muttering, “Sure.”
“Follow me. You are our lucky winner.”
Copyright (C) 2013 by Nick Edinger
Copyright (C) 2013 by Nick Edinger