A twitch struck Cicada-Man, and he leapt on his feet to grab up the collar of David’s stained shirt.
“I do not know why you have attacked me so, wretched sidekick,” he puffed out, “but it is clear to me you no longer wish to accompany. So go forth and ‘sleep,’ David Tolkien.”
He pushed David, who shuffled rapidly back until creaking his sore muscles against a pushed railing.
“Hey, I’m sorry-“
“Of course not,” whispered the masked man before holding a throbbing arm tight. “No, no, all this ill treatment is just a sign that I have been doing wrong by many, for all my life. You are not the first to betray me.”
After staring at the lightened grey porch for taut seconds, Cicada-Man held in a giggle, and then threw his head back for a loud cackle.
“Keep it down!” David hissed while glancing all sides.
“Ahhhh…” Cicada-Man rubbed his eyes. “I knew this day was destined. Every comic series I’ve read involved the hero, in a moment of personal crisis, forgoing the mantle in order to regain his personal life. But it is so less painful than I thought!
No, my life is to be towards the appeasement of humanity now. You will be a good place to begin.”
He unzipped a pouch and dug into it, spinning out a few crumpled bills between thick gloves before putting them in David’s limp palm.
“This will hopefully counteract any grievances I have wrought on you. But now I must go; a new career awaits me, one not of pain, but of love!”
With this, he brought his arms up and began galloping down the steps and back north.
Cicada-Man stopped on his heels and turned.
“What about the mask?”
With a grin, he replied, “When else have they paid attention to me?”
Once his former employer began running, David rubbed his eyes for a bit and could see the spikey black ball again, this time floating away on a line. He went in, wolfing a frost pitcher of water before going upstairs and wilting on the bed.
He awoke from a click and a surge of light, and grumbled as he rubbed his eyes. The windows were black. At the light switch, nearly covered by a wobbling bookshelf, a flat-headed man with small lenses smiled before striding over to the bed edge and sitting.
“Looks like someone had a productive Sunday.”
“Ahh… yes, from the king of energy himself,” David said with a backwards stretch of his arms. His head continued sweltering.
Mr. Tolkien laughed, “Touché. Ain’t like the old days, huh?”
He kept staring at a scantron pinned to the wall and the cracks beneath it. “But this doesn’t mean we’re gonna let you just ‘hang out,’ as much as we’d love to. Got any thoughts?”
David shook his head.
“Well, think about a statue of yourself. What do you see in the plaque?”
With a shrug, he brought an abrupt ripple to the bedsheets. “David did ok, I guess.”
“Noooo!” Mr. Tolkien groaned with a shove on his son’s leg. “Don’t make me go into another ‘when I was your age’ story, ‘cause you know me and I’ll be goin’ through a few reincarnations.”
David snickered, “Thought you didn’t believe in that.”
“Well, your mom does, right?”
“That was last year.”
“Right, right.” The smile faded from Mr. Tolkien’s jaw. “Look, I’ve been there, I’m living it. Jobs that you really don’t want to do are draining. But you’re really blessed. You can do anything you dream.”
David relaxed his head toward the hovering cheese odor from the smashed, half-concealed 7-11 bag. “Doesn’t explain why I couldn’t do this.”
“It’s not your thing! Look, not following your dreams leads- I just want you to find what feels easy, and that’ll be what you want. I hope that little bit helps.”
“Well, now I want some time to sleep.”
“Fair enough.” Two of his fingers made scissor motions as he lifted his skinny arm up and flicked the light switch. The floor creaked as he stood up and opened the door slightly.
Over that, David cried out, “Hey dad.”
Once the door stopped wobbling, he continued, “Did anyone from the other party ever switch sides?”
Mr. Tolkien opened the door with a stifled chuckle. “I thought we didn’t want to get me going. But I’d say some people were ‘in name only’ s, so to speak.”
“I mean, really switching opinions.”
“One friend of mine found religion in his wife and joined. He was really frantic in everything he did, it was kind of scary.”
David stuck himself to the back of his bed and held in a shiver. “Was it because he was on the wrong side, or what?”
“Look, I’m not qualified, at all, to talk about the nature of evil,” Mr. Tolkien shook his head. “I never liked the other side, but when it comes to why some of them think the most greedy, depraved thoughts, when they have a family and house like me… I just can’t tell from here.”
David spent most of the night counting for each friend on his Facebook, each profile bright. One slipped in someone she met in Washington DC, another shouted ‘MAD SLEPOVER.’ A news article tab about the fluctuating murder rate sat.
He reached over for his crinkly math textbook and plopped it on his knee. After tapping a little finger on it to a ticking clock, he lowered his head, then took a deep breath before flipping through the book upside down. A syllabus with a row of numbers on it fell to a crumb-ridden, green carpet.
With that in between big fingers, David left his room for a still, near-bare hall with a glass cabinet of porcelain figures around two banks of cardboard boxes. He sat on a rocking chair as he plunked the phone from its upright charger.
His parents’ muffled dialogue from downstairs wore David out as the tone rang.
“Hey Vinnie, it’s David.”
“Sorry, say that again?”
David pinched the bridge of his nose. “David Tolkien. We had the same math class freshman year.”
He could hear a beat on the other line.
“Oh yeah! Hey! Give me a second.”
The sound of harsh wind too close whooshed through the phone, and the beat died down.
“So, how’ve you been? Good summer so far?”
“Well, it’s had its ups and downs.”
“Yeah, mine too. I’m trying to relax, but, you know, grad school’s breathin’ down both of our necks I bet!”
“I’m not going to grad school.”
Vinnie took this time to catch her breath. “Really? I thought we were-“
“I flunked out, Vinnie.” David clenched onto his stomach with his free hand. He could smell salad from below.
“Hey, I’m sorry.”
“No, no, it’s not your fault. I kind of lost touch with people, especially last year, and I’m sorry. I’m not sure why I did that.”
“Same. Listen, I’ve got some things to wrap up, but I’ll call you soon, ok?”
“Ok.” David hung up, and rocked back and forth in the cold.
Two hours after his fever remnants faded, he ran out of Internet. He kept clicking on a few tabs and refreshing buttons in ritual, but eventually had to adjust his eyes to the dark wall around all his windows in that fresh green room.
Then, his fingers jolted up and typed in “jobs that appease humanity.”
He slowly brought his hands to his lap as the search results unfurled flatly. The screen later faded dark as he remained motionless, with stinging face and tight breathing.
Minutes later, he pulled out a hand-carved drawer of printed articles, old notes, and some photos conveniently forgotten. He held up one of a teen with gum-scratching braces and grease-smelling hair, holding a buffing third-place debate trophy next to his tie. Other thin-faced leaders clustered away from the camera’s bleach flash.
David stopped himself just in time from crumpling the other half of the photograph.
He covered his mouth as he gasped, his eyes accumulating moisture. Scrambling for a pen in another, thinner drawer of multicolor seaweed, he mouthed a few escaping syllables out before setting ballpoint to the back of the photograph. He wrote rapidly and with blocky letters, his pen vomiting ink while his thumb’s joint shrieked. When he reached the end, he set it down, then brought his fingers to eyes to squeeze out tears.
After time to take in more gasps of snot, he balanced himself up, then took a deep breath while gently clutching his words. By that time, his face was dry.
“I will bring Cicada-Man back.”
Nothing in the room moved.
No longer a whisper, “I'll return the chip to you.”
The books were still squeezed by the bookshelf, and the laptop screen still reflected David biting his lip.
“I will bring- I don’t even know why I’m surprised, honestly.”
Copyright (C) 2013 by Nick Edinger