Christian spent the next several days sorting through his emotions—it wasn’t like he had anything better to do.  He’d barely been able to find a scrap of food anywhere, and he was almost out of cigarettes again.  None of that ever bothered him much, though … he was pretty used to not having things he wanted or needed.  In the end, he didn’t worry about it much.

 

It wasn’t like it would matter if he died anyway.

 

Seriously, what was the point to his existence?  To be a permanent member of one of the dregs of society, to serve as an example to better-off people that things could always be worse?  Christian wanted so much more than that.

 

If wishes were candy … oh, wait, he’d never had any of that, either.

 

Christian was seriously beginning to think about returning to one of the many rooftops he frequented.  He knew of several buildings throughout the city that he could hole up in if he needed to, although a lot of the time he had to fight for some space.  Others of his peers had actually tried to claim the rundown buildings no one of any decency would want to live in.

 

Must be important to have power over anything, he supposed.

 

His clothes and hair still wet from the constant rain, he tried to brush his blond bangs out of his face, to no avail.  Like everything else about himself, he hated them, but they had their purpose—they hid his face so no one would have to look at his decrepit form.

Suddenly, around the corner he was heading toward, a police car stopped.

 

Crap!

 

Reacting instinctively, Christian dove into a nearby alley—only to be shoved back out onto the sidewalk.

 

“Get out of here, worm!”  A man even more pathetic than him growled.  He had long brown hair and beard.  “Go find yer own spot!”

 

Desperately, Christian dove back for the alley.  The last thing he wanted was to be found by police and placed in the foster system.  He’d heard stories of what happened to those kids, and he was sure he was better off on his own.

 

As he ran back toward the man, he tried to swing at Christian.  Christian ducked his blow and kneed him in the midsection, then shoved him toward the street. 

 

Then he ran for his life.

 

He could hear the police gathering the man up, but he didn’t stop to see what was going on.  He turned down another alley and kept running.

 

Part of him felt horrible, but what choice did he have?  It was either him or the man, and in this case, he won out.

 

But for how much longer?

 

He didn’t even want to think about that. 

 

He stopped to catch his breath.  A peek around the corner revealed that all was quiet, but he wasn’t willing to take his chances.  Once he was positive the coast was clear, he slumped against the brick wall of the building.

 

I can’t do this forever.  What kind of life did he live anyway?  Christian was afraid of virtually nothing—after all he had been through, he regarded fear as being pointless and a waste of time—except for the foster system.  He felt that once he was in the system, he would no longer have control over his own destiny, and would be at the mercy of people who may or may not give a crap about a kid with no future—such as him. 

 

Christian then thought back to a few nights ago when he had saved that mother and her son.  He couldn’t be sure, but what he had felt in response to the gratitude and praise he had received had been … not entirely unpleasant. 

 

It had felt quite good, actually.

 

His mother had always tried to teach him that there was good in the world, though Christian hadn’t seen much of it in his lifetime.  He had read a few books (whenever he happened to find one in the trash), and he had read good stories about people who spent their whole lives fighting against evil. 

 

A thought suddenly occurred to him.  Maybe I could do something like that.

 

The next second, he cursed himself for an idiot.  “Yeah, right,” he muttered to himself.  “Everyone in those stories either had supernatural powers or a buttload of money.”

 

Whoever said you needed anything like that to be a hero?  His mother’s voice.  She never said anything like that, but Christian could imagine that she would.

 

But the inner voice had a point—if he was worried about his purpose in life, and whether he should just end his life or not, then this would solve both problems. 

 

He could fight crime in the city until he died … which, given the number of criminals and weapons in the city, shouldn’t take very long.

 

Are you crazy?  Do you know what you’re about to do?  Characters in those stories are always very lonely and suffer horrible fates.

 

“Yes, no, and so what?” he muttered to himself.  “So my life won’t be any different that it is right now … and maybe, just maybe, I could so some good in the world, even if no one ever notices it.”

 

Even if he didn’t necessarily believe in good himself, he could do it to honor his mother’s memory.  She probably wouldn’t like that he was doing it, but she would like that somebody was doing it.

 

“It has to be me, Mom,” he said to the still air.  “I don’t see anyone else stepping up.”

 

He was still mulling over his fate when a Siberian Husky suddenly appeared around the corner right next to him.

 

Christian stared into the dog’s ice-blue eyes, and contrary to what he had just thought about fear, he was instantly terrified.

 

I’m going to die.

 

But fortunately, that wasn’t the case at all—apparently realizing immediately that Christian was of no harm to him, the dog trotted forward and began licking his face quite vigorously.

 

“Aaahh!  Back off, dog … back off!”  Christian said, all the while chuckling.  Having finally settled the dog down, Christian rubbed the side of its neck. 

 

“What’s a beautiful dog like you doing in a place like this?”  Christian asked in a low voice.  “You’re far too good a dog for a place like this, boy … if that’s what you are,” he added.

 

The dog just stood in front of him, panting happily.  Wherever it had come from, it seemed to be well fed and very intelligent.  It had a white face and belly framed by silver-gray fur lined with black in various places.

 

Christian continued to stroke the soft fur—he wasn’t used to anything feeling as soft as this.  “You should run along home, dog,” he muttered.  “This is no place for someone as nice as you.”

 

Instead of leaving, the dog just sat next to him.

 

“Ah … stubborn like me, are you?”  Christian said with a smile.  “Fine … you can keep me company for a while longer, and then you will have to go home.”

 

**********

 

Walter Argyle pushed his glasses back up the bridge of his nose and slung his bookbag over his shoulder as he walked out of the library in the northern part of Storming.  He’d stayed there later than he’d meant to again, and his parents weren’t going to be happy. 

 

At least, they’ll be angry for a minute.  Then they’ll praise me for all the hard work I’m doing, pinch my cheeks, smother me with kisses … ick.

 

Despite the fact that he had just turned seventeen, Walter’s parents still treated him like he was a child—and though he loved them very dearly, sometimes he despised them too.

 

Despite the fact that he was just seventeen, Walter was already in his second year of college, on his way to majors in engineering and science, and a minor in psychology.  He was what the lesser-minded of society would call a “genius.”  But he’d always despised that word—it seemed so self-centered.

 

But his parents were oh-so-proud … bless their simple-minded hearts.

 

Although he was in college, and old enough to be considered an adult, Walter’s parents refused to pay for a dorm and forced him to live at home; they felt it was their responsibility to protect him, since he was a “genius.”

 

Little do they know that their “love” is going to kill me faster than anything in this world.

 

He shouldn’t be so hard on them—they were just loving him, after all, in their own way.  But sometimes it was so frustrating.

 

Almost as frustrating as all the bullies he’d had to deal with—and still did—all his life.

 

He passed an electronics store that had TVs in the window, and he saw the news.  The bored-looking anchorman was reporting a story about the mysterious “hero” that had been terrorizing the crime element in the city as of late.

 

“Reports are still vague at this point,” the man was saying, “with descriptions ranging from ‘a man in a hooded sweatshirt and mask’ to ‘an indestructible robot.’”  The man chuckled after that.  “No matter what the description, he should be praised for taking the problems of the city into his own hands.”

 

Walter pushed his glasses up his face again.  Man, what I could give to have the courage to do that. 

 

And the strength, the body, the speed … that would be good too.

 

While I was at it, maybe I’d be able to do something about my parents too.  But that kind of evil might need more than one hero.

 

Shaking his head at himself, Walter continued his walk down the street when suddenly, two sets of hands reached out and yanked him into an alley. 

 

One set snatched his bookbag and immediately began to rummage through it.

 

Now trapped between a dead end and two fearsome-looking men, Walter’s frightened mind tried to run through various solutions to his problem.  Unfortunately, his options seemed to be extremely limited.

 

So Walter just stood there, eyes wide and in silence while the men searched his bookbag.  He was used to dealing with bullies, but this situation seemed like it was going to be worse.

 

A lot worse.

 

“Just books,” the man growled as he threw the bag and all of its contents on the ground.  “Where’s all of your money, bookworm?”

 

“I—I don’t have any,” Walter stammered.  “Please, just leave me alone.”

 

The other man mocked him.  “Pwease, pwease just weave me awone.”  He started making kissing sounds.  “Sorry, nerd boy … today’s not your day.” 

 

Both men pulled knives as they deliberately started forward.

 

Walter began to back away as the two men stalked toward him when a third voice rang out in the alley.  “Hey, tough guys.”

 

The voice had been low and muffled, Walter heard it clearly.  The men spun around, and Walter tried to see past them to the source.

It was just a man, but even in the dim light, Walter could see that he was wearing a Jason-style hockey mask, and his hood was pulled over the rest of his head.  He was carrying a long, thin steel rod and appeared to have a boomerang somehow attached to his back.

 

A dog was sitting next to him.

 

 

“What is that?”  One of the men wondered aloud.

 

“Looks like Jason coming back to haunt us,” the other, taller man mocked with a sneer.  “Hey, Jay … how’s it going?”  Both men started laughing.

 

Neither man nor dog reacted in any way.

 

“Would you care to join us?”  The taller man asked, making inviting gestures toward Walter, who couldn’t stop shivering—this all seemed so surreal.  “We’re about to beat the crap out of a nerd and take whatever money he has.”

 

Still no response from the masked man.

 

“Or maybe,” the other man said, “you’re the one who’s looking for a beating.  I think we have time to accodimate you.”

 

Walter cringed, both from the offer of a beating and from the poorly mispronounced word.  He hated things like that.

 

The masked man just stood there stoically. 

 

“This guy’s freaking me out, Joe,” the smaller man stated.  “Maybe we should just leave them and go.”

 

“No way,” the taller man said, shaking his head.  “We found this mark fair and square, and no masked freak is going to spoil that.  If he thinks he’s gonna, he’s gonna get erased.”

 

Still no response.  Walter began to wonder if the man had actually turned into a statue.

 

“Alright, that’s it,” the tall man declared.  “We’re gonna serve him too.”

 

The smaller man grabbed Joe’s sleeve.  “No, no, Joe … let’s just go …”

 

Joe sneered at his partner.  “What are you, some kind of broad?  Some guy in a mask shows up and you start shivering like a tiny, little puppy?  Well, you can go run away and hide if you want, but I’ll be taking everything I find.”

 

With that, Joe advanced toward the masked man, grabbing a pipe he found in a pile of rubble as he did so. 

 

The dog growled.

 

Joe swung.

 

From that point on, it was hard for Walter to tell what was going on, except that Joe wasn’t faring too well.

 

Joe’s strike attempts were slow and clumsy (and missing) while the masked man’s were swift and deliberate (and connecting).  The man with the long stick looked like he was some type of ancient samurai, ducking and dodging and striking from all angles. 

 

Before long, Joe was on the ground, groaning in pain.

 

The masked man then turned toward the smaller man and pointed his staff at him, and then toward the street.

 

With a squeal of terror, the man ran off.

 

The masked man then took one look at Walter, and started to walk away.

 

“Hey!”  Walter called.  “Wait!”  He started to run after the man.

 

The man didn’t stop walking.

 

“Hey, wait up,” Walter breathed as he caught up.  He’d only run the length of the alley—maybe thirty feet—but already he was exhausted.  Athleticism wasn’t in his blood.  “Who are you?” 

 

The man didn’t answer or stop walking.  He didn’t even glance at Walter.

 

“Hey, buddy, you going to answer me?”  Walter asked as he grabbed a hold of the man’s sleeve.

 

The man froze in his tracks and glared at Walter with green eyes, which was almost enough to make him pee his pants.

 

“What do you want?”  The voice was a growl.

 

“W—what’s your name?”  Walter stammered.

 

The man hesitated a moment before answering.  “Call me Hood.”

 

Walter got it immediately.  “Ah … okay.  Very clever.  But … why did you help me?  I mean, I really appreciate it and all, but … why?”

 

“You needed help.”

 

“W—well, yes, that’s true …” Walter struggled to find what he wanted to say, which was new territory for him.  “But … I’ve seen the news reports.  Why do you do it?”

 

The man seemed about to answer, then turned with a huff and walked away again.  “You’re safe.  Go home now.  Don’t follow me.”

 

“B—but …” Walter said as he tried to catch up again.  Eventually, he gave it up … clearly the man didn’t want to be bothered, and who could blame him?

 

“Thank you!”  Walter called after the man, but he got no response.

 

*********

 

Some time after that, Christian sat on the roof of one of the nearby buildings, holding the old hockey mask in his hand.

 

“Bastard had to make reference to Friday the 13th.”  He muttered.

 

He almost tossed the helmet off the edge of the roof, but then looking at it closer, he began to think that maybe he could draw some designs on it or something—something that would mark it as his, and no one else’s.  He tossed the helmet behind him.

 

He thought about the kid he had just saved.  He had been the first one to try to find out who he was, the first who had taken a genuine interest.  Not that Christian was looking for a great deal of attention, but still, the experience was … different.

 

The kid had asked why Christian did this, why he would put his life on the line to save complete strangers.  Even though he’d been through this himself already, sometimes at night, he still questioned it. 

 

I’m doing this to do some right in the world, until the day I get lucky and someone takes my life.

 

The thing was, he’d been doing it for a couple of weeks and was surprised to find that he hadn’t even come close to getting hurt yet.  And word on the street was that the criminal element of Storming was beginning to take notice.

 

I’m making even more of a difference than I thought.

 

Christian wasn’t sure how he felt about that.  It was a good feeling, but on the other hand …

 

My problems are going to get bigger and bigger.

 

So what?  You wanted to die, and so maybe you will.

 

Christian shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts.  The point was, this was going better than he could have thought, and for the first time in a while—

 

I’m almost happy.

 

He thought about that for a moment, then he pulled his cigarettes out of his pocket.  He had to fish around in there for a lighter.

 

Blinking, Christian looked at the cigarettes.  This doesn’t seem right, does it?  Superheroes don’t smoke or drink or any of that crap.  Kids don’t look up to people like that.

 

It was a stupid thought—like any kids were going to look up to him.

 

Still … you’re better than that.

 

Grimacing, Christian dropped the cigarettes off the edge of the roof, right into an open dumpster that waited below.

 

It’s time to rise above what destiny had in store for me.