Regardless of the outcome, this week’s Spookymilk Survivor writer’s challenge was entertaining. My mission, should I choose to accept it (and I did): Write a story where a character has a seemingly useless superpower and must use it in a conflict (1000 word limit).
I had fun writing this, but we’ll see how much leeway the judges give me. The protagonist of the story doesn’t really have an entirely useless superpower, but it’s a previously deceased character that does. Yet the previously deceased character is not in the conflict in this story, but instead the attention is on the protagonist’s situation. And the fact that the focus of the story on the protagonist is somewhat ironic, in that…well, I’ll shut up and let you read it first:
|ISSUE #13: A Bit of a Deathwish|
|As Ben ducked next to one of the one-story warehouses that laid in rows within the compound, he instinctively knew that the terrorists were starting to take notice of him. In the darkness, the sounds of gunfire and explosions were getting closer, and now a man with a flamethrower up ahead was turning in his direction. Although he couldn’t hear the cursing from this distance, he knew the flood of filth dropping onto flamethrower guy was the work of Potty Mouth from his position on the roof. Suddenly from somewhere to his left, projectiles ripped into the corrugated metal of the wall above him.
“I’ve had enough!” shouted Ben angrily as he stormed into the office of his superior, Nick Chopper. “I’m tired of being the center of attention.”
Nick looked up, unfazed. He’d heard it before. “You chose to serve with The Infiltrators instead of standard military service, and you will be completing your term of enlistment with us. What you do with your life after that, well, I don’t care.
“Listen, you have an outstanding power. Someday you could be an actor – imagine all eyes constantly focused on you! Hell, companies would love to have you in their booth at trade shows. But more importantly, right now you are a key component of our team.”
The exasperation and sadness could be heard in Ben’s voice. “No, you don’t get it! I’m not an extrovert — doing those things would kill me. Imagine wanting to play football and be a wide receiver, and ALWAYS being triple-teamed. Attending your first class at law school, and the professor ONLY calls on you. Entering an armed conflict, and every gun is trained on you!”
Ben dove for a nearby doorway and through a door partly ajar. He took shelter between several stacked cardboard boxes. He could barely make out the muffled sound of Traumatize outside slamming a couple victims against one of the other warehouse walls. Looking between a couple columns of boxes, as his eyes adjusted to the light, he saw several bound men seated on the floor. Son of a…he wasn’t supposed to find the UN hostages; he was supposed to attract attention away so that the others could find them. The handful of men with weapons who were guarding them began looking around — more than one of them in his direction. Damn!
He broke for an exit at the other end of the stacked boxes, knowing that Dream Police would be reading his thoughts and forwarding the newfound whereabouts of the hostages to the rest of the team. He knew Dream Police would be reading his thoughts, because she couldn’t help but focus on what he was thinking. Annoying as hell, but of course she would know he thought that as well.
Nick got up from his chair and retrieved a framed photograph off of the corner shelf. He placed a metallic hand on Ben’s shoulder and handed him the picture with the other. “Here, take a look at this.”
In the photo Ben saw a dozen or so people dressed in typical Infiltrators garb, some of them obviously mutants and others undoubtedly with hidden powers. Nick pointed out a mousy looking guy on the end of the front row. “This…is Lee Harvey Deathwish.” His voice almost broke as he said it.
“Lee had a latent, very potent ability. Just his presence on Infiltrator missions was enough to end conflicts with no shots fired. MANY lives were saved thanks to him. And then one mission, his options exhausted, Deathwish made the supreme sacrifice for his team and for his country. You see, he had the power to explode.”
Crouching low, Ben broke for a row of equipment parked along the wall near him. He could hear the goons from inside impulsively following him out of the same exit, but his eyes were fixed on the dim outlines of Full Frontal, Tarpo, and The Wailer carefully approaching from the opposite side of the parked equipment. With their appearance, the tide was sure to shift. As Full Frontal shielded The Wailer, Dream Police’s voice whispered in the back of their minds instructing them to engage their auditory desensitizers now. A flurry of bullets ricocheted among the machinery around Ben just as Tarpo joined him. “Heads up,” the wiry demon mouthed at him.
“WHAT?!” Ben said, incredulous. “How does someone even find out they have a power like that?”
“It’s hereditary. Lee’s is the sixth Medal of Honor in his family. See, he could have just ignored his power, lived an ordinary life, raised a family in the suburbs…but he didn’t. He chose to help fight tyranny and evil as best he could, and I’m damn glad to have known him.”
Ben saw his superior covertly wipe his eyes before any damage was done. “What I’m trying to say is, you’re a vital member of our team. And it’s not all about you!”
The Wailer had the armed terrorists flopping to the ground from his concentrated sonic blast. Dream Police informed the team that Potty Mouth had reached the hostages — they were unharmed. With a jerk of his thumb, Ben directed Tarpo to go help, while the rest of them would sweep up, but from the looks of it there were no others in a position to harass his team: the hostages were secured, and the night was theirs.
Ben sat still for several minutes, then nodded his head and rose from his chair. He opened the door, careful not to knock over Chopper’s large axe leaning against the door frame, and exiting the office and reception area, he continued out across the courtyard.
Nick returned to his seat, and after a few moments of introspection he thumbed the intercom on his desk. “Irene, let’s give Squeaky Wheel a couple days to himself. He’s earned it.”
- I wasn’t sure how much of the formatting the judges get to see. I used a liberal sprinkling of italicized, bolded, and underlined text like can be found in comics. Also chose to bounce between the conflict story and the office scene, much like “The Tales of the Black Freighter” section of Watchmen graphic novel.
- Lee Harvey Deathwish was a character of mine from my “Champions” rollplaying days at college. The Deathwish back then could actually reassemble himself after exploding, though, which isn’t at all useless.
- I liked the nickname Squeaky Wheel for the protagonist so well, I used his real name in the story to save the reveal for the ending lines.
- I threw Nick Chopper in to test the judges. Metalic hand, “…wipe his eyes before any damage was done”, axe — know who he is?
- Another superhero idea I considered: a guy who could summon the ghost of Mel Ott.
- Tarpo and The Wailer? Those names I originally created for a couple goons in the 1985 chain story “Dial ‘M’ for Murray“
Sadly, the dividers didn’t format onto Spooky’s site, so the interleaving between dual storylines made for even more jarring reading than it already was. RESULTS? And the judges’ comments:
K: It blows my mind how much this feels like a real comic book. The action and character is there, and the writing style just frigging nails it, right up to the boldface, all caps and italics peppered throughout. It’s got so much damned style. 4
DK: I like the tone of the prose, but I actually felt like this was one of the less inherently useful superpowers on display here, and the way the scenes intercut is somewhat jarring (I realize I’ve had this problem before, so this may just be an issue of mine). 3
Nice that I was called out for getting the comic book feel, but DK rightly nailed me for not exactly having a useless superpower. Still, SPOILER ALERT! lives to fight another day.
Lastly, what does I Write Like have to say?