2022 minus 58: Coming Home

Posted: 4 November 2021 in 2022 minus, 2022 minus new fiction, fiction, new fiction, writing
Tags: , , , ,

Once upon a time, I partook in a project called Elephant Words, where a single image would inspire multiple stories from and by multiple authors.

When I decided to honour a promise to an old friend, and write new fiction once a week for the ’57…’ runs, the first week’s was based on an image I’d come across serendipitously. And since then I’ve kept an eye out for images that spark something, that provoke the storytelling parts of my brain.

So that, every week, I can write something brand new, a story written for this blog that no-one’s ever seen before, inspired by an image I come across entirely by chance.

And I’m carrying on that practice through ‘2022 minus…’

So, I came across this picture by chance.

And here’s a story about unexpected pain and the pain being worth it.


Coming Home

I opened the door to the apartment with my key and cursed gently at the noise it made. They’d be in bed now. Only someone with a genuine reason to be up late would still be awake at half-two in the morning; she’d long ago got used to the hours I kept and the job I did. She’d be in bed. He, of course, would have been put to bed as the sky outside turned from overcast to night.

I took my shoes off in the dark; she hated me tracking mud through the place. I was dressed in civilian clothes, of course, rather than the costume, and I was bone tired. I’d had a long day and I don’t know how the other major leaguers managed it. I always smiled at my son’s comic books when he begged me to read them to him. What would it be like to be one of his fictional omniscient heroes, and not to need sleep but just to take it for relaxation?

I needed sleep. Both in the general and, especially tonight, in the specific. I was tired, weary, and I needed to go to sleep.

I put my foot down on the carpet gently. Not only because I had no wish to be stabbed by a toy my four year old son had left around, but because like any father I didn’t want to tell him that I’d broken what would, I was convinced, happen to be his favourite toy of the moment.

Yeah, sure I had an invulnerable force field like the newspapers report, but it comes both at a cost, and from my gauntlet. And I have to direct it. I could be, and had been, injured just as much by my feet being speared by a toy soldier as by an energy weapon taking me unawares in battle.

I stopped dead, suddenly struck by a memory. a couple of years back. We’d all just returned from Inner Earth, and were having a debriefing [ok, a bite to eat] back at The Clubhouse. Somehow we got talking, as sometimes happened, about injuries and wounds we’d suffered, and I’d a laser whip was nothing, nothing!, compared to stepping on a lego brick.

There’d been a moment of silence before the laughter came, then cries of ‘no, wait, what about when she twists your ear?’ And ‘oh deities above, when he head butted me in the groin…!’

And more laughter. I’m not sure that’s the exact moment when my colleagues became my friends, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

I crept into his bedroom and grinned. Even before turning on the infra-red vision, I could see that he wasn’t there. The bedclothes were slung back and, switching on the vision, I tracked his footprints as they left his room and went into the main bedroom. I shook my head in wonder at the evidence that his feet could be warm enough to leave traces on the carpet.

They certainly didn’t feel that warm when he crawled into our bed at six in the morning and placed his ice-cold feet on my back to wake me up for breakfast.

I looked in on my wife and son. They were both sleeping and I left them there while I walked into the main room, seeing a small flashing light. I’d have hovered over but I promised her when we moved it: no obvious use of powers in the apartment unless lives were at stake.

The light on the answer phone was flashing. Not the normal everyday one, but the one that my son knew as “Daddy’s phone”. I mentally sent the signal to play the messages and heard a half dozen auto-messages from The Club, as well as a message asking me to renew my Readers’ Digest subscription. Wow, I thought, have you got the wrong number.

There was some unopened mail for me which puzzled me for a moment, since my wife usually opens our mail. Then I saw that it was fan mail and understood why it had been left unopened. She used to get a kick out of, but changed her mind on the subject a while back. Even though secretaries employed by The Club usually scanned the mail in advance, they’d once let a death threat slide through and she’s avoided looking at the fan mail ever since.

I put the kettle on and made a coffee while I read some of the fan mail. It was the usual: two requests for help, a half dozen requests for a fly by , a request or two from children asking me to beat up the local bully. More proof that childhood experiences stick with you. I still remembered the names and looks and preferred tortures of my own school bullies. I had, I’ll admit, been tempted more than once to follow up in person in the past, but I’d usually found that a quiet word in the childrens’ teachers’ ears did the trick.

I put down the mail and opened the freezer. I knew there was some ice cream there, and I had a sudden banana-split attack. I wasn’t sure to be aggrieved or proud to find the carton still there, but with a piece of frozen paper attached upon which was written in spidery childlike writing. “sorry. I was hungry.”

I turned out the light and went into the bathroom. I caught a look at myself in the mirror and looked at the small cut above my eye. Ouch… I remembered the energy rifle blast that caught me. I’d had the cut checked out back at The Clubhouse, but the docs couldn’t say whether it would scar or not.

So far I’d been lucky. No scars in visible places, although my back was a mess of scar tissue and the skin over my kneecaps never tanned. Not any more. Not after that time I was thrown out of that car on the freeway. An invulnerable shield three feet in diameter could only protect so much.

I rubbed my chin. I needed a shave but it was too late and I was too tired. When my powers first appeared, I’d tried to pretend I was Superman from my son’s comics… and shave by burning off the whiskers. Never again. No, really., never again. Not only did the bathroom stink from the stench of burning hair, but I had heat blisters all over my face. Took them three days to go down. Never again…

I stripped off and dropped my dirty washing in the basket. She had few rules, but that was one of them. I quickly washed and the cut bled a bit just as I dried it. I walked into the bedroom and, taking care not to wake the boy, sat on the edge of the bed. I kissed her head and she stirred.

“Umm,” she said, “what time did you get in?”

“About half an hour ago,” I whispered.

“Everything OK?” she asked sleepily.

“Yeah,” I replied, still whispering. “Dr Radium’s back in custody, the shuttle took off on time, and I even remembered to post your mother’s birthday card. Everything ok here?”

“The credit card statement arrived,” she said.

Oops.

“You never said you bought some new computer equipment.”

“Ah…”

She smiled, and my heart warmed. And I knew I’d gotten away with it. There have to be some advantages to being a costumed hero, after all. “Let me put him next door and then I’ll come to bed.”

I stood up and scooped our son into my arms.

I took him into his room and as I put him into his bed, he woke up a bit. “Daddy!” he sleepily cried. “You’re bleeding!” He was worried but calmed down quickly when I told him it was no worse than a shaving cut. He gave me a hug and then snuggled into his bed, his head firmly on the pillow, his favourite teddy bear by his side, held tightly.

I kissed his head and then went to leave. A quiet voice asked “Daddy? Are you a super-hero like Superman and Batman?”

I turned to him and spoke quietly. “No, son, I’m not like them. They’re real heroes. I’m just someone people call a super-hero.”

“Daddy?”

“Yes?”

“Daddy, you’re my real hero.”

My eyes watered. I looked at this four year old with his own power: the power to make everything all right again, and my heart filled with love.

“Daddy?”

My reply of “Yes, son?” was filled with pride, with love, with…

“Daddy? Can I have a drink of water please?”

I trod on a damn Lego brick as I went to the kitchen. It was worth it. The work of a hero father is always worth it.

 

© Lee Barnett, 2021

 

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Sixty-one days. Sixty-one posts. One 2022 slowly approaching.


Just dropping this in here, as I was asked: the best places to contact me outside the blog are via email at budgie@hypotheticals.co.uk and @budgie on Twitter.


I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of quid every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to the new year. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

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