Superheroes don’t exist. My parents told me so, and adults are always right.
The other children would be playing kick ball or tag and I’d huddle away behind the play yard reading my copy of Justice Friends or World of Heroes. I loved superheroes.
My father, wanting what’s best for me I suppose, sat next to me at the breakfast table, me with my nose buried deep in a comic book. When I didn’t respond, he peeled the comic out of my hand.
“Son,” he said as he pushed my bacon waffle breakfast in front of me, prepared by the Instant Waffler from Pryce Unlimited, “if you’re going to read, read a newspaper. You can’t live in this fantasy world forever.”
I hated the newspaper. It was full of crime and violence and nobody did anything about it. Nobody.
Then he showed up.
The front page had changed from Pryce Unlimited’s latest mergers to pictures of criminals tied up on the front steps of city hall. Thumb drives were hung around each culprit’s neck containing video and material evidence of their crimes. City officials had no choice but to follow through with arrests.
The newspapers dubbed the vigilante “The Guardian,” and after the first blurry picture of him all us kids had t-shirts with his face printed on them.
I climbed out on the fire escape nightly hoping to catch a glimpse of the Guardian. Some nights it would get too cold to watch from the rooftops. But one winter night, as my parents scolded me for staying out in the cold for so long with my “obsession” I saw him.
The kids at school would never believe me, but I didn’t care. I ran across the roof. I slid down another fire escape and landed in a dumpster.
Panting, I scurried down another alley and caught a glimpse of him at the edge of the Jefferson Street Bridge. He scanned the street with his one yellow eye, but didn’t see me huddled behind a big blue mailbox.
The moonlight glinted off of his metal armor. His mask reflected the snow and the streetlight above. Green goo seeped from a fresh wound in his stomach. Then he jumped.
When I got there he was gone. There was only the sound of water and the refuse flowing out of the sewer drainage pipe directly below. Could he?
The pipe smelled, but I reeked as well after the dive I took in that dumpster. I lowered myself into the pipe, barely catching the edge.
The only visible light was the glowing green goo that had been seeping from the Guardian’s wound. I was sure he needed help.
I wandered around the mazelike tunnels following the thick luminescent goo. Inside was a large garage lit by flickering fluorescent lights.
“Bah!” a man with frazzled gray hair and aviator goggles was hovering over the Guardian. “Stupid, stupid, stupid Milo. Got yourself hurt again, eh?”
He had a pair of pliers in his hands, struggling to peel back the armor. There was the cold snap of metal, and his curses filling the garage and he sucked on his bleeding thumb. The Guardian remained motionless on the table.
I held my breath. This man scared me. I turned to scuttle back down the sewers when he called to me.
“Boy, you going to just sit there or are you going to help?”
For a second I wondered if he was talking to me.
Then he looked up at me. “Get your ass down that ladder. If you turn back you’re going to get lost and we’ll be seeing ‘Dead Boy Found in Sewers’ on the front page.”
Quickly, I began descending the ladder as he continued muttering about being found in the sewers.
“Parents at a loss,” he mumbled, “My little boy would never go in the sewers. He had straight A’s. He was such a lovely child. Oh, he was too young to have been lost so soon. Rubbish!”
I looked up at him, almost crying. He was like a mad scientist out of my comic books and I thought he was going to eat me. Or turn me into a robot slave. Or…
“Do you know who I am, boy?” he glowered. He was shorter than most adults I knew.
“I… I do…”
“Well spit it out. Who am I?”
“Excellent,” he exclaimed, “Not as stupid as you look. Are ya?”
He followed my eyes. The green goo was pooling on the table, dribbling onto the floor. The old man grimaced.
“Is he going to die?”
He sniffed at my suggestion.
“He was never alive. Never really. I made him.”
“At Pryce Unlimited?”
He lifted the pliers at me like he was going to plunge them into my face. Chest heaving, he held back, and cursed some more.
“Pryce Unlimited?” he crowed. “What do you know about Pryce Unlimited?”
Timidly, I shrugged, “They make everything.”
“They make everything?” he said in a nasally voice, mocking me. “The board used me and my inventions. Named the company after me. They stole everything!” He kicked a bucket of parts across the floor while I shielded myself from his temper. “My inventions have destroyed this city, hear me?” He kicked another bucket. “Genetic monstrosities! Addictive medicines! Weapons! Long range communicators and targeting systems! I’ve ruined the world with my ambition!”
I waited until he was done punctuating each item with flying debris. “But I like your Instant Waffler.”
Hand on chin he nodded, and smiled after several moments. “I like that one too.”
I took a few steps toward the Guardian, laid out on the table. The closer I got, the more the acrid smell of burnt metal could be tasted in my throat.
“I-Is he going to be alright?”
“What’s your name boy?” he asked, then shook his head. “Forget it. Your name is ‘Igor’ until I say otherwise.” He clapped the pliers on the Guardian’s head, letting out a loud clang. “No, Igor, he’s kaput.”
Suddenly I was sad.
“I suppose that’s okay,” I said. “My dad tells me there’s no such thing as superheroes.”
I don’t know what came over the old man. He got really quiet, and then laid a black gloved hand on my shoulder.
“Well then Igor, how’d you like to help make one?”