The theme for this week’s Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction Challenge is The Complications of Heroism. I decided to take a look at an aging superhero and see what happens to them as things change around them. I was inspired by Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, in which Bruce Wayne may or may not be too old to keep being Batman but keeps on going regardless. My scene is a little different from that story, but the spirit of the thing is there, I think. It’s exactly 1,000 words. I hope you like it. Please to enjoy and comment and let me know what you think.
Tad Thomas sat on the edge of the diagnostic bed, his legs dangling, feet not touching the floor. The mask he wore when he was in costume as Night was clenched in his left hand. His cape lay in a heap on the floor in front of him. He had removed the armor from his upper body and his tunic was off, his torso scratched and bruised and bloodied from his battle with Detonator.
Peterman, his valet, stood before him, a box of alcohol pads in his hand, cleaning the blood off. Tad sometimes thought Peterman was the real power behind the cape. He was a sidekick-cum-computer expert-cum-research assistant-cum-medic-cum-whatever else Tad needed him to be and Tad knew he would never have been as successful without Peterman’s valuable jack-of-all-trades skillset supporting him.
Now Tad sat wearily on the bed, waiting for Peterman to finish tending to his injuries. Nothing too badly hurt, just a few flesh wounds. He winced as Peterman rubbed antiseptic over one of the worst of the lot, clearing away the blood, exposing the skin beneath. “I’m getting too old for this crap, Pete,” he said.
“Sir?” Peterman appeared attentive to Tad’s words even as he continued to work. He had raised multitasking to an art form.
“This hero shit. Going out and confronting guys like Detonator. Last week it was Vixen. Next week it’ll probably be someone like Titanium Kid. Or maybe it’ll just be a run of the mill gang war that FCPD can’t handle on their own. It’s getting harder all the time. It’s starting to take a toll on me, mind and body.”
“You aren’t as young as you once were,” said Peterman, straightening. He had the last of the scratches clean and was checking to see if stitches were needed to close any of them. They were not. He began to pack his supplies away.
“In the old days I could get by on wits and physical ability alone,” said Tad. “Night would swoop in, fisticuffs would ensue, maybe some bones broken, no harm no foul, call the cops, save the day. It’s harder now.
“I guess the biggest thing is that I’m just getting older. I can’t just drop in from a rooftop the way I did fifteen, twenty years ago. Most of the rooftops aren’t there any more, anyway. The city is changing, the buildings are taller. It’s not made for Night any more.
“The criminals have changed, too. It used to be small-time drug dealers, pimps, maybe a mugger. The worst they ever had was a knife, maybe a Saturday night special. These days, they’re all packing automatic rifles and rocket launchers. I have a taser. I can’t compete with that.”
His rant ran out of gas and he sat on the bed shaking his head. Slowly, he climbed to his feet. He bent over and picked up his cape and shuffled into the next room. He started removing the rest of his body armor then stripped off the underlying layers of clothing. Peterman came in as well and pushed a button on the wall and the sound of a whirlpool motor filled the air. The light from the LED strips in the ceiling was refracted by the steam rising from the hot water as Tad climbed in and sat down with a heavy sigh of relief. He leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes. “This feels good,” he murmured.
Peterman walked around the room picking up the bits and pieces of Night’s costume. The armor and utility belt and wristbands and other accoutrements he carried into the equipment room to be buffed and polished for the next night’s activities. The under-armor layers he tossed into a basket for cleaning. Done tidying, he sat on a bench beside the door and took out his phone.
“They’re already reporting on your fight with Detonator,” he said. “A bystander put it on YouTube. Twitter’s going crazy.”
“Of course they are,” sighed Tad. “It’s a chance to put another loop in the noose around Night’s neck. I broke the guy’s arm. I’ll probably end up in court, being sued by a criminal for civil rights violations. The lawyers will line up three-deep to represent him! Take it the next step. How long until the police decide they can’t let me do this anymore and take me down instead of the criminals I’m chasing?”
“Never,” said Peterman. “You’ve been working with the police for almost twenty years now. They came after you at first, but you and the Chief have had good rapport since you took down Hyena.”
“That was a long time ago, Pete,” said Tad. “Chief’s about to retire and the people angling to take his place don’t think they need my help any more. If they can push me out of the way then they can make a name for themselves without me.”
“So stop hurting people,” said Peterman. “Catch them without violence. You’re the best detective Forest City’s ever seen. You can use your brain and find them and let the cops take it from there.”
“That’s not who I am, Pete, and you know it. My kind of heroism may be going out of style, but it’s all I have. It’s who I am. Night without his darkness wouldn’t be Night. I have to keep doing it my way.”
“Yes sir,” said Peterman, not sounding completely convinced.
Tad kept waiting for him to say more but he didn’t. Tad felt silent too, then, and settled down into the whirlpool, feeling the heat infuse his tired, aching muscles. Christ, he thought, I am getting too old for this, and the world is leaving me behind. I have to do my part, though, as long as I can, even if it eventually costs me my cape or even my freedom. I will sacrifice whatever I have to in order to make a difference in the world. That’s what being a hero is all about.
Outside, the night deepened.