Jane Munch: Psychiatrist for Heroes (A Sci-Fi/Fantasy Short Story)

When a psychiatrist accidentally leaks the city’s superheroes’ deepest secrets, she has to make things right to save the city from the evil Dr. Forkian.

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Written by Gregory Patrick Travers

The red new message light on Jane’s answering machine blinked back at her as she stood over her Trysil Mocha Brown Nightstand, recently purchased from IKEA, surrounded by the pink walls of a modern thirteenth-floor one-bedroom apartment, biting her lip nervously.

How could I have been so stupid? she wondered. But at this point, retrospection was of little comfort.

Her finger hovered over the play button, knowing she was only delaying the inevitable. As she had told her clients many times before; it is best to treat it like a band-aid and rip it off in one quick motion. Finally, she gave in, closed her eyes, and pressed down.

The first message, not surprisingly, was from her boss, Peter Barry. His brash, accusatory tone was nothing new to Jane. In the three years she had worked for the organization, he rarely ever approached her unarmed. And even though she knew this time she really did deserve it, to hear his voice filled her with contempt and resentment.

“I’m looking at today’s paper right now, Jane! I can’t believe what I’m seeing! If what this reporter in The Metro View is saying about you is true, you have gravely violated your oath as a psychiatrist! He writes that you told him these secrets in bed? How could you? What these people confess to you is not some kind of pillow talk, Jane! Do you understand what this means for the organization? You know you’re obviously fired, right?… It’s Peter, by the way.”

A harsh beep followed and the next message began. She recognized her client’s crisp, cool manner of speaking. Though this time his voice was sharper than any time he had ever been on her couch. “Dr. Munch, this is Captain Cold calling. Now, when I told you I was thinking of becoming a villain, I didn’t mean I was serious! I was just a little villain-curious. Do you even realize what my parents went through when they read today’s paper? How their superhero son is thinking about transitioning into a Bad Guy?

“And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, doctor! I’m frozen out of my social circles, they don’t even answer my calls at the Hero Veteran Center, the union is considering revoking my membership, and my reputation is about as clean as yellow snow! Well, if you want to go around telling reporters that I’m a villain, then maybe I should start acting the part! Enjoy your dinner, doctor.”

Another shrill beep. Who would be next?

“Jane, dear. It’s your mother calling,” said a thin, whining voice. “I saw you were in the paper today. I’m surprised you didn’t tell me about this. This is a big step for you! I know I was nervous about you getting involved with those crazy super people, but look at you now! My daughter, the star. Anyway, I’ve been telling everybody to pick up an issue. Hope you’re eating well. Call me when you can. Maybe you might meet someone nice out of this. You’re not getting any younger, you know…”

Jane pressed down hard on the delete button.

“You have 0 messages”

She let out a long, labored sigh and massaged her temples. There were a million and one things to worry about, she just didn’t know where to start.

Ice cream sounded like a pretty good place.

Her condo was small, even for city standards, which meant a short walk from the sitting room to the kitchen. It also meant the shards of glass scattered on the carpet underneath her shattered fire escape window were hard to ignore. Even if she managed to step around that, the breeze from the chilly night outside could not be avoided.

Whoever had broken in had fled, staying long enough to intimidate, while simultaneously lowering the value of the apartment she would now be surely forced to sell. Peter made that perfectly clear. And now that she was branded the psych who leaked Metro City’s heroes’ darkest secrets, it was doubtful she would ever be hired anywhere ever again.

And still, his face was in her head. Those brown eyes, that perfect smile. His soft hands. His laugh. That beautiful, sweet-talking asshole had really gotten her good. Five months of dating, long enough for her to let her guard down and believe that she might have actually found an awesome guy to experience life with. Five months until she found out it was all a ploy. That the man of her dreams was a reporter out for dirt on Metro City’s most popular topic of conversation. The Heroes.

Like every other man in her life; he came, ripped her world apart, and went merrily on his way. Serves me right, she thought.

Ice Cream. Now.

Jane pulled on the freezer handle but it wouldn’t budge. She tugged harder and the freezer door, with much resistance, slowly ripped open with the sound of Velcro.

The door was covered in frost, steaming, and the freezer and its contents, including the tub of mint chocolate chip ice cream she was after, were encompassed in a giant ice block.

Enjoy your dinner, she heard Captain Cold’s voice in her head. The list of suspected intruders reduced down to one.

She reluctantly tried the fridge. It too was stuck to frost and consumed by a giant wall of ice.

Retreating to her bedroom, she removed a bottle of red wine from her closet and the half-eaten pack of Sour Skittles that was in her purse, then stomped to back to the sitting room, dropping herself heavily on the sofa.

Taking a deep breath, she twisted open the wine and took a swig right from the bottle. Then she wiped the purple off her lips with the back of her hand. She placed the bottle down and picked up the skittles, searching for a yellow one, her favorite.

But the pack of skittles went flying in the air, raining down a storm of colorful candy as the wall showcasing her smashed fire escape window suddenly, with a thunderous boom, blew open like a cinder block pinata, throwing dust and pieces of wall everywhere.

Jane shrieked and jumped back on the couch, crouching behind her knees for cover. When the smoke cleared, she saw him there, floating outside. His beaming yellow spandex. His red cape blowing softly in the night.

Mr. Invincible.

The reflection of the moon gleamed off the smooth surface of his head. Boulder-like arms were crossed over the giant “I” emblem embroidered on his mammoth chest, giving off a vibration that buzzed Jane’s entire body.

He sailed into her apartment and when he landed on the carpet, the whole unit shook. Jane began to sob as he stepped toward her. “Please…” she begged, her hands clasped together.

“What villain do you work for!” he commanded. “Who has summoned you to betray me?”

“It was Charlie! He lied to me!”

“Who?” he roared.

“My boyfriend! He was a reporter pretending to be interested in me…”

“Don’t lie to me!” he roared again.

Jane tensed up and cried, “I’m not, I swear!”

Mr.Invincible and her locked eyes and suddenly it was like the wind had been knocked out of him. He became frail and uneasy. “Are you staring at my bald head?” His voice was weak, trembling.

Jane was taken aback. “I, uh, what?

“You are, aren’t you? You are looking at my head. You think it looks stupid. I can tell! You think I’m ugly, don’t you? Oh, you do! I know it!”

Jane unfurled and stepped off the couch, toward him. He was trembling.

“Of course not,” she said softly. “How could you think something like that?”

“Because everyone does! I’m an alien, okay? My hair doesn’t grow! I wish it would, but it doesn’t! I know I look ugly, you don’t need to lie to me! How could you tell the world that I’m on Zentrix? Superheroes aren’t supposed to take anxiety medication! Do you realize what you’ve done?”

He was breaking down. The man of six-foot-five, with shoulder muscles like mountains and quadriceps like tree trunks, was unraveling right there in her drafty, partly demolished sitting room. He needed his medication.

“Where’s your Zentrix now?” she asked him.

“It’s all gone!” he cried.

She gave him a soft pat on the arm. “It’s okay. It’s okay. I can write you a prescription for more. Don’t cry.”

“We can’t!” he sobbed in even more agony. “Don’t you watch the news? He’s taken the city’s whole supply!”

“Who?” said Jane. “Who has taken the city’s entire supply?”

Mr. Invincible turned on her television with his mind. The breaking news was on screen. Jane whirled, seeing a handsome, young, bronzed skin reporter, standing outside PharmLab Industries, giving a grim-faced report.

“Police are at a standstill outside PharmLab Industries as they try to negotiate with the evil terrorist, Dr. Forkain, who’s holding the city’s entire supply of Zentrix hostage inside this building behind me. So far, all attempts to come to a resolution have been unsuccessful, but he has released this video of his demands…”

The screen cut to a grainy cell phone video, of which Dr. Forkian was the director at the helm. He was a short and crooked man, draped in a shiny, vinyl lab coat. His wily eyes stared into the camera while his bulbous, top-heavy head bounced about, causing the small bushel of hair at the peak of his giant skull to whip back and forth uncontrollably.

Behind him, a large conveyor belt surrounded by stacked cardboard boxes was without movement, and on the floor around the machine was a mix of lab coats and security uniforms, the bodies inside them twisted and purple with decay. One young female lab technician remained.

“Good evening, citizens of Metro City!” he yelled out. “It is I, Dr. Forkian! As I am sure you’ve been informed, the pesky police have been trying to work out a solution to keep me from destroying the city’s supply of Zentrix, but there is only one thing that I want. And that is you, Mr. Invincible! I want you to face me now that you don’t have your precious pills to make you brave. Come and let us see you for who you truly are!… Baldy!”

He raised his claw-like hands and laughed maniacally. Then the camera cut the feed and returned to the handsome, but visually disturbed, news anchorman.

“With no sign of Mr. Invincible, or any other of Metro City’s heroes, many of the city’s residents, especially those dependent on Zentrix, are starting to panic.”

Mr.Invincible turned off the TV with his mind and then buried his face in his red gloves. “What am I going to do?”

“You have to go there. You have to stop him!”

“I can’t!” he cried. “What if he beats me? What if all the people laugh at my bald head! I couldn’t take that kind of embarrassment!”

“No one is laughing at your head…”

Jane hadn’t seen him this bad since the day they had their first breakthrough; discovering his fear of abandonment issues stemming from his parents sending him to this strange planet, where the people had far less strength and far more hair.

But they had worked through those emotions and he was starting to feel less and less disconnect with the people he was saving. It was painful for her to watch this regression. Without the Zentrix he was falling apart.

It’s not because of the Zentrix, her conscious told her. It’s because of you.

If she hadn’t fallen for Charlie’s tricks, given him the tools necessary to write that defaming smear-piece, none of this would have ever happened. She had failed her clients, superheroes or not. She didn’t deserve to keep her job. She didn’t deserve an apartment with all four of its walls.

She needed to make things right.

“Okay,” she began, still trying to pull a solution out of the air. “What if…what if…what if we get the other heroes to join you? What if we find Quick Boy and Captain Cold? Then would you go?”

Mr. Invincible stared out the giant hole he had made in the wall, out toward the skyline, where the moon cast a silver silhouette on the horizon. “What’s the point? Why do I even try to save them? I’ll never be enough. Nothing will ever be enough…”

“Don’t talk like that,” said Jane. “We’ll find Quick Boy and Captain Cold and you’ll face Forkian. Together.”

She could see she wasn’t getting through.

“Here,” she said, heading back to the kitchen. “I’ll pour you a glass of wine to calm your nerves…”

She opened up the cupboard and reached in for a wine glass, only to smash her knuckles on a cold hard wall of frosty ice.

 

***

 

In a stuffy, dimly lit pool hall at the edge of Metro City, two off work construction workers sat at the bar, watching the Metro City Gargoyles game on the bar screen. Two stools over sat another man, trim and narrow, with a head of wavy blond hair. He was dressed in tight white spandex with a big red “Q” on the chest, black boots, gloves, and a black domino mask on his face.

The man sipped on a pint, staring down at his coaster, acting like he didn’t notice the people at the pool tables sneaking peeks and laughing.

When I find that psychiatrist, he thought to himself. I am going to kick her square in the vagina.

He swallowed his anger and signaled for the bartender. A scruffy man in his forties, with salt and pepper hair and a big gut, came waddling over with the widest of grins on his face, red with jolly. “Quick Boy! The fastest ejaculator in the world!” he laughed proudly. “How may I be of service?”

“Whiskey,” the masked man replied, not breaking focus from his coaster.

The bartender pulled down a bottle from the display and poured some into a shot glass, being playful and dramatic as went. Then he placed it in front of Quick Boy with great care, snickering softly. “A whiskey, sir.”

“Another,” said Quick Boy.

“But you haven’t drank the first one.” The bartender looked down at the shot glass. It was empty. He gasped, the way a child gasps when shown a magic trick. “Well, I’ll be! You really are fast!”

The bartender gave a hearty laugh, splashing Quick Boy with his warm, stale breath.

Then something at the front entrance pulled the bartender’s attention and he stopped laughing on a button. “Well, I’ll be…” he muttered softly to himself. “Mr. Invincible.”

Quick Boy swiveled in his stool and saw Mr. Invincible standing there in his iconic yellow spandex, his red cape draped over his shoulder, a glare from the low hanging florescent lights reflecting off his smooth head.

And he wasn’t alone. Beside him, it was…

“Ow!” Jane screamed out, folding and cupping her crotch protectively.

“Something wrong?” asked Mr. Invincible next to her.

“My vagina,” she said between breaths. “Really hurts…”

Mr. Invincible pointed to the bar where Quick Boy sat watching the football game with a newfound smile on his face. “There he is…”

Out of all the heroes, she may have done the most damage to Quick Boy. And all she really meant when she told Charlie that Quick Boy was a premature ejaculator was that it was a little funny that his superpower should also hinder him in such a way, and that it might be more fitting, and that much funnier if he renamed himself the Minute Man. It was a comment only meant for the arms of her lover, but now the whole city knew about it. He would most likely be angry with her.

Not angry enough to hurt her, she hoped.

“Well, look who it is,” he groaned as Mr. Invincible and Jane approached. “The greatest psychiatrist in the world…I’m being sarcastic, by the way. You’re actually the worst psychiatrist in the world.”

Jane clasped her hands together. “I am so sorry, Quick Boy. He tricked me. I thought he loved me. We had been drinking and talking about work…Ow!”

She once again bent over and winced, cupping her groin area.

“Vagina?” said Mr. Invincible.

She nodded and let out a deep, slow breath, trying to recompose herself.

“That looks like it hurts,” said Quick Boy with a grin. “You should go see a doctor. A real doctor. Not a shitty one. Like you. I’m talking to a lawyer just so you know. You are getting sued. Big time.”

Quick Boy gave Mr. Invincible a nod of recognition. “Invincible, you should sue her ass too; going off and telling people what you have in your medicine cabinet. It’s shameful. Did you hear Dr. Forkian has the whole city’s supply of Zentrix held hostage? You know whose fault that is, don’t you?” He pointed to Jane.

At this point, Jane had straightened out and her face was returning to its original shade. “I want to make it up to you. All of you. And I deserve to be sued. I should have never told Charlie those things. It’s just…”

Her cheeks became rosy and she tried her best to fight off the tears building in her eyes. “It’s just, I was lonely, you know? I mean, I listen to people’s problems all day long. They vent to me their deepest secrets, and I put all of this on my shoulders, and I carry it with me, and…and when is my chance to unload? When can I vent? How come even superheroes can vent, but I can’t? I didn’t mean for him to write that article. I didn’t even know he was a reporter. He tricked me.”

She gave a sniffle and wiped her nose with the back of her hand.

Quick Boy put his hand up, unable to watch this spectacle anymore. “Yeah, yeah. You’re a real victim in all this. Stop crying, you’re killing me.”

Jane wiped her eyes, smudging her mascara. “Mr. Invincible needs your help. He can’t defeat Dr. Forkian alone.”

“Quiet, you guys!” barked one of the construction workers sitting across from Quick Boy. He shot them a mean look and pointed to the screen. “There’s a special report on the news!”

They simultaneously turned their attention to the screen at the bar. The same handsome, bronzed skin reporter as before now stood outside a Metro Convenience store, where a large angry crowd had gathered, carrying torches and wooden baseball bats with long, rusty nails poking out of them, screaming and pounding on the thick barrier of ice that layered the exterior, blocking their entry into the store.

Standing next to the reporter was a large, rounded woman in her forties, wearing a wrinkled blue button-up shirt and stretch pants. Her feet were trapped in a block of ice, frozen to the parking lot pavement. In her stubby hands was a strong burning torch and on her face was a look of rage and disgust.

They listened to the reporter give his report. “I’m outside a local Metro Convenience downtown where a group of protesters has gathered by the entrance, calling for Captain Cold to come out and face the crowd. The group says that Captain Cold assaulted a woman in the parking lot in his quest to become a real supervillain.”

The reporter turned to the irate woman stuck in ice. “M’am, could you please explain what happened in your altercation with Captain Cold?”

She spat a thick glob onto the pavement. “Certainly! All I did was tell him how cowardly it was for him to want to give up being a hero! How he must have a little baby dick for thinking about becoming a villain! He was being incredibly rude, trying to ignore me, you see. So, I started to smack him in the face and then, out of nowhere, he froze my feet to the ground! Completely unprovoked!”

“Yes. What else?”

“So I posted about it on Twitter, #ColdShoulderForCaptain, and all these people came out to support me. They brought torches and wooden bats with long, rusty nails sticking out of them. The community is really coming together to fight evil! #WeDon’tNeedAHero #TakingCareOfBusiness”

“Wow. Thank you,” said the reporter. He turned back to the camera and continued, “As the city is falling apart and citizens are taking justice into their own hands, the question remains, where is Mr. Invincible?”

All eyes at the bar turned to Mr. Invincible. He looked down to the floor, muttering, “I can’t do it without Zentrix…”

Jane put her hand on his arm. “Look. I know the Zentrix helped your anxiety, made it easier to face the villains…but you are not the Zentrix. You’re Mr. Invincible! You can fly! You can smash big holes in people’s apartments!”

Mr. Invincible frowned and rubbed his head. “I don’t know…”

“And Quick Boy will be right there beside you. Won’t you, Quick Boy?”

“Fuck that,” said Quick Boy defiantly. “I don’t think you’ve read the things those people are saying about me on social media. They can kiss my fully-mature ass.”

“Sure, some people are jerks. But that isn’t why you became a hero, is it? To be adored? Didn’t you want to do good in the world? Use your gifts to make Metro City a better place?”

Quick Boy rolled his eyes. “All right. Okay. Yes. I’ll help. Just ease up on the guilt trip. This is your fault, remember?”

Jane let out a sigh of relief. “Oh! Thank you, Quick Boy!”

Quick Boy signaled the bartender for the bill. “But first we’re going to get Captain Cold. No hero left behind.”

 

***

A swarm of rusty nails poking out from wooden bats hacked and chipped away at the barricade of ice layering the Metro Convenience. The mob of at least thirty angry men and women shouted and spat a slew of derogatory remarks at Captain Cold inside as they worked hard to break apart the ice wall he had formed before taking cover in the store. They showed no signs of exhaustion, breaking deeper and deeper with each weighted swing.

Behind them, off to the side, the large lady who had summoned them via Twitter punched her torch to the sky, sharply encouraging them to work faster and harder, with the reassurance that she would have been right there sweating alongside them if that intolerable Captain Cold hadn’t frozen her feet to the pavement.

In the midst of the clinks and clanks of nails scraping ice, a single voice from the mob could be heard yelling, “It’s Mr. Invincible!”

Immediately the swinging ceased and all heads turned skyward.

That’s when they saw him, almost glowing in the moonlight, sailing slowly toward the ground, his cape blowing softly in the night breeze.

And he wasn’t alone.

In his bulging arms, he held a slender brunette wearing a button-up shirt and slacks, her hair tied back messily into a ponytail and her glasses halfway off her face. She looked far less calm than he, eyes ogling the ground and her face showing a sickly shade of green.

The crowd took a synchronized step back as Mr. Invincible, and the slender brunette in his arms, landed gently on the pavement between the mob and the store.

The moment Mr. Invincible placed the woman on her feet, she crouched over, hands on knees, and spewed out a trail of vomit that splashed over crushed ice. “Sorry,” coughed up the woman, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. “I’m not good with heights…”

A person in the crowd recognized the woman and shouted, “Hey! That’s Dr. Munch! She’s the psychiatrist who leaked all the superheroes’ secrets!”

An inaudible murmur went over the crowd.

“Who cares!” yelled another man. “If they ain’t here to crush Captain Cold, they’re bad guys too! Light them up! Mr. Invincible ain’t nuthin’ without his Zentrix!”

The crowd solidified in their resolve and stepped forward.

A strong wind blew past the left of the mob and suddenly Quick Boy appeared at the side of Mr. Invincible, where he had not been just a second before.

He put his hands up to address the crowd. “Everybody just slow down, okay?”

The crowd and their torches stood still, but impatient.

Quick Boy went on, “Now can somebody please tell me what has gotten you all so upset?”

The lady stuck in ice spoke for the crowd, “I already told the damn news! Captain Cold wants to be a Bad Guy! And look what he did! He froze me!”

Mr. Invincible stepped toward her and used his heat vision to melt her shackles. In just a moment she was free, though standing in a puddle of water.

The psychiatrist pushed her glasses up on the bridge of her nose as she addressed the mob. “I know what Captain Cold has said has you worried. But the Captain told me those things in private. Because he trusted me. And I betrayed that trust. If you should be mad at anyone, you should be mad at me!”

“Yes!” cried Quick Boy, his eyes blowing open behind the domino mask in a eureka moment. “Blame her! She is by far the worst person here!”

“Sure, blame the woman!” said the lady, rolling her eyes. “And that’s another thing! Where are all the women superheroes? Female superheroes are far too under-represented in Metro City!”

The crowd, who had calmed for a moment, was starting to get riled up again, grumbling and cursing.

“M’am, if you would like to see more woman heroes,” answered Quick Boy. “Then now is your chance. Be a hero. Walk away. Do the right thing. Put down the torch.”

Quick Boy spoke to the rest of the crowd, “All of you! Now is your chance to do something heroic. You can choose not to be violent. You can choose not to be a torch-wielding mob. You can let your actions speak louder than Captain Cold’s words. You can deal with your anger like rational people; by passive-aggressive blogging on the internet.”

A middle-aged man at the front of the crowd was the first to put down his bat with rusty spikes. “The premature ejaculator is right! Look at us! This isn’t right…I’m not like this. It’s just that, since I ran out of Zentrix I’m so anxious…”

“Hey, me too,” said the twenty-something-year-old girl beside him.

“I ran out a week ago!” yelled a voice in the back. “I don’t know what I’m going to do!”

Quick Boy scanned the mob. “How many of you are acting irrationally because you can’t refill your Zentrix prescription?”

Mostly all the hands went up.

“I just came for the torches,” said one man.

The psychiatrist leaned into Mr. Invincible and whispered, “See? You’re not alone.”

Mr. Invincible’s head rose from his chest and his back straightened out. A small smile cracked on his face. For the first time since he had blown open a new door in her apartment wall, he was displaying signs of self-assurance.

“Well, I have good news for you!” said Quick Boy. “We can get the city’s supply of Zentrix back! But we’re going to need Captain Cold’s help to do it! So what do you say? Let’s get you back your medication! Eh? How’s that sound?”

One by one, the bats and torches started to hit the pavement. The crowd began to break and head back out into the city. In just a few minutes the only ones left in the parking lot were the heroes and their psychiatrist.

Mr. Invincible used his heat ray vision on the ice wall. In no time at all, it was nothing but a few small puddles at the foot of the store. The door opened with the tinkle of wind-chimes and a pair of heavy Sherpa boots stepped out into the parking lot. Captain Cold stood before them, his chiseled anatomy giving shape to the pale blue spandex in which it was covered.

The Captain lifted his goggles so that they rested over the thick wool toque on his head. Strands of jet black hair poked out the back and curled upward. His features were incredibly soft and smooth for someone over three hundred years old. Most would say he didn’t look a day over twenty-five.

He stared at Jane with his cold, icy eyes and then, when he was good and ready, he said to her, “A big part of me wants to drive an ice pick through your skull right now.”

“I know…” said Jane, lowering her head.. “I can’t tell you how sorry I am. I didn’t know Charlie was a reporter. I…I thought he loved me.”

Captain Cold raised his hand, wrapped to the knuckles in purple boxer’s tape. “Enough. I don’t care. I want to drive an ice pick through your skull. But I won’t. That’s not what heroes do. And despite what the public may think of me, I still consider myself to be a part of that team. But it was nice to hear you publicly take responsibility for your actions. For that, I thank you.”

“It’s all good, Cap,” said Quick Boy with a grin. “I gave her a few quick hoofs in the ol’ va-jay-jay for all of us.”

Jane’s head popped up like a dog hearing its leash taken off the rack. “Wait, that was you?”

“Enough!” exclaimed Mr. Invincible, commanding the lead. “It’s time we all acted like the heroes we are. Let us go. Dr. Forkain is waiting…”

“Sounds chill,” said Captain Cold, re-positioning his goggles over his face, steaming frost creeping up his arm.

Sounds chill, he says,” chuckled Quick Boy. “Classy.”

Then he clapped his hands together enthusiastically. “Okay, boys! Let’s go get this city back on drugs!”

 

***

 

Steve, the new night security guard for PharmLab Industries, sat trembling in fear, crouched behind twin towers of cardboard boxes, bottles of Zentrix waiting to be shipped. Somehow Dr. Forkian had lost track of him during his hostile takeover of the production facility.

As far as Steve could gather, there were seven people dead, one of which being his supervisor, Keegan, a hefty man of middle age who now lied sprawled out on the floor, adding to the stench of rotting flesh. His face was decomposed beyond recognition. Not a single strand of hair from his shaggy comb mustache remained.

Steve had heard about the fleshy crab-leg fingers of Dr. Forkian. How with just one poke of his poisonous fingernail he could drain an organism entirely of its life force. And Steve just got to see it first hand. On Keegan. And some other lab technicians.

Among the corpses, there was a single lab technician left alive, a young woman. Steve thought she couldn’t have been older than twenty-two, or twenty-three. She was pretty and young. She was the bait.

The young woman slumped hopelessly on her knees at the will of Dr. Forkian, her cheeks glossy with tears.

“Don’t cry, my sweet,” he encouraged in his thin, wily manner. “I do not plan to kill you…yet.”

The lab technician dropped her head and sobbed louder.

Steve cringed at the size of Dr. Forkian’s veiny, bulbous head. In fact, the evil doctor’s whole body under that vinyl lab coat was crooked, misshapen, and offensive to the eye. And yet he laughed with such jest, and moved with such certainty, it was as if he had no knowledge of his hideous deformities.

“The day has finally come where I have subdued my dark-skinned nemesis, Mr. Invincible. I should say by the looks of things his name should be Mr. Invisible, don’t you agree?”

The young woman continued to sob.

Steve wanted to leap out from behind the twin towers of boxes and tackle the cretin to the floor, pop him a good one between the eyes, but he knew he was no match for even one of the villain’s death-delivering fingers.

But then, as if the Lord had answered his prayers, the window panel running along the west wall smashed and shattered into a million tiny shards as Mr. Invincible’s tree trunk calves thundered down, cracking the tiles beneath his feet and shaking the entire foundation of the high rise.

First, he looked at Dr. Forkian. Then he looked at the piled-up boxes of Zentrix. Dr. Forkian followed his gaze and laughed. “Yes. It’s close. And yet so far.”

He put his long finger an inch away from the young hostage. Hovering beside her neck. The slightest movement and she was done for. This knowledge was not lost on her. She held her breath and trembled.

A sight that would usually have Mr. Invincible springing into action now had him analyzing his predestined failure, second-guessing everything. Steve had never seen the hero so conflicted.

Dr. Forkian salivated at his arch enemy’s internal struggle. “Did you really come to face me alone?”

Suddenly, a fierce wind blew quickly passed Steve, almost bringing down the twin towers. Then, magically, another hero in white spandex appeared beside Mr. Invincible where no one had been just a second before. Steve recognized him as Quick Boy. He didn’t know much about the hero, mainly just that he was a premature ejaculator.

Arriving in his arms was a white girl with glasses and a ponytail. Steve recognized her too. There was a lot more green in her face now, though. She was the hero psychiatrist, Dr. Munch, that had been in the papers for something. What it was for, Steve could not remember.

The moment Quick Boy set Dr. Munch on her feet, she hurled over and was sick to her stomach.

“Gross…” said Quick Boy.

“Sorry,” said the girl, wiping her mouth clean with the back of her hand. “I get motion sickness too…”

She scanned the room, seeing the dead bodies and inhaling the scent of death, only to hurl over and be sick again.

“Oh my god…” she gasped once she had straightened out, horrified at the massacre at her feet.

“Ah! Quick Boy!” exclaimed Dr. Forkian, joyful at the sight. “I see you have brought with you, Dr. Jane Munch! I thank you, madam. From one doctor to another. Without you foolishly giving away those dark secrets I would have never figured out a way to bring this anxiety-riddled, pathetic, bald, oversized infant to his cry-baby knees!”

A frosty chill swept through the production room just before Captain Cold could be seen riding an ice wave through the same hole in the west wall that Mr. Invincible had excavated just a few moments before.

Steve had heard Captain Cold was thinking about going to the other side. He was relieved to see the Captain take his place among the heroes.

“Let her go,” he ordered Dr. Forkian. “She’s done nothing wrong.”

The evil doctor greeted him like cousins on Christmas. “Captain Cold! So good to see you, my dear! Are you sure you don’t want to come to stand with me? I could be the most wonderful mentor to the right mind in need of shaping.”

“If my head is ever the shape of yours, I’ll eat a lit stick of dynamite.” The Captain answered, coldly. Then he used his ice breath to forge a block of ice over Dr. Forkian’s deadly finger at the hostage’s neck.

Dr. Forkian only grinned. “Fool. My prick destroys all living organisms. Including water.”

He used the same finger on the other hand to poke the block of ice. It sizzled, bubbled, and de-materialized right in front of their eyes, rendering the thawed hand a threat once again.

But it did give Quick Boy just enough time to spring into action. In a blur of white and red, he streaked forward at the hostage. She disappeared, only to re-appear in Quick Boy’s embrace right by Steve and the twin towers of boxes.

“Now, Mr. Invincible!” shouted Quick Boy.

Mr. Invincible was still and unsure. His head hung. “I can’t…”

That’s when Dr. Munch stepped toward him and said, “Yes. You can. You are the only one who can. The only one who can’t be killed by his prick. You know why? Because your name isn’t Mr. Zentrix. It isn’t Mr. Anxiety. It’s not Mr. Bald. What is it? I want to hear you say it.”

For a moment his teeth clenched and his eyes squeezed shut like he had eaten something sour. But then, slowly, as if inwardly some difficult equation had been solved, his head began to rise. His eyes narrowed and focused. He was starting to understand. His back straightened and his fists clenched. The whole room began to buzz with vibrations emitting from his aura.

Yes. He understood.

“My name,” he said, floating off the ground. “Is Mr. Invincible!”

The entire room began to shake.

The grin on Dr. Forkian went flat as he whispered to himself, “It can’t be…”

A smile broke on Captain Cold’s face as he said what everyone in the room was already thinking. “Oh, yes. It can. You are so fucked.”

With furious speed and power, Mr. Invincible zoomed through the air and lifted Dr. Forkian off his crooked feet with a hard right swing, booming like thunder. Smashing against the far window, Dr. Forkian slid to the floor like a rag doll, his bulbous head sinking, unconscious.

Steve leaped out from behind the twin towers and cheered.

The lab technician gasped, relieved.

Quick Boy and Captain Cold shared a proud glance from across the room.

And Dr. Munch, if only for a second, felt a sense of profundity about her chosen career.

 

After the authorities had taken away Dr. Forkian with specially made hand-cuffs, Steve called the placement agency and demanded a new job.

Mr. Invincible, Captain Cold, Quick Boy, Jane, and the young lab technician stood among the shattered glass, pill packages, and toppled boxes.

“That was a really cool thing you did,” said Captain Cold, patting Mr. Invincible on the back. “You make me proud to be a hero.”

“I think you both made some real breakthroughs today,” said Jane.

“Well, that’s just fine and well for you guys,” said Quick Boy. “But what about me? I’m still the fastest shooter in the west.”

“Actually,” said the lab technician beside him, raising her hand modestly. “We have a drug called Staminex on Level 2 that was designed to counteract that little issue. I’m sure you’ve more than earned some free samples.”

Quick Boy smiled.

The young woman blushed ever so slightly, tucking hair behind her ear.

“Well, then,” said Quick Boy, extending an opening in his arm. “Shall we venture to Level 2?”

She interlocked her arm with his, saying, “I would be honored.”

And the two of them walked on, arm in arm, toward the elevator.

Jane spoke to the two remaining heroes, “Look. I know I messed up pretty bad. But don’t let my mistakes stop you from getting the help you need. Let me refer you both to another psychiatrist in the organization.”

“Thank you, doctor,” said Mr. Invincible. “But if it is okay by you, I would like to keep our appointments. It is nice to have someone to confide in…to trust.”

“You…trust me?”

Captain Cold put his hand on her shoulder. “I feel the same way as Mr. I. Though your mistake was not without its repercussion, you have humanity and vulnerability to you that ensures me of your pure-heartedness. I too would like to continue our appointments, is that cool?”

“That is ice cold,” said Jane.

 

***

 

Charlie stepped out of the elevator, a bag of groceries in one arm like an infant, with one final nod and wink to Jessica up on 9. He often joked that being on 6, their floors should get off at the same time sometime. It was a joke that never really landed as well as he would have liked. But since his article was published in the Metro View, front page mind you, it seemed he couldn’t miss if he tried. And not just with Jessica on 9, but Megan on 12, Darcy on 4, and basically every intern in the newsroom at work.

He strolled down the long maroon hallway as the gold-plated numbers went up through the 600’s. He passed Wendy from 604, her rambunctious poodle Casey chomping air at the helm of his leash in front of her. She smiled and gave a little wave. Charlie tipped his imaginary hat, adding a little hop to his step.

With no more run-ins, he took the keys from his khaki pocket and put it in the slot. The door clicked open and he stepped into his condo.

Kind of cold in here, he thought.

Stepping into the narrow front hall he took a look in the sitting room and choked, dropping his back of groceries. A lone tomato rolled out onto the hardwood, tumbling with speed until it stopped under a pair of white Sketchers that Charlie had once seen on his bedroom floor. And in them was a girl that had once been in his bed.

The draft Charlie felt on entering the condo was explained by the massive hole in his apartment wall letting in the night breeze at will. And standing at its foot were the three heroes he had exposed in his article. Staring at him. Smiling at him.

And with them was the girl. Jane. They still protected her. How?

“It can’t be…” gasped Charlie.

Quick Boy stepped forward in his crotch kicking ready stance. “Oh, yes. It can. You are so fucked.”

 

The End

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