Jane Munch: Psychiatrist for Heroes
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.
Written by Gregory Patrick Travers
The new message light on Jane’s answering machine blinked red as she stood over her Trysil Mocha Brown Nightstand, recently purchased from IKEA, biting her lip nervously.
How could I have been so stupid? she wondered, though at this point, she knew that retrospection would be of little benefit to her conundrum.
Her finger hovered over the play button, knowing she was only delaying the inevitable. She had told her clients many times over through the years that the best way to face a looming problem was to treat it like removing a band-aid and attack the uncomfortable issue in one swift execution. Somehow the advice seemed less practical now that it was she on the considering end. Finally, she gave in, closed her eyes, and pressed down on the button.
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 ripe with such flagrant antipathy 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 preceded the next message. The deep, velvety voice of a disgruntled male began to speak. It didn’t take long for the freshly terminated psychiatrist to recognize her once-client’s crisp and cool manner of speaking, though this time, his delivery was a good deal sharper than any of the times he had lain on the couch in her office.
“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. Jane dreaded who might be next in line in her string of admonishing voicemails.
“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 throbbing 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 thirteenth floor one bedroom 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 embedded in her carpet fibers underneath her shattered fire escape window were hard to ignore. So was the frigid nighttime breeze blowing freely into her apartment.
Whoever had broken into her modest, pink-walled flat had since fled, trespassing only long enough to intimidate, while simultaneously lowering the value of the apartment she would now be surely forced to sell; Peter had 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 in her field ever again.
And still, the face of the man who had callously betrayed her haunted her mind’s eye; his brown eyes and perfect smile burned behind her retinas like a tattoo of deep shame and regret.
I bet he’s having himself a good laugh right about now, Jane thought bitterly.
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 really 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, swallowing the lump in her throat.
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 bordered in steaming frost, and the freezer and its contents, including the tub of mint chocolate chip ice cream she had intended on consuming in its entirety, were encompassed in a slick, reflective ice block.
Enjoy your dinner, she heard Captain Cold’s voice sneer in the black of her head.
The list of suspected intruders was reduced down to one.
Jane reluctantly tried the fridge. It too was stuck to frost and consumed by a giant wall of ice.
Retreating to her bedroom, Jane removed a bottle of red wine from her closet and the unopened pack of Sour Skittles that was in her purse, before stomping back to the sitting room and dropping herself heavily on the sofa.
Taking a deep breath, she twisted open the wine cap and took a swig right from the bottle. She wiped the purple off her lips with the back of her hand and placed the bottle down on her Hemnes coffee table, also purchased at IKEA. The warm alcohol coated her stomach and she picked up the pack of Skittles, pried open the plastic packaging without having any candy jump out at her, and searched for a yellow one, her favorite.
It was during this search, which Jane was pleased to find rendered her slightly less anxious, that 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 drywall everywhere.
Jane shrieked and jumped back on the couch, the colorful sugar pellets she had successfully managed to keep in the plastic packaging upon its unsealing now rained upward, hung in the air for less than a second, and poured down in a blur of rainbow all around her. She shimmed back on the couch until the arm rest dug into the small of her back, a blue and red skittle pelting off her crown and bouncing out of sight. A cloud of destruction obscured the newly installed hole in her condo wall. She crouched behind her knees for cover. When the dust and particles of cinder block cleared, she saw him there, floating outside her apartment. His beaming yellow spandex a beacon defying the ominous shroud of night. His red cape blowing softly in the breeze.
The reflection of the moon gleamed off the smooth curvature of his head. Boulder-like arms were crossed over the giant “I” emblem embroidered on his mammoth chest, giving off a vibration that buzzed like electricity.
He sailed into her apartment, and when he landed on the carpet, unphased by the jagged shards of glass caught in the shag, 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!”
She locked eyes with the glowering god and suddenly he appeared as if the wind had been knocked out of him and the fearsomeness sucked from his being.
“Are you staring at my bald head?” he asked, voice 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!”
He squirmed and curled in on himself.
Jane unfurled and stepped off the couch, toward him.
“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 accumulating 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. Jane whirled toward the set. There was a breaking news report on screen. A handsome, young, bronzed skin reporter, standing outside PharmLab Industries, was in the midst of a grim-faced report.
“Police are at a standstill outside PharmLab Industries as they try to negotiate with the evil terrorist, Dr. Forkian, 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 alive.
“Good evening, citizens of Metro City!” the wretched face on camera bellowed. “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 gnarled claw-like hands and laughed maniacally. Then the camera cut 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 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 her client in such disintegration 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.
In took some time, but they had worked through those emotions and he was starting to feel less and less disconnected with the people whose lives he was saving. It was painful for her to watch this pitiable regression.
Without the Zentrix, Mr. Invincible was falling apart.
It’s not because of the Zentrix, her conscience 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,” Jane started, 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 excavated 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.”
His gaze remaining downcast, Jane 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 lighted 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 orange 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 crescent shaped face. He sipped on a pint of amber ale, staring down at his coaster, acting like he didn’t notice the people at the pool tables sneaking peeks at him 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, waddled over with the widest of grins on his rouged and jolly face. “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. When he completed the show, he placed the shot glass full of liquor in front of Quick Boy with great care, snickering softly. “A whiskey, sir.”
“Another,” said Quick Boy.
“But you haven’t drunk the first one,” said the bartender.
Upon a second glance, the bartender witnessed that the shot glass he had topped off only moments ago was indeed presently empty. He gasped, the way a child gasps when shown a magic trick. “Well, I’ll be! You 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 away 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 ebony skull.
And he wasn’t alone. Beside him, it was…
“Ow!” Jane screamed out, folding over and cupping her crotch like a wound.
“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, Jane knew her blunder with the reporter had done the most damage to Quick Boy. And all she really meant when had 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 meant only for the arms of her lover, but now the whole city was in on the joke. She new the super-powered speedster would be angry with her, she just hoped not angry enough to hurt her physically. Her vagina, for some unknown reason, was already aching enough.
“Well, look who it is,” Quick Boy 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.
“Vagina?” inquired Mr. Invincible.
She nodded with sharp jabs of her head and let out a deep, slow breath as she tried 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 keep 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 gathering at the corners of 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 raised an open palm. “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. The scruffy man 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.
A handsome, bronzed skin reporter stood outside a Metro Convenience store, where a large angry crowd had gathered, carrying torches and wooden baseball bats with long, rusty nails protruding 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, portly 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.
Mr. Invincible, Jane, and Quick Boy listened to the reporter give his report. “I’m outside a local Metro Convenience downtown where a group of protesters have 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 shackled at the ankles in ice. “M’am, could you please explain what happened in your altercation with Captain Cold?”
She spat a thick glob of phlegm 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?”
The large protester cleared her throat. “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 with his account, “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 were now glued 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.”
Jane huffed. “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.”
Terry Stone, a bronzed-skin, handsome reporter for Channel Six News, stood next to his pasty, less handsome cameraman and watched a mob of at least thirty rabidly livid men and women smash their baseball bats with nails sticking out of them against the barricade of ice currently layering the Metro Convenience, chipping away at the frosty fortress as they shouted and spat a slew of derogatory remarks at Captain Cold taking refuge inside the store. They showed no signs of exhaustion, breaking deeper and deeper into the barricade with each weighted swing.
Off to the side, the large lady who had summoned the mob via Twitter punched her torch to the nighttime sky, sharply encouraging the pack of protesters to work faster and harder, and in between her motivational bellows, offering earnest reassurances that had it not been for the intolerable Captain Cold freezing her feet to the pavement, she would surely be among them, sweating all the same.
Amid the clinks and clanks of sharp metal scraping ice, a single voice from the mob could be heard yelling, “Look! It’s Mr. Invincible!”
The protesters paused from chipping the ice and all heads, including that of Terry Stone and his cameraman, turned skyward.
The yellow spandex painted over his sculpted brawn body almost glowing in the moonlight, the undefeated superhero sailed slowly toward the ground. His emblematic red cape blew softly in the night breeze. In his bulging arms, arms that could punch through brick like paper, he cradled a slender brunette wearing her hair back in hasty ponytail that seemed congruent with her outfit of disheveled office attire and sickly green nauseous visage.
Terry Stone looked to his cameraman to make sure he was filming, which he was, and for that, the reporter was pleased. A story about Captain Cold was one thing, but Mr. Invincible was a veritable ratings magnet, especially now that his crippling anxiety had been exposed to the world over.
The crowd took one synchronized and awe-heavy step back as Mr. Invincible and the discombobulated brunette in his arms landed gently on the pavement between the mob and the convenience 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 small mounds of crushed ice around her.
“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 ailing 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 as if to advance on the hero and his maiden.
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.
The domino-masked wearing vigilante put his hands up to address the crowd. “Everybody just slow down, okay?”
The crowd and their torches remained at bay, albeit visibly unforbearing.
Quick Boy went on, “Now can somebody please tell me what has gotten you all so upset?”
The lady with her feet 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 the irate spokeswoman and used his heat vision to melt her frosty shackles. In just a moment she was free of restraint, though now markedly discontented to be standing in a puddle of water.
The psychiatrist, looking less sickly now, addressed the mob with a surprising valiance, “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 white irisless eyes expanding behind the domino mask. “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 settled for a moment, was starting to once again grumble and curse.
“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 from the back of the swarm. “I don’t know what I’m going to do!”
Quick Boy scanned the mob’s distraught expressions. “Alright, 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. Other people have anxiety, too.”
Mr. Invincible’s chin lifted from his chest and his back straightened out. A small smile cracked on his face.
“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 clatter to the pavement as the crowd dispersed in separate directions. In just a few minutes, the only ones left in the parking lot were Terry Stone and his cameraman, the heroes, and their psychiatrist.
Mr. Invincible used his heat ray vision to melt the layer of thick ice barricading the convenience store. Soon, all that remained were a few small puddles at the foot of the sliding door entrance, which parted to the tinkle of wind chimes, and a pair of heavy Sherpa boots stepped out into the parking lot.
Terry Stone nudged his cameraman to make sure he was still filming. A thumbs up from his portly subordinate quelled the reporter’s brief concern.
Joining the heroes in the parking lot, purple ski goggles masking his eyes and blue spandex yielding to the shape of a chiseled anatomy, was the once-revered master of all things frigid, Captain Cold.
The captain lifted his goggles so that they rested over the thick wool toque on his head exposing eyes with the irises of the palest blue. Spears of thick jet black hair poked out from underneath the tan knitted cap and rested over his brow.
The denigrated hero glowered at Dr. Munch and only spoke when he was good and ready. “A big part of me wants to drive an ice pick through your skull right now,” he said dryly.
“I know…” said Dr. Munch, lowering her head to avert the captain’s gaze. “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 forearm to 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. Though I am still fraught with contempt for your actions against me, I thank you for publicly assuming responsibility for your misdeeds.”
“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.”
Dr. Munch’s head popped up like a restless 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.” The super speedster clapped his hands together enthusiastically and shouted, “Okay, boys! Let’s go get this city back on drugs!”
Steve Larsen, the new night security guard for PharmLab Industries, sat crouched behind twin towers of cardboard boxes packed with bottles of Zentrix waiting to be shipped, hiding and praying for his life. His body trembled with an intensity of terror he had yet to experience in his mundane existence until tonight, and his heart pounded so clamorously inside his chest, that he dreaded each beat was liable to give away his position to the huge-headed maniac at the other end production room who, for the moment, was unaware of Steve Larsen’s presence.
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 production floor, contributing his part to the pungent stench of rotting flesh permeating the immediate area. His face was gray, parched, and decomposed beyond recognition.
As a boy, Steve had heard stories from his uncle 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 in mere seconds, leaving them a hallow shell of decay and bone. Tonight, Steve got to see it first hand, so to speak.
Among the twisted, gray corpses sunken with death, there was a single female lab technician left alive. Steve thought she couldn’t have been older than twenty-two, or twenty-three. She was the bait; a pretty young woman with shoulder-length brown hair and ripe, glowing skin–at least compared to the moat of dead bodies around her.
The young woman slumped hopelessly on her knees at the will of Dr. Forkian, her roseate cheeks glossy with tears.
“Don’t cry, my sweet,” Dr. Forkian 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 dome that seemed to bobble over his disproportionately narrow shoulders. Under a vinyl lab coat, the evil doctor’s body 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 his cowardly absence tonight that 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 oddly-shaped cretin to the floor, pin him, and pop him a good one between the eyes, but he knew he was no match for even one of the villain’s long, death-delivering fingers.
At that moment, as if the Lord had heard and answered Steve Larsen’s prayers, the window panel running along the west wall smashed open and shattered into a million tiny shards. A blur of red and yellow spandex dropped into the production room like a falling comet. Mr. Invincible’s tree trunk calves thundered down, cracking the tiles beneath his feet and shaking the entire foundation of the thirty-floor high rise. Initially, the ebony hero’s gaze was narrowly fixed on Dr. Forkian, but his focus soon faltered and his gaze slipped behind the evil doctor to the piled-up boxes of Zentrix.
Dr. Forkian followed Mr. Invincible’s gaze and laughed. “Yes. It’s close. And yet so far.”
He positioned the sharp end of his long finger an inch away from the young female hostage and left it hovering beside her neck. Frozen and weeping silently, her eyes were the only thing to move as she peeked sidelong at the extremity that could be her doom. She held her breath and trembled.
A sight that would usually have Mr. Invincible springing into action, now had the hero looking almost as frightened as the hostage. Steve had never before seen the hero so pitiable and browbeaten.
Dr. Forkian salivated at his arch enemy’s internal struggle. “Did you really come to face me alone?”
Suddenly, a strong gust of wind swept forcefully past Steve, almost bringing down the twin towers of Zentrix boxes he was using as cover. 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 orange-haired superhero, mainly just that he was a premature ejaculator.
Cradled in Quick Boy’s arms was a white girl with a ponytail. Steve recognized her, too. She was the hero psychiatrist, Dr. Munch, that had been in the papers for something; what that something was, Steve could not remember.
The moment Quick Boy set Dr. Munch on her feet, she hurled over and spewed out a mouthful of vomit.
“Gross…” said Quick Boy.
“Sorry,” said the girl, wiping her mouth clean with the back of her hand. “I get motion sickness, too…”
Dr. Munch scanned the room, noting the dead bodies and inhaling the crude scent of death. She doubled over and was sick again.
“Oh my god…” she gasped once she had straightened out. Like Steve, she was horrified at the massacre before her.
“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 pervaded throughout the production room just before Captain Cold rode a snaking 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, and worried who the ice master was here to sponsor. He was relieved to see the Captain take his place among the heroes.
“Let her go,” Captain Cold ordered Dr. Forkian. “She’s done nothing wrong.”
The evil doctor greeted the captain like cousins on Christmas. “Captain Cold! So good to see you, my dear! Are you sure you don’t want to stand next to me? Join 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 before using 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.”
The doctor used a finger on the other hand to poke the block of ice, which, upon contact, sizzled, bubbled, and dematerialized, 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 toward the hostage. She disappeared, only to re-appear in Quick Boy’s embrace beside the twin towers of boxes concealing Steve’s presence.
“Now, Mr. Invincible!” shouted Quick Boy.
Mr. Invincible remained still, unsure. His head sank as he murmured weakly, “I can’t…”
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 her despondent client’s 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, eyes narrowed and focused. He was starting to understand. His back straightened and flexed. His fists clenched. The whole room began to buzz with vibrations emitting from his aura.
Steve smiled. The large red “I” on the hero’s yellow uniform seemed to glow bright and proud.
“My name,” said the buzzing metahuman, floating off the ground. “Is Mr. Invincible!”
The entire room began to quake.
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 thunderous right swing. Dr. Forkian smashed against the far window and 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 at Dr. Munch from across the room.
After the authorities arrived and took Dr. Forkian away in specially made hand-cuffs, Mr. Invincible, Captain Cold, Quick Boy, Dr. Munch, Steve, and the young lab technician stood among the shattered glass, pill packages, and toppled boxes.
“That was a 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 Dr. Munch.
“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 grinned and the young woman blushed ever so slightly, tucking an out of place strand of hair behind her ear.
“Well, then,” said Quick Boy, extending an opening under his arm. “Shall we venture to Level 2?”
The technician interlocked her arm with his, saying, “I would be honored.”
Steve saw Dr. Munch smile sweetly as she watched the couple walk arm in arm toward the elevator. Then she regarded the other two heroes with a humble expression. “Look,” she told them. “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.”
Dr. Munch softened. “You…trust me?”
Captain Cold put his hand on his shrink’s shoulder. “I feel the same way as Mr. Invincible. Though your mistake was not without its repercussion, you have a 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 Watts 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 didn’t land 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 with the ladies 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.
Charlie strolled breezily down the long maroon hallway as the gold-plated numbers on the flanking apartments ascended the 600’s. He spotted Wendy from 604 approaching with her rambunctious poodle Fluffles chomping air at the helm of his leash in front of her. She said a neighborly hello and proffered a little wave. Charlie tipped his imaginary hat, adding a little hop to his step as she crossed his path.
At the door to his apartment, Charlie took the keys from the pocket of his khakis and inserted his house key into the deadbolt. The door clicked open and he stepped into the narrow entrance way of his abode which was made even tighter by the winter jackets hanging off the coat rack and the shoe organizer below them.
Kind of cold in here, he thought.
Stepping into the sitting room, Charlie choked and the bag of groceries dropped from his grip. The bag hit the floor and tipped over on the edge of the sectional carpet. A lone tomato rolled out onto the hardwood, tumbling with velocity until its momentum was arrested under the sole of a white Sketchers running shoe that Charlie was sure he had once seen strewn about his bedroom floor. He was sure of this because the woman presently inside those shoes was a girl that had once, very recently, in fact, been in his bed.
The draft Charlie felt while entering the condo was explained by the massive hole in his apartment wall that had been excavated in his absence. And standing at the hole’s foot, behind the psychiatrist he had duped for a story, backdropped by the Metro City skyline, were the three heroes Charlie had exposed in his article. Staring at him. Smiling at him.
They still protected her. How?
“It can’t be…” gasped Charlie.
Quick Boy stepped forward, ready in his crotch kicking stance. “Oh, yes. It can. You are so fucked.”