By Colin Eldred-Cohen
The frantic screaming from the floor above snapped Tiffany out of her doze. Grumbling, she slipped off of the couch, stretched out and made her way towards the stairs. She was not going to lie, the past few months had been hell, considering that her flat mate Ryan had been stuck on this obsession and continued to drag her into it. So therefore, she mused as she began ascending the stairs and adjusted her beige turtleneck, if he was screaming at this hour, that could mean that this whole deal was finally over and she could finally get on with her… life… if you could call being a 4’5, single, jobless transfer student from Wales living in an apartment in the skid row in Chicago a life.
Sure enough, once she got to the top floor and opened the nearest door on her left, there was Ryan, screaming out and looking happier than he had looked in a few months. His face no longer had the recent scowl he had been wearing; it was now replaced by a dopy grin flashing out from behind a thin and recently sprouted beard. This was not a thin beard that was well trimmed and evenly distributed across the face; this was a beard left unchecked for four days by a man who sprouts hair very quickly, one that looks fairly messy and makes its owner look a bit like a douche. Ryan stood about six feet and was quite beefy, with muscle on his limbs and flab on his gut and at the moment was doing a ridiculous dance on the hardwood floor.
“I suppose the package just arrived?” Tiffany asked, brushing her auburn hair out of her face as the sun began its slow setting. She would have been awake if it were not for the term paper that had kept her up all of last night.
Stopping his dance, he swung around to face her, his brown eyes alive with excitement. “Hell yeah!” he exclaimed. “My life is finally going to mean something.”
“Really?” she replied, leaning back and folding her arms. “All right then, let’s see it.”
Ryan’s grin broadened as he turned around and bent to open the box at the foot of his bed. It was clear that he had been waiting for Tiffany to ask. He began opening the box and pulling something out, but kept himself positioned so that she would not see it. Personally, after all the images that had gone through Tiffany’s mind since he started babbling about this whole thing, she could stand not knowing.
Finally, he stopped pulling whatever it was out and stood stark still, attempting to pause dramatically to build tension before he revealed his pride and joy. Finally, he turned around and held it up. What he displayed was a skin-tight spandex suit which would cover the entire body, save for the head, and flashed purple as if it were trying to imitate a Las Vegas sign. Black stripes that slanted downwards ran down the sides of where the upper torso would be. On the legs were a cavalcade of red patterns that cris-crossed and ran streamline down the shins and thighs. Around the collar was a pattern of black rings that almost resembled a neutron. All in all, it was an impressive display, but Tiffany had to wonder if it would retain its splendor when it was put over Ryan’s paunchy form.
“Very nice,” she said, trying to contain her laughter. “Are you expecting to impress someone at a pride parade?”
His smile turned into a grimace as he dipped his head, shook it and sighed. “Oh Tiffany,” he said. “You really don’t understand how much I’m going to change the world, do you?”
“Apparently not,” she replied. “Of course, I might have been listening to a different scheme of yours. Run this one by my again so that I’m sure.” Like it’ll matter, she thought. No matter how many times I hear this, it will never sound good.
Puffing out his chest, Ryan began to grin again. “All right,” he said, looking proud of himself. “If you look back at every point in history, trends were started by just one crazy person who went against the grain and made a difference in people’s lives. It just took one guy to say, ‘Hey everybody. It’s all right. Someday this will be cool and you won’t get persecuted or laughed at.’ That’s what Barack Obama did when he got elected and started the trend of black people running for president and that’s what I’m going to do tonight.”
“I, er…” Tiffany started, trying to think of the words to counteract this fools ramblings. “…I don’t think that’s why Barack Obama ran for president.”
“The truth is,” Ryan continued, as though he had not heard her, “that there’s a man who can change the world inside everyone, but some people are just too afraid to let him or her out. But it just takes one, man. It just takes one. And that’s what I’m doing tonight. Tonight I’m going to go forth and with whatever I do to make the national news, I’m going to send a message to everyone who’s afraid to parade themselves in the streets and show them that they don’t have to stay in the closet anymore.” Sliding his right foot back, Ryan puffed out his chest, held his head erect and held the outfit in front of him in a closed fist. “Tonight, I shall start the trend of the superhero!”
There was silence for a few seconds as Tiffany mulled over what she had just heard. Nope, she decided. It still sounds like a bad idea. Nodding slowly, she replied, “Well, that’s all very nice, but you do realize that… umm…” She was afraid to deliver the point in case he took it badly. “…you do realize that superpowers don’t exist, right?”
“Oh yeah,” he nodded enthusiastically, abandoning his proud stance. “But that’s the thing. You don’t need any special powers. Look and Batman or Rorschach. All they had was their anonymity and a mean left hook. Well, Batman had gadgets and a lab full of equipment that couldn’t exist without a government grant, but the point is, in the superhero business, you can make it with absolutely nothing to your name.”
“Ryan,” she said, trying to reason with him, “there is no superhero business. And even if there was one, I doubt that you can make it in there with just a costume to your name.”
“Ah,” he said, holding up one finger. “That’s where you’re wrong. I have a costume, a mask, an athletic cup to preserve my future children, a name and a catchphrase.” As he spoke, he pulled out each article and set it out on the table. The mask was a simple black one that covered the eyes and was held in place by an elastic band. The cup was a standard one. The name and catchphrase were insubstantial. “You see,” he continued, “both my name and my catchphrase are going to be epic enough to inspire awe, but they’ll also be inside references, so that all the smart people of the world will laugh with me. My superhero name will be a tribute to Victor Hugo: Quasi-Mundo, meaning I’ll be strong enough to hold up half of the world. And my catchphrase…” He paused, though Tiffany could not tell whether it was to give the situation more drama or because he was simply too proud of himself. “My catchphrase will be borrowed from the greatest anime ever made.” Trembling, he raised his fist in front of him and took his proud stance once again. “Who they hell do you think I am?!”
Tiffany stood staring at him for a minute, taking all of this in. “And you’re sure they’ll be laughing… with you?” she asked. Ryan looked at her slowly and nodded with a self-satisfied grin on his face. He looked as though he had just figured out how to blackmail a world leader into giving up their position to him. Sighing once again, she gave a weary smile. “Well then, have fun tonight.” She turned and walked out of the room, just as Ryan’s stereo began to blare David Bowie’s Changes. Hopefully, after all the excitement died down, she might finally be able to get some sleep. And hopefully she would not have to drive around the next day looking for Ryan’s body.
The night was young as Ryan exited his window onto the rusty fire escape outside of his apartment. He was not given a view of the whole city from where he stood. In fact, his view was obstructed from all sides, save the alleyway to his right, by the walls of nearby motels and apartment complexes which towered at least four stories above him. It was hardly a glamorous view to start the night on, but it would be good enough for the start of Ryan’s new era. That’s right, he thought. Tonight, Quasi-Mundo will take the streets like the Black Plague… maybe that’s not the best way of putting it.
In his mind, he looked fairly good in the costume. The spandex was tight against his skin, revealing everything about his form and leaving nothing to the imagination. The color patterns were a bit stretched against his large body, but to him, it hardly mattered. The cup had been fitted snugly into place over his crotch, which made that area the roomiest part of the suit and left a rather large bulge in the spandex. Personally, Ryan was hoping that certain members of the opposite sex would interpret the bulge differently, but he would get to that later. The mask was also well placed, although the elastic band was certainly chaffing the area between his ears and the rest of his skull. The only thing that was absent was a cape, but Ryan preferred it that way. He had watched The Incredibles enough to know that, while flashy and impressive, capes were more trouble than they were worth. So he would wait until he had enough money to buy bulletproof material. Shouldn’t be too hard, he thought.
Finally, he decided that it was time. The plan was simple: drop down from this level of the fire escape, catch the metal and swing onto the lower level, give himself an adrenaline boost from the experience, climb the rest of the way down and start patrolling the streets. Taking a deep breath, he heaved himself onto the railing, swung himself over and dropped down. Though the plan was solid enough in his mind, the drop did not go as expected; instead of landing smoothly on the next story like he expected, he landed hard on the railing and flopped back first onto that level of the fire escape. His ribs and back were both searing from the fall, but he shook it off as he struggled to his feet. At least one thing was for sure as he descended the stairs to the alleyway beneath him, it certainly gave him an adrenaline rush.
Walking out of the alley onto the streets, he found that they were deserted for the most part. The yellow streetlights illuminated the blacktop and most of the sidewalk, revealing everything on the block and making the colors in Ryan’s costume look distorted. Thinking about this for a second, Ryan began walking to see if any ideas would come to him. A young couple across the street who were sharing a large soda almost dropped their drink as they stared at Ryan’s unusual appearance while he tried to answer just one difficult question: where could he find crime to fight? He had assumed that crime was something that a person could trip over at night in a big city, but apparently the demographics on various websites and news channels were not as accurate as they claimed. Good for the fine, upstanding public, he thought sarcastically. Nice to know that you’re safely in front of your TVs while my job is a lot harder. Thanks a lot, you freeloading bastards.
As he continued to walk a few blocks, the spandex squeaking against his thighs as he walked, he spotted an old warehouse with its lights still on. The smile returned to his face as he began jogging towards the building. Perfect, he thought. Everyone knows that the warehouse is the perfect place for illicit deals and other crap like that. Let’s just hope they realized that this one is available. Coming to the sidewall, he snuck along the side until he reached the open door. Peering inside, he saw nothing but various cardboard boxes stacked on numerous shelves which went for the entire length of the building. As he listened, however, he heard soft mutterings from one of the corners. There was absolutely no reason that anyone should be whispering in here… unless they were the sort that did not want to be found.
Ryan stole down the rows of boxes, keeping his head low and following the sounds of the voices. Finally he stopped when he heard the whispering right around the corner. Now that he was close enough, he could hear what they were saying.
“Listen,” one of them, a woman, said, “I’m not willing to let any of this go until I see something valuable.”
“Are you kidding?” a male voice replied, clearly insulted. “Do you know what I had to go through to get this? Most people would kill to even get a look at it.”
Taking a deep breath, Ryan readied himself. This was his first step to starting the superhero trend and becoming a legend. Leaping around the corner, he held both fists out to his sides and puffed out his chest. “Trying an illegal trade in my city?!” he boomed. “Who the hell do you think I am?!”
There was complete silence as the three people stared back at him, a look of shock and utter disbelief on their faces. Three people, one woman and two men, were standing in front of him, none of them looking any older than seventeen. One thing was for sure, however: there was no crate of substances next to any of them.
After a few seconds, the young lady spoke up. “Umm, what are you doing?”
The great Quasi-Mundo was at a loss for words. Finally, he said, “I thought I was busting a drug trade. I’m guessing that’s… not what you guys are trading?”
All three of the youngsters, still dumbstruck by the appearance of a strange man in an only-slightly-less strange costume, looked at each other, then looked back at him. Slowly, they held up their hands to reveal Magic: The Gathering trading cards.
A wave of shame and numbness swept over as he put on a rather sheepish grin. “Ah,” he said, nodding continuously. Left with nothing else to say, he pointed at a card in one of the boys’ hands. “Planeswalker… good card… wouldn’t let go of that one…” And with that, he shuffled his was to the door, leaving the trading teens to mull over and possibly block out what they had just seen.
As he walked out the door onto the street once again, his shameful trek was interrupted by a yell from across the street. Looking in that direction, he saw two men pinning another one against the wall of a tall building. Even from this distance, there was no mistaking a robbery. “The real deal,” Ryan muttered courageously as he bolted across the street. Upon reaching the spot, he took only a second to look over the two thugs, both dressed in rather dingy clothes, assaulting a man in a business suit. Yep, he thought. Definitely a robbery.
“Hey!” he called out, getting their attention. “Maybe you should let that guy go. He seems a little late for his meeting.” Ryan, you’re amazing, he thought to himself, smiling. Only you could put bureaucracy into a one-liner.
Their reactions were similar to the kids in the warehouse. None of them seemed quite sure what they were seeing or if it was even real. The thugs loosened their grip on the businessman and turned to look at Ryan. “All right then,” one of the thugs replied, who appeared to be the leader. “Who are you and would you like me to drive you back to the crazy house?”
“I’m Quasi-Mundo,” he replied, “newfound defender of this city and the first in a long line of superheroes.”
Both thugs were at a complete loss for words. The leader put his head in his hand and massaged his temples while his sidekick was continuously blinking, as if trying to will himself to believe that this was some sort of mirage. The businessman, however, noticed that his attackers were distracted and slowly ducked under their arms and sprinted down the street as soon as he was free. It took a few seconds to realize that their prey had escaped them, but when they turned to look where he had gone, he was already out of sight. They looked ready to kill as they turned back to face Ryan. “Great,” the leader said. “Now you’ve spoiled my evening.”
Ryan merely shrugged with a broad smirk. “There’s no use crying over spilled evenings.”
The thugs blinked for a few seconds, then started chuckling softly. “You’re a funny man,” the leader said as he kept laughing. Ryan had just opened his mouth to thank them for the compliment when both thugs, no longer laughing, pulled two guns out of their pockets and pointed them at his face, both looking at him as if to say, “You die now.”
Ryan’s mind froze as the situation hit him. Right, he thought. Criminals use guns. I forgot about that. He had a few years of martial arts under his belt as well as a good amount of swordsmanship, but none of this had taught him how to deal with opponents armed with guns. If he was going to live for a few more seconds, he would contemplate on how students should be taught more useful techniques in modern society.
The sound of sirens suddenly shattered the tension in the air. As the sounds got closer and the faces of the thugs showed panic, Ryan deduced that the businessman must have done what he had been screaming at movie characters to do his whole life and called the police. Glancing behind him, he saw a squad car turning the corner onto the street. When he looked back, he saw that the goons were making a break for it and running down the road. Ryan sprinted after them, unwilling to let them get away and ruin his dream. He caught up with the lackey, who was falling behind, and rammed him with the full force of his body into the wall. He felt him crumble under his weight and fall to the ground, but he kept going after the leader. The leader turned back and started firing wildly at Ryan, but the bullets missed him by inches. “You think you can shoot me?!” Ryan called out as he gained on him. As he grabbed him and tackled him to the ground, he yelled, “Who the hell do you think I am?!” It was over. The leader was pinned and the sirens were getting closer. Here it is, Ryan thought as the broad grin returned to his face. My moment of fame…
“So it turns out vigilantism is illegal,” Ryan said through the phone connected to the two-way glass that separated him from Tiffany, who felt absolutely beat and exhausted. Even though he was in prison for the next few days, he still wore that goofy grin. “Honestly, who knew?” he asked with a shrug.
Tiffany, the phone in her hand, sighed and rubbed her eyes. Even though she lived with Ryan, she would never get used to these sorts of things. From what he had told her, he was only getting a few days in county for remedial work, partially because he had taken down two criminals, but mostly because it was his first time offence. “At least they let you keep the costume,” she said into the speaker. “But have you learned your lesson?”
“I guess,” he replied, nodding solemnly while keeping his smile. “The world just isn’t ready for costumed heroes yet.” Tiffany nodded, hoping that Ryan had finally learned something. “So next time,” he said, looking back up and putting on an excited grin, “I think I should go for a cowboy hero. Plenty of people have heard of cowboys, although they may not let a civilian own a horse. Maybe something else?” Tiffany closed her eyes, praying for patience. “How about a circus hero? Bondage-themed hero? Maybe I should become the first hero to save the city in the nude.”
Rolling her eyes, Tiffany hung up the phone and started walking out of the room, passing by all the other people talking to the inmates. They’re the lucky ones, she thought sourly. The person they know in jail doesn’t force them to take migraine medication.