Short Stories

When Nothing Else Matters

Here I am, twenty years old, and my days as a superhero are over. I lie here in my hospital bed, waiting for the day that I will be released. I have an operation on my knee after I injured it in a fight. Well, I’m kind of getting ahead of myself.

            I read comics. I’ve read them since I was a kid, and like most kids, I fantasized about becoming a superhero. I thought that life would be so easy if I could be one. Boy, was I ever foolish. But I was also lucky. God blessed me with numerous abilities, and while growing up, I tried to use all of them. I was on the swimming team until I thought gymnastics was more fun. Gymnastics gave me the feeling of being a superhero, pulling off fantastic stunts while eliminating my enemies. The vault horse became the wall, separating me from my enemies. I would charge it fearlessly as it attempted to protect my foes. I would dive forward, planting my hands firmly on the top of the wall, then tuck into a ball, so as to make a smaller target. I would flip over it and come out of my tuck, just in time to land feet first. Of course, once I landed, my enemies had no choice but to surrender. I stayed with gymnastics for about two years, then went on to play football, baseball, and basketball, as would any other normal, healthy, American boy. Throughout everything I did, one—well, two things played a big part. The first was an uncommon sense of agility, with a knack of always landing on my feet. The other was luck. If you ever wish for any gift, ask for luck—it makes up for all the things you don’t get.

            I got older, but the desire to be a comic book hero never diminished. In fact, it got stronger. Superheroes never got pushed around. Well, at least they never let the bad guy get away with it. Too many people just ignore what goes on around them, until it affects them directly. Just the thought of the apathy makes me sick. I thought if I ever became a superhero, I’d make people think twice before attempting to break the law. The people that I caught wouldn’t dare attempt their evil deeds again. I would make it safe to go outside at night. The people on the side of the law would learn to love me, while those who broke the law would learn to fear me. I could do it all, if only I had superpowers. That was back when I thought the powers made the hero.

            A few weeks before my seventeenth birthday, I saw a movie about an out-of-work-actor who got a job to help promote a move about a superhero. After work one night, while still wearing the outfit, he foiled and attempted robbery. Once he heard the reaction of the people about the hope they now had, he continued playing hero. That’s what really inspired me. An ordinary guy who cared enough to sacrifice everything, just to give people something to believe in, something that would inspire them. It was then that I realized it was not the power, but the man who made the hero.

            I started to do some heavy working out, not only for strength, but for agility and balance as well. I got a job as a night janitor in the YMCA, so that I could have access to all of the gymnastic equipment. I spent most of my time on the uneven bars and the vault horse. I figured they would do the most good for a superhero in training. Within a few months, I was incredible on the vault horse. I also spent some time in the boxing room, where I would practice my fighting techniques on the heavy bags. After about six months, I combined both my acrobatics and fighting to become an unstoppable assault machine. The only weapon that I used, besides my body, was a blackjack. I used it only at a distance, mostly on fleeing criminals.

            After one full year of workout, I was ready. For the protection of my friends and family, I would create a name and a costume. My sister, God rest her soul, designed and made my outfit. It was a skin-tight, yet well-insulated, black and blue one-piece costume, especially padded near the more precious areas. It had enough stretch so as not to hinder my movements. I know, good guys are supposed to wear white: well, not if they’re smart. Of course, I wore a matching mask. I started with a cape but quickly learned that it didn’t cooperate. Doing a routine vault, I got tangled up in it and suffered a slight concussion when I met the ground. I also learned, b y experience, that successive tumbling in a cape can quickly lead to strangulation, not to mention and abrupt introduction to the first solid object encountered. For my name, I simply asked myself what my purpose was: to defend the people. I started as Captain Defender. I know. Well, I never said I had any taste.

            Unlike most superheroes you read about, I love to brag, so I had to tell a few trusted people. But, for the safety of the others, I told only my sister. Originally I had told her that the outfit was for a costume party and that I had the chance to win fifty bucks. She said she had her doubts about the contest. She taught me how to do almost everything when I was little, which is why we were so close. It was strange. We shared a special bond, and I felt that I could confide in her. If you’re wondering why I didn’t tell my parents, it was because my dad had too many other things to worry about, and my mother already worried too much about me as it was. She always had these dreams about my getting seriously hurt in bad accidents.

            It was time for the much-awaited night patrolling. Talk about boring, nothing ever happens in Meadowbrook. Not until my second week of patrolling did I get my first opportunity to do some saving. At seven o’clock when I finished supper I went to my room and put my costume and blackjack in the gym bag. I told my parents as I was leaving that I was going to do some working out. Living in the country made it easy to change into my costume without being seen. Parking my car about a mile from town, I changed my clothes and hid the keys to the car. I didn’t even need a phone booth. They’re almost impossible to change in anyway.

            I worked my way through the dark areas as I headed toward the university campus. I hid behind bushes and in shadows as I patrolled the area. I was hiding behind this three-foot-high concrete wall with a row of tall hedges in front of it when I heard a scream. Boy, was I ever nervous! I quickly scanned the area and pinpointed the problem. It was a lady, and this guy had just stolen her purse. Remember what I said about luck? This time mine was working overtime. The guy was running my way. He even happened to run parallel with the hedges. I calculated his speed and said a quick prayer. I ran towards the wall, planted one foot on top of it, and leaped over the hedges. Perfect!

            I landed right on tope of my unsuspecting foe, sending us both tumbling to the pavement. I rolled forward and hopped to my feet. He didn’t get up so fast. As he looked up to see what had happened, he said hello to my foot, then entered the world of unconsciousness. Before I knew it, it was all over. My first attempt as a hero was a success. The lady came over, thanked me, and began to ask questions. I gave her the purse, told her to call the police, and told her my hero name as I left.

            The next day came, and the news had already hit the local radio stations. The lady told the entire story. “A man stole my purse as I was walking to my car. As he ran away, I screamed for help. Out of nowhere, a man dove from the sky, tackling the thief. Quickly knocking him out. When I went to get my purse back, he kissed me and then told me his name. He calls himself the Champion. He told me to call the police, and then he took off.”

            The Champion? She must not have thought very much of “Captain Defender.” Oh yeah, and I just learned I can fly. People are never satisfied with reality. They always have to beef up the truth. You want to know something else? Quite a few people confessed to being the real Champion. That really ticked me off!

            Months passed. I graduated from high school and continued patrolling through the summer when I wasn’t working. I didn’t realize how big of a reputation I had made until I heard a national newscast. The reporter said, “In the small city of Meadowbrook, Illinois, a superhero’s presence has been documented. If there is such a hero, why doesn’t he go someplace like Chicago or New York? The main question is, is there such a hero, or is this a small city’s way of getting publicity? Champion, if you do exist, why are you afraid to show your face to some real competition?

            Near the end of the summer, Meadowbrook was introduced to some major league crime, kidnapping. A rich man’s son was abducted at a crowded restaurant, and nobody bothered to try and stop the kidnappers. The three men plus their driver got away without the slightest challenge. I decided that I would find them while the police waited for a phone call. I relied on every bit of instinct and luck I could muster.

            All the old gangster movies that I had ever seen were coming to mind. I just prayed that they had seen them and knew the parts they were supposed to play. I went around the outskirts of town, checking every abandoned house and barn I could find, until bingo! Light was coming from a house on the old coal mine road. I sneaked around, checking everywhere, before I made my plan. I looked in every window, counting only five people, four men and the boy. Of the four men, one was watching the boy who was now untied. Two men played cards, while the one remaining man paced back and forth. A plan was born.

            The old “draw one outside trick” was my first objective. I climbed into a nearby tree, then dropped a big rock by the door. Boy, were they suckers. The one who was pacing earlier came out to see what had made the noise. He took a few steps out, then turned to walk inside. I jumped. With both feet landing on his shoulders, I leaned forward and rolled into the house. Getting up quickly, I let the blackjack fly, hitting the man with the gun right in the face. I kicked the back of the chair as one of the two remaining men was attempting to get up. The blow knocked him face forward into the table. One was left.

            He had a hunting knife in his hand, and by the way he was flipping it around I could tell he knew how to use it. It was my first real combat. I had lost the surprise. I let him come, standing my ground like a true superhero. If anything was on my side, it was the fact that he was terrified. He charged me. As he did, I spun sideways and fell back, placing my foot on his knee cap. “SNAP!” I had never heard anything like it. He was quickly taken out of action. Victory. “BANG!” I wheeled around to see a man fall toward me. It was the man I had attacked first. The kid shot him. We were even.

            The kid and I tied the men up and loaded them in the back of their station wagon. I drove them to the emergency room at the hospital, said goodbye to the kid, then left with the station wagon.

            Summer was over and I was on my way to Nashville. Look out crime, here I come! I decided to go to a College in Nashville, Tennessee, and major in music. This way I could accomplish two goals. My parents couldn’t argue that Nashville was the place for music, and I could also try “The Champion” out in a bigger city.

            Before I tried anything, I walked around becoming familiar with the city. I learned where the alleys ended and where the streets led. About the third week I was there I finally got some action. Every time I patrolled from then on seemed to lead to something. I didn’t always apprehend all of the criminals that I fought, but I always arrived to save the victim in the proverbial nick of time. I got bruised and cut, but I was a good Champion; no, I was the best. I fought, and I fought hard. I couldn’t begin to count the people I have put into the hospital. Some say they’ll get me back, and some thank me for opening their eyes. I earned the respect of the citizens; they loved me. If they didn’t, I’d probably be in jail myself. I carry an illegal weapon, and I am what they call a vigilante. That means I take the law into my own hands, but the press won’t even mess with me now that my heroism has been established.

            It was a Friday night, and I had just taken my date home. My luck ran out. I was driving back to the dorm when I saw three guys force this young lady into an alley. I pulled into the next alley and got out. Great! I had become so excited about getting a date that I had forgotten my outfit. I decided that her safety took precedence over my secret identity. I also decided that if I made a head-on attack, the three guys would just think that I was a concerned citizen.

            I charged into the alley just as one of the punks was slapping her in the face. There were two guys holding her. As I gave the battle cry, they grabbed for their weapons. I ran right through the first guy, before the echo of my cry even came back. As I did, I racked him with my knee as hard as I could. The second punk charged me from the side. I turned to face him. He was somewhat surprised that I was ready to deal with him so quickly. Putting both hands behind his head, I pulled down. I rolled backwards, and let him fly, kicking him behind me. His back landed flat against the wall, and his body fell limply to the ground.

            As I hopped and looked for the last one, I felt a sharp pain in my back. I lunged forward to try to escape the cold blade. I got to my feet and looked into the shadowy face. I could see a glint of metal as the light from the street caught it. That was all I needed. I kicked him in the gut and grabbed his wrist. I brought his wrist down to meet my upcoming knee, snapping the elbow joint easily. I felt pain suddenly fill my skull as he pounded on my face with his fist. I began to back peddle as he kicked forward. “SNAP!” With such intense pain as I had ever known, I fell backward against the trash cans. The joint on my right knee was snapped. With confidence, he walked forward for the kill. I grabbed the trash can lid and let it fly. I stuck him in the bridge of the nose, causing instant death.

            I looked up to see a frightened, but beautiful, young woman standing beside where I lay. “Do you think you could call an ambulance?”

            “I think so,” she answered, tears streaming down her face. “Are you okay?”

            “I’ve never felt better,” I answered, feeling some inner satisfaction.

            She called the ambulance from a nearby pay phone, then explained what had happened. Some guy had been trying to buy her father’s store, but her father wasn’t willing to sell it. They were sent out to find her and convince her father that it would be to his advantage to sell. She was going to be an “example.”

            The ambulance came, along with the police. Do you believe that they tried to charge me with murder? If it were not for the girl pleading my innocence, they probably would have. It’s getting where the laws are to protect the criminals and not the victims.

            I had surgery on the stab wound and my knee, and I woke up to see my family, well, all but my sister. She was raped and murdered on the same night as my fight. Why did I ever leave Meadowbrook?! I could have saved her, instead of saving all of these strangers.

            The only person who I really ever cared for was my sister, and she was taken away from me. It wasn’t fair! Why couldn’t someone else have died, someone who deserved it? She never did anything wrong, never! I would have gladly died in her place, but no, I lie here helpless!

            Two months of therapy and treatment for my knee and I still lie here in this hospital bed. Two months of anger and torment over my sister’s death building inside of me, tearing me apart. My days as a superhero may be over, but very soon, vengeance will be mine!

            “Mister Karsen, are you ready to leave us?” The nurse startled me. I wasn’t aware that she had been standing there.

            “What did you say?”

            “I simply asked if you were ready to leave.”

            “Absolutely.” Walking again in itself was a miracle but to run and fight? Well, if there is anything I have learned these years of being a superhero, it is that miracles do happen.

            Here comes the doctor to see me off. “Matthew, now you’re lucky that you can even walk. Don’t push it. If you try to run, your leg will collapse. In a minute the nurse will bring in a wheelchair for you. You’re free to be released. Please, remember what I said.”

            “Thank you, doctor. I appreciate everything that you have done for me. Don’t worry; I’ll take it easy.”

            When I get back to the dorm, a surprise party is waiting for me. The young lady that I saved is there. I think she likes me. It’s a shame that I can’t feel anything except the guilt and anger that is consuming me. We might have had a chance if the circumstances had been different. After the party is over, I walk her home.

            I get back to the dorm and I lie down on my bed. All of the events of the past three years linger on my mind. I learned some valuable lessons, and I had a few dreams shattered. I also learned that the good guys don’t always win.

            I noticed something magical about my uniform. Whenever I wore it, it seemed to cause fear in my opponents, which added to my initial surprise. I bet if I had been wearing it the last time, I wouldn’t have been hurt.

            I have to try in on one more time. I won’t do anything, just try it on. Boy, this makes me depressed. It seems that everything I see reminds me of my sister. Maybe, just maybe, if I go walking around tonight, I will feel better.

            I go around my patrol, just walking. As time goes by, I begin to jog, and then run. I hop over fences, then stop, because the pain is too much for me to bear. I climb onto the top of a building to look around. When I get to the top, I see some guy jerk a lady into the alley below. I could be wrong, but from this distance, she looks a lot like my sister. I crawl down the building, into the back of the alley, then work my way up to the front as quickly and as quietly as possible. He begins to take her clothes off. I get within range. I leap from the shadows at the assailant, hoping that I can at least buy her enough time to escape.

Mitchell S Karnes