The Reluctant Superhero

He got the text he’d been dreading.

“Now,” it said.

More than anything, Stan wanted to ignore it.  To go on living his life, pretending that he was normal.  That he hadn’t been sent here for a purpose.  That he never killed people.

But he couldn’t do that.  He had to go out in the streets once more, and tap into his inner sadist.  He hated the pleasure he could get from a particularly gruesome kill.

The worst part?

They all hailed him as a hero.

If only they knew.

He still didn’t know where his instructions came from; it had been so long, he’d allowed himself to hope that he was finally free.  Then his phone dinged and shattered that hope.  He would never be free.  He would live in this endless cycle of bloodshed until he died.

Reluctantly, he donned the uniform they had provided, and adjusted the mask that covered his face.  His phone dinged again, this time with a street address, a picture of a man, and the method to use when killing him.  They wanted a slow death this time.  Joy.

Fact -finding missions were the worst.  He had to tap into that inner psychopath, that craziness that he hoped lurked in the depths of everyone’s minds, just to make it through.  He still always threw up afterwards.  He dreaded the day that he failed to induce nausea.

Hopping onto the motorcycle they had provided, he tried to quell the terror that always threatened to drown him at the sound of the motor.  In high school, his brother had taken him out on a motorcycle, and they crashed.  He had survived with a few broken bones and road rash covering half of his body; his brother died screaming on the road.  That was the moment he swore never to ride a bike again.  And he kept that promise.

Up until the day he became Stan.  They hadn’t even let him keep his own name.

He still didn’t know why they’d chosen him.  His next door neighbor was infinitely more qualified to fight crime, being a police officer, and the dude across the street had more muscle in his pinky than most humans have on their entire bodies.  Stan was positive the couple down the street were really reformed ninjas, and the little monsters disguised as children were only missing the bald guy in a wheelchair.  Literally everyone around him would be believable as the masked hero.

Instead, the town was stuck with a failed writer-turned-serial-killer wearing a dead man’s uniform.

Stan had grown up with the stories; his brother had been obsessed with the masked vigilante who took down the criminals the police couldn’t, or wouldn’t, touch.  Then the hero had disappeared.  It wasn’t until They found Stan that he realized; his brother and the hero had ceased to exist at the same time.  They were one and the same.  And now he was being recruited to take his place.  Take his name.

You’d think these scumbag types would learn, he thought, pulling up in front of the same warehouse he’d visited at least a dozen times in the past couple weeks.  To make the night even more cliche, a man with more muscles than brain cells was standing by the only door that could be easily opened.  He sighed.  Hopefully he wouldn’t have to kill this one.

Right on cue, his phone vibrated.  Leave no survivors.

So much for sending anyone to the hospital.

The guard never knew what hit him.  Stan eased the lifeless body to the ground, and opened the door.  As usual, he was interrupting some sort of deal requiring large amounts of cash, and guns.  He only hoped that this time there were no armor piercing rounds in the equation.  Easing the door closed, he tossed a couple ninja stars to take out the dudes with the biggest guns, then took off for the opposite side of the room, dodging through stacks of crates until there was sufficient distance between himself and his pursuers to climb up to the catwalk.  He crouched in the elbow of a ceiling joist and hoped that the thugs would have brains enough to not risk ricocheting bullets flying everywhere.

“Idiots!  Stop shooting or you’ll kill us all!”

Finally, a voice of reason.  He checked to see who was speaking.  It was his target.

Figures.  They hardly ever sent him after the average street thug, after all.  Might as well get on with it.  Drawing two guns, he braced himself, breathed, and stepped out of cover, guns blazing.

By the time he was undercover again, an eternal six seconds later, five of the twelve men below were either dead or severely wounded.  The rest would not be so easy, having scattered to find cover.  Now was the time for knife work.

But first, kill the lights.  Both for the sake of camouflage, and so he wouldn’t have to see what he was going to do to those men.  In the dark, he moved like a shadow, and memories of sneaking through the house to sneak food from the fridge at midnight when he was little almost made his journey down to ground level enjoyable.  Almost.  The good feelings disappeared at the first crunch of a man’s bones breaking under his boot.

In less than five minutes he’d ripped his way through all the collateral damage.  The only other person in the entire warehouse was his intended target.  It was time for the man-hunt.

“I know why you’re here.”  He froze.  Usually his targets did their best to keep quiet, to survive as long as possible, only speaking when they thought they could bribe him.  Little did they know how worthless money is to a dead man.

His target continued.  “I’ve been tracking your progress for months.  It’s amazing how much a man can improve once he has the right…motivation.”

Stan shuddered, moving toward the voice slowly, carefully.  Their roles had reversed, somehow.  He now felt like the hunted, rather than the hunter.

“You see, it’s easy to believe in a world of heroes and villains.  Society needs a superhuman force for good to contend with the subhuman festering evil.  So I gave them a hero.  I gave them you.”

Stan’s head was spinning, trying to grasp the meaning of the words.  Had he finally caught up with his tormentor?  But why had he made himself the target?

The target laughed.  “You still don’t understand, do you?  You’ve always known you were a pawn.  You just didn’t know for which side.  Here’s the big secret,” A floodlight lit up, trapping both Stan and the target in its beam, “there are no sides.”

Stan drew his gun, ignoring the nagging suspicion that this was exactly what the psycho wanted.  “What’s to keep me from ending this right now with a bullet in your head?”

“Absolutely nothing.  I’ve had my time on top.  It will be a comforting thought, knowing I was the last crime boss in the city.  I’ve got you to thank for that.  The hero who ended the war on crime.”

Stan smiled grimly.  He could hear sirens outside.  They made his decision easy.

“I’m no hero,” he said, as SWAT broke down the door, and his target crumpled to the floor.  Finally, he would be held accountable for his crimes.  He could barely keep from smiling as the handcuffs clicked around his wrists.


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