Brad moved through the series of maneuvers. Concentration and focus plain on his face. With a loud yell and tensing every muscle he completed the last move.
“Excellent!” Howard Franks clapped his hand on Brad’s shoulder. “You have it down. Your test should be a breeze.”
“I hope so, Mr. Franks,” Brad said as he relaxed his posture. He walked to his bag, untying the long black belt around his waist. It showed small signs of wear and a few white threads poked out at an edge. Taking a few seconds to fold it up, Brad placed the belt in his bag. He pulled a towel out and wiped the sweat from his face, neck and arms.
“So,” Howard said, approaching Brad. “As your instructor, I have to ask. What is your biggest dream? If you could change one thing about you, what would it be?” Howard grinned at the last question. It always got a few standard answers.
Brad paused, put his hands on his hips, then locked eyes with his teacher. “Superpowers.”
“What?” This was not what Howard had expected. Especially from someone as well put together as Brad Michaels.
“I know,” Brad smiled and grabbed his bag. “I would like to have, or gain superpowers.”
“You have those.” Howard followed Brad to the large double doors. “You are a martial artist in every sense of the word.”
“I know,” Brad said. “With superpowers, I could be more. Do more. I don’t fear knives or clubs. Guns I respect and know that the wielder is the most vulnerable point. Being outnumbered would only slow me down.” Brad pushed through the doors. “Being strong enough to lift a car would let me chop through burning buildings that had people trapped. If I could fly, I could be in places fast. With superpowers, I would change the world.”
Howard paused a beat. “Heroes and villains have that same goal. It’s not the goal that is the problem, it is the means.”
Brad chuckled. “I know that, Mr. Franks. I wouldn’t be a villain.” Brad bowed to his teacher, shook his hand and walked to the parking lot.
“Villains don’t seem themselves as bad guys,” Howard muttered to the departing figure.
As he drove home, Brad reflected over his teachings and training. Mr. Franks, along with others, taught him not just martial arts, but life. He learned to persevere, be honest, and help others. Brad worked hard at the beginning to incorporate these things, along with other things, into his life. The last few years his life improved. He landed a great job, found a fantastic apartment, and had a date in three nights time.
The loud boom snatched his focus back to driving. A tanker jackknifed a few yards ahead. The two cars in front of him had glowing tail lights. He turned, avoiding a crash with the second car. His choice kept him from the collision. The other two cars weren’t so lucky.
Slamming his car into park, Brad scrambled from his car. He opened the driver’s door and helped the woman there out. She had a cut on her forehead, so he walked her to the curb. Once she was settled, Brad turned back to the accident.
The remaining car had a woman behind the wheel, a kid in the back seat, and an infant in a carrier. Brad pulled on the doors, but they didn’t give. He saw the collision had damaged the car enough that the doors were sealed. Looking in, he saw the kid was screaming, and the woman was groggy, but looking around.
“Cover your head!” He stepped back and clenched both fists at his waist. Inhaling, Brad flushed his mind of everything. With a fluid motion, he lunged forward and shoved both bullet-fists to the windows. His knuckles connected and penetrated the safety glass of the windows.
Both panes of glass spiderwebbed, then fell out of their frames. He reached in, unbuckled the kid. “Get over there. By that lady.” The screaming kid ran to the woman who held out a hand.
Next, Brad repeated that for the driver.
“I got him.” Brad didn’t hesitate and climbed into the back seat. He had never dealt with a child seat before. The big red button stood out to him, and he pushed it. A loud thunk sounded and he pulled on the handle. The heavy plastic carrier separated. He looked in and saw the sleeping infant, peace covering his face. Brad move to the window and handed the cradle to the woman. “Over there.” He pointed to where the people were gathering.
Brad shimmied out of the window and dashed over to the big rig. A dark green liquid spewed from a gash in the tank. The cab and surrounding road were covered in the thick film. Without thinking, Brad flexed his knees and moved over the near slick surface.
Reaching the door, he yanked on the handle. The door flew open and the driver, a heavyset man, fell on him. Brad collapsed with the excessive weight to the goo covered road.
“Mister!” Brad jostled the dazed man laying on top of him. “Mister. I need you to get out of here and off me.”
“Uhhh..” The heavy man blinked a few times. “Oh shit. Sorry.” The driver pushed off Brad and stood. In a lazy staggering step, he moved to where the others were standing.
Brad got to his feet and moved to the huddling people. They all expressed their thanks, and the women went in for hugs. He held them at bay as he was covered in the thick green goo.
Ambulances and a firetruck arrived several moments later, followed by three police cars. In a hours time the scene was cleared. EMTs checked everyone out and informed them to check in with a doctor within twenty-four hours. They all agreed they would.
At home, Brad ravaged his refrigerator and pantry. After eating three dinners, he felt satiated. Soon after, he felt drowsy. Taking the hint, he showered, then went to sleep.
“The light is coming,” a voice whispered.
“Yes, the light is coming,” another voice whispered.
“Shelter is here. Come.” This was a third voice.
“Who’s there?” Brad sat up, throwing the blankets and pillows off him. His head turned different directions looking for the source of the voices. Sliding from the bed, he landed cat-like and even distributing his weight. Both hands floated in front of him, fingers light and ready for anything.
“The human is moving,” a deeper voice from a different direction said. “It will come in here and turn on the brightness. Find shelter.”
“I will defend myself and my home.” Brad curled his fingers into fists and moved for the deeper voice. Approaching the bathroom door, he nudged it open with a foot. When it spread to an arm’s width, Brad darted a hand inside, flicked on the light, and shouldered into the small room.
“Run! Scatter!” The deeper voice screamed in panic.
Spinning in place, Brad looked around. He only saw his reflection in the mirror. The shower curtain hung open, and there wasn’t anybody there.
“Hurry! Go faster!” The panic in the voice reached a newer height.
From the corner of his eye, Brad picked up movement. He jerked his head and arms in the direction, then stomped into a favored stance.
Two cockroaches scampered for the toilet.
“Here it comes,” the deeper voice said. It came from the direction of the roaches.
Brad gritted his teeth and raised a foot. With deadly accuracy and a loud thump, he stepped on the trailing roach.
“Hruthergha!” The lead roach stopped moving and turned. The antennae twitched, then lifted. “Human, you killed my mate. I will avenge you with my family.” The antennae twitched again, then the roach darted for the cover the toilet.
Brad moved to follow the roach, but it squeezed through the smallest of gaps between the floor and wall.
“Did I hear that right,” Brad said rubbing his ears. “Did that roach just threaten to avenge it’s mate? Against me?” Brad shook his head.
Reaching into the shower, Brad turned on the cold water, then the hot. He dropped his sleeping shorts and t-shirt, then climbed into the cool water. Letting it run over him, he woke to the briskness. The water slowly heated, and he showered. Once he cleaned his body, he dried himself, then continued on his normal routine.
An hour later, Brad headed outside towards his car.
“No! The winged demon dives.” This high-pitched voice came from the trees next to his apartment building.
Brad moved to check the area. He only saw a bird land and peck at the ground. Squinting into the shade, he didn’t see anything.
“Bigger jump, Lughrty,” a bright voice said.
“Like this papa,” a similar bright voice said, only a different pitch.
“Yes.” The first voice sounded proud and happier. “Excellent. Longer instead of higher now.”
Brad watched two grasshoppers bound over the sidewalk in front of him. One smaller than the other.
“No,” Brad said. “No, no, no, no, no.” He remembered the accident. Then he remembered how Crush, a highly respected superhero, developed his powers. Exposure to radioactive chemicals had turned a simple bike messenger into the powerhouse known as Crush. Crush worked as the strong man of the Vindicators.
“This isn’t what I meant,” Brad screamed at the sky.