This was a short story I tweeted over three days for the #TwitterFiction Festival. I'd pitched my story to the Twitter Fiction judges before the festival, and made it to round two (of three)! Last year I didn't even get considered. I didn't make the final round this year, but maybe I will next year! Enjoy :)
“Bars, pubs, watering wells or whatever your word for it; always have a motley collection of regulars, kid,”
Lance had the back of the young man’s neck in a cobra clutch and had leapt over the fence of what usually constituted private space about five drinks ago.
“You have the piss drunk patrons that you can always count on to be unconscious, no matter which day and no matter what hour,” he slurred in Tiny Thulani’s ear.
“You also have the types always looking to pick up inebriated voluptuous females. The ones you wouldn’t be happy to wake up next to in the head-pounding morning.”
Tiny Thulani looked around the smoke hazed room and could identify all the unsavoury characters Lance pointed out. The unconscious one drooling on his collar but firmly clutching his beer; the borderline perverted one that was only there for the voluptuous but lacking in the pretty facial features department--
--“…and then you have the fisticuffs instigators. The ones that’ll start a fight over any debate, wrong look or slight brush of the shoulder. I’m the latter,” Lance turned and smiled at Tiny, “I love a good fight,”
Lance was the resident shit stirrer at The Fort, a dingy little bathroom corner that attracted all the kind of people he loved to shove fists down the throats of. He regularly precipitated knuckles on unsuspecting and most times, undeserving people.
Small, dirty drinking holes deprived of coats of paint, properly functioning plumbing and award winning customer service came by the dozen. But what made The Fort special was that it was one of a handful of establishments that still catered to super powered humans [one of the reasons why the pub had a ‘no frills’ policy. The Fort’s proprietor squeezed out just enough of the profits to install reinforced adamantium counters and doors; special padding and easily reassembling furniture, because fights were commonplace among supers. The bottles and pitchers however, remained glass].
“Since I’m out of conventional employment, I spend most of my days here!” Lance said spilling a little brew on his listener’s sleeve. He practically lived at The Fort.
Things had not always been so grim. About ten years ago, Lance was a celebrated superhero and he’d spent his days foiling super villainy and fighting in the pantheon of champions like Stronghold of the Power Squad! and the Tenaka Twins in Japan. The world sang their praises and built statues in their honour. But all that is now just a stain on humanity’s collective conscious.
Unlike the pretty picture pop-culture will sell you, superheroes aren’t always nice people. There were ‘incidents’ people no longer spoke of; incidents that led to the policing of all supers and passing of legislation that strictly prohibited the use of powers--supernatural or otherwise--if it wasn’t in the service of respective governments. All vigilantes were arrested and sometimes even executed. Heroes for hire and their unions were disbanded and unfair taxes and fines imposed on them. Those that hid their tails between their legs and enlisted for national service were the few that remained ‘heroes’. Not even a whisper of super criminals and villains passed the lips of people. They were dealt an even harsher blow.
Lance and others like him refused a life of forced servitude. They vehemently opposed the new legislation and chose to live away from the newly prescribed society. They formed little communities that resembled ghettos and were policed regularly by drones and armoured humans. Places like The Fort were a kind of refuge.
“I still wear this uniform as a sign of honour, Tiny” Lance said with palpable nostalgia. He held his beer mug as if searching its contents for a particular memory.
“WE WERE GLADIATORS, KID!” He’d gotten up with one boot on the bar stool and another on the counter, leaning toward the bar like a triumphant hunter with a foot on the neck of his trophy. Tiny Thulani was nervous.
“The people would come out to watch us do battle with monstrosities cooked up from the darkest labs and lairs!” Lance was beating his chest and spilling beer all over the counter, “The people braved flying debris and even harmful radiation to watch us triumph over evil!”
Lance paused, “Until they became the evil…”
“Ah, Ba Lance naimwe! Spare us the sob stories! We’ve heard it all before,” said Chilu, the hero formerly known as, Ember.
Lance turned to look at Chilu. He didn’t like to be interrupted.
“Mind your own business, Ember! I wasn’t addressing your face!”
“Get over it, you bum!” Chilu replied, “We all have! Get a real job. Maybe even start a family and sentence someone else to this punishing story time you inflict on us daily!”
The Fort erupted in laughter.
“So I can grow up to be just like you, huh, Ember?”
“I don’t go by that anymore,”
“BECAUSE YOU LIVE A FAÇADE!” shouted Lance. “At least I stay true to myself! You all just took on different masks! You became a bloody accountant for goodness sake, Ember!”
The Fort was silent.
“You all cowered and pretended we never fought for any ideals. Like we didn’t symbolize anything. Like we were all just merry men in tights prancing around for the cameras! Dammit, we inspired the very sheep that turned into wolves on us and forced us into this dirty little corner! Why should we live like we never mattered?”
“So what do you suggest we do, Lance?” said Chilu, “Start a revolution? Isn't this the same guy that takes part in that barbaric Friday night fight club? Tearing at each other for peanuts and the entertainment of brain-dead individuals!”
“I do what I need to, to keep food on my table and keep the ZESCO on,”
“What you need to do is go home, you bum. You’re drunk and pissing allover our solace,” Chilu said.
Lance got down from his stool and walked over to Chilu’s table. His drunken act seemed to have subsided and it looked like his anger had burnt all the alcohol in his blood. Chilu stood up and towered over Lance. The two stood toe to toe and stared each other down.
“Or do you not have a home?”
The patrons of The Fort correctly predict it, but they didn’t actually see Lance’s fist connect with Chilu’s jaw. It happened so fast it would make a bolt of lightning cower in shame.
Chilu was knocked across the room, crashing through tables and breaking beer bottles in his path. Lance then lunged at him and received a concentrated heat blast from Chilu’s palms; his hands glowing in a fierce red and giving a visual anecdote of how he’d earned the name, Ember. Lance didn’t notice the flames on his beloved uniform jacket. All he could see in his mind were his fists making contact with Chilu’s face and landscaping his facial features. The flames did little to harm Lance’s skin; his power was near invulnerability. The heat blast intensified and flung a toasty Lance towards Tiny Thulani. Tiny shrunk to the size of a shot glass and dodged his frying friend.
Lance picked up the shrunken Tiny and leapt at Chilu again, dodging flares as he charged on. He grabbed Chilu by his throat and forcefully shoved his miniature friend down Chilu’s oesophagus.
“GROW!” Lance commanded Tiny.
What sounded like a muffled protest could be heard from the shrinking-man inside Chilu’s neck.
“I’ll do worse than that if you don’t! Now GROW dammit!”
A lump began to grow from the flame thrower’s throat, choking him in the process. He clutched his neck and streamed saliva from the sides of his mouth. Lance and the rest of The Fort watched, both in disgust and crude amusement. Chilu placed his palm on the growing lump and sent a pint-size heat wave through his neck. Tiny Thulani jumped out of the mouth he’d been forced down wailing in pain and growing back to full size by the time he hit the ground. His clothes were sizzling and patches of his skin had scalded.
Chilu coughed and spewed out his last beer, tasting the trail of Tiny’s travels that day since his boots had been on his tongue. He placed his hand on the adamantium counter top and sent his rage through his palms. Lance had not noticed this and blindly went in for a head-butt. Chilu side-stepped to dodge the blow and palmed the back of Lance’s head. He then bashed the head in his palm onto the sweltering hot counter top and sent a fiery fury down Lance’s ear.
“You tried to kill me, you asshole!” raged Chilu.
Lance’s face began to smoke and even his near invulnerability would soon not be able to take the solar flare of Chilu’s hands.
Before Lance could retaliate, the two former heroes received crippling shocks of electricity from two very large bouncers. “No fighting,” they said simultaneously.
The fighters both got up on one knee and looked at each other. “You bastard, you ruined my jacket!” said Lance, “You ruined my friggin’ jacket!”
Chilu said nothing and wiped the blood from his swollen lip. He lit his index finger and lightly burned the cut in his lip closed.
Superheroes and their abilities vary. Some may be invulnerable or are able to take immense amounts of pain; but even they got their feelings hurt. Their words had cut through the cigarette smoke and smell of hard liquor. Lance and Chilu; both tired from the fighting and the current state of their world dusted themselves off. Each man had spoken the truth, neither more truthful than the other. Each man cut deep. Their physical wounds would heal at an accelerated rate, but both were yet to heal from the wounds humanity had inflicted on them so long ago.
The music continued to play and in a few minutes, the pub was buzzing like nothing had happened. It was just another Thursday evening at, The Fort.