Free Short Story! #2

Previously on ‘Al Powers’:  While stopping a wave of mind-control pogs from being released to the public by the evil genius, Rex the Wretched, superhero Al Powers was captured and placed in a cryogenic freeze chamber.  Fifteen years later, he was freed from this prison by two young brothers, who quickly befriended him and decided to help him adjust to the new world.  Al immediately sought revenge but found that his former enemy had gone straight and now runs a high profile robotics business.  Al accepted a large check and some stock as restitution for Rex’s wrongdoing, but once outside vowed to use this new connection to Rex to keep an eye on the former villain.  Al then set off to locate Windy Summers, his girlfriend in 1997.

AL POWERS! 

A HERO FOR THE NINETIES…TODAY!

ISSUE 2: Get the Girl

Just outside the Hideous Slug-man’s lair

1996…

Al Powers grinned with confidence as only he knew that the approaching villain was about to walk right into a trap the hero had set.

“I’m going to pound your butt, you stupid meddling superhero!” the Hideous Slug-man spat out as he squished, squirmed and slithered his way tantalizingly close to the exact spot Al needed him to be standing in.  Two more feet.  One.

“I’m afraid the only butts you’ll be pounding will be in prison!” Al shouted as Slug-man finally reached the sweet spot of Al’s trap.  The hero pulled a lever on the nearby wall and released close to a metric ton of salt onto the slug.

“Everyone knows you stop a slug with salt!” Al laughed.  As he watched the mountain of salt pour down on his enemy, he wondered briefly if what he had said was good enough.  He had spent two hours the previous night trying to come up with a salt-related pun, but hadn’t had much luck.  This was the real world where he didn’t have a team of writers to make him say something witty.  He shrugged.  He was known as a straight-forward no-nonsense hero anyway.  Not particularly witty nor the life of the party.  He decided to leave the wise-cracks to Spider-man and just relay the facts from now on.  Besides, even had he been armed with a classic one-liner written by Jerry Seinfeld himself, no one would have been around to hear it except the writhing monster buried under a pile of salt.  Image was important to Al Powers, and indeed all the heroes of the city, but results were even more so.  Al Powers got results and that’s what counted.

“Damn you, Powers!” Slug-man managed to wheeze as he slowly crawled out from under the trap.  He was weak and on the verge of collapse.  He did not even posses the power to resist once Al started tying him up with supervillan-proof rope.  “So…do you deliver me to the station now?” the villain asked as Al dragged him to his feet and forced him to stand up.

Al finished tying the last knot and stood back up straight.  “No, the authorities are on their way.  They’ll bring you in.”

“Then we just stand here and wait for them?  I mean, you salted me pretty good.  I need medical attention.”

“It’s all on the way.”

They stood in silence for a few more moments.  Al checked his watch.  He had defeated Slug-man more quickly than he had anticipated but the cops were still late.  “Can I ask you something?” he finally said, partially to break the awkward silence.

“Sure.”

“What did you think of my victory dialogue?  Stopping the slug with salt?”

Slug-man thought about it for a few seconds.  “It was a little too on the nose for my tastes, honestly.  The last guy who defeated me was like, ‘I just won this slugfest!’  I enjoy the guys who come up with puns, myself.”

“Yeah, I was trying, but it’s hard.”

“The line you said before that was better.  The implied prison rape thing.  Adults would get it, but it’d go over kids’ heads.  That was perfect.”

“You know, that was pure reaction, too.  I guess sometimes I overthink it and should just go with the flow.”

“You won, that’s what matters, right?”

“That’s what I was telling myself.”

“Can I ask you a question now?”

“It’s only fair, I suppose.”

“How do you keep yourself in check?  I got these slug powers and I just couldn’t resist going out and doing whatever I wanted.  I feel superior to everyone else.  No normal men could stop me from robbing a bank and they wouldn’t be able to stop you either.  Why don’t you just take whatever you want?”

“Hmm, the easy answer I guess is that I was raised with a strong moral code.  Villainy isn’t something that ever even occurs to me.  Besides, thwarting evil makes me feel good and I live comfortably.  I have everything I want.”

“But what if there was something you wanted but couldn’t have?  Would you just take it?”

“No.  I honestly wouldn’t.  I guess that’s one of the fundamental differences between choosing good and choosing evil, isn’t it?  Selflessness vs. selfishness.”

“You’re a stronger man than me, Al.”

“Better looking too.”

“Another zinger!  You’re getting there.”

“We’ll see.”

 

PRESENT DAY…

Windy massaged her temples and tried to will her headache to disappear.  So far, it wasn’t working.  Sitting in the middle of a Chuck E. Cheese game room wasn’t helping matters any.  The bells and whistles and shouting children were all burrowing into her head and threatening to drive her mad.

“Mom, mom, mom, look!” a nearby boy screeched.  Windy opened her eyes and looked up but the boy hadn’t been speaking to her.  He was at the next table over, showing his mother how many prize tickets he had won playing skee-ball.  Windy picked up the last piece of cardboard pizza on the tray in front of her and gave it a bite.  It was awful, but, she thought to herself, the kids didn’t really want to go there for the food, did they?  She checked the time on her phone and decided to give them another ten minutes to play.

“Excuse me?  Are you Windy Summers?”

“Used to be.  It’s Windy Marcone now.”  She put her phone away and was surprised to see that the person addressing her was a teenage boy.  “I don’t usually get recognized by kids.  My fifteen minutes ticked by before you were born.”

“I have no idea who you are,” the kid said as he presumptuously took the seat across from her.

Windy chuckled.  “Yet somehow you know my name!”

“I know a friend of yours.  Someone you haven’t seen in a long time, and he’s a little nervous about seeing you.”

“Hmm, that’s intriguing.”  Windy threw her half-eaten crappy slice of pizza back on the tray, folded her arms and leaned forward.  “Does this mystery person have a name?”

A larger than life figure stepped up behind the boy.  “It’s me, Al Powers!  I’m back!”

Windy’s eyes widened from the shock.  Then she fainted and face-planted onto the pizza tray.

 

Ten minutes later…

“I know we were supposed to ease her into it, but I got so excited when I saw her.”  Al was standing near the back of the crowd with Tyler, leaning on a pinball machine.  Several employees had rushed to the fallen Windy’s aid and almost everyone in the restaurant had gathered around to see what had happened.  The manager shooed everyone back as he helped Windy sit up and get some air.

“This was pretty much a disaster,” Tyler remarked.

“It will be okay.  I’ll just give her a few minutes to relax and recover.”

 

Ten seconds later…

“Windy!  Over here!  It’s me, Al Powers!”  Al waved frantically and approached the table.  The manager looked concerned but Windy told him she was all right and allowed Al to take a seat.  “My goodness, Windy.  It’s been so long but you look almost the same.”

“Al, did you reappear after fifteen years just to lie to me?  If anyone looks the same, it’s you.”

“I was frozen.”

“I remember.  What happened?”

“My new friend, Tyler, unfroze me.”  Al glanced over.  “Took you long enough, Tyler!”

“What?” Tyler asked.

“I’m sorry, could we maybe go somewhere more private to catch up?  I have a headache, I just fainted and everyone is looking at me and whispering, ‘that woman fainted.’”

“Sure,” Al said with a smile.

“Oh good, here come the little terrors now.  Perfect timing.”

“Mom, mom, mom!”  A boy and a girl ran up to Windy and hugged her fiercely around the waist immediately after she stood up.

Al watched with amazement as Windy wiped her children’s faces with a wet napkin and handed them their coats.  Realization washed over him and for a moment or two, he stayed frozen to his seat.  “Windy…are these my… children?”

Windy made a show of rolling her eyes at him.  “Jenna is six and Brandon is nine.  It is mathematically impossible for these to be your children, silly.”

Al shook off his confusion.  “Oh, oh, of course.  I’m still a little disoriented from skipping out on such a long period of time.  Sorry.”

“It’s okay.  I can’t imagine what you must be going through.  So much catching up to do.  Like waking from a coma or something.”

“I’ve never been in a coma, but probably.”

The five of them began to exit the restaurant together.  The manager stopped Windy to make sure she was feeling better one last time.  She nodded and thanked him.  In the parking lot, Windy led them all to her minivan, which was as new and sleek-looking as minivans could be.  “Let’s drive your young friend home and then you can come back to the house with me for some coffee or something.  We have a lot to talk about.”

 

Meanwhile…

Rexibald D.W., known fifteen years earlier as the villain, Rexcalibur the Wretched, coughed as he inhaled some dust.  Normally, as a respected and well-known business mogul, he wouldn’t be caught dead in the abandoned warehouse district of the city, but curiosity was gnawing at him.  Leaving behind his limo driver and his faithful assistant, Brenda, Rex had walked quickly through the maze of decrepit old buildings until he found the specific one he was looking for.  It had been a small white lie that Rex had told Al Powers.  Rex knew in exactly what location Al had been frozen.  It was a secret Rex had hoped to keep buried, but somehow that teenager had found his way inside and dug up that secret.

He made his way to the lowest level and saw his beloved machine.  The cryogenic freezing chamber had been one of his first successes.  Rex had achieved a great deal of fame and fortune over the years, but that day when he defeated Al Powers was still one of his proudest moments.  Even if he could never say so publicly.  He rubbed his palm on the old machine and patted it like a faithful dog.

Wiping his hands free of dirt and dust, Rex moved to the other side of the room and found where the boy had gained access to this secret place.  Collapsed bricks.  He picked one up and spun it in his hand, contemplating.  An entire business empire might be brought to its knees because of some shoddy masonry.  It was unfathomable.

“Sir, what is this place?  What are you doing down here?”

Rex was startled from his thoughts and turned around to face his assistant.  “Brenda?  Oh, you shouldn’t have followed me.  I was just checking out the viability of some of these old buildings.  In case we ever need to expand.”  Rex walked by her and casually tossed the brick, which Brenda awkwardly caught against her chest.  “They’re all collapsing, as you can see.  Terrible work.  I wasted my time.  Let’s go.”

 

At the home of Windy Marcone…

Al sipped some coffee while Windy was in the other room helping her daughter, Jenna, with some tough homework.  The older child, Brandon, was sitting across from Al, staring hard and seeming very interested in the strange man who had been invited into his home.

Al struggled to make small talk.  “So, Brendan…”

“Brandon.”

“Right, sorry.  So, Brandon, what’s your favorite baseball team?”

“Washington.”

“They don’t have a team.”

“Yes they do.”

“That’s cool.  What about your favorite basketball team.”

“Oklahoma City.”

“What?  Why would they have a team?”

“They stole it from Seattle.”

“I have so much to learn,” Al sighed.  The two stared at each other some more.  Brandon had a smug look on his face which Al found annoying.  “Is your mother almost done?” he finally asked.

“Are you staying for dinner?”

“I don’t know.  I’m just an old friend who hasn’t seen your mom in a long time and we’re going to chat and get caught up.”

Windy appeared in the kitchen door.  “Brandon, honey, why don’t you go play some video games?”

Brandon lit up happily and ran off, instantly forgetting his interest in the stranger in favor of his interest in Call of Duty.  Windy took the seat he had just vacated.  She put her elbow on the table and slid her cheek into the palm of her hand.

“So how did you find me?”

“Something called facebook.  It said you checked in at Chuck E. Cheese.  I knew the internet was powerful, but I didn’t realize we now have to tell it where we’re going at all times.”

“That’s just the way it is now.  What can ya do?”  Windy laughed in the same beautiful way she always had, momentarily making Al forget about the fifteen year gap between them.

“I wasn’t lying before.  You don’t look all that different.  Time has been good to you.”

“Yeah, time and make-up technology.  I feel old as hell.”

“You got married.”

“Oh, you noticed,” Windy replied, letting a nervous laugh slip out in the process.  “You were declared missing and then later declared dead.  Can you forgive me for moving on?”

“There’s nothing to forgive.  You did nothing wrong.”

“Thanks.  I’m sorry we couldn’t find you.  I remembered the encounter with Rex the Wretched with the metal tentacles and the freezing and stuff, but he did something to me.  I woke up in a different abandoned warehouse with no idea how I had gotten there.  I helped the authorities as much as I could, but in the end, I wasn’t of much use.”

“Don’t worry about it.  Rex knew what he was doing.  He is a diabolical genius.  At least he was.  I guess he went legit while I was away.  Says our encounter helped him see the light.”

“Not sure I ever believed that, honestly.  But I haven’t been kidnapped in fifteen years so there’s not much to go on except my gut.”

“I’m keeping an eye on him.  He made me a shareholder to make up for what he did.  I’ve got a big check in my pocket too.”

Al and Windy stared at each other for a long time without speaking.  It was a much more loaded silence than the one Al had previously shared with Brandon.  Two former lovers were reconnecting with their eyes, each unsure of how far the other wanted to go.  As if reading his mind, Windy finally said, “I’m happily married, you know.  Stuart is a good man and he’s had a lot going on in his head over the years.  It’s not easy dating and then marrying someone who can constantly compare you to a superhero.”

Al averted his eyes self-consciously.  “I only wanted to see you.  I wasn’t expecting anything romantic.  That would be crazy.  This whole deal is crazy enough without mixing in feelings and stuff.”

Windy shook her head and her hair fell over her face a little.  “Yeah, I know.  I’m sorry.  I just…you should probably go before Stu gets back from golf.  It would just be weird if, ya know…”

Al stood up and pushed his chair out.  “Yeah, I’ll go.  It was good to see you again.  I’m glad you’re happy.”

“I am happy, thanks.”   Windy stuck out her hand and Al reluctantly took it.  He thought about kissing it, but instead he shook it awkwardly.  As soon as he let go, Windy stepped into his personal space, wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him on the mouth.  It started as a peck, but she lingered.  Unexpectedly, Al found himself putting his arms around her waist and hugging her even closer, letting her do as she pleased with their connected lips.  Soon, they were kissing as lovers, as if no time had passed at all.

“What the hell?”

Windy broke the embrace abruptly and wiped her mouth.  Al’s eyes widened with surprise when he saw a man standing in the door.

“And this would be my husband, Stuart.  Stu, Al.  Al, Stu,” Windy said, her face turning a deep and bright shade of red.

 

Elsewhere…

“Sally, I’m not going to lie.  I’m not an easy man to work for.  But I remember from our first interview that you did impress me with your work ethic and I’ve wanted to find a place for you here at R.D.W.  If you can stand having me as a boss, I’d love to sign you on board with the company.”

Sally put a finger over her lip, obviously trying to make it look like she had to think about the offer.  She was a spunky young girl fresh out of college, and Rex had no doubt she would prove to be loyal and useful.  Call him a dirty old man, but she was nice to look at, as well.  “When can I start?” she asked, no longer trying to contain her glee.

“Um, how about right away?  I am really lost without a good assistant.”

“Okay, I will show up here first thing tomorrow then!”

“That sounds fantastic.  Looking forward to seeing you.”

They both rose from their chairs and shook hands across the oak desk.  “You seem nice to me.  What makes you so hard to work for?” Sally asked.

“Oh, you know, the usual cranky boss stuff.  It’s very stressful to run such a prominent company as this one.  If I say I need to be alone, you had better leave me alone.”  He flashed a smile, which she returned.

“Will do, boss!  You can count on me!”

Rex walked her to the door of his office and guided her out with his hand placed near her shoulder.  “I hope so.  Just do what you’re told and nothing bad will happen.”

“I will, sir.”

Rex saw her out of his office’s waiting area and shut the door behind her.  He lingered near the reception desk and picked up the picture frame that rested near the edge.   It was a picture of Brenda and her dog.  Rex thought the beast’s name was something generic like Rusty, but he couldn’t remember.  It didn’t matter anyway.  He tossed the picture frame in the garbage can and strolled back into his office.

 

TO BE CONTINUED…

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