The real heroes

Two hands grasped the metal balustrade. With a grunt a figure swung himself up, twisting in the air and vaulting onto the flat roof. The wheels skidded forward and for a moment it looked as though the wheelchair would topple back, but the occupant adjusted his balance instinctively and propelled himself towards the outhouse. He slid around in a one-eighty and gently backed into the shadow of the overhang.

“How do you do that, Wheels?”

A tall man stepped out of the shadows and nodded a greeting. He was dressed in a full length blue hooded leotard with a lightning flash embroidered on his chest.

“Do what, Ack?” said the man in the wheelchair. His expression was unreadable behind the mask.

“You know, all this. I mean, this is a rooftop. Most able bodied guys couldn’t get up here, even if they used the elevator. How’d you climb up here strapped to that thing?”

“Carbon fibre. Light as a feather and strong as steel. Plus upper body strength. This thing is a twenty-four hour workout. Climbing a twenty storey building is nothing. Passing a job interview in a wheelchair, now that’s tough.”

“Still? Even after the bank job last month? I’d have thought people would be falling over themselves to hire paraplegics.”

“Well, it doesn’t hurt, I suppose. And the charities are wetting themselves. I mean, nothing says ‘useful member of society’ more than a wheelchair-bound guy taking out five bank robbers. No, it’s better than it has been.”

“But still no job?”

“No. Not the sort that would let me do this one as well, anyway. I need some sort of self-employed racket, something that I can work on but still drop at a moment’s notice if there’s a shout. Trouble is, I was always a labourer, before the accident. No qualifications.”

“Have you thought about being a freelance window cleaner?”

The two men stared at each other for a moment, then both laughed.

“Yeah, or maybe tap dancer. Hey, maybe you should get a job as a lifeguard down at the pool.”

Ack shuddered, his whole body shaking like a dog climbing from a river.

“Don’t even joke about it,” he said.

The two looked out over the nightscape of the city below.

“Quiet tonight,” said the paraplegic.

“Yes. The police bands are dead. Well, that’s a good thing. Prevention is better than cure, and all that.”

“Boring though.”

“Boring, yes. Still, that just shows we’re doing our job. How are you fixed for tonight? I might turn in early. There’s a forty percent chance of rain, it said on the TV.”

“You’ll hang about for a while though? There’s a guy I met. Truth be told, he helped with the bank job. He’s one of us, but he’s not convinced. I invited him up. That’s all right, isn’t it?”

“Sure. Why not? Every little helps. What’s he do?”

“He has a stammer.”

“And he can use it?”

“Yeah. He didn’t even realise it, but it was pretty cool. Hey, the Wheels could have handled them on his own, of course.”

“Of course.”

“Yeah, but he made it easier.”

“With a stammer?”

“Oh, you have to hear it. It’s a beauty.”

“I’ll take your word for it, Wheels. Who knows what powers we can harness for the fight?”

“Ha-ha. Don’t get all mystical on me, Ack. We’re just schmoes looking out for the streets, not on some mystical crusade ordained by the Almighty.”

Ack smiled ruefully. “Yeah, yeah, okay. I was just trying it out. I’m being interviewed by some journalist tomorrow.”

The door to the roof opened, and the two friends moved back into the shadows. The streetlights reflected off the low clouds revealed the hesitant figure of a man, standing nervously by the door. The two moved back into the open.

“Joe. Over here,” said Wheels, beckoning him over. “Aquaphobe, this is Joe. We haven’t got a tag for him yet. The Stammerer hasn’t got immediate appeal, you know? Stutterman? Anyway, time enough for that. We haven’t even got a costume yet.”

“Joe,” said Ack, extending a gauntleted hand.

“Aque- Aque- Aque-”

“Ack is fine. It’s what my friends call me.”

“Ack,” said Joe gratefully. He took Ack’s hand. “B-b-bi-b-b-.” He swallowed hard and twitched his head. “Huge f-fan.”

“Thanks.” There was a hint of a blush around the edges of the hood. “Wheels here says you have a talent we could use.”

“Oh,w-w-well, I don’t, I don’t, I don’t kn-kn-kn-know about that.”

“He says you helped out with the bank raid the other week. What happened?”

“I was j-j-j-just st-st-, I was standing in the que-que-que-”

“You mind if I tell it?” said Wheels. Joe shook his head. “Okay, we were in the First City. I’d noticed a couple of guys looking suspicious, you know the drill. Anyway, suddenly out come the guns, and there I was still in civvies. So I’m wondering, they’re covering everyone with sawn-offs, how am I going to sneak off to the john and change? Then one of them points his piece at Joe here and tells him to get down. Joe tried to say something, but his stammer kicked in.”

“N-n-nerves,” said Joe. “It’s w-worse wh-wh-when I’m nervous.”

“Well, hell, you were staring down the wrong end of a purdy. Nervous is the least you should have been. Anyway, I was watching, and it’s like time slowed down, you know? Like everybody was wading through treacle. And the guy with the gun, he just stood there, rooted to the spot, waiting for Joe to finish. Everyone was. You could see them leaning forward, trying to will the words out of Joe here. So I suddenly woke up and realised no-one was watching me. Like I’m not used to the cripple being invisible in the room, you know? So I backed into the John and changed. I got it down pat now. Twenty seconds for the costume, thirty if that damn zipper sticks, another fifteen to disguise the chair. So, I was gone maybe a minute, then I burst out of the restroom, wheels smoking, expecting to have to chase the damn getaway car halfway up the street, and you know what? No-one had moved. They were still in their exact same spot, waiting for Joe to finish his sentence. Genius. So it was just a matter of hitting them hard, because even with Joe’s talent here, when The Wheels crashes the party, people notice.”

“He w-was f-f-f-fant-, f-f-f-, he was amazing,” said Joe. “So f-f-fast.”

“Yeah, but you made it easier, buddy. Honestly, you’ve got a talent.”

“Talent? It’s a c-c-curse.”

“You ever read those comic books?” said Ack. “All those superheroes with super powers? And even when you get people like Batman, he’s the epitome of the perfect athlete. Hell, if I could fly, being a hero wouldn’t be anything. It would be as natural as drinking a cup of coffee. No, you know the superhero I always admired? Daredevil. Even though they gave him that radar power, he was still a blind man, and people just didn’t consider for a moment a blind guy could be a hero. Now, there was a hero, someone that had to work at it, and everyone dismissing him in real life.”

“Lousy film, though,” said Wheels.

“The film, I admit, could have been better. But the point is, he was a real hero, because he made use, not of his power, but of his disability.”

“You can’t use that word anymore,” said Wheels, grinning. “It’s ‘differently enabled’ now.”

“Ignore the cripple,” said Ack. “The point is, we’re the heroes, Joe. Not because we’re powerful, but because we can turn our weaknesses to our advantage. You don’t stutter, you freeze time. The Wheels here isn’t confined to a wheelchair, he’s faster than a sprinter and stronger than a weightlifter.”

“B-b-but n-not you,” said Joe. “You really do have a super p-p-power.”

“No, it’s just a disability I differently enable, that’s all.”

“Show me.”

“Oh, you don’t want to see that.”

“Go on, show him,” said Wheels. “You know you want to really.”

“Okay. Stand there.” He positioned Joe against the wall and strode to the edge of the roof. He turned and faced the pair. In a smooth movement he’d practiced so many times in front of the mirror, he drew a ball from its concealed pocket behind him and held it out.

“Ready?”

Joe nodded.

Ack pressed the button. The black stretched covering zipped away and he was confronted with the clear plastic globe containing -. The wave of revulsion at the water inside hit him like a fist to his stomach, and he in turn repulsed it. Faster than the eye could follow the ball hit the wall next to Joe’s head, then ricocheted into the night.

Wheels slapped the arm of his chair.

“Better than plastic bullets. Man, when he says he’s aquaphobic, he’s not kidding.”

Ack smiled shyly.

“That’s what I mean, Joe. Turning a frown upside down. We’re the real heroes.”

The patter of rain suddenly swept across the rooftop. Shuddering, Ack ran over to his friends. They stood side by side, silent, looking over their city, Ack’s phobia creating an invisible dome over them as the rain fell.

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About snodlander
Snodlander is the nom de plume of Bob Simms. He is an IT trainer, but it's not as glamourous as it sounds. When he's not enthralling classes with adventures through SQL Server, he writes, draws and drinks his own home-brew. Buy his novel on Amazon Kindle at The Young Demon Keeper, It's 74p, for crying out loud!

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