Look at that pig. What a slob. Can't even take care of himself. Societal trash. You are unneeded. You will never amount to anything. What a nobody.
Call it a superpower if you'd like, but after years of living in this monstrosity of a vessel we call the human body, it had become quite natural for me to hear the voices of the people around me from their stares alone. They won't say it out loud. They may try to mask it with a genial smile. But, I know. I know better than anyone who, what I am.
I am... whatever they said I am. You needn't sympathize with me, as I know you would judge me the same way if you saw me in the streets as a stranger.
You would see a fat nerd. A geek in all sense of the word. A bespectacled man whose face is riddled in acne and warts.
After a while, you just became numb to all the hurtful comments. Explicit or not. I carried on with my life, as they carried on with theirs. No pain gained, no gain pained.
It is just as well, as I knew I couldn't be as strong or as brave as the heroes in my mountain of collection stacked neatly in my apartment room. I hated pain. I hated causing pain, and I hated receiving pain.
I had matured to the point that I would no longer fantasize about swooping in as someone's knight in shining armor. After all, who would want a knight like me? I thought as I looked in the mirror, reflecting the sad state of my body.
Ah, but reality isn't always a bleak tragedy filled with bleak darkness. I frequented a local bookstore for the newly printed issues, and the owner had taken a liking to me.
"Geraldo, my man, here for the usual?" he beamed, his eyes wrinkled as he did, that's a genuine smile if I had seen one.
"You know it, hit me up, Burke," I responded with a raspy voice, a stark contrast to his clear, deep, yet cheerful, voice. A little voice pointed out that without context, I would sound like a junkie requesting for more drugs. That wouldn't be entirely wrong, as these comics made me feel as euphoric as if I had taken drugs. At least, so I thought. I wouldn't know how it felt like to be on drugs, people would just assume I did as I walked past them.
"This week's issue is a real treat, I tell you. You've read the issue before this one, yes?"
"What'd you think of it?"
"Well, I think it's unlikely that the author would resurrect The Darklark again, as Plutonman had followed the instructions to destroy him methodically. The tease at the end, with a purple fist blasting through the ground might actually be a new villain. Maybe, say, a spawn or 'offspring,' " I gesticulated the quotation marks, "of The Darklark."
Burke nodded with a knowing smile, he didn't want to spoil the story to me. As a fellow reader, he wanted me to read and experience it for myself. I respected that, but at the same time, he didn't know yet that I could hear the voice of his thoughts.
Oh, boy, I thought the same way, but that is not all, and I think you'll love where the story is going to lead us if you read what I read.
I couldn't hear anything else past that, as this "power" of mine only heard those the people wanted to say. The difference with Burke was that a moment after I heard his thoughts, the words came verbatim through his mouth. I respected him for that.
Theories and opinions were exchanged for hours in a fervent manner. An interaction between two fans of the series, that would go on for longer if the day didn't progress so fast.
The front door opened and the bell jingled, Burke's daughter had returned home. "Dad," she greeted, then glanced a second towards my direction and shot a spontaneous smile, nodding her head.
Ugh, why is he here again, so gross, Dad has the weirdest taste in friends.
"Welcome home, sweetie, how was the party?"
"It was all right, nothing too crazy."
She looked out the entrance window, still wearing a smile, "By the way, Dad, it's closing time, you know?"
I don't want this nobody in our house anymore, Dad.
"Oh, my! Time does fly when you're having fun. I'm afraid we will have to cut our discussion short here, my man, it's been a pleasure," he gave me the bag with the issues I had purchased.
"Oh! And take this with you," he handed me a printed copy of a comic titled The Flamboyant Flicker with a costumed hero posing in the cover. The art pulled me in before Burke continued, "Highly recommended, on the house for your patronage," he smiled.
"Thank you," as I waddled my way to the door, and Burke's daughter moving away with repulse, even if she still wore her father's smile.
He was a friend, no, the friend I could trust. The friend I could count on. The friend that had similar interests with me. The friend that didn't judge this sorry, thick book by its cover.
I returned to my run-down apartment, breathed in the smell of mildew and old wood. The scent of books permeating all around the room lingered, and there was barely any space for me to move around.
I read, analyzed, and reread the series I had bought from the bookstore. While doing so, I finished the potato chips I had left over yesterday. The heroes in the pages I held inspired me to keep on living, disregarding the views strangers gave me.
I took a shower and made myself warm milk to send me to sleep, thinking up of theories and hidden clues from the pages I had read today. I could not believe they resurrected The Darklark as a female villain, of all the decisions they could make. I guessed that was a loophole in the method that "...would destroy any and all man, regardless of their powers."
As Burke had predicted, I was invested in the story I thought would end then and there. I thought we would get the happy epilogue to Plutonman's adventures, or else move on to a new arc featuring a new villain. Lo, and behold.
The new series Burke had recommended me was very interesting as well. It was about a teenager drunk in his lavish heritage, something I couldn't relate to, that got into an accident caused by his arrogance and ignorance. He was electrocuted to death in a laboratory of dangerous chemicals, which he entered to prove his worth as a man. He was dared to do so by his so-called friends, who wanted nothing but to get the inheritance by relation.
The chemicals around him mutated him into a being that could flicker and teleport instantly from one point to another, manipulate the electric current around him, and generate electromagnet from his body. His skin was stuck in the inhuman purple hue, though, and he had to adorn himself in these ridiculous jewelries to distract people and make them think the skin was a costume.
It was interesting to see how his moral values would change in the issues to come.
Through these fantastical heroes and their lives, I was spared the gloomy reality that was my life, momentary as it may be.
However, reality had its own way to grab one's attention.
I was just returning home from my part-time job and the convenience store, with a plastic bag of junk food and plenty of water to hydrate myself.
As I thought about picking up the series I had left on hiatus by Burke's bookstore, I smelled something distinct. The smoky smell of something burning.
A crowd had gathered in front of the bookstore, panicking, dialing the fire station. Their voices of worry and horror deafened me. Or perhaps, that was my own worry and horror.
"Dad!" A familiar voice, cracked and sad, rang out amidst the crowd, "My father, my dad, he's still in there!
I dropped my plastic bag in reflex, and a force possessed me to rush into the raging flames, regardless of the scorching heat that I could feel on my bare skin.
The shrill screams of the people who saw me rush in. The adrenaline that numbed the pain. The heat that violated me. The pungent smell of the burning books and wood. Nauseating, I could feel my vision failing me, but just then, I saw a figure down on the ground, not moving.
Please. Please. Please, please, please.
I couldn't feel the warmth of his body with the heat all around us, so I closed my ears to his chest. I gulped in suspense, more than I ever have from any issues I had ever read.
It was faint, but it was there. Burke was still alive, but he wasn't going to be if he stayed any longer here.
My breaths were short, but if there's anything that I could be proud of, it was my strength that came with the weight of my body. I couldn't make it out before the store caved in to the inferno with my short legs, so I took a step forward as the ceilings creaked and crackled.
With the immobile Burke on my arms, I swung him with all the strength I had, and he flew all the way through the entrance door that I had crashed into. I could see shadows of the crowd gasping and catching him before he fell to the ground.
I could feel my strength dwindle, the adrenaline running out and the pain catching up to me. Ah, I hate pain.
Maybe this could have ended differently had I actually exercised more, had I actually done something with my life than waste it away on comic books. Then again, without the comic books I bought, I wouldn't have met and interacted with Burke. As my life flashed before me, I closed my eyes.
I wonder how the news will perceive this... how Burke would think of this... I hope he doesn't think too badly of me... I chuckled in despair, isn't it too late to think about what others think about me now? I have been, and always will be... a nobody...
"I regret nothing," I declared as the debris fell on me and Burke's bookstore.