Dave Maddison pulled his coat collar up to warm his neck as he walked down rain-sodden Oxford Street in London’s West End. It was Halloween and under his raincoat, he was dressed as Superman on his way to a Singles fancy dress party. His satin cape fluttered in the early evening breeze, draped outside his coat to prevent it from creasing and looking cheap, as he ignored the snickering of passers-by - unaware of the effect the rain had on his exposed cape. What had started as a light flapping of the blue cape, had transformed into the drag of a heavy towel-like material pulling tightly at his neck.
As he passed by the large windows of Selfridges department store, he caught a glimpse of his reflection in the glass showing how stretched the cape had become, so he decided to detach it from his neck and carry it instead. Taking temporary shelter under the main entrance to the store, he took off his coat to unzip the cape, wringed it out, then started to put his coat back on when a voice interrupted him.
“Trick or treat, mister?”
Dave looked toward the direction of the voice and was surprised to see a young boy dressed in a similar Superman costume holding up a plastic bucket in the shape of a pumpkin. Unaccustomed to being approached by a child in the street, Dave looked around for the boy’s parents but didn’t see anyone showing the remotest of interest in the child.
“Where’s your parents?” Dave enquired in a friendly manner, but the boy answered the question with another question.
“What’s the costume you’re wearing?”
“What!? Oh, it’s Superman.”
“Just like mine,” the boy gleefully stated.
“Yes… the mini version,” Dave jokingly pointed out.
“What’s wrong with your cape?”
“It got all wet in the rain.”
“What rain?” The boy curiously asked.
Dave looked out toward the entrance to the store. The street was dry and dull. Nothing like the reflective wet surface he was walking on just moments ago. Shaking off his confusion, Dave shrugged his shoulders.
“It must have stopped.”
“Hasn’t rained here in years,” the boy vehemently clarified.
“This is London, England, young man. It’s always raining.”
“You’re funny, mister. We’re in London, Texas, and it’s as dry as a bone, my dad always says.”
“Hey, I’m from London, Texas,” Dave exclaimed before an uneasy tremor shook his legs. “…Where is your dad and… or your mom?”
“Dad’s away working and Mom’s… Gone.”
“To be with Jesus…”
“Wait… You’re out here on your own?”
“No… I’m with you…”
Dave was abruptly startled by the loud and almost deafening wail of a siren as a police car sped recklessly past the store entrance. A common sound around the West End of London – day and night. When he turned back to resume his conversation, the boy was no longer there. Worried about the safety of a child alone on the streets of a big city, Dave rushed back out onto the pavement, frantically looking up and down Oxford Street, but could not see any trace of him. What Dave did notice though, was the curious reflection on the ground of traffic lights, streetlamps, and the brightly lit shop windows. It was like a scene from a painting - normally found on sale at an IKEA store or a cheap art shop. However, what Dave noticed the most as he felt a chill beginning to form on his neck - was that it was raining.
Police sirens continued to wail up and down Oxford Street as Dave headed in an Eastwardly direction toward Bond Street. Sometimes, the sirens seemed to be next to him – other times, in the distance. He inwardly joked about there being a donut sale on somewhere and the cops didn’t want to miss out. However, he quickly dismissed the joke as a form of bigotry against authority. Personally, he had no quarrel with the upholders of law. They were just doing their job trying to apprehend criminals and protect most of the populace against harm.
“Sure, weren’t they just normal people like everyone else,” he would muse in his best Irish accent – even though he had no connection to anything Irish. “Eating, sleeping, drinking, loving, and breathing life like we all do, begorrah!” As a young boy, he had been heavily influenced by re-runs of Adam West’s Batman TV series. Dave often professed to have learned his Irish accent watching the character, Chief O’Hara – Commissioner Gordon’s right-hand man.
Texas born and raised, Dave considered Britain and Ireland to be the “Auld Countries.” His youthful lack of geographic knowhow placed all the Auld Countries into the same category of people talking funny, so he found great amusement in trying to copy their accents – something he found entertaining in adult life – especially, in the middle of a serious business meeting at work. Whenever he found discussions tedious and boring, the accents came out to play. Jesting aside, Dave’s easy-going attitude endeared him to his work colleagues at his IT consulting company, so his bizarre impromptu behaviour was overlooked in a way that someone would ignore a child trying to interrupt an adult conversation. Although he tried to be likeable, he was too quirky for female colleagues to want to get to know, so single life had become the accustomed norm with him. It was no surprise then, that when the opportunity to attend a Singles party presented itself, Dave eagerly accepted the invitation. In reality, it was a paid entry to an online announcement. To Dave, it was a personal invite that brought a little pleasure to his lonely life.
“Click here for the best Halloween party in town,” the pop-up ad announced. “The best DJs, top music, and best door prizes, raffles, and costume competition. Sponsored by iDateOnline.com. Places limited. Book Now!”
Without hesitation, Dave had clicked the button sending him to the payment page, entered his details, paid the entry fee, then printed out his entrance ticket.
“David…” trailed a whisper from the small alleyway between the two buildings next to him. “Don’t get fooled by anyone at that party.”
Stopping to gaze through the misting rain, Dave thought he saw the identifiable outline of a woman standing in the alleyway.
“Especially the girls,” the voice continued. “If you ask me, you’re throwing away good money on cheap thrills.”
“Sorry…? Hello?” Dave attempted to engage the voice.
“They’ll try to entice you with sex…”
“Mom…!? Is that you?”
“Why don’t you find a nice Texas church girl and settle down?” The voice suggested - as it trailed off into the dark shadows of the passageway.
As if that wasn’t disconcerting enough, directly behind him, a gruff male voice bellowed, “Why don’t you leave the boy alone, woman! Let him sow his wild oats - like I did - before you go settling him down into abject misery. Let him be a real man… You are a real man, aren’t you David, my boy? You’re not just a figment of your imagination, are you?”
Turning to defiantly confront the voice, a curious scene transfixed his gaze upon it. A typical vintage red London Double-Decker bus silently glided past him. The Conductor, who curiously resembled Cliff Richard – England’s answer to Elvis - leant out from the open rear entry, tightly clasping onto the vertical rail singing, “We’re all going on a Summer holiday, no more worries for a week or two.” But this oddity was not the thing that caught Dave’s attention. It was the passengers seated on both decks of one of London’s most iconic modes of public transport. They were all dressed as clowns, and all were emotionlessly staring straight back at him, making him feel quite uncomfortable. The sudden tooting sound of an old car horn broke the clowns’ hypnotic hold of him, drawing his attention toward the driver’s cab, where another clown with big red hair and an evil smile also stared at him - while continuing to blindly drive forward.
“You are a real man, aren’t you, David?” The clown’s menacing voice carried through the damp night air before another ear-piercing police siren jolted Dave out of his temporary trance.
Bewilderedly surveying his surroundings, caused a sense of abandonment to spread through Dave’s mind. In a swift change of scenery, he found himself window watching outside a Walmart store in the USA, observing bizarrely dressed shoppers inside, lining up at the checkout counters. However, something else felt different. The air was hot and humid, and his memory recollected a Déjà Vu moment of something about to happen. Dazed and confused, he stood trying to get his bearings, slightly bewildered as to where he was.
“You ok, son?” A man’s voice kindly enquired as he repetitively tapped his walking cane on the ground. “Are you lost?”
Dave took a cautious step away from the old man’s towering presence over him. Looking up at the man’s weathered face, he truthfully answered the question.
“My Mom’s inside,” Dave instinctively replied while shaking his head. “I’m waiting for her to come out.”
“Why’d she leave you out here all alone?”
“She always does when she needs to shop in a hurry. Says I’ll only slow her down.”
“Is that so...?”
The old man’s bottom jaw pushed upwards in a disbelieving expression as he pondered Dave’s explanation.
“How old are you son?”
“I don’t know… Twenty-seven, I think.”
“You think…!? Hell fire, son! Your momma not teach you numbers?”
“I know my numbers!” Dave snootily retorted. “Do you?”
Taken aback by the boy’s arrogant attitude, the old man lifted his cane, pointing it at Dave.
“Where you from?”
“Huh, you don’t say… Well, that makes sense. You got no Walmart down there, do you…? Just a one-horse stretch of highway on its way to south of the border… Well, this here is Brady Lake, Texas, and we expect a certain politeness from our country-folk visitors… London, Texas, huh? I’d expect that kind of attitude from the people of your town’s namesake in England… How’s your geography, son? You do know your atlas, don’t you?”
“None of your business,” Dave impatiently replied.
“Well, I see your momma never taught you no manners, young man. You’d be wise to show some respect to older folk, coz someday you’ll be just like me. A bent over, crippled fuddy-duddy with nuthin’ better to do but stick your nose into other people’s business – just for conversation.”
“I ain’t never getting old!” Dave defiantly bleated.
The old man smiled at the young upstart stood before him in his Superman costume - a passing thought of what kind of upbringing this kid is getting, travelling through his head.
“Well, you’re on your own now, young man. Your momma just sprinted out the door carrying what appears to be… a painting and an armful of clothes. Looks like she’s forgotten about her precocious little Superboy.”
Dave quickly swivelled to see his mother disappearing into the sparsely-lit parking lot, headed for a beat-up old car at the far end of the property.
“You best use your faster-than-a-speeding-bullet powers and fly away to your momma’s loving arms, now… Go on… Scoot, before that overweight excuse for a security guard catches his breath…”
Without hesitation, Dave turned to scurry away after his mother.
“It’s a long walk home to your London, Texas,” the old man shouted into the distance, while mumbling to himself as he shuffled off into the store. “Open twenty-four hours. I figure most folks in here are taking advantage of the all-day cool air. We’re in for a thunderstorm, I’d say. I can feel it in my old brittle bones… Yesireebob, lightning will surely strike tonight...”
As Dave ran as fast as his legs could take him, a surprising heavy shower of cool rain abruptly splattered his face, causing him to stand still. Suddenly realising he was back on Oxford Street in the middle of Oxford Circus with traffic passing both sides of him, he headed to the dry shelter of a nearby shoe shop’s covered entrance. Out of breath, he slumped to the floor against a wall, placed his cape in front of him, and with knees up, cradled his head between his hands. Trying to make sense of everything that had just transpired, his private evaluation was cut short by the sound of several coins clicking as they dropped onto his cape.
“Down on your luck, mate?” An English accent interrupted.
“Are you real?” Dave innocently asked without looking up.
“As real as they come, mate.”
“Where am I?”
“You’re sitting in the entrance to the Nike store.”
“No, I mean, what is this place…? Who do you see?”
“…Well, if it weren’t bleeding Halloween, I’d say you look like a nutter. But, I can genuinely see Superman in trouble, and we superheroes must stick together, yes?”
Raising his head, Dave took in the tall man’s appearance. Covered from head to toe in a black costume, the tall, dark stranger loomed over him – his black cape fluttering in the rainy breeze.
“Lucky for you,” the Dark knight added. “I’m in the business of saving people, and you look like you need saving… Reggie is the name, but you can call me… Batman.”
Reggie extended a hand that Dave weakly shook.
“No, mate. Tonight you are Superman. Now, tell me what troubles you.”
“…I think my mother has died…”
“Thinking’s not the same as actual…”
“…She’s died, yes… She’s dead...” Dave affirmed.
“Sorry to hear that, mate. Was it unexpected?”
“She got shot by a security guard.”
“My goodness. That’s very sad… How did it happen?”
“She was shoplifting from a Walmart store back home in Texas… There was a guard. He was too fat to chase her, so he pulled out his gun and shot her in the back.”
“Jesus, mate. I’m so sorry for you. What did she steal to deserve such horrible treatment?”
“Some clothes, I think… and a framed print of a colourful rainy night in London – with a bus packed with circus clowns.”
Perplexed, Reggie cocked his head to one side, remembering something.
“That’s weird and funny at the same time… No offence, mate. The circus is in town. I saw them earlier driving around in a chartered double-decker. The old Route Master bus - if I’m not mistaken. Full of clowns. Even the driver was dressed as one.”
“…I’m not going crazy, then? You saw them?”
Feeling an overwhelming surge of sadness and joy pass through him, Dave burst out crying and laughing at the same time.
“That’s alright, mate. You let it out,” Reggie consoled him. “Let it all out…”
Wiping his sodden face, Dave got to his feet, handed back the coins to Reggie, and nodded his appreciation.
“When did you receive the news about your mum?”
“…Fifteen years ago.”
Surprised at the passage of time since Dave’s mother’s passing, Reggie took a moment to sum up the situation.
“…and you were there, weren’t you…”
Dave’s lips tightened like he was stifling another crying outburst – preventing him from verbally responding, so he just shook his head instead.
“What about your dad? Is he still around?”
“I lost touch with him years ago. He drives Greyhound buses across the country, so he’s never in one spot for too long.”
“…It’s grief, mate. What you are feeling… A powerful force. It’s like a container holding all the emotions associated with the sense of loss. Denial, frustration, anger, seeking God, guilt, despair, and depression and finally resignation… They are all phases of grief. I suspect you’re at the latter stage of it.”
Dave looked into Reggie’s eyes, searching for answers from his newfound oracle.
“How do you know so much about me?” Dave asked, with a hesitant feeling of trepidation – not yet sure of what was real or not.
“I’m Batman, mate. I’ve seen a lot of things on some of the darkest nights in the city… I’m also a grief counsellor. I come out here every evening in search of lost souls looking for clarity. Just so happens there’s a special Halloween group meeting tonight. Free tea, biscuits, and candy for all who attend… Why don’t you come along? There’s a nice big bar of comforting chocolate for the best costume…”
“I was heading to a fancy dress party,” said Dave, reluctantly.
“Not that one for Singles, advertised on the Internet… the what’s it called…?”
“iDateOnline.com,” Dave interjected.
“Yes, that’s the one! Tell you a secret… I bought a dodgy ticket as well… Ah, that brought a smile to your face didn’t it…”
Dave bashfully acknowledged the lightening of the moment by bowing his head and kicking at a spot on the ground.
“Look, tell you what… Our meeting starts in ten minutes. What say, you come along and join in. Most meetings last one hour. Plenty of time for Superman and Batman to get to the singles bash, yes?”
An agreeing nod from Dave lit up Reggie’s face – who, triumphantly struck the spread-leg pose of a superhero gluing both hands to his hips, before reciting the iconic 1940s Superman cartoon series introduction.
“It’s a bird, It’s a plane, it’s…?”
Dave quickly joined in with, “For truth, justice, and the American way…”
“…Ohhh, they’ve updated that motto, Man of Steel,” interrupted Reggie. “…and it’s so appropriate for this moment,” he teased.
“They have?” Muttered Dave incredulously.
“Indeed, they have, mate.”
“Well, what is it?” Asked Dave excitedly.
“It is now…” Reggie began with a preposition as he placed a friendly hand upon Dave’s shoulder, then launched into a short soliloquy.
“… For Truth, Justice, and a Better Tomorrow… How cool is that, hey Superman?”
“Yeah, that’s cool, Batman,” Dave replied with a tone of solidarity ringing in his voice.
“…For a better tomorrow, one can only hope…”
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There is a lot to enjoy here, as the story unravels, and the layers of which elements are memory which reality begin to reconcile. The sense that Dave is a decent, but troubled guy comes through and makes him an immediately sympathetic character. It was clever how you had his memories triggered by the view of himself in the window of Selfridges department store. He removes his jacket, revealing the costume and the child hidden underneath. That was a nice moment, and it was well maintained when the kid interrupts him before he can put his jac...
Francis, Thank you so much for the wonderful dissection of my story. I very much appreciate the time you put into it. You truly have a gift for seeing deep into hidden meanings and your comments made me take another look at what I really tried to portray in the piece. I'm glad to say, your comments captured the true essence of my words. I did some research on the stages of grief before writing about it, and there doesn't seem to be any time limit on its effect. Lucky for Dave, he's stumbled upon someone that can help him through it. Even th...
I really like how you fleshed out the Dave character, I could picture him as a fish out of water in london, this was a brilliant paragraph: " in the middle of a serious business meeting at work. Whenever he found discussions tedious and boring, the accents came out to play. Jesting aside, Dave’s easy-going attitude endeared him to his work colleagues at his IT consulting company, so his bizarre impromptu behaviour was overlooked in a way that someone would ignore a child trying to interrupt an adult conversation. Although he tried to be lik...
Thanks for your great feedback, Scott. Your fish out of water remark is spot on.
A surreal journey that had me flip-flopping between thinking I had my bearings or not. Nice clear imagery with wet London/dry Texas. The respite from the hallucinatory/delusional journey when the charitable batman came along at the end was heartwarming! I can tell a lot of effort went into this. Nicely crafted, sir.
Jim, Thanks for your great feedback. Glad that you enjoyed the story.
Hi Chris, another intriguing story. The title interested me initially, and then the Halloween scene made me think it was going to be a scary story, especially with the eerie disappearance of the mini superman in the beginning. But I found myself more intrigued once I realized it was heading somewhere different, in a more mysterious and friendly direction. My favorite thing here is how you weaved in the double decker bus (totally made me think of Harry Potter, at first) full of clowns - creepy! - and then tied that into the death of Dave's ...
Anne Marie, thank you for your great feedback. I'm glad you like the change of direction. I began the story with the idea of doing a scary story, but once I got on that bus, the story drove me. 🤡 Lately, I seem to be doing a lot of reactionary writing - letting the story dictate to me. It's an interesting way to write. As soon as I realised Dave was suffering from grief, I researched it a bit, so it would sound believable.
Reactionary writing, what a great way to put it. I've always just considered myself a pantser, ha! But I agree, a fun way to write when your character's and story tell YOU what to do, huh. One of the joys of creative writing.
Very good story Chris! And a great take on the prompt, I was avoiding that one!! Lovely way to tie it up at the end. Loved the “Auld countries” and the accents. Especially loved the “I’m Batman”! Really well done!
Seán, many thanks for your great comments. I had intended it to be a scary Halloween horror story, but it took me on a different path that came out okay in the end.