Keep your eyes to the starry sky
for one night you’ll see, a large blood red comet
hurling towards your planet at great speed.
You’ll want all the warning you can get.
This blazing fire will be the great destroyer
ready to make your planet obsolete.
Why will he destroy your planet?
Because he’s so unhappy with his own.
I sat on my creaky porch swing listening to a chorus of peepers with Alfred, my squishy-faced emotional support pug, resting on my lap. The smell of Ma cooking bacon made my mouth water, and I could hear the sizzling and popping from the kitchen behind me. With my eyes focused on the starry sky, I thought of Brady and how he promised he’d send me a sign after he died. At the young age of twenty-three years old, he shouldn’t have even been halfway through his life. He was far too young to die.
“It’s hard making friends, Alfred. I know you don’t understand that. As a dog, it’s much easier for you. But for me it’s always been tough.”
Alfred stared up at me and panted. I scratched behind his ear the way he liked.
Then we noticed a red line flash across the sky. I knew that must have been my sign because Brady knew that a certain speedster in red was my favorite superhero, and it reminded me of his alien comic books. Double meaning meant double the odds it was my sign.
“Would you look at that, Alfred!” Relief swept over my body like a soothing cool breeze on a hot day. Something came after death.
That sign wasn’t all though. Brady always liked to take a thing way beyond normal or acceptable, and I should have known more was to come.
“Eli? Are you there?”
“Yeah, Ma. I saw something─”
“I need help.”
I carried Alfred into the house and placed him on his bat-patterned dog bed. The wooden door slammed too loudly behind us and I cringed knowing Ma hated loud noises. Something came after death, so I no longer needed to worry so much about what’ll happen when Ma’s gone. That was such a relief.
Before we sat down to BLTs, I helped Ma with her evening medications, took my own, and thought about the day Brady and I first met. This also happened to be the first time I ever attended a support group. As soon as I saw that tall man in his long black trench coat and that amazing t-shirt with the world’s most loved symbiote, I knew he was one to pay attention to. Brave Brady with his spiked white hair told us about how he created a comic book that followed the life of a depressed alien named L5296 as a way to cope with his struggles with mental illness. Luckily, he lived to see the start of the comic’s success. Now that he’s dead, it has blown up. His name will never be forgotten.
The series did run into a little trouble though. At first, L5296 coped with his depression in healthy ways, and he became an icon of hope for readers who struggled. He relied on the support and friendship of other aliens, he took up surfing around the planets, and he brought all his traumatic secrets to light. He forgave those who hurt him and turned his pain into purpose. Later in the series, L5296 took a dark turn that mimicked Brady’s own hopelessness. He turned to destruction and then into the villain. Some readers felt left in the dust, but many more identified more with this new side.
After I heard him mention his comic in the group, I wanted to talk to him, but I couldn’t. Instead, I went home and read every issue. I waited eagerly for each new one too, though admittedly some of the darker last issues turned me off it. I listened to some interviews he had done and took in every bit of information I could find on him. There were so many similarities between us. Obviously, we were both nerds with crippling depression, but it went well beyond that. Brady also never knew his father, he was bullied in school, he never had a successful relationship, and we both experienced something odd at a young age.
See, when I was about ten years old, I woke up to a burst of blue glowing light that filled my room. It was so bright; I couldn’t look at it. I felt like it would burn my eyes out to try and leave me blind. During the light’s time in my room, I heard a series of clicking noises. The thought that it might be an alien language has haunted my mind ever since. When the light faded and I could finally see, nothing was there. However, I did find an odd symbol burned into my wall right above the window. I think they marked me. I never told anyone but Brady this story, because, well, people would say I was crazy. Brady believed. He believed because it happened to him too. Though he claimed it was a red light and that’s why he made his aliens travel by red light in the comics. The same story with two different colors. He thought one of us was misremembering, and he assumed that person was me. Inside, I knew different. I feared we weren’t going to be on the same team, but maybe it meant there were others like us. Maybe we’d find someone with the same story but green or yellow. What if we all needed to come together? Of course, now Brady’s dead and I know nothing. Except he did send me a sign. He is red cruising through the sky. That red light has many meanings.
“You’re all lost in your head again,” Ma yelled. She didn’t mean to yell, but her hearing was going, and she wasn’t very aware of her own volume anymore.
She swatted her hand. Then she pulled the bacon out of her sandwich, ate it, and left the rest on her plate. “I’m full.”
I shook my head. Lately, she had been eating less. This worried me, but not as much now that I knew there was something after life. I liked to picture Ma in some sort of heaven skating through clouds and giggling. She’d fly up a large cloud made half pipe and spin a 180. That’s the life Ma deserved. She loved her pink plaid roller-skates. Also, she’d have a big garden where she could eat all the berries she wanted.
“Alright, Ma. I’m going for a quick drive. You want ice cream?”
“Oh, yes! Bring me a pint of that blackberry stuff I like.”
“Sure, thing.” At least she still ate ice cream.
I made sure to clean up first, then I grabbed the car keys. When I started the car, the song playing brought a big ole grin right to my face. This song played during the big climatic fight of the last comic movie Brady and I saw together in theaters. There was an unstoppable bad guy, as they always seemed to be until the hero finds their kryptonite. The battered and exhausted hero almost gave up, but then he discovered it. The stakes were high, and the tension building to a crescendo that matched the song’s build up perfectly. Anyone who doesn’t understand the significance of a movie score, should try watching a movie on mute. It’s a whole different feel. Sometimes the music alone is what brings a tear to the corner of my eye, gets my heart pounding, or makes me jump out of my seat.
I always wanted to be a hero. Brady always told me he was more of a villain. We joked about being best friends turned enemies like Lex and Clark or Erik and Charles. Though, I’d much rather be The Bat than boring ole Kent.
Sometimes our friendship wasn’t great, but he was the only one I had. He’d call me names I didn’t like, and his negativity took a toll on my own mood. At times, he tried pushing me into things I didn’t want to do, but I stood my ground. That happens with depression though. I wanted to be there for him. A person in that state needs someone who won’t give up on them on, right?
Anyways, I drove along and then I saw this big explosion of red and a puffed-up doom cloud of matching color. Red lightning flickered through the cloud illuminating it. What the fudge, Brady? I said I wanted a sign, but I didn’t want innocent people getting hurt over it.
I decided to drive as close as I could to the explosion. I know, not the greatest idea. Somehow, I knew I wouldn’t be in danger. As I got close, the car stopped driving. It just turned off. I stepped out of the car. Houses crumbled around me as I stepped closer. People fled in the other direction, covering their heads and coughing. An orb of blue began to glow around me.
How sweet is that? I became a bright glowing orb of blue like the thing in my room. Inside my orb, I felt nothing. Was it a shield? I wandered closer. The flames shriveled back as I passed like I was made of water. They made a hiss noise but shrank. A path parted for me. In the center was a large crater. In the center of that a spaceship stuck up, half dug in the dirt. Smoke rose from the top of it. Clearly, this crash landing wasn’t what the pilot desired. The ship was a mess.
Next to the ship, I saw L5296. The red alien stood tall with hunched shoulders and fire hair. He wore a long black trench coat. He glanced up at me with fiery yellow eyes and grinned with a mouth of needle-sharp teeth. In his hands, he held what appeared to be a GPS.
“Have you come for me, Brady?” I laughed with maniacal delight.
He nodded, “Indeed, old friend.”
“You left one heck of a mess.”
He shrugged. “As you always said, people with powers never show the right concern for their surroundings. Nothing on earth is worth much compared to what I am.”
“Sounds a bit villain like,” I sighed.
His grin widened. “I’ve always warned you.”
“Do you need help? I know nothing about repairing a spaceship, but I could call a mechanic?”
“They’re coming for me. They’re coming for you.”
“They can’t come for me. What about Ma? I can’t leave her.”
“You’re going to have to make a choice, Eli. The war’s beginning. Are you going to be the hero? Xavier to my MAGNUS! Or will you join me?”
I froze. What I feared most was coming to pass.
“I can tell you there’s a lot of perks to my side, Eli.”
“I’m sure there are.”
“Not many to yours.”
“I don’t want to fight a friend.” A counselor once tried to tell me how important it is to pick the right friends. A person needs to surround themselves in a network of people who will build them up. Like I said, Brady was all I had, and we made it work. He took me down with negativity from time to time, but my positivity lifted us.
“So, you’ll join me?”
My whole life I dreamed about being a hero like in the comics, but now that it’s here the reality hit hard. This isn’t easy or fun. This is making tough choices, and tough choices aren’t my strong suit. “How about you join me? That’s always been an option too.”
A sinister smile spread across his face. The fire of his eyes flickered wildly. “Oh, Eli. Didn’t we know it’d always come to this, old friend?”
The fight against the darkness is never ending. I longed for a break, but I wouldn’t give up. “I suppose we did.”