Origin stories are never easy: radioactive bites, the death of a loved one, painful genetic mutations. The list goes on and on, and I’m an expert on them. Well, I was an expert on them when I was alive. I’m a superhero, and I’m just still in my origin story. This is what I tell myself everyday. This is how I get through the pain and the loneliness. There is no one else in this plane of existence that I can see. There is the living, there is the dead, and there is me. I can’t even interact with the living until I feel the call to use my powers. Most days I just walk and walk and walk from wherever the last nightmare was, trying to get back home to at least see my family even if they can’t see me. But I haven’t been back home since the night I died. I always get called before I reach the city limits.
It starts with a strange feeling in my stomach, the kind you get on the first really big hill of a roller coaster. Then my fingers prickle before the sensation spreads to my whole body, and right before it becomes too much the feeling stops, and I’m somewhere else.
Today I am getting closer to home than I have in awhile. I can see the sign Welcome to Nevada! I feel so happy that I think I can almost feel the sunlight beating down on the earth. Then it happens. I clench my fists as the feeling takes over my entire body. And suddenly I’m standing behind a worn leather recliner in a room where the only light is coming from the television. A balding head with a wreath of graying hair is the only part of the mission I can see. I look around the room trying to get a sense of the man, trying to decide whose story to tell.
The wood paneled room mostly has photos of family. An aged wedding photo of a white woman with her blonde hair in an 80s updo kissing a tall white man with his dark hair combed back and held in place with too much hair product. More recent pictures show the couple with grandkids, group pictures where everyone wore the same red shirt and blue jeans.
Mary Turner was my first thought. He was a family man, and witnessing the stomping of her unborn baby might work, but the thought of the flames on my skin again made me shake. I kept looking for more information. I’m like Tony Stark, a smart superhero. I decide carefully before I start the story.
My eyes wander to the television. The news is covering another one of the president’s rallies where someone said something racist. Maybe this guy needs something modern, closer to home. George Floyd or Tamir Rice? Then my eyes saw the baseball bat resting on the floor by the television, and the man in the chair, the mission, appeared to be doing something with his hands. I leaned over the back of the recliner to see. His cell phone rested on his right knee, opened to a website for How to Tie a Noose. In his hands he held a rope.
I knew in that moment it was my story that needed to be told. I hated reliving it, just the thought of experiencing the pain and confusion again made me want to run away to leave this man for a lost cause. But I knew that wasn’t an option. I tried it one time near the beginning of my death-life.
The woman didn’t seem dangerous. I thought maybe it wasn’t necessary for me to use my powers, so I followed her for a full day: to her job, to the grocery store, to the gym. It was getting dark when she was leaving the gym. Nothing bad had happened, and I was about to start my walk home when a man came running up behind her. She heard his footsteps and turned away from her car door to look. He was running toward her. She reached into her purse and pulled out a small pistol and shot him five feet in front of her.
He had her wallet. She’d left it at the check-in counter at the gym. He didn’t need to die, and I knew then that using my powers wasn’t a choice. If I had shared a nightmare with her, then maybe she would have paused for just one second to think what if I’m wrong?
So I took a deep breath, even though I didn’t need to breathe, and reached out my hand to lay it on the man’s shoulder. That’s the thing about superheroes, they are supposed to take a punch to save another person.
I was in my bedroom with my plain white walls and comic posters pinned up. Mom had never let me do any decorating except posters. The nightstand lamp was on, and I sat on top of the covers reading my latest purchase: Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet Book 1. There was a pinging sound at the window like a large bug flying into the glass. I ignored it and continued reading. There was another ping, louder this time. Maybe it was Megan? It wouldn’t be the first time I had snuck out of my window to see her. I reminisced for a moment about our midnight walks. The feeling I got whenever she held my hand.
I closed my comic book and set it down on the nightstand. I went over to the window and opened it as quietly as I could because I knew Mom and Dad were asleep. Only, it wasn’t Megan outside. A giant red pick up truck was parked in our driveway. I knew that truck; it belonged to the star soccer player at our school. The engine of the truck revved. I tried to wave them away. The truck revved again. They were going to wake up my parents. I figured I would go outside and figure out what they wanted before Mom woke up. They probably wanted to buy weed. For some reason a rumor went around school that I was a dealer. I wasn’t. I don’t even know the first thing about drugs.
I shut the window and crept out the front door. I could make out four guys in the truck, but when I got closer I saw that they were all wearing creepy halloween masks. Donald Trump was behind the wheel, a nun sat shotgun, and in the back seat sat an uncreative ski mask and a unicorn. I gestured for Donald Trump to roll down the window. I was planning on telling them to all screw off, but the back door opened and the ski mask and unicorn jumped out and grabbed my arms, pinning them to my sides. The driver’s door swung open and Donald Trump was wrapping my mouth with duct tape in an instant.
My heart rate increased. I could feel my eyes bugging wide in my head. I tried to scream for my mom, but all that came out was a muffled cry. My knees were kicked from behind, and I went down. More duct tape bound my legs and arms together before I was tossed into the bed of the truck. The driver made sure to swing around every corner and slam on the breaks at every stop sign. My head slammed into the back of the truck and blood trickled into my already blurred vision. I could hear the nun, unicorn, and ski mask laughing, giving each other high fives in the cab.
When we finally stopped I felt no relief. I knew more was coming. I was hauled out of the truck bed and thrown to the gravely earth. I tried to beg, but the tape was so tight no coherent sounds could be made out. I tried to scream and my face was hit with a baseball bat. I could hear my own nose breaking.
“You shut your mouth,” said the nun as he passed the bat to the ski mask.
“This is for taking our white women!” The bat came down on my stomach. I threw up a little in my mouth, but with nowhere for it to go, it came out my nose and burned. They took turns passing the bat. Crack. Crack. Crack.
This was the third time I have had to relive this, and each fresh wound hurt just as much as the night it first happened. I could sense the mission squirming inside my living body with me. This was the world’s most physical nightmare to him. He could feel the blows, sense the life starting to slip away from the body he was in. He also knew me at that moment. He knew I was just a nerdy kid with his first girlfriend ever. Yes, she was white, but we lived in an almost white neighborhood. It was bound to happen. I could feel the mission’s fear matching my own that night.
I knew what was coming next, and I felt my whole body convulse with one final blow from the bat. I couldn’t think straight anymore. The world was a blur. I just wanted the pain to stop. The rope tightened around my throat, and I heard the truck doors slam. The engine roared to life and mud splattered my face before the rope pulled taut.
This was where my memories had stopped in real life, but the magic of my superpower was that the mission and I could see past my death. We watched my body drag behind the truck for a few hundred yards. The boys took off their masks and each one of them gave my body a final kick before they cut the rope. Then they took my corpse to a pre dug hole so deep there was no chance of being found. I was just another missing person.
The mission gasped in his recliner; his hand flew to his chest and sweat dripped down his forehead. I was standing behind him again, numb. All sensations the living felt were gone the moment I left the stories. The mission threw his phone across the room and began pacing, kicking the walls. Then he was down on his knees, crying.
I turned and walked out his front door, heading for home. I knew my name would never be chanted at a protest. I would never make the history books. I would never even get to grow up. I was given up as a runaway a week after my mom reported me missing. But I would keep taking the punches and sharing the stories to save even one life. That’s what superheroes do. This is my origin story, and it has no end in sight.