A Real Live Superhero

Written in response to: Write a story about a limited edition item going on sale.... view prompt

5 comments

Funny Coming of Age

Finally! Finally, finally, finally

It’s here, it’s really here, it’s— 

“Alvin!” 

The breath knocks out of me as I land on the couch with an oomf. I look up through my dizziness to see Mom, standing over me, hands on her hips. I smile guiltily up at her. 

“It’s here, Mom, I saw it in the window on the way home from school!” I spring off the couch, unable to help myself. “It was there, it was really there, it was—“ 

“Please don’t jump on the couch, Alvin,” Mom interrupts, sighing. I freeze, my face falling as I watch her shake her head, give me a final glare, and walk out of the room. 

Figures. She doesn’t want to hear about my awesome idea. I suppose I just have to go and find someone else who’s willing to listen— and willing to drive. I have four options, one of the only perks of being the youngest in a family of eight.

I hop off the couch and I’m about to speed off to find Ben or Jenna when my stomach twists with guilt. I look behind me. Blankets strewn all over the couch. Cushions displaced by my jumping. 

Mom won’t like it. 

More importantly, she might not let me leave the house until it’s cleaned up. Which will make my plan impossible to carry out. 

I can’t have that.

Good grief. Kids shouldn’t come with consciences. It really kills the fun. I scramble, fast as the Flash, to fling the blankets over the back of the couch and make sure the cushions are standing on their right ends. 

Perfect. 

Sort of. 

Okay, not really. But I’m an eight year old kid for crying out loud. I don’t have time to make couches look pretty. I’ve got better things to do.

Maybe I can bribe Josh to come and fix them later. 

I pause for a minute to make sure my Superman cape is fastened around my neck tightly— wouldn’t want it to fall off from the speed of my flight. Perfectly tight. Then, with an impressive look into the distance (see, reading all those comic books really does help a guy learn how to be a grownup), I bolt from the room. 

My feet fly beneath me as I race down the hallway. 

I’m flying like Superman, I tell myself, my glasses slipping down my nose. I’m flying like Superman to recruit a Superman Worthy Vehicle! 

I screech to a halt, staring at the two doors in front of me. I place my hands on my hips again and thrust my chest out. There. Anyone who sees me now will think I am a real live superhero. 

I focus my thoughts on the two strange beings behind those doors. Each has the power to help me or harm me.

Should I ask Jenna for help? Or Ben? Jenna will be the least likely to want to help me, I know. She’s probably on the phone right now, behind that door, putting on lipstick and talking about Trevor. 

Eeeewwww! Tre-vor

I stick out my tongue. Pimply, gross Trevor, who she thinks is sooooo hot. Or at least, she writes that he is so hot. I only know because I read her diary. There’s a lot of interesting things in Jenna’s diary. Mostly stuff I don’t think I’m supposed to know about yet. But it’s no big deal.

Routine reconnaissance and intelligence gathering. Typical superhero stuff. 

Anyway, Jenna is probably talking on the phone to some girl about Trevor. So she probably isn’t likely to want to help me. But the comic book stand is right on the corner of Rifter Drive— two blocks away from where Trevor works. Maybe that will inspire her to help me. 

But then there’s Ben. I tap my foot as I’m thinking, still looking ahead impressively. Good old Ben. Definitely more likely to take me than Jenna. But also more likely to keep me from spending my entire allowance on one Rare, Limited Edition, Super Cool Spider Man Comic Book. It’s because he’s the oldest, at least that’s what Josh says. He’s so old that he thinks he has to act like Dad. It gets annoying sometimes. 

But he’s also a better driver than Jenna, who just got her license last month. Is not getting carsick enough of a deciding factor? 

I think back to last time Jenna drove me and almost rammed into a telephone pole. If I go with her, I don’t feel safe without full body armor. Which I do not have. So I have to use a bicycle helmet and a rain slicker, which is almost as good. Plus, there’s the fact I have to jump out if she gets a wild hair and decides to parallel park. 

Ben it is. 

I knock on the door before I can lose my nerve. 

He opens it, his glasses on his nose. 

Oh great. The glasses. He’s studying. 

“What’re you up to, Buddy?” He asks, yawning and pushing his glasses up his nose with a pencil. 

“I’m Superman,” I inform him, rolling my eyes. Only an idiot can’t see that. 

“Sorry. Superman. What’re you up to?” 

“I need you to take your Super Vehicle and drive me to the comic book stand.” 

Ben sighs, leaning against the door frame.

“Don’t you have enough comic books already?” 

“There’s a special one I want to get.” 

“It doesn’t happen to be that limited edition of Spider Man that arrived yesterday, does it?” A knowing look spreads over his face. 

Dang. 

I’ve been discovered. 

“I have enough allowance,” I say, crossing my fingers behind my back. Do superheros cross their fingers? It never mentions it in the comics. 

“Twenty bucks is a lot for a comic, Alvin.” 

“It’s my money! Please, Ben? I’ve been saving for months and it’s finally finally here! The Rare, Limited Edition, Super Cool Spider Man Comic Book! Please?” Superheros never say please. But desperate times call for desperate measures.

Ben sighs. 

“Well,” He begins, folding his lip like Dad does when he’s stressed. I resist the urge to groan. Here we go. Full Dad mode incoming. “I suppose. But I want you to think about this first.” 

I fold my arms impressively. Superheros are always impressive. 

“Yes?” I say in my best imitation of Rachel when she doesn’t get what she wants and decides to be snarky. Ben glares. 

“Think about this, Alvin. How many new, non-limited edition comics can you buy with twenty dollars?”  

“I’m in third grade. I don’t do hard math. I haven’t even started division yet.” 

“Well, try it.” 

“If I try it, I need a piece of paper. And a pencil. And an eraser. A whiteboard works just as well, though. I’m not choosy.” 

Ben groans.

I groan back.

Fine.” He shakes his head. “It will be a good lesson for you anyway.” 

I jump in elation, flaring my cape behind me as I do. 

“Fire up the Batmobile, Alfred!” 

“I thought you were Superman.” Ben shakes his head again and tucks the pencil behind his ear.

I fly to my room and rip open the seal on my piggy bank. 

“Spider Man comic, here I come!” I pour the change— all the quarters, nickles, and dimes I’ve earned this past school year— into the pocket of my Superman Cape. It makes the cape hang weird, but I don’t care. A year’s long, hard work about to come to fruition. I’m not sure what ‘fruition’ means, but I’ve heard Dad use the phrase and it seems to fit. 

Ben once again tries to convince me to buy other comics on our drive over. 

“Really, Alvin, it’s a waste of your money. You’re going to be over it in like, what, ten minutes?” 

“It’s Limited Edition, Ben.” I shake my head at his stupidity. “It’s not going to be that easy to get over.” 

“I see.” Ben looks at me through the overhead mirror and I stick out my tongue. 

“Eyes on the road, Alfred.” 

“An entire year’s savings,” Ben mutters, looking back at the road. “On a comic book.” 

I close my eyes. If I close my eyes, he will think I’m bored with his words. Which is the exact opposite— I’m enthralled and amazed at my own achievement. Twenty dollars is a lot of quarters, nickles, and dimes. 

We arrive at the comic book stand and I wriggle out of my seatbelt. It’s time! It’s finally time!

“Here you go, kid,” Ben opens my door and gestures at the window. There it is, in all its glory! The Rare, Limited Edition, Super Cool Spider Man Comic Book, placed just where it was visible from the school bus window. 

“It’s mine!” I smirk up at Ben. “Can’t stop me now!” 

“No, I can’t.” Ben grabs my hand before I can sprint to the stand. “But I can show you something before you buy it.” 

I groan and try to wrench my hand out of his, but he’s too strong. I stick out my tongue at him and he only laughs. 

“Come on, Alvin. We’ll be back before you know it to buy that comic.” 

I am puzzled by this change of events. So puzzled, in fact, that I allow Alfred— I mean, Ben— to walk me down the street to a supermarket. A supermarket! What on earth are we doing at a supermarket? 

Ben pauses in front before gesturing to a dark corner, just behind a large crate of apples. 

“Look. Do you see what I see?” 

I squint. There’s a shape back there. A shape that looks oddly like a man. 

“A homeless dude?” I ask, uncertain. 

“That ‘homeless dude’ has a name.” Ben smiles a folded-lip I’m-trying-to-teach-you-something smile. It makes me want to run away. “Come on. I want you to meet him.” 

Huh? 

“I can’t meet a homeless dude, Ben! What if he has rabies?” 

“He doesn’t have rabies.” 

“Well— well—“ Think, man, think! “What if he’s… an alcoholic? Yeah, Ben! You wouldn’t take your littlest baby brother to meet an alcoholic, would you?” 

“He’s not an alcoholic.” Ben’s smile is much too patient. “You don’t even know what that is.” 

“Sure I do! It’s someone who kills people! I don’t want to be killed!” 

Ben only laughs. 

“That’s a murderer, not an alcoholic. And this man is neither. Come with me, Alvin. Then we’ll go buy your comic.” 

I slouch. 

“Fine. But I’m not touching him.” 

“I didn’t ask you to.” 

I reluctantly allow Ben to drag me forward and behind the apple crate. There’s not as many shadows back here, and I can see the homeless dude in all his glory. Patched, frayed clothing. Matted gray hair. A potato sack filled with knicknacks by his feet. I recoil instinctively as he smiles with yellowed, cracked teeth. 

“Well, Ben Seymour!” He says. Huh. I’d expected him to have a weird voice, but it sounded… normal. “How’ve you been, friend?” 

“Good.” Ben turns to me. “Alvin, this is Carl Townson. Carl, this is my brother, Alvin.” 

“Superman,” I interject, unable to help myself. The man— what was his name? Oh, Carl— smiles again. 

“I’ve known Carl for three years now, since I worked here summer of my sophomore year. Remember, Al?” He asks. 

I glare at him. 

“Yes.” 

“Well,” Ben smiles with a look of pride. I am so confused. “I thought you might want to meet Carl. He’s a real life superhero.” 

I blink, looking at Carl in case I missed something. No cape. No bulging muscles. No mask. 

“You’re nuts,” I whisper out of the corner of my mouth. Carl laughs. 

“I’m not exactly a superhero, Alvin. I’m just a veteran.” 

“That is a superhero, Carl. Al, Carl was a part of the United States Army. He fought in World War II and the Vietnam war. He flew a glider.” 

I freeze. Battles? He fought… battles? 

“Did you wear a cape?” Maybe this guy is a superhero after all. 

“No.” Carl laughs and pulls his sack against his knees. “I wore an army uniform.” 

“Then why are you behind an apple crate?” 

Carl shrugged. 

“Why do you live in a nice house, Superman?”

“We’ll be back in one minute, Carl.” Ben takes me by the shoulder and leads me away from the crate. 

“That guy’s a nut,” I say, shaking my head. 

“That guy has more superhero stories than any comic book you’ll ever read,” Ben tells me, his eyes lighting up. “Stories about all his battles, and all the training he had to go through to fight those battles. And if you’re nice to him, he’ll tell ‘em to you.” 

“Why is he behind the apple crate?” I ask, both intrigued and puzzled. 

“Because when he got back from Vietnam, there were no jobs for him. And he had PTSD.” 

“PTSD?” 

“Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It means that he has a hard time forgetting what happened during the war. It makes it hard for him to work and function.” 

“So why’d you bring me to see him?” I looked up at Ben suspiciously. 

“Because Carl has nothing to eat. And you’ve got twenty dollars in your pocket.” The look Ben gives me is enough for me to put my guard up. He’s trying to get me away from that comic book. I know it.

“Why don’t you feed him?” I ask. If Ben thinks I’m going to feed the homeless dude behind the apple crate instead of buying my comic book, he’s lost his mind.

“Because I’ve heard all his stories. And he won’t take my money.” Ben shakes his head. “I gave him money when I was working here, in exchange for his stories. He only takes money and food if he can give something in return. And stories are all he has. Now he has no more to share with me. But you’ve never heard them.” 

I look over my shoulder at the old man behind the apple crate. 

“You’re sure these stories are good?” I’m still slightly suspicious. 

“Fantastically good. You’ll never meet another real life superhero like Carl.” Ben attempts to ruffle my hair, but I push him away. 

“You’re sure? How much does he charge?” I jingle my pocket. Maybe I’ll still have enough to buy a couple comic books after paying Carl. Win-win. 

“He doesn’t have any specific amount.” 

“How about a dime? I’ll still have enough for the Rare, Limited Edition, Super Cool Spider Man Comic Book if I pay him a dime. Think he’d take it?” 

“A dime would buy him a gumball, Alvin.” 

“Gumballs are delicious.” 

“You can’t give Carl a dime. That’s insulting.” Ben shakes his head, seems to think for a moment, and then a smile spreads over his face. “Fine. Do whatever you want. Let’s go buy your comic book and forget about Carl. You don’t need to hear the story about him jumping out of a glider to save a comrade. Or the one about him escaping a bombed building. Spider Man stopping a bank robbery in all of twelve pages is better.” 

Hold up. Bombs? Gliders? I scratch my chin. I know Ben is watching me as I finger the coins in my pocket, but I don’t care. 

So I decide to weigh the pros and cons of both scenarios. 

Cons? Lose the comic book. Lose the Rare, Limited Edition, Super Cool Comic of Spider Man that I’ve been waiting on for months. 

But Pros? Listen to possibly many more hours of storytelling from a real live superhero. With bombs. And gliders. Things that Mom probably wouldn’t want me to hear about. Even if it is from a hairy old dude behind an apple crate.

And… My own stomach growls. I know Mom will have dinner on the table when I get home. It’s probably not something I’ll love, and it probably has broccoli (yuck!), but… it’s dinner. And all Carl has to eat is, well, nothing. 

I look up to see Ben staring at me, a weird look on his face, like he’s waiting to see if I’ll make a good decision or totally mess up. 

“Fine. Only because it’s a better investment.” I scowl up at him. A smile bursts over his face. 

“Good man, Alvin.” 

“Superman!” 

“Whatever. Come on.” 

I walk over to the man behind the apple crate, still hesitant. 

“Sir, I hear you sell stories.” I jingle my cape. “And I’d like to buy them.” 

A weird look comes over Carl’s face as his eyes widen. Slowly, his mouth stretches into a smile. 

I dig into my pocket and pull out a handful of change that I spill on the ground. I sit down, criss-cross applesauce and Ben plops down next to me.

"Thanks, kid." Carl reaches out and pats my knee. I don't even jerk away.

And later, after one of many fantastic superhero stories and when Ben isn’t looking, I give him the rest of the change in my pocket. Real live superheroes are so much better than comics. 

And… I think it’s what Superman would do.

December 01, 2021 21:54

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5 comments

Amanda Lieser
22:28 Dec 31, 2021

Hi E, I really love how you captured the innocence of Alvin. I especially love his pillow fort and his thoughts on Trevor. That part made me laugh out loud! I also loved the twist in the story and how you created Carl’s character. I thought this was a wonderful take on the prompt. Thank you for writing this story, it was wonderfully good.

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20:06 Dec 31, 2021

This was really endearing! Alvin has a great sense of humor and is an excellent Superman. I did not expect Alvin to meet a veteran and experience a change of heart, but I thoroughly enjoyed the route you took this story. Well done!

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E. Pentecost
20:25 Dec 31, 2021

Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

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Annalisa D.
03:42 Dec 28, 2021

That was a really cute story and fun writing style. It was a pleasure to read.

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E. Pentecost
04:13 Dec 28, 2021

Thank you so much for reading! :)

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