"Not to brag," says Jack, "but between you and me, I'd make a better villain."
"Yeah, right," Paisley groans. "You cry at everything."
The ground feels thick under the teenagers' feet. The street is nearly empty of people. A red-head woman in heels the same color of her hair walks past them, her heels relieved to not strut into any potholes. Pale-faced lovers walk hand in hand, guiding each other through the darkness. Passerby ignore the teens, and teens ignore them.
"So what?" Jack scoffs. He takes offense to Paisley's words, but he hopes it doesn't show. "Red Bomber cries in all his movies and he's still America's favorite villain."
"That's because Red Bomber is a good villain!"
"I could probably be better than him if I tried."
"And if you weren't so whiny."
Jack wants to tell her to name one time he's been whiny, but many moments pop into his head as though his brain answered his own thought. There was a time he and Paisley were middle schoolers, and the science teacher separated them because they kept on talking. Paisley didn't mind it, but Jack wouldn't budge until the principal walked in and single-handedly made Jack change seats. He can see her laughing from the corner of his eye and he knows she's thinking about it too.
"Tell you what," Jack says, "if I prove to you that I'm a better villain, you have to call me Red Bomber for the rest of the week."
"What are you gonna do?" Paisley teases. "Walk on the grass?"
Jack winces. "Oh, no. That's too evil."
They laugh, voices echoing back to them. It's almost creepy. They're not supposed to be out this late at night, but Jack's a night owl and Paisley's house is too small to keep herself entertained. Sometimes they sneak into each other's houses, or huddle outside by the garage, squeezed tightly together so the security cameras won't spot them. It was Jack's idea to go walking downtown. This late at night, there's not a lot of people. The fewer people, Jack had said, the less you have to worry about being attacked.
A man in a deep blue coat walks past them. His hands are in his pockets, neck pressed to his chin. Outside, there's only a breeze, but the man is shivering madly.
Jack points at him once he's far enough from them. "See him?"
"I'm going to rob him." Jack's words are blunt, yet childish. There's a laugh at the end of his sentence, like a preteen unable to hold in his laughter during a prank call.
"You wouldn't!" Paisley shouts. Jack shushes her.
"It should be easy. I've seen it in the movies."
"Movies and real life are two completely different things, you idiot!"
"Oh, relax! If Red Bomber can do it, I can do it too."
"Red Bomber," Paisley says, hands on her head, "has powers! He can pickpocket anyone he wants and he away with it because he can erase his victim's mind."
"Memory Bomb," Jack says, remembering his favorite scene from the Red Bomber movie saga. It was near the end of the movie, and the hero had almost won, but right before he delivered the final blow, Red Bomber used his mind manipulation powers to make the hero's head explode. The scene was graphic, and everyone in the theatre was disturbed, but Jack could not have asked for a better finale.
Paisley rolls her eyes. "This is illegal and stupid. Even if you had the Memory Bomb ability, I'd still call you stupid."
"Well, I'm doing it," Jack says. He takes long, confident steps to get closer to the man. Jack stays far enough where the man can't tell he's being followed, but close enough to keep a watchful eye on the man.
"You're stupid," Paisley says again. She walks a few feet behind him, keeping her distance.
As Jack tiptoes to not alert the man, he realizes he's a villain himself. Not because he's trying to pickpocket a normal citizen, or because he's been sneaking out of his parent's house every night for two years. Jack is a villain because he has a secret. Like Red Bomber, he too has superpowers. Every now and then he forgets about them, but whenever he's about to do something bad, all recognition of his ability comes back to him.
He sees these powers as something normal, something teenagers have. Not every teenager, though. His powers are like skills. Not everyone is good at basketball, not everyone is good at writing, not everyone is good at singing, and not everyone is good at coding. But people can do them, and they are possible.
And like the people who have these skills, Jack is quiet about his powers. He doesn't like people knowing what he can do, but, weirdly, he wants them to find out. There have been times when he almost confessed the truth to Paisley. They've been best friends for years, and besides this abnormal secret of his, he tells her everything.
Jack looks behind him, eyes meeting Paisley's under the orange light of a street lamp. His eyes are saying "sorry" but he turns away before she can catch on. Sorry for never telling you? Sorry for making you guess? Sorry for being a terrible friend that can't even hang out with you without committing a felony?
Jack holds out his hand and exhales a short breath. And just like that, everything around him stops moving. Time is frozen. The man ahead of him stops walking, his left foot raised slightly off the ground. Behind him, Paisley's face is frozen. Her lips are parted as though she was about to tell him something and her eyes are interrupted midway from a blink. The atmosphere isn't dark anymore; it's a fuzzy gray, and even the light from the street lamp becomes a sad, gray color.
He takes a look at the analog watch on his wrist, satisfied to see the hands of time frozen in place. They don't move, not even a twitch. He can make them move if he wanted to. Quickly, slowly, backwards, normally. Right now he doesn't want the watch's hands to move. The only hands that should be moving are his own. He can control the actions of his hands, too. Quickly, slowly, backwards, normally.
The man has a bitter look on his face. His jaw is squared, teeth biting down on bottom teeth to give his jaw a harsher appearance. Jack feels over the brown skin on the man's face, not surprised to feel as though he's running his hand over leather. Slanted hazel eyes stare at Jack, but they don't blink nor do they shift.
If it were anyone else harnessing Jack's power, they'd be frightened. Things move. People move. Everything moves. It's not natural for things to stop. It's not natural for time to stop.
"Time Bomb," Jack says to himself. His words are whispers even though no one but himself can hear him. It's not as cool as Red Bomber's infamous Memory Bomb, but Jack is still pleased to see the frozen state of the man.
He could do anything right now. Time allows it. He could sneak a kiss on Paisley's lips, just for the curiosity, and she'd never have to know about it. Or he could strip naked and run across the street, but although everyone around him is frozen in time, he has too much dignity at risk. The one thing he can do -and the one thing he promised he'd do- is to pickpocket the stiff man in the heavy coat.
Jack does a twirl in front of the man, bowing. He snickers as he holds out his hand, pretending the unmoving man would grab onto it. "M'lady, may I have the honor of searching your coat?"
Nothing but a blank stare from the man. Jack laughs at his own joke.
Jack busies his hands inside the pockets of the man's coat. It's awkward, and he hopes to find something soon so that the man can stop staring at him. Despite the man's big pockets, there's hardly anything: a lip balm with its label peeled off, a prescription note with a sloppy signature at the bottom, an out of date flip phone, and a wallet with only pennies and a grocery store gift card.
Jack settles on the flip phone. "A little boring, but this will do."
He almost takes the lip balm, just so he and Paisley can laugh about the man's taste in cherry-flavored, girly makeup, but in the end, he decides against it. He wouldn't want to carry some random dude's saliva and germs.
"Pleasure to have robbed you," Jack says, bowing once again in front of the man. He steps away from the man's personal space, retracing his footsteps to be in that exact spot he had been before he had frozen time.
Flip phone in hand, Jack concentrates on the graying color surrounding him. He can feel the time, see the number flashing through his head. He transfers his energy from his body to the stopped digits in his head, then, as though magic, he makes the numbers tick at a normal pace. Everything around him is back to normal, back to a colorful setting, and everyone is moving again. The man walks all the same, not aware of the events that had happened in no time.
Jack turns to face Paisley, whose mouth is open just as it had been when he froze time. He hears words start to form at her throat, but before they can escape her lips, he stops her by dangling the flip phone in the air.
Jack smirks. "Am I Red Bomber, or what?"
Paisley can't do anything but stare, and for a second Jack thinks he accidentally stopped time again. Then she shouts, "What? How!?"
Jack loves her response. He tosses the flip phone at her so she can feel his evidence with her own touch. Slamming his hands into his pockets, he walks ahead, following the moving man. There's a prideful look on his face.
"I got quick hands," says Jack. "Very quick hands."
He rubs the face of his watch, picturing the hands of time frozen still, resting on one number. He's better than Red Bomber, he realizes. He's Diabolic Chrono.