Crouched low, underneath the boardwalk, I peered through the slats to see six superheroes flying over my hiding spot. None of them glanced my way, but I knew if I set even one toe outside the boardwalk’s shadow, I would be spotted. Looking out through the bushes to the ocean side, I counted fifteen more superheroes playing volleyball on the beach, nine superfamilies building sandcastles, and six female superheroes sunbathing or reading a book. My predicament was trouble of my own making. I never should have come out during daylight hours.
By now you’ve deduced that I live in a world of superheroes but tragically am not one of them. In our world only one out of every one million people does not have superpowers, which means in my entire life I have never met another person like me.
I am an unexceptional person in an exceptional world.
At least that is how the government classifies me. Although, let’s face it, governments always get everything wrong. If you look up exceptional in the dictionary it means “rare instance,” so that statement should say:
I am the exceptional person!
Too bad no one else sees it that way. Even the medical doctors see me as an abnormality. They tell me that I have an allergy. Which allergy I ask?
Superpowers are triggered by a natural element. Some people get their superpowers from the sun, so on sunny days the sky is full of people flying around, zapping thing with their laser eyes, lifting cars or peeping through walls. About a third respond to darkness, so the night is just as chaotic as the daytime, which means no time is a good time to take a shower in anything except a lead lined stall. The remainder are triggered by rain or fire. Don’t ask me how you find out you are triggered by fire. Sounds rather risky to me experimenting with something like that.
So, I ask again, what am I allergic to? The sun? The rain? The darkness?
Truth is I do have an allergy to all those things. My doctor showed me a medical dictionary that defined an allergy as “an abnormal reaction of the body to a stimulant.” Sigh. My body’s reaction, or rather lack of one, is definitely abnormal, which makes me different.
I am exceptionally, differently boring.
A shadow falls over me. Glancing overhead again, I now see a pose of teenage superheroes standing directly above me. They are leaning on the railing and observing the group of volleyball players. I recognize two of them from my school. From their conversation I can tell that one of them is using his gusting power to manipulate the game.
It won’t be long before the volleyball players figure it out and come after them. I just hope they don’t get into an epic battle right above me because inevitably one of them will crash through the boardwalk and on top of me. I wrack my brain for a distraction that will cause them to move on, but my resources are limited. I look through my bookbag and inventory the few vegetables and books I have with me. Eventually, I realize that if I want to protect my potato patch, I am going to have to use myself as bait to lure them away.
I duck out from under the boardwalk and pop up right in front of them.
“Hey, Todd,” I say with a smile. “Hungry?” As hard as I can, I throw a ripe tomato from my pack over the railing at his face.
My attack is so completely unexpected that he doesn’t even duck, so it hits him square on the nose, bursting and pouring sweet red juice all down his white school shirt. His friends burst into hysterics, but I don’t hang around to hear their taunts. Instead, I dash down the beach as fast as I can in the deep, white sand. If you are at all familiar with running in sand, you will know how very little ground I was covering even at top speed.
As a result, it doesn’t take long for a strong arm to push me from behind down into the sand face first and hold me there. I let my body go limp and attempted not to struggle or open my mouth or eyes. I tried to hold my breath as long as I could.
You are probably wondering why I would willingly subject myself to such torture and possibly even death by suffocation. Or is it the potato patch under the boardwalk that has you stumped?
The answer to both. Boring I can handle. Starving I cannot.
Another side effect of all this superness is that people no longer eat. The energy they absorb from the elements fuels their bodies, so they no longer need to cultivate food to survive. As a result, grocery stores are extinct as are farms, restaurants, and food trucks. If I want to eat, I must forage like the animals or grow my own.
Again, I would be happy to grow my own food if the superheroes would just leave me alone. They see it as fun sport to spoil my crops with their laser eyes, strong muscles or gale force winds. Side effect of being different: you become the butt of every joke. The target of every bully. The outcast with no feelings or needs.
As a result, I plant my crops in unexpected places. As I mentioned, I have a large field of potatoes growing happily under the boardwalk. My carrots are underneath six benches in the park. Anything that grows underground is best. My favorite food is strawberries, but that bright red color calls to pesky superheroes for miles. Something about red being an evil color. If they ever tasted one, they would understand.
Don't get me wrong, not all superheroes are mean and selfish. Mrs. Cantirelli, who lives over on Maple, down by the park, lets me plant green beans among her morning glories. They are much less conspicuous that way, and since she sits in a rocking chair on her porch most days, she is more than happy to laser anyone who tries to destroy them.
Last fall, I grew a pumpkin down on the edges of the abandoned airport. Fred, the security guard, who patrols the place to watch for illegal gatherings of fire fueled supers, thought it was such an odd curiosity that he kept his eye on it the whole growing season. I offered to share a bite or two, but he just wrinkled his nose and uttered the word “slimy.”
Just as stars began to appear at the edges of my vision, the weight was lifted off my head. I hesitated to move, in case it was a trick, but my lungs insisted I take the chance, so I rose onto my haunches and used my shirt to wipe my face before taking a breath. I say breath, but it was really a good hard cough.
“Are you alright, Maisey?”
The kindness of the voice startled me, especially because it certainly wasn’t Todd’s. Slowly, I wiped more sand from my face and turned to face the person who had clearly scared Todd away, since he was nowhere in sight.
A tall woman with honey colored skin and intense dark eyes knelt next to me on the sand. I recognized her as one of the sunbathers with a book from before. The tips of her hair were dark purple, and they blew around her face in the late afternoon breeze.
“How do you know my name?” I choked out, pulling my backpack to the ground and grabbing my water bottle. I took a long drink, while she analyzed me.
“Everyone knows who you are,” she admitted slowly.
“Because of my allergy,” I filled in for her.
“Well, yes,” she admitted, squinting in the sun and screwing up her nose.
“Well, thank you…” I started, holding out my hand to her.
“Della,” she said, shaking my hand stiffly.
“Thank you, Della,” I said again. Then I stood and continued down the beach away from my patch.
“Why were you hiding under the boardwalk?” she asked me.
I paused. I couldn’t tell her of course. I didn’t tell anyone about my different gardens. Not even Mrs. Cantirelli, and I liked her a lot.
“Why did you help me?” I asked her, turning around and attempting to put her on the spot instead.
“What do you mean?” she asked, looking genuinely confused.
“Not many people help me,” I told her and shrugged, taking another sip from my water bottle.
“That’s sad,” she said.
I just nodded, pursed my lips and turned to walk away, assuming she would let me go.
“Why were you hiding under the boardwalk?” she asked me again.
“Why do you care?” I threw over my shoulder without stopping.
“Because I’d like to help you,” she said, quickly catching up to me with her long strides.
“No one can help me,” I told her. “Not unless you have a pill I can take to become a super.”
“Not a pill, but something like that,” she admitted.
When I stopped and gaped at her openmouthed, she smiled, winked, and then turned to walk back to her beach chair. I watched her saunter slowly back to her spot and begin to pack up her belongings. Curiosity and fear competed within me. By the time she was done packing, curiosity had won.
“All right,” I called out, marching back down the beach. “Give it to me.”
I stopped directly in front of her and held out my hand. Without hesitation, she handed me a tiny bottle of liquid as purple as her hair.
“Enjoy!” she told me, and then she walked away. No notes of warning or equivocation that it might not work. No indication of whether this was a lifetime remedy or only a cure for the afternoon. No instructions on how much to take. Just a purple bottle of liquid, and she was gone.
I held the bottle up in the air. The liquid caught the sunlight and shimmered. It looked horribly inviting.
I spun around and saw her putting her belongings into her trunk on the other side of the boardwalk. I waved at her, and she just waved back before slipping behind the wheel and driving away. As I stood still, watching her depart, I realized the fact she had a car was odd. It meant she was probably a rain or fire superhero. Most sunshine and darkness superheroes I knew just flew where they wanted to go.
“What did that crazy lady give you, degenerate?”
Before I could react, Todd grabbed the bottle out of my hand and held it up to the sun. As I jumped to try and get it back, all his friends laughed, and I cursed myself for not being more aware of my surroundings.
Accepting that I had no hope of getting the bottle back unless Todd chose to give it to me, I stood still and crossed my arms.
“What did she do to you that caused you to let me go?” I replied.
“Who said I let you go?” Todd teased, shoving the bottle into the back pocket of his jeans and aping toward me before pulling back.
I held my ground and did not flinch, which I knew drove him crazy.
“Aren’t you going to run?” he asked.
“What’s the point?” I asked him with a shrug. “Can we just get this over with? I’m tired.”
Todd glared at me. We’d had this standoff on many occasions. It wasn’t fun for him if I didn’t put up a fight. Not that I ever understood what fun was for most of the supers anyway.
“Your pathetic,” he said, turning to leave with his friends.
As I watched him sail into the air and fly away with my purple bottle in his back pocket, I had to agree with him. That little bottle was my only hope of a normal life, and I hadn’t even fought for it. I’d just let him take it away.
I glanced toward the boardwalk, weakly hoping that with Todd’s reappearance Della might have also rematerialized with a second purple bottle. To my disappointment, she had not.
Exhausted, I plopped onto the sand and slid my backpack off again, fishing out a few carrots I had picked up in the park before my aborted attempt to harvest some of my potato crop. While crunching on one, I looked around at all the happy superheroes enjoying their day at the beach.
I could have been one of them by now if Della was on the level.
“Hey, degenerate, how’s the carrot?” a voice called to me from somewhere behind me. Then I felt sand hit me in the back of the head.
I sighed and ignored whoever it was, recognizing that although being normal would be nice, I was perfectly happy not being one of them.