This story is by Pattison Telford and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Leaping tall buildings has lost its appeal. I suppose if I spot a speeding bullet en route to an innocent bystander, I’ll probably muster a burst of energy and deflect it, but I’m definitely not up to bounding. Even a medium-height building plays hell with my knees, so now I’m boundless.
Luckily, this apathy has also spread to my supposed nemeses in the Unsavoury League of Terrifying and Ruthless Assassins. They preferred to be called ULTRA, which they think is ultra-rad but social media trending declares ultra-trite.
As you have probably already guessed, I am UberMan. No, no—not the guy that brings you chicken wings after an all-night binge. The superhero. And it’s not as glamorous as you imagine, this superhero game. The rents in this town are ferocious—dreams of a penthouse tempt me to send my resume over to ULTRA headquarters. Villains seem to rake in the cash (particularly The Human Rake).
Take yesterday. I had just finished yoga and was enjoying a latte at the bustling sidewalk café in my building. My super-sensitive hearing zoned in on the distant sounds of screaming children. No, that’s not one of my superpowers—I was trying out my new hearing aid and I must have cranked it up.
I squinted across the street to the forecourt of the Gothic City Public Library, and sure enough, there was a kerfuffle. Curses! It was Sander van Hammer, my arch enemy. Sort of a co-worker. Eleven feet tall and made of granite, Sander had hands like anvils, except without the artistic and functional curves. If you ask me, they were more like thunderous onion bhajis, past their best before date.
He bellowed from his perch on the plinth of a marble figure that presided over the area, his voice like a dump truck reversing over a donkey. “Get back! Everyone. If you don’t scoot at least twenty meters back, there will be trouble.”
His threat made the blood pound in my temples. How dare these European villains come to our country and befuddle innocent people with the metric system. I’d had enough of van Hammer’s face, with its permanently carved expression of confusion. There was only one sensible course of action. But first, I needed to slip out of my yoga pants into my work clothes. I spotted a convenient phone booth a short hobble along my side of the street.
A full spandex outfit fits conveniently into a satchel (or what Sander keeps calling my ‘man purse’) but I still longed for the old phone booths. This one was less booth and more token privacy barrier. I faced into it, covered only from the waist up, and only on three sides. The kids’ screaming escalated a notch, so I threw caution to the wind. But not my latte. I set that carefully down on the curb, hoping it might still be warm after I had thwarted whatever havoc van Hammer planned to wreak.
With a flourish, I fluttered my costume and de-robed. My Y-fronts, freshly ironed this morning, as always, attracted too much attention from passers-by who seemed to find a man changing in a partial phone booth more interesting than a stone-fisted maniac threatening schoolchildren. With a burst of speed, I donned my UberMan outfit. Well, a burst of haste, actually, because I found I pulled it on back-to-front and my cape dangled below my chin. I was just about to use some super-speed and reverse it when I noticed a significant rip exposing my left butt cheek and realized it would be even more embarrassing if that rip were up front.
I strode across the street in a show of confidence unseen since the emperor paraded his new clothes, my cape fluttering back between my legs. Behind me, an overloud voice said, “Kylie, who’s that guy?” The prominent ‘UM’ logo on my chest (well, my back in this case) should have proudly informed everyone they were in the presence of UberMan, but my graphic designer had used cursive characters. Kids these days couldn’t decipher it.
I jogged across to the expanse of concrete in front of the library. It looked like the children were obeying Sander van Hammer’s command and had moved a respectable distance away, forming a packed circle. Some breakdancers, suddenly without an audience, stopped spinning on their cardboard and stood regarding the scene (in various B-Boy poses).
Van Hammer wound up for a destructive strike on the statue when I used my most assertive voice. “Hey blockhead! What evil do you dare to deliver here, in front of this hall of learning?”
If his stony lips could have spat, they would have. His unmistakable Dutch accent was like a dagger in my direction. “UberMan! I should have known you’d try to stop me. Ooh, nice skirt!”
“And stop you I shall.”
There was a pause and a rumbling thud as van Hammer dropped from the plinth to the concrete. I continued. “But thanks for clearing these children to a safe distance. I wouldn’t want them to see you crying when I’m finished with you.”
As always, he looked confused, his expression chiseled on long ago. “I didn’t want them to get hit with chips of marble.”
“Whatever, you foul brute. Prepare to meet your sculptor.”
I flew low and erratic, like some super grouse, hoping to surprise him. My right fist was a blur and struck him in the stony hip as he towered above me. Sparks flew from the point of impact and a handful of stone chips clattered to the concrete.
But van Hammer was faster than he looked. Much faster. One massive hammerhand clotted me in the ear.
“You hellspawn! That smashed the new hearing aid I got from the Shopping Channel on Tuesday.”
He seemed cheerful in a way his face could never express as he pinned me to the ground, crushing me into the cracking pavement with one hammer as he pummelled me repeatedly in the nose with the other. “Well, as long as you ‘ordered now’ they will have sent a second free one. Use that.”
My skull smashed deeper into the concrete with each megaton punch. This may leave a bruise. My head lolled to one side so he could concentrate on the other cheekbone while I formulated a plan. Could my buddy PaperMan conquer this rock?
From this angle, I read the statue’s dedication plaque. The bewigged gentleman was apparently the prime donor for construction of the magnificent library beyond. Between blows, I gasped, “Sander… why are you… destroying the… statue?”
“He’s a disgrace to my country!”
Reading more, I figured maybe he was right. After the library was complete, our marble-enshrined friend here had lost the plot and staged a massive book-burning outside the library, right in front of his own statue. You learn something new every day!
The pummeling stopped long enough for me to ask a further question. “Why topple this book-burner now? You’ve been in Gothic City for fifty years and the statue, over two hundred.”
“I didn’t know he was Dutch, did I?” A granite fist rose to commence a series of pile driving blows.
“Wait, what? This guy’s name has like fifty-seven letters in it, and most of them are J’s. How could you not know he was Dutch?”
He raged. “Less stupid questions, more dying!”
I was considering correcting him. It’s ‘fewer questions’, you Euro scum. But then I read the last line of the plaque.
“Sander, stop—I’ll help you smash it.”
“Huh? What do you mean?” Finally, his tone of voice matched his expression.
“Look at the bottom line there. It says he made his money from the slave trade.”
And so it came to pass that Sander van Hammer let me up, brushing the shattered pieces of hearing aid from my face in an almost tender series of moderate hammer impacts. With only a minor hamstring strain, I ripped the statue from its base while van Hammer wound up for some graceful mayhem.
The ring of onlookers hushed. “Wait, Sander, wait … Everybody move back five metres. Yards, dammit, five yards! There’s gonna be an incident.”
Sander swung. The statue was no more. Marble chips skittered almost to the feet of the nearest onlookers.
My longtime friend (and enemy), Sander van Hammer, examined his right hammer fist. “Jeez, I think I got a splinter.”
I lifted his nine hundred pound arm and slung it over my shoulder, as if I was his younger and less boulderish brother. The crowd parted in awe to let us pass as we limped slowly away from the library.
We may be bound by our fading powers, but when heroes and villains can freely share their affection, the possibilities are boundless. The subway entrance was the sign for us to part ways. Van Hammer lived on the Upper East Side, and his train beckoned.
“See you at bingo, UberMan.”
“Wouldn’t miss it, Sander. Beer and wings afterward?”