First of all, I want to welcome everyone to the blog who surfed over from Michael A. Ventrella’s site. Mike has been kind enough to host a web interview, a kind gesture which I have every intention of reciprocating in this space.
I’m a little embarrassed that I haven’t updated this site in a couple weeks. In addition to having a busy time at the day job, I’ve been trying to finish my superhero spoof Mighty Mighty and that’s taken all of my writing juice. So maybe I’ll combine the two by posting a clip of my work-in-progress here.
In this world, superpowers are a result of a fairly common genetic trait. A small percentage — but a significant raw number — of people have special abilities. And they tend to squander them. Much like those of here in the real world who know they could be doing more with their talents.
So much for theme. This excerpt introduces the three characters who most centrally drive the plot. Orville is a scion of elite heroes who was destined for great things but, due to his learning and socialization disabilities as well as his rather disgusting power (high-explosive snot), is working as a mall cop. Kevin is someone who tests out as having high potential, but doesn’t ever seem to actually make anything happen; he’s an erstwhile professional student who can’t seem to get traction in the real world. Missy is a doctrinaire feminist (in theory) and a mousy pushover in a dead-end retail job (in reality) who is given a classic, mythological blessing/curse: she is awarded a superpower for her efforts to mediate among the goddesses, but it’s absolutely the last power in the world a Smith alumna who majored in women’s studies would ever want.
There is a bit of a love triangle going on between these three, but I throw enough monkey wrenches in the works that there’s no way it can be resolved. Because that’s not the point of the story. The plot is how these three and their compatriots redeem themselves by saving the society that had judged them as being of little merit. M2 is a comedy in both senses of the word: a) it’s intentionally funny and b) the protags win in the end. So I’m not giving anything away by saying that, through their actions and with each others’ help, Orville becomes a fully functioning human being, Kevin becomes a hero and Missy becomes a leader.
But that’s not how they start out …
It was 10:37:09 a.m. It was also a Tuesday, but that is not important.
It being 10:37:09 a.m., Orville Ortley was walking past the Chesterfield Mall’s Cinnabon and approaching the Auntie Anne’s. Orville did this every morning at that tick. It was a point of professionalism. He was a proud member of an elite profession.
Orville was not an imposing looking man by any means. Only five-foot-five, 140 pounds, he looked like his arch-nemesis could be a snugly torqued lug nut. From appearances, one would not expect that Orville Ortley was one of the most powerful superbeings on Earth. He wasn’t – one of the most powerful, that is. But he was still a superbeing whom most mall shoppers would be ill-advised to confront.
Despite his modest appearance, Orville did have a certain bearing about him. His TSA uniform was starched and pressed, the shirt the kind of white that only daily bleaching could produce; the shirt was worn and frayed, but it was plenty white. The patent-leather uppers of his rubber-soled shoes were polished to the point of being just a little creepy.
His scalp was obscured from view by the headgear that marked him as a mall hero, as opposed to a run-of-the-mill mall cop. Choice of headgear had always been a highly personal choice among mall heroes. Some years before, they were pressed into the Civil Service and the choices of facial concealment became more limited, but that only affected the newbies. Orville, who had been taking the pace between Cinnabon and Auntie Anne’s every work day at 10:37:09 for the preceding 1,981 work days, was able to take advantage of a grandfather clause.
Orville went with the cowl, partly in homage to his idol, Colonel America, but also because he was a little self-conscious about his thinning hair. That is, it was thinning when he first took up the hero mantle; by this time, all that was left to him were a few stubborn follicles combed over a smooth scalp and a good memory.
How the cowl covered Orville’s face, though, was unique in the hero field. His forehead, cheeks and slate-gray eyes were clearly visible, as were his mouth and jaw. His cowl would have been little more than a bathing cap if not for the crystalline green band that stretched across his nose.
Orville had little life outside the job, so the purpose of this accoutrement had nothing to do with hiding a secret identity. It had everything to do with hiding his nose. His nose, incidentally, was hardly a source of embarrassment. It was pronounced, distinctive, without being outsized or gaudy. It was a regal nose, suggesting a man of lofty origins and a destiny of his own making. This was not a nose one would deliberately hide.
But it was a nose from which others must be protected, for it was …
“Base to Unit One,” crackled Orville’s walkie-talkie. Yes, they still used walkie-talkies. “Disturbance at women’s wear in Macy’s. Are you in the vicinity?”
“Unit One to Base,” Orville replied. “Negative. My ETA for approaching the second floor of Macy’s is 10:48:30. Suggest you contact Unit Two.”
He maintained stride.
“Orville, get it in gear and head over there now!”
Orville hesitated. On the one hand was his duty, the thrill of foiling a crime in progress, his dispatcher’s urgent plea. On the other, his obsessive-compulsive disorder was quite severe, and he forgot to take his Paxil that morning.
“Now!” the walkie-talkie repeated.
“On my way!” he replied. Now that the decision had been made for him, he obsessed about how to get there in the shortest time, using the most direct route, and taking the fewest steps possible. The parents of the children frolicking in the play area were not amused. Nor was the salesman from the car dealer raffling off the Porsche.
At the other end of the mall was a hallway with no stores along it. It was for the offices. Closest in was glass block, marble and mahogany enclave for the managing partners of the investment trust that owned the mall. Nobody was ever in it. Behind that were somewhat less plush offices hosting the group that managed the property. Behind that were the hardscrabble cubicles of the people who provided the computer and network services that kept the retail transactions running between the mall and the banks. Behind them was the janitors’ closet.
Behind that was the security office. It didn’t make any sense. That’s just the way it was.
Sheldon Shapiro considered himself the demon responsible for that deepest circle of hell – as consigned to eternal damnation as any of the poor souls who found themselves punching his clock. Shel felt that the only difference between him and a true minion of Satan was that he actually felt badly for his charges.
So it was with some chagrin that, immediately after telling Orville, “Now!” he acknowledged the young man in front of him with the clipboard packed an inch thick with filled-out forms.
“I’m gonna have to monitor this situation, but we can get started with your application, Mister Keller.”
“Please, call me Kevin.”
Twenty-something Kevin Keller sat in a permanently unfolded folding chair to which the 40-something dispatcher gestured. Kevin handed over the clipboard, took back his pen. Somewhere in the background, there was the sound of a keyboard being tapped, a laser jet printer engaging, and a soft, indistinguishable voice muttering as quietly as it could.
“And I’m Shel. Listen, I won’t keep you in suspense. I have to hire you according to the Triple-A. I just want to get more of a sense of how long you expect to stay in this job,” the dispatcher said, then paged through some of the sheets on clipboard. “College boys like you generally find better prospects after a while. Anyway, says here you go by ‘Count Karma’?”
“On second reference,” Kevin said earnestly.
“The full moniker is ‘Count Karma, Comma, Master of Arts’.”
“What arts exactly are you a master of?”
“Uh, right,” Shel said skeptically. “I thought that was a science.”
“It can be. It can be an art, too.”
“No. I remember on the first day of class, the teacher called it ‘the dismal science.’”
“You took economics in high school?” Kevin asked a bit too archly.
“Yeah. So what?”
“Well, I took it for four years as an undergraduate, then two years as a grad student at the University of Missouri at Kansas City. I was graduated this past May with an M.A. in economics. So I’m a Master of Arts.”
“But don’t most guys …,” Shel started just as his base station crackled with Orville’s voice. “Hold on …”
Mousy, mild-mannered Missy McGinnity was inwardly bemoaning her fate, outwardly counting sweaters on a table display. A graduate of one of the best fine arts programs on the East Coast, here she was working retail for sub-minimum wage. She had interviewed for an assistant buyer position with Federated. They bucked her to the Macy’s chain, which she was all in favor of. When she got the job, she could almost smell those pretzels and roasted peanuts sold by the pushcarts along 34th Street. Maybe they would let her decorate the windows for Christmas. Maybe …
They had over-hired that year. Still, Human Resources liked the earnest, creative Smith magna cum laude and told her they would find her a temporary position somewhere on the Macy’s management team. Would she accept relocation?
That was more than two years ago. Still “temporary,” they never gave her a nametag of her own. For the past 26 months and two days, she had been walking around the floor of the Chesterfield Mall Macy’s store in greater St. Louis wearing a pin that said hello my name is trainee.
Being a trainee might not have been so bad, under other circumstances. In the retail pecking order, a manager trainee still outranked an assistant manager. But Missy was an assistant manager trainee. She still outranked the crew, but even that was a matter of perspective. They were hourly. If one of them failed to show up for a shift, that employee would simply not be paid for the missed time. But someone would have to work that shift. That someone was usually the most junior member of the management team, i.e. Missy, who was paid a joke of a salary. Everyone connected with that store – in fact, everyone connected with Macy’s nationally – made more per hour than Missy McGinnity.
She had a talent for fading into the background, not that this was her superpower – far from it. Missy could turn her career around with one little taste of her true ability, but she had her reasons for not using it on the job. And because she had no intention of using it on the job, she checked no response on the application’s question inquiring about special abilities. Triple-A set-asides were not for her.
So when the disturbance occurred at the Petite register, she was able to observe it from the obscurity of Plus. One middle-aged man at Petite could have been shopping for his wife … or daughter … or, uh, niece. Two men could have been enjoying shopping together during liberated times in which such self-expression was celebrated – though not so much in Missouri. But what were three men doing together in Petite? And dressed that badly, in hoodies for pete’s sake.
At first they seemed to be haranguing the cashier about something. Missy went about folding the sleeveless frocks for those size 18 women who insisted on kidding themselves. She ignored the three men as if they were customers.
Two of them then drew guns – not the usual Colt pistols or cheap, improvised zip guns wielded by run-of-the-mill bad guys – but Ruger Super Redhawks whose high-end appeal was beyond the grasp of most cash register robbers or, for that matter, most mall shoppers. Missy viewed them with a derisive headshake. She knew that this Ruger model had won the Shooting Industry Academy of Excellence’s prestigious Handgun of the Year Award … last year. Long, silver-barreled firearms were just too flashy to wear with any of the more practical ensembles Macy’s was selling that season.
The guns were, however, a signal. Only people without superpowers used firearms. These were probably just regular villains, although what they were doing robbing the Petit counter – with back-to-school volume still a month away – was open to speculation. Still, armed robbers were a concern of local law enforcement, not for Missy’s alter ego.
The third one didn’t draw a pistol. Instead, he removed his sweater’s hood to reveal … a turban. Missy recognized him instantly from a newscast a few months earlier. It was The Incomprehensible Singh.
She knew not to look directly into the ruby that adorned Singh’s turban. It was a mind control device. She was actually aided as the two gunmen – make that henchmen – waved their Rugers around and each fired off a warning shot. One shot sailed just past Missy. It did, however, slightly graze a woman who would have been unharmed if only she could still fit into the 14s she was looking at.
Missy crawled unnoticed out of range, then ran to the inconvenient and poorly marked ladies room. It had been quite some time since she used her abilities, but this was the moment. She never could admit to herself that she enjoyed it but, really, who wouldn’t?
She burst into a toilet stall, cried out, “Sorry, ma’am,” and burst into the next toilet stall. Then she began the brief ritual: dropping to her knees, supplicating Aphrodite, praising Lakshmi, adoring Ishtar, sticking her finger down her throat and coughing up 16 ounces of Kona blend and that morning’s blueberry bran muffin.
It only took an instant, but Missy’s experience of the transformation was slow and painful. Through gritted teeth that quivered as they grew whiter and more evenly spaced, she let her other self take over. This superpowered version of herself had experimented with many names, none of which were entirely satisfactory. “Amazon” was Missy’s first thought, but she quickly dispensed with it; the name connoted an eagerness to battle, which just wasn’t her. She couldn’t take a goddess’s name for risk of offending that goddess – or some other goddess, jealous type that they are. She tried “Bovary” and “Kerenina” both of which were just to high-brow to take. “Rappacini” was also too obscure and, she was surprised to learn, already taken. But that at least pointed her in the direction of the name she wanted to be known as now: Georgiana. It has a ring, Missy thought, you don’t even have to get the literary reference.
Georgiana raised her head. She got off her knees. She flushed.
She then emerged from the ladies’ room completely transfigured. The Charter Club ready-to-wear pantsuit was mystically transformed by the goddesses into skintight blue-and-gold leotards. Her figure, fit and attractive to begin with, was suddenly rendered corset-perfect. Short brown bangs were replaced by a blond, Farrah-esque mane.
And she could fly.
Bear in mind, this is an early draft. There are already a couple things I spotted that, in light of passages that have been written since, must be changed. But not a lot.
Hope you liked it. Hope you’re interested in the other 100,000 or so words.