Missed Connection

The Authors:

1 Michael Tolen, Colorado, November 28th, 2011

2 Johnny Jameson, New Jersey, December 5th, 2011

3 Anonymous, Somewhere Mysterious, December 12th, 2011

4 S.D. Brownlee, Colorado, December 19th, 2011

5 Joseph Reinis, Colorado, December 26th, 2011

6 Tracy Lynn, Colorado, January 2nd, 2012

7 S.D. Brownlee, Colorado, January 9th, 2012

8 Randy Butternubbs, Florida, January 16th, 2012

9 Tracy Lynn, Colorado, January 23rd, 2012

10 Joseph Reinis, Colorado, January 30th, 2011

11 Tracy Lynn, Colorado, February 13th, 2012

12 Joseph Reinis, Tracy Lynn, and Randy Butternubs, Colorado and Florida, February 20th, 2012

About Dually Noted:

An awkward young man approaches a beautiful woman. Is he going to confess his love through a poem? Does he have an important warning from the future? Or has he chosen his next victim? What happens next is up to you! Dually Noted is TBL’s ever-exciting group writing project. New and established members of our diverse writing community come together to form one ongoing story through weekly installments. Matching the style and voice of the initial story, while moving the plot forward, is a great writing exercise, but more importantly, it’s a fun way for our writers to collaborate. If you would like to add the next section, shoot us your 500 words. Our editor will choose the best entry, copy-edit it, and publish it at the beginning of each week. Remember that you must be at the rank of Author to submit for possible publication, and we do not accept submissions that are not correctly formatted.

Missed Connection: A Dually Noted Group Writing Project

by the Tethered by Letters Community

Diamond dust was in the air. Each crystal, gently floating down, slowly piling up and covering everything. They say each flake is unique, that no two are the same. Not that I’m arguing, but I highly doubt that anybody can actually validate whether or not that is true. All I know is that they float like pixies. Pixies that failed whatever flying school pixies would have to attend. They smash up speed-racer style along my windows, coating it with layer upon layer of pixie dust.

At two in the morning the sky is still violet. The whole world looks like a negative—lights and darks switched—as my view from my window slowly freezes over. I find myself in this half-dream state, unable to tell if I’m actually awake or if I passed out watching some Ansel Adams special on public television.

The fan overhead is hypnotic. Sadly, it is not enough to invoke sleep. The hum quietly echoes throughout my dimly-lit abode, bouncing off of hardwood floors and around cheap Swedish-made particle board shelving units. Despite two blankets and the heat from a completely nude bunkmate pressed against me, I’m freezing. Being draped in only a few blankets definitely highlights some of her more captivating features. Blonde hair covering her face and cascading down her shoulders and down the small of her back. Last night she mentioned that she was a kindergarten teacher. I don’t know if her students realize how lucky they are to have a teacher with pierced nipples. Or a tattoo inches north of her cooter. What I do know is that if I had a teacher that looked like this, I would probably have a full ride to Harvard. Ironic, seeing is I can’t even remember her name. Jill, maybe. Or was it Joan? I’m sure it was something with a “J.”

I wonder if there is an actual reason for this. Not the sex. I get that. But a reason for the post-coital blah that I always seem to feel in the wake of everything. That void, that emptiness, that rushes in. Moments after finishing, heart and lungs still racing, with her taste and scent still fresh in my mind, the feeling creeps in. As the blood returning to the usual areas of my body, I wonder why it still feels so empty. Is this the way everything was moments after the Big Bang? All that energy released and then nothing?

So here we are. Her, scooting in close for the post-game cuddle. Me, with my mind millions of miles away from anything that feels remotely normal, suffocating in the nothingness. If I were to ever end up killing myself, it would be post-coital. And not in that “I could die happy” way.

While I’m trying to unveil the mystery, Maybe Joan limply brushes a hand across my ribs. For a brief moment the idea comes to mind that what I need is another good fuck. That notion quickly fades, seeing as I’m drained both physically and mentally. That, and the fact that she’s unconscious.


My nightstand erupts in an explosion of noise, causing Mabye-Jennifer to sit up straight, her perky piercings at the ready. She looks as if someone dumped cold water on top of her. I begin fumbling in the dark, my phone dancing its way across the top of cheaply made furniture. After a minute of blind flailing, I grab hold of the sleep terrorist and look at the screen through bleary eyes. My vision focuses. Damn it. Not this. Not now. I look over to Maybe Julia and say, “I’ll be right back.”1

Rolling myself out of bed and flipping the covers off my naked torso, I notice the cool night air rushing through my open window. The peace just before dawn always makes my heart move a little faster, this time where nothing could possibly go wrong. I look to my phone and think, Why does it have to be now? My feet connect with the cold carpet, the fibers wedging in between my toes, sending a shiver up my spine. I rushed to my closet, phone clutched in my right hand, the hand I typically use to punch dust pixies from my polluted, sex-filled air.

“What’s going on?” Jenna-what’s-her-breasts asks me in a slurred and drunken sleep. I don’t know if she found the booze under my bed late last night—her bloodshot eyes and matted hair would suggest such thievery—but I don’t have time to check the stash.

My fingers clutch the cold knobs of my closet doors and yanking them both open, a sucking rush of air sways the contents within. My shaking hand reaches up to grab the chain of the light switch. As I pull the cord, I know it has begun. The light rebounds off the flowing hills of black leather like headlights on black ice. “Treacherous,” that shine declares, and, despite my most fervent attempts, the danger of it still quickens my pulse.

I tighten my fist by my side, my grip still lethargic from sleep and physical exertion. I wish they could stay like this, my hands, used only for shifting through files at the law firm, holding a morning cup of coffee, cradling the adorned breasts of J’s-her-name. But no, destiny had a different path for these fists. Sometimes I try to forget, to cover my life in the mundane like those ice crystal across my window. But snow flurries or no snow flurries, that window is still a window. And despite all of these soft, contemplative thoughts, these fists are still fists of justice.

Swallowing hard, I reach my hand into the closet, feeling the sleek, cold leather within. My fingers wrap around the mask, my real face, and watch the light slide down its cheeks as I pull it toward me.

For the briefest moment, I think of placing it back on its hand-crafted stand, crawling back into bed, mingling my own body heat with another’s, connected to the world of the living. Perhaps I could fuck her again before she left for work, push her against the slick tiles in my shower, find creative uses for a loofah. My eyes fall to my other hand, clutching on my phone, the mayor’s text message still lighting up the sleep terrorist’s screen. “Fucking terrorists,” I mumble, shoving it into my pocket.

I place the black mask on, the weight of it pulling my shoulders up. Glancing to my right, I catch a glimpse of my reflection. The white of my muscular body, naked save my yellow socks and the black, angular lines of my real face. The face that strikes fear into criminals across this city. I smile—though it cannot be seen. Soon, it will strike fear across the world.2

“Um… hello?” Jessica Jiggles is still waiting in my bed. “What are you doing in your closet?” The part of me that wanted to crawl back into bed with her died once I put my mask on. I’ve indulged in her long enough. The night was calling.

I press my hands to my face, feeling the cool leather and letting my fingers glide along the seams. I have to take it off for a moment. I have to become Clint Cassidy again, for a few minutes more. I walk out of the closet and look at Jane-ifer.

“This was a mistake. I should have told you the truth. I’m married.” To the city. To justice.

“You’re married?” The look on her face was priceless. The idea that she was a warm, distraction of the flesh, a good fuck, or a fleeting comfort gave way to the truth: she was just another citizen under my watch. Another helpless, stupid drone, oblivious to the filth that would prey upon her without a vigilant protector. Without me.

“We’ve been separated for a while now.” I haven’t been able to patrol as much since my last injury. That night. A broken ankle was the least of my regrets… “We’ve had problems.” Crime on the rise. Deranged murderers with a flair for the dramatic. Fucking terrorists. “But she called. She needs me.” My city.

There was little else to say. Citizen J gathered her clothes, awkwardly hunting around the room for garments. Her bra hung from the top of a lamp like a flag. I watched the frozen pixies pile up on the window sill while she dressed in uncomfortable silence. She was about to leave when I stopped her.

“Be careful out there. It’s cold. You can’t always tell what’s in the dark.” And with that, she was gone, another bit of diamond dust, alone in the night. The empty feeling threatened to creep back, but I held it in check. There was work to be done.

I stopped pretending to be Clint and began piecing myself together. My face was put back into place. The leather enveloped my body, pressing the armor plates tight against my skin. Gloves, gauntlets and gear came together as I merged with the night. The closet was my crucible, purging away all of my impurities, my weakness. When I emerged I was no longer a man. I was The Shadow Aspect.

I test my recently healed ankle, shifting my weight onto it. A little stiff, but more than capable. I review the message from the mayor. He’s being held hostage in the Eisner building along with all of the other attendees of the Miller-Moore Foundation charity event. But that was hours ago. If he’s just sending for help now… they want me to come. Fucking terrorists. I clench my fist, enjoying the sound of the leather tightening. They don’t know what they’ve brought upon themselves.3

*        *        *

He calls himself the Shadow Aspect, but as I climb into my freezing cold Geo I can think of much more appropriate names for him.

Captain Tiny Penis, maybe. The Minute Man, if I want to reminisce on his fast rabbit thumping. But that’s just the feminine angst inside me thinking. I hadn’t gone to bed with him for the thrill. Granted, a little thrashing about with a vigilante hero sounds deeply gratifying, but I’ve had better experiences with college guys.

Still, I got what I wanted. Mostly. I kept him away from his business while the Boss took hostages. That, and I slipped a tracking chip in his Samsung cell phone. It was stupidly easy to get my part of the mission done tonight. Wine and dine, giggle and suggest that after a couple drinks I lose all inhibitions. And even though he’s a hardened crime-fighter, he’s also a male and thus, a creature of instinctual want.

As my car coughs into life, dry, cold air jets across my legs from the once dormant heater. I reach into the Coach bag on my passenger seat. Everything is there just as I left it.

Tasers on top. Knives sheathed in black leather beside them. Beneath it all is my scarlet liquid body armor. It’s a new addition to my costume. Made from Black Ops Military compounds, it flows more like fabric than body armor, but when a bullet or any fast moving object hits it, the silicon compounds instantly bond, creating a near impenetrable barrier. Bruises and broken bones are still likely, but the pros far outweigh the cons.

I glance back to the black house I just left. Nothing moves in or around it and I can only assume the chump hero inside has already escaped to fall into the trap. I can’t take chances though, so I have to drive a few blocks north before making my call.

Being the sub-human scum he is, I anticipate that he’ll try to get into the building by the access tunnel beneath the building. I can picture him crawling through the maze of rattling pipes, hissing with steam and running water.

Hopefully rats will bite him, infect him with rabies, or the plague. Or AIDS. I really don’t care, as long as it hurts.

After a long wait, a welcome warmth begins to seep from my heater. I pull over to make contact with the Boss. I’ve never met the man. No one has. He works through distance, probably because he poses as some other pathetic politician or city good-doer. I don’t care much though: he pays in cash and never asked me to sleep with him to get surveillance established.

His phone rings once before he picks up.

“Speak,” he says with a dull, uninterested tone.

“He’s on the way,” I tell him. He doesn’t answer, just hangs up. My part is supposed to be done now. I can go home to Detroit and an envelope of cash will be courier delivered within hours.

But not this time. There’s more I want to be involved with on this little escapade.

Thinking of my own plans, I grab one of my police-issue tasers and test the charge. It’s full. I smile and put it back in the bag. I’ll change now and head to the tower. If possible, when I’m done, I’ll take those fucking horrible yellow socks as a souvenir tonight and add them to my collection.4

*       *       *

A few blocks away from the Eisner building, I take to the rooftops. Up here is where I feel most at home, monitoring the city from above, ready to swoop like a bird of prey. Nothing is more satisfying than dropping down on a mugger from the air. They never have any warning. A silent descent and a brutal take down. If there are others, the effect is amazing. Too stunned by what just occurred, I can usually take down another one or two before anyone can process what happened. Serving out justice is its own reward. But seeing the look on a terrified criminal before I strike is like Christmas morning for my fists.

I take advantage of the cold by setting my thermal binoculars to their most sensitive setting and evaluate the building. Normally, this degree of sensitivity would make the whole field of view one, big thermal image, but with the cold I can pick out which floors have the highest concentrations of heat. Ignoring the obvious places that are just heat escaping from vents, I can see little thermal, pin pricks through the windows of the lobby and on the roof. Guards have been put into place at the most likely entrances. For me, these guys are just the warm-up act for the main show. They’ll try their best and maybe do a respectable job, but I’m just killing time with them, waiting for the main act.

A little more than half way up the building, around the 45th floor, there is a slightly redder glow. That’s where they’re keeping the hostages and where most of the terrorists must be. The center of the building is a strange choice for them to operate from. Most hostage takers set up near an exit, ready to leave if their demands are met or if things go south. A group that was able to take the mayor and the wealthy elite of the city is likely to be well organized, carefully planning this attack. I would have suspected a location closer to the roof, counting on a helicopter escape. Instead, they chose the middle, a far more defensible location. Whatever their goal, leaving alive was not their top priority.

Something doesn’t feel right. It’s too dark, too quiet. Something is missing from this scene. It hits me right in the gut when I realize it: There are no news cameras or police present. I don’t know how they did it, but they were able to take extremely high-profile people hostage without alerting anyone else. Anyone but me.

My head starts reeling. Four months ago, I showed up at a convenience store robbery, picking up on a silent alarm that was triggered. The clerk and the criminal both had guns drawn on each other. When I walked in, I gave the clerk a signal that I was moving in. He nodded to the other guy and they both opened fire on me. I dove for cover. When I emerged, both men were gone, leaving behind only the body of the real clerk. I later found out that the police didn’t receive the silent alarm. It just went to me.

And again on the night I broke my ankle. A routine mission quickly becoming anything but routine. I was on my normal patrol route, when I came across someone hurt in an alleyway, screaming about a broken leg. I was ten stories up, so lowered myself down with one of my lines. Before I could get down, the line snapped and I fell to the ground hard, shattering my ankle. The guy crying for help jumped to his feet and sprinted away. My line had been cut that night. My military-grade, reinforced steel cable had been cut, a feat few tools could manage.

Someone knew my route, knew my tech. And now they were waiting for me.5

*       *        *

Outside a window of the Eisner building, some god is sprinkling salt over his creation. But this much salt can cause a heart attack. And these infinite sins are clogging the arteries of Morrison Bay. At the root of it all is the Shadow Aspect. He is coming.

The sins of this town are like the fat flakes that fall heavily tonight: no two are exactly alike and they are far too numerous to count. I will admit the first snow brought unparalleled joy. It always does. But as the white blanket continued to drape its cold satin fibers across the city, the winter invades my body and the chill rapes my soul. I am sick now, sick from the wickedness in this place. The citizens no longer fight it all. They delight in it. They build snowmen together and go walking through their winter wonderland of filth.

I am surrounded by these degenerate cretins. I can smell the debauchery in their nervous sweat, yet they are not afraid. Not like they should be. They still have hope that their “protector” will come. I need to shatter that hope. I’d love take the finest citizens and show them how much they have to fear. But this city has no fine citizens. So I take the best one I can find: the city’s lead prosecutor. What does that say?

He is an old man, silver-haired, and frail. The wrinkles etched into his face show a vast history of lies hidden behind countless smirks. The women in the crowd squeal as I grab him by the necktie and drag him across the floor. I stare down into his eyes and raise the gun. Stupid, misplaced hope radiates back at me. The hammer cocks back and it remains. I pull the trigger and it disappears in a flash of gunpowder. The screams echo off the marble. The bullet imbeds itself in the floor two inches right of his head. He opens his eyes. The hope radiates back at me. It was placed there by a fool in a dark mask.

Shaken, he finds his feet and walks back to his spot amongst the hostages. I am not a killer, not like their so called hero. He has no moral code. His book of justice is skewed. He abides by the laws of the status quo, playing his part like a marionette, the mayor pulling his strings.

“Run here. Jump there. Wipe the poor from the gutters and alleyways. Eliminate them if you must. Make for me a utopia where the elite can live without consequence and still cast judgment on the pathetic groveling creatures below. Create all this and I will make you king.”

I know this proposal. They mayor gave it to me first. I spit in his face. It did not stop him. He found another lackey instead. Tonight I will end their tyranny. By daybreak, the snow will cease to fall.6

*      *      *

“You idiot twat!” I want to scream out at the scantily clad dimwit who perches only ten yards ahead of me. What kind of hero wears a mask, yellow socks, and some kind of pleather man-panty? Yet there he is, watching the early morning custodial crew in the Eisner building go about their morning duties. There should be no hostages there. But there are some well-placed anti-personnel mines deep in the basement as well as at entry points on the roof. It was a setup from the start, and hopefully the fagtastic wonder boy here won’t think too deeply about the small body count inside.

I feel over-dressed for the occasion: my liquid body armor forming over my flesh, a taser in one hand, and five knives strapped about me. It’s too damn easy to just shoot him and let him fall to his death. Maybe I should just boot his sorry ass off the side.

I stifle a laugh as I imagine the coroners looking over his mangled corpse. I can imagine one saying, “Hey, Rob. Check this out. Don’t know what knocked him off the building, but there’s a hemorrhoid here that makes his asshole look like the letter ‘Q.’”

Still, I don’t have the time to make myself laugh at the fool. I raise my taser, taking careful aim at his lower back. I ease my finger over the trigger and begin to tense, ready to fire half a million volts into his spine.


The fuck? I didn’t shoot yet. Again comes the buzzing.

It’s not my taser.

It’s my god damn phone.

I roll behind an air vent and whip out my phone. Looking at the display, I stare in disbelief. It’s him. Why would this jackass be calling me from the rooftop less than an hour after he kicked me out of his bed?

I flip open the phone and put it to my ear, barely whispering, “What?”

“Oh, hey there, Tittilicious!” I hear the imbecile say cheerily from the receiver as well as from behind me on the ledge. I say nothing, a million ideas of what he’s doing running through my mind. Does he know who I am? Did I fall into a trap? I can’t begin to get it all, but I don’t have to. Instead of listening to him ramble, I snap my phone shut. Then I peek over the edge of the vent, expecting him to be waiting with some weapon of vicious destruction.

But he’s still on the ledge, watching with binoculars in one hand and his cell in the other. What a silly bastard. Then it clicks. He called me “Tittilicious.” Was he making high-rise booty calls? What egotistical ass sack does that?!

Leaving the phone open and dangling in one hand, I turn around from the vent, take fast aim and shoot at the weasel.

Or I would have.

In the second it took to turn and point, he was gone. The barb of his zip line is all that remains and I hear the screeching as he fires himself into a window on the fourth floor of the Eisner building. A place where there are no mines. Lucky or clever? I can’t tell, but without thinking much of it, I rig myself to his line with a carbineer from my belt and start a slower pursuit of the heroic little queer, wondering why he is so damn hard to kill.

 *     *     *

I can’t help but question everything about the whole night so far. The set up for an operation like this would have been huge, the kind of thing I might have spotted on my patrol. But I broke my routine tonight. I stayed in with J-something. Had they thought they would be able sneak past me, or were they planning on me staying in?

After work at the firm, I usually grab a drink at Tim Dini’s, a bar that’s clientele is made up mostly of lawyers and a few judges. I go there to look over cases and bullshit with a group of scumbag defense attorneys, the kind of guys that brag about the completely guilty asshole they just got cleared of all charges. Thanks to my “friends,” I’m never short on new leads to look into. But last night was different. She was there. Blonde and curvy, looking for attention. She came right up and introduced herself. ”Hello there. My name’s J-” … and that’s when she spilled her drink a bit, never actually telling me her name.

I pull out my phone and attached it to the small touch-screen computer. I dial her number and bring up the map feature. Some ridiculous Katy Perry song rings back. She answers in a harsh whisper, only saying “What?” She sounds irritated, but there is something else there too. “Oh, hey there, Tittilicious!” Silence on the other end. I watch as the screen begins to zoom in on a location. Roughly, my location. The signal cuts off before it can pinpoint anywhere specific, but I’m already moving. A distraction, for sure, but I would have never guessed she’d be tailing me too.

I take aim at the Eisner building, no time for an ideal location, just somewhere with little opposition. My line bursts through a 4th floor window and embed the other end of the line into the rooftop. The second it’s secure, I’m already shooting down the line. Things are not going well, but that sense of exhilaration is already rising in me. I hit the floor, go into a roll and spring to my feet. From the corner of my eye, I see a red blur moving down my line. I spring over the desk in front of me and kick down the office door in front of me. I scan the room for places to take cover when something hard hits in the back of my shoulder. I duck around the corner and check my shoulder.

That talented bitch! A long, incredibly sharp knife is sticking out of my armor, right between two steel plates. If she hit an inch higher, it would have hit one of the few seams in the armor and gone through, possibly nicking something important. If she made that hit from a zip line, I couldn’t give her another clear shot.

Scrambling I move into cover, getting into position to ambush her. She’s quiet, almost impossible to hear as she moves around the room. I only see shadows flicker on walls as she creeps. She’s close. I ready myself, about to spring, when I hear loud footsteps coming up a stairwell. I steal a quick glance. The stairwell doors kick open and a small set of well-armed guards fall into the room and start fanning out through the offices.

A pissed off woman’s voice rings through the room. “You fucks aren’t supposed to be here!” Next I hear a grunt, a wet gurgling noise, and gunfire. I see her shadow flickering around the room, and briefly wonder if I’ll ever fuck her again, but while respecting her this time.

A guard starts to pass by. I kick him in the knee, grab his head and smash his neck into a desk at angle that isn’t conducive to living.

A high-pitched chime echoes around the room as a PA system kicks in. “Shadow Aspect. You have arrived.” The voice is off, dreamlike and distant. “You brought a friend. I had not planned for that. Fortunately, I have enough toys for both of you. I will send more.” Over the static coming out of the speakers, I can just make out the sound of her dispatching another guard, a pained howl, a loud crack and silence. “You are a disease. Tonight I will cure this city of you. I will lead the recovery.”

I’ve heard similar threats before, but this guy is more capable that the rest. And that red-suited chick is an absolute unknown now. Things may not go so well tonight. 8

*       *       *

When it comes to the perfect plan, I’ve tried at long lengths to find a better metaphorical representation, a manlier one. Unfortunately, I can think of no better comparison. A great plan is like pantyhose. This red woman is the first snag of the evening and if I’m not careful, she could tear a run from the ankle of this operation straight to its crotch. They say it’s always a smart idea to have a backup pair on hand and, even though I’ve come prepared, the first pair of stockings you choose is always the best. Before I even think of pulling on Plan B, I resort to my nail polish. His name is Breaker.

“The woman in red,” I tell him. “She’s a problem. I want her solved.”

A nod is all that’s needed. He walks to an elevator we disabled and pries the doors apart with his bare hands. I cannot help but smile at the thought of what those hands will do to her. Quite the opposite, Breaker’s face is without expression as he hooks himself to a cable and disappears down the shaft.

My computer genius hacked the security mainframe within five minutes following our less-than-hostile takeover. On the monitors, I watch Breaker exit the fifth floor. He sets a small charge beneath a desk and takes cover. Below, ceiling particles and dust settle on the fourth floor. Breaker drops through the hole, landing in a crouch. He is just in time to see what I am observing on another screen. The Shadow Aspect shoots his Gatling gun up a different elevator shaft and begins his ascent.

Breaker moves just quick enough to catch a blade in the left shoulder that would have otherwise pierced his Adam’s apple. He ducks through a doorway to his right and pulls the knife from his shoulder, readying it as a weapon. The woman in red is smart. She knows her only way to victory is to keep my man on his heels. Before Breaker can fully recuperate from his setback she is through the doorway unleashing a barrage of swift martial arts moves designed to connect with multiple pressure points. He is quick enough to deflect the sudden attacks and even manages a few knife swipes of his own. The woman sidesteps one these thrusts and connects three quick and accurate strikes to Breaker’s forearm and wrist, causing him to drop the knife. She sweeps it up and in the same movement, pulls another dagger from her belt. Her jabs and swipes take on a more deadly meaning.

After blocking a couple dozen efforts of penetration, the red woman lands a knife between two plates in Breaker’s Kevlar. She uses the split second in which he is stunned to lodge the other in his thigh. This one drops my man to one knee. The woman grabs her taser and Breaker catches twenty thousand volts in his neck and folds to the floor. She retrieves her knives from Breaker’s body and hurries to the elevator shaft. The snag has already run its way up to the knee. The balls of my plan instinctively retreat looking for shelter from the approaching menace that threatens to expose them to the winter air. Behind me, an elevator dings its arrival. 9

*        *        *

Fucking fuck, fuck, fuck! I feel such unbelievable rage. All I can picture is carving up this fat bastard I just tased and serving him up to the asshole who sent him. In a typical, stupid move, they sent the big, brawny quiet guy to “take care” of me. He may have been a match for the S&M gimp in a cape, but the stupid prick takes one look at me and thinks he can end this quickly. Saw a woman and thought he could end it in one solid hit, taking wild swings and leaving himself open, hardly bothering to block. Stupid bastard.

I retrieve my knives, hoping he’ll bleed out, and head to the elevator shaft. Captain Queero’s already up however many floors with his little line. I hate playing catch-up. I leap over to the ladder that follows the shaft and start my climb.

It’s never been this fucked up before. I pick a target, do extensive reconnaissance, and close in for the kill. Home on schedule with a new trophy for the case. This time however, I somehow got caught in the dick-swinging crossfire of these idiots. Shadow Aspect is still the goal, but this might become a two for one deal.

I’ve been filling the trophy case as long as I can remember. School awards, Championship gymnast and martial arts trophies; they just piled up. A few years ago I started collecting different kinds of trophies: The ripcord from the first time I base jumped, my dog whistle from the Iditarod. It wasn’t until I added the ice axe to my collection that I found my true calling.

I had challenged a world renowned mountaineer to a race up Kangchenjunga, one of the most notorious mountains in all of climbing. It was extreme, brash and absurdly dangerous. In other words, exactly what I was craving. But I’ll never know who was better. Because that stupid fuck tried to cheat me. He thought I’d back down, quit before we even reached base camp. But I kept up with him. The night before we were to make the final climb to the summit, I had a lot more fight left in me than he had expected. In the morning, I found my gear missing and a note that read I’ll bring back your gear when we descend. I’m saving your life. He left very little rope and an ice axe he didn’t think he’d need. Driven by blind fury, I recklessly used them to make the ascent, fighting the whole way up and against all odds reached the top. He was surprised to see me, but even more surprised with what I did with his ice axe.

Conquering the world’s challenges no longer interested me. From that moment on it was only conquering others like me that held any appeal. Now my trophy case holds objects like the scope of an elite Russian sniper and the machete of a leader of the Mexican Cartel. My taser belonged to a Tokyo serial killer and my knives are from an Israeli Special Forces combat expert. And recently I’ve decided that I want a mask…and those stupid yellow socks.

I must be halfway up the building by now. I can hear a distant clinking sound from above, echoing the whole way down the shaft. The metallic noise gets louder and then stops. Next I hear the hum of an elevator moving above. I pause my climbing, unsure of what’s happening above. I don’t know who’s moving around up there, but it’s cause for concern. The hum stops and the elevator chimes. For a moment, nothing. Then a deafening boom. A bright, orange light illuminates the shaft. The elevator rattles and crashes down the shaft straight toward me.

Those stupid fucks.10

*       *       *

The hostages gather a collective breath and hope. It is for naught. In a matter of minutes, they will see their masked champion for who he really is. The smoke spewing forth from the elevator is rolling between my feet. The fools fan the clouds and strain their eyes for any sign of their hero. I know better. It is all a distraction, and had I been focused on the elevator too, I would not have noticed the small blinking red light recently placed in the corner outside the room’s largest window.

Initially, I expect it to blow at any moment. Then I realize he’s not making an entry, he’s preparing an exit. Clever. To my right, the force of the ceiling explosion concusses two of my men and collapses them, covering them with debris. The crowd screams. Another explosion takes out two more men behind me. There is a long pause before a muffled, metallic bang sends the elevator plummeting. More squeals from the hostages, all of them except one.

I met her at an underground support group meant to repair lives damaged by the city’s hero. We’d both lost someone close. However, our heartaches originated not with the Shadow Aspect but his arrogant alter ego, Clint Cassidy, the felon whose caped heroics grant him endless pardons from the Mayor. It’s no wonder she hasn’t reacted to a single event this evening. Justice is at stake.

Luckily, the group around her is too stupid to notice the importance of a single, unresponsive hostage. Before the fourth explosion, I nod to my tech man and when the ceiling erupts again, he kills the lights. A few more shrieks and then silence sets in. I remove the glasses from my pocket, the ones with night vision built into the lenses.

In a distant corner, he lands quietly and I hear the grunts and thuds as I watch him disassemble my squad. He moves from one man to the next, utilizing no more than a few quick strikes with each opponent. In less than a minute, he’s made his way to me and I offer no fight. I let him tackle me. As he raises his fist, his whole world lights up. My secret hostage has snuck unnoticed in the dark, and she clubs him on the side of his head right where we both know his night vision to be located. My tech man reactivates the lights and I toss my glasses aside. I won’t need them again.

Tonight, the darkness ends.

The Shadow Aspect falls to his knees frantically, pressing the small switch just above his temple. It’s no use. The hit was dead on. He only has one option to keep the flickering, blinding light from impairing his vision. He rips the mask from his face. I scan the hostages, the city’s élite, for a glimpse of recognition, for shock. There is none. Either they know or worse: they don’t care that this self-righteous criminal is their hero. I realize there is no hope for them, for this city. A rage begins to burn inside me.

Then everything goes black again.

“Turn the damn lights on!” I scream.

“Boss, it wasn’t—” His voice is replaced with the same grunts and thuds from earlier. The control panel is across the room. The Shadow Aspect is still kneeling at my feet. It is only then that I realize the woman in red has shredded the pantyhose. My crotch is fully exposed.11

*         *         *

I know he’s standing just right of where I kneel. In a moment, I’m on my feet and cracking several of his ribs. I chop down near his neck but catch mostly collarbone in the dark. Still, it’s enough to drop him out of the fight for now.

Without my night vision, this darkness will be the end of me. For obvious reasons, I cannot let that happen. A button on my belt detonates the explosive charge I set on the window, and the moonlight, dulled by the tint of the glass, illuminates a dark shape just in time for me to get my defenses up. She’s quick and accurate but most of all, she’s a woman. I’m not stupid enough to underestimate her, especially given her particularly good throwing arm from a distance, but close combat is another story.

She lands a few punches in the soft spots of my armor but nothing significant enough to slow me down. In one a continuous motion, I see her silhouette snatch two items from her belt. When a sting erupts between two plates across my left thigh, I realize that at least one of them is a knife. She swipes at my right arm and I dodge, grabbing her arm and wrenching the elbow in a way it is not meant to bend. The knife clinks to the floor and she drops to her knees. In the light, I catch a glimpse of her face and realize this is not the first time tonight she’s been in this position. My moment of recognition and hesitation is all my former lover needs to recover. She lands several quick strikes in important areas but her last, meant for my lower spine, connects with my utility belt instead. I kick backward and my boot heel connects with her face. Blood is streaming from her nose when I turn to her.

“I’m impressed.” I bend down and pick up her knife. “If only you were this good at fucking, I might have had a better time earlier this evening.” I study the blade and run my gloved finger over its edge. “It’s alright. I’m used to it. Not many women can keep up with my,” I pause, searching for the word “…prowess in the bedroom.”

I look to her face for disappointment, but she’s rolling her eyes instead. Stupid, prissy bitch. A flick of my wrist sends the knife into her shoulder. She screams. I take a step forward whilst she pulls the dagger out and whips it in to my abdomen. She sweeps a leg behind my knees and my skull thuds against the floor. Everything is groggy. The next thing I know, I am being slowly dragged by my cape toward the open window.

*                *                *

When I come to, snow is blowing through a shattered window and swirling around the room. I see the woman in red dragging my victim behind her. My victim. She doesn’t get to have the satisfaction of killing him, of ripping him from my grasp when I’ve set this whole night up for his downfall. He will crumble at my hands, not hers.

I struggle to my feet and sprint across the room. She hears me coming and turns, too late. My shoulder lands in her stomach and I slam her to the marble. Behind me, the Shadow Aspect is rising. He ponders the knife in his gut and seems to know better than to remove it. I have the advantage: which is fortunate because I’m out of surprises. My plan, the whole operation, was all for nothing. I realize now that I could never have hoped to tear him down from his pedestal in front of all these people. They were the ones who built it for him. But he must be held accountable. There is only one option left.

I am five feet from him when the barbs of a taser imbed into the side of his neck. The voltage is low, but it’s enough to make him stumble and trip backward out of the window. I dive after him before he completely falls from the ledge. In one move, I grab the Gatling gun from his side, twist, and fire back into the room: all the while holding him tight to my side. The metal clamp catches a stone rafter and the gun slows us to a halt some twenty floors below. As we bounce into a window, I lose my grip on his torso but manage to snag his grasping hand. Below, the police cars and fire trucks and ambulances pull in to position. The Shadow Aspect looks up at me; beyond me. I look up too and pull the trigger, expecting to be reeled up. We don’t move.

I look back down into the cold eyes of Clint Cassidy, the man who took everything from me. “Do you even remember me?” I ask. “Do you remember my fiancée?” I know the answer will be no before he says it. I think about letting him go. I think about my fiancée’s beautiful face. I think of her smile. I think of her bleeding out on the floor of our favorite restaurant on the two year anniversary of our first date. She’s dying and I ask her, “Would you have married me?” She manages to whisper two words before life abandons her. “I do.”

The tears form and run warm streaks down my face. I want to drop him for her; for me; for my secret hostage upstairs and our friends in the recovery group. I want to drop him for the city. I loosen my hold. She would not have wanted me to.

I tighten my grip as his body rotates and the cold wind wraps his cape around to his front. It’s then I see the blinking red light on the back of his utility belt. It’s one of Breaker’s explosives. I look back up and see the red woman peering over the edge of the building. I release him and she presses the detonator. I look down, half expecting the absence of pain to mean that having your legs blown off does not hurt. Instead, I have aspects of a shadow strewn about my lower half. I clench my eyes tight and pull the trigger once more. I’m rewarded with a zipping sound. When I open my eyes, I’m not moving. Looking up, a carabineer zips down and clicks at the tip of the Gatling gun. Another red light is blinking back at me.

*                *                *

One more press of my thumb and the line snaps. I’m sure the blast blew his arm and half his face away, but I take pleasure in the idea that he might still be alive when he collides with the pavement. An even bigger smile crosses my face when I picture firemen and police officers picking up a foot, a head, a string of intestines: all belonging to the Shadow Fagot. I imagine them slapping five with his severed hands. Then I remember his socks. Turning to collect my prize,I bump into a short, portly gentleman.

“Nice work, young lady.” He’s taken my hand and is shaking it violently. I recognize him. He is the Mayor.

“Nice work?” I ask, obviously a bit confused.

“You’ve saved half the city and ridded it of a menace!” His voice is high pitched but raspy. “That deserves congratulations any day.”

“Yeah… thanks… Listen, I’ve got—”

“I’ve got a proposition for you, if you’d be interested.” I’m a bit stunned, so he continues. “Seeing as how this city is short a hero, no thanks to yourself—”

“See, about that. I—”

“No need to explain, dear. Survival of the fittest! See, we,” he gestures to the other hostages, “are the fittest of the city. We need someone to keep it that way.”

“And you want me to do that for you?” My tone must sound disbelieving.

“That’s what that little man in the cape did for us, and we took good care of him in return.” He leans in and whispers, “But between you and me, he was an egotistical prick.” I can’t help but smirk and look away.

“So I see you agree with me,” he jokes as he prods me in the stomach, but my gaze is turned elsewhere to a single, silent hostage. Everyone else is frantic and spewing forth their stories to the police officers who jot down the details. She, however, is calm. The medical teams have arrived and are attending to her, shining a flashlight in her eyes, eyes that I now feel have been fixated on nothing but me for the last few minutes.

“Lady?” The mayor’s scratchy, rat voice snaps me back. “Do we have a deal?”

“Tell, you what,” I begin to reason, glancing back at the woman who continues to focus her hating eyes on me. She unnerves me, but I steel myself and look directly at the mayor’s face. “There is a pair of items I desire that belonged to your former hero. Two ugly-ass, yellow socks. I’m sure they’ll be confiscated and eventually destroyed with the rest of his body. I want them for my collection. You get me those socks and we have a deal.” He frowns at me in confusion.

I extend my hand. The Mayor smiles and shakes it.

“Deal,” he says, turning no doubt to bark the orders to retrieve that hideous footwear. He stops and turns back to me.

“I didn’t catch your name,” he says.

“J—,” I stop short and once more catch the glare of that woman. I can’t help but think the events of this evening are far from over. I continue to the mayor, “Just call me Cherry Bomb.”

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