“Good evening, Reverend,” Arthur Flores, entering the chapel office. “It’s a cold one out there tonight.”
“Mr. Flores,” Damon answered coldly.
“I am aware you are under a great deal of stress right now, Father, but have I done anything to deserve such an unwelcome greeting?”
“You’ve done more than enough.”
“So, you’ve made your decision then?”
“What I’ve decided is nothing of your concern.”
“Perhaps you are correct. Of course, it could be useful to have someone to talk with about your thoughts.”
“And you think you should be that person?”
“I don’t see why not. I did, after all, bring you the gift I’m guessing is troubling you so.”
Damon sighed as he stood from his chair. “You’re right. I apologize. I just haven’t been able to relax since—“
“Since Buddy stopped in yesterday? I heard you reacted rather emotionally, to say the least.”
“I couldn’t help it,” Damon said as he dropped his head to look at the ground. “At the very sight of the man, my soul burned with rage.”
“It’s a very understandable reaction.” Flores stepped beside the distraught man and placed his hand on his shoulder. “Even if God weren’t calling you to his purpose.”
“You speak as if it is such a certain conclusion, Mr. Flores. Yet, I can’t help but question there is more to this gift than to rain down destruction upon creation. Is there not still ten people left in this world who could be worthy of salvation?”
“I can’t speak for the Creator myself, but using the Bible as an example is never a bad idea. And if you were to take a look at the story of Jonah, you might see some similarities to your current situation.”
“I’m not certain I understand.”
“I hate to state this so bluntly, but perhaps the loss of your wife itself was a message from God, as was Jonah’s being consumed by the great fish. Perhaps He felt the best way to get you on the path He has laid out for you, is to create this traumatic experience to wake you up.”
“My wife is not dead, Mr. Flores.”
“Oh,” Flores said in surprise. “I must have received faulty information. Even more to the point, however. Perhaps her current state is like the storm which threatened to overturn the boat, and you simply need to sacrifice yourself for the greater good.”
“Surely you aren’t trying to tell me God is holding my wife’s life ransom.”
“I’m not saying anything at all, merely offering a thought. Perhaps Sun City is your Nineveh, on which God intends for you to proclaim an impending judgment. It is possible your chosen path is one of a prophet, instead of an angel of death.”
“I hadn’t considered it that way,” Damon said, lifting his face to look at the man standing next to him. “Perhaps this gift is only to be used to assist me in my message and not to be used for ultimate destruction.”
“God is a merciful creature, of this you should be well aware. Even Aaron was given a sign to show the Egyptians an alternative to the Ten Plagues.”
“Of course!” Damon said, suddenly looking as though a great weight had been lifted off his shoulders. “You must truly be from God. You have given me the precise answer I was looking for.”
“I’m no one special; only someone who is happy he was able to help.”
“But you must be from God. You said so yourself when you–”
“I merely opened you up to your future. That is all. Now it is up to you to determine how He has chosen to have you use it.”
“But why me? And why you?”
“Perhaps it runs in the family.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You will. In due time.”
“Thank you, Mr. Flores. Your wise words have lifted a great burden off my chest.”
“One final thing before I leave, Father.”
“Of course, anything.”
“Should the people of Sun City not hear your words and continue to follow the false idol that is Buddy Hero, are you prepared to do what is necessary?”
“I can do only as the LORD commands.”
“That’s precisely how I expected you to respond.”
“Buddy,” Zero said urgently. “You alright?”
“Yeah,” Buddy said, shaking his head to wake up. “Sorry. That tiny cup obviously wasn’t enough coffee.”
“You looked concerned. Anything I can do to help?”
“First, keep your eye out for some java. Second, tell me your ideas on how to get into this place.”
“This is not my area of expertise, chum. I’m more of the inclination to stop those who trespass.”
Buddy looked to the roof of the building, ignoring Zero’s concerns. “It seems like there should probably be some sort of entrance up there, don’t you think?”
“I had noticed earlier that there was a ladder on the roof over on the south side, I believe it would be easy to assume there is some sort of roof access near that.”
“There you go,” Buddy grinned. “I knew you were good for something.”
“I’m good for many things, chum. And although I hesitate to offer my services for this particular matter, would you like for me to take us up so we can have a look around?” Zero closed his eyes and a purple aura enveloped him.
“No!” Buddy said sharply. “I’m pretty sure a couple of dudes flying through the air in this enormous crowd would be the best way to ensure we get caught.” Buddy gestured to the large crowd waiting outside. The front doors were now opened, but the lines to get in moved slowly.
“I’d agree with you if this were a normal circumstance, but considering where we are currently located, perhaps it would not be too farfetched.”
“Good point, pal. We could make it into some sort of publicity stunt. Of course, without my uniform, it might look a little–”
“If only you had listened. This is precisely the type of –”
“I get it. You were right, I was wrong. How hard do you think it would be to get Alexa to–”
“No need, chum. I brought a spare.” Zero smiled as he pulled a bright green wad of clothes out from under his hat. “A true super-hero always comes prepared.”
“Of course they do,” Buddy said, grabbing the uniform out of Zero’s hands. He looked around and found a port-a-potty nearby. “Give me a minute will ya, and,” he continued, “if we’re going to do this right, we’re going to want to get as much attention our way as possible. See what you can do about that.”
Buddy ran towards the outdoor bathroom. Halfway there, he stopped and yelled, “Oh, and find me another cup of coffee!” before disappearing inside.
He struggled to remove his clothing within the cramped container. It didn’t help he was also fighting the urge to breathe. The air inside this orange casket smelled much worse than death and every movement Buddy made threatened to topple it to its side. The risk of blue water washing over him caused Buddy more fear than he had felt even while battling Dominion. He may be impervious to injury, but he didn’t want to find out how his body would react to what was down there.
Once he had removed his blue jeans and t-shirt, he acted carefully to place them on the miniature shelf which sat above the disgusting hole at the bottom of the room. Once he was convinced they would not fall, he began pulling the green spandex tights over the lower half of his body. He had actually managed to lose some weight since the last time he had worn them, yet the lack of moving air within this vile location had caused Buddy to sweat profusely, making the fabric stick to every inch of skin it touched. Firmly, yet also tenderly, Buddy slid the pants over his posterior and sighed in relief as he fastened the belt around the outside.
He looked to the green shirt which was next in his dressing routine. It was made of the same spandex material, yet, due to the nature of the product, was even tighter around his frame than the pants had been. He slowly pulled the clothing over his head, feeling large droplets of sweat fall from his brow. His breathing became forcibly labored, due to the short breaths he took to avoid smelling the depths of the gaping hole which stared at him from the center of this closet. He slid his arms into their appropriate locations and the back of the shirt stuck to his collar bone. He took in one deep breath and pulled the shirt down over his protruding belly, coughing as he exhaled from the foul stench which now filled his lungs.
Looking down on the floor he saw the final piece of the uniform awaiting its placement. He picked it up and opened the door, breathing in large gasps of fresh air as he did so. He fell roughly out of the orange box onto the ground, only to find a great crowd surrounding him. Directly in front of him stood Zero, glowing the brightest shade of purple Buddy had ever seen and floating six inches above the ground.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, the incomparable, Buddy Hero!” Zero yelled. The crowd laughed at the overweight man now struggling to pull himself off of the dusty ground. Buddy shot Zero a glare as he picked up his form-fitting short length leather jacket and slid it over his back. Zero handed him a new tiny white cup, filled with the drink Buddy craved, and then gestured to him to react to the crowd.
Buddy gave a weak smile and waved to the populace before taking a sip of the fresh cup of joe. He looked down at himself in the suit he liked to jokingly refer to as his frog suit. The dark green lines down the sides of the uniform contrasted nicely with the light green of the front and back, and matched the jacket, but he still couldn’t help feeling like some sort of radioactive penguin. Maggie generally consoled him by saying it made him look a dirt bike racer, but Buddy knew the truth. Superhero uniforms are goofy. And he couldn’t help but feel silly standing in front of the large group of people wearing it.
“Now, stand back, good people of Sun City, for Buddy Hero and I shall now perform an act, the likes of which you have not seen before, outside, of course, from the pages of those childish books you all adore. I assure you, good people there’s no risk we shall die. In fact, once you have seen it, you’ll believe a man can–”
“Yeah right,” came a voice from the crowd. “I’ve seen all this crap before.” There was a shuffling in the crowd as several people began to depart.
“Yeah, didn’t they do this same thing last year for that Black Cat movie?”
“Actually, I think it was for some fast food place.”
“No, you idiots, it was a joint marketing venture for Adobe Burritos and the new Agile Acrobats in Space series.”
“What ever happened to that series?”
“Didn’t make it past the pilot, from what I heard.”
“Ahem!” Zero cleared his throat loudly, bringing very little attention back his way. He closed his eyes and a purple wind brushed through the crowd, causing many of them to spin back to his direction.
“You know, there used to be a time before Super-Con became all commercial and filled with stupid publicity stunts. It seems every year there are even more wackos wanting to make a name for–”
“Silence!” Zero yelled as he closed his eyes. The aura around him grew, covering Buddy as well, and they slowly lifted from the ground. Several gasps escaped from the audience before yet another voice cut in.
“Oh, come on. I can see the damned wires even. This is stupid. Anyone got passes for the Dragons and Dungeons seminar they wanna trade me? I’ve got Costume Design 101.”
Zero and Buddy rose higher into the sky.
“The crowd doesn’t seem to be buying it, Zero.”
“I had gathered as much, chum. Do you think we should up the ante?”
“It doesn’t really matter. I mean, we’ve already got them convinced this is a stunt. That should be enough to keep the guards at the door from caring, right?”
“Oh, but let’s have some fun. If you don’t mind,” Zero said as he removed the cup from Buddy’s hand, just before his aura disappeared around Buddy causing him to fall to the ground below. He landed with a loud thud and a great gasp came from the audience as they waited for the dust to settle to see what had become of the man who had fallen from the sky.
“Jeez, that’s just what we need, another injury from some stupid stunt.”
“Don’t they have insurance for this type of thing?”
“Yeah, but it keeps getting more and more expensive and—“
The dust finally cleared and the crowd was greeted with the form of Buddy Hero, standing tall amid the debris.
“Oh, come on, he’s not even hurt. This is—“
Buddy, for reasons he couldn’t quite understand, decided now was the time to get into character. He flashed a great smile at the disinterested crowd.
“Up, up, and away!” He yelled as he jumped back to Zero. With great speed he arrived next to his friend, who increased the size of his gravity bubble once more and handed his friend his still hot coffee. The crowd burst into cheers. Buddy looked back as they neared the rooftop and saw that the eyes of those who had seen his feat were still on them. He smiled.
“You know, Zero. I think you’re right. I could get used to this.” He took a victorious sip of his coffee as he surveyed his adoring public. “Oh, and great coffee, chum. Thanks.”
Go to Chapter Ten