Flash Fiction Month 2014, Day 21
The shatterproof ruler caught the mugger across the face with a sound like a pigeon smacking into a recently cleaned windowpane.
“Ow, man!” the criminal did a little hopping dance, hand pressed firmly to his cheek. “Aah. That’s going to puff up like crazy.”
“That’s right!” The Astounding Welt pointed a chubby pink finger. “Crazy like you’d have to be to snatch purses when I’m on the job.” The point was a little laboured, but it got the job done.
“When are you not on the job? It seems like you’ve been slapping me with that ruler every day this week.”
“Which would suggest you’ve been out mugging people every day this week.” The Astounding Welt hefted his ruler menacingly.
“My criminal activities are the result of a system of government that forces the individual to shoulder unreasonable burdens on the grounds of personal accountability while simultaneously using public money to prop up large financial institutions when they inevitably collapse due to reckless business practices. Also a penal system that frequently leaves prisoners less able to support themselves through legitimate means than when they went in.”
“Wow.” The masked hero tucked the ruler back into his famous utility welt. “Now I just feel like a jerk.”
“Eh.” The mugger shrugged. “Everybody’s got problems.” He sat down on the curb. “You sound pretty tense. Everything okay?”
“Ahhhh.” The Astounding Welt sat down too. “Honestly? No. I used to patrol these streets with the Amazing Spiderguy, but it turns out he’s privately been struggling with chloephobia for a while now…”
“Chloephobia: fear of newspapers. I really shouldn’t be telling you this, but a lot of us superheroes have jobs in the media. Partly it gives us a reason to suddenly shoot off from our jobs when there’s supervillainy afoot, partly…I don’t know…I guess we’ve just got a thing for it. I know loads of guys—and girls—that have dated reporters. But Spiderguy…”
The mugger nodded. “I guess the news really wasn’t his thing.”
“It’s just so weird.” The Astounding Welt made his hands into fists, grappling with this new insight into his friend’s psyche. “He’d been working at the Daily Bungle for years! Now all of a sudden he just asks me to take over all his superhero duties. Won’t tell me when he’ll be back on his feet. All those years at the paper…you’d think he’d have got used to it!”
“Or maybe it was just steadily getting too much for him.” The mugger put a hand on the hero’s shoulder. “I know it’s hard to imagine how something as harmless as a newspaper could bring a superhero down, but that’s all the more reason to be a little understanding. You just don’t know what he’s dealing with.”
The Astounding Welt sighed. “You’re right. As soon as I’m finished this patrol, I’ll go and talk to him.”
“Maybe wait for him to talk to you. You don’t want him to think you’re just trying to drag him back out on patrol.”
“Yeah, I guess. And besides—there’s always online journalism. I’m sure he’ll find something.” He stood.
“I really shouldn’t be saying this,” said the mugger, “but I hope your friend’s back on his feet and fighting crime soon.”
“Thanks.” The Astounding Welt turned to leave, paused, then rummaged for something in his utility welt. “By the way, if you ever want to be more than just ‘the mugger,’ maybe this could get you started.” He held out a simple black superhero eye-mask.
The mugger took the mask and stared at it in disbelief. “But…I don’t have any superpowers.”
“You have compassion,” the hero smiled, “and that’s a kind of superpower.”
Meanwhile, in Spiderguy’s apartment…
“Hello? Helloooooooo? If anyone can hear me, I’m in the bathtub. I drained the water out because I was getting wrinkly, but now I’m cold. Hellooooooo…”