“He was a Hero, mum.”
“No, son listen to me…”
“I don’t have to listen, I know. Ok. I know. He was a Hero. My dad was a hero.”
Actually in a quite literal sense that’s exactly what he was. My dad was a Hero, a Superhero in fact. You’ll know the name, The Masked Avenger, Hero of this city. A real life Superhero. Nobody knows the details but he started as a vigilante, seeking revenge for something, before an accident turned his will for revenge into something far more powerful. All kinds of abilities have been witnessed over the years as he’s stopped numerous criminals and villains.
But that was all over.
He was gone.
Dead, The Masked Avenger. My Dad apparently, now gone. And Mum was trying to tell me he wasn’t a Hero;
“I know this is hard to understand, and I know it’s a lot to take in at once, but he was no hero.”
“Mum, he saved lives, stopped criminals, saved the city- probably the world- loads of times, how is he not a hero?”
“What is heroism, Jacob?”
My name. She used my name. She never uses my name unless I’m in trouble, or like now, she’s trying to get through to me.
“Heroism is exactly that Mum, saving lives, stopping the bad guys…”
“No, it isn’t. It’s really not. Do you not see? Being a hero is selfish, caring nothing for anyone else around you. It’s running blindly into danger because the safety of a stranger on the street is more important than the wellbeing of your family. Because jumping in the way of a bullet comes before earning a decent wage to pay the bills.”
“Is this about money Mum? Iv told you, I’ll postpone my uni application and get a job until the insurance money comes through.”
“Insurance money?” She scoffed, “what insurance company do you think pays out on a masked maniac being torn apart by another masked maniac?”
“Um..” I had nothing, my mind couldn’t conjure so much as a pun right now.
Back to her pet name for me now, as a child I’d had a mop of hair that looked gold in the sun. It was long darkened now but the name had stuck, for Mum anyway.
“I’m sorry, but there’s no money coming, he’s gone. And he’s left us with nothing.”
Hours later, I’m sat in his corner, where he sat every night. Had sat every night. Reading his books, painting little metal soldiers. There was a time I’d sat with him doing the same, but girls had put paid to that a few years back. He’d always say there after dinner, and now I sat here, mulling over everything Mum had said. Surely he was a hero. He saved countless lives, stopped so many disasters. I hadn’t known of course, to me he’d always been that boring dad painting his toys, but apparently once I was in bed he’d pull on his dark mask and head into the city. These extra curricular activities had also made him completely unemployable. Apparently employers didn’t look kindly on their staff rushing off to stop the latest madman trying to take over the planet. There were debts, the ordinary everyday debts, alongside a whole load of weird Internet orders for mysterious equipment.
Leaning back in the chair a glint at the desk caught my eye. A tin soldier coated in thick garish paint. I smiled, remembering the look on my dads face as I’d painted my first model. God it was awful, all detail morphed into a rainbow blob. I reached for it, feeling the heft in my hand before a grating noise dragged me from my reverie. The chair was sinking into the floor, too fast to get off, too slow for me not to tut- a secret entrance to your lair Dad, really? The chair stopped its descent and the light above slowly disappeared as a panel closed off the entrance. Strip lights clicked and flickered into life and the disappointingly sparse basement came into view.
With a laugh I stepped out of the chair and stepped towards the door back upstairs when something made me turn, a ‘feeling’ perhaps, though likely just a draught. The wall behind the chair was missing, revealing another room. Not the basement, but still not particularly impressive. It occurred to me that without a huge personal fortune the setting up of a secret base was really dependent on what you could scrape together, and now I could see where those debts Dad had left had come from.
A large desk sat against the far wall of the roughly carved room, a fairly expensive, but not top range, computer sat on the desk ahead of a wall of surveillance pictures of various villains I remembered from the news. Aside from the the room was empty. Dragging the chair into the room I sat at the desk and looked at the screen. A single flashing dot bleeped at me, an insistent pulse demanding my attention. Hitting enter brought up the standard ‘ENTER LOGIN‘ menu, so I typed in ‘BELGIUM.’ Predictable dad, his favourite place, and the location of so many very dull holidays as a child. The screen flickered and shut down and a light behind me cast my shadow against it. Turning I jumped, momentarily convinced I was under attack. But it wasn’t a man. It was the Suit. The Masked Avengers costume. My Dads evening wear.
Looking up at the navy and black body armour everything mum had said to me came back, conflicting with my childhood worship of a man I wished my dad could be. If only I’d known then, I had so many questions. And surely it would have stopped so many assumptions regarding my boring Dad.
Reaching up my hand passes through a light, the screen behind me flickering back into life and Dads voice echoing from the speakers.
“Jacob, my boy. You found it. I always knew you would. Presumably I’m not in the house or I’d have got to you before you set this recording off. Right now I’m getting the notification you’ve found your way into my modest lair and I’m on the way back to explain a few things.”
The recording stopped and Dads face hovered on the screen. No not stopped, he was just still. Watching? Waiting?
Time passed, the recent loss preventing me from looking away, glad for the opportunity to see his face one last time, I jumped as he began to speak again.
“I’m dead, Jacob. Of course, I don’t know that yet, but if I haven’t made it back here to see you then I’m gone. No doubt your mother has told you I’m no hero, just a lazy layabout with delusions of grandeur, piling on the debts and helping all but the people who matter. And I can’t disagree, she’s right. She always has been. But right now you need to make a decision, is it heroism or selfishness? Things are bad. Evil forces move against good and if I’m dead that’s one man less to stop them.”
A pause again, I glance back at the suit, I can’t visualise my dad inside it, but I guess that would be too easy.
“You can help, Jacob. But it has to be your choice. Put everything out of your mind. Your mums opinions, mine, everyone but your own. You have two options, YES or NO. Will you take up my mantle, don my mask?”
I glance down as two keys on the keyboard light up, the Y and the N.
“Take your time son, but make sure it’s your own decision, only you can make it and only you can deal with the consequences. Hit yes and you’ll begin a journey to replace me and save the world. Hit no and all this will go away, you can go back to your life and no doubt your mum will be happier.”
His face disappeared, the screen dark now. It seemed as though the only lights came from those two buttons infront of me. Warring emotions beat me up inside, pushing me one way and the other. I reached forward, finger hovering. As I tapped my choice the screen lit up again.
“My Son, I understand this will have been a hard decision, but believe me you’ve made the right one. The same choice I made. The majority matter more than the few. You must leave the house now, a cab will be waiting outside for you in a moment.”
At that the screen went dark again and I turned to find the suit off its rack, folded into a small package. Lifting it I exited the room, passing through the basement up to the kitchen and out the front. I didn’t stop to tell Mum where I was going, that conversation could wait.
I don’t know how, but the Taxi was indeed waiting for me, I got in the back with the package and the car pulled away. I took what felt like my first breath in an age, absorbing the smell of leather and cheap aftershave.
“Mr Jacob,” the driver interrupted my moment, ” a message for you sir.”
Taking an object from him I saw it was a recording device. I hit play and my fathers voice once again was heard
“Thank you son. Thank you for making the choice that serves the greater good. The driver will escort you to my real base of operations where you will find all you need. Please understand that your mother was always right, she always will be. Personal connections were my major weakness. You will be stronger than that given time. I’m sorry son.”
The recording clicked off as an explosion sounded behind me, my home detonating as my ride drove on…