Here’s a sneak peek of Chapter Four of my next Kindle release, previous chapters also available.
“Bigot and Coward!”
The headline was burnt into his memory. He saw it every time he blinked. And when he finally found a dictionary in a bookshop, he didn’t like the implication one little bit.
The papers had been relentless in their condemnation for over a fortnight now. Their hero had become a pariah. Even John Smith couldn’t help but rally against some of their hypocrisy. On one page they would brand him a bigot, while on the next they would decry immigrants. That they then chucked him in to the mix as a super-illegal-asylum-seeker gave them no pause for reflection.
Today the paper was claiming he took eight million pounds in welfare benefits. Apparently The Common Man had a mansion on the moon that Canon City had paid to be built.
It was true he had a large home on the Sea Of Tranquility, but he’d fashioned it with his own hands and teeth in an effort to take his mind off of things. He’d found some old human detritus there, including a flag and some weird leg things, which he’d tossed out into space.
When he grew bored of sulking, he returned to Earth and fashioned himself a disguise. He combed his hair a different way, wore human clothing, and acquired a white van for no apparent reason.
He drove about the city, parking up beside greasy roadside vans to munch on reconstituted pigs, listening to the banter and chatter of the other van drivers. It was comforting to hear them speak well of The Common Man. Not everyone thought him a bigot; these upright fellows congratulated him for saying what they all thought.
John Smith found it easy to agree with a number of their other sentiments. The press were indeed a bunch of bastards; even though he didn’t quite understand the word. And what with PC Man now hogging the front pages with his heroic antics, there was every reason to resent other people stealing jobs.
His disguise worked well amongst this crowd. But the moment he stepped into other environs, he was quickly recognised, and the booing and jeering began all over again. So he’d learnt to stay in his van.
Leigh Ann refused to speak to him too.
The look on her face every time she saw him made him wilt. So he’d learnt to watch her from a distance once more. Spying on her using the mirrors in his van, or from across the street, he watched her in between drives and meals. She consumed his day more than anything else.
He sank his teeth in to something that was neither hot, nor a dog, as far as he could tell. The bitter sweet sauce oozed across his tongue and gave him a momentary jolt of joy. The red stuff was lovely. When he said he preferred it over the brown stuff, the men around him giggled and agreed. Similar sentiments about the yellow stuff fostered equally encouraging responses. They certainly had strong views about sauce.
He stood and listened as they discussed the front page of their favoured paper. They were all in agreement that PC Man was getting out of hand. How dare he tear up the signs for Whiteladies? What right did he have to wreak that sort of damage? It had always been called Whiteladies, and they would all continue to call it Whiteladies. The historical reasons for its name were irrelevant. Yes, slavery was heinous, but it’s what the city was built on, and there was no point in denying it.
Much of it went over his head, but he kept nodding it nonetheless; that seemed to please them.
The consensus was that this was all going a bit too far. John Smith couldn’t disagree.
He polished off the remaining mouthful of his snack and headed back to his van. It was badly parked halfway across a Handicapped space, but that seemed to be the etiquette and he was trying to blend in. As he fumbled with his keys, he listened to the two men hovering nearby with their coffees.
“Can’t believe you have yours black,” one of them growled.
“What’s wrong with that?”
“I have mine white, and I’m lactose intolerant. That’s how dedicated I am to the cause.”
“You know, the cause. The uh … the cause.”
The shrug this elicited didn’t please the other man, and John Smith watched him toss the contents of his Styrofoam cup at the indifferent one’s face. The scream of pain bought other men running and an almighty brouhaha broke out. Fists were flying, teeth were broken, and blood began to splatter everywhere.
John Smith climbed in to his van and left them to it. Fights like that were common with these guys. They seemed to enjoy it.
He worked his way back out in to the slow-moving line of traffic and aimed himself at the next burger van. It was a fifteen minute drive at this pace, so he’d be hungry again when he arrived. Good. He began to fantasise about the burger he would buy.
But he couldn’t quite focus on the tender juicy meat. Instead his mind flitted between images of Leigh Ann scowling at him, and the memory of The Dark slowly shaking his head in remonstration. He could surf the ire of The Dark, but he was upset by Leigh Ann’s chagrin. Somehow he would make it up to her, show her, and show the city, he was not the bigot they believed him to be.
He slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting the car in front.
He’d learnt a lot from the van-driving citizens of Canon City, so no doubt the car in front was driven by a female. He didn’t bother to confirm his suspicions, and instead did what was expected of him. Banging his palm into the horn, he honked it for a full minute and sat on her tail.
Yes, he’d show Leigh Ann.
The Common Man was a man of the world.
He leant out of the window and hollered the appropriate epithet, “Stew Pidbitch.”
John Smith had no idea what Stew Pidbitch meant, but he assumed it was an informal greeting like Hello or Wanker. Those were the two he heard the most anyway, so this must be a third, less common one. He giggled to himself; The Common Man using something uncommon.
The nose of the van edged around the corner, and pointed down the road towards the burger van. With his enhanced vision, he could see some familiar faces hovering about, munching on their chosen snack, sipping their piss-weak coffee. He’d never detected the urine in it, but they seemed convinced of its presence.
An odd sound began to draw nearer. Screeching rubber mixed with the boxed in screaming of children. That didn’t bode well.
Just then, a coach careened past him, its brake discs burning red as it slammed and bumped into cars and lamp posts. The kids inside were being tossed around like lottery balls. It mounted the kerb and scraped down the side of a building with an ear-piercing screech. The sparks it threw up glowed bright orange and sent pedestrians fleeing as they clutched their burnt faces.
John Smith leant out of his window and scanned the street for any sign of PC Man. He was nowhere to be seen.
Typical. He clambered out of the van and began tugging off his clothes. This is what happens when you entrust your safety to a superhero without any actual super powers. As his jeans collapsed around his ankles, John Smith realised he wasn’t wearing his suit. The cold air tickled his naked buttocks.
No time for shame now. The coach was ploughing towards certain doom.
The muscles in his thighs tensed as he bent a little and launched himself into the air, darting forward so fast he could feel his scrotum dragging in the wind. He realised now why the suit needed to be so tight. It felt like his testicles were about to be torn from his crotch.
His own scream drowned out the terror emanating from the haywire coach and he slammed into the back of it just to stop the drag on his balls. The metal bent around his naked body and pushed the vehicle on faster, sending it further out of control.
John Smith ploughed his heels hard into the pavement, cracking through the tarmac and down into the dirt, attempting to use himself as a brake. The flesh tore away from his ankles, but the coach wasn’t slowing down.
His calf bone snapped in half as the front of the coach crashed into something and lifted the back clean into the air. John Smith was torn free from the metal and found himself hurling through the air again. There was too much pain in his body to focus on just one injury.
His skull cracked as he thumped hard into a building. The coach had lost momentum and was slowing to halt in front of a crowd of terrified van drivers. It stopped before it hit them, and they dropped their burgers in relief.
The kids inside were still screaming.
John Smith limped towards the coach, feeling his bones begin to knit themselves back into place. A deep gash had torn through his left buttock and he could feel blood gushing down the back of his leg. He spat some teeth into a bin as he passed it.
A number of van drivers had gathered at the coach doors, but they were too stupefied with terror to be doing anything.
John Smith barged his way through them and tore the door from its hinges. He nearly fell up the steps as his ankle gave way, but when he bellowed for calm, the children hushed into stony silence.
He clicked his neck with such a crunch it made the driver vomit.
One child looked particularly petrified, so he scooped it up in his arms and limped back out onto the street, handing it to an approaching paramedic.
As he turned on his heels, he felt the skin moving in a way it shouldn’t, and hoped it would heal soon before he lost too much blood. Inside, a panicked van driver directed him to another child, but John Smith felt he should help this one first. He lifted it over his shoulder.
“Not her, him,” the van driver bellowed, but John Smith ignored him and took her out to be fixed.
Once again back in to the coach, and once again he met with the insistence of the van driver. It made no sense that he was pointing to children who were clearly in less need of help, so John Smith pushed him aside and lifted two more up on to each shoulder.
They were taken from him out on the street, as crowds gathered around the paramedics. Cameras popped and flashed.
He took a brief second to scan the crowd for Leigh Ann, but couldn’t find her. A few people blew wolf-whistles his way, and he remembered for a moment his state of undress.
The thought was gone by the time he stepped back in to the carnage on the bus. The van driver physically handed him a child this time, most insistent, and for once, this one seemed in the greatest need of help.
As John Smith stepped down onto the street, a gaggle of photographers surrounded him and sent blinding flashes into his face. The white only began to fade to colour after the child was taken from him, and he could barely make out who was stood on the steps of the bus now.
“Isn’t this typical of The Common Man?” but he recognised the sanctimonious tone in PC Man’s voice. “He only helps the white children from the bus.”
John Smith blinked, looking around at the kids he’d bought out. Only one was white; the latest one.
“You all saw him favouring the Caucasians.” The crowd murmured their consent. “And it wouldn’t surprise me if he caused the crash in the first place.”
People nodded and mumbled in agreement.
“It is, after all,” declared PC Man, “A bus full of foreign tourists.”
John Smith blinked, as much to clear his vision as to fend off the verbal onslaught.
“Fear not,” PC Man announced, “I have everything under control.”
“I worked my balls off, almost literally, stopping something much worse,” John Smith finally spoke, his anger fuelling a sudden articulacy.
“How typical of the white man to claim his superiority.”
“You’re white,” John Smith hissed, then added pointlessly, “And male.”
PC Man made a face, and the crowd laughed, though John Smith could not fathom why.
He just turned on his mauled heels and walked away. As he passed one child surrounded by paramedics, he heard them mention her legs were broken. Without stopping, he blew a healing breath her way, and skulked off.