The final sneak peek of my next Kindle release.
John Smith couldn’t even bring himself to look at the headline. The paper had remained folded since he plucked it free from the stand, and now he rested his mug of coffee on it by way of an extra barrier.
He knew though he would have to read it.
Just not yet.
This uniting humanity lark was harder than it should be. No wonder so few people tried doing it. There was that guy here a few millennia back, and from what John Smith had heard about Jesus, he was a Mauron.
And his antics had somehow managed to divide the planet even more.
Though how he’d done that trick with the wine was a mystery. John Smith wondered if it would have been explained had the tape not broken. Regret panged at him. If only he’d had the wherewithal to rescue the computer from his crashed ship, maybe he could have salvaged the knowledge that was now lost. Maybe somewhere in those archives was the answer to humanity’s problems.
It wasn’t in this roadside café, and it certainly wasn’t swimming in the grease of his full English breakfast. He picked up the plate, and drank his fry-up. As he licked the oil from his lips, he caught the disgusted look of an old woman. In an effort to ignore her gaze, he picked up his fork and began to eat his cup of tea.
“You’re a twat,” she said, before popping her teeth back in.
He mumbled something inarticulate in response.
The old woman hobbled over to him and plonked herself down on a rickety chair. “You’re letting him dictate the narrative.”
John Smith furrowed his brow; it was his default expression these days.
“The truth isn’t what happened,” she pulled the paper out and let it fold open. “It’s what they say happened. And right now, they say what he says.”
“I’m not a bigot.”
“That’s irrelevant,” she barked. “He’s just telling the better story.”
It hurt a bit as he pondered this, before deciding he didn’t understand. She sighed. “What he’s doing doesn’t impact on their lives. But it makes them feel better. Mark my words, as soon as he does something to upset the apple cart, things’ll change.”
She gave him a friendly pat on the shoulder, before using it to lever herself back to her feet.
“How did you know who I was?” he whispered.
“Your cape’s hanging out.”
She waddled away, holding her hip in pain. With a soft smile, he blew a healing breath her way.
It knocked her off her feet and sent her crashing into a bin.
John Smith dropped his head and tried not to look incongruous.
Only one person in the café came to her aid, but they seemed to know what they were doing.
His eyes finally focused on the newspaper, and his shoulders slumped further. They’d covered his nudity by pasting the face of PC Man over his waist. The headline accused The Common Man of being a racist.
John Smith began to wonder where he could find a wagon full of fruit. And where could he leave it for PC Man to upturn?
Towards the bottom of the front page, a note informed readers they could find Leigh Ann Lopez’s no holds-barred column about The Common Man on page six.
She grinned out at him as he flicked the sheets aside. Her photo didn’t do her justice, but it was nice to see her smiling. She didn’t do too much of that around him.
A quick scan of the column made him even happier.
Leigh Ann was on his side.
She pointed out he didn’t cause the accident; that he had save the kids; and that he’d bought them out in order of need. She ended with a question that he only half understood – how can an alien from another planet be a racist?
Before he could ponder it further, a commotion broke out.
“He mugged me,” the Old Woman screeched.
John Smith looked up to see the man who had come to her assistance running out of the café, clutching her hand bag and string of pearls.
His clothes tore as The Common Man emerged from his disguise. With a crash of breaking glass, he flew through the window and out on to the street in pursuit.
The sun was peeking up over the horizon, so he only saw the silhouette of the mugger as it disappeared down an alley.
John Smith streaked across the street and sprang hard from the building façade, launching himself with speed down the passageway.
The mugger had stopped.
Somehow he had managed to hang himself upside down by the feet from a wire attached to the top of the fire escape ladder. The handbag and pearls were bundled neatly on the floor beneath him.
John Smith landed gently and examined the scene. The man was unconscious, and a small trickle of blood was teasing down his cheek, forming into a drip.
A piece of paper sat atop the fallen booty. It was hand-scrawled and simply read, “Turn on the news. The Dark.”
He balled up the note and tossed it into a pile of rubbish.
But once he had returned the Old Lady’s belongings, he asked for the TV to be turned on.
It was hard to determine why The Dark was so insistent he watch the weather. Sure, the girl reading it was pretty enough, but she wasn’t worthy of a scrawled missive.
Things became a little clearer when it cut to a shot of giant crane swinging a mobile home high above the streets of Whiteladies. It was being operated by PC Man, and it looked a little bit dangerous; not least because his cab was surrounded by angry residents, screaming and banging against the window.
The stern tones of the newsreader cut in, asking pompously, “Has he gone too far?”
High above the crowd, the caravan teetered and swayed.
“As PC Man relocates a travelling community, angry residents rally against him.”
One of those angry residents appeared on screen, red-faced and spitting with each plosive. “I’m not having it. He can’t just drop them in my garden like, like, like some sort of …” The sentiment ended with a “gah”.
Then the strap line appeared across the lower third of the screen. Big bold white letters on a red background declared, “Not In My Back Yard”.
A long lens focused on PC Man in his cab, holding a phone to his ear with one hand, and operating the levers with his other one. The sound of his call was a little distorted, so they had added subtitles.
“Why should they be forced to live on wasteland with no amenities? These people are refugees from another land. They deserve better. So I’m giving it to them.”
John Smith agreed.
He wasn’t sure why those people looked so agitated.
But he was sure that the crane looked unstable, that PC Man didn’t appear to know how to operate it, and that something terrible was about to happen.
There was no sheet glass window to explode through this time, which made his exit feel much less dramatic.
His cape billowed behind him as he darted up high above the skyline. As he reached the apex of his arc, he angled over and dove back down towards the plusher districts on the outskirts.
The crane loomed closer as he broke the sound barrier, announcing his arrival with a loud sonic boom.
Everyone turned to look his way, at exactly the wrong moment.
Above them, one of the chains broke against the swinging of the giant mobile home. It slipped in its harness and began to lurch down towards the crowd below.
It smacked hard into John Smith’s shoulder, knocking his spine out of alignment and cracking his neck in half. But he took the weight and stopped it falling further. The contents inside kept their momentum though, and crashed hard into the walls, slamming at his broken back.
To his left, he heard the crack of a window and a giant TV burst through it and plummeted towards a small child. Instead of moving, the kid just stared up at it, frozen with fear.
John Smith let go of the trailer and bolted to catch the TV. In a single elegant manoeuvre, he span round, launched the flat screen out into the park, and caught the caravan just inches from the crowd.
Finally they realised what was happening and their screams rang out as they scattered for safety.
The crane groaned and lurched on its axis.
John Smith looked to the cab to see PC Man tugging at the levers in fury. His eyes bulged with rage as he fixed them on his foe. John Smith could see the sweat on his face as he leaned out of the cab and bellowed, “No, you’re not stopping this.”
His hands were full, so John Smith could not give the Mauron sign of misunderstanding. Instead, he hung on tight as the crane screeched and swivelled, throwing the dangling box into more and more violent arcs.
PC Man meant to slam John Smith into a giant oak tree like a flesh and bone wrecking ball.
With nothing else to do, The Common Man braced himself for impact.
The caravan shattered around him as his hips broke against the trunk. Metal shards, furniture and glass exploded in all directions. Gravity took over, and he fell to the ground, landing hard on the mangled debris.
Things went black for a moment.
Sound returned first, then vision. Then the taste of blood in his mouth.
John Smith sat up, dazed, but not confused. An inch thick metal rod had skewered through his ribs. With gritted teeth, he gripped one end and slowly pulled it from his flesh. The pain was too much to articulate, and when it fell free with a spurt of blood, he passed out again.
When he awoke, he felt something on his chest and a vague persistent pounding in his jaw.
He opened his eyes to see the crazed look of frenzy on PC Man’s face as he pummelled punch after punch down at John Smith. There was a sickening sound of breaking bones, and John Smith knew it wasn’t his.
He reached up and caught both wrists, gripping them tight enough to stop the onslaught. He could see shards of bone poking through the broken skin of the balled fists. A healing blow soon fixed the damage, but did nothing to calm PC Man.
He was screaming with rage, bellowing an endless stream of insults and accusations.
“I agree,” John Smith said softly.
PC Man stopped still.
His eyes widened even more as John Smith stood up and set him on his feet.
“They do deserve better. But look.”
He turned PC Man round to see the crane, the broken chains, the damage and destruction.
When he turned back, his expression was blank.
“There were people in there.”
“I didn’t think it –“
John Smith let him go and bolted for the wreckage. The stupid idiot had moved the caravan complete with its occupants.
He kicked aside a sofa, then a bed, then a pile of something that used to be a shower unit.
Two corpses stared up at him, their faces frozen in terror.
His head dropped.
Rewinding time took a lot out of him, but it had to be done. He looked up. PC Man was sitting against the tree. His eyes were wide and fixed in the middle distance.
“They’re a good people John Smith, for the most part.”
The black and gold clad figure looked pathetic and broken, but not as broken as the two people he’d killed.
If he undid all this, could he be here to stop the next dangerous stunt? Would he even know if something like this had happened? Had PC Man killed people before with his reckless antics?
Perhaps he was better off broken. Perhaps Canon City was better off.
He scooped PC Man up in his arms softly, and ascended skywards. His boots touched the ground again in the courtyard of the Arkside Asylum.
The man in his arms was locked in. Shut down. John Smith carried him into the building.
“There’s no room,” a doctor kept saying.
John Smith scanned the charts that hung next to each padded cell door. Most of the words made no sense, so he presumed the occupants were dangerous.
But one chart simply read, “Giggles a lot.”
That didn’t sound too bad. A good chuckle was healing. He was sure he’d heard that laughter was medicinal. The hinges screeched in protest as he opened the door. They had rusted through lack of use.
A thin, pale man huddled in the corner, recoiling at the light as John Smith strode in and lay PC Man down on the rotting mattress. He patted his hair down and turned to the pathetic creature shivering in the corner.
“Try and cheer him up.”
A little snorted, half-hearted laugh.
It was a start.
John Smith admired the newspaper. He really liked the line written in the smaller font.
“Victory For The Common Man.”
But he thought the main headline was mean and insensitive, so he tossed it in the bin.
It looked back up at him from the garbage, and he tried to put it out of his mind.
“Political Correctness Gone Mad.”