Reformed

by Caias Ward


At the police station, I check my phone. I’m already on YouTube. “Balor Gets Jawed.” I watch it, even though I lived it.

Me, on the bus. Someone goes, “Hey, that’s Balor!” I try to ignore him. He gets in my face. I ask him to stop. He takes a swing at me while I’m seated and connects.

I let him get his swings in; better me a target than someone else.

“Murderer!” people yell. He still punches.

Manslaughter. I know what I pled to.

I take the punches, keeping my hands up, visible. He gets mad as I suffer nothing from his repeated blows.

I remember conflict resolution classes in Rahway. He’s not a threat to me.

He pulls out the knife. I catch it after it bends on my stomach. I break it in half with one hand and stand up. “Someone here”I watch myself gesture to the crowd“is gonna get hurt if you keep this up. Please stop.”

A Good Samaritan (as opposed to the other kind) tackles him, two others hold him down, and other people cut off his friends, stare them down. I keep my hands visible, unthreatening, for the police to see when they review the video.


Video end.

I’ve been here for hours. My lawyer throws paperwork and video at the locals until they acknowledge I wasn’t out of line. Someone says that they should lock me back up and, I swear, she all but rolls up a brick in the Constitution to smash him in the jaw. They relent, because Hell hath no fury like a lawyer born in Newark.

She offers me a ride to my brother’s. I decide to walk. The cops let me out a side entrance, avoiding the perp walk. It’s far away to safety, miles. I run. Run. Run, like I couldn’t in Rahway due to the power suppression drugs and the walls. I want to punch. Punch walls and throw cars like I couldn’t do in Rahway. I want to rip off bank vault doors like I couldn’t do in Rahway. Be the villain, the supervillain they insist I am.

But I run instead.

I get home in ten minutes. I run twelve miles in ten minutes, because that is one of the things which happens when you are superpowered.

My brother hugs me when I get to the house. He’s sorry, holding back tears, clinging. He was always kind and fragile, even as a single dad. My niece Katy is four. She knows that I had a time out and that I’m special, but I’m trying to be good.

“I saw the videos, Declan,” Peter says as looks me over for injuries. I let him, because it’s Peter, and he means no harm ever. He sets the table for me. They already ate, but I can’t seem to wave him off doing a full place setting. Ma would approve, bless her in Heaven.

Katy plays in the living room. I sit and eat, listening to Peter talk. He uses mushy words. He always used kind, mushy, caring, Sunday-dinner-with-family words.

“I got you an interview tomorrow afternoon, real wide-backed stuff Da would like.”

“What, catching bullets?”

“Construction. Called in a favor with the Operating Engineers Local.”

“Your favor?” I twist my mouth. “Or one of his?”

“Mine,” Peter says. “Declan, I get it. He’s been a saint to you, even after everything. It’s gotta bother you.”

I squeeze a knife I’m holding until it bends in half. It doesn’t cut my hand. I bend it back.

“I’ll make sure I’m early. Thank you.”

***

I lay out my clothes. I set two alarms. I stay up late in my room, watching television, going down to the kitchen, eating what I damn well please before I go to bed. I’m a fat nine-year-old eating peanut butter out of the jar again, hearing Ma call me “husky” and shopping for Husky clothes at Sears.

There’s a knock on my window at two in the morning.

I sit up and stare at him floating outside my window.

He motions for me to meet him outside, mouths “garage.”

I give him the middle finger.

He motions again.

I put pants and shirt on, float downstairs to avoid the creaking wood, hover to the garage. He’s already inside.

“What do you want, Samaritan?”

Once you get past the side-shoulder white cape and blue unitard, it’s funny; he’s just some Asian guy in a mask. Mind you, an Asian guy who can pick up a tank and fly outside the Earth’s atmosphere. I’m guessing he’s Christian of some stripe, from the name choice. Me, I was raised Roman Catholic like any proper Irish boy, at least until Ma died. Da didn’t have much use for church, thinking that if you wanted to talk to God, just say it aloud.

“I wanted to see if you were OK, Balor.”

“My name is Declan Samuels, Samaritan. Balor is gone. Don’t call me that again.”

“I’m sorry, Declan.”

He seems hurt that he was accidentally unkind to me. His eyes hang, like the world is on his shoulders. And it is. He’s the savior of the world, pulling off stuff that you only saw in action movies. There aren’t a lot of us around, not like in the comics. At least not powerful ones, so we—they—get called on to do a lot.

“You want a beer?” I ask, going to the fridge my brother kept in the garage. Peter put a small woodworking shop in his garage just like Da and, just like Da did, kept a fridge with beer in it.

“No thank you. I don’t drink alcohol.”

I shrug, grabbing one for myself and flipping the cap off the bottle with my thumb. I find a seat on the worn-out sofa against the wall and lean back.

“So, to what do I owe the pleasure of this visit, Samaritan, savior of the world, protector of Truth and Justice?”

“I…” he struggles. “I saw the videos from today. I wanted to see if you were OK.”

“Well, let’s see.” I look myself over, feeling for holes. “Still invulnerable to small arms and anti-tank weapons. Could have cast my deadly gaze on that guy and incinerated him, but I didn’t. Got my shirt ripped, almost got put back in prison because of something someone else did. That’s a theme, isn’t in?”

“I know you would physically be OK, but—”

“But what?” I pull on the beer. “Are my feelings hurt? Am I mad at what happened?”

“Are you?”

“Hell yeah, I’m mad! I made a choice which I thought would make the world better! Based on what I saw on the news, it did. Still f—screwed up my life.” I edit myself, feeling Da looking down on me with a burning Fomorian gaze.

“You’ve done an incredible thing, Declan. I can’t begin to repay you.”

“You covered my fines and bills, you kept my sentence short, for a guilty plea. You saved us all a trial. Saved us all from Psirena digging in our heads and finding out what really happened. I got some money for my kid. I might get to see my kid and not have him hate me, assuming my lawyers can convince a judge that I’m not a threat and that my ex hasn’t poisoned him against me.”

“The judge won’t be a problem,” The Samaritan says. He straightens up, trying to be casual, managing otherworldly, alien, Old Testament angel. “Be not afraid,” indeed.

“We gonna lie through that too?”

“This has been hard—”

“Has it? I spent over eight years drugged up and depowered, living in an eight by nine room, in pain from all the drugs like I was some smack addict two days into withdrawal for eight years. If they could have, they would have kept me dosed up even out here. My wife remarried. My kid got into fights daily until they moved. All because, one time, I decide to do the right thing. Not the honest thing, not the safe thing. The right thing. But tell me, how has this been hard for you? Having to keep your mouth shut? Hoping I keep mine shut?”

“You do realize you were a superpowered criminal, right?”

“Yes,” I said, “I do. I own that. But I never killed anyone. Only time someone got killed was when you were involved.”

I finish off the beer.

“I have a job interview tomorrow and need some sleep. Leave.”

He doesn’t move.

“I will call the police, and you will have to explain why you are here.”

The Samaritan floats out the door, upward into the sky and the clouds above.

***

I got the job. Crane operator, as it were; the advantage when you have super-strength and can fly is that you don’t need a crane.

To think, this is my first legit job since… did I ever have a legit job? Sure, I had the paperwork for a job before. It’s how you conceal stolen cash; pay your taxes on a “job,” and you’re in the clear. I figure The Samaritan has a version of this somewhere; he’s a guy behind a mask when you come down to it, and I can’t imagine not having a “normal” life to hide in once you take off the costume. I’d climb the walls of that prison more than Rahway.

Maybe he is climbing the walls. I mean, keeping secrets that long, the world worshiping you? His star was pretty bright eleven years ago when he “caught” me, but my capture was a game-changer. He ended up changing the world after that, with deeds large and small, inspiring others with and without powers to step up a bit more, do a bit more. I mean, the guy carried a damaged 747 flying into Newark Liberty on his back. He cried the most at the girl’s funeral and fought the hardest to sell my guilty plea. He lost some friends and allies trying to pitch this, to be sure. But it stuck, and it saved us and the world from a trial and the court-ordered telepaths. He continued being a hero; I ate fourteen years for manslaughter, eight and change with parole.

But yeah, I pick things up and put them down. That I-beam needs to get up to the 12th floor? Wrap it up and I fly it up. Drywall? Same thing. Guy falls off the 22nd floor, misses the safety netting? Hey, I guess I get to do a good deed and not have him smash into the ground. That one stopped my coworkers from slashing my tires in the secured parking, even if it didn’t stop the protesters outside the job site. Gotta make friends where you can, I guess.

Steve, the guy I saved, he was a felon too. Assault, did two years, about twenty years ago. He got his record expunged so he was technically not a felon, but it still finds way to find you. Web searches, gaps in job history, or just in a racing heart at 3 AM and you wake up in a room without bars. We sit and drink after work, talk about job and sports and regular things. He never really pushes me about my powers, but sometimes he’d get curious and wonder about all the stuff I could do.

“So you can shoot lasers out of your eyes, like in Star Trek?”

“That’s where the name Balor came from. King of the Fomorians, who could burn things with the eye in his forehead. Irish myth.”

“That’s some crazy right there.”

“Nothing crazier than flying and being bulletproof.”

“And flying through buildings and knocking them down—um.”

“It’s cool,” I say. He’s scared, I can tell. He brought up what got me locked up in the first place. Parking deck got knocked down when a gas line exploded. I got stuck with The Samaritan underground. We got out. The twelve-year-old girl with us in the deck, who was going back to her mother’s car to get her phone, didn’t.

Steve holds out his bottle. “But you’re out, and you’re legit, and you have a job, and nobody has slashed your tires in a week.”

I clank the bottle to his, nodding my head. To not having to buy new tires again.

***

I drive home after a single beer, same as I always do. Police are all over my brother’s house. So are burn marks and broken glass and a sense of violation. Someone threw a few Molotov cocktails at the house. One made it through the living room window. Cops and ambulances are gone. The fire department has already wrapped up for the most part; we aren’t going to be able to stay in the house until it’s fixed.

They caught the car of the people responsible.

“Seems The Samaritan was in the area and made sure the truck didn’t go anywhere,” one of the firemen says, pointing down the street. The husk of a Ford F-250 sits in the middle of the road. It’s a twisted burned bloom of metal, folded at the point where The Samaritan hit it from a great height. The doors are torn off and scattered on the ground. The road is a crater.

I look to the sky, trying to spot The Samaritan wherever he may be lurking. I look for something heavy to throw at him. I look at ground level, trying to find my brother and niece, hoping not to find The Samaritan with them. I look at a nearby tree, cracked as though something—someone—smashed into it. Another fireman readies a hose to spray the blood off the white birch.

“He still here?” I ask.

“Nah, he left when the cops and ambulances showed up,” the fireman with the hose says. “He helped put out the fire. Did a number on the guys in the car. Guy folded in half at the leg. Rest got more of the same. They might live.”

I try to say something, but only air comes out of my mouth.

“Looks like they had it coming,” the first fireman says. “Wish I could have gotten a shot in.”

The two firemen mock-fight as they ready the hose and laugh amongst themselves, the kind of laugh some of my relatives would make when they told the type of jokes Da didn’t want us saying or listening to growing up. They don’t notice me leave.

I find my brother. He and Katy are in the garage, shaking, scared. I try to apologize for being a criminal, he shushes me. I tell him I’ll find a place where they don’t have to worry about getting hurt.

***

I’m at a motel, on the roof, sitting on top of one of the air conditioners. I’m only waiting a few minutes after I message The Samaritan before he shows up. He was close? He was lurking? I don’t know. I don’t care. I need this done.

He hovers down from the sky and lands on another rooftop air conditioner. He’s smaller now, like he doesn’t want to be here, like he knows what he did and why it was wrong, but he still shows up when I ask. He’s like every “innocent” convict behind bars who bought his own lies, justified everything he did, and got everyone to go along with it.

But I know the truth. He needs to be reminded.

“I could have given you a place to stay,” The Samaritan says.

“You could be less of a coward. The only reason my niece didn’t get lit on fire was because she decided she wanted some cheese and went to the kitchen.”

“I made them pay for what they did.”

“Where’s your truth and justice now, Samaritan?” I spit at him. “You crippling people who are going after me because of something I took the blame for? They want to pull my parole because I represent a ‘danger to the community’!”

“Your lawyer says they won’t be able to make that stick.”

“I didn’t do it! You were the bastard who couldn’t control his shit in that basement, cut loose with your eyebeams and hit a gas line!”

The Samaritan sits down on top of the air conditioner. I’m on my feet now, still pointing and yelling.

“You creep around my house, and you keep on ‘checking in’ on me,” I make air quotes with my fingers, “and trying to do all these things to ‘help’!”

“That was part of the deal, and it was your idea.”

“It was a terrible idea.”

“Please don’t say that. You believed in me, Declan. And I spent a decade earning that belief.”

“I believed that you going to jail for vaporizing that girl was a waste! ‘Believed,’ not believe. Not anymore.”

“I’ve been able to do so much to help the world,” The Samaritan stammers at me.

“Yeah, and all it took was me going to prison for your crime instead of you. You could have let me go and licked your wounds after I wrapped you up in a girder, but you just had to catch me, you didn’t care about what happened as long as you stopped me! What could that kid have done for the world if you hadn’t disintegrated her? She wasn’t important enough?”

He stands up, floating the short distance from his seat to the rooftop, and steps closer to me.

“You really don’t want to get any closer right now,” I say. “I got an eye full of heat and hate you don’t want.”

He comes closer. He still seems smaller, almost fragile.

I blast him square in the chest. He takes it, hard, and slides across the roof on his back. I’m rusty, or he’s gotten tougher, because he stands up only a bit more gingerly than normal, smoking from the burns. His skin knits, as does his costume; I still don’t know how he pulls that off.

“I’m sorry—”

“Yes,” I say, “You are sorry. You and me buried under that deck with a dead girl, you crying your eyes out about how you were going to Hell for hitting that gas line with your eye beams! And I did the dumbest thing I could; I believed that you were better than me, and the world needed you more. I believed you were more important.

“You know I saved a life last week? Guy fell off the building at work, I caught him. His wife and kids aren’t wondering where food’s going to come from, or calling all the relatives, because I saved him. It felt good. It was easy. I mean, if anyone could pretend to be a hero even when they kill a kid, how hard could it be for someone who actually did hero shit?”

“You agreed,” he says mechanically.

“Yeah, I agreed. I took the rap because I thought you were doing so many good and wonderful things. I took the rap because you were bawling your eyes out and I thought I was just a criminal. I took the rap because you promised to foot the bills, and keep my family safe, and because I thought that I could do something good for once in my life by keeping you a hero. But I could have done the same things you did, and it would have been better, because it would have been honest. It would have been real, instead of the lie you are. I got a wide back; I could have carried a 747 on it too.”

I see his hand twitching. He wants to kill, like the lifers who can’t handle the walls. Not “slug it out until someone passes out.” He’s going to kill to get out. He already got a taste of it with the guys in the truck. Who might be next?

“You better go,” I say.

“Declan—”

“I’ll get Psirena to read my mind. You know her testimony is admissible as evidence. Or one of the other court-approved telepaths. That’s why we didn’t want a trial; the moment she reads my mind, she’ll get a court order to read yours too. This all falls apart, and the lie catches up to you. Your decade of lies. The lie that you are more important than I am in this world.”

“You’d get caught too!” The Samaritan squeaks.

“Yeah? I’m a felon already. I go back into Rahway, it’s going to hurt, it’s going to suck, but you and I are done. You built a prison with your sin. I helped you do it, I’ll own that if I need to, because I thought you were better. But now I know that’s not true.”

The Samaritan tries to talk, so I blast him again, sending him over the edge of the building. He floats in the air, tumbles over before righting himself.

“Just go,” I say. “Don’t try to tell me how grateful you are, or how I was a criminal, or anything else, because I’ve had enough of it. I’m owning everything I did, and if you don’t leave, I’m gonna throw hands and I did a lot of boxing in prison. If we throw down here, though, lots of people are gonna get hurt. And I’m done with that, so leave. I have a job. I have a family. I’m getting supervised visitation with my kid next month. We’ve been talking online and he doesn’t hate me. What do you have, but Truth, Justice and a dead girl it’s all built on?

“I’m done with you, Samaritan. Go, and leave me alone. I don’t need you to cover for me anymore. No paying my legal bills, no favors, no ‘watching over’ me. You don’t get to prop up your lie on me anymore. You are no more important to the world than I am. And I am no less important. Stay out of my life, and own what you did. I’m going to soon enough.”

The Samaritan flutters in the air, and I can still see that twitch you see when someone has to get out.

***

I go to work like normal, and pay my bills, and go to dinner at Steve’s and meet his family. It’s a life, I guess; I’m looking for an apartment now, and might take some classes at a local college. Peter and Katy are staying with one of our cousins. They should be back in their house in a few weeks, after the repairs finish up.

Four days later, very early in the morning, my lawyer calls me and says there’s an army coming. She gets there the same time as the New Jersey Attorney General, my parole officer, two trucks full of SWAT with heavy hardware, and a woman I know by reputation. I assume the position outside as a courtesy, but my lawyer waves me off. I invite them into the efficiency room, and cast a wary eye over the SWAT units before I close the door. Psirena, a cloaked and masked flash of red, doesn’t waste any time. She has a court order to read my mind.

“It’s about The Samaritan,” my lawyer says.

I check my phone. The Samaritan’s trending like crazy, with video.

#BadSamaritan

The Samaritan, holding his phone, recording.

He flies, tears apart pieces of metal, burns the metal with heat vision. Proves he is The Samaritan, not someone else in a costume.

He removes his mask.

He shows his driver’s license, says his legal name, his voice weak.

“I killed Violet Morris. Declan Samuels, Balor, lied for me. He thought I was more important to the world than him. I let him live that lie in prison, but I was wrong. I cannot make him carry that sin which is mine. I have borne false witness. God, forgive me. Declan, forgive me.”


Video end.

“NASA reported that an object left the atmosphere around the same time as the video was uploaded,” my lawyer says. “They and other space agencies confirmed it to be The Samaritan and that he flew himself directly into the Sun.”

I drop my phone.

I nod for Psirena to read my mind.

“Why did you do this?” she asks in a whisper as she flips through my brain, seeing all the levels of the parking deck, the burned child Violet Morris, The Samaritan seeing the girl in the area, blasting wildly even though there was no way for him to actually hit me. Him crying, all his guilt, my idea to cover for him. My guilty plea, the years of screaming pain from the depowering drugs, my understanding that even if I didn’t kill the kid, I still did dumb things. Harmful things.

“I thought him being the hero the world needed,” I say, “was more important than…”

More important than me.

It’s a mess, they tell me.

I tell my lawyer to call me when they figure it out, but if they aren’t going to lock me up now, let me get on the road so I can get to work on time.

***

I pick things up and put them down. It’s a good gig, with good pay. I’m off parole now. I talk to prisoners about choices, and how to make good ones. Sometimes the fire department calls me to help out; sometimes I see trouble and help out. I get people wanting interviews, and I defer to my lawyer. My ex talks to me like a person. I get to see my kid unsupervised.

I’m not a villain now. I’m not a hero, either. When my kid visits, though, and I get to fly him over Manhattan for getting on honor roll, and some lesson I teach him sticks, I feel important.

I am important.



Caias Ward is a thick-wristed HVAC technician and writer with more than two dozen publication credits between fiction and roleplaying games. He lives in New Jersey with his wife and daughter, spending time writing, fighting monsters in the woods, and making stuff with his laser cutter. Find him at @caias on Twitter.



Want to read more great stories? Support Mysterion on Patreon!

Comments