It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
The blood ran from his head, across his face, and fell down onto the grass to form an ever-expanding puddle between his feet. His entire body was aching, sending wave after wave after wave crashing down on him and suddenly he didn’t even think he could stand. He ran a gloved hand over his bald skull and caressed the tender divot there and suddenly the waves were higher and forced him to his knees, wincing from the intensity of the pain, tears slipping from his closed eyes. He pulled his soaked handkerchief down from his face and mouth and opened his mouth to let the blood run from it and down his chin and to join the rest between his knees. He ran his tongue over his teeth – good, it didn’t feel like he was missing any but, did it matter? Did it even fucking matter?
Did any of it?
She was still lying there.
And was it his fault?
Christ, was it?
Was it his fault there were monsters in this world lurking behind every corner and in every shadow? Monsters that preyed on the young, the weak, the pretty, and devoured them whole.
But it wasn’t supposed to be this way.
The hell of it was he’d found them. He had heard her scream and had come, anxious, almost getting hard at the thought of saving someone. But he’d been careless and hadn’t realized there were more than two and as soon as he’d stepped from the shadows, ready to be a hero, they’d waylaid him and the next thing he knew was he was bleeding and sore in the grass. And there was her body, silent still.
He looked over at her again, her red blouse torn open, her dress up above her hips, blood covering her, soaking deep into the grass and earth beneath. And her eyes, Jesus, her dark brown eyes, as brown as her skin, open and dead, like her mouth, looking at him without seeing. Accusing without words. He fell forward onto all fours and puked between his hands, his body shaking as he did.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
He wasn’t a hero, no matter what anyone said, the papers or the people. He’d never made himself out to be one, and hadn’t wanted to be called one, but that’s what they called him so hero he was. Hero. And the hell of it was that the more they called him that, the more he’d begun to like it, the more he’d begun to believe it.
Black Angel, that was their name for him, the Black Angel, though he’d never even taken a name, not needing or wanting one, but the press had given him one and it had stuck, and now he and it were one. He had been happy to be invisible, anonymous, hidden. Happy to do what he did and to be done with it. He did what he did and that was that.
Or was it?
Was it just kindness that brought him from his apartment and into the darkness night after night?
Or was it perhaps the hatred? The rage and need for vengeance for acts best left forgotten?
Or could it be the fame?
He’d never say it aloud but he liked it, liked the fame. Liked reading his name in the paper. Yes, his name, because it was he they were always talking about, even if they didn’t know who he really was. He liked the articles, the rumors, the whispers. He liked it and why not? He was doing something, wasn’t he? Millions stood by and watched the world turn to shit but not him, no, he was trying to change things. To make things better.
And that was what had started it all so many years ago, the need to change things. After years of seeing his mother on her knees in the bathroom crying after another boyfriend had bloodied her face, he’d had enough. Or maybe it was having to take his teenage sister to the free clinic after a ‘friend’ hadn’t taken no for an answer and she, not wanting to do anything about it. It all made him sick, watching the people he loved, these strong women brought low, so low, and these bastards getting away with it all. But no more. No.
He’d changed that.
He’d changed that…
And here he was, a thirty-four year old man working as an assistant manager at a bookstore by day, and by night sneaking into the dark like a superhero trying to save the world’s innocents, one person at a time. The hell of it was it had worked. For three years now it had worked. He had made his body a weapon, a tool, and he had wielded it against the stains of the earth, had made himself their justice, and it had worked. They had laughed at first, but then they learned exactly how deep his rage went and their laughter was quickly silenced, and that silence was better than screams to his ears. And goddamn him he’d gotten to like it all. Had liked what he was doing and had gotten proud and foolish and had thought he was making a difference. He was wrong. There are others like him, and there will be others beyond him, but all they can ever be are small dams holding back an ocean. They can counter the evil in the world but never defeat it. And it is that thought that haunts his every night.
And still there was the girl.
He’d known her. Not well, but he’d known her.
She came into the bookstore from time to time, always smiling but always shy. Not yet used to herself, not yet used to her body. He could see in her that some day, some day she’d be a goddess, just as soon as she realized she was one. And now here she was, gone, taken, every hope and dream and wish wasted and spent on the grass.
And they’d gotten away.
They’d gotten away…
He’d hardened himself long ago to the miseries of pain and suffering. Had made his heart lead while just a boy growing up poor and living in fear of men whose names he didn’t even know. But now, now all he wanted to do was to cry, for the girl, for his mother and sister, for the world, and most of all for himself.
What had he thought?
That he could save the world?
He couldn’t even save himself.
He was a lonely man trying to find solace from his demons in the dark of the night. And never did it come.
And never did the demons go.
Maybe it was supposed to be this way.
Was his Purpose.
And in his suffering to help others from suffering.
He stood slowly, head and body still wavering, still seasick in his gut. All around him the park breathed slowly, deeply, watching him with its dim intelligence. He looked to the city again and saw it, brooding and quiet, unsure whether it was victim or villain.
He looked at the girl again and hated that he couldn’t touch her, cover her, do something. He gnashed his teeth and pulled his cell phone free of the tape that kept it attached to his side all night and called emergency to report her body. He made it short and sweet and prayed they would find the bastards that had done this.
But then, pulling his goggles back over his eyes and the bandanna back over his mouth, the taste of his own blood on his tongue he changed his prayer and smiled darkly. He prayed instead that they didn’t find the people that did this but that fate, in its arcane design, would bring them to him one night. And at this he smiled, the madness of it all back in him again, wanting blood on his hands, wanting to punish someone for what they’d done.
Wanting to be a hero again.
He could hear the sounds of a siren coming towards the park and made his way through the trees and out towards the city again, limping a little but not minding, preferring the pain of this to the black thoughts he’d had earlier. Preferring the certainty of a wound that would heal to one that would not.
The city grinned down at him and he grinned back, happy to be swallowed whole.