If I told you that I knew Superman, I don't think you'd believe me. But if I told you that I knew a Scott Williams, you probably would.
You could tell within the first few minutes of talking to Scott that there was something odd about him. He was very eccentric, for one thing. He often spoke loudly even if you were standing right next to him. His glasses always seemed too big for his freckly face. He seemed to blink a bit more than was necessary. And whenever he'd meet someone new, he'd examine their face very carefully, as though trying to determine their character.
But by far the oddest thing about Scott was that he always wore a superhero costume. It was a simple outfit of his own design. He wore a white shirt with black pants and he had a big yellow belt. He called it his utility belt, although it wasn't much more than a piece of felt. To complete the outfit, he wore black gloves, big black boots and, of course, a blue cape he tied around his neck. In his pocket he kept a black half mask, which he would occasionally pull out and put on.
If you would have pointed Scott out to me on the street and said that I would have ended up being friends with him, I would have laughed. But we did become friends. And as far as I know, I might have been his only friend.
We first met at night on the downtown bus; I had just begun working the nightshift at a Morton Williams so I had to take the nine o' clock bus to work. I remember first climbing up the steps of the bus, dropping my change into the box then turning to find myself a seat. And there he was, mask, cape and all, sitting quietly by the window, alone, in a three-seater. Everyone else was clearly avoiding him, mostly sitting on the opposite side of the bus. I stared at him for a moment until the bus began moving and nearly knocked me off balance.
I headed down the aisle, watching the guy through the corner of my eye as I moved past him, and sat down two seats behind him. During the bus ride, I wondered if there was some kind of convention he was going to. There were always things going on in the city, so I wouldn't have been surprised. Maybe he was just some goof, trying to get a laugh or pull a few pranks or maybe he was a walking advertisement for a movie. But the whole time I was on the bus, I didn't see him move once. He just stared out the window with a grim expression, blinking a bit more than was usual.
When the bus arrived at my stop, I left and forgot all about the mysterious caped man, that is, until the next night. Once again, I walked up the steps, paid my money and searched for a seat, and once again he was sitting in the same seat, by the same window with the same expression. I gave a questioning look to the bus driver, a tired, fat man, but he just looked back at me with a lethargic expression. I glanced at the costumed guy as I passed him. He was younger than me by a few years; maybe he was about 25. His faded red hair and his pale freckly face looked even more washed out from the glow of the lights outside the window. I noticed that today he wasn't wearing his mask, but he was wearing glasses instead, which reflected the neon lights and images as they passed by. I felt a momentary stab of pity that no one wanted to sit near him, but I ignored it and once again left at my stop.
For the next few days, things on the bus occurred the same way. No one ever sat next to the guy with the cape and he never talked to anyone or looked away from the window. Occasionally, I considered approaching him and asking him why he was dressed up in a superhero outfit, but the complete lack of conversation on the bus was unnerving, so I let the matter go.
One night, someone broke that silence, although not in a way I would have wanted. A tough guy lumbered onto the bus, wearing a leather jacket and covered in tattoos, giant headphones blaring heavy metal obscenities. I was sitting two seats behind the Cape Kid (as I had termed him, since I didn't know his name) and the tough guy sat down in the seat in front of him, not yet noticing the oddity sitting behind him. Then he seemed to do a double take and looked back as the bus started rolling.
He snickered at first, then laughed, leaning on the back of his seat, staring directly at the Cape Kid. I shifted uncomfortably, hoping the tough guy would turn around. He didn't though, and continued to laugh with an ugly grin right in Cape Kid's face.
Still, Cape Kid was very calm and did not turn from the window.
The tough guy, angered that his jeering didn't issue a response, spoke loudly over the cacophony coming from his headphones. "Hey, man, what's your deal?"
Cape Kid didn't respond. He just sat there, blinking too much.
The tough guy snorted. "You retarded or somethin'?"
No response from Cape Kid.
Growling, the big guy leaned forward shoved the scrawny kid a bit roughly, knocking his glasses off. At last, Cape Kid turned away from the window to retrieve his glasses that had fallen on the floor. Tough Guy laughed then kicked the glasses. They skittered across the floor, stopping in the back of the bus. No one made a move to pick them up. Satisfied, Tough Guy turned around and went back to listening to his music.
Cape Kid sat there, blinking even more now that he couldn't see very well. Then he frowned and tapped the hulk in front of him on the shoulder. The tough guy turned around, sneering. That's when I heard Cape Kid talk for the first time, in a surprisingly loud and commanding voice. "That's not a nice thing to do, sir. Kindly go and pick up my glasses."
There was a moment of silence, in which we, the witnesses, just looked blankly at the scene before us. Cape Kid stared down Tough Guy; Tough Guy stared back at Cape Kid with his mouth open. Eventually he responded, snarling, "I don't give a rat's ass about your glasses."
I felt like I should do something before the situation got out of control, but I didn't want to get involved.
Cape Kid frowned then said sternly, "Watch your language, sir. There are women present."
Tough guy seemed at a loss for words. He looked as though he were contemplating whether or not to beat the scrawny kid up right there or whether he should come back with an even nastier remark.
Fortunately, at that moment the bus arrived at the next stop which appeared to be where Tough Guy was getting off and what also happened to be my bus stop. I got up into the aisle and quickly headed for the exit as Tough Guy did the same. He knocked me over as I was descending the steps, violently shoving past me. I tripped over the curb and crashed into a garbage can and my forehead collided with the lid.
Passerbys on the street didn't even look at me as they strode briskly by on their way to their various destinations. Cursing, I held my forehead in my hand as I started to get up again.
"Are you alright?" I heard a voice above me ask, full of genuine concern. I looked up from the sidewalk and there was Cape Kid, holding a hand out toward me. He had fetched his glasses from the back of the bus and was wearing them; I noticed a small crack in one of the lenses. The bus pulled away as I replied hastily, "Y-yeah, I'm fine. Thanks…uh…"
Cape Kid was staring intently at my face, his eyes narrowed in concentration. I stared back awkwardly, suddenly feeling very self-conscious. At last, he seemed satisfied, and he grinned, in a lopsided kind of way. His hand was still outstretched to me. I took it, somewhat clumsily, and he lifted me to my feet. I was surprised at how strong his was for his scrawny build.
As I rubbed my forehead in pain, Cape Kid went over to the fallen trash can and put it upright, replacing the lid for good measure. Then he stood there, looking at me, blinking.
I blinked back, and said, "Uh…um…so…yeah, thanks."
"My name is Scott Williams," he suddenly announced.
Well, now I could stop calling him Cape Kid. I supposed I should give him my name in exchange, so I said, "I'm Robert."
Scott nodded slowly. I noticed that the people that passed him were giving his costume mocking looks. I decided to finally find out why he dressed the way he did. "So do you work at a kid's store or something," I asked tentatively.
"No," he replied, still smiling, but he did not elaborate.
"Uh…so…why do you wear a superhero costume?" I said, getting right to the heart of the matter.
Scott blinked a few times. He looked around at the glowing store signs and solid buildings. "I want to help people," he said, looking back at me.
I gaped. "So…you mean you…fight crime?"
Scott positively beamed at my deduction. "Yes, sir, I do." Then he launched into conversation since this topic seemed to interest him. "I fight for justice. I patrol the streets at night to look for anyone in need of assistance. But I can't fly, so I ride the bus and look out the window to watch for any signs of trouble. When the bus reaches the last stop, I walk back."
I gawked at him, hoping he was joking. But he looked serious enough, merely taking a moment to adjust his glasses which had become a bit crooked since they had been kicked.
"Superman is my favorite superhero," he said out of the blue.
"Is that so," I said slowly. I realized this guy was for real. It seemed he had a few loose threads but he was for real. Another surge of pity washed over me. I suddenly wanted to leave and get away from this peculiar person.
"Uh, I have to go. I'm going to be late for my shift," I said hastily, turning to go.
"Okay. Goodbye, Robin!" I heard behind me.
I turned around and saw him waving at me with his uneven smile. "It's Robert," I said. "Not Robin." But Scott just kept smiling and waving and didn't correct himself. I left, feeling troubled.
The next night came along, and I was apprehensive before I stepped on the bus. Scott was sitting alone by the window as usual, but as I walked down the aisle, he turned momentarily to wave at me. I hesitated then sat down next to him. I could feel the other passenger's gazes on the back of my neck, but I ignored them.
As the bus rolled along, Scott stared intently out the window, and now I knew he was watching for any signs of trouble. "Hello, Robin," he said, not turning to look at me.
"Hey," I responded. "It's Robert, by the way."
Scott ignored me. "I'm sorry I'm not looking at you but I can't forget my duty. If I looked away, a crime could go unnoticed."
"Yeah, no problem." I felt like everyone else on the bus was listening to our conversation. "So then why did you get off the bus yesterday?"
"You were in need of assistance so I gave it." I saw him smiling in the reflection in the window.
"Have…you ever had to save someone?" I asked, my curiosity getting the better of the discomfort of talking to him.
"Well," Scott said thoughtfully. "One time, there was a woman who was upset because she had forgotten her medication. I ran to the drug store and bought her what she needed. Another time an old man was crossing a busy street outside of the crosswalk. I got the cars to stop until he got to the other side. Another time a woman was crying because her boyfriend had been yelling at her. I bought her a hot chocolate and talked to her until she felt better."
I sat in silence for a moment, at a loss for words.
"Superman is my favorite superhero," Scott declared suddenly.
I nodded slowly. "Yeah, he's pretty cool." Now, the stares of the other commuters on the bus didn't seem to bother me as much anymore. "My favorite superhero is Batman," I said on a whim.
Scott looked thoughtful then nodded sagely. "Yes, Batman. The Dark Knight. Batmobile. Batcave. Utility belt. Bat-Signal. But I prefer Superman myself."
I drummed my fingers on the seat in front of me. "Why is that?" I asked.
I saw Scott's ghostly reflection in the window grin, blinking several times and looking like I had asked the most bewildering question he had ever heard. "He can fly, he has super strength, super speed, heat vision, x-ray vision, super photographic memory, super breath, super hearing and he has invulnerability. Nothing can hurt him."
"I thought Krypton could hurt him," I muttered.
"Oh, yes," Scott replied seriously. "It can. But you could walk up to Superman and shoot him and he wouldn't feel a thing."
"I see." At this time, the bus slowed to a halt at my stop so I stood up to leave. Scott turned from the window and waved at me heartedly.
"…Robert…" I mumbled as I exited the bus.
Over the next few days I got to know Scott better. He was always on the 9:00 bus, ever vigilant for any signs of crime. He seemed happy enough to talk to me though, and most of the other passengers simply chose to ignore us. By now, I think they looked at me the same way they looked at Scott.
Once, Scott walked me to Morton Williams because someone had been robbed in that area the day before.
"It's okay, Scott," I waved him back as I descended the bus steps. "I'll be fine."
But Scott shook his head defiantly and followed me off the bus. "You're my friend, Robin. I want to make sure you get to work safely."
As we walked down the pavement together, I did not mention that his scrawny physique would most likely not give me any added security. He reached into his pocket and put on his mask then snapped his head left and right, like a protective guard dog.
We reached the store and I waved goodbye to him then headed on through the automatic doors. He turned around and walked off through the dark streets, alone.
One of my coworkers pointed at him and nudged me, laughing. "Is that guy your friend?"
"No," I said quickly, and went to work.
One day, maybe two weeks since we'd first met, I got on the bus as was now ritual and took a seat next to the bespeckled boy.
"Hello, Robin!" He greeted me warmly as he often did, blinking too much as he always did. By now I had given up on correcting him and I just waved back. "How was work at Morton Williams yesterday?"
"Oh, it was great," I rolled my eyes. "All my life I wanted to work the late shift at a convenience store. It's a dream come true."
Scott adjusted his large glasses but continued peering intently through the window. "Don't you think it's funny that you work at a store that has the same last name as I do?" he asked, grinning widely.
"Yeah," I said. "It's real funny." I was a bit used to Scott's out of nowhere comments by now and I knew the best thing to do was just to entertain his notions.
Scott was quiet for a moment. He looked thoughtful as he stared at the neon signs and the dark masses moving along the street as it passed by. "Don't worry, Robin," he said more quietly than usual. "You are a good man. You'll find something better someday."
I glanced over at him in surprise. "Thanks, Scott."
Scott smiled at me through the window reflection. A minute passed in which neither of us talked. Then it happened.
Scott suddenly leapt to his feet and whirled around. His freckled face was considerably paler than usual, making his faded red hair seem bright in comparison. "Stop the bus!" he shouted, running past me and into the aisle. "Stop it NOW!" Even as the confused looking driver mechanically obeyed, and the bus eased to a halt with a hiss, Scott was already at the sliding doors. "Open the doors!" he commanded. "OPEN THEM!" The bus driver looked like he was doing an impression of Scott, as he sat there for a moment, merely blinking too much. Then he pulled the lever and the doors swung open. Scott leapt out of the vehicle and ran into the dark moving shadows of the street beyond the interior lighting of the bus.
I sat in shock for a moment, then got to my own feet and sprinted off the bus. "Scott!" I called after him, crossing the street. It was dark out and there were shadowy shapes of people moving all around but I could see Scott's white shirt flashing by as he ran to the sidewalk, his long blue cape trailing behind.
As I drew nearer to his destination, I saw what he had seen. A woman was screaming for help in an alleyway between the neon lights. There was a man with a ski mask over his face holding a gun to her head with one hand while the other violently tore through her purse. Luckily, I caught up to Scott and managed to grab him by the cape before he ran into the alleyway.
"Stop!" I panted. "What are you doing?"
Scott looked over his shoulder at me. His eyes were full of a kind of determination I had never seen before in my entire life. This was what he had been waiting for. For once, he wasn't blinking.
"Don't…I'll call…" I stammered, trying to stare him down, but the grip I had on his cape loosened unconsciously and he pulled away from me.
"Stay back, Robin," he said then he ran into the mouth of the alleyway. I stood, rooted to the spot.
The women was sobbing and begging the man for mercy. The hooded man pocketed some money he found in her purse then threw the thing to the ground. "Twenty dollars, bitch?" he hissed through the ski mask, his gun still pointing at her face. "You'll have to do better than that."
"Unhand that woman!" Scott cried, standing mere feet away from the mugger. The thug jerked around in surprise, instinctively turning his gun on Scott.
"What the hell?" he shouted upon seeing Scott's odd outfit. The woman sank to the ground, whimpering.
Scott put his hands on his hips and stuck out his chest. "Let her go and try to get past me, villain!" The woman began to try and inch away unseen, still sobbing.
"Shit! Stay the hell away from me," the mugger cursed, raising his gun. Just then, he noticed his victim trying to escape.
I saw the man begin to turn to detain her. I saw Scott fly forward, shouting. I saw the mugger fire the gun. Twice. And Scott fell backward and the woman escaped and the mugger ran toward me.
I could have stopped him. Oh god, I could have stopped him. But he just slammed into my shoulder as he passed me and I didn't move. Not an inch. Not until I heard Scott's whimper of pain from the ground where he lay. Then everything came back into focus and I felt myself move forward to where he was.
He was lying on his back, his blue cape spread out underneath him, framing his motionless body. His once white shirt was stained with blood, a dark crimson that was spreading rapidly, dripping onto the cold pavement. He was shaking badly and he looked up at me as I knelt beside him. His glasses had fallen off. His face was white and contorted in pain. Something caught in my throat and stung my eyes.
"Robin…" he whispered hoarsely. "Could you please get me my glasses?" I saw them lying nearby and I picked them up, noticing my hands were shaking nearly as much as his. I pressed them into his outstretched fingers. "Thanks," he said.
With an effort, he tried to lift his head up to look at his chest. I gently pushed him back down to save him the effort, putting one of my hands underneath his head as a cushion. "He got me pretty bad," Scott muttered.
At last, I found my voice. "Nah," I laughed shakily. "You're fine."
But Scott shook his head slowly. His grip on his glasses in his hand tightened as did his face. I saw a tear roll down his cheek and he looked ashamed. "No…I'm bleeding…superheroes…don't bleed…"
A sob rose in my throat but I fought it back down with an enormous effort. "That's not true," I said as steadily as I could. "They can bleed plenty."
Like he always did, Scott blinked too much, but this time more tears rolled out as he did so. "Superman…doesn't get killed…by a couple of…bullets." He drew in a rattling shallow breath and let it out in defeat.
I grinned down at him. "Maybe. But don't you see, Scott? Superman's a wuss compared to you. Superman knows the bullets can't hurt him. That's how he can face all those bad guys with the machine guns without blinking an eye. He knows it can't hurt him. But you knew that gun could hurt you. You knew. That's what makes you better than Superman."
A smile found its way to Scott's face. He grinned back. "Ha…ha…" he chuckled weakly. "I'm better than Superman."
I nodded encouragingly and laughed. "Yeah, you could kick Superman's ass."
Scott smiled widely. "I could, couldn't I…" He trailed off, closing his eyes. His hand relaxed its hold on his glasses and he exhaled one last time.
For a while, I don't know how long, I just stayed where I was, by his side. Someone must have called the police because eventually an ambulance came. They took Scott away on a stretcher and I saw his blue cape trailing over the side before they covered him with a blanket.
A policeman approached me and tried to get me to get in the ambulance too, figuring I was in shock. I must have been. I didn't know what to do or what to think.
"I'm sorry," I heard the police officer say. "Was he your friend?"
"Yes," I replied quietly, realizing it too late."Yes, he was."
The next day I quit my job at Morton Williams and for the next few months after that I underwent training to be a police officer. I completed the course and got the job, and it's a job I've kept to this day. Every night at 9:00 I patrol downtown. Usually I'll drive there, park and walk down the sidewalks and the neon lights, watching carefully.
On the rare occasion that someone asks me who my favorite superhero is, I reply "Scott Williams." And when they say they don't know who he is, I tell them. They reply that he isn't a real superhero. They say Superman is a real superhero.
But the truth is that Superman's got nothing on Scott Williams. Nothing.