World's Greatest Hero
Dominick Thoreau walked against the stream of people on the sidewalk, pushed, rushed, spat at, hit. The treatment came regularly and by now had become a normal part of his daily routine. He ignored the harsh names, the threats, and the spiteful glares of the people who thought of him as only one, unchangeable person and continued on his way in a calm manner.
Of course, this attitude riled the people even more, sometimes even causing one to pull a weapon on him.
"Blaze!" a passerby yelled, and Dominick tried not to respond to the name. The man continued to call out his alias until, at last, he turned to face the annoyance.
"What is it?" he demanded, clenching his fists behind his back. His handsome face paled once his eyes met with the man who called out to him. "You shouldn't call me by that name in public," he whispered.
"Everyone knows who you are, anyway," the man replied matter-of-factly. Jason West had the appearance of every little boy's idol; handsome, strong, muscular, wavy black hair, deep blue eyes. He looked like a superhero, and Dominick hated him for it.
"So, what do you want then?" Dominick asked harshly, mainly to change the subject. "Have you been sent to make sure I'm still obedient?" He continued walking, hoping to lose Jason with his brisk pace. He knew it would never happen, though.
Jason followed without effort. "No need to be so bitter about it," he pointed out.
They passed a toy store as they continued their relay race down the sidewalks. Displayed in the window were hundreds of action figures wearing red outfits with golden capes. They all adorned haughty expressions on their painted eyes and smirked mockingly at the people passing the display with their permanently set mouths. A sign above the toys read "Justice Figurines on sale now!"
Dominick stopped to stare at the toys dumbly. Behind the entire display and in the actual store itself stood a gigantic cardboard poster with Justice, the action figures' inspiration, and another locked in combat. The other man in the picture was not nearly as muscular as Justice, but still decent looking. He wore mostly white with a red cape and gloves. His hair was also white, and he had malicious black eyes. He appeared to be laughing triumphantly in the poster.
"What's wrong?" Jason asked. His gaze followed Dominick's into the store.
Dominick saw a smile spread slowly across Jason's reflection in the window. His hatred for Jason grew immensely. "Not too different from the original, are they?" he said bitterly, indicating the toys. "Same arrogant face, same cocky attitude…"
Jason's reflection sagged its shoulders in a sigh. "I think Justice is a great hero. He's a good role model for children."
"He's only a hero because he's selfish and likes the attention."
"That sounds more like a villain to me."
Dominick's fists clenched tight enough to draw blood. He wished Jason would light on fire, or fall down a hole, or just drop dead. His rage mounted up and caused his chest to ache. He could feel his blood oozing warmly through his veins. In a burst of rage, he rolled up his sleeves, revealing the blue cuffs on each wrist. "This is what you're here for, isn't it?" he nearly screamed in maniacal fury. "I'm still imprisoned, and it won't be changing any time soon!"
"That attitude is exactly what got you imprisoned to begin with," Jason remarked calmly. His stare was harsh and uncaring now, an expression that only Dominick and others like him had seen.
The glare doused Dominick's flaming anger. He wanted to walk away with the little scrap that remained of his pride, but he found himself unable to move. He stood there, stupidly, wrists still displaying the cuffs, waiting for something to happen.
"I'm leaving now," Jason said cheerfully, though the cold glint still flared in his eyes. "You should go, too. Don't you have that community service project to take care of?"
Control returned to Dominick's body. He rolled down his sleeves, ashamed, and trudged down the sidewalk. A rush of wind behind him indicated that Jason had left as well, most likely to save some wailing kitten from a tree.
What a sham.
The burnt building loomed closer now. Several pieces of construction equipment surrounded it, some working, but most motionless. Flakes of singed material blew off into the wind, old office papers stuck to the yellow police lines guarding the ruins of the building, and the smell of burning rubber still hung thick in the air. No one dared walk near the office building except for police officers, construction workers, firemen, and Dominick.
He repressed a smile a satisfaction but admired his handiwork within his own mind. Although the burning of the Kargo Inc. main office initially brought about his own defeat, Dominick could not help but reminisce about the few fleeting moments where it seemed like he would actually win the fight.
"You're late," a pudgy officer noted as Dominick crossed under the yellow tape.
"I wasn't committing any crimes, if that's what you're implying."
The officer gave Dominick a suspicious glance and demanded he emptied his pockets. He pulled out nothing except a small amount of cash to buy that night's dinner and a key to get into his current residence.
"Do you really think I would result to petty thievery?" Dominick demanded, stuffing the cash and key back into his pocket. "I wouldn't dare sink so low, not even in my current state."
"You're picking up the trash today," the officer said shortly before thrusting a pick and trash bag at him.
Dominick noticed the officer shiver as he walked past and subdued another smile.
Trash cleanup had been the tamest of his community service so far, and he rather enjoyed the mundane task. Before, he had worked at the very top of the building, amongst the unstable and scorched rafters, trying to weld them back in place. Perhaps, he wondered, they were afraid to give him too much freedom with fire and instead assigned him a simpler chore. That or they preferred to have Jason around when assigning him such duties.
Dominick understood their logic, especially since Jason had told them the previous evening that he would be unable to monitor construction that day. So, they were still afraid of him. Interesting.
A blinding flash caught him off guard and forced him out of his thoughts. He rounded on the source of the light and nearly stabbed a paparazzi reporter with his trash pick. His lips curled into a snarl at the sight. "You're not permitted here!" he yelled in a voice fearsome enough to cause the reporter to shake uncontrollably.
"B-but I needed a picture f-for the paper. You're a major h-hit right now! Everyone wants to know…"
With narrowed eyes, Dominick held out his hand in a beckoning gesture. "Give me that camera," he demanded in the smooth, hissing voice of a snake. It was a coercion tactic that usually worked in his favor, though it took him years to master.
Before any more threats could pour from his mouth, the flabby officer removed the reporter from his line of vision. "That's enough, Blaze," the officer warned. "We'll confiscate the camera. No need to resort to intimidation."
Dominick gave the officer a look that made the worst nightmares seem tame. "So be it," he said calmly as if nothing had ever happened. He stabbed a nearby paper cup with his trash pick and pretended to ignore the other two.
He listened intently as the officer ripped out the camera's film and the crunch amongst the rubble that indicated the two had left. The broken voice of the reporter became fainter as they walked on.
"Oh, this must be killing you, Jason," Dominick said victoriously to himself. "Finally, there is someone receiving more attention than you, even if it is for the wrong reasons."
The trash collection proceeded uninterrupted for the rest of the day, the only other excitement coming from the lack of mysterious meat for lunch. Dominick sweated in his clothes by the end of the day, which seemed horribly warm at the moment, but he handed out nasty threats to anyone who tried to offer him water.
"You're free to go," the officer announced, shaking his head as Dominick glared down another poor construction worker bearing refreshments. "He was just trying to help you. Be nicer."
"I'm not nice."
Dominick left the construction sight in a sourer mood than he normally did. He hated the media's intrusions on his current life. He despised the popularity that had suddenly been thrust upon him, just because he lost to that idiot, Jason. His fame was one created from hatred, like so many other celebrities. But most importantly of all, the attention focused only on his weaknesses, shredding his diminishing dignity little by little.
He marched home amid the new and drunken taunts of the evening crowd. The toy store now blinked its gold and red "Jason" lights, the action figures in the window luminescent against the incoming night. Neon signs flared to life and bathed the streets in their flamboyant colors.
The only building without lights was the rundown apartment complex. It stood between a vibrant restaurant and a cigarette and newspaper store, dim, decaying, desolate. Most of the people walked on the opposite side of the street, avoiding its ominous shadow, while children pressed against its dirty, brown brick walls, trying to hear the ghosts within.
Dominick approached the door that led into the main building of the complex, his unlikable demeanor scaring off the children surrounding the outside. The inside looked just as shabby as its outer appearance. Cobwebs draped from the rafters and clung beneath stairs, mysterious stains of varying colors littered the floor, and the smell of mold hung thickly in the air. Though it could house twenty families, only a few lived there and even they found as many excuses as they could not to be home.
The manager sat as he always did behind the front counter, reading the paper and moving only to turn the page. He looked up to give Dominick a salutation before returning to his reading. "That video's yours," he growled in his naturally harsh voice, indicating a tape on the dust covered counter. "I thought you'd might like to destroy it yourself."
Dominick picked up the tape and gave it a suspicious stare. He never received anything, having ordered that any mail for him be destroyed even before his current imprisonment. "Who sent this?" he asked, still skeptical.
"Taped it for you. Thought you'd like to see what they're sayin'."
"Then I suppose…"
"You thank me, boy, and everything you've done will crumble."
The statement nearly knocked Dominick over from the shock. He quickly recovered, gave the manager a curious glance, and proceeded to his apartment to watch the tape.
It showed the fuzzy recording of a daytime talk show. The chipper hosts laughed and joked with their audience until the current events section lit up the screen behind them with splashes red and gold.
"We now continue our segment on the recent events in Anthem City," the hostess said seriously. She looked like a middle-aged woman trying to be twenty, wore too much makeup, and had fake blonde hair. "As you all know, the city's resident villain, Blaze, has at last been defeated by local hero, Justice. Yesterday, we gave a look into Blaze's past and what motivated him to become the terror that he was. Today's segment will cover Justice's side of the story."
The audience cheered wildly, and the camera showed them all wearing the famous red and gold.
Dominick continued to watch, unable to force his attention away, as the show spouted out lies. Justice was always the popular kid. He was good at sports and an A student. He tried to turn Blaze away from evil. Poor Blaze. He came from a bad household, always picked last. Justice tried to make friends with him, but Blaze was too stubborn. Blaze just wouldn't listen. Justice saved his high school from a terrible fire. Justice was the youngest hero ever initiated. Justice, Justice, Justice.
Rage unlike anything he had ever experienced before swelled up inside him. It consumed his rational thoughts and ignited his hatred not only for Jason, but for the media. He screamed in fury, clutched his head, felt his wrists burn.
He lost control.
The television burst into flames tall enough to reach the ceiling and wild enough to burn the apartment down in an instant. Smoke swirled in the room. The fire alarm beeped furiously until the sound of watered down swishing came from above. The emergency sprinklers zipped to life, raining disgusting brown water on Dominick and his room.
The water singed his skin more than any fire could, and the blue cuffs on his wrists threatened to burn through his veins. He watched, powerless, dazed, as the fire slowly fizzled out and the sprinkler water pooled around his ankles.
Dominick sat in his decaying couch, praying for the pain to leave. The water paralyzed him and destroyed his spirit. His breath came little, if at all, and his vision blurred until he couldn't distinguish anything.
Sirens wailed in the distance, growing steadily louder. Something big flew past the open window with a rushing sound. Red and gold filled his vision, and Dominick knew with a mixture of thankfulness and resentment, that he was being saved by the one person he had vowed to destroy when he first became a super villain.