I have an avatar.
I am forty-three years old. I am balding and thickening around the middle. I have a mediocre job with a mediocre company which is outwardly ambitious to be in the top ten in their sector in five years’ time, but inwardly, all they wish is to still be in business. My ambitions mirror theirs.
So, naturally, my avatar is in her early twenties, stick thin with enormous breasts, spiky hair and an attitude to match.
She is called Sandro. I’m not sure why. I may have hit some wrong keys.
‘That’s the worst thing about the end of the world,’ Elsie said, staring mournfully into a teacup that had long ago been licked clean of every last drop of Tetleys and soggy crumbs of custard cream. ‘Routines go straight out the window.’
Harry glanced away from the TV, which was showing aerial footage of a tiger chasing pigeons in Trafalgar Square. ‘Really? That’s the worst part? It’s not the deaths of millions and the imminent fall of civilisation, it’s that nobody’s been round with the tea trolley for a couple of hours?’
The rat squeaked in outrage from the confines of its cage, its beady black eyes glaring at Sophie through the bars. She stared back, her brows furrowed. Curse it. How would she fix this?
She hadn’t meant to transform her professor into a rat; she’d been aiming for the quill on her desk for a bit of practice before her exam. But he’d walked in early and blown her concentration, and she’d spelled him instead. She’d been so worried about her exam, but now she had a bigger problem. If she didn’t figure out how to change her professor back into a man, he’d be stuck as a rat forever.
"You realize you're going to die, right?" the tiny skeletal gerbil said, poking his body out from the top of Nick's breast pocket. There was a green flash and an explosion of hellfire, the warehouse's concrete floor shaking beneath him. "I mean, that's Marco Bianchi back there and you're...well...you."
"You're not helping, Mortimer." Nick ducked his head as another blast landed nearby.
The little skeleton shrugged. "Just stating facts. He's a stone cold killer and you're the gerbilmancer. You're slightly outclassed."
Peggy brings me popcorn while I watch the Preservers handing over my father to a UN security detail at The Hague. The event is being broadcast live on every newsfeed.
There wasn't much left to pack. The final box, only half full, had the last of the comics and journals from Jeremiah's childhood. There was the inventory, of course, but he'd hired movers for that.
So many dreams being stored away. Jeremiah stroked the cover of a Conan comic, and it rippled under his touch. The greens and browns poured onto his skin, wrapping his forearm in a patchwork of jungle vines, while the letters clustered at his wrist. He could hear birds, and the tinny music of his cell phone.
We left on a mid-August morning in Danny’s old silver hatchback. I was at the wheel because Marisa didn’t know how to drive; she sat barefoot in the passenger seat, watching cows and pine plantations and pro-life billboards glide past. Now and then, she fiddled with the radio dial, and the static would resolve into a Christian music station or some local diviner’s talk show. As we sped north on 35, I could feel the twin beating hearts of Minneapolis and St. Paul fading behind us and the lesser heartbeat of Duluth strengthening ahead.
The room was too hot, the clock was too loud and the form was too long. Still, Lonny Spake did his best to balance the clipboard on his knees and work his way down the application. Experience. Education. Special Skills. Desired Salary. His life jammed into tiny squares. He signed the bottom and carried the form to the lady behind the desk.
They always find me.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my profession. But it’d be nice to have an occasional drink in peace. Disguises don’t help. My skin is brown this time, my eyes grey like my hair. Still, he knows me.
He sits on the next barstool, orders a beer.
I ignore him. Stare at the telly.
“I—” he begins.
“Don’t care,” I say.
“—have a request.”
I sip my Scotch. “Everyone does.”
“You know why I’m here.”
I glance at him. He’s aged. More lines on his face, eyes ringed with shadows that can’t be explained by years.
I married too young. I was fresh out of high school and still going by “Mighty Girl,” even though I was technically a woman. HOUSE—the Homeland Organization of Undercover Super Enforcers—assigned Mighty Man, one of their first recruits, to check out all the places where super-phenomena had been reported and track down more superheroes for the program. Tales of a seventeen-year-old meteor crater and mighty me drew him to Anytown, Illinois.