Aphelion Issue 279, Volume 26
December 2022/January 2023
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by Craig Cornwell

"It's raining," Frank Castleford said, staring out of the window into the driving rain. "Why is it always raining in this damn city?"

He was a tall man, dark haired, handsome, but his eyes had a sullen look about them, as if they had seen far too much grief. He was wearing a long dressing gown, open at the front, over a dark blue suit and heavy boots

No one answered him. No one ever did, not since Lucy had left two years before. After Lucy's departure, he had had no serious relationships. He could not; it would not be fair to expect more from anyone else than even Lucy had been able to bear.

Lucy and he had been friends since they were kids. She knew everything about him -- everything. She had moved up to the city with him from their small town home. She had been there with him as his job became harder and harder. Then, all of a sudden, she was gone. He fancied that he could still detect Lucy's heartbeat, but that was impossible, even for him.

Frank knew exactly where she was, home, in Kansas, where he ought to be. He was not cut out for the city life, he was a farm boy born and bred. Well, not born -- his birthplace was a long, long way from the quiet town where he had grown up. But he had lived in Kansas all his life and it showed.

A flash of lightning brought him out of his reverie and back to the present. It lit up the New York skyline like a photographer's strobe light and he had to admit the city was amazing by night. Not that the sight of the city's towers and neighborhoods stretching to the horizon and beyond lightened his mood; in this gathering place of six million, how many people needed help? How many died that could have been saved?

He thought he could hear every single cry for help when he passed through the city. Who was going to help the ones he could not? He did his best but it just was not possible to help everyone.

How many died because he did not get there in time? How many screams and whispers and prayers went unheard?

Frank turned away from the window. He tried to keep those types of thoughts out of his mind. They affected his work, distracting him, raising doubt when there was no time for anything but desperate action. Staring out of the window into the rain at 2am did not help. The coffee would not help either but psychologically it did, even if the caffeine had no effect.

Frank scratched his head and not for the first time, cursed his lot in life. Even sleep was no escape; his dreams were plagued by the cries of those he did not help, could not help.

He knew it was irrational. It was ridiculous to expect one man to save everyone, even a special man. He was special, of that there was no doubt, but being special was not always better… or good. Not when it brought with it a sense of obligation that could never be satisfied.

He poured himself another coffee; normally it took about three cups before the placebo effect kicked in. He had the feeling it was going to be one of those nights when it would take more. He switched to something a bit stronger, bourbon. It was the only thing that had any effect on him at all, and he suspected that even the slight buzz he felt was entirely psychosomatic.

"When did I start to feel like this?"

Frank knew the answer to that. He had always felt this way, but when Lucy left it just became harder to ignore.

Although it would take more than a few bland melodies to turn his mood, he turned the radio on. But instead of music -- even punge or grunk or whatever the kids were calling it would have been welcome -- it was the news, the last thing he wanted to hear.

"…and now more on the train crash in Pittsburgh this morning. The latest tally stands at 14 dead, 57 injured, and at least four still missing. Police believe the crash was caused by a defective…"

He switched stations and found the Abbott and Costello show, which was better, although it still did not lift his spirits. But it let him forget about everything for a few minutes.

By the time he had finished his third bourbon, he realised he was putting off what he knew he had to do. He went through this routine every night, or had done for the last few months, and on every occasion, he would go through the same motions, get up, stare out of the window and then lose his nerve at the last moment.

He was just about to stand up when a news bulletin interrupted the comedy show.

"This just in. The arch criminal known as the Skorpion is causing havoc on the corner of 45th street and Lexington," the newsreader announced excitedly. Frank wondered briefly, why the media found bad news so much more entertaining than good news.

"Already many are dead and the death toll is going to mount," the man continued. "Police are wondering, where is Captain Vengeance? Is he going to turn up this time or will he be otherwise…"

Frank grabbed the radio and threw it across the kitchen. Bloody Captain Vengeance! Why did they have to rely on him all the time? Couldn't they do anything for themselves?

"…That sound you just heard was an explosion, the Skorpion has destroyed another police car! The officers who were taking cover behind it must be --"

Apparently not, but soon they might have to. The Captain would not be around forever. What would they do when he was gone?

"Learn to deal with things the way we should do, before the freaks appeared," he muttered.

Frank went back to the window and stared into the rain. This was it, this was what he had to do. It was the only way.

Frank opened the window, slipped off his dressing gown and climbed through onto the window ledge. He held this breath; it was funny, but now he was on the edge it was not as difficult as he had imagined.

"Twenty seven stories up," he said to the night. That was some fall. He wondered if even Captain Vengeance could survive such a drop.

He stepped from the ledge into the rain.

"…hello, this is Drake Manley, WZAP news, now reporting live from 45th and Lexington. It looked like the Skorpion would finish off the last of the police on the scene and escape before the Army could arrive, but Captain Vengeance has appeared! The Captain is flying directly into the Skorpion's line of fire, flames and K-rays bouncing off his mighty chest like water from a child's toy! The Skorpion is down, I repeat, the Skorpion is down, and his latest plot to murder and terrorize the people of this city has been foiled …"


© 2007 Craig Cornwell

Bio: Craig Cornwell has been writing for as long as he can remember. He helps to run the Creative Island writers' website while writing stories (including two Dave Handel adventures, most recently Cold Stone Killer, Aphelion, January 2007), working on a novel (also featuring Dave Handel), and pretending to exercise some control over his two sons.

E-mail: Craig Cornwell

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