Larry looked up from endless raking and saw Joe, his neighbor, leap thirty feet, with a single bound, to the roof next door. Joe adjusted the satellite dish. With a mighty breath, Joe shot the leaves from the gutters onto the once clean-swept part of Larry’s yard.
“Damn it!” Larry yelled. “I just raked there.” He didn’t have time to redo the yard. He had to get back to grading high school physics term papers. He’d gotten a Ph.D. for this?
“Sorry.” Joe flew the short distance into Larry’s yard. “I’ll fix it, buddy.” He blew all the new leaves into a neat pile.
Larry really didn’t know much about his neighbors except that Joe and his wife were newspaper reporters and Joe had lived in a small town somewhere before moving to the city. “I didn’t know you could fly.” Larry leaned against the rake and wiped his brow. It always amazed him how much of a sweat he could work up on a brisk fall day.
Joe looked ordinary enough in his jeans and sweatshirt emblazoned with the State University logo. He shrugged. “I don’t want it to get around. People wouldn’t leave me alone.”
Larry took a sip of bottled water. “What else can you do?”
Joe grinned. “I’m pretty fast and strong. The most I’ve ever lifted over my head was probably a thousand tons. Bullets don’t hurt me.”
Joe brushed back a jet black cowlick from his eyes. “Let’s just say that I’m not from around here.”
“It’s all kind of a pain in the—” Joe lowered his voice. “My wife’s always after me to use my — I guess you’d call them powers, but she understands I can’t just parade around doing stuff. Why couldn’t I have married somebody useful like an accountant, she says.”
“You could fight crime,” Larry volunteered.
“You could fight crime,” Joe mimicked.
“I can’t fly, now, can I?” Larry snapped.
“Big deal. You have skills I don’t have.” Joe stared at the closed door to Larry’s garage. “I see all kinds of fancy lab equipment and electronics gear in there. You could use your lab to fight crime.”
“When have you been in my garage?” Larry asked.
“I can see through stuff,” Joe said.
“Okay…” Larry sighed. “It’s not a lab. I just store stuff there.” He should just throw it all away. It seemed like a lifetime ago that he was a graduate student at State and actually conducted experiments into matter transportation and lasers. “That was a long time ago.”
“Think outside the box, buddy. Volunteer and teach underprivileged kids a skill, keep them out of trouble. Maybe they get better jobs. Where the hell do you think crime comes from anyway? Somebody has to grow up to be a criminal. Crime has complicated socio-economic roots. It’s not just a matter of catching the bad guys.”
The last thing Larry felt like doing after a week of teaching was working with the brats on his time off. “Uh huh.”
A mosquito buzzed near Joe’s head. Joe shot a red beam out of his eyes and fried the bug.
Larry rolled his eyes. “You can do that too?”
Joe crossed his arms. “Look, it’s not that simple. Suppose I got all dressed up in some fancy get-up with a cape or something. I’d—”
Larry’s eyes opened wide. “A cape?”
“Nobody wears capes. They look idiotic, but I’d have to stand out, right?”
“I guess…” Joe wasn’t making a whole lot of sense.
“The point is that if I helped the police, some nut job would pull off some super-duper crime. It’s like all the cyber crooks who try to shoot viruses past the latest security software. Somebody wouldn’t be happy just robbing a bank — something the cops could handle. He’d have to — I don’t know — like steal the Washington Monument—”
“What would somebody do with the Washington Monument? He couldn’t exactly hide it,” Larry said.
“I don’t know what somebody would do with the Washington Monument. That’s not the point. I’m just saying that somebody would try to grab attention away from a guy flying around in his underwear.”
Larry cleared his throat. “I don’t think you’d have to fly around in your underwear.”
“Yeah, sure, but it’d end up being a crook and good guy arms race. You’d have good guys with powers and evil geniuses coming up with more and more elaborate schemes and—”
“Joe,” a voice called from next door. “Are you going to finish those leaves?”
Larry pointed to the rest of his unraked leaves. “You couldn’t… you know…”
Joe shook his head. “I’m trying to keep this under wraps.”
Larry frowned. “So, why’d you fly up to the roof then?”
“Just wanted to save some time. Gonna crack open a beer and enjoy the State game today.” He tapped the big S on his chest. “I’m a graduate.”
Joe leapt over the fence, kicking up a wind which sent all of the leaves back into Larry’s yard.
Larry threw down the rake. “Jackass.”
He had never been friends with Joe, but now Larry hated the lazy son of a bitch. All those stupid powers and the jerk just wanted to watch television.
Larry tried to calm down. He watched the twirling leaves. Some rotated clockwise and some turned counter clockwise.
His mind wandered back to his physics tinkering years ago. The orbiting leaves reminded him of… atoms.
Yes. Simultaneous bombardment — reverse ionization. Dual polarities. His mind raced.
He opened the garage door. He started to giggle. He’d force Joe to come out in the open.
Matter transportation — if his garage-tinkering worked out — had no limits. He’d do something so outrageous that Joe would have to reveal himself.
Maybe Larry would steal the Washington Monument.
Peter Wood is an attorney in Raleigh, North Carolina where he lives with his surly cat and patient wife. He has had stories published in Asimov’s, Daily Science Fiction, Stupefying Stories and Every Day Fiction. Pete’s mind wanders while he is raking endless amounts of leaves. He ponders the “chicken or the egg” pairing of superheroes and super-villains: who came first?