It’s funny what your mind goes to when you’re dying. Yeah, dying. People always talk about the light at the end of the tunnel or how their life flashes before their eyes. I won’t be one of those people. No, my mind started turning to how I got into this mess in the first place. So sit down, grab some popcorn, and let me tell you a story. I’ll try to keep it short. I’ll also try to keep the commentary and snarky comments to a minimum. Considering that a) I’m dying and b) I’m a twenty some year old kid, well, enjoy your snarky comments.
It all started when I was ten years old, sitting in the school cafeteria, getting ready to eat my lunch.
“Hey, Sam, how come you got a new lunchbox all of a sudden?” a nerdy boy who sat across from me asked. He peered over the thick frames of his glasses, trying and miserably failing to be intimidating. “It wasn’t your birthday, was it?”
“No,” I said.
“Then what’d you get it for?” Archer wasn’t going to stop his nagging, determined to know the answer to his question.
“My mom gave it to me. As a surprise,” I said.
“Just because?” he asked.
“Just because,” I repeated. My answer had placated him but I felt sick inside. I always did when I lied. And I had lied. My mom hadn’t given me the lunchbox. The only thing she’d ever given me was life itself. No, it was Emilia who’d given me my new lunchbox. The very first lunchbox I’d ever owned. And best of all, it had Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on it. Emilia had heard me incessantly humming the TMNT theme song for weeks on end. When she saw the lunchbox, she knew it was perfect. And it was.
So who is Emilia, you ask? Why did I lie about her?
Well, I was a scared little boy, only ten years old. I didn’t want to lose the only friend I had. That friend being my nerdy, inquisitive pal Archer, of course.
Emilia was my foster mom. Yeah, I was a poor kid in the system. Save the pity, I don’t want it. Going into the system was one of the best things to ever happen to me. I’ll get to the others later. Emilia was an awesome foster mom, along with her husband Gavin. They took me in and treated me like I was one of their own. Emilia played videogames and watched cartoons with me. Gavin took me camping and helped me with my math. And all three of us built treehouses together. A whole string of them. And not your lame, run-of-the-mill treehouses either. Nuh-uh. These were, well, you’d just have to come see them. But I’m going off on a tangent. Stupid brain. Stupid dying brain running away with me. Back to lunch.
“That’s so cool. I want a lunchbox with Archer on it, but my mom won’t get one for me. She’s mean! Says I haveta earn it.”
“Only the best captain of the Enterprise in the history of ever!”
I had no idea what he was talking about, but I kept my mouth shut. Knowing him, if I had asked, I would have gotten an hour long lecture on who this Archer fellow was. Although, I did find it amusing that this Archer fellow had the same name as he did. Coincidence? I think not.
“Man, I want a chocolate cupcake!” Archer said in annoyance as he poked through his lunch. His mom was a bit of a health nut, so he very rarely got junk food. His mom’s idea of dessert was fruit. Ew.
“I hear you.”
“I wish I had a chocolate cupcake!” he repeated. But this time, something was different. This time, a chocolate cupcake mysteriously appeared in front of him. Out of nowhere.
“What in the world?” I yelled, jumping out of my seat.
“CUPCAKE!” he yelled, quickly devouring the treat.
“Boys! Keep it down. Inside voices,” the teacher admonished.
“Sorry, Ms. Messer,” we chanted. Satisfied that we would be quiet, she walked away, off to yell at some other students no doubt.
“That was awesome! I wish I had another one!” Archer said in an excited whisper. And then, just like before, there it was. Only this time, I felt a small pull. It’s difficult to describe, this pull. It was almost like something left me and now I was a little more tired than I was before. I didn’t understand it but I knew that somehow it was me doing it. Either way, I was relieved when Archer, after a long debate, decided that two chocolate cupcakes was more than enough for him. I wondered how he was going to explain that sugar high to his health nut of a mother.
That’s what got me into this mess. More or less. See, over the years I realized that anytime someone said the words, “I wish…” then they got whatever they wanted so long as I heard all the words. I was my own personal genie. Go me. It’s really not as awesome as it sounded.
Being as obsessed as I was with superheroes and mutant turtles, I decided to be a superhero too. The Genie they called me.
Flash forward a decade.
I’m fighting my arch nemesis.
He calls himself the Sultan. He’s older than me, at least fifty, with a full white beard and a beer belly. If it weren’t for the Middle Eastern clothing, I would have pegged him for Santa Claus. Why he chose Sultan as his alias is beyond me. Unlike me, he looks pasty, like he’s never set foot outside. At least I can pull off the Arabian Nights look. With my dark complexion, brown eyes and hair, I look the part, even though I am one hundred percent American.
The thing about the Sultan is he’s incredibly smart. Seriously, the guy could join Mensa, he’s that smart. Added to that, he has super strength. To this day, I’m still not sure if he was born with that strength or if he made some chemical concoction to give it to him. Not that it really matters.
I’ve been fighting the Sultan for the better part of a year now. He’s been keeping me on my toes, let me tell you. Usually, he wins our little knock down drag outs. Sometimes, I get lucky. And I do mean lucky.
Today, I’m not so lucky.
Today, there was a break in at a chemical lab. I went to go check it out and voila! There was the Sultan, smirking at me, a small vial of God-only-knows-what in his sweaty hands.
“Put the vial down, Santa, and I might go easy on you,” I said.
“Go easy on me? My dear boy, I have been going easy on you,” he said in that squeaky, helium voice of his.
“I’ve beaten you before-”
“Once. Maybe twice.”
“And I’ll do it again.”
“If you insist,” he said. It was clear that he didn’t think of me as much of a threat. Arrogant ass.
“I wish-” I started, but I could get no farther. My words forgotten, I dove out of the way. The Sultan had thrown one of his signature mini-grenades. He calls them crab-apples. I call them death-in-a-bag. As it was, I barely cleared the blast radius before it detonated.
While I quickly recovered, the Sultan was busy removing the support beams in the warehouse-like lab. Not cool.
“I wish you’d freeze!” I yelled. I had intended for him to be frozen inside of an ice cube. The reality of it was much different. His skin turned blue, his teeth began to chatter, and he began to shake. He was freezing, just not how I wanted him to be. Damn powers! You always had to be so specific! Stupid wishes have a mind of their own.
“Nice try, boy. I will see you next time. Or not,” my arch nemesis said as he tore down the last support beam. The ceiling rumbled ominously overhead.
Not really thinking it through, I mumbled a wish and charged. He merely laughed and threw me across the room like a rag doll. I crashed into the far wall just as the ceiling caved in, trapping me under several tons of concrete. A quick wish had saved my life, but not my legs, which had become trapped under a chunk of concrete.
The Sultan was long gone.
And I had no way out.
Sure, I’d tried wishing, but it didn’t seem to work. It does that sometimes. Turn off. Usually at really inconvenient times. That is inconvenient for me, not the bad guys. They usually find it very convenient. Unfortunately.
That’s when I noticed I was sitting in something sticky. Really sticky. I looked down and saw a chunk of concrete ripping through my stomach, effectively impaling me. Ouch.
Hey! In my defense, I did say I was dying. Couldn’t I call for help, you ask? Well, sure I could, but this lab is in the middle of Nowhere, USA. I could scream until my lungs gave out and no one would hear me. Kinda depressing actually.
As I sat there bleeding out an ocean, I heard footsteps. Did Santa come to gloat? I sure as hell hope not. That would be a humiliating way to die. Yes, I have standards. Shut up.
The footsteps came closer and so did a decidedly floral scent. Way too much perfume. I was gagging on it from across the warehouse.
“Genie?” a voice called.
“Over here,” I said back, my voice muffled, though I wasn’t sure if it was from the pain or from the concrete tent above me. Probably both. Although for someone bleeding out an ocean, I wasn’t in all that much pain.
Hearing my voice, the footsteps came in my direction. “Well, I did come to offer to be your sidekick, but you look like you don’t need one.”
“Just get me out.”
“Hang on a moment,” the strange girl said. And then, the concrete rose, suspended in the air through sheer strength of mind. Impressive. Sorta. Telekinetics are a dime a dozen. Big whoop.
“My God…” she says, seeing the growing ocean that surrounds me. Then she kneels down and puts her hands on me. I’m about to protest because I’m choking on her perfume, but then I see that the ocean has become a trickle that eventually stops. And I realize that I am no longer dying. Yay, throw a party. Huh, maybe this girl isn’t so bad. Sure, she has the weirdest costume ever and my God! That perfume! But the healing might come in handy. A lot. Don’t judge.
I stand up and stretch. She’s good. The only sign I was ever dying was the giant rip in my costume. That and the fact I’m covered in my own blood.
“So, sidekick?” I ask.
“More like partners. You can’t train someone if you’re looking death in the face every day.”
“I limit dying to once a day. Superhero rite of passage and all.”
“I think I’ll pass that one, thanks. So what about it? Partners?”
“Not so much perfume.”
“I like my perfume.”
“I’m gagging on it. Like I said, one death experience per day.”
“Yes, yes I am.”
“Fine. Now shall we go bring the man who about killed you to justice?”
“Oh, hell yes.”
“I’m Jazz, by the way,” the girl said as we picked our way through the debris.
“That’s a lame name.”
“It fits the Arabian Nights theme you guys have going on.”
“No, it doesn’t.”
“Sure it does. It’s short for Jasmine. You know, Princess Jasmine?”
“You’re a moron,” I said after climbing over a particularly ill-placed slab of concrete. “Jasmine is only in the Disney version.”
“The Disney version sucked.”
“You won’t be saying that after I save your sorry butt. Oh, wait!”
I mumbled something about girls with death wishes, then proceeded to ignore her as we made our way back to town. Her on a shiny motorcycle and me on a rusted bicycle. But there was no way on earth I was going to ask her for a ride. Oh no. I had an image to maintain. Okay, so it wasn’t much of an image, but it was an image nonetheless. It wasn’t long before the only thing I saw from her and her bike was the dust the tires kicked up. Then nothing, not even a speck in the far off distance. I was beginning to regret not having asked her for a ride, but then, image, remember?
It took forever, but I finally made it back to the city. And best part, I only had one cop tail my bloody self.
The Sultan wasn’t hard to find. I mean, when an entire building was lit on fire, he’d practically left me his calling card. Yeah, okay, he was probably gloating.
“So now what?”
Jazz’s voice was so unexpected that I fell off my bicycle and screamed. Like a little girl, I’m sorry to report.
“Dammit! Don’t sneak up on me like that!” I seethed, trying to avoid drawing attention to where I sat in the alley.
“If I can sneak up on you, then so can the Sultan. How are you a superhero anyways?”
“Shut up, just shut up.”
“I mean, so far all you’ve done is get half-killed and screamed like a girl. I bet if you’d walked into that bank, you’d get barbequed.”
“Superhero rite of passage,” I mumbled half-heartedly.
But bank? The Sultan torched a bank? Why? I’m pretty sure the guy was smart enough to counterfeit his own money and never get caught. So why in the Sam-hell did he feel the need to torch a bank?
My musings were cut short when I saw the Sultan himself, waddling away from the destruction with a smug smile on his lips.
The worst part?
The cops sat there, eating their donuts and watching him go. No, seriously, they just let him go. Cowards.
“Isn’t that the guy?” Jazz asks.
“Shouldn’t we stop him?”
“Any ideas, lame brain?”
“Just making sure you were listening,” she said sweetly.
“Yeah, well, you could always walk over there and hope he gags on your perfume.”
At that, she glared at me and marched out of the alley. And right on over to the Sultan. Crazy girl! She’s going to get herself killed. Trust me, I would know.
I ran after her, intent on stopping the Sultan myself. Okay, okay, so I did an awkward waddle-hop-skip-leap. Leave me alone. You try walking in clothes saturated in dried blood.
The Sultan watched Jazz’s approach and laughed at my anything but respectable walk.
“I beat you not an hour ago, boy,” the Sultan said, his voice grating on my ears. “Do you think you can truly beat me now?”
“Two words: back-up.”
“Oh, dear God,” Jazz groaned. I agreed. I mean, spherical geezer? What kind of insult is that? Not a good one, I tell you. And what did I say about judging me?
“Well, well, let’s get this over with, my dear boy. Although, I must warn you, I will humiliate you in front of this pretty young sidekick of yours.”
And then, the Sultan struck, his meaty hands connecting with my face. Almost. I unceremoniously fell to a heap on the ground, his swing going unresisted above me. I’m pretty good at dodging, if I do say so myself. Sad, but there you go.
Jazz took hold of some of the burnt building, just some random piece of the wall, and flung it at the Sultan. He merely ducked, laughing manically. His insult went unheard as he picked up the projectile and flung it back at Jazz.
“I wish Jazz would stay safe!” I blurted right as the projectile froze in midair.
“IDIOT!” Jazz yelled at me. I immediately saw why. Jazz was encased in an invisible box. One she couldn’t escape from. The Sultan was laughing his head off and walked toward me.
“Your turn, boy.”
The Sultan picked up a conveniently nearby car, a big old pick-up truck, and threw it at me. I ducked and it crashed against a police car. Even though I was supposed to be on their side, I couldn’t help but grin. They had it coming to them.
“I wish I knew martial arts!” I said as I rushed at the Sultan. Yep, didn’t work. But I did manage to punch the unsuspecting idiot in the gut. Unfortunately for me, his beer belly absorbed the impact. So basically, it didn’t hurt him. At all.
“Let me out!” Jazz yelled.
“Kinda busy!” I called back as I continued to fight. And considering I was doing better than I had been an hour before, I knew something was up. The Sultan was playing with me. Gah! I’m a superhero for crying out loud! Not a play toy.
So what ended the fight, you ask? Well…Jazz did. She telekinetically picked up the crushed cop car and pinned him beneath it.
“Now, can you get me out of here?”
“You’re welcome, by the way.”
“I wish you’d shut up,” I said. And then, thank the Lord!, it was quiet.
And then, something knocked into my shoulder. A bubble filled with the words, “I hate you.” I groaned and she took great pleasure in ramming her speech bubbles into me. The ass.
Somehow, I knew I’d never be rid of her.
Somehow, I knew I didn’t want to be.