In our ongoing lessons on story development, I give you part 5 of “Wanted, A Superhero to Save the World.”
In this excerpt, we come to the protagonist’s crisis. A huge calamity strikes. Eddie’s original quest to help keep the city safe for his family now appears to be dashed. Poor Eddie is so distraught, he is numb and can barely react at all. Yet, he is immediately faced with reality–the fact that danger lurks at every corner.
When Eddie meets a stranger, more of the back story comes to light. This is an example of what I call building a bridge to the back story. Instead of dumping a lot of information at once, I let the background come out a little bit at a time. This allows the story to continue without stopping to fill the reader in with a truckload of history.
For Eddie, now the real journey begins.
If you have any questions or comments, please post them.
My heart thumped crazily again. Waiting for this last-chance solution to work was pure torture. During the minute, Damocles kept his eyes closed. He groaned at times, but quickly bit his lip to quiet himself. Finally, he lifted a trembling arm and pointed at his belt. “Find a red wallet in a pouch and give it to me.”
Still crouching, I searched the belt again. After a few seconds, I found a leathery red wallet with a black button on one side and pulled it out. “What is it?” I asked as I handed it to him.
“My death switch.” His hands shaking, he pushed the button and spoke into the wallet. “Damocles. Request activation. Password nine, alpha, skunk tongue, I love cabbage-flavored ice cream.”
A computer-like voice responded. “Voice pattern recognized. Password confirmed. Contents unlocked and activated. Termination will begin in thirty seconds … twenty-nine … twenty eight …”
“I don’t really like cabbage ice cream,” Damocles said as he kept his stare on the wallet. “It’s just something I thought no one would guess.” As the countdown continued, he opened the wallet and poured out its contents—a silver key and a computer flash drive. “The computer activated these, so they should work. Just run the program on the flash drive and you’ll learn what to do.”
“Twenty … nineteen … eighteen …”
I stared at the two items. “You’re trusting me with this stuff? Why?”
“You’re my only choice.” Damocles grabbed my wrist. “The main thing is to keep Mephisto thinking that I’m still alive. The stuff on the drive will help you. Ignore the AI unit’s attitude. It will improve if you succeed.”
“Fifteen … fourteen … thirteen …”
“Succeed?” I picked up the key and the drive and stuffed them into my pocket. “How do you know I can do it? I’m just a kid.”
His back arched, and he let out a low groan. “I’ve been … watching the kid with the cowl … who foiled several criminals. You think … you’ve been hiding.” He exhaled as he finished with, “I know you can do whatever … you set your mind to.”
“Ten … nine … eight …”
“But … but …”
“Don’t worry. Mephisto didn’t kill me.” Damocles peeled off his cowl. Dreadlocks spilled out over his dark skin. He pushed the cowl into my hand, closed his eyes, and held the wallet against his chest. Then his head lolled to the side.
My whole body shook. I felt his wrist. No pulse.
“Five … four … three …”
I set my hand over his mouth. No breathing.
“Two … one … zero. Termination commencing.” Sparks sprayed from the wallet and spewed between Damocles’s fingers.
I rose and shuffled backwards. “Damocles?” My throat clamped shut. I couldn’t even whisper.
The sparks crawled across his body and spread out in a widening circle, like a prairie fire consuming dry grass. As they inched along, they left nothing behind—no clothes, no skin, no bones. Thin smoke rose and drifted into the dark sky.
In less than a minute, Damocles was gone. Only the red wallet remained.
I stuffed the cowl under my shirt, picked up the wallet, and wobbled in place, woozy. Damocles dead? Disintegrated? How could this be?
Staring blankly, I pushed the wallet into its pouch on Damocles’s belt, then picked up the belt with one hand and Mastix with the other. They seemed heavy, useless. The hero who wore this belt and wielded this whip had died. What could I do but go home and figure out the secret behind the key and the flash drive?
The sound of the sports car’s engine returned. I flattened my body against the wall. When the robbers passed, I sneaked to the alley opening and looked around. If any villains witnessed the tragedy, Mephisto would hear about it soon. He was the ringleader among rats, and they all flocked to him like flies to dead fish.
“Psst! Hey, kid!”
I spun toward the voice. A human-shaped shadow moved deep in my alley, waving a hand. “C’mere. I wanna talk to you.”
I backpedaled into the lighted area and searched for escape routes. No traffic. The street would work. Normally I could outrun just about anyone, but not while carrying all this stuff. A fire escape loomed about ten feet inside the alley. If all else failed, I could shoot a line to the ladder, reel myself up to it, and then swing to my apartment’s platform on the other side, but then this potential villain would see where I live.
“You heard me, kid. I said c’mere.”
I slid Mastix behind my waistband and grabbed a spool line from my belt. “Talking to strangers in a dark alley?” I shook my head. “That’s like a nine point two earthquake on the mother-rage scale.”
“I’m no stranger.” A man stepped out of the alley. Tall, thin, and wearing a fedora and a loose three-piece suit, he looked like he had just walked out of an old gangster movie. He spread out his arms and hands. No obvious weapon. “Don’t you remember me?”
“Maybe from a nightmare.”
“I’m Milligan, the neighborhood, shall we say, cash-service provider. People bring me cool stuff. I turn it into cash.”
I glanced at the street. Still clear. “So you’re a fencer.”
“A common misconception. I cash in goods at the finest legal establishments in town.”
I touched the razor gun attached to my belt. After lots of practice with plastic disks, I could hit a fly in mid-flight, but now that it was loaded with sharp razors, I couldn’t use it unless a life was in danger. “If your business is legal, why are you slithering around here in the middle of the night?”
“I’m always on call. I was just doing a deal for one of the locals and came down the fire escape to, you know, keep the transaction private for my client. Then lo and behold, I see a kid holding some excellent looking merchandise.” He took a step closer and nodded at the belt in my hand. “I thought you might want to avoid your old man’s fate and do some deals with my business partners.”
I wrapped Damocles’s belt just below my own and buckled it in place. Now with my hands free, I aimed the spool gun at the ladder above and gave Milligan a sneer. “Get lost!”
I fired the gun. The anchor looped around a high ladder rung and held fast. Milligan lunged at me, but I pushed the reeling button and shot upward, just out of reach of his grasping arms.
When I planted my feet on a rung and began unfastening the anchor, I stared down at him. Now what? Climb to the roof? Probably the best option. Just lie low and wait for him to leave.
He shook a finger at me. “You can’t hide from me, Eddie. I know you, your mom, and your sister. And it hurts me that you’re not being nice to an old family friend.” He laughed. “Get it? Hurts? Eddie Hertz?”
I cringed. He knew my real name. That meant he wasn’t lying about knowing my family. I forced a confident stance. “As if I haven’t heard that stupid joke before.”
Milligan let out a tsking sound. “Like father, like son. A punk do-gooder who thinks he’s high and mighty. But your dad learned better … in the end.” He laughed with a snake-like hiss. “Good luck staying under the police radar with that big fat A on your chest. And that mask didn’t fool me, so you’d better not count on it.”
I glanced at the monogram on my shirt. Now it looked like a blinking neon sign telling the world my secret identity.
He stuffed his hands into his pockets and strolled down the sidewalk. “See you around, Eddie Hertz.”
Categories: Story Development