You’re probably here from the Kickstarter page for this book.
I’ve posted the first three chapters of the book below. Hopefully you like it enough to head back to the Kickstarter page and throw a few quid at it.
The final book is 86,000 words long. So it’s like this, only around 21.5 x longer.
The book itself will have much more interesting formatting and little graphics for the chapter headings. It might also wind up slightly different because it hasn’t been through professional editing yet. But it will, oh yes, it will!
Superhero Man hadn’t lost his powers, he just couldn’t find them.
Usually they lived in opaque Tupperware boxes, waiting for him to need them, tightly sealed to stop them wandering. He kept them stacked on shelves in his apartment’s hidden walk-in wardrobe.
Except the shelves were empty. The ‘secret’ entrance stood wide open and the whole thing had been thoroughly cleaned out. Even the higher shelves, a pain to reach, were rendered bare.
Superhero Man sat cross-legged on the floor racking his fuzzy brain for anything that might make sense of the situation. He looked away and back repeatedly, hoping they’d reappear, like perhaps they waited for his eyes to avert to sneak back in from a night out. Each time, his eyes met the blank shelves.
Emotions spun webs in his head, covering logical thought and casting grim shadows on his typically vacant mind. Awash with confusion, he chose to sit and dwell, to retrace his steps in hope of coaxing out some answers.
Superhero Man achieved ‘problematic’ levels of drunk the night before, after failing to rescue The Girl for the first time in months. The lengthy winning streak he enjoyed made him a touch arrogant, and preparation fell to the side in favour of self congratulating and preening. He spent more time ironing his cape to maximise his potential to look dashing, than he did picking out his powers.
That was his main problem on the night. He didn’t pack the correct powers. No ‘Flight’, meaning he could only watch as The Supervillain operated the crane that lowered his prisoner, The Girl, into a vat of luminous green acid. Attempts to shove the huge metal cauldron out of the way failed when he found it impossibly heavy, and realised his ‘Strength’ was at home too, tucked away peacefully in its space on the shelf. Probably sleeping.
His immaculate cape flowed impotently as he watched his goal vanish into the deadly stew.
The minimal reconnaissance he completed on the dock-side warehouse location prior to the battle suggested it would be a much simpler affair, no need for any of the big guns. Stealth his way in, grab The Girl and storm heroically out with his prize clutching amorously to his torso.
He opted to take along the ‘See With X-Ray Vision’ and ‘Throw Voice’ powers, following the notion that he could scope out the henches’ positions, send them chasing talkative ghosts and avoid them with ease.
The best way to infiltrate a fortress, he figured, wasn’t by hiding in places his enemies might find him, it was by strolling confidently through places he knew they wouldn’t be.
If they spotted him, the henches reported Superhero Man’s whereabouts to their boss, The Supervillain, and awaited orders. They didn’t get to ‘think’ or shoot the guns they carried—they were human surveillance cameras, show-muscle, repeating patrols until something spooked them. At which point they’d raise the alarm, call their companions and investigate by walking blindly towards the source. The most violence they dished out was a couple of punches before being wilfully disarmed.
Their healthcare covered only the first two punches, anything else was deemed their own fault for ‘asking for it’, so they were reluctant to take a third.
They existed to spice things up a bit, to encourage Superhero Man to use his brain and not just wander in and get to work. They were a distraction, a side-dish to the real meal, albeit armed, trained to take a punch, and often built like tanks.
Despite his poor planning, Superhero Men entered certain of an uncomplicated ordeal, feeling on top fighting form. He played the espionage stage perfectly and got in without a blip of trouble, utilising ventilation ducts and hiding in deep shadows for fun rather than necessity. He tricked the henches into investigating a frantic voice coming from the second floor Men’s bathroom then jammed the door shut with a chair. Inside, one henchman threw a limp shoulder at the door before giving up and sitting down with a pack of cards. Another took a small book from his pocket and settled in for the long haul.
Despite his early success, Superhero Man quickly snagged. He didn’t consider The Supervillian might have a twenty-foot-tall metal vat or an elaborate crane/pulley system from which to hang The Girl.
It was an entirely new tactic, and one that seemed on the face of it rather unfair.
The Supervillain cackled, clapped and waved from his perch high above the scene. She screamed and writhed as her toes dipped into the liquid and immediately melted off her feet. It left the hero with little option but to turn and head out empty handed, sullen and distraught, cursing his ‘two powers’ restriction.
Rescue was out of the question, and pointless to boot. He had to save all of her, every inch, for it to count. Anything more than a light bruise went against him. (This rule was put in place after the time he ‘rescued’ only her head, and still tried to claim his victory).
The Girl’s caterwauling soundtracked his exit, following him through the hallways and halls of the dockside warehouse, until it suddenly stopped.
Defeat hit him like a brick to the face, followed by body blows from his uselessness and inability to do anything right. The flip from over-confidence to drowning in self doubt would have netted him Tens across the board of an Olympic judge table. He really stuck the landing. The crash of his winning streak brought the burning of self-doubt with it, sending his charisma and confidence running for the door.
He couldn’t fathom his defeat, how he’d gotten so sloppy. He didn’t know where you could buy cauldrons of that size, or where to obtain such an obscene amount of acid. Superhero Man hadn’t seen such a set up even once during his long, semi-illustrious career. He considered it indicative of The Supervillain’s intentions, going to greater and more thrilling lengths for the win, no longer content with tying his victims to train tracks or rigging up elaborate machines of carefully-timed (yet easily interrupted) death.
Retrieving The Girl from a harness suspended above a lake’s worth of smoking liquid reached several levels above pulling her from the path of a bullet at the final breath. It required too much prior knowledge.
As he left the building he passed a wall-mounted CCTV camera and gave it the angriest glare he could muster.
Away from the scene, keeping an eye on proceedings via a series of live video feeds on grey computer screens, The SuperMaster took out a notebook and pen from the inside pocket of his white jacket. He watched The Girl until she was sufficiently dead, melted to the hips, and flicked the cap off the pen. As Superhero Man left the building defeated, he opened the pad to a page titled ‘TSV- 2010’ and drew diagonally across four pre-existing vertical lines.
Another win chalked up to the bad guy. Plus one for ‘Evil Doers’.
He closed the book, slipped it back into his pocket and dunked half a biscuit into a warm cup of tea. He stared out of the window and allowed his mind to ponder other things, giving no more thought to the battle.
As far as Superhero Man knew, his shadowy employer was profoundly interested in every aspect of his life.
The truth didn’t quite match up.
The man was as interested as always, but the problem was he hadn’t been too bothered in the first place. The battles started as a hobby, a way to entertain himself and hopefully others, to pass time and perhaps achieve a little notoriety.
Plans were made to ramp up and build upon the Hero versus Villain structure, with The Girl’s unique abilities abused to further unethical extents, but none of it ever happened. The SuperMaster settled quickly into a groove, the tournaments became time consuming and drew his resources away from his other projects and interests.
By the time he realised he didn’t care, it was too late. The battles repeated themselves metronomically, in fact his passivity became vital to their ongoing existence. The less he meddled and micro-managed, the more his playthings took up the administrative slack. Now all he did was keep score, a bored umpire on the sidelines. He sometimes wondered what would happen if he walked away or dropped dead, but never got around to either.
It stung like a needle-tipped whip-crack when he came out of a battle with nothing to show for it. Any string of success only made that defeat worse. Superhero Man’s good fortune in his superheroics papered over fault lines in his otherwise drudge of a life. During the poorer times, they split open and tore at him, reminded him he wasn’t perfect.
That each version of The Girl was a living, breathing person—albeit one of a billion clones—made it difficult to enjoy life for a while after each loss. He couldn’t endure the demise of a clone then head out and eat a beef and bean burrito with a smile on his face. Brains don’t work like that, not normal brains, and certainly not Superhero Man’s.
Often after a beating he lay awake in bed and recreated the whole thing, de-constructing it until the only aspect left was his stupidity. He built elaborate plans with the use of his ‘Hindsight’ power and drew up thousands of ways he could have done better, mentally beating the shit out of himself.
Sometimes he’d physically do it, or he’d take his frustration out on a door, wall or coffee cup that didn’t deserve it.
The sign he made and placed next to his bathroom mirror which read ‘Clones =/= Real People’ didn’t help as much as he hoped.
The Girl—the ‘original’, anyway—was the only other superhero in The City. Of her few powers, the most impressive was being blissfully unaware of it.
Second: her ability to accidentally create copies of herself and ignore them as they wandered away from her.
Each version remained oblivious to the original and all of the others, though they rarely lasted long enough to meet another clone when left to their own bewildered devices. This, coupled with The Girl’s (un?)natural ability to accept an exact replica of herself standing a metre away as mere coincidence made her the perfect play-thing for the ongoing, pre-constructed feud between The Supervillian and Superhero Man.
Battles were fought often, sloppily adhering to a weekly timetable and were always instigated by The Supervillian issuing one simple question.
‘Can Superhero Man rescue The Girl in time?’
Besides the clones, the only thing at stake were pencil marks in the notepad score chart, a tally of success and failure held by someone neither contender ever knowingly met. The SuperMaster watched everything whilst they were ‘on’, the commencement of each battle all the way to the fate of The Girl, from his secret retreat somewhere outside The City.
The plentiful supply of The Girls to battle over meant a loss wasn’t the end of the world, but the principal of the matter still got Superhero Man down.
The SuperMaster, years before, encouraged him to look at it like throwing away a spare photocopy.
Most years, when The SuperMaster tallied up the wins just after Christmas Day, Superhero Man came out on top. And if it didn’t, and he lost, the numbers usually ran pretty close.
His most substantial defeat came after 1994’s drawn-out, messy feud, during which he claimed to be too affected by a certain much-loved grunge musician’s suicide to concentrate properly. He recovered a year later, having sworn off popular music.
The year of 2002 proved his most prolific year, when a harsh bout of flu put The Supervillain off his game after he accidentally hit himself with his freeze-ray and was left shivering for hours until he thawed. The Supervillain gave up on outlandish, unstable weaponry that year and ceased to put quite so much trust in his henches, many of whom laughed and took an early dart instead of grabbing ice picks and chipping him out. It was one of the few times he’d made local papers, with most publications running the news as a comedy side-show piece.
‘Masked Super-Terror Stalks The Str… No, Wait, He Shot Himself’ was one particularly biting headline. ‘Lunatic Gives Self Frosty Reception’, another.
The current year looked to be another close one, even without the missing powers. The Supervillian knew Superhero Man well and was becoming more adept at predicting his adversary’s actions – the only thing keeping Superhero Man’s head above water was his frankly bizarre level of ingenuity and the variety of powers at his disposal. Endless powers, which he could create at will.
At first he viewed his two-powers-only rule as a handicap, but learned to see it as streamlining and a way of encouraging his brain rather than relying on the ability to do anything he wished. It forced him to think ahead and keep himself fresh for battle. Typically this meant no drinking the day before he suspected a contest would commence, and getting a good night’s sleep whenever he could.
Recently however, he felt mentally geriatric, as the brain-work caused his mind to buckle and strain like an old bridge.
Despite this, his body stayed in surprisingly good shape. It seemed to reject his efforts to destroy it; ignoring the amount of alcohol and junk food he filled it with because it was the easier option. He stayed fairly buff without having to lift a single weight. A thin layer of flab covered his abs, but they were still there, six little bumps in the midriff of his tight costume. A little stomach-sucking and puffing of his chest and the extra weight was barely noticeable.
His faltering mindset didn’t often affect his chance of saving The Girl, but he lived with a niggling worry that it might start to sooner rather than later. Rescuing the clones was his only purpose in life, his only way of gaining points. If he wasn’t up for collecting those…
Sometimes he thought about it and laughed, laughed until he cried, cried until he passed out.
By day, The Girl was another anonymous resident of The City who lived a very underwhelming life. By night, well, by night she sat alone in her one bed apartment eating noodles and watching reruns of shows on TV. Her biggest concern was the standard nine-to-five job she held as a secretary in a bustling office building. The building was the home of architects, solicitors, bankers etc., and her main task was greeting people as they came in and fitting them with security passes.
The Girl didn’t much enjoy her job.
It was the constant barrage of the public, some with appointments but most without, that nudged her limits on a daily basis. Her diet mainly consisted of cucumber or cheese sandwiches cut into neat triangles, taken from plastic trays, leftover from boardroom meetings. She spent her evenings alone and spawned a duplicate whenever stress got the better of her. She became unwittingly embroiled in the very first battle between the hero and villain and her clones had been a staple ever since.
Their first encounter was well documented at the time, though she was never personally identified. The story soon faded into distant memory as the public as a whole lost interest.
In fact, the début battle of Superhero Man and The Supervillain was one of the few to ever draw a sizeable crowd.
Newspaper report, from the archives. October 1st, 1986.
The Daily City – SUPER HI-JINX
The arrival of warring ‘SUPER-PEOPLE’ shocked The City yesterday evening, this reporter can announce.
Just after 6:00pm near Main Street—controversially closed recently for undisclosed repairs—two masked figures appeared and called each other out. The first identified himself as SUPERHERO MAN, a moniker emblazoned brightly on his flowing cape, before launching into an uplifting speech about morals, happiness and ‘doing the right thing’.
A crowd built up to witness the spectacle, but waned a touch until the opposing party showed up and spat a vicious tirade, debasing the aforementioned SUPERHERO MAN’s arguments and preaching depravity and declaring his love of ‘wrong-doing’.
This figure, in a midnight-black cat suit with a purple leather cape strewn around his neck, called himself THE SUPERVILLAIN.
With the introductions and insults over, the resultant battle raged almost thirty minutes, spanning the length of Main Street. During these violent theatrics, a minimal amount of damage was done to the surrounding area, though one unfortunate car was quite badly dented.
Eye-witnesses say just one innocent bystander was caught up in the action, after wandering out of a coffee shop at the wrong moment. THE SUPERVILLAIN whisked away THE GIRL (identity currently unknown) with a swirl of his cape and a controlled, smoky explosion.
One crowd member described her as tall and thin, with long dark hair and wearing a tight grey business suit.
Her expression was one of utter bewilderment.
More on this story, plus pictures and interviews with several onlookers, on PAGE SIX.
Superhero Man headed for The Bar after losing The Girl to the acid bath. The Bar, a dank, flea-ridden whisky hole situated down a dangerous set of steps in an alley-way, suited the wayward, sorrow-drowning drinker perfectly.
It was one of the only local places that allowed the cape and eye mask to stay on, no questions asked. Superhero Man found himself there often, more-so on ‘bad’ weeks. An excellent space to think, but also drink so much he couldn’t physically think if he tried.
Other, more ‘refined’ establishments didn’t approve of him or the attention he occasionally garnered from drunks with points to prove. People in The Bar didn’t care. They got on with their own problems. The Bar tended to attract punters due to the overwhelming sense of disinterest the place exuded; a man could really get to know himself in a place where no one else cared to know him.
There, after The Girl died, he drank until the melancholy dissipated into a simpler feeling of ‘blind, stinking drunk’. The more he drank, the less he remembered and the happier he became.
Then some other stuff happened, all of it fogged by alcohol and tinged with the taste of cheap turpentine-y vodka.
The next thing he knew he woke up in his bed with a thumping headache and a mouth apparently filled with sand. He was still in costume and lying next to an open but barely-touched meal from The Eatery at the end of his block.
And all of his powers were missing.
He scoured his apartment, dragged out every drawer and emptied every cupboard. Logically, there was no other place in his home that they could be other than the wardrobe, given their size and numbers, but he checked anyway. He even pulled out the little drawer on the bottom of the toaster, to no avail.
In a fit of what he momentarily believed to be brilliance, he created the ‘Locate The Missing Powers’ ability and equipped it. He went through his entire creation process, writing the title down alongside a brief outline of what he expected it to do.
“This power will help me locate my other powers, or at least point me in the right direction,” he said as he wrote. When he equipped it he felt a chill, a brief flash of weightlessness. His left arm heated up, a mild discomfort which worsened as he stepped towards the barren wardrobe. He pointed his arm around the room and felt the temperature fluctuate wildly between ‘bottom of an ice box’ and ‘a sauna on fire’, all concentrated in his raised forearm. He took a step inside the wardrobe and raised his hand, the hairs on his arm singed and curled and his skin sizzled like grilled bacon. He pelted out of the walk-in and bolted to the cold tap in the bathroom. The water soothed his smoking limb as he cursed his new power, before he unequipped it and ditched it into a fresh Tupperware box, never to be seen again.
He put the failed experiment down to a logical flaw and the unpredictability of the creation process.
Without knowing how to find the powers, he reasoned, he could never create something that told him where they were. He might as well have blindly sketched a map on the back of a napkin.
Frustrated, he searched the apartment again.
His belongings became disorganised piles. After more than two hours of increasingly frantic searching and re-searching, he collapsed to the cold, kitchen floor and lay there prone for three days straight.
He retreated deep inside his own head, checking each mental nook and cranny as he had done throughout his humble apartment.
At one point a spider, The Spider, climbed over his face and did a wary little dance on his nose.
It was checking him out, doing its best to push his boundaries.
The Spider was curious why the giant had invaded his floor space and only approached to investigate after some time spent staring at the lifeless man. It quickly decided not to bite him or bother him after almost being blown away by the man’s heavy breathing. The Spider thought the giant had some issues, but was glad he wasn’t dead. It held a strong liking for him because he had never tried to trap The Spider in one of those infernal Tupperware boxes like he often did with the other things. The Spider, happy with the situation for now, scurried off to attend some important business in the space beneath the fridge.
Late into the third day of silent, motionless turmoil, Superhero Man heard a series of heavy knocks on his front door. Seven knocks of differing power, forming a small musical number, which rattled through his head like a chorus of battering rams.
Catapulted violently from deep, trance-like state, he mobilised himself to answer the unexpected call. Problem was, his body had to be reminded how to move.
His feet were most confused, having not experienced weight for almost seventy-two hours. He had lain still through murderous cramp, ignored the painful sensation in favour of mining his brain for information. His stiff muscles ached from tensed inaction. As he rose, each joint cracked at least once, when he stretched his back it sounded like potato chips being crushed.
The door-knocker unleashed another flurry as Superhero Man stumbled toward it, but there was no one to be seen through the spy hole. He turned the handle, slid the chain off the lock and made a tiny gap to peek through between the door and its frame.
Staring up from the floor was a sealed Tupperware box with a label stuck to the top, plus a lonely spare lid which had a label, but no box.
He flung the door open and scooped both up, and cradled them tightly like loved ones at a surprise reunion. He slammed the door closed with his foot and retreated into the apartment to collapse onto the couch.
The returned box was small and contained a thoroughly useless power.
‘Eat Cheese Before Bed And Not Have Nightmares’.
Something that had never happened to him, but something he, an avid cheese-eater, was terrified of after reading an article about it in a magazine. Not an important power, just one that made his personal life a little more comfortable.
He equipped it and bathed in its warmth for several seconds, then packed it away in the box again.
The nomadic lid was marked in his own hand-writing with the words ‘Go Invisible’ daubed in thick black ink. A shiver flew down his spine as the nerve receptors in his brain conducted a small bout of conclusion-jumping.
If the power was out of the box then it was possibly in use by another party.
This other party being invisible to Superhero Man’s naked eye might explain why he saw no-one in the hallway when he opened the door.
The perpetrator could have stood inches away. Superhero Man wouldn’t have seen them.
He charged out of his apartment on slippered feet and flailed in the hallway, hoping to land a punch on the package-deliverer but catching only air with his fists. He looked towards the only exits—The Elevator and the door to the stairwell—but decided against charging after the culprit.
What other powers did the invisible man, woman or beast have? If they could use ‘Go Invisible’, they could have any number of others that would be deadly if they attacked Superhero Man, armed with exactly none. At least, none that would be much use. He was also only wearing a stripy dressing gown and slippers, which would have hindered his mobility and made him look ridiculous if a fight broke out.
It suddenly occurred to him that he didn’t know there were others able to use his abilities, if indeed that’s what happened. Something about it certainly felt like ‘power’-like. An essence in the air hinted at it, a residual scent. It conjured familiarity, reminded him of entering his fully-stocked wardrobe.
The thought of another utilising his powers, his creations, made him feel sick and betrayed. When he re-entered his quiet apartment he shot the ‘Eat Cheese Before Bed And Not Have Nightmares’ power a look that people usually reserved for cheaters or animal abusers.
“Have you been with someone else?” he asked it.
The box sat there unmoving, its contents paid no attention. He equipped it once more, trapping it inside him.
He closed and replaced the catch on the front door with overacted vigour, and flirted briefly with the idea that the person could have been inside the apartment with him the whole time, with the containers left outside days ago. He may not have been alone as he eked away three days in his stupor. The invisible perp could have sat with him and slipped out, or not, when he opened the door.
His brain, grappling with logic in a ring of brash thoughts, reminded him he had been awake for the entire three days, functioning like a security camera. He would have, at the least, noticed someone use the bathroom. It then pointed out that he had gone three days without sleep, food or any liquid of any kind. To remedy two out of three of those issues, he chugged three pints of water and wolfed down a hastily made cheese sandwich.
A second later he chose to believe that the person who made the drop-off was simply quick and managed to effectively ‘knock and run’ before he opened up.
Superhero Man then passed out for a solid twelve hours of uninterrupted, nightmare-free sleep.