F3: Some Kind of Superhero

I’m determined to stick as closely as I can to doing this every week, even if it means being late. So here’s yesterday’s Friday Flash, which I finished today after waking up too late to get to London for the protest against Israel’s war crimes in the Gaza Strip. Worst. Activist. Ever.

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SOME KIND OF SUPERHERO

‘Why hasn’t the prime minister done something?’

The question rattles around the cosy-warm living room like a trapped bird, desperate for escape. Rasheem, sat beside the settee, looks up from his comic book, well-thumbed paper smooth and oily in his hands. The room is flicker-bright illuminated by the screen of the television, walls lit up with images of carnage, sorrow, suffering, pain, violence. The guns and artillery are a clinical staccato drumbeat, too minimalist to make a song. There is so much dust and smoke. In the living room, too, where Rasheem’s father smokes an American cigarette.

The perpetrators on the screen look hurried and their tools seem huge and intimidating in their hands. But even to Rasheem’s young eyes the soldiers seem confused and lost. They look more afraid than the wailing people who have lost everything.

Rasheem looks back down at his comic. Its colours are tight and bold. Its characters stand proud in strength or defiance. The words blur to grey indistinction as Rasheem focuses on the pictures, wishing the world resembled them more. He looks at one elastic-tight bubble of dialogue: “You’ll not get away with this!” The man saying it is snarling, papercut-sharp eyes narrow with determination. This phrase, that expression, are more similar to Rasheem than any number of everyday greetings.

‘What about the new president?’ says Rasheem’s father. His cigarette dances in his hand as he gesticulates, tumbling ash from its glowing tip. ‘The young man. He should do something.’

Rasheem stands quietly, dizzy with headrush and confusion, and slips from the room unnoticed. Comic still in hand, he shuffles along the short hallway, creeps through the cramped kitchen and out the back door. The night outside is still and chill, no wind to rustle the tall hedges, no rain to dampen the washing-line sentinels of underclothes that Rasheem’s sister has forgotten to bring in.

The sky above is clear and smooth as a bathtub of water, run hot and left to cool. Stars shine, little pinpricks of light peeping through a thick blanket under which Rasheem reads, with a torch, after bedtime. One or two lights blink, aircraft sweeping invisibly overhead on approach to the airport.

Thinking of the people he saw glowing on his living room walls, clutching at an escape from the suffering the television contained, and thinking of the heroes and idols and villains that dwell placidly within his comic books, Rasheem closes his eyes and balls his fists white-knuckle tight. He breathes in deep, focusing on the swirling colours that pattern the darkness behind his eyelids.

‘Why doesn’t somebody do something?’ he says in his head. He drops to his knees, eyes still shut, and lets out a scream that he feels has been building his entire life. But his lips don’t part, his throat isn’t torn hoarse, his lungs don’t constrict with an outrush of air. Instead he forces the scream through his flesh and blood, oxygen and anger percolating through every muscle and nerve of his body. And he jumps.

Air scissors into and around him, fast and impossibly cold. The shock pops his eyelids open, his mouth into a round ‘O’ of surprise. And then he laughs, because he is flying. Beneath him a patchwork-patterned quilt of houses flashes by, and then it is gone and there are motorways and fields and farms and factories. The Lego shapes of an industrial estate’s identical buildings are gone in a moment. Then there is the Channel, which Rasheem has crossed on his way to Calais with his family, and white cliffs and boats.

More land, water, cities, nations flash by. Rasheem imagines that nothing has ever moved this fast. Except, he remembers, for light, and probably many particles. As wind whistles around him he experiments, thrusting fists forward and feet back to make an arrow of his thin body. He imagines sonic booms cracking the night below him, Superman without the steroids. He spins around, and waves his arms like an octopus might, and wonders if he shows up on radar.

He comes to a halt at last, having crossed another sea and more countries which he tried to name. Below him is a city, lit by scattered fires and tiny flickers of light, gunshots and sirens and maybe torches under blankets. Rasheem stands on air too high to hear the sounds but he balls his fists white-knuckle tight, and he imagines them. He closes his eyes, and he drops.

-only to sweep up again, rough metal fish-cold against his hands, icy too through his thin tshirt. Rasheem looks down at the object in his small hands and recognises the shape of a shell.

Still rising into the sky, he pulls his skinny arm back as though holding a javelin and hurls the shell hard at the smiling constellations. It whistles away to be swallowed up into the darkness. For a moment there is silence, and Rasheem guesses that maybe his idea won’t work, because the shell will only explode on impact. But after that moment of crashing hearts and re-balled fists has passed, the sky above lights up with a bright crack. The shell explodes, and too-bright white smoke arcs out like a star’s probing fingers.

Rasheem laughs as his new star hangs in the heavens, and his stomach leaps as he dives again, ready to harvest more war-fruit and make fireworks of them.

Comments
6 Responses to “F3: Some Kind of Superhero”
  1. Incredible.

    There’s still some niggling little structural stuff, but your metaphors & similies are goooood, and the characterisation is understated, utilitarian, and totally spot on. :)

  2. GLP says:

    As Justin says, a final polish is needed – but apart from that, this is the best thing you have ever written. Outstanding.

  3. Jetse says:

    Promising: some good images and sentences in there. Also, as Gareth said, it needs a good polish.

    One particular nitpick: a sky might be like a bathtub of water at daytime, but not at night (unless one bathes in guinness or crude oil).

    And now I’m really off to bed…;-)

  4. Shaun CG says:

    Thanks for your support and advice, everyone. :)

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