Joshua Brent Blevins had wanted to be a superhero for as long as he could remember. The only problem was he didn’t have any superpowers. But Josh wasn’t about to let that stop him.
It was a humid summer day in the early twenty-first century---on an earth much like our own---that nine-year-old Josh Blevins and his friend Eddie Gardner, also age nine, stood outside the yard belonging to Littleton, Tennessee’s newest resident.
“You go knock,” Josh said, pointing to the front door of the old two-story brick house.
“Me?” Eddie asked. “You’re the one who wanted to come here. You go knock!”
“Let’s go do it together,” Josh said.
“I don’t know, Josh,” Eddie said. “Jimmie Donnelly said he saw them bring a coffin in there!”
“Jimmie don’t know nothing! My mom said it was a sarcophagus, like those they buried the pharaohs in---something this guy probably picked up during his travels. And besides, he ain’t no spook. He’s not that kind. He’s---he’s---well, just look!”
Josh reached into his back pocket and pulled out a rolled-up comic book for Eddie to see. This comic wasn’t like any Josh’d ever shown Eddie before. It was very old, its pulpy edges in tatters. Eddie unrolled it and flipped through the pages. They were poorly illustrated compared to the cover’s near-photographic painting. Eddie closed the funny book and looked at the cover once more. Across the top in big, bold cursive script it read,
Beneath the funny book’s title, the cover showed a handsome blond man in a mask, cape, and pants that bulged out at the thighs. The man in the painting held a beautiful young woman at his side. They both swung across a lake filled with fierce alligators snapping at them with long, terrible jaws.
“What kind of pants are those?” Eddie asked.
“Jodhpurs,” Josh said as if that explained everything.
“Oh,” Eddie said. “That’s cool. But so what?”
Josh snatched the funny book out of Eddie’s hand, glaring at him as if he were the most ignorant person in the world. He stabbed the cover with his index finger.
“So,” Josh said, “I think that’s him!”
“What? Jimmie said the guy who moved in here looks like he’s a hundred years old!”
“Not him now, Eddie! But when he was younger.”
“That’s silly, Josh. What would someone like that be doing in Littleton?”
“I don’t know. Maybe he’s incognito.”
“Lying low, so the bad guys can’t find him.”
“I don’t believe that. You’re just dreaming again, Josh. You play superhero so much you’ve gotten things mixed up in your head!”
“I have not,” Josh said. “It’s him, Eddie! It has to be. He’s my only chance!”
“Chance for what?” a smooth, regal voice asked.
Josh and Eddie stopped talking and turned their heads in the voice’s direction. Looming over them was a tall, silver-haired man. He was old and rested some of his weight on a fancy black cane, but he was still far from the hundred-year-old man described by Jimmie Donnelly.
Josh heard Eddie gasp. Josh turned and saw his friend sprinting down the street like his head was on fire and his butt was catching.
“Chance for what?” the old man repeated in his upper-class British accent.
Josh opened his mouth to speak and something in no way resembling the eloquent speech he’d practiced for two days came out.
“To be you! Or rather, to be like you. I don’t have any superpowers, but I saw you didn’t, either. And then you came to town! Out of all the places in the world you showed up in Littleton and I knew it had to be fate, because I want to be a superhero more than anything in the world.”
Josh sucked in a huge breath of air.
“I lie awake at night just dreaming about it! And I knew it was you! I could tell! Eddie didn’t believe me, but I knew it was. Please teach me! I’ll work day and night! Well, not during the day, because I have to go to school, except in the summer, and I have to sleep at night, but I could still come in the morning and after school! I---”
The old man reached down and took the funny book from Josh’s hand. Josh stopped talking and held his breath in anticipation. The old man gazed at the funny book. A crooked smile crossed his lips. Then he handed the comic back to Josh.
“I’m sorry, lad, but that was a long time ago. There are rules now. The Academy---”
“They’d take me if you trained me! I’ll do whatever you tell me, honest! Please, mister! It’s everything I ever wanted.”
The old man sighed and shifted his weight on his cane.
“The shaolin monks of Kaochan Village made me wait ten days before admitting me into their temple,” the man said. “However, you look aptly determined. And I’m admittedly not getting any younger!
“I’m Fearless,” the old man said, a mischievous smile upon his face. “Captain Charles Fearless. Not mister. And how are you called, young sir?”
“Joshua Blevins, sir. Uh, Josh.”
The Captain looked Josh up and down, then poked Josh’s ample belly with his cane.
“That’s quite the paunch you’ve got there, Master Joshua. Especially for such a young lad as yourself.”
Josh gulped in embarrassment.
“Nothing we shan’t work off, though,” the Captain said.
Copyright © 2006 by Shane Berryhill