Howdy folks! You know me as a writer of comics but there was a time I wrote a good amount of prose. I haven’t flexed that muscle in a while so here’s a little piece I whipped up last week. Enjoy!
By Tom Stillwell
When Stan was young things had been so much brighter. Bolder. Better.
Stan was sixteen when he found the strength inside him, the strength of giants, strength beyond that of normal men. With an anguished yell Stan had flung off the gang of bullies that had decided that today was the day little Stanley Herman, Herman the Vermin, would get his. Stan was just as surprised when the cowardly thugs picked themselves up and ran. The rock he threw after them had ended up embedded in the fender of a sedan four blocks away.
Stan trained after that, finding his limits, learning just how powerful he was. The cars he tossed around in the junkyard his uncle owned proved to be no challenge. Bricks became rocky dust in his grip. Stan no longer felt tired. He never even broke a sweat. He couldn’t be hurt.
On his eighteenth birthday Stan made his debut as Rampart, defender of the common man. Super humans had been appearing at an alarming rate at the time and many of them took up the mask and cape. Some of them served society. Others worked against it. There had been no other choice for Stan other than to help people.
Superheroes were all the rage and Stan’s exploits as Rampart caught the public’s eye. Soon there wasn’t a newspaper, magazine or news broadcast that hadn’t featured Rampart in one way or another. Opportunities to profit off his newfound fame rolled in. Stan turned them all down. He saw his role as Rampart as a civil servant and nothing more.
Stan met Jenny in the middle of a raging fire. Her building had become a blazing inferno and Rampart had rushed inside to search for civilians. He found her trapped in a bathroom with a wet towel wrapped around her face. Stan swept Jenny into his arms, protected her from the flames, and carried her to safety.
Outside the collapsing building Stan glimpsed Jenny’s beautiful face for the first time as the paramedics pulled away the towel. Their eyes met and another fire sprung forth, this time in their hearts. A year later Stan and Jenny were quietly wed by a justice of the peace. She had wanted a bigger, more public wedding but Stan worried about drawing too much attention to his life. No one could know that Stan and Rampart were one and the same.
As the years rolled by the allure of being a hero waned for Stan. The new villains, and there were always new villains, had become darker. They had become more violent. No longer were super villains content to rob banks or steal experimental gadgets to sell. They were killers. They killed for revenge. They killed for causes. Sometimes they just killed for fun.
In response the heroes had become more hardened. Lines between hero and villain blurred. Morals and laws had become flexible in the crusade against crime. Stan would have no part of it. He would not change to fit the new paradigm. Rampart had become a relic. His heroic exploits lessened until Stan almost never wore his mask anymore.
The last straw for Stan had been a kidnapping of a young girl, the mayor’s daughter, by a villain calling himself Mayhem. By this time Stan and Jenny had had a daughter of their own named Katie. The girls were about the same age. Stan couldn’t stand by while that poor girl was in Mayhem’s clutches.
Rampart tracked Mayhem to an abandoned warehouse. In the ensuing clash Rampart was forced to snap Mayhem’s neck to save the girl. Mayhem lived but ended up paralyzed from the neck down.
The public applauded his actions. The mayor had even wanted to give Rampart an award. Stan was mortified. He was done. Rampart was no more.
Stan had never lived a normal life as an adult. He had never held a regular job. As Rampart he received a healthy stipend from the government that allowed Jenny to be a stay at home mom. As a civilian Stan would receive no such stipend. Stan needed to be gainfully employed.
Which proved to be an impossible task with no college education and no adult work history. Stan couldn’t list his years of public service as Rampart on a resume. He couldn’t even use his great strength, stamina and durability as skills for fear that someone would deduce he had been Rampart.
Stan took whatever odd job he could find to support his family. Jenny found a decent job with benefits when Katie was old enough for school. They made it work. Stan looked back wistfully at his crime fighting days but still they were happy.
Jenny developed cancer just after her 43rd birthday. She didn’t make it to her next one. Stan, now a single father, was left with a twelve-year-old daughter and a mountain of medical bills their insurance didn’t cover.
Amid the mountain of misfortune heaped upon Stan there was a small lump of hope. Jenny’s brother, the owner of a construction company, knew of Stan’s heroic alter ego and didn’t mind taking advantage of a super strong worker that would never tire. The hours were long but Stan made it work. He had to for Katie’s sake.
When the recession hit construction jobs withered away until eventually his brother-in-law’s business folded. Again Stan was forced to do whatever odd job he could find to support Katie. It wasn’t easy, especially when Stan’s unemployment money dried up.
The drinking had started when life became too much to bear. Even indestructible men could have broken hearts. Stan missed Jenny. The late notices on overdue bills had started to pile up. Stan hated feeling powerless.
Today Katie, his Katie, is the one thing that keeps Stan sane. He carries on for her. If Stan can just find work and keep busy, pay off the bills, things will be all right. But there are no jobs for an old drunk like him. Stan can’t find work.
Unable to sleep, Stan wakes early to make breakfast for Katie before she rushes off to high school. He hasn’t had to eat for decades and this small miracle helps Stan afford to put food on the table for Katie. Everything for Katie.
While waiting for his only joy to skip down the stairs, Stan stares at the mounting stack of unpaid bills on the kitchen table. Envelopes with angry red stamps of LATE yell at him. Spare change and even more spare dollar bills sit next to the pile of letters. Stan knows there is just not enough to make ends meet.
Katie’s arrival in the kitchen pulls Stan from his dark thoughts. She deposits a kiss on his balding head. Plopping herself down on a creaky chair, Katie grabs a greasy slice of bacon.
“Dad, can I borrow five bucks?” Katie says between bites.
“Five? What happened to your allowance? Did you spend it already? C’mon Katie, you know how money is these days!”
Katie stops munching and fixes her father with a surprised look.
“Daddy, you never gave me an allowance. You needed it for groceries, remember?”
Stan hangs his head in shame. No villain ever made him feels as defeated as he does now.
“Look Katie, I’m sorry. Things are tight right now, honey. I just need to find some work.”
Katie stands and gives her dad a hug that melts his heart.
“Don’t worry, Dad. You’ll find something. You always come through for us. You’re my hero.”
Stan hugs his daughter back but his face is like stone. He doesn’t have the faith in himself that Katie does.
Late at night Stan sits alone in his broken down living room recliner, a half full bottle of whiskey rests in his lap. Stan still finds it ironic after all these years that while bullets bounce off his chest, cheap booze affects him. Jack Daniels is his Kryptonite.
Stan begins to think about the good old days. His very first action as a crime fighter was stopping a bank robbery. The crook, Basher or Masher…something like that, had ripped the bank vault door right off its hinges. As Stan entered the bank the villain had hurled it right at terrified security guard. Rampart took the hit instead, saving the guard. Stan had been unfazed and then pounded the crook into submission.
Before he even realizes it Stan is walking to his bedroom. He opens the closet door and reaches beyond the hanging clothing to press a recessed spot on the wall. A concealed door opens. Stan reaches in and pulls out the dusty costume of Rampart. A simple black mask, like the one The Lone Ranger wore on TV, hangs from the hanger. Without thinking Stan dons the mask and drops the rest of the costume to the ground.
He leaves his house and walks through the night, a lone figure treading with purpose. Stan finds himself in front of a bank. A thrown heavy blue mailbox makes short work of the door. Somewhere within the bank an alarm starts to sound.
Unimpeded, Stan marches forward, straight towards the enormous metal vault door. The door is thousands of pounds and many feet thick but Stan rips it away with ease. His strength has not diminished, just his hope. Stan can hear sirens.
He begins to fill his pockets with bills until his pants are stuffed. Outside he can see red and blue lights flashing. Stan leaves the vault and is confronted by police officers with guns drawn. He barely notices.
“Let’s see your hands! Now!”
Stan grabs the vault door and lifts it over his head. One easy throw would end the nuisance in front of him. The police officers tremble as the door’s shadow falls upon them. Their fear snaps Stan from his dazed state.
Arms locked, door steady, Stan hears Katie’s voice in his head.
You’re my hero.
Stan tosses the vault door away with a crash and charges past the stunned police into the cold night air. With a mighty bound Stan is six blocks away before the cops make it outside. Ten minutes later finds Stan deep in the woods outside of town burning his ill-gotten gains with a cheap plastic lighter.
It’s early morning when Stan stumbles into his kitchen to find that Katie has made breakfast for him. Eggs, toast, the whole shebang, wait for him.
“Made you some grub, Dad. Where you been?”
Stan hesitates, knowing he can’t lie to Katie. Never Katie.
“Lost. I was lost. I found my way back to you.”
Katie smirks at Stan, the smirk she seems to reserve only for him.
“Whatever, weirdo. By the way, some guy called. I think it’s about a job. See, I told you you’d find something.”
With a plunk Stan sits at the table. He looks across at Katie’s smiling face and the weight drops from his shoulders. He is her hero. He will always be Katie’s hero.