I wasn’t going to do it, you know, this here challenge at Chuck Wendig’s house. But I came down to use the bathroom and instead of going back to bed, I’m arguing with myself at 3:18 in the morning.
ME: What have you got to lose?
ME: My dignity.
ME: Dignity schmignity. Put it up.
ME: But I cheated. I picked two genres to suit a story I’d already written. I ended up rewriting the story quite a bit, but still…
ME: Who cares. Just post the damned thing. If you don’t do it now, you never will. I know you.
ME: Okay… But I’m not posting a link on Chuck’s site. Because I cheat–
ME: Fine-nah. Well, tell them what genres you picked, ya dingus!
ME: Superhero Noir.
FADE TO BLACK
I slam the empty shot glass down on the bar, bottom side up.
The bartender is standing there, dirty rag over his shoulder, vacant eyes staring through me. He’s tired of being here and it shows.
“Give me another,” I tell him. He moves to oblige.
I’m in a bar built around the turn of the century. The paint is peeling. Lights are burnt out. There’s a thick layer of dust over everything. Haunted.
The bartender fills the shot glass. I don’t ask what it is and he doesn’t tell me. I don’t care. It doesn’t do a damned thing for me any more. I sip it this time.
The dark circles under his eyes and slump to his shoulders indicate he hasn’t slept in a very long time. He opens his mouth. Christ, here it comes. He’s going to tell me all about his miserable life. He must see the look on my face, because he closes his gaping maw and disappears around a corner. I’m just about to take another sip when the bell above the door jingles.
I don’t turn to look, but whoever came in wants my attention. I don’t need this distraction. Not now. What I need is to figure out how to find the bastard who killed my son.
I down the shot. The glass pounds onto the bar again. This time, it’s right side up. I have a sneaking suspicion the bartender will be pouring me another.
I finally turn. It’s a woman. Around my age, about the same height, weight, hair color… what used to be my hair color. She reminds me of what I looked like. Before.
“Ms. Black?” she asks. I don’t know why. She already knows who I am. Who else has hair darker than a nightmare and eyes redder than hell?
I don’t say anything, just nod. She’s probably traveled a long way to get here. Poor souls like her don’t usually leave their familiar haunts. There has to be a good reason.
She walks toward me. Hair limp and greasy, her grief emanates from her in waves. It rolls off of her in billowing plumes of sadness, and I realize she’s fresh. Just crossed over.
The reason is in her hand. It’s a photograph—a school picture—and when she reaches out to give it to me I notice the deep, red line carved into her wrist.
The air around her starts to bend and distort. I close my eyes and brace myself. It’s not necessary, I’ll see what they want me to see whether they’re closed or not, but I feel like I should. Out of respect.
I see the moment her daughter is murdered. Smell the reeking breath of the pock-faced man strangling the girl. Feel the razor’s edge slicing deep into the woman’s tender flesh.
I welcome the rage. The sorrow. Despair. I take it all in because it gives me strength, power to defeat them, the enemies.
Some call me hero. I prefer avenger.
“He’s dead, then?” I ask when it’s over. She nods. Of course he’s dead. We’re all dead. She wants me to find her daughter’s killer and destroy his soul. It’s what everyone who comes to me wants. It’s what I’m going to do to my son’s murderer when I find him.
“What’s your name?”
“Sharon,” she whispers, but her lips don’t move. Her cheeks are sunken, eyes hollow. Her desperation chills the air.
“After mine,” I say, because that’s the deal. It’s Jett Black’s way or it’s no way. Right now, my priority is snuffing Gerald James out of existence. He’s eluded me long enough. He didn’t deserve a soul while he was alive and he doesn’t deserve one dead.
I tuck the photo into my leather jacket. It’s black, like me. Any light I had died long ago.
“Thank you, Ms. Black,” she says, gliding backward, shrinking.
“Jett,” I say before turning away. The bell over the door jingles again and she’s gone.
The bartender reappears, pours me another shot.
“Was Jett your real name?” he ventures. He must be feeling brave. Lucky for him I’m feeling generous.
“Yes. With one ‘t.’ I added the second for the hell of it.”
My eyes flare. He’s reminding me of Jet Townsend, the person I was before. I don’t like it. Jet Townsend was made of flesh and bone, weak. She couldn’t even save her own blood.
“Interesting. How’d that name come about?”
He must have a death wish. I think about ending him. But who would pour my drinks? Plus, his pluck is starting to amuse me.
“My father was a fighter pilot.”
“And now you’re a hero, too… just fighting a different war.”
“How many have you brought to justice?”
“How does that work, exactly?”
“Do you always ask so many questions?”
“I’m sorry. I don’t get many visitors. I’m in the presence of Jett Black, afterlife superhero. The experience has breathed new life into me, I suppose.”
He laughs at his own joke. I don’t. His eyes flick away, over to the window and back.
“Looks like you’re in demand, Jett Black,” he says, nodding toward the street.
More souls are standing outside. Staring at me through the window, their unblinking eyes pinning me to my seat. This has got to stop. I have my own business to attend to. I slide off the barstool, boots thudding heavy with purpose as I make my way across the bar. I swing open the door. No bell jingles.
“No more. Not until I find Gerald James,” I say, stepping out into the street to address the crowd. They begin to cry. Long keening wails. Baleful moaning. They know the truth. There will be no more justice once I take my revenge.
I start to head back inside, but stop. Amidst the mourning, someone is laughing, low and gravelly. Evil.
I turn back around. Gerald James stands alone. He’s shriveled and frail looking, but I know better. He’s strong here, alive and well despite his decrepit appearance.
I begin to vibrate with anticipation. The moment has arrived. This cat and mouse game is finally about to end.
“Heard through the grapevine you been lookin’ for me, Black,” he says. He still talks like the backwoods redneck he was in life.
“Was it a secret?”
“S’pose not. Tol’ the whole dang courtroom you’s gonna hunt me down dead or alive. Make me pay for what I done.”
“Reckon you were mighty disappointed when the cancer got to me first. Hoo wee, I knew you was mad as hell, girl, but I never dreamed you’d actually follow after me. How’d that Smith & Wesson taste, by the way?”
My eyes burn with fury. “It tasted like revenge,” I snarl through gritted gray teeth.
Before he can respond, every ounce of power I’ve collected explodes out of me. A tornado of swirling blackness rockets toward Gerald James, knocking him on his ass. It swarms, heavy and suffocating, then picks him up and slams him to the ground.
“I got powers, too… Demons,” he says, straining against the blackness. But my power is immense and he’s no match. When he finally puts two and two together, his grunts give way to panicked squeals. I walk over to him and go down on one knee.
“Your demons won’t save you, Gerry.” I can see the fear in his eyes. Good. He didn’t think I was this strong. This black. Super black. “They don’t give a shit about you. Never did.”
I reach down and slide my hand around his throat, pick him up as if he weighs nothing. “I’m the only one who can save you now.”
“Please!” he begs, “Have mercy on my–”
“Nope,” I say, tightening my grip. “You don’t even deserve to burn in hell.”
My other hand joins its mate and my fingers curl into claws. The screaming is deafening; is it him or me? I don’t know, but I don’t stop squeezing until his soul shatters… until his existence scatters across never.
Several demons burst forth, the soul they possessed now gone, and I’m blown backward. The weak ones go skittering down the sidewalk like frightened animals. The strongest stares down at me, growling, head ducking and weaving like a serpent ready to strike. But it doesn’t get the chance. My son’s killer no longer exists. It’s time for me to pay up.
Fade to black.
“Sorry, asshole,” I say getting to my feet, a little disappointed it’s over so quick. “The universe has other plans for me.”
By the time the demon turns into a shadow and slips between the cracks in the cement, my limbs are already dissolving. Particle by particle, I am disappearing. Without the rage and hate, the darkness lifts easily.