Friday, June 12, 2009

"Never Special," Costume Concerns, pt. 12, 384 words

Alter Ego looks up with an appraising eye, and nods his approval after a moment. “It suits you,” he says, and I can tell that he’s not just trying to convince me to buy it. I imagine he can see the change in not just my bearing, but in my thoughts and feelings. The costume doesn’t just cover me over, it’s like a new me down to the bone.

“Maybe a little something else,” he suggests. “The suit’s not too flashy, which is good, but you need something to make you a little more memorable if you’re going to be a hero.”

I can’t help it. “Maybe a big red S on my chest?”

He chuckles. “Nah. The letter logo has been done to death. Gotta be a twenty guys out there just with some kind of S logo, and a third of them have it in red. Nah. A lighter color than red would look better, anyways. More of a contrast, more eye-catching.”

With a little frown, I ask, “What if I don’t want to be really eye-catching?” I understand what he’s saying, and even agree with it a little, but there are advantages to going unnoticed.

“If you don’t want to be eye-catching, you go out in jeans, sweatshirt, and a baseball cap, and drive a used car or a generic white van everywhere instead of flying,” he points out. “You maintain a lot more anonymity by looking like everyone else. If you really want a costume, it means you’re looking to be noticed.”

“Okay,” I admit. “What do you suggest?”

“Here,” he says, and slides a piece of paper over along the counter.

It’s a quick sketch, something he must’ve been working on while I was in the bathroom changing. Even so, he’s got a sure hand to produce this so swiftly. In faint pencil lines, he defined a circle, and jagged darker lines across it. The circle’s cracked down the middle, leaving one half mostly intact while the other half is split up in an array of angular shards. Some are longer than the original radius of the circle, like lightning bolts, while others are much shorter. The total effect looks like a sunburst done in stained glass, broken and with bits missing, and pieced back together from what remained.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

"Never Special," Costume Concerns, pt. 11, 406 words

I sigh and dismiss these thoughts. I don’t even have to look at my body any more to feel depressed about it. Maybe I should see a therapist. Or a dietician who specializes in powers-driven metabolisms. Not that I can afford either one on a secretary’s salary.

The pants are a little loose despite my generous hips (“childbearing hips,” my mother calls them, occasionally with a too-eager light in her eyes) and thighs, so I tuck the top in to help shore them up. The fabric really isn’t quite denim, something that chafes a little more, so I figure I’ll probably have to get some light pajama bottoms or something like that to wear underneath. And a good belt, but I have one of those.

I like it, though. The outfit feels good on me. Heavy and solid and reassuring, like putting on armor. Not that I need any actual armor, but… the psychological need is still there, being fulfilled. I feel protected in a way I never have before.

I look in the mirror and I don’t see myself. Amanda Park wears loose blouses and flowing skirts to hide her figure, or dresses to repress in jeans and layered short-sleeved t-shirts over long-sleeved. The person in the mirror is someone different, someone who has more important things to worry about than her figure or how much cleavage a low-cut neckline reveals. “Clothes make the man,” they say, or in this case the woman.

An alter ego, I realize, and smile at the appropriateness of the store’s name now. I don’t have to be skittish, squirrelly Amanda Park anymore, not if I don’t want to. I can be anyone. I can be a hero.

Shatterforce settles over me like a second skin, and I can’t help but break out into a toothy grin. I finally understand what it means to be super. It’s not putting a costume on and pretending to be someone else. Being super means taking off the costume that everyone wears, every day, and finally being who you choose to be.

And I know who I’d rather be, more than Amanda Park. More than anything else, I don’t want to be myself. I want to be a hero.

I stride out of the bathroom with a new spring in my step, more confident in myself than I’ve been in ages. It’s amazing what even a minor change to your person can bring about.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

"Never Special," Costume Concerns, pt. 10, 403 words

He lets me take it and try it on. It’s not really a coat in style, more like a sweatshirt, since it doesn’t open down the front. I pull the top on over my dress shirt, and it fits pretty comfortably around my belly and breasts. The shoulders are too loose, though, and the sleeves hang down past my wrists. Probably made for another heavily-built, barrel-chested guy, one several inches taller than me.

Alter Ego comes around the counter and checks the fit of the top. He plucks seemingly at random at the shoulders, and tugs at the sleeves. “Well,” he says, “the arms can be taken in to fit you better, but there’s not much I can do about the shoulders. Why don’t you try on the pants?”

I glance around the store. He’s the only other person in here, but I don’t feel comfortable hiding behind the racks of costumes to change. “Uh, do you have a changing room?”

Pointing towards the back, he says, “The bathroom has a full-length mirror on the door. Take your time.”

The bathroom is cleaner than I really expected, given the cramped and untidy feel of the rest of the store. True to his word, a tall mirror has been hung on the inside door, and I turn my back to it while changing. I don’t really hate my body, no… but I’m a little embarrassed. There are days where it doesn’t feel like it’s mine, where I just can’t connect the fleshy puppet dangling below my neck with who I am. And other days where all I can see is how out of shape I am.

Given that I can now bench-press hundreds of pounds with ease, and keep pace with a car on the interstate without breaking a sweat, I wonder what I would actually have to do to work off the extra pounds. I did a lot of reading on the nature of powers in the first few days after getting mine, and the science currently says that most of what makes my kind of powers work is that my body is orders of magnitude more efficient when it comes to the energy released by burning calories. Not a faster metabolism, just… a better one. Of course, that doesn’t explain away why I can fly, but it does explain where I get the energy to fly without going into serious calorie debt.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

"Never Special," Costume Concerns, pt. 9, 378 words

I jerk the comic back open with a guilty start as I hear Alter Ego’s heavy steps returning from the back of the store. I haven’t quite let go if it when he reappears, bearing a few dark gray garments, and the comic spins a little to face towards me with my sudden movement. He sets the costume down on the far end of the counter and nods to the comic.

“You a fan,” he asks, in that eager tone of an aficionado hoping he’s just found another person who shares his esoteric interests.

“Uh, I used to be,” I say. “It’s been… gosh, seven years since I last read an issue. My collection’s stuck in a closet in my mother’s home.”

“You didn’t miss much, then,” he says. “They ended the old series about five and a half years ago. This new one’s okay, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the old one. The penciller’s got too much manga influence in his style to fit the writer’s neo-Victorian tone, and while the writer has a good ear for dialogue, his pacing is shi—uh, garbage. Pardon.”

I shake my head at his attempt to cover the casual profanity and smile a little. “I’ll keep that in mind.” With a nod at the garments, I ask, “What do you have?”

“A good start,” he says, and picks up the clothes. The top is something like a late autumn or early spring coat, made of something that could be denim – it’s hard to tell, with the dark color. It’s bulky, and looks quite warm. There are a couple zippered pockets down at the sides, each big enough for something the size of a paperback novel. The pants are the same color, and look like the same material. Big pockets on those, too, that can be buttoned or zippered shut. He shows me a few other pockets on the top, their zippers hidden under fold-over flaps of cloth, and built in so the bulk of the coat hides them almost perfectly.

It’s the most practical-looking costume I’ve ever seen, so much so that it doesn’t even look like a costume.

“They should be about your size,” Alter Ego says, holding the coat up in front of me for comparison.

Monday, June 08, 2009

"Never Special," Costume Concerns, pt. 8, 378 words

Alter Ego eyes me for a moment, and I swear I can feel him spidering around inside my brain. I have to remind myself that’s not how his powers work, unless they changed since his time with Hat Trick. He’s a mentalist, not a telepath.

The first means he can only project his thoughts, imposing them on others. The second, meanwhile, means someone who can just send and receive thoughts, without being able to exert control. It’s like a two-way radio – you can tune in and chat back, but others don’t have to listen to you just because you’re talking.

A lot of the people who can do one can do both, by the by. Alter Ego’s just one of those few who didn’t get the package deal.

“Well, alright,” he says, a shade doubtful. “I’ve got something I think could work for you. Nothing too fancy, and doesn’t draw a lot of attention to the, uh, the assets.” He clears his throat and gives a weak chuckle at his own comment. “Let me just go get it. Wait here.”

He straightens up and lumbers out from behind the counter back into the store. It’s not exactly fair to call the man fat, not really. Most of it’s that he’s just built heavily, tall and broad-shouldered and as thick in the middle as he is at the chest, like an oil drum. But he’s got a decent paunch on top of that, and a wobbly extra chin, like a college football player who got lazy once he graduated.

The comic book on the counter catches my eye while he’s gone. I glance down at it and recognize Count Mesmer and his enthralled legions overwhelming Kali Yuga in glossy full color. It’s been years since I last read a Kali Yuga comic book, and I don’t recognize the artist’s work at all. On impulse, I flip over to the cover and see it’s only numbered as issue 1 – “Back in a new monthly feature! The Incredible KALI YUGA” proclaims the cover, just above the title, and I realize it’s a re-launch of the series. When did they cancel the old series? I wonder mournfully, only missing that bit of my childhood now that I realize it’s been cut away.