The Hero Garden, by Folly Blaine
My cousin and I took a detour through the square on our way to town hall. It was the middle of summer, humid as hell, and my rose was wilting. I set it at the base of Justice Man’s statue.
“Sorry about your dad,” Hannah said. She always said that.
“Thanks,” I said. I backed away from Justice Man’s statue, struck again by how much we looked alike.
It had been four years since the accident took my parents. My hand crept to the moonstone at my neck–a small, milky stone on the end of a gold chain. Mom gave it to me for my eleventh birthday and told me it was the gem of protection. She probably should’ve kept it for herself, seeing as how her statue was across town by the hardware store. I would never understand how heroes could be so smart about some things and so stupid about the rest of it. When I got my powers, things were going to be different.
“You think Herc will be there tonight?” asked Hannah.
I kicked a cigarette butt at the bushes. “Paper said he might.”
“I hope he’s there,” she said. “I want him to sign my trading card.” She held out the card for me to see. “Isn’t he the coolest?” His smile was blinding; his eyes, dull.
“I guess,” I said. Hannah’s parents weren’t heroes, so she wouldn’t ever have powers of her own. When she went all gushy on Herc I tried to remember and be nice, but she didn’t make it easy.
Town hall doubled as the movie theatre on weekends. It was a big, hot open space, with metal folding chairs in rows and a few wire fans turning lazily in the corners. About a hundred townsfolk had come out for the meeting and all I wanted to do was sit near the back incognito, but Hannah dragged me to the second row. I slumped in the aisle seat and fanned myself with an agenda.
Mrs. Hollis, the president of Mothers for Vigilante Justice, paused beside my chair and scanned the crowd. “Hello, Amanda,” she said. Her bottle-blonde hair was stiff as a helmet, and her eyelashes drooped with black mascara. When Mrs. Hollis blinked it looked like she could trap flies.
“Hi,” I said.
“Nice to see you taking an interest in our community. Your parents would have been so proud.”
I didn’t like her condescending tone so I grunted and turned back to Hannah, who was twisting in weird angles to spot any heroes.
Mrs. Hollis stepped onto the elevated stage and approached the microphone, tapping it twice for silence. She cleared her throat to fading chatter, while I fiddled with my necklace.
“I’m just tickled at the huge turnout tonight. It warms my heart that so many of you support our efforts to honor the heroes. Give yourselves a round of applause.”
“Any heroes in the crowd?” She shielded her eyes and peered at us. “No?” She frowned. “They may be joining us later.
“As you know, we’re here to pick a home for the newest statue. We’ve narrowed it down to two spots–in back of the post office and out at Mr. Benson’s farm by the corn maze.”
Mr. Jackson’s hand shot up. “The post office? The corn maze? This is starting to sound like a popularity contest. Like when you placed the Fiddler statue in the mayor’s foyer. Nobody thought that was where it was supposed to go.”
Mrs. Hollis looked annoyed, “Now, Paul, you know as well as I do the Fiddler and the mayor were old friends.”
“It’s not fair,” he said. “And lots of folks agree.” He sat down in a huff.
“We’re running out of spots. And it’s the least we can do, seeing as how we had to tear down Mr. Benson’s barn to make room for the new cemetery.”
Mrs. Greer raised her hand. “We could expand the town square into a great, big, statue garden? So everybody can enjoy them together and not all higgledy-piggledy and spread-out like?” The crowd nodded in approval and she sat down primly.
“A statue garden,” said Mrs. Hollis, “now that’s not a bad organizational notion. We can entertain that.”
“Excuse me,” the town treasurer waved. “How can we afford a statue garden? All spare funds have been earmarked for,” his eyes darted around the room and he mouthed, “caring for the fallen.”
You could practically see Mrs. Hollis deflate.
“The fallen” is what we called superheroes who were “no longer with us.” I liked to think of our town as an elephant graveyard, if you substituted dead superheroes for pachyderms.
All the norm towns who’d survived the superhero wars had a charge like ours. Some of them had to fix stuff like dams and bridges and overpasses after the heroes got done fighting. Some of them had to grow food. Basically everybody without powers had to serve the ones with power. Our charge came into play every time a hero got bored, which was often. Because when heroes get bored, people tended to die.
Mrs. Greer’s hand crept up again. “We could take a collection?”
Mrs. Hollis re-inflated. “A collection! What a wonderful–”
“Attention, citizens!” interrupted a booming male voice from the back of the hall. “The heroes have arrived.”
Herc strode down the center aisle, his skin-tight blue suit covering his body from neck to toe, emphasizing his muscles. Two other heroes followed: Doctor Midwife and The Garbage Disposaler. My cousin Hannah swooned.
“Citizens,” continued Herc, gently pushing Mrs. Hollis aside. The other two flanked him.
“We’re here tonight to thank you, on behalf of all heroes everywhere, for your town’s generous support in caring for–”
“Not so fast, Hercules,” said a muffled female voice. A figure crawled out from beneath the stage, coughing and brushing cobwebs off her jeans. A black, poofy, knit cap concealed her scalp.
Herc’s booming voice faltered. “No fair. Town hall is off-limits.”
I looked from the woman to the heroes wondering who she was. I’d never seen her before, not around town, and not in any of the papers. I owned the complete set of superhero trading cards and she definitely wasn’t included. Unless…unless it was the one hero who couldn’t have her picture taken.
The woman hopped onstage and punched Herc in the arm. “Tag,” she hissed. “You’re it.”
“That’s cheating,” said Doctor Midwife.
“Oh my stars,” said Mrs. Hollis, a shaky finger pointing at the small woman, “Medusa?”
It took approximately one second for the screams to start. You want to make a room full of people panic, yell the word ‘Medusa,’ in the town charged with caring for the fallen. She was infamous for not knowing her own strength.
Cousin Hannah bolted and didn’t look back. Can’t say I blamed her.
When my parents were turned to stone during a tragic game of Superhero Freeze Tag, the townspeople listed the cause of death as “Accidental Calcification” and sent me to live with my aunt and uncle. Work hard, play hard; these things happen. But I never forgot it was Medusa who was responsible. If not for Medusa’s overzealous gameplay, they’d still be alive. Of course if they hadn’t been playing stupid games in the first place and were actually out doing something useful with all that power…
I shook my head to clear the dark thoughts. I finally had my chance to take revenge.
I pushed through the fleeing crowd to the edge of the room and flattened against the wall. Luckily, the heroes weren’t paying attention.
“That doesn’t count,” said Doctor Midwife, hands spread over her eyes. “You can’t tag us when we’re working.”
Medusa grinned. “No takebacks.” She poked Herc again. “You’re it. I win.”
“You’re being really immature,” the Garbage Disposaler said.
“I know you are, but what am I?”
“I don’t play with cheaters,” Herc said.
“Take that back,” she said.
“Make me,” Herc said.
“Fine.” Medusa snapped her fingers. “I’ll show you what I did last time somebody called me a cheater.” In unison, the heroes dropped their hands to their sides and stared deeply into Medusa’s eyes. I felt a distant tug to comply, myself.
Medusa’s hand inched towards her cap and she slid it off her head. The snakes, all shiny green and purple, writhed, wiggling and swaying, their heads rubbing together like a dance. I didn’t bother looking away or shutting my eyes; I’m not sure why. I felt strangely detached from the whole thing.
Doctor Midwife, Garbage Disposaler, and Herc didn’t have a chance. Once the snakes were out, they froze–as in three-new-statues-for-the-statue-garden froze.
Watching the scene play out, I noticed the moonstone growing warmer on my chest. Its heat spread through my body until my fingers and toes tingled.
Medusa tugged the cap over her snakes, tucking in a stray head under the brim. “I rule at Freeze Tag,” she said.
I stepped away from the wall and spoke as clearly as I could manage, “Citizen’s arrest.”
Medusa turned. “What?”
I began to glow orange. I couldn’t control it and I couldn’t stop, but I trusted that whatever was happening with my body was normal. You know, like superhero puberty.
“Medusa, I charge you with breaking the peace.”
“Little mouse wants to play?” Medusa removed her cap to unleash the full force of her gaze upon me.
But it was curious. The orange glow expanded around my body and absorbed the stare somehow, until the light grew bright and pulsed with a steady beat. I looked at my limbs, astonished, walking towards her through a golden haze. The gemstone of protection, I remembered, excitedly, my power was there all along, just waiting for Medusa to trigger it! Maybe Mom was more proactive than I gave her credit for. After all, her superhero name had been The Enabler.
“You’ve broken the peace,” I repeated, louder.
Medusa snapped her fingers twice as I advanced, frowning when I failed to turn to stone.
“Not to mention,” I hopped onstage beside her, “I’m sick and tired of you stupid heroes destroying our towns and killing innocent people with your stupid games.”
I stood before Medusa, whose lime green eyes grew wider by the second, and clasped both her wrists.
“Fight hard, play hard,” said Medusa. “It’s our right. You’ll understand now that you’re a hero.”
Orange light enveloped us completely, and she winced as her own power was slowly turned against her.
“If that’s what it means to be a hero,” I said, “then I choose to be a villain.”
And just like that Medusa turned to stone.
From that day on, I started calling myself Protector of the Norms and I won’t lie: It’s been kind of lonely being the world’s only supervillain. My first act of business was to move all the statues to the brand new garden at the center of town, reuniting my mom and dad at last, which was pretty sweet. Though I guess it’s technically more of a prison now than a garden. I thought it best to store all my enemies in one convenient and secure location, just in case a future hero has some sort of resurrection or de-stoning ability. I haven’t decided if I’ll dig up the hero bodies out in the cemetery and move them closer to town, but I have some time to decide that.
Most of the townspeople seem to be avoiding me. I’m sure once they get used to the new villainous me we’ll be copacetic again.
After the garden dust settles I’m thinking I’ll put together a norm army. I’ve got a great base here at the Town of the Fallen, which I plan to rename The Necropolis because it sounds cooler, and I’ll have my norm army liberate the other norm towns and tell all those dumb heroes what’s what. I’m sure the norms will all be onboard and eager once they hear my awesome plan.
And finally, I know it’s not nice to brag, but my trading card is way cooler than Herc’s ever was. Even Hannah says so.
You guys. Villainy totally rocks.
Folly Blaine is a writer living in Seattle, Washington. Although she grew up near Los Angeles, her only brush with fame was sharing an armrest with Viggo Mortensen at an Argentinean ballet. He seemed nice. Technically she was also an extra in a music video, but we don’t talk about that. Folly’s work has appeared in Every Day Fiction and 10Flash Quarterly, and will be part of a new anthology Dark Tales of Lost Civilizations scheduled for release in March 2012. You can find her online at her writing blog, Maybe It Was the Moonshine.
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Tags: folly blaine, power games, superheroes, supervillains