Volume 5 Number 2
Jack Johnson had just sat down to a late supper of steak and mashed potatoes when the alarm sounded.
He did not respond right away. He stared for a moment at his meal, debating whether to ignore the alarm. It had been along day, and he hadn't eaten since early morning. Every man deserved a break, some relaxation at the end of a hard day. Jack was no different.
Except that Jack was different. He was the Stinger. Seven years ago in South Africa, Jack had been stung by a genetically mutated bee. Now Jack was a freak, possessing abilities humans were never meant to possess. He could fly, see great distances, and temporarily paralyze a man with a single touch. By day, a DJ at a classic-rock station; by night, he was a crime fighter. The authorities had initially treated the Stinger as a vigilante, calling for his arrest. However,after the Stinger apprehended a vicious serial killer, who had been hunting city officials, he had been deputized by the mayor. And Sheriff Bannerman had installed the alarm.
With a weary sigh, Jack pushed away from the table, leaving his meal to grow cold and inedible. The alarm, heard throughout the city, was a droning buzz that drilled into his brain like an ice pick. Jack had grown to hate that sound.
Jack went into his bedroom closet and pushed a hidden button just inside the door. The back wall slid open to reveal the Stinger's yellow-and-black-striped costume. It was getting a bit baggy around the middle. Too little sleep and too many missed meals were eating away at Jack's physique.
After changing, Jack stared at himself in the full-length mirror attached to the back of the closet door. No longer Jack Johnson, he was the Stinger. Behind the black mask, his eyes were weary and sad. The sounds of the night were drowned out by the alarm.
At first, Sheriff Bannerman had used the alarm only in extreme cases, situations the city's police were not equipped to handle. As time went on, the cases became mundane. Last night the Stinger had been summoned to catch a pickpocket. The police force had become lazy and spoiled, expecting the Stinger to do their work for them.
Stepping out into his backyard, Jack used his enhanced vision to scan the neighborhood. Satisfied he was unobserved, he lifted his arms and rose into the air, gliding toward downtown.
Jack thought of himself as a decent person. When he had discovered his special abilities, he had not hesitated to use them to help others. The city's crime rate had been one of the highest in the country, the police force overworked and underfunded, and Jack was happy to do his part to make the city safe again. But there was only so much one man could do, even with super powers. Jack rarely got more than three hours of sleep a night, and some nights went without. It had been over five years since he'd taken a vacation. What if something terrible happened while he was away, like when criminal mastermind Gregory Randolph tried to poison the city's water supply? The Stinger's alarm would go unanswered, and the city would suffer.
That fear kept Jack answering the call, despite his exhaustion and frustration at a police force that seemed incapable of handling even the simplest problems. Not responding could result in someone's death; he didn't think he could live with that. So he sacrificed sleep, a social life -- happiness -- for the greater good.
Jack descended from the night sky to the steps of the police station where Sheriff Bannerman was waiting for him.
"Good evening, Stinger," the sheriff said. "Thank you for coming."
"Of course," Jack said, stifling a yawn. "What seems to be the problem?"
"We got a call that some teenagers are vandalizing the children's park on Crawford Street. We were hoping you could put a stop to it and give them a lesson in respecting city property."
Jack stood for a moment without speaking. Fatigue settled into every muscle, making the very act of standing upright a chore. His stomach gurgled with hunger. "Teenagers?" he said. "Vandalizing the children's park?"
"Yes," Sheriff Bannerman said with a nod. "Spray-painting graffiti, knocking over garbage cans, tangling the swings together. You know, typical kid stuff."
"Typical kid stuff," Jack repeated. "Well, do you think I'm really needed for this? Perhaps your own officers could handle this one."
"No, you're the man for the job," Sheriff Bannerman said with a big grin, placing a hand on Jack's shoulder. "The kids of this city look up to you, respect you. Hell, you're their hero! If anyone can get through to these kids, it's the Stinger."
"I see," Jack said, shoulders slumping under the weight of the sheriff's hand. "I'll do my best, sir."
"That's all we ask," Sheriff Bannerman said and went back inside.
It was after two A.M. when Jack finally got home. The kids had not respected him or treated him like a hero; instead, they had taunted him and thrown rocks. One caught him right in the small of the back, and it still ached. Jack had been forced to use his stinging touch on the kids, delivering them to Sheriff Bannerman.
Jack stripped out of his costume and kicked it under the bed. He stretched, wearing only boxers, rubbing at his sore back. He had to beat the radio station by seven in the morning, so he turned down the covers and crawled into bed.
Just as he was reaching to turn off the bedside lamp, the quiet of the night was shattered by that awful buzzing.
"Not again," Jack moaned, sitting up in bed and rubbing his temples. "What can they possibly want from me now?"
Jack reached under the bed and retrieved his costume. He started to step into it but hesitated. The alarm sounded uninterrupted, but Jack stood frozen, the costume hanging limply from his hand like a shed snake skin.
Jack left the bedroom, walking down the darkened hallway to the den. He stopped in front of the fireplace. It was early fall, the weather not yet cold enough for a fire, so the grate was clean. Jack pushed aside the screen and squatted, placing the costume inside the fireplace.
Taking a book of matches from the mantel, Jack remained, propped on his haunches, listening to the alarm. It never ended; they would never let him rest. He wasn't their hero. He wasn't their champion; he was their slave. They would never let him be free.Tears dribbling down his cheeks, Jack lit a match and said good-bye to the Stinger.