This darkly satirical short-story follows the internal conflict of Dirigible Manalow, an archetypal urban super-hero, after he inadvertently murders one of his enemies in combat.
It is about the limits our humanity imposes on all of us, and the vertigo of unchecked power.
A sickening crack sounded out as Dirigible’s fist connected with his opponent’s chin. He watched in shock as the villain’s form arced gracefully through the air, before coming to a halting thud on the black tarmac of the sky-scraper’s roof.
Dirigible Manalow froze as he stared at the ragged, lifeless bundle from behind nervous eyes, desperately willing it to move. The super hero let his extra-sensory perception swim out to the body, scanning his foe for signs of brain function, breathing, pulse…
But Dirigible knew that his telepathy didn’t lie.
This man was dead.
Dirigible’s hand shook nervously as he fondled the spandex stretch of his stomach, pulling at it absent-mindedly. Between his velour gloves, the fabric felt miles away…
Everything felt so soft, with these gloves on…
The masked hero peered down glassily as he realized what he was doing, and noticed the droplets of blood on his costume.
They had turned a deep, dark red, and had started to seep across the lycra membrane that separated Dirigible from the world.
This is impossible, he told himself as his eyes misted over.
Dirigible had read the man’s thoughts.
This homicidal maniac was a super villain.
He had seen his memories.
Dirigible had seen this man stop a train with his bare hands, in his mind’s eye. This disheveled, bushy man had wrestled a bear, and eaten its heart. The telepath had seen the dead man’s memories of it.
He should have been more than a match for Dirigible.
A punch like that shouldnothave killed him.
Dirigible edged closer to the body, waiting with bated breath for the fallen man to spring to life, but the awkwardly sprawled sack of dark brown hessian didn’t move. Dirigible nudged the prone form roughly with his boot, and felt a frail human rib collapse inside the corpse’s chest.
A moan escaped the cowled hero’s lips.
He doubled over and paced away. It felt as though his own chest was falling away from him.
“What… what have I done…?”
He heard the words coming from his mouth, but they still surprised him.
Dirigible’s stomach convulsed as a dry heave coursed through his being. He tasted bile as it gradually crept through him and choked the back of his esophagus, like some poisonous vine.
What would people say…his mind speculated, as his heart pulsed through it at a quickening rate.
Dirigible knew where he stood in society.
He was a vigilante.
People tolerated him because he helped law enforcement instead of hindering it, and because it would take the National Guard to bring someone as powerful as him to justice.
But when word got out that he’d killed a man…
Dirigible spun around and raced back to the body.
More carefully this time, he began rummaging through his victim’s pockets, searching for justice, for vindication…
But there was nothing.
Just half a moldy sandwich and a handful of batteries.
Dirigible clutched the sandwich and batteries as he leaned over the bearded man’s body. The hero pinched the bridge of his nose as the tears welled up in him.
This villain had put an explosive somewhere in the city, Dirigible insisted to himself.
Innocent people were in danger.
My telepathy doesn’t lie…
He lowered his hand shakily and examined the cadaver more closely.
The man he had killed had a thick, bushy beard, and a long brown duster.
Dirigible reached around the body tenuously with a quivering hand, and lifted the blank-eyed man’s upper lip.
He felt the vomit reflux rise again as he stared into the dead-man’s face.
Several of his victim’s teeth were missing, and those that were left were yellow, brown, or worst of all, black.
The corpse’s hair was thin, patchy and balding.
The dead man’s skin was flaking and liver-spotted.
Dirigible’s brow wavered
He turned and looked down at the sandwich and the batteries in his hand through teary eyes.
I’ve killed a homeless man, he realized.
I’ve murdered a deranged homeless man that believed he was capable of fighting someone as strong as me…
Dirigible’s telepathy hadn’t lied to him.
His opponent had simply believed that he was invincible.
His opponent just happened to be wrong.
Dirigible clenched his fist.
The hero glared heatedly at the snarling, white-eyed body of his victim. Anger swelled within him, and coursed out through his tears.
Would anyone even miss this disgusting wretch?Dirigible wondered to himself.
Would they miss him as much as they’d miss me, their hero…?
Dirigible was amazed that no one had arrived on the scene yet. He had a cult following across the city, and it was almost certain that someone had seen him fly down on to the roof of the building.
Not to mention the female reporter that was currently doing that exposé on him.
He wouldn’t be able to look her in the face again.
Or that cute photographer that follows her around…Dirigible reflected despondently.
What was his name… Johnny?
Dirigible gritted his teeth as he rose to his feet.
He scoffed angrily at the filthy human specimen at his feet, spit flecking on his stubbled chin.
Would anyone even notice…
Dirigible’s mind raced.
How could he dispose of the body…
There was no time left.
Someone would be here soon.
If he used his pyrokinesis things like teeth and bones wouldn’t be destroyed completely, not to mention the black, greasy ash-cloud left by burning a human body.
He could try to fly the body out of here, but would almost certainly be seen.
If he flew straight up and launched the body into space there were no guarantees that it wouldn’t be found by any astronomers or recording telescopes that happened to be watching the skies at that point.
There were eyes everywhere…
Hell, Google Maps has probably already caught me on tape,Dirigible thought morosely as he bit down maniacally on his lower lip.
The desperate super-hero scanned the wind-racked rooftop for a way out…
He prayed somberly for an answer, any answer, to his problem…
And then he saw it.
There was a small metal wastepaper bin by the door to the building’s stairs.
He could use that to move the body without it being seen.
He just had to dismember it…
Dirigible’s throat dried up.
He felt his stomach recoil at the thought, as he shakily peeled his velour gloves away from his milky-white hands.
The limbs… they would pull away so easily on a normal human…one small crack, and they would tuck neatly away…
The door to the stairwell burst open with a slam, causing Dirigible to jump.
Several police officers in riot gear stormed on to the roof top, weapons brandished protectively behind their transparent shields.
After a moment of strategic reconnaissance, one of them broke away from the pack and sprinted towards Dirigible. The police officer smiled broadly at the body of the homeless man by Dirigible’s feet.
“Nice one, sir,” he said approvingly. “Another bites the dust, eh?”
Dirigible stared back in shock.
He looked down mutedly at the man on the floor.
And then he raised his sweaty, clammy, milky-white hands and he pulled his cowl off.