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A Walk in the Park
“What a lousy day”, thought Julie. “Murphy’s law is right on the money.” She set her alarm thinking tomorrow must be better. Just as she got in bed, the phone rang. “Naturally”, she said out loud.
“Hello. Oh, hi Sara. No just another bad hair day. The neighbor kid flipped my breaker and killed my alarm clock. Then I missed my bus. By the time I got to work my boss was livid. I barely got him not to fire me. I missed lunch. My car still isn’t out of the shop. This stupid thunderstorm caught me totally off guard and I got soaked. The little monsters flipped my breaker again, so the VCR didn’t record any of my shows, and everything in the fridge is ruined. If I catch those little b.... What? Yeah, I think so. It should be fixed tomorrow night, so I’ll be able to go. But if it’s not I’ll call you so you can come and get me. I really want to see this concert. Okay, thanks. I’ll talk to you tomorrow. Bye.”
She readied herself for bed, again. In just two minutes the complete misery of the day would be washed away with the falling rain.
6:00 seemed to come instantly. Despite this, she was fully awake. The rain had dropped off to a light trickle and everything was going great. The normal half hour to pick out the perfect outfit for the day was cut to just a glance. A light green, knee length dress and matching shoes and nylons, would set off her reddish blond hair perfectly, as well as compliment her emerald eyes. The light make-up practically fell into place. Even her hair seemed to be trying to make up for yesterday. As she dressed for work she went over her schedule for the day. Bus stop by 8:30, work by 9:00. Lunch would be spent at the gym across the street. Off at 5:00 and quickly to the mechanic to get her car. And hopefully, to the concert by .
By the time she left the house the sun was up and the rain had stopped. A gigantic double rainbow displayed prominently over the bus stop, as if to guide her way for the last leg of her trek. “Today is looking up”, she thought. “If the rest of the day goes like this, I could die happy.”
The bus arrived right on time. All of the regulars were there. The guy with the hard hat and thermos, who apparently owned only two shirts, both plaid. The two women who always sat together but never talked or looked anywhere but out the window. The elderly man with his dog and cane. Six of the ten regular high school kids. Even that creepy guy who just watches her was absent today. It was a good day. She got off the bus with ten minutes to spare. Just enough time to stop and get a diet cola from the cafeteria. So far, the worst the day had offered was that the plastic lemon full of lemon juice she put in her drink was empty. A new one was a buck at the commissary, but it was worth it. She walked in at 8:58 to a round of sarcastic applause, cries of, “hope your hair has a better day today”, and an odd look from the boss.
“Julie, I need to see you in my office when you get settled in.”
She walked in to the office waiting for the shoe to drop. “Yes?”
“I have a cousin who works in Paragon City.” Julie’s stomach tightened. “He sent me a magazine the other day. It just amazes me what goes on there. Anyway, I noticed you in one of the pictures. Why did you leave? It must have been one adventure after another there.”
“I wouldn’t say adventures exactly. I really don’t like talking about it. If there’s nothing work related, I’d like to get back to my desk.”
Jameson looked disappointed, but didn’t try to stop her. When she had left the room, he flipped open the magazine and looked at the article again. The story was a follow up bit to one written a few weeks back. It followed the careers of a number of heroes that banded together to help stop the Winter Lord from his plot against Paragon City. Many of the heroes who rose to face the threat had moved away now that the danger had passed. Most tried to continue their heroic efforts in the city, but had either lost interest in crime fighting, or were unable to adapt to any other foe. There were many interviews with fallen heroes explaining why they left the life. Many more refused to comment. Very few admitted that they simply couldn’t hack it in the real world of the hero.
At the first break of the day, Jameson apologized to Julie for the way he talked that morning. She thought for an instant about telling him that she was one of the unnamed in the article that just didn’t have what it took to be a hero. She had helped to bring down scores of Minions of the Winter Lord. But it was always as part of a huge group. When she tried to go off on her own, things went badly. Just a week after the winter threat had ended, she was on a bus out of town with everything she owned. Well, everything but her costume. She had taken it to Galaxy City one night and hidden it in the foundation of the new arena there. Even if she wasn’t hero material, at least a small part of her would remain. And just like at her new job, no one would ever know.
She stood at the water cooler for a while thinking about how foolish she was to even have thought about being a hero in the first place. She wandered back to her desk, fighting to hold back the tears. She had a slight grin at own expense when she realized she didn’t fight tears any better than she fought Tsoo. Then sunk deeper into her gloom when it dawned on her it was true.
In the office, everyone could see she was having a bad day, and assumed she had been chewed out by Jameson. If they only knew. It was time for her to head to the gym. A good workout would help a lot. She could get some of these feelings worked out on the bag. That was why she thought she could be a hero in the first place. She had taken a few martial arts lessons and had gotten pretty good. She heard about Paragon City and thought she’d give it a try. Two weeks later, she moved back.
It was pretty slow today. There weren’t even any lines for the good machines. Her trainer, Paul, was late today but another trainer helped her with her workout, pushing just enough to do some good. When it was over she headed off to the locker room. She popped open her locker to find a note.
Sorry I missed you, but we’ll get together soon, I promise. I assume you’ll be walking back to your office.
Paul often left notes for her, but this seemed sort of out of character. She wondered if he was going to ask her out or something. Maybe a surprise in the park. She took a quick shower and got dressed. The whole time she was in the shower, her mind flashed back to “The Park” and the countless defeats she suffered there. It wasn’t just the gangs, it was everything. Robots; death cults; hundreds of other heroes, both real and wannabe. The memories sent a chill down her back. Just as she slipped on her shoes, she noticed that the locker area was almost empty. “Lunch must be over”, she thought. She grabbed her bag and started for the door when she heard it open. She froze and called out, but there was no answer. She quietly took her damp towel out of her bag and twisted it up like a whip, then tied a simple knot in the center. She then took the little plastic lemon juice bottle out of her bag and took off the cap. Holding the bottle in her left hand and her towel in her right, she started out the door. Made it. With a sigh of relief, she walked out into the hallway. “I must be getting paranoid”, she thought. Just then, a hand came down on her right shoulder. Without a thought, she raised the lemon juice over her shoulder and gave it a squeeze. The stream shot out at the face of the accoster. With both the hand letting go and the scream, she knew it had found his eyes. Quickly, she stepped away with her left foot and flipped one end of the towel into his groin. The knot added speed to the tip and made a good, loud snap. Another plus from the knot was that the towel did not come untwisted. She flipped again at his face, yelling, “FIRE!” at the top of her lungs. The towel struck one hand he was using to rub his eyes free of the juice. The tip came back into her left hand and she dropped the, now mostly empty, lemon. She caught the tip and using both hands began to strike him about the head and body with the knot. About the fifth hit, enough of a crowd had gathered to grab the guy. She stopped and looked at her attacker for the first time. “Oh! I am so sorry, Paul”, she cried. “I thought… I don’t know what I thought. The last couple days have got me really on edge.” The crowd dispersed and she filled him on Jameson’s meeting, apologizing frequently. He was the only person that knew of her Time in Paragon, until today. He offered to walk back to her office, but she declined. “I’ll be fine. I mean, it’s broad daylight in a public park. I’ll only be in it for ten minutes. It’s not like it’s Perez.” She did a better job of convincing him than herself.
She started off to her office, in just a few minutes it would be over. She could get back to work and leave the embarrassment of the “attack” behind. As she walked along the familiar path she was vigilant in her observations of others. She was not going to be surprised again. She thought back to the other things her brother told her about safety. Never walk within 20 feet of bushes, trees, public restroom doors, or the corners of buildings. Look for shadows before you walk around a corner. Always have at least two escape routes in opposite directions, and always make sure that many people can see you. Glancing around, she could see nothing out of the ordinary. Just the usual crowd. Young couples making out under a tree, scores of skaters, and bikers, the woman with the huge, white dog. Everything seemed normal enough. Then it happened. A whirring sound came up fast from behind her and a big arm slammed into her back. The impact knocked her to the ground and took the wind from her. He pulled her under the cover of a small cluster of trees and covered her mouth.
“I’m sorry if I scared you. I didn’t mean to. I just didn’t know how else to meet you, I mean you never talk to anyone on the bus. Well, I want to talk. I’ve watched you for quite a while. I know where you live and work, I can even tell if you’ve had a bad day. Yesterday was a bad one wasn’t it. I can tell. You know, I really think you’re beautiful. You look a little like the girl I was supposed to take to my graduation dance. That slut stood me up to go with another guy. She said I was “too weird” for her to be seen with me. You aren’t like that though, are you? You understand. You won’t scream if I take my hand off of you mouth will you?”
She shook her head and he removed his hand. What was she going to do? He was on top of her. He sounded nuts. He was a lot bigger than she was. If she laid on this cold, wet ground for much longer she was bound to cramp up, then she’d never get away. “It’s worth a shot”, she thought. Throwing one leg out hard she grabbed the back of her thigh and let out a muffled scream. “Cramp! Ow! Let me up, Let me up!” She had enough of these to be very convincing. It was a risk to think that he might actually think he cared enough to be willing to help. Fortunately, he did. He jumped off and asked what he could do. “Rub out the knot in the back of my thigh”, she said as she stood up and faced away from him. He kneeled down and put both hands on her leg and began rubbing with his thumbs. She positioned herself next to pine tree for support as she “stretched out” the knotted muscles. Carefully she broke off a small pine twig, loaded with needles. Turning quickly, she struck his face twice with the small branch, as he covered up for protection, she pushed him away with her leg and ran off down a muddy trail. She knew she could never outrun him, or out muscle him. Fortunately, thinking did not appear to be his strong suit. Diving headlong onto the muddy trail and rolling over gave her a ruined light green dress, but very good camouflage. She moved with reasonable quickness into a small patch of bushes. Looking around for a stick or bottle or anything that could be used as a weapon turned up only a plastic water bottle that probably fell off a bike. She could hear him coming up the trail. She froze and waited. He stood just a few feet away and looked around. He even looked at her twice. “It’s working”, she thought. “He’s looking for red hair and a green dress, not a hydra.” Shortly, he walked on down the trail. She relaxed for a moment. She knew this path looped around and came back this way. She needed a weapon. Her bag was back with the bike so no towel. Then it hit her. She took off her shoes and nylons, then put her shoes back on. She filled the small water bottle with dirt and mud to add weight, then stuffed it into the toe of her nylon. She stuffed that leg into the other. Now she had a weapon. Sort of. She knew that this trail just looped around and came back to this point. She figured she wouldn’t have much time to run, and in this mud she would make noise. Still she felt it was a good risk to take. He had to be at the far end of the loop by now. She broke from cover and ran up the path toward the sidewalk. 50 more yards to go. Almost there.
She was grabbed from behind and lifted off the ground. Not a hard thing to do, as she weighed only 115 pounds.
“I thought you understood! You bitch! You’re just like all the rest! And now you’ll pay like they did.”
With her arms pinned to her sides there wasn’t much she could do. She could feel his belt buckle digging into her butt. That means his groin is open. She swung the bottle under her own crotch and hit him. It wasn’t hard but it was enough. He threw her to the ground and grabbed a stick. She scrambled back, stepping on her dress and pushing with her hands. She was sitting, almost helpless, as he approached with the stick. She looped the nylons around each hand leaving about a two foot length between them. As he swung at her head she raised her arms. It worked! The nylons held. She flipped the end with the bottle over his hands and hit him in the kneecap with her left palm. His head came down and forward, the perfect position to take his head off with the bottle. She reversed the swing. The one thing she had not counted on was that the nylons stretched. The bottle missed his head, swinging nearly two feet over it. They wrapped around his head with the weight of the bottle acting as the driving force. At the point it made one complete circle, she looped the other end around the bottle twice, making a crude slip knot. She jumped to the side to tighten it. He was trying to unwrap the strange device as she gave it another yank. It pulled him off balance and cut off the blood. He knew it was just a matter of seconds before he passed out. She was not content to stop here. She switched the free end to her left hand and grabbed the stick with her right. With as much strength as she could muster, she struck his collarbone. He instinctively grabbed the suddenly painful spot and she struck again. This time to his hand. Even over the crack of the impact, she could hear the bones break. He reached back and grabbed the nylon with his right hand and pulled. She was caught off guard and lost her balance as she was pulled forward. Suddenly she found herself lying with her head at his feet, flat on her back. She flipped the stick with her wrist and hit him in the shin. At least now she might be faster. Her quick thinking was rewarded with a backhand across the face. The blow knocked her away. She found herself dazed and lying on her stomach. The first thing she knew for sure was that he was lying on her back. She was pinned down with his arm as his good hand maneuvered her dress up. Both arms were pinned beneath her, and her legs were held firm by his weight. As she frantically turned her head from side to side to get her bearings, she saw his bruised and swollen hand just inches from her head. She turned and bit it. With a howl, he pulled away and slammed her back into the ground. In that split second she was able to free her hands. She grabbed his left hand with her left and his hair with her right and pulled on both of them. As he started to roll off, she shifted her neck and placed it against his elbow. The force of this acted like a lever to drive his face into the ground. Her right hand was now pinned under his body. She could feel where though. His chest. His nipple really. She pinched as hard as she could and he tried to pull away, and so freed her arm. As he began to rise, she hit the back of his head with the bottom of her tightly clenched fist. His world erupted in a ball of light. Moving onto his back, she grabbed his hair with both hands and slid his face back and forth along the ground between the times she lifted his head and slammed it into the dirt. Occasionally she would lift up slightly and drop her knee down on his back. Driven by fear and rage, she beat him unconscious.
As he lay still in the damp earth, she found the nylons, now nearly 10 feet long, and wrapped them around his neck, his hands, and his feet, so that if he moved they would tighten around his neck. She climbed back to the path and yelled for help. A bike patrol officer heard the cries and took the man into custody. She made her statement and was escorted back to the office as the man was led away by another policeman, to an ambulance.
A swarm of co-workers surrounded her, both concerned and curious. She dismissed them with a look that few could muster, but everyone would understand. The next morning Jameson came in early to hear all about her limited time In Paragon. By the time the work day began, she no longer saw herself as a failure. Sure she wasn’t a Paragon City Hero, but it was nothing to be ashamed of. Not all heroes have to be.