Aphelion Issue 245, Volume 23
November 2019
 
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Hindsight

by Brandon Krempec




Emotions are the vessels that hold the blueprints for humanity. They guide one’s decisions based on joy, eagerness, empathy, love; however, decisions are also guided by fear, anger, resentment, hatred. These are what led to the lives lived today. A student with a desire to seek the truth, an undermined employee waiting for the chance to prove himself. A child hoping for the gifts she requested for her birthday, a parent knowing their next paycheck will determine if she will get any gifts at all. A woman, on her way home from work, the sky calm yet vibrant, as silent lightning blinked in and out, a dance of flashes brightening the night with its sporadic behavior. A group of troubled people, lingered behind the lightning, hardly able to reserve their impatience. The woman, surrounded by troubled men, sinking their eyes into the innocence before them. A subtle reach for self-defense in a purse, the realization. Then the realization that they were not alone. The troubled men turned, my mask terrifying as the lightning illuminated its pattern, blinding them with fear.


*****



Three friends made their way to their dorm, made of red bricks and stone pillars guarding the front door. Although the main focus of their conversations included debates on the current year’s Oscar nominations, theories based on upcoming blockbusters no one could have imagined actually appearing onscreen, this day they had a new discourse, one based on something no one could fathom to be real, a vigilante.

“I mean, there’s no way the guy’s got any superpowers,” Jaime insisted, approaching the front door.

“Of course.”

“Oh, of course,” Tony and Patrick agreed. Jaime scanned his door key.

“But does he have abilities? Like, is he super smart, is he some kind of martial arts master, what can he do that the police can’t?” Tony argued.

“Well, all he really did was beat up a couple a dudes and save a woman.” As Patrick said this, all three of them give each other a look.

“Cliché.”

“Cliché.”

“Cliché.”

The front door led to a lounge, with a pool table sitting idly in the corner dimly lit. The friends sat down on the uncomfortable lounge sofas that haven’t been broken in because no one hangs out in the lounge. They were exhausted from their schoolwork, however, and couldn’t find the strength to take themselves up the stairs into their rooms.

“I don’t know how they can do it” said Jaime, “Spend every other night getting beat up just to do what the cops should be doing. That dude’s gotta have a ridiculous amount of willpower to keep that kind of life up.” Patrick nods in agreement. “Definitely can’t be easy. Wish I was cool enough to be Discount Batman.” The other two snort loudly.

Maybe Discount Batman’s sidekick” Tony retorted, causing Jaime to erupt in laughter.

“Discount Boy Wonder.”


*****



More greed, more hatred. This world is full of people willing to give everything to others, to those they care about. But it is also full of people who will take from those unwilling, thieves who are unable to give to themselves. Five of these people with their guns drawn, pointed at civilians and employees alike. They demand for what is not theirs, for what others have worked so hard to gain. It is not an easy world: and I will make it hell for those who make it worse.

Slipping in unnoticed, I took down the first thief. The others found out quickly, reacting almost simultaneously. They fired, but each bullet never landed. I dodged and hid with perfected timing. But I was outnumbered, and the civilians and employees were at risk. I knew this would happen, but I thought I changed that. I guess four thieves is just as troublesome as five. Glass shattered, and in a split second there were three. Someone else came in, a bit more theatrically than I had, and more efficiently. Before I could figure out what was going to happen it had already happened. The third thief went down, two left, then one. He tried to run, but I could read the cowardice on his face before he even turned around. Everything was silent, the customers and employees began to realize their salvation. I looked and saw a hood, black gloves, a demeanor unlike anything I had ever seen. I could tell it was a she, her feminine physique hidden underneath the carbon fiber armor. She gestured, and I left with her, as the employees called the police.


*****



Five men apprehended, none seriously injured, one at risk of a minor concussion. An officer assessed the situation, as the last thief is shoved into a police vehicle. The officer turns to the restaurant, where civilians and employees were answering questions. No one else was injured, one broken window, no other signs of a fight other than a few chairs knocked over. The officer spotted a glimmer, very brief, but obvious nonetheless. Underneath an overturned table: bullet casings. Shots were fired, but no one was injured. He approaches the detective, who had just finished with the eyewitnesses.

“So, we got five goons who entered and threatened everyone with guns, then, uh, according to several of the witnesses, two masked persons snuck into the restaurant and knocked ‘em all out.” The detective shook his head.

“Sounds like we got some vigilantes running the streets,” the officer stated, looking at the chaos that ensued.

“Looks to me like they did it right, in any case: no one got hurt except the bad guys, there was minimal damage to the premises.”

“Regardless, we need to find them, we can’t have randos running around risking lives like that. Besides, these people would’ve been just as safe giving them the money and calling the police.”

“Well, now they get to keep their money.”


*****



I was perturbed to say the least when I discovered I wasn’t the only one. Her mask was mechanical in nature, the rest of her outfit armored in black. She carried no weapons, like myself, but what intrigued me the most was her demeanor. Her stance, it was as if she wasn’t even real, like some kind of celestial being send from the gods to exact justice on humanity. I tried to think about what she would say or do, but she was unpredictable.

“You picked a bad night to get involved,” she told me, her voice warped by some device in her mask, “you might want to lay low for awhile.”

“I’ve never considered robberies a bad night,” I replied, “just another day in the life of people like us, right?”

“We are not the same.” I could feel her cold eyes through her mask, something unreadable about her that I have never experienced with any other human being I have come across. “You want to stop crime, while my goal is a little larger.”

“Oh yeah? Fill me in.” I was eager to get involved, sounded to me like a potential team up. She was not someone I would want to go up against, and she clearly knew how to efficiently take care of dicey situations. Plus I need to get out more, it is 2025 after all.

“I didn’t help you and bring you here to have you join me. I’m going to warn you, lay low, otherwise you’ll regret it.”

“So now you’re threatening me?” I wanted to see what she’d do.

“I’m not the one threatening you.” She approached me, and for the first time in my life, I had no idea what was going to happen next. “Trust me, if you reveal yourself again to those guys, there will be consequences… and I might not be there to save you again.” At that, she took off, faster than I could react.

“More like help than save.” I muttered.


*****



The next Saturday, rain began to batter the ground, quickly soaking everything in sight. The three friends got caught in the downpour after their lunch, and they were in a hurry to find the comfort of their dry rooms. Typically they would just follow the sidewalk, but they knew of a shortcut down an alley that would shorten the time to get back by a few minutes. Their desires to get home were cut short by another desire. In a cyclic manner, a gun was pointed.

The three friends were approached by a group of three, one was armed. Jaime and Tony froze immediately, raising their hands to prevent confrontation. But Patrick ran before the thugs could react.

“Dammit! Ya let him get away!” One of the thugs exclaimed.

“No matter,” the one with the gun snickered, “maybe it’s one of you. Guess we’ll have to find out. If you both would join us please, we have some questions for you.”

“Questions?” Jaime and Tony looked at each other, wishing they had run with Patrick.

“Yeah, see, we don’t want your money or anything. We’re already getting paid just to find you, and we did. Come along, now.”

Jaime and Tony slowly moved towards the men, fear and the cold rain making them shiver. The man with the gun laughed.

“Oh don’t be afraid, we’re not gonna-“ his sentenced was cut short by an abrupt greeting to the ground with his face. The two behind him exclaimed in shock, realizing they found who they were looking for.


*****



I stood atop the man’s unconscious body, kicking the gun away from the other two. I turned to look at the civilians, who were just as shocked as the thugs before me, my mask and trench coat already soaked.

“Run.” They didn’t have to think twice, as always.

“Let ‘em go. It’s this guy we want.” One pulled out a knife, the other a pair of brass knuckles. Just as I had thought. I saw everything coming from a mile away. The wide slash with the knife, the winding swing from the other side. I moved so fast each hit moved the rain around me. These guys were different, somehow. I could see what they were doing, but their movements were more sporadic than anyone I had ever faced. They seemed to have just as much of a drive as I had, but what was pushing them to their limits?

I should have beaten them three hits ago. Never has a fight with common thugs lasted this long. One of them managed to slash my side, I could feel my split skin burning with each drop of rain that made contact with the wound. I made sure that my resolve was beyond any comparison. With a predictable disarming and a fierce strike, I put down the man with the knife. The brass knuckles found an opening, somehow, and I felt the metal crunch against my skull.

Collapsed, the world became a wet blur, the rain blinding me. I have been hit before, but never that easily. Who are these guys, how do they know who I am, and what do they want from me? I couldn’t predict that, nor could I predict hearing the sound of a gunshot in the air, the sound of a police officer shouting “don’t move!”. I couldn’t predict I would get caught, as a police officer kneeled over my body, red and blue lights creating a silhouette of the man who saved my life.

The pain and rainwater blinded me, preventing me from seeing who was approaching. All I could hear was the sound of raindrops barraging my body and the world, the officer shouting “freeze!”, a metal fence shaking as two of the thugs ran away. I needed to get up. As soon as I moved my side screamed aggressively, my wound spilling onto the pavement.

“Don’t move.”

I froze, not because I was told to, but because the pain made me numb with anguish. I knew in that moment I wasn’t going to be able to get out of this. I heard him call in an EMT as cuffs were zipped onto the thug I took down. I felt the rain fade away, and I could finally open my eyes.


*****



So this is the vigilante. The officer observed the injured character’s clothing: a trench coat, leather button-down shirt stained with blood on his side, and a mask that frightened the officer. It wasn’t anything one would find during Halloween. It’s likely he made this himself. It appeared to be a single cloth, like gauze but more metallic in color, wrapped around the vigilante’s head like a mummy. How can he breathe? Or see? A silver pattern marked the face of the mask, with the cloth somehow matching up the pattern perfectly with the way it had been wrapped on.

“Stay put, I’ve got an ambulance on the way.” The officer looked again at the bloodstain. The cut wasn’t deep, just deep enough to be a problem. He rushed back to his vehicle, grabbing a first aid kit. He returned to the vigilante.

“That cut needs to get taken care of,” the officer was wary of this mysterious person, who had been involved in so many cases in the last few months. He began tending to the cut, wondering what this man was thinking, and why he wasn’t speaking. “You mind explaining to me what you were doing? You know you can’t run around fighting crime, we don’t live in a cinematic universe.” Nothing. Who is this guy? And-

“Where’s your friend?” The officer noticed a slight reaction, but still, nothing. “I figured you two weren’t working together, not intentionally anyway, most of the cases we get only have one person doing what you do.” The wound was covered, and the sound of sirens slowly filled the air. The officer looked again at the mask, the indecipherable pattern on his face. Reaching at the neck, he fiddled for a way to unravel it.

“I didn’t design it to be taken off by anyone.” The words that finally came out of his mouth shocked the officer. He backed up, placing his hand on his holster instinctively. “Well, we’ll get it off you eventually.”

“Not likely.”

In a flash of grey and black the officer was on the ground. The sirens bellowed louder as they got closer. What the hell? He comes to his senses too late, as he stares at the place where the vigilante’s body used to be. I guess they are friends.


*****



“I warned you to quit showing yourself,” she told me as she finished sewing my wound shut. She found me somehow and brought me to a rooftop a few blocks away from the crime scene. The sun was setting, painting the clouds with orange and pink colors, making the damp street sparkle with a fading vibrancy. “If they already know who you are, then you need to leave.”

“I thought you said you wouldn’t be able to save me again?”

might not, plus the last thing that will help me is letting you get arrested.” I wish I knew what she was going to say next. She was still wearing the mask, like a helmet worn by a sophisticated but deadly soldier. She had taken her gloves off to sew, and her hands were small but strong, yet they looked different from one another somehow. She said, “You’re lucky the authorities didn’t figure out who are, but they know, and you might as well not even return to wherever you’re from, because they likely also know where you live.”

“First off, who’s ‘they’, and second, why do ‘they’ give a shit about me? Are they butthurt that I keep kicking their ass?”

“Yes. They are,” she put her gloves back on, and they seemed to click into place, as if it was an astronaut suit. “A criminal I have been assigned to take care of has been making deals recently that would have extremely negative effects on the well-being of the citizens living here.”

“Let me guess, I was accidentally on purpose thwarting this guy’s deals?”

“He’s the only organized crime around.”

“Alrighty, how are we gonna stop him?”

“We don’t. You are going to leave this town and wait for the news. I don’t have time to debate, and I don’t have time to waste on you.”

“And yet, here we are.” She didn’t care, she was gone in a split second, and there was no way for me to stop her. I still couldn’t seem to figure her out.


*****



Jaime paced back and forth in front of Tony, who could barely stand in shock. Patrick hadn’t returned to the house surprisingly.

“Should we call the cops? He could have been chased by more of those guys.”

“I was.” Patrick stumbled, clutching his side as he approached his friends. They help him to a seat.

“Jesus, what the hell?!” Jaime exclaimed, “what happened?”

“A couple more of them jumped me a block down. One of them sliced me but the cops showed up before they could kill me. I’m so sorry guys, I didn’t mean to leave you there.”

“Hey man, don’t sweat it…” Jaime’s voice trailed off as he looked at what Patrick was wearing. It wasn’t what he had on before they left, and he didn’t recall Patrick ever owning a trench coat. “Hey, Patrick-” Jaime was suddenly interrupted by an explosion that sent the friends sprawling on the floor in rubble and smoke.


*****



Dust and smoke filled the room like steam in a sauna. I got up, my side still screaming at me, and I saw the wreckage. A chunk of the building had been destroyed, by what I was soon to find out. A dozen men guarded the outside of the new hole burnt into the wall, with a leader standing front and center. He was tall, wearing a dark grey suit with a neon green tie, a neon green glass eye sitting in his left socket.

“You want to be a hero?” the villain shouted, “how about a little rescue training?” He lifts up a device, and with the press of a button I felt another explosion. To my right I saw the campus bell tower begin to lean forward, smoke rising from the bottom. There were people screaming, running from the destruction that was caused by my decisions. I wasn’t going to stand for that. I wanted to rush over and help as many as I could, but I knew they would shoot me the moment I took a step. Nothing I would do could change this outcome. Then the thugs began to fall. There were a dozen surrounding me, then ten, nine, eight. The villain turned to look at a boot, its sole giving a painful kiss in his mouth. I recognized that hood, that mask. I didn’t have any time to put mine back on.

No thought was running through my head when I ran. All I saw was a child, young and terrified, staring at the mass of bricks falling upon her. She put her hands over her head, letting out a shriek that would have stayed in my nightmares for years to come. I didn’t have years, I had just one moment. A moment where the shrieking stopped, and the child looked up at the bricks merely a foot away from crushing her. She looked up at me, awe and pure shock in her expression.

I have no explanation for how I was able to hold it up, all I know was that I had to. It didn’t matter that everything was on fire, my muscles were burning so much it felt like my blood was magma. I wasn’t a vigilante, not in my heart. I wanted to give people a peaceful life, one without fear or hatred. In the end my goals led me to this moment of heroism, but at a cost too high. I watched the villain aim his gun at me as I held the tower, and I knew his shots would land. He pulled the trigger, and we were both surprised to realize the bullets hit someone else. The hooded woman knelt in front of me, red and blue blood dripping from the bullet holes. I couldn’t see her coming when the shots were fired. She grabbed the child, the wound in her hand revealing wires and gears hidden underneath the skin. She glanced at me, and I couldn’t tell if she was admiring my sudden strength or silently scolding me.

“You should have left…” her words faltered as she died right in front of me. The child began to weep, releasing herself from the stiff grasp from the hooded woman’s frozen body. The villain laughs at the chaos he has wrought, only to have his fun sabotaged by a bullet through his head.


*****



The bullet shattered his green eye, the fragments contrasting the smoke around him. The authorities had arrived, with the majority of the villain’s men beaten, and the others dropped their weapons immediately at the sight of their fallen leader. They had so much tenacity before, why are they giving up now? The officer analyzes the chaos. Several injured and in shock, multiple men unconscious, two explosions. He spots the vigilante underneath the fallen tower. Somehow, he is holding it up. How? The child remains still with fear besides the vigilante, and the other one in kneeling beside him, but something didn’t feel right. The officer rushed to the tower, realizing that the other vigilante was dead.

“Run!” The vigilante screamed at the child, and she ran in tears to the officer, who took her in his arms. Before he backed up he saw the vigilante’s face. A kid? It was a college student, the strain on his face telling the officer that he wasn’t going to hold up much longer. The officer got away from the tower, and the vigilante yelled in an effort. The stress was too much for any person, super or not. The strain released from his face, and he closed his eyes, ready for the tower to finally come down on him. He let go, but the tower did not collapse with him. Handing the child over to an EMT and observing the tower closely, the officer noticed that the tower was pushed to the side enough to allow the weight of the base to hold up the front end.

“What a mess. At least this won’t happen again, for a long time I hope.” The detective stood beside the officer as he watched the EMTs take care of the injured.

“That Influencer guy has been a problem for a while now. Now that his glass eye’s shattered along with the rest of his head, I hope for the best as well.”

“I heard he was a manipulator, got into people’s heads and triggered their emotions to the point where they become willing henchmen.”

“That is absolutely ridiculous.”

“I mean, after today, it doesn’t sound so far-fetched.”

“What about the vigilantes?”

“Both of them are deceased now, unfortunately,” the detective shook his head, “one of them seemed to possess some kind of bionic limbs, but the other one is a perfectly normal guy.”

“Didn’t seem normal to me, no one in their right mind would do what he did.”

“Not everyone sees themselves as superheroes.”


*****



Wearing a mask does not make one a hero. It is the actions, the decisions made by the right people in the right moment. The ability to look beyond what is happening now and perceive all possibilities that may occur can only give so much knowledge. The intellect to do what is right does not make one invincible. Evil cannot manipulate the hearts of good people, no matter how much it persists. The law is final, but it is not infallible. In the end, it is one’s decisions and emotions that govern one’s life. To combat the evils terrorizing the world, to uphold the law, and to help those who can not protect themselves. To be wary of emotions is to question the heart of humanity, and in turn perceive the way humans act.

My friends learned that lesson as they donned their own masks, the moonlight illuminating the patterns on their faces.



THE END


© 2019 Brendon Krempec

Bio: Brandon Krempec is an aspiring filmmaker and the director of the 2019 Miami University Capstone Pictures short film Plague. He is set to graduate May 2019 at Miami University with a degree in Media and Culture and Creative Writing. Brandon is also a recipient of the Chick Evans Scholarship for Caddies, which provides a full tuition and housing scholarship at multiple universities across the country.

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