Monday, February 28, 2011

STARDUST #1 "Captain Amazing" - pt. 4

Jill’s car was a 2010 Audi S4, so if nothing else, Sean would be riding home in style. Being a nurse married to an architect, in addition to the money their parents left them, let Jill do everything in style.

Sean sat in the passenger seat and stared out the window. If Jill wanted to talk, she was going to have to initiate it. It did not take long.

“What did I tell you two months ago about needing to find work so you would have better insurance?” Jill asked like she was scolding a child. “If you had really broken something, do you think that fly-by-night insurance company you pay into was going to pay for everything?”

“Don’t worry about me,” Sean said dismissively without turning his face from the window.

“I wish I didn’t have to,” Jill said and she sounded like she really meant it, “but it’s been my job to worry about you since Mom and Dad decided I should be the executor for your share of the inheritance. And that makes it my duty to tell you that your share of the inheritance is almost gone.”

“What? That’s impossible.”

“It’s not impossible. Do you even read the statements I send you? Or took any of my advice on investing it? You’ve been getting hit hard by income tax every year while it was just sitting in a savings account and then drawing off it like a sponge after your unemployment benefits ran out...”

Sean tried to tune her out. He knew he should be paying attention, but he could not focus on money issues right now. It was too mundane. Something extraordinary had happened to him last night, he was sure of it, but he was also afraid that if he was dragged down by the ordinary details of life, he would lose that special feeling. So instead of listening, he paid attention to the route they were taking. They were on Villa Street now, at the top of the hill overlooking the downtown area.

“Turn here,” Sean said abruptly. “Jill, turn right up here!” he added, pointing to the right.

“I was driving you home,” Jill reminded him.

“My bike! I’ve gotta see if it’s still where I left it!” Sean demanded. When they approached the alley where the Ducati M900 had been left, Sean did not even wait for Jill to stop the car. He jumped out and limped to the alley’s entrance. “No! Oh no…!” he moaned.

At the age of 15, Sean had noticed that superheroes in comic books never cussed, so he gave up cussing. Even when the superheroes started cussing in comic books a few years later, Sean never fell back into the habit of cussing. Now, with no sign of his beloved motorcycle where he had left it less than a full day earlier, he let loose a stream of obscenity and profanity that surprised Jill when she heard it coming from him. He was screaming and hitting his fists on a brick wall to vent his frustration when Jill got out of the car.

“I'm sorry,” Jill said and this time she also sounded like she meant it. “I've got my cellphone on me if you want me to call the police for you.”

“No, it's okay,” Sean said, though he did not sound at all like he meant it. “I'll handle it.” He came back over to the passenger side of Jill's car, opened the door, and grabbed his bag of personal affects. “I think I'd just like to walk home from here.”

Jill nodded silently, got back into her car, and drove away.

Sean watched until her Audi turned the next corner and disappeared from view. Then he dug the mask out of the plastic bag and put it on. “One last mission for Captain Amazing...” he said out loud as he dug out his jacket and put it on. He put on his gloves while he walked and then dumped the empty bag in a garbage can he passed. The thought had occurred to him to look for the motorcycle thieves and extract a healthy dose of vengeance, but he had no idea where to start looking and he did already have a mission he had promised to perform. The dollar store was only six blocks away.
Captain Amazing was a rare sight downtown in the afternoon, but not so rare that he attracted anything more than curious stares. Sean was used to seeing staring faces. What he was not used to was walking into a dollar store and seeing someone else in a mask staring back at him.

“I'm robbing this store!” the man in the black ski mask said with a heavy Hispanic accent as he waved his gun at Captain Amazing. “Go find your own!”

The gunman seemed to be working alone. Sean spotted a customer, a black man, in the aisles standing still with his hands up and the Indian man behind the counter obviously worked there as the cashier. The cashier was standing there with a fistful of cash in one hand and the other holding the cash register it came from. It was hard to tell from the gunman's voice how old he was, but he was between 20 and 30. His tone had been casual, flippant, instead of frightened. This probably was not his first robbery. He also did not seem to recognize the Captain Amazing costume at all and Sean realized that he had been mistaken for a rival robber.
Sean put his hands up. “Easy there,” he said. “I didn't know this was your territory. Just don't hurt anyone.”

“Don't tell me what to do!” the gunman shouted at him, before accusing Sean of having a sexual proclivity towards mothers. The man waved his gun -- looked like a semi-automatic, probably a 9mm Glock – around some more.

“Just take it easy... take it easy...” Sean repeated calmly. He had not shut up yet because he could not decide what to do next. It seemed like a good idea to keep the gun trained on him so it would not be aimed at the cashier. Keep him from doing something stupid. He looked the gunman right in the eyes. What he did not expect to see was the reflection of green twinkling light, like the Aurora, in the man's eyes. Sean was startled and stepped back suddenly. The gunman did not react at all. Instead, he just stood there as if dumbfounded... or hypnotized, or mesmerized or something...

Taking advantage of the situation, Sean put one hand over the barrel of the gun, slid a finger from his other hand behind the trigger, and popped the gun out of the man's hand. The hand just fell slowly to the man's side as he stared off into space.
“Oh my stars and garters,” Sean said. “I do have superpowers.”
NEXT: Sean Causer abandons being plain old Captain Amazing for being the new Stardust. NEW Stardust? And does he really have superpowers or just thinks he does? Plus, Sean's plans for his future bring him into conflict with "The Man Who Stole Comic Books." Come back in a month and see how he does!

Friday, February 25, 2011

STARDUST #1 "Captain Amazing" - pt. 3

The Aurora was lowering in the sky and seemed to be coming closer. The sparkling motes of light now seemed large and spherical as they fell and Sean could see some were farther from him than others. As each fell, it seemed to hit a different note of music that was faintly perceptible to his ears, but even though there must have been hundreds or thousands of different notes there was no cumulative volume to them. Now the motes were falling all around him as slowly as snowflakes. The Aurora was right on top of him. It was bathing him in its glow and motes of colored light fell on him as gently as snowflakes, only to disappear in those same musical notes.
Sean turned around, feeling light-headed and dizzy. “Holy moley!” he cried – and then he fell off the roof.

The next day, Roger was at Sherman Hospital, pushing Sean’s wheelchair through the hallway towards the elevator on the floor where Sean had spent the night under observation.

“I’m telling you, I’m fine,” Sean insisted again.

“You’re just lucky,” Roger said without sounding at all happy about it. “It’s amazing you fell three stories and didn’t get killed.”

“But the point is that I wasn’t. The doctors thought I had broken my legs. Then this morning they rechecked me and decided they were wrong and they were only sprained.”

“I know. Like I said, you were lucky.”

“Luck had nothing to do with it,” Sean said as he was pushed into the elevator. Roger scooted them over to one side so a fat nurse could step in with them. “Now this afternoon I’m walking again and the doctors are releasing me. I’m telling you, this isn’t natural healing. I’m healing faster now.”

“Or, a tired doctor misread your X-rays last night and you weren’t so badly injured to start with. People have fallen thousands of feet when their parachutes don’t open and land unhurt. It just happens sometimes.”

“And were they touched by the Aurora before it happened? I’m telling you, something special happened up there last night. This is my origin story!”

Roger paused before responding. The nurse was staring at them. “Head injury,” Roger said as a made-up explanation for her. “He’s a little delusional right now.”

The nurse did not respond, but stepped out of the elevator first when they reached the ground floor. She held the elevator door for them as Roger pushed the wheelchair out.

“My head is fine,” Sean said. “I don’t even need this wheelchair.”

“Hospital procedure,” the nurse said as boringly as if she had explained this a hundred times already that morning. “All patients exit the building in a wheelchair.” She did not stay to chat or even wait for a response, but headed down a separate hallway from them.

“Sean, you’ve got to stop this,” Roger said. “I’ve always supported you being Captain Amazing because of the good things you did and because it was, well, you know, cool – but if I’d known you were jumping around on rooftops I would have kicked you out long ago.”

“I can’t believe you’re being so unsupportive,” Sean said sullenly. There was a moment’s pause as he thought. Roger was wheeling him through the winding, crowded corridors as fast as they could manage towards the waiting rooms. A likely explanation rose to Sean’s mind – Roger’s girlfriend. “Did Lauren put you up to this?”

“Nope,” Roger said as he finally pushed Sean through the doors that led into the waiting room. Lauren Avery was standing out there. Unlike Roger, who was wearing a polo shirt and jeans because he had the day off, Lauren must have just come off work as she was still wearing her FedEx uniform.

Sean did not suspect Lauren long when he saw who was standing beside her. “Hello, Jill,” he said coldly.

Jill Petran, even out of her scrubs, looked right at home in the hospital. Sean speculated that she routinely visited the rooms of dying patients as their angel of death when she was off-duty as a nurse. “Good to see you didn’t get killed, Sean,” she said, but she did not sound like she meant it.

“Good to see you too,” Sean said, without meaning it either. “Can I get out of this wheelchair now?” he asked Roger.

“The nurses said you could get up once you’re outside,” Roger responded quietly, not wanting to be drawn into the veiled hostility between Sean and Jill.

“I wonder if I’m the only one in this hospital whose kid brother fell off a roof while playing at being a superhero yesterday,” Jill asked.

Sean, eager to be on his feet again and not looking helpless in a wheelchair in front of Jill, began wheeling himself forward so that Jill would have to step out of his way. “I wonder if I’m the only one here with an arrogant older sister,” Sean shot back. Had he really been feeling cruel, he would have emphasized the “older”, knowing that Jill hated being 32.

“Sean, be nice,” Lauren said. “Jill paid your hospital bill for you.”
Sean groaned and rolled his eyes. Perfect. Another reason to feel indebted to Jill.

“I’ll pay it back,” Sean grumbled.

“No, you won’t,” Jill said as she took over pushing Sean’s wheelchair to the doors. “We’ll discuss it on the car ride home.”

Sean squinted at the bright daylight outside and his legs felt weak when he forced himself out of the wheelchair. Roger and Lauren had remained behind, so Sean was clearly meant to ride home with Jill. The Captain Amazing mask, gloves, and jacket were in a plastic bag hanging off the back of the chair. Sean slung the bag over his shoulder, grit his teeth, and forced himself not to limp on his way into the parking lot. No weakness in front of Jill.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

STARDUST #1 "Captain Amazing" - pt. 2

Roger observed all of this without comment. He loved comic books, but Sean? Sean lived them. He, like certain other guys - the Zetamans and Dark Guardians of the world - didn't possess fantastic powers or superhuman skills, but they had adopted the costumes and the codenames just the same. Sean called himself Captain Amazing. He patrolled the streets of Elgin, Illinois. His mission, to combat crime wherever he encountered it. Which was not often, admittedly, but maybe that was just as well.

“I’m sorry about earlier,” Roger said.

“Hey, don’t worry about it,” Sean said through the mask.

“I really do think what you do is important.”

Sean finished with his belt and looked his friend straight in the eye. “I know you do.”

Waiting for Sean in the garage was his black and silver 1996 Ducati M900 motorcycle. He rolled it out onto the driveway. His neighbor, Jim, the motorcycle enthusiast, had just come home from a ride on his Harley. Jim was in his late 30’s, with thinning, curly brown hair, a scraggly beard, and always a T-shirt stretched taut over his portly gut.

“Hey, Captain Amazing!” Jim called out.

“Evening, citizen!” Sean called back as he mounted his bike.

Jim was used to Sean pretending not to know him when in costume so he ignored it and continued. “Hey! Is that fuel line still leaking any?”

“No. No, it’s working quite well, thank you,” Sean said.

“Great! Okay, well, if you need me to look at it again, you just let me know, okay?”

“Yes, sir. Have a great evening!” Sean said before he revved up his bike.

Elgin, Illinois, was home to about 105,000 people and just one superhero. The bike patrol had become fairly routine – drive downtown by the Fox River, get on State St. and take that north to Big Timber Rd., back south down Route 25, and then loop back to downtown on Villa Street. It was a nice enough drive. Some nights he would stop by Beef Villa for a snack, but not tonight as he was broke again.

He slowed down before he reached Route 20 – he spotted two homeless men he knew walking on the side of the road. Sean pulled over on the shoulder of the road ahead of them and waited. “Hey, guys!” he called out.

The two men, both scruffy, dirty, and wearing heavy layers of clothing, came up to him. “Hi, Captain Amazing,” one of them said.

“Sam. John,” Sean said with a nod to each man. “Had any trouble today?”

Both men understood the question was about their panhandling activities, which had got them in trouble before. “No, we haven’t had any trouble,” Sam said.

“Well, there was the dollar store,” John said.

“Yeah,” Sam said, “we were at the dollar store – you know, the one down by the riverboat – and this black guy was hollering at us for stinking up the store this afternoon. Finally the manager shooed us out instead of the other guy. But we weren’t soliciting in there or anything. We really had some money to spend.”

“So you think you can do anything about that guy, Captain Amazing?” John asked.

“I’ll swing by the dollar store and ask if that might be a problem customer. Okay, guys?”

“Yeah, thanks Captain Amazing!” Sam shouted as Sean revved up his bike and pulled back out into traffic.

The dollar store had closed for the night by the time Sean reached it and he made a mental note to stop by in the morning. Everything looked quiet around the strip mall where the store was located. Sometimes there was gang activity for him to report, but not tonight. That meant he could move on to the fun part of the patrol that came after riding around – the patrolling on foot. This was the sneaky part because, technically, what he was going to do was trespassing and illegal, but if superheroes patrolled on rooftops in the comic books then by golly he was going to as well.
There was a fire escape in an alley just off of North Street that he could reach with a jump, pull himself up to, and then climb to the roof. He had done this a hundred times before, so it was no sweat. From that roof, he could cover four city blocks without leaving the roofs, though he did have to make some perilous jumps over narrow alleys along the way. Sure, it was dangerous – maybe even stupid – but it was exciting and made him feel more like a “real” comic book superhero than anything else that he did.

Sean had just hopped an alley at the end of Dexter Court to reach his second city block when he saw the Aurora. He followed local news religiously, both online and through the newspapers, but Sean had not followed many national or world news stories since the earthquake in Chile at the end of February. Still, he had flipped past coverage of the Aurora on TV all day today and had caught enough of it not to be completely surprised. It was first sighted in New Zealand and had spread over most of the world through the day. It was supposed to be some sort of trick of the light that scientists had not fully explained yet, but it was visible to some people and not to others and not visible all the time to anyone. This was the first time Sean had glimpsed it all day.

It was beautiful. The shifting string of bright green light was continuously moving and dropping trails of sparkling, twinkling lights straight down towards the Earth. The sparkles ran through several colors of the rainbow, but most of the time was green. The whole rooftop seemed to be bathed in its glow.

Sean ran to the west side of the rooftop and gazed out over the Fox River. The river too reflected the Aurora’s green glow, which was so bright that the colored lights of the riverboat casino seemed muted and dull. It took Sean’s breath away – but what happened next made his heart skip a beat.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

STARDUST #1 "Captain Amazing" - pt. 1

The neighbor at 1133 Elmwood Drive was too busy changing the oil on his motorcycle to hear the Thing yelling, “It’s clobbering time!”. At 1137 Elmwood Drive, Uncle Pedro had just pulled up in the driveway, playing loud mariachi music, so the kids running out to greet him did not notice Spider-Man leap into the air to avoid the Thing’s ground-shaking blow. Since the windows were closed at 1135 Elmwood Drive, no one heard Roger McGill shout, “It’s not fair! You’re too good at this!”

Sean Causer smirked as his fingers and thumbs hammered away at the game controller in his hands. “That’s why they call me Captain Amazing…” Sean said, making it sound like crude innuendo.

The digital Spider-Man, under Sean’s control, shot webbing in the Thing’s face repeatedly. Roger could only watch in frustration as the digital Thing’s health bar went down. “That is so not fair! How is webbing the Thing’s face helping to knock him out? Are you plugging his mouth and nostrils so he can’t breathe or something?”

“If I was Spider-Man,” Sean said, “I would have added chloroform to my web-fluid mixture so I would just have to spray a little webbing on a bad guy’s face and he’d be out cold.”

“Before they made his webbing organic to follow the movies,” Roger corrected.

“An idea they stole from Peter David’s Spider-Man 2099 series to begin with,” Sean added.

As the Thing went down, Sean dropped his controller, raised his fists in the air, and made a cheering sound for himself.

“You know what?” Roger asked. “I think you’re maturing.”

“How dare you, you lout!” Sean mock-admonished in a faux-Shakespearean voice.

“No, well, not really, but before you turned 29 you used to jump up and do a victory dance around the room.”

“My old bones can’t take it anymore!” Sean cried in a faux-old man voice. “Rematch?”

“No, man, I’m starving!” Roger stood up. “Sanvi kept me too busy to eat anything on break this afternoon. Inventory sucks.” He opened the top pizza box stacked by the couch and grimaced as he saw it was empty. “Dude, you didn’t even save me the dipping sauce! Now I have to cook something.”

“There’s hot dogs in the fridge,” Sean said as he switched to one-player mode. “I stopped eating them when the marinara ran out.”

Roger navigated the dirty and cluttered living room to reach the kitchen he shared with his roommate and best friend since third grade. “If you had a superpower, it would be your cast iron stomach.”

“My superpower is kicking your butt at video games!” Sean shouted back as his friend disappeared into the kitchen.

Shortly, after Sean beat Wolverine as Venom, Sean noticed he was hungry now too and turned off the game. He found Roger in the kitchen, eating ramen noodles.

“Leave any for me?” Sean asked.

“You know I can eat a whole pack. Make your own,” Roger said between bites.

Sean noticed that Roger was glancing at something on the countertop and followed his gaze to the spot. A blank application form for Jimmy John’s was sitting on top of the junk mail pile on the counter. Sean returned his gaze to Roger and saw that Roger had seen him see it and was looking at him now. “So…” Sean said carefully, while trying to sound nonchalant. “Thinking about leaving FedEx for Jimmy John’s?”

“No…” Roger said with equal care. This was a subject that had come up many times before and he knew to tread with caution. “I thought you could go for it, though. They call their cashiers rock stars, you know.”

Sean pounded his fist on the counter. “Darn it, Roger, I thought you understood this by now! I already have a job. I’m a superhero.”

“Yeah…” Roger said, still on eggshells, “but only at night. If you just worked during the day…”

“What I do is very stressful,” Sean said, getting angry and defensive. “To keep doing it, I need to spend my daytime resting and unwinding.”

“Stressful?” Roger said, forgetting to not let things escalate. “You patrol downtown Elgin. You haven’t actually witnessed a crime worse than traffic violations in months.”

“What I do is a public service. And what about the other real-life superheroes out there? You think Dark Guardian or Zetaman work a day job?”

“Yeah, I bet they do!”

The two friends just stood there after that in a tense standoff. The subject of rent had not come up in three weeks and things had been easy between them, but now it was out there again and they would not be able to talk civil to each other for the rest of the night now – unless Roger did something soon to lighten the mood.

“Hey, April Fool’s Day,” Roger said, forcing a smile. “I was just kidding.”

Sean saw right through his friend’s ploy to lighten the mood. He turned to leave the kitchen, but then stopped and came back. He opened the nearest cupboard, pulled out a box of Pop-Tarts, and sulked off with it. He could not go far in a ranch house, but he did head off to the other end of it. He opened the Pop-Tart box as he reached Roger’s room and went in to sit at Roger’s computer.

Around 8:30, Roger became curious of what Sean was up to and stopped watching TV to go investigate. He found his computer was still logged onto Comic Book Resources, one of Sean’s bookmarked sites. Sean’s bedroom door was shut. Roger almost knocked, but Sean must have heard him out in the hall and shouted that he could come in first.
Sean had been reading comic books, as evidenced by the last two issues of X-Force lying on his bed, still out of their plastic sheaths. Sean was already dressing for his night’s work. His costume consisted of black running shoes, black jeans, black leather gloves, and a black leather jacket with orange duct tape wrapped twice around each sleeve. His hair was naturally black, so it matched his outfit well. He had started out with a domino mask, but decided after a few weeks that his face was too round and boyish for the domino mask. He went with a draping mask like the Clock, a transitional character between pulp heroes and superheroes back in the ‘30s, used to wear. He already had all this on and was putting on the utility belt he had put together after reading about how to do so on Zetaman’s blog.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Stardust: Prologue

Hi! My name is Sean Causer. If you’re reading this, then you probably already know me as Stardust - or you're about to. You may be wondering, how did I get this way? Have I got an origin story? Well, of course I do! What superhero doesn’t?

I think the moment I first learned I would amount to something special someday was when I was five years old. That was when I ate five hot dogs in a row and didn't get sick and thought I was really cool.

The first inkling I ever had that the ‘something special’ about me was comic book-related came when I was six. I remember reading my older brother’s comic collection – which I wasn’t supposed to do because I wasn’t allowed in his room – but anyway, I’m sitting there in his closet reading his comic books and this whole world of colorful costumes, evocative names, and black and white conflicts between good and evil – it just speaks to me suddenly. I understand, in that moment, that this is another language. That there’s this whole subtext about what the world should be like or what we wish it was like that you can only read by deciphering what these words and picture combinations really mean. And my brother and I are the only ones in the family who can read this special code. Our parents didn't get comic books -- they didn't like them at all and most of my friends, except for my best friend Roger, didn't like or get comic books either. So this was something special. Of course, I didn’t say anything like all that at the time. Hey, I was six! I said it was “Cool!” and waited until I’d had six years of community college under my belt before I could express it better.

Actually, it was after college where my story gets a little confusing. See, I’ve already been a superhero once already. Well, not one with superpowers or anything. No flying, no super-strength. Just me, my bike, and a cellphone, going around Elgin, Illinois and reporting crimes in to the police, doing good random deeds, and helping local charities. You know, a real-life superhero. My hero name was Captain Amazing and for five years after college this was who I was.

I bet I can guess where you think this is heading. Real-life hero meets real-life supervillains and acts out childhood fantasies. Well, okay, maybe you got me on the childhood fantasies part. But I’ve never even heard of a real-life supervillain. I mean, who would really do that? If I really wanted to, you know, rob a bank or something, am I going to put on a costume to make it easier for the police to catch me? C’mon.

Anyway, there really is a point to all this. See, a few nights ago, I was out patrolling the night that the weird aurora appeared in the sky. And it seems to have affected me, you know. I think it gave me superpowers. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking again. That couldn’t happen, because no one can get superpowers in real life. Well, maybe you’re just wrong about that one…

STARDUST. Changing the world one issue at a time.


Comic book aficionado Sean Causer lives a life less ordinary, patrolling the mean (well, moderately ill-tempered) streets of Elgin, Illinois as the real-life costumed hero Captain Amazing. But how drastically will the lives of Sean and his circle of friends be transformed when the night of the Aurora Event gifts him with real super-powers? Is the world ready for... Stardust?

(art design by Ian Mileham)

STARDUST was an attempt to write an original monthly superhero fiction series I undertook at the Revenance website. After a few issues, the project was canceled and I understand the site might be coming down next. So, I've decided to make Scottenkainenland Stardust's new home.