Superpower by Josh Denslow
Cody was always getting interrupted.
He lurched from sleep, the pale whine of a car alarm buzzing in the background. His feet had escaped the blanket during the night and felt thick and cold, no longer a part of him. His pillow was bunched under his right shoulder as if the mattress had a tumor.
Outlines began to appear in the dark, a Polaroid picture of his impecunious lifestyle. His rickety desk next to a small cube refrigerator. His TV, which he’d positioned on a soiled armchair left by the previous tenant. An abandoned shopping cart, found in the alley, that he’d rolled inside and filled with DVDs. Everything Cody owned was in this four hundred square foot studio apartment with no closet.
Someone upstairs flushed a toilet and the sound of the car alarm disappeared behind the gurgling water for one amazing moment. Cody grabbed his blanket and wrapped it around his shoulders. He crossed the room and pressed his forehead against the frosty window. He watched the lights on a Chevy Trailblazer flash in time to his sleepy pulse.
He imagined a title sequence appearing over the small alley, the Trailblazer hovering in the bottom right of the frame. Breaking Silence. Slow fade. A Film by Cody Johnston.
The camera tilted to reveal a couple stepping out of Cody’s building and into the alley. She had a down jacket zipped all the way up to her chin, but she was wearing only a pair of sleep shorts. Her pale legs glowed in the light mounted above Cody’s window. The guy wore a sweater and a ski cap, his shoulders slumped forward. They walked in circles, their arms slightly elevated at their sides, eyes scanning every window. Waiting for one to whisper which apartment contained the owner of the truck.
Lights snapped on in a random pattern across the street. Cody imagined the camera cutting to each room, close-ups on each face as they emerged from their dreams. Each face registering that brief moment of relief in between the next piercing cry of the alarm from the street below. Maybe that was a better title: Brief Moment of Relief.
A buff guy erupted from the building, his arms bulging out of a tattered blue robe. “Still no sign of him, huh?” he bellowed to the couple, and with that, it was suddenly okay to talk, to stamp your feet, exhale bursts of mist into the air.
“He’s either laying low or his apartment is ten blocks away,” the guy said.
“I hope it burns when he pees,” his girlfriend said.
A few others filed out of the building, a conga line of poor hygiene and halitosis. These were the people Cody saw when he checked his mail or when he read a book on the roof. The other buildings vomited their own groups of disheveled bodies and soon an impromptu party was underway in the alley. The Trailblazer was the DJ.
Late Night Revelry.
Cody should be out there, forming fledgling bonds, archiving experiences that would turn into future conversations. But his head felt frozen to the window. His teeth chattered lightly. There was a bigger gulf between them than a pane of glass.
He must hear a part of the alarm that they were all missing. A mournful quality. Or a warning. He was filled with a sense of disquiet, unease. But maybe Cody was supposed to be the only one who heard it. Maybe he’d been given a superpower in the night, the ability to decipher codes that were woven into the patchwork of reality. He grinned at the idea: In a world where chaos reigns, only one man can read the hidden signs that will save us all. Cody could change someone’s route so they didn’t get mugged. He could prevent a doomed plane from taking off. He could distract someone from an embarrassing social situation.
As suddenly as it began, the alarm stopped. The air was thick with its absence. The impromptu party disbanded, everyone stumbling indoors to return to their warm beds. But it wasn’t until they were all gone that Cody had a terrible thought. If he could stop crime before it happened, no one would truly know what he had done for them. He wouldn’t get any credit.
He wouldn’t be a superhero at all.
Josh Denslow’s stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Third Coast, Wigleaf, Used Furniture Review, Black Clock, and Twelve Stories, among others. He plays the drums in the band Borrisokane.