General Welfare

from Tyler Stern

Jan. 31, 2014, 12:48 p.m.

The sun rises over Pendleton City. From above, the reflection of the sunlight off of the towering glass skyscrapers leaves the city gleaming and glittering, as if suggesting the notion that the city is a shining example of an idyllic American metropolis. Unfortunately, today Pendleton isn’t that city. A scream shatters the city’s peaceful awakening and echoes through the sprawling grid of streets and alleyways. “Help! Somebody stop that man!” A man bolts out of a family run grocery store with a black sack over his bag, snapping his head back to check if anyone happened to follow him out. Only the old, frazzled storeowner pushes through the double glass doors behind as she shouts again. “HELP! Somebody stop him!” With a smirk, he turns his gaze forward and continues to sprint along the deserted sidewalk. He knew nobody would hear her cries for help; he planned this robbery as if he were attempting to steal the declaration of independence: everything was accounted for. He knew no one ever walks around this neighborhood at this time of day. It was the perfect time and place to steal something valuable — no one would ever be able to stop him. Or so he thought.

With a thud, a tall, burly man fell from the sky and landed on the pavement in front of the robber, cracking the cement and stopping the would be thief dead in his tracks. Clad in what was basically a green and yellow jumpsuit, this fallen angel’s muscles rippled through his clothes as he slowly raised his body from a crouching position to face the degenerate criminal standing in awe before him. Like the towering buildings that litter the skyline, the sun shined brightly off of the man’s yellow mask, nearly blinding the robber as he craned his neck upward to determine just exactly who was trying to prevent his potential theft. The robber’s previous confidence quickly morphed into pure terror. It was every criminal’s worst nightmare: Macho Man. Even though he knew there was no escape from his fate, the robber’s legs were frozen in fear; he couldn’t run even if he tried.

Macho Man stood as still as a rock with his gaze fixated on the relatively small and fragile man clutching the black sack. He uncrossed his arms and stuck an open hand towards the robber as a cocky smile broke out across his face. “I’m going to have to ask you to hand over that bag,” Macho Man asked politely. The robber stood there frozen. He always thought Macho Man was a myth. “I’m going to ask one more time, hand me the bag or else.” The robber didn’t even hear what Macho Man said. He still couldn’t believe that he actually encountered the fabled superhero of Pendelton City. He had heard a couple of his criminal buddies talking about how they ran into Macho Man — or rather, how he ran into them — when trying to pull off a job, but the robber always teased them for being so ridiculous. Now, as the superhuman donning yellow and green boots, a yellow spandex top and green spandex pants that struggled to contain his bulging muscles (some more pronounced than others), and a yellow mask that only exposed his eyes confronted him, he finally started to believe. “They never take the easy way out do they?” Macho Man remarked with a sigh as he effortlessly raised his fist and gently bumped the robber atop the head. The robber didn’t even know what hit him. Macho Man leaned forward to retrieve the stolen money next to the unconscious robber’s body as the storeowner approached him. “I saw everything that happened, thank you so much! I didn’t think anyone would be able to hear me!” The lady’s excitement bolstered Macho Man’s already surging confidence. He chuckled. “You don’t have to thank me. I’m just glad knowing that I can help small business owners like you.” The lady blushed. “Well, you have my eternal gratitude….how can I ever repay you?”

“Oh, don’t worry about me, you don’t have to….” Macho Man paused and thought for a short moment. “Actually, there is something you can do for me. I’d like all of your oranges,” Macho Man said gallantly. The store clerk’s enthusiastic expression twisted into a puzzled half smile. “…Or..Oranges?”

“Yes. Oranges.” Macho Man appeared unaware of how peculiar his request was.

“Um…well, sure I don’t see why not,” The storeowner responded hesitantly. “Can I ask you a question, though?”


“Why oranges?” Macho Man chuckled again as if he had to explain this several times before. He motioned for the lady to come closer towards him. “Well, if you must know…” Macho Man looked around to make sure no one else might be eavesdropping and pulled the clerk in much closer. “Oranges are the source of my power,” he whispered with an innocent smile. “You can’t tell anyone though, okay?”

“Oh, oh wow, I didn’t even…Oranges? Really?” The lady seemed dumbfounded.

“Shh! Yes! Don’t be too loud. I can’t have my enemies finding out or they’ll try to poison the orange juice supply.”

“Oh, right. Sorry! I’ll have your oranges packed up right away!” The storeowner said apologetically as she scuttled back to her store to put together Macho Man’s reward.

Righteous City is home to a fair amount of special places. The botanical garden is truly remarkable and a hot spot for many tourists. Another is the boardwalk that illuminates the western sky at night, often times combining with the sunset to paint the clouds with all sorts of bright colors. Both of these are well known attractions, but there is one special place in the city that almost no one knows about, and for a good reason. It’s a simple, regular, ordinary apartment inside of a normal building located in a less than stellar neighborhood. To be quite honest, there’s no reason whatsoever for anyone to ever want to visit this specific apartment. It’s a small, 20’ by 30’ one room floor plan containing a sink, a cot, a table, and a single chair. There are clothes strewn everywhere and the stench of mold lingers in the air, waiting to clutch onto the inside of a pair of lungs owned by some unsuspecting visitor. But that’s assuming that people would actually come to visit this place, when in reality there’s only one person who comes in here regularly. In fact, this same person is the one who surprisingly lives in the rundown apartment (if you could even call it an apartment). It might be difficult to understand why this cockroaches’ paradise is special until one considers that person who lives here and happens to be standing outside the window to the apartment at this very moment.

Laughing hysterically, Derek Grabowski pulled himself through the open window into his home heaving a sack of oranges over his shoulder and grasping a yellow mask with his other hand. Trying to gain his composure but failing triumphantly, Derek threw the heavy sack onto the weak table, effectively knocking the legs out from underneath it and sending broken pieces of wood scattering across the floor. Ignoring the destruction of what was basically his only “nice” piece of furniture, Derek uncouthly slid out of his green and yellow jumpsuit, revealing the copious amount of body fat that his suit disguises as muscle. He finally sat down naked on his bed and wiped the tears from his eyes. After catching his breath, he laid back with his big belly and flushed face pointing straight up at the ceiling. “Oh man, ‘oranges are the source of my power.’” He tried to stifle another giggle. “How in the world do I come up with this kind of stuff?” Derek slowly started to regain his composure as he watched the dust particles gently fall towards the disgustingly dirty floor from the ceiling fan above him. “Those oranges should last me for a while,” he thought to himself, “I don’t see why mom and dad insist that I need a job. I can get food on my own just fine without one.” Derek rolled over on his side and stared at the wall covered in cracks and chipping paint. He thought about his parents who are essentially the only things keeping him afloat. Or rather, were the only things until about last month. That was when they decided they weren’t going to tolerate Derek’s apathy anymore and stopped paying for his rent and groceries.

You see, unlike most superheroes whose secret identities range from billionaire playboys to aspiring photojournalists, Macho Man’s secret identity is a listless and unemployed burnout. Other superheroes have occupations to pay for basic necessities, but Derek thought that actual jobs were just too boring for him. This has always been the case for Derek Grabowski. After he developed his superpowers at the age of 12, Derek spent a large portion of his time causing mischief and engaging in general shenanigans with his friends instead of taking his schoolwork seriously. As time passed, his friends continued with school and found jobs in the real world, but Derek was stuck in his childhood fantasy messing around with his superpowers. Then, one day he decided the time had come to take things seriously; the time for play was over. He had finally matured enough to see what he had to do as a responsible adult: become a full-fledged superhero. Unfortunately for him, being a symbol of justice and righteousness didn’t come with a considerable salary or health benefits, but it did come with a shiny key to the city (He ended up pawning it off to make a few hundred dollars). So Derek continued to live out his childhood dream of being a superhero and reject the dull reality of taking part in the general workforce at the expense of his parents, who gave him what was basically a monthly allowance to spend on food and rent.

Derek’s stomach gurgled like a monster from the swamps of Dagobah. He rolled off the bed and walked over piles of comic books and random articles of clothing lying about on his way over to the oranges spilling out of the burlap sack. He leaned over, picked up the biggest one, pealed off a large chunk of rind, and hoisted the orange into the air. “See, mom and dad,” Derek announced out loud, “I CAN take care of myself!” He drew the orange to his mouth and took a bite. After a few more bites and a couple of disgusted facial expression later, he spit out the chewed up bits of orange. He threw the rest of the orange back on the floor, retrieved his costume, and squeezed himself into it. He slid his giant hobbit feet into his boots, donned the transformative mask, and propelled himself out the window in the hopes that he could find someone else in the city who needs help and might have something a bit better to eat than oranges.


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1846 words

7 minutes