Peter awoke sweating, bleary-eyed and aching. He felt like he hadn’t slept at all. The clock beeped and he realised he was going to be late for college. Groaning, he wiped the drool away that had collected by his cheek and dragged himself out of bed, so out of it that he was bumping into the walls, not notice the changes that had taken place. It was only after he’d splashed water on his face and had a quick wash that he noticed he had somehow grown muscles. At first he was shocked and furrowed his brow, then he remembered the room and the painting and the dream and it all made sense. A wry smile appeared on his face and a warm sense of wellbeing coursed through him. Looking admiringly in the mirror, he tensed the various muscles around his newly-toned body.
Then, he brought his hand up to his face. There was something strange about it. He clenched his fist then slowly unwrapped his long, slender fingers, curling them in a claw-like poise. He felt something new in his hands, something extra. Suddenly he winced as the skin at the tip of his fingers broke. Short, sharp bone claws protruded from his fingertips, and then he winced again as he felt them come out of his toes and catch on the carpet. To test out how sharp they were he dragged his hand across his forearm to the point where pain began to mingle with pleasure. Realising he had to get a move on Pete retracted his claws, which was a strangely satisfying sensation, and left for college.
Wearing a baggy top to conceal his improved physique he strode out of the house, glad that his parents had already left for work. Powerful leg muscles propelled him forward at a faster pace than his usual amble. As he strode along he noticed that his senses of sight, smell and taste had been enhanced. It never occurred to him not to use his newfound abilities for good. With his powers came a responsibility and a duty and he felt proud that he was the one chosen to have these powers bestowed upon him, although he would later find out that they were more akin to a curse than a gift. He didn’t know exactly how he would help people he just had an innate sense that it was the right thing to do.
He checked his watch when he arrived at college and was surprised to see that he wasn’t late nor was he out of breath. The first lesson of the day was Sociology so he took his seat and tried to not let his mind wander. It was difficult though, and he frequently found his mind drifting to grand dreams of saving the world and being lauded as a hero. But then his classmate, Jenny, walked up to the front of the room and began speaking. If he had been paying attention he would have heard the teacher talk about assaults and street crime. Jenny had been the victim of an attack and she bravely offered to talk about her experience.
“Hi everyone,” she began in a small voice, taking a deep breath, “um, well it was last year when a group of us went to town for one of those under-18 nights at a club. We were walking home and heard footsteps behind us. We turned around and these girls were following us. So we ran, trying to get back to the main street so there would be other people around, just in case they attacked us. But they were screaming at us and throwing stuff, bottles and stuff,” she stopped for a moment to dry her eyes. Her words were getting caught in her throat and her voice was cracking with emotion, “One of my friends tripped up so we stopped to help her but the other girls caught up and they just started punching us and they took off their shoes and were beating us with them-”
The teacher could tell it was overwhelming for Jenny so he asked a gentle question to guide her thoughts and remind her that she wasn’t alone.
“Do you know why they were chasing you?”
“They kept mentioning something about a guy, so I think one of my friends must have been talking or dancing with one of their boyfriends. And they seemed drunk so…but they were using their shoes as weapons like just stabbing us with the heels. Somehow one of my friends managed to escape and ran to get help and these guys came to break it up. I was one of the lucky ones I only had a black eye and bruises and stuff but my other friend was actually blinded. One of the heels caught her eye and…” she trailed off, not being able to speak anymore. She brought a tissue up to her face and tried to stem the flow of tears that threatened to flood out. The teacher thanked her for speaking and Jenny crawled back to her seat.
Peter thought about her story and once the lesson ended he approached her, trying not to take notice of the redness around her eyes.
“That was some pretty heavy stuff,” he said.
“Yeah, well I always get a taxi back from town now.”
“What happened to the girls who attacked you?”
“They were given a fine and community service I think.”
“Is that it?”
“That doesn’t seem right.”
Peter looked thoughtful and a moment of silence passed between them. Eventually Jenny moved away but something stirred in Peter. It wasn’t just a dream of being a hero, but a need to help people. He couldn’t imagine how many others had similar stories to Jenny and he took it upon himself to be there and prevent those things from happening. It was up to him, and only him, to save people.
Later on in the evening he sat at his desk doodling things on a pad of paper. There were two things every hero needed, he thought, a costume and a name. He wasn’t much of a designer so he decided that he would have to ask Stephanie for help. Before he picked up the phone he tried to decide on a name.
‘Hmm so I have the powers of a cat…Cat-Man? No, that’s far too obvious. What else is to do with cats? Feline…Felinius, Felini, no, I’m not Roman or Italian. Felicia? That’s a girl’s name. Felicius, Felicio? Felicio. Feh-lee-see-o. Feh-lee-sho. Either works!’
Having christened himself Felicio he picked up the phone ready to dial Stephanie’s number but he hesitated. It was a big secret to tell someone, and he was still coming to terms with the change himself. Yet he needed her help and if he couldn’t trust her who could he trust? So he dialled the number and waited nervously as he heard the ringing tones at the other end of the line.
“Hey, it’s Pete.”
“Oh hey, what’s up?”
“Are you doing anything important?”
“Not really. Why?”
“I have something I really need to talk to you about.”
“Oh…okay. Is everything alright?”
“Yeah, kinda…depends how you look at it I suppose.”
“Why do you have to be so mysterious all the time?”
“I’ll let you know when I see you, can I come round?”
“See you in a bit.”
He placed the phone down and ran out of the house, calling out to his parents that he was going out. Faint specks of rain fell on him as he raced to Stephanie’s house. Once there, she greeted him and they went up to her room. Clothes were flung about in complete disarray and loose pieces of paper were strewn across her bed. She quickly picked them up so that Peter would have space to sit down. While she did so Pete glanced at all the posters of various bands and singers she had hung on her walls.
“So what’s going on?” she asked.
“I have something quite startling to tell you.”
“You may want to brace yourself.”
“Are you sure you’re ready to hear this?”
Stephanie glared at him.
“Get on with it!”
“Fine. I have superpowers.”
Stephanie stared blankly at him for a few moments and then burst out laughing.
“You have superpowers?” she said between laughs, “I thought you had something serious to tell me.” She was well aware that on occasion Peter’s imagination ran wild and his claim was so outlandish she couldn’t help but laugh, and tears streamed down her face. Peter tried to calm her down but he had to wait until she caught her breath before she could concentrate again.
“This is serious. I really do have powers.”
She started to laugh again, but then she looked at him closely and began to be persuaded by his earnest expression. Then, as she looked into his eyes she saw they had changed. To anyone who only glanced at them they looked normal, but Peter’s pupils had ever so slightly changed their shape. It was only a small difference but it was clear to anyone who looked closely. Instead of being perfect circles they were ever so slightly thinner and longer, as if they had been squashed.
“Your eyes…” she said. She quickly rummaged around her bedside table and pulled out a mirror, handing it to Peter.
“I didn’t even notice these this morning.”
“You’re telling the truth aren’t you?”
“Would I lie to you?”
“Wow so um, what powers do you have?”
“It seems I have the powers of a cat.”
“Well, so far all my senses have been improved and my stamina, oh and feel this,” he held his arm out and she took a hold of his bicep, raising an admiring eyebrow.
“That’s not even the best part,” he said. He brought his right hand up to her face and she jumped as the claws popped out.
“That’s disgusting,” she said, sickened, “does it hurt?”
“It did the first time, but it just feels normal now,” he said as he looked at his claws, they were just another part of him.
“How did this even happen?”
“At the museum, when you left me. There was a room and a painting and…I don’t know exactly. It changed something inside me.”
“What are you going to do?”
“What can I do? I’m going to fight crime, protect the innocent and all that jazz.”
“Isn’t that dangerous?”
“I’ve been given this gift, and I can’t let it go to waste. There are a lot of people out there who need to be punished and even more who need to be protected.”
Stephanie considered his words. It was a lot to take in and she wasn’t sure how to process it all.
“You don’t seem as excited as I am,” Pete said, disappointed.
“It’s just…it seems pretty dangerous. Are you sure you’re up for it?”
“What choice do I have? Anyway, the main reason I came to you is to ask for help.”
“Stop right there. I am not becoming your sidekick.” Now it was Peter’s turn to laugh.
“No, I’d just like it if you could make me a costume.”
She pondered it for a second. She wasn’t entirely sure she agreed with the direction he was taking but the lure of putting her talents to good use was tempting, and as long as he had his mind set on this course of action she figured that she should do anything she could to help him.
“Okay, I’ll do it. Did you have anything in mind?”
“I want it to be black because I’ll be doing most of it at night. I want a couple of blue spikes across the torso and maybe on the feet and gloves too. I know I don’t want a cape. And I want a mask, preferably with one-way eyeholes so that nobody will know who I am.”
“Why? You could be famous.”
“I don’t want to be famous. I don’t want people to know I’m just some random 18 year-old. I need to be more than that. More than I am otherwise they won’t be afraid of me. When they look at my mask I want them to see their own fears reflected.”
“I’m assuming you want it ready a-s-a-p?”
“Yes please,” He got up off the bed and sighed, “Now I have something I need to do.”
“Take this,” she rifled through her drawer and pulled out a scarf. It was black with dark purple squares. She tied it around his head, masking the lower half of his face.
“Thank you,” he said, his voice muffled by the scarf.
The rain was coming down more heavily than before but it didn’t deter Felicio from his quest. The streets were quiet. He kept to the back alleys and the shadows so that nobody would see him. Focusing on his senses he tried to filter through all the various smells and sounds that he was being bombarded with. Eventually he caught the scent he was waiting for and traced it to its source.
Not knowing how much time he had he raced to his destination – a non-descript alleyway in between two generic streets. He slowed his pace as he approached, not wanting to alert anyone to his presence. With soft footsteps he crept up alongside a wall giving him a vantage point of the alley. Crouching to hide himself, he examined the area and then, even in the blackness of night, he saw it. A small can of food sat in the alley, placed there by someone in order to kill an innocent creature. Bile rose in his throat, his heart beat with anger but then his breath caught as he saw a small, frail cat scamper up to the can.
Quickly, Felicio leapt into action, bounding across the road. He ran into the alleyway and kicked the can away, much to the disappointment of the cat. He picked the cat up and checked it, it didn’t seem like it had ingested any of the food. He set the cat down and it ran away into the night. Felicio bent down, combing through the weeds to pick the can up, but then he heard a rustling at the other end of the alley. He looked up and saw a shadow move away so he began his pursuit.
It didn’t last long. He chased the criminal through a twisting road into a nearby park. There weren’t many lampposts but that didn’t trouble Felicio. Whoever he was chasing veered away from the main path and tried to hide in the trees. It was a hopeless endeavour. While the man was looking back Felicio circled around him and pushed him into a tree. With a groan and the thump of the air being knocked from his body the man collapsed to the floor.
“Just don’t…don’t hurt me. I…I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” the man said while trying to catch his breath.
“You poisoned them. Murdered them you sick…why?”
“Why did you do it?”
“I…I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
Felicio was circling the man, trying to rein in his anger. For all his pomp he never thought about what he’d do when he actually caught the culprit. The man struggled up, trying to regain his strength but all Felicio wanted was an explanation.
“TELL ME WHY!” he shouted. The man fell back, shocked.
“I just…I don’t know. I just did it. I guess…I guess I liked the fact that I could. J-just don’t hurt me. Please.”
As the man begged for mercy Felicio was torn. Peter had always had a soft heart and believed in giving people second chances, but this man had performed evil deeds and he didn’t deserve to go free. With terror in his eyes the man was begging Felicio to let him go, promising that he would change but that wasn’t enough. Felicio unsheathed his claws and swiped at the man’s face, tearing the soft flesh along the cheek. Blood spurted out and the man fell to the floor, unconscious but still breathing. The deep cuts would heal but he would be left with scars ensuring that he would never forget the crimes he had committed. Felicio dragged the body back out onto the main path, placing the can of food in the man’s hand knowing that eventually someone would come and find him.
As soon as he reached home Felicio ripped off the scarf. It was stained with blood, ‘hopefully Steph won’t be too mad,’ Peter thought. Then he looked at himself in the mirror. The realities of fighting crime were a lot different to his fantasies. The anger he felt and the power he had scared him. He never thought he would be capable of inflicting so much pain, and even though that man was bad and he deserved to be punished Peter couldn’t help but feel guilty. He knew he did the right thing, but it didn’t make it easy to cope with. He let himself feel the pain and the anguish that night, but he vowed to himself that when he was Felicio he had to harden his heart for he couldn’t allow his own sensitivities to interfere with his duty.
Detective Alan Lang sat at his desk. A cup with the remnants of coffee stood next to a stack of paperwork. He ran his hands through his thinning hair and wondered if he’d ever get to go home. His colleague, Lauren Bishop, burst through the door.
“Al, we got a confession from the cat poisoner.”
“A confession?” Alan looked confused, in his experience it was rare that a criminal became a victim of a guilty conscience.
“Yeah. Some jogger found him. He’s been attacked. He’s scared shitless.”
“Attacked by who?”
“He doesn’t know, just some guy. Says he was about six foot, brown hair, but he was wearing something that covered his face. Could be anyone.”
“Figures,” Alan said dryly.
“There’s something else…”
Alan looked at Lauren expectantly but she had trouble phrasing what she’d seen. He went to fill up his cup with coffee, wondering what she was about to waste his time with.
“Well?” he demanded.
“There were cuts on his face-”
“So this mystery guy used a knife?”
“No, that’s the thing, it looks like…”
“Spit it out Lauren.”
“It looks like it was done by claws.”
Alan paused just as he was bringing the cup to his lips.
“Claws, eh?” he said, wondering what the hell life was going to throw at him next.