Felicio Chapter 5 – She Who Heard Their Screams

Chapter 4 – The Fun Begins

I’m tired…I’m cold…I hate my life…I wonder what’s for dinner?…I love her so much why can’t she just…why won’t he call?…what am I going to do?…she’s pretty…she’s ugly…what’s up with her weird nose?…I could really go for some pizza right now…why do I exist?…This song is amazing…I’m so nervous…will anyone love me?…God I hope I’m just late…why didn’t anyone tell me how to live life?

Emma walked along the street and those thoughts ran through her head, but they weren’t her own. Ever since she was young her mind had been invaded by other people’s thoughts. When she was within a certain radius of other people she could hear their dark, twisted secrets. All the quick judgments people passed were etched into her mind, crystallized in a clear moment and then shattering, mingling with the other fragments of thought that were strewn around her hazy mind. The voices echoed creating a cacophony of overwhelming confusion. The different voices overlapped and blended into a chaotic chorus and she ran to get a brief respite, but people were everywhere.

Why is she running?…nice tits…I wish I was as slim as her…I don’t want to go home…Why couldn’t I have just said hello to her?…How can I tell them about me and Mr. Daniels?…I’m meant for greater things than this…I hope the kids were nice to her today…I can’t let him come back.

She had hoped that as she got older she would be able to gain some control, but it only seemed to be getting worse. It was terrifying when her own thoughts were lost in the noise. Sometimes she wondered whether she really existed at all or if she was just a collection of random thoughts, an amalgamation of other people’s doubts and fears, hopes and dreams.  Her voice was a whisper in a thunderstorm, one drop in a waterfall. It was as if she were slightly out of phase with the world; she saw things that only existed in other people’s minds but she wasn’t truly connected with them.

Move people…damn kids…why didn’t she want to see me tonight?…I’m fucking his girlfriend and he has no idea…If they only knew the anguish in my soul…Thos homework sucks…I need a drink…I wonder what prison is really like…she’s so pretty…I want to cry…I can’t lose them…I wish I could fly.’

A thousand thoughts flashed through her head in an instant. A lot of them were about her. It was amazing how many people made snap judgments in the confines of their own minds. Oftentimes she wept because of them, an unwilling witness to the depravity of humanity. The only person who slightly understood was her twin sister Katrina, but she didn’t have the same ability as Emma. However, they shared a window into each other’s minds. It wasn’t a permanent connection but occasionally Katrina was aware of the raging storm occurring in Emma’s mind. As their parents had died when they were younger and Katrina was born a couple of minutes before Emma she took it upon herself to protect her younger sister. They lived with their uncle but he was an oceanographer and travelled extensively so by and large they were alone.

Emma was grateful for her sister’s presence but she still felt cut off from the rest of the world, even though she had a unique insight into other people. She took to spending as much time as possible alone and in her darkest moments she wished that she could be a recluse to escape the tormented cries blowing through her mind like a gale, but she forced herself to go to college because she wanted to make something out of her life. She had to make a life. If she could never get used to hearing all the thoughts then she didn’t see a way for her to carry on living, and that thought scared her more than anything. It was arduous, and even when she concentrated as hard as she could traces of other people’s thoughts lingered. Whether it was a classmate struggling with the work or the teacher frustrated at her lack of concentration it all took its toll.

She saw a side of the world that a lot of people didn’t get to see. Aside from all the sexual objectification she was subjected to she also heard the silent cries for help. Those cut to her heart. So many lonely souls just needed someone to talk to but they were determined to hide their scars from the world out of a sense of shame. She felt like she should be that person but she had no idea how to even begin to approach anyone about something so sensitive. So many times she wanted to run up and give someone a hug, or even offer them a simple smile but then the other thoughts came crashing through and she was like a warrior being beaten from all sides.

Why is she smiling?…nobody can understand…do they know?…why did I let her go?…I can’t believe I’m this happy…I really need to sort my shit out…I’m lost in my own mind…Steve is so funny…I need her…I wish I never had kids…Don’t need nothin’ but a smile.

But then she had become aware of Peter, having witnessed him save the boy in the alcoves. Finally there was someone else who had an ability he had to keep secret. And unlike her he was able to summon the courage to go out and use his abilities to help people, yet he was plagued with so much self-doubt. When she walked up to him she only wanted him to know that somebody appreciated his actions. It took a great deal of effort for her to speak to him but she was glad she did. She had no idea how he became Felicio but she found him inspiring, and suddenly she was taken by an urge to imitate him and use her ability for the good of others.

I wish someone would care.’

Emma cut a waiflike figure walking down a quiet street and there was only one other person walking ahead of her. He was a small man who glanced furtively around, always adjusting his jacket or checking his watch. He had a scarf wrapped around his head to protect him from the cold. He was older than her and further along in life, and it had caused him to hunch.

“Excuse me.”

What does she want?

“Er…yes?” He replied and glanced away. They both found it difficult to maintain eye contact.

“I…it looked like you could use someone to talk to.”

My God does she know?

“I…uh…no I-I’m fine thank you.” He carried on walking and sped up, but Emma matched his pace.

“Please, can I just…help?” She shot out an arm to pull him back. He turned and she was shocked to see his eyes ablaze with anger.

“Leave me alone you stupid girl you have NO idea…ju-just leave me alone.” He pushed her hand away and he stormed off.

What is wrong with me? She was so nice and I…I’m a monster. I’m not worthy of this life.

She was pained by his secret confession and her heart was filled with conflicting feelings of hurt and pity. She had no idea what problems plagued that poor man, but they had obviously twisted his mind and she only hoped that he could find some path to peace. Then a couple of people turned a corner and she heard their thoughts. She knew that peace would always elude her. She had to find Peter; perhaps he could help her like he had vowed to help so many others, perhaps he could teach her how to use her ability in a positive way.

***

Stephanie was laid in bed listening to music when she heard a frantic knock at the window. She looked over and her breath caught in her throat. She pulled the pillow close to her as she saw a shadowy figure moving out of the darkness. It knocked again and she breathed a sigh of relief when she realised it was her friend. Quickly, she opened the window and Peter tumbled in clutching his side. He was groaning and doubled over on the floor. She flicked her lamp on and when the light illuminated Peter she raised her hand to her mouth in horror. His costume was torn and blood seeped out of wounds dotted around his body. With an anguished noise he tore off his mask to reveal a bruised face, he was barely recognisable. He tried to speak but more blood drizzled from his lips. Stephanie collapsed to her knees, aghast at the battered body lying before her.

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Felicio Chapter 4 – The Fun Begins

Chapter 3 – Period of Adjustment

As Felicio leapt into the all-concealing night he was stopped in his tracks by the niggling feeling that he’d forgotten something important. He wracked his brains, trying to think what it could be and then eventually he clicked his fingers as it came to him. In his haste he had forgotten to tell the criminals his name. A good deed was its own reward certainly, but it was important to him that his heroics were attributed to the proper source. He had dreams that his reputation would spread and he didn’t want to be known by the wrong name. Still, there was nothing he could do about it; he simply had to make sure that he remembered next time. The grim city beckoned and he disappeared into the shadows, ready to find more criminals to subdue.

Meanwhile Detective Alan Lang arrived at the crime scene. He didn’t usually take such an interest in petty robberies, but when he learned that a costumed fighter had been responsible for apprehending the thieves he was intrigued. He towered over the criminals, his unforgiving square jaw made them quiver. Without saying a word to them he moved on to speak with the shopkeeper, who hadn’t been given a chance to change from his nightwear into more suitable clothing. Alan had to stifle a laugh as he questioned the man, who seemed to have no qualms with showing his portly figure to the world.

“It’s like I told the officer, I heard a noise so I came downstairs. It’s not the first time I’ve been burgled, but when I turned on the lights this guy in a costume was standing there. I didn’t know if he was a criminal or not, but then I saw the other two on the floor. Then he said ‘you’re welcome’ and left,” he said in a thick accent.

Alan jotted a couple of things down in his notebook.

“You didn’t notice any claws or other weapons?”

“No…nothing.”

“Okay, thank you.”

“Claws sir?” One of the officers asked.

“Just a hunch. I’m heading back to the station. Let me know if these two remember anything important.”

“Yes sir.”

He wasn’t prone to assumptions but it was a strange coincidence that shortly after a man was attacked by an assailant who struck with claws, a costumed crusader entered the scene. It was just another headache for Detective Lang. The last thing he needed was an unstable element performing amateur heroics. Sooner or later this vigilante would get himself into serious trouble and it would be left to the police to clean up his mess. Sometimes he wondered what would possess anyone to dress up in a mask and wander the streets at night, why not just join the police force? ‘At least they don’t have to do paperwork,’ he thought, and allowed himself to enjoy a wry smile.

Meanwhile Felicio was enjoying a successful night. He hadn’t realised how common crime was in his city and it was astonishing to him that so many people turned to illegal endeavours, but he had led a sheltered life and in some ways his soul was still that of a child, wide-eyed and naive.

All of them pleaded for mercy and only a few fought back. He wasn’t used to such strenuous physical activity but he soon relished it. The sinews in his strong body were taut and the muscles primed for action. None of his enemies were a match for his physical prowess. On a few occasions he unsheathed his claws, providing Detective Lang with the proof that his suspicions were correct – the costumed vigilante and the person who attacked the man in the park were one and the same. Throughout the night Felicio learned some subtleties of crime-fighting. For example, most of the people he encountered were unable to withstand his powerful blows so he had to pull his punches to keep from injuring them too severely.

Energy surged through his body and in truth he wished the night could go on forever, he felt more alive in one night as Felicio than he had in a lifetime of being Peter. However, time was ticking away and soon the moon’s shine would disappear from sight. He heard one cry for help and decided that it would be the last one for the night.

Like a trained athlete he sprinted away from the town centre to the source of the cry. It came from a backstreet in a side alley, and either the people in the houses were asleep and didn’t hear the cry for help or they chose to ignore it but the fearless Felicio made it his promise never to allow a cry of help go unanswered. He surveyed the scene and saw a number of men crowding around a helpless woman. One of them had her pinned up against the wall. She was writhing, trying to twist her head away from his ardent lips but he was too strong and his body held her prisoner. They others stood in the background laughing, waiting for their turn.

She viciously bit his neck and drew blood. He staggered back, shocked when he felt the wound and saw the scarlet stains on his fingers. Suddenly the laughter stopped and the air became tense. Felicio readied himself for action. The leader walked up to the girl again, a savage brutality flashed in his eyes while hers were filled with terror. She screamed yet again but it was cut short by a swift blow across her cheek, causing her teeth to rattle in her jaws and her head to clatter into the wood panelling behind her.  Felicio chose that moment to enter the fray.

Like a demon he seemed to appear from nowhere, landing amongst them and causing the more superstitious of them to think he was an avenging creature from some netherworld. But the leader stood tall and they drew strength from their numbers.

“Leave her alone,” Felicio said in his most defiant tone.

“Or what? You should be scared, look at us.” He spread his arms out wide, gesturing to his comrades.  Felicio did look at them, and even though he wore a mask they could tell it was a look of utter disdain.

“Sure you scare me, woman beaters always scare me,” he said derisively, quoting from one of his favourite films. At that they piled upon him, a swarming mass of fists seeking to pummel him into submission. But they couldn’t comprehend the sheer power that coursed through Felicio’s body. A great roar bellowed from his mighty chest as if to crack the very air that surrounded them. Summoning his great strength he leapt up, knocking them all back. They tried to pile on him once again but he was too fast and nimble, agile limbs dodged their cumbersome blows and he struck with a force they had never known. One by one they were knocked back and blow after blow their herd thinned. The weak-minded cowardly lot soon left to nurse their wounds but the leader remained determined until the end. Felicio had hoped that he would simply run off into the night and be too afraid to do anything like this again but evidently he wanted to prove himself the stronger man.

With a steely resolve he rained blow after blow towards Felicio but the fast-moving hero dodged every one, only increasing his opponent’s rage. Eventually Felicio knew he had to take drastic action and as his attacker launched into another furious attack Felicio let slip his claws and slashed them across the man’s face. He cried in pain and collapsed to the ground, cradling his face with his hands. Forever he would bear the mark of Felicio.

The girl was trembling. Felicio walked over to her. She had fallen to her knees and was attempting to stifle tears. She was pretty, although in the course of the ordeal her make-up had been smeared over her face.

“D-don’t hurt me,” she stammered, her soft words like snowflakes in the cold night air.

“I’m here to save you. I’m Felicio.”

She rose, sniffing and wiping her eyes.

“I’m Vicky. Will you um, will you walk me home?”

“Of course, if it makes you feel safe,” he offered, gratified that she seemed okay.

It was an odd sight to see them walking along the street and it was odd for Felicio to be walking along the street with her. Even though he wore the mask of the brave Felicio, some elements of Peter’s personality were difficult to hide, but he gradually filled the night air with conversation.

“Do you want to tell me what happened?”

“I was clubbing with a few friends and I started dancing with this guy, you know how it is, and things got pretty hot so he suggested we go somewhere more private. I was a bit caught up in the moment so I agreed then he bought me here and then…well, my hero came to rescue me.”

She linked arms with him and he wasn’t sure how to respond, but he thought it ill-mannered to refuse her, especially after the ordeal she had just been through.

“Don’t worry it’s all over now.”

“Yeah…,” she laughed.

“What’s so funny?”

“I know I shouldn’t go home with strangers, and I haven’t even seen your face but I feel safer with you than I have with anyone else.”

She rested her head one his shoulder and he swelled with pride. They carried on walking until they reached her door. He was about to call it a night when she invited him in, he declined at first but she insisted and he found it hard to resist. It was a small apartment and very messy, which she didn’t seem to be ashamed of. They sat down on the red sofa, Felicio was tense and uncomfortable.

“Why do you wear the mask?”

“I’d…prefer not to discuss it.”

She pouted and made a thoughtful noise but it didn’t seem to deter her from asking more questions. She pried into Felicio’s nature, and he rebuffed every question but she slid across the sofa and before it she was right next to him. Leaning into him she whispered into his ear while her hand trickled down his forearm.

“Let’s go to my room…you can leave the mask on.”

He froze and he could feel the sweat bubbling under his mask. A situation such as this had never occurred to him and he was completely unprepared. He rose, flustered, and managed to mutter out an apology and an excuse to leave. Her pride was wounded but she sensed in him a willingness that was untapped, and she made it her secret mission to seduce the hero. As he backed away she approached him again.

“At least let me thank you properly for saving me,” she said, her words dripping with playful lust. She wrapped her arms around his neck and pushed herself into him, and he found himself falling into her warmth. It was a nice sensation, to be held by another person, it was something that was dearly absent from his life and he had always craved. But as the sweet scene of her fragrance lingered in the air something seemed wrong. He broke off the embrace and left the apartment, once again disappearing into the night.

He had led a lonely life and like his experience of heroism, he had only known love through an idealised and fantastical view. In his mind he had formed an idea that love was supposed to grip you in a passionate frenzy, as if your whole soul and body were on fire and every nerve and cell of your body was irrevocably drawn to one person above all others. He had often heard people compare love to a thunderbolt, and, to him at least, that seemed the loftiest pursuit and that was the kind of love he wanted, for anything else seemed to be a poor substitute. How could anyone want to settle for anything less than being taken over by an unbridled desire?

Love was something which struck in an instant and then bloomed, as if the whole season of spring occurred in a fraction of a second. Vicky simply didn’t inspire that feeling in Felicio, although she certainly was attractive. However, the sad truth was that he didn’t feel worthy of that kind of love, or any kind really. She wanted Felicio, and he was sure that if he had taken off his mask and she had seen his young face she would have instantly ushered him out. On reflection he thought it was perhaps wrong of him to scorn her so callously, but matters of the heart were something which Felicio should shun, for they could only distract him from his true purpose. Peter would have to carry the burden of those confusing feelings.

The following day Peter awoke feeling proud of his accomplishments the previous night. He was eager for the day to pass swiftly so he could resume his crime-fighting activities. When he arrived at college he soon sought Stephanie out and, once they were out of earshot of anyone else, he gushed about his heroic exploits. She listened intently, feeling a vicarious rise of excitement as he described each flurry of punches in glorious detail, his words spilling out in a fast torrent as his quick mind replayed the incidents of the night before.

“I have something you’d like to see,” she said with a grin, pulling out a newspaper from her bag. She unfolded it and opened up to one of the inner pages. The headline read:

Mysterious Masked Man Stops a Spree of Crimes

His eyes eagerly read every word and he beamed as he did so. The article made a point of not condoning his actions but they seemed to have a positive attitude about his presence.  Accompanying the article was a blurry photo, and his reputation was soon spread across town. He asked Stephanie if he could keep the paper and she gladly agreed. It pleased her to see her friend so happy, but she also had other matters on her mind.

“Have you thought any more about your uni application? We’ve got that meeting tomorrow.”

He was fazed by her question but the smile didn’t leave his face.

“Oh uh, yeah I did actually, I have a few ideas.”

Then he excused himself, saying he had to find a book in the library. She knew it to be a lie though. Any time the conversation turned towards his future he avoided the subject entirely. However, his mind was scheming with machinations. For so long he had had no idea what he wanted to be but now he knew for sure. It may not have been a career path as such, but the thrill of the previous night was addictive and while he was prowling the streets he felt peace and a sense of completeness.

His thoughts were disrupted by the pattering of feet. He turned to find a slim girl approaching. She stopped suddenly and rarely looked up at him, but on the few occasions she did he saw that she had eyes which shone like Emeralds. She continually brushed the long black hair out of her face, a nervous habit with which she had been afflicted most of her life.

“I um, you don’t know me,” she awkwardly began, “uh, I’m Emma. I just, I just wanted to say that it’s um, I think it’s great what you’re doing.” She looked up at him and smiled a sweet, childlike smile before flitting away, as if she were being pushed along by the wind.

Peter was in shock, and he was shaken to his core. Suddenly the world seemed a lot smaller, and it felt as though a thousand eyes were watching him. He clutched the newspaper in his hand, it fluttered in the wind and kept hitting his hand but he didn’t notice. He was sure he’d never seen that girl before and yet she knew his deepest secret. He had an urge to run after her and confront her but something deep down told him it wasn’t the best course of action. Even though he had only met her for a few moments she seemed very fragile, and he sensed it had taken her a great deal of courage to approach him. However, he vowed to track her down in the coming days and find out the mystery of this girl called Emma.

Chapter 5 – She Who Heard Their Screams

Felicio Chapter 3 – Period of Adjustment

Over the course of the next few days Peter struggled with the conflict raging within his soul. The idealised, romantic notions of being a hero were at odds with the harsh reality. His mind repeatedly flashed back to that moment when the pet-poisoner was cowering before him, begging Peter to spare his sorry soul. Then Peter remembered the moment after he’d slashed the soft flesh with his claws, and blood dripped softly on the grass making no sound. The dark, gritty night was far from the glorified endeavours he read about in comic books.

And yet he never had any second thoughts about pursuing the heroic path. All his life he had yearned for a sense of belonging, to know his place in the universe. Finally, after a drifting life of monotony, he had a purpose. His newfound powers gave him the chance to be the man he had always wanted to become, he only had to reconcile the reality of the situation with his previous fantasised version.

Finding that he had more energy than usual and he needed less sleep, the night seemed to be the best time to prowl the streets. However, as he didn’t have a proper costume he confined himself to roaming his neighbourhood. This proved a poor choice as the streets were barren, the only people he came across were rebellious teenagers and even then they were only causing a mild disturbance, hardly enough for Felicio to leap into action. However, it did afford him the chance to practice walking along rooftops. At first fear gripped him, but he soon learned to adjust his mindset and it became second nature to move at such dizzying heights. From there he could survey the ground below, as if he were a King gazing over his kingdom. He pestered Stephanie for his costume but she reminded him that, unlike him, she didn’t have special powers. That came as little comfort to Peter, for he was eager to properly begin his superhero career, approaching it with a passion and zeal he hadn’t known for anything else.

However, in those few days the only opportunity he had to exercise his heroic muscles came during a free period at college. After a sociology class he was on his way to the library to catch up on some homework. The sociology classroom was in a new block built on the edge of a sports field. In order to get to the library, which was in the main building, he chose to pass through a tunnel. In the summer this tunnel was a popular place, as there were gaps in the brickwork which let sunlight stream through and it created a dreamlike effect, however in the winter it was a dreary, almost gothic place in which the wind whistled through, chilling people to the bone.

As he entered the tunnel Peter heard a scuffle coming from one of the alcoves, as he got closer he could see that one of his old schoolmates, Aaron Thompson, was holding a boy Peter didn’t know against the wall. Peter cleared his throat, and Aaron turned around with blazing eyes. Although they had known each other for years they had never been particularly close. There was a time when Peter considered Aaron a friend but then they drifted into different circles, they hadn’t actually exchanged words in years.

“Keep on walking Pete,” Aaron said.

“Come on, he’s had enough.”

“I said keep walking. The only reason you’re getting this chance is because I know you.”

Peter remained unmoved. Ashamedly he had to admit to himself that if this had occurred a week ago he would have turned his head away and avoided the situation, but he was weak then and he didn’t want cowardice to rot his soul any longer. Now he was strong. But in this instance he wasn’t Felicio, he was still Peter. It was clear there was a schism in his mind concerning the two identities. Peter was still bogged down by years of shyness and a lack of self-belief, but Felicio was something more, and it would take time for the two to balance out.

He knew he had to reign in his strength, for he couldn’t allow anyone to find out his secret. Gently, he placed his hand on Aaron’s shoulder to pull him away but Peter was unprepared for his acquaintance’s attack. Aaron swung round and swiftly crashed his forearm into Peter’s face. Dazed, Peter fell back and Aaron follow up with a heavy punch into Peter’s mid-section, then promptly ran away. Peter wasn’t hurt, just shocked. He shook his head and glanced at the trembling victim before tearing down the tunnel in pursuit of Aaron. Nothing gives a teenage boy more incentive to fight than a bruised ego, especially in Peter’s case.

In retrospect he should have let Aaron go, but he was blinded by rage and a need to prove himself. Soon enough he had caught up with Aaron, who had reached a deserted corridor. He stopped and turned around when he heard Peter approaching.

“I told you to leave it alone Pete.”

“I can’t,” Pete replied helplessly.

A savage grin appeared on Aaron’s face and he bore down on Peter like a predator ready to devour its prey, but this time Peter’s mind was focused and he dodged Aaron’s punch. Then, steadying his weight, he launched into an uppercut, and a loud crack echoed around the corridor as fist collided with jaw. Spittle and blood flew from Aaron’s mouth as he fell back and crumpled against the wall. Instantly Peter regretted it, and he stood there shaking. Their brief fight had come to the attention of some of the classes, and now doors were opening all along the corridor. Peter saw the faces staring at him in horror, and he in turn was horrified by what he’d done.

***

Peter had never met Principal White, but now he was sitting outside the Principal’s office waiting for his parents to finish speaking with the principal. He’d given his account of things, but his gut was twisted with guilt and fear. All his life he’d been mild-mannered and had never been in trouble at school, he dreaded to think how his parents would react. After an unbearable wait Peter was called back into the office where he took a seat next to his parents. His mother offered him a weak smile but it didn’t reassure him. He couldn’t make out his father’s expression.

“Now Peter, we found Nathan and he corroborated your story, along with another witness. Given your record, and the fact that Aaron hasn’t suffered any serious injuries I’m inclined to file this under usual teenage behaviour,” Mr. White said sternly. Peter’s spirits instantly lifted, and he was pleased to hear that he hadn’t hurt Aaron too badly. However, he was puzzled by the mention of another witness. As far as he could remember there hadn’t been anyone else around them.

“However,” Mr White continued, “this does not excuse your behaviour at all and if you are involved in any more incidents like this I will be more inclined to view them as part of a pattern. You do not, I repeat do not take these matters into your own hands. If you see something wrong you report it and we will deal with it through proper channels. I suggest you go home and reflect upon what you’ve done.” Mr. White’s stern words made Peter feel incredibly sheepish, despite all his power and abilities he was still subject to the authority of a college principal.

“What happened son?” his father said during the car ride home.

“I’m…not sure. I saw him beating up some kid and I wanted to help. I guess I got a bit carried away.”

“It’s not like you at all.”

“I know. I just wanted to help.”

“Leave it to the proper authorities next time. It’s not how you’re supposed to handle things.”

That was all that was said. There were no reassuring words, no punishing words and no words of wisdom. Peter was left to ruminate on his thoughts and try to figure it out on his own. ‘It’s not like you at all,’ the words resonated. What was like him? For all his life Peter felt like he could be more than he was, and he had never really been happy with himself. Now he had a chance to prove to the world that he could make a difference, but it was almost as though his parents wanted him to be ashamed of it. One thing was certain, he couldn’t wait until he had the chance to be Felicio properly. Then he would only have to answer to himself, for he knew that his heart was true and his conscience would be a harsher judge than anyone else.

 

Shortly after he arrived home Stephanie phoned. She’d heard about what had happened and asked if she could come over. In his contemplative state Peter wanted to be alone and tried to fob her off with feeble excuses, but she was quite insistent and wouldn’t take no for an answer. When she entered his room she threw down a heavy bag on the bed. His curiosity was piqued but she shooed him away.

“All in good time,” she teased, “tell me what happened today first.” Peter recounted the tale, and tried to make clear how remorseful he was. When he finished Stephanie looked pensive.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“I’m worried about you…”

“You don’t need to, he only managed to hit me because I wasn’t expecting it, and it didn’t hurt all that much.”

“It’s not that. You’ve always been a really nice guy and now you’re going around breaking up fights and knocking people out I’m just afraid you’ll change.”

“I’m not changing, this has just brought out another side of me. It’s hard to explain exactly what’s happened, but it feels like this was meant to happen to me, like I’ve always had this inside me and it’s just managed to find its way out. I’m still me. The core me will never change, I’m just getting used to what I can do.”

Stephanie still looked unconvinced so Peter moved and sat beside her, holding her arm.

“Steph, you’re my best friend. You’re the only one I can talk to about this…the only one I can trust. I need you to trust me, but I promise that if I ever go off the rails you can slap me or, you know that black shirt I love? You can burn that.”

“Thank God, I hate that shirt,” she said, smiling. They both laughed, and she was reassured by his earnestness. They embraced each other in a comforting hug until she broke it off.

“Now I have something for you,” she said as she reached over and pulled the bag towards them. Peter’s eyes lit up as he rummaged in the bag, first pulling out a mask; his new face. It stared at him, emotionless and blank but he projected onto it all his hopes and dreams. He pulled out the rest of the costume, beaming.

“Wow, this is incredible, it’s exactly what I wanted.”

“Am I good or am I good? Try it on.” He didn’t need any persuasion. In the interests of modesty Stephanie looked away while Peter put on the suit. First he shed his old clothes, then he slipped his legs into the trousers. Stephanie had stitched the soles directly onto the trousers, they were a perfect fit and came up neatly to his waist. Then, he put on the top. Stephanie had put little hooks on the end of the top which latched onto the trousers, joining them seamlessly. Then he put on the gloves and all that was left was the mask. He picked it up, smiling and Stephanie as he did so and then Felicio was there, standing tall and proud, every inch a hero.

“How do I look?” he said, still understandable even though his voice was muffled and distorted by the mask.

“Super,” she replied, admiring her handiwork.

“What are you calling yourself anyway?” she added.

He struck a heroic pose and from his mouth the word Felicio boomed.

“Felicio?” she repeated.

“Yeah! What do you think?”

“You know that sounds like…”

“What?”

His naiveté didn’t surprise her, and she didn’t have the heart to dampen his enthusiasm so she refrained from telling him that Felicio sounded similar to a popular Latin word. They chatted for a while afterwards but Stephanie sensed that Peter was anxious to go out for the night. She politely excused herself, leaving Felicio to enter the night. He locked his bedroom door and turned off the light. He spent most of the time in his room undisturbed anyway, so he wasn’t too worried about his parents intruding. He opened one side of the window and crept out onto the ledge outside, gently pushing the window back so it appeared to be locked.

Using a drainpipe as leverage, he scaled the wall and stood proudly on top of his house. From there, he ran along the tops of rooftops, occasionally jumping over the gaps in between the semi-detached houses. When he had to cross roads he leapt down, landing softly on the ground. He kept to the shadows and moved swiftly so even if any passers-by thought they caught a glimpse of something in the darkness he was gone before they could make sure. Like a phantom he crept through the town, senses honed to pick up any disturbance.

Eventually he noticed a torch flickering in a shop window. Like a lion cub eager to pounce on his first hunt, Felicio enthusiastically bounded towards the shop. He sidled through the space in between the shop and the building next to it. It was only a small family-run convenience store so there weren’t any advanced security measures. Felicio found a side-door which the thieves had pried open. He could hear them chattering inside, one of them was scolding the other for waving the torch about. Felicio grinned and entered the store.

“What was that?” one of the thieves said to the other.

“It’s nothing, just carry on, we’ve gotta get out of here.”

However, the thief wasn’t reassured by his partner’s words and quickly flashed the torch around. Felicio anticipated the thief’s movements but his stray foot was caught in the sharp beam of light.

“There!” he exclaimed.

“Shut up! What have I told you about that,” the other thief walked over menacingly, snatching the torch away.

“It’s probably just a cat or something,” he continued, and upon hearing his cue Felicio sprang forward and knocked the torch to the floor. It clattered against the tiles and spun, resting neatly against the bottom shelf at the edge of an aisle. Meanwhile Felicio was moving quickly. The thieves were blinded in the darkness but Felicio could see clearly, and he toyed with them, parrying and dodging their blows while dealing soft jabs to their underbellies. Unlike his previous two physical encounters this one was far more professional. Each blow was dealt with a calm consideration and a thorough lack of rage or venom. They were the bad guys and he was the hero. It was that simple. A few more kicks and jabs followed and they were soon beaten into submission.

Then, suddenly, they were bathed in light, although seeing their attacker didn’t allay the thieves’ fears. If anything, seeing the masked avenger in front of them made them blubber even more. But Felicio’s gaze turned to the owner of the shop. He was in his mid-forties and was standing in a vest, underwear and socks holding a cricket bat, perspiration dripping from his temples and chest heaving with nervous breaths.

“Call the police. You’re welcome,” Felicio said before leaving the stunned trio. Escaping into the fresh air he felt energised and empowered. It felt like his entire life had led up to that moment, and his destiny was within his grasp. Whatever others may say or think about his activities he knew he was doing the right thing. When he donned that costume he was no longer the shy, awkward boy filled with self-doubt and insecurities, he was the brave and courageous Felicio, ready to be justice’s saviour. Filled with pride at his first official crime prevention he slipped into the night in search for the next one.

Felicio Chapter 2 – New Direction

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?”

Jenny shrugged.

“That doesn’t seem right.”

“Yeah, well…”

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.

“Hello?”

“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?”

“Sure.”

“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.”

“Okay.”

“You may want to brace yourself.”

“Okay…”

“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.”

“Such as…?”

“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.”

“Scared?”

“A little.”

“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?”

“Huh?”

“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.