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Chapter XXXVI

 

            Crash stared at his friends as they talked, hugged, and cried.  He wasn’t sure how he felt about everything that had happened, or what was happening now.  It had been two days since Caroline’s parents had met with them, and he was barely even aware that the time had passed.  In the days that followed he drifted like a ghost through the plush hotel room; nibbling on food, not really eating and daydreaming, not really sleeping.  Thoughts and memories tumbled in his mind like an avalanche.  He wanted them to slow down long enough to see them for what they were, but they wouldn’t; he wouldn’t let them. 

            Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew what the root of his troubles were, but was afraid to confront it.   

 

            Big Time, Headwires, and Renegade were leaving.  No, not Big Time, Headwires, and Renegade;  Taylor, Prudence, and Howard.  They were real people, with real names, and real lives. 

            Real names and real lives, just like him. 

            The more Crash watched them, the clearer things appeared.  He could see the glances the others tossed at him from across the room.  He could tell they were upset, wondering if he was mad at them for leaving.  They were doing what they thought was best for them, for their lives.  How could he be mad at that? 

            No, he wasn’t mad.  He was wondering… if he should join them. 

 

            The other teens from the Factory were gathered at the hotel room door.  Each had a small travel suitcase, clothes and amenities Scarlett had gotten for them, plus various items smuggled out of Guru’s house before it was seized by the state. 

            Taylor, Prudence, and Howard had decided it was time for them to go home.  They had learned how to control their abilities long ago.  There was no long any fear that they would lose control and endanger themselves or those they loved.  They had individually convinced themselves that they stayed to master their ability; to own their ability, not just know it.  But they came to recognize that as the lie that it was.  The truth was that they were afraid.  Afraid to try and assimilate back into the “normal” world. 

            They had decided, given the course of events, that it was time for them to leave.  It was time to be a part of the real world again.  Scarlett and the others had taken great care to keep their names and faces out of the media.  No one knew of the other kids at the Factory, and believed that they had gone home after the Hell Spawns attacked them. 

            Celia and Prudence talked and laughed while Diamond Dog said his goodbyes to Taylor and Howard.  The two boys, both thirteen, were already at the Factory when DD arrived; Taylor over a month, Howard a few weeks.  Oddly enough, it was Black Sunshine that had brought DD in.  When they met, Black Sunshine thought he was a member of the Hell Spawns.  Looking back on that day, everything that followed made much more sense. 

 

            “So,” DD started, unsure of what to say.  “Home, huh?” 

            “Yeah.” Howard said.  “I called home last night.  My parents were worried about me.  They had been calling the police here to see if they had seen me, and if I was a part of all this.  Dad thought I might have been a Hell Spawn.” 

            “I’m sorry.”   

            “It’s cool.  I don’t think he meant anything by it.  I guess when kids runaway their parents automatically think the worse.  Besides, it’s not like I was a perfect child.  I beat up four football players and the coach the day before I ran away.  I guess they thought I was trying to be a bad ass.” 

            “Yeah.” Diamond Dog replied.  “That’s where I was.” 

            “Now I get to spend the next few weeks say I’m sorry, and explaining to everyone what auto-adaptive reflexes are.” 

            There was tension in the teenager’s face.  He wasn’t sure about going home, but with Guru in prison, he certainly couldn’t stay there.  The protestors outside the hotel were gone, but the feelings that they felt for the young heroes remained. 

            “Just give it shot.  A real shot.  It’s not going to be easy, and it’ll take awhile, but it’ll be for the best.  I promise.  And if you ever want to talk, just…” 

            DD looked around.  He didn’t know how to finish his statement.  They wouldn’t be at the hotel forever, and once the TV station was through using them, it was back on the streets.  Square one. 

            “Uh.  I’ll figure something out.  Just… You know I’m always there.”  DD knew he was failing in his attempt to comfort the scared boy.  “Here.” 

            Diamond Dog cupped his right hand and pulled a quarter size crystal from his palm with his left.  The crystal was about an inch and a half long with eight faceted sides.  He handed it to the younger boy. 

            “It’s not much, but…  It’s me.  And I’ll find a way to keep in touch with you.  Both of you.” 

            Howard nodded.  It was a small gesture, but it meant more to him that DD knew. 

            “Thanks, DD.” 

            “Okay, so, you know what I’m going to ask.”  DD said to Taylor with a huge smile. 

            Taylor looked back at him with an equally big smile.  He pretended like he didn’t know what the older boy was going to say.  “What?” 

            “One last time.  Do the Everlong video for me.” 

            Taylor chuckled and made his right hand ten times its normal size.  He gently swung it at the young man he had looked up to like an older brother for nearly a year.  DD held up his arm and blocked the playful swats. 

            “I’m going to miss that.”    

            ‘Me too.”  Taylor returned his hand to normal size.  He looked at his hand instead of his friend.  “I’m sorry.” 

            “Sorry for what?  Going home?  I would if I could.  I don’t think I have a home to go back to.” 

            “I’m sorry I didn’t help you guys that night.  The only reason I can go home is because you and Blue and Crash protected us.  You wouldn’t have to do that if I had… if I had gone with you.” 

            Taylor kept his eyes on his hand, as if it were going to grow or shrink on its own. 

            “Hey.”  DD put a hand on Taylor’s shoulder and made him look up.  “You did the right thing.  The smart thing.  I was too mad to be scared.  Had I been thinking right, I never would’ve done that.  Crash, Blue, and I are lucky things turned out the way they did.  It could just as easily have gone the other way.  Killzone beat one of his own people to death just before we got there.  If he would do that to them, imagine what he was going to do to us.” 

            “Okay.” Taylor answered, his eyes glassy. 

            “Never be sorry about doing the right thing.”  DD turned to Howard.  “That goes for you, too.” 

            Howard nodded. 

            “Alright.”  Diamond Dog smiled, trying to lift the mood of the younger teens.  “Come here.” 

            The older boy wrapped his arms around them and hugged them tight. 

 

*****

 

            Next to Diamond Dog, Celia and Prudence talked, laughed, and squealed.  The two had spent very little time at the Factory together.  They talked briefly while eating, or in passing, but never took the time to enjoy each other’s company.  Now, when they should be saying farewell, they were saying hello. 

            “Prudence,” Celia began. 

            “Just call me Pru.  Not that it’s any better.” 

            “I know how you feel.  You wouldn’t see Celia lighting up the night sky in bright purple neon.” 

            “Geez.” Pru huffed.  “Don’t parent’s know any better?” 

            “Yeah.” Celia said.  Her mind wandered back to that day on the steps of city hall.  ‘I think mine is a family name.”  Her voice lowered to just above a whisper. 

            “Mine too.  Eight generations of women named Prudence.  With a name like this, is it any wonder I turned out like I did?  You don’t see a lot of models named Prudence.”   

            “I think I’ve figured it out.” Celia chuckled.  “Ugly names gives girls abilities.” 

            Prudence laughed.  “That must be it.  Parents be warned.  Giving your daughter an unattractive name will turn them into powered runaways.  They could do it like those educational films from the sixties.  I wonder if it’s on a scale, the uglier the name, the stronger the ability?” 

            “Oh my God!  You could name a girl Brunhilda and she’d be as strong as my dad.” 

            “I wonder what Astronima’s name is?  It’s probably Myrtle, or something like that.” 

            “Gertrude.” 

            The two continued to laugh till they were practically blue in the face.  Celia gripped her sides as they started to cramp.  Prudence was choking as she tried to draw a breath while still laughing.  After half a minute they started to calm down.  They continued to smile and giggle, but weren’t to the point of passing out anymore. 

            “I bet it works in reverse too.” Celia said between laughs.  “I went to school with a girl named Francesca.” 

            “That’s a pretty name.” Pru said.  “What was her ability?” 

            “Being a bitch.”  The two started up again.  It felt so good to laugh.  The jokes themselves weren’t funny; it was just an excuse to let all their troubles slip away for a minute. 

            Diamond Dog interrupted the two of them, trying to say his goodbyes. 

            “Enough, you two.  The last thing we need is for the two of you to go floating up to the ceiling.” 

            Pru and Celia gave each other confused looks.  “What?” They said in unison, and immediately burst into laughter again. 

            “Mary Poppins?  Don’t they show you kids the classics anymore?” 

            “Kids?” Pru said in mock offense at DD’s comment.  “I’m only seven months younger than you.” 

            “Yeah, I know.”  DD said.  “Come here.”

            The two hugged.  Prudence gave the slightly older boy a peck on the cheek as she pulled away. 

            “I know a guy with a crystal arm named Carson.”   

            “Oh yeah.” DD replied.  “What’s the name of his other arm?”   

            The laughter ceased, but the smiles remained.  The silence was soon overwhelming. 

            “We should probably go now.”  Prudence said.  The hesitation in her voice was heavier than she expected.  “The cab’s waiting, I’m sure.” 

            “Yeah.” Diamond Dog said softly. 

 

            “Hold up!” came a voice from behind them. 

            “Hey!” Diamond Dog was surprised when he saw Crash walking towards the door with his bag full of new belongings.  “What are you doing?” 

            Crash looked at his friend, the older brother he didn’t know he needed.  The raised eyebrows and look of shock was expected.  So was the hurt that followed. 

            “I think,” Crash began.  He found it hard to talk, and his throat felt as if it were closing up every time he tried. 

            “I think I should head home, too.”  Watching the older boy’s expression change was like taking a baseball bat to the stomach.  Crash felt sick.  He knew that DD felt abandoned, but there was nothing he could do about it. 

            Celia put a hand on Diamond Dog’s shoulder, offering moral support.  Crash didn’t expect her to feel the way DD did, but knew that she had to be feeling it in some way.  It was one thing for the others to leave; they had shared a lot together, but nothing like that night in Yesterday Town.  That night formed a special bond between them, and now DD felt as if that bond were being ripped apart.  Crash could see it all on the suddenly ashen face of his friend. 

            “I…”  It was all Diamond Dog could get out.  He looked over at Celia, his eyes searching, pleading, wondering.  Would she be next?  Before the day ended, would it just be him?  All alone with nowhere to go, and no friends to stand beside him? 

            “I need to do this, to try.”  Crash stared in the eyes of his adopted brother.  “I left home because I was afraid of what was happening to me, what I was doing.  I’m not scared anymore.  I wanna go home.  I don’t know if things will work out, but I have to try.” 

            “Crash…”

            “Not Crash.  Joseph.” The younger boy said; his voice squeaking.  “I don’t need to be here.  I’m not like you and Celia.  I’m not a hero.  I’m just a little boy named Joseph who misses his mom and dad.” 

 

            Slowly, the younger boy’s words calmed his friend, and he started to understand.  Unlike the others, DD didn’t believe that he had a home to go back to.  He made the Factory his home and the kids that lived there his family.  But, they had real homes and families out there waiting for them.  People that cared for them.  People that missed them and wondered if they were still alive.  He couldn’t hold them back, or keep them away from that. 

            DD looked deep into his friends eyes then nodded.  “You take care of yourself, Joseph.” 

            “You too, Carson.” 

            The two shook hands.  A hug said goodbye.  This wasn’t goodbye, this was see you later. 

 

*****

 

            “We’re back with our guest today Walden “Wally” Patterson.”  Van Tortelli announced as the show returned from commercial break.  They were filming the episode that was going to air later that night. 

            Wally lifted himself up on the arms of the wheelchair and tried to scoot back.  He hadn’t made a TV appearance since the public disappearance of The Holy Avenger.  The Holy Avenger was still out somewhere dispensing justice, but had avoided the press and media attention after Wally’s “accident.”  No one had heard from him since; not even Wally.  There was a media frenzy for several months as reporters followed up on every rumor.  They focused a lot on Wally during that period. 

            Both the Holy Avenger and Abysmal had vanished after that fateful night.  Many believed that he and Abysmal had killed each other. 

            When he resurfaced a year later it wasn’t a public appearance.  A lesser known villain, named Blazer, was found stripped of his gear and anchored to the side of a building five stories up.  He described a darker more aggressive version of the Holy Avenger, who now, according to Blazer, was going solely by Avenger.  He recalled his costume as being primarily black with crimson detail.  

            As time went by, blurred pictures from amateur photographers made front page headlines and national news.  People wondered if it was really him or someone new taking up the mantle that Wally had left open. 

            Now here Wally was, on TV once again, but this time it was all about him.  He looked at Van and smiled.  The prime time talk show host was as poised as ever. 

            Van had recently decided that his show needed to return to more hard-hitting journalistic pieces, shunning his usual celebrity faire.  He tried to get back to his true roots as a reporter and balance that with the pop culture overnight celebrities that kept the ratings high and him employed.  In light of recent events Wally seemed like the prime candidate for his valiant return to real news.  He had wanted to have a showdown between Jonni Reinhart and Wally, but changed his mind after in-depth research into the night Wally was crippled.  What he found was a much better story. 

 

            Van dressed with a little more style than his fellow talk show competitors and tried to carry himself as an equal to the stars he interviewed.  He was known for having a sharp wit and for being both risqué and off the cuff. 

            “Now, Wally.” Van started.  “You’ve lead quiet an interesting life.  Tell us about some of your adventures.”

            “Where to begin?” Wally smiled. 

 

 

            Van gave the camera his well rehearsed inviting smile before turning to Wally. 

            “Now Wally, you had a lot to say about some of the heroes in your book, in particular, your dislike of Sentinel.  Tell me, how did they react after the release of your book?” 

            “Well,” Wally began.  “I always felt that a lot of them were ungrateful for what I did and didn’t do.  To begin with, this wasn’t about them.  It was about me.  I went through great pains to make sure that I maintained their secrets.  It wasn’t easy, let me tell you.  I must have gone through four or five drafts before I could even pass it to a publisher.  Doing everything I could to make sure that I didn’t betray their secret identities, or their trust.” 

            Wally squared off his shoulders as he talked.  He had wanted to be asked questions like this ever since the book was released.  For the most part, the book had the opposite affect than he intended.  Instead of shining the spotlight on himself, it made the light on the other heroes even brighter.  During his original promotional circuit he found himself fielding questions about the Holy Avenger, Major Tom, and Colonel Courageous and very few, if any, about himself.  Being on Prime Time with Van was a welcome change. 

            “Even after I submitted it, the publisher still insisted on 2 rewrites.”  Wally had a drink of water.  “To answer your question—I had a lot of people I thought were my friends turn their backs on me.  Except Groundling.” Wally was enjoying his time to speak and it showed.  His confidence could have easily been mistaken for arrogance. 

            Van leaned in intently.  He clutched the note card in his hand tightly as if his life depended on it.  No, that was wrong.  It was more like a dead man’s switch.  That’s what it was.  When Van’s thumb came off the card what it revealed would be explosive.  

            Wally continued on, addressing the audience and future viewers.

            “I’m not sure if you remember Groundling.  He was a terra-former.   He was a young hero, but not a sidekick.  He would often be lumped into the Jr. League missions, but was his own hero.”  Wally’s eyes shifted from the audience and cameras and down to his sleeve.  He picked at a piece of lint on his jacket, and then at a small dog hair that had gotten woven into the fabric. 

            “When the book came out, which was before Groundling did,” Wally tried to joke.  His eyes darted up, then back down to his sleeve again.  “He came to me and asked if I had mentioned him in the book.  I told him I had.  I’ll never forget, he said to me: ‘Then I won’t read it.’ ”  Wally sat up straight.  He picked the glass of water off the desk and brought it to his lips.  He opened his mouth several times, as if to take a drink, but didn’t.  He lowered the glass and cradled it in his hands. 

            “He said,” Wally repeated. “’I won’t read it.  You’re my friend, and I want you to stay my friend.’” 

            Wally set the glass down on the desk and stared at the ripples in the water.  “We would get together from time to time for lunch, or just hang out.  That was before his untimely death.”  Wally’s voice cracked and he swallowed hard. 

            “Groundling was the victim of a hate crime in 1994.” Van filled in. 

            “That’s all I’m going to say about him.”  Wally whispered.

            Van switched to his practiced empathetic, remorseful face.  He reached for Wally’s hand as he had practiced so many times at home, and any given opportunity.  He reached, but stopped short.  A feigned attempt to reach again, before closing his hand and slowly withdrawing it. 

            Van turned to the cameras.  He never looked past them and at the actually audience.  There were only a hundred or so people in the studio, but millions in the home audience.  The live people didn’t matter to him. 

            “Wally Patterson, ladies and gentlemen.  We’ll be right back.” Van said in a solemn voice. 

 

            “And, we’re clear!” came the voice from the stage hand. 

            Van turned from Wally; leaving him in his moment.  He was having a moment of his own.  He had read I’m In the League, and had done all the research he could on Walden “Wally” Patterson.  He actually felt sorry for the former hero.  Sure, he acted out his emotions instead of letting them come naturally, but it didn’t mean that he didn’t feel for Wally. 

            Van looked at the trash can next to his desk, then over at the note cards in his hand.  He moved his hand to the trash can and held it over the receptacle.  All he had to do was let go.  Hadn’t the poor man suffered enough?  Hadn’t all of them?  Heroes. Sidekicks. Adversaries.  They were all disposable to the public at large.  They owed them more.  He owed them more.

            Van stared at his hand, almost in disbelief that he couldn’t will himself to let go. 

            “Thirty seconds!” came the voice from the shadows. 

            All he had to do was let go.  He could softball some questions at Wally to get him to ramble about pages from the book and close out the last 20 minutes of the show. 

            “Fifteen seconds, Van!” 

            Van retracted his hand and turned back to the cameras.  He centered himself behind the desk and put on his invitation face. 

            Van had made a plan and was going to stick with it.  This was real journalism once again, he told himself.  Wally needed to know what he knew.  He was doing Wally a favor, he justified.  It was time to talk about that night. 

            “…three, two…” 

 

            “Welcome back, everyone.” Van said with a smile.  “Now Wally, I’m sure everyone watching wants to know about that night.” 

            Wally puffed out his chest, making himself seem tough.  He wanted to show those watching that he was brave, he could recall that fateful night.  The night that put him in his rolling prison.  He could do it.  He wanted them to see that despite his current condition he was still a hero. 

            “Now, I know it’s all in your book, which I might add is going into a second hardback printing, am I right?”

            Wally beamed.  “That’s correct.  I’m in the process of adding an additional chapter which will lead into a second book that I’m doing about my life till now.  I might even close it with this interview.” 

            “Heh.  Well, I look forward to the new chapter and the new book.”  Van humored him.  “In preparing for this interview I read I’m in the League twice.  Now, of course, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I relied solely on your book and didn’t do any independent research of my own.” 

            “Of course.” 

            “I was able to get access to the police reports from the night you fought Abysmal—the night your back was broken—as well as the 911 recording.  Now, none of this is mentioned in your book.  Did you have an opportunity to look at this during the time you were writing I’m in the League?”

            “I was there, unfortunately, I didn’t have to rely on second hand information.”  Wally couldn’t help the arrogant tone that coated his answer.  In truth he expected more the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist.  His cocky attitude was in part to combat against the host razor intellect.  He assumed that questioning overstuffed celebrities about their miniature dogs had made him soft. 

            “Of course, and I wouldn’t change places with you for a minute.”  Van said, tossing the verbal barb back at him.  “In reading the book, and relying on the second hand information, some things didn’t add up.  I was wondering if you could help me make sense of it?” 

            “That’s the problem with eyewitness accounts and testimony, you always end up with fifty different versions of the actual story.  Fire away.”  Wally knew he should turn down his obnoxious attitude, but found it nearly impossible.  He need the people to like him and feel for him, but being “grilled” by the man who a week before was asking an actor what kind of research he did to play the part of a Neanderthal seemed beneath him. 

            “Too true.  To start, I’d like to read a passage from your book.” 

            “By all means.” 

            “For a moment everything seemed so surreal.  Tears in my eyes made it impossible for me to see clearly.  The pounding of my heart trumpeted in my ears.  My legs refused to respond to my commands.  I was blind deaf, and crippled…” 

            Van recited a passage from the book detailing the infamous night.  He skipped ahead a few paragraphs.  

            “Time seemed irrelevant as I laid there.  Minutes were seconds as far as I knew.  I had no idea how long it took the Holy Avenger to find me, I was just glad that he did.  Despite everything I had said to him, he came looking for me.  The hangar light cast a halo around his head, and traced his form in white.  I could see the anger in his face.  But more than that, I saw the disappointment.  To this day, I don’t know if he was disappointed in me, or himself.  Maybe it was a little bit of both.” 

            Van looked up from the transcribed passages and over at Wally.  The former sidekick gave the audience his bravest face, letting the words bounce off his chest as if he were bulletproof.  Van continued. 

            “The Holy Avenger turned away.  His only words were: ‘I’ll make this right.  He’s had this coming’.  And he was gone.  Not just for the moment.  He was gone from my life forever.  My mentor, the man that trained me, walked away.  I knew then that it wasn’t a little bit of both.  It was all me.  I had let him down.  I never saw him again.” 

            Van put the papers down. 

            “That had to be tough.” 

            “It was.  It was.” Wally said, trying to come across both strong and dismayed at the same time.  “And when I look back on it, I must admit—it still is.” 

            “Looking back, huh?  It’s funny you should say that.  Because, when I looked back, relying on the secondhand reports, that’s where I found the inconsistencies.  You see, a few pages earlier, when describing the fight with Abysmal you said, and I quote: ‘From my peripheral I could see Abysmal looking down at me.  His face was shadowed by the light that hung overhead.’  But when the Holy Avenger arrives you say that he’s standing in about the same spot that Abysmal was, based on the afore mentioned light source.  You said that you could see the Holy Avenger’s face.  How is that?” 

            “Well—ah…”  Wally stuttered.  He hadn’t expected questions along this line, and wasn’t sure how to answer.  His recollection of that night was clear, and he told it just as he remembered.  “Well, you see… When I say that I could see the disappointment in his face, I was basing that off of what he said and knowing him for so long.  Sometimes you don’t have to see a person to see a person.” 

            Wally smiled at the cameras and tried to maintain his favor with them. 

            “Uh huh.”  Van acknowledged his answer, but didn’t give it credit.  Instead, he fired back with another questioned that shook his foundation of truth.  “What he said.  You mean what you could hear through the…”  Van flipped back through the transcribed papers.  “Pounding of my heart trumpeted in my ears” 

            “You saw his face, through blurry, teary eyes, and heard his voice over the pounding in your ears?  Sounds like you might have a super power after all.” 

            A chuckle came from the studio audience, but Van didn’t pay it any mind.  He wasn’t trying to make Wally look bad before the world; he was trying to bring out the truth.  He was trying to be a reporter. 

            “Let’s talk about the moments before that.  When Abysmal stood over you and gloated.  In your book, you say that it wasn’t like him to say something so ominous.  Go tell your gods what I have done.’  Again, you heard this through that pounding in your ears.” 

            Van pointed to his producer who stood just off stage. 

            “I’d like to play the 911 call from that night.  The call you said that the Holy Avenger made.  Based on what you said earlier, this will be your first time hearing this.” 

            The soundstage fell silent as the call projected through the overhead speakers. 

 

            “911 what is the nature of your emergency?” 

            “I-I need help.  Oh my God!  I need help!” 

            “Try and calm down sir.  Are you injured?  Can you tell me where you are?”

            “What have I done?” 

            “Sir, can you tell me where you are?”  

            “The airfield.  Galileo airfield, hangar eight.” 

            “Ok, sir.  Just stay on the line.  Paramedics are on their way.” 

            “What have I done?  My God, what have I done?”       

 

            Van started up again as soon as the message stopped playing.  “You’ve always said that the Holy Avenger made that call to 911.  That doesn’t sound like the Holy Avenger to me.” 

            “I-I.”  Wally stumbled.  He suddenly felt incredibly hot under the studio lights and began to sweat profusely.  “As you said, this is my first time hearing this.”         

            “And why would you need to.  You were there.”  Van hammered away at Wally’s defenses.  He had to break him to let the truth come out.  A truth that even Wally wasn’t aware of. 

            “That doesn’t sound like the Holy Avenger to me.  The person on that call sounds like someone who’s scared.  Someone that’s made a mistake and done something they regret.” 

            “Maybe to you, but I was there!”  Wally tried to fight back.  His verbal punches were as effective as a gnat against a freight train. 

            “Thank you again.  And to quote you from a few minutes ago—with eyewitness accounts you always get different version of the actual story.”    

            Van was relentless.  This wasn’t Rumble in the Jungle, it was a schoolyard fight, and Van was the bully. 

            “We had experts compare the voice on the recording to the one from the video of Abysmal at the Yesterday Town fight.  It’s a match.” 

            Wally shook his head defiantly.  He muttered under his breath.  “No. No.” 

            “The paramedics arrived six minutes after that call.  The Holy Avenger didn’t make that call.  In fact, he was never there that night.” 

            “You’re wrong.  He was there.  He told me he would make him pay.” 

            “Did he?” 

            “What do you want me to say?’ 

            “I want you to tell the truth!” 

            “That is the truth.” 

            “What did he say to you that night?” 

            “He said ‘Tell your gods what I have done.’  The other heroes.” 

            “Is it?” 

            Wally stopped.  He was shaking.  His eyes closed, and he went back to that night.  All these years, he had lied to everyone.  He had never gone back to that night.  He was afraid.  He couldn’t face the pain.  He couldn’t face the truth. 

            His eyes opened slowly.  Clear salty tears streamed from blood red eyes. 

            “He said…” Wally whispered softly.  He finally saw the events of that night as they unfolded, and not as he had fantasized them.  “He said—Oh my God, what have I done?” 

            Van was elated.  He’d done it.  His hands tingled and his hair felt as if it were standing on end.  He did it.  He was back. 

            “It wasn’t the Holy Avenger that stood over you, was it?”  Van had to complete the circle. 

            “No.”  Wally shook his head from side to side like a puppet hung by its strings. 

            “No.  It was Abysmal.  And what did he really say to you?” 

            Spit bubbles formed at Wally’s lips as he tried to talk; his eyes in his lap.  “You’ll be alright.  Help is coming.” 

            “Thank you.” Van said triumphantly.  “This is Prime Time with Van Tortelli.  Our guest today is Walden “Wally” Patterson.  Thank you everyone.  Goodnight.” 

 

            The light dimmed, but no one moved.  All eyes stayed fixed on Wally.  The former hero had been broken twice now.  Once physically, the other mentally.  For over a decade, he had been living a lie.  A lie of his own making.  In his mind, he had fantasized the “bad guy” as being the bad guy.  He did it to hide the truth from himself. 

            The truth.  The Holy Avenger never came to his defense.  He wasn’t there when he needed him.  He didn’t care.  His adopted father had abandoned him. 

            He was alone. 

           

            Wally wasn’t the hero martyr he had always believed himself to be.  What happened to him that night was an accident.  He and Abysmal had both made mistakes that night, and both of them were broken beyond repair. 

            A question lingered in his head.  If the Holy Avenger wasn’t there that night, then where was he, and where had he been? 

 

 

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