#52weeks52stories: Week 43
Word prompt: superhero
Word count – 2180
Reading time – 7:07
Being a superhero had its off-days.
Setting the city bus filled with passengers down in the center of the street, Dex winced at the sharp pain in his right hip.
Shaking off the discomfort, he approached the mangled guard rail. Gripping the jagged, twisted metal, Dex pulled the ends together and squeezed them tight within his fist, creating a seal better than any welder.
Dex found it difficult to open his clenched fist and release the railing. He rubbed his fingers over the knuckles on his right hand.
Dex couldn’t remember the last time he felt pain.
Well, he could but it wasn’t important. He turned and approached the bus passengers gathered outside the bus. They cheered and called out his name, some with tear-stained cheeks.
They loved their hero.
Tilting his head to the left, Dex heard the sirens of the first responders.
After finding no injured passengers, Dex assured the frazzled bus driver help was moments away.
He waved to the crowd and turned to leave when a blue-haired senior citizen stepped away from the crowd, calling his name.
Puffing out his chest, Dex flashed his winning smile. “Yes, madam? How may I help you?”
She walked right up to him, her movements agile and fluid for a woman of her years. Standing on tip-toes, she reached up and cupped his cheek.
“Young man, are you okay?”
His eyes widened in surprise. “Yes, ma’am.” He pointed at his chest. “MegaDex, remember? Nothing can hurt me.”
“Yes, dear. I know your personal superhero mantra, it’s just…” Her voice trailed off.
“Ma’am? You were saying?”
“Well, it’s just my Harold had that same look in his eyes you have… right before he got sick.”
Dex’s heart went out to the old woman. Her husband was ill, and she was seeing sickness everywhere. He took one of her frail hands into both of his.
“I’m sorry your Harold is under the weather, ma’am, but I assure you I’m fine.”
“Oh no, dear, he isn’t sick, Harold died ten years ago.”
Her response shook him and he heard conversations in his head from long ago but pushed them away from the front of his mind.
“I’m sure the two of you enjoyed a wonderful life together, but I can’t even catch a cold. MegaDex is fine, but I am touched by your concern.”
She smiled as she flipped her hand over in his and squeezed, but it was sadness he saw in her eyes.
“Take care, dear.”
He watched her walk away to rejoin the others waiting for first responders.
The gentlewoman stopped, turned her head and spoke over her shoulder. “But I know that look when I see it. I’ll never forget it.”
She disappeared into the crowd as unease settled in the pit of his stomach like a rock.
Dex saw the news station helicopters before he heard them and his inner turmoil grew.
Not wanting another microphone shoved in his face by an over-eager reporter looking for the big story, Dex turned to leave the scene.
Instead of being satisfied with saving several lives from disaster, Dex’s mind hummed with confusion.
I heard the first responders when they were still six miles away. I heard the old woman’s soft voice, and she was twenty-five yards away.
How did the helicopters get right on top of me before I knew they were here? It had to be the old woman. I was thrown off and unfocused.
Dex was moved. Her concern appeared to be genuine, and it had been a long time since anyone had cared about Dexter Richard Jacobs.
He smiled remembering she’d called him young man and wondered how she’d gotten that wrong. Everyone knew MegaDex was the oldest living human.
If he was still human.
Convinced his creation was ready, Earlie McGinty asked Dexter Jacobs to grab a pair of his dungarees from the clothesline for testing.
Just as Dexter opened the door to the workshop behind Earlie’s barn and stepped back inside, he heard Earlie laughing with his two brothers. “How could I forget the secret ingredient?”
Earlie held a jar of red liquid over the boiling vat and poured.
And Dex walked through hell.
The blast of the explosion doused him in Earlie’s secret formula and blew him into the far wall. He crumpled to the floor in a heap. A deafening cacophony of bells blared through Dexter’s brain bringing with it a wave of nausea. Dexter clamped his hands over ears and cried out at the pain the movement caused. Something wet caused his hand to slip off his ear and Dexter stared at his hand for several seconds trying to focus before realizing it was blood. His blood.
The ringing in his ears died down only to be replaced by screams.
Still unable to stand, Dexter propped himself on one arm and looked across the room. He froze in horror. The three McGinty brothers twirled in circles and writhed on the floor… engulfed in flames.
A second explosion blew out the wall near the vat and took one of the brothers with it.
Dexter leaned over, emptying the contents of his stomach in violent heaves.
He caught one last glance at the angry flames dancing toward him then passed out.
Dexter awoke thirteen days later in a hospital bed surrounded by faces hidden under surgical masks.
He stared back at the eyes full of curiosity and what appeared to be surprise. When his eyes found the lone female eyes in the room, Dexter relaxed. They belonged to his wife, Janet.
“How are you even alive?”
The question didn’t come from Janet but a tall, bearded man next to her.
He considered the man. “I don’t understand.”
Janet Jacobs gripped her husband’s hand as the man recounted the last thirteen days to Dexter Jacobs.
The McGinty workshop burned to the ground. Even the bones of Earlie and Elliott were little more than charred ash. Brass buttons on his coat identified oldest brother, Eason, blown through the wall by the blast.
Janet told the authorities her husband was headed to the McGinty’s when he left home earlier that day, so they assumed Dexter had perished with the brothers.
However, four days later, after the site had cooled, volunteers went through the debris searching for clues to the explosion… and something for the McGinty widows to bury.
Moving a large mangled section of the tin roof, workers screamed for the coroner several yards away supervising the packaging of bone fragments.
Dexter Jacobs was found… alive. Other than singe marks on the cuffs of his pants, Dexter showed no signs of being in a fire.
The year was 1865.
Dex reached his Kawasaki Ninja H2R but paused before mounting the powerful machine. Bitterness mixed with regret consumed him. The memories of all the years he was studied and tested, all the questions about what Earlie was working on and if it was a weapon, of all the time spent away from Janet and the boys caused Dex to bury his face in his hands.
When Dex’s condition couldn’t be explained, doctors gave up and researchers stepped up efforts to duplicate Dex… make more men like him. They were never successful, and more men showed up wanting to send him on missions for the good of his country.
Dex had enough and walked away. His strength had increased to immeasurable levels and efforts to stop Dex from leaving… by any means necessary, failed.
He tried to live a quiet life, returning to the profession of his father and opening a small lumber mill. But there were always shadowy figures around, lurking and watching. Some even approached him with satchels of cash, and others with threats against his family. He made it known any harm to his family would bring devastation no one wanted… or could stop.
Dex’s family had been his pride and joy. His boys, Rowan and Maynard, grew into fine young men who attended college and distinguished themselves. Janet was his rock, supporting his decisions in his new life. When Dex was inundated with offers, requests, and threats, it was Janet Jacobs who stood at the front door and dared anyone to cross the threshold.
In a newspaper interview, Dex said while Earlie’s concoction had changed him biologically, his true strength came from his wife who was a force of nature all her own.
Which is why it was even more heartbreaking when Dex and Janet, at last, broached the subject they’d both been avoiding.
Janet was aging—as she should—but Dex wasn’t.
The years passed and Dex watched his sons marry and become fathers—as his wife looked first more like his mother, then his grandmother.
Janet tried to send Dex away to start a new life, but the thought horrified him. He could not leave the woman who had been a part of his heart since he’d first laid his fourteen-year-old eyes on her at the county fishing contest—the only girl to enter.
He would never leave her side.
And so it was in his arms Janet died on the morning of April 18, 1906, her seventy-fifth birthday.
Dex could only shake his head days later when he learned his beloved Janet passed away at almost the same moment an earthquake devastated San Francisco and northern California.
One force of nature unleashed as another was extinguished.
He mourned with his boys but it wasn’t easy. They were aging too.
He lost them both before Hitler invaded Poland.
Dex’s three granddaughters were now grandmothers. He stopped calling them and dropping by twenty years ago. What was the point? He had all these powers that were useless to save those he loved most. He couldn’t watch another generation die.
He lived as a recluse, selling lumber from his property, only venturing to the city for supplies.
Returning from one of his trips into town, Dex came upon a flurry of activity at the Hadley farm. He slowed his old Ford pickup and figured out they were trying to upright an overturned tractor.
Not wanting to interact with people, Dex moved his foot from the brake to the accelerator but his conscious stopped him. Pulling over and parking the truck, Dex headed into the field.
No one saw him approach. Four men and two young boys called out to each other as they positioned two-by-fours under the tractor. Miriam Hadley stood on the edge of the commotion crying. When Dex reached the tractor, he understood.
Both Jonas Hadley’s legs were pinned beneath the tractor.
In one move, Dex lifted the tractor and set it down several feet away. When he turned the men and boys all stared at him, their mouths agape—then they cheered.
But Miriam was on the ground next to Jonas, her arms wrapped around his neck, still crying.
Despite his obvious pain, Dex watched the man lift his hand to pat his wife’s arm, comforting her.
He found his mission that day. His calling, his purpose.
Jonas made a full recovery and went back to working his fields with only a slight limp. He and Miriam added two more children to their family.
Dexter Richard Jacobs sold his lumber mill and moved to the city.
Sitting on his front porch, Dex focused his hearing, listening for accidents, explosions, fights, and calls for help.
It wasn’t the praise and hero-worship that motivated and spurred Dex on and it wasn’t simply saving lives.
Everyone had someone waiting for them somewhere and he didn’t want them robbed of time together.
Dexter Richard Jacobs became MegaDex, superhero to all, for love of family… and the loss of his own.
He mounted the bike, wincing again at the hip pain.
Those people with clipboards and test tubes and medals on their chests all those years ago had part of it right.
Earlie McGinty’s formula was intended for the military, but not as a weapon, because if it worked, he’d also planned to approach the garment industry, and farmers, law enforcement, firemen—anyone who wore a uniform.
After his wife’s many complaints about the endless mending of work clothes, Earlie, infamous in the county for his tinkering and crazy inventions, only sought a way to make fabric more durable and lasting.
Dex wished he could tell Earlie his invention worked… on him.
He fired up the engine but instead of riding off, Dex looked over his shoulder.
Back up the road, the scene was much calmer and shuttles had arrived to get the passengers to their loved ones.
But she was still there, standing apart from the crowd again, as though she’d been watching him the entire time.
She waved, and he returned the wave, then turned the bike toward the mountains and his secret retreat.
Her words ran through his mind.
“But I know that look when I see it. I’ll never forget it.”
He thought of his new aches and pains and all the human things happening to him.
Earlie’s formula had made him durable and long-lasting.
But nothing lasts forever.