The clocktower near the harbor has been transformed into luxury condominiums. She stands at the steel door, tucking a pen behind her ear and balancing her knock-off Prada tote as she toes off tennis shoes and slips on Louboutins. She saved so long for these stilettos; she can’t ruin them by wearing them on the Metro or in this neighborhood, reduced to rubble last year during a fight between the superhero she’s in love with and a supervillain. She scans the intercom menu for the penthouse and presses the red button next to Hunterson. She’s been demoted to writing fluff articles about City celebrities and magnates but plots her return to the Crime & Fraud beat: her tablet contains interviews concerning the latest real estate scam. With great destruction, comes great opportunity for the corrupt.
The door unlocks. She ascends in a sleek elevator of gilded bars. He opens the penthouse door in a smoking jacket of dragon-patterned silk tied with a tasseled sash. Welcome, my dear. She doesn’t trust people who call her my dear or honey. His voice is harsh, as if he’s smoked for years.
She follows him up a spiral staircase. When she arrives at the top, she gasps. The clock room itself, a high-ceiled room with walls of frosted glass through which she can see the mirror-images of four clock faces facing the cardinal directions. The giant gears are silent. The clocks have not chimed since the asteroid fell and the superheroes – and villains – appeared.
They sit on purple velvet couches. Can I record you? She pulls her out her tablet. His eyes are gray and smoky. Do they light up with a green phosphorescence? He doesn’t resemble the photograph of Hunterson she pulled from the archives. Angular, more muscles than fat.
She’s learned to be on guard these past years. She’s sure now about the glint of green in his eyes. And on his smoking jacket, the dragons writhe and breathe smoke, even though embroidery and silk imprison them. Her stomach grows heavy. Who are you? she asks.
Just call me Vapor.
He waves toward a slumped figure in the corner. Skitters a letter opener across the floor as if he’s skipping stones across a lake. Hunterson. Pick up the knife. Hunterson grabs the knife. His eyes are vacant. She stands up; Vapor catches hold of her wrist. A scream hovers in her chest. Be quiet, girl. Watch this. Hunterson, slit your throat. Hunterson draws the knife across his throat. A red mouth opens.
My control only lasts a couple of hours, but it’s sometimes deadly. His fingers radiate the heat of dying coals. Let’s wait for your boyfriend.
Fuck, not again, she thinks.
He’s not my boyfriend, she says. He has never kissed her; he doesn’t take off his mask. He answers no questions.
He climbs into your window at night; you bandage his wounds. He tells you his sorrows.
Vapor drags her to the East-facing clockworks. Backs her into one of the gears, ties her with his tasseled belt to the teethed gear, binds her wrists in front of her with his tie.
She’s learned many lessons from Nancy Drew. Keep calm, take a deep breath, tense muscles, hold hands so there’s a gap between the wrists. Vapor doesn’t notice.
He won’t come.
Of course he will. Vapor exhales smoke.
She knows that if she’s in danger, he’ll come. She’s already planning the article she’ll write. A Drama in Real Life.
She relaxes her muscles. There’s some give on the belt. What kind of competent villain even uses his own silk sash? She suspects that he’s not used to making knots, relies on his ability to control.
She imagines that when the superhero frees her, he’ll say, I can tie you up better than this. And she’d let him.
The superhero creeps up the stairs. Perhaps he has a tracker on her. He was once military; that much she knows about him. She thrills when she sees the twin daishō swords strapped to his back. The superhero’s eyes behind his mask say, I got this.
Vapor yawns, exposing a forked uvula. The gear she’s tied to grinds, jerks, and rotates up. In a few minutes, she’ll be crushed under the moving cogs.
The superhero’s blades reflect filtered light.
The tips of the villain’s fingers emit gray smoke. Clouds twist toward the superhero.
She struggles, her feet now off the ground as she’s hoisted by the turning of the gears. The tie around her wrists ribbons to the ground.
The superhero breathes in the smoke. Drop your sword, Vapor says. The superhero obeys him. On your knees. Vapor seizes a sword. Don’t worry my dear. Your superhero will die quickly.
This is not turning out as she expected. She bends her knee, grabs a stiletto, throws it into the gears. The grinding knifes her heart; metal crushes leather and the red sole. But the gears stop. Vapor draws the sword back; the superhero bows his head. She throws her other shoe at Vapor and he ducks. She has no more weapons. And then she remembers the pen behind her ear: she read once that there’s 100 ways to kill with a pen. She holds the pen as if it’s a throwing knife, feels the slight weight of it between her fingers. Uses all her strength to throw it.
The pen buries in Vapor’s chest. He reels within a cyclone of smoke. When it dissipates, Vapor is gone.
She frees herself, jumps down. The concrete chills her bare feet as she runs to the superhero and kneels before him. His eyes, circled by the mask’s eyeholes, are dull. Vapor said this would last a few hours. Will he obey her? She’s in love with him more than ever, high on adrenalin and danger. But she turns on her tablet’s video. Honey, let me see your face.
And he answers, This is my face.
Charlsey Carina Allison is a short story author, poet, and newbie photographer. She is currently unpublished, but is in the process of procuring an literary agent and publishing a compilation of short stories. She also adores otters.