Buffalo, New York
December 11th, 1976
“I like the way you walk,” said Candice with a grin as she held the door to the music store for her friend.
“Thanks!” said Susan Queen. “But you could do it too, you know. Just put one foot in front of the other, and soon you'll be walking out the door!”
Candice laughed. “I wish it was that easy! I'm such a klutz.”
“Don't say that! You just haven't trained like I have. Come to ballet practice this Tuesday.”
“Can't. My parents are hosting another party.”
“Uhg. They are such a drag! I don't know how you stand them. Do you sit them instead? Is that your secret?”
Candice smiled and put an arm around Susan's shoulders. “My secret is that I got you, babe. And you never leave me blue, Suzie Q!”
She blushed and shrugged off Candice's arm. “Don't call me that!”
“Well, what do you want me to call you, silly?”
Susan held up the album she'd just bought, and the two girls' faces split into identical grins. In moments they were singing and skipping down the frosty sidewalk, their long hair fanning out in the crisp winter air as they clasped hands and twirled. “We are the dancing queens! Young and sweet! Only thirteen!”
March 4th, 1977
“Hi Mom!” Susan gave her a hug and started taking off her shoes. “Hey, do you know if Candice is sick? She didn't come to school today.”
“I don't know, dear. Why don't you give her a ring? But-”
“But I want you to do your homework first.”
“Aww, c'mon Mom. I have the whole weekend!”
March 26th, 1977
“Are you feeling better yet?” Susan asked Candice over the phone. “It's been three weeks! You have to be feeling better by now!”
“No,” Candice moaned. “But I sort of got good news this week. I'm not posse- I mean, I'm not crazy! The, um, the doctor. He said so.”
“Oookay, but did he say when you're going to get better?”
“No, but they're going to try something on Tuesday that might help.”
Susan frowned. “You don't sound very enthusiastic. What are they trying?”
“I… I don't want to talk about it. It's embarrassing. And scary.”
Susan frowned harder, wishing it could transfer through the phone. “Well, it'll be okay, Candice. They're doctors. They know what they're doing. They've probably done it a million times!”
“I don't know, I think it's kind of rare… And they said they'll give me painkillers, but what if they don't work?”
“Why wouldn't they?” Candice didn't answer, so Susan sighed. “Look, I know this is bad, Candice, but don't let it get you down. You can take it. Just hold your head up, girl. Hold your head high.”
“I… Thanks, Suzie Q. You're right.”
“And you're groovy. Just remember that. Call me on Tuesday when they're done so I can laugh at you for stressing out about nothing!”
“I will, I will. But hey, you tell me what I missed this week!”
“Oh, wait until you hear this! Belle and Joe got caught under the bleachers during lunch on Tuesday!”
“What, were they scrounging for scraps?”
“Yeah, and it was a screaming success! All the noise they made led Coach Harris right to them.”
“So I bet she's all full of herself now, isn't she?”
“Yeah, I heard she's even going to be in the Macy's Parade this year. She's already bought the ropes.”
“Do you think she'll still have Joe on a leash by then? One less balloon handler to hire.”
“Oh no, definitely not. She dumped him the next day.”
“Wait,” said Candice. “So what you're saying is, when he rang her Belle…”
“It was their relationship's death knell. Exactly!”
“She sure takes a toll on the boys.”
“Actually, Joe said her rates are pretty low.”
“Rather like her standards.”
“That's what you get when you use Metric.”
Candice laughed. “Do Canadian bell foundries have return policies? Maybe we can get a refund.”
“Heck, I'd settle for store credit. Or a big enough recycling bin.”
“I don't think they come in her size. You have to go custom for that.”
“Store credit it is. We're running low on syrup anyway.”
March 29th, 1977
“It's time for bed, Susan.”
“But Dad, Candice hasn't called yet! What if something went wrong?”
“I'm sure she's fine, Suzie.”
Her dad sighed. “You're not staying up waiting on a call that might not happen. Why don't you call her?”
“I tried, but the phone's been busy all evening.”
Her dad shrugged. “Then you'll have to find out tomorrow. Bed. Now.”
March 30th, 1977
April 15th, 1977
“And then Harold punched Barry, and Mr. Wilson had to break them up.”
“Just wait until she starts shagging his brother Larry.”
“I already have a bag of popcorn stashed in my locker.”
May 20th, 1977
“You're just doing this to get out of finals, aren't you?”
“Oh no! You have discovered my nefarious plan!”
“For real though. Get better, Candice.”
June 3rd, 1977
Susan banged open the door, kicked her book bag under her bed, and rushed to the phone.
“Hello?” said Candice from the other end.
“Schooooool's out! For! Summer!”
Susan frowned. “Don't give me that mopey stuff, Candice! School's over, so you can go ahead and mysteriously recover now!”
“I haven't seen you since March! Stop playing sick and come over already! Mom's making that pasta you like tonight, and-”
“I can't. This isn't a prank, Susan. This is what I am now.”
Susan sighed. She hadn't really believed that, but she'd hoped… “Well, do they have any idea how much longer it's going to be? You can't miss summer break too!”
“This is a chronic illness. It's not going to go away and it's not going to get better. Not ever. It's… It's permanent.”
Susan dropped numbly into her chair as Candice's words sank in. “How do you know that?”
“The doctor said so. We weren't sure at first, but nothing we tried worked, and now there's nothing left.”
“You're not going to die, are you?”
“Gosh, I hope not!”
“So, what, you're just going to stay in your room for the rest of your life?”
“I… I don't know. I don't want to get anyone else sick, so…”
“I'm coming over there.”
“Yes! I don't care if I get sick. I miss you!”
“You don't understand! It's not just a cold. If you come over, you… you… you could die! I'm stable now, but if you catch it too, you might not be lucky like me. You could die. And I don't know what I'd do without you, Suzie Q.”
Susan frowned. “Lucky like you,” she said flatly. “Candice, this is the opposite of lucky.”
Candice sniffled. “It- It could have been worse. I could have been- I…”
The two sat there in quiet companionship for a few minutes before Susan spoke. “Your doctor's full of crap, Candice. Even if it doesn't kill you, this thing is trying to take your whole life away. You know what this means, right? This means war. So don't you give up, Candice. You fight it!”
“But I don't know how!” wailed her friend.
Susan pursed her lips grimly. “Then just keep putting one foot in front of the other.”
September 10th, 1977
“Plot twist: Enter Deborah.”
“Wait, which way?”
“Three, I think.”
October 7th, 1977
Susan hung up the phone and wiped her eyes. Something was very wrong. The Kades said they'd moved Candice to the Camarillo Pediatric Center two weeks ago, but whenever Susan or her parents called the hospital, they claimed to have never heard of the Kades at all. Susan had just gotten off the phone with Mr. Kade again to triple-check the name of the hospital. He'd sworn at her and told her to mind her own business!
Candice was her business, and she was thoroughly fed up with this bullshit.
Susan let herself out through her window later that night. She would get to the bottom of this.
October 9th, 1977
“She's coming to,” said an unfamiliar man's voice.
“Susan?” said her mom.
“What?” Susan groaned as she squinted through through bleary eyes, trying to make sense of her surroundings.
“Oh, honey!” cried her mom.
Susan found herself being hugged, but it felt distant, numb, and kind of sore. She tried to return the hug, but her arms weren't moving right. She blinked some of the sleep out of her eyes. “Is this a hospital?” Her throat was sore, and her voice sounded weird.
Her mom's only answer was quiet sobbing and the occasional “Oh my poor baby,” but then a tall man stepped into her view. “Hello, Susan. I'm Doctor Norman Griswold Wakachowskiison. You can call me Dr. Wakachowskiison for short. You were hit by a car late Friday night. You survived, but it was a close thing, and there were complications.”
“What sort of complications, Doc?”
“The complicated sort. And please, call me Dr. Wakachowskiison.”
“Is that why I feel numb?”
“No, the numbness is from the painkillers. The good news is that your injuries are healing remarkably fast. We might be forced to let you leave tomorrow.”
“How was I in an accident? I don't remember.”
Her mom finally pulled back a little from the hug, anger and hurt warring with relief on her face. “Why?” she demanded. “Why did you sneak out?”
“I did what?”
“Don't you play the amnesia card with me, young lady!” Then her eyes widened and she snapped her attention to the doctor. “I mean, she doesn't actually have amnesia, right, Doctor?”
He frowned and pulled a light from his pocket. “She did have a concussion. I don't think it was that bad, but…” He shined the light into Susan's eyes and mumbled to himself. “Can you tell me your name, Susan?”
“My name is Susan, Norm.”
“Incorrect. Norm is part of my name. Your name is Susan Queen.”
“Oh, thank you very much, Dr. uh… Whatchamacallit.”
“Oh dear.” The doctor turned to her mom with a stern expression. “Mrs. Queen, I'm afraid your daughter is suffering from both long- and short-term memory loss.”
Susan giggled as her mom began to stammer. “As much as I'm enjoying your routine, Dr. Whoever-”
“That should be Whomever, thank you very much.”
“-I don't think Mom appreciates it. You're stressing her out. We should probably start stressing her back in.”
The doctor turned to Susan's twitching mother and smiled apologetically. “Your daughter's memory is fine, ma'am. She did have a concussion, and it's perfectly normal to lose very recent memories when that happens. It's neither surprising nor worrying if she doesn't remember the accident, as long as she's still remembering everything else and successfully forming new memories. And she is.”
She nodded and then stared into Susan's eyes. “Okay, then stop joking around and please tell me why you snuck out, Suzie, if you can remember. I promise I won't be mad, but this is very important.”
“It might be easier,” added the doctor, “if you start from earlier in the day and work your way forward.”
Susan sighed. “You said it was Friday? I guess I went to school, then, right? …Yeah, I remember doing that, because Mr. Wilson gave us a pop quiz in history. Belle got caught cheating on it. It was great. Then after I got home, I tried calling the- Oh! Candice! I was going to Candice's house to find clues!”
Her mom let out a heavy breath. “Oh thank God!”
“Susan, you were dressed all in black, wearing a balaclava, and had a pocket full of bobby pins and paperclips! I thought you were turning to a life of crime!”
Susan blinked. “All black? No wonder I got hit by a car. That was pretty stupid.”
Dr. Wakasomethingorotherson snorted. “Very much so! Unless you were specifically trying to blend into fresh pavement and other black surfaces, you should have worn something the same color as your target environment, or failing that, something drab. Dark gray or brown. And mottled, to break up your outline.”
“…What?” said Susan and her mother in unison.
He winked. “I said that sneaking around at night is a dangerous activity that a young lady such as yourself should not be doing.” He rifled through some papers on a clipboard, and then hoisted himself up slightly to sit on the countertop. “Now, about those squared complications, Susan. What do you know about mutants?”
October 22nd, 1977
Susan let herself back out of the Kades' house through Candice's window and cursed softly when she banged her wide shoulders on the frame. Besides messing up her voice, her mutation was causing a growth spurt. That was weird, but what was weirder was the state of the Kade residence. Candice's parents had always been so uptight about presentation, but now Candice's dusty bedroom was the cleanest place in the building. Wherever Candice was, it wasn't here, and her family was obviously not taking it well at all. Maybe she really was sick like they still insisted, but Susan couldn't quite believe that anymore. There were some vague records in Mr. Kade's filing cabinet about medical expenses from earlier this year, but those were just a couple consultations and a surgery, all through some Dr. Rush. Nothing like the months of examinations and long-term fees she should have found, and there was no reference anywhere to Camarillo Pediatric Center.
But why would they lie? Why would Candice have refused to come out for the last seven months? Where was she now? Had they been abusing her? Had she stayed home to better hide the bruises? Susan didn't think so; Candice was a lot better at putting up with crap than she was, but she did have limits. Maybe she'd gotten herself pregnant and wanted to hide that? And now she'd, what, died in childbirth? Eloped with the father? And who he hell was the father?
Whatever the case, Candice had lied to her. Her very best friend. That hurt.
Susan stood in the air outside the window while she closed it, then dropped lightly to the ground. Ironic that she was the one who became a mutant and got powers. Candice was the one who wanted to be a hero. She'd have been so excited. Susan didn't want to be a hero. She just wanted Candice back, lies and all. The Kades' house was a dead end, but this was not over. Not by a long shot.
November 8th, 1977
“Hurry up, Susan, you're going to be late.”
“No, Mom. I'm quitting.”
“What? But you love ballet!”
“Loved. Now they just make fun of me. They keep calling me Shoulders.” They called her other things too, but Susan wasn't going to repeat them to her mom. “It's not fun anymore, and I have better things to do with my time anyway. I asked Coach Harris for advice, and he said I should try checking churches in general, not just soup kitchens. But there are a lot of them, so…”
“Honey. You're a teenage girl, not a detective.”
February 14th, 1978
“What's wrong,” sang Belle. “Is the shemale feeling lonely?”
Susan closed her locker and took a deep breath, brushed her hair out of her eyes, then turned to smirk at the other girl. “Yes, actually. Things haven't been the same since my chest deflated. But that's okay, Belle! See, I'm living vicariously through word of your exploits. Joe, Harold, Barry, Larry, Walt, Deborah, Rain, Jason, Mr. Wilson…” Susan sighed breathily. “So you just keep doing who you do, Belle, and remember: I'm right there with you in spirit!”
“I- What- How did- I'm not- God, you're such a freak!”
Susan winked. “And I'm learning from the freakiest! Very creative use of rope with Raul, by the way.” She turned on her heel and strode away from the flabbergasted bimbo, head held high. She managed to hold onto her smirk until she rounded a corner, then it slid off her face and she struggled to hold back the tears.
March 4th, 1978
“Son, I'm afraid you can't sleep here, but if you need somewhere to stay, there is a shelter three blocks from here. I volunteer there myself; it's quite safe.”
Susan rubbed her eyes and pushed herself upright on the pew. “I'm sorry, Father, I didn't mean to sleep. I needed to talk to you, but I didn't want to interrupt.”
“That's quite alright, son. It's getting pretty late. Do you want me to walk you there?”
“Oh, no, thanks. I'm not homeless or whatever.”
The priest raised an eyebrow. “Please don't fib in our Father's house, child. I don't mean offense, but it's obvious you're in need.”
She covered her mouth as she yawned. “No, really. I'm just… I'm very tired. I've been everywhere trying to find my friend, including that shelter. Here, maybe you've seen her?” She handed him a photo from her fourteenth birthday party. “She's the one with the Bugs Bunny shirt.”
“Oh, is that your sister with her?” he asked, pointing at the girl in the birthday hat.
“Huh? No, that's me.” And there went that eyebrow again. “Look, don't worry about that. Her name is Candice Kade. If you see her or hear anything about where she is, please let me know? My name's Susan Queen, and we're the only Queens in the phone book.”
He nodded as he returned her picture. “I will, s- child. I will. And I'll pray for you both.”
“Thank you, Father.” She yawned again and glanced at her watch. It really was getting late, but… “There's a Baptist church on this block too, isn't there?”
“Yes, but it will still be there tomorrow. I think you should-”
“Thank you. Which way?”
The priest sighed. “Up the road to the right, just before the lights.”
Susan nodded and stumbled out into the night.
April 7th, 1978
“Why yes, I do know of a Dr. Rush,” said the secretary at Niagara Falls Memorial. “He has a practice over in Manhattan specializing in very unique surgeries.”
“Far out!” said Susan. “I've been trying to track him down for months! Can you give me his number?”
“Sure thing.” She flipped through her Rolodex for a minute. “Ah, here it is. Hmm, and it says here his office is only open Monday through Wednesday, from noon to five. I'll write that down for you too… There. Now, is there anything else I can help you with this afternoon?”
“No, ma'am. Thanks a bunch!”
April 10th, 1978
“Bullshit!” Susan screamed into the receiver before slamming it into the cradle. The entire phone shattered as her fist followed through and cracked the countertop. “This is bullshit!”
“Language!” said her dad. “And that's coming out of your allowance.”
Susan glared at him for a moment, then her scowl broke. “I'm sorry, Dad.”
He smiled sadly. “I know, dear. It's going to be okay. You'll find her.”
“I don't see how.”
“Me neither. But I can tell you how you're not going to find her. Losing your temper.”
“I just- It's like everybody I try to get answers out of is an idiot or actively working against me!” She threw herself onto the couch and started wringing her hair in frustration. “This is so bogus!”
“Actually, doctor-patient confidentiality is a time honored tradition, and we should be glad that this Rush fellow isn't just revealing Candice's information to any yahoo who calls him.”
“But I'm not just some yahoo, Dad! I'm her best friend! I want to help her!”
“Sure, but how would he know that? Sweetie, you've been working yourself to the bone over this. You need to take a break.”
“I don't have time for a break!”
“Oh? And what are you doing right now? Twisting your hair into knots? How is that helping you find Candice?”
“I don't know! I don't know what to do!”
“Exactly. You're already not doing anything productive right now, so you might as well enjoy it.”
“I don't deserve to-”
“Shut up! No. What you don't deserve is the hell you're putting yourself through.” He looked at her thoughtfully for a moment, then turned on his heel and marched into his bedroom. She could hear the faint sound of him talking to somebody over the other phone, then he returned with a smile. “Get up. We're going to the studio. Grab your shoes and tutu.”
“…Dad. I'm not doing ballet.”
“Yes, you are. This is not a request.”
“I look like a boy! Everyone will make fun of me!”
“I don't care what you look like, and nobody else will be there tonight. I just called Barb. From now on she's going to be setting aside Studio B for your private use on Monday nights. It'll be just us.”
“Well, I don't think my shoes are going to fit, so…”
“Then we'll get some new ones. Now grab your tutu.”
June 3rd, 1978
Susan spun around and around and around on his stool at Kool Dawg's Ice Cream Shoppe, slurping a milkshake and planning. It was the first day of summer break, and he intended to spend most of it away from Buffalo hunting for Candice. He'd exhausted his local options during the school year, in between trying to keep his grades up and struggling to cope with his changes. If he was honest with himself, he was still struggling, and probably would be for a while. But he'd made an important decision the previous night. He'd change his pronouns for convenience sake, but he was keeping his name. Susan was the name his parents had given him. The name he'd always thought of himself by. The name Candice would remember and recognize. So, stupid boy body or not, he was keeping his name. People could make fun of him for it all they wanted, but he'd give as good as he got, or better. They didn't matter anyway. Who were they? Nobodies. He was The Boy Named Susan. Well, okay, he'd need to work on a better codename, but that would do for now.
Mostly, the name on Susan's mind just then was Candice. He needed to find her, and he had a large country to search. Two, if he counted Canada. It wasn't a project he'd be finishing anytime soon, but he was learning from his mistakes. This would not be a frenetic grind to find Candice. It would be a quest, an adventure. It would be fun, because as his dad had shown him, morale mattered. He finished his milkshake and tossed it in the trash, then began skipping down the street to Fanny's Fabrics, his black ponytail bouncing merrily. He intended to do this right, and that meant he needed a costume.
July 13, 1980
Susan blew his long green hair out of his face and rolled to his feet, empty hands raised. Normally his power protected him from simple strikes, but only when he knew the attack was coming. He'd just been sucker-punched, and by a superhero no less! “Whoa there, Golden Horse!” called Susan. “I'm no villain! I'm just The Boy Named Susan!” He tapped his chest for emphasis, where his name was embossed upon his white costume in flowing emerald script.
“Please don't aim those at me, ne'er-do-well! I don't want to have to hurt you even more!”
Susan blinked and looked at his gloved hands. “What, these? They don't shoot anything. I just wanted to show I was unarmed.”
“Oh, well then, I apologize. I'm afraid I'll still need to arrest you, however. This is the unfortunate consequence of your chosen life of crime. Could you put them behind your head, please?”
“Life of crime?” said Susan indignantly. “Now what crimes, I say, what crimes have I committed?!”
Golden Horse nodded toward the woman slumped against the wall. “Besides assault causing bodily harm? How about fraud, tax fraud, forgery, identity theft, unlawfully in a dwelling, obtaining property by false pretenses, abduction of a young person, and failing to provide the necessities of life?”
“So you know about the bogus homeless shelter she was running? Then why are you harshing my mellow?”
“Every one is a party to an offense who abets any person in committing it.”
“You call her a person? She was barely feeding those kids!”
“Be that as it may, I must again ask you to kindly put your hands behind your head and submit to arrest before I'm forced to employ more violence.”
“But I wasn't even abetting her! I mean, look at her!” He pointed at the puddle of blood and vomit the woman was sitting in. “Does that look abetted to you? I was just trying to find out where my friend Candice Kade is! She went missing three years ago over in Buffalo. I thought she might have wound up here. Then I found out what this… this…”
“What this ne'er-do-well was doing!”
“Did you find your friend here?”
Susan sighed. “No.”
Golden Horse nodded. “I'll keep an eye out, then. Do you have any photographs? Ah, thank you, just set them on the ground. Now, I realize this is terribly rude, but given the circumstances I'm afraid I do still have to arrest you both. Really, I'm very sorry.” He turned away from Susan and began cuffing the unconscious woman. “Please stay exactly where you are while I deal with this one. I'll of course be very off-put if I finish only to find that you've exploited my distraction to make a hasty escape…”
“I understand,” said Susan as he turned to leave. “Thank you.”
Buffalo, New York
May 29th, 1981
Susan threw his cap into the sky and gave a big whoop. It'd been close, but he'd made it.
And now, with school out forever, he could finally search full-time.
September 26th, 1983
The Man Named Susan dropped from the ceiling and somersaulted before landing gracefully in the path of Pimp Daddy Smooth. He adopted a heroic pose that emphasized his chest and the florescent-green script upon it. “Smooth, dude, you need a better name. And that's saying something, coming from me!”
“Who the hell are you and how did you get in here?!”
“A better question is, am I going to let you get out of here? Not unless you answer my survey.”
“I don't have time for this, and you're trespassing.” He tried pushing him toward the door, but the white-costumed man didn't move an inch.
Susan ran a hand through his short green hair and frowned at Smooth. “Perhaps I am passing on the tresses nowadays, but at least I'm not a human trafficker like you. Now, kindly remove your grubby hands from my delicate man boobies.” It had been six years, and he still felt weird about people touching his chest.
“How's about I remove your hands?!” shouted Smooth as he drew a knife.
Susan smirked as the knife and Smooth's hand with it stopped in midair a solid foot from his body. “Are you sure you want to keep escalating, or would you prefer an elevator?”
“What do you want, freak?”
“Candice Kade. Heard of her? She went missing from Buffalo in '77, age fourteen. She'd be twenty now. Big fan of Zeppelin, the fine arts, and cartoons.”
“Never heard of her.”
He pulled a series of photos from a concealed pocket, along with an aged-up portrait he'd commissioned. “Recognize these?”
Smooth squinted at them and rocked his head from side to side, then shook it decisively. “I know a few girls who could pass as her, if that's all you need, but if you're looking for the genuine article, I ain't got it in stock.”
Susan sighed at yet another failure. “Well then, I guess you're not useful to me. Do you want to do this the fun way or the boring way?”
June 19th, 1984
“So, if you hear anything, let me know.”
“Will do,” said Officer Thurman. “And thanks for all the help with that cult.”
The Man Named Susan shrugged. “I just want to find her.”
“Gimme all your money!”
“…Do you have any idea who I am?”
“I'm The Man Named Susan!”
“No, they're a band.”
“Who's a band?”
“Yes. 'My Generation,' 'Pinball Wizard,' stuff like that.”
“Okay…. And who are you?”
“I'm so confused. Look, just empty your damn pockets already. I don't have all day.”
“Sure, sure. So, here's the most recent picture I have of Candice Kade, from January 1977, ten months before she went missing. Her parents threw this New Year's Eve party and actually let me stay overnight for a change. I think they had too much wine or something. Anyway, this one here is a portrait of what she'd look like now, and here's one from my birthday party, and-”
“What. The. Fuck. No. I don't want to know about your childhood fantasies. I want your money, asshole. Fork it over.”
“No. So anyway, she went missing in October of '77, and I'm trying to find her. If you know anything…”
Providence, Rhode Island
February 12, 1986
“Yo! You The Man Named Susan?”
“Yes, that's me! Do you have news of Candice?”
“Look man, I don't know nothin' 'bout no Candice.” He handed over a thick envelope. “All I know is you just been served.”
December 22nd, 1987
The Man Formerly Named Susan frowned as he ducked under Frilly Goat's punch. The villain didn't recognize him at all. Even after Johnny Cash's publicity stunt of a lawsuit and the five minutes of fame it brought him, Susan just wasn't making a name for himself. A consultant had suggested changing his codename to something less wordy and adopting a more recognizable logo. He jumped over Frilly Goat's kick and then sat down in the air in the classic thinking pose as her continued assault failed to make it through his warp field. “I guess it's not like Candice is going to recognize me by having Susan in my codename anyway. Besides, it's been ten years, and still no sign of her.” He reached down with his feet to balance on his toes, then caught Frilly Goat's next punch in his hand. He grabbed her other hand as well, and before she could react they were leaping and cavorting through the cold, abandoned construction site as he hummed “Dance Of The Sugarplum Fairy.”
“What the fuck do you think you're doing?” brayed Frilly Goat.
“For real, you know? What am I even doing with my life? I feel like such a failure, like I've spent all this time and energy for nothing. And yet…” Susan tossed Frilly Goat into the air, did a pirouette of his own, and then caught her and held her close. “All these horrible people I've run into and stopped during my quest… Maybe I've failed to save Candice, but I guess I've saved a bunch of other people from villains like you? So that's something, at least. I just have to remember that. The world is bigger than just me and Candice. Maybe it's time to open my eyes and move on a little. Start being a hero for everyone, not just her. Save people on purpose, not incidentally. You know what I mean?” He shifted his weight as they twirled and then released his grip, sending Frilly Goat spinning away through a wall of cinder blocks. “I think it's what she'd want.”
Frilly Goat just groaned something unintelligible from beneath the rubble.
Buffalo, New York
July 4th, 2003
Hero of All placed a gloved palm on his chest, covering the ring of people holding hands that had made up his logo for the past fifteen years. When the band began to play, he proudly sang the national anthem along with the rest of the crowd. Their combined voices easily drowned out the raving D-list villain suspended from the flagpole, his star spangled boxers flapping in the breeze. This was Susan's last day in this costume. He'd had a good run, and the name was just so wonderfully pretentious. He'd gotten many laughs out of it, and had even gained a decent amount of recognition. But after fifteen years, he was getting pretty bored of the identity. Everybody just kept making the same jokes, over and over and over. It was time for a change. He'd put together a whole lineup of new costumes and identities, and he planned to swap into a new one every year or two for the foreseeable future to keep things fresh. The Ampersand, the Carrot, the Asterisk, the Almighty Left Paren… It would mean being a perpetual unknown, but Susan didn't care about that anymore. If he needed any more validation, he could just look at his growing family, or at the graph of the crime rate in western New York. Since he'd stopped chasing ghosts of Candice around New England and settled down again in Buffalo, he'd been able to make a real impact. He still sometimes felt guilty for not continuing the search, but he knew that she'd be proud of him for getting his act together. And now it was time to take it to the next level.
“Enjoy the holiday, villains of Buffalo and surrounding burbs,” Susan muttered under his breath. “For today marks the death of the Hero of All, but tomorrow… tomorrow brings you the birth of Colon Pee.” He stuck his tongue through the tongue-slit in his full coverage mask and wiggled it at the villain, then reached out to snag the side of a passing truck. And with the fading blare of a horn, he was the Hero of All Gone.
October 28th, 2007
The Asterisk grinned inside his mask as he walked away from the fading smoke. There was just something comfortable about this Imp. She reminded him of Candice. He was glad Daniel Kade had turned out to be stupid but innocent. He'd have enjoyed the opportunity to rake the jerk over the coals, but the idea of Candice's brother being an actual bad guy just left an unpleasant taste in his mouth. This Dunn fellow, on the other hand, who'd had the temerity to play games with the Moonrise Gallery that Candice had loved so much? Much raking would be had. Oh yes. In fact, Susan might need rake arms for this. He nodded and began to skip as he veered toward the nearest hardware store. “I am the raking queen, sharp and mean, my coals scorching! I am the raking queen, fear the wrath of my lawn-care bling! You can dodge, you can writhe, trying to get out alive. Ooooh, see my arms, they are reaching! I am the raking queen!”