East Hampden Ave. is an east-west street in the eastern part of Aurora. Condos and duplexes line it up to a point, then abruptly stop in favor of the High Plains: rolling hills covered with weeds. The road stays paved for half a mile after the houses end, then turns into dirt and disappears over a hill. The main relevance the site had for me was that three years ago, during a storm, I thought I saw rotation in the clouds and went a-chasing. For an hour I sat halfway between the houses and the end of the paved road, watching the sky, and took a whole disposable cameras worth of dull pictures before I gave up.
No storms this Friday, though; it was a beautiful clear day. Too jittery to sit around my apartment, I arrived at the site two hours before noon. The place was already swarming with media people, technicians, Aurora city officials, and spectators being kept out of the way by a host of cops. Hampden had been blocked off as far west as Tower Road, where I was stopped by a cop who was going to make me turn around and leave. However, when she recognized me, she let me through the roadblock, and another cop let me park along Hampden.
I got out of my beat-up little blue Chevy to a chorus of boos and catcalls. "No fat superhero chicks!" "Dont sweat into your costume!" "Get out of Denver, baby!" One person even threw a beer can at me; it bounced off the hood of my car. The cops put a stop to that, though, and they were nice enough to post a guy to guard my car.
I did my best to ignore the rabble, but inside I was seething. Fuck you, you pieces of shit! I hope you drop dead where you stand! If I could only But, of course, if I could, this whole business would never have occurred.
I wasnt wearing a costume, at least not a formal one. In anticipation of forms I might assume, I was wearing huge baggy pants, tightly belted around my waist, with a hole cut out in case I needed to grow a tail. You couldnt see the hole, though, because I had on a T-shirt as big as a hospital gown, with holes cut in the sides for possible extra arms. You could see my bra from either side. Finally, I wore a Broncos cap to remind everyone who the outsider in the fight really was.
The advantage to arriving early was that the technical people came rushing up to me, asking where we were going to fight. After some consideration, I selected a large empty area well away from the residences; the media set up about 50 feet beyond that, out of the "shrapnel" zone. I was then asked to explain the rules of the fight. I knew them from my stint with the Guardians but pretended Id found them on the Internet. Once the fight starts, anything goes; the only rule is that bystanders can play no part in the combat. If a bystander is hurt, tries to help, or in any way interferes, the fight stops and cannot resume for a week. Neither combatant can receive aid or advice from their "corner"; they have to work out their strategy ahead of time. The fight ends when one of the combatants yields or is knocked out, or if one of the combatants friends cries yield when the combatant is obviously beaten but wont admit it.
It was fun and rather gratifying, playing expert, but my narrative was interrupted by a roar from the onlookers. Suddenly I was alone among the weeds as the media people sprinted back to Hampden to cover the arrival of The Man Himself. Unable to see from where I stood, I moved to the nearest high bit of ground, sharpened my senses, and lengthened my legs as much as I couldabout six feetclutching at my belt so I wouldnt stretch out of my pants. I looked like an olive on two toothpicks, but no one was watching me except a couple of journalists who kept glancing from me to Weightmaster, as if they couldnt imagine how I could challenge a being of his grandeur.
The clowns had rented a white stretch limo, and it just was pulling up to the curb. Weightmaster, in full costumed glory, leaned out of the window, waving, as a hundred cameras pointed at him and a thousand people screamed. The cops formed a human chain to keep the onlookers from rushing the car. Then he got out (the limo rose noticeably after his bulk left it). He raised his fists as if he were already the victor. Cheers. He flexed his muscles. More cheers. Then he spoke:
"Good citizens of Denver!" (We were in Aurora, but no one seemed to mind.) "I truly appreciate your support, and I look forward to serving your fair city! Ill be available for autographs after this little formality. Now I must go greet my opponent."
He pointed dramatically at me, and the mass of heads turned to get a good look at comical little Sarah in her Swiss cheese T-shirt and size 3X pants flopping high up around her stork legs. The boos and catcalls started up again, with an undercurrent of scornful laughter. For a moment I was highly embarrassed, but the moment passed. Im good at not staying embarrassed, especially when Im mad. As Richard Feynman said: "Who cares what other people think?"
As Weightmaster strode majestically toward me, people parting like a zipper before him, I shrank back to my normal height, unsharpened my senses, and trotted on my chubby little legs to meet him. He bent down to shake my hand. His hand swallowed mine, and I winced at the pressure he exerted. "Youre a gutsy little thing," he boomed, pumping my arm. "Few heroes are brave enough to go toe-to-toe with Weightmaster. Perhaps youll surprise us all, ha-ha."
Jack probably wrote those lines for him, including the false chuckle. "Maybe," I said coolly. When he released me I massaged my hand and looked pained.
Thereafter he turned away from me and busied himself with the media and with two men and two women who had quietly exited the limo when the crowd stopped watching it. I knew it had to be the Fucking Four disguised by holoprojectors. They went to inspect the battlefield Id chosen. Of course Weightmaster tsk-tsked it, but as the media had already set up, he graciously gave his okay.
I was left to my own devices now that a real celebrity had shown up, much like Jimmy Nichol had been ignored once Ringo Starr returned to the band. Certainly none of the audience were going to bother with me; that I expected. But hadnt some of the media people been assigned to cover the losing team? I was hurt, but at the same time grateful; I wasnt in the mood for their questions. Every so often a reporter did drift over, but my monosyllabic answers made poor copy, and soon they left me totally alone. I didnt even have any friends around; Id insisted they stay away. No sense tying them in the public eye with me, and my parents had already had more than enough publicity, thank you.
With no one to talk to and nothing to do, I wandered around, trying to work off some of my nervousness. Noticing shirt hawkers doing a brisk business in Weightmaster T-shirts, I went over to see whether they were bootlegging me, but I hadnt been around long enough for that. Can you believe it, the only autograph request I got was from a hawker wanting me to sign his Weightmaster shirts? I would have told him where to cram his clothing, but there was enough Sarah Stein dislike buzzing in the air for me to just say "Sorry, youll have to get him to do that," and turn away.
Finally, tiring of the abuse yelled at me by the Weightmaster fans ("Hes really gonna master your weight!"), I appropriated a folding chair and sat off by myself in the middle of the weeds, looking forlorn and lonely. Some pictures were taken of me, and I distracted myself by imagining captions for them: "Sarah Contemplates Her Fate." "A Portrait of Self-Doubt." "Before the Storm."
Somehow the time passed, and a few minutes before noon, Weightmaster and his entourage sauntered over. Encircled by admirers, he bent over me and boomed, "Ready?"
"As ready as Ill ever be," I muttered, and I got up and trailed after the mob to the fight area. The Great Man continued to answer questions as he strode along, while his disguised pals drifted along at the edge of the crowd. One man watched me closely; it had to be Gordon Ogilvy, hoping to glean one more secret out of my manner or my clothing or something. Sure enough, he ran up to Weightmaster and whispered something before he dropped back, now past the time when he could offer strategy.
At the edge of the fight venue, everyone halted. My opponent turned to me and, staring into a camera behind me, said, "As challenged hero, you have the choice of starting spots on the field, unless you care to cede that choice to me."
"Ill take my choice," I said, pointing to a hillock at the far end of the venue.
"Very well. I choose that spot." He indicated a patch of ground directly opposite my hillock, about 75-100 feet away from me and right in front of the cameras. "Courtesy requires me to offer you the opportunity to yield now, honorably."
"I decline the opportunity and ask the same of you. Will you yield to me?"
The onlookers chuckled. "No," Weightmaster answered gravely. "Youre familiar with the rules of combat. Do you have any rule alterations to propose?"
"None," I said. "And you?"
"None. Well fight until one is disabled or yields."
We shook handsI grimaced againand we moved to our respective starting points, though first he removed his little cape and handed it to one of his chums.
An Aurora Parks & Recreation woman had been conscripted to drop the red flag that signified the beginning of the fight. I stood immobile, eyes on Weightmaster, watching the P&R woman with my peripheral vision. He was facing her, so confident was he that I posed him no threat.
She dropped the flag, and he pivoted to face me. ("Beat the shit out of her!" cried someone from the peanut gallery.)
On my hillock, I was about eye level with him. I gave him a bleak look, then crossed my arms and turned my back on him, simultaneously growing eyes around the top of my head. My Bronco cap conveniently covered them, except for the pair that peeped out through my hair and the "cap hole" in the back.
Unable to see my new eyes, he looked befuddled, for its bad form to hit an opponent whose back is turned. Then he shrugged and started running at me. He probably thought it was better to attack and be criticized later than to do nothing. Or maybe he figured I wouldnt have turned around if I didnt have something up my sleeve.
It takes me about two seconds to switch forms. He was a lumbering runner, so I had no difficulty estimating his time of arrival. Seven seconds before he was due, I reabsorbed the eyes and changed my legs into the heavily muscled ones of my "Sproing" form. Then I crouched and leaped straight up, I think about 30-35 feet. (Its hard to measure these things when the only place thats safe to practice them is in a deserted field like this one in the middle of the night.)
He ran up the hillock, underneath me, and down the other side before he realized there was no Sarah-shaped grease spot on his costume. He screeched to a halt and whirled around. Meanwhile, I landed at the bottom of the hillock.
He stared in disbelief at me over the hillock. I calmly gave him the finger.
This time he charged me, arms outstretched to grab me before I could leap. He was too slow for that to work, though. <sproing> Up I went again, angling forward so I would land well away from him, for he wasnt going to overshoot me this time.
He stared at me across the distance with real frustration on his face. I wasnt the first leaper hed ever dealt with, but in previous combats hed had things to throw and long things to wave around. If hed had a streetlight to rip from the ground, he could have swatted me out of the sky; or he could have thrown a park bench or a car at me. But all he had in the field was weeds and dirt. Well, he agreed to it.
In fact, he did pick up some small rocks that he threw at me, but a marksman he wasnt; its a lot easier to hit someone with a big ol car than a teeny-weeny rock. Then, realizing that he looked really stupid throwing rocks at me, he dropped his handful.
You could practically see the steam coming out of his ears as he tried to figure out how to slow me down. He probably hoped I would initiate an attack, but there was no way I was gonna do that. I just stood there, waiting. Once he looked around as if to complain to a referee. Finally, he must have decided that he had more stamina than I had, so he would try to tire me out. He charged, I leaped. He whirled and charged, I leaped.
We went on like this for about ten minutes. Though he wasnt used to this much running, he didnt seem to be tiring. But then, neither was I. I had a lot more stamina than he and his pals realized. I must have done a great job of faking them out! I knew Gordon Ogilvy wasnt that smart. Or his prejudice against me had refused to let him believe I could discombobulate (or plan useful strategy against) an experienced hero.
Hey, its not my fault if they forgot the little fact that Ive been a gamer and writer for nearly twenty years and have spent thousands of hours attempting to get characters with different abilities out of imaginary sticky situations.
Heh, heh, heh.
Anyway, Weightmaster probably could have outlasted me given an hour or so, but I had a plan and was looking for an opening. And it came. As he charged yet again and I leaped, my angle and his end position matched perfectly, and I came down right behind him. Before he could react, I leaped just a little and hopped onto his back, clutching for his neck (for a handhold), wrapping my legs entirely around his waist.
After all his misses and my distance, he wasnt expecting this, and his momentary confusion plus my grip on him gave me the time I needed to shrink my legs away from "Sproing" and grow my fingernails into "Clawz" and zip! make a long slit up the back of his wrestling mask to the top of his scalp. I cut off a few locks of his hair in the process, though his skin was tough enough to withstand my claws.
An aside about Supers and masks: Youd think Goodies would be constantly unmasking Baddies and vice versa, but it almost never happens, since an unmasker will have his own mask targeted by every Super who crosses his path. Also, Supers adhere to an unwritten rule about unmasking: it isnt nice; it spoils the fun of the Costume Game.
But Id already been unmaskednothing to lose thereand fuck nice, fuck games, I was trying to save my ass.
So I peeled his mask off with my right hand and spread my left hand over his face, making it large enough to cover everything from forehead to chin.
He froze just as he clamped his hand on my body, preparatory to yanking me off.
"Okay, Weight Masturbate," I said, "do you yield, or do I take my hand away and show off the real you coast-to-coast?"
He made a strangled noise and slammed his hands over his face, plastering my hand over it like plastic wrap. "Im not yielding to you!" he snarled. "Gimme my goddamn mask back!"
"Hm, lets see Nah. You can have your mask back when you yield to me."
Now he was in a pickle. He could easily peel me off and chuck me away if he removed his hands from his face, but plenty of cameras waited to capture his real identity the moment his face was clear. Even a fraction of a second of exposure, one fuzzy picture, would ruin him. He reached back with his left hand to grab me, but I jumped off his back, lengthening my left arm to leave my hand affixed to his face like a leash.
If Id been him, Id have twirled my body, and Sarah with it like a throwing hammer, loosening my grip on my face so that Sarahs hand would slip free and she would be flung over the horizon. But he didnt think of that, or he thought of it but rejected it because he couldnt tell where the crowd was and didnt want to fling me into it. Maybe his reputation was being damaged by my unexpected resistance, but it would go into the sewer if he hurt or killed a bystander.
So he did the next best thing: he reached back, grabbed my extended left arm, tossed me over his shoulder, and slammed me into the ground, WHAM!
"Ow!" I cried. At least he wasnt able to use his full strength, throwing me that way. However, he still had my arm, and he proceeded to whip me back and forth over his shoulder, slamming my body against the ground as much as he could.
Oh, Jesus! My arm felt like it was going to pop out of its socket, and the rest of me wasnt happy either. Although he couldnt break my bones, much more of this would surely knock me out. Luckily I could switch forms while stretched out to the max. Just short of dazed, I managed to stay focused enough to reabsorb my claws, grow my shell, draw myself into it as much as possible, and twist around to land on my back when next I went flying. When I crashed into the ground, what a relief! It almost didnt hurt.
But I still couldnt take this forever. I had to get free, for knocking me out would give Weightmaster the win, and losing after my mask stunt would make horrendous trouble for me later. At least with the lessening of the pain, I was able to calm down and figure out something to try. It meant shedding the shell, but I had no other choice.
Immediately after my next impact with the ground I reabsorbed my shell and grew my big knobby bone-plated tail ("Ankylosaur"). As I flew into the air again and passed over his head, I whacked him a good one on the skull with my new limb.
It couldnt have hurt much, but he was taken completely by surprise, and the hand clamping my hand over his face loosened. I whipped my hand away. He whined, slammed both hands over his face (thus releasing my left arm), and dived forward onto the grass, burying his face in the field. I landed in a heap some feet away, which hurt, but I was still conscious, and Id managed to keep hold of Weightmasters mask.
As my head cleared, I got up, reabsorbed the tail, reeled in my poor sore arm, and, standing well away from my fallen foe, called, "Do you yield?"
"No!" he roared from his prone position.
At that point I heard angry noises from the watching crowd. They couldnt have heard our verbal exchanges, but they sure could see who held the upper handor, given the circumstances, who held the upper hand and who held the lower face. And they werent happy about it. Well, screw em.
"You bitch," Weightmaster snarled, "gimme my friggin mask back and fight fair!"
"Fight fair?" I couldnt believe this guy. "Excuse me, but why should I be any more fair with you than you were with me in that hotel room?"
"Becausebecause that was different!"
"Because we were trying to fix the damage you caused to our image! That required extreme emergency measures!"
"Oh, like I give a rats ass about your image. Like I think the image of Supers is somehow more important than my life." Then I had a cheerful inspiration. "Anyway, Im doing the image of Supers lots of good by proving I can beat someone like you, thereby reducing my perceived buffoonery. Wasnt that the point of your original mission?"
"Yes no!" he snapped. I could hear the unsaid Not at my expense! I wondered if Weightmaster was mentally totting up the cost to his image that this battle had already caused: reduced respect, lost revenue in T-shirt and novelty sales, media chortling. Even if I went completely insane, gave him his mask back, and let him wipe the floor with me, the damage had been done. Look at Weightmaster, letting a pathetic little fat woman with nearly useless shapeshifting powers outmaneuver him. Some great warrior you are.
Heh, heh, heh.
I sat down on the hillock where Id started the fight. "Gosh, Mr. Weightmaster," I squeaked, "it cant be very comfy over there with your face crammed into the ground. How long you gonna stay there?" I twirled his mask in the air for the benefit of any cameras trained on me. "Gee, its a good thing I dont have anything to do this weekend, so I can stay here as long as I want. I hope you dont have anything to do."
A growl wafted up from the man. He spat into the ground below his face and stirred it, I guess to cover himself with mud, but even with his spit the earth was too dry for that. Then he started clawing at the dusty ground, and I wondered if he was trying to burrow his way out of the situation. He was strong enough, but he was afraid to move his hands too far from his face lest he accidentally expose himself, which limited the amount of digging he could do. Anyway, I put the kibosh on that idea by saying, "Running away?" Weightmaster never ran away. After a few seconds, he gave up and just lay there, too proud to even try to crawl somewhere. (I bet he missed his holoprojector, probably tucked in his little cape; theyre too fragile and expensive to risk in combat.)
After a few minutes, my throbbing pains diminished (I really do heal quickly). I stood up and said, "Holy cow, its quiet out here. And boring. I think Ill do something about that." I began to sing "Norwegian Wood" and danced as I sang, twirling and promenading like I was at a Grand Ball, slowly describing a wide circle around the clod. The audience probably thought I had gone nutty. Well, they were gonna have to get used to me, and dammit, if I was stuck doing this stupid hero crap, I was going to have fun with it. And its not often I have a captive audience to hear me sing. Im not bad, actually.
At the end of the song I paused and called to Weightmaster, "Do you yield?"
"Okay. I hope the weeds taste good." I started another song, Sondheims "Broadway Baby," and kicked like a chorus girl. When I finished the song, I paused in my dance and asked the question again.
"Okay. I hope you dont have to pee or anything. Is this the little girl I carried " I waltzed around with Weightmasters mask as my partner. At the end, same question, same answer, new dumb comment from me, new song, dancing, etc.
As I cavorted, I wondered how long the moron could last. Was he really willing to stay out here forever? Did he think that maybe the wind would drop a cloth on his head, like a challah at Shabbat? Was heGod forbiddeciding that it was better to sacrifice his secret identity and attack me than to admit defeat?
Finally, after a bunch more songs, I said in a bored voice, "Do you yield."
There was a pause; then a gulping sigh.
And a whisper: "Yes."
I stiffened. "What? I didnt hear you, and I dont think our audience did either."
"I yield," he said more loudly. "I yield! I YIELD! GODDAMN IT, I YIELD!"
The restive audience noise ceased; theyd heard him. "I accept," I said, tossing his mask onto his head and starting to walk to the edge of the battlefield. I grew my extra eyes again to make sure he didnt try to ambush me, but he was too busy scrambling to pull his mask on and hold it in place.
Then his four disguised pals ran onto the battlefield. I thought they might attack me, sleazy though that would be, and prepared to grow my shell again. However, they just glared at me (except for one of the women, probably SkyKnife, who smiled) and ran past to comfort, or more likely berate and hustle away, their fallen champion.
As for me, was I elated? Strutting? Swelling with pride? No. Now that the rush of combat was over, I was feeling distinctly cranky. What had I won, after all? A real Pandoras Box of prizes. The duty to protect Denver from super-powered foolishness. A reputation as a near-cheat. The enmity of powerful people. The poking and prodding of the media. The expense of "malpractice" insurance. God knows what else. Even the shred of hope in my victory box, my regained ability to determine my own fate, was limited to determining my own fate in the context of the Costume Game. Was this truly better than the alternative that had been mapped out for me?
Maybe if Id actually done something heroic out therebut heroism had little to do with that fight. Im not talking about my mask gambit, but the whole stupid event. Not one of the motives behind it was admirable. Even my desire to protect Denver from the Costume Game was only a side effect of my trying to retain control of my life. Thats what the Goodie biz was, under the flash and sparkle: politics. Feh. And I had just been catapulted into the center of it. Double feh.
I was now at the edge of the battlefield. It seemed very quiet. Cameras were trained on me. Journalists approached me. Several men had pulled their Weightmaster T-shirts over their heads to signify shame and to comment on the unmasking thing.
Then a little girl came shyly forward, holding out an autograph book and a pen.
My first thought was that I should push past her muttering, "Sorry, I dont participate in clichés," but I aint that cynical. And as I signed ("Thanks, Jody, you were the first, Sarah Stein") other people started to move up to me with pens and paper and microphones and video cameras. It wasnt the entire crowd by any meansa majority of audience and media were drifting in Weightmasters directionbut it was a start. And, I swiftly realized, quite an ego boost. They didnt know all the dirty stuff that had generated the fight, just that the hometown underdog had won, albeit controversially.
Then I saw a guy who had turned his Weightmaster T-shirt inside out and drawn a rough sketch of me on his new "front." Of course I signed it immediately. (The next day, the pictures on the front pages of the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News were slightly different ones of me signing this shirt.) It got me thinking about T-shirt licensing, action figures, fees for personal appearances, commercials, and all the other worms that a newly fledged Super finds dangling in front of her. Im not greedy, but I began to slaver over the money-making potential of my new status. Why, if I milked this thing properly, I wouldnt have to get a real job for years!
And this Goodie bit wasnt so bad, really. I could make my own hours and choose how I wanted to "contribute to the community." I could expect interesting celebrity perks. My powers still embarrassed me, but I could live with embarrassmentand who knew, maybe a truly impressive shape would crop up in the weeks to come.
And maybe unmasking Weightmaster had pissed off a lot of people, but it sent a very clear message to Joe Baddie: I dont play the Game; youre just another criminal; take me on, and Ill ruin your life. What Baddie in the world would risk it?
So I may have saved Denver after all.
That made the fight worthwhile.
"Hey," I called to the small mob that now surrounded me, "quit pushing! Im not going anywhere. Ill keep signing until Ive gotten everyone, and Ill pose for pictures after that. Yeah, yeah, Ill do the mallet thing. And the tail. Well, Ill do the legs, but Im not taking my pants off ."
See the "About the Editor" page. This is by no means my first non-Beatle story, but it's one of the few I have that I've actually finished....