Carter’s mom pinned the cape around his shoulders, brushed out the folds, and then stood back. Carter glanced in the mirror and nodded. A superhero looked back at him. Spinning around, Carter loved how his cape billowed behind him. His mom clapped her hands. “That’s my hero!” Carter stopped, said goodbye, and then marched out the front door. It was time to patrol the neighborhood.
The first person he saw was Big J. Big J sold stuff from his Dodge Charger on the corner of Henderson and Flatts. He was a cool guy who often gave Carter money for hanging around and letting him know if the police were nearby. Carter always got the feeling that Big J already knew when the cops were there, but he would smile and give Carter money anyway.
“Whoa, C-note. What’s that all about?” He called Carter C-note, although he hadn’t ever given Carter more than five dollars.
Carter turned just enough to give his cape some lift and then thrust his arm in the air and made a fist. “I’m fighting bad guys!”
“Sweet! You want to go check on your sister then. She was arguing with Rip. Might be some trouble there.” Big J winked.
“I’m a superhero. I don’t get involved in arguments.”
Big J shook his head and then replied, “Well, superhero, I have a job for you then. Why don’t you go find her and send her my way. I got a delivery up at the college, and if she’s arguing with Rip, she ain’t doin’ any more tricks for him tonight.”
“I’m fighting bad guys.” Carter repeated, putting his hands on his hips and letting the words speak for themselves.
“Sure, C-note. I get it. But you could patrol the neighborhood on the way there.”
This made sense to Carter, so he spun around, his cape marking his departure with a flourish, and made his way up to Rip’s place. Along the way he didn’t see any bad guys, just the Langdon brothers, who were throwing rocks at the third-story windows of the abandoned school. They were getting angry because they couldn’t reach them, and all the windows on the first two stories were boarded up.
Rip had a storefront on Kensington, and Carter admired the way his office had real leather furniture and how clean it always was. Rip even had Lionel, who was like seven feet tall and three hundred pounds, guarding the door. Rip was a real businessman. Carter’s mom was always badmouthing Rip and arguing with Kelly over him, but Kelly made a lot of money so her job must have been pretty good.
He walked in and Lionel immediately commented, “Rip, we got us a superhero!” Carter held up his hand, and Lionel gave him a high five, which was more like a low five for him. The girls sitting in the chairs didn’t say anything.
Carter looked at Rip. “Carter, if you’re here to cry about Kelly, you can leave right now.”
Carter put his hands on his hips. “I’m just delivering a message to her and then—” He paused for effect. “—I’m fighting bad guys!”
Rip stared at Carter for a moment and then laughed. “Of course you are! Well, she went home.” He paused and then added, “But I can give you some info on where to find bad guys.”
“You can?” Carter figured this was true since he had a bodyguard.
“Sure, but it’s secret. Come here.” Rip nodded toward the girls, put his finger to his lips, and then beckoned him with a wave.
Carter nodded his best solemn superhero nod and walked over behind Rip’s desk. “I’m listening.”
Rip leaned down and whispered in Carter’s ear, “This neighborhood is full of bad guys. Sick evil motherfuckers.” Carter’s eyes went wide. “But here’s the thing — they’re hidden. They may even be right in front of you.” He then leaned back and talked in a normal voice. “You don’t need to look for bad guys. You just need to recognize them.” He laughed and shook his head, but Carter ignored him as he considered the words.
It made so much sense. Bad guys were always hiding. He was foolish to think he’d find them out in the open in alleys or on the street. They may even have had alter egos or disguises. He’d have to check out everyone.
An hour later he trudged into his house. “What’s wrong, baby?” His mom was sitting in the living room watching TV with Kelly, whose lip was cut and swollen.
“I can’t find any bad guys.”
His mom stood up and rushed over. “Hush now. You have plenty of time to be discoverin’ bad guys. No need to be growin’ up too fast.” She unclipped his cape. “Next time use your imagination, baby. That’s why God gave it to you.”
Carter nodded without enthusiasm. He could use his imagination, but he wanted to fight real bad guys.
Maybe someday he’d find them.
About the Author
Jake Kerr is an author of short fiction whose works have appeared in Lightspeed, Fireside, Escape Pod, Chinese literary journal Zui Found, and other publications and anthologies. His first published story, “The Old Equations,” was nominated for the Nebula, Theodore Sturgeon Memorial, and StorySouth Million Writers awards. He lives in Texas with his wife and three daughters.