Super & Real

Chapter Five





The crowd left the church all smiles and excitement. Behind them, a man in a loose-fitting dress shirt and slacks shook hands and mingled, positivity radiating from him. One elderly woman took his hand and placed another on top. “Jack,” she said, a lilt in her aged voice, “that was one heck of a sermon.”

Reverend Jack Hurst placed his other hand on top hers. “Ethel,” he replied, “as long as I’ve got the Lord helping me write, I don’t have anything to fear. Stage fright’s nothing.”

“See you around,” she said, taking her adult son by the arm and walking to her car.

Jack surveyed his friendly gathering as they departed for their everyday lives. His smile greeted each one as they walked by. One looked up from the driver’s side of a pickup truck. “Jack!” the man said, puffing on a cigarette halfway across his mouth. “You going to the game at Fred’s house tomorrow night?”

The reverend gestured. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world!” he said. “Maybe this time Andy’s going to have to short his son on laundry money!”

“Maybe!” the man replied. “See ya!”

“See you around!” Jack replied, waving the man off.

Jack’s wife approached from inside the church. “You did great that time,” she complimented him. “I think this time we’ll have enough donations to expand the church!”

“I hope so,” he said. “That way we can stop using that back room for storage.”

“Emily!” A woman shouted from a car. “We’re going shopping tomorrow morning, want to come?”

“She’d love to, Cathy!” Jack interjected. He looked at his wife. “You go have fun tomorrow, I’ve got things.”

“You sure?” Emily asked her husband. He nodded. She turned to the car. “Well, I guess I’m in!”

“See you then!” Cathy said, driving off.

Two young boys in suits exited the church. “Dad, Jim and Chris are going on a hike around the woods outside the Bleacher’s property. Can we go?”

Jack looked at his wife. “Don’t get ahead of yourselves,” he advised. “Let’s get home, get some food in you, and then you can get ready and go.”

“Now boys,” Emily said, “you know what you’re supposed to do, right?”

“Make sure to carry the spray and the first aid kit,” one boy said.

Emily looked at the other boy. “And what else, Eric?” She motioned. “Tim’s only half right.”

“Don’t put anything in your mouth,” Eric said.

“And be back before sundown!” Jack added. “We’re not going to go hunting for you.”

“Yes, dad,” both boys said in unison.

They went around to the rear of the parking lot and climbed into an antique of a Cadillac. The doors squeaked as the kids climbed into it. “Why do we always go to church in this?” Tim asked.

“We’ve gone over this,” Jack said. “Your grandpa—my father—bought this brand new in nineteen sixty-nine, and he drove this to church every Sunday. He kept immaculate care of it, and I’m doing the same.”

“Besides,” Emily added, “we use the Chevy every other day. This is for special occasions.”

“Your uncle Dave used to tell this joke,” Jack said, driving towards home. “In the Caddy, your grandpa would pass everything except the gas station.” A laugh rang out.

They walked through the front door of the two-story, four-bedroom house. Emily went into the downstairs bathroom and changed out of her Sunday dress into a casual blue shirt and jeans. Jack closed their bedroom door behind him and carefully removed his tie, folded it over a hanger, then unbuttoned his dress shirt and draped it over the side of a laundry bin. Finally, he slid his pants down, and placed them on a hanger after his shoes went in the wardrobe. After taking off his formal clothes, he put on a pair of shorts, slippers, and a t-shirt. He opened the door and went out into the kitchen.

“Alright,” Emily said, “dinner will be ready in a half hour. Get cleaned up, boys!” They clamored up the stairs to their bathroom.

Jack took a diet soda out of the fridge and drank it while reading. His wife asked what he was reading. “Oh, this?” he said, holding up the spine. “It’s some sci-fi number Craig told me about. It’s pretty good.” He went back to reading. A feeling came to him, it was a twinge in his mind. He ignored it.  It had happened at least six times this past few weeks, and each time, it took a lot for it to go away. He had to focus on ignoring it before it would disappear. The strange thing was, it wasn’t that distracting, it just confused him as to what it was and why it was there. After living with it, he found it didn’t really get to him, he just wanted it gone.

“Something wrong, dear?” Emily asked.

“No,” he replied. “Just hungry.”

“It’ll be done soon enough,” she replied.

He continued reading as the smell of delicious roast beef filled the air. A grin appeared on his face as he shut the book and leaned back in his chair. “If it tastes half as good as it smells,” he said.

“Just about,” Emily said, placing two serving bowls of corn and mashed potatoes on the table. “Kids! We’re almost ready!”

Jack got up and helped by placing the condiments on the table along with the napkins and the spare silverware. He sat down and his wife took over by dishing out the portions on each plate. As the kids came down in their casual clothes, he held out his hands and soon everyone held hands. “I like to keep it simple,” he said, “just like my father did. Everyone close your eyes and bow your head.” They did as instructed. “Lord, bless this house, this family, and this food that nourishes us, as we worship you and thank you for the bounty you have provided us. Amen.”

“Amen,” they followed him in saying.

They ate, as napkins and soda got passed around. Jack reached over and picked up a remote from the counter. A moment later, the sounds of Miles Davis wafted across the dining room and brushed everyone’s eardrums. Eric piped up. “That reminds me,” he informed his dad. “Next spring, the teacher says I could get to be first chair.”

Tim gave his brother a snide glance. “Jazz is okay,” he said, “but honestly, I want to play rock and roll.”

“As long as you keep an eye out for what you’re playing,” Jack reminded. “You’re great on guitar, but remember, you don’t want to accidentally praise The Enemy.” The look in his eye meant he didn’t want or need to explain what ‘The Enemy’ was.

“I’m not writing any lyrics,” Tim countered.

“I’m not saying anything against it,” Jack said, clarifying. “I’m just saying, be careful.” He took a sip of his diet cola. “I listened to Black Sabbath growing up, and your grandpa hated it. I’m trusting you to know how to be a good Christian.”

“Oh, dad, there’s nothing to worry about,” Tim said.

“Still,” Emily added, “keep playing. You’re getting pretty good at guitar.”

“Did you play an instrument, dad?” Eric asked.

“No,” Jack said, shaking his head. “Grandpa wanted me to play trombone. I just didn’t think I was any good at it.”

“I’m going to finish the party invitations for your nephew Taylor’s birthday party once we’re done eating,” Emily said.

“Yeah, no problem,” Jack said. “It’s my turn to do the dishes, so after that, I’ll just read my book.”

The kids finished and rinsed their plates off before putting them in the dirty pile. “We’ll be back before dark!” Eric said.

“Remember to be safe,” Jack said, as the boys ran up the stairs.

“We will!” Tim replied, coming back down carrying a backpack.

“Wait a minute,” Jack said, stopping the boys as they reached the door. “That sun goes down in four hours. I want you in that door when that happens. Understand?” They nodded. “Go on and have fun.”

“Don’t make us get a phone call from the police or the hospital,” Emily said.

“We’ll be safe!” They said in unison, closing the door behind them.

Emily began putting the leftover side dishes into their containers and then into the fridge. She rinsed off her dishes. “You’ll be okay down here, Jack?” she asked.

“I’ve done dishes thousands of times,” he reminded. “I’m ok.”

“No problem, then,” she said. “I’ll be doing party invitations.”

“Gotcha,” Jack replied. He filled the dirty half of the sink with semi-hot water and a capful of dish soap. He grabbed the dish rag and rung it out under the water, then scrubbed each plate until it was soapy and devoid of grime, then placed it in the empty sink. Once that sink filled with dishes, he rinsed each one and placed it in the drying rack. After about fifteen minutes, each plate and piece of silverware had been cleaned, and he took one of two drying towels and dried each dish before returning it to the cupboards. In under a half hour, he was done. After that, he returned to the living room and sat with his book, while the Bose system played Duke Ellington.

About two hours later, the twinge in his mind returned from a brief absence. He tried to ignore it, but that only made him focus on it more. He let out a huff and set down his book, placing his bookmark.  The music changed from one artist to another, and so he leaned back in the loveseat and flicked the remote for the television and turned off the music with another. The first channel to come on was the news. He shook his head in disgust at the usual killing and bad news. The Lord would have to come down and deal with this world, he figured. Mankind had clearly misused the free will given to them. Every way in which people could betray the commandments of their Creator, they demonstrated an eagerness to do so. His father had instilled in him the idea of, “hate the sin, not the sinner,” but the sinners had dived head first into their idol worship of the Devil, and it bothered him. He wanted to save them. It concerned him that so many turned their heads away from God and his plan. It bothered him that he couldn’t do more than he did.

His finger hit the button that moved the channel to a movie channel. The new channel was showing the original Die Hard. He took a mental breath and let it out. Arrogance had to be the most common sin mankind committed, he realized, as he had just placed himself above everyone else. Given the slightest slip of his will, he would be among the rest of the sinners as easy as the sunrise. His holy background meant nothing against the magnitude of evil stacked against him. Other than his connection to God, his constant devotion to The Word, and vigilance against evil, nothing stood between him and the evil of the world.

An hour or so later, he shut off the television and sat in silence. He focused on the twinge in his mind. With some effort focusing on it, he found it to be somewhat…pliable. It wasn’t a physical thing, he noticed, and yet, it responded to his attention. His breath caught in his throat. Could this be the Holy Spirit? Could this be the Lord speaking through to him? He focused on the Lord, his image, and the presence he felt in his mind. With great focus, he felt the twinge shift.

A brilliant light emanated from a point in space right in front of him. Spots appeared in his vision and he threw his arm up to shield his eyes. Soon, he could see again as the lights went dim. His soft loveseat had become hard wood. With his senses returning to normal, he whipped his head around and saw…the familiar wood pews of the church. His vision returned to in front of him, and his muscles went limp. His heart almost stopped.

Standing in front of him, in his full glory, was The Lord.

Jack couldn’t move. His body had to remind him to breathe. He sat, mouth agape, a silence almost deafening as his brain struggled to grasp what his eyes reported. The figure opposite him, standing on firm sandals, garbed head to toe in robes familiar from every depiction ever seen of him, his dark brown hair flowing behind him, could not be mistaken for anyone except Jesus. Jack blinked several times, hard and slow. He dared not speak. The Lord turned his head from one side to another, taking in the church, before returning his gaze to the reverend.

Jack hit his knees. “I am not worthy, O’ Lord!” he swore, clasping hands together over his head.

“Stand,” spoke the Lord.

Jack almost jumped to his feet. “My Lord!” he swore. “Your glorious return is at hand! I…”

“Not yet,” The Lord spoke. “We must gather the righteous at hand before we begin the final battle.”

A thought came to Jack. “Forgive me for questioning, oh Lord,” he asked, “but why has the Rapture not happened before your return?”

The Lord smiled. “Child,” he spoke, “do not doubt. The righteous who love and follow The Father shall be taken to Heaven in glorious rebirth. But The Father speaks to me not everything. The forces of the Dark One have their own plans and the Dark One moves independent of what has been written about him, so I shall enact The Father’s work accordingly.”

Jack rubbed his eyes. “You’re going to adjust your plan to fight the Devil?” he asked.

The Lord nodded. “You speak the truth,” he confirmed. “He is a crafty one, indeed; we must be craftier. But worry not! The Father’s will be done.”

Tears came to Jack’s eyes. “This world’s gone to hell,” he said. “What will you have me do?”

“We start from your congregation and work outward,” The Lord said. “Despite the sorry state mankind has descended into, our work shall gather followers and grow in size until it consumes the entire world in a wave of glory that crushes any evil beneath the light of The Father.”

The news almost bowled the reverend over. “Me?” he almost gasped. He shook his head. “My Lord, you can’t possibly think I’m worthy of such a holy task.”

The Lord put his hands on the reverend’s shoulders. “With my guidance,” he explained, “The Father’s words shall echo through you to the farthest reaches of the land! You will deliver goodness and grace to every corner of the Earth until Satan is driven out into the light and burned in the glory of His sun.”

Jack wept openly. He’d never felt such joy in his entire life. It threatened to overwhelm him. “I don’t deserve this honor,” he said, “but if it’s what you want, I’ll do my best.”

“We tell no one tonight,” Jesus said. “We reveal everything this Sunday at your next sermon.”






Jennifer sat in Rep. Jan Dunsmith’s office. She’d spent some money and bought an official-looking suit and tried her best not to scream. Everything had to go perfectly or else she might never get official citizenship for her current self. Every second she had to spend as Manny put her in harm’s way for no reason. The congressman seemed willing to help. His efforts were linked to her saving his life, she knew, but the point stood that someone had taken an attempt on the man’s life.

“I’d like to thank you for coming here,” Rep. Dunsmith said, shaking her hand.

She shook his and sat down. “I’m just trying to help,” she said, putting on her most positive face. “I’m just doing what a lot of Americans would have done.”

The congressman clasped his hands after he sat down, folding fingers together contemplatively. “I can’t guarantee any specific result,” he said. “I believe you want to help. As you’ve probably been told, the fact that you’ve gone out and helped people, and you haven’t broken into a bank vault and stolen a bunch of money, speaks volumes to that.” He reached into a file folder and opened it. “I spoke to an FBI agent named Davis Wilson who spoke to you. He had nothing but nice things to say about you.”

Jennifer smiled but tried to avoid revealing she had tensed up. “Oh, I’m glad,” she said. “We had a pleasant conversation.”

Jan Dunsmith shut the folder. “I’m going to be honest with you,” he said. “The Republicans are going to hit hard the fact that you might have an alter ego.” He steeled himself. “This isn’t a comic book, so the idea of hiding your true self from the world isn’t probably going to fly.”

She clenched her teeth inside shut lips. “Oh,” she said. “I was worried about that.”

“I’d use it as a bargaining chip,” he suggested. “We’ll try to avoid bringing it up as long as possible. The instant they bring it up, we should hit them with the idea that revealing yourself is an act that endangers those close to you and you would only do it under the tightest scrutiny.”

She nodded, swallowing. “I guess that makes sense,” she agreed.

“Trust me,” he said. “I believe you could be the best thing to happen to the United States. After all, the amount of assistance you could provide to the country is almost incalculable.”

“If I may,” she said, “I don’t want to be a government military asset. I don’t want to kill for the government.”

He gave a half-smile. “I hope to avoid that too,” he said. “We certainly don’t want to tip the delicate balance of the world powers.” He gestured. “I mean, there would be ways to assist the government not involving military action.”

She nodded. “I just want to be able to live as I am now, officially,” she stated.

“And you should,” he agreed. “The problem is you’re likely to run into opposition, and they’re going to make a big deal out of every possible thing you could imagine, and that’s if they agree to let you testify your side.”

“Do you think we should rehearse some answers?”

He pondered her question. “Honestly, I’d say no,” he said. “Normally I’d say yes, but this is a situation where their mind isn’t likely to be changed by a specific answer or answers.”

“Really?” she asked. “You think that’ll matter?”

He nodded. “They know prepared statements,” he stated. “They live prepared statements. I honestly don’t think being honest will hurt. Those that are sold against you already are going to stay that way.” He pondered it further. “Honesty is really not something that common around here.”

She nodded. “Yeah,” she said. “Sorry, I’m just nervous.”

This got a laugh out of the Representative. “I totally understand,” he agreed. “The strangeness you must have gone through in the past month, I can’t even imagine.”

They stood up and shook hands. “See you soon, I hope,” she said.

“I will keep you posted,” he said.

She exited the office and then the building and took off. A few minutes later, she’d covered a series of minor emergencies across the country. After that, she stopped at a restaurant in Chicago. One thing she loved was deep dish pizza; no place in the country did it like Chicago. She made sure she had at least fifty dollars in cash so she wouldn’t have to turn back into Manny and use his debit card.

“Excuse me, miss,” A guy said.

Jennifer looked up. The man looked fairly ordinary; he had short black hair and had a slight tan. He wore a green short sleeve shirt with a collar, and jeans. She regarded him as somewhat harmless. Sure, he probably was fishing for a date, but there was nothing he was going to do if he got violent, so she figured, what the hell. “Can I help you?” she asked.

“Is this seat taken?” he asked, motioning for the seat opposite her.

He was fishing, she realized. “No,” she said, “I guess not.”

He pulled the seat and sat down. “Great!” He replied. “What’s your name?”

“Jennifer,” she said.

“I’m Gary,” he said. “Nice to meet you.”

“Thank you,” she said.

“So, what do you do?”

Good lord, she thought, his questions were so predictable. “I save lives,” she said.

His expression grew questioning. “Really?” he asked, a slight start in his voice. “Are you a nurse?”

She shook her head. “No,” she said, resisting the urge to grin. “I’m a super.”

His confusion grew. His head cocked just a tiny bit as he looked at her face closely. Realization hit him and his eyes grew wide. “No way,” he said.

A quick glance around saw no one looking right at her. She held her right hand up with index and middle fingers close. A focus of her energy manipulation and a tiny bolt passed between the two of them. His jaw almost dropped. He regarded the look on her face and resisted the urge to shout.  “Yes way,” she said, returning her hand to the menu.

His confusion gave way to disappointment. She didn’t have to wonder what he was disappointed over. The waiter came. “Do you need a menu, sir?” the waiter asked.

Gary’s daze broke. “Oh, no,” he said, “I just wanted to give her my regards.” He stood up. “Thank you for all your hard work.”

She smiled. “Thanks again,” she said. This happened roughly every time she went to a restaurant alone. As Manny, she never imagined just how irritating it was that girls were constantly hit on. Now, she knew, men always saw women as advertising. As her guy self, she would never be bothered by anyone in public unless they had official business with her, or they were one of her friends or family. Now, she had to deal with every horny guy ever. Oh well, she thought. It was a small price to pay for being literally indestructible to almost everything.

“Are you ready to order?”

She looked at the waiter. “Yeah, I want your pepperoni deep dish pizza, large,” she said. “And a large Coke.”

A chuckle almost escaped her mouth. She’d heard stories of her female friends, but to see it in action almost struck her as comical. Or, it would be, if most women weren’t as frail as any normal person. The drink arrived and she took several large gulps to wash out the taste of the experience she just had. A burp escaped and she stifled it as much as possible. “Excuse me,” she uttered, just in case. She placed the fork between her finger and the table and spun it to entertain herself. It occurred to her just how much a smartphone served to break up the boredom.

“Ma’am,” the waiter said, about twenty minutes later. “Here’s your pizza.”

“Thanks!” she said, pulling a piece onto her plate and digging in.

She finished one piece and started on another when she looked up and saw another guy waiting, trying to get her attention. “Don’t worry,” the man said. “I’m not a random creeper.” He pulled a chair and sat down. “You really opened my eyes about Ayn Rand.”

Her eyes went wide. “Jeri…?” She cut herself off as she realized his disguise was to hide his identity. “Hey, didn’t expect to see you here.”

“You know, I’ll let you eat,” he said. “I just wanted to get your attention. Be here.” He showed her his cellphone with a local hotel room number and address displayed. “I want to talk in private.” He put his phone away and left. “See you soon.”

She watched him walk away. The arrogance of that man, she thought. Well, screw what he wanted. She would keep him waiting. She had a whole pizza to eat and by God, she was going to eat it in peace.

About forty minutes later, she arrived at the hotel. She stepped through the enormous glass doors and strolled through the cavernous lobby to the first hallway of elevators and took one to the tenth floor. At the end of the second hallway, she found the door and knocked on it. A moment later, she stood in front of Jericho Torvalds in his polo shirt and slacks. “So,” she quipped, “you can wear more than one outfit.”

“Come on in,” he said.

She entered and sat in a seat opposite the bed. He sat down. “Look,” he began, “I’m not about to do the ‘superhero’ thing. I didn’t read comics growing up, but having read some as research, I’m not doing that.”

She shrugged. “Okay,” she replied, “so what?”

“I want to help,” he said. “I’ve been making little ripples here and there. I’ve found the most useful ability I’ve copied so far is, I can get close to someone and literally experience their memories.”

Her eyes lowered as she thought about it. “Yeah, that would be useful,” she said. “What’s your plan?”

He let his hands fall to his sides. “That’s my point,” he replied. “I’m not entirely sure how to proceed.”

She thought about it. “You think I do?” She took a deep breath. “Okay, look. We’re not going to get good ideas from the comics and fiction. This is real life.”

Jericho nodded along. “Yes, that’s a good idea,” he replied. “I was wanting to work together in a sense.” He thought about it. “How do you know what to do?”

The question revealed put a smile on her face. This was a Wall Street billionaire, who demonstrated fish out of water behavior. He seemed normal, for once. “I don’t,” she said. “How did you know how to get rich?”

He thought a minute. “I played it safe until I had legroom to take risks,” he said. “It was never a guarantee. I could have failed at any time.”

She nodded, smiling. “That’s how I’m doing it,” she said.

He blinked hard, breathing out. “I…was hoping for an easier answer,” he said.

“Me too,” she admitted. “There isn’t one.”

“So, what should I do?”

She folded her arms. “What have you done so far?”

He thought about it. “I met with Sharon Francis and experienced her story first-hand,” he said.

“Wow,” she replied. “The activist?”

“Yeah,” he said, nodding. “It was enlightening.”

“I’d imagine,” she responded. “What I’d recommend, is sharing the experiences you’ve gathered with the people that need them most.”

That idea had already occurred to Jericho but getting a second opinion made him more certain. “I mean,” he explained, “having just read a bunch of comics for research, I think the piecemeal approach to making the world a better place is a bad idea.”

“I think,” she countered, “what we need is to make big examples. I’ve been trying to save as many lives as possible. Rather than trying to get people to notice me saving lives, I’m saving lives and if I do it enough, people notice me.” She spread her arms out. “After all, it’s working.”

“Hmm, I hadn’t thought of that,” he replied.

“Hey!” she interjected. “You’re a billionaire. I’ve seen you on Fox Business and CNN. You have enormous power to get people’s attention.”

“So,” he replied, “making a big noticeable example is a great idea.”

“You should use the powers you’ve gathered to create things that the world needs, like renewable energy and food that feeds more people.”

He started as if a wasp had stung him. “Hey,” he said, “creating products that save the world using my powers!” He paused to think about it. “I could give these things away for free and make the world a better place, clean water, energy and food, and that would serve as free advertising.”

She nodded. “Yup,” she argued. “I can just show up and take care of a problem. You can take care of large-scale problems.”

He gave a laugh. “I am so glad I met you,” he said. “You give me such a unique take on everything.”

“We can disagree about politics and philosophy,” she said, “but I’m glad you’re getting it.”

He laughed harder. “Yeah,” he agreed. “’Getting it’ is a great way to put it.” He thought about it. “I mean, these powers break the rules of economics because they seem to be endlessly reproducible.”

“It’s important we do this right,” she replied. “Because the world’s going to change. We need to sell people on the idea that the old rules don’t apply.”

He pondered this. “Wow, you’ve really thought this through.”

She half-smiled. “No,” she disagreed, “I just don’t want reality to turn out like shit because people didn’t think about implications.”

“So,” he said, “what do you think I should tackle first?”

“Energy,” she explained. “Climate change is getting worse because we need fossil fuels. So, we need to make alternatives cheaper to the point where no one would use fossil fuels.”

The gears turned in his head. “Normally, there’d be a lot of friction because governments would have to subsidize plans to make them cheaper,” he said. “With powers, we can make alternatives so inexpensive, companies would be fools to keep using what we use now.”

“Right,” she agreed. “Was there anything else?”

He thought about it. “Not really,” he said. “I just wanted your advice.”

She stood up. “So, how’s your situation going?”

He cleared his throat. “I’ve got a visit with a Reverend Jack Hurst,” he explained.

She rolled her eyes. “Fun,” she quipped.

“Yeah,” he replied. “I’m so looking forward to it.”

“See you around,” she said. “I’ve got some white nationalists I have to spy on.”

She stepped onto the balcony and took off into the air. A project she had been working on for the last few days, in south Texas, there had been rumors of a group of white supremacists who felt like using the newfound abilities of one of their members to commit hate crimes. She’d investigated, and found a number of their secret meeting places. Using super speed, she managed to hide listening devices in a number of buildings before each meeting.

After a short flight, she landed in a field and hid in a bush behind a large lodge, watching with her enhanced senses at the group of men joking, laughing, and drinking as they discussed their plans.

I’ve got you fuckers now, she thought, as she watched and listened. After a few hours, the less drunk members of the group took the more drunk members home. One of them stayed behind as the pickup trucks left the lot, and went to lock the door. She stood up, just out of sight of their porch lights, and zoomed past him into the building.

Six microcassette recorders she held in her hands. The last man, suspecting nothing, locked the building a split second later, and she took off towards home.

At home, she powered up the computer and plugged each microcassette player into the computer via an aux cable and a universal AC adapter. About three hours later, she had the recordings in mp3 format and she emailed copies along with the other information she’d gathered to the sheriff of the local police department, her ally Davis Wilson, and recorded the uncompressed original recordings onto CD-Rs to send to the press if need be.

After her detective work, she got a phone call on her cell. “You’ve usually not taken on hate groups,” Davis Wilson said. “You usually just save lives. What gives?”

She blinked in exasperation. “Are you going to help,” she asked, “or not?”

“I’m getting in contact with the local and state police as we speak,” he replied, “I just want to know why you choose now.”

“I don’t want to be a crime fighter,” she explained, “but I want to put a dent in hate crimes. Society needs fewer hate crimes and less hate, especially in this age.”

His concerned breathing traveled over the phone. “Okay,” he said, “I just want  you to know you’re beginning to toe the vigilante line, and society will not tolerate that.”

“I know,” she uttered. “But this is something someone needs to do.”

“Alright,” he agreed. “There’s no problem. Just make sure you make a good impression. When they attack and the police are outmatched, take the guy out carefully. If you use excessive force, that’s a surefire way to get them off the hook.”

“Yeah, that really sucks,” she agreed, “and I hate having to take them down with kid gloves, but I’ll do it if it gets them off the streets.”

“No problem,” he said. “Keep this up, I know the red tape sucks, but if you can make things  better, you’ll be what the world sorely needs.”

“Bye,” they both said.

She hung up, glad he accepted her offer and for not behaving like a bad cop type figure. Police behaved badly all the time, at all levels, and she definitely didn’t want to let it slide if she could handle it. At the same time, however, she couldn’t afford to have any negative engagements with them. If it turned out badly, she could endanger her future.

She went in the bathroom and splashed water on her face. All this dancing around legal minefields perplexed and exhausted her. She couldn’t break down a door of a group everyone in the surrounding towns knew as a hate group, because then they’d get off at the trial. At the same time, she understood the rule of law existed to prevent abuses of power by single individuals who had the power to lord over people.

Good lord, she realized. Freedom and liberty really were a huge burden. Now she understood the allure of these dictatorial politicians people kept electing. It felt so much easier to just let others decide things for you. Now that she had power, though, real power, she owed it to the common people to show them how one uses power without corruption.

Her phone rang again. “Hello?”

“I spoke to the county sheriff," Davis Wilson said. “It took some wrangling, but he’s agreed to let you be there when this group conducts its attempt to hit the local black church ten miles outside the town limits.”

“I guess that’s better than nothing,” she replied. “At least this way they stand a chance of winning.”

“Again,” Davis said, “remember if you use even a little bit too much force, they win the trial."

“Yeah, I get it,” she repeated, her voice sharper than she expected.

“Ok, just making sure,” he said, apologetically. “No problem.”

She hung up the phone. She wanted to turn on the news, see if there was any major issue going on now, but she resisted. From years of reading comic books, she knew almost all the superheroes had an issue with balance, but this bothered her. It felt selfish to her to focus on her life while others had it so bad, but at the same time, if she never took a break, it would eat up all her free time. Darn it, she thought, why am I worried about this now? Haven’t I been taking it easy before? She picked up the remote and turned on the news.

There was an earthquake in China causing massive flooding. Fine, she thought. Last one. A second later, she had a different outfit on, a new set of pants and shirts, channeled her power through them, and headed for the upper stratosphere. From the great height above, combined with her speed powers, she moved over the Asian continent and scanned thousands of miles of countryside until she saw the affected areas. It took almost no time at all. A ball of flame engulfed the air a few millimeters above the fabric of her clothes, skin and hair, as her power protected her from the friction of reentry. Manipulating the heat energy, the flames died down and soon she saw the water, having rushed up on land. Everything seemed frozen as she moved at her speed, and the scene looked like a painting. The murky water wore thousands of trees uprooted like toothpicks and floating amidst scattered debris of ruined farmhouses and floating vehicles. Impacting the water like a bullet, her protective field pushed fluid out of the way as her enhanced eyes saw through the pitch blackness to the submerged victims. The urge to throw up forced its way to the front of her mind, and she mashed it back down by force of will. There were at least tens of thousands of people in the water, some alive, many dead or in the process of dying.

Damn it, Jennifer, she thought, you can do this. She blinked back tears and forced aside her concerns as she approached each one. Each touch sent her power into them, so she could grab them at incredible velocities without tearing them apart. She scooped up a man and his wife. Draping them both against her, she had to stretch her arm as far is it would go to get it around them. Using her other arm, she grabbed two more. Rocketing out of the water, she scanned the surroundings for higher ground. A gathering of rescue equipment on a hill road above the rapidly flooding plain below showed her the target. She deposited the four down by the rescue workers in a somewhat open area and returned to grab more. It taxed her more mentally than physically, but she kept her speed up. If I slow down, she thought, to get people’s reactions, those few moments will mean more fatalities than if I just grab them all at this speed. She could only hold four at a time, not counting small children. Each trip caused her to have to catch her breath, mentally speaking. Having two separate speed powers made things a tad easier, as she could hover in place and take a moment’s respite before grabbing some more.

The long moments dragged on as she left the hill, depositing people from the water, and returning to get more. Although everything stayed still around her, her pace seemed glacially slow compared to the size of the task at hand. Her protective power would shield her from the harmful material in the water, but would let her get wet, and so she returned to the hill soaked each time. Then, once outside the water, her power would force the water out of her clothes. It served as just one more irritation that grated on her mind as she pulled victims from the flood. She wanted to scream, to wail, but couldn’t afford to. Her nerves would simply have to hold out.

Finally, after what seemed to her like days had passed, after she’d searched for hundreds of miles in each direction of the flood, after she’d travelled until she saw the end of the flood, she saw no more people in the water. With every piece of higher ground she could find covered in people for miles, she returned to the main patch of road she’d initially found, where a safety officer of some kind stood frozen in mid-command to one of his coworkers. Hovering about ten feet away, she released her speed powers.

The chaos sprang into effect almost at once. Bodies writhed about as some coughed up water, and began struggling for bearings, and some, too far gone to survive, thrashed about for a few moments and went limp. The officers and workers, startled by the sudden appearance of thousands of people, jostled about in confused anarchy. A middle-aged officer approached her and started shouting something in Chinese.

“I don’t understand,” she said.

One of his younger officers approached and said something to him, then turned to her. “Are you, the red-haired woman saving lives?” he said.

“Yes,” she explained. “My name is Jennifer.”

He seemed shocked by the lack of a code name of some kind but ignored it after a moment and turned to his superior, translating. The older man pondered this and said something to his younger officer. “Did you save everyone?” he asked her.

“I saved everyone I could find in the water,” she explained. “I searched everywhere for as far as the water went.”

This got translated. The younger officer received a statement and translated it for Jennifer. “My superior gives you his thanks,” the man replied. “We would love to ask you to help more, but unfortunately, we need you to leave before your presence gets us in trouble.”

She almost jerked her head from the shock. “What? What about the victims? What about the flood spreading?”

“We wish we could ask you to help,” the young man said, “but we can’t.”

Jennifer blinked several times in confusion. “Fine,” she said. “I won’t risk your neck.” She took off. Less than a minute later, she stepped through her front door. Her powers had dried her clothes, but she put her boots on the rubber mat beside the inside entrance and yanked off her shirt and pants and put them in a laundry hamper just for hero clothes.

She sat on her bed, mentally numb. Breathing in and out, the raggedness gave way to calmness. This caused her adrenaline rush to die off and the plug came out of the sink. Her mental energy drained out as each dying person appeared before her mind’s eye. Untold thousands she had saved, but there were still many hundreds who died despite her efforts. She collapsed sideways onto the bed and the tears flowed like rain.






Jericho stepped off the plane and quickly made his way to the small town in upstate Oklahoma where Jack Hurst resided. Apparently, this man presided over a medium-sized congregation that covered a few surrounding small towns. The motel just outside town limits had a room available and he set his suitcase down on the bed after locking his rental car. It surprised him he had cell phone reception in this area, and he plugged his phone in and activated his Bluetooth speaker. He called the number.

“Reverend Hurst speaking,” Jack Hurst said.

“You may not know me,” Jericho replied, “but my name is Jericho Torvalds.”

“I know you,” Jack interrupted.

“You saw me on TV, then?” Jericho asked.

“No,” Jack corrected. “The Lord told me you were coming.”

Jericho clenched his teeth to stifle a laugh. “Did he tell you why I was coming?” he asked, instead of saying what he wanted to say.

“He told me you wanted to give me some kind of great offer,” Jack replied. “He told me I should say no to you, but I wanted to meet you anyway because I have nothing to fear from you.”

The billionaire’s eyes went wide. “You don’t,” Jericho affirmed. “I’m just wanting to help people with powers financially in exchange for helping myself out, power-wise. No one has to lose.”

“You can come over in an hour,” Jack said. “Just make sure you come alone, and here’s the important part.”


He heard a deep breath on the other end of the line. “Be sure you’re ready to meet the Lord.”

Jericho squeezed his lips together to crush a chuckle. “I’ll be sure to do that,” he replied.

Jericho read several books on his phone until the alarm he set told him forty minutes were up. He got up, went to the bathroom, and changed out of his casual clothes into one of his Armani suits. He fastened his tie and popped his knuckles. Finally, he relieved himself before washing and drying his hands and taking a sip of water from his Perrier bottle and slipping his phone—on vibrate, of course—into his pocket. Here we go, he thought. Then he pulled up his mental map of the surrounding area, located the man’s house, and, after finding a spot where no one would see him, teleported.

He stepped out from behind the building and walked down the street, past the gas station, took a turn onto Mathers Road and strolled a good five minutes until he came to a modest, almost upper middle-class house. He noticed there was only one car in the driveway. A quick survey of the house with his powers revealed…

What the hell?

His powers would not reveal the inside of the house. Must have some form of anti-spying protective power, he thought. He knocked on the door. About twenty seconds later, a man with specks of gray intruding on dark hair answered the door. He wore a replica sports jersey and jeans and had a smile on his face.

“Nice of you to come,” Jack said.

“Pleased,” Jericho greeted, extending his hand.

“No, really,” Jack countered, shaking it. “I’m always open to the children of the Lord in need.”

Jericho flexed his copying ability.

Nothing happened.

Alarms started going off in his head, but he ignored it. He was Jericho Torvalds, after all. He had copied over a hundred powers, and several of the regenerative and protective powers overlapped. What could this man do to him? They sat in the living room. The reverend seemed so positive, what was going on? He prided himself on being able to read manipulators. After all, it helped him skyrocket the world of Wall Street. This man was not manipulating. He could not sense an immediate danger from mental illness or psychopathy, so what was it about this unassuming man that alarmed his inner sense?

“Want something to drink?” Jack Hurst offered.

“No,” Jericho replied, “I don’t want to take up too much of your precious time.”

“Need a rag?”

Jericho’s head turned. “Excuse me?” Something wet dripped onto his hand. His hand jerked into vision. It was sweat.

“It can be hot here in Oklahoma,” Jack said. “I didn’t think it was that hot outside, though.”

“Oh! Yes, please,” Jericho said. Now his breathing became rough. He was sweating? When did that happen? The man presented him with a cloth. He dabbed his forehead and forced his breathing to straighten. “Anyway, I’m sorry for that. What I’m offering is, a series of investments set up in your name, which will net you at least a hundred grand for the rest of your life, in exchange for allowing me to copy your ability.”

“Oh, interesting,” Jack admitted.

“One question, though,” Jericho asked, wondering how to word it. He reached into his pocket for his phone. He used a power to interface with the phone and activated the video camera.

“You want to know how you couldn’t copy my ability when we shook hands?” Jack Hurst said.

Jericho’s heart almost stopped. He swallowed, suddenly wanting to teleport out of there. His curiosity, though, got the better of him. “Y…Yes?” he stammered.

A genuine smile appeared before the Reverend’s face. “It’s because I don’t have a superpower,” he said. “I’ve been visited by the Lord, and the Truth is behind  you.”

Jericho slammed his eyes shut a moment. Don’t turn around, idiot, he thought. A glow was coming from behind him. Now he couldn’t resist. He turned around.

“Oh my God!” Jericho collapsed backward into his butt as he shouted. A shoe came off as he stumbled backward.

The man standing before him looked to have stepped out of a romantic era painting of Jesus. Every detail looked positively perfect about it. Everything from the brownish hair, to the beard, to the light-colored skin, it all seemed so much like the portraits he’d seen a thousand times.

The duality of Jericho’s rational mind talking and his emotional primitive brain screaming at him to run clashed. His heart pounded and he scampered backwards like a cornered rat. None of this made sense, the reasoning man inside him shouted. If Jesus were real, he would not look like a white man. At the same time, the emotional self didn’t want him to stay here a moment longer.

“You have spent your life running from me, child,” The Lord spoke, his voice terrifying Jericho as it ate through him like a parasite, choking his will. “Now, shall you bend the knee and accept that I am the only way to salvation, or shall you be gathered up like firewood, and cast into the lake of fire, and burned?”

Jericho teleported.

“Oh, no…”

Nothing happened.

“You shall not escape judgment,” The Lord said. He held out his right hand, palm facing forward.

A bright light engulfed the billionaire. His entire body lit up like a fire. An invisible force jerked him upward a foot in the air.  His clothes and phone flew off in all directions and turned to dust as his flesh began to melt. His scream echoed throughout the house. He activated one regenerative power after another, one protective ability after another. Nothing happened.

“I really wished you would’ve accepted the Lord,” Jack said, as tears streamed down his cheeks. “I hate to see you suffer this fate.” His voice choked at moments as he took the rag and wiped his eyes. “The Lord has to mete out such punishments to nonbelievers, though.”

Jericho flailed about as he searched his collection of powers for something. Anything. His fingers were turning into black charcoal as he lost feeling in his limbs. Never had he endured such agony. Every part of him felt ablaze. His voice began to crack as his vocal chords began to give.

Dammit! I don’t want to die!

He found a power he’d scarcely noticed hidden among the collection. Collecting it, he’d never bothered to even test it. An agonizing ten seconds passed as his last regenerative power failed to outpace the burning. He focused on his last power and smashed it on. Nothing happened at all. Fuck! WORK! He pushed all his mental might into activating it. A bright light overcame his mental vision as his sight went blank.

“AAAaarr…UGH!” His shout tapered off as he arrived, sputtering and coughing, collapsing onto the ground. Jerking to his feet, he whirled his head in both directions, realizing where he was. Oh fuck, he thought. It worked! I sent myself back a few minutes! He wanted to cry, but his better sense kicked in and he teleported back to his hotel room.

“Oh, my God, I’m alive!” he shouted. “I…oh, FUCK!”

Steam began boiling off his fingertips and under his clothes. Apparently, the effects of that…person’s attack lingered with him, or he’d taken some of it back with him. Frantically, he tore at his clothes, as his fingers tingled then burned, and he screamed some more. This time, however, he was able to successfully activate all his protections and he collapsed to the floor. His regeneration began to outpace the harm, and he passed out from the agony.

In Jack Hurst’s house, the light died as a small pile of ashes fell on the floor. The Lord looked and turned to his human ally. “Is that it for him?” Jack asked, drying his eyes again. It hurt him to have to see a person deny Christ, and as punishment, die in such a manner. He wanted nothing more than for everyone to be saved and experience the glory of Heaven firsthand. However, no one could escape the Truth that was God’s grace. If a man such as Jericho Torvalds loved money more than the grace of his Lord and Savior, then his fate, while horrific, had been deserved.

The Lord simply nodded. “That is,” he replied. “For his denial he suffered the ultimate penalty.”

Jack went to get something to clean up the remains. “It’s a darn shame,” he said. “I wanted to save him.”

“Once you get your message to the masses,” The Lord said, “you’ll be saving plenty.”

Miles away, light entered the dark vision of Jericho Torvalds.

“Ergh, what?” His eyes snapped open as he came to. He saw familiar sights. He was in a hospital. “Crap, how…?” He turned to his left. One of his employees stood there. “Oh, Miss Jasperson, how are you?”

She looked confused. “How am I?” she asked. “Sir, what happened to you?”

“I met someone I shouldn’t have,” he said. “Otherwise nothing.” He laughed, then groaned as pain deep within his body ached. “How long was I out?”

“Three hours,” she said. “When you got in here, the doctor said you had deep burns on your skin, but they’ve been recovering ridiculously fast.”

“It seems I heal fast,” he said. “Just not fast enough to get rid of this pain.”

“They’re thinking of releasing you in the next hour,” she explained, “because all the scans show there’s nothing wrong with you.”

“I wish that were true all the way,” he admitted. “I’m still feeling pain.”

She looked around. “What did the guy hit you with?”

“Some kind of light,” he admitted. He didn’t want to say anything about the fake appearance of Jesus. “It burned. I guess I got lucky when I got away.” Moving hurt. He could sense that his body had no more injuries, as his multiple healing powers outpaced the diminishing attack, but the fact that it could still linger so long after the attack troubled him. Somehow, this fake Jesus had an attack that burned, and furthermore, it did so with no visible flame other than a bright light, and it lingered for quite a long period of time.

“Well, sir,” she said, “it’s damn good to see you survived. Where do you want to go from here?”

“Back to St. Louis,” he said. “I’ve got a friend to meet.” He looked around at the table. “Where’s my phone?”

“Oh, we couldn’t find it,” she said. “We’ll replace it as soon as we get there.”

He waited until the doctor released him. He went to the nearest pharmacy, paid for the prescription Vicodin and popped a few with some water, and made his way back to his plane, which was gassed up and ready. He flew back to St. Louis. From there he teleported to Manny’s house.

He knocked on the door, and in seconds, Jennifer stood there. “Jesus Christ,” she swore, “what happened to you?”

He smiled at the irony. “You’re right,” he said. “And we have a lot to talk about.”

They sat apart from each other in the living room. She took his hands and focused her energy manipulation. It perplexed her, this power churning inside him; it damaged cells, even pushing right past his multiple near-invulnerability powers and requiring his regeneration. Said power easily took care of the damage, but the energy causing it lingered. She focused her mind on it and found it elusive. She pushed harder.

“Your nose is bleeding,” he said.

She ignored him and pushed harder with her mind. A final effort later, and it dissipated. “Oh, fuck!” he swore, as the burning stopped and relief washed over him. His body ceased hurting almost at once. “Oh, thank you so much!” He reached for a napkin off the living room table and dabbed at her nose.

“So, tell me what the fuck happened?” She folded her arms and sat back.

“I met Jack Hurst,” he said, “and he somehow summoned a fake Jesus.”

Her head jerked. “What?”

He nodded. “I don’t believe for a second it’s real,” he explained, “but this fake Jesus looked exactly like every painting of white Jesus you’ve ever seen, and he had the ability to negate most of my abilities. I only survived by the skin of my teeth.”

She closed her eyes for several seconds. “Fucking, just great,” she said. Already the wheels in her head were turning. “Now this is going to lead to religious freaks coming out of the woodwork. People are going to die.”

“Whatever this being is,” Jericho said, “I believe Jack is subtly controlling it and is unaware because of his religious beliefs.”

“Just what we need,” she replied. “A religious leader with the ability to summon beings that resemble a figure from a major western religion. This could destabilize the world.”

Jericho put his hands together in front of his face and then set them at his sides. “We’re going to have to do something about this,” he said.

“For the sake of everyone, yes,” she agreed.

She wiped her face with her hands and shook her head. This was all happening at once, she felt. Complications from her desire to help people, and frustration with the system constantly butting heads with her, and now this would happen? She thought she’d seen it all.

“What’s wrong?” he said.

She gave a fake smile. “Where do I begin?” she asked. She composed herself. “Ok, here’s what happened. I went to China to help with that massive flood that happened today.”

He pulled out his new phone and checked. “Oh, wow,” he said. “That’s a serious emergency.”

“Right,” she agreed. “So, I pull thousands of people out of the water, and then I’m told I have to leave before I start an incident just by being there.”

“Good grief,” Jericho said, “I can’t believe they couldn’t make an exception just for you for that situation.”

She shrugged. “I know! I mean, the worst part is, I totally believe that the officials there would have been reprimanded if they’d cooperated with me.”

He put a hand on her shoulder. “Look, I know it isn’t much help, but you’re a lot more capable than you think. Let’s worry about this now. How much do we watch before we act?”

She put her hands together. “We can’t act before something bad starts happening,” she explained, “or else we run the risk of everyone turning against us.” She cleared her throat. “This is what pisses me off. If it were Bugs Bunny or Superman, everyone would know it’s bullshit, but since it’s Jesus, everyone’s on his side right away.”

“And those against are really not on our side either,” Jericho added. “So we watch?”

She nodded. “Pisses me off, but yeah, we watch. But the instant things go to shit, we act.”






Jack Hurst finished cleaning up the ashes. A light from outside indicated his wife was coming home from taking the kids out shopping for clothes. He turned to the Lord. “Should I introduce you to them?”

“No,” The Lord replied. “They will learn of my working through you the same way the world will. They will learn at the sermon on Sunday. You will have an audience and they will spread the word which will only invite more to hear the word.”

“Good,” Jack said. “Thank you.”

The Lord simply nodded and faded away. The door opened and his wife and kids came in carrying bags of clothes. “Hey, honey,” Emily said, “the neighbor across the street said he was concerned. There was a bright light and screaming coming from the house.”

“Oh, just an action movie,” Jack said. “I was just taking a break in between sermons I was writing.”

“Don’t work too hard,” she said. “Oh, could you help me?”

“Sure thing, honey,” he agreed, and went outside to grab clothes from her car. He reached in and grabbed two bags and headed back in the house. He set them on chairs in the kitchen. “Hey, kids! Take these upstairs, and don’t wrinkle anything!” He noticed his wife in on the back porch. “Honey, what you doing right now?”

“Nothing,” she said, putting something in her pocket and headed in. She took one of the bags of clothes and headed upstairs to put her clothes away.

“Honey,” Jack called, “what are these?”

“I bought you some shirts,” she answered. “I know you’re always needing dress shirts.”

“Thanks so much!” he headed into the downstairs closet to put away the shirts she bought for him.

Upstairs, Emily made sure her sons were doing something else, and she locked the door behind her. She pulled the phone from her pocket and examined it. It had a scorch mark on the back, and a lot of surface scratching on the screen, but otherwise looked unharmed. She tapped the bottom of the touchpad and it came to life. Its prior owner had unlocked it, she noticed.

The status bar indicated a video recording was in progress. Curiosity got the better of her and she stopped the recording and played back the video.

The angle was weird, the camera must have been facing the wall. But she clearly heard her husband ask someone why they thought they couldn’t copy his ability, whatever that meant. Then, the phone changed direction and the image of a man in proper attire meeting her husband came into view. The image looked familiar, but she couldn’t place the young man’s face or voice.

Her eyes went wide as her husband revealed he had been visited by the Lord. Things progressed rapidly. The camera went flying and landed against a wall. It faced upwards at just enough of an angle as to get a full glimpse of Jesus in all His glory walking towards the cowering man. She didn’t know how to take it. The Second Coming had happened? Why hadn’t The Rapture taken place?

The Lord pushed his palm forward and a brilliant light lit up the man. His clothes evaporated off him like a swimmer emerging into hot summer air. She had to turn down the volume as his screams grew louder and louder. Finally, she saw her husband wipe tears from his eyes, and, a moment later, all that was left of the gentleman was dust.

She stopped the video and held her hand over her mouth. Every nerve in her body acted to prevent her screaming.  Her breathing fired quicker and quicker as her heart pumped faster and faster. Her eyes slammed shut. “Oh, God,” she whispered.

He’s been taken by the Devil in disguise, she thought. The Jesus she knew would never do such a horrible thing. She whirled her head left and right to make sure no one was watching her.

A thought came to her. She searched the phone’s contacts. A ‘Jennifer Black’ was one of the top listings. She called the number.

“Hello?” The female voice answered. “Who is this?”

She calmed her voice. “This is Emily Hurst,” she whispered, hoping it was loud enough to hear. “I…uh…found this phone.”

“Hold on!” Jennifer exclaimed, urgency leaking out of her voice.

There was a moment’s pause. “Are you the wife of Jack Hurst?” The familiar male voice said.

“Y…yes?” she said, hesitating.

“Listen to me,” Jericho said. “My name is Jericho Torvalds, and you’re in danger. Your husband summoned a fake Jesus who tried to kill me. That’s not all, the person is extraordinarily powerful, and I’m certain your husband summoned him into being.”

She paused, racking her brain to take this in. “How is that possible?” she asked.

“Do you remember the Lights in the sky?”

She sharply exhaled. She remembered the news about governments scrambling to calm the nerves of people, about a girl in ordinary clothes flying in and saving lives and helping to relieve the damage of riots and other disasters, and things slowly and semi-chaotically returning to some semblance of normal. “I do,” she uttered.

“I’m certain your husband gained powers,” Jericho explained, “and his faith combined with his sudden chance to meet his Lord has blinded him to that fact. I was trying to offer him money in exchange for a chance to study and possibly replicate his ability, when I was attacked.”

She rolled her eyes. “Of course," she said. "You just wanted to have it for yourself.”

“Ma’am,” Jericho interrupted, “your husband, tears in his eyes or not, demonstrated no hesitation to let his fake Lord kill me. It’s possible this being is not fully autonomous and is driven, even a little bit, by thoughts and prejudices your husband has.” He took a break for effect. “If that is the case, as the power goes to his head, he may stop thinking of himself as merely a man and start thinking of himself as an emissary of the divine. If that happens, you and your children may not be immune.”

“Why should I trust you?” she asked.

“Matthew ten verses thirty-four through thirty-six,” Jericho answered. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household.”

She closed her eyes and opened them, gradually. “I don’t…”

“Ma’am,” Jericho interrupted, “do you really want to take the chance that verse isn’t meant literally?”

“What do you want me to do?"

He cleared his throat. “Get your children and yourself out of there,” he explained. “Give him any excuse you think will work. It doesn’t have to be far. Just somewhere where I can get you out of the area.”

She swallowed hard. “Do you honestly think he’ll hurt me?” she asked. “How am I supposed to trust you?”

“He wasn’t broken up about killing me,” Jericho answered, “because he could justify it as me being unholy. All you have to do is make one mistake and I think he’ll be okay with it. Besides, I haven’t taken any violent actions against anyone, and I’ve amassed a decent amount of power.”

“But he’s such a nice man!”

Jericho’s breathing betrayed his frustration. “I know,” he said. “But his salvation is his alone and each person’s is theirs alone. So, if you get in his way, he’ll remove you. All he cares about is getting into Heaven.”

“Okay,” she relented. “But he’ll come looking for me!”

“I know,” he replied. “But that’s my problem, and my risk.”

She relaxed somewhat. “Why are you helping me?”

“The threat your husband poses to all of humanity is enormous," Jericho answered. "You may be the only key we have, and I want to protect that at all costs."

“Honey, is everything ok?” Jack said from downstairs.

“Crap! I have to go!” she said, hanging up, shutting off the phone, and slamming it into her pocket. She unlocked the door. “No problem! I’m just deciding what to wear tomorrow!”

“Okay, honey!” Jack replied. “Just take your time!”

She unlocked the door and pondered her next move as she tried to make her face look normal. This series of events evaded her best attempts to categorize it and put it into perspective. The fact was, that superpowers were real. Even someone as devoted to the Lord as her had to admit, she realized, that the chance that her husband had been visited by Jesus when so many different people seemed better choices, really strained her ability to believe. Also, she hadn’t read the Bible in its entirety in many years, but that quote from Matthew bothered her. What was even worse, it occurred to her, was that Jericho, whoever he really was, had to be correct because the clues struck her as so obvious. Jack had attempted to murder someone he barely knew, with almost no remorse and only minor strain to his emotional health, and that meant he took his perceived position far more seriously than she wished.

She made her way downstairs. “Honey, I’m going to start dinner,” she said.

Jack smiled. “Great!” he exclaimed. “I’ll be working.”

“No problem,” she said, turning away to hide her nervousness. “Just take your time.”

She came to a decision. Even if the stranger couldn’t be trusted completely, she had to get the children away from her husband, if for no other reason than the threat he posed. The kids went upstairs to wash up for dinner and she worked in silence, pondering, trying to come up with a perfectly legitimate excuse. She turned, briefly, to look at the living room where her husband wrote in a notebook. Damn it, Jack, she thought. Why now? Why couldn’t you just not do this?

Her mind was made up. I must get the kids away from him.