“Sidewinder” by H. J. Hill
I have always been the hero of my own story. That no one else ever considered me heroic used to bother me. It doesn’t anymore. I’ve seen up close the heroes people worship. I am not impressed. My superhero is tall and strong and talented. I’ve never seen a woman turn away from his smile. I am short and round and slightly talented. I’ve never seen one turn toward mine. People see the outside and miss the important parts.
Sidekicks don’t get to pick their heroes. Somehow you just get put together. Had I been able to pick mine, I would not have picked The Spear. I would have chosen someone more admirable, more honorable, more…tolerable. And don’t call me an ungrateful little toad the way he did one time. Who with an ounce of self-respect would settle willingly on a lower rung if he could choose?
They call me Sidewinder. I can move from side to side more smoothly, more quickly than any creature on the planet, faster even than the snake for which I am nicknamed. But I do more than zigzag. I fool people or, to be more accurate, I let people fool themselves. I start one way and they think they know where I am going until they discover too late that I’ve zagged in a whole different direction.
My superhero is supposed to be the straight one. The Spear. A straight arrow, not crooked and sneaky like me. Once a spear is launched, it can’t really change direction without being acted on by an outside force. Where he lands, destruction follows, so it is important what path he takes.
We were doing pretty well for a long time, and then my topkick sold out. A wealthy businessman offered him a reward for saving his daughter from a bone-crushing fall. The Spear could have refused the money right there and that would have strengthened him against the next temptation. Like pumping iron – the more you do it, the stronger you get until the pressure of the weight is nothing, until it’s like hefting a feather.
But he hesitated and, in that moment, he was lost. It would have been so easy. No. One simple word, the first word that most kids learn to say. That was all it would have taken to stop the slide. And in that same moment, it dawned on me just who I was and how much I was worth. Whoever decided that he would be the hero and I would be the supporting cast didn’t choose wisely. Sometimes power goes to the wrong people.
The whole point of being a superhero or a sidekick is to help people in need – for free. It is not a paid position. The Spear took the money. Then he took some the next time it was offered, and before long, he was arranging to be paid in advance. I overheard him talking about a payment schedule with a client whose pockets were shallow. When he noticed me watching and listening, he motioned for the man to wait, walked over to me, and shrugged.
“Who doesn’t use their talents to make money? Actors and singers do. Businessmen do. Even doctors do. Is it wrong to profit from your gift?”
“It’s a gift! You got it for free! Give it for free! You didn’t work for it. You didn’t even inherit it. How are you going to do this? Are you just going to help rich people who can afford to pay?”
“That man is offering…”
“Turn him down. Tell him to give the money to a charity of his choice.”
“I am my charity of choice,” said The Spear. “I have spent my whole life sacrificing for others. It’s about time I spent something on myself.” He went back to the man who was in need of his help. Within a few minutes, they smiled and waved good-bye to each other. The Spear stopped at the bank to make a deposit on the way home.
He started calling them the Specials, the people who paid for his help. He gave them an access number where they could reach him – us – at anytime, day or night. One night he handed me a roll of bills that would have plugged a drainpipe. I ruffled the edges of the notes. The smallest was a hundred.
“Specials money,” he said. “Your share. I figure ten percent. I may bump it up to fifteen if we keep on this wave. I mean, you understand. I have the expenses, marketing, taxes.”
“Yeah, I understand all about business.”
“You make it sound nasty.”
I didn’t answer that comment yea or nay. I kept the money rolled up in a shoebox for months, hoping I would lose it (my dog found it where I dropped it by the sidewalk and brought it back to me – twice) or it would accidentally get set on fire (the matches were damp and wouldn’t stay lit) or I might get robbed (I picked a likely bunch to approach, but it turned out that they were members of a men’s Bible fellowship and they started witnessing to me instead of robbing me). Nobody was making the decision about keeping the money easy for me. Nasty or not, maybe I should have followed my advice for The Spear’s Specials and just given it away.
The Spear confronted me before a job that was paying a particularly high fee. “You don’t think I deserve this, do you? The money or the power.”
“Anyone else could do what you do, if only he had been given your abilities.” What I lacked the courage to say was that I could do what he did, but the gift had not been bestowed upon me. I guess I didn’t deserve it.
“The money is power, too, Sidewinder. The money is power and a gift. With it, I can be more effective. I can pick and choose. Remember when I rescued that guy on the bridge last year, the one who was hanging by his fingernails. And what did he go and do a month later? Robbed that couple at gunpoint. The old man had a heart attack and died on the spot. If I had been able to avoid the 9 to 5 grind, I would have been able to check him out. I would have known his background, the background of every criminal for a thousand miles, and I would have opted out of the rescue. Then that old lady wouldn’t be a widow.”
“Why don’t you look her up and give her some of that money you’re squirreling away?”
“What? Oh, yeah, I guess I could. I’ll have to think about that.” He straightened his hero outfit and flashed himself a smile in his full length mirror.
And then, the day came. A Special called. His little girl had been snatched to ensure that a major business transaction went right. I zigged and zagged through the part of town where they likely were holding the child until I spied the car described by the neighbor who witnessed the kidnapping. When I located them, The Spear prepared for flight and came soaring into the intersection as they were getting into the car. He sputtered and clattered to the ground in a heap right in front of them. I pulled myself out of a deadening panic and geared up for my highest speed.
I darted back and forth in front of them, behind them, first on one side, then on the other, until they were shooting at each other, and just as a pistol swung toward the girl, I was there, and we swirled out of sight. I set the child down inside a covered doorway. “Stay here. Be quiet. Don’t move. I’ll be back.” Her saucer eyes never blinked, but she nodded that she understood. I vanished and rushed back to the intersection. Two men pointed their pistols at The Spear who was just coming around. They locked their hammers back – too late. The Spear ended up being a lot heavier than I expected. I guess they’re right. Muscle does weigh more than fat.
The girl’s disappointed father stared at The Spear and shook his head. The Spear sat slumped on a bench and shook his own head to clear it. The rescue had wound up a confused disaster. The only consolation was that the man’s daughter was safe.
“Well, perhaps you are the hero I should be doing business with,” the father said to me.
I was reading the headlines on an Internet news poster. A fire had burned an old apartment building on the broken-down side of town. Three had died. “I’m not in the hero business.”
Back at my little house, The Spear pressed a frozen ice pack against his forehead. “I know you’re upset about that fire. But we can’t be everywhere at once.”
“We only need to be where we are supposed to be. You’ve lost your focus. Money has it now. What were you doing midflight, calculating the interest? It sapped your power today and nearly got that girl killed and you along with her.”
“But you saved me,” he said. “We can work together again. It will be like the old days. I’ll get my power back. You can still be my sidekick.”
“I am sorry, Spear. I have business on the other side of town.” I stood up to my full height. I had never noticed before that he was only an inch taller.
About the Author
H. J. Hill has been writing stories in her head since she was a little girl growing up in Beaumont, Texas. Several years ago, she started putting them on paper. Two of her short stories were recently included in Leather, Denim and Silver and There Was a Crooked House, anthologies published by Pill Hill Press.