In, Two, Three, Four, Five

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In, Two, Three, Four, Five first published by J.M. Frey (Wattpad, 2017)

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The first clue that something big is going down is the basso profundo clatter-growl that tickles our ears, just on the human-side of hearing. It shakes the pastry case's glass shelves. The pies shiver and the lamps overhead swing ever so slightly in a slow, unnatural circle. Dust from the crown molding falls like grey snow.

Everyone in the café goes quiet, tense; prey, suddenly realizing that nearby there is a danger, a predator in the shadows and unseen places of their small world. They wait for a sign, for the next clue, for an indication in which direction they should run, or where they should burrow, or, if it comes to it, who they should push out for the danger to pick off. They wait to see where death will come from. And hope that said clue, when it arrives, does not do so in the form of an unstoppable streak of teeth and blood – too quick, too fierce, too late.

Another heavy boom. The café shivers again, a distinct ca-chunk lurch for all that it is subtle.

Heads turn to the window.

Whatever is making our small world shake isn't close enough to spy on this street. But perhaps, judging by the sound of things, it might be tall enough, big enough to see around other buildings. To see how close the danger has stalked.

If it is, indeed, some creature or mechanical in motion. And not, say, a series of explosions getting closer.

Hands tense on the arms of their chairs. The patrons ready to press up into a run. Heads swivel and thigh muscles tense.

I put the coffee carafe down on the polished countertop and slowly, deliberately, inhale to a count of five, exhale to ten.

He had said that it would help with the anxiety attacks, the panic, the... worry.

Because, of course, if there are creatures, or mechanicals, or explosions, then that's where he will be. Has to be. Right in the middle of it. Always.

I asked him, once, a few months ago, as the sweat cooled in the dips of our spines, the hollows of our throats, in the intimate pink shells of our ears, why it had to be him. Why he didn't hang up the tights, the cape, the gauntlets. Why he didn't put away the gadgets and the goggles, and let someone else do it.

"Who else?" he'd asked. He had gotten out of bed to fetch us a refreshment, and been pouring red wine. He didn't stop to look up. He just kept on, as if he already knew what my expression would reveal: my concern for him. Certain. "There is no one else. No one half so powerful."

"Surely there's... other professionals."

"Not anybody who can do what I do. And civilians... they'd get killed on the first punch."

He finished pouring, set the bottle on his bedside table, and crawled back between the sheets. We toasted. We didn't talk about it again.

Several months later, on the day he gave me a copy of his apartment key, he came home to find me clutching one of his sofa cushions and staring, goggle-eyed, at the television. I was doing my best to stiffen my chin, to keep it from wobbling. I thought if I didn't blink, then I wouldn't cry. His sudden appearance at the door – soot-stained, smelling of burnt leather and plastic, singed hair, costume covered only haphazardly by a pea jacket – startled the tears out of me.

"I–! I thought–!" I'd sobbed, sudden and embarrassed, as I shot to my feet. My cheeks burned with relieved shame at my overwhelming emotional breakdown, and were cooled by my tears. But they also burned with anger. I was so damned furious that he had nearly died, right in front of my eyes, live on national television. "I saw–!"

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