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Short Story Contest Winner: 2nd Place, AnnE Ford

Average Man: Just Your Average Hero by AnnE Ford

8:30 am on the dot. It was a Tuesday, and I had taken the morning off to stop in at the DMV. I clutched the warmth of my coffee cup closer to my body, the cardboard sleeve reading “My Cup Runneth Over,” in thick black lettering—the name of the café down the street from my apartment building and my favorite place to grab a black coffee on my way to work.

“Welcome to Borden DMV, what can we do for you today?” A woman with bright red lipstick and pointed nails asks dryly.

I jerked my head up.

“Oh umm, license renewal,” I explained as I handed her my license.

“mmhm,” The women remarked, glancing down at the card I had handed her.

“Looks like this expired yesterday,” She commented, tapping her sharp nails on the counter.

“Well…I, you see… I was…,” I stammered.

“NEXT,” She shouted, jerking me backward.

She handed me back my license and a tag with a 76 written in big red letters. I was ushered toward an already packed waiting room. With a heavy sigh, I lowered myself into an empty chair and proceeded to glare at the concrete wall to pass time.

I let my mind wander to work and dreaded the days to come. The life of an accountant is not exactly one of great excitement, and I often found myself a loner among my coworkers at H and R Block. I enjoyed my job, but sometimes I did wish my days off held a bit more excitement than just trips to the DMV.

After what felt like an eternity, I got up to stretch my legs and make a quick trip to the bathroom. My license and number card still in my hand. I was passing the women’s restroom and about to turn into the men’s when a sturdy force knocked into my shoulder, almost throwing me off my feet.

I whipped around, looking for the source of the impact. I could have sworn I heard a deep grunt, but the hallway was empty and quiet except for the soft buzz of florescent lights. Shaking it off, I decided to forgo my trip to the bathroom and step outside for some fresh air.

I pushed open the heavy door and was greeted by a brush of cold air that blew the last bit of morning sleepiness out of my eyes.

To my surprise, I was not alone outside the back of the DMV.

A man dressed in florescent orange like a traffic cone was crouched next to the dumpster a few feet from the door I had just exited.

He had dark hair and a mustache that looked extremely out of place among his sharp features.

“Here kitty. Here kitty, kitty,” the man mumbled repeatedly in the direction of the dumpster.

Slightly weirded out by the unexpected presence of this man, not to mention his peculiar behavior, I began to turn back toward the building when the man caught sight of me.

“SIR!” he jabbered in my direction.

I cringed a bit. Please no, I thought to myself. I had no interest being involved in whatever this traffic cone of a man was doing.

“Are you here with the cage?” he asked me expectantly.

This traffic cone must have lost his cat, I concluded.

“uh, no. I’m Ro..”

“ROB NEWMAN!” he yelled at the same time I spoke.

I stared at the man, blank-faced, and tried to figure out if he knew me from somewhere. I did not recognize him at all, and he only stared back, giving no indication that he recognized me.

Thankfully, he broke our awkward stare.

“Sorry, sorry,” he muttered. “I forget it freaks people out. I’m telepathic, but I can’t always control when I use telepathy and when I do, I have to shout what I hear,” he explained with a sigh.

Suddenly struggling to find my voice, I cleared my throat and was about to ask him to be honest and explain how he knew me when he spoke again.

“Do me a favor, Rob. Come boost me into this dumpster,” he asked me matter-of-factly.

I was prepared to sputter out any excuse to avoid this situation when the door opened from behind me. There was no one there, but traffic cone seemed to think otherwise.

“CREEP” he shouted.

I startled, thinking he was addressing me, but his eyes were focused slightly to my left.

“Come help me examine this dumpster,” he asked, his gaze still set off to my left.

Frozen in my place, I watched as the traffic cone dude floated off the ground and was dropped headfirst into the dumpster. Before I had a chance to fully absorb what I had just seen, a mass of grey and black blocked my vision, a long, striped tail trailing behind it.

With an earth-shattering thud, the mass landed in front of the dumpster. It was a raccoon, but not just any raccoon. This one was about the size of my 2004 Toyota Sedan…and it was heading straight toward the guy in the dumpster.

Acting on pure adrenaline, I shouted “HEY!” in the raccoon’s direction and instantly regretted it. The raccoon turned to me, his nose twitching as we made eye contact.

“Shoo!” I exclaimed, hoping this raccoon was as scared of me as I was of it.

The raccoon froze for a split second before barreling right toward me. I threw my hands up and dove out of the way, dropping my license and number onto the pavement.

The raccoon seized the two cards off the ground before disappearing into the alley behind the DMV.

Oh perfect, just perfect, I think to myself. What are the odds the giant raccoon has a taste for licenses?

“THERE HE WAS AND THERE HE GOES!” traffic cone man yelled as he scrambled out of the dumpster.

“ARRGHH!” I scream, my fear and unease at the situation finally poking through my shrinking adrenaline. “MY LICENSE!” I shriek. “I NEEDED THAT!”

I needed to present proof of my license to get it renewed, and now it was gone. I was never going to make it into work this afternoon.

“Don’t worry Rob we will get your license back,” Traffic cone man states as he makes his way over to me. “I’m Obvious Spy, my partner Invisible Creep and I are working to catch the huge raccoon,” he explained, “He’s a danger to the public—knocking over cars, destroying dumpsters, the dang thing even knows how to open doors.”

“Invisible…who?” I stammered; pretty certain we were the only two people present.

Then, I felt a hand slip into mine.

“Hii,” a voice whispered into my ear.

“Ewwwll!” I shrieked as I yanked my hand back, utterly disturbed.

“Yeah, he’s very friendly,” said Obvious Spy with a dismissive wave of his hand.

I gave myself a quick pinch. Nope, definitely not dreaming and I’m not a drug user so this must be real.

“We’ve named the raccoon Sidney because when he sneezes it sounds like he’s saying AHHSIDNEY!” said Invisible Creep from the space next to me.

Yep. Ok, there does seem to be an invisible person. I attempt to rationalize this in my head, to no avail.

“We thought he’d been burrowing under the building to get to this dumpster,” Obvious Spy explained as he waved a hand in the direction of the dumpster. “Creep was just inside the DMV checking for any signs of burrowing.”

I remembered the force I ran into outside the women’s bathroom and thought it best not to mention that raccoon activity might not have been the only thing Invisible Creep had been looking for.

"Right,” I said, backing up slightly from the space Invisible Creep was supposedly standing. “So, you guys are cops? Or what?” I questioned, unsure of how these two lunatics were going to be able to catch that huge raccoon and get my license back.

“Cops?” Obvious Spy gave a small laugh. “No, no, we are from the A.F.A.T.S, the Academy for Almost-Talented Supers” he explained. “We are trying to catch Sidney to earn the PP Award, our public protection award, and be named real heroes.”

Sounded like an insulting girl scout troop if you ask me, but at least they were acting on the orders of some authority. Although, almost-talented does seem like a good way to describe someone with telepathy who has to shout whatever they hear.

Before I got the chance to ask any more questions, the ground beneath my feet began to wobble and a distant boom grew louder. I turned my head just in time to see a grey blur barrel down the street past the DMV, destroying everything in its path. My license still gripped between its sharp teeth.

“SIDNEY!!” Obvious Spy yelled. “Quick! We need to follow him!” he exclaimed. “Rob, do you have a vehicle?” he asked frantically.

“Yes, that’s my Sedan, but I..”

“THERE NO TIME!!” he shrieked, pushing me toward the driver’s seat of my car.

“FOLLOW SIDNEY!” Obvious Spy yelled, pointing in the direction of the wreckage.

Taunted by the sight of my license dangling out of the raccoon’s mouth, I started the car and zoomed out of the DMV parking lot. Following the trail of destruction, I sped down the street until we finally saw Sidney ahead of us. The raccoon was leaping over buildings, narrowly avoiding squishing pedestrians in the process. I pulled the car into the parking lot of a nearby McDonald’s.

“So, what your plan for catching this thing?” I asked as I turned toward Obvious Spy, who was perched in my passenger’s seat.

“Well we have a rope,” Obvious Spy began, holding up a rope that I had somehow failed to notice before.

“You’re kidding me right, you’re kidding?” I argued. "You think you are going to be able to capture a school-bus sized raccoon with only a rope?” I rolled my eyes and unlocked the car door, letting the two out.

“Just please, get my license so I can get it renewed and make it to work ok?” I pleaded as they ran off after the raccoon, rope in hand.

I watched them chase the raccoon around for a bit in what looked like some sort of circus act gone wrong. My stomach grumbled, and I decided to pull my car through the McDonald’s drive-through while I waited, considering whether I should abandon these weirdos and just take the bus for the next few weeks until I can retake my driver’s test.

“Welcome to McDonald’s what can we get for you today?”

“Hi, can I get a Big Mac?” A couple blocks away, Sidney was sprinting down the road, my license still in his mouth, after a blue Volkswagen Beetle, nearly squishing all of the pedestrians in his path as Obvious Spy chased after him, panting heavily. I sighed.

“Actually, could you make that five Big Macs?” I asked.

“Certainly, your total is $17.85, please pull to the first window.” I reached for the paper bag and the car filled with the salty aroma of burgers.

I pulled out of the drive-through, the paper bag still warm in my hands. I unwrapped one of the burgers and took a bite as I drove after the mass of fur.

Up ahead, the Volkswagen pulled off the road and Sidney followed it, eventually sitting behind the small car and rocking it with his clawed hands. I pulled up next to the stopped car and opened my door.

“Get the rope ready,” I instructed to Obvious Spy and Invisible Creep, as I hopped out of the car and walked toward the Raccoon who could easily squash me like an ant.

“HEY!” I shouted toward Sidney.

The raccoon froze once again and jerked his head in my direction, giving the Volkswagen’s passengers time to flee from the car. Slowly, I opened the paper bag and pulled out a Big Mac.

The raccoon dropped my license from its mouth.

Sidney’s eyes were glued to my steady hand movements as I unwrapped the burger and held it up into the air. He crept stealthily toward me. I tossed the BigMac a few feet in front of me, where it landed on the pavement with a soft thud. Sidney scurried toward the fallen burger and gulped it down greedily before locking eyes with me again. I unwrapped another burger and threw it slightly closer. Sidney moved closer and consumed the burger in a single bite.

I picked up another. Sidney’s eyes were locked on the third Big Mac as I waved it around in the air. The animal’s head moved along with the movements of the burger. The raccoon moved closer. And closer. The raccoon seemed to get even bigger as it approached me, its black eyes gleaming with hunger. I instantly regretted my decision to hold this burger instead of just tossing it in the same manner I had tossed the others.

Sidney ran toward me full speed and I barely had time to jump out of the way before I was knocked backward onto the hard pavement with the impact of the raccoon as it jumped.

Right. Into. My. Car.

My once beautiful silver sedan was destroyed, with a huge-raccoon-sized smash in the side. I covered my face with my hands and took a shaky inhale as I tried to keep from yelling… or crying.

When I finally removed my hands from my face, I was at least relieved to find that Sidney, the car murderer raccoon, was now thrashing against the restraints of a white rope—tethered on one side by Obvious Spy, while the other side was held firmly in mid-air, by Invisible creep.

“That a boy Sidney,” Obvious Spy cooed, patting the raccoon’s side.

“AHHSIDNEY!” the raccoon sneezed.

“Well, what do you know, his sneezes do sound like he’s saying Sidney,” I commented to no one in particular.

I retrieved my now slightly soggy license and number from the spot where Sidney had dropped it.

Before I knew it, the four of us were surrounded by reporters and police officers.

“You’ve done it!” a blonde reporter remarked as she held a microphone out in front of Obvious Spy. “Who do we have to thank for taming this large pest?” she asked him.

Obvious Spy grinned. “I’m Obvious Spy and this is my partner, Invisible Creep,” he nodded toward the floating tether on the other side of the raccoon. “We are students from A.F.A.T.S. who have just earned our PP badges!” he exclaimed. “OH! And this is our new friend…uh, Average Man!” he motioned toward me.

Average man? I gave him a pointed glare, expressing my distaste at my assigned hero name. He gave me an apologetic shrug and smile in return.

“Incredible!” the reporter responded. “There you have it, folks, Two Super-heroes, and their average friend have just saved Borden from the huge raccoon!”

I rolled my eyes but returned Obvious Spy’s smile.

Someone touched my shoulder. I jumped back and yelled in freight. “AH Invisible Creep!”

Obvious Spy broke into a fit of laughter.

I was never going to make it to work, but in a way I was glad. Despite the weirdness of the day, it was quite an unforgettable experience. And they were strange, but I think I made two new friends. Suddenly, I didn’t feel so lonely anymore—and I might have a new side job as Average Man, super-hero.

But I was still not thrilled that I have to buy a new car.

A police officer approached me as Obvious Spy continued to feed burgers to Sidney.

“Rob Newman?” he asked me.

“Yes?” I responded.

He handed me a yellow slip of paper.

“Driving without a license in the state of Indiana is a $500 fine.”

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