Glacial Avalanche’s head felt like it was filled with cotton balls. Where was he? He’d been called in to fight his nemesis du jour, so he suited up and then–had something hit him? He didn’t remember. He was lying on a cold concrete floor, and as he picked himself up, his limbs felt shaky and feeble. At least he was still in costume. His pale gray mask and deep blue suit hugged the muscular curves of his body.
Harsh fluorescent lights filled the empty room with an annoying buzz. All four walls and the ceiling matched the unornamented floor.
He flexed his fists. Concrete was no match for his super strength. He threw himself at the wall, winding up in midair, and punched it as hard as he could.
His fist bounced off and he fell on the floor. His knuckles were bleeding. “Impossible,” he hissed through clenched teeth. It had been a long time since he’d really felt pain. He picked himself up and stumbled to the wall, pressing his palm against it and willing it to freeze beneath his fingers. If he froze the wall, maybe whatever strange material it was made out of would weaken.
What was happening to him?
The low, familiar chuckle seemed to come from all around. “This room nullifies your powers, Avalanche. No super strength, no invulnerability, no ice control. I thought about telling you that before you hit the wall, but that was comedy gold.”
“Indeed,” Lord Ominous said. “But the room is the least of your worries.”
The wall in front of Glacial Avalanche opened up, revealing a laboratory. An unconscious woman lay strapped to a steel table with an IV dripping into her arm.
“No!” Glacial Avalanche shouted, running forward. He slammed into the wall. It still felt like concrete–the image must have been a projection. “What are you doing with my wife?”
“You killed my wife. I’m returning the favor.”
“But Molly doesn’t have anything to do with this! Your wife was working with you–she was your assistant–she was trying to kill me! Molly’s never tried to kill you.”
“You keep calling me your nemesis. I decided that it was time I act like one.”
“You’re evil! And mad!” Glacial Avalanche pounded on the wall. Molly’s face was so pale. Wisps of her short auburn hair clung to the sweat that glistened on her face.
“Yes, you often say that as well. Again, I decided to make you an honest man,” Lord Ominous said.
“Please, let her go.” Glacial Avalanche stopped hitting the wall. His hands ached. So did his throat–it felt like he had something stuck in it.
“Oh, my. I didn’t expect begging quite so quickly. You must really love her.”
“Of course I do,” Glacial Avalanche said.
“I loved my wife, too, you bastard.”
Glacial Avalanche didn’t know what to say to that. He stared at Molly. He thought he could see her chest rising and falling slowly. Finally, he asked, “What is happening to her?”
“I’m poisoning her. It will be slow, but relatively painless. This is meant as torture for you, not for her.” Lord Ominous’ voice had lost its angry edge. Now he sounded sad. “You will watch her die and be powerless to help her. You’ll be able to hear anything she says–she should be waking soon–but she won’t hear anything you say. No words of comfort from you will reach her ears.” Lord Ominous paused, then asked, “Does she know who you really are?”
Glacial Avalanche shook his head.
Lord Ominous snorted. “You still subscribe to that ‘secret means secret means secret’ bullshit they taught us in school?”
“Ignoring the rules is a slippery slope, Ominous. Look where it’s landed you.”
“And look where following them has gotten you.”
“Scott?” Molly’s voice trembled.
“She can’t hear you,” Lord Ominous said.
“Hello? Is anyone there? Can anyone hear me?” Molly pulled against her restraints. “What’s going on?”
“Hello, Molly. I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news,” Lord Ominous rumbled, and Molly jumped.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“You can call me Lord Ominous.”
“The super villain?”
Lord Ominous sighed. “Some people insist on calling me that, yes. Anyway. Your husband did something incredibly stupid, and you’re here as his punishment.”
“Scott would never have anything to do with you.”
“Scott and I go way back, Molly.”
“You’re lying!” she shouted.
“Well, you’ll be dead long before you can ask your husband about the details of our relationship, so you can believe whatever you’d like.”
“Dead?” Molly asked.
“It will be relatively painless,” Lord Ominous said.
“Ominous, please,” Glacial Avalanche cried, “Let her go! I’ll do anything!”
“No, Avalanche, you won’t do anything, except watch the woman you love die. At least when I watched my wife die, she knew why.”
“Damn you, Ominous!” He could hear Molly sobbing. Every once in a while she whimpered his name. Her breathing gradually grew more and more labored.
He’d always meant to tell her, eventually. After he’d retired. He’d say, Honey, remember Glacial Avalanche? That was me. And she would laugh and roll her eyes and say, Sure Honey. Then he’d walk over to her and pick her up by the waist and lift her over his head. She’d laugh and insist on seeing him in his suit, then she’d take it off of him, piece by piece.
Tears soaked his mask, slipped down his cheeks, and dripped onto the bright blue material of his super suit.
“You know, whatever it is that you think Scott did to you, I wasn’t involved.” Molly’s voice was tiny and rough.
“He killed my wife,” Ominous said.
Molly laughed. “So you’re murdering his? How poetically barbaric.”
“It’s justice,” Ominous snapped.
“You can’t honestly believe that,” Molly said.
Ominous was silent for a while. “Avalanche, do you even know what we were working on when you murdered my wife?” Lord Ominous asked.
He remembered Ominous’ wife–the way she’d spun around, holding a shiny silver gun. She’d looked angry. At least he’d thought it was anger. Maybe it had been fear. He hadn’t meant for her to die. He was a hero. A good guy. It was an accident. “I didn’t murder your wife.”
“Don’t argue semantics with me,” Lord Ominous snapped. “Answer the question. Did they tell you what we were doing?”
“No. Dispatch said you were a threat, that’s all.”
“I’d retired from the super business. I was tired of all of the regulations. Lacy wanted to make chocolate. We were working on a strawberry infused dark chocolate. Nothing sinister. I didn’t leave the super society to become a villain. I left to help my wife make chocolate.”
Their lab had smelled like chocolate. But that didn’t mean anything. Ominous was great at chemistry. The chocolate could have been poisonous, or filled with some sort of mind controlling agent. “That’s impossible,” Glacial Avalanche said. “Dispatch doesn’t send us off to get rid of retirees–they couldn’t get away with it.”
“I was always a rebel, Avalanche, but I was never evil. You know that. And you know I had enemies on the council even when I was in action. I asked too many questions.”
“Too many questions?” Maybe he could distract Ominous–get him to monologue. Though Glacial Avalanche wasn’t sure what good that might do him. But it was the only strategy he could think of.
“Like, ‘Where do all the super villains come from?'” Ominous snorted. The council keeps you so busy fighting the enemy that you don’t think about where they come from. I think that the council makes them.”
“If heroes weren’t constantly proving their usefulness by fighting villains, people would start fearing them again. Remember the dark days? Society has never been kind to people who are different. So the council has to make sure that we don’t run out of villains.”
Glacial Avalanche barely remembered the dark days before the formation of the council. Normal people had hated people with super powers. His mother had been afraid to leave their house. He still remembered the strain in his father’s voice, the fear in his mother’s eyes. “Even if the council is making villains, it’s better than going back to the way things were.”
“Do you remember Noah Parkins?”
He shook his head. “Doesn’t ring a bell.”
“He had the ability to bring people back to life. Problem is, after a week or so their minds eroded away, leaving the bodies as mindless husks that obeyed his every command.”
“So he had an army of zombies?”
“He discovered his power when he brought his girlfriend back to life. She got hit by a bus as she was crossing the street toward him. He ran to her, held her to his chest, and she came back. He was so happy with his power. So proud that he’d be able to help people. Then, after a week, the girl he loved was gone. And in her place she’d left an empty, functioning body.
“He tried to kill himself. I was part of the team that saved him. He was a sweet kid. Confused and sad, but not evil. The council took him away for counseling, and the next time I saw him, he was wearing spandex and cackling about his plans to rule the world.
“That’s when I knew that I had to get out. I knew I didn’t have the power to stop them, but I couldn’t play along anymore. So when Lacy suggested the chocolate shop, I retired.”
Could it be true? He thought about the look on Ominous’ wife’s face. Had it even been a gun in her hand? What if it had been some sort of chocolate nozzle? Had she been angry or afraid? Or both? “Maybe I’d believe you if you weren’t murdering my wife.”
Lord Ominous didn’t reply. The sound of Molly’s breathing filled the room. A gasping breath in, a hissing sigh out, then a pause. He pressed his palms onto the concrete view screen his teeth grinding, his throat tight. He felt ill. “Breathe, honey,” he whispered, “please, breathe.”
Molly inhaled a rasping breath. “What was your wife like?” she asked Ominous.
“She was wonderful. Patient and kind and beautiful.”
“Do you really think that this is what she’d want? That she’d be pleased with your revenge?”
Ominous didn’t answer.
Molly laughed. The sound made Glacial Avalanche wince. It was so weak.
“You’re bluffing!” Molly said, between laughs broken by her ragged breathing. “Scott, can you hear me? Don’t worry, honey. I’m going to be fine. He’s bluffing.”
Molly’s breathing grew even more uneven. Every pause tightened the fist of nausea in his belly. He wanted to vomit. He wanted to hold her. Each pause stretched a little longer than the last, and he sagged with relief with every strained inhalation.
“Scott.” Her voice was barely audible.
He waited for Molly’s next breath. Five seconds. Ten. Twenty. His knees gave out beneath him. “Molly.” He should have told her. Maybe, if he’d begged, Ominous would have let him talk to her one last time. He should have begged.
His chest tightened, and he waited for the tears to come. They didn’t. He felt hollow inside. Molly was dead, and it was his fault. He’d never hold her again, or laugh at one of her terrible puns. “I’m sorry, Molly,” he whispered.
A fissure appeared in the featureless cement wall, and a door hissed open. He moved into a battle stance by pure instinct. Was this some kind of trick? Was Ominous going to finish him off?
He wanted Ominous to finish him off. He lowered his fists and waited.
Glacial Avalanche picked himself up. There was no way to know if Molly’s body was really in the next room, but he hoped it was. He wanted to hold her one last time.
The hallway was as plain as his cell had been, but there was a door a few yards away.
There was something taped to it–a note and a syringe filled with a pale pink liquid. Glacial Avalanche’s fingers shook as he unfolded the note.
Inject her with this. It’s the antidote. She’ll be fine in a few minutes. Glacial Avalanche ran to his wife’s side. Was it really an antidote, or was Ominous playing a cruel trick? Could he trust a villain?
Molly had believed that Ominous was bluffing.
He slid the needle into Molly’s upper arm and injected her. He pulled her limp body to his chest and stroked her silky hair.
There was another note on the pillow, crumpled from the weight of Molly’s head. I want to be left alone. If I’m not, there won’t be an antidote next time. You can believe what I told you or not–you can investigate the corruption in the council or not. It doesn’t matter to me. Someone was responsible for my wife’s death, but revenge won’t bring her back. I don’t expect to see you again. Goodbye, Avalanche.
Breath rasped back into Molly’s lungs. She’d been right about Ominous.
But why, Glacial Avalanche wondered. Had Ominous been playing with him, or was his story true? Had Glacial Avalanche been an unwitting accomplice to murder? To multiple murders?
Belief hit Glacial Avalanche like an ocean wave. He’d killed an innocent woman. Lacy’s eyes haunted him. How could he have been such a blind naïve fool?
Color slowly returned to Molly’s cheeks, and her eyes fluttered open. “Glacial Avalanche?”
He took her cold hands between his. “Molly, I have something to tell you.” He pulled off his mask. “I love you.”
Jamie Lackey earned her BA in Creative Writing from the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford. Her fiction has appeared in over a dozen different venues, including The Living Dead 2, Bards and Sages Quarterly, and The Drabblecast. She has appeared on the Best Horror of the Year Honorable Mention and Tangent Online Recommended Reading Lists. She reads slush for Clarkesworld Magazine, and she’s worked on the Triangulation Annual Anthology since 2008. Find her online at www.jamielackey.com.