The Betrayals of Flying Jim
It’s not just “Smack! Pow! Wham!” There’s a lot more to being Super…
Artwork by Katie Barrett
“So,” she breathed in my ear, “is there a Mrs. Flying Jim?” Goosebumps raced down my spine. I managed to suppress my first instinct which was letting go. It would’ve been awkward if I had, as we were a couple thousand feet up.
I bet she would’ve stopped nibbling on my earlobe though.
There was a Mrs. Flying Jim, although she didn’t answer to that. Her name’s Carole. By the way, my name’s not really Jim, not even close to it, but when I first showed myself in public, people asked me who I was and I panicked. Could’ve been worse, I might’ve ended up as Flying Dwight.
Morning was like any other. Had a radio bug in my ear, listening to traffic reports and police calls. No crime in fair Atlas City, but the morning rush hour almost always produced a wreck or three. This one was a two-car affair blocking half the lanes on the west side. Sitting in traffic when you can’t fly stinks, so I always helped out. Simple enough: pick up the cars, move them to the shoulder, give everyone a heroic wave and be on my way.
Unfortunately for me, it turned out I knew one of the drivers. Well, sort of. Carole worked with her at the Priest Building, and we’d met at a couple office holiday parties. Rebecca Something-Or-Other, business analyst. Married twenty-odd years, four boys. Carole once mentioned a ceramic cat army on her desk. Probably kept them at work to keep them safe from the kids.
At any rate, the cops had finished taking statements and the other driver had a head injury that won him an ambulance ride. That left Rebecca Something. Then, because I kinda knew her and she’d seemed nice enough, old Flying Jim did something he didn’t usually do: offered to fly her to work. She beamed at me. No, more than beamed. Her face just glowed, in something I mistook for gratitude.
Unfortunately, when we were well on our way, I discovered there was something she liked better than ceramic cats. Her hands were all over me, and my costume did nothing to conceal my body’s response. My protests did nothing to stop her from saying things like “God, you’ve got muscles everywhere, don’t you?” and “I’ve always wanted to join the mile-high club.” I flew faster.
I made it to the Priest Building thirty seconds from an accident and set her down as fast as possible. She looked all flushed with her hands still on my ass. I pushed them away and choked out an inane “There you go,” then turned to see Carole not twenty feet away, concentrated rage radiating from her as she glared at us.
Crap. Should’ve dropped her.
“I am not mad,” said Carole that evening. She said this in a matter-of-fact tone, as if asserting the sky was blue. I was not fooled. She was mad. Every atom of her vibrated with the frequency of spousal rage the most clueless husband can detect. While she couldn’t hurt me if she chucked a plate at my head, that didn’t mean I’d just shrug this off.
“I’m sorry,” I said, yet again.
She spun on her heel. “Stop saying that. I’m not mad.”
“It’s just that–“
“I’m not mad at you. I’m mad at Rebecca, that she would try to, that–” Words failed her for a moment before spilling out in a tirade to make a marine sergeant blush. Thank God Ben was asleep. He was a master at picking up new vocabulary words and sharing them with his fellow kindergarteners.
I hated to ask it, but then I did. “Did you say anything to her?”
“Don’t worry, I wouldn’t take the chance of making anyone think there was some link between me and Flying Jim.” Carole sat down beside me at the table. “At lunch I could hear her with her stupid friends about how she felt weightless in his arms.” She paused, jaw set.
I prompted. “What did you do?”
“Nothing. Well, nothing to her. I swiped one of her ceramic cats and dropped it down the south stairwell. Eighteen floors.” She smiled a tight little smile. “That helped.”
I took her hand and we sat for a bit, enjoying the connection. “We okay?”
She nodded. “Yeah.” She stood up. “I’m going to go check on Ben.” She paused by the door. “Honey?”
I looked up to see her give me her sweetest smile. “If I catch you talking to Rebecca again without me or her husband within listening distance, I will get mad. At you.” I smiled back.
Rest of the week shaped up to be just as busy. Tuesday was an all-day faculty meeting. On Wednesday I ducked out between classes to rescue a few folks from a hotel fire. Thursday evening I caught a guy on a motorcycle running a high-speed pursuit from the state patrol (those are always fun; it’s the look on their face when you swoop down and pick up their vehicle), got Ben put to bed, then streamed a romcom with Carole. Friday I actually fought a supervillain. Despite what movies imply, most get so many consecutive sentences when they’re caught, they’re never seen again. This one called himself The February Man. He’d frozen an armored car and was pulling out the loot when I happened to fly by on my way home to get my lunch. Lucky me. We fought for twenty minutes in the middle of the highway before he went down. Never did get lunch.
Needless to say, I had plans to relax on Saturday. I’d originally planned on a nap, but today was the neighborhood block party, and Carole insisted I go. I wasn’t all that reluctant, really, since the Lees were barbecuing an entire pig, and how can you pass that up?
So there I stood, licking sauce off my fingers as I tucked into a plate of spareribs, watching Ben run around with the other kids, when I noticed Carole giving me the hairy eyeball. I excused myself from the discussion of the Capes’ chances this fall, and headed over to where Carole was talking with Alicia Kirkpatrick from two doors up. Alicia looked depressed, a Big Gulp-sized cocktail in one hand. Carole had the same look on her face as when she saw me with Rebecca. I took a breath and tried the direct approach: “What’s up, honey?”
Carole glanced at Alicia as if asking permission. “Lea’s pregnant.” She sounded like she was trying to remember the number to her sister’s divorce attorney. Lea was Alicia’s daughter. She had babysat Ben a few times. Outspoken, popular, fifteen going on twenty-five.
“Oh,” I said. “Boyfriend?”
“No boyfriend,” said Carole. “She says it was Flying Jim.”
“Holy crap.” Lea was extremely underage. “The Flying Jim? Really?”
“I saw him,” Alicia said. She slung back half her cocktail. “I went in her room Thursday after the ten o’clock news to tell her goodnight and there he was, that sonofabitch, right on top of her. I started yelling and the next thing I knew he had flown out the window. She’s saying they’re in love, and she’s keeping the baby and I can’t stop her.” She took another massive swig and started crying. “She’s just a baby.”
Carole put her arm around Alicia and looked at me. The murder in her eye had been replaced by dual concern and confusion. We’d been in the big finale of that George Clooney- Halle Berry flick when Alicia had caught them which ruled the real Flying Jim out. Good for me, but it raised a new question: who was pretending to be me while diddling the neighbor’s daughter?
Carole leaned over to me as she and Alicia moved past. “I’ll talk to her,” she whispered. I could tell ‘her’ meant Lea. No surprise. Carole could get anybody to tell her anything without them realizing. She could’ve taught classes to the CIA.
I drifted down from the cul-de-sac where the party was to look at the Kirkpatrick’s place. I didn’t know which window was Lea’s but it didn’t matter. Two stories, no trees to jump from, no obvious ways to get a handhold. Not even any halfway decent-sized bushes to break a fall. Whoever was visiting her in the night could fly.
I stood there considering when Carole came up. She handed me my plate, then swiped a rib off of it. “It wasn’t you,” she said.
I almost said I knew that, but I didn’t. I looked at her. “What convinced you?”
“Lea opened up a bit. Described a few, uh, things you don’t have, unless you’ve been holding out on me.”
“Well, that rules out the evil twin theory.” Even as the words came out, I winced. “Sorry, I didn’t–“
“I know,” she said. The awkwardness hung there between us. She took a deep breath, then let it out in one tense sigh. “So, what do you think? Shapeshifter? Incubus? A K’ulteln?”
“Probably not. From what I’ve heard from the Heroic League, K’ulteln find us as sexy as we’d find an iguana. Never mind the interspecies pregnancy.” I took the last rib, scraped the meat off with my teeth. “Doesn’t matter anyway. There’s only one way to find out what’s going on.”
“Wait for the Flying Loverboy to make another booty call?”
Stakeouts for superheroes don’t work like they do for cops. You don’t sit in a car drinking bad coffee, chatting with your partner. Usually you end up someplace high, like a roof. In midtown, that works just fine. In the ‘burbs, well, a guy in a costume stands out on a roof. I couldn’t turn invisible, so after sunset I did the next best thing: covered myself with our old gray sleeping bag and stayed in the chimney’s shadow. The July heat just added to the fun.
“Flight or invisibility?” I muttered to myself. “Flight or invisibility? Had to go with flight, didn’t you?”
As if I had a choice, of course. The experiment in the Theoretical Physics lab that made me Flying Jim had been an accident. As well as giving me powers, it also taught me to always knock before opening doors.
Other heroes get interesting powers, like the ability to talk to software programs or reconfigure their own molecules so they can slide through walls. Me, I’m just a poor Superman copy: flight, increased strength and durability. I wasn’t so much bulletproof as bullet-resistant. They bounced off, but stung like a mother when they did. I’d been shot by guys with Uzis, so believe me, I tried to avoid it.
My musings on my limitations stopped when I felt a breeze whip up. A shadow moved across the sky and I looked up to see someone flying towards the Kirkpatrick house. The streetlight didn’t help much, but he looked a lot like me. Statutory rape and identity theft.
The figure hovered in front of one of the windows. Not the one I’d thought it would be, but still. There came a distant tap-tap on glass, and the curtains moved aside to reveal a smiling Lea. That was my cue. I threw off the sleeping bag and took to the air as he went inside.
He didn’t notice me, focused as he was on the half-clad Lea. I landed on the windowsill. Even then they didn’t notice, so I coughed. Lea looked at me with huge eyes, then gasped. Faux Flying Jim turned around. Sonofabitch really did look like me, or rather, me in my mask.
“Hi,” I said, then punched him. Not my hardest. Not trying to break concrete or flatten a robot. But it wasn’t my softest.
He soared across Lea’s room and smashed the closet door, putting a gigantic crack in it. A second later Alicia popped through the door, as if she’d been lying in wait, baseball bat in one hand. She saw the little scene and stopped in mid-outrage.
On the floor, fake Jim suddenly crackled and spat like a wonky old TV set, then disappeared in a whiff of burnt wire. In his place now lay an unconscious teenager, the shattered remains of some high tech gizmo strapped to his back.
“Oh my God.” Lea stared. “Justin?”
“So what happened?” said Carole. She’d seen the police show up, and waited for me to get home.
“Justin turned out to be some supergenius geek she goes to high school with. The kid is off the chart in brains, none of which includes any commonsense or ethics. He not only invented some kind of flying boots, but an illusion generator. Turn it on, he could look like anyone.” I took another sip of coffee. “With, ahem, anything.”
“You know, that’s a relief,” said Carole. “Nothing like a little teenage overcompensation.”
I nodded. “He woke up when the cops showed up, confessed the whole thing. Kid thought he could win her over pretending to be Flying Jim. He got down on one knee and said he’d loved her since kindergarten, she was the girl of his dreams. Then he actually asked her to prom.” I paused. “Lea started beating the crap out of him. Took both cops to get her off of him.”
Carole looked impressed. “I always knew she had spirit. Honestly, what an idiot.”
“I know. Justin didn’t do this for her, he did it for himself.” I finished the cup and set it down. “At any rate, cops hauled him off on sexual assault charges, I told Alicia I’d fly by in a week or so to pay for the damage, and that was it.”
That wasn’t it, of course.
The next week I left my car at work, changed into costume and flew to the Kirkpatricks. Landed at the front door with a wave to a couple gawking kids, then knocked. Lea answered. She blushed as soon as she saw me, but I pretended not to notice. I went into my “greetings, citizen” Flying Jim spiel, handed her the envelope with the money, and turned to go.
Next thing I knew, Lea had clutched my arm. “Mr. Jim, wait. I know you know what happened between me and Justin pretending to be you, and that you just got involved because Mom called the cops and they called you, and you don’t know me at all–” her face turned red again “–but I feel like I do, y’know? I’ve always really liked you and when I thought I was with you I was so happy, and I know you don’t owe me anything and I’m too young but–”
I put up a hand to stop her from saying anything else. Honestly, as soon as she got to ‘I feel like I do,’ my brain started screaming Red Alert! Red Alert!,but it took a moment to get my arm to move.
“Look,” I said, “I’m married.” Before she could open her mouth to say something really horrifying, I told her the rest of the story. She let go of my arm and then I soared away. Back to my car to drive home to my family.
Not too long after I got my powers and became Flying Jim, I rescued the one and only Tabitha from kidnappers. Yes, THE Tabitha, millionaire heiress and glamorous rock star. Afterwards she got in touch because she wanted to “express her gratitude.”
Obviously, Carole found out.
To make it worse, I first claimed it wasn’t me. I actually tried to blame it on an evil duplicate from an alternate reality. Carole immediately knew I was full of shit, and I did too. It took a long time to fix things. Therapy, marriage counseling. I didn’t like myself, and I’ve worked hard to make sure I wouldn’t hurt Carole again.
I didn’t tell Lea everything, of course, but enough of it. When I had finished, her expression had changed from hero worship to clear outrage. From her perspective, Flying Jim had now betrayed her twice. I felt bad, but there you go. Being heroic is making the hard choice, but to be a better person you have to learn from the choices you make.
Jon Hansen is a writer, former librarian, and occasional blood donor. He currently lives in the Boston area with his wife, son, and three insistent cats. He is currently working on a novel, when not spending too much time on Twitter.