My story, Reenactment, about a very tired, burnt out “superhero” possessing an extremely specific superpower with limited utility and a high cost is up now at Penumbric Speculative Fiction.
What led to my writing Reenactment was that I’m pretty ‘meh’ on superhero movies and franchises like the MCU. I was thinking about this while walking down the hall at work one day and realized that I ought then to write a superhero story that interested me. One where the cost of exercising their power took a serious toll on the one blessed/cursed with it. The power in question then could not be one that is indiscriminately deployed–the high cost to the wielder would preclude that. So how high a cost? And how would that power and that cost manifest itself?
SPOILERS more or less from this point forward…
What if exercising their power put their life at risk? And let’s say it didn’t just “risk” their life, but one hundred percent guaranteed their death without medical intervention? And could I somehow make the certainty of death intrinsic to the nature of the superpower?
And that’s how the Reenactment superpower, if you even want to call it that, came to be. It’s not a “fun” superpower, it’s not invisibility, or tremendous speed or strength, or moving things with your mind. It’s not shooting lasers from your eyeballs, or defying gravity, or being bulletproof (especially not being bulletproof!). Chrys literally reenacts the last few moments of a dead person’s life–not just the kinetic movements of their body, but also the fatal physical injuries that killed them. Chrys will die from these injuries, just as the person who originally suffered from them did. The only chance for survival is that by knowing in advance what the injuries are going to be–for example being shot or stabbed–a medical team can be prepped and ready to intervene the instant those injuries occur.
“Where are the medics?” he gasped over the sudden roaring in my ears. “We have to wait! You’ll kill him!”
Imagine the toll this takes. Not just physically, where Chrys suffers all the pain of the injury and has to go through recovery and rehabilitation, but mentally as well. They are literally minutes (or seconds!) from death, and totally reliant on a significant medical intervention to save their life. And not all physical injuries, especially those that are normally fatal, can be completely healed. Pain builds up, it persists. Old “war wounds,” if you will, grind one down over the years. Until Chrys finally says, “No more.”
It’s sort of amazing that Chrys exercised their power at all–the circumstances where it can be exploited are extremely rare…and always traumatic. Two things have to happen in tandem: the “bad guy” has to be doing something critical that can be subsequently undone if only it’s known what they did (like entering a bomb’s arming code), and they have to die suddenly and quickly just after performing this mystery action.
Chrys primes reenactment by holding the dead person’s hand–and it’s a minute-per-minute priming. Want to reenact the last five minutes of that person’s life? Then Chrys has to hold onto them for five minutes. (One aspect of this “priming” I wanted to bring out was that there’s nothing special about it–as I mentioned above, Reenactment is not a “fun” superpower. When priming, there’s “[n]o power surge, no crackle of ‘life energy,’ no infusing warm flow nor breathtaking, bracing chill. Just me holding a dead man’s still warm, bloody hand.”)
Chrys lost three people in the neighborhood where they grew up to gunfire, and subsequently undergoes three near death experiences, before Edgar Marquez gets wind of these events and recognizes what Chrys is. He intervenes and saves the very confused Chrys’ from a premature death (by their own hand or another’s), and gives them a way out. But is it really a way out? Really?
How many times is one willing to reenact a (near) death out of patriotism, or loyalty, or gratitude?
Eventually even Edgar tells Chrys to get out. To get away from the monsters–if Chrys somehow gets that one last opportunity to do so…and sticks with it.
In my short stories I try to weave in resonant threads–bits of foreshadowing, or repeated dialog or imagery. It’s not necessarily noticeable at first read, but I think it helps to hold the story together, if perhaps only subconsciously. I just want to point out a couple of them in this story.
The first one literally opens it:
Incoming call–a hip hop ringtone, “Deja Vu”
Having read Reenactment by now, it’d be hard to be any more obvious! But the reader doesn’t know that when they pick up the story, so it’s there to quietly plant a seed they’re unlikely to notice at the time.
Also in the opening scene, when Chrys learns who was killed, there’s this:
A cold dead bullet passes through my heart.
Let me just ask: How is Edgar killed? What is the last thing Chrys is going to reenact?
I’m going to level with you. These and other embedded threads and references aren’t all planned out ahead of time, and rarely written into the first draft. My process is to write the first draft and then edit, edit, edit. Then do more editing, and more, and more, and more and more and more. (It’s not everyone’s process, but it works for me.) Sometimes during the countless revisions I notice a connection between different parts of the story, or something sorta resonates with another part. I’ll see that, and tease out a thread, revising and strengthening that connection.
There are more, but that’s all I’ll highlight. I will say, though, that just as the first line of Reenactment includes a forward reference, the final line harks back to an earlier scene, which I’ll leave for the reader to uncover 🔍