In this tale, the unlikely friendship that once developed between a Canadian superheroine and a slain Chinese supervillainess changes the world, in the most unexpected of ways.
Saw an anthology looking for “Canadian superhero stories,” and decided that an idea I’d been tossing around for a novel might make a good short. I’d written a few bits, but the challenge brought the whole thing together.
Serialized here on the site, “The Inner Life of Owl Woman” is also available in my short story collection FERAL TALES and as a swanky little chapbook with illustrations by Franky Plata and Jen Wetmore.
Sixty metres up. A straight drop. The wind will rush over my ears, and I’ll swing up in a split second at the lowest part of the dive, raking the heads of the crowds below.
God, but there are some parts of this job I really love.
I wish I could tell you some fantastic yarn about circus performer parents and early days filled with rope-walking and feats of agility. I don’t even have a good vigilantism-for-revenge story. True, my sister was killed by a drunk driver when I was twenty-three, but that terrible event did not set me single-minded and single-handed against the spectre of violent crime. It just made me really pissed at drunk drivers.
Maybe I’m choosing to down-play the role of my past in making me what I am. There’s no doubt that I have had many formative experiences, but none actually transformed me. I believe very strongly that the essence of what I am is what I was born, and that has remained basically intact through all of life’s experiences.
Saying that, of course, I have a difficult choice now in front of me. I crave curry. All the time. I should live in India, or in London perhaps, where there’s a curry shop on every corner. My problem is this – do I buy a can of Patak’s Korma sauce, or just the yogurt and make it up from scratch?
“Hello, Ted,” I say in passing to the clerk who is stocking the shelf next to me. “Can’t make a decision today to save my life.” He smiles.
After a quick mental inventory of my fridge, I go with the Patak’s, and a zucchini that looks like a bodybuilder’s forearm. Dinner for one and a half, from half-scratch.
I leave the store, whistling and throwing the can into the air. I like to catch things behind my back. It makes the kids on the street stare. Sometimes, older teenage boys shout nice things. If I wasn’t so sure I could kick the crap out of any of them, I might be tempted to take offence and slink away.
I’m not ashamed of what I am. It’s just that, well, it’s not like anyone gave me any choice.
Okay, not my choice of name. In fact, I really didn’t have a choice in the first place.
Not strictly because the papers had christened me before I had a chance to tell the world what I was supposed to be called. It’s a bit more facile than that.
The truth is, I had never really thought about it one way or another. I mean, I had idealized the concept of the ‘nameless vigilante’ in the Clint Eastwood vein. I guess that as a sobriquet goes, I could have done worse. It does conjure up nice images of swooping down, silent and deadly, on unsuspecting wrongdoers. The “eating of small rodents and puking up their bones and fur when done” connotation is something I think I can live with.
I consider every now and then how awful it would be if I had ‘Mouse Man’ or ‘The Rat’ as adversaries. Can you imagine? It would probably seem like I was overly vicious, victimizing tiny, defenceless mammals.
Actually, I don’t have arch-nemeses. I think it’s kind of childish, but I won’t say that to the guys. Well, I will say it to them, and have, but those are the moments when their super-hearing or ultra-sonic earpiece gadget thingies seem to go inexplicably on the fritz.
It’s not easy being a woman in a man’s business. And I know that you’d say that it’s not really a man’s business, but there’s no point in arguing. I’m inside it, and I know. Have you ever noticed that the people who say prejudice doesn’t exist are the ones it’s not directed against? If I was a guy, maybe I’d think I was hallucinating too.
So I tend to spend most of my time outside of work alone. Hence the single and a bit serving of Indian. Mooloo, my aging and crotchety Tabby, will get her share but I don’t have the boys over for dinner. It’s just too depressing.
“Mooloo!” I say sotto voce as I edge the door open. But she’s pouncing already, claws wedging in my boot. Damn, but that cat is fast! I know I’ve got a rep in the press for speed and subtly elegant covert entrances but seriously, if it wasn’t for that nasty old feline, I wouldn’t have developed the chops. I let her have the boots, and a small bit of sock.
And then it’s all belly-scratching and loud meows until I get down to business in the kitchen. She puts up a ferocious front, but at heart, she’s a pussycat.
A knock, at the window of course. It’s the boss. I sigh and put the pan down to simmer, then think again and turn it all the way off. Mooloo’s already weaving between the table legs and meowing like she’s in heat. Floozie. It’s not like he’s ever put a damn thing in her bowl. And I know for a fact he’s not allergic, like he pretends whenever Ms. Kitty is around.
Now, I’m not writing this to drop names, so suffice to say he glows a little in the dark even in his civvies, which is why you never seem to see him out of uniform at night. A pair of thick glasses might work for some of the meat-heads, but even he figured out early that normal, non-superhumans don’t fluoresce like a cellphone backlight.
He opens the window with his mind, flipping the thumb-catch with a certain amount of finesse. He’s got style all right, just no manners. The boots, as per usual, track a mixture of roof tar, shoreline sand, and alley gunk across my previously at least visually clean floor. Mooloo goes into a paroxysm of delight—the sand must contain something fishy and probably long dead.
“Hey,” he says, running his hand through his hair in that classic boy-next-door gesture the press loves so much. He plunks down on the couch. Uninvited, but what’s new?
“I was just about to have dinner,” I say, but it’s all part of the job, so I leap up onto my roost. Ever since I got the powers, along with the extra flexible feet, chairs don’t seem nearly as comfortable as a thick dowel between two supports. Before I was making enough to have them custom-made, I used to jerry-rig something much less chic out of a couple of install-in-your-doorframe chin-up bars and cinderblocks. I still sit on chairs around civvies, of course.
“Big stuff brewing,” he says, and sits forward just to prove he’s serious. His voice has dropped into the “news to rock the world on its foundations” zone. I mean, seriously low. Mooloo jumps into his lap and starts to purr in basso profundo as if jealous.
“Yeah,” I say. “Big Wig got out of prison yesterday. I saw him talking with the Tangs last night on that ugly oil tanker of Richi Yamomoto’s. Not much of a hideout, that. I don’t think it’s going to be a problem until Yamomoto Senior is willing to loosen the reins on the kid a bit. I mean, he’s not even allowed to demand pinkie fingers, and what’s a yakuza crime lord without a stash of pinkies?”
I can see he has no idea what I’m talking about. Or rather, he knows the players but I think the cultural considerations are not really on his radar.
“Is that it?” I say, because I realize that what’s really happened is that I’ve interrupted his speech. “Big news brewing. . .” I prompt.
He picks it up. “Big Wig is making an alliance with the Tangs and the Yamamotos are hell bent on revenge for the death of the Flower.”
I nod. That’s likely to be true, but she would have been sick at the thought that her death—an accident if I’ve ever seen one, and totally unrelated to the other crap happening that night—would have made things worse rather than better. Not that Flower was an angel by any means. But she had more interest in figuring out why she had been given her rather exotic powers (hellishly destructive explosive energy capable of radiating out from her whole body, the ability to literally crumble human DNA into dust) than using them. I was surprised that she’d died, to be honest, but then, in our world, omnipotent doesn’t always go hand in hand with invulnerable. Sad, she was a nice kid. We were planning a get-away to some Buddhist retreat for a couple of weeks, if the work ever slowed.
“Can’t you talk to Richi?” I say. “He’s not so bad—I mean, there’s never enough for the cops to put him away – and he’s got his own albeit twisted moral code. He knows you didn’t kill Flower. Hell, hadn’t you asked her to see the new Transformers movie with you?”
“THE Flower,” he corrects, rather portentously. Like that’s what you’d call her all the time to her face. “Hi, the Flower. Wanna go on a date, the Flower? Can I kiss your soft petals, the Flower?” Whatever.
“We have to call an emergency meeting of the Force.” He stands, dislodging Mooloo, straightening his collar the same way he adjusted the clasp of his cape when he’s costumed. “Ten thirty, at the Tower.”
And he’s gone, with Mooloo whining piteously after him, and I get on the phone.