This was one of the first stories I ever wrote. I really couldn't resist, being from Springfield/Chicopee, myself :) I believe that when I wrote this I had it based in the original cartoon universe, but there isn't really much to give that away, so it should fit into any of the other universes, as well. Please check out my Author's Info page and follow the link to Stealthy Stories if you would like to know any more about it :)
I love the quiet of night. Sometimes I find myself out on the rooftops, looking over the skyline of the city after the sun has slipped beneath the western horizon. There are so many people out there... each living their own life, each a part of their own story... and each story a part of another person's life. There is a circle that sees its way through the life of everybody in this city... that leads ever back again to where it began.
This is my world... our world... the world that my brothers and I have come to know... the world that doesn't know we exist. It has been the backdrop of our lives for as long as we can remember... but only the night city. In daylight we hide below, in the dark and damp of the sewers. We dare not show ourselves to the waking world... if there is one universal truth, it may just be that what sunshine forbids shadows allow.
But that is daylight... at night the world is different. At night we can do those things, we can strike out into the city that lives above our heads when we must stay hidden. That's why I love it so much... there is more to life than survival... for me, at least, life is enhanced by the simple act of being alone... of being able to close my eyes and breathe in the night air with stars rather than the cold concrete of New York City above me. Sometimes I just have to be by myself... just me and my thoughts.
Our lives haven't been easy by any means... we've had our share of tragedy. My brothers have all gone through the same things in life as I have, they just handle them differently... be it with anger or spirituality or humor... I'm supposed to be the quiet one. I'm the one that doesn't swear or throw tantrums... I'm supposed to be analytical, thinking things through and if I can't think through them I dive into my projects or bury my nose in a book or go online. They think I turn off my emotions when I do those things. They think they know me so well... they don't.
They don't know me deep down inside any more than I know them at that level. They don't know that sometimes I feel like exploding at someone over some trivial detail... they don't know that sometimes I feel like curling up into a ball and crying for hours... they don't know that sometimes I feel that I need to escape...
Mike, Raph, Leo... my brothers by choice and by fate. They are who they are... and I am just me, Don. I'm a secret, an enigma... just like them. I laugh with them, I spar with them, I go out on nightly patrols with them and I argue with them. Sometimes I wonder what goes through their minds, then I look into my own mind and I decide that I don't really want to know, after all.
One thing that I see there in my own thoughts often is the wanting to get out on my own. To leave the nest, follow the sun as it sets rather than just watching it go. To be away for just a while. This is the person I am when there is no one around. I felt this way before and I will again... there is no doubt in my mind of that. Sometimes, though, escape tends to bring itself to you... and you don't have a choice but to go along with it.
Then again, maybe you do.
Not too long ago, escape found me.
The rooftops grew cold that night and there was nothing to see through the fog so I took myself down onto the sidewalks of Manhattan. I had to keep my body hidden under a duster and my head covered with a watch cap. Nothing strange in this town, seeing a mysterious man with his collar pulled up to hide his face. People tend to leave you alone when you look like a crazy. A cop slowed down in his patrol car and gave me the once-over with his eyes. Guess I wasn't interesting enough, because he sped up and drove away.
The city never closes down, anybody who lives here can tell you that. There is always a place to get a bite to eat or to shop for clothes in the middle of the night. Unfortunately, there is also always a place to buy drugs or ammo. I was approached three times that night, the first time the guy wanted to know if I had any drugs to sell, the second guy tried forcefully to sell me some pills... the third person, a woman, wanted to sell me something else, entirely. Each time I gave them a free look at my face... that did the trick and I didn't have to tell them "no" twice.
I walked on, realizing again why I prefer the quiet solitude of the rooftops. It isn't all that bad down on the streets, there are people out there living from day-to-day, going to work and school and trying to get by... then, there are those few who stand out. Those are the ones you have to watch out for... they're the ones that have their own agendas and want to make them your personal responsibility. A few humans ruining life for the rest of their kind.
I wandered around to the different stores and shops that were still open, it had to have been around 10:30 or 11:00 PM and there were still many to choose from. All the while I kept my eyes open and my body alert, ready for anything... that is what my training had given me the instinct to do. Not all instincts come naturally...
Somehow I found myself at the Greyhound bus station, watching people come and go and secretly envying them. I sat and joked with myself. There's your escape, Don... just hop aboard, I thought, and for a long few minutes I actually considered it.
Mostly, though, I just sat and watched the parade of people coming in and going out. They were all stuck inside their own minds, going forth as their thoughts told them. I wondered how many had a choice about where they were going. How many were visiting relatives, how many were on business trips... how many were just out to escape...
My attention was pulled away from the parade by a man standing off in the corner. He was crying and talking to himself... he didn't look well. I knew in my logical mind that no good would come of approaching him, but as often happens in life, the logic lost out to the compassion. He seriously looked as if he needed help. It only took me three steps to reach where he was... he didn't even notice the big green stranger standing beside him.
"No more," he mumbled. "No, no more... I won't let you do it any more. I'll take a trip, I'll go now... on this bus... or the next one..."
He was rubbing his arm and, though I didn't know what he had coursing through his veins, I could tell that he was wanting for more. He was as drawn as any living human I'd ever seen, bloodshot eyes against pale white skin made him look almost alien... I wondered if he would make it through the night.
"Good-bye..." he said to himself, "I'm gonna' go now... I'm going home."
I knew that this was it for this man if something wasn't done. He was going to die tonight because of the poison he'd put into his body... he was either going to kill himself or let the drugs do it. I didn't know what I should do, so I just did it. I followed him to one of the gates and he walked out the door... I prepared myself to follow and stop him before he could board a bus and go off to do whatever it was he had planned... whatever it was that the high told him he should do.
"Excuse me," a voice came from behind me and a hand rested itself on my arm. "Could you help me, please?"
I turned to see a little old lady with a ticket in her hand. She was staring down at the paper with her eyebrows drawn together. "Could you tell me where the bus for Newark is boarding?" she said in a small voice, a slight smile on her face.
"Gate 47," I said quickly, knowing the answer only because I'd seen it up on the boarding screen earlier. "Just keep to the left, up this way," I told her, pointing.
She smiled wider and nodded at me, looking at my half-hidden face through her thick glasses. "Thank you, dear," she said as she proceeded up the ramp, taking barely half a step at a time. I guess she couldn't see my face too well, as she didn't run away or faint.
I pushed the distraction to the back of my mind and looked back to where the man had just been. He was gone now, out the door and likely on one of the busses. I slipped out and looked around. It wasn't hard to find him... I could see his deathly pale face through the tinted windows.
I knew immediately why he'd gotten on this bus, the driver wasn't at the door, where he should have been, taking tickets. He must have been distracted by something and walked away. I used that advantage to slip onboard, as well. The stranger was in the second seat from the front and was shaking, still talking to himself. I stepped up to him and was about to reach down and take him by the arm when I saw something shiny beneath his coat... the driver chose that poor moment to get on the bus.
Looking at me and the stranger, he pursed his lips together. "Do you two have tickets?"
"We were just leaving," I said calmly, trying not to surprise the man... the man that had a gun pointed at the back of the person in front of him. "Weren't we...?"
"What?" the stranger said. "I'm going for a ride. I'm going..."
I was about to step in, to take the gun, when a kid reached out and pulled the man's hair. "You aren't supposed to be here," the little girl said.
I bit down hard... this wasn't going to be good.
Before I could react, the man was on his feet and had the child held close to him. The gun glinted in the artificial light as he pushed it into her back.
She let out a little yell of surprise. "Hey, that hurt!" she said, twisting in his grip. The mother, just feet away, began to scream.
"Don't..." the stranger said, "Just drive... driver? Just drive."
The driver began to run off the bus. I grabbed him by the nape of the neck and pulled him into his seat. I wasn't about to let this child lose her life because of this man's cowardice.
"Do it," I growled, putting my face in the driver's own. He gasped and I showed my teeth. That convinced him and the door was shut a second later.
"Go to... uh..." the gunman stuttered. "Take me home. Take me to Springfield."
"Springfield? Which one?" the driver asked nervously. "Massachusetts?"
The stranger shook his head an affirmative and the driver stuck the bus in reverse. The mother was crying now, sobbing hysterically, and the little girl was angry... she had no idea what this man could do, she didn't know that this man was holding her little life in his hands.
"Everybody... go back!" the man yelled, suddenly sounding much more lucid. "Back... to the back of the bus."
Slowly, people slid back towards the restroom, the child's mother and I remaining at the front of the pack. She had tears streaming down her cheeks and buried her face deep into my duster. I did the best I could to comfort her with a supporting arm and a softly spoken "It will be alright." I wanted to promise her that I would take this guy down, that I would save her little girl... but that was a promise that I wasn't sure I'd be able to keep. I silently damned myself for not taking action earlier, before he'd had the chance to do this.
As we drove on, I thought... I tried to calculate how fast I would have to go to save the little girl, the best spot to hit the guy, the best time to launch my attack... none of my calculating did any good. There is just no way to count the life of a child as a variable. Time went by slowly and I knew that we would be near Massachusetts soon, if we weren't already there. Three hours... four hours... a long time to think something through. I couldn't think my way out of this one, though.
People ignored me and each other as they watched the gunman... he was as awake as he had been before and more determined than ever. As many times as I turned it over in my head, I knew that I wouldn't be able to disarm the man before he had the chance to pull the trigger.
Opportunity presented itself almost at the end of the journey. A minivan pulled in front of us and the bus driver turned the wheel hard to keep from hitting it, making the bus swerve. The stranger lost his grip on the now-sleeping child and she tumbled to the aisle between the seats. I lunged forward, jumping over her and putting my body between the gun and the girl. The man pulled the trigger.
I felt a jolt in my arm as I swung out and gave the man a hard punch across the face. I must have hit him pretty hard because that was all it took. He wobbled where he stood for a few seconds and the gun tumbled to the floor of the bus, he joined it a moment later. I grabbed him by the collar and threw him into a seat. It was only then that I realized that I had been shot.
Around me people were applauding and patting me on the shell. The mother was crying and holding tightly to the little girl, who was already back to sleep in her arms. One man picked up the gun and knocked out the bullets, two others took up guard positions on either side of the unconscious gunman.
I had blood running from my arm, dripping to the floor and onto the people around me. I pressed my right hand against the wound and winced at the sting. This was going to have to be treated soon from the feel of it... not a likely prospect, being a couple hundred miles from anyone that knew I existed.
I pushed my way back past the crowd of people seeking their seats and went into the small restroom. My shell barely fit through the door and the inside was about as cramped a space as I've ever been in. I twisted myself and pressed my body against the wall enough to get the door shut. The light turned on automatically when I locked the door and I was almost blinded by it... I had forgotten how dark the interior of the bus had been.
There was no way that I would be able to get my duster off in that tiny little place, so I did my best to pull the sleeve up so I could examine my wound... it hurt to try, but I managed. The bullet hole was halfway between my left elbow and shoulder, thankfully the bullet had missed bone... not so thankfully, it was still lodged there in my flesh. It hadn't hurt all that bad when it happened, I guess the adrenaline had blocked out the pain for a few seconds. Regardless, at that moment it hurt like hell.
Blood flowing down my arm dripped into the tiny bowl that passed for a Greyhound sink. There was no running water from the faucet, either... I supposed those things were just there to look at. The best I could find to clean myself up with were some handi-wipes from a dispenser on the wall... they smelled like lemon and didn't help much to get the blood off my skin... there was no way I was going to use them to clean out the wound... still, I pocketed a few just in case.
Under my black watch cap I still had my bandanna on, so I took it off and wrapped it around my arm just above the wound. Using just my right hand and my teeth I tied it as tight as I could to stop the flow of blood. It wasn't pretty, but it would do. I found myself wishing that Mikey was there... he has always been good at first-aid.
I jumped at a knock on the door and nearly fell back onto the blue-water toilet.
"Occupied!" I called out, pulling my sleeve back down over my arm.
"You okay, man?" a teenager's voice came back. "Do you need any help in there?" I smiled despite myself. He wouldn't have been able to fit in there with me if I did want his help.
"I'm good," I replied, putting my watch cap back on. "I'll be out in a second."
"Ok," he said. "I thought you'd like to know... we're in Springfield now. The driver radioed ahead for the cops and an ambulance to meet us at the station. You'll be able to get that arm fixed up."
I gritted my teeth. Cops were just what I didn't need. Then there was that other little problem... I was a few states away from anyone that could help me with my arm. I made another quick decision and unlatched the door, backing out as best I could without getting my shell stuck. I was all the way out when I finally turned to look at the young man who had been talking to me through the door. He gasped and fell back into the aisle. I smiled at him as I pushed open an escape window and jumped off the moving bus - straight into the middle of Springfield, Massachusetts.