Pixel stretched and slipped out of bed, padding over to his workstation before anything else. Yawning as the sensors brought the lighting up from a dim glow, flickering screens exited their screensaver modes as a robotic voice chimed a morning greeting. Throwing on a set of clothes from his automated dresser and letting his Brushmaster 6000 take care of his teeth, Pixel eyed his stack of games.
Let's see… Oooo, Spacemaster Galactoid 7! I heard that has awesome graphics…Inserting the CD into its drive, he munched on his morning poptart, completely absorbed as the colors and patterns in front of him transported him to another world.
Waking up to a keyboard-marked face again, Pixel sat back up, adjusting his goggles among neon-orange locks of hair. Man, I didn't even notice…Glancing at the digital clock on the wall, he knew heshould be going to bed, but… Just one more game can't hurt, right?
Hitting a sequence of keys, his brow furrowed when all he received were blank, black screens in return. Looking down at his harddrive tower, checking that the powercords were properly plugged in, the boy started when he sat back up and was greeted with a vastly different picture than before. …huh? I don't have a face-simulation program… Pressing keys didn't seem to do any good; the same image of a youthful, blond-haired man stared out, neither moving, nor going away. Flicking the power switch that controlled the room's monitors, the picture of the strange man finally disappeared as the screens came back up. …that was weird.
"You shouldn't stare at screens all day and night, you know. It can be very bad for your eyes. And shouldn't you get some sleep, too?"
Pixel jumped and screamed, swiveling his chair to see the picture from his monitor beaming him a friendly smile, the man's small form perched upon the edge of his bed.
A smile stretched across his face as another sweet square of taffy hit his tongue. "Mmm! A Super Treat for a Super Hero!" Ziggy crowed, leaping off the park bench in search of derring-do. It seemed to be a tough time for superheroes; no matter whom he asked, everyone seemed to have no need for any help. Or, at least, that's what they said as they flashed worried smiles and quietly shut their doors.
"It looks like it's just you and me today, huh, lollipop?" he mumbled dejectedly, making another loop through town – just in case any opportunity to save the day might present itself. His vigilance was rewarded when he spotted the mayor taking a break from one of his chores: moving heavy lumber onto a trolley to be wheeled over to Ms. Busybody's house for one of her endless projects. Waiting until the kindly bald man went inside, Ziggy took another quick lick of his lollipop for a sweet shot of sugary energy. "Super Ziggy to the rescue!"
He threw himself into the task, yet try as he might, he couldn't seem to budge the weighty pieces of wood, nor lift the toolboxes up high enough to get them into the wheelbarrow – no matter how many pieces of taffy he ate. Sighing in defeat, Ziggy kicked aimlessly at a rock, unaware that he had been observed all the while. Just as he was about to round the corner, heading for the town's ice cream parlor for a cheer-up treat, his ears caught a whooshing noise behind him. Hiding behind a nearby hedge, the small boy spied on a curious blue-clad man he'd never seen before.
Shaking his head and tutting to himself, Sportacus made an exaggerated act of considering the boxes, secretly watching his audience out of the corner of his eye. Taking a couple of carrots from his backpack, he tossed one into the air before crunching it down, setting the rest on a nearby bench. Flexing his muscles in show, he quickly piled everything into place on the wheelbarrow, smiling in pleasure at even that small achievement before literally flipping away, fast and graceful as a gust of wind.
Eyes nearly popping out of his head, Ziggy cautiously made his way over to the now-loaded wheelbarrow, mouth open in a small "o". Gaze drifting sideways to the forgotten orange veggies, he picked one up, giving it a taste. …hmm…this is different but…they taste kinda sweet! Finishing one stick, Ziggy grinned and mimicked the man's earlier movements, flexing and trying out a superhero pose or two.
"Yeah! Now I've got a Super Secret Source of Power!" Snatching up the rest of the carrots, brandishing them with as much enthusiasm as he did his lollipop, Ziggy ran off to tell the other kids what he'd seen and discovered, oblivious to the elfin smile hidden in the treetops above him.
Stingy sighed, lovingly running his fingers over the newest shiny toy that his father had bought for him. Carrying it into his expansive bedroom, he considered the packed shelves and cases lining the room, peering into his closet in an attempt to find a fitting place to display this most recent prize. Not finding an empty space to his liking, the boy's mouth twisted into a pout before he shrugged, dropping the top-of-the-line cell phone carelessly onto his bed.Doesn't matter, really. I don't have anyone to call, and I have no one to show it off to.
Taking a stroll around his room, examining his displays of possessions, he stretched out a hand before he caught himself. Tugging down his sleeve, he polished the fingerprints away. Can't have marks on the glass…Things that weren't locked away had no such restriction, however; his fingertips wandered freely over those things, from various stuffed animals, to statues, to his specially tailored driving outfit. A few steps later, Stingy paused, mouth gaping open like a fish as his eyes locked on the case that normally housed all his star-signed sports memorabilia. "I-it….it can't be! Where's my ball?" he wailed, eyes scanning the room in vain. When the black and white ball failed to turn up in any corner of his room, the boy ran down the hallway, screaming for the maid.
Hours later, after the household help had thoroughly scoured the mansion from top to bottom without a trace of the vanished possession, Stingy slumped back towards his room, determined that nothing else would vanish on his watch. As he drew closer, a peculiar noise reaching his ears.
Thump. Thump-thump. Thump, thu-thump…
Peering around the doorway into his room, Stingy's mouth dropped open for the second time that day – this time in outrage. "Hey! That's MINE!" he yelled, pointing at the globe the diminutive man was juggling back and forth in the air on every limb. "You give that back!"
"What? Oh, this?" came the cool reply, blue eyes twinkling mischievously as the boy strode into the room in an attempt to corner him. As soon as he reached for the ball, he promptly inverted himself, balancing the object on his toes, just out of the child's reach.
"That! Give it back! That's MINE! Don't you know who my dad is? I'll call him on you!" Stingy whined, jumping up and down in an attempt to close those last few inches.
"Why do you want it so bad? You weren't even using it," the man chided, grinning before flipping himself rightside up again… and again, and again, all the way down the hall, taking the soccer ball with him. "If you want it, you'll have to keep up!" he called back, waving before sliding down the stair banister to the ground floor.
Panting as the wild goose chase stretched on and on, Stingy paused to lean against a wall for a moment. I shoulda taken my car…
"You're not giving up, are you?" came the cheerful voice from on top of the wall. Glancing up, the boy caught one final cheeky grin before the man did a rainbow kick, sending the ball soaring into the park. With an odd arm gesture, the stranger zoomed off, oblivious to Stingy's indignant screams.
Racing breathlessly into the park, he quickly spotted his ball's final resting place – directly in front of a small, blond-haired boy. In the mud. Racing over, waving his arms frantically, he came to a sudden halt in front of Ziggy, huffing and puffing from the day's unexpected exercise. "Give…m'back…ball…s'mine…"
"I didn't even know you had a soccer ball, Stingy!" Plucking the smudged orb from his new 'veggie patch', Ziggy held it out with a smile. "You should bring it out and we can play sometime. It's really nice." Oblivious to the look of mixed pride and mortification that crossed Stingy's face, he dug around in the ground with one hand, pulling up and offering a grubby orange stick. "…wanna carrot? They give you super powers…"
Neither of them noticed the figure discreetly doing pushups atop a nearby wall, smiling as he listened.
Trixie looked both ways carefully, tiptoeing across the creaky makeshift porch. Don't wanna wake up mom… Satisfied that nobody was watching, she pried open the piece of loose wooden latticework that went around the bottom edge of the trailer, crawling into the space beneath. Mud and dust stained her clothes as she pulled the square back into place, sending spiders skittering away, but she was used to such things. Bugs and grime had never bothered her, not with the squalid conditions she and her mom lived in.
Breathing in the damp scent of earth, she kept on crawling towards her secret hiding place – focusing on the patches of color and greenery lit by what little dim, scattered light made its way past the fence, front steps, and debris on their front "lawn". Gazing on her mini garden in pride, Trixie sampled the delicious perfumes from the flowers that had rewarded all her hard work. She hadn't thought that anything would grow there but the tough weeds she'd cleared, things that were rough and hardy and repulsive, but her hope had been fulfilled by the delicate little plants. A little work, a little care, and maybe something good could come out of even a dirty, dingy place like this. Smelling another small, white flower, the pigtailed girl smiled. Gotta be careful nobody finds nothin', though. Don't want 'em thinkin' I'm some kinda soft girly girl…
Her heart leapt into her throat as she heard a few soft sounds outside, clamping a hand over her mouth to quiet her breathing. …heh. Nothin', just the wind, yeah…? It was a good thing she had her hand held tightly over her mouth – she nearly let out a high-pitched, girly scream as someone bounced down into a crouch near the wooden barrier, bright blue eyes peering in curiously at the muddy little girl hidden among the struggling garden. They stared at each other in silence for a few moments until Trixie began to wonder if the strange man could actually see anything through the latticework. A growing, gentle smile dissuaded her of the notion as the figure tilted his blue-capped head to one side. Reaching behind him, he brought one tight-clenched hand around, closing the distance between them.
"Hey! Whaddya think yer do-"
Opening his fingers suddenly, a quick breath blew sparkling powder all over her beloved plants. Trixie was about to let out another cry of protest when the oddest thing took her breath away.
Her plants were moving.
Twitching, slowly reaching out leaves to catch the dappled patches of sun and lazily unfurling new flowers, it was like watching weeks of work in as many minutes. Eyes round in wonder, Trixie looked back up at the odd man, about to ask him a question. He just shook his head and beamed, holding up one silencing finger and winking before he was gone as fast as he had appeared.
Lugging her boom box out to the walk in front of her uncle's house, Stephanie wondered for the hundredth time why nobody else ever seemed to be outside. Her parents had said there would be plenty of other kids to play with here, but so far she'd only seen one, his red cape flapping as he raced towards the candy store. Sighing, she shook her head, stretching in the sunshine and putting on a cheery smile.Everything will be alright. I just have to be patient, and good things will happen. They can't hide away forever, right?
Hitting the power button, Stephanie basked for a moment in the music, letting it fill her to the bones as it filled her ears, making her spirit soar. Dancing came effortlessly with beautiful music – no thought was needed, emotions becoming motions like magic.
Closing her eyes, she began to twirl, gracefully stepping until her foot accidentally caught on an uneven patch of sidewalk. Yelping, her arms pinwheeled wildly to avoid the inevitable tumble before someone caught her waist, setting her back lightly on her feet. Heaving a sigh of relief, Stephanie switched off her music before turning to thank her rescuer.
He looks… different, she thought to herself, giggling before flashing him a grateful smile. "Thank you! I was beginning to think it was only me, my uncle, and Bessie in the whole town!" Extending one pink-bangled hand towards the man who stood only a little taller than she, Stephanie grinned. "My name's Stephanie! What's yours?"
"You can call me… Sportacus!" the hero replied, bouncing from foot to foot as if he could barely keep still.
"Sportacus…" she smiled. That's kinda a silly name… "I like it. Pleased to meet you, Sportacus!" Chewing on her lower lip for a second, she shot the man a questioning look. "I don't suppose you know where all the other kids are, do you? Why they're all hiding inside?"
"I think I have an idea," he chuckled, radiating energy and happiness. "How about you come with me, and we'll find them together, alright?"
Stephanie nodded, accepting his offered hand, laughing in surprise when he took off on the spot, dragging her along so fast she could barely keep up.I hope we become good friends.
It was a wonderful morning to be outside with friends – endless blue skies, warm sun, a pleasantly cool breeze rustling in the treetops and lifting spirits. Sportacus was busy training his two little future heroes, leading them in stretches and calisthenics.
Stephanie was encouraging Ziggy as he fell behind with his pushups when a beep sounded, the little circle on Sportacus' uniform flickering in warning.
"Someone's in trouble!" Closing his eyes for a heartbeat, the faces of everyone he cared about flashed through his mind, an internal compass settling on one face and pointing the way, almost physically tugging him towards the friend in distress. "Come on, you guys!" Scrambling to their feet, Stephanie and Ziggy hurried after the blue, flipping blur.
Robbie had apparently been up to his usual tricks. Out of pocket change, he'd shaken the soda machine in an attempt to get a free drink. When that had failed and all attempts to pry the machine open or trick the electronics gave no result, he'd aimed a spiteful kick at the thing… and it had promptly rocked back and fallen over on him. By the time Stephanie and Ziggy caught up to Sportacus, the blue hero had already levered the machine back up into place, amiably dusting the skinny man off and smiling at the man's grumbles and glares. "Remember to be more careful next time, Robbie!"
Watching together as the purple-striped man slunk back towards his lair, muttering to himself all the way, Stephanie turned to Sportacus. "How d'you manage to do that?"
"Stephanie, you should know that. Sports candy makes you suuuuuuuper strong and full of energy!" Ziggy exclaimed, bouncing up and down as he looked to his idol for approval.
"No, Ziggy, not the machine," Stephanie tsked, rolling her eyes in amusement. "I know that part. I meant how you always seem to know where to go when someone's in trouble. Does your crystal tell you that, too?"
"Not exactly, Stephanie," Sportacus explained, leaning down so he was closer to eye-level with the two children. "Do you know how, when you think about all your friends and family, you get a funny, warm feeling inside?"
"Yeah, but how does that help you know? Is it like magic?"
Smiling and ruffling Ziggy's wild blond hair, Sportacus laughed warmly and gave him a conspiratorial wink. "Maybe it is, Ziggy."