Spiderman crouched serenely in the glare of several trained spotlights on the uppermost tip of Oscorp Tower. It had been a good year for the spandex-clad human arachnid. An impeccable capture and arrest record had won him the favour of the NYPD and cleared much of New York's seedy subterranean of its criminal element. On a number of occasions, the masked vigilante had been required to surreptitiously deliver formally-worded apologies in lieu of his appearance at various official gatherings held in his honour and a small bank of medals were building up for him in a glass case in the foyer of the city courthouse. Each evening he simply let himself be seen in this same spot, maybe intervened in the odd escalating domestic or opportunistic mugging, and then disappeared into the night. Spiderman was at the top of his game, the toast of the city.
Behind the mask, as always, hid the somewhat bored Peter Parker. Tonight he half-heartedly mused his way through a massive questionnaire community-mindedly posted up on the enormous billboard opposite by Mental Health America.
Do you feel sad or irritable?
There were significant people missing from his life. At times it really got him down.
Have you lost interest in activities you once enjoyed?
He thought fondly of his skateboard, his camera and portfolio, his school work, his pre-college internship at Columbia, his web-slinging, nabbing the bad guys.
Have you experienced changes in weight or appetite?
Even a year later the novelty of his super-masculine physique still showed no sign of wearing off. He drew his consciousness yoga-style on a tour of his spider-enhanced form. More weight? Increased appetite?
Yes. Surely he could clock off and get some dinner soon?
Have you experienced changes in your sleeping pattern?
He'd more or less exchanged sleep for some sort of spiderly circadian rhythm - a daily pattern of activity and inactivity. It came in really handy while he was studying.
Do you have feelings of guilt?
Those people missing from his life. He felt guilty about two of them in particular every single day.
Are you unable to concentrate, remember things, or make decisions?
He thought with some satisfaction of the adulation Spiderman received from the police these days, the key to the city in "his" glass case and his awesome final grades.
Have you experienced fatigue or loss of energy?
If anything, he was itching for some action.
Have you experienced restlessness or decreased activity noticed by others?
Aunt May and his teachers and his mentor at Columbia could all attest to the constant flurry of activity that passed for his life. Peter liked to keep himself busy these days.
Do you feel hopeless or worthless?
This one gave Peter pause. On the one hand, all those achievements. On the other, no joy, no lightness of being. Was this hopelessness?
Maybe a half.
Have you had thoughts of suicide or death?
At least this question was a no-brainer.
He tallied his score. Four and a half.
According to Mental Health America, five or more yes answers indicates that you may be suffering from clinical depression.
"Great," murmured Peter imperceptibly. "All we need is a giant insect in spandex on the edge of a breakdown."
Peter noticed the blinking of lights of a squad car below and pitched himself effortlessly off the roof of the tower, free falling into the urban sprawl below. At almost the last minute, he shot out a web to halt his descent and angled himself around to land silently, cat-like, on the roof of the vehicle.
"Spiderman. Automatic teller machine ram-raid in progress. 13th and Lennox."
Peter nodded and shot a web into the ether, swinging himself around the block in a perfect arc. As he flew, he fired webs into the faces of the perpetrators. He almost admired their plucky spirit for giving this a go right under his nose.
Within an instant it was over, the money secured, the would-be thieves tied up and in the capable hands of the police who, in this instance, as in many others, had been relegated to the role of Spiderman's personal staff. He tried to avoid speaking to them as much as possible, just offering a minimal salute, almost a doff of his cap, before sailing off into the night sky.
Aunt May, who had adjusted to Peter's mystifying evening routines and staggering appetite, had gone to bed and left him all but her small slice of a giant lasagne. Peter warmed up as large a piece as could be contained on a plate and shoved in the microwave and padded upstairs to his room with it, fork in hand. He plonked himself in front of his computer and began clicking at one of his latest images as he shovelled the food into his mouth.
Mid-mouthful, he felt as much as heard his phone vibrating against the surface of his desk. His eyes widened as he read the text.
"Itsy Bitsy. I've got my eyes on you right now."
Before Peter even registered the familiar but long-absent symptoms of the fight-or-flight response, he had shot a web at the light switch and thrown himself back against the wall, out of the sightline of whoever watched him from the street. The pounding in his chest and veins and head intensified. What if they had surveillance in his house? In his room? He craned his neck to peer cautiously down onto the street. He baulked.
There, directly under the streetlight, was, well, some kind of mirage, a hallucination. Was he even awake? A new physiological response kicked in, not entirely dissimilar from the panic attack that was just abating.