Stories In Everything

There are things people don’t know about me.

The fact that I love Jemima Puddle Duck.

My appreciation for funky and cool socks.

One thing, however, that is pretty obvious is my near on obsession with Ray Ban sunglasses.

It’s a family thing. My nana wore a pair of black Ray Ban Wayfarers, which my dad ‘borrowed’ from her when he was a teenager. Then my dad wore black Ray Ban Wayfarers which I ‘borrowed’ when I was about seventeen.

To me, Ray Bans are an iconic thing. They represent something in my mind. A link to a greater idea. My nana wore them, my dad wore them, Audrey Hepburn didn’t wear them but wore something similar to them. They are icons.

Here’s a confession. I have like… nine pairs now.

Now any regular person would be like, ‘Okay, Jess. The fact of the matter is you only have one set of eyes, how the hell will you ever be in a situation where you would ever need ten pairs of Ray Bans?’

I was explaining this last night, as I purchase my 9th pair (Black leather in case you’re wondering)

To me, each one has a specific story. Not just a story of how I got them (which are often strange stories…) but the sort of story I am telling about myself when I wear them.

I have a pair of Catseye Clubmasters (from the late 80s early 90s) they are gold rimmed, which is unusual for Clubmasters. To me they are vintage, and by far my most hipster glasses. When I wear them, I am telling the story of hipster/arty Jess.

Or my light blue gradient lense Wayfarers, (Purchased at a steal 60$ second hand, just saying) They are beachy and carefree, not to mention when I first started Gideon I saw them online and swore I’d buy them one day since the blue is like the blue in the Gideon logo.

Or my red fronted Wayfarers. They were a birthday present from my mum and dad given to me on the way down to Wellington to see Josh the first time. They are so intense and poppy because of the dramatic red they are ‘Making a statement’ Jess glasses. There are some days even I don’t feel up to the Red Wayfarers.

Each pair to me carries a story, it embodies a story of who and what I want to tell people about myself today.

It’s weird, because no one else but me probably notices, but I think it’s just a cool thing to stop and take a look at yourself and your life and see the stories in things.

I watched this documentary once where they were saying that the secret to big brand clothing is the story you tell people when you wear it. People want to tell the story of their pre-torn jeans showing how ‘hard and edgy’ they are. Reality is that they didn’t make the holes in those jeans it’s just embodying something of our story we want to tell people that day.

I just think it’s cool that we as people invest stories in things. And it’s a cool reminder to see the story in everything.

glasses

Starting Right

The other day I was relaying something that had happened to my mum.

Anyway, so I got about three sentences into this story then stopped and was like, ‘Okay. I have started from completely the wrong place, sorry.’

The problem was that I’d sort of begun at the very pin point of events, rather than providing enough context for the story.

I hate starting stories.

Hate it.

I have this super intense insecurity about it concerned that it’s just crappy and over explained or that it doesn’t have a good enough hook, or that it’s just not outlined in the best possible light.

That’s the problem with beginnings. You can go anywhere with them. That kind of scares me.

When I was younger, and didn’t have as much experience, I would get an idea, crack open a notebook or open a new document on Word and it would be SO easy. Writers block only came when I got past the initial four chapter excitement.

These days it is the total opposite. I think it is because the older I got, and the more I had to read through my work and edit and change and focus things the more I realized how much pressure and importance is on those first few opening paragraphs.

Regarding starting stories I think there are a few important things to keep in mind, and I keep these in mind when combatting my massive new book writers block:

1) Are you starting at the right place. Much like the story I told my mum, you have to pick where it will all begin. Generally if it’s a first book in a series or a one off I tell people to get into the action quickly. It’s only when you’re further into a series you have the time and ability to take your time, because readers already love the characters.

2) Are you over explaining. I am a chronic over explainer. I’m serious. Like. ‘Oh you haven’t read the other books in this series, here’s the WHOLE STORYLINE IN AN EXPLAINATION!’ reality, no one wants to read that. Imply things. Allow characters to set scenes, and situations, and also take your time addressing anything readers need to remember from earlier books. If this is a first novel, make sure you take the advice that it’s better for characters to SHOW readers the circumstance rather than the author TELL readers about it.

3) Be vivid. Sell people on the idea by painting bright and intense scenes and characters which are a point of interest. You have to bait readers. Get them interested. Be this an interesting character/personality or setting. Do something that will get people curious about the other pages to come.

4) First lines. I have a one or the other kind of feeling regarding this. I either have a long starting sentence that makes people go; ‘What?’ or a short sharp one, that makes them go, ‘Oooooh!’

EG:

Jericho Take Over:

In order to understand what I’m about to tell you, you’re going to have to appreciate two things. My sister Kate is crazy.

Atrean (a more intense fantasy book):

Robin’s death was a planned event.

Starting is hard. But like any hard thing, once you have a plan and strategies you can totally handle anything.

At least, that’s what I tell myself …

We Are Being Ruined by FOMO.

I know.

Like you’re reading title of this and thinking, ‘holy moly has she lost her mind…?’

But seriously. I’ve been internalizing this one for a while, so here we go.

FOMO, for those who – like me – had no idea what this mean until you saw it all over Facebook/heard it from people and at some stage w had to google this to figure out what it mean it means this: Fear Of Missing Out.

Apparently FOMO is like a property anxiety these days because of the digital age and access to information and speed of the world that we live in. Who knew!?

There was this point a few months ago that I stopped and thought, ‘Oh my goodness. Am I a boring person?’

I just saw people living these awesome lives on Facebook and my life seemed so uninteresting.

It was a Me < Everyone Else kind of equation.

Not only that, I would get this HUGE insecurity that came with every opportunity, be it church or work or social or whatever that I had ALL OF THIS STUFF to do (that had to the potential to make me as exciting as everyone else looked!) and the reality was that I already have this pretty full life.

Not to say I don’t have time for people and friends and stuff, it’s ALWAYS important to have time for that, but I didn’t have time for every single event outside of the boundaries that we have to put up to ensure that we still function, and sleep and eat and have time to breathe.

Most people I meet are exhausted. Or describe themselves as ‘Busy’ or you have to book three or four weeks ahead to see them. Frequently I am like that too. Busy, rushed, tired, and unavailable and I hate it.

Still, we are driven by this insecurity that means that we fill every single second with a wrestle to be ‘In on it.’

Whether this means we are at that place that everyone else is at.

That we know that thing that everyone else knows.

That we wear that thing that everyone wears or whatever else is trendy (be it a band, book or whatever) at the moment.

We want to be ‘In on It.’ THAT is at the heart of FOMO.

The problem is that in so desperately wanting to be ‘In On It,’ we are robbed of enjoying the things we are ‘In On,’ and we live lives in this blur of checking Facebook, or looking over the person we are talking too’s shoulder because maybe such and such is here. We aren’t present in what we are ‘In On’, appreciating the stories of what we are ‘In On,’ and the moments of it. Which sucks because this is our life. We should enjoy it and be happy with it.

The worst thing is that advertisers and brands and sometimes our friends use this insecurity associated with FOMO to pressure us into being or doing or wearing or whatever when we know it is clearly outside of who we are. We are terrified that we’re going to be ‘Out of It’ that we often undertake way too much and become these busy, stressed, full on book three months in advance people.

To which I say to you this: Slow the HECK down.

Chill out. Stop constantly looking forward but instead take the moment to enjoy the right now.

Figure out who you are, what your capacity is, what matters to you, and do that. Then once and every so often surprise yourself, by doing something different.

Be available, don’t be dictated by this fear that you’re going to be ‘Out’ but enjoy what you are ‘in.’

The thing is we are living our own stories every day. We are the custodians of them. But if you’re traveling at a million miles an hour and trying to tick boxes and be in the mix of everything, you’re going to have this movie trailer life that looks super exciting but misses the depth and awesomeness of the full movie. I am not saying be boring. I am saying be yourself on purpose without FOMO.

 

 

Stories That Shouldn’t Be Forgotten

There is one really important thing that I tell students.

Like, if I was only allowed to say one thing to them, this would be it:

Stories preserve and stories promote.

These days, more often than not, young people don’t understand the power in stories. That is why I founded Gideon in the first place, because if we were intentional about the stories, we told, we could do anything.

The students, could do anything.

Stories have a way of cutting through us. Getting directly to our hearts. They speak to the human in us.

They have this powerful ability to not only promote things that matter TO us but they have the ability to preserve the things that SHAPED us.

These days, we are bombarded with stories. Facebook updates, Instagrams of people photographically telling us (with a small comment) what they got up to. News that changes by the second, gossip that does likewise.

It is for this reason that we must strive to attach meaning to the things that truly matter.

It is for this reason that we have to seek out the things we desire to be preserved and promoted in this world and pass them on.

I love Winnie the Pooh stories, and Peter Rabbit stories. Not only are they adorable, they are important to me because I was read them as a child and I am determined to read them to my children.

Once before a lecture, a while back now, there was this guy. A young guy who had a young family. Any way the class was having a conversation about the fact that children more and more today don’t know who Winnie the Pooh is or Peter Rabbit. I was like, WHAT!? Are you joking? And ranted for a good five minutes about the importance of preserving literary greats of the past.

This man said that he had no problem with his children not knowing who Winnie the Pooh or Peter Rabbit were, because Winnie the Pooh was a glutton and Peter Rabbit a naughty and disobedient little boy.

All that aside, today we live in an age of story overload. Narratives come at us hard and fast and I realized a while back that if I wanted my children to read or hear a specific story, be it a movie, TV show or book, I would have to take responsibly over it.

The thing about human nature is that when something is in excess, we often allow things to become disposable.

One day, many stories that mattered won’t exist because at some point someone decided it wasn’t worth preserving.

I was thinking this morning about this.

I want to challenge you and your thinking about this. The fact is there are stories we should never forget about. Not book stories, real stories. News stories. Stories that are real in the world today.

The first is the fate of the 200 Nigerian girls abducted by the Boko Haram. This was four months ago. Barely no time at all, and yet, it has ceased to be reported through the mainstream news. Why? because we are disposable creatures. Always wanting the of the moment update so the excess ceases to matter.

These are 200 lives of 200 girls in an awful situation. I just don’t understand how this has fallen from our thoughts.

The second story is that of the Malaysian airliner which lays still strewn across the Ukrainian country side. Having only happened in July once more it astounds me that people are not out protesting that there has not been proper access to the crash site, or the fact that there are still parts of victims which have not been recovered. I have a more personal link to this as my Aunt (a nun in Sydney) was very close to one of the victims. At the end of the day, she and the other woman who had been living with the lady who died in that crash are still struggling to come to terms with their friend’s death. They aren’t coping, and it’s an awful reality to live with. I struggle to understand how this has 1) fallen from main stream headlines and 2) gone in the most part un questioned especially in New Zealand. There are people without closure. It should still matter.

The issue is that today we are assaulted by stories constantly, and in the excess much becomes easily forgettable and disposable. It is up to us to remember the things that matter. To use stories to preserve and promote what is important.

Now I understand the phrase that we find on the majority of war memorials.

Least we forget.

we are guardians, custodians of our stories we are the ones who must care for them.

 

Things I Read in the Weekend: The Revenge of Seven

You know when you lose faith in something?

I had lost faith in the I am Number Four series. Like… for real.

Ages ago now I picked up book one, aptly named ‘I am Number Four’ and I devoured it. It was awesome. So good.

In my opinion a total new take on the whole Alien concept and I loved it.

Then I read the sequel, ‘The Power of Six.’ I was alright.

A while later I read ‘The Rise of Nine.’ I honestly can’t remember anything that happened in that book.

Nor the one after that, ‘The Fall of Five.’

It was for this reason that when ‘The Revenge of Seven’ came out I considered leaving it on the shelves of my local book retailer and forgetting the whole thing never happened – much like I did with the movie of the very first novel which is super bad just by the way.

I did buy it though, because I was committed to the series and I am loyal.

And it was good.

Like genuinely good!

the I am Number Four series (in case you haven’t read it) is about Aliens. Aliens from a planet called Lorien. Their planet has been destroyed by these awful people called the Mogadorians, and just before the entire planet of Lorien was obliterated the ‘Elders’ managed to save 9 children, with the hope that through them Lorien could be restored.

The Loric children are then hunted by the Mogadorians, however the Loric elders placed a charm on the children that meant that they could only be killed in number order.

One, through to Nine.

The series takes place when the children have all but nearly grown up and a Mogadorian invasion of earth is imminent.

The Revenge of Seven recaptured my faith in the series. I read it in about a day and a half and it was actually, genuinely good.

SO if you feel the need to read one really great first novel, two second rate books, one totally bad one and another really great one. Go read the series! You (probably) won’t regret it.

ros

 

What We Are, and What We Think We Are.

 
 

Sometimes, I’m like… who are we kidding ourselves?

I was reflecting the other day on the difference between what we think we are, and what we actually are. A lot of the time these things can become blurred.

In our heads we can often think of ourselves as one thing, a person who is always on time, focused, creative, active, a writer, whatever. And that’s all fine and dandy, but I sort of had this revelation of how sometimes while we think we are one thing in our heads, we often aren’t actually that thing.

We may think of ourselves as being super determined, yet at the first sign of difficulty in our writing we tuck the project away until ‘inspiration strikes.’

We may think of ourselves as a creative person, but we genuinely can get by nearly every day without once stopping and to express that supposed creativity in some way.

We may think of ourselves as writers, but when was the last time we actually finished something?

I have been really challenged by this because it literally influences every part of our lives. It deals with perception of self, and reality of self. I sort of don’t want to think about it, but the truth is we all must at times stop, and take a good hard look at ourselves and ask, ‘I say I’m this… but do I actually do this?’

Biblically speaking, faith without works is dead. Saying something without having an expression of something is pretend.

It’s like me saying I am a pirate. I may wear an eye patch, I may have a pet parrot and say ‘Arggggh’ at the end of sentences but at the end of the day, unless I actually sail on the deep blue sea and pillage other boats I’m just a person in costume.

I know this is a challenging thought, but I am seriously compelled by it today.

I was speaking with a student the other day and they were going on and on and on about how they don’t have ‘time to write.’

An eleven year old.

Without time to write.

I’m sorry, I know I am probably sounding hugely jaded here, but seriously?

Sure, she could have a super busy schedule, and yes, I understand maybe she plays a million sports and a hundred instrument’s but if an eleven year old doesn’t have time to sit down and do whatever she wants, I feel really sorry for her!

the reality is that often we tell ourselves we ‘don’t have time,’ or some other lame excuse but at the end of the day it’s all economics.

Every day we make a decision as to what is going to be a part of the following 24 hours. Some things are planned, others happen, but every single moment engages a level of choice. In having a choice, there is always an opportunity cost.

I had a young person say to be once, ‘Oh I don’t have time to write.’ yet every time I spoke to them about what they got up to they told me they’d been at the mall. like. at the mall every day. I am nearly a offender of the same thing, but at the end of the day, if you make one choice, you’re discounting another.

Sorry if this sounds blunt, but I feel as though this is a good, health challenge (as I have challenged myself with it recently)

You’re only something, if you’re doing it.

Now, to soften the blow, here’s a picture of a pirate kitten.

You’re welcome x

PirateCat

Giving Readers What They Want, If Even for A Moment.

Telling a good story is a weird sort of activity, because it has to do with balancing fulfillment and desire.

By this I mean you’re solely in charge of explain this whole circumstance and cast of characters to someone else. You alone are in charge of how it’s told. How it unfolds. The manner in which it’s communicated and not just WHAT happens but WHEN.

A lot of the time as an author you are constantly playing with this desire the reader has to see a kind of resolution, dangling it in front of them like a carrot, with the promise that at some stage everything will make sense and end in a satisfying way.

The thing is as a reader you’re demolishing through this book waiting for the guy to get the girl, or for the good guy to find out that the bad guy is actually his history teacher but these conclusive moments have to happen in the right timing.

Writers and readers have very different ideas about timing.

When I am reading a book I am like OH MY GOSH WHY WON’T THIS HAPPEN NOW!? (In saying this, that is part of the appeal) 

On the other hand, as a writer you’re pacing these little crumbs towards the ending.

I am really, really awful to my readers because I lace stories with ‘Not Yets’ gearing up to big fulfilling ‘Aaaah… Finallyies.’

But, the other day, when trying to weave this ending together for a book I was writing I had this huge epiphany.

Right then and there, even if just for a second, in the briefest of ways, I needed to give the readers what they wanted.

In this particular context it was the MAIN romantic relationship of the series which had been crisscrossing all over the place for the last seven books, with brief, intense moments where the characters were on the same page and then a lot of near misses (near misses are a really fun thing for both writers and readers)

Anyway I was going to settle for another near miss, where the characters just pass one another gearing up for their final, conclusive ending in the next book (which happens to be the very last in the series) when I stopped and was like: Okay. Maybe this is a situation where I need to give the reader what they want.

That the reader needs to see these two characters, together, transparent with their thoughts/emotions, and see one another for what they are and how they feel at that very moment.

The reason was that if the characters kept having these cataclysmic near misses, I wasn’t 100% sure that I could get the readers on side with this relationship.

After all, the whole series had been filled with near misses and not-quite happy endings between them so the readers never had an opportunity to appreciate what they may be like when things were solved and everything fell into place and their relationship was finally set, and sure.

I wanted to sell readers on this relationship, so I stopped and decided: alright. For this moment, right now, in the very end of this book for this one scene, I am going to give the reader what they want (that immediate, right now conclusion) as a book mark, a sign post, an advent calendar chocolate for the final conclusion.

Hopefully all of this makes sense, but I think that it is important as a writer to sometimes think like a reader, and even for a moment, give them what they want.

But not always, because at the end of the day you are the author, and it’s your story to tell.

 

More of that Super Cool Super Hero Idea I Was Working On.

So I finished a book yesterday.

It was a pretty huge thing for me because this book is like the Climax of a series I’ve been working on for years now and I have one to go in the series which is awesome.

So this morning, with nothing to write I returned back this idea I’d posted a while back. I did a little more work on it.

Enjoy!

One:

 

I guess in one way or another we spend our whole lives trying to mean something.

To matter.

And it’s this constant battle to be someone who is worthwhile which spurs us on to take the challenge which comes with every new day.

‘It’s not who people think you are that matters,’ is what Liam Gray always tells me over dinner at least once a week. ‘It’s what you do.’

Liam’s like that though. He doesn’t care what people say about him at all – and they say some pretty bad things – but it’s harder for me, I guess.

He says it’s because I’m in high school, and that years from now it won’t matter than people think I am a total dork and girls barely notice me. That’s all very well for him because no one thinks he’s a dork, and girls are generally all over him.

Regardless, when he says this, I just short of nod and shove food in my mouth so he doesn’t expect more of a response than this.

Liam does that. He acts like my dad when he’s not.

I mean sure, he’s probably the closest thing I have to a father figure but my life is a whole lot more complicated than that.

Liam is super rich. You’d think that would be hugely helpful to making kids at school like me, but it’s not. In fact if anything, being dropped off every morning in Liam’s huge black limousine is sort of less beneficial to my social life. This is because everyone stares and makes comments about how I think I’m better than everyone.

I don’t, but whatever.

Anyway, so from morning until midafternoon I’m sort of trapped in the classrooms of Lion’s Private Academy which is fine because once I survive the day, the nights get a whole lot more interesting.

Liam and I watch a lot of sitcoms. It’s what we do, I guess. In his massive living room, eating microwave popcorn. But in the furthest corner of this enormous space is a single black telephone.

And it’s this single black telephone which rings.

And it’s when this single black telephone rings, that Liam and I go super quiet, and he gets up and puts the popcorn on the side table.

He wanders towards the phone, answers it, speaking in his most level voice; ‘hello?’

There’s this long silence, and I always try to distinguish words even though I never can.

‘Alright.’ Liam concludes, ‘we’re on our way.’

And then he looks at me, and gestures to the door, and I get up and we leave the popcorn and the sitcoms and we head into the hallway.

Once there, Liam crosses over to this huge painting at the end of the corridor of him – at like seven years old or something – with his long since dead parents from whom he inherited billions of dollars, and places his hand on the canvas.

There’s a cool whoosh as the whole end wall groans apart like some kind of hatch or something revealing an elevator lift shaft.

Liam will always turn to me and grin with that look he always gives and then I grin back and we step inside.

And then the elevator door slides shut and rockets who-knows-how-many floors down and opens in a massive control room filled with monitors, and screens and all kinds of chrome covered things.

Then Liam Grey and I change into wicked cool costumes and get into the wicked cool chrome car and we go and save the city.

Because we’re super heroes.

 

 

Two:

 

‘I don’t know why you don’t let me drive the Silver Shadow.’ I say for like the hundredth time that week, ‘I have my license and everything.’

‘You’re sixteen, Roe.’ Liam reminds me, as he shifts gear, ‘not going to happen.’

‘You never let me do anything!’ I protest, because I swear he doesn’t.

Liam laughs at this, and I fiddle with my utility belt because I’m annoyed at him.

He trusts me to fight crime as his masked sidekick but when it comes to letting me test drive this ridiculously awesome vehicle? I get a flat no – it’s almost ironic.

Besides, he should trust me, I’m basically him.

I have long since come to terms with the fact that my life is never going to be normal. Given I’m the legal ward, not to mention exact clone of Liam Grey – the world’s most richest man ever – and that he’s got this doubly identity as ‘The Wolf’ who is this super cool super hero who beats up bad guys.

I, as you have probably guessed, am Dare, the Wolf’s sidekick, or 2IC, as I like to call it which stands for Second in Charge and sounds a whole lot better than the term ‘sidekick.’

I’ve lived with Liam my whole life in his massive mansion on the outskirts of the massive metropolis that is Anchoran City.

Being a clone sounds way worse than it is.

I mean there are pros and cons to everything.

Sure I get like a really accurate glimpse of what I’m going to look like at thirty five, which sort of ruins the surprise of life but at least I know that I’m going to go bald any time soon.

Liam’s story is the typical I-had-this-really-emotionally-ruining-thing-happen-to-me-during-childhood-which-is-associated-with-the-death-of-my-parents-and-I-have-since-inherited-billions-of-dollars-which-was-hugely-helpful-in-turning-the-underground-of-my-mansion-into-a-headquarters-and-invent-an-altar-ego-who-fights-crimes story.

When he was like… twenty something he nearly died and realized that as much as he had been a lone wolf up until this point – super-hero-name-related-pun-there – things would be a whole lot easier if he had someone to give him a hand.

Liam had very little desire to get married or settle down or have a family even so he paid off some totally immoral scientist to clone him.

I was the result of that clone.

Liam was as adverse to the idea of dealing with a baby as he was to being married, setting down and having kids. As a result I was left in some test-tube like thing for a bit experiencing accelerated growth and entered the world as a fully grown seven year old.

It was weird.

What’s also weird is that Liam chose to call me Romulus which is the stupidest name I’ve ever heard – and I have found is basically the opinion of nearly everyone else who hears it – so I refuse to be called anything but Roe.

Unless I’m out, costumed, fighting crime, then I’m Dare.

 

 

Three:

 

Things didn’t go how they ought to have gone that night, and I think this was why things happened how they did.

There’s never really been a ‘big time criminal’ in our city. Not really. I mean we’ve got Reoffenders. That’s what we call the bad guys who don’t seem to learn their lesson the first time and come back for more once they’ve either escaped prison or are out on probation.

But the Wolf and Dare never had an Arch-Nemesis.

Of course all of that would change that night. Sort of.

It was dark, and wet, and my boots kept slipping on the rooftops as we pursued our enemy through the rain.

Liam was ages ahead of me, because he was faster and his boots weren’t slipping like mine.

It seemed a pretty simple situation.

Some random group of guys dressed in black had broken into the city museum and stolen some equally random set of knives from some dull exhibit.

Only I am a super hero so these kinds of things while boring to be are things I am supposed to care about.

We had them on the run – we always have them on the run – and I was stoked because I’d be home with enough time to catch another episode of my favorite show before I’d have to do my English homework.

Ahead of me, the bad guys leaped rather suddenly downwards, perhaps suspecting they’d lose us a little easier down there amidst the cars and bystanders.

Most small time bad guys think that’ll be the case.

But I didn’t know it then, but these weren’t small time bad guys.

The Wolf drew out his grapple gun and shot it upwards, before throwing himself off of the side of the building after them.

I brought up the rear – as usual – and since I didn’t have a grapple gun I just jumped and tumbled down. I landed in a horrendous smelling puddle in some side street.

The Wolf was already tearing into combat. Fists and kicks and jerks and fantastic weapons that he’d invented which had been clipped to his utility belt were all used.

The black clad men staggered back, stumbling, and toppling over.

Of course I was in amongst the action, at the Wolf’s side as always. I felt best this way. After all, this was everything I’d been trained for. Made for.

We finished them off pretty quickly.

The Wolf identified the particular bad guy who’d grabbed the knives, stalked over and grabbed a hold of the massive wooden case in which the knives were stored.

He turned back to me and despite the latex mask over his face I knew Liam was grinning.

There was nothing like that Post-Bad-Guy-Ass-Kicking feeling, believe me.

‘Nice!’ I said, dusting myself off and surveying our work. I’d have high fived Liam but he’s not the High Fiving type.

There were six of them. All lying face down now, waiting for the cops to show.

‘Yeah, well,’ Liam was saying.

I fiddled with my stun gun, trying to look cool, because it was general about now that the press caught up with us and snapped a bunch of photos for the paper.

Liam kept talking, he always liked to capitalize on the minutes after we’ve totally dominated some villain to make grand statements and advice.

I half listened, because I was; one, trying to look impressive for when the cameras showed and two, had noticed something pretty weird.

 Alongside one of the fallen bad guy’s legs there was a kind of sparking.

Sparking. Like a mechanical sparking.

Which was weird because people don’t usually spark at the knee. Or anywhere else for that matter.

While Liam babbled, I slipped my stun gun into its holster, and wandered over to the bad guy in mention.

I had just bent low enough to take a closer look at the strange flashing, when there was a loud WHACK! And I was sent toppling over, my ears ringing.

Liam snapped back from his musings and darted into action as the remaining black clad baddies lumbered up again. I’d landed in another pool of water but was pretty quickly on my feet again.

That hit had hurt, I considered, rubbing my now split lip. That had hurt really bad.

Liam was already surrounded and was on the offensive again and I, with a suspicion creeping up the back of my spine drew my stun gun again and took aim, shooting the figure with the glittering knee.

He didn’t even flinch.

‘Wolf!’ I shouted, growing a little nervous now, ‘They’re not real!

He shot a look over at me, confused, ‘What!?’

‘They’re robots!’ I reiterated, because it hadn’t come out right the first time, ‘Like in movies!’ that was a stupid thing to say. Not sure why I said that.

The Wolf seemed perplexed, even beneath the mask, but continued to fight. My shouting had drawn the robot’s attention to me now, and two or three began to advance.

Perfectly aware that my stun gun would offer no aid at all, I balled my hands into fists, ready to fight. They set on me, and scrambled to land injuries of any kind but the thing was that I was Dare.

Dare was fast. Faster than these mechanical henchmen at least.

Darting in and out of their attacks, I edged back further and further, shooting the occasional glance over towards Wolf.

It was weird.

We’d never fought bad guys like this before. Generally our enemies were flesh and blood. There was no one quite… evil enough, or perhaps smart enough in the city to create robotic henchmen to do their dirty work.

It was all a little strange.

I had just settled upon this fact when there was a sudden shout.

Liam, from across the ally way, wrestling free from the black clad figures just as someone else appeared.

Someone else, who was tall, and limber, and wore a navy blue suit and arching black cape.

Cool, I thought, because Liam never let me have a cape and I was a little jealous.

The navy uniformed figure had leapt down from above us, and landed with his boots clattering in the pools of rain.

The Wolf geared up, curling his hands into fists prepared to fight whoever this was, suspecting as I had, that whoever they were, they’d be behind the knives and the robots thing.

Then, the worst thing happened.

I could see red and blue, because the cops had showed. Usually this was the point where we’d stand back and admire our work as the police arrested the criminals.

But it was different. This time was different.

This time, with the whole scene captured beneath streetlamps and the flashing of police cars just beyond the ally way, there was a gun shot.

Everything sort of slowed down, at least in my mind.

I turned, just in time to see Liam stumble backwards, as if he’d tripped or something. But he hadn’t tripped because I could see a huge red welt growing across his chest.

Liam had been shot.

The thought didn’t make sense at all. My brain kind of jammed up. I think I must have shouted or something. I probably did. The robots fell on me from all sides, and I struggled to evade them but I guess I wasn’t strong enough.

My whole world kind of dissolved all around me, in amongst flashing police lights and rain.

I was knocked unconscious, and when I woke, my entirely life had changed.

 

 

Four:

 

There’s this kind of unspoken atmosphere that settles when someone dies.

I could feel it the moment I woke in that hospital bed.

There were machines all around me, and everything beeped and wheezed and flashed.

Every part of me also hurt or was bandaged or stitched back together.

Here’s the thing about my city.

It’s always been a kind of Saturday Morning Cartoon kind of crime fighting city.

I’m not sure why that was because I knew that there were other places in the world where criminals were a lot more serious and people got shot and they had Arch-Nemeses.

But our city that never been that kind of city.

No one ever died, not ever. In fact, Liam had always told me that the first rule was that bad guys weren’t to be killed they were to be put to trial.

The criminals too never seemed to shoot to kill either. Sure we’d been wounded and sure the fights were serious but no one had ever died.

Not until then.

I blinked my eyes open, and could see only white, so I closed them again.

Someone had laid a hand towel over the upper part of my face.

They always did that, whenever Liam or I came in from a fight.

The medical staff were the only ones who’d ever see our face. When we came in they’d remove our masks and then they’d cover us up in case someone came in only ever removing the towel when they absolutely had to.

I remember the first time someone saw me. It was the third or fourth time I’d been out with Wolf, having just made my debut as his sidekick, Dare.

The nurse had to be twenty or twenty one, probably not even fully trained. She had fluffy blonde hair and sort of looked how I’d imagined a mother ought to, not that I knew what a mother should look like seeing as I didn’t have one.

I’d broken my arm. I was eleven years old and she helped me wriggle off my mask – Liam was goodness knows where – and the second she saw my face she gasped.

‘You’re a little too young.’ She told me, although alike the other staff she wasn’t really aloud to pass any kind of judgment on us or what we did. That was also part of the contract.

‘I’m eleven.’ I told her matter-of-factly, I’d be a fairly serious eleven year old.

‘I can see that.’ She said, as she put my mask aside. I figured she thought the better of saying anything else. I’d told Liam about what she’d said. He nodded as if he wasn’t at all interested but I never once saw that nurse again.

The Hospital staff were bound by a stack of legal papers not to say anything to anyone about who we were. It was all part of the contract.

Because oh yeah, cities have contracts with their heroes. I’ll bet you didn’t know that.

We also had agents. Liam and my agent – I supposed my agent now – Hank. He was a short, rather fat man with a like… constantly sweaty forehead.

He was there, I knew that because he had this really, irritatingly loud way of breathing. A wheezing sort of sound that I could hear across the room.

I was perfectly aware that eventually I’d have to face things now and talk to Hank and have everything I sort of half remembered confirmed.

I really didn’t want that, but I’d have to. Like Liam said, sometimes being a hero is doing things you don’t want to.

The thought of Liam made me feel sick.

I curled up into a seated position, removing the towel from my face and blinking across to Hank who watched me with a kind of thoughtful expression.

‘Car accident.’ He said.

‘What?’ I croaked.

‘Car accident. We’ll say it was a car accident.’

I felt sicker now, and sort of had to breathe in and out a few times so I didn’t vomit all over the hospital bed.

So Liam was dead. I’d half hoped that I’d imagined it worse than it was. I fiddled with the hand towel for a bit, not sure what to say. Hank wiped the back of his hand on his sweaty forehead.

‘The good news is that as far as the public is concerned, Romulus Grey just inherited several billion dollars and become the heir of his father’s fortune. Congratulations, Roe.’

I’m not sure if that was genuinely meant to make me feel better. The thing about Hank was that he, like most of the people in his business, loved money. Unlike the super heroes they represented they were not in this because of a desire for justice. They got a pay check.

‘Uh. Okay.’ I said at last.

‘I haven’t heard anything Roe.’ Hank said quickly, still dabbing at his porky skin, the suit he wore far too tight, ‘once I do, I’ll say.’

I knew what he meant.

Most people assume the whole super hero thing is just a matter of an overzealous individual, sewing themselves a spandex suit and taking on the wickedness in the world.

It’s not like that.

Every super hero ever is a part of a large network called H.O.J.A.C.F but we all call it Hojac. It stands for Heroes Organization of Justice and Crime Fighting. The F is silent as it makes for a pretty awkward acronym. Hojac coordinates all super heroes and their placements.

Hojac decides whether you qualify for a Hero’s Administration License. Hojac places you in a city. Hojac deals with the business end. Contracts, agents, and of course, what happens when a city’s hero is killed and the sidekick is left alive.

Which was of course, my situation.

Only my situation was a little more awkward because I hadn’t gotten my Hero’s Administration License and I was a clone.

I didn’t quite want to think about what was going to happen.

Hank was right, to everyone else, I was Romulus Grey, the sudden heir of the Grey fortunes and would live a life of luxury and privilege.

The reality was I was Dare. Sidekick of a dead Hero, with no real place to go. There was no telling what was going to happen.

Whether, I’d stay in the city. Whether I’d be allowed to continue on as Dare elsewhere, or something.

Whether I actually wanted to be a hero any longer – although this last question was sort of my own to answer. I didn’t want to think of that either.

‘I’m in communication with Hojac.’ Hank went on, peering out the window out at the skyline. ‘I guess we’ll get you fixed up, home, and figure things out from there.’

I didn’t respond to this. Instead, I tipped my head back on the stiff pillow case behind me, reached for the hand towel and laid it back over my eyes.