Hero 9-5

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What's more grueling? A full time office job or hero work? The answer may be different from you'd expect.

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Chapter 1

“Oh Dolly!” Came the sickeningly sweet voice of my manager.

That’s a sound that will haunt me in my nightmares for the rest of my life. No matter what I’m doing, the sound of her voice makes me jump like I’m hiding porn or something. That’s on the computer at home, I know better than to watch that stuff at work.

“Yes, ma’am?” I asked, spinning around in my office chair.

I almost groaned when my eyes met the massive stack of paperwork she had in her hands. If the last 5 years had taught me anything, it’s that she’s about to hand that stack to me and explain how I have to do something with it.

“The boy’s down in marketing just got the data back from our recent promotional event, and they need us to find any trends.”

More like they need me to find any trends.

“Here, I’ll get it back to you by three,” I said, absentmindedly holding out my hand.

With a happy squeal, she dropped the enormous stack into my arms, almost knocking me out of my chair.

“Dolly, you are just a star! Where would we be without you?”

Doing your own work, that’s for sure. I waved her off and got to work, flipping through the papers.

My name is Dahlia, no last name since I was an orphan that never got adopted. I currently work for a significant up and coming company that makes a popular soda in data analysis, and I couldn’t be happier, this job is a dream come true! I’m required by my contract to say that. If I had the skills to get another job, I’d be out of here in a heartbeat. The only reason I’m staying is that it pays well.

My coworker Nathan rolled over with his arms behind his head.

“Seriously, Dolly? You’re too nice. You make the rest of us look like bums,” He laughs, taking a look at some of the papers on my desk.

“Nah, I’m sure if she’d asked you, you would have said absolutely..... Absolutely not!”

“Hey! I’ll have you know I’ve been trying really hard to say yes to things more often,” He replied, putting on an air of offense.

“Oh, I’m sure, it seems to me you’ve been saying yes to a few too many sweets,” I teased.

He playfully slapped me on the back, rolling back to his cubicle. That’s one of the only good things about this job, the coworkers aren’t bad. At least, most of them aren’t. There’s a few that I could live without, but other than that, I’m happy.

I got back to work looking at the data from the promotional event. The marketers collected demographic data from all of the tickets sold and presented it according to percentages. I compared it to data from the city’s most recent census and found that it was pretty close to the actual population. Of course, there was a bit of under-representation from the 65 and above group, but that was to be expected. I’d have been more worried if we didn’t see many from the 16-24 age range.

Not only did the ages line up, but so did the races. It wouldn’t be right if our product were more appealing to one race or another when we’re marketing to everyone, that would suggest we need to reevaluate our strategy.

The ticket sales were the easy part; after that, I had to look into individual booth sales, the number of people interested in getting our product for their restaurant, total amount spent, and the hourly totals for each of those.

From what I could tell, we did the most business between 3 and 7 when the sun was beginning to go down. We had 14 local businesses look into starting a contract with the company, most of which were restaurants, but we did have a hair salon and a dress shop that wanted to get our product in their vending machines. That’s progress. At the moment, the company is only big here in New York, but if the CEO’s plans go accordingly, we’ll be in the hands of people across the world.

At around 2, I could feel my eyes starting to droop. I didn’t get enough sleep last night, and it was really starting to hit me. It was finally time for my daily trip to the vending machine to get the job-saving elixir that comes in a can. If it weren’t for coffee, I wouldn’t be able to hold this job. Every day I have to go get a can at around 2 when the slump starts to kick in. I’ve probably spent over a hundred dollars on coffee alone since I started working here, two hundred if you include all the candy bars I buy.

As the can falls, I can almost feel my tired body rejoicing at the sound. It’s like each individual cell is chanting “Coffee! Coffee! Coffee!“. A wave of euphoria washes over me as the metal can finally reaches my lips. Sweet vanilla, sugar, cream, and caffeine do your job!

“Hey, Dolly.”

“Hey, Peter,” I said as I walked, can in hand.

As I passed, a few people would say hi if they knew me; if they didn’t, though, most people would just nod their heads and keep walking, such is the way of the adult office worker. Thankfully this cuts down on awkward interactions, but it makes for a pretty lackluster social life. The only time you really meet new people is when someone new joins your department or if you’re forced to collaborate on a project.

Last time I had to do that was when they had data analysis and marketing try to create a catchy new slogan for the digital design people to work with. Now that was one hell of a time. Most people who drink our product are in their teens to early twenties, so we needed to create some sort of ad campaign that would appeal to the old and young, bringing in new customers while still keeping the ones we had. The slogan we ended up with was, “Every drop, satisfies.” I didn’t think it was anything extraordinary, but it worked, and it’s still in use.

My coffee was empty before I made it back to my desk. For a dollar fifty, you’d think you’d get more, but it is what it is, just enough to pull me out of my slump and get me to five. When I went to toss it in the can, I could hear it slide off the top of the already massive pile inside and plop onto the carpet. That’s right, it was about time I emptied my trash can. I’ll do that later, right now I need to finish my work so I can go home at a reasonable time. Although, if I didn’t it wouldn’t be the first time I went back late. I can handle myself.

Once I finished the added stack from my manager, I started working on what I had already been given for the day. In data analysis, I’m usually given things concerning our website since some of the older employees don’t feel confident in that area. It’s not that bad, mostly I just check for trends in our site traffic, make sure the ads we have are useful, and that our interface is easy to navigate. It’s pretty easy to explain, but you know how it is when you’re trying to teach someone who doesn’t want to learn.

It was five-thirty-seven when I finally finished up everything. My results had been sent to the right people, everything was organized, and my emails had all been checked. Now it’s time for my favorite part of the day; getting take out on the way home.

There are so many delicious restaurants on my commute, with all the variety I never get bored. Today I was craving something warm, maybe ramen? We have the most fantastic ramen shop. Everything is made from scratch, even the bone broth, making for a wonderfully authentic taste. The recipe they use has been in their family for generations. As soon as the children are old enough to be in the kitchen, they start learning how to mix the ingredients, to cook the soup by smell, to knead the dough by hand. Sorry, I’m ranting, I love that place so much, just thinking about it has my stomach rumbling.

As usual, they call my name when I open the door, one of the benefits of being a loyal customer. The owner’s oldest granddaughter Lily just started working there a few weeks ago. The day she greeted me, I was shocked, I could still remember when she was sitting on her grandmother’s lap playing with her dolls as her grandma worked on making some Gyoza.

“Hey Lily, how’s it going?” I asked.

There wasn’t anyone else in line, so it wouldn’t matter if we chatted for a little while.

“It’s going great. My grades have been looking good lately.”

“How’s work going?”

“Fantastic! I’m loving having some money of my own on hand.”

“Don’t forget to save for college,” Her father, Kouta, called from the kitchen.

“I won’t, dad!” She called back with a laugh.

The delicious smells were starting to get to my head. Boiling broth, sizzling fry oil, and fresh meat scents were making my mind go fuzzy. If I didn’t order soon, I felt I’d end up eating the decorative bamboo.

“Ready for me to order?”

“Sure thing.”

It didn’t take long for them to put everything together. Tonkotsu ramen with chicken and an order of Takoyaki, a meal which takes up probably a quarter of my diet. When Lily handed the bag to me, it took everything I had not to tear it open on the spot.

“Thank you so much!” I called out to everyone, dropping a ten in the tip jar.

They all called out in return as I walked out. From there, it wasn’t that long of a walk to my apartment. It was all well lit, so typically, there wasn’t a lot of trouble to run into. As long as you walked briskly and kept your head up, you shouldn’t have any problems. At most, I would recommend carrying around some pepper spray, we weren’t quite at personal taser level yet.

My bag swayed as I walked, its contents swishing around with it. I was going pretty slow, so I wouldn’t have to worry about anything spilling. It was around 6:30; the sun was just starting to set on the horizon.

There weren’t too many people around, I managed to miss the 5 o’clock rush. Cars regularly whizzed past me, tousling my hair as they went. Nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary, it was just another afternoon. I never would have expected to hear a muffled scream as I approached an alleyway.

My blood froze in my veins as I paused to see if the noise was real or if I was hearing things. The sounds of struggle that followed told me otherwise.

I slowly walked over to the wall’s edge, peeking around the corner to get an idea of the situation. A man wearing black who appeared to be in his thirties held a young woman against the wall with a knife to her throat. He had his other hand covering her mouth as he gave her orders.

“Your purse lady, that and whatever else you’ve got on you,” He demanded.

The poor woman was shaking uncontrollably, and tears were cascading down her cheeks. It was a terrifying sight, one that I will never get used to seeing.

For just a brief moment, I debated whether or not I should help her. I could always call the police and be on my way, letting the pros do their job while I go home and enjoy my dinner, but I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I did.

Setting my bag down at the corner, I checked to make sure no one was around before allowing myself to transform. My body changed, growing thinner and more muscular. My hair shortened and stood up in the front in my usual cowlick. I had a particular uniform for crime-fighting, just a black trench coat over a gray shirt and some black pants. It was nothing over the top like the heroes you see on tv, but I think it fits me better than any of that skin-tight stuff.

I sauntered up behind the mugger, holding up a finger to let the lady know to be quiet. Once I was close enough to him, I put my hands on my hips and announced my presence.

“Mugging a lady in an alleyway? How cliche. Couldn’t you put a little flair on it? Make it interesting for me?”

At the sound of my now slightly deeper voice, the man turned around in a panic. He was expecting a cop, but when he saw it was nothing more than a regular guy, he relaxed.

“You must be a special kind of stupid, pal. I say you walk away and act like you never saw me; otherwise, I’m gonna have to deal with you too,” He threatened, turning back to the woman.

I took a few more steps towards him until I was close enough to touch him.

“Beat it!”

I reached out and grabbed his shoulder, pulling him away from the woman. Instinctively, he took his knife and jabbed it into my stomach. The woman jumped back, shrieking, the man let go, leaving the blade embedded inside me. They both looked at me with wide eyes. If I had to guess, I’d say this was his first time stabbing anyone.

“Let’s see,” I said, feeling the foreign object inside me. “Five inches? Not bad, but I’ve had better.”

The man’s mouth fell open in shock.

“What the hell?” He yelled, backing away.

I removed the knife from my stomach, allowing myself to close the wound in seconds. All the blood that had spilled out absorbed back into my body, and I closed the hole in my shirt, right before the two onlookers.

“My turn~” I said.

In a flash, I punched the man in the face so hard he fell backward. He was out cold when he landed, but as a protective measure, I summoned up a zip tie to bind his hands with. Once that was done, I grabbed the lady’s things and held them out to her. She was still frozen in shock.

“He shouldn’t bother anybody now. Call the police, and they’ll come get him,” I told her.

“S-sure,” She replied.

Her hands shook as she began to dial the number. I could hear her miss a few times. Once I knew she had it, I turned back to retrieve my bag.

“Wait!” She called.


“Thank you.”

“No problem, ma’am. It’s what any good person would have done,” I replied.

I was far gone before the cops arrived. Once I collected my bag, I was out of there. After walking a few blocks, I transformed back into my usual self. As I got to my apartment, I could hear sirens off in the distance.

Everything was still warm when I took it out of the bag. My kitchen is so tiny I have to use my living room as a dining room. The takeout containers looked so at home spread out over my boring white plastic coffee table. Once I had everything ready for me to eat, I leaned back and turned on the tv.

I had been watching the news that morning to check the weather, and it was still on that channel. The news reporter smiled her perfect smile and read from the teleprompter something about a big charity fundraiser coming up. With a sigh, I began flipping through channels, finally settling on a true-crime docu-series.

Once I finished my food, I cleaned up and headed to my tiny bedroom. I have a pretty good job, but I’m still only able to afford this little apartment. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad apartment, it works for my purposes, but it’s far from luxury living. The AC leaks, my neighbors are drug dealers, and there’s a weird smell that I haven’t found the source of, but it keeps me out of the elements. Besides, no one would ever expect a hero to live here.

“Another day down,” I said to myself as I finished my bedtime routine.

As I climbed into bed, I silently wished tomorrow would be different. No more muggings in alleyways, the only place muggings seem to happen. Either give me nothing or something big, I don’t like dealing with second class crooks.

My mind danced between possibilities as I slowly drifted off to sleep.

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