“-and that was Snowsong's newest single, “Radioactive Romance”. A great slow tune to start the morning for all you sleepy birds in Maple Falls. I've got another song here by another up-and-coming super-superstar, but first I just want to remind the residents of this fine city to keep your eyes open for something a little exciting today.”
Valiantly, one arm stretched out with all its might, only to fall just an inch short of the radio’s “Off” button. The arm’s owner, exhausted of options, retracted it for a defensive maneuver. Grabbing hold of a pillow, it wrapped a pillow around head and ears to fend off the nefarious audio assault.
“That’s right, the Paragon Partnership Program has finally come to quiet Maple Falls, and we’ll be seeing two masked men of mystery patrolling our fair streets today. This will be their first time as capes, so let’s be nice and show them our usual brand of hospitality. Golden Hopper, Ash Anarchy, if you’re listening to this, welcome to our humble city. And now, here’s T-Rixie with “Great and Powerful”.”
The music began again, and he pressed the pillow down harder. Blake Maggi (aka Ash Anarchy) was not a morning person. He wasn’t especially fond of afternoons and evenings either, but mornings always particularly rankled him. Morning birdsong invoked thrown stones from him, and cheery joggers’ banter caused an excessive amount of bile to rise up in him. Ever since the fateful day that sent Blake involuntarily careening down a pre-chosen path, the very idea of good cheer fills him with spite. Ever since that day, he has endeavoured to avoid as much of the waking world as possible, and every time he catches sight of that glorious incandescent day-bringing ball of fire, he is reminded very clearly that the rest of the world is happy, and Blake Maggi is not.
“Mister Maggi!” yelled an old dour voice from downstairs, clearly and carefully enunciating each syllable to emphasize the importance of the call and the subtle disapproval behind it.
Blake groaned and curled up into a ball, futilely hoping that the pillow will be sufficient to mute the noise, but the shrill voice cut deeper than any generic pop song.
“Blake Maggi! You will come down here this instant, or you will no longer be a resident of this God-fearing house!”
She wouldn't d- no, she would. She would kick him out in an instant, consequences be damned, and she’d do it with a smile. And as much Blake loathed living in this city and in this house, he’d much rather seethe in hatred on a comfortable bed, rather than on a park bench.
He rolled out of bed, bleary-eyed and half-conscious, stumbling and fumbling for a handhold. He grabbed the nearest bedpost, and pushed himself roughly towards the doorway. He slammed face-first into it, splattering its surface with night-time sleep-drool. Eyes closed just to wishfully snatch a few more seconds of comforting darkness, he clawed at the doorknob, only successfully grabbing and turning it on the third try. With his exit opened, he grabbed the door frame and repeated the process, pushing himself and lunging from wall to wall, like an unshaven meaty pinball. Finally, he made it to the living room, and could make out the stern matronly sitting properly and drinking tea, directly and deliberately facing the doorway Blake would come through.
“How good of you to finally join us, Mister Maggi,” Ms. Murray declared with dripping disdain.
Blake gave her the finger, or he would have if he had enough fine motor skill to do so. Instead, he waved a hand blindly as a token gesture of defiance. He pulled his head into the room, smacking his lips to get rid of the taste of sleep. As he prepared himself to ask why the hell she called him in here, he opened his eyes and found his own answer.
Opposite Ms. Murray, on the other side of the coffee table, a suit of golden armour sat awkwardly. It waved. Realization cleared some of the drowsy cloudiness from Blake’s memory, and he remembered what was on the schedule today.
“Bold Whopper, right?” Blake hazarded.
“It’s… it’s the Golden Hopper, actually.” The shiny hero corrected, nursing a cup of tea he could not actually drink from.
“Right, right. Yeah, sorry. I was… held up. Got caught up with something back here with… preparing my gear for this hero thing.”
Ms. Murray harrumphed, not loudly but still deliberately enough. It was not lady-like to vocally and directly point out obvious lies, but passive-aggressive non-verbal suggestions fell into an acceptable grey area. Rather than suffer more awkward conversation and unspoken recriminations, Blake took the initiative and clapped his hands together.
“So! Hero patrol! No more time to waste! That’s what we’re doing now, right?”
“Well, yes,” The Golden Hopper answered hesitantly, “but you aren't… shouldn't you get into your gear first?”
“Your gear. Your hero uniform.”
“This is it.”
Blake brought his hand over his clothing in a sweeping gesture, presenting the crumpled dark blue hoodie, baggy dark blue slacks, and black boots he slept in. With a sharp movement, he brought it back up to his chest, pointing to the anarchy symbol on his chest. It seemed less like a symbol lovingly sewed on by a Kansas mother, and more like something churned out of a factory for the discriminating tests of mildly rebellious teenagers.
“Anarchy,” Blake said, not with pride but with a certain definite tone to emphasize that all the basic requirements of clothing and symbolism were fulfilled, and so there’s no need for him to add on any other damn thing.
“Ash, Anarchy,” he repeated, as if daring anyone else to find fault with his bare-minimum clothing decisions.
“But what about your mask?” The Golden Hopper inquired.
Blake paused, then he raised a finger to forestall any further dialogue as he reached into a back pocket. He pulled out a red bandanna and wrapped it around the lower half of his face. Once done, he raised his arms and shoulders in a gesture that silently asked “Anything else?”
When no answer came, he marched straight out the front door, leaving his speechless partner behind with his bemused landlady. Carefully, Golden Hopper put down the cup of untouched tea.
“Uh, thank you for the tea. Sorry I didn't drink any of it.”
He rose to leave as well, while Ms. Murray sipped silently. He moved as carefully as he did when he entered the house earlier, making sure his metal boots did no damage to the immaculately-clean floors. He was a foot away from the exit himself when the landlady’s voice cut through the quiet, startling the hero into momentary stillness.
“Despite your outlandish choice of profession and garish tastes in apparel, you strike me as a diligent individual.”
“Oh well thank y-”
She interrupted him with the deliberate clink of teacup upon saucer. She placed her hands on her lap and continued.
“So you have my sympathies. I expect you’ll have difficulties with my tenant and his exceedingly problematic attitude, as you have already seen.”
“Oh! Well,” Golden Hopper paused, unsure of how to respond to an insinuation of imminent troubles within the team of two. “Well, this certainly isn't the best start, and he might not be… the best.”
He turned back to face Ms. Murray, mulling over his next words.
“But no one and nothing is perfect, so I'm not ruling him out just for this. I may be naive, but he chose to be a hero for a reason, and I'm sure that reason to make everything work out right.”
He forced out a laugh at the end, trying to emulate confidence, but instead conveyed uncertainty. It elicited a slight rise of the eyebrows from the stern matron.
“Your ‘optimism’ is commendable. I wish you and my tenant the best in your coming endeavours.”
Bowing his head in gratitude, Golden Hopper then left the house hastily, rushing to catch up with Blake. Alone at last, Ms. Murray sipped her tea leisurely for a while longer.
After that, when she was certain no prying eyes were about, she promptly stood up, speed-walked to a nearby closet. Forcefully, she pulled out a mop, a hand towel, and an already-filled bucket of water. With single-minded purpose, she brought them to the entryway and began mopping furiously, working her way backwards along the path Blake took after he exited his room.