The man had been sitting and drinking at the bar all night long. He was tall with a strong chin, and though he was stacked like a body builder, he wore glasses. His jacket hung over the back of the bar chair, and the bartender thought he could see a reporter’s notebook sticking out of the man’s back pocket. He’d been drinking whiskeys all night long, and racking up quite a bill, the bartender thought, especially for a weeknight.

The night ran on, and the whiskeys kept rolling. Other customers left the bar one by one and pair by pair, and while this particular dive was never all that busy, once it reached closing time, the place was empty except for the big man sitting at the bar.

“One more whiskey,” he said to the bartender, in a booming voice, and then raised his bulging forearm up signaling for a drink. He wore a shirt and tie, though the tie was loosened, the collar was unbuttoned, and the sleeves were rolled up. The bartender nodded, grabbed the whiskey bottle, and poured one more drink for him. Most people who’d had this much the bartender would have kicked out by now, but the man was quiet and forlorn. Still assured, but subdued, rather than loud and rowdy like most drunks tended to get.

“I have to ask, stranger,” said the bartender standing as he recapped the bottle and the stranger downed his final drink. “You got a look on your face that I’ve seen in a lot of losers, but you don’t strike me as the type.”

“Oh no?” The stranger answered, and then smirked. “No, I guess I’m not the losing type. Can’t say I lose much. Once, I was down, and a lot of people thought I was out. But no, I’ve never lost all that much.”

“Now, how can it be,” said the bartender, replacing the bottle and throwing his cleaning towel over his shoulder, “that a winner like you is the last one left in my bar tonight?” He had a big, thick mustache, and he brushed it thoughtfully with a finger.

The stranger chuckled and paused for a moment, as if he was considering some momentous decision. Then he shrugged and sighed. “I’ll tell you what, bartender,” he said. “Give me just one more drink, here after closing time, and I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you a secret. I’ll tell you why I, of all people, am stuck here in this bar.”

“You got it,” said the bartender, and poured one more drink for the stranger.

“Well here goes. I’m Power Man,” said the stranger, and swigged back his final drink.

There was a pause in the bar. “Excuse me?” the bartender said.

The stranger suddenly turned to his left and chucked his glass towards a particularly ornate mirror directly across the bar. The glass fired out from the stranger’s hand, faster than the bartender had ever seen, and just as quickly the stranger ripped off his glasses. As the glass flew across the bar, blue lasers suddenly burst out of the stranger’s eyes, and hit the glass as it flew, lighting up the bar with red and blue sparks. The glass melted under the pressure, and by the time it reached the mirror, it was nothing but cinders, that burst against the mirror and then went out.

“I’ll pay for that glass,” the stranger said, and with his glasses off, the bartender suddenly realized why the stranger had reminded him of pure power, why the stranger had seemed familiar, and why he looked like he’d never lost a fight in his entire life.

“You’re… you’re THE Power Man,” the bartender said, taken aback.

“It’s true,” said the stranger, running his hand through his hair. “I’m the Bastion of Bay City, the defender of freedom, the conqueror of villians. I’ve beaten The Butterfly Thief, I’ve toppled the King Criminal, and I’ve even beaten my old nemesis the Green Menace over and over again. Some people know me as mild-mannered reporter Robert Townley, but now you know the truth. I’m the man of power — I’m Power Man.”

“But why?” the bartender asked incredulously. “Why are you here? In my bar tonight?”

Power Man stood up, put his hand on the bar, and sighed. “Because I’m tired of being Power Man.”

The bartender fell back, leaned against the back of the bar, and crossed his arms. “I don’t understand.”

“I’m tired of being the one responsible for everything. I’m tired of constantly saving damsels falling out of windows, I’m tired of turning the nuclear missiles around, and I’m tired of blowing away those acid clouds the Green Menace keeps sending towards Bay City. I’m tired of flying around the world to save people, I’m tired of cutting ribbons at opening, and I’m tired of being the lead story on the evening news. It shames me to say it, but I’m even tired of kids high fiving me when I walk by, or people looking in the air and correcting themselves if I’m a plane or a helicopter.”

The bartender said nothing. The air in the bar hung thick for a moment.

“Most of all,” said Power Man, “I’m tired of pretending. Do you know how frustrating it is to be driving home from work at the newspaper, and be stuck in traffic? When you could just blow all of the other cars out of the way, or fly yourself home? My brain moves as super fast as my body — did you know that? It’s so frustrating, when there’s a bomb in the city, to have to wait for the commissioner to tell me where it actually is. Humans are so slow, and so stupid. God, it makes me so angry!” The stranger’s hands suddenly grabbed the bar top, and it ripped right off of the rest of the bar as easily as paper. In his anger, the stranger flung the wood forward, and the bartender hit the floor as the wood slammed into the bottles and shelves, sending liquor and glass flying.

“I have to drink five times as much as a normal person to get drunk!” Power Man yelled. “And none of you care! None of you stand up to do anything about your puny lives, and none of you change, no matter how many cats I save or comets I punch out of orbit or intergalactic dictators I topple. My life is great, because I can lift planets and fly at the speed of light, but my life is a waste, because nothing I ever do makes a difference.”

The bartender brushed debris off of his sleeve, slowly stood up and surveyed the ruin of his bar. “Power Man!” he cried. “You can’t think like that! Everyone appreciates what you do! Your power doesn’t go to waste. You’re a hero! You’re unstoppable!”

“Am I?” said Power Man. “I’ve told you all my secrets tonight, so I’ll tell you one more. When my parents flew me to this insignificant piece of crap rock full of monkeys who couldn’t be bothered to lift one finger to save themselves, they gave me a tablet about my home planet. It was destroyed as I left orbit, but they told me one important thing about it: That while I was very powerful, genetically conditioned over time with ultimate speed, ultimate strength, and other vast powers, I have one major weakness. There is a mineral, long extinguished on my home planet but relatively common on yours, that is almost immediately fatal to me. I’ve come into contact with it a few times over the years, but I’ve always been able to get away in time, and explain any weaknesses away. I’ve kept it a secret for many years, but what the hell. I’ll tell you tonight, bartender.”

The bartender paused again. “Tell me what?”

“The metal that can essentially kill me with just one touch? Around the rest of the universe, it’s extremely rare. But here on Earth, it’s called ‘barium.'”

“Is that true?” the bartender asked. “I’ve heard of that before!”

“Yes, it is,” said Power Man. “Just one touch of barium, and my parents told me that I would burst into green flames and be extinguished forever. Just a bullet of barium would work. Sometimes, in my darkest hours, bartender, I sometimes wish someone would do it. Sometimes, I just can’t take it any more.”

“Is that so?” said the bartender standing up and suddenly smirking. “There’s only one thing we’ll have to do about that, I guess.” The bartender reached down to his mustache and pulled it off, grabbed the back of his head, and pulled his skin forward over his head.

“Wait,” said Power Man. “No –”

“Yes, indeed, Power Man,” said the bartender, who had pulled off a skin-colored mask and now sported green skin and a mass of messy green hair. The bartender’s paunch and outfit melted away, and he stood in a green-and-white suit with a skull on the chest.

“The Green Menace,” said Power Man, as the Menace flipped a switch and thick metal walls instantly closed around the bar, breaking through the wood and velvet, shutting the two in together. “No!” Power Man yelled, and stared down his old nemesis. “I don’t know what you’ve planned here, but I’ll stop it just like I’ve stopped everything else! Bay City needs me yet again!”

“Do they?” asked the Green Menace, cackling. “Do they, really? What if they didn’t have you around, Power Man? What if they didn’t need you? What if your old nemesis cooked up one last plan, found out your secret identity, tempted you to a bar, tricked you into revealing all your secrets? What if you were gone forever, Power Man? Just how self-pitying would you be, then? Just how much would you detest the citizens for needing to be saved? Just how much would you brag about how many deadly acid clouds you blew away with just one infernal puff of your genetically putrid breath?” the Menace screamed.

Power Man blinked. “No,” he stammered. “That’s — that’s not what I meant. Yes, I have powers, but… No, I didn’t mean to say those things!”

“It does matter any more, Power Man,” said the Menace, opening a panel behind the bar and pulling a strangely shaped gun out from among a rack full of them. The word “Barium” was written on the side. “This is the one, I think. I was able to get nearly the whole periodic table, over time.”

“I do love this world!” Power Man cried. “I do want to save this city! These powers aren’t something to take for granted! I am blessed with power, to use to help others that don’t have it! I realize that now!”

“Perhaps true, but all too late,” said the Green Menace. “Goodbye, Power Man,” he said, and fired.

Posted on Wednesday, November 12th, 2014 at 12:33 am. Filed under general.
You are reading, a collection of work by Mike Schramm.

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