“Who has been a real-life superhero in my life?”
John Mallory, as did most other people when asked this question, thought of heroes as prodigiously mighty individuals, able to perform magnificent feats of athletic prowess or wield vast superhuman power. With a thought, or a flick of their wrist, or with a push of a button from a high-tech gadget of their own invention, they could smash any obstacle in their path. Donning bright-colored skintight costumes, they would combat the forces of evil, rescue the innocent and save the world from utter calamity. Sometimes, on an especially busy day, they would do all three.
These mythical figures, however, endearing to the collective imagination of people all over the world as they are, mostly exist within the realm of fiction. John Mallory, who tended to inhabit the realm of corporeal existence, instead attempted to look to hero figures close to home, such as fire-fighters, policemen, politicians and postmen, who risk their lives and face great adversity every day to keep people of all ages, races, colors and creeds safe from harm. However, having lived in a rural and somewhat secluded area throughout most of his years, John Mallory was quite unexposed to calamities that one would find commonplace in more heavily populated areas, such as uncontrolled conflagrations, perpetration of felonious behavior, legislation, and correspondence, and therefore had next to no common or close-to-home heroes to admire. Upon careful deliberation, however, he soon realized that he had a hero living under his very own roof, his Uncle Jim.
John Mallory’s Uncle Jim was an ordinary man. He did not have superhuman strength or superhuman speed, he could not read minds, or shoot laser beams from his eyes, or control the weather, or commune with animals. However, lacking the superhuman abilities found in the heroes of traditional comic book fare, and unaccustomed to the dangerous living conditions that are part and parcel to urban living, his Uncle Jim was nonetheless the most heroic individual he ever had the honor of knowing.
John Mallory remembers the afternoon of his tenth birthday. His family was going through some difficult times; his mother had a job at the local wooden-pallet-assembly-factory, and, in an age of ever-increasing digital technology, job security was unstable at best. Nonetheless, she would make sure that her son John would have a tenth birthday to remember for the rest of his life. The young John Mallory would indeed remember it, but perhaps not quite in the way he or anyone in his family would expect.
John Mallory remembers how, a few weeks before his birthday, he would constantly beg his mother for a new shiny red bicycle; this, he told them, was the only thing he wanted. It was understood, of course, that any other gifts they may have felt so inclined to give would be more than acceptable, as long as the shiny red bike was given in concert to these secondary gifts. Finally, a few weeks later, the anniversary of John Mallory’s birth had finally arrived, and after traditional songs were sung and traditional cake was served, everyone in the family brought out their gifts. John Mallory carefully inspected each of them; some were rectangular, some were round, some of them rattled when he shook them, some of them were very dense when he shook them, and when he tried to shake the gift his older sister had given him, she snatched the present from his hands and strongly urged against it, preventing him from permanently voiding the usefulness of the gift. However, John Mallory soon discovered, none of them were bicycle-shaped. He opened all of the presents and politely thanked each member of his family for their thoughtfulness.
John Mallory’s Uncle Jim could easily read his nephew’s marked disappointment. He rose from his seat and excused himself from the room, explaining that he forgot to give the boy his present, and that he might have left it in the back yard. John Mallory was puzzled by this explanation, as he had only recently given him a fine set of hand-thrown vases and jars, but the Mallorys humored him and followed him to the yard. When they reached the yard they saw Uncle Jim with his jacket off, his bare muscular arms plunged halfway into the ground. A minute or so later, with a few strained grunts and groans, he ripped a boulder about ten feet in diameter from the earth. As the Mallorys marveled at Uncle Jim’s magnificent feat, he instructed them to take a few steps back and just they wait, because, as he said, they ain’t seen nothin’ yet. He took a deep breath, grasped the Cyclopean boulder with his equally formidable hands on both sides, and squeezed it with all his might, squeezed the very life out of it. The rock, not expecting the great amount of force being applied to it, screamed a shrill death rattle which was too loud for the Mallory family’s feeble hearing organs to handle and caused each one to faint. When they recovered from the simultaneous swoon, they were amazed to see that Uncle Jim had squeezed the rock so hard it had turned into a gigantic diamond.
The Mallorys were beside themselves with joy. With this diamond all of their financial problems were solved; John Mallory’s mother could acquire enough capital from the precious stone to found her own wooden-pallet-assembly-factory if she so desired, and the household would bring in enough income so that it would no longer be necessary for Uncle Jim to pay room and board. Why, if John Mallory wanted to, he could buy a hundred million shiny new red bicycles. The Mallorys were greatly surprised, then, when he yet again told them to take a few steps back and just they wait, because, as he said yet again, they ain’t seen nothin’ yet. He likewise took a few steps backward, removed his sunglasses, and stared at the diamond with a fierce, unrelenting gaze. As the Mallorys curiously looked on, they could see the faintest glimmer of red glowing from the irises of Uncle Jim’s eyes, and soon after the diamond started smoking, as if it were exposed to an extreme heat. The red gaze in Uncle Jim’s eyes became brighter, and after a while the Mallorys had to shield their own, comparatively weaker, eyes away from the marvels unfolding before them. When the bright red light finally subsided, they saw that Uncle Jim had, with the force of his gaze, etched the rock into a bicycle made of pure diamond. Happy birthday, he triumphantly told John Mallory.
John Mallory could hardly contain his elation. He ran over to his new bicycle, gave his Uncle Jim a thankful handshake, and begged his mother if he could take it out for a test ride. She didn’t see why not, she told him, and so John Mallory hopped on his new bicycle and sped away as fast as his little legs could pedal him. The new bicycle was perfect in every way. It fit perfectly, it responded to each minute movement of the muscles in the boy’s body as if it were designed and built for him; which, of course, it had been. As John Mallory pedaled at incredible speeds down the road on the way to town, he tilted his head back in glee and let his hair blow in the wind. At that moment he was one with the world. At that moment he had forgotten all his troubles, all the problems he and the Mallorys faced, all the other presents he had received that day. At that moment he was truly happy.
At that moment he couldn’t stop.
John Mallory suddenly came out of his reverie and noticed he was careening toward an intersection in a busy part of town, in which a huge freight truck carrying a shipment of wooden planks, en route to the wooden-pallet-assembly-factory, was also careening towards. He anxiously clutched the brakes as hard as he could, but it was no use. John Mallory was pedaling at such a speed that, when he applied the brakes, it caused the bicycle to skid toward the intersection at a speed not much slower than he had been pedaling beforehand. It seemed hopeless, he was braking toward his utter demise, and there was nothing he could do to prevent it. It truly was going to be the best birthday of John Mallory’s life, because it was very rapidly becoming his last.
Meanwhile, back at the Mallory residence, John Mallory’s Uncle Jim, engaged in pleasant conversation with the rest of the family, suddenly closed his eyes and placed two fingers to his right temple. He could sense John Mallory’s fear, he told the Mallorys, and correctly discerned that the boy was in great danger. Thinking fast, he bolted out the front door and called out to Leonidas, his pet cheetah, who appeared in front of the house and answered the call in a matter of seconds. Uncle Jim then leaped onto the cheetah’s saddle and together they ran off to the rescue. Leonidas, who happens to be the fastest cheetah in the world, and therefore by extension the fastest running land animal in the world, ran toward the intersection in question at no less than one hundred miles an hour; this, augmented by Uncle Jim’s nonetheless formidable hamstrings, resulted in a collective speed of two hundred and eighty two miles per hour. Soon enough they reached their destination well before John Mallory was to meet his untimely death at the business end of a wooden-plank-bearing freight truck. His Uncle Jim, while still astride his trusty cheetah, snatched John Mallory off the bicycle and placed the boy alongside him on Leonidas’ back. He then leaped off the saddle and, not before instructing Leonidas to take his nephew somewhere safe, leaped in front of the errant freight truck and stared it down with his trademark fierce, unrelenting gaze.
Unlike previous events, however, he did not use his intense vision to etch the truck into a bicycle-shaped truck. Instead, at the exact moment before impact, he let out a ferocious howl and heaved out his chest. This caused his shirt to tear in two, revealing his two humongous, Herculean pectoral muscles. So great was the sheer gargantuosity of these chestular muscles that, upon their exposure to the world of mere mortals, it momentarily stopped time dead in its tracks. For a moment, ninety percent of all kittens within a ten mile radius of Uncle Jim lost their fur, while the other ten percent who retained their fur instead turned a bright purple. Also at that moment, every woman over the age of sixty-three suddenly gained complete comprehension of the entire Portuguese language; ten seconds afterward, these women completely lost said comprehension. Also, a man who was in the process of escaping from a recently-perpetrated bank robbery had a sudden, momentous change of heart; after this experience, he resolved to give half of his earnings to the nearest person in his vicinity, and donate the rest of the ill-gotten money to a charity promoting the awareness of some variety of cancer or other. When Uncle Jim relaxed his pectoral muscles and allowed time to continue its course, the resulting shockwave completely flattened the truck. The driver was ejected three miles away from Ground Zero. Thankfully, both Uncle Jim and the new bicycle were safe from harm.
After the aborted collision, John Mallory’s Uncle Jim started to set things right. The mangled wreckage of the freight truck, which was ironically on top of and completely obscuring the nearest usable fire hydrant, had suddenly caught aflame. Uncle Jim easily remedied this situation; with a low, distinct hum he was able to summon a small rain cloud which extinguished the flames. The driver, three miles away, was safe, being attended to by a nest of eagles at the behest of Uncle Jim, who had owed him a favor. The driver, recovered from his rather literal nesting place, and upon seeing the wreckage that was once his truck, was horrified that his livelihood had been destroyed by the prodigious pecs of Uncle Jim. Without any hesitation the latter produced another boulder of Cyclopean proportions, which he then easily squeezed into another large diamond. After the driver recovered from his faint due to the boulder’s deathly shriek, he was elated by his good fortune; with the diamond, he realized, he had enough of a fortune to start his very own wooden-plank-for-wooden-pallet-assembly-trucking-and-distribution company. Being satisfied with this manner of compensation, he shook Uncle Jim’s hand and went on his way. His work completed, John Mallory’s Uncle Jim headed home, finding his nephew there and safely attended to by Leonidas. I think you forgot something, he told his nephew, and then wheeled in his new diamond bicycle, undamaged and still in optimum condition for pedaling.
It had indeed been the greatest birthday John Mallory ever had.