“Are you looking to retire, Mr. Kent?” the young lady at the desk asked me after I completed my tour. I glanced at my friend who simply smiled.
“Not quite yet,” I assured her…and myself. “I just wanted to visit the, ah, home so I know what to avoid.” I tried to chuckle.
The receptionist laughed and waved her hand. “Oh, Mr. Kent, you must be close. You’ve been working almost 70 years. Younger names taking over, I imagine? Not landing the big roles anymore?”
I became indignant. “Assuredly not! There’s a resurgence of interest in my character in fact. A new movie, the popularity of Smallville.” I nodded at my friend. “Now Bruce here, his franchise is getting a bit stale if you ask me. Maybe you should be giving him the tour. He’s been at it almost as long.”
“True,” Bruce agreed. “But I’m not as concerned about my press clippings as you are, Clark. I’ve learned to live with my schizophrenic past—good, bad, corny, dark. But you’ve got a reputation to uphold as a genre first. Mandrake excepting. He was more of a transition figure though, in my opinion. Funny, I thought I saw him when we passed the dining room.”
The receptionist chimed in. “Yes, Mr. Wayne, he’s here. And he quite enjoys it. In fact, Mr. Mandrake will be the first resident of our new wing reserved for older characters like yourselves.” I glowered at her. “When the time comes.” She laughed again. I was really starting to hate this place.
“So this wing is the first of…many?” I asked.
“Actually, this facility is one of several worldwide and currently houses over one hundred worn-out characters from the horror genre. We’re expanding to accommodate the hundreds of superheroes we anticipate will retire once they realize their day is past.”
“Their day is past,” I repeated in a hollow voice.
“Inevitable, I’m afraid. Everyone needs their own place in retirement and we’re Five Star. We already have assisted living in Scottsdale where most of the classic heroes reside. Mythological creatures are at an undisclosed location in Middle-earth—they like their privacy. And various other literary characters are found scattered about. Some maintain private residences, but we encourage genre figures to stay together for companionship as they begin to fade.”
“As they what?”
“Begin to fade. You know, ‘Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.’ We like to refer to our guests as ‘old soldiers’ who knew when to leave the battlefield when their fight was over.”
My mouth dropped at the audacity.
“Oh, they were useful in their day,” she continued, blithely ignorant of my rising resentment, “but most literary figures just aren’t relevant anymore. Like comic book characters. One day your service to society will be over and you’ll retire. When that happens we’d like you to live here with others...”
“Are you the Devil?!” I cried. I couldn’t believe a word of it.
The young lady looked surprised and then shook with merry laughter. “Oh, because of my blue dress? Heavens no! No, the Devil isn’t here. He’s a holdout, certainly. But we’ve got a room reserved for him at our Tempe location. Hotter there, you know.”
I was speechless. The receptionist wasn’t.
“You’re quite a superman at the moment, I’ll grant you that,” she said. “But you’re not eternal. Even the gods retire. Most are living in Palm Springs, although some do reenter circulation when duty calls. You may fight it like the Devil, but when some new creative fiction comes along and you find yourself forgotten, you’ll be glad you’re here, among friends.” She smiled and looked over my shoulder.
I turned and surveyed the common room. My heart sank as I realized that she was probably right. Horror was passé—here sat the proof. We could be next.
I lowered my voice and said to Bruce, “Bunch of has-been characters and forgotten archetypes. See the Mummy over in the corner? Just sitting there, unraveling. And Frankenstein’s Monster—hasn’t stopped screwing its bolts since we arrived. Oh, and Count Dracula. Sheesh. He’s embarrassing himself with that tasteless pick-up line. This sorry group couldn’t land a B movie audition. They<em> are</em> washed up.”
“It’s sad, really,” Bruce agreed. “But surely we’re not as cliché as these characters. We’ve inspired millions of fans and we’re still going strong.”
That’s right, I thought. We’re just getting started! I turned to our host.
“Young lady, you’re mistaken. We’re not worn-out personae, not even close. Our genre is just reaching its stride. Xavier is doing an un-dang-believable job keeping all of us in the public eye, even if he is from Marvel. Parker, Richards, all of them. Mark my words, we’ll be around long after even you’ve retired.”
“Could be.” She said, bright and perky as ever. “So, do you want to reserve your room in our new wing?”
“Are you crazy? Weren’t you paying attention? I’m not moving in. Ever. I’m Superman, damn it. And this is Batman. Or have you forgotten that we’re superheroes?”
“No, I haven’t forgotten. But over the years, we’ve seen ‘em come and go.” I took this as my cue to go. The young lady kept going. “Before you leave, can I ask you a question?”
I stopped at the door. “Sure,” I said, still confident.
“Have you been losing weight lately?” she asked.
“What? I...uh. Well, yes, I have been losing a little weight as a matter of fact,” I replied.
“Is that normal for a superhero?”
I didn’t know what to say. I turned to Bruce, but he only shrugged. I shrugged too and we both walked to the parking lot. When we reached the Batmobile, I said, “What did she mean, have I been losing weight lately? You don’t think…”
But Bruce was already smiling. “Yep, old superheroes never die...”
“...they simply fade away? Sheesh. You’re killing me.”
“According to the receptionist, Clark, time will take care of that.”
“Funny, Bruce. Very funny.”
© 2007 Lyndon Perry
This 997 word story is my flash fiction submission to The Write Stuff's Short Story Contest.
(via PayPal.Me - an e-book from Tule Fog Press.)
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