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Breath & Shadow

Winter 2023 - Vol. 20, Issue 1

"The First Great Super"

written by

Rachel Thompson

Super Jake hobbled into the physical therapy waiting room needing a rest, but he didn’t get the chance. Nurse Gina, clipboard in hand, burst through the door leading into the therapy section. Jake recognized her from last year’s round of visits to the clinic.

“Jake, Jake Worthy,” she said with a broad, white-toothed smile as if she remembered him.

“That’s Super Jake,” he said puffing out his pigeon chest. It wasn’t easy. Four hundred years of crime fighting had taken its toll. “I’m the original.”

“Of course,” Nurse Gina said. Her smile got wider and Jake went tight-lipped. “Right this way, please.”

Like most people these days, the nurse was about seven-foot tall. She would have made a fitting adversary back in Jake’s day, he thought. But now he struggled to keep up with her. Her legs pumped like a well-oiled locomotive and Jake wasn’t jealous. Supers don’t do that, rather he admired her ability.

Jake was five-foot-six. Although shorter and stick-thin before Comet Bleb passed the Earth making him into the world’s first Superhero, he never grew to full super height. That didn’t bother him. He had gained massive muscle power and amazing healing ability before anyone else.

Nobody could match him, back in the day. Too bad his bald-on-top head stayed that way and he still required glasses. He looked rather like an accountant, and coincidentally, that was his old profession. Jake still did people’s books, just for fun and to aid people dealing with the dastardly IRS. It also kept his mind sharp.

Jake fell far behind Gina. She must have heard him having trouble breathing and stopped to wait.

“Large facility you guys have here,” Jake said, bending at the waste for a few deep intakes. “That’s better.”

Nurse Gina replied with a lightning bolt smile. Why the roof didn’t blow off he didn’t know—the building must have been grounded. That made sense. That girl was a smile machine—that must be her special power, Jake thought. She led on but walked slower. Jake thought nothing could stop the spring in her step. Of that jake was sure. If Jake walked like that, why, he’d have taken off, or at least bound over a building or two, he would have…in the old days.

They entered the workout room with the section of exam tables at the rear. It was as before. Every time Jake returned, he did the same routine. The nurse filled out the questionnaire and a physical therapist came in, read it, devised and scheduled a series of therapies to help Jake with his often-broken, but always-mended, tired, old bones.

“How are you feeling today, Mister Worthy?” Gina asked. She patted the table.

“Fi...fin…fine.” Jake stammered.

He jumped onto an exam table that was five-feet above the floor. He employed super power just to demonstrate he still had it. Jake cried out on landing, worried he had broken his hip, again, but it was just the old injury acting up.

Gina didn’t baby him and went on with her questions, none too difficult. Most things were the same. She filled out the form with diligence plastered on her pretty face. This girl took her job seriously, just like Jake did, back in the day.

“I hope you’ve been doing your stretches,” Gina said.

Jake hadn’t done his home therapy, as instructed, and he didn’t wish to disappoint her. He tried to come up with a white lie. His lips quivered which started his jaw going and teeth chattering. He just couldn’t spit out the words. Of course, Gina, I always do my job. The more he tried, the more his teeth chattered. Gina smiled knowing rays of light.

“That’s OK,” Gina said. She handed his chart to a girl in a blue-scrubs uniform. He didn’t know Gina’s coworker. “I’m sure you tried your best. You’re a good egg, Mister Worthy. This is Sally, she’s new. She’ll be working with you today, OK?”

Gina didn’t wait for an answer. She vaulted over to the appointment desk in one leap and began a conversation with someone there upon landing. Jake lowered himself gently off the padded table. His new therapist was a pretty girl and she hadn’t heard his stories yet. Good.

Sally was tall but not as tall as most. She sported a cute pixy blonde haircut, a button nose, and just enough freckles on her cheeks to play connect-the-dots. Super Jake decided to impress her.

“You know, I was…er…I am a Superhero, you know, back in the First Days.”

Jake’s voice rose with power.

“Bad Bart was the one that twisted my leg around backwards,” he said. “Of course, I healed, but, at my age…Even Supers get old. It’s catching up to me.”

Sally smiled demurely. She patted a low work-out table. Jake climbed up and lay back. Sally grabbed a stool on wheels. Jake rolled his exercise suit’s nylon pant leg up as far as it would go. She took his leg and moved it this way and that. She bent his knee feeling the movement of bone and muscles.

“Bad Bart got the worst of it, yes sir,” Jake said. “It was in our fifth and final battle, I swung him so hard his arms tore out of their sockets.”

Jake felt a tang of pride until Sally took on a pained look and shuddered.

I’ve upset her. People don’t like hearing about violence.

“Things aren’t like back in the day.”

“I think we’ll try some mild electrical stimulation to get the nerves firing before we put you on the stationary bike,” she said.

Sally pulled the stim machine closer and attached suction cup electrodes onto his leg.

“Bart’s okay now,” Jake said. “Never fear, he’s mended his evil ways. We’re best of friends. I do his taxes. The arms didn’t grow back, sadly, but he says he likes the robot arms.”

Sally nodded. Maybe she did have an interest in the old days. She put the last suction cup on and checked the wires and turned on the device.

“Back in the day, it was not easy being a Super,” Jake said. “Say, that feels good. Bad guys were everywhere. Some people caught that cosmic ray just right…That changed later with the second wave, but in the beginning every disgruntled worker became an evil villain…”

“Yes, I studied that in college,” Sally said.

“The world was in turmoil back then.” Jake said. “I miss it. Not the violence, I had a purpose.”

Sally didn’t answer but went on to another client for ten minutes. She returned with rubbing alcohol and a cotton ball. Jake pulled the cups off and Sally removed the suction gel from Jake’s leg with a feather light touch. Supers work together.

“That should do it, Mister Worthy. Ready for the bike?”

“I’ll say. Hook that bike to the power station. I feel good enough to power the town.”

“I’m sure you would,” Sally said.

Sally slid the stimulation machine back into its proper place and led Jake to the stationary bike.

“You know how to use the timer?” she asked. “Let’s do fifteen minutes.”

Jake completed a series of exercises under Sally’s supervision. On the next appointment Jake would have a fresh ear for his stories. He realized he had a good-deed opportunity. Jake could do the exercises on his own like he’d done before, but then Sally wouldn’t have the benefit of him sharing. Supers do their duty.

“I’m an example of living history.” He said to the guy next to him on another bike.

Jake thought he would share more about the bad old days next time. He didn’t want to overdo it. Jake would have relished the chance to speak with his heroes, back in the day. Sally’s bright blue eyes and sidelong smiles sparkled when he mentioned a few things. Jake’s experiences mattered. He mattered. He still had a contribution to make.

After his workout, Sally asked how he was feeling. Jake didn’t lie. He filled his lungs and proudly announced that he felt glorious, worn out, but glorious. Although he was sore, and the old leg pained him, he felt like he never felt better and said so.

“I’m so pleased,” Sally said walking Jake to the door.

She wasn’t lying. He could tell. She enjoyed her work. Jake admired her attitude and her desire to help others, it was unmistakable.

That’s a Super quality if ever there was one!

“Great job today, Mister Worthy. I’ll see you Wednesday.”

“I enjoyed it,” Jake said. “If you ever need your taxes done, I’m your man. No charge.”

With a good-natured pat on the back, Sally bid Jake goodbye. Jake left the clinic without his feet touching the ground. He felt like his good-old-self, Super Jake, caretaker of the down-trodden, protector of the weak, in service to the people, by God. Jake made sure not to engage his super hearing as he waited for the bus. Super Jake respected people’s privacy. Jake felt so good he got himself into the medical-transport bus without any help.


Sally leaned against the door jamb as Jake boarded the van. She heard Gina approach from behind.

“How did it go with Jake?” she asked. “Bore you with his Bad Bart stories?”

“No,” Sally said. “He’s very cute. I felt sorry for him. He’s lonely.”

“A bunch of us are flying to Madrid for dinner, care to join us?” Gina asked.

Sally used her X-ray vision and watched Jake hoist himself onto the medical transport van’s interior seat which was too high for him.

“Thanks, but I can’t,” Sally said. “My flight suit is at the cleaners. I hate flying without my cape.”

“I’d resist the urge to stop at the Old Super’s Home,” Gina said. “You can’t befriend every old Super that comes here.”

“That wouldn’t be professional,” Sally said, agreeing. “But I do need help with my taxes.”

“He is good with numbers,” Gina said.

Jake’s bus left the property and another one rolled in and stopped.

“Water Woman’s here for her breathing treatment,” Gina said. “See you later, Sally, take her in for me, won’t you?”

Water Woman, formally a dastardly villain, changed her name to Misses Trout upon retirement. She became a hurting old woman in need with age. Sally gave her the best of care, just like any other evolved human being would. Coincidentally, Sally’s fish pond needed attention and Mrs. Trout volunteered to look into it.

Rachel C. Thompson began her writing career in journalism after surviving a near-death accident in 2003. Her nonfiction works and cartoons have appeared in newspapers and magazines, and her short stories in various anthologies. She writes quirky sci-fi, social satire and historical fiction twisted into new shapes. She has five self-published novels and one anthology in print and e-books with more books coming soon.

She lives and writes in the Ocala National Forest, Florida.

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