It shouldn’t be this difficult.
I look at the circle of faces. Everyone’s staring back with expectant eyes, now I’ve stood up. I lick my lips.
“My name’s John, and I abuse my powers.”
“Hi John,” comes the reply, in sombre chorus.
They say admitting it is the first step, but nobody really prepares you for the next bit. The bit where you actually have to try and work out where to start explaining this sorry mess you’ve got yourself into.
The same way that nobody prepares you for the real life stuff that comes about when you develop powers. Sure, you get all the usual lectures about good versus evil and responsibility. Nobody tells you about fitting in time to look after your pets, though. Or how to handle the crippling financial burden.
I mean, I still have a Netflix account. I’ve not watched anything on it since Breaking Bad. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, too. One guy I heard about works in this posh mechanical red suit thing. It picks up all his phone calls. Charities called him up for donations so many times while he was saving the world, that he just kept hurriedly agreeing to them. Now he can’t pay his electricity bill.
You see, nobody warns you about this stuff. I’ve got into arguments over fines on late library books before now. Nobody believed me that I was kidnapped, brainwashed and sent back in time to kill a world leader when I was actually on my way to return the damn thing. The book wasn’t even that good anyway.
In fact, the only bit of useful, real-world advice I got was in my early days. I stopped some crook called Kevin – I forget his ‘villain name’. He was small time, but used to be an accountant. He got nervous when he talked, so he started babbling as I was frog-marching him towards the nearest police station. He happened to mention that my costume could be written off as a deductible asset to offset against my taxes, and I’d save even more if I registered myself as a humanitarian aid organisation.
And that was it. How to fiddle the books a bit. That was the only advice I was given.
Then there was the poor woman from the tax office who called me up to ask about it all, a few years later. I’d been fighting someone – I forget who – and my powers were going berserk. She happened to phone me just as I was about to get attacked again, you know – it was one of those lulls where life seems to be getting back to normal before it all goes wrong again for little or no reason. As I picked up the receiver, I saw the goons closing in outside.
Long story short, within seconds of hearing “We’ve spotted some anomalies in your tax returns,” I’d accidentally gave her a brain aneurysm over the phone.
I’d been using my powers to get by long before that, though. I’ve dodged TV License payments. I’ve influenced insurance payouts after a fight. I’ve got the Police to arrest my irritating neighbours. I’d occasionally get shop staff to slip me an extra couple of tenners here and there from the till when they gave me my change. All sorts.
But I felt I had to. That’s the problem. It was never anything major, but living in the city was expensive, and my powers meant I was away from work a lot. I had to make money somehow. Costumes don’t pay for themselves.
And don’t get me started on the number of abysmal dates I’ve felt compelled to “salvage” using my powers. Hey, I’m only human.
Or at least, that’s what I keep telling myself. I’m not so sure anymore. That girl calling about the tax that was the wake-up call I needed – it’s sad she had to suffer for it.
So, how do I start explaining all that to these people? These people who are just as lost, tired and fed up of it all as me.
I look at the group. Their faces tell me everything. There’s psychics in here, like me. They’ve already read my mind. They already know. Even the ones that can’t read my mind have a look that tells me they could already hazard a guess about what I’m about to say. They’ve probably heard it dozens of times before.
I sigh and manage a sheepish smile. May as well carry on keeping up appearances.