Title of this story comes courtesy of a line from Moby’s song “Southside,” though I doubt the overall lyrics themselves did much to inspire the story
She was hugging him fiercely, gratitude seeming to ooze from every pore of her body—and he hated it.
Don’t touch me! he screamed in his head, visions of thrusting her away brutally and yelling down at her prone form filling his mind. But he forced it all down. She’s a victim, and I saved her. She was scared and is now safe. She is probably still just this side of being a teenager. Either that or barely on the other side.
Any one of those factors should be enough to keep him from feeling the angry revulsion at a human presence close to him. But they weren’t—not even all three together. On the other hand, any one of them alone was enough to keep him from acting on his impulses.
He pushed her away gently, nodded curtly and stepped back before she could hug him again. He saw her step fractionally forward and he stiffened, one of his arms jerking just a little. She stopped, sensing the tension.
Then the blessed salvation of screeching sirens and the whirling illumination of red and blue lights, and he could finally leave the scene secure in the knowledge that she would be safe. Could finally escape her as he tried to escape all lingering contact with all people.
She waved tentatively and he thought he saw some hint of disappointment and even anguish in her eyes that he didn’t accept her gratitude with some hint of gratitude in return.
Fuck you, he thought silently and savagely, and then shoved the anger back down where it belonged.
Where it belonged for the moment, at least.
Aggressive impulses were for the lawbreakers and evildoers. All the fury inside him from dealing with the world in general and having to endure fellow members of humanity was stored up for those who harmed others or took from them what was not theirs to take. All the densely packed anger that built up from morning to evening was unleashed on those people instead of the innocent and relatively guiltless.
And that is why those who prowl the night fear me. That is why High Impact is a name spoken in hushed tones.
* * *
“Don’t do it; it won’t solve anything,” she pleaded.
“He hurt you, Deb” Carl said as he entered in the combination for the small, locked box. “he has to pay.”
“It won’t fix things. It won’t fix me. It won’t fix us,” Deborah responded, a hitch in her voice. “Time can do that. Patience can do it. A gun won’t.”
“The police are useless. They questioned him; they let him go right back to work. A long time ago. The D.A. isn’t going to press charges. They told us that more than once. As far as they’re concerned, it didn’t happen; and if it did, it was all consensual, and you’re just a woman with regrets and I’m the angry cuckolded boyfriend you live with. There won’t be any justice if I don’t do it.”
“I don’t want justice,” Deborah said in a near whisper. “I want to move on.”
“Do you think he won’t find a way to come back into our lives directly? Up close again? It’s not as if my parents believe us any more than the authorities do. Do you think there will ever be a holiday dinner he won’t be at, waiting to drop hints to us both that he got what he wanted and got away with it? There haven’t been any like that so far.”
“It’s been nearly two years now, and you still aren’t yourself—not even close,” Carl continued. “Neither am I. It’s because he’s still there letting us know he won. After this long, it’s proof enough there’s only one cure that might work for us. It’s also time enough that no one is likely to think I did it. After all, we’ve been so good about letting that little ‘misunderstanding’ drop, haven’t we? Just like we were told to. We’ve had to act like it never happened, knowing it did.”
“What he did was…was…but death?” Deborah asked. “Killing him?”
“It wasn’t just the one time, Deb. Every time he sees us, he does it again to you with his eyes and his words. So many times that it’s like he’s raped you a dozen times over. He won’t ever stop, and if you think he won’t try again some—“
“—you’re not going to consider any other plan, are you?”
Carl looked at the gun in his hand—unregistered and soon enough to be wiped down and tossed into the Long Island Sound inside a weighted bag. “No,” he said as he left, and wondered whether she’d let him back in when he returned.
* * *
High Impact heard the gunshot. Close by. To the East.
Unlike such cities as Marksburgh, New Judah was still a place where—despite a plethora of criminals and crime—most people never had to deal with gunshots on a regular basis. And in this part of town, anyone who heard the hollow popping sound would be unlikely to think: gun. After all, the movies had trained people to think bullets cracked and roared like miniature bombs.
His Acro and Brute powers together made the journey down from the roof and over to the source of the gunshot easy and quick. From one fire escape to another to a lamppost to a flagpole to an awning and so on until he dropped into the dark parking lot.
One man on the ground with a bullet through one thigh, high up—it made him wonder if the shooter had been aiming for a very personal place.
Nearby, the shooter stood, startled at the new arrival,but his gun still trained on the victim.
“You can put down the gun or I can take it from you,” High Impact said, his Eastern European upbringing obvious and heavy in his tones—making his words more ominous-sounding in concert with his otherwise perfect inflections of the English language. “The choice you make will determine how much I hurt you.”
The man made no movement—neither to take his aim off the man on the ground nor to drop the weapon. He only turned his head enough to look High Impact in the face without taking his gaze off his victim. Or, if not his face, at least the smooth gray and white tactical mask that protected and disguised it while the back half of his head was clad in heavy black cloth—less protected but more well-ventilated.
“He deserves it,” Carl said. “He deserves to die.”
“I’m not interested in a debate, asshole,” High Impact said. “And you have three—“
“Ever consider your girlfriend likes it rough and it went too far and she didn’t want you to know? Ever consider she might have lied? I don’t care how much you hurt. People lie and you don’t know he’s guilty. You shot him, and that’s not your job. One…two…”
“He made me watch it all,” Carl said. “He hit me and handcuffed me to the radiator and waited until I had my wits back before he started on her.”
High Impact paused. He understood hate, but he also upheld the law. “Then you should file charges once you make bail, and your girlfriend should—”
“—we did. They didn’t believe us. He had an alibi set up already. And we couldn’t trust a rape kit. He told people I’d been talking about getting rough with her. He let everyone—even our parents—think I beat her up. They’ve always believed him; never me. Always. You’d think they’d love and trust us equally, wouldn’t you?”
The man on the ground had shifted position, and High Impact could see him better now.
He wore exactly the same face as the man who had shot him.
The man on the ground opened his mouth, and then shut it, choosing smug silence as he watched and waited for High Impact to save him.
“It’s funny,” Carl said. “The liar was the one who became a cop; the one who always told the truth went to jail twice for the other one’s crimes. Thank God both time were misdemeanors, huh, Dave? I only had less than a year total in your place.”
“As fucked up as all that is, we don’t get the choice of life over death—we shouldn’t anyway,” High Impact interrupted Carl. “Punishment, yes, but even I’ve never killed anyone. I’ve made some of them wish they were dead—I’ve left a few of them with barely enough life to survive the trip to the hospital and recover enough to face justice. But I’ve never killed. I don’t even think that I have the right to make that choice. And I hate people in general.”
“Maybe that’s why you don’t kill; you know you have a bias. You know you want to,” Carl said. “And you’re smart enough not to trust yourself with that option. But can you think of anyone on the planet who has more a right to judge whether he should live or die? Anyone who knows him better?” Carl asked as he leveled the gunsight squarely in the center of his brother’s head.
Shit. This is why I’m a misanthrope, High Impact thought. People never make things easier; only more complicated. Always.
“It’s still against the law,” High Impact noted, the tone of his voice changing.
Carl noted the change as well. “You never finished counting to three.”
“Are you going to stop me?”
“No. But I also won’t let you go unpunished.”
“Wait! What the fuck…” Dave sputtered.
“I can live with that,” Carl said.
The gunshot was far louder and sharper up close than the first had been. High Impact knew it would be. He’d been closer than that before to a firing gun. It still didn’t sound anything like in the action movies.
This one did, however, the vigilante considered, have the distinct ring of justice in it.
“Three,” High Impact said, and did what he had promised to.