I am happy to present, for your reading pleasure, the first chapter to The Amazing Captain Casual!
Introducing: THE AMAZING CAPTAIN CASUAL (and Friends)
Captain Casual dodged away from the rush of flames shooting towards him. The world spun as he rolled through the air, trying to regain his balance. His stomach rebelled at the upheaval and he reached out blindly to grasp onto something—anything—that would put an end to the constant spinning. To his amazement, his fingers actually caught on something soft and he yanked himself to a halt. Of course, it was only after he stopped that he remembered his current location: sixty feet up in the air and he wasn’t alone.
He dragged his eyes up until he was staring down a coal-black, razor-sharp beak about the size of his head, ending only a few inches from his own nose. Attached to it was a very large, very angry-looking crow. Captain Casual carefully untangled his hand from the iridescent feathers he’d latched onto and offered the monster a sheepish smile.
The crow opened its beak and the Captain dove down out of the way as it spewed forth another stream of fire.
Cole Stephenson wiped away the sweat perspiring against his brow and took a step back to admire his handiwork. The stained glass window he’d been laboring over for the past few hours now sat perfectly within the building’s frame, the caulk barely noticeable as it held the pane firmly in place. Cole didn’t have much construction experience to judge by, but all in all he thought it looked pretty &@^# professional, if he did say so himself.
Cole looked over his shoulder to see his boss, Eddie, examining his work. “Yeah?” he asked, secretly preening.
Eddie nodded appraisingly. “You know, I was a little hesitant when your mom asked me to take you on, but you’re actually pretty useful, kid.”
“No need to say it like it’s so surprising,” Cole mumbled, good mood diminishing slightly. Eddie just laughed.
“Don’t get offended, I’m trying to compliment you. In fact, after this job’s over I’m thinking about having a word with my bosses about officially getting you added to the CRC roster.”
“Seriously?” Cole asked, not quite believing it. “What about school?”
“We’ll find ways to work around it,” Eddie said. “But that doesn’t mean you can start slacking off. I’ve got a pile of bricks and some mortar with your name on it.”
Cole allowed himself to crack a grin. “Sir, yes, sir.”
Eddie rolled his eyes. “Come on, then.” He led Cole over to the wall still awaiting repairs and left him to it.
Cole couldn’t stop smiling. This was exactly what he’d been hoping for. Not only would this job look great on his college applications, but it would also help take care of any excess tuition that his scholarships might not cover. For awhile there he’d been getting worried about his future; Cole was proud of his mom for making the decision to go back to law school, but it had been putting a strain on their finances. Now that he had this new job, though, things might not be as bleak as he’d thought.
The construction site suddenly darkened as a shadow fell overhead. Cole barely had time to cringe in apprehension before the site exploded into dust with a loud crash.
All around him he could hear his coworkers choking on the unexpected soot. Cole scrubbed at his eyes to clear away the grit. Gradually the dust dissipated and the sound of coughing diminished, but the sight that greeted his bleary vision was almost worse. The building their team had been working on nonstop for the past few months—the one Cole had sacrificed all of his free time after school for—had been reduced to a pile of rubble. A shattered sliver from that stained glass window Cole had been so proud of glimmered amidst the bricks.
From the center of the debris, a dusty blonde head of hair shook itself free. Cole could just spot the hint of a blue spandex costume around the culprit’s neck. His fists clenched.
Of course it was one of them. Who else would be behind something like this?
The figure pulled himself free from the wreckage, revealing himself to be a muscular young man wearing a red, blue and white costume. Cole immediately searched for the logo emblazoned on the man’s chest. If he knew the logo, then he knew who to blame when the bigwigs at the CRC asked why the building Eddie’s team had been sent to fix looked like it had been run over by a bulldozer rather than, as the contractors had put it, “restored to peak, pinnacle perfection”.
Luckily, the superhero’s symbol was big enough for Cole to see it clearly, despite him being a good twenty feet away. Unluckily, Cole could’ve been standing two feet away and he still wouldn’t have been able to tell what that thing was supposed to be. The closest he could guess was a flying shoe, but he didn’t know of any heroes fighting under a codename like that. And why would they? It was a *$%^-ing stupid symbol.
Cole decided to switch tactics. He might not be able to give the responsible hero’s name, but at the very least he could describe the guy. He looked for the man’s mask, only to find he wasn’t wearing one. What was even more surprising, however, was that Cole recognized him. It was impossible not to: they had English and Calculus together.
Will Archer. What the *$%^ was he doing here?
“Hey!” Cole called out, anger darkening his tone.
Rather than responding like a decent, normal person, Will—some southern hick who’d transferred in from Texas a while back—began to dig around in the rubble.
Cole’s face scrunched in annoyance at the brush off. “I said, hey!”
“Ha!” Will exclaimed, standing up. He held up a crumpled, red piece of fabric with a stretchy string attached. He pushed the material flat against his palm, trying to smooth out the creases. A screech pierced the air, and Will jerked his head up towards the sky, his eyebrows knit together in worry. Cole followed his gaze, squinting upwards. A giant mechanical crow circled a nearby skyscraper. It opened its beak and jetted out a stream of fire.
I hate New York, Cole thought bitterly.
Will gave up on pressing out the wrinkles and stretched the band over his head. As soon as it was securely in place, he leapt up from the ground into the sky. Cole clicked his tongue in disgust as the hero showed off for his audience, completing three spirals in the air before soaring off to take down the enemy.
As soon as Will disappeared from sight, the construction crew looked sideways at each other as if asking if that had really just happened.
“Alright everybody, quit your gawking,” Eddie’s voice rang out, breaking the silence. “Looks like we’ve got more work to get through than we thought.”
The workers groaned in response.
“Now, now, that’s enough out of you lot,” he said. “The quicker we get started, the quicker we’ll finish. Back to your stations.”
Everyone moved to follow his instructions, albeit with some mutinous muttering under their breath. Cole was doing quite a bit of cursing himself when Eddie stopped him and pulled him off to the side.
He rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly. “Look, kid, I know we were talking about getting you hired on, but after this mess…well, our pay’s gonna be getting docked as it is. Unfortunately, I don’t think a new employee will be within our budget.”
“They’re gonna dock your pay? But the CRC was designed to clean up after Supers!” Cole argued. “It’s in the name, City Reconstruction Corporation. They reconstruct things! How is the job any different from when we started?”
“Now it’s gonna take longer,” he explained with a shrug. “CRC policy states if the job isn’t completed by the agreed upon deadline then the price will be cut in half.”
“That’s bull$#%^! It’s not like we had any control over the situation!”
“Sorry, kid,” Eddie said, resting a sympathetic hand on his shoulder. “I can pay you full price for the work you’ve done up until now, but anything else…”
Cole shrugged the hand away. “Yeah, I get it,” he said sharply. “Thanks anyway.” With that said, he went to go pack up his things.
Will frowned down at the blank notebook on his desk and self-consciously rubbed at the charred patch of hair on the back of his head. He’d fought that crow all over the city yesterday and all he’d accomplished was getting his hair set on fire and making himself sick from all the crazy flying he’d had to do. At the very least, he knew which villain had been behind the attack. Showy, ridiculous, and electronic; even without announcing herself, a fire-breathing mechanical crow was exactly the kind of stunt she’d pull.
Will’s head shot up. The snickers from his fellow classmates suggested that the teacher had been trying to get his attention for a while now.
“Glad you could rejoin us, Mr. Archer,” Mrs. Gohen said.
“Would you care to give us a symbolic theme from The Scarlet Pimpernel?”
“A symbol?” Will asked, his mind racing to come up with an answer.
“Any one of them would be fine,” his teacher confirmed.
Even as Will searched the recesses of his mind, he knew he wouldn’t come up with anything. How could he? He hadn’t read the book. He’d really meant to, but after the whole thing with the crow, he’d ended up falling asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow. He’d woken up that morning—still holding the book in his hands—to his Grams yelling at him to come down for breakfast.
Will ducked his head, embarrassed. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Gohen, I didn’t do the reading.”
Mrs. Gohen didn’t comment; it wasn’t like this was an unusual occurrence with Will. Instead she turned on the rest of the students. “Alright, can anyone who did do the homework give me an answer?”
From behind him, Will heard someone scoff under their breath, “Idiot.”
Will’s shoulders hunched. He might’ve been in the wrong for not doing the assignment, but there was no reason for anyone to be cruel about it. He peeked behind him and was immediately met with a pair of dark brown eyes glaring back. Will at least recognized the guy, but only because he was currently staring straight at him: if a friend had described him, Will probably wouldn’t have had a clue who they were talking about. Part of the reason for that was because Will skipped class so often and honestly didn’t know most of his classmates, but also, the guy was kinda forgettable. He felt guilty thinking it, but it was unfortunately true. He was maybe a little shorter than average and while his features were on the softer side—excluding his expression, which was nothing but angles—he wasn’t heavy enough to be chubby. He didn’t have a hooked nose or big ears, or any other defining features; from what Will remembered, even his voice was pretty average. The most he could say with any kind of certainty was that he was black, had short hair, and his name may or may not have been Cole Something-or-other.
Will frowned, perplexed. Being a superhero, he had found himself at the end of a wide variety of glares in the past. He’d seen irritated glares, angry at the world glares, and surreptitious glares only cast when no one was meant to be watching. If he had to categorize the one he was seeing now, he would’ve said that it was a glare of someone with a personal vendetta. He wasn’t sure how that could be possible, though, seeing as he’d never even spoken to the guy before.
Cole shot him one last scowl before looking away. Will’s frown deepened as he returned his attention to the front. He didn’t like the idea of someone hating him, at least not without knowing why. Well, there was a pretty simple solution to that problem—he’d just have to ask Cole after class.
But when class was dismissed, Cole swooped up his stuff and was out the door before Will could even turn around. He tried to keep an eye out for his classmate throughout the rest of the day, but Cole was ultimately nowhere to be found. Was it possible Will had misread the situation?
Will looked in the direction of the call and spotted his best friends, Joey and Ashley, heading towards him. He stopped and waited for them to catch up. They made an odd pair walking together to say the least. Joey was the friendly sort and had a ready smile for everyone he saw. He was also captain of the football team and built like it. Ashley, on the other hand, was a no-nonsense reporter with dangly star earrings, zebra framed glasses, and a spy network the government would envy.
“So?” Ashley demanded as soon as she drew close. “Is the gossip true?”
“Gossip?” Will echoed, confused.
“About you and that one nerd kid being at war,” Joey said.
“Cole Stephenson,” Ashley supplied.
Joey turned to Ashley conspiratorially. “From what I heard they almost came to blows outside the English classroom.”
Near blows? He hadn’t even spoken to the guy yet!
“So?” Ashley asked again. She and Joey waited wearing near identical looks of anticipation.
“I…I don’t think we’re at war,” Will said. “I mean, he was staring at me something fierce during class, but I haven’t gotten a chance to confront him about it yet.”
“Oh,” Ashley sighed, clearly disappointed.
“Man, other schools have got monsters and villains attacking every other week, so how come here even the boring rumors end up being fake?” Joey complained. “No offense, Will.”
“I mean,” he continued, “I’m not asking for much, just the occasional science experiment gone wrong transforming into some unholy crime against nature.”
“Gotta admit, I’d have a lot more content for the paper if we had an undercover superhero around here drawing out the crazies,” Ashley said.
Will’s palms suddenly began to feel very sweaty. He wiped them against his jeans.
“Exactly!” Joey agreed. “How do we get one of those? Is there an application we can fill out or something?”
“I kind of like things the way they are,” Will said. It was hard enough keeping his identity a secret, the last thing he needed was a bunch of villains showing up at school and making it more difficult.
“Yeah, well, the rest of us could use some excitement,” Joey complained.
“Sorry, Joe,” he said. “Wish I could help.” Which was only a small lie.
“Hey, you said you wanted to talk to Stephenson about the staring, right?” Ashley asked.
“Because I’m pretty sure that’s him over there trying to slip away.”
Sure enough, Will looked over to see the student in question cast a surreptitious glance over his shoulder, revealing Ash’s suspicions to be correct. Will caught his eye and Cole’s mouth pulled down into a grimace. He spun back around and started walking away faster.
“Thanks,” Will told Ashley with a quick grin. “I’ll see you guys tomorrow.” He jogged after Cole. “Hey, wait up!”
Cole must not have heard him because he kept walking.
At his name, Cole stopped. His shoulders stiffened, then sagged. He turned around, a look of grim resignation on his face. “What do you want?” he asked.
Will took a deep breath. “I’m sorry.”
Cole didn’t look very impressed with his apology.
“I don’t know what I’ve done to upset you,” he continued, “but I’d like to fix it if I can, or make it up to you, or something.”
“You—” Cole seemed as if he was struggling to find the words. “You really don’t know what you did?”
Will shook his head.
Cole sneered. “You people. Always so *$%^-ing oblivious to everything going on around you.”
You people? “…Southerners?”
“No, not Southerners, you @$%#*^&, superheroes!”
Will’s breath caught. He shot a nervous glance around the hall. There were still a few students hanging around, but luckily none of them seemed to be paying him and Cole any attention. “I don’t know what you mean,” he said, his words cracking from his dry throat.
Will squirmed under Cole’s deadpan stare.
“Man, you really suck at lying.”
“I’m not—” He broke off and lowered his voice. “I’m not a superhero.”
“Oh, right, so when you crashed into and destroyed the building I was working on yesterday, and then took off with your fancy loop de loops, that, that was a hallucination?”
Will felt his face turn red. The fight with the crow when he lost his mask. He hadn’t realized there’d been anyone around to witness that particular blunder. “The loops weren’t really intentional,” he murmured. “Uh, I did that?”
Cole just glared at him.
“Right, um, sorry. Was anybody hurt?”
Cole huffed out an exasperated breath. “No.”
“Thank God,” Will sighed in relief.
Cole’s glare didn’t lessen.
“But, uh, I’m still really sorry about your building.”
“Screw your apologies, I lost my job because of you!”
Will gulped. “You did?”
Cole shook his head in disgust. “See, this is exactly what I hate about you heroes. You run around rescuing kittens and puppies from burning trees or whatever, and yeah, okay, you save people, I get that, but it’s not because you actually want to help them. If that were the reason, then you’d just go join the police force or be a fireman like any normal person. Instead you all parade around in flashy costumes, getting your faces plastered across the television and newspapers. You all act like you’re God’s gift to earth, and people actually buy it. And that wouldn’t bother me so much, except then you go and pull $#%^ like this. You come in, save the day, and then,” he held out his arms, “nothing. You’re gone and the rest of us are left trying to pick up the broken pieces from the mess you made, for however long that takes, and let me tell you, that can be a really long *$%^-ing time.”
That was…not what Will had been expecting. Everyone looked up to heroes; Will always had, it was why he’d agreed to the job when he’d been offered it two years ago. The only people who didn’t admire them were villains, and Cole didn’t strike him as a villain. Well, at least he didn’t think he was one. It could be hard to tell sometimes. It didn’t help that Cole’s was a perspective that he’d never considered before, and if Will was honest, it made him uncomfortable. But he knew for a fact that Cole was wrong about one thing.
“Heroes care about the people they save,” Will said.
“Yeah, I’ll believe that when I see it,” Cole scoffed.
“They do!” he insisted.
“Give me one example.”
Being put on the spot, Will’s mind went blank. “Er…”
Having made his point, Cole walked away shaking his head, leaving Will behind feeling forlorn. To him, superheroes represented everything that was good in this world. The fact that Cole thought so little of them…
Will didn’t know if he’d be able to change his classmate’s opinion on heroes, but he did know he could at least do everything in his power to fix the mistake he’d made, and maybe that’d be a start.