Premee Mohammed dug into her a short story stash of ideas to share one with us.
‘Superheroes, community service/non-jail punishment for crime, a secret society.
In a world where superpowers are real, a convicted criminal is spared a prison term… If he agrees to do community service, enforced by an unknown league of incognito superheroes. But how can he skip town while he’s always under their surveillance?”
Sherman reached over and picked up the candy wrapper. He threw it away in the waste receptacle provided by security staff. His partner for the day, Louis, continued to walk along the other side of the can, seemingly oblivious to their task. Sherman pointed to a stray Styrofoam cup and asked, “Can you get that one?”
“Oh, sure!” Louis said. He walked over and got the cup and placed it in the trash can. “This your first run with the MACS?”
“MACS?” Sherman asked.
“You know, Mall Assistance and Correctional Services.”
“Oh, they didn’t tell me the name of the program. Just it was community service. Said I had to show up at 9:00am to clean. Otherwise, my bracelet would alert the police.” Sherman lifted his pant leg to show the ankle bracelet and accompanying monitor.
“Yeah, as far as it goes, this isn’t a bad gig. Walk the mall, check out the hot moms, pick up a cup here and there.”
Sherman thought Louis spent most of his day doing the first two and not the latter. “What did you do to be here? If I can ask?” Louis asked hesitantly. He didn’t know if it was appropriate to ask, but he also wanted the conversation to continue. It was 9:15, and he was with Louis until 4:00.
“Not for anything super, if that is what you are asking. I’d love to have a superpower like some folks. But no, I am just a guy who the system decided to hate on. Yeah, I got scammed. Dumb really. I was selling legitimate insurance products.”
“What type of insurance?”
“Rapture insurance for your pets. You see, lots of folks think Jesus is coming back at any moment. I mean, like right now!” Sherman clapped his hands together hard to emphasize his point. Several shoppers looked over and gave an even wider path for the two men in their county orange scrubs with ID numbers on the back.
“What does that have to do with pets?”
“Well, you see, here is the thing. Let’s say you and your wife believe in Jesus and whatever. Right? And you think he is coming back any day to get you and take you up in the clouds or something. Well, Jesus is only coming to get the good ones. Down here, he is leaving all the bad seeds.”
“Well, let’s say you have a golden retriever. You love that dog. You know that show, All Dogs Go to Heaven? Well, not in the Bible, they don’t. No mention of it. So, when you get zapped up to Almighty Jesus, old Fido is likely to be stuck at home in his pet pen alone. And who is going to help him? Only neighbors left are the ones who hated Jesus.”
“That would really stink. Never thought about it that way.”
“So here is where I come in. I provide a product. A certified employee who has to confirm every three months that he hasn’t converted to Jesus and all that. A certified pagan. Well, in case of rapture, that’s what they call it, your insurance policy goes into effect. It’s like that cancer insurance that pays out cash the moment you get the diagnosis.” Sherman kicked an old French fry up under a trash can rather than picking it up. “And, Bam!” He again clapped his hands loudly. “You are raptured. My guy drops what he is doing. He goes to your house and takes your dog. He takes care of the dog in a safe, secure environment while you are with Jesus singing Christmas carols and crap.”
“So, you sell insurance to take care of people’s pets if they get raptured?”
“So much more than that, my friend. I sell peace of mind.”
“What if the person dies normally. Like in a car wreck or something?”
“Oh, I don’t want to get entangled with other insurance companies. I only serve my niche market.”
Louis nodded. Then he pointed to the entrance to Sears and Roebuck. The two walked over where the sign, “Shop the softer side of Sears,” had fallen. Louis started to lift the sign. Sherman just watched. Breathing a bit heavy after lifting the metal signpost, Louis said, “That doesn’t seem like a crime, though?”
“Well, the police came and wanted to see my employment records. Anted to see where I had staff coverage for all the policies I had sold. I tried to explain my indemnity clause. I had forty-eight hours after the rapture event to collect and care for any identified pets. I just figured I would do my hiring in that first twenty-four hours. Lots of people would be out of work since their Jesus-loving bosses would disappear. In fact, I never thought about it. I should sell non-Christians guaranteed employment insurance in case of rapture. Be a tougher market, but I bet I could do it.”
“So, you were just scamming them?” Louis asked bluntly.
“Selling peace of mind, my friend. Peace of mind. But enough about me and how I was falsely imprisoned to community service. What brought you here? Are you a super?”
Louis did not answer. He thought about what he should or shouldn’t tell Sherman.
Sherman continued, “You are! You are! Do tell? What is your power? Man, I wish I had one!”
“Well, mine isn’t anything too spectacular, I’m afraid.”
“What is it?” Sherman pressed.
“I can move things. Not far. Just a few feet.”
“No way! Like you can move something from here to here?” Sherman pointed to two random spots on the floor.
“Something like that.”
Sherman reached in the waste receptacle and pulled out the Styrofoam cup. He threw it back on the floor. “So, like, you can move that into the trash can. Show me!”
Louis hesitated, but Sherman insisted. “Come on, man. We have all day in this place.”
Louis looked at the cup before blinking twice rapidly. The cup disappeared and then reappeared over the waste receptacle before descending back into the other trash.
“Oh, man! That is the coolest thing ever! So, why didn’t you just use it back there to pick up that sign?”
“I don’t know. It is, well, you know how some people get. They get all nervous and such. It has gotten me in more trouble, really, than help.”
“Is that how you got in here?”
“Yeah. You see, I can move stuff, but people are different. My boss came into the lunch area and started yelling at us. I had enough of it. So I moved him back outside the room. There was a glass window, so it should have been an easy teleport. It would’ve been too, if it was a shoe or a Styrofoam cup. But people, well, they are different.”
“What happened? You kill him?” Sherman asked. Louis had piqued his interest.
“No. If I had killed him, I doubt I would be doing community service. That would bring a hard time. No. I moved everything but his ear. His ear didn’t make it through the glass window. It was just sort of halfway between the lunchroom and the factory area in the glass.”
Sherman laughed. The shoppers around them at the Sear’s jewelry counter looked before walking off to shop somewhere else. The counter attendant scolded the two, “You two are scaring off our customers. Keep that up, and this store will close.”
Sherman and Louis took a few steps away. Then Sherman said quietly, “Hey man. Let’s have some fun. That lady, the one who just chided us, let’s play a joke?”
Louis said, “I’m not so sure about that.”
“Come on, nothing dangerous or anything. She won’t even know it is us.” Sherman slapped Louis on the back before Louis had a chance to say yes or no. “Awesome! Okay, here is what we do. You just move her shirt over to the other side of the counter.”
“You mean, make her naked?” Louis said.
“Oh, no. She will still have a bra on and whatnot. But the look on her face will be great payback for how she yelled at you.”
“Um,” Louis said, “I think she yelled at you.”
“That’s right. How she yelled at us. Okay, go on. Do it, and I’ll buy lunch.”
Louis knew it was probably not a good idea. He also thought the lady was very attractive, and it might be great to see her in a bra only. Besides, Sherman was right about one thing. No one here knew him, and he had to be here till 4:00. He double blinked.
The woman screamed. She jumped back, making her breasts bounce as she did. Louis watched as her stunning figure stood nearly naked in the department store. She hid her breasts with her arms as she made her way to the open walkway where her blouse lay.
“That was awesome!” Sherman whispered. The lady grabbed her blouse and began fast-walking to the nearest changing room. Everyone in the store gawked as the tall, blue-eyed blonde from jewelry streaked by. Everyone that is, except Sherman. He walked casually over to the lady’s register, where he collected a handful of bills. Then he pocketed two rings in his scrub jacket. “Lunch money,” he said to Louis. Then he started walking out of Sears and Roebucks. “Let’s get out of here.”
At lunch, Louis confronted Sherman. “You know, what you did wasn’t right. You shouldn’t have taken all that money.”
“Maybe you are right,” Sherman said.
It was not the answer that Louis expected. He prepared himself to either be told he should not have embarrassed the lady or to hear some excuse about why Sherman was justified stealing the money. But Sherman just agreed. Louis questioned, “What do you mean? You agree?”
“Yes, I mean, you were just doing a joke. No harm in that. God makes you run fast, you should run for fun. God makes you a good cook, you should cook for fun. You should have fun with whatever talent you have, is what I say. You just happen to be a super. But you were having some harmless fun.”
Louis was surprised at Sherman’s resolve to not blame him. “So, you don’t think I was wrong to move her clothes off?”
“Are you kidding me! That woman was a hottie. She will be back behind that counter in no time, and I guarantee you she will sell a lot more jewelry now that she is a mall celebrity.”
“But, you stole from her register.”
“Now that I did. And maybe that was too far.”
“Then, you should turn yourself in.” Louis offered.
“Now, if I do that,” Sherman mused. “If I chose to do that, what would happen?”
“They would likely sentence you to some real jail time,” Louis said matter-of-factly.
“That they would. Now, I am not saying what I did was right. I’m just saying it wasn’t so wrong that it deserves that type of punishment. No, I dare say if I turned myself in, I would again be a victim of the system. I would suffer consequences much greater than I should receive. My punishment would not fit the crime.”
Sherman talked fast, and Louis tried to follow the argument. “So, then do nothing?”
“Why no, my friend. That would not be fair either. For as you have so adeptly stated, I am indeed guilty of the crime. What we need is a punishment that matches the offense. An eye for an eye, as the Bible says. Tit for tat. Like for like.”
“But what would that be?” Louis said.
Sherman sat quietly for a moment in reflection. Then he burst out in a smile. “I tell you what, my friend. I should suffer the same fate as the woman. You should remove my shirt!”
“But you are a guy. Why would that matter?”
Sherman bit his lip as he thought. Then another smile broke out. “You are correct. That would not be fair at all. It should be an equal punishment. I convinced you to take off her blouse. So I must convince you to punish men. Then, I took the money from her drawer. I should, therefore, lose all but my underwear – She did get to keep that dignity after all – and not be allowed to have them back.”
“But won’t the mall security arrest you? And when you tell them it was me-”
“Why I would do no such thing, my friend. This is not your punishment, but mine. Besides, there are kids around who are supers as well. They will assume some teen played a prank on the MACS staff for a good laugh. What say?”
Sherman slapped Louis on the back. “Perfect. Now, let me step out into the main walk area. Then when I turn back around, you do it. Okay? Okay.”
Sherman gave no time for Louis to think. Louis had an inkling that this might not be the wisest counsel. But he also appreciated the fact that Sherman wanted to be punished. Sherman walked a few paces and then turned. Louis’s moment of indecision was overtaken by a desire to please his new friend and bring a bit of justice to the day. That was what supers did, right? Allocate justice? He double blinked.
Sherman looked down. He had nothing on except his boxers. Nothing. Both fists were clenched tight in fists. But he was smiling. “Oh no!” he said at the top of his lungs. “Oh, no! Someone took my clothes!” Then he ran toward J.C. Penny.
Louis couldn’t help but chuckle a little bit at how well Sherman was playing it up. He walked over to the pile of clothes. He figured he would collect them and take them to whatever changing room Sherman had found. Louis scooped up the scrubs. That is when he saw the ankle bracelet. Louis hadn’t worried about it since it was hidden under the pants leg. It should not have been teleported… unless Sherman lifted the pants leg intentionally. Louis then checked the pockets of the scrub shirt. They were empty. Louis looked up but saw nothing. And that was it. He could only teleport what he could see. That’s why Sherman only took two rings. One for each fist, plus whatever cash he could hold.
Louis put the clothes and ankle bracelet on the table. Someone else could sort that out. He pushed the waste receptacle towards the next department store. It was 1:00, and he had three hours of community service left to fulfill.