Prompt: a comical tale of a superhero dad who struggles to balance real life with his wife and daughter and his heroics.
Pretty soon I would be going to my daughter’s games. I don’t care what kind of games they are: soccer, baseball, mountain biking, chess… as long as she gives me something to go to. My wife insists she’ll be a gymnast because she’s now quite good at tumbling without bruising her forehead.
For now it was my turn. My wife Shae was sitting in the stands making our toddler Amelia wave her little hand in support. I wasn’t even up to bat yet. It was one of our annual company softball games and I’d been an integral member of the team for three years now. I had to take a rain check every now and again, one time I was literally battling a downpour from the masked villain Downpour, but my skills meant I could never be dropped.
Those rain checks were what I called my missions. You see, after college, I dabbled in super heroics. I majored in business and minored in poetic justice. It was a time of experimentation, especially after I participated in that study for the psychology classes. I let myself be hypnotized in exchange for a modest payment. You might judge me for that, but that modest payment became part of a modest ring, a proposal, and what I would call the best marriage in the world. Except for the secret.
I don’t know exactly what they told me to do or be under hypnosis, but I was never the same afterward. I like to imagine that one of the students whispered in my ear when nobody else was looking, and that I absorbed the command/advice perfectly. I think they told me to live a balanced life when I awoke.
I bowled a perfect game two nights after my hypnosis. During my own experimentation I found I could throw a bowling ball so perfectly that I could knock a pin down and get it to spin back into a standing position. Every experiment for quite a long time was a success. I found I had a metaphysically perfect understanding of balance. I could walk across a string tightrope as long as it could hold my weight.
My wife doesn’t know it, but I’m the gymnast in the family. I can’t be tripped, I land on my feet like a cat, and I can literally balance objects perfectly, no matter how much they might try to fall. I once balanced a tower of pickled eggs and live June bugs that was forty tall of each. That was the last experiment. I just assumed success after that.
I’ve been using these powers to fight crime, but I’ve found it impossible to tell my family. Physically impossible. There is a reason. My powers, I call myself Balancing Actor by the way, are of balance. They don’t just work on physical objects; they balance my life. I only have time for everything because of my secret identity. If one thing falls out of place our lives could be ruined. I might even die from the shock of it.
That was why I couldn’t smile back at my wife and daughter as they waved. Somebody else was on the field. Our opponents that day were the the Kallinder Kitchenware team from that giant store on the other side of town. They wore red caps with smirking spatulas on them. I knew their pitcher from a different uniform. His long beard was recently trimmed and oiled. He’d taken most of the wild out of his eyes, but I recognized him. Most wouldn’t. He usually wore a mask of ash and grime, but we had been locked in combat several times, with our faces inches from each other. Their pitcher was one of my greatest nemeses: the Middle Ager.
The first five times I faced him he wore a full suit of black and green armor with a helmet shaped like the furious nose of a snorting horse. He had a sword that was usually on fire, even as he pulled it from its sheath. His mission, as he so often yelled, was to restore the world to a medieval caste system. He sought to fight his way to the top of such a system. If I was the definition of balance he was the definition of imbalance. I suspected some kind of romantic conflict in his life; he wanted to be able to claim a woman by conquest the way they used to. Not the sort of thing the Balancing Actor could abide.
It came my turn to bat. I took a deep breath, my wife shouting encouragement behind me, and made my way to the plate. Before I even looked at him I balanced my feet. Forty pounds in the front foot. One-hundred and forty in the back, as that was where you wanted your weight just before the swing. Then I locked eyes with the newly-groomed Middle Ager.
I saw that this was no coincidence. I’d been his greatest hurtle to a number of assassination attempts. He was after me now, and he had somehow sussed out my secret identity. He was here to put me in an awkward spot, perhaps even reveal me to everyone in the bleachers. It wasn’t a big crowd, but it was enough for my secret costumed life to fall apart. This was his plot; I watched him sneer at me. I needed it to be my plot before he got tired of the charade and started shouting.
There were only so many tools at my disposal. I had my powers of balance and I had a bat. The little scales in my head that measure everything tipped in a way I didn’t expect. No, I had a third thing. My target. The villain himself. His arm pulled back as he prepared to pitch. Only a handful of seconds to balance everything out correctly.
Heroes and villains always come across in their names. The Middle Ager didn’t fight because he really believed in the caste system or the honor of knights. He fought just to fight, to distract himself from the ditch that was his life and its widening edges of collapsing mud. He called himself that because he was middle-aged, because his rain checks were what he did instead of buying a nice new sports car. That meant his life was imbalanced, otherwise he could not obsess over me so much as to get a job selling iron skillets just to meet me on the diamond and expose me.
If I could knock a bowling pin down and watch it swivel back up, then I could do the same to the Middle Ager, and I could use his own pitch to do it. I just needed his wallet to actually be in the pocket of his uniform. Inside it were several things that I would be able to balance. I just needed them to come out and play.
The ball flew. My mind raced, the thoughts stinging like static shocks. How to balance a life? I’d done it myself. Family first. That got me Shae and Amelia. Justice second. That turned me into the Balancing Actor, with my face-concealing comedy mask and my wonderful red cape. Third, just barely after the principles, was myself as a man. Tucker. The loving father and softball fan. Past that was all the garbage, the stuff the Middle Ager was using to motivate his mask.
My mind, muscles, and bones all snapped into the realization simultaneously. It was like the bat swung itself, like it was just the stroke of an eyelash as I blinked. One moment the ball hurtled toward me, full of a rogue knight’s fury, the next my eyes were closed, and the next there was a mighty crack. The ball flew back the way it came and struck the Middle Ager in his right hip. I balanced it perfectly, so it hit in just the right place. His wallet popped up and out of his pocket as he tumbled backward and fell over the mound. All his cards flew out as well: I.D., Credit card, bank card, library card, a handwritten note, and a few others.
My turn at bat wasn’t over yet. I was still mid-swing as far as my plan was concerned. I dropped the bat and rushed to him, making sure I beat everyone else. While he was dazed I pulled him into a sitting position and swept all his cards into a pile.
“I can tell you what you wouldn’t let me before,” I whispered to him. He stared back, head still fuzzy but rage obvious in his sweating brow. “You know what I can do. You know how I can balance. Watch, before we run out of time, watch as I balance your life.” I held the cards in front of his face like I was about to do a magic trick. “First comes others.” I held up the handwritten note. I didn’t need to read it. It had to be romantic as most men had no other reason to keep such things. “Second is your principles.” I went with the library card, as I imagined it contained the books that he’d read about chivalry and bravery. “Third is you.” The I.D. Card.
One by one I slipped them back into the wallet and then handed it over. He held it close to his chest. I helped him up, my expression as solid as everything in my life. I gave him a curt nod. I admit I was a wreck emotionally, but then he nodded back. Now it was just a game. I had a feeling there would be no more Middle Ager afterward though. He was balanced out of existence.
As for my own balancing act, it goes on. We lost the game, because it wouldn’t be balanced for me to always win. I looked at my wife and her endless smile. I looked at my daughter’s chubby hand now waving on its own. Then again…
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by Gamer_Dad_NC during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!