You’re all aware of the Velveteen Vs. stories, right? Author Seanan McGuire has this world full of superheroes and it…rather sucks for them. Think: 80s X-Men with Marketing and HR departments, insurance premiums, and lawyers fighting against corporations for a juicy slice of that superhero civil suit pie. The majority of these stories are free on her blog, although they have also been packaged in handy collections.
I wrote some short fanfic about the life of a random superhero in this universe. Elliot’s not one of McGuire’s, and that’s lucky for him–she’s cold murder on her characters.
There were less glamorous superpowers. Elliot couldn’t think of any, but he was sure there had to be at least one or two worse than his.
Zinc, he called, sending a twist of his will into the mountains of junk before him …zinc… zinc… zinc…
His twin brother could call diamonds. Honest-to-God diamonds. The last time he had talked to Carl, his brother had bragged about visiting wealthy neighborhoods in early spring. Carl went walking on those nights when it was just warm enough to crack the windows for some air, with rings and necklaces and the occasional tiara crawling out of homes to bounce along in a glittery trail behind him.
It wasn’t always minerals. There was a family story about a great-great-something on their father’s side who could call rats. His twin sister could call children. They had a good thing going for a while, but it ended with fire.
Most of the better family stories ended with fire.
At least I won’t be burned at the stake, Elliot thought. Not for fucking zinc.
A few feet away, the first screw wobbled slowly towards him.
His power needed time to build up its charge. Five minutes in, it was loose hardware and batteries. At ten minutes, it’d be pieces of brass.
At fifteen? He’d be dodging cars.
The first screw reached him, and waited patiently by his feet like an obedient dog. Elliot pointed towards the empty dump truck behind him, and the screw rolled up a convenient ramp before it settled at the bottom.
Zinc, he called again.
Within moments, that first screw was joined by others, a dirty trail of discards pushing their way out of trash bags and up from beneath a hundred tons of garbage. When the first truck was full, he directed the eager bits of metal to the empty truck beside it, and so on.
He hated the smell. Hated it. Every garbage dump was the same, with piles of dirt layered above discarded diapers and tampons and kitty litter and you just knew there were dead things in there and…and…
Even the air was sticky.
He couldn’t think about it without going crazy.
He hadn’t heard from Carl in a long time. The Super Patriots, Inc. had bagged Elliot young—there was plenty of zinc in school desks, and it was hard to hide your growing powers when you couldn’t stop a classroom from chasing you down the hall—but there weren’t that many diamonds. Yeah, sometimes the computers had stopped working and the occasional stone in a teacher’s wedding ring had gone missing, but it was pretty easy to hide those little happenstances once Elliot’s powers had grown to the point where whole buildings began to come apart around him.
His life would have been so much easier if he could call diamonds.
He hoped Carl was somewhere safe, that he had grabbed what he could and had walked away before he had gone full villain. Elliot liked to imagine his brother on a tropical island, running his own bar, overcharging the tourists for watered-down mojitos.
Elliot’s charge had finally hit its stride. The air around him was weighed down by a million different castoffs, with no rhyme or reason to how they arrived. The zinc didn’t pull itself away from the rest of the product when he summoned it to him. Steel? Brass? Yup, those were all there, along with chunks of shredded rubber: nobody appreciated how much zinc was found in tires.
His supervisor always got nervous after the ten-minute mark, but Elliot couldn’t blame him. His predecessor had let Elliot go for longer than fifteen minutes, and had been decapitated by a flying piece of galvanized roofing metal.
Elliot nodded, and filled the last two trucks with the biggest pieces. Then, right before the timer ran out, he clapped his hands.
The ground shook as the zinc rained down around him.
“Nice job. Good haul today,” his supervisor said, once it was safe to come near Elliot again. Nobody stood in front of him while he was working. (Once, a long time ago, a stupid kid playing hooky in a junkyard had been ripped apart from the inside out. There was so much zinc in the human body…Ugh! He would never forget the screams.)
“Thanks,” Elliot said.
“You got enough juice in you for one more yard? There’s a scrap heap a few miles away that’ll pay us double if we pull out a couple of tons for recycling.”
Double for Super Patriots, Inc., maybe. Not for Elliot. He got paid the same salary, no matter how many junkyards he cleaned up. They told him he was doing good work, that the metal he pulled out would be reused, that he was saving the planet.
The work was its own reward, they said.
“Yeah, sure,” he said, and headed for his car.