Monday, 23 June 2014

Ms Terious by Esther Cleverly

Read by Howard Ho

Dear Madam,

I won’t call you “Ms Terious,” as we both know you’re no “Ms” and there’s no “mysteriousness” left surrounding your identity, more’s the pity. I just can’t believe you let me find out this way. After all the teasing, the clues, the midnight vanishings, the flirtatious notes left at crime-scenes, the tight-fitting outfit – for God’s sake, you must’ve known it would destroy me to discover who my slinky female nemesis really was.

But did you care? Apparently, you did not. Apparently, that was the last thing on your mind as you left a trail of suggestive destruction through the city simply to ensure you were my No. 1 Enemy. You wanted my attention and boy, did you get it with your crazy crusade of crime. I don’t know if it was a hormonal thing, or working out some serious relationship issues, and believe me I don’t want to. But what you did was selfish, and thoughtless, and frankly pretty creepy: all the things I swore, when I became NightGuard, never to be.

When a man (or woman) dons the guise of a superhero, he (or she) puts on more than a mask and cape. He or she (actually let’s just stick with “he”, since you’re hardly a good example of the female costumed demographic) takes on a burden. The burden of responsibility. The burden of setting an example. The burden of morally-upright behaviour and not just doing what the hell she likes just to piss somebody else off.

I became NightGuard because I felt that a nocturnal costumed vigilante was what our neighbourhood needed. There was a gap in the market since ShadowStalker had been served with several restraining orders – by unfortunate coincidence, all for stalking – so a new hero with a new name was needed. OK, I was a college dropout living at home and working at Starbucks, but why couldn’t I answer the cry of the helpless? Why shouldn’t I help keep the streets safe for drunk co-eds and lost tourists? And everyone seemed to like the idea, as you may recall. My shift-manager Melanie said it would help develop me as a person and a barista, and promised to let me go every day at sundown as long as I patrolled the streets around our branch first. Dad said it might make me finally use that gym membership he bought me for Christmas. Even Mom approved, though I think it was mostly because she wanted me out of the house. And when I told Emma-Jane, my best friend since forever, she was insane for it. So I took it seriously. Well, more seriously than my law degree, anyway, as Dad observed.

I trained hard. I went to that place Emma-Jane’s Goth friend recommended for a customised leather costume and I let a guy with an actual nail through his septum take my groin measurements. I ordered unpronounceable martial-arts weapons with accompanying instructional DVDs from Amazon, and every night I went through the routines until they were second nature. And then, trembling with excitement and adrenalin, and yes, a kind of quasi-erotic anticipation, I went out on my first night patrol.

It was disappointing, frankly. Even when I finally caught some weedy ratboy burglar trying to climb into an apartment on my fourth patrol, he just scampered off while flipping the bird. The last thing he looked was terrified, or chastened. I stopped a few crackheads breaking into parked cars, and put an end to a door-to-door insurance scam by dragging the guy into the copshop… but his case ended in a mistrial due to my use of so-called “excessive force.” The whole experience was kind of meh. If I was going to fight ordinary petty criminals and half the time watch them escape justice, I might as well have joined the police. I didn’t make a secret of my disillusionment, either. Where were the daring villains? I lamented to Melanie during breaks; where were the truly audacious and dramatic robberies, I asked Emma-Jane over pizza. Where, I moaned, as Mom tried to follow her Wii-Fit aerobics programme, was the imagination, the acts of pure creative evil? My hero life was as dull as my homelife, until you came along.

Ah, Ms Terious! How I used to thrill when I heard your name on the police radio channel or the local news. My fists would clench involuntarily, and after that first encounter when you hung me upside down in a spring-noose trap and threatened to spank me for being such a goody-goody, so did my buttocks. Every time I saw your signature “M” at the scene of a crime I started to breathe heavily, breaking into a sweat under the padded leather. I became angry and reckless, and yes, a little horny as I thought of what I’d do to this meddling minx when I finally hunted you down. But you were always one step ahead, like you knew me better than I knew myself. Knew my every move; where I’d be and when, how I moved, how I thought, when I got off work…

I probably should have asked Melanie straight out if she was Ms Terious, but like I say, I was blinded by rage where my nemesis was concerned. I definitely shouldn’t have locked us both in the Starbucks disabled bathroom and swallowed the key when she refused to admit that she was my suede-clad villainess. I needed that job, and I don’t think she’ll write me a reference now.

Poor Emma-Jane, too. Rappelling into her bedroom and holding nunchucks to her throat was definitely not one of my subtler moves. But I was so sure you must be her! The long legs, the come-hither glances I could feel even through the mask, the saucy wordplay, the acrobatic swordplay. It was only when she fainted in terror that I realised she could not be my unflappable foe. And then, finally home, weary and defeated, I stripped off my costume and put it in the specialist dry-cleaner bag, and I saw – I saw…

How could you do it, Mom? Your own son! Tossing your hair and wiggling your ass and leaping around in skin-tight suede, at your age? I know Wii-Fit keeps you toned; I know that since the accountancy firm made you redundant you’ve been feeling at a loose end, like you had something to prove, but seriously? This was a sick trick, and not in a good way. Yeah yeah, I know you said you only wanted to “give your pumpkin a good enemy to cheer him up,” but this pumpkin is pretty pissed off right now. In fact, he’s pulling one of those horror faces you see on pumpkins at Hallowe’en. He may be in therapy for the rest of his natural life, and it will be your fault. So if you wanted to kill off NightGuard, congratulations – he’s dead to me, like someone else I could mention. The victory, “Ms Terious,” is yours.

Your son,


P.S. Please tell the drycleaners there’s a coffee stain on the left shoulder of my costume.  As we both know, leather garments are a nightmare to clean.

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