We’re less than a week away from the new release date of Superhuman Disaster–and I’m actually on track to meet it this time! To celebrate, here’s a sneak peak of the first chapter. Thanks again to all of you for your patience, and I hope you like it!
When I slept, I dreamt of death.
I stood in an amusement park surrounded by the dead. Their bodies lay in lines, blood running down the walls, brains splattered across the pavement, guts baking under the hot sun. They slumped over the counter in front of brightly lit carnival games, corpses strapped into rollercoasters that zoomed overhead. Their silence filled the expanse.
I fought the supervillain Bloodbath, too late to save anyone from him. We traded punch after punch, and it seemed like we’d be doomed to battle forever until I finally hit him hard enough, and he joined the rest of the dead at my feet. My triumph instantly turned to a sense of overwhelming wrongness, and the glassy eyes of the corpses stared at me in judgement. As I looked around, I couldn’t help but wonder…
Had Bloodbath killed these people, or had I?
I woke with a start. Lying on a hard mattress, my body was stiff and aching. I stirred, and my joints felt like a bicycle that had rusted over and wouldn’t move the way it was supposed to. Who the hell had I fought yesterday? The rest of my brain cells belatedly woke, and I remembered that I’d retired from being the superhero White Knight over five years ago. Getting beaten up wasn’t my job anymore, so why did I feel so crummy?
I could figure that out after I’d slept a little longer. Rolling over, I reached out to put my arm around Val.
My arm met empty air and flopped against the edge of the bed. Jerking, I opened my eyes and saw a room I didn’t recognize. Shiny metal fish hung on the white walls, grinning at my confusion, and blocky white shelves held dolphin statuettes, bottles of sand, and other knickknacks straight from a tacky Miami souvenir shop. A curtained window gave a glimpse of green leaves, and a door stood open to a carpeted hallway. What in the world…? Had I fallen asleep in a stranger’s beach house?
I glanced down at myself, and a jolt of panic went through me as I saw a pale blue pajama shirt that I didn’t remember owning. As my heart pounded, I patted myself down in reassurance that I was still…well, me. Tan skin, broad chest, thick arms, wrinkles—I exhaled slowly, my heartbeat slowing back down. I was still David Del Toro, fifty-year-old retired superhero and loving husband and father. Some crazy telepath hadn’t trapped my mind in someone else’s body as part of a convoluted revenge plot. (The job hazards in my line of work could get weird.)
That still left two questions: where the heck was I, and how had I gotten here? I’d suspect I’d been abducted, but this was obviously someone’s house and not an underground prison cell. My wrists weren’t tied or manacled, and a quick check of my legs revealed they were unbound, too. That’s when I noticed the bed. It was a hospital bed, complete with wheels, an adjustable food tray, and a small control panel for the reclining function.
My stomach churned uneasily, and I sat up, biting back a groan at how much pain the action sent through my body. Wincing, I pushed back the cotton sheets and swung my legs over the side of the bed so that my feet rested on the smooth wooden floor. It turned out I wasn’t wearing pajamas but a blue hospital gown, and judging by the goosebumps running down my spine, it was open in the back.
I really hoped I could find a pair of pants somewhere.
As I braced my hands on the edge of the mattress to stand, I spotted a cane leaning against the wall on my left. I froze, recognizing the polished metal handle. That was one of mine. What was it doing here? Reaching out, I grasped it and unscrewed the handle, checking the sword hidden inside. Finding the sharp blade banished any lingering thoughts that it was a fake, but how had it gotten here?
My head hurt, and thinking felt like trying to run underwater. The last thing I remembered was being on vacation with Val and Elisa in the Florida Keys. Was this a beach house we’d rented? No, I would’ve remembered that, and it didn’t explain the hospital bed.
I wouldn’t get answers by sitting here, so I heaved myself to my feet. My leg muscles felt about as sturdy as jellyfish, and despite gripping my cane, I wavered and nearly fell. Already, I felt out of breath and wanted to sit back down. Holy hell, what was wrong with me? I could bench press cars on a normal day. Sure, I had a bad knee (hence the cane), but I shouldn’t feel this weak.
With careful, shuffling steps, I made my way slowly out of the room and into the hallway. Voices reached my ears, so I followed them. Hopefully, they didn’t belong to my kidnappers. With the condition I was in, I couldn’t win a fight against a chihuahua, much less a gang of criminals.
The voices rose angrily, and I strained to hear their exact words. Maybe I’d get lucky, and whoever they were, they’d beat each other up for me.
The voices paused, and a laugh track sounded. That’s when I realized they were coming from a TV. Frustrated, I tried to move faster, but my legs felt like pool noodles rather than limbs. A little light-headed, I paused at the edge of a doorway, peering inside a living room with similar nautical-inspired decorations to the room I’d woken up in. A man sat on the couch in front of the TV. Thin and bearing a snowy white beard, he ate a pasta dish off a tray in his lap and sipped a glass of wine.
Or at least, that’s what he had been doing. He must have caught my movement out of the corner of his eye, because he shot up with a shout, tomato sauce and wine spilling all over the carpet in front of him. I though he might run, but he just stood there, mouth hanging open as he stared at me.
“Mis-Mister Del Toro,” he gasped.
“Dr. Quevedo,” I said, recognizing him. He was a black-market doctor my wife paid to fix up injuries when going to the hospital would draw unwanted police attention. (Have I mentioned my wife is a former supervillain? That’s probably important context.)
“I… You—You’re awake.” He blinked rapidly.
“I am,” I agreed. “I have a lot of questions, but first things first. Do you know where my pants are?”
He looked me quickly up and down as if only now noticing the hospital gown. “I think I saw some in one of the spare rooms. I’ll get them for you, but let me check you over first. Please sit down.”
I glanced at the armchair he gestured towards. “Thanks, but pants first. I’m pretty sure it’s rude to put your bare ass on another man’s furniture.”
“It’s not mine. It’s yours—Ms. Belmonte’s anyway. Though I think the deed is under a fake name. In any case, I insist. You’ve just woken up from a month-long coma. I need to examine you.”
I stared at him, probably wearing the same dumb expression of shock that he’d gotten when he’d first seen me—a reaction I completely understood now. A coma? A month? My tenuous balance deserted me, and I careened sideways.
“Whoa!” Dr. Quevedo grabbed me by the arm. He stammered apologies as he helped me to the chair, but his words washed over me like white noise. A coma. A month. How had it happened? What had I missed?
“Where’s Val?” I asked.
Dr. Quevedo had gotten out a stethoscope without me noticing, and he paused, the end of it hovering about an inch above my chest. “I’m not sure. I haven’t seen her in almost four weeks. Well, at least not in person.” His face twitched, and he glanced away as if debating whether to continue. After a second, he forced his gaze back to me. “She’s on the news a lot. It seems like she’s involved in another high-profile robbery or attack every week.”
“She doesn’t do that kind of thing anymore.”
Dr. Quevedo leaned back, making me realize I’d probably said that more forcefully than I’d intended.
“I know,” he said quickly. “I’m not saying she— It could be someone impersonating her, or she’s pretending to do it as part of one of her schemes. I don’t know the details, and quite frankly, I don’t want to.”
I forced myself to relax. “Right. Sorry. It’s a lot to take in.”
But Val really didn’t do stuff like that anymore. The Black Valentine was retired, just like White Knight. But Dr. Quevedo said he hadn’t seen her in almost a month. She hadn’t visited? That left me with a slimy coldness in the pit of my stomach—not because I was insecure and thought she’d stopped caring, but because something awful must have happened to prevent her from coming. Whatever it was, I’d bet it was related to whatever had put me in a coma.
“Do you know what happened to me?” I asked.
“Just a moment.” He placed the round end of the stethoscope against my chest and listened, then repeated the procedure a few inches lower. Satisfied, he pulled out the earbuds and put the tool in his bag. “And I don’t know the details, only that you were attacked. You were admitted to a regular hospital first, but evidently, someone found you and tried to finish you off. Ms. Belmonte was going after those responsible last time I saw her.”
Again, I strained my brain and tried to remember what had happened but came up blank. You’d think something that had put me into an honest-to-God coma would be impossible to forget.
“Can I borrow your phone?” I asked.
He shined a small flashlight into my eye and studied my pupils. “Yes, I’ll get it once we’re done here.”
I forced myself to sit still, resigned to the fact that I wouldn’t get further answers until the doctor had assured himself of my well-being. All the while, my mind raced. What had happened to Val? Where was our daughter, Elisa? If I was still hidden in a safehouse after four weeks, then Val must not have taken down whoever was responsible yet. Was she working undercover to get to them? That might explain the news reports and her lack of visits.
“You seem alright—for the moment anyway.” Dr. Quevedo straightened up. “I’ll need to run some more tests, but they can wait. Keep resting here. I’ll go get you a phone.”
“And pants, please,” I reminded him.
He returned soon enough, carrying a bundle of clothes that still had the tags on them. I dressed as quickly as I could, which was only slightly faster than a broken car going uphill. I was still stiff and dizzy, and the usual twinge in my bad knee had turned into blasts of piercing pain. I nearly lost my balance twice but managed to pull on jeans and a button-down navy shirt that was a hair tight but still fit. Then I collapsed back onto the armchair, ridiculously worn-out.
Dr. Quevedo, who’d been waiting politely with his back turned, passed me a cheap burner phone.
“There’s one number in the contacts. They told me to call it if you woke up.”
“Yes, sorry. Mr. Capello and your daughter stop by every few days to see you. There’s another young man with them—I forget his name.”
Some of the tension in my gut unwound. Elisa was with Eddy. Most parents probably wouldn’t feel relieved to know their child was in the care of a tattooed, burly ex-con like Eddy Capello, but he was an old henchman of Val’s and basically acted like Elisa’s doting grandfather. She’d be safe with him.
I called the number in the contacts list, my foot tapping as it rang. The sooner I could let Elisa know I was okay, the better. I couldn’t imagine how hard this must have been for her, visiting her comatose father week after week. A whole month… I shook my head, still trying to come to terms with it.
The phone went to voice mail. I debated leaving a message, but if they’d given Dr. Quevedo a burner phone and programmed a number I didn’t recognize into the contacts list, they were probably worried about security. Until I knew more about what was going on, I decided not to risk it. Hopefully, they’d see the missed call from this number and call back as soon as they could.
Dr. Quevedo was scrubbing at the wine and tomato sauce on the carpet. Embarrassingly, my stomach growled, though, to be fair, it hadn’t seen solid food in a month.
Dr. Quevedo shot up. “Let me get you something.”
“No” the doctor said. “No, no, no. You’re resting. Besides, all you’re getting is water until I make sure your digestive system is still working properly.”
I knew when to pick my battles, so I didn’t argue. Chances were I’d be disobeying the doctor’s orders soon enough, so I wasn’t going to waste my energy trying to convince him to let me make a sandwich.
I had the water, only now noticing how dry and terrible my mouth tasted. (Toothbrush. I needed a toothbrush.) As the doctor ran me through a gauntlet of different tests, I kept the phone by my side and waited for it to ring. I prided myself on being patient. Years of waiting on stakeouts as White Knight had drilled that virtue into me whether I wanted it or not. But after almost two hours of being poked and prodded with medical instruments with still no word from my family, I couldn’t take it anymore.
I dialed Val’s number, but instead of a ring, I heard a click, and a robotic, female voice informed me that the number was disconnected. My empty stomach churned nauseatingly, and I dialed Elisa next. Her phone rang, at least, but it went to voicemail. I left a short message asking her to call back. I tried Eddy next, and then Irma, who was another of Val’s henchmen. (Henchwoman? Henchperson?) No answer from them, either. Remembering Dr. Quevedo’s mention of a young man visiting me, I dialed Julio, only to get the same result.
As I lowered the phone, my hand trembled. Maybe there was a nice, harmless reason why I couldn’t get in touch with anyone, but I seriously doubted it. I surged up from the chair, making Dr. Quevedo jumped back.
“Sorry,” I said, “but I need to go.”
“What? No. Mr. Del Toro, please, you just woke up from a coma. You can’t—”
“I know. It’s an awful idea, and I should be resting, but Doc…” I rubbed my face. “I need to find out what’s happened to my family. Something… Something’s very wrong.”
“I…” He grimaced like it hurt him to bite back his warnings. Then he exhaled loudly. “Of course you do. I understand. But please don’t push yourself. Expect some dizziness, and don’t be surprised if you get disoriented or confused. I’d feel better if someone went with you…”
“You want to be my sidekick for the day?”
The color drained from his face. “No. I’d really rather not. I— If you absolutely insist, but I don’t—”
“I’m kidding. I doubt I’m going anywhere safe. You’re smart to stay clear of me.” I studied him for a moment. “Have you been cooped up in here the whole time I was…?”
He nodded, rubbing his eyes.
“Go home to your family,” I said. “I’ll call you if I need anything. And thank you. For everything.”
As Dr. Quevedo packed his things, I did a quick search of the rooms. Like all of Val’s safehouses, this one had supplies. One of the dresser drawers had a false bottom, and I found a treasure trove of cash, guns, and fake IDs inside. Grabbing a driver’s license with my photo on it and a couple hundred dollars, I headed to the garage. Val had a thing for cars, so my only question was whether I’d find a sleek new sports car or a refurbished classic.
When I opened the door, I found a beat-up brown van. I blinked at it for a moment before locating the keys hanging from a hook on the wall. The engine started, and it had almost a full tank of gas, so it would do. I pulled out of the driveway and headed home.
It was time to get some answers.