433: Good Neighbours

I probably should have been worried about what was happening next door but I was too focused on my own shit.

Not that it was hard to figure out why someone who wanted to have a word with me would do it via my neighbour instead of waiting for me inside my own place.

Archie was watching me carefully. My flat was probably bugged or had cameras installed or something.

If they — whoever they were — wanted a word without letting Archie know, they would need to do it in a lateral fashion.

Slip in next door disguised as a pizza delivery guy or whatever, and then wait for me to come home so they could pull me aside without giving themselves away.

The only problem with their plan was that it relied on me giving a fuck about Tony.

I mean, he was a nice enough bloke. I wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to him, just like I wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to anyone. But since when has anyone cared about what I wanted?

People die all over the world all the time without anyone consulting me on the matter. I didn’t see what difference it made if tragedies occurred halfway around the world or on the other side of my partition wall.

That kind of postcode empathy is the epitome of bollocks. You either give a shit or you don’t. And I didn’t.

Of course, if we’re talking about family or close friends, then sure, you have every right to be affected if they are suffering in some way.

But if you get all bent out of shape over someone you don’t really know, they just live near you, then you’re just a pretentious muppet who probably writes for the Daily Mail. Dude, she’s dead, and you never even met her. Stop playing Candle in the Wind on repeat and let it go.

Magic. That was where my head was at.

I locked my front door and then got a chair from the kitchen and wedged it up against the door handle for extra security. I didn’t want to be disturbed by whoever had Tony by the throat, and I didn’t want to be disturbed by Tony begging for help.

Having said that, it’s still difficult to not feel some sort of desire to prevent the suffering of others when it’s happening right in front of you. Nobody likes to see that sort of thing, especially when you’re as squeamish as me.

Which is why it’s important to remember that people can’t make you feel bad (or guilty or ashamed) if you can’t see or hear them.

Yes, it would be a terrible dilemma if the terrorists made demands that would lead to the deaths of innocents if they were refused, but it becomes a much easier decision to not negotiate with them when you have no idea what the terrorists want or who the hostages are.

Once I was in my flat with no one to bother me, I was able to relax and think about how best to reactivate the supernatural abilities that would enable me to start living the life of a superpowered arsehole.

Obviously, I wasn’t going to use my powers for the good of mankind. Mankind not only didn’t deserve it, it would never accept it.

Can you imagine the fuckery that would ensue if someone genuinely tried to be a superhero irl?

The media, the public, the government — they would all make that person’s life a living hell, right up the moment they sliced him open as they tried to obtain that power for themselves. In the name of the greater good or national security or a BBC documentary narrated by David Attenborough.

It wouldn’t be like in the movies, where the costumed hero works from the shadows with the help of a noble cop and an incorruptible politician. Batman being real had a far higher chance of being true than either of those two existing.

Nope. A complete asshat who used his powers to deliberately make others feel weak and inferior was the only way you’d ever get any time to yourself.

I sat cross-legged on my bed and tried to reconnect with the source of magic that was inside of me through the power of meditation. I also tried yoga and breathing funny until I felt lightheaded. I may have got distracted by Youtube when I researched the best ways to lose all sense of self.

Even though I had done this once before, it had been difficult. Wanting it, being desperate for it, putting my all into the effort, none of that had worked.

In the end, it had taken a complete lack of self-belief and an expectation of failure before I finally succeeded in producing that first flame on my finger.

Sometimes, you have to give up completely before you can access the real you.

The problem was that now that I knew what was possible, it was much harder to have no expectations. This time, I would need to find a different way to bypass hope.

But this was not an insurmountable problem. I just needed to find another way to get there.

This was a clear sign of my emotional growth and maturity. No longer was I the simpering, bitter boy who blamed others for his miserable existence, now I was the simpering, bitter boy who was willing to apply himself in the pursuit of punishing all those who were responsible for my miserable existence.

Or that’s what I would have been doing if it weren’t for the sounds of punching, slapping and whimpering that were filtering through the wall.

My would-be interrogator was apparently taking out his frustrations on Tony.

Although, my guess was that it was a ploy to win over my sympathies so I would cave and rush to the rescue.

I lay down and put the pillow over my head as a drill started whirring. Tony was quite the handyman, so he probably had a whole range of electrical appliances for his assailant to use, each no doubt noisier than the last.

Life is distractions. If you want to succeed, you have to learn how to block them out. Focus and sacrifice, that’s what makes winners according to Michael Phelps, record-breaking Olympic medalist. Goddam Youtube. I wonder how many people he’s ignored being tortured in pursuit of excellence. Since he went to Beijing for the games in 2008, probably quite a few.

I tried my best to replicate the state of mind I had managed to reach the first time I performed magic, but I couldn’t do it. I was having difficulty even finding a starting point for my transformation into a wizard.

When I’d healed the tramp earlier, I hadn’t been in a transcendent stupor, I’d been quite freaked out by the state of the tramp’s face, which I was responsible for.

What if that was what triggered it? How was I going to replicate the feeling of wanting to puke at the sight of a horrible disfigurement?

I got up, went to my front door and removed the chair. I went out onto the landing and knocked on Tony’s door. The door opened a few moments later.

Tony peered out through the narrow opening. He looked a bit worse for wear. His eye, the one I could see, was all puffy and purple, and his bottom lip was bleeding.

“You came back…” His voice was hoarse and a bit shaky. He looked like he was ready to burst into tears.

“Is that guy still here?” I asked.

Tony’s eye flicked to the side and he nodded.

“Can I speak to him?”

The door opened wider and Tony stepped back.

“Come in,” said another voice. It sounded a little foreign but it was hard to place. Asian, East European, North African — it had that Tom Hardy playing Bane, chewing your own tongue while speaking quality to it.

I walked in. Not necessarily a smart move on my part, but if I needed something to freak me out, why not use what was closest to hand? Nothing wrong with popping next door to borrow a cup of trauma.

The hall I was in was identical to mine, except for the man in a hoodie holding a knife pointed at Tony’s terrified face.

He was shorter than me, which must have made getting a date on Tinder a bit of a pain, but he was quite stocky and gave off the impression that he could break things with his hands without meaning to. Not someone you’d want to hold your pet rabbit.

“I’m glad you decided to—”

“Sure. Look, I need you to do me a favour. I need you to scare the shit out of me.”

There was a moment of silence.

“I don’t understand,” said the hooded man. “I just need you to come with me for a talk. We mean you no harm.”

“Yeah, that’s great, but first…” How was I going to get him to play along? His whole reason for being here was to get me alone so he could convince me to come over to his side. “I can come with you, but I need to make it look like it was under duress, you understand? I had no choice.”

“Ah… yes, I see.” He lowered the knife as he started to see us as accomplices in some kind of joint subterfuge. “You need to convince Larwood.”

“That’s right,” I said. “But it has to be convincing. He has ways of knowing the truth.” This was guesswork on my part, but it felt plausible.

My partner in crime nodded his head.

“Yes. I understand.” He raised the knife and stabbed Tony in the side of his large stomach, which came as a surprise to Tony who opened his mouth to scream.

His stabber immediately put a gloved hand over Tony’s mouth to stifle the scream and stabbed him again, all the while facing me. But I couldn’t see his face under the hood and the whole performance was a little lacklustre.

“No, that’s not really working.” It was sort of shocking, but there wasn’t any blood for some reason, and the truth was, the attack lacked any real drama. Tony just wasn’t selling it, he just went a bit limp.

The guy was clearly a psycho but this felt like it was moving in the right direction. And once I got my powers, I’d be able to heal Tony, so it wasn’t like I was on board the psychopathic express with him.

“I need something to get my blood racing, you know? Heart thumping, cold sweats, hairs standing on end. Verifiable reactions.”

“I could cut the skin off his face,” my new buddy offered.

Tony took a sharp inhale of breath and bent over like he was about to pass out. The man let him lower himself to his knees but held onto his mouth.

“No, that doesn’t sound like it would work. Hurting him won’t be enough.”

“But he is your friend.”

“Hmm, no, I wouldn’t say friend.”

“You’ve lived next door to him for years.”

It’s really quite hard to explain to a non-Londoner what it’s like living here. I don’t want to come across like some elitist snob, but you can’t really appreciate just how few fucks are given here per capita unless you spend some time here not getting to know the locals.

While me and the psycho were chatting, Tony took this opportunity to grab a drill from somewhere and plunge it into the man’s head.

I didn’t see much as they both rolled around on the floor, but there was a dreadful noise as metal hit bone, and a weird gurgle from inside the man’s hood. He spasmed as Tony went ham on the DIY front.

Tony turned towards me, drill whirring in his hand, eyes wild and crazy. “You… How could you? He did things to me...” He looked very distraught and not a little unhinged.

“Now, Tony, calm down. I can explain.”

Could I? Probably not to anyone’s satisfaction, but this was what you said to a deranged person wielding a drill.

He started to come towards me, the drill held like a gun, whirring and spraying blood around. He looked ready to use it on me.

And then he stopped.

“Wha…?” he managed to say, the rage and madness in his eyes replaced by confusion.

He was looking at my waist. No, it was my hands. I looked down to find they were slightly on fire.

“Oh my god, it worked,” I said, holding up my hands which were covered with blue flames. “Thank you, Tony, thank you.”

I grabbed him by the shoulders and he screamed as I accidentally set his clothes on fire.


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