The ad read:
Looking for: A nemesis. Preferably villainous. Happy to meet at your convenience. Call: 0431 684 229.
I had seen it last week in The Gazette, in the tiny half page section they still reserved for classifieds. I’d read it over a coffee from my usual seat in the cafe after completing my morning run. Something I did every Sunday. It had caused me to emit a small laugh–nothing more than a barely audible exhalation out of my nose–and to wonder at the weirdness of people, before turning the page and forgetting about it completely; or so I had thought.
I walked over to the adjacent supermarket and, while dawdling past the fluorescent lit shelves with a shopping basket in one hand and a shopping list in the other, the words of the ad came back to me.
It had to be a kid, I thought as I passed the shelf full of a seemingly endless variety of packaged water. But then, a mobile number was attached, and how would a kid know how to post a classified anyway? Why would they bother? Surly they’d just throw something like that up on their social media or on a forum somewhere. The medium of the advertisement alone signified an adult, as did the language. Which only raised more questions in my mind.
As I perused the vegetables I wondered who this person was. Where they male or female? At a guess, probably male. But then you never knew. I mean, I’m female and I’ve been reading comic books since I was eight. The poster of the ad had to be a superhero aficionado, surely. Who else would put a call out for a villainous nemesis if not a lonely comic book obsessed viglianti wannabe?
I saw my reflection in the glass of the supermarket freezers and realised I could be describing myself. Well, I wasn’t obsessed obsessed. I had my collection, sure, but I didn’t turn my apartment into a shrine to the genre like some people did. At the very least I knew the difference between fiction and reality, unlike the poster of the ad.
I told myself to stop thinking about it and focused on my shopping list. I had already walked past half a dozen items I needed while lost in thought.
That night as I sat in front of the television I caught myself thinking about who would answer an ad like that. Someone similar to the person who posted it no doubt. Two nerds, likely out of shape, running around the city at night, pretending to play good guy versus bad guy. Not that all nerds were out of shape, of course. Look at me, I completed an iron woman last year and I still consider myself a nerd. Not that I would answer the ad, of course.
Which made me wonder if anyone had answered it yet. Unlikely. Right? Surely not. Not that it mattered. Not that I cared. It was silly. I was wasting my time wondering about it, and had missed most of what had happened on my show. I focused on the programming and let the thoughts about the ad slip from my mind.
At work the next day I managed to forget about the ad. There was a warehouse to run, stock to load, people to talk to. I didn’t have time to think about a stupid bit of frivolity from the local paper. It was probably a joke anyway.
‘What’s that your whispering?’ Marcus had asked me while I was checking over the mornings order; some two hundred drums of gasoline to be shipped overseas somewhere, but which had none of the right permits.
‘Sorry?’ I responded, not realising I had been whispering anything.
‘That thing you’ve been whispering? Something about villainous, and convenience. You’ve been doing it for the last hour. It’s driving me nuts.’
I froze, thinking back. I had been saying the words of the ad. In fact, they’d been playing over and over in my head, like a song stuck on repeat. They were playing right now.
Looking for: A nemesis. Preferably villainous. Happy to meet at your convenience. Call: 0431 684 229.
‘Ah, it’s just an ad jingle,’ I said, covering. ‘Sorry, didn’t even realise I was singing it.’
‘Yeah? Haven’t heard that one. What’s it an ad for anyway?’
‘Um, you know. I don’t remember,’ I said. Marcus gave me an odd look, one I probably deserved, one I probably would have given myself had our positions been reversed. They were used to given me odd looks around here anyway. I knew they had jokes about me. I was the loner. The weird chick who worked out too much. The one to avoid unless you wanted to hear about comics for two hours straight. I didn’t mind, mostly.
‘Sorry. I’ll stop,’ I said, telling myself as much as him.
But I didn’t stop, at least not internally. The words kept swimming round my head for the rest of the day.
A day passed, and then another, and I had mostly managed not to think about the ad. Occasionally it would pop up in my mind, but I would squash the thought whenever it presented itself and get on with whatever I was doing. By Friday I think I had genuinely forgotten about it, losing myself in the usual routines of the week. On Saturday, I had busied myself with a triathlon, a trip to the movies, and then a dinner out by myself.
Then Sunday had come and with it my trip to the cafe to treat myself to breakfast.
It was raining again, the scene all but identical to the week before. As soon as I sat down in my regular spot the memory of the ad returned. I couldn’t not check. I went to the counter and got that days copy of The Gazette, then returned to my seat and turned immediately to the classifieds. There it was, slightly altered from last week. Today it read:
Looking for: A nemesis. Preferably villainous. Happy to meet at your convenience. Call: 0431 684 229. Serious enquiries ONLY.
So, they’d got some interest, but only by people who were looking to make fun. None by anyone who took it sincerely. Not like me, a small part of me thought. I quieted that part, and turned instead to the front page of the paper to distract myself. It didn’t work.
I turned the pages but I wasn’t taking any of it in. Instead I was asking questions I knew I shouldn’t be asking. Things like: what would make a good nemesis? Or, what would my first crime be? I knew the answer to the former. Decades of reading comics had instilled in me an appreciation when it came to a well defined villain. They were usually broken in some way. Whether by a unresolvable loss, or just worn down by the monotony of life. They were people with skills, often overlooked. Accomplished, but only to themselves. Unappreciated by anybody else. They were, if done right, real people with real goals. Mirrors of the hero, who just went about things in a different way. Often in a way that made more sense. They were, arguably, heros in their own right. Just, misguided.
As for the second question, I had no answer. Or, at least, I didn’t allow myself one.
I tore out the ad and put it in my pocket.
The next day at work I had planned to catch up on some paperwork. Instead I locked myself into my small office at the back of the warehouse and drew. I’m not an excellent illustrator, but I’m passable. Helped by years of tracing characters from the colourful pages of my favourite comics.
What I drew were outfits. Costumes. What I would wear, hypothetically, were I to become a super villain. I went with a charcoal colour spectrum. I had never liked villains that were as flashy as the hero. Plus, it couldn’t be too cartoonish. Something I could wear through a crowd without getting any odd looks. Something tight that billowed at the edges a little, with a hood that could be slipped on quickly. I’m willing to admit some bias, but I thought it looked quite good. Menacing. I decided to even have an attempt at making it, just to see what it would look like.
It was even better than expected.
That Sunday the ad was still there.
It became a mental puzzle for me; If I were to commit a crime, how would I do it?
The warehouse would be the ideal location, I thought the follow Monday while doing my early morning inspections. I knew the space, the schedules, the flaws. I still didn’t know what the crime would be, but that was less important than that it be explosive, a real performance. Something to draw the media, give them a story. A story about me. I mean, my alter ego.
I would need an alibi, of course, as my intimate knowledge of the place would also make me a suspect, but that wouldn’t be too hard. I had set up a camera outside my apartment over a year ago, and I knew how to edit the metadata. I could simply tell anyone asking that I had been home all night, and then show them footage from a different evening. I had plenty of nights where I had stayed home alone.
Probably best if I tell a few of my coworkers and neighbours that I was feeling unwell beforehand too. Perhaps store my costume at work, change when I get there. The fire escape to my apartment was rarely used. It would be easy enough to get down and up it without anyone seeing me. I could then ride a bike out here. It wouldn’t be very heroic but it would be discreet.
All the pieces were coming together. For the puzzle, of course.
I wouldn’t give myself a name, I decided as I was working out the following evening. Let the news outlets decide that. I wondered what they would chose.
I bought a burner phone the next day, just in case.
I called the number two nights later, just to see what the person’s voice was like. It was close to three am, but I couldn’t sleep. I placed the ad in front of me, although I knew the phone number off by heart. I had set the burner phone to private, and then slowly dialled each number, my heart racing. He picked up on the fourth ring. It was a he, as I’d expected. ‘Hello,’ he said.
My adrenaline spiked and I hung up the phone and dropped it to the counter.
My hands were shaking, and something like a giggle was coming from my mouth. I put one of my shaking hands over it to quiet myself.
The burner phone began to ring.
I stared at it, frozen, until it rang out.
Then it began to ring again.
I slowly lifted it off the counter and looked at the screen. The number was private, but I was confident I knew who it was. I told myself not to answer. To turn off the phone and destroy it, along my costume, and plans, and all the other steps I had already put in place. But my finger moved almost against my will.
Or perhaps with it. Could I really still deny my motivation? My desire?
‘Hello,’ he said again. His speech was deep, with a slight accent, perhaps Indian? I had expected the weasley voice of a stereotypical dweep. This wasn’t that.
‘I’ll be your nemesis,’ I heard myself say in a voice that was out of breath.
There was a pause. I could hear him breathing.
‘You’re responding to my ad?’ he said, and I let out an exhale, only then realising I had been holding my breath.
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Yes, I am.’
‘And, this isn’t a joke? Because if it is I-’
‘No! No, I am very serious. Very. I already have a costume, and a plan, and, and I’ll be your nemesis. I want to be. I…I need to be.’
‘Okay. Okay. That’s…this is great.’ I could hear the smile in his voice, hear the excitement I felt in myself reflected back from him. ‘When are you-’
‘Thursday week. A warehouse down near the docks. On Grattan Street. Around midnight.’
‘Okay. I’ll see you then.’
The line went dead, and I smiled.
The footage had gone viral.
We had fought hand to hand as the gasoline and warehouse burned behind us. He had been beautiful. A pure white outfit, stark against his brown skin. The strong brooding ghost-of-the-night type. I had slipped in a monologue about how I was going to save this city by destroying it. Not very original perhaps, but I’ll do better next time.
They’d called me the grey moth.
He, my nemesis, had said I’d deserved something more sinister.
I said I didn’t mind. I’ll make them fear it.
Thanks for reading,