Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels
- Age: 18
- Grade: 12
Good and Evil. Two sides of the same coin? Or something less defined, something more liminal? Entertaining and always thought-provoking, author J.M. Frey offers a collection of remarkable short stories that explore the grey area of the hero/villain dichotomy in this debut short story collection.
Heroes. Villains. Monsters. Fairy Tales. Myths. Legends.
Who is the good guy, who the bad, and who gets to decide which is which? After all, 'hero' is just another four letter word.
About the author
J.M. Frey is an author, voice actor, and professional smartypants. She’s appeared in podcasts, documentaries, and on television to discuss all things geeky. Her debut novel TRIPTYCH was nominated for two Lambda Literary Awards, and garnered a place among the Best Books of 2011 from Publishers Weekly. Since then she’s published THE ACCIDENTAL TURN SERIES, a quadrilogy of meta-fantasy novels, and THE SKYLARK’S SAGA, a steampunk adventure duology. Her queer regency historical fiction novel THE WOMAN WHO FELL THROUGH TIME was honoured with a Watty Award in 2019. Her life’s ambition is to step foot on every continent – only three left!
Excerpt: Hero is a Four Letter Word (by (author) J.M. Frey)
Bullets fired into a crowd. Children screaming. Women crying. Men crying, too, not that any of them would admit it. The scent of gun powder, rotting garbage, stale motor oil, vomit, and misery. Police sirens in the distance, coming closer, making me cringe against old memories. Making me skulk into the shadows, hunch down in my hoodie, a beaten puppy.
This guy isn't a supervillain. He isn't even a villain, really. He is just an idiot. A child with a gun. And a grudge. Or maybe a god complex. Or a revenge scheme. Who the hell cares what he thought he had?
In the end, it amounts to the same.
The last place I want to be is in the centre of the police's attention, again, so I sink back into the fabric, shying from the broad helicopter searchlights that sweep in through the narrow windows of the parking garage.
If this had been before, I might have leapt into action with one of my trusty gizmos. Or, failing that, at least with a witty verbal assault that would have left the moron boy too brain-befuddled to resist when I punched him in the oesophagus.
But this isn't before.
I keep my eyes on the sky, instead of on the gun. If the Brilliant Bitch arrives, I want to see.
No one else is looking up. It has been a long, long time since one of...us...has donned sparkling spandex and crusaded out into the night to roust the criminal element from their lairs, or to enact a plot against the establishment, to bite a glove-covered thumb at 'the man.' A long time since one of us has done much more than pretend to not be one of us.
The age of the superhero petered out surprisingly quickly. The villains learnt our lessons; the heroes became obsolete.
A whizzing pop beside my left ear. I duck behind the back wheel of a sleek penis-replacement-on-wheels. The owner will be very upset when he sees the bullet gouges littering the bright red altar to his own virility.
I've never been shot before. I've been electrocuted, eye-lasered, punched by someone with the proportional strength of a spotted gecko and, memorably, tossed into the air by a breath-tornado created by a hero whose Italian lunch my schemes had clearly just interrupted.
Being shot seems fearfully mundane after all that.
A normal, boring death scares me more than any other kind—especially if it's due to a random, pointless, unpredictable accident of time and place intersecting with a stupid poser with the combination to daddy's gun drawer and the key to mommy's liquor cabinet. I had been on the way to the bargain grocery store for soymilk. It doesn't look like I'm going to get any now.
Because only the extraordinary die in extraordinary ways. And I am extraordinary no longer.
I look skyward. Still no Crimson Cunt.
Someone screams. Someone else cries. I sit back against the wheel and refrain from whistling to pass the time. If I was on the other side of the parking garage, I could access the secret tunnel I built into the lower levels back when the concrete was poured thirty years ago. But the boy and his bullets are between us. I've nothing to do but wait.
The boy is using a 9mm Berretta, military issue, so probably from daddy's day job in security at the air force base. He has used up seven bullets. The standard Barrette caries a magazine of fifteen. Eight remain, unless one had already been prepared in the chamber, which I highly doubt as no military man would be unintelligent or undisciplined enough to carry about a loaded gun aimed at his own foot. The boy is firing them at an average rate of one every ninety-three seconds—punctuated by unintelligible screaming—and so by my estimation I will be pinned by his unfriendly fire for another seven hundred and forty-four seconds, or twelve point four minutes.
However, the constabulary generally arrive on the scene between six and twenty-three minutes after an emergency call. As this garage is five and a half blocks from the 2nd Precinct, I estimate the stupid boy has another eight point seven minutes left to live before a SWAT team puts cold lead between his ribs.
Better him than me.
Except, probability states that he will kill another three bystanders before that time. I scrunch down further, determined not to be a statistic today. This brings me directly into eye-line with a corpse.
There is blood all around her left shoulder. If she didn't die of shock upon impact, then surely she died of blood loss. Her green eyes are wide and wet.
I wonder who she used to be.
I wonder if she is leaving behind anyone who will weep and rail and attend the police inquest and accuse the system of being too slow, too corrupt, too over-burdened. I wonder if they will blame the boy's parents or his teachers. Will they only blame themselves? Or her?
And then, miraculously, she blinks.
Well, that certainly is a surprise. Perhaps the trauma is not as extensive as I estimated. To be fair, I cannot see most of her. She has fallen awkwardly, the momentum of her tumble half-concealing her under the chassis of the ludicrously large Hummer beside my penis-car.
I am so fascinated by the staggering of her torso as she tries to suck in a breath, the staccato rhythm of her blinks, the bloody slick of teeth behind her lips, that it's all over before I am aware of it.
This must be what people mean by time flying.
I'm not certain I've ever felt that strange loss of seconds ever before. I am so very used to being able to track everything. It's disconcerting. I don't like it.
And yet the boy is downed, the police are here, paramedics crawling over the dead and dying like swarming ants. I wait for them to find my prize, to pull her free of the SUV's shadow and whisk her away to die under ghastly fluorescent lights, too pumped full of morphine to know she is slipping away.
I wait in the shadow of the wheel and hope that they miss me.
Only, in missing me, they miss her, as well. She is blinking, gritty and desperate, and now the police are leaving, and the paramedics are shunting their human meat into the sterile white cubes, and they have not found her, my fascinating, panting young lady.
Oh dear. This is a dilemma.
I am reformed. I am no longer a villain. But I am also no hero and I like my freedom far too much to want to risk it by bringing her to the attention of the officials. What to do? Save her and risk my freedom, or let her die, and walk free but burdened with the knowledge of yet another life that I might have been able to save, and didn't?
I dither too long. They are gone. Only the media are left, and I certainly don't want them to catch me in their unblinking grey lenses. The woman blinks, sad and slow. She knows that she is dead. It's coming. Her fingers twitch towards me—reaching.
A responsible, honest citizen would not let her die. So I slink out of my shadow and gather her up, the butterfly struggle of her pulse in her throat against my arm, and slip away through my secret tunnel.
I steal her away to save her life.
"As usual, Frey runs the full emotional gauntlet from laughter to heartbreak, with stops along the way at bitterness, regret, anger, determination, desire, and absurdity. Fans of rewritten myths and legends, both ancient and modern, will love her twist on feats of derring-do and what the heroes are really thinking behind their posing and finger-wagging at villains and exclamations of 'You can’t do that! That’s naughty!' Heroes are born to be extraordinary. But these heroes are all the more extraordinary because they insist on being Destiny’s partner, not her pawn."
-Corrina McGill, Wading Through Books blog