Ronald spent most of his life trapped in the business world, placing a small noose around his neck each day and laboring under the lash of his inferiors. That was until the knowledge of his impending death liberated him from his humdrum existence. The revelation was unexplainable, but he knew it to be true.
Most people wouldn’t have considered the balding, pot-bellied, middle-aged man to be much of a threat. Until he’d glimpsed his inevitable doom, he wouldn’t have considered himself much of anything. He had no family, no children, no prospects except his looming fortieth birthday.
However, the gift of his single premonition changed everything. Once he’d glimpsed the end of his life’s path, he was as upset as anyone else would be. Childhood dreams that he hadn’t thought of in years suddenly seemed incredibly precious and unattainable. He only had thirteen years left.
When the ticking of the clock sounds like the footsteps of doom, thirteen years is all too brief. After a lifetime of mediocrity, he thought himself incapable of breaking his self imposed mold. He lacked the funds to travel the world. He lacked the charisma and intellect needed to charm his way to the top of the business world. How could he ever live in Hawaii at the tip of a volcano? He would never even live past fifty-three.
Yet, didn’t age also hold promise? His time was limited, but it was also a CERTAINTY. Just as nothing could prevent his death, nothing could hasten it. He was indestructible. He wasn’t a risk taker by nature, but for the next thirteen years death held no sway over him. Rather than a death sentence, it was an emancipation.
With this in mind, he realized the one childhood dream within his reach. He became a superhero. With iron-on numbers, blank t-shirts, and surprisingly comfortable tights, he created a costume to wear beneath his work clothes. He started wearing more comfortable shoes to work and carrying a few ‘accessories’ in his briefcase. With his new persona hidden neatly beneath his worn suit, he could transform in an instant into the dreaded Number 53, the Middle-Aged Marvel, defender of the innocent, bane of evildoers.
He used his invulnerability for the first time during his morning commute. He’d noticed a woman being followed into an alley by a shady looking character. The man pulled something out of his pocket as he followed the nervous looking woman. No one else seemed to notice.
Ronald looked around. Not a phone booth to be had. Damn cell phones! He’d just have to do with his mask. He walked into the alley and slipped it on quickly. He could hear voices.
“I told you, Dan, that’s all I have! I can’t give you anything else. Now, it’s over. Please let me go.”
“Listen, doll, I think you’ve got something else I want, and I intend to get it.”
‘Doll?’ Didn’t that slang go out with speakeasies and guys named ‘Bub?’ Ronald thought.
He heard the woman gasp. “Get your hands off me!” A sharp slap echoed in the alley.
By now Ronald, shrouded in darkness, stood behind the thug. He feigned bravado. Stepping forward, he boomed in the deepest voice he could muster, “YOU HEARD THE LADY. LET HER GO.”
The man pushed the woman to the ground and turned, his incredulity writ large. The woman sat, sobbing quietly behind him. “Who the hell are you?” His jaw dropped as he took in Ronald’s mask, business suit, balding pate, and unimpressive physique.
“I’m ’53!'” said Ronald. He thrust out his chest and pulled open his button down shirt to reveal the iron-on letters beneath. Damn, there go my buttons, he thought, as he heard them plop onto the wet ground. He’d really need to think up a better way to undress in these situations. Buttons weren’t cost effective.
The man looked him up and down, then started laughing. “I didn’t ask your age, moron! What are you going to do to stop me?” He pointed a gun at at Ronald’s chest and snickered. “Looks to me like your days are numbered.”
Ronald dove at the man’s feet just as he pulled the trigger. The recoil and Ron threw him off balance, the bullet aimed high, ricocheted off the wall, catching the man in the shoulder. With a cry, he fell heavily, cracking his head on the pavement. He was out cold.
“My days ARE numbered,” said Ronald proudly. He turned and offered his hand to the woman. She’d stopped crying, took his hand, and let him pull her to her feet. Despite her tear-stained face and swollen eyes, she was rather pretty.
“Just so you know, Miss,” he added. “I’m not fifty-three years old. It’s just my alias.”
She smiled at him, and for the first time in his life he felt truly alive.