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Superman's Dead


On your eighteenth birthday your grandfather tells you he has superpowers. He says it’s possible you may have even inherited some of them.

“Don’t look at me like that,” he says. “I’m being serious.”

“Sure,” you say. “Sure you are.”

“Listen, I didn’t realize I had these powers until I was eighteen. They were, how do you say it? Dormant. But when I realized I had them ... I mean, whoa!”

You remind him about your parents, both who died in a car accident five years ago. You ask why, if your father had superpowers, he didn’t survive.

Your grandfather makes a face, scratches his head. He says, “Because it skips a generation, I think.” Then, “Hey, you ready to go test your powers?”

He takes you up to the roof of the tallest building in the city. He points out toward the horizon. “See that brown speck right there? That’s our house.”

You ask him why he brought you here.

“Because I want to see you fly.”

You step to the very edge of the roof. Look down at the sidewalk and street, at the ant-sized people moving about.

Looking back at your grandfather, you say you want to see him fly first.

“Okay,” he says, “here,” and he jumps in the air and stays there, hovering a couple inches off the ground. After a few seconds he lowers himself and nods at you. “Now your turn.”

You look back over the edge, look back at your grandfather. “I don’t think so.”

He steps forward, places his hand flat against your chest, and pushes.

Three seconds. That’s how long it takes before those ant-sized people grow into normal-sized people.

Fifty feet before the concrete is about to break your fall, your grandfather catches you. Cradling you like a baby, he flies you to the top of the building and sets you down.

He shakes his head. “I guess we can check that one off the list.”

Next he takes you to Las Vegas. You ask why you’re here.

“I’ve been taking care of you, what, ten years now?”


“Right. And you’re telling me in all that time you’ve never wondered where I get my money? Never wondered how I can afford the house?”

You ask again what you’re doing here.

“Boy,” your grandfather says, “you’re here to win it big.”

He explains about his x-ray vision. How he can see the cards that nobody else, not even the dealer, can see. How when you play poker or blackjack you can’t let yourself win big every time. It’s tempting, very tempting, but placing down a lot of money and then winning even more money, again and again, will raise too many eyebrows.

Your grandfather takes you to the Bellagio. He has you sit down at one of the blackjack tables where the bet is only ten dollars.

You place a bill on the felt and receive your chip. You put the chip in and let the dealer give you your cards and you can’t see anything — not the face cards, not the dealer’s bra or even her tits — and when you say hit me a third time the dealer gives you a queen of spades and takes your chip.

Smiling, she says, “Would you like to play again?”

The next place your grandfather takes you is to an empty field. He has a gun with him. He says he will shoot the gun and he wants you to outrun the bullet.

You tell him that’s impossible. You tell him you jog every morning and you know you can’t run that fast.

“Just try it,” he says.

You do. You stand there in a ready position and he fires the gun and you barely raise your foot by the time the bullet makes it to wherever it’s going.

He points the gun at you. “Maybe if you had more motivation?”

You snatch the gun from his hand and remove the bullets.

He says, “How long do you think you can hold your breath underwater?”

Days pass. You refuse to humor your grandfather with any more tests. You decide a superhero is the last thing you ever want to be.

Then you see a hostage situation on the local news. Right this moment downtown, three men with guns have taken over a bank.

You say to your grandfather, “Why don’t you use your powers and help those people?”

Your grandfather says, “Now why the hell would I want to do that?”

You pack your things and leave that night. You don’t know where you’re going and just start driving. You eventually end up on the other side of the country. You find an apartment with a month-to-month lease. You get hired at a restaurant as a busboy. You meet a girl and fall in love and get married.

After a year you both decide to buy a house. Your wife wants to become a sonogram technician and starts evening classes at the community college. You are promoted to restaurant manager. She gives birth to an adorable boy of eight pounds and three ounces. You name him Devin, after your wife’s grandfather. Life is good. The thought of your grandfather or superpowers never once enters your mind.

Until one day when Devin is three and you’re watching TV in the living room and your wife screams and you jump out of the recliner and race up the stairs to find your son floating above his bedroom floor.

His head is almost touching the ceiling. He giggles while his mother stands there screaming with her hands to her face. Your son has the cat squeezed to his chest and the cat is staring back at you with its golden eyes, completely stuck in shock and fear, so slow and stupid in that moment it doesn’t realize that if dropped it will land on its feet like it always has and always will.

Robert Swartwood has no superpowers. He lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and blogs at