Upville, Episode 2: The Name Game

Fern lounged in the love seat while Blackout and C.K. were out shopping for their next heist.  Really their first heist, but who was counting?  Every heist they had almost been on was cancelled as soon as C.K. saw anyone in the vicinity under 18 years old.  Then Blackout would dote on his punk ass until Fern simply melted whatever surface was nearest to him and trodded back to the Villain Van.  Fern probably should have gone with them, but he wanted to be alone for a minute.  Well, as alone as he could be with Gram upstairs.  He considered the floral pattern on the cushions and thought about his name.

Everyone called him Fern, now.  He didn’t mind it among friends.  Hey, Terriferno was a lot to get out every time you needed to call someone to come get their Hot Pockets out of the microwave.  At the same time, though, “Fern” seemed a bit too familiar.  Blackout was the first person to shorten his Villain moniker, and since they were becoming friends, he let it go.  The real question was, had he let it go too long?

Sure, Fern was fine, if nobody else picked up on it.  But now that C.K. and Gram let it slip from their lips, he was a bit worried if it was becoming—he hated to say—cute.  You could spell it a different way and get “Furn,” he thought.  The floral-patterns on the love seat weren’t buying it, though.  And a furnace wasn’t the most flattering comparison to draw between his kick-ass powers.  A furnace was used for burning shit you didn’t want or heating a house or disposing of dead bodies.  Yeah, they’re kind of scary.  But they’re also immobile.  Inanimate.  Insular.  Real furnaces weren’t to be feared by adults.  Not that anybody ever thought that his name took the more flattering spelling, anyway.  Nope, based on their nonchalant attitudes, they were all imagining the most old-lady-friendly plants in the universe—the goddamn fern.

Were there any ferns in this floral pattern, he thought, moving out of the way of his own shadow from the brass lamp, so he could more thoroughly inspect the unfortunate piece of furniture.  The cushions smelled like dust and air-freshener.  He saw some spindly vines and a few, faded flower buds, but no fern leaves.  He was a bit sad, now.  It would have been terrific irony if this couch was completely fern-patterned.  There might have even been a few villainous giggles from him.  Terriferno reduced to Fern moping on a fern-patterned love seat in somebody-else’s grandmother’s house.  Hah Hah Hah.

But no.  Fern was gonna have to burn it with everything else when he got into the super-villain ranks.  Whenever that would be.  A pile of smoke poured from his mouth as he let out a tremendous sigh.

Fear the Terriferno.  An excellent tag-line, going to waste.  It had taken him weeks to come up with a fitting villain name.  Something not too long, but not so short it could be jumbled with four-letter curse words, either.  Or else he’d be on the receiving end of an endless amount of internet memes destroying his villainous character, turning him into a joke that would get laughed out of his villain name before he even had his first come-back appearance after the first defeat.  Well, at least he had been spared the name-bearing memes.  That was the one positive thing about being relatively unknown.  As for the face he had made while being shocked by the severed power line, well, that might still be being used; he hadn’t checked the internet in a while.  Seeing his face bordered with cheap text and surprisingly clever one-liners was a lot to handle, so he had decided to wait until the incident blew over—more over.   Six months had already passed since then, but the pictures kept surfacing, if less frequently.  Somehow time was moving slower than he imagined it should be.  He thought about making a mask for himself, but that would only postpone the public from finding out, eventually leading them back to the pictures he was currently trying desperately to escape.  Then he’d have to start all over, again, anyway.  May as well get it out of the way, now.

Plus, he’d have to create another villain persona, and that would be a pain in the ass. Nope, Terriferno would just have to put it back together himself.  And he liked the name “Terriferno.”  The name was the culmination of weeks of drawing-board failures.  Inflamer—sounded like a disease.  The Hot Fire—more of a rapper name.  Incindier—too much like Frigidier.  Inferno—already taken.  And then, at long last, he had arrived at Terriferno.  Sure, it was a bit long, but he could burn it into most walls pretty quickly for his villain signature.  It had taken him a week to get the signature right.  You didn’t want it overly-polished, like you were a disgruntled art major, nor did you want it so rough you were mistaken for someone illiterate.  He thought he had settled on a pleasing medium—the top five letters were in a squiggly style that evoked, he thought, the handwriting of someone terrified, while the bottom letters were all emblazoned in a classic, fiery style, thickly set with flaring edges.

The merchandising prospects were endless.  He had sketches of chic coffee mugs with his signature, dual fonts and creative, fire-inspired handles.  Or what about the red undershirts with Terriferno fiber that kept your body warm, but not muggy, in the winter?  Or the oven gloves that were patterned on the flames from his hands?  He had all of this ready to pitch to sponsors once he made it big time and secured a hero rival.  Then, the China Pot Incident.  He conjured a fireball in his palm and twirled it around, envisioning melting her face into the pavement.  Oh, he would have his revenge, but only when everyone knew that Terriferno was nobody to fuck with.

You didn’t go after the small-fry hero after an embarrassment.  You kept pursuing the super heroes, and waited until the little guys tagged along for peripheral camera time.  That way, it would look like you weren’t bothered at all about one, tiny…accident.  He’d torch her to the floor as a show of strength before dealing with the real hero.  That way, he would create a name for himself while burying the past at the same time.  They wouldn’t even recognize Fern after he had shown what he was really made of.  He clenched his fist and smothered the fireball.  Then he reclined in the love seat, face tilted towards the ceiling.  He could hear Gram padding around in her slippers on the way to the stairs, most likely headed for a refill of cranberry juice.

Fern couldn’t wait to get out of here.  If the heist went well, then, luckily, a first-rate hero might show up and catapult them into prime time.  They could get a real hideout, without any old ladies interfering with their villainy.  He clicked off the light and waited for Gram to pass the door to the living room on the way to the fridge.  But she knew he was there and stepped in the doorway.

“Turn on some lights if you’re gonna be sitting down here,” she started, eyes set in Fern’s direction.  “I don’t want you leaving no more burn marks in my house playing with your little flames,” she said, gesturing lightly with her empty glass.

“Sure,” he replied in a low, bored voice, pulling the brass cord.  He didn’t want to be bothered with her right now.

Gram got the answer she was looking for and shuffled to the fridge, audibly mumbling, “Always planning the next ‘heist.’” She took out the cranberry juice and poured herself a glass, “When what ya’ll need to be doing is planning interviews for some real jobs, ’stead of sitting around all the goddamn time…”  Gram glanced back into the living room on the way back upstairs, shaking her head at Fern one last time.

Fern returned his gaze to the ceiling.

The words “Fear the Terriferno” floated in front of his eyes, like a joke.

Just you wait, Gram, he thought.  Just you wait…

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