The Hero’s Shadow

by Emily Livingstone

This one has sprouted wings. They are trembling, bleeding. I bandage them. She asks to see, but I say, “Shhhh. This will make you sleep.” 

Then, I check on the others. 

Some think I am one of them. Maybe they’re right. I was never his romantic partner, never singled out from a grateful crowd. But he did change me. I’ve seen our baby pictures. I didn’t used to have these horns, but I’ve always had the ability to hide. Because of him, I’ve honed it. Mom said she’d look in our room and think I was missing from the crib until she’d reach in and feel me there—his secret sister. 

I watch him on TV, bringing a faltering plane down safely. Stopping the evildoer from releasing deadly chemicals, cape fluttering, good-guy smile blaring. 

I know the real him. 

I’m not sure he even knows I live in his mansion. I and my charges live in the basement. I go upstairs, but only as my shadow self. I see the women he brings home, and occasionally, the men. I watch him lay them in his giant bed. They cling to him, grateful at first. He keeps them a few weeks. When he’s out saving the world, they wander the house in his old T-shirts, dazed. I leave bandages, ointment, painkillers for the wounds he gives them. I don’t speak to them. Not until they begin to change. Then, he’s done with them, and I emerge from the shadows and guide them—or carry them—down the stairs. 

When the new one wakes, I change the dressing on the wings. They are not feathered, but reptilian. She asks again to see them, and I say, “Not yet.” 

“Are they ugly?” 

“No,” I say. “They’re healing.” 

Her name is Jennifer, but I’m afraid to use it until she tells it to me. 

*

The next day, she asks again, and I brace myself. I am strong, but I’ve been hurt by the cast-offs before. I take her to my bedroom mirror, and drag another mirror behind her. She is stone-faced as I unwrap the wings. 

They’re an iridescent green, catching the light from the high window. 

She spreads them wide, and I worry she’ll fly away, disappear, kill herself, or someone else. I haven’t always been able to prevent that. But she just looks, then folds the wings around her face and falls to her knees. I hold her, and she clings to me, as hard as she once clung to him, but different. 

*

I’m in love with her. We’ve even gone flying together, with her wings and my shadows to keep us safe. I fly as high as he does, but I don’t help or hurt anyone. I simply am. I am with her. 

I introduce her to the others. Daniela, with her long, spiked tail and fire-breath. Gina, with her soft fur and sharp claws. Cecily, who can’t leave the water now—Jennifer says she looks like Nessie, the monster, and I freeze, waiting for Cecily’s wrath, but Cecily laughs. 

Jennifer speaks to all of them, even the ones who despise me, who asked “Why didn’t you stop him?” 

I’ve never blamed them. They can’t go back to their families, their jobs. The world would call them ugly or worse—and they were beautiful once. 

Then, Jennifer calls me to a meeting. 

Can I do what they ask? Would it be for them? Would I be what Jennifer called me—Savior? Or the petty sister who stole the magical hero from the world who loves him? 

Is he a hero?” Jennifer fans me with her wing. “When he hurts us? 

When his powers contaminate, and he recklessly spreads his disease?” 

“You think you’re diseased?” I ask. 

She doesn’t answer. 

I call five newspapers before I find one that will run my story. I agree to be photographed. So do Jennifer and a few of the others. 

When the story breaks, it spreads—all over TV and the internet. Jennifer is triumphant. She wants to fly out and find him, but I tell her no. 

Then, there he is on TV. He says, “I don’t know that woman.” 

I realize he means me, his sister, his twin. 

“She’s a liar.” He puffs out his chest, a smile spreads across his face like an oil slick, and I know what’s coming. “But never fear,” he says. “I’ll save you from her.” 

And so I am painted the villain. The media brands Jennifer and the others my “army of freaks.” 

I want to tear the horns from my head and the heart from my chest. I start to do it, but Jennifer shakes her head and gathers the others, those with wings pairing with those who cannot fly. 

We sail over the city like one creature, and instead of hiding, I cast my shadow over all we see. 

“We’ll bring him war if he wants it,” Jennifer says. 

“No,” I say into her ear. “We will bring justice.” 

Pleasant fire burns in my chest. We are stronger, together, with our various talents, than he is. I’ve always been afraid to save the world, to step forward and claim to know the way, but my way—our way—will be better than his.

Emily Livingstone is a writer, tutor, stay-at-home mom, and English teacher on hiatus. She lives in New England with her family, including a German Shepherd who knows a danger the minute the UPS breaks squeal. Her work has appeared in The Molotov Cocktail, Cleaver Magazine, Necessary Fiction, and others, and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.
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