They called him Bulletproof. He was the man who could survive anything. Anyone that tried to shoot him may as well be throwing confetti. Knives were no worse than rubber against his skin. Bombs? Forget about it.
He had brought down some of the worst scum in the city. Murderers, rapists, drug pushers. He struck at the heart of organized crime and shattered it. He was a hero. A bona fide superhero in their midst.
Everyone wondered how he came to be. Where did those extraordinary abilities come from? Mutation? Genetic experiments? Some believed he was the last survivor of a dying world. That one amused him. But he was a man of mystery and he preferred to keep it that way.
Despite his status in the city, he didn’t hold himself above it. He still lived in his old neighborhood, a place most criminals had learned to leave alone. And on warm nights like the one the city was experiencing now, he liked to take a stroll down familiar streets. It reminded him of who he used to be, of how far he’d come.
“Come on, man, I don’t got all night!”
He sighed. Who would be dumb enough to hold up a convenience store in that area? He followed the voice through the sliding doors. Kid. About twenty, if that. Acted tougher than he was, suffering from the same misconception of immortality that comes with youth. The kid saw him, panicked. Fired a few shots in fear. Put a few holes in his favorite shirt. That wouldn’t do. He knocked the boy out with a light punch to the jaw and wished the store clerk a pleasant rest of the night before walking out.
It felt good to be somebody.
Smiling, he headed for Harry’s. The little bar had been a mainstay of the neighborhood for decades, and it was a regular haunt of his even before his…transformation. He greeted Harry as he walked in through the creaking double doors, and sat on his usual stool. Harry nodded in response and poured him a beer. He was getting grayer by the day, but his hands never shook once when making drinks.
The bar was mostly empty at that time. Just Harry and a small handful of regulars. They all knew him well, and were perhaps the only ones in the city to not treat him like a celebrity. He didn’t mind. He just drank his beer in contented silence.
He was just starting on his second beer when the man walked in. He was old, with patches of gray on his cheeks and chin, and a suit that clung to his spindly limbs. The old man sat down on the stool next to him and smiled, showing a small handful of yellowed teeth.
“Warm tonight, huh?”
He took a long sip.
“I’ve seen warmer.”
“Yes, yes, I’m sure you have.”
The old man didn’t order a drink or even address Harry, just sat there.
“How does it feel? Being a hero? You like it?”
He shrugged, avoiding the man’s gaze. “I can’t complain.”
“Whole city’s going crazy for you. And here you sit, in this dingy bar. You could be sitting on a throne.”
A short laugh floated over the rim of his beer glass. “I don’t need a throne, old man. Even sitting on this stool, people know who I am.”
The old man nodded. “Ah, that they do. That they do. The man who can survive anything. But all men die in the end.”
“You think so?”
He drained the last of his beer and looked the old man square in the eye. “I don’t know who you are, friend. But I know this. Nobody in the whole wide world can take me down.”
The old man blinked once and then, without a word, extended his hand and slapped him across the face. He flew halfway across the bar and landed on the floor with a thud. Shocked, he looked up to see the old man standing right in front of him. Except he didn’t look so old anymore. He loomed high, his head almost touching the ceiling. His eyes glowed like burning embers and dark smoke issued from his mouth as he spoke.
“Try to keep your feet on the ground, ‘hero’. Don’t forget who made you what you are. You puff your chest out and strut around this place all you like, but in the end, you serve me. Or maybe you’ve forgotten our deal?”
He stayed on the floor, unable to stop himself from shaking.
“It’s been quite some time since you’ve brought me any souls. And please, I’m getting tired of drug dealers. How about that young oaf you knocked out at the convenience store? Why did you leave him behind? You don’t really fancy yourself a hero now, do you?”
The creature was pacing around the bar right now, though nobody else seemed to notice.
“Get your act together, Bulletproof.” The creature spat out that last word. “Or else I’ll come to collect what you owe me. And I won’t need bullets.”
It leered at him and transformed into a cloud of black smoke that dissipated into that air.
“You alright, bud?”
He looked up. Harry was staring at him, trying to crease his frown lines into an expression of concern. He was still sitting on the same stool The bar was still completely intact. No old man…or anything else.
“Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine.”
Police sirens blared on the streets as two squad cars sped past the bar. He picked up another beer and downed it in one gulp. It was time to go to work.