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Sleepwalker

After fulfilling a childhood fantasy by writing for Marvel Comics, David VonAllmen is now focused on fantasy novels. David lives in St. Louis with his wife and two grade-school children who both love to write fantasy stories of their own. Visit his website at davidvonallmen.com.
I've already taken the pills. I hope they kick in before Jupiter comes to kill me. I sit on my sagging mattress, spiral notebook on my lap, ballpoint in my hand, deciding how I should finish the letter.
To everyone else Jupiter's a wondrous champion--leader of the world's greatest superhero team, the guy who turned back the Kraxx invasion of Earth, the man who made it safe to walk the streets of New York City at night. His ability to be a heartthrob and a family man at the same time doesn't hurt, either.
To me he's a cold-blooded murderer, because he knows I'm innocent but he's coming to kill me anyway. I've tried to keep my head down. I live a quiet life in a one-bedroom in Brooklyn, work my crappy job, pay my taxes. But the other guy, the Sleepwalker, he comes out at night, and the things he does are my nightmares--maiming people for fun, reveling in the fear of his victims before gutting them with his claws, hunting and killing superheroes for no other reason than to prove he can. I'm just along for the ride, an unwilling passenger inside the monster my body transforms into every time I sleep.
I can't control the Sleepwalker's actions. If I could stop him, I would. Oh, God, how many times have I prayed to find a way to stop him? But I can't. Jupiter knows this, knows none of this is my fault. But he's made his calculation. The life of one innocent--me--is worth less than the lives of all the other innocents Sleepwalker will kill in the future. So he's going to stop Sleepwalker permanently. And the only way to do that is to kill the monster when he's vulnerable, when he's in human form.
Everyone loves Jupiter but me. I know he's a hero, I know he's only doing what he has to. But I can't help hating him. I never took it personally any of the times he fought Sleepwalker, but now he's coming after me. He's forced me to make a decision: fight or die.
The sleeping pills have made me drowsy; it's getting harder to think. I have to finish writing my letter quickly. "I hate you and I'm finally going to kill you," I scribble. I flop back on my musty quilt and let the notebook rest on my chest, open to my letter. I have to hope when Jupiter comes in he finds it. I feel sleep overtaking me and gladly give in to it.
Waking inside Sleepwalker's body is always the same--a surreal moment as my mind adjusts to this hulking body moving independent of my will. I hear the shattering of glass and Sleepwalker sits up. Through his eyes I see Jupiter has crashed through my third-story window and hovers a foot above the carpet. His muscles bulge through the red spandex, his golden cape flutters heroically behind him. He's the perfect image of super-justice, or he would be if his face weren't wearing such a shocked expression.
"Didn't think it would be me, did you, boy?" Sleepwalker says, mirth easily heard through his gravelly voice. "Thought you could kill the runt and be done with me...."
Faster than my mind can register, Sleepwalker has flown across the room and has Jupiter's throat in his grip, the fingers of his enormous hand wrapping all the way around Jupiter's neck. The mighty superhero lashes out with a panicked punch, and it's like a sonic boom has exploded inside my brain. I know Sleepwalker can take a lot more than that, but to Jupiter's credit he manages to stagger the monster back.
Jupiter flies forward, ramming into Sleepwalker's stomach, and we all but cave in the brick wall behind us. Jupiter leans back to get room for another punch, but Sleepwalker is too fast, his claws rip across Jupiter's chest. The public thinks Jupiter's skin is too tough to ever bleed, but three lines of red streaking across his torso shows me they're wrong.
Jupiter stumbles backward. He knows he's in trouble; I can see it in his eyes.
"Once I kill you, they'll know I can't be beaten," Sleepwalker says, and I can feel him grinning. "Not by you, not by any--"
Sleepwalker stumbles back a step. I can feel his wooziness, and I can sense his confusion. Jupiter looks up at us, his eyes squinting, trying to figure out what's happening.
"What did you...?" Sleepwalker asks. The room is tilting, he can't stay on his feet, can't catch his breath. "What's... what's...?"
Jupiter stands up, one hand clutching the wounds on his chest, as Sleepwalker falls backward on his butt, back up against the bed. He can hardly stay upright. Lying on the ground next to us is my notebook, still open to where I left it. Jupiter picks it up, reads the note, then looks around. On my nightstand he sees the pill bottles. He was always so observant, a fact I was relying on.
Jupiter picks up all three bottles of sleeping pills and turns them upside down to show Sleepwalker they are empty. Then he holds up my note for Sleepwalker to read. It says: "Your mistake was that you made my life such a nightmare I no longer want to keep living. I hate you and I'm finally going to kill you."
Groggy and disoriented as Sleepwalker's mind is now, I can feel one strong, clear emotion. Rage. He knows it's me who's killed him, and he's overwhelmed with a fury that wants to gouge out my eyes and tear off my limbs. If that were possible. But it's not.
We slump over, his anger and my triumph dissolving into blackness.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, April 26th, 2016


Back in my comic book days I'd planned a series about an aging superhero who realizes that no one else is powerful enough to take on his rogue's gallery, so the only way he can retire is to kill them all. It was depressing. I loved it, but I decided I didn't want to focus years of my career on such a downer premise. However, one of his enemies, a guy named Sleepwalker, created such a compelling moral dilemma for the hero that I couldn't get him out of my mind. I knew I'd do something else with that character someday. I'm delighted he wound up here.

- David Ryan VonAllmen

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