This whole thing ended with me not being able to grow eyebrows anymore, but it all started with this:
Great day to do a little rescue work out there in our fair city. Evil doers beware! Especially the Eternal Flame. STOP SETTING FIRE TO THINGS! #savintheday #SecurityMan
~ @therealSecurityMan, 10/15/18, 3:03PM EST; 2,412 Replies, 132,412 favorites, 86,419 retweets.
Yeah. I wrote that. What? No. God, no. I’m not Security Man. Ha. That’s funny. Could you imagine? Me, leading a double life as Security Man, the Man Who Makes Us All Feel Safe. I’m just a guy with a marketing degree and therefore, very little hope of gainful employment. So, I do a little PR flak work for the city’s superheroes, which amounts to managing their Twitter accounts. From Lion Lad, through the Governess, all the way to the crown jewel of them all, Security Man, I’m the one who makes sure the city knows who’s got their back.
Naturally, Security Man’s account is the most popular. After all, he’s got a national—well, actually, interstellar—presence. 2.3 million followers. Most of them aren’t even bots. To compare, my own, lowly personal account has 213 followers. Most of them are bots, and the ones that aren’t are my mom.
Now, I could really raise my profile and have Security Man’s account follow mine, but that’s not how this works. Superheroes have verified accounts, folks. At least, the legit ones do. I have to maintain the illusion that in between stopping runaway subway trains using only their fists and sealing trans-dimensional rifts by kicking them repeatedly, they have the time to send out into the world pictures of the breakfast burritos they ate that morning. If it became clear someone else was writing their tweets, then their whole public profile would be put into question. You’d be surprised how much of a superhero’s success depends on an authentic quality that leaves no room for ghost writers like me.
No, just as Security Man and his friends have to hide behind secret identities, I have to be content to be the anonymous thumbs that launch a thousand retweets for the planet’s strongest do-gooders. It kind of makes me a superhero mysel—
No, even I can’t sell that line. I’m just a guy with a pretty good data plan. You’d be surprised how much that didn’t help me when, while heading home from lunch at Ronaldo’s, the bus I was riding stopped suddenly at the corner of Hancock and Goodman to avoid crossing the torrent of fire that had replaced the intersection.
The bus lurched to the side. A glowing figure descended to the ground just outside the bus right at about the middle of the vehicle. Instinctively, passengers moved quickly to get out of the way before a bright flame split the bus in two, and we were joined by Janus Tolliver, more commonly known as The Eternal Flame.
“I have reason to believe that someone on this bus is the secret identity of Security Man. My old friend, you have my word: if you give yourself up now, these people will not be harmed.”
No one said anything, but I could feel the slice of deep dish I splurged on beginning to rebel against my stomach.
The Flame continued. “I wouldn’t assume I’m bluffing! I’ve traced the IP address from your copious social media posts to a phone on this particular bus. There is nowhere left to hide! Show yourself!”
The laughter of the crowd thankfully drowned out the dry gulp emanating from my throat. A little old lady seated near the front of the now split-level bus hoisted her phone, with Security Man’s profile and all my life’s work pulled up.
“Can’t you read, you fiend?” she asked. “It says right here, that Security Man is at the courthouse testifying against Interrobang, The Overly Loud Questioner Of Things.”
More laughter from the crowd followed. I was really starting to think that I might be in the clear, and this incident—the substantial bill to the city’s department of transportation not withstanding—would be just written off as yet another Eternal Flame scheme that failed to catch fire—
—Ooh, had to remember that particular phrase for a tweet later…—
—until several of the others, confident that the danger had passed, began to pull out their own phones and furiously type away. I could imagine their messages without ever seeing them:
“The bus I was riding on got wishboned by #theeternalflame. He thought he had found @therealSecurityMan. What a tool!”
“The Eternal Flame? More like The Eternal Idiot. Can I get a what! what! @therealSecurityMan? #followback”
It didn’t matter what they said. All that mattered was that my own phone, tucked into my breast pocket began to convulse with a wave of mentions, enough to make Security Man trending.
Everyone looked at me. I couldn’t hide it. For a moment, they must have entertained the impossible notion that I might be Security Man. The Eternal Flame marched towards me. I could feel my skin begin to bake in proximity to his heat.
“You?” he asked, the mere thought offending him. “But that’s…” He contemplated the new information further, and then grinned. “I see… So you must have… access to him, no? You will be made an example of…”
He continued his move towards me, his infamous lust for immolation clear on his face.
I put my hands up in supplication. “Have you ever thought about expanding your online presence?”
He softened, and one lit eyebrow arced upward in curiosity. “Are you proposing some sort of bargain in exchange for your life?”
Sure, it was a conflict of interest. It might have even been indentured servitude. Good guys, bad guys… Even if I wasn’t about to die, it wasn’t the worst idea in the world to diversify. When who you are online is all that matters, the big questions like right and wrong are sort of secondary.