And so it has come to this. I am ten years old, and my perfectly coiffed and manicured enemy stands before me: A one Gerald Von Bilderburg the Third, also ten years old, whose family comes from old, old, ooooold money, and is now heavily invested in oppressive black projects run by DARPA and other nameless agencies. Me in my Justice League T-shirt and sneakers; he in his prep school jacket, $2000 dress shoes, and diamond-flecked tie custom-made for his hulking (for a ten year old), evil-ass frame by the personal hand of Michael Kors himself. We have come to loggerheads over the issue of who gets to use the playground swing, and it has escalated to the point where this future leader of jackbooted thugs and I must joust on our bicycles. I can’t lie; I feel terrified at the prospect of facing off against this product of pure malice, this future leader of jackbooted thugs. My Schwinn still has training wheels, while his is manufactured by German clockworks that seems to be powered by cutting edge, steampunk tech. We lock eyes, each of us holding the toy lightsabers we got for Christmas. Once again, my heart drops at the disparity; my saber is one of those cheap, conical telescoping ones that you’d buy at a carnival. His actually glows, and responds to voice commands. A moment of silence…then we’re cycling towards each other, picking up speed as we close the distance. With a snarl, Gerald leaps off his mount, and blatters me across the face with his glowing bludgeon. As I topple off my bike and hit the dirt—seemingly in slow motion due to my concussed senses—I hear a choir of bereaved angels voice their sadness. From the tear-trickled corner of my eye, I see a forty-something year-old man rush over and yell, “I saw that! I saw that! You kids go home right now and—” and before this poor man knows what’s happening, Gerald slashes the guy’s legs out from under him. As the fellow lands on his stomach, my nemesis kneels on the man’s back and scoops his chin up, exposing the guy’s neck like a hog ready for slaughter. Gerald flicks his cuff-linked hand down in a short, downward snap, and an Eberhard #2 blinks into his fist. He holds the pencil up to the carotid artery of the man and snarls, “Now is not the time, peon. Unless you want to see the next Jackson Pollock writ across the sand via your spilled hemoglobin, I suggest you go home, make mediocre love to your wife, and enjoy Meatloaf Monday like a good peasant should. Nod if you agree.” The man’s eyes widen as he nods. He can only manage a few inches because of the compliance hold he’s in. Gerald gets up, and so does the man, who clutches his throat and staggers away in frightened disbelief. Gerald watches him with cold, steely eyes, then turns back to me. A devilish smile spreads across his face. “Where were we?” he says, inspecting his nails. I look around at the other kids, but there’s no help there; their cheeks are flushed, their bodies straightened and quivering like eager antennae, and their eyes have narrowed into beady, bright sparks. This is Lord of the Flies, and I’m the pig. Only one choice left: I fumble in my pocket and open my eReader to Echo. Magic flash. Suddenly, a brooding, dark-haired boy that’s just as impeccably dressed as Gerald walks up to us. Gerald eyes this boy suspiciously. “Who are you?” he demands. The glowering boy rasps, “Bruce Wayne.” Gerald scoffs. “I know about your father, Wayne. A foolish dreamer. A philanthropist. And I can’t help but assume that you’re of the same, weak-hearted stock. MY father runs kill-sites and R&D that would lay waste to your family’s insipid, cutting-edge medical tech. He’s engineered my genes to make me the next leader of All That Is. Groomed me so that I will one day inherit this mudball, and taught me the ways of corporate takeovers and government coups. What did YOUR father teach you?” Bruce steadily returns Gerald’s stare. “My father taught me everything I needed to know while he was facedown in an alley, dying from a scumbag’s bullet.” Bruce casts his somber eyes across the assembled children, and a few of them can’t help but take a step back. Bruce looks at Gerald again. “My father taught me…he taught me that life isn’t fair.” He blurs toward Gerald, who lets loose a scream of inarticulate rage: ‘GET HIM!” A pack of snarling kids converge on future Batman, but Bruce uses a bevy of stunning attacks to fend them off: Jiu-jitsu, Muay Thai, Pencak Silat, as well as some kind of somatically cued series of slaps, pats, and clicks of the tongue that hijacks these little monsters’ parasympathetic nervous systems and inflicts a grand mal seizure on them before they know what’s happening. Gerald runs at Bruce and they engage in a vicious exchange of Wing Chun sticky hands interspersed with attempts at Judo throws and wrestling shoots. In a matter of seconds, it becomes clear that Gerald is no match for Bruce. Future Batman disorients Gerald with a combo—fake, fake, slap, fake, turning side kick—sending the tiny tyrant stumbling back. When Gerald lunges in and overcommits with a cross, Bruce kneels and executes a perfectly timed Nut Punch. Gerald freezes in place, fist still extended, mouth gaping open like a dying fish. Bruce maintains his crouch, staring grimly at the ground, his seven-year old fist buried deep in Gerald’s ball-bag. For a moment all is still—like the perfect, silent seconds that follow a samurai duel. Then Gerald makes a high-pitched, falsetto squeak and collapses to the ground, clutching his nuts and sobbing like a baby. Bruce helps me up. “Come on Kent. Diana and Selina keep inviting me over to play spin the bottle, but I don’t know what that is. They scare me because they keep pawing at me and running their hands through my hair. I’m gonna see them now, and I could use a buddy.” I take his hand and get up, and me and future Batman run off to have many wonderful adventures together.
Even when you’re ten years old, you’re still in danger of prep-school douchebags. What’s the answer? A tiny tike version of the glowering badass that will one day be the hero we deserve. Get Echo Vol. 1 on Kindle here: Vol. 1 on Kindle. Vol. 2 on Kindle here: Vol.2 on Kindle Vol. 3 on Kindle here: Vol. 3 on Kindle