There was no warning. One moment, they were sitting in fourth period English, like normal; the next, an announcement, blared out over the loudspeakers – special assembly, would all students please leave their regularly scheduled classes and gather in the cafeteria. Normally, it would have been in the school hall, but the hall was closed for the day, the roof having been caved in by a stray boulder.
“Any idea what this’s about?” Matt asked, as he slid into the gap at their table between Jane and Taylor. The former said nothing and the latter just shrugged.
“Maybe it’s bout the stuff with the hall.”
“I swear man, that was all Freddie P,” Marcus swore, although he still looked around nervously at the gathering of teachers.
“Shut up Marcus.”
“Stupid goddamn dirt-wranglers, I swear to god.”
“Ooh, look at me, I can throw a rock the highest! Oooh nooo, look at meee, I can throw a rock the highest!”
“Shut up, it wasn’t my fault,” Marcus said, slumping into a sulk.
“Ladies and gentlemen!” Principal Rance’s amplified voice echoed throughout the room and the buzz of chattering stopped, “Thank you all for coming.” The grey-suited man was standing at the middle of the long teacher’s table that ran exclusively down one edge of the cafeteria, flanked on either side by what looked like half the staff – and behind him a man Matt didn’t recognise. “I apologise for pulling you out of class, however I have just received some very exciting news from a very important guest.” He stole an excited glance over his shoulder at the figure behind him, fluorescent light shining off the bald patch on his head. Matt and half the students in the room craned their necks for a better view.
“Is it Steve Austin?” whispered Brodie. Carlos shook his head and Taylor shot him a look. The man being introduced wasn’t anyone they recognised. It was weird – Rance wasn’t usually this excitable.
“It is my honour,” continued the principal, cutting across Matt’s chain of thought, “To introduce you all to Mr Daniel Winters.”
This meant nothing to anybody. But the uncharacteristically enthusiastic head apparently knew that would be the case, because he immediately repeated: “Mr Daniel Winters: Managing Director of the Legion of Heroes.”
There was a stunned silence. Matt looked across at Jane, who had frozen in place, eyes wide, unable to move. Matt didn’t think she was breathing.
“What’s the Legion of Heroes doing-”
“Who are they-?”
The silence broke and a frenetic whispering swept throughout the room, as every student in Northridge turned to the person beside them to ask the question Principal Rance was already answering.
“Mr Winters is here because one of our students, one of Northridge’s-” he emphasised the school name, “-students, has been approved for admission into the Legion’s Academy.”
Beside him Jane’s shoulders started to shake.
Rance smiled a huge, walrus-y smile, and, turning to the man behind him, extended an open, inviting hand towards the waiting, watching masses. “Mr Winters. Over to you.”
The man stepped forward. He was handsome, early to mid-forties, tall and broad-shouldered without being imposing, with neat salt and pepper hair and an immaculate black suit. His smooth, clean-shaven jawline put Principal Rance’s moustache and jowls to shame. He gazed around the room, not quickly but steadily, taking in every upturned face, every watching eye. Calm, doubtless, used to being watched.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, and his voice was clear and confident, like the striking of a wooden drum, “Thank you for having me. The Legion is always excited to find a new recruit.” And then his head turned and he looked, over the heads of hundreds of students who all followed his gaze, across the room, until it stopped all the way over the other side. Directly on their table. The man from the Legion of Heroes looked right at them – and smiled.
“Oh my god.”
Matt couldn’t move. It was like his body was rooted in disbelief. He turned to look at Jane, who was sitting there, unblinking, clearly trying to stop herself shaking or shouting or punching the air or doing anything that could ruin this, anything that would risk taking this away from her. It’d happened. Holy hell, it’d actually happened, just like she said it would. He wouldn’t have believed it, not in a million years.
He really was a terrible clairvoyant.
All eyes turned to Winters as he stepped around the teacher’s table and started striding across the room – all except Matt’s, who only had eyes for Jane. You know what, he thought, watching the girl’s trembling lips, the loose strands of auburn hair, good on her. Good on her for sticking with it, for believing in herself in spite of everything. Good on her, and good on whoever at the Legion was open-minded enough – no, who had the common sense – to look past her tattoo and see the talent behind it.
Winters walked towards them, nearing the edge of their table, his warm, inviting smile aimed directly forward, drawing them in. To his right, Taylor was whispering a steady stream of continuous swear words, while Brodie slowly and discretely sniffed his sleeve. Matt didn’t say anything, determined not to ruin the moment but still unable to keep his face from splitting into a gigantic grin. He looked at Jane, but the girl was still staring straight ahead, eyes unmoving, arms locked awkwardly by her side. Matt didn’t think she’d remembered to breathe since the words “Legion of Heroes” had been uttered. His grin grew wider and he fought the urge to slap the empath on the shoulder, to high-five and hug her – because, practically, she’d probably kill him on instinct and then, you know, kill him again for ruining the moment. Heck, he thought, he was actually going to miss her, in a funny kind of way; like how you might miss a spider that’d been nesting harmlessly for a few months eating flies above your curtains.
Daniel Winters had stopped right behind her. Jane’s shoulders were so rigid you could’ve broken a plate over her back without her flinching. The suited man ran one last glance around the room, breathing in the suspense, almost seeming to grow larger upon the undivided attention. He extended his hand and opened his palm.
“It is my honour,” he said in that golden, confident voice, “To extend to you the opportunity to take your place amongst legends.” This was all scripted, a ritual – the words known to every child who’d ever watched TV or picked up a comic book. “To take your talents and hone them for a higher purpose; for the highest purpose; for the protection, the betterment of mankind.”
He looked out amongst the sea of shining faces. “Admission cannot be procured. Endurance will not be enforced. And ascension is not assured. But your place in the Legion is waiting, if you are strong enough to take it.”
He paused for a single, final moment – then looked down at the boy.
“Matt Callaghan. Welcome to the Legion of Heroes.”
Bio: Born and raised in Newcastle, Australia, Ben is a lifelong writer currently studying his Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Technology Sydney. An avid fan of the weird and wonderful, he has wanted to be a writer since he was five years old (before which he wanted to be a dinosaur).