Episode 2

A train station, somewhere on Oregon’s coast

Dirt Man was really excited. He had just received his assignment package, notifying him that he was now a Happy Hero™, and outlining his assignment area. It was somewhere called Gargle City. He wasn’t quite sure where Gargle city was, but he was sure that it was a tough and important assignment that would tax him to the limits, make him lose sleep, and generally show off his basic hero-type coolness and stupendous abs. The latter were compliments of Hairy Bart’s Insta-Abs in Twenty Minutes or Less (just add water), and to be quite honest weren’t all that stupendous. Dirt Man had heard of having an accurate self-image but was having none of it.

In his instructional packet, he was told to go the nearest railroad and ask for a one-way ticket to Gargle City, since there were no airports that would fly there, even when bribed. Since his last vehicle — he refused to call it a car for moral reasons — had been impounded by the local police for disturbing the peace (it had been parked by the curb at the time), he didn’t have any way to reach Gargle City except the train, so he decided that a brisk walk to the local train station was just what he needed.

“Hello,” said the man in the ticket booth of the town railroad. “What is your destination, please…sir.” The man was eyeing Dirt Man’s DirtSuit™ askance and wondering if this scruffy individual had the money to pay for a train ride to the next platform much less to another city.

“Gargle City,” said Dirt Man.

“Gargle?” asked the man in the ticket booth.

“Yeah, like what you do with mouth wash,” said Dirt Man.

“And salt water,” said someone behind him.

“And split pea soup,” said another person.

“Split pea soup?!” The man in the ticket booth was incredulous.

Dirt Man shrugged. He didn’t really know.

“That will be forty cents,” said the man, after consulting his fare sheet, which clearly stated that a trip to Gargle City cost seventy-five dollars.

“Oh, good,” said Dirt Man. “I can afford it.”

The man in the booth sighed with relief under his breath and relaxed somewhat. He thought that his boss might not like the rather extreme price reduction, but he hadn’t been sure if this obvious failure of humanity could pay even that, and he certainly didn’t want him staying around town. Some would have considered that as good as littering.

Fifty minutes later the correct train pulled into the station, and Dirt Man boarded, ready to see new sights, fight some villains, and otherwise have an all-around good time.

The train chugged itself slowly through the countryside, belching out black smoke and apparently trying its hardest to break down without much luck. Every now and again it would pull onto a side rail to let a slick, fast-moving passenger train scream its way by. Dirt Man stared out of the window of the train’s single passenger compartment, positioned politely behind the boxcar carrying a large number of morose cattle, and thought dark thoughts. He was beginning to think that the man in the railroad booth might have stiffed him.

The train ride lasted for a very long time. Each time the train wheezed its way into a town, Dirt Man would eagerly peer out the window, but each time the train only slowed enough to raise his hopes before it plugged on into the countryside, where, after reaching a point sufficiently far from civilization it would often inexplicably stop and sit for long periods of time. Dirt Man finally fell asleep in self-defense.

He was sleeping when the train skirted a large hill, and suddenly took a sharp turn into a range of mountains that jumped out of hiding from behind the hill. He slept through the train’s struggle through the winding mountain path, snored lightly as it crossed a bridge over a giant ravine with a rushing river hurtling itself against the cliff sides hundreds of feet below, and merely turned over when the train rounded a peak and the sky line of Gargle City leapt into view, dark and brooding against the sky.

In fact, he did not wake up until the train had pulled into the station and a man found him and shook him roughly by the shoulder.

“Wha?” said Dirt Man, trying to sit up and regain mental activity at the same time. “There? Who?” He looked somewhat blearily at the man leaning over him. He wasn’t at his best immediately after waking up.

The man who had awoken him straightened up, looked at his somewhat dirty hand, and then bleakly wiped it on his handkerchief before dropping the handkerchief on the floor. “You, I presume,” he said, “are Dirt Man.”

Dirt Man managed to nod. He was beginning to be able to make a little more sense of what was going on. The train must have reached Gargle City. He was finally a super hero!

The man either didn’t notice the elated smile that suddenly spread over Dirt Man’s face, or he was just one of those people who are opposed to happiness on general principle. He frowned slightly. “I am the Commissioner,” said the man. “If you would be so kind as to get up and follow me I will be able to return to my office. I wouldn’t have left it at all of my underlings hadn’t all decided to take the day off simultaneously. Irresponsible, that’s what they are. Are you coming, or would you rather sleep on the street?”

Dirt Man stood up as hastily as he thought he could without falling back over. He’d slept on the street enough times to know that it wasn’t exactly a walk in the park. More like a shiver in the park, really.

The Commissioner glared around the compartment, and then motioned curtly for Dirt Man to follow him.

They emerged onto the platform of the train station, and the Commissioner led Dirt Man to a demure gray car in the parking lot. It was the only car in the parking lot.

Dirt Man looked around curiously, but he couldn’t really tell much about his new home city. They were deep in the industrial area, and beyond factories and warehouses there didn’t seem to be much about. He could vaguely see what appeared to be the outline of skyscrapers against the sky, but thought that it might just be his sleepiness making him see things. From the responses that he had gotten about this place, he hardly thought that it would actually be a large city. More likely it was just a town with aspirations.

The Commissioner drove him to a trailer park not far outside the industrial section.

“This will be your temporary residence until we are able to secure better living quarters,” said the Commissioner. “Here is your key.”

Dirt Man looked about himself somewhat incredulously. Sparse, dying grass clung desperately to the base of all of the structures, and several loose pieces of paper and plastic blew about in the breeze. There wasn’t a soul in sight.

He was moving up in the world.

The Commissioner looked at his watch. “Check into the office in a couple of days when you are settled,” he said. “It’s immediately next to the police department in the City. You’ll receive your briefing at that time.”

The Commissioner hurried back to his car, and was gone in a cloud of dust, dead leaves, and various loose pieces of trash. Dirt Man started into his new home.

From the window of a nearby trailer, a reddened eye peered out from behind dirty brown curtains. Dirt Man disappeared from sight, and the curtains were twitched back into place.

Although night didn’t exactly fall, it continued to shuffle into place.

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