About the Story
Okay, apparently I have a thing about comic books. For an anthology about a nonhuman character who becomes human for a day, I chose to write about a superhero who enters the real world (for extra credit, find the value of N).
Often when I write about comic-book characters, they are recognizable riffs on existing characters, but apart from the classic hero/sidekick relationship Phyto-Man and Sprout are all my own. It seems to have worked: one review said “When I first read this, I thought Phyto-Man might be an established character from a larger universe Levine wrote, because it had that feeling of deeper undercurrents than I was really getting, but in retrospect I think that’s a purposeful part of the writing, and as far as I can tell Phyto-Man doesn’t appear anywhere else. He is meant to be a typical comic book superhero, larger than life, with the long and complex backstory of any character written by Marvel or DC, and I think this was a really fun choice, with a great revelation/twist near the end,” while another called it “perhaps my favorite in the anthology.”
The fence around Dr. Diabolus’s lair is twenty feet tall, electrified and topped with razor wire. I’d expected no less. From one of the many pouches at my belt I pull a pair of acorns and toss them at the base of the fence.
I exert my special power. Each acorn immediately sprouts, roots digging through asphalt as the leafy stem reaches skyward. Wood fibers KRACKLE as the stems extend, lengthen, thicken, green skin changing to grayish bark in a moment. Leaves SSHHH into existence; branches reach out to the neighbor tree, twining themselves into rungs.
Before the twin oaks have reached their full height I spring into action, clambering up the living ladder as it grows, creeping along a limb even as it extends over the razor wire. It’s a dramatic, foolhardy move, but I can’t delay — Sprout is in peril! The branch sags under my weight, lowering me to within ten feet of the ground, and I leap down with practiced ease.
Again I concentrate, and the two trees wither away behind me, a gnawed patch of asphalt and a few stray leaves the only sign they’d ever existed. I feel their pain as they wilt and die, but I don’t want my intrusion discovered sooner than necessary. The loss of their green and growing lives is just the latest of the many sacrifices I’ve made. I press onward.
Slippery elm makes short work of the side door lock; mushrooms blind security cameras and heat sensors. These bright corridors, humming with electricity and weirder energies, are cold places of steel and concrete, offering me no plants or plant matter to leverage my powers. I’ve faced worse. I prowl quickly, silently, keeping my head down, all senses alert to any trace of the kidnapped Sprout.
Voices! I duck into an alcove as two of Dr. Diabolus’s goons round the corner. As soon as they’ve passed I spring out behind them, tossing seeds at their feet. Fast-twining English ivy ensnares one before he can cry out, but the other evades its tendrils. “Phyto-Man!” he gasps.
POW! my fist responds...
- Human for a Day, anthology, December 2011
- edited by Jennifer Brozek and Martin H. Greenberg
- GlitterShip, podcast, February 2016
- edited by Keffy R. M. Kehrli