Dark Colors


Credits: First published in The Spectatorial, print only
Content warnings: Racism, assault, and murder

A Note from Wintermute: This striking and layered piece was first published in 2017, and is an especially relevant read right now for all young readers and writers to see. Dark Colors may be categorized as fiction, but there is nothing imaginary about its sentiments or stories at all. It is a reminder to us today that our nation is ripping at the seams, after decades and centuries of an inescapable accumulation of racial tensions and oppressive systems. For more information on how to take action to propel and support the Black Lives Matter movement, please see our recent post Wintermute for Black Lives Matter.



Saturday night. Jeremy was walking home from SAT prep, alone, as he did every week. As he turned the corner onto Henn, three men ran towards him from behind, dressed in dark colors. One of them was carrying a black backpack. The woman who’d taken the video with her phone from her fourth-floor apartment got a clear shot.

As the men rammed into Jeremy, the one holding the backpack shoved it into the boy’s open arms. They kept going, not looking back. Jeremy spun around, pulled his earphones out. In that second, two police officers rounded the corner. Jeremy dropped the backpack, raised his hands. He was shot, twice, and died at the scene.


I got a letter from my mother. After staring at it for a few minutes, I tore open the envelope.

“Dear Thomas, I know you told me not to contact you…” she began.

I took a deep breath.

“…but I was wondering if you’d seen the news last night.”

I folded the letter and put it back in the envelope with shaking hands. Of course I’d seen the news. I walked out to the balcony.

When these things happened, my mother would usually emphasize forgiveness.

It was a mistake, she would say—she, who’d lived through the worst of it. They didn’t mean it. He was just in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

My cousin Daniel, who’d always come to our place to vent about it, would respond, “That doesn’t matter, Aunty. Because we all look the same to them.”

And then they would turn to me, which I thought was odd, because I didn’t have any power. I had powers, yes—the ability to wipe every racist cop off the face of the map—but not any real power. Not the kind that would make people listen.


At the behest of my mother—she’d had a dream, see—I came out to the world as superhuman. I dressed in dark colors, darker than my skin, with a white emblem on the front; the meaning of which I no longer remember. Everyone wanted to talk to me, and I knew why, yet they had the nerve to beat around the bush and ask incredulous questions, like how I was able to have sex without hurting my partner. Or if I was an alien. Of course they’d done it before, with other superhumans, but this time was different.

“How do we know you won’t hurt us?” local talk show host Mandy Miller asked, looking doubly interested for some reason. I thought she was going to ask to touch my hair.

“I’m American,” I said, resisting the urge to wipe my chin under the hot studio lights. “I won’t hurt my fellow Americans.”

“Really?” Her smile looked fake.

“I’m harmless. You can trust me!” I gave her a thumbs-up while gesturing to the mask that covered almost half of my face.

The audience laughed. The armed guards with assault rifles, who stood just out of the camera’s view, didn’t. When Andrew O’Keefe—known publicly as Paragon—came out as superhuman two years ago, I didn’t remember him being treated with such hostility.

Mandy cleared her throat. “Well, you can imagine, given your complexion that people will be wondering, what your stance is on the recent shootings.”

“Ah.”

“You’ve heard about what happened in Atlanta.”

It wasn’t a question. “Yes, and it was tragic.”

“He was a criminal. He had priors. Theft. Breaking and entering. Aggravated assault.”

I had to be careful here. I looked out at the audience and saw Daniel and my mother sitting in the front row, the latter in her best hat. Daniel wasn’t smiling.

“No one deserves to die if it can be avoided,” I said. “He complied.”

Mandy leaned forward. “What are you saying?”

“I’m stating facts, Miss Miller. It’s not my intention to take sides.”


My interview blew up everywhere. Twitter attacked with swift ferocity. I was a traitor, and a coward, for refusing to wade into the race mire. The older generation, those my mother’s age, labelled me an Uncle Tom with cynical, hurtful, disdain. My mother supported me through it all, but she didn’t think I should go on TV anymore.

So I had to save people, or at least try to, in the months that followed. Many of them didn’t want to be saved. There was this one instance, where an elderly Swedish woman was trapped in a burning retirement home, and after I carefully maneuvered around the precarious debris and she had seen it was me, she told me she’d wait for Paragon.

“Oh, I wouldn’t want to bother you,” she said. “You’re under so much pressure already.”

“Ma’am,” I snapped, “You could die here. Let me help you, please.”

“No, that’s fine.”

I reached for her arm.

She leaned away.

“Please don’t touch me.”

I resorted to standing over her as she coughed and wheezed, holding up a large beam that would have otherwise crushed her, and waited until Paragon arrived. She held her arms out to him, and he scooped her up like a child, flashing me a strange look: part angry, part confused, part suspicious.

The woman was rushed to the hospital, in critical condition. There was a small gathering of press outside the retirement home gates. The police and fire chiefs stood on a makeshift stage answering questions. They invited Paragon and me to contribute. It turned out that some had been paying more attention to my heroics than I realized.

“Why were you slower than Paragon?” a male reporter asked, holding a recorder up to my face. “He saved more than three times as many people as you did! Aren’t you two of equal strength?”

I opened my mouth to respond, but was interrupted.

“Was this hard on you?” someone else asked. “Too much for you to handle?”

“Were you scared?” a third called out.

“I want to help others as best as I am able,” I said, choosing my words carefully. I was invulnerable, and they knew that; a burning building was by no means ‘too much to handle’.

“Oh, come on!” Paragon said, stepping in front, “Don’t believe that bull! Of course he was scared. He’s not cut out for this!”

The reporters murmured and looked at each other. Some of them scribbled in notepads.

“That’s not true!” I responded. “Some people just didn’t want me to save them! That’s all!”

“Why do you think that is?” a reporter asked.

I didn’t tell them what I thought. I did have an alternate response, but Paragon beat me to it.

“He’s too new,” he said, in mock reflection. “And people sense that. They want someone who knows what they’re doing—like me.”

“I may not be as experienced,” I said, “but that’s no reason to question my strength.”

“Do you think you’re not cut out to be a hero?” someone called out.

“I am ready, willing, and able to serve my people in whatever they need,” I replied.

Paragon turned to me. “Maybe you don’t understand the needs of some people as well as you think you do.”

More chatter. More scribbling.

I crossed my arms. “And what’s that supposed to mean?”

He didn’t say anything, and I didn’t press. We stepped back and let the law enforcement have their say. We left an hour later, after helping the emergency responders rescue people from the sublevels. I was going to head home, but Paragon invited me back to his place.

As we entered the open window, the clothing, papers and trash that had been scattered around the room rose from their resting places and organized themselves. Paragon pulled off his mask and sat at the dining table, gesturing for me to join him. The fridge door opened, and two beers floated onto the table, opening themselves. I held my bottle with both hands.

“You know that wasn’t personal, right?” he said after a moment.

I didn’t know how to feel. “It sounded personal.”

“The public likes a good rivalry.”

“I thought you were my friend.”

“A friendly rivalry.”

I glared at him. “Why would you say something like that? You know they trust you more than me. They’re going to listen to you. They’re going to believe what you say.”

Andrew took a swig of beer. He shrugged like he was uncomfortable. “It took a while,” he said, “for me to get to where I am now.” He looked at me for a second, before turning away. “I earned their trust. I think all supers should.”

I narrowed my eyes at him. “You don’t need to push me down,” I said.

“I’m actually helping you.” He smiled. “You’ll be much stronger than me once you pull through. Soon, I’ll be needing your help.”

It was supposed to make me feel better, this strange tough-love method of his, but I felt sick to my stomach. I pushed the beer bottle away slightly. “I don’t know.”

“Hey,” Andrew said, “how ‘bout you and I catch a game later tonight? Put this whole gaffe behind us?”

The last thing I wanted to do was spend more time with him. “I can’t,” I said. “I have to pick up my brother.”

That was a lie, but whatever world or sub-world Paragon was living in, it was one where I clearly wasn’t welcome.

My own community, however—the one I suspected Paragon would rather I stick to—became much more welcoming once I turned my attention to them. It was almost as if they sensed I was trying to make amends for that comment, and they opened their arms.

In the twenty-block radius of my house, over the course of a few months, I’d stopped a few assaults and kidnappings. I’d visited the elementary schools and taught conflict resolution classes. Convenience stores started selling my suit in children’s sizes. They were starting to accept me, emulate me, and although I wanted to like that—that they finally saw me as a hero—I couldn’t. At the time, it was too good. I was just waiting for the other shoe to drop.


In May, Daniel was pulled over for a routine traffic stop. He was dressed in dark colors. According to the report, the officer had asked for his license and registration. Daniel opened his glove compartment to get the latter, and, as he did, his gun came into view. He’d bought it after a home invasion I’d stopped three weeks ago, despite my arguments otherwise.

When the officer noticed my cousin’s firearm, he pulled out his own gun and ordered Daniel out of the car. Daniel complied, placing both of his hands on the hood. Then his phone rang. Expecting a call from his girlfriend—Tasha, nine months pregnant—Daniel automatically reached for his pocket. He was shot in the back, and died at the scene.

The protest started around seven in the evening. I was cooking dinner at the time. A group of around fifty students from the community college made signs, grabbed their megaphones, and started marching from their neighborhood to the city center. By the time they reached downtown, the crowd was well over two thousand people.

Someone threw a Molotov cocktail into the window of a convenience store, and the once peaceful protesters turned into an angry, grieving mob; SWAT teams headed out.

Three hours later, when tear gas and rubber bullets did nothing to quell the riot, the chief of police called me and Paragon in.

Andrew was ready to fight. “I’ll calm them down, sir,” he told the chief. He had a horrible smile on his face. “I’ll get them in line real soon.”

I feared he would kill someone I loved. “No. I’ll go,” I said. “They’ll listen to me.”

The last thing I wanted to do—while my own agony was still raw—was to tell my brothers and sisters that their pain was wrong that their violence was like all other violence.

As Paragon and I flew to the city’s center, my phone kept buzzing. I knew it was Tasha, wondering where I was and why I wasn’t with her. I imagined her curled up on her couch, sobbing, my mother’s arms around her, while her four-year-old son played in the other room, not yet aware of what had transpired.

I shut that image down, quickly, and we landed at the intersection of Dale and Rime, where crowds had set cars on fire. Buildings had been broken into and looted, and it was so loud I couldn’t think. Officers in riot gear were scattered, beating people into submission. I stared at the sky to collect myself.

Paragon held his hands out. “Stop!” he called. “Return to your homes, or there will be consequences!”

“Get outta here, white boy!” A beer bottle flew out of the darkness and hit him on the side of the head. In an instant, Paragon had the man by the neck, whirled him around and slammed him against a wall.

I stood in the path of his power, my hands up. “No!”

Paragon picked up a burning car with his mind and threw it into the crowd. There was an explosion, and the smell of burning flesh filled the air.

“You don’t know how good you have it, do you?” he yelled.

I caught the next car he threw. “I’ll handle it!” I called. “Just let me handle it!” I feared he would see the tears in my eyes, and turn against me. But he backed off.

I floated above the crowd. “Everybody just calm down!” I called. “This isn’t helping! Please!”

A woman in a nightdress shook her fists at me. “They killed our father!” she cried. “He was innocent!”

“Whose side are you on?” someone else shouted.

“Traitor!” others yelled. They started throwing bricks and bottles up at me.

Chants of “No hero!” and “Coon!” followed me no matter how high I rose above the crowds.

“Ironic, isn’t it?” Paragon muttered. “You should just leave.”

But I couldn’t. Paragon put his fingers to his lips and whistled, and about fifteen officers rushed over to subdue the crowd. One of the officers grabbed a hold of the woman who’d yelled at me, pulled her to the ground by her braids. He beat her while she screamed.

I got between them. “Stop!” I yelled. I held the officer’s arm, pushed him back. “These are people! Their lives matter!”

What he said next was too jarring to repeat, and it shocked me long enough for him to get a punch in. His fingers broke against my chest. Enraged, I hauled him off his feet and tossed him down the road. He tumbled and rolled like a doll. The crowd cheered, clapped, chanted my name.

“What the hell are you doing?” Paragon shouted, fear lacing his voice.

“I’m handling it.”

I walked over to the fallen officer. Already, I could see he’d broken his legs, had a head injury. He pushed himself away, held his hands up in surrender.

“Please,” he said. “Don’t hurt me.”

But, deep in his eyes, I could swear I saw a feverish sense of anticipation, some vindictive delight that said, “I knew it!”

I grabbed him by the collar and punched his face, putting all my force behind my fist.

I hit him again, crying for Daniel, and for his son, and for a younger version of myself, for foolishly thinking that I could ever accomplish something great.

His blood and flesh splattered against my dark suit, slick and warm, and he grew limp in my grip.

I kept punching until he was no longer a person, until my hand stuck through the other side, until I felt an arm squeeze around my neck and cut off my air supply.


I awoke in a cell, and learned I was being charged as a terrorist. The police officer received an elaborate funeral, which was swarming with photographers and protesters.

Paragon understood, but I could tell he didn’t want to. He’d chosen a side. I didn’t expect him to come to my aid, and he didn’t surprise me.

The government couldn’t kill me, so they decided exile was better, to an island in the south pacific. They didn’t tell the public what they’d done with me. There were rumors that I was still out, that I was still committing crimes against the state. Shootings had gone up against Black males all across the country, cases of mistaken identity.

My mother fought a secret battle for the right to contact me, to send me letters, and for Tasha and her son—who believed I was in jail for rioting—to send me gifts and photos. They eventually won.

My mother sent me photos of all the new dishes she created that past month. She was thinking of self-publishing a West Indian cookbook and wanted to know which titles I thought were most appealing.

“He’s starting school soon,” Tasha wrote of her child. “I wish his father could be here to see it.” And then in the next sentence: “There’s new management at the Trader Joe’s on Tess Street; he’s rearranged all the aisles and it takes me forever to find my way around.”

Finally, I asked them not to contact me.




Jeremy was different. He was my brother.

I imagined the letter my mother sent not being as forgiving. I imagined the rest of the paper I didn’t read covered with tear stains and crossed-out words because she wasn’t sure how to express her thoughts as compassionately as she’d like. I imagined my calm, levelheaded mother, on her knees, struggling to hold on to her faith.

After several long minutes, I read the rest of my mother’s letter. It was arduous, each word a whip across my skin. I gave myself two days. I yelled and cried, and smashed my furniture. I couldn’t help but think that if I’d been there to do something, somehow, it wouldn’t have happened. That evening, I packed my things into a backpack and rose into the sky.


The funeral was on the Tuesday. I dressed in my best suit, the same one I’d worn when I’d given the Mandy Miller interview. I didn’t bother to look around for police—if they were there, watching, they’d have to drag me out. When I opened the door to the parlor, I saw my mother sitting at the front, dressed in dark colors.

I approached, and she patted the seat next to her.







Terese Mason Pierre is a writer, editor and organizer. Her work has appeared in the The Temz Review, Canthius, The Puritan, Quill and Quire, and Strange Horizons, among others. She is currently the poetry editor of Augur Magazine, a Canadian speculative literature journal. Terese has also previously volunteered with Shab-e She’r poetry reading series, and facilitated creative writing workshops. Terese lives and works in Toronto. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

Comments

  1. Heartbreakingly honest.

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    1. Agreed---amazing story, and the author was generous enough to let us reprint. Thanks so much for commenting your thoughts!

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