The dentist diagnosed Vigilante Bob in the stern tones of someone who enjoyed sharing bad news.
“Looks like you’ve been grinding your teeth, Bob,” the dentist said.
“That’s Vigilante Bob to you!” was what Vigilante Bob wanted to say. But because a pair of gloved fingers were pressing down on his tongue, what came out was, “Blargblargblargblarg.”
The dentist chuckled and prodded Vigilante Bob’s gums with a sharp piece of metal. Vigilante Bob tried to ignore the smirking face hovering over him; he wondered how much all of this was going to cost, because the sad truth was that the vigilante business did not pay enough to cover dental.
“The grinding is most likely caused by stress,” the dentist said. “I don’t know what you do all day, but try to avoid activities that cause anxiety.”
Vigilante Bob had the sudden urge to spit up all over the dentist. Instead, he swallowed and nodded. This man couldn’t know that he spent most of his time hitting bad people and getting hit by them. Bob kept his occupation to himself nowadays; when he was first starting out, he had told anyone who would listen about his new career. They had responded with crooked smiles and pats on the back, then had politely suggested he get a job moving heavy objects from one place to another.
But he would not be deterred. The only thing Bob had ever wanted to be was a vigilante, and a vigilante he became.
Years of training. Countless bruises and a few broken bones. He’d even been tossed out a window or two. Eventually, though, whether through sheer stubbornness or some buried natural talent that could only be unearthed through injury, he had begun to make a name for himself—and that name was Vigilante Bob.
Local news crews had often followed him around. They had taken pictures and the occasional video.
“Why don’t you ever smile, Vigilante Bob?” photographers had chided.
“Because justice is no laughing matter,” he had replied. But it was really because he was embarrassed of his teeth.
Things had been good in those days. Things weren’t so good anymore. A recent poll showed that public opinion was down on both vigilantes and men named Bob. It didn’t help that more crime fighters were popping up every minute; he couldn’t drive a mile in the Bob-Mobile without running into some sort of encounter between self-proclaimed heroes and villains. The market was flooded. Competition was stiff. The fight to stay relevant was more bitter than any alleyway scuffle.
He had tried turning to his friends for encouragement. That had been a mistake. Every time he talked about vigilante things, like the best brand of grappling hook or how to brood properly , their eyes would glaze over. They’d offer crooked smiles and pats on the back and hand him an application for a position moving heavy objects from one place to another. They still thought of him as regular Bob, he had realized. His heart had broken.
So now, when people asked him what he did for a living, he just murmured nonsense about going back to school or picking up a trade, even though he was already doing the thing he loved most in the world. Each placating lie was spoken through clenched teeth.
All this sadness settled over him while he was confined to the dentist’s chair. The bill only amplified his melancholy. He groaned and asked to be put on a payment plan. He staggered out of the office, shoulders drooped, veins tight. He felt that he was trapped in a burning building and the flames were closing in and no hero was on the way to rescue him. The only course left was to give up and burn away.
So he applied for a position moving heavy objects from one place to another. He got the job and, because he was good at it, made a decent living. Throughout each shift, he gritted his teeth until they became misshapen flecks of ivory.
Did you really think some spontaneous event would occur to right Bob’s course the moment he left the dentist’s office? That he would somehow be reminded of his purpose, there and then? By saving a cat stuck in a tree, maybe? Or foiling a mugging?
No. That would be silly.
Bob would eventually re-embrace his destiny, but not for a long time. His dreams would whisper in his ear until he could ignore them no longer. He would once again take on the name Vigilante Bob. And when people asked him what he was up to these days, he would flash his monstrous teeth in a crescent smile and tell them the truth.