Bernard was an Untermensch. He had the “power” to get into accidents. It first manifested when he was ten years old. A bully had taken his lunch. Bernard had been small, and the teachers didn’t care. He cried in the toilet and wished for revenge. The school burned down. He was last to get rescued. The smoke damaged his lungs, further stunting his growth. Two other students were injured, and two died.
Bernard tried to control his power. His teenage years were tough. It wasn’t enough that his mother was raising him alone. He had to have this, too. When he was thirteen, he broke both legs riding his bike. When he was fourteen, he lost his pinky while petting a dog. When he was eighteen, on a dare, he rode a zipline. The rope snapped halfway through. He broke just one leg this time.
After college, he kept to himself. He worked from home to keep people safe. If he kept away, they couldn’t hurt him, offend him or touch him. He wouldn’t obsess about them. They would stay alive.
He had learned to live with it. Learned to live alone,so that others may live. One night, a thief thought of breaking into his house. It was strange, he had surrounded the premises with cameras, prominently displayed to catch the attention of anyone who dared go near, because he wanted to drive even conmen and religious nutbags away. Seeing the man, the boy, wearing a mask that didn’t fit, crept up the wall Bernard had covered with thorny vines, entering his property at dusk. It took a while to come up with a story. He recognized the boy, who lived nearby, and he was smaller than his friends. They probably put him up to it, bullied him even, to violate the law, and maybe bring a small scrap from the “haunted house,” as a prize and proof of his feat. Bernard didn’t mind at first, it was just young boys who called his house haunted, who sneered at him the few times he was forced to go out and put them all in danger. He should’ve bought a condo, not a house in a small community, but knowing his gift, he probably would’ve burned it, and his fellow residents, down. So he watched the boy and didn’t plan to do anything until he saw the young punk enter his garage. He used lock picks to do it. The boy was prepared for this crime. He was no teenager peer pressured into doing something. He was a thief, and he was going to break into the untermensch’s safe.
He looked around for a weapon. Of course, Bernard didn’t have any weapons in the house. He didn’t want to accidentally shoot himself in the face. He had wanted to buy a bat one time. The accident happened in the sports store. A whole aisle collapsed.
Looking for his umbrella, the only thing Bernard, this was the Untermensch’s name, could think of that resembled a weapon, he wondered how the thief found out about his vault. He had had it brought from Manila, and the truck that brought it had inconvenienced a lot of his neighbors that day. There was no avoiding people seeing the giant box being rolled out from the truck and rolled into his house. But that was years ago. Was it possible that they have been talking about his vault all this time?
Bernard dismissed the possibility that anybody in the subdivision knew what was in the vault. But if the boy knew, or if those who sent the boy knew, then he had to make the boy leave right away. He didn’t want to hurt the boy. He just wanted to scare him. The longer he stayed at the house, the more likely he would trigger the Untermensch’s power. And, if he had broken into the house for the vault, the boy would likely stay a long time.
He brought out his phone, keeping an eye on the CCTV app as he slowly opened his bedroom door. He gripped his umbrella’s handle. His hands were wet with sweat. His feet were heavy on the floor, but the boy, shown on the app still fidgeting with the vault, didn’t hear him coming near. Bernard was halfway down the stairs when the CCTV caught another figure, this time a man.
This all but confirmed his worst fears. Someone did know about the vault. There was no scaring the man away. Bernard had to call for help. That meant more people, which meant more chances his powers could explode. He hurried back to his room. On the app, the man was taking out tools from a backpack. The boy, gesturing wildly, seemed to be the one in charge. In any case, he was the one giving directions.
The policeman, the one policeman he trusted, was on his speed dial. They had long ago agreed that a simple text, just one letter, number, or any other symbol was enough to signal trouble. Still, Bernard called. He was an Untermensch, not rude.
The policeman picked up halfway through the first ring. “Are you okay?” he asked.
“There are people in my house. A man and a boy. They came for the vault.”
“I’m on my way.” The sound changed. The policeman had put him on speakerphone. “What are they doing now?”
His eyes went back to the monitor. “They have a blow torch. Several saws. They seem to be arguing.” The boy was still the aggressor, stomping on the floor. The man, holding a hacksaw, was covering his ears with his hands.
Did they think he was out of the house? Why were they being so obvious? Now Bernard could hear them arguing. They cursed each other profusely.
“It’s a trap,” he told the policeman. “I don’t think they’re here for the vault.”
“What is it then?” Bernard heard the sound of traffic through the phone, honks, and sirens. “Ah,” the policeman said. “They’ve come for you. Stay in your room.”
“It’s too late,” Bernard said. The two were moving now. They left the vault because he had not taken the bait. They were coming for him. No matter how fast the policeman drove, they were already inside the house. He should have headed for his secret exit the moment he saw the boy. Nobody knew what was inside the vault. But a lot of them knew what Bernard was.
The criminals had the temerity to knock.
“We know you’re inside,” the boy said. “Please, we don’t want to hurt you.”
“You better run,” Bernard answered. “The police are coming.” The policeman wasn’t really a policeman, but he did have an illegal siren. He couldn’t tell if Paul was talking, but he could probably hear the Untermensch and the criminals. He was probably shouting instructions or tips on how to defend himself. Paul was one of the few people who didn’t understand: it was Bernard who was the threat to those around him.
They tried knocking the door down, slamming onto it, one after another. When that didn’t work, they attacked the door knob. It was the boy who went in first.
He wasn’t a boy, it turned out, but a short man. He was thin and had a thin smile. He held a gun in his hand. Behind him, the man carried no weapons but his muscles. They were comically big, almost bursting through his shirt. “Please,” the boy said. “Come quietly.” He took a step forward.
Bernard lunged for the gun. He tripped on his umbrella, crashing into the short man. The gun went off, and the muscled man dropped to the floor. The short man pulled at Bernard’s shirt, keeping him on the floor. They tumbled, and he ended up under the short man. He hit Bernard’s temple with the gun. His ears rang, but he was still able to hear the gun go off again. The bullet, incredibly, hit the short man straight on the nose. He fell, dead, on top of Bernard.
Paul arrived, earlier than his estimate. “God, Bernard,” he said. “The vault?”
“Safe,” the Untermensch said. He was still under the short man’s corpse. He hadn’t moved, for fear of causing more accidents.
“Go. I’ll clean up here.” The policeman was all business.
They didn’t look at each other. Paul rolled the corpse off him, and Bernard, his shirt wet with blood, silently went out of the room. He almost slipped near the foot of the stairs, but he got to the vault without killing anyone else. He knocked twice, the vault opened, and he went in. In the dark, he cursed his fate.
The policeman let him out, he didn’t know how many hours later. He was famished, his hunger strong enough to block any feelings of guilt. “What did you do with the bodies?” he finally asked, after finishing the last of the chicken the policeman had brought him.
The policeman shrugged. “Forget about it. The room is clean.”
“I don’t want to sleep here tonight.”
The policeman nodded. “All right. You’ll stay with me, for a day or two. I’ll set you up. I’m sorry about this, Bernard. I don’t know who these people are, specifically, but you know there are only a few options.”
It was his turn to nod. It was either they wanted to kill him, or they want to use him. Judging from the short man’s attempts to make him go with them, he figured it was the latter. Those people were more dangerous. He had to disappear.
That was five years ago. He stayed with the policeman that night. Through the policeman, he sold his house. He had to become even more fiscally responsible. He quit his job, taking on freelance work, preferably from foreign clients. He didn’t want to live alone. He feared that more people would come for him, further bloodying his hands. The policeman lived a nomad’s life, so Bernard had to get rid of the vault. He didn’t dare visit it, afraid of those who could be surveilling them.
Life wasn’t easy. The policeman wasn’t exactly his friend. Paul, it wasn’t really the policeman’s name, took a more pessimistic view of the life of an Untermensch. He called their powers “curses.” In Bernard’s view, it was his power that was a curse. Paul’s was just… an inconvenience.
He called him Paul because it sounded stupid to call him the policeman all the time. And yet, that was the only identity normal people could attach to the policeman. He was a policeman. He didn’t have a name, didn’t have a family, and the worst thing about it was he wasn’t even a real policeman.
His “curse” had manifested itself later than Bernard’s, Paul already had a life. Suddenly his friends didn’t know him. His wife thought he was a creep, abusing his power as a policeman to harass her. It was like reality had warped itself to reduce him to one word.
Paul swore that he had told Bernard his real name, multiple times. It just wouldn’t stick.
It was a lonely existence that the policeman had wanted to end his life until they met the second time. The first time was back in high school when the policeman carried him from the smoke and ash of his former school. The second time was when he had broken his legs. The policeman called a taxi and carried him to the hospital. It turned out that other Untermensch could maintain some memory of the policeman. Bernard could at least remember what he looked like: fat, with a thick mustache. An oasis in the desert. That was enough for the policeman. Paul decided to dedicate his life to helping others like them.
The policeman was always kind to him but was very strict. Always annoying him about eating right, and not staying up late. And this was before they started living with each other. Bernard couldn’t complain that Paul wasn’t fun. It wasn’t like he was immune to Bernard’s power. The policeman had a long scar on his left arm. He got it while sitting beside Bernard at the hospital. Bernard had thrown down his fork onto his plate, disgusted by the hospital food. (It was a rubbery fried chicken.) It was an accident, the policeman assured him. No, Bernard thought. He was the accident. But he kept his self-pity to himself. As an Untermensch, Bernard thought it very important to keep a positive attitude.
Especially these days, because the policeman insisted that Bernard accompany him on his missions. At first, Bernard didn’t want to go. “I’m going to cause an accident,” he told the policeman.
“You can’t live alone. That’s not a life. A man needs a purpose,” the policeman said.
Bernard wasn’t convinced, and stayed in the house they were renting. His compassion for his fellow human beings was rewarded by a collapsing bed. His pen had rolled under the bed, he had tried to get it back, and two hours later, the policeman had found him, stuck.
The next time they moved, he told the policeman he would join the next mission. How bad could it be, he asked himself. He had probably caused the pandemic, so clearly keeping away from people wasn’t helping anyone, including himself. The call came, and the mission sounded easy enough. Another Untermensch had asked the policeman for help. People like the short man were pursuing the female caller, and she had barely escaped their last attempt.
Now she was living alone in a hut in some abandoned land just outside Manila. The policeman used his siren to blast through traffic, but once they hit the outskirts Paul turned the headlights off. Bernard started sweating. People couldn’t see their car, and he was in it. That was a recipe for disaster. But he didn’t want to pester the policeman, who had a worried look on his face. He was biting his lower lip. At that moment, Bernard even thought that he could recognize the policeman. “Paul,” he said several times. The policeman didn’t answer. They were on a mission. They had to concentrate.
They arrived at half past midnight.
The moon was a sick white in the sky. Bernard marveled at the stars—they were actually visible!
He was wearing a bullet-proof armor and a helmet. Paul wanted him to have a weapon, but in the end, they agreed that Bernard would probably shoot both of them dead before they even left their apartment.
They parked the car far away from the hut, just to be sure. The field was barren, though Bernard spotted a cow sleeping, standing up. The hut was actually a shack, with cardboard walls. A wheel kept the roof in place. The other Untermensch was there, waving at them.
“It’s a trap,” Bernard told Paul.
“It doesn’t have to be a trap for us,” the policeman answered. “We’re ready.” He touched his holster. Bernard didn’t like the look of the policeman’s gun.
He forgot all about his fears when he saw the Untermensch. She was tall, with long flowing hair. She was gorgeous, and he wasn’t just imagining it because he hadn’t interacted with a woman for a very long time. She had luscious red lips and a throaty, sexy voice. “You have to get out of here,” she whispered. “It’s a trap.”
The shack door opened and, miraculously, the short man Bernard had accidentally killed stepped outside. He shot Bernard, who fell down on the dirt, the pain rendering him silent. He felt his thigh. His hand came back damp with blood. “Just so there are no accidents,” the short man said. He had his gun aimed at the policeman now. “This is how things are going to go. I’m going to take the boy. You’re going to wait an hour. Then you and the woman leave. You’re not going to follow us. You’re not going to try to look for us. You forget we ever existed.” The short man sneered. “Just like the world did you.”
Bernard was finally able to cry in pain when he saw the policeman nod. “How will it even work?” Paul asked, gesturing to the woman, who ran to him. “We should be the ones to go first. That way you can do whatever you want to do with him.”
Bernard blocked out the pain of betrayal, crawling. He couldn’t move very fast, but, just as he expected, the short man didn’t try to stop him physically. He’s afraid of me, Bernard thought, he’s afraid to even touch me. He dug his nails into the dirt and pulled himself forward. He didn’t have time to analyze the policeman’s motives, how he could have spent months pretending to help Bernard, knowing the danger he posed just so he could trade him for a woman.
“Stop moving,” the short man shouted.
“What’s your leverage against me?” Bernard shouted back. “Kill them both, I don’t care.” He had crawled two meters away now.
The policeman knelt by him. “I’m going to tell him about the vault,” Paul whispered. “Surrender.”
Bernard stopped moving. “You’re a beast,” he said. “I’m going to kill you, Paul.”
“Next time we see each other, I’ll explain. You have to listen. And if you still want to kill me after, you can try.” The policeman squeezed his shoulder. “My name is, by the way,” Bernard couldn’t hear the policeman’s revelation.
“We’re going,” Paul said to the short man. “He’s going to go with you.”
“But what about–?” Bernard heard the woman say. Beautiful and kind, he thought. A pawn, just like him. He heard their voices fading as they walked away. He heard the policeman’s car start up, the same car he was so concerned about getting into an accident, he heard the policeman’s car speed away.
“What does he have on you, anyway?” the short man asked him.
Bernard could see his reflection on the short man’s boot. The man had stood right beside his head. Probably wanted to step on him. He could probably kill the short man now, just by touching his forehead to the boot. He’d probably get himself killed, too. “He doesn’t have anything on me,” he said. “He wants me to take care of you.”
The short man snorted.
Bernard figured it out, though, shortly after the policeman’s speech. The fact is, he still didn’t know what the vault was to Bernard. The policeman was using him as a weapon. At the very least, Bernard would get the short man killed. Or maybe he would get transported safely to wherever it was the short man wanted to take with him, and then cause the accident there. There was the tiny chance he could even take down their whole operation, just by sheer random (bad) luck.
He would have no part of it. “Shoot me,” Bernard said. “I got you shot, remember? Don’t you want revenge, you coward?”
It was the short man’s turn to kneel. “You shot me?” He used his gun to scratch his temple. “I don’t remember that.” He grinned. “Don’t feel guilty about it.”
“I don’t feel guilty.”
The short man snorted again. “Of course you do. You’re one of those… people. Like your policeman friend.”
“He’s not my friend.”
“You hate yourself because of your powers.”
Bernard shut up. The short man was right.
“It’s a gift, don’t you see. Like you, you’re a nuclear bomb. But you choose to hide, to isolate yourself from the world. When the world could be at your fingertips.”
“I don’t want to kill people.”
“Neither do I. But I want money. So sometimes I do kill people. It’s nothing personal. I wouldn’t do it if I could avoid it.” He moved closer, his face almost touching the dirt. “Join us. We are all brothers and sisters. Don’t be like the policeman. Acting like he’s better just because he thinks he’s cursed. You see how he left you to me.”
“He didn’t leave me to you,” Bernard said. “He left you to me.” He smashed his head onto the short man’s nose.
It didn’t work. The short man stood up, his nose bleeding, his gun unfired. He pointed his weapon at Bernard. “Why did you do that? Why? I was offering you a life! I was offering you power. You hate yourself so much you’d rather die in a field.” He kicked Bernard’s head.
“Stand up, you fool!” He kicked Bernard’s head again. “Stand up!”
It took one more kick before the accident happened. The short man slipped, landing flat on his back. The gun went off, hitting neither of them. Bernard picked it up, ignoring the pain in his thigh. He shot the short man in the chest before another accident could happen.
He had never intentionally taken a life before. In addition to the guilt, strangely, he suddenly felt hungry. There was nothing perverse about it, he didn’t want to go out and kill more people. He felt disgusted with what he did, however, he tried to justify it. No, he was literally hungry. Acid was rising from his stomach, but not as a prelude to puking. His body was telling him angrily that he needed to ingest food. His mouth was dry, and he felt a little bit dizzy.
He heard the policeman’s footsteps, but his rising anger didn’t drive his hunger away.
“Don’t come any closer!” He hid his face with his hands but peeked. No, the woman wasn’t with the policeman. “Where is she?” The policeman had his gun out. “Are you going to kill me?”
Paul put his gun away. “She’s gone back to her family. If she ever needs me, she knows how to contact me. But, for now, she can go back to her old life.” The policeman sat beside Bernard. “And no, I’m not going to kill me.”
“No, no, of course not.” What the policeman wanted was something worse. “You want me to kill for you.”
Paul started to shake his head but nodded midway. “Only when it’s necessary.”
“You want me to become a monster.”
“No!” This time Paul really did shake his head. “I want you to be a hero. Look at what we did tonight. We helped that woman get away from this filth.” He kicked the short man’s corpse. “We helped our own kind.”
“I didn’t make the rules. I didn’t make us like this. This—” His voice cracked. “This curse destroyed my life. And it hasn’t been good to you either. But together, we can help people like us have normal lives. They can have families, jobs. They can have peace. We can be a blessing to them.”
Bernard vomited, right into the policeman’s lap. It turned out that he wasn’t feeling hungry after all. Paul’s speech was even more disgusting than killing a man.
The stench of the bile made him want to vomit again, and his thigh was getting worse. With any luck, he’d die of blood loss before he can deliver a speech himself. “Never contact me again.” He stood up. He almost fell, and he almost took the policeman’s offered hand, but he stood up. “Or I will kill you. And it won’t be an accident.”
“Don’t call me son. I have no father.” He started walking away.
It would have been a nice shot, like a scene from some prestige TV show, him walking away in righteousness. In reality, he fell flat on his face after a few steps. The policeman picked him up and carried him back to the car, where the delirium started. For the second time in his life, the policeman took him to the hospital. They patched up his thigh, and the policeman slept on the chair next to his hospital bed. (Bernard would find out later that the policeman had used part of the money he got from selling his house.) In the morning the was better, and the policeman was gone. Paul had left a letter and a key. After his release, Bernard went to this safe house. In the letter, Paul said he would leave Bernard’s things at the safe house. Bernard could stay there indefinitely, the policeman said. “I won’t bother you,” the policeman said. Bernard’s things were there. His passbook, his passport, his clothes, and various gadgets. He didn’t stay, though. He didn’t want the policeman to find him so easily, although he had no doubt the policeman could find him if he really wanted to. Bernard just wanted to push back, just a little bit.
The policeman wasn’t his only problem. Whoever was after him had sent the short man twice. They wouldn’t stop, he knew. He wished he knew if there were going to somehow send the short man again.
He went to visit the vault.
It cost a lot of money, money he could use for food, but the storage unit he rented was perfect for the vault. It was cool and bigger than his garage. It was at the end of the compound, away from nosy neighbors. He wondered if the vault knew he had been gone for a long time.
It was big and black. Its surface was smooth and shiny. There was no handle, and certainly no pad. To anyone else’s eyes, it wouldn’t even be technically a vault. It was a cube. But Bernard, of course, knew the truth. Inside the storage unit, he put his bag on the floor, set his locks, and caressed the vault’s face. It opened up, and let him in.
Inside, were it was cool and dark, he pondered his future.