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The girl stood by the front windows of the shop, shivering, arms wrapped protectively about her. She was staring hard at something, her eyes jittery and desperate. It was summer, and the building was not air conditioned, so she couldn’t have been cold. I hadn’t seen her enter, but I knew her on sight. She was a regular—Lori or Tori—a good kid. She was maybe sixteen, and though she went to school and had a nice family and all, lately she’d gotten this wild, disheveled look to her: drugs or teenage rebellion…maybe both. She hadn’t seemed the type, though, and she looked far too healthy for it to be drugs.
She’d been coming in for about two years, her tastes changing from a mild X-Men fixation to a darker, apocalyptic vibe. Constantine was one of her favorites.
I had been doing my pre-closing clean up: counting the register, adding up the day’s receipts, making sure the special orders were correctly filled out on the store’s antiquated computer system. I’d just popped the deposit in the safe for the morning when I noticed her standing pensively by the Fantastic Four rack. Well, it’s not so much a rack as a lidless cardboard box crammed full of musty old comic books, sandwiched between even more lidless boxes full of the same, all stacked on old wooden and metal folding tables for as far as the eye can see.
The fact she was in front of that rack should have told me something was terribly wrong.
My name is Gabe Heller—at least it has been for a while now—and I’m a wizard. Well, time was. I was powerful, brave and cunning. I made some enemies, saved distressed damsels, slew a dragon and even helped save the world once. But that was another lifetime ago.
Suffice it to say I lost my powers, and after that I slipped out of my old life and under the radar of just about all my enemies…and my allies. I’ve been in hiding for fifty years. That might seem like a long time, but not when your life expectancy is three to four hundred years—more if you have the will and the power to keep it. Officially I’m eighty-seven years old, but I look somewhat younger. When I’m well rested I get carded when I buy cigarettes. No, they’re not for me, believe me. I quit the day they raised the prices to a buck. But when I don’t shave and fail to get enough sleep, I can pass for thirty.
How did I lose my powers? Remember I said I helped save the world once? Well, losing my powers was the price for that selfless act.
Technically I got between a big bad demon and the hurricane sized necro-spell he and a handful of other baddies were just about to unleash on mankind. I was sneaky and royally screwed up their spell, killing most of the spell slingers. But the demon was sneakier than me, and before I knew what was happening it psychically and physically mauled me, ripping huge chunks of my guts and soul—and thus my power—out of me with his teeth…and his claws, and this hooked tail thingy. God it was awful. I’d hoped I would just die, but I lived, mystically hobbled and left without a prayer of protecting myself.
The physical scars took a couple decades to fade—on occasion I can still feel them—and I’m pretty sure my soul healed, but my powers never returned.
So here I am, fifty years later, working at a comic book store in Pittsburgh. Three stories of graphic novels, classic and new comic books, action figures, Sci-Fi models, pseudo mystical materials, and a ten foot tall replica of the T-Rex from Jurassic Park—all nestled at the end of Penn Avenue.