THE OLD MAN CLUNG precariously to the side of the Kent Building. His fingers ached, sharp bursts of pain stabbing at each knuckle as he struggled to find purchase among the brick and mortar. He looked down through the night to the street below and gazed wearily at the traffic that passed beneath him. He sighed. Five floors up and he had two more to go. He’d been climbing for fifteen minutes now, three minutes per floor.
Not good enough.
Twenty years ago he could have climbed all seven stories in less than five minutes without breaking a sweat.
But now? Well, now his body didn’t quite work the way it used to.
He shook his head in disgust. He wasn’t here to dwell on what he couldn’t control or pine for the good old days. He had to keep his mind on the task at hand. Just get on with it already. So he groaned, blew out his thick, snowy mustache, and continued his ascent.
The wind chose at that moment to pick up and blow all around the old man. It whipped his cape about and, for just a moment, threatened to pull him away from the building. He swore under his breath and pulled himself closer to the bricks, hugging the wall as he sucked in great gulps of air, realizing that it was too late to rethink this plan. He could have easily taken the elevator, or even the stairs, but that was not his way. Besides, he’d look foolish in an elevator wearing a cape and mask.
His costume—dark gray with burgundy boots, gloves, and cape—favored functional over flashy. The mask was gray, covering his entire head but nose, mouth, and chin. A large strip of burgundy covered his eyes, flaring out at the sides and ending in points. The mask had been meant to emulate a fox, though he’d always felt he’d never quite made it work. But then, the costume was meant for the shadows, not the light of day. It was constructed to wrap the darkness around him and convince the lawless underbelly of society that he was more monster than man.
Fear had always been his most steadfast ally.
But to wear the costume as he stood idly in the safe confines of an elevator? It wasn’t dignified.
He was the Shadow Fox after all. He had a reputation to maintain.
Still, climbing a building at his age was tantamount to suicide. But he was British, and if there’s one thing the British are known for, it’s keeping the proverbial stiff upper lip in even the most dire of circumstances. Keep calm and carry on. And so he did just that.
When not climbing buildings and fighting crime as the Shadow Fox, he was Gerald Farnsworth III, millionaire recluse and tech magnate. He had come from rags and filth, found a comfortable life after the Second World War, but then in 1984 he had built and sold his first home computer, the Farnsworth One. Since then it had been nothing but up.
After all these years, and all his financial success, his world continued to be the night. But at sixty-six years old, a weariness had set in, like the entire history of the world rested upon his shoulders. Of course, there weren’t many other sixty-six year old men who could climb a tree, much less scale a seven story building. But still, Gerald was tired.
Both of his feet slipped on a damp patch of brick as he reached the sixth floor, and for a moment he dangled from a window ledge by his fingers. His arms shook from the strain and for the first time in a long time, he felt the icy grip of panic around his heart.
He couldn’t die here. Not like this.
This was not a death meant for the Shadow Fox.
Eventually his feet found the traction they’d sought and his panic abated.
Gerald embraced the wall like an old friend and took a moment to catch his breath. How had he come to this? This life? Hugging a wall sixty-or-so feet off the ground? Trembling like the old man his years have made him? The panic he’d felt moments before turned into disgust. This was not what his life was meant to be.
When Gerald had been sixteen years old, he had lied his way into the British Royal Army. It had been 1941, Britain had joined the war against Germany, and Gerald—ever the patriot—had wanted to do his part. Little did he know that six months later he would be part of an experimental program by the Crown to create soldiers whose abilities far exceeded those of the average Tommy.
Gerald was still haunted by the memory of that night in 1942. The night that changed his life forever.
Leftenant Smyth, the man who had recruited Gerald for Project Avalon, had come in the night to Gerald’s quarters. He can recall that memory quite clearly. He’d been bundled into a car and a hood had been placed over his head. A twenty minute drive later, when they had removed the hood, Gerald found himself in what he assumed at the time was a hospital room surrounded by lights. From there his memory grew hazy as it was in that room that they had sedated him.
He can recall waking some time later, though how long he had been out has forever remained a mystery. But when he woke, it was to the sound of thunder. Gerald can remember being led along a dark forest path as part of a procession, each one in line wearing dark robes. He remembers the rain that fell from the sky that night, soaking Gerald and his companions, lightning flashing all around. Between claps of thunder all he heard was the pounding of the rain and the sounds of their boots squelching in the mud.
There had been a clearing, he can picture that in his mind, a clearing with a stone altar in the center. And atop the altar, a stone cup. He had been made to stand at the altar and drink from the cup, all the while his robed companions, arranged in a circle around him, chanted in unison. The language had been unfamiliar to him. He’d later learned that it was Latin.
Everything had gone black after that. Though, anytime he thinks back on that night, on the cup, on the mysterious liquid within, he would invariable taste cinnamon.
He’d eventually come out of whatever funk, or spell, he’d been under and had found himself back in his quarters. He had been told later, as part of his training in Project Avalon, that he had imbibed a magical potion that was said to derive back from the days of Merlin.
Gerald had laughed over that, still does, but whatever had been in that stone cup, he had been given a wonderful and miraculous gift that night. Gerald had been empowered with exceptional strength, stamina, and agility. The potion, or whatever, had slowed the aging process considerably, which allowed him to climb buildings at the age of sixty-six.
Regardless of the way he felt or what he could do, those close to him still had their doubts. He was getting too old, they would say. He wouldn’t be able to keep this up much longer; the crime fighting and the climbing about. Gerald was well aware of his limitations. He knew that the end was coming, he just wasn’t quite ready to accept it.
Personally, he figured he still had a good twenty years left in him before the job took his life, and frankly, even then he felt like it just wasn’t going to be enough. Crime never quits, it never retires, so why should he? He just needed something to push that twenty years out to thirty, forty, even fifty. It was power. He needed more power. He needed to keep fighting. The war was all that was important.
The war was all that mattered.