It’s 11 pm and I find myself alone in one of the more salubrious areas of The Trench, although ‘Salubrious’ is a relative term in this part of town. Flickering orange street lights give the street a strange monochromatic appearance. Alleyways are Stygian black in shadowy contrast. The sense of dread is palpable here and I question my sanity.
I’m quite safe, though, relatively speaking. I stand outside a run down bar, “The Bottom Rung“, although a number of letters on the garish red neon sign have been smashed long ago and it now reads “he Botto Run”. The doorway smells of urine and vomit and cigarette butts litter the step.
I knock, and hear movement behind the door. The pub is locked tonight – there’s a special gathering. A hatch in the door opens, a remnant of its speakeasy days, and a gruff voice asks; “Password?”
“The Vitruvian Man sent me,” I answer. My mouth has gone incredibly dry. I try not to stammer. Behind the door I hear bolts shifting, and the door opens.
The interior isn’t much better than the exterior. There’s a haze of blue gray cigarette smoke hanging in the air accompanied by an oddly sweet pungent aroma, a smell I remember from my college days. I suspect it’s not just tobacco being smoked here.
I’m led to a red door behind the bar; the barman barely glances up as I pass, busy mopping the spills off the counter top. The red door opens and I’m led into a back room filled with people.
They’re all siting in a circle, some drinking, some smoking. All chatting loudly – until I walk in, at least. I frantically search for the one face I recognise and breathe a sigh of relief when he stands up and calls me over, telling the rest that ‘this was the guy he was telling them about’.
This is the Bottom Rung society; an oddly apt name for the gathering. Gathered here are some of the lowest Extras in Valor City, as well as a smattering of powerless wannabes and Extra groupies. They’re dressed in homemade outfits ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous; one portly gent, for example, is dressed in blue overalls and wearing an eye mask made from duct tape.
Here are the Extras who’s powers don’t fit in anywhere else. They’re not powerful, they’re not glamorous. Some are embarrassed about their abilities. Some see it as a blessing, and to others it’s an affliction.
I’m introduced to Memento. I’m told he has the uncanny ability to memorise everything he sees and hears in perfect detail. He doesn’t meet my gaze but instead fidgets with the edge of his scarf. There’s a pin on it; “Asperger’s are people too”.
There’s Jerry Ledenhall who is dressed in jogging bottoms and a plain shirt. During the day he dons clown gear and goes by the name “Boffo the Amazing”; apparently, his extra power is the ability to mould balloons into any shape he wants. To demonstrate, he inflates a balloon and hands me a perfect cube complete with corners and edges. Before his powers manifested he was a mechanic but, as he puts it, “When your powers only seem to stretch to shaping balloons, what else are you to do with them?”
I’ve been invited here to share their stories.
Over the next few weeks I’ll get to know these individuals and share their stories with you.
Extras like Astra and The Vitruvian Man may well dominate the headlines, but they are perched on high above. We – myself and my new friends – are all stuck here on the bottom rung.