AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story was written based around a simple premise: What if there was a superhero who could feel whatever pain he inflicted on others? The result is more noir than superhero, but it's also an attempt to question the concept of free will, and whether "good" is as moral as it wants you to think when you're being forced into the role.

This story is not in its polished, chaptered form, but is actually the continually expanding rough draft that I will keep updating until it is complete. Then I will edit it and divide it into proper chapters (these are temporary chapters). This way, hopefully I will get some feedback on how it looks to the rest of the world before I finish. I have pretty much the whole plot written out, but it would be interesting to see if it actually becomes a story. Comments are much appreciated.

EXTENDED SYNOPSIS: The story follows the Misericord, a man whose empathic abilities are more of a curse than a blessing. Pain gives him strange powers, but even he doesn't know what is driving him, referring to his compulsion only as "the Job": The force that targets anonymous individuals, urging him to punish them for reasons he doesn't understand. Everything changes when he steals the photo of a tortured woman from a snuff porn ring, but the danger is greater than he thinks: There are other Misericord out there, and not all of them are compelled to do "good", whatever that is. And the price of losing the Job once and for all might be greater than what he paid to get it.

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1. A projection on the underside of a hinged seat in a choir stall, against which people could lean for relief during long prayers.
2. A slender dagger used to administer the coup de grace to a wounded knight, ending their pain.

From the Middle English misericorde ("an act of compassion"), in turn from the Latin misericordia ("mercy").

The first time I ever saw people having sex was in a library.

I was seven, maybe eight years old then. My mother took me downtown to the big public library, the one we hardly ever went to because it was so far out of our way, but we'd just got back from the hospital where grandpa had a fractured knee and we still had some time to kill. We took the bus. I held her hand when we crossed the street. I held it even tighter when we passed the two stone lions guarding the front entrance. Once we were inside, she gently pried our fingers apart and told me she'd be in the magazine section. Then she left me standing in the children's section, surrounded by little engines that could and patchwork elephants and who was doing what in a house with a mouse.

I guess I was bored or something, because I wandered. I left all the other little kids in their cozy nook and started walking up and down the shelves. I remember thinking of them as a kind of box canyon, the books forming steep cliffs looming over me, like the scene where Luke blows up the Death Star in the last movie. Maybe I even acting it out, making laser-shooting sounds as I walked. I don't remember, because the next thing I knew, I'd turned a corner and these two people were fucking right there on the floor.

No, not exactly on the floor. Her back was pressed against a radiator with her knees somewhere above the guy's ears. His back was to me as he thrust into her, his hands lifting her dress, neither making so much as a grunt. I couldn't see her face above his shoulders. The radiator made little pinging noises when the guy's hips pushed a little too hard, but other than that it was like watching those old black and white movies before they had sound. I didn't know what kind of movie this was, only that on some instinctive level I knew what was happening. I backed away quietly so as not to disturb them, and then ran back to the children's section minutes before my mom showed up. Then we went home and had ice cream.

In the forest I am the hunter, and that memory is the silver elk in a hidden grove. It stares at me implacably with its dark eyes, but in the end I am the one that flees, gun useless at my side.

Everyone has that moment of understanding. You retreat. You tell no one. And you know that no matter how many times you play it over in your head, the gun in your hand was useless; that even if it was pointed straight at that elk's head with the hammer cocked and battle ready, and though the elk would never move, you would never pull the trigger.

I don't know what makes me recall all those things. Maybe it's the fact that I have an actual gun in my hand, only it isn't pointed at an elk. There is nothing majestic about this man. He cowers between trash bins, the stains of humanity visible on his palms. In the scant light of the alley his eyes are the size of twin moons, in a fixed orbit of fear and guilt. The evening air cuts through the stench of urine but does nothing to diminish it, like a knife gliding through mud.

I am reminded of the woman's dress in the library, pushed up to her straining hips and arched legs. There was something beautiful about those hips, hard and defined in adulthood. This man had forsaken that beauty. When he lifted the little girl's skirt, her hips were unformed and soft. Her pale legs were covered in Band-Aids. I had felt the grotesqueness of it seeping towards me with tarry fingers. I had to wait a moment longer to confirm, but in my heart I was prepared to face the pain this time. The only question was how.

He cringes away from the black barrel of the gun, scraping his clean suit among the litter. "Oh God, please don't kill me," he whimpers. "I didn't hurt her… I only wanted to look, see, I can't help it. I'm sick…"

"Then maybe you should see a doctor," I say, and fire a shot into his left kneecap.

My own leg explodes in harmonic agony. I drop the gun and it disappears into the shadows and mud. My scream intermingles with his scream. Identical echoes bounce off the brick walls as they loom over us. Tears trickle in the same pattern down our faces. For one moment I feel the lead in my leg as surely as he feels it. For one moment, I am him, connected in writhing symmetry by the savage pain of the bullet. You see yourself in your car, a dusty Ford Mustang stocked with incendiary pleasures: cookies, candy, Coca-Cola, handheld video games. The little girl smiles at you with lips stained purple from the popsicles you keep in the cooler. You don't mind. You're not interested in her face. You just want to know what's under her thin skirt with the puppy dog pattern on it… God help you, you think, but it's a prayer as empty as a dusty confessional booth. You promise to be gentle. You have to; they won't come back if you're not. You're not choosy. Beggars can't be choosers…

Then I drift for a while in numbing coolness.

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