Antihero Short Story Competition - Winner

Steve Burford

Antihero Short Story Competition


Steve has written in a variety of genres for a range of audiences over the years, but mostly focuses on his Summerskill and Lyon police procedural novels, a cross between Prime Suspect and Tales of the City. This is his first win with Writing Magazine, and he's really grateful for the inspiration and opportunities the magazine provides.

Antihero By Steve Burford

All right, I’ll admit it. This isn’t the life I’d planned for myself. I’d always thought my future would involve a lot more love and maybe the odd ticker tape parade. I have to say though, that if I look back on events now, it almost seems as if everything was destined to turn out this way, whatever I did.  
My childhood was pretty standard, but it was when adolescence kicked in that things got complicated. Instead of worrying about spots, unexpected hair and a breaking voice, I found I’d got superpowers. Well, one superpower. Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking I had it made, aren’t you? Trust me, there were times when I would have traded my new found ability at the drop of a hat for something that could have been treated with antiseptic gel, a razor and a vow of silence until I was twenty. But no. I had to go and be a superhuman, didn’t I?
And it wasn’t like I got one of those cool powers like flight or super strength, or mind-reading. Those guys have got it made. And I definitely didn’t grow wings or develop golden eyes or something sic like that. And not a pound of extra muscle. No. Of all the abilities I could have been ‘blessed’ with, I had to get… Well, I guess you know what I got. If you’ve read the papers or, worse, if you’ve seen me in action on TV then you know what my power is. Not pretty is it? Yeah, I’ll say it: it’s downright gross. I’m the only superhuman I know that newsreaders give warnings about before any of my appearances on the news. ‘What you are about to see may shock you, and has been judged not suitable for the young, pregnant or those of a nervous disposition.’ No-one was ever going to make an action figure out of me.
Still, I tried.
I hung on at school until I was eighteen, mainly because Mum said I had to, but then I was determined to make it in the superhero business. The first thing I had to do of course was get a costume. Fortunately, I’d gone to an equal opportunities school, so while all the girls did Metalwork, all the boys did Textiles. Knowing what my career path was going to be, I’d made sure I was a dab hand with a needle when it came to running up something in lycra and spandex. Now, I’ll admit my original costume was a bit on the ‘exuberant’ side, all gauntlets, boots and a very long cape, but give me a break – I was young. You try not laughing when you see pictures of yourself wearing your teenage clothes.
The real problem though was the colour scheme. I’d gone for red and gold – classic. But, ‘Oh no. You can’t have red. The Dash wears red. And you can’t wear gold. Solarwoman wears gold.’ It turned out that every half decent colour I could think of had been snapped up ages ago by some hero or other. And boy do those guys get huffy if you turn up at a crime scene in the same colours as them. Prima donna doesn’t come close. Briefly, I considered all white, but an early outing in bad weather made very clear the dangers of wearing skintight white lycra in the rain. A completely black outfit was a whole other woke minefield. So, all that was left was purple and green. I mean, come on! I might just as well have called myself The Living Bruise. And those are your classic villain colours! It was like fate was leading me to the dark side right from the start.
But still I tried.
The next thing I had to sort out was my hero name. Again, if I’d had one of those family-friendly powers, I’d have been laughing. Butterfly Girl, Steelman, even Treeboy, didn’t have to work their brains very hard to come up with their names. But when you’ve got an ability like mine, you kind of want to play down what it actually involves, rather than make it your Unique Selling Point. So, I thought I’d go for one of those semi-military-slash-exciting-description type names. You know, like Captain Terrific or Major Wonderful. I should have known. All the best ranks and adjectives had also been snapped up and copyrighted years before I was even born. The best I could manage out of titles and words no-one else wanted would have been something like Corporal Nice or Second Lieutenant Adequate. I wasn’t going to strike fear into the hearts of the criminal underworld with something like them, was I?
Anyway, I’m a millennial, so in the end, I turned it over to social media. The plan was to go into action anonymously and see what name the people in the blogosphere gave me. Some of those guys are really creative, right? As it happened, that may not have been such a bright idea, but then again, looking back, my costume design may have been at least partly to blame. I’d always done well at patchwork in those needlework lessons, so I’d been particularly creative with a triangle of lemon lycra on the front of my costume, and again on the cape. But more on that later.
So, there I was, a man in a costume that was vaguely reminiscent of a variegated aubergine, looking for a team to welcome him and train him. And, again, I tried. I really did. I’m a good boy – or I was – and I genuinely wanted to fight for truth, justice and whatever else was fashionable. I must have sent a hundred letters to every super group going. But do you have any idea how cliquey superheroes are? If you weren’t mutated in the same accident, bitten by the same radioactive animal or shot in a rocket from the same doomed planet, you might as well forget trying to join one of the big teams. Time and again I just got back the same photocopied rejection slips, often with signed photos. I could paper my bedroom with autographed headshots of Jet Man, and all he’s got going for him is bits of an old aeroplane strapped to his back.
There was nothing for it. I decided that I would have to start my career as a superhero on my own. I briefly considered the possibility of a sidekick but the only real mate I had was Trev from the Textiles class, and the only thing he was super at was crochet. So, I went it alone, and set out on my first mission. Which, of course, was when it all fell apart.  
Now, I know that ‘destruction of an entire city’ sounds bad but, I say again, it was my first mission, so don’t pass judgement unless you had a perfect first day at work. And you have to see things in context. I still say, that if I hadn’t stepped in when I did, that villain would have got away with it. Yes, it might only have been a packet of Haribo then, but in a couple of years (or maybe a couple of decades – he was quite young) it could quite easily have been the Bank of England he was stealing. Or Fort Knox. Probably.  
So there I was. You wipe out one small to medium sized city, and suddenly everyone’s calling you a ‘supervillain’, and nobody is even trying to ask if you’re sorry. Talk about cancel culture! Every time I showed my face, some do-gooder in a cool costume with great colours and a dramatic name would swoop in and try to punch my lights out. What was I supposed to do? You wouldn’t expect me just to stand there and take it, would you?
You may have seen some of the funerals on the telly.
So, here I am today. Public Enemy Number One apparently, which is success of a kind I suppose. I have to admit, I’ve never been first in anything before. I was even second to Trev in our Textiles exams. So it’s kind of nice to have something to be a bit proud of. And the funny thing is, since I officially turned ‘evil’ I haven’t done anything half as bad as I did that first time. It’s like there’s a kind of balance all us super people, stick to. I do just enough ‘bad’ stuff to pay for all the necessaries – hideout, gadgets and henchmen (and don’t get me started on how difficult to manage they are) and the heroes do enough ‘good’ stuff to slow me down but never completely stop me, because if they did then they’d be out of a job.
Oh, and I did get a super name. Quite quickly in fact. It turned out, that everyone thought that dramatic yellow triangle on my chest was an ‘A’, so they called me….  Well, you already know what they called me. You did read the title of this piece, didn’t you?
Anyway, must dash. Banks to rob and museums to plunder. Evil doesn’t do itself you know.
Expect, sometimes, now I come to think of it, it rather seems that it does. 

Judges Comments

As anti-hero isn't the same as a villain. With an anti-hero, you kind of root for them even though you know they're lacking in moral qualities. And that's exactly what the response is to the narrator of Antihero, Steve Burford's winning story in WM's Antihero contest.

There's a huge amount of humour in the way Steve plays with the superhero genre, poking fun at its conventions and undermining its heroic tropes. Taking the form of a confessional monologue, Steve's story succeeds so well, and is such a comic delight, because of the voice. Antihero's voice is funny, frank, upfront. Engaging, even though (because he's an antihero) he's completely lacking in heroic qualities. He wasn't even very good at needlework. He didn't want to be the bad guy but, you know, all the other names and costumes had been taken. Hey, he didn't mean to cause such mayhem but what's a guy to do? He's a bit.. crap.

In this standout comic monologue, all the fun comes from the antihero persona, deadpan, snarky and even apologetic, which has been so well created that the reader goes along happily for the ride for this really enjoyable story, trusting that they will be entertained even while Antihero's confessions mount up to a spectacular heap of wrongdoing.


Runner-up and shortlisted
Runner-up in the Antihero Short Story Competition was Maria Dean, Thackley, West Yorkshire, whose story is published on
Also shortlisted were: Rosy Adams, Trefechan, Aberystwyth; Terry Baldock, Ashton-under-Hill, Worcestershire; Vannessa Bullock, Earby, Lancashire; Michael Callaghan, Glasgow; Kell Cowley, Chester; Andrew Hutchcraft, Peterborough, Cambridgeshire; Jill McKenzie, Newton Stewart, Dumfries and Galloway; DJ Tyrer, Southend-on-Sea, Essex; Jolyon Walford, Birmingham.