I wake up without the need for my alarm clock to go off. It’s become a matter of routine now. I can even manage to get out of bed without Helen so much as rolling over.
Which is a good thing. I nearly botched it completely when I started that
fire last year. Sometimes, it’s really hard not to let the persona interfere
with the person. Especially when I wear those damn stupid pajamas and that
ridiculous monogrammed bathrobe.
I grab some jeans, a black
turtleneck, a pair of sneakers and my brown aviator’s jacket from my closet and
leave the bedroom. I move quietly down the hall past Quinn’s room to the girls’
bathroom. I hate invading their privacy like this, but the fewer noises Helen
hears, the better.
Not that trying to keep quiet so that the girls don’t hear me is any
picnic either. As they’ve gotten older, it’s gotten harder to keep these
excursions a secret. Especially from Daria. God, that weekend at the business
conference was one of the hardest I’ve ever had. Having to keep up that “Jake
Morgendorffer: Clueless Yutz” façade around Daria all the time was exhausting as
hell. When I’m around people like Terry Barry Barlow or Andrew Landon, it’s
easy. Guys like that are all style and no substance.
Well, maybe not Landon so much, if what Daria told me about his daughter
getting to go to her own choice of college is true.
But Daria values the truth over almost everything else. And she can spot
a lie from 100 yards. Which is another reason for the Clueless Yutz act. It
keeps her off guard, unsure whether her father is hiding something or may just
be that damn maladjusted and/or stupid.
I hate it.
I enter the bathroom. Hmmm…Quinn’s been on one of her moisturizer
rampages again. There must be 12 bottles of lotion here. God only knows how much
she spent on it. Oh, well.
I quickly change into the clothes I brought with me. As I do, I notice
how much the bathroom points out the differences between my daughters. Quinn’s
makeup, skin products, curling
iron, hairbrushes, everything is spread out all over the sink and takes up most
of the medicine cabinet. In the
shower are eight bottles of bathing
product; shampoo, conditioner, volumizer, body wash, some kind of protein rinse,
deodorizer, hair remover, and what looks like some kind of product to make her
hair smell like raspberries.
I though Quinn hated raspberries?
Daria’s toiletries, on the other hand, take up all of six inches on the
sink and three inches in the shower. At the side of the sink is a black
toothbrush and a tube of toothpaste. In the shower is a bottle of $1.99 shampoo,
and a bar of soap. And even though she won’t admit it, there is a stick of
deodorant in the medicine cabinet, along with a ladies razor, and shaving cream.
Quinn enjoys going all out with her appearance, and everything in the
bathroom is geared towards that end. Daria wants people to accept her the way
she is, so she makes only those concessions to hygiene any normal human being
My daughters, so different, yet both so concerned as to how the world
sees them. And both very much like their mother.
Good. I’m not so sure I want them taking after me.
Which reminds me that I better get going. I leave the bathroom and
quietly creep downstairs to the kitchen. I head into the garage and get out my
old bike. Normally this wouldn’t be enough for the distance my excursions take
me…but then, I’m hardly a normal guy.
I haul the bike back into the house and outside through patio door. The
garage door would make too much noise and wake up Helen and the girls. I slide
the door shut behind me and wheel the bike around to the front of the
I climb aboard and take a deep breath. There’s always this moment of
dread before I head out. Worry that someone will see me and call out “Hey Jake!”
at the worst time possible. Worry that Helen or one of the girls will wake up
and look out the window to see me in front of the house and wonder what the hell
Or worse, watch as I place a foot on one of the pedals and send the bike
zooming off at about 25 miles per hour.
That’s right, I said 25 MPH. And that’s just when I decide not to exert
myself. While on a business trip out in Nevada once, I rented a bike and drove
out to the desert to time myself. I got the thing up to 80 MPH before I started
to break a real sweat. Of course, by that point, the tires had begun to wear out
from friction, so I never really got to find out my top speed on a
You see, I, Jake Morgendorffer, am what the comic books call a
Now this doesn’t mean that I dress up in spandex, or fight supervillains,
or even maurading aliens from the planet Zort. It just means that I have natural
abilities that 99.999999999999% of humanity doesn’t. Actually, it may be a
higher percentage than that. I’ve never encountered another superhuman in my
At least, not since the old man died.
Just like the Clueless Yutz act is my defense against anyone finding out
about my abilities, my old man had the “Mad Dog” act to prevent anyone from
finding out about his own.
I got my wake up call to the Morgendorffer heritage about a month before
I left for college. One morning I woke up, went out for a jog, and became rather
surprised when I came home and, without exerting myself in any way, took the
front door right off it’s hinges. I
was scared shitless, to put it mildly. What would the old man do? He was already
pissed that I didn’t get accepted to West Point, and that I was going to
Middleton, but I knew he had to be planning something to ensure that I wound up
back in a uniform somewhere. Follow in his footsteps and all that
So there I am,
looking like someone just slapped me with a fish, the front door in my hand,
when I hear the heavy plodding footsteps of the old man as he came down the
front stairs. Immediately, I knew what was going to
First would come the yelling, then the orders, and finally he’d call his
Army buddies to haul me off to some government base where I’d spend the rest of
my days having my ass probed and being trained to be some kind of military super
soldier. Mom would be told I ran off and ended up dead somewhere and that would
effectively be the end of Jake Morgendorffer and all that would be left in his
place was Special Project #QZ-29 or whatever.
I was 18, the war in Vietnam was getting underway, and my father was a
former major in Korea, before being discharged for disability. You bet your ass
I was paranoid.
Imagine my surprise then, when Dad came down the stairs, took a look at
the situation, went into the garage and came back with a pair of hinge kits and
a screwdriver. He gave them to me, said “Fix the door, Jake, then meet me in the
backyard,” and walked off without another word.
Still not sure what he was up to, I replaced the hinges on the door as
fast as I could, making sure the door would actually
Where the HELL did that VW come from?! Damn stupid late night drunk
drivers! They could KILL somebody!
Okay, calm down. Just focus on where you’re going, Jake.
I take the back roads out of Lawndale until I find the frontage road next
to the freeway. I like the frontage road. There’s never any traffic this late at
night and I can let myself go. I
still have the old childish appreciation for going a fast as possible, so I let
the strength in my legs flow a little more freely and kick up the speed from 25
to 65. The buildings and occasional
streetlights are a blur, and I’m able to keep pace with the traffic on the
freeway with little difficulty.
God, I love biking in the middle of the night. I wish I could get away
with it more often. As it is, I limit these excursions to two nights a week and
never on the weekends. Any more and Helen would probably get suspicious.
Frankly, I’m amazed I’ve managed to get away with this for as long as I have.
The frontage road takes me through most of the development area until I
hit the city. Should be able to get there in about twenty
Anyway, where was I? Oh right, the front door.
After I fixed the front door I went out to the backyard, expecting the
inevitable lecture and yell session from the old man. Instead I found him
standing out there with an expression I’d never seen
He looked miserable.
As I came out, he turned. He told me to come stand next to him. It wasn’t
an order. It was said in a conversational tone. He told me he had something to
He then pointed to a small patch of weeds in the flower beds and told me
to watch. He looked at them, squinted his eyes, and the weeds burst into flame.
I watched dumbfounded as the flames consumed the weeds but didn’t harm the
When the flames had burned out, Dad looked back at me and said the words
I still dread saying to either Daria or Quinn;
“I’m a freak, son, and it looks like you are too.”
Dad went onto explain that there is something in the Morgendorffer
genetic code which occasionally gives members of the bloodline, “super powers”
for want of a better term. So far it had only manifested itself every few
generations. As far as Dad knew, we were the first time two sequential
generations had show the abilities.
Dad had the ability to heat the air in his line of sight and if he
concentrated enough, start fires. Similar to Superman’s heat vision, I suppose,
but not really. He had accidentally set his bed on fire when he turned 15, and
my granddad had told him what was going on. While granddad didn’t have any
powers of his own, his father had and told him what to look out for in his own
Both my granddad and my dad had been in the military. Hell, Dad was an
Army brat. And they both knew that the Army would do almost anything to get
their hands on a “superhuman.” So, they decided the best way to keep it a secret
was not to use it, and to have Dad pretend to take an obsessive interest in the
military. As soon as he was old enough, Dad enrolled, and kept up the “perfect
soldier” persona. When he was in service, he used his powers covertly,
occasionally managing to turn the tide in battle with a few well placed fires on
the battle field designed to hamper the enemy.
No one ever found out. After being injured and honorably discharged, Dad
kept up the persona. He married Mom, who he had met during his stateside
assignments, and had me. He had put me and Mom through hell as “Mad Dog”
Morgendorffer in order to keep us from suspecting anything really out of the
ordinary was happening.
Fortunately, Dad’s power wasn’t overly flashy, so keeping it a secret was
fairly easy. I, on the other hand, had a problem.
Over the next couple of days after the incident with the front door, Dad
and I ran some tests. We conducted these out on my granddad’s farm, where he had
five acres of property and no close neighbors to witness what I was doing.
Like Dad had suspected, the
Morgendorffer Quirk had given me enhanced strength. While we never figured out
an upper limit, I didn’t start breaking a sweat until I tried to lift the family
tractor. This was an old 1910 tractor with a hand crank, and was built primarily
out of iron. Weighed about a ton. I struggled with it and managed to hold it
above my head for about ten minutes before I had to put it down.
On the drive back home, Dad
told me that I would have to be careful when I went to college. Starting fires
with your mind was one thing, but super strength was another. I had to
consciously ensure that I didn’t use my full strength. During the weekend on
granddad’s farm, I had inadvertantly destroyed a small tool shed when I slammed
the door too hard.
He also drove it home to me that just because I had enhanced strength, I
wasn’t better than everybody else. His time in the military had shown him that
there were people out there who would love to get their hands on me if anyone
ever found out about my abilities. It was better if I didn’t flaunt what I
That was when he told me about the persona. The persona was the outward
face I would show to the world. The further the persona was from my actual
nature, the easier it would be to forget about the power.
Knowing that I had superpowers and that Dad wasn’t the unfeeling hard ass
I thought he was had changed my outlook considerably. I had come to love him
again, and I still look back on that weekend as one of the best I’ve ever had.
But, what he said made sense. Even Mom didn’t know about the Morgendorffer Quirk
and we weren’t too sure what she would do if she did.
So, we decided that, to the rest of the world, he would remain “Mad Dog”
Morgendorffer and I would play the part of the spineless, bitter, resentful
It was hard during the next few months to keep it up when I went home for
the weekends and holidays from college, but Dad always managed to find time for
the two of us to be alone together and let the personas drop. I think he enjoyed
these as much as I did. We were both able to be ourselves around each other and
not have to worry about keeping our abilities a secret.
Unfortunately, it didn’t last.
It happened during my sophomore year at Middleton. I was sitting in my
dorm room with Helen “studying,” when the phone rang.
Dad had heart attack.
Helen and I jumped into the minibus we shared and drove home as fast as
we could. But we were too late. By the time we reached the hospital, Dad had
been dead for half an hour.
It wasn’t until the will reading that I got my goodbye from my father. He
had left a letter for me in his safe deposit box. The date on it indicated he
had written it the day after I left for college.
I still remember the text of
the letter, almost verbatim:
If you are reading this letter, then it means that I have finally kicked
the proverbial bucket. I’m writing this to you so you can prepare now for the
During the weekend out at the farm I told you many things about that
problem in our genes that made us what we are, but I didn’t tell you everything
because you still had most of your life in front of you. I’m hoping that this
letter finds you while you still have enough time to
The quirk that gives us our abilities also has a price. All the
Morgendorffer men who have had these abilities have developed a greater risk for
heart attacks or strokes before they’re 30. Many died from one of these before
they reached 55.
Dad had been 48 when he died. The letter went on to say that, as far as he had been able to tell, the Quirk had only affected the male Morgendorffers and it had a tendency to skip a generation here and there. He advised me to prepare for the worst if I had a son, and to be ready at anytime after the kid hit puberty to explain what was happening. Even if the kid never expressed any powers, he told me to tell him sometime when they were old enough to understand, so he could prepare for his own kids.
I spent the rest of that night crying. Not because my father was dead,
although that was part of it, but because I was now truly alone. No one knew the
real Jake Morgendorffer. They only knew the persona.
I didn’t want to be alone. I married Helen.
Time went on. Helen and I grew out of our hippie phase and got serious
about our careers in the seventies. By the eighties, Helen was a paralegal and I
was working as a junior executive in a backwater office in Highland,
Then Daria was born. And I cannot express the relief I felt at the fact that I had a daughter. It enhanced the joy I felt at being a father for the first time. I doted on Daria, when my soul sucking job permitted me to actually have time to be with her.
In actuality, the stress I felt at my job was genuine, but couple that
with the persona and you have a time bomb ready to explode. I couldn’t get away
from the stress as often as I wanted. And as a result, the short fuse got added
to the Clueless Yutz persona, making me look dangerously unstable. I blame
myself for allowing this to contribute to Daria’s own persona. I now know that
those little outbursts made Daria wonder if she wasn’t loved. If I thought she
was a burden, and unfortunately, the damage remains even today. Daria is smart,
witty, talented, and beautiful, even if she doesn’t admit it even to herself.
Unfortunately, she is also sarcastic, cynical, and
Heh. Just like her old man.
And then there’s Quinn. Quinn went to the opposite extreme. Once again,
smart, talented, witty, and beautiful. But she’s also self-centered, vain,
obsessed with popularity, and spends money like water. I’m still trying to
figure out how Helen and I could raise two daughters and end up with them having
such different personalities.
But I don’t worry about them as much as I used to. They’re both growing
up. Daria is starting to come out of her shell, and Quinn’s started to see that
there’s more to life than popularity. And now Daria’s headed for college.
In a month.
I’m worried. Can you tell?
Even though Helen and I agreed to only have two kids, and while I’m
relieved that I had two daughters, I still wonder if the Quirk is attached to
the Y chromosome. We’ve never been tested. Any of the Morgendorffers who’ve had
the Quirk, so there’s no actual proof that it would only manifest in male
members of the family.
I worry about this a LOT.
Ah. I’m here.
I’ve reached the downtown area. I park my bike in a rack next to a public
school and chain it up before beginning my trek to the less savory areas of
Highland was a dump. A breeding ground for trailer trash and future
criminals. Daria often told me horror stories of a couple of delinquents she
went to school with. I’m pretty sure they were the same two dipshits that worked
at the local Burger World and got the place shut down a while
It was one day when the stress of the job got too much for me that I went for a walk. I ended up in a really seedy part of town, even for Lawndale. As I was trying to figure out the best way to get back to my neighborhood, I hear a scream. I followed the sound to a vacant lot where a local crook named Todd and his buddies were harassing a couple of junior high kids.
The scream had come from a girl who wasn’t much older than
I still don’t have a clear memory of what happened, but what I do
remember is when the haze cleared from my vision, two of the punks were
twitching on the ground, Todd and the rest of his little band were peeling out
in that Camaro of his, and the two kids were nearly out of sight down the road.
I had beaten them. I knew that for a fact. I had beaten Todd and his
stooges to within an inch of their lives. I had dropped the persona and let my
own aggression out.
I threw up.
Luckily, it was shortly after this happened that Helen got the job offer
from Vitale, Davis, et al. I jumped at the chance to get the girls (and
myself) the hell out of Highland. Since then, I realized that I couldn’t keep my
strength bottled up all the time. I had to release it periodically, especially
if real life stress was going to contribute to my own desire to let it
So I came up with this plan. If I was going to be a superhuman, I might
as well do what most of them did in the comics.
I started to fight crime.
Not in any meaningful sense. I mean there are no supervillains running
around threatening whole cities. I know there’s no way I could ever hope to
bring down an entire crime syndicate without endangering myself or my family.
And there sure as hell isn’t a “Jake Signal” for the chief of police to flash
when there’s trouble.
No, I only do what one man can do. Random acts of
I come into the city at night and walk the streets for a couple of hours.
Sometimes I stop a mugging, other times I break up a drug deal. One memorable
time I prevented a rape. That time I got a little sloppy and left the would be
rapist cringing on the ground outside the local precinct house with a full
written confession (minus a few details), and an intense desire never to have
any kind of sexual relations of any sort for the next few years.
Mostly I just try to make things easier for the police. I’m not
invulnerable, and I’m not immortal. I mostly just try to prevent anything from
happening to unsuspecting people that I encounter. I can’t be everywhere at
once. I can’t save the world.
But I can try to make things better in my corner of
Sometimes it’s a slow night. When that happens, I do other things. I go
to all night markets and buy food which I leave for the homeless. I use my
strength to help speed along public works projects. A brand new YMCA building
was finished a month ahead of schedule thanks to my helping things along at
I’ve helped maintain community gardens, done minor repairs to apartment
buildings where the owners are too cheap or too lazy to do it themselves, (It’s
amazing how much more livable a four floor walkup can be just by changing the
light bulbs in the staircases) and I’ve cleaned graffiti off walls.
It’s not much, but it makes me feel good and it helps out a lot of people
in small ways.
It’s a slow night tonight. I wander the streets for a couple of hours,
clean a few walls, and drop off
some food for a homeless family I spot in an alleyway before heading back to the
school and unchaining the bike.
The ride back always seems to take less time than the ride out. I
navigate through the streets of the city until I reach the frontage road. Then I
open it up and pedal as fast as I can. Feeling the wind in my hair, and the
tingling sensation in my legs that tells me I’m making this bike go a hell of a
lot faster than the manufacturer intended.
Heh. I wore out two $700 mountain bikes before I found this old one in an
all night pawnshop on Degas Street last year. Hype those aluminum alloy jobs all
you want, with the toe clips, and handlebar extensions. That may be fine for you
extreme sportsmen, but for us superhumans, it’s iron frames all the way,
I get back to the house just
as the sky is beginning to lighten in the east. I look at my watch. 4:45. Good,
I can claim I woke up before my alarm went off and go right to the shower.
Sneaking back into bed is always harder than sneaking out. Usually because Helen
sprawls herself out over the whole damn thing when I’m not there.
I wheel the bike back around the house and through the kitchen to the
garage. I grab the pajamas and the bathrobe from where I stashed them under the
kitchen sink. I throw the aviator’s jacket and my sneakers into the downstairs
closet and go up the stairs to listen at the girls’ bathroom door. The light is
off and I don’t hear anything. Good.
I go in and quickly change back into the robe and pajamas, throwing the
clothes I was wearing down the laundry chute. I sneak out of the bathroom, back
down the hall.
The light comes on in Daria’s room. I freeze. I hear her moving around,
then she mutters something incoherent, and the light goes off again. I stifle a
sigh of relief then sneak into my bedroom.
Helen is sprawled out on the
bed on her stomach, snoring into a pillow. She always looks so damn cute when
she does that. I wish I could take advantage of it, but Helen’s always cranky
when you wake her up before she’s ready to.
I go into the bathroom,
close the door and snap on the light.
As I shower, I wonder if
maybe I shouldn’t tell Helen the truth about me. I know she gets frustrated with
the Yutz. And I know I’ve embarrassed the hell out of Daria and Quinn more often
than not. I’m sure they’d
understand, and they’d actually be able to see the real Jake Morgendorffer for a
But, there’s always the
possibility they wouldn’t. That I’d frighten them, that Helen would leave me for
keeping this a secret from her and take the girls with her. Quinn may think that
having a freak for a dad is the ultimate embarrassment. And
Well, Daria has enough
problems as an outcast herself, she doesn’t need her old man making her even
more of one.
I sigh again. Alone. Thirty
years later and I’m still alone. But hopefully, the last of the Morgendorffer
Quirk will go with me. I don’t plan on telling either of them about the Quirk,
in case it is carried on the Y chromosome. Then maybe Daria and Quinn’s own
families can live long happy lives, without the worry that their kids may turn
out to be superpowered freaks.
But I still worry. What if it isn’t?
What if it’s just waiting?
“Daria” and related characters are copyright © 1997-2002 by MTV Networks
and Viacom International. Used without permission.