Richard Hartshaw was only fifteen when he realised that he could ejaculate a horrifying boiling acid.

The experience itself was highly traumatic.

Richard had, after all, been raised by two stern Catholic parents who weren’t sympathetic when they walked into his room after Richard cried out for help and found a giant hole about the size of a beer bottle fizzling away on his mattress.

Ignoring his cries and protestations, they took him to their local parishioner, the Reverend Hugo Corten. He was a portly old man with a waxed handlebar moustache, and was of the opinion that it was because of the sexual demons inside the young teenager.

“Young teenagers,” Hugo coughed, “especially young teenage boys, are always touching themselves before they touch their personal Bible or the heart of Jesus.”

His parents, Alan and Jemma, nodded stoically. No doubt this man knew exactly what he was talking about. And they were in the right place. And that if their son could find himself through religion, they wouldn’t lose any more sheets or mattresses to the acid come.

“I would recommend.” Hugo said, “making sure that the boy has no contact with the Internet, adult magazines, or books that would induce a fervent sexual hunger.”

He buried his head in his white lace handkerchief and coughed in long wheezing hacks. He pulled the handkerchief away after letting out a few very wet and very solid coughs, staring at it in what looked like disbelief before tucking it into his corner pocket and continuing.

“Does he have a crucifix in his room that he could pray at instead of thinking impure thoughts?”

And that was essentially that. Whilst Richard begged his parents to let him go to the doctor to get examined and to possibly find out the cause of his penile curse, they were hammering crosses all over his room. They doubled and tripled up on the crosses all over the living room and dining room. They took Richard out of school due to incessant bullying after a few of Richard’s “friends” he’d confided in decided to tell their friends, who told their friends…

They placed candles of the Virgin Mary all over the front doorsteps that they lit most evenings.

They brought back pamphlets back from their church services. They took him to Sunday service.

And since Richard was so discouraged from ever touching himself, he often assumed he was fixed. After so many weeks or praying and studying scripture, he and his family would just assume that he was fine.

Then there’d be another “episode” and Richard would try and cover a burned and charred part of carpet or have to deal with a small chemical fire breaking out in his bedroom and it was back to square one.

It went on and on until he ran away from home.

For a while, he lived in a hostel in a town that was very far away from anyone he knew or believed would know him. He still kept his Bible with him, although he never quite knew why.

And for a while, things were fine. He kept his head down and got a job as a barman in a little hole in the wall. Once he’d socked away enough money, he even got a small flat down by the shore.

It was a good time for him. Just two years, so not a long time. But a good time.

He woke up and did a few cleaning tasks whilst the sunbeams streamed into his little cabin and the sea lapped and the gulls cawed. He went to his job, where he worked hard cleaning little cups and filling them up. And talking to people who he ended up liking, although always keeping himself at an emotional distance.

And he dealt with the odd situation, once coming close to burning down his little cabin.

Once he went to the doctor and let a friendly young man with a Scandinavian lilt in his voice examine him in his most private areas just into his first year of living by the shore.

And the doctor had been taken aback by the claims that Richard Hartshaw had made about himself. Upon feeling his testes and penis, the man seemed perfectly normal. But as Richard continued to beg, the good doctor knew something was up.

This was not a man who had just walked into a doctor’s office to get fondled.

And so Richard had an x-ray taken of his genitals with a specialist box, similar to a mammogram. And the results were nothing short of incredible.

The spermatic arteries in the testes were producing a bizarrely strong hydrochloric acid that should only have been made in the stomach with his gastric juices. It didn’t make any sense, but as the doctor stared at the scan, he noticed the thickness of the epidermis of each teste, the strength of the spermatic plexus, and the ruination of any nerve filaments just above the infundibuliform fascia. It didn’t make sense, but it was medically something that had happened.

But what to do?

The doctor kept the graph but was unable to suggest a course of treatment. There was nothing he could cut out or cauterise that would stop the acid. No drug he knew of would stop penis acid. And when the doctor suggested taking the medical evidence to a team of experts and other physicians, Richard had cried.

The doctor heard the story of how Richard had fled from his religious parents and how he’d been trying so hard to rebuild a life for himself.

And, ultimately, the doctor remembered the Hippocratic Oath he’d taken.

He’d ignored most of it, finding the need to assist suicides as people in deepest and darkest pains needed to have an end to their suffering, finding the need to help women who, for whatever reason, couldn’t raise the children inside of them.

It was an old and outdated Oath, after all.

But as Richard cried in his office, he remembered the part that said “whatsoever I shall see or hear in the course of my profession, as well as outside my profession in my intercourse with men, if it be what should not be published abroad, I will never divulge, holding such things to be holy secrets.”

And he gave him the x-ray. And he bade the grateful Richard goodbye, and sent him on his way.

He never once saw another case as odd or as strange for the rest of his career, even up until his death in a car accident in March of 1972.

Richard was happy. Even though he couldn’t cure his condition, he at least knew that it wasn’t some sort of curse on his “godlessness.” He’d never really and truly believed his parents, not in his heart of hearts, but when it was late in the night he often thought that maybe they were right.

He thought he was a pretty good person. He paid his bills. He helped out people in need. He opened doors for people. But it was sometimes hard to tell himself that, wide awake at 3am in the morning, unable to get to sleep, listening to the muttering tides outside.

And some time later, he met Sophie.

And that was where everything went oh so wrong.

She was so young and so beautiful. Vivacious. Funny. Oh, and how her smile would light up the bar. And he liked her. And she liked him.

And he’d forgotten all about his condition when she smiled at him across the low-lit bar.

And when she took his hand, and even when they went back to his little cabin arm-in-arm as the surf broke across the bay.

When he realised what had happened, it was far too late.

He was chased from the little place he’d built for himself. He ran through the night, heading across countrysides and through rural towns, always looking over his shoulder whenever he heard a siren or saw a flashlight bobbing across one of the hillsides.

He knew he’d never be safe.

And that’s what led him to a small grove of trees where he took out his shoelaces and tied them together. All he did was hurt people, and Richard Hartshaw had come to a point in his life where he wanted the hurt to stop.

When he wrapped the little circle of laces around the tree branch, climbed up the tree, and slipped his head inside, he breathed a short sigh.

He let go of the branch.

His neck didn’t snap, but he just dangled and twitched spastically. His face turned purple as he began to slowly suffocate.

And that was when the darkened night sky let forth a thunderbolt, which struck the branch. It snapped it a fiery blast and Richard tumbled to the ground. He panted, the cold night air filling his lungs back up.

There were scorch marks on the back of his neck. The burnt branch lay on the forest floor, smouldering softly.

Perhaps, Richard thought for the first time in his life, someone isn’t done with me.

And with that, he stood up. He wasn’t quite renewed with purpose. He was hurt, confused, burned, and upset. But he knew that he wasn’t going to try and kill himself again for as long as he’d live.

And with that, he left the cluster of trees. He walked towards the nearest village, and he arrived there at some time after dawn. He didn’t stay there. In fact, he got a taxi that very same day. He left the country shortly after.

Minsk. Belarus. It was a country filled with Stalinist architecture, sure, but it was a country where nobody knew him.

It wasn’t just the U.K. which was unsafe. The U.S. had warrants out for his arrest, as did Canada, and there were international arrest warrants sent to Egypt, China, New Mexico, and hundreds of other countries.

The only safety in all his travels that Richard Hartshaw had found was in a small, landlocked country in the Eastern Bloc. He only made a few measly rubles every month, but it was enough for a small little apartment and a tube or two of red hair dye, which he slathered across his unkempt hair. The sunglasses, sticking plasters, and baseball caps did the rest.

And he managed to pick up his old job, down in a small pokey bar called “Aпошні Шкло,” or “Last Glass” in English. It stayed open late, and there were occasionally drunken brawls. But it was fine. It wasn’t good in the way it had used to be good. But it was okay. It was living.

And that was when the hostage crisis had happened.

It had happened late in the evening. A young man wearing a black balaclava over his face entered the bar with a shotgun in his arms. He fired a shot into the air, raining down plaster and mortar as the dirty ceiling panels exploded as if they were made of tissue paper.

People screamed and tried to run for the exit, but it was too late. The man with the gun fired his shotgun at the few stragglers who run. But the majority he’d caught in the middle of the bar, fifteen men and women in all, and he had them pinned.

All apart from Richard, who’d slid down the bar counter and was hiding behind a pile of sundries just inside the bar cupboard.

The man was a terrorist. And he’d already killed three people.

The police came quickly, but it was no use. Richard tilted open the cupboard door just enough to see the red and blue flashes outside the window and heard their megaphones. But they couldn’t get in, as he heard the terrorist in the mask yelling that he’d “blow their fucking heads off” if anyone stepped in the door.

And it was in the gloom that Richard found, deep within him, a sense of purpose. He thought of Sophie, and how beautiful she was. And how she’d made him feel special, and made him forget his hideous curse.

And how, in the brief period where all hell broke loose, he’d felt safe and special. And he’d felt as if perhaps everything was going to be okay.

He smiled to himself as he ran his hand under his waistband.

A young woman was trembling as the terrorist pressed the shotgun into her temple, his finger on the hair trigger. The two cops were stuck outside, unable to force the entry.

He pulled his hostage over to the bar and leaned over the counter, thrusting his hand into the open cash till and pulling out a few fistfuls of colourful banknotes.

Behind the mask, the terrorist smiled. The exit at the back of the bar would be quick enough to slip through, and he’d be out and away with the money.

He knew there was a chance of a single lone officer being stationed outside, but if he took a hostage with him, he’d be able to get by in no time. He’d kill them, obviously; both the hostage and the officer. And it’d give him plenty of time to escape.

And the terrorist started towards the door, pocketing the cash. The hostage was still in his arms and his hand was reaching for the door to the back alley where he would no doubt kill two people, vault a fence, and get away scot free.

Then Richard Hartshaw jumped over the counter, his trousers and pants around his ankles as he vaulted. There was a look of rage upon his face, along with an expression of something else entirely.

And then the terrorist felt a horrifying and scorching pain down the side of his face. He screamed in agony as the woolen mask hissed and fused into his soft pink skin underneath. Smoke billowed out as his entire head began to bubble and effervesce.

And then, as quickly as it had happened, it was over. The terrorist lay on the ground, dead.

And then there was silence. There was nothing in the bar but the wisps of toxic smog coming up from the body of the dead man.

A young man, easily only 26, slapped his hands together. And again. And again.

Another joined in, and another, until the cacophony of rapturous applause echoed around the tiny bar.

Richard was given the key to the city, and a little party just off City Hall was thrown for him for his efforts in defending Minsk. The Prime Minister of Belarus made him an honorary citizen of the country, and so he never again had to fear deportation or imprisonment.

An entire country had given him a home.

And there was one more thing left, given to him by a fundraiser in his name that so many people donated to.

They were going to fix him.

He sat in the doctor’s office and looked at the hypodermic needle filled with a clear green liquid as it moved towards his most intimate parts.

And he put his hand out.


For all the agony and heartbreak, the rejection by his own family and the murder of the love of his life by his accursed body, he didn’t want to change.

For to change who he was was to shame the only triumph of his life inside a small and forgettable bar in Minsk. It was to waste the torment, the events that had carved his life into beautiful deformity.

It was as if he had been an odd species of caterpillar, stuck inside a spike-filled cocoon his whole life, and now, upon finally emerging as a butterfly, clipping his own wings.

And the doctor looked at the man in surprise, the man who walked out of his office and into the bright and happy day.

Richard thought of the legions who had rejected him and even still, could not reject himself.

He was the mistimed brushstroke that made the painting stand out.

He was the trip up in the ballet that made the dance all that more daring.

He was the spelling mistake in the story that made the writer look human.

He was everything wrong, that made it all turn out right.

He was Hero Dick.