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|I've been wanting to do a superhero story ever since reading 'The Dark Knight Returns' by Frank Miller, and so here we are. It's turned out to be a neat project, and a great exercise in different styles. |
The poem used is Blake's 'The Tyger.' Great poem, if you're not familliar with it.
SEQ CHAPTER \h \r 1Shades
Ace’s collar and harness jingled as he walked beside me. Possible headlines were mulling in my head. Maybe “Mob Boss Killed, No Suspects”? No...too basic. “Millionare Mobster Mysteriously Murdered”? Too much alliteration. I pulled my jacket tighter around myself when I heard footsteps approaching.
“Shades McKormick?” A man’s voice, polite and cultured. No distinguishable accent, but there was a sense of kindliness about it. I stop. The nylon leash in my hand jerks taught when Ace keeps walking. He returns to my side and nuzzles my hand. In return, I scratch his head. His fur is long and silky smooth, not oily like other dogs.
“Yes?” I start to turn around when I hear a loud click! No mistaking that noise. I freeze.
“Please don’t make any sudden movements, Mr. McKormick. .” He might have been asking me to let him borrow a cup of sugar; his voice never lost a touch of its politeness.
“What do you want?” I could already guess, but I kinda wanted him to say it.
“Now, now, Mr. McKormick. Let’s not be nosey.” He sounded amused. His voice abruptly took on a more serious tone. “The street is empty, it’s dark, and there’s nobody to save you. I would hate to have to harm such a famed journalist as yourself,” he sounded genuinely concerned, “You wouldn’t do anything as foolish as yelling for help, would you?”
“Wouldn’t dream of it.” I wasn’t really afraid of him. He wasn’t some junkie trying to mug me. He was too cool, a professional. He obviously wanted me to stay alive, otherwise I’d be already dead. As long as I did what he asks and didn’t cause trouble he’d see I was well taken care of. What came later...well, one step at a time.
“Good!” He really sounded pleased. “Walk forward, if you please. I’ll tell you when to stop.” I did, taking little steps, relying on Ace to keep me from tripping. Five hundred and thirty one steps later I heard “Stop.”
“Good, Mr. McKormick. If you’ll reach forward, you’ll find the door to a car. Open it, please.” I reached out, and my hand touched smooth glass. I moved down until I found the seal between the window and the door. “A little to the left.” I moved my hand left, and found the handle.
“Ace,” I said.
“My dog, Ace,. Is he coming too?”
There was a slight pause. “No, I think it’s best if Ace stays behind. Hand me the leash.” I held the leash out, and he took it from my hand. His hand was gloved in leather so soft it felt like a baby’s skin. Must have cost a fortune.
“I am going to step away to tie Ace up. But I will have my gun on you at all times. You won’t do anything foolish, will you?” His voice was cold. Deathly cold.
“Good. I shall return momentarily.” I waited while Ace whined and whimpered. The man was humming. I think it was Bach.
“Please, take a seat in the car,” he instructed. He helped me a bit, kept me from knocking my head on the doorframe. The car was expensive, no doubt about it. Lots of leg room, plush leather seats, and that “new car smell” was almost suffocating. The door closed with a thick chunk. I took my chance while he was walking around the car. Reaching into my right pocket, I fumbled with my tape recorder and pressed the first button on the right. I always kept it with me, you never know where the next big scoop will be, right?
The driver’s door of the car opened and leather creaked as the man sat down. There was a soft tinkle of keys, and then the car revved to life. The car ran very smoothly, I couldn’t hear any rattles or clanks.
“Nice car...what kind is it?”
“It’s a Jaguar.”
I felt the car accelerate smoothly. I had an idea, I just had to wait for him to turn–Ah! I flopped into the door as the car made a left turn. “You want to warn me about those? I can’t exactly read your mind.”
“I’m very sorry. I’ll be sure to warn you. You work for the Times, right?”
“I think you know that.”
“It’d would be a lot more interesting if we conversed. If you’d rather go in silence that is certainly your prerogative.”
I sighed. “No, I guess we might as well talk.”
“Good! My first question is this: why do you use the handle ‘Shades.’”
I wasn’t sure if he was joking or not. “Are you serious?”
Apparently, he understood the source of my confusion. “I’m sorry, allow me to clarify. I understand why you wear sunglasses and therefore the name, but I’m curious as to why you use a handle at all. Turning right.”
“Because I sounds a lot better than Homer.”
“You don’t like the name?”
“Not since The Simpsons.”
I see. Left turn..”
“What about yourself?”
“Do you have a name? You haven’t introduced yourself.”
“No, I haven’t, have I?” He sounded amused again. “Kent. You may call me Mr. Kent.”
“Can I have a description? It helps me visualize who I’m talking to.”
He laughed. “Certainly. I’m a man, average height, average weight, and average build. I’ve got brown eyes, short brown hair–right turn, Mr. McKormick–and white skin. If you had to guess my age based upon my appearance, you’d say I was somewhere between 30 and 60. I have no scars, birthmarks, or identifying marks of any kind.”
I snorted. “Great. That’s really distinctive.
“I’m afraid that’s all you get. Left turn.”
We drove like that for a while. Me asking questions, him giving me obscure, deflecting answers. He kept his word about announcing the turns, though. After maybe forty minutes or so, rain started drumming on the roof of the car. By this time all my important questions had been asked, and I was long since out of tape anyways, so I fell silent. A few minutes after that, the car slowed to a stop.
“I’m afraid that our time together has come to a close, Mr. McKormick Your new hosts will be along shortly.”
“Do you think they’ll be as pleasant as you?”
“I don’t think that is very likely, Mr. McKormick. Now, if I might have the recorder...”
“The tape recorder in the right pocket of your jacket, Mr. McKormick.”
“I should have guessed.” I reached into my pocket and held it out. “Can’t blame a guy for trying, can you?”
The recorder was plucked from my hand. “No, I suppose not.” He paused. “Can you get out by yourself?”
“Yeah.” I felt for the door handle, found it, and opened the door. Instantly, the hollow drumming of the rain on the roof of the car became a sharp tat tat tat. I stepped out into the rain and shut the door.
“Take care, Mr. McKormick. Then the car was speeding away. It really did sound like a great car. It hardly even hitched when it shifted gears.
The rain was falling in big warm pellets that stung a bit when they hit my skin. They made little tat! noises all around. It wasn’t long before my hair was soaked and my clothes clung to me. The air was warm and humid; it smelled vaguely of fish. I stood there for maybe three seconds after Mr. Kent’s car pulled away before I heard a car door thunked open off to my left. Heavy steps approached, more than one person. Their shoes made wet slapping sounds as they walked.
This next bit has never really been that clear. All I remember are hands. Hands on my back, my shoulders. Hands clutching, grabbing, pushing, pulling. The thick clank of a door opening, and then closing a few seconds later. The sound of the rain becomes distant and hollow. The air stinks of water, old sweat and motor oil. More pushing, pulling. Forced into a chair. Hands holding me down. Zip! I can’t move my left arm. Zip! I can’t move my right arm.
Right about here is where things come back into focus. I remember that it was warm enough that I never got cold, despite being soaking wet. I remember I was strapped to a chair. It was a big chair, some kind of wood. It had big study arms...my hands were palm down, fingers spread out. My fingers didn’t reach the end of the chair’s arm. I couldn’t move my hands. I later figured out that they’d tied me to the chair at my wrists, forearm, and up across my biceps. They used zipties– you know, those hard plastic cords you find on packages–and wrapped them around the chair’s body. But I didn’t figure that out until later.
The chair had deep gouges in the laquer up by where my fingers were. I had felt them and briefly wondered what caused them. I know now...I wish to God I didn’t.
“You’re Homer McKormick?” The voice was a rough baritone, and it rasped like the man had been smoking for thirty years. The voice was altogether different than that of Mr. Kent. This man sounded tired. No, not tired. Bored. The sound came from my right.
“Shades” I said. I heard a snort come from the direction of the voice. There was somebody to my left. He hadn’t spoken–hadn’t even moved–but I could hear his breathing. He sounded like a bear. Each breath seemed to last forever.
“Who talked?” The man asked. “Who ratted on McKenzie?”
And just like that, it all clicked. The headlines “Corrupt Cops: an Insider Speaks Out” and “Police Officer to be Tried; Anonymous. Source as Phantom Witness” screamed in my head. The bylines? “Shades McCormick.” Who else?
Let me get something straight before you go on: I was scared. I was terrified. I might have pissed myself. The only reason I didn’t tell them straight away was I was smart enough to know it wouldn’t do me any good. They’d kill me as soon as they had the name. I didn’t expect to be saved...I just didn’t want to die. Maybe I was waiting on a miracle, I don’t know. I just know the idea of dying scared me even more than the torture they had planned for me. That’s why I didn’t squeal. That’s why my answer was:
“It was an anonymous sour–“ Something big and hard as marble smashed into my guts. For a few agonizing seconds I couldn’t breathe, then air–sweet, blessed air–rushed back into my lungs.
“That wasn’t half of what Dave’s got,” the Voice said. He still sounded bored.
“Who is this?” The voice was clear, feminine, powerful. I shuddered at it. The smell of the man faded.
“This is Shades McKormick.” he said. A woman’s heels clacked loudly on the floor, coming closer. Her scent wafted over to me, blood and lilacs. A hand caressed my cheek, soft, delicate. The ring I felt on her third finger was warm. “The reporter.” she said, trailing off in thought. Her voice...was like Christmas Eve–expectant, magical, bitterly cold. She was talking with the Man and Dave. I strained to hear, but the hollow drumming of the rain obscured the words. Whatever they were saying,
Then the smell of him flooded my nose: sweat, greasy pizza, and expensive cologne. His voice was right in my ear. “Who. Did. You. Talk. To?”
“Guy used an alias, I don’t kn–“ I think this time I got all of what Dave had that time. I’ve been hit by a car once before...it felt a lot like that. For a second there it didn’t even hurt, but then pain reared its scaly head, sank its fangs into my stomach, and started tearing at my guts.
A hand at my throat, fingers up one jaw, thumb up another. The palm was rough and the fingertips were cold. “Listen to me.” the Voice commanded. “I’m not gonna ask again.”He sounds excited, now. Something cold on the back of my han–I gasp as the knife slices my skin open. I smell blood, feel it pooling on my hand, hear it dripping of the chair with, landing with a soft plip!
“Mrs. Bee said not to hurt him too bad.” The man to my left–Dave. His voice was surprisingly high. It almost squeaked. “She said don’t–”
“I know what she said Dave! She said try not to hurt him too bad.” He sounded impatient, as if lecturing a stupid child. “If he’s not gonna talk, we gotta take more drastic steps. Now shut up and hold him.” Dave didn’t answer, but I felt his big hands on holding my arm down.
Then the knife was back, pressed against my left index finger, centered on the lower knuckle. The word came out soft as a purr. “Who?”
“I dunno, guy used–”
That was when he removed my finger. After that, things kinda blank out, and the next thing I remember is that baritone voice.
“You hear that, Dave?” There was another sound, behind me. It reminded me of a chainsaw, or a big diesel engine–a rasping low growling, so deep I didn’t so much hear it as feel it. I kept sobbing.
Right about then, I remember my head exploding. I think I screamed again, but I can’t say for sure. All I could hear was a high pitched whining. I couldn’t move, couldn’t hear anything. I could smell gunpowder, though, and feel the blasts on my chest. And then it stopped.
My finger–what was left of it–hurt like hell and I couldn’t hear a goddamn thing. I just sat there sobbing. And then I could move again. The zipties fell away from my arms. The smell of wet dog was everywhere, suffocating. Two immense hands reached under my arms and wrenched me to my feet.
“Who’s there?” My hearing must have been returning, because I hear breathing. Huge breaths, each inhalation took forever. Something grabs my good hand, and I gasp. It was a hand–an immense hand. It was covered in soft, fine hairs. Except the fingertips and parts of the palm, which were soft and rough. It felt like Ace’s feet. I felt up the arm past the torso and to the head. I traced the huge triangular ears, the lean muzzle, the cold nose.
“Christ... ” I breathed. A low growl answered, inarticulate . I jerk my hand away, and scraped my hand–the bad hand–against the chair. I gasped and jerked it close to my body. I think I cried some more...God, it felt like I’d grabbed a fistful of molten silver. I needed a few seconds to pull myself together.
I heard a rapid set of sniffing, like when Ace was sniffing for food.
“What is it?”
The word came out soft and cruel. “Lilacs.
There was the sound of a car, and then it died. A door thunked open and closed. I heard the light scrape of my rescuer’s feet as he started to walk away. “Wait!” The footsteps stopped. “Why do you do it?”
There was a short pause. “And with tears of blood he cleansed the hand, the hand that held the steel. For only blood can wipe out blood, and only tears can heal.” And then he was gone. Maybe he ran away, or maybe he jumped up to the roof, I don’t know. He never made a sound.
About two minutes passed before I heard another set of footsteps approaching. These were the loud hard clicks of expensive men’s shoes. The footsteps stopped nearby.
I swallowed. “Mr. Kent?”
“I am indeed. I was told to retrieve you from these...amateurs”–he sneered that word–“and take you back to your home. My employer has decided that you should live.”
“It would seem that you have a guardian, and one that my employer does not wish to confront. Now hold out your hand.” I held out my good hand and felt him drop a small round pellet into it.
“A sleeping pill. To take the edge off. Careful, though. These cause vivid dreams.”
“Why should I trust you?”
“You shouldn’t. I held you at gunpoint, threatened to kill you, and delivered you into the hands of men who tortured you.”
“But if you wanted me dead, you’d have already killed me.”
I took the pill.
I dreamed that I heard that woman’s voice, wanted to run but couldn’t move. I relived the loss of my finger again and again. It hurt every time. Headlines boomed through my mind, and I felt something heavy in my hand–a medal. The Pulitzer. I heard poetry recited in his voice, soft and harsh and feral
The next thing I felt was a warm tongue licking my face. I was in my own bed. I knew the flannel sheets, the smell of Ace pervading the room. I reached up and pushed Ace off me. I felt a thick bandage on my injured hand. I rolled over onto something hard and square, my tape recorder. On a hunch, I pressed the second button from the left. Mr. Kent’s smooth voice came out of the recorder.
“Mr. McKormick, I have taken the liberty of returning your dog and tape recorder to you. I have opened a bank account in your name, the details are on the back of this tape. Please use these funds to cover your medical expenses–or dispose of it in whatever other manner seems best to you. There is vicoden on the bedside table, should you need relief from the pain.
I’ve had the pleasure of meeting your guardian once before...truly a fearsome creature. He calls to mind the words of Blake when he asks‘In what distant deeps or skies burnt the fire of thine eyes?’
Two names to remember: Officers Nick Milliron and Dave McMaster. Your tormenters. Feel free to write about them, though I strongly advise that you leave my employer out and myself out. I’m confident that you won’t betray my trust in your judgement. Feel free to include your furry friend.
Good Day, Mr. McKormick.”
That was all the message said.
I knew the Blake reference. “The Tyger.” Learned it in high school. I said the poem aloud to myself. Mr. Kent had been right. It really did describe him.
I reached out with my good hand, and felt for my phone. My hand fell on its smooth rounded shell. I picked it up, traced out the numbers, and started dialing.
“Angoth Free Press editorial office. This is John.”
“John? It’s Shades.”
“Shades? Jesus, man, How are you?”
“Not great, why?”
“You’re all over the news, Shades. Something about you getting showing up at a hospital beat up and missing a finger. There’s been talk that you were tortured.”
“Shut up, John. He’s back.” I didn’t have to clarify who I meant.
“What? Are you sure? It’s been...what eight, nine years?”
“Yeah, I”m sure.” My voice sounded shaky.
“Why would he come back now?”
“I don’t know, but I’ve got an idea.” I told him my plan. He took it better than I thought he would.
“You want to do what?” I told him again. “Where the hell did you get an idea as screwed up as that?” I told him what happened the night before–leaving out certain individuals, of course.. “Jesus, Shades, you want to work?”
“Yeah.” I might have been more eloquent, but my hand was starting to hurt.
“God, I don’t know...sure. Why not? You won’t be able to find anything anyways.”
“Thanks John.” I hung up. I got out of bed, fumbled around for a minute or two, found the bottle of pills on the table, and popped two dry. It might have been the drugs, but I could still hear his voice reciting those lines from my dream:
In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?
And what shoulder and what art
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand and what dread feet?
|Heart's Song, Chapter 3||Dragon's Awakening, Chapter 3|
|Dragon's Awakening, Chapter 5, Chapter 6||By Night, By Day|
|Dragon's Awakening, Prologue (2nd edition)|