WARNING: THESE COMMENTS INCLUDE SPOILERS.
Monday, 16 June 2014
Who You Know, How They See You
P R E V I O U S L Y I N
S P I D E R F I N G E R S
DOG: That can wait. My link’s fine, I needed Vicky out of the room to tell you something far more important and far more dangerous than minion invasions. It’s Doctor Chimera. Spider, he’s back on Earth.
Even as the all-pervading sewer smell of Camden Town kept pedestrians wincing in husks of midday gruffness, Spiderfingers thought of roses, meadows and a greater chance for mankind to wake from its systematic ecological abuse, for the likelihood of his survival had greatly improved, all thanks to the upturned corners of his mouth.
“Lend a lady some money, brother?” said the scar-faced woman before him.
“Look at my clothes. You think I’ve got any cash?”
“Please? With your nice pimp coat, yeah? Help a sister, yeah?”
I’ll get nowhere ignoring her, he thought as he quit his writing. He stood up from the kerb, puffed his chest and looked the scarred skeleton of a female in the eye, “I’m not your brother, and you’re no lady.” Her eyes, nose, lips and cheeks somehow pulled themselves further inward, unbelievably revealing more skeletal mass just beneath the surface of flaky beaten skin. Her face imploded with the silent fury of a black hole.
“Motherfucking liar, with your stupid fancy coat. Dickhead, you think you’re so special. You aint nothing.” She dug her finger into the air, each poke threatening to go the extra inch onto an eyeball: “Pussy …with your white man’s jumper and your white man’s accent. Pussy.” She stared him up and down, the search for some new insult collapsing into an expletive ridden failure, “Pussy hole. You and this country are full of shit.” Stunned, his function and his lineage burning at the forefront of his mind, he watched his hands rise toward her face, that taut mask of hate, remaining green teeth squealing his name and title, beseeching grubby fingers to pry them out of their diseased seating and choke the beggar bitch to death. And yet, another face grew large between the walls of his skull. A face endorsing the Tao of Pooh.
“Those teeth.” He whispered as his mind filled with the ballooning face and the talk of weapons in his mouth, “Those teeth ought to be making people happy. A guitar and a big smile are all the ingredients you need.”
“Fucking nutter.” The human skeleton shuffled away spitting between his boots, leaving him staring at his image via a restaurant window opposite. Part of him yearned to dart from where he stood, to swiftly run, tear up the pavement, easily catch up with the skeleton, haul her round and scream:
“There is more to me than your idea of blackness. There is more to you than your pathetic idea of whiteness.”
But he didn’t. He couldn’t, not now his head burst with all things Samson, a one-eyed, gay musician who seemingly lived the life of a luck god. No violence for him. No berating others into sharing a point of view. Spiderfingers began to smile, fully, lovingly, believing that this simple way of living would shut the doors of darkness that he’d yanked open last year. The Tao would protect him the way it did Samson, the way it handled Mine. This way could solve problems outside of his fiction, rendering him free. With his Tao goggles on, the fuel for his happiness lay abundant. He researched the recent past: birdsong, how he idly plucked out a rhythm, a wonderfully furtive conversation, the appreciation of tweets tensing the muscles in his jowls.
“Such is the remarkability of Tao-Sound!” Richmond; Chiswick; Brockwell; St Martins; Rowberry; all parks worth fighting for, his Tao-Vision confirmed green spaces were hubs for humans to think through the most complicated issues with freeing organic ease. Miss World’s grand scheme involved birds with feathers absorbent enough to carry water to new arrivals waiting miles and miles away. With new improved Tao-Touch!, he pictured touching the underside of careening winged parentage, moisture running down his fingers from irreplaceable avian cogs in Mother Nature’s clockwork. He swayed, drooling profusely outside the shop, confident in his method; if he smiled long enough and thought pure enough he would be ready, for her. One day, should she cross his path again, Object Girl, his sweet little Vicky Buchannan would witness new found maturity. His expression became the epitome of serenity, his glazed eyes uninterested in refrigerated goodies, he turned away from the sandwiches beyond the pane, jumping and clicking boot heels, commencing a jolly skip down Camden Parkway, near-dancing onto the High Road, the urban fanfare failing to honk the grin off his face. He imagined a soundtrack worthy of a West End production, the unquenchable rising din rollicking between his ears, whilst the smell of carbon monoxide funnelled up his nostrils, a pungent stench that may as well have been jasmine – such was his joy. His internal orchestra played a wonderful score of his own making, its sound very much inspired by the bombastic wonderment of Elfman, Holst and Williams. Such wild, swooping melodramatic strings, each movement accenting the vagabond’s triumphant caper along the grey pavement. One wave at a pretty shop assistant earned him a vote of confidence. A charge of violins consumed his mind swiftly followed by a chiming twinkling instrument. He couldn’t name it, not in this merriment. He thought of Samson and his horrendous dental hygiene, how it couldn’t mask the authenticity of his smile.
It wouldn’t sell chocolate bars, but I’d vote for a smile like that.
“Superman mummy!” said a little girl holding her mother’s hand, the duo exiting Boots at a leisurely pace. Spiderfingers gave them both a wink, swishing his coat in camp abandon, the bonus thumbs-up in the mother’s direction, provoking a nervous smile as the woman pulled her daughter close during their hurry past. A few notes of a … xylophone! That’s it!, marked the incident, one he filed away as innocent. The music in his head built to a cacophony, transforming somewhat into the overture of Superman the Movie, the rapturous strings pulling at his maniacal grin. He strode faster and faster toward Samson’s favourite spot, that area outside Marks and Spencer when his eyes fell upon the horror. John Williams’ musical score muted, as Spiderfingers glared with fright at the pavement slabs he associated with his young friend. Too stunned to pick it up, he just stared at Samson’s message to the world – a cardboard island in a sea of blood. He read the fresh sentences that obscured Samson’s exquisite calligraphy. The faded felt-tip scrawling of A smile is FREE, so grin with ME hardly visible. The black marker lettering now barely existent, hidden beneath the ominous command in capital letters, an order smeared in dark red wetness: Follow the blood of your friend to my new surgery. One must not keep the doctor waiting.
He ran down the High Street, falling over the tail of his crimson trench coat not once, but twice as he followed the trail of pulpy awfulness. He stopped sprinting at Mornington Crescent station.
Where’s the trail?
He prowled with his head down, like a hound, but the spatter leading to Samson had disappeared. He heard a voice.
“Over here!” At the corner he spotted a one armed man in a black suit and shades, a white lab coat hung over his shoulders, like a cape. A cloak covered in blood.
Fucking hell, it’s Chimera.
“What have you done to Samson?” He pursued the grimacing man in the shades as he vanished behind a Koko, following at speed, turning the corner only to discover his one-armed escapee gone. He scanned the ground locating more red droppings leading him on, along Eversholt Street, into Euston, then further East, and further still, till time and space and energy were forgotten concepts: there was only the hunt; there was only the human need to protect someone he felt responsible for. He considered stopping for breath, albeit briefly, telling himself what he needed to hear.
“What you are doesn’t require breath.” And so, on he pressed, running longer and harder with steely resolve. When signs confirmed he was in Turnpike Lane, he became alarmed. This is where Vicky lives. His breathing rabid, his loss of super-speed and strength at the forefront of his stressed mind, he again placed faith in his supernatural endurance.
“Without it, you wouldn’t have survived the journey into Gaia, damn it, keep going.” He hoped his last remaining power would be enough to tackle Doc Chimera.
“Where is it?” Again he inspected the pavement for more splashes of Samson’s blood. Nothing. That’s when he caught the blur, the white coat dashing through the double doors of a building. Spiderfingers resumed his quest. Over a large black gate, through an entrance, along a turquoise corridor, ignoring the calls of bemused security as he twisted through them, hurdling mechanical barriers. Dr Chimera could be anywhere, he thought, speeding up to yellow doors, gawping through portholes. His eyes bulged at the young faces that saw him, their burgundy uniform, so familiar.
“Spider?” He whisked around, gawping down, his mind filling with twittering birds, talk of badgers and the need to reach out, draw her close and focus, he told himself. Vicky’s speaking: “Spider, what the hell are you doing here?”
“Granma was right,” he replied, “Doctor Chimera, he’s back. He’s here.”
“Huh?” Said Vicky running toward a classroom door, peaking inside, “Come on,” she yanked him by the trench coat into a room full of instruments.
“Who the fuck is Doctor Chimera?” Vicky sat him down on a piano stool.
“Chimera, the alien? The ambassador of the Xindu? He kidnapped you once.”
“There’s aliens now?” Vicky flicked her attention to the door and back again.
“The Xindu are an advanced race the gods enlisted to devolve the true potential of the human brain. They did this millions of years ago, as part of a bargain to keep the gods from invading their world. When Gaia permitted the use of grapple-worms to give your family powers, the gods threatened to enslave the world of Xindu, unless they remedied the situation. And so –”
“–They sent Chimera.” said Vicky.
“That’s right. I followed him here, to your school. He’s got Samson!”
“I don’t remember him.”
“I wouldn’t want to either.”
“What? Spider, this is nuts. Why hasn’t this dude been trying to kill us all this time? Why now?”
“Chimera’s no idiot. He waited for my return so he could kill us all … There!”
Spiderfingers leapt from his stool, darting past Vicky, bolting out the music room toward the flapping lab coat of Doctor Chimera, shadowing him through the long corridor and into a large assembly hall filled with children watching the run-through of a play.
He scanned across the heads of pupils. Some rotated to see him, most had their eyes forward, latched upon the stage and the youngsters treading its boards, playacting in brightly coloured costumes. There were wizards with blue faces, a few girls wearing purple turbans and in the middle of the stage there sat an amber, papier-mâché toddler, meters long, its large door-size mouth opened and closed.
Perhaps Chimera’s in there?
His inspection of the big baby’s mouth revealed three students.
Where the fuck are you, Doc?
“I’m calling Lilith.” Vicky unlocked her mobile phone.
“Good, get your sister here,” replied Spiderfingers searching the audience and then the stage, “We’ll need the back-up.” He crouched on all fours looking under seats, squinting through the multitude of kid’s legs, hoping to catch a glimpse of his prey. When he sprang to his feet again he found him: the doctor, swinging above, his one hand gripped tight to the theatre’s lighting rig.
“Spider, it’s Lilith.” Vicky shoved the phone into his blackened hands.
“Black Dragon? You need to get here, right –” His face changed, becoming somewhat despondent as he kept his eye on Chimera, hanging above the players on stage, children dressed in brash fabrics, singing and dancing oblivious to what he daren’t turn away from.
“You’ve been what? O.K, Lilith, you listen, putting aside how silly it is to spy on me, all that work we put into disassociation, what you’re saying is fucking ridiculous.” He began to take steps toward the stage, as more school children noticed, ribbing those who didn’t and pointing at the shambling, dreadlocked man in the Superman shirt and flowing red coat.
“He kidnapped Vicky – twice! He fused Steve and Nat together and ... but Lilith, he’s right here. Kids are in danger.” More children glanced back at Spiderfingers.
“Of course I’m not the only one that can see him.” he hauled himself onto the stage whilst a teacher ushered bemused pupils into the folds of the backstage curtain,
“Vicky,” his eyes on Chimera, his outstretched arm holding the phone in her direction, “Who do you see up there?”
School kids filed off the front of the stage toward yet another teacher as he awaited Vicky’s reply. He refused to take his focus off Doctor Chimera, such a shaded, swinging, one-armed oddity.
“Vicky?!” he screamed, “Who can you see?”
“Nothing,” said Vicky as a teacher pulled her away, “No one’s up there, Spider.”
He just about registered the shuffles of youngsters, rows of burgundy clad youth streaming out, exiting the hall, his eyes afraid to blink for fear of Chimera disappearing between eyelid flutters. One flutter, then two, then nothing. No arch nemesis hanging from the top of the stage. No supervillain.
“... He’s gone, alright?” he said down the phone, whirling to see a tutor hold double doors open for the last remaining pupils, giggling and chattering on their way.
“Tell me, what’s it like watching me fight for my life and do fuck all? Not like the world’s at stake, is it?” He paused in his pacing, to peel absentmindedly at the bulk of the giant amber baby, disgorged of its secondary school operators.
“What d’ya mean child abuse? She’s a soldier, like what you used to be. Vicky’s the only Buchanan who’s been there for – you know what? Whatever.” he muttered, switching the phone off, “Goodbye, Black Dragon ... I made you, I’ll call you whatever the Hell I like.” He shoved Vicky’s mobile into the grubby black hole of his jacket. He ripped it back out again. The sight of something pink and dainty in his hands felt wrong. Something so obviously not his, it’s placement in his pocket, a crevice so polluted, so horribly unkempt, the action felt … immoral. Pausing for a second, he began to mumble, realising finally what he had to do. He stooped low. He placed Vicky’s handset delicately upon the creaking floorboards. Swiftly, he made for an exit, speeding down the corridor, then into the foyer, leaving bewildered staff in his wake. He burst onto the main road to find another hallucination slumped against a police car: slicked black hair, a messy, blood-dripping hole in the centre of its chest. He shelved his fatigue, breaking through pain barrier after pain barrier as he ran, squinting over his shoulder as two policemen and ‘Nat’ raced after him, the hole in his chest serving to remind him of a dark, dark day. When he reached Camden High Road he stumbled, raggedy in movement. His jaw slackened at the sight of the boy slouched against the Marks and Spencer’s window, crutches by his side as he held his sign up high, a green gap-toothed smile charming loose change from an elderly woman. Spiderfingers slammed with a sickening thud onto the filthy ground. He released a belaboured moan as he crawled up the steep High Street, dry heaving throughout his arduous mission toward his friend. His mouth couldn’t form words as his skewered eyesight made out the shape of Samson limping to meet him.
“Mr Spider, what happened?”
“I invented Tao-Vision, but I think I might have dropped the prototype on the way.”
“What? Do you remember this morning? You looked at me like I was – I don’t know … like I wasn’t there.” he helped Samson reach under, turn him onto his back, “Is it poison? One of the High-Father’s soldiers did this to you, right?”
“No,” said Spiderfingers breathlessly, “my mind’s sicker than them. There was no minion, just like there is no Nat here, right now.” Spiderfingers closed his eyes. Then he opened them, the ghostly horror-image of Nat still present, kneeling beside Samson.
And next to Nat perched Hara:
“Spiderfingers,” she croaked, her gaunt arms stretched from her bulbous body as her long grey spaghetti hair began to weave and ascend over her frailty,
“You’re not crazy. You cannot afford to go crazy.”
“I cannot afford to go crazy.” He whimpered.
“Who are you talking to, Mr Spider?” asked Samson.
“Just another narcissistic proxy, man. Just another reason why I should have stayed in Bellevue.” he shook his head as he stretched his hand, passing through Hara, his fear of going insane amplified, “It’s the fucking vapours … Doctor Chimera, Nat, now Hara. It’s all Miss World’s fault.” He watched Hara point at the pavement on his right side as it began to crack and break, revealing waters of black, rippling as the walkway opened up further sanctioning the gloomy waves to spread, emanating what ought to be steam. But this looks more like smoke, he thought, sniffing deep, detecting a scent distinctly sulphuric. A paw of a Dilf warrior stretched out. Then another, and another. Soon, a multitude reached for him, enough hairy arms to constitute the panic in his belly.
“Now I see madness.” the puddle of black stew began to bubble and pop. “And I hear lunacy speak a language I can’t deny.” he looked away from the dark pool at the end of Hara’s finger, staring at her lips. She spoke of saving the world from inside a mental home, no explosions or violence required. “Communing with the Earth exposed Hara to gasses that eventually made her a nutcase. Now they’re doing the same to me. Nat and Hara – they’re not here. They’re in my head. Just like that dog, and Chimera and Kwame and Silberman and … like that thing ... that monster can’t be here either.” he pointed up past Hara, over her shoulder at the grey skinned spindly creature with the metal binding round its head. Through clenched teeth it hissed nonsense Spiderfingers couldn’t quite block out: “Has bite, will bite, must bite.”
“You can’t be here cos the day’s still here. I’m still here. And I won’t say your name, you hear me? I won’t even think it.”
“I don’t understand?” said Samson rummaging his pockets. Spiderfingers watched Samson lift a can of Pepsi into the open.
“I dreamt up a super-villain today Sammy.” he pushed Samson’s drink away, “May have scared Vicky off.”
“No you didn’t.” said the girl behind him. He craned his neck to find Vicky bent over him. She clutched a bloodied tissue to her nose.
“How did you get …” He wrestled to capture the rightful logic, “no, you’re not Vicky. You’re not real.”
“No man,” said Samson, “I can see her.” Vicky knelt over him, her face flushed with red awkwardness.
“Dad dropped me off. Told my headmaster that I didn’t feel safe and that I wanted to go home.” He lost eye-contact, but only briefly, engaging her again with the spark of a monologue in mind.
“You smell that?” he said.
“What?” replied Samson searching Vicky’s face for answers. She shrugged.
“Carbon monoxide,” continued Spiderfingers, “Pollution; the very fragrance of man’s progress.”
“We need to get you off the street.” Vicky took a deep swipe of her nosebleed, stuffed the tissue into her blazer and gripped at her friends’ torso to manage him to his feet. Spiderfingers resisted, reckoning the scene to be wrong. This girl deserves a better class of superhero-god, he thought.
“See, Vicky,” he stared up, eye-sight purging afternoon’s clouds, “most days when I smell the noxious, fuming, arrogance of man’s continual insult to nature, I wanna get all fired up, angry. But I don’t. I keep thinking, ‘You’re a fraud. You’re only doing this job because you don’t wanna die.’ This morning was different. This morning, I high-fived a rubbish collector, I smiled at pretty girls working in stores and one of them even smiled back – at me! That’s when I knew how much I loved the joy of others. I’m not just trying to stay alive for fear of death. It’s the deaths of others, O.G.” He moved his hand to touch Vicky’s face. She flinched.
“I’m sorry,” said Vicky, “I …”
He let out a tiny chuckle, “Good move, O.G. I don’t even remember where this hand’s been.”
“No, I mean, sorry, I don’t believe you.” he looked up at her puzzled as she stared away, continuing:
“If I was still seven, I’d have just nodded. But I’m a big kid now, and I can take big kid talk. So just tell me that you don’t care about the Earth, that you’re just trying to stay alive.” He opened his mouth to speak but speech eluded him.
“You are not a bad person. You’re still figuring out how to be a god and a human, so save the bullshit about caring for the planet.” he nodded, powerless to the truth in her words, resistant to looking her in the eye. He couldn’t help but visualise her phone in his palm, his coat pocket, that smelly, crusty lair. It doesn’t belong in there, he thought.
“I fantasised about partnering up with Mine, both of us heading home to storm the lands of the High-Father. I burn for some grand finale – like the old days – but there’s no reason for anyone to burn alongside me. Your tour of duty is over, Vicky.”
“Now you’re just being stupid. Without me you’re … Look, let’s just get off the street.”
“I think up therapists to give me something to fight. What if I turn on you?”
At first, he figured the droplet to be the first sign of rain, but then he heard Vicky sob. Unable to lock eyes, he latched onto Kwame and Silberman, not once questioning their sudden appearance.
“The good soldier, remember?” he said watching twin forms of make-believe nod away, smiling, as though this one decision could save the world. “They give up what’s good for them. You know it: I can be more effective if I’m not in your life.” He tried to hold true to the reinterpretation, the twisting of sentiments his life-the-chaos play demanded. But then Samson’s innocent stare became inescapable, “It’s been two weeks?” he squinted up at the boy with the plasters on his face, his one remaining eye welling up, reddening, “Two weeks since Mine? Sammy, I didn’t even visit you in … and your book – fuck, Vicky, Sammy had this book, The Tao of Pooh, and I ... I haven’t been able to replace it, not at all.” For a long second he nearly came out and admitted his secret, lips poised to pour out an apology, a sharing of his theory on the close bond, the one relationship powering his super-powered body. He needed to tell Samson what he’d done to cement his loyalty, that nobody, no event, no philosophy and certainly no book would ever be given a chance to divide their kinship. He would burn them first. “You know,” he continued, “You’ve played your parts well and it’s time you head backstage, out the building, go back to your real lives.”
“Hold on, wait!” said Vicky, “What about Operation Genie Bottle? You get into one of your fights and damage that transmitter and you’re gonna need me.”
“I’ll guard that wire-doll with my life. Hell, it is my life.”
Vicky’s hand gripped tight to the torn Superman hoodie of her god. He scavenged his brain for the perfect combination of words, dialogue for the perfect exit.
“You don’t need me, you only think you do. That’s our best trick, Vicky, and you’re too damn smart to fall for it.” He moved her hand out the way, pushing himself onto his knees, waving his arms through the translucent mirages of Nat, Hara, the doctor’s and Rooenn.
“I’d better go, before I start sensing Mine and his new army in the area.”
“You can sense things now?”
“No, but I spoke to Granma as a dog not too long ago. Better not take any chances. Hey, know the funny thing about Superman?” She shook her head as he rose above her. “He doesn’t exist.” He jogged forward, unable to resist one final glance behind him, briefly locking eyes with a giant of a man in motor bike leathers, a mortal placing large gloved hands parentally over Vicky’s shoulders. Spiderfingers unleashed the power to run fast, faster than he had ever run before …
… Turning the corner afforded him true relief, Vicky, her father and Samson no longer able to see him, unable to watch his expression as his hand delved into his jacket to discover the broken wire doll. He felt ashamed of his slight step back the way he came, but he’d halted, resisting foolishness, his over reliance on his cheerleader. Besides, he thought, I couldn’t ruin the perfect exit.
(N.B The comments posted below pertain to an extended version of this story, truncated due to issues of pace).
WARNING: THESE COMMENTS INCLUDE SPOILERS.
WARNING: THESE COMMENTS INCLUDE SPOILERS.