There Is No Off The Radar


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
   There was no time to worry about his loss of powers.  He needed an envelope, a stamp and a bottle of whisky and a thermostat.
He strode through the halls of Bellevue, the crimson wave of his coat hooking the attention of staff that no longer ruled over him.  Spiderfingers, an emperor in new clothes, new street scent, the perfume of vagrancy surely the main reason for the looks.  Better these discreet stares than the blatant inquiries he’d earned on the kerb; the disused railway station; the underpass in Chalk Farm.  Places where people tried to sell him drugs.  He would save these denizens of waste, protect them from the evils that kept him awake.
“My death seals the fate of billions.” He muttered with a smirk pasted across his face, ambling through a prison he’d escaped weeks ago.  He felt above his surroundings, parading along the passages, tapping a slow, steady rhythm against the holdall slung over his back as the disinfectant smell of his former home sought to remind him of his time there.  He’d always been a contagion, his body odour now in direct conflict with … Focus.  Stay in the fucking moment.
The visitor’s area of Bellevue hospital consisted of three types of people:  Nurses (the majority being male, stoic, ever moving sentinels who patrolled the many tables), residents (some murmured in private languages, others were hyperactive, sometimes too excited for their ever present silent overseers), and then there were the poor souls who neither worked nor lived there.  Families.  Mothers, brothers, young adults – thespians one and all.  Everybody cast as the understanding liberal, he thought.  He remembered how it felt to be one of them, when truly, he wasn’t like these people.  He searched the area, filtering out awkward familial gatherings till his eyes latched upon the old woman.  He weaved through constellations of people to finally reach Hara Carroll’s grey table, a small square piece of furniture situated at the back of the grey visitor’s area.  Everything grey.
This whole facility matches her, he thought.
Hara Carroll: sallow skin, shrunken frame and long crinkled hair.  A Retiree, easily mistaken for dead were it not for the rise and fall of her cardigan.  Bellevue had taken someone colourful and syringed the vibrancy right out.  Only Hara’s god could inject some life into her movements.
“Ah,” she croaked, “the prodigal son.” Spiderfingers sat on the bench, resting his duffle bag on the table between them.
“Son, Hara? I’d say our relationship’s complicated enough as it is.” He grinned, ruffling his matted afro, picking at the dreads therein.
“Any trouble?” she asked.
Losing my powers – losing my powers – losing my powers – losing my powers – can’t afford her lack of belief.
“On the way here?” he replied, “Let’s see: Lava snakes ambushed me on the way through Kingston.  I outsmarted a necromancer in a village a few miles out of town, but he was an idiot.  He was nothing like Mine.”
Hara offered a quizzical look.
“A minion called Mine.  He’s godless.  Can you believe that? Said he belongs to a tribe called The Free.  Fucking newbie didn’t have a clue who I was.  Thought I was like him … a minion.”
“Well, it has been seven years.  Your typical minion has a lifecycle of a few months, a year at best.  Of course they’ve forgotten you.  They’ve had no one to fight.”
“And now they fight each other … branding the bodies for bragging rights.  It’s madness out there.  No offence.”
Hara croaked out some laughter.
“None taken, Dearie, none taken.  Given your adventure, I’m a little surprised it’s taken you weeks to come see me.” Spiderfingers sat back in silence, and then, he used his eyes to indicate the presence of residents, fidgeting, unhinged, some being fed by loved ones. “Now I’m here, let’s see you perform your party trick? There’s seven years of supernatural current affairs to whisk through, and we don’t need any more surprises like Mine.” He tapped the bag on the table with the rhythm of a steady heartbeat.
“I suppose you’ve brought me a little gift?” She stared at his hands tip-taping the bag.
“Of course,” he replied, “Only the best room service for madam.” He produced a flask from his holdall which Hara snatched away from him, shoving the canister to her mouth, guzzling the hot drink down without stopping for breath. “Whoa there, a little discretion, please, eh, Hara?” He stealthily eyed the nurse nearing their table, whilst Hara continued her loud slurping.  With no attempt at subterfuge whatsoever, the old woman swigged the steaming brown liquid, some streaming out, leaking the corners of her lips.  She drank the container dry.  Hara Carroll: plump with spindly arms, long flowing aged hair crumpling to her waist.  To notice her would be to see that lonely old woman on every street.  At least eight cats for company.  The occasional involuntary movement underlined her mental imbalance.  People pay taxes for these results.
“Oh be quiet, you.” she whispered left-ways, eyes quickly returning to her table guest.  Spiderfingers pretended not to notice.  Poor Hara and her phantoms. “Got anything for the breath?” she wiped her mouth on a sleeve.
“Sure.” He replied, and pushed a pack of strong mints across the table.  Hara snatched them up.  She popped two in one go, speaking as she sucked.
“Honestly it’s a miracle the gods didn’t kill you.  How you survived without Miss World’s advice, I don’t know.” She played with the empty flask in her hands.
“After that drink we won’t need miracles, will we? Be sure to get every piece of info she offers up, and for God’s sake, do it quietly?” he hushed, “Once they find out it’s me that’s brought you the Irish coffee, it’s game over.”
“Did you say for God’s sake?” she chuckled, “At least this place hasn't killed your sense of humour.  Right then, Dearie, whilst we wait for the drink to do its work, tell me ... what’s it like – you know – out there, in the future?”
“Beards.  Big massive, no nonsense, I’m-a-twat-and-I-want-you-to-know-it beards.  They’re everywhere, like there’s some competition to be London’s most authentic Dickensian villain.  Anyway – that’s the future.  See anything?”
“Besides Mildred and Tommy over there?” Hara raised a quivering finger to the empty table.  She shook her head, fingers returning to her knees, rubbing, but only for a moment.  He quietly observed her hands move the empty flask to the side, lazing her body over the table, her eyes searching for something in his.  He knew that look.
“Oh, please, don’t.” He said to the ceiling, “Didn’t you read my letter? I couldn’t say bye, cos if Kwame saw me with you ...”
“Oh dear, or dear, oh dear,” Hara replied with giggling, “I’m not some lonely old biddy pining for relatives who never visit.  Spiderfingers, it’s me.  I knew you’d be back, but only because of what I can give you.” He folded his arms, before swiftly unfolding them.  He bit his lip, silently peeved at his textbook body language. “It must be rubbish out there,” She rested her palm on his elbow. “Not knowing which god is working with whom.  Was the voice quite so bad? Don’t you miss being here, off the radar?” 
Disbelief and anger robbed his features of the calm persona he’d worked on for the meeting.  He lifted his elbow away from Hara’s touch, leaning back on his visitor’s bench. 
“Perhaps you don’t recall, but two days into my residency, I was cracking the skull of one of Hanuman’s monkey guards.  Next attack came a week later.” He wiggled his fingers as he raised an eyebrow in mock surprise, “Forgotten the lice of Medusa, Hara?  I had to eat them off my skin … before they ate me.” He bit into his knuckle, his voice barely contained, “Radar, Hara? There is no ‘off the radar’ – Jesus.  Outside I don’t hear Vicky – at all, and I prefer my saviours clinically sane, agreed?” Hara began to speak.  No words came out.  She began again, her hands unstringing a thread on her long sleeve top.
“Listen, Spider, the voice has to be supernatural in origin.  The Loki-Brenna? Perhaps it’s the enchantment of an old England river wraith? You’re not crazy.” She pulled at the loose hemming.
“I’ve her voice in my skull.  If I stay here much longer I’ll go mad.”
“No, you won’t.  You’re not mad.  You cannot afford to be.” She yanked the stich out of her top, her arm knocking the flask to the floor.  Spiderfingers picked it up, donating his best smile at a passing nurse.  He turned his attention back to Hara, keeping his voice low.
“Hara,” He edged a little closer, eyes searching the room for eavesdroppers, “I imagined her, pleading, begging for help, like she’s my Lois Lane.  My kind, we just can’t help ourselves.”
“You’re not like the other gods, Spider.  You denied yourself hero-worship for the better part of a decade.  Now, if you’d just reconsider Operation Genie B –”
Spiderfingers shot a harsh stare across the table.
“O.K then,” said Hara. “I’ll take that as a firm no.” She began playing with a long lock of her straggly old woman’s hair, “It’s just that you’re the only High-Borne to outsmart the High-Father, who’ll do anything to kill you.  Your death means –”
“– The death of billions – I know, so don’t tell me about safety.  I think about nothing else.  No one else.  If you dropped dead right now, this very moment, this thing that you’re talking to – it wouldn’t know how to grieve.”
“If you felt for every flower in mother’s garden, you’d be no good at cutting her weeds.”
“You don’t get what I’m saying,” he said jutting far forward, his face inches from hers, “What if Gaia contacts you right now and orders me to use Vicky?” He watched Hara recline in her chair, understanding how bad his breath had become.  He withdrew his grimy hands from the table.
“Oh come on, Dearie,” she stared him up and down, “I’m eighty nine.  I know homelessness when I see it.  Now c’mon, think big.  Walking around aimlessly is not a plan; it’s a ticking death sentence.  Perhaps …”
Spiderfingers searched her face for the end of a suggestion he feared.
“You could … maybe …”
…A suggestion that he considered only briefly, before realising its madness.
“… Have a word with Doctor Kwame?”
“You must be drunk if you think moving back here’s an option.  Take another look around you.  Ask yourself why it’s taken me weeks to come play the visiting friend.” He watched Hara’s head sink into her bosom, her hand clutching beyond long grey hair.  “Is it starting? Tell me, what’s she showing you?”
“There’s nothing, absolutely nothing.  I can’t feel her at all.” She blinked away tears, gawping at the steam still rising from the thermos, “Oh Spider, I hope I’ve not lost it?”
“Unless you know another shaman with a link to the Earth’s consciousness then – no – I really, really hope you’ve not lost it.  Let’s get you to some grass or better still – a tree? It’s been nearly a decade.  Trying some old school techniques might …” He noted the sea-change in manner.  Hara’s mouth released a little guffaw.  Then another, and another.  He leant in conspiratorially. “Think of lakes, animals … Fight for Gaia’s connection.”
“Look at all these idiots,” Hara indicated a young lady at the table across, “I love nature, but I can’t stand it when people pretend it’s some sort of Disney fantasy.”
He caught Hara’s train of sight.  The twenty something she glowered at wore a Bambi t-shirt. “Take the gardeners friend, the humble Robin that follows you round foraging for worms in the topsoil you clear.  A constant companion, man and nature in harmony.  That’s the idea, right? Wrong.”
“Hara, on behalf of everybody in the world: build that psychic bridge to Gaia.”
“He is actually sizing you up, to see if he can take you on.” She span to her left and jabbed her finger toward an empty seat. “He wants to peck you to death Mildred,” she stuck her crone pointer out at her imaginary victim, “Peck, peck, peck, peck n’ pluck out your eyes.  Perform a little singsong over your mangled corpse, eh?  This is what he would do to you, if he could.” Spiderfingers gazed about the hall.  Hara’s outbursts didn’t come close to the loudest in the room, but envisioning his downfall came easy; the nurses calm saunter over; an elevator ride and a short mission to Doctor Kwame’s office.  A detailed record would be taken on the conversation and the pomposity of his outfit, the same costume he’d originally arrived in seven years ago.  Then the flask would be found and … 
“Hara, please? I’ve travelled a long way for this and –” A nurse walked up to the table.  Hastily, he lovingly pulled Hara’s hands out the air pinning them to the table. 
“You O.K here, Mrs C?” The nurse asked.
Spiderfingers beamed, “She’s fine.  Hasn’t had coffee like this in ages, have you, eh?”
“Even the empty air can contain a rival to be destroyed!” Hara said this, her arms aloft, hands flapping, “Destrooooyed!” Two nurses jogged toward the table.
“Damn it Hara, you know where I’m headed if you can’t help me …”
“Hahahaha … Woohoo!”
“You know what she’ll do to me.” 
When Hara fell off the bench, he grabbed his bag before dashing out the room, rushing past confused staff, making for the stairs, then down through the lobby in a streaking Technicolor blur of velocity. 
“You know what she’ll do to me.”

The few visions that erupted into Hara’s awareness were mere fragments of darkened paintings, sights that Bellevue’s staff had unknowingly purged from her through all that caffeine.  Images she hoped would aid her god were now broken, lacking context.  Still, she wrote them all down: 
Twins.  The boy shares the face of chaos and terror.  The girl has rainbows in her dreadlocks and her closest friend is a black man with white skin.  He has a white Mohican hidden under a black hat.  First, the Ceremony of Knives and then, the Time of Tides.
Such broken visions.  Redacted.  None of them as clear as the odd narrative filling her every thought.  Such a stark recollection of a story.  Vivid.  Like the retrieval of a strange dream.  Her power always fashioned itself thus, each fragment of the internal happenings felt real, as existent as her wailing, for the scenes of her vision howled with the innocent selfishness of hungry new-borns.  Silencing them required pen and paper, before their bawling maddened her further.  Tears rolled down her reddened face as the feeling of helplessness took over.  You should have stayed in Bellevue, Spider.  You should have remained inside so I could share my story.  She’d written the narrative down, clawing at the ridiculous faith that Spiderfingers might return and read its importance.  I’m no use to him, not like this, not stuck here, out of practice, too old to draw out info about where is safe and where isn’t.  He’s gone.  I taught him too well, Hara decided.  Gods cannot afford to empathise, not when they’re at war.

N   E   X   T      T   I   M   E      I    N     
 S   P   I   D   E   R   F   I   N   G   E   R   S
The Great Lizard wailed the music of furious anger and irreconcilable vengeance that only beasts and children understand.  She scorched the ground around the warrior’s legs with her sulphuric volcano breath.
    The battle was short.



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