Posts Tagged ‘regret’

Finding Solace in the Gutter.

Here is a very arresting photograph by a fellow blogger. You might go and check out their work. I had to write something that seemed, to me at least, to fit the mood of the picture. Like someone who had to make a very tough decision with no clear “good” outcome, no matter what the choice was.

 

There. It’s done. I did it.

I don’t regret it, either.

Not one damn bit.

Honest.

 

 

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This is a long one. It is also the last one. Thank you for following along. I hope it didn’t suck much. Go back to the beginning, or go to the previous episode. Again, thanks.

Cheryl ran on tip-toe down the hall. Her hand hurt like a sonuvabitch, but it had been worth it. Just because you had a last minute change of heart about me, she thought, doesn’t make up for what you did. This thought, however, made her stumble a tiny bit.

Somewhere in this trap they’d set up, Fran was looking for her. Trying to save her.

If Fran only knew, Cheryl thought. A wave of guilt shook her, shook her violently. She flashed back to that night, two years ago, at the Midnight Moon. Terrible things happened. Cheryl inhaled sharply.

You gotta make it out of here, she thought. Make it out of here or you won’t be able to … make things right with Fran.

Cheryl rounded a corner, and gasped.

Fran stopped dead in her tracks, and gasped.

Wordlessly they ran at each other, so hard that Cheryl almost knocked Fran over. The embrace lasted forever, but not nearly long enough.

“We gotta get outta here,” Cheryl blurted. “This is a trap.”

“Shh. I know. Perfect bait, too,” Fran replied with a grin. “But we can’t go just yet. Me and Killswitch got some unfinished business – ”

“And we’d be only too happy if you stayed around,” came Franklin’s voice; seemingly from all around them. He appeared from around a corner, briefly; just long enough to point something that flashed twice. Cheryl and Fran dropped to the ground.

Now, how do I move them? “Fenris! A little help?” Franklin called.

~~~

Sub-vocals and hand signs. Signals. The SWAT team moved into position. Breaking through the roof, the windows, the doors. Palmetto-Bug Man/ Ping Bai Mah heard them. Sloppy. In China, such sloppiness would not have been tolerated. A group, three or four, approached him, guns drawn.

It wasn’t enough.

Bullets bounced harmlessly off Ping Bai Mah, just like in the good old days. Palmetto-Bug Man felt oddly rejuvenated as he bent their rifles into balloon-animal shapes. It was as if knowing the truth had set his aging process back. Something to muse on as he beat one officer with another officer. When they were all incapacitated, Ping Bai Mah moved on. By memory, he made his way to what he knew must be the command center. He had some things to discuss with his handlers.

~~~

Vanglorious heard the SWAT team breaking in. Sloppy, he thought. If I were in charge of them, I wouldn’t tolerate it. He heard gunshots, then a laugh; muffled and choked screams followed. He hoped that it wasn’t Fran.

“Don’t move.” A voice from behind him. Female. “Flinch and I will put large holes in several of your organs. Do you understand?” Vanglorious nodded. “Hands straight out to your sides and fingers spread, please,” the female voice continued. He complied, dropping the metal staff he carried. It clanged on the ground, then shrank to a rod about a foot long.

“Hm. UHY-97 Bo Staff. Memory steel. Unlicensed, I’m sure.” Bamela Divers, Bureau Agent, nodded in admiration. “An elegant weapon, wouldn’t you say? Nothing loud and sloppy like the SWAT team. Now, carefully – and I can’t stress this enough – carefully kick that back to me. Then turn around.” Vanglorious did what she asked.

“You’re that ‘Mister Vanglorious’ guy, right? What are you doing here?” Bamela asked, stooping to retrieve the staff while never taking her eyes off Vanglorious.

Vanglorious shrugged. “I got lost,” he answered. “A friend of mine told me about a little Hurricane Melpo party.”

“Right. I think I got the same invite.” Bamela nodded.

“Okay. You got me.” Vanglorious casually remarked. “Now can I put my arms down? They’re getting tired.”

“Slowly,” Bamela answered. The gun never wavered. Vanglorious yawned. This triggered needle darts that shot out from hidden shooters in his sides that sped towards Bamela. They hit home, slowing her reflexes. She fired, but too late. Vanglorious wasn’t where she was aiming anymore. He snatched the gun out of her hand. As Bamela lost consciousness, she saw Vanglorious shrug.

“Sneaky and old’ll beat young and quick every time,” or something like that she heard him say, as she slumped to the ground.

~~~

“What do you think we should do with ’em?” Fenris asked.

“Whaddya  mean?” Franklin replied. “We follow the plan. We’ll film Commando Girl here, we chop off her head or whatever, then we do the same with her friend.”

“What are you going to do with the traitor?” came Forbes’ voice. He had Pamela by the arm, a gun in her back. “I had my suspicions about her ever since the school incident.”

“Let her go.” Fenris’ hands reflexively formed into fists at his side.

“Shut up.” Forbes shouted.

“Freeze!” Officer Smith yelled. The SWAT team, minus the several that Ping Bai Mah took out, burst into the room.

“我会毁了你!” bellowed Ping Bai Mah.

“So, we’re all here,” Forbes called. “Good! I’ve been waiting for this – ”

Fran was groggy. Slowly she came around. There she was, tied up. There was Cheryl, next to her, tied up as well. She could just barely make out voices, all yelling, all at once. People-like shapes swam in and out of her consciousness, her field of vision. Someone pointed a gun at Cheryl.

Then, it got weird.

Fran was free! She didn’t know or care how. She jumped in front of the gun. It was her unprotected head, and not the bullet proof vest with the target painted on it, that intercepted the bullet. Dead, instantly.

Fran was free! She didn’t know or care how. She grabbed at Cheryl, pulling her out of the way of the bullet at the last second. Somehow, there were brains and skull bits on her bullet proof vest, right near the target she had painted on it. They ran from the room.

Fran was free! She didn’t know or care how. She leaped at the face wielding the gun. There was a shot. She heard a scream.

Fran was free! She didn’t know or care how. She tackled the swat team. All of them. At once.

Fran was free! She didn’t know or care how. She took Ping Bai Mah down a second time.

Fran was free! She didn’t know or care how. She met up with Vanglorious in the hallway. “Come on!” she yelled. “The shit’s goin’ down!” Vanglorious followed.

She kicked Franklin in the throat.

She broke Fenris.

She snapped Forbes’ arms like twigs.

She stood and stared at Pamela. She couldn’t bring herself to do anything to her.

She paused to glance at the twin sister, Bamela. Bamela slowly came to, a look of comprehension dawning on her face.

All these things happened at once.

Bamela shook her head. “You figured it out,” she sighed. “The dis-entangler.” There was a small army of “Fran”s, one for each possible choice Fran could have made at that instant. Several had died. Others were kicking ass. They won.

And then they vanished.

~~~

“Way I see it, we need each other,” Bamela said. Vanglorious, Fran, and Cheryl, had separated themselves from the crowd of police and EMTs. A quick badge flash from Bamela was all it took to quell any questions or double takes.

“Wait,” Cheryl asked. “What’s gonna happen to them?”

“Who? Franklin and Fenris are going away for a long time. Forbes too, most likely.  Palmetto-Bug Man is the Bureau’s responsibility. He’s a clone with a limited life span. We’ll try to calm him back down, let him live out the rest of his life in peace. My sister has some explaining to do. Did I leave anyone out?”

Cheryl thought for a moment, then shook her head.

“Who needs who?” Vanglorious asked.

“Ms. Braithwaite needs our training. She’s a natural, but there are some things you don’t learn at the community college annex. And the Bureau could use her – she’s the first person who’s ever figured out how to work with the dis-entangler.” Bamela looked across to Vanglorious. “We could use a man with your resourcefulness as well, Mr. Douglass. – Oh, don’t look so surprised. The Bureau’s been keeping tabs on you since you got all ‘Black Power’ -y back when Flava Flav mattered.”

“Do I have a choice?” Fran asked. “I think Vangl – Mr. Douglass could use some help from me, too.”

“There’s always a choice, Ms Braithwaite,” Bamela answered. “You of all people should know that.”

“Good. We’ll let you know.” Fran nodded. The three of them left.

~~~

“Fran, there’s something I have to tell you.” Vanglorious had dropped the two of them off at their apartment. The wind was dying down. It was too – damn  -early – in  – the  – morning thirty.

“You’re leaving? I knew that part.”

“No, that’s not it – shit, this is hard for me.”

Fran put a hand over hers. “Take your time.”

“You know, two years ago, when – ”

“Yes. What about it?”

“I … I saw what was  … happening. I saw you, struggling, hurt, the fear in your eyes. I could’ve stopped it. But I … I didn’t. I was too scared.”

Fran grinned a little ruefully. “I know.”

“WHAT-” Cheryl blurted.

“Listen. Shh. Let me tell you what happened.” Fran stroked Cheryl as she pulled her close, leaning against her. “I saw you. I saw you looking so terrified. I saw the guilt come over you in the weeks and months later. Did you think I was just out to get revenge?”

“Well, yeah, kinda.” Cheryl shrugged.

Fran nodded. “‘Well, yeah, kinda’,”, she mocked. “There was that. All the people I fought for, that I tried to save? I knew that they’d have someone at home, someone who’d beat themselves up all the time because they thought they’d failed their friend, or their spouse, or kid, or whatever. I saw what that did to you. I couldn’t stand the thought of that happening to anyone else, ever. They didn’t fail. You didn’t fail.

“You were a human.”

The End (of book One)

words and pictures © Christopher Ward. All rights reserved.

This has been a rough month. Lost my apartment, my uncle, and for a  time,  my ability to speak. Here’s the next – to – last chapter of Allosaurus. Here’s what happened before.

Vanglorious looked at his watch anxiously.

A couple of minutes later, he looked at it again. Satisfied that time was still moving forward, he looked out the car’s window. The wind howled. The rain beat against the windows in waves: now intense, frighteningly so; now, calmer. This cycle repeated a few times. Vanglorious looked at his watch once more. Another two or three minutes passed. No one had come out of the warehouse: not Fran, not Killswitch, no one. He sighed, opening the door against the storm.

“I don’t do ‘waiting’,” he muttered. He ran toward the door. It had been kicked open; it was bent, twisted, broken. “Ah, subtlety,” he smiled ruefully. He drew his weapon of choice – a telescoping quarterstaff made of a proprietary “space age” memory steel. He blended into the shadows and started to hunt for Fran.

~~~

Commissioner Cohen didn’t have time for this. Whenever there was a hurricane, there were always idiots who wanted to go surfing in the huge waves out by the Causeway. There would be fights and altercations at the supermarkets as people beat each other up over the last twelve pack of beer and bag of potato chips. This time, there were also reports of some of the mask-and-spandex crowd breaking into the old warehouse connected to the meat processing plant. Some annoying, faceless lady agent from some Federal government bureau or whatever was demanding to see him. And now, of course, word had gotten to Tricia Gutierrez from Channel 2. Someone else wanting something from him. Cohen wearily looked up from his desk at the detective in front of him.

“Get a SWAT team over to the warehouse,” he began. “Tell Gutierrez ‘no comment’ for now. And let me see this agent, uh, agent – ”

“Agent Divers,” the detective finished.

Cohen nodded. “What’s she from, again? Some alphabet soup or other?”

“Dunno. Bureau of Weights and Measures, I think?”

“Yeah, fine. Whatever. Send her in. I wanna know why all this exotic weaponry is showing up in my city, and if she’s the one who can tell me, then great.”

~~~

All of the buildings, and all of the cars, were once just a dream in somebody’s head. – Peter Gabriel

In this case, Larry Forbes mused, this warehouse was a dream in the heads of an architectural firm that wasn’t very imaginative. They tended to use the same designs over and over again. For example, the Bureau had commissioned a facility from this very same firm. Larry knew that Ping Bai Ma, usually known as Palmetto – Bug Man, would feel right at home here; would even be drawn to the very room he’d suggested that Project Killswitch set up their base of operations.

There are no accidents or coincidences, Larry thought.

No accident, then, that it would be Ping who would take down the Bureau. Their precious little project if they been working on so diligently for years. Forbes would see to it that their Frankenstein’s monster would go berserk, just as he had planned.

Fire him from the project, would they?

~~~

” Did you remember to charge the stun net?” Franklin asked.

~~~

I really don’t think that you have thought your little plan through.

Shut up.

~~~

… then, there was the time that they used me for target practice, and weapons calibration. I will enjoy snapping their necks.

~~~

“This better not be another wild goose chase. I got better things to do than be out here in this stupid hurricane-”
“You need to silence the chatter, officer Smith,” the captain broke in. “Word from the Big C himself is that the commando girls and the killswitch lunatics are going to be here. Watch it!”
“Sir, yes sir,” came officer Smith’s chastised reply.

~~~

“Looks like your friend brought some back up,” Fenris teased Cheryl. “That’s kinda too bad. Guess she’s not mad at you anymore?”

Cheryl didn’t look at him. She didn’t look up. She stared at the ground. In her head, she cursed Fran out, and prayed for her at the same time.

Fenris smiled. Pamela looked at him. It was full-on beatific now; he seemed to have finally found his element. Where was the shy, stuttering bookworm she’d known since they were children? That boy was gone, she realized. Gone and replaced by this … person. Bent, beaten, molded, into a revenge machine.

Just like me.

Pamela glanced at the closed circuit monitor. Fran was coming.

Just like her.

Pamela turned her attention to Fenris. “Go tell Franklin – ”

Fenris started to protest. “Code names!” he barked.

“-Kracko, then,” Pamela sighed. “Go tell Kracko that she’s getting closer. Help him with the flash grenades or something.”

Fenris eyed her suspiciously. She shrugged. “Or don’t. I’m just saying. He wanted to know.”

As he sauntered off, Pamela recognized her Fenris again. Whip-smart and armed with a most advanced bullshit detector. She waited for him to get out of sight before she began untying Cheryl.

“What-”

“Sh!” Pamela ordered in a whisper. “Twenty yards down that hall. Back stairs. Leads to an exit. Take it!” Cheryl blinked rapidly, processing. “Why?”

“You wanna get killed? Get out of here!” Pamela hissed.

“Well,” Cheryl mused, “I probably should make it look like a struggle, or something.”

Later on, Pamela rubbed her jaw and thought. Who knew bass players had such devastating uppercuts? 

words and pictures © Christopher Ward. All rights reserved.

Next: The Commando Girls.

Allosaurus part sixteen. Catch up with part fifteen, or go back to the beginning.

The trip to the warehouse had been a quiet one. Fran was restless, rocking back and forth in her seat, arms folded across her chest. “You figured out who I was just from that one conversation we had that night?” she asked. Her words ruptured the silence so completely it made Vanglorious jump.

“What?” he asked.

“You were telling me about ‘projection’. I accidentally called that woman ‘Frannie’. You must be some kinda detective.”

Vanglorious softly grunted. “Lawyer, if you can believe it. – And, I looked up your case, if you don’t mind. I can’t believe those guys got off so lightly – ”

“Drop it.” Fran said, voice like stone. Vanglorious dropped it. Without a word, they continued on.

“Stop here,” Fran whispered. She got out. Vanglorious made a move to follow her. “No,” she ordered, gesturing for him to stay back. She paused, looking at him. “Thank you,” she nodded, shaking his hand. “For …”

“Yeah,” Vanglorious replied. “Go get ’em.”

~~~

There was a special knock. It had to be just the right rhythm, or it wouldn’t work. This knock opened the first door. The second one was at the end of a maze. One had to time one’s journey through to maze to arrive at it, so that the second door would open; not a moment too soon or too late. Otherwise, a trap door would spring, and one would be staring at the inside of a broom closet for a weekend. The third and final door didn’t look like a door at all – it was a very convincing hologram that look just like the street outside. One had to slide past this at just the right angle to not actually wind up back outside. It was a very tricky setup. Lady Justice scoffed at it, considered it to be overkill. Amazin’ Ape had to be walked through it, each time. Vanglorious had designed most of it, seeing as how the conference room it led to was in his law firm. Even as tired as he was this night, he made short work of the twists and double-backs, entering the conference room to find Arctica Winters and the Enforcer waiting for him.

“Sup?” Vanglorious muttered in greeting. He began shrugging out of his mask and armour, down to a turtle-neck and black khakis. There was a decanter of gin on a nearby table. He poured himself a shot and tossed it back.

~~~

Fran bolted into the dark and rain, pulling the goggles over her eyes as she ran.

So, you got a plan for this, dearie?

Nope.

Wonderful. Always makes sense to charge into a trap with no idea what to do, right?

That’s how it’s happening tonight. Deal with it.

Hm. You’re gonna die, then.

Yep, probably. At least, I’ll be rid of you, so there’s that.

You might wanna sneak in through –

Nope. Kicking the door in.

Fran’s steel toed boot crashed through the door with a loudly satisfying clang. She grinned like a feral monster.

Nothing like it!

Nothing like it, indeed!

“Alright, bitches!” she roared. “Come on out so we can do this!”

“You really are a bit of a thug, aren’t you?”

Fran whirled to face the voice.

Grabbed an arm.

Twisted.

Threw.

Palmetto-Bug Man sailed overhead, crashing into an iron pillar. It dented slightly.

“Ow! That hurt, you little -” Palmetto-Bug Man lowered his head and charged like a battering ram. Except, faster. It caught Fran off guard, knocked the wind out of her. “I don’t want to hurt you,” he panted.

“Shut up,” Fran growled. The powered gauntlets hummed as Fran pounded Palmetto-Bug Man’s face. Blows that would have cracked cement, stung and bruised him. Not long ago, he thought, it would’ve barely tickled. He grabbed her hands, held them tight, tight.

“You’ve got some property that doesn’t belong to you,” he said, struggling to peel the gauntlets off.

“And …” Fran grunted, fighting back with every ounce of strength, “You … can have …. them … when I’m … DONE!” She kicked, hard.

Palmetto-Bug Man went down, whimpering. Why do they never think to wear a cup? I know I would, Fran thought. She knelt down over him.

“Don’t follow me,” she ordered. She grabbed his head and slammed it into the concrete floor. He was out.

“Who’s next?” she called.

~~~

“You smell a bit … earthy,” Arctica wrinkled her nose in disgust. It must suck to have senses that acute sometimes, Vanglorious thought.

“I’m fine, thanks for askin’,” he said. “Also, thanks for the help, guys. Couldn’ta done it without you. Oh, wait.”

“You knew this was her fight,” Enforcer replied. “There wasn’t any reason for us to get involved -”

“Why are you doing this, then?” Vanglorious barked. “Look, it’s not like you need to put on your technicolor bondage gear to sit around and do nothing. -Or maybe you do, Keith. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; I’m just sayin’ -”

“I take it it worked out,” Arctica broke in. Her voice was measured, deliberate. Otherworldly. Well, well, well, take a look at us – we’re the leaders of the superhero community, Vanglorious thought. A woman who may or may not be an extraterrestrial, a genetically engineered super-soldier from the future, and an over-amped Black Nationalist. He glared at the other two.

It worked out, he thought. That was Arctica’s main concern. She and the Enforcer were better suited to dealing with bug eyed monsters from Venus, than the rough and tumble crooks and delinquents that tended to be on Vanglorious’ beat. For some reason, however, they saw fit to show up in town, just as all this superhero stuff started getting underway. Vanglorious sensed that there was something they weren’t telling him. No matter. I’ll work it out soon enough.

~~~

Larry Forbes sighed. Taken down by a girl, he thought. He walked over to Palmetto-Bug Man, looked down at him with disappointment. Larry reached into a pocket. No, that’s where I put the cheese curls. The other one. He pulled out a small leather satchel. A syringe, a bottle of some fluid. He injected Palmetto-Bug Man in the neck.

“Wake up, Bud,” he whispered. “Come on, big fella.”

Palmetto-Bug Man stirred. “Wha … Hoozat … ?” he mumbled.

“Hiya, Bud,” Larry cooed.

“Uh, hey, pal,” Palmetto-Bug Man offered. “And you are …?”

“The name’s Forbes. Larry Forbes, Bud.”

“Um, great? Do I know you?” Palmetto-Bug Man furrowed his brow in deep concentration.

“No, but I see that the little hamster on a wheel you call a ‘brain’ isn’t generating the required horsepower for you to complete a thought right now, so lemme do some dot-connecting for ya. I know who you are when you aren’t all dolled up in yer fancy-pants and goggles. Bud.”

Palmetto-Bug Man sat up. “Are you … are you from the Bureau?”

“No,” Larry replied. “Not any more, anyway. Listen. I got a message for you. It’s a very important message, so you have to really pay attention.”

“What are you-”

“Shh. Listen.” Larry leaned in close. “I’m here to cure your amnesia, Bud. And all it’s gonna take is one word. One little word, and you’ll remember … well, everything. There’s just one catch. You might not like what you recall.”

Palmetto-Bug Man was shaking, in spite of himself. “… I …”

“Here it comes,” Larry whispered into his ear. “Al-gol.

And suddenly, Palmetto-Bug Man remembered everything. Every. Thing.

A village in China.

Winning medals.

Chosen for a special honor.

The first man in space. Not from the Soviet Union, not from the Yankee imperialists. The Glorious Peoples’ Republic. It was to be him.

Pin Bai Ma.

An accident.

Lost.

Falling, falling, forever.

Dead.

… alive?

Captured, tortured, by Americans.

Killed. Again.

Alive, again. Over and over.

“A clone, grown over and over from what they found left over in your crashed space capsule,” Larry whispered. “A tiny, little scrap. A ‘bud’, if you will. Used, over and over again, by the Bureau.  So sad. I resigned, in protest, of course.”

Palmetto-Bug Man was Bud. Or wasn’t he? He remembered that he was Pin Bai Ma. Didn’t he? And the pain, always the pain. A slave. At the hands of the Bureau.

“Yes,” Larry nodded. “The Bureau. They did this do you! Only you can stop them now! I’ve set you free!”

“F-free?” Palmetto-Bug Man whimpered. His fists tightened in rage.

“Yes, my friend. Free.”

And suddenly, Palmetto-Bug Man knew. He knew where to find the nearest representative of that evil Bureau, that had robbed him of his life so many times, that had used him, played him, even while pretending to be his friend.

He knew he would find …

Bamela.

He stood, howling like a berserker.

Well, Larry thought. This should work out just fine. I should be able to get rid of these Killswitch idiots AND the fools at the Bureau, all in one night. He smiled.

Yay me.

~~~

“Never mind the sarcasm, Vanglorious,” the Enforcer interjected. “Is Project Killswitch -”

“Project Killswitch is … neutralized, as you might say, Keith.”

Wordlessly he nodded to himself. Neutralized. Nice word for it. He poured himself another shot of gin, gulped it as if by reflex. He’d seen a lot of weirdness go down tonight, and he wasn’t in any hurry to let it take root in his long-term memory.  This looks like a job for … Inebriation!  Vanglorious thought. He was thankful that it was his name over the door of this place. One of the junior partners could run the business in the morning; he would go home, get some rest. Watch some ‘toons, maybe.

“I’d prefer you call me ‘Enforcer’ -”

“And I don’t really care about your preferences at the moment, Keith,” Vanglorious snapped. “I’m sick of all this bullshit. Sick of it. Something big, real big, went down tonight. Bigger than all the spandex cosplay freakshow crap everyone’s always on about. What bugs me, though, is two things. One, what happened with that Braithwaite girl. B, or two, or whatever,  the two of you are connected to all this, somehow. So, Keith, you’ll forgive me if I don’t really feel like referring to you by your ‘scene’ name at the moment.”

“Very well, Gerard,” Arctica pointedly responded. “Do you suggest that we terminate this arrangement?”

“No, nothing of the sort. Not after tonight. Tonight convinced me that I need to keep my eye on you two, more than ever.”

words and pictures © Christopher Ward. All rights reserved

Allosaurus part 14. Here’s part 13; here’s the beginning

Fran slowly crumpled the letter from Project Killswitch. She couldn’t look at it, she couldn’t. She had read it over and over again for the past hour or so; read it until the words no longer made sense. She didn’t remember turning the TV on. She didn’t remember when it started getting darker outside, or when the wind outside began picking up.

” … the thirteenth named storm of the season has turned into a hurricane, with all the spaghetti models showing that Melpo’s on track for making a landfall sometime in the next day or so,” the weatherman was saying. Fran couldn’t hear. “I guess thirteen is our unlucky number this year. Make sure if you are in a hurricane evacuation zone that you …”

I … I … Fran shook her head.

What?

… I don’t know what to do.

Don’t give me that. You know exactly what you’ve got to do.

I promised. I promised her I wouldn’t do it anymore.

Yeah, and now they’re gonna send her back to you in little bite-sized chunks if you don’t. I’m pretty sure she’ll be madder at you if you don’t do something and she gets killed, than if you show up in your superhero get-up. What the hell is wrong with you?

But … these guys are serious. They killed –

THEY’VE GOT CHERYL. WHAT ABOUT THAT IS HARD FOR YOU TO UNDERSTAND? THEY WILL KILL HER, TOO. You’re pathetic.

No, I’m not!

Pathetic and weak, just like you always were. Frannie.

Stop.

Make me. Frannie.

Stop!

Fancy little Frannie fran-fran, doin’ the can-can

Stop it!

Doing little girls ’cause she can’t handle a –

“AAAHHH!” Fran put her hands over her ears and ran. It was no use. They caught her, again, just like they did two years ago. Laughing, leering faces. Hands pulling, tugging, punching. Mauling her. A foot mashed her head into the ground and cracked her jaw.

“NO!” Fran yelled. It wasn’t a plea, not like before. It was a command. The faces, the hands, the foot, all vanished. She found herself on the floor in the studio, in front of the closet. Gasping, choking back a building fury, she opened the door. The boots, the gauntlets, the bullet-proof vest, the goggles. They were all there. Even the dis-entangler.

Even the toe tag.

Don’t let them do that to Cheryl. 

I won’t. I can’t.

Fran tied on the toe tag.

~~~

There was a back stairwell to the roof. Fran had used this to escape the building before. She hadn’t been back here in a long time. It was still dusty, neglected. No one should see her.  She opened the door. Wind was picking up; it almost tore it from her hand. The deepening twilight showed an angry red-violet to the west. The clouds would cover the stars, the moon. It would be a pitch perfect night for someone to slip among the shadows, Fran thought.

“Hiya.”

Fran whirled around in the direction of the voice. “You,” she grunted. “What is it now?”

Mister Vanglorious chuckled behind his red black and green mask. “Nice to see you, too, CG.”

“See wha?”

“You know. Short for ‘Commando Girl’. I guess that’s what you would prefer to be called.”

“Whatever. I don’t have time.” Fran spun around to leave.

“Hey, wait!” Mister Vanglorious called. “Don’t you wanna know …”

Fran leaped from the roof in silence. “… Why I’m here,” Vanglorious finished. He ran to the edge and peered over. “Damn, that’s a long drop,” he muttered. “Oh, well. Not gettin’ any younger.” Gracefully, with the agility of a man with long years of training, he bounced and tumbled his way to the ground. Lightly touch on this balcony, swing on that railing. Roll on that ledge. The gusts of wind made it more difficult than it looked. Vanglorious made short work of catching up to Fran.

“So, ah, you just gonna walk there?” he asked.

Fran’s eyes narrowed. “Walk where?”

Vanglorious sighed. “Look. Couple of things you might wanna know. Some of us aren’t loners, okay? We work with, um, some people. We watch things. We hear things. We -”

“Point?” Fran snarled.

“We know that Project Killswitch has your friend. I’m … I’m sorry.”

Fran felt her face burning, but her expression remained fixed. “I see. So, the whole city knows who I am, then?” she asked in a measured, deliberate tone.

“No, no, not at all. Some people do. The ones who are luring you into a trap do. The other people I work with do.”

Fran surreptitiously  pressed a switch on one of her gauntlets. There was an eerie hum. “Be very careful, Vanglorious. The next words you say could be your last.”

He sighed. “Yeah, okay. Look. YOU ARE WALKING INTO A TRAP. I am trying to help you, you tiny idiot, you. Killswitch ain’t the only problem you got right now.”

“Who else?”

“The Bug Man’s been looking for you, too.”

“Who, Monster Maggot, or Captain Cockroach, or whatever his stupid name is? That guy? The hell I do to him?” Fran chuckled darkly in spite of herself. “I think I got some Raid back at the apartment -”

“This is serious, woman. You don’t wanna mess with Palmetto. He works for some kinda government agency, apparently. The agency you got your gadgets from.” Vanglorious paused; more for dramatic effect than for anything else. “They want their shit back.”

“Fine. He can have it. Soon as I get Cheryl back and break Killswitch into little pieces.” She turned to go. “Thanks for the heads-up,” she finished.

Dammit, Vanglorious thought. He shook his head. “Stupid, stupid,” he muttered. “I can get you there faster than you walking, you know!” he yelled after her.

Fran paused. Her shoulders slumped by the slimmest of fractions. She turned. “I can’t have anyone with me,” she sighed. “They’ll kill her.”

“They’ll probably do that regardless. I’m just offering you a ride. For now. And, maybe I can help you with Palmetto Bug Man.” Vanglorious shrugged. “Listen, Insect-o-Guy is pretty diesel. He’s actually a super-human. He don’t need a bullet-proof vest or a jet pack, alright?”

“What do you care?” Fran scowled. “What’s it to you?”

Vanglorious sighed. He reached up to his head, and with one swift motion, he pulled the mask off. He stood there: a black man maybe in his late forties – early fifties. Hair grey around the temples, forehead creased with years of care, faint lines etched around his eyes and mouth. “I had a daughter, once,” he whispered. “She was … attacked. I lost her. I … I couldn’t do nothing. You know what that feels like, I suppose. Feeling helpless.”

Fran didn’t move. Then, she reached up, and pulled the goggles from her face. A dark flame illuminated her eyes.

“Where’s your ride?”

The wind blows, the bells are silent.

words and pictures © Christopher Ward. All rights reserved

Allosaurus continues next time in Girlfriend In A Refrigerator.

You couldn’t call it a night time storm, really. Not a proper one. There was wind, rain, even lightning; but this was no storm. The wind was just enough to blow the rain into occasional angles, to rustle the palm fronds outside of his window. The lightning was far away, the thunder a low and distant rumbling.

The radio played softly: an internet station tuned to music from South Africa in the ’50s. Kinda like doo-wop, the voices combined in unexpected ways to create harmonies at once joyous and full of sorrow. How does somebody play a banjo, of all things, in a way that breaks your heart? He thought this as he tossed his head back and drained the last few drops from the bottle. The beer tasted like the music, in a way. A hint of flowers, a bite, a stinging sourness, sweet. This is what greenish-gold sounds like, tastes like. A cloud bank flashed in the distance, and later, the punctuation of the thunder. He stared, unblinking. Time for another beer. He went to the fridge.

The song changed. It was a familiar one. He knew the words, but not what they meant. He used to own a CD with this song on it. The two of us used to love this song. “Baby a-ree yeng, down-down chikavu,” the ladies sang. “Chi-i-i-kavu!” They sounded like they were wagging their pointing fingers and shimmying as they sang. “Chikavu, chikavu, chikavu way!” He closed his eyes, so he could see her dancing with the singers. In his vision, she was dressed like a pinup in a glittering skin-tight sheath and fuchsia pillbox hat.

He shook his head vigorously and opened his eyes. He had thrown out the picture they took with her in that outfit. His arm was around her waist; he wore a burgundy smoking jacket and a fez. They had had a great time at that party. Then on the way home, they returned to their normal, argumentative state. What were they arguing about? Didn’t matter. Always, she would storm out of the house. Always he would chase her up the street.

Until the time he didn’t.

The rain fell. The music played.

The beer was good.

 

words  and pictures © Christopher Ward. All rights reserved.

Part 11 of Allosaurus. Bet you were wondering what happened to the band, huh? Or look at last week, or start over. Whatevs.

“Good morning! What can I get started for you today?”

On the other side of the counter from Fran, the woman with the fastidious pixie hair-do furrowed her brow in thought. Her daughter, a teen with a shock of pink hair covering one of her heavily mascara’ed eyes, looked as embarrassed and as put upon as only a teenager could. She sighed in impatience as her mother decided.

“We-e-ell,” the mother began, “can I have a short, double, half decaf soy mocha, very wet – wait, is your cocoa cruelty free?”

“Mo-o-om!” the daughter sighed, turning “mom” into a five syllable word full of exasperation.

Fran made a face. “You know, ma’am, I’m not really sure – ”

“That’s okay,” the mother interrupted. “Better make it into a latte, then. A double, short, half decaf soy latte, very wet … do you have hazelnut? Sugar free?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Fran nodded.

“Okay. Sugar free hazelnut. And vanilla. Make sure the hazelnut’s sugar free, but not the vanilla. Just one pump of each, please.”

“And your name?” Fran asked.

“Bonnie.”

Fran turned to the guy at the espresso machine. “Gimme a number 3 for Bonnie, Billy,” she called. Billy nodded nonchalantly.

~~~

The shift was finally at an end. Fran was coated in spent espresso grounds, her hands sticky with syrup residue, and there was now a steam burn on her arm from the frother wand. She counted her share from the tip jar: eight dollars apiece between her and Billy.

“Sweet,” Billy uttered unconvincingly. “I can get a couple gallons of gas.” He looked at Fran. “Goin’ to the fake Irish bar with the Jens. Wanna come?”

Fran shook her head. The “Jens” were three other girls that worked at the coffee shop, all college students, all with “Jennifer” somewhere in their name. Fran found them to be annoying; just the type that she’d have to rescue from a mugger or something, sooner or later.

Strike that.

Would’ve had to rescue, but not anymore. Fran hadn’t been on patrol for a while, now.

She didn’t miss it, at all.

Really.

She never thought about it.

Not even once.

“No, thanks,” she replied at last. “I, um, I’ve got a rehearsal tonight.”

“A rehearsal?” Billy actually seemed to perk up. That would be the only time he ever appeared to be interested in anything, Fran would later realize. “For what?”

“I’m in a band,” Fran answered. Then she thought about it. I’m in a band. I’m really in a band. Wow. “I play trumpet.” Or, I used to play trumpet. I haven’t picked it back up yet, but … “Yeah. Trumpet.” She nodded, as if to convince herself that that was really the truth of things. In her head, she could see the case, black leather with gleaming brass latches. She could feel them as she opened it up, lifted aside the blue velvet cover, pulled out the silver mouthpiece.

The strangest thing happened.

Fran …

grinned.

She immediately covered her mouth with a hand.

Billy nodded. “Cool. You guys play out much?”

“Well, we used to play at the Midnight Moon, but – ” And with that, Fran froze.

The Midnight Moon.

Two years ago.

She closed her eyes, took a deep breath. Rubbed her jaw. Opened her eyes.

“We haven’t played out for a while,” she finished.

Billy took no notice of the personal flashback Fran was having. He merely nodded. “Yeah, I hear ya. I used to deejay sometimes. Then my ex-roommate stole my stuff. You know how that is.”

“Huh? Oh. Yeah.” Fran looked down at her hands. They were tightly balled into fists. They were stiff, unclenching them was a conscious effort. She looked back up at Billy. “Well, so, anyway, gotta go. Have fun with the Jens.” She hurried off to the bus stop, not looking back.

~~~

“You sure you wanna do this?” Cheryl asked. She wrestled Brunhilde into the back of her red hatchback, huffing. Geez, when’d this thing get so heavy? she thought.

“You been on me for months about this. You trying to talk me out of it now?” Fran replied. The bravado was not entirely real. She wasn’t sure. They climbed in the car. “I … I missed making music with you,” Fran stammered.

Cheryl burst out laughing. “Oh, migawd, that just sounds so, so corny, girl!” She glanced over at Fran, to see an oddly hurt expression.

“Oh, sweetie,” Cheryl sighed, “I didn’t know you were serious – I thought that you -”

“Shut up.” Fran pulled Cheryl’s face close to hers. They kissed.

After what seemed like hours, or mere instants, either one, they came up for air. “So, ah, let’s go make some music!” Cheryl chuckled.

“At the rehearsal,” Fran admonished softly.

“Of course,” Cheryl nodded. “Rehearsal. Yeah.”

words  and pictures © Christopher Ward. All rights reserved.

Allosaurus continues next time in Behind The Music With Project Killswitch.