8FOLD/ACRA: Speak! # 6

Tom Russell twopointthreefivefilmwerks at yahoo.com
Fri Jul 1 17:57:17 PDT 2005

DISCLAIMER: This series uses profanity, sexuality, and acts that some may consider morally offensive in order to present the characters truthfully and maturely.


Speak! # 6

by Tom Russell

"At the Goodman Museum of Supernatural and Paranormal Phenomenon and Miscellany"

IT'S A SCRAP OF CLOTH. No bigger than your coiled fist.

The corners are tattered, fringed.

The plaque underneath says this is the last remaining fragment of the cape of Loris, the Nocturnal, who died on the fifth of March, nineteen thirty-one, halting an invasion of the earth by the Nimdey race. He was anywhere from twenty-four to thirty years old. His identity was never discovered, though several widows came forth.

His teammates invalidated all claims, and though, as an asterik helpfully informs you, there were many more obscure supers who fell in battle before, Loris was widely regarded as the first superhero to die.

This scrap of cloth is all that's left of him.

Harry looks at it, his eyes wet, and he squeezes your hand to give comfort, like you're a woman, his woman, his wife (will he kill you, too?). But you don't need comfort.

You don't feel anything.

It's just a scrap of cloth.


Here we find the fossilfied remains of Red Fido (on loan from St. Petersburg), the communist canine who once held back the entire roster of the Seven Wonders in the late fifties. If not for a hideous freak lightning storm that drove Red Fido all the way back to Khruschev, the Seven Wonders might have been the Five or Four Wonders. It was not until the early seventies that Red Fido was defeated decisively by Americans on American soil; however, it was the New Oneida commune (whom, after a lawsuit in seventy-eight, changed their names to Children of Earth-Love) who was responsible for Red Fido's defeat and demise. Many (especially members of the Seven Wonders) suspected that the group was somehow in cahoots with the Soviets.


A tiny cork-topped vial sits behind a glass display, atop a black, waist-high monolith. Inside the vial is the tiniest bit of moisture, barely a few drops. You don't see it at first, until Harry prompts you to look closer. Just a few drops. The plaque reads:

"These few pure drops of water were among the last unpolluted in the Lewy River. On May 24, 1985, the supervillain known as Deathrow, given name Duane Fitzgerald Lee, infected the river with a powerful poison of his own design, killing three hundred and four persons, and countless wildlife, within the space of an hour. The Veterans Squad, with the help of Gorilla Boy and the full cooperation of local authorities, responded heroically to the crisis. Within a matter of minutes, irrigation brought clean water to residents along the Lewy; within another hour, Deathrow was defeated and those persons infected were hospitalized; an antidote was prepared before nightfall and administered (but not before one more person fell to the strange malady); a small portion of the river was saved from pollution, and these drops are interred here in memory of the three hundred and five whose lives were lost on that terrible day. No one has ever figured out how to save the Lewy, and its waters are still
 deadly to all forms of life."



Why would anybody do such a thing? What sane person would willingly do such evil?

He must have been insane.

This is how you dismiss Deathrow from your thoughts. Because the implications are too great to deal with: what if he was sane, perfectly sane? Does the enormity of the act then become incomprehensible? What motivates someone, a sane someone, to kill so many, so senselessly?

(What motivates someone to kill one, to kill their mother? to rape? to steal?)


There's an old rule of debate, and that is, if you invoke Hitler in an argument, you lose the argument. This is the same thing: comparing the accidental death of one's mother, some casual mischeif with a redhead, the theft of several hundred dollars or fifty or so DVDs, comparing these relatively minor crimes to the willful slaughter of three hundred innocents is as ridiculous as comparing anything to the Holocaust.

Let's get political for a moment, Gregory (just for a moment, don't want to lose your attention). Let's take it as a given that American foreign policy is a terrible stain on an otherwise great country. That the support of dictators, genocides, and turning a blind eye to the massacre of other peoples is, for lack of a better word, evil. Is it wrong to compare it to the Holocaust because it's not as evil?

Then, what follows, logically, is that both regimes are evil, but one is more evil than another? That the only difference is one of degree?

Well, then, your "casual mischief" only differs in degree from rape. And the accidental death of your mother only differs in degree from Deathrow and Lewy River. So, I guess the question is, Gregory Dingham, why did you kill your mother?


Heard that all before, buddy. You've weaseled out of this question before. But not now. Not this time. This time, we need an answer. Why did you kill your mother, Gregory?

You just told her to die and she died. Everyone says something like that sometimes, that's one of the reasons you imposed that limit on your power, that limit that prevents you from killing someone so casually ever again. When you're mad at someone, at a friend, you've said, I'm going to kill you, or strangle you, or whatever. But you don't.

And they know that you don't. They understand that you're angry.

So, perhaps the question is, why are you so angry? In general, yes, but at your mother in particular. All she was doing was calling you, leaving a message, disrupting your sleep. Maybe that's a reason to be angry, but there was such venom in your voice, you went from mild irritation immediately to anger, and to hatred.


Why do you hate your mother?

YOU AVOID ANSWERING YOUR QUESTION, and instead follow Harry to the next exhibit in the Museum.


The voice comes from behind you and Harry, and it startles you as you look at the battered and worn guantlet of the Sun-Rider (this is why you don't like museums, Gregory, so many, many dead things, you can feel so many ghosts in this place crying for peace and to have their precious artifacts back). You and Harry turn and before you is a curious, tiny little man, curly gold hair, blazing green suit, a smile like a child's. He could be twenty or forty or fifty. His face is so strange, so unassuming and free of any defining characteristic, that you can't quite place him.

"I'm Elliot Goodman," he said, "owner, curator, and collector."

"I am Harry Cash," Harry says slowly, unsure if he should say it. "But how did you..."

"Recognize that scar anywhere. Your suit is this way. Follow me, gentlemen."


"And who is your companion, Mr. Cash?"

"This is Gregory, uh, Gregory D... my son."

It rattles you inside, you expect yourself to stop walking for a moment in shock, but you don't. You keep walking. It feels natural. It sounds right. Gregory Cash, son of the Gas-Man.

(Gregory Cash, son of a murderer. Like father, like son: why do you hate your mother, Gregory? Hell, why do you hate your father? Why do you hate Sandy? You don't hate her? Well, that's strange: she's home, missing you, and you're here, hurting her. Why would you hurt her if you loved her? Do you love her? When was the last time you called her?)

"Um, dad?"

Harry doesn't hesitate for a moment, turns to you and smiles. "Yeah?"

"I got to call Sandy."

"His girlfriend," Harry explains to Goodman. "But I think that should wait. Until after we see the suit, until after we talk to Mr. Goodman."

"You're right. I don't know what came over me."

AFTER ALL THIS BUILD UP, the suit is kind of an anti-climax. Dull, rusted, clunky metal suit with a couple of eye-slots in an otherwise blank helmet. The eye-holes don't even match; one is bigger than the other, much bigger. And this is the work of Harry Cash, the famous and reknown gadgeteer?

If Harry is embarrassed at all, he doesn't show it. He just stares at the suit, his mouth open just a little bit, a tiny crack that widens, cataclysmically, into a full-blown and childlike smile. He puts his big hand on your shoulder, his whole arm around you, and pulls you close and says, "Ain't she a beaut?"

And you want to know the funny thing, Gregory?

The funny thing is, right now? The suit looks to be the most beautiful man-made thing you've ever seen. It looks proud and defiant instead of shoddy and make-shift. And Harry, with all his wandering stories and digressions and musings and strange, quaint code of honour that probably never existed even when he did, silly Harry Cash is silly no more. You're proud of him.

And so you smile too, and Harry sees your smile and, his arm still wrapped around you, he squeezes you tighter. He's never had someone be proud of him before. Never had someone look up to him, or listen to his stories.

And you realize, Gregory, that you've never had someone to look up to, and that his whole life, all Harry ever really wanted, was a son.


Why you got this power. Why your mother had to die. Why you killed her. Why there were superheroes in the first place. Why you robbed the bank instead of putting on capes and tights. Why you fled Michigan. Why you met Sandy (someone else, maybe they would have encouraged you to rob the bank): to get you driving down the road the moment Harry Cash stuck his thumb out. Maybe this is why you picked up a hitch-hiker for the first time in your life.

Maybe this is why you're alive. Because Harry Cash needed a son, and you needed a father.



You and Harry, son and father, on a fishing trip. No, not a fishing trip. Been there, done that. Well, you never did that. Your father went fishing with your brother. You did bible quizzing. Bible quizzing wasn't his thing. Or your mother's.

You and Harry, watching a flick, which reminds him of a story, and you listen. But no. That's what you do anyway. How are things going to be different from this moment on?

You and Harry, a hero at your mercy, the Gas-Man & Son... (poisoning water, killing people)


You're not a supervillain, Gregory. What are you doing? Why are you in this museum, with this man? The reason a supervillain exists is to cause suffering. Harry might have turned a blind eye to that, just like you're turning a blind eye to what an absolute shit of a job he did building his vaunted power-suit. It looks like he never drew a blueprint, never measured the metal. Just sloshed it together, cobbled it, hammered the pieces until they fit. Does it even work? Did it ever work? You remember the story about him and that death-trap he got himself stuck into... [*]

And suddenly, the suit doesn't look so good anymore, you remind yourself that your last name is Dingham, and you're not so proud of Harry, stupid silly old man. You shrug your shoulder and he draws his arm back from around you, both arms now hanging limp at his side, and even he can't look at his suit anymore. Elliot Goodman invites you into his office, and you follow.

[*-- This tale has been recounted at length in Speak! # 4, and in trunctuated, and somewhat altered, form, in # 5.]

IT'S LIKE A CHILD'S IDEA of an office, decorated with any bit of super-bric-a-brac that either is not "museum" enough or that he himself treasures too much to let just any old sod look at it. The desk is messy and cluttered, and autographed photos and comics abound. Goodman's fingers fly through a filing cabinet and he pulls out a yellowed scrap of paper.

He thrusts a newspaper article at Harry's face. "If you would, please?"

Harry snatches it up and, blocking your view with his massive arm, scribbles his name in a word balloon. This you notice, along with the headline, as he passes it (in what passes for discreet, for Harry) back to Goodman. The article, from the New York Times, is the same one Sandy sent you: the one about Harry killing his wife, the one that makes Harry Cash a liar.

"Always wanted to meet you, Mr. Cash. Even before I got my hands on your suit."

"It's nice to meet you, too, Mr. Goodman. You're Chaz Goodman's son?"

"Everybody knows that. Did you know him?"

"No. Well, by reputation."

"Chaz Goodman?" you ask, the name sounding vaguely familiar.

"Very famous, very wealthy man," Harry sums up. No ancedotes accompany this description. Maybe he's afraid of offending Goodman.

"Well," says Goodman, "I'm a slightly less-famous, slightly less-wealthy man. The only other thing me and old sourpuss had it common was that both of us followed our dream. My dream, my whole life, is you, Mr. Cash. Heroes and villains and startling battles of epic porportion, honour and myth and human drama swelling in every panel of a comic book, every page of a super-history book, every dynamic design of a costume."

The speech sounds rehearsed, but Goodman still has such passion for it that the words come alive, rollicking from word-to-word, connected by an endless train of "ands" and commas.

"Well, that's my whole life, too," says Harry.

"And that's why I wanted to meet you. That's why I got my hands on your suit. As a symbol of what was."

That shit-infested rust-bucket?

"I've kept it up, you know," says Goodman.

"You have?"

"Yes. Mr. Cash, your suit is in better condition than it was the day you pawned it. If you were to hop right in tonight, no mortal force could stop you."


"Of course, if you came back just after midnight but before, oh, say, ten after, there would be no one to stop you. I run a very tight ship here, of course, security is a very important matter, but one of our guards is always late, and so I'm afraid that that particular wing which houses your suit would be unguarded."


"And, of course, there would be no way to get in-- oh, wait. I forgot. They leave the door open for the last guard. Once he comes in, of course, about ten after but that's cutting it close, you know, then he locks it behind him. But for a few minutes there, an interested person could find himself just waltzing in and, being reasonably careful of the staff, find themselves face to face with your marvelous suit, powered-up and ready to roll."


"But, of course, no one would do that, would they, Mr. Cash?"

"I suppose not."

"No, I suppose not, also. Well, anyway. I must be getting back to-- whatever it is I pretend that I do here. I'll see you gentlemen out."


Only she doesn't answer. You leave a message:

"Hey, Sandy. Tried to call you. Uh. I love you. I do. I do, I do. I miss you. I'm, uh, I'm sorry. I'm sorry I'm hurting you."

Are you, though?

If you're sorry, why do you keep doing it? What are you doing in this motel room with this supervillain?


"What his problem is," Harry says, "is that, try as he might, he can't get a lady friend. If he had a lady friend, he would stop being so... so... Travis-like, I think."

"I don't know about that, Harry. Maybe the reason he can't get a lady friend is that he's so Travis-like."

"Vicious circle, I know. Lord, I know."


"Come on, Betsy!" Harry says. "Give the guy a break, give him a chance. He's a little creepy, but he's really not so bad."

"You've seen this movie before, haven't you?"


"What do you mean, he's not so bad? He kills all the people at the end."

"But he's not bad yet. If she intervenes now, nothing's going to happen. Come on, Betsy. Save a few lives."

"Yeah, come on," you say. "Throw the guy a pity-fuck."

And then, right before your eyes, on your television screen, she does. Cybil Shepherd starts to fuck De Niro's brains out. (It's pretty hot.) You watch, aghast, over the course of the next hour, as Travis Bickle starts to pull his life back together, getting a job, sleeping a good night's sleep, kicking the pill habit. Dark undercurrents still stir inside him, but Betsy tries to understand, tries to calm him, and begins to open up. She's no longer a mystery or ideal.

Travis starts to understand women, and, understanding, is able to realize that Iris is happier with the pimp. Killing the pimp and forcing her back with her parents, that's not the way. Instead, Travis and Betsy both take an interest in Iris, try to help her, and they form a little family together, based on peace and understanding and acceptance and forgiveness.

And you and Harry watch this all with a mounting sense of terror, and you realize you've just seen an American masterpiece, a film that never was and never would be. The original was fantastic, was one of the greatest films of the seventies, but this version is just as good on its own terms. (It's just a different kind of movie: a feel-good art-house subtle-performances flick as opposed to a psychological powerhouse.)

And you did it, Gregory. You did it.

A QUICK TRIP TO A video store, and you pop in the cassette, and all is right with the world again: Travis murders in a psychopathic, suicidal day-dream made real. But even this little bit of peacefulness that settles over you during the blood-bath is disrupted by the fact that you did it in the first place.


What is this power inside you?...

... and where did it come from?


No answers.


AT TEN, YOU TRY TO sleep. Try, of course, being the operative word.

"No use worrying," Harry had said. "Things you worry about between now and then will still be there when then is now. So worry about 'em then. We got a good hour, hour and a half before we got to get ready. Museum's right down the street, quick jaunt from here. And the plan is simple and clean, you know?"

"I know."

"So, just get some sleep, take a little cat nap."

"I'll try."

"Just don't worry about it."

"I'm not worried about it, Harry."

"You still freaked out about the movie?"

"Yeah, a little."

"Well, don't worry about it. Here, let me tell you a little story."


"There was this guy, called himself the Two-in-One, on account of there were two people in his body, and for short periods of time, would split himself, like those amoebas, into the two. Now, these two were opposites. Not, uh, not good, one good and one evil, that's silly, but let's say that one was more about rescuing the damsel and one was more about punching the villain. The Two-in-One was a hero, see. Neglected to mention that.

"Anyway, it's hard enough to live with just one person in you, but when you got two, it could drive you a little batty. And the way I heard it, that's what it did to the Two-in-One, on account of when he was a whole person, just the one body, one face and costume, et cetera, he didn't know which one he was, or if he was an amaglam of both, on account of he had both their powers when he was in the one body. But, then, being an amaglam, how much of one was he? I mean, what was the composition of him, was he sixty percent the rescuer and forty percent the aggressor, or vice-versa, or fifty-fifty? And when he was just the one person, was he a person at all, or just a mish-mash of the two? This is him, you see. What's going through his head.

"Never met him myself, but I saw him on the TV, where he was explaining what he was going through and Oprah was putting her hand on his shoulder and nodding like she does. Has nodding down to a science, that one. But, the long and the short of it is, on account of this line of thinking-- how much of me is me, do I exist, what is the nature of me and who I am-- all this existential garabage that any sensible person outgrows by the time they're twenty-four, on account of all this worry about nothing, really, he drove himself absolutely bonkers, worried himself sick.

"Well, this is kind of the same thing, isn't it? I mean, look, Gregory, you've got these powers. These amazing powers. And you don't know where they came from, right?"

"Nope. Or, yes. I don't know where they come from."

"So what? I mean, you got them, that's what counts, huh? Just keep that in mind, and I think you'll be okay."

TELLING YOU ABOUT SOME GUY who worried himself insane doesn't make you worry less; it makes you worry more. It is more likely than not the most damaging, and vastly inappropriate, story that Harry Cash has ever told you. It certainly doesn't make it any easier for you to get to sleep.

INSTEAD, YOU LISTEN TO HARRY snore and stare up at the ceiling. And worry. And worry. And think.

Then the alarm rings. It's eleven-thirty.

It's time.

NEXT TIME: ... A Drop to Drink

(C) Copyright 2005 Tom Russell.

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