8FOLD/ACRA/TEB: The Collected Speak!, Vol. # 2
milos_parker at yahoo.com
Thu Jan 26 23:38:09 PST 2006
EIGHTFOLD COMICS PRESENTS
THE COLLECTED SPEAK! Vol. 2
being a reposting of the
final five issues of SPEAK!
SHE CHANGED THE MACHINE.
"Hey, it's Sandy. Leave a message."
Simple, short and brutal: she cut you right out of
it. No "you've reached Greg and Sandy" or "you've
reached Greg" or whatever. It's like you don't exist.
The phone beeps at you and you try to establish proof
of your existence.
"It's me. I'm just calling to tell you that I love
you, and I'm sorry..."
"You just picked up the phone?"
"Yes. How are you, Greg?" She sounds kind of
sunny. Maybe it's because it's noon. You usually
call closer to nine or ten pee em and she's
half-asleep, tired from work. Today must have been
her day off. But:
"Why aren't you in Jersey?"
"I didn't go."
"Oh. I'm not angry or anything. It's really
unreasonable of me to ask you in the first place. I
don't even need it anymore." This you decide as the
words come out of your mouth.
"In that case, I won't tell you where the suit is."
"I thought you didn't go."
"Yes, but there is this thing, Gregory, this
miraculous invention called the telephone. In fact,
we're using this marvel of the age right now."
"Did it ever occur to you to actually call the
"They gave you the information over the phone?"
"Yes. The suit's in Wisconsin. The Goodman Museum
of Supernatural and Paranormal Phenomenon and
Miscellany. I e-mailed you a link to the website."
"I don't have a computer with me."
"Then go to a library, asshole. I'm not doing
everything for you."
"Okay, okay. Thanks."
"I love you, Sandy."
"I love you too. So. Are you with Harry Cash?"
"Come home. Now."
"When it's time, Sandy. When it's time."
"Do you know who he is? Do you even know who
you're dealing with?"
"Yes. He's a supervi-- supercriminal from the
"Yes... but he's been in prison the last thirty
"Do you know why?"
"He murdered his wife."
"I think you heard me, Gregory. I don't know what
kind of shit you're into right now, but I'm worried
about you, baby, and this is giving me cause to worry.
Whatever you're doing, haven't you been doing it long
enough? Just come home now. I won't be mad. Just
"I got shit to do."
"With him? Gregory--"
"It's not true."
"I'm sending you another e-mail. It is true,
asshole. Don't you tell me what is or isn't true."
"Why don't you come home, Greg? I want to know
what's keeping you from coming home. Is it Harry
Cash? Are you hurt?"
"Why are you scared of the police?"
"I robbed the bank. On Telegraph." This you
decide to tell her as you tell her.
"Oh. You did?"
"I just said I did, didn't I?"
"Not like you."
"No. Guess not."
"Thank you for telling me."
"Yeah. You're welcome."
"Weird it hasn't been in the news."
"You want me to try and find out if the police
"Oh, officer, I was just wondering if the bank was
robbed three weeks ago. Oh, no reason..."
"I'm not stupid."
"I didn't say you were."
"You implied it."
"I didn't imply a thing."
"Please come home."
"Jesus Christ, Sandy, I already told you a hundred
times: I got stuff to do. Once I do it, then I'll
"You're a bastard."
"Fine. Then I'm a bastard."
"Listen. I got to let you go. Um, thank you,
Sandy. For putting up with me."
"I put up with a lot from you."
"And don't worry about me. I'm a big boy, I can
take care of myself."
"No, you can't. I know you. And you're giving me
cause to worry, like I said."
"Things will be fine. And I will come home. I
"--know when. I don't know. But when I figure it
out-- look. I will come home. You can count on
"I miss you."
"I miss you too, baby. I got to go, though. Get
"Bye for now."
"Bye for now."
YOU'RE GLAD TO LEAVE THE motel room, and the clerk--
fifty-five years old, preternaturally suspicious, a
lumpy face and a dagger for a nose-- she's glad to see
you go. For the first time that you can recall, she's
smiling (a tiny smile for her tiny mouth) and damn
near helpful: yes, she knows where you can find the
nearest library and yes, as far as she knows, there is
public internet access. Her drawl reminds you of the
redhead, and though the two occupy separate states of
this union, you decide that the motel clerk is the
mother. The reason she never smiles is her daughter
left at the tender age of fifteen. This motel job is
recent; the mother started working here on the
off-chance that the redhead, a nymphomaniac with a
motel fetish, might check in at this particular
road-side motel with the beau of the week. And then,
for an instant, the clerk would glimpse her daughter,
maybe hear her voice in the first time in four years.
And the redhead would not acknowledge her existence,
and the clerk would have to be content with listening
to erotic obscenities muffled by poorly-installed
insulation and dry-wall. The clerk would cry herself
to sleep, and feel a pang whenever anyone checked into
that room, but deeper in her heart she would be happy
to know that her offspring lives.
Maybe this is all true, probably it's not: maybe
it's true and it happened before you ever came into
the picture. Maybe the room you and Harry checked
into was the redhead's room, and that's why the old
woman looks so offended when you tell her you'll be
staying another day.
Or maybe she just doesn't like you. It doesn't
It's still a good story.
THE LIBRARY IS SMALL (CRAMPED, not cozy). The
circulation department and the reference department
share a single desk, and a dirty-looking tapestry
hangs from the ceiling. It was, as you learn from
Harry later, who was told by a bearded gentleman in
circ, created by some artist when the library opened,
same as the pebble-based mosaic map of the United
States which conceals both the men's and women's
restrooms behind its bulky, multivariate shades of
gray. The part of the map that represents Michigan
makes you homesick, and in an uncharacteristic bout of
regional humour, you hold your right hand against the
pebbles, your palm twisted towards you. You point to
a spot in the pad of your thumb and think of Sandy,
YOUR INBOX IS NEARLY FULL; ninety-five percent of your
one gigabyte of free space is taken up by a nearly
month-long backlog of e-mails. The top three e-mails
are from Sandy. One is a link to the Museum's
web-page, which you browse quickly, feeling obliged
but not terribly interested. The second contains
directions and a map from Map Quest, directions from
Sandy's house to the Museum. It shouldn't be too hard
for you to figure your way there.
The most recent e-mail gives you goose bumps, and
you look out of the corner of your eye before you open
it. Harry's still at the circ desk talking
(flirting?) with some pretty young bun-haired
librarian-to-be. As you read the e-mail, you
continually check to make sure Harry's still there,
still yakking away; after each paragraph, or perhaps a
particularly long sentence, you check.
SUBJECT: HARRY CASH-- THE GAS-MAN
>>From the archives of the New York Times.
FIRST MURDER CONVICTION UNDER NEW SUPERVILLAIN LAW
Harry Cash, 38, was minor-league antagonist
September 20, 1974
Tritium, NJ-- Harry Cash, aka the "Gas-Man", was
convicted today of the murder of his wife, Lydia Cash.
It is widely expected that he will be sentenced to
Cash is known as a minor player on the supers
scene. According to Elliot Goodman, a well-known
commentator on superheroic personages and their
opponents, "If not for the Supervillain Act, [Cash]
would not be notable at all."
The Supervillain Act, passed last fall, denies any
possibility of parole to supercriminals or superheroes
convicted of a felony. It also mandates that they be
sent to the Supervillain Detainment Center in
Tennessee, newly built and specially-equipped to house
those persons possessing paranormal abilities. Cash
is the first supervillain to be convicted of murder
under this act, which also strips him of any right to
vote or hold a municipal job.
"Or any job," complains Goodman. "What we have
here is the first major government-sanctioned
discrimination against a minority group after the
Civil Rights movement. There is not any popular
outcry, however, because the minority happens to be
criminals who have paranormal abilities or devices."
Senator Manfred M. Santorum, one of the principle
framers of the act and its leading proponent counters
that "[S]upervillains have a greater capacity for
harming the innocent than other criminals. We have
steep sentences-- not steep enough in my estimation--
to try and deter citizens from committing crimes.
But, when the stakes are raised-- when the citizen
finds himself able to turn invisible, or shoot
death-beams from his eyeballs-- well, we have to
respond in kind. A steeper penalty will hopefully
deter those super-powered individuals from using their
powers for personal gain and to harm the innocent."
Cash began his career as "The Gas-Man" in 1966, a
year after marring Lydia Seltzer. Unable to secure
work, he instead turned to gadgeteering. His
inventions, however-- among them a
"reverse-microwave"-- seldom worked and were often
based on faulty science or fraudulence. The
reverse-microwave, patterned over the large,
quick-cook radiation-based ovens found in many
industrial kitchens, was to "make things cold in an
instant." He tried to sell the design of the
reverse-microwave, and many other inventions, to
He was regarded as amusing at best and a nuisance
at worse. Hildebrandt Technologies tolerated Cash
until he tried to sell them the design to their own
product. He was then investigated and found to have
stolen the design specifications. As legal
proceedings began, Cash became angry and fashioned a
metal suit, based on the stolen design specs.
He began sabotaging Hildebrandt Tech, using a
variety of chemicals. Some were of his own design,
but the more potent ones were blatantly based on
ages-old formula and technology. He was subdued and
apprehended by "Menlo" Parker, the famous gadgeteer.
He was given a relatively light sentence of six
months, due to the efforts of his legal
representation. Upon his release, he donned the suit
again, and the name of the "Gas-Man". In each battle
with a superhero, he was soundly defeated, and it is
at this time, according to psychologist Harrison
Fenech, that he became very unstable. "Harry began
taking credit for the exploits of other supervillains.
He would hear a story in prison and then involve
himself in the narrative. It got to the point where
he didn't remember when he was lying, and when he was
telling the truth: he honestly believed all these
things happened to him, just as he honestly believed
his pathetic gadgets worked."
In the late sixties, he had a rivalry with famed
speedster Critical Mach. "He kept designing these
death traps," said Mach. "Only, they never worked.
They were really quite slip-shod and I felt kind of
embarrassed for him. The last time, he got stuck in
one of them and thought he was going to die. The trap
couldn't have killed a fly, much less a man."
Too low-profile to qualify as a laughingstock, Cash
became more and more delusional and, for reasons
unknown, he strangled his wife, Lydia, on the evening
of August 5, 1971. He then called the police and
turned himself in.
Reno Stout contributed reporting for this article from
AS YOU'RE ABOUT TO LEAVE, Harry asks you what DVDs
are, and it would make you sad if you weren't
chuckling. At first you say they're just like videos,
but he's equally unfamiliar with that.
"It lets you watch movies on TV," you say quickly.
Then, you get an idea. "There's some here?"
"Some DVDs? Yeah."
"Show me where."
THIS IS REALLY FUCKING LOW.
You could argue that robbing the bank was a
victimless crime; banks are federally-insured, so
you're not taking bread money from Ma and Pa Kettle
and clan. It wasn't like you mugged somebody, or
broke into somebody's house. That would be hurting
someone, right? Even the redhead, that didn't hurt
her. (She enjoyed it, you keep saying to yourself,
trying to justify your actions.)
But a library...
Gregory, when you steal from a library, you hurt
everybody. Well, not everybody, not you: this isn't
your library, isn't your community, so you're not
suffering. No one you know will be affected by the
theft of forty or fifty DVDs. That doesn't make it
okay, though, and you know it.
Nothing more chickenshit than stealing from a
library. This is a place open to all, where anyone
can come on in and use the materials. It is an
institution propagated on the free exchange of ideas,
and art; the library itself is based on a leap of
faith, an act of trust: libraries suffer, are
considered unimportant, especially next to the
firefighters and the police, and libraries are the
first to get cut when budgets get tight. And, it's
true, yes, the police, the firefighters, these are
people who save lives.
But libraries save souls.
You steal these DVDs from this little library,
you're taking probably twenty percent of their
collection. What will that do to their budget? Will
they replace them? Can they afford to?
Every movie you take off this shelf, that's another
one some kid can't see, or parent, or grandparent.
Every book that's stolen, that's another opportunity
to grow that's closed to these small-town Southern
kids. First thing to go when they cut back is the
internet, that thing you just used, free of charge, to
get your precious directions to Harry's precious
flying suit. Most of these people don't have it at
Another door closed.
Steal from a video store, or a big chain, or
whatever. At least then you're sticking it to
big-wigs who can afford it. But a library.
YOU FIND A BUYER QUICKLY.
The video-store looked a little sleazy; the owner
was one of those guys who didn't really like movies
and wouldn't stock no foreign shit in his store. He
almost doesn't buy some of these forty-seven DVDs you
bring him, until a clerk recognizes them for what they
"That's _Dead Ringers_. It's a damn good film,"
says the clerk. The hairy owner seems nonplussed
until the clerk continues: "This version, it's been
out of print for six, seven years now. It would cost
you sixty bucks, easy, on the internet. And that's if
you find it."
"I'll give you thirty for it," the owner says.
"But it's worth sixty on the internet. At least."
"Yep. But this isn't the internet."
Thirty's better than nothing. "Fine. And fifteen
each for the others." Fifteen? Shit. Why'd you
start so low?
"Ten." Fucking haggler.
You're four-hundred ninety dollars richer. You'll
be set now at least till Wisconsin, until the Museum.
Since you got rid of the merchandise, you don't
have to think about it.
It's easier to do the things you do when you don't
have to think.
YOU FILL UP YOUR TANK and you drive.
"WHEN'D YOUR WIFE DIE, AGAIN?"
"Uh-- eighty-nine. Cancer. The doctor said, you
know what she said? The doctor said that, these were
her last words: tell that schmuck that I love him."
"Yeah, you told me before. I just forgot the
"Yeah. I miss her, Greg."
"You got yourself a girl, that Sandy. Are you good
"I try to be. It's hard."
"She good to you?"
"Yeah, she's decent."
"Well, when you got a good woman, you got to be
good to her."
"HOW'D YOU BECOME THE GAS-MAN?"
"Oh, geez, Gregory. You really caught me off-guard
with that one. Let me see now...
"Well, like I told you before, we were poor, times
were tough, especially on account of I didn't have any
employment. I must have applied for eighty different
jobs. Eighty! And this was when the President was
telling us times were good, that this was a boom.
Well, times were tough and Lydia was working but I
wasn't. This caused quite a bit of friction, as I'm
sure you can understand. I certainly didn't feel
right, on account of I'm a man, I was a man or was
supposed to be, and I wasn't doing what a man is
supposed to do, and that's provide for your wife.
"But there was nothing out there! In order to get
a job, you needed to know somebody. And, finally, I
got to know somebody, and it looked like I might be
getting a job at this place called Hildebrandt
Technologies, this is in Jersey, where we was living
at the time. I got real friendly with this guy Steve,
and I showed him some of my designs. You see, I
forgot to tell you this. You know I was a gadgeteer,
but my whole life I was fiddling with stuff. Coming
up with ideas and what-not. I ain't one to toot my
own horn, but I was pretty good at it, too. As good
as 'Menlo' Parker? No. But still good.
"So I show Steve some of my ideas, of my designs,
and he goes gonzo over this. You're a smart guy, he
tells me, and I'm going to get you a job, he promises.
Take a month to go over your designs, to really
fine-tune them, and come in a month from now in a suit
and tie, and together, together Harry, we'll bowl them
over. I say this sounds good and I get to work.
"Things get a little quieter around the home front,
because this job is imminent. Lydia and I aren't
getting on each other's nerves as much, and she gives
me the time to work. Before, she wonders what I'm
doing, why I'm wasting my time on pipe dreams-- this
is on account of she was always very practical in her
thinking, not much of a dreamer, if you will. But
now, she lets me work, she brings me hot tea, and--
our love life was never great, I wasn't very good, and
our, uh, our couplings were never frequent, but things
heat up in that department. I'm sorry if I'm talking
about things you don't want to know about, kind of
"It's fine, Harry. So a month later..."
"A month later I come in, in my best suit, which is
also my only suit, having been purchased with the last
bit of Lydia's savings that weekend, on account of,
we've got an in, this job is a sure thing. Then I
find out there's three other people applying for the
same job, of which there are two open positions. It
makes me a little hot around the collar, but I know my
stuff is going to bowl these guys over, like Steve
said. In the end? The three other guys got the two
positions. Created one for the odd man out. They
were all good friends of one of the higher-ups.
"But I didn't know that at the time, and there I
was, with my suit, and my designs, one of which was
for the very same first suit I wore as the Gas-Man.
And as I'm showing my stuff off, Steve is getting a
little nervous, looking at me funny. And finally,
some of the bigwigs in the room just up and walk out.
I'm crushed. I say, what gives? And Steve puts on a
show, said that these are his designs that he let me
look at, stuff he's been working on a month already.
"Steve was always a very convincing talker. Hell,
I almost believed him. Almost. But no one is going
to say that the work I did is not the work I did.
Things get heated, words are bandied about, and either
way I end up home, with my designs, without a job,
Lydia's savings wasted on a suit. Lydia never took
much interest in the designs, even during that month
of bliss, and so when I told her what happened, she
was partial to siding with Steve. She didn't think I
had it in me to have one creative thought.
"She said if I didn't have a job by the end of the
month, she would throw me out. It was the
twenty-sixth of February. She had said such things
before, but this time she meant it. I knew that she
meant it, and I got scared. And then...
"It's like something in me took over, and I was
breaking into the building, not really thinking about
"Hildebrandt. Which building was I talking about?"
"And there in Steve's lab I find my suit, the one I
had designed, the one he had stolen from me a month or
so ago, the lying bastard. It was my design, so it
was my suit, and I took it. I put it on. The suit
was bullet-proof, made me impervious to damage, let me
fly through the air, was stocked with tubes that
sprayed gas. I loaded it up with gas and started what
the papers term a reign of terror.
"I know this isn't very detailed, but I can't
really go into my thought process. I was just angry,
I guess. My life, my marriage, it was all about to go
in the shitter because of this liar, this thief, this
Charlton. I destroyed the labs, all copies of my
designs. I should have been rich, Gregory. Or,
failing that, I should have had a few dollars to my
name. Just the opportunity, the right to provide for
my family, to feel like I mean something, like I have
"God and Steve and Hildebrandt had denied me that
right, so I was rebelling against all of them. And
you know what? It was glorious. I wouldn't trade it
for a second. And in those moments of anger, when I
crossed that line automatic-like, without thinking
about it, I found my calling.
"I'm a supervillain. Well, I prefer supercriminal,
you know. But I'm a participant in the most
exhilarating form of spectacle the world knows. More
drama and action than comics or movies, but it's
real-life. Like a gladiator or something. Pitting
your mind and your will against another. You haven't
lived until you've felt it.
"For the first time in my life, I was alive. So
I'm kind of glad I never found a job. Because if I
had, I may never have become the Gas-Man. The Gas-Man
is who I am.
"On the other hand... I'm Harry Cash, husband of
Lydia, and if I could have been like a husband to her,
a real husband, if I could have provided for her and
pulled my own weight, then I would have traded... oh,
Jesus, I would have given it all up. If I could have
spent a year acting like a man, I would be content
with being dead.
"No absolutes, Gregory. On one hand, I love what I
am and what I've done. On the other, I feel like a
shit for it. But ain't that always the way?"
YOU DON'T RESPOND.
There's a good possibility, here, that Harry Cash
is a god-damn liar and murderer, that you're sitting
in this car, driving a murderer to pick up a suit of
metal so you can start a life of crime together. Not
that you're one to talk (your mother didn't put
herself in the grave). If you follow on this path,
maybe Harry's right, maybe you will live like you've
never lived before, maybe your life will have value.
But the cost is Sandy. You're pushing her away.
It's amazing that she's still talking to you, still
begging you to come home after this long. Most would
have given up. You would have.
You love her, don't you?
So why not just head on home? Why not return to
Sandy and to your job... well, the job's probably
blown to shit since you went AWOL for nearly a month.
But, beyond that...
Cassandra Drazek loves you. If you've got a good
woman... you've got to be good to her...
Just go home, Gregory. Sandy's a sure thing.
YOU KEEP DRIVING TOWARDS WISCONSIN. With Harry.
IT'S A SCRAP OF CLOTH. No bigger than your coiled
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 asterisk 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.
NOW, HERE'S SOMETHING UTTERLY BIZARRE.
Here we find the fossilized 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 Khrushchev, 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.
AND NOW SOMETHING UTTERLY SOBERING.
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
"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."
A QUESTION BURNS INSIDE YOU:
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?)
THEY'RE NOT THE SAME THING.
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 mischief 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?
YEAH, YEAH, IT WAS ACCIDENTAL.
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
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
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
Why do you hate your mother?
YOU AVOID ANSWERING YOUR QUESTION, and instead follow
Harry to the next exhibit in the Museum.
"YOU MUST BE HARRY CASH."
The voice comes from behind you and Harry, and it
startles you as you look at the battered and worn
gauntlet 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
"I'm Elliot Goodman," he said, "owner, curator, and
"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 SO, YOU FOLLOW HIM.
"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?)
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 renown 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
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.
MAYBE THIS, THEN, IS WHY.
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.
FLASH-FORWARD: THE VERY NEAR FUTURE.
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
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.
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
"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
"Very famous, very wealthy man," Harry sums up. No
anecdotes 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 proportion, 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
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.
"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
"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,
"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."
THAT NIGHT, YOU CALL SANDY.
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
WATCHING Taxi Driver, THAT'S WHAT.
"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
"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
"Yeah, come on," you say. "Throw the guy a
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
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
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
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
JUST HOW POWERFUL ARE YOU?
What is this power inside you?...
... and where did it come from?
QUESTIONS, QUESTIONS, QUESTIONS: NO ANSWERS.
NEVER ANY ANSWERS.
AT TEN, YOU TRY TO sleep. Try, of course, being the
"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?"
"So, just get some sleep, take a little cat nap."
"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."
HERE'S HARRY'S BEDDY TIME TALE:
"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 amalgam of both, on account of he had
both their powers when he was in the one body. But,
then, being an amalgam, 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 garbage 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
"Nope. Or, yes. I don't know where they come
"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.
YOU GET TO THE MUSEUM a little bit after twelve, as
planned, and the door, contrary to Goodman's promise,
is locked tighter than a Catholic's thighs on Ash
Wednesday. Wednesday. You've always hated the word
Wednesday, Gregory. Silent letters bother you.
Especially in the middle of words.
Wednesday. Wed. Nes. Day. Wendsday. Better. Ah.
"Unlock," you say, and the door unlocks, the
tumblers tumbling like tumblers tumble. Then: a
squeak, a squeal, a siren: the alarm sounds.
"Off," you say, the instant it happens, and the
alarm turns off.
"Son of a sea-horse," says Harry. "That's amazing.
"Let's just hope none of the guards on duty heard
They did; here they come, a bunch of rent-a-cops
with guns pointed at you, shouting out freeze! and on
the floor!, hands behind your head! and every other
cliché that the rent-a-teacher teaches rent-a-cops at
"Drop your guns," you say, and their guns fall to
the floor. "Sleep." And they do, swooning like
Victorian maids. Rent-a-Victorians.
AN HOUR LATER. STILL HERE.
You check on the rent-a-Victorians and tell them to
keep sleeping before you wind your way back to Harry,
and his suit's exhibit. Harry and his suit.
"You sure it wouldn't be easier to carry it?"
He gets indignant. "It's two hundred pounds of
iron, Gregory. Only way we leave with this suit, is
for me to wear it."
Part of you doubts that. If it was so heavy, Harry
wouldn't be able to have worn it and walked around in
the first place. Part of you says, the reason we're
still here is that for thirty years, Harry's wanted to
wear this suit again. And that part of you is
sentimental and says, let the old guy put on his suit.
It's been thirty years.
Which is the problem: Harry Cash is thirty years
heavier, and is having a great deal of difficulty
getting into his suit. Which is why you've been here
an hour. This was supposed to be in and out, like
that (snap!), easy, like the bank.
The bank feels so far away...
But it still nags you. Shouldn't the police be
looking for you? Shouldn't they have caught you by
now? Are they looking for you, only you don't really
know it? Why are you asking all these questions?
Maybe Harry's right, like Two-in-One: you robbed
the bank, got away with it. You don't know how you
got away with it, but so what? Leave well enough
alone. Before you worry yourself sick. Or insane.
Or you get yourself caught by snooping.
But, maybe it's this: you don't like questions
without answers. You're a cerebral guy. You want
things to make sense. The pieces must fit. Your
power is one that deals with definites, with logic,
And yet, you said one thing-- you told Cybil
Shepherd to fuck Bobby De Niro and, voila!: the entire
film changed, new scenes, new dialogue, new acting
choices, new music, new shots, new locales. Where did
it all come from? Did all this come from you? From
your unconscious mind?
How powerful is that mind, then? What lurks deep
What are the limits of your power? You thought you
had tested them, but you hadn't even thought of this.
What if you bought ninety minutes worth of blank film
and told it to be a great American masterpiece. Would
a film appear? (Could be money in that...) Would the
film play just one time, like your feel-good _Taxi
Could you alter the pages of a book? Or music?
Finally. He's got the suit on.
"How do I look?" His voice is muffled.
You lie. "Look good, Harry."
"I don't know about that." The voice is not yours;
the voice is not Harry's. It's cocky, whiny. You
turn around and see a blur coming your way. "Think
it's way, way too retro."
The blur settles and comes into focus, takes a
human shape. Tall. Lean. Fast.
Spandex. A superhero. Fuck. A superhero.
"A speedster," Harry says. "Fuck. A speedster."
His black costume covers his whole body, not even
his face is visible, not even his eyes. Just a
shadow. A blur. "Yeah, definitely out of fashion.
What do you think, Pachy?"
From out of the darkness leaps a heavy, hulking
gray mass with cylinders for feet. Another costume.
A superhero. Fuck. Two superheroes. This one has
big elephant ears, and a trunk, too, mechanical,
whirring about, expanding, telescoping. "For the last
time, Darkhorse, the name is Pachyderm, not Pachy.
And I think this is definitely a job for the fashion
"But, since they're not here," says Darkhorse, "I
guess we'll have to do the job for them, right, Mrs.
From out of the floor like a curl of smoke comes a
girl with goggles slapped over her eyes. Maybe she's
eighteen, nineteen. Young, though. Her costume is
black, too, but adorned with a twinkling gold belt.
"It's, uh, it's Dr. Metronome."
"Sorry." Darkhorse turns to you with a shrug.
"She's new. Just met her. She hasn't gotten the
snappy patter thing down yet."
"Enough talk," grumbles Pachyderm.
"Yeah. Let's get down to it, then, shall we?"
Darkhorse. Pachyderm. Dr. Metronome.
A BRUSQUE, UGLY SOUND AND Harry's in the air, flying.
His arm's outstretched, he's throwing his weight
towards the trio and starting to come back down,
starting to attack. Darkhorse grabs Dr. Metronome--
who protests-- and speeds out of the way while the
Pachyderm stands his ground. He does more than stand
his ground: he takes the offensive.
His trunk telescopes and hits Harry's
rust-encrusted head-piece, and Harry spins back, his
heels wheeling up towards the ceiling before the whole
hunk of junk comes down. Harry lands on his head--
his nearly eighty year old skull-- and then the rest
of him plops down, belly-to-floor. Before you can
even think of running towards him, you get the wind
knocked out of you, and now you're the one flying
through the air-- horizontal, not vertical--
Pachyderm's hit you with his trunk and your back is
crashing into the...
Oh, Christ, here comes that god-damn trunk again.
"Shove it up your ass!"
The trunk isn't under his control anymore. It
turns on a dime in the air, telescoping, stretching,
sneaking up behind him and shoving itself, well, up
his ass, fast and hard and bloody.
Darkhorse thinks it's funny (he's a snappy patter
kind of costume), and as you stagger towards Harry's
prone form, you hear the speedster say, "Well, now you
know how those girls felt in those tentacle monster
"Harry, are you okay?"
"Uh, sort of, yeah. Suit took most of it. Not
enough of it, but most of it."
You feel something moving inside you, inside your
arms, like wind in your bones. It's the girl. You
forgot about her. Shit. She's got you in a full
nelson. "He probably needs medical attention," she
says. "I suggest you give up."
"You phase through stuff, right?"
"You become immaterial?"
"Then do it."
And, against her will, she does. You move like a
tiger, or as tiger-like as you can, feeling her body
breeze through you again. "And solid." And she does,
solid as bone, and you punch the little bitch square
in the nose, blood flying out, her hair billowing as
she falls on the ground. You try to scramble away but
now her feet are flying, and she trips you. Now it's
your turn to fall. Flat on your face. And now your
nose is bleeding.
Darkhorse is running towards you. Shit. But:
And he does. Not just to normal speed. But slow,
moving like a woman with scoliosis, a walker, and a
year of life left in her. And then you hear this
scream, this god-awful scream.
The speedster's freaking out. (Why? Wonder what
that's all about?)
But now Dr. Metronome has got you by the hair and
is slamming your face into the floor. She does this
again, and again, and again. She's a smart cookie;
she's probably figured out exactly what your power is.
If she knocks you out, you can't talk. So talk. Say
Not that. Idiot.
"Menstruate. Heavy. Heavy flow. Cramps. Bad
She lets go of your hair and crumbles to the floor,
grabbing her stomach. As you get up, she tries to
reach for you, still trying.
A swift kick to the face sends her reeling.
So: Pachyderm is hemorrhaging from the huge
freaking hole where his ass used to be. Darkhorse has
been reduced to a simpering infant. And Metronome is
having feminine troubles. Is this all you think of
women, Gregory? Either cooing, orgasming sluts to be
sated or bitches to be punished?
Strange. The way you use your powers, you sure act
No time, though, no time for introspection.
Harry's on his feet now, a little dizzy but able to
walk. Better blow this joint.
"JUST TAKE THE COSTUME OFF."
"No," Harry says. "That will take more time."
"You'll have to take it off anyway. Before we get
back to the motel."
"Let's not go to the motel. Let's move on."
"Where? What's next?"
"I don't know. But a different city. We got to
find a hero to unmask."
"Why don't we just unmask them?"
"Okay, okay. Code of honour. Fine. Spectacle.
Fine. But before we get to wherever we go, you've got
to take off the suit."
"Then we'll stop along the way. It will take too
"It's taking too much time now, Harry. I can't get
you to fit in the car. The suit's too freaking big."
"I can squeeze in. Let me try again."
"Oh, Jesus Christ."
"Call me Gas-Man. When I'm wearing the suit."
"Just get in the car, Gas-Man."
AFTER THAT'S TAKEN CARE OF...
You drive. Harry lies down in the back seat, his
huge power-boots hanging out the window.
"You did pretty good there, kid."
"Yeah? Yeah, I guess I did."
"Quick thinking on your part."
"A little too vicious for my tastes, you know."
"What do you mean? I saved our asses."
"I know. Quick thinking, like I said. But it
lacked finesse." This from the man wearing the
sewn-together flying trash can. (Though it did fly,
"That couldn't have been more than a minute, huh?"
"Like I said, quick thinking."
"Most of these things, Harry. Uh, battles or
whatever. They take longer?"
"Uh, most of them? No. Most of them are pretty
short. The trick, you see, the trick is to be
adaptable, you know? Reason why all three of them
went down for the count? It was on account of you
thought quicker. Now, that Metronome girl-- that
reminds me. That's weird. I knew a Dr. Metronome,
back in the day."
"That's fine, Harry. But you were saying?"
"I don't know. What was I saying?"
"Uh, I thought quicker, but that Metronome girl."
"I don't know." He snaps his fingers. It sounds
like a car wreck a couple blocks over. "Oh, right,
now I remember. What I was going to say was, she was
smart, she adapted. You did your first move and then
she countered it. And that's the way it is, quick
wits, powers, brute strength, etc., who tops who, and
the only reason it ends is on account of person A or
person B doesn't respond quick enough to the next
challenge, and there's a new challenge every second.
So, to make a long story short..."
"... yes, most battles are that quick. But you did
good, Gregory. Only suggestion?"
"Don't be so vicious?"
"That, and you should maybe wear a mask, or a
"Maybe a mask. Mask would be a good idea. But I'm
not getting into any spandex, any capes or anything.
I'm not a supervillain."
"And yet, you just fought three superheroes-- and
well, I might add-- and won. Hell, you beat a fucking
speedster, Gregory! Speedsters are always a
pain-in-the-ass. Also, you should have a code-name."
"Why do I need a code-name?"
"Because. So you don't get caught when you're
doing your civilian thing."
"So I wear a mask."
"But what do I call you when we're on business?
Gregory won't work."
"Don't need to call me anything. I think I can
figure out when you're talking to me. When it's,
everybody freeze, this is a stick up, you're not
talking to me. When it's, watch out for that guy,
you're talking to me. I'm not stupid. I ain't going
to get confused."
"I can call you Gas-Lad, maybe."
"That doesn't make any sense."
"Neither does Gas-Man. I mean, I used to use
gases, but mostly I flew around in one of these suits.
Damn, it feels good to be in this suit."
"I'm glad you feel good, Harry."
"Yeah. Feel better than I felt in thirty years.
But I feel weird though, too. Like, it's all cold
inside me. Feels like a breeze or something, but in
A hand springs out of your chest, and grabs a hold
of the wheel, turning it off the side of the road.
The arm is immaterial; the hand is not.
Shit, you're going to crash into something if
you're not careful, you're driving on the grass, do
something Gregory, do something!
You put on the brakes (even though this is what she
wants) because you can't crash the car. The hand
becomes immaterial again and pulls itself away from
your body. In a moment, she's outside.
She opens the door.
"Step out," she says.
"Sleep." She slumps over. Why didn't you think of
that in the first place?
"Now we got a hostage."
"No way, Harry. Let's just leave her here."
"I don't want her on our trail."
"She has no idea where we're going. Shit, Harry--"
"Call me Gas-Man."
"She has no idea where we're going. We don't even
have any idea where we're going!"
"True. But I'd rather know where she is, and be in
control of the situation."
"Okay. Fine. We got ourselves a hostage."
Kidnapping. Wow, you're kidnapping someone.
"Glad you see what a smart move it is."
"But what do we do with her... Gas... Man? We
don't have a hideout or anything."
"We'll go back to the motel."
"Go back to the motel? Why the fuck would we go
back to the motel? This is ridiculous."
"Because we can fly in our window. I left it open.
So no one suspects. I come in with a big metal suit
and carrying an unconscious woman over my shoulder to
register for a room, we're in deep shit."
"So take off the god-damn suit, Harry!"
FOR REASONS BEYOND YOUR COMPREHENSION, you drive back
to the motel, and Harry flies in through the window.
You take the stairs.
"Now, I knew the old Dr. Metronome," Harry tells
you once you've locked the door. "He wasn't no hero,
he was a supervillain like me. Not as good as I was.
But still good."
The question is, is he not as good as Harry was, or
not as good as Harry claims slash thinks he was?
Questions, questions, questions.
"He phased though, too, and this looks to be the
same suit. Maybe a little altered for her size. But
about the same."
You know he's blushing behind his mask. God-damn
stupid looking suit. "The suit is the source of the
power, then. What makes her phase, makes her tough to
keep in one place."
"And...?" You know what he's going to say. Why
torture the old man, Gregory? What's wrong with you?
Do you get pleasure from making him squirm?
"So it needs to come off."
"Then take it off."
"I can't, what with my suit, I don't have fine
motor movement, you know?"
"Then take off your suit."
"I don't want to take it off just yet."
"Gas-Man, please take off your suit. You've got to
be hot in there."
"I'm going to stand on the roof."
He's heading towards the window.
"Harry, we're trying to keep a low profile here."
"Gas-Man. Just for a minute. It's been so long
since I've stood on a roof."
"You know, you're really scaring me..."
But it's too late. He's heading out the window,
and up. "You better get the suit off of her and tie
FIRST, THE BELT.
You undo the buckle and lay the two portions of the
strap on either side of her. You start to pull it
from underneath her and she begins to stir. "Stay
asleep. Sound asleep. Sleep deep. Sweet dreams."
You get the belt away from her body and put it on
the floor, near the window. You look out the window
and up, craning your neck. Harry's standing up there
like a god-damn rust-coloured beacon. What the fuck
is going on, man?
THE UNIFORM'S JUST ONE PIECE, with a zipper that
extends from the collar to her lower abdomen. Black
is a slimming colour, and, like most super-outfits,
this one is form-fitting. You can see the little bit
of baby fat she hasn't quite managed to lose, and her
breasts swell snugly with each deep-sleep breath. You
command her to stay asleep and your finger grabs hold
of the zipper.
It's so quiet now, can't even hear cars outside.
What time is it? Only one-thirty? Shit. What an
hour and a half this has been. So quiet. Not even
cars. Or crickets. Or Harry. (Standing on the
Only sound is the zipper. Unzipping. Slow. Ly.
Its tiny clenched teeth coming undone, it's metal lips
parting. Open. Inviting. Ready.
She's fair-skinned; freckles begin to appear in the
valley between the metal teeth. You notice now that
she has freckles on her face, too. Like the redhead
did. Redhead had freckles on her hands. You keep a
hold of the zipper but stop zipping to look at Dr.
Metronome's hands. No freckles. Huh.
You continue unzipping, and as you wind your way
farther down, the river of flesh revealed by the
unzipping becoming more a delta, flooding your eyes,
you begin to see the freckles that adorn her left
breast as just the barest hint of it becomes visible.
No undies, either. Your thumb, which along with
your first finger grips the zipper, brushes against
the first wisps of her pubic hair. Oh lord. Been so
long. Since the redhead. Since Sandy. Since you
even masturbated. Been so long.
You remind her to stay asleep as you pull the
spandex off. You stare at her knees as you do so,
because this is wrong. What you're doing in and of
itself-- kidnapping someone, a superhero, undressing
them-- is wrong. And it would be wrong to look at her
body once you've undressed her.
But you look anyway. Been so long. So long.
God, she's good-looking. Her breasts are riddled
with freckles, they're soft and fleshy. Well, you
don't know about those last two. Those are tactile
words, tactile sensations. Why not have a quick feel
before you throw one of Harry's old shirts over her?
Just a quick feel.
Harry's still outside. He'll never know. She'll
never know. Sandy will never know. Just you.
It's cold in here. The window's still open. Her
nipples are getting taut. So, just a quick feel. And
maybe after that, a little kiss? A little suck? A
little tit-fuck? A little sleeping-beauty-blowjob? A
You see how this works, Gregory? Hell, you know
how this works. You give a little here, it's so easy
to give a little the next time, isn't it? Just a
little more... a little more... and then, and then
you've done something... something heinous. Something
Are you evil? No. At least, you don't think you
are. But yet, you're considering an act of evil.
A little feel isn't evil though, is it, not
But, it can lead to so many other things. An
example to prove this point: you're staring at her
body now (well, at her breasts, which are part of her
body). Why are you staring at her body, when you know
it's wrong? No, don't go and look at her knees again.
Don't be an ass. Don't be ashamed. Who are you
being ashamed for? You don't feel any shame, you
prick. It's a show. But for who? No one here, no
one but god, who isn't fooled. And yourself. Don't
fool yourself. Don't play games. Let's get to the
You knew it was wrong when you started to stare at
her body. But you said, hey, it's just a little
gazing. A little aesthetic experience. Nothing wrong
with that, is there? No harm, anyway. But then the
next thought is, why don't I just grab one of her
tits? What's the harm in that?
And the next question would be, what's the harm in
kissing it a little, in sucking a little... etc. The
fact is, even undressing her is a violation. Is it
Not exactly, no. But know what the difference is,
Gregory: it's not a matter of just a little looking or
just a little grabby-hands, something relatively
innocent versus something evil. That's the rationale
you've used to not feel guilty about the redhead (but
you still feel guilty, don't you?).
The fact is, the difference does not lie in one
thing being (sorta) good and the other evil. Any
violation is evil, Gregory. A willful act of malice.
The difference is only a matter of degree.
The redhead was one degree. The undressing is
another. The looking is a third. Feeling would be
fourth. Et cetera. Each, just a little step, each
step still capable of being justified or filed under
mischief. But each is also a step closer towards the
point where you can't justify it, and once you get to
that point, you've already transgressed so much that
it doesn't matter if it can be justified: it gets to
the point where you don't even care. Where's the
line, then, Gregory? You undressed her and looking
was the line you would not crossed, and then you
crossed it. Now the line's drawn at feeling. A
harmless bit of groping.
You look at her breasts again. "Stay asleep."
God! God, they are soft. Feels so good in your
hands. It's been so long since you've felt a nice
ripe pair of tits. Since you've felt a woman. Your
eyes trail down to her pussy, still red with menstrual
blood. You tell it to stop. Been so long since...
No. A quick feel of her tits and that was it.
Drawn the line.
You prop her up to a sitting position and, with a
little difficultly, you put Harry's shirt over her,
and some boxer shorts. "Keep sleeping."
You tie her to the chair with some rope.
HARRY COMES DOWN FROM THE roof. He doesn't take off
the stupid iron suit, but instead clunks along,
waddling towards the bed. He plops down and the
springs cry under the strain, under the weight. He
looks at her sleeping, at the rope that binds her to
the chair, and turns to you. It's so weird, not being
able to see his face. Especially when he's talking.
"That's my shirt?"
"Yeah. And your boxers."
"Huh. See you left her goggles on."
"Yeah." Code of honour and all that. He didn't
have to tell you.
He's not as talkative as Harry is supposed to be.
His voice sounds strange enough, coming through an
inch of iron. But it's even weirder when the words
are coming out clipped. He used to have oral
diarrhea. Now it's diberticulitis.
Doesn't talk with his hands, either. Just sits
there. Still. Like a robot. No. Like a statue. A
computer. Feels like he's not in there at all, like
the body before you is being controlled by remote.
"I said, what time is it?"
"How long was I on the roof?"
"Close to three hours."
"You been awake all that time?"
"She's been asleep all that time?"
"I'm tired, Gas-Man."
"Oh. I'm not. I want to do something. You want
to do something?"
"Sure, what do you want to do?"
"I don't know."
"Not much to do. Not at four in the morning."
"Go fishing, maybe?"
"At four in the morning? Fish are asleep, Harry.
"Hmm. Suppose you're right. You want to go
fishing in the morning?"
"Like, dawn or something?"
"Yeah, like at dawn."
"Maybe ten o' clock. But... um..."
"We got a hostage, Harry. I don't think you're
supposed to take them fishing, or leave them alone.
We got to figure out what we're going to do next,
where to, what to do with the girl. All that stuff."
"Yeah. You're right."
"I know I am."
"I would like to go fishing, though. Like... I
never had anybody to take fishing, you know. And...
Did, did anyone ever take you fishing?"
"Uh, off the pier a couple times with my dad. But
not like a father-son thing, never out in a boat, you
know, all that bullshit."
"Hmm. I want to go fishing."
"Well, let's get somewhere good, somewhere safe,
get started on the next step, and then we'll go
fishing, okay, Harry?"
YOU'VE BEEN UP ALL NIGHT.
Trying to get a handle on things. Where you are,
where you've been, what's next. Especially what's
next. The official plan is that, having retrieved
Harry's flying rustbucket from the museum, you will
find a hero to unmask and then, creating a situation
fraught with drama, cause the hero to take off their
mask in public, thus creating a name for yourselves
and becoming super-criminals for hire, independent
schmucks for the highest bidder. That's the plan,
anyway. Question is, will you go through with it?
Sandy loves you. Sandy misses you. And you treat
her like shit. You talk to her like you intend on
coming home, but do you? Because if you do this thing
with Harry, if you follow this path, it's very likely
that the two things are mutually exclusive. Why did
you leave in the first place? Why didn't you just
turn back the moment you crossed the state line?
Well, first off, you were scared, damn scared, of
what? Of Sandy? Of telling her you robbed the bank?
Of the consequences of your actions? You say no, but
you say it too quickly and with too much feeling
behind it. Because, let's face it, you are scared of
reaping what you sow.
That's probably why you're scared now. Let's look
at the situation: you're in a hotel room, having
gotten not a wink of sleep, dawn approaching, with a
sleeping iron-clad supervillain on the bed and a tied
up, partially undressed superhero in a chair. There
were two other supers, one seeming to have gone batty
and the other about to make life-long friends with his
proctologist. You did that. These are your actions,
your choices, and most of them were the wrong ones
from a moral point of view. But let's look deeper.
Let's look at just plain old screw-ups, like
kidnapping the superhero when you should have left her
in a field, or returning to your hotel room when you
should be well over the state border by now. Or
staying in the hotel room, not sleeping, knowing very
well that sooner or later (sooner) the police, the
supers, everybody's going to be at your door. This is
the situation. The situation that you created. And
it looks like there are two options, two generally
vague ways to deal with this.
First off: you could play this hand you've dealt
yourself. Figure out what to do with the hostage,
figure out how to get to safety, continue with your
plan. This would require quick thinking and fancy
footwork on your part, both being ostensibly your
forte, but both having been demonstrated quite poorly
in the last month or so.
Or, your second option is the one you've been
following all along: run away. Get out of this hotel
room right now and drive. Drive to Sandy, or drive
somewhere else (running away from her, too).
Actually, should you get out of this intact and
proceed with the "unmask-a-superhero" plan, you're
really just running away from Sandy anyway, which is
what you've been doing since day one, and so you're
running away either way.
So why not go with option two? Why not leave Harry
and Dr. Metronome here and exit stage right,
snagglepuss, go back home with your tail between your
legs, lick your wounds, et cetera? Leave this great,
half-finished adventure behind you. It would be par
for the course, and a whole lot safer than being
surrounded by cops. Just. Run. Away.
Harry's starting to go bonkers anyway. Won't get
out of that suit even though it must be a hundred
degrees. And he's old, so damn old, might not have a
year left in him. He's a pathetic, broken-down old
man, trying to recapture the fleeting glory that never
was his to begin with, pillowing himself with stories
and anecdotes and delusions. The man is an
exaggerator at best and a liar at worse. He murdered
his wife and tells you she died years later, and of
cancer, with Harry being her last thoughts. He's a
pathetic, feeble son-of-a-bitch whose life has just
been one long bad joke. Even if you somehow went
through with this insane plan of his, he'd botch it up
so badly that the last few months would only be the
Hell, he was no help in the museum at all. You did
all the fighting. And you won, too. You're damn
powerful, Gregory Dingham, able to fell even the most
ornery opponent with a single word. No one could stop
you. Harry would be a hindrance at best. You, you
alone, you could carry out his plan. Simple as cake.
Not even a sweat. Hell, you don't even need a plan.
You could make a name for yourself just with your
power. Superheroes would fall. Nations would... oh,
what is this bullshit? You need more sleep, man!
First off, you don't want fame, notoriety, power,
or even respect. That's not why you've been going
along with this plan. It's not an ego thing. Or if
it is, it's only a small part of it. With or without
Harry, you're not the world-conquering type, and you
don't want to hurt anyone. Remember that guy,
Deathrow, how he poisoned those people, killed so
many, and for what? You're no terrorist, Gregory.
You're not evil.
But you are violent. You could just as well have
told those supers "sleep", just like you've done to
others before and since, and boom, they'd be knocked
out cold. But the midnight battle at the museum
revealed a particularly vicious nasty streak in you.
There's something just not quite right about shoving
something cold and metal that far and that hard up
someone's ass. And what about Dr. Metronome here, the
girl in the chair? How did she get in that chair?
Well, first off, you told her period to start, and you
made it heavy, painful, full of cramps, with a
migraine on the side.
That's sick, man. And more than that, that's
misogyny. It's deeper than a mere prank or
self-defense or whatever. Something like that isn't
conjured up in the heat of the moment. Something like
that comes from somewhere darker, something deep and
festering inside you. It was a way of asserting
superiority over a woman, reducing them to an object,
be it of scorn or a sex object. It was a power thing.
And you know it, too: it's only confirmed by the way
you groped her breasts, and considered doing worse,
before you tied her up (tied. her. up. repeat:
Or, maybe it isn't so wide-spread after all: maybe
this is something very specific, a very particular
grudge against a single person being inflicted upon
others. And that person would be Sandy. Scoff if you
like, but you have a lot of hostility towards her: you
did, after all, risk killing her just to check if you
could control your powers. And you probably resented
the way she would ask you to make her come, also with
your powers. The way it made you subservient to her.
And so, you ran away from her, taking that power away
from her. You even used it against her, told her to
come even though she asked you not to do it anymore.
And, in case you're not paying attention, class, this
assertion of power/venting of hostility is, to some
degree, equivalent to a sexual violation, a few steps
removed from rape. You did the same thing with the
redhead, and with Dr. Metronome, you've gone a step
further, touching her body when she asleep.
Basically, what you really want to do is rape your
Make her pay.
But for what? What has she done to you? Why do
you hate her? You don't? You love her? Then why are
you here instead of there?
Why are you so angry at Sandy? Why do you hate
your mother? Why did you kill your mother? Why did
you try to kill Sandy? (Because you hate your
mother.) Why do you hate your father?
Whoa. Where'd that come from?
But, maybe that's it, exactly. Maybe the reason
you're in the room, the reason that you can't bring
yourself to leave Harry but instead have decided to go
along with his doomed, half-assed plan is: Harry. You
like Harry Cash. You like his stories, you like
talking to him, spending time with him. He's a liar
and a murderer and borderline incompetent, but, so
what? You're all those things and probably a lot
In short, Harry Cash is everything your father
isn't, and everything you wanted your father to be.
DR. METRONOME WAKES BEFORE HARRY.
You've been staring at her for about fifteen,
twenty minutes, watching the dawn creep into her hair
from the window next to her, and wondering, basically,
what the hell you're going to do with her. Just leave
her here and skedaddle? Sounds sensible. Hell,
that's what you should have done in the field six
hours ago. But no. You took her back with her, took
her here, and why? Because Harry said so? Look, you
might like the guy, Gregory, but his decision-making
skills are severely impaired, and probably have been
for a long time. You're supposed to be such a smart
guy. Well, act it, then. Start making the decisions.
This is a responsibility thing again: if you let
Harry make all the decisions and something goes awry,
it's not your fault, is it? You're just along for the
ride. Well, if to come out of this thing with both of
you intact, then you've got to start driving. But.
Anyway. She's up.
She stares at you for a long time, and you stare
back. What happens now? Having never kidnapped
someone before, and not having a particular plan per
se behind this abduction, you're not quite sure how to
proceed. And, you might assume that this is the first
time she's found herself tied up and in someone's
clutches. So she has no idea what gives, either.
And so you stare.
HARRY WAKES WITH A MOAN.
"Gas-Man! Are you okay?" You leap up out of your
bed and rush to his. The girl watches you move and
you smirk a little, embarrassed by your display. But
maybe the melodrama is for her benefit after all.
Maybe you're just playing a part. For a long time in
your life, especially in these kind of moments, you
wonder if you're being honest or if you're putting on
a show. That's an uncomfortable feeling.
"I'm fine. Just need help getting off my back,
It's a bit of a strain, but you get him sitting up.
"Thank you. You called me Gas-Man," he says,
hugging you with his cold, heavy arms. "You
"Of course, Gas-Man." This feels silly, too: feels
like you're lying. His name is Harry. You should
call him Harry. "The, um, the girl's up."
"Ah," he says, the iron joints squeaking as he nods
his bullet-shaped helmet.
"What, um..." Your voice gets quieter. "What are
we going to do with her?"
Harry whispers, also. It's hard to hear through
the mask. "Hadn't really thought of it. Had to sleep
on it, you know."
"Yeah... I got nothing. I don't know. What do you
want to do?"
"I don't know. I've never kidnapped someone
"Neither have I."
"Yes, you have."
"Well, not really," he says, a little
uncomfortable, perhaps, with the semantics involved.
"I mean, I've captured the occasional damsel in
distress to lure a hero to my lair, et cetera, et
cetera. But we ain't luring a hero. She is the
"So, what do we do?"
"Is she hungry?"
He speaks louder, aiming his voice towards the girl
in the chair. "Are you hungry?"
"A bit." Her voice is hoarse. "Mostly thirsty."
"I'll get you a glass of water." Harry stands up.
You try to help him, but he pats your arm. He can get
up on his feet now by himself, thanks anyway. And,
his feet stomping across the room, he heads to the
bathroom and turns on the tap.
"Gonna let it run a bit," he explains. "Get the
"Thank you." She turns her goggle-covered eyes to
you, and, embarrassed, you smile. "You didn't rape me
or anything, did you?"
"We, we have your costume. We had to change your--
She shrugs, but, being restrained by the rope, it
doesn't look like a shrug. So she nods instead.
Harry thumps back across the room and holds the glass
up to her lips. She parts them slightly and lets the
water seep through. Some rolls down her chin, and you
start to get an erection. Harry takes the glass from
her lips and she gives another little nod. "Thank
you." Voice is still hoarse, but not as much. "So.
What's the plan, gentlemen?"
You look to Harry, or rather to the bulky faceless
form that contains him. "Um... we're not sure,
"Well, you've kidnapped me. Tied me up. Taken
away my suit."
Harry suddenly blurts out, "How's Adam?" This hits
her like the punch in the nose you gave her last
"Yeah, yeah. We teamed up a couple times, back in
the sixties. Are you his daughter or something?"
"Something. Uh. Secret identity and all that."
"Oh, I know, I know. That's why we left the
goggles on. Out of deference."
"Well, thank you."
"So, you're a hero, then?" This is amazing. The
way he's talking to her, the interest he's showing,
the interest that comes through the muffling of his
voice and the restricted movement of his suit. This
is more than amazing. This is ridiculous.
"So how is he? Adam?"
"Oh, that's too bad. Cancer?"
"Yeah, I lost my wife to cancer, this is back in
"I'm sorry to hear that."
"Me too. Lord. Me too." He heaves a sigh.
Sounds like air escaping a bellows. "So, Adam's gone,
"Yeah. He's gone. He was... like... a father to
"Hmm. You want to hear a story about him?"
"Gas-Man," you say.
"Let's not tell her any stories, okay?"
"Because we need to concentrate on what's important
right now. You can tell me the story later, okay?
She's probably already heard it."
"Okay." His metal shoulders slump.
"We need to figure out what we're going to do."
"Yeah, what's the plan?" This is the girl asking
this. A little irritating. Shouldn't she be cowering
"The plan is you shut your mouth and let me think."
"Gregory," says Harry. "No reason to be nasty
about it. You want another glass of water, sweetie?"
She nods. You stare at her, incredulous and angry,
as Harry again waddles towards the bathroom and lets
the faucet run. "For the rust," he explains again, as
if anyone didn't know. Now, it's her turn to be
embarrassed, to be self-conscious.
"Look," she says. "I don't know what-- I'm not
trying to piss you off, okay? Or be snippy. I
realize that I'm kind of in a tough spot here, that
the only way I get out of this chair is you let me out
of this chair. And I'm not going to try to talk you
into it, to trick you or anything, because that's not
something I think I'd be especially good at. But it
looks like you don't know what you're doing, either."
"Now, I don't mean it like that."
"She doesn't mean it like that," Harry says, coming
in with the water. He holds it up to her lips again.
"I think she wants to help us."
"Not exactly," she says. "But the sooner you
figure out what you're doing, the sooner I get out of
this chair. So, let's figure out what your plan is."
"What, like where we're going?" This is bullshit!
"So you follow us the minute you're free and capture
"Then, let's not tell me that part of the plan,
then. Let's just tell me the part that involves me.
Now. What are you going to do with me?"
"I don't know. Got to think about it."
"Let's talk about it, then. What are your options?
You can, first off, you can just leave me here in
this room and leave."
"That sounds good."
"Okay. Then let's do that."
Wait! "Wait, wait. What if there's like, people
waiting for us, or looking for us?"
"Then you've got a hostage, don't you?" she says.
"You've got someone to guarantee your safety. One
hitch, though. You take me over the border, and
you've fucked yourself royally."
Harry and you both say it at the same time.
"That's right. Lindbergh law. Now, you could use
me to barter for something. You exchange me for a
plane, or for money, or whatever. But the minute they
got me, they've got you. They'll come running. This
is why kidnapping is a very stupid crime."
A moment passes; after that moment has come and
gone, you've slapped her across the face. Happened so
quick, so sudden. Automatic. You mumble a feeble
apology and sit down on your bed. And think.
HARRY TELLS HER THE STORY about Adam Rabinowitz, the
original Dr. Metronome, but you don't really listen.
Every option seems to be a dead-end, and you really
can't make a decision without the information, without
knowing what's going on.
So you turn on the news, and you find out.
THEY THINK YOU'RE STILL IN town, and they're looking
for you. Darkhorse, they explain, has gone quite
insane. The explanation runs like this: speedsters
perceive things around them as going slower then we
perceive them; all the rest of us normal-speed people
are in slow motion to them. Even a train is child's
play. Now, when the "mysterious and powerful
assailant" (that would be you) "somehow" robbed him of
his "stupendous speed", his perceptions remained the
same: he still saw the world as moving in slo-mo.
Only now he's moving slower than the world. Unable to
process this, he just went ape-shit.
Pachyderm is okay, but they won't say what his
injury was. Didn't think they would.
They're looking for you. Shit. Probably got
border patrol and all that.
"In other news, last night, Scorsese fans watching
GBO got quite a surprise while watching _Taxi Driver_.
It seems that, from a fairly early point in the film,
it was replaced with a long but very realistic fake,
using actors who were dead ringers for stars Robert De
Niro and Jodie Foster."
Ha-ha! You did it! Holy shit. It wasn't just
your TV. It was the broadcast itself. Hundreds,
thousands of TVs across the nation. Everyone watching
that channel got an eyeful of De Niro deep-dicking
Cybil Shepherd in a porno theater! Holy fucking shit.
You... did... hey, now, there's an idea. You begin
speaking to your television set.
"They've found the men responsible for the museum
break-in. Somehow they got to Tennessee, where they
died in a gun-fight with federal agents."
Harry turns around and (presumably) looks at you,
and then at the screen, as the desk jockey with the
bad hair says those immortal words:
"This just in! Update on the museum case!"
"HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE?"
"I don't know, Gregory. Figure news spreads pretty
quick in a small town."
"I just want to make sure we're in the clear before
we go. Hot damn. I did it."
"Yes, you did," Harry says. "I'm very proud of
you. It's exactly that kind of quick thinking that's
going to see us through."
"Got another idea." You pick up the phone and
dial. As it rings, you point at Metronome. "You keep
your mouth shut, understand?"
The phone is answered. "Police. This is officer
"I just want to know if they've caught those
terrible men yet," you say, your voice the
high-pitched squeal of an orgasmic Estelle Getty (in
leather). Harry thinks this is the funniest shit ever
and starts laughing. You snap his fingers and he
stops. "The ones at the museum."
"They were killed in Tennessee."
"Oh. So, it's safe to go out on the road, then?"
"Yes. Should be no trouble at all. Road blocks
will be removed within ten minutes, and there's very
little traffic, ma'am."
Now you start cracking up. Amidst your
giggle-fits, you thank him, exchange a few parting
pleasantries, and hang up.
"All right, let's go then."
Harry holds up a metal paw. "Do we take her with
"Shit. I don't know. There might be some trouble
on the road. But she might be quite a bit to handle.
Can't exactly get her down the stairs tied up, and I
don't know if she'll be cooperative enough to play it
"As long as you've got my costume, I guess I'm
stuck following orders," she says. "I'll play it
"I could kill you with a word," you say, and though
this isn't quite true, she doesn't know that. Neither
"Just, just play it cool," he reminds her.
YOU UNTIE HER, WITH TREPIDITION. She asks for a pair
of pants and you give her some. She slips it on, her
long, slender white legs being sheathed in black
denim. The pants get caught up on the boxer shorts
you have her wearing, and she tucks it into the pants,
zips up, does the button. She's ready. Now for...
"Harry. You really got to change, man."
"I like wearing the suit," he says.
"Yeah, I know. You've been wearing it for hours
now. Aren't you hot? Sweaty? Hungry?"
"Then why don't you take it off?"
"I like wearing it."
"Gas-Man, look: if we go downstairs with you in
that suit, we're going to have someone call the cops
on us. And what I just did to save our asses? It
will be meaningless."
"But I want to wear the suit."
"Jesus Christ, man! Are you fucking listening to
"Don't yell at me."
"You have to take off the suit. We're trying to
keep a low profile here."
"I'll lie down in the back, like I did on the way
"Someone can still see you."
"Cover me with a couple of throws."
"Gas-Man! Damn it! Why can't you call me by the
name I ask you to call me by?"
"Okay. I'm sorry, Gas-Man. But this is
ridiculous. People are still going to see you walking
down the stairs."
"I'll go through the window. Float down."
"We're on fucking main street, man!"
"I'll float around to the back, bunch of trees
there. No one can see. And you can pick me up
"It would be so much easier if you would just take
off the suit."
"Well, I'm not taking it off."
"Fine. Fine. Meet you around the back, then.
You. Come with me. And act natural. Act like you're
my girlfriend or something."
Harry takes her costume and belt and hovers out the
window. You take Metronome by the arm and head down
YOUR CAR IS NOT HERE.
"Someone stole my fucking car."
YOU WALK AROUND THE BACK, where Harry is waiting for
"Where's the car?"
"Someone stole it."
"Fuck. I don't know. Fuck."
"I'm going back into the room," Harry says.
"Wait! That doesn't accomplish..." But it's too
late. He's already headed back up to the room. You
grab Metronome's hand and lead her back inside. Back
upstairs. Back to four walls and no options.
NEWS IS ON. BAD NEWS.
"After contacting federal authorities, it seems the
reports from Tennessee are some sort of
Thought you had gotten ahead, didn't you?
"Police have reason to suspect the perpetrators are
still in town, and may have a lock on their location.
Sources say it was the apprehension of two car thieves
that have given them a lead."
METRONOME COOPERATES AND SITS DOWN so you can tie her
back up in the chair. You shove a sock in her mouth
and walk with one bare foot to the telephone. Sandy
doesn't answer. It's the machine.
You leave no message.
"We can't just stay here, you know?" you say to
Harry. "I mean, we're just waiting for them to come.
We have to try something."
"But what? We got no car. I can only fly a short
distance, and not even that far carrying someone."
"I know, but if we don't even try... but you're
right, sort of. We have to think of something, have
to try something that will work. That will get us out
of here. We just need some time to think. Need some
time... I need to think."
That's when the knock comes on the door.
"This is the state police."
And, from outside, that old stand-by: "We have you
surrounded. Come out with your hands up," yadda yadda
"I'm not going back to prison," Harry says.
"You can't go out the window, Gas-Man. They'll
shoot. Do you think that thing can sustain that many
bullets, take that many shots?"
"No. It can't."
"Fuck! We need a fucking act of god, is what...
"Gregory. You've got a look on your face."
"The earth is quaking. Nine point nine."
THE EARTH SHAKES AND SPLITS and spits the building up
in the air like a concrete and vinyl glob of chewing
tobacco, only when it falls its not in a solid,
gelatinous glob but in a screaming, screeching mess,
walls and ceilings and furniture and flesh all jumbled
together and stabbing, colliding, falling apart.
OUT LIKE A LIGHT, GREGORY: on your way down, you hit
your head on the little table that the television was
resting on. The corner digs into your skull and the
TV clonks you on your head, and you're only conscious
for a few more precious seconds, enough time to see
the bed rolling towards you. Then, you're out like a
DOES IT FEEL REAL, GREGORY? Does it feel real? An
earthquake. A nine point nine Richter scale
earthquake that appears at the drop of a hat, or
rather a few words.
DOES IT FEEL REAL?
This is really happening.
OUT COLD AND YOU'RE DREAMING. In your dream, you make
love to Sandy, and then the redhead, and then
Metronome, each coupling more violent and savage than
the last, and afterwards you mount Sandy again. You
fuck her hard and fast, holding onto her hips, her
sweet swelling breasts bouncing so fast and furious
that they threaten to rip themselves clean off her
body, and they do as she splits in two, a fleshquake
ripping from her pussy to her head, a jagged line
running further and further with each stroke until
there's two of them: the redhead and your mother, both
dead, dead, dead... And you stare at your dick, and
it's covered with blood; you stare at your hands, and
they're covered with blood; there's blood on your
THERE'S BLOOD ON YOUR HANDS. Does it feel real? Wake
up, you bastard. Wake up; there's blood on your
YOU'RE BURIED UNDERNEATH THE RUBBLE, it's hard to
breath. There's a pain in your side (did something
stab you? impale you? puncture your liver, your
lungs?). Are you going to die? Is that what you
wanted, Gregory? Is that why you told the earth to
shake? Because you couldn't deal with being trapped,
you couldn't deal with the police outside and having
to own up to what you've done?
You've done far worse now, Gregory. And you'll
have to own up to a higher power.
You say the words and the pain is quite gone.
A HAND REACHES TOWARDS YOU. It moves through the
rubble like air, and you know it's Dr. Metronome, and
that she's saving your worthless ass. Hmm. Wonder if
she knows its you? If she did, would she even bother
to save you? Of course she would. She's a hero and
that's what they do.
Your whole body feels like air, and suddenly you're
being pulled up through the debris, the dust passing
through your body and the gravel dancing in your belly
until you're on your feet and the sky is above you,
pale blue through a gauze of dust.
Metronome's in costume now, complete with belt, no
longer the helpless girl you tied up in the chair but
something stronger, harder, more fierce and confident.
If she didn't know it was you she just saved, if she
is surprised or shocked to come face to face with you
once more, she doesn't let on.
Dust in your voice: "Where's Harry?"
She doesn't have to answer, though: because now you
THE GAS-MAN IS A HERO.
You sit down on the pile of rubble you've just been
emancipated from as Dr. Metronome goes on to save her
next person. There are fire-fighters here, and police
men, and even a couple of other supers that you don't
recognize. But you don't watch any of them. You
watch Harry. Harry Cash. The Gas-Man. A hero.
Quickly, methodically, his iron-cased body moves
from pile to pile, lifting up debris, searching for
limbs and attached to those limbs people. He lifts
the people out, sets them down, and a paramedic rushes
up like clockwork. And then the next pile, the next
He moves like lightning, he moves like a god,
flying through the air and coming down gracefully to
save yet another life. And another. And another.
A half-hour passes in this fashion, and you never
take your eyes off of Harry, never even think about
the shit-storm you're going to reap. You just watch
him rescue people. You just watch as in the course of
a half-hour, a life of sin and mediocrity is redeemed.
You just watch.
He starts to slow down now. His movements are not
quite as effortless. The god falters.
YOU'RE AT HIS SIDE IN an instant.
"Harry, are you okay?"
"I don't think so. Old man. Too old for this
"Let's get your mask off."
"You're wheezing, Harry. It's hard enough for you
to breath with the dust here, and with that thing on.
Must be a hundred degrees in there."
"And then some. But leave it on."
"Harry, it's not the time for--"
"I said leave it on. It's the way I want to be
"Don't be morbid. You're not going to die." And
this much is true. All you have to do is say, heal.
Live. Breathe. And he will heal, he will live, he
will suck the air in with a gusto he hasn't known for
thirty years. All you have to do is say a word,
Gregory, and Harry Cash will be okay, just like you
saved yourself with a couple of words, just like you
brought this building down with a handful.
Most of the people have been saved. You did say
once before that your power would never be used to
take a life. And yet, maybe that only works directly:
maybe it's only if you say die or explode that nothing
happens. Maybe you can't depend on the limit you
imposed to keep your power in check. Maybe you can't
depend on God.
Harry's wheezing worse now, and you can see a pool
of blood seeping through the rivets of his suit. It's
more strange than anything else. Just got to say one
word, Gregory. Just need to tell Harry Cash to live,
and he'll live. Just one word.
"How did your wife die?" Just need to say one word.
"Yeah. Um. Eighty... eighty-seven. Cancer. And
when she died, she said, to the doctor she said this,
she said, tell that schmuck I love him. And I was the
schmuck. I've always been the schmuck..."
You look at him with disappointment in your eyes.
Just one word, Gregory.
His voice is quiet. "That's... that's not quite
right, is it? That's not quite the truth."
"No, it's not," you say. "But that's okay, Harry.
It's a good story anyway."
"That's right. Ain't it, though?"
DURING THE HOUR THAT FOLLOWS, you hug his iron body,
your arms aching from the weight of the metal, and the
blood sticking to your shirt, congealing. He wheezes
and wheezes and stops breathing, and then, it's done.
YOU COULD HAVE SAVED HIM.
YOU GO QUIETLY WHEN METRONOME and the police place you
under arrest. Is it because you're sorry for what
you've done? Is it because you're tired of running?
Or is it just because you couldn't think of
anywhere to run?
The character of Dr. Metronome was co-created by Jamie
"The Joltin' One" Rosen and myself, in JOURNEY INTO...
# 1. All other characters are my own creation.
In this TEB edition, I cut some of my purpler prose,
and the admittedly pretentious retelling of the Green
(C) COPYRIGHT 2005, 2006 TOM RUSSELL.
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