8FOLD/REPOST: The Nostalgics # 1, "And I Spoke For All Things"
milos_parker at yahoo.com
Sat Jul 28 20:40:42 PDT 2007
My name is Jason Righteous, and I'm the one who
betrayed the Nostalgics. But you know that already,
don't you? What you want to know is how and why. I
can help you with the first part. The why of it I'm
not so sure of.
And that's why I've come here to confess, that's
why I've turned myself in. Not because I want to save
my neck. Not because I'm feeling guilty, though I
guess I do in an odd way. No, I'm confessing because
I want someone to tell me why I killed him.
EIGHTFOLD COMICS GROUP PRESENTS
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" And I Spoke WRITTEN BY TOM RUSSELL
For All Things " EDITED BY MARY RUSSELL
Plants think in dollops of water, in tactile
sensations, in sunlight and wind. I always felt sorry
for plants. When an animal, a rabbit or something,
when it gets eaten, it knows what's going on. It can
see its attacker, hear it, sense it. The rabbit's
heart thumps and it takes these heaving breaths and it
runs, because it knows there's a chance of escape.
And then, should the fox corner them, it knows that
its failed. It knows that its going to die, and the
dread is unbearable. I know, because I've shared it a
hundred thousand times.
But a plant has no idea what's going on. The
plant's having a fine time of it, when all of a
sudden, part of it is missing, hurting, bleeding.
Plants bleed water. They bleed life.
Animals at least know what's going on, and it's
easier for me to understand animals than it is to
understand, say, individual cells or amoebas. Amoebas
are alive, sure, and they think, but they think in
DNA, they think in abstract numbers and, what's more,
it seems to be the same numbers over and over again.
They're even more in the dark than the plants are, and
their life is far shorter. I don't have much sympathy
for them; I find them hard to identify with.
Of course, for the most part, people think in
abstracts as well: in words, in language. Not
dissimilar to their single-cell brethren. I guess,
truth be told, I find people hard to identify with as
well. And this stems back to my childhood, to my
Babies don't really acquire language, don't really
think in abstracts, until they've gotten older, until
they recognize that these sounds have some kind of
meaning, that these people and these things have
names. Babies are not unlike animals in that both
think in pictures, in movement, in sensory
Human beings are still like this, in part: our
mind's eye can call forth an image, can replay a brief
flash of a memory. But it's all an animal has;
animals don't have lucid thoughts, they are not prone
to introspection but are rather creatures of instinct
whose minds work like flicker-boxes.
It's not to say that animals aren't smart or
clever, or that they lack souls, personalities.
Really, the human brain functions much in the same
way, only we've replaced many of our images and sounds
and smells and tactile sensations with words.
When people find out about my powers, their
response is invariably one of envy. That's so cool!
I wish I could talk to animals, listen to plants. I
wish I knew what my cat was thinking. Does it even
like me, or just tolerate me?
Stuff like that.
I try to explain things to them. Try to stress
what it's like to live with all this noise in your
head. But they always try to glaze over it, like it's
no big deal, or they act like it's churlish of me to
The problem is, most of the time I can't shut it
off. I can focus to a degree, but the noise is always
there, like every radio station playing at once:
there's no music, no beauty to it.
Nothing but noise.
The thing is, it's not just auditory. It's a
hundred images flashing through my mind's eye at
lightning speed all at once. It's dozens of
sensations, crawling all over my body like spiders and
caterpillars, slithering, biting, kissing. Not to
mention my own thoughts, be they visual or verbal, my
own sensations, the immediate world around me.
When everything hits you at once, you get stressed
out, you crack, you succumb to the pressures around
you. When the pressure is constant, though, you have
no frame of reference. The world is terrifying,
alien, strange: it's the same reason that I feel sorry
for the plants. They have no idea what's going on.
Autistics call this sensory overload, and as a
child, I was diagnosed as being autistic. Maybe I am.
Or maybe a lot of the autistics are like me, maybe
they're tapping into the thoughts of other creatures,
or other humans, or other worlds, who knows?, only
they never get their head above water. They never get
to the point where they can sit down and tell anybody
I didn't speak until I was nine: my first word was
stop. Please, make it stop. When I became verbal
enough to explain to my parents what was going on in
my head, what had been going on since birth, and when
my parents (read: my mother) finally accepted that I
was telling the truth, they got rid of the dog and the
cat and the canary. (Birds have very low attention
spans; very annoying. And: no, your cat doesn't like
Eventually, they got rid of the grass outside,
replaced it with Astroturf. My mother tried to get
rid of the old magnolia tree in the backyard, and the
maple in the front, but my father stood his ground.
Things got relatively quiet, though I still picked
up glimpses of surrounding animal life. And, with the
louder frequencies silenced (dogs are always very
excited, always shouting!), I was able to listen more
intently to the haunting song of amoebas, of my skin
cells, of air particles. But, like I said before, it
was too abstract for me to really understand it, or
gain any meaning from it, or even to want to. But
that didn't matter: the fact is, I could hear them,
and with that knowledge came the feeling that I was
connected to everything in ways few others were.
Around this time, I would start going off of my
medication, lessening the artificial dampening, and I
would leave the house for short periods of time. Five
or ten minutes, sometimes longer, building up my
tolerance to the noise, to the life, trying to forge
that connection. Sometimes it would overload and I
would go bat-shit; sometimes it would overload and I
could stand it. Not that it got any easier. It was
hard. It was always hard. Extremely debilitating.
I knew that I could always be rendered helpless at
the drop of a hat. Knew that I would always be
rendered helpless. That I would always be the
dependent one in any relationship, be it romantic or
familial. That the balance of power and neediness
would always be tilted in my favour.
I knew it and my mother knew it. She was fine with
it. I wasn't. I had the self-awareness to know and
to hate the way everyone had rearranged their lives so
as to make me comfortable. My mother and father were
merely parts of my life, subservient to my needs and
my whims. They had no lives of their own, and in
their concerned eyes I could detect growing sadness
I often broached the subject of living on my own,
of getting a job, of moving out into the world,
exploring my connection to it. My mother would get
hysterical; my father would get suspicious. If the
noise was so bad, if it really crippled me the way I
said it did, then why (he asked) why on earth would I
want to expose myself to more of it? He implied that
I had been faking it, that until I was nine I had
simply refused to speak, perhaps to be obstinate. My
mother would echo the question if not the implication,
in a softer, gentler tone.
I never really explained it adequately to them or
to myself. Though it was painful and excruciating,
there was still an undeniable attraction to it.
My parents were good people. Their passing grieved
me, but it also strengthened a determination that had
been growing in my mind. I was twenty-four years old,
and since I was about seventeen I had toyed (sometimes
idly, sometimes seriously) with the idea of using my
powers to help people; people were the only things
that I had no connection with and I wanted to remedy
that. With my parents dead, I had nothing to enable
The only thing I had to depend on was the noise,
which I referred to variably (and at times within the
same breath) as my powers or my illness. Since my
illness had hemmed me in all my life, since my
day-to-day existence was measured not by hobbies or
education or entertainments but by its merciless
stranglehold on my brain, I decided to let my powers
define me: to become a costumed hero.
It took me a long time to come up with an adequate
codename; the end result, Connection, was unique
enough and suitably lofty even if it was too abstract
to be properly iconic. I had a couple of costumes
made by one of the more discreet companies on the
internet, and I leased a small apartment. I received
a fair amount of money from the insurance company
after my parents died, and it would allow me to devout
myself full-time to my new career. By the time the
money ran out, I reasoned, I would have secured myself
a spot on a team or a corporate sponsor. Or, at the
very least, I would be my city's official protector.
There was a reason why my city didn't have an
official protector: there was nothing to protect them
from! The only headline I made was when I tried to
foil the robbery of a grocery store.
I was in the store at the time; I slipped into an
unoccupied aisle way, doffed my outer layer of
clothing, and glued on my domino mask with spirit gum
(every time I took off the domino mask, chunks of my
eyebrows went with it. Not the best way to maintain a
secret identity: stay away from spirit gum). By the
time I had changed, my targets had fled the store.
I took off after them and told them to stop, put
their hands up, drop their guns. Very authoritative.
Now, this is really a fifty-fifty kind of thing: faced
with a superhero they've never heard of, half of the
regular crooks will listen to you. They don't know
what you can do, and they don't want to take any
chances and end up hospitalized. The other half will
get cocky, call your bluff: maybe the hero's just an
ordinary schmuck like themselves, but with fancier
threads. I was lucky. My crooks dropped their
weapons and put their hands in the air.
That's when it happened, when the noise took over.
I was clobbered by sounds and images, by dogs and
birds and nearby ants (ants always think the same
thing but never at the same time: a bad echo effect),
by grass and trees and African violets. My head swam.
I became dizzy. I shut my eyes tight to block out
the images, a useless but automatic gesture. I
covered my ears (equally futile) and screamed as I
fell first to my knees, then crumpled to the ground
fetally. And to this cacophony was added memory, my
first words weaving their way out of each and every
broadcast, stop! please please make it stop.
The episode passes, and I find myself surrounded by
people. An officer touches my shoulder in an almost
offensive way, like he's afraid of me and he feels he
has to strike first. I am exhausted, and I see that
the two robbers had gotten away.
However, they had left their guns on the pavement,
and their fingerprints led to their identification and
capture. I was not mentioned in that newspaper story;
I was given a brief paragraph in the police blotter
section (man in costume has panic attack), in which
they implied in economical, functional prose that I
was mentally incompetent.
But being a hero isn't about receiving accolades;
it's about doing the right thing. And I know that I
had won the day. Unfortunately, that doesn't make you
City Protector and that doesn't get you a slot with
the Seven Wonders and, more pressingly, it doesn't pay
Because of my overloads and occasional violent
outbursts, it was very difficult to find and keep
work. My last job was as a bicycle courier. I
delivered packages across town and sometimes to
neighboring cities; since my overloads occurred on the
road, and not in a claustrophobic stock room full of
other people, no one saw me freaking out and I had no
bodies to lash out at. The pay was shitty but it did
help stave off the money hemorrhaging.
I was a week away from being evicted, flat broke
and with no place lined up, when I was given a package
to deliver to Sterling Heights. It was obviously a
low-point in my life, and the chances of me making any
difference as Connection seemed more and more remote.
When summer came, I had stopped wearing my costume
underneath my civvies on the pretense that it was too
warm to do so, that it would cause overheating; come
autumn, I had given up the pretense.
But on this November morning, the morning I was
asked to deliver this package to Sterling Heights, I
put my costume on for the first time in all those many
months and pulled my delivery uniform over it. I
stuffed my domino mask in my left pocket and the damn
spirit gum in my right. I must have felt something
that morning, something that made me do it; maybe it
was the amoebas singing to me, maybe it was the
deeply-buried primordial-goo amoeba ancestor part of
my brain responding to the song.
I could feel the noise getting louder and more
obtrusive as I neared my destination. I could feel it
pressing down on me, but for some reason I didn't
buckle under the pressure, I didn't crumple up and
wish I was dead. Louder and louder, but still I
pressed on. I delivered my package, and then I heard
a sound I had only heard before on television: the
strange buzzing of an organic energy blast.
I ducked behind the building and stripped to my
costume. I applied the mask with a generous amount of
spirit gum. I felt the fear of a nearby dog, and I
heard the terror of birds who had seen it. I saw a
bird's eye view of a yellow-clad man floating in the
air, of disheveled blocks of pavement, chunks flying
up from a ripped-up street. Then I saw the thing, the
huge bulbous monster of rock, and it was awesome in
every sense of the word.
I started to feel a new sensation, new images and
new tactiles inching their way into my brain, softly
at first. The thing. The thing of rock. Talking to
me. Calling me. I ran towards it.
There were two heroes fighting the thing. I
recognized one of them as Captain Phantasm. The other
one was Reilly; it was the first time I had ever seen
him. Reilly noticed me before Captain Phantasm did.
He asked me who I was, and I told him that they
call me Connection. The creature saw that Reilly was
distracted, and I saw that the creature saw it, I saw
a flash from its brain, an image of the creature's
belly, of rock dislodging.
"He's going to fire at you, with his belly!"
Reilly dodged it expertly before unraveling its
molecular structure with an offhanded gesture. He
moved through air like it was water. No. Not water.
When Reilly moved through the air, there was no
resistance to him at all. It was like the air was
carrying him in his arms, like the particles were
honoured to be of service.
"You psychic, lad?" asked Cap. He called me lad, I
was in heaven.
I warned him about the creature's next move before
I explained that no, I wasn't psychic, but that I
could talk to all living non-human things, listen to
their brains. Cap seemed confused for a moment and
asked if I had any other abilities. When I told him I
didn't, he suggested I stay out of the way, that I'd
be a liability. Later, Reilly suggested I just say
that I talk to animals, even if it was a misleading
reduction; it was an easier concept to grasp,
especially in the heat of battle, when time is of the
Reilly grasped it, though. No offense to Captain
Phantasm, but Reilly was quicker. "What does it want,
I try to find out, try to glimpse it. But by now
the noise is so intense, the fear amongst the
creatures so strong, that I can't get a clear signal
from anything. I could feel the scream building up in
I told myself that I can't succumb to it, not now.
Not when it was important. But that just added to the
stress. I found myself crumpling to the ground. I
told myself to get up, that they needed my help, that
this was my chance, that this didn't look good. But I
couldn't get up. My eyes shut tight and my hands
covered my ears, and I rocked myself back and forth in
the fetal position, hating myself, hating my illness.
I begged it to stop, begged all the noise to stop.
This is important, please. All the dogs, all the
cats, all the birds, the worms: just stop, and I'll
fix it, I'll make everything okay.
It didn't stop, but it did feel calmer. I was
still overloaded, but they had stopped shouting. I
could see the rock creature now, could see his brain,
could talk to him.
Tell me what you want, I asked the creature a dozen
different ways. My brain picked out different images
that could mean "want", trying to find the one that
matched the creature. No, no, too abstract. So I
switched, tried to find things it might want, try to
find the answer to my own question. A mate? Food?
He flashed images back at me. Piles of rocks, of
his limbs, of his eyes dissolving away. Is this what
you want? No. This is what he's afraid of. He's
"He's afraid! He's scared! He's just lashing
I open my eyes and look at Reilly, floating in the
sky, intercepting flying rocks before they do any more
property damage. He calls down to me without looking
at me. "Then make him stop!"
Stop, I tell the creature. Just stop fighting, and
everything's going to be okay. You can trust me.
And he does. He broadcasts a feeling of peace, and
the other animals and plants and organisms take his
cue. An image of the creature retreating into the
ground, melting away, into sleep, into dreams. He was
just scared. And now he's okay.
And that was when Captain Phantasm blew it up with
a concentrated blast of energy. Its physical body was
destroyed almost instantly; its mind lingered for a
few seconds more: a terrifying, uncomprehending shock.
Like a plant.
The others, the birds and cats and dogs and grass,
they feel it, too. The images and sensations that
they feed to me mirror those of the dead rock
creature, like a cavern of echoes, and I have this
feeling again like every being is connected.
"You killed it!" I said, and I spoke for all
Cap gave what I discovered was the standard
justification: it wasn't a human life, therefore he
was morally right in destroying it. Not a he or a
she, but an it. An unnamed, inanimate thing.
Reilly finished converting the chunks of rock into
dust and air. Then he helped me up off the ground and
We went to some Indian place. I had taken maybe
three bites before my taste buds went numb from the
heat. After he prodded me as to why I had stopped
eating, I explained that, frankly, I would rather have
had a hamburger, some fast food.
"Fast food's poison for your body," he said. He
said those kind of things, and he did it with such
authority, like it was a fact. Which, I know, it was.
But it's not the kind of fact you go around telling
I asked him if he was a vegetarian, and no, he
wasn't. He didn't mind a good burger (but was quick
to add that most fast food hardly constituted a good
burger). He assumed I was a vegetarian. Truth be
told, he didn't much care for Indian food, either.
I came to learn that this was uncharacteristic of
Reilly in some ways. Not that he wasn't
compassionate: he was, and he'd always set himself
aside for others, always kowtow to the wishes of the
group (something I found irritating once we joined the
Nostalgics). What was out-of-character for him was
that he wasn't prone to making assumptions about
people. Reilly was never afraid to ask questions, to
have things clarified, to make sure he understood
things completely. He was never afraid, except that
So, we sat in the restaurant awhile, talking
without eating our food, until we started to feel the
other patrons watching us, eyeing the two guys in
spandex with considerable envy and awe. It was a
heady feeling: I had never come face-to-face with an
adoring public before.
That's probably why I didn't notice Reilly's
increasing discomfort until he asked if we could
leave. There was such anxiety on his face, anxiety
that had been there all along, creeping into the knots
of his brow. I just had failed to recognize it as
We left and he flew us up to a rooftop (I had never
been on a rooftop before, never flown, never been
carried through the whistling air: it was glorious),
continuing our conversation. I did most of the
talking. I talked about my powers, my illness. My
family. My life. So many things that I had never
really talked about before. I never had anyone to
talk about them with before. I never had a friend.
I told him how impotent I felt. How useless I was
as a mask. How inadequate I was.
"That's bullshit," he said, very directly. "If it
wasn't for you, we'd still be fighting that crazy rock
monster." There was something purposefully
insensitive about the way he said it. Instead of
couching his words in a comfortable mollycoddle, he
used some mild profanity and brought up the
still-touchy subject of the rock creature. (Not
monster. Creature.) It stung a little, and he
realized that I needed to be stung. That the tendency
in my relationships with people was to be dependent
upon them, and that wasn't healthy.
After a couple of hours, it was getting cold on
that rooftop, it was getting time for him to fly me
down and for me to head back to my own city. I
expected him to do just that, and to wish me luck,
maybe exchange phone numbers, addresses. Possibly, if
I was lucky, an invite to a party or something. Let's
hang out sometime. Unlikely, but possible.
Having been apprised of my financial and
professional situation, most people would have done
just that. But Reilly wasn't most people. And so, he
asked me to move in with him. To be his roommate. To
go out on patrol now and again. That sort of thing.
It was strange. Just a couple of hours ago, he was
being purposefully obtuse to prevent me from being an
object of pity, a poor thing that needed to be taken
care of. But now...
"Wouldn't have to pay rent or anything. Just...
help you get your act together."
... now, he was enabling. So, of course, I said
I discovered over the course of the next few weeks
that the invite was as much out of his own needs as it
was his altruism, and that both were actually one and
the same thing. It wasn't that he was exactly high
maintenance. He was just the opposite, and it was
Something simple, like, we're going to watch a
movie and we're trying to decide what movie to watch.
He would always defer to my judgment. And while I
enjoyed seeing movies that I liked, I could feel the
imbalance in the relationship, the same imbalance that
I had with my parents. It was still the Jason Show,
instead of Late Night with Reilly and Jason.
But he wasn't doing it out of consideration for me.
It wasn't doing everything to make Jason happy for
the sake of making Jason happy. It was making me
happy for the sake of making Reilly miserable (which
actually must have made him happy). It was
I guess you could sum it up as a martyr complex,
but I'd like to think that there's more to him than
When I had my overloads, he dropped the pretense of
tough love and fawned over me.
And in the field, when the overloads were,
unfortunately, more likely to happen, he made excuses
for me, defended me against insinuations that I was
probably not suited to being a four colour. And,
sometimes, I had to agree with the insinuations.
I was of no use in a combat situation, especially
inside some lifeless plastic building. When we ended
up closer to a woodsier area, I could convince birds
to shit on the villain's head. That did the trick one
time, but there were no accolades forthcoming: my
fellow heroes deemed what I did crass. Reilly argued
that it was a creative use of my powers. The people
we were teaming up with said that one had to be
creative for my powers to be of any use.
There were a couple times that the cases seemed
almost tailor-made for my abilities. Once, a dog had
been the sole witness to a murder. I was able to
discover the murderer's identity by communicating with
the dog (a German shepherd: the bigger dogs tend to be
more lucid than the small ones). Another time, the
only way into a building was a crevice just big enough
to slither through. A snake was bought, and I was
able to guide it into the building so that the
booby-traps could be disarmed and the door opened.
(Snakes are always, always, always thinking of ways to
kill you. Otherwise, they're not so bad.)
But most of the time I was a liability. I got
kidnapped more than once, and I lost count of the
number of times I ended up on the floor, my head in my
hands, sobbing and begging for the noise and images
and sensations assaulting my body and brain to stop.
And though I couldn't be sure, I thought I could see a
hint of disappointment in Reilly's eyes, barely hidden
by his concern.
We talked about it sometimes, and I got him to
admit after many, many conversations that my power was
only of limited use. Yes, it was useful, but only in
certain situations. It would be better for me to sit
at home and wait for those situations to arise and
hope I didn't get overloaded.
We discussed maybe getting a dog to accompany me,
one that could act as my weapon and protector. I
vetoed it, never giving a clear reason, and never
revealing the true one: I didn't want to play sidekick
to a dog. And, let's face it, that's how people would
have seen me. That dog! You know! The one with the
Occasionally, like I said, a situation arose where
I was needed. But that was only very occasionally. I
was unhappy, and so was Reilly. Things were stagnant.
A change was required.
And that's when Elliot Goodman came into our life.
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(C) COPYRIGHT 2006, 2007 TOM RUSSELL
"Personality is everything that's false
in a human being."-- Sam Shepherd
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