LNH: Easily-Discovered Man #53 (2/3)

EDMLite robrogers72 at gmail.com
Thu Jul 19 12:59:42 PDT 2012

Part II of "The Adventures of Easily-Discovered Man" #53 follows:

     She looked, then looked again.  Then, without a word,
Penelope slid out of the booth, walked across the room, and
removed one of the smaller framed photographs from the walls.

     "I can't believe I never noticed it before," she said,
handing me the picture.  It was faded, and one corner was
slightly sticky with something I hoped was maple syrup.

     Otherwise, however, the photograph Penelope handed me
was exactly the same as the one I had handed her.  It
showed three young people, obviously close friends, standing
arm-in-arm in front of a red barn.  One of them, not
surprisingly, was a teen-aged version of Constance Schlubb.
The second was the super-hero known as Substitute Lad.

     The third was me.

     "Explain," Penelope said.

     "I'm told it's possible to make more than one copy of a
photograph these days," I said.

     "Really?" she said.  "I'm told it's possible to pour
hot coffee on your ex-boyfriend's crotch and get away with
it.  Shall we try an experiment?"

     "I have no idea when or how this photograph was taken,"
I said, crossing my legs.  "As far as I know, the only time
I've ever been to Mount Roosevelt was the time I met you.
I don't remember ever seeing this barn before, and I
definitely don't remember meeting the Waf... er, Mrs.
Schlubb... as a girl."

     Penelope studied the photograph.  "Well, the barn's
easy enough.  It belonged to the Schlubb family, it's over
on the other side of town.  Nobody really goes out there
these days, ever since..."

     Her grip on the frame tightened.  "My God," she
whispered.  "What's Jack Truman doing in that photo?"

     Now it was my turn to look surprised -- which, in this
case, meant horking a hot stream of coffee out of my nose.
Penelope was kind enough to hand me a napkin.

     "You know Substitute Lad?" I asked, when both of us
were coffee-free.

     "No," she said, looking puzzled.  "But I knew this guy,"
she said, pointing to the photograph.  "Or at least I knew of
him.  He came to work here before I did -- just after you
and Easily-Discovered Man and that English girl went back to

     "It must have been someone who looked like him," I said.
"Substitute Lad was in Net.ropolis at the time, and..."

     "Hector," Penelope said, placing a hand on mine, then
quickly pulling it away.  "That's Jack Truman.  Everybody
in Mount Roosevelt knew Jack Truman.  From the posters that
were up all over town.  And that is exactly the way Jack
Truman looked on the day he went missing."

     I felt something cold settle at the base of my spine.

     "Did anyone ever find him?" I asked.

     "Sheriff came back from the old Schlubb barn and said
the case was closed.  Didn't say he found Jack -- though
everybody assumed he had -- or what had happened to him.
Just that the case was closed.  And that was the end of it."

     I finished my coffee.

     "I think I need to see this barn," I said.

     Penelope nodded slowly.  "I'll take you there," she said.
"In about..." she glanced at her wristwatch "...ten hours."

     "Great," I said, stretching.  "Now, is there some place
in back I could lie down for a while?  I spent fifteen hours
on the bus from Mutant Town, and another fifteen hitchhiking
here from Colum.bus..."

     "And meanwhile, those of us who don't get to wander
around the country doing whatever we want, whenever we
want were at work," Penelope said.  "And if you expect to
spend the next few hours here, drinking our coffee and
eating our food, you're going to do the same."

     She reached behind the booth to where an extra apron
hung from a hook on the wall.

     "Here," Penelope said, tossing the apron at me.
"Do whatever Marco tells you -- he'll be in any minute
-- and try not to screw up Sheriff Red's eggs.  You
any good in the kitchen?"

     I caught the apron with my left hand.  My right hand
was already under the table, pulling a carbonized-steel
spatula from my backpack.  I threw the utensil up in
the air, let it rotate a couple of times, then caught it
in mid-spin.

     "I know my way around one of these," I said.

     --EDM--          --EDM--          --EDM--

     This is where I was five minutes ago:

    "...and then it turned out that he was really using what
he knew about the future to bet on fights between heroes
and villains," I said.

     Penelope held up a hand.  "Stop," she said.

     We had left her father's station wagon behind us in
the clearing and had begun hiking the mile or so between
the end of the one-lane dirt road and the Schlubb's barn.

     The walk so far had been enough to remind me both how
much farther apart things in Ohio were, compared with things
in Net.ropolis, and how good Penelope -- now dressed in a
bodysuit, with her hair gathered under a stocking cap
-- had always looked in black.

     "But I haven't even gotten to the part where he tried
to get us to kill the President," I said.

     "You know," Penelope said, "when you ask most people
how they're doing, they tell you about their family.  Or
their friends.  Someone they happen to be dating.  Something
interesting that happened at work or school.

     "With you," she said, "it's... it's like your life is a
movie.  With all of these weird things going on, and people in
costumes wanting to blow up a power plant, or kill the
President, or turn people into raisins.  And a lot of really
bad puns."

     "I...," I began, and then stopped.  The silence was
followed by crickets -- actual, honest-to-Christmas
crickets, which I'd only ever heard once or twice in my
life before.  I could see why so few stand-up comedians
had launched their carers in rural Ame.rec.a.

     "What?" she asked.

     "Nothing," I said.  "It's just... I'm used to being the
normal one all the time.  It's kind of how I've come to see
myself, you know: the one ordinary guy in the middle of all
the world's craziness."

     Penelope shook her head, then turned her eyes back to
the trail in front of us.

     "There is nothing normal about you, Hector Lopez," she

     My brain did its best to process that while we pushed
forward, the path ahead blocked by tall grasses, creeping
vines and the occasional pile of stones left behind from
someone's attempt at a wall.

     Penelope finally broke the silence.

     "Aren't you going to ask?" she asked.

     My mind, taken off guard, simultaneously answered
"Ask what?" and "What do you mean?"  Unfortunately, this
meant that what actually emerged from my mouth was something
like "Whask meen?"

     "I mean, ask you what?" I said.

     "Ask me what I've been up to all this time," she said.
"Or does being the only sane man in Net.ropolis mean that
the life of a Mount Roosevelt waitress is beneath your

     I took a deep breath.

     "You've dated three guys since we broke up," I said,
without looking at her.  "You started work at the Waffle
Palace about a month after I left.  You're also enrolled
at Mount Roosevelt Community College, where you're pretty
sure at least one of your instructors has a crush on you.
You're halfway through the 'Song of Ice and Fire' series,
and you've seen Katy Perry twice in the last year."

     Penelope slugged me in the arm.  "So you did Facebook
stalk me after all, you liar," she said.

     The shadow of the barn loomed in front of us, dark and
massive and menacing.

     "I also read your blog," I said.  "I thought your
description of our relationship was tough, but fair.  And
your recipe for eggs Benedict was exceptional."

     "I wondered how you knew how to make that double
strawberry waffle recipe exactly the way I do," Penelope
said.  "So at any point while you were using the resources
of the world's most powerful law-enforcment organization
to look up information about me, did it ever occur to you
to just give me a call?  A text?  IM..."

     "Do you feel that?" I asked.

     Penelope looked around.  "I don't feel anything," she

     "Exactly," I said.  "Five minutes ago, there was a
breeze blowing through here.  I remember because I was
thinking that the smell of maple and bacon in your hair
actually made you more attractive."

     "Smooth," Penelope said.

     "And then the breeze stopped.  And the crickets.
And the plants.  Why is it that every other building around
here is covered in vines -- they pretty much wrap around
your legs if you stand still too long -- but that barn
has been here for years, and there's not so much as a blade
of grass touching it?"

     Penelope looked at me with a strange expression.

     "Are you... narrating?" she asked.  "Anyway, you're
right.  Something about this place feels... wrong.  And not
in a good way."

     "Let's find a way to..." I began, drawing my spatula,
then stopped.  "Did you just say 'wrong, and not in a
good way.' "

     "I did."

     "Implying that there is such a thing as feeling
wrong, but in a good way?"

     "That is what I said," Penelope said.

     "I really should have kept in touch with you."

     "You really should have," Penelope said.  "Here's
the door.  But it's padlocked, of course.  I suppose you
have a way past that?"

     "Of course," I said.  "Ever heard of a Hand of Glory?"

     "They were a band, right?"

     "It's the pickled left hand of a hanged man," I said,
approaching the lock.  "With a candle in the palm.
Supposedly it can open any door -- provided you use the
proper incantations, of course."

     "That's disgusting!" Penelope said, recoiling.  "You
mean to tell me you've been carrying one of those around
all this time?"

     "Of course not," I said, jamming my cotter pin into
the lock mechanism.  "I use a lock pick, just like every
other juvenile delinquent non-powered super-hero."

     "Then why did you tell me that horrible story?"

     "Because now that you know I didn't use a Hand of
Glory," I said, as the lock slid open, "don't you feel
slightly better about the fact that I broke into your
restaurant this morning?"

     It took both of us pushing to slide the door open.
The air inside lacked that friendly smell I'd come to
associate with barns, in my limited experience with them
-- the smell of hay, and of contented horses, and of
the things horses tend to do when they're contented, or
really at any other time.

     This barn smelled stale, empty and cold, like
someone's last breath.

     "I suppose the smart thing to do would have been to
bring flashlights," Penelope said.

     "Another advantage of a Hand of Glory.  They come
with their own candles," I said.

     "You really need to stop with the whole creepy dead
hand thing," Penelope said, her body silhouetted by the
starlight behind her.  "Let's go back to the car."

     "Hang on," I said, digging around in my back pocket.
In a moment, a soft green glow emanated from my hand,
illuminating the walls and rafters around us.  In the
distance, I saw the faintest hint of machinery.

     Penelope came up beside me, looking at my hand.
"Is that the mask of Easily-Discovered Man?" she asked.

     "It was," I said.

     "And you're keeping it for... what?  Old time's sake?
Or are you planning to put it up on eBay?"

     "It comes in handy when I'm exploring darkened barns
with beautiful women in the middle of the night," I said.

     "Nice," Penelope said, staring forward.  "So there's
something over there that definitely does not look like
farm machinery."

     "I see it," I said, holding the mask up like a lantern.
"You know, for a place that's supposed to have been abandoned
for a couple of years, this barn has some pretty advanced

     "How can you tell?"

     "Because it includes some elements so useful and so
advanced that Apple hasn't even gotten rid of them on its
computers yet," I said.  "That's a holographic projector
-- I've seen one of those at Legion headquarters.  And that
... looks like some kind of teleportation array.  And I have
no idea what that other thing is."

     I sighed.  "I wish Easily-Discovered Man was here,"
I said.  "And not just because I could really use the
extra light."

     "Hector," Penelope said.

     "Hang on," I said.  "I want to get a closer look at

     "Hector," Penelope repeated.  Her tone was insistent.
"I think I see something... moving."

     I looked in the direction Penelope was pointing, and
felt the same cold tremors along my spine I'd felt when
she'd first told me about the other Jack Truman.

     "It's just bums," I said, as I saw a second and then
a third figure rise from the dusty floor of the barn.
"Hoboes.  The homeless.  Somebody who just wandered in here
looking for a place to sleep."

     "They're... they're just skin and bones, Hector,"
Penelope said, edging closer to me.

     "Meth addicts," I said, holding the spatula in front of

     "With no eyes," Penelope said.  "And that one... has a
hole in his chest..."

     "Okay," I said, keeping myself between Penelope and
the advancing figures.  "On the plus side?  We've successfully
managed to avoid the whole 'Midwestern meth addicts in a barn'
trope, which frankly has been done to death.

     "On the other," I continued, "well... zombies."

     Penelope screamed, the monsters lurched forward, and I
found myself wishing I hadn't used the phrase "done
to death..."


     --EDM--          --EDM--          --EDM--

    NEXT ISSUE: For a small Midwestern town, Mount Roosevelt
holds a lot of secrets.  Lite and Penny discover a few --
and reveal several of their own -- while uncovering clues to
the Waffle Queen's past in a story the Chamber of Commerce
recommends we call "Death Dance of the Damned."

    CHARACTERS: Pointless Death Man is (c) Jeff Barnes.
Footnote Girl is (c) Saxon Brenton.  Mynabird is (c) Arthur
Spitzer and the author.  All other characters are (c) the

     NOTE: The author recognizes that, owing to Rule 34,
fiction of the type created by Cynical Lass in the opening
sketch may, and probably does, exist.  If so, the author
kindly requests that he never, ever, ever be provided with
evidence of this fact.

     --EDM--          --EDM--          --EDM--

    "I went back to Ohio
    But my city was gone
    There was no train station
    There was no downtown
    South Howard had disappeared
    All my favorite places
    My city had been pulled down
    Reduced to parking spaces
    A, O, way to go Ohio"
        --The Pretenders

     --EDM--          --EDM--          --EDM--

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