The Gravity of Blood

Artifice Comics Presents…

My personal chamber was darkened, lit only by swaggering flames of the three candles placed at my bedside. I lay beneath the sheets, alone, save for the arrogant clock placed across from me on the mantle. It taunted me with its blasphemous midnight grin.

“Fuck you,” I declared between clamped jaws.

A gentle halo of smoke escaped my lips and wafted above my head. Delighted by its company I took one final drag from the hookah. Finally drunk enough on opium to ignore my tick-tock tormentor, I sat the hookah on the floor beside my bed, and reclined back into the down pillows satisfied, and ready to sleep.

As my eyelids came to rest, a ring, like small bells howling in the wind, came from the floorboards, wished to disturb my slumber. It was the sound of the telephone I had placed on the floor. Slightly dazed, I hung over the bed and molested the floor in search of the receiver. The blood gone to my head, and a high still fresh, I could only manage to drool into the receiver after it came to my cheek. What words, if any of them complete, were muttered to the person on the other end, I couldn’t say. Whatever the case, my delirium was ignored.

“Dedrick Witt?”

“Ja.”

“die Schimare?”

“Ja.”

“Do you speak English, Mister Witt?”

”Ja.”

“I have a problem, one I need remedied.”

”Don’t we all.”

”This problem would make you three million dollars richer. All you need to do is hunt down some missing property of mine and return it “

”Dignity and class are things I lack, not money.”

“This possession has a name; Fiona Samuelson. She’s recently gone missing and I have reason to believe her life may be in jeopardy”

”I’ll find the girl, but keep your money.”

”Good night, Mister Witt. We’ll be in touch.”

The receiver went dead.

The distinctly androgynous voice on the other end had called me die Schimare. It had been nearly a decade of slothful hedonism since I’d last been called die Schimare, but I wasn’t allowed the time to get nostalgic. Whatever the reason was for its return, I knew it was all bad for Fiona; whatever that little brat step-sister of mine had gotten herself into, I now had to get her out.

featuring DIE SCHIMARE II
created and written by H.H. NEVILLE

The squatty little fat-man with his little fat-man tool belt and his greasy paper-sack lunch waddled into the Pacific City bistro as he had done every other day this week; whistling show tunes. He was a portly, middle-aged man with nearly all his hair evaporated. He came in with a disheveled set of blue denim overalls over a white, sweat-soiled-yellow t-shirt.

Routine like clockwork, some of the chattier baristas would joke. Everyday it was the same with him, the blissful fool would come in, happy as a clam and pass through the bistro into the kitchen area where he would begin to rewire the outlets.

Overhearing them gossip this way made the squatty little fat-man giddy. Today was no longer everyday and not everything would be the same.

Sure, he came in with the same soiled overalls, the same show tunes caught in his lips and the same tool belt, but the greasy sack no longer held gluttonous mounds of food.

In the kitchen, the man stowed himself away between the stove and the wall like flustered vermin. He took two nervous glances over his shoulder to make sure he wasn’t being watched and then clawed into the paper sack. His beady black eyes became illuminated as they stumbled across the booty inside.

Atop a mottled suit sat a thin revolver; the man took the gun from the sack, sat it next to his foot and pulled out the suit with jovial anticipation. The suit felt like sweaty cowhide and was a languid white with various splotches of sickly greys.

The suit was all one piece, from head-to-toe and required a fair amount of dexterity for the portly man to weasel his way inside. There was a split in the breast that allowed him to slip his legs through the pants. Then, laying on his back like a turtle, he pulled the split over his chest and poked his arms through the sleeves. Buttons covered in the same swarthy hide were then done up one by one.

The last piece of the suit, a full face mask was pulled tightly over his skull. He tested the range of motion by swiveling his neck around in aloof circles. He caught a glimpse of his visage in the metallic glare of the stove. He smiled at his reflection, causing the folds of the flesh to curl. In response the mask fashioned from human skin smiled morbidly back.

The revolver was scooped up and the man-wearing-the-man trudged from the kitchen into the sea of bustling coffee drinkers and scone eaters. Their response to him was of the traditional fanfare, panic, running, screams of terror. The lullaby that got him off.

One of the male baristas pinned behind the counter with man-wearing-the-man tried to flee over the glass display of pastries but a surprisingly firm hand clamped down on his shoulder, and reeled him into the dead-skin-suit bosom; the thin, black revolver pressed firmly against his chin.

“Ev’ryone, worry yerselves none,” the man-wearing-the-man declared. “You’re all free to run yerselves far from here. Bring me one o’ them heroes you-all allowed to corrupt your fine city is all I ask!”

The cookie-cutter human mask glared down at the quivering mass of humanity hugged tightly to its body. “Tell ’em that Darwin Napalm’s made his way to Pacific City and he’s got himself a little damsel in distress,” the pallid grey lips cackled.

***

“This is Amanda Beasley for PCN outside of Homme Grand Bistro on Carnival Street where a madman referring to himself as ‘Darwin Naplam’ has taken a single hostage. Eyewitness reports have claimed that this Darwin Napalm is holding the hostage, a male employee of the Bistro, until a superhero of Pacific City offers a face-to-face reply inside the building.”

“I’m currently standing here with Ally Simon, a mother who had been eating at the scene when the madman attacked. Miss Simon, what exactly happened inside the bistro, and what were your thoughts at the time?”

“Well,” the quivering mother, her body still warped by fear, bent over and swooped up her young daughter in one arm and pulled away a lock of golden hair from her swollen eyes with the other, then stared blankly into the camera.

“My daughter and I were simply eating breakfast inside as we do every Saturday morning, just a girls-only day. There had been minor electrical problems with the bistro and they had hired a repair man who had been coming in and fixing things for a week now. Today, he went back into the kitchen as always and a few minutes later he returned with some sort of gun and wearing a suit of…”

Ally Simon hugged her teary-eyed daughter even tighter to her body, tried to bury her young ears deep into her chest as to shield them. “He was wearing a suit of human skin.” Miss Simon began to follow her daughter in crying.

“I’m so sorry you had to suffer through such a terrible ordeal,” began Amanda Beasley. “However, could you explain to our viewers just what the demands were, why almost everyone was let go?” She feigned a caring smile, in hopes to massage further answers from the visibly frazzled mother.

This was finally her big break and there was no way she was going to let up on the cutthroat journalism just to protect some woman’s emotional state. No, if Amanda Beasley wanted to be anything in Pacific City, she would have to exploit this chance meeting of super-villain drama.

Between manic sobs that could no longer be choked back, Miss Simon struggled with the words. “I–I have–I–don’t–he’s a sick–sick…”

“Hold on!” The camera darted from Miss Simon back to Amanda at her boisterous request. “It appears as though someone is answering the call!”

The camera panned slowly back to the face of Homme Grand Bistro awaiting the soundtrack of Amanda’s voice to sultrily slip once again into poetic refrain.

Rappelling gracefully down the side of the building was an impressive figure draped all in black. The camera eyes watched impatiently as the figured dropped from the face of the building and slithered into the bistro.

***

“Hello? Darwin, I’m here, now let the hostage go.” Dragged on the heels of chirping wet leather boots, the words followed into the bistro. The black leather boots marshaled further inside, losing grip on squashed jelly filled donuts, frosted cinnamon rolls and crushed cups of coffee which bled their contents across the linoleum floor.

In majestic silence, a creature hidden behind the mask of human features appeared, played his absurd little pantomime. Its features would furrow and then the faux mauve lips would part and smile, ready to dance, but no words came forth.

The man in black, to whom the boots and words belonged grew tired of this monster and his unwilling communication. He grimaced, angry spittle frothing over his bulldog lips. “What the hell do you want with me, Darwin?”

The quirky little Charlie Chaplin kept quiet, just writhed to the silent orchestra tuned up in his head.

“That’s it, you damned kook.” Eyes focused on the psychotic mute were narrowed with disgust; disgust that transferred to a contempt-filled fist, which crawled deep into an armpit and dragged free a hidden firearm. The weapon became trained on the ripples in the grotesque mask’s forehead. “Now we play this game my way.”

The worn and peeling lips creaked apart as if to speak for the first time. The lips smacked dryly together; they chided the hero. Before the other man, hiding behind his big, bad, gun could decide to squeeze off a round, a whimpering, bleached white with fear skull was pulled up from below the counter by a fistful of auburn locks. Tears spiraled down the barista’s young, jaunt face.

“Help me!”

The left eye behind the firearm quivered; conceded.

“Yes, help this weakling, ‘hero’.” Darwin’s mask smiled its smirky smirk once again. The tone in its whimper filled with ecstasy. “I’m confused as all Hell here, ‘hero’, so here’s to hoping you can help me. What kinda sorry ‘hero’ up and uses a gun, eh?”

“My kind.”

“Very well. Say I believed you, which, ‘course I don’t, you can illustrate my point just the same.”

The barista was hauled to his feet so that his chest masked his captor’s. Darwin hugged the man tightly to his body and poked his revolver into the young male’s cheek.

Sweat welled up from his underarm and pooled inside the police-issued kevlar suit. Even the best of police negotiators knew there were instances where it was time to kill the idle chatter, and do so with a nine millimeter chunk of metal. As his pistol lay intent on Darwin’s skul,; his rouse dispelled, he knew now was that time for him, for the barista and for Darwin who had played unwilling all along.

The firearm discharged and the bullet arced cleanly past the barista’s shoulder, directly toward Darwin’s slightly exposed throat. While this was not sundown, the rules of a showdown still applied; whoever fired first should have won. The police negotiator certainly was the first to fire, however he did not win. The bullet mushroomed into Darwin’s suit of flesh and popped harmlessly to the ground like a kernel.

Darwin Napalm grinned sheepishly. “You just up and killed us all,” he chuckled. “Well, ‘cept me, suit of impervious flesh an’ all.”

The four walls which held all three prisoner began to sweat. Violent orange perspiration oozed from the plaster inside the plaster skin, which began to sluff off in husks.

“If I could quote Herbert Spencer before your deaths; ‘survival of the fittest’ he said,” Darwin paused dramatically. “Heroes, superhuman and normal just the same are the cause of our society’s decay. By beein’ a hero, you protect the weak from their due death. Disease, poverty, Hell, even that Global Warmin’ crap–all them are Nature’s way of trying to correct our heroes’ sins. I’m the next best thing.”

Trapped inside the sweltering perimeter of napalm sweat, the three men played audience to Darwin’s show. Nestled in Darwin’s other fist was a grey bar, no larger than his palm. At either ends of the bar were two switches; both labeled. One read ‘napalm’ and the other ‘evolution’; he thumbed the latter.

The bistro exploded into an eruption of evolutionary flames, turning the structure into a fireball that tore through the Pacific City sky.

***

“Sniffle this, what of this, my skin up pin up, oh yeah
Pick up a lady, two more in waiting, stops me from aching.”

The ambient lyrics filtered from the overhead speakers and through the ash choked club into the waiting ears of the sole figure parked at the bar. A black fedora, wrapped in a red ribbon was tucked down to the bridge of his nose, concealing his face. His fingers twinkled across the reflective face of the bar in cadence with the music. Often his other hand would come to the martini glass filled with a neon green substance and circle playfully around the lip.

Looking at his digit swirling above the murky green liquid, the man realized just how drunk he wasn’t getting. He cut the rhythmic energy that coursed through his body in response to the music and tossed the contents of the glass to the back of his throat.

Not even slightly phased by the alchemic brew of what he thought was pear flavored extract, vodka and Red Bull, the man decided to order another. He hailed for the bartender and then placed his fedora down beside his glass on the bar, exposing his face for the first time.

His head was devoid of color and without hair; he was pale as the moon with skin as faultless as china. Centered in his face were two massive holes consumed almost entirely by black, burning coals for eyes.

The bartender caught the eyes inlaid into the egg-shaped head and must have put on some visible disgust, for a light burned softly in those ink-pool eyes and a smile parted the man’s thinly etched lips.

The pale man carried an ethereal aura, enough so that the bartender decided not to try the man. He plainly poured another drink and returned to another corner of the bar. As soon as he had been served, the pale man slammed the drink down and then returned to his waiting, and the gentle solace of the music.

Shortly after his second drink, a set of double doors behind the pale man unfolded and spat out an angel-in-black. She stood at a man-killer six-foot, all legs. Her hair was raven black with wispy strands of crimson throughout the long mane that exploded down her slender frame, which was tucked tightly inside a leather dress with a diamond cutout over the crown of her supple breasts.

The slender woman sat down on the bar stool next to Pale Man; flashed him her fiery emerald eyes, and gently tongued the silver barbell piercing on her bottom lip.

Pale Man caught the gesture as he spied the seductress from over his shoulder. “Feeling horny, bitch?”

The vixen tickled the space in between her thighs with her hand, then lifted her scalding eyes up to meet the Pale Man’s stare. “Mother would never let me out to play with any of the neighborhood tomcats; said this pussy was always in heat.”

“Good, then let’s get the hell outta here; the drinks suck,” Pale Man smirked.

Pale man swept up his fedora from the bar and set it atop his barren skull; buried one fist into the oversized pockets of his black pin-striped zoot suit in search of his keys and used the other to right the scarlet tie around his neck. He hunched to a stand and crossed slowly the writhing bodies in the club to the exit. The seductress packed up her purse and gave chase.

In through the out door stumbled three young and stocky males all baptized by chic fruit drinks mixed with vodka. Failing to render the anorexic figure who hung midway through the exit, one of them blundered into Pale Man; toppled his pin-striped hat to the floor.

Pale Man gritted his teeth and gnarled slightly; voiced his irritation. The aloof drunk babbled something unintelligible with an innocent euphoria, then bent down to pick up the fallen cap before starting apologize. When the drunk arose to return the fedora, his eyes caught the grimace wrapped over Pale Man’s face; the goggled opal eyes torched the pools of alcohol inside the young man’s belly and lit a gruesome rage.

“This thing is fucking one of them,” the drunk stammered to his stooges. “One of them freaks that’s set the arsonist prick on Pacific City!”

“My brother’s friend had a cousin in that bistro you–you Humpty Dump looking mother fuck,” another raged.

“Get the livin’ hell out of our city, if you treasure your life, freak,” the last of the three commented.

Pale Man emoted nothing, simply righted the hat atop his hairless head once more. His snow white face was bleached clean of humanity, his bulbous black eyes, soulless. “I haven’t the clue who this arsonist you speak of is, or what I’ve got to do with it. I fear you’re mistaken, I simply came to partake in the Bacchanalian orgies,” a smile cracked wisely on his face.

“This little twink is getting wise,” the drunk clamored. The other two grunted their affirmatives.

The drunk moved; reached forward and wrangled a fistful of Pale Man’s strawberry red dress-shirt; lifted his other fist to strike.

Before human flesh could become mashed and human blood spilled, a glint of light from an exposed switchblade flashed into the drunk’s eyes. The blade was wrapped in the calm hand of the seductress, now beside Pale Man.

“Let him go boys,” her icy voice demanded.

In a flash, words were spat, the seductress was knocked aside and a fist was buried into Pale Man’s nose. As time slowed down once more, the seductress was picked up by one in the drunk’s flock, and the drunk continued to wail relentlessly upon Pale Man without reply.

The seductress found herself locked in a lazy man’s full nelson; she stabbed an elbow into the gut of her captor. He cried out profanities; as she struggled to free herself, his fingernails tore her shoulder skin; she bled and she pained. Annoyed with her, she was rejected; tossed away. She tripped on a stair leading down to the dance floor; crashed to the floor upon her face; her nose exploding in a bloody uproar.

Pale Man watched curiously as the seductress bled. A scarlet red pool developed around her broken face. Aroused with power, Pale Man struck. He reached for the drunk’s neck like the gill plates of a trout and he crushed; the chin rocketed upward from the mangled throat and blood was spat into the air.

Spattered with blood, Pale Man’s arousal was paused, but did not end. Fluid and instant he took the chain dangling from his pants pocket in both his hands and swept around another of his attackers. The chain noose caught around the neck and was tightened fiercely; the Adam’s Apple shattered causing the young male to gag on the glut of blood in his throat.

Seeing his two friends murdered, the last of the three males fled through the exit and vanished into the outside world. Pale Man crossed over to his lover; intended to do the same.

“Fiona, come on darling, we have to get out of here, we’ll get back to our games later,” he suggested hurriedly.

As the two misfit lovers escaped from the bar, the song ended and the track changed over.

Once more obey the bloody fist
Once more betrayed by your open wrist
One more rusty nail a sordid crime
One more spreading stain upon you shrine

***

I decided to pick up on Fiona’s trail where I figured this strange little game had begun; with dearest old mother.

Fiona’s mother, Aricka Samuelson met my father, Grendel Witt some thirty years ago in Berlin, Germany when I was ten. An infamous inventor, the Howard Hughes type, he used his genius as a stepping stone to a life of aristocratic excess; she was a screen starlet, only eight years my senior and the most sought after woman in all of Germany.

The two were married soon after and purchased a small manor in the German countryside together. Whether they loved each other or not, I don’t quite know, but they certainly enjoyed their lives together. Drugs, sex, the ecstasy of paparazzi flashbulbs, that was their love.

When I was twenty-two and engaged with study in Switzerland, Fiona was born. Her birth marked the death of the marriage. Complications with the birth due to Aricka’s continued drug use and rumor that Fiona was not even his wrought my father with depression. It only took a short time, a few days after Fiona’s third birthday for the marriage to end when my father was found dangling from a noose in the bathroom; an apparent suicide.

When I returned from Switzerland for the funeral I found that my father had left Aricka a large sum of money and compiled with her own fortunes she had planned to leave the manor for Cape Cod in the United States. Helpless to save the estate, I quit school and used my inheritance to buy back the manor from her. A month later Aricka and Fiona moved out.

Once a year, during the Fall, the two return to Germany and visit family and friends. On occasion I would meet with my step-sister for lunch, but blaming my father’s death on her, I wished to never see Aricka again.

When I set foot on the beachfront Cape Cod mansion it was good to know that the feelings were mutual. Claiming that nothing was wrong and Fiona was simply running away as she always did, Aricka was furious that she be scolded on parenting by old man Witt’s son.

More interested in a three course international delight; French manicures, Cuban pool boys and Columbian cocaine, she yielded absolutely no information as expected. However, the preoccupation with her vices allowed me to stealthily investigate Fiona’s room.

Hidden inside a copy of Dickens’ Great Expectations is where I found the first clue. Used as a bookmark was a business card with the name of a studio in Boston printed on it. Turns out Fiona followed in her mother’s footsteps; had a love of being filmed.

***

“At three-thirty this afternoon Pacific City police entered the industrial club behind me in response to a 911 call from the owner of the establishment. The bodies of two young males, Sam Wallington and Chris Farrell were found inside, both dead from massive trauma to the neck. Eyewitness reports claim to have seen the two men and another male get into a scuffle with a female patron of the bar. When the three men began to get rough with the woman, another male intervened and that’s when they say the two men were killed.”

“Police are now searching for this male suspect, the female who fled with him and the friend of the two victims. The only leads they have to go on at this moment is that the male suspect was pale white skinned with large black eyes and is likely a metahuman. A detailed sketch of the suspect has been released, which we have for you now.”

“That was Amanda Beasley reporting this breaking news. Thank you Amanda.”

”Thank you.”

Darwin Napalm monitored the brightly flickering light below rabbit ears gleefully as the police rendering was placed within it. He had found his next victim.

***

Under the guise Fiona Samuelson, my step-sister began her film career. Evidently a freshly ripened cherry birthed from a German bombshell can have quite a demand in snuff films. The business card I found in Fiona’s book was for a small east-coast porn studio, Underside Pictures.

When I personally went about to check up on this Underside Pictures, they happened to station his wicked little wretch at the front desk; snotty little bastard wouldn’t give me shit. So I gave him a bloodied nose. What the hell, haven’t played hero for years, besides, my love tap did some good. All of a sudden couldn’t shut him up about Fiona Witt, or as he knew her, Fiona Samuelson.

They produced five flicks with Fiona, all spoofs on mommy’s movies. After that they wanted her to do one fetish film, just some innocent leather and lace type stuff. Little Fiona got off on it a bit too much; asked to do two more fetish films, this time some real S&M stuff. She started to make a name for herself with all the freaks; the shiny new toy for all the sadists to lust after.

And that’s when this whole thing went for shit.

Fiona drew the eye of some local guy; real infamous with all the fetish clubs up and down America’s East Coast. Everyone calls him Porcelain; a pasty, frail creep who’s a real nasty sadist. Between sneezes of blood into a white cloth he had fetched, my disgusting little informant managed to stammer that ever since Porcelain met with Fiona, she hadn’t returned to do any more films.

Can’t say I’m upset that little sis’s film career wasn’t all that lengthy, but I would have preferred her retirement to come under different circumstances.

***

The chubby fingers dotted away beads of sweat from the peninsula of skin between two thin tufts of hair. Despite him having started his career as a young boy in his native New Zealand, the Pacific Rim heat always annoyed him. The sticky sweat clung to his fingers like honey; he cleared the mess into an amber pool on his denim overalls before returning to the sandwich deep inside the greasy sack of foods.

He nibbled softly on the crusty edge of the sandwich, tuna fish, and swallowed it deeply to avoid the taste. He really hated the taste of tuna fish, but the canned stuff was cheap, and no one would ever check the tuna fish.

With some surgical precision, he unfolded the sandwich; first the pockmarked top-slice of bread he had nibbled, then the thick cut of cheddar, and finally, with his fingers he began swirl apart the massive clump of tuna and mayonnaise at the center.

Buried deep within the pocket of tuna was a trigger. On the trigger read the two words ‘napalm’ and ‘evolution’.

Darwin Napalm smiled at the device. Only three weeks since he had caught the telecast about the pale-skinned hero and already he had played the unassuming electrician and rigged another building.

***

This tragic jigsaw puzzle started to piece together at a nearby industrial bar. It didn’t take much asking about Porcelain to get a lion share of horror stories. Some beatnik-business man who’s captured himself quite a wealth, Porcelain uses that money to secure himself women from the fetish clubs.

Rumor has it he’s a real rough one, starts off soft, belaying passionate ballads of love, riddled with sadistic innuendo. Then, as the women realize where his little game is headed he starts to work them over. As their pain grows, he turns more brutal, more relentless, goes too far.

No one working the bars were dumb enough to let me in on any of this for fear that Porcelain may take his business elsewhere. However, this sweet little thing in knee-high Wicked Witch of the whatever working her thing on the dance floor to Megaherz’ ‘Fleisch Meiner Fantasie’ was more than willing to oblige me the information when she found out I was a real-live German, and with riches no less.

I took her to my room I was staying in a local hotel and we had a nice talk over a few drinks and room service. Turns out Porcelain had gotten a bit too rough with a female companion one night and he killed her. Now the cute young thing from the industrial club who I came to know as Winter didn’t know who this girl was the daughter of, but it was apparently not someone you don’t fuck with because Porcelain got spooked and fled the city.

It took the company of a less-than-noble woman for it to click; the voice on the other end of the phone wasn’t after Fiona, the target was Porcelain. The motive was revenge. However, I think Porcelain had the wrong idea all along, whoever wanted him dead was also panty pissing scared of him too. Conveniently, Porcelain’s newest squeeze happened to be related to a retired urban legend in Germany.

With that realization I knew that I would need to find Fiona before the voice did. The voice may be afraid of Porcelain, but not if he had Fiona for leverage.

That’s where I ended the conversation with Winter; whatever else she could tell me about Porcelain’s taste wouldn’t add to the urgency I felt. Besides, the drinks made us silly little children and I couldn’t have taken any more of her come-hither smile.

That’s when the blasted phone interrupted. As I reached across Winter’s exhibitive form for the receiver, the queerness of the situation hit me. No one should have known that I was in town. Not that I was surprised someone did.

“Mister Witt.”

“Voice.”

”You’re checking under stones already overturned. You think cute little goth girls can offer you more than a blowjob? Need I remind you—Fiona’s life is at risk.”

“I was hoping to mix business with pleasure if you don’t mind. Need I remind you—I’m doing this as a favor.”

“Very well,” the voice paused; it’s distorted androgyny sounding slightly irritated. “You need to expand your search; the girl has been located. Pacific City, Australia.”

The line filled with ghastly static as the transmission quietly choked.

Whatever The Voice was, it was good. Likely had agents of his own all over the world, watching for Porcelain and me. What made that realization more interesting was that The Voice knew where Porcelain was now but instead of sending out his minions, he still strung me along. He needed a fall guy, someone to pin the deaths of Porcelain and Fiona Witt on. Who better than a former vigilante with a known history of violent behavior that could be connected to a bitter family dispute with one of the deceased?

It was a beautifully designed trap, by a regular Rube Goldberg. It didn’t matter either way that I knew it was a trap, he knew that I would figure it out. Still, he had me by the short hairs; nothing I could do.

I hung up the receiver, tossed Winter the key to the room and a large enough roll to live there in the hotel for a month. After attacking her face and lips with my tongue, I left the room for Australia.

***

The light danced across the small concrete chamber as two sentries stalked past. The shadows of the guards would filter through his caged residence; filling it with darkness and then one footstep later with light. Porcelain lamented the monotonous left-foot, right-foot pattern as he tried to rest.

“You guys mind cuttin’ the dutiful guard act? I’m trying to steal some shut-eye,” Porcelain protested.

”We’ve got you for a double-homicide—as soon as we can dig up some information on you, you’ll be processed and moved onto to someplace more permanent. You can rest then.”

Porcelain rose from the rusted steel cot in his cage and strode lazily toward the ill-mannered guards. Pushing his face through the mesh that held him in and them out, his milk-white face became of patchwork of maroon broken skin lines. “Caged animals have long memories,” he spat through gnashed teeth.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah—keep telling yourself that, prisoner.”

“I’d listen to it if was y’all,” a fourth voice chided. .

The startled guards leapt at the interruption. The voice from behind belonged to the curious electrician who had been called in to rewire the station to a new generator.

”Hey, you’re not supposed to be in here with the prisoners!”

“Sorry gents, afraid you ain’t gonna stop me.” The gangly black revolver leapt from the slathered denim overalls and two shots were squeezed off; they hit their marks.

“That was simply beautiful,” Porcelain scoffed. “And to whom do I owe my sordid rescue?”

“Ha. Don’t mistake this gesture.” He kicked one of the slain officers spitefully in the side of the head. “I am Darwin Napalm. I am here to kill you for your crimes against evolution.”

“Fool, I epitomize evolution,” Porcelain snarled.

“Yeah, what’s with pasty skin and bugged-out eyes, anyway mate?”

“Side effect of my reverse-empathy. I was born four months premature and a clinical wreck; frail, weak, undersized; abortive by nature. There was a fight in me though; an evolution had to occur so that I could live. Now I gain strength from others’ pain. That’s the short of it.”

“Then you had to go and save that weak little slut-bitch in the club. Just like when I stole my impenetrable hide, it will hurt me t’have to kill such a mark of evolution.” Darwin reached down into the ass pocket of one of the guards and freed a set of handcuffs. “Put these on, it’s time to make you an example.”

***

The cocky little bastard was parading the quarry in front of all of us; the beat writers, the public news faces and a gargoyle, a chimera attached to a perch high above. It still felt uncomfortable thinking of it like that. Wearing the slate German military suit, with the knee high leather boots, the black bomber’s cap and goggles and the yellow cowl and scarf that covered the bottom half of my face and bellowed for feet in the wind felt wrong. I wasn’t supposed to be Schimare anymore.

Not that it mattered anymore. The sole concrete lead I had for finding Fiona was lying prostrate inside an Australian police station, handcuffed with a gun to his forehead for the entire world to see. That was something Dedrick Witt alone couldn’t handle.

I didn’t recognize Porcelain’s captor; he did good enough with that; a full-body suit of grey obscured the human inside. However, as he barked evolutionary prattle to the gathering outside the station, the mannerisms were too rattled and maniacal for The Voice. So I knew I still had a chance to make this right.

I leapt from the nearby building, becoming devoured into the blank, dark gullet of night. As the rows of lit window became smattering blurs, the cold, unforgiving street chased for me. With a simple thought the steam circular system wound around my chest sputtered to life and began pumping into the mini jet-pack on my back. The descent was halted and I began to control my trajectory through the sky.

The sea of heads craned upward as I streaked above them.

A cacophony of gasps filled the night sky. ”Is it The Snipe?” they all wondered.

From the compartments stored on my shoulders popped out a wiry trap. A red reticule formed inside the right goggle and was trained on the masked face inside the station. With another simple thought, the trap exploded; spitting hundreds of ball bearings toward the designated target sniffed out by the reticule. Starbursts dotted the glass in front of Porcelain and his captor as they passed through. When the small silver globes met their soft, fleshy target, Porcelain’s captor should have died; there was enough force behind the ball bearings to saw off his head. Instead the projectiles were absorbed and scoffed off.

Fuck.

Well, guess that means Plan B. Wish I knew what that was.

Looking down at the crowd of reporters the captor had called forth witnesses, I realized they were a safe distance away from the police station so that gave me a little room to be stupid. I just had to make sure that Porcelain didn’t die too. If the captor was anything like most megalomaniacs who want this kind of exposure he would not take his public martyr until after his preaching was over. That played into my hand—just had to end this fast.

First thing that came to mind; the reticule stayed focused on the captor’s body, and I threw the largest projectile at it. Myself. The glass partition shattered as my outstretched fists pushed through. The captor couldn’t adjust in time and I toppled him, forcing the firearm out of his grasp and across the floor.

The blow gave me the air of surprise and I was able to get to my feet first.

”Porcelain, you don’t know me. Is Fiona alright?”

“Well, I’m not positive. You see, I’ve been imprisoned for a few days,” Porcelain chided.

Okay, I deserved that. It was a stupid question, but you can’t blame me for having a one-track mind. Fiona is all that matters; as far as I’m concerned Porcelain is scum and deserves whatever this other guy has for him…this other guy.

I turned my attention to the prone figure, who still struggled to gather his whereabouts. Incidentally I stumbled across a weakness. While the suit seemed to be impenetrable, it was still just a measly suit and wasn’t much in the way of absorbing blows.

Now I had him disarmed and figured out. Guess I hadn’t lost it after all. Die Schimare was all right. When I decided to take a fistful of the captor’s suit; it felt sweaty and like molted skin. Don’t know what was up with this guy, or this hide that he wore head-to-toe. Didn’t much matter, really. He would seen be out of the equation; as soon as I moved him away from the media frenzy outside. Then Porcelain I could have that overdue chat.

“Looks like I get to kill two heroes tonight. Just my luck,” the captor spoke, a delirious smile across his face as I dragged him toward the rear of the police station.

“Keep talking you crazy fuck. That willingness might come in handy later.” It really gets on my nerves when they talk out of turn.

There was an ‘interrogation’ room near the back of the station; it would serve as the best place to deal with this guy. I took the liberty of stealing a pair of handcuffs off a slain officer inside; kicked open the interrogation room door and tossed the captor inside, across the floor.

Even as I sat him on the chair and cuffed him to the steel table, he never once wiped that damn smile off his face. It really pissed me off. Like he knew he still had the upper hand.

Angry, I stormed off; time to see what Porcelain knew. When I got back to him it was good to see he was still on his knees, bathed in a sea of flashbulbs.

”I don’t care about you, or him, only Fiona. Understood?”

”Quite.”

“That said, is there any reason I should worry about him in there?”

“Certainly; I would not have left him alone for one.” The sickly pale white face cracked open and a razor sharp smile of pearly whites crept out over Porcelain’s lips.

When the sadists get to smilin’ sadistically, it’s never a good thing. Sure-as-shit, I knew this wasn’t going to be any different.

“What did I give him a chance to do?”

“Nothing too dire, hero. I assume that it wasn’t beyond your keen sense of perception that our captor wore a peculiar suit of flesh, yes?”

“Yeah, I caught that.”

“He calls himself Darwin Napalm; a self-fashioned protector of evolution with a mad-on for heroes. He’s rigged this building and himself with explosives. That suit will keep him alive; he walks out in tact while our various parts are scattered all across this worthless town.”

Fuck. And just when I thought the old man still had it.

Pushing the laughing yellow scarf out of the way, I scratched at the gauntlets hidden beneath the ashen military sleeve. The gauntlets served a vital purpose; when I first assumed the mantle of Schimare I couldn’t find a feasible way to pack-rat all the inventions I had constructed. I tried belts and backpacks which did nothing but get in the way of the propulsion system. So, I devised another method; gauntlets, shoulder-pads and a flak jacket, all with compartments inside.

Pried free from the right gauntlet was a thick cylinder, about as long as my forearm and fist-sized. It was a hilt; from which, after a slash across my chest, extended a network of thin, steel conduit. Once the slithering conduits calmed, a crackle of whispered electricity surged up them; grew into a scream.

“Don’t move,” I warned him.

Porcelain’s bowed figure quivered uneasily. Even though he faced away from me, the prospect of the unseen unnerved him. The gurgling whip cackled little puffs of sizzle and licked the air wildly, lashing toward the execution-fashioned captive.

A cast of the wrist and the serpentine weapon struck.

Porcelain stroked his blistered wrists with all the grace and civility of a hyena through carrion; his face twisted in ecstasy.

“So, Mister Hero, I would be delighted to hear that you’ve not decided to stick around and mess with that nut-job in there.”

“Afraid I have to. I can’t let him blow up this building with all the reporters outside.”

“Well, of course. Then, since I was always the villain as a little boy, what would you say to letting me go? We can meet up again at this absurd little coffee shop down the lane.”

“Until I get Fiona back, you don’t leave my side.”

“Right, very well then. Robin to your Batman–well holy ludicrous exclamations, what do you propose we do?”

“Cute little shit, aren’t you?”

He might have said something in reply, but it didn’t matter what. That sick, queasy feeling in my gut was starting to build up–yeah, that one; the rot inside that makes you a hero, not a scumbag. I just couldn’t ignore all the others–leave them to a madman’s whim; I tried, trust me, but no dice. I had to save them; damned that it be my curse.

I had already begun enacting a strategy to best Darwin Napalm. Deep in a pouch over my left breast was a silvery little drone; about the size of a quarter. An electromagnetic pulse detonator. I just hoped against all Hell that our villain didn’t use more archaic means; we might not survive this one if so.

“You ready, Robin?” I thumbed the thin little disc resting in my palm. All light in the police station and neighboring buildings for two blocks died out, masking the streets in darkness.

Not long after, the emergency generators woke with a dutiful yawn and brought the lights to the police station and street lamps back on.

***

I charged the door to the interrogation room like I half-expected to catch him off guard; Porcelain flanked like a good little sidekick. Why I expected him to be handcuffed down; twiddling his fingers idly on the interrogation room, I can’t say. I mean, shit, I just cut the power out; if Darwin had half the brain it would take to infiltrate a police station and rig it with explosives, he would know something was up.

Sure enough, Darwin was sitting peacefully in his chair; fully aware and smiling wide. I would cut that fucking smirk off his face if I had too.

Darwin’s smile widened; his dingy yellow teeth parted wide into an aloof circle. His tongue wagged from the gap, but then lunged back toward his throat. Observing Darwin’s delirious pantomime, I caught a glimmer in his eyes. His pupils began to dilate; icy blue pupils chewed away the softly marbled whites.

Streams of off-yellow vomit poured from the stretched maw; splashing down Darwin’s chin, his disgusting overalls, the chair and floor beneath him. The room filed with the putrid taint of tuna fish.

Darwin’s tongue once more exited his mouth; this time perched at the center of his white, discolored tongue was a thin silver bar. He tried his best to smile an awkward smirk while balancing the trigger on his tongue.

His mouth winced shut again and his tongue slipped back in slowly, giving guard duty over his trigger to his teeth. Darwin tried to mumble something; likely his triumphant bad guy dialogue. Let’s just say I didn’t mind being spared the b-movie declaration.

There wasn’t enough time to try and stop him; he quickly clamped down on the trigger with his teeth. I was told once that a hero was doomed to have his fate bound to chance.

Nothing happened.

Darwin bit down again.

Nothing still.

Ha. Fate and chance can go screw themselves.

“Darwin, meet an EMP detonator.” I tossed the small little disc at him.

He looked down disdainfully at the small object in his lap; the physical representation of end to his conquest. “Shit, y’all got me, mates.”

“Yeah.”

***

Porcelain shoved the key into the lock and twisted.

After returning the station to the police, and leaving Darwin Napalm in their custody, it was time to go find Fiona. After Porcelain had killed the punks from the bar, he and Fiona had concocted the brain dead plan that they needed to leave the country–by air. Now, what in their right minds made them think that a murder suspect and possible witness could pass through security–I don’t know. At least they were smart enough to take two different planes. That’s when Porcelain was picked up. By now he had figured that Fiona had gotten on the plane and left. They were supposed to meet at some hotel in New Zealand.

I knew she never made it. There’s no way in Hell that The Voice let her get that far. She was still holed up in their hotel here in Pacific City.

That’s where we went.

Porcelain knocked softly on the door marked ’67’ in gold house numbers. The door crept slowly open, allowing a slice of the hotel room to escape. From inside I could sense small hints of humanity; the pipes groaning with running water, a audible crackle of snow babbling from the television, trace scents of musky cologne and squeaky floorboards that tattled on all four men inside.

“You any good at acting?”

“Member of the American National Thespian Academy; New England.”

“Good.”

***

I lead Porcelain slowly into the hotel room by his wrists which were now bound by industrial grade zip-ties from a pocket in my flak jacket. Sure enough, there were two guys sitting on a dingy brown sofa with little Fiona between them, and another two past an auburn stained dinner table in the kitchen; one was washing a plate, probably after a snack.

“Okay, we all know why we’re here, so let’s not fuck around,” I instructed.

The two men from the sofa, who weren’t all that awing in size, rose to their feet. The one on the left snatched the arm of Fiona and brought her to a stand. She squirmed a little, and the goon tightened his grasp on her arm. The resistance burned her a little and her arm turned pink. Porcelain twitched.

“Hey, Ronnie, Darick, get in here. Our package has been delivered,” the one holding Fiona barked.

The man in the kitchen cleaning the plate let it shatter into the sink he leapt into room so excitedly; he was flanked by the other from the kitchen. These two guys weren’t impressive either, trim and muscular but small. None of them touched six-foot or broke two-hundred pounds. Just goons with guns.

“Well, if it ain’t my good friend Porcelain,” plate-man chuckled. “You fucked up real good, ya did.”

“Hello Ronald. Still offering services to the good senator it seems,” Porcelain responded defiantly.

“I’m so glad you two could get reacquainted and all, but I swore I said no fucking around, right?” Christ, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah; that’s all these criminals do anymore.

“Sure, sure. Give us the freak and chica over there is all yours,” Ronnie instructed.

“Perhaps your boss didn’t tell you about me.” Give them a nice pause, check them out and change your plan if it looks like you need, there’s only one shot at this. ” But I’m fucking old, too old for this shit. I got this terrible headache and all I want to do is get this over with so I can throw back some aspirin and take a nap.”

They looked puzzled.

“Means I’m not in the God damned mood. We do this my way; give me the girl and he’s all yours. Kill him for all I care, probably deserves it.”

Ronnie glanced over to the one holding Fiona. “What the hell? Cut her loose Sam.”

As soon as he let go of Fiona’s arm I tossed Porcelain at them. Fair is Fair. I just hoped little sister would forgive me for this next one.

Fiona came running over, sobbing, and tried to hug me.

I punched her in the face.

The goofiest look I’ve ever seen crossed all four face at the same time, but it was too late; they were fucked. The blow to Fiona’s face was more than enough to make the freak-of-nature in their custody go real apeshit.

I moved Fiona behind me to protect her.

Porcelain broke from the zip-ties. The four men pulled their firearms and began squeezing shots. Each load of lead that sunk into his body did nothing to stop Porcelain; he just kept going, tearing into the four men with his bare hands; consumed by some freak rage. Shortly after, the shooting stopped and there was nothing left but carrion.

***

“Suspicions were fueled last night as a heroic figure interrupted Darwin Napalm’s attempt to blow up the police station. None of the eyewitnesses or reporters that were present were able to properly identify this hero, but rumor has it that it may have been the ethereal being referred to as Snipe Hunt.”

“Thanks for the report, Amanda.”

“That was Amanda Beasley, PCN’s very own eye-witness reporter who was present during last night’s daring hostage situation and then rescue at a local police station.”

I packed up the last of my things into the brown leather suitcase before closing it up and locking it. I sat down on the bed beside the suitcase, only for a moment and dug into the tan Dockers for the aspirin. I tossed six into my mouth and swallowed them down instantly, stopping only to contemplate the news for a short moment.

“…in other news, four mutilated bodies were found in the hotel room of the double-homicide suspect involved in last night’s hostage situation this morning. Pacific City police are still searching for the suspect…”

I reached over and tapped the power button on the remote. I picked up my suitcase and opened the door out of my hotel room.

Everything had somehow worked itself out. I had saved Fiona’s life, and saved a city from a serial -bomber madman. Best of all was that someone else was going to get the credit for it. That meant I would never have to become die Schimare ever again. Maybe I could take up golf, or something.

As for Fiona and Porcelain, they would be fine too. While they could never truly be safe with Senator Robertson still alive; I knew that as long as Fiona was with him, she would stay alive, because in some sick sort of way, he loved her.

***

“Senator Robertson, Ronnie Gerlon is here to see you,” crackled the voice on the intercom.

“Oh, yes, send them in Elise.”

The solid cherry door busted free of its hinges as the screaming body Elise Richards was tossed through it.

“Hullo Senator. So good to see you again,” Porcelain cackled.

END
Originally presented in Anthology 2 as World Without a Millennium Man: “die Schimare.”
Song lyrics used in the ‘bar scene’ are from 808 State and Mansun’s “Skin up, pin up” and KMFDM’s “Secret Skin.”

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