Thursday, July 2, 2015

My Super Midlife Crisis - Chapter Fifteen

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ELYSE WOULD BE LYING to herself if she said she wasn’t at all nervous over the prospect of Oliver becoming a Mighty. Of course, if he had to be a Mighty who better than Captain Might. But still, the idea of her husband changing into someone else . . . She tried not to think of it.

“Before we get into the specifics of transforming, dear boy,” Farnsworth said. “I would first like to suggest you put on Captain Might’s suit. The clothes you have on right now would never survive the process.”

Elyse gulped. Survive the process?

Oliver didn’t look at all afraid. If anything, he looked more than a little sour.

“Really?” he said. “I have to put that thing on again? I look ridiculous in it.”

“Yes, but as Captain Might, you will look magnificent,” Farnsworth said.

“Will he still be Oliver?” Elyse asked.

“Of course he will,” Farnsworth said.

“Well, I mean . . . will he still look, like himself.”

“I’ll be a lot bigger,” Oliver said. “I didn’t get to look at myself in a mirror last night, but I could see that much.”

“Oliver will switch bodies with a genetic construct which has been specifically designed for his genetic code alone,” Farnsworth said.

“Wait a moment,” Oliver said. “You’re gonna have to explain that to me in a little more detail”.

Farnsworth sighed which blew out his mustache like the mud-flaps on the back of a truck. Elyse tried not to smile.

“The moment you slid that ring on your finger,” Farnsworth said, “it began to take measurements of your genetic makeup. From there it constructed . . . well, let’s call it an avatar that can only be used by you. When you transform, your body, and the body of the avatar, switch places.”

“Switch places?” Elyse said. “That sounds safe.” She thought her sarcasm quite apparent.

“Where does my body go?” Oliver said. “Where is this avatar now? How can the ring construct an entire body like that? I only had the ring on for an hour at the most.”

The old man sighed again. “As I’m sure Peter explained, the rings were constructed by combining magic and science. Yes?”

“Right.”

“Okay, well as soon as you placed the ring on your finger, a pocket universe snapped into being, a universe out of time.”

“An entire universe?” Oliver asked. “Just like that?” He snapped his fingers.

She had a hard time wrapping her brain around the idea and could see by the way Oliver cocked his head—just like Joe, her old dog, used to do—that he was just as confused.

“Well, yes,” Farnsworth said. “But it is very, very small. And in that pocket universe, which, as I said, exists out of time, microscopic robots called nanobots have constructed your avatar. There the avatar waits until you wish to become Captain Might. Once that happens, your consciousness will leave your body and come to live within the avatar. The avatar will then replace your body in this world and your body will replace the avatar in the pocket universe. This will all happen, in a manner of speaking, rather instantaneously.”

“I’m not all that hip to the idea of my body being out there just floating around in this other universe.” Oliver said.

“Well, as I explained, the pocket universe exists out of time. You could be in your avatar for years here in this universe, then transform back, and as far as your body would be concerned, no time would have passed. Trust me; your physical self is very well protected.”

“Okay, so why do I need to change into the suit before I can transform? Will I need to wear that thing under my clothes?”

“Not at all,” Farnsworth said. “Look, it’s going to be easier for me to explain once you’re ready to give it a try. Please, go put the suit on.”

“Fine,” Oliver said, and Elyse watched as he made his way up the staircase.

Elyse sat quietly with the old man, studying him. The way his mustache drooped down over his mouth and chin gave him a permanent sour expression.

“Why are you doing this?” she asked.

“Would you believe, madam, that I am doing this only out of the goodness of my own heart?” Farnsworth smiled.

“Not really, no.” Elyse didn’t trust his smile. It felt fake, like the old man had cut the smile from a model in a magazine and pasted it to his face.

“No, I didn’t think you would.” Farnsworth sighed once again, and again it blew his mustache out. “Let’s just say that I have a vested interest in seeing Captain Might back in Garrison City.”

“What is it? What is your interest?”

“Because Captain Might alone can do more for the war on crime than I, or any other Mighty in Garrison combined, could ever do, and it’s a war worth fighting. And frankly, it’s a war we’re going to lose if something isn’t done about it.”

Before she could respond, Oliver tromped back down the stairs in his Captain Might suit, looking every bit as silly as he had earlier when the two were alone in the bedroom. If anything, the slight pout that had affixed itself to his face made him look even more ridiculous, like a child wearing a pink bunny outfit their aunt made them for Christmas.

Oliver stalked over to the couch and fell into it.

“Shall we continue?” Farnsworth asked.

“I suppose,” Oliver said.

“Then stand up, dear boy. Stand up.”

Oliver stood.

“Now, the process is actually quite simple. You first need to think of the ring, and then you think of yourself going into the ring and then coming back out again as Captain Might.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it.”

“Okay,” Oliver said. “I think I can handle that.”

Elyse watched as Oliver closed his eyes, stood silent for a full twenty seconds, and did nothing. He continued to do nothing until moments later when the nothing turned quickly into something. Oliver was bathed in an almost blinding yellow light that faded into orange at its core. It came from within Oliver and it surrounded him like a bubble of energy that pulsed and sizzled. She glanced at the floor and was relieved to see nothing was burnt. His form disappeared into the light, leaving nothing more than a dark orange silhouette within the bubble of yellow, like he had become one with the energy. The silhouette transformed, becoming bigger, taller, more muscular.

Then the energy dissipated and standing there where Oliver had been just moments ago was Captain Might. But not the same Captain she remembered from childhood. This Captain Might did look a bit like her husband, and yet, at the same time, not so much. But through it all, she could see Oliver in this man, this sculpted Greek God, who stood before her.

“Oh my,” she caught herself saying out loud.

“You like?” Oliver said.

But again, like the body, the voice wasn’t Oliver’s either . . . and, yet again, it was. There were differences and there were similarities. It was all very odd.

“Oh,” she said once again, followed immediately after with, “my.”

“Yes,” Farnsworth said in that deadpan way the British invented. “He’s very impressive.”

The old man’s jacket vibrated.

“Excuse me,” he said, standing and pulling a phone from within the jacket. He looked at the screen and his brow furrowed. “I need to take this.”

Elyse stepped over to Oliver as Farnsworth left the room with the phone to his ear.

“So that’s really you in there?” she asked, looking up at him.

“Feels like it,” Oliver said.

She poked him in the chest and felt the muscle and sinew resist her poke like a brick wall. She fought back the urge to run her hand along his abs.

“You like?” he said, smiling.

“Well,” she said. “It’s different. How does it feel?”

“I don’t know. It’s hard to describe. It feels natural, like this is how I was always supposed to be. And I’m,” he paused and she could see him searching for the right word. “Aware,” he said after a moment, “of, well, everything. I mean, I can hear what’s going on all around me, like for miles and miles in every direction.”

“Sounds chaotic. That would drive me nuts.”

“But it’s not; it’s not chaotic at all. It’s like,” he paused to think.

This new face of his that was so similar to Oliver’s true face made the same expression the old one did when thinking of how to proceed with what he wanted to say. It was so much Oliver, and yet alien at the same time. It would take some getting used to, like seeing your father after finally shaving off the beard he’d had for the first twenty years of your life.

“Think about it like this,” he said. “You’re in a crowded restaurant. There’s conversation everywhere. But to you, it’s all just a dull murmur. You can focus in on the person sitting across from you, can hear everything they say. But you can also shift your focus to what’s being said at the table next to you, or behind, or wherever. That’s what this is like, just on a much, much larger scale.”

“Cool,” Elyse said.

“Totally.”

“Switch on your television,” Farnsworth said as he entered the room.

“Why?” Elyse said.

“Please,” Farnsworth said. “Indulge an old man.”

“What channel?” she said, taking up the remote and pointing it at the flat-screen on the wall.”

“Any of the major networks will do, thank you,” Farnsworth said.

The set was on Channel Twelve as it popped on, and they found themselves watching live coverage of midtown Garrison.

“. . . V battles for her very life!” the reporter on the television said.

“You know who that is, yes?” Farnsworth said, aiming his walking stick at the screen.

“That’s Lady V,” Oliver said.

“Is that a robot?” Elyse said.

“It appears to be just that,” Farnsworth said. “And she’s not having an easy time of it. She needs your help, Oliver.”

“My help?” Oliver said. “Now hold on.”

“Look at the damage that thing has caused so far,” Farnsworth said, once again motioning to the screen.

The area around the two combatants was nothing more than ruble and debris. Elyse could see the First National Bank of Garrison in the background, but the rest looked like the city had been at war for years.

“I can’t just go leaping into a fight like that,” Oliver said. “I’m not prepared.”

“Innocents have already been hurt, Oliver. Lady V can’t do this one alone. How many more people need to be harmed before you make your decision, son? Must someone die first?”

“Back off,” Elyse said, stepping between the two men. “You can’t just expect him to go flying off whenever—”

“No, Hon,” Oliver said, putting a hand on her shoulder. “He’s right. If I can help, then it’s my responsibility to do so.”

“That’s the spirit, my boy,” Farnsworth smiled for the second time.

Elyse believed the smile this time, but it didn’t make her feel any better about the old man. She trusted Oliver, knew that he would do what was best, what was right, and her heart filled with pride at the thought of her husband out there saving lives. But Farnsworth made her uncomfortable, no matter who he used to be.

“But first you need to change back into Oliver,” Farnsworth said. “It wouldn’t do to have your neighbors see you leaving the house like this.”

Oliver nodded and closed his eyes. Once again the yellow and orange glow surrounded him.

“You make sure he comes back to me in one piece,” she said, leaning in so that only Farnsworth would hear. “I’m sure you’ve gone up against some world class baddies in your day, but all of their power, all of their rage, all of their combined bat crap craziness will pale next to what I will throw at you if he’s hurt. Am I clear?”

The old man met her eyes and she saw him flinch. It was almost imperceptible, but she caught it and smiled.

“Good,” she said, “I’m glad we have an understanding.”



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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Walrus of Death - Chapter Eight: I Feel Fine

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HAS ANYONE EVER THROWN you out a window? It ain’t the street fair one might imagine.

There’s pain involved; lots of it and from almost everywhere at once. There are more sensations of pain from just this one act then there are flavors of ice cream at a rich man’s sundae bar.

Let me try to describe it to you.

First, you feel a crushing blow and your body impacts in upon itself, your bones bruising and grinding together as you come into contact with the window. This lasts but nary a moment as the glass gives way and shatters around you. Then comes the biting shards that tear at your clothes and slice up your skin as you soar through the window and out into the open air.

You ever see them cartoons where the coyote is chasing the road runner and the road runner takes a quick left turn, but the coyote can’t turn as fast and winds up running right off the edge of a cliff? But being that it’s a cartoon, the coyote doesn’t notice right away that there ain’t no ground beneath him and so he hangs there in midair for a time.

You feel almost that exact sensation when you’re thrown out a window.

You hang there for a split second though it feels like eternity. Then you fall, leaving your stomach behind. The ground rushes up to meet you, and it ain’t as forgiving as the glass, it doesn’t yield beneath you. Sure, if you ain’t too high and if you’re dropping into a field of lush grass it may not be that bad when you and the ground reunite. But I was two stories up and had nothing beneath me but concrete.

Once you’re down, the fun ain’t over. You have a shower of glass to look forward to. More razor sharp shards to rip at your skin and make you bleed.

If you’re lucky, you survive, and unless you’ve fallen into a busy street, you have nothing left to worry about. Just lie still and wait for the good folks in the ambulance to come along and scoop you up.

Me? I wasn’t so lucky.

I hit the sidewalk face first and felt bones snap and teeth crack as glass fell on me, slicing through my clothing and biting into my skin. I heard the screech of tires as cars skidded to a stop at the sight of a man falling from a second story window. I tried to rise, but my body wouldn’t cooperate. I knew that I’d heal soon enough and would eventually be able to get up and walk away, but I couldn’t count on the Walrus waiting around and allowing that to happen.

Sure enough, I felt the impact of three hundred and fifty pounds of mutated muscle land near me on the sidewalk. He must have forgone the stairs and decided instead to jump. How efficient of him.

I felt an intense itch course through me, which meant that the healing had begun. But it was too little too late. The Walrus grabbed me by the hair on the back of my head and pulled my face from the cement. Blood ran from my nose and mouth like a faucet and I could see pieces of my teeth lying there among the dark crimson pools.

“I know all about you, Norman,” the thing whispered into my ear. “I’ve researched you, studied you. I’ve learned all I could.”

“Stop it,” I said as best I could with a mouth full of blood and broken teeth. “You’re embarrassing me.”

“Don’t feel special. It’s something I do for all of my targets. It’s much easier to kill someone when you know their strengths and weaknesses. For example,” he said as he slammed my face into the concrete. “I know all about your healing ability.”

I wanted to say something clever, something quick and witty, but my mind was a bit busy dealing with the pain.

“The one thing I don’t know about you, Norman, is just how powerful this healing ability of yours is. I mean, it’s obvious that you can break, bleed, and feel pain.”

He emphasized this by slamming my face into the sidewalk once again. I didn’t scream though. I mean, I wanted to, but it ain’t an easy thing to do with your face full of concrete.

“Can you die, Norman Oklahoma? Can you be shuffled off this mortal coil? I must know.”

He stepped on my back and pulled my head toward him until I both heard and felt my spine snapping.

That time I did scream.

The Walrus just laughed and flung me back against the wall of my building. I heard more bones snap, but I couldn’t feel much of anything anymore.

As I lay there, bleeding, I could see the Walrus take in the faces of the gathering crowd. The surrounding area filled with onlookers and gawkers who’d come out to see the show. He smiled and scratched at his chin. It appeared he was thinking things over.

“Don’t hurt yourself,” I tried to say. I can’t be certain what actually came out of my mouth, but I know it wasn’t intelligible.

“Look, Norman,” the Walrus said. “Everyone has come to watch.”

He smiled and bent over me to whisper into my ear.

“As much as I enjoy the eyes of all your friends and neighbors watching me break you, I think it might be best if we take this somewhere a little more . . . private. What do you say?”

With that he lifted me into the air and threw me over a shoulder like a sack of potatoes.

“How about it, Norman? Your place or mine?”

The Walrus carried me up and around the block. A few of the bystanders justified my never-ending hope in humanity’s inherent selflessness by attempting to intercede on my behalf, but they were no match for the monster. He pushed them aside like stalks of corn and loaded me into the trunk of a large black sedan as the rest of the onlookers ran.

“How about your place?” he said and smiled once more before slamming the lid closed, leaving me in darkness.

The ride out to my home in the country was fairly uneventful. It did however; give me time to do two things. Think, and heal.

The healing itch burrowed into me and I felt fear for the first time in a long time. I didn’t want to die, never really thought it was possible, but now . . . well, all bets were off.

As I said before, I ain’t up there with the great thinkers of the world, but I needed a plan or I would learn if Death had made a place for me at his dinner table. Luckily, though I may not be a great thinker, I’m a fast one and a plan formulated in my mind. It wasn’t gonna be pretty, but it was sure gonna be simple. I was good at simple. Heck, I was the Einstein of simple.

Most of the plan depended on a couple of variables.

First, I had to pretend to be passed out, and I really had to sell it. Regardless of what the Walrus might do once we arrived at my home, I couldn’t cry out, I couldn’t open my eyes, I had to remain as still as the dead.

Next, I had to gamble on a gut feeling that the Walrus would want to take his time with me. I figured that he might want to torture me a bit before he helped me, as he put it, shuffle off this mortal coil. I also had to count on the hope that he wouldn’t enjoy torturing me if I wasn’t awake to suffer through it. My hope was that as long as I was passed out, or as long as he thought I was passed out, he would wait to start in on me.

Maybe he’d want to tie me up some and get everything ready for his big number while I remained void to the world. I had a lot to pin my hopes on, but I didn’t have much of a choice either way.

So yeah, that was my plan. I needed to buy enough time to heal so that I could run and fight another day.

Again, it wasn’t up there with some of history’s all-time great plans, but it didn’t need to be perfect. It just needed to work.

The sound of the tires changed from pavement to gravel and I knew we were close, so I got my mind right. I closed my eyes and concentrated on breathing . . . in through the nose, out through the mouth. Steady, calming breaths. I did my best to relax. It wasn’t easy.

The vehicle slowed and then stopped. The engine died and the lid to the trunk popped open slightly. I had begun to gain some feeling back in my legs. I heard the steps of the Walrus as he made his way to the back of the vehicle and soon felt the cool autumn air on my face as he lifted the lid to the trunk.

“We’re here, Norman,” he said. “Ah, are you sleeping? How nice.”

He slapped me. Hard.

By that point I’d gone to my happy place. I imagined my bed; the memory foam mattress and the thick comforter. Furthermore, I imagined myself in that bed, the comforter pulled up to my nose, snuggled deep within the folds of cotton and down, a look of bliss on my face. Then I added that final puzzle piece that made it possible for me to lie still as the Walrus slapped me around – I imagined a sky outside my bedroom window, a sky so filled with clouds that the sun could find no way through and pull me from my slumber. As matter of fact, I’d done such a good job creating my happy place that the one thing I had to struggle with was to keep from smiling.

“Wake up, Norman. We’ve arrived at the end of your life.” He slapped me again, but harder than before.

My teeth clacked together and my head rocked to the side by the force of the slap, but I had remained in my trance.

For a moment or two nothing happened. I could only imagine that the Walrus was standing there at the open trunk, looking in at me in thought. I figured he was thinking it all through. Then I felt some pressure on my right trigger finger. The Walrus held it gingerly in his hands.

It would happen quickly. I had to be ready.

With a sharp stab of pain, the Walrus snapped my finger like a chicken bone. I didn’t move, didn’t cry out, didn’t even flutter an eyelash. It took every ounce of strength I had, but I did it.

Again, nothing happened for a time. I could hear the sound of the Walrus breathing mixing with the birdsong and the wind. He was thinking long and hard on this one. He wanted me awake, wanted me lucid while he rained pain down on me. But on the other hand, he knew that I was healing. Yet, if he held on to me long enough to heal, he could break me all over again. I kinda figured he would like that thought once it reached his brain.

Soon enough he scooped me up and carried me into the house where he dropped me to the floor. I kept my eyes closed but I could hear him rummaging around in the kitchen, opening drawers and going through their contents. I assumed he was looking for something to secure me, like duct tape or rope. Well, the joke was on him, I was all out of duct tape.

But let him look. The more he looked, the less likely he was to pay me any mind. Folks tend to dismiss someone who’s passed out. See, if he knew I was awake, he may take a moment to break my legs and keep me immobile while he searched. But asleep as I was – or as I was pretending to be – his subconscious self would continue to tell him that I was harmless. In the meantime, the itch of healing continued like a few dozen ant colonies crawling all over my face, spine, and now my finger.

I wanted to try my legs again, give them a stretch, maybe even wiggle my toes a bit, but I didn’t dare with the Walrus in the room. I couldn’t risk him seeing. So I remained as I was, face down on the carpet of my living room.

Face down was ideal at this point. Once the Walrus could see my face had all healed up, he might feel more inclined to spend a bit more time with me instead of looking for tape.

The Walrus gave up his search with a grunt of frustration. The sound of his heavy footsteps moved toward me. I tried not to tense as I waited for the pain that was surely to come. But the Walrus just stepped over me and did the one thing I honestly did not figure he would do.

He left the house.

The moment the door closed behind him, I tried my legs. They bent, but it took some effort. I figured that the Walrus must have had some rope or tape or something in his car and that was why he had left. That meant he’d be back soon. I’d never have an opportunity like this again.

So I put everything I had into it and eventually pulled myself into what would normally be for me a sleeping position. But I didn’t stop. I continued to struggle against myself. It was slow going, but it was going.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve had a reoccurring dream in which I’m fighting something dark and shadowy with nothing but my bare hands. But every punch I give is slow, like trying to force my hand through air made of jelly. I can move about as normal in this dream, but when I try to fight, I go all slow-mo. That’s how I felt now and it made me want to cry.

I heard from outside the sound of a car door slamming shut and knew that I had just seconds to make something happen. I pulled myself to my feet by sheer force of will. The Walrus had dropped me just inside the front door, so the deadbolt was within reach. I engaged the bolt with a quick flick and staggered toward the hallway. The lock wouldn’t stop the Walrus, I knew that, but it may slow him down for a moment or two. I imagined that it would take at least twenty to thirty seconds for that brain of his to process the confusion that would slide over him when he found the door locked.

I moved haltingly down the hallway with a lot of starts and stops, like a zombie two years into the apocalypse. But with each step, I moved a little faster. I had to assume that my Peacemakers were still sitting on my desk back at the office, but they weren’t the only shooters I owned. My rifle was still in my room, resting comfortably in the trunk at the foot of my bed. I’d neared the end of the hall when I heard my front door being ripped from its hinges.

“Oklahoma!” the Walrus roared from the front room.

But he was too late. I’d made it. I could feel, more than hear, the Walrus thundering down the hall to me, but by the time he got to my room, I’d snatched up my rifle, a belt of cartridges, and had slid out my bedroom window.



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Monday, June 22, 2015

The Walrus of Death - Chapter Seven: If I Fell

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I crossed the street with a smile on my face and a spring in my step. I even whistled. I hadn’t felt this good since, well, since the last time I shot an ornery vampire.

I moved up the half a block to the office, my mind on coffee and bullet-ridden vampires when I turned the corner onto 7th and nearly tripped over a shaggy and unkempt figure sleeping it off on the side walk.

I stumbled, but didn’t fall. The man on the sidewalk just curled in on himself and continued to snore. Flies buzzed around him, zipping here and there, landing for moments on the undulating form before lighting off once again. There was a stench coming from the huddled mass that was wholly unique to the man. Imagine dumping a barrel of cheap beer onto a dead animal, rolling that around in a landfill for a day or two, and then leaving it out in the sun all day. If you can come up with an idea of what such a scent might smell like, well then you’d be close to the scent of Hal.

Normally, when I run across Hal, I leave him be. I couldn’t do that today, not while he was blocking my entry into the building. He’d either have to move, or I’d need to drive across town and buy my coffee at the Quick Shop.

“Hal?” I gave him a prod with the toe of my shoe.

Hal stirred, burped, said something about a penguin, and broke wind. It was almost enough to ruin my good mood.

“Hal!” I said again, jabbing him with a bit more force.

Before I could so much as take another breath, I found myself lifted off of my feet and thrown back into the wall of my building. It took a moment before I realized that it was Hal that had done it. And he held me fast, too.

He didn’t say anything, just stared at me wild-eyed as he held me by the front of my coat, pressing me into the wall. He towered over me and I felt like a rag doll in his hands. His breath bore into me like a urinal in a restroom at a Royals game by the seventh inning stretch.

“Whoa, Hal,” I said, trying to force myself free, which wasn’t happening. I wasn’t going anywhere until Hal was ready to let me go.

“It lay in wait,” Hal said. “Using the form of a woman, a guise to draw me near, but I could not be fooled.”

His eyes had gone distant. I could see bits of bread and bone hanging in his full, dark beard. Knowing Hal the way I did, I assumed the bones were chicken, maybe turkey, but I’d never seen Eudora’s most famous homeless person act like this before and it caused me to reevaluate my feelings toward the man.

“Hal!” I shouted. “Let me go! You’re acting half a bubble off plumb, buddy! I don’t want to have to shoot you!”

Even if I wanted to shoot him, I couldn’t. I wasn’t able to get around his massive arms to my guns.

“The floor was more bones than stone,” Hal said. “The bones. The bodies!”

“Hal! Dang it! Someone’s bound to notice us here dancing like this and call the local constabulary! You don’t want to spend another night in a cell do you?”

For a man who sleeps on sidewalks and is often seen under the influence of whatever alcohol he can manage to scrounge up, Hal had spent very little time in the town jail.

“I never asked to be their hero!” Hal’s breath began to dissolve the inner lining of my nostrils. “I never asked to be anyone’s hero!”

Well, I’d had enough. I couldn’t shoot Hal, but I could dang sure get his attention the old fashioned way.

“Hal!” I shouted once more then I kicked him between the legs.

He didn’t curl in on himself in pain, didn’t let me go, didn’t even so much as grunt. He just shook his head like he was clearing the cobwebs from him mind. He looked at me, looked down at his hands that were still clutching the front of my coat and pressing me back against the brick wall, and then he let me go.

“Norman?” he said as eyes once clouded became bright. “Good gravy, Norman. I’m sorry.” I could see through what little skin shown on his face through the beard and shaggy hair that he had turned as red as a tomato. “I don’t know what came over me. I sure hope you can forgive me.”

“Water under the bridge,” I said, straightening out my coat. “But you scared the bejeebers out of me, Hal. What was that?”

“Golly, Norman,” the big man said, looking down at his feet. “I’m not sure.”

No one knows where Hal came from before he appeared one day sleeping it off in the park across from the old high school. He’d drifted into town a decade or two back and took up residence in Eudora’s back alleys, parks, and countryside. I’ve often attempted to beguile the man into telling me about himself from before, but Hal could be a wily customer when he wanted to be.

“Well, I’ll tell you what,” I said. “I’ll forget it if you forget it. Deal?” I held out my hand.

Hal brightened immediately. He looked up and his face was nothing but one big smile. He took my hand and shook it, nearly pulling my arm from its socket. “Deal! Thanks, Norman. Thanks a bunch.” He let go of my hand.

“Don’t mention it,” I said, thanking God that my healing ability would take the pain in my hand and arm away soon.

“Oh no, I won’t mention it. No sir. Not one more word.” He made as if he was running a zipper across his lips.

“I’m glad,” I said. “Hey, I was gonna brew up a pot of coffee upstairs if you want to join me?”

“Oh, no thanks, Norman,” Hal said, looking up 7th Street, away from Main. “But I gotta be going. Lots to do, lots to do, yes sir.” And with that he loped away. “See you in the funny pages,” he called over his shoulder, giggling like a little boy who’d heard his father say the word ‘poop’.

I shook my head as I watched him walk away. Once he was out of sight I sighed and climbed the stairs to my office.

I have the entire top floor all to myself. I used the key to let myself in, crossing the waiting room and moving into the office proper. I ain’t much for d├ęcor, preferring just the desk against the back wall and a pair of chairs sitting in front for clients. I have a small table to the right where a coffee maker sits. The pot was full of hot coffee which I’d prepared the night before and programmed to run this morning so it would be waiting for me when I came in.

I hung my coat and jacket on a coat tree in the corner, then pulled off my shoulder holsters and guns and set them on the desk before I snatched up the only mug on the table next to the desk. I frowned at the layer of dried creamer and sugar at its bottom and spent a few moments washing it out in the sink of the private bathroom attached to the office.

Once clean I poured myself some coffee, added cream and sugar, and went to the large picture window that looked out onto Main. The window was taller than I was and I put a foot up on the sill as I sipped the hot coffee. I could see the entrance to the Pub from here and smiled because Lemonzeo was standing out on the sidewalk with the two vampires. I smiled because they were arguing. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, of course, but it was obvious that the vamps weren’t happy. I could only assume that I was the cause of their ire, and that made me smile even more.

Lemonzeo however, did not get where he was by not knowing how to get things done. It only took a few moments, but he soon had the vamps pacified and then saw them off in a stretch limo. I watched Abner as he stood at the entrance to the Pub, watching the limo speed off down Main at well over the legal limit. Then, as he was about to turn and go back into the Pub, he looked up the street at me standing at my window. I raised my coffee mug in salute. He scowled and disappeared inside the small bar.

I smiled again and was about to tip the mug and take my first taste of coffee for the day when the phone on my desk rang. I walked to the desk and had my hand just above the phone when my office door exploded inward. I ducked behind the desk, dropping the coffee to throw my arms above my head as splintered wood rained down on me.

The phone continued to ring.

“NORMAN OKLAHOMA!” a voice roared from where my door used to be. I knew that voice.

I stood as the phone rang for the last time and my answering machine picked up. I heard my voice say that no one was available to take the call and all that jazz. But I wasn’t paying much attention to the outgoing message. Instead I focused on the hulking figure in my doorway.

“Ah, there you are,” the Walrus said, and in two quick strides, he was across the room.

I looked from the oncoming walrus to the guns on the desk. I tried to go for them, but I was too slow. The Walrus had reached the desk, batted it aside with one massive hand, and before I could run screaming from the scene, he had snatched me up, holding me over his head in both hands.

“Norman,” Pat’s voice rose from the answering machine that now lay on the floor. “It’s Pat. I don’t know where you’re at, but you need to know that the Walrus escaped custody and I’m afraid he’s gonna come looking for you. Just wanted to warn you. Keep safe.”

“Thanks, Pat,” I said.

Then the Walrus threw me out the window.



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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

My Super Midlife Crisis - Chapter Fourteen

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RONNIE KNEW THE RISKS. He’d heard the stories. But desperate times called for Ronnie to try something stupid.

Besides, the planning had been meticulous. He’d thought of everything, every conceivable issue that might arise, and he had an answer for them all. It was one of Ronnie’s greatest strengths: identifying problems and coming up with solutions. He’d never failed. Unless gambling was involved. He’d never been able to crack that code.

For example, he was so deep into debt with the casinos he concluded that the only viable option available to him was to rob the First National Bank of Garrison. If he could pull it off, not only would he keep himself in relative good health—he’d heard more than one nightmare inducing tale regarding what happened to people who owed the casinos money—he’d be the hero of every thief in the country.

The First National Bank of Garrison had the distinct honor of holding the world record for being robbed more times than any single bank in history. With such a renowned statistic, one would think the bank would find difficulty staying in business, what with the high cost of insurance that would come with such a staggering statistic.

Yet, the bank thrives.

The First National Bank of Garrison had the distinct honor of holding another world record. That of being the only bank to have been robbed more than any other, and having never lost a single dollar.

The reason for this startling fact is simple.

Lady V.

But Ronnie had prepared for her as well. No pumped up costumed tramp would keep him from his goal. The guys that worked for the casinos were known to pull the innards out of fellas who wouldn’t pay up, and Ronnie wanted what was inside him to stay right where it was, thank you very much.

The plan had been simple, because more often than not, simple was the best option. Ronnie and four others walked into the bank, staggered thirty seconds apart, starting two minutes after the bank had opened that morning. Everything had been going just fine, Gabe and Dick took out the two guards, Lyle went to the vault, and Ronnie emptied the teller’s drawers while Gabe and Dick worked crowd control.

Three minutes later they were out on the sidewalk, each with his own duffel full of banded and bricked one hundred dollar bills. They made for the van they had left parked and running just across the street. There was not another car or pedestrian within view. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.

But then, when all looked like sunshine and patty cakes, the van imploded as if a massive weight had been dropped on top of it.

Ronnie had just reached out to take hold of the driver’s side door handle when it happened and he fell onto his back, glass raining down on him. He threw an arm up over his face to protect it from the glass, and when he took it away, there she was, standing among the twisted metal that was once a van he’d stolen just that morning.

Lady V.

She was a hard looking woman with the body of a wrestler and eyes that where so dark they were almost black. They were emotionless, those eyes, just blackness and void. She wore what looked like a one piece swim suit which left only her arms and legs bare. The suit was blue with a red and white striped V on the chest, the stripes continuing down to cover her trunks.

Ronnie had seen news footage of the Mighty, and he had to admit that real life didn’t improve the view much. He thought she might be considered a handsome woman, but the word ‘beautiful’ was not one that crawled into his mind upon seeing her, what with her blunt features and the tight black bun on the top her head.

“I told you, man,” Gabe said, backing away slowly. “I told you this wouldn’t work. I can’t believe I let you talk me into this. Well I’m out.” That last he said more to Lady V than Ronnie. “I’m out, you hear me? Out!”

Ronnie stood and smiled, shaking his head as Gabe dropped his bag and ran. Dick and Lyle followed suit.

Lady V watched the three men go before turning back to Ronnie.

“I am not above compassion, criminal,” she said, her face like a stone wall. “So I will give you this one chance to do as your companions. Leave behind the spoils of your foolish venture and run, criminal. Run while you still have the ability.”

Ronnie didn’t respond. He dropped the duffel like the other three, but instead of running, he pulled a small, blue orb, about the size of a marble, from his pocket. His smile grew to Cheshire proportions.

“I have another idea,” he said. “How about I keep all four of these bags here, and you drop dead.”

With that, he threw the orb. She made no move to block or catch it, or even to step out of its path. Instead, she followed the orb with her dead, black eyes. The orb struck her in the stomach and shattered. She didn’t so much as flinch.

Then, almost instantly, the moisture in the air for up to twelve feet around the orb froze as the chemicals within came into contact with the open air, encasing the do-gooder and the ruined van in a tomb of ice.

Ronnie laughed and retrieved his duffel. He realized that he wouldn’t be able to carry all four after all, but he was okay with that. He’d leave with two, and two shares were better than one.

He whistled a jaunty tune as he walked away, a bag in each hand. He made it just three steps before he heard a great cracking sound from behind as if someone was pulling apart a walnut shell the size of a Buick. Ronnie turned in time to see the ice around Lady V explode outward, throwing deadly shards all around. Ronnie had to drop to his stomach on the pavement to avoid becoming a pin cushion.

“You had your warning,” the woman said, stepping down from what was left of the van.

Ronnie scurried away as best he could while still on his belly. It wasn’t easy, but he was going for something new from his pocket. He had been sure that the ice would stop her, it should’ve stopped anything with a heartbeat, maybe even Captain Might—were he still around—but she didn’t seem any worse for wear.

He found what he was looking for in his pocket, but he couldn’t pull it free, trapped as it was between himself and the asphalt of the road. She was almost on top of him.

“For as long as I’ve been stopping your kind from hurting others, I’ve never been able to understand your temerity,” she said.

Ronnie could think of nothing to say.

“Stand, criminal. You will meet your fate on your feet; I can give you that much dignity at least.”

Ronnie’s heart raced, this was his chance. He stood, his hand in his pocket, noticing for the first time the crowd that had now gathered across the street. A mob of looky loos wanting to see one of their great Mighties beat up on just another criminal.

Well, Ronnie didn’t consider himself just another criminal, not with his brain and what he’d cooked up in his garage. He flashed the crowd a defiant look, and then turned to Lady V.

“What confidence you have,” she said. “You are so bold that I could almost admire it. You still think you are going to win, don’t you? Why?”

“Because it’s what I do,” he said. She didn’t have to know about his gambling issues.

“What is that? Fail?”

“Nope.” He pulled his hand from his pocket, his prize clutched tightly in his fist. “If there’s one thing I do better than most people, it’s walking away unscathed.”

He threw the object he’d been holding, a gun metal gray cube, the size of a die from a board game. He threw it into the air as high as he could. The cube reached the apex of its arc a few feet into the air and froze, humming and vibrating and it floated above them.

“Okay then,” Ronnie said, bending to pick up two of the bags of cash. “I’ll leave you with that.”

The cube began to spin.

“If you survive this,” Ronnie said. “Try to think fondly of me when you remember today.”

“What is this?” she asked, watching the cube rotate. She seemed more curious than afraid. Of course, it was almost impossible for him to tell what she was feeling, if she was feeling anything at all. Her face was like that of a robot, emotionless and cold.

“This,” Ronnie said, nodding to the cube, “is what we call a distraction.”

The crushed van behind her suddenly leaped into the air and slammed into the cube, melding with it. After that came a blue mailbox. More metal from all around them sailed through the air to join with the cube, adding to its mass, the shape changing with each addition. Cars, street signs, manhole covers; all joined together with the cube, forming something that pulsed and writhed.

Screams erupted from the crowd of onlookers and they scattered like cockroaches in the light. They’d wanted to see a bit of fun, but not at the expense of their own safety.

The process took less than a minute, and by the time it was done, what was once just a small, gun metal gray cube, was now a humanoid shape, a metal monstrosity that towered above them.

The automaton turned and directed what would have been a face—the headlights and grill of a Nineteen Seventy Oldsmobile Delta 88 became its eyes and mouth—and directed its gaze at Ronnie.

“Kill her,” Ronnie said, and pointed at Lady V.

The thing turned, but before it could complete its circuit, the woman had leaped into the air and slammed a fist into the side of its head. The robot’s head caved in on itself and it fell, crashing to the ground in a heap.

Lady V jumped over Ronnie’s robot and scowled at the bank robber, showing emotion for the first time: Anger.

“An interesting diversion,” she said, “but futile nonetheless.”

“Not really,” Ronnie smiled and backed away as the robot pulled itself to its feet. “See, my robot is like one of them watches. You know, it takes a licking but keeps on getting back up to kick your butt.”

She turned from him to face the scrap metal giant, and Ronnie ran. He knew that eventually she’d take his creation down, after all the power supply would only last an hour, but by then he’d be long gone.

So, as the sounds of battle waged behind him, Ronnie sprinted his way toward becoming the only person alive to successfully rob the First National Bank of Garrison. As he ran, he thought about the two little surprises he’d built in his garage.

He’d knocked over a couple of liquor stores to come up with the necessary funds to create both the orb and the cube. Both just a means to an end, a way of distracting or stopping Lady V so that he could escape with the ultimate prize; enough money to pay off the casinos and start his life over again.

Maybe he’d invest in a hidden workspace and materials to create more of his little toys. Maybe then he’d be able to sell them to other enterprising criminals looking to step up in the world. A new life was opening up for Ronnie B. Riddle. He’d just have to keep himself out of the casinos if he wanted to enjoy it.



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Monday, May 18, 2015

The Walrus of Death - Chapter Six: Magical Mystery Tour

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EVENTUALLY THE BOYS IN blue—well, khaki—showed up, loaded the Walrus into an armored paddy wagon and hauled the big fella away. The Walrus had stayed down the entire time. Pat really nailed him a good one. She always did pack a punch.

I waved to Pat and her boys as they drove away, feeling a real sense of accomplishment for it still being morning. Once the police vehicles disappeared over the hill in the distance, I went back into the house and slid into my trench coat. It was time to pay Abner Lemonzeo a visit. That and maybe get myself a cup of coffee.

I grabbed up a set of keys I had hanging on a peg by the door to the garage. The keys went to the Harley Davidson WLA motorcycle parked on the other side of the door. Like me, it was old. The WLA dates back to WWII, I go back a bit further. There ain’t much on it anymore that’s original, I’d rebuilt the bike more than once, but it still gets me where I need to go.

My place is out in the country, five minutes north of Eudora out past the Kansas River. This time of the year the ride from my home to the office is bordered by empty fields ready for winter. When the crops are up, you’d ride with a wall of corn to either side. Now, it’s just dirt all the way to the hills in the distance. I’ve long since learned to tune it all out.

Eudora is not what one would call a big town.

But it ain’t small neither.

I like to think of it as the little town that could.

Located between Kansas City and Lawrence on Kansas Highway 10, Eudora has always had the potential to be more than it was, and slowly but surely, the town has struggled to crawl its way out of the small town moniker. Eudora continues to grow, even despite the bypass that has kept the Lawrence to Kansas City to Lawrence traffic away from town since the Eighties.

It ain’t nowhere near where I’m sure the city leaders want it to be, but it’s doing just fine in the grand scheme of things.

Eudora, for all intents and purposes, is comprised of three main thoroughfares: Main and Church streets—which run north and south—and 10th street, which runs east and west. Everything else is mostly residential . . . Though there is the occasional exception. For example, we have a night club out south of town. It’s a vampire hangout, but I’m only one man, so it stays in business.

Main Street, between 10th and 7th, is Eudora’s downtown business district. Which, to be honest, ain’t much.

My office is there, of course. Plus we got a bank, a comic book store that used to be a bank, a coffee shop, a hardware store, two eateries—Mexican and Chinese—and then there’s the Pub.

The Pub is just that. It’s a dirty little hole in the wall located on the west side of the eight hundred block of Main, right in the middle, and is owned by one Abner Lemonzeo. Most of his illegal dealings had been conducted in the dark and smoke-filled confines of the tiny bar. Back when Lemonzeo was still a free man, more money had passed through the Pub in a single day than had gone through both of Eudora’s banks in a week. This dank pit was once the cornerstone of all illegal activity in Eastern Kansas and Western Missouri. Big fish from Kansas City spent much of their time sitting in a booth in the back of the Pub—Abner’s booth—conducting business.

It was there that I expected to find him.

My office is across the street, and though it’s about three storefronts to the north, I can see the Pub’s front door from the window.

I parked the bike there at the curb in front of my office and crossed over to the other side on foot. The traffic was light and so I took my time.

I found Lemonzeo where I thought I would, in his booth in the back. With him sat two men in suits across the table, their backs to me. Abner hadn’t changed a bit. If anything, he looked harder. Prison will do that to a person, it pounds on you until you break, or you become the hammer.

He was dressed all in black: Suit jacket, tie, and shirt.

I wanted to punch him in his face for that fact alone. But I kept my cool.

He still shaved his head, and he still sported that greasy little black mustache. I’d often imagine him twisting that mustache as he thought up his evil little schemes—like tying a woman to a set of railroad tracks.

Lemonzeo looked up as I approached the booth and surprise flashed across his face. It didn’t last long however, he covered himself quick enough. I wouldn’t have even noticed it had I not been looking for it. He smiled as if he’d been expecting me.

“Norman Oklahoma,” he said. “What brings you into my establishment?”

“Abner,” I said, giving him a small nod. I turned to the two men sitting across from him. “You’re in my seat.”

“Excuse me?” the first man said, his face was stone, a blank slate.

“You heard me, pal. Take a hike.”

Stone Face looked over to his partner who nodded. With permission requested and then granted, Stone Face slid languidly from the booth, stood, and looked down at me.

The guy was big, easily a full head taller than I was. Guys like him think they can intimidate others into getting their way, and with most people they might succeed.

I ain’t most people.

“Breath mint,” I said. “Look into it.”

The guy didn’t smile, didn’t grimace, didn’t even blink.

“Vampires, Abner?” I said, my eyes never moving from the fella in front of me. “You ain’t back a full week and you’re already leaping into bed with these monsters?”

Abner chose not to respond.

The moment Stone Face had stood I’d known what he was. Vampires have a way of moving that’s unlike us normal folk. It’s subtle, and most people don’t notice it, but it’s obvious or those of us who know what to look for. But it ain’t just the way he moved that clued me in; it was the smell that rolled off of him. The smell of blood. This vampire recently fed. Again, it’s subtle, but unmistakable.

Almost casually, as if he didn’t have a care in the world, Stone Face reached into his jacket. I had a Peacemaker in hand and pointed at his head before he could pull whatever it was he had been going for.

I thumbed back the hammer.

“Come now, Norman,” Lemonzeo said. “This isn’t necessary.”

“I think it is,” I said, and squeezed the trigger.

The gun crashed and Stone Face flew backwards, landing with a dull thud a few feet away. His body lay there on the floor in an unnatural way. But though he was down, he wasn’t out, despite the point blank .45 caliber slug to the head. He was up in an instant, crouched on all fours and hissing.

It wasn’t a pleasant sight. Part of his head was gone; in fact it painted most of the back wall and floor. But I could already see that the skull was mending itself, rounding off to cover the hole the bullet had made. The brain matter and other gooey things found inside a vampire’s head were mending as well. Soon he’d be fully healed.

“Okay, Biter,” I said, pulling the other Peacemaker, “let’s do this.”

He leaped, and I fired, hammering him back to the ground. I continued to fire, keeping the creature nailed to the floor. I could see his partner moving out of the corner of my eye and without even so much as a look in his direction, my arm slid his way and I shot him down too.

Contrary to what the movies and books tell us, vampires aren’t affected by sunlight and aren’t all that easy to kill, relatively speaking. A stake to the heart won’t do it. Drive a pointy wooden stick into their chest and the only thing you’re gonna accomplish is to piss the thing off. Hold up a clove of garlic in front of their face and they’ll probably eat it. And a crucifix, yeah . . . you might as well come at them with one of those orange sections of toy race car track from all the good it will do you.

The only way to put a vampire down for good is to fill it full of silver.

Being who I am, I have a well-stocked munitions cabinet full of silver bullets. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to bring any with me. This meant I’d have to rely on what I had on hand. Regular bullets would break the skin, make them bleed, and hurt like hell, but in the end I was just buying time.

“Enough!” Lemonzeo yelled, still seated in the booth.

The two vamps froze. Blood oozed from the various holes I’d put in them, but only for a moment or two before they closed up. Too bad they couldn’t say the same for the holes I’d put in their suits. That thought alone made me smile.

“I have business to conduct, Norman. Did you want anything in particular or did you just stop by to shoot at my customers?”

“I had a nice talk with your pet walrus, Abner,” I said, reloading, leaving the spent shells to roll about on the Pub floor. “So I thought I’d just swing by and welcome you back. Shooting up your guest’s expensive suits was just one of those happy accidents you hear about all the time.” I gave the vamps a wink.

“Well, that was neighborly of you, Norman. Tell me, did you leave the Walrus alive?”

“Oh, he’s alive. He ain’t happy, but he’s breathing.”

“Are we done here?” Lemonzeo asked.

I looked from him to the two vampires, they weren’t happy neither. I was just pissing everyone off this morning. I’d pay for that later, but it was worth it. My only regret was that I hadn’t been packing silver.

“As long as you’re free and doing business with the likes of these two, we ain’t done, Abner,” I said and turned to leave. But as I reached the door I turned back. “Oh, I almost forgot. Send someone to kill me again; you better hope they do the job right. Otherwise I’m going to return the favor, and I don’t miss.”

With that, I left.



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