New Fiction: The Vocalist (Part 4)
November 30, 2001
Continuing our tale of THE VOCALIST
He awoke from the dream and sat up in the bed. The trickles of sweat drip-drip-dripped off his forehead like the tick-tick-ticking of the alarm clock radio, which beamed 3:21 in a reflective neon color atop the nearby nightstand. Marcia slept soundly, undisturbed by Trevor’s distress. His breath came heavy and his heartbeat was erratic.
“I should have known,” he whispered, then squeaked out of bed and oh-so-quietly tip-toed into the bathroom. It had been the usual nightmare fanfare that he’d experienced on dozens of occasions:
A terror loose upon the city—
An arch villain engaged in deeds most foul and sinister--
The bright flash of explosives from a towering high rise—
He held the washcloth in his hand and stared into the bathroom mirror, seeing past the mirror and into his mind’s eye as his nightmare rebounded through his fast-returning memory—
except that Marcia had been a casualty—a victim of the marauder.
The images of her torn and twisted body were unbearable. He could not permit such an atrocity to occur. Trevor quickly washed the crusted sleep from his eyes and dressed.
In the small, wooded area behind the library, the morning birds were already singing their praises of the new day. Trevor entered the library through a third-floor window that had been left open. He’d only recently learned that within these halls of knowledge lie the secret headquarters of the Scallion. He’d discovered this hideout quite by accident while conducting research on several of the cities older buildings—buildings that contained hidden passageways that Trevor thought might be useful at some later date. The hour had grown late and the library was near closing. He’d hurried to use the restroom, which was located in the library’s basement. A strange odor, that was most unlike the nauseating odors one might typically find in public restrooms, permeated the hallway leading toward the restroom. He’d recognized the scent from previous encounters with the Scallion. The smell was unmistakable. But where was its source of origin? He’d walked the length of the hallway, the oniony smell increasing with each quiet step. At the hallway’s end had been a door marked “Do Not Enter. Private.” Trevor had jimmied the lock using a credit card and walked into the pungent room, turning on the light switch as he’d entered. The contents of the room had included several crates of onions of differing varieties, a wall calendar celebrating the “Joy of the Onion,” a pair of black leather loafers that were impeccably polished, two half-finished cans of V8, a 5 x 7 autographed glossy photo of Peter Billingsly from A Christmas Story, two unopened packages of prank “onion” gum, a recently slept-in cot, a variety of papers including several architectural blueprints, hand-drawn plans for something called a “sub-atomic minimization particle disruption transmitter,” and a pirate sketch that had apparently been sent to and rejected from a mail-correspondence art school. The scratchy lines of the pirate drawing lead Trevor to believe the sketch had been created while its designer was in transit, possibly on a bumpy bus or car ride. Recalling a previous encounter with the Scallion, Trevor remembered that the arch villain had always wanted to be an artist, but had always been told by friends and family that he was “just no good.” It was, Trevor believed, this constant societal rejection that had pushed the Scallion into a life of crime. Lastly, Trevor had found a note resting upon a milk crate; it read: “Soon they shall all pay for the vile indignation I have been made to suffer.” Beneath this somewhat cryptic threat was written in list form “milk, eggs, bread, low-salt ham, mayo.” Trevor realized his choices at this time had been limited. He was without his Vocalist costume. The Scallion was nowhere in sight. The library would be closing in several minutes. Thus, he left the newly discovered secret hideout, knowing that he would return soon and confront his nemesis.
But that was seven days ago. And as Trevor quietly approached the room marked private at 4:21 a.m. while morning birds chirped outside with no concern for man, he felt nervous that he’d waited too long, that the Scallion would be long gone from here. Still, he opened the door quietly, hoping to catch the old man unawares. The room was black, but Trevor’s eyes had adjusted to the darkness of the library. His body tensed, in anticipation of conflict.
The room was, in fact, empty. Its contents were gone, all of them, without so much as a dropped matchbook to clue him into where the Scallion had gone. Trevor’s heart sank, the dream returning fresh in his tired mind. Why did I wait so long? He knew that the Scallion had abandoned this hideout; perhaps having noticed the door had recently been forced open, perhaps having been discovered by library personnel, perhaps simply no longer needing this particular sanctuary. I’m supposed to be a hero. Why did I wait? And Trevor knew—knew that he’d allowed a dangerous felon to escape. Knew that there had to be a connection between the recent isotopic thefts from area military compounds and the hand-written plans he’d seen in this small storage room only last week. Trevor had stumbled—nearly tripped over—a base of operations of an adversary. A golden-opportunity-stroke-of-luck-would-have-better-odds-of-winning-the-lottery-once-in-a-lifetime chance. And he’d simply let it slip like water through his fingers so that he could spend a few days outside of his second skin. What had he done to capitalize on his advantage? He’d stayed home, his costume hanging limply in his clothes closet, and forgot about his obligations as the Vocalist. He’d ignored the nightmares, the nagging thought that he should be doing something, and had let the advantage pass him by. And the dreams were powerful things, he knew this to be true. And the vision of Marcia, twisted and broken like a discarded rag doll—the vision that had brought him too little too late to this empty room, burned its flames inside his anguished head and it would…not…go…away. Because in his heart, he knew. He knew that whatever happened from this moment forward with regard to the Scallion would be his responsibility. And he was terrified at what that angry little man might be planning.
“Goddam amateur,” he cursed in self-disgust, and exited the library through the window in which he’d entered.
The most difficult task had always been flight. Perhaps if there’d been a manual, or instruction video, he’d have found it less challenging. Of course, the science behind the flight was utterly illogical, so he defied the laws of science. Scientifically, it was impossible to defy gravity through mere voice modulation, but he’d done that. Scientifically, it was impossible to move any distance through mere voice projection, but he’d done that as well. Trevor did not comprehend the science behind his unusual abilities, but still he moved through the air, albeit not with the greatest of ease. Fantasy and adventure films often feature characters that can fly effortlessly from one area to the next with less effort than one might exert in putting on a sock. For Trevor, quite the opposite was true. But in order to effectively move across the city he needed to rely on his flight “powers.” He’d never mastered the ability to his satisfaction. Turns of any sort were always the most challenging aspect of the flight. On at least six separate instances he’d failed to negotiate necessary turns and had impacted with high rises or brownstones (three times he’d kissed concrete, and twice glass). He recalled how, on several other occasions, he’d simply allowed his concentration to slip, which had once nearly lead to an early demise. He’d been soaring above the Bailey Building on a cloudless June evening, when his mind had suddenly begun to ponder why Hollywood hadn’t yet produced a sequel to the popular ‘80s film Top Gun, which he thought certainly deemed a successor. In his mind, Trevor had even conceptualized the sequel’s title: Top Gun II: The Revenge of Goose. As these thoughts swam through his blissful head, he was unaware he’d stopped vocalizing, until when, an instant later, he’d realized the pavement below was suddenly approaching him at a rate of 35 feet per second. His initial screams had been followed by intense concentration, and he’d managed to save himself (barely) from an otherwise deadly plunge.
The sun would soon be up. Marcia would soon be up. Trevor had spent the hour following his departure from the library searching the city, trying, like a child who frantically searches for a misplaced toy, to find the Scallion. He felt compelled to find him, knowing full well the potential consequences should he fail. He thought of the various plans he’d seen the week prior in the Scallion’s now abandoned hideout. He had no idea what a sub-atomic minimization particle disruption transmitter might be capable of, and for all he knew it was pulp-fiction science—science that made about as much sense as--as a man being able to fly by modulating his voice. Trevor continued his solitary quest despite the pain in his shoulders and lower back. He was punchy from sleeplessness. Trevor searched until dawn, knowing he would not find his adversary on rooftops or walking quiet streets—knowing but hoping nonetheless. He searched until dawn, then returned home and collapsed in bed. It was 6:18 a.m.
Exactly 12 minutes later the clock radio erupted in a wave of a.m. disc-jockey-fueled-morning-music dribble. Marcia reached across Trevor’s unmoving body and switched off the device which had been playing Berlin’s Take My Breath Away. Trevor did not stir. He was entrenched in sleep, and in his dreams he was a ghost who piloted jets on an Air Force aircraft carrier with Tom Cruise. As she climbed out of bed, Marcia realized that Trevor was wearing the lower half of his Vocalist attire, including his boots. Bewildered, she removed his footwear and tossed them clumsily to the floor, but before doing so removed a 1” x 2” paper receipt that had been stuck in the tread of the bottom of his right boot. She placed the receipt atop the dresser. Marcia showered and dressed for work. She called out to Trevor, but he remained in deepest slumber.
“The hell,” she said, and left him to his aviation dreams.
The passengers on the bus stared out the windows at the crumpled remains of Michael DelToro who had, minutes before, been seated on the bus with them. DelToro, however, had grown anxious and frustrated at a situation he did not—and could not possibly understand, but that frustration had cost him his life.
In truth, none of the 29 occupants of Greyhound bus number 325 bound for Indianapolis had the slightest clue as to what was happening to them. The road ahead stretched out far into the horizon, on all sides of the road were grassy hillsides strewn with trees, shrubbery, and other foliage. The bus and its occupants had been stopped for several minutes, hours, days, weeks—exactly how long none could say. Time seemed to have lost its meaning. The sun rose (appeared would be a more appropriate term) at a moment’s notice, and darkness filled the sky just as swiftly and suddenly. The passengers had tossed out dozens of hypotheses regarding this unusual predicament. The only item upon which they agreed was that there had been a blinding flash of light. They were in agreement of that fact, at least. The bus had been traveling on I-131, between 10:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. when the flash of light had exploded in blinding radiance. Unconsciousness had claimed them all—30 passengers and veteran bus driver Charlie Jackson, who’d been among the first to reawaken. Charlie was certain of only one fact: They were no longer on I-131. He’d driven the route for 22 years, knew every twist and turn, every bump and bubble, every highway marker and street lamp. This road was new to him.
“Must have been some kind of alien. Zapped us someplace else,” he’d remarked.
Passenger Nora Fleming, a 32-year-old jazz pianist, had proposed an alternate theory: “I think we’re all dead—that we’ve died and are in some kind of ‘in-between world’ on our way to the after-life.”
Forty-nine-year-old school teacher and volunteer fire fighter Emanuel Sanchez remarked, “We’re not dead. I can feel my heartbeat, my pulse. I don’t know where we are, but I do know we’re alive.”
“Radio’s dead,” Jackson noted, trying several channels.
“What about the engine? Can you start the engine?” 14-year-old Alison Smythe had asked, as her mom sat quietly staring out the window.
Jackson had turned over the ignition. The passengers, by a 2-to-1 vote, had agreed that Jackson should drive the bus. No other vehicles had driven by during this time, and most believed it best to drive to a service station where roadmaps, information, and people could be found. He’d driven through the night for several hours, until the bus was nearly devoid of fuel. Jackson had pulled the bus off to the side of the road, noting, “This landscape looks the same as it did three hours ago.”
“The sun should be up soon,” 18-year-old college junior Alexis Dupont had stated, and had continued to highlight sections of her Advanced Physics textbook. Sure enough, the sun had risen an hour later—suddenly—brilliantly. Daylight had filled the sky for several long minutes before night fell sharply once more.
“What’s happening to us?” Qun Tu Wang asked nervously, pressing his eyeglasses close to his wrinkled face.
Michael DelToro, a 44-year-old plumber and proud union member had sat quietly since the ordeal had begun. The large, unshaven man, had suddenly stood up and had bolted toward the front door of the bus with the determination of a charging bull.
“I want off the bus!” he’d shouted.
“Sir, we’re in the middle of nowhere,” Parker answered.
“I don’t care. I don’t care! I want off the bus now so open the goddam door or I’ll tear it open!”
Several passengers considered trying to persuade DelToro to remain on the bus, but his intimidating size and outright anger had kept them silent. Seconds later, Jackson had reluctantly opened the bus door. Two passengers had inhaled deeply and held their breath, fearing the outside environment contained no oxygen. DelToro stepped down onto the pavement.
“It’s okay,” he’d said. “The air is fine.” He’d stepped out into the middle of the road. “It’s okay,” he’d shouted to his fellow passengers and proceded to light a cigarette he’d removed from the pocket of his flannel shirt. The others had remained on the bus, too fearful to leave its presumed safety. In the distance, DelToro had heard the sound that could have been a car approaching. He’d squatted down on one knee to ascertain a better glimpse of the black horizon. Far off he saw the glow of headlights growing slowly closer, closer.
“There’s a car comin’! I’ll flag ‘em down!”
The headlights grew in intensity, and as Michael DelToro placed a beefy hand on the ground to expunge his cigarette, he’d suddenly realized that he’d not been standing on ordinary pavement. He’d pushed himself up then and hurried toward the bus, the blinding lights bathing him in their terrifying brilliance. He’d had time to see the number “6” and a “Shell Oil” decal on the hood of the formula-1 racecar a scant second before it cut him down in mid stride. His large frame was hurtled into the air. He’d landed on the ground neck first as the car surged ahead and vanished in the horizon.
Several passengers screamed as they stared out the windows at the slain man.
“That—that driver—just—just ran him down like an animal!”
“We’ve got to go out there. We can’t just leave him lying in the road. Maybe he’s still alive.”
But none aboard Greyhound 325 was wiling to leave the perceived safety of the bus. Theirs was a different reality now; one based on survival. The survival instinct deemed the bus as safe.
Less than two feet away, though completely out of view of any of the Greyhound’s passengers, the Scallion and Mr. Black & Blue stood and stared. They stared down at the elaborately constructed 10’ x 12’ platform upon which the Greyhound rested. Mr. B&B operated a hand-held control unit. The very unit by which he’d piloted the racecar that had slain the very unsuspecting DelToro. His eyes were wild with excitement, though in reality, his emotion was much subdued from the effects of the Scallion’s hypno-onion. Still, his face appeared similar to that of a child who had just killed his first insect and had decided he enjoyed the act.
“Put that accelerator down you misguided baboon,” the Scallion said angrily.
“I’m still playing,” Mr. B&B replied.
“Need I remind you that you’re still under my hypnotic influence? Drop the accelerator now. I’ll not have everyone aboard that vehicle killed for your amusement.”
“What you gonna do with them?”
“This was but a test, a test of my sub-atomic minimization particle disruption transmitter’s abilities. I dare say, it was a most successful test. For the weapon not only reduced the vehicle and its occupants—it proportionately reduced their clothing, the gasoline--everything in and on the bus was reduced equally. Those men and women shall remain here in this HO-scale world I’ve constructed for them out of cardboard, plastic, and decorative paper. But they shall not be alone for long. For you see…”
He held the moment for several dramatic pauses that were lost on his hypnotized pseudo-ally, and were, in all probability, introduced for his own self-satisfaction.
“…what I’ve done to this bus and its occupants, I intend to do to every major city on the earth,” he finished, speaking each of his last six words slowly and with exacting emphasis.
The Scallion began to walk out of the room.
“You smell bad,” Mr. B&B remarked.
”What did you say?” he asked sharply, but before his hypnotized colleague could reply, added, “and stop turning the light switch off and on in here. You’ll have everyone aboard that bus thinking their day or reckoning is at hand…though I guess, in a way, it is.”
NEXT: THE VOCALIST continues
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