New Fiction: The Vocalist (Part 1)
November 9, 2001
THE VOCALIST begins a bit further on, but first…
Facetiously and Frantically Fantastic Fillers Fully Functioning to Fascinate and Feather an otherwise Fabulously Fun Flock of Fruitful Facts and Finely Fabricated Fiction!
The Sleeping Giant Comics ongoing charity art sale continues! To date, the art sale has raised several hundred dollars for the American Red Cross. Original art pages are available for sale at $25.00 the page; all of the money is being donated to the Red Cross. If you would like to purchase a page and donate to a worthy cause, please see full details under the Press Releases section of this Web site.
Possible changes in Altercations. The graphic novel Altercations, which is far behind its originally scheduled date of publication, may be released as a 5-issue limited series. I am considering this path with the realization that I will be unable to have the project completed for a November 2002 release. By releasing Altercations as a mini-series, the book could conceivably be in stores beginning August or September 2002.
One of the most enjoyable comics I’ve read this year has been the limited series Thor: Godstorm. Although I am not prepared to compose a full critique of this series at this moment, I was amazed at how Busiek, Rude, and Royer have not merely captured, but have superceded some of the fantastic tales produced by Lee and Kirby in the 1960s. This is no small compliment, as I believe the Lee and Kirby stories (along with the Walt Simonson's amazing run) to be the benchmark against which all other Thor stories should be measured. Thor: Godstorm surpasses that benchmark in every way possible. I simply cannot recall the last time a Marvel limited (or ongoing) series has attained such a perfect symmetry of words and pictures. I say thee miss this series at thy own peril.
The origins of this story are rather strange (big surprise). The Vocalist stemmed from a basic idea concerning a super-hero whose powers were failing. This story is my attempt to portray the questions most of us ask as we age and, as does sometimes occur, our bodies fail us. As usual, I had no idea where this tale would (will) go; it was all written (and is still being written, actually), in a haphazard fashion with little regard for story outline. The protagonist’s name was only chosen 1 week ago; even the central antagonist was a spur-of-the-moment creation, but one that I hope you will find original and entertaining (when he makes his appearance next week in part 2 of our story).
At 6:08 a.m. the dream ended. It had been a most exquisite, albeit surreal, dream. The Marquis de Sade was hosting a benefit at Universal Studios in Florida to aid victims of his own corruption and sexual assaults. The guest list was a virtual Who’s Who of history’s most famous (and infamous) and included Grocho Marx, The Ohio Players, Stan Getz, Charles Lindberg, Mary Shelley, John Agar, Fritz Lang, Dennis Leary, Donna Reed, Alison Moyet, William Henry Harrison, Jesse James, Elvira, Glenn Miller and his orchestra, Carl Jung, and Amber Lynn. The buffet had included fried chicken, moon beams, balsa wood in an herb butter reduction, chocolate-covered Stegosaurus tail, as well as brain soup and vegetable of the day (refried hair-beans).
The main stage spanned an entire football field, upon which the Ohio Players performed Love Roller Coaster off key. A steel roller coaster had been constructed behind the stage and continued to run throughout the concert as individuals performed various carnal acts within and atop the flashy red-metal cars. Jesse James watched the mechanical monstrosity race up and down the metal tracks and he mumbled incoherently about "hornswaggling the varmints." Donna Reed and Carl Jung performed an impromptu Vaudeville act; in mid-act, Jung suddenly confessed that he’d plagiarized his theories of the human subconscious from a Bazooka Joe wrapper he'd found years earlier. He shouted that he’d been having fantasies involving Sigmund Freud and Nancy Drew. Jung then impaled himself on a nearby glass sculpture, a minimalist structure that consisted of a half-dozen swords pointed toward the sky. There had been mixed reactions to Jung’s sudden suicide. Shelley proffered a can of Silly String and proceeded to spray it on Dennis Leary, who promptly knocked her aside with a slap of his backhand (a hand that had, spontaneously, grown out of his upper spine). Leary then walked away, the newly grown appendage unconsciously scratching at the actor/comedian’s balding scalp. Alison Moyet’s table dance received mixed reviews from the guests—each of whom had given 10,000 pesos and the middle finger from their left hand to see the performance. Moyet was pelted with fruit cocktail and ordered to redress.
Groucho worked the tables on the west side of the hall. He approached an elderly couple; the female of the pair was covered head-to-toe in feathers. Marx asked, “Excuse me, sir, is this your wife?” The old man replied in a heavy French accent that it was, to which Groucho quickly responded, “Ah, so she’s a French tickler, I see.” He handed the man a dollar bill and said, “There’s two more where this came from if I can borrow Zsa Zsa after the show.”
“Idiot! You have insulted my wife!”
“Oh, that’s not insulting.” Groucho whistled, and in a moment’s notice, brother Harpo appeared with firehouse in hand and doused the old couple. Groucho waved his cigar and added, “Now that’s, insulting.” No one laughed.
John Agar, meanwhile, roamed from table to table, reminding everyone that he’d once been married to Shirley Temple, to which many reminded him that he’d also once starred in Return of the Creature. He eventually crawled underneath a table, reminiscing of how he’d become aroused whenever Shirley sang Good Ship Lollipop, and started to cry.
From the ceiling, strobe lights radiated throughout the room in slow motion. The host of the benefit, the mighty Marquis, moved from table to table, thanking his guests for their patronage and subsequently doing his best to sodomize them atop their desert plates. Elvira and William Henry Harrison were discussing the political ramifications of global expansion as Elvira’s bosom expanded, and her face sunk further, with every breath she took. Charles Lindbergh, who had been curiously absent during much of the benefit, returned from the women’s room shouting “My baby! Someone’s taken my baby!” Smoke and fire suddenly erupted in the huge hall, and Satan, disguised as Charlie Sheen (or perhaps vice-versa), appeared and shouted, “Free tainted souls for all! Get yer tainted souls right here, right now! Live forever! Be young and perfect as you once were with these high-quality, free-fer-the-takin', souls!” As the soul-hungry crowd rushed toward the dark lord, they were suddenly stopped by an aged Fritz Lang, who rushed ahead of them and proceeded to bludgeon the man-goat with an oversized novelty mallet, much to everyone’s delight and amusement.
“Now that’s what I call smashing!” Groucho said, to which Harpo honked twice.
Champagne bottles were opened in simultaneous fashion as the dream and the hall resounded in a resounding cheer in Fritz's honor.
Trevor had been watching it all from a safe, comfortable distance—watching, and, mostly, not liking, what was occurring. They had all been great, at one point in history. What had happened to them? How had so many of them grown so old, so tired? He looked at his own hands and saw that the flesh which once appeared smooth and young, was beginning to crack with age—it was happening to him, too. Suddenly, there was a pressure on his stomach, as if he were being trod upon. The dream faded away and he realized the pressure on his stomach was real.
Trevor’s eyes opened slowly and apprehensively as the pressure continued on his belly—a feeling that his abdomen was a batch of unbaked bread, being kneaded slowly but methodically. It was, of course, Jones the cat, vying for attention as he did every morning at 6:08 a.m., the time when all dreams must end. Trevor had adopted Jones from the street—Jones’ former owners had simply moved away during the winter and abandoned the black feline, who was then a mere 7 months young. Undernourished and cold, it had been as easy task to cajole the 6-pound Jones into the warm, protective house. Two years and 8 pounds later, Jones was quite relaxed, even among the highly-strung dog (who was simply named Dog) and beer-bellied cat (whose name was Jazz) with whom he shared the residence.
He patted Jones several times on the head and the cat purred in rhythmic appreciation. Trevor eased his aching body slowly out of bed and nearly stumbled over one of the boot’s he’d left lying on the floor.
“Four hours of sleep just isn’t cutting it,” he said to Jones who offered no reply.
Trevor walked slowly across the hall floor that lead toward the bathroom. Various parts of his attire were strewn along the path—pants, belt, cape, other boot—and he was careful to avoid tripping over them. The sweet smells of breakfast drifted from the kitchen, into the dining room, up the stairwell, and into the bathroom. As he stepped into the shower, he exhaled comfortably as the hot water began to massage his aching muscles and helped to momentarily relieve his exhaustive state. Mounted atop the front inside corner of the shower was a small tape recorder. His wet fingers pressed the Record button, as they’d done so many times before, and he began his monologue.
“The Scallion’s headquarters are located in a room in the basement of the public library. I discovered this, quite by accident, yesterday evening. I will, of course, be returning to the location. However, at the time of the discovery, I was in civilian attire and could not, therefore, properly investigate the premises. Later last night, I followed Mr. Black & Blue to a rooftop meeting with the Scallion. Because of the meeting’s location, I was unable to hear what was being said; however, given their individual histories, I can only assume they are now in collaboration toward a scheme most sinister. I would report these actions to the police, but I’ve learned from past mistakes—particularly the Super-Lunch fiasco—that the police are interested in hearing from me only when I have solid evidence. As Captain McMurphy has stated, the police simply cannot arrest someone because of what they might do. Thus, I will work to find the evidence needed to have these villains removed from society, which necessitates that I venture into the evening again as The Vocalist.”
Trevor paused momentarily as he rinsed the shampoo from his hair and applied a generous portion of conditioner to his scalp.
“Last night I nearly died. It was stupid, really. I’d been leaping from rooftop to rooftop; on one particular leap, my cape became entangled in my feet as I landed. It was close. Too close. At 2:16 a.m., I encountered a duo of cat burglars. The encounter left me aching and beat up—literally.” Trevor touched his lower lip—it was still swollen.
“Marcia woke before me today. She’s been doing this quite often as of late. Perhaps she’s had enough of it all—the long nights being left alone. The uncertainty of whether I’ll return home alive at the end of the night. The constant injury inflicted upon my body. Mending a cape she believes looks ridiculous on me. As I snuck into bed this morning at 4:00 a.m. she said to me, ‘You’re 44 years old. When are you going to stop?’ I feel as though I can’t quit. I’m obsessed, I know. But perhaps she’s right. Lately, I’ve noticed a change in my vocal chords—my voice is slightly deeper; the sound I resonate his changed in pitch. The changes are subtle, but noticeable. Once, not long ago, I could drop an opponent in his or her tracks through a simple fluctuation of tones. Now, these same tones barely stun an adversary. But I feel I’m needed. I know I am.”
He sat down at the table opposite Marcia. She attended to a crossword puzzle and quietly ate her breakfast. He placed several strips of bacon, a helping of scrambled eggs, and 2 slices of toast on his plate and began to eat. After several silent minutes, she spoke. Her tone was less than pleasant.
“You told me you were going bowling last night.”
“I went bowling—for a while.”
“Uh-huh. Then off to play the hero, right? You told me you were only going to do this on weekends now.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
“And here it is, Wednesday, and you look like shit and you’re late for work.”
“Marcia. Can’t you understand that this is important? I can’t help it if crime doesn’t confine itself to the weekend.”
She grabbed hold of his hands firmly and looked into his eyes with concern. “Can’t you understand you’re killing us?”
“I…” was all he could say.
“We’ll talk later. I’m late for work. I want you to see Michael about that bruise.”
“You’ll find it.”
She took her coffee mug and walked out of the room. He watched her leave, knowing he should follow, but he hadn’t the energy—physical or emotional—to continue the discussion. Best to let it wait. Trevor glanced at a headline on the front page of the morning paper which read “Experimental Isotopes Stolen From Government Compound.” He thought about the blueprints he’d seen at the Scallion’s library hide out, and the locks within his mind began to tumble.
“That’s quite a decorative color. Does it hurt?”
“No. Not really.”
“Don’t worry. It will. But there’s not much that can be done for it. Take a few ibuprofen as needed.”
“Can do,” Trevor said, and finished buttoning his shirt.
Trevor had noticed the purple discoloration running down the right side of his lower back has he was dressing for work shortly after Marcia had left the house. He knew it to be merely a bruise, but had decided to visit Michael to appease Marcia. Trevor had lived with pain far worse than bruises. There was another reason for the visit—Michael knew. And while he tolerated Trevor’s alter ego, and on some remedial level, understood Trevor's need for it, he’d mended his friend’s body more times than he cared to count, and had developed a genuine concern for Trevor’s physical and mental health. Michael talked frankly and without hesitation to Trevor.
“I presume this is a work related injury? Honestly, Trevor, how much longer can you continue to abuse your body like this?”
“I’m doing something that needs to be done. Something that only I can do.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard the rah-rah speech before. But look at you; our bodies are not designed for this type of nightly abuse.”
Trevor listened; he’d become accustomed to Michael’s lectures. The stocky friend and physician would assume an aggressive, though not hostile, stance and would run his fingers through his thinning hair, or push the thick black glasses toward his face repeatedly. Trevor likened Michael to a caricature that had escaped from a Tex Avery cartoon. Whenever Michael would use terms like “mentally unstable” or “cognitively threatening,” Trevor expected his friend to break into a German accent and shout “Ve haf to look into zee noggin und determine zee cauze uf your mental illnezz!” Because of their friendship, Michael tolerated the odd office hours he’d sometimes need to maintain to accommodate and treat Trevor’s various injuries.
“I’m telling you this as your physician and as a friend, you need to seriously think about what this is doing to your physical self, and to your relationship with Marcia.”
“Has she said anything?”
“To me? No, but even an outside observer can see the rift developing. What’s the crisis, anyway? Ginger Snapp back in town? Or is it Disrupto this time?”
“The Scallion—and probably Mr. Black & Blue.”
“Well, I know you’re rather ‘seasoned’ at crime fighting—you’ve certainly had your share of impressive victories. But you’re not in your 30s any more, pal. And Marcia is closing on 40. You’re alienating her, and you’re pushing yourself too hard—sooner or later, the camel’s back is going to break. Listen to me—take some time away from it—even just a day or two. The criminals will still be there.”
“Yeah, that’s the problem. They’re always, there,” Trevor added, thanking his friend as he walked out of the examination room. He began to feel the ache in the side of his 44-year-old frame as the door closed behind him.
NEXT: THE VOCALIST continues
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