New Fiction: The Vocalist (Part 6)
December 28, 2001
Back from a brief break, our tale of THE VOCALIST continues...
Aside from a quite noticeable lump on the back of his skull, the short albeit effective surprise attack by the Scallion had produced in Trevor’s unconscious mind a most extraordinary dream. The setting was New York’s Madison Square Garden; in attendance was an audience of 150,000 starry-eyed fans who had gathered for a most unusual event. An event that was also being broadcast worldwide via satellite and was, thus, being viewed by over 3.5 million individuals in 57 countries. The Garden was shrouded in blackness save for a solitary spotlight that shone down upon center stage. The crowd was silent but for the whistles and yells from the occasional audience member. Suddenly, a voiceover flooded the auditorium with sound—a rich, textured voice that was clear and smooth and provided perfect inflection on every word that reverberated across the Garden’s walls.
Ladies and gentlemen, good evening. We are here tonight to honor a man who has, for many years, given of himself without pause. A man who has put his life on the line more times than most people floss their gums. A man who has sacrificed, and has allowed to be sacrificed, his friends, companions, acquaintances, family, and even his own spouse. A man who, for 60 years, has done all he could do to keep this city safe. And we are here tonight, on the occasion of his 100th birthday, to simply say…thanks.
The resounding cheers and screams that followed a moment later reached a deafening magnitude. The audience applauded and vocally expressed their appreciation at the millennium man. They screamed. Hands were clapped and feet were stomped as the jubilation rose to an uncompromising level. The gold-smooth voiceover delivered the final lines that propelled the crowd into ecstasy:
Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the stage, your hero and mine, the one, the only, Vocalist!
The century-old Trevor was helped out of his wheelchair by a nurse one-quarter his age, and using a cane to assist his walk, he ever-so-slowly moved toward center stage. He wore his Vocalist attire; the once snug-fitting uniform hung off his tired frame like a queen-size comforter on a twin mattress. Slowed he moved--tiny, cautious, child-like footsteps that were near impossible to detect to those seated beyond the 20th row. However, the applause and accolades continued unabated. The Garden erupted with the sound of Bette Midler’s Wind Beneath My Wings and Trevor stopped, looked up at one of the many loudspeakers on the stage, and scowled before continuing his march toward center stage. Finally, after several long minutes, he reached the microphone stand. The applause slowly began to diminish like a spinning top losing its momentum. Eventually, the auditorium fell silent save for the random hand clap or cough. Trevor held the microphone stand with both hands and allowed his cane to fall to the floor.
“Thank you. I, uh, just want to say thanks for, um, supporting me for so many years. I had thought about retiring, oh, a few decades ago when my powers were failing me. But I know now that I did the right thing by staying in the business.” His voice was aged, and was far less impressive and captivating than that of the voiceover. The audience’s silence, in utter contrast to the previous uproar, was nearly deafening.
I’m losing them, he thought to himself. Do something. Say something funny.
Yet before Trevor could decide upon a course of action, a voice from the front row shouted, “You ruined—ruined what could have been!”
It was Marcia; she stood up and pointed a withered skeletal finger at Trevor. Her voice was rough like cold dirt, perhaps from the rope marks that were still visible on her neck.
“You never knew when to quit. Even now, helpless as a baby, you want to continue your game!”
“I’m not helpless! I’m a--”
“A what? A hero? Don’t make me laugh!”
Marcia jumped onto the stage with a grace that defied her age. The stadium’s house-lights were brought up to fifty-percent, and as Trevor stared out into the vast audience he became suddenly aware that all those in attendance were merely rotting corpses. They cheered Marcia as he moved closer toward Trevor.
“You just don’t get it, do you Trevor?” she asked. Trevor held onto the microphone stand as if it could somehow protect him. “Your time is past. You’re weak and feeble.”
“No—I’m not!” he said, and he became aware of the doubt in his inflection.
“Perhaps you require a demonstration. Ladies and gentlemen, behold!” Marcia extended her hand into the air, a pink feather rested upon her palm. She brought her palm to her lips and exhaled ever so lightly. The feather floated across the distance between them and, landing softly against his chest, knocked Trevor clumsily to the ground.
“I rest my case,” she said to the crowd. “You thought yourself so important, but you fail to realize that this world is held together by change. A person dies, another is born; a child enters school, a senior graduates; a hero grows old and retires, another hero takes his place. You just never understood it, but that’s the way of the world, old boy.”
Marcia exited stage right. Trevor lay on the stage floor as the sound of chirping crickets began to echo in the auditorium. Music began to fill the air—a commercial jingo from another time: Let’s all go to the lobby, let’s all go to the lobby, let’s all go to the lobby, and have ourselves a snack. A man dressed in a sandwich board advertising a restaurant called the House of Scallions danced across the stage and handed Trevor an apple. “On the house, pal,” was all that he said, before dancing away into the darkness.
One of nature’s most simple, remarkable, and distinct creations is the apple. Its biblical symbolism not withstanding, the apple has remained one of nature’s simple, yet perfect, foods. It is synonymous with good health and in the 1970s was considered (in its pie form) to be one of the four purely American icons (along with baseball, hot dogs, and Chevrolet). It is said to have ushered in Sir Isaac Newtown’s understanding of gravity. As a symbol of affection (perhaps even bribery), it has been given to many-a-teacher by many-a-student in many-a-classroom. In cider form, it is synonymous with autumn and Halloween. Their sizes, shapes, varieties, colors, textures, aromas, and flavors are as varied and individual as the days of the week, the months of the year. The apple that had been forced into Trevor’s mouth during his brief stretch of unconscious was neither flavorful nor delicious. As he slowly gained consciousness, Trevor knew that he’d been gagged; the Scallion, who stood above him, confirmed the fact.
“I’d advise you not to try chewing your way through the apple,” he remarked, smugly. “I’ve injected a fast-acting poison into its center that is, I assure you, quite lethal if swallowed.”
Trevor was fully conscious and his vision was clear, as was his predicament. He was bound quite securely to a chair. The apple in his mouth was secured by electrical tape that was affixed across his lips. Trevor mumbled an inaudible curse.
“Please, don’t try to talk. Ah, I remember quite well our last encounter. I’ve no wish to have my defeat repeated. It was, I’m sure you’ll admit, mere luck on your behalf that the slightest unforeseen wind gust altered the trajectory of my Spanish Onion Bomb, causing it to explode near the guard dogs, causing them, in turn, to become most unruly and to ultimately attack me, their own master. No, I’ve not forgotten the indignations suffered me by the incompetent emergency-room staff—were that I not forced by my healthcare provider to use their “network physicians.” Ah, but I digress; such are the rantings of the truly gifted.”
Trevor looked at the Scallion quizzically.
“Questions. Oh, you have questions, I know. You may first thank me for having not gagged you with an onion, which I’m sure you’d agree would have been far more symbolic. An apple is good enough for the likes of you, my friend. Other questions? What are my intentions, you wonder? Why have I so precisely bound you to a chair? Is mine but an absurd, twisted, rope fetish? Perhaps, but now is not the time for psychoanalysis. My intentions, I assure you, are quite sincere—quite pure.” He paused momentarily, sipping water from a crystal wine glass.
“I am going to shrink—to reduce, to minimize—every major city on the planet. I and I alone shall determine the rules and regulations of this new world. It really is everything I’ve ever wanted, and then some.”
He walked around the elegant dining room table, upon which sat a four-course dinner including onion soup and rack of lamb, as he boasted his plans for the world he would, quite literally, reduce to his whims. Trevor struggled not to gag on the apple (for it would do him little good to die of asphyxiation); he slowly bit off a piece of the fruit, and swallowed. It was then that he noticed something peculiar. He began to stare. As the Scallion rattled and prattled about new world orders and the under use of the onion in French cuisine, Trevor paid no mind but continued to stare with vigilance. He locked his eyes on it. It was unusual and he found himself unable to turn away his gaze.
“…and following a series of propaganda films on the Small You I will decide who lives, who dies, and who—“
The Scallion realized that Trevor had not made eye contact for several minutes and become conscious that Trevor was preoccupied with—something.
“What? What are you staring at? What is it? What?”
The Scallion looked about the room and grew angry. He gazed in the direction Trevor’s eyes had been focused. Nothing appeared to be out of the ordinary. How he wanted to remove the gag—to force Trevor to speak—but even in his growing rage he knew better than to take such a risk.
“WHAT?!” he asked again, enraged. And then…he realized…exactly what it was. Realized what was occupying Trevor’s mind and vision. It was the cape. His cape. The cape that had been burned by the steam iron. Trevor had spotted the cape’s imperfection and the Scallion knew that Trevor, were he not gagged, would be laughing. Laughing at his enemy—at the little man who was too inept to launder and press a cape without damaging it. He lunged at Trevor then and was going to strike him, but hesitated.
“You seek to goad me. To reduce me to the base act of physical violence. I assure you, I am quite capable of--”
Trevor’s eyes once again bypassed the Scallion and focused instead on the bottom of his adversary’s cape.
“Stop staring at it, damn you!”
He then stormed away from Trevor and proceeded to uncork a bottle of chardonnay.
“It’s of no significance. Laugh if you’d like. Chew through the apple and laugh. As the children in my youth would say, I double-dog dare you. I think now would be an appropriate moment to divulge to you a tid-bit of information that may prove most interesting to you. While you were in a semi-conscious state, I placed you under hypnosis. In that wakeful/dreaming condition you revealed a great many secrets to me…Trevor. Oh, fear not. You shan’t survive long enough for me to fully exploit you in the manner deserving of your lot. However, I think even you ought to know that, as the future ruler of this world I shall require a queen. And although your lovely Marcia is, shall we say, not my type, she will, nonetheless, serve in the interim until a suitable companion is found, after which, Marcia shall join you in eternal peace.”
The Scallion smiled as Trevor’s eyes locked in fury with his. “Ha ha. I see now that I’ve again gained your attention. Yes. I have sent my companion, Mr. Black & Blue, to retrieve her. I suspect they’ll be joining us momentarily.” He tipped his wine glass and drank rapidly, not pausing to savor its aroma.
“You see, I also have something to laugh about.” The Scallion sat at the table and began to eat.
“Mmmmm. Quite delicious. You really ought to try the soup.”
The apartment was dark. Jones the cat slept peacefully, a fluffy furball whose dreams included mice, Pounce, and balls of yarn. The coffee maker had been filled with fresh water and coffee; it always saved time during the morning rush out the door. Marcia lie awake in bed, eyes wide open. She’d woken seconds earlier from a relaxing sleep and dreams of sandy beaches and ocean waves at winter. Someone was in the apartment—someone who definitely was not Trevor. Even from the enclosed bedroom she could smell it—the thick, sappy smell of Polo cologne.
During her freshman year at Castleton, Marcia had dated a man named Charles Claymore who lived and breathed Polo, who woke with and slept with Polo, who drank, ate, and pissed Polo. There was not a moment during their fleeting relationship that Marcia’s olfactory facilities were not overwhelmed with the odor of the Ralph Lauren-produced vile liquid. Marcia had known long before the Christmas holiday season that she would not remain in the relationship. Her parting gift given to Charles on Christmas day had been an assortment of over 25 cologne samples she’d taken from the perfume counters of various department stores. The note she’d included read, “Variety is the spice of life—try some spice.” Charles had looked at her quizzically and remarked with complete dumbfoundedness, “But I don’t understand. I have Polo. That’s all I need. Polo.” The relationship had ended that evening. Marcia had been unable to date for several months, not until she’d managed to purge the dreadful scent of the cologne from her dorm room. For several years she was unable to walk past a perfume counter without recoiling from the smell of Polo smell of Charles.
Now, at night, in the dark, that abysmal smell had returned. A scent that was so nonsubtle it was able to wake her from her sleep state. An odor so overwhelming it made refuse seem reasonable and pleasant. A Polo-wearing intruder was in her home. Any doubt of that assumption ended when the kitchen floorboard creaked. She realized her odds of survival would dramatically increase if she were to quickly lock the bedroom door. She could then escape out the window—it was a two-story drop to the lawn below but with a bit of luck she’d escape uninjured. The footsteps were closer; she would need to act rapidly. Marcia kicked aside the cotton sheet and comforter and jumped from the bed, its springs crying out in protest. The door was only four feet away; and she covered the distance in less than one second and hastily locked the door. An instant later, the doorknob was tested by the stranger who stood on the other side of the door. Marcia staggered to the bedroom window and pushed aside the treatment. The stranger struggled harder with the doorknob as Marcia unlocked the window. She knocked aside the various picture frames on the sill and they crashed to the floor. Glass shattered and Marcia’s feet danced as she tried to avoid stepping on the sharp fragments. Behind her was heard a sound like hard plastic being laced in a compressor. She turned back to look at the door—its very composition was changing. The pine altered in appearance from its natural wood tone to the darkest black. The door seemed to glow around its edges. There was a flaking crashing sound as the stranger’s fist broke through the door, which shattered from the violent impact. Mr. Black & Blue stepped into the bedroom and stared--a hungry, deranged look from a pair of soulless eyes that gaped at Marcia who stood in an awkward, comical position with her right foot stretched to the window sill. Her nightshirt blew against the breeze of the open window and wretched Polo filled the room.
“Uh, uh, uh. You ain't goin' nowhere 'cept with me,” Mr. B&B stated confidently, and strode toward the terrified Marcia.
Next: THE VOCALIST continues!
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