The North Pole Syndrome

evil_kid_silhouette_610x330

[An oldie, but one of my favorites.]

 

Heartless. Dickish. Mean. A scrooge. Yes, I know what the kids at school sometimes call me. I love Christmas, I love Jesus Christ, I love family and the holiday season.

“Timothy, I’m sorry, but…he isn’t real.”

But Santa? No, we’ll never celebrate him within these walls.

Timmy leaves my office, standing a little shorter than when he entered. My secretary and Vice-Principal give me daring glances, but my conviction is resolute.

I’m going to save the world, one kid at time.

At home I sit at my davenport, a grandkid on each knee. I tell them the story as it was told to me.

It came from the North Pole…

It always starts the same, it always ends the same. The kids stare at me slackjawed and incredulous. I let them go and my son stays behind, his face twisted the way a philosopher’s is when emotion interferes with truth.

“Dad, Emily and I, we’ve been thinking about letting the kids believe. It’s just that, Santa’s not even as important as he used to be…” I let him drone on and I look out my window north…north…

In a remote Greenland village, circa 1743, ten mischievous children were tasked to go north for food and medicine. They returned very different, perpetually in motion, carrying a constant ringing only other children could hear. These “elven” children would go on to build little knicks and knacks, dangerous trinkets they used to kill adults and spread the belief of an omnipresent St. Nick.

My ancestors won the first battle, but where there’s a belief in Santa, there’s a risk of a return. I sit and watch my grandkids play in the den. They turn to me in unison, necks twisted, voices synchronous, high, in legion, and slowly go “Ho, ho, ho…”

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Expired: Part 1 (superhero fiction)

black-woman-silhouette

 

The fiends, they know when you’re weak. It’s like blood in the water, like a slow limp in the jungle.  The rules in Capedom are no different than that in the wild. Eat or be eaten, kill or be killed. And if you get sliced, if you start to sway, if you give anybody a reason, you’re done for.

To Alpha Black, this wasn’t supposition. This was fact. She’d been in the game a long time, long enough to know real rules from the mindless chatter.  And as the blows kept raining down on her by Therm-mite and then Smoker T—young buck fiends  who were probably sucking on Gerber back when Alpha Black was ball busting Dredspot—she couldn’t help but think about how those who thought they were exceptions to the rule became statistics of the game.

In a flash that was probably the beginning of a concussion, she saw the strangest things, like the one-day too-old milk back in her fridge, like bread with a hint of mold on its side.  Still edible but past its prime, soon to be completely spoiled because nothing hides itself from the elements forever.

Everything has an expiration date.

“Keep the broad still, T. I can’t get a good hit!”

Broad? Black refocused. What was she, some chick in a Billy Dee flick? She dropped her weight and spun into a kick, sending Therm-mite to his backside.  The move was enough to also throw off Smoker T’s attack, routing what should have been a jarring blow to Black’s skull into her shoulder instead.

Through Smoker T’s smoke, Black tried to grasp her surroundings. Nothing. She reached down and felt rigid steel. Rebar, maybe? They’d been near construction when the fight started, and perhaps that would save her life.

Black gripped it and got ready to pounce.  Smoker T’s powers allowed her to shift the spectrum of light that made its way through her smog. It was an effective strategy—black smoke, then white, then purple, blue, and green—and completely disorienting, not giving prey enough time to adjust her vision. But like any power, there was a drawback, as between every shift Smoker’s outline became just…so…visible…

Alpha Black swung. Smoker T fell. Therm-mite grunted from behind, ready for another attack.

“Kill that leatherface witch, Derek!” Smoker screamed in pain.

“Leatherface? Heifer please,”  Alpha Black said, trying to throw her voice for an advantage in the now orange-ish haze.  Leatherface? That hurt.  Black’s ability to control the density of her skin in different spots of her body had taken a toll over the years, but Smoker was one to talk. “Let she with dirty tracks be the last to throw stones, okay bae?”

Just as she expected, they pounced at the sound of her voice. Good.  It wasn’t hard to find Smoker’s weave, either.

Poetic justice.

Grabbing it, Black sent the girl’s face into her knee, ending that part of the threat.  But she’d given away her position, and she knew what was coming next.

Knowing didn’t make a damn bit of difference.  Therm-mite’s hand gripped her shoulder, and with a slithering, chittering sound she heard, then felt, them. Insects. Dozens of them.  His bugs oozed from him to her.

Modified termites. The hot, creepy little turds made their way across her shoulder, down the breast of her Synthdex suit. There were too many already across her body, rendering her power useless in blocking their effects.

“Aarg!” she screamed as they began they began to pop and die in bursts of heat.

“Sista, I’ve been a fan of yours for a long time. What you did to The Trump…stone cold,” Therm-mite said, his voice the kind of calm, deep bass you’d expect from a more experienced fiend.  Seductive enough to throw her off-guard.  “ But I gotta take you down.  Good for my rep.” If his powers weren’t so damn disgusting, Black might’ve tried to Cougar him over to the good side.

But she’d had enough. With Smoker T out, the haze was beginning to lift. Alpha Black could see just enough to make one final play.

Whomp.

“Ohhhhhhh!” Thermmite groaned as Black sent a heel to his groin. A sucker move, yeah, but they’d sucker’d her into the fight, and what’s fair was fair. An elbow to his temple finished him off.

“Ewwwww…” As Nyka Black, code name Alpha Black, frantically brushed off the suddenly confused, but still glowing and translucent bugs from her body–spitting one out of her mouth–she came to a decision that was a long time coming.

She was done with this crap.

She was done being a Cape.

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Solomon’s Test (Superhero fiction)

One week a Cape, and it’s all come crashing down on him.

One week is all it took, and now Solomon was about to die.

He and Blithe lay in twin craters of rubble, the dust starting to settle. They fell out the sky.

People approach, silhouettes wrapped in smoke. It’s easy for them to tell which is the hero. It’s easier to tell which one is not.

Where’d they come from? Are they dead?

Are you kidding me? Those people never die.

Solomon stirs, and as if by entanglement so does Blithe. But they don’t get up. They’re both broken, like principles in a shaky world. The thunder that brought them is now a dull rumble slowly losing its resonance.

Good God! They’re still alive?

Should we be here? Should we call someone?

One week, Solomon thinks. He didn’t even have time to pass the test. To become a real hero. He turns his neck, the only thing that works. His hearing tells him Blithe does the same. Gurgling. He’s another newbie, all power and no rep, but on the wrong side of the fight. They’re separated by ideology and ten feet of rubble; they’re conjoined by a youthful spite that would continue this on hands and knees if they could.

Don’t go there!

Baby, come back!

A girl suddenly appears above. She looks at him and then in the direction of the adjacent crater. The wind sways, the light cotton of her dress unsure of which way to cling. Solomon’s sage-vision shows him the tendrils of energy snaking her, feeding itself tail to mouth like a band of infinity. A caduceus.

A healer.

An older woman of sweaty nervousness tries to reach for her, but the girl slips her, dismisses her with a look that says ‘For once, let me be me’.

She drops into Solomon’s crater, her ankles wobbly against the rubble, and kneels beside him. He’s surprised at how ordinary she looks. How emaciated and plain.

“My name is Keisha. You’re on Prudence Street. I think you’re gonna die if I don’t do something.” She strokes his cheek, and it momentarily feels tight. He remembers his mother and the smell of vapor rub. He tastes penicillin.

“I can heal you, but only one of you,” she says, lifting a delicate brown arm. “I’m not that strong.”

Yells from above. Just let ’em both die and let’s get outta here. Nobody will know.

“What abou…what about him?” Solomon nudges his head towards the barrier separating black from white. “Is he going to…”

“I…I can’t…he’ll die. I told you I’m not strong enough!” her ashy lip quivers. “Please don’t make me think about that. I just wanna think about the good.” It’s a plea. For her it’s not black and white, but a choice of one or the other. Monochromism in a world that can’t afford the rest of the spectrum.

Solomon sees the world blur. He doesn’t have long.

Fuck him, Keisha! Let him die.

Save the other one! I don’t see the heroes taking care of any of us!

Keisha hand reaches, then wobbles and hesitates, either fighting her nature or trying to embrace it. “What will the bad guys to us do if the other one dies?”

They’ll come here and kill us! Fuck him!

Even in the haze she looks so thin, calories burned from the weight of her gift. He knows her kind, a local Talent. Take her away from here and she’s probably just another girl. Homely. Simple.  But here, on Prudence, she’s transformed, a lifeline for its people who live in complex times, die simple deaths.

“I’ll..I’ll protect you,” Solomon says, not even sure what he means, but knowing it’s something better than blurting ‘I want to live. I deserve it more than him!’.

Nobody even has to know. It’ll be he secret of Prudence Street. The other Capes, they’ll pat him on his back and congratulate him. His colleagues. Any league, any society…he’ll have his pick. This will be a learning experience, the first test of Solomon, which he passed with flying colors.

Keisha reaches again. This time her hand is steady.

He’ll grow older, get stronger. Be wiser. He’ll advice other heroes. They’ll look up to him, the prodigy who beat an Alpha baddie the first time out. You don’t have to be a sacrificial lamb like those other Capes with funerals on tv, with pyres burning in the orbit of Mars. Being right doesn’t have to mean being dead. There’s always another way, a way that looks better in the spectre of hindsight.

Heroes live on. They pass the test.

Her hand almost at his forehead, he speaks. There’s a smile on his face.

“No.”

She stares blankly for a moment and then nods. As she climbs away he thinks about his name inscribed on the Wall of Champions, along with other great heroes. Brava. Samson. Heracles. Gilgamesh. His colleague.

And Blithe? He’ll live. He’ll have to live with the miracle on Prudence Street, how a green hero and a little girl gave him his life. He’ll have to live with that, and imprisonment, and the bloody beatings from other heroes. Cape-killer!

Solomon smiles. His eyes are tired even though his vision’s suddenly clear. He closes them.

Oh shit, they’re here!

Mommy, they’re so pretty…

He’s draped in blackness as he hears their arrival. His colleagues. A gruff voice, resonant and strong, like fire stolen from the gods, whispers to him. “Not bad, kid. Not bad at all. You’ll be alright.

“You passed the test.”

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Gene Roddenberry/Notorious BIG: Twin Prophets of Literature (or Why It’s Time To Embrace More Utopian Fiction)

 

It’s always interesting learning things about yourself, right?

*crickets*

Maybe only sometimes.

Okay, usually never. But for a creative type I think it’s essential. What inspiration makes us rise like Batman from the Lazarus Pit (a 20 minute recovery from a broken back? I love ya, Christopher Nolan, but dafuq)? What vice leads us on early morning Walk of Shame (Brazilian fart porn…yea boi!)? What makes us…us?

One of the more interesting comments about my story The Primary Color was how it touched on issues of utopia vs. dystopia, and if it’s possible to tell the difference between the two from the inside.

Heady stuff. Way headier than the story I actually intended to write but, hey, you take any compliment you can get. I don’t see Michael Bay giving back his Oscars on a technicality.

What I realize is that I’m a dreamer and optimist. Even in the darkest of my fiction there’s brightness underneath. There’s the promise of better.

Those are the stories I like to create, and those are teh stories I love to enjoy. Sure, I can sometimes be a literature snob. I can lose myself in worlds where happy endings have no place. I like my Faulkner. I read my Welty. I appreciate the bleakness and nihilism sometimes associated with the more literary, the more realist and, at times, the more anti-realist. Willy Loman, bro, I got your back.

But given a choice between a Greek tragedy and a geek epic, I choose epic all day, every day.

It’s why I love superheroes, who almost always exist in the time of “the near future”. I love the brightness bordering on gaudy, the camp, the pure exhilaration portrayed by their very existence. Sure, there are dark superhero tales and forced deconstruction. But in the end, you can’t have superheroes, with their primary colors and their campy rhetoric, exist without a a whole lot of hope.

The mere existence of superheroes point to an optimistic society, possibly utopia, even if that utopia is in disarray. (subtle difference there, so bear with me), even if the characters don’t realize how good they actually have it.

So the question I keep asking myself is: why isn’t there more optimistic/Utopian fiction? What does the lack of it say about how society views its future?

What do we have against the backdrop of happiness in our fiction?

And when I hear even Grant Morrison, one of my idols, a man whose love for superheroes and the positivity they represent oozes from every superhero comic he writes, give in to the bleak homogeneity of the day to say he might

embrace the zombie ethos that’s complete overridden this culture – I’m getting bored doing the single shining light

it breaks my heart, Fredo. It breaks my heart.

Things have to change, right?

From a consumer’s point of view, the fascination with pessimistic/dystopian narrative and the accompanying themes is understandable.

We like to see the fall before the rise. We want to wallow in darkness before we finally embrace the light. Conflict is the name of the game, and most consumer’s can’t imagine enjoying conflict in stories built around the conceit that most familiar conflicts have been resolved.

Fair enough.

But from a creative perspective…I don’t get it. Creators should know better.

This past weekend I was able to catch a documentary on Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek–yes,I’m a Trekkie..a big, Black Trekkie, and I’ll be happy to shove a bat leth up your yin-yang to defend that honor–and came away from with a new appreciation for his will.

By hook or by crook, ol’ Gene was going to do things his way. Despite the challenges, he was going create a modern, progressive, brainy, and Utopian universe, whether his bosses or his young writers liked it or not.

And for any creator who thinks Utopian fiction can’t be exciting, can’t find an audience, I point to the 5 Star Trek tv series, 12 big budget movies, hundreds of novels and comics, 50 years of continuity, and the assload of fans who were pretty much the template for the current “geek is chic” movement.

Yeah, not bad.

See, Gene realized what a lot of writers fail to, that conflict exists wherever people exist, no matter how evolved, no matter how smart, no matter how without need they become. It’s so simple, yet so easily missed.

Where one set of problems are solved, another set takes its place. Not everyone views utopia the same.

For any society to satisfy every hunger, it must deal with the complications of appeasing base cravings.

Or, as the Notorious B.I.G. put it, in what might be the most succinct explanation of why Utopian fiction works:

Mo’ money, mo’ problems.

So yes, I think there’s room for more optimism in fiction, in science fiction and young adult, in superheroes and even in horror (think about it, utopia is the perfect backdrop for the macabre). It gives us a future to strive for and the tools to deal with the complications in reaching it.

Will it be easy? No. But is it supposed to be?

We just have to be willing to embrace it and smart enough to make it happen.

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Plight of the Moronic Savant (or Why DC Comics Shouldn’t Try to be Perfect…Just Interesting)

There’s a recurring theme in modern fiction of the secretly talented jerk. You know the type: not really idiot savants–who exhibit brilliance despite disability–these cats usually choose and wear their yokes because they just don’t care. They’re the James T. Kirks, the Good Will Huntings, the Fresh Princes of Bel-Air. They’re the gifted slacker, the moronic savant just waiting to figure it out. They’re stuck in dire circumstances spiraled out of control (but not really), because the Man is hateful and the Man just don’t care.

All they need is that little nudge, and suddenly the Matrix makes perfect sense. 0100101110…whoaaaa, there is no spoon!!

We all love this archetype because we all believe we exemplify it. It’s our way of reconciling failure when nothing else makes sense: It’s the American Dream stopped short by societal interference, the American Dream reached by divine intervention.

And if there’s one place this archetype has legs, it’s in comic book fandom.

Anyone who know me or read this blog knows I’m a comic book geek. i love the costumes and the powers, the melodrama and its hidden subtext, the power fantasy and sexual politics. And that’s just superheroes, never mind the menagerie of other genres that grace the page of this underrated art form.

But most of all I love the culture: the theatre of the absurd. Oh, my friends, you’ll not find larger stage for rationalized lunacy. It’s catnip for the cerebellum.

And there’s no better show, no bigger musical production than anything involving DC comics or, alternatively, the DC movie universe.

Just to give you a sample of the weekend:

Late Friday came the news that Tom Hiddleston, best known for portraying Loki for rival Disney/Marvel Studios, might be the running to play Joker (or some vague other role) for WB/DC’s new Justice League franchise. Maybe. Perhaps.

Ridiculous, I know, considering how ruthlessly vise-like Disney is with Marvel properties at the moment, going so far as to kibosh FF/X-Men toy distribution and firing quirky creative types for even the slightest hint of defiance.

No, Hiddleston wasn’t gonna happen, but comic book culture has its own worldview and its own logic in step with A Clockwork Orange if, y’know, you replace candy and cigarettes with cheap body spray and meth.

So instead of ending ignoring a rumor that has little chance to be true, the conversation quickly morphed to accusations of DC hating the very characters it’s investing millions of dollars to rush to the big screen, (psychic) admonishments of the plot of a Batman/Superman movie that’s a year from even being released, finger pointing at how DC is trying to ape Marvel but not doing enough to copy Marvel’s success, and mourning of the lack of Shakespearean acting chops Ben Affleck possesses as he prepares to play the goddamn Batman.

Oh, and Marvel because…whatever.

So, in recap:

1. DC casting rumor
2. rampant speculation
3.confusion and outrage that spreads to tangential and often unrelated issues
4. non-sequitur comparison to Marvel and illogical rumblings about talking raccoons *grumble grumble* talking trees *grumble grumble* DC hates women, kids, puppies *NERD RAGE*

In other words, a typical DC Entertainment discussion.

But no, this isn’t about Marvel, and I’m not here to defend DC or Warner Bros. Woe be the fool to do so in these turbulent end-of-days. They’ve made dumb decisions, then dumber decisions, then even dumberer decisions of the taint-scratch-sniff-and-lick variety. Too many to go even name. I mean, crazy gimmicks, screwing retailers, creator unrest, borderline misogyny (although I refuse to point the finger solely at them for that), and some generally prickish behavior.

But there’s a reason they’re talked about so much among the nerd-erati. No, it’s not just schadenfreude. I think it’s the fact that they have the brightest, coolest–and yes, you sometimes insufferable Zombies–best heroes in the market, and we’re waiting for that spark of inspiration, that nudge of genius, that will light DC’s fire and give us the heroes we need, not just the heroes we deserve.

DC is the moronic savant we’re waiting to watch figure it out.

And, for all of their faults, DC is in a interesting place right now. On the surface, they can do nothing right. The New 52 is underwhelming. The superhero movieverse is in its stalled infancy. Any every minute mistake is constantly magnified, unlike St. Marvel with goodwill oozing out its sphincter from a string of fun, ultimately insubstantial, movies, so much so that it can shit on directors, fire actors, ignore creative contributions, and just be general jerks about everything with fandom ready to merely say. ”Oh, I’m sure it was for the best, dearie.”

But this isn’t about Marvel.

Unlike what some Facebook soundbytes might suggest, DC/WB isn’t afraid of looking foolish (I mean, these are the same people who made the Catwoman movie, Birds of Prety tv show, and pimped GL’s ridiculous CGI costume for months on end).

What they need to do is embrace that foolishness and turn it into something interesting.

There’s an advantage to being rough around the edges, of being so defected it’s become the default. Perfect diamonds might be nice to find, but the real value comes with a few well-placed flaws.

DC, and specifically the DC movieverse, is in the ideal place to not only be the moronic savant who figures it out, but to be interesting while doing it. Not every script needs to be ideal, not every character appearance well-placed, not every beat perfectly timed.

Continuity doesn’t have to always make sense.

Not everything needs to be connected.

There’s room for imperfection, There’s a place for the off-kilter bits, the strains in the wood that give furnishings character.

DC doesn’t have to be Marvel Studios, where there’s always a plan, where everything has to intricately connected, where one–just one–random pebble in the gears sends the entire machine out of whack. Let Marvel be Marvel, where the movie-making process increasingly resembles the safety of the Disney Princess-era in the 90s rather than the risk-taking verve of the Marvel bullpen era in the 60s.

DC, you be you. You do you. Don’t try to be perfect, just strive to be interesting. Perfection is Marvel’s area. Let them kill themselves trying to maintain it.

But this isn’t about Marvel.

But then again, isn’t it always?

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Shakespeare on Dope (or How I Learned to Love “To-Be” Verbs)

“To be or not to be….dudddeeee!”

 

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,

It’s a bit of twisted irony that the most well-known phrase in all of ‘high’ literature involves the use of “to-be”.

What’s this “to-be” nonsense, you ask?

be, am, is, are, was, were, been, has, have, had, do, did, does, can, could, shall, should, will, would, may, might, must

Oh, my fellow writers, don’t feign ignorance. You damn..well…know…what “to-be” verbs are. They’re the scourge of writing society, a guilty pleasure for those ignorant of the rules and soul-crushing for those of us who aren’t. Using them is like drinking Miller Light from the tap or playing Maroon 5 with the volume on. They threaten to suck life and siphon ambition one am, one will, one could at a time.

They’re literary marijuana. Alphabetical Mary Jane. And yes, we all, from time to time, partake.

I will write the type of superhero stories I want to read, not the type corporations think I want.

The hilarious ebook has been on sale a while, with nary a sales. *nudge, nudge* *wink, wink*

And wouldn’t you know it, some folks over at Kboards want to legalize them, to change the game, to completely ignore the rules handed down through history, from Shakespeare to Hemingway to Dan Brown…and even God!

Those sandal-wearing, guava sipping bastards.

I mean, what’s next? Homonymic unions? Actually paying writers a fair wage for their work? Wrigga, please. If these people had their way, we’d all use “to-be” verbs freely, creating a society of “will-fare” queens, popping out little “to-be” babies that threaten to leech on the system on which us hard-working, rule following, proudly boring writers hold dear.

Sigh.

Okay, I’ll admit, there’s a part of me that used to believe every single word of that. There’s a prevailing mentality that’s ingrained into us early, from english class, through writing groups, writing books, and everywhere in between: “to-be” verbs are a sign of weakness responsible writers must search, find, and scrub like dirty little uncorked sphincters.

A few years ago I submitted a piece, The Cleansing, for review at a well-known writing site (it might be on this blog too…who knows at this point?). I thought it was a great story: well told, exciting, sexy, and a big perverse in all the right ways. Never mind the protagonist was never an active participant in the story, or that the entire plot bordered on misogyny in all the wrong ways…I thought I’d struck gold.

Until one particular review. From a graduate English major.

Oh. Gawd.

Have you ever gashed your foot on glass, looked for the right medicine, but accidentally found and used bleach, acid, and sandpaper on the wound instead? Because you were blind from jaundice and pink-eye, and picking your nostrils had spread the infection to your nose so your sense of smell was shot? That’s what getting reviewed by an English grad is like if you’ve used too many “to-be” verbs.

And like a good little prawn, I edited and re-edited the piece, until it was done and I realized the piece was fine the way it was because of the passivity of the protagonist.

I’d made a subconscious stylistic choice, and it fit my narrative. But I because I was so new, so raw and self-conscious, so ready to please any and every reader, I ignored my instincts.

And that, writers of this new, blog, ebook, self-publishing age, is the last thing you want to do when it comes to your voice, the words you convey.

There’s an adage that states “to break the rules, you must know the rules”. That’s absolutely true. But most rules are mutable, and we’re in an age where we can take risks, be experimental, and still find an audience and avoid the publishing blacklist.

So brethren, be brave! Believe in your words, because, I’m here to tell you, words are a hell of a lot stronger than you give them credit. “To be” verbs aren’t inherently weak. Maybe they shouldn’t be used in EVERY sentence…but maybe they should if your WIP dictates it.

Not every sentence should be ‘strong’ or full of action verbs, or else you risk repetitiveness. Think of WIPs as organisms. They can’t go full blast all the time without risk of wearing itself (or the reader) out. They also can’t be so weak as to barely respond to stimuli (or the reader to it). Spice things up with strong and weak verbs, long and short sentences, formal and familiar language, etc. Whatever sounds cool.

Feel free to partake! Even Shakespeare did a little dope every once in a while.

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The Primary Color (Superhero flash fiction)

 

“The dreams are getting stronger,” August said, thumping his forehead against the passenger window as Samson Falls zoomed by. The world was gray and listless. Buildings, statues, people…everything appeared and disappeared with hueless flashes, like bloodless blinks, leaving only a few specks of color in between. On the periphery, a Cape dressed in red tried to contain a protest, but even his costume was dingy-gray with disrepute.

From the driver’s seat, Dr. Trance muttered acknowledgement. “Interesting descriptive, August. Why not worse, or more vivid?

Why the word ‘stronger’? ”

You’re the therapist, you tell me.

The outside world siphoned his thoughts away. It wasn’t just gray, but frayed. Muggy. A family—man, woman, and girl–stood beside the street. As the car passed them August turned in his seat, his eyes transfixed on the three stringed balloons above the girl’s head. Three balloons, three colors. The only three colors in the otherwise gray world.

August turned and crouched in his seat, clutching his stomach. Samson Falls, the cleanest, most crime free city in the world was making August sick.

“It’s…I only dream in red, green, and yellow.”

“Primary colors,” Dr. Trance said, correcting him, his voice academic.

“Yeah. Primary colors.  But the red is taking over.

“The red is so strong now.”

Suddenly August plastered his face and hands against the glass, a mime in terror. The same family, the same girl, the same balloons.

Once again the car passed them, but this time as the family faded into the rear, August refused to turn away. Red, green, yellow, green, red, yellow, green…the balloons twisted and twisted on their strings.  August’s mouth slacked. His eyes watered. The balloons twisted and turned until POP, the red balloon exploded, its red spreading like a virus, tentacled, leaving the world behind stillborn, a tv screen with warped pixels.

Practice your breathing. Practice your breathing. Dr. Trance’s hand on his shoulder, pushing him back into his seat, snapped August back to the present.

“Dr. Trance, these…these are repressed memories, right? You’re absolutely sure?”

“Yes. I am.” Dr. Trance sounded more sure than August could’ve expect. There was security in that.

“August, we’re going to take a little detour.”

The feeling of safety disappeared. “Doc, please, don’t. I told you I can’t be in this place!”

The car turned onto Resurrection Lane, the final site of the Last Crisis, when millions died, where even more were erased. Resurrection Lane, built on the marrow of dead Capes. Resurrection Lane, the place everyone went to never forget, except August, who could never forget because he never remembered in the first place. ‘Where were you during the Last Crisis?’ Everyone knew, except August. For him it was just an abstract: feelings, reactions, but no form.

He began to scratch and dig into his arms. “Doc!”

“Don’t worry, August,” Dr. Trance said, reaching into his pocket and taking out a twenty dollar bill. “I know what’s best for you.”

On the left stood a vagrant with a cup, begging passersby for money. Trance stopped the car just short of him. As the vagrant approached Trance balled the bill and threw it in his face. He stepped on the gas, leaving the vagrant behind on his hands and knees, searching through the smoke of rubber.

August stared at his therapist, and saw a twinge of mad satisfaction he’d never seen before.

“I come here every day. I used to give the bums money to clean the statues,” Dr. Trance pointed to the monuments of dead Capes flanking the street, each discolored from either apathy or spray paint. “But what’s the point, anymore?

“All anyone cares about is getting what they can, while they can, and wasting it however they can.”

Trance’s word felt sharp, a cold clean thing cutting through the haze to some dreadful truth. No, August didn’t want to be there. He felt the statues morph as they passed, their faces cruel, accusatory, their bodies twisting forward.into a collapsing dome. He closed his eyes and practiced breathing.

“What’s wrong with me?”

The therapist stared forward, face frozen with a clinical smile, a father ready to teach a hard lesson to a wayward child.

“Do you know what people hate most? Getting what they want.”

This wasn’t what August wanted. He squirmed, no longer sure of why he was even there. Why had Dr. Trance insisted on this drive in the first place?

“No, no, this isn’t about you,” Trance clarified, reading August without looking. “It’s about them. Everyone else. Society.

“Do you know why the Last Crisis happened? To make everything perfect for them.”

August looked outside at the cold, dirty, dingy world, and wondered if Dr. Trance was insane. There was no perfection there.

A man threw an egg at a Cape statue, then pointed at them as they passed. The little girl did the same, her balloons twisting in the wind. Pop. POP.

“No crime, good jobs, peace, everything people say they want, and what happens? Protests. Unrest.

“When there’s no tangible threat, people create an intangible one. They start to feel trapped. Oppressed. They start to hate their saviors.”

The urge to reach for the door handle encompassed August. To just jump and wallow in the filth.

“You were a Cape once, you know? But you were pushed to the edge. You lost too much. You wife. Your daughter.

“Dead.”

The little girl and her balloons. Pop. Pop. POP. Her mouth distended into a silent scream.

“N…no..” Yes? Yes. The gray was cut by red, dye dropping on a surface of hard water. Red, red, spreading everywhere. The primary color. “But I don’t remember anything!”

“I know.” Dr. Trance’s smile warmed, but his eyes narrowed. Blood-shot eyes. “ I treated you once, erased the pain. I saved your sanity.

“Repression therapy. It’s the only way to keep heroes heroes. You lose that much, constantly, you go crazy. You become the villain. You have to forget, and I make it happen.”

August dug his palms into his eyes and bit his lips. He tasted the red. He smelled it.

“But it’s time for you to remember, August. Society is tearing itself apart. We got rid of the villains during the Last Crisis, but we need a new one.

“It’s time you answered the call.”

The gray world decayed like tattered flesh. No black and and white, not even yellow and green, just red, red everywhere.

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