Great, just fucking terrific. He puts three bullets into my chest at point-blank range. The first dead centre right through my heart and tearing my spine apart. Not happy with that he puts the other two in me adding insult to death.
I can still see. I just am having issues with everything else. Slowly he walks,(two steps.) over to me with his weapon at his side. If I could only move he’d be joining me in Hell. “Mikey. You were a stupid fuck. Trusting me after all the shit I pulled on the boys.” He laughs and lights a smoke from the pack he takes from my jacket pocket. “Just to let you know, it was me who ratted on Ken and Bart. It was me who planted the wire tap in the safe house. It was me who raped Sabrina. Oh, it was me who fucked up you paint on your car.” With that said he crushes out the cigarette in my left eye. “See you in Hell asshole.” I die in a rage that would scare Satan had he been present.
I come to dizzy and very disorientated. Where am I? This isn’t a place, this is a feeling. There’s no physical presence it’s… Strange.
“Make it physical. Make your path.” The voice is all-encompassing and impossible to refuse. It’s the voice of all that is,was and what will be.
Slowly I begin to feel. Railroad ties, I’m in a tunnel. Just my luck it’ll be kilometres deep and narrow. I picture Wile E Coyote getting smashed by a speeding train with Roadrunner blasting the horn. “Not in a happy frame of mind are you?” That voice again. Condescending and all-knowing. “No, I’m not a happy fucking camper. My day started off with some asshole putting sugar in my coffee and ended up with 3 holes blasted in my chest and a cigarette put out in an eye. Now I’m here in a tunnel with an all-knowing voice yapping at me. How the fuck do you expect me to feel?” My anger always ready to erupt is starting to simmer in the pot that serves as my mind.
“A bit of gratitude would be nice. I’ve gone to a lot of effort to bring you here. Start walking and we can chat.” Oh this is going to be interesting. I’m dead and not dead. I have a bad feeling about this. I start walking with little idea of where I’m going. Generally I have an innate sense of direction and place. Here. Nothing.
Walking has a lot of benefits. Walking down train tracks in the pitch black does too. I’ll just be damned if I know what they are. You think you’re getting used to how far to step, you’re not. You think you’re going in a straight line? You’re not. Just moving forward becomes an exercise in frustration. Then having a voice speaking that’s all-encompassing makes things pretty well impossible.
I redouble my efforts to keep my footing and continue this journey wherever it may lead. “Where you are is in the never. You are heading to the nexus. It’s kind of like a way station from where your adventure shall commence if you’re found worthy of continuing your journey.” He sounded as grave as death at this last statement. “If I’m found worthy? What the fuck does that mean? Am I on trial? Who are you and who is going to be judging me?” Again my anger is ready and willing to explode in answer to this seemingly impossible trial. If trial it becomes. “I’m a professional killer. I take lives. I steal hope and make a lot of money spreading misery to people who are either foolish or arrogant enough to think that crime syndicates can’t go,”that.” far. They can and they do and they will. I know I am that arm. If you run a foul of real organized crime you’ll probably meet me or one of my brethren. Furthermore, you won’t like it.
“I know who you are. I know what it is that you did. You don’t realize what you are. Nor do you understand what you are capable of or where it is that you came from. Or why you’ve always been so alone…”
“Your first memory of being in the hospital. All those tubes. The sting of the needles. Those looks of pity and all the miserable Lonely watches in the night. Ever wonder why you were never adopted? Or why you were placed in juvenile jail instead of foster care? Do you even care? No. You never cared. You never questioned. You just continued. Fighting that which was in your way and ignoring all that wasn’t. You don’t hate. You don’t care. You just continue. You are a most remarkable creature. Out side of mankind. Yet remarkably hiding inside it. You are a gift from our Gods. If you pass the test you shall become more. Much more.” His voice carried a persuasive conviction. A familiarity that was like…home. I suddenly feel a chill down my spine. Fear grips me, Threatening to overcome my Discipline and freeze me in my tracks. I won’t stop. I won’t slow. Keep moving!! There’s nothing to lose. Move
“The only thing I’m missing is his hat.” I surprise myself with this statement. “Are you??” He draws out these words and I feel the hat which I know is flat topped and wide brimmed. “OK, so you know about my favourite character in my favourite books. You know what seems to be all my deepest secrets. What now?” I have to know and yet I feel trepidation at what the answer might be. “There’s no reason for you to fear me. You might fear that guy in the mirror. Much anger I sense in him. Very dangerous, very unpredictable and not just to his enemies.” His voice is an exact mimicry of Yodas. This makes me utter a bark of laughter which I can’t stifle quick enough. In this moment I begin to like this man, if man he is.
“I am not a man as you would define man. As for liking me… You will come to love me in time. In a masculine tough guy way. No long, hot showers or romantic walks along the boardwalk for us.” Again I have to laugh. This guy is pretty witty.
“Please sit down Michael. Have a beer. You still favour Stella?” At the side of a couch that looks 9 miles deep and 40 winks comfortable appears a bottle of my favourite beer. It looks cold and ready for consumption. “I’ll put on some music and let you rest and relax a bit. You’ve been going for years at half cock. It’s starting to tell.” I sit on the couch by my beer as probably my favourite song ever starts to play. On Every Street. By Dire Straits. I take a long pull on the beer and the lights dim and I’m being transported on the music into a Universe of joy and happiness.
As the song starts my body begins to change. It becomes a wave. It rides the notes of each instrument as they play. I’m travelling the multiverse of sound as a tremor, I’m part of the music. I am the music. Every fibre of my being is being carried along singularly and as part of the whole. Memories long-buried surface with eerie clarity. As the vocals cease and as the guitar really starts its wondrous journey into my soul I see her. Leslie. My only true love. I see those beautiful eyes smiling with that inner glow that breaks my heart into a thousand sharp pieces each burying itself into my psyche. I see her smile as radiant as the sun and filling me with warmth that will carry me through the harshest winter storm happy at just the memory. I’m crying with the music over the one person who completed me. The one being who I could love without reservation. I’m dying in my loneliness. The music swells and carries me out into the never. I’m completely one with it. Never have I felt so alone yet so complete. I rise and fall to the tune and beat of the greatest experience of my life.
Slowly I come to myself. I feel better, stronger. Bigger than I ever have in my life. It’s as if I’ve been shrived of all sin. I feel clean and…new. It’s amazing. “You had better feel pretty damn fine. You’ve been gone for almost a year. You had a lot of baggage to get rid of. You are one stubborn man. I had to use much strong magic. Hell, I think I need a nap.” With that my host turns his back to me and enters the second car leaving me to my own devices. “Feel free to wander and snoop. Have fun, don’t crash the train.” His laughter hangs in the air as he disappears into the other car.
The tracks stretch on and on. The voice drones endlessly on and on. First how my so-called childhood went. Then my teen years. Hell and blood-shed. Finally my escape into adulthood and freedom from the cells and torture of captivity.
After about 550 years of marching and endless talk I arrive at what can only be called a switching station. There’s a platform on a circular switching station. This enables a train to be turned into different directions by rotating it while still on it’s track. This one is crazy. It has 8 directions going straight as an arrow to all points of the compass. Amazing.
“Now you must pick a direction. All are perilous. Some. Deadly. Choose.” The voice falls silent. There is no movement. It’s as if everything has stopped awaiting my decision. Hesitation was ever a fault. “North. I’ll go North.” The platform suddenly comes to life. Not turning which I expected but dropping straight down. Disappearing into a massive hole. I’d like to see the hydraulics that managed that trick. Just the weight alone would require massive cylinders and the pumps. Wow!!
What I saw next literally scared the shit out of me. A train out if my deepest, darkest nightmares. It hurtled out of the abyss at a speed that is impossible and crashed to a stop right in front of me.
“All passengers heading North pleas proceed to gate one. Please have your boarding passes ready.” A robotic voice intoned from the loud speakers overhead. I don’t want to get on that!! I hesitate and my training kicks in. Move forward or die. I start taking the big steps that my associates used to call Mikey’s walk of doom. I head right into my nightmare.
From the platform I take a dozen solid steps forward to the first car. It’s a faded green with a black roof, the doors are recessed and slide apart silently at my approach. Looking inside I’m amazed. Luxuriant doesn’t do it justice. It’s incredible. The carpeting is thick and seems to massage my feet which for the first time I notice are bare. As is the rest of me. How did I not notice this before?
“You didn’t notice because your physical body was not present out in the Nexus.” The voice now has a face and body. A large and heavily muscled man is sitting in a large sofa chair. He looks like Lou Ferrigno. Massive. His raven black hair sticks straight up from a face chiseled from stone. Hard and unyielding, yet there’s a calm humanity about him. Stranger and stranger. “I have a gift for you.” Smiling he pulls out a handkerchief and tosses it at me in a gentle yet amazingly fast move. It disappears right before my eyes. “There’s a mirror to your left, look and let me know what you think.” The smile in his voice makes me nervous. I look into the mirror and am astounded. Black jeans, white collared shirt black jacket and two belts holding guns slung low on my hips. Not just guns but… 45 Peacemakers. Sandalwood grips and silver filigree markings. I know this just as I know that on my feet are cowboy boots of Italian design with the vulcanized rubber that never seems to wear out or get slippery on any surface.
I’m left to my own devices in this opulent train car. I look to the front. There’s a huge TV screen with all manner of controls. Too much work. Looking to the side a bookcase. Score!!! I like books. I walk up to the bookcase and start browsing. It’s not hard. As I touch each book it moves. The labels are clear and easy to read. Obviously no self-respecting publisher got near these books. They’re all leather-bound and appear very comfortable to hold. I’ll be putting that to the test. I’ve never heard of most of the authors, nor the genre. The Twisted Path? The Rivers of Grue?? The Twisted path it is.
I grab the book and head to my couch. Yup, still 9 miles deep and even more comfortable. If Leslie were here I’d have no chance to read. We’d flop together open the book and fall asleep. Oh the pain at that memory.
I curl up and open the book. Short stories and poems, open verse and some Crimson Duchess who really loves words. They seem to like flowing from her as well. I think that some munchies and another beer would be… On the end table beside me is my beer. Popcorn and COOKIES!!! Good cookies too. I happily settle in for a fun readathon.
Many pages later I feel the rent due on my 16-24-30?? beers. I get up and search out the door. There’s only one. I’m rewarded with a bathroom that is unbelievable. A golden toilet? Reminds me of an old joke . There are jewels set into the walls. The shower is also a hot tub/jacuzzi. I’m going to be trying that, later. Finishing my immediate business I look into the full length mirror. It’s me, but it’s not the same me. A relative,(not that I have any) might recognize me. I really doubt any of my friends,(yeah, right) would. I’ve always been muscular. Now I look like a bodybuilder. My face, always good enough to get a second look is changed. For the better no doubt. All my scars are gone. I’ll actually kinda miss them. They were badges of my wars.
“Do you like?” His voice, deep and melodious comes from the rear of the car. “How do you know what I’m thinking and doing all the time?” I’m not angry, rather, I’m curious. I learned to accept situations, especially impossible ones, rather than go insane with denials.
“I could say that it’s because I’m God. But, that would be a lie. I can’t afford to lie to you though. It would be… Counter productive. I know because I’m acutely attuned to everything about you. You are going to be my arms and legs. Probably my brains as well. You have less weaknesses than I.” The honesty drips from the words as he speaks them. It’s truth. “One more question.” I begin and am interrupted very abruptly. “My name, you want my name!!” He sounds excited.”that’s the question isn’t it?” He actually looks like a child at Christmas. “Um, yeah. What is your name?” The sense of magic is palpable in the air. “My name is Michael. I am Michael Roberts.” There’s a pop and the air has an ozone taste to it. What the Hell is that? I’m just about to ask when Michael starts dancing. He sing/chants. “I have a name! I’ve become real!!” Over and over.
I have to start laughing. Here’s the Incredible Hulk dancing and chanting as a child might. It’s priceless. I can’t stop laughing. “Care to tell me what’s going on? I’d really like to know.”
“You’ve just passed your first test and your reward is… ME!!! I’m your new partner.” He looks impossibly pleased with the situation.
Passed a test??? What test? I’m befuddled at this. I’m dead and made to pass tests. Ride psychotically designed trains, befriend a giant and travel North to… Where?
“You are travelling to a when as well as a where.” A new voice that sounds oddly garbled and cruel. “If you pass this next test you’ll have been deemed almost ready. I think you’ll fail. I don’t like you.” From the rear compartment waddles a…. A Weeble Wobble made real. Melted too. Michael comes to stand just behind me. “Him, I don’t like him. He stuck me here to rot for that same reason. Be careful, he has a button, a shock button. He likes to hurt.” My companion seems to shrink and cower behind me. He’s scared. This can’t be any good. Best to find out how bad this is going to get. “So, a Melted down Weeble Wobble is going to test me? One that doesn’t like me? Without data and without reason. I guess the reason is obvious. You don’t like people. What are you?” The pain is immediate and my whole being feels like it’s being torn apart and set on fire. Fuck this really hurts.
After 10000 years of pain I hear the Weeble Wobble ordering Michael around. Poor Michael is truly terrified. He’s shaking. He looks like a dog that’s been raised by a cruel master and been broken. I snap. That’s my friend no one is going to do this to him!! The Weeble has it’s back to me. I leap up silently and approach from his six. He’s holding a little stick like a Wii controller. He’s threatening Michael with it. My giant friend is a study in fear and misery. Two fast, hard strikes is all it takes. One to his misshapen ear one to the throat. He drops like a brick. I instinctively grab the controller. Let’s see how this works. “Michael, do you know how this works? Can you work it?” I ask as casually as possible. My friend is traumatized. I don’t want to push him. “You got him… You got the beast. I… I… I… He falls to his knees and starts to weep. “I got him, you’re safe. Now get up buddy, we got shit to do.” I walk over and give him my hand. Weeble has stopped twitching and is starting to come to. “Get up, I’m going to need you.” He stands, still looking unbelievably scared. “What are you going to do now?” He queries. “We, what are we going to do. Do you know how this button thing works? He’s coming to. Time to move fast and think faster.” I need him to move but don’t want him to know how bad I need it. “You just point it to your victim. Then push the button. Then they go down.” The look he gives the button and Weeble tells me everything. “K, I’m not good with this kind of thing. Here.” I hand him the instrument of doom. “Do what you have to do. I’m going to wash my hands. I got his stink on them and want it off.” Without looking or hesitating I hand him the controller and walk to the lavatory.
I head into the lavatory and wash my hands. The shit is coming too fast and it doesn’t make any sense. I’ve always been a loner and here I am with a friend. (Friend??? I’ve never made any) who is not only a giant but a giant from somewhere else. I don’t trust but here I am trusting. This is becoming quite disconcerting.
I finish up and straighten up. I take the strap off my left gun and clear leather. I open the cylinder and drop one round into my palm. Weight is right. No marks on the casing. Providing the powder isn’t flat I got a live round. Make that 6. I steel my nerves and open the door.
I come upon a scene that I’ve seen too many times before. There’s Michael standing about 6 feet from the Weeble and looking like an avenging angel of death. He’s not saying anything but the look on his face says it all. The Weeble is in agony. He’s flopping and frothing, bucking and his breathing is uneven, short and ragged. He’s close to death.
“Michael, can you stop for a minute please? I have a few questions to ask the Weeble.” He looks at me with a burning hatred and… Fear, terror? I’m not sure if he even recognizes me.
“Are you sure you want me to stop? He’s the Devil, maybe worse. He’ll just lie to you.” The certainty in his voice gives me pause. “Well, let’s just see what happens. I’ll stand over to the left. If he tries anything you have freedom to do what you think is necessary. Sound acceptable?” “OK, just don’t let him close enough to touch you. He’s poisonous.” The sincerity in his voice makes me put my weapon to half cock. Keeping my left hand on my weapon I crouch down and make eye contact with this disgusting creature. One eye is gone. It’s laying by its root on the carpeting. His teeth are all broken or chipped. That controller is powerful. “I have a few questions for you. Will you answer and you will behave or you’re going to spend eternity feeling that sting. Do you understand? He says nothing. He moves his head a bit and spits at me. I leap back and none of his body fluids touch me. Good thing too. I notice that the carpet under him is kind of melted. The fucker is poison. Now what? “Mike, let’s please get rid of it. Please!!! Please!!! It’ll end up killing us. It’s poison.”
My mind is made up. We don’t bother with the Geneva conventions for war. This thing isn’t covered. We must get rid of it.
“Michael, can you please go to the head and grab towels? Big ones. About 4 full-sized ones will do. Can you do that for me?” I look at my friendly, terrified giant hoping he’s on the same page. “I’ll get a big blanket, and a quilt. It’ll be sad to use eider down but, it’ll hold it.” The look on his face and the calm surety in his voice calms my fears. “Here’s the stinger, just point and click. It’s kinda fun.”
I give a bark of laughter. The smile he gives me is almost golden. I like this man.(if man he is) Now he passes me the switch and moves with a speed I’d never thought possible. He heads to a cupboard cleverly hidden under my awesome couch. Pulling out s few blankets he’s back at my side. “How we going to wrap it? I don’t think it’s going to cooperate.” He looks at me like I have the answer at the tip of my tongue. I do, what a coincidence.
“Hold the stinger and give me the blankets. Don’t do anything till I give the word.” I fold one blanket in half and place it on the side of this thing closest to me. I then take the second and drape it over the thing. It starts to struggle just as I start to push it with my boot. My world becomes amazingly bad. I’m electrified and on fire. Fuck this hurts. Mercifully it’s over in a year or so. “Sorry!!! I’m so sorry. Are you OK?” Michael sounds close to tears. “I’m fine, shit happens. That thing packs s big of kick, I’d like to find its equivalent in a hot sauce.” I strive to control the tremors in my body as well as my voice. Michael gives a chuckle and smiles a little. “Well it’s wrapped up nicely. I’ll tie the ends and we can figure out the next step from there.” He puts action to words with that awesome speed.
He hands me the switch again and I put it on the table and clear leather with my left hand. I’m a natural lefty, I don’t want to put my giant through the agony of that fucking thing if I can avoid it.Michael looks at the gun and gives a small smile of thanks. He starts wrapping up the Weeble with a length of cable. Having accomplished this with the Weeble beginning to get pretty lively actually helped Michael used its movements to facilitate the procedure.
“Now, can we open the door on the car?” I look at Michael. “Do you know if we can open the door?” “It’s dangerous, there’s a wind and…things. Bad things.” Again that look. “As bad as us? Or just bad?” I smile a hard smile trying to boost his confidence. He smiles back and starts dragging the Weeble to the door. “There’s a switch here, you just pull to open and push to release. I can do it.” He doesn’t sound as certain as I’d like to hear. “You said windy. Got any more rope? A couple of towels too. Best be prepared for the worst.” A smile spreads across his face. “you really care don’t you?” I almost choke up over the simple joy in his voice. “Naw, I just want a chance to beat you at crib after this shit show. I hate solitaire.” Michael smiles and gets the supplies. Weeble starts getting a bit too lively. I put my gun down and pick up the switch and give him a dose to quiet him down. It’s actually pretty satisfying to make it twitch.