Doc Masterson and the Prisoner of Time, Chapter 10

Doc Masterson’s been in the superhero game for most of his life. But his powers are more dependable than his mental health. After returning from upstate, his visits Isabel in the hospital…

Chapter 10 – Pep Talks

I arrived in the city later that night and headed straight to Mary’s Mercy hospital where Isabel had been admitted after her ass-kicking. When I got there she was a fucking mess.  She was not attended by the hospital’s doctors but by the Apparatus’s own physicians.  Isabel’s anatomy was rather unconventional; no one quite knew how her muscles conjured up the strength she wielded.  Then there were her reflexes, which were, in some cases, five times faster than the average human. Though they were little help that day.

When I found her she was laying in bed and listening to her music on earphones.  When she saw me she pulled them out.

“Hey, Doc,” she said, weakly. 

I could tell her supposedly indomitable spirit had been broken. “What are you listening to?” I asked.

“Nine Inch Nails,” she replied.

“Really?  I listened to them when I was your age too.”

“Did you?”

“Yeah.”

She turned away.  “I guess you aren’t that old after all.”

I was surprised myself. “Yeah I guess not.”

She started to cry.  “I fucked up,” she murmured. 

“No you didn’t.”

“I did!  I just wasn’t thinking.  Now look at me!”

The poor girl.  It was bound to happen to her eventually.  It happens to everybody that wants to be a hero out there.  Eventually you are going to get really hurt.  I had to remind myself though that she was only fourteen.  I felt pissed that the Apparatus was using this kid for their ambiguous plans. Sadly, she believed the crap they were selling her and she believed in what she was doing.  It was useless.

“Has Paul been here yet?” I asked.

“No, he has been meeting with the president. He said he would come later.”

Paul would calm her down, one way or another.  Who knew how long he would be, sometimes a president could take forever to submit to the plan.  I decided to take the matter into my own hands. 

“Did you ever hear of Gargantua?”

“No,” Isabel replied. 

“He was a giant.  Twenty feet tall.  Lord knows where he came from or what he was.  He was invincible, practically.  Well one day when some friends and I were rescuing miners in the hills of Pennsylvania, we came across and woke Gargantua up.  He had been sleeping underground for who knows how long.

“We knew we had to stop him before he came to any densely populated areas. We alerted Violet Russell, who was just 200 miles away.  Of course Violet immediately headed for the mine.  It took her all of two minutes to reach us, and when she had, she speared through the giant’s stomach.  Didn’t even slow down. She came out in a giant cloud of green blood.

“Gargantua just laughed.  Violet wheeled around through the air, built up even more speed, and flew right at him again. This time though he caught her in his hands.  Violet is strong.  Very strong.  But she was not stronger than Gargantua. He clenched his fist, crushing her.  I will never forget the sound of Violet’s scream.”

“Did that really happen?” Isabel asked.

“It did.  He didn’t kill her though.  She was in the hospital for six weeks.”

“Really?”

“Really.  So don’t let it get you down, kid.  Everybody runs into somebody stronger than them.  You can’t win all the time.”

Isabel did not respond.  She leaned back and closed her eyes.  “I am very tired.”

“Okay, Isabel,” I said.  “I’ll check up on you tomorrow.”

“Bye.”

How many times had I given young superheroes that same speech, only to bury them a couple years later?


After I left Isabel I wondered if Thousand Dragon Fist was still nearby.  I headed up to the roof, and sure enough, he was there, looking down at the city, eating a burrito with his Buddha mask half-lifted. I had known for a long time that the Fist was a black man – it was sort of an open secret. But other than that, no one I knew was aware of his real identity. 

“Hey,” he said.

“Hey.”

“Your girl in there is pretty stupid,” the Fist said.

“Her heart is in the right place,” I countered. 

The Fist gave me a dubious look. “You mean, in her chest?”

I can’t believe I was defending the Apparatus’s use of Isabel. “She’s super.”

“But she’s not a hero, Masterson.  Can’t you tell?” He drew in a deep breath and stuffed the burrito wrapper into a pocket in his costume. “You’re going to die working for the Apparatus.”

“I’m not working for them,” I said.  “I’m working with them.”

“What the hell does that mean?”

“I’m volunteering.”

“So… because you’re working with an evil organization out of the kindness of your heart, your conscience is guilt-free.”

“There’s room on the roster,” I offered.

Thousand Dragon Fist laughed bitterly. “Never,” he said.  “I work alone, and I work here.  I have my little world that I protect and that’s that. Besides,” he chuckled.  “I’m not really super.”

“But you are a hero,” I told him. 

“Maybe,” he mused.  “I do my best, that is all.”

“Why don’t you join us? You would if you knew what we are up against.”

“Do you know what you’re up against?  I have a feeling you don’t. You know, Paul Drake visited me too about a month ago.” The Fist scratched his ear through his mask. “Trying to recruit me.  I heard the whole spiel.  Didn’t believe it then and I don’t believe it now.”

“We don’t know what could happen.”

“How is that different from any other point in history? Seriously? I can’t deal with your problems out there.  I have problems right here that need dealing with, every day.  The answer is no, Masterson.”

He jumped off the roof and vanished into the shadows of the city.

TO BE CONTINUED IN CHAPTER 11


9/14/2021

Not much of an update today. But I did post the final chapter of “The Prophecy of Carson McCullers” on Medium, here:

The Prophecy of Carson McCullers, Chapter 3, Conclusion

Thanks for reading.

Matt

Doc Masterson and the Prisoner of Time, Chapter 9

Doc Masterson’s been in the superhero game for most of his life. But his powers are more dependable than his mental health. While he’s in upstate New York recruiting CRUSH, in Manhattan, Isabel gets her photos taken for an action figure…

Chapter Nine: Humility

Meanwhile, back in Manhattan, Isabel was having her pictures/scans taken for the design of an action figure/doll.  Her face was everywhere now.  Every newspaper and radio station talked about her daily as they pondered and argued the meaning of the intra dimensional ship. The Apparatus controlled all the news – not through any kind of coercion or force, but simply through manufactured, agreed upon reality. There were a set number of narratives citizens of the world could choose from, some varying wildly, but all led to resignment and apathy, and they all were based on the same false assumptions. Forgive the cliché of the expression, but it was the oldest trick – it wasn’t that those in power made a better world seem impossible, it’s that they made it seem undesirable. I knew all of the arguments of the Apparatus. But what was I doing about it? How was I bettering the world? I was working for them. I was just as apathetic and resigned as anybody else, regardless of what barbs and bombs my mouth might cast. 

I know Isabel loved this.  What teenage girl wouldn’t?  She was the most famous person in the world.  Every girl on the planet wanted to be her, and every boy on the planet wanted to be her boyfriend.  She even got a generous percentage of everything.

“This is what I was born to do,” she told interviewers.  “I love it.”

After the photo shoot was done, she found herself hungry and tired, and she was scheduled to be in the recording studio in a few hours to work on her first album with a very fashionable producer. She quickly slipped out the back door of the building into a dark limousine driven by the same guy who drove me and Susan Stein around on the day of the Tokyo crash.  While he navigated through traffic, Isabel was on the phone with her mom, arguing about a boy (who was really a man, and also a billionaire) who had bought her a famous necklace once thought lost to time, and now wanted to fly her to Turks and Caicos for the weekend. 

They were about halfway to their destination (an interview at Fox News) when something huge crashed into the front of the car.  Isabel was thrown back into back of the front seats (she never wore her seatbelt).  At first, she thought they had hit a truck.  

“Get out of the car, quick!”  the driver said.  

“Why?” Isabel yelled back.

Whatever had hit the front of the car hit it again with just as much force as the first time.  The windshield shattered. The roof splintered. 

“Come on!” the driver creaked open his half-ruined door and jumped out of the car, just as it was hit a third time.  

“Okay, okay,” Isabel shrieked, finally waking from her daze (she had smoked a joint with this chick before the photoshoot). 

Once she was outside, Isabel couldn’t believe her eyes, it wasn’t a truck that hit the car, but an eight-foot-tall guy draped from head to toe in white armor that looked like five-thousand year old styrofoam.  He was huge, thick with muscle, carried a big metal hammer, and wore a helmet that obscured his face, except for the slit that showed his orange eyes.

It was Stomper Blukowski, a grade C supervillain who had been paroled the day before.  Apparently, decided to make a name for himself by attacking the most famous girl in the world.  So, now, here he was.  

“What the fuck?” Isabel yelled at him as phone cameras leered. She had her costume on, but she didn’t have her laser gun or any of her other gadgets — including her jet boots.  All she had were her fists.  They will be enough, she thought to herself.  

“Hello little girl,” the Stomper said in his lumbering voice.  “I’ve come here to play with you.”

Stomper swung his hammer, catching Isabel off guard.  The hammer slammed into her left side, breaking her left arm in two places.  The force of it threw her to the ground.

“Isabel!” the limousine driver cried out.  He rushed at Stomper, throwing a wild punch that hit the villain with little effect.  Stomper responded with a punch of his own straight to the driver’s forehead.  The driver collapsed.

Isabel screamed in pain.  She got up to her knees, and then up to her feet. 

“I’m going to kick your ass!” she yelled.  She ran towards him.  He tried to kick her at the last moment but she was too quick.  Isabel punched him with her remaining good arm.  Stomper was knocked backed; he collided with the front glass of a bodega, which shattered in a crash of brittle sound.

“Bitch.” Isabel spat.  

But in a second, Stomper was back on his feet, towering over her, a pure engine of muscle trying to kill her.  He swung his hammer again, this time missing, turning his back to her.  She gave him another right to the small of his back, but it didn’t seem to affect him.

He whirled around, swinging the hammer.  This time he hit her right knee while she was dodging out of the way.  Isabel grunted as her body landed on the hood of a car, whose alarm shrieked upon the impact.

“I’m going to kill you, superhero!” Stomper boasted.  

Isabel tried to get up from her bed of crunched metal. Her arm was an explosion of pain. Her knee felt like something had ripped out its bones. 

“Ha, ha, you little slut!”

The next moment everything changed – 

“HEY!” a strong voice interrupted.  “You armored faggot!  Leave her alone!”

Everyone there – both Isabel and Stomper, all the onlookers, all the people recording video of it with their phones, people streaming it all on the internet – they all turned at the same time towards the speaker.

He wasn’t tall, but he was built and in terrific shape.  He was dressed all in red, except for his golden Buddha mask that glinted in the sun.  A superhero.

It was Thousand Dragon Fist, mostly active in the 1980s, but who still sometimes policed this part of New York known as Hell’s Kitchen.  He supposedly didn’t have superpowers, but he was a notorious difficult to defeat.

“Who are you?” asked Stomper, incredulous. He was too young to remember the Fist’s glory days.

“I’m about to be your lord and master,” said Thousand Dragon Fist. “I’m about to be your daddy and punish you for being a bad boy.  Didn’t anybody teach you not to hit girls?”

“Don’t waste my time!” laughed Stomper.

“Surrender now,” the Fist said, bored.

Stomper replied by running towards Thousand Dragon Fist, raising his great hammer in fury. Thousand Dragon Fist stood unmoving, his arms folded across his chest, until the most perilous moment, when he slipped out of the way of Stomper’s hammer so quickly it was difficult to see or believe. While leaping and twirling through the air, in a movement so graceful and fast it would make a world-renown gymnastic appear clumsily inept, he reached out his right arm and extended two fingers to punch into a tiny spot at the base of Stomper’s neck that his armor didn’t protect. Stomper collapsed like a curtain. 

It was over. 

TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 10


9/13/2021

Jeez, we’re halfway through September and football season has started. Reality is bizarre. 

I’m working to strike a balance between posting my regular stories and my “picture stories”. Regular stories take less time but are harder to concentrate on. Picture stories are tedious and take a lot of time, but I really enjoy losing myself in the experience. 

I would like to usually make picture stories where the text story is available to people who want to read ahead. On that note, I do plan on updated the text of He-Thing soon with the latest chapter (taking place after He-Thing is rescued by Zolantos and Vaila from the outer hells). 

So I’m trying to organize my thoughts here. I also have to clean up the Medium site which is a mess, as well as clean up the WordPress site, which looks like someone started working on it, and then abandoned it (true story.) 

The Prophecy of Carson McCullers

I posted this on Substack, but no one reads that. Here it is on Medium, in less parts. Part three coming tomorrow. 

The Prophecy of Carson McCullers, Part 1

The Prophecy of Carson McCullers, Part 2

The VISUAL He-Thing

Here is chapter four of this. I hit a new level with this one. 

The VISUAL He-Thing, Chapter 4

The VISUAL Festering Wound of Stephen King

Chapter 4. Not my best work, but it was a learning experience. Working exclusively in black and white is hard for me. 

The VISUAL Festering Wound of Stephen King, Chapter 4

And I think that’s it!

Matt

a brief examination of my American fathers

The Searchers done got photoshopped, pilgrim.

“Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.” — John Wayne

John sat at a cheap linoleum kitchen table going over his lines for the scene. He was cooped up in a cramped apartment on Barber Street, the set for his new movie, ‘To Catch an Angel.’ Usually his movies were shot on a soundstage, but the director wanted “realism” — whatever that meant. While the set designer and cinematographer argued about the lights, John stared dumbly at the refrigerator, curious as to why it wasn’t making a sound.

It was 1962. John was fifty-five years old.

“Ah, Mr. Wayne, sir,” the director’s assistant piped in his ear, “Mr. Ford asked me to ask you to take a little break, while these two make up their minds.”

“A break?”

“Yeah, maybe for a smoke, or perhaps a bite to eat or something.” The director’s assistant looked over his shoulder and added, “this may take a while.”

John was glad for the break. I know what I’ll have a bite out of, he thought, patting the bulge of his bourbon flask in his pants’ pocket. “Well, okay partner, sure!”

John gathered up his things and headed down the stairs to the back alley of the apartment building. Once he hit the street, he dug into his pants and pulled out the little flask. John was a big man — over six foot four inches tall, and thick — he tended to saunter sideways when he walked. He sucked on the flask for a good five seconds before letting out a loud, “Ah!”

As he lit his smoke, he felt the urge to urinate. Taking a quick glance around, he pulled down his zipper and relieved himself behind a dumpster. Relief flooded through him. Once finished, he zipped up his pants. Just as he was about to walk away, a small sound caught his ear — it was a gurgle followed by a muted cough. He looked around. The soft noise came again. It seemed to be coming from inside the dumpster. John kicked some debris to the side and lifted the lid. Shocked, he saw a tiny black baby, not more than a month old. It was dirty and dressed only in a filthy diaper, lying with all the garbage in the dumpster. The baby took tiny wheezes, happy for the fresh air. John could not tell if it was a boy or a girl — all he knew for certain was that it was in distress. Its eyes were bloodshot. It had a glaze of black hair. Its skin was flaky.

As soon the baby saw him, it let out a wail.

“Well now!” John exclaimed drunkenly. “That won’t do! Let’s get you out of there!”

John reached in to the dumpster and pulled out the baby. It screamed loudly. John looked into the dumpster to see if there was anything else — a note, a blanket, a bottle or a stuffed toy perhaps — there was nothing.

How could something so small make so much noise? John dipped his pinky finger into his bourbon and let the baby suck his finger. He remembered his mother doing the exact same thing when his younger sister was teething. The baby fell silent, staring up at him with its dark eyes.

“Yeah, I know what you’re thinking,” John said softly. “It’s a tough world out here.” He smiled as the tiny infant fell asleep in his arms and his heart burst. “I’m calling you Bobbie!”


John Wayne was arguably one of the most famous movie stars on Earth. His genre was Westerns and war movies, although he did stretch his wings occasionally. In almost all of his movies he is never wrong and never loses. In real life, he was enormously rich, enormously popular, a legendary personality who pretty much played a fairytale version of himself in his films.

He was married. In fact, he was so good at getting married, he had done it three times. He and his third wife had just had a son. John felt the need to be away from them often, since being a dad and a doting husband grated on him. He didn’t have a wandering eye as such, he just liked to be alone sometimes. He was also a nonstop drunk. He did love his wife, he just loved her more when they spent time apart.

John considered what to do with the baby. The thought of submitting it to the government, to be cared for by heartless bureaucrats, made him shiver in disgust. The baby would be lost in the system and destined for laziness and a life of crime. He was a staunch conservative and his imagination was filled with the horrors of the government “trying to help.”

He decided instead, right then and there, to adopt the child. He could afford it. John knew in order to convince his wife he was going to have to make adoption seem a bit more fitting to her tastes. He would need clean the infant up, make it look lovable, and that would hopefully have his wife fall in love with it as he had done. That way the baby could have a shot at a wonderful life and never remember that it started out in a dumpster. The baby could grow up and become anything it wanted.

Determined, John placed the baby on the passenger seat of his big powder blue Cadillac with ivory-colored leather upholstery and set off in the direction of the supermarket.


John parked the car and looked over towards the baby. It was fast asleep in the front seat. John felt his heart ache in compassion. He reached into the back seat and grabbed a shirt and wrapped it around Bobbie. He gently lifted the baby into his arms, careful not to wake it up.

John closed and locked the car door without making a sound. He grabbed a shopping cart and pushed it slowly into the store, trying to muffle its one erratic, noisy wheel.

The aisles were so wide he could shop riding horseback. He looked up at the signs and did his best to navigate the wide corridors of products. He had chased cow pokes in places less cavernous than this. The truth was he hadn’t been in a market for years, as he was privileged enough to have employees shop for him.

He found the baby aisle, which had everything he needed. He grabbed formula, bottles, rubber nipples, diapers, creams and a whole selection of baby soap. He unpacked his cart at the register. After he dug his wallet out of his pocket, he gave the cashier crisp large denomination bills. “And add a bottle of the old bourbon you got back there,” he told the clerk, nodding to the shelf behind her. The clerk eyed him and the baby strangely.

After making his purchases, he loaded up the car and put the sleeping baby back on the front seat. John cracked open the bottle of bourbon and took a swig. He drove the last two miles to his mansion in a drunken blur. He parked his ostentatious car in the driveway.

“Lupita!” He called out to his housekeeper. “Lupita, get out here and help me with the groceries!”

John stumbled around to the passenger side to get Bobbie, leaving the purchases for Lupita to manage. He picked up the baby and carried it into the house. It jolted awake and started wheezing again.

Lupita came out of the house and noticed the baby in his arms. “What on earth are you doing with that?”

“The groceries are on the backseat, Lu!” He passed by her. “Bring them into the kitchen!”

John carried Bobbie into the house and directly into the kitchen. He thought the kitchen sink would be the best place to wash the tiny baby. John turned his attention to Bobbie and started to undo the grimy diaper while the baby began to wail. The stench overwhelmed John; the diaper was caked in excrement and poor Bobbie’s skin was red raw and even burst open in some places. John did his best not to breathe in while he cleaned the poor baby as best he could. One mystery was solved — it was a boy!

Lupita brought in the groceries and put them on the kitchen table.

“Mr.Wayne…” she began, seeing him, “What are you doing? Where did you get that baby?”

“I found him, Lu, in a damn dumpster for Christ’s sake.” John turned on the faucet and lifted the baby into the sink. John started rinsing Bobbie and wiped him gently with a cloth. The baby screamed when John touched his aggravated skin.

Lupita, who had raised three children of her own, watched John as he did his best with the wriggly baby. “Mr. Wayne, I’m sorry, but you got to get in there more…”

“I am getting in there!” he said, scrubbing and holding his breath.

“And… be gentle!” she soothed.

“I am being gentle!” he told her.

“Mr. Wayne..?” Lupita began, “You can’t just take him home with you…”

“I’m gonna adopt him,” said John, matter-of-factly. “Gonna take him home once he’s better. My wife wouldn’t want to see him like this!”

“But… what about the proper authorities?” Lupita asked.

“Well, I’ll contact them… Eventually! First, I need to get him better.”

“Mr. Wayne?” Lupita asked. “Are you drunk?”

“Well, no more drunk than usual, Lu!” John bellowed.

Lupita sighed. “I don’t know, Mr. Wayne. I just don’t know…”

“Ah, quit your bellyaching and hand me a towel, Lu.”

John took the towel and dried the baby carefully. He opened the box of diapers and pulled one out. John rotated the diaper back and forth and tried to figure out how to use the damn thing. He laid it on the counter and placed Bobbie on top, trying his best to make it stay on the little body. Lupita gave him pointers. Bobbie continued to cry, wheezing and coughing.

“That doesn’t sound good,” said Lupita. “I think he’s really sick.”

“He just needs a warm blanket and some milk in him,” said John. “Heat up some of that formula, will you?”

Lupita did as she was asked. John held Bobbie close as the tiny human whimpered and huffed. Once the formula was ready, John tried to feed Bobbie. At first, the baby wasn’t interested — the wheezing made it impossible for him to latch onto the nipple. After a small struggle, Bobbie affixed his lips to the rubber nipple and sucked.

“There we go!” laughed John. “Told you, Lupita!”

She shook her head.

Despite the strong latch, Bobbie didn’t eat much. He began whimpering and breathing heavily again, trying to catch his breath.

“I think he may need a nap,” said John. “I’ll make a bed out of the living room pillows.”

“I’ll clean up while you do that,” said Lupita, sighing.


Bobbie wouldn’t sleep in the pillow bed. John took to rocking him as best he could as he watched news on the TV. Reverend Billy Graham had just paid Martin Luther King Jr.’s bail, and the black pastor was being released from jail. It was apparently a big deal. John wasn’t so sure. He didn’t know what to think of the black agitators. Sure, they got the wrong end of the deal. What could anybody do about it?

But Bobbie was special. It wasn’t a fluke that John found him when he did — it was Providence. Under John’s care, Bobbie could be anything he wanted when he grew up — a lawyer, a doctor, or a movie star — it didn’t matter. The color of his skin would not prevent him from achieving greatness.

Lupita came into the living room and asked him what he was watching. He replied with a drunken mumble.

“Look, Mr. Wayne,” she began. “I don’t want to speak out of place, but… you’ve got children of your own. You can’t take this boy in like this. He belongs to someone. You should contact the authorities…”

“Ah, I know what I’m doing, Lu. Don’t worry. Once I get my wife involved, we’ll do things right.” He thought about calling his wife and telling her the situation, but he drunkenly reckoned that might not be such a good idea yet. She hated when he drank. It was one of the main reason they spent so much time apart.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Wayne, but I am worried. That boy has parents out there, and even if they don’t want him or deserve him, it’s not your place to take him.”

John became angry. “You can leave and go home now, Lupita,” he said.

“OK,” she replied. “Your dinner is in the oven.” She turned on her heel and left.

Bobbie continued to breathe with difficulty. John watched as the little guy struggled. He wished there was something he could do but knew that sometimes illnesses just needed to be waited out. As awful as it was to let the baby cry, John knew he needed to let the little bug pass through Bobbie’s system. The baby started to cry loudly again; John decided to give him another lick of his bourbon-soaked finger. Bobbie quieted down immediately.

With Bobbie fast asleep in his arms, John passed out. It had been a long day, what with being woken up early to be at the movie set, and then the chaos surrounding Bobbie.


John woke up abruptly to Bobbie crying forcefully again. The sun had lowered in the sky. It was late in the afternoon. He looked down at the baby struggling in his arms. Bobbie’s nostrils flared as he breathed; his little mouth gobbled at the air but he just couldn’t swallowed any. His incessant wailing worried John.

He realized, with a crushing sadness, that since he had found the baby, he had not seen him smile once. Babies were supposed to smile.

John realized Bobbie was really sick.

The baby made a particularly heart-wrenching noise. Fear ran through John; he decided he needed to do something. There was a hospital just down the road. He realized that he was not capable of dealing with Bobbie on his own. He loaded up Bobbie in the Cadillac and headed to the emergency room.

John did not give the baby any more bourbon. That didn’t mean that he didn’t need a nip or two himself. He refilled his flask and took a long, long sip.

“Ah!”

In the car, Bobbie screamed and wheezed louder and louder. “Okay, pilgrim, just hang on, I’m working on it,” promised John.

John parked the car and walked into the emergency room with the screeching baby. People in the waiting room immediately turned their heads to the ruckus. Some recognized him and gave him a familiar nod as if they were friends.

John came up to the desk and spoke to the nurse. “This baby is sick,” he said.

“I see,” said the nurse. “I’ll get the doctor.”

They escorted John and Bobbie into an examination room. The doctor asked John to lie the baby on the table. The doctor listened to his chest, checked his mouth and eyes. The doctor ordered a slew of x-rays and other tests. John agreed to all the tests, despite the cost.

A nurse took the baby away while another nurse asked John the baby’s date of birth and blood type.

“Well, ah, I don’t know,” he said. He didn’t want to tell them where he found the baby. “I’m just a friend of the family. I’m babysitting.” He hoped his famous stature would keep them from asking too many questions.


John sat for a long while, waiting. A few times he got up and asked the nurse what was going on, but no one would tell him anything. His impatience made him sip from his flask. The doctor came out into the waiting room and approached him quietly.

“Mr. Wayne?” he asked.

“That’s me,” said John in a drunken haze.

“You’re the one who brought in the negro infant…?”

“Bobbie?”

“Was that his name?”

“Was?”

The doctor took a deep breath. “I’m sorry, Mr. Wayne. The boy — Bobbie — he had a serious lung infection. We did everything we could, but… he passed about three minutes ago.”

“He what?”

“I’m sorry. He expired. He’s gone, Mr. Wayne.”

John felt wetness fall from his eyes. “But,” he said. “That’s impossible! He was just a little sick!”

“I’m afraid he was very sick, Mr. Wayne. It’s amazing he survived as long as he did.”

“Well,” said John. “I… uh…I don’t know. Are you sure?”

The doctor looked sympathetic. “I’m sure, Mr. Wayne.”

John thought to himself for a moment. “Hey, doc… did… anytime when he was with you…did you see him smile?”

The doctor shook his head. “No, I don’t think so, sorry.”

I never got to see him smile. Maybe he never smiled his whole darn life, thought John.

“Well, thanks for telling me, doc.” He turned to leave.

“Ah, one more thing, Mr. Wayne?”

“Yeah?” John turned back around.

“Who is Bobbie’s next of kin?”


John returned to his mansion a broken man. For a long moment he considered calling his wife and telling her everything but decided he couldn’t bear to see or talk to anyone. He went to his bar and looked for something strong enough to numb the pain. He found a 100-proof bottle of moonshine someone had given him long ago. He couldn’t stand himself. He missed Bobbie.

After he drank the moonshine he punched at the walls. In his drunken stupor, he remembered Lupita’s roast. He opened the oven; it was burnt. He ate it anyway, starved as he was.

He climbed up the tall stairs and collapsed into his bed. He lay a long time without stirring, unable to fall asleep. He thought about the long day and where it had taken him.

Eventually, he drifted off, and dreamt –

In his dream, Bobbie was a grown man. The two of them were riding horses in Monument Valley, Utah. Their steeds stepped their hooves through the rushing waters of a creek as the brisk summer wind blew. Scratches of clouds floated high in the blue sky. The sun was blazing and let off a warm, soft, reassuring heat.

They both wore cowboy hats and dungarees. They braced their boots in their stirrups and held their leather reins loosely as they trusted their horses. The grasses around them blew gently in the breeze.

After they crossed the creek, they stopped because they found the perfect place to make camp for the night. They dismounted, gathered firewood and unsaddled their horses.

Their evening meal consisted of beans and biscuits. After filling their bellies, they rolled cigarettes and watched as pictures played in the flames of the fire. Neither of them spoke; there was no need.

When the sun set, Bobbie and John unrolled their bed mats and settled in for the night. John broke the silence.

“Good night, Bobbie,” he said.

The boy smiled.


The next day on the set John physically grieved over the loss of Bobbie. He felt sick to his stomach and his head thumped. He almost called in sick to work, but John Wayne didn’t call in sick.

He sat in the kitchen as the set designer and cinematographer argued about the lighting again. John’s head was full of thoughts that had little to do with the movie they were filming.

“Mr. Wayne,” the director’s assistant piped in his ear, “Maybe you could possibly take a break. Perhaps like yesterday?”

“No,” said John firmly. “No, I think I’ll just sit right here.”

THE END

Doc Masterson and the Prisoner of Time, Chapter 8

Doc Masterson’s been in the superhero game for most of his life. But his powers are more dependable than his mental health. Lured out of retirement by his old friend, the telepath Paul Drake and the mysterious organization The Apparatus, Masterson ventures out into upstate New York to see his old friend, Harry Park...

Chapter 8: CRUSH

It all seemed too predictable – the heroes returning just when they were needed most. Nevertheless, the next day I got my car out of the garage and headed Northwest out of the city.  I was going to see Harry Park.  I did not tell him I was coming. 

It was good for my mind to stare at the road for a few hours.  The driving and the music clear me out. I avoided the news.  All anyone could talk about these days were The Ship, Isabel, and me.  Every media outlet had a different take on the fact that something out there that just simply hadn’t existed before certainly existed now, and it was insanely dangerous.  The Apparatus was not longer writing the future. The future was writing itself. 

But mostly, I was nervous about seeing Harry.  Sure, we messaged each other occasionally, but we hadn’t met face-to-face since Jenny’s “funeral.”  I really liked Harry,  he was a great guy.  I felt sorry for him though because he didn’t like having his powers – he got them by making a dreadful mistake, and he has never been the same – or quite human – since. 

Harry had been a scientist working for the Apparatus – specifically nano-weapons, managed by advanced, autonomous artificial intelligences.  He had typed a miscalculation into his computer, and suddenly the A.I.’s attacked him. 

First, they had burned through his skin, incinerating nerves like a laser incinerating ants; then through his muscle and fat (using both for fuel); before settling deeply, and permanently, in his bones.  He had been able to hear this terror. They had talked to him.  The legend goes, a deal was made between Harry and the nano-weapons so that they could both coexist as one being.  The nano-weapon A.I.s and Harry became a collective personality, and they even had a name:  CRUSH.

CRUSH became one of America’s (i.e. the Apparatus’s) most powerful weapons in the various proxy wars – between the West and rogue states, arch-supervillains, and various other nefarious organizations and actors that had flourished since the Mirror Man had vaporized the Twin Towers in all-destroying, living radiation back on 9/11.  They had been sent into hell zones all across the world, fighting terrorists, fighting M.A.N.T.I.S.,  killing everything in sight.  CRUSH had been deadly on a massive scale.

CRUSH may have been killers, but Harry Park wasn’t. And he was still, sort of, human. He had a nervous breakdown. He quit. Like a lot of us (temporarily) do.

But Harry would never be free of CRUSH. A second compromise was made – Harry told the Apparatus that if they left him alone, he would leave them alone. Take it or leave it. 

All parties accepted the deal. 

Now, I’m not going to sit here and describe CRUSH’s powers.  All I can say is they were noisy, bright, and merciless.  One time CRUSH even had battled against Violet (when her mind had been taken over by a demonic slime mold), and managed to hold her off.  Jenny could have burned him to a crisp in under five seconds, so he certainly wasn’t as powerful as her or her equals.  I always figured I could take him too if I had to. 

Underneath it all, Harry was a simple guy.  He just wanted to live a normal life.  His parents had immigrated from Korea after the war. He had worked in their restaurant. Now he could shoot missiles out of his eyeballs. 

Every so often you heard rumors of CRUSH appearing here or there, saving the day with his smart lasers and living bullets.  Then he would fade back.  He was too ashamed to do nothing.  He saved others, but said nothing.  He became a silent superhero. He became reclusive. He grew tired of the world and his place in it, but still was helpless against his own conscience. 

Harry found a woman to marry and had a child. The child of immigrants was rich, world-famous, and dangerously powerful. He bought a farm upstate of uncountable acres. 

I knew that Harry would say yes to me, despite all of his hangups, despite his wife and his child.  He was more machine-collective than human now, capable of bold feats of heroics and war, but – even though so much of him was machine, there was still some humanity inside him. He had told me two months ago he had cancerous cells – everywhere. 

I knew because of all these things, he would say yes.  He felt responsible.  For who?  For the world.  All of us had it, at one point or another.  But Harry was something more. He was the most honorable man I had ever met.

Four hours of driving, stinking of candy bars, I pulled up to the gate of his farm.  I pressed the button for the intercom and a minute later I could hear his thick, subtly electronic voice.

“Who is it?”

“It’s John. John Masterson.”

“Doc?”  He sounded surprised.  “What are you doing here?”

I took a deep breath.  “I just wanted to come by,” I said. 

“Sure,” he mechanically growled.  “I’ve seen you on the news.  What a darn mess.”

“I didn’t come here alone,” I said.  “I have the Apparatus with me.”

“I know you do.  I knew you’d come.  I knew they would want me to be a part of this.  I can’t believe you are working for them.”

“I’m not,” I argued.  “I’m just helping.  What the hell else should I do?”

“I knew you’d come,” he said again. 

The was a moment of silence.

“Can I come in?” I asked. 

“Yeah, you can.”  He buzzed the gate open. 

I drove through and followed the private road down to his house.  It was a beautiful piece of property. 

He opened the front door as I was walking up the front porch steps.

“Been a long time, Doc.”  He put his hand out.  I reached and gripped it.  Already I could smell the nano-machines, like rotten vegetables and methane.  I knew Harry had lost his sense of smell years ago, so he had no idea how rank the stench was.  I wondered how Jan and his kid could stand it.  He was like a walking refinery, all to provide energy to CRUSH.

“I missed you, Harry.”

“Come in, come in,” he said.

I entered the house.  I had never been inside before.  The walls were colorful.  There were shelves of books and photographs, a dog barking somewhere. A nice family home.

I noticed Jan Park down the hallway, glaring at me. 

“Mommy!” A child’s voice rang out.  Their daughter ran into the room and hugged Jan’s legs. 

I could feel pin pricks on my skin.  I looked towards Harry.  It was the nano-tech, microscopic and communicable — extending from him and now exploring me. 

“I need fresh air,” I gasped.  I stumbled out the front door and down the front steps.  I could feel the nano-tech receding from me; Harry had gotten control of them now.

“I’m so sorry, John,” Harry said, following me out the door.  “CRUSH can be aggressive sometimes.”

“Sometimes?” I repeated.  Oxygen rushed back into me. I could still feel a… residue from the A.I.’s on my skin.  I couldn’t shake the feeling. 

“Please, Harry back off!”

I could feel the last of them pulled from my body and I felt like myself again.  My God, how dangerous he was! And I hadn’t even thought to use my powers – not around Harry.

“I’m sorry,” he said again.  “We haven’t had any strangers around recently.”

“How do you live like this?” I asked him.  “I can’t breathe.”

“It seems natural to us,” Harry replied.  He was speaking about both CRUSH and himself.  Or was he speaking for Jan and his daughter as well?

“I came here because I need your help.”

“I’m not going to work for the Apparatus again.”

“You’ll be working with me.” I smiled. 

“What was in the spaceship, John?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t understand it.”  I looked deep into Harry’s eyes.

Suddenly he was angry, “Don’t lie to me, John.”

“I’m not lying.” He would never believe me.  Did I believe me?

“It doesn’t matter!”  He gestured towards his wife and kid, watching from behind the screen door. “That matters.  Not you, not the Apparatus, not your dead, villainous girlfriend – but every father and mother and child on the planet!”

I was nearly speechless.  I had never seen him so incensed. Something new was happening under the surface.

“So – will you come?” I had nothing else to say. 

“Give me a day,” he replied.  “And I’ll come to New York.”

I forced a smile.  Harry Park, mechanical death-machine gestalt, was on my side. 

“I knew you would come, John.  I knew it was just a matter of time.”

“I thank you, Harry.  I really do.”

I turned and left, and started the long drive back to the city. 

TO BE CONTINUED IN CHAPTER 9…

9/8/2021

Doc Masterson and the Prisoner of Time, Chapter 6

AFTERMATH

Doc Masterson’s been in the superhero game for most of his life. But his powers are more dependable than his mental health. Lured out of retirement by telepath Paul Drake and the mysterious Apparatus, Masterson returns to America after the incident in Tokyo…

Chapter 6: Aftermath

Suddenly everyone in the world knew our names.  The mission and the discovery of the baby had all been recorded in ultra video, and broadcasted to every crevasse of the planet.  

The aftermath of the “Tokyo Trouble”, as it was known at the time, was in the hands of the press.  The Japanese military and Red Cross dealt with the dead and wounded, and the Apparatus secretly secured the site posing as government agencies.

I refused to give interviews, but the press already knew that.  There was Isabel; she was controversial because of her age, but everyone loved her.  Isabel of course had media training and always knew exactly the right thing to say, sometimes being humble and tactful, and sometimes tactfully controversial. 

The Apparatus stayed invisible.   Isabel and I were “vigilantes” who had simply been in the right place at the right time.  The public at large had no idea the Apparatus existed or that it controlled their lives.  

 Isabel and I were flown back to the U.S by U.S. military aircraft. Our arrival was greeted by a cheering crowd.  

“Isn’t this amazing, Doctor M?” Isabel asked me.

“Be careful with it, kid,” I told her.

She pouted.  “I can take care of myself, sir.  Do you have any idea how much training I have?  I have worked my whole life to do this.  So what if this happened a couple years early?  I’m ready for all of this.”

“I know you’re ready, Isabel,” I replied.  “I just want you to be cautious.  The world is fickle when it comes to heroes.”

“I don’t give a shit about the world,” she stated, defiant.  “I’m a soldier.  This is my job.”

I had read her file.  Isabel Agnes Rhodes, born May 5th of 2002, in Ragsansket, Pennsylvania, to parents David and Francis Rhodes.  It had not taken long for her parents to discover that she was not a normal child, as by the age of four Isabel had already started to signs of superhuman strength and dexterity – by the age of seven, she could lift a small car while standing on one leg.   Doctors had been dumbfounded after examining her. The local media  started talking about Isabel; once that happened, the Apparatus discovered her.  After that, she disappears off the record real quick.

The Rhodes no longer technically existed. This was what the Apparatus did.  It took the whole family into its pillars of shadow.  

The Apparatus had spared nothing in training her — I’m sure she knew kung-fu, could hack into a computer, could kill someone with a sniper rifle from 100 yards while she fell from a helicopter.  She was smart and eager to learn, and a true believer from the start.  The Apparatus was Isabel’s most dominating parent; it loved her the best it could, and she loved it back.

The Apparatus groomed a lot of kids with powers, but they seldom made it out in the light of day. They would be taken from their lives when they were children or teens (and in rare cases, as adults). Usually the kids would live the rest of their lives in a secure, Apparatus facility that was basically just a prison. The Apparatus though the world had to be vigilant for humans with incredible power. Natural super humans were very rare;  most super humans were made, not born. Isabel was the whole package.  No one could explain why she was born with her powers.  It was simply a fact.  

            Isabel was prepared technically for that day in Tokyo.  It was exactly what she had been trained to do – deal with the impossible.   After such a horrible disaster, and people were looking for a hero; Isabel was it.  

Isabel’s image was plastered everywhere.  As soon as we arrived on the ground in Tokyo, Isabel had “brave and noble stature, and an honest courage we can all be proud of.” The media overlooked the horrid reality of the thousands of lives lost. Instead there was light. It was Isabel.  “The superheroes have returned,” the headlines boasted. 
     The true catastrophe for the Apparatus, as well as the Earth, wasn’t the thousands of lives lost (people die every day, and what are thousands of lives compared to the billions the Apparatus considered itself responsible for?), the true catastrophe was the ending of whatever illusions of certainty people had about the universe and their place in it.  Where had the ship come from?  Why had it come?  

The only people who knew what was inside the ship were myself, Isabel, and the Apparatus.  Everyone else assumed it was aliens, monsters; sadly,  the truth was scarier.  There were so many unanswered questions: Had the ship come from somewhere on Earth?  Were we dealing with a human life force? Where did the technological know-how exist? Had it come from the future?  No one was sure.  With every question that was asked, another three would pop up before the first one could be answered.  

Both Isabel and I were told to tell everyone the ship was empty of life, which it almost had been. When pressed, we smiled, and said we weren’t at liberty to go further into it — we had promised the governments that we would keep silent, until a time in the near future when all would be revealed to the world. 

I didn’t have confidence that the Apparatus really planned on revealing the truth.  Until they were forced into a position where they had to reveal everything, I knew they would keep everything tightly sealed.  I knew there would be a time when their hand would be forced again, like it had on that day in Tokyo.  

For now, they would stay in the shadows, and so would the truth.  

TO BE CONTINUED IN CHAPTER 7


9/8/2021

Happy Wednesday. Okay, getting back to schedule here. I hope all of you are well. 

The Black Sorcery of Yelena Bulgakova

Two new chapters since the weekend. Only two more chapters left, I think. 

The Black Sorcery of Yelena Bulgakova, Chapter 6

The Black Sorcery of Yelena Bulgakova, Chapter 7

The Festering Wound of Stephen King (COMIC VERSION)

This is an experiment, but unlike the comic He-Thing, this story isn’t long. 

Festering Wound Comic

Midnight Man: Darker Than the Darkness

Chapter 4 is up. 

Midnight Man: Darker Than the Darkness, Chapter 4

And I…think….that’s it???

—Matt

8.6.2021 – Monday

Doc Masterson and the Prisoner of Time, Chapter 4

LAST MEAL

Doc Masterson, Isabel, and Paul fly to Tokyo to deal with the crashed extra dimensional ship.

I felt dizzy.  Everything was happening too fast.

Isabel poked my arm gently with her right index finger. “I said, isn’t this exciting?”

Few people who know my reputation have the courage to touch me. I stared into Isabel’s eyes.  They were blue, fearless things, enraptured by power.  I knew that sort of fearlessness and rapture well.  I knew it backwards and forwards.

“Sir?” one of the helicopter pilots had come over.  He handed me an Apparatus phone.  

“I don’t talk on the phone,” I protested. 

“It’s Paul Drake, sir,” said the pilot.

Fuck.  

“Hello?” I said into the phone.  

“John, I need you to get in the helicopter now.”

I glanced at Isabel and the pilots.  “Paul?  What’s happening?”

“I don’t know, John.”

“I’m not going anywhere until you tell me what’s happening,” I told him.

“I don’t know what’s happening, John.  That’s the problem.  Don’t you understand?”

Suddenly I did.  Crystal clear.  

“Yeah,” I said.  I handed the phone back to the pilot.  “Let’s go,” I said.

We flew South out of the city.  The helicopter was noisy and no one talked.  I stole glances at Isabel when I could.

It took almost half an hour to reach Dover Air Force Base.  We landed.  Paul was waiting for us.

“I want to talk to you, alone,” I said to him.

He nodded, but then asked if we could do so en route, gesturing towards a hypersonic cargo jet parked on the tarmac.  We boarded the jet and took off again, this time headed straight for Tokyo.  The plane would skim the atmosphere until we arrived in Japan in record time. 

Paul escorted me to an office inside the jet where we could talk privately.

“Well?” I asked.

Paul took a deep breath.  “Something’s happening.”

“What?”

“That’s unknown.”

 “Are we under attack?” I asked.

“That’s also unknown; however, if we are under attack, then it’s possible the attack has been going on for some time.  It’s possible that the Apparatus has been sabotaged.”

“You mean, that’s why you didn’t know this was going to happen?”

“No, it’s worse,” Paul said. He rubbed his temples.  “We’ve been having problems with things for awhile.  Don’t you see?  Why else would I come to you?”

Everything was fucked up.

“How did it get past the sensor net?” I asked. 

“We don’t know what’s wrong with them. They didn’t detect anything.”

Paul and I sat around a small round table replaying video of the crash.  In Paul’s hands, the video distorts time, replaying previous moments electrically into the air.  He twisted the camera around, showing dozens of angles of the ship. 

“It’s the size of a city block,” he said. 

“It must have killed thousands,” I whispered to myself.  “Has it done anything else since it crashed?”

“No — well, it’s emitting a noise.  A buzzing sound.  I’ll turn up the audio. “

We were watching live video now.  Paul turned up the volume, and pulled out the video into a wide shot from above the crash site.  It just seemed so impossible; but there it was.  

“It has to be sabotage,”  I said.  “This has to be an attack.  Anything is possible.  We know nothing!”

“We know nothing,” Paul confirmed. Then he turned to practical matters.  “Do you need something to eat, John?  I know you haven’t had breakfast.”

“A last meal? Sure,” I said.  

Paul raised his watch to his mouth and spoke, “Can we get some eggs and coffee, please? And tell Isabel to come up here.”

“Roger that, sir,” an electronic voice replied. 

Five minutes later we were served plates of eggs and two decanters of steaming hot coffee.  We were also joined by Isabel.  All three of us were ravenous.  We ate silently.  Once finished though I was imbued with a strong courage.  I was more relaxed.  Suddenly it hit me–

“Shit,” I said.  “Isabel is coming with me down there, isn’t she?  You are goddamned crazy.  She’s a kid for Christ’s sake.  We could both die.”

 “I’m not afraid to die,” Isabel said, defiantly.

“There’s more to her than it looks like,” Paul said.

“That doesn’t matter,” I said.  “She’s still a kid.”

“We were kids when we did this stuff,” Paul replied.  

“That was different,” I said.  

“Hey,” Isabel said.  “Hey!  Listen: the buzzing is getting louder.”

It was getting louder, and doing so very fast.  The sound became distorted as it raged, was transformed into bits and sent through to TV’s around the world.  

“What is it?”  Isabel asked.

It continued to get louder.  Another sound started:  a low, rumbling bass.

It exploded.  Or at least that’s what it looked like.  The hull cracked, and a thick blue smoke came pouring out into the area.  It wasn’t just blue, it was brighter than any other color in the world.    The whole area was covered with blue smoke in moments.  The ship hid in the smoke; we could not see it any longer.  

“How long until we get there?” I ask Paul.

“T-minus three minutes.”

We  made our way to the back of the plane.  They opened up the cargo hatch and wind besieged the air.  Isabel sat down on the floor, took off her shoes, and then put on what looked like snow boots, except there were lights blinking on them.

“I really wish you wouldn’t send her,” I said to Paul.  “I can’t protect her.”

Paul smiled at me. “She’s going to protect you.”

Isabel finished putting on her boots and stood up. 

“What are those,” I asked.  I pulled a gas mask off the wall and put it on.  

Isabel smiled at me. “These are my jet boots,” she said.  

“Jet boots?” I asked.  

“Jet boots,” Paul said.  

“So what you’re saying is she is going to fly down there.”

“That’s right,” Isabel said.  “I’ve done it before.  I’ve practiced for this.  How are you going to get down there?  With a parachute?”

I think my treating her as a child was starting to annoy her.  I didn’t care how much she had practiced for this shit.  She was too young.  Paul could have been sending a teen girl straight to her death.  I didn’t care if I died.  I hadn’t been afraid of dying for a long time.  But she was just a girl. People like her didn’t know what death was.

“It’s time,” Paul said.  

Isabel and I approached the door.  I looked her in the eyes.  Was she ready for something like this?  We would all know soon enough.  

She smiled at me. She didn’t appear nervous at all. “Can I ask you a personal question?”

“Okay,” I said.

“You know Violet Russell, right?” 

I hadn’t heard Violet’s name in an age. “Um, yeah, why?” I replied.

“What’s she like in real life?  She’s been my hero my whole life.”

“She’s just Violet,” I said.  “She’s a mom now.  She hasn’t done stuff like this for a long time.”

“She’s the most amazing person in the world,” Isabel said. “Well, I guess this is it.”  She saluted Paul, nodded to me, and then jumped out of the airplane. 

I watched her fall for a moment before her jet boots kicked in.  She started to float down through the air.  The girl was psychotically fearless.  I had seen the same thing in many of the superheroes I had worked with through the years.  

Who was I to complain? I had been called reckless more than once in my career, and it had always been an understatement.

“So long,” I said to Paul.

“Be careful,” he said back.  

“Yeah fucking right,” I replied, jumping out of the airplane.

TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 5


9/6/2021

Good morning everyone. It’s a holiday here in America, but I’m ready to get back to work here after a liminal weekend, so here we are. 

After a short break, here is chapter 9 of He-Thing and the Cabal of the Cosmos, featuring the first appearance of the arch-villain Skullatroid

He-Thing and the Cabal of the Cosmos, Chapter 9

I’m working on a bunch of He-Thing related things right now. I know this story is an acquired taste, but it’s very enjoyable and freeing for me. And a lot of fun and intellectually stimulating.

There’s also a new chapter of The Black Sorcery of Yelena Bulgakova

The Black Sorcery of Yelena Bulgakova, Chapter 4


Down below, Hard Scum is killing it with Midnight Man

Midnight Man, Chapter 3, by Hard Scum

Finally, here is a short post I did introducing my thoughts about realism in literature.

Snee’s Thoughts on Realism in Literature

And that’s it! Got a big week planned, so buckle up!

Matt