It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.
It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
There was a little girl who had a little curl.
“Impossible!” She said.
“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
“But what about second breakfast?”
“I do not like green eggs and ham, I do not like them Sam-I-Am.”
She took a bit and winced. “Alas, earwax.”
“Curiouser and Curiouser. All’s well that ends well.”
“Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.
It’s not much of a tail, but I’m kind of attached to it.”
“If most of us are ashamed of shabby clothes and shoddy furniture
let us be more ashamed of shabby ideas and shoddy philosophies.”
“To be or not to be.”
“Elementary, my dear Watson. You should be kissed and often,
and by someone who knows how.”
“You are the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed upon to marry.”
“Just because you’ve got the emotional range of a teaspoon doesn’t mean we all have.”
“You killed my father, prepare to die!”
“All happy families are alike, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
God bless us, everyone.”
“I misjudged you, you’re not a moron, you’re only a case of arrested development.”
“Tomorrow is another day!”
It was a dark and stormy night sometime later when
She realized she was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him.
Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night could stay her swift flight to him.
“You have brains in your head and feet in your shoes,” She said to herself,
“But a horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!”
He appeared with one obligingly.
“I can’t carry it, but I can carry you.”
“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
“It is a far, far better thing that I do than I have ever done;
it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”
“Yes, Isn’t it pretty to think so?”
But the sky was bright, and he somehow felt he was headed in the right direction.
I in no way wish to take the credit for quotes from Winnie the Pooh, Gone with the Wind, Dr. Seuss, Ernest Hemingway, Stuart Little, J.R.R. Tolkien, Shakespeare, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, The U.S. Postal Service, Charles Dickens, Tolstoy, The Princess Bride, J.K. Rowling, Jane Austen, folk proverbs, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Lewis Carrol, 1984, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and especially not Twilight.
Please don’t expel me.
Nolan steered his rental into the parking space. The spot gave him a very clear view of the table inside the restaurant he was eventually going to be sitting at. He took a deep breath, held it for a moment, and exhaled. He was trying to clear his mind for the business meeting at hand. It was always nerve wracking to meet a potential client. Nolan had to gauge each new person, and see if they were worth the assistance the agency could give. Nolan killed the engine, in no hurry to get out of the car, but instead sipped his coffee. He checked his watch, which he double checked against the agency’s home office before he left for the airport. Nolan was twenty minutes early to the meeting. Being early was a habit that had served Nolan well many times. He found it was useful to be able to watch a potential client arrive. What they drove, who they might be with, and how punctual the client was told Nolan most of what he needed to know before ever speaking to them.
Nolan checked his watch again, and then compared it to the rental car’s dash. The clock on the dash was slow by two minutes. He took another deep breath as he straightened his tie. Exhaling he caught his own gaze in the rearview mirror. The pale blue eyes behind thin lenses broke away as he checked his hair. Not a single dark strand was out of place. Nolan wasn’t particularly vain, but he did make sure he was presentable at all times. He wasn’t a handsome man, nor was he ugly. His face was forgettable, and in his line of work that was a benefit. It was never useful to be movie star good looking, or remarkably painful to look at if somebody was later trying to describe you. Having a memorable face never helped if the meetings went sour.
Nolan exhaled another breath and watched it fog the window of the rental. Sometimes things just went sour. He thought of his wife Lisa. After nearly a decade of marriage he found himself trying to recall why he had loved her so much. This was a game that he often played when he had a moment to waste. Was it her golden locks? Oh yes, those helped. He thought of the way they framed the emerald earrings he bought her for their fifth wedding anniversary. Was it her athletic build? Her body most certainly attracted him, yes. Was it those delicious chocolate eyes that he got lost in when she spoke? Oh, was it her voice? The melodic way she sounded was so intoxicating to him, and he longed for the days when he would call her just to feel his heart sputter as she purred his name.
Partially, it was all of those things, and then the rest was made up of her personality. The way she laughed at things he said and thought were funny, and not just to try and seem interested, but she genuinely laughed. Nolan could tell, because the agency had taught him how to read body language. If somebody was faking a laugh or a smile all you had to do was look for wrinkles around their eyes. If you could see them that meant it was a genuine laugh. Lisa always had smiled with her eyes, because Lisa was always genuine.
Nolan watched as his breath on the window beaded up in condensation, giving it the effect of sweating against the cool fall air. A droplet rolled down the inside, and he thought of Lisa again.
“How can you cut into something that is sweating?” she had asked him. At the time, Nolan was about to cut into a piece of pumpkin pie that had a tiny pool of condensation on the top. The pie had been the only thing he was looking forward to when he drove the two hours to his in-laws’ house for Thanksgiving last year. It used to be this type of observational humor of hers that made him laugh, but for some reason the only effect it had was to completely ruin the moment. The thought of his pie breathing and sweating on the plate completely turned him off to the dessert. In one short question, Lisa had effectively ruined Thanksgiving for him. She performed this act of ruining things with a dishearteningly increased frequency over the past year. It had gotten so bad that when he left for this trip he hadn’t even bothered to say bye. They had become so distant, and had barely held a conversation in the past month. Why would a few hundred miles of actual distance have mattered? It didn’t, but that hadn’t stopped him from thinking about her now.
Nolan was snapped back to the present by a set of headlights that streaked across his field of vision. The car pulled into the lot and took a spot nearest to the door of the restaurant. Nolan looked at the plates of the vehicle as he flipped open his tablet. He then opened the file that he had read, and reread, countless times during his flight. The plates on the car matched the ones the file told him to expect on the client’s vehicle. He then noticed the make and model of the car, followed by the smaller details of color and state of repair the car was in. This particular car was a red BMW 320i sedan. It was last year’s model but in pristine condition. The file read that the vehicle was the client’s own daily driver, and that it was also leased. Red, flashy, but not purchased. Nolan checked his watch; the client was five minutes late. Nolan was already putting together an idea of how the meeting would go, but silently cursed himself for letting his mind wander for so long on his own personal affairs.
The client exited the car and looked around the parking lot quickly, before he hurried to the door of the restaurant. Nolan tracked the man with his eyes through the wide windows that wrapped the restaurant. He wanted to see if the man would follow the directions the agency gave him to go straight to the table that had been reserved under the name “John Smith”. The client stopped at the hostess stand, and held a brief conversation with the girl. Nolan couldn’t help but smirk as the man repeatedly flashed his car keys to the young girl. The girl pointed back to the corner table, but the client went to the bar of the restaurant. The keys flashed again as he held up two fingers. The bar tender poured two tall drinks, straight up. Nolan scoffed as the client slammed one, before taking the other to the table and sitting in the seat that faced the wall.
“Well at least he got that part right,” Nolan whispered to nobody but himself. He then stepped out into the November night. Nolan smoothed his hands down his dark gray suit, and took another deep breath as he tucked his tablet in his jacket pocket. The crisp fall air refreshed his senses. It had been a night like this when Lisa had told him she loved him for the first time. Lisa. Again, she was in his mind, but now it was time for business. He needed to push her out and focus. Nolan took three quick and short inhalations. He blew them all out in one single breath as he tried to focus, and the cool air helped.
Nolan’s eyes fixed on the client as he walked into the restaurant. He entered and made eye contact with Darcy, the hostess. She was deceptively young looking, but was actually in her late twenties. She played her part as the teenage hostess well, bouncing with a bubbly smile. Her messy blonde pony tail bobbed from side to side; while her barely buttoned white shirt hung over from her black yoga pants. She was skirting the uniform policy at the restaurant perfectly.
“Hello, welcome to Gambino’s. Will you be dining alone tonight, sir?” Darcy gushed.
“Actually, I have a table reserved for a Mr. John Smith.”
“The client has arrived,” Darcy informed him. “Will you be requiring the briefcase tonight?” She was all business now.
“Unfortunately, that may be necessary. Thank you.”
“You two are the only guests of the restaurant this evening,” Darcy said while she reached under the podium and removed a small metal briefcase. Nolan accepted the case and smiled at her. She then pushed a button on the underside of the podium. The shades on the windows closed and the lights dimmed throughout the restaurant. A soothing classical music flowed from the overhead speakers. Darcy locked the door and turned the sign to say closed while he walked back to join his client. Nolan approached the end of the table, and startled the man who was apparently lost in thought.
“Jesus, man” the client bumbled as he spilled some of his drink.
“My apologies, I didn’t mean to startle you,” Nolan offered.
“No it’s okay, I’m expecting someone…” the man eyed Nolan carefully.
“May I sit then?”
“Only if you’re the John Smith I was told to wait for,” the client replied as he raised his hand to the empty seat across from him.
“Indeed I am,” Nolan began as he took his seat. “I believe you are a Mr. Gareth. Is that correct?”
“Yup. That’s me. My friends call me Mike,” the client responded with the drink up to his lips. Unsteady hands shook the glass a little as it rattled back down onto the table.
“Mr. Gareth will be fine,” Nolan replied as he took the time to eye the man up. He was late forties easily, which he obviously tried to conceal. Dyed blonde hair was betrayed by the gray roots of his hair. The wrinkles on his face were deeply set in, an affliction that was only made more severe by a red tinted tan. His obnoxiously large gold ring clinked on the empty glass. It matched a gaudy watch and a chain that hung on his bare chest. Nolan could see it through the bright pink, open collared polo the man wore. It was at least one size too small, no doubt he attempted to accentuate the fact that he worked out, if only a few times. He finished out the look with a pair of tan cargo shorts and leather flip flops. That was how Mr. Gareth chose to dress to a meeting of this importance. He would never make it as an agency man. Not only did he look ridiculous and scream mid-life crisis, but the style choice was completely non functional for the late November weather.
“Have you reviewed my case yet?” Mr. Gareth asked.
“Indeed I have,” Nolan said, pulling out the tablet. “It appears you are at risk of losing most of your assets.”
“Yeah, the bitch is gonna take me to the damned cleaners if she gets her way,” Mr. Gareth spat.
“It certainly looks like she would have an excellent case against you in court.”
“You don’t think I fuckin’ know that? Christ, that’s the reason I came to you guys!” Gareth fumed. As his words flew out a glob of spit accompanied them and landed on Nolan’s tablet. Nolan instinctively sat up straighter and removed his glasses. He locked eyes with Mr. Gareth.
“Mr. Gareth, I understand that you are upset. I will not, however, tolerate you raising your voice to me. I would advise you to think carefully before you speak, and remember to keep your voice down. If you would like me to continue considering your case you will kindly take your napkin and wipe your saliva off of my tablet screen. You will do this slowly, with no sudden movements, but you will do it now,” Nolan instructed.
Mr. Gareth held his gaze for a moment, before slowly reaching for his napkin.
“Thank you, now if we could get back to the matter at hand, you’ll notice that on the tablet which you are holding is the police report for a domestic disturbance at your residence. Accompanying it is the subsequent restraining order that your wife filled against you.”
“I don’t need a review. I was there man,” Gareth blurted.
“She had some private dick tail me around. He got pictures of me with a hooker. She wasn’t dirty or nuthin’, but one of those classy expensive ones. You know the type of girl that wouldn’t look twice at us. Couple of my buddies pitched together and bought her for my birthday. Definitely worth it if you ask me. Anyway, the asshole got some photos of it and gave em to my wife. She gave me a set of damn copies. I brought em with. I dunno, thought they might help.”
Gareth put both hands up and Nolan nodded. Then he reached inside his cargo shorts and produced a thick, dirty envelope that was roughly 6”x9”. He dropped it on the table between them. Nolan made no movement to pick them up, but instead reached for the slim metal briefcase that was on the floor next to his feet. He placed the brief case on the table, and ran his hands across its smooth, cool surface. He found the latches and popped them open. Nolan eased the top up, but kept the contents out of view of the eager eyes of Mr. Gareth. He then used his own napkin to wrap up the pictures and transfer them into his briefcase. Finally, he closed the briefcase and replaced it on the floor.
“Don’t you even want to look at em?” Gareth asked.
“Mr. Gareth, I see no benefit to our meeting from me viewing pictures of you engaging in sexual intercourse,” Nolan responded. “I do see benefit in asking you a few questions. Firstly, has your wife contacted a divorce attorney?”
“Yeah, I got served the papers at my job,” Gareth scoffed.
“So your coworkers saw this?”
“Hell, my boss even saw it. Made me the fuckin’ joke of the office,” Mr. Gareth seethed.
“Why the infidelity?” Nolan asked. Secretly, he was surprised that he felt compelled to ask a personal question. His feelings had seeped into his work, and that was simply unacceptable.
“I was horny,” Mike Gareth shrugged. “What? You never slept around on your old lady? You might as well have. I bet she has slept around on you.”
Nolan felt his neck go hot. He would never betray Lisa’s trust like that, and he was certain that she would never…This meeting was going sideways on him, and he needed to regain control. He had allowed the client to upset him, and that was never good for business. Nolan swallowed his emotions.
“Are you able to pay for the services you’re requesting? Up front, right now?” Nolan asked.
“Well, I mean, I thought you guys understood that you’d be taken care of once I get the insurance check. I’m good for it. You’d get your money,” he scrambled. His ring clinked against his empty glass again.
Nolan raised his hand to the bartender and she promptly came to the table.
“What can I get you sir?” she asked attentively.
“I will have water, but he’ll have a…” Nolan paused.
It took a moment for Mr. Gareth to stop groping the bartender with his gaze.
“Um, yeah, go ahead and get me another tall whiskey straight up.”
“Right away sir,” she responded as she headed back to the bar.
Nolan remained quiet while they both watched her. Mr. Gareth had proved incapable of focusing if a female was involved. So he waited, and while he did Lisa crept her way back into his mind. She was bartending when they first met, and she could still put this younger bartender to shame. He allowed himself the moment to recall Lisa’s body, both then and now. He was finally interrupted when this bartender returned. She delivered the drinks with a quick smile, explained that they were on the house, and then left the men to their business. Nolan drank his water trying to wash Lisa out of his mind. He put up a finger when Gareth tried to speak. He turned off the tablet and slid it inside his suit jacket trying to maintain an air of professionalism. Then he finished his water.
“Enjoy your drink, Mr. Gareth,” he resumed. “Hopefully, it will take the sting off a bit.”
“What sting?” Gareth asked right before he guzzled the liquid.
“I’ve decided that the agency won’t be able to help you with your case.”
“What the Fu” Gareth stopped mid word and recomposed himself. “What do you mean you’ve decided that you can’t help?” His red complexion was nearly glowing now. Nolan could tell he was barely keeping his rage under control, which was expected, but not particularly threatening. Beneath his suit Nolan was also very fit. His strength was functional and practiced, unlike the potential client who boiled across from him.
“Why have me drive all the way up here to jerk me off, and then tell me that you’re not going to do shit for me?” Gareth growled.
“I see you are foregoing my warning from earlier about your voice. Regardless, the agency does not require me to explain my decision to any potential client. For you, though, I shall make an exception. Your wife has made very public your divorce. You admit yourself that your coworkers are aware of your marital woes, and you already have legal documentation that highlights physical abuse, by you, against your wife. The incident being significant enough to warrant a judge to grant her a restraining order against you. Those are the obvious factors that led to my decision.”
“So you are saying your ‘agency’ can’t pull it off,” Gareth hissed.
“On the contrary, the agency and I are more than capable of solving the problem that your wife represents for you. However, I have known you for a short period of time, and I can already tell you that you do not follow basic instructions. If you did, you would’ve arrived to this meeting on time, you would have proceeded directly to the table, and you most certainly would not have driven your personal vehicle here. All of these things were plainly instructed to you by the agency when they set up this meeting, and yet you failed to meet the minimum expectations. Not to mention the fact that you are a terrible planner. You didn’t even think to bring a change of clothes for the weather this evening, and you couldn’t help but drink in excess as soon as you arrived. All things considered, you would be nothing but a liability if the police were to question you about your wife’s disappearance.”
Mr. Gareth sat staring at the empty glass that his hand clenched around.
“Even if we could ignore all of these previous problems,” Nolan continued. “The largest and most pertinent issue is that you simply cannot pay for our services. We are not the Make-a-Wish Foundation, Mr. Gareth. We only solve problems for clients who can afford us.”
Nolan rose from the table, smoothed out his suit after buttoning it, and picked up the briefcase.
“Mr. Gareth, I thank you for your time. I will be leaving you now, and wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors. I will escort you to the bar where you may have another drink on the house. You will remain there for fifteen minutes after I have left, and then you may go. This instruction you will follow. Do you understand?”
“Go to hell,” Gareth snapped.
Nolan accompanied the disgruntled man to the bar.
“If you want my advice, I would suggest that you cut your losses and give her the divorce.”
He then walked towards the door to leave. Darcy was quietly waiting for him with a keen eye. She then shifted her gaze to Gareth at the bar.
“Don’t worry. All bark, barely any bite. You ladies will be able to handle him with ease,” Nolan reassured her as he handed her back the metal case. “Turns out I didn’t need this after all.”
“Much appreciated Mr. Smith, but you will need to take this back.” Darcy smiled handing him the envelope of pictures. “You aren’t allowed to leave anything a client has given you in the case. You know the rules.”
“Would you mind holding that until I return from the men’s room?” Nolan asked. He hadn’t noticed that the coffee and water had run their course until this moment.
“I’m afraid I must insist you take them sir.”
Nolan made no protests. He grabbed the envelope and stuffed them quickly in the already occupied jacket pocket. He hurried to the urinal in the men’s room. He had just started to relieve himself when the envelope slipped out of his suit jacket and toppled to the floor. It split open when it bounced off the urinal, and its contents spread across the slick tiles. He glanced at the photos, a kaleidoscope of depravity fanned out underneath him. Again Lisa came to mind as he recalled how she used touch him.
Nolan glared at the photos a little closer. The woman looked like…no, that didn’t make sense. He closed his pants as he bent down to the visual stains beneath him. The woman in the pictures, Mike’s prostitute, she looked like Lisa. Nolan snatched one up for a close inspection. This can’t be her. He looked for a picture that showed her left shoulder. If he could find one of the woman’s left shoulder, then he would know for sure. He grabbed at one, and then another one to see the blonde face contorted in pangs of ecstasy. Nolan brushed his hand across them all as he slid to the floor. He let the filth soil him. He fought the sobs that threatened to escape his mouth. Just one…that one! He found the photo and snatched it up to see the truth, and the truth was that it wasn’t Lisa in the sordid photos. It was just a prostitute that slightly resembled her on a mere glance. Upon closer inspection it clearly wasn’t his wife.
Something in him compelled him to reach for his cell phone. He pulled it out and dialed his wife. He pressed the phone to his ear and heard his own breath in the receiver. The phone rang and rang before finally picking up.
“Hello,” Lisa’s familiar voice came over the speaker.
“Hey Lisa, It’s me. I know things have been kind of weird with us lately. I’m sorry, I should’ve said good bye this morning… Anyway, when I get back from this sales meeting in Detroit, I really want to talk to you. I even want to go with you back to your parent’s house next week for Thanksgiving. You know how much I love your mom’s pumpkin pie. I know you’re probably busy, but I want you to know you’ve been on my mind this whole trip, especially now.” Nolan spilled into the phone.
“Honey, what are you talking about? I’m trying to give the kids a bath before I put them to bed. Can I call you back?” she asked.
“Oh, yeah. Don’t worry about it. I will call you once I get back on the road. Tell the kids I love them. I love you too. Now that I think about it, I need to clean up something myself. I will talk to you soon,” Nolan answered. Then he hung up the phone.
He leaned back against the stall and took another deep breath. He exhaled slowly and this time focused on the man in the photos. The disgusting man, Mike, who Nolan had disliked from the beginning, but now hated with a passion he had never known before was just outside the bathroom. Suddenly he was on his feet and smoothed out his dark gray suit. He washed his hands in the sink before adjusting his glasses. He had gone into business mode. There was a job at hand and he intended to do it well. Nolan left the bathroom and reached directly under the hostess stand for the briefcase that he knew would be waiting. He clutched it and began to pop the case open on top of the stand. Darcy stared at him in confusion.
“You can go ahead and leave now. I’ve changed my mind. I will be resolving his case right here, tonight,” he declared while pulling out a knife and a .45 caliber pistol from the foam lined case. He then removed a suppressor and screwed it onto the barrel of the pistol. At the bar Mike was oblivious.
“Give me another damn shot before I tell everybody about your little operation you’ve got going on here!”
“I’ve got a shot for you,” Nolan announced as he grabbed the back of the stool and whirled Mike around to face him. He put the suppressed end of the gun deep in the crotch of the cargo shorts and squeezed the trigger twice. Mike’s eyes went wide as he shrieked in pain. Nolan hooked his foot under a rung on the barstool and kicked up. The bleeding man tumbled to the floor. Nolan eyed the bartender and motioned with his head towards the door. She calmly folded her towel and laid it on the bar. She then collected her purse and joined Darcy.
“I’ll have them send a cleaning crew in a few hours,” she said before shutting the door behind her.
Nolan had his weight on top of Mike’s chest and pressed the gun hard against his head.
“Upon reviewing your case, I have reconsidered. I am going to take care of your problem. All of your problems, and as a bonus your wife will get your life insurance policy,” Nolan reassured him as he pressed the gun deeper into Mike’s scalp. Nolan had his knee in Mike’s throat, making it difficult for him to breathe, let alone respond. His head was swelling with the effort and sweat poured down around the gun. Nolan tilted his head in thought and brought the knife to the bead of sweat.
“This is how you cut into something that is sweating,” Nolan said to nobody but himself.
The black luxury sedan pulled up to the curb. Its dark tinted windows hiding the two men inside from curious glances. This wasn’t the part of town expensive cars drove through. Not at noon on a Tuesday at least. On a Friday or Saturday night you could catch a glimpse of a senator’s Cadillac or a business man’s Mercedes steering up to a corner for some “company” or “party favors”, but this was unusual. Even more unusual was that the bar the men had pulled up to was open and serving.
“You’re sure he’s in there? Like, he’s actually in there?” the man in the passenger seat asked.
“Oh he’s in there. I saw him with my own two eyes after the bartender called me,” the driver responded.
“So, he’s been at a bar in a bad part of town for the past few days?”
“That is what I’m telling you, and that is why we’re here. I have to get him out of there, and unfortunately I need your help to do it.”
“I don’t know man, this all seems stupid. If my parole officer finds out that I’m not in the half way house and down here…at this bar wearing this again I’m screwed. It will be throw away the key and buh-bye to my chances of ever seeing my boy again.”
“You’re doing me a huge favor. You’re doing him a huge favor. You know we’ve got a good influence on the Judges, and the District Attorney is a personal friend. I don’t think you need to worry about it,” the driver said. “Now come on let’s go get him.”
The driver reached for the door handle and stopped to look back at his passenger.
“You can do this. You were really something back in the day.”
“Yeah, that’s why I’m in the sorry state I’m in now. I can’t believe I’m about to get out and blow up this car just to get his attention,” the passenger complained. “I can see the charges now. Property damage in excess of $100,000, wreck less endangerment of civilians, attempted murder of known law protectors, domestic terrorism, I mean those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head.”
“I already told you, I can take care of all that. Beside, this car is a spare and I bought this bar a long time ago. I wouldn’t press any charges. It’s all insured.”
“Wait, you own a god damn bar?! The Night Avenger owns a bar in the east side?!”
“Not just me. We all do, it’s actually Justice Corps property.”
“This day just keeps getting weirder.”
“Weird is relative. Now, let’s focus. We need to make this fight look real to get his attention. You go ahead and blow up the car after I get out. Then we trade a few shots, make a big show out of it, and hopefully that will snap him out of whatever funk he is in and he’ll come out. Got it?” Night Avenger asked.
“Fine. Fine. Let’s just get this over with. I know how this ends up. I’m going to get my ass kicked again when he comes out. You better have that check cleared and in my account.”
“I do, Bill. Besides, you were one of the few who could take it. I wouldn’t have asked anyone else. The Suicide Bomber was the only one he ever had to actually try to fight. Now le-”
“First,” Bill interjected. “I never liked that name. The Daily Global newspaper used that name as a headline and it stuck. I’m not frickin’ suicidal. Secondly, it still hurts when he hits me. Hurts like hell man…and finally, you asked lots of people. Nobody else was stupid enough to say yes. Now go ahead and get out. Let’s get this over with.”
“Actually, you’re the only person I called that wasn’t on the team,” Night Avenger corrected as he opened his door and got out, moving a good distance across the street from his car. His all black form cast a long and imposing shadow over the pavement. Bill sat in the car watching the leather caped figure move. This was the first time he had ever seen the man in daylight, but it didn’t make him any less intimidating. Lightweight armor covered his body which led to a cowl that was formed into a perpetual scowl. The red goggles really sealed the deal, and made him look like a crimson eyed demon of the night; except for the open mouth which revealed his chin. Bill thought it was odd how nice he actually was compared to how he looked.
Night Avenger made it to the corner that he was going to use for cover, and then gave the go ahead nod. Bill nodded back, and opened his car door. He stood letting his 5’10” frame stretch. His bright orange fire suit reflected brightly. It was his old costume from back in the day when he tried to make a name for himself as a costumed criminal. It was so over the top. The suit even had fake flames made of plastic that came off his helmet and over sized gloves. Apparently, it was something that Night Avenger had kept as a trophy after Bill got his ass kicked and sent to jail the first time. Bill hadn’t put on a costume since then. He couldn’t shake the way his ex wife had mocked it when she brought their son to visit him in prison. His son, who was only two at the time, liked the bright colors.
“I can’t believe I let that creepy bastard talk me into wearing this again,” he muttered.
He steadied himself in the middle of the street beside the car. He wanted to blow it up and cause only minimal damage to the surrounding buildings. He hunched over and concentrated. He was trying to do something he hadn’t done in a very long time, something that he swore, for his son, to never do again. His brow furrowed as the air around him started to dance like it did on hot asphalt in the distance. Somehow he became brighter in his center and the light spilled outward to his extremities. The Night Avenger ducked lower into cover.
“That’s right Bill, nice and easy like we talked about,” he thought. “Make it like a lightening flash so we get a nice loud thundering boom.”
Suddenly the bar door slammed open. Hard enough to leave it firmly indented into the wall.
“STOP,” the figure in the doorway demanded.
Bill stopped glowing and stumbled back gazing at the slouched figure in the doorway. He hadn’t seen him in person in years. He was used to the tall chiseled figure that you could break stone on, but that wasn’t the sight he saw now. Instead Alpha Citizen was slumped and wobbling in a grungy stained t-shirt and ripped jeans. His jet black hair was uncombed and he had a good couple of days of growth in his beard. He looked like a hilarious shadow of the clean cut boy scout everyone loved. He turned his back to the two costumed men revealing he was at least still wearing his long blue cape.
“You two better get…get in here and stop making a spec…specta…asses of yourselves,” he slurred. He didn’t walk so much as he floated in air while moving his feet. He haphazardly levitated from side to side as he went back to his bar stool.
Bill blinked in disbelief until he was startled by the hand that gripped his shoulder.
“It’s worse than I thought,” Night Avenger said.
“Holy shit…is he…is he drunk? How? I mean, I didn’t think that was possible.”
“We’d better get in there.”
Night Avenger walked up to the bar entrance before turning to look back at Bill.
“And when you come in, yank this damned door shut behind you.”
Bill did as he was instructed and found the two men in capes at the bar. Night Avenger sat on a stool to Alpha Citizen’s right so Bill took the one on his left to even out the trio. The bartender wore a look of worry and mental exhaustion. He had apparently been awake long enough to hear all the woes of a super hero. Alpha Citizen informed the bar keep that they’d each be having a whiskey straight up.
“I think you might’ve had enough, sir,” the bartender replied.
“Ted, don’t be rude. Give our friends some drinks, and keep mine coming too.”
Ted looked at Night Avenger and then glanced at Bill before returning his gaze to the man in goggles. Night Avenger nodded and Ted pulled down a new bottle of whiskey, cracked it open and poured three equal glasses. He handed them out and then put the bottle in front of Night Avenger.
“I’m going home. You guys take it from here. I’ve been up all night with him.”
“Don’t worry Ted. We’ll take good care of him,” Avenger replied.
Bill watched as Alpha Citizen pulled an odd looking flask out of his belt. It was a dense dark metal and had a radioactive decal on the front. He opened it and dropped a few glowing green drops of liquid into his whiskey, before securing the flask away again. As he did so a bit of sand fell off him and landed on the floor. Alpha Citizen swirled the beverage with his finger and took it down in one drink. His throat pushed the mixture down and he coughed. Then he stared at the big screen behind the bar.
“You’ve got a little moon dust on you still,” Night Avenger commented.
“Yeah…I hadda…Hadda fly up…and get muh flasssk. I heard ya guys in da car… go head and tell Suici…uh, Bill here what’s in it.”
“Look Bill, one time,” Avenger began before taking a sip off his glass. “This one time, Dr. Genocide actually devised a way to hurt Citizen here. He found some of the minerals around the portal that brought Alpha to our dimension, and after irradiating them with one of his death beams he found out that the stones actually could hurt him. He nearly killed Citizen but the Justice Corps showed up and stopped him. Afterwards, I realized that we should probably keep the stones just in case, because you never know right? Anyway, I told Citizen all about it and he agreed. So we hid the stones away in a safe place. But then this one time we were at Liberty Eagle’s bachelor party, and we had all had a few and felt that Citizen was left out. So we guessed that he could get drunk too if we used the minerals in miniscule doses and added some booze. Well we worked it out and Citizen got drunk for the first time. That didn’t go too well though because his powers got a little out of control and well you saw the news the next day. The whole Justice Corps had to pretend an alien invasion happened just to cover it up. It wasn’t our finest moment and we weren’t proud of ourselves at all, but after awhile we kinda forgot about the whole thing.”
“But I dinnit,” Citizen said. “I membered where we hid the stones n’ made sum’ more of the booze. Then put it in one of these lead flasks so I could carry it ‘round. I didn’t think anybody would notice, but Night Avenger did.”
“I did. And we got Citizen some help and put it all behind us. I even went and hid all of the stuff on the moon. Apparently, not well enough.”
Citizen smirked and brushed a little more moon dust off of his shoulder. Bill was speechless. He looked at the other two men with wide eyes. Then he took a gulp of his own drink and winced as it burned on the way down.
“So you’re telling me that the greatest hero of all time…is an alcoholic?”
“Bingo,” Citizen quipped while pointing a finger in the air.
“Wow. Just wow. All those years of plotting your destruction through outrageous plans and all we had to do was hand you a bottle of cheap scotch and some magic rocks. This is crazy.”
Night Avenger poured Bill and Himself another glass which they each gulped down. Then he put the bottle away. He looked at Citizen and put a hand on his slumped back.
“Go ahead and give me the flask. It’s almost empty anyway. Then we can talk about it,” he said. Night Avenger reached for the flask and was met with a stiff shrug. The shrug knocked him off the bar stool and on to the floor. Bill scooted back unsure of what to do.
“I’m not done,” Alpha Citizen declared.
“I know you don’t think you are, but you need to put the damn thing down, Alpha,” Night Avenger said as he struggled to his feet. “Bill, take it from him.”
Alpha Citizen kicked the bar stool into Night Avenger and sent him sliding across the floor. Then he turned to fix his gaze on Bill. His eyes started to shimmer and glow.
“Don’t make me hurt you, too,” Alpha Citizen warned.
Bill was unsure of what to do. In fact he was down-right afraid. He looked over to Night Avenger’s body on the ground.
“Did you just kill him?” Bill asked.
“No way, the guy has taken much worse. Now if you’ll excuse me I’ve a drink to finish,” Alpha Citizen declared. He reached for his flask and filled a new glass with the exotic concoction. Just as he raised the drink to his mouth Night Avenger reached around from behind him and shoved a glowing rock into his mouth. The reaction was immediate and violent. Alpha citizen bucked forward in a gagging motion that crumpled the bar in front of him.
“Now! Hit him with everything you’ve got, Bill!” Night Avenger demanded as he sprinted for the door. Bill hunched over without hesitation and channeled everything he could. Night Avenger barely made it out the door before the blast lifted him off his feet and slammed him into the black sedan parked in front of the bar. The entire back of the bar erupted in a giant blast. Somehow the blast was contained to only the bar. None of the surrounding property was damaged, except for a few scorch marks.
Night Avenger slid down against the car. His suit armor had absorbed most of the shock, but he had still felt the impacts. He removed his goggles just in time to see the glowing rock and metallic flask bounce out from where the door used to be. Inside, Bill had cleared them away from Alpha Citizen.
“Nice work, Bill. Just like we planned,” Night Avenger said as he secured the flask and rock in a special container. “You really contained that blast. I think you’ve been practicing.”
Bill walked out from beyond the rubble with Alpha Citizen over his shoulders.
“Planned my ass! You said we would be able to talk him down. I thought he killed you,” Bill shouted.
“Well we had to do something. Besides, now you can say you took down Alpha Citizen. Can anybody in your old crew say the same?” Night Avenger asked.
“Don’t even try to play my ego. Look at this place. I’m so going back to jail.”
Bill set Alpha Citizen on the ground next to Night Avenger, and then he surveyed the scene.
“Oh yeah,” he began. “I’m definitely going back. How long until the cops get here? I’d like to at least try and call my son so I can say good-bye.”
“You’re not going to jail, and the cops aren’t coming. Well, not once I make a call to the Corps headquarters and tell them it is under control,” Avenger responded. “You did great, Bill. You proved that I can count on you. I won’t forget that. Thank you, and I’m sure when Alpha Citizen wakes up he will thank you as well.”
“Somehow, I sincerely doubt that,” Bill said. “This costume business is insane. I’m never putting this damn costume on again.”
“Not even for induction into the Justice Corps?” Night Avenger asked.
Bill smiled at that, and thought of his son.
“Well, maybe I could be persuaded.”
The Story of Blue Belle
My first memory of life was of their kiss.
His calloused-looking fingers curled themselves in her copper hair while she smiled as their lips pressed together. The gesture seemed odd to me but I stared, enchanted by it and them. Her arms held me close to her breast and I heard very clearly the fast thumping that thumped within her. It deafened my ears but I could also hear his. My first sound was of their hearts beating, my first scent was of her Jasmine flower perfume and the faint aroma of powdery rose of the workshop room; my first touch was of her warmth from the skin against my little body, and my first sight was of their kiss. It was soft and it didn’t last long, but their noses still caressed each other before they opened their eyes to gaze into their souls—his slate gray reunited with her fresh spring grass green.
Joy—I knew not what it was in my first moments, but it was the word that came to me as I observed their expressions. Joy and love. A love so strong, pure, and true that it breathed life into me. I knew the man who kissed this woman. He was the one who built me and their love is what created my soul.
“My love,” the woman called him, “did you give her a name?” Her voice chirped like the morning sun of spring.
Looking down at me with her, he hummed. His voice spoke deep like the calming crashing of waves of the sea—soothing and strong. “I made her for you, my dearest. She is yours to name.”
The woman studied me further. She looked at my tube-curled golden hair, my clear brown eyes, my pale cheeks, my painted red lips, my sapphire blue dress and blue bonnet to match on top of my head, and the black buckled shoes on my tiny feet. She stared at my colors and an idea sparkled in her eyes.
“I shall call her Blue Belle. Our beautiful little Blue Belle.”
Once upon a time, in the year 1862, there was a young doll maker. He was a Frenchman who traveled across Europe in hopes of settling down in a town far from the city, where he could practice his craft of ball-jointed doll making. One day, he fell in love with a woman in a small town with the most beautiful green eyes he had ever seen. He opened shop in her town and she loved the dolls he made; even when ball-jointed dolls were a new craft and weren’t too immediately fond of by society. This woman was the first to love his creations in her little town.
To propose, the doll-maker crafted a doll of fine beauty and detail—the most stunning doll he had ever created in his career. He was not rich. He was an outsider in her town and all he knew was how to make dolls. He didn’t have much to offer her, but she was more than satisfied with his love alone. She accepted his proposal and loved the doll as if it became her own child. She named it Blue Belle.
Years of happy marriage together passed until the couple could at last have a child of their own. However, the baby did not cry when she was born. Although breathing, the doctor predicted that the child would not survive a day after her birth. The doll-maker and his wife were devastated with the news, until they heard their baby crying from the nursery. In her crib where they left their baby girl, the Blue Belle doll was lying beside the baby as she wailed and cried.
No one knew how the doll got there.
Ysabel, the baby girl, grew up happily and healthy with her parents for many years after her miraculous birth. She was very well behaved—always helping her mother clean after supper, always smiling, always expressing love to her parents, and she shared their love for the dolls her father created. At school, she was considered the most well-mannered student a teacher could ask for. But she was also the quietest and most reserved child in class. She wouldn’t play with the other children, but would rather spend many hours of the day watching her father carve, paint, and dress the dolls he sold—and if Ysabel promised to be careful, her father would allow her to play with the dolls as well. For a young girl of seven, it wasn’t unusual to play with dolls for Ysabel will eventually out grown them, but she never tried to intermingle with the other children or any other adult besides her parents—If necessary.
“Father’s dolls are the only friends I need,” Ysabel would reply when she was asked why she never talked to the other children.
How she played with the dolls was similar to how people would interact. She would talk to the dolls and respond as if she were engaged in a back and forth conversation—with their own thoughtful opinions and responses. Her strange behavior did not go unnoticed by the village or her parents. It concerned them, but Ysabel was their precious child. They did their best to understand her, as they knew of the isolation to have an intense fascination no one else could really appreciate.
For every doll that was sold, Ysabel acted as if she were saying goodbye to a dear friend. Since she had no real friends, her father decided to craft for her a doll of her own—much like how he made one for his wife. Equally perfect and equally divine. “Think of him as your angel to take care of you and to watch over you,” the doll-maker told his daughter. “Your guardian when your mother and I are not around to protect you. A companion to guide you and accompany you in life’s journey; and a friend to help you smile so you won’t ever be lonely. You are the most precious thing to my heart, Ysabel. You and your mother, my beautiful little doll.” She loved the doll he’d given her and played with it always, along with her mother’s Blue Belle doll.
Then one night, tragedy struck on the Ysabel’s house.
As mentioned before, ball-jointed dolls were not an immediate popular craft in a small, reserved village. The doll-maker had many troubles in the beginning and many more when he managed to capture the heart of the most beautiful woman in town. A drunken group of five bigots, prejudice against the dolls with a leader known for his acute distaste against the Ysabel’s family, raided their home. First they attacked the shop; the family woke at the sound of the windows smashing and porcelain heads of the dolls shattering. Ysabel was the first to cry, screaming about the dolls being murdered. Quickly, her parents hid her under the floorboards and warned her not to come up or make a sound no matter what sounds she’d hear. Ysabel remained as quiet as she possibly could, gripping the doll her father made for her and the Blue Belle doll in her arms as she heard the men storm into her home, beat her father, and disgrace her mother.
“Ey! Where’d thad brat of yurs go? Thad creepy liddle bitch! She’d be nice, ain’t she boys?”
Beaten nearly to death and raped beyond salvation, Ysabel’s parents were at the men’s mercy but they would not breathe a word of their daughter’s location. With a sudden slam of a heavy boot from the leader, Ysabel squeaked under the floorboards and she was discovered. The leader tore through the room to find the trapdoor and he grabbed the little girl by her collar when she had tried to escape. She dropped her doll in the dirt and dust of the underground, and screamed for her parents while gripping little Blue Belle in her tiny arms.
When Ysabel’s father tried to escape his assailants, they punched and kicked him back down—cracking more ribs and having him gasp for impossible air.
When the Ysabel’s mother tried to escape her rapists, they punched her down and slammed her face back on the wood before pinning her body back to submission. A water pitcher had fallen from the counter when the leader searched for her daughter and the doll-maker’s wife reached for a piece of the glass. Grabbing it, she stabbed her assaulter in the neck to get him off. She left the piece in his neck to bleed to death and reached for her daughter next. The leader stopped her and she scratched his eyes. He dropped Ysabel and the little girl protected her mother’s doll with her elbow.
Ysabel heard her mother scream for her to run. She heard the man call her mother a ‘whore’. She heard her mother get pushed and then there was a very loud SNAP. Ysabel turned around and saw her mother on the floor, her head under the legs of a fallen rocking chair. Ysabel’s father couldn’t call out to his own wife when she laid unmoving.
With two dead bodies in the room, the other two attackers started to panic. This was going too far but it was too late—their leader bellowed. They finish what they started, and he reached for Ysabel. The little girl had not looked away from her dead mother. The sorrow of her body and the anger towards these men, Ysabel suddenly screamed and from the trapdoor, a knife stabbed the leader’s arm before he could touch her again.
A stranger crawled out of the trapdoor, holding the hot metal blade that burned the flesh it impaled—allowing not a drop of blood to be spilt from the wound. The doll-maker recognized the stranger the moment he saw him through the blood that clouded his vision, though he could not believe it. Wearing the same clothes he stitched and bearing the same features he designed, this stranger resembled the doll he crafted for his daughter.
With eyes that glowed red like the devil’s wrath, the stranger smirked and hissed, “I’m going to kill you….”
“….all of you,” Ysabel finished for the stranger, whose hazel violet eyes glowed with rage just the same towards the men who murdered her mother.
One by one, the stranger killed the attackers. He sliced off the leader’s arm first before digging the blade under his ribs and then dragging the blade down the flesh of his thigh just so he could survive a little longer. The scent of burning flesh sullied the air and the other men tried to leave. The doll-like stranger did not let them. He trapped them in Ysabel’s home and he reveled in carving their bodies before the shock and pain drove them mad to death. The stranger’s knife raped the men of their dignity the way they violated Ysabel’s mother and he made sure to have them cry in the luscious pain they shared with Ysabel’s father. The stranger did everything Ysabel wanted him to do and more—and she loved their screams.
The leader had a gun in his jacket pocket. He pointed it at Ysabel, his hand shaking from lack of strength and his eye sight unclear. A shoot boomed into the room and Ysabel’s father heard the stranger call out a name from the hallway before the air finally came silent. The name he heard was Blue Belle. Feeling more concern for his daughter than the unfeasible events that played before him, the doll-maker crawled to Ysabel’s side. When he saw her face, she was without an eye. Funny thing was, it wasn’t the doll-maker’s daughter whom the bullet hit. It was the Blue Belle doll that was also missing an eye.
When Ysabel woke up, the doll her father made for her was beside her on the bed—no longer life-size and moving on its own. The doll-maker also waited by the bedside with his wounds unskillfully mended. “You’re not afraid of me?” she asked her father when he smiled, and he replied to her, “How could I be afraid of the child who saved my life and avenged her mother’s murder?” with the utmost sincerity. Ysabel was so relieved by his words that tears drenched the tightly wrapped bandage over her missing her. Little did she knew that her life was never going to return to the truly happy days she once knew.
The doll-maker left town with her daughter. They knew they had to leave and start anew somewhere far away. They buried their wife and mother, giving her the proper burial she deserved, and they burned the bodies of their assaulters in their house. Father and daughter traveled from one town to the next—some were large cities and some were small towns. The doll-maker never let the two of them stay for very long. Only long enough to open shop, sell a few dolls for money, and then they would move on to the next town.
It wasn’t because the doll-maker feared their identities to be revealed and the two of them to be separated. It was so Ysabel’s father could fine a proper wife and mother for his daughter—someone who shared a love for the ball-jointed dolls and had the same shade of green eyes as she did, which held compassion and acceptance. Once it was confirmed that none of the women in town had her exact shade, then the doll-maker and his daughter would move on.
A mother with a gentle soul and those same beautiful green eyes; yes, that was to be the proper mother for Ysabel. If a woman was false, then there was no need for her.
Years passed this way—the constant moving, Ysabel’s new education becoming the craft of doll making, and the relentless searches for a replacement mother. Ysabel herself didn’t complain about this new way of living, so long as she had her dolls and her father. She was fine with not making friends or acquaintances with other people, so long as she had her father’s dolls for company instead. Then in a smaller, poor village near the ocean, Ysabel met a thirteen-year-old girl, same age as her, named Clarisse.
Clarisse approached Ysabel first and was really friendly with her. She was also very persistent, which was something Ysabel wasn’t comfortable with. She was more acquainted with the eerie eyes of rejection and the soft mumbling of rumors that scorned her and her dolls. When Ysabel tried to ignore Clarisse, the sea village girl would continue talking as if she were completely oblivious. She admitted that the village was financially suffering from their poor skill at fishing, which was where most of the income came from, and there weren’t a lot of children since families would often leave for a better life—so Clarisse was very happy when Ysabel and her mother moved in. No one had ever really said that to Ysabel before and slowly, she listened to Clarisse a little more.
However because the village was small and low on potential marriageable women, there wasn’t a single pair of green eyes possessed by either of them. Ysabel’s father was ready to leave but Ysabel pleaded her father to stay a little longer. It was the first and only time she ever asked him for a request, but he was still adamant on finding a woman to be Ysabel’s mother. The doll-maker’s daughter had known of her father’s grief for losing his wife. She watched it turn into his obsession and eat away the caring father she used to know all these years. She saw the violence he would sometimes display, never to her but to the woman he attempted to court and the people who taunted them. Ysabel witnessed his episodes and she never stopped her father or tell him different. Only at the little village by the sea did Ysabel finally tell him a secret of what he could do so that they may remain a little longer.
“Make a doll, Father. Craft a doll in Mother’s image with the same eyes you love. Think of her as you craft it. Use the love you have for her to create a soul. Give it a purpose and I’ll help give it a physical form like before—when Mother died, and I used the doll you gave me to avenge her. I can do that, Father.”
The doll-maker immediately went to work. His new obsession became making the perfect doll in his wife’s image so that she could come back to their daughter—come back to him. So long as they could stay in the little village by the sea with Clarisse, Ysabel didn’t mind her Father’s newfound madness.
The two girls became close friends. Ysabel listened more to Clarisse. Clarisse never stopped talking and invited her new friend for dinner and sleepovers. Clarisse’s parents were also very nice to Ysabel and had wanted to meet her father as well since they were the political leaders of the village. “Father is busy working,” Ysabel would answer, and that was all she would say about it.
Ysabel still played with her dolls and Clarisse became the first, and soon the last, person whom she would ever willingly allow to touch her them. She shared her views to her new friend that dolls are alive. They have souls and Ysabel’s father has the ability to create souls for every doll he crafted, without even realizing it. It was because of his love for crafting that such tiny, little souls could be born and only Ysabel could hear them since she is also a product of his making. The dolls cannot move on their own, nor could they talk to their owners. Is that why you move around so much, Clarisse asked her and Ysabel told her no. It was because she allowed her doll, Wrath, to kill the murderers who took her mother away. Clarisse accepted listening to this and more.
One day, the doll-maker was near completion of the doll-imitation of his deceased wife and Ysabel was readying herself to meet with Clarisse. The sun was just about to set, letting in the hues of red and orange to reflect off the ocean’s surface through the windows of their home when there became a knock at the front door. A police officer was at the door and Clarisse’s voice was heard screaming behind him.
“There’s the freaks!”
Outside Ysabel’s home was a mob of the villagers with the police officers that held bandages from bureaus of larger, more well-known cities—a few the doll-maker and his daughter had lived and left. They came for the family of criminals who not only killed the men that killed Ysabel’s mother, but also assaulted and dishonored the women who had the ‘wrong shade’ of green eyes. Since Ysabel had confessed to Clarisse about what happened that night and why they traveled from place to place, their actions could not be pleaded as self-defense and the people who rejected them would not accept such a plea anyway.
Ysabel knew that the crime of dishonor was a lie against her father..
As the police were dragging the doll-maker and his daughter from their new home to the police carriage, the captain informed Clarisse’s family that they did a great service to society and will be given a hefty reward that would replenish the poor village for many years. They called Clarisse a hero. When a police officer took Ysabel’s Wrath and Blue Belle doll away, she struggled—screaming and claiming that no one touches her dolls.
“No, just me right?” Clarisse picked up pieces of coral rocks from the sea shore and threw them at Ysabel. A few other villagers started copying her to throw at Ysabel and her father. “You’re the spawn of the devil! Go rot in hell where you belong!”
One of the rocks missed Ysabel entirely and instead hit the Blue Belle doll. The already broken porcelain face cracked more and Ysabel screamed bloody murder. With the police holding her, she couldn’t cover her face and allowed all of the village to watch how the corner of her lip cracked like the doll into a wide, rigid smile—the same damage then done to the Blue Belle doll.
Seeing this, Clarisse ran to the police officer that held the two dolls and yanked away the Blue Belle one. “Did you forget to share this little secret with me, my friend? Any damage done to this filth will be done to you? Then let’s make that ugly face of yours prettier!” She raised the doll up to smash the doll on the reefs. Right before she could, her hands were sliced clean off over her head.
An officer laid on the sand with his head nearly severed from his shoulders and Wrath caught the Blue Belle doll before it hit the ground with Clarisse’s dismembered hands.
“Now you’re going to die…” Wrath hissed, and Ysabel finished, “….Clarisse.” Her one visible hazel violet eye was glowing, like how it did all those years ago.
Wrath stabbed Clarisse, multiple times. The last one he stabbed deeper into her chest and turned the blade so that her screams would be nothing but total agony when it echoed throughout the beach. The villagers started to run away, even Clarisse’s parents, fearful of this new stranger who just appeared out of nowhere while the other police officers took out their guns. They shoot at Wrath and he allowed the bullets to hit him. He relished in the terror on their faces when they watched his wounds heal instantly, as if they didn’t happened. He wanted to show them that their weapons would not give him hurt or cause him to bleed, even when a bullet had hit straight through his head.
Then he would play with them, with his coal hot blade like the first time. Wrath killed all of them, sparing Ysabel’s father who once again could only watch these impossible events. He watched how his daughter walked over to Clarisse’s bleeding body for her last moments of life.
“You were never my friend.” Then her soul drifted away to death.
Ysabel took off the bandages that had covered her missing eye all five years and rolling down her face were tears of blood. The wound left by the betrayal of her friend bled through her missing eye as she screamed and cried in her grief and anguish. The tears and the blood that drizzled on the sand and her shrieks were like listening to a dying animal—it was painful to listen for the doll-maker.
When he tried to approach her, however, Wrath had returned and threatened Ysabel’s father not to touch her. If the doll-maker had been a good father and protected his daughter like how he was supposed to instead of sulking over his dead wife, then this wouldn’t have happened. Claiming that finding a suitable mother was for Blue Belle’s sake, Wrath didn’t want the doll-maker to make him laugh.
“Wrath, stop it.” Ysabel demanded her doll not to talk to her father in such a manner, but she dare not say more to defend him, as a part of her agreed with Wrath’s words.
Ysabel’s father did not fear Wrath, even when he should. But seeing how much pain his daughter was in ignored that instinct. He reached for her again and brought her to his arms to hold. He caressed her, kissed her, and apologized over and over for what he’s done to her.
Clarisse’s father had come back with a gun and a few men who’d also ran away at first to get weapons. The one who fell from the bullet was the doll-maker with his daughter still in his arms. Wrath turned his rage on them and brutally murdered the men—their weapons failing to protect themselves from him. Ysabel crawled out of her father’s arms and became hysterical over the blood and the wound—pleading him not to die and leave her. He cupped her right cheek, where she didn’t have the broken crack on her face, and his hazel grey eyes showed only sweet adoration for his daughter and the death that had crept to claim him.
“My beautiful little doll….p-please f-forgive me.” And then he dies.
With his death, Clarisse’s and the town’s betrayal, anything sweet or pure that was left snapped inside Ysabel. Wrath could feel something happening inside her; something darkening and evil. When Ysabel screamed again, birds flew from neighboring trees far from the village and animals scurried away from their homes to get away from the dark energy released from Ysabel. The windows of Ysabel’s home were broken and the villagers quivered at the sound of such a monstrous screech while they armed themselves or tried to gather their families to leave.
Leaving was futile for anyone. From the doll-maker’s workshop and through the front doors of his home emerged six dolls with larger physical forms like Wrath—one of them being the masterpiece Ysabel’s obsessively crafted.
“Kill them….I WANT THEM ALL DEAD!! LET THIS VILLAGE BURN BACK DOWN TO HELL!!”
By Ysabel’s command, Wrath and the new six dolls went on the hunt. Every soul in the village–every man, woman, child, and elderly—were all sent to damnation. Her Wrath that was fueled by the Lust for their blood fed her Gluttonous hunger for the injustice done to her. Her Slothful feelings were Envious of the families that comforted each other when pleading for mercy, making her feel Greedy for a more painful demise on them all. Her seven dolls answer her desires and physically caused the village to burn for the sake of their mistress’s Pride.
No one was safe and everything burned, just like Ysabel wanted. She didn’t watch it burn. She stayed by her father’s body—caressing his head, holding him against her broken heartbeat, and kissing his cool, dead face.
Ysabel only looked up when she heard a familiar voice cry ‘monster’.
Clarisse’s mother became the last survivor of the village. She was being dragged by the hair in Wrath’s grip when he returned with the other six dolls. He had a feeling that Ysabel wanted the honors. He gave her his knife and she accepted it, holding it to the woman’s throat.
“Silly. I’m not a monster,” Ysabel said, tilting her head to the right so the gaping hole that had once been her left eye was revealed for the horrified woman to see. “Father says I’m beautiful. So tell me, please. Don’t you think I look pretty?”
Ysabel slashed the woman’s throat and as she laid on the ground, drowning in her filthy blood, Ysabel constantly stabbed her—over and over and over again.
Confessions of Daisy and Margo
“And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?”- T.S Eliot
~ ~ ~
She’s the girl who got a date to every homecoming dance. Well, the first three. The last dance is still up for grabs. Some lucky guy will ask her, and she’ll always say yes (even though she said she has to “think about it”. She used it all three times. I guess it worked). She picked me last year, but I won’t ask again. She’s intimidating. Somehow. All the guys in our friend group have had crushes on her. Her scope is bigger than our nerd group though. She’s shot down an athlete or two and even the band kids. No clique or stereotype can escape those killer blue-grey eyes.
She walks the halls of Living Hope High School very single, very independent. And me? I’m the awkward friend she’s known since the 3rd grade. I’m the awkward friend who wishes she liked me back. I took her to homecoming and visited her at work. I didn’t have to tell her my feelings though, right? Couldn’t she tell by the way I joked around with her? Jared thinks she believes she’s too good for us nerds. I don’t know. All I know is the Friendzone is a dark, scary place.
Anyway, she’s cute and short. That girl is always happy –smiling, laughing, joking around. I don’t think there’s a serious bone in her body. Her obsession with cats is hilarious, and she also runs track. It’s freaking awesome to see her at practice five days a week and track meets. And she plays video games. Basically an angel.
Oh, her name is Melissa.
The blaring school bell ended my daydreams of Melissa. I was being pushed along the hallway, a stampede of tardy students shoving me right into my Anatomy class. Here we go again.
“Please class. Stop your talking, okay? Class has begun. Sit down now. Okay,” requested Mrs. Royal in her quiet, one-tone voice. She only sounded different when she talked about her cats. I like cats, but she made me not want to. Her lessons always included her cats. Or her grandson. Yes, we know he has a blood disease, and we feel bad.
“Lucas Garrett,” droned Mrs. Royal.
“Here,” I mumbled, already feeling my eyes falling, droopy.
Mrs. Royal continued calling role, her monotone already putting our class to sleep. My mind readied itself for a long, long hour of her chirping about cells and mitochondria (the powerhouse of the cell. I learned something in that class). But I was determined to stay awake so I looked at the homework board:
Reproduction system crossword
Read pages 69-80 due tomorrow
I rolled my eyes, trying not to laugh. Mrs. Royal teaching the reproduction system? It would probably be the most awkward thing in the world. It was. The rocket sperm animation on the PowerPoint presentation was enough for me. I doodled and glanced back at Melissa, hoping to catch her looking at me. But she wasn’t looking at me. Actually, the seat was empty. She wasn’t one to skip class, and she was at lunch earlier.
“Make sure to read pages 69-80 and do the crossword. It is due tomorrow, okay– “ began Mrs. Royal.
“Bingo,” cried a student from the back of the room. Mrs. Royal Bingo. Even Mrs. Royal knew about it. She looked upset while those who were awake laughed.
Before she could say another word, the bell rang freedom. The rest of the anatomy students woke up and everyone shuffled to their next class. But I was on a mission. Melissa would be in the Pre-Calc. room, but her seat was empty again. I crossed the hall into Bible class instead. Did she go home sick?
Roll call flew by, and Mr. Knight tried to lecture. The guys’ voices echoed through the room, and they didn’t care about what Mr. Knight said. I didn’t really either. I thought about her again. Melissa had been at lunch and seemed fine, laughing and joking and-
“Lucas,” called Mr. Knight across the room.
“For the second time, what is the answer?”
“Jesus.” Jesus was always the answer.
“No. Satan is the answer. Pay attention. Do you even have your book?” I glanced down at my desk. I forgot it in my quest to find Melissa.
“Go get it. Now.”
I decided to take the hallway that led to the east stairwell. The east stairwell was forbidden because of hormonal teenagers in a private school; even frontal hugs were illegal. I felt rebellious after he called me out in class I guess. The stairwell was surprisingly empty. It ended at a door that opened to a hallway that goes either to the boys’ locker room, the gym, or the stage. Small private school problems –the theater stage is in the gym.
As I passed the stage, a crying sound stopped me. I wanted to keep going, but I was curious. Who would be crying on the stage? I looked in and the darkness was inhaling, exhaling. I’d been in haunted houses before so it didn’t scare me. I got out my phone instead, another rebellious act. The light showed a figure sitting against a door on wheels. The girl’s shaking knees were brought to her chest. Her head rested there. Breaths came in harsh, uneven bursts as if she ran a race. Her hands held a light blue hoodie, her fingers moving across the fabric. She glanced up, an animal in head lights, her inky mascara all over her red-ish eyes.
It was Melissa.
“Are you okay,” was all I could ask even though I knew she wasn’t. She held up a finger. I don’t think she could talk. Her breathing was still so fast.
I don’t know how to deal with crying girls. I felt uncomfortable, wondering if I should leave. Maybe that’s what she wanted. But she was my friend, and I liked her. So I sat next to her, leaving six inches for Jesus. I turned off my phone so it was just the darkness, a crying Melissa, and the dependable friend. I always imagined being alone with her. Just not on a stage at school.
Her breathing began to slow down. I checked the time. It had been five minutes. How long she had been there?
“I’m sorry,” whispered a voice beside him. I didn’t recognize it. It was hoarse and huskier. I tried to answer but the words just got lost. Maybe it didn’t help that it was still pitch black. And that Melissa was crying and sitting next to me on the school stage.
“I was at the nurse’s office for a stomach ache and I just…this happened on the way back.”
“If you’re not gonna say anything, I would rather be alone. I feel like a freak.”
“No. I just didn’t know what to say,” I answered lamely.
“I get it. No one wants to be around a sad person.” She sniffled as if to get her point across.
“No. I didn’t know about, uhh…this.”
Why couldn’t I say things right? Here my friend was having a panic attack, and I didn’t know what to say. I had seen these before today. I guess I was still in shock. Shock that Melissa was having a panic attack. She seemed so happy all the time. But this made her so…normal. Just like every other high schooler. She was like everyone else.
An awkward silence stretched on and on. I tried again. “I’m the one who should be sorry. I had no idea that you had these.” I still couldn’t say the words because it didn’t fit her. Panic attacks didn’t equal Melissa. “How long has this been going on?” That was a safe way to ask.
“Maybe two years. I get them sometimes.”
“Well, I’m sorry.”
“I haven’t told anyone. You’re the first to find out.”
“I should have known.”
Melissa laughed. It sounded weird. There was no humor or joy in it. “No. You shouldn’t have known. I’m an actor. I’ve played happy my entire life. I think I accidently convinced people that’s all I could be. I’m just a darn great actor is all.”
Acting. She was in the school plays. I suddenly remembered.
“And I fell for it.”
“Sorry but I wanted you to. No one wants to be around a sad person.”
“Is that why you don’t have a boyfriend?” Darn it. The words slipped out. I’m glad it was dark because I’m sure my face was super red. But this was my chance to convince her. This was important even if it was a jump in topics.
Another fake-Melissa laugh. “Well no one likes me.”
“That’s a freaking lie!” Because I like you.
“Has any guy- well besides Eric but whatever- ever told me that he liked me?”
But I bought you a milkshake! Doesn’t that count for…
“I can’t read people’s intensions. Most everything seems like a friendly gesture is all.”
“So I always talk myself out of the idea of someone liking me.”
“Are you kidding? Every guy in our friend group-“ including me “-has had a kind of crush on you.”
There was a pause. “Oh.” was all she said.
“And you’ve had a date to every homecoming.”
“True. But I wasn’t dating any of them. We were friends.”
“Friends that liked you.”
“Yeah. Oh. Why can’t you see that?”
“Because I’m me.”
“What does that even mean?”
“You saw a glimpse of that a few minutes ago.”
“You were sad? So what?”
“No one wants to be around a sad person.”
“Are you always this dramatic?”
I had blown it. My chances with Melissa had just crashed and burned. I was her friend but didn’t know she struggled with this. How had I missed the absences? I missed her teary-eyes and the weird anxious ticks like the way she was running her fingers on that hoodie. She could actually be serious too. It was a strange day.
She broke the silence again. “What do you know about me?”
Random, but I could do this. “You like to act.”
“I actually hate speaking in front of people. I have major stage fright. So you’re sort of right. But not really. Try again.”
“Well, you run track.”
“Eric got me into it. I started running because he was in track. But I like it now. Keeps me in shape even if I’m bad at it.”
“Okay. One more. You’re super independent–“
“Because I’m afraid of commitment and vulnerability.”
“Wow indeed. People know about me, but they don’t know me.”
“Why are you saying all of this?”
“I’m just thinking out loud. Hear me out.”
“Do we even know each other? People only know me for what I do. Everyone is so superficial. There are just actors and idolaters. People believe what they want about others. They paint this flowery existence around someone, turning them in to some sort of idol. It’s selfish. Humans are humans, and you can’t treat someone like that just to suit your idea of him or her.”
“Dang. That was deep.” So no one really knows her? That’s what she was saying. I think.
“Sorry. I read a lot. Two of my favorite books discuss this topic. These two characters are practically objectified to suit what another character wants them to be. They are put on a pedestal. And sorry. I can go on tangents…” I later learned these two books were called The Great Gatsby and Paper Towns. I had asked her girl friends about the books she liked. It’s weird that she used characters in books to describe her feelings…
I wasn’t mad. “Stop apologizing.”
“Sorry. I do that a lot.”
“I know that…well, I know that now.” That got a real-laugh out of her. Score.
Melissa sighed. “But I do the same thing. I mean, I’ve known you since the 3rd grade but do I really know you? I don’t even know your favorite color!”
“Got it. Mine’s purple. Anything else I should know?”
“I had a girlfriend freshmen year.” I felt a light punch on my shoulder. This was the Melissa I was used to seeing.
“No way! I had no clue!”
“Well, she went to a different school. It’s over now obviously.”
“You were saying?”
“I had a girlfriend my freshmen year and my mom has cancer-“
“My mom has cancer.”
Melissa sniffled. “I had no idea. I feel awful.” At least she was sincere.
“Don’t. I haven’t told anyone. She’s doing alright.”
“Okay. One more thing?”
“I’m going to college to study computers. It’s the nerd in me.”
“That’s so cool! You can help me with all my technology issues.”
I laughed. “You can’t use me for my knowledge. Anyway, can I ask you a less deep question?” She was being so open…
“Did you even enjoy homecoming last year? I heard you saying you don’t remember it.”
“It was the best one yet! I said that since it was such a freaking blur. Time flies when you’re having fun.”
I thought I had ruined her night somehow. Well I felt better about that. Maybe I would ask her to this next dance.
She sighed. “I wish people were more open like this. You know, talk about the difficult stuff.”
“Today was a step in the right direction.”
“Maybe we can have more talks like this. Keep getting to know each other.” I sounded so lame. She didn’t seem to care.
“I’ll try. Oh, and one more thing.”
“What’s that?” Please tell me you like me. Please tell me you like me. Confess your undying love for me.
“Don’t act like a victim.” And she was back to the dramatic, serious Melissa. Well, I guess she was just being herself. I needed some time to accept it.
“A victim. The whole Friendzone BS that I hear all the guys talk about. You can’t force someone to like you and blame them for friend-zoning you. The right person will return the feelings. Don’t act like a victim.”
“Will do Pal.” I had been caught.
“Thanks Bud. Now give me a quick hug and get to class you rebel.” Just like that she was back to normal Melissa. Or the normal I thought her to be. This was confusing. But I understood what she had said. No one really knows her.
I expected an awkward side-hug, the usual. Nope. Both her arms were around me. Her head barely reached my chest. A friendly hug but better than nothing. I hugged her back, wishing it would last longer. But that darn bell rang, and she stopped hugging me. I had missed the rest of class and hugging was considered PDA (aka sinful). I was becoming a rebel for this girl.
“See you afterschool. Maybe we all could go to McDonalds or Sonic for some food. You know, the usual.” She wiped her eyes with her jacket and bounced off to her next class like she hadn’t had a panic attack. The actor thing to do.
I watched her go and wondered if things would be different between us. So much had happened but nothing happened at all. We just had a conversation. But there was something about that day I wouldn’t forget. I wouldn’t forget sitting with Melissa on the dark stage as we talked about our lives in a way that wasn’t fake. It was rebellious. It was nice.
Things went back to normal after that day –Melissa the actor, I the awkward friend-zoned friend, and the other guys all “idolaters”. I began to like her less. Don’t get me wrong. I still cared about her a lot. Just not in the same way. More like a friend way. The other guys still talked so highly of her, but I knew better. I knew the truth. I bet they didn’t notice her sad eyes that she hid behind smiles and laughs or her nervous ticks. It was like our little secret.
But that’s okay. Maybe one day she will learn to open up and stop acting all the time.
By the way, Melissa went to her Senior homecoming that year dressed as the Disney princess Belle. She also went alone.