(Originally posted to rec.arts.comics.creative on March 12, 2005)

 

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[Sorry. This is not the return of Abhay Khosla. Just me. Disappointing. Isn’t it?]

 

[In Abhay’s words: This is a series of single-issue stories; each issue is a self-contained attempt to do a superhero story with hopefully a different style than that found in monthly mainstream comics.]

 

[Oh, yeah.. This is Acraphobe; meaning that there is horrible stuff in this story like bad language, sex, violence, and other corrupting stuff that will warp young impressionable minds. So if you have a young impressionable mind, please for the love of God, do not read this story! That is all. Enjoy!]

 

The JONG Company Presents:

 

H H

S S

A A

R R

R E T T U G

G U T T E R

R R

A A

S S

H H

 

N U M B E R

 

2 5

 

b y

 

G u e s t   W r i t e r

 

== Arthur R. Spitzer ==

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Somewhere.

 

Somewhere, there’s a place where the rainbows never end.

 

Somewhere, people sip miracle margaritas while waiting to board space shuttles that will fly them to monstrous space cruisers that will send them on tours to see the colonies on the Moon and Mars. Afterwards, they will travel throughout the solar system and be baptized by the glory of the god named planets. As they wait, a person who looks exactly like Buddy Holly entertains them with the Deep Purple song, “Space Truckin’.”

 

Somewhere, people in gigantic mechanical suits that can transform into monster trucks explore the deepest parts of the Mariana Trench. They will discover an entire lost city populated by sentient plastic aquarium figurines.

 

Somewhere in the city of Nyala, Darfur; bored children send telepathic messages to each other as the virtual reality creation, Dr. Cool J Dog, teaches them about the horrors that occurred in the early twenty-first century when the Janjaweed and civil war infected their land.

 

Somewhere in the city of Makkah, Arabia; two college-age girls (one of Arab descent and the other one Jewish) make out as they sit inside The Ka’bah built by the Prophet Ibraaheem. And no one cares.

 

Somewhere, a small little girl has a tea party with her sentient stuffed animals. She is Queen of the Kingdom of Red Dandelions. And she discusses matters of state with her council of stuffed animals. She will do this till her Mom comes back home from ultra-shopping.

 

Somewhere, a small group of middle-aged men wearing ‘Cheesecake Eater Lad for Pope’ T-shirts walk out of a Virtual-Plex which has a pre-screening of LNH: The Motion Reality and are pleasantly surprised that it didn’t suck.

 

Somewhere, there are a million crosses. People of all sexes, race, size, and age are crucified on them. Each one has a pained expression on his or her face. Each one asks God why he/she/it has forsaken them. Each one waits for his or her chance to die for the sins of mankind. Occasionally tourists will stand next to them to have their picture taken with the self-appointed savior of the world.

 

And somewhere in Destiny City’s tallest building, The Wolfe Tower, a group of policemen gather around a crime scene.

 

 

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A Suicide in Destiny City

 

 

 

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Part I: The Book of Happy Endings

 

The light on the door started to wriggle and squirm. A darkness from the shadows ate away at it. The temperature lowered where the darkness spread. It kept growing and growing until the door became a pool of black. Then right in the middle, something began to reach through. At first it looked like the tips of fingers. Then it looked like a hand. But finally, it looked like a man.

 

“Holy shit,” gasped a policeman who was munching on a donut while he witnessed this transpire. “You’re him! Right?”

 

“No, I’d prefer my hymn shit free, but thank you,” replied the man as he stepped out from the blackness. He was an extremely well-built physically fit middle-aged Japanese man. Covering his eyes were a very dark shade of sunglasses. He was garbed in a mostly black with traces of white costume. In the center of his chest was a yin yang symbol slightly spread apart so that it looked a bit like an ‘S’. One hand of his was bare while the other one was covered by a black glove. The glove gobbled up any light that dared get close to it. He placed his gloved hand on the blackness painting the door. As he touched it, the glove completely absorbed whatever darkness remained. The man’s name was Charlie Hiroshima although he was better known to the world as the Shadowraiser. A long time ago, he had been a superhero. “So — any donuts left?”

 

“Hmm? Oh yeah. Over there. There’s also coffee by the table. Man, it’s starting to feel like a Destiny Patrol reunion here.”

 

“Reunion?” The Shadowraiser raised his eyebrows a bit, but then glancing around the room he realized why the cop had said that. He discovered in one of the corners a costumed woman talking to some of the cops. Chromatic locks of hair flowed from her head and splashed against her shoulders. Each color seemed to have its own personality. The hue of her costume was a heavenly blue that surrounded a silverish center. The center was so reflective that you could see your own face when you looked into it. The woman was Alice Queen. Her other name was The Mirror. She had the power to reflect whatever evil or good a person did right back at them. And as Charlie Hiroshima looked at her, he thought to himself, Damn, she looks young. God, she looks like she’s twenty-five.

 

Alice Queen’s eyes slipped away from the two policemen she was talking to when she spotted Charlie. Her face lighted right up. “Charlie?” she said as she made her way to him. “Charlie! Geeze, it’s been forever! Come here!” She wrapped her arms around him. She was wearing the same perfume she always wore — The perfume that always drove Charlie crazy.

 

“Yeah. It’s been a few years, hasn’t it?” Charlie broke from the embrace. “Last I heard you were in LA, Alice.”

 

“Well, it’s only a teleportation booth away from Destiny City. And I felt I had to come here. This thing — it’s the biggest thing to happen in over ten years.”

 

“Yeah, this thing. So what is it? Suicide? Something worse?”

“All signs seem to be pointing to just a suicide, but I’ve — Oh wait. Here’s the Commissioner. He can probably explain things a little better.”

 

Charlie turned his attention to the man whom Alice had pointed to. “Hi, Mr. Hiroshima. Name’s Chip Hammer. You probably knew my dad, Max.”

 

“Oh right. The former commissioner. So, you’re Max’s boy?”

 

“That would be me. I’m glad both of you could come here. Although it seems kind of a little league problem for you guys. It’s not like some super-villain is threatening to blow up the world. It’s just a suicide.”

 

“Commissioner,” Alice Queen replied, “With all due respect, there hasn’t been a suicide, or murder — or any other crime committed in the last ten years. This is big. And I’m _not_ convinced that it’s just a suicide.”

 

“If I could just interrupt here,” Charlie said, “How did this lady — Umm, what’s her name again?”

 

“Mary McCloud,” answered Commissioner Chip Hammer as he flipped through his note-space.

 

“How did Mary McCloud kill herself? Last time I checked, every single human on Earth was invulnerable to harm. Right?”

 

The Commissioner nodded his head. “She hacked into her teleportation device and spread everyone of her molecules all over Destiny City. We have holographic surveillance jellies that show this happening. It doesn’t get any clearer cut than that. Plus we have a suicide jelly that has her saying goodbye to her husband and kids. If it quacks like a suicide then — well, you know.”

 

“It just doesn’t make sense,” Alice said shaking her head. “She had a husband and two kids. She was one of the top virtual reality programmers in the world. She had access to the best mental healthcare. On paper everything about her life seems perfect. And the interviews with friends and family said she was always happy — at least no signs of anything troubling her. We live in a world where no one should feel like committing suicide. Least of all her.”

 

“Well,” Commissioner Chip Hammer interrupted, “Just because someone’s happy on the outside — well, it doesn’t mean anything. You know?”

 

“Alice?” Charlie said breaking into the conversation, “You think there’s a super-villain involved? Someone who manipulated with this woman’s emotions?”

 

“Well, we’ve certainly faced some in our time. You know the one who could transfer his own despair into his victims’ bodies — He caused that mass suicide in Detroit — What was his name?”

 

The Shadowraiser gave a nod. “The Despair King. Fought him a few times. But — I doubt he did this. He committed suicide years ago.”

 

“Well, there were countless others. People who could have done this.”

 

“And everyone of them is locked away in dreamland,” Charlie pointed out.

 

“Yeah.” All three were silent for a bit. Finally, Alice continued, “I just can’t believe anyone would commit suicide in this world. In this perfect world.”

 

Charlie looked at the Commissioner. “Have your people checked this ladies system logs?”

 

The Commissioner shook his head. “We’ve tried getting in there, but — the password is a very complex one. We’re waiting for a super encryption stripper to arrive here so we can crack into it.”

 

“Would you mind if I gave it a shot?” Charlie responded. “I can create a powerful code breaking device using my shadow glove.”

 

“Sure. Go for it. Hey, Steve!” the Commissioner shouted out to one of his men. “Show these folks the way to the system storage room.”

 

 

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Charlie plucked a blue glob from the jiggling monolith that stood in the center of the storage room. The glob pulsated in his hand. “You know, Alice? The last time I saw you, you actually looked your age.”

 

Alice’s lips slipped into a smile. “It’s called reverse aging. Didn’t you get the memo?”

 

“I get tons of them; quit reading them years ago.”

 

“Well, as a member of the Forever Council; you’re certainly qualified to receive the treatment. In a few years, everyone will be able to look the age they want. You should get it, Charlie. It makes you feel wonderful.”

 

“Maybe. I don’t know. I kind of like aging. It feels like something people are supposed to do. It feels real, you know?”

 

“Dying was something people used to do. But we changed that. Maybe it’s different for men. I guess when men age they get a more distinguished kind of look. They look wiser. More important. When women age — they just get more wrinkled, grayer, and every part of their body starts to sag. I love being twenty again. I love being beautiful again.”

 

“You were always beautiful, Alice.”

 

A slightly embarrassed look hit Alice’s face. “Flatterer. But. You can never be too beautiful, Charlie. Not when you’re a women.” She gave a slight wink.

 

“Yeah. Well,” Charlie said as he looked at the glob in his hand. “We should probably get started on this.”

 

“Right,” Alice said as she also took a glob.

 

“VR-Chew Gum?” Charlie offered a reddish stick to Alice.

 

“What type?”

 

“Cinnamon.”

 

“Mmm. My favorite,” Alice said as she took piece from his hand.

 

Yeah, Charlie thought to himself, I know. As Alice softened the piece of gum in her mouth, the smell of cinnamon started to melt the air. And with that came the memories. Damn the memories. That time they were trapped in a space escape pod after fighting the Asteroid Sphinx. They had barely gotten out. Charlie had received a number of broken bones and too many bruises to even count. Alice didn’t have any injuries. But she never did. Nothing could ever hurt The Mirror. Their pod was drifting into deep space. There was no hope that they’d ever be found by anyone. There was no food or water on board. There was no light. There was just the two of them and a pack of Red Scorpion cinnamon flavored gum. After a couple of days though, their fellow Destiny Patrollers did manage to find them. Sometimes, Charlie wished that they had just gone one more day before being discovered. Charlie popped the piece in his mouth. He sat on the floor in meditative position and closed his eyes. Nano-bots in the gum started to activate. They sped from Charlie’s tongue towards his brain. The blue glob in his hands started to crackle. After awhile, he was connected.

 

Stars and galaxies washed over him. He spotted a comet tracing the sky. He was in virtual space. He saw Alice floating towards him. She made a gesture towards something behind him.

 

“The watchdog looks familiar. Doesn’t he?” Alice said.

 

It was a gigantic half-human and half-lion robotic creature. In two of its hands, it carried a massive greenish looking eye that appeared to be gazing right through him. “The Asteroid Sphinx? Weird. I was just thinking about him.”

 

The Asteroid Sphinx opened its eyes. Eyes that had the blackest secrets of the universe buried within them. There was a contemptuous look in its face. Yet there was also a dark satisfaction on its lips. Like it knew some shadowy horrible secret that would destroy the two heroes. An inescapable doom already written. Eventually, it spoke. [?]Those who wish to enter the realm of Mary McCloud must answer these seven whys. They must find the mirror in the lie. The life in the die. The spider in the fly. The God in the guy. The pit in the sky. The sea in the dry. The cook in the pie. And the storm in the eye.[?]

 

“Hmm. A pit in the sky?” Alice said pondering the riddles. “A cockpit, maybe? And the storm in the eye? Teardrops? What do you think, Charlie?”

 

“I think I have no time for this,” he said as his shadowglove started to blast the Asteroid Sphinx with blackness and complex mathematical algorithms. The Asteroid Sphinx began to crack apart. And a few seconds later, a doorway appeared.

 

“Ladies first,” the Shadowraiser said as he held the doorway open for Alice. Alice slipped in; Charlie followed.

 

 

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The room they entered looked like a library. Shelves with books spread throughout the entire area. A little old lady who looked exactly like the ultimate stereotypical librarian was reading something called ‘Lapping Librarians’. The cover had a couple of very hot young female Librarians completely naked and reading books.

 

“Hmm. Guess when the cat’s away the librarians do play.” Alice Queen smirked a bit after saying that. “So, should we ask her for searching help?”

 

“Oh, she’s probably just reading the articles. Regardless, we might not need too,” Charlie said grabbing a book from the table they were close to. “Call it a hunch, but this could be what we’re after.” He held the book up so that Alice could see the title. It was called the ‘Book of Happy Endings’. He flipped through the book. “There must be over a million Virtual Realities in here.”

 

“Well, I doubt she’s been to each one. Let’s check out the ones she visited last.”

 

“Right.” Charlie flipped to the beginning index and clicked on the most recently visited list. “And the last one she visited was — Fluppsie Wuppsie World! Hmm. Sounds fairly nightmarish to me. You sure you want to go there?”

 

The Mirror snorted a small laugh. “We’re superheroes, Charlie. We’re always living on the razor’s edge.”

 

“Well then, into the jaws of hell we go.” Charlie clicked the Fluppsie Wuppsie World entry in the Book of Happy Endings.

 

The library checked itself out.

 

 

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And was replaced by a happy green meadow. Candy-canes and Lollypops blossomed from the ground. A jovial Sun whistled a tune that sounded suspiciously like ‘Zippity Doo Dah’. Bunnies, puppies, kittens, and teddy bears bounced around playing with each other. The air smelled like a freshly baked apple pie. Off in the distance, a big rainbow could be seen.

 

“Damn. Even worse than I’d imagined. Bambi meets the Diabetes Bears.” A couple of puppies sniffed the Shadowraiser’s boots.

 

“Oh, come on! They’re so adorable!” Alice petted a fawn that came near her. The fawn sniffed her hands as if searching for something. “Sorry. Don’t have any food.” After hearing that bit of information, the fawn turned its head leaving in disgust. “Still. There is something creepy about this place. It’s almost too cute — you know what I mean? It’s like there’s something we’re just not seeing.”

 

“That could be it right — over there.” The Shadowraiser pointed towards the cool blue pond. Multi-colored frogs bounced on lily pads. Something was floating in the water.

 

“God. It’s a kid. A little girl,” Alice said as she took a closer look.

 

The Shadowraiser used his shadowglove to fish the girl from the pond. The girl looked about six years old, and wore a blue and white dress.

 

“Who is she?” Alice said as she gently pulled the wet hair that obscured her face.

 

“I don’t know. I have a feeling though that she’s a VR-Avatar. She might be a young Mary McCloud. I think we’ve seen all we need to see here.”

 

Alice picked a flower that was caught in the little girl’s hair.

 

“Book of Happy Endings — appear.” With that command the book manifested right in Charlie’s hand. “The second to last place she visited appears to be a VR-World called ‘Punishment’. Shall we go?”

 

Alice Queen nodded as she stood up.

 

And Fluppsie Wuppsie World popped like a bubble.

 

 

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It was some kind of gigantic man strapped to a table. The man’s head was the size of a house, and the rest of his body was proportional to it. He was bound by chains to the table. An ungodly number of wires were attached to him. His chest was cut open and a number of his entrails hung out. Giant mechanical scorpions and spiders crawled all over his naked body. Occasionally, the creatures would bite and sting him. Sometimes they would burrow under the giant’s skin. The giant made the most horrible screams as this happened to him. The giant would have probably cried too if he had eyes to cry with. But someone had already pulled them out of the giant’s face.

 

“Jesus Christ.” The Mirror winced as she caught a glimpse of the gruesome atrocity. “We’ve got to end this!”

 

“Alice? Remember — this guy’s just a virtual creation. And considering its size, it might be best if we just keep it tied up for the moment. Let’s just ask it a few questions. Okay?”

 

Alice bit her lip. “Fine. Ask him a few questions. But we are going to free him.”

 

The Shadowraiser floated up towards the giant’s face.

 

“Who is that? I can hear voices! Please, whoever you are — Free me! I beg you! I can grant you anything you desire! Please!! For mercies sake!!!” wailed the giant.

 

“Who are you?” the Shadowraiser replied.

 

“I am _The Alpha_. I am _The Omega_. I am _The Beginning and The Ending_. I am _The Which Was, The Which Is, and The Which Will Come_. I am _The Almighty God_!”

 

“God? Wow, that’s really — Hmm. You know — I always got the impression that you were a bit more — what’s the word? Oh, yeah! Omnipotent.”

 

“Charlie!” Alice gave a very sharp glare.

 

“Sorry.” Charlie gave an apologetic glance towards Alice Queen. “So, how did you wind up in this state, your Almightiness?”

 

“I was captured by the Judge of All Gods; it was She who did this to me! It was She who tried me for my crimes! It was She who sentenced me! And it was She who administered my punishments!”

 

“Crimes, huh? So, what were they?”

 

“The Crime of creating Reality! The Crime of creating the Universe! The Crime of creating Life! The Crime of creating Humanity! The Crime of creating Good and Evil. And finally The Crime of being God! And, alas, I was guilty of each one of them.”

 

“Where is the Judge of All Gods?” Charlie asked.

 

“Over in the Control Booth!” God made a gesture using one of his bloodied hands. The window that covered the booth was made from one-way glass. The Mirror smashed through the reflective glass and made her way in. The Shadowraiser followed.

 

Inside the control booth was a gigantic control panel with millions of switches and buttons. Each button and switch was its own unique brand of torture. On the floor were a hooded woman and a spilled bottle of pills. The Shadowraiser unmasked the woman. Her face was Mary McCloud’s. Charlie examined the bottle of pills. Peaceful Death Pills.

 

The Mirror looked over the control panel. Finally, she found a button called ‘Forgiveness’. She hit the button. The chains that bound God disappeared. Free from the chains, he got up and burned the spiders and scorpions that covered his body. All the scars and cuts on his body healed instantly, and his eyes regenerated back into their sockets.

 

God looked down upon them and smiled. “I thank you for what you have done! _Now_, I must go back to my _Kingdom in Heaven_. I hope you both can find what you’re looking for. Farewell, my children.” And then God vanished from the Torture Room.

 

“Damn. I had a few deep philosophical questions I was dying to ask him. Like, how many licks does it take to get to the center of a tootsie pop? Guess I’ll never know.”

 

Alice Queen just looked at the dead form of the Mary McCloud Avatar. “Why would she do this? And why this sick fantasy?”

 

“I dunno. Guess she wasn’t too fond of God. Something she made so she would be able to cope with life, I guess. I really don’t know. We should probably check out some more. Alice?”

 

“Yeah. Let’s do that,” Alice said as she placed the pill bottle back on the floor.

 

And an old chapter of The Book of Happy Endings turned to make way for a new one.

 

 

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And Alice and Charlie witnessed many more strange and twisted virtual realities as they journeyed through the book.

 

There was a reality, which took place during the French Revolution. Mary McCloud playing Marie Antoinette.

 

There was a reality set in a World Russian Roulette Tournament.

 

A reality populated by sentient suicide notes.

 

A reality where a cooking show used the bodies of suicide victims to make its dishes.

 

A reality where suicide was a type of performance art.

 

A reality where Bob Saget hosted a show called, “America’s Funniest Suicides.”

 

“Beginning to see a trend?” Charlie asked.

 

“‘Fraid so.” Alice flipped through the Book of Happy Endings. “Let’s try this one. It’s called — ‘Catharsis’.” And Alice clicked the entry.

 

And Hell became real.

 

 

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The Shadowraiser didn’t hesitate as he saw the tourist bus falling from the sky. Quickly using his shadowglove, he made a gigantic black cushion to absorb the bus’s impact. There was something familiar about this, The Shadowraiser thought to himself. He sniffed the air. And then he looked at Alice. Alice’s hands were trembling. She was petrified with fear. “Amsterdam,” she said. “This is Amsterdam.”

 

And that was all she needed to say. Amsterdam. Charlie surveyed the area. He could see people running and screaming. They were in Dam Square. He could see the Royal Palace burning down. The air smelled like rotting corpses. It was The Abomination Hounds that made the smell. They were creatures twice the height of wolves. They had two heads, and the skin over their bodies was completely missing. A green type of foam dripped from their mouths. They were also completely silent. The only way you could tell one was behind you was the sick smell. The Shadowraiser quickly blasted a hound with a shadow cannon he conjured up.

 

Also, The Abomination Hounds carried a disease inside them, and anytime they bit someone the disease would cause the effected person to change into an Abomination Hound. And unfortunately, a lot of people did become them — had become them. Still, The Abomination Hounds weren’t the worse things here. Charlie looked up in the sky. There was a fifteen-year old boy up in the sky. The boy had a cruel grin on his face. But even the boy wasn’t the most horrible thing. It was the boy’s hand that was the most horrible thing. The Second Hand.

 

The Second Hand was a horrible spell that should have never been cast. There was an ancient myth explaining how a force known only as ‘The First Hand’ had created the universe. It was said that eventually there would come a time when its brother ‘The Second Hand’ would come to erase the creation that ‘The First Hand’ had built. Whether there was any relation between ‘The Second Hand’ and the myth was never known, but what was known was for one week the world felt like the end had finally come and there was nothing it could do to stop it.

 

The first thing The Second Hand did in Amsterdam was cover the entire city with a force-field so that no one could enter or escape the city. The next thing it did was create a portal that connected the universe to the Abomination Hound’s universe.

 

Everything Charlie was seeing had happened fifteen years ago. A million people had died in Amsterdam, but that wasn’t what made Amsterdam special. The Second Hand destroyed four other cities that same day. What made Amsterdam special was that Wendy Rush died here. Wendy Rush was The Breeze. A member of the Destiny Patrol. She had super-speed powers, and the faster she ran the more intangible she became. She was also excellent with the bow and arrow. She was a talented artist. She was a member of the Hopi Indian Tribe. Her favorite song was The Scorpions’ “Wind of Change”. Her favorite film was “Midnight Cowboy”. She loved horses. She collected postcards. She saved two hundred and thirty-two people that day.

 

Then she was bitten.

 

She changed into an Abomination Hound. The Hound inherited her super-speed powers and ability to become intangible. In the end, The Destiny Patrol managed to find a way to stop her — to stop it.

 

She was twenty-five when she died.

 

“This isn’t real, Alice,” Charlie said as he flew over to her. “This isn’t real.”

 

“I know. I know that.” Alice made a choking sound as the smell became too much for her. “Let’s get out of here.”

 

Charlie nodded. “Take us back to the Library.”

 

And Hell burned away.

 

 

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“Why did she create that? Why — why that?” Alice said as they returned to the library.

 

“I don’t know. It was a significant part of human history. The Time of the Second Hand. The world completely changed. It changed everyone. If it had never happened, the world — it would be a different place. If it hadn’t happened, would we have done what we did? Would we have remade this world into a — better place? Who knows. Maybe it had some special significance to her. Was she one of the survivors that day? Maybe she was feeling survivor’s guilt. Maybe — I don’t know.”

 

“Yeah. Guess we need to dig into her past.” Alice sighed. “It’s been so long. God. Can’t remember the last time I thought of — Jesus, it’s horrible what I just said. A certain amount of time passes and you just stop thinking…”

 

“Look. It’s okay. It’s all right, Alice. It was fifteen years ago. It’s normal after awhile to stop thinking of tragedies. We’d go insane if we constantly dwelled on them.”

 

“I suppose you’re right. Still. You can’t help, but wonder — What we did…”

 

“There’s no point in wondering. We had to do what we did. We had no choice. She was dead already. She was dead. We had to do it. She was dead.”

 

For a few seconds, the room was silent.

 

“Do you — Do you think she would have approved of this? Everything we did? You know? The world — The world, we made?”

 

“Of course she would,” Charlie gave one of his all knowing glares. “Heaven or Hell? It’s not a tough choice.”

 

“Yeah, you’re right. You’re right. I wish — I wish she could have lived to see this.”

 

“I wish she was here, too. So — you okay?”

 

“Yeah. I’m fine. Seeing Amsterdam — didn’t expect that.”

 

“Yeah, well,” Charlie yawned to himself. “Been a long morning. You hungry?”

 

“Starved.”

 

“Know this place — Think you’ll like it. It’s called: The Wild-Wild Westaurant.”

 

“Westaurant?” A slight smile broke from her face. “Suppose I need to change though.” Alice made a gesture towards her superhero suit.

 

“Don’t worry about it. They’ve got changing booths there. Want to take a shadow portal?”

 

“Oh, sure. What the heck.”

 

The Shadowraiser focused his shadowglove on a shadow near the walls. The darkness spread till it looked big enough to walk right through.

 

“Okay. It’s ready.”

 

“Umm, Charlie? I think you’re forgetting something.”

 

“Uh, what?”

 

“This library isn’t real.”

 

“Oh. Right. I knew that,” Charlie said with a sheepish expression on his face. “I did. Really!”

 

 

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Part II: The Cowboy Graveyard

 

 

 

“Well, Pilgrims, have ya made up your minds? Ur am I going to have to come back here — a second damn time?” The voice came from a dead ringer for John Wayne who was holding a notebook and a pencil.

 

“I think,” Charlie Hiroshima said as he looked at his menu, “I’ll have the ‘Manicotti that Shot Liberty Valance’. Make the steak medium rare.”

 

“Soup, or salad?”

 

“What type of soup?”

 

“Well, let’s just see here — well, hell — we’ve got your ‘Magnificent Seven Bean Soup’; and we’ve got your ‘The Good, the Bad, and the Onion Soup’.”

 

“I’ll take the bean soup.”

 

“And how bout you, li’l lady? See something you like?”

 

“Sure do. I’ll have the ‘Wild Bunch Omelet’, hold the ants, and a ‘Blazing Salad’ with ‘Ponderosa Ranch Dressing’.

 

“Well,” the John Wayne look-a-like said wiping some sweat off his brow, “I reckon you folks know what yurah getting into. So — I’mma going to be off.” With that said, John Wayne swaggered away.

 

Alice Queen glanced around the saloon like restaurant. Various characters from westerns were waiting tables. “Oh! We could have gotten Paul Newman.”

 

“The hell with Paul Newman. We could have gotten Yosemite Sam.”

 

“Yosemite — oh, I see him! He looks just like the cartoon. You know — I can’t believe you of all people would be caught dead in a place like this. You’ve certainly changed, Charlie. I remember back in the early days you were so pretentious and uptight. You’d quote Hegel and Yeats while battling supervillains.”

 

“Hey! I’m still pretentious and uptight. Guess I just have a soft spot in my heart for those old westerns. Sometimes in life, you just have to wear a cowboy hat and swig some beer,” Charlie said as he swigged his bottle of Desperadoville Ale while wearing a cowboy hat. “So — how are the kids and husband?”

 

“Oh, they’re fine. Rick’s still playing professional basketball. The Clippers have a real shot of making the play-offs this year. We don’t get to see much of each other, but — Rick’s enjoying himself. I go to the home games, but — well, you know. And the kids — the kids are really growing up. Marcia’s a teenager. And she’s at that age where everything’s about boys. I think she’s also embarrassed by me. She never brings any of her friends over or — I don’t know.”

 

“Well, you know teenagers,” Charlie said taking another swig from his bottle.

 

“Yeah, I’m quite aware. But she used to be so proud of me when she was a little girl. She’d always want me to come and talk to her class and — It’s just a phase. And Greg wants to play Grue Zone all the time.”

 

“Grue Zone?”

 

“Oh, it’s some VR-World where people become warriors and wizards — and they fight dragons, trolls, slobbering grues, and whatever. That’s all he wants to do. His grades are suffering at school. He doesn’t understand the importance of school. He asks me, ‘Why do I have to go to school, Mom? No one works anymore. No one has to know anything anymore. We’ve got robots and nano-bots to do everything we need to do.’ And you know, I don’t have the answer.”

 

“The answer is, Alice, because it’s not going to last. Sooner or later, everything is going to go to hell. And it’s going to be the people who understand science, mathematics, and history who are going to survive when it does.”

 

“You’re still a sunny-side optimist, I see.”

 

“I’m a realist, Alice. Anything is possible. And we can see some small cracks beginning to form. This Mary McCloud thing. She wanted to commit suicide. And she wasn’t satisfied with the illusion. She wanted the real thing. How long do you think it’s going to take for some serial killer, or rapist — or child molester — or megalomaniac to want the real thing instead of some VR-fantasy? The super-villains are going to come back. The question is will we be ready for — umm — Look, sorry. This really isn’t the place for this.”

 

“No need to apologize, Charlie. You’re probably right. I wonder too — How long this can last…?”

 

John Wayne returned with their soups and salads.

 

“So how’s your life, Charlie. Found anyone special yet?”

 

“No, unless you count my virtual harem.”

 

“Oh, come on, Charlie. It’s about time you settled down and had a few kids.”

 

“You make it sound so damn simple.” Charlie squeezed his bottle tightly.

 

“You’re like the number one eligible bachelor on Earth. There are probably a million cute single girls who would love to be Mrs. Hiroshima. Being a former member of the Destiny Patrol is like being a prince.”

 

“Yeah, I get tons of mail, pornographic VR-simulations, and what not. I could probably start my own sex cult. I just — I dunno.” Charlie looked at his soup and gave a sigh. “Look. Let’s talk about something else.”

 

“Sorry. I just hate seeing a friend of mine — You’re right. It’s your life. Let’s talk about something else. So what _have_ you been up to?”

 

“Oh, you know — wasting away. Been learning VR-programming, and I’ve been working a bit on my memoirs. About the early years in the Destiny Patrol.”

 

“The early years? Sounds interesting. Anything I should be worried about when it gets published?”

 

“Oh, I’m pretty easy on you. Although — I do mention how during the first year of the Destiny Patrol you were a Raving Jesus Freak.”

 

“You didn’t!” Alice Queen shook her head while laughing. “Raving Jesus Freak? A Raving Jesus Freak? I swear, Charlie. I was _Not_ a ‘Raving Jesus Freak’!”

 

“Hey! All I know is that you would open meetings with the Lord’s Prayer. And when anyone sneezed…”

 

“Normal people say, ‘God Bless You,’ when people sneeze. Yes, Charlie. Normal people. Normal people!”

 

“And there was the time you thought you were the Virgin Mary…”

 

“That — That doesn’t count, Charlie!” Alice Queen said getting up from her chair and shaking her finger. “That doesn’t count. I was being mind-controlled by a super-villain! Mind-control doesn’t count!”

 

“Okay — okay.” Charlie grinned to himself. “Settle down, Alice. You’re right — mind-control doesn’t count.” The two of them laughed for a few seconds. “So, you still go to church?”

 

“Yeah. I’m not quite the ‘Raving Jesus Freak’ I once was, but I still go every Sunday. Jesus is still important to me.”

 

“That’s good. I’m glad you still go. I sometimes envy people who can believe in something.”

 

“There’s nothing stopping you, Charlie. Belief is easy. And you can start anytime.”

 

“No — I can’t. I’m too damn cynical, Alice. Nihilism and scotch are the only belief systems I can handle.” John Wayne returned, took away their soups and salads, and replaced them with the lunches they ordered. “So, do you ever think about Heaven, Alice?”

 

“Hmm? Heaven? What about Heaven?”

 

“I mean the fact that you’re going to live forever. And that you’re never going to see Heaven because of that.”

 

Alice took a bite from her omelet. “It occasionally has crossed my mind. There was a moment during the Time of the Second Hand that I thought Judgement Day had finally arrived. Who knows? Maybe I was right. Maybe the world did end fifteen years ago, and this is Paradise on Earth.”

 

“There’s a problem with that theory,” Charlie said leaning back in his chair, “If it were true, I’d be skinny-dipping right now in a lake made out of fire.”

 

Alice shook her head. “You’re wrong. You’re a good person. You’ve done more good than most people in the world have. God’s not some evil tyrant who sends people to Hell just because they don’t believe in him or worship him. God’s love, mercy, and sense of justice is greater than your pride — Charlie. If you ever die, you’re going to Heaven whether you like it or not.”

 

“There are a lot of Christians that would disagree with you.”

 

“And I would disagree with them. I once met this writer type; he was doing a book on the Destiny Patrol and was interviewing me. I remember this one conversation we had — it was about God. His view of what God was. He told me that he thought that God was this giant cosmic mirror. And when we died, we would gaze into it — and all the rotten stuff and good stuff we did would reflect right back at us. I don’t quite agree with that, but — it’s an interesting notion.”

 

“Karma.” Charlie took another swig from his bottle, only to be disappointed that it was empty. “I don’t believe in that either.”

 

“Guess I’m going to have to give you a big set of beliefs this year for Christmas then, eh?” Alice gave a little wink.

 

“Yeah, do that. And I’ve got this big basket of cynicism that I can give you. You like your cynicism with a big pink — or red bow?”

 

“Go with the pink.”

 

“Right. So, what about suicide victims? They go to Heaven too?”

 

The cheer in Alice’s face slipped away. “I — I don’t know. I guess it would depend on why they committed suicide. And on how good a person they were. Can’t really say.”

 

“So is this Heaven?”

 

“It — It’s too flawed. Maybe ten years from now, it could be. There’s a lot more work to be done.”

 

After that there were a few minutes of silence as the two of them ate their lunches. As they worked on their plates, a couple of strangers approached their table. They were a middle-aged couple.

 

“Oh. My. God! You — You — You’re…” said the woman pointing her finger straight at Alice Queen.

 

“Yes. I am.” Alice nodded while smiling.

 

“I told you, Carl. I told you! Oh, my god! You’re like an inspiration to me. I’ve followed your whole career! Do you remember that time when you defeated the Truthsayer by wearing the Midas Touch’s costume?!”

 

“Umm, yeah,” Alice slightly blushed. “I remember that.”

 

“How did you ever come up with that?”

 

“Umm. Guess I just thought it up?” Alice replied hoping that was the answer the woman was looking for.

 

“She thought it up! Did you hear that, Carl? She thought it up! My god, she’s amazing! I just want you to know, Mrs. Mirror, that you’re a living legend and don’t ever let anyone ever tell you differently!”

 

“Ah — well thanks. That means a lot to me. Really.”

 

“And you!” said the woman’s husband, “You’re…”

 

Charlie nodded his head while he chewed on his steak and gave a grunt of acknowledgement.

 

“I just want to tell you one thing,” the man said looking Charlie straight in the eye. “I admire the hell out of your salad dressing!”

 

Charlie didn’t reply. He just put his fork down on his plate and stared at the man with one of his patented ‘What the Fuck are you talking about?’ facial expressions.

 

“I don’t really care for salads. I’d rather not eat them. But when I’m put in the position of having to eat a salad, I use your brand of salad dressing. I especially like your Thousands Island. It’s like pouring a little heaven on your salad.”

 

Charlie glanced at Alice who was trying to repress her urge to roll on the floor in a fit of giggles and then looked back at the man. “I have no brand of salad dressing. You’re confusing me with someone else. Perhaps you’re thinking of the Midas Touch. I think he might have had a brand of salad dressings.”

 

“Oh! That’s right! You’re right! I always get you two mixed-up for some reason. Say! If you ever run into him, tell him what I said. Okay? That his salad dressing is the greatest salad dressing that ever existed!”

 

“Sure. If I ever run into him, I’ll try to remember that.” And after some hand shaking, autograph signing, and an arm wrestling contest; the strange couple managed to finally leave the former Destiny Patrol members’ table.

 

Charlie gave a sigh of relief. “Some day they’ll invent a cure for that.”

 

“Oh come on! Admit it. Part of you still gets a kick out of it.”

 

“No. I really don’t. Maybe the first month or so when I was a hero, it was some what tolerable; but now…”

 

“So — Have you spoken to Frisco lately?”

 

“No. You know that.”

 

Alice gave a disappointed look to Charlie. “He’s opening a new amusement park on Mars.”

 

“That’s wonderful. Just what Mars needs. More roller-coasters.”

 

“Are you two ever going to speak to each other again?”

 

“No. Probably not,” Charlie said in a nonchalant manner.

 

“God.” There was a frustrated look on Alice’s face. “What on earth happened between you two? You were best friends! You were practically blood brothers! What the hell happened!?”

 

“Why don’t you ask Frisco?”

 

“I have. He’s like you. He won’t talk about it. God. This is so childish! What could possibly be so horrible that you two are prepared to never speak to each other again for the rest of your lives? Just tell me!”

 

“I don’t want to talk about this, Alice. I don’t want to hear the name Frisco Vegas. I don’t want to hear the name Midas Touch. I want to forget these names. Just leave it, Alice. There’s nothing you can do.”

 

“Fine. I won’t talk about it.” There was a sad look on Alice’s face as she said those words. “How about RESULT-O? Have you talked to him lately?”

 

“Yeah.” Charlie’s face lifted up a little. “I gave a few speeches for him when he was running for office. Heh — Senator RESULT-O. Never thought I’d see the day a wise cracking robot would be in the Halls of Congress.”

 

“Heh. Yeah — it’s funny. But — I guess it’s not too surprising. He always was the most popular member of the Destiny Patrol — although he was running against Eminem. I’m a bit surprised you campaigned for him. You weren’t concerned about what he might do as a congressman?”

 

“Oh, I don’t think it really matters anymore. The idea of government has become obsolete. We’re living in a world where no one can hurt anyone and pretty much everything you could possibly want is free. Rules start to become meaningless in such a state. And besides — it was between him and Eminem. Better the idiot you know.”

 

They finished up their lunches. After that they signed autographs for the people in the restaurant who wanted them, which was everyone. And finally, they made their way out of the restaurant.

 

“I wish you and Frisco would just talk. It would be nice to see everybody back together again. It would be nice to see all the members of The Destiny Patrol in the same room again.”

 

“It’s not going to happen, Alice. Wendy’s dead. The Destiny Patrol is dead. It’s history. There’s no need for it anymore. The world doesn’t need it anymore. The world has moved on.”

 

 

|                       |                       |

= ** – – ** =           = ** – – ** =           = ** – – ** =

|                      |                       |

 

 

 

Part III: The Storm in the Eye

 

 

 

On top of The Wolfe Tower, The Shadowraiser and The Mirror gazed down at the city. The Wolfe Tower was twice the size of the Sears Tower and on top of it you could pretty much see everything and everywhere.

 

Charlie looked at Alice. “Ever had the urge to throw a water-balloon off this building?”

 

Alice raised an eyebrow. “No. Can’t say that I have.”

 

“Years ago, it would have probably hurt someone; but now days –? It would just really piss them off. Aren’t Utopias grand?”

 

Alice didn’t respond. She looked like she was lost in some kind of thought. Holographic Advertisements flickered in the night sky.

 

“The Wolfe Tower,” Charlie said as he leaned over the edge. “A monument to everything the Destiny Patrol fought against. And to everything the Destiny Patrol was. Good old Julius Wolfe. Whatever happened to him?”

 

“He’s still in prison. Still in a VR-World containment capsule.”

 

“You’ve seen him?”

 

“Yes. A few times. He’s in some VR-World where he’s emperor of the world. He’s married to me, or should I say married to a VR-duplicate of me. He seems happy.”

 

“You didn’t actually go into his VR-World, did you?”

 

Alice Queen hesitated a bit before answering. “Yeah, I did. I know that’s really a bad idea, but I couldn’t help it. I went into the world as a male reporter so it wouldn’t trigger any type of suspicion. I did a few interviews.”

 

“So, how is he?”

 

“He’s probably worse than he was when he was running the Destiny Patrol. Some of the acts he’s committed in his VR-World are pretty hideous. He degenerates more and more every time I see him. But he’s happy.” There was a sadness in Alice Queen’s eyes. “And that’s what’s important.”

 

“Sorry. Not that I’m surprised. Even when I first joined the Destiny Patrol, he struck me as a corrupt bastard. He…”

 

“Yeah, well — Sometimes you just hope people will eventually change.” Alice sighed to herself. “Let’s talk about something else.”

 

“So, Mary McCloud — What’s the verdict on her? Suicide?”

 

“As much — as much as I’d like to believe it’s something else, it probably is. I don’t understand. I just don’t understand what could cause a person to do that.”

 

“Have you ever heard of the Blind Syndrome?”

 

Alice shook her head.

 

“Imagine waking up one day and finding out there is only one color. Black. White. Red. It doesn’t matter. You remember there used to be all these other colors, but now there’s only one. After awhile even the color you can see becomes meaningless because what use is one color if there are no other colors to define it?”

 

“So we created a world where no one dies. Death becomes meaningless. Without Death to define Life, Life becomes meaningless. We try to make a world where there is no misery, but we create a world where happiness is taken for granted and becomes meaningless. The more of something there is the less important it becomes. For the person who has everything, everything becomes meaningless.”

 

Alice shook her head. “I don’t buy that. If that’s true then why aren’t there tons of people committing suicide?”

 

“It’s just a theory. Most people have a strong urge to survive. For most people killing themselves is unthinkable. They might be miserable, but not to the point where it becomes a viable option. But we are going to see more suicides. I suspect in the upcoming weeks, we’re going to see quite a few copycat attempts. On the OmniNET, Mary McCloud is already starting to become a cult figure. A new folk-hero for the modern age.”

 

“Jesus. That’s insane. We’ve got to stop them from happening,” Alice said with a determined look on her face.

 

“How? And why? Why should we bother?”

 

“_Why_? Come on, Charlie! Suicide is a horrible act! It’s a destructive act that hurts everyone who knows the victim! Mary McCloud’s family is never going to get over this! They’re always going to wonder if they could have done something to have prevented it! God! It’s going to destroy them! It’s — it’s — Christ!!”

 

“And so people should spend the rest of their lives in misery because their loved ones will feel bad?”

 

“Misery? What Misery!? Where’s the misery here!? What did Mary McCloud have to be miserable about!? There was no reason for her to — God! She could have gotten help! She should have gotten help!”

 

“Sometimes help is not enough. Sometimes the happy pills aren’t enough. Sometimes — there’s always something. Something that can’t be fixed.”

 

“What’s this about, Charlie? What are you trying to say?”

 

“You want to know? You really want to know? I know why people want to blow their brains out. I know why people want to sleep forever. Because you can’t have everything. And that thing you can’t have — it eats you up. And it’s always there in your mind. And — and…”

 

“Charlie?”

 

“I can’t have you, Alice. I can never have you.”

 

There was a long moment of silence.

 

“Charlie — I…”

 

“Don’t. I shouldn’t have — Look. Forget I said that.”

 

“Forget? Charlie, I can’t just…”

 

“I’m sorry. It was a stupid — Look. You have a wonderful family. A wonderful marriage. I don’t want to ruin it — them. I don’t — I wish my feelings for you would disappear. I want them gone. But I can’t. I’ve tried, but I can’t.” Charlie hesitated a bit before continuing. “You know? There was this — This year that I spent several months in a VR-World. In this world, I was married to you. I had it set up so that I would completely forget reality, but — there was always something. I remember feeling that there was something false about it. It wasn’t you, and I knew it. I’ve occasionally thought about trying it again, but — Is what I’m saying bothering you? Alice?”

 

Alice Queen turned her head away. “I don’t know. I — I want to — Yes, I guess it does bother me. It’s weird hearing…” Alice looked back at Charlie. “I’m sorry. I’m not judging you, or — I’ve done things in the VR-Worlds I’m not proud of too — I…”

 

“I’m not ashamed of what I did, Alice.”

 

“I didn’t say you should be — I didn’t mean it like…” Alice placed one of her hands on Charlie’s shoulder. “I’m glad you told me this, Charlie. And I love you — as a friend. Seeing you today — talking to you — having lunch — it was wonderful. I can’t express how much seeing you today meant to me. You’re important to me, Charlie. God, you’re important! If you killed yourself, I — I don’t even want to think about it. I can’t think about it. Part of me died when Wendy — when Wendy — I love you, Charlie. I love the hell out of you, Charlie! But I can’t — I can’t love you in a romantic way. I can’t — It would kill Rick. I couldn’t — I wouldn’t do that.”

 

“I know. And I wouldn’t want to hurt you, Alice. It’s not just you, Alice. I’ve got tons of other reasons why I can’t take living anymore. I’ve always been depressed. Suicidal. I think that’s the reason I became a superhero. I had a death wish. But despite all the crazy and stupid things I did; somehow, I always survived it. I don’t want you to feel guilty or hurt, Alice. I just — I just want to die because I want to die. There’s nothing I can do about these feelings.”

 

“Yes, you can! You can fight, goddammit!” Alice said with an angry tone in her voice. “You don’t have an excuse, Charlie! You have access to the best doctors and the best medicine! And anything I can do to help, I will! Get help, Charlie. If you really care about my feelings, get help. Please.”

 

“I have. I’ve done the shrink and pill game. I’ve tried all types of things. I don’t want to fight anymore. Maybe I’m weak or a coward — but I can’t do it anymore. You don’t understand, Alice. You could never understand.”

 

“No. Don’t tell me what I can or can’t understand!” Alice said pointing her finger at Charlie. “You think my life’s a bed full of puppies!? I have my highs — my lows. I know what depression feels like! And I know what it feels like to stop believing in hope! Don’t tell me I don’t understand this!”

 

There was silence for a moment. Thoughts trapped in the mind unable to become words.

 

And then Alice spoke up. “What would you do if I was suicidal, Charlie? If I wanted to end it?”

 

Charlie didn’t speak. There was something in his mind — a door. A door that should have stayed shut, but was creaking open.

 

“Well?” Alice said crossing her arms. “Well, Charlie? What would you do?”

 

“Honestly? I’d probably try to stop you.”

 

“So — let me get this straight — It’s okay for you to commit suicide; but not for me, is that it?”

 

“No. It wouldn’t be right for me to stop you, but I probably would. If you committed suicide, I’d feel horrible. Devastated. It would kill me. And I’d probably feel guilty about not being able to help you. But. I’d like to think that I’d understand. That’s what I want, Alice. For you to understand. I don’t want you to feel guilt, or hurt. I just want you to understand.”

 

“I won’t, Charlie. I won’t understand. I’ll never be able to understand. There’s nothing you could do to ease my hurt if you ever did do it.”

 

“Maybe we should call it a night.”

 

“No, I’m not leaving you here. Not when you’re in this state.”

 

“Jesus, Alice. I’m not going to commit suicide right this minute. I’ve got — There are things I need to do first. I’m going to finish my memoirs, which is probably going to take me a year. And then — I guess then I’ll make any major life decisions. It’s okay, Alice. You can leave me.”

 

“No. I don’t think I can. You need someone to be with you right now.”

 

“Alice, when I say something I mean it. You know that. I promise — I’m not going to kill myself tonight. Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye — and all that jazz. I promise. I want to be alone. Really. Please leave. Please, Alice. Leave.”

 

Alice Queen looked Charlie straight in the eye. “I want your word. You won’t kill or hurt yourself tonight. I want your word, Charlie.”

 

“You’ve got my word. I promise. Go.”

 

Alice put her arms around Charlie and gave him a very tight hug as if she was holding onto a palm tree during a hurricane. And part of Charlie wished that she would never let go. But after awhile, she let go. Her eyes were slightly red; and her nose was slightly sniffling. Charlie conjured up a piece of shadow kleenex and gave it to her. She wiped her eyes and then blew her nose into it. She gave a slight smile and a thank you.

 

“We’re going to have breakfast tomorrow,” Alice said. It wasn’t a question or suggestion. It was an order.

 

“Yeah. We’ll have breakfast.” Charlie gave Alice a smile.

 

“You still live in the same place?” Alice asked.

 

“Yeah. The Sundown Building.”

 

“Well, I’ll meet you there at seven. Okay?”

 

“Sure. Seven it is.”

 

Alice stepped close to the edge of the building and then she looked back at Charlie. “Well, see you in the morning.” Then she hesitated for a moment, but finally made the leap.

 

“See you,” Charlie said. He watched Alice as she flew away. Some part of him wanted to shout, ‘Stay. Please!’ But he resisted. He just watched her as she slowly disappeared into the night. And then he sat down. It was just him and the various advertisements that lit up the night air.

 

<<LUNG CANCER IS DEAD!>> proclaimed one of the ad-holographs.

 

He could hear the sound of the Rolling Stones’ “Honkey Tonk Women” coming from the ad. At first it was soft, but the sound grew louder and louder each coming second.

 

<<NOW IS THE TIME! NOW IS THE MOMENT! NOW IS THE ERA! THE RODEO GAL CIGARETTE ERA!!>>

 

Charlie could see something coming from the distance in the ad. It was a woman riding a bull. The woman didn’t appear to be wearing anything besides a cowboy hat, some boots, and spurs. Eventually, he received a full view of her. Her hair was fire red, and everything else about her was perfect. She rummaged through her saddle and found a packet of cigarettes. She took a cigarette out. Then she looked right at Charlie and gave him a very suggestive smile. And then she placed the cigarette between her lips and with one finger touched the tip of the cigarette. A flame appeared. She took the cigarette out of her mouth and then blew a cloud of smoke. Charlie could smell it. It smelled like a cinnamon breeze. Then the Rodeo Gal started stroking her breasts and other parts of her body with one hand while the other hand flicked holographic ashes.

 

<<RODEO GAL CIGARETTES! THEY’RE LIKE HAVING A RODEO ORGY INSIDE YOUR MOUTH!>>

 

God, why was he watching this shit? God, this was horrible. Charlie shut his eyes. Everything was falling. Everything was cracking. Dissolving. Sometimes — everything was too real. The light cracked the shadows. What was he doing here? Why is the mirror in the lie?

 

<<RODEO GAL CIGARETTES! NOW IN REGULAR, MINT, CINNAMON, BEEF JERKY, OR CHAOS FLAVOR! RIDE THE UTOPIA BULL! RIDE THE RODEO GAL!>>

 

The cracks were starting to become huge. Reality was starting to come through. There was no point in staying. He needed to go back home.

 

He needed to end this. “Program: Alice-25 [End]. [End Program].”

 

And the Rodeo Gal disappeared. As did the Wolfe Tower. As did the night.

 

 

|                       |                      |

= ** – – ** =           = ** – – ** =           = ** – – ** =

|                       |                       |

 

 

Charlie opened his eyes. He put the glob of System-GEL down on the floor and took the wad of VR-gum out of his mouth. He was in an empty room scattered with old newspapers on the floor and a bottle of scotch. There was a mirror on the wall. He went over to it. He was just wearing a pair of boxers. His hair was long and messed up. Instead of a clean-shaven face, he had an unkempt beard. He touched the mirror. Why is the mirror in the lie?

 

Why was he doing this? Was he trying to find the truth? Or was he just creating a fairy tale? God. Alice. Sometimes, he tried to make sense of everything. Sometimes, he thought, If you looked at something long enough you could understand it. You could make sense of the world and everything. He grabbed the bottle of scotch on the floor.

 

He should just get drunk. Just stinking drunk. No. He shouldn’t do that. No. He should. It wouldn’t matter. He could take a Hang-never pill. And wake up fine. No. He wanted a hangover. He wanted to hurt. He wanted to be miserable. God. He clutched the bottle tightly. He hated this fucking world. Alice. This fucking utopia. What a joke. Just get drunk. Just get drunk.

 

He looked at the bottle. And then in a fit of rage, he threw it at the mirror. There was a loud crash. The bottle of scotch shattered and the mirror cracked. There were pieces of glass all over the floor. Why did he do that? God, why did he do that? Alice. He went over and examined the damage. He picked up a piece of the mirror. For a long while he just stared at it. And stared at his reflection. He squeezed the piece of glass in his hand. It crumbled to pieces. He looked at his hand. There were no cuts, or bleeding. He missed that. Now you could only feel physical pain in the VR-Worlds. Cuts only shed virtual blood.

 

It didn’t matter. This didn’t matter. He looked at the glass on the floor. The nano-maids would clean in up. And he could have his mini-god make a new mirror and bottle of scotch. That was the great thing about utopias. Nothing mattered. Alice. Nothing fucking mattered. Maybe he could have his mini-god make some heroin or crack. It didn’t matter. Everything was safe now days. Pleasure was just a button away.

 

He looked at the System-GEL on the floor. No. He had a better idea. He picked the blob off the floor. Escape. Escape from it all. Yes. Alice. He unwrapped another stick of VR-Chew Gum. He put the stick in his mouth. He sat down and placed his hands over the System-GEL. Into paradise, he’d go. To hell, he’d go. He closed his eyes.

 

“Run Program: Alice-28. [Link Previous Program End]. [Forget Reality].”

 

 

|                       |                       |

= ** – – ** =           = ** – – ** =           = ** – – ** =

|                       |                       |

 

 

Charlie found himself back on top of the Wolfe Tower. But he could still remember. “Forget Reality!” he shouted. “Forget Reality.”

 

 

|                       |                       |

= ** – – ** =           = ** – – ** =           = ** – – ** =

|                       |                       |

 

 

And then he paused. He had been thinking of something. What was it? Something important. He couldn’t quite remember. There was something running down his cheek. It felt like water. Must be a raindrop. Must be starting to rain. Why was he here? Alice. She had left him. I should go home, Charlie thought to himself. No sense in getting soaked.

 

And then he heard a voice. “Wait!” the voice said. It was Alice’s voice. She had returned.

 

“Jesus, Alice. I told you — I’m not going to commit suicide!”

 

“It’s not that. I — a lot of stuff was brought up tonight and — If you don’t want to talk I’ll leave.”

 

“It’s okay. We can talk. What’s wrong?”

 

Alice looked away from Charlie and then looked back, hesitant to say anything. But finally she did. “God. It’s my marriage. When I said it was fine, I was…” She put her hand on her mouth. “It’s not fine. It hasn’t been fine for — I don’t know. I shouldn’t be talking about this. I — I have feelings for you, Charlie. I always have.”

 

Raindrops started to sprinkle on top of their heads.

 

“It’s okay, Alice.”

 

“No, it’s — I love you, and I love Rick. But Rick — Rick doesn’t touch me anymore. I can’t remember the last time we had — Why didn’t you tell me? Why didn’t you say something, Charlie? Before the marriage…?”

 

“I didn’t know how you felt. I was afraid. There was that thing you were having with Julius. I don’t know.”

 

“God, this is hell. This whole — ” Alice said as the raindrops started to increase. “I should have realized…”

 

Charlie lightly touched Alice’s hand and then gently raised it up. Their fingers locked together. Lightning streaked across the sky.

 

“This is wrong. We can’t do this. We can’t…” Alice let go of Charlie’s hand.

 

“Why? Why is this wrong? Rick will never find out. No one will know about this.” Their bodies inched closer and closer to one another. Everything got closer.

 

“I can’t lie. I can’t do it.” Their faces closed in. Thunder rumbled in the background.

 

“Lies aren’t evil, Alice. Happiness isn’t evil. You deserve happiness, Alice. We both deserve it. We did our time in hell. We did our…” Their lips…

 

Then their lips touched. At first it was a slow kind of touch, but then it — it started to speed up. Faster. Starved for touch for so long, they devoured one another. Their eyes closed to the world. Their hands clutched and grasped at the others body. Fingers dug into the fabric trying to get closer and closer. Hands declared war on the cloth prison that suffocated both their bodies. No mercy — No surrender. Rip. Rip. Rip. The fabric disappeared into history’s black hole. And the rain kept pouring. The Shadowraiser’s shadowglove started to raise the shadows on the rooftop. The shadows glided to the interlocked bodies. The shadows started dancing like flames around the two bodies. The shadows consumed the bodies. A cocoon of darkness wrapped around them. The world became skin and sweat. The rain kept pouring. The rain kept pouring. Nothing could stop it. Everything dissolved.

 

Heaven drowned the light.

 

Heaven drowned the shadows.

 

Heaven drowned Destiny City.

 

 

|                       |                       |

= ** – – ** =           = ** – – ** =           = ** – – ** =

|                       |                       |

 

 

Somewhere.

 

Somewhere, there’s a beautiful garden. A man named Adam, and a woman named Eve lie in its lush grass. They’re both naked. Their arms are around each other. They’re both looking up into the clouds. They give the clouds names. Make up funny stories for the things that they see in the clouds. They don’t know what the words good and evil mean. In the distance — their two children, Cain and Abel, play with each other. The two of them will transform into dinosaurs and compete in a contest to see who can kill the most animals in the garden.

 

Somewhere, a man ascends up a golden staircase towards the clouds. He has survived the trials of the Mermaids, The Catwomen, The Sirens, The Succubi, The Nymphs, and The Amazons. Now there is one last trial. One last test. He must pass the Orgy of the Angels. If he is successful, he will become a Sex-Wizard Level 25. He takes some breath-spray out of his pocket and gives his mouth a spritz.

 

Somewhere, a group of men in camouflage outfits kick back and drink a few brewskies. Near them is a pile of dead bodies. The faces on the bodies look familiar. One looks like Adolph Hitler. Another one looks like Joseph Stalin. Still another looks like Osama Bin Ladin. It’s been a good day for hunting.

 

Somewhere, an artist proudly shows off her paintings to a crowd of onlookers at a gallery. Once upon a time, her beautiful visions would have been trapped in her head unable to escape. She would have only been able to paint ugliness. But thanks to the Michelangelo implants she has, she is able to pour her dreams onto the canvas for the world to see.

 

Somewhere, there’s a place where everything makes sense. There’s always an answer. A place where the doors are never locked. The puzzle pieces always fit. The maps are infinite. A place where people can understand. Understand everything. Everyone. Every action.

 

Somewhere, there’s a place where Alice Queen’s suicide makes sense.

 

Somewhere.

 

Somewhere, there’s a place where the rainbows never end.

 

 

|                      |                       |

= ** – – ** =           = ** – – ** =           = ** – – ** =

|                       |                       |

 

Copyright 2005 Arthur Spitzer

 

 

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= ** – – ** =           = ** – – ** =           = ** – – ** =

|                       |                       |

 

 

(I strongly suggest you read the story first before you read the Author Notes because the story is a lot better written, and there is some stuff in the notes that might ruin the story for you…)

 

Notes from the Gutterground:

###########################

 

This issue is bitter sweet. This was supposed to be the triumphant return of Guttertrash, but do to things that I really can’t speak about it’s more like the issue that killed Guttertrash. (Ah, if you only knew the soap operas that happen behind the scenes while making RACC stories.) In case you’re wondering, I did get Abhay’s permission and blessing to post this issue. (Which was probably a big mistake, but I won’t go into that…)

 

I’d like to post a link to past issues of Guttertrash, but they’ve all been purged from the archives as have everything else Abhay ever wrote. Guttertrash was series of self-contained stories that twisted around with the superhero genre. It ran from December 10, 1996 up to June 11, 2000. Besides Abhay, the other writers of Guttertrash included Matt “Badger” Rossi, Marc “The Jazz” Singer, “Joltin'” Jeff McCoskey, Peter “Tick” Milan, and Jamie “I don’t know his nickname” Rosen. It was great stuff, and it’s a shame that it’s no longer in the archive. If you had a chance to read it, you were lucky… And if you didn’t? Well, tough luck I guess.

 

One of my favorite things about Guttertrash and for that matter any Abhay Khosla story were the Author’s Notes at the end. Sometimes the Author Notes were even better than the actual stories. And so because of that I’ll be rambling on a bit with my own (less entertaining) Author Notes. So get out now, while you still have a chance.

 

So why did I do this? Well, I’ve always wanted to write an issue of Guttertrash. And I had this story in my head.

 

The characters in this story were actually characters I created when I was a little kid (I changed the names of them however). Around the time that I was in third to sixth grade I created an entire universe filled with superheroes. I had this team called the Dominators (Yeah, I know. Great name for a group of superheroes) who were sort of this Avengers type group.

 

They were led by Julius Wolfe, who was also a superhero called The Dominator. He was this billionaire Iron Man – Tony Stark rip-off.

 

The Mirror was originally called Mirror Girl. She had the power to reflect any physical attack against her. If you hit her, you were hitting yourself. If you killed her, you were killing yourself.

 

The Shadowraiser was originally this supervillain called Sun-Down. He was the arch-enemy of Captain Japan who was kind of this Ultimate Ninja type character. I think he was also Captain Japan’s evil twin. He was part of this secret society of ninjas who could use shadows as weapons. Sort of a Reverse Green Lantern Corps. I like the name Sun-Down, but it’s not exactly a heroic sounding name.

 

The Midas Touch was originally called Golden Man. He was this King Midas rip-off. Everything he touched turned to gold (although he could control it). I think when he was normal he was blind, but when he was powered up he could see.

 

The Breeze was originally called Speed Ghost Girl. She was the sidekick of a character called Speed Ghost. You can probably guess what Speed Ghost’s powers were.

 

RESULT-O was originally called ROBOT-O. He was this wise cracking robot who was a swiss army knife of weaponry.

 

The Second Hand was originally called the Executioner (which I thought was a pretty clever name till I found out that a Marvel character also had that name). The Executioner was a scientist who had this mystical hand which could kill people by just touching them. The hand could also warp reality, reach into other dimensions, and create portals to travel into time. His purpose was basically just to kill every single hero and take over the world. He was the Dominators biggest foe. I remember writing a story in which he killed all the heroes. I can’t remember how the Dominators got out of that one.

 

The reason he’s called the Second Hand is because, well heck, all the good ‘Destroy the World as We know it’ names have already been taken. In the Destiny Patrol Universe Mythology, there is a First Hand which created the Universe. The Second Hand is the one that will destroy the Universe. Somewhere along the line I made him a teenager.

 

The Asteroid Sphinx was the Asteroid Sphinx. No name change. He was a big cosmic robot cat who conquered worlds. He gave his potential conquerees a chance to save themselves if they could answer the riddles he gave them.

 

I changed the name of the Dominators to the Destiny Patrol because it sounded cool. I created Destiny City to give a logical reason why they would call themselves the Destiny Patrol.

 

This story I guess is me giving the “Watchmen” treatment to my characters. I have over the years had a ton of potential storylines for a Destiny Patrol series. I doubt I’ll ever do more Destiny Patrol stories for RACC. If a series ever happens, it will be a Real Comic Book series in the Real World. Not that that’s ever going to happen unless I win the Lottery or something.

 

As for this story…

 

Well, you know, there’s a certain type of story that writer’s should never write. Here’s an example of one.

 

* * * * * * * *

 

The Really Happy Kid Meets the Really Happy Genie

 

by Arthur Spitzer

 

Once upon a time, there was a really happy kid. He had been happy ever since he was just a tiny zygote. And each second he existed, his happiness increased just a little bit more. By the time he was eight, he was eight times happier than he’d been when he was born. He was really happy. And everything he wanted, he always got.

 

Once upon a time, there was a really happy Genie. He had been happy ever since long ago when a Sorceror had conjured him up. And each second that happiness increased. By the time he was 3000 years old, he was 3000 times happier. Being trapped in a lamp made him happy. And when people would rub the lamp to release him to the outside world that also made him happy. He enjoyed granting peoples wishes. He enjoyed giving people anything they could possibly want.

 

One day the Really Happy Kid was walking down the street. He spotted an ancient looking lamp. He went over and picked it up. He decided to rub the lamp because rubbing lamps made him really happy. The Really Happy Kid was shocked when a cloud of blue smoke came from the lamp. And even more shocked when the cloud changed into a genie. A Really Happy Genie!

 

“Ah, thank you for releasing me from my lamp,” said the Really Happy Genie. “And to reward you for releasing me, I will grant you three wishes! You may wish for anything your heart desires!”

 

“Wow! Three wishes!” shouted the Really Happy Kid. “Jeepers! This has got to be the best day ever!”

 

“Yes, I know what you mean,” said the Really Happy Genie. “It does have that Best Day Ever type feeling, doesn’t it? So what’s your first wish?”

 

“Gosh! Let me see! Oh, wait! I’ve got it!! Here’s my first wish: I wish that every single thing and person in the universe was happy! That every single thing and person had been happy since the beginning of time! That the happiness of every single thing and person had increased a little bit more every time each second passed! That every single person and thing always got whatever they wanted, and they would never get hurt or die (unless getting hurt and dying would make them happy)! And I mean everything happy! I’m talking the birds, the grass, the rocks, cereal bowls, God, Satan, tv sets, robots, space aliens, people in the afterlife, planets, suns, imaginary friends, atoms, quarks, and even abstract concepts like Time and Space! Even the concept of unhappiness! I want everything to be happy! Everything smaller than a quark and bigger than the Universe! That’s what I want!”

 

“I’m sorry, Really Happy Kid,” the Really Happy Genie said. “But I can’t grant that wish!”

 

The Really Happy Kid was dumbfounded. “Gosh!! Why not?!”

 

“Because,” and then a really big grin broke out from the Really Happy Genie’s face, “Because, it’s already true! Every single thing and person in the Universe is already happy!”

 

“Gosh! You’re right!” the Really Happy Kid said giving his forehead a slap. “I forgot all about that! Well, okay then! In that case, how about you just give me the Three Most Perfect Wishes!”

 

And the Really Happy Genie nodded his head and granted the three most perfect wishes which made the two of them really happy. Even happier than they had been at the beginning of the story.

 

And every single person, thing, quark, and quark’s uncle lived happily ever after. Really, happily ever after!

 

(This is my 24 minute story, by the way…)

* * * * * * * *

 

So what’s wrong with this story?

 

There’s no misery, no sadism, no masochism, no depression, no humiliation, no torture, no drug abuse, no hatred, no talking gorillas, no angst, or sex.

 

Everyone in this story is too damn happy. No one wants to read a story where all the quarks in the universe are happy. People want those quarks to suffer.

 

The only way you could save this story would be to reveal that it’s just a hallucination from some transvestite homeless person dying of leprosy in the back of an alley. Otherwise, this story just really sucks.

 

The ugly truth about superheroes and superhero comics is that the superheroes can never win. Only in imaginary, or ‘What If?’ type stories can superheroes ever achieve any type of peace.

 

The mutants will always be hated. The Joker will always escape so he can kill again. Spider-Man will always have someone framing him for murder.

 

You can give characters a happy ending, but once you do that — that’s it. Because if you ever continue their adventures, you’re going to have to make them suffer again.

 

I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of happiness and the idea of utopia. Various stuff I’ve written, like Saviors of the Net, and the Daily Super Short-Short Story have dealt with those themes.

 

This story owes a lot to Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman’s work on Miracleman. As well as various Philip K Dick stories dealing with the concept of reality and so on.

 

Could you ever make a world where everyone was happy? Probably not. Misery and Happiness seem to be bound together. Why is it that someone in some third-world country that is doing everything just to survive doesn’t kill themselves, and someone like Kurt Cobain who would seem to have everything a person could possibly want does? (Well, maybe living with Courtney Love is really a bitch. Or maybe she did kill him!) But there’s always some celebrity out there living a very self-destructive lifestyle, which will probably in the end kill them. (Hunter S Thompson committed suicide right while I was in the middle of writing this story. Although I think he had medical reasons for doing it. Still, he certainly lived a not-very healthy lifestyle…)

 

I didn’t intend for the ending of this story to be shocking (but it probably is). But when I thought it up, I just had to do it. Does it destroy the story, or make it better? I’m not sure. I think it makes it better, or else I wouldn’t have done it that way. I guess the ending is about perception. We can never really know what people are like. How they feel. Some person who always seems happy on the outside could be horribly depressed when you don’t see them. Do we see the real Alice Queen in this story, or just an idealized version of her that’s in Charlie’s mind. Did any of the stuff happen? I don’t know. It’s ambiguous I guess.   Some movies like the Sixth Sense are better because of the ending and some like Unbreakable are destroyed because of it. I hope it worked for you…

 

I’ve got another idea for a Guttertrash story… Something called the “The Runaway Chaotic, Sporadic, Traumatic, Make-it Up As You Go Along Story Game”. It will probably take me a few months to write it though. Unless I get a bad case of writer’s block…

 

Damn. So do I have anything else to say? I guess not. Guess I should just end this incredibly long endless ramble. Well, I guess that’s it.

 

Arthur “Somewhere under the rainbow” Spitzer

 

 

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