Month: September 2017

The Man of a Million Faces

Trigger warning for violence and sexual assault.

 

Alan Watson opened the door slowly. He already knew what was in the room, waiting for him. With his enhanced senses, he could see it from the parking lot across the street. It wasn’t caution that slowed his hand, it wasn’t doubt that made his trigger finger twitch.

The room was dark, but again it didn’t matter. Alan could see in a hundred spectrums, hear heartbeats across town, smell skin cells and sweat glands. He had to do this. He had to stop this thing.

“I can’t believe you actually found me,” the man said. He was looking out the window, wearing a wife beater and striped boxers. He seemed shorter, stockier, yet also knobbier since the last time Alan saw him. “I haven’t seen you since… what, 75? 76?”

“July 1978. You won’t get away again.”

The man turned. His face was different, it was always different, but the eyes were the same. The same as they were the night the two first met. Blood red, luminous pupils.

“I had a feeling it would be you. It was always going to be you. You were different from the others. You were special,” said the man.

“You were there at the Flywheel job in the Techno Wonderland exhibit. Fifteen years ago. It was you who chartered the Forgotten Bridesmaid two years later. Indiana, Chicago, San Antonio, Maine. You left your fingerprints everywhere.”

“It’s one of my favorite things to do,” said the man. Alan shivered when the man’s eyes looked him over.

“I was just a kid! Just a fucking kid! You animal!”

“Not after I was done with you. That night, you became a man.” Alan raised his gun. The man hadn’t even noticed it. “Is this what you’ve been reduced to? The great Super Sleuth wielding a Saturday night special? You poor boy. You’ve fallen so far from the supple young thing you used to be.”

Alan fired three times. The man felt a dull sensation in his chest. Rather than bouncing harmlessly off his rubber-like skin, the rounds embedded themselves in him. He felt weird.

“If you knew anything about me, you’d know better than to let me shoot you,” said Alan.

“What did… My body…” the man began to say. Alan punched the man’s face with the force of a bullet. The man fell backwards into the cheap dresser, knocking the TV over.

“Anti-shapeshifter rounds. Designed specifically for you. You’re going to feel every second of this,” said Alan. The man shakily rose to his feet.

“Gud shthow,” the man said. His jaw was almost hanging off his face. His cheek was sunk in and his right eye was basically destroyed. Instead of looking afraid like Alan had hoped, he looked pissed.

The man grabbed a chair and swung it, but Alan turned it to wood chips with a single jab. He grabbed the man’s shirt and punched him again and again, but somehow he didn’t cry out in pain or call for help. He just took every blow without the slightest yelp. When he’d had his fill of violence, Alan took out a set of power null cuffs.

“Show’s over,” he said. He grabbed the man’s left hand and went to flick the cuffs on. In less than a second, Alan was on his back.

“That was good. Refreshing.” The man’s face was returning to a normal shape. And his eyes, bulging out of his face with an intensity that was barely human. Just like that night.

Suddenly Alan was 14 again, standing in the charnel house that used to be Mr. and Mrs. Turner’s bedroom, his senses flaring from the thousand varieties of death that only he could feel. The skin curtains hanging everywhere, that Alan thought had been some sick psychopath’s calling card, came together, folding into itself until it resembled a man in shape, but that Alan realized wasn’t even remotely human in character. Blood red eyes and a perfect white smile, burned in Alan’s memory forever.

“You’re going to pay for everyone you’ve hurt. Every child you’ve killed.” Alan went to reach for his gun, only to realize he was wearing the null cuffs.

“I don’t have time to indulge your revenge fantasies. I’m actually very busy right now. But since you went through all the trouble of coming out here, I might as well show you a good time.”

The man became a wave of skin, swirling around Alan until he was engulfed. Alan couldn’t really see anything anymore since the cuffs were hampering his senses, but he had the distinct feeling he was floating. Then he was flying out the window, into the rain. Before he hit mud, his arms and legs all caught at once. He was hanging precariously like a pig on a spit.

“Goddamn you!” Alan screamed as the man coalesced in front of him.

“You remember this, don’t you? Used to be my signature move back in the day.”

The memory came flooding back. Alan hanging while the man entered him through every orifice he had. For hours. It was worse than dying.

“Let me down,” Alan begged.

“Do you know why I wear people?” The man asked as Alan squirmed. “I think it’s important to walk a mile in someone else’s… shoes.”

The man’s head elongated towards Alan’s mouth.

“Fuck fuck fuck!” Alan hissed.

“Open wide, son,” the man said. Suddenly there was a clicking sound. The man snapped painfully back into shape. Alan fell to the ground.

“Gotcha! Thank Harry Houdini in Heaven, I got you!”

“You picked the cuffs and put them on me. You crafty bastard.”

Alan dialed a number on his phone that wasn’t the police. Ten minutes later, a van rolled up to the shoddy motel. Alan sat in the back with his quarry of thirty five years, watching rivulets of rain stream down his unrecognizable face.

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Enlightenment

Previously

 

Nobody was dressed differently than before. Same black attire, same masked appearance, but now he was sporting gauntlets and shin guards, also black, and thicker armor under his clothes. And yet for all that, he was just as fast, just as dexterous. To The War, he was a mystery. A riddle. Like Alexander, though, The War liked to cut through his riddles. Nobody spun the clubs in his hands, slowly at first, then faster and faster until they made a low humming sound. Like the aftermath of a bell long ago rung, but still reverberating.

“You think because you dismantled a sophisticated counterintelligence operation you’re some kind of elite ninja warrior? Because let me tell ya, you’re one basic son of a bitch,” said The War as he dusted himself off. He hadn’t felt real pain in a long while and those clubs packed a wallop.

“Look into my eyes and listen to the sound of my voice,” said Nobody as the humming of the clubs grew louder.

“The fuck are you up to?” The War asked.

“The principles of hypnosis are simple to understand but hard to master. Not everyone is affected in the same way,” said Nobody.

“You trying to hypnotize me? Really? That shit don’t work, fucking phony,” said The War.

“Our brains create associations on their own. Faster than the conscious mind can fathom. If I asked you to recall a bad memory, your pulse and blood pressure could rise in response. Similarly, a pleasant memory would cause your body to relax. No effort on your part. It just happens.”

“I didn’t come here to talk. Shut up and fight, camel jockey,” said The War.

“Do you remember the worst thing you’ve ever done? What about the worst thing that’s ever happened to you?” Nobody asked. The War pulled out his machete and charged, swinging wide like it was a baseball bat. Nobody dodged and whacked The War’s wrist, knocking the machete out of his hands.

“Fuck! What are these things made out of?” The War asked as he swung wildly at the vigilante.

“You think you can hit me, but you can’t. You’re body’s too slow.”

“Fucking shut up!”

Had the Mask somehow gotten faster? No. The War felt like he was punching through jelly. His muscles were molasses and his arms and legs were spaghetti. Nobody dodged every blow, countering with his own at every opportunity.

“You’re feeling off. Is it the blows to the head? Is it the stale air? Your eyes, hard to focus on anything,” Nobody said.

The War stomped the floor hard, knocking Nobody off balance. He backhanded the vigilante clear across the warehouse. To his surprise, the vigilante got up.

“Stay down!” The War yelled, bum rushing him.

Nobody waited till the last possible moment and dodged, hitting The War in the ribs as he passed. The War felt the air get knocked out of him, a feeling he hadn’t felt in a long while, and fell to one knee. Nobody leapt and struck The War in the back of the head, the force of the impact sending The War’s skull crashing into the floor.

“Ditto,” Nobody said. The War feebly reached out for Nobody’s leg and he swatted it away with a curt smack. “Done already, soldier? Where’s the pep in your step?”

The War wasn’t sure what those clubs were made out of. They had to be some kind of hypermaterial that a mega genius created. Sure the clubs looked ancient and ornately decorated and vaguely oriental, but that had to be part of the shtick. The War didn’t buy into all that hocus pocus mumbo jumbo. Everyone knew anomalous events and artifacts came from psychic minds and raw human potential. There wasn’t room in this world for magical things. There had to be a trick to it. The War decided to try a little psychological warfare of his own. He stood up and spit out a loose tooth after prying it loose with his tongue.

“You think your name’s clever, don’t you?” The War asked. “Thought Odysseus had the right idea calling himself Nobody to fool the Cyclops. You must be some kind of fucking nerd, huh? What balls, I say. What balls indeed.”

“You’ve read the Odyssey enough to know that and you’re calling me a nerd?” Nobody asked.

“I like adventure stories. Swashbuckling tales. Have since I was a kid. I like them cuz the hero always wins. That’s going to happen tonight too. You’re going to lose and I’m going to win because you can’t beat winners. You can’t stop heroes.”

“You’ve killed a lot of people and you still think you’re a hero?” Nobody asked.

“Criminals. Thugs. Gangsters. Bad guys. To a one,” The War replied.

“People. All of them. They had family. They had friends. They had people they cared about.”

“They chose this life. They knew what they were signing up for,” said The War.

“When someone acts the fool, you smack them upside the head and tell them to shape up. You don’t kill them and rob them of the chance,” said Nobody.

“I figure Allah will sort them out. That’s what you people believe right? No? Wait, maybe you’re one of them Hindu fucks. Have I been getting it wrong this whole time?”

Nobody started spinning the clubs again.

“You have a lot of opinions about my appearance. Do they reflect your opinion of yourself? Are you projecting your inadequacy on me?” Nobody asked.

“Have you fucking seen me? I’m ripped from head to toe. Why would I feel anything but awesome?”

“Dodging the question. Lying to yourself. What are you so afraid of?”

“I’m afraid of getting your shit on my boot. That curry of yours eats through goddamn leather.”

“Ignorance is not your failing. You know a lot about the things that you hate. It’s your lack of confidence. You’re life was very different before you got so ‘ripped’. How did you feel back then?”

“You’re not a fucking shrink. Quit pretending like you know fucking anything,” said The War.

“They changed your body, your muscles, your bones. But they didn’t change your mind. Your soul. You’re still the same person under there. Still the same scared little boy,” said Nobody.

“Stop being so fucking smug!” The War yelled. He went for a haymaker. Nobody stopped the punch with one hand. “What the fuck?”

“You think your body is stronger than your will?”  The War threw a second punch. Nobody stopped it easily. “You think your will is stronger than mine?” Nobody pushed the fist away with a finger.

“What the fuck is this? What the fuck!” The War’s eyes locked with Nobody’s. He seemed to be standing over him, dominating the room with his presence.

“You pathetic fool. Your will belongs to me.”

He was in boot camp again. The drill sergeant was tearing him a new one; destroying his being until there was nothing left except what the Marines put back together. The steamy jungles of Vietnam were enveloping him. Making him feel small, confused. The bullies in the school yard, smacking his books away, shoving him down. The War jumped away.

“You fucked with my head. You fucker! Well you can’t stop bullets with your bullshit!” The War pulled out his service revolver and shot. Nobody blocked the shots with the clubs, a sharp ping piercing the air with each hit. “How the fuck are you doing this?” The War screamed as he emptied the revolver.

“Did you hurt your wrist? You should try shooting with your support hand,” said Nobody. The War grabbed a row of shelves and threw it at him. Nobody shattered them a single swing. “And now, my reply.” He struck the floor of the warehouse at an angle, loosing a wave of force that knocked The War off his feet.

The War scrambled to get up. This whole thing was fucked. He’d been drugged or something. He was weak and disoriented and couldn’t fight anymore. But he couldn’t just run away. Not like this. He had a job to do.

“You motherfucker. I’m done playing with you. You’re dead, you’re family’s dead, your friends, acquaintances, anyone who’s ever looked at you friendly.”

“Targeting folks near me is what got you into this mess. You sure that’s a good idea?” Nobody asked.

“Ask me in a couple days when I’ve torn everyone you love limb from limb.”

Nobody threw the clubs at The War but he caught them in midair. He laughed. Then he realized he couldn’t move and stopped laughing. The clubs’ vibrations were locking his muscles, freezing him in place. Nobody unsheathed a long sword with a simple black handle from his back.

“That’s a shame. I feel like we were just starting to get to know each other,” said Nobody.

The vibrations were gaining in intensity. His lungs were stuck. His blood vessels were bursting. He was slowly disintegrating.

“We’re going to figure out who you are. You can’t hide yourself forever,” said The War.

“Oh. Haven’t you figured out who I am yet? I thought you would have by now.” He crouched into a ready stance. “I’m Nobody.” He leapt in the air and took out The War’s left eye with one clean slice. The War screamed. “I’m going to leave the other one because I want you to choke on that delicious irony.”

“Dead! Fucking dead!” The War yelled. Nobody angled his sword behind him and stabbed it into The War’s lower vertebra.

“And you’ve got a date with the VA. Tell them I said hello.”

The War’s body went limp. The clubs fell to the floor with a crash that shook the warehouse. Nobody quickly collected them and wrapped them in their prayer flag coverings.

“This isn’t over. This isn’t… what are you going to… you piece of shi…” The War’s voice was barely a whisper.

“I’m going to do exactly what I said I would,” said Nobody. “Piece by piece.”

He dug around and found The War’s phone. He placed a call to the police to collect the bodies of Police Chief Jack Cook and his murderer as well as several members of the notorious Spider gang. He left The War, drooling and barely conscious, for his next quarry.