comics, Uncategorized

My first article for Bounding Into Comics

http://boundingintocomics.com/2018/09/22/6-crazy-venom-powers/

A fun article which goes into some of the more unique abilities possessed by Venom ahead of the movie coming out next month.

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comics, masculinity, poetry

‘I’m here to help.’

I was always

A Batman kind of kid,

Grateful for having a mother

And working out the

Endless beatings to be him,

But I liked the other guy

The sense of how when the world

Needed saving

He was all

‘I’m here to help.’

And there’s people who’d

Say I’m a villain,

But I liked the idea

Of goodness and strength

Sleeping in the same bed,

I’ve tried

I have,

Not always succeeded,

But if we make our own

Gods and monsters,

There’s something to be said

For making them float

From the sky

Offer a hand

And say

‘I’m here to help.’

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film, women

Black Panther – Review

(Thought I’d try something a little different)

Marvel Studios introduced the character in Captain America: Civil War where T’Challa, prince of the African nation Wakanda appears as a force of relative antagonism. The movie Black Panther expands on the character, and the presence of Wakanda to tell a story which is only tangential to the ongoing consistency of the film universe.

But, Matt, you ask, do I need to harvest your nerd-infused brain meats to understand or enjoy it?

No, you don’t.

It’s a mixture of genres, but the overall look and discipline of the film is consistent and lends itself to an entertaining and exciting piece of film.

Thematically, it deals with the legacies of fathers being passed down to their offspring, the ideas of nationalism and identity, all wreathed in a knowing sense of humour, gorgeous visuals and some great performances.

Chadwick Bozeman, as T’Challa/Black Panther is charismatic, vulnerable yet heroic and carries the film alongside a great supporting cast. He has a gentle strength and nobility, alongside a physical presence which is sourced in a clear idea of the character.

I’m not precious about the adaptation of characters from one medium to another, and even my nerd Fu doesn’t tingle when films omit certain characteristics to make a film accessible to an audience outside of those who know what a long box is. Yet here we get a version who feels new and authentic.

So, why go see it?

It looks gorgeous, with a unique sense of styles, a colour palette and costumes which combine traditional African styles with a science fiction setting.

The performances are great. Notable stand outs are Michael B Jordan as the antagonist Eric Killmonger who has a wounded swagger which makes him compelling to watch. He was in The Wire, which adds to my theory of how any Wire alumni bring an extra charge to whatever film they’re in. I wasn’t in The Wire but I appropriate a similar level of awesome in my self.

He’s also an antagonist who embodies an important part of story structure, in they believe themselves a hero, and his motivation feels authentic and considered although he doesn’t get enough screen time.

Danai Gurira is fantastic, bold, distinct and carries a lot of the film’s internal plotting whilst also delivering kinetic action sequences which are balletic and evocative. Lupita Nyongo, Letitia Wright and Angela Bassett all work parallel to portray capable, beautiful characters who move the story forwards through action and intention. It’s a relief to see no characters are useful idiots and they have dialogue and action sequences which count as highlights in the movie.

Go see it, either as an interest in a film which generated some divisive publicity or because you’re a completist nerd like me who enjoys and learns from a multiple tier approach and consistency which is educational for a writer. Also it has lasers, ship battles, men with shirts off who’ve never seen a bloody carb in their lives, and armour plated rhinos.

Let me know if you like this, or want to disagree with me in the comments.

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beauty, comics, fiction, short fiction, women

Antagonist

solitude.png

(http://noir-limite.deviantart.com/art/Solitude-s-song-673874559)

If you’re reading this, then I’ve won.

Or lost.

It is a matter of perspective.

If the aim is survival, then I have won.

If the aim is the natural order of balance and justice, then I have lost.

This happened.

I wrote and drew a comic book based on a public domain character called Blackout. It started like most things as a joke when I was playing Serious Artist who sought to revolutionise the medium of comic books. I worked in an office during the day, answering the phone to damaged and upset people who were reporting the damaged things in their public housing that upset them then scripted and drew either in the mornings or late into the night. It was exhausting but each time I drew a page or finished a script; it was a little victory and enough fuel to sustain me through another appraisal where I had to lie and say how awesome my job was.

Success came when one of the collected editions ended up on the desk of someone who worked at Imagine Entertainment and then they met with me in London. I had to walk around the block twice to make sure it was real and to burn off some of the adrenaline that made me want to shit myself and throw up at the same time. The meeting went well; I contributed a script and two years later; I had the surreal experience of watching my characters speaking my words on a big screen.

It felt like a mild, pleasurable delusion. The money enabled me to commit to the work full time. I got a card and a set of brushes from my colleagues. It was difficult to hide my fear and my excitement at being able to live out a long-denied dream of mine.

That is all the background so you can dislike or envy me. It depends on how you view what happened next.

I had been busy with revisions for the movie sequel, comprising notes from the star and executive producer who had read Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey and understood none of it alongside scripting and drawing the latest graphic novel. I did too much too soon and although my enthusiasm had not waned; it loosened the clutch on my judgement a little.

Which is why I took the bike out late when it was dark and the roads were wet.

I was not doing over fifty when the flare of headlights sliced across my eyes and the bike bucked out from under me, skidding and slipping before I experienced nothing at all.
2.

I awoke in an alleyway, the high, ammoniac smell of urine in my nostrils and still in my leathers but without my helmet. A rat the size of a puppy stared at me as it dragged a bloodied child’s sneaker by a fraying pink lace. No injuries but no bike and no sign of where I was.

I looked up at a night sky stained with sodium lights. A canopy on the city that never slept.

I knew this place.

I created it.

My last mental breakdown had been horrible, a complete and unsparing awareness of the world and my place in it. A perpetual battle to do simple things like shave or go to the shops without floods of tears or a panic so complete that it made me speechless. If this was one, then it was more interesting and complete than anything before it.

Hanson City was to Blackout what Gotham was to the Batman and New York was to most of the Marvel Universe. It was a monumental pile of shit to have as a residence, but it provided me with enough story ideas to power me through a good decade of work.

Political and religious corruption.

An ancient order of architects and potentates who controlled the fate of Hanson City with a tight grip and resented the efforts of Blackout to bring about justice and order to the city.

Villains who were analogues of better villains, and I even had a team of garish cyborgs who remained in suspended animation until the artificial intelligence that controlled them would awaken them to go on rampages that occurred when I had nothing to say of true artistic value but needed a section to pad out the second act.

So I had created a place perfect to play God over, but never in a million years worth being subjected to.

I left the alleyway and ran straight into a sloppy, ugly fight between a young man and an elderly woman clutching at her purse.

‘Oi, stop.’ I said.

He turned and sneered at me, reaching in his pocket for a knife to brandish at me. If he had used it on the old lady, he would have been home by now.

The thump of something heavy landing from a long way up shook the surrounding buildings. In my head, Hans Zimmer’s score started up and I knew this scene before it happened. I had written it a million times.

Continuity had other plans.

I had worked myself into exhaustion writing a story that talked about the possible realities of having a post human with abilities beyond those of men. The heroes of the comic book universe would terrify in real life. I knew not to give the finger to my audience. I compensated for the internal whispers that despite my success, I was not a Serious Artist.

When Blackout punched his hand through the mugger’s skull, I screamed louder than the old lady did.

She ran away and I stood there. The blood steamed off his fist and he glared at me, his eyes shining with brutal need. He looked different from how I had drawn him, part of the anguish of the artistic process where in your head it is a perfect symbolic ideal and on the page, it looks like you gave yourself a paint enema and opened your cheeks onto the page.

He had sallow, pockmarked cheeks from adolescent acne and his hair was thinning. His muscles strained against his black unitard, which highlighted his abdominal definition but not the outline of his cock. I put my hands up, but he kept coming, slow for dramatic effect and I imagined the amount of panels.

I pleaded with him. In the script, I had a second act twist planned but here it was all reality. I stared into the eyes of my creation.
There was a voice in my head that was the antidote to the whispering doubts, it strutted around, kept me writing when I could have lapsed into marathon sessions of Borderlands 2 and Netflix. I had taken this character and renewed him, made him complex and beautiful. In his original appearance, he had gained his power from the vapours produced by a synthesis of formic acid and chemical names I had to search for without understanding.

You should have seen some of the letters I got. A woman who lectured chemistry at a university in Massachusetts wrote me an eighteen page letter explaining how and why I had gotten it so wrong. I sent her a signed copy of the last graphic novel, but it was her attention to detail that came as I stood there.

Nothing is original except for your voice. His revised origin was sleek and modern. Operant conditioning, genetic enhancement and control words gave Blackout his powers.

Control words.

There were several, used at points where I needed to create the false climax. No, not the kind you use where you groan like you have a cramp and tell her how lovely she is, but the narrative kind.

I had made them up using Enochian, a language developed by John Dee, the historical alchemist which was the language of angels. I was unsure whether it would stop him.

‘MA CHEE ELL’

He stopped, clutched at his head in a performance that would have earned awards if it were happening anywhere outside of my head. His belch made the air fill with the stink of sour milk and battery acid before he keeled over and fell onto his face.

I kneeled in front of him, checked his pulse and found nothing.

I liked to use minimal backgrounds but the fan fiction had capitalized on my laziness and I read enough of it to figure out my bearings.

If I was mad, then I had done a great job of building this delusion until it became real.

My body might be on a bed somewhere, tubes packed into every orifice, bandaged and comatose as my relatives discussed whether to switch off the machines keeping me alive. There, I was a deep-fried vegetable who might warrant a hashtag on Twitter.

Here I was someone who knew a few things.

The location of the secret lair. All the costumes I had designed and the rows of chemicals that controlled his power levels.

My secret lair.

Costumes.

Powers.

The rain had stopped. I stood over his body and heard the wail of sirens coming towards me. In the books, it was always a cue for him to run across the rooftops, take to the sky or have a terse conversation with the police detective who was his friend on the force. Here, it was a cue for me to be arrested and not be able to explain a single word of what had happened.

I ran. It took over an hour to find the lair, but I stood in front of the rusted sewer grate and fought the urge to weep with gratitude.

I am writing this. I performed two sets of intra-muscular injections an hour ago. In another thirty minutes I will take a dose of neurotropics that will enhance my intellect and sensory acuity. An hour after that, I will see if my delusions have any real import to them.

If you’re reading this, then I’ve won.

Or lost.

It is a matter of perspective.

If the aim is survival, then I have won.

If the aim is the natural order of balance and justice, then I have lost.

Either way, it will make for a hell of a story.

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beauty, love, short fiction, women

All Too Human

2e12b26500000578-3302185-image-m-11_1446572341596

We had to be first.

For everything that came after, I hold true to the belief that whatever we did, was done in the spirit of the pioneer. He would sit there, pipe in hand, staring out at the sky, his face pinched with the need to be there. The smartest man in the room had his mind set in alignment with the greater will of the nation.

The honour of being his lover burned in my chest to look at him. Some women might have ached at such a distance, but Richard had made himself clear from the first. When he gave me his attention, it was intense. At night, we would lay there, sweating under the moon over Calcutta, where he had come to lecture. He had come as part of an appeal to trade for our steel, an essential element of what he was planning. It was not a comfortable time or place for him, but I was attending to give a speech on crystalline shielding systems for interplanetary craft. We sat across from one another at dinner and I used my toes to stroke along the length of his patrician uncut cock before the end of the main course.

He took me to America with him. I met his brother, Benjamin, and their best friend, Eddie. Eddie and Benjamin were going to pilot his craft. Past the sun and unfurl solar sails to catch the power of a sunstorm and fire it outwards. My shielding designs would minimise the potential biochemical payload that piloting would expose anyone to, and within six months, we had secured State Department funding. A year after that, we were conducting field tests. It all proceeded at the velocity of fate, and by the time we were done, only haunted by late night conversations about whether we had missed anything.

We had.

All the calculations for the solar flare were pored over, triple blind tests to remove any potential bias. Loping towards destiny, we believed we had the mathematics on our side.

We had not calculated for the force of a solar storm. The cyclical data did not pan out. Later, Richard realised that he should have been calculating cultural trends instead. It was that certain trends went alongside cycles of solar activity. Tight was out, baggy was in and our calculations had been made on a period of tight, when really we should have been looking at baggy. Voluminous. Solar energy that kept the worst of the radiation from giving us cancer, but enough that it generated spontaneous mutations in each of us.

Eddie’s pores emitted tiny tongues of flame, and he patted at his suit, as his body roared with blue flames. Benjamin had hunched over, shuddering as he generated pitted growths with enough force to split his suit. It crawled all over him but he did not wrestle against it. He turned to look at me, his blue eyes twinkling with acceptance before the spores started to sprout from his cheeks and forehead.

Richard had elongated his limbs, his fingers sprouting out to tendrils that were invisible to the naked eye.

I had to be told that I was invisible, the first time that it happened. I went blind.

The eye works by collecting light to process it into information. My eyes were not able to collect light, so I was thrown into a state of complete visual disconnection. Richard’s tentacles curled around my forearms as he told me to breathe, to imagine myself visible again. His voice was smooth, low and controlled. I responded to it, watching the world return to me.

When we were shown to the world, people screamed for us. Heaving throngs of people who believed themselves to be in the presence of Gods. Not monsters.

Benjamin, covered in a myoid carapace that was impenetrable, he had grown a mechanical set of joints overlaid his own skeletal structure that developed massive amounts of force in terms of any physical activity.

Eddie could turn himself into flame, generate gouts of it from the surrounding air. He could breathe smoke and use cushions of super heated air to push himself through the sky.

Richard could expand and elongate any part of his anatomy. His intestines had evolved into a nutrient-packed clay that allowed him to twist himself into any configuration of forms. He confided that his experiments with the matter of his brain had proven interesting.

The fruits of this were the goggles that he gave to me. I slipped them on and then experienced the sensation of being unseen. A world so close to our own, yet entirely apart from it. Each day there allowed to work with the matter that the world was composed of. I could send it, sculpt with it, play in its stuff to encase people. Hypothetically, I could generate a bubble of it around someone’s head, suffocate them until they lapsed into unconsciousness. I learned how to build fields of it, capable of resisting bullets and explosives.

It was a naïve hope that it would not change us in other ways too. We were called upon at times of great crises. There was always a crisis. We would watch the economies of great nations collapse, the lines of food banks and soup kitchens growing and the fights for resources grow to epidemic proportions and feel unable to do anything about it.

So, we did.

Richard devoted his expanded mental faculties to producing systems of economic distribution that took courage to imagine, but underwritten by solid mathematics, delivered at a terrifying pitch of genius.

It was rejected out of hand.

I could not tell you how that hurt him that he sought to save the world and it turned him away.

His founding of the island should not have come as a surprise. Benjamin was relieved to no longer bear the rejections of others, and the island was large enough to allow him his isolation.

He had started to mutate further. He had confided in me, the night we slept together. Richard had been spending so much time in contemplation and experimentation that I had never felt quite so unseen by him. The most attention that he had paid me was when we were developing my understanding of my mutation, and after that it had dropped off.

Benjamin and I were drawn to one another. He was incredibly gentle with me, and listened to me solicitously, his eyes twinkling with understanding. He seldom spoke, except to encourage to talk further into my wounds. The tabloids made off colour jokes about what he could and couldn’t do, but Benjamin was a solicitous and gentle lover. He had to be, otherwise he could kill a partner.

It was one night he told me about the increasing rate of mutation, how his strength and capacity for resistance to impact had grown exponentially. How he would dream of emerald green intelligences, whispering their wisdom to him. He wanted me to go with him.

He wanted me to be the only thing he looked at.

Richard took the news without blanching, He gave a tight smile and returned to his lab.

In hindsight, I did not consider the long term impact of Richard’s experiments on his neurological capacity. How some actions would become attractive to him, if his humanity had been twisted into a series of useful, pragmatic subroutines.

You saw the footage. Eddie in the sky, blasting down the missiles before they hit the island.

The march of the relentless machines, shutting down military opposition with minimal force.

Benjamin and I hid, for a time, I insulated us both in porous suits of matter, letting in oxygen and light but insulating us from the extreme cold or heat, dependent upon where we hid.

I tell you this because we made a mistake. Not in loving one another, but in not addressing the unwarranted, unelected changes made to the fabric of society.

So, this will be our final message to humanity – forgive us, we were perhaps, gods and monsters both, but in matters of the heart, we were all too human.

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beauty, books, fiction, short fiction, women

A Terrible Velocity

velocity

‘Science is all about the coulda, not the shoulda.’

Patton Oswalt.

1.
The officer asked me if I want him to play the footage. I nodded and leaned forward.
He had been spotted in East Finchley before cameras had picked him up in Morden, which is 17 miles. The time stamps showed that he had made it in seconds. Teleportation was possible, but that had not tallied up with what the physical evidence was telling us.

There were reports of a boom in the tunnels at roughly eighteen forty-five. He had stood in front of a CCTV camera at eighteen forty-four, took his goggles off and stared at its unblinking mechanical eye. He had slipped them back on and disappeared between one blink and the next. His boots looked odd, and I tapped my finger against my thigh, spelling out the words that I needed to say to overcome the stammer.

‘Smart boy.’

The cameras ran constantly, but I was only looking for one single frame. I had to wind it back a few times, but I found it eventually. One frame, the platform is empty, the next he was there. Black hooded sweatshirt, black jeans and boots. He wore goggles and gauntlets which made his fingers look fat and white in the light on the platform. He lowered the goggles and let them dangle from his neck.

He looked up at the camera and sneered. He had a thin, lean face with pockmarked cheeks and cracked lips, but there was a light in his eyes that was difficult to look at. I saw it myself in the mirror every morning.

Power.

I thank the officer and asked him to arrange for that frame to be enhanced and sent out across the network. None of the street officers who picked it up would do anything, not from cowardice but because they wanted to go home at the end of the day.

That is why the Metropolitan had people like me on the payroll.

I’m not a serving officer. Consultant would have been a better title for it. It’s just as meaningless though. They paid me for my time and it made me feel better to pay something forward.

Some guilt too, but I used that to do my job.

2.

A cigarette’s worth of peace and quiet allowed me to start thinking about what was there. We had two victims thus far.

Janice Weatherall. 43. On her way home from visiting her ex boyfriend. Grabbed whilst waiting for the tube She had friction burns in the shape of fingerprints on her collarbone and the inside of her right thigh. He did not manage to do anything more than that. She had reported it but it had not gone anywhere.

It didn’t even raise a flag, and I made a mental note that I would kick Jay’s arse up between his shoulder blades for not keeping an eye out.

Imogen Harris. 24. Broken neck. Spine broken in two places. Most of the sexual activity occurred post-mortem. She had been engaged to be married. The physics of the injuries got flagged that time.

Janice said she thought he smoked. She sat there, hands folded in her lap and nails bitten to the quick.

He wouldn’t stop. They never knew how to. Either we caught them or they developed complications from the implants or chemicals they used. I’ve been lucky when they’ve killed themselves, which happened more than I thought it would.

The terrible things that people did changed them. More than whatever they might have stuck or injected into themselves. That some people could see a means to become more than human, and to do ugly, human things with it depressed me sometimes.

Not that hunting them down made me feel any more noble.

Posting bodies wouldn’t do any good. The idea came to me as I walked into the station. I put in a requisition order and went up to the chief constable’s office.

3.

I was watching drone footage whilst sat with a coffee in Liverpool Street Station. There were eight of them picking up blue tooth audio and streaming video. I wore contact lenses that allowed me to see the data, overlaid on the map of the underground that we were forming from real time data.

You should never think of these people as geniuses. You downloaded the specs from the internet, fabricated parts, either as implants or chemical molecules for tailored drugs. The surgical procedures were no more difficult than when you pierced your own ears with an ice cube and a hot needle. People posted videos of them.
A boom. Velocity was how we could track him. For anything else, I trusted my own senses and those of the surrounding people. I had more than an advantage in that respect. I looked at the map, saw the audio signal transposed over its location. The software was calculating the signal and working out where he was going next.

I had picked up on it when I had gone to see Janice. Then, it was there at Imogen’s autopsy. I had felt my sinuses prickle as the telltale fold of tissue grew. My head throbbed as my olfactory senses went into overdrive. Seeing as I lived in London, it was a trait that I saved for special occasions. It made questioning easier when I could pick up changes in their body chemistry. The discomfort of growing a canine olfactory information system was worth it.

He had a type. Tim Ferris once said that there was no such thing as a biological free lunch. If he had enlarged his suphrastic nucleus with tailored doses of uranium, then there were often changes to the way that their senses perceived and digested information.

How they processed desire.

Janice agreed to a swab, and I had gotten it sent to a lab in Mumbai, who sent back a recipe for a synthetic variant. An essential oil of the pheromonal signal that had reached into his tweaked and mutated brain and fired him up like a kiss on the lips from God.

There was about 50ml of it in a mister pack on my right hip. It gave off small bursts of synthetic nirvana that would bring him into range. What the lab in Mumbai had done was, which made it a variant, was also added a tailored sedative.

When you over-clocked the suphrastic nucleus, another side effect was that your ramped up body processes everything a lot faster. Including chemicals.

It wouldn’t knock him out but it would slow him. Once he was in range, I could take him out myself. If I had a sniper, he might have been able to catch the bullet. If anyone took me out, then that left other options for them to pursue.

I had an entire menagerie to call upon.

In my DNA lay the potential traits for animal abilities that had never been fully catalogued. I could alter my throat to throw out ultrasonic waves and see them as holographic images. I could grow infrared cells inside my nasal cavity and on my philtrum.

I could tell you what it feels like to have extra layers of teeth push through your gums. Claws splitting your cuticles and sliding forward inches past your fingertips.

It was a glorious and terrible burden.

My lenses said I had about six seconds. He couldn’t go full tilt but he had figured some out of the physics problems.

Turns out six was a generous assessment.

He stopped, his mouth hung open as a clear rope of saliva fell from his open chin. The pheromone and sedative cocktail had slowed him down to a stop. Through the goggles, his eyes were dull and unfocused. I knew that I did not have long. Whilst I had been waiting, I had focused on building an addition to the anatomy of my right arm. A piece of cartilage that would ratchet into place when I cocked my arm back.

It comes from the mantis shrimp, of all things.

Underwater, it is capable of throwing a single strike that reaches in excess of fifty miles an hour. I am slightly heftier than a mantis shrimp and so I wore a glove, fitted with moulded memory plastic underneath a slab of synthetic diamond.

It is not so much a punch that I threw at him, as his own velocity, honed into a single point of contact. I aimed for the bridge of his nose and the impact travelled up my arm as his head burst apart in a wet gout of brain tissue, skull fragments and hair. He staggered backwards with his legs buckling, the last signals of his enhanced but decimated nervous system trying for one last statement.

He fell backwards, which was fine by me. I slipped off the glove and gave the order to close in and clean up.

They found his place. He had ordered a series of injections from a deep web vendor and recorded it all for his own gratification. He had been deteriorating from where his body had started to falter under the pace of his own thought processes, he complained of how his legs hurt, how he had to eat mass gainer protein shakes mixed with oatmeal and raw eggs in order to maintain the calorific intake necessary to power his abilities.

All that pain and suffering, and all he could go was hurt people.

I lit up another cigarette as I felt the spring start to break down into simple proteins and minerals to be absorbed into my system. My phone rings and I answer it, already knowing what to say.

‘Where do you want me?’

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comics, short fiction, women

Thought Balloon.

metamorphosis_by_weryvall-davrtga

(http://weryvall.deviantart.com/art/metamorphosis-658027738)

Theresa saw the sign held up by a single push pin on the notice board. It was a single sheet of A4 paper, typed with care and containing the least possible amount of information. It was a notice that knew its own appeal and power over the students who stopped to read it, drawn in by need.

VOLUNTEERS FOR MEDICAL TESTS

CASH PAID

Theresa needed cash. She had given blood twice in the last month, signing in under a different name and suffering the tinny, empty hangover of deprivation, shovelling multi-vitamins and drinking orange juice to enable her to make it through classes and assignments until she recovered.

College was not the grand escape she had been led to believe. These doubts haunted her, but she would think of returning home, slinking across the threshold to the mockery of her family, an eternity of shifts at the IHOP, having a baby in lieu of anything else to do with her time and that would motivate her to keep going.

Hunger was her steady guy but it was a bipolar relationship. Hunger motivates a great many decisions, and history showed that Theresa Thomas was like a great many other college students, chained down with debt and starting to wonder if a college education was the great escape society told her it was, or simply a better mousetrap to snap her fragile neck with.

She went over to the science department building, thinking of what a little cash injection would do for her situation, and all that the email said was required was to sit in a high backed chair with an IV in her arm, and the worst that might happen was either a vague sense of discomforting penetration or a mild elevation of mood. Which was how she had characterised her sex life anyway, so she entered the building with a muted but steadfast enthusiasm.

The people who gave the briefing had the shiny, superficial charm of low-end motivational speakers, their appearances and voices pitched at too high an energy level for a group of college students on a Sunday morning. Harry had a halo of light blonde hair, dazzling white teeth and pink, cherubic cheeks. His suit cost more than Theresa’s tuition and he spoke in the patrician tones of inherited wealth and indifference. His title was Vice President of Trials and Innovations, which Theresa took to be middle management, and not important enough to be allowed to spend their weekends on any amount of leisure time.

His partner, Gail, wore a tailored business, accentuating her marathon-hardened legs but otherwise sealing her in up to her throat. She had a gristly, overly tanned countenance and smiled as though levity caused her physical pain. She allowed Harry to give the briefing whilst typing carefully into a tablet without looking up. Theresa thought that the pairing reminded her of a divorced parent spending court mandated time with a child they weren’t sure was actually theirs.

‘So, this is an exciting time for Braiston Pharmaceuticals, where we’ve reached human testing with a product that we are sure will bring relief to the millions of Americans who suffer from long term anxiety related disorders.’

He clapped his hands together.

‘You’re all being ably compensated for your time here but in truth, you’re helping people. You embody the pioneer spirit that has made this country great.’

Theresa looked over at Nina, who had detected the scent of Republican and was sat there, fighting the internal conflict of need versus ideology by shifting in her seat. Looking around, Theresa saw that the small group of four people had the restlessness that she had known as the awkward wait for weed with a dealer you didn’t like, but felt obligated to have a conversation with before you picked up your shit and went home.

Save us the spiel, stick us and give us the money, motherfucker, Theresa thought.

Theresa zoned out, thinking about how after this, she could saunter over to Four Panel Grid and collect the comics she had on her pull list. She had always let her geek flag fly and had done so for long enough to foster a healthy resentment for the latter day surge in pop culture enthusiasm that had infected society. Theresa was ambivalent about most aspects of her hobby, she liked going to conventions in costume and understood how some women used it to build careers based on being titillating and crying victim at the same time yet she also thought that Obama should have passed as a federal law that anyone who said without irony that Spider Man was their favourite DC character should die by lethal injection. She would also volunteer that her ideal superpower would be telepathy, followed by telekinesis. Then invisibility, although she would want to figure out how she would be able to see if her eyes were unable to collect

She was excited about the next volume of Deadly Class and although it had been plagued by artist delays, she had an issue of Karnak waiting for her to pick up.

These reveries occupied her whilst physically, she signed release forms and was led to the high backed chair. She came to herself only when the first sharp pinch of the needle was inserted into her vein. The nurse looked at her with bright green eyes and auburn hair, smiling with a maternal ambivalence as she asked her if she was okay. Theresa shrugged and that made the nurse grin with recognition.

‘I had to do shit like this when I was at college. It’ll make for good stories later on, I promise.’

Theresa smiled back, relieved that someone was treating her like she was real, rather than a prop in someone else’s scheme. The nurse patted her on the forearm and stood up with a wince for her efforts before moving on to do the same for Nina.

Theresa had read Firestarter by Stephen King at a formative age plus a solid library of ‘experiments gone wrong’ mythology to unnerve her. She experienced nothing beyond a faint boredom and discomfort. She left the building with a white envelope and she managed to wait until she was on her way to the comic store before she checked it. It was the happiest she had been in a while, and she immediately experienced a small burst of shame for it, but on cue, her stomach burbled with hunger pangs and she got over it.

She fell asleep with the greasy remains of a Philly Cheese steak floating on a lake of Vanilla Coke in her stomach and her comics already back in their mylar bags and cardboard backing.

2.

Her room mate Judy woke her just after seven, which wasn’t unusual as Judy had that perky efficiency which made her an ideal room mate but potentially an awful girlfriend.

What made Theresa bite back a cry of terror was what floated above Judy’s head.

A thought balloon. The dimensions of a dirigible with a stiff triangle pointing to the crown of Judy’s blue dreadlocked hair. The words were in upper case, flickering into being as Theresa’s eyes adjusted to the morning light.

WOULD IT KILL YOU TO ORGANISE YOUR OWN FUCKING LIFE FOR ONCE?

Theresa shuddered as she pushed back the duvet.

‘I never asked you, you know?’

Judy winced.

‘Hey, all I said was good morning. What’s up with you?’

WHO’S PISSED IN YOUR CEREAL THIS MORNING?

Theresa had never experienced a florid degree of insanity, tangentially or otherwise. There had been a girl on campus who had moved from vegan activism through to believing that she could talk to animals and there were rumours she was caught naked in the riding stables ten miles down the road but otherwise she held the same awareness of functional anxiety, depression and suicide as performance.

The words kept twisting as Theresa tried not to stare in appalled awe at Judy’s thought patterns laid bare before her. She got out of bed with an appalled haste, running to the bathroom and looking in the mirror, telling herself that this was all a bad dream. She stared at herself, feeling a directed pressure building in her temples, like the mental equivalent of holding back the urge to pee.

Which was when the mirror shattered and fell from the wall in a burst of small shards like she had swung a sledgehammer at it. She sliced the heel of her left foot open as she darted backwards to avoid it, hand clamped over her mouth to keep from screaming. Judy called to her through the closed door and Theresa stood there, believing only in the solidity of the door at her back and the deeply realised belief that things were going really really wrong for her.

3.

Judy relished the opportunity to fuel her passive aggressive resentment by playing reluctant caregiver, bandaging Theresa’s foot and sweeping up the glass. Theresa watched her train of thought travel from the station of:

SHE’S BEING REALLY FUCKING WEIRD THIS MORNING

It stopped at:

OH GOD IS SHE ON DRUGS? WAIT, OF COURSE SHE IS, THE BONG ON THE NIGHTSTAND WAS YOUR FIRST CLUE, MOODY JUDY. HEY WHAT RHYMES WITH ORANGE?

Then as she bandaged Theresa’s foot.

POOR THING, SHE’S PROBABLY ON THE VERGE OF A BREAKDOWN. I WONDER IF IT’S TRUE THAT IF SHE KILLS HERSELF, I’D GET AN A. THANK GOD BECAUSE I HAVE NO FUCKING CLUE HOW TO WRITE TWO THOUSAND WORDS ABOUT STANISLAVSKI. NOT EVEN IF YOU HELD A GUN TO MY HEAD.

Theresa limped out, kissed Judy on the cheek which warranted:

SHE’S COMING OUT. I MEAN, I WENT THROUGH THAT PHASE WHERE I IMAGINED SHE WAS FINGERBLASTING ME DRESSED AS BATGIRL BUT THAT WAS PROBABLY WHEN INDIA WAS DEALING WITH HER POST RACIAL GUILT ABOUT BLM. OH GOD AM I READY FOR ANOTHER RELATIONSHIP?

The relief of escaping that lasted for the time to took to get outside.

Theresa had gone to a writer’s panel at a convention once, and a pudgy young man dressed as Walter White in the yellow hazmat suit had asked the taciturn Englishman what was the thing artists hated most from him. He had given a deep chuckle. winked at the wiry artist to his left and told him.

‘Scenes with too much going on. It takes me thirty poxy seconds to write THE CROWD CHANTS but it takes him a week to draw and letter the bloody thing.’

There was a sea of thought balloons, each one writhing and dancing with the dance of subconscious thought made visible. Theresa did not imagine what her own would look like. Nina stood a few feet away, her hands pressed against her cheeks as tears streamed down.

Theresa made it over to her and pulled her into a tight, desperate hug.

‘It’s okay. This is just our secret origin, Nina, that’s all.’

Nina cried harder and Theresa remembered how she had laughed in shrill mockery when Tom Hanks blustered the need ‘to get me to a library’. The irony of what she said next did not escape her.

‘We need to get to the comic shop.’

 It was after that, that things got really strange.

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