SO HERE I am falling off a tall building and...wait.
WHERE THE #$%@ ARE THE PICTURES?
Now I have to deal with this? What is this, anyway—a really, really long caption? Come on! Comics are supposed to be totally in-your-face, in-the-moment, like TV, or…like TV! Get with the program. A picture’s worth a thousand turds. Like, if I just say red, it’s not as good as seeing red, is it? Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the chitty-chitty-chit-chat— they call me the Merc with a Mouth for a reason—but enough’s enough. Like William Burroughs said, “Language is a virus from outer space.”
Okay, yeah, he was a morphine addict, and there’s no such thing as a naked free lunch, but still.
I know some of you out there already have smart-ass questions, like, if pictures are so hot, what about backstory? Exposition? How do you do that stuff? Okay, maybe you do need a curt sentence or two, but any writer worth his salt tosses that into the dialogue, like:
None of that Meanwhile, back at the ranch crap. If you see a full-page splash of a bank vault, you don’t assume the action’s taking place in a convenience store, right?
So what’s with all the verbiage?
Oh, wait. I get it. Book. It’s a book. They really still make these things? Damn.
Okay, I got this. Just a little thrown. As I said, I likes me the talk.
I know you do.
By the by, meet my inner dialogue. If this was a comic, you’d be seeing that in a special-purpose yellow caption. As it is, we’re going with that boldface thing, apparently.
Works for me.
Let’s get this party started.
And italics for Inner Voice #2. Great. Just shut up for now and let me get on with the story already.
The sleek steel and glass of a Manhattan skyscraper warp into a haze as I careen along its chic frontage. Not being one of those flying types, or even a swinger like Spider-Man, I’m, well… plummeting. I’m flipping and flopping like a fish out of water. More specifically, a fish out of water that’s been tossed out a window. I look for something in this big bad blur I can grab onto, anything to at least slow my fall, but there’s nada. No flagpoles, no ledges, no gargoyles—just smooth sailing, first pavement on the right and straight on until mourning.
Things may look bad, but I’ve fallen lots. I’ve fallen down buildings; I’ve fallen into mine shafts, criminal lairs, alien motherships, candy factories, women’s bedrooms—you name it. I’ve fallen asleep, fallen in love, fallen in debt, fallen to pieces—but I’ve never, ever, fallen to my death. I have fallen to other people’s deaths, but that usually involves better aim.
Here’s the kicker, though: I’m not alone. I’m carrying the cutest Dalmatian puppy you ever did see. I just snatched this wee fellow from the fancy-pants penthouse way, way back up there. Things didn’t go quite as planned, and boy is he going wee now.
I see what you did there.
Oh, aren’t you clever.
His name’s Kip, judging from the gold tag on his diamond-studded collar. But at this rate, it’s going to be Spot when we hit concrete. Under other circumstances, like if he’d eaten a bunch of Cub Scouts and planned to go back for seconds, that might not bother me. Not that I don’t enjoy killing, but Kip here hasn’t done anything to deserve a premature demise.
So you like the little guy?
No way! He’s cute, but cuteness is for lesser beings. I’m the hardened-heart type, keeping the warm fuzzies at bay. That means no man/dog bonding. But…he is so sweet with the rushing air currents pushing his vibrating eyelids wide open like that!
Ahem. That said, I am thinking—purely as a matter of principle, mind you—about how to keep him alive. I did see an online video last week about a puppy that survived a nineteen-story drop.
Sure you didn’t imagine it?
Maybe, but it sounded good, especially the part about terminal velocity, how the upward push of wind resistance matches gravity’s downward pull, blah-blah-blah. A small mammal like Kip here reaches terminal velocity much sooner than a big guy like me.
Which means…holding onto him should slow me down, right?
Since I’m still picking up speed, I’ll give you that one. Kip’s stuck with my terminal velocity. I can’t have that, so I look into his wide, dark, terrified eyes.
“Time you were on your own, little fellow!” I chuck him upward. “Fly free, Kip! Fly free!”
Now that he’s on his own, he’ll be fine for sure, just like the dog in the video. Or was it a cat? I seem to remember a cat. And it was playing piano. Cat, dog, parakeet…what’s the difference, really?
I continue to obey the laws of physics. Cumulus clouds spin above me like cream whipping in a blender. Mmm. Whipped cream. I’d grab a little nosh after I land, but the updraft carrying that oh-so-special city stench is ruining my appetite. The ground must be getting pretty close. I should probably look down, just to judge my distance to the pavement, maybe try to slow myself by bouncing against the wall or something.
Pavement, oh, pavement? Where are you?
There you are!
I mentioned the healing thing, right? You know how when Wolverine, that bad-attitude guy from the X-Men, gets shot or cut, the wound heals all by itself? I’m like that, only…more so. Unless I’m dunked in acid, or completely disintegrated, I grow back. Okay, yeah, most of the super crowd returns from the dead so often they should build a shuttle, but they at least have the potential to bite the big one. When one of them comes back, it takes a bunch of convoluted logic— or at most, a reboot.
Me, I’m effectively immortal. No matter how badly I get hurt, everything eventually grows back, cancer and all. Did I mention I have cancer? It’s what made me sign up for the Weapon X experiment in the first place. Weapon X was run by the Canadian government, btw. Figured it might be a cure. Instead, the experiment made my cancer cells regenerate, too, leaving me with a body full of lesions and a head full of dreams.
Or was the word they used delusions?
Anyway, missing limb? A few hours, and it grows back. Flattened skull? Maybe a day or two. Sure, the brain being one of your more crucial organs, I sometimes wake up a little more confused than usual, speaking French, thinking I’m with the Bolshoi Ballet or whatnot, but bottom line? Despite what they say about death and taxes, I can’t die, and I don’t pay taxes.
Doesn’t sound too bad, I guess, until it’s your bones that are broken, your insides spilling out like an overturned Olive Garden garbage can. The problem is, I still feel every wound, every time. I could go on and on about the throbbing, stabbing agony that’s coursing through my each and every neuron at this very moment, but I’m saving that for my next book, You Think That Hurts? For now, I’ll close on the subject by quoting Ronald Reagan—who, shortly after taking a bullet, was heard to quip, “Ow! Ow! Ow!”
It does beat the alternative, meaning death. Take the two guys I landed on. You haven’t even met them, and they’re already no longer with us. Most people think I’m heartless (and gross, smelly, etc.), but I feel pretty bad about the hot-dog vendor. The stockbroker? Not so much, though I am impressed with his Patek Philippe wristwatch. It’s still working even after I landed on it. Hey, he’s not using it, and I’ve got just enough intact fingers to…
Kip lands in the pulpy center of my cracked chest, making a sound like a wet whoopee cushion. He’s all startled, like, “What was that?” Otherwise, he’s no worse for wear. The little guy yips and scampers off. Good for him. Sucks for me.
Nabbing that mongrel is the whole reason I’m here in the first place. Now I have to wait in agony until my body heals, then figure out how to find a puppy in the streets of Manhattan.
Is that a song? A puppy in the streets of Manhattan?
Nah. You’re probably thinking about The Muppets Take Manhattan.
By the way, this whole scene? Perfect example of the advantages comics have over prose. It would’ve been much easier with pictures. Two vertical panels and some motion lines, maybe a quick reaction shot from the hot-dog vendor and the stockbroker as they wonder why they’re suddenly in shade, and we’re done. Half a page, tops. And the slam when I hit? Much more visceral.
Oh, where will all those fools with their “book learning” be in our new post-literate world? Bwah-hah-hah!
Meanwhile, back at the story…
Yeah, yeah. Don’t push me.
Before I can cry, “Here, Fido!” I find myself blessed with a visit from above. From the penthouse, not Heaven. Geez. The newcomer lands in front of me, not with an egregious splat or thud, but with the soothing, gentle rush of mech-armor jets. Why, it’s none other than the wacky bodyguard who tossed me out of the penthouse in the first place! Never dawned on him I’d be fast enough to snatch up Kip as I went. Should’ve seen the look on his face.
I don’t know if this guy’s actually big and mean, or if it’s just that high-tech suit he’s wearing, but he nails his entrance. The snazzy final blast from his boot-jets whooshes along the sidewalk, sending the cart’s still-steaming foot-longs rolling into the street. But that cool vrt-vrt noise he makes when he moves spoils it. Totally trademarked by Stark Industries. You can’t just order armor like that from Amazon, so I figure he’s sporting a Chinese black-market knockoff that his boss bought on eBay. Damn Internet. Doesn’t anyone just carry automatic weapons anymore?
Iron Joe vrts a little closer. The suit does that thing where a missile launcher emerges from his forearm. Don’t ask me how it’s supposed to work. Unless the suit’s made of something like Vibranium, which can absorb vibrations, the recoil on that thing should yank his whole arm off in the other direction.
But he doesn’t fire yet. His helmet clicks back, showing me a broken-nosed face with a few miles on it. I can see it in his steely eyes: This man’s street-smart, and he may even have been around the block once or twice. He’s no hotshot wannabe out to prove himself. Probably has some combat experience that earned him the penthouse gig. I almost respect him.
Until he opens his mouth.
“Don’t know how you survived the fall, and I don’t care. Hand over the dog, or I’ll decimate you!”
I laugh. “You’re gonna destroy a tenth of me?”
His head twists in a how-dare-you way. “What’d you say to me?”
“Decimate, tin man, means to destroy a tenth of something. Don’t believe me? That suit must have Internet. Google it. I’ll wait.”
“Freaking grammar Nazi.” He raises the forearm bearing what I’m guessing is a smoothbore 37mm cannon. “I mean I’m gonna blow you up, okay?”
He nudges me with the barrel—which, given my current state, hurts. “Where’s the mutt?”
When he notices I’m lying on a gore pile too big to belong to only me, his face gets all sad. “You didn’t…land on him, did you?”
I’d no idea I could actually feel my pancreas until he pushes that barrel under me like it’s a shovel and uses it to lift me for a peek.
“Agh! Cold! Really cold! He’s not under there! He ran off! He ran off!”
Relieved, the guard vrts his head up and presses a button on his forearm.
From his armor, a sultry synthetic female voice I wish I could hook up with announces, “Dog whistle activated.”
The parts of my neck that usually let it move are shattered, so I can’t change my point of view, but I hear puppy nails scrabbling along the cement behind me.
Vrt-man gets a smug smile, like he knew all along everything’d turn out fine.
“Kip, you little pain! There you are! C’mere, you flea-bitten dirtbag!”
His words are gruff, but there’s a fondness in his voice that tells me he really cares about the hairy thing. Gives me a pang. Could be the pancreas again, but part of me wants to hallucinate a boy-and-his-dog montage with me as the boy—complete with stick, ball, and potty training. Now is not the time.
The bodyguard’s not going to want to hear it, but there’s something I really should tell him.
“Shut up.” The scrabbling pup-nails get louder. “Here, boy!”
He rolls his eyes, but finding the dog’s got him feeling warm, so he gives in. “Bernardo.”
Behind me, I hear quick, adorable puppy breaths and a lolling puppy tongue slapping the puppy sides of a puppy snout.
“Bernardo, mi amigo, por favor, listen very carefully. I know Kip’s cute, I know it’s your job to protect him, but you do not want to pick up that dog.”
Before I can go into detail, I get a view of puppy junk and butt as Kip sails over my face and into Bernardo’s waiting metal-composite arms.
“Here you are, you little meat sack!”
“Sure, it looks like a puppy, but trust me, it’s really…”
The dog licks his face. Bernardo laughs, probably remembering a happy day from his childhood that never really happened.
“Hey, settle down, you!” Then the Dalmatian licks get a little harder. “No, really. Settle down! Kip!”
“Put him down, B. Trust me.”
“I’ll put you down.”
The tongue moves faster. The dry, sandpaper feel gets coarser. It doesn’t hurt enough to stop a rough guy like Bernie, but I can see from his eyes that he’s starting to wonder what’s going on. Rather than deal with the strangeness, he turns the anger my way.
“Who the hell are you, anyway? What kind of freak breaks in past a million-dollar security system just to swipe a kid’s…”
And then the cute little tongue tears away its first chunk of Bernardo’s skin, exposing the tendon and muscle beneath. Surprised—wouldn’t you be?—B screams. Instinct makes him want to touch the wound to see how bad it is, but he can’t because he’s holding Kip in both hands. Teeny Kip, who’s now gnawing a gory cheek in his mouth like it’s a chew toy.
The welling pain racing his shock, Bernardo gets all nasty. All bets off, he holds up Kip like a football and uses his armor’s augmented strength to chuck the mutt as fast and as far as he can. But the furry ball hits the sidewalk just right. Kip rolls, black and white, black and white, like a riddle, for half a block. As he goes, though, he also grows—and grows and grows, until his body’s snowballing size mucks with the momentum and stops him short.
Then his body…how do I describe this? Well, it unfurls, sort of like a plant opening up its leaves or a bird unfolding its wings, but more accurately like a mutant monster that’s growing, changing color and shape, expanding in seconds to a height of, oh, I dunno. It’s not like I’ve got a ruler handy, so let’s call it…forty feet?
Yeah, I’d say forty feet. Give or take.
And then the puppy-no-more cries out, its voice booming like something else that booms. Like, maybe what they used to call a boombox. Sure, a boombox, but much boomier. You know, like thunder. Yeah, like really loud rolling thunder:
“I am GOOM! Thing from the Planet X!”
Cheek-less Bernardo’s eyes go wide. I’m disappointed. I thought the man had street smarts, but he loses a little flesh and suddenly he’s some lame desk jockey who’s never seen a giant monster before. He’s easy prey, too busy staring to realize he should be running.
Me? My body may be broken, but with my heart and soul nestled safely in the burgundy mud puddle that is me, I yell to him: “Hey, Bernardo? ’Nardo, buddy?”
ALL THIS TIME, my healing factor’s been doing its thing—sealing this rupture, regrowing that missing bit of internal organ, putting the gluteus back in my maximus. Can’t walk yet, but with the good ol’ sternocleidomastoid muscles in my neck mended (yeah, I know what they’re called, what about it?), I tip my head back for an upside-down view of this creature that calls itself Goom.
Hoo-wee, he’s a biggun’!
I mean that. Five floors if he’s a story. His mottled skin’s thick and stony. He’s got a squat wrestler’s body topped with a fat pumpkinorange head and the prettiest little green eyes you ever did see. The innocent puppy I knew as Kip is no more. In his place…
With his gaping maw stating the obvious right above me, I’m in the perfect spot to notice that he’s got no upper teeth at all. He’d be a dentist’s dream if it weren’t for his two lower molars, which are big enough to mash up a bus like roughage. I’m ready to give him an eight outta ten for the monster look until I spot those lame-ass wings he’s got flapping under his rocky armpits. They look like a box-store Dracula cape, size quintuple X, dyed orange to match his skin.
My bodyguard pal, bleeding-cheek Bernardo, finally makes all the appropriate neural connections. See dog? Dog gone. Monster here. Run, run, run! Bernie’s out of my field of vision, but I hear him doing more than a few vrt-vrts—at least one of which, I suspect, is him soiling his high-tech shorts.
Me? All of a sudden I’m in shadow, like a building’s falling on me (and yes, I know exactly what that looks like). But that’s no building—it’s the arm of my goombah Goom, casting major shade as he reaches over me. I turn my newly working neck in time to see him grab Bernado in his four-fingered King Kong hand.
Bernado plays his part, screaming like Fay Wray: “Aieeeee!”
Hard not to like a monster who lets you know where he’s at. Not that I couldn’t guess his masticatory intentions from the way he’s smacking his lips and bringing B up toward his open mouth. Goom wants to get himself some more of that sweet cheek.
B’s a good man in a pinch, perhaps even a delicious man, so I want to help him out. Not with force, since I can’t move, but with something even more powerful: information.
“Bernardo? Hey, Bernardo?”
As he tries to squirm free, he calls back. “What?”
I wave my working fingers. “Hi.”
Still flailing, he looks at me. “Are you crazy?”
I try to do a stage whisper, but I’m not very good at it. “I think that means he wants to eat you.”
“For the love of…let me die in peace!”
I’d make a joke about how he’s going to die in pieces, but Goom would need incisors and canines for that. It’s more likely he’ll be mashed and shredded.
“Sure, if you want, but…Bernardo?”
My lip muscles back up to par, I smile. “Is that a cannon on your forearm, or are you just glad to see me?”
He looks pissed at first, but then a profound awareness dawns in his eyes. “Oh. Yeah.”
Quick as a puppy-lick, he fires that smoothbore 37mm cannon. Guess what? Turns out Bernardo is wearing some Vibranium-free Iron Man knockoff and real-world physics are in play. The little-missile-that-could shushes one way and his armored arm snaps back the other, the recoil absorbed a bit by the suit. The limb isn’t quite torn off, but B’s not going to be signing autographs any time soon.
I love a good argh. Don’t you?
The missile leaves a trail so puffy-white it could be the clouds on the cover of a children’s book.
Or a chemtrail.
When the missile hits the meaty part of the monster’s chest, Goom goes boom! Monster-bits splatter across the wide avenue. The hand and arm holding Bernardo swing fast and low like a sweet chariot—their connection to Goom’s torso just isn’t what it used to be. Before the four big knuckles scrape pavement, B’s out of their grasp.
Goom is down and out for the count, but do I get so much as a thanks? Nah. Bernie just pirouettes wildly in midair and grabs at his arm, screaming about how he thinks it’s broken. Does he even ask how I’m feeling?
No, it’s all, “Yie! Yie! Yie!”
Speaking of which, my arm’s starting to feel pretty good.
When the spinning stops and he does talk, it’s not about me at all. “Cripes. How am I going to explain this? The boss’s kid loved that dog.”
Having regained some upper-body wriggling capacity, I prop myself up on an elbow and raise an eyebrow his way. But he can’t see that, because I’m wearing a mask.
You knew that, right? Do I really have to mention I’m wearing a mask? Black-and-red body suit? Doesn’t this thing have a cover, at least?
“The kid, right. The kid. As if that’s the problem here. Why not admit it, tough guy—you loved that hairy mutt, too, at least before it tried to eat you. But doesn’t it growing into a giant monster mean there’s only more to love? Face it—deep down, you’re hurting because you had to put Old Yeller down.”
The wobbly B hovers about ten feet up. He’s quiet, probably unsure if he should say anything, or if our relationship has finally grown beyond words. But before he can even think to ask if I’m crazy again, he realizes I was right, in more ways than one.
Goom’s remains should’ve stayed a seething heap of oozing Lovecraftian putrescence. Instead, there’s a whole lot of shaking going on. With a crinkly sucking noise, new tissue forms, body parts fill in like plot holes, and everything old is new again.
Son of a bitch. It’s got a healing factor like mine—only much, much faster. I’m shocked. I’m outraged. Mostly, I’m embarrassed. I look down at my pathetic body, still struggling to get a few internal organs going, and I tsk.
“Why can’t you heal as fast as Goom? Why?”
But Bernardo’s in trouble again, because, you know…“Goom hungers!”
In a panic, jets sputtering, B turns to me, the guy whose quick thinking saved his sorry ass the first time. “Now what do I do?” he asks.
I shrug, thinking, Hey, I can shrug again!
But then I say, “How the @&^# do I know? Swipe through your apps, find something that fires, and aim for the damn thing’s gobbleshaft.”
Gobbleshaft definitions aside, it’s not as easy as it sounds. B’s right arm is out of commission, and he’s clearly not ambidextrous. His left hand fumbles about like that lady at the automatic checkout this morning who couldn’t figure out where to put her pennies.
In the coin slot, you idiot! THE COIN SLOT!
You should’ve blown her up.
Anyway, I cleverly suggest a daring shift in tactics. “Those wussy wings of his can’t possibly work. Fly out of range!”
Nodding, he turns up the juice. The jets waver, like maybe there’s a piece of Goom caught in the intake manifold. He doesn’t zoom off, but he starts rising as the monster’s paw reaches for him again. It looks close, but Goom’s four fingers clamp on air.
“Fly away, little guard! Fly free!”
B’s relieved. I can tell from his smug smile. I am, too, but only for about a second, because apparently those wings aren’t just there to attract mates. Goom can fly. Pretty fast, too. He closes the distance in a flash and grabs Bernardo’s legs. Rather than repeat his earlier mistake by telling us all again how alive and hungry he is, Goom pops Bernardo into his mouth.
Right there, in midair.
It’s kinda like watching one of those nature films where the seagull thinks it’s getting away from the shark, but the shark just jumps up and…
I’m about to offer B more advice, but there’s this…gnashing sound. Quality battle armor would give off a macho krunk as it collapses. This crap doesn’t even squeal.
Wish I could say the same for Bernardo. “Yaghhhh!”
With a vrt-vrt here and a vrt-vrt there…he’s gone.
By the way, if this had been a comic, his final exclamation would’ve appeared in what we call a BURST.
At least the big guy doesn’t say, “Goom chews!”
Circle of life. Am I right? That’s another reason I make it a policy not to bond with pets, or minor characters, or most things. You never know when they’ll die. I mean, I barely knew Bernardo, and here I am, feeling all sniffly about…
Oooh! Look! A Patek Philippe wristwatch, and no one’s using it!
I finally get my digits on the damn thing when a pained, wailing din intrudes on my opportunistic thievery. It sounds like a whole elementary school full of terrified, screaming children—because, yep, right across the wide avenue, there’s a brown brick elementary school, full of kids. The brats are all gathered at the windows, pitifully wailing as Goom stomps toward them.
No “Goom swallows!” or “Goom wipes his lips!” Just: “Goom hungers!”
The reading material on Planet X must really suck.
The kids howl. Their brave teachers yank them back from the windows. One pulls down the shade, as if that’ll do something.
That’s it. I don’t care if he was a puppy once, now he’s being piggish. I heave myself up, shake off a few steaming hot dogs, and snap out the twin katana I keep strapped to my back.
Unfortunately, I hadn’t noticed that one of the swords healed right into my shoulder blade. Eep. Completely throws my iaido when I yank it out. Hurts pretty bad, too. Sorry, agony, no time for you now. Feet pumping, arms back and ready to strike, I head for the nearest bumpy orange ankle.
Goom raises his hand and arches his back, looking like he’s about to take out the wall with a single blow. If I were a lot taller, I could hamstring him from here. Instead, I slash at his ankle, slicing out enough of a chunk to make him fall backwards.
Man, he goes down loud. The ground shakes. Asphalt cracks. Traffic’s blocked both ways. Two cabs, a minivan, and an Acura all go crunch. A hydrant snaps, shooting water thirty feet into the air. In other words…
See? That’s a burst.
Goom’s on his back, disoriented, looking like a papa who’d been playing with the baby on the living room floor and now can’t quite figure where his little darling crawled off to. But then his great big pumpkin head (as opposed to Great Pumpkin head, which would be a Charlie Brown reference) turns my way.
By the time he narrows his twin greenies at my sweet self, the ankle’s healed. Damn.
“Goom will destroy you!”
I give him a Bronx cheer. “Deadpool will duck!”
His hand comes for me. Despite my incredible reflexes, he’s too fast for Plan A—which, as I said, involved ducking. I switch to Plan B and slice off a monster fingertip.
“Don’t they have exclamations of pain on Planet X? Is it all just clipped self-reflexive narrative? ‘Goom hurt?’ ‘Goom regret?’ ‘Goom enter shame spiral?’”
Before he can pull his hand away, I relieve him of another digit.
Turns out you don’t really need all your fingers to swat something. Rather than take a minute of Goom-time to suck on his wounds, he backhands me. I go flying. It’s not up, up, and away so much as across the street and into the stone base of the elementary school. Granite, mortar, and what looks like a time capsule from 1954 tumble around me. Bruised but not broken, I hop back out and angrily let loose with a stream of classic battle lines:
“Yippee-ki-yay, m***********! Go ahead, punk, make my day! I’m all out of bubblegum! Say hello to my little friend! You talkin’ to me? I’m not locked in here with you, you’re locked in here with me! I am the one who knocks! For hate’s sake, I spit my last breath at thee!”
Goom sits up, the top of his head even with the third floor of the building behind him. His fingers already restored to their original, fabulous condition, he tries to grab me again, but I’m ready this time. I hop atop his index finger and rush along his arm.
So Goom can grow back pieces. La-di-da. Let’s see if he can grow back his whole head.
Beneath the rocky folds of his cheeks, his neck is nearly invisible, almost like the narrator from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. But I can see it. Reaching the tip of his shoulder, I take to the air, katana out.
Goom is going down!
As I sail toward my goal, the world becomes a blur. I don’t usually get much appreciation, and I try not to expect it, but this time I hear it, growing louder and louder: the wild roar of the crowd. All of a sudden, the whole middle-school audience is on their feet, cheering. And they’re cheering for me, little Wade, the kid they all made fun of, because now he’s going to win the big game! I’ve got the ball, seconds to go, and I’m soaring toward the net. It’s going in, I tell you, it’s going in! I see Sophie McPherson, the girl I love, shaking with excitement, squealing my name over and over, “Wade! Wade!”
“Look at me, Sophie! Look at me!”
Did I mention that sometimes I hallucinate at inappropriate moments? Never know when to bring that up. It’s like trying to figure out how many dates in to mention having kids, or leprosy. Glad it’s out there now. You’ll get used to it, mostly. What causes it? It could be that as my accelerated healing repairs any head trauma, it interferes with my continuity of consciousness. Or maybe the experiment that gave me my power, coupled with the cancer, exacerbated some underlying psychological issues.
Could be something in the moment acting as an emotional trigger.
Yeah, remember how Dad used to beat you?
What? You think fighting a giant monster about to eat some children brings up a junior-high basketball game? Right. Whatever.
I’d like to say I can always recognize a delusion because eventually it fades, but—big picture—everything fades, doesn’t it? Anyway, one minute, it’s all cheering—and the next, my personal tweenage wasteland fades. No winning basket, no Sophie.
Instead, out to have the last clap, Goom slams me between his palms. He grinds his bumpy hands. I struggle, grunt, and shimmy, but it does squat to get me free. Then he throws me down very, very, very, very, very, very hard.
I go through the reinforced roof of a parked Humvee. I go through the upholstered seat. You’d think the chassis below that would stop me, but nope, I go through that, too—all the way down to the asphalt, where I lie in a brand-new, Deadpool-shaped pothole.
Like Bugs Bunny, only with blood.
Everything that took all that time healing? Broken again. Some new stuff, too. I think I have a working arm, but before I can use it, Goom lifts the Humvee off of me.
Clearly the finger-slicing is still fresh in his monster brain. Instead of grabbing me again, he tosses the car aside and jumps, planning to stomp on whatever’s left of me with those gunboat feet of his. Gunboat not being a figure of speech.
Hey, I’ve survived all sorts of stuff: gunshots, arrows through my head, ingrown toenails. But even I’m not sure I can come back from being totally flattened. And like I said, it always hurts.
As I lie in the increasingly smelly shade of Goom’s titanic tootsies, I contemplate not so much my mortality as what I’ll be missing on TV.
Is the new season of S.H.I.E.L.D. on yet?
Oh, man. I feel like Dorothy when she finds out she had the power to go home all along (and frankly, I’d have kicked Glinda for holding back). I don’t have to miss a thing, because I’ve had exactly what I need this whole time. With my one working arm, I withdraw the secret weapon tucked inside my stylishly small belt. I’d like to say it looks totally cool, but really it’s just a fancy aerosol dispenser can.
Aiming up as Goom comes down, I give him a spritz. My current employers, the folks who gave me the can, call it a nano-catalyst. You know how most living things—aside from, like, amoebas—are made up of connected cells? The nano-catalyst I just sprayed breaks up those connections.
As his rocky massiveness falls toward me, the Thing from Planet X melts into little gory Goom-gibs. It looks like he’s splashing into a huge, growing water hole of himself.
Instead of getting squashed, I’m soaked in a gloopy pink rain.
I didn’t even kill him, exactly, because he’s not dead. No, I don’t mean as long as we remember him. Since he can regenerate, each and every cell is still alive—even though collectively he’s been reduced to a big pink puddle that sloshes and slurps along, each single bit less like Goom, the Thing from Planet X, and more like a Period, the Thing at the End of this Sentence.