Thursday, December 12, 2013

Sewer Rat

No.  No, no.  No, no, no, no, no.  Under no circumstances am I going to chase this guy into the sewers.  The woman he attacked said he had claws!  Do not go chasing after him, you moron!

Dammit all to hell…who runs into the sewers anyway?  Seriously!

I look up and down the street to make sure no one’s going to run me over while I’m not going into the sewers and trot over to the still-dislodged manhole cover.  I hear a couple footsteps and then just the hum of a restless city. 

Oh God, why do I do these things?

I slide the cover over with my foot and feel my way down the ladder.  Ladder’s really a misnomer here, it’s more like a few overly wide U-shaped metal rungs anchored into the surrounding concrete and covered with foam padding that squelches when I squeeze it.  Oh, and covered’s also something of a misnomer, turns out that when people walk on foam padding it tends to deteriorate so the rungs are covered with foam the same way the Hulk is covered by his pants. 

My footsteps sound a lot louder than the other guy’s had.  I wonder how far sound carries down here.  Not far enough for me to hear the other guy is all I can tell.  Smell, on the other hand, must travel for miles because I swear to God that I can smell every bit of raw sewage packed in down here.  It must be able to travel through time as well—there’s no way I’m only smelling today’s sewage.  This has to be the accumulated scent of a thousand years of sewage, past, present, and future. 

I really hate myself for doing this.

Most of the light bulbs strung across the ceiling are missing, giving the remaining bulbs a feeling of oases among the darkness.  I pull my flashlight out and click it on.  I’ve heard this model’s prone to dying out early, but until then it shines like someone shoved a supernova in one end.  The beam reaches a dead end on my left, but can’t make out the end of the road to the right.  Guess right’s the way to go. 

My eyes are watering and my nose is burning, but I force myself to take slow, methodical steps, keeping on the balls of my feet.  I can’t stay perfectly quiet, but it’s better than the hollow booms of my first few steps.  I flick the beam around the tunnel, looking for some sign of a disturbance.  My boot squelches worse than usual and I gag on a painfully intense smell.  I can’t bring myself to check what I just stepped in and try to get as far away from it as possible before scrapping my boot against the concrete ledge. 

Something scrapes and clatters and I spin around, flicking the light across the tunnel in front of me and back where I came, in case whoever I’m chasing somehow doubled back on me. 

Nothing.  The only thing I hear is my own rough, slightly panicked breathing.

Shit, that’s unnerving.

My hair’s standing up on end like someone’s watching me, but odds are I’m just losing my nerve in the darkness.  This is the part where I would normally (does that word actually mean anything to me?) tell myself to take some deep breaths and keep moving, but I’m worried that if I breathe too deeply I’ll inhale half a dozen infections and die down here.  

Skip the breathing and just move, asshole.  Standing around talking to yourself isn’t doing much.

I don’t get very far before I hear another scrabbling sound.  It sounds like a giant rat running across concrete.  Giant and quick and aware that I could hear it for a second because the scrabbling stops almost immediately.  My stomach’s a helium balloon that some douche bag kid couldn’t keep a hold of and is now floating around my abdomen.  I stop.  Pinching my nose helps with the smell enough to let me take deep, slow, and most importantly quiet breaths.  Someone turned up the bass on my heart when I wasn’t looking and the thump, thump, thump of it is starting to hurt my head.  I’m not willing to go so far as to close my eyes for concentration, but I try and focus on everything I can hear down here.

My heart’s slamming around my chest.  Okay, move on.

The occasional faint slosh of what I’m going to pretend is just water.  Tune it out.

A drip somewhere.  Ignore it.

A wheeze.

Something wheezed.  Something nearby wheezed.  If that guy had kept running once he got down here I shouldn’t be able to hear him breathe no matter how hard I concentrate.  If I can’t hear his footsteps, I shouldn’t hear his breathing.  Which means he’s not running away. 

My heart’s beating so hard I’m gonna have a bruise on my chest soon and my ears are starting to ring.  The flashlight’s beam is wobbling around because I can’t keep my goddamn hands steady and my breathing’s not nearly as quiet as I’d like it to be anymore.

Walk away!  Walk away and leave this guy to someone else.  Drop the cops a tip and let the professionals deal with this one.  They’ll bring floodlights down here and flush him out.  They’ve got guns and the training to go with them.  Hell, they might even bring down one of the Registered costumes that OPHR keeps on-staff. 

Walking away is where the smart money’s at. 

Running as fast as physically possible sounds even better. 

I ignore the sane, rational part of my brain and take another couple steps forward, coming to a split in the tunnel.  Keep going straight or veer off to the right?  I hear another scrabbling sound to my right and turn in time to see someone hurl himself at me from the ceiling.  I have a second to recognize that he’s a big guy and his fingers look awfully sharp before he hits me hard enough to knock the flashlight out of my hand and the air out of my lungs.  He tackles me to the ground and stars ignite behind my eyes.  I bring my arms up around my head without thinking and feel him dig into the sleeve of my jacket.

Claws.  He actually has claws.  Claws sharp enough to scrape through leather maybe?  God, I hope the Kevlar holds.

I try to roll out from under him, but he’s a big guy and every pound of him is pressing down on me.  I only manage to roll onto my side.  He starts cutting into the leather on my shoulder.  I turn my face into the ground, try to ignore the sewer water soaking my mask, and throw an elbow.  It connects with something solid and he shifts his weight a bit.  Thankfully he stops clawing at me for a second as well.  I roll again, this time getting my hands under his leg and lifting it as I do so, and manage to get free.  The floor’s too slick to get any traction and I skid trying to get up to my feet, finally catching a break.  While I was rolling and slipping, he was trying to hit me with another flying tackle and went sailing over my head.  He hits the wall, falling into a harsh cone of light. 

It’s the first good look I’ve gotten of him.

He’s big.  Like, prize fighter a few years past his prime big.  Beat to shit jeans and what was probably a white t-shirt at one point are the only things that seem real about him.  He looks like a comic book villain.  Ichy-Thump disorder, or whatever that dry, scaly skin thing is, makes his skin look like a cantaloupe rind.  His finger nails are thick and unevenly pointed like he’s filed them down that way.  He bares his teeth at me and growls like a fucking animal.  His eyes are too narrow and there’s something wrong with the lids, they’re red and irritated.  The skin deal is one thing, but I can’t even fathom why he’s acting this way. 

He moves like an oversized dog, pushing himself on all-fours.  Two galloping steps and he’s slashing at me again.  I take it on the forearm, hoping my jacket holds, and hit him in the mouth.  He staggers back a step and growls again.

There’s something very wrong with this man. 

Not that that changes how dangerous he is.  Particularly because I think he’s realized he’s not gonna get through my jacket very easily because his next slash is just a feint and when I move to block it he slams his other fist up under my ribs.

Ow.  Shit, ow.

My turn to stagger backward, but my defiant psycho-growl sounds more like a groan.  He keeps after me, swinging at my head, stomach, and shoulder while I duck, sidestep, and block.  He overswings and stumbles forward; I plant my foot on his shoulder and shove him over. 

I don’t actually wanna hurt him, but he’s obviously violent and I’m obviously gonna get my arm ripped off if I keep play-fighting with him.  Goddammit.

He lunges at me again, all animal-rage and hyper-aggression.  I don’t know if this’ll actually work but supposedly it’s a good way to knock someone out.  I also learned about it from a YouTube video about Muay Thai so there’s a good chance I’m gonna get decapitated for trying it.  Either way, he’s giving me the setup and I can’t turn a chance like this down.  I bring my rear leg forward, snap it back, and launch my whole body forward.  He only catches me with glancing blows on my side and off-shoulder.  I catch him square on the jaw with the better part of 170 pounds behind my fist.  I think I hear his jaw break.

There’s no staggering, no growling, he just collapses and I very nearly fall on top of him.  I dance around his sprawled body and crouch down immediately to check his pulse.  I have to take my glove off and his skin feels pretty freaky but I’m immensely relieved when I feel his pulse drumming on.

Jesus Christ.

I fall over backward, barely noticing the cold filthy water that’s soaking through my jeans.  It occurs to me that I haven’t even cable tied the temporarily incapacitated, violently unstable sewer-man.  I push myself up off the ground and grab a pair of cable ties.  With the adrenaline draining, I’m starting to feel a bit less than sunny.  My rib’s tweaking, my arms and shoulder are bruised and throbbing, and the customary comedown sickness are all making movement a monumental chore.  I need to call the police in to deal with this guy.  Tell them to bring the non-lethal gear. They never talk about this post-dustup shit in the comics.

I reach into my inside pocket and hope I didn’t break another phone.  It’s just a burner but I can only afford so many.  Thankfully, it comes out in one piece and none of the important buttons are missing.


The operator answers quickly, calm and professional.  I tell her he’s not well, that he needs help.  I wonder if she’ll actually pass the message along.  I have absolutely no idea how the police decide who to actually take seriously, they’ve gotta get prank calls out the ass.  Kids claiming to be a costume that just busted a bank robbery up or crazies thinking they’re Batman.  Better them than me.  I’d lose my shit.

This guy’s heavy enough that picking him up really aggravates my everything.  Picking conscious people up is one thing, picking unconscious people up is something else entirely.  Lots of dead weight distributed over almost six feet of body makes it hugely awkward.  There has to some trick to this that I don’t know.  There’s no way in hell I’m gonna try and haul him up to the street, so I drop him at the foot of the ladder.  Anyone looking down the manhole won’t be able to miss him.

Up the ladder (ribs and shoulder muttering mutinies all the while) and out onto the street and it hits me how exhausted I am.  My phone tells me it’s 3:17am.  I yawn.  There are two ways to guarantee a yawn:  watch someone else yawn or check the time after two in the morning.  I rub my eyes, ignoring the seam of my glove scratching uncomfortably against the bridge of my nose.

I really don’t wanna be standing around in the middle of the street when the cops show up.  Costume vigilantism isn’t all that legal.  I also really wanna be home and in bed.  Winter’s gone, but it hasn’t been a terribly warm Spring. 

And yet for some stupid fucking reason I’m climbing a nearby fire escape instead of skipping home.  I stop at the third story and wait. 

Apparently, the police aren’t nearly as worried about prank calls as I am because they show up pretty promptly.  One cruiser rolls up and two cops step out.  They’re both strapped with tactical armor around their upper bodies and bright yellow taser guns on their hips.  That’s a good sign.  One mutters something into his radio and the other looks the street over like he’s expecting to find the suspect unbound and foaming at the mouth instead of tied up at the bottom of a hole. 

I lean back into the shadows a bit.  One of them keeps checking the street for free-roaming psychopaths while the other pokes his head over the open manhole.  He says something I imagine to be along the lines of “Holy shit, look at this!  There’s a dude in the sewer!” and his partner stops checking the street and jogs over. 

It suddenly occurs to me that they might have some trouble getting the guy out of the sewer as well.  And that’s only if he hasn’t woken up and decided to be uncooperative.  Normally, the slapstick humor of two people struggling to carry around a flailing burden of a person would be nothing short of delightful, but this whole deeply disturbed human being aspect of it is sucking the fun right the hell out of everything. 

Maturity blows.


It took them a second car with two more cops in it to haul the guy out of the sewer and by the time they got him to the street he was awake and fairly disagreeable.  Seemed more scared than angry or defiant though.  If I could get all four of their badge numbers and drop them all glowing words of praise without including somewhere in there that I was the masked vigilante that called them in the first place, I would.  Nobody’s laying into him with nightsticks or screaming at him with guns drawn wondering “why the hell isn’t he responding to my clearly-worded and in no way panic-inducing demands?”.  The ties are holding and the cops have added a set of their own handcuffs and though everyone’s hands drift to the grips of their tasers from time to time, things look surprisingly solid.

I make my way up the fire escape and start in the general direction of the forest preserve.  

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Brief and Uneventful Interlude

I hop to the next roof and look around.  No criminals sneaking around wearing black and white striped jumpsuits or carrying around bulging bags with big dollar signs on them.  No bloodied college preppy gasping and pointing down a dark alley, shouting about two men who just stole his wallet.  Nothing.  When someone parallel parks and walks across the street I’m tempted to jump him for jaywalking.  Instead, I sit down on the edge of the roof and let my feet dangle out over the abyss, my heels smacking against the brick.  I hear cars wheeze and rumble and hum by on the streets nearby.  Windows light up from the inside while others extinguish themselves.  The sharp bite of exhaust fumes has faded now that the only consistent traffic is coming from a few streets over.  I look up and see a faint light pulsing and shimmering across the sky in lieu of actual stars.  It would probably be soothing if it wasn’t so freaking boring.  It’s times like this that I’m glad I don’t have awesome powers like Spiderman.  If I did, I probably would’ve webbed that jaywalker’s ankle and dangled him from the streetlight. 

As it is, I just sit and kick my feet and wonder if I’ve been out long enough to call it quits for the night.  My phone tells me I’ve been out for almost two hours without catching even the faintest whiff of crime.  I swear to God, at this point I’d settle for lecturing a little kid about the merits of sharing. 

Of all the weeks for the city to go crime-free, why now?  The first spring thaw is upon us.  It’s still not warm, but it’s not cold enough for snow anymore.  Criminals should be flocking to the streets to revel in the joyous departure of winter’s cruel embrace.  Pillage!  Plunder!  Do something!

When an older woman drops her purse and a young kid in dark clothes with her hood up actually returns the purse instead of just running off, I decide I’ve had enough.  Maybe if I leave now I can make out with Anna a bit.  Gotta find a way to salvage this night.


I get home and no one’s in the living room.  The kitchen’s empty too.  Not terribly unusual.  It’s past Paul and Susan’s bedtime and the magic of the internet can make any room in the house a living room for teenagers, but without all the pesky social interaction that living rooms bring with them.  I trot up the stairs just as Boone starts shambling down them bundled up in horribly mismatched blue and black flannel shirt and bright red sweats. 

“How’s it going, Hero?”

I flip him off.  He laughs. 

“That well, huh?  What’s that?  Three empty trips in a row?”

I debate just shouldering past him but that would be admitting I’m frustrated and it’s never a good idea to show weakness in front of Boone.  I grunt.

“Something like that.”

I’ve actually gone out four times this week and haven’t found a damn thing.  He laughs again and walks past me. 

“Must be cuz you’re so goddamn good at this.  Criminals are too scared to go out at night.”

I wish I had something to throw at him.  But I don’t, so I settle for sending Anna a text asking what she’s doing.  I get a quick response:  tv in the basement by myself.  I drop my superheroing bag in the closet and turn right back around, stopping long enough to let her know I’ll be over in a second, then I'm down the stairs and out the kitchen door.  I cross the street and circle around the back of Anna’s house, shuffling down the thick cement steps to her basement door.  I send another text—knock, knock—and wait.  She fusses with the bolt for a second (because they refuse to accept that their can of WD-40 is lost and just buy a new one) before opening the door, face freshly scrubbed of make-up and slightly pink.  She’s wearing black sweats and a comically oversized gray hoodie.  I make a sad face.

“Boone was being mean to me and tonight sucked; can I hang out with you?”

Anna rolls her eyes and turns away to hide her smile, but leaves the door open for me to walk through.  After I close it behind us, I give her ass a quick squeeze.  She spins around and smacks the holy hell out of my hand.  Mind you, I’m quick.  Like, really quick.  So I could’ve pulled my hand away, but what fun is dating if you don’t play the game?  She grabs a handful of my shirt and pulls me toward her—play the game.  She has to look up at me a little to make eye contact.

“Is that all I am to you?  A toy to play with?”

I hang my head and give her my best chastised look.  “No ma’am, but I am more than willing to just be a toy for you to play with.”

She struggles to keep her frown from crying mutiny and flipping upside down.  Right as the battle looks completely lost she bounces up onto her tiptoes and gives me a quick kiss.  My heart does that stupid swoopy, flippy thing it does around Anna.  If I listened to it, there’d be no game.  Just me puking up everything I feel all the time.  Stupid fucking emotive stomach.  Returning to the soles of her feet, Anna grabs my hand and leads me over to the couch.  She plops down and waves at the TV.

“I was watching Psych for awhile before bed.  Care to join me?”

Honestly, it barely matters what the first sentence was.  I sit down next to her and drag a blanket over us. 

“Haven’t you already seen all the episodes like seven times?”

She nods cheerily.  “Yup.  Still funny.”

She’s halfway through the episode, so Shawn’s already launched into a nonsensical rant about shark toast.  When Gus starts translating, I loop an arm around Anna’s shoulder and she scoots closer.  She props her head against the hollow beneath my collarbone and I rub my thumb over her arm.  That’s amore.  

Change Is Good for What Ails Ya

Alright, some fairly large changes have been made to the Wesley Chronicles story.  I'm mostly happy with what I've been doing, but one fairly obvious problem has been the Wesley-Anna relationship.  I like them together.  She's good for him.  But there's the whole foster family thing to get over and that was always a nagging problem.  Today I was finally motivated to get off my ass and fix the problem.  And I did.  Boom.  Just like that.  Anna's outta the house.  She's now a neighbor, the daughter of a family that has been friends with the Rhodes family (Susan, Paul, Boone, and Wes) since before either family had kids.  Her relationship with the Rhodes family reminds me of the Dille family I used to live near when I lived in Charleston, South Carolina.  I used to walk over there and spend tons of time with them, especially during the summers.  I practically lived there and I've always intended to write about someone who had a similar relationship with a neighbor family.  Now I have.  And now the Wesley-Anna thing is a bit less creepy and illegal.  Hooray me!

None of the changes are final at this point, I like the idea but it'll prolly take me a couple tunes and tweaks to get all the details ironed out.