AUTHOR’S NOTE: Once again, in revisiting this latest chapter, I performed extensive edits to tighten the narrative. Gone are flowery references to movies, an exaggerated dream sequence, and other scribblings that sounded great in 2001, but upon review felt sloppy and amateur. In total, around 300 words were cut, with a lot of rewriting done…
HE AWOKE SUDDENLY FROM THE DREAM, cold beads of sweat dripping slowly down the sides of his face. The clock radio’s LED shone a neon red 3:21 a.m. on a nearby nightstand. To his left, Marcia slept soundly, her chest rising and falling softly, rhythmically beneath the blankets, unaware of Trevor’s distress. His breath, a sharp contrast to hers. His heartbeat erratic.
“What have I done?” he whispered, then quietly tip-toed into the bathroom. It had been the usual nightmare fanfare that he’d experienced on dozens of occasions.
A terror loose upon the city. An arch villain engaged in foul and sinister deeds. A bright flash of explosives from a towering high rise.
Grasping a washcloth with his left hand Trevor stared into the bathroom mirror, seeing past the glass and into his mind’s eye. New dream layers unraveled like onion skin. New details emerged.
A victim’s body in the distance. Torn and twisted. As if in a movie, the point of view shifted to reveal Marcia’s face, bruised and bloodied. Her flesh chalk white, her body refrigerator cold.
An urgency burned within Trevor. He quickly washed the crusted sleep from his eyes and dressed, determined to prevent the foreshadowed tragedy at all costs.
On November 7, one week before the nightmare, Trevor visited the library as part of a mid-afternoon information-gathering mission. He knew that many of the older buildings in Combustible contained passageways and doors to a long-abandoned underground rail system and was cataloging the information for his crime-fighting alter-ego’s use. The hour was late and the library near closing. Just prior to departing the basement-floor blueprint room, Trevor detected a familiar, sulfur-like scent which he recognized from previous encounters with the Scallion. An unmistakable smell. He followed the odor to its source, a thin door at the hallway’s end marked Do Not Enter. Private. He broke in by way of credit card and entered the pungent, crowded room. Six crates of onions of differing varieties, a wall calendar entitled Joy of the Onion, a pair of impeccably polished black scallion skin loafers, two unopened packages of prank onion-flavored gum, a recently slept-in cot, numerous architectural blueprints, hand-drawn plans for a sub-atomic minimization particle disruption transmitter, and a pirate sketch accompanied by a rejection letter from The Famous Artists School of Transit City were but a few of the objects within. Trevor recalled that the Scallion had once lamented about his artistic shortcomings, having allegedly been told by friends and family that he had no talent. Trevor wondered if rejection had pushed the Scallion into a life of crime but, based on the sketch, couldn’t deny that his adversary lacked even the most remedial artistic ability. Turning his attention to a small table in the corner of the room, Trevor discovered a hand-written note:
Soon they shall all pay for the vile indignation I have been made to suffer.
Beneath this cryptic message, a list:
In the distance a voice announced that the library was soon closing. With the Scallion nowhere in sight, and lacking his Vocalist attire, Trevor departed, knowing he’d return soon to confront his nemesis.
One week later a nightmare at 3:21 a.m. filled Trevor with a sense of desperation he previously lacked. It hadn’t even occurred to him how quickly time was passing or what a sub-atomic minimization particle disruption transmitter might be used for. He’d cast it all aside for a few days of a normal life, a life without masks, without secret identities. A wave of guilt rose up and nested in his throat forming a tight lump.
Silently he exited the house in full Vocalist gear and headed quickly toward the Combustible Public Library while morning birds welcomed the newly forming day. Trevor entered the library through an open third story window and silently headed toward the basement. With precision and silence, he quickly jimmied the door, ready to get the drop on his adversary. His body tensed, bracing for conflict as he switched on the lights.
An empty room. Its contents gone without so much as a dropped matchbook clue. Trevor’s heart sank, the nightmare returning fresh to his tired mind. As he often did during times of crisis, he shifted into monologue as if an actor on a stage.
“Why did I wait so long?”
The empty room provided no answers.
“He must have known I’d been here. Noticed the door had been forced. Watched me through a hidden camera. Hadn’t even considered that.”
Trevor paced for a moment then punched his right fist against the wall, denting the plasterboard.
“I’m supposed to be better than this. I’ve allowed a dangerous felon to escape. I’ve been lax about connecting the recent isotopic thefts from the McAlister Base to the Scallion’s scribblings. I could have waited in here, gotten the drop on him, instead of staying at home each night and shrugging my duty.”
He punched the wall a second time, but found a 2 x 4 stud rather than plasterboard.
Fist throbbing, Trevor realized he’d ignored so many signs—the nightmares, the nagging voice that reminded him he should be taking action—consequently, an advantage was lost. The vision of Marcia, twisted and broken—the vision that had brought him, too late, to this empty room, burned its flames inside Trevor’s anguished heart and refused to leave. Trevor became acutely aware that he’d weaved the fabric of his, and perhaps Marcia’a, fate. Suddenly he felt terrified by what the angry little man who called himself the Scallion might be planning.
“Goddam amateur,” he cursed in self-disgust, and punched the wall once more.
The most difficult task was flight. There’d been no manual or instructional video. The science behind the flight was without merit, so Trevor defied the laws of science. Scientifically, it wasn’t possible to defy gravity through mere voice modulation, but he’d done it. Scientifically, it wasn’t possible to move any distance through mere voice projection, but he’d done that also. Trevor didn’t understand the science behind his unusual abilities and didn’t care to. He merely floated across the air, or at least tried. Unlike fantasy and adventure tales in which characters are depicted flying effortlessly across the horizon, for Trevor, quite the opposite was true. It was hard work, an art that he’d never mastered. Turning corners was especially difficult. He crashed monthly, occasionally weekly.
Weather was also a challenge. Trevor’s most recent debacle occurred during a sudden evening rainstorm that sent him plummeting into the rooftop neon lights of Combustible’s historic Bailey Building. He escaped with minor bruises, but was stranded on the roof for hours and later developed a sinus infection that lasted eight days.
After departing the library, Trevor spent the remaining early morning hours navigating above the city, desperately trying to find the Scallion. The sun would soon rise and Marcia would awaken. He felt an impending sense of doom in not knowing what sort of havoc a sub-atomic minimization particle disruption transmitter might be capable of wreaking. Trevor posited that the device might well be the stuff of pulp science. The same pulp science, he realized somberly, that enabled a man to fly by voice modulation.
Trevor continued the solitary quest even pain from his earlier injury engulfed in his shoulders and lower back. He was punchy from lack of sleep but continued searching until dawn, knowing he was unlikely to find his adversary on rooftops or walking quiet streets. Hope and desperation drove the search which continued until dawn. He returned home and collapsed in bed. The LED on the clock radio flashed 6:18 a.m.
Twelve minutes later the bedroom erupted in a wave of morning DJ ramblings. Marcia reached across Trevor’s sleeping body and switched off the device. Trevor didn’t stir. He was already entrenched in sleep. As she climbed out of bed, Marcia realized that Trevor was wearing the lower half of his Vocalist uniform, leather boots and all. Bewildered, she removed the footwear and tossed it clumsily to the floor. Her eye caught a small paper receipt gum stuck to the bottom right boot. She placed the receipt, which smelled faintly of onion, atop the dresser. Marcia showered. Half-dressed, she decided to rouse Trevor.
“Wake up sleepy head,” she whispered in his ear, her tongue dancing around the left lobe.
Trevor uttered an incomprehensible murmur and waved a wrist limply.
“The hell,” she said, frustrated, and resumed dressing.
NEXT: An unusual commuter bus.