TUESDAY, 20th March|
I thought I was dreaming when I saw the news last night. Actually I was so surprised that the mouthful of cola I had just swigged blew right out my nose. Man that stings! That's how I knew I wasn't dreaming-- even though the news was just like the dream I'd had the night before. Cola out the nose? yeah, it's messy, kinda disgusting too.
But the news, man, check this out: you know about the gang wars going on to control the drug market here in town? I’m talking Oakland, California. Lots of shootings, bad vibes, uncool violence. A band of young Chicanos have been taking control of the neighborhoods, stopping people on the street and openly robbing or at least hassling them. A friend of mine got shot just the other day, wounded in a real-live drive-by shooting. It’s getting dangerous out there. He'll survive, but I got pretty upset about it.
Well, last night there was some COOL violence for once: the whole gang called Los Pachucos were beaten up and left in a pile right out on the street, 16 gangstas all at once! According to the TV News they were really messed up— bones broken, fingers smashed when their guns were taken away, their cars trashed, 2 flipped over onto their roofs. Couldn't have happened to a more deserving collection of assholes, they deserved it.
The thing is, the way the story goes is that just ONE GUY had taken them all on, beat the crap out of them—really hurt them, in fact --even though those Chicanos had SHOT him lots of times. They were saying bullets bounced off his metal body, just like a real life comic book superhero! In fact, the description agreed with one of MY very own series characters, Alloy Boy ©.
Yeah, I write/draw comics featuring Alloy Boy, among other super guys, so I know how he works. The gang said they were attacked by a small young man (a boy!) who seemed to be MADE of metal, a copper-colored chrome job all over, even face and hair. Sure sounds like a description of Alloy Boy.
I know, I know, you’ve never heard of him—or Psychbolt ©, or Glorianna © or any of my other characters. That’s because I haven’t been published yet…well, not on paper. Mostly I post bits and pieces on my Facebook page, y’know, stories and drawings. Actually, I haven’t ever finished a story yet, they just ramble on, like daily comic strip. Or like real life…
Oh, I’ve got lots of ideas for really great super heroes, and I dream new ones up all the time. I draw them (well, the best I can), but I’m not a very good artist, so basically all I’ve really done so far is design their costumes, stuff like that, then describe how cool they are. I admit it, I’m a daydreamer.
So I thought it was pretty weird that someone like Alloy Boy actually seems to exist—and that he came to a street in my very own neighborhood to take care of a flock of thugs who have been making life miserable for everyone around here. Guess you could call that a dream come true—literally!
I mean, check it out: Alloy Boy is my main guy, primary super hero. He’s a teen-ager with a body of metal flesh (built like a Greek God, of course), steel-hard, super-strong, unstoppable. Of course, all superheroes have to have a weakness-- his kryptonite is his weight, weighs a ton, falls through floors sometimes—no, he can’t fly. He looks sorta like the Silver Surfer, only brass-colored (although he’s actually stolen from Steve Dikto's old Spiderman foe The Molten Man). Not that I don’t have any original ideas, hey Alloy Boy’s alter ego is a feeble old man who changes into a young superhero with a magic word-- just the OPPOSITE of Captain Marvel/Billy Batson. A clever little twist, eh?
Look, I may be a hopeless comic book geek, a fanatic fanboy, but even I know this: Superheroes are basically impossible! And on top of that, Alloy Boy doesn’t exist at all, not even in comic books! So what’s going on?
I'm pretty sure we'll find out it's all a hoax. And even if not, that it's just wishful thinking on my part that it would actually be Alloy Boy himself. I mean, he's not THAT original a concept.
WEDNESDAY, 21st March
I looked on Internet for any confirmation of the incident, and there was some on the official news sites, but nothing more than already mentioned, no expanded information was available yet. Only the local news took it seriously at all, since Los Pachucos were a known problem in the Bay Area, while a very few of the bigger networks dismissed the incident as more than an amusingly silly rumor with a few humorous words. There was no Nation-Wide Impact about real-live superheroes.
But there was wild speculation and guesswork among fanboys and geeks online— a genuine (?) superhero report was the most exciting thing EVER to happen in their comic-book-oriented lives. I should know, I was one of them.
I checked Facebook to see if anyone else had made the connection with me and Alloy Boy, but evidently not. He didn’t really have any fans, since there were no finished Alloy Boy stories to pull in the crowds. Besides, most of the guys who are my “friends” are also comics and game geeks, all dreaming of being artists or hackers, and they post all their crap online too, so those pages are filled up with copyrighted or amateur drawings and nobody really pays attention to anyone else’s stuff. Actually, I’ve got almost a hundred Facebook Friends, but I only know about two or three of them in real life. These are mostly 2nd-hand contacts from comics conventions and collector’s groups, a world unto itself. They were all guys, of course.
But hey, there is one girl among my online friends, who is not a comics geek, but an actual Hot Babe. Sonya Tenson, wow, man! Not that I’d ever met her either—if she knew what a fat nerd I was she’d probably just scratch me off her friends list. Sonya ended up on my own list of “friends” by default (being the cousin of another friend). She had posted lots of pictures of herself at parties in college, some of them pretty sexy, and her girl friends too, so I was hooked. (I kept hoping for some nude stuff, but it never showed up.) But now she’s joined the Peace Corps and is teaching school in some ex-Soviet land called Zakkistan, so is posting pictures of what’s going on around her: friends and students, exotic cities, and occasionally some nice pictures of herself.
But also some pretty neat images of everyday life in Zakkistan, which to me had been a conceptual zero, I'd supposed everybody living there (wherever THAT was) would all be dressed in rags and working in fields picking beets for borsch. They looked just like Americans-- maybe slightly out-of-date, but not primitive. And they seemed to be having fun at social events, going on school trips together, dances, guys were kissing girls-- and some of them were almost as hot as Sonya!
So now I check out her page just about every time I go online. Guess I have a thing for her. Well, why not, there’s sure no one else in my life right now and her stuff is right there for me to look at—we’re FRIENDS, after all. I just don’t dare write anything to her, although I’d like to. I like her, not just because she’s blond and pretty in a slightly bad-girl way that really turns me on, but mostly because she’s out there doing brave stuff like I wish I’d done back when I was 22 years old. I’m almost ten years older than her and still working as a bag boy in a supermarket and wasting all my time in front of a computer, living on cola and chips and showing nothing for it except a big belly. "Hi Sonya baby, I'm Jeff Dunder; geek, nerd, loser..." So no, I don’t write to her.
SUNDAY, 25th March
It’s happened again. I mean-- another one of MY comic superheroes has showed up and saved the day. Or a little girl, at least.
She’d been missing for two days, Cecilia Washington, you must’ve heard about her on the news: 6 years old, abducted on her way home from school, parents frantic, entire school out searching the streets for her, not a trace. Myself, I dreaded what they'd find, poor little girl.
She came home this morning, on her own, evidently unharmed. Said an old man had grabbed and stuffed into a car and took her to a basement out in the country. She couldn’t get out, had called for help but no one could hear her out there. The Bad Man who kidnapped her hadn’t yet gotten around to doing whatever it was he wanted to do with her, but last night he came down to the basement and started tearing her clothes off. Little Cecilia prayed for… whatever.
She said the basement suddenly filled up with blue light—in the nick of time, I suppose-- and an angelic man came through the wall like it was made of smoke. A beautiful glowing man, slightly transparent, wearing a skintight suit and cape (also built like a Greek God), who looked at The Bad Man and said one word: “Shame.” The Bad Man started crying and collapsed.
Cecilia knew a superhero when she saw one, having watched kid's cartoons and movies, so she was not afraid of him at all. She asked him who he was, he smiled and said, “Just call me Psychbolt,” with a perfect Movie Good Guy voice. "Would you like me to take you home?" he asked, and she hopped up into his powerful arms. He evidently teleported them out of there, because she was suddenly standing in front of her own house. But alone, Mister Psychbolt was gone.
She ran to her parents, who were even at that moment talking with police and journalists. It was one big happy surprise for everyone, especially the journalists. Cecilia told her story, then a TV news camera filmed her telling it again, until everybody knew Psychbolt’s name. Of course, no one else had seen him so it was assumed that she had somehow escaped and dreamed up an imaginary superhero friend to handle the trauma of her experience.
But I knew that someone else HAD dreamed up Psychbolt: ME! He’s another one of MY characters! That’s even his name, how the fuck can he suddenly exist? His true identity is a crippled guy in a wheelchair, who can do some kind of Astral Projection and generates a psychic image of his superhero self. He can read minds and move things telekinetically (all right, sort of like Professor Xavier of the X-Men—but different too).
That rescue happened last night about midnight. Normally I don’t even get to bed that early, but exactly last night my computer crashed right in the middle of an online game, so I turned on the TV just to see if there was anything good, Star Trek reruns, whatever, and happened to see the news. I heard about the little girl being missing, thought, “Aw, that’s too bad…” and was about to flip on through the channels when I suddenly felt so tired that I just HAD to go to bed and sleep. This was about 11:30. I slept all night, and dreamed like crazy.
I can’t remember all the dreams, but I do remember something about imagining how a hero like Psychbolt could easily rescue that kidnapped little girl. Not the details, but the general drift. I didn’t really remember the dream until I heard the news.
Is it me? Am I dreaming up real–life superheroes? Man, that would be cool, but somehow… I don’t see how.
WEDNESDAY, 28th March
Late last night I was in the middle of an online session of Warcraft, pretty much lost to the world outside, when the world outside came into my apartment. I had headphones on full blast and I was looking into the computer screen, so I didn’t know anyone was there until I was pushed over and fell sprawling from my chair.
When I looked up I saw six guys, mostly Chicanos, dressed like gangstas. They were all over the place. Well, not that my apartment is so big, but they filled up what there was of it. Then I recognized some of thewm, since I'd seen them on the streets, they were the gang called Los Pachucos. Was I scared? About to shit?
I figured they were here to rob me, and I thought about not having a computer any more. Or my collections. I felt bleak. But then they pulled out some very long knives and I realized that those things were suddenly on a much lower priority.
“You're Jeff Dunder, right? The guy who draws all those super heroes?" I was surprised he spoke regular English without a Mexican accent, he even sounded educated. And he looked extra familiar, like I sorta knew him from somewhere else.
"He don' look like mierda to me," Number Two Guy just had to say, "if he's got any mojo, I ain't fuggin' seein' it.” Now there was the accent I'd been expecting of a Pachuco.
“Naw, this fat slob ain’t no hero," a third offered his opinion, "and he sure ain’t SUPER!”
“Hey, Carlito José, look, drawings--” called another gang member, “—this one shows Alloy Fucking Boy all right! It’s true, this jerko must know him!”
They moved around my apartment, doing damage, breaking things. Trying to scare me. It worked.
“What do you want?” I asked as politely as I could.
The leader spoke again. “You draw those super people: do you know them personally?"
Number two guy butted in before I could respond, "Yeah, maybe it was you who sicked that chingaso Alloy Boy all over us?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Cut the shit, man, he said his name was Alloy Boy! You think we couldn’t Google a superhero?"
"Alloy Boy's on Google now?" This was the first I'd heard about that, I felt a little surge of pride. Somebody had finally noticed one of my characters!
"They misunderstood," the leader said, rolling his eyes at his gangsta hoodlums, "they think everything online is Google. Actually, I myself have seen the drawings you've been posting on Facebook and I thought I recognized the Alloy Boy character when he attacked us. Although at first I thought he resembled the Molten Man from an old Spider-Man comic."."
"Well, I did sorta rip off the idea..."
"Yeah, yeah, from Steve Dikto, I know-- but that's an old source and I knew I'd seen him quite recently on Facebook, so I looked him up. Found him on your page. And that other guy who rescued the little girl, Psychbolt, he was there too. Lucky for us, you were so stupid as to spell out your home address, so here we are.”
"But the only way you could have access to my Facebook page is if you were..." Suddenly I recognized the leader from his profile picture, "hey, you're Carl Joseph! You're a comics artist too! What the hell man, we're supposed to be FRIENDS!"
"Ha, yeah, sure, Facebook friends-- which doesn't mean shit in the real world, you know that. Especially when YOUR drawings are physically attacking me!"
"But Alloy Boy doesn't even EXIST, so far as I know."
"Don't give us that mierda man, we've seen him," Number Two insisted, "we've been HURT by him. Now it's payback time, cabrón and kinda looks like you're the only cosa we've got to hit back."
Sinking feeling, or what? “It's just fiction, man. I mean—you think I can really just make super heroes alive by drawing pictures of them? You really believe that?”
“No, my Facebook amigo, but you must know SOMETHING about them if you’re drawing two of them exactly like they look. They're coming from somewhere.”
“Okay, sure, but I don’t know where!”
Number Two had more hoodlum wisdom to offer: “Yeah man, but since what that chrome dude does is impossible anyway, maybe you just DREAM him alive, I dunno.”
Carlito/Carl pondered that for a second. "Hey, there's an idea. Dreams coming true... that's actually no more impossible than real superheroes existing in the first place."
They all looked at me—still sprawled on the floor in my most subject position. Some looked angry—but some of them suddenly looked scared.
“Hey, this is crazy! If I could control Alloy Boy I’d have him come here right now and protect me, wouldn’t I?”
“Yeah—unless it only happens when you’re dreaming, and you ain’t asleep now.” Number Two jumped forward, brandishing his knife threateningly. I cowered, I admit it.
“God, don’t piss your pants or anything,” Carlito José said in disgust. He kicked me in the stomach. It was pain I wasn’t ready for, guess I shrieked a little there.
“I’m not the one!” I cried, “I can’t make super heroes! I just draw them, I don’t know where they come from.”
“I agree, it sounds pretty iffy that a slob like you could produce a fighting machine like Alloy Boy. But no use us taking any chances. Maybe he stops if we kill you, maybe not. Worth a try.” He kicked me again.
The others joined in kicking me. Carlito José stuck his knife right into my big fat gut, and that hurt so much I passed out…
I mean really passed out. Awoke around noon today, surprised to be ALIVE. Although hurting. My belly especially, but also all over my body. I looked to see how bad the wound was, and was surprised to see that someone had bandaged it. In fact I had been put to bed and covered up.
I pried up the bandage a ways, but couldn't see more than a scratch, so I let it be for now. Didn't feel like I was dying. Although when the knife had stuck me it felt deep and bad. Maybe I'd exaggerated the damage in my pain and fear.
I staggered to my feet, astounded that I even could, and started to go to the sink for some water. So thirsty, man. That’s when I saw that my apartment had been cleaned up—much better than I ever do it. My computer and comics collections were still there, although some of the things the gang broke were gone. Thrown out, probably.
But the gang-- I had no idea where they were, or why they had cleaned up before they left me alone, but they were gone. I wondered if I should go to the police, but decided I’d better not— I had no concrete proof of who stabbed me, not even a serious wound, so the police might not arrest them just because I said to. And then the Pachucos could just come after me again.
I turned the TV on to 24/7 News, but it was all about Afghanistan, Taliban troubles, how bad things were out there, Sudan, political trouble in Zakkistan. No local stabbings. But I thought, man, if I really could dream up Alloy Boy, I’d send him to those places to fix things.
So now I find myself chronicling all this —not that I know what I’m going to do with it. I don’t think I’d better put it online. Just for myself, I guess, trying to understand what had happened.
SUNDAY, April Fool's Day
No new superhero reports for days. Now I'm beginning to wonder if any of it actually happened. Had I hallucinated the whole thing? The news stories, the gang attack? I don’t know how; I mean, sure, I smoke a little weed now and then, but haven’t dropped acid or anything like that except for once when I was a teen-ager and that had scared the shit out of me. I’m pretty much drug-free, drink cola instead of alcohol, how could I ever have gotten stoned enough to go on a trip like that?
Especially since, weirdest of all, three days after I’d been stabbed my wound was gone. No sore, no scar, no scratch, nothing. I knew that was impossible—unless I’d developed Wolverine’s healing factor or something, and that was unlikely. Having fantasized it all seemed to be the only logical explanation.
No more trouble with the gang either. In fact, I've heard a rumor that almost the entire Los Pachucos gang have skipped town because something had scared them away. But that didn't have to be a superhero, they had lots of enemies.
However, I've just learned that Carlito José is in the hospital, pretty badly broken up. It sounded to me like Alloy Boy had shown up about the time I had passed out. Lucky for me –or had I somehow DREAMED him into being there while I was unconscious?
All day long I wondered about that, knowing it couldn’t be true, but fascinated that it might be. I decided there was one way to find out, tried to take a nap and dream about Afghanistan. But I ended up dreaming about Gloriana instead: my super heroine porn star character. Man, I wish SHE could be real! But no miracle happened there. I couldn’t really fall asleep anyway, it was too early.
I decided to find out what had happened last week. I figured it was safe enough to look up Carlito in the hospital—he couldn’t hurt me if he was in traction, and it seemed that his gang was on the run from Alloy Boy. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t suddenly being brave, I just couldn’t go on without knowing.
It was easy getting in to see him, he had no visitors. His mother had been there earlier, but the rest of his family had disowned him long ago and all his gangsta ”hermanos” were staying away fast. He wasn’t under arrest, since he was the victim for a change, so there were no cops to get in the way. I just said I was a friend of his and the hospital receptionist told me where to find him on the third floor.
The only problem was that he almost flipped out when he saw me come into his hospital room. True Fear. I kind of liked that, so I wasn’t about to leave, just told him to keep calm or I’d have to call Alloy Boy. I was winging it, but he obeyed instantly.
He was all packed in bandages and plaster casts, totally unable to move. He couldn’t even move his neck to turn his face away from me, so he closed his eyes. But he could talk and finally answered me when I kept asking: “What happened last night? Was Alloy Boy there?”
The story I got out of him was that Alloy Boy must have walked in seconds after I had passed out. Carlito was about to stick his knife in me again when he was grabbed from behind and spun around to see that brassy boy facing him. I guess he tried to stab, but the blade only went clang and the point snapped off against metal skin, then his hand was being crunched in Alloy Boy’s grip. The other gangsters tried to run, but my apartment is small so they couldn’t squeeze past. They had already tried shooting him once before and knew that they’d only hurt themselves from all the ricocheting bullets, so they surrendered. Carlito couldn’t pull his broken hand free so he tried to punch Alloy Boy's metal face with his other fist. That one broke too. Then Alloy Boy shook him once and the fight was over, all his muscles sprained simultaneously. He was handed to his friends and they took him with them as they ran from the scene. Last seen, Alloy Boy was lifting me up—still out cold--from the floor.
“Did Alloy Boy ever say anything to you?” I asked.
“No man, not a word. Don't know if he can talk, he was more like a..a living metal statue than a human guy.”
“Maybe like a robot?” I asked, thinking of a Terminator.
“Don't think so, he seemed alive, was breathing air anyway… you really don’t know shit about this guy?”
I realized that if I really HAD somehow caused Alloy Boy to exist I shouldn’t be revealing--what? my secret identity?-- to this gangster. So I said: “Yeah, sure, he just wants to find out what YOU know. And what you’re going to say about it.”
“Hey, I won’t say anything about him, man!”
“About Him is okay. About me is not.”
“Then I won’t, I won’t, nothing, never, I swear!”
“That’s good. Gangsters coming after me is so uncool.”
“Yeah man, but…but…”
“You may speak.” It was fun lording it over him.
"You've plastered them all over Facebook: Alloy Boy, Psychbolt, Fire Chick, Internet Kid --and all those other weird superheroes. So whatever connection you’ve got with them is public knowledge, man! So don't... please don’t send that fucking chrome demonio after me if there’s trouble, because I sure ain’t going to cause any more. Word on that!”
I believed him. And realized that he was right about my Facebook page, I was exposed. What I couldn't accept was that any of this was real.
I mean, there could be a more rational explanation (assuming such a concept could ever apply for anything to do with super heroes) than that I was dreaming them into existence: like that (A) yes, they do exist and I knew about them on some subconscious level; or that (B) no, I was totally bonkers and only dreaming the whole scene. Maybe I was trapped in The Matrix.
But as for the last option, why wouldn’t I just dream that I was the hero myself—I’d MUCH rather be the guy flying around with super powers than my fat weak slob-self. As it was, I only get to HEAR about them second-hand, I don’t get to experience the super-ness. Where's the gratification in that dream?
I checked out my Facebook page to see just how much stuff I had posted—I lose track, so many great ideas for new heroes go up but I never get around to developing them so they become forgotten. And yes, some of them are so bad—so LAME—that I lose interest and ignore them. Like Mosquito Girl ©: all she has going for her is a honking bosom (like all my super chicks) just barely hidden by the skimpiest costume, except that she can fly around with an irritating whine and suck blood. Or Internet Kid, supreme hacker who literally surfs the net: he BECOMES software, and then e-mails himself anywhere the Internet is available, and could hack any computer system from inside the hardware… Right, I know, they’re stupid characters, no wonder I never could write any real stories about them. I mean, why do I waste my time on them? But then again, if I could make them REAL…
While I was on Facebook I clicked over to Sonya Tenson’s page. But instead of the usual cheery reports of being on a fun adventure in the charmingly exotic Zakkistani culture, she’d posted a somber note about how two of her fellow teachers had been arrested by the local secret police for criticizing the new government. And now she and her friends were protesting in front of the local prison, so they were also being threatened by the police.
I vaguely remembered some mention of political trouble going on in Zakkistan. It had actually been headline news for weeks, but I hadn't been paying attention because it had nothing to do with my life.
I watched the late news on TV before going to bed, wondering if I could dream up a superhero to solve any of the problems I’d become aware of. There’d been a big earthquake in China, drug war shoot-outs in Nogales, Mexico, a space shuttle was stuck in orbit. But I considered those things too abstract and far away, I was more interested in local problems: a nearby freeway onramp was in danger of collapsing, and worst of all—my favorite comic book store had been robbed.
I went to bed but was too excited to sleep. Ended up watching the entire season three DVD set of Buffy for the seventh time and finally dozed off just before noon. I might have slept about an hour but was wide awake again. I watched CNN but there was no report of any superheroes in action anywhere. Decided I was silly for believing in dream-heroes.
MONDAY, 16th April
A couple of weeks have gone by with no more superheroes showing up. Even the gang attack seems to be some half-forgotten fantasy now, so once again I've pretty much talked myself out of believing any of those events ever really did happen. That's definitely the easiest way of dealing with it.
FRIDAY, 20th April
I have to admit that I really suck at having any kind of politically awareness. Okay, I’m a full-time comics-nerd and I rarely tune out of that world to see what’s going on in reality. But because of Sonya I was finally paying extra attention to events in Zakkistan, even if it was some ex-Soviet land on the other side of the world. I learned that the country had been developing into a nice little democracy over the last ten years: they’d broken free of the old KGB politics and the Russian Mafia, were becoming modern and West-oriented, and they had recently elected a woman as their new president. President Juliette Shauchesko was even a good-looking woman (big boobs and blonde braids, so she’d gotten MY attention)-- and she was leading Zakkistan towards becoming part of Europe, a real success story. But another election had been demanded by some oil-money wanna-be oligarths, they won somehow, so there was a change of government and everything else changed too.
The new president is evidently a former (?) Russian Mafia gangster who had become very rich. There were reports that the new election had been totally rigged— there’d been way too many ballots in the boxes –and suddenly the country was a corrupt dictatorship all over again. The new guys in power immediately had the pretty blonde president and other members of her party put in prison for what they called some kind of tax-swindle number (which is what THEY were doing), just to get all opposition out of the way. The system is so corrupt that they owned the judges, the police, so that nobody could stop them, while they were calling it legal. There were reports of human rights violations, outrageously obvious relocations of wealth, and gangster thugs replacing the police.
It was all so obviously unfair that it affected me emotionally, especially that part about tossing that pretty woman in prison—I mean, I don’t usually get worked up about political problems on the other side of the world, but Sonya had personalized it for me. Besides, this was a story about classic comic book villains: Doctor Doom, despot & dictator, you know who the bad guy is-- so who ya gonna call?
Of course, I day-dreamed about one of my superheroes going in and fixing things, wondering who would be best for the job?
That's it for tonight, I'm going to have to crash. Don't know why I'm so sleepy, it's not that late-- 9:30 PM, I usually stay up till... never mind, I'll write more later...
TUESDAY, 23rd April. 8:45 PM
Shit! I just slept for three days straight! Friday night to Monday evening. I had five incoming calls stacked up on my phone machine, but had never heard it ring once. Maybe my job-buddy Eddy had come and pounded on my door to wake me, I don’t know. I’d been incommunicado all that time, knocked out cold: O- U- T- zonked.
All I could remember was getting very sleepy Friday evening, going to bed early, and deliberately trying to dream about President Juliette Shauchesko and the Bad Guys holding her. I wanted to dream about rescuing her from prison, wishing it would be one of those dreams that came true, but I kept getting side-tracked and dreaming about sexy Sonya Tenson instead. For a while, anyway, then it's a blank.
Actually I’d been unable to make any more of that dream-superhero stuff happen for so long by then that I'd finally accepted that it really had all been confusion and fantasy. Basically, I'd given up, not expecting anything.
Whatever I did dream, I have no memory of it. Except that at some point I do vaguely remember having to get up to take a leak and drink some water—being incredibly thirsty-- surprised that it was already bright daylight, but I couldn’t stay awake and just fell right back into bed. Maybe I was up again, it's all a fog, but I think it was darkest night that time. When I finally did actually awaken—because I REALLY had to take a dump-- it was day again and I was starving.
Then I suddenly remembered that I was supposed to have worked two weekend shifts at Super-Shop because I needed the money! I tried not to panic, though I had to wonder if I still had a job. I called in. It was Eddy who answered.
“Hey Eddy, it’s me…”
“Jeff, man, where the FUCK have you been? McGarry was going to have your ass two days ago, but now I think you’re fired.”
“Oh crap, I need that job!”
“Well, you’re supposed to SHOW UP, y’know. Or at least call in.”
“I don’t know why, man, I just fell asleep-- for three days straight!”
“Huh? Well… are you okay?”
“I think I am, seem to be awake now, at least. Still a little groggy, though—and starving—I haven’t eaten in three days! But maybe I should come in first?”
“Why bother? McGarry’s gone home and we’re closing in an hour. You can try coming in tomorrow and see what happens. But sleeping sounds like a pretty lame excuse…”
“Yeah, well it’s true… okay, I just gotta go get something to eat now.”
“Hey, Jeff, wait a minute. If you’ve been sleeping all that time you might not have heard about all those real live superheroes over in some country called Zakkistan. I know you’re into that stuff…”
I had never told Eddy that I had once believed I might be dreaming superheroes into existence, he wasn't a comics nerd like me would've only thought I was being stupid and silly. Hell, I hadn’t talked about any of it with anybody—except Carlito José, who’d been there.
That news was so fantastic that I forgot about being hungry. Eddy told me some of it, then I went online to confirm the story. It was all over the Internet: in Zakkistan a group of about ten young people with super powers had broken President Juliette Shauchesko out of the Government’s prison and now she was in charge of the country again, after ALL the corrupt officials had been put into that same prison the same day. The military had had a change of heart and were backing up President Shauchesko’s new government.
There were eyewitness reports of flying people, super-strong people, hyper-fast people. There was even one video posted on YouTube. It sure looked like Alloy Boy to me—a chromium-copper-colored guy, ripping a car door off to arrest a Russian Mafia boss. I had to believe it, just like everybody else in the world. The latest word was that now the heroes had disappeared again, which made sense to me, since I was awake now.
I knew it was me: I’d dreamed them up. But TEN superheroes? I hadn’t created 10, just 5…or maybe 7. Okay, maybe 8—but some of them were really undeveloped, just vague super-ability concepts without any characterization. Like Panzermann ©, my German super-soldier, I had no idea of who they were or what super-stuff they were supposed to be able to do, and now they were ALL dashing around Zakkistan, doing super-stuff. Without me.
It was all over the evening news, this time nation wide: REAL SUPERHEROES DO EXIST! Lots of eyewitness reports, but not much evidence except for that one Alloy Boy video; no photos, no names, it was all a big mystery. Zakkistan’s re-instated President Juliette Shauchesko had actually spoken with several of the superhumans, and was grateful to them for having helped her and all of Zakkistan, but not even she had any names to offer.
There were descriptions I could recognize, of characters I had drawn, costumes I had designed and posted on my website, although so far no one seemed to have connected any of them with me. It suddenly struck me that I really didn’t WANT anyone to make that connection—the standard plot of a thousand comic books exploded in my mind: villains trying to control super heroes by threatening a hostage. Which would be me.
I went to my Facebook page and checked it for fan mail. None, as usual. I wondered if I should delete the drawings, although that’s not very easy to do on Facebook, they keep your stuff. Then decided I'd better NOT delete the drawings after all, having no idea how these characters could have come to life and not wanting to risk killing them off in case it was actually their presence on the Internet that allowed them to exist. What did I know? Nothing was more absurd than that I had DREAMED them alive!
I was pretty confused, emotionally. The world has always NEEDED superheroes and I’ve always BELIEVED in them…in a weird fanboy nerd sort of way. And since I seemed to be the one generating their existence, I was responsible for them. I was their Daddy. But I didn’t know what to do for them.
But first I need to do something for myself-- I haven’t eaten anything in three days, and since I've only got one slice of stale bread and a half-full bottle of very flat cola in the refrigerator, some gummy crumbs in the bottom of a crumpled Cheetos bag, I have to go out. Now. I'll write more later, I suppose.
WEDNESDAY, 24th April. 1:30 AM
I'm back home, it's late at night, but I have to write about this right now.
When I went out to eat I had very little cash on hand and knew my credit card was overdrawn, so I was going to have find some food for under $1.29 in loose change. I went out the door and around the corner onto McAurthur Boulevard, where there were lots of grill bars and student cafes. It was just a little after 9:00 PM, so some of them were still open.
I was shooting for a measly pizza slice at Blondie’s since that was all I could afford. But I kept thinking I should quit eating all the junk food. I know it’s crap, but it always tastes good. But when I stood in front of the pizzeria I couldn’t bring myself to go in, which was really weird, since I was so hungry. I was suddenly being squeamish about junk food, which I’d never been before. I considered walking over to Super-Shop and begging for some real food on credit… although I might not be allowed to if I was fired. But they’d be closed before I got there anyway.
The unfairness of my life hit me then: I seemed to have the power of a God, but it did ME no good. I was still just a fat and unloved nerd with no career and no prospects, living in a stupid fantasy world because the real world was no place for me. Far away on the other side of the planet, I’d been reshaping an entire civilization, crunching cars and buildings with my virtual hands, overtaking an army; here and now I was broke and hungry. Poor me.
Then it occurred to me that my superheroes seemed to manifest themselves only when I had some sort of emotional investment in a situation. I'd been irritated about the Pachuco street gang causing so much local trouble, I'd been really worried about little Cecilia being kidnapped, and when I'd been stabbed there was an immediate response from Alloy Boy. Sonya had been my contact with Zakkistan, maybe just because someone I liked was there. Hmmm.
Then I found myself wondering: what about all those secret identies I'd made up for these characters, did they exist too? They wouldn't really need them if they don't exist while I'm awake, or what? And then it occurred to me-- for the first time-- that all those alter-egos of my fantasy characters were helpless misfits, impotent, losers, not only unable to do any sort of heroics but also hardly able to cope with everyday life in the real world. Much like myself. Hmmm again.
I was wandering the streets, thinking stuff like that when I passed an ATM. I was pretty sure there was nothing to be had there, but checked my account anyway to see if some money I was waiting for had miraculously arrived early. Man, just $10 would be great, I could get a meal to get me through the night, a real meal, not junk food. So I put in the card, punched in my pin-code and waited for the bad news. The screen showed my current balance, which confused me, since it was SO wrong.
$50,906, it said. I didn’t get it. I was expecting a minus figure, so I couldn’t understand how I could owe the bank so much money. I kept looking at it, trying to find the minus sign, but it wasn’t there. The machine was prodding me to make a withdrawal, so I punched in my daily max of $300, expecting it to shut down and sirens to go off. But the money came out.
I was stunned. This was even more amazing than genuine superheroes showing up in Zakkistan. I went to Los Dos Padres and had a Mexican steak with all the trimmings. I even had a beer with the meal. I rarely drink alcohol, but this was celebrating: the money, saving Zakkistan, strange stuff going on around me. All by myself, but feeling pretty good.
A guy came to my table, said, “Hey man, mind if I join you?”
I looked up, it was Carlito José, my worst enemy. I got scared for a second, then saw that he was a lot more scared than me. He was also limping and still had a cast on one arm. Then I remembered that he knew. And I needed to talk with someone.
“Sure. Have a seat. Can I buy you a beer?” I could afford it.
“Hey, sure, that’d be cool.” He sat politely, almost apologetically, no threat there.
“Hey, you look different, man," he said, "lost some of that gut.” Trying to be nice, I guess.
“Yeah, well, I haven’t eaten for three days until just now.”
I let him go ahead and think that. Then we waited for the beers to come before starting to talk, Carlito José being respectfully silent until spoken to.
"I guess you can't draw so well with your hand in a cast," I said, like we really were fellow artist Facebook friends.
"Not for now." He shrugged, "I probably deserve it. Sorry I tried to stick you, man, we were all really MAD at Alloy Boy. And scared he'd come after us again."
You didn't TRY to stick me, asshole, I thought, you DID stick me! But I let that slide and asked instead, “Guess you heard about Zakkistan?”
“Hey yeah, man. I saw the Alloy Boy video on YouTube. Pretty incredible. Uh…did you do that?”
“I think so. I really don’t know.”
“But all those super-guys at once, how CAN you do that?”
“Like I said, I really have NO idea. But I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t tell anybody…”
He winced, “Hey no, man. Silencio, that’s me. I don’t want no trouble with those guys of yours.” Then he surprised me, “Actualmente, I don’t want any more trouble with anyone. Trying to go straight now, you know? Got this nice girl…but also got these guys after me. Bad hombres.”
I told him I couldn’t promise anything, but hinted that Alloy Boy might help a guy really trying to clean up his act. Carlito José was very thankful, almost kissing my hand when he left. Pretty cool, Don Corleone much?
So I came back here, to my dingy apartment. Actually, I JOGGED which I never do. And I DO feel lighter, my gut IS trimmer than it's been in years. What's with me?
When I got here the place seemed too small and messy, but it felt more comfortable when I straightened it up a bit. That didn't even seem weird. Then I checked my e-mails. Some comic-con invitations, some Russian porno ads, and a message from “Internet Kid”. I wasn’t sure if that was a gag, so I checked it for virus before opening it up.
“Jeff, we’ve confiscated some funds from Zakkistani gangsters, recycled most of it to Juliette’s government, but also put some in your local bank account for operating expenses. As you’ve ascertained, you are connected to us so we need you to be healthy, therefore Psychbolt has adjusted some of your more self-destructive habits, hope you don’t mind. Also, we’d like you to do some reading—you need to expand our political and economic horizons, so here’s a list of links and books you might check out for us. The Zakistan coup went well, BTW, zero fatalities. Awaiting further instructions. IK.”
Another e-mail popped up as I was reading the first. I was surprised to see that the sender was Sonya Tenson. “Dear Jeff: I only know you as a Facebook friend, tho I’m not sure you even know who I am, although maybe you’ve also noticed me (because I’m so interesting, who knows?) and are aware that I’m currently stationed in Zakkistan with the Peace Corps. Well, a fantastic thing has happened over here, and I was reminded of your drawings…”
She went on to say that she had seen and spoken with Glorianna, who had joined with the demonstrators in front of the local prison, just before the goddess had WRENCHED the huge metal gates off with a wave of her hand and released all the political prisoners, including both her colleagues. Then Glorianna put the government cops and officials back into the cells to be dealt with later, all this without anyone being harmed.
Sonya couldn't help but notice how much that super-heroine resembled herself, so she talked with her. I guess my name was mentioned, because she's figured out that I'm somehow connected to these superheroes who had come to rescue the people of Zakkistan and was wondering... Well, I answered her mail, assuring her that I knew exactly who she was. Flirting a little, I guess--I mean, why not?--so we've begun a correspondence. No idea where that will lead, so I think I'll just keep it between her and me for now.
So I was planning on going to bed, maybe to see what could be dreamed-- but was just too high on all this stuff to sleep yet. Somehow found myself drawing a new superhero. I had no idea who he was supposed to be or what his powers were, just sketching on autopilot. A man, big, powerful, flashy costume, typical comic-book clichés.
I stopped to study the drawing, thinking I should be able to show more imagination than this, be more creative, strive to do some real ART. This was hack stuff, there were no surprises. I considered crumpling it up and starting over...
Seems I sorta tranced out for a bit, because next thing I knew there was another e-mail from Internet Kid open on my computer screen: "Jeff, please FINISH that drawing, just NAME him and POST it on Facebook! Don't get artsy-fartsy on us now, we NEED this guy! IK"
Yes, yet another mind-blower, but I seem to be getting used to that by now. I took up the pencil and put a round emblem on the hero's chest--symbolizing the planet Earth--and pondered a sec to think up some dramatic, maybe even corny name. But I'd already finished writing it out before I even knew what it would be: PEACEKEEPER ©. Then I scanned the drawing and uploaded it within five minutes.
Done, now I could go to bed, finally feeling sleepy. Very sleepy. But before I let myself fall into bed I forced myself to catch the headlines on late TV News.
There's trouble in the south of Sudan again: their militia is slaughtering entire refugee camps and nobody is stopping it. Somebody should intervene, I thought, offended that political considerations had kept any official help from reaching those poor people.
Okay, now I've worked myself up to a pretty agitated state of righteous indignation. Maybe I should sleep on it.