Sunday, 2 November 2014

When Characters Seek Crucibles


P   R   E   V   I   O   U   S   L   Y      I    N 
S   P   I   D   E   R   F   I   N   G   E   R   S
She hoped – an anxious, feverish hope – for the journey of her protectorate deity not to end in death.  She wished the bad thoughts away, freeing her mind to mutate for new purpose.


The world had left him behind again, the proof flapping in his hands: a free newspaper, the date six days wrong.  So that’s how long it takes to travel to the centre of the earth and back.  That’s one thing Jules Verne messed up.  His hand let go of the paper, as he wheezed, out of breath, eyes stinging from the extremity of his tunnelling.  He took a little over an hour to acclimatise to the air, lines of a new performance running through his brain before he pulled himself to his feet.
It had been many weeks since meeting Vicky in Rowberry Park, so much time devoted to practicing his role in saving the world via a complex enterprise, a plot that showcased his acting chops.  He tried to run through his lines, such deft sentences that he’d committed to memory, his folder of Russian Doll Stories no longer whipped out for consultation.  The part he’d written so long ago benefited from intense revision that the resultant acting restored a certain piece of mind to the vagabond player.  Each mannerism, tick and nuance felt like restorative gulps of air.  However, the frustration that followed him from his failure inside the Earth dragged him out of character, like a fish snatched from water.  He kicked an empty coke can along the road, hoping to rid himself of the fury.  With every clanging punt, he grew increasingly malevolent, incensed over his second failure to obtain an up to date understanding of cosmic factions.  He would never hear of the latest Godheads to sacrifice willing concubines in honour of fragile pacts.  He missed the gossip column nature of these doomed agreements, the laughable alliances that fell apart with comic regularity.  Kicking the can didn’t help.  Neither did the winter sun.  The omniscient orb shone its rays through the cloudy sky, day enough then for Spiderfingers to feel the heavy weight of shame.  The bursts of red and hacked meat and all those distraught relatives unable to escape the media coverage, all these factors wore him down.  He kicked the can chiding himself for the self-pity.  He puffed out his chest with the knowledge: I won’t have to do this job much longer.  Soon Operation Genie Bottle will set me free.
“What’s that, Mr Spider?” the voice startled him, his palms balled into fists as he became aware of his current location.  He’d wondered from the mouth of the long tunnel in St Martin’s Gardens.  He’d returned to the hub-bub, the blaring, relentless, cacophony of Camden’s main High Road, now churning all about him.  He looked down at the man who’d snapped him out of his daydream.  It was the guitar-boy, the twenty something black kid: Samson.
The young man shifted the acoustic instrument in his lap as he straightened his back against the supermarket window, cautiously leaning away, pointing at the large bloodshot coat worn by the man stood over him.  The pocket of that big long cape of a jacket, it had something alive inside.
“Oh, you mean this? Wanna know what this is?” Spiderfingers tapped the fast-moving bulge of his pocket before plucking the Grapple-Worm into the dying December light.  He held it out: “This here is a creature that lives far under the earth – ready – to help people defend her.  Sweet old Mother Nature, Sammy, our beloved Lady of the Flowers.  This worms’ merely one of the many wonders beneath her folds.”
“How can your worm defend Earth? Does it scare off minions?” Samson’s one eye bulged wide whilst his arms folded over his three string guitar.  Spiderfingers studied the eagerness in the boy’s face.  He detected the multitude of questions that riddled his features; the hope for answers to deliver him from the loneliness of inner city destitution.
“Nah, Sammy, you can’t use a slug like this to scare a minion.  Not directly.  You see that over there?” Spiderfingers directed Samson’s one good eye towards the golden arches of a McDonald’s, “See, now that over there Sammy, that’s a powerful symbol.  It means something to you and me.  Before we really understood what that house of malnutrition was, we bathed in its impression.  Ronald McDonald was the Christ of the children’s restaurant party.  Lotta power under that clown make-up.  See this?” and Spiderfingers pointed to a Coca-Cola sign above a newsagent, a shop way down the high-road, “That can of sugar is more than a drink, you get me? I can see it, and you can see it, all red and white familiarity, almighty in its sweep across the west and the east.  The known world, undeniably penitent, worshipping at the altar of a tooth-eating-black syrup.  These creatures –” he held the Grapple-Worm further out towards Samson, “– are attracted to symbols we take so seriously.  We’ve trained ourselves to love them and all they promise us so much, that these creatures that Gaia has deep within her, waiting to bond with us, they hunt out the properties of what a great icon bleeds.  They glug up the power we’ve given them, then, they vomit it into our brains.  Useless waste-matter to those who’ve never spoken to Gaia.  The energy that these worms collect can be focussed, harnessed by a simple system of prayer.  Such power manifests as paranormal properties.  Superpowers, Sammy.  Superpowers.”
“Like the Tao.” Samson strangled the neck of his wooden acoustic in frustration, leaning a little more forward to inspect the creature Spiderfingers displayed.
“I’ll find a Waterstones that stocks your book, Sammy.” replied Spiderfingers, scratching the S on his chest.  Sammy’s Tao of Pooh had disappeared from his rucksack days ago.  To help him over the loss, Spiderfingers had been filling the boy’s brain with even more mythos than usual, anything to distract the boy from the hole in his life; so many nights of misdirection; the telling of tales from the old country; how the Oma and all its many queen and kingdoms came to be.
“Hold up your sign Sammy, wave it high.” Samson pushed his guitar aside.  He thrust his sign above his head smiling, sharing his rotten dentures without a care:
A smile is FREE
So grin with ME
Samson seemed genuinely at peace with destitution, a state of calm that Spiderfingers couldn’t quite rationalise as he mentally ticked off all the places he’d sought refuge.  A mental home: couldn’t stay for fear of madness.  A dumpster: couldn't stay inside.  Why?  Too evil to miss out on my pet’s barbarism.  And though the heart of the earth housed no minions, he couldn’t live there.  That evil beast he commanded at night, the fiend he himself became – they could not be trusted to live contentedly at the earth core.  He couldn’t bear to think what horrible things he could do to people – let alone to exotic wildlife – and all for the sake of dark battle-pride.  So, out of that magma coated crucible he’d journeyed, ascending into the Coliseum that was his planet.  People in comic books are not created to stay out of the way.  Spiderfingers clutched the Grapple Worm, the snaking thing squirming in his hands, I got the idea for holing up in Bellevue from a comic, so what other stupid ideas have I got? What other foolish thoughts are endangering my sanity and in doing so – the world?  He shuddered at the idiocy of his inspiration.  There was no way that troublemakers like him – fictional or otherwise – could avoid situations that weren’t perpetually, relentlessly story-worthy.  The problem with life imitating art is that it’s no life at all.  He felt a small pang as he bobbed between herds of twenty something’s running along with bulging bags of alcohol.  Real people – with real lives, all of these civilians about to see in the New Year.  Samson was a real person.
“Going for a walk Sammy, see you later.”
“Eh, but, Mr Spider? You’re coming back, yeah? For the clock strikes?”
Too late.  His god had walked away.
Up the High Road, a turn at Camden Loch, along the canal, no particular destination in mind as he patrolled, ever vigilant, unable to shirk the depression of feeling like some cut-out-of-a-story-non-person, a character being watched.  His thoughts became interwoven, twirling him in circles, each circumference drawn with the excited unsteady hand of a child.  As he passed a Big Issue seller trying to flog his last two copies, he couldn’t help but remember how he’d sold Hara the idea, that taking refuge in Bellevue, far from London, made sense.  Anyone that could concoct a plan as cold and ruthless as Operation Genie Bottle ought to be locked away, for good.  That was his thinking, for he had grown.  The abandoned building he now called home had to be in Camden Town: this place would be the setting for phase one of his strategy to save the world.  His time of playacting far from over, his method of defending the globe evolved, he considered his day to day a trial. A period when champions would test their mettle; when characters sought their crucibles.  He would survive Miss World and her labours based on how he’d allowed the perceptions of others to fuel his self-worth.  His true super-power would always be his ego, the actions of friends and enemies offered him eternal refinery.  He gave a moment’s thought for the old lady that accompanied him into the hospital, all those years ago, her recent words charged his mind: “If you felt for every flower in mother’s garden, you’d be no good at cutting her weeds.”  He felt entrenched in his opinion.  
Success is all about who you know, how they see you.
He reached out to feel the bark of a tree, Thank you, for all your guardianship, thank you, thought Spiderfingers.  Now I see things the right way.
“Had a nice walk man? Want some beer?” asked Samson, as Spiderfingers took his forefinger and thumb to the crown of his nose, his other hand waiving Samson’s donation.  It wasn’t just his thoughts that were going in circles.
He’d been walking in them.
“You got any resolutions?” Spiderfingers shook his head.  He squinted, as if that would dispel the fatigue he so obviously suffered.  Then, he noticed it.
“Where you going, Mr Spider?” Spiderfingers left him, crossing the road, shambling in a near stupor, traffic from both sides honking and braking.  A car swerved him as he jogged in a trance.
“You’re dead,” said Spiderfingers as he reached the opposite side of the high street, “You, you can’t be alive.” High above, shining illuminate from an ever-changing billboard swayed a man in a black suit.  His crumpled white shirt, torn, several buttons missing.  The large cavity in his chest gushed blood and more blood as he glared downwards, mouth opening and closing out of time with slurred speech.
“Be a better friend than you are a god.” said the man as the billboard began to segment and flip, “Stay away from my sister, please, my god? I beg you?”
“Nat!” Cried Spiderfingers, grabbing out at the man, but his hands reached for a different image, for the mechanics of the revolving billboard dictated constant change.  He scraped around at thin air.  He waited.  Through pictorials of the latest handheld gadgets, then the obscure photo-shopped advert for a band he hadn’t heard of … Spiderfingers blinked in anticipation.  His billboard apparition had vanished.  So, this is what it’s like to be Hara, he thought, this is the price she pays for conversing with Miss World.  
“John?”
He span at the use of the name. “Are you alright, John?”
Where Doctor Kwame had sprung from, Spiderfingers couldn’t be so sure, he just needed to get away from all that forced concern.
“Do you really have to interact with your former patients?” he said, turning his back on the psychiatrist, almost immediately locating Doctor Silberman.  The medical man skulked, jotting in his notepad from his hiding place: an open manhole cover on the side of the road.  His correctional shades made a well-kept secret of his expression.  “Can’t you watch my Hyper-Psychosis without breaking the fourth fucking wall?”
“You’ve got Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  Hyper-psychosis? There’s no such term, John.  You should come back with us.  We can celebrate the strikes to twelve.  You’ve still got two hours.”
“Sorry!” he yelled, moving away from the medical man, “must be all that subscription to childhood trauma, huh? Making me all confused, right? You’re not real either.”
He left Doctor Kwame befuddled, shrugging a ‘What now?’ across the street to Doctor Silberman.
“I’m putting on a production,” announced Spiderfingers, patting the Grapple-Worm in his pocket. “and the lead actress needs a prop delivered,” He bellowed the news as he skipped through a pack of revellers on his street cross to Samson, “Might need that guitar actually, mate.  Yeah ... How’d you feel about a part in saving the world, eh, Sammy?” He had the script (in a black folder), he had the venue (London, soon the world) and he had the star.  He would travel to her home to make preparations, and he would act.  No unorthodox psych evaluations were going to endanger his major work, not if he could help it.  He hadn’t memorised his lines, practiced his part, shaved the bad edges off for the last two months for nothing.
“I got a New Year’s resolution, Sammy.  I’m gonna put on a play.  It’s called, ‘I’m Not Taking Any More Shit.  Not From Anybody.’ Like it?”
“The title is too long, no?”
“It’s that or ‘I’m Spiderfingers the Immortal, So Don’t Fuck With Me, Motherfuckers.’ Still not decided, but just you wait, Sammy, it’s gonna be bigger than Book of Mormon.”
“Here’s to opening night!” said Samson, practically forcing the bottle into the hands of his friend.
Opening night’s just around the corner.
Spiderfingers surveyed the world he’d been created to protect.  A bouncer asking a woman for her number, his arm bracing for another of her falls to the pavement; a gaggle of bike taxi’s arguing over the right of way:  An old woman singing Jesus loves you at two lovers holding hands, both men in practiced denial.
“You still have time.” She shouts as both parties travel in opposite directions, “Jesus loves you!”
“And look at that shit over there, Sammy.” Spiderfingers pointed his beer in the direction of five or more policemen searching through the pockets of a black couple – no older than fourteen.
“These kids are young enough to be Vicky’s age.  How will the shit the authorities put them through change their soul? How will this officialised gang make them better products for society? Sometimes,” he handed back the beer to Samson, “Sometimes I don’t know why I do this.”
A man with a scar on his face walked up to the two of them:
“You got some weed Superman?”
“Not a seller, mate.”
“You sure?” replied the man, as Spiderfingers looked closer at the ravaged face, finding a woman with no teeth smiling at him, “suck your dick? Gotta feed my baby and –”
“Please, go.”
The lights behind her eyes faded as she scurried, mumbling something about black men and the state of the country.
“You do know why you’re doing this, Mr Spider.” Samson slurped on his bottle, “You’re the good guy.”
 “No, I saved you because of how it looked.  Fuck, I don’t know … That smile on your face, how the fuck do you keep it?”
Samson thought long and hard for a moment.  Then, upon the approach of a group of girls, “Ladies, I’ve not had the pleasure of playing to an audience as well dressed as you, not in a long, looooong time.  Permit me the pleasure?”
“Yeah?” said one of the girls to her two friends.  They giggled in agreement and somehow, through sheer passion not to mention dexterity long accustomed to the London cold, Samson Owusu managed to play a heart-pounding, soul wrenching Little Richard number.
“Keep on knocking but you can’t come in! Come back tomorrow night and try it again, woooooh!”
Spiderfingers danced, the fingers of his free hand rubbing together behind his back gesticulating over his open hood.  As the song came to a close, no fewer than six gold coins dropped behind his neck.  Questions followed the passionate applause whilst Spiderfingers emptied the coinage into Samson’s bag:
“Where did you get your coat from Superman?”
“You’ve got such a lovely voice.  I mean that, honest to god.  What part of Africa are you from?”
“Where do you sleep?”
Samson collected the change from the rucksack in which they were thrown.  He handed them back up to his fans,
“No ladies, I insist.  Just do me a favour?” They stood waiting, as Samson held up his sign:
A smile is FREE
So grin with ME
When they left, after posing for a picture, insisting they leave him with a beer and a bag of chips, Spiderfingers said: “So you smile because you like bringing out the happiness in others?”
“Billions of people will die with doubt in their hearts.  Even the most die-hard of my country’s reverends, he will die not knowing where his soul is going to go.  I know for sure that there is more to life on Earth,” he pointed his guitar at Spiderfingers, ‘and that knowledge makes me … smile.”
“Hey, know what’s cool about transport being free on New Year’s Eve?”
Samson shook his head.
“We get to go on an underground adventure.”
They began with a stroll to Camden Tube.
“Happy New Year!” The man at the ticket barriers returned the saying, grinning contentedly as two obvious vagrants made use of the twenty four hour no charge policy.  Hours of tube surfing (a fantastic moment of introducing the carriage sport to a sprightly senior citizen, an eccentric gentlemen dressed in clowns gear, his rendition of Auld Lang Syne oddly moving), station busking and random conversations ensued.  Sometimes Spiderfingers would break into some rehearsal.  Two months of tweaking and honing his lines:
“Come again? You mean, you’ve never heard of Babushka Doll Lit?  That’s like saying you’ve never heard of Nirvana!  We’d better do something about that then.”
Oddities that he tried out on Samson.
“… More of a game than a series of stories.  You ask me the right question at the end of this tale … you … you – shit – what’s the line? Ah, yes! Ask me the right question at the end of this tale and you unsheathe another story.”
Samson clapped “Wonderful, Mr Spider.” He said, “Well spoken.” Spiderfingers doubted Samson’s complete comprehension of the play, which was fair enough since he’d refrained from outlaying a detailed plot synopsis.  He figured Samson applauded the snappiness of the delivery, the varying tones of his speech.
“Ah, c’mon, what’s the real name of your play, Mr Spider?” Spiderfingers smiled at this pal of his, hiccupping throughout his answer as he bent down, drunkenly mishandling the release of the eye-patch strung to his kneecap.
“The Russian Doll Stories, Sammy.  Here you go.” And Spiderfingers wrapped Samson’s patch around the head of its rightful owner.  The smile his friend afforded him elicited a feeling he thought his twenty four hour job had surgically removed.  He dug his pockets for his notepad and squiggled down words his character denied:
“Sammy, about your book …”
“Aw, no more writing tonight, Mr Spider, unless you want to write about me? Oh, did I just say that? I’ve been hanging about with you too much.  C’mon, put the pen away? Live a little.  Smile a lot.”
But Sammy’s mood was too jolly, so when he didn’t quite catch him over the din of an approaching tube, Spiderfingers pretended not to have said anything.
“You ever tried just talking the bad guys down?”
“Oh, you had to spoil the evening.”
“But seriously, you can’t solve all your problems with your fists.”
“There are only monsters round these parts, smiley.”      
The pair ended their adventure outside the entrance for Morden station, singing Come As You Are.  Every time one threatened to pass out, the other would begin a new song, regardless if Samson new the chords.
“Not saying you should just sit there like a buffoon.  Trick them.  Tell your monsters lies.”
“Violence doesn’t have to be my way?”
“Exactly! The best weapons you have are in your mouth.”
Most of the time, the correct playing didn’t matter, the unintentional comedy to die for.
“If I had your smile Sammy, maaaaan.”
“You’d not be kissing any girls soon.”
“No, no I wouldn’t.  I wouldn’t be selling any chocolate bars either, but I’d win votes for a smile like that.  In the right election, I’d win big time votes.”
“Do you miss girls, Mr Spider?”
“Do you miss cock?”
They laughed heartily as Spiderfingers returned a wink, shoving playfully into Samson’s ribs.  
“No, c’mon, Mr Spider? With your charm, you could have anybody.”
“Yeah, well, that’s not how Gaia sees it.” He paused, unsure about the merit of discussing the way his body worked, “Hey, we didn’t sing Auld Lang Syne, did we?”
“We missed the strikes, Mr Spider! It’s twenty twelve and we’re still alive.”
“Never trust a Mayan Sammy boy.” Samson’s laughter became song as Spiderfingers crooned through lyrics his friend bluffed through:
“Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never thought upon;
The flames of love extinguished, and fully past and gone:
Is thy sweet heart now grown so cold, that loving breast of thine;
That thou canst never once reflect on old long syne.” 
When the evening became morning, as the final chords to badly sung lyrics died upon the new dawn, he left Samson to his napping.  He had to meet ‘Object Girl’ for ‘opening night’.  She better have that Play-Doh, he thought taking a glimpse at his snoring friend.
        “Success is all about who you know, Sammy, how the poor bastards see you.”

N   E   X   T      T   I   M   E      I    N
S   P   I   D   E   R   F   I   N   G   E   R   S
His latest role demanded the poise and self-assuredness of a Master of Ceremony, much like a young deity, overly comprehensive in his conversation, so as to render the replies of others redundant.

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