|20.20|21|22|22.2|22.22|22.222|23|24|25|Those Extra Four…|1|2|3|4|Back Cover|
Alone In The Dark
An inky blackness alone shrouds his perception. Unbridled, lightless darkness paired with a stiff back and aching limbs, all topped off with the feeling of being stuffed into a space far too small for the body one is currently inhabiting; this, in the current moment, is all of reality.
‘What was that?’ Chuck thinks to himself before realizing it was himself groaning. He tries to move but can’t, it’s as if his body was encased in a form-fitting metal suit of power armor… oh right.
Even through his dope shades, Chuck’s eyes are singed by the sunlight when the helmet melts away from his cranium, giving his fedora a chance to breathe once more. As the remainder of the suit liquifies and returns to his necktie, faint feelings of nausea kick in. The clouds in the sky are actively shapeshifting as they daintily drift overhead, and a particularly sooty gray one seems to be spiraling down to grace Chuck with a kiss to the forehead. His mind goes dumpster diving into a rusty metal bin that’s missing three of its four wheels in search of potential symbolic meanings for this event, but it finds nothing. After a moment, the blaring alarm that Chuck had just assumed was a regular part of his perception shuts off, giving way to what sounds like a teenage girl’s voice.
“Uh… who are… what… how did… um… excuse me, sir?”
Chuck shakily lifts himself out of the twisted metal casket that once held him. He’s sitting in the middle of what appears to be a car breeding ground that surrounds a brick building, the air stinking of rain-splattered tar on a hot day, which is odd because it hasn’t rained in a week and the air is cool and springy. Also, cars on Earth don’t breed, and upon remembering that little detail about his Universe, Chuck realizes he’s stranded in a parking lot, and his “casket” is a lime green Pulvo Boxmobile.
Or at least it was before his suit apparently ran out of energy and he crashed, disappointed, like a meteor with no dinosaurs to kill.
Chuck climbs out of the vibrant wreckage and stands, wobbles a bit, then stands once more. He pushes against his back and cracks one or two vertebrae, feeling the world get all the more squiggly as the freed spinal fluid rushes to and floods his brain. He then turns his attention to the panic-stricken blonde teenager standing next to him with her hands over her likely gaping mouth.
“Sup?” Chuck asks, removing his fedora to fan his face. It’s kinda hot out today, actually.
“Th-th-they told me my cuh–” she pips, then gets cut off by the strange suited creature.
“Speak up chick, I can barely hear you. Wait, hold on.”
Chuck pinches his nose shut and exhales with his mouth closed, popping his eardrums. Suddenly, everything sounds clearer.
“Uh. They told me my car alarm was going off. So, I… I came out here and you were… a robot, but… not, and… I’m so confused.”
“Yeah, I bet you are. Listen, if you tell anybody that you saw me here today, the tracking bug I just put on you will crawl into your ear, plug into your brain. and painfully broadcast your deepest and darkest thoughts to the entire world, in multiple languages, via eff-em radio station one hundred-point-three, also known as Why One Hundred around here. Cool?”
The girl says nothing, her face paler than a beached beluga.
Chuck looks at the car and notices the gray cloud is actually wafting up from the mangled hood, likely an early warning sign of impending engine combustion. Chuck raises his left hand and aims it at the car. A small hole opens up in his palm, releasing a spray of foam that douses the budding embers of the potential parking lot inferno. He then starts walking towards the nearby road; across this road is a little stream, a babbling brook of sorts, and Chuck can sense the presence of a small family of woodland ducks, mergansers even, swimming against the current.
He wants to pet the baby ducks.
‘Go inside the school Master Charles, Prince of the Fags,’ says the voice of Chuck’s power armor’s computer inside his head. Then, in a voice reminiscent of the late great professional wrestler Beefy Boy Randal Vicious, ‘Get into the closet where you belong!’ and lastly, returning to the power armor’s standard voice, ‘If you would be so kind, sir.’
Chuck freezes and looks back at the girl, still standing there as motionless as a statue. “Hey!” he shouts, “Did your voice just get really manly and like… pan-seared?”
“Uh,” she squeaks, giving mice a run for their cheddar, “no…?”
“Didn’t think so,” he calls back, turning around and gaiting back across the parking lot towards the school. As he passes the girl, he quietly says, “Psst. You can tell one human, a friend or something. Make sure they’re the right one though, or, you know, you’ll start thinking frequently. If you smell what I’m steppin’ over. You catch the drift? Feel the vibe, little one?”
Chuck then walks away, not waiting for an answer.
“Wait!” she cries, “How will I know who to tell?”
Chuck spins around and silently yet aggressively points a finger at the girl before going on his way. She watches him walk up the handicapped ramp to the nearest door and attempt to open it but fail, thwarted by the school’s paranoid security system. He then raises his right arm to the keycard sensor, the gauntlet of his power armor forming around it, and makes a fist before decking the sensor right in the detector pad. The door clicks and Chuck throws it open, disappearing into the school, leaving Isabelle with a totaled car and daytime nightmares. She takes out her phone and, with her pointer finger trembling, scrolls through her contacts.
Once inside, Chuck unequips his sunglasses for the first time in literally weeks and takes in the horrors before him. Cinderblock walls covered with rubbery, bumpy paint. Linoleum floors with tiles as big as a dog carrier meant for a manatee decorated with black, white, and green circles which repeat and gyrate in no recognizable pattern. Flat wooden slabs with metal handles, blinking fluorescent glass tubes that buzz so loud their plastic covers are ready to fall to the floor, and around the lights, crumbly ceiling tiles made out of what appears to be the innards of a stale loaf of Irish soda bread. His shoes click and clack as he slowly walks down the hallway, the entire structure spinning on a skewed axis as he ventures deeper into the gullet of this monstrous brick entity. At the end of the hallway is a nexus, a cloverleaf of sorts; to his left, a hallway with a digital clock reading 1:23 jutting out of the wall; to his right, another hallway lined with lockers that seem to be growing and shrinking all on their own, and in front of him? A hallway, this one with fliers and arrows pointing to a door covered in more fliers that say ANTI-DRUG ASSEMBLY TODAY. The nausea leaves Chuck and a cancerous panic grows in its spot.
Chuck went to high school once, a long, long time ago.
Back in the days when teachers were apt to hit kids and the kids were apt to hit back, Chuck spent a fraction of his time in a hoity-toity private school dominated by a dominatrix principal named Madame Splintshot. She wasn’t literally a dominatrix, at least she claimed not to be, but she had a way of looking at a student and driving fear into his or her heart, into the roots of their soul no matter how deeply said soul was buried in the ground of their being. She hired only ex-cons and mercenaries as the teaching staff; as for administrators, she had only her stainless-steel meter stick that she carried on her hip in a sheath made from the tears of her enemies… and leather. The leather was made from human skin, of course, or at least that’s what the playground rumors said. A few of Chuck’s classmates disappeared over the course of his three-and-change-year transition between grade school and college, and each time they did, Madame Splintshot would have a new purse, or a new pair of leather chaps, and one time, a new whip, which she cracked on any student, teacher, parent, law enforcement official or priest that dared enter the sanctum of her schoolhouse in a sad, pitiful attempt to tell her what was what.
Chuck blinks and he’s suddenly there, back in the unanimously unhallowed halls of Huckleberry High, lit only by torches sconced to the crumbling walls. The sound of a whip cracks behind him, sending chills down his spine into his feet, and then right back up. He turns and there she is, wearing a gimp mask and all, with a pissed off neutered pit bull on a chain leash and her meterstick unsheathed. Madame Splintshot looks at Chuck and slowly unzips the mask while the dog talks to him in a voice that would sound more normal if it were saying its words backwards.
“Are you ready, Charles? Are you ready for snacktime ? Daddy’s hungry, you little shit, and white meat is on the menu!”
The dominatrix licks the zipper lips of her gimp mask and takes a step towards poor, defenseless little Charles. His itchy schoolboy uniform and matching slacks are still soaked from being pushed into that puddle when he was seven, which isn’t as horrifying as it seems because nobody will notice that he’s wet himself. He tries to run but his legs won’t move – he’s firmly entranced under the Madame’s spell. She steps towards him again, her sleek, polished leather chaps reflecting the torchlight, giving her legs a glimmering sheen that would drive anybody, straight, gay, incel, or uncel, absolutely crazy with lust. Daddy howls and the torches all simultaneously blow out, the smell of ancient wood smoke nearly suffocating young Charles.
Chuck blinks again and he’s back, alone in the linoleum hallway. Out of the corner of his eye he notices the clock tick from 1:23 to :24. He removes the leather glove from his right hand and bites the fingernail off of his pinkie finger, spitting it onto the ground in front of him before stepping over it and proceeding down the hall to the left. Underneath the clock is a door marked CUSTODIAL CLOSET. Chuck slaps his glove against his knee to dust it off or something, and then puts it back on to grasp the creaky handle and enter the chamber, silently sealing the tomb behind him.
Not even two minutes later, a rogue SMAK officer reaches into a nearby trashcan, carefully angles his fully loaded SR-15 out of its mouth, and feeds it with an empty slushy cup.