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The Ghosts of Flies

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Chapter One:
Old Soldiers

 

Parking his faithful Indian motorcycle against a curb full of puddles dancing beneath a sky full of rain, Ted ‘Wildcat’ Grant looked down with a muttering grunt as he watched a drowning condom becoming lodged in the rusted grate of a street gutter, carried away like the discarded newborn Moses along the flowing Nile of the evening’s recent rain to the sewer below.

Ted Grant wasn’t the type of man to believe in omens, but the drowning prophylactic suddenly reminded him of the old man he was about to meet; a washed-up and broken shield that had already served its purpose in the superhero world, a forgotten man who’d been unceremoniously ground away by the unforgiving millstone called time.

A man steeped in accusation.

Fifty years ago, William Higgins had been a second-generation superhero named ‘The Shield’, a young man wearing the stars and stripes of a more patriotic America, a man who’d been a founding member of one of the first superhero teams ever created…

A group of brightly clad vigilantes dubbed the Mighty Crusaders.

The Mighty Crusaders weren’t quite as old as the Justice Society of America (which Ted Grant had been a chartered member of thanks to his magically altered life span), but the Crusaders been pretty damned close. Wildcat recalled the Mighty Crusaders battling the B-horror-movie villains of a forgotten era…

Monstrosities like Baron Gestapo, the Brain Emperor, and Zarro: Master of Zombies.

Back in the good old days when everyone knew who the bad guys were. Back when you could save the world with nothing more than the courage to stand up and fight for what was right and your fists - without worrying about civil lawsuits and a criminal’s rights.

Better times.

But unlike the JSA who’d soon laid the foundation for the Justice League, Ted knew that the Mighty Crusaders were all but forgotten now, its membership having all met tragic ends, three of them in a farmhouse only a thirty-minute drive outside of town.

All except William Higgins.

Who’d burned that farmhouse to the ground.

Bill had originally faced a second-degree murder charge for Fly-Girl, a young woman who’d also been a member of the Crusaders, a charge Higgins had walked away from after successfully claiming self-defense. But the irreparable damage to his career had already been done.

The Shield announced his formal retirement as a superhero shortly after the verdict had been rendered.

It wasn’t really a surprise. There’d been five dead bodies found on that farm when the authorities investigated, and three of them had belonged to Mighty Crusaders... At least that’s what the dental records showed.

Only Bill Higgins and God knew what had actually happened on that farm that terrible Halloween night. And Bill had disappeared from the public eye shortly after the trial, disappearing into Battery Park.

Like a spent condom being tossed away in an alleyway.

Yeah, this was Battery Park.

That rotten part of town where the cops had the good sense to leave it alone and just let it die. A part of the city which had steadily become a festering pile of stinking human tragedy that some real estate developer would eventually flatten and shovel dirt on top of, just like the mourners at an addict’s funeral.

Yeah, it would happen sooner or later.

Hopefully sooner.

Just how Ted Grant would likely throw a shovelful of dirt onto the lid of Bill Higgins’ coffin when the old codger kicked off, finally reuniting him with the rest of his forgotten team to face whatever justice he deserved from those once brightly-clad superheroes who now held all their club meetings six feet underground…

The Fly, Fly-Girl, The Jaguar, The Black Hood, The Comet…

All just names on graying tombstones spread out across cemeteries dotting the north-eastern states now.

All of them except William Higgins that was.

The man who’d walked away.

And old Bill was still refusing to let go, clinging to the present while the world was trying to flush him down the great toilet of history after wiping its ass with his tarnished reputation. The rest of his companions once called the Mighty Crusaders had been spared of that pathetic fate thanks to their premature deaths (perhaps at his hands), but the whisperings of old Bill was now the stuff of yellowing comic book pages…

Probably the same shade of jaundice as the old man’s liver.

The Devil’s wine is the balm of a guilty conscience.

Christ, this really was a rotten part of town. It certainly made a man believe the worst. The decayed center of a rotten Battery Park where even a knucklehead like Ted had the good sense to move his gym elsewhere, or else face the caustic rot of a place like this that could eat away at a man’s soul.

But here he was, back in his old stomping grounds, performing the Justice League’s dirty work…

Ready to listen to one final confession.

Visiting old bastards like Bill Higgins when they said they needed to get something off their chest was something a reserve member should do according to Superman. And then the Man of Steel had then subtly reminded the former boxing champion that this would count towards the volunteer hours which the League required of its reserve members…

The ones who still drew a Justice League pension anyways.

Fuck you.

Ted had been paying those dues with his fists for over fifty years now and he didn’t need some alien socialist to lecture him about serving his goddamned community. Besides, those volunteer hours were all just a pain-in-the-ass PR exercise for the older League members and everyone damned well knew it…

Get out and smile for the cameras!

But that extra three grand a month came in pretty handy for a man who had to rely on the unsteady income of a ramshackle gym and a fading reputation. A man still paying off the crippling debt of putting his goddaughter through college.

So the cranky Wildcat had kept his growling to a minimum and called Bill Higgins.

And then it had started to rain, which had made Ted almost forget it was Halloween, the anniversary of that burning farmhouse where three forgotten superheroes had met their tragic ends, four if you counted The Shield.

Was she still alive when you burned the place down, Bill?

Thoughts like that made Ted even more hesitant about driving here and walking into a seedy bar called the Twisted Unicorn where William Higgins was now waiting.

From past experiences, Wildcat knew the line between superhero and supervillain was razor thin, with too many of the old-timers wanting to go out with a bang, lost in the memories of a past where they still mattered.

Maybe take another superhero down before they kicked off.

Trick or Treat…

Stop it.

Bill had said on the phone earlier that he’d wanted to make a confession. He didn’t have much time left and there was a secret he’d kept for fifty long years now. No details, just a request to meet with another superhero who could listen to his story.

Sure, I’ll listen…

But just what are you looking to get off your chest tonight, Bill Higgins? Was the Fly-Girl murder from fifty years ago not self-defense? Did you kill her in cold blood? Maybe she was playing the field and you and the Fly had a little falling out over whose bed she should share.

Or maybe it wasn’t Fly-Girl...

Couldn’t help but notice from your file that you’ve never been married, Mr. Higgins. So maybe your tastes ran more towards the male members and she didn’t like you hitting on her boyfriend all the time. Maybe she finally did something about it. Maybe you couldn’t handle her tarnishing your all-American image and maybe you stopped her the only way you knew how…

Or maybe you didn’t…

Taking a deep breath, the rain-drenched hero readied himself as he pushed open the tavern’s thick door while the barely visible new moon shimmered behind ominous grey clouds to disappear behind northern skyscrapers in a better section of town.

Christ, even the moon didn’t want to be seen in this part of town.

To his surprise, Ted found the bar practically empty.

Only one bartender and one customer...

William Higgins.

Like the single aging male patron currently seated at one of her old wooden tables, the scene laid out before Ted painted the Twisted Unicorn as the last of a dying breed; the last of the city’s worm-eaten taverns on the east side whose sole purpose for the past century had been getting working men drunk.

The Unicorn was a place for hardened men to hide from a world set against them, the darkened corners of its knee-braced ceiling joists still echoing the drunken laughter of five generations of gaunt-faced ghosts, working-class stiffs still haunting the night after having filled themselves with enough liquid spirits to once again face the drudgery of another backbreaking day.

No wonder Bill Higgins wanted to meet here.

On a graying wooden chair that was probably older than he was, the retired superhero known as The Shield had been getting a head start on the evening, taking a pause from his whiskey long enough to glance over at the massive Ted Grant standing at the entryway while the rain beaded off his black riding jacket like a dreary London umbrella, finally raising his glass of amber spirits by way of a greeting and then grinning like the family dog who gets to watch the cat taking a bath.

“Left the Halloween costume at home tonight, huh?”

“I’m a little too old to be trick or treating.”

Before he took his chair, Ted couldn’t help but notice the old man behind the bar checking the electrical outlet to see if the lifeless TV screen above the bar was plugged in, finally scratching his bald head and then pressing the power button three or four times before giving up.

Before Ted could ask, a pleased Bill Higgins held up a large circular gadget the size of a grapefruit, making Ted tense with shock as his fists prepared to act.

Bill Higgins only laughed dryly.

“Don’t worry… It’s an electromagnetic pulse disruptor… The kind which takes out electronics in a twenty yard radius… I had to make sure this conversation goes no further than your big cauliflower ears, Mr. Grant.”

On a hunch, Ted pulled out his cell phone…

Dead.

Killed by EMP.

The big man sat down reluctantly and took a deep breath before taking a long swig of the freshly cracked bottle of foreign beer the crazy old man had previously ordered for him.

He needed it after that last stunt.

“You owe me four hundred dollars… And that pulse disruptor is illegal, by the way.”

“So was being a vigilante.”

“I think you’ve exceeded the statute of limitations on that particular charge, Bill… Fuck, where did you even get something like that?”

“Mail order from Russia… This way I know our conversation is private.”

Ted glared at the thinning redhead with contempt.

“Do you think I’m actually wearing a wire?!”

“Don’t know, don’t care… Anymore.”

Bill Higgins straightened out his arthritic fingers, swiping at imaginary flies buzzing around his yellowing scalp and then grimaced before continuing.

“This is a story I’m only going to tell you, Mr. Grant... You’re the priest behind my confessional window tonight... Just you and me and a ghost story… And what better night of the year?”

“Why don’t you just tell a priest?”

“Because I want to be judged by my peers… You’re my judge tonight, Wildcat… Thank God they didn’t send the Specter, eh?”

The old man cackled dryly again before taking another swig of liquid yellow fire until an irate Ted narrowed his heavy eyes, watching Higgins continue to wave around arthritic fingers in the air to ward off imaginary flies.

“Look, I’m a boxing coach, not a priest… I can’t absolve you of any crimes… I’m more likely to haul you in for them.”

“Sure, sure… I know who you are… But you don’t know who I am… What I had to do… So let’s just call this a dying man’s final confession and then you’ll be on your way.”

Using a paper napkin to wipe the rain water from his eyes, Ted looked at the gaunt redhead with a softened glance, remembering how his own father had passed away from cancer thirty years ago. It didn’t take much imagination to see how closely the emaciated face of the man now seated across from him resembled his father’s before he’d passed away from that horrible disease.

“Cancer?”

“More or less… I guess you could call it brain cancer.”

Fists that had once defended freedom now scratched aching fingers across thinning red hair before bringing the still-fired remnants of his sixth double glass of whiskey to tightened lips, with the seventy-five-year-old Bill Higgins coughing slightly before placing the empty glass back on the table.

The old hero then eyed the six-foot-five-inch Wildcat, his muscle-bound drinking partner before casting his blue-eyed gaze down to the table until the shuffling barkeep delivered another glass of golden fire-water.

Bill Higgins cast a solemn gaze at the fading light through the neon light of a ‘Closed’ sign now lighting in the window before continuing.

“I’m going to give you the events as they happened… Something I’ve been trying to forget for the past fifty years… Everyone thinks I killed her, but I didn’t… Mind you, I would’ve if I’d known back then what I know now… But I didn’t.”

“Then who did?”

“We’ll get to that… Do you believe in ghosts?”

As soon as he’d spoken, the former boxer had the sudden feeling that the older man was attempting to expose a raw nerve, the stale air in the darkening tavern growing a chill as the obviously upset Bill Higgins rubbed his mottled forehead with a nervous hand.

“You believe in all kinds of shit in this business.”

In a moment of profound silence, the sunken blue eyes of a heretic stared coldly back at the boxer until the massive Wildcat shifted in his wooden chair uncomfortably while William Higgins’ voice shifted into the flatter tones of a man condemned.

“I’m being haunted by ghosts… The ghosts of flies.”

The former boxer suddenly had a revelation.

“Is that why you keep swatting at the air?”

“I must seem mad to you… Sure, the flies are all in my mind… A mirror can tell me that much… But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist... I’m an old man swatting at the ghosts of flies.”

“I’m pretty sure flies can’t have ghosts.”

“But the flies who were once Fly People have ghosts… Trust me on that one… Do you remember Tommy Troy?”

“Never heard of him… Who’s Tommy Troy?”

“A thirteen-year-old boy once showed me what this world’s about… At least I like to think he did… It’s all just a constant buzzing now.”

Ted Grant felt his abdominals tighten uncomfortably, tasting the beer lace with the bile suddenly creeping up his throat. The old man had said he’d wanted to make one final confession…

“Bill, did you do something to a thirteen-year-old boy? Is that what you wanted to tell me about?”

The older man leaned forward with an upturned gaze barely carried by his scrawny neck when Ted suspected this might be the last story Bill Higgins ever told. The story about the real reason why he’d retired from the business and given up being The Shield for good.

Like a man who was partaking in whiskey instead of his last meal on Death’s Row, the old man took a deep breath and made his peace with a troubled world before he began the last story he’d ever tell.

“I’m no diddler… Not a queer neither… Just a guy… I think that maybe good guys like you and me are just the straight men for the jokes told by the buzzing of flies.”

Bill once again swatted at the table next to his drink, brushing away bothersome insects that weren’t really there until Wildcat had had enough.

“Maybe you should lay off the whiskey, Bill… I think it’s reacting with your cancer drugs… Making you hallucinate.”

The dying man only coughed wetly before taking another drink in defiance of that unsolicited advice.

“I’m not taking any drugs… I’m just trying to pickle the crawling little bastards inside my brain… Long enough to tell you about what happened on that farm anyways… It pisses ‘em off.”

Ted Grant sighed and then took another drink of his green-bottled beer while wondering if he were in the presence of a madman.

“Tell me then.”

“You see, the question isn’t really what happened on that farm, Mr. Grant… The real question is why I’m being haunted by flies... Why they hate me so much… I didn’t just burn down a farmhouse… I stopped their invasion into our world... That's why they hate me.”

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Two:
To Dreams (not quite) Forgotten

 

The man who’d once been The Shield took another desperate swig of his newly arrived whiskey while the humid night hung on his city like a wet grey blanket on a birdcage, the rain having stopped as though to listen in to a ghost story after having set the mood.

Outside of the Twisted Unicorn, a cold wind began to blow as William Higgins continued with his account from fifty years ago.

“Yeah, I’m not surprised you haven’t heard the name Tommy Troy… People didn’t know he was The Fly… Police swept it under the rug… They could still do that back then… But you remember The Fly, right?”

After Ted nodded, Bill grinned and then coughed, lost in private memories before continuing his heartfelt tale.

“Tommy was the kid who brought the group of us together and formed the Mighty Crusaders… Fucking goofy name for a group of vigilantes, wasn’t it?... The mother-fucking Mighty Crusaders…

“Yeah, we were going to save the world… And we did once or twice too, y’know… So it wasn’t all for nothing…

“Anyways, Tommy was just a thirteen-year-old kid with a magic ring that gave him a man’s body and some superpowers… If walking up walls, flittering around like a June bug on speed and carrying a stun-gun passes as ‘superpowers’ these days…

“It did back then… And he was a helluva nice kid… Wanted to be a lawyer someday…

“Had the greatest disguise any of us could’ve ever asked for… I mean, who would’ve guessed The Fly was really just a pimply-faced kid?.... I guess we were all just big kids when we started, weren’t we?...

“Christ, he used to love being a superhero though… I mean, Tommy’s enthusiasm for the job was infectious… Always wanting to do the right thing… Everything was so black and white for him.”

Ted nodded, suddenly thinking about a boy named Billy Batson who became the World’s Mightiest Mortal with nothing more than a single magic word.

“Yeah, there’s someone like that in the League.”

A distant Bill suddenly perked up.

“Is it Superman? He always reminded me of a big kid.”

A muscular Ted shook his head, recalling how Superman had always been more like a righteous pain in his ass than a big kid.

“No, it’s not Superman… No one you’d know… So what happened with Tommy?”

Bill exhaled slowly as his mood darkened once more, the escape route for this sordid tale now closed off, the glasses of whiskey in his shifting gut giving the former hero the courage to continue.

It wasn’t so much a case of wanting to be drunk these days, more like needing to be drunk. To be fuelled by the same grease that tore the hinges off of Pandora’s Box and let those evil spirits fly. And he’d spent the last couple of hours making damned sure those hinges were well lubricated so that Ted could decide how far he wanted to open that lid.

“Yeah, Tommy… Good little Tommy… About a year after we formed the Crusaders… This was back in the late sixties, right?... Anyways, there’s this one time he saves this hot-as-fuck actress named Kim Brand after she fell out of a hotel window…

“At the time, she certainly didn’t look like trouble… No, she looked like a tight little blonde bombshell you wanted to take up to Lover’s Lane in your Daddy’s Chevy and make out with on that king-sized backseat all damned night… She was twenty-three, just starting to hit it big in some television soap opera as the hometown sweetheart…

“Fresh as a daisy and twice as pretty… Great little tits that didn’t even need a bra… You remember those beach-bunny tits the girls in the surfer movies used to have?... Perky as fuck… In another couple years, she might’ve even been a household name…

“Or more likely, some director’s wife…

“But right then and there, as soon as he scooped her up out of midair and carried her back down to the ground… As God as my witness and as corny as this sounds, she falls head over heels for The Fly…

“I mean, when Tommy used his ring, he became this rugged looking guy, maybe twenty-five or so… Sure, he was still a kid, but he certainly didn’t look like it while he was using that ring… He was a man…

“That’s why we didn’t think much of it at the time…

“She’s all moony-eyed when they get back down on terra firma and all reluctant to let him go, right?... Arms still wrapped around his broad shoulders and ready to give her hero a big fat kiss with more than a little tongue involved…

“Course, the rest of us are all having a private chuckle because we know Tommy’s really this thirteen-year-old choirboy who’s more interested in comics than girls, but it’s kind of sweet, y’know?… He’s all red-faced, bashfully shakes her hand while we’re doing our best just to keep straight faces…

“But I’m telling you, Ted… If I’d known then what I know now… I would’ve never let Tommy save that crazy cunt…. I would’ve punched him square in the face if I had to… Just so he’d let her fall to the concrete…

“No, I wouldn’t have…

“I spent years blaming Kim Brand for all of this… But the truth is… None of this was her fault… They were just using her… Like they were using him… Like they’re trying to use me…

“Yeah, it would’ve been easier if she’d just fallen to the ground… The Mighty Crusaders might’ve stood a chance going forward… But then some other girl probably would’ve taken her place… Probably younger…

“Anyways, none of that happened… Tommy played the part of the hero and saved her… And she played the part of the lovesick heroine and kept after him… Kept pursuing him and batting those big baby blue eyes until she’d finally convinced the embarrassed Fly that she wanted to be a superhero too…

“His fucking sidekick no less…

“Tommy was thrilled of course… Even got Kim her own magic ring from the Fly People just like his, complete with her own stun-gun… Kind of wish he hadn’t got her one, but we’ll get to that…

“Anyways, he christened her Fly-Girl… Made her a chartered member of the Mighty Crusaders, our first female member…

“The rest of us, well… We all had our own reasons to be worried…

“Firstly, we didn’t know her from Eve… And she seemed kind of… weird… I mean, we all were kind of weird, but she seemed weird in a different sort of way… Fucked up weird… Especially the way she mooned over him… We all hoped that once this blonde bimbo realized Tommy was just a pimply-faced kid, she’d break it off as quick as you like…

“Christ, we couldn’t have been more wrong, Ted…

“She never left him at all…

“In fact, once she found out he was a kid, his age only seemed to bring them closer together… The Comet figured it bought out her maternal instincts, but I know the whole story now… She’d even dote on him in front of us, like he was the second coming of Christ…

“In a way he was… But that didn’t make it any easier… I caught them making out as superheroes once and it literally turned my stomach… Because she knew who he was by then… I mean, even if he didn’t look like a kid, he was…And she damned well know it too… And she still wanted to swap spit with him…

“But they weren’t just swapping spit…

“And it wasn’t really any of our business, was it?...

“After a few months, we just kind of accepted it, y’know?... Hoped for the best… Made sure our blinders were on good and tight…

“C’mon, this was a long time ago, right?... The swinging sixties for Christ’s sake… Things were crazier back then… Too many recreational drugs and all these ‘free love’ ideas being promoted by the barefoot prophets in the parks…

“Love’s never free, Ted…

“Kim Brand became Fly-Girl because she saw something in Tommy Troy that none of us could… Or maybe they were messing with his pheromones… ‘Cause I know for damned sure they were messing with his head by then…

“Anyway, when The Fly and Fly-Girl missed the Mighty Crusaders meetings for six weeks straight, I didn’t think too much of it… The kid had school, right?... Maybe he needed to study for exams…

“Maybe his magic ring only worked so many times… Maybe him and Kim eloped and settled down in some backwoods patch of Alabama where you could still marry your thirteen-year-old cousin and pop out a dozen hillbilly babies with no one batting an eye…

“Then the Black Hood missed two weeks in a row and I started to get this weird feeling like something was wrong…

“Really wrong…

“I knew the Black Hood was this guy named Thomas Burland… Angry all the time, another second-generation hero like me… He’d always been a bit of a loner, but I just had this weird feeling in my gut that I’d never see him again…

“And when I checked, the mail was just piling up in front of his door, like he was on vacation… But he wasn’t the type of guy who ever took vacation… Not without telling us…”

The man who’d been The Shield downed his seventh double whiskey and then waved for another as a concerned Ted Grant reached across the table.

“Hey, Bill… Don’t you think you should slow it down a little?”

The eyes of an old man who’d witnessed the depths of human despair slowly turned back to stare at the gym owner.

“I wish I could drink seven more of these before I get to this next part… They start to squirm around upstairs when they think I’m going to say too much… Hurts like hell, but I’m opting out and someone needs to carry on.”

“They?”

“The fly-babies.”

“Alright, sorry… Go on.”

“When Burland stopped showing up for meetings, I broke in and did a little digging around his apartment… He had a bunch of files on his desk that said Tommy was an orphan… That he’d been adopted by this weird old couple who lived outside of town… There was a police report that they’d once been investigated for witchcraft after complaints from the neighbors…

“And it was the afternoon of October thirty-first when I broke into his apartment… Halloween…

“So like a heroic moron, I decided I’d go out there myself… Just get in the car and drive on out to the sticks… Maybe Tommy was being offered up as some satanic sacrifice… How would I know?...

“So, putting my shield in an old duffel bag, I started driving… Parked my car on the remote country road and walked the last half mile down an old dirt road to the Troy farmhouse while I watched the sun finish setting in front of me…

“As I’m walking, I’ve got this stupid plan all worked out in my head… I figured I’d tell his step-parents that my car had broken down and ask if I could use their phone… Happens all the time in the movies, right?...

“Honestly, I just needed to know if Tommy was alright and this seemed to be the easiest way to do it… In and out… Thanks for the use of your phone, folks… Just a little peace of mind…

“But when I got down there… God… It felt like something was wrong… Terribly wrong… I started wondering if I even had the right place… It was just so quiet, only the flies buzzing around in that late summer sun…

“Too many flies…

“All the curtains were drawn tight…

“The front grass was uncut too, weeds as high as my knee… Then I remembered how Tommy used to tell me how much he used to love cutting it with that old gas push mower just to get his allowance money to buy more comics… Had quite a collection, I guess…

“Anyways, when I got there, I found the place locked up tighter than a drum… The lights were all out… When I pressed the electric doorbell, there wasn’t a sound… Not even a click…

“Do you believe in Fate, Ted?”

Ted Grant paused for a second and then scratched his chin.

“I think Fate is like the heavy punching bag… You hit it hard enough, it’ll move the way you want.”

Bill slowly shook his head a few times.

“Maybe we’re the heavy bag… I had my fist hanging against that front door when something in my gut told me not to do it… That whatever else I do, for the love of all that was holy, don’t knock on that fucking door…

“I dunno how to describe it… Like there was a sleeping monster waiting for me on the other side… One that only woke up when you knocked and then it would eat you…

“I thought maybe I should just call the Police…

“But the nearest phone was inside that house…

“And then I caught a whiff of the smell coming from the other side of that door… Almost like a dead cat left rotting in the sun, so now I’m convinced that something’s wrong…

“I stood there, thinking real hard about calling the cops, but I’d have to get inside the house to do that, wouldn’t I?... Either that or walk back to my car and drive to the next farm… And this was the kind of backwoods shit-hole where most of the tree-covered driveways have a ‘No Trespassing’ signs riddled with buckshot, more as a warning as to how trespassers would be dealt with rather than drunken decoration…

“Better just to drive back to town, I decided…

“But then I heard this soft moaning… And it might’ve sounded like Tommy, but I can barely hear it… Kind of like a kid’s having a bad dream or something… Then I hear this singing… Real soft like… Can’t quite make out the tune, but it sounds familiar… And it’s definitely a woman singing it…

“I’m telling you, Ted… I was getting ready to break down that fucking door and probably dislocate my shoulder when I get the bad feeling again… Like Death himself is waiting for me on the other side, waiting for me with his bony arms spread wide open.”

A heavyhearted Bill stopped when a slow-moving barkeep named Harry placed an opened green beer bottle and another whiskey on the table before shuffling back to the bar.

“So what did you do?”

“I decided to break in another way… There was this huge tree next to their house, an old oak with a branch close enough to the second storey landing… Remember, I was only twenty-five back then, so I could climb a tree…

“I scrambled up there as quick as you please… Then I jimmied the old window open with the tip of my shield…

“Once I’d crawled inside, I slowly figured out I was in his parents’ room… With no parents to be found… And the smell!... Oh Christ, if I’d caught a whiff of a dead cat outside, this was like a rotting fish factory inside… The stench had literally peeled the paint off the walls…

“I was pretty queasy by the time I found a light switch and tried it…

“Nothing…

“So the power’s out… That must’ve been why the doorbell hadn’t worked… Then I picked up their old bedroom phone only to find out that the phone line was dead too…

“No phone, no power…

“This was back when there were no cell phones, right?... Couldn’t call the Police unless I hoofed it back to my car and drove to a payphone… But then I heard the boy’s moan again…

“Coming clear as day from down on the main floor… So I’ve got to check it out, right?...

“I slid my arm into my shield and quietly opened the bedroom door… I start creeping like I’m a little girl in the haunted house down at the amusement park… Feeling my way along the hallway in pitch black, more than a little scared…

“But now there’s this metal creaking sound too… Y’know, like one of those old playground swings… The kind with the chains and a wooden seat blowing in the wind at night…

“Creak-squeak, creak-squeak, creak-squeak…

“That rhythmic grating was coming from downstairs too… And this time, when I heard a groan again, I knew it was Tommy…

“As I got to the top of the stairs, I saw that there was this flickering candlelight coming from the room just off the foyer below… At least enough for me to see the shape of the wooden stairs beneath my penny loafers so I wouldn’t break my neck going down them at least…

“I figure that creak-squeak sound is coming from what must’ve been the living room…

“And then I hear the song again… Except this time I know it’s the ‘Hush Little Baby’ lullaby… And fuck me if it doesn’t sound like Kim Brand singing it…

“A thousand thoughts were popping in my brain like warning labels wrapped around firecrackers, but not a single one of them prepared me for what I saw when I got to the bottom of the stairs…

“There was no bottom of the stairs…

“It was just a big hole in the floor which went straight to the earthen basement, right in front of the main door I almost broke open… And at the bottom of that hole were dozens of rusted metal pipes cut at a sharp angle like one of those Burmese tiger pits, all of them carefully planted into the dirt floor, their tips catching the candlelight…

“Dozens of sharp points waiting to greet any sucker stupid enough to take a step through that front door… The teeth of the monster I’d imagined when I’d been ready to knock it down from the other side…

“I felt a cold shudder as I started thinking what might’ve happened to me if I’d actually shouldered my way through that door… How I would’ve fallen a good twelve feet onto those jagged pipes…

“Pretty gruesome shit, but like I said… Fate saved me…

“As I’m shimmying over the stair rail to avoid the pit as best I can, I see there must’ve been a hundred candles burning it the living room, probably to burn off the stench…

“Because there was one hell of a goddamned stench…

“Like a man in a trance, I eased my way into that room… Creeping behind my shield like a coward at the gates of stinking Hell, just wanting to know what was making the creak-squeak sound…

“And then I saw it…

“Suspended by chains looped around a big hook in the ceiling was a metal cage… One of those heavy-duty empire cages for dogs… The cage had been slung up to that metal hook by chains, not quite two feet off the ground…

“Except it wasn’t empty…

“Bunched up in that dog cage as snug as a bug in a rug was poor Tommy Troy… Naked as the day he was born… Stuffed into that pen so that his elbows were touching his knees like a man prostrating himself before God with his bony ass sticking out…

“And there was Kim Brand, standing behind that cage, rocking it like a cradle…

“She was dressed in her Fly-Girl outfit, her long blonde hair falling down across a chest like spun gold on sweet green hills, gently pulling that swinging cage back-and-forth the same way a mother might rock a baby, the ‘creak-squeak’ noise set to the rhythm of her ‘Hush Little Baby’ song…

“I see the poor kid’s a ghost of his former self… I swear I could count every pointed ridge of his backbone, like he was one of those concentration camp survivors from the war… And there were festering sores all over his back too, dried puss and some lesions that weren’t so dry…

“It’s what the Black Death must’ve looked like… I’m telling you, the kid was closer to dead than alive…

“I didn’t know how long he’d been in that fucking cage, but when I caught a full-on whiff of him, I struggled to keep my dinner down…

“Like an idiot, I made the mistake of saying the Lord’s name in vain, but He didn’t hear me…

“Kim did though…

“She just turned around and looked at me like I was the grease spot on her clean floor… Stared at me with crazy blue eyes like I was some cockroach with a pamphlet for laundry soap… Until she recognized my shield…

“And then she smiled…

“Because she knew who I was then…

“And she knew I’d come alone…

“Or at least that’s what was in her skull figured out…

“Fly-Girl steps to the side and that’s when I see the dried shit caked onto the back of Tommy’s skinny thighs… Dried shit so old it was nothing more than black flakes… And it’s just not over his thighs…

“It’s all over him… He’s smeared with dried shit…

“I’m almost puking when I spot the metal bucket under the cage, the bucket she must’ve used to catch the worst of it… The same bucket she must have dumped all over him, smearing the kid’s crap all over his body… The damned bucket’s filled with so many flies, I thought they might’ve just picked it up and carried it away like it was an offering…

“I’m just trying to make some sense of the whole thing when I do puke, standing there and taking gasping breaths while the bile burns my throat… As I’m retching and crying at the same time, I notice her adjust the buggy-eyed goggles just as calm as you please…

“She pulls out the Buzz Gun which Tommy had given her…

“I still remember that sweet Norma Jean smile from behind those alien sights as she leveled its narrow barrel at me… Almost by habit, I crouched and pulled my shield up… The same instant she squeezed the Stun Gun’s trigger, I braced myself against the vibration blast I knew was coming…

“I tell you, Ted… I got hit by the Fly’s Buzz Gun once during some friendly fire on a mission a few months before then… Had a wicked headache for the rest of the day…

“That memory was the probably the only reason my mind made my arm work, to lift up my shield and get my watering eyes off that shit bucket and back onto the barrel of her pistol so I could deflect the shot…

“What I didn’t realize though was that Tommy always had the Buzz Gun on its lowest setting… That at full blast, those ultrasonic waves were lethal… So even with my titanium shield at an angle, that bitch still shook my wrist apart in six places and spun me backwards onto my sorry ass…

“But the shield still saved me… Which is more than I can say for Tommy’s parents…

“Adrenaline took over then… There was no way in hell my left arm was going to work after that, so I slipped it out of my shield and then moved to the right when crazy Kim took aim for her second shot…

“She blew a hole in the floor the size of a manhole cover, through my discarded shield…

“From the blast marks, I suddenly figured out how she’d removed the floor at the bottom of the steps… Home demolition by Buzz Gun… Must’ve planted the pipes herself…

“I made my move…

“I swear I’ve never hit a woman in my life before and I haven’t since, Ted… But I felt her cheekbone snap when I plowed into her with the hardest straight right I’ve ever thrown, her Buzz Gun firing its third shot just over my left shoulder and putting a hole in the ceiling when I connected with that haymaker…

“There was dust floating all over the place when she went down ass-over-teakettle like last week’s carnival tent. And like an idiot, I’m still thinking how sweet her tight little ass looks in those gold spandex shorts before I almost pass out from the pain suddenly exploding in my left wrist as the adrenaline wears off…

“Might have even wet myself…

“I kicked the gun out of her hand and made sure she didn’t move… I was looking for something to tie her up with, but with my left hand pretty much useless now, my fingers won’t be able to tie a knot…

“What I did see though was the key to Tommy’s padlock on the coffee table… And I thought maybe he could help me… At least enough to tie a few knots, right?… Then we’d huff it out of here and call the cops… Get him to a hospital…

“I put the coffee table over the shit-bucket first… I just couldn’t bear to look at it anymore and I sure as hell wasn’t going to touch it…

“Then I grab an afghan from the old couch and wrap it around my right arm because I don’t want to touch him either…

“That cage was so goddamned small, I literally had to extract him with my one good arm while bracing my foot against its edge and gritting my teeth in fucking agony… It kind of felt like I was pulling out a warm sculpture… I doubt he weighed even a hundred pounds by then but the kid was burning up with fever… Covered in his own dried feces and more bones than meat…

“His body pretty much stayed in the same position it must’ve been in for weeks when I accidentally dropped him onto the table… Like he was human plaster that’d been molded in that goddamn cage that I couldn’t hold onto with one arm…

“I thought he might’ve shattered when he tumbled off the table onto the floor…

“But he didn’t…

“I spoke his name a few times… Until he finally looked up at me with those crusted green eyes and I saw it… How far gone he was… Like those kids who went to Nam and came back with that thousand yard stare… Gone, baby gone… Poor little Tommy’d been broken before he’d even crested the edge of manhood…

“No one was home…

“It was like all his dreams were dead and his life had nothing to hold onto anymore… Like all the hope had been slowly starved out of him until only the shell of a kid remained… Like they were all in that shit bucket…

“He comes back a little and speaks in this dry raspy voice… Telling me the Black Hood was downstairs in the basement… That Kim had left him there…

“I don’t know why I did it, Ted… Maybe because he looked so completely helpless… But I slid him the Buzz Gun with my foot, threw the afghan over him and told him to keep an eye on her… Then I grabbed one of the thicker candles and made my way towards the basement doorway in the kitchen…

“There was this smear of dried gore on the white linoleum which led to the basement door like Death’s paintbrush…

“We always think we’re Life’s canvas but we’re not…

“I realized that day that we’re just the fucking paint…

“And suddenly, I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt what that dead cat smell was…

“That feeling I’d had in my gut for the past two weeks was like a fist now, squeezing the hell out of my intestines as I pushed open the creaking door… I held my breath as I made my way down planked stairs smeared with dried blood… Past a stench you wouldn’t fucking believe and into the buzzing of a thousand crazy flies, those buzzing little pecker-heads casting all these weird shadows in the candlelight…

“The whole place was a shrine to flies, but I had to know for sure…

“Yeah, I had to know alright…

“Sure enough, laying at the bottom of the stairs like some discarded pile of human trash was Thomas Burland…

“Or what was left of him anyways…

“You couldn’t call him the Black Hood anymore… Hard to call a man without a head the Black Hood, isn’t it?… He was headless because she’d blown it clean off with her Buzz Gun… And a few steps beyond that are the decayed bodies of what once must’ve been Tommy’s step-parents.”

As an emotional Bill paused, Ted reached across and placed his hand on the older man’s shoulder for support.

“Hey, nothing you could’ve done about that.”

Bill gave a quick nod before continuing.

“No, there wasn’t a damned thing I could’ve done about that… But I’m just getting to the really rotten part here… So while I’m standing in what I figured must’ve been the entrance to Hell itself, I hear the Buzz Gun go off again upstairs and then the splash of something wet hitting a wall…

“The first thought that goes through my head is ‘Oh fuck, she’s awake!’…

“I’m figuring Kim’s just killed Tommy and now she’s probably looking for me - so I take another deep breath through my sleeve and then step in something that looks like putrefied maple syrup before reaching into the Black Hood’s holster, pulling out that old pepperbox pistol he always used to carry and making sure it’s still loaded while tears of pain are streaming down my cheeks…

“My left wrist is the size of an angry purple grapefruit…

“The hot candle wax is collecting on poor Tom’s dead crotch because I can’t carry two things at once and the gun’s more important than me being able to see right now… I’ve got my finger on the trigger pointing forward while I’m walking up those creaking stairs, edging through the streaking shadows of a million angry flies before I hear a boy start to cry…

“Those choking gulping sobs that people only make when someone’s dead…

“My left arm almost had me in shock by the time I spun around the corner to the kitchen, that heavy-ass pistol trembling in my hand as I’m trying to take deep breaths and just stay conscious for a few more seconds…

“I see her on the floor almost exactly where I’d left her… Kim Brand… Except that now, her guts and spine are nothing more than a twenty-foot smear of human macaroni spread across the room, her body almost blown in two because she took a shot from the Buzz Gun at point-blank range in the stomach…

“And there’s maggots, Tom… There’s already hundreds of maggots crawling out of her guts like she’d been festering with them for weeks…

“And there’s Tommy crying like a baby (or maybe it was me) and holding the gun… Trying to sit up like a little naked man with her Buzz Gun in his quivering hand while wet tears are falling out of his crusted eyes…

“Struggling to lift that narrow barrel up under his chin…

“Back then, I’d thought he was scared to do it, but I know better now… I know what was inside him… I know they didn’t want him dead yet…

“I also know he’s just murdered Kim Brand in cold blood… That he shot her in the belly while she was still unconscious… And I start to wondering if he sent me downstairs just so he could do it…

“But I can’t find it in myself to blame him for that… I don’t blame her anymore either… I know they weren’t really themselves…

“Poor Tommy looks up at me with wet green eyes sunk back too far into his skinny little head while I’m telling him to put the gun down…

“He just nudges it under his chin and looks up at me, his arm shaking with the effort as he tries to squeeze the trigger…

“I tell him not to do it… That I’ll fix all of this… I’ll take the rap for this one… Say it was self-defense… That we’ll put it right… Just put the gun down, Tommy…

“He keeps looking at me with those sad eyes and shakes his head…

“And when he speaks, I know this can’t be fixed… It can’t be put right…

“So he makes one last confession, telling me it wasn’t her fault and then pulls the trigger…”

Ted watched quietly as wet tears began to form under Bill Higgins’ sunken eyes, the old man finally giving way to the waves of emotion that had threatened to overwhelm since the beginning of his tale.

After wiping away those tears, Bill took another belt of whiskey as he remembered the far-too-soon passing of Tommy Troy before managing a weak smile.

“It’s weird, isn’t it?... You would’ve thought that it would’ve been all those dead bodies which would’ve haunted my nightmares, Ted… That I’d never get over the sight of a thirteen-year-old kid turning his head into an explosion of sloppy confetti…

“But it was that goddamned look he gave me before he pulled that trigger… That’s what I’ll never forget… That look of utter heroism before committing suicide… It was the look of Peter Pan before he has take his first summer job cleaning up all the shit from the beach at Cannibal Cove because the pirates got smart and became investment bankers…

“Because Captain Hook got his revenge by turning Neverland into a fucking tourist trap that Peter can never leave… He’s trapped there forever while Tinkerbelle is getting her tiny ass slapped while she serves piña coladas to drunken Japanese businessmen who’re wondering what sex with a five-inch fairy might be like…

“He saw his beautiful world rotting away before him… The skinny little barrel was like his middle finger, a ‘fuck you’ to the world… He did the right thing, I’ll tell you that much… It took every last ounce of strength he had, but he did the right thing... I only hope I can do the same."

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Three:
And Not Make Dreams Your Master

 

Ted Grant’s massive frame shifted in the chair uneasily as he recalled details from the fifty-year-old ghost story which William Higgins had just related to him, one detail still bothering him…

“But why did you burn the place down, Bill?... Why not just get the cops?”

William Higgins started breathing hard before downing the rest of his glass of whiskey. An ancient mariner’s eyes were never more lucid than those pale bloodshot eyes buried in the graves of dark circles around decaying sockets when they stared back at him.

Those were the marked eyes of a dead man.

“I burned it to the ground because those fucking maggots started crawling towards me… That’s why.”

Ted suddenly stood up, aware of the agony the older man was enduring when Bill groaned out loud, gripping the sides of his temples as though his head were getting ready to explode.

“Bill, you okay?”

“No… just get me… the damned bottle.”

The massive Wildcat went over to the bar, grabbing the bottle of whiskey being offered to him by the aging bartender and handing it to the shaken narrator. After three long swallows and a dozen more groaning whimpers, Bill Higgins finally seemed to find the resolve to continue.

“They get into your brain… Make you do things.”

“Bill, what are you talking about?”

“MAGGOTS!”

Wildcat watched once again as the frail redhead was instantly seized by another attack, clutching his wisp-like hair until strands of grey became pulled out like loose threads from old blanket. The dying man cried out in pain before his hands moved to his gut, violently coughing and hacking, retching until something previously inside his gut spilled out onto the wooden table…

And crawled.

The wide-eyed Wildcat almost stumbled as he witnessed the fat little grubs squirming around in Bill’s alcohol-laced phlegm, maggots desperately crawling along the decaying varnish of the barroom table away from chewed mushrooms of dinner until the man who’d been The Shield steadied himself, clutching the bottle and calmly turning the whiskey upside down over top of the grubs, drowning the writhing larvae in a golden shower of ethanol-fueled death.

“Children of the Fly People… I’m filled with ‘em… Just like Tommy and Kim were.”

Despite himself, the muscular Ted Grant found himself taking a step backwards, placing a safe distance between himself and the dead larval corpses littering the table. An old man coughing up maggots was about the most disgusting thing he’d ever seen.

“Bill… Oh Christ!… I’ll call 911.”

“No, I need you to judge this world… As I once judged it for Tommy… That’s why you’re here, Ted… I’m dying and I’m tagging you in.”

“Let me call an ambulance.”

“NO!… I haven’t got much time… I had a full serving of amanita mushrooms with my dinner… The kind of amanita mushrooms that’ll destroy your liver… I knew I wasn’t going to make it through the night before you even walked through the door…

“So just let me finish…

“Oh Christ it hurts…

“I think the little pecker-grubs inside me are starting to figure out that dinner’s not agreeing with me… Abandon ship, boys… Oh shit… I was kidding, settle down in there…”

The old man sucked in a rasping breath as he reached into his pocket, carefully handing the cringing Ted a glass vial containing one live maggot before continuing.

“Y’see… The Fly People ain’t really bad, Ted… They lived here before we did… They’re trying to save the world… It’s just that… They’re trying to save it… from us… Because we’re ruining it.”

“Bill, you really need a hospital.”

“No… I need to be cremated… But you’ve… got a decision to make, Mr. Grant…You can tell the League… Tell your Justice League… about the Fly People… Tell them they put… a squirming mass of maggots… the size of a fucking baseball… inside poor Kim Brand’s womb… Maggots that ate her… from the inside out…

“Or don’t…

“Tell them Tommy Troy blew his brains out because his head was filled with them…

“Tell them I burned down the farm because it was filled with them…

“Or don’t…

“But here’s the catch… Whoever you tell might already be infected… Or maybe not… Batman hasn’t been right in the head for awhile now, has he?... How will you know who to trust?...

“They crawl inside your brain and make you do things… Good things though, like Tommy did at first… Unless you try and fight them like Tommy did… Then they’ll punish you… But they’re smart… Really smart… Hell, maybe they can save us…

“If you truly believe that, just put that maggot on your skin… Let it eat its way inside you… Once it has a host, it’ll call out to more of its kind… You’ll become a breeding ground for them, Ted… Maybe even be their second coming…

“But if you want my advice, you should burn this entire fucking neighborhood to the ground… Buy all the gasoline you can and just light this mother fucker up.”

In silent horror, Ted Grant watched the squirming monstrosity inside the vial, wanting nothing more than to cast it to the ground and crush it beneath his boot heel before a sudden splashing sound made Wildcat turn back towards the bar, watching in shock as the ancient barkeep busied himself by emptying a jerry-can of gas across the floor.

Ted turned back to see Bill Higgins take one step off his chair before collapsing to that same floor.

“Bill?!”

“Won’t be long now… Harry’s infected too… We both had the mushrooms for dinner… Our Last Supper I guess you’d call it… Light the match, Ted… Burn the fuckers… Please.”

“Look, I’m not leaving you here to die.”

“Yes… You are.”

As he watched the old man writhing on the wooden floor, Ted’s first thought was that Bill was starting to cry, a glistening of white under his dark eyes…

Until he saw the maggot wiggle its way out of his tear duct.

A dozen more squeezing themselves from beneath his eyelids.

White fleshy grubs now exiting his ear towards the Promised Land.

Ted hadn’t noticed it before, but there was a pack of matches on the table. A pack of Twisted Unicorn matches which Bill must’ve placed there earlier on.

And the bottle of whisky was still half full. Or half empty, however you wanted to look at it. Whatever it was, Ted emptied its high-proof contents onto the shuddering corpse of William Higgins because the old man was dead now.

Or he should’ve been dead. With all the tiny bumps crawling under his liver-spotted skin in search of the nearest emergency exit, it was hard to tell. There must have been a hundred squiggling little bastards around his face by now.

Ted stepped back as Harry splashed a little more gasoline over his old friend and then more on himself.

Baptism by fire. Immolation. Funeral pyre.

Without having to say another word, Ted Grant retrieved the matches and then walked towards the exit as he made one final judgment.

“You died human, Bill… That’s hero enough for me.”

Ted Grant lit the match and watched fire race along a stream of gas to make Harry and Bill a pair of bonfires, leaving the burning fly meat before wheeling his motorcycle away to watch the Twisted Unicorn slowly become a blazing inferno. He listened to distant sirens as the fire trucks once again took too long to arrive at the scene, watching as the building next to the aging tavern caught fire.

Feeling the heat from a five-alarm fire against his face, Ted Grant smiled, knowing he’d have a long road to travel. Because he was going to be haunted by the ghosts of Bill’s flies now.

And he was going to fight like hell to stop them.

“Burn, baby burn.”


A balding Sal Silverman tossed the treatment for Wildcat back onto his desk, eying the middle-aged writer who’d been thirty minutes early for his appointment with a quizzical glance before casually lighting up a spliff and exhaling pungent smoke across his stale office air.

“A Wildcat mini-series… Really?... Christ kid, you lost me at the condom in the gutter… I mean, why not make it a heaping pile of dog shit buzzing with flies… Mention how this pile of crap and the flies are the true face of the city… Might as well homage Alan Moore since you’re trying so hard to fucking be him.”

The dumbass writer only coughed.

To his credit though, Sal could tell he caught the Watchmen reference at least. Many of the college-educated clowns who came through his door wouldn’t have these days.

“Sure, I can go with that… But do you like it?”

“Fuck no… Haven’t you ever heard of formula?... You’ve gone about it all wrong.”

He watched the writer make a stupid expression. They all made stupid expressions until the brightest of them got with the program and figured out this was a business. By then, they were too busy screaming about royalties to make those stupid faces.

“Wrong?”

“Yeah, wrong… Take some notes… First off, old fuckers like Wildcat are never main characters… No sex appeal… The premise of an old guy driving a motorcycle around the country fighting flies ain’t exactly a blockbuster…

“There were some points I liked though, kid… The thirteen-year-old and the actress… That’ll generate some heat… Have a panel of the naked kid on top of her with her legs spread wide open… And we can show the maggots crawling under the skin on his back in the following panels as we zoom in.”

“Wait, can we show that?... Underage sex?!”

“They’re called mature situations... Sure we can… Just can’t have the Code on the cover… Look, we’ve been doing it for years over at Vertigo… You know what the average age of our comic book reader was last year?”

“Not really, no.”

“Thirty-six… Maybe it’s time we finally took the plunge… Give ‘em the fuck-fest they want… Which means you’ll need your hero to be a chick… Look, scrap the Wildcat angle… Wildcat’s a relic from the forties for Christ’s sake… Created by Bill Finger, appeared the same time as Wonder Woman… Did you know that?”

The bullpen writer nodded.

“Sensation Comics number one.”

“I’m impressed, you know your history… But our readers don’t give a fuck about old pricks like Ted Grant… Why don’t you make your main character the granddaughter of this William Higgins guy?... The girl who’s going to inherit the Shield… Yeah, I like that.”

Ahhh… You mean like a redhead named Victoria Adams?”

Sal took another long hit off his medical marijuana before coughing violently.

“I don’t give a fuck what you name her as long as her tits and ass look good in spandex… I like the superhero grandfather with a past thing though… But he has to be crazy… A shut-in who got off on a murder charge, haunted by the past and afraid of the world…

“Have him make a pass at her when she comes over to find out about what really happened… She’s trying to clear his name and he’s trying to see what’s under her skirt… But she needs a signature…

“Yeah… Little Red Riding Hood is sent by her mother with a last will and testament for granddad to sign, but he’s really the Big Bad Wolf with dentures and a hard-on… His place is crawling with flies too…

“Set it up with ‘I have to tell you a secret’ and then he corners her in the bedroom when he shows her the shield… If legal makes a fuss, she can be his great-niece… He knows he needs to pass his Shield legacy down to her, but he wants to fuck her too…

“She’ll want to be The Shield too, to become something bigger than she is, and he’ll try to use that to his advantage… She finds out about the flies and then has to knee him in the nuts when he’s trying to get on top of her… Then the grubs start pouring out… I liked that part where the larvae starting streaming out of the old guy… Pretty sick.”

“Thanks.”

“Look, I’ve got a new artist in mind who can draw girls so fucking hot that no one would even blame the old guy for wanting a piece of that ass… Your girl will need a boyfriend though, someone who understands all about this fly business… A lawyer with a heart of gold that protects her after she starts to investigate her granddad…

“He’ll be her way in… But then he gets infected and turns on her, so she has to kill him too…

“Yeah, that’s badass.”

The contracted writer simply nodded.

“You want I should give her some weapons?... Guns?... Swords?”

“Semi-auto pistols would be good… So after she has to kill her boyfriend, she starts driving west and joins this organization… A group of people on the outside dedicated to getting rid of these Fly-infested assholes…

“Wait, hold the presses… Why don’t we give her a new female love interest too… Sure, if we can get away with it, we’ll make her new lover around fifteen… A fucking tight little-assed genius who secretly worships the ground your motorcycle heroine walks on but is a real bitch on the outside… Have the little dyke try to be the alpha in their relationship… Those fan-boys will eat it up.”

The writer didn’t even flinch.

“It’s called Tsundere.”

Soon-der-wha?”

“It’s a Japanese term for a female character that starts off as a cold-hearted bitch - but only because she’s trying to hide her true feelings.”

“Well, the Japanese are years ahead of us on the porn stuff, kid… Sure, the superhero movie deals are saving our corporate asses for now, but they’ve pretty much run their course… And with old Walter Disney buying off the competition, I think we’ve got an opportunity here nobody’s even recognized yet.”

“To make porn comics?”

“Exactly.”

The writer sat there for a moment, patiently waiting for a punch-line that never arrived until he finally shrugged.

“But people already make those on the Internet for free.”

“Yeah, but we can sell print versions as collector’s items… Get ‘em before they’re banned!… Variant nude covers… Package ‘em in a custom-made brown paper… Dress up some models in skimpy superhero outfits as centerfolds… But we’re going to show all the naughty bits as a tribute to Heff… Hell, why not?... That’ll get those nerds back into the shops.”

The middle-aged writer thought about this for a moment.

“But won’t that… ahhh… hurt our brand?... And piss off about a million moms?”

“Relax, we won’t put Wonder Woman in bondage leathers quite yet…This’ll be an imprint… We’ll use those old throw-away characters like Fly-Girl… Might as well get some mileage out of all those companies we put out of business along the way, right?… Do their characters first… I want you to start researching what’s trending in porn right now… Use one of the company’s computers.”

A long pause.

“You’re joking.”

Sal Silverstein crushed the remnants of his doctor-prescribed joint into an ashtray and then grinned while the aspiring writer felt his dreams of a Wildcat mini-series slipping away.

“Of course I’m joking… What do you think this is?... FanFic?!... Get the hell out of here!”

 

THE END