Aberration – pt. 8

Previously: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7

I’m standing in a barren field and it’s crowded all the same. My companions are silent. They’re still. They don’t cry here but everyone else always does.

I’m thinking about how it felt when I watched her being lowered into the ground. All the shit that came before.

Life in slow motion.

I’m thinking about the news reports and how barely half of what happened is in black and white. How the other half is always written in red. No one ever gets to see that part. No one ever really knows.

I’m thinking about how I used to call her Sunshine.

I’m holding a flower in my hand as gently as I’ve ever held anything. As gently as I’m capable these days…whatever that’s worth.

I’m thinking about the day I put in that shitty vase. How I tied the bottom of the stem to a ring. How she’d notice that, unlike all the plastic ones, it was starting to die. She’d pull it out and she’d see it.

Maybe it was a strange approach. Maybe it was a dark way to say whatever I was trying to say in whatever way I was trying to say it.

I’m thinking about how life is always this road of destinations that we think are guaranteed. How we’re hurtling down freeways of insanity with pop music playing and a GPS navigator telling us how certain everything is.

I’m thinking about all the things I never got to tell her. I tell myself that it was because it was too late after what happened. That she wouldn’t understand. That I didn’t understand.

That there was time. There was always supposed to be more time.

I’m thinking about a world with superheroes and what happens when Superman kills Lex Luthor, but Lois dies as well, and we find out that Lex didn’t have a fucking clue about what kryptonite really is.

I’m wondering about a world where superheroes don’t deflect bullets, just absorb them. They’re not immune to fire and knife wounds, they just bounce back from them. I’m thinking about a world where they look like I do. It reminds me of Dorian Gray and how his painting looked at the end.

I’m wondering if it even matters.

I tell myself that she found that flower. That she knew. She always knew. That she kept it because…

I’m trying not to think about it because I’ll never really know, and I don’t want to live in a world of what-ifs and could-have-beens. Part of me just doesn’t want to live at all.

I try to tell myself that it wasn’t always about her. That I’d found a purpose in what I was doing. That I was making a difference. And I’m wondering how much of that lie I can swallow before it makes me sick.

I’m wondering what comes next while I hold a flower that should have died years ago, looking at a ring that’s still tied to a stem. I wish I could tell you how and why. I wish I could say I knew the answer.

Far away, the noise of the city is a wall of static that undulates and shifts. It rises and falls. I can hear the high notes call out. Sirens and screams. Tears are falling on hard pavement. Fists are taking out sad inadequacies on people who don’t deserve it.

Life in slow motion.

I’m wondering how much hero is left in me. How much is just a guy who doesn’t know when to let go? I’m wondering what it says about us as people when we realize the most important thing we do is sometimes for someone else. Someone who maybe doesn’t know. Someone who may not even care. I’m trying not to let the answer to that question sting.

I’m wondering if it matters.

I’m trying not to think about words like “end”, “final”, and “death” while I stand in a cemetery.

On the side of her headstone, I etch my initials and I put the dates I died.

I put both of them.

They matter just as much.

I wish I could tell you what happens next, but life is a weird place. The music isn’t playing for me anymore. The GPS is gone. All that’s left is the sound of me moving forward into some form of oblivion.

Hell now, or hell later…

I wish I could tell you that there’s some happy ending here…but that’s not how life works, Sunshine. Sometimes…that’s not how death works either.

The End


Aberration – pt. 7

Previously: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6

I’m sitting under a small shower of dust.

I’m imagining it as a storm of ashes. The remains of a dead world raining down upon me. I’m a demon. A devil. One of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. I’m the end result of a lot of bad decisions, and even worse intentions.

I hear the ricochet of bullets and the sound it makes when it tears through flesh and bone. I know that none of the damage is mine – at least, not really.

Reality speeds back into existence and slams into my primitive cerebrum and everything feels like its no longer moving in slow-motion. Not that it ever was. Not really.

I hear the chaos behind me where a hole the size of three of me is left like a gaping wound in the side of a building that should only fear tanks and tomahawk missiles. I can hear the people outside as they creep forward like voyeurs who can’t seem to understand that you shouldn’t come running when someone yells fire. It’s a maelstrom of tires screeching, of feet shuffling, of that camera clicking sound that people put on their fucking phones so that they feel retro.

It’s the sound of people screaming while they pay for my mistakes. Past and present.

I’m wondering if it was always going to lead to this. Hell today or hell tomorrow.

I’m wondering if it matters.

I’m wondering if it ever did.

I’m tearing through walls and leaving the scattered remains of idiot henchmen behind me like they’re nothing but exhaust and I’m a tanker truck. It makes me think of the movie Akira when Tetsuo paints the hallway with those guys after he gets out of his room. He didn’t know what he was capable of yet.

I do.

Words like “caution” fade out like whatever patience I have left.

I’m leaving staircases as piles of splinters and stone. I’m up walls and through them and I hear sound catching up with me with a roar that deafens anyone who isn’t dead yet.

I’m telling myself that he pushed me to do this.

I’m telling myself that if it wasn’t him, it’d be some other asshole.

I’m telling myself that this is it. High noon. Showdown.

I’m coming to terms with words like “end”, “final”, and “death”.

Words that I thought I’d escaped a long time ago.

Words that are proving that you can’t ever really escape from. Taxes and death, they say. They were apparently half-right.

I’m at the top floor of what looked like a fucking accounting firm. I’m looking at a door that shows nothing of the chaos I’d left behind me and I’m watching it open wide while this smarmy prick stands there giving me the slow clap.

I see the chair behind him.

I see her sitting in it.

She’s crying. Tears running down her face. She doesn’t recognize me. I’m wondering if that makes it better or worse.

I hadn’t stopped to see her before I opted for war. Blood pumping in my ears. Gunfire and debris. Hatred running in my veins. I hadn’t thought to pay attention to the obvious details. I should have known.

Too late now. This is where I am.

“So we go with option C, eh?” he says when he’s finished clapping. “Burn it all down. Fuck the innocent. Fuck it all.”

“No,” I say, “Just you. Fuck you.”

I’m looking around. I’m starting to think. Wheels are turning.

He doesn’t need to pull a gun. I’m faster than he is. He knows it. I see the red dots on her blouse even if she doesn’t.

“As last words go, they’re a bit thin, don’t you think?”

I’m smiling.

“You didn’t know.”

I hear the gun after I see the bullet wound. Her body jerks from the impact. I clench my teeth. I try to tell myself it’s collateral damage. I try to tell myself that it’s not the worst case scenario. I try to tell myself that that makes it any better.

I try not care that she’s hurt and crying and doesn’t know why.

I take some small solace that this dickless piece of shit had all the pieces of the puzzle and put together the wrong fucking picture.

I’m moving faster than people blink. I’m in front of her like a human shield. I know I can’t grab her and move her as fast as I do, the physics would kill her. People underestimate reality and how deadly it is.

Bullets are for amateurs.

I know I can’t move until she’s safe.

So does he.

It’s the worst kind of stalemate.

“Get under the desk,” I say, knowing that they’re not as bullet-proof as TV shows and movies pretend. Still, it’s something.

She’s not moving. She’s terrified. I’m trying not to let that be the most important thing on my action-item list. I’m not succeeding.

“You’re a dead man,” he’s saying. “You have been for a long time. You didn’t have to take her with you.”

“Only one I’m taking is you,” I say. It feels like a hollow threat, but I don’t give a shit.

She’s finally moving. She’s under the desk. A trail of blood like some macabre Hansel and Gretel story.

I’m at his throat while I hear guns fire. I have him on the ground. My hands are anvils. They’re tanks. They’re nuclear fucking weapons.

The ground falls out from under us. I’m a fucking supernova.

He’s nothing but red mist and a lumpy torso.

There’s a crater in the earth where his corpse is left.

I’m up again and moving as fast as I can without tearing apart reality.

I’m in a silent room. I see her under the desk. She’s not crying anymore.

She never will again.

Part 8

Aberration – pt. 6

Previously: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

I’m looking at a place that I’d rather not be.

It’s one of those moments like a drunk man staring at a bar, or maybe it’s more like a drunk man staring at the door to an AA meeting.

Maybe the difference is negligible.

For me, the moment is caught in a freezeframe that would feel like a blink to anyone else. I’m moving past it and around a corner through an alley. I’m up the side of a building and over rooftops. I make speeding bullets look like darts thrown from the hands of a drunk man toward some shitty board in the dark corner of a hole-in-the-wall bar that only sad people visit when the sun goes down.

Inside, my mind is racing – a storm that’s louder than the one at the edge of the city. A storm that’s little more than the sound of a falling pin upon a feather mattress when compared to the one that I represent.

Six days after my meeting with the nameless antagonist and I have answers that make me feel like Neo when he’s sitting across from Agent Smith in the first Matrix movie. I have that feeling like I can fight what’s being leveraged against me while facing the sad reality that I’m stuck looking at a loaded gun resting in my mouth – the only question is will I pull the trigger, or will he?

Their warning shot had been just that. But it was enough to let me know that this wasn’t a bluff. This wasn’t a game. This wasn’t some sad attempt to turn Superman into the Death Star.

Movies give us plots like that.

Movies tell us that there are bad men in the world that, when faced with supreme power, simply want to find a way to tuck it into their holster. Something to do with mommy issues or a small penis or something. I’m not Freud, your guess is as good as mine.

But this isn’t that.

This is a cold reflection of a mirror casting back an image of “You don’t belong here. You haven’t for a while. It’s time for you to go.”

I’m at the highest point in the city and I’m wondering what to do when I feel like I’m more of a villain than I thought I was. Wondering if this is how it works in the mind of evil. A thought process that says “I’m doing this for the right reasons. What I’m doing IS for the greater good.” A thought process that sits diametrically opposed to the virtues of another. And when those forces clash, both are villains.

Both are heroes – if only to themselves.

Her birthday is in ten days, not that it means anything. Maybe it never did.

I’m looking out over the city and listening to a storm of vitriol. The sounds of shit humans doing shit things to people who already have enough shit on their plate without having to put up with so much shit.

I’m wondering if I’ve actually made that better.

I’m combing through the things I’ve done. The destruction I’ve caused. I’m trying to figure out how to balance it out.

How do you put numbers to faces? How do you tally the lives lost and lives saved. It’s like shooting bullets at the rain sometimes.

I’m watching a black car pull around the building and park. I’m watching the man get out. I’m wondering about a lot of options, and if any of them are answers, or if they’re just poorly worded questions.

I see him pause and reposition a flower that’s in his front pocket.

Message received asshole. Message received.

I’m barreling through a curtain of rain and leaving behind sounds that, when they strike, will mix with the roar of thunder…not that I care.

I’m looking at windows as they race by, at faces that don’t see and probably never will.

I’m standing at a place I’d rather not be. I’m not even moving. People stop and stare at me. They take in the horror of what I look like…not that I care.

Her birthday is in ten days, not that it really matters.

I can feel the reality of steel in my mouth. I can feel my own trembling fingers on the metaphorical trigger.

I feel like a man with his one year chip staring at a bar, or maybe it’s more like staring at the confession booth in a church.

Maybe the difference is negligible.

I’m realizing that sometimes when you shoot bullets at the rain, the rain is gonna shoot back. I’m terrified of what comes next.

I’m terrified of what will happen if it doesn’t.

Her birthday is in ten days. I don’t want that to matter.

Part 7

Aberration – pt. 5

Previously: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

I’m looking at the flowers.

I know you want to know.

Or maybe you don’t.

Everyone loves that moment of exposition. Everyone wants to understand the puzzle pieces. Everyone wants that moment when Neo was told about the Matrix, and no one wants the fucking sequel.

After the reveal, everything else is just a sad old man with a projector screen offering promises he can’t keep.

Tell yourself it’s a Dorian Gray kind of situation. Tell yourself it’s a curse from a warlock. Tell yourself that I was bitten by a radioactive monkey from Sector 9.

Let me ask you, sunshine, does the reason matter that much when you get shit-canned? Does it matter that much when you or a loved one catches a stray bullet that was meant for some nearby asshat, or, even worse, intended for no one because some jerk-wad is stupid, drunk, irresponsible, mentally inept, or some combination of the above?

Maybe it does.

Maybe it doesn’t.

I’m keeping my profile as low as I can which is lower than you’d expect. I feel like Dr. Manhattan hiding in a fucking petting zoo.

The messages stopped coming, and I don’t know why.

The trail of dead bodies is stretching like a newly paved highway in the roadmap of my mind. Rivers of blood are raging beneath those roads with the same fury as the blood in my own veins.

Every blip of a siren, every abnormal shift in the shadows puts me on edge.

I’m not afraid of people coming for me. I know that cops and feds and countless others from the alphabet soup of agencies are trying to get me…now more than ever. I’m not afraid they’ll hurt me. I’m not afraid of what they’ll do to me.

I’m afraid of what I’ll do to them.

I’m afraid of what they’ll do to her.

The coin of reality is flipping in my mind when a man walks by and I see him pull his hand from his pocket to check the time. A card drops from his pocket.

Say what you will about Nemesis Nancy, but the fucker has cloak and dagger down to a science.

I snatch the card and make a retreat. I don’t need to be near civilians when I decide to read what it says. A location. Old and out of the way. A payphone…one of the few remaining in the city.

I’ll cut to the chase. Moriarity wants to meet.

It’s a little building out of the way on Sheridan. Low traffic. Non-descript. No guards, which both surprises me, and doesn’t.

Inside I find him at a table. No fun shadow tricks. No all-white villain suit with a brimmed hat. No cigar. No fat cat in his lap. He looks like someone who should be named Brad and says things like, “Oh, for sure, man…for sure…” with a cocksure smile and an upper-management haircut.

Before I can do much, he pulls up a tablet and angles it toward me so I can see inside the room. I can see the flowers in that old vase that I always thought looked so tacky. I see a small red dot appear and move around the room and then it’s gone.

Message clear. Guns and what-not. No shit…

“I know you already know this, but I find that some people, in the moment, care less about what they know and more about what they feel,” he sounds like a man who spends times making above-board deals in nice rooms with well-lacquered tables.

“So let’s get to it, sunshine…”

“Now see…that,” he says, “that’s an interesting phrase. Makes you come off like some cocky anti-hero type. Like it’s a little quip. A jab.”

“Fuck you.”

“It’s always sloppiness, you know? That’s what gets everyone fucked up in the end. Those loose ends you didn’t tie. Those ones you let get away. You ever seen the movie Heat?”


“Whole thing turns to shit, and why? Because Waingro was a fucking cowboy who couldn’t keep his finger off a trigger? No. Because one idiot says, ‘Hey, cool it, slick.’ Every point from there is mere trajectory.”

“Cool story, Ebert. You gonna give me the ‘ol two thumbs treatment now?”

“What I want,” he says with a little sigh, “is for you to recognize your position and react accordingly.”

“You want Cerberus on a leash.”

“I want Cerberus back in hell where he belongs.”

“So dot that fucking i, Waingro.”

I hear the sound of where a bullet strikes. I feel a tightness in my chest. I feel a sharp pain creeping through my nerves an muscles.

“How hard do you want to make this on yourself?” he asks.

I wish I could tell you I had an answer.

Part 6

Dreamer – pt.7

Previously: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5Part 6

“I see zeros and ones til zeros are done and I hear, oh, I hear, oh, the heroes and nuns disappear in the sun. I circle and circle and circle and circle and where are the words that I wrote?  They hurt you, and hurt you, and hurt you, and hurt you with zeroes for sums and a mirror of one that can never reveal what you won’t…”

– Emily Chamberlain. Notes taken 08-02-2041. Third visitation.

The patient remains unstable. Further assessment required for a recommendation. The patient appears to have symptoms of psychological detachment. Root of condition currently unknown. Previous doctor, one Willam Salvatore, unreachable. Previous notes missing.

Personal note: Associated drawings and methods show elements of repetition and might be some mental concept that she has codified. Further analysis required.

He walked casually through the inky streets and their stained glass stars. He breathed in cool air that was like the tundra in his lungs. He could feel the disparity, like a man who drinks too cold water too quickly and now feels that strange freeze within his stomach.

He pulled the world to his view. Pulled forth miles of road that twisted and turned while his feet seemed almost inert. He called himself forward to the old wreckage of lean-tos and hold-fasts where things within the Mire would slink and slumber.

How many of them had become Mist? How many had always been? That line had always blurred for him and blurred rapidly.

He remembered asking once, “If we can enter and leave…can they?”

A lecture later, the question had been answered.

It always stuck with him, though, that he’d never once heard an answer of “no”.

He saw him standing there, amidst the people whose talked and gathered. A perfect scene that one might see in a movie where a crowd has gathered at the front of a theater building. No one saw the Mire as he did. No one felt the Fume the same. He could smell the shift about the man. The other faces looked like well-done oil paintings. His was crisp like a picture from an HD camera.

To the man, he would see a world that matched his own perception. So many did. It was how they failed. It was how they got burned.

He approached the man. No pretense. No foreplay. When their eyes met, he could see the uncertainty. He was trying to process. He recognized reality within rendition too late.

The scene froze, the sound like an old modem trying to connect. The crowd stuck with faces mid-sentence, but the oil texture moved like it was once again wet and running. The man was locked into a strange stance. Layer by layer he shivered and fluttered away as if made of salt in a wind tunnel.

Tyler watched him disappear. Smelled the scent of the surrounding Fume shift and churn. It smelled like burning cinnamon.

When it ended, the man was there amidst the crowd who resumed talking. This time, all the faces were oil.

Somewhere, in the land of Merit, a man would be sitting very still. His pulse little more than an echo. EKGs and whatever else a doctor might do would call him alive.

Tyler knew better.

He slipped away from the scene, noticed the ethereal eyes of trackers in the world around them. Dogs of the same pack, they no longer noticed his scent.

He pulled the world around him. Drew in the long dark alleys and wrapped himself through cold corridors and into old cathedrals. He listened for Echoes and felt the world for traces of the Glare. No one seemed to notice the dead spots in the Mire. Those places where life met lucid and melted together. No one noticed they were, in a way, all the same location in many different places.

He pulled himself through those broken halos. Drew forth the land where crimson waters churned under skies of bruised clouds and an angry black sun.

Tyler didn’t fear much, but he feared the Gallows.

Not far within the perimeter where rain fell like ash and winds wrote their fury in the sky like a whirling breeze within a room of thick smoke, he heard the sound of light coughing.

Behind a strange growth of earth and stone that curled and wrapped up into a mass of geometric boils, he saw him standing there.

“You look like shit, old man,” he said.

“I’ve been worse…”

“You sure about this?”

“Certainty is luxury we rarely get…”

Tyler let out a sigh. “Tell me what comes next…”

Warren stood up and put his hand on Tyler’s shoulder. “Follow my lead…”

This is a collaboration piece I’m working on with Tara at Caribou Crossing. She will be doing even-numbered parts and I’ll be doing odd-numbered parts.

Link for Part 8

Aberration – pt. 4

Previously: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

The world is red and dripping.

Whatever this thing is that you might call my costume looks more like Deadpool’s suit, and I assure you it wasn’t that color sixteen hours ago.

I’m asking myself what Superman would do and I’m realizing that it’s a dumb fucking question.

I’m thinking about the view. I’m thinking about the flowers. I’m thinking about the note that I saw.

I’m thinking about the fact that you’re wondering why I didn’t sweat the messenger. Why I didn’t put my fists into his stomach and wrap my fingers around his spine and yank it like a fucking wishbone.

I’ve seen enough Homles vs. Moriarty to know better.

This isn’t a fucking comic book, Sunshine.

Superman knew that Lex Luther was fucking with him, but he held himself back because he was a fucking cad. He played the same one-note song that all the good guys want to play. The lyrics of “we don’t stoop to their level”.

Words that echo back in bloodshed when assholes don’t get dealt with, so they come back again and again and again.

Take some fucking responsibility.

Not killing an asshole means that the next person he kills is on you just as much as it is him.

So now I’m walking through a hallway with my focus making sure my steps don’t pulverize reality. It’s raining indoors like that scene in Akira where Tetsuo turns a few idiot henchmen into the equivalent of overfilled water balloons.

Much like that scene, I’d done pretty much the same. I just didn’t do it telepathically. I used my hands. I hit so hard that nerves can barely register what just happened. Blood vessels rupture.

Imagine the force of a semi coalesced into the size of a man’s fist and then imagine that speeding toward a human body with the equivalent speed of a B-2 bomber. What’s left is fine liquid mist and drips like thick red molasses that’s been mixed with very fine sand.

I’m tuning out the screaming while I’m trying to figure out how to track this cocksucker down. People are getting over their idiotic “I gotta do what I was told to do” complex. They’re scattering and hiding now. They’re not trying to shoot anymore, and I never understand why they waste time in the first place.

At the end of the hall, I take the door off the hinges with all the delicate grace of a sumo wrestler doing a belly-flop into a pool. It hits someone and I see red-stained clothes smashed against the wall where it comes to a stop.

Some sad sack of a man is in front of me crying and pissing himself.

I feel like shit. I don’t even know this asshole.

Some jackhole, businessman for a company named Rylan Industrial.

I’m not an idiot. My mind knows that it’s a clue to whoever is pulling my strings.

I’m thinking about the guy who came to my home the last time and gave me the name of the target. And yeah, yeah, I followed him. No shit, Sherlock.

Dead end city – population: me.

Nothing but dead drops.

Two days later the messenger dies in a fucking traffic accident. So yeah, now I got that shit on my hands too. Whoever it is isn’t playing fast and loose.

I want to tell Rylan What’s-his-face that, at the very least, I’m gonna make it quick. I’m gonna make it painless.

Problem is…that’s not what I was told to do. I’m the flip-side of the previous henchmen, coming face-to-face with “I gotta do what I was told to do”.

I’ve heard a lot of people scream over the years, but this guy goes for longer than I wish he would’ve. He doesn’t pass out as fast as I was hoping. He keeps screaming. He begs. He promises me money. He says he’ll do anything.

The sound of bones and ligaments ripping and popping reminds me of how it sounds when you pull a drumstick off a turkey that’s still raw. But on a human, it’s louder. It’s worse. It’s bloody as hell.

What would Superman do if Lois was in danger? What if Lois was his yellow sun? What if she was his kryptonite? What if she was all those things at the same time?

I’m listening to this guy gurgle out his last syllables. They’re a slur of blood-soaked vowels.

I feel the phone that I was given start to vibrate. I answer it with blood-slick hands.

“Good job,” the voice says. It’s got some weird filter on it so it sounds like his voice-box fucked a robotic goat.

“Fuck you,” I tell him.

He just laughs.

The line goes dead.

Part 5

Aberration – pt. 3

Previously: Part 1, Part 2

I’m sulking. My disposition not so unlike the place I call my overly-humble abode.

Above, people talk. Newspapers proclaim. Everyone has a fucking opinion. None of them are gentle. None of them are kind.

No one asks the bullet how it feels. It’s just the extension of the gun, which is the extension of the hand, which is the extension of the sick mind that pulled the trigger.

So I’m the mind, arm, hand, gun, trigger, and bullet. I’m the blame in all directions.

I’m the fault line and the earthquake.

I’m thinking about Superman.

He could have ended it all, you know?

How many problems did the world have because of him? More than he ever solved. Villains showed up because of him. He never dealt with them appropriately. They came back. They did worse.

A dog with rabies bites someone, you gotta put it down. Cujo can’t be Mr. Cuddles anymore. No one wants to own that shit, but there it is.

And he could have put all the problems away. He knew the cure – it was kryptonite. He just didn’t have the balls.

I’m finding that I’m not so different.

I think about my own kryptonite. The thing that puts me down. The fucking off-button that I’m too chickenshit to push.

I’m sulking while the world above laments. I’m alive and well while countless others are dead.

I turn the details around in my head until I have a headache. Until it hurts more than I want to admit. I talk out loud – it’s the only conversation I get these days.

The time passes and the sound of water and rats plays for me like the world’s worst radio station. I’m on edge while I wait and wait some more. Wait for the message that I know is coming.

You don’t do this shit for as long as I have without knowing that some Lex Luther archetype is going to put the period at the end of the sentence that he started writing. It began with a capital asshole on building, punctuated it with a weakness that no one but me should have known about…and now…

I wait for the period and hope it’s not an exclamation point.

I hear the feet trudging through the water before I ever see a person. I can hear him breathing. I can tell it’s a he before he gets anywhere near me. I wait for him to do the classic movie villain schtik and stay cloaked in shadow – some shitty villain-of-the-week for some hack-written T.V. show.

He waltzes in, dusting his hands off like he’s just been touching all the things he must have touched to walk his candy ass all the way into my lair.

He doesn’t stop in a shadowed pose. He waltzes right in. Messenger boy of Mr. Mysterious. He’s got some balls on him, or he’s more afraid of the one holding his leash than he is of me.

But I’m not Leonidas. I’m not in the business of killing the messenger.

This isn’t 300, Sunshine.

“I’m sure you can already guess,” the man says.

“How do I know this is even legit?” I say. My knuckles are tense. I can feel the pressure of my entire body flexing. I want to pin this shitbag to the wall with my fists. The back of my mind is telling me that this isn’t some bullshit ploy. It’s telling me this is for real.

I don’t need him to know that.

“Next time you take in the view, pay attention to the flowers,” he says.

Right then, I know it’s for real. He doesn’t need to say anymore. I don’t need him to. I don’t want him to.

My teeth are clenching so hard I could sheer a steel rod with my fucking molars.

I’m not Superman. I don’t know what he would do. He wouldn’t be rattled if someone threatened his kryptonite. It would be like threatening him with a gold star sticker and a pat on the fucking back.

I listen to the man walk out as casually as he walked in.

This is how villains are made.

Villains…and sometimes…something even worse.

Part 4