“Phantasy Punk” by Josh Storey
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“God created the world in six days. I can do better.”
– Ford Hodgeson, Phantasy Punk Issue 13, “Punk is Dead”

* * *

“Strength,” Walt says. It’s the first panel on the page, a close-up shot of his mouth and lower jaw.

Walt used to be the kind of nerd you think of when you hear the word “nerd.” A paunch, a puddle of greasy hair, lots of acne, and no social skills to speak of. However, by this point in the series the Meta-Quakes had morphed his lines into the simple, squared-off look of a classic Jack Kirby super hero. All four-colors and cleft chins. Captain America and Thor rolled into one.

It’s been four days and twelve issues since the start of this limited-run “What If?”. Four days of hard battles and heroics. Four days since the beginning of the last East Coast Comicon.

“Strength has never been given to the weak,” Walt says, addressing the assembled con-goers. “Only loaned.”

Serkan is dead (for now), and the world has been saved (again). The time-traveling villain lies face down on the steps of the convention center. His thirty-six clockwork arms are broken and splayed across the concrete, intricate gears twitching inside pools of black-red oil.

As the page progresses, the panel shots pull out, revealing more of the scene: the sky above the port looks like a television tuned to a tentacle hentai too explicit for Japanese airwaves. Baltimore lies in ruins. Downtown is a writhing mass of riots. But the Big Bad’s been defeated, the forces of darkness pushed back. The rest is just mop-up.

As Walt stands at the top of the steps addressing armies of wizards and ninjas, barbarians and spacemen, Ford finds me in the mess and unties my ropes. Walt and Ford, my two best friends. My boys had raised an army to rescue their princess (me) from Serkan’s menace, but their alliance was tenuous at best.

On the street below us, wispy creatures made of green smoke flow over the pieces of Serkan’s broken armor. The djinn (that’s what Ford calls them) pick up the gears and bits of metal and they place them inside what look like black obsidian shoeboxes.

The djinn arrived hot on Serkan’s heels, chasing the time traveler through holes in reality. They were bound by ancient treaties and could not use force against Serkan, but they could, as they put it, “grant us the powers of our gods.” So that we might defend our world against the multi-armed madman before his meddling destroyed our timestream.

We knew from the beginning they were only offering a loan. After we won, we’d return the power and the djinn would use it to put our world back they way it was supposed to be.

The smoky creatures creak like roller coasters cresting the first hill as they glide over the remnants of the battle, cleaning up our mess.

With a clear complexion and the ability to talk to girls on what is rumored to be a regular basis, Ford looks like a young Stan Lee redrawn as an Esquire model in tight jeans and a leather jacket. He eyes Walt as the djinn climb the convention center steps.

The extra-dimensional smoke creatures’ panel is wide and thin, a panorama with sparse details. Like something pulled from a Silver Age comic about Mars.

“It is done,” the djinn say in unison. “In an hour’s time the quantum casing of your world’s shell shall re-knit itself, and your reality will separate from ours once again. Some of your more aesthete individuals might remember these events as dreams or stories, but we promise normalcy will resume.”

“Four days ago,” Walt says, speaking to the crowd, not the djinn, “these creatures taught us how to make fire.” The angle of foreshortening in this panel turns Walt’s arms and chest into vein-popping, shirt-ripping pillars of cut marble. “Now they want us to give that knowledge back.”

The crowd boos.

Ford rubs my wrists to get the blood flowing again. “When this goes bad,” he says, “you know where to go.”

“People say nerds are cool, now,” Walt says. “I don’t think they went to my high school.”

Ford falls into step with the djinn and together they close in on Walt.

“How pathetic a creature, nerd,” Walt says. “We hold ourselves captive in our own fantasies, settling for lives of mediocrity while we wait to be whisked away in the Doctor’s blue box.” He admonishes the crowd. “If your entitlement complex has brought you here, or if you’ve come to reap vengeance for old wounds, then discard your persona, and hand your powers over to the nearest djinn. Your place is with the Harrises and Klebolds.”

Ford catches my attention and shoots a glance down to his open hand. He begins curling his fingers in, one at a time. Counting down. Five…four…

“But if you want to help me build a better future, then I say it’s time we make our own call to adventure.”

This is the moment everything changes. Again.

One of the djinn passes through me, ghost-like, bringing memories like monstrous talons raking through my mind —

Of a boy with greasy black hair but a bright smile. His mother proud and warm. “Someday, my boy will slay dragons.” Then she goes to work in a tall office building in the middle of the city. Then planes crash. Then the building falls, and then fire. Dragon’s fire rolling down the street.

“It’s time to stop reading about heroes and become them,” Walt says and the crowd erupts into raucous applause.

“Seize them,” Walt says, pointing at Ford and the djinn.

Around us, the crowd surges forward, but the djinn disperse into clouds of dust and memory. Ford throws himself into the vacuum and escapes along with them.

End of page.

* * *

PHANTASY PUNK #13 – PUNK IS DEAD – HODGESON

PAGE TWENTY-ONE

PANEL 1

OPEN ON WALT’s underground lair. Tesla coils, cathode rays, and Van de Graaff generators fill the cavernous control room, and a tower of displays (CRTs, LCDs, and even holographic projection screens) stacked three stories tall loom in the center of the floor.

Some of the peripheral monitors show scenes from apocalyptic disaster movies while others are tuned into the battle on the streets above. WALT’s Revisionists tangle with FORD’s Naturalists. All of the central units display photographs of FORD at various ages. A ridiculously large main screen shows him at 13, wearing a soccer uniform, and smiling wide for the camera.

WALT, wearing his super-hero persona, floats in the center of the panel.

WALT
When I saw this, I knew you weren’t really a nerd. Nerds can’t smile in gym shorts.

FORD
You have to stop this, Walt. There’s no room for all of these paradigms. The world will crack.

PANELS 2 THROUGH 13

These panels fan out from a larger central panel. Each different panel shows a slightly altered clone of WALT as he splits into multiple personas, each one resembling a path he did not take. Some even resemble villains from previous issues.

WALT
There’s always room for more.

* * *

Danny and Susan spent the summer leading up to the con planning a “forbidden love” cosplaying extravaganza. They’d assembled costumes of fandom’s favorite star-crossed lovers and decided to kick off the weekend with a classic. So Thursday, as we all shuffled into the pre-reg line, they suited up as Wolverine and Phoenix.

Sci-fi/fantasy fans of all varieties flooded into downtown Baltimore. Anime otaku, LARPers, RPGers, video gamers, and nerds of every ilk waited for their entry passes. Fukus and furries filled the streets from the harbor to the hotels on an annual hajj to their version of Mecca.

The convention center stretched two city blocks, and the registration line wrapped it three times. Over the last few years, the East Coast ComiCon had met and nearly exceeded the popularity of its West Coast cousin. Ford, Walt, and I had arrived there early, so we were in the second circle, stuck behind an acne-ridden red shirt and a Captain Kirk who made Shatner look trim.

Walt had donned a Colin Baker Doctor Who outfit, hoping to cash in on the recent upswing in the Whovian population, but despite the recent craze few people seemed to recognize his patchwork corduroy coat and baby blue tie. Ford, on the other hand, had come as the Tenth Doctor: stylish suit, thin tie, thick glasses, and sexy hair. People asked to have their picture taken with Ford; they asked Walt to hold their bags.

Farther back in the line, two kids in Jedi robes were clacking replica lightsabers. The kids made a good show of the swordplay. Danny and Susan, meanwhile, were settling in and flirting for the photographers.

Closer to the street, interspersed between roving drinks vendors and local news reporters doing human-interest stories, normal folk gawked at the throngs of fans. Some of them yucked it up with the cosplayers, snapping cell phone shots with an impressive, fully transformable Optimus Prime and the super cute (and super almost-clothed) girl dressed up as Yoko Littner from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, but most of the norms walked away shaking their heads and wondering what would drive grown men and women to dress up like cartoon characters.

They didn’t understand the emotional investment we’d poured into these fictions. Devoting this much time and care to a make-believe reality was an idea as alien to the norms as the characters Walt and Ford had dressed up as.

In front of us, the Trekkies were having a heated debate about time travel, and I groaned, knowing where this would lead.

“Doesn’t matter how,” Kirk said to his security officer. “You’re there in the past, you have a moral obligation to kill Hitler.”

“A moral time traveler wouldn’t,” Ford said, breaking into the conversation. Ford and Walt had thrown down on this topic many times before. “A moral time traveler would stay put in the present. There are too many butterflies to step on.” He smiled and started rolling with the discussion’s punches.

Ford could do that – slip into other peoples’ conversation. It usually took Walt close to five minutes before he’d worked up enough courage to join in the fray. “But the hero always gets away with changing things for personal gain,” he said. “Look at Marty McFly. Even in the first movie, he drastically improved his life. H.G. Wells finds love in Time After Time. Hell, even Jean-Claude Van Damme saves his wife from that explosion.”

My boys didn’t talk to each other. They quoted Star Wars at one another and communicated in a nerd patois of witticisms and pop culture references.

“Out of the entire cannon of time travel fiction, you pick Time After Time and Timecop?” Kirk asked.

“And you do know Jean-Claude Van Damme is the actor’s name, not the character, right?” Red Shirt added.

I watched Walt deflate; he was unskilled in social kung fu, and once an argument deviated from the main thesis he couldn’t bring it back around. But Ford swooped in for the save. He scoffed at the Trekkies and said. “Next you’re going to tell me the Terminator’s name isn’t Arnold Schwarzenegger.”

That got everyone laughing.

Then the sky cracked open and the screaming began.

It started with a patch of shimmering green light at the outer circle of the pre-reg line. The light enveloped Danny from heel to head and twelve-inch adamantine claws erupted from his wrists. Blood streamed down his knuckles in thick rivers and Danny screamed. A lot. Apparently the healing factor hadn’t kicked in.

Behind him, Susan was hit by a similar patch of green. She burst into flames.

Walt and I started towards our friends, not knowing what we’d do once we got there, but knowing we had to help. All along the length of the registration line, lights flared and burst and transformed anyone caught inside.

We made it about five yards before Ford tackled us. He wrapped his arms around our waists and pulled us in the opposite direction.

“What’s wrong with you?” I yelled at him. “They need our help.”

Then I heard the unmistakable electric hum of two lightsabers activating. Then a wet smack, like a hunk of raw meat hitting concrete. Then children screaming.

“We need to get out of here,” Ford yelled back.

Susan was still burning but she was also still alive, and she was flying. The nerds’ initial horror wore off as they realized their pain would subside but their powers would remain. Panic quickly turned to a manic rush.

A crush of bodies pushed towards the green lights, surging around us, trampling anyone who tried to stop the mob. Ford fought against the flow, and at first I thought he was crazy. At first this seemed like an answer to our prayers, the day we’d all been waiting for, but then he pointed to the sky and said, “Come and see.” And I saw.

Light from the Quakes flowed across the firmament like a film of oil across a mirror of chipped and pitted glass. The sky had cracked down the center and the green glow pooled in the fractured edges, collecting in the crevices like giant drips of paint or…

“Or blood,” Ford said.

On the ground around us, the Meta-Quakes plucked fantasies from our collective unconscious, clothed them in the dust of flesh, and deposited them headfirst into the desert of the real. But up there in the sky, mechanical tentacles began squirming through the cracks, ripping them wide and letting nightmares in to play.

* * *

When I get back to the wrecked shell that was our hotel room, I find Ford by the busted-out sliding glass doors that led to the balcony. Amongst the rubble, pieces of discarded cosplay costumes lay strewn about the floor. Twelve stories below, Baltimore burns.

“Jude,” he says. “I’m glad you made it.”

My heart beats three times as fast for two quick seconds. I hate when he does that to me, but there isn’t much I can do about it.

A couple djinn float in the corner of the room like cobwebs. I wonder, if I touched them, whose memories I’ll have this time.

“You should stay away from the window,” I say. “Walt’s out for blood this time.”

Now, as the narrator of this story, my memory of events tends to be a bit sharper than everyone else’s, but even I can’t believe I just delivered a hackneyed line like that. “Out for blood?”

This time?” Ford laughs to himself. I don’t like that laugh. It echoes.

Ford turns to me, and my best friend looks like a Sith Lord on a bender. If Walt’s new persona is drawn as a four-colored, square-jawed, cape-wearing god, then Ford is made of realistic proportions, dark lines, and a muted color palette. The jagged window glass frames his face, accentuating the shadows under his eyes.

Our first night here, we crammed nine college kids into this tiny double room. One of the beds was still a mess of tangled sheets, but the one Walt and Ford shared was made up neat and clean.

“I think I’ve figured out Walt’s problem this time,” Ford says. He leans over the hotel room’s writing table. Chunks of drywall and twisted bits of metal serve as paperweights for stacks of script pages. Ford’s laptop was fried in the fight that blew out the window, so he has had to resort to archaic methods of finishing his story. Once the message pads and notebook paper ran out, he resorted to writing over pages in the Gideon Bible.

“This time?” I ask, but Ford ignores me. He pushes stacks of pages out of the way, reordering them, making quick notes, scribbling out old ones.

“Adventure stories are all built upon one central conceit,” he says. “The Fuck Yeah Moment.”

In school, Ford studied Writing and English Literature (his capitalization, for gravitas.) He always impressed his professors with a keen eye for literary analysis, but he had a habit of equating literary conflicts with real-life problems.

“What’s a ‘Fuck Yeah Moment,’ Ford?” I know his info-dumping tone when I hear it, and it’s my job to ask the questions when he needs a foil.

Ford smiles a gross little smile. “It’s the point in the story when the drums crescendo and the theme music kicks in. It’s the scene that makes your skin tingle and your heart swell with pride. It’s when you know that yes, good exists in the world. It is here. And it can win.” He flourishes a make-believe rapier, dropping into a fighting stance. “When Inigo Montoya informs the six-fingered man, ‘You killed my father. Prepare to die.'” Ford lunges.

Outside, a crack of green lightning lights the room. One of the characters from Ford’s hand-written story pulls himself from the page. I try to grab it, but he slips through my hands. Ford spears the made-man with a pen from the cup on the desk, skewering the errant thought-form to the carpet.

“Fuck yeah,” he says and turns to me. “Sherlock Holmes doesn’t hunt down pick-pockets. He goes after Moriarty. Fuck Yeahs fall flat without a good antagonist. Walt needs a villain to validate his existence.”

At that point, I’m supposed to ask how Ford plans to give Walt his Fuck Yeah moment, but outside, governments are collapsing under the weight of giant robots. The Nerd World Order is coming to power. The geek are inheriting the earth. And Ford has his head shoved all the way up his meta-text. I can’t be bothered to parrot the same lines over and over again.

A djinn drifts down from the ceiling, passing through us, and sending shivers down our spines —

“What do you look for in a…date?” Walt asked Ford. It’s their freshman year. Late at night. Under the moon. Just the two of them.

“She doesn’t have to be a geek,” Ford said. “But she’s gotta understand the mentality. You know?”

Walt frowns and nods as if to say, “Of course I know,” though it’s pretty obvious he doesn’t. Pretty damn obvious he’s disappointed that Ford said “she.”

This is the night I met my boys.

I pull free from the memory. For a moment, I feel the breeze from a pair of leathery wings.

“Walt doesn’t need a villain,” I say. “He needs a friend.”

I’m going off-script, and it takes Ford a moment to find his place. “Lex Luthor and Clark Kent were friends,” he says. “Eric Lensherr and Charles Xavier were friends. Hal Jordan and Sinestro. Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent. Me and Walt, maybe we shouldn’t be friends.”

I pick up some of the discarded pages and skim them. If I’m reading this correctly, Ford’s plan reeks of martyr complex.

* * *

PAGE TWENTY-TWO

PANEL 1

WIDE SHOT as WALT’s clones move to various input terminals and begin feeding fiction into the machines.

WALT
How do you like my setup?

PANEL 2-3

CLOSE ON the original WALT as he picks FORD up by the shirt collar and begins carting him around the room.

WALT
I’m tapped into every major news feed, blog, and Wikipedia article about the Meta-Quakes. You’re looking at zeitgeist incarnate.

PANEL 4

The two stop in front of the main screen.

WALT
With this machine, I have the power to reshape the world.

FORD
With great pow —

PANEL 6

WALT shakes FORD then pulls him in kissing-close.

WALT
I swear to whatever gods are left in that sky, if you ‘With great power’ me I will make this hurt a lot more than it has to.

* * *

“You know,” I say, fanning the papers. “If this works you’re going to lose the time travel argument.”

Ford snorts.

I get back on script and recite our personal invocation against evil: “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

Just in time for spotlights from three helicopters to flood the room. Radio static fills the air and commandos rappel in from the roof. A cadre of caped-crusaders hovers just outside, arms crossed, faces smug. The door bursts and Stormtroopers rush us, laser barrels pointed in our faces.

Shouts of “DOWN DOWN DOWN” and a knee in my back. Ford is forced to the floor. His work is swept from the desk into black garbage bags.

Three more imaginary men leap from the papers and try to scurry away before they are stepped on by jack-booted feet.

* * *

PAGE TWENTY-THREE

PANEL 1

PULL OUT and show WALT rising into the air, dangling FORD above the worker-clones. The clones’ feet and legs begin to lose opacity and become smoke-like, but WALT doesn’t notice.

WALT
Where’s Jude hiding? I want her to see your fall from grace.

PANEL 2

MEDIUM SHOT of FORD, looking away. Quiet.

PANEL 3

WALT shakes FORD. Below, the clones begin to glow green.

WALT
Where is she? What have you done with her, you fake?

PANEL 4

CLOSE UP on FORD, his eyes set and determined.

FORD
Have you ever heard of a tulpa?

PANELS 5 – 8

CUT TO a FLASHBACK of FORD’s time in high school. Montage shots of the soccer team picking on a nerd not unlike WALT. Shot of FORD dunking the nerd’s head into a full toilet. FORD laughing.

FORD (OFF)
They’re ghosts. Made-up beings summoned from the imagination and given flesh. Monks use them to exorcise their inner demons.

PANEL 9

The nerd has brought a gun to school and opened fire.

The FLASHBACK PANELS leak into the gutters as sickly green smoke, crossing the boundaries of the panels the same way fictions are crossing into their world.

IN THE GUTTERS BETWEEN PANELS

The smoke forms into the shape of a dragon.

* * *

Ford is many things; stupid isn’t one of them. When the assault beings he reaches for one of the fiction’s he’s seeded throughout the hotel room. Ford grabs a page from Astonishing X-Men number eight, channels Cyclops’s optic blast, and toasts half the squadron with his eye beams.

Crash. Bam. Right back out the window.

If this were a Wachowski Brothers film, we’d be in bullet-time. The slow-motion decent of Walt’s shock troops as they fall out the window is as graceful as an open-aired ballet. The scene definitely makes for an impressive splash page: the oil-in-water green-black sky slashed with red from Ford’s laser, silhouetted bodies falling like leaves, and tumbling glass sparkling along the gutters.

It also makes for a convenient cut.

We’re running down the hotel hallway now. Sweat dripping from our foreheads. Eyes full of fear. Shock troops on our heels.

Then the explosions. Supers fly through the walls, knocking out drywall and careening through support beams. I count at least a dozen capes turning the thirteenth floor into a passable model of Swiss cheese.

I turn around in a very small, cramped panel. Just a head shot. Jude in profile. Scared girl running. A study in early-era Lois Lane, professional damsel in distress.

Superman would know that a building this size can only take so much structural damage before physics takes over. But when the djinn empowered us, they only gave us the abilities of our heroes, not their knowledge.

I read Ford’s script, so I know I’ll survive this scene, but I also know Ford’s about to do something very noble and very stupid.

He pushes me toward the elevators and shoves one of the trooper’s garbage bags into my hands. “Go!” he yells, and the doors ding shut.

Idiot. Who uses elevators in an emergency?

I slam my thumb into the button for the next floor and wrestle through the doors. As I run toward the stairway, I can hear the girders above me groan.

Djinn rush up from the ground floor, flying to the aid of their only real friend in this world. I can’t help but collide with several on my way down the stairs and —

“I’m named after the truck I was conceived in.” Ford let that confession sit for a whole minute. “I didn’t even read The Hitchhikers Guide until my senior year of high school.”

“Then why do you — ” Walt began doing the math we’d all ignored. If Douglas Adams died in 2001…When your heroes fail you, as real heroes often do, your world cracks down the center. The wobble in Walt’s chin suggested the betrayal would break his resolve as well. Instead, he found a way to turn his eyes cold and hard. Discovered a strong jaw. “Why did you lie to me?”

“Because I don’t like who I was, and I want to be someone else.”

Out on the street, I head for the nearest manhole and drop into the sewers. Large pipes and brick archways. A little trickle of slightly brown water. Shadows, but enough green-blue light that you can see most of the way down the tunnels without a flashlight. If these facilities had been designed by an architect, the drains would be small, only a few inches in diameter, and I most definitely wouldn’t be able to walk through them, but this path has been assembled piecemeal from our imaginations. It doesn’t even smell. Which, okay, not complaining, but it kind of breaks verisimilitude.

I’m limping by the time I reach the convention center. I’m going to be sore in the morning. Assuming, you know, there is a morning.

Like the hotel, the convention center was the victim of a dangerous combination of super power and super stupid. But Susan, Danny, and the rest of the rebels have set up shop in the dealers’ room, which was built into a subbasement the size and general disposition of a fallout shelter.

Two red-skinned orcs try to stop me at the door, but Danny waves me through. “They took him,” I say, and Danny says, “Shit.” He leads me past rows of dealers tables; the various swag has been sorted into useless toys and useless toys that are now fully functioning pieces of fictional technology.

Wisely, Danny has a couple of Trekkies armed with original-series phasers, keeping watch over the lightsaber cache.

We meet Susan in the makeshift CIC, a tightly packed square of laptops and cell phones rigged together with all sorts of colored wires and cooling fans. Susan barks orders and stares at screens, caught up in the flow of information and reports, moving with the incoming data and commanding our field troops. All the fire and fury of the Phoenix Force channeled into a tactical mindset, as if she were four people at once.

“They got Ford,” Danny says, grabbing her attention. They’re both still wearing their X-Men personas, though they’ve traded out the spandex for black jeans and leather jackets. Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s style as opposed to the classic Stan Lee vision.

“What about the script?” Susan asks him. I hand over the garbage bag.

I can never tell if Susan is supposed to be the cardboard girlfriend or the competent action girl. We never talk to each other. I think she hates me because I’m not real, but I still get more lines than she does.

“We don’t have much time,” Danny says.

Time? The hint of a fully fledged thought tickles the edge of my brain, but I can’t conjure the whole idea. “This time,” Ford had said.

Susan’s men usher me out of the command center. During club meetings back at school, I wasn’t a girl — I was the “you don’t count.” Everyone assumed I was either with Ford or Walt. Maybe both if you believed some of the more lascivious rumors. (Humans are a gossipy race, nerd, geek or otherwise.)

Point is, no one ever took me as anything but a set piece. Over the past couple of days, as my boys have risen into the spotlight, I’ve even heard fanshippers grokking to the fact that I didn’t actually exist. They’ve claimed I was just a metaphor for the homosexual relationship Walt and Ford never consummated. Freaking OTP asshats. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Fight Club just as much as any disenfranchised semi-Marxist college student, but the whole main-character-isn’t-really-real twist is sort of stale, and damn it, I want my own identity.

“This time.” How many times had this spandex-themed telenovela been rerun? Were Ford and Walt playing out a twisted kind of quantum reality LARP, making all of us dance to a drama they couldn’t bring themselves to end?

Danny and Susan and the rest of the rebels pour over Ford’s original script, working out the details of their last stand.

Fuck that shit. I have a couple time travelers to spank.

* * *

PAGE TWENTY-FOUR

PANEL 1

FORD chokes as he dangles from WALT’s grip. Below, the machines begin to feed energy into a small ball of green energy forming in front of the monitors.

WALT
God created the world in six days. I can do better.

PANEL 2

WIDE ANGLE SHOT of the room. The worker-clones have all turned into DJINN, and they congregate by the burgeoning Meta-quake.

FORD
Heroes save the world, Walt. Villains change it.

WALT
I’d rather be a villain than a coward afraid of butterflies.

FORD
I’m sorry, Walt.

PANEL 3

WALT sneers but there are tears in his eyes as well. He throws FORD to the ground as he yells…

WALT
Sorry that you couldn’t beat me?

PANEL 4

Before he hits the ground, SERKAN’s mechanical squid arms rush up out of the floor and latch onto FORD’s back. His clothes change into the purple leather armor of the time traveler.

FORD/SERKAN
I’m sorry that I couldn’t save you. I thought she was what you wanted.

PANEL 5

Rage digs furrows into WALT’s face, sculpting a perfect pain-filled mask. The green dragon coalesces in the center of the room; its wings encompass the scene as it rears its head.

WALT
YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I WANT!

* * *

“Fairy tales are more than true‚ not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.” – G.K. Chesterton

* * *

The corridor’s lighting turns an ominous shade of flashing red as a deep basso siren blares, “EEENH EENH EENH EENH.” With a little bit of sprinting and a few blind shots with my fléchette pistol, I manage to escape the majority of Walt’s guards. Apparently, they attended Stormtrooper Academy, since their shots go wider than the rear end of a super star destroyer.

I suck in a deep breath, let it out slowly, and pretend I haven’t been running through three miles of maze-like hallways when I waltz into Walt’s lab and say, “Sorry to break up your flirting, boys, but the cavalry has arrived.”

I’m dressed in a sleek catsuit with a tight-fitting tactical vest and zippered pockets in all the right places. I hate wearing this, but I need to fit into the boys’ paradigm if I want to get this job done, and neither of them would believe reliable old Jude could save the day.

Ford and Walt’s jaws hang open in disbelief as they stare at me. This has never happened before.

My boys float in mid-air, suspended by squid arms and fancy flight powers. Below them, a rift in space-time opens up, showing the first day of the con. I can see the line wrapping around the convention center and all the cosplayers, still pretending at this point.

“I told you to stay away,” Ford moans. “What are you doing here?”

The dragon stands in the center of the room, between and just behind the nerds. They don’t see it. Fire and regret trickle out of the monster’s nostrils. It moves whip-crack fast, lashing out with its tail, but I am gone before the monster knows I’ve moved. Walt tries to swoop in and save the day, but he ends up tangled in the creature’s talons.

I flip back out of the way, coming into one of those low panther crouches that shows off my hair, ass, and tits all at the same time.

Part of me wants to smack both of my boys with a rolled-up newspaper, waggle my finger in their faces and say, “No.” But they don’t need another mother. They need to grow up, and that won’t happen if I step into another archetype. I’m here. I contain multitudes. And I’m nobody’s literary device.

So I shed the catsuit and gain twenty pounds. My alt persona slides away, and I am left plain old Jude. A little bit dumpy. Bad complexion. But more real, even if I am made up.

That Chesterton bit up top is a misquote, by the way. Paraphrase actually. Chesterton’s original went something like this, “The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill it.”

I stare at the dragon with cold eyes, draw dual lightsabers from behind my back, thumb the switches to on, and grin as blades hum to life.

“Get away from them, you bitch.”

Fuck yeah.


Josh Storey has only ever had three career ambitions: astronaut, Superman, and writer. Since he’s no good at math and (as far as his parents will admit) not from Krypton, he’s going with option three. His previous work can be found in Shimmer and Innsmouth Magazine. He blogs (infrequently) at phantasypunk.com.
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