Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Not everything has to go in a box



There is an obsession with labels and categories that has spread all through critical writing these days, and it is something that is almost completely unavoidable. Everything needs to go in the right box. Which is a shame, because it's so fucking boring.

Along with a regrettable sense of sheer entitlement, it's one of those things that have infected the mainstream from geek culture. Hardcore nerds have been saying for years that everything has to be in its proper slot, everything has to be in the right place, and now there are few critics who manage to avoid it.

I grew up buried up to my tits in Doctor Who and comic book fandom, so I'm certainly used to this shit. But when Sight and Sound is fretting over whether something is a film or not, because it's released through Netflix instead of a typical cinema release, nowhere is safe. Unfortunately, it's also possibly the single most boring argument in all of film criticism, because who fucking cares?

(If it really fucking bothers you, there is an easy fix: everything that is filmed - for television or streaming, or short films, or series, or YouTube videos, or whatever - are films, and things that play in the cinema are movies. Always works for me.)

Likewise, there was so much hand-wringing over whether Succession is a drama or a comedy, as if that matters. Knowing it's created by one of the geniuses behind Peep Show is a bit of a fucking giveaway, but it can still be both.  Or one, or the other. It doesn't matter at all

Worrying about where it goes is for squares.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Comic books in the toy store



There were no comic shops when I was a kid, and as a total fiend for four-colour funnies, I was usually shit out of luck. There were just racks of the barest and most expensive Marvel and DC and Archie comics in the bookshops, and whatever randomly showed up at the local corner dairy. The thrill of the chase is all well and good, but sometimes you'd miss an issue of X-Men and it would literally be 10 years before you ever saw another copy of that issue.

But sometimes, there would be a dump of remaindered comics at a toy shop or supermarket, and that was like a gift from the heavens. They would be so much cheaper than the new stuff (where you'd be paying roughly three times the US cover price, and left you staring daggers at the fuckers in the letters page complaining about the 75 cent price tag), and they would often be brilliantly random selections.

Sometime in the mid eighties, I found a huge toy warehouse just off George St in Dunedin, and went in to see if they had any new Super Powers action figures. I still got the amazing red Parademon and the armoured-to-fuck Mantis figures, but the real excitement was up by the counter, where there were relatively new issues of DC comics that I'd never seen before, like their Star Trek title and the Red Tornado miniseries, for just 50c each.

All my school holiday money went into that giant bookshelf of DC joy, because you just didn't find those kinds of comics for those kinds of prices, and I still have some of those issues, all these years later.

It happened a few times after that, but never enough. There was the huge amounts of DC comics from the very late eighties - including almost every single Invasion! tie-in - that showed up at Timaru's biggest toystore (now a liquor outlet),;the odd three-pack at the local supermarket that would give you some Batman: Year One, a precious Uncanny X-Men and some bloody Star Comics thing; and there was the bunch of comics at the Christchurch airport bookstore that was the best of them all.

That last one was a hard introduction to brilliant things like Sandman and Doom Patrol and the 5YL Legion of Super-Heroes, but most of the time it was the dregs that got remaindered down to this level. A rare drop of Marvel at the supermarket where my Mum used to work in the early nineties was full of Nth Man and early New Universe comics, and it was obvious this was a bulk lot of rubbish that somebody couldn't get rid of, but I still hoovered a lot of it up, because I was still hungry for any comic book I could get.

Since nearly everything went fully direct market, you don't really see these kinds of things anymore, and I no doubt benefited over the years from massive overprints and a plentiful supply that just doesn't exist anymore. But I'm still keeping an eye out every time I'm in the supermarket, even if they haven't been there for years. You never know.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Adventures in South African comic advertising #3


The best thing about the  ads in this Spider-Man comic is that they're not just trying to get people to read other superhero nonsense, they're trying to intice readers into all sorts of crazy shit.

That, and the way that Wit Tier looks ready to rip somebody a new one, even though Tessa is the truly dangerous one.






Saturday, October 19, 2019

Adventures in South African comic advertising #2


I have never wanted to read a Kid Colt comic book, or any kind of story starring a woman named Louise, as much as I do right now.




One more lot tomorrow - all from the same comic! - including the brutish horror of the mighty Wit Tier and the swashbuckling titillation of Tessa!

Friday, October 18, 2019

Adventures in South African comic advertising #1



I'm slightly addicted to buying overseas reprints of American superhero comics, especially when they come with local ads, because it's always fascinating to see what they thought the audience would be interested in, (and considering the state of the advertising in modern US comics is so dire and narrow-focused).

I don't know how this South African reprint of the Amazing Spider-Man #165 ended up at my local second hand bookstore, but I'm bloody glad it did, because the ads in this things are magnificent. Mostly photo-stills of men and women in action, ads for photo novels and storybooks and other comics featuring nurses and manly men and young love.




More of this tomorrow. Scorsese reckons Marvel adaptions can't be art, but that's just because he hasn't seen this live-action pic of Kid Colt yet....

Thursday, October 17, 2019

It's funny because it's true


I like a lot of writers who focus on brutal and transgressive cinema, and how it is a vital part of any artistic diet, but when they get upset by seeing somebody who looks like them getting mistreated, it's always a little bit funny, and I always think of this Evan Dorkin cartoon, (because there is always a great Evan Dorkin cartoon for everything...).





Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The dishes are DONE, man!




I do the dishes in our household, that's been the deal for more than a decade, and I'm happy to do them. Partly because every time I finish them - and I mean every single time - I hear in my head this dude from The Burbs going 'The dishes are DONE, man!'.

I take my thrills where I can get them.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Another Dredd end



He takes off his helmet for her.

Monday, October 14, 2019

GI Joe's creepy suburbia



The GI Joe comic in the 1980s was a lot better than it had any right to be. As a gigantic ad for the action figures and accessories, it still managed to do genuinely interesting things with world-building and comic craftwork, and building up character without resorting to clumsy dialogue.

Larry Hama did an amazing job with the writing chores on this silly little comic. There were humongous and fast-moving action scenes, scores of witty asides between the gunplay and a pleasing willingness to murder many of the characters without a second thought.

But one of the best things about it - which was hugely resonant in the yuppyfied 1980s and is just as relevant today - was the way he hid a terrorist organisation between the facade of small town America.

Cobra's recruiting methods were straight out of the conservative playbook - using working class dissatisfaction with government dysfunction to fuel an unabashedly fascistic organisation. Recruiters brought in grunt soldiers through door to door salesmen and financial pyramid schemes, and soon had them tooling up with high-powered weaponry.

It was right there, under the surface as much as the Joe's headquarters were buried beneath a desert. And behind the picket fences and sensible clothing, there were torture chambers and genetic experiments and ninja clans and weather dominators, because that kind of terror is everywhere.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Looking for the Wedding Shemp



They keep saying that his role was cut from the movie, but I've spent a quarter of a century trying to spot Bruce Campbell in the background of The Quick and the Dead, and I'm not about to give up now.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

The Invisibles and The Boys: Time is flat




I had to give up listening to a podcast about the Invisibles - even though I ever wanna do is listen to people talk about the Invisibles (all I ever wanna do is talk about the Invisibles) - because they didn't seem to get any of the context, and were more interested in annotating stuff like it was a fuckin' Wikipedia entry instead of the complex, fucked-up and hilarious narrative it was.

This was all very familiar. If time is a solid, these kind of reaction to Morrison's comic is a bruise that spreads across reality.


Added to that the endless furrowed brows about the super decadence of The Boys TV show, (which was never the most interesting part of any version of that story), and I really feel like I'm stuck in the geekiest time loop ever. Stop this ride, I wanna get off.

Friday, October 11, 2019

I just can't throw out any books



I'm all brave and shit when it comes to cleaning out the print collection, and deciding that I don't really need so many comics, magazines and books, but I'm a total coward when it comes to actually tossing them out and getting them destroyed.

I just can't do it, even if it's got nothing more I can get out of it - somebody else might. All those music mags form the turn of the century, those Reader Digest books about ancient Egypt, all those books about politics in the earliest days of the 21st century (already looking hopeless antiquated in their naivety), I just didn't have the room, and I'm unlikely to ever crack them open again, so they've got to go. I just can't put them in the trash.

I try to sell this shit off as much as possible, but some thing I can't even get a buck for, and they go straight to the local charity depot, who always seem grateful for something that can turn around quickly at one of their mega-sales.

As long as it's not moldy or falling apart, everything goes there. The only book I really had to get toss out, and that was a semi-porno book, which wouldn't have gone down well. Nobody wants second hand porno.

They will all get tossed or mulched or burned or just fall apart, somewhere down the line, but maybe somebody will get something out of it. I'm not taking that responsibility.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Grendel! Arkwright!



There is certainly excitement in the news that Matt Wagner and Bryan Talbot are both working on new Grendel Prime and Luther Arkwright comics, (the first issue of the new Grendel came out last week), although it really is a little bittersweet to know that these are highly likely to be their final stories for these excellent characters and concepts.

Hopefully they've both still got decades of good comics to come, because both artists are at the absolute peak of craft and style, but this is obviously the time for both of them to have the final word on these stories. And with the never-ending adventures of so many comic characters draining all the life out of them, it's always refreshing to have that kind of definitive ending.

I can't wait to read these comics, and I also can't wait for that full stop.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

This, and that, and nothing inbetween: Joker and Ad Astra



It was genuinely surprising to realise how much I wasn't interested in seeing the new Joker film. Partly it's because I just can't get to the cinema at the moment, so why worry about it, and partly because I just don't need to see a skinny white dude who is mistreated by the world lash out in a homicidal rage, and the director's inability to sell his movie without falling into predictable old man bullshit didn't help.

But mainly it was because every time it gets compared - even favourably - to The King of Comedy and Taxi Driver, it seriously dulled the enthusiasm. Yeah, I've seen those movies too, dude, and yeah, they ruled. What else have you got?

I've also seen many, many different versions of the Joker, and this might the first to really make him a sympathetic character, but there's a good reason for that. (Hint: HE FUCKING KILLS PEOPLE.)

There was a similar disniterest in seeing Ad Astra, where it went for the structure and thematic meat of Apocalypse Now and 2001, but replaced the transcendence of humanity pushed beyond the limits of existence for more fucking daddy issues. (We get it, screenwriting dudes. Your dad was a cunt.)

This didn't stop the director of Ad Astra from moaning that that audiences were more interested in superhero nonsense than something original, which is a depressing simplistic view of the way we all consume media these days, and not conceding that maybe we've seen all this before, and that a director with a large backlog of deeply mediocre films is unlikely to have much more to show us.

The 'it's a popular film meets another popular film' tagline is an easy way to sell a movie, but if that story has already been told by better, smarter filmmakers, decades ago, maybe it's not worth repeating.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Bored Games: Risk



I haven't played the classic version of Risk in years now, but I've still got the basic strategies filed away, ready to bring out at a moment's notice. They don't guarantee I'd win every game, but they always mean I'll be there at the end.

They are strategies formed and tested on a shitty monochrome video game that I played at one of my first jobs in the mid-90s, and then finely honed in countless campaigns with a group of mates who were just as experienced and cunning as I was. With blitzkrieg options and nuclear weapons involved, they were fast paced and ruthless.

But come at me in any way, and I'll have a plan. There's Fortress Australia, which is near unbeatable; or the American Creep, always moving north; or the African Home Base, which sets you up to take on anybody at any time. If the cards are against you at the start, there's always the Malignant Tumor option, where you just sit on the border at the top of Europe and Asia - nobody attacks you, because your territory is worthless, except nobody wants any other player to have those continents, so you just sit there and wait for the time to strike. It can take hours, but it's hard to defeat.

Following all these strategies always works, while also allowing for some extreme improvisation. All other strategy games are a pale imitation of Risk, and you play me at your peril.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Horror begins in the Twilight Zone



The first time I was allowed to stay up and watch a horror film in the usual Sunday Horrors slot on TV2, it was the Incredible Shrinking Man, which wasn't very horrific at all and certainly nothing scary - not even the giant spider at the end. But around the same time, I was also allowed to go to a Saturday matinee screening of the Twilight Zone movie at the pictures, and that scared the fucking shit out of me.

Not the Spielberg story - that was boring because I was 8 and didn't have much interest in slow meditations on the pain of aging, and George Miller's climactic 30,000 Feet was too exhilarating to be really scary.

But the suddenness of Dan Ackroyd becoming a Thing in the opening credits, and there was the eye in the doorway and the creepy fucking cartoons of Joe Dante's segment.  And even at that age, I had heard of something horrible happening on the set during John Landis' segment, and the dread of those awful deaths overhung the entire movie.

There was no internet in those days, so I had to spoil it for everybody personally, which I did for weeks afterwards at school, telling everybody at length about my first brush with a real proper horror movie.

It had scared the shit out of me, and I wanted more of it. So much more.


Sunday, October 6, 2019

This is my life now, and it's the best life



I've been devouring all sorts of entertainments for my entire life, because all those comics and books and movies and TV shows and music and theatre and video games and fine art makes me feel things, and gives me a better appreciation and understanding of this fucked-up world we live in.

And even though this is hardly a groundbreaking revelation, none of that matches the intensity of having a brand new human in your life. Nothing has ever been funnier than the faces she pulls and the noises she makes, and nothing has been as moving as the way she makes us feel.

But this is not a baby blog, and I'm going to lay off the parental over-sharing for a while, and go back to more blathering about the entertainment I consume, and the way I consume it, and the way that consumption makes me feel, just like I have been for the past decade.

This is my life now, but I don't need to keep going on about it.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

This is my life now: Reading the reads



There are only many puzzle games you can play, and after a while, even the effort of following the relentless momentum of a movie narrative gets a bit much, but when I'm trying to stay awake in the middle of the night, there's always room for comic books.

When it comes to reading material in this state of mind, comics are so much easier to follow than the dense prose of a novel or magazine article. The mind tends to wander all over the fucking show when you have a new human sleeping on your chest in the absolute silence of 3am, but comics have that visual kick that helps you keep your place. Even if it takes half an hour to get through half a dozen pages, you never really lose your bearings.

And there is so much time to fill in during this fugue state, so it's possible to get through a small forest of comics. I scorched through every issue of Stray Bullets in the first three days home with the baby, swerved into a thorough re-read of all of Frank Miller's Daredevil comics, and have just about polished off all of the America's Best Comics by Alan Moore, from Top Ten to Promethea.

There are a lot of the naked emotional reactions that I was having with the films, but it's also been a chance to really pore over the craft of the things, and sometimes just stare at some beautiful art for a while. It's a chance to see how these huge, sprawling works all tie up and resolve, and it's a chance to really get through fucking entertaining comics.

I've been reading them over the shoulder of the new human, but she hasn't got a hope in hell of avoiding the comics as she grows up, and I look forward to sharing these with her one day, and seeing what she finds for herself. Judging by the way she stares at the bookcase of graphic novels beside the changing table when we're switching out a filthy nappy, she's already well on her way.

Friday, October 4, 2019

This is my life now: Gaming the game



When you absolutely, positively have to stay awake in the middle of the night, but can't move too far without disturbing the new human sleeping on you, nothing beats playing a puzzle game on the phone.

Something that doesn't require too much mental effort, because that's just never going to happen, but also something that is enough to keep the brain from totally shutting down. Something that just keeps things ticking over, but doesn't require a lot of enthusiastic mashing of buttons.

I ended up laying a lot of Sudoku, because I find that game eternally fascinating, but even then it was so easy to lose games through inattention. I found the absolute best game to keep things going was 2048, you had to pay just enough attention not to fuck things up, but could get into a semi-mindless groove.

Plus, it always takes ages to get to the really tricky stuff - getting the target 2048 is a piece of piss, racking up a 4096 is relatively easy - but getting to a 8192 takes a fucking shitload of swiping, and kept the mind occupied for hours in the deep, dark hours of the night.

Staring in wonder at the baby also took up a lot of time, but it was the puzzle that really kept me conscious.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

This is my life now: Feeling the feelings



The new human wouldn't sleep for long in the first few weeks unless she was lying on top of one of us, which means I have been spending an awful lot of time watching movies on TV at three in the morning.

It means I've finally got around to watching a lot of films I'd always intended to get around to, such as Little Big Man, or rewatching recent favourites like Sorry To Bother You. But it also meant I was getting weirdly emotional about the things I was watching.

In the case of something like Ace In The Hole, that's to be expected, because it's a deadset masterpiece with a killer ending that crushes the heart, but I really wasn't expecting to burst out into actual tears every time Cynthia Erivo started singing in her scenes in Bad Times At The El Royale. Plus, poor fucking Miles the hotel clerk. The part where he reveals exactly how many people he's killed broke my fucking heart.

I also got set off by the sheer humanism of the ending of The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming!, which shows how things are right now.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

This is my life now: Dreaming the dream



In the first few nights as a proper dad, I had a lot of fucking weird dreams, and I only understood a tiny fraction of what my brain was telling me.

The startling nightmare where I was being driven away from home by a driverless car was obviously a metaphor for the uncertainty of a new future, which is what you would expect, but I'm fucked if I know what the one where I was Bunk from the Wire, congratulating McNulty on being elected mayor means (all I kept saying was 'THIS motherfucker?').

It probably just means I watch too much bloody TV.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

This is my life now: Singing the song




Walking in on the lovely wife singing this Radiohead song to our new baby, a day after the birth, was instantly one of the greatest moments of my whole life, because of course it fucking was.

I tried to sing to the new human too, but all that sleep deprivation meant the only lyrics I could clearly recall were from The Wall (proving that all that time going over the lyrics wasn't wasted) and the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Whatever works.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Therapeutic Skin Jobs #29


Chapter 29
It's All About Me

It’s not what you expect.

One second, you’re sitting there, reading the words, the experience no different from a million other novels and books, the next second, in the blink of an eye, you’re somewhere else.

This is not what you expected, but you can’t help but feel it was bound to happen. Sooner or later.

You’re now standing in the middle of a small park, surrounding by dull suburbia on all sides. There is the sound of traffic in the distance, but you can’t see a single other living person.

You shake your head, convinced that you’ve drifted off, just when you were getting to the end of a story that didn’t make much sense and offered little in the way of plot, characters or actions. Some answers might have made up for that, but they were also sadly lacking.

And yet, the grass beneath your feet feels real enough. You can feel the wind on your face and the faintest of sour scents on it. It all feels real enough.

Then you see somebody fade into view, walking towards you in a slow, purposeful stride. Even though you can’t see his face clearly, you know exactly who it is. Doctor Skin. He has finally made it to the Real World.

He looks just like you imagined he would.

He stops walking a few dozen meters away from you and glances over to his right. You follow his look and see another figure fade into view, standing still, kicking at the ground with an idle foot.

That’s me. I’m just as surprised to find myself here as you are, but I’m not complaining. This is just too cool to complain about.

We stand alone in the middle of the park, looking at each other. I keep thinking we should be reaching for our guns, but this is real life and nobody shoots at each other unless they really have to. There just isn’t any need here.

I stare at you and you stare right back, waiting for some resolution, but I have none to offer. We both look back at Skin who waves cheerfully at both of us.

I wave back and you can’t help but join in. Why not?

You and me and him. All together now.

It was the only way this could ever end.

THE END

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Therapeutic Skin Jobs #28


Chapter 28
Here We Go Now

“None of it means anything.”

Max turned away from staring out the truck window, her train of thought derailed by Farrar’s latest proclamation. “What did you just say?”

“Life,” said Farrar gloomily. It was the first words Max had heard from him all day, but they seemed weighted down with some kind of regret. “It’s all just a big joke. Politics, religion, everything. None of it matters. None of it means anything.”

Farrar lapsed back into silence, leaving Max to wonder what the hell he was talking about. The uncomfortable silence lasted for a couple of blocks worth of traffic, until she couldn’t stand it any longer.

“What the hell are you talking about, Farrar?”

Farrar mumbled something that Max couldn’t quite make out.

“What’s that?” she asked.

“Katie,” snapped Farrar, not taking his eyes off the road. “She left me. I got home from a meeting last night and she had cleared out all her stuff. She left me.”

“Oh,” said Max. She didn’t really want to ask the next question, but she couldn’t help himself. “Who is Katie?”

Farrar stopped at a red light, pulled the handbrake on and turned to Max with a look of disbelief. “My fiancée. She left me.”

“I didn’t know you had a fiancée,” said Max truthfully.

“We’ve been engaged for seven months!”

“Oh.”

Farrar turned his attention back to the road as the light turned green. “She left me a note. Said she couldn’t handle my shit any more. What the fuck does that mean?”

Max had a thousand sarcastic remarks ready to use, but for some reason she could never explain, she actually felt sorry for Farrar. “I’m sorry, man.”

Farrar kept his eyes on the road, speaking in a dull monotone. “Yeah, thanks. But nothing means anything.”

He lapsed back into silence and Max let it hang in the air. They drove the rest of the way to their next stop without another word.

They pulled into the store as Leanne waited patiently with her clipboard ready. Max was out of the truck’s cab before they had even stopped, eager to escape Farrar’s misery before it became contagious.

Leanne raised an eyebrow and nodded silently at Farrar as he hauled himself out of the truck, but Max just shook her head. Leanne smiled.

“Hey,” she said, pointing back over her shoulder into the depths of the dock. “Can you take that faulty microwave back to the central depo today? It’s been sitting there for weeks.”

“Sure,” said Max. As she walked towards the back of the store she saw Leanne pat Farrar on the shoulder and he whispered something to her. She thought it was funny, she had barely ever seen those two talk, but it looked like she was offering him some small comfort.

“Funny old world,” she said to herself as she reached the back of the store and began to look for the microwave.

“That depends on your sense of humour,” said a female voice that caused Max’s heart to skip a beat.

She turned to see Claire in one of the corners, taking a stock count. She smiled at Max and her heart managed to skip several more beats all at once.

“Hi,” she said weakly.

“Hey,” Claire replied. “How are you doing?”

“Ah…” said Max as her scrambled mind tried to think of something witty and clever to say. “Can’t complain.”

She nodded and went back to her stock count as Max wished for an earthquake to swallow her up, or a lightning bolt to strike her down. Any Act of God would do.

She picked up the broken microwave and headed back towards the exit, where Farrar was helping Leanne unload. She got two steps when she heard a voice in the back of her skull.

“Just ask her, you fucking wimp.”

She stopped. Turning back around she cleared her throat and waited for Claire to look back up from her stock take.

“Hey Claire?”

“Yes?” she asked, tapping her pen on her chin.

“I was just wondering if you wanted to go get a drink tonight after work. Would you be up for something like that?”

Claire’s face fell and Max’s stomach fell perfectly in time with it. “Oh, I’m sorry. I can’t, not tonight.”

Max began to turn away so she wouldn’t see how pathetic she looked. “That’s okay. I was just-“

“But I’m free tomorrow night. Would that do?”

Max looked back and could not stop the biggest grin she had ever had spreading across her face.

“That would do just fine.”

“Okay,” said Claire, going back to her stock take. “Pick me up from the front of the store at five tomorrow. Okay?”

“Okay.”

Max walked back to the front of the dock. She never expected her to say yes, it wasn’t the sort of response she was used to from girls like that.

But she had, all the same.

Max walked towards the light, confident that whatever she had done in the past, whatever time she had wasted, there was still somebody looking out for her.

Who could ask for anything more?

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Therapeutic Skin Jobs #27


Chapter 27
Green Light Go!

Dr Skin is everywhere. Dr Skin is nowhere.

Dr Skin is everything and anything.

Dr Skin is.

???

Max woke up five minutes before the alarm clock went off, but she didn’t move a muscle. She just lay perfectly still and watched the bright green numbers count down.

The last minute came up and she buried her head in her pillow, hoping it would somehow stretch out for an eternity, but the alarm went off, shattering her hopes.

“Fuck it,” she moaned, hitting the snooze switch and swinging her legs out of bed.

As she sat on the edge of his bed, she was suddenly hit by the overwhelming feeling that she had forgotten something incredibly important. It wasn’t something she had to do, but something that she knew she should remember.

She rubbed her head and tried to recall what it could be. She remembered watching zombie movies with Brian last night and could even remember drifting off to sleep in the middle of a particularly gory bit.

But then there was a gap in her memories. She knew she probably just shuffled off to bed in a half-daze, but she couldn’t even remember that.

She just couldn’t shake the feeling that something important had happened, something that could potentially have changed her entire life. It was right in the depths of her memory and she tried to concentrate, hoping it would rise to the surface.

But for the second time that morning, her hopes were cruelly shattered by the alarm clock going off. Grumbling and mumbling, Max hit the snooze button again and tried to concentrate again in the lost memory, but it was no use.

It was gone.

“Fuck it,” she whispered. She stood up and moved out into the main room of her apartment, scratching her backside as she shuffled forward. It all looked normal and she spotted a half-smoked joint lying in the ashtray.

That explains the memory loss, she thought, even though it still didn’t feel right at all.

She carried on scratching her backside, only stopping when her phone suddenly rang. She glanced at the clock on the wall, but she still had an hour to get into work, so it couldn’t be them ringing.

Max wandered over to the phone and reached out for it, only to hesitate. She didn’t know why she stopped, she just stood there, her hand held out, not moving.

She began to wish it would just stop ringing, but it just kept on going. She stood still for more than a minute, before shaking her head and laughing at her own stupidity.

“Fuck it,” she groaned. She picked up the phone and answered in a much clearer voice. “Hello?”

There was somebody on the other end of the line, Max could hear them breathing. But they didn’t say anything at first and Max tried again. “Hello?”

This time the voice on the other side replied, speaking in a low, gravelly monotone.

“Everything new is old again,” it said.

“What?” asked Max, but the caller hung up on her, leaving her with a dead line.

Max hung up and didn’t move. There was something about the voice that reminded her of something and she had the strangest feeling that that something was connected to her strange memory loss.

“Fuck it,” she said clearly. She didn’t have time for this.

Max headed for the bathroom to get ready for work. It was going to be a long, hard day and the weekend was still a long way off.

???

Doctor Skin no longer exists in any conventional sense, but that doesn’t stop him from having a sense of humour about it all.

A hedonist by choice and a nihilist by nature, he was not surprised to have lost all physical form after breaking through the final barrier. His consciousness is still as strong as ever, just severely lacking in any kind of corporeal form.

In the formless void, understanding is everything and Skin knows it all. He knows his own purpose in life, he knows why he ever existed in the first place.

It gives him little comfort, but it still makes him want to laugh.

He feels some regret at leaving Max behind, using her as a stepping stone for his own ascension, another man making his way on the efforts of a woman, even if they were basically the same person. But he also knew in his non-existent heart that she had made the choice to go her own way, and it wasn't up to him to make that decision for her.

Moving on and ditching the guilt, he concentrates and attempts to rebuild himself from the ground up. He has now pushed himself past all worlds and all egos, but the very essence of Skin is eternal and he knows he can build himself up from the smallest, tiniest details.

Doctor Skin concentrates.

He remembers the tiny scar on the back of his right hand, the way it curves back on itself, the whiteness of the scarred tissue against his skin. He remembers how it was right in the center of the hand, directly below the knuckle of his index finger.

He builds the memory up from there, starting with the rest of his hand and his long, bony fingers. The sensation of his arms hanging at his side comes easily, remembering the weight of his torso takes a little more effort.

He creates himself. He builds himself from a lifetime of memory and sensation and experience. His body was destroyed in his final push into the infinite, but he has the will and the skill to start all over again.

Dr Skin feels it all come together as sensation returns to every part of his body, every nerve singing in the joy of life, every muscle coiled and ready for action. He even recreates his very best clothes, including the long paisley jacket he lost 10 years ago. He has become other than what he was, but is still himself, right down to the sub-atomic level.

Satisfied, he opens his new eyes.

With everything he has seen and experienced in his quest for an impossible answer, Skin is ready for anything, but the sight that greets him steals away the first breath from his newly formed lungs.

He is hanging in nothingness, but spread out beneath him is all of time and space, laid out in all its glory. All of history and everything to come can be seen in prefect detail, spread out before him in a glowing tableau. He can see the dinosaurs roam the earth right through one small section and the rise and fall of mankind right next to it.

There is only one thing missing. Although Skin can concentrate on any point and see it in infinite detail, his own life, his own journey, is not there. There isn’t even a blank space where it should be, it is just as if it had never existed in the first place.

“Ha!” he laughs, the noise echoing around the empty void. If he never existed, none of this is real in the first place.

“So why worry about it?” he asks nobody. “Everything old is new again!”

Turning his attention back to business, Skin knows he has all the options he could ever need. He knows what he can do and how he can do it.

In the vast tapestry of everything, Dr Skin finds the one point he needs. He moves towards it, but hesitates and looks back at something.

“Well? Come on then!”

Then he laughs again and leans forward, falling down to the world. It rushes up and envelops him as he rushes towards the last stop.

He falls from outside the world, but he doesn’t fall alone.

You’re with him.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Therapeutic Skin Jobs #26


Chapter 26
Destination Unknown

As Dr Skin drank the bottle, Max shrugged and leaned back in her car seat. She looked out the window, but apart from the revelation of the sky, it was still a wasteland out there, unchanged from their first arrival.

And then Max felt it coming on again. The buzzing noise that had nearly driven her crazy earlier began to build up again and everything Max looked at, both in the car and outside it, seemed to come into focus with such clarity it felt like it was searing her retinas.

Her breath quickening, she leaned forward and rubbed her hands together, but even this action felt like too much sensation, every piece of her body suddenly feeling hyper-sensitive.

She glanced at Skin, who didn’t seem worried at all. Or was doing a better job than Max at hiding it.

“I can feel it too,” said Skin, as if he could sense exactly what Max was thinking. He closed his eyes and his knuckles turned white as he squeezed the steering wheel tightly. “Another change coming on. Not so random this time. Get ready.”

Max wanted to ask him what he meant by ready, but then it all exploded in her mind’s eye. The wasteland suddenly curved up around them, blocking off the bone sky as they found themselves driving down a long, dark tunnel, a burst of light at the end of it getting ever closer.

Putting her head in one of her hands, Max scratched the side of it with the free hand as the buzzing noise increased, but then it all cut out as they suddenly burst through into the light.

It took Max a moment for her eyes to adjust to the sudden glare, but then she realized they were driving through an immaculately kept park, with flowers blooming and neat green grass all around.

Skin didn’t slow down as they speed through the park on a concrete pathway. The buzzing noise had vanished, but nothing had replaced it and all Max could hear was the beating of her own heart as they drove on.

Then figures began to fade into view all around them, hundreds of people enjoying the sanctity of the park, paying no heed to the car barreling right through the middle of it.

Max caught sight of several of the figures and realized she recognized many of them. She saw Farrar and Kubrick walk around a rose garden, gesturing wildly as they argued in total silence. She saw the security guard who had stopped her entering the court, holding back Jono from entering another part of the garden. She saw Brian and Sonya, sharing a cigarette on a grassy knoll, both waving lazily at Max as the car sped past them.

She thought she saw Claire off in the middle of the crowd, but she only caught a glimpse of the back of her head before she vanished into the throng.

Dr Skin also saw familiar faces from his side of the car. He saw the league of assassins who had tried to stop him playing a friendly game of soccer amongst themselves and the child oracle they had been protecting, still playing in his sandpit.

He recognized the Griffin asking a group of police officers riddles and it shook a claw at him happily. He saw the Librarian up on a small hill, ignoring him as he read a thick book, saw Cthulhu walking hand in hand with the maniac in the hockey mask, saw Mr Green, Mr Yellow and Mr Red all seated at a table, playing cards.

They both felt a shift in the air as somebody appeared in the car’s back seats.

“They’re all here,” said Rocket Fish from directly behind Skin.

“They had to be,” agreed King Goob behind Max. “All the chances that were thrown away, but never forgotten.”

“Can you feel the love?”

“My friend, we are the love.”

Max turned to confront them, but they had vanished before she got around.

“Yes,” said Skin suddenly, a spark flaring in his eye. “Yes!”

“What?” asked Max, but she was shoved back in her seat as Skin floored the accelerator, pushing the car even faster.

“What the hell?” yelled Max as Skin drove the car faster and faster. Max looked out the window, but they were already going so fast there was nothing but a green and red blur to be seen.

“We need to accelerate past it all!” Skin screamed suddenly. “Velocity is the key!”

The car continued to pick up speed and Max felt her ears pop as they smashed through another invisible barrier. They were now traveling through something Max could barely comprehend, a colorful mix of everything, all the detail of all the worlds, all put through a cosmic blender and spread out from here to eternity.

They got faster and faster and the car began to fall apart about them, firstly as small pieces began to tear away, then more seriously as whole sections of it peeled off.

“Fuck!” cried Max as the car exploded around them, the shattered debris instantly vanishing. Neither Max or Skin slowed down, they continued to hurtle through existence itself at speeds that barely made sense, but still managed to exist.

Max felt her very being stretch and pull thin. She thought she was going to tear apart just like the car, but Skin grabbed onto her hand and pulled Max with him.

“Come on!” hollered Dr Skin, barely able to hide his joy. “This is it! This is everything!”

Max wanted to know what he meant, what it all meant, but she couldn’t find the words.

“Holy shit!” screamed Skin, reaching a hand forward as the forces of reality battered around and through them. “I can see it! I’m almost there!”

And all of a sudden, Max knew what it all meant. It was all so clear. She knew what they were facing, but she also knew he wasn’t ready for it. She would only slow Skin down.

Dr Skin looked back at her and in the eerie light of everything, Max saw Skin smile and nod slowly.

“It’s okay,” he said in a small voice that Max somehow still managed to hear. “I understand.”

Max tried to reply, but she couldn’t speak, her words caught in her throat.

“It’s all right,” continued Skin. “I wouldn’t have got this far without you. But I’ll take this last step myself.”

He let go of Max.

Instantly, they were an eternity apart. Max fell back, pulled back down by some inexorable gravity.

She felt calm, knowing she was heading back to her life, away from the weird, back to the normal.

She felt a little regret, but knew in her heart she had no other option.

Max vanished.

Dr Skin took one last long look back, then pushed on, into the infinite.

It all opened up for him. Just like he knew it would.

Skin laughed as passed the last barrier and broke on through to the other side.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Therapeutic Skin Jobs #25


Chapter 25
Getting Away With It All

“Are you okay?” asked Max as Dr Skin hobbled around to the driver’s side, blood still pouring from his ruined face. “Are you sure you don’t want me to drive?”

Stopping just short of the door, Skin actually managed to look a little offended. “What are you saying?”

“You look like shit, man.”

“There’s no need to get personal,” said Skin, shaking his head. “No, I’ll be all right. This is nothing. I’ll be good as new before you know it.”

He opened the car door and slid behind the wheel. “Now let’s go! There has been far too much fucking about and I’m damn keen to get straight to the point! Come on!”

“Whatever you say, pal,” muttered Max, reaching for the door handle. But as she opened it, she was suddenly hit by an overwhelming sense of deja-vu, the stench of pure, unbridled nostalgia welling up from deep within him. She had done something like this before.

No, she thought. Not something like this. Something exactly like this, She had done this very action before, getting into a car she didn’t recognize that was standing in the middle of a vast wasteland as Dr Skin waited patiently. It was all so familiar because she had been here before. Her breath caught in her throat and a sinking feeling threatened to overwhelm her as she realized she would always be here, doing the same thing, over and over and over again.

“Get a fucking move on!” barked Skin as he kicked the engine into life, snapping Max out of her panic. She began to breathe normally again, already over her fear. As she got into the passenger seat and began to close the door behind her, she had already forgotten what it was that had panicked her in the first place.

“That was weird,” she mumbled, just as Skin hit the accelerator, the car surging forward before Max even had a chance to close the door. It slammed shut anyway with the sudden start, almost closing on Max’s leg.

Dr Skin shifted through the gears in an instant and soon had the car at top speed, roaring across the wasteland. He took his eyes off where they were going to look at Max mockingly. “That was weird? I must say, you’re taking it all very well.”

“What do you mean?” asked Max. She wondered if she should bother putting the seatbelt on, but there was nothing around them they could hit, so she let it slide.

Skin grinned. “I mean I’m used to strangeness. It’s always been a part of me and I’ve had a lifetime to adapt to it, but I’ve dragged you from your mundane life and thrown you right into the deep end of the weird. Shit, look at my face.” He pointed at his head, which showed few of the signs of the beating he had taken. “I’m almost completely healed. You’ve never seen anything like that before, have you? Frankly, I’m surprised you haven’t curled up into a whimpering ball and wished it all went away.”

“Not really my style,” shrugged Max. “This is pretty fucked up and I never expected to end up in a place like this with someone like you, but there ain’t much use in trying to hide from it.”

Max paused as a thought finally occurred to her. “Although…”

Skin still didn’t bother looking at their path. “Although what?”

“Although, I guess there is always the possibility that I have actually just gone totally bugfuck mental. That I’m really sitting on my sofa, shitting in my pants and rocking back and forth as I fall further and further into a fantasy where I get into epic fights and travel between worlds with the snap of a finger.”

Max snapped a finger, then smiled and tapped the dashboard in front of her. “Nah, feels real enough. Guess I’m not crazy.”

“Well,” said Skin, “not as crazy as anybody else.”

“Heh,” laughed Max weakly, just as she noticed there was something at her feet. She reached down to lift it up. “Hey, look at this.”

She pulled up a small hamper and opened it up. It was full to the brim with old comic books, chocolate bars, bottles of cheap wine and a large handgun.

“Wow,” said Max, flicking through a couple of the comics, but handing the gun over to Skin. “Here, you better have this. I’m no good with guns.”

Skin distastefully took the gun between two fingers and opened the window beside him. “I don’t need guns anymore. We’ve gone right past that.”

He blinked and spoke to himself in a tiny whisper. “It’s funny. I thought this was more a Die Hard type of thing, but it turned out to be more 2001 than anything. I guess even fictional characters get the chance to evolve…”

“What’s that?” said Max as she stuffed her face with one of the chocolate bars, spraying crumbs all over the car floor.

“Nothing,” said Skin. He began to toss the gun out the window, but something made him look up and he hesitated.

“Hey,” he said, tapping Max on the shoulder and pointing up. “Check that out.”

Max looked up. The dark clouds that had covered the sky ever since they arrived in the wasteland had disappeared, but they revealed something that looked like no sky Max had ever seen.

“What is that?” she asked Skin.

“It looks like…. bone,” he replied.

Max realized that Skin had picked it right. Hovering over them, only a couple of hundreds meters up, a huge expanse of pure white bone stretched across the sky, curving slightly downwards over the horizon ahead.

“What the fuck is all that about?” said Max

“Let’s find out,” said Skin, spinning the gun around on his finger until the handle slapped securely into his palm, taking aim and firing three shots up at the bone sky.

The bullets bounced harmlessly off the bone, but both Max and Dr Skin screamed in agony and clutched their heads as pain sliced right through their skulls. Skin slammed on the brakes and the car skidded to a halt as they both waited for the pain to slowly subside.

As soon as it had degenerated into a dull throb, Max punched Skin in the arm. “Don’t ever fucking do anything like that again!”

“Yeah,” agreed Skin breathlessly. Realizing he was still clutching the gun, he finally tossed it out the window, put the car into first gear and took off again.

“Jesus,” groaned Max as she opened up one of the bottles of wine. “That was some harsh shit.”

“Did you feel it?” asked Skin.

It took a moment for Max to realize Skin was talking seriously. “Uh, yeah.”

“No, did you feel it? There were three distinct bursts of pain.”

Max considered it for a minute. “Yeah, I guess. Just like the three shots, right? But so what?”

“Nothing,” said Skin, shaking his head. He reached over and snatched the wine bottle out of Max’s grasp. “Here. Give me some of that.”

“Drink driving isn’t big or clever,” said Max in a scolding tone.

“I’ve never been accused of either,” replied Skin, draining the bottle in one huge gulp.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Therapeutic Skin Jobs #24


Chapter 24
Second Verse, Same As The First

Mr. Red charged at Dr Skin again, snarling in pure rage. Skin sidestepped him again, but Mr. Red was ready for him this time and swung back around, grabbing Skin around the shoulder.

Skin wriggled out of his grip, but Mr. Red loomed in close and headbutted Skin right across the nose, breaking it and sending blood streaming down his face.

Staggering back, Skin blocked several short, sharp jabs from Mr. Red, but left himself wide open to a huge haymaker which knocked Skin off his feet.

Skin fell to the ground, cradling his aching jaw and Mr. Red went to stomp on his head, but he rolled out of the way. He didn't get a chance to get to his feet as Mr. Red continued to stomp after him. Then Skin stopped and Mr. Red lifted his foot high, ready to drive it right through Skin's chest.

But Skin reached out, grabbed hold of the raised foot and twisted. Mr. Red began to wobble as he lost his balance, but Skin hurried things along by kicking him as hard as he could right in the knee. Mr. Red toppled down and Skin leaped on him.

Mr. Red tried to crawl away, but Skin wouldn't let him budge and the two men began to grapple on the ground, neither of them able to get the upper hand.

Max watched them, disappointed by how quickly the fight had degenerated into a crawl brawl. Skin seemed to be holding his own, but in their current state all finesse was lost and any of Skin's fighting skills were negated. It was only a matter of strength now and Mr. Red had the upper hand in that respect.

She was proven right when Mr. Red moved around and got his legs between him and Skin. He shoved out with them, sending Skin sprawling away as the breath was pushed right out of him.

Mr. Red got to his feet first, although the winded Skin somehow managed to scramble to a standing position a split-second later. Skin could feel the last of his strength failing and put everything he had into one last lunge at the bigger man.

He almost landed the blow that would have finished Mr. Red off, but he dodged Skin's punch and with a slap, grabbed onto Skin's wrist and twisted. Skin cried out, but then screamed as Mr. Red drove one of his huge fists right into the back of the elbow on the outstretched arm.

Dr Skin's elbow bent in a direction that it should never have gone anywhere near and Max heard the snap of bone reverberate around the wasteland.

"Oh fuck," whispered Max as Dr Skin fell to his knees cradling his shattered arm.

Mr. Red gave Skin no further chances and kicked him in the face. Skin fell backwards and Mr. Red leaned forward and began punching Skin over and over again.

The sounds from the beating soon degenerated from dull thumping sounds to something a lot wetter, but Mr. Red showed no sign of slowing down.

Slowly and methodically, Mr. Red began to beat Dr Skin to death and Max suddenly realised she had to get involved.

She had to do something.

She didn't understand any of this. Most of the recent events had gone right over her head, but she knew deep down that she could trust Skin, that she had to help him before he was beyond any help.

She had to do something.

Max saw the blade of the broken spade lying nearby. She picked it up by the small part of the handle that was left and walked towards Mr. Red, who was still busy with his punching and did not notice Max coming up behind him.

Max's mind went blank. She raised the blade and smacked it as hard as she could into the side of Mr. Red's head.

He didn't go down, but he did stop beating Skin.

He turned around to Max with murder in his eyes. "What the fuck do you think you're doing?"

Max looked stupidly at the broken half of the spade in her hands. "Ah. Nothing."

Mr. Red stood up and advanced on Max. "You idiot. You don't understand any of this."

"I never do," said Max meekly as she backed away. "But I do my best."

Embarrassingly, she could feel her bowels begin to loosen as Mr. Red reached out for her.

And then the other half of the broken spade suddenly sprouted out of the front of Mr. Red's chest, staining his red suit an even deeper scarlet. Mr. Red looked down at it in disbelief and turned around to see Skin standing there.

Dr Skin's face had been pounded into something that could barely be recognised as a face anymore, but he still managed to smile and spit out a few words.

"Our fight is not done yet."

Mr. Red sneered and he tried to slap Skin away, but his legs went out from under him and he fell to his knees on the ground, kicking up a small cloud of dust. He idly nudged the bloody broken end of the handle that protruded from his body with one finger before looking up at Skin and smiling sadly.

"Oh well," he muttered. "I tried my best."

He slowly reached into his suit jacket pocket, pulling something out with a wince of pain. He threw the object to Skin, who caught it in one hand. Looking closer, he saw it was a key-ring with a green smiley-face on it, with one lone car key attached.

Mr Red coughed, a small spray of blood flying out into the air. "You can go now."

Then he fell back into the dust. The ground swallowed him up and within an instant, there was no sign he had ever existed.

Max wandered over to Skin, who was still examining the key. "Jesus, man. Are you okay?"

"I'll be fine," said Skin, accidentally spitting out a tooth as he spoke.

"Are you sure? That arm looks pretty bad."

"Trust me. I'm a doctor." He looked up at Max and forced his broken face into a smile again.

"Thanks, Max. I knew I couldn't have got there without you."

"I didn't really do anything."

"You did everything. You made a choice. Now come on."

"Where?" asked Max.

Skin pointed behind her at the pristine car sitting in the middle of the wasteland. Max didn't recognise the make or model, but Skin did.

"I thought I blew it up," he muttered. "But that's the good thing about fictional things. It's easy to bring them back."

He began to walk towards the car, waving Max on. "Come on."

Max didn't move. "I don't get it."

Skin turned and looked back at her. "You never do. But don't worry, this is the last part of the journey. We're almost there now, it's all just a car ride away. Everything I've ever wanted is just a car ride away."

He held up the key ring and managed a smile again. "And this time, I'm driving."

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Therapeutic Skin Jobs #23


Chapter 23
Fight!

"I have to stop you," said Mr. Red, stalking towards Skin, cracking his knuckles in time with each step. "Even if it means breaking every single bone in your body."

"Is that really necessary?" asked Dr Skin, stifling a yawn.

"I've got to."

"Yeah," said Skin, reaching inside his jacket pocket. "Well, I've still got the fucking gun."

He whipped out the pistol from under his jacket, but Mr. Red just watched impassively as it broke apart into a dozen little pieces in Skin's hand. Each of those pieces broke up even further as they fell out of Skin's grip, until only dust hit the ground.

"Bugger," moaned Skin.

"Like I said," continued Mr. Red. "If I have to break all your bones to stop you, I will."

"That's harsh," said Skin as he backed away from him, looking desperately for anything, any weapon or object that could give him an advantage, unfair or otherwise. But apart from Max's broken spade, there was nothing. It truly was a wasteland.

Skin backed up even faster as Mr. Red increased the pace. "I mean, are you even going to break those tiny little bones in my inner ear?"

"Every bone," said Mr. Red, flexing his fingers before forming them back into fists. "Whatever it takes."

Skin glanced over at Max to see if she would be of any use, but Max just shrugged helplessly.

"I'm no good at fighting," she mumbled apologetically. "Really, I'm rubbish. I've only been in one fight and I had my he-"

"Some other time, Max," said Skin just as Mr. Red reached him.

Up close, Skin finally had the chance to see how big his opponent was. Although he shared the same suit and face as the previous colour coded entities he had run into, Skin saw that Mr. Red was considerably bigger than his earlier counterparts and a lot bigger than Skin himself. Each of his fists was the size of Skin's head. If this fight was going to be a test of strength, then Skin had already lost.

Luckily, Dr Skin was not afraid to cheat.

He waited until Mr. Red had just stepped in range, then lashed out and kicked him as hard as he could, right in the groin. Mr. Red's face went a subtle shade of purple and he breathed out a heavy, pained breath.

"That's not fair," he moaned, but Skin wasn't finished yet. He reached forward and poked Mr. Red in the eyes as hard as he could. As the bigger man cried out and covered them, Skin leaped up and kicked him in the throat.

"Yeah!" cried Max, caught up in the moment. "Go Skin! Fuckin' get into him!"

Mr. Skin staggered back a step and Skin leaped at him, but Mr Red suddenly recovered and pivoted away from Skin's blow, pushing him away with his giant palms.

"Um, no," said Max helpfully, "that isn't quite what I meant."

Mr. Red shot Max a dirty look before turning his full attention back to Skin. "This was just a job, Doctor. Now you've made it personal."

"It's always personal," said Skin, turning his head slightly and spitting onto the dry ground. As he turned back he didn't even see that the earth closed up around his spit and swallowed it whole. "It's no use fighting if you haven't got a stake in it."

Mr. Red paused for a second, a strange look that managed to combine puzzlement and amusement on his face. "There are no stakes here. I am going to stop you from breaking that which should not be broken. It's as simple as that."

"You can try, you fuck," sneered Skin, and Mr. Red's eyes blazed as he headed in again, but Max stopped them both.

"Excuse me?"

Dr Skin and Mr. Red both turned to look at Max at the same time and even managed to voice their query at the exact same moment. "WHAT?"

"Um," said Max nervously. "I just wanted to know what you mean, what can't be broken? I mean, as far as I've ever known, there hasn't been any rules that have ever been created that couldn't be broken. If the will is there to break them..."

"I am not talking about rules," sniffed Mr. Red. Skin relaxed from his defensive stance for a moment and began to pick some non-existent dirt out from under his fingernails. "I am talking about barriers, Barriers that can not be broken, that must never be crossed. The line between life and death, the difference between then and soon."

His eyes narrowed just a little. "And characters that should never meet their creators."

Max waited for the punch line, until she finally realized that that was it. "Oh, right."

Mr. Red turned back to Skin. "Anything to add?"

Skin stopped pretending to be fascinated by his fingernail. "No, not really. Could we please fight now?"

"With pleasure," said Mr. Red, suddenly lunging at Skin with a raised fist.

Never one to give up on a tactic, Skin went for the groin again, but Mr. Red spun around it, moving incredibly fast for his size, and swung his fist at Skin's head.

Skin ducked under it and moved past the overreaching Mr. Red, jabbing his elbow into the bigger man's gut with all his force and trying to trip him up as he stepped past.

But Mr. Red stood his ground and trapped Skin's foot, throwing him off balance. As he tumbled forward, Mr. Red grabbed him by the shoulder with one arm and yanked him back, using his free hand to drive a hard fist into the base of Skin's spine.

Skin tried to scream out, but the pain choked him off as Mr. Red spun him around and slapped him with an open palm right across the face. His cheek stinging like it had just been stung by a million wasps, Skin had no time to react as Mr. Red gripped him by the throat, squeezing tighter as he lifted him up off the ground.

Standing only a few meters away, Max was paralysed by indecision. She knew in her heart she should help Skin, but she had not been lying when she said fighting was not her thing. The one serious fight she had ever been in had ended with her lying bloody and broken in a pre-school playground. She would be less than useless against somebody like Mr. Red.

As if he could sense what he was thinking, Mr. Red glanced over at Max and smiled evilly, only looking back when Skin tried to speak.

"What's that?" he asked mockingly as Skin muttered and choked. He pulled Skin closer to hear him. "What did you say?"

Dr Skin actually smiled as he spoke in a perfectly clear voice. "I said you're really starting to piss me off."

He rammed his index finger as far as he could right up Mr. Red's left nostril. Screaming in pain, Mr. Red dropped Skin, who fell into a crouching position and rolled away as Mr. Red tried to kick him in his rage.

Mr. Red held his nose delicately. "I can't believe you just did that!"

"I do what I have to," said Skin, rising up to full height again.

"But you stuck your finger up my nose!" whined Mr. Red. "What kind of fighter are you?"

Dr Skin winked. "One that can improvise. Like you said, whatever it takes.”

Mr Red did not like that. He advanced again, and Dr Skin waited for him.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Therapeutic Skin Jobs #22


Chapter 22
Don't Go Anywhere

It didn't feel like a dream, thought Max. Even with all the craziness, everything was clear and sharp.

The only thing that really felt unreal about it was her own reaction. Her life was bone-crushingly normal, and now she was in an other-worldly trip through something she could never have imagined, and she was just rolling with it.

And now they were away again, off and racing. Without even thinking about it any further, Max found herself running down a city street, following Skin blindly as a huge crowd of policemen, soldiers and nuns chased after them, screaming in rage and waving garden implements at them.

Skin leaped over a parked car and made a stand.

“Come on then!” he screamed at the advancing crowd, taunting them forward. “Let’s see what you’ve got!”

“Let’s not and say we did!” cried Max. She didn’t slow down and ran right past Skin.

But she only got a few more steps before everything shifted again and she lurched into the seat of a packed passenger aircraft. A stewardess scowled at her as she cried out with the shock of a sudden stop.

“Please,” she said, the lines at the corner of her eyes showing with her displeasure. “You’re disturbing the other passengers.”

“Yeah,” agreed Skin, leafing through an in-flight magazine with the absolute minimum of enthusiasm. “Calm down, Max. It’s all okay.”

Max smiled weakly at the stewardess and pretended to look out the window. Down below an unfamiliar landscape was passing by, but it could have been anywhere in the world from this altitude.

Max waited until the stewardess had moved on before replying to Skin with a hiss. “Okay? How the fuck is it all okay? Last night I sat around at home getting fucking stoned and fucking watching fucking zombie movies, now I’m getting fucking bounced around from one fucking place to another like a fucking cosmic fucking pin fucking ball!”

“Oh dear,” said Skin, looking up from his magazine. “I wish you hadn’t mentioned them.”

“Fucking mentioned fucking who?” whispered Max harshly, only to get her reply straight away as a zombie lurched out of the darkness around her and tried to bite her face off. “Oh fuck me!”

“Relax” said Skin, that insufferable grin still on his face. He pulled the dead man off Max, stuck his hands in the zombie’s mouth and ripped its rotting jaw right off. The zombie backed away, clutching uselessly at the space where its mouth used to be and Skin kicked it even further away for good measure. He held up a spade and offered it to Max.

“C’mon then,” he said with a grin. “Let’s get into it.”

Max looked around to see more zombies shuffling out of the dark corners of the rundown warehouse. Standing in the middle with her back to Skin, Max felt the reassuring weight of the spade in her hand and made a decision. This wasn’t anything dangerous. This was just another game and she could continue to resist. Or she could play along.

Game on.

“Come on then, you rotting motherfuckers!” she snarled at the approaching undead. “Lets see what you’ve got!”

“That’s the fucking spirit!” laughed Skin, dashing forward and attacking the nearest zombies with his bare hands, ripping into them with his fingers and kicking apart their decaying bodies. He ducked and weaved through their feeble attacks, more than a dozen of them falling apart in a matter of seconds.

“Yeah!” yelled Max, taking her own attack to them. She started smacking them over the head with the spade, but soon discovered the sharp edge of it could cut through the flesh with little effort and she started swinging it wildly at them, taking off heads and limbs with ease.

“They’re such a fucking cliché these days!” howled Skin from the other side of the vast room as he flipped over and crushed the skull of the nearest zombie with his heel. “But that doesn’t mean they still can’t be a lot of fun to beat the hell out of!”

“I can dig that,” said Max, moving back over towards Skin, getting in a few more decent headshots as she went. She had been watching zombie films since she was a teenager and there had always been some part of her brain that had thought about how she would survive a zombie apocalypse. She was actually pleased to discover that all that idle thought had not been wasted after all.

She reached Skin and the two of them, mirror images in a way that could never be limited to something as crude as gender or physical appearance, fought back to back again.

“One thing I don’t get,” said Max, slicing through a zombie’s face at eye level. “I make a mention of zombies and next thing we know we’re facing off against the motherfuckers. Is it really all that simple?”

Skin paused to rip out a spine before replying. “Well, one thing my travels through the multiverse have taught me is that things are usually much more simple than they look.”

“So,” said Max thoughtfully. “If I had mentioned scantily, clad Amazon warrior princesses instead of zombies, would we-“

“Oh crap,” said Skin as the zombies vanished and they found themselves at the top steps of a huge Greek temple, surrounded by thousands of scantily clad Amazon warrior princesses. “That wasn’t such a great idea.”

“Really?” said an unconvinced Max, gripping her spade just a little bit harder. “I think it worked out all right.”

The amazons began to march up the steps towards them, raising their weapons.

“We can’t fight women!” said Skin. “Beating down on the undead is easy enough, but I can’t fight females!”

“That’s very sexist of you, Doc.”

“Maybe, but at least I don’t have the libido and fantasies of a freakin’ 16-year-old.”

The first of the caramel-skinned warrior women reached the top of the steps and brandished her blade, snarling in a language Max had never heard before.

Skin suddenly stepped forward. “Ladies! We don’t need to fight! Can’t we all just get along?”

An arrow flew out of the crowd below and embedded itself in Skin’s right shoulder.

He looked at the arrow sticking out of him. Then he looked at the crowd. Then he looked at Max. Then he looked at the arrow. Then he looked back to Max. Then he looked at the arrow again. Then he screamed.

“Oh god! Oh man, that hurts! Take it out, take it out, take it out!”

The warrior women nearest the two of them stifled some laughter and Max joined them until she heard another deep male voice snickering along with them.

Max stopped and turned to see a man in a dark red suit standing in the middle of a vast wasteland laughing at Skin.

“You really are terrible at this, aren’t you?” he said.

As well as the amazons and temple, the arrow had vanished from Skin’s shoulder along with the pain it had created. But Skin barely noticed. He recognized the man. The suit had changed colour again, but the face was the same.

“Let me guess,” said Skin slowly. “You must be Mr Red.”

Mr Red nodded slightly. “You’re getting better at this, Doctor Skin.”

“So I guess you’re here to offer some ridiculously cryptic advice before we move on?”

“No,” said Mr Red calmly. “I’m here to stop you.”

“Whatever,” yawned Max, moving forward with her spade and swinging it at Mr Red’s head. But he caught the blade of the spade, yanked it out of Max’s hands and with little effort, snapped it in two.

“I see,” said Max, just as Mr Red casually slapped her away. Max found herself flying through the air, hitting the ground hard, her face screaming in agony.

“Jesus Christ!” she cried. “Motherfucker broke my jaw!”

“Hardly,” said an unimpressed Mr Red. “You wouldn’t be talking if I broke your jaw. So just lie there and do nothing, you useless piece of shit.”

“Okay,” said Max meekly. She glanced at Skin. “I guess this means we aren’t playing a game anymore, huh?”

“Game over, man,” said Doctor Skin grimly as Mr Red advanced towards him with clenched fists. “Game over.”

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Therapeutic Skin Jobs #21


Chapter 21
Escape into Infinity!

Max squirmed uncomfortably in the wooden seat. “You know, this isn’t exactly what I expected.”

“It never is,” said Dr Skin from the other side of the desk, reaching into his white coat and pulling out a ballpoint pen. “I never seem to end up where I’m supposed to be.”

“I get that. I just didn’t think I would end up in a doctor’s office.”

Skin looked up and around the room, taking in the framed medical certificates, medical instruments and large plastic skeleton in the corner. With a sniff, he pulled a prescription pad out of the desk and started writing on it. “This isn’t my office.”

“I never said it was,” said Max defensively. “It’s just that… I just didn’t think I would end up here
when I stepped through a hole in thin air, you know?”

Skin didn’t look up from his scribbling. “I know what you mean. It’s never what you expect. Somehow, it’s always a lot lamer, like there wasn’t much effort put into it.”

Max rubbed her temple as a headache began to grow. “I just wish there was a point to it, that’s all.”

“Don’t count on it,” said Skin with a wink as he slid the prescription across to Max. She picked it up and read the words on it: ‘DON’T TAKE YOUR EYES OFF THE SCREEN.’

“What fucking screen?” moaned Max, but Skin, who was now sitting beside her, silenced her with a finger to the lips and a harsh hush.

“That fucking screen,” he said, pointing up at the movie screen in front of them. He offered some popcorn to Max, who refused to take any. Skin shrugged and starting shoveling the snack into his mouth.

The empty cinema around them began to darken and Skin laughed, spraying popcorn out of his mouth. “All right! The movie is about to start!”

The transition between the doctor’s office and the cinema had been so smooth Max hadn't even noticed it, but she did see that figures were fading into the seats around them as the screen burst into sudden bright life.

Max nudged Skin. “What kind of movie is this anyway?”

Skin just shushed Max again and slumped back in his seat.

On the screen the movie began with a bang, a huge explosion that was so realistic Max could actually feel the heat of the flames. Max stood and staggered back a step as the blast reached her, but Skin grabbed her, pulling them into the cover of a blast crater.

“What the hell?” screamed Max, momentarily deafened.

Skin yelled just loud enough for Max to hear. “Hurry, they’re coming.”

“Who?” cried Max back, only to see figures emerging from the smoke of the explosion. Dressed in ninja gear with grotesque smiles etched across their black masks in red paint and large submachine guns cradled in their arms. They fired a few shots at Max, their bullets flying high over her head, but she still ducked down in total fear.

“Fucking hell!” she yelled hysterically. “They’re shooting at us! Why are they shooting at me? What the fuck did I ever do to them?”

“It’s okay,” said Dr Skin, whipping out the biggest handgun Max had ever seen. “I’ve got the gun.”

He kissed the barrel of the pistol, then stood up and shot at their attackers. Each shot found its mark, most of them to the head, all of them putting down one of the ninjas with one bullet. Max peered over the edge of the crater to get a better look at the carnage, but couldn’t bear to watch. It was so much worse than she could have imagined, as faces exploded in gore and the men in the ninja suits fell screaming as they died without getting a shot off.

Max fell back into the crater, cradling her ears, not caring if Skin saw the tears that began to form. “Make it stop. Please, make it stop.”

“Oh, don’t be such a wimp,” said Skin, just as the rollercoaster they were on reached the apex of the ride and slid over onto the steep slope.

Max opened her eyes, but shut them tightly again as the roller coaster car picked up speed, shooting down the slope, shaking and rattling as it went.

“I fucking hate roller coasters!” she screamed.

“That’s okay,” said Skin as the g-forces suddenly cut out. Max felt fresh grass under her backside and opened her eyes carefully.

Dr Skin and Max were both sitting right in the middle of a huge, deserted stadium. A slight wind was blowing overhead, although it didn’t touch them.

“Heh,” said Skin, his eyes wide. “That was a fucking rush.”

Max moved around until she was sitting on her knees and dug her fingers into the dirt, squeezing the grass in her hand. “That’s it. I ain’t going anywhere else.”

Skin lay back and put his hands behind his head. “What do you mean?”

“What do I mean?” said Max incredulously. “I mean I just want to stay still for a second, okay? I don’t want to flip between all these different places, I just want to catch my fucking breath!”

“What different places?”

Max looked over at Skin, but realized he didn’t know what she meant. “Um, the roller coaster and the cinema and the doctor’s office and…”

Skin sat up slowly. “Oh wait, now I know what you mean. Huh, that’s weird.”

“You’re telling me.”

“No, not the skipping between worlds. I’m used to that. It’s just that I honestly didn’t notice.”

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.”

“I kinda wish I was,” said Skin. He stood up and began pacing around Max, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “No, everything just seemed to flow between one place and another. It felt just as natural as the difference between one breath and the next.”

He snapped his fingers suddenly, the echo of the snap reverberating around the empty stadium. “Of course!”

Max looked up from where she still gripped the ground. “Of course?”

“I feel so much more… connected. I actually feel like I’m becoming more connected with existence as we move on.”

“How very new age of you,” sneered Max.

Skin ignored her. “But we’re being put through our paces. Everything revolves around conflict and what greater conflict is there than a stranger in a strange place? Well, fuck that! I say bring it on!”

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” said Max, more than a little worried.

“I say it’s the best idea I’ve ever had!” said Skin triumphantly, before screaming into the wide open sky above them. “You hear me? Bring it on!”

All right, says a voice that comes from every direction at once.

Max felt the grass disappear from under her, just slowly enough for her to get in one last moan. “Oh fuck. Here we go again.”