All Sounds The Same
He couldn’t breathe.
A Griffin was standing on Doctor Skin’s chest, crushing the life out of him, its multi-species body pushing down with its claws.
Skin struggled to catch a breath, but the Griffin leaned in further, putting even more pressure on him.
The eagle head moved in towards his face. Skin could see small scraps of flesh caught on the end of the mythical creature’s beak and the stench of rotting meat on its breath.
The massive beak came closer and Skin tried to move away, but the weight was becoming unbearable and he couldn’t move a muscle, no matter how much he wanted to.
The Griffin somehow managed to smile with its beak and spoke to him in a surprisingly high voice. “Time to wake up now, Doctor. You can’t lie around all day.”
The weight vanished from his chest as the Griffin vanished in a gray fog. The fog enveloped Skin and he enjoyed a timeless moment of oblivion before being dragged back down to cold, hard reality.
It was the pain in his neck that he noticed first, but the unbearable agony of a broken left leg soon made itself known. Skin was being dragged down a long, dimly lit corridor by two people, one holding him up by each arm. With his feet dragging behind him, the angle of his leg kept bending back and sending more pain shooting up his spine. Skin tried to scream, but his mouth was clogged with blood flowing from the space where three of his back teeth used to be.
Unable to fight back, Skin let himself be dragged down the hallway until the men carrying him slammed open a pair of double doors with his head and carried him through, dumping him on the concrete floor.
“Gaaaaahh!” moaned Skin as the two men walked back though the double doors, leaving him alone. With almost every part of his body screaming in anguish, he decided that laying perfectly still was the only sane response.
He heard somebody approaching him, the heels of immaculately kept shoes tapping along the floor towards him. With the greatest of effort he raised his head to try and see the new arrival, but only caught sight of the man’s shoes. They were just as well polished as Skin expected.
“Get up,” said the man standing over Skin, kneeling down beside him and talking in a low, gravelly tone. “Get on your feet.”
“Can’t,” groaned Skin, his head falling back down with a thud.
“You’re not hurt, you’re fine.”
And just like that, the pain vanished. Skin actually felt the bones in his leg knit themselves back together as all his other injuries disappeared. Skin tried to stand, but he still felt weak and only managed it onto one knee.
“Come on, Doctor Skin,” said the man, who Skin now saw was wearing a dark green suit, cut in a slightly old-fashioned style. “Get up, stand up. Let’s get going.”
Skin took a deep, slow breath, then got to his feet. He swayed a little more than he expected to, but managed to stay upright.
The man in the green suit was bald and had extremely thin lips with bright green eyes. He smiled a thin smile at Skin. “There you go. I really don’t know what the fuss was all about.”
“I had the shit kicked out of me,” said Skin flatly. He remembered the beating he had received from the pack of teenagers with a shiver. After his super-powered battle he had expected them to be a simple task, but he hadn’t managed to land a single blow on them. They had danced around him, hitting him with surprisingly strong punches and kicks. Their attack had eventually worn him down and when they had him on his knees they stepped up their attack, laying into him without hesitation or mercy.
“Ah yes,” said the man in the green suit. “I’m awfully sorry about that. The boys do get a little enthusiastic sometimes.”
“They were yours?” snarled Skin, stepping forward, anger building.
The man in the green suit laughed at him.
“Take it easy, Doctor. I gave the Nemesiz Boyz their abilities to replicate the skills and abilities of anyone they come into contact with and they easily took you down. You would not stand a chance against me, their master.”
Something about the man’s body language left no doubt in Skin’s mind that he spoke the truth. Unable to attack him physically, Skin stepped back and repressed a smirk. “Nemesiz Boyz?”
“Sorry about the ‘z’. I gave them their ability, but they chose their own name. I got the idea for their power from a comic book, you know.”
“Really,” said Skin, arching an eyebrow.
“I get all my best ideas from comic books,” said the man a little defensively. He offered his hand to Skin. “I don’t really have a name, but you can call me Mr Green. If you like.”
Skin shrugged. “Whatever.”
He looked around the room, where dark green velvet curtains covered most of the wall, although large paintings that he somehow couldn't focus on were scattered around the room.
Mr Green smiled his thin smile as he saw Skin’s eye catch on one of the paintings. “Go on. Have a closer look.”
Skin moved to one of the pictures and realized it was not a painting at all, but something else. It wasn’t quite a photograph, but an odd mixture of the animate and the inanimate, somewhere halfway between an illustration and a real life shot.
The picture itself depicted an epic battle, with the armies involved wearing uniforms Skin did not recognize and using weapons that looked far beyond anything he had ever seen. As he looked closer, the picture moved slowly into life and Skin could see the battle begin to unfold. He saw it all in the most complete detail, death and honour on a huge scale.
Skin moved onto the next picture and saw it was the same kind, but a completely different subject matter. He saw a lone man standing on a small hill as the sun set behind him and thousands of zombies crawled up the hill towards him.
Each picture showed something different, but Skin quickly tired of their clichés and turned back to Mr Green. “Yeah? So?”
“Just my own little slices of fiction,” said Mr Green. “A small amusement, little more.”
“Good for you,” said Skin. He looked around, but he couldn’t see any way out of the room, not even the doors he had come in through. “All right, Greenie. So what’s this about?”
Something in Mr Green’s eyes shifted gears. “I want to help you move on. I know what you’re looking for.”
“Really? You mind telling me? Because I really don’t have a fucking clue what I’m looking for.”
“If you don’t know, I can’t tell you.”
“Fine. So you want to help. That doesn’t explain why you had your ugly little boys dance the tango on my face.”
“They get a little enthusiastic sometimes. They are teenagers, after all.”
“Fine. So they’re teenagers. So you want to help. What does that mean?”
“One question. You give me the answer and I’ll show you the next step. Answer it and you will win fabulous prizes. Answer it and you can go.”
Doctor Skin glanced around again for an exit. Still coming up short, he turned back to Mr Green,
“Fine. Go ahead. Ask your question.”
Mr Green tilted his head very slightly, his eyes narrowing. “Okay, Doctor Skin. Tell me this…”
Skin waited patiently as Mr Green seem to pause for dramatic effect before speaking again.
“What do you believe in?”
Doctor Skin almost laughed out loud. “That’s it? That’s all you want to know?”
“That’s it. That’s all I ever need to know.”
Skin shrugged. “All right. Well, I guess I believe in personal responsibility.”
“That’s it?” said a disappointed Mr Green. “That’s al-“
“And I believe in love and all the power and beauty involved.”
“Ah. So you-“
“I believe in an universal absolute that gets us through the day and makes things just that little bit easier. I believe that hate gets you nowhere and tolerance is a given. I believe that breakfast radio presenters should get no mercy, that the oldest stories are always the best and we should all have given up once Gilgamesh’s saga ended. I believe that Jimi Hendrix was the greatest guitarist ever and everything sounds the same these days, but that might just be because I’m turning into an old fart.”
“Yes, well…” said Mr Green, trying to cut Skin off, but he was on a roll now and started pacing, counting off his beliefs on his fingers.
“I believe that chocolate and potato chips always taste better when they are stolen and that no problem was ever really solved by killing somebody, just made worse.”
“I really think I’ve heard enough,” said Mr Green, raising his hands in protest.
“I believe in treating people as you want to be treated.”
“I believe that nothing that tastes that good can ever be that bad for you.”
“I believe in myself.”
“Oh bugger this,” said Mr Green. Pulling a flick-knife out of his suit pocket he pulled the blade out and raised it.
Skin didn’t even notice. “I believe in everybody else.”
Mr Green brought the knife back down towards his own face and sliced open his right eyeball. That got Skin’s attention.
“Fucking hell! I’m not that bad, am I?
Carefully putting the knife back into his suit pocket, Mr Green turned to Skin as blood and eye fluid leaked from the wound. “Oh yes. All that and more.”
He reached inside his ruined eye with two of his fingers and pulled something out. It grew in his palm as he handed it over to Skin.
“Take this key. Go through the door behind me. Follow the green line and keep to the left. When you get to the big sign that says ‘NEXT DIMENSION THROUGH HERE,' use the key.”
Skin looked at the object Mr Green had given him. “This isn’t a key. This is a doorknob.”
“Bugger,” said Mr Green, shaking his head. “I’m always getting that one wrong. “The doorknob is for the next quest.”
He ripped out his other eye and reached in for the key. He handed it to Skin, still dripping with gore. Doctor Skin took it as he dropped the doorknob, holding the key out from him.
Mr Green smiled, the blood and mucus flowing around his thin lips. “Oh, and I wasn’t joking about the fabulous prizes. You’ll find them in there.
He raised his blind face to the roof. “Go. Go. Go.”
Skin moved around Mr Green, who remained standing still. Finding the door behind him, he moved on without looking back.
The green line stood out clearly on the floor, just as Mr Green had told him it would. Skin followed in as the line went down the corridor, which split in several directions, but the green line went in only one. At one point two other lines, a yellow and a red, joined the green, but they soon went their own ways.
Eventually, the green line stopped at a large wooden door, with the words “WELL COME” written on them in large lettering. Beneath it, in tiny script, as promised, the words “Next Dimension Through Here.”
“Why not?” said Dr Skin, trying the door, only to find it locked.
“Oh yeah,” he mumbled, fishing the key out of his trouser pocket and fitting it in the hole. Turning the key, he shoved on the door, but it still stuck fast.
“The hell with this,” said Skin, kicking the door in, the hinges snapping off. As he stepped over it, Skin finally noticed the word 'pull' stenciled in just above the handle.
The room inside was simple enough, although the large colorful spiral vortex in the middle of the room was something most rooms managed to avoid. In front of the vortex sat a large, old and very battered suitcase.
Stepping forward cautiously, Skin pushed open the lid of the suitcase with the bottom of his foot.
Inside the suitcase were a bunch of old comic books, novels, video tapes and DVDs. Leaning forward and rummaging through them, Skin realized he recognized every single one of them.
Skin smiled. He knew exactly what he had to do.
Picking up the suitcase, Doctor Skin stepped forward, took a deep breath and walked through the portal.