Jack Cole's Higrass Twins 1940: Money Madness! - It's been far too long since I've posted anything new here at Cole's Comics. Most of my comics scholarship and writing energy has been directed towards bo...
Thursday, October 28, 2010
Dusty Video Box Presents: Wedding Blitz
By Melvin .L. Hadley
Before the delicate softness of the prized ivory cloth touched her caramel skin, Mariah Grey was ensnared in a thick web of apprehension. Everything was running together. Something old, borrowed, new and blue went on the ring finger. She would kiss the preacher after being pronounced husband and wife. She would toss the bouquet to her husband afterward, and drive their wedding limo over the threshold of their hotel room.
“Girl, don’t put the veil on yet!” the voice of her best friend and matron of honor, Io, hissed. No doubt the statement was aimed at Janet, another friend and bridesmaid, assisting her into the dress. Mariah had closed her eyes, partially to calm her nerves, and partially because she wanted her reflection in the full-length mirror to be a surprise. She had relinquished full-control of her bridal image to her friends.
“Did you know that the word ‘honeymoon’ came from the idea that sweetness of marriage, like the full moon, fades?”
Mariah suppressed a chuckle. The voice belonged to Christina, Io’s cousin and the third bridesmaid. She was lazily reclining on one of the wooden tables, reading a book about bizarre marriage facts. The quartet was stationed in the small Fellowship Hall of their town’s main church, temporarily converted into a bridal chamber. The tables, usually reserved to serve meals to church members, had all been pushed in various directions to clear room for the mirror, a raised wooden platform to stand on, and make-up cases.
“Aw shut up, Chris.” Io growled. “You just hatin’ on her ‘cause you ain’t got a man crazy enough to marry you.”
Mariah parted her lips to reply, but hesitated. Christina certainly did not deserve such a sour response, as it was she who had put her up to the task in the first place. The subtle irritation was revenge on Io for the dastardly prank she had pulled at the bachelorette party. In truth, it was feeble compared to Io’s extensive trick, but a little satisfaction was better than none at all. The icing on the cake, of course, was that Io thought her cousin was simply pestering Mariah.
“Really?” the table creaked as Christina sat up, baiting her cousin. “Well, here’s another one for you, tailor-made: just two years after marriage, twenty percent of couples have sex fewer than what? Ten times a year!”
“There’s a big difference ‘tween ‘makin’ love’ and having sex, darlin’.” Mariah sensed Io stomping towards Christina behind her. “See, that’s what being a one-man woman gets you, but ya wouldn’t know nothin’ ‘bout that.”
“Can there be peace in the Middle East for just one damn day?!” Janet bellowed, ever the averter of conflict. “I mean, good lord! You’re ruining the mood for our lady in white here! Isn’t that right, Mariah?”
Mariah stammered, reluctant to reveal her co-conspirator status. “Well, I-”
“Look at her, the girl’s already a nervous wreck…she can’t even get her words out right!” Janet continued in a concerned tone, gently rubbing Mariah’s bare back.
Silence blanketed the Fellowship Hall for a long stretch of minutes before Io’s high heels clicked against the marble-like floor, returning to Mariah’s side. The bride could easily visualize the venomous glare the matron was shooting at her cousin as she returned, as Io was never one to lose a war of words. She hoped that Christina had taken the hint to salvage the prank for another time.
She felt Io’s hands quickly perform a last minute adjustment on her hair before gushing excitedly, “Okay, open your eyes!”
Mariah obeyed slowly, and her heart literally skipped a beat. She had to remember to keep breathing.
The bespectacled woman staring back at her was a goddess… the epitome of beauty, gracefulness, and exquisiteness. Suddenly, she was ten years old again, watching her favorite magical girl heroine descend the stairs of her galactic palace and stride into a multi-colored reality in regal form. Her dark brown ringletted hair had been shaped in an elegant bun atop her head, adorned by a shimmering crystal tiara. From the tiara flowed the white veil, mistlike and ethereal, drifting across her bare shoulders and to the back of her ankles. A stunning white sleeveless wedding gown conformed perfectly to her small frame, wrapping her in otherworldly splendor. The blinding gleam of her diamond rose earrings could only be rivaled by the rhinestone bracelet on her right wrist and matching high heeled sandals on her feet.
For this one magical day, she had become the very being that had dominated her childhood daydreams. She was the Queen of the Universe.
But, there was only one thing that would send her realized dream image off-kilter. Her hands lingered over it for mere seconds around her neck, as she decided whether to keep it on or remove it. It was a chocker…a glossy red choker, the color of shimmering ruby, with a shining gold medallion in the center. Etched on the medallion was a butterfly, frozen in mid-flight.
It was a gift from her father.
It was clashing noticeably with her wedding gown.
Her eyes somberly returned to the mirror, to the gown. Her gaze then went to Io, and afterward to Janet and Christina, all in matching sky-blue bridesmaid dresses. This perfect memorable scene, soon to be immortalized in her memories, became blurry. She could not resist the urge to cry. However, she quickly realized that it was not because of the ecstasy of the moment, but a disorienting sadness rising from the depths of her heart.
“Demitria.” She said quietly, her eyes blinking back tears from behind her glasses. “Demitria...she should’ve been here.”
“He’s laughing up there in heaven, Lil’Bit.” Io replied soothingly, hugging her with one arm while gazing into the mirror. “You probably got him and your Mama looking down at ya and saying ‘damn, she is fine!!’.”
This earned a hearty group laugh from the foursome, replenishing joy to the occasion.
“This is going on Youtube!” Janet’s grin stretched across her thin light-brown face as she aimed her cellphone at Mariah. “Get out the way, Yo! Mariah, do something! Dance around or something!”
Mariah twirled around playfully while inspecting herself at various points in the mirror and grinning with childlike exuberance.
“Girl, you put everything on Youtube!” Christina laughed, brandishing a cheap camera from her own purse and quickly snapping a flurry of pictures.
As the bride posed excitedly for the cameras, her eyes fell on Io. The matron of honor was brushing the bangs of her bob-cut from rapidly blinking eyes with one hand, while covering her mouth with the other.
“Yo…” Mariah said softly, brushing the back of her finger against her best friend’s cheek. “I’m supposed to be the one crying…”
“You treat that man right, hear?” Io sniffed, choking back tears. “Y’all…y’all been through too much to just throw this away. Too much. Don’t make this a joke, hear?”
“Yo…” Mariah bowed low, wrapping her arms around her and drew her close in a tight embrace. “You’d be there to tan my hide if I act up. I got nothing to worry about.”
“This bet not end up on Youtube…” Io’s watery eyes stared daggers at Janet over Mariah’s bare shoulder.
“Of course, your reputation as a ghetto brawler is paramount.” Janet snickered, replacing her phone in her purse.
“Here’s somethin’ else to think about.” Christina chimed in. “It costs more to divorce than marry.”
“Ooooo, now I really have a reason to stay with him!” Mariah giggled vigorously. “Is that in that book?”
Christina shook her head solemnly, holding the closed yellow book up as proof. “I thought everybody knew that.”
“Just one more thing you gotta do.” Io slowly withdrew her arms from around Mariah’s neck and wiped her eyes with a finger. “Now that the easy part is over… now comes the hard part.”
She turned to one of the tables near her and picked up a small blue and white box about the size of her palm. Behind her glasses, Mariah’s dark brown eyes widen in stark fear. The moment she had dreaded the most was finally here. She fumbled with her fingers nervously, interlocking them over and over again. Suddenly, she felt another hand settle over hers. Janet was staring up into her eyes, her own look of compassion projecting a calming effect.
“You can do it, Lil Bit.” She whispered. “You’ll get used to them in no time.”
Mariah swallowed audibly. Io held the box of eye contacts in both hands, presenting them to her like a sacrificial offering.
It was the last obstacle for her to overcome as the perfect bride.
The bride’s Wilhelm scream could be clearly heard in the pastor’s cluttered study on the opposite side of the church. The groom, Elijah Robinson, had to pin the arms of his best man, Flynn Jefferson, in full-nelson to prevent him from mounting a rescue.
“C’mon man, stop playin’!” Flynn growled, struggling in Elijah’s wrestling hold. “She could be in some trouble or somethin’! You know your folks’ into that bridal kidnapping stuff!”
“Calm down, dude!” Elijah barked in an annoyed tone. “You’re wrinkling my tux!”
“Some husband you are.” Flynn sniffed as Elijah released him from the hold. “Wife-to-be already screaming for her life, and you just all ‘it’s cool, dude’. Ain’t ya going to check on her?”
“Hey, I don’t appreciate what you implying about my family, man.” Elijah returned to the large rectangular mirror that hung behind the pastor’s oak desk, straightening his black bow tie.
“Your aunt practices voodoo, dude!” Flynn stated the fact in a grim tone. “And your mama’s all into those Ms. Cleo-cards-”
“It’s called embracing culture…of some kind, in their case.” Elijah set a foot on the pastor’s throne-like desk chair, wiping down his shiny black patent leather shoe with a worn rag. “But you’d know that if you went beyond the block once in a-”
There was another horrifying shriek from Mariah, but it was silenced midstream. Flynn recoiled as if he had been struck, while Elijah nonchalantly finished wiping his other shoe.
“That was the other one.” He said with a smirk.
“The other what, college boy?” Flynn asked timidly.
“Eye contact. ‘Riah doesn’t like things around her eyes.” Elijah answered, returning his attention to the mirror while running a brush through his tiny afro.
“Since forever.” Elijah chuckled slightly. “There was like this time, when she woke up with this giant eye booger…nasty thing. I told her about it, but she was too scare to touch it, ‘cause it was close to her eye. When I tried to help her out with it, she nearly broke my arm. You should see her at the optometrist…”
“She’s that bad?”
“Ever heard of this movie called ‘Zombie’?” Elijah straightened the coat of his tuxedo and modeled in the mirror. “It’s one of those old scary films. There’s this scene in the movie, where this white girl’s captured by one of the zombies, and has her eye impaled. It’s on Youtube, if you want to see it…I’m sure somebody uploaded it.”
“I don’t know ‘bout that…” Flynn cringed.
“A big football star like you, scared of little stuff like that?” Elijah teased.
“I’m just not into scary flicks, man.” Flynn snarled, desperately trying to regain his manliness. “Anyway, what that got to do with Lil ‘Bit?”
“Mariah saw that…dude, she freaked out.” Elijah told him, a note of regret trickling into his voice. “She couldn’t sleep for nearly a week, and she went and bought these thick goggles, to protect her in case her eyeballs accidently would get impaled. She went crazy…”
His voice trailed off as his fingers lingered on the surface of the pastor’s desk. Sensing a change in mood, Flynn walked over and placed a comforting arm around the bridegroom.
“You alright, college boy?” he said, concerned etched on his face.
“Just having a moment of clarity…” Elijah said distantly. “Wait a minute…I think that’s the wrong word or context…”
“Ain’t that for alcoholics?”
Elijah nodded, stepping back with his arms outstretched at his sides, presenting himself. “How do I look?”
Flynn smirked, thoughtfully rubbing his thumb and forefinger across his small beard. “Like you about to marry Halle Berry and Oprah at the same time.”
“I am.” Elijah grinned, placing his hands on Flynn’s broad shoulders. “She’s like a Suicide, man…y’know, when you were a kid, and you’d get a fountain drink with all the different flavors mixed together? That’s her. All the things I love about a woman, in one package.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Flynn pressed his lips tightly together and rolled his eyes, failing to hide his irritation.
“Thank you for being my best man, Flynn.” Elijah said solemnly, starring him straight in the eye while squeezing his shoulders for emphasis. “You could’ve turned me down…me and you, we were like the heads of the Capulets and the Montagues, fighting over her-“
“And the best man won.” Flynn interrupted. “I’m not goin’ to lie…I did this for her. But…I know she’s in good hands. After all, you left college for her…”
Just as Elijah was about to respond, a knock thundered on the study door. Elijah’s hands drifted slowly down to his sides as Flynn turned to open it. A large purple hat, decorated with a plethora of flowers, seemed to envelop half of the doorway as a tall female body, clad in a purple skirt suit and matching pumps, entered into the crowded study. The hat-headed being was followed by a middle-aged, slightly rotund, African-American gentleman in a blue and white pinstriped suit and a white bowler hat.
“Everyone’s almost ready, Eli!” a wizened, Southern female voice drawled from beneath the great hat. “Look at you…so handsome!”
“Boy, you got tested like I told you? Sure that child’s yours?” the man guffawed, slapping Elijah good-naturedly on the back. “I’m just messin’ with ya, stepson!”
“Mama…SD…” Elijah smiled weakly. “Thanks for the heads-up.”
“Look like these two were makin’ out!” the older man laughed heartily, wrapping his arm around Flynn’s neck and rubbing his bald head playfully. “Don’t Malachi know about you tw-”
“Mariah, Trevon.” Elijah’s mother removed her giant hat, revealing her gracefully-aged features. “Get her name right, you have to dance at the reception with her.”
“I’m not gay, Mr. Harris.” Flynn muttered through clenched teeth. “I’m looking for a girl right now, but I’m not gay.”
“I was just foolin’ with ya, boy.” Trevon slapped Flynn on the back. “Good natured ribbin’, that’s all-”
“So, how do you like the new Harpercrest?” Elijah asked the newcomers, hoping to diffuse Flynn’s rising temper.
“The amusement park construction, the coming attractions…they’re all nice.” His mother replied. “But the fact that I can walk around here…in broad daylight…without being mugged or molested …that’s the best thing. To enjoy sweet country air, to see walls with no graffiti…I take comfort in knowing that my son is in a safe place now.”
“Hey, whatever happened to that girl?” Trevon interjected, a serious expression on his face for the first time. “What’s her name…the one that chased off the gangbangers?”
“Gossamer, SD.” Elijah answered with an air of wonder. “Her name was Gossamer.”
“How do ya spell that?” Trevon asked curiously.
“Don’t worry about it, knucklehead.” Elijah’s mother patted her husband’s face as if he was a child that did not know any better. “It’s on the building Elijah owns now…the ‘Gossamer Museum’, right?”
Elijah nodded proudly. “We would’ve held the reception there, but the mayor suggested we use the new Ballroom Center instead.”
“As long as that child gets something.” His mother said gravely. “Yeah, you built the museum…but you’d think the mayor would’ve given her a medal or something, for standing up to those criminals…like that miserable Soddom fella …”
She shivered visually, while a look of horror flashed across Trevon’s round face for mere seconds.
Both Elijah and Flynn chuckled weakly, exchanging guilty glances. “I’m sure wherever she retired to, the chick got a huge reward.” Flynn quickly suggested.
“What you know about ‘chicks’, boy?!” Trevon said seriously, before cackling shrilly and adding, “I’m just playin’ with ya, boy!”
“God bless you, baby.” Elijah’s mother leaned over and kissed her son on the cheek. “And Flynn? Keep him in line while you’re up there. I want him making his vows, not making out.”
“I will, Mrs. Robin- I mean, Mrs. Harris.” Flynn smiled, elbowing Elijah teasingly in the ribs.
“I’m gonna steal your woman tonight, stepson!” Trevon teased as he practiced a few line-dance steps, shuffling behind his wife out the door. “You youngblood don’t know nothin’ about charmin’ a woman…don’t know nothin’ about sweepin’ her off her feet!”
As the door slammed shut behind them, best man and groom exchanged baffled glances in silence.
“Suffocation.” Flynn said at last. “I’m goin’ to suffocate that man in his sleep if he calls me ‘gay’ one more time.”
“Stepdad was just ‘foolin with ya’.” Elijah chuckled, imitating Trevon’s gruff voice as he leaned on the pastor’s desk. Closing his eyes, he inhaled and exhaled rapidly several times while slowly waving his hands up and down before his chest, mentally centering himself. Then, he opened them and looked directly at Flynn once again.
“I’m ready to join hands and hearts with her.” He said in a resolute tone.
“Girl, calm down-!”
“-Smudging her makeup, damn! Gotta put it on again!”
“-Don’t get the dress dirty! White can pick up anythi-”
Mariah’s brain was incapable of processing full sentences at the moment. She was in full panic mode, and it was taking all of Christina and Io’s strength just to hold her down on one of the wooden tables. Each cousin held a struggling arm, while Io’s other hand was clamped down on Mariah’s lips to stifle her scream. Janet had quickly mounted the bride, and with surgical precision, had removed her glasses and placed a contact in her left eye. The right eye, however, was proving to be more elusive.
“Open your eye, girl!” Io’s bark rivaled that of any drill sergeant.
“Almost got it opened…” Janet licked her bottom lip. “C’mon, Lil Bit…its okay…it won’t hurt…”
“You want to get married, don’t you?” Christina said compassionately, rubbing Mariah’s left arm.
Mariah’s rhinestone sandals flashed as she kicked furiously in space. She could not help the intense fear that gripped her. Her ultimate nightmare had been brought screaming to life. To poke and prod her very eyeballs…the very thought of such a thing usually sent an arctic chill creeping down her spine.
“Got it!” Janet declared triumphantly with a mild victory whoop.
“God…!” Io sighed as she and Christina released Mariah and backed away a few steps. It took a minute for the bride to regain her bearings, and sit up. It took another to realize that she was seeing clearly, without the ubiquitous frames around her eyes.
“Mariah!” Io snarled with a thunderous clap of her hands. “We practiced this last weekend! What the hell-”
“I was drunk then.” Mariah shrugged weakly, re-positioning her tiara on her hairbun. “Easier, I guess-”
“-Got those people out there thinkin’ we tormentin’ you or somethin’…” Io continued her rant, pacing back and forward nervously. “What’s wrong with you-”
“-like nails on a chalkboard to me.” Mariah shamefully inspected her hands with her new eyesight. “I just don’t like things on my eyeball…I don’t like to even think about that…poking…sticking…slicing…”
“What’s the deal with that, anyway?” Christina piped up. “I thought Eli always thought you were cute with your glasses?”
“It’s a symbolism thing, right Lil’ Bit?” Janet interjected. “She’s comin’ out of her shell, so to speak…she’s ‘naked’ now, without her glasses…”
“Naked?” Christina cocked an eyebrow, visually puzzled.
“Not like literally, genius.” Janet chuckled, holding up Mariah’s eyeglasses. “But like a turtle without a shell…these are a shell to her, see?”
Io grabbed one of the many folding chairs spread about the Fellowship Hall, and placed it on the raised platform in front of the full-length mirror. Turning to face the other three with her arms crossed, she said in a reconciled tone, “Come on. Let’s finish the mission, wife-to-be.”
Mariah could not help but grin at the statement. Helped along by the other two bridesmaids, she walked carefully to the chair, gathered her gown underneath her, and sat down. Immediately, her three friends went to work, reapplying lipstick and other make-up essentials smudged in her earlier struggle. The session only lasted mere minutes. But, as it was about to draw to a close, Janet leaned over before Mariah, dangling a shimmering something before her eyes.
“I thought you’re going to wear this…” she said matter-of-factly.
It was a golden necklace, with a small golden infinity sign pendent. It was a gift from Elijah, on their third date, when they formally establish a romantic relationship. She treasured it, even more than the engagement ring, and wanted to wear it to complete her dream wedding ensemble.
But it had competition.
Her left hand instinctively reached to caress the blood red chocker around her slender neck, ever-present since her last days at Harpercrest High School. Its history was not as rosy as the Infinity Pendent of her lover. In fact, she found herself retracting an earlier thought…it was not so much a gift from her father. He had given it to her days after Demitria’s funeral. Back then, she was lying around the house, teeming with depression and cynicism, and alternating between watching old home videos of her deceased friend and subtitled magical girl anime. The world had become black without the white…bleakness spawned from helplessness. Their originally tight-knitted community had become infected by the societal virus known as crime.
The Disciples, gangbangers…long the scourge of the urban landscape…had descended on Harpercrest as human locusts.
The limited staffing of the local Sheriff Department were no match for the well-armed thugs, and thanks to gaining the support of the corrupt County Commissioner, they had the protection of the law as well. Almost overnight, the secluded country town was transformed into a drug trafficking and distribution center. Like a long, thick dark cloud with no end, fear dominated the townspeople’s lives. Children could not play on the playgrounds, because they had become littered with the gyrating bodies of strung-out junkies, benefiting from successful drug product. The Disciple soldiers enforced curfews, their show of might being the glistening muzzles of their guns. The families that tried to escape the madness would be forced to return under threats of torture and violence.
It only worsened when the civil wars erupted.
When her dad had sat down beside her on her bed that day, she was watching Pretty Sammy. She was trying to lose herself in the colorful world presented, a fantasy world…a world where her best friend was still alive, and the monsters were far from human…they were robotic, alien, demonic. She was only half paying attention, however…she was too busy sobbing quietly to really care.
His coarse hand, the hand of a craftsman, touched her leg gently. After she did not immediately respond, he touched it again.
She had lethargically looked over to him. His usually joyous wide eyes were now lifeless, drained from grieving and the lack of rest; he had been up the many nights that Mariah had cried herself to sleep. In his right hand, he held a shiny red choker, with the golden medallion decorated with an etched butterfly in midflight.
“You were right, baby.” He cautiously held out the choker for her to take.
“Daddy?” she had whispered, confused as she inspected the fashion accessory in his hand.
“I got a plan, Mariah.” Her father had nodded towards the television. “A plan to lift this horror from our town. From our lives. And it is all thanks to you.”
It had taken the young woman only a few seconds to realize what he meant. No. He could not have been serious. It had been a childish suggestion, rising from the despair and desire for retribution for Demitria’s death. She could not believe what he was indicating was even remotely realistic. But yet, time and again over the course of her young life, she had come to believe that her father specialized in the impossible.
Io’s calling of her name snapped the bride out of her mental sojourn. Elijah’s cherished gift still dangled before her eyes, and now all three bridesmaids awaited her decision. Mariah’s golden brown eyes, sans glasses, stared at her mirror doppelganger, looking from the necklace to the choker and back again. After a minute of deliberation, she slowly reached to undo the choker around her neck.
“Your kingdom…is not secure, Princess…” a soft whisper tickled the inside of her left ear.
She froze, her fingers mere centimeters from the neck accessory. Her heart thundered in her chest as bile taunted the back of her throat. No. The cold, monotonous, mechanical resonance of the whisper had to be mistakable. He could not be here.
“Lil Bit…you okay?” Io leaned closer to Mariah’s worried face, her own expression mirroring the bride’s.
Just as the bride was about to respond, she felt something repulsively familiar glide tauntingly across the exposed area above her bosom. It was ice cold metal, traveling downward from the bottom of her neck to the top of her wedding gown. With tears of anger and fear racing out the corner of her eyes, the young woman’s eyes slowly locked on her reflection. It shocked her that she was not surprised by what she discovered next. It was a silvery skeletal metal hand, with dagger-like claws, held over her bosom. The hand was attached to a dark blue robed arm, a piece of midnight in human form.
Io’s lingering look of compassion warped into sheer terror as she learned of the newcomer as well. Before either woman could react, a thunderous crack of a whip deafened their senses. In the literal blink of Mariah’s watering eyes, a shimmering black coil snapped around Io’s neck and snatched her out of view. Mariah stood frozen, her body refusing to move. She listened tearfully as her matron of honor’s string of curses was mercilessly silenced by a horrendous splintering of a table.
With much mental effort, her glossy lips tensed and pulsed as she struggled to part them. Her vocal cords stretched, desperately trying to shake free paralyzing dread. But when her voice escaped, it was only as an insufficient whisper. “Gods bleed ichor.”
“Oh my God!” she heard Christina exclaim from behind. Suddenly, eight black coils, similar to the one that had snatched Io away, filled Mariah’s immediate field of vision, their tips slapping the mirror. Then, in a noise that resembled a roar, they all vanished behind the sitting bride with blinding speed, causing her gown to flutter. There were sounds of a violent struggle, as if someone was swinging something in the air, before a sickening crack of flesh-meet-metal filled the Hall. This was followed by something heavy being tossed in the air, and ending in a ghastly symphony of metal folding chairs falling down on one another.
Janet’s breathless exclamation of “I’ll kill you!” heralded the sounds of a handgun being fired twice. One bullet disappeared in the ceiling directly above Mariah, resulting in a small cloud of plaster falling in her lap. The other streaked past the bride’s right ear in a flash of sizzling heat and slammed through the mirror. Astonishingly, instead of shattering it, the bullet caused a series of large cracks to rip across the reflective surface.
“Gods bleed ichor!” Mariah sobbed louder, hugging herself and trembling. She wanted to save her friends terribly, but knew that she was too slow to do so.
The terrible crack of the coils echoed once again in the Fellowship Hall, this time followed by the sounds of choking. Mariah’s hands dropped to her lap, balling into little fists. Her eyes squeezed shut tightly as she bowed her head, fighting to center herself and regain courage.
“Gods bleed ichor!!” she finally screamed as she quickly rose out of her seat in a fury, her fists trembling at her sides.
The sounds of choking stopped, and something was thrown through the air, slamming into the far wall with a thunderous thud. She heard only two footsteps, and for the skill of her adversary, that was never purposeful; he was not called the Silent Sovereign for nothing. The ice cold metal of his horrible clawed hand caressed her neck and the chocker adorning it. His index finger traced the indented butterfly design as his harsh raspy breathing spawned chills throughout her smaller physique.
“I thought I should come along to witness this occasion.” His droning monotone, resembling that of a child’s Speak-and-Spell computer, taunted. “Apparently, denizens of the underworld don’t receive wedding invitations.”
“Gods bleed ichor.” Mariah said in a shaking voice, starring at the broken mirror. She could only see a mass of midnight blue tattered robes, shifting about as if a living organism, adding to the mystique of her great antagonist.
“That doesn’t work anymore.” he said with a nasty cackle. “But don’t worry; I’m not here to disrupt proceedings. I’m only here to make them much more memorable…”
The bride’s tearful eyes narrowed. “What are you up to?”
There was another wicked chortle. “You know the deal. This is the last episode. The final battle. The last conflict between the ultimate representations of order and chaos…of good and evil…of balance and unbalance. The culmination of your eternal struggle. The climax of act three.”
Mariah turned cautiously, not because of her opponent, but she feared the effect of the chaos revealed would have on her mental state. As her eyes fell on the disheveled Fellowship Hall behind her, she stifled a gasp. Her bridesmaids lay strewn about the overturned wooden tables and folding chairs like discarded trash, unconscious. Io had been thrown through a table like a pro wrestler, and laid on her stomach with her arms splayed above her head. Christina slumbered on her back a few feet from her in a pile of folding chairs, a small pool of blood forming around her upturned head. Janet lay the furthest distance than the others, having been thrown the full-length of the Hall. Her limp body was covered in wood and plaster, her jagged outline seemingly stamped into the wall.
The bride could not help to bare her teeth in trembling fury, a lioness in human form. Her towering adversary stood motionlessly in front of her like a ghost, remorseless of what he had done. A large white motorcyclist-styled helmet, adorned with long, elaborate bull-like horns, enclosed his head completely and hid his facial features. A blue circle was the visor; a black line, pointing up, originated from a dot in the center of the circle, symbolizing a clock at twelve o’clock. The rest of his massive body consisted of ragged dark blue robes that fully concealed the malevolent person within, with a white circle in the center of his chest that mirrored the insignia of his visor.
Mariah faced Harpercrest’s greatest nightmare made flesh and bone.
She stood before Soddom, the Boogey Man of Haywood County.
The multi-colored mass of wedding guests, showcasing their Sunday best, streamed through the rickety swinging doors of the sanctuary to the rendition of “I Will Survive” on the organ. They were assisted to their seats by various male members of the Robinsons…uncles, nephews, cousins, and one black sheep who had decided to leave his female persona at home out of respect of the occasion. The family easily overflowed the groom’s side of the church, warranting a little block of pews set aside on the bride’s side. This was not much of a problem, as Mariah’s family was considerably small, consisting of only her mother’s mother and grandfather, aunt, uncle, and their three children. Her father had no relatives.
Still, the bride’s side managed to become full as well. Many of Harpercrest’s unrelated residents proudly took their seats there, demonstrating eternal gratitude for their shared open secret. They all knew that the young woman wore glasses of a different sort, becoming the sought after champion who rescued them from criminal tyranny. Of course, Elijah’s relatives were ignorant of this fact, and assumed that wedding invitations were distributed to the whole town per some country tradition.
Through this controlled chaos waded Harpercrest’s new mayor’s aide, Roxxy B. Dressed in a white halter-top, tight blue jeans, and sneakers despite the well-dressed proceedings, she searched through the noisy sea of dresses, hats, and suits for her employer. She found the short black man, dressed in his ever-present blue business suit and red tie, exiting the restroom.
“You know you’re wrong, right?” she shouted over the cacophony of voices in the hallway.
“They had the audacity to charge me! Me!” William S. Dutton, the first-ever elected mayor of Harpercrest, snarled with a tug of his suit coat’s lapels. “They thought they were slick, trying to sneak in here and then sneak in a charge!”
“Sir, they were invited!” Roxxy sighed, running her fingers through her dyed blond hair in mild exasperation. “With all due respect…its’ their wedding-”
“Who invites male strippers to their wedding, darling? That’s a tradition I never heard of!” Mayor Dutton sniffed, walking towards the sanctuary. The organist had switched to “Freakout”, with the audience joining in with lyrics. The initial herd of guests rushing the corridor had slowed to a sparse group of stragglers.
“Regardless of their occupation…” Roxxy trailed off, her tall willowy form staggering after him.
“On top of all the expenses for this thing, and both bachelor parties!” the mayor fumed. “I’m the one personally paying for that room those girls destroyed! I don’t see anybody volunteering to cover that!
“Sir, there should be more than enough in the money the town raised.” The aide noted.
The short man stopped before the double doors of the sanctuary, bowing his head. “Please don’t remind me.” He said in mock-weariness. “If only we could get such a response out of ‘em all the time…”
Roxxy grinned. “In this case, it’s well worth it… for all she’s done. You know it.”
Just then, the swinging door was shoved forward, roughly throttling the mayor against the wall. A small figure, clad in a white dress shirt and black slacks, dashed forward madly down the hallway, only to trip and fall full-length to the floor. A larger, adult-sized figure followed, jumping on top of the other and pinning him to the ground with his right knee.
“Don’t ever run from a quarterback, boy!” the larger figure, revealed to be Flynn Jefferson, boomed proudly. “Now, give me the ring back, punk!”
“I was playing, Uncle Flynn!” the smaller figure, revealed to be the young ring bearer, screeched. “I wasn’t goin’ to do nothin’!”
“I know Mr. Campbell! You can’t pawn these rings, anyway!” Flynn dug into the child’s pocket and pulled out the shimmering diamond wedding rings. “Grandma would’ve torn your butt up!”
“Are you alright, sir?” Roxxy asked, visually concerned, as the mayor stepped from the wall in a daze.
“There’s a special place in Hell for people who mess with weddings, darling.” Mayor Dutton, nursing his forehead, stumbled over to where the boy was pinned and stared down at him. “You’ll get a flaming hot throne right next to the one reserved for Elizabeth Taylor…”
“You got him?” Elijah exploded through the swinging doors and stopped, giving curt nods to Roxxy and the mayor.
“Yeah, got your entrepreneur right here.” Flynn tauntingly grinded his knee deeper into his nephew’s back, causing him to whine in agony.
“Got the rings?” the groom asked nervously.
Flynn nodded, rising up quickly and hoisting his nephew to his feet by his shirt tail. “In my pocket.”
Elijah nodded distantly, and turned towards the double doors. Then, as if an afterthought, he turned back to the mayor.
“Can’t believe I almost forgot.” He said. “I have a favor to ask, Mr. Dutton…on top of all you and the town has done for us…”
The mayor fought to hide his look of annoyance. “Well?”
“Give away Mariah at the altar.” Elijah said solemnly.
Mayor Dutton looked like a deer caught in headlights. “I…I’d be honored, darling! But…what happened? I…I thought…I thought her father…”
Elijah shook his head, a scowl on his face. “We thought…we thought he would…return. But …he disappeared. Left no contact numbers of any kind…”
“What about your dad? Is it alright with-”
“We…me and Mariah…thought it would be better if you did it.” Elijah smiled slightly. “WE would be honored if you did.”
“Well…I don’t know what to say, darling…” the mayor trailed off, bashfully rubbing the back of his neck.
“It makes sense really.” Roxxy noted. “The mayor is essentially the father of the town, and for all the bride did for us…she’s like a favored daughter of sorts…”
“I think we need to be takin’ our places.” Flynn interjected. “Before the guy playin’ the piano gets into the Cameo collection…”
“Organ, man.” Elijah corrected as he opened one of the doors. He pointed in the opposite direction of the corridor, towards the double glass entrance doors. “The bridal party’s supposed to line up there.”
Beaming, Mayor Dutton pivoted on his heel towards the entrance doors. After taking a few steps, he turned with a wagging index finger.
“Oh, forgot to mention…tuxedos are for evening weddings.” He said solemnly, before turning and marching towards the church entrance.
“Oh damn…” Elijah looked down at his ensemble, terrified.
“He was just joking!” Roxxy waved him towards the sanctuary doors. “The mayor has a weird sense of humor-”
“No, he’s right.” Flynn chimed in. “I heard that-”
“Get up there!” Roxxy growled, ever the professional, as she shoved both men through the double doors. However, as the ringbearer tried to follow, he found a vise-like grip clamped on his little shoulder.
“Your services are no longer needed, you little sneak.” Roxxy snarled, pushing the squirming boy through the swinging doors. “You’re sitting with me.”
As the bride stood face-to-face with her eternal adversary, she could not help to curse herself for her pessimism. She now realized why she had continued wearing the chocker. Deep down, she distrusted this bright, new world she had finally earned. The happy ending, a staple of most fairy tales, had now manifested in her reality, and she felt that it was much too convenient. Her underprivileged hometown was now being revitalized by the tourist trade. All the criminals had been captured or chased away, and all of Soddom’s metal monstrosities had been destroyed. She was about to marry the love of her life, and was soon planning to return to college next fall.
Essentially, all the checkboxes of her dream list had been filled. And yet, in a twisted way, she felt relief to find something out of place in her now perfect world. It made the rage she felt multi-faceted; while she was angry for Soddom’s horrendous attack, she was also secretly angry at herself for justifying it with doubt.
“I have violently disposed of your vapid friends, destroyed your bridal chamber, and stand to batter you senseless.” Soddom droned. “You have the motivation to challenge me, but yet you stand motionless.” Every time he spoke, the line on his helmet would light up in a multi-colored row, lengthening or shrinking per the duration of oral word.
“You’re dead.” Mariah said quietly, visually struggling to maintain her cool. “We agreed on that.”
“But I’ve been resurrected…by the Gods of Gomorrah, for one last shot.” The Silent Sovereign chuckled. “I have the essence of-”
“You’re lying!!” the bride stamped her foot, exploded in sobbing rage. “There was no such thing, you just made that up-”
Before the young woman could continue, the wraithlike robes of Soddom shifted forward. A horde of shimmering black coils erupted from within, slicing through the air towards her in the space of an eye blink. Before Mariah’s brain could even consider recoiling for protection, the coils retracted into the floating mass of ragged robes. As the bride exhaled a ragged gasp, a tiny piece of her beloved wedding gown silently fluttered to the floor.
As her weeping eyes locked on to the shredded piece of white, the young woman sobbed in horror, trembling helplessly before her assailant.
“If you interrupt me again, I will render your gown to shreds!” the ragged being boomed. “As I was saying…I am now empowered by the essence of my planet’s Gods of Evil! I am fifty times more powerful now, Gossamer…much more powerful than when I destroyed your beloved kingdom of Saint Haven, much more powerful than when we fought above the streets of your beloved town!”
“It’s not fair…” Mariah wailed. “We’ve already had the final battle, you’re already dead, Soddom Manor burned to the ground…”
“I’ve told you, my beautiful adversary, I was resurrected by the Gods of my dark planet! Now…I am here to finally put an end to our game!”
At that word, the bride’s lips parted then closed just as quickly. She had uttered the “safephrase” they both had agreed on several times in this encounter, and yet, it was having no effect. The monster had become complete, the sum total of its terrible parts. This “god” was refusing to “bleed ichor,” refusing to return to his normal human side.
With frightening realization, Mariah began to realize that the man in the midnight blue robes had become the mask.
“Daddy!!” she screamed tearfully. “Stop this! It’s over! Soddom’s dead! We accomplished what we set out to do!”
The helmeted head of Soddom cocked to the side for a second, as if considering the last statement. Then, with an audible sniff, he chuckled sinisterly. “You really think a game of mental chess will stave off the inevitable?”
“Daddy…why are you doing this?!” Mariah cried exasperatedly. “You hurt my friends! You’re ruining the ceremony!”
“Enough haggling.” Soddom snarled coldly, taking a silent step towards the disturbed bride. “Transform.”
“N-No!” the bride declared, instinctively taking a step back. Her mind mentally retreated, returning to the evening when she had first received the chocker. She had followed her father down to his basement workshop, so that he could elaborate on his massive plan. Waving away the smell of wood and other unknown chemicals from her nostrils, she watched him sit down at his work desk, and unfurl two poster-sized diagrams he had drawn.
“It’s really simple, Princess.” He had said, all seriousness, his voice devoid of his trademark joking. “You’ll be like Pretty Sammy and Sailor V…a magical girl…”
“Daddy, I know you’re good…but-” her voice had projected healthy skepticism.
“I got the technology, baby!” he had become excited. “Strength-enhancing technology that can tap into your nervous system, bullet-proof material built from nanotechnology, and weaponry…I can build that too.”
“The costume’s kind off skimpy…” she had noted, staring nervously at the diagram with her outfit on it.
“That’s the point, honey.” He had said. “Distraction. Those Disciples are hardened gangsters…but they’re horny young men as-”
“What’s this?” she had turned her attention to the second diagram, showcasing a menacing helmeted figure in ragged robes.
He had smiled slightly, before becoming solemn. “This is Soddom…leader of the Synful Syndicate, and your archenemy.”
Her mouth had dropped. Before she could say anything, he had interrupted. “See, the plan is this. The Disciples are at war, and one of the leaders is now dead. One constant in history is that people rally around icons…symbols. A person can become immortalized as an icon under the right circumstances.”
“Right circumstances?” she had repeated.
Her father had nodded. “Like…a vacuum in the leadership structure. But…that’s further along in the plan. First, we have to introduce an escalation factor-”
“Daddy, you’re talking in riddles here…”
“It’s one of those things I picked up on when I was really into Batman comics. Look, you got a man in a bat costume, fighting regular criminals, right? The deal is, Batman has all this power going for him because of mystique; without any powers whatsoever, he gains immortality and godlike abilities…because in costume, he become erased of mundane human characteristics. He becomes an icon. An icon, a symbol… can’t be erased, can’t be destroyed. Don’t believe me? Nazi Swastika. Hitler’s been dead for decades, and yet, the Swastika isn’t going anywhere.”
“But it’s a bastardization of someone else’s symbol.” She had protested.
“Maybe, but it’s now the Nazis’.” Her father had replied. “And I’m getting off point there. Point is…criminals started seeing the power that Batman the symbol, the icon, had gained, and thus tried to emulate it. So, they started wearing costumes. Joker. Scarecrow. Black Mask. Riddler. So you have icons versus icons, all immortalized. That’s what we’re going for, honey…icon versus icon. You will be the symbol that all those murdering sons of bitches have to rally against. And I…I will be the symbol that will unite them under one banner…to fight against you.”
She had become silent, mentally staggering as she let it all sink in. Her father had placed a comforting hand on her shoulder and stared up into her eyes.
“You will be on your own for just a little while, honey.” He had said softly. “But once I gain control of the Disciples…we will control all the factors. We will write the episodes of this ‘series’. It will be our own little game.”
“Game?” she had practically spat. “There is no game…in justice.”
A crack of a black coil returned her to reality. Soddom had closed the gap between them, his huge mass of thrashing ragged robes towering over her petite figure. She was now staring into the singular blue spot on the visor, the inhuman eye of Harpercrest’s living nightmare.
“Transform!” his modulated voice commanded in an almost pleading tone, as if a junkie seeking a fix.
“No!” she snarled adamantly.
“You little hussy!!” her enemy, formerly her father, growled. His cold, clawlike hand was around her throat before she could react. A mass of withering coils lashed out from the ragged robes, covering the entire Fellowship Hall area as one massive living shadow that consumed everything within.
Upon the thousandth pace up the entrance staircase, Mayor Dutton found himself startled by the sudden silent entrance of the bridal party. Like ethereal phantoms, they seemed to appear from nowhere on the church lawn in single file, with the ringbearer at the head. Behind him were the flower girl (who was Janet’s daughter), Mariah’s three bridesmaids, and finally, the veiled bride herself in her stunning wedding gown.
“I heard of unfashionably late…if that was what you were going for?” the mayor said as he shuffled with wide strides to his place beside the bride. He tried to peer through the veil to see Mariah’s face, but was unsuccessful.
The bride said nothing, only staring straight ahead.
“It’s okay to be nervous, you know.” The mayor continued. “Hey, the bridesmaids are supposed to be in front of the flower girl.”
In eerie robotic unison, the three bridesmaids stepped out of line, stiffly walked ahead of the flower girl, and stood before her. Bewildered, the mayor stepped from his position and quickly walked up to where the matron of honor stood. She was staring straight ahead, a blank expression on her face.
“I said…’the bridesmaids are supposed to be in front of the flower girl’.” Mayor Dutton repeated, gauging Io’s reaction.
“I heard you.” Io said, her gaze unwavering.
A smile teased the corners of the mayor’s mouth. “You don’t understand, darling. I gave you a suggestion…and you didn’t sass me.”
“Okay.” Io replied in a bored monotone.
“Okay.” The mayor clapped his hands and rubbed them together in mild triumph. “Guess everybody’s nervous.”
As he returned to his position beside the bride, ushers opened the glass entrance doors of the church. The procession was ready. With inhuman precision, the bridal party began to march into the church. The matron of honor and the bridesmaids were first, followed by the flower girl tossing her pedals and the ringbearer. The organ music could be heard as soon as Mayor Dutton neared the sanctuary doors.
But it was not the traditional Bridal March.
“What the hell we marching to, darling?” he asked one of the ushers he passed.
“‘Can You Read My Mind’.” the usher responded, visually confused. “All I know is that Eli requested it…some song from that old Superman movie…the one from the seventies.”
“Superman movie?!” Mayor Dutton snarled, causing some of the wedding guests’ heads to snap towards his direction. “This a sacred occasion and he’s playing a damn cartoon song?!”
However, as he and the bride neared the altar, Mayor Dutton glimpsed Roxxy sitting a row behind the bride’s family. She made a silent motion of an index finger sliding across her throat, a look of astonishment on her face. Sighing quietly, Dutton embraced his role as the father stand-in, and with a toothy grin, gave the bride away to a beaming Elijah. That was what he had hired Roxxy for, anyway…to be his Jiminy Cricket in tight blue jeans.
However, had he continued to pay attention to his assistant, he would have realized that the true ringbearer had been stripped of his duties, and was sitting next to her.
Can you read my mind?
Do you know what you do to me?
She could hear the piercing growl of metal against metal, and see the blinding white hot sparks fly. She could see her father, in his black safety goggles and protective clothing, halting his grinding to refer to his diagram at periodic intervals. Meanwhile, as she watches, she forges the secret origin of Harpercrest’s greatest criminal mastermind simultaneously, literally the opposite of such mundane reality. His armor and weaponry were gifts from the Gods of Gomorrah, the doomed planetary empire he ruled. He had come to Earth to recruit minions to help him take it over. And those minions…were the Disciples.
Don’t know who you are,
Just a friend from another star.
She could see Eli stocking the school supplies at the University Bookstore, in his red and green clerk uniform. Having finished his task, he walks over to her, failing to hide his bashfulness. She was blushing deeply herself, having been caught red-handed; after all, this was the fifth time she had wandered the aisle that day. When he speaks, his voice squeaks slightly with nervousness. His warm brown eyes flicker slightly as he mentally searches for the perfect icebreaker. He then mentions the song playing on the store’s speaker system, noting that it originated from the first Superman movie.
Here I am like a kid in school,
Holding hands with a god, I’m a fool
She could see her father beaming proudly over their early morning breakfast of eggs and pancakes at the local diner. She, however, is extremely terrified and agonized. The former gangbangers, now members of the Synful Syndicate, had captured and tortured her…on his orders. Her father’s triumphant smile vanishes as his expression turns grim. He points out that both of their “roles” include some sacrifice, such as the “heroine” sometimes being captured. He adds that he cannot jeopardize his credibility with the Syndicate, not when the plan is bearing fruit. Choking back tears, she leaps up from the booth where they are sitting, and prepares to stomp off. He says nothing, but slides a folded sheet of notebook paper to her side of the table. Thinking of Darren, she reluctantly snatches and unfolds it. It reveals the next “episode” to be a scenario involving a drug factory on the edge of town, and a pre-planned battle with General Tuzok(formerly the hardcore Disciple lieutenant Little Crazy).
Will you look at me, quivering,
Like a little girl, shivering?
She could see Eli smiling down at her as they watch “Superman” at a get-together at the University Center. On screen, the Man of Steel was flying with Lois Lane as the orchestra swelled in a musical score. It was the same song that played over the store’s speakers when she and Eli first met. Unconsciously, she snuggles closer to him, her glasses bending slightly as she leaned her head on his shoulder.
You can see right through me…
It took Mariah a few minutes to realize that she was instinctively singing the words to the song being played on the organ. There was now sound from beyond the Fellowship Hall.
The bride was horrified, as it confirmed two things for her. The first was that her father had used a “sound bubble” around the Hall, to keep the noise from the attack muted. The second was that the ceremony had begun without its bride.
Her eyes snapped open to a world of slithering, squirming darkness. She could feel the coils slide about her limbs and body, and hold her aloft by her arms and legs. But they bestowed her with no sense of space, distance, or time. Was this a new technology her father had developed? Was she staring at the edge of a gaping black hole of some kind?
“Daddy!” she squealed. “Where are you?!”
A blue oval suddenly materialized before her, with a multi-colored line pointed upward. “Your life is in peril. You now lay suspended before my pocket black hole. Transform, and you can escape.”
“No!” Mariah snarled.
“How difficult are you going to make this?!” the blue oval vibrated with fury. “I have your friends ensnarled in my dastardly coils as well. Are you willing to sacrifice them to an extradimensional doom?!”
“Daddy…we grew up together!” Mariah screamed. “We’re best friends! Io’s like a sister…like a sister to me!”
“I am not your father!” the oval boomed. “I am your conqueror! The ruler of Gomorrah, I am-”
“Darren.” Mariah said quietly. “Demitra, Daddy. That was what this…all of this, was all about.”
Suddenly, the blue orb vanished into ether. The void shifted and bucked like a giant wave of black, before the shimmering black coils slowly began to withdraw. Within minutes, enough of them had recoiled to where the Fellowship Hall had come into view. Fearfully, Mariah watched as the coils retreated, uncovering the still slumbering bodies of Io, Christina, and Janet in their uncomfortable positions. Delicately, the four coils suspending her above the floor placed her on her feet. Then they, with the remaining mass of coils, vanished into the robes of Soddom in one giant wave.
Mariah blinked rapidly, at a loss for words. Soddom stood merely a few feet from her, in the center of the Fellowship Hall disaster, unmoving. It was as if he was a monstrous apparition, frozen in time to frighten infinite generations.
She took a shaky step forward, a confusing step; she did not know whether to react to him, or race to her friends’ aid.
The Boogeyman of Harpercrest bent slightly, the blue oval of his helmet locking on to her face. One sinisterly glinting claw reached up to his mask with a finger of silence, while his other hand waved towards the sanctuary next door. Mariah’s brown eyes grew wide as saucers as the sound next door increased in volume, like a radio being turned full blast. Her reaction, however, was not because of the wonder of her father’s sound manipulation.
It was because the marriage vows were being exchanged.