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Chapter 4.1

Hello. I’m kind of too distracted to blog much, and I have no interest in politics, so I’m posting more novel chapters. Hope you don’t mind. It won’t be all novel all the time, I promise. But your comments on my book are wildly helpful, and I’m addicted to them.

I’m going back to the original chapter numbering scheme and combining all 12,000 words of the original chapter three into one piece again. This is the first of two parts of the original Chapter 4. It begins with nudity. Enjoy.

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David was naked, and he wasn’t sure why.

He looked down and saw his shoes were gone. He remembered that. His feet had been bulging and his shoes had fallen by the wayside somewhere up the street. His arms had both inflated, which explained his missing shirt. What about the pants? He thought. Even the underpants?

It was only then that he realized that this time, the transformation had included his whole body.

A cloud had lifted, yet David was in a darker place than he had ever been. With unflinching clarity, he recognized the enormity of his sins, and the crushing guilt had returned, ten times stronger than it was before.

Please let someone else have done this, he prayed. Let this be a dream. Or a movie. Or let me take it all back.

And if all that fails, at least let me die.

He had lost both his size and his bloodlust in an instant, the moment he saw his prey vanish into the skies, carried aloft by a brown and gold man with shiny white calves. He had seen a sheet come floating back down to earth and snatched it before it had hit the ground. He draped it around his exposed waist the way he wore a towel after coming out of the shower. He skulked off into a dark alley, away from the prying eyes of the police who had descended en masse on the scene of the crime, along with hordes of vans and cameras and loud, important-sounding baritones, each pontificating to their broadcast audiences about What It All Means.

As he made his way toward an empty alley, he saw a bloody, severed arm trapped between a cement wall and a Chevrolet. It was too much – he threw up and then stepped in the bile as he made his way toward the village outskirts.

The smell of the vomit, some of which still dripped from his bare and hairless chest, may have been what dissuaded most of the passers-by from stopping and questioning him, and given his scrawny, pathetic, half-clad appearance, no one could have imagined that he had been the one hurling cars just a few minutes earlier. One diligent policeman stopped and asked if he’d been hurt, or if he’d seen the incident firsthand. David used the opportunity to stare down at the ground and, when the cop seemed determined to stay put until he got an answer, he held out his hand.

“Spare change, mister?” he asked plaintively.

The cop hemmed and hawed before heading off to something more urgent.

David buried his face in his hands and tried his best not to cry. He failed.

_________________

“Emergency room!”

“What?!!” Over the wind, Jeff thought she was speaking nonsense. Something about mushrooms…?

Clearly exasperated, Lisa motioned downward toward the ER entrance. “There!” she yelled.

Jeff saw, nodded, and slowed down to make a comfortable descent for both his passengers. He floated, feet-first, through the emergency room doors and made a soft landing right in front of the nurse’s station. He stooped to let Lisa slide off his back down to the ground, and she tried to smooth out her tattered skirt, which had not been designed for high-speed air travel.

Jeff spoke. No, he proclaimed. “This…citizen needs a doctor!” He held Vikki in as heroic a pose as he could muster, trying to mimic Superman’s stance as he held his cousin Supergirl after she had been felled in the first Crisis on Infinite Earths. Walthius was right – the classics would guide him through this. He had never used the word “citizen” in formal conversation before, but it seemed like the thing that Kal-El would do. He deepened his voice and was speaking in something akin to an English accent. He thought it sounded commanding.

Yes, commanding. Confident. Captainy.

In his mind, it also made sure that Lisa wouldn’t penetrate his disguise. What it didn’t do was get anybody in the hospital to move. They just stood there, slack-jawed, not quite able to adapt to the process of accepting patients who had just fallen out of the sky. They were gaping at him like he was some kind of mutant.

“Hurry!” he shouted, losing his newly acquired aristocratic dignity.

“Easy there, Jumper,” Lisa whispered softly. She walked up to the head nurse and said, matter-of-factly, “She needs help. Her arm’s broken badly, and I think she’s in a deep state of shock.”

The attending nurse nodded, picked up the phone, and within seconds, a stretcher appeared and whisked Vikki away into the bowels of the hospital. Lisa stayed at the station and started filling out forms.

Jeff took off his glasses and wiped them on his spandex-like uniform, which only smeared the water on them and made the visibility worse. Once he got them back on his face, he struggled with what to do with his hands. He balled them into fists and placed them on the side of his hips, but he wasn’t sure where to take it from there. He wished he had pockets. He finally let his arms dangle awkwardly on either side.

Then he looked around and saw that everyone was still staring. He was all-powerful, yet he felt like a leper.

This isn’t how I wanted to make my debut, he thought.

He found a tissue in a box on the waiting room table, near where a little boy was playing with a small plastic airplane. The boy ran with the plane making jet engine noises, and he almost bumped into Jeff’s knees. Jeff smiled at him weakly, which was too much for the tyke’s agitated mother, who yanked her son rather roughly back to a chair near her, lest he touch the leper and have to end up wearing tights himself.

This wouldn’t do, Jeff thought. It wouldn’t do at all.

“Citizens, may I have your attention please?” he said in his most captainy voice. With a generous dose of bravado, he began his impromptu announcement speech.

“You seem alarmed by what you have seen,” Jeff said, his throat suddenly dry and scratchy. “No need. I serve the greater good.” He coughed. “Excuse me.” He swallowed twice to bury the phlegm, and that helped improve things a bit.

“Um, let the word go forth,” he announced, “that the Captain has arrived.” No contractions in his speech, he thought. Good. No apostrophes. Let each word ring out with power. There was no sting of heroic music to punctuate the moment, although the television hanging in the corner of the room did seem to get louder all of a sudden. Then the kid with the plane zoomed past him, making the appropriate sound effects. And someone else coughed, too, which, in turn, made Jeff hack up another batch of sympathy phlegm.

“Excuse me, miss?” he said, pointing to Lisa. “Could you, by any chance, get me a glass of water?”

Lisa lowered her eyelids halfway and drew her mouth together into a thin, angry slit.

“Anyone? Water?” A nurse with a glass appeared, and Jeff took a healthy swig. “Mmmm,” he said, nodding his approval. “Thanks a lot. Hit the spot. Thanks.” Oops! He thought. Too informal! “I mean, thank you.” Nice save. He made a point of handing the glass to Lisa, who flared her nostrils with contempt.

“And thank you, young lady. You know, I could not have done it without you, Miss…” he said, motioning for her to give her name.

“Sheila Glutz,” Lisa deadpanned.

“Miss Li… Sheila?” He raised his eyebrows, trying to get her to correct the record.

Lisa didn’t move. Jeff shrugged his acceptance.

“Miss Sheila Glutz,” Jeff announced to the rest of the room with confidence. “Sheila Glutz, then,” Jeff said. “A citizen this brave deserves a round of applause.”

Jeff started clapping, and, at first, only the airplane kid clapped along. Then everyone else in the room joined in halfheartedly. Everyone did not include the newly christened Sheila Glutz, who sidled up next to him to put a word in his ear.

“Knock it off, Downey,” she hissed.

Jeff’s blood froze.

Did she just say “Downey?” She couldn’t have. He still had the mask, didn’t he? And the Captain voice was pretty good – the accent was off, yes, but the gravitas was there. Only one contraction, and I fixed it right afterwards. Maybe he heard wrong.

Except didn’t she call me Jumper right after we first arrived…?

This took the edge off of his confidence as he continued his speech. To compensate, he put both of his fists against either side of his hips again, except this time, it had the effect of making it him feel like he had a distended stomach. “Let the word go forth,” he boomed, “that when injustice is, um, near…”

Lisa was subtly, almost imperceptibly shaking her head in disapproval. Jeff was trying to ignore her, but it wasn’t easy. His hands now felt like dead weights, and he kept wishing for those pockets. Except what would it look like for a Kryptonian to put his hands in his pockets?

“When injustice is near,” he repeated, shaking his head back at her tightly, trying to get her to stop throwing him off stride, “when liberty and justice are threatened, and the powers of evil are, um, evil, because injustice is near…”

“You already said that before,” the airplane kid said, before being snatched back and scolded by his mother.

“No need for alarm!” Jeff said, far more alarmed than anyone watching. Lisa rolled her eyes and turned her back on him. Be that way, Jeff thought. At least I can finish my speech in peace.

“Like I was saying to this young man,” he continued, indicating the airplane kid, who was now glaring at his own mother and losing all interest in the Captain, “The power of evil and the doers of evil – evildoers, if you will – will ever be with us.” There we go. He was gaining his confidence back, along with his accent. He started dropping the R’s at the end of his words. “This is evah as it has been, yes, yet not evah as it must be, for I can fight evil, as a Captain among average citizens like yourself.” Lisa was on the other side of the room, and the distance was helping. He was on a roll now. “I, the Captain, will be theah! To right the wrongs! To, uhh…”

He was stalled. He needed another phrase, and he’d already used “right the wrongs,” which was the best one.

“To help the helpless?” Lisa offered sarcastically, her back still turned. Jeff shot her a look, but he wasn’t too proud to use someone else’s material.

“Yes! To help the helpless! And to –“

“Is that you?” said the Airplane Kid.

“Yes!” Jeff said. “I’m the Captain!”

“Is that you?” the kid said again. Jeff nodded vigorously until he saw that the kid was pointing at the television.

On the screen was a special news report with the bold caption TERROR IN WESTWOOD. There were no shots of the giant or the girls. Only a gangly, pasty-thighed goofball in tights trying to shake a pick-up truck off of his leg. He looked angry and frustrated. Ripped from its proper context, it looked as if Jeff were the one throwing the cars, not the giant.

“No!” Jeff exclaimed. “I mean, yes, that’s me, sure, but it’s all wrong…”

Someone in the waiting room yelled “Terrorist!” and everyone hit the floor.

Everyone, that is, besides Lisa Meyer, who leapt onto Jeff’s back and murmured, “Time to fly, Jumper!” She dug her heels into his thighs and made a clicking noise, as if she were trying to kickstart a beast of burden.

“I’m not a horse, lady,” he complained. Then three beefy security guards entered the room, summoned by an unseen alarm no doubt triggered at the nurse’s station. All of them had their hands on their gun holsters.

“Jump now!” Lisa ordered. And Jeff complied, hopping adroitly over the heads of the guards, yet careful enough to keep Lisa from banging up against the ceiling. He slipped out between the last guard’s hat and the doorframe, and, in a split second, he was arcing upwards, back into the night sky.

After they were about fifty feet above the building, Jeff craned his neck backward and shouted, “You mind telling me how you know who I am?”

“What?” Lisa bellowed. “I can’t hear you. The wind…”

“What?” screamed Jeff. Was she trying to say something? He couldn’t hear anything, and he could barely see, either – his glasses had fogged up the moment they took off.

“We need to go someplace and talk,” she shouted.

Jeff couldn’t hear her. This was useless. He decided they needed to go someplace and talk.

_____________

David smashed the window and started rummaging through the empty apartment.

It was the perfect time for breaking and entering. All the cops were otherwise occupied trying to sort out the mess down by the movie theaters, and they’d set up traffic blocks so that nobody could come in or out of the surrounding area. That meant that unlit windows were unlikely to hide any unwelcome surprises.

The first two apartments he’d broken into were less than helpful. Number one was clearly a girl’s place – far better decorated than most, but there were still no usable clothes to be had. Number two was more co-ed with plenty of dirty dishes piled in the sink, yet all the men’s clothing was about two sizes too big. What kinds of girls share an apartment with fat guys? he wondered. Especially slobby fat guys. He’d found cash in both apartments, though – about $50 in the first and a twenty-dollar bill in the second. It wasn’t enough to live on, but it was better than nothing.

The third apartment was the mother lode. He discovered an envelope under a mattress with $200, and the guy was about his size, and with a decent taste in clothes. He put on a red button-down, long-sleeved shirt and a pair of jeans. He couldn’t find a truly acceptable pair of shoes, but there was a pair of dirty old sneakers that would do just fine for the moment. He found a piece of paper and scribbled two copies of an IOU – one for his victims and one for himself as a reminder, taking inventory for everything, including the cost of a replacement window. He was going to pay everyone back. He was going to make amends.

Amends. Sure. Who was he kidding?

Petty thievery was one thing. Mass murder was quite another. He wasn’t sure how to come to terms with any of that madness, but he could at least plant the seeds for some kind of redemption, beginning here.

IOUs are step one, he thought.

Step two, I turn myself in. Let the cops sort it out.

He turned up his collar and stepped out into the night, renewed by a fresh sense of purpose. What was the worst they could do to him? he thought. Kill me? I want to kill myself. I’m not even sure if I can. At least they can lock me up. Or they can try to, anyway.

David wasn’t sure how to deal with all the complications that were sure to arise. Not my problem, he told himself. Just do what you have to do. Plead guilty, and let the system do its thing.

He came up on one of the roadblocks and signaled to one of the officers taking statements. At first, the cop tried to wave him off, but David wouldn’t be denied.

“What is it kid?” the cop asked impatiently as he walked up to David. “We’re kind of busy here.”

“Officer, it was me.” With that out of the way, the dam burst, and the rest was easy. “ It was me. I did this. I threw the cars. I killed all these people. That arm – severed arm. I did that. And I also broke into the apartments up the street. But I’ll pay it all back. I swear.” The words all poured out in a jumble, almost overlapping each other.

The officer smiled wearily. “Kid, tonight’s not the night, okay? I’m taking statements. Go bother someone else.” He turned to go.

David grabbed him by the shoulder and turned him back to face him. Had his hand bubbled up, or had David just imagined it? David mentally willed his hand to stay small. He wasn’t going to go down that road again. Even so, it was imperative that the officer believe him.

“Hands off, pal!” the officer reached for his nightstick. David put his hands in the air. He could feel the beat of his heart, pumping a fresh rush of power toward his limbs.

No. No. His veins were pulsing now. No. Not now. Not ever. Although just one more wouldn’t make that much of a difference, would it? And it might make him feel better, since this guy clearly deserved it…

No. NO! He closed his eyes and managed to hold back the floodgates just a little while longer. His hands trembled, but the transformation didn’t take hold. So I can control this, he thought, basking in the glow of his inner triumph. I can stop it. I’m not really a monster.

“Sorry,” David said. “I just… I want to tell somebody what I know.”

“Yeah, fine,” the officer said. “As soon as I’m done with these reports, we’ll talk it over, okay?”

“Yeah. Sure.” The officer turned to leave. Ignorant, David thought. Nothing but ignorant. He’ll never know how close he came to dying tonight. And David was sure that nothing but a full-fledged demonstration of what he could do would convince any of these pinheads.

He had to talk to someone who might believe him.

That narrowed the list of possible confidants down to one.

Chapter 7, or Chapter 3.5
Capturing my Election Ennui

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12 Comments

  1. Okay, I still don’t get this guy. He goes from murderous rage to naked do-gooder in 2 seconds? There’s got to be more than that. And seriously, I don’t buy it at all that he wants to make amends. Also, why is he taking cash? Isn’t he the spoiled kid of a rich father?

  2. That whole hospital scene? Hilarious. I love the fake British accent.But why isn’t the hospital overrun with victims from David’s episode of throwing cars? That ER should have been a crazy, nightmarish scene, not a calm place with a few people waiting. At the very least they should have been ‘prepping’ for the coming onslaught of victims. If cops and ambulances were at the scene, the hospital’s been notified.And I don’t want people to think Jeff’s the villain. I get that they might, and it’s a good literary device and everything, makes the story more interesting and all, but I HATE it. I hated it in Spiderman too when they all thought he was a menace. But that’s just me. Do what you want.

  3. The nudity of David makes complete sense.As David skulks off, I wonder how it is that not one witness noticed him shrinking back to his normal size? I guess they’re all fleeing or cowering. Perhaps you could mention that so that this does not bother other readers. I know you sort of address this later when he is confronted by the policeman, but perhaps earlier would help.Perhaps these words are unnecessary/overly-explanatory? “the way he wore a towel after coming out of the shower” I would have just assumed it was like a bath towel based on the start of the sentence. (I just realized the two previous comments seem contradictory—“Explain more! Explain less!” Ah well…)I don’t love the word choice of “baritones.”The severed arm is pretty shocking. If that is your intent, then hey, way to go. Otherwise, you may want to stick with “comic book” violence where we don’t necessarily see the bloody aftermath. Twisted metal and flames, yes. Severed limbs, no. But maybe that’s your point—this isn’t a comic book…Stepping in bile is gross. When I think of L.A. I don’t think “village” And I realize they’re in “Westwood Village,” but for some reason the phrase “village outskirts” sounds more like something I’d read in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Nit-picky.The smell of vomit is gross.When Lisa says “Jumper” it sounds funny to me. She never really saw him jump at any point. “Fly-boy” maybe, but “Jumper?” I realize this was one of your possible titles, but now that I’ve heard it in its first contextual usage, it feels odd. And later “Jumper” again and “Jump now.” I don’t think anyone in the world would call a man who can fly “Jumper.” I’m really sorry, but that’s my take…Word choice: bowels of the hospital?I LOVE the whole Captain in the hospital waiting room part. It is hysterical and great! Love it!Comments on the other commenters thus far: I can handle David going from bad to good intentions–it’s angsty.I agree with the wiz regarding Jeff as villain in people’s minds–common cliche in comics and film. And yes, somewhat annoying.Overall, I love it.

  4. Comments on comments:Heather, the going from murderous to angsty is part of the giant transformation process. I’d hoped to convey that the transformation alters David’s mind as well as his body; that he’s not really himself when he’s consumed by the giantism. In Hulk stories, the monster and the mild-mannered guy are two entirely different people, whereas here you’re dealing with David drunk with rage/power and David suddenly sober when the rage/power goes away. People with hangovers usually regret their binges the morning after. This isn’t an alcohol-related incident, but that’s the best analogy I can think of. He’s taking cash not because he’s poor, but because he’s naked and friendless in the middle of a war zone. Heidi, I had never thought of the ER being overrun with victims, but you’re absolutely right. I think I can get away with it here, as they’ve sped to the ER just moments after the melee before any victimes could have arrived, and they get the news about the Terror in Westwood thing right after Jeff’s arrival. I don’t want to change this moment, because if the ER is a zoo, then Jeff’s goofy Captain silliness won’t work. But there are later scenes in the ER that will need to be modified to better reflect the carnage. I’m sorry the Jeff as villain thing bugs you and Thursowick, although I promise that isn’t even close to where this novel is going. The story isn’t about Jeff being hunted and hated and misunderstood. This becomes a useful plot point in some key scenes, but it’s not the focus of the narrative. Thursowick, people seeing Jeff skulk away makes sense, but it also screws up the story, so I think your “fleeing or cowering” mentions would be helpful insertions. And yes, just “towel” is probably enough. The “baritones” line is actually lifted from an old Doonesbury strip from days gone by. On further examination, it’s a little too precious and clever. I think I should lose the severed arm, too, although I want to keep the vomit. The vomit is gross and conveys an adequate level of discomfort, whereas the severed arm is probably over the line. “The village” would work if this were Greenwich Village in NY, not Westwood. Re: Jumper: In the chapter where Jeff falls off the bleachers after jumping around with the dog, Lisa calls him a good jumper, and that causes everyone to laugh at him. This is the only reason I still cling to the dog bit, because Lisa’s use of the pet name Jumper provides a unique connection between the two characters that I don’t want to lose. But if the name feels like it comes out of left field, then I have to find a way to establish that connection more vividly.

  5. I’m sorry. I had completely forgotten about Lisa’s “Jumper” line from the bleachers incident. It might be nice to have some jocks near the bleachers taunt Jeff after Lisa says that by saying, “Yeah, hey Jumper! Nice jump!” as he heads away from the scene of the fall, but that might be beating the audience over the head with the name. I don’t know.

  6. OK, I’m glad he’s not made the villain a lot. I mean, you could have done it, I would have understood, but I’m glad you didn’t.And I love the whole Jumper thing. Keep it.

  7. And having just re-read my last comment, I now think it is perfect as you have it. Just one brief reference to “Jumper” at the bleachers. Otherwise, Jeff would immediately realize Lisa knew who he was when he swoops in to save the day.

  8. Best chapter yet. The hospital scene is perfect. I also love that they can’t hear anything while flying.And now some critique.In an earlier chapter you established that although Jeff was good at flying, he wasn’t comfortable landing (falling into the ocean.) Now, without any additional flying experience he’s able to gracefully float through emergency room doors?You don’t establish anywhere that Jeff knows that Vikki is injured. Perhaps you could say something like… “Something about a hospital, Jeff heard. Only then did he notice Vikki’s limp arm. Good idea. He dutifully followed the finger.”I thought that leaving the IOU was a little too boyscout for David. “Embrace evil: Step 1. Kill the girls.”“Embrace goodness: Step 1. leave IOU.”Ok, so you actually said “First, I’ve got a couple of girls to kill”. Anyway he seems to be really focused on the steps. Not sure you intended this.I’m worried about the daylight. This whole episode started at David’s house (chapter 3 part 1) at twilight. Somehow all of this activity takes place and there is still enough daylight around for Jeff to be caught on videotape shaking off a car?

  9. I get that David is supposed to be transforming, but it’s all happening a little too quickly. I guess I’m not Hulk fan. Plus, David was kind of an ookey guy before, in the prologue. I pictured sort of a teenaged version of Severus Snape. There is nothing you’ve descirbed in his character leading up to his sudden remorse to make us believe he’s capable of such clarity, or charity. Also, it seems he kind of revs up to the murderous rages, but then has immediate remorse? Doesn’t the Hulk like, faze immediately or something? I dunno–it just seems a little incongruent.But is the Hulk naked all the time? Seriously, the image of a naked giant is just–well, it’s as bad as flabby white thighs.

  10. Jeff, it’s not supposed to be daylight. The video footage is supposed to be lousy, because of the lack of light. I need to make that clearer. The IOU is probably silly, although David’s trying to go out of his way to compensate for killing people, so I thought maybe an IOU would be his feeble attempt at beginning to fix stuff. Maybe too boy scout. The “steps” thing is worth noting. When writing over a long period of time, you forget which bits of language you may have used before. Heather, I’m sorry it bugs you. I’m not sure how to fix it, though.

  11. LOVE the hospital scene. I’m starting to get that David’s transformation is mental as well as physical. Maybe the first time it happens you can make that clearer with something about him being confused by his own feelings only moments before. It’s too ambiguious in the beginning, but I keep saying that so I’ll let it go now. I’m liking Lisa – the level head in the story.Lose the severed arm, too gory.I agree with the “Jumper” comments. If it’s clearer in the beginning, it’ll make more sense later, but I’m so proud of myself for catching it! Yay!