396: Clark Can't

It would have been great if someone had come to save me. Swung in through a window on a conveniently placed rope, scooped me up and carried me to safety. Jenny, Flossie, Dudley. Claire? Sure. I’m not proud, I’d accept the assist.

“You’re a fool,” said Gideon. “You think you can make friends with fairies and every other freak you come across. They’ll end up using you and then once they’ve finished with you, they’ll make life a misery for the rest of us. How could you possibly think we’d allow it?”

Ending up being used was still preferable to being used straightaway, I felt. And it wasn’t like I trusted any of the people I was allied with. It would have been nice to be able to explain this to Gideon, but currently, my mouth was filled with pubic hair.

I was hanging upside down, unable to move or use any of my abilities, wrapped up in hair and on the verge of choking to death. If ever a man needed rescuing, it was me.

No one was coming. I even tried to send a psychic message, my brow furrowing with the effort. Perhaps a passing mentalist would pick up my signal and send me a couple of tickets to their next show.

If I still had Wesley renting out space in my head, she would have been the perfect person to sort out Gideon. She could vibrate him until all his hair fell out, leaving him silky smooth all over. But she had gone, I had no idea where, or how. She and Richina both had found a way out of my brain. I, on the other hand, was still stuck in here.

I struggled manfully (well, I struggled), but Gideon had me in an unbreakable hair grip. I would have liked to have said something about how shit his power was, made some pithy remarks about his lifestyle choices and his mother’s sexual proclivities, but I had to admit his counter-argument of ‘shut the fuck up’ was pretty strong.

There have been many comic book stories where a superhero loses his power for a bit. It’s something of a cliché, the struggles of your favourite overpowered cape-wearer with no powers and a lycra outfit with clashing colours. He becomes a mere mortal, but it turns out his powers aren’t what made him a great hero. He finds a way to overcome his enemies even when he has no special abilities, using a combination of gumption and perseverance, or something. It was a machine gun in one issue of Superman.

They were trying to impart an important moral lesson with those stories. Something about what’s in your heart, what kind of man you are, principles and honour. You know, the usual stuff our elders and betters try to convince us of while they’re embezzling pension funds and diddling little kids.

We always portray ourselves as the best we can be in our fictions. Even when a cop hunts down a criminal and kills him on the spot, he was justified. He had no proof, the courts would have let the murderer go, but we saw the killer kill that girl in the first act of the movie, so we know he deserved to die in act three.

Of course, it isn’t just the men we portray as exceptional in those kinds of films. The women can also kick ass, and they do it with femininity, in high heels.

I, unfortunately, am no Superman. I’d be happy if I could jump into a phone booth and come out as Clark Kent. Being over six feet tall and built like a brick shithouse is still pretty super, even if you can’t fly or look at women’s underwear through their clothes.

If Gideon had planned to kill me all along, then this seemed like a long-winded way to go about it. Perhaps he wanted to show off, but for whom? There was no one here apart from me, and my hands were tied so I couldn’t even give him a round of applause.

Gideon’s hair had rapidly crawled over my body, holding me tight. I couldn’t breathe, my gag reflex was going into overdrive and all the blood was rushing to my head. If I could have tapped out I would have, but he had me tightly wrapped up in his hair follicles. It seemed my run of hapless victories was about to come to a close.

That was not to be, though. Hapless was how I rolled and hapless was who I rolled with.

Gideon made a strange gurgling sound and the hairs enveloping me loosened enough to drop me on the ground, which was painful.

The long strands of wiry pubic hair let go of me and retracted rapidly into the bottom of Gideon’s trousers. At the same time, long strands of hair sprouted in a much more luxurious form on either side of his head.

The hair flowed out of him at such speed it seemed to be affecting his brain. Gideon’s face was distorted into a strange grimace, the type of look you see on people’s faces in pictures of them on the down part of a log flume.

He didn’t seem to have control of his follicles and whatever was making his power go haywire wasn’t doing it gently.

The hair grew into two enormous pigtails which then began to plait themselves. Gideon was yanked off his feet and suspended in mid-air with the plaits stretched out on either side. When they completed lacing together, both strands shot straight up in the air and then moved in a circle.

Gideon was spun around and around at dizzying speed. It was dizzying for me to watch so it must have been even worse for him.

Three, four times around, and then the spinning stopped and Gideon was smashed into the floor at maximum velocity.

I was back on my feet now, covered in red marks where the chains of hair had bound me. My throat was dry and scratchy and there were still hairs stuck down there making me gag like I was about to bring up a hairball. It was not a comfortable feeling.

There was no sign of anyone else and I had no idea what had just happened, but someone had come to my rescue after all. First time for everything, I guess.

Even though Gideon was lying unconscious on the ground, or appeared to be, I was wary of what he might do next. I realise it was a bit late to start being cautious but at least I had finally remembered my place in the universe. It didn’t matter how feared or respected I was among the general population, the universe would always cuck me as and when the opportunity arose. No quarter given, no retreat or surrender allowed no matter how hard I petitioned for them.

My body still felt a bit tingly, like when your leg goes to sleep and then the blood rushes back in. Gideon had been able to neutralise my ability using his hair. How was that even a thing? Magic made no sense, no wonder I couldn’t get proper control over it.

I waited for the tingling to pass and then slipped into the adjacent world. Whatever abilities Gideon had, he would be a lot less capable without his connections to the rest of existence. He seemed the type who liked being around people. A little isolation would do him good.

What I saw once I shifted between planes was the usual mess of vines growing out of Gideon’s body and one vine bigger and shinier than the rest extending from the top of his head. This seemed like a prime candidate for the chop. It looked thick and slimy but at least it wasn’t throbbing. I’ve never liked the ones that throb.

I took out my wooden swords and floated over to him, ready to make a firm and decisive cut. Once that was done, I had to decide what to do with the rest of him. Making him my prisoner would only keep his threat contained temporarily. He was bound to get free at some point and be a massive pain.

Kill him? It was my signature move, but I was getting tired of always having to go to such extremes. These sorts of situations are supposed to call for a reluctant hero, not a reluctant monster.

Something stayed my hand. The vine seemed familiar in some way. In my rush to take my revenge I was in danger of making a mistake (another one).

On the other hand, hesitation could lead to my downfall, that’s always the worry. What if I could have succeeded, but a moment of self-doubt let someone else get in there ahead of me?

I hesitated anyway. Experience had taught me that my self-doubt was usually justified. That’s the thing about people who find themselves in positions of power, they start believing in themselves a bit too easily. You see it with people who become parents. Just because you now have other smaller stupider people listening to you, that doesn’t mean you’re no longer the clueless idiot you were nine months ago.

If you happen to be the kind of person others come to for advice and answers to difficult moral quandaries, then fair enough, carry on issuing instructions and lifestyle dos and don’ts. But if you’ve never been called during moments of crisis for your analysis, then your kids would probably be better off watching a Youtube video on whatever it is they’re curious about.

I returned to my body. As long as I didn’t end up alone with him, I should be able to deal with him. Which is to say, the other people should be able to deal with him while I used them as a shield. I had an army now, it would be wasteful not to use them.

As soon as I was back in the real world, I heard someone humming loudly, like they wanted you to ask what the tune was so they could then sing you some of it. Not hard to guess it was Flossie entering the room.

I turned around as she came blithely walking in, Dudley behind her. She had a doll in her hand, with lots of hair tied into plaits.

The doll was of Gideon, the hair was his real hair that I had given to Flossie to take to Mrs Somya. The big vine I’d seen was her connection to him. If I’d cut it off, I’d have released him. It was nice to know there was still some kind of self-preservation filtering device at work in the back of my brain even when the rest of me was panicking and making awful decisions.

“Mrs Somya said to give yo’ this,” said Flossie. “Look, I made it pretty.”

“What did you do to the doll?” I said. It looked like Gideon in the simplified way Mrs Somya had of making inanimate objects look like their targets, but with an excessive amount of hair attached.

“Ah thought he would look better like this. Do yo’ like it?” She held up the doll, which looked ridiculous with plaited pigtails. She noticed Gideon on the floor. “What happened to him? Oh, he’s got the same hairstyle! Great minds think alike.”

That was not the conclusion I would have drawn.

Gideon groaned and tried to get up. I took the doll from Flossie and swung it around by the hair. Gideon went flying into a wall.

“Eek!” said Flossie. “Why did yo’ do that?”

“He tried to kill me,” I said. “And he’ll probably try again if we don’t do something about it.”

“You’re not going to kill him, are yo’?”

Did I have any other options? Interrogate him first? Torture him into revealing important information? All that screaming and crying wouldn’t be much fun, and that would just be me having to watch. I’ve always been squeamish when it comes to blood and gore.

More people came in. Not because they’d heard some commotion and were checking to see if I was okay — that would be ridiculous, of course. They’d just got bored and were wondering if they could leave.

Gideon tried to get up again. He may have broken some bones, which wasn’t that big a deal. I could always heal him. Or I could not heal him.

The difficulty is in making a decision when there is no way to know if it is the right one, until, that is, you’ve made it and hindsight gives you a play by play on how it was the wrong one.

The doll in my hands looked like Gideon and not like him at the same time. It looked ridiculous, no question, thanks to Flossie’s styling. Somewhere in the West Midlands were some very relieved Barbie dolls thankful their suffering was over.

Mrs Somya’s voodoo worked with bits of wood and straw, not even carved or shaped, just tied together. There was no paint, no face drawn on. The hair wasn’t even securely fastened, I could have pulled it off easily.

I pinched the head between thumb and finger and without even thinking about it I snapped it off.

It was easy. It was easy if you looked at the doll and not the person. Gideon’s head turned at a ninety-degree angle to his neck and he spasmed, then stopped moving. There’s actually a lot less blood and gore when you kill by proxy. Perhaps this was the way to solve all my problems, me and a roomful of dolls, snap, snap, snap.

There was a general air of shock in the room but they could see the condition I was in. Clearly, I had been assaulted and had acted in self-defence, eventually.

Jenny went over to check on Gideon, but no one said anything. I’m not sure if they were worried they might be next or they preferred to make their comments via the appropriate Hallmark card (they have one for every occasion).

You have an aura that glimmers like a star

And not a murderer

Sorry you had to kill a deceitful prick

It wasn’t your fault.

“Dudley, I think the rest of his team are around here somewhere, can you have a look?”

Dudley nodded and sat down at the table, his eyes closed. We all stood around waiting for someone else to say something.

“I think I see them,” said Dudley after only a couple of seconds, which was a relief. Any longer and we’d have had to start making small talk. “They’re entering one of the spires.”

“Okay then,” I said. “Time we went had a look in one too.”

But for the first time in a long while something felt wrong. The fact I felt something was itself a big change.

Logically speaking, I could fully accept that keeping Gideon around would have been nothing but trouble. He wouldn’t be grateful and mend his ways, he would come after me when he got the chance and feel fully justified. Killing him was just common sense. Brutal, but sensible. But it was wrong. It was too casual and offhand. Not just inhumane, but unhuman.

I stood there, unable to move. My actions weren’t acceptable, by which I mean they weren’t acceptable to me, so why had they been so easy? I only noticed Jenny when she touched my face with a gentle hand. She had tears falling from her eyes.

“It happened,” she said in a soft whisper. “It finally happened.” She pressed her face into my chest.

I had no idea what she was talking about.

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Afterword from Mooderino
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