Patrat: "I'll tell you what you want to know, just blink already!!"
Oh boy. This is a rough one to start with. Even I think it looks like its mad, tripping out, or both. But lets examine it (from a safe distance, and preferably while its wearing sunglasses) Maybe a creepy rodent is a good thing for a change. For too long mice and vermin in Pokemon have been utterly too cute and hug inducing. Do I want to see more like this? H- no! However, it is the first unsettling looking rat since Raticate. Just saying, they tried something different, and it tanked. I'm sure Nintendo won't make something similar for a while. If ever.
Herdier: Don't make him get ruff. : P
This one gets hate because it looks so much like a dog. I admit it does lack a certain imaginative flare, but its hardly fair to gang up on this pup when Growleth, Poochyena, and Houndour all got passed at the door without a raised eyebrow. Lets not forget the plethora of other similar to animal knock-offs. Just look at the Water type mons. How much originality is represented there? Plus, some of the most original new Pokemon still got hate, despite not looking like a bird or a dog. I'll get to those later.
Stunfisk: He used to be cuddly till a Snorelax sat on him.
Okay, even I think he's funny looking. And when my friend said he looked like a pork chop I lost it. Total giggle fit. But you should never judge a book by its cover, no matter how flat that book is.... Heehee.
Seriously though this, um, character has some potential on the right team. I mean, its an Electric/Ground type. Pardon me, its the Electric/Ground type. Its stats suck something majorly, and its type combo gives it the derpiest of all weaknesses. Its an Electric type that somehow manages to be weak to Water and Grass. Oy.
"I'm immune to Electric though..."
Its good against birds, and resistant to Steel. Its not a terrible Pokemon, just a tad meh.
Garbodor: "If you think my jokes stink..."
When i first saw this thing I couldn't help but giggle. Its one of those weird things that shouldn't be a Pokemon, like Banette or Porygon. I liked it though. To me it was a neat new monster. And it has a baby form! How delightful. Imagine my confusion when I explored around some and discovered the mountains of hate directed at this thing. Now, I'm not saying you have to like everything that bears the title of Pokemon. I just don't care for the reason that is constantly given for the distaste.
Its made of garbage.
That's it. That's the big issue. I hate to repeat myself, but where is the hate of Grimer and Muk? Grimer is arguably worse then Garbodor. Its made of animated sludge. Google sludge later. On topic, where is the hate of Koffing and Wheezing? Aren't they basically balloons filled with poisonous gases? Personally I think its just become fashionable to hate Garbodor. Its popular to do. Just my thought, based off what I've read/watched.
Okay, I don't want this to get too long, so I'll wrap up now and start a new one soon.
This is a bit of a throw back. This takes place at the end of the first Howard story arc "A time paraducks" and obviously picks up where Joygirl left off AXF. It also takes place before the events of Tales from the Raft. There is a reason it starts where it does. You'll see why in a few issues.
S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier, New York:
Dr. Kirby Martell sighed as she heard her name being called. Of all the robotic technicians on the flying brick that was the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier, she was the one that got called most. "What is it now?" she asked Agent Coulson, who had fallen into step beside her. "Another Iron Man villain suit gone rogue?"
"Not since the last incident. We remove anything that looks like a power core now." Coulson replied with a wry smile. "This one is strange, even for us.It was called in by a former A.R.M.O.R. operative. Truth be told, this could technically fall under their jurisdiction of operation."
"So why aren't they handling it?" She asked as they passed through the holding area. Before he replied something in one of the holding rooms slammed into the reinforced door of its cell, causing a huge dent. mark.
"Damaging government property will add to your sentence Mr Rhino." Coulson called calmly through the door to the raging monster. Kirby didn't think she would ever get used to working for S.H.I.E.L.D. Coulson on the other hand seemed bred for this job.
'Or grown' The thought made her smile till she remembered it wasn't exactly an impossibility.
"A.R.M.O.R. is dealing with more pressing matters. They asked Director Hill to handle this as a favor."
"And Director Hill wanted me..."
"Mud flows downhill Dr. Martell." Coulson replied as they entered the level three holding area. "Here's your entertainment for the night." he pulled a cover sheet off the half crushed body of Dr. Bong. "According to our witness, this is a case of a chronological anomaly."
"Why's he wearing a bell for a helmet?" She asked. She had seen some absurd costumes, but this one took the cake.
"Its designed to imitate in action and appearance a lessor known villain called Doctor Bong."
"Never heard of him." Kirby replied.
"You wouldn't have. He's considered a Delta level threat. So he serves at Rykers Island when he's caught. But if he someday gets time travel technology..." He let it hang in the air.
"Right. I'll get right on him, er, it." She replied.
* * *
The Nightengale, heading towards Portland, OR.
"Almost there team." Domino said over the intercom. "Might hit a little turbulence." She added as an after thought. Venom's claws gripped his hand rests a little harder, the only sign of anxiety he would allow themself.
"I want to make a Rocket Man joke, but I'm afraid Emo Spider-Man there will snap and eat my face." Deadpool grumbled.
Not if he got a good look at it first. Yellow Box interjected
"I resent that. Emo's give vampires a bad name." Jubilee called back from the seat in front of Venom.
"Dude, we've been over this back in issue 2. You're my straight man. I do the jokes." Deadpool replied. "Know who was a great straight man?" he continued without waiting for a reply, content with the sound of his own voice. "Old Frankie. I don't think he's cracked a smile like, ever."
Talk about emo.
Thank goodness this is a filler issue, cause the jokes are kinda weak.
"Do not compare us to Spider-Man and his antics." Venom hissed. "Our methods are better then his. We remove crime, rather then giving it to the police to babysit."
The Dark Beast listened to the conversation quietly, making mental notes based off their interactions. Wade could be directed, if not controlled. Jubilee was accustomed to a team environment, and Domino was a soldier. If any of them was going to endanger the mission, it would be Brock. Domino had her private orders, in the event of the unfortunate.
Mercy awoke with the sunrise, as she always did. it didn't matter that after two weeks she had finally caught a day off. Even sleep deprived, Mercy wasn't one for sleeping in. She loved watching the sun come up while sipping a mug of black coffee. It was always put her in good spirits, seeing a day born so full of promise. She gave her orange cat Booster a scratch behind the ears and poured him some over priced cat food. She then decided to boot up her computer and work on her book for a couple of hours.
* * *
Some hours later, and elsewhere in the city another person was thinking about their second career as well. His apartment was messy, but not filthy. His uniform hung on a hook inside his closet. The mask's lower half was open to allow freer speech. he didn't understand how Spider-Man could fight bad guys while trying to breath through that mask of his. "Probably better fabric" The figure mused aloud.
Lately things hadn't been going so well for him. He was in danger of losing his crap job, his girlfriend only stayed with him because she had a cape fetish, and he had never really broken into the hero business. Maybe it was the name. Then again, Spider-Man seemed to do well enough, and spiders themselves were generally viewed as creepy. His dusty old police scanner suddenly crackled to life.
"All units all units, we have a Code Blue situation at the George Washington Bridge. Use of excessive force has been approved."
"Code Blue?" The man said to himself. "Meta-human scoundrels are afoot! Innocent civilians are in danger!" He quickly slipped into his hand made costume. As he stepped out onto the fire escape he remembered how much he hated heights. Taking a deep breath, he leaped off the fire escape, and flew with haste to the George Washington Bridge.
* * *
Mercy decided it was time for a late breakfast. She had made good progress and had earned a small break. She decided to check her email before she left the apartment. There was a live update from the local news station, and she clicked on it. Then immediately wished she hadn't.
"Oh my god." Mercy whispered, horrified at the damage one psycho had caused.
"The terrorist responsible has been apprehended by Thor, but this story is far from over. One unnamed hero was ruthlessly gunned down by Bullseye. A member of Code Blue is in critical condition, and-- Wait, Thor just collapsed to the ground. He looks hurt bad. Rescue teams and various members of the hero community are working to get the survivors out of the water..."
Mercy closed her laptop, as if that would shut out the horror. As if all those lives wouldn't be lost if she didn't listen to the story. "Looks like my day off got cancelled." She told her cat grimly. She grabbed her purse and left the sanity of her cozy apartment. Her phone buzzed a moment later.
"Whats going on at the Bugle? Did Bullseye hit there too?" She hurried down the stairs and hailed the first cab she saw, hoping it wasn't a sarcastic duck man again, because this just wasn't the day for that. "George Washington Bridge." she told the driver who appeared human.
"I hear their closing the streets that lead to it." The driver replied. "Something about Thor destroying the bridge. Doesn't surprise me, after what he did to the Wrecking Crew." Like a lot of people in tragic situations, the driver clearly wanted to blame someone. And sadly enough it was often the heroes that got crucified in the media for their failures.
* * *
Howard awoke from his nap, having slept through all the excitement and picked up the evening edition of the Daily News, a smaller news paper that basically ran the stories the Bugle didn't want. Plus it was a cheap read.
Howard looked over at the stack of Bugle papers, and saw an interesting contrast between the two papers. "Bugle is proven right!Spider-Man revealed to be Menace" its headline crowed. The picture showed Spider-Man walking towards a broken window in the Bugle office. Under the picture it said, "Masked menace to society hangs up his webs."
"Oh boy." Howard groaned. he had that bad feeling again. Like all this was just the pre-show and the main event was yet to come.
"Rrrrrrrrrrrr" Came another moan from the passenger side of the cab. This one hitting at the glass with its rotten hand, leaving a greasy smear with each thump. The crash seemed to have knocked the guy in the back seat out. Howard could see he was breathing though.
"Rrrrrrrrr" Another zombie started to crawl up over the hood of the taxi. Howard didn't know what had happened, or where they were. All he knew was they needed to get somewhere else. Fast. He tried to start the cab. Rrrarrrrarrra. It made a sound eerily similar to the zombie sounds.
"Come on you piece of sh--" He slammed a hand on the wheel and cranked it again, to no avail.
"Rrrrrrrrrrr" A crack formed on the window one zombie was beating insistently at, like a desperate salesmen.
"We don't want any." Howard told the zombie, and cranked again, risking flooding it. With a sudden start the car came to life. But from the sounds under the hood, it wasn't much more alive then the zombies assaulting it. Howard drove backward, smashing zombies unfortunate to be behind him. The tires briefly spun out, trying to catch purchase on the slimy ground. Howard noticed the fuel gauge needle dropping to E quickly. Apparently the fuel line had been broken during the crash. Or maybe one of the smarter zombies was an undead mechanic. Whatever the case, they weren't going to get far. Howard drove as fast as he dared with the car laboring through a crowded street. Trash and leaves piled up in the gutters and up besides buildings.
It was obvious this version New York City had been going to seed for years. He half expected some super zombie in tattered spandex to jump the taxi, but he only saw more undead regular humans. Crawling through the streets and wandering out of open doorways. Howard parked the taxi on a quiet side street and turned in his seat. He saw no reason to get out. Yet.
"Hey man." He grabbed Charles by the jacket lapels and shook him roughly. "Something happened. We're in a George freaking Romero movie. Wake up!" He slapped the man across the face, but he didn't wake up. "Great. Busted taxi in a zombie world, with an unconscious fare to babysit. This is more crap then a duck should have to deal with." He gave Charles another hard shake, then let him fall back against the back seat.
Howard noticed more undead appearing, drawn by the movement and sounds of the taxi. At the same moment he saw the mans bag on the seat besides him. "I hope you're the packing type." Howard muttered, unzipping the bag. Inside was an ARMOR badge, several pieces of disjointed armoring, and a gun that was too big to be a civilian weapon. "Hello beautiful." Howard breathed, digging into the bag.
* * *
Outside the taxi the hordes of the undead bumped into each other mindlessly as they lurched toward the yellow vehicle, eager to be the first ones there. Word travels fast in a dead city. With no traffic, or cars, or TVs to make noise, zombies from blocks around had heard the hungry moans of their brethren. Not the questing groan that they all issued at all times. No. This was the groan of the hunt. Of pursuit.
The driver side door opened, and Howard stepped out. The guys body armor fit his short body pretty well. The upper body parts anyway. Gripped in his hands was Charles's plasma gun. He climbed on the trunk of his cab to get the high ground and better defend himself and his passenger. It was like ringing the dinner bell and the army of the decaying surged forward. "Alright, you want some fresh duck? Come get some." It was kinda an absurd line, since there was no one around to hear it. It brought a grim smile to Howard's face anyway.
He started firing, and at first it was like zombies in a barrel. Zombies exploding in a spray of mess and gore. More and more they came. Seemingly an army of the dead. "Get your hand off me you damned hairless ape!!" he shook a zombie off his leg before reducing it to cream of zombie soup with a blast. There were too many of them, and the ammo wouldn't last forever. "At least this way I'm spared the chili in the fridge." Howard told no one as the revenant horde closed in. A hand on his shoulder made him spin around and pull the triggor, but it clicked on empty.
"Come on." Charles yelled, pulling Howard towards the roof on the cab.
"Whaaa?" Howard started to ask as he was hurried forward. The two of them landed in the street, and a car just barely stopped short of hitting them. They were back in non zombie overrun New York.
"You saved my life." Charles exclaimed. "How can I thank you?"
"With three hundred dollars in fare. Travelling to alternate realities cost extra." Howard replied without a smile. "Oh, and someone owes me a new taxi."
"What is this you're giving me Liddle?" Jameson tossed the blurry, out of focus photo back on the desk. It was so bad it was cliche. Like pretty much every picture of a "monster" ever taken by a tourist. It looked even to her eyes like a bad hoax. Just a blur of green with a splotch of red that had been the creatures eye as it had turned away from her. If she hadn't seen it, hadn't felt the things touch on her, she would not have believed it herself.
So she understood Jameson's attitude. Plus he would have been surly if she had walked the monster itself in here. You couldn't really win with JJ. You just tried to score higher then last time. "Lance was unconscious. And it was a surreal moment. You had to be there boss. I just snapped the picture as an afterthought." She started to pick up the photo like she was leaving.
"Sit down. Gimme that." Jameson snapped, snatching the photo from her hand. He gave it a glance, then looked off into space again. Mercy could practically hear the wheels in his head spinning. "We'll push it to page two. Search for the mysterious Man-Thing continues. Where is Luke anyway?"
"Lance, sir. He's at the downtown hospital now--"
"Take a taxi and pick him up. I have a new story for you two." He pulled a file out of a desk drawer and tossed it across the desk. "A killer on the loose, and not the useful kind like Castle." He said without irony, even though he often ranted against Spider-Man being a vigilante. The photos were beyond disturbing. Each victim had been ritually slaughtered. Flayed, gutted. It made Mercy sick to her stomach.
"How.." she started to ask. If this case was ongoing, the police would never release them to a newspaper.
"Friends in high places." Jameson replied. "Ghoul calls himself Zodiac."
* * *
"Taxi!!" Mercy yelled, flagging down the first one she saw. "Thanks for stopping." She said as she climbed in the back.
"No problem." The cabbie grunted, pulling his cap a little lower. To block glare she assumed. "Where to lady?"
"One seventy William street. The hospital." She replied. Now that she could relax and catch her breath, she couldn't help but notice the cab driver was short. Really short. In fact, he looked like a human duck hybrid. "Has anyone ever told you--"
"Like a duck. Yup." he grunted again, tapping ashes off his cigar out the window. "Maybe cause I am a duck" He replied so flatly she had no trouble believing him.
"Where are you from." She asked, trying to recover from her surprise.
"Cleveland." He replied, and this time she hear a smirk in his voice. As if he were telling an old joke he still found amusing.
"Seriously?" She couldn't help but sound a little incredulous.
"Well, that is where I'm from on this Earth. Long story lady."
"I'm writing a book about the Marvels--"
"The what?" He squinted at her in the rear view mirror.
"You know, the super people. Could I maybe get a small interview with you?"
"I'm not super toots. Just a guy. No powers." He almost spit the word powers, and Mercy wondered what interactions he had had in the past with other Marvels. The idea of people from other worlds who didn't have powers was a new one for her though. She had never assumed some of the "Marvels" were just normal people, relatively speaking. Just trying to make it in a world of some else's making.
The rest of the trip was in relative silence, save for the radio playing at a low level. They pulled to over to get gas, and Mercy decided to walk the rest of the way. It was a nice day for walking. She thanked him and paid her fare, leaving a small tip. This wouldn't make a chapter for her book, but it would make a nice foreword.
You can only face Death so many times before she gets tired of showing you your life. Just before you died, you got one free look at everything you had done, good or bad, so that you could give your maker a fair account for your actions. Or inaction, as the case may be. Death indeed got the page for Howard's impending doom, and she chose to ignore it. She had visited Howard once today already, and was escorting his soul away when it was whisked back to his flesh.
Howard was a wildcard in the game of life. One of those individuals who was too entertaining to the gods to stay dead. So Death noted Howard's predicament, and went about her business. Following Deadpool around kept her very busy anyway.
* * *
[The bell tolls for thee duck.] Bong groaned in a flat voice, utterly devoid of his usual grandiose, and megalomaniacal flare. He was a pathetic loser among a large crowd of loser villains, but he normally had more clear motivation then just killing Howard. It normally involved getting Beverly to love him again, then humiliating Howard, then the killing part.
"Your name" Howard choked out as he struggled with Bong's steel grip, "is really, really stupid."
Beverly grabbed Bong's arm in both of hers, and held it back as Howard struggled to get loose. "You big stupid tin headed moron! When will you let it go? I don't want to be with you, even if Howard's not around!" Bong thrust back with his arm, shoving Beverly away without a comment. He seemed unusually focused too.
Howard's shirt ripped then, and he dropped to the ground, landing on his feathery butt, and began to scoot backward as fast as he could move. Bong followed him in long, measured steps. He quickly closed what little distance Howard had gained. His yellow boots crunch on the road grit as he strode boldly into the street. He moved fast, but methodically. Mockingly. Howard's mind reeled, not ion a panic, but in the mad dash survival way it normally did in situations like this, the moment slowing down. Beverly's muted voice, yelling something. Bong's golden helmet began to shine brighter, and for a second Howard thought he had somehow spontaneously combusted. Then reality snapped back and Howard heard the screeching protest of hot tires on pavement.
A taxi slammed into Bong at an unknown speed, but the results were satisfactory nonetheless, and the caped maniac flew through the air, indenting the pavement when he struck the street with a loud crash. His impact made more noise then expected, even given all his armor. Something tickled at the back of Howard's mind. The random insights during this bizarre encounter attempting to form a mental picture.
Are you just going to sit there Sally?" Old Howard grunted from the drivers side of Howard's taxi. Beverly had already piled into the backseat. She quickly opened the door for Howard. The front end was bent in, and the engine was grumbling in a bad way.
"Great entrance." Howard said, climbing into his cab. "Is there more to this plan?" he asked, pointing to Bong who was somehow getting back to his feet.
"What'da ya want? A three to five year plan?" Old Howard grinned for the first time.
"Later!" Beverly interrupted, before the two ducks could get into a sarcasm contest. "Just drive!"
"Relax toots. I lived this, remember?" Old Howard replied turning serious again. "Hold onto your butts." He stomped his webbed foot to the gas pedal. The tires screamed again as the shot past Bong, clipping off the passenger side mirror in the process. Bong began to fade into the distance behind them.
"Old Ducky, there's more to this then you've told us." Beverly said from the backseat. "If you knew Bong was going to ambush us, why didn't you warn us?"
"And what's up with old bell head anyway? He's acting strange." Howard realized the irony of suggesting a villain who called himself Bong, and wore a bell clapper on his arm strange. But by the standards of his life, it rated very low on the weird-o meter. Old Howard starred ahead, perhaps concentrating on driving. Perhaps avoiding accusing looks from himself and his past girlfriend.
"In the future, Doom takes over the world. His war with Ulton killed most of the heroes. The rising of Blackheart didn't help matters, though demons were a nice change from the machines. Oh, and the techno virus that turned most of New York into a land of the walking dead. Undead. Whatever. And I, you, we help this team of hero wannabe's stop Ultron from killing everyone on Earth." He paused and took a few breaths, seemingly winded. "So yeah, it wasn't just for self preservation that I saved your sorry feathery @ss." Another pause. "Though that factored in."
"I don't understand though." Beverly cut in. "If you died, how were you alive to come back?"
Old Howard shrugged. "Someone in this time fiddled with the time stream and created a glitch. We just took advantage of it." he looked into the rear view mirror expectantly. "And here he comes." Howard and Beverly looked back to see Bong somehow gaining on the taxi on foot. "Where's Wade when you need him?" he grumbled and accelerated more, driving through the gate to 'Klonk's car salvage yard.'
"Gee, I thought you would have to go to Jersey for a junkyard." Howard commented dryly.
"Uh guys... Where's Bong?" Beverly said.
"He's supposed to be--" Howard never finished because something slammed onto the hood of the taxi.
[There will be no escape duck.] He buzzed, slamming a gloved fist through the windshield, showering both Howard's in safety glass.
"Damn hairless apes!!" Old Howard swore loudly as he slammed the taxi into the nearest junk pile. Howard's ear holes was ringing from the crash, but he and Beverly looked okay. Old Howard though was bleeding a little from the corner of his bill. Bong, pinned between the car and the junk pile, apparently unfazed began to struggle himself loose.
"Why are we here?!!" Howard asked, trying to get his door open.
"All part of the plan." Old Howard coughed. "Just go. I got this." he wheezed semi sarcastically, holding his chest with one hand.
"What is--" Howard started to ask, but is cut off by a loud gong sound. BONG!! Any thought Howard had was scrambled by the mind shaking gong. Eyes shut, fumbling for the door handle with one hand as another gong ripped through his mind. BONG!!'This is how theworld ends' Howard thought crazily. 'Not with a bang, but with a bong.'
Maybe he blacked out for a moment. Maybe not. But the next thing he hears is not Lady Death's beckoning call, but a strange whirring sound, followed by a metallic scraping sound. Howard looked through the broken wind shield to see Bong being lifted my a huge car magnet. Struggle as he might, he couldn't break loose of its magnetic attachment. Howard and Beverly watched him be moved over a car crusher, and dropped. Beverly looked away as the machine activated, but Howard again felt that tickle in his mind, as if another clue had been dropped.
He and Beverly found Old Howard easily enough in the control box, slumped against the side. His breathing was labored, and his eyes had a dull glaze. "Okay." he grunted. "Now the timeline is stitched back together."
"Ducky, we have to get you to a hospital." Beverly knelt beside Old Howard, fumbling in her purse for her phone. Old Howard stopped her with a touch.
"They don't get here in time." He coughed. "I've lived this, remember? Now I get to die it too. And who knows? Maybe next time it will end differently." Having said all he intended to, Howard died for the second time in one day.
* * *
Old Howard, not so old now, but appearing as he did in his youthful thirties, looked down on his broken body, on the gently crying Beverly. on his younger self turning away to shed a tear.
"Hello Howard." Death said, appearing beside him. "Ready to go? Or do you want to spin again?" She chuckled. "Ow" she yelped as Old Howard kicked her shin.
"Don't even joke like that." He growled. A ghostly cigar appeared in his hand as he went into the light. "You coming or what?"
Last time on the Howard the Duck Holiday special extravaganza.... Old Howard, (that is to say, current timeline Howard, not the older version from the future) has embarked on a herculean mission to get Beverly an acceptable gift for Christmas. But as He would soon discover, some people are at their most naughty right before Christmas. And as Howard himself would say, there's no off season for loonies. Yes our feathery friend is in a bit of a sticky wicket. Can he save himself, and by extension, Christmas itself? Lets watch and see.
"For years the great red Clause has judged over us with his impossible standards of naughty and nice. For verily it says in the holy book" He pulled a small red book from somewhere in his robe. "You'd better watch out, you better not cry. You'd better not pout." He paused.
"Why?" The assembled asked in a practiced way. Howard realized Equix was reading aloud Christmas carols.
"I'm telling you why." Equix replied with solemn gravity that would have been funny under other circumstances. "Santa Clause is coming to town. The book tells us he has a list of everyone's deeds, and he checks it twice!" The other nuts cringed at this. "So malicious is the Clause that he double checks, looking for any possible misdeed he and his legion of demons elves may have missed. For his judgement's are severe, and his standards unbending."
As Equix talked on, Howard began to subtly work his hands free of his bonds. He had been bound to some sort of display, and this being a cult, of coursed they had a handy supply of chains and cuffs on hand.
He had been tied up more then once in the past, and had taken lessons in the art of escaping from a magician school. His bones were slightly more flexible then those of a human, and survival was a great motivator for working through some discomfort.
"And again the book tells us the Clause sees us when we're sleeping, and he knows when we're awake. What does this tell us brothers and sisters?"
"The Clause fears being seen?" One guy said. He wore a shirt from a different department store.
"Very good Brother Doug. The Clause exists by hiding in a lie. But if he is seen, then he can be detained, held, killed." Equix smiled. "Utilizing the magic of the ancients, we have laid the offering of milk and cookies. The titanium woven stocking with pressure lock cuffs are hung with care on the fake chimney, in the hope that the Clause will soon be here. Lastly, we have a white noise REM wave generator to shield our awake minds from the red one." Equix actually rubbed his hands together gleefully then, and Howard wondered briefly if he had somehow stumbled into some kind of Christmas special.
With one hand freed, he quickly began to work on his ankle restraints while everyone's attention was on Equix and the fake chimney. If he was quiet he would be able to sneak out unnoticed. maybe. "When have I ever had that kind of luck." Howard asked himself quietly. He didn't really care to dwell on the answer to that.
There was a strange moment then. Time didn't stop, but it felt slow. Like things should have been happening faster. Howard saw a pair of feet come impossibly down the fake chimney into the titanium stockings, which closed shut with a cold metallic snap. The cult members surged forward then to attack the red clothed man with cattle prods and blunt weapons as he was held partially upside down by the trap. "Naughty children." Santa roared in a rough throaty growl you would expect from a rottweiler, but not Kris Kringle.
The red suited figure tossed back the cultists with one arm, snapping its leg restraints with a series of metalic clinks. It stood up to reveal a face that was anything but rosy or merry as the songs suggested. The cheeks were pale and cracked from frostbite. The beard tangled and wind dried. His suit, Howard noticed, had several blotchy dark stains all over it.
"Trying to capture Santa is very naughty indeed. Krampus is here to deliver the gift of punishment. Hur hur hur." The figure grinned with misshapen yellow teeth. "You've all received enough coal over the years to warm this city, but have you done any good at all?" No one answered. Even Howard forgot about escape for a moment. "Perhaps shoveling coal into my furnace at the South pole for a year will teach you to be nice!" He grunted as he grabbed the first of the cultists and crammed him into his bag. The others followed in a quick like fashion.
Equix was the last to go, apparently too stunned to run when he had the chance. His girlish screams made Howard close his eyes and look away, almost in pity. He waited for the dark nightmare Santa to come for him. And waited. And waited.
When he looked again, standing in the room was not the fearsome vision of a Santa from a bad drug trip. In its place was a stocky man short man, hardly fat. Just maybe a little lax with exercise. His beard was not as big as in the pictures either. It was well trimmed, and neat. But otherwise Santa looked as one expected.
"You can't stay out of trouble, can you?" he asked Howard in a kind, jolly voice as he unlocked Howard's final restraint.
"It would have been a nice Christmas gift." Howard replied. Perhaps a bit roughly, but he was having a rough night.
Santa just shrugged. "I'm not God. I can only do so much." He smiled then with a twinkle in his eye. "Maybe this will make up for it."He reached into his bag and pulled out a small green box. "Beverly will love it. Trust me." He winked. "And for Howard who tried to be good this year." He handed Howard a bottle with a ribbon around the neck. "North Port rare malt. Aged 19 years." He smiled again, truly a jolly old soul. "Now I really must be on my way again. Many gifts to deliver. Care for a ride home? I could use the help."
Howard wandered across the frozen wasteland known as the mall parking lot. Being New York in December, he had dressed for ungodly degrees of cold, but even so warmly bundled he still felt cold. At least he had found a parking space that wasn't in another state. "A f-f-freaking Christmas m-m-miracle." He muttered to himself, trying hard not to shiver.
Somehow he had forgotten to get Beverly a gift. He did not forget her reaction from last year though. "Never forget that" he shivered again, though not from the cold that time. Hence he was out here on Christmas eve to find her something. Anything. Even if it sucked as a gift, he could make it up after the holiday. Inside the cheerfully lighted mall was extremely warm, the sudden temperature shift causing his feet to ache dully as the feeling returned to them. His ear holes were immediately assaulted by overly cheerful music.
"Wonderful time of year my feathery @ss." He grumbled as people jostled past him, coming and going. "Wagggh!" He yelled as someone stepped down on his foot. "Watch it ya ape! I'm walking here!" No one seemed to hear him, or if they did, they chose to ignore him. After fighting his way to the escalator, he went to the second floor, which was equally insane and frantic.
Howard made a mental note to never, ever leave his apartment during the Christmas week again. He began to drift from store to store, looking for something that would be remotely acceptable to Beverly. He purposefully the clothing departments, as that was a mission impossible. Finally he found himself at a perfume counter. Howard looked over the various colorful, and oddly shaped bottles looking for that perfect one. The one that would fit his short price range. He finally made his selection, and got in line behind a few other people.
The line moved slowly, but it did move. "Now I just have to fight my way out, survive the parking lot, find my car...." He stopped as the person ahead of him bought the last bottle of the perfume he wanted. "Excuse me, do you have--" he started to ask the store employee, who had already turned and walked away. "She better be going to restock." Howard grumbled and waited. And waited. And waited.
Then he got tired of waiting. He decided to go find the girl, so he could make a purchase and get out of the mall already. Walking down the way he had seen the girl go led to the employee break room. "Hello?" He knocked at the door twice. No one answered, so he knocked again. This time the door swung open silently. "Hello?" He called again. The door didn't lead to any room. It opened into a maintenance hall behind the store wall. "Nope. No way. Not going to go exploring." He shook his head. "Not this duck."
Attention patrons: The mall will be closing in fifteen minutes. Please make you final selections now.
A voice said over the intercom. "Of course it is..." Howard replied sarcastically as he went looking for the store employee.
* * *
After a few turns the hallway opened to another brightly lit room. Howard poked his head into the room "Excuse me, do you have another bottle of..." he didn't finish his question because he felt a knife slip under his throat, from behind the door.
"Lord Equix, an assassin demon has came to disrupt the ceremony, just as you predicted. The holder of the knife said. Ironically, it was the very girl Howard had came looking for.
Howard's throat had gone dry, but swallowing with a knife at his neck seemed like a bad idea. "Um... This isn't the dressing rooms." He choked out.
"Nice try demon." The figure in the center of the room said. "Bring it in." Howard was roughly grabbed and dragged into the room.
"Hey hey! Watch the threads dammit. Do you know how much I spend on tailoring?" He said, but was ignored.
"Did you think you could disrupt us demon? Did you think I wouldn't anticipate this?" The lead nut strolled forward dramatically. His face hidden under the prerequisite dark hooded robe.
"I just wanted to buy a gift for my girlfriend. I didn't know about your kool aid cult here buddy." Howard shrugged off the grip of the girl, and straightened his coat.
"Oh yes demon. You didn't show up just as we were about to summon the Claus? How very lame. You will not stop us from getting what is ours tonight. Tonight brothers and sisters, we will bring the Claus to us, and we will repay him for our undeserved years on the naughty list!"
"Should have bought her a gift card..." Howard groaned.
"What's going on now?" Ellen Sallis murmured into the phone, not believing what she was hearing. "Are you telling me Ted is still alive?" The thought made her feel all kinds of conflicted, her stomach fluttered uneasily.
"We're not entirely sure." The AIM agent on the phone replied. "It could be him. Or maybe just his consciousness imprinted on the form. Was your husband a mutant ma'me?"
"I don't know. I don't think so."
"Its okay ma'me. The world has become much more tolerant towards mutants---"
"Ted wasn't a mutant. He was just a man, and he died! They found his car in the swamp."
"And no body was ever recovered." The agent replied, his patience wearing off quickly. "There have been a number of sightings of a hulk-like creature in an almost direct line from the Florida Everglades to New York. Now we've intercepted sightings of 'something' similar in appearance haunting the sewer system. It can't be a coincidence. Sallis, or something that thinks it's Sallis. What would Sallis be doing in New York?" The agent asked, knowing the answer.
"It's coming for me?" The phone nearly dropped from her shaky hand. "This isn't an Poe story! People don't come back for revenge!" She could hear the panic in her voice, but was helpless stop it.
"This can be turned to our advantage." The agent replied. "If its coming to you, then we'll be waiting for it."
* * *
After some discussion, Mercy and lance had decided to explore the tunnel opposite of the shifty jumpsuit guy. "What are you going to do if you find something? Interview it?"
"That would make for a hell of a story." She replied, stepping around a moist pile of 'something.' "I'll settle for an exclusive photo though." They walked in silence for a bit, concentrating on their footsteps. As she walked, Mercy became aware of another smell. Kinda earthy, but rotten. Like decomposing compost. It seemed out of place. Not exactly pleasant, but definitely a step up from the other smell. "Do you smell that?" She asked.
"I don't think I'll ever smell anything again." He grumbled.
But she was already turning down a dim lite side tunnel, following the odd smell. "Hey! Don't get so far ahead." He called, walking as fast as he dared on the grubby floor to catch up.
What they found was far from what either had expected to see.
The tunnel ended in a dead end. Mud was piled up in big heaps. Growing from the heaps were the pretties flowers Mercy had ever seen. "Monster gardener?" Lance snapped off a few pictures. "Not as sensational as killer monster. Maybe the nove--" Thunk!
"What?" Mercy looked back absently, already writing the story in her head. Lance was on the ground, the maintenance guy from before, holding a heavy duty flashlight.
"This just in. Reporter and sidekick disappear in the sewers. Maybe she should have taken the hint and left."
"Oh please. You think you're the first goon to threaten me? I was born in this city." She felt around in her purse discreetly for her taser. She was a little scared, but hid it well. "So what? You work for some shady group, and you're covering up the creatures existence?"
"Not quiet. The truth, as they say, is stranger then fiction." He stepped closer to Mercy.
* * *
Man-Thing felt the fear. It was slight, but stinging, and getting worse. It rose up from water silently behind a human. Another saw him, and her fear rose from annoying to painful. Man-Thing grabbed the human from behind, only to be assaulted by its sudden fear. Man-Thing tosses the human across the tunnel with one hand. Its scream was silenced as it hit the wall with a wet cracking sound.
Man-Thing turned to the woman, her fear like daggers in its chest. It reached its hand out, strange pores opening to release bio reactive chemicals.
'Okay Liddle. Here's your story. Do your job.' She thought too herself. She took three slow breaths to calm herself. Then, "Mercy Liddle, from the Daily Bugle. Can I get an interview?"
The human female was talking to it. Her fear, while not gone, was retreating. Man-Thing slowly lowered its hand again.
The monster stood very still, maybe confused. It was as big as reported. almost seven feet tall. Its large eyes were indeed a dark red color. "Um, can you understand me? Thanks for saving me." No reaction from the monster. "I bet you have a story, shame you don't seem to talk." She was feeling much more calm, despite the weirdness of the situation.
The monster reached out one massive hand, opened palm up, obviously an invitation. Mercy nervously put her hand in the monsters. If it wanted to hurt her, it would. It reached out its other hand, and touched two fingers to her forehead. And suddenly she knew its story. How it had been a doctor named Ted Sallis, how his wife had betrayed him. How he had became this thing. She even knew the creature itself had almost human memories. That these images were called up for her, and would just as quickly vanish again.
She also understood what it was doing here. Maybe she could have stalled it, distracted it from its mission. But it would only be that, a delay. She watched as it left, silently. At the last minute she remembered to get a picture, and snapped off a fast one.
* * *
Ellen Sallis sat in the living room, as calm as she could be. The sound the glass shower stall breaking made her jump a little. "Stay calm." A voice said through her earpiece. She nodded, even though no one could see it. She watched as something from a Lovecraft story walked from the bathroom, trailing glass and filthy footsteps.
"Ted.." She began, surprised by the sudden wave of emotion she felt. AIM agents came in from the hallway, the bedroom, and the window. The first one sprayed Man-Thing with a blue liquid.
"Pheromone blocker administ-- Ahhhhhh!" He called out, before he was grabbed and tossed at the window, taking out another agent with him.
"Creature is partially neutralized. Light up the Christmas tree." Team leader ordered. Two agents approached from the front, and back of Man-Thing holding heavy duty stun prods. "Engage the target." One agent slammed the stun rod across Man-Thing's 'face' while the other jammed a stun rod into its lower back, to no obvious affect.
Man-Thing swung back, striking the agent behind him, and sent the agent flying backward and through a wall. Man-Thing reached forward and clutched the other agents head, and squeezed until he stopped screaming. Man-Thing released the limp form to drop to the floor. The team leader had vanished. Man-Thing turned to the couch Ellen Sallis was hiding behind.
"Why did you run?" She asked, standing up. "Why didn't you just give them the serum? We could have had a good life together!" Man-Thing stepped closer, one hand raised. But something was wrong. The blue liquid had numbed some sense in it. "Do you think I haven't punished myself enough since you disappeared? Do I deserve some final judgement? What about your son?" She asked, crying now. Man-Thing was suddenly aware of another life in the room. One that felt no emotion at all. It gently touched her belly.
The lack of emotion soothed it, but it sensed humans coming. attracted by the fight. But it held for just a moment, touching her belly, feeling a connection it couldn't understand.
* * *
A few days later:
Mercy sat at her computer, starring at the story she had painstakingly written. There really was a monster in the sewers. Or had been, rather. She had a feeling it had moved on, having accomplished its purpose here. At least, she hoped it had moved on.
Andrew Forson let the phone ring twice before picking up. "Status report." He ordered. Various video screens reflected off his visors.
"Mission fail." The team leader replied. "Subject possessed greater strength levels then anticipated. The pheromone blocker worked great. That should make the chem boys happy." Forson was not amused.
"Losses?" Forson asked.
"Only one casualty. The rest of the team sustained heavy injuries. Stun prods were completely ineffective."
"Form a new team. This time take some harmonic displacers. Any casualties are acceptable. That creature is the property of AIM. Project Gladiator depends on retrieving it. Don't fail AIM agent." Forson hung up without waiting for a reply.
The Man-Thing sloughed through the filthy sewer water, oblivious to the smell and the heat. A yellow chemical fog rose from the water reacting to the chemicals in the creatures body. It remembered last night, but not in images. Not the way it had once recalled things. It remembered the sudden pain, tearing through its body. Screaming across its strange pain receptors.
* * *
The source of its pain like a white hot beacon. Man-Thing had followed the waves of agony, using a sense it neither understood, or was conscious of using. The source of pain, distracting it from its purpose for being here.
It had risen up, polluted water streaming off the creature in filthy rivulets, dripping from it mossy body. It knew what the creatures were on some level of its mind. Humans. Two young ones, and another one who spoke it a loud voice. Its fear coming off as waves of agony to Man-Thing. The young ones were afraid too. It would come back for them.
The creature had grabbed the man's arm, his mammoth hand enveloping it with ease. The man had struggled, but his strength was no strength to Man-Thing.
Man-Thing was aware of loud sounds, and the impacts on its body. But these were barely noticed. If it had been in a dry place, with no earth or water, the damage might have hurt more. The Man-Thing was in water though, in contact with mud and earth. It was a place very similar to the home place.
Man-Thing held the man down, underneath the soothing water, where things did not burn, or hurt, until the man had stopped being afraid. Until the pain had ceased to rip through the Man-Thing. It carried the body with it, to its comfort place. A place deep, and dark and warm. Like the home place....
* * *
"You're joking, right?" Lance Bannon looked at Mercy, then back at the sewer outflow tunnel. *You want to stomp around in the sewer looking for a monster? I mean, weird stuff goes down in New York, but this seems a bit.... Scooby Doo."
Mercy wanted to get on with it already. It was noon now, and she didn't want to be in the sewers after dark, monster or not. "Quite being such a girl. Peter Parker climbs flagpoles to get pics of Spider-Man. Its called getting the shot. Then again," She paused. "Maybe I should wait on Peter. He is the star photographer for a reason..."
"Parker has some deal with the web head, that's how he gets those shots." Lance shot back. "I just think this is stupid, and J.J's off his rocket. But whatever. It pays the same anyway." He shouldered his bag, and made a show of walking ahead of her. "Oh jeeze." He covered his lower face with the bottom of his shirt. "Its like getting punched by stink!" He gagged. Mercy followed behind, but refused to make such a fuss about the smell.
* * *
Mercy didn't know what she was expecting to find, but it wasn't leaving evidence of itself. "Are we ready to call this off?" Lance asked. "Based off what I know from B-monster movies, one of us should have died by now. Unless this is the fake scare. Where you think something scary is about to happen--" He never finished as something big splashed up out of the fetid water at him. Mercy's startled scream caught in her throat. A good thing, since it was just a filthy sewer rat. The rat quickly scurried away. "Okay, got the fake scare out of the way. On to the real monster." He muttered as they turned a corner, and nearly ran into a maintenance worker, dressed in dirty yellow coveralls.
"What are you doing down here?" He asked. "This is not open to the public." His eyes narrowed suspiciously behind his safety goggles. "Looking for a 'private moment' are we?"
"Oh eck. As if." Mercy cut in, feeling disgusted by the notion.
"You would be surprised Miss. Now then, what are you doing down here?"
"We're with the Bugle." She showed him her press badge. "We're investigating a... sighting." She cringed at the word. It was a word nutcases used more often then 'conspiracy.'
"Listen, there's nothing down here. No monster, no alligators. Just rats and muck. The last thing we need is a bunch of wannabe monster hunters down here getting lost, or hurt. Why don't you find something else to write about?" Something about his tone made her reporter sense tingle. There was a story here, and this guy knew something.
"I'm sorry, what did you say you name was again?" Mercy stepped forward, uncomfortably close. She pulled out an old tape recorder, and pressed the record button. "Would you care to go on record about the possibility of a creature?" He shook his head, and pushed the recorder away. "What was that? I still didn't get your name, by the way." She followed as he backed away. She had him running now.
"This area is off limits to the public. I'll have to report this to my supervisor."
"Can we talk to him or her?" Mercy pressed. "If a monster has taken up residence in the sewer system, doesn't the city have a certain liability? What is the city doing to keep our sewers monster free?" She called as he walked away quickly.
"What was that about?" Lance asked, a bewildered smile played across his face.
"That is called guilt. He doesn't work for the city anymore then I do. That means someone else is looking for the monster, which means...."
"There's actually something down here." He finished.
* * *
Man-Thing turned, having heard the voices of humans. They were searching for it. Hunting it. It understood this on a primitive level. That it couldn't stay in this place long. It was weak here, and the humans would come eventually. It had to finish its strange mission, so it could return to the home place.