Enter Sandman

The ear crunching chords of heavy metal music shattered the quiet, Kansas evening. The music crackled a bit, coming as it did from old, creaky speakers. When these speakers were designed, heavy metal hadn’t yet been invented. It was no wonder the rhythmic bass and electric guitars strained their mechanical limits.

Karin jerked awake and sat up straight in bed. From her bedroom on the second floor of the farm house, the music roared into the dark corners and echoed off the walls.

Say your prayers little one,

Don’t forget my son
To include everyone

Karin threw back her covers. A faint light was filtering in through her bedroom windows. The ballpark! Karin grabbed her bathrobe from the chair by her bed and shrugged it over her shoulders as she ran down the stairs.

I tuck you in
Warm within

Keep you free from sin

‘Til the sandman he comes

When she was a little girl, Karin’s father Ray plowed a corner of his cornfield and built a ballpark. At first it was a left field only, finely manicured Bermuda grass and a rickety old section of grandstand. Over the summer he labored and tilled and planted and painstakingly built a baseball diamond. Just across sagging chain link fences and creaking bleachers, tall ears of Iowa corn reached to the starry skies.

Sleep with one eye open

Gripping your pillow tight

The screen door banged against the door frame as Karin breezed out of the house. Her bare feet slapped against the brown dirt path that led from the front door to the left field seats. Though her father had long ago completed other sections of the grandstands for spectators, she always sat in left field. It was where the magic had first manifested, and though it had spread, it still always seemed strongest there.

Exit light

Enter night
Take my hand
We’re off to never never-land

Karen stomped up the bleacher stairs and sat down, out of breath and staring into the night. Her breasts were heaving as she gulped air. Her flaming red hair was unkept and tangled from sleep and the midnight wind. There, in the centre field wall where on enchanted nights the ghost men walked in to play baseball and out to rest until the next mystical “Play ball!”, a new shimmering baseball player was entering. His cleats shifted from translucent and grey to solid and black as they crunched the dirt of the warning track. Head down, he tucked his glove under his arm, and began to jog from centre field towards the pitcher’s mound.

At first, Karin didn’t know who he was. His pinstripe uniform wasn’t immediately distinct, but then she saw the bold big numbers on his back. 42. Karin gasped. Could it be?

Her gaze remained locked on the new pitcher emerging from the cornfield, but she acknowledged the arrival of her parents with a distracted wave of her hand. Annie, her mother, was an aged, mirror image of her daughter, though her red hair had faded and was streaked with the silver of age. Her father moved with the slow, creaking joints of a lifelong farmer. Though his face was deeply grooved from long days under the summer sun, his smile was still bright.

“Did I hear ‘Enter Sandman’?” he asked, a slight rasp in his voice.
“Yep. I wonder what Joe thinks of ‘modern music’?” Karin replied.
“Is it…?” Ray let the question tail off into a whisper.

Karin just pointed to the pitcher warming up on the mound. He was focused, quick, deliberate in his delivery to the catcher. His number was clearly visible, and though there was no name on the jersey, Ray immediately knew who was making warm-up tosses on his cornfield ballpark mound.

“Mariano Rivera.”

He didn’t so much say the name as breathe it with a holy reverence. From left field, Shoeless Joe lobbed a toss to the centre fielder, and turned to throw the Kinsella family a wink. He had heard Ray’s whisper. Joe enjoyed introducing new players to his magical baseball fans.

Rivera, the greatest closer to ever pitch in organized baseball, was warming up for the 1918 Chicago White Sox in a cornfield in Iowa.

“Watch this, Karin,” Ray said, leaning down from his seat to whisper in his daughter’s ear. “Mariano Rivera is the greatest pitcher to ever close a game. He throws a cutter, primarily. It comes in hard and straight like a fastball and at the last moment cuts hard. He discovered it by accident, they say. Chipper Jones, he played third base for the Atlanta Braves in Mariano’s time, called the pitch a buzz saw. They said Rivera broke more bats in a single season than any pitcher before him.”

Karin listened and watched with rapt attention as Mariano Rivera stood tall on the mound. He stared into the catcher for a brief moment before turning, and hurling a pitch towards home plate. Even from left field, above the crickets and the leathery flapping of corn husks, Karin heard the zip of a baseball, and the loud *snap* of the baseball smacking into the catcher’s mitt.

“Striiiiike one!” the umpire yelled. Mariano simply caught the ball from his catcher, kicked the dirt on the mound, and stood, foot pressed against the rubber, ready to go again.

“If you build it, he will come,” a ghostly announcer once said. Then “he” was Shoeless Joe Jackson. Tonight it was Mariano Rivera, the last ball player to ever wear number forty-two, and the greatest to ever pitch the ninth inning.

Karin smiled. The magic was still alive in the Iowa cornfield.

League of Justice 0.8: “What Dreams May Come”

Smallville, Kansas

The spacecraft was easy enough to hide. Jonathan Kent merely dug a bunker beneath the barn, and concealed the capsule within. But a baby was harder to contain. Martha Kent was determined to keep the child, and wouldn’t hear of any other strategy.

“What does a space baby eat?” She wondered aloud. She was rocking him, that much was easy enough to determine as he had been placed in his capsule naked. She had since wrapped him in a red blanket she found in the hall closet. Surprisingly the child wasn’t crying. He was staring around curiously, and Martha was struck with the feeling that he was more aware than any other babe she had been around. His age was hard to determine. His size made him to be a few weeks old, but his manner was that of an older baby. He had a handsome, chubby face, and thick black hair.

“Well, same as any other baby, I suppose. Give em milk, don’t you?” Jonathan was practical, as ever. That the baby had apparently come from outer space either didn’t register or didn’t perturb him in the least. Martha snorted from the rocking chair. “You do if you have mother’s milk. I guess we need some formula. Look in the cupboard. I think Mary left some the last time she was here.” Mary was Martha’s older sister who had six children of her own. They hadn’t visited in a few months, but when she had she was bouncing a fat new addition to the family. Martha walked into the kitchen, cradling the baby. Jonathan had found the formula, a powdered blend, and was mixing it according to the directions. “Oh! Goodness!” Martha exclaimed. “We don’t have a bottle.” “Yes we do.” Jonathan replied calmly. He walked over the corner and lifted a bottle out of a tattered cardboard box that was sitting by the door. “Just bought them. I was thinking of breeding a few calves this fall, maybe starting a herd.” The bottle was a little larger than the typical human infant bottle, but it would serve.

Martha sat back down, and introduced the bottle to the baby. Without hesitation he started sucking and drinking the milk with gusto. “Well, he certainly seems hungry. What did you do with his spaceship?” “I threw a tarp over it for now. What do you think, should we contact the government? Do you suppose they saw this thing come down?” Martha was cooing at her new charge, and didn’t answer right away.

“Well, I figure if they knew it had come down, they would be here by now to check it out.” “Maybe.” “And all they will do is take him away and study him. I doubt whoever placed him in that thing and sent him our way meant for him to live in a lab like a mouse and be studied. He needs a family.”

It was Jonathan’s turn to be quiet awhile. The baby had finished his milk and Martha was burping him against her shoulder. Jonathan stared into the child’s eyes for a moment. Then, in a moment, he came to a decision. He knew the right thing to do, and he knew what he had to do, and there was no contest between the two.

“How are we going to explain a baby? People tend to notice when you ain’t been pregnant and then have a baby.”

Martha stood up, love and joy shining from her eyes. Hiding an alien baby was not something done lightly, and her husband had done it for her. She blinked back tears and she bounced the babe in a rhythmic whole body bounce and thought. Jonathan was amazed at how nurturing was something women seemed to know instinctively. He was of course forgetting about the many children that Martha had practically raised, being the caregiver of the community that she was.

“We found him on our doorstep, didn’t we? My daddy always did say that honesty was the best policy. He just came in a big, shiny basket from out beyond the stars. But we can leave out that last bit. I never saw the need for total honesty.” Martha said this with a smirk and twinkle in her eye. It was Jonathan’s turn to feel a swell of love. “Works for me,” he said. “What are you going to do with the big, shiny basket?” Martha asked. Jonathan shrugged. “Always been meaning to dig a bunker under the barn for an additional tornado shelter. No time like the present, my dad always said.”

The baby had fallen asleep in Martha’s arms. She sat down again in the rocker and glided gently back and forth.

“What do we call him?” She whispered.

“You know, I’ve always liked your maiden name. It’s suitable for a boy, isn’t it? And then we give him our name.”

Martha patted her new son on the back.

“Welcome to earth, Clark Kent.”

All of Martha’s dreams came true, in an instant, when a mysterious capsule crashed to earth from the heavens.

League of Justice #0.7: “Sea of Troubles”

Bermuda, September 1941

Once upon a time, in a mysterious triangle of the Atlantic Ocean, on a hurricane battered bit of rock, a boy was born. The island has many names, and isn’t terribly large, but it is part of the Bermuda archipelago. The baby was born to a British submariner and an island beauty. Her skin was dark and beautiful, a blend of many hues and shades, like her heritage, a deep blend of the many strains of humanity that at one time or another had made The Islands of Bermuda their home. The young sailor grew up on the shores of the Thames and dreamed of an endless expanse of ocean. The girl grew up on shores of sand, always waiting for what the tides would bring. Their love was every bit as wild and tumultuous as the sea, but every bit as deep.

Their love was not to last. After surviving many daring underwater raids and sneak attacks, the sailor’s sub was caught in open water surrounded by German u-boats. The battle was valiant but futile, and the sailor and his mates never rose above the ocean waves again. Unknown to him, back on the shores of Bermuda, his wife was pregnant with their unborn son. When the commander of the base delivered the sad news, she wept for the brave father who would never know his son.

That fall, an ordinary healthy baby boy was born and took his first breath of salt tinged air. His first cries echoed across a stormy sea. He was a striking newborn: not overly large, but well formed and possessed of the same gorgeous skin of his mother. But atop his head was a wild tuft of golden hair. One of his eyes was dark, deep brown, the other was grey and blue, like the shades of the ocean, tossed together. His mother named him Arthur Curry, after his father.

Little Artie grew and thrived on the ocean, only dimly aware of the larger conflict that spanned the world around him. He was as often under the waves as on them, diving and swimming as strongly as any fish. However, as he grew into a bigger boy, he often grew sick and weak. His muscles failed him, and soon he could neither swim nor walk. The military doctors could not discern the cause of his affliction, and flew in experts from around the world. Never had a little boy had more love and attention, growing up among sailors he had more uncles and big brothers than most boys could ask for. He became their little mascot, and given how much time he spent in the water, the sailors had nicknamed him AquaBoy. The origins of his condition was never conclusively identified, but the result was clear. Artie’s muscle mass, and most of his bone structure, had partially liquified. He could not move or stand simply because he had nothing to stand on or move with. It was a grizzled old salt who proposed what would be Artie’s salvation: an aquatic environment. To protect his skin from over saturation, Artie was fitted with a suit. He was placed in a pool of water. Buoyed by the water, Artie could move with only the barest of movements, and the water held him up in a constant embrace. AquaBoy swam again, and the water became his forever home.

The old salt continued to look after Artie, who learned and grew like any other child. The salt, having a keen mind, devised an exoskeleton for Artie to help support his soft frame and to amplify his movements so that he could swim and move with greater ease. Living in an aquarium was a lonely existence for a boy, though the sailors joined him whenever they could. One day a orphaned dolphin wandered into a Bermuda bay. Worried that without a mother she would die, the sailors placed the dolphin in a tank and fed her. Someone then had the idea to bring Artie to the dolphin, and from then on they were never parted. He named her Sula. She would would propel him around and gently float beside him when he slept, and they played together. Spending every second in each other’s company gave them a bond and a communication that few companions of a single species could ever hope to replicate, let alone one aquatic, one terrestrial.

Arthur, on achieving his teenage years, not only surprised every medical professional by being alive, but astounded everyone with his brilliance and his mental agility. Being unable to travel, the experts in many subjects and fields came to him. By the time the AquaBoy became a man, he was one of the best minds in the world. He had been relocated from a small pool in a small building to a large complex with many areas and with outlets to the sea. Sula, herself only in her young adult years, had an passageway that led into the open ocean from the main aquarium in which they both lived. This was added after Arthur’s insistence, his caretakers feared she would leave and either be killed or never return. But Sula showed no signs of ever wanting to abandon Arthur and into adult life, they remain inseparable.

Into the 1980s, Arthur continued to astound those who cared for him. At this time chronologically in his forties, he still resembled a young man. Some attributed this to his lifestyle, but using the newest medical technology, his genes were sequenced and examined. Arthur’s main condition, a gelatinous skeleton, remained a mystery and was blamed on a mutation. But a side effect was discovered: Arthur aged at almost half the rate of a normal human. By fifty he was genetically closer to twenty five. Sula, however, remained a completely ordinary dolphin. Though well into her sixties, she was nothing more than a prime example of the species. Sometime around their combined sixty-second birthday, she defied some odds of her own by finding a love of a dolphin kind and later that year she gave birth to pair of calves, one male and one female. She had apparently mated with a false killer whale as her offspring were identified as wolphins. Arthur named them George and Gracie. As they grew, they formed the same strong bond with Arthur that their mother had. Aquaman seemed as happy with his aquatic family as they were their human companion.

As the world entered the 21st century, Sula died at the old, even for a dolphin, age of 70. Arthur, meanwhile, was still in his thirties and was becoming extremely interested in current events on the American mainland, mostly in the dark, crime filled Gotham City and just outside of Metropolis, in a small town called Smallville.

A Thousand Cuts

My name is Phil, and I have clinical depression.

Last night I tweeted this:

“Life is a death of a thousand cuts. The question is: can you find meaning before you bleed to death all over the carpet? Me, I don’t know.”

A twitter friend, a fellow nerd and author, asked his followers to tweet to a woman who truly believed she was ugly and to tell her the truth. I perused this woman’s feed, and was deeply saddened to see that her voice was almost gone. Most of her recent posts were retweets from suicidal accounts. [Author’s note: A suicidal account is an account on social media that is almost entirely thoughts, pictures, and poetry about suicide. They are everywhere on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Most are run by truly desperate people. Take a break from kittens sometime and read the pain that no one sees. It will sober you up in a hurry.] I felt so lost and so small. I had nothing to say to this woman that would ease her pain in the least. But I couldn’t back away, I couldn’t just be silent. So I said this:

“You are beautiful and you are not alone. I know your pain and it can get better.”

It was as honest as I could get. Every woman is truly beautiful. Depression is not something you suffer as the only depressed person on the planet. I do know that pain. And it can get better. Why didn’t I say “it will get better”? Because I do not know that to be true. I have been in therapy for nearly two years now. I am on medication. I have worked through so much pain and childhood trauma. But I still don’t feel much different than I did when it all began. I don’t have the black fog, but I am rarely happy or positive or upbeat. I certainly believe that things can get better. I simply lack convincing evidence that things will get better. I was frustrated that such a small truth was all I had to offer a woman in pain.

I am starting to refer to this year in particular as the year from hell. Ever since Christmas, when some things went horribly wrong and got very, very black, this year has been trending downwards. Me and my wife stopped drifting apart and started racing apart. Then she left, and at the time, I was glad to see her go. I got a job and lost it. I have been unemployed since July. I have sold half of anything I owned of value to simply pay bills. Only recently did I force myself to use a little to buy groceries. I lived for a month on hot dogs and microwave popcorn because the last time I afforded food both were on sale. Last night at my brother’s house was the first time I had a substantially healthy meal in months. I am so lonely I want my wife and my miserable marriage back just so I will no longer be alone. I have lost the ability to hope, to imagine a better future, or to dream of anything beyond my current daily misery. I don’t exaggerate and I don’t sensationalize any of that. I try to present it as mundane and boring, because that is what pain has become to me.

So you can see how that can resemble a year from hell.

Most days I do not know how I will endure until evening. Bedtime is a weariness. I toss and turn most every night and sleep badly.

At this exact moment, I have no idea how I will pay the next two bills that are due soon. It is hard to focus on anything else at the moment. If you are a friend and have been following any part of my social media life lately, you will see that on this blog I have been writing a little, and on Facebook I have been posting lots of Lego Portraits. I have no idea where the creative spark is coming from these days, but I jump into it whenever I feel the slightest twinge because it is all I have. I barely enjoy it, I certainly should, I love Lego, but enjoyment isn’t something I have much control over. I try my damnedest, but usually I only manage a lukewarm enthusiasm. But when you are freezing, lukewarm feels very hot.

This is turning into a bit of a ramble, so I think I will end it soon. The rambling fits, anyway. I’ve hit half of tank of gas and have no idea if I’ll be able to afford to fill the tank when it runs empty, but I’ve started to obsess again over how far I need to travel to do anything. I just want this all to end. Not in a slash-the-arteries and swallow-the-pills suicide ending, necessarily. I’d be happy if there was no tomorrow. If everything just ended. No fanfare, no heaven, no hell, no afterlife, just an end to existence. That wouldn’t bother me right now. I don’t want to die, I don’t want to miss the upcoming Ender’s Game or Hobbit films, but right now, I wouldn’t care if I did. I might even prefer a nothingness because nothingness isn’t pain and frustration and misery.

I’m living a death
of a thousand cuts
my blood spills slowly

I watch each drip
drop into the carpet
soaking microfibers and dust
dead skin cell fossils
splashed with the facade of life

given proper suction
you can drain the body of blood
in 8.6 seconds
so why has eternity
come and gone and I still bleed?

I guess that’s life
with blood and pain and carpet
stained corpses of a million dead cells
each having expended purpose, exfoliated

my purpose remains, I’ve yet to be scrubbed
from the skin of the world
so I endure the thousand cuts
seeking my purpose
and my dessication

That’s not very good, but I do get so poetical and more than a bit macabre during these times. Forgive me.