I hate God. I’ve hated God since I was ten.
That was the year my father lost his job, my pet rabbit got hit by two cars, my mother left with her girlfriend Dee-Dee, and my best friend David got stolen by some guy in a white van who needed help finding his puppy. I guess David wasn’t any help finding the puppy, because the man must have been real mad to leave David wrapped up in Plasti-Kleen bags in four different dumpsters. It was also the year that my older brother Francis stole my coin collection and sold it to get money for pot, my sister Jeannie locked herself in the toilet and cut open the insides of her knees and elbows in the bath, and even though issue #46 ended with Captain Black Blood about to catch his arch-nemesis, he got killed off, for no good reason. Twice.
That summer was awful — no one let their kids play out on the street anymore, and we had to do these stupid ‘Stranger Danger’ workshops at the school even though school was out, like what kid doesn’t just yell that at their parents in the grocery store for some laughs? It’s not like we’re smart enough to yell that if we’re actually trouble; we’re just kids for cripes sake. My brother was locked up, my sister was in a loonybin, my mom and best friend and favorite hero were dead.
I was more alone than I’d ever been, even though most of the time, I had to stay with my neighbor, this old lady who chain-smoked Tareytons, lighting a new one from the stub of the old one. She had this raspy voice, and a cough that came from her belly button up, rattling, and then she’d smack her wrinkled lips, shake her head and say, “Gettin’ old’s hell, kid!” Then she’d laugh, her upper lip wrinkled to show her tobacco-stained dentures. She’d laugh so long, sometimes she started coughing all over again.
At first, I hated staying there, and I complained every night. Dad said I should be nice to her, especially because she was all alone, too. Her daughter had died of cancer, and her husband had run off, leaving Magda her grandson Jason to raise, but he died, too, not cancer, just a stupid car accident, and all she had left of him was the boxes of stuff they sent back from out in California.
Sometimes she stared off out the window, like she was expecting him to come home, and then she’d be in a bad mood and want to be left alone. She would drink, then, bourbon that made her eyes wet and her breath reek. She’d fall asleep and burn holes in her afghan with her cigarettes. It wasn’t all bad–she liked to play cards, and taught me blackjack, and never said I couldn’t have as many cookies as I wanted, and she had a lot of cool stuff all over her house that she didn’t mind letting me touch. “What’s the point of all the nice shit in y’house f’it’s like a goddamn museum?” she would say.
One afternoon, while Magda dozed off in front of her stories, I went upstairs and started looking through things, like I did every other time. I found some of the boxes from California she’d gotten a few weeks ago. I couldn’t resist; I figured if she didn’t want me going through them, she’d have put them in the attic, right?
The first box I opened had books in it. The next one, art supplies. One had a typewriter, and I started opening the rest of the boxes with a Christmas-morning frenzy, vowing to get back to the typewriter and start using it as soon as I found the paper that went with it. The next box, though, was labeled ‘Captain Black Blood’ and I opened that carefully, staring down through a cloud of dustmotes to which I’d given life while I was tearing around. Inside that box was every issue of my favorite comic. Nestled with each was a copy labeled ‘proof’ — and bundled beside were typed pages, with handwritten notes. I read through every one of them, relishing the words on the page — I had memorized these stories, all of them. Even #47, where Nash Kelvin kills Captain Black Blood for no reason, even though they’re best friends, even though they haven’t saved Sophie Winters yet, even though The Blind Huntsman was never defeated. These were my comrades-in-arms, my friends, my dreams. I lived and breathed that world. Being able to touch its bare bones was a feeling like no other. Fat paperclips held each bundle of typed pages together, their dog-eared corners labeled ‘J. Bismarck’.
I sat back on my heels, stunned. J. Bismarck was the writer of Captain Black Blood! A million questions tried to get asked out loud all at once, even though I didn’t have anyone to ask. I thumbed through them with awe; the handwritten notes talked about plans for later issues, and all of them were to or from… Jason! I like my eyes were going to fall out of my face I had them opened so wide. J was Jason. Jason was J! Magda’s grandson created Captain Black Blood, and now I was holding proofs of the entire print run! I pulled out the bundle marked #47 when my heart caught in my throat. I knew every cover — and this wasn’t it. I rummaged through the box, looking for answers, and came up with bundles #48 through #52.
My shaking hands barely held the pages still enough so that I could read the lines. There, in black and white, my Captain lived! Black Blood was still hot on the trail of The Blind Huntsman, knowing he would be led to Sophie’s location, so Nash could get her out. I knew it! I knew it couldn’t have ended like that. When Jason died, people working on it must have just tried to throw together an ending, because they didn’t know how to keep it going without him. But here it was, in my hands, proof that it hadn’t ended — that the Captain was still alive, could still be alive, at least for me. I laughed out loud, with actual glee! I suppose I was making a ton of noise up there, laughing and hooting like it was the best day of my life, and it was, really.
That’s why it was jarring when Magda’s came in. “What are you doing?” she screeched. “You get your hands off of his things!” she yelled, staggering over to me and clawing the papers out of my hands. The scent of her was smoke and tears and hate. “You get out!” she howled. “You get out, you bastard! You ungrateful turd! You rotten little shit!”
I ran. I ran like I’ve never run before, and I didn’t stop until there was a stitch in my side and I could taste pennies on the back of my tongue, and see black stars floating in front of me. I slunk around for the rest of the day, hiding, and then just went home to meet my father after work. I didn’t tell him anything; I was all mixed up from how wonderful and confused I felt to know Captain still lived, and how awful and confused I felt when Magda got mad. I made up my mind that when I went next door to her place tomorrow, I’d make us lunch and I wouldn’t complain about her smoking, and I’d do all the washing up, and I’d apologize for being nosy, and then maybe, just maybe, she’d let me look at just that one box, just so I could read those last three bundles. The last real adventure Captain Black Blood would ever have.
That night, my father woke me out of a sound sleep, and wrapped a blanket around me. It was near the end of summer, and the night hadn’t gotten cool, but I was only in my tighty-whities, and he was dragging me out to the front lawn. I couldn’t understand what was going on, but I could hear this weird roar, and sirens, and I stumbled out after him, and we stood in the street, and I watched Magda’s house glow and crumble and collapse. Firefighters were wetting down our house, and the trees next to hers, so they wouldn’t catch fire, but her place was too far gone — they weren’t even trying anymore. Everything in it, from her wedding dress to her Tareytons to the boxes from California, to Magda herself, was just smoking ash. Captain Black Blood was dead, all over again.
I stood in the street, in my underwear, only ten years old, and watched my hero burn, and I decided then and there that even if God were real, I hated him, and hoped that he would feel as lonely as I did, for as much as infinity, for long as forever.
* * *
This is for a flash fiction challenge from Terrible Minds – the concept being ‘of these two lists, randomly pick one item from each, and craft a story. You have 1500 words and one week’
My random items were: a terminal illness, and a forgotten manuscript. It’s 1500 words.