The news would have been all over it… if it hadn’t happened on US government soil. For the time being all those involved, and still alive, were unknown, unpursued, unimportant. Three of them went home to their wives, and one to a home that had so very recently held one. The entire affair was kept incredibly quiet and, thanks to a serendipitous government shutdown, the army corps of engineers was able to extract everything easily away from the prying eyes of the public. The very ground underneath the World War II memorial was now a teeming mass of dead and decaying bodies of the most unimaginable monstrosities ever dreamt by the human mind, and at the center of it all was the dead body of a man who went by many names, but most famously the villainous moniker of Dr. Holocaust. The seemingly immortal Nazi was found dead, his body crumpled and undignified, while a seemingly immortal Englishman, now old and wrinkled, walked the world above free for the first time in decades. And yet, underneath it all, there was one body that was never found…
For a short time, Dan, Tom, and Ben Graf thought that that night had been one aberrant incident, one crazy story to tell on late nights at holidays and family functions when the Yuengling flowed and the kids were asleep. They thought that it would be something they could forget, something they could move away from, but in the back of each of their minds there was a ravenous, gnawing doubt. They had opened the box of Hesiod’s creation and now so much would spill out into the world and they would be forced to reckon with it… but for now, they wanted to be free of it.
But they couldn’t… and that is where this story begins.
“I don’t know how you talked me into this.”
Benjamin Joseph and Lucy Marie Graf, now married for over a year, were wandering around many of the abandoned industrial areas that now littered the city of Philadelphia in post-industrial America. Ben, as always, was following along as an accessory to his wife’s historical whims.
“You know we’re technically doing something illegal,” he complained as they walked through an abandoned factory yard, “There’s no telling what’s lurking around in here.”
“I’m not worried,” Lucy replied, looking back and smiling, “I’ve got you to protect me.”
Ben glanced down at the titanium ring around the third finger of his left hand and pulled a wry face.
“Oh, come on!” Lucy raised her voice until it echoed around the eerily empty space, “This is the first time we’ve had a lot of time off together in weeks, let’s enjoy it!”
“I don’t see what’s to enjoy about traipsing about the Tetanus Palace here.”
“Oh, come ON, Ben!” Lucy rolled her eyes, her voice almost hoarse with excitement, “This is where America experienced its peak! This was the engine that drove the greatest country in the world, the amazing expansion and rise of the rockstar of the international scene, the good ol’ US of A! There’s so much history here: people worked here, lived here, they provided for their families here… they sweat and bled and beat themselves to death to make sure they could ensure a better world and a better chance for the generations to come! It’s so inspiring…”
“Good thing none of those guys are still alive to see what happened to it,” Ben muttered angrily to himself as he kicked a bit of scrap.
“Hey, Lucy, don’t go running off too far, I don’t want to lose you–”
He looked ahead to see his wife rooted in place, standing stock still. It reminded him of when the cows on the farm were scared: they didn’t know where to go, they didn’t know what to do… it wasn’t their fault, they weren’t prepared to deal with the world. Lucy, growing up as she did on an upper-middle-class cul-de-sac, probably didn’t think that a simple romp through an empty mill would bring them face to face with murderers and thieves. Ben felt copper land on his tongue as his jaw tightened, and he rushed as best he could to get between his wife and the danger.
Three men, all lean and hungry, were approaching the both of them out from one of the empty outbuildings. By the time Ben was able to get in front of Lucy, he could get a good view of their faces.
“Ben… I’m sorry…” she whispered, terrified.
“It’s okay,” he whispered back, “I’ll take care of it.”
“Hey!” one of the men called out, still a fair distance away. The Grafs pretended like they hadn’t heard.
“Do you know who that is?” Lucy asked over Ben’s shoulder.
“Yes, I do,.”
His answer was simple, brutal.
“His name is Raymond Scoville. Drugs, arms, money laundering… if they made milk illegal today tomorrow he’d own a dairy.”
“Why is he here?”
“Probably a deal of some kind,” Ben replied, “Hell, his… group probably owns this property as a front.”
“Hey, man!” they called out again, getting ever closer. Ben sighed. He never wanted to level the truth at his own wife… but he had to.
“They’re not just street gangs anymore, Luce… they own cops, council members, Congressmen. Scoville has been brought up on anything you can think of. Murder, arson, rape… it never matters. He’s got the money, and he makes the rules. He’s got fall guys and patsies and contingencies and systems from here to California, and he’s never seen a minute behind bars. They can never pin it on him… and sometimes… sometimes they make him look like a goddamn hero.”
His fist clenched tighter around his ring as the three men approached, dressed in a finery Ben could never even hope to afford. The two men that flanked them pulled out chrome plated pistols, pointing one at either side of Ben’s head. The man in the middle: the shorter, skinnier, older and wiser man, stood between them, eye to eye with Ben. There was that horrible feeling for a split second that can only be felt when you are physically in the presence of absolute and unrepentant evil. Ben struggled to keep his breath level, telling himself over and over again to keep it under control, to mitigate his rage. He had to protect Lucy, first and foremost… and maybe, just maybe… if things went well… it would be time to have a little fun.
“Hey, man, what’s wrong?” the middle one called out, a smug, cocky smile slicing across his bony features, “You deaf or somethin?”
Ben’s voice was flat, emotionless to the point of inhuman.
“I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t know you were calling out to us.”
“Ohhh!” Scoville replied in a mocking drawl, “You think there’s someone else here, man?”
Ben did not answer. Scoville gave the word for his henchman to cock their guns as he pulled a grisly looking butterfly knife out from the jacket of his tailored suit.
“We were just here to observe, sir,” Ben replied flatly, “My wife is a Historian, she works for the state. She was just interested in the history of the old mill.”
“Well, that’s too bad, man,” Scoville’s head bobbed from side to side, like a cat toying with its prey, “See, if you woulda called me, man, I woulda given you the keys, but since you do this… well, that’s trespassing, man…”
“You can see that we have disturbed nothing on your property. We will apologize to you and leave. We have a little money, if you would like us to pay you–”
There was a flash of light as the knife was found hovering a centimeter from Ben’s throat.
“Motherfucker,” Scoville’s voice was still singsong, still mocking, “I don’t need any of the money your poor ass could rustle up. Bitch, I own this town! I own this place, and I got so much money I pay the city so I DON’T have to do shit to keep it up, man. What makes you think I’d want your fuckin’ money?”
“I was merely trying to be polite.”
“Yeah? Well I don’t think your voice sounds very polite, fucker,” Scoville brought the knife back in front of him, zipping it back and forth in front of him in a dizzying flurry, “I don’t think you’re sorry you trespassed on my fuckin’ land at all, motherfucker. I think I might have to teach you a lesson about other people’s property, motherfucker!”
He was really getting riled up now, but Ben could tell from the stony reaction of the henchman that this was nothing new. It was all theatrics, meant to intimidate. It was a bully’s greatest weapon, as Ben had learned fighting crime on the streets… and he had learned exactly how to disarm it.
“There is no need for that,” he replied, as calmly as ever, “There is no need for violence.”
“I’LL TELL YOU WHEN THERE’S GONNA BE VIOLENCE, MOTHERFUCKER!!!”
Perfect, Ben thought, he was finally starting to lose his cool. In a spitting rage, Scoville had his two thugs roughly escort Ben and Lucy over to a nearby building, where he had them line up as if they were to face a firing squad. Again, two pistols were pointed at each of Ben’s temples.
“How you like that, motherfucker? My boys are gonna blow your fuckin’ head off, then we’ll see who makes the rules.”
“You don’t scare me.”
That was it. He knew the perfect time to play his trump card. Scoville swung hard, but not too hard, connecting with Ben’s stomach and bringing him to his knees. It wasn’t meant to damage, or to injure for long-term… it was meant to intimidate, and Ben would not let himself be intimidated, not by the likes of him. He’d learned over the past year that there were good guys and bad guys, and that 99% of the time the lines were never all that clear… but every once in a while, you get that 1% of people… and that 1% deserve what they get.
“I’m okay, Lucy,” he said, standing up, “Maybe a bruised rib. Okay. Just hold my hand.”
She did so. She knew. Scoville, however, thought it was the height of hilarity.
“Awwww! Lookit the happy couple, thinkin’ they gonna die together like some fuckin’ storyboook. Well I’ll tell you this, Fat-Boy.”
Another attempt at intimidation. Wouldn’t work, he’d been called worse.
“After my boys try their best to make their bullets meet right in the middle of your fuckin’ brain…”
Scoville’s knife danced around in front of his face again.
“I might just get to know your fat-ass wife, too. And then, I’ma cut her up like a little piggy! WEEEEE! WEEEEE!”
He continued squealing, imitating a pig as best he could, but Ben’s flat voice was still heard over the shrillness.
“Sir, I’d prefer you not insult my wife.”
“WHO THE FUCK LET YOU MAKE THE RULES, MOTHERFUCKER? I SWEAR TO GOD, I–”
“You really should think twice about what you’re going to do.”
“Think TWICE? Motherfucker, I don’t think TWICE. I think ONCE, and that’s why I got the guns, and you got NOTHING! That’s why I got the money, and your poor ass is wearin’ fuckin Wal-Mart! I make the decisions, I’m in charge, and that’s why I’m driving the Lambo out front and you’re goin’ home in a motherfuckin’ bodybag, motherfucker!”
“You really should reconsider.”
“RECONSIDER THIS, BITCH!”
All it took was a split second. Scoville wasn’t hard to read. Ben saw him switch the knife from left hand to right hand, and he knew he was coming in for the strike. He also knew that the wheels were already in motion for his two goons to finish him in the event their boss couldn’t. Their brains were already sending signals to pull the trigger. It was all so easy to see, and Ben even allowed himself a small smile. They were all so stupid.
He grasped his wife’s hand tightly, completing the circuit, and in a flash the both of them were surrounded by a pale green hard-light bubble. Scoville’s knife bounced off and sailed two hundred yards away, sending him staggering backwards and driving his custom made suit into the dust. The two henchmen, unable to bring back their spent bullets, could only watch in disbelief and horror as their bullets bounced off the shield and nestled themselves perfectly right between each henchman’s eyes. They were dead before they hit the ground. Ben let go of Lucy, and started after Scoville, his strides long and hard and determined over the sun-baked dirt. It didn’t take him long to reach Scoville and, using the forcefield, he shoved him up against the wall Ben himself had just so recently been put up against. Scoville could do nothing but dangle by his neck, a scant few inches off the ground, looking down in horror at his two dead companions, and the smiling face of the man currently holding him. Scoville struck out with his fists and with his feet, but the field held strong.
“I told you,” Ben’s voice was like an industrial grinder, “I TOLD YOU.”
Scoville tried to speak, but he couldn’t even breathe.
“You know, it’s almost kinda funny,” Ben continued, well aware he didn’t have too much time left in the bubble before running out of air, “This field is powered by brainwaves. Yep, got a little chip in my head that controls it. And, you see, when I feel strongly about something, it makes the field even stronger. That’s how I’m able to stop bullets, or knives… and it always is knives, isn’t it, Scoville? I know you always use a knife, I know the execution-style your thugs use to kill people. I knew exactly what was going to happen there, down to the millisecond. I know everything about you, Scoville. I even know how you take your coffee in the morning… and you gotta watch that sweetened condensed milk, haha… that stuff’lll kill you.”
He allowed the field to retract just enough for Scoville to take a desperate, involuntary breath before clamping down again.
“And I knew, but you didn’t, that the stronger my willpower is, the stronger I am. And, well…”
He looked over to Lucy who was standing a fair distance away so as to avoid all the blood. He gave her a wink and kept on grinning, but it wasn’t a smile she’d even seen before. He turned back to Scoville and stared him dead down, his clear, blue eyes to Scoville’s bulging and cloudy ones.
“You just threatened to rape my wife. I wonder… how strong do you think my will is now? Do you think it’s strong enough to snap your neck?”
“Ben, no…” Lucy’s voice erupted from her in a ghastly sob.
“Well, do you?” Ben continued, looking at the fear in Scoville’s eyes, relishing it. After all the fear he had inspired in others, now he knew what it meant. Perhaps finally, now, at the end, but only when his own life is threatened, does the coward and the bully and the inhuman monster know fear and regret. Ben’s smile grew even bigger, until it seemed like his face might break.
“Well… let’s find out.”
He snapped like a twig.