Thursday, May 16, 2013

Guardian

By Michael F. Mercurio




Jason Horton loved comic books.  As a kid, he read them with religious fervor.  “Why can’t I have super powers like that,” he would often sigh to himself.  To the slight annoyance of his parents, he would frequently zip around the house with varying sheets and linens draping over his back, usually knocking down glassware and other breakables.

Jason’s dad would look at him and shake his head.  “When are you ever going to grow up, son?”
His mother would then admonish, “You leave him be.  He’ll grow up too fast as it is!”

“He’s going to live in Fantasy Land his whole life.  Is that what you want?”
And so it went, back and forth.  Jason never paid attention to either parental figure though.  He was too busy flying from the coffee table to the foot rest.

At night, in bed, Jason would sigh to himself, per his routine.  “Why can’t I have super powers?”
Jason never quite grew out of that “phase,” as his mother called it.  Throughout high school, he was still quite dissatisfied with his non-powered state of existence.  So much so, that dwelling on the subject – which he often did – would put him into an existential funk.  His love of comic books and video games were more of an obsession at that point – not allowing for any interests in other forays of life.  He grew immensely depressed of his own limitations as an ordinary human being.  On the bright side, this constant withdrawal into himself allowed him to develop a keen sense of introspection, and even a degree of philosophical intellect.  This was what allowed him to question his own dissatisfaction. 

“Why am I always thinking about this?  Why do I always feel like I’m supposed to be something better?  Why can’t I just be happy being a regular human being like everyone else?”
It was this introspection that finally led him out of what he considered to be a very dark tunnel - or rather, in his mind, a very bright tunnel – much like when you stare at the sun for too long.  Eventually, he was able to force himself into a state of normalcy.  He put away his books and games, developed a social life of sorts, and even eventually got married.

Now, at age 30, Jason Horton had a wife and three daughters.  While slightly henpecked, he was mostly satisfied.  Or so he thought.  His mind would drift at times back to his recent childhood, but he would quickly shut it down and remember his father’s chastising words. 
“Right.  I’m an adult now.  No more of that.”  And then, he would be happy again.

And so it went, as he drove to his cubicle job day in and day out.  Sometimes his mind would falter while sitting in his eight by ten workspace, but the rapid pace of the monotonous job snapped him back with each ring of the telephone – five minute intervals and not a minute less were allowed at [unimportant company name].
“Thank you for calling [unimportant company name], my name is Jason, how can I help you today,” the run-on question/statement would flow from his mouth without effort.  Each problem and each complaint different, and yet the same, would be solved with the script pasted on the cubicle wall which he had long ago memorized verbatim.

Today, for the first time in four years, the caller threw him off.
“Hello, Jason Horton.  I’m here to help you today.”

“Um…I beg your pardon?  I don’t mean to be rude, but how did you get my last name, Ms…?”
“You don’t remember me, but you have always called me Lunetha on this plane.”

“I…see.”  Jason was slightly amused.  This wasn’t the first crank call he had received in his days at [unimportant business name], and they were always a pleasurable break from the monotony of his job.  The amount of pleasure he received from such breaks disturbed him slightly in fact, whenever his keenly honed introspective nature had a chance to analyze it.
Today however, there was something else that buzzed inside of him besides the joy of breaking up his  routine.  Not prepared to let his mind even begin to walk that path, he stuck to his script.  Not the one in front of him, but rather the one he used to get through his whole life up to this point.  Growing up, that’s all he thought anyone was ever really doing – following a script.  Or maybe it was just him.  Whatever.  This wasn’t the time for those types of thoughts.  Get a grip Jason.

“I’m sorry ma’am, but I’m not familiar with that name.  Did someone refer you to me?  May I ask who it was that gave you my extension?”
“Jason, it’s time.  You’ve been away long enough.  I know more than anyone that you’ve needed your rest, but it’s time to get back to work.  We need you.”

This was such an odd conversation for the young man, and for the first time in his life, he didn’t quite know how he was supposed to respond.  Usually, like the paper in front of him, he had everything planned out long before any discourse was initiated by anyone he encountered.  It was this “social analyzing” which finally made it possible for him to make a few friends, and even a fiancée back then.
“I-…I’m sorry.  I really don’t understand.  Is there something I can help you with?  Or…wait, who did you say this is again?”

“Jason Horton.”  The strong, female voice stated on the other line.  “I apologize, but we do not have time for this.  The restoration of your memories will have to wait until later.”
And with that, Jason felt yet another buzzing in the back of his brain.  A sense of disconnection with reality sent him reeling into a sudden anxiety, and for a brief moment he thought the laws of nature might abruptly cease to work.  Down would become up, and he would be sucked into the sky, never to be seen again.  None of his senses could be trusted, and nothing was as it seemed.  This illogical panic made him dizzy, and he reached for a drink of water from his Styrofoam cup which he fully expected to transform into a reticulated giraffe for no apparent reason.

What the hell was wrong with him?  And what the hell was wrong with this woman?  Right.  Crazy person is making you crazy.  You don’t think like this anymore.  You’re an adult.  Time to hang up now.
And before he could hit the disconnect button, the laws of nature did in fact change.  He was no longer sitting at his cubicle.  He no longer had a plastic earpiece that was missing its foam covering and digging into his canal.  He felt as though he was floating.

No, literally.  He was floating.  And there was nothing around him at all, save for a strong looking woman dressed in a colorful garb.
“Hello old friend,” she said with a kind fondness in her voice.  “It truly is good to see you again.”

“Wha-…who-…WHAT?!”
“Shhh…Jason…Jason, calm down.  It’s alright.  Here.”  And with that, she pointed at his head.  Strange writings flew through the air, and “entered” his baffled brain.

“There.  It’s not all of it, but it’s enough to keep you from going off the deep end.  Now do you remember a little?”
“Wait, you mean….I really am….?”

“Yes Jason, you really are a hero.  A Guardian rather.  That is what we’re called.  Is it starting to come back to you now?”
“No…I mean….not exactly.  But…I remember…when I was a kid…I would read, and play, and….”

“And that always seemed more real than your real life?”
“Yes!”

“That’s because it was, Jason.  You were sent there into that form so that you may rest.  The last battle you waged took almost everything from you.  It was a miracle you survived.  But then, you’ve always been that good.”
“I…I what?  I still don’t understand.”

“Listen, we don’t have much time.  Everything that happened before isn’t important.  I can give you the rest of your memories back later.  Right now, Gamma Plane needs its Guardian back.  And that’s you.  There’s no time to waste.”
“Gamma….?  Is that like another world or something?  Like in Purple Avenger #17 when Doctor Hughs-“

“Yes Jason, very much like that.  It is good that you remember your comics.  After all, we originally placed them there to train future Guardians and guide their moral center at a young age.”
“So…wait…when I read comics as a kid, it was…training?”

“Well, re-training is more appropriate in your case.  The others let you live out a normal life again so that you could recuperate from your battle with the Dark One.  Which brings us to why I was sent to retrieve you.”
Floating in this null space, Jason blinked in confusion at his colorfully dressed benefactor.  It was only then that he realized he was wearing a similar garb.

He should have been completely overwhelmed by all of this, but something about it all just seemed to ring true with him.  Why else would he feel so out of sorts his whole life?
The woman calling herself “Lunetha” briefly explained to him his role as a Guardian, and that of the Dark One.  The Dark One had apparently returned to Gamma Plane, and only Jason Horton was powerful enough to stop him.  He alone was attuned to Gamma, after all.

Along the way, Jason would have to deal with the strife left in its wake before he could challenge it directly.  This typically involved a series of good deeds - employing enthropy to entropy throughout the plane.
And so, off he went.

 
***

He materialized back in his office, to the shock of his fellow co-workers – no doubt because he was no longer wearing his company-approved white collar shirt and tie.  Jason’s radiance dumfounded everyone, and he incorporeally flew through the closed window on the opposite wall and re-materialized on the other side as his former fellows looked on in a perpetually perplexed state.
He then proceeded to make his rounds.  From on high, he spotted a classic mugging, and flew down to the assailant at blazing speed.  He knocked the criminal into next Tuesday, and the former victim thanked him profusely.  No time to bask in adulation.  Off he flew again.

Next on his unfaltering mental list of entropic events was the traditional bank robbery gone awry.  Hostages and SWAT were involved.  This certainly would not do, and so Jason teleported himself inside, made the guns unfathomably disappear from their owners’ hands, and sure – what the heck – transported the hostages away from evil in the blink of an eye, while the would-be robbers materialized behind bars in the nearest prison for good measure – much to the confusion of the current residents of already occupied cells.
Let’s see, what other heroics needed done this day?  Ah yes, a cat in the tree.  Zip.  Problem solved.  The little boy looked up and thanked him, as was only polite.  Even the police came to congratulate him.

Surely, after these deeds were complete, it was time to face the source of chaos in his world.

 
***

“I’m afraid there’s nothing more we can do for him at this point, Mrs. Horton.  Your husband suffers from a deeply psychotic break, brought on by many untreated years of delusional grandeur.”
“But…I don’t understand Doctor!” she sobbed.  “He’s always been so…so normal!”

“Bear in mind these delusions come from a repressed longing that he has held onto since childhood.  In cases like this, there is very little warning until a number of years into adulthood…by then of course is too late.  Mrs. Horton….please, listen to me.  This isn’t your fault.”
Jenifer Horton was in tears while her three daughters colored and played with the sliding maze toys on the floor.  “Will he…will he ever come out of it?”

The doctor gently put his hand on her shoulder.  “I’m afraid not, Mrs. Horton.  And…please understand.  Even if he wasn’t too far gone by now…the things he had done…there’s simply no way he would ever be allowed to go free after...well….after everything.”
At that, she wailed uncontrollably, while her girls looked up at her questioningly.  She nearly fainted the first time she heard the unspeakable acts he committed.  Indeed, she did not stop vomiting then for almost forty-five minutes when the news footage broke in during her ritual morning of talk shows.

In some sort of mad fit, her husband had apparently stripped naked at work, and then proceeded to jump through a nearby window, leaving blood and broken glass behind for his bewildered co-workers to later clean.  Fortunately, the building was single-story.  Unfortunately, he then proceeded in this manner to an elderly couple taking a leisurely stroll down 5th Avenue.  The old woman had asked her husband of fifty years to briefly hold her purse for her as she dug into her pockets for a hard candy. 
The kindly man was then beaten to death by a naked, bleeding savage.

Next, the deranged lunatic stormed into a savings and loans building, somehow got ahold of the security guard’s gun, and shot and killed everyone inside with its high-capacity rounds.
He fled the scene just as the police arrived, and they chased him through a residential neighborhood where he then inexplicably climbed a tree.  The body of a child was found with him when they fired a round into his shoulder, knocking him to the ground.

As much as the public wanted him executed for his astoundingly heinous crimes, the law required him to be locked away in an asylum instead - which is where Mrs. Horton was now crying inconsolably in front of her daughters.
“I just…” she sobbed.  “I just still don’t understand.  How?!  How could he have done those things?!”

The doctor sighed.  “Ma’am…I don’t wish to oversimplify this, because the conditioning behind it is really quite complicated.  There are also possible chemical imbalances to take into consideration.  But…how can I put this…”
“You see,” he continued.  “Sometimes when a person wants to be special their entire life, or is told they’re special, they grow up dissatisfied with how their adult life has turned out if the end results have not met their life-long expectations.  Now…this is completely normal in most cases.  But some children…become…fixated on this.  They develop a sort of ‘chosen one complex’.  In this type of individual, a mother telling her child every single day of his life that he’s sure to become president of the United States is completely detrimental to the healthy upbringing and happiness of this child.

“Jason…wants so badly to be special that his mind has created this fantasy world in which he’s the hero.  Anything that comes into conflict with that fantasy is met with brutal violence.”
Jennifer sobbed.  “He was always special to me!  What about me?!  What about our little girls?!”

“Mrs. Horton,” said the doctor softly.  “We have counseling centers set up at this facility for grieving families in situations such as yours.  If you will allow me, I would very much like to arrange for you and your daughters to be…taken care of.”
Jennifer sniffed once.  “Y-yes Doctor.  Thank…thank you.  I think I would like that.”

“Of course.  Nurse?”  He motioned to the member of his staff.  “Would you kindly take Mrs. Horton and her girls to…room 6?”  He said the name of the room with a strange emphasis which did not register with Jenifer, but did so with the nurse.
“Yes Doctor.  Right away.”  The nurse smiled.  Cheerfully.

As she escorted the damaged family to their new room, the Doctor then smiled to himself.  Even chuckled a bit.  And then broke out into full blown laughter.
He walked down the hallways, whistling…all the way to the door which incarcerated Jason, and phased through it.

“Ah…Jason…Jason…Jason.  My good friend, Jason.  It’s been far too long since I’ve seen you like this.”
Jason was slumped in a corner of the padded cell, rocking back and forth, muttering about saving the day or some such.  A bit of drool at formed at the edge of his mouth, and eventually fell to his strapped wrists.

“You know Jason, at first I was afraid.  Did you know that?  Can you even conceive of such a thing?  Me?  Afraid?
He leered over him, and kicked Jason savagely as the strapped wretch continued to rock and mutter to himself – lost in some kind of drug induced fantasy world that wasn’t dissimilar from his childhood.

“And now…not only have I beaten you…the Gamma Guardian…but I’ve taken your lovely family from you as well.  I’ve taken everything from you.  What do you have to say to that?”
Jason continued to mutter to himself as another batch of drool prepared to leave his slack mouth.  The Dark One kicked him again.

“Personally, I don’t see why you care for them at all.  I mean…to you, they were never even real to begin with, were they?  You wouldn’t mind then if I….had them to myself?”
Jason stopped muttering for a moment, and his head slowly rose as the Dark One cackled maniacally towards the door exiting the cell.

Its parting words to him were: “I don’t know which one of us is worse, Jason my boy.  Me, for doing what I’ve done and what I’m about to do…or you, for not being strong enough to stop me.”  And the cackling then continued down the halls as it left him.

Then, Jason Horton stood.



Copyright 2013
Michael F. Mercurio

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