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The Hound is Still Dead I (v1.3)

Nov 7th, 2014
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  1. Tags: Exposition, Former Male Superhero x His Biggest Female Fan
  2.  
  3. The internet buzzed. Georgia Pierce ate yogurt and applesauce sitting on her bed while she watched everything happen in the form of post numbers increasing on the forum.
  4.  
  5. That was a good summary of her life, she thought. Someone who watched the world happen from her bed. She barely even painted anymore, and felt her master’s in fine arts (hanging on the wall) going to waste while she talked with strangers on the internet about the people in Bell City who put on masks and fought in the streets.
  6.  
  7. It was a relatively recent hobby for her. She’d picked it up when a few issues of The Hound had been dropped into her lap and she hadn’t stopped digging into her city’s fucked up legacies since then. She’d learned that people were either interested in the doings of heroes or they wanted to pretend that they didn’t exist.
  8.  
  9. She posted under the username SickPuppy. In a few months she’d become an active member on the forum, swapped her fake email address with everyone else’s fake email addresses. Shared scans of old newspapers, scans of old comics, rumors.
  10.  
  11. Her hair had grown out to an inch long now, and was so white that it looked bleached. She kept using her right hand to reach up and push bangs that no longer existed out of her eyes. It was a muscle memory that was long obsolete, but that hadn’t vanished.
  12.  
  13. Word was that Jaws had the shit beaten out of him a few nights ago. Everyone on the forum knew Jaws. They online were the ones who’d named him, even! He was a hooligan around George’s age who wore a mask that looked like his face was one big, closed mouth with shark teeth. They said he was an enforcer for Quasimodo, but Jaws was almost always alone whenever he was out causing trouble and he was notoriously slippery and able to evade most heroes. The people who were in contact with him (it was always easy to get info from low-level masks like him who loved to brag) directly said he’d escaped this fight too, but that he wasn’t happy about it.
  14.  
  15. Who did it? That was as the buzzing question. A lot of members on the forum were quick to blame The Fox, a recent up-and-comer in Bell City’s hero business, an important symbolic figure filling a gap that had been empty for some years while all the big heroes had moved to bigger cities where more criminals were murdering people on the streets than cooking books and killing in private. There was more glory elsewhere for those heroes. The ones who remained in Bell City were either small-timers or they truly cared about their city or both.
  16.  
  17. George liked The Fox. She’d been keeping up on the comics about him, but he was new and she was trying to reserve judgement.
  18.  
  19. She messaged a few of Jaws’ contacts privately and asked how Jaws had been traced down. She got one response--only one person, it seemed, had bothered to ask Jaws about this.
  20.  
  21. “Hey Sick!” came the reply email in a few minutes. They always called her 'Sick' if not SickPuppy, never just 'Puppy' online, which was the nickname she would have preferred. “That’s a damn good question. He told me (and I know it’s ironic, I told him it was ironic when he texted me about it) that the guy followed him by smell. Heard him sniffing around. You see the irony, right? Since Jaws is like the shark and they have such good noses?”
  22.  
  23. Only for blood, as far as George knew. But she was an artist obsessed with heroes and villains, not a biologist. And she only knew one hero reputed to have a good sense of smell. It was her obsession, after all.
  24.  
  25. Between long naps and bouts of vomiting she formulated a plan. Her best ideas came just when she collapsed back into her bed after a long period of being hunched over her toilet bowl.
  26.  
  27. When she had everything together in her mind, she packed a backpack, kept it light. Wore layers of clothes and a beanie to keep herself warm. Had syringes loaded with enough tranquilizers to knock anyone but her out for hours in her pocket and directions to where Jaws was supposed to be waiting outside a building later tonight. Not like there was anything to lose.
  28.  
  29.  
  30.  
  31. The Silver Age Comics Shop moved slowly even on its best days. Joshua was a relatively new employee there, but was pleased to be contributing to the welfare of the small business by illustrating comic books about The Fox, who was growing gradually in popularity. Joshua had an in, knew everything about The Fox’s adventures, and was the only one qualified to make the comic.
  32.  
  33. He rubbed the dark circles out of his eyes and looked up from his sketches when a regular came into the shop. She visited in person about once a month, but otherwise usually asked to have new comics mailed to her apartment. Joshua had the idea based on where she lived and how much money she dropped on comics that she must have been rich or something.
  34.  
  35. She was tall and slender, a gawky combination. With her red-rimmed eyes and nearly white hair, Joshua compared her mentally to a crane. Today she had on a backpack, thick winter pants, and the same sweatshirt he always saw her in, one with The Hound emblazoned on it. It had to be at least twenty years old and he wondered where she’d found it. After The Hound had been killed, everyone had stopped making and selling Hound merchandise out of respect, not wanting to make money off of his death. Joshua had been a small child at the time that hero had died, and guessed that the girl had been too.
  36.  
  37. “Hey,” she said. Her voice cracked from disuse so she cleared it and then tried again. “Hey. How’s it going?”
  38.  
  39. “Slow,” he replied honestly. He was the only one working. His co-worker-slash-roommate was out doing something else. “What’re you looking for?”
  40.  
  41. “New Fox issue if that’s out yet. I need something to keep me busy reading tonight.”
  42.  
  43.  
  44. She wandered around Jaws’ neck of the woods, checked up on her phone to keep track of what people were saying online, if there was anything interesting happening. She read The Fox. Bided her time sitting on a crate next to a closed down drug store. She got cold at night, but that was nothing new for her, she was always cold unless she was actively taking a hot bath or sitting in front of a fireplace. Cold felt like there were tiny burrs lodged in her joints instead of cartilage.
  45.  
  46. Jaws showed up predictably on foot. He looked like a tool in a long black duster and a shirt and vest combo that were of a nice make but that were slightly too big for him. All that and studded skinny jeans was a painful mix. She watched him pace around in front of a building and thought she heard him muttering to himself, or maybe talking to a headset. For all that he seemed alert, bouncy, he hadn’t given her a second look.
  47.  
  48. She took two of the needles out of her bag when it was eleven o'clock. She uncapped the first one and rolled up her sleeve to inject herself. That process was just a chore, she felt nothing. The other one was for Jaws, so she hid it in her sleeve, pulled up her hood and approached him. More than once she’d had people mistake her for a junkie when they saw her administering an injection to herself. It wasn’t an unreasonable guess, but she’d still been offended by the idea at first. Now the needles would help her out. She got to her feet and stumbled across the empty road to the thug in the mask.
  49.  
  50. “Hey,” she called to Jaws with a ragged voice. “Can you spare some cash?”
  51.  
  52. He bristled and turned to her. George kept approaching him.
  53.  
  54. “Fuck off,” he said, and waved a knife from his coat at her. It was a lazy threat.
  55.  
  56. “I’ll fuck you for twenty bucks,” she said.
  57.  
  58. He stopped and appraised her--either Jaws was considering her offer or trying to decide how to respond. She kept walking towards him and he put his hands on his hips in something like annoyance. At least he didn’t think she was a threat.
  59.  
  60. It was stupidly easy for her to reach out for him and bury the needle tip from her sleeve into his chest. She cringed with embarrassment for him when he slumped forward. George didn’t even like him and she felt bad for what she had done, for taking candy from a baby.
  61.  
  62. She dragged him into the dark space between buildings and tied him up with rope from her backpack. Her ropes would keep him there, but they weren't pretty. After using all of her strength to pull the poor bastard her hands were shaking too much to tighten any knots well, and she didn't know how to tie a proper knot anyway. She felt like a person just waking up who could barely make a fist and knew that the thing that would keep Jaws in place when the drugs wore off was simply that she had made so many knots he would never be able to untangle himself.
  63.  
  64. And then she waited with Jaws. She took off his mask out of some sick curiosity. There was nothing special to the way he looked, he was just some average American mutt who hadn't shaved in a few days, but she was glad she’d taken the mask off of him when he puked a few minutes later. She made sure he was still breathing and then resumed waiting. Emailed her contact from the internet to tell him that she had not seen Jaws, was he sure that the mask had even been out that night? Re-read The Fox.
  65.  
  66.  
  67. The air smelled like the weakest of Quasimodo’s men, Jaws. Or Julian, whichever name one knew better. On top of that, Bloodhound smelled vomit and poison and a second person.
  68.  
  69. A hostage? A friend of Julian’s?
  70.  
  71. The Bloodhound inhaled heavily and huffed through the mesh front of his mask to get the information he could.
  72.  
  73. From his back he pulled a metal rod, twisted the telescoping device open so it lengthened and pushed out a blade at the tip. The tool was useful because it was easier to stab someone if you could do so before they could reach you.
  74.  
  75. Bloodhound rounded the corner to look in the alley. Julian was unconscious and awash in his own sick. There was a girl with iridescent eyes looking at him. She stood up like a soldier at attention and looked directly at him.
  76.  
  77. She looked so hopeful. He scowled behind the gunmetal mask and inhaled a few more times to continue his evaluation, and his heart sank when he saw the drawing on her sweatshirt.
  78.  
  79. He approached cautiously. "What do you think you're doing? The red eyes of his mask darted between her and the unconscious man.
  80.  
  81. The voice wasn't what George had expected, ringing behind his metal mask. He had an English accent. But she looked at him, examining his mask and his form and the way he walked just as carefully as he seemed to be looking at her. He wasn't wearing same mask that he wore on her sweatshirt, but they could have come from a similar mold. The mask fit over his head like a motorcycle helmet, with deep-set eyes that lit up with red now that Bloodhound wasn't trying to be sneaky. The front of the mask over his nose and jaw protruded slightly like a snout and had a mesh so that nothing would inhibit Bloodhound's ability to track his prey.
  82.  
  83. "I caught him," she said, indicating Jaws.
  84.  
  85. Bloodhound stopped when he was standing his staff’s length away from the girl and his quarry. When he spoke to her next, he dripped with condescension. “That’s quite the shirt you have. I take it you’re a fan of heroes.”
  86.  
  87. "Yes," she told him. But her words caught in her throat, so she nodded. "I am. And I'm a fan of yours, I just... don't understand why you're acting in secret."
  88.  
  89. He bristled. "The man you're thinking of is dead, didn't you read those comics? He was murdered in the streets in the middle of the day by The Deck."
  90.  
  91. "I know," she said. Her eyes stung and she pulled her hood down in discomfort. Bloodhound saw her short white hair and her red ears. "I read them all a million times. I’m so glad you’re alive.”
  92.  
  93. "You still think I'm the Hound, but I assure you I am him no longer. I'm a new man, and these days I stand for something besides hope," He raised his spear and pointed it to the tied up man. The tied up killer. "It's justice. And I’m going to show you what that means."
  94.  
  95. George moved immediately in between them. “Don’t,” she said. “Do not do that.”
  96.  
  97. She didn’t accept that The Hound was dead. She didn’t understand that he had changed in the last twenty years. As far as George could see, he was the same hero that preached for hope in the pages of her favorite comics. She didn’t get it. As far as Bloodhound could see, she was as idealistic as The Hound.
  98.  
  99. “I’m sorry no one saved you from The Deck,” George said. “You didn’t deserve that. Especially after you saved so many people.”
  100.  
  101. He was annoyed by her, too jaded to want to hear anyone say the sorts of things that he used to say.
  102.  
  103. “So I wanted to find you,” she finished speaking. “I would do anything for you.”
  104.  
  105. As much as he was annoyed, he was also endeared. And that made him feel like an idiot.
  106.  
  107. “Let me be your artist,” she begged.
  108.  
  109. “I’ve been working in secret for a reason,” he told her.
  110.  
  111. “But people need you.”
  112.  
  113. He was bitter about that assertion. “That’s right they do. They need me as I am now. Effectual. What they don’t need are idealists, but that’s what they think they want. Because they never know any better.”
  114.  
  115. George didn’t say anything, but thought that he was waiting for her to. Finally she said. “I just want to help.”
  116.  
  117. “Then get out of my way. I won’t kill him.”
  118.  
  119. She obeyed this time and he scowled, looking again at Julian, covered in his own sick.
  120.  
  121. He waved his weapon gently like a disapproving finger towards the girl and told her, “What did you do?”
  122.  
  123. “I gave him…” she didn’t remember the long name of the chemical. “It’s a sedative.”
  124.  
  125. “Smells like poison,” Bloodhound said. He grabbed one of Julian’s shoulders and shook him, pulled him up to his feet. Punched him.
  126.  
  127. Julian whined loud and high in pain, though with the chemicals in him he was barely feeling a fraction of his injury. His nose oozed blood. “God damn it,” he sputtered. “God dammit that’s the second fucking time this week!”
  128.  
  129. While Julian was fumbling with poorly tied ropes and bitching about his injury, Bloodhound asked the girl, “What’s your name.”
  130.  
  131. “Georgia,” she said. “George.”
  132.  
  133. He shook Julian again and pointed his head at the girl. “Thank her for saving your life.”
  134.  
  135. “Thank you George,” Jaws sputtered.
  136.  
  137. “Now run,” Bloodhound demanded. He tossed Julian out into the street, and it didn’t take long for him to get up and make himself scarce. Bloodhound watched him go, watched him puke again next to a fire hydrant. He thought about letting George be his artist. He thought about the efficiency of secrecy and if it was working. Could he be popular with the message of justice--true justice as he saw it, not what so many preached--or would he be ignored for not singing the song of hope?
  138.  
  139. He figured there would be no faster way to share his newer outlook than letting her see and illustrate his work. Even if he was ignored.
  140.  
  141. They both waited for a while.
  142.  
  143. “If I were The Hound you’d be… what? A puppy chasing after my heels,” he sighed at her. This sickly girl was the only person that had tracked him down since his death.
  144.  
  145. “I’m a professional artist,” she reassured him, slightly insulted by the demeaning comparison. It would have been more annoying if it wasn’t a nickname she’d been applying to herself for a while now. Even though he meant it as something of an insult, she liked it more than she wanted to admit.
  146.  
  147. “Then you can write the comic,” he said. “But you remember I’m not The Hound anymore. I’m Bloodhound. Can you do that?”
  148.  
  149. “Yes,” she said. She didn't like the name.
  150.  
  151. “Okay. I’ll pick you up tomorrow night. You can watch me work.”
  152.  
  153. “Where will I meet you?” she asked.
  154.  
  155. “I’ll come by your place.”
  156.  
  157. She almost asked him ‘how?’ by reflex before he tapped the mesh over his mouth and nose to remind her of his sense. “Okay,” she said.
  158.  
  159. Bloodhound stepped in close to her with his mask a few inches from the top of her head. A tingle ran directly up her spine. She heard the whoosh of air going into the mask, felt the cold air sweeping her short hair towards him, and then when he exhaled the hot air pushed it back. The man pulled away and walked off. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Puppy,” he said.
  160.  
  161. He left, everything but the hero that George had hoped to find.
  162.  
  163. She took a bus home and slept under the weight of the burden she’d brought upon herself.
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