As 2009 has come to an end, we are taking a look back at some of our favorite posts of the year by our guest editors. Today’s entry is from August 24. Here, Mark Mallman brings you part one of his forthcoming graphic novel, complete with an mp3 of him reading the book and artwork by Stephen Somers.
Mark Mallman is a musician of great endurance (he’s performed 52-hour marathon shows consisting of a single song) and great eccentricity (he sometimes appears as his lupine alter ego, Mallwolf). Now, as a companion piece to his most recent albumInvincible Criminal (out on Badman and featuring guest vocals from the Hold Steady’s Craig Finn), Mallman has emerged as a great storyteller with a graphic novel due early next year. Featuring Marvel comics-style artwork by Stephen Somers, The Incredible Urban Myth Of The Invincible Criminal is being presented on magnetmagazine.com as an audio book with daily installments throughout the week.
“The Incredible Urban Myth Of The Invincible Criminal Part 1” (download):
Did you ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated? Well, at a slight age, I made an unwise decision to take up the piano. And with naive judgment, I stuck with the instrument as a way to meet girls. It worked. But every decision I made in life since that greener time of my youth was without resolution. My career path unfolded into pools of summer sweat, feverish nights of bleak isolation and monstrous hallucinations of talking centipedes in the night. Rock ‘n’ roll had brought me past the tipping point and into mental oblivion. Over time, this seemingly frivolous act of playing piano in bars would eventually downgrade my position in life from young, gifted, well-oiled suburbanite kid into the lower echelons of interstate road rash. My life’s work had culminated in a stalemate of big dreams and bounced checks—a cancelled television sitcom of dead days. With all this bitterness within me, I somehow conjured a villain of my own demise. The villain was monstrous. It was devilish. It had terrible taste in furniture.
Each afternoon, Kind Of Blue blurted from the radio alarm. I rolled over to my mistress, the dead horse, and was struck with the vivid notion that I was being cheated. Outside of that roach motel was a trash heap of sweet nothings. Cars hissed by my window, sweat beads gleamed off second-hand furniture. Flies buzzed in and out of the ripped window screens. All the while, Bill Evans’ astonishing piano colored my laboratory in vivid melodic smoke. Little did I know, like Syd Barrett brushing his teeth by jumping up and down or Brian Wilson sitting in the living room with his feet in a sandbox, soon would come the incubus of lunacy from which I would not return.
I waded in a blind fog. I was being cheated, and it wasn’t until Tuesday when I realized the shocking scam that had been digging away since before the day I clawed out from my mama. Something was amiss in the air, for everything I saw and felt was registered as two. When I reached down into the garbage can, the heat smelled twice as sour. My tongue darted back and forth inside of my mouth as if split in two, like a snake. Something on that Tuesday had been awakened. I’ve always hated Tuesdays.
Cock deep in my middle years, I was a haunted man; only ghosts to surrounded me. They came up from steaming, triple-x hot springs, stinking of gin spilled into old ashtrays. After all that post-secondary education, this was my only shred of meaning. I ventured into a labyrinth of absolute death. The word “fuck” rang out across the universe. Hangover pirouetted the tips of my fingers. But like a vampire senses the sunrise, I could feel sobriety on the make. “Time to slip out of this coffee can.” So I pulled a $2 bill out from under an empty cereal box and leapt off the balcony.
Among the hordes, I wandered. All the while, in the corners of my eyes, a shadow prowled. I was hungry, but nothing in the dumpster looked any good. There was a new quench in my taste buds. It was the sweet-copper taste for blood. I went down to the river and stared, like Narcissus, into the beckoning deep. God’s bloodshot eyeball throbbed above me, for he too had been drinking all night. Sitting under the stone arches, the shadow darted in and out of my periphery. Its shape was sleek, and depending on the moment, it varied in size. If I moved towards the shadow, it would slip away. If I moved from the shadow, it would grow in size. The other peculiar thing about the shadow was that I could only see it through my newfound lens of doom. When I tried to see it through the old me, it wasn’t there. A whispering started up over my right shoulder, and then my left. As I moved towards the alley, the form grew larger and the whispering louder. The grass turned blue, and then black, and all the trees went cold black. I faded out and fell forward into the shadow’s womb.
Ninety-six degrees. Garbage trucks puffed out black-lung carbon stink. For a moment, I swore could see them hauling my entire apartment away. “Mr. M: condemned for the will of the people, by order of law.” Oh, how I longed to curl up like a happy fly and die. Have I made my point yet? Have I made my point? Over the city landscape, my newly enhanced senses unveiled to me a parallel world of doom. It was if I was wearing trash-colored glasses. Instead of flower gardens, I saw steaming boxes of rotten shoes. Instead of an office building, I saw a mountainous heap of half-drunken milk cartons and black lettuce, liquefying slyly as it bent to kiss a street lamp. Orange peels fell from tree limbs of crusted burned-toast pieces. The grocery cart was teeming with maggots, and the magazine stand was crusted with stained pornography. Finally, I could see the world as I had always suspected it to be. I don’t remember much from that point, things got hazy. I tried to make it with a girl in movie poster, I know that, but the manager was cock blocking us and had me thrown out. At one point in the night, I exchanged my right shoe with a slim red pump. I also recall mistaking a handbag for a urinal, or maybe it was the other way around. Either way, my hands wreaked of old ham and burning tires.
There is no mystery to the black-and-white reality of a stubborn sonofabitch whose mind is made up. I woke up at home with stuck eyelids. I had spilled wine on my face sometime in the night, too. Only a vague mental slide show existed of the evening before. But the vaguest memory was of something with more than four arms carrying me back to my apartment, room 515.
Whatever the thing is called that blinks on inside of us when it’s time to care about stuff had been so greatly mutilated over the years, that my carelessness actually opened some other worldy portal for certain soul leeches to jump in and out of. I nodded in and out while watching a movie called Death Machine, in which a man builds a killer robot that senses fear, on TV. As it mingled in-between my brainstem and various research chemicals, a monster began to crawl. Under dense shadows, this savage serpent climbed out from behind the burned-out air conditioner. It was the centipede, the thief of my life. But I wrote it off as drunken brain shenanigans. As it watched me making coffee, I paid it no mind. I stood in full view next to a pile of empty wine cases, stinking in the din. Even flies were trying to find their way out through the screen. So it was logical that the apartment yielded monsters, on account of the filth. It was not logical to the monster, however, that I paid it no mind. As with everything, apathy was my only response. I can see now why a monster’s ego would be bruised by such indifference. And in a reaction to this, it started making a great deal of drama by screaming for my attention in three savage voices:
“Total madness!” from the left
“Total madness!” from the right
“Total madness!” from under a rotting fried-chicken breast
I ignored it. Cannibal drums thumped. I moved some empty pizza boxes blocking the doorway. It snarled, “You are next to be eaten! Youaoaoaoaooooo!!!!”
As I sat back on the dirty sofa with my frozen burrito, the monster was starting to call up otherworldly elements in a valiant endeavor to capture my gaze. Lightening cracked in slow, metallic flashes. Atoms bent. All reality stuttered, yet I paid no mind. I had become a beacon of apathy from which no creature could pull me. I became falsely engrossed in the stupid robot movie on TV. The criminally neglected dishwasher inverted, spilling invisible black-soap antimatter across the counter top. There was a pause, a silence. The monster had reached its threshold and was lost for a second in perplexity. If monsters purse their lips, I imagine this is what it was doing. And in a fit, the monster clutched me by the arm, like frustrated grade-school teacher. That kinda screwed up my vibe a bit. I let go of my coffee cup in an abrupt gesture of abrupt “whatthefuuuuck!!!” It cracked into pieces on the brown linoleum.
The research chemicals must have been at full peak, as even the robot Death Machine itself walked out from the TV set into my living room. The monster jumped back, and we both screeched, hopping up and down on the broken coffee mug. A ceramic spear found its way into my heel. Pain shot up through my spine as I slipped on the puddle. The lights buzzed, and the fuzzy bastard disappeared in a cloud of black smoke. The skin on my bare foot singed. Blood was running out, and the roaches came out to play in it.
Just then, whack! Nightfall kicked me into some sort of a low gear. I looked up at the clock; it was 8 p.m. I’ll recap for you some of the big events I missed while I was passed out: A vortex opened in the center of the living room, a doorway to evil from which a few spirits peered inward. But that my dirty apartment lacked a certain puritan drama, the vortex was eventually closed, after officials on the other side deemed it “unfit” for spiritual habitation, demonic or otherwise. There were various continuums of ringing. Also, the oven timer went off. There was a knock at the door; it was my neighbor yelling at me to shut off the fucking oven timer. “All Blues” squelched from the clock radio. Under the doorway slid a piece of paper: one word, one title and one letter. “Die, Mr. M.” When I came to, I put the letter on a stack of similar letters and uncashed pull tabs totaling $11.
The Killer Robot That Senses Fear appeared to be humping the television. This display was a knee-jerk reaction from being brought forth into the material world out of a powerful apathy by a man who possessed only empathy for the robot, but no fear. Thick, wild, white jolts erupted from the wall socket. It was disgusting. The robot, having no real practical experience in the occupation of existence, made the mathematical assessment that since I did not fear it, its primary objective was irrelevant, and it eventually went into the bedroom for some alone time. My foot was swollen from the piece of coffee mug spiking out of my heel, and there was blood. I threw a towel on it.
A noise like nails in a coffee can was coming from my bedroom. The Killer Robot That Senses Fear was face down in the corner, its midsection twisting like an upside-down cockroach. I walked over to it, without fear. The robot was totally bummed out. Without fear, the Killer Robot could not kill, and therefore, it would rather be dead. I kicked it in the side and chuckled and walked away.