Hellboy: Oddest Jobs Page 2


"Well," Hellboy says, "it is the end of the world and all."

How they traveled to Arizona

Taxi to the airport

A new hybrid, painted yellow, some checkerboard designs. Quick trip to the airport, light traffic. The driver talks about this and that and tries to engage them. He plays crappy disco music, circa 1970s. They arrive and Hellboy gives the driver a light tip. The driver complains he got them there really fast. Hellboy says, "You talk too much, and get a better brand of music, Chipmunks singing, anything, but dump that crap," and then Hellboy takes back the tip. The driver calls him something insulting and drives away. Hellboy shoots him the finger.

Private jet to Phoenix

No security lines. On board there are no flight attendants. But there are peanuts and soft drinks and the seats are really big. Hellboy takes up two comfy seats and eats most of the peanuts and drinks a lot of the sodas and falls asleep.

The Reverend Jim Jeff sits in his seat with his seat-belt on, his hands folded in his lap, staring straight ahead. His little eyes hardly move at all. Except for the pilot and the copilot, no one else is on board.

Its a really quick flight because its a really quick jet.

Rental car to Cold Shepherd, Arizona

Arranged for by the Bureau on arrival in Phoenix. Powder blue. Very nice. Handles well. The Reverend drives. Hellboy dozes. The miles melt. Hellboy wakes up as they pass a hospital just outside of Phoenix. He wakes up in time to see that the sign out front says the place specializes in treating trauma and brain injury. Probably okay with gunshot wounds and splinters, too.

Hellboy's eyes are hardly open, and pretty soon, he closes them and is back asleep.

A little later on the Reverend nudges Hellboy. "Wake up. It's Kate." Hellboy wakes up, smacks his lips. "I dreamed I was being attacked by squirrels. With machine guns," he says.

"Kate," the Reverend says again.

What they got is this little doohickey that they stick to the dash, and it opens up and there's a screen, and the Reverend has already done that, and what's on the screen is Kate. The image is very clear, much better than the hall cam back at the Bureau. She is leaning on her desk. She looks pretty sharp today.

Hellboy thinks, Man, her color is blue. That really makes her look good. I should tell her. Wear more blue. But he doesn't say anything. He just listens. Kate's voice comes through loud and clear.

"All right. We don't know all we need to know, but we never do. But of what we know, there's this. Pretty sure this is all a form of astral projection."

"Astral projection?" Hellboy says. "So, some train, it's sleeping, and projects itself into the desert — with dragons? Even for us, that's pretty weird."

"Astral projection isn't just a mind sending the form of its body somewhere else, solidifying that body. Sometimes, the mind sends surrogates."

"But a train that stinks and has dragons?" Hellboy says. "Maybe it's a Manitou. It is Native American country, by the way."

Before Kate can respond, the Reverend says, "It does sound peculiar, Kate. A Manitou from the metal of an old train might do something like this. I've never heard of such, but it could be possible. Astral projection, that seems far fetched."

Kate shakes her head. "No. Wrong M.O. Hear me out. A lot of folklore suggests that werewolves, certain kinds of werewolves, or vampires, were hidden desires that manifested themselves in the sleep of someone thinking about such things, and they became real. Bigfoot, the Yeti, Loch Ness Monster, same thing. Sometimes, instead of the eye sending a message to the brain, so that it then sees what it's looking at, there are times when the brain sends a message to the eye and sees things no one else sees. And then, there are those who, for whatever reason — perhaps a great ability to dream, stronger imaginations — they do the same, but what their brain sends to the eye, they not only see, but others see, and, for the most part, it's real. Fact is, the thoughts are sent to the invisible eye — the third eye — and the thoughts are then projected into the real word, where they exist as both dream and reality."

"So, what you're saying," Hellboy says, "is someone out there is dreaming of dragons and trains."

"That's right," Kate says. "Trains and dragons, and no telling what else. And they are not happy."

"Do you know for a fact it's a dream?" the Reverend Jim Jeff says, his manner as flat as a cardboard cutout and as cold as the bottom of an ice tray.

"No," says Kate, "but it has all the hallmarks. We've had minor cases like this before, but nothing that proved destructive. Often, the dreamer can't make the dreams concrete, but this is one of those who can. That's my take. The dreamer dreams and the dreamer is angry, and when he dreams bad things happen. But the projection of the dreams can only go so far, someplace he's familiar with, or an area he's familiar with."

"So he's not taking over the world?" Hellboy says.

"Yeah, we've rethought that," Kate says. "We think it's personal and local. Obviously, the dreams only last as long as he dreams. Thing is, though, the more the dreamer dreams, the stronger the dreamer's dreams become, and if he has unlimited access to dreaming, say he's in a deep, drug-induced sleep, the things he dreams become more and more real and more and more constant."

"Huh," Hellboy says. "If it's not one thing it's two. Hey, did you see that, Rev? A coyote. Uh, way back there now. Cute little fella. I think he was eating some kind of carcass."

"Pay attention," the Reverend says.

"Don't let him fool you," the image of Kate says. "He's paying attention. It's just his way. Am I right, Hellboy?"

"What was that?" Hellboy asks, straining, turning his head at an angle against the side window, looking up and out to see the aerial source of a vulture's shadow scooting across the ground.

A mind in shadow

Six months earlier

Down in the basement

Before the deep dreaming, Wilbur Cain lived in the basement. He came and went as he pleased, but the basement was his world, and it was the place he preferred to be. It was like a universe unto itself. It was cool and dark down there and the walls were lined with shelves filled with old pulp magazines in plastic sheaves, and there were stacks of bagged comics, and boxes of old science fiction and fantasy books, and there were cartoons of all manner on DVDs, and science fiction and fantasy and horror films, and there were the model trains and the tracks that were laid out on a table with a tunnel through which the trains could travel. There was mountainous terrain and there were bridges over lakes. There were little towns the train could chug through, and there were small plastic people who stood by the tracks to watch the train pass.

It was detailed.

Wilbur took his favorite position, the tall stool at the edge of the table where he could watch the trains when he ran them. There was a space on the huge table where he liked to sit and read his magazines, comics, or pulps. There was a strong light there, very concentrated on that area. Everything out from the glow of the light, his magazines and DVDs in racks, had the look of being hung in space. Sometimes, when he wasn't lying in bed looking out at the shapes of his magazines and his trains, he would sit on the stool and read. It was a big stool and well padded, because Wilbur was a big man, three hundred and fifty pounds, with ankles so deep in fat that when he stood the fat formed little rings around his ankles, like flesh bracelets, and the skin under his chin was almost like a bag, chock full of fat cells. His face was as if snake-bit, big and swollen, the eyes near lost inside doughy flesh. His belly was a drum. When he moved, he moved slow, like a sloth with brain damage.

Wilbur worked his way to his stool and turned on the lamp, and in the glow of the light he began to read Henry Kuttner's "The Graveyard Rats" from an issue of Weird Tales. He had read it before, but it had been awhile, and he liked to reread certain stories from his collection from time to time, and this was one of his favorites. He read for a while, then lifted his massive head and looked at the walls and his magazines, and thought of everything that was there, just inside the pages, not far from his reach: Lovecraftian monsters, Robert Howard's barbarians, Bradbury's sweet, dark shadows. He thought of other stories, and then he fantasized about trains and dragons, shadows and blood.

Down here, in the dark, with only his lamp, the fact that he was overweight and unattractive was not important. He had his reading and films and cartoons, and he had his trains. He finished the Kuttner story and closed the aging magazine and carefully put it in its acid-free plastic bag. He looked out at the table and his train set, and he reached out and took the switches and set the train running. It was a favorite train of his, an old-style Western train. It even puffed little puffs of black smoke from its stack, courtesy of a device in the train that worked off machine oil.

He ran the train for a while and thought what a wonderful world his basement was, and then there was an interruption.

Mother.

Upstairs was mother, and she had come to the door of the basement, opened it, let in foreign light, and the light fell down the stairs, spread over his basement like some kind of laser beam seeking him out.

"Wilbur," his mother called. "Take me to the store."

"You don't need anything," he yelled back.

"I want some cigarettes and some sodas."

"Smoking isn't healthy," he said, turning on the stool, yelling up at the light and her bony shadow thrown up against the side of his basement wall.

"I know you want to play with your toys, but —"

"They're not toys!"

"Come on now, I need to go to the store. Who pays the bills around here? You or me?"

"What has that got to do with anything, mother?"

"It has to do with you not having a job and my check paying for everything, that's what it has to do with things." She had stepped onto the stairs now, and there wasn't just her shadow to see, there were her skinny legs in her ugly shoes, and the bottom of her old blue dress. "It has to do with that and the fact I can't drive a car, and I want to go to the store and you don't have a job and I'm the one who buys your toys. Now, Wilbur. Come up."

That was the end of it. She went upstairs, knowing he would comply. How could he not? He sat for a moment, though, and he thought about things, and none of the things he thought about were good. He didn't like to leave the basement, and more and more it was difficult to do. He didn't like to go out into the real world where people would stare at him and whisper things he often heard, like "How do you suppose he let himself get that fat?" and "My god, he's huge."

And his mother never let him forget that he couldn't hold a job, that he couldn't have a girlfriend ... well, there had been Naomi. She had been a plain thing, and very small, but she liked him. He met her when he delivered newspapers for a while. He met her at the newspaper office where he picked up his papers and did his route through Cold Shepherd and four little towns beyond. They were not big and the route was really pretty easy and reasonably quick, and the money was enough to buy more pulp magazines and trains and old comics and old movies, but when he met Naomi, Wilbur found himself thinking of candlelit dinners, and trips to the movies, walks in the moonlight. He even lost a few pounds.

She was very shy and very quiet, and he couldn't even remember exactly how it happened, but soon they were something of an item, mostly going to her place for coffee and drinks, and he had even kissed her once, and she had given him a little black dragon on a chain; it wasn't much, and it was probably cheap, but he had told her how he liked stories of horror and fantasy, and was fond of dragons, and maybe she thought this was some connection. Didn't matter. He loved it. He wore it on a chain around his neck. For the first time in his life he thought that perhaps love was a real thing, not just something said.

But his mother wouldn't stand for it. She found out he had a girlfriend and the griping never ceased. She said women were the wreck of men, and until Naomi he thought this was probably true, his mother being the only example of a woman that he really knew. She had been enough for his dad, who in this very basement had tied a rope around a ladder and, standing on a chair, had kicked it out from under him, having left a note pinned to his shirt that read: "Try and nag me now, bitch."

But he had given Naomi and the paper route up. He kept the dragon on the chain, forever hanging around his neck, under his clothes. As he had gained weight, the chain had grown tighter, but it was still there, and from time to time he took it off and looked at it, and thought: I didn't give this up and I shouldn't have given up Naomi, either.

Doing what his mother wanted had become so much of a habit he hadn't had the will to fight back. He thought about that a lot these days, his lack of will, and he thought a lot about Naomi. He wondered if she still worked at the newspaper; he wished he had a job of his own, money of his own. He had gained a hundred pounds since then. Now, it was all he could do to go up the stairs, and soon, that might not be possible; he was gradually committing suicide by food.

Wilbur climbed off his stool and started up the stairs. It was laborious, but he worked the steps carefully, listening to them creak with the strain of his weight. He went up and into the light of the world above, into his mother's bright little home with its perfect furniture all covered in plastic, on into the spotless living room that smelled like a doctor's waiting room, a place where no one came, not even her. She lived in the kitchen, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee, watching soap operas on a little television that nestled on the counter close to the sink. She just sat there in her chair with a cigarette hanging out her mouth, an ashtray in her lap, a cup of coffee on the table beside her, or a soda, as she called all soft drinks. She would sit there and eat most of the day, not gaining one pound, and she would go to bed before the sun was down, and he had to sit by her bedside as she tried to sleep, her head propped up high, her eyes closed, talking incessantly about nothing. She asked for coffee and he brought it. She asked for a soda and he brought it. She asked for him to hand her a cigarette and light it and he did. She asked for him to read to her from the newspaper and he did. She asked him to read from books about romance and he did. Sometimes he wanted to take one of his copies of Weird Tales and read that to her in its place.

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