Hellboy: Oddest Jobs Page 27

"You're not going to let me leave without doing this your way, are you?"

"We agreed, Rael. And you know damned well I could stop you."

"You're about the only one who could." He took a deep breath and turned to face Hellboy. And he told Hellboy why he was needed. And it was an awful thing Hellboy was being asked to do. But all he had to do was look down at Sara, and he knew there was no other answer he could give. So he said yes to the awful thing, and he followed Rael through the scrim into a place that was filled with children and sounds and laughter and starlight and he gave Sara to a teenaged girl who said she'd be taken care of and then Rael said Hellboy looked like a sick walrus trying to climb over a rock and then Hellboy felt a deep and aching sadness and thought about pancakes and how few friends he had and then he passed out into a dark unbound corner of the universe ...

And woke up to see the smallest, most frail-looking little bird-woman watching over him. Her features were tiny, sharp, and delicate. She smiled again — as much as her cleft palate would allow, anyway — and nodded her head, blushing. The veins in her hairless head, already so close to the surface they looked like red and blue strands of webbing, stood out in a way that Hellboy would once have thought grotesque but now found sweet and endearing. "Hello, little miss," he said. The bird-woman blushed three shades deeper and buried her head in her arms.

She was giggling.

"That's Andrea," said Rael. "She's been here a very long time, Hollywood. In fact, we've got kids in here who — though they may look only eight or nine years old — are older than most of the goddamn trees outside. Andrea has agreed to keep you company, providing you read her favorite book."

"Which would be ... ?"

"Horton Hears a Who."

Hellboy grinned, even though it hurt. "Hey, that's one of my favorites, too."

Andrea was blushing to beat the band now, and as Hellboy smiled at her, at her fragility, at her warmth, at her grace, his brain started to unfog, and bits and pieces of the conversation he'd had with Rael before entering the scrim began swimming their way toward the surface.

"We've already set up a chamber for you and the infected kids," said Rael. "It's very warm, there's comfortable furniture, food, books, movies, music, things to cook with, all the comforts, so to speak."

"How is that possible, movies and working stoves and electricity and ... all of it?"

"They watch videotapes on VCRs, actually — though we have managed to lay hands on a few DVD players. We don't get cable here, and a satellite dish might eventually draw someone's attention — I lied about our having it; I just wanted to see the look on the Reverend's face. To answer your question, though — portable generators, most of which we've stolen, I'm ashamed to say, along with a lot of other things, but we're not here to discuss the problems I might be having with my conscience. I might be able to do a little sleight of hand with time, kairos-wise, but I can't summon electricity from thin air. Most of the 'rooms' are also equipped with portable air filters. A lot of the kids have breathing problems — asthma, allergies, things like that — and the atmosphere in here lately has been making those conditions worse. But we do what we can to make life as good as it can be."

Hellboy struggled into a sitting position. "I feel like my head's been drilled open and filled with cotton candy."

Andrea giggled at the mention of cotton candy.

Looking around, Hellboy saw that the thousands of children from earlier were all back in their rooms.

"I can't chance that I was wrong about chronos having little or no part of your makeup," said Rael. "Andrea here will be fine, kairos is her middle name, but the rest of the unaffected children , .. can't chance it, Hollywood."

"I understand."

Rael looked around the chamber and then sighed. "You know how sick I am about this, right?"

"What I think doesn't matter."

"Like hell it doesn't. Look at me, Hollywood — you think you're the only one who's alone of your kind? Even if the other Hallowers are where I think they're going to be, we're descended from different Grigori, no two of us are the same race. Like it or not, that's something you have in common with us — and ain't it a bitch that the song is right, that one is the loneliest number?"

"How long will you be?" asked Hellboy.

Rael shrugged. "Hopefully less than three days."

"I'll ... I'll make sure they're happy and well cared for."

"I know you will, Hellboy. The Reverend said you were the only one for the job." Slapping his knees, Rael rose to his feet. "Sorry that you were hit so hard going through the scrim. Knowing that there are areas in reality where the corners don't quite match up and learning how to move through them without getting sick are way different."

"Tell me about it." Hellboy was on his feet now. "So Sara's going to be all right?"

"Yes. She was brought here in time. That's the trick, you know? Find these children before they've suffered so much abuse or neglect or however many different combinations of pain there are to inflict on them that they lose all touch of kairos. Sara's got loads of it, still, even after all she's been through. That's really amazing. It should be enough to keep things in place until I get back. As long as the infected kids don't — "

"— I know what I'm supposed to do," said Hellboy. "And you don't need to worry, I'll make sure none of them wander back here."

Rael looked at Hellboy for a moment, then offered his hand. Hellboy shook it.

"I hope you're still here when I get back with the others," said Rael.

"Me too," replied Hellboy — though in his heart he suspected they both knew he wouldn't be.

He and Andrea watched as Rael gathered up his backpack, and then Andrea took hold of Hellboy's hand and guided him through the chambers to the special area Rael had set up for the one hundred and twenty-seven children within whom chronos was now rampant.

I cant hold it back much longer on my own, Hollywood, he'd told Hellboy in the

Reverend's presence. I suppose I'm lucky to have held it back this long, but the longer

I wait to venture out for the other of my kind, the more hold chronos has over the children. I cant let that happen. I cant let one hundred and twenty-seven infected children make the thousands of others sick, as well and I'm not about to just turn those one hundred and twenty-seven kids out to die in the same world that so hurt them in the first place, and I'm sure as shit not going to allow their final days of life to be spent alone and frightened. Keep them happy for me, Hollywood. Tell them stories. Sing songs to them. Hold their hands. Listen to their prayers. Watch funny movies. Eat junk food. Feel their breath on your cheek when they ask to kiss you good night. Mark the moment when each one passes away, and when its over, if I haven't gotten back in time with the others to restore kairos to everyone, I want you to seal the chamber where their bodies lay and say a few words for their embattled spirits. Will you do that for me, Hollywood? Will you make sure they all know that their lives weren't just pieces of junk thrown in cupboards or bookshelves to be forgotten? Will you make sure they all know they were loved, and that their lives mattered?

Hellboy was determined to do all that and more.

Andrea was splendid company. She even stopped blushing after a while.

But when Rael returned with the other Hallowers, only Andrea was there to greet them.

"I heard you were back." Hellboy looked up from his bowl of popcorn to see Tom Manning standing in the doorway to his room. He hoped the director couldn't see the way his puffy eyes still shone. Weeping was not something they were accustomed to.

"Early this morning."

Manning came into the room, closing the door behind him. "So, how did it go?"

Without thinking, Hellboy replied, "I had to sit with one hundred and twenty-seven dying children. They'd been isolated to keep twenty times as many kids alive. The first one died within an hour. It took less than three days for all but one of them to pass." His voice cracked on the last three words, but he held it together.

After a few moments, Manning cleared his throat. "What are you watching?"

"A Tale of Two Cities."

He came around to look at the screen. "Oh, the Ronald Colman version! This is a good one."

Hellboy looked at Manning, hesitated, and then slid over to make room on the extra-large couch. "It just started. Want some popcorn?"

Manning blinked in surprise. Then he nodded. "Love some. Got any beer?"

"In the fridge. Help yourself."

Once upon a time, his father had promised him that there would always be pancakes. And there were, when he wanted them, but they'd never been the same after he was gone. Popcorn, though ... popcorn was forever.

* * *

Feet of Sciron

Rhys Hughes

* * *

Foggy Dicks is what they call me. You don't expect me to use my real name in this business, do you? I went into porn because I needed money fast. I looked for other kinds of work but couldn't find any. Yeah, you heard right. Porn. A comedown for the "ectoplasm guy," don't you think? Not all of us land on our feet. Hell, some of us never get off our knees in the first place.

I was on the set of my latest film when I got the call from Hellboy. Without so much as a goodbye I walked out of the studio and caught the first plane to the headquarters of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense in Fairfield. A plane and then a cab, if you want to be picky. He was there to meet me at the gate.

"Good to see you again," he said. He even sounded sincere, the big red brute, his horn stumps glistening.

"Been a long time," I answered.

"What's your new film about?" he asked innocently.

I couldn't bring myself to tell him. I just mumbled something about yoga, the tantric kind. He led me inside and took me to a basement room for a lecture. Then he said:

"Yoga? So you wont be needing a chair?"

In case you're wondering, I was only employed by the Bureau for a month or two. Originally they wanted us to work as a permanent team, Hellboy, Abe, Liz, a few others, but things in the real world aren't like the comic books. People get killed, impaled on giant spikes, fatally slapped by homunculi, the usual stuff, and teams don't stay together. It's not worth it in the long run. Not even in the short run. To be honest my one talent wasn't that useful either. I can extrude ectoplasm from my naked body. From any part.

What use is an agent who has to take off his goddamn shirt or pants every time he wants to lasso a vampire or werewolf with a spooky gloop noose? Way too slow. I left before I was kicked out. Turned out that my talent was more appreciated by the porn industry. Now I was back at the Bureau but it was clearly going to be a one-off job.

The expert in the tweed suit who wanted to talk to me was called Marvin Carnacki and didn't seem comfortable in his surroundings.

"We have reason to believe it's like a maze."

"I beg your pardon?" I asked.

"On the inside," he spluttered impatiently, "the most complex maze ever designed. Worse than what Theseus had to find his way through. Maybe a million times more convoluted."

Then he removed his round spectacles and wiped them carefully on his sleeve. I was aware of Hellboy grinning next to me but I didn't look at him to check. Instead I protested:

"You'll have to start from the beginning."

Marvin Carnacki frowned. "Hasn't anyone told you anything about this case? Time is short."

"Nope, and whose time are you referring to?"

So he told me about Theseus, the ancient hero who killed the Minotaur, and the labyrinth he had to get through, and how before doing that, he slew Sciron. And a bunch of other people and monsters too. Sort of cut from the same mold as Hellboy. Except he wasn't red. And didn't have horns. And spoke in Greek. And didn't carry a pistol. Other differences too. Heck, he wasn't even remotely the same.

But that's life, I guess. And death. And mythology.

By the way, Sciron was a giant who liked to kick men off the top of a cliff. First he got them to kneel down before him and kiss his feet. Then he let them have it with the toe of his sandal. It's a scene familiar to me from a dozen films. I've been the kicker and the kicked. Porn is weird. What else do I need to fill you in on? The planet Nekrotzar. A golden barge. A river as long and twisted as a lifespan. All in good time. Or bad time. Depending.

I'm dictating this from a hospital bed, incidentally, which is where Hellboy put me. He went nuts and threw me around a bit. Broke my ribs, shattered my legs and arms, but the fact of the matter is that he was only defending himself. We'll get to that later.

When the lecture was finished, Hellboy took me for a coffee. I wondered where Liz and Abe were. On a job up north, he said. Then he frowned.

"Marvin confused you, didn't he?"

"He's a nervous man," I answered.

"Because he's a defector."

"Sure, but I still can't work out from which country."

"No country. A rival Bureau."

"We have official enemies?" I croaked.

He shook his impressive head and I sniffed the air carefully but didn't catch the odor of dry-roasted peanuts, which is the way Hellboy smells on a good day. So this had to be a bad day.

Logic, pure and simple. But what makes a genuine demon anxious? If I had worked longer with the Bureau I would have known that Hellboy gets worried just like everybody else and hardly ever smells like a dry-roasted peanut, but for me at that particular moment the lack of snack stench was a negative sign.

I felt afraid then. I calmed myself by muffling my heart in soft pillows of ectoplasm, because I can also extrude the gunk internally, and I flatter myself that Hellboy didn't notice this trick.

"Ready to hear the worst," I said.

"I'll explain briefly," he answered. "Turns out that for many years we've had a secret competitor, a private organization managed by the descendants of the original Carnacki."

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