Hellboy: Oddest Jobs Page 30


The source of the river was a broken fountain halfway along the corridor but Hellboy didn't wait to reach it. He jumped out of the boat and sauntered toward the shape that blocked his progress up the steps. Bald shiny head, flat round face with bushy eyebrows, thin lips, sagging jowls, lopsided ears, wide nose covered in tough black hairs, bulging belly ... It was the last king of Nekrotzar himself. Or was it?

"King Sciron, I presume?" asked Hellboy.

"Yes and no. The original Sciron perished centuries ago, but not before he had cloned himself many times. Each of those clones experimented with further clones, improving the basic model until the optimum example was achieved. That's me, in case you're wondering!"

Hellboy rubbed his jaw. "Are you going to let me pass? I have a job to do."

"Nope. I intend to kick you into oblivion."

"I knew something like this would happen. Lets finish it..."

Sciron rushed at Hellboy, jumped and kicked him in the face. The force of this impact should have knocked Hellboy halfway down the corridor but it only unbalanced him for a moment. Then Sciron began circling Hellboy, lashing out with his foot as often as possible, but Hellboy just stood there and he even had the audacity to casually insert a cigarette between his lips and flick open his lighter.

"Lie down, will ya?" Sciron screeched hysterically,

Hellboy reached out and snatched Sciron around the waist, throwing him to the floor with a quick twist. Then Hellboy stood on Sciron's hand until a cry of surrender was forthcoming. Perception clouded by pain, the last king of Nekrotzar was scarcely aware of being loaded on the barge and sent drifting off downstream.

"A million miles," called Hellboy, "and if you make it all the way in one piece you deserve this mercy."

He waved farewell but didn't pause to hear what the reply was.

Hellboy bounded up the steps into the throne room. Next to the ornate chair was the rudder that controlled the direction of the palace through space. He gripped it in his left hand, then gazed at a pair of screens below that indicated velocity and direction. Hellboy smiled, then released his hold on the rudder. A lesser hero might have sat on the throne at this point but he stood where he was and waited.

An hour later the voices came to him from the rear of the throne room. Abe and Liz stepped from the shadows.

"Trevor Bruttenholm was right all along," Hellboy said.

"He knew his stuff, for sure."

Hellboy grinned. "When I was younger he told me all about Nekrotzar and he stressed that it really was a very old planet. He also mentioned that it was a lot smaller than Earth. The collision between the two worlds has already happened, billions of years ago, but the Earth was just a cloud of Stardust then and congealed around Nekrotzar, trapping the palace in what eventually became the Earths crust, forty miles under what is now Iceland."

"Shame the Carnacki freaks didn't know that when they tried to divert its course," said Abe.

"Yeah, could have saved themselves a lot of trouble. Their ritual made Nekrotzar shift not even one foot. It was already where they wanted it to be. That's what I call irony."

"Jules Verne was right all along as well," said Liz.

Hellboy laughed. "Giant mushroom forests always interest me. Let's collect samples on the way back."

Hellboy came to see me in the hospital not long after. Liz and Abe had mapped the tunnels from the surface down to the palace and they emerged from the crater of Mount Snarfell with sooty faces two days later. They showered in Reykjavik and then boarded a special Bureau jet for the supersonic flight to Fairfield. I was delighted to see Hellboy and grateful for the time he spent with me in the following weeks.

He answered all my questions with candor.

"It's a well-known fact the Nazis kept exploring deep caves in the Earth's crust," he told me. "Maybe they were looking for secure hiding places for stolen gold. On three occasions Himmler gave orders for battalions to penetrate the interiors of extinct volcanoes. No news was ever sent back and it was assumed the soldiers had died. From what happened to me it's clear one battalion reached Nekrotzar."

"And when you saw them, it gave you reassurance?"

He nodded. "That's when I knew I wasn't in outer space but only a few dozen miles below the Earths surface. I had to go all the way to the throne room just to be absolutely certain. It's amazing how small an area a million-mile river can occupy if it's tightly looped. Also I wanted to get back to the surface and I'd arranged to meet Liz and Abe by the throne. So I kept going."

"They took a big risk going down to meet you."

"Yeah. It wasn't easy for them. We thought a double approach to the problem was the best course of action. Liz and Abe went down the volcano on the assumption that Nekrotzar was lodged in the Earth's crust, but I went by the supernatural gateway, just in case we were wrong."

"How did you defeat Sciron so easily?" I asked.

"Because he was actually very feeble. The legend of Theseus and Sciron gave me an initial clue. Theseus was just a man, Sciron was a giant, but the battle was won too easily. Theseus had no trouble whatever kicking Sciron off his own cliff. So then I knew."

"Yeah, but knew what?" I protested.

"That the inhabitants of Nekrotzar were weaklings. Millions of years of decadent living had made them soft. Sciron was a giant like the other members of his race, but he wasn't physically powerful on Earth. His enormous size was just for show. His strength was relative to the conditions of Nekrotzar ..."

"And this also applied to his clones?" I asked.

"Exactly," agreed Hellboy. "The Sciron faced by Theseus was one of the copies that somehow found an escape out of the palace and up to the Earth's surface."

"I have an idea," I said, "to help navigate the labyrinth of the palace if you decide to return there."

"Go ahead and tell me," he responded.

"Take my ectoplasm gland. I don't want it. You can use it to generate a cord long enough to stretch through all the caverns on the way down and through all the rooms when you arrive."

He rubbed his big red chin. "The surgeons already took it out. It wasn't my idea. But that's the way it is."

"I don't care," I responded.

"You are one of the good guys," said Hellboy.

His surprise was genuine but mild. It's hard to rattle that big red demon. Yes indeed. He helped me up and let me use him as a crutch as I lurched down the corridor. It was nice just to walk again. I didn't think we had a definite destination, but then I realized we were heading toward the canteen. My nose twitched. The odor of frying mushrooms permeated the corridors. I wasn't sure if the smell was utterly tempting or totally foul. A minor paradox.

"We have a new cook," explained Hellboy.

"You're training him to prepare really strange meals?"

"He has a vested interest in the paranormal. He'll also have a hell of a lot of washing up to do."

I didn't need to visit the kitchens to know that Marvin Carnacki was in there, sleeves rolled up, chopping fungi the size of trees into pieces small enough for an enormous pot.

"Risotto today. For every staff member," said Hellboy. "Tomorrow it's pizza. Someday people will relate legends about the man who cooked more meals than humanly possible."

"Talking about legends, Theseus was always getting into trouble. Just like you. Is there some connection?"

"Nah," protested Hellboy with a chuckle. "He got into trouble because every Theseus creates an Anti-Theseus. I get into trouble because it's my style. Different situations."

I couldn't argue with that. We shared a table in the canteen. I'd describe the meal as chthonic if anyone ever asked me.

I hope they never do.

* * *

Monster Boy

Stephen Volk

* * *

For the first six months of his life Ethan Salt didn't have a name. This was typical of his father, Vic, who didn't set out for anywhere unless he was already late, and his mother, Diane, who was so indecisive and unpredictable that her relatives called the two of them The Secret Society — you never knew what they were going to do next, and neither did they, most of the time.

Like all parents, though, their only concern was that baby came out with all his bits and bobs in the requisite place and in the requisite number. They took their bundle of joy home from Llantrisant Royal to their smallish house on a perpetually almost-finished housing estate called Coed Coch (which meant something red; Welsh was never Vic's strongest subject) on the outskirts of the market town of Pontypridd, halfway between Cardiff and Merthyr in the coalfields of South Wales. Not that there was any coal there now. Or rather, there was, but nobody was digging it. The few miners still employed in the area worked as tour guides at the Big Pit Museum near Abergavenny, or up at the Heritage Centre, where you could try on the helmets, and learn about canaries and Davy lamps, and have a not-bad Sunday dinner.

Ethan's early years were uneventful, except for a scare when they suspected he had viral meningitis and he was rushed to hospital in the back of Vic's VW. As a boy growing up Ethan would never know that his father sat outside the room in which the doctors did their tests, elbows on the knees of his tracksuit bottoms, weeping into his hands until they were as wet as if he'd plunged them into a bucket of water.

As an infant the lad was anything but talkative (though in later years he'd certainly make up for it). When he was three, Mrs. Idris, a woman with beetroot-colored glasses, came and moved her index finger horizontally in front of his face and shook a rattle next to his ears. It was concluded as she shut her briefcase that he might be a late developer. "I notice his eye contact isn't very good," she said matter-of-factly to his mother. "Well, it's all right when he's talking to me," said Diane. Defensively.

If he was a late talker, he wasn't a late listener. He'd be drawing or writing, and hear his family avidly discussing his latest school reports, saying they were good, look how clever he is, look how brainy, there's nothing wrong with this one, how can they say anything's wrong with, this kid? And, out of the corner of his eye he'd see his grampa drawing a line across his lips with his index finger. And he'd pretend he hadn't heard, or seen. Sometimes Ethan thought that was the main thing to learn about growing up: pretending that you hadn't heard, or seen.

Things he had heard were his nan saying: "They talk about syndrome this, syndrome that — they never talked about syndrome when our boys were in school. Not a good mixer, they'd say."

And: "Spectrum? What do they mean by spectrum ? His reports are good, what more do they want? Flipping troublemakers these days, they are. Lot of nonsense they talk. Honest to God."

And his grampa would shake his copy of the Echo to get the spine straight, and wink at him from behind it.

"All right, butty?"

And Ethan would smile.

It was an incontrovertible formula, that. Wink. Smile. So sure and comforting and unarguable that it should have been taught in Chemistry. The peculiar, poetic chemistry between two human beings bridged by seventy years of life on this planet.

Secretly, deep down, Ethan knew he was a worry to his family. His parents in particular. He didn't know why. It was a mystery like a hundred million elastic bands knotted up in a big ball in his head. That was why he worked as hard as he could. He saw how happy and relieved they were when he did well in school, and for a short while, looking at their grinning faces and feeling them ruffle his hair (his father saying, "Well done, mate"), it made him think, fleetingly, that they were happy about him. But that feeling quickly faded away, and the feeling came back inside that they weren't, and couldn't be, and never would be. The feeling of a hole somewhere that needs some chocolate biscuits in it, or needed to see a grandfather's wink, or hear the snap of the Echo being opened.

He was a "good scholar," as his nan would say. He paid attention in class and the information went in. He didn't understand why the other children were so slow and so stupid. Why they spent time nattering and talking about how they felt about each other. He just wanted to be there to learn stuff. So he did.

Often when he arrived home his mum would ask, "Make any friends today, soldier?" And he'd say, "No." Just like that. And her heart would sink a little bit, but she tried not to show it, not to let it upset her, though Vic saw sometimes it did. She tried to content herself in the knowledge he was happy with his own company, and that was a good thing, wasn't it? He wasn't like other kids, but that wasn't necessarily a bad thing, was it? He was eccentric. He was special And he was clever. She could see him being a doctor, lawyer, prime minister if he wanted to. So what if he didn't have friends?

It didn't seem to bother Ethan. He had his books. He had his DVDs, his computer games, his card collections. And he had his monsters.

"Dad, if all the different enemies of Godzilla had a fight, which one do you think would win?"

Vic sighed. He'd barely reversed out of the driveway. In fact, he was barely awake and it was the first thing his son had said to him that morning. "Jesus Christ, Ethan."

"All right, all right," said the little boy with The Movie Treasury of Horror Movies open across his lap. "But do you think its Mothra, the giant moth, which is a bit crappy looking, or the Smog Monster, or do you think it's King Kong in Godzilla vs. King Kong because King Kong is a monster in his own right and really, really powerful."

Ethan. For God's sake, his father wanted to shout. But instead he said:

"Seat belt."

"I think its King Kong, I do."

"Do you? Well that's really interesting," Vic murmured under his breath, knowing his son was impervious to sarcasm. "Seat belt."

Begrudgingly, Ethan tugged the strap across him and clicked it into its buckle. He frowned, balancing the open covers of the hardback on his knees. Didn't his father realize he had more important things to be thinking about?

The first things that terrified him, before he'd even looked inside, were the covers. A green-lit grotesque with one eyeball hanging out and saliva dangling from a wide-open chasm of a mouth. The gimlet eyes and ducks-feet ears of Gorgo. Claude Rains's Phantom of the Opera, even in the mask. Karloff's Frankenstein, the iconic, sculpted head as formidable as a concrete wall. Slithery Lugosi. Chaney's leering and twisted Hunchback. He didn't know their names, at first. He just saw their pictures. Page after page of them, image after image, nightmare after nightmare in glorious black and white. He was terrified, yes, and mesmerized, just as much.

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