Hellboy: Oddest Jobs Page 32


Ethan knew something was wrong. He knew Grampa wasn't chatting so much, and ran out of steam, and didn't like his ham sandwiches anymore, and didn't want anything but a nice cup of tea. Where he once took ten tablets a day he now took thirty. "Bloody tablets." Once he said to Ethan, "you know what I think they should do? Stop all the bloody tablets and then see what happens." Ethan thought of Dr. Jekyll taking his potion, gripping his throat, writhing in agony on the laboratory floor. "Bloody tablets." In his mind's eye he saw a transformation. But transformation into what?

Grampa's arms were always fattish, roundish, but now he had the arms of a skeleton. When Ethan felt them there was nothing there because he wasn't eating — only jelly and ice cream, not "proper food" as his nan called it. Which was when she'd dab her eyes with a tissue.

Gradually the old man became sad, gray, and wizened. Ethan thought he had the gray cardboard color of a zombie from Plague of the Zombies. He thought his grampa might be turning from color into black and white. Is that what happens when people get old, he wondered? Because all those old films are black and white, aren't they?

His skin was dry like parchment, like a really old manuscript. Like something precious from a museum. Ethan would touch the back of the old man's hand — dry, so dry, so unlike the softness, the pinkness of his own — and think of Boris Karloff in The Mummy. Wrinkles upon wrinkles upon wrinkles, century upon century. So this is death. This is how we turn into frightening things. Mummies. Zombies. Night of the Living Dead. It happens now.

The boy was frightened; he didn't know of what.

He was afraid sometimes when the old man was groaning in his chair and he didn't know if he was sleeping or awake.

Then he'd brighten again when his grampa would ask him to fetch something, and go:

"Attaboy."

They had the bed moved downstairs. Ethan's dad put a second banister rail beside the stairs (a better job of DIY than he ever did at home, Diane said), and a seat in the shower. But by then his grandfather had difficulty getting out of his chair, let alone upstairs. Ethan would stand in front of him and take him by the hands, and help him up.

"Att-aboy!"

Medically speaking, one thing happened after another in swift succession. Grampa got an infection in his chest. That was the point at which Diane said, "He looks bloody awful, get the doctor up here," and they called 999 and whipped him into hospital that night.

Ethan didn't visit him after that, the last time he went into hospital. His father told him he didn't think it was a good idea.

A few nights later Ethan heard his mum say not to worry but his dad, Vic, was sleeping up at the hospital that night, in Grampa's room. Again Ethan nodded, and when Diane asked if he was OK, nodded again and returned to his Game Boy. It upset him that he didn't know what he was expected to say.

One night he was watching the end of The Day the Earth Stood Still m his bedroom and he heard his dad downstairs saying something about "pumping lots of morphine" — except Ethan thought the word was 'morphing' and he thought of his grampa 'morphing' into some new, strange creature, like the Alien Mother from Aliens or the shape-changing being from John Carpenter's The Thing.

He crept downstairs. His dad hugged him and went back to hospital that fifth night, after telling his son to be tough and strong for his mother. Ethan sat and watched TV with her, and Diane held his hand on the sofa and sometimes kissed his fingers one by one and got them wet and sticky.

The next morning she threw back his curtains and the light that came in blinded him with its whiteness and before he could even open his eyes he could feel her holding him but not see her as she said, fast, like it was glue she didn't want to stick: "We've all got to be brave now, baby. Grampa's gone. He's not hurting any more and he was peaceful like he was sleeping. He's just gone into a deep, deep sleep and we've all got to be strong, sweetheart."

And Ethan cried. Or rather, he pretended to cry. Oh yes, he howled, because he knew that's what you were supposed to do when people died, so he'd better, or he might be in trouble. His eyes were still tightly shut and the room was full of sunlight he didn't want to see, and he could feel warm breasts against his cheek. Poor Ethan. Sobbing his little heart out against his mother's chest. He just wasn't sure what he felt, or whether he felt anything at all.

When he got home from his encounter with Dylan, after his dad picked him up from his nans, his mum had fish fingers and oven chips ready for him on the table. He dumped his school bag, sat and looked down at his food but didn't feel hungry.

"Anything wrong, love?"

He shook out a dollop of ketchup.

"No."

All he wanted to do was go upstairs and watch the skeleton fight from Jason and the Argonauts, and the scene with the Harpies. Shaky monsters. Ray Harryhausen. Grampa had liked that scene, and Ethan loved the way their color shimmered, like they were half in one world and half in another.

Thursday night came all too quickly. He tried to slow down time in his mind but it didn't work. His bedroom light was switched off, and in the dark, like all anxieties, Ethan's anxiety about the next days fight grew to Godzilla proportions.

"Oh God, oh God, oh God," he sobbed quietly into his pillow.

He tossed and turned, trying to get himself to sleep — except he didn't want to sleep because sleep would only bring the morning faster. His pajamas started to feel sticky with sweat, tugging and riding up in the wrong places. He tried to rid his mind of bad thoughts, but it was no good. He wrestled with his blanket. Tried to count sheep. Sheep were useless — they just turned into Dylan Drew and his flock, sidling up to him, hands in pockets.

It was pelting outside. Hammering on the roof. Tamping hard on the window panes. Lightning lit the room sporadically. He thought of Boris Karloff's hand flexing. He thought of a jagged trident in the sky above a castle. He thought about monsters.

Kreeeeee-AAAAAA!

His eyes popped open wide, glistening in the dark.

It was the thunder. It had to be. It was in the street but it sounded like it was in his head. He felt his bladder slacken and he needed the bathroom but didn't want to go there. He held himself between the legs.

KKKKKAAAAAaaaaiiieeeee-cccchhhhhh-AAAARRRRR!

It sounded like King Kong and Gwangi in hideous cacophony. It was nothing — of course it was. But what were thunder and lightning for, he thought, his heart pounding, but to make things arise?

He threw back the covers and rolled out of bed. He shuffled over to the window on his knees and threw back the curtains, not knowing what he would see beyond the glass semi-opaque with rivulets of rain.

His back straightened and his throat took in a gasp of air so sudden his lips and teeth went cold.

He saw the song the Harpies sang.

As real as the magician scattering the teeth of the Hydra like beans and waiting for skeletons to sprout.

As real as the shriek of Elsa Lanchester when she first beholds the ugliness of her mate.

As real as the demon at the end of Night of the Demon, swathed in locomotive smoke, plucking the flesh stuffing out of the dreadful Karswell as a child might do to a teddy bear.

As real — no ... more real.

Kree! Kreee! SchrAAAAAAAAAAAKKK!

It wasn't like something out of a dream. It was better than that. It was like something out of a movie.

The dragon had squat, muscular humanoid legs and a reptilian tail that swished and spiralled spasmodically as if trying to corkscrew a nonexistent bottle. As it turned he saw the thing had a mouth like a whale, bright pink and clean inside, and its leathery wings flapped like the vast sails of a galleon. The mouth opened as wide as its body, the jaw fell impossibly down to its ankles, exposing triple rows of fangs — sharp, sharper, sharpest — and Ethan could only imagine the acrid dead-meat tang of its breath.

But it was the second creature that made Ethan's eyes widen.

This one had the first secured in a head lock. It was male and looked like a shaved version of Mighty Joe Young on steroids. He had no idea of its size. Maybe eight feet tall. Maybe more. Its arms were beyond muscular, the insides seeming to want to burst from skin the color of uncooked steak. But its gigantic right hand was what he saw first — a huge stone paw that looked like it had been unearthed in the Valley of the Kings, the dust blown off its cryptic inscriptions by some soon-to-be-deceased archaeologists of knucklebones — smashing like a sledgehammer into its opponent's face. Its leather trench coat was torn in places, revealing patches of lobster-red skin mottled with sprigs of hair. Its nose was tiny, making its chiseled jaw even more like something hewn from Mount Rushmore. The horns on its head had been reduced to stumps, and under its fearsome row of piano-keyboard teeth it wore a neat black goatee.

Ethan watched.

As it pummelled the gravy out of its scaly dance partner, the sound of broken bone covered up by the poundings of the storm, it moved surprisingly nimbly on its cloven hooves. He didn't know if it was the devil from that movie Legend where Tom Cruise played Tom Thumb, or Jack the Giant Killer, or somebody; or if it was some Notre Dame gargoyle friend of Quasimodo come to life; or if he was witnessing one of those one-to-one duels that were always the climax of a Harryhausen film, like the centaur-cyclops fighting the gryphon, or Perseus versus

Medusa.

Goggle-eyed, he wasn't sure what he was watching, but he didn't want to miss a second.

Next morning he dressed and came downstairs, helping himself to an unusually large bowl of Kellogg's Frosties and shoveling them into his mouth with little sign of restraint.

"Everything all right, love?" Ethan nodded.

"What's wrong?" asked his mother.

"Nothing."

For once, she thought he meant it.

When the car door slammed, Vic took a deep breath, preparing himself for the inevitable barrage of monster questions. He geared himself up. Got ready to roll with the punches.

But this time, nothing came.

He looked over at his boy, who sat obediently looking out through the windscreen with his school bag on his lap and the seat belt across his body like a crossing-out. "All right, son?"

Ethan nodded, and his father felt a strange pang of regret. The car sounded a little empty today.

At lunchtime he pulled on his anorak and walked to his grandmother's house, a few streets away, and rang the doorbell. "I left some work. I did it when I was here on Sunday. I need it for this afternoon." He didn't like lying to her and already felt he wasn't being very convincing. "Geography," he added.

"Oh," said his nan. "Shall I get it for you?"

"No, I'll get it," said Ethan. "I know where it is."

"Got time for a cup of tea, love?" she asked as he went into the middle room, where he always did his homework.

"No thanks."

"Biscuit? Nice piece of cake?"

"No thanks."

When he was sure she'd gone, he crept upstairs and shut the door to the back bedroom behind him. It was Grampa's room.

The old man's belongings were still in evidence. Obviously his nan hadn't yet had the heart to pack them away; maybe she never would. The five or six paperbacks with the elephant bookends. The digital camera Vic had bought him last birthday which he'd never used. The single bed he'd slept in alone ever since his coughing and insomnia had started to keep his wife up all night. The nylon avocado bed linens with not a crease in them. On the dressing table under the triptych of the vanity mirror, a Burgundy-striped rugby club tie, still in its cellophane.

Ethan slid open the drawer underneath. It was full of his grandfathers clothes. Pullovers, cardigans. Shirts — some, maybe old Christmas presents even, still in their wrappers. The strong smell of mothballs wafted out. It made him think that the objects were being preserved. He wondered if he was a grave robber of some kind, like in Curse of the Mummy's Tomb. Whether he would be punished in some way by forces beyond his understanding. But this wasn't beyond his understanding. This was his grampa.

Underneath the Marks & Spencer shirts Ethan found what he wanted. He slid his hand into one of his grandfather's brown leather gloves. It was much too big, and when he clenched his fist the tops of the fingers were empty and bent against the heel of his hand.

His nan heard the front door slam, and was surprised her grandson hadn't poked his head round the door to say goodbye. But he was a funny little boy, she knew that. Much as she loved him to pieces, mind.

Dylan Drew was waiting like a gunfighter. His amigos lolled in sullen poses nearby. Huw Gronow, hood up and acne ridden, was munching a Lion bar and Matthew Pamplin was idly rearranging his genitals due to ill-considered boxer shorts. They hadn't forgotten their promise and were waiting for him. And so were a half dozen other hangers-on and rubberneckers who'd heard the rumors that had been percolating and turned up in the hope of seeing some blood spilled. To them, it could be the high point of an otherwise dreary week.

"I'm bored now," one girl in pandalike mascara said. "Honest to bloody God now." One of her mates passed her a cigarette, to shut her gob. Their ringside seat was near the fence and Dylan was watching their miniskirts edge up their white thighs when Gronow's voice, behind him, alerted him to the arrival of his foe.

Showtime!

The gunslinger turned, a massive smirk commandeering his face.

"Hey, freaky dick!" called Pamplin. "You haven't forgotten have you?"

Ethan had his head down and was walking straight toward them at a steady pace. Dylan stood with his arms crossed and his legs wide apart — which proved not to be the greatest idea. A frown etched into Gronow's brow and Pamplin's chin dropped dumbly as they saw Ethan ... accelerate.

Dylan suddenly and all-consumingly thought of his testicles. The message was traveling from his brain while Gronow, immobilized by disbelief, saw Ethan take his hand from his anorak pocket and at the end of it registered this enormous brown fist like the hammer of Thor. This giant hand, this slab — pulling back with a crook of the elbow, then embedding itself hard into Dylan's stomach, bending him double.

The girls went into caterwauls of horror.

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