Hellboy: Oddest Jobs Page 35


"Hellboy," she said. "Come on now." She put her arm around him. Glanced at the wall, as if she could see anything. She remembered the outrageous angles and uncertain curves, the ill unclean smoldering faded color. Liz led Hellboy to the door, gently steering his bulk.

"I saw you, Liz," he said. "I think it was you." He shook his head twice. "What the hell? Guess I should lay off the, uh, cheese before bed."

"You going to be okay to get back to your room?"

"Sure."

"Okay. Sleep well." Liz stood, arms crossed, blinking against the corridor light, watching Hellboy stomp slowly back to his room. He moved normally enough. He sounded like himself. When she went back to bed she even convinced herself, more or less, that that was the last of it, that whatever little brain fart had happened to him was done now. But she wasn't really convinced. She knew that because, when she woke up in the morning and he was there, again, at the foot of her bed, staring at nothing, she was not surprised.

"Liz," he said. "I need to swap rooms."

Liz came to the briefing that morning with a suitcase full of clothes. Hellboy did not come at all. When she told them what had happened, there was something spooked enough in her demeanor that, though Manning had started striding quickly enough toward her room, he'd slowed considerably by the time he got close to the door. Abe, Kate, and Liz followed him.

"I told him no," Liz said. "He kept saying yes. He kept saying, 'I have to find you, I'm sure you're there.' His voice was so weird I got spooked and left him to it."

"Spooked?" Abe said. "Frightened? You don't mean to say ..."

"No," Liz said. "He may be acting weird but it's Hellboy. He wouldn't hurt me. He kept saying, 'I need to help you.' It wasn't me I was scared for. It was him."

"Hellboy." Even Manning's voice was careful. The B.P.R.D. dealt with possessions, doppelgangers, illusions, and shape-shifters, and out-of-character behavior was a red flag. Manning knocked gently. "Hellboy?"

Hellboy stood, his flesh left forefinger tracing a pattern in the wall.

"It's like they commit suicide, the lines in the paper," he said. Spiral-spiral-stop, went his finger. Spiral-spiral-stop. "They're like bars and someone's behind them. Liz, I can see you. I promise, I'll get you out." Spiral-spiral-stop.

"I'm right here, Hellboy," Liz said.

"Yeah," he said, looking at the wall. "Here."

"Hellboy," Manning said. "Come out please. We need to talk."

"Sorry, Tom. I can't come out. How can I? Not with her stuck behind the bars. Aren't we here to help people? There." He prodded. "The woman. Behind the ... what is that, like a broken neck thing, right?"

There was a long silence.

"I don't see it, Hellboy," Abe said. "Can you come out?"

There was a growing growling sound, something deep, vibrating the knickknacks on Liz's shelves. It grew louder. It was Hellboy. Hellboy was growling. He showed his teeth. Everyone backed away.

"We help people," Hellboy shouted. "So let me help her. Liz, if you're not going to help me help you, leave me alone. This is where it's at. Who doesn't need a room of their own? Get the hell out."

They got.

"Liz, he thinks he's helping you." Kate said. "Did something happen?"

"No," said Liz. "I don't know what he's saying. I'm fine." Kate, then Manning, then Abe all stared at her. "I know what you're thinking," she snapped. "Test me out."

In the B.P.R.D. labs, the reading was conclusive — Liz was Liz, not some Liz-aping monster of the void, trapping the real Liz behind the wall, for Hellboy to sense. Nothing like that.

"Whatever he's seeing, its not Liz," the tech said.

"There's something I cant remember," Kate said. "I feel like I know what's going on." A crackle and fuzzy noise interrupted.

"How is he?" Manning asked his radio. There was a long, staticky pause.

"Boss," a distorted voice said finally. "You should maybe sort of come see."

"It's like you said," the agent said, scurrying to keep up with Manning. "We kept on like you asked, boss, trying to coax him out, but he got madder and madder, and in the end he just slammed the door, and he was screaming, 'Either make this place nice for her, help me help the lady, or get out'."

They were in the room above Liz's. It was an anonymous office, in which now crouched a little team huddled around a monitor. Attached to it was a wire coiling through a hole in the carpet and the floor.

"Fiber optics," one of them said. "We just acquired the subject."

"You're getting rid of your little spycam from my ceiling when this is done," Liz said. She stopped abruptly when she saw what was on the monitor.

There was Hellboy, in black and white, interrupted by bad reception. He was sitting on the bed. Staring at the walls. Absolutely still.

He was wearing a dress.

"He went through your wardrobe," said an agent. "That's ..."

"I know exactly what that is," Liz said. "I don't have enough dresses that I don't know them individually."

In tugging it on, Hellboy had split it until it was an obscene drapery of rags over his red skin. He sat, still.

"He's moving his eyes," Kate said. He was. His only motion. "What's he watching?" She closed her eyes, opened them suddenly. "Liz. What did that woman say about her grandfather?"

"What woman ... ?"

"The designer. What do we know about her family? We have to go to the Sirbilex office. Via a bookshop."

The public end of Sirbilex Designs was a sparse, minimalist, and intensely trendy office, full of catalogs and consultants. The back rooms, where Ellie Margolyse met them, were shabby-chic, cramped, dusty piled with papers, ledgers, and samples, "I ... is there a problem?" Ellie said. She looked from Liz to Kate to Manning to the agents in uniform scanning the room with arcane bits of equipment, running them over the overloaded bookshelves and old furniture. "All our work's under warranty if anything's gone wrong ..."

"There's no problem with the work," Kate interrupted her. "If anything, it's a bit too damn good. I take it you're not so into your grandfather's look?"

"You mean the way it looks outside compared to this? No ... Grandpop was a genius, he could do stuff like no one else, ever, but I want to pull this place into the nineties. You can see what it's like. Whenever we have a spare minute we try to pull out a few files and check to see if there's anything useful."

"What happened to your father?"

Ellie stared at Kate.

"What do you know about my dad?"

"Please. Just tell us."

"What is this?" She looked down. "He had a stroke."

"What was he doing? He was going through his father's papers, wasn't he?"

Ellie stared at Kate.

"... Yes," she said. "How do you know?"

"Please, think carefully — can you remember which papers?"

"What? Are you crazy, I..." Ellie stopped suddenly. "You know ... actually ... I do know. Because one of them was so weird it stuck in my head." She went to a bookshelf. "Mostly Grandpops was into old gothic novels, nineteenth-century ghost stories, that sort of thing. But one of the things that I found that Dad must have dropped when ... he had his attack, was some sci-fi thing from like the 1980s, that Grandpop had been scribbling in. I remember because it was totally not the kind of thing he normally ... Here." She turned, a faded magazine in her hand, and froze.

The B.P.R.D. agents all had their pistols out, were aiming them at her. She made a little noise.

"Drop ... the Interzone," Kate whispered, tilting her head and reading the title. Ellie dropped it.

One of the agents crept forward, picked it up with tongs, and placed it into a case that he locked. Kate sagged in relief.

"That issue," Kate said, "has a story in it about a design that short-circuits the human brain. That's what your grandfather was doodling. That's what your dad saw.

"The decor of fiction. That's why he had that issue, because he kept his ear to the ground for any stories like that. Sirbilex. Ex libris. From the books of. He was too talented, Miss Margolyse. He was too good at what he did.

"Where was the file with the designs you found, Liz?" she said.

Liz found it at last, on a low shelf behind an art-deco figure, one box file among many, full of cuttings and Mr. Margolyse's sketches in batches, each folder bearing a one-word tide: Nurseries; Libraries; Attics.

"Look," said Kate. She held up a hand-drawn picture of a quilt. "That's the bedspread Mrs. Rochester had in her attic. He was so good a designer, so sensitive a reader, he could draw the interiors of whatever he read. This is the bedspread." Kate waved the picture. "Doesn't matter that Charlotte Bronte never bothered to imagine it. This is it."

"There," said Liz, pointing over Kate's shoulder. "That's the one my design was in. Why does it say 'cave' on the front, there's no pictures of caves ..."

"Not 'cave,'" Kate said. "What's in here isn't just, you know, the upholstery on the chairs in Little Women. This is the folder where the magazine should have been kept. Cah vay. Latin. Beware."

She looked at Liz. "You looked at all of these, right? Okay, so there can't be any that smack you down like in the magazine." She went through the papers in the folder. Some were annotated with names. "M.R. James," she read. "Roald Dahl." She held up a picture. "The carpet from Dahl's 'The Wish.' Read it? Don't fall into the black lines if you walk on that. And here it is, Liz. You put it back." She lifted out the strange picture of wallpaper, encoiling lines, a secondary pattern just visible behind them, impossible to make out, its sickly colors, its ugly compulsive designs. "There's nothing written on this, but I can tell you where it's from," Kate said. "Read it in college. Introduction to Feminist Lit. Ring any bells? Charlotte Perkins Gilman. 'The Yellow Wallpaper.'"

At B.P.R.D. HQ, the feed from the fiber-optic camera had been piped into a briefing room.

Hellboy was on all fours. Hellboy crawled in his ruined dress. His head moved side to side, still tracing the patterns in the wallpaper around the room. He dragged himself on his limbs, slow like an old animal, along the edge of the room. He had pushed most of the furniture out of the room.

"He's been doing that for hours," Abe said.

"Its in the story," Kate said. She held up the Collected American Short Stories which they had all been issued. "Everyone read it now?"

"Yeah, and what the hell was that moaning crap?" Manning said. Kate closed her eyes a moment.

"Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Born 1860. Poet, writer, radical, feminist. 'The Yellow Wallpaper,' 1891. Woman told by doctor husband that she needs a rest cure for depression and quote hysteria unquote. Forbidden from working, leaving, or doing anything. Becomes obsessed with the yellow wallpaper. Sees it as bars. With a woman or women creeping behind the patterns. Could be ghosts, could be madness. Becomes obsessed with freeing her, or them. Ends up ripping the wallpaper off the wall to do it. I've got out at last,' she says, still crawling. It was her who was trapped." She tapped the slowly circling Hellboy on the screen. "That's the pattern Margolyse drew, and that is what Hellboy's living." They sat silently for several seconds.

"Why don't we just let him finish?" Liz said. "When he rips off the paper, he'll be free, like the woman in the story." Kate stared at her.

"She gets out by going mad."

"Yeah, but she gets out."

"Yeah, by going mad."

They looked at each other.

"We can't risk it," Kate said at last. "If he has to go through the story, we don't know if he can come back from the ending."

"I can't believe I'm hearing this bull," Manning exploded. "This is a story. It is not real."

"Don't you get it?" Kate shouted. "Margolyse made it real. Gilman knew what she was talking about. She was frustrated, like a lot of bored smart women with contrary ideas, so of course she's diagnosed 'depressed and hysterical.' And she got 'prescribed' the so-called rest cure herself by Silas Weir Mitchell, who was a total celebrity doc back in the day. He ordered her into her room and, get this, not to write. Not to think. The story's her trying to fight his misogynist crap. Don't roll your eyes, Manning, listen" She flicked through papers. "This is from Fat and Bloody Mitchell's book about his so-called 'cure' for women like her. He says you need to seclude them not just for their sake but for everyone else's. Says a hysterical girl is, listen, 'a vampire who sucks the blood of the healthy people about her,' that you have to take control and let her know who's boss ..."

Manning took and scanned the pages. He put them down, pointed at the screen. "Hellboy's not a depressed or hysterical woman. He's Hellboy. Whatever's got into him is some mind game and I'm snapping him out of it. I know what's best for him." Manning stormed out, to join the operatives waiting outside Liz's room.

"Wait," said Kate. "You can't..." But he was gone. Liz picked up the scattered pages of Fat and Blood. "This is not going to go well," Kate said.

On the screen, Hellboy turned his head toward the door. There was no sound on the little monitor. At the edge of the picture, the door burst open and B.P.R.D. operatives streamed in, with Manning behind them.

With a terrible crippled motion, without rising, Hellboy sort of lurch-crawled at them, his tattered dress ripping even more, his hands up, punching and shoving mightily. The agents tried to fan out with stun sticks and prods as if to snag cattle, but even on his knees Hellboy shoved them against walls where they collapsed with broken ribs, hurled them out of the door, slammed them into each other. On the silent black-and-white screen the violence looked like slapstick.

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