On June 27th of this year (2016) Tim Ellis of CKRTLAB announced on facebook that he was interested in drawing some mashups based on Public Domain superheroes. He asked his followers to suggest two PD heroes every week and he would create a mashup to the best of his ability. One of these creations was Death Mask, a mashup of Matt Bailey’s The Face and Jack Binder & Jack Cole’s Daredevil. The image intrigued me and I immediately began thinking of a story to accompany this character. I will try to update this story as often as I can, but with All the Children Shall Lead and other writing assignments I am uncertain how often that will be, but for now enjoy…
-C. Marry Hultman
He wasn’t nervous, that was what was odd about the whole thing, that he wasn’t nervous. Throughout the preparations and the decisions leading him to this point his heart had been racing. At night, when he lay on that lumpy mattress on his rod iron bed frame and the light from the neon sign filtered through the Venetian blinds, cutting the darkness of his studio apartment the pulsating of his blood played on his eardrums like an old man plays a Kendang. At first the lack of sleep and the stress of it all had affected his work, causing several reports to be late, him losing his train of thought when reading the news and his colleagues suspecting him of having caught the flu, it had even gotten so bad that the station manager, a Mr. Cosgrove, had called him in to the office to have a word with him. A weekend of R&R and the blowhard Johnny Summers filling in for him and he had been right as rain. The past week had seen him back to his old self, managing to work, train and put the finishing touches to his suit. He had finally managed to figure out what to do with the twin Kris he had decided to use. Traditionally the sheath, or warangka, stuck in a warrior’s belt, but he had found that the wave shaped blades only fell out when he moved around. He had constructed dual warangakas into the suit itself, placed on his back for easy reachability.
He leaned his back against one of the many thick stone pillars that kept the lower level of the parking structure from being crushed by the three levels above it and slowly slid down to a seated position. He placed the mask on the concrete floor next to him and sighed. The Face looked back at him, the grin with fangs protruding from the lower jaw, the red eyes and the horns on either side of the crown. It was as if it was challenging him; You do not have the fortitude for this endeavor. You do not have what it takes for what is to come. It seemed to say and he looked away in response to this attack on his person.
Then there was a sound, the unmistakable noise of a car reverberating through the empty level. He swung his head round the pillar, making sure most of his body was still hidden behind the safety of manmade stone. Two round headlights cut through the sparsely lit area and headed for the center of the structure where it came to a halt. The engine cut out and the lights faded as three men exited the Chrysler Imperial and headed to the front of it. They were all wearing trench coats and hats. It was hard to tell, but he was fairly confident that at least two of them were hiding machine guns, the others were armed as well he had no doubt. His fingers were twitching, he was ready to pounce, but had to bide his time. And then it came, the sign he was looking for; another vehicle cast its headlight through the gloom of reinforced concrete and painted outlines. It was larger than the Chrysler, the sound bouncing off the walls told him so and it was headed towards the waiting party, only fifty or so feet from where he was hiding. He cracked his knuckles and twisted his head from side to side, he had limbered up for a good hour earlier, but the wait had stiffened him some and he hoped it was not going to hinder what he needed his body to do in the coming moments.
As the truck swung around and stopped, facing the Chrysler he grabbed the face and pulled it over his head. He gently flattened it out over his scalp and tugged at the chin to make it sit comfortably and to make sure that it appeared flawless, like his second skin. He moved his jaw and the mouth of the face moved as his did and he could see perfectly clear through the eye sockets, heightened in fact. It was time. He gently patted his outside thighs for luck and bounded up the pillar to the rafters.
Peterson, Anderson and Camp climbed out of the Chrysler as soon as Hammer had cut the engine. Anderson pulled a pack of smokes from deep inside his grey coat and Camp made a similar motion, but instead produced a hand full of chew. Peterson eyed them both and raised a skeptical eyebrow, which he always did whenever something struck him as against his code of normalcy. He was wearing a fedora and with a thumb pushed it from his forehead so he could get a full view of the parking structure.
Hammer, the youngling of the group had climbed out of the driver’s seat and leaned on the hood trying to impress his elders by rolling his own cigarette, without success.
‘What the hell you doing?’ Anderson snarled at the young man with his own cigarette dangling from his lips. ‘You’re getting most of the tobacco on the floor.’
Hammer took off his flat cap and scratched his head. ‘My Pa always makes it look so simple’ he replied, noticeably flustered. ‘But I can never get the hang of it.’
Anderson held out his pack of Luckies and offered it to Hammer, who gladly accepted it, pulled one out and lit it. Camp patted the side of his coat and eyed the others. His hand touched the hard surface of an automatic carbine under the fabric, Anderson was carrying a shotgun while Peterson who was, for all intents and purposes, the point man on this particular operation had always favored revolvers. The kid was probably carrying something as well, Camp did not really care. He was not especially fond of that little punk; he was no more than a goon that Peterson had saved from the streets. He had been a hockey player of all things, a failed one at that. Trying to make his fortune on the ice, but had lacked the skills and more or less spent more time in the penalty box than on the skates. At least that was the word going round. What was the business coming to when any old kid could be picked off of the streets and welcomed with open arms, no questions asked? Camp spit on the ground and gave a snort.
Peterson picked up a pocket watch from his vest and eyed it carefully. It was just about one a.m. and everything was so far going according to plan. He tapped his wing tipped shoes against the stone floor and eyed his companions. ‘These late night pick-ups are going to be the death of me’ he ventured a smile in Anderson’s direction. ‘We sure ain’t as young as we used to be, are we Rosy?’ Anderson shrugged his shoulders and lit another cigarette on the butt already hanging from his thin lips. A wet splat echoed through the desolated building and Camp wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his beige coat.
‘So when’s the merch coming?’ he asked once he noticed that the others were eyeing his behavior.
‘Well if everything goes according to plan and they don’t get ambushed by the coppers or rivals they should be here any minute’ Peterson replied.
Before Camp could make a statement about the tardiness of others, he did have a wife and five young kids he would much rather be with then standing in a cold parking garage waiting for some micks with a truck, when he heard them approach. Anderson dropped his cigarette and stepped on it, placing a hand inside his coat, while Hammer snapped to attention and headed to the passenger side of the car in case he would need the cover. Peterson remained still, with a calm which can only come from a man with twenty years of experience with back alley drop offs and pick-ups, but in the corner of his eye he could have sworn that he saw movement deep in the dim recesses of garage.
The truck, it looked like an old farm truck from the 1930s, parked in front of them the headlights lighting up their forms and casting ghostly shadows on the back wall. Peterson fingered the snub nosed revolver holstered in the small of his back. He may be blinded, but if shit hit the fan he was damn sure going to take some of those bastards with him. The lights shut off and they were blind once again, their eyes now unaccustomed to the darkness.
Three figures appeared once sight returned to normal, two from the front and one leaping off the bed of the vehicle. They were all dressed in a similar fashion; black slacks with suspenders over white dress shirts and caps on their heads. Peterson rolled his eyes and whistled at the clichés walking towards him. The man who had stepped out of the driver’s seat stuck out his right hand in greeting and scratched the red stubble on his chin with his left one.
‘Hi there, buddy’ the man said in a low voice, Peterson nodded and took the outstretched appendage. ‘Name’s Flanagan and those guys are Norwood and Connors’ he threw a thumb in the direction of his companions, who touched their caps with a finger to acknowledge the introduction.
Peterson assumed he was to return the favor, but was uncomfortable using their actual names. ‘Hello, call me Baz, that’s Rosey, Asa and the guy behind the car we call Maury’ their nom de plumes were enough he felt. And Flanagan seemed pleased with it.
He pulled out an old chewed cigar and placed it between his teeth and smiled. ‘Baz, huh’ the crow’s feet around his eyes revealed him to be older than he looked, maybe close to forty. ‘I’ve heard of you.’
‘Most people this side of the underworld have’ Peterson smiled back and secretly hoped that he wasn’t revealing his age. ‘You got the stuff?’
Flanagan nodded and gently waved the trio to approach. He backed up with his eyes squarely on Peterson and moved towards the bed of the truck. The men named Norwood and Connors climbed in the back where a cloth tarp was covering most of the content. Flanagan snapped his fingers and Norwood pulled back the cloth to reveal wooden crates. Peterson eyed the boxes and then looked at Flanagan.
‘You wanna check the content?’ he said and produced a crowbar from beneath the tarp. Peterson took it and handed it over to Camp, who jumped up to the crates. With some effort he opened the top of the closest box and it let out a creak that reverberated through the building, very much like a groan. Anderson tossed him an electric torch and he proceeded to dig amongst the straw hiding the contents of the carefully nailed together container. He found what he was looking for, weighed it in his hand, put it up to his eyes and carefully assessed it. Peterson gave a short whistle to catch his attention and when he got it he shrugged and Camp threw the object back into the crate and gave a thumb’s up.
‘Well it seems as if everything is in order’ Peterson said to the Irishmen and this time stuck out his hand.
‘Completely’ Flanagan responded ‘Everything in exact order.’
Peterson called Hammer and the two others over to help unload the crates; they had a truck of their own waiting on the second level that they would load with the stuff. Once the bed of the truck was empty the men congregated around the stack of wooden boxes wiping the sweat from their brows with handkerchiefs and Anderson lit another cigarette. Then, all of a sudden they heard a light thud and noticed in the corner of their eyes how the truck dipped and in unison they turned to it.
At first it was impossible to tell what it exactly was. A shape, what appeared to be a curled up person in a mass of red and blue, was in the center of the bed and as the springs of the truck slowly stilled it rose to a standing position. Anderson froze as the figure, dressed in a tight body suit half red and half blue with a spiked belt around its waist, but it was the face that made his blood run cold. Red eyes, fangs and horns stared at them, but before he could get a closer look the micks opened fire.
The figure somersaulted over them as bullets ripped through the back of the vehicle. Camp and Peterson, who weren’t shooting, quickly turned around both with weapons in hand and held them at the ready. The figure’s eyes intensified with red fire and a roar came at them, momentarily paralyzing them all; Flanagan and Peterson, grizzled vets, where the first to recover, but it was too late. A flash of steel and Flanagan fell backwards screaming as his right hand landed on the ground, still clutching a Smith & Wesson. The demon faced person had slid across the floor and had clipped Peterson’s legs from under him with a swift kick, sending him hard into the floor. They were forced to spin around again as the figure leapt to a crouching position. Two lightening quick movements and Norwood and Connors collapsed on the floor with blood flowing from nasty gashes in the abdomen and face. Anderson could smell the pungent aroma of human waste as guts spilled on concrete alongside teeth and parts of a tongue. Camp let a cry escape his lips and with brown chew flying everywhere he unleashed his automatic rifle in a vicious spray at the enemy. Anderson followed with his revolver, but the figure flipped around avoiding every single bullet. It stepped off one of the pillars, spun in the air and planted a boot on Anderson’s forehead. It sent him flying a short distance in the air and he landed hard on his back, knocking the wind out of him. Camp reloaded his rifle as Peterson began to stir on the ground and Hammer came running from behind the Chrysler, revolver raised and firing as he moved forward. The figure dropped down to one knee and swung his weapon low, slicing Hammer’s lower leg clean off sending the appendage one way and the owner of it another. The smoke from the gunfire enveloped the figure as it rose and turned at the same time and revealed two waved swords in each hand, blood dripping from the point of the one on the right. Peterson threw his revolver to the ground and came at it with a baseball bat, which he must have taken from the truck. He swung at the head, but the figure parried with the left blade and let the right one separate Peterson’s head from the rest of his body. Without hesitation Camp unleashed another barrage of bullets that tore through Peterson’s body as it fell, limply, to the floor, but the figure was already gone. It landed behind the inattentive gunman and let sharpened steel pierce him through the back.
Anderson, still on the floor, but now on his stomach, fired his gun and struck the figure in the arm, no more than grazing it. He continued to pull the trigger, but without results, he was out of bullets. The figure, that face, walked towards him, the eyes glowed at him and it felt as if they were burning two pinholes through his skull. There was a shriek and Anderson was no more.