NOTES: Er, what can I really say about this one? It's bizarre, and quite obviously inspired by my recent dabbling in Jhonen Vasquez fandom. My workshop seemed to like Rebecca. I wanted to get in more on Kyle (aka "Bun") but couldn't work it in. Maybe he'll get his own story.
In the Inkwell
If only mom and dad had bothered to get their stories straight, I could take packages from the delivery boy myself, instead of sending my twin brother out for them.
If only dad hadn't felt cheeky when I asked where Kyle and I came from, and told me the UPS man had brought us to the porch, two blonde screaming bundles. He'd winked at me, lashes huge behind coke bottle lenses, and I believed him because I was six.
Now, mom was certifiable – a hypochondriac on top of your basic ranting, sobbing paranoia. She claimed she'd been abducted by aliens, and was sick and dying from their experiments. And she said, don't buy that crap about flying saucers; they're craftier than that. They keep their chop-shops low to the ground and disguise them as –
As what, mommy?
Courier trucks. UPS, Fedex: you stay away from the delivery boy, Becky-doe.
For years I believed I kept a huge secret from my dying mother: that Kyle and I had been bred by the same aliens that infected her, and that dad covered for them. If I hadn't known better by the time she finally kicked it, I'll bet I'd be belting her crackpot tirades today, twisting on sweaty sheets and calling for another white pill, another green, honey, please.
That One About the Eight-Inch Pianist
Is this a joke?
I always knew my fans were stupid, but this is pushing it. Some jackass sent me a dildo. I'm not kidding. Nothing beats the sheer humiliation of folding back box flaps in front of my brother and his latest cougar ladyfriend to reveal an eight-inch glow-in-the-dark shaft with an alien face painted on its head. Kyle's soccermom slapped me on the back and brayed that we should all have friends who send us such fun toys. I snatched the box from the kitchen table and wedged it in the garbage bin under the sink.
I could have avoided the scene if I'd taken the package myself, but in the year since Kyle and I moved into that apartment I'd made him take every delivery, and planned to keep doing so until the sight of courier trucks no longer made my hands and feet go cold. If I'd taken the call myself I would have seen the label "To D. Angrum" and refused the package, or hauled it to the dumpster before Kyle spied it and badgered me to open it.
Donovan Angrum is, as far as fans of "alternative comics" are aware, the revered author and artist of Sheeden Inaccurate. His author bios and interview pages build a bearded, wide-shouldered, black trench coat clad man with glasses for eyes – and not at all this wiry, blonde-braided girl, ghost-in-the-inkwell Rebecca Dawn Matin. I'd hoped my readers would never make the connection, but since the series' popularity picked up and Defenestrated Press started distributing it throughout Washington State and California, it had earned itself a fair-sized cult following. I suppose it was only a matter of time before one of my idiot fan-children tracked me down.
There was that pest on the bus, the Mitchell-kid. I'd been skulking at the back of the 89 bus from downtown, on my way home from a meeting with the editor at Defenestrated. This kid lounged across the pair of seats in front of me, sideways with his back to the window and his camo-print Converse sneakers kicked out into the aisle. He peered over the seat-back at the pages escaping from the portfolio on my lap. My hands scrambled to tuck the sheets back in.
He asked, "Are those Sheedenoriginals, or just really good fan-art? Do you know Donovan Angrum?"
I shrugged and grunted in response, shuffled so my jeans squeaked on the plastic seats. The kid wore a Donovan-style trench coat, absurd-looking over his stripy sport t-shirt. I hear Angrum's is a popular look among my fan-monkeys, next to Sheeden's headband and double-spiked hair. At least he hadn't attempted a Dono-style beard – I imagined it growing like a well-groomed, upside-down hedge, a reddish cube hanging off his almost perfectly rectangular head. His hair was sculpted Caesar-style with too much gel; he had a mouth that was mostly top lip, with the bottom perpetually sucked in. Acne littered the bottom half of his face, but oddly not the top, like it had succumbed to gravity, or been magnetically attracted by that mammoth upper lip.
He was eyeballing the seat beside me, where, I discovered, my folder had vomited its contents while I was inspecting the kid. He made a scraping sound in the back of his throat. "They are originals. Man! Are you just carrying them for 'The Mangrum,' or—?"
I snorted. He gave me a long look; the moment stretched like a drool string. Then he O'd his mouth, bleated a laugh and jabbed a finger at me. "You're Donovan! I told them! I told them, it has to be a chick: you draw things too round and bubbly and shiny, and no guy draws boobs that small. So, what, is it Dawn? Donna? Diane? Can I have an original? Can you sign something?"
The kid knelt on his seat and wrung his hands on the back-bar. He almost seemed to vibrate, shaking the seat so hard it rattled against its supporting metal pole, ting-ting-ting. Behold the fan-boy: tactless, witless, attention-deficient. The kind that clump around comic store entrances and snigger over handfuls of collectable cards and the latest Sheeden, turning my opus into a meditation on boob size. Worse: the kind that dress up like their author and character idols, and fail to realize how totally stupid they look.
"I'll sign something if you'll leave me alone," I said. "Deal?"
His bouncing spread to his head, bobbled it back and forth with a "yeah" and a "sure." He dug into his backpack and handed me a battered newsprint sketchbook and a permanent black marker, the kind Kyle uses to tag benches and bus shelters. "Sign it to Mitchell, or Mit-chan, or Mit, or just draw a rabbit like in the last issue's extra chapter, okay?"
I scrawled "YOUR SQUARISH HEAD UNNERVES ME" in a jagged script I thought would suit Donovan, and signed it with the only thing Dono and I shared – a giant initial D. I passed the sketchbook back to him. He wedged it back in his bag without checking the autograph.
"Did you look inside?" he asked." It's got sketches from my comic. I've got a comic out called Ninjutsu Futsuu;it's about these roommates who meet a bunch of shape-shifting ninja chicks."
Amazing. The plot to every fan-boy produced comic in existence.
He continued the description, punctuating his babbling with choppy kung-fu hand gestures. Shrubs and fence slats whipped by outside the bus; the late afternoon sun shadow-played them on the dust- and rain-speckled windows. Mitchell's nonsense melted into the engine's roar.
When we reached our stop and I hustled toward the exit, he called after me, "Hey Donna! When are Sheeden and the alien girl going to grow up and get it on?"
I stormed down the walk to my apartment building.
But I'd only met him the previous afternoon, and the parcel had been sent three days ago. Whoever sent it, I had bigger flies to swat than their little prank – the next week's deadline, for one. I retreated to the "studio" corner of my sparse and mostly dustless bedroom and tried to work on issue six of Sheeden Inaccurate.
To summarize Sheeden: an incompetent alien girl explodes the Earth, except for a small chunk of land, on which sits a stone wall with a boy on either side. Ten-year-old Sheeden and his teenage cousin Aden each rebuild a half of the planet with the alien girl's help, stretch the stone wall around the equator and (eventually) have their created minions face off, Lord of the Flies style.
I'd like to think that under the spaceships and bubbly Astro-boy art-style the series says something about ignorance, human nature, innocence, experience. But my fans might as well be reading it with their crotches. All high school dunces like the Mitchell-kid, they want to know when the alien girl gets naked, if Aden's a hottie under that cloak, when Sheeden and the alien girl are going to grow up and get it on. They miss the point, aim straight for Dono's nuts and every time he bellows back at them (so far: an interview and two bonus chapters devoted entirely to mocking the idiot masses) they just giggle like a sea of happy babies, as if they get the joke.
I perched in front of my drafting table and stared at the board until it burned a hazy green rectangle on my vision. The script pages tacked to the wall in front of me with a bent yellow pushpin read like gibberish.
In my brother's room bedsprings began to squeak, and his soccermom launched into a long gravely moan. The cry undulated, louder at each peak, and soon the wall-thumping started, and a ting ting ting as the alarm clock on his headboard bumped against the wall. The shouts and crackle of bed frame wood – too familiar to me, even before Kyle was a boy-slut. To much like the symphony of hysteria blaring out from that room at the top of the stairs back at dad's house, the melody singing for another green pill, another orange, honey, please.
In the apartment's kitchen the morning's "present" sat in the garbage like a chunk of uranium. I decided I needed new pen nibs and escaped from the apartment before Kyle started making mid-coitus Wookie noises. That never failed to weird me out.
On the way back from Inflect Arts my curiosity got the better of me; Mitchell said he'd placed Ninjutsu Futsuu in the five or six Seattle-area comic book stores that took self-published work, so I made a quick detour to Comic Shock.
The book wallowed on the "local" shelf amid twenty other boy-meets-ninja-girl series. I flipped through the first issue and starting assigning demerits: Japanese animation knockoff art inked with ballpoint pen, minus five; big-breasted, boy-hipped, badly-drawn girls in crop-tops, minus ten; main character's striking resemblance to Mitchell himself, minus ten thousand. The story arc began with the four ninja girls invading the roommates' house, and ended with all the characters pairing off for a combination gooey-eyed scene and flashy showdown between Good and Evil. As far as I could tell, lesbian cat-girl sex saved the day.
By the time I got back to the apartment Kyle and his cougar had left, and a message blinked on the answering machine. My dad's long, flat nasals buzzed out from the speaker, chattered over and around the fact that he would go batty if someone didn't call soon and cut through the quiet in his house. I plugged in the phone in my bedroom, and we shot the breeze for an hour while I absently scratched at the sketchpad on my lap.
Phonecall-sketches get only a fraction of my attention – that way they surprise me when I finally hang up and focus on the page. I've come up with some of my best character and spaceship designs while mm-hmm-ing at my dad, or bothering my once-neighbours about the weather up in B.C. I've also drawn some bad shit. Sheeden and/or the alien girl in teenage bodies, naked or half-naked, sometimes screwing. Aden and his minions in similar scenes. Sometimes several of his minions. The stuff of fan-monkey wet dreams. I burn all these.
That evening I drew a female version of Sheeden gnawing on the alien girl's jeans' zipper, both figures topless, breasts huge and gravity-defying. I took it out to the porch, ripped it into quarters, dropped it in an empty flower pot and chucked a match in after it.
I woke to a green alien face staring at me from the windowsill. I sat bolt upright and snapped my head around to yell at Kyle, sure he would be standing snickering in the door, but the hall was empty.
I kicked the sheets off and went to take the dildo off the sill. It stuck fast. I curled my fingers around it and yanked, pressed my palm to the side and tried to tip it over, grabbed a pair of scissors and tried to chisel under its base. Finally I hurled the scissors to the carpet and marched out into the hall to crucify my brother, but the apartment was deserted. Either he'd come and gone during my four hours of sleep just to pull this stupid prank, or… or, I don't know, that dildo had climbed out of the garbage and up onto that windowsill itself.
Kyle called during my second attempt on the alien and said he was on his way back from his ladyfriend's. No mention of the prank, no tone of mischief: just his bored, apathetic-teen-holdover drawl over his car's scraping putter. Not even the hiccup he gets when he's trying not to laugh.
I hung up the phone and scampered out through the living room to fetch my burning-pot from the porch. On the off-chance Kyle hadn't glued the thing to my windowsill, I sure as hell didn't want him to see it there. I fit the pot over the dildo so it poked through the hole on the bottom, packed it with toilet paper and topped the whole thing with a handful of soil from the front lawn. I sat down at my drafting table in the opposite corner of the room and resolved to ignore the thing, wait for the glue to loosen enough for me to rip it off the sill.
In the next hour I finished pencilling a whopping two panels. If I'd kept up that pace I might have finished four of the fifteen pages I had due the next week.
At some point Kyle clattered into the apartment and poked his toqued head into my room. He didn't snigger or even glance at the window; I told him to fuck off and he sulked off to the living room.
In its pot behind me, the alien stared. It seemed to ooze a presence, an aura, and wrap it around itself like layers of gauze that couldn't be contained by wadded toilet paper and clay. It weighed on my brain like the song title you wake up shouting three days after the relevant conversation. I pictured it growing up through the soil with a sound like boots crunching on snow and giving me those spiteful goggle-eyes, while Kyle just stood by with his perpetually half-lidded stoner look and asked why I had a potted green penis, while his frizz-haired soccermom honked that it wasn't doing much good up there, now was it.
I worked feverishly, swept my hand across the page in long sloppy streaks so the graphite smudged and caked along my pinkie. The alien's binding gauze bloated out into the room, pressed at the walls and my back and nudged my elbow. When I started inking around midnight I noticed notches in my brush strokes. I hadn't notched lines since high school. "Donovan Angrum" does not notch lines. And when I fell into bed around five in the morning I still hadn't finished the page.
Three more days at the same pace. I completed the page I'd started, plus two more, all of it my worst work yet: notches and bleeding ink-fills, lazy backgrounds and a healthy dose of continuity errors. Also, I kept drawing the alien girl's hips too wide.
On the fourth day I moved my desk and stack of chipboard art-tool drawers out into the living room and told Kyle my room's white walls were giving me artist's block.
He gurgled at me around a mouthful of cereal and turned back to his skate videos. The boy still acts like he's in middle school, at least anywhere but the bedroom.
By then the alien's presence had swollen to the size of my room, and pressed into every corner. If I'd tried to work in there I'd have ended up pinned to my desk. The night before I moved to the living room I'd woken up after two hours' twitchy half-sleep, convinced I was being dogpiled by a dozen Michelin Men. After I moved the desk out I avoided my bedroom entirely, convinced that if I tried to go in I'd bounce right back out into the hall like a lunatic off a mattress-wall. I wasn't even sure I could push the door in.
Sixth day, six hours before my eight p.m. deadline. Seven of the fifteen pages were finished, I hadn't slept in more than forty-eight hours, and after a week of working outside my dustless room my allergies were worming a vicious sinus headache up my nose. The phone to the building's front intercom, perched on the wall beside the front door, rang. To get to it I had to pass the doors to Kyle's black hole of a room and my now-abandoned bedroom – only the alien's layered-gauze presence had by then expanded out into the hall, and passing through it was like swimming in hair gel – a huge cube of Dippity-Do that dried out a little each day. I answered the phone still scraping invisible alien goo off my neck. The UPS guy had a package for R. Matin.
For the first time since Kyle and I moved in together, he wasn't home to take the call, but I wasn't going to send the delivery boy away because of some lingering childhood fear – even if I could barely feel my legs by the time I hung up the phone. I stood in front of the door, nervously tugging at fingers ink-stained and calloused from hours at work, and waited for the knock.
Mom used to call me into the front room when I came home from school. In a swamp-murky room barely sunlit through thick curtains, always drawn so They can't see in, she lay on the couch and talked about aliens, and lined up pills on her legs and named what they treated as she popped them: one for the poison woven into her spine, one for the beeping metal in her neck, one for wiggling thing on her brain. All cooked up in those brown or white trucks with knobbly rivets along their seams, the same as Kyle and me.
The delivery boy's knock came like a bullhorn to a hungover brain; I jumped and clutched my hands together. My body shook like spaghetti noodles in a colander. I closed my eyes and pictured my drafting table, tried to sketch a crater-faced adolescent in a brown UPS uniform – because that's all that's out there, Becky-doe. Instead the pen spattered, the brush frayed and blotched the board. Every face I'd ever made for mom's aliens leaked onto the page, all damp froggy skin, gills and exposed bony ridges and wet elastic leech-mouths.
The door rapped again and rumbled in its frame. I turned to retreat to the living room, parcel and pride be damned, but found the alien's barrier had hardened, now more plaster than hair gel, an unasked-for apartment renovation. I couldn't pass it. Caught between the delivery boy and the alien's barricade, I pressed my back to the wall beside the front door and unlocked my numb legs, slid down and huddled on the carpet with my arms around my knees, a shivering mess. Too familiar. Like too many evenings in the hall at the top of the stairs, afraid to pass mom's open doorway to get to my own room, in case she called me in and in her fever finally saw the grey froggy skin on me; evenings playing audience to her groans and shrieks and the rumbling of the bedside table as she slapped it looking for pills dad wouldn't let her have for another hour, pills that were just sugar in different shades anyway.
The UPS guy tried one more time. I winced and pressed my forehead to my knees. I couldn't even watch the shuffling silhouette of his feet in the crack under the door, so convinced there would be more than two, that something grey, clawed and lumpy would be limping out there, thumping and squishing. Hardly my finest moment: trapped and cowering between an alien daddy in the hall and a dick on the windowsill, leaking eyes and nose crushed against my sweatpants, dishwater hair swinging in ratty drapes on either side of my face.
He didn't knock again. Slowly my body unwound into a wobbling slump, with legs splayed and twitching fingers threaded into the carpet. Once the shivers settled down I pawed my way up the wall and to my feet, and pulled on my jacket. I waited at the door for twenty minutes before slipping out, just so there was no chance of running into the delivery boy.
After half an hour circling the block I came back into the living room through the porch door, which I hadn't had a chance to lock before the gel-cube in the hall dried and blocked me from it. I sat down to make a last-ditch attempt at Sheedeneven though my hands still shook, abandoning all my brushes and dip-pens for one of Kyle's graffiti markers. The page, which I'd started this morning with a half-assed establishing shot of Sheeden's treehouse headquarters, degenerated into some kind of pornographic parody starring noodle-bodied stick figures and caricatures that morphed from panel to panel: the alien girl with giant breasts stuffed into a schoolgirl getup, Sheeden and Aden pointing gleefully at their oversized phalli. I replaced all the scripted dialogue with bad pick-up lines and dick jokes.
At eight o'clock the phone rang and my editor's strung-out schoolmarm voice harassed me from the answering machine as I drew Aden and the alien girl in impossible kama sutra variations. At eight-fifteen she called again, and her voice had upped a pitch or two. At eight thirty she threatened my life while on the page Sheeden bawled "Nice shoes; wanna fuck?" in alien girl's face. After that she stopped leaving messages, but the phone rang every five minutes. Twenty-five to nine. Twenty-to. Quarter-to. Ten-to.
I screamed, grabbed the edges of my drafting table and banged it against the wall. Boards, pens and rulers perched on its lip spilled to the ground, and the clip-lamp took chunks out of the plaster. I snatched the phone off my stack of art-tool drawers and hurled it down the hallway; it crashed against the front door and thumped to the floor with the receiver in two pieces and sprouting wires.
The phone had shattered the alien's barricade. I threw my stool aside, tottered down the hallway to my bedroom, flopped down on the bed and passed out.
So a Bunny Walks Into your Bedroom
Around midnight I woke to cat yowls out in front of our building and the motion-sensor light streaming in through my window. The nightly neighbourhood kitty-war raged on. I dragged myself to the window, put my hand on the glass to slide it closed and peered out into the yard to see which cats were at it this time. I froze.
Facing off with a cow-printed short-hair was a trench coat clad figure with two long leaflike protrusions on its head. It circled the cat with its hands crooked into claws at chest level; the two bared their teeth and hissed at each other. I caught a glimpse of square jaw and Caesar cut hair, and swore.
The Mitchell-kid snapped his head up, threw his hands out like a child demanding a hug, and abandoned his battle with the cow-print cat to lumber up to my window. Before I had the presence of mind to snick it shut he'd hooked his fingers around the edge and slid it as far open as it would go.
"I knew it was this one!" He bounced, and the things on his head waved at me like insect antennae. They were, I realized, a pair of cotton ball bunny ears. "I was gonna start throwing woodchips at all the windows until you showed up at one."
"What are you doing here?" I crossed my arms over my chest and moved to pinch closed the collar of my pyjama shirt, which I'd never changed into. My hand fumbled at the t-shirt fabric.
"My friend's party got broken up; I need to call my dad for a ride home. I saw you go in here after you got off the bus."
"There's a payphone at the Chevron, two blocks down," I said.
"No quarters." He held his hands out. "Come on, Donna, please? I'm miles away from crap-all here. I don't know anyone else in this area."
Mitchell hoisted himself up and wedged his knee on the windowsill. It connected with the alien's flowerpot; the whole thing slidright off the sill and went crashing to the carpet. I flailed my arms out to catch it, then jumped back as soil, clay and wadded toilet paper splattered across the floor. In the center of the explosion laid a glow-in-the-dark alien dildo, its painted face staring up at the boy in the window. The motion-sensor light finally clicked off, and for a moment the dildo was the brightest thing in the room.
"Whoa." Mitchell dropped to the carpet, squatted and reached out for the glowing alien. "Why was it in a flowerpot?"
I turned on the lamp next to my bed. "Don't touch it! You don't know where it's been."
He snickered. "I have an idea."
"Shut up. I don't use it." I pulled my sleeve over my hand, snatched the dildo up and tossed it in the wastebasket. "Some jackass sent it to me."
Mitchell propped his ass up on the windowsill and stretched his legs out so his heels dug into the carpet. "Man, if I was a chick, and I got one free—"
"What, if you were a 'chick' like all your stupid ninja girls? Some oversexed lesbian cat-thing? Would you go running around saving the world with your awesome powers of panty-removal? Have you ever been within five feetof a real girl, Mitchell? You'd be amazed how we're nothing like your jerk-off fantasies."
He'd finally stopped grinning. He wrinkled his nose and absently smoothed out a spike of hair just above his forehead, eyes showing mostly white as he watched his fingers work. I knelt and started picking clay shards off the floor.
"Sure," he said. "I know that."
I pursed my lips and puffed air out my nose. "Right."
"I do! It's just, the chicks in my comic aren't supposed to be like real girls. I mean, even aside from the cat ears.And real girls would never hang around guys like Ian and Jon, but then there goes the plot, right? My real love life sucks; I might as well write myself a good one."
"That doesn't mean it's worth publishing."
He shoved his hands in his pockets and shrugged. "People buy it. I sell an issue or two every couple months. My friends like it."
"I don't care how many issues you've sold, it's still crap!" I tossed a handful of clay at the wastebasket and they clanged to the bottom. "It's still badly-drawn masturbation fodder that doesn't even pretend to be anything… other than…" I trailed off.
Out in the living room ten pages of crude smut and dick jokes lay strewn across the drafting desk and floor. The clay shards scattered on my carpet were charred black inside from torched boy-on-alien phone-sketches.
So let's talk about pretending to be anything other than sexual. Freudian. Libido stuffed in an inkwell to drown. Once in awhile Donovan gets fan e-mails asking if the planet-making in Sheeden Inaccurate has any parallel to Eden, or creation in general: two boys pitch their visions and the alien girl brings it to life. If Donovan replied to fan-mail he'd write NO in bold caps and make fun of the sender's hometown. Or let's talk honesty, and this kid who will tell a woman and an idol that his love life sucks.
I stood, brushed the soil off my hands and knees and grabbed a quarter from the change-saucer by the door. I pressed it into Mitchell's hand and pointed him toward the Chevron station.
"Uh, thanks?" His eyebrows twitched together. He climbed back out through the window, losing a cotton ball or two as his bunny ears scraped the frame. I closed and locked the window behind him.
By the time I finished scooping the soil off the carpet most of it coated my feet, turning them a shade darker and gritting against my soles as I padded about the room. I dumped the last handful of toilet paper in the wastebasket and eyed the green alien head still poking out of the paper, clay and dirt.
It occurred to me that for a brief period, when they were teaching sex ed in Middle School, I couldn't reconcile dad's version of mine and Kyle's births with the teacher's. Baby-making was to me a soup of mommies and daddies, tab-a to slot-b summaries, brain parasites in sci-fi movie containment tubes, and delivery trucks. Giant, rumbling, metal plated, rivet-dotted delivery trucks with grinning grills on the front.
I crouched beside the wastebasket and said to the dildo's alien face, "You know, I think there's something wrong with me."