Thursday, May 29, 2008

Detective Neptune in "Christ, the Screaming Avenger"

Easter is just a week away--apropos this fact I am posting my fictional series Detective Neptune in "Christ, the Screaming Avenger" in honor of this tragic and pain-filled holiday. This series originally appeared at Mortaljive in late spring and early summer of 2005.


Spoiler Warning: Charles Nelson Reilly does not--I repeat, does not appear in this amazing story.



I awoke face down at water’s edge, the way I always do. The air was stale beer and sour onions. Actually that was my air, the air I was exhaling, my gift to the world. Here, have my air, I have flavored it for you.

I rolled onto my side as ocean water crept up my legs. Legs. I had legs. Good, I thought. I may need them.

The water got to my waist and retreated, leaving foam and bits of trash at my midline, my mean-high-tide. I reached down and felt around: ah, I was wearing pants. They were wet pants, but they were mine. No shoes, but some colorful socks, now soggy and itch-inducing. But oh so colorful.

A larger surge of water forced its way up to my neck, so now I was picking out bits of Styrofoam and kelp from the kinky hair on my face. I used to be young, with hair like a god. Actually, I am a god. I'm on a mission, a job so secret, so discreet, that even I don't know what it is.

I am chosen by the Sun or the Stars or the Atoms: I am chosen and I wake up on a beach or in a harbor (or that one time in an aquarium) and go find a crime or a mystery or panic in a child's eyes, and I go to work. Only when the job is done am I released: I go out with the tide and drift far away, or I jump from a plane into the deepest part of the sea, and there I wait for a time. Then blackness, sleep and dreams of sparkling bays and beautiful women and dolphins teaching the children to swim. I dream of white sand and men blowing conchs and girls giggling as they glide along with me in buoyant waters. The air is warm, the breeze is sweet, the days are long, the nights like heaven. I ride the hippocampus, and fountains pour wine, and love is impossible to deny. And then it all ends: I awake face down at water's edge with a job to do before I can leave. Yes, I am a god. And yes, I am a Private Detective. Here's my card...oh, it's wet. I'll tell you what it says: "Detective Neptune, the Only Detective Who is Also a God."


I looked up and saw the pier to the north. It looked familiar. The Santa Monica Pier. Good, I thought. I like Santa Monica. I looked one last time at the sky above me, the canopy of space, and saw a young boy's head peering at me. He had a small plastic shovel, and was wearing a bathing suit with a picture of an animated sponge smiling on it, and he had a goofy grin, and long eyelashes, and he yelled at me, "Sleep time is over!" Some modern cherub, some Cupid variant, prodding me on towards my task. His mother yelled from higher up on the sand, "Daroj! Don't speak to stranger!" I rolled away and stood up, towering over the boy. He pointed to the strand, and bade me go there. "Goodbye, Daroj." I made my legs move, and they protested mightily. I was marble, an old marble statue, and I was going to Venice. It hurt to walk.


"Jesus is Lord, and will sing to us and make the laughter into music, and the light will shine forth, and you will be there, and you--but some will not. Some will never see light again, but only the blackened heat of endless sin, the hard and burning embers of the dead..."

He had ended up here, alongside the vendors and the tourists, smiling in the sunshine, making friends, preaching the gospel, saving souls. The days blended into each other, and the charms were chipped away as the years thinned the thickness of time. His clothes were dirty, his hair stringy, his teeth cracking and abandoning ship like maddened sailors. The once long and gentle hands were hard, black with the oils of fried food and digging in trash bins. He had begun to shake, his nerves seared from the heat of life, exposed on the rocks to be picked at by the vultures.

He saw the winter sun move into spring, and the sunsets of the south now disappeared behind the coastal mountains. The sun set in private, and he could no longer remember why it mattered. He coughed and struggled to find a trash barrel with some decent food in it. His left arm was becoming claw-like: he reached into a reeking barrel with his right arm, only to fail as it shook violently in the can, rattling the sides, scraping his knuckles, making bloody his flesh. He cried and ran, and dodged the couples strolling and he dodged the addicts and ran around the skateboarders: he found a hollow in an alley, and shook and gagged and fell in a heap. His right hand struggled with a greasy piece of discarded fried fish. He pulled it with effort to his mouth, but dropped it. He began his death rattle, the Preacher of the Word, one of God's own missionaries, here by the water at the end of the world.

"For the Lord will preserve us all, and unto Him we will return..."

A great pain shot through his skull, his eyes betrayed the lightning and thunder of his life, and stiff he was no more, but empty, and dead in the silence of the alley.


The next morning there was no sign of the preacher's corpse, only a bit of tagger-like scrawling on a trash bin. It read "But I will find my Vengeance, and None shall escape my Wrath"

He had come.


I walked up to the parking lot, then crossed it to the boardwalk, and stopped to sing to the pigeons. A few homeless types were out, and the air was wet and salty. I sat on a bench and waited. The job would come to me. It always does.




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