(For more short tales from Prospero's twisted history, check out our four previous trips to Prospero.)
Click here for Four More Trips to Prospero, Part 1: Miracle Fever
For today's story, we look back on some of Prospero's finest...
By Matt Carter
Roy - 1942
It had been one year. One year to the day, actually. I remembered it well, President Roosevelt’s voice echoing over the radio, talking about the dastardly, unprovoked attack by the Empire of Japan. Everyone I knew seemed to remember it for his opening line, speaking of December 7th, 1941 being a date that would live in infamy, but the line that stuck with me the most was right at the end.
“Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger.”
It was hard to listen to what he, no, what the president had to say and give it no weight, much as my father might have wanted to think it nothing and impress on me the same. Seeing it in the newsreels, remembering the president’s words, I knew only one thing for sure:
I was going to be a hero.
I just wouldn’t be the town’s first hero.
Odds were that honor would go to my best friend, Dwight Matheson.
“You think they got Dr. Pepper in Tunisia?” he asked, popping the cap off his bottle with the gas station’s wall-mounted bottle opener.
“I wouldn’t imagine so, not with the war,” I said.
“Well, shit,” he said. “Guess I should make them count while I can, then.”
He took a long sip, tilted his head back, and belched loudly. He looked around, as embarrassed as I’d ever seen them (which is to say, not very) and seeing only the station’s proprietor on hand, he tipped his uniform hat and said, “Sorry, Mr. Brundle.”
“It’s okay, son. It’s on the house for our town hero!” Harold Brundle said, laughing and reaching into a nearby icebox, tossing two more bottles our way. Dwight missed his, but I was able to catch them both, which with the open bottle already in my hand gave me three bottles of awful tasting soda that I’d probably wind up drinking all of on the walk home because, well, any soda’s better than no soda.
“Thanks!” Dwight waved to Harold as we walked off. He hadn’t gotten tired of being called a hero yet. Sure, no fewer than thirty-eight young (and perhaps not so young) men from Prospero had enlisted and were either going off or had already gone off to war, but everyone called Dwight the hero because he looked the part. Handsome, tall and muscular in a way that made him look real smart in his uniform (even with a coat covering up much of it) with jet-black hair, pale blue eyes, and a chin that looked like it belonged on a movie star, or some ancient statue. If I didn’t like him so much, I’d have hated him.
But I did, so I didn’t. Not that he lacked flaws.
“You need better taste in soda,” I said.
“And you need to stop giving shit to the town hero,” he said dramatically.
“Do you even know where Tunisia is?” I asked.
He shrugged, “I’ll write you an answer when I get there. All I know is there’s Nazi’s there just asking me to put a few hundred bullets in ‘em. I mean, I’d have preferred it be the Japs, but leave that for the marines. Just means I’ll be sending people home Lugers instead of swords. You wanna be on my Luger list?”
“No,” I said, eyes cast at the ground.
“You don’t want a Luger? Okay, fine, if you don’t want yourself a gun you don’t need a gun, how about a good Nazi flag? Or a knife? Everybody loves knives…” he said.
The next part was hard to say, one I’d been building up to for a long time but wasn’t sure I’d be able to say to anyone. Dwight was about as safe as anyone to test the words on. I just hoped he wouldn’t laugh too loudly at me.
“I do want a Luger,” I said. “I just think… I think I’d like to get one myself.”
“What, like from the back of a comic book?” Dwight asked.
“No. I want to enlist,” I said. There, I said it. I braced for the laughter that was sure to come.
No, the laughter that ought to come, the laughter that the very idea of Roy Potts going to war was meant to bring on. Skinny, short Roy Potts who had glasses and a bum knee and was still pretty good at running, mostly because he’d spent a lot of his life running away.
Everyone knew Roy Potts couldn’t be a hero.
Well, almost everyone.
Dwight broke into a wide smile, a real smile I was one of the lucky few to know, not the one he used to get under girls’ skirts. He clapped me on the back, hard, nearly sending me off my feet.
“It’s about damn time!” he exclaimed. I couldn’t have hoped for a better answer, not with what my father was sure to say on the topic.
“You really think so?”
“Hell yeah! You and me on the front lines, can you see it? Shootin’ bad guys, skinning krauts!”
“Well, whatever you do, I mean they themselves are a part of an evil army bent on taking over the world, why not treat them as cruelly as they deserve?” he said.
“You’re a true humanist,” I said.
“Mayhaps I am, mayhaps I’m not, but who cares? You and me, Prospero’s finest sons, fighting together and dying together…”
“I’d rather not do the dying together part,” I said.
“Me neither, I mean, I plan on living forever, but if the situation requires and we find the need to fight and die for something bigger than us, at least we’ll die true American heroes,” he said.
I wasn’t sure we needed to die to be heroes. Superman never died, and he was a hero. I’d always thought that being a hero meant doing something great when nobody expected you to, and since nobody had ever expected much from me, it didn’t seem like it would be all that difficult, especially with such a righteous cause providing ample opportunity for someone with a form as pitiful as mine.
I smiled, trying to get him to think more positively, “Naw, you can’t even think of dying. I mean, your folks-”
“They’d be proud,” he interjected.
He almost dropped his bottle at the mention of her name, his smile almost gone. Very unlike him when talking about the most recent girl he called his greatest conquest.
“What?” I asked.
“It’s nothing,” he said, pulling the collar of his coat higher against the cold.
“What?” I asked again.
“I said it’s nothing, just leave it at that, okay?” he said, agitation riding higher in his voice.
My memories of Dwight go back long enough to know that this was one of those moments where he’d need prodding to open up, where he’d get angry, maybe even hostile, but would then be open for discussion and honesty.
“Dwight,” I said, putting my free hand on his arm.
He grabbed me by the lapels of my coat, forcing me to face him and almost lifting me from the ground, our bottles of Dr. Pepper going flying and exploding on the road.
“I SAID-” he roared, then realizing what he was doing, his face showed nothing but shame.
“Christ, I’m sorry,” he said, setting me back down. “I’m sorry. It’s just…”
“It’s just what?” I asked.
“I don’t… I’m not supposed to,” he muttered.
I put my hand on his shoulder, “You’re my best friend, and I like to hope I am yours too.”
“You are,” he said.
“Then trust me. What’s happening between you and Trudy? Did she break up with you?” I asked.
He laughed, an unpleasant, high laugh, “If only it were that easy. She’s… she’s pregnant.”
This wasn’t nearly as shocking as I think he hoped it to be to me. Whenever Dwight and Trudy were together, they took every opportunity to sneak out from under her father’s watchful eye and screw like rabbits. I always told him that if they weren’t careful something like this would happen, and he would just brush me off and say that was something that only happened to poor people and Catholics.
I could have said “I told you so”, but I doubted that would help things at the time.
“When we talked, when she told me… she was crying, but happy crying, and she said she means to keep it, and I… I got angry, I said she was doing this to try to keep me here, and that that wouldn’t work, because I’m a man and I’ve got my duties,” he said.
Now it was my turn to laugh. Trudy Carmichael was a lot of things, but the kind of woman who would let someone say that to her was not one of them.
“How hard did she slap you for that?” I asked.
“Not as hard as I wanted to slap her back after,” he said.
“But you didn’t,” I said.
“No. I didn’t,” he said.
“Because…” I said.
“Don’t make me say it,” he said.
“Aww, come on, that’s half the fun,” I taunted.
“I didn’t because I love her. There, you happy?” he said.
“Quite,” I said. I wasn’t sure if Dwight had ever said those words out loud to anyone who wasn’t his family or in his proximity whenever he was listening to his favorite boxer win on the radio.
“I just, I don’t know. I get this going right now, right here before I’m supposed to go to war, and I don’t know what I’m going to do. I want to be the hero everybody wants me to be, I want to make the town, hell, my country proud, but I don’t know if I can do that with this. If I’m worried about making it home to a wife and kid, what if it makes me make the wrong choices over there?” he said.
“You won’t make the wrong choices,” I said.
“How do you know?” he said.
“Because I know you,” I said. “Because you take every situation seriously. Because I can tell you take her seriously. If you love her like you say-”
“-then you’ll do everything you have to do to make it home to her and your child. It’s true, maybe you’ll stay your hand, maybe you won’t do what everyone thinks would make you a hero, but if you make it home and treat her right, you’ll be a hero to the only people it really matters to,” I finished.
He looked me up and down like I might’ve been an escapee from an asylum, but he didn’t say anything.
“When did you get so smart?” he asked.
“What can I say, I was born this way,” I said.
“No, you were born weird,” he said.
“A man can be smart and weird,” I said, trying to puff out my chest and sound terribly important, even if I didn’t entirely feel like a man yet.
“Maybe a man can be both of those and hero enough for both of us?” he said.
“Maybe he can,” I said, trying not to think about what had to happen next.
As if reading my mind, Dwight said, “So… have you told your father yet?”
“No,” I admitted.
“You know what he’s going to say, don’t you?” he asked.
“Of course,” I said.
“And what are you going to say when he does?” he asked.
I straightened myself up, trying to look and feel as strong as I wanted to be, “That I’m a man, and that I’m of age, and that he couldn’t stop me if he wanted to, though his blessing would be nice.”
Some of that was even the truth.
Dwight laughed, “Well, let me know how it goes. And, well, if you have to run, you have to run. Don’t let him stop you from following your destiny. Don’t let him keep you from being a hero too.”
I smiled, though his sentiment was easier said than done.
It was night by the time I got home.
Father, Mother and my little, thirteen-year-old sister, Ruby, were decorating a Christmas tree that he’d cut down from the forest this morning. It was every bit as lopsided and stunted as most trees from the deeper depths of this forest were, but with some lights and glass ornaments it almost looked respectable.
I tried to bring some of Dwight’s strength and arrogance to my proposal to Father. I made my case as persuasively as I could and vowed that I would stay strong. For his part, Father remained quiet through my entire speech, continuing to help the others with the tree, even allowing me to finish. When I had, he calmly walked over to his favorite chair, put his favorite pipe between his lips and lit it up.
“I am impressed that you have put a lot of thought into this matter, and glad that you decided to ask me before doing anything, because you must know how obvious the answer is, son,” he said.
He raised a hand, “You’re still too inexperienced and fragile to go to war, and we would be irresponsible guardians if we just let you go making a mistake like that.”
“He’s right, dear,” Mother said.
“But I, I want…”
“You want to be a hero?” Father asked.
“You don’t think I can be a hero?” I challenged her.
“Anyone can be a hero, I just think that’s a piss-poor reason to want to go to war,” she said.
“Language, dear,” Mother chided, before turning back to me. “Though your sister is right.”
“If she wanted to go, you’d let her,” I challenged Father.
He didn’t argue this, “We would, but only because she is more mature than you and has more common sense, but this is not a world that appreciates someone of her condition and standing and so she would never be allowed to do what she could. You, on the other hand, are still young and foolish. We have put too much work and too much time into raising you and training you to let you die in some foolish border skirmish.”
“Some foolish border skirmish? They think this may be the greatest war in human history! Bigger even than the last!”
Father shook his head, “All wars are some foolish border skirmish, or some silly tiff about an ideology. You may not have been around to remember any, but try actually reading some of those books they gave you in school and you may get a better understanding of the matter.”
“But, this is against evil!”
“Says who?” Father proposed.
“Says propaganda,” Father said, enunciating the last word as if slowing it down would give it ample weight. “While I won’t deny that there are some particularly cruel monsters in this conflict, they are hardly anything new. Monsters, like wars, come and go, and it is up to the rest of us to keep our heads low and enjoy our lives while we have them.”
“So you would let them just waltz all over us? You’d just let them take all of our freedom and everything we’ve fought for?” I ask.
“I didn’t say that. If these villains do indeed prove themselves more capable than those of the past have proven, the necessary authorities will see that they get what is coming to them so that the status quo may be maintained,” Father said.
“Don’t you see, though? Those necessary authorities need all the help they can get, and I can help them! You know I could!”
“You could,” Father admitted. “But you also run every risk of dying. Or worse, you could show-”
“I wouldn’t dare,” I said, cutting him off before he could say the unspeakable.
“You wouldn’t dare, you wouldn’t want to, but until you mature you run that risk of losing focus and doing something regrettable,” he said.
“I won’t lose focus,” I said.
“You’ve lost it before,” he said. He was right, but it had been a long time. I was better now.
“I’m a man. I can handle it,” I said.
“No, you’re a boy with dreams of being a man, like all of us were once upon a time. One day you will be a man, and it is my job to make sure you get there. Until then, I cannot let you engage in such a dangerous folly,” he said, completely dismissive.
My strength began to leave. I tried to imagine Dwight by my side, a brother in arms, what he would say, what he would do. Truth be told, he would never find himself in this situation. If he wanted something, he would take it without caring what anyone else would say.
In this situation, that was impossible. Father was an immovable object, and I was hardly an unstoppable force, not like Dwight would be.
“You’re young still,” Father continued. “And if mankind has proven anything, it’s the tendency for war. Another will come along in your time, once you have matured and gained the necessary perspective that will help keep you from getting killed. Then, maybe we’ll talk about you going on one of these heroic crusades. Now are you going to help your mother and sister with the tree, or are you just going to stand there gawking?”
And like that, the argument was done. No raised voices, no raised passions, just his decision finished and over with and no consideration for what I wanted, no, what I needed.
That was it. Roy Potts would never be a hero with a father like this.
No, if Roy Potts wanted to be a hero, he’d have to take Dwight’s advice.
Politely, I excused myself and went to my room. Once there, though, I was a man possessed. I grabbed the suitcase from beneath my bed, emptying it of all the junk that had collected in it over time, and started packing it with all the clothes from my dresser I could fit. I emptied the cigar box full of coins and wadded up bills I’d earned doing yardwork for the neighbors this past summer, at least thirty dollars, and put it at the bottom of my case.
Sneaking into Father’s room, I also stole one of his revolvers, as well as a handful of bullets. For protection.
I figured that if I started running now, I could make the road and hitch a ride over to Braiwood or Milton’s Mill. In either of those towns I could pick up a bus to Sacramento, where I could enlist. When I got there I would send a package back home with Father’s gun and a note explaining just why I did what I did, and that I was sorry but that this was my destiny. It was possible I would be disowned, or perhaps he would even hunt me down, but I was certain that if I was just given the chance, if he could just see what I was capable of, that everything would be all right, and I would be accepted for what I knew myself to truly be.
I snuck out of my window, pulling my coat tight against the bracing cold, and with my suitcase in hand took off running into the forest.
There were clouds enough I knew it would storm soon. Soon enough to make my walk a nightmare, perhaps, but also enough to cover my trail too, I hoped. Fear gripped my heart; this was something I never would have done before, something I never would have dreamed of, but I had never really dreamed before, had I? Never wanted.
This was my time now, and I would make of it what I wanted.
The forest was dark, but unlike most I held no fear of it. The tales of monsters and strange happenings within these woods didn’t scare me. I’d always found them comforting and peaceful in their own, beautiful way. I would keep to these woods, edge my way around the town until I got to the road, and from there, with a little luck, my destiny would await.
I would be a hero.
I could see the lights of nearby houses, and in their way they called to me. They reminded me of what I had back at home, what I could have if I just turned back and listened to my Father. I hadn’t done anything unforgivable yet, I had just given into an impetuous desire.
I could still fix this.
I could still make things as they were.
The home. The warmth of a fireplace. I could practically smell it…
No, that’s not a fireplace.
There was something wrong. A harsh, bad burning smell in the air. Smoke, but not from leaves in someone’s backyard. The forest seemed to know it too, the normally sleeping birds and rodents clearly sensing that something was amiss not too far away. I looked around, stretching my senses, trying to identify its source.
Then I could hear the faint screams.
Changing course, I ran out of the forest to the homes nearby.
It did not take long to find what I was looking for.
It was a two story house, belching smoke into the night sky. The first floor was nearly consumed in flames. Neighbors stood around, baling on water from buckets and hoses, but it was not doing much good. The fire department was nowhere to be seen, but the way people were running in to town told me that they would not get here soon enough. I did not know which family lived here, but I could see them waving a white sheet out of the second floor window as smoke poured out around them. A woman, two children.
They would not last long.
I wanted to laugh. I should have laughed.
It was just too perfect. I wanted to be a hero. I ran off to be a hero. I ran all the way over here, I followed the screams, and the perfect opportunity to be a hero presented itself.
And it had to be with fire!
Fire, the one thing I’d hated and feared as long as I could remember, the one thing that just brings out that primal, animal side of me that I hate to admit still lives inside of me. Of course my opportunity to be a hero would be a fire.
Their screams became more desperate, and I was the only one who could save them.
I ran around the back of the house and found it shy of onlookers, setting my suitcase down at the base of a backyard swing set and putting my coat and shoes with it so nothing bad would happen to them.
Then, as Father said I would, I lost focus.
My body stretched and deformed, arms splitting in half forming four sets of stunted, clawed hands. My body lengthened and expanded, muscles and extra limbs bursting outward as needed, my legs now powerful and bent back at the knees. I twisted my face into some grotesquely monstrous visage that nobody would rightly believe rescued these people.
Stalking over to the house, I leapt up on to the second floor’s sloped roof and broke in a window.
Flame and smoke exploded around me, my skin feeling as if it were on fire, which, for once, it actually was. The smoke singed my lungs, and to compensate I just cut them off for now.
Getting by without breathing was never easy, but I could keep it up for at least ten minutes.
Ten minutes and I’d be out of here, or dead.
Flames licked at my clothing and skin, burning off the former and peeling the latter. Some of the extra limbs I’d grown for protection had already begun to burn through and slough off.
Run away. Get out. Flee. You’re not a hero. You’ll never be a hero. You just run like you always have, run away back home and do what you knew you were going to do the moment you left that house. Go home to Father and apologize and hopefully let all be forgiven. Be what you’ve always been.
I roared in frustration, destroying a flaming chair in the hallway before me.
I have always been a coward. Now I was a hero.
I tore down the hallway, not minding the flames and trying to grow more skin and bone to keep my body safe. I found the room where the screams came from, a towel stuffed under the doorframe to keep the smoke out. The door kicked in easily under one of my powerful legs.
In addition to the woman and the two young girls, there was a father and a younger boy, clearly passed out from the smoke. Those that could looked at me, confused for a moment, then screamed, scrabbling to get out the window that would just drop them into the flames.
There was no time for this.
I made five tentacles with hooked ends burst from my back, wrapping around each of the five. Dropping down onto all my arms and legs, I bounded back down the flaming hall, the family trailing behind me and out the window. We all landed in the backyard in a heap, but aside from some smoke and burns and a few broken bones from our rough landing, they all looked like they would make it.
Clearing my lungs for speech, I croaked, “Get them to Doctor Fallon.”
As an afterthought, I added, “And forget my face.”
The mother looked like she didn’t know what to make of me, other than a charred monster, but the smallest of the little girls looked up at me and smiled.
“Thank you Mr. Monster,” she said, wiping soot-blackened snot from her nose.
I couldn’t drop the monstrous voice, but I did give something of a horrible, toothy smile and said, “You’re welcome…”
“Lois. Lois Todd!” she piped up, barely affected by seeing me.
“You’re welcome, Lois Todd,” I said, patting her on her head despite her mother trying to hold her back. “Stay as strong as you are today, and there’s no telling where life will take you.”
Trying to look strong for the little girl, I walked back to the swing set and gathered my effects, bounding back off into the woods.
Sure I was out of sight, I finally pitched over onto the ground, coughing and vomiting up vile things. I tried sloughing off more of my burned skin, but it may have been too much this time. I was burned bad, inside and out, and what was it Father had always said? Too much fire can kill even us? Was this too much fire, this time?
I coughed violently, curling up at the base of the tree.
This was my first time away from Home, Roy Potts my first human body. If I’d played my cards right, I could get millennia out in this world, going from human body to human body, living dozens, hundreds of lives, experiencing everything this beautiful world had to offer.
But to do that, I had to play things safe. I couldn’t be a hero. I couldn’t take risks, I’d just have to go with the flow and never interfere.
And if that had happened, five people would have died tonight, instead of just one monster with no true body from another world that nobody would miss.
The world wouldn’t miss Roy Potts, and it would miss me even less (though Mother, Father, Ruby and the rest of our kind would mourn me, briefly), but as I watched my body deteriorate into the gray slime that would soon be gray dust that meant my oblivion, I realized none of that mattered.
I was a hero.
There's something rotten beneath the small town of Prospero, California. For over a century, the town's history has been rich with tales of monsters, miracles and mysterious disappearances in the surrounding woods. It’s a town where everybody has something to hide, especially those who may not be entirely human.
Sixteen-year-old Mina Todd knows about the otherworldly shapeshifters that secretly run Prospero and has dedicated her life to fighting them. Ben Pastor, in town to attend the funeral of his missing childhood friend, Haley Perkins, has never believed any of the strange stories about what happens in Prospero. When Haley turns up alive and well at her own memorial service, Ben and Mina are forced to work together to uncover what happened to her. Though they may not always understand each other, Ben and Mina’s unlikely friendship may very well be the only thing that can save the town, and possibly the world, from its insidious invaders.
When autumn descends on Prospero, California, Ben Pastor hopes that the normality of the new school year may offer a reprieve from the town’s horrors. Mina Todd knows all too well that there are no reprieves and no normality in Prospero, especially after she starts having crippling, unexplained hallucinations of the dead. But even she can't prepare for what the coming year holds.
On top of the Splinters' brewing civil war threatening to make humanity its battleground, inside the walls of Prospero High, Ben, Mina and their expanding Network must face a Splinter campaign to destroy their friendship, a newly human Haley Perkins struggling to readjust to life after the Warehouse, and a Splinter assassin of untold power picking off human rebels. Ben and Mina’s one hope rests with a mysterious figure hiding in the woods outside of town, a living legend who may know how to stop this dangerous new breed of Splinter. That is, assuming he doesn’t first kill everyone himself.
Coming June 16th, 2015!