The Black Letter
"A Cartoon Story"
By John Pirillo
Ever since Johnnie had broken the grip of the emotions which had kept him tied to Laurie and Koomay, his life had not gotten simpler at all, but more difficult. He lay there on his bed that night, reframing all the situations he'd been through of late...from the Zombie King to the Spiral Death he had defeated only days before. Comics were his life, but at the same time, if he wasn't on his toes...every freaking minute, second of his life, it could also be his death.
You see, Johnnie was the Comic Book Commander. He had chosen that position in life, it had chosen him when he had risked his stupid life to rescue a young girl in a burning building, which as it turned out, wasn't in danger at all and wasn't really a young girl, but a comic book princess from a parallel world, dimension, pocket universe. You name it. It didn't matter. Facts were facts. Cartoons were real in her world. And they were...some of them...very, very dangerous.
He looked at a new scar on his right arm from fighting with the Zombie King. Just that alone reminded him of his position of power in the universe. Absolutely nowhere!
If God was smiling down on him, it was with his tongue in cheek, because Johnnie had become a comic book hero, but with a human's weaknesses most of the time. Sure, if he had a comic book on him, or could touch one, he could assume the powers of the hero of the book, but it didn't last, and if he wasn't careful and attended to the details of whatever battle he happened to be in at any given time, he could also be dead.
Even comic book heroes die. Just ask the fans whose favorite comic book was no longer being written and illustrated!
"Johnnie!" Cartoon's voice called to him from the living room of their small and very simple apartment.
He rolled over onto his back, sleep still eluding him. "What?" He hollered back.
"I can't sleep."
"Neither can I." He complained.
The door to his bedroom opened. The living room lights were out, but it was still almost as bright as day inside there. Illumination from Cartoon's glowing body. She was lit up like a miniature sun. He sometimes wondered what the neighbors thought when they saw his window blinds become bright like that, but not for long. Everyone had something going on in their life they wanted to keep secret, so no one was likely to come snooping, except for the Landlord. A born snoop if ever there was one. He was honest and fair, but he was also lecherous and a nose peeker. He stuck his nose in everybody's business.
Maybe it was the years of his life getting to him. After all forty is so ancient. Johnnie thought with a smile.
"Johnnie!" Cartoon called to him.
"Okay. Okay." He grumbled, and got up from his bed. He went into the living room, passing her without touching her and sat down on his couch. She sat next to him and cradled her head against his chest. "I don't like it."
"What! Too hairy for you?"
Not your chest, silly." She told him with a laugh, slapping his right leg, which was bare like the rest of him. He never slept with clothes on, except in the winter, and it was July hot outside, which meant hot and humid. The three rivers around Sacramento kept it humid all year long, but in the summer, it became stifling. Even with the air on, a cheap wall air conditioner, that chug chugged like the Little Train That Could from the children's story books. Even with that, it barely cooled the place and usually only the living room if anywhere.
So he slept butt naked in his bedroom. Usually he left the bedroom door open, but Cartoon had stayed up after him, boning up on the world's literature. Comic books. He smiled.
"No, not that. Don't you sense it?"
"Yeah. No. Sense what?"
"Something's about to happen."
"Yeah. Me. I've got to go to work tomorrow and face off Koomay and her amorous attentions so she won't suspect I have a Clone double, and work my butt off scrubbing all the floors. They haven't been cleaned for two days now.
Cartoon looked up into his face. "I'm going home."
I very nearly dropped her to the floor when she said that.
She laughed. "That got your attention."
I gave her a searching look. She smiled. "I am."
"I don't know why. I've been feeling this pull for days now. Even when we were battling the Zombie King and his minions, I felt it, maybe even stronger, if that were possible."
Johnnie nodded. "Yeah. Not much that isn't possible, is there?"
"No, there isn't." She agreed, knowing far more than I just how vast our universe was.
"What'll I do without you?"
She gave me a hard look. "If you so much as lay one hand or finger on Koomay or Laurie..."
I raised my hands in surrender. "My Clone doubles are doing their jobs just fine. No trouble there."
She sighed and closed her eyes. "Don't you ever get tired of lying to them?"
"I'm not sure."
She looked up at me.
"It's just that by lying they're both getting what they want...me."
"You're so conceited." She growled at me, and then pinched a bit of flab on my side.
"Oww!" I gave her a hurt look. "What was that for?"
"For avoiding what you must one day face. Telling them the truth. That you fell in love with both of them, but chose me."
I gently untwined her from me, stood up and began pacing back and forth. "I just can't...can't do that. I..."
"Love them too much to hurt them." She finished for me, sitting up to watch my reaction.
I froze there, my jaw hanging open.
"I can't. And that's what's killing me!" I exclaimed with a burst of anger. "It's not fair. Why did God put me in such an awkward position?"
"Maybe to see how you would handle it. If you would be honest."
"If being honest means breaking their hearts, I'd rather go to hell." I said with finality and stomped from the room, feeling angry as hell with her for reminding me to do what I had been putting off for weeks now, and what I knew was right, and the guilt I felt over being in such a hopeless predicament.
I fell onto my bed and went out like a light bulb switched off. I didn't even dream. I also wasn't aware of when Cartoon transitioned from my world to her own, or even how she did it. I knew she could. I'd even seen her stretch into it sometimes, temporarily, to pluck something out to use in battle, but I'd never seen her go all the way into her world.
I woke up next morning to a knock on my door.
I dragged myself out of bed and headed for the door to open it, then realized three things: I was butt naked still, Cartoon was gone, and it was still the middle of the night. Spelled trouble to me, but trouble doesn't usually knock, unless it's human. So I cracked the door to look out.
Hell had struck sooner than predicted. Both Koomay and Laurie stood outside my door, their faces stone hard. "Oh great!" I scalded myself. "Now the shit hits the fun for sure."
"Just a minute." I told them, and then rushed back into my bedroom, slipped on my faded jeans, and a tee shirt. I ran back and flung the door open. They marched in. Literally, like two soldiers going into combat. They both sat on the sofa, leaving me to stand or sit opposite them on the recliner.
I shut the door, causing the living room to fall into complete darkness for a moment, until I could find the lamp by the door. I turned it on, and then looked at them.
"What's up? Are you in trouble?" I asked, knowing that was the farthest thing from the truth. I strove to strike a middle ground. "Do you need my help? I now it's late, but I'm willing..."
Koomay held up a comic book.
My heart sank into my shoes and refused to come back.
I sat down like a stone falling from heaven in the recliner, causing it to almost fall over backwards. They didn't laugh. They didn't budge. Koomay just held the comic book up in the air, like a soldier waving a battle flag.
Koomay tossed the comic book to me and it landed in my lap. I turned it over. The Clone Commander. Issue Number One. Mint condition. I had given it to a third clone to protect the first two and me. It had failed. I was so...screwed!
Laurie burst into tears and wouldn't stop.
Koomay just sat there like a rigid statue, her eyes burning into mine. "How could you, Johnnie?"
I waited until Laurie slowed down in her crying enough to hear me, and then said. "I love you."
Koomay stared at me.
I looked at Laurie. "I love you too."
Koomay and Laurie both stared at me, their eyes burning with anger.
"I also love Cartoon."
"More." Koomay said the fatal words
"Than us." Laurie finalized.
I sat back in my recliner, speechless. How do you answer something like that after what I'd done and said? Very, very carefully I decided.
I looked at Koomay. "When I first fell in love with you, it was when you made sure I had enough to eat every night before I went home. You cared. And when I met your parents, I could see the kindness in them had spilled over into your heart."
I turned to Laurie. "We've played some bitchin' music together. Late at night. Everywhere and anytime. We make good music together, and you're a friend's friend. I trust no one more. You have never, ever said a word to hurt me, to notch me down, to take away our friendship, or lessen it."
I sat there a long time, my heart pounding in my chest. This was far worse than facing the Zombie King, his horrid eyes, and stinking breath or the Spiral Death and its hypnotic eyes that could seduce you into walking into a living fire and consume you. No, it was far worse. Because these two meant more to me than my own life. I had meant it when I told Cartoon I would rather go to hell than hurt any of them. But I had failed.
I had nothing more to say, to give, to refute the evidence. I had failed them as a friend and as a lover as well. I took a deep breath. "I just hope that someday you can forgive me for wanting to make it right between all of us, even if it turns out it was a stupid thing to do. God awfully stupid."
The silence lengthened further.
I said no more. I just waited for them to get it out in the open, to cut my head off, pound me into the pulp I deserved to be beaten into.
Instead, they got up, took me by a hand, and sat me down between them and put a head on both my shoulders.
"We love you too." Koomay said.
Laurie nodded. "Thank you for finally being honest."
"How long have you known?" I asked them.
"Forever." They both answered as one.
I felt a great sadness. I had hurt them both so much and they both meant so much to me. How can somebody do that?
We sat like that a long time, saying nothing at all.
I think we were all worn out from the emotional toll of our feelings and misunderstanding. We fell asleep on the sofa, they with their heads on my shoulder, and me with my head propped on the back of the sofa.
I didn't hear the front door open as Cartoon entered quietly. She slipped past us and went into my bedroom and prepared to go to sleep. She lay down, smiling. She never scalded me again about the girls after that. No reason too. I had become a man that night. Not because I told the two girls I loved them but because I had finally faced the truth, I really did love them and it wasn't my choice to chase them away to happiness, but rather let t hem choose what made them happy themselves.
How will it all pan out in the end? Will they still want a chunk of me in the end? Who cares? Right now I'm the luckiest guy in the world. I have three girls who love me as much as I love them, and no one is putting a for sale sign on my head, or an eviction notice. For now we were at peace and a treaty had been made.
Then the next morning, just before dawn, the front door smashed open and the Black Letter with his cape of velvet red stood there with massive swords in both hands. His leathery face and blood red eyes stared at my startled face.
"Are you the Comic Book Commander?"
"No." I answered, clutching a copy of the Three Musketeers classic I kept on my coffee table. "I'm your worst nightmare." I paused and then grinned. "The Eraser!"
The Black Letter gave me a look of utter horror.
The girls woke up screaming when I jumped from the sofa and over the table, a huge eraser in my left and right hand, a cape flowing over my back. A grim look on my face.
"Enguarde!" I cried out and together we met in battle as Cartoon rushed from the bedroom, a sword in her own hand, and Laurie and Koomay came running out of the kitchen with a butcher knife and a meat cleaver to join the battle.
And a good thing too, as just at that moment three of the Black Letter's evil henchmen leaped into the room through the front door, snarling fearfully, revealing horrid white vampiric teeth that lusted to suck out our life's blood.
"Die!" The Black Letter screamed at me.
I smiled. "I think not." Then rushed him.
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FANTASTIC FOUR, a contemporary re-imagining of Marvel’s original and longest-running superhero team, centers on four young outsiders who teleport to an alternate and dangerous universe, which alters their physical form in shocking ways. Their lives irrevocably upended, the team must learn to harness their daunting new abilities and work together to save Earth from a former friend turned enemy.
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