Bat-Fold of the 1980s – The Long Halloween Break
“Crunchy creamy cupcake cookie crumpet.” I said, preparing my lips. Performing in theater is hard. The stage is set, the lead must step onto it.
Princess Andromeda stands, chained to the rock as her father remains gravely ill. Much seems hopeless, for now the sea monster rises. Toilet paper painted green, attached to leaf blowers, leads to tentacles rising from the blue swabs of paper glued to the floor. The princess screams.
I jump in.
“Huzzah! You dare mess with the lovely Andromeda?! Do not dare, you evil beast!” I scream, as I chop up the green sheets of toilet paper, and the scene ends.
I clap my hands together. “Good job everybody! Alec,” I say, pointing, “You were a bit stiff, Ben,” Ben had zoned out, “You were good. Perhaps a little too good.”
“I’d say your character is a little undefined.” Alec shouted.
My character? Who does he think he is? My character knows exactly who he is. He’s the hero. “No-no-no, I think that this plot needs another layer. What our hero needs is an ironic despotic scene that propels our hero into new conflict!”
Then it happened. It was so fast. The principal called me to the office, told me what I had been “seen” doing, and kicked me out of school. My dad and stepmom kicked me out of the house, barely saying a few words.
In one day, I went from being in a private school with tons of friends and rich parents to being homeless, and left with nothing but Kane, a barren public school filled with the worst of the worst.
I had managed to swipe about two hundred dollars, and held onto forty bucks I’d been saving to buy a new comic book. Two hundred forty three dollars and seventy two cents. Surely enough to make it on my own. I brought a little paper toy as well, like a good luck charm. An Origami Batman that my Father had given me from during the good ol’ days, back when he had Mom.
I had booked an apartment at some old Inn, and sat down. I looked at the blank white eyes of my puppet, “Well, guess we live here now.” I could almost hear him agree. I was about to “ask” him something when I was interrupted by the loud fridge’s persistence on humming at a TV’s maximum volume, that reminded me to flip the television on – something to keep my mind occupied.
CBS FAMILY MOVIE NIGHT!
I cried myself to sleep.
When I awoke I filled out forums for my new school, Kane High, and I hand drew a flyer. I was looking for a roomie, someone to split the rent with and at least keep me company.
First day at Kane, butterflies are already swelling in my stomach. I was a stranger, and I heard strangers don’t last long here. As soon as I entered my first period class, I received no greeting other than a spitball. I sat down and went through my day, I tried all sorts of approaches. I kept my head down, I tried to keep my chin up. It all ended the same, only one thing kept my mind away from the depressing reality of it.
The information on them was wrong, just wrong enough for me to notice, equations were off by a digit, country names were misspelled, etc. During lunch I planned to mull it over, I just hoped I could sit alone to do so, however, as you probably realize by now, I don’t get what I want.
I’m sure Donner was bigger than Kane, but Donner was always organized, as long as you had your witts you can make it anywhere. Kane wasn’t like that. It was big, and mean, and scary, and it knew it. It felt like it had to show off how big it was by making the new kids get lost.
I had managed to find my way around here, and it began to seem like all the seats were full. I set my tray down on one random table, and everyone seemed to act jittery. They all held clear miniature water bottles, with a brown fizzling liquid in them. “Oh um… can I have a cup of Coke?” Everyone busted into laughs and tears. The biggest of them pulled a large bottle out of his backpack. “Tropical Fantasy, that’s all we got.”
“Oooooh, great.” I smiled. I poured myself a cup, and took a bite out of my chicken wing. It was so spicy that I had shed a tear, but made sure I remained quiet. The kid next to me poked me on the shoulder. I turned around, it was a short, pouty kid with large, worn out hands and eyes the color of emeralds, eyes that were perhaps the only thing good about his face. He had red pimples all around his face and a scraggly brown beard. “What’s the matter, fruit cup?” He mocked, “You miss your Momma’s mangoes?”
I thought for a moment. It’s about time I made a name for myself.
“Well, as a matter of fact I am… but not as much as your Daddy’s cooking!” I screamed, the other people in the cafeteria batted an eye my way, and then glanced away just as fast.
He began to look timid after that, “Say there Mister, what did you say your name was?” I looked down, and came to a realization, I used a fake name when applying to this school. I had lived a double life, maybe my new name would do. “Name’s Nolan, Austin Nolan.”
One of the kids tapped his plastic spoon on the table. “Say, Nolan, Nolan, Nolan, eh, weren’t you the dude who watergunned those Franklin brothers?”
“Yep, did it with one decaliter.” I lied.
“All eight of em?” Someone asked. My eyes widened, “Y-Yeah. All eight of them.” The kid who asked me my name said, “Ay uh- how exactly do you do that, Mister?” I liked the mister part. “Welp, ya see, y’all gotta pay attention. Because this is where things get complicated.”
“-The stream of water bounces towards number six, it hits him in the neck and he jumps out of his window balcony thingamajig into his pool, splashing number seven with water, and causing a distraction for me to finally hose down number three, leaving nothing behind but a high pitched scream.”
Cue the awestruck silence. “Now-now hold on, what happened to number eight?” Someone asked.
I pondered for a moment, “Eight? Darn, he tripped and fell into the pool.”
Applause erupted from my eleven seatmates, applause interrupted by a grunt, I turned around and saw a giant, muscular, hairy man standing above me. “Oy, that’s my seat.”
“Well, um, mister, I suppose that due to there being a lack of other seats, um, mister sir, you might have to just um… sit on the floor?”
“Hey er, that little fella is ‘Austin Nolan'” The short kid added, side note – I recently learned that his name is Rupert, “He hosed down them Franklin brothers!”
“Did it with one decaliter, Bill.”
“Ight, is that so? Well, he’s still fixing to have to move.” Bill decided.
“Well, my dear friend, what are you gonna do if I don’t?” He looked down at me, and frowned, he slid a pair of brass knuckles on and handed one to me, he said he’ll sit down on the floor, but come courtyard, I’ll pay. I took that bet.
I paced around awkwardly, word had spread of the new kid facing off against William Dixon, an audience had grown and then he arrived. “Why, howdy there!” I shouted at William, “Welp, I’ll give you one chance to reconsider! If I were you, I’d consider reconsidering myself! Otherwise, I’d have to consider making you reconsider!” And due to my sheer imposingness he ran away, and so did everyone else.
“Now, that’s more like it!” Everyone who was there ran out, and hid behind some of the benches.
“Now, listen! Things are going to be run a little different ’round here! I want my shoes shined, twice a week, permits to the front of any and all lines! Stay out of my peripheral vision. I don’t want any of you getting y’all’s bodily fluids on my shoes!” I began to pace, happy with the fear I had radiated. Maybe Kane wasn’t so bad, after all. I was pacing, and ended up turning around. A kid was standing right behind me, he must’ve been seven feet tall, because he had to look down at me and I’m above average in height. His face was ugly enough to cause people to run away. He stared at me silently, his yellow tinted eyes gleaming, he had caused the panic, not me. I continued my demands, ignoring him, but when I passed by him he grabbed my shoulder, “Pal, didn’t I tell you? Demand numero four says you gotta not touch me, I take large steps and don’t want any of y’all cooties on ma shoes.”
He was starting to scare me, so I socked him in the face, with the brass knuckle hand. He fell out cold, and his jaw seemed to shatter. I looked down, and felt something for a moment, like this wasn’t the right thing to do, that maybe I shouldn’t have judged him, but just as soon that thought was replaced with me looking down to see my shoes removed, and shined, and I, myself getting a foot massage.
The bell rang, time for class, and my tiny friend James said, “Well Noly, can I call you Noly?” He seemed nice to me, so I allowed him to. “Well Noly, I think it’s time you’ve met the class president.” and he dragged me away, and pushed me into the Class President’s room.
I awkwardly bumbled into the room and saw the class president, Nashton Reese. He was filling out a crossword puzzle, with his feet on his desk, right beside stacks of paperwork.
“Answers, Mister Nolan – isn’t that what we all want? Without it, we’ll be in an anarchy. But with answers, there’s at least a reason to exist, answers to questions, to puzzles to… riddles. That’s the immutable law of school, you control the answers you control well, ” he gestured vaguely at the entire room “everything.” He said dryly. “But, I don’t have to tell you that, you being the true legend that you are.”
He called me a legend, I liked that. I was beginning to like him, as well. He pulled a bottle of coca cola out, “This is from my private stock.” He said, handing me a can. “The price spikes really affected the poorer people, good thing we ain’t one of them, is it? I remember when Coke was only a few cents, well, at least seventy five cents, heaven, I’m not that much of a senior.”
I laughed, without humor. “Well, I guess power it’s privilege.” I said, mildly annoyed at him dissing the poorer people. He stood up, revealing his tall lanky body. “You make a good point, son, but with privilege comes responsibility. This school looks to have a bright future, and I hope that you’ll be part of it, Mr. Nolan. To Kane!” He said, pointing his coke can at me, and we cheered. “To Kane!” I said back. He looked out his window at the shuffling students. “Ya see them, Mr. Nolan? My friends, and classmates. It’s a hard life they live. Very hard. Do you know how they make it through each and every day? They believe. They believe it’s going to be better. They believe that they have an answer, and that they can defend it. The people have problems, and they have tons of problems,” He opened a box, and pulled out a hall monitor badge. “and right now, they believe that you’re the solution.”
He slid the badge towards me, “No neon vest needed, pick it up Mr. Nolan. Your destiny awaits.”
I picked up the badge, and walked away, on my way out, I passed by the kid who I had almost fought, with brass knuckles and all that, he seemed to be there for a reason, like he wanted to report the “fight”, but Nash clearly had a favoritism towards me, I pushed past him, not giving if a second thought.
On the bus it seemed that everyone wanted to sit by me, one kid even saw my flyer and asked to become my roommate, his name was Wilson Wickinni, and he had a little sister, a freshman, fresh out of middle school, I accepted, and he got off at my stop, the bus driver, not even bothering to stop it. Turns out he has the same story as me, he’s one of the homeless kids. We talked, and when I told him about Bat-Fold he seemed to smile. He talked to me about how cute that was, and how it’s nice to see these little innocent things.
I tried to teach him how to fold one, but he couldn’t get the ears just right, so I folded them back and gave it a suit. “There, you’re like… Alfred Penworth.” I told him, his sister was laying on the bed, and playing on her GameBoy when she looked over at me, “Hey, that’s pretty cool,” and she went back to her Tetris.
Both me and Wilson had puppets, I felt bad for the little sister, who’s name was Lorraine. I could always use a poster child, one who I could “mentor”, that could definitely bring me some credit. I racked my brain for a good Robin idea, and remembered a personal favorite of mine, The Dark Knight Returns’ Karrey Kelly, I folded her and handed it to Lorraine. “What’s this for?” She asked, “Anne, that’s not how we say thank you.” Will interjected, “No, it’s not. Look, I think I need a partner, a kid to keep a sorta moral compass.” She looked me up and down. “Sure.” She finally said, “But lemme ask you something. Anybody ever tell you what happened to the last Hall Monitor?” I gulped. “Nope, and you don’t have to. I’ll end up better.”
“Doubt it, Napier’s always been scared of that dang kid, the giant one. Now that he’s gone, I think he’ll come back.”
“Now-Now’s who’s this Napier fella?” I asked. Lorraine stood up, walked to the light switch and flipped it off, “It’s night time anyway. I doubt I’d sleep if I talked about Napier.”
“Yeah, Austin, don’t worry, you’ll probably live.” Wilson added, very reassuringly.
Tuesday morning was a cult ritual. Everyone seemed to be walking towards the center of the courtyard, mindlessly. I passed by my “Bat-family” and they both were silent, just as the rest of the school was. Silently walking to the school’s center.
“So eh, this is a heck of a hoedown you got going here.” I told Wilson. “Yes, Mr. Nolan, it is.”
“Certainly working those steps in.” I told him.
“Yes, it is.” He agreed, still seeming to try and say as little as possible.
“So… is this normal Kane behavior? “
Lorraine skipped past me, “Every Tuesday, kinda like clockwork.” She said.
“So, back onto this Napier topic…”
“Drop it – you beat up a bully, a bigger bully comes, that’s the simplest way to put it.” Wilson said.
“Can I have your shoes when you’re dead?” Lorraine asked.
“What? No! And I ain’t got no problem with this here Napier fella.”
“That’s just what Amos said…” Lorraine asked, her voice trailing off. “Amos?” I asked, as we all ended up in the dead center. The outdoor section of the gym. There, Nash was standing on a table. Two men wheeled in a book cart.
“My fellow children of Kane! I welcome you to our great day of deliverance!” Nash shouted, “Hallelujah!” He shouted, causing a train reaction; he said three times more, and me, Lorraine, and Wilson, remained silent.
“We have a newcomer amongst us today. One, who I assure you, needs no introduction, due to the impact he has left in our minds! So bold has his entrance been into our fair society! I welcome you, Mr. Austin Nolan!”
I stepped forward, and whispered to him, asking him what this was all about. He said he was giving out free textbooks, for the poorer kids, that made me happy. He said that most textbooks are torn apart, shredded, or held together with so much yellow tape you can’t even see the words. The two men opened the box, and only feathers flew out, and a few miniature planes designed to look like flightless birds.
People freaked, the kids with their torn clothing and matted hair began to shout obscenities, that sounded like they were… directed at me. I pulled out my puppet, realizing I needed to do something, it was a last resort. “Do you see this? This is Bat-Fold.” I said, getting ready to make my big rally speech. “And hear me out. As long as this puppet exists, this school done gon have it’s law and order. You don’t have to believe in me, heck, I’m a new kid – but believe in this symbol! The rest can come later! And I have answers!” I leaned towards Nash, “Hey um… what are the answers?”
“We form a posse.” He whispered.
“Yes!” I shouted, “We will form a possum!”
“A posse…” he said, through grinded teeth. “Everyone! Meet me after school, Furst Motel.” And I continued the day as regular, but now with a phobia of flightless birds and yellow taped textbooks.
A small group had formed together. They waited at my doorstep. I walked out to the small balcony, and saw them.
John Williams had brought his girlfriend from Donner, Betrix “Betty” Watson , one of the student body members hopped along as well, her name was Thalia Carter. The short kid who teased me a while back arrived, his name was Rupert Johnson, and he did some part time at a college-level class, out in Nodel. He brought his equally short twin brother, Robert Johnson, a kid who’s half of his body length was taken up by his legs, and finally, there was Norman Jimenez, a kid who I had heard rumors about. He claimed he had “visions”, and he would often paint them out on the schools halls, leading to numerous expulsions, but his bad record was almost always expunged given that he was likely thirty percent of our test scores. This was my team, these people were all I had to work with. Fair enough.
“Children of JuteFruce!” I began, “For far too many years, I have heard rumors of the feathered book thief. The poorer schools need proper education, they need these books, and for someone to take them, that’s not right.”
They began to murmur to each other, at least I was having an effect. “Well… this ends now. ” I began to finger comb my hair for the ladies, and I pulled out my puppet. “You, my puppet Society, will stop this nonsense. I have a four point plan.” I pulled out my chart.
“I checked out some books from the library, and a bunch of books on theft and birds were checked out by ‘Angelo Cobbler’, I had Nash check Kane’s records and he lives on 1941 Vito Road, JuteFruce.”
They looked at me, a bit stunned, then that shock slowly morphed into faces of confidence. “Well… what do we know? Isn’t that like… on the other side of the city?” Thalia asked.
“Now…” I paused dramatically. “We ride.” and at that moment Nash’s hired driver came in, for some people these cars were the nicest they’d ever been in. That thought made me oddly angry.
I went back through the door and got ready. I put my pocket knife into my pocket, put my combat boots on, I saw Lorraine putting her boots on, and I said, “Now hold on, Lor-Lor, you ain’t even got a weapon.”
She pulled a slingshot out, and a bag of rocks. “Fair enough.” I looked at Wilson, “Hold down the fort, Will.” I tossed him a walkie-talkie, and me and Lorraine walked down to the bottom floor, and stepped outside to meet with the others.
For most of the ride I did my least favorite thing in the world. Nothing. After a silent and uneventful ride, I snatched Loraine’s gameboy. “It’ll rot your brain.” I told her, and she blew a raspberry.
I looked around, awkwardly. “C’mon gang, don’t be like that.” I told them, it looked almost as if they were afraid of me. Thalia changed her posture. “Is it true? That you were chosen by Nashton himself?”
“Yes. It is, good on you for asking.” I summoned a bag of cookies out of my backpack. “Cookie?” I offered. She laughed, shook her head, broke it in half and handed me the other half. “Cheers?”
“Sooooo…” Norman started, “Do you want to hear your fate?”
He looked around, “You’re a great hero, Bat-Fold will die one too.”
“You’ve found the woman, luring you to your demise, like a siren of ancient times.”
“Ok it seems like you’re just making these th-”
Everyone in the van began to awkwardly glance around, they seemed nervous, and some muttered the word “Napier” under their breaths.
“Napier? I ain’t scared of him. Heck, he’s my brother.” I lied.
“But… he’s a redhead, and your hair’s black. ”
“Well, he’s um… adopted.” Which was also a lie.
“I heard he’s like a gangster, he has control over the entire school.” Robert said.
“Nah bro, he’s the kid who put a thumbtack on Mr. Dozier’s seat.” Rupert said.
“I heard he’s some nihilist, he doesn’t even care about anything, not even death.”
“Enough talk about dea-” I said before being cut off. “I heard his life was real awful, and he just snapped one day.” Thalia added. “I heard he’s insane enough to have tattoos.” The lightheaded Betty added, being simply horrifying. Tattoos? The audacity.
We pulled over, the drivers decided to go to sleep.
“I ain’t sleepin’ tonight.” Rupert said, scared.
“Listen guys, as long as I’m in town, you all got nothing to worry about. ” I looked at Lorraine, worried. I realized that I’d gotten tangled into this lie. If Napier came, and if what was said was true, I was in trouble. “So please guys, get some sleep.” I said, and I played on the floor of the van, I rolled my jacket into a pillow, and layed down, the last thing I saw was the look of dread on Lorraine’s face.
My dreams weren’t any better. All of my friends, they were fighting. Fighting each other. I was in the middle, yelling at both sides to stop it, and before my eyes they began to age, into adults. Kids were at their side, but noticeably they were all walking through me, like I wasn’t even there. I was like a ghost.
They all moved to two sides, the children looked up to the adult like they idolize them. Then they charged, with me in the center, and it all went black.
My eyes jolted open, and I was sitting in a straightjacket. The class was empty, except for one kid, who was laughing, and screaming, and also in a much deserved straight jacket. I looked up, and saw someone who looked just like me.
His hair was dark, ruffled and his eyes were baggy, like he’d seen his legacy fall apart far too many years. “Well, Austin? Finish the test.” I looked at the pencil and I couldn’t.
“Why so glum, pal?” The kid to my left asked, the buckles on his straight jacket slowly shifted into golden medallions and a coat shifted around him, until he appeared to be in a circus master’s uniform, he looked down at me, and his eyes were ivy green, but managed to look cold at the same time, with irises that screamed insanity.
I jolted upward, it was still the middle of the might. Everyone was there, except Thalia. I stood up, and walked out. Thalia was leaning by the van, watching the night. “Night terrors?” I asked, she jumped for a moment. “Oh, um, sorry I scared you, um… yeah, sorry.” I said, jittery.
“No, no, no, it’s totally fine.” She said. “I’m just… watching the stars.”
“Oh really?” I asked. “That must be nice.”
“Yeah, yeah, it is.”
“At my old school, the mission statement was to reach for the stars.”
“Hey, wasn’t that Donne-“
“NO, No it wasn’t.” I said, interjecting my lie.
“No, no, I clearly remember it was.”
I didn’t want people to think I was one of Donner’s rich brats. These people, they need my lie.
I decided to change the subject.
“So… do you do this every night or…”
“Yeah, I do. It’s peaceful. The stars, they look so lonely out there, don’t you think?”
I didn’t know what to say “Well, kind of.”
“Do you ever get lonely, Austin?”
“Yeah, sometimes. When I came here I felt alone.”
It felt nice to pour this out for someone. I looked at the now rising sun, and my watch. Time to wake everyone up.
Smooth roads ahead.
“You look… ugh.” Lorraine quickly decided upon.
“And you, Miss-Lor-On-The-Cob,” I sighed, “are as charming as ever.”
It shocks me how accurate Lorra can encapsulate my essence, we drove for ten more minutes and we arrived, early in the morning. I saw two kids that I recognized as freshmen hopping around the front lawn, holding bags overflowing with textbooks. We needed a plan, and I had one in mind.
“Robert, you’re on the track team. Right?”
“It’s your job to run around, you need to do some reconnaissance. Rupert and Johnny, you two handle the guards, get the textbooks into the van. Betty, Thalia, Norman, come with me into the house so we can give this fella a talking-to.”
We began to walk away, but Lorraine stopped me. “What am I supposed to do?” She asked.
“Well you, you have the most important job. If something goes wrong you give… the signal.” I decided to tell her.
“But how will we get into the house?” John asked.
I pondered that for a moment. I pulled a large, torn apart, cardboard box out of my backpack. “Well funny you should ask… hey Thalia, what size dress do you wear?”
I knew I’d be the only one with the proper acting chops to scream in pure, absolute, terror.
My plan was simple- a Broadway state production of the myth of Perseus and Andromeda performed in a suburban neighborhood’s outdoors area, with myself as Andromeda.
Since I had gotten expelled from Donner, I realized how shallow it is to play the burly hero, it requires very little acting chops. The damsel in distress requires you to forego your own dignity to play the role that benefits the story.
I put the dress on, and Thalia had put on my clothes, the pure black T-Shirt with the army vest over it. I found that attractive, but immediately felt guilty about that.
I knock on the door. A short, pudgy, old man opens. “Whadya want?” He asks.
“We sir, are the caravan of travelling actors whomst shall now perform thou show.” I say, proudly.
“Crunchy creamy cupcake cookie crumpet.” I said, preparing my lips, performing on stage is hard. The stage is set, the lead must step onto it.
Princess Andromeda stands, chained to the rock as her father (John Williams) remains gravely ill. Much seems hopeless, for now the sea monster rises. Green painted toilet paper, attached to leaf blowers lead to tentacles rising from the blue swabs of paper glued to the makeshift stage. I scream.
Thalia jumps onto the stage, her haid crafted to look like a traditional manly mullet.
“Huzzah! You dare mess with the lovely Andromeda! Do not dare you evil beast!” She screams, as she chops up the green sheets of toilet paper, and the scene ends.
It all happened so fast.
We pulled out water guns, the really high brand stuff. We doused them and before they had time to react we made a run for it, but as I went to grab the first backpack filled with books, and Thalia grabbed the other someone grabbed the tip of my dress. I yelped and got dragged back, but Thalia kicked the man. We all began to fight, and of course due to the odds, we won.
“Well, first of all, I demand that you and your…” I began to say to Angelo.
“Cousins.” One of the two henchmen said.
“I demand that you and your cousins all put your hands up and report to detention next morning. “
Angelo looked around, he pouted and then smiled an evil sneer. “All of my cousins?” He asked.
“That’s what I said.” I told him, clearly misspeaking.
Down the stairs ten kids stepped down, they all had similar features to Angelo. I told Loraine and Norman to get the other two bags, and they did.
I heard a shout from outside, it was Lorraine. She had peered in from the window. “Austin, I think that’s the signal.” William said.
“Yes,” I said. “that’s the signal. I think something went wrong.” The ten goons stared at me.
“So um… ” Angelo began. “Is something supposed to happen?”
“I am open to suggestions.”
We tried to hightail it out of there, but as we were driving away in our van, I heard the noise of another van’s tires leaving skid marks.
“Hey, someone’s following us!” Lorraine shouted, she’s perceptive that way. “Oh, so this is your plan?” Norman asked.
“Breaking into the house of one of the richest kids in the school, restealing his stolen textbooks, and then making it away in a nineteen seventies hippie van. It’s brilliant, Austin, simply brilliant!!” He shouted sarcastically, over the sound of the tires, thankfully he shut up when we hit a tree and got cornered by the two vans, which both parked.
Out of the van hopped Angelo. He pulled out a hastily made origami Penguin, his hat appeared to be made of duct-tape. “Give me that.” He said, snatching one of the bags out of the hands of his cousin. “You see, I remember a phrase, he began. He who controls the answers controls everything. And with the theft of this school’s textbooks, I, Angelo Cobbler, CONTROL EVERYTHING!” He said, ending his monologue screaming. He began to open the textbook, surely for dramatic effect but his mouth began to hang ajar.
And so did his cousins.
The pages, they were all blank.
Angelo began to peer through the other books, they were all blank. His look of distress slowly began to morph into one of anger. He slapped his cousin.
“WHAT IN THE NAME OF TARNATION HAVE WE BEEN FIGHTING FOR!?” He was furious.
“I wanted to tell you that boss, when we stole them books, they were blank.”
Norman decided to be helpful to the conversation. “Austin, drop it. We have bigger fish to fry.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“He means,” Lorraine began, “we were set up, and I think I know who did the setting.”
“But if it’s not Angelo-” I stopped her.
Control the answers, control everything.
Those words pinged around my head. I looked at the now totaled van, and that we had no way home.
“Hey, Angelo…” I asked
“Oy.” He responded.
“I might let this slide, if you don’t do anything like this again, use your beautiful family as henchmen, and give us a ride.”
His four brain cells passed around his head, trying to pick that sentence apart. He extended his hand, and we shook.
I did not expect Nicholas Napier.
When our new ride dropped us off late that night, we all got off, Nash said he’d stay there overnight. I made it straight towards the class president’s office, and told the others to go wait outside.
I opened the door.
There, Nashton was playing mini golf with an old friend, the tall, long haired kid with the reptilian eyes and the now fractured jaw. He smiled, have you ever seen someone with a fractured jaw smile? It’s not pretty. Only the bone broke so the flesh covered most of the disjointedness, but it caused an uncanny valley effect, of sorts.
They both wore matching sweater vests, so that makes up for it.
“Austin! Pleasure seeing ya, pal.” He said.
“Ditto.” I replied.
“Did you get the textbooks back?” He asked.
“No, not exactly.” I answered.
“Oh.” His face of feigned excitement shifted into a look of sad boredom. “That sucks.”
“But it did give me an idea, whoever controls the answers controls everything. The irrefutable law of school, didn’t you say. Makes one wonder how one can thrive in a school setting, without controlling a few answers.”
“You attribute divine power to me, how could I possibly control a concept?” He asked, clearly rhetorically.
“Funny. I was going to ask you the same question.”
“That sounds marginally close to an accusation, Austin, and therein lies the problem. You can’t interrogate. Never go for the zingers first.”
“Stop being a smart-alec, Nash. It doesn’t look good on you.”
“Or maybe it does, or it does on my puppet, at least. Riddle me this, riddle me that. What can control two hemispheres but with no muscle? The mind of course, you duck. How easy it is to manipulate people. Pretty soon, no one will believe you’ll have ever existed.”
“Fair enough, but I have one question.”
“Why? Why do this?”
“Well, I suppose since no one would believe you if you told them, I can explain. Kane needs to fail to rise. I had two carts, one with textbooks that were blank and needed to have false information printed on them, and the ones with the false information, but I knew you’d catch on, you’re from Donner of course, you already know of the curriculum. So I swapped them, Angelo’s men coincidentally stole them leading you on an adventure that gets you out of this school, and allows me to pass out the fake books and call an old friend up, one that’ll end you. If Kane can fail a few more tests with these fake answers then the government will invest more money towards us and we’ll be a better school!”
“I’ll stop you. You’ll fail.” I told him.
He sneered at his new friend. “Looks like our hall monitor forgot his place. Call him in.” He said.
“B-but he’s the grim reaper, he’ll-” Nixon said.
“Do it!” Reese yelled.
That last part worried me, it gave me an odd sense of dread, which I later attributed to a realization. Gosh, I thought, I’m such an idiot.
“I also assume an audience has been built up by your office, an alleged after-school student-only meeting with the Bat-Fold, might wanna check that out.” And I looked out his window, there was a small mob outside, standing in front of the Hall Monitor’s office, angry because word had spread of our failure. I collected myself, and headed outside.
People were screaming, Lorraine rushed towards me and said she’d been trying to calm people down. I filled her in on the situation, and she freaked. People were yelling, screaming. They were blaming each other, blaming me, blaming almost everyone except Nashton. One person pushed through the crowd, Rupert Johnson. “String em up! Expel em!” He said, shouting. “You too? Rupert, this is just disappointing.” I said, I wanted to calm people down.
“They done taken them textbooks! They took our education!” Rupert hollered. “This is all his fault!” Another person said. “He said he was going to get the textbooks back!”
Thalia looked at me, and she pleaded with her eyes. She pushed past the crowd and told me something. “They took away what we needed. Kane could shut down with dips these low. We have nothing left to believe in.”
She said we.
Did she agree with this? No. She couldn’t. She’s a good guy. She’s on my side. That’s impossible.
I pulled out Bat-Fold.
“Do you see this puppet on my finger? As long as this puppet is of Batman, and it exists, you can believe that there’s law and order in this school. But without law and order? Ruminate on that. Heck yeah, it starts out slow. Like a fungus. Secrets are told, neighbor turns on neighbor. Pretty soon, we’re eating our backpacks and stabbing each other with pencils.
So if you want something to believe in, Thalia, believe in me. Believe in this here puppet. For as long as it still exists, we got hope.”
And the puppet disintegrated.
Everyone gasped in horror. I looked at the small mob and they all began to part. A kid stood in the center of the crowd. His thought looked like he was oppressing either a painful scream or a laugh, his eyes were green, an ivy green with cold irises and insane pupils. His hair was in a poorly combed mullet and he stood there, holding a water gun.
The people went home, like they’d seen this happen dozens of times before.
Brother.” He said, rubbing salt in the wound of that lie. “Thirsty?” He pulled out a small shot glass and sprayed some pepper spray into it. He gulped it down, and a tear rolled down his smiling face. He reveled in the pain.
“Long time no see, brother.” My eyes looked around, I wanted to look at anyone but him. Only Norman, Thalia, and Lorraine remained there. He slapped me in the face. “Look. At. Me. How ya been keeping?”
I decided to be bold. “Oh, uh, y’know…”
He broke out into a laugh, that sounded like he was just screaming. “Heard you hosed down them Franklin brothers. With one decaliter, wasn’t it?” He chuckled, “Isn’t that right?”
He turned around and gestured at Thalia, at Lorraine, and at Will who had just arrived.
Nicholas began to speak again. “Why they believe you’re just a stone cold bad-boy, they believe in your little stories.” He began to walk around, he smacked Lorraine upside the head and giggled. “They think you’re gonna save their little school. They think you’re gonna save their little souls.” He wrapped his arms around Thalia and Lorraine, tightly. “But we know better… don’t we?”
He kissed Thalia on the cheek.
“So, why don’t you show your girlfriend what you’re made of. Show them who you really are.” He rummaged through his purse and pulled out an origami version of the Joker, the one from the comics, modelled after The Death In The Family, it even held a little crowbar. He pulled out a water gun and poured his pepper spray can into it. “One decaliter exactly. That’s all you need, right?” He pointed the water gun at his head and placed the handle into my palms. “You got killer in your eyes, son. I wanna see it. You didn’t do any of them things you said, did you?” He asked, as I lowered the water gun. “You didn’t spray down them Franklin brothers, did you?” He asked, he waited. “SAY IT!” He shouted.
“It’s true.” I whispered.
“Oh speak up, I don’t think our friends in the back heard you.”
“It’s all true.” I said, even louder. Everyone gasped, Norman even made a cross with his fist.
“All you’ve done is lie to these good people. You ain’t nothing but a fake and a coward, ain’t that right?”
“LOUDER!” He screamed.
“Yes! Yes! All of it, it’s true, please… leave me alone.” I knelt at his feet, tears welled in my eyes. He pulled out a pocket knife and knelt down beside me. He placed the buttons of the knife to my cheek. “Listen close you pathetic fraud, this is my school now. If I ever see your face again I’ll take you straight down to…” He smiled. He giggled. He laughed. He laughed so hard he gripped at his scalp and hair, strands of red falling out. Tears fell down his face and his cheeks turned bloody shades of red.
I began to walk away. I walked past my friends, “Who are you?” Thalia asked me.
I walked past the office of Reese, I saw him staring through his office window, smiling.
I walked past my old house. Empty soda cans littered the grass and the shouting I had grown accustomed to continued.
If I could tear it all down, nail by nail, I would.
I passed by the motel I’d lived with and I thought of Wilson and Lorraine. My two allies. My roommates. My siblings.
My bags were there, but I kept walking. That wasn’t my home anymore.
I looked at the Jack-O-Lanterns and the kids walking around, innocently, most dressed as Batman.
Who am I?
I’m nobody. Just as much of a fake as these kids wearing their masks. Bat-Fold was my mask. I’m alone, with no backup, no one needs me.
An egg hit me in the back of the head, some punks laughed.
Gosh, this is going to be a long Halloween.
I found a new Hotel, the cheapest one in the state, the walls reeked of suffering, but they seemed peaceful. I curled into a ball, and fell asleep.
Oh the dreams. Look, if the last dream sequence tuckered you out, just think about experiencing them firsthand. It’s like being on a call with someone, and your Mom wants to have a conversation downstairs with someone else, and so you all have to share a landline and you’re hearing conversations that you don’t need or want to hear.
The light blinded me and the heat of the sun seared into my skin. My eyes had glare, and I doubt that should be possible without squinting. I sat on dry dirt in the middle of a dessert. The sun rays stung my eyes. For all intents and purposes I was in the desert. Then why did I feel amazing? It felt like I was in the Caribbean, at the beach.
Well, there was definitely water. After ‘hours’ or searching I found an oasis, the water was green and had waves, Origami Batmen appeared in the waves and just as quickly disappeared. Parked next to the oasis sat a familiar face, Norman, on a golf cart, just in front of the windshield were bobbleheads of seven people, a family I know from Vertigo comics. The Endless.
“Ah, here’s a beauty.” He said, pulling his puppet out of his backpack. His voice was coarse, rought, yet it had an ominous tone, one that, like everything around me, gave off good vibes, but shouldn’t have. “Sometimes, you gotta dig deep to find what you’re looking for.” He raised his eyebrow. “So you made it.”
“Is-Is this heaven?” I asked.
“What? Oh, no no no no, if it was, we’d be on Poptart dates with Kim Basinger.” He said.
“Yeah, no kidding. ” I replied, nervous. “What are you doing out here?” I asked.
“Same as you. Searching.”
“I-I don’t even know what I’m looking for. I don’t even know who I am.”
“These days, they got a name for just about everything. It doesn’t matter what they call you, what finger puppet you have, it’s the deeds that make the man.”
“Yeah, but my deeds just make things worse. I’m a fraud. I’m a phony. My friends believed in me, they thought I was some kind of hero.”
“Then be a hero, dipwad.”
I shook my head.
“Oh, oh no-no, you don’t understand. I’m not ever supposed to be here.”
“That’s right. You came all the way to find something that wasn’t out there. It’s not about you, it’s about them.”
“But I can’t go back.”
He pulled a water bottle out of his backpack and took some of the green liquid out of the pond, he took a drink and offered me some. “I don’t know if you have a choice. No one can walk out on his own tale. Destiny, she’s kind to you and me both. I hope our children meet, you seem like a cool guy.” He touched the green liquid to my face and I awoke with a jolt.
I scrimmaged through my pocket and found the now dried remains of Bat-Fold. Just his head and bits of the upper torso, even that was wrinkled. I taped it onto my shirt. It’s about time for The Marked Knight to return.
“You got a lot of nerve showing up here, kid.” Angelo Cobbler looked at me, I had walked all the way to his house and he gives me that attitude. Disgraceful, but I needed him. “The school that you go to, regardless of how many days you skip, is about to be shut down. I think that warrants some help.”
“So, what do you have in mind?” He asked, and I told him my plan.
I walked into Kane, I passed by the window of Nashton Reese and my vision turned blood-pink. He looked so relaxed, as if he was used to ruining people’s lives. How dare he sip a beverage with five maraschino cherries and smile with that satisfaction.
He looked almost like a normal kid, relatively, but I knew better now not to credit him with any sense of compassion. I wanted to strangle him. Alas, I could do nothing but watch and fume, I would have to wait.
I bumped into a kid and he turned around, he saw my face and freaked out, he ran to the nearest person he could find and pointed at me. I ran off down another hall, and I saw a kid, one with a faded tattoo of Joker’s smile on his hand, run after a kid, the kid was holding a book. I grabbed the bully by the shoulder and punched him in the face, the kid looked at me in wonder. “It’s-it’s you.” He said, “Yes.” But then I looked up and saw Nicholas, just standing there.
“Look kid, you are in for a show tonight. I need you to find Lorraine Wickinni, short girl, green dress, red hair, really, really, annoying.” And he ran off.
“Hey, Nicky!” I shouted.
“Well, this day just got a little more… interesting, hasn’t it?”
People heard my shouting, and they stopped and stared. Ten minutes until the bell will ring. I walked towards Nicholas. “Leave this school, never return.” I told him.
“Or what, are you gonna beat the crap out of me?” I pulled the pepper spray gun out, Batman doesn’t use guns, but an exception can be made.
“That’s just about the size of it.” I told him.
“Alright, hero, make your move.” He told me. One decaliter. That’s all it takes. I began to walk towards him. He walked towards me. Just a few steps closer, I told myself. We were almost two feet away from each other, but he needed to step just a half a foot further for Angelo’s clear shot. He stepped forward.
“Are you ready to learn, brother?” I asked.
“Huh?” He said, just before all ten of the Cobbler cousins began to throw their books. Almost twenty textbooks were thrown at him, the real ones too, not the blank ones, or the false ones, real ones. They hurt, that’s what getting hit with a textbook does, sure, but what was the most painful was the kids clamoring towards him. They ran forward and tried to grab the textbooks as well, eventually fighting him for me.
“It’s a miracle!” Rupert shouted.
Then all the textbooks were on the ground and then picked up, students went back to their daily schedules, with all the more knowledge. I was about to get to my class as well, when Nicholas stood up, his hair was even more ruffled, his pale skin was dark with bruises and he had a limp. He looked bad. “Hey Austin, ” he asked, “have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?” He asked.
“I doubt you even know what that means.” I told him.
“I just like the sound of it.”
“Well, funny you say that in the first place. I was going to ask you the same thing.” I said, and I pulled out my water gun, and pointed it at his head. “Only takes one decaliter.”
“You don’t have the nerve.” He told me.
“Try me.” His eyes softened, he started to smile. “Good job, you’re just like me now.” And he backed away ever so slightly and put his hands in the air.
“Well Mr. Nolan, aren’t you forgetting something?” I heard a voice behind me ask. I turned around and saw Nash, leaning on a wall. A giant thug held onto Thalia, she was gagged with a Wonder Woman sock, and the men had their arms clamped onto her.
I ran towards Thalia but Nashton swiped my water gun before I got to her. The henchman picked me up and threw both of us into the nearby closet.
No, I did not cook a rat with the light. That’s impossible.
“Thalia listen, I have a plan, do not fret.” I began to pound on the door. “HELP!” I shouted, “OPEN THE DOOR!” Huh, no response.
I ungagged Thalia and she kissed me. I was taken back at first, but I recomposed myself, at that moment the world around us felt meaningless but a conversation from outside made me pull my lips away from hers.
I heard the voice of Nashton Reese from outside the door say, “Well, that’s all my problems taken care of. Except for one.” He said, and I knew what was happening. He was betraying Nicholas.
“It’s a new age, Mr. Napier, there’s no room for anarchists such as yourself. We’re businessmen now.”
“We got new hats!” Another voice interjected, helpfully.
“You and Bat-Fold are more alike than you think. You’re nothing but legends. Pretty soon, no one will believe you even existed. One last decaliter to end off one last outlaw, how fitting.” And I heard the faint noise of the water gun’s trigger being pulled. I smiled, knowing nothing would come out of it.
I never loaded the water gun.
Then I heard a grunt, and then a Yelp, the peephole from under the door was obstructed and then the door opened. Lorraine was there, and behind her were Nashton and Nicholas, fighting each other. I pulled out a small bottle, with the green pepper spray in it and when Nicholas had shoved Nashton onto the ground I knew what I had to do. I pointed the water bottle at Nash.
“Now, now, Nolan, I’m sure if we work together we can work to a mutually beneficial solution to our- our current situation.” He told me.
“Well, you better take it up with him.” I said, as I tossed the bottle to Napier. “Just one decaliter…” he mused. Then he looked at me. “I tip my hat to you.” He said, and I tipped the brim of my hat towards him. He looked down at Nashton. “What was that you said? Pretty soon, no one will believe you even existed.” Napier said, and me and Thalia headed off to class, our hands knit together.
I had heard calls about something at Donner, a mysterious group dedicated to “liberating” the three schools, I had to investigate. A crowd of people had swarmed around me, taking snapshots with cameras and asking me questions.
Thalia pushed past the crowd and handed me the back. “… and I brought your banana sandwich, a notebook, some word games because you’re a nerd…”
“Thalia, Thal, you’re embarrassing me, I have an image to uphold now… remember?”
“And I got your lotion.” Thalia finished.
“Lotion?” Someone from the crowd asked.
I chuckled. “That’s for my puppet. That’s puppet lotion.”
I looked at Lorraine and she was sitting next to the kid I had saved. “What’s going on?” He asked.
“Well, to satisfy the needs of the collective the hero must abandon the self and solidify his image as an icon to be remembered.”
“Uh, so this is the sunset scene.”
I walked away, and got up onto a trash can, Lorraine followed, the sunset behind us. Wilson smiled, “Give them a good one, pal.” He mouthed, looking up at me, just as the small crowd did.
“My fellow students!” I shouted, “there will be times that you doubt yourself. Times that you feel humbled, by the cataclysms of life. Remember this moment. Remember me. And know that I will always be watching over you!” I shouted.
“Sometimes during inappropriate moments! That’s part of the deal!” Lorraine added.
“What? No.” I said. “Sh-She’s joking, right?” I looked at her, and she shrugged.
“And remember that in all of us resides the true Marked Knight, the true greatest detective. Remember that we can be Bat-Fold!”
And I tell you that as well, dear reader. No matter when, or where, you read this. Remember, no man can walk out on his own tale.
By my calculations you’ve read fourteen chapters of my story, good job. I think you deserve a prize, I’m fresh out of textbooks, but I think I have an idea.
Whenever your life sucks, whenever you’re on an impossible quest, when you’re all washed up or out of your own league, know that I am smiling down upon you.
Call on me. I will be there for you.
By: Thalia Carter
Austin hasn’t come back yet, I’m worried. Random letters come in through the mail. I had to celebrate Thanksgiving with him, and my Mom really wanted to meet him.
This morning, I went to my locker and heard a small whimper, followed by a laugh. I opened it and a frail, red haired boy fell out of my locker, he looked unconscious, but I propped him up. His eyes jolted forward and he jumped off of me. “Darling please, get your hands off of me.” He said, and he looked me in the eyes. I would recognize his eyes anywhere. Now one of his eyes was a lighter shade of green than the other, and both had black rings around them.
Nicholas Napier was in my locker. “What the heck are you doing in my locker?” I asked.
“So… funny story. We have a bit of a problem, but I do have a gift from him.”
“Who’s him?” I asked.
“You know, him.” I said, I understood what he meant.
“Why aren’t you just saying Austi-” he quickly put his hands on my lips. “Don’t say his name, you don’t know who could be watching.” He said, and placed the envelope into my hands. He ran off, and I quickly opened the envelope. It was an Origami Wonder Woman, based on her 1975 show.
On the paper’s back end was a note. “Form your Puppet Society, Thalia. You have to find us. ♡- Austin”