the Philanthropist: issue one.

philanis1THE PHILANTHROPIST is an ongoing graphic(less) novel, with new issues appearing the first of each month.

Wouldn’t a novel without graphics just be like . . . yes, a regular novel. But a graphic novel without graphics would be a graphic(less) novel.

Hope you enjoy.

 

The Philanthropist. Issue one:

When you are young, you imagine yourself as one sort of person. You see each step you make—each action, each decision—directing you towards one sort of goal. You see your growing-up as a realization of this one particular dream.

Black firmament stretched across night sky, barely holding in the glow of the city. Skyscrapers pushing out against it, like the fingers of buried gods trying to reclaim their kingdom. On the top of one, a service door cries out, yielding to the crow bar. A figure slips in, down the long stairwell.

When you get older, this dream doesn’t disappear. But, bizarrely, you find yourself drifting further and further from it. Your actions, your decisions—they form a tide not towards it but away from it. And so you try to swim against this tide.

Like climbing down the spine of the building, floor after floor after floor. The patter of the figure’s footsteps, the slight jingle of a spray-paint can. When he stops, another door blocks his way, a keypad above the handle. The whisk of the crow bar against the air; the snap of the handle and then the bobble, as the handle bounces and rolls to a stop. The figure’s hand where the handle was, his fingers slipping in. The keypad beeps and gurgles. The lock slips open and the door with it. Glass walls, heavy, expensive desks—the glow of the city night spilling over the massive office.

But the swimming is futile, you can’t overcome the tide. And so you are forced to dismiss the dream as a fantasy, leftover from childhood. You find yourself in a life that is much different than the one that, as a child, you’d imagined.

The figure slips into the office, wall after wall of glass sealing him in. The corner office, more windows than walls. He prepares his crowbar but the door is ajar. His toe eases it open. No lights on, only the city glow. No movement, only the door. The figure hurries to the filing cabinet.

Behind the figure: a large, mahogany desk. Behind the desk: our hero. His suit wrinkled with sweat. His breath stained with booze. His hand cradling the bottle. His eyes almost closed, exhausted, contemplating the city nightscape.

And you are forced to live this foreign, bizarre life. It is like acting out a character but you are forced to go through with it, forced to be this person in a life that embarrasses you, that disgraces you. A life that shame—SHOOOOOK—what the—

The figure rattles the filing cabinet open. Our hero, interrupted, turns round to him. From his pocket, the figure pulls out a small, disposable camera. The yellow plastic, distinct in the grey of the room. The rattle of the film in its shell. He pulls out of a file and FLASH the room is lit up. The clickclickclick of the film winding. FLASH—clickclickclick. FLASH.

“Dude.”

Frantically, the camera bouncing on the ground. The cabinet rattling as the figure spins round, against it. He steadies himself and looks quickly to our hero, to the camera, to our hero.

“Whoa,” our hero holding his hands out. “It’s cool. I just, I mean you’re going to have to get those developed, right?”

The figure stays as he is. As if reclining, an arm draped over the cabinet, but his body tense, shaking.

“I mean unless you have your own lab or something, you’re going to have to do the one hour photo thing, right? Won’t that be easy to trace? Won’t that be like, a red flag?”

The figure looks to the camera, to our hero, to the camera.

“Someone goes looking for the photos, ‘excuse me sir, has anyone developed some suspicious photos of missing documents here recently?’ ‘Oh why yes, let me just grab that file with all of their information for you.’” Our hero raises the bottle to take a drink, his hand swaying towards his mouth.  “I’m just thinking this through logically. Wouldn’t a digital camera be, like, a lot better? Traceability wise and all?”

The figure still has not moved. His head is tucked in, low. His words come out quietly:

“Yeah, well they’re not that cheap.”

“Really?” our hero’s brow crinkles. “I thought they were.”

“Maybe for some people.”

Our hero looks him over. He shrugs. He slurs his words. “I’m just saying I don’t know if a disposable camera is really that effective.”

The rattle of the cabinet, as the figure leaps off of it. A finger outstretched towards our hero. “Well at least I’m doing something! At least I’m making an effort!”

The figure stands seething. Our hero stands wobbling. His eyes close heavy, a long blink, before he opens them again.

“Who are you anyway?” our hero asks.

“Who are you?” Again, the finger stretches out towards our hero.

“I’m Simon Salter.”

The figure’s mouth opens but halts. Our hero hiccups.

“Son of Jonas Salter.”

In one motion the figure is past the door, past wall after wall of glass.

Our hero stumbles forward, and, perilously, bends down. His fingers wrap around the yellow plastic of the camera.

[A small boy, his mouth agape. A cone is strapped to his head, the letters APP and IRTHDA are visible on it. A large, flat cake lays before him, candles scattered across it.]

[The boy’s fingers are hooked in his cheeks, his tongue waggling out.]

[The boy’s cheeks are ballooning out, his eyes squinted shut. The candles remain lit.]

[Again the cheeks balloon out, the boy’s neck straining.]

[The boy imploring, tears welling up in his eyes, one hand reaching out.]

[Smoke drifts from the candles, now flameless. The boy’s head is tilted back in laughter. There are no friends next to him, no one else that we see.]

The morning light, still weak and icy, off windows through windows. Through the windows of our building. Onto the floor of our office. Checkering the face of our hero. And then not. His eyes open to find Patricia hanging over him. A strand of hair, slipped loose from behind her ear, dangles above him. She looks beautiful. She looks annoyed.

“Would you like to shower before the press conference, sir?”

He rises. He falls. In between, a violent rebellion shakes over him: body against mind; stomach against all. He harkens back to sleep but Patricia doesn’t move. Even with his eyes closed he can sense that tendril of hair, the small circles it makes above him.

“Would you like to shower before your press conference which is in thirty minutes, sir?”

“Patricia,” his mouth is dry, and almost sweet. The residue from the alcohol. “Do you know how much my shoes cost?”

Patricia checks her watch.

“Patricia?”

“No I do not, sir.”

“They cost a lot.” The stomach is quelled. The body is victorious (although the head is a charred battlefield, it will ache for days). Our hero manages to sit up. Patricia stands, her tendril going with her. “Enough so that when you wear shoes like these you don’t need to shower.”

With a great heaving motion, he launches himself upright. Patricia stands back to make way. The disposable camera goes rattling from his lap onto the ground.

“Patricia, where is the lab?”

“I’m sorry, sir?”

“We have a photo lab, don’t we? Where is it?”

The old man is older than disposable cameras, that’s how old he is. Our hero thinks about this as the man turns the thing round in his hands. This old man saw disposable cameras come into existence, and then saw them  replaced by something better, he saw them die out. This man outlived disposable cameras.

“I can have it for you in an hour.” He doesn’t look at our hero as he speaks, he’s focused on the camera now.

“Seriously? People still develop film? That’s a thing that still happens?”

The old man raises an eye to him. “An hour, give or take.”

“Do you,” our hero looks around, “have a bathroom?”

The old man nods toward the hall.

Our hero grabs the camera out of the old man’s hands.

“I’ll bring it right back,” our hero shouting over his shoulder. “Don’t worry!”

FLASH.

“—FUTURE OF SALTER ENTERPRISES NOW TH—”

“—AVE YOU CONSIDERED WHAT THE PUBLIC IS—”

FLASH. FLASH.

“—R. SALTER, NOW THAT YOUR FATHER HAS PASSED—”

“—IRECTION OF THE BUSINESS BE CHANGING OR—”

“—UR FATHER HAVING PLACED YOU AS HEA—”

“Yes, I—”

FLASH.

“—ATHER HAS PASSED AWAY—”

“—want to thank you all for your condolences.” Our hero shields his (FLASH) eyes. “Really, just thanks so—”

“—REGARD TO THE DexM PROJECT WILL—”

“—CAN DexM RESEARCH CONTINU—”

FLASH.

“—much. It’s wonderful to see such an outpouring of care and sympathy. I’m sure your display here would have moved my fath—”

FLASHFLASH. FLASH.

“MR. SALTER NOW THAT—”

“—ALTER WILL YOU BE—”

“—OR NOT MR. SALT—”

“SIMON. Is it true?”

And then the room is silent. There is only the pop of the flashbulbs, scattered across the room, like crickets in the grass.

“I’m sorry?”

“Is it true the same technology used to develop DexM was responsible for the drone bombing of the school outside Karachi?” Her body is fighting against her dress. Her hair is fighting against the bun it’s caught up in. (She actually even has a pencil through the bun. Seriously? Yes.) How long did it take her to get it like that? Our hero can imagine it, her in front of the mirror, adjusting each piece, talking to him over her shoulder as she does so.

“Jesus,” his hand is still by his eyes. It rubs his forehead. “I don’t know.”

FLASHFLASH. FLASH. FLASH.

“What the hell is the DexM, I don’t know anything about that.”

She scoffs. She smiles. She opens her mouth and already he is terrified.

“Simon,” she seems to aim the pencil at him, “isn’t it true that you are meeting with the DexM for a photo op later this afternoon?”

He turns to Patricia. Her hands massaging her temples, she nods.

“Well I guess so,” our hero says. “But every time a politician kisses a baby it doesn’t mean it’s his kid.”

Small groups huddled together, like stones in a creek, obstructing the exodus of the rest of the reporters. She hasn’t left yet, though. Our hero finds her in time.

“You seem displeased,” he says.

Her back is to him but it tenses. Her movements as performances; she knows he’s watching.

“I just want to know if you’re ever going to give a real answer,” she speaks without turning.

“Come back home and I’ll give you real answers.”

He can see the anger burn through her. She is ready to scream at him, to throw her brush across the room, to leave the bed. She tamps it down. She steps close and he remembers her perfume.

“You could ruin my career if you don’t keep your voice down.” Her breaths are even, controlled.

“I’m aware of that.”

“This wasn’t part of the deal.” But there is fury in her words.

“I’m aware of that too.”

Her turning away from him—the bun and the pencil displayed before him. He wants to grab her, to turn her back around, he has to stop his hand from doing it.

“I don’t like the deal anymore,” our hero says.

“Well guess what, Simon,” her purse over her shoulder—she doesn’t bother to turn around, “I still do.”

[The boy surrounded by torn wrapping paper. Cake stains his face.]

[The boy holding an action figure, encased in cardboard and plastic. The boy’s face glows.]

[The boy dutifully holding up a book as large as his head. He looks off, listlessly. The cover of the book reads: “EDGAR ALLEN POE: The Collected Stories.”]

[The boy in shin-guards and a grass stained jersey. The photo is almost white, drastically overexposed.]

FLASH.

The general, more medals than man. His smile overbearing, almost antagonistic. His hand heavy on the shoulder of our hero.

FLASH. FLASH.

Our hero’s suit has grown more wrinkled, more sweat-stained. Stubble has overtaken his jaw. He yawns.

“Nice of you to look sharp for the photos, kid,” the general lets leak out the side of his smile.

“No one is going to be looking at me in these photos, pops,” our hero says. “They’re all going to be looking at . . . that.”

Next to both of them, towering over them, moving of its own sort of (FLASH) mysterious inclination—not haphazardly, but moving as if it wants to rather than it needs to—ten feet tall, vaguely human in shape, and made up solely (FLASH) of a gleaming metal, (FLASHFLASH)  is the DexM. Our hero looks down. The DexM’s feet—massive, metallic, with toe-like digits. Our hero looks up:

“If you need some shoes, I know a guy.”

FLASH.

The DexM turns and stares blankly down at him.

Footfalls, slapping against the pavement, resonating throughout the enormous, empty hangar. The press have gone. Hand outstretched, a publicist approaches the only three left: our hero, the general, the DexM.

Our hero, staring at the giant metal figure.

Our hero: “What’s it do?”

General: “That’s classified.”

Publicist: “It protects Americans and saves lives!”

Our hero’s brow furrowing.

Our hero: “Which lives?”

Publicist: “The ones in danger!”

Our hero: “How does it know which are in danger?”

General: “That’s classified.”

The DexM turns to look at our hero, staring openly back at him.

Our hero (to the DexM): “How do you know which are in danger?”

The DexM: “Your father was a great man, I am sorry to learn of his passing.”

Our hero looks down, away from the massive thing. My father was a horrible man. He made machines that destroy people.

The DexM: “He made machines that protect people.”

Quickly, our hero looks up. Our hero looks to the general.

General (a wry smile): “Classified.”

The general’s hand, clapping down on our hero’s shoulder, leading him away.

[The boy’s leg in mid-air, the soccer ball colliding against his shin-guard.]

[The boy crouching in the grass, still in his soccer gear. He picks at a clump of dirt.]

[The boy with a group of other boys, all in matching jerseys. Their arms are around each other’s shoulders. They are smiling, grass stained, rumpled. Behind them is a large building. There is a sign, of which: “EMMINGS ELEMENTARY SCH” is visible.]

“Emmings? Temmings?” Our hero screws up his mouth. He looks to the previous photo and then this one again. “Wemmings? Lemmings?”

The old man clears his throat. He collects the rest of the photos, scattered on his desk. The boy crouched in the grass, the boy’s cheeks ballooning—the old man places them into a manila envelope.

“So you met that thing today?” the old man watches our hero.

“Hmm?” The hero’s eyes don’t leave the photo.

“The god machine.”

“Mmm.”

“Is it true?”

“Yes, the lack of shoes, very off-putting.” Our hero runs his fingers over the letters in the photo. “I know a guy, though, I’m going to try to get him a deal.”

“I mean what they say.”

“Or is it an it?” Our hero looks up, considering this. “I guess it’s an it. I’m going to try to get it some shoes.”

“That it knows things, that . . . it guesses things.” The old man extending the envelope to our hero. “That now we’ve all got everything to fear.”

Finally our hero looks at him, meeting his gaze. “Not yet. It’s not operational yet. We’ve still got a few weeks.”

(OOF. In the gut, so that the figure pitches forward.)

Basked in the neon glow of a streetlight is a sign that reads: “CLEMMINGS ELEMENTARY SCHOOL.” A black car pulls up, sharing in the glow of the streetlight.

(POP. In the face, so that the figure spins around.)

Our hero’s expensive shoes emerge from the car and step in a pile of dog shit.

“Seriously?”

(THUNK. POP. The side and then the face. They bounce the figure back and forth.)

He pulls himself out of the driver’s seat with one hand. In the other is the manila envelope. He walks toward the school when he hears: POP. He turns and walks toward the noise.

THWUMP. POP. In the alley, on the wall, is layer upon layer of gang graffiti, claiming and reclaiming territory. OOF. But scrawled on top of it, hastily, in simple POP black spray paint is: NEVERMO.

SNAP. THWACK.

“Hey!” our hero yells. The two men pausing, their fists mid-air. The figure collapsing onto the pavement, his blackened hands smearing the paint to his chest. The men exchanging glances. The men smiling, looking up, advancing towards our hero.

“Do you know who I am?” Our hero, shouting despite himself.

The flick of switchblades. One of them growls: “I like those shoes, man.”

Our hero stepping back, a shit-stained heel leaving a retreating print. But then:

“I’m Simon Salter, the CEO of Salter Enterprises.”

Our hero’s wrist at his mouth, he speaks into the cuff of his jacket. “I’m on the southeast corner of Clemmings Elementary with two hostiles. Send in the DexM! Send in the DexM!”

The clatter of their blades hitting the ground. The rhythm of their footsteps, together like a horse galloping off into the distance.

Our hero goes up to the figure. He is barely able to speak:

“I don’t want that thing anywhere near me.”

Our hero scoops him up. “You and me both, brother.”

Our hero is barely able to hold the figure. He carries him back towards the car.

“Where are you taking me?” the figure manages.

“Your camera,” breath, breath, “you forgot it at my place. I’ve got some photos for you. Also your stomach,” breath, breath, “bleeding. Don’t worry, though,” breath, “I know a guy.”

“No—Henry, he’s alone. What if he wakes up?”

Brrrrrring. Brrrrring. Brrrrring.

[A document, overexposed by the flash. The document reads: “DexM IDENTIFICATION SOFTWARE ANALYSIS.”]

Brrrrrring. Click—llo? Hello? (breath, breath) I know you’re listening, I’m not going to stop calling until

[“Throughout the beta testing phase, the neural processor of the DexM consistently decoded {section overexposed}-orming satisfactorily. Similarly, while misidentifications are still in an unacceptable rage (.9%-1.5% throughout study), the neural DhS2.1.4 patch successfully decreased determinant actions based on misidentifications to a negligible margin of error (.05%-{section overexposed}]

you talk to me, please. This is serious. Seriously, (breath, breath) I need a favor.

[“-entifications and miscategorizations of the incident would not be possible with the modified neural processor used throughout this study. Additionally, any comparable misidentifications would be subsequently blocked by the neural DhS2.1.-{section overexposed}-vancing to determinant actions. Thus, it is the opinion of this study that the events of the Karachi incident would not be repeated with the neural DhS2.1.4 patch in place.”]

Beth (breath, breath, breath), please (breath) I don’t have anyone else to call (breath, breath). I don’t have anyone else who can help me

[“Interestingly, the enhanced identification abilities of the neural DhS2.1.4 patch seem to enable the DexM with a new spectrum of vision, hitherto not possible within the human spe-{section overexposed}-onclusions are based on insufficient data, most of which should be labeled anomalous. For more information, please see Dr. Jonas Salter’s attached analysis (Appendix III).”]

(breath, breath, breath, brea)—click.

A simple house, one story, the lawn recently mowed. The door whisking open. Our hero tracking shit in on the rug. The first hint of dawn creeping in with him.

Her arms are folded briskly, her purse in her lap. Her body is barely touching the couch, just on the edge, not wanting to intrude on a stranger’s space. Her posture is fierce. Her mouth is tight. Like the bun of her hair (pencil still there). Like her dress.

Like a release of air, our hero collapsing in the chair next to her.

“Seriously,” he almost has his breath back now, “thank you.”

Her muscles are flexed, her faced turned away from him.

“When I can think again, I promise, I’ll find some way to repay you.”

“He didn’t wake up,” her words are clipped, as if she doesn’t want to open her mouth to let them out. “I don’t know what the hell he would have thought of finding some strange woman, though.”

“His lucky day?”

Her head, whisking around to him. She is not amused. “Simon, what the hell is going on?”

“Please, just don’t make me explain it right now. I’ll tell you later, I swear, just not right now.”

Briskly, in one movement, she is standing, her purse is around her shoulder, her head shaking. “I don’t even want to know.” But she stops. A half-turn back to him. “Just tell me one thing, is he yours?”

“God no! Oh god, god no. No, no, no.”

Her footsteps, avoiding the shit-stains, out towards the creeping dawn.

“Beth,” our hero stops her again. “You know it’s only you. It’s only ever been you.”

She doesn’t turn around: “tell that to your secretary.”

The door cuts off the dawn. Our hero is exhausted. Sleep is begging to overcome him and he’s close to letting it. But not yet. One more time, his body heaving up, out of the chair. His steps, heavy down the hallway, deep thuds in the carpet. The door cracking open. From the photos, he recognizes the boy immediately. There is a heavy tome splayed across the boy’s chest. The title reads: EDGAR ALLEN POE: The Collected Stories.

When we are young, the path to our dreams seems to be a straight one. Pure, simple, direct.

Beeps and hisses. Sterilized air. Scratchy sheets. White everywhere, white walls, white floors. A gown of floral print, almost faded beyond recognition.

But as we get older, our perception of life changes, and so does our perception of acts. We can see the complexity in simple acts. We can see the danger in pure ones.

Hisses and beeps. On top of the floral gown is a manila envelope, slightly worse for the wear. In black marker, the words “THE RAVEN” are scrawled on it. The figure lifts the envelope off his chest. He pulls the photos out from it, flipping through. He remembers the birthday cake as being too dry. They lost the soccer game.

As our perception of life changes, so does the path to our dreams. But this doesn’t mean that we are lost, that we are moving further away from our dreams. It only means that the path is different than we had imagined.

He gets to the documents but he has to squint, he can barely make out any words. And then after that, also overexposed, a male butt, filling the frame. And then the last: our hero’s grinning face, the bathroom stall in the background.

But the path was always irrelevant, it is the dream that is sacred. The dream to have a life that you are not embarrassed by, that does not disgrace you, not shame you.

There’s a note on the last photo. Scrawled on it are the words:

“What else do you need?”

The dream to do something worth doing.

(The Philanthropist will return March first . . .)

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to the Philanthropist: issue one.

  1. Chloe says:

    So excellent! Can’t wait for the next chapter.

  2. Pingback: the Philanthropist: issue two: the Bells Bells Bells Bells Bells Bells Bells. | melkshakes

  3. Pingback: the Philanthropist: issue three: Pennywyld Crybilly. | melkshakes

  4. Pingback: the Philanthropist: issue four: time is an illusion. | melkshakes

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s