Nor Doth He Sleep
By Sean Taylor
An iHero Entertainment Holiday Story
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men."
—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
the knife bit into the girl’s back, it pierced to the hilt, and a wet,
red stream poured from the incision. Red and green lights from the
street decorations blinked into the alley, flicking the scene from gray
dirt and faded concrete to colorized extravagance and back to gray again
The man watching impotently from a few feet away jerked against the two
grunts holding his arms, but he couldn’t pull away. His fiancé lay on
the ground, face pressed against the pavement, sputtering and coughing
through her tears. On her back sat a third thug, a slug of a man in a
denim jacket, his wrists all but rolling fat skin back to cover the
cuffs as he played with the knife, wiggling it without removing it from
the meat a few inches above the girl’s waist.
“Let her go!” he yelled, but in response all he got was a punch in his gut.
The two guys holding him laughed when he gasped to regain his breath.
“Let her go, damn it!”
Another gut punch.
what? You’ll cry?” asked the tallest of the thugs, a white guy with
green hair whipped about like a pretty boy in one of those Japanese
“Or cough up blood?” said the other thug, a squat muscle-head with fat arms stuck to his otherwise fit torso. “Or puke on us?”
Pretty Boy glared at Fat Arms, and he shut up.
“C- Carlos…” the girl stuttered.
“Hang on, Cynthia,” the man said.
All the while, I lay in the corner of the alley, hoping to God they all just go the hell away.
had done the hero thing before, even worn a fancy-ass costume, well,
fancy for my standards. Pretty sure it wouldn’t have even registered on
the scale of guys like Pulsar and The Minuteman or chicks like Living
Doll or Fishnet Angel.
Hell, I’d even worked with Doll and Angel since we all lived in the same damn city.
just like the rest of them, I even had a “secret origin,” just like in
the comic books. On the way to throw myself from the top of a worn-out
building because of a sucky life and broken heart, I got stopped by some
crazy woman who touched my arm and then told me the day I was going to
die—four days before my 42 birthday. Only, she promised I’d die as a
hero, a hero killed by another hero, one of the so called brightest and
best of heroes.
And she’d been right… at first. Nothing
killed me. Bullets? Sure, I took ‘em and they hurt like hell, but I got
better. Take a punch in the face from a super villain who could derail a
train? Lost some teeth and a lot of blood, but I healed eventually.
Follow a suicide off a roof to cushion his fall at the bottom? Why not?
Same shit, different day, as the saying goes.
me. The Grandstander, a.k.a., the “I got hurt but I got better” man.
Even had my own goddamn room kept ready at the hospital.
last June, I turned 43 here in an alley in Cristol City, lost among the
forgotten riff raff huddled beneath old newspapers and other trash in
the shadows of the alleyway dumpsters. Very much alive. And very much
aware that playing the hero could get me killed. Killed very dead.
No longer a hero. Just another man who had finally grown up and realized his own mortality.
I quit. No going away parties or citywide celebrations of my time
behind the mask. Just there one day and gone the next. The papers had
run stories for months speculating about what had happened. Eventually
they gave up guessing and just didn’t care anymore. No more “What
Happened to the Grandstander?” I stayed hidden. Lost. Forgotten.
Sleeping away the terror of death. Just the way I wanted it.
If only these punks would shut up and get the hell out of my alley.
started screaming, and that set off Carlos, and the guys holding him
tossed him back against the wall and wailed punch after punch into his
gut and chest. He shut up fast, but they didn’t stop. After about a
minute, when they finally figured he had enough, he dropped to his knees
between them, struggling to breathe through what had to be several
I recognized the struggle. I’d been there more times than I could remember.
slug on Cynthia’s back pulled the knife out and slammed it down again,
this time into the muscle of her shoulder. Not as much blood, but a lot
more noise from the girl. He jerked her head back, exposing the dirty
skin of her neck to the night air, and I thought for a moment that he
would slash her lithe little throat. Instead, he covered her mouth with
his hand, leaving the knife in her shoulder.
baby, and all I’ll take is all your money, cards and the gadgets and
shit you bought for Christmas presents.” He laughed. “Needed a new phone
anyway. Saw you leaving Radio Shack when we followed you. Hope for your
sake you got one of those.”
“Let… Let her go,” Carlos sputtered.
He was rewarded for the effort with a boot in jaw. A bone cracked. Loud.
“If not, maybe you could give me a little something else for Christmas, baby,” the slug said, grinding against her back.
car drove by the mouth of the alley, and everything stopped just long
enough to make out the music rumbling from a passing car. It was
Springsteen reminding the city who was coming to town and making sure
Clarence had been “real good” this year.
And immediately realized it had been a really, really bad idea.
pairs of eyes suddenly turned to look at me. Two pairs begging for
help. The other three pairs biding their time to figure out if I was a
threat or a witness or simply the same silent alley decoration they
For about a second, I wondered the same thing myself.
slug ripped the blade from Cynthia’s back and stood up, pushing his
blobbish weight to one knee to hold it steady while he pushed up with
the other one. He wobbled a bit, but righted himself more easily that I
“Fuckin’ A,” he said. “Looks like we got some extra trash in this here alley.” He walked toward me.
pulled my knees toward my chin and started to sing Rudolph the
Red-Nosed Reindeer. I kept singing while he walked all the way to me and
crouched in my face. His breath reeked of onions and garlic. I didn’t
make eye contact. He just stared, not saying anything, and I kept
singing, going over the part where all the reindeer loved him a second
time just to take up more time.
Rudolph,” he said. “And remember you didn’t hear shit.” He flicked the
knife at my wrinkled t-shirt collar. “And that way you can live long
enough to booze it up again tomorrow.”
I felt the crotch of my pants grow warm and wet.
The slug laughed. “He pissed himself. The bum pissed himself.”
I stopped singing. “I did,” I said. “But not for the reason you think. It’s not you I’m afraid of.”
big man all the sudden, huh?” The slug cocked his arm at the elbow,
knife in ready position. I grinned so wide he couldn’t miss it. He never
should have pulled it away from my neck.
The butt of
my palm collided with his chin and something cracked. Before he had
fallen backwards all the way to land on his ass, I already saw blood
draining from the corners of his eyes. I grabbed his hoodie to keep him
steady and pulled him to me as I stood up. At six and a quarter in my
shoes, I towered over him. My knee, which would have hit him in the
stomach had he been a taller man, instead connected with his already
busted jaw, and he went limp against me. I grabbed his shoulders and
guided his face past the wet spot on the front of my jeans as he melted
into the ground.
By this time, Pretty Boy and Fat Arms
had let Carlos go and were running toward me. Pretty Boy held a
clip-loaded pistol and was raising it at me. Fat Arms swung a military
blade from sling on his thigh.
“Get her the hell out of
here!” I yelled to Carlos, and as I hit the last word, Fat Arms was
slinging his blade toward my gut. I weaved and dodged, but being a
hidden and forgotten drunk had played hell with my reactions, and even
though I missed the worst of the cut, the blade did manage to rip
through my side and take a few inches of skin with it.
Red blood mixed with the coffee stains and dirt on my shirt, and I knew I’d most likely end up with an infection. Stupid.
“Shit!” I yelled and brought my elbow down on the back of Fat Arms’ head. “That really hurts, you dumbass.”
him!” Fat Arms shouted, and sure enough, Pretty Boy aimed his gun at my
face and pulled the trigger. But it misfired, and I didn’t waste any
time running for the son of a bitch and took him to the ground with a
dive that landed me on top of him. Taking what little opportunity I had I
bit into his shoulder with the best grip my teeth could muster and
ripped away what I could of his skin and muscle there.
Okay, it wasn’t what the Minuteman would have done, but we couldn’t all be the fucking Minuteman, could we?
screamed, and when I covered my ears, something hit me in the back of
my head, sending me onto the concrete. When the stars stopped twinkling
and the lights came back on the slug had his fat foot crunched on my
left shoulder, and Pretty Boy had his black boot on my right one.
the bravest fuckin’ hobo I’ve ever seen, but you cost me a few hundred
tonight…” The slug looked at Pretty Boy and grinned. “…and possibly and
hot piece of ass.”
“I don’t think you’re her type,” I said.
“Can I cut him up, Will?” Fat Arms asked from somewhere off to the right beyond my line of vision.
“Fuck that,” said Will the slug. “This asswipe is gonna eat a bullet.”
“Hope you brought ketchup,” I said.
Rudolph,” Will said, still wiping blood from the corners of his eyes.
“All you hadda do was keep your trap shut, but no, you had to play the
hero and so now we—”
“Play the hero.” I laughed.
feet pushed harder on my shoulders and I could feel the rocks on the
concrete dig into my back, no doubt making a lovely painful pattern of
indentions across my skin.
“You said play the hero.”
“I did that before.”
“And it’ll be the last thing you ever did, Rudolph.”
missing the point,” said, keeping them talking instead of letting them
think long enough to realize that they should just pull the trigger
already. “I used to play the hero. I played the costume. I played the
mask. I even played the name. You see, I was only playing at it then
because I didn’t think it would really hurt me, not permanently anyway.”
“He’s nuts, Will,” Fat Arms said. “Let me cut him up. Maybe take one of his nuts. That’ll shut him up.”
“But I’m not playing now.” My smiled went flat. “And my name’s not Rudolph.”
* * *
was still going on about the fight while paramedics loaded his fiancé
into the ambulance. He stood behind the doors as Cynthia’s unconscious
body was lifted, gurney and all, and rolled in the open doorway. The
light from the fire truck and three squad cars gave him a funky purple
glow as the 40-something cop took down his statement.
No doubt using lots of capital letters and exclamation points, if he was really getting it just like Carlos was saying it.
“…like a bat outta hell, I tell you. One minute he’s down on the ground with a gun pointing at his face…”
I was waiting my turn on a second gurney, wondering if I’d ever walk
again after Pretty Boy has managed to squeeze off two shots through my
left thigh. And I was wondering too just how damn long it took a blonde
paramedic with thick full lips to find the damn morphine in the back of
the ambulance so I could stop hurting long enough to think about how
much I wanted to flatten those lips of hers against my own.
the old days I wouldn’t have let a second thought pass without just
leaning up and planting one on her. But in the old days I didn’t smell
like booze and the trash I’d been sleeping in. In the old days there had
been a nice line of abs that flowed in one smooth line from my chest
across my stomach. In the old days, there had been a trendy coarse
stubble on my face and not a mangy tangle of knots that hadn’t been
shaved or much less brushed in months.
So I lay there.
the next minute, he’s up on his feet and has the fat one up against the
wall. Then there’s all this punching and blood, and I’m still dragging
Cynthia out of the alley.”
“Yes, sir.” The cop nodded and kept writing.
there are these two gunshots, and I watch him, I mean fucking watch him
get shot in the leg twice, but he doesn’t go down. He just keeps on
walking toward the dude with the gun, and he takes it from him and just
head butts him in the face, and the guy goes down. One head butt and he
hits the ground.”
the music from the front of a nearby squad car as I waited. Sounded like
Judy Garland singing “O Holy Night,” but not quite Judy Garland singing
“O Holy Night” at the same time, you know.
“And the last guy?” the cop asked.
he couldn’t get out of the alley fast enough, but even with a shot-up
leg, this dude runs, takes off and runs like fuckin’ Jessie Owens or
something and tackles the guy and takes the knife away from him.”
“It was like he’s some kind of, I don’t know, super hero or something.”
I wanted to correct him. Ain’t got no powers, so I can’t be a super
hero. Just an idiot in a mask. A vigilante. But I kept my trap shut.
Mostly because I was afraid of what I’d say if the damn paramedic didn’t
get the morphine in me soon.
Judy Garland stopped singing, and Louis Armstrong jumped in to take her place. “Zat you, Santa Claus?” he asked. I laughed.
Hell no, I thought. Not Santa Claus, not the Grandstander. Hell, I was barely Larry Moore anymore.
paramedic returned with a smile and a syringe. I smiled back, mostly
with my eyes, because my mouth wouln’t cooperate, and like her eyes lit
up they figured out something she’d been wondering about for a while.
“Oh my God,” she said. “It’s you.”
“Nah,” I said. “I haven’t been me for a long time.”
I shook my head.
Trumpet solo. Drums. Almost a celebration. A big noise anyway.
“You can’t hide it. I know it’s you.”
“Sure, kid. Merry Christmas.” I forced a grin. “So should I kiss you or just bleed to death?”
“What?” she asked with her thick lips.
“Do you think he used to be some kinda super hero?” I heard Carlos ask the cop.
“Don’t know,” the cop answered.
“Don’t tell ‘em,” I whispered to the paramedic as she stuck me with the needle. “Let ‘em guess.”
I decided to kiss her later. If she was lucky.