Table of Contents
I’d never quite understood the allure of writing fan-fic. Truthfully, I’d always regarded it as a waste of time. Why write about someone else’s characters when you could use it as a jumping off point for original stories of your own? I was certain I’d never sully my hands with such things, that is until I started seeking publication.
You see, there are two stories you’re bound to hear at any writers’ conference or work-shop. The first is about J.K Rowlings, who was supposedly living as a vagrant until publishing the Harry Potter novels and sky-rocketing to fame. Having found myself a regular in the unemployment line as of recent, this story was initially inspiring to me. However, getting published isn’t something you just show up and do on a free evening. Even if you go the self-publication route, there’s an extraordinary amount of editing, rewrites, not to mention marketing that goes into getting your wares discovered.
The second story that inevitably will find it’s way to your ear is about E.L James, author of “50 Shades of Grey”. Legend has it that this author originally got attention for herself by writing a Twilight Fan-fic. It is said, that this fan-fic was so resplendent, that an agent (or publisher, the stories vary a bit) immediately signed her and the rest my friends, is history.
I can’t vouch for the authenticity of either of these fables. Nor have I read 50 Shades of Grey. I mean no offense to James or her fans but the subject of sexual domination just isn’t my cup of tea.
I haven’t read Stephanie Meyers “Twilight” either, though I hear good things. I suppose my hesitance comes from the fact that the characters involved are high-school students, and truthfully, I can’t say that my high-school years are ones I’d want to relive. Those poor sparkly vampires, I honestly can’t imagine anything pleasant that might result from eternal condemnation to a teenage body. It’s actually the subject of a recurrent nightmare I have…but I digress.
The beauty of writing a fan-fic, as I have now discovered, is essentially this; you are given the opportunity to display your writing style without sacrificing your original characters to the cesspool of plagiarism that is the internet.
My interests are far less…well, sexy than E.L James. Eroticism is not something I’m well acquainted with. Chalk it up to lack of experience I suppose. Honestly, I would think it perfectly inconsiderate to inflict my rather homily self upon someone else’s bed-chamber. Even if I were to relent, there seems to be a great deal of awkward posturing, sweating and a tremendous sacrifice of personal space all for the benefit of experiencing a tingling in the crotch for a matter of mere seconds. No, I’m not conversant in the language of romance, yet it seems that such matters are the very bread and butter of fan-fic in general.
I instead choose to busy myself with decidedly less sensual fair. I’m fond of old cartoons, slap-stick comedy, comic-books, dirty-jokes, jazz manouche, bossa-nova, 80’s rock (and damn near anything with a horn section.) I’m an aficionado of sci-fi in all it’s many flavours and bad shark movies. It’s a melange of great tastes that taste revolting together, sort of like vomit.
Still, I’m always up for a challenge, and from this mental hodge-podge I was able to cook up something I hope you’ll find vaguely palatable, or at least amusing. With a surprisingly minimal amount of shame I have decided to post my uncompromisingly bizarre Jabber-Jaw fan fic. Yes, Jabber-Jaw, the cartoon from the late 1970’s which falls into the meddling kids genre. I’ve transplanted it into the universe in my novel series, “Sewage In The Bloodline” flash forward 179 years into the future.
For the uninitiated, JabberJaw was more or less a hybrid of Josie and the Pussycats with Scooby Doo. Set in 2076, it’s a fine example of 70’s retro-futurism. However unlike so many visions of tomorrow, which employ outer-space as their backdrop, Jabberjaw proposes a future where domed underwater habitats and submersible vehicles are the norm. It’s certainly a more pragmatic approach.
Of course where it was truly innovative was in the inclusion of the titular character, Jabber-Jaw, a shark who played drums, talked like Curly Howard and quoted Rodney Dangerfield. What’s not to love?
These epic tales of daring do were released in the French language as a series of comic-books, where Jabber-Jaw was re-christened Mantalo. This is the name you will see predominately in use here. I also elected to use the band instrumentation depicted in a Cartoon Network Short, still in circulation of the Boomerang network, view it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vn1pf0Xi3nU I can suspend my disbelief for a talking shark, but I simply cannot fathom a band, where one member is tasked with playing the tambourine exclusively (as was the case with Shelly LaMarine in the original 1976 incarnation).
While the assertion may strike you as silly, in hindsight Jabberjaw was actually was a major advancement in efforts still underway to combat the demonization of sharks in the social consciousness. Images of sharks as violent, malicious creatures, perpetuated by films such as Jaws, have made it difficult to gather support for protecting the various species in our waters. Sharks, being an apex predator, serve an important role in the preservation of our ecosystem.
Ironically enough, and this is my own observation, the current trend of creating B-grade shark cinema, such as Sharktopus, Two Headed Shark Attack and Sharknado seems to have countered the Jaws-effect. The cartoonish, slap-stick level of viciousness, rivalled only by Godzilla epics, seems to have endeared sharks to people. These latest incarnations of everyone’s favourite cartilaginous fish are one step away from dropping anvils on their victims and the audience is eating it up. I am at least.
If you are a shark lover, or are ready to become one, check out http://www.sharktruth.com/ for more info on saving sharks from extinction.
So without further adieu, I invite you into the gritty, post-apocalyptic world of Mantalo. New chapters will be posted as updates with anchor points within this post, so this doesn’t consume my other projects.
Artwork inspired by Damien Hirst’s “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living” http://www.damienhirst.com/
Of what he could recall from his former life, Mantalo remembered the lab most vividly. At least, he thought it was a lab. He remembered those sterile white walls and aluminium treys, lined with peculiar looking instruments. How fondly he recollected those strange silver implements, which glittered so enticingly. The masked “doctors” who peopled this laboratory eventually grew weary of telling him not to touch. Instead, they’d adopted a sort of governed nonchalance. All the while, glancing over their paper-face masks, their strange red eyes glinting, waiting for the moment that he would inevitably prick his finger or shock himself. Then and only then would they wordlessly snatch back their tools. Their shrugged shoulders seemed to say “I told you so.”
You see, he’d had hands then, and fingers. The latter of which, like so many little boy’s, were often adorned in bandages. Still, they had been there, once, back when he could still count himself among the human race.
He remembered watching old movies on an antiquated film projector with the head doctor. It was sort of his special treat for the child. The “film-strips”, as he called them, were ancient even then.
The doctor had said something or other about laser rot, and magnetics. He’d tried to explain how film, and tangible recording techniques had inevitably survived the digital media of the 20th century. Mantalo hadn’t understood a word of it.
He remembered their smell though, warm and musty, as each new offering emerged from its dust-laden canister. Those coiled black ribbons, cloaked in all the splendour of an artefact newly excavated. In truth, that’s what they had been he supposed. All of these films were in the doctors’ funny jumbled language, but the slapstick antics of these “Three Stooges” on screen needed no translation.
He grew to love their raucous banter, memorizing snippets of dialogue here and there and reciting it in voice to the soldiers as they passed by on their ceaseless patrol.
Which is the left side?
That’s the left.
Which is the right?
The one that’s left.
No that’s left. That…rrrowwwf!
It was a deed that was rewarded with delighted chuckles and pats on the back.
In time, these men’s tongue became his own. While his language might have broadened, his taste in film remained decidedly low-brow. He was a little boy after all, or had been. Knowing his fondness for humour the doctor introduced him to musty old relics of the reel he called “Stand Up Comedies.” In these strange windows to the past, men and women stood jester upon a barren stage. A “microphone” in hand, they did nothing more or less than spool off one joke after another. It was magic. He was fast to add these jests to his every growing repertoire. He’ d had a particular fondness for the work of a man called Rodney Dangerfield.
“When I was a kid I got no respect.” He’d recite.
“The time I was kidnapped, and the kidnappers sent my parents a note they said, ‘We want five thousand dollars or you’ll see your kid again.’ “
Looking back, that joke didn’t seem quite as funny to him as it had once upon a time. Back then, he had no understanding of hostages, or prisoners of war. Even if he had, he’d certainly never have imagined himself as being one of them. No, he never had any doubts he would see he parents again. The lab, the doctors, those soldiers in neat lines, the whole escapade had simply been one big adventure, and his captors did their best to preserve that illusion for him.
“The sound they play, when they tell a joke, what is it called?” He’d asked one of the doctors in an accent coloured by hours spent with Curly Howard and other bygone laugh-mongers.
“Sound?” The doctor replied, somewhat puzzled by the query.
“Badum dum ching…that one? He’d insisted, unwilling to let the question go ignored.
“Oh, a rim shot.” The doctor had laughed to himself. “You like that?”
Not two days had passed before he’d been presented with a child’s drumset. He quickly discovered how to make rim shots on his own.
The doctors were quite keen on keeping him “stimulated.” Old vinyl recordings were bestowed upon him, and he discovered music. He drank up every note, consuming these strange black discs the way most boys his age might cookies.
Soon, he had a second love…Latin Jazz. He’d pound along with Pancho Sanchez or Tito Puente till the wee hours of the night. It had come as naturally to him as drawing breath.
From that point on however, his memories became muddy. There had been the crisp stab of pain from an injection needle. In his innocence, he’d actually been shocked that the doctors would do such a thing to him, and presumed it to be an accident.
Then, there was darkness.
When the world resumed, the rhythms of Tito Puente were echoing from inside a glass cylinder where he’d stood, nose pressed against the smooth wall, peering out. He gazed through the reflection of his own eyes, clear and blue.
“Remain calm.” A robotic voice insisted dully. “Remain calm.”
It seemed a silly request. Why shouldn’t he be calm? The huff of his breath came in easy white clouds against the glass, born in time to the rhythm of “Oye Como Va.”
Then there was a flash, a moment of excruciating pain, followed by the concussion of an explosion and suddenly he was submerged in water. The pressure at this depth was crushing, but the mad frenzy that consumed him allowed that he might trudge through the pain.
The next thing he remembered with any clarity was swimming, frantically, desperate to escape. What from, he could never quite recall, but what he was fully and painfully conscious of was the unwelcome change in his body. He felt the swing of his newly-formed tail where he’s legs should have been. Felt it pulling left to right, propelling him through the water. His skin was uncomfortably alive with a sort of electric tingling, that coursed over his flesh in throbbing waves. It was a sensation he’d never fully become accustomed to.
He would later read in a book that this was caused by organs called ampullae of Lorenzini. They were littered throughout the the skin of the carcharodon carcharias more commonly called great white shark.
Unlike others of his adopted breed, he found he maintained his ability to breath outside of water. The head doctor had told him about animals who could do this, live on water or on land. He’d called them amphibious. An amphibious shark, it was novel if nothing else.
Survival however was far from living, or the way most people know it to be. He’d managed to scrape out an existence in the hydro-pod cities that strewn the ocean floor. Here, he’d take on odd jobs, mostly maintenance and janitorial stuff, preferably graveyard shift, where his appearance wouldn’t draw unwanted attention.
Somewhere in the pass of years, he’d adapted, resigned himself to his fate. Still, those buried memories haunted him. Sometimes they came in wild, incomprehensible flashes, which stalked his dreams. Other times, they crept into the quiet lulls of solitude he often found himself relegated to. He was a monster after all.
”It lives to kill. A mindless, eating machine,” He’d once heard the narrator in an old movie trailer warn.
“It will attack and devour…anything. It is as if God created the Devil and gave him JAWS.”
He remembered a dozen old comedy bits and movie taglines, but his own history was a blur. He’d scoured over books and old newspapers, anything he could get his fins on, searching for some record of the phantoms in his memory. He found none. There were no reports of other children, taken from their families and experimented on, no labs with red-eyed doctors. Then again, his sources were limited.
He was desperate to get into a library or hall of records one of these days, but the shark ejectors had made that an impossibility for him. They were clunky, mechanical devices, with hardly more processing capability than your average, household vacuum. These cumbersome machines swept the streets, hunting out sharks and forcibly capturing them, so that they might be separated from the members of polite society.
He found their very existence problematic in and of itself. Not because of the annoyance or shame they brought on him personally, but the fact that he’d never once met another shark like himself. In all his paper-born hunts, he’d never found a single report of another amphibious shark so much as sighted. Why then, in these domed sub-aquatic metropolises had anyone seen the need for a machine, charged with dispelling sharks from their establishments?
He’d managed to deactivate one once with a particularly forceful whip of his tail. It had remained incapacitated for long enough that he might examine it. To his dismay, it appeared to be rudimentary 20th century machinery. There were weld marks here and there, suggesting that some level of maintenance was performed on them occasionally. Still, he was left with the distinct impression that society had simply become acclimatised to these devices, long after having forgotten their true purpose. Perhaps it wasn’t just him, perhaps everyone had forgotten their past and he alone was bothered by it.
Sometimes, he imagined that his having being robbed of those memories might just as well be a blessing as it was a curse. Maybe there were things he didn’t want to remember, burrowed deep in his past. Other times wished he could muster up enough of his reticent emotion to feel something beyond curiosity. He wanted to revel in the injury of what had happened to him, and the wilful ignorance of the world. Reluctantly, he’d come to accept that much of this was beyond the scope of his control. The truth was, these days there was little, even the theft of his very humanity that held much gravity for him, until he’d met her.
He might have blithely gone on working as a glorified side-show attraction in Aquapulco, if she hadn’t stumbled, piss-drunk into his life. Indeed, he’d managed to keep all his needs met as the house drummer for the Garito Del Aquapulco floor show. He already knew enough Spanish to get by thanks to his early flirtations with Bossa Nova. Honestly, he’d found the life he’d carved out for himself here to be…well, bearable. It was better than mopping floors at any rate.
The Garito wasn’t his dream gig by any measure. The pay was non-existent, but he received food and board in trade for beating the skins and playing that hot-blooded breed of music he craved.
Still, it was a meagre compensation for the way tourists always insisted on manhandling him after the show, to prove he was real. They had no reservations in jabbing their grubby fingers into the soft of his underbelly, or yanking hard on his dorsal fin. Spring breakers, emboldened by drink, always seemed to want to deliver a good hard punch in the gut. It added insult to injury that they saw need to commemorate the moment of impact by snapping a picture.
He tolerated the abuse, knew it was part of the draw. What infuriated him was that no matter how battered and bruised they left him, most of the tourists still walked away convinced he was a puppet, or some masterpiece of animatronic what not.
“Of course it’s fake!” They’d sneer back at him over their shoulder. “Sharks don’t play the drums.”
“But I’m not a shark.” He always thought back impotently. “At least, not really.”
How could he explain it to them when he couldn’t even make sense of it himself? In his memory he was certain he had been human…once. Something had happened at the lab, something that made him this way, transformed him into, this.
“Come one come all!” A liquor seasoned voice called out from across what he had thought was an emptied room. “Come and see nature’s greatest predator, the Great White Shark, playing drums for your amusement!”
He scanned the house, but could see no one out there in the darkness.
“More like The Great White Joke!” The voice taunted again.
“Yeah.” He muttered in reply, his attentions focused on striking the set. “That’s me.”
“So is that some kind of a suit?” The voice came again, closer this time.
He could just make out the silhouette of a woman on approach through the glare of the stage lights.
He’d heard the question too often to give it the incense he was sure she was vying for. He’d come to expect these sort of jibes from hecklers and would be comedians. He hadn’t expected to look down and see…her.
His antagonist peered up at him through a curtain of cinder black hair. A seditious smile courted her candied red lips, but failed to guise the tear stains, cruel and black upon alabaster cheeks. Perhaps out of drunken disregard or some deliberate lasciviousness, she had plunked herself down at a front row table with legs uncouthly splayed.
“Is it a suit?” She repeated, a growing belligerence in her voice.
“I wish it was.” He managed, offering what he hoped she’d read as a smile.
The words had scarcely cleared his lips before she’d leapt up onto the stage and brazenly snatched up one of the guitars the band had left, clumsily sprawled out. His band-mates were loath to spend any more time around “El Tiburón” than was absolutely necessary. Plus, they knew he’d pick up after him, Hell, they’d come to expect it.
“Don’t touch that!” He snapped at her.
She offered an audacious smile in retort, unafraid of the beast before her. Instead she began busying herself with tuning the poor forsaken instrument.
“Trust me,” She assured him. “I’ll treat it better than you’re guitarist did. How old is he? Twelve?”
He shook his head. “Wouldn’t know. They don’t really talk to me much…off stage I mean.”
She laughed, tossing her hair back in a wild tumble and revealing a pair of dark brown eyes. They were still bloodshot from crying but beautiful besides.
“So, tell me…whatever your name is…” She began.
“Mantalo.” He replied easily, sitting back on his drum stool and watching her knowing fingers nurse the tuning keys.
“Mantalo?” She repeated, revelling in the strangeness on her tongue. “What is that? French? Italian?”
She raised a brow, looking up through that fall of black hair.
He shrugged as best he was able without the benefit of shoulders.
“I wish I knew.” He replied in earnest. It might have made searching out his past easier.
“So, Mantalo,” She continued with more than a hint of mockery in her voice. “How exactly does an overgrown sardine like yourself manage to play the drums?”
“Rick Allen lost his arm, and he still pulled it off” the shark replied, twirling a drumstick in his fin. “I’d say I have it easy by comparison.”
Upon this, she offered a broad smile, unlike any she had presented previously. There was no snide or sport in this grin, but rather genuine delight.
“You like the classics?” She trilled.
He gave a curt nod. “ Soitenly! More of a jazz man really, but Def Leppard is up there.”
“I wrote my senior exit project on their Hysteria period” She smiled sheepishly.
“You don’t say..” he countered, pleasantly surprised, “Well, it’s one thing to read about them- but can you play?”
He pointed a drumstick at her, initiating his challenge.
She answered back with the first few bars of “Hysteria” on the now properly tuned guitar. He followed in with a beat.
They fell into uncanny synchronicity. It was strange, he’d never played with her before, she hadn’t even given him her name, and yet he felt as though he’d had more of a connection with this drunken heckler than he had…well, with anyone. She at least wasn’t afraid of him, and that was a luxury he’d not often been afforded.
She unconsciously thrust her hips back and forth in time with the beat, the undulations of her waist somehow driving him in turn. He startled himself, imagining what it might be like to wrap his arms around that waist. Then, realized he never would.
“Stop it!” he mentally scolded himself.
He hadn’t had arms in more than a decade, why should that fact suddenly bother him now? Why should it matter? He’d been robbed of the right to feel anything towards this woman years before they’d even met. So maybe she wasn’t afraid of him, what of it? He would never be anything more than an animal to her eye.
She drove the song into its climax, spinning around on her heel to face him.
“You’re hired!” She cried out boisterously.
“Pardon?” He said, wrenching himself back into the moment.
“Consider that your audition.” She retorted, setting the guitar gently against a fake plastic palm tree that served as part of the Garito’s stage set. “Welcome to the Neptunes.”
“The what?” He stammered back.
The heckler laughed awkwardly. “The Neptunes, we’re a band, well we were. Our drummer walked out on me…” She stopped for a moment, correcting herself “on us I mean, and…”
“I’m sorry,” He plead. “I just don’t really keep up with…”
“Modern music,” she finished.
He nodded bashfully. “I don’t think I’m what you’re looking for.”
He stood, turning his attention back to striking the set. She thrust out a hand, planting it squarely on his chest, halting him.
He gasped, startled by the gesture. He was used to jabbing, pinching fingers looking to divine whether or not he was made of rubber, but It had been years since he’d experienced genuine touch.
“I heard you play. You are what we’re looking for.” she insisted. “Besides, we could do with a fresh start, I could anyway.”
“And you are?” He asked, hoping she’d finally give him her name.
“Michelle LaMarine…or Shelly.” She said brusquely shaking his fin. Her hands were so warm, but then again, he was cold blooded after all.
“Hi.” It was all he could manage in reply.
“Do you like sitting up here, making music for people to get drunk by?” She said with a smirk.
“Nyeeah.” He groaned back. “You make it sound so tawdry.”
“Because it is Blubberhead!” She laughed. “No one comes to Garito Del for the music. No one comes to hear you play…”
“I was starting to get that idea.” He admitted.
“But they will.” She promised extending her hand to him. “So let’s get out of here already.”
He stared at that hand, so delicate. Slender white fingers with red lacquered nails beckoned him into a new life. After a moments pause, he grasped it with a fin.
“Lead the way.”
To Be Continued (No really, I’m serious, this is happening.)
The hotel where “The Neptunes” were staying was within walking distance. Mantalo was glad of that, as his new found friend was not yet quite sober enough to be trusted behind the wheel and he knew from experience that cabs in Aquapulco couldn’t be expected stop for him. Admittedly, he was grateful for the chance to simply talk with another sentient being, and a handsome one at that. Not that it mattered really.
“So how long have you been playing for” She asked casually.
“Well…since I was 7 or so…I guess” He replied, admiring the way that the artificial night lamps caromed off his company’s sleek mane.
“Tss…Your poor parents!” Her laugh had a delightfully wicked tone to it.
He was suddenly struck by the fact that his parents, if they were still alive, had never actually heard him play. She couldn’t have known, why burden her with that fact? No, his past was too tangled up, his memory too sparse, he wasn’t even sure he could fashion any sense from it.
“Nyuk nyuk nyuk” He answered back in the well tread timber of his favoured Stooge, desperate to keep the humour of these moments with her light.
For a few blithe minutes, she had afforded him the chance to shed his disfigurement and simply be. Unfortunately, it was a chance quickly snatched away by the approach of a shark ejector. The thing clunked and chugged its way from the lobby of a nearby hotel, rust laden arms extending towards him.
Shelly placed herself between Mantalo and the clinking monolith. Upon encountering a human, it’s treads locked so hastily that the chassis of the thing rocked back and forth from the jar of it. There was a stand off for a smattering of seconds. The robotic interloper simply staring with what amounted in it’s tinker-toy mind to confusion.
With a savageness that Mantalo couldn’t help but find charming, Shelly kicked the thing over on its side. He watched as his clockwork assailant’s arms snapped, gears tumbling free and rolling down the street as if in celebration. With glorious vehemence, Shelly launched several more brutish kicks at the thing, hair whipping back and forth, pleased by the crush of steel beneath her boot.
“Miss LaMarine!” A frantic voice cried out.
Mantalo looked up from the assault to see a primly dressed man, with a waxed moustache, scurrying out from the same hotel where the shark ejector had sprung.
Shelly didn’t bother to afford him a glance.
“Miss LaMarine, please stop! That’s hotel property!” He pleaded in a gratingly nasal voice.
“So bill me!” She snorted, distilling one last kick and spitting on the snarl of cogs and bolts left in her wake.
“Rest assured I will do just that.” The man said, gathering what he could of his composure.
“Fine then.” She huffed, greeting his challenge with the smuggest of smiles.
“Come on Mantalo.” She urged, reaching out and grabbing her newly discovered drummer by a pectoral fin. To his dismay, he realized she was tugging him towards the glowing entrance of the very hotel, whose staff she’d so ingratiated herself to.
He resisted for a moment, looking at the elegant streamlined curve of the door and the polished steel railings. This hotel was a far cry from Garito Del, and not the sort of establishment that was likely to welcome him with open arms. After a few moments of Shelly’s insistent wrenching, he finally relented to her tow.
“Don’t you dare bring that creature indoors!” The moustachioed man shrieked, rushing in front of the pair and blockading the doorway with his own body.
Mantalo sighed, muttering the immortal words of that philosopher Rodney Dangerfield to himself “No respect.” He should have expected as much.
“That creature is my pet shark!” Shelly snarled, jabbing a finger hard into the man’s chest.
The suggestion was absurd, and under normal circumstances might have been mildly humiliating. Tonight however, Mantalo found himself so enthralled by her raucous antics that embarrassment could find no hold in him.
“If you don’t let him in, I’ll see that this rat hole is shut down- en segunda!” She bellowed drunkenly.
“En seguida” Mantalo corrected. “Immediately.”
The moustachioed man’s eyes grew round with bewilderment at hearing perfect Spanish spoken from those serrated jaws. How quickly Mantalo had forgotten himself. A talking shark was an oddity most people were never confronted with during the course of their lives. Living as one required a special sort of decorum, which he was happy to have been granted reprieve from…if only for a moment.
Without another word, the prim little man held the door open so that the pair might pass.
“¡Gracias!” Mantalo said as he ducked through the doorway. “Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk”
There was a dull thud behind them as the poor, befuddled gentleman finally succumbed to the peace of unconsciousness.
When safely inside the elevator, which had been hurriedly evacuated upon their approach, Shelly and Mantalo dissolved into hysterics.
“You’re insane!” He delighted. “You must be!”
“Not really.” She snickered. “but I do have a reputation as a diva to uphold.”
She took advantage of the mirror-lined walls and fingered her dishevelled hair back into place. Without the slightest hint of delicacy, she adjusted her bra, which had migrated during her attack on the shark ejector.
Mantalo was suddenly conscious of his eyes upon her, even if she as of yet was not. He cast his gaze towards the ground, staring down at his caudle fin.
“So,” He began. “Have you kept a pet shark before?” He found himself unable to mask the grin spreading across his face.
Shelly laughed, tossing her head back as she did. Black tendrils tumbled down her back.
“You’re our drummer, not my pet…” She smirked up at him, “so don’t expect a free ride!”
He shook his head, “Wouldn’t dream of it.”
The elevator shuddered to a halt, they had reached their floor. As the doors parted, Mantalo felt almost giddy. He was all too eager to cast his old life aside. The moment he stepped through these doors, he imagined his past would simply melt away, dripping from his skin in great, unseen globules like a dying candle.
“Are you coming?” Shelly called, already having traversed the waiting threshold.
He silently crossed the boundary, the doors squealing shut behind him. There was a certain poetic finality to that grating sound.
He followed her down a hallway lined with a singularly horrendous pattern of carpet. Linking arcs of Autumnal colour stretched out before them, gold, orange, red and a deep cocoa brown. The walls were papered in these same garish tones, the colours now stretched out into a long stripe, that seemed to urge guests onward. It was a revival of the style that had flourished some hundred years previously. Antiquated, and yet in that moment, those muddy colours were the most beautiful thing Mantalo had ever set eyes upon.
“We can pick up your things tomorrow.” Shelly said, pressing her thumb against a brass panel along the wall. He hadn’t noticed before, but there were hundreds of them lining the hallway, evenly spaced apart.
“I don’t really have any…things.” He admitted to her. “The Garito owns my drums, and …well maybe a couple of books.”
Shelly tossed a shrug back in reply. “We’ll grab them when we put in your resignation tomorrow.”
A light, which had been dormant till now, lit up a brilliant chartreuse above her thumb on the panel. The wall beyond her left shoulder suddenly parted into a doorway, and she motioned with her head for him to follow her through.
“We’ll have to get your thumb-print coded on to the key panel.” She said flippantly, somehow oblivious to the fact that he clearly had no thumbs to code.
“That’ll let you in and out of the rooms.” She continued.
Part of him was pleased she hadn’t bothered to correct herself, it made him feel less like an obscurity in her eyes.
There was the drone of voices spilling from inside.
“Is that you Shell?” A male voice hollered.
“Yeah, it’s me” She barked back from the narrow entryway.
“You alone?” A woman’s voice trilled curiously, in far more reedy, timid shade than Mantalo’s present company.
“Nope.” Shelly called back.
“Good!” A second male called out triumphantly. “I want to tell my good for nothing brother to his face what a lousy, selfish, backstabbing….”
The owner of the voice rounded the corner and was immediately silenced upon the sight of his new guest. Mantalo could only look back and smile awkwardly. The man who stood before him was of a lanky sort of build, with a crop of brown hair that shaded his eyes. Evidently it did nothing to hinder his vision.
“Ahab’s not here.” Shelly said, folding her arms against her chest.
“Who’s Ahab?” Mantalo bent down to her and inquired in a whisper.
“No one really, his real name was Aa-ron.” She said, drawing out the syllables for effect and bracketing the word in mockery with a roll of her eyes. She strode into the room beyond as if unaware of her band-mate’s dismay. The truth was she’d made up her mind not to acknowledge it.
“Biff, Bubbles,” Mantalo heard her call, “Crisis averted! I found us a new drummer!”
“Oh gee, that’s great Shell!” The female voice chirped frothily.
A volley of chatter bounced back and forth. All the while the bushy haired man, who had first made Mantalo’s acquaintance, remained planted to that same spot on the floor.
“Wowwy-wow wow!” He gasped, eyes fixed on the great white shark in the room.
“Hi?” Mantalo tried, desperate to break the stillness.
He had hoped the other band members might receive him as unflinchingly as Shelly had. That, he now understood, would have been too much to ask. He readied himself for the pinches and tugs on his hide that would inevitably come, steeling his mind against the onslaught of predictable questions to follow:
“Are you a real shark?”
“Why would a shark play the drums?”
“If you’re really a shark, how come you aren’t in the water?”
To his surprise, he was instead treated to a hearty chuckle.
“Crazy!” The unkempt boy finally spoke, a grin smearing its way from cheek to cheek. “A talking shark!”
“Well, not to toot my own horn, but I play the drums too.” Mantalo said, pleased to have the tension lifted.
“Yeah, well you’d better, seeing as Ahab’s splitsville…” The mop haired man acknowledged.
He struggled for a moment, uncertain of whether to shake Mantalo’s fin or manufacture some other method of greeting for the situation. Mantalo extended his right pectoral fin and the shaggy man finally resolved to give it a playful slap in greeting.
“I’m Caleb, but you can call me Clamhead.” He said, there was a tinge of disbelief still in his voice but no trace of fear remained. Mantalo was glad of it.
“If you really want me to Clam-Head.” Mantalo replied uncertainly.
“Crazy!” Clamhead reiterated.
“Oh Shelly, what a great shark!” The flutey feminine voice he’d heard before spoke again. “Did you win him at the midway? I just love the midway!”
Mantalo looked up to see that Shelly had returned with the rest of the band. The voice in question belonged to peculiar a woman, with a flouncy crown of golden curls, who was now bounding towards him. She held his pectoral fins out, examining him as if he were a new toy. There was enough care in her touch however, to make known she understood him to be more than just a lump of plastic and rubber.
“I won a goldfish once playing skeeball.” She avowed, “but it died, so I flushed it down the toilet. “
The words were somewhat less than comforting to Mantalo’s ear.
The curly haired woman bent down to examine his tail, continuing her inane diatribe, “At least I hope it was dead…” She giggled to herself.
“Gee what if he was only sleeping? Imagine how confused he’d have been when he woke up!”
She looked up at Mantalo for a moment, standing, a puzzled look upon her face.
“Oh Shelly, I’m not sure the toilet will be big enough when this one goes.”
Mantalo laughed weakly, assuming this discourse to be some paltry attempt at humour. He looked to Shelly, hoping to gauge her reaction.
“I didn’t win him Bubbles, he’s our new drummer.” Shelly seethed with patent annoyance.
“Please tell me you’re joking.” A man with a jet-black coif begged. He was far more manicured than Clam-Head but his tone was unmistakably raw with upset.
“Not for a minute Biff.” Shelly declared, clasping a hand down on the coiffured man, Biff’s, shoulder. Her gesture was a touch too hard to be misconstrued as friendly.
“He’s damn good too, puts Ahab to shame, you’ll see.” Shelly spoke with an unshakable confidence that somehow served to bolster Mantalo’s own.
“He’s a shark, Shelly!” Biff protested.
“Yeah, far out!’ Clamhead offered, still a trifle dazed. “A real live honest to goodness shark!”
“Or you can just call me Mantalo.” The shark insisted.
“Oh yeah-yeah-yeah of course!” Clam-Head stammered back. “Should’ve got your handle up front!”
“So, this is the band.” Shelly said, stepping to Mantalo’s side. “You’ve met Clamhead…”
“I play the trumpet and bass, not at the same time of course.” Clamhead interjected jovially.
“I’m on the keys.” The blonde blurted out. “And I also play the slide whistle, but we really don’t have any songs yet that use the slide whistle. Shelly, you should write something…”
“She’s Bubbles.” Shelly interrupted. Then behind the shield of her cupped hand, Shelly whispered “Just be polite and nod. She’s not all there.”
“I love to whistle!” Mantalo said cordially. “It’s one of the requirements for Samba percussion, but we use a tri-tone.”
Bubbles eyes went vacant.
“A…three headed whistle.” He explained.
This peaked her interests once again, “Gee, we’ll have to jam sometime!”
“Yeah, can’t wait to hear that!” Biff trampled on their words.
“Shelly, even if he can play, we don’t have room for…” He fumbled over his tongue for a moment, “THAT!!!” He thrust his hands out, indicating Mantalo was the that in question.
“Honestly Biff, we’ll just put him in Aaron’s room.” Shelly flung back the words casually as if the conversation was too simplistic to warrant the whole of her attention.
The band however seemed to be quite stunned by the suggestion. Biff shook his head, laughing derisively, but not quite bold enough to speak his mind.
“UGH, Come on.” Shelly said, with a roll of her eyes, pushing her way past Mantalo and out the doorway they’d only just come through.
Mantalo offered his new company a trifling sort of smile as he backed out into the hallway. This had actually proved to be one of his less awkward introductions, but that didn’t make it a comfortable one. Considering he’d be keeping these people’s company for a good long while, he set his mind to knitting a more solid relationship when next they met.
He followed Shelly into the adjacent room, Aaron’s room. Aside from the littering of clothes on the floor, Mantalo failed to see why this room should have drawn such hang dog expressions from his band-mates. He bent to examine some of the textile squalor at his feet. Several pairs of black leather pants tangled with a number of garishly patterned shirts mingling with what were clearly women’s undergarments.
Mantalo laughed to himself, plucking up a sequin covered thong from the veritable hamper.
“This guy certainly had some questionable fashion tastes!”
Shelly spoke without looking up, troubling her eyes instead with the task of unbuttoning her jeans. She slid them off, tossed them into the waiting heap before him, and sat down at a writing desk in the corner. There, in a practiced motion, she clicked on a desk lamp, took up her pen and lost herself within the page. It suddenly dawned on him why the band had been so startled by Shelly’s choice to board him here. This room had been Aaron’s, Ahab’s… whomever’s, but it had been shared by her.
For a moment, she glanced over her shoulder, acknowledging Mantalo’s presence in her world. “Is the light going to keep you awake? I can dim it.”
“Not really tired.” He replied.
“Well, rehearsal starts at 6, so you…”
“You don’t sleep?” He wove his words through hers.
“Not much,” she admitted, turning about in her chair to face him. “Not when I’m working anyway. Maybe three hours a night.”
“A fellow insomniac.” He extolled.
There was a moment of pause, and her head cocked under the weight of curiosity.
“Shark’s don’t sleep do they?” She wondered aloud. “I heard that once. That if they fell asleep they’d drown …or something like that.”
“Not much risk of it here,” He laughed, motioning to the cluttered room around them.
“No.” She agreed, tucking her veil of black hair behind her ears. There was an heir of discomfiture in the motion, far from the ferocious creature who’d pummelled the shark ejector before, yet he found both shades endearing.
“I sleep.” He confirmed. “But my mind starts working through things I’d rather not remember and…”
“Bad dreams.” She finished knowingly.
He nodded, stepping towards the desk to get a look at the many papers strewn across it.
“What exactly are you working on?” He inquired.
She handed him one of the scattered leafs to examine. On it, he could plainly see the notations of an unfinished song.
“I write most of them, our songs.” She said, a blush taking her cheeks. “Not that it’s anything to be proud of.”
“What do you mean? That’s great!” He commended.
He looked over the paper in his hand. It was just chicken scratch, and blots of ink right now, but he could hear the orchestration. He could feel the pulse of the drums pounding in his chest, and the melancholic twang of the guitar. Then, there was the explosive wail of wind on brass as the trumpet entered the mix, tempered by the dulcet tone of the piano.
“This,” he said, waving the paper in fin about “this is amazing! I can’t wait to play it!”
Shelly shook her head, snatching the paper back. “By the time it gets to the radio, it’ll be stripped down to the bare bones.”
She sighed, looking over the beloved notes she’d set free on the page, knowing most would never be played, stillborn sentiments trapped in ink.
“People don’t really want music,” She divulged. “They want a beat and the same riffs they already know played back to them a hundred times.”
“Music to get drunk by.” He finished, repeating her own words back to her.
She nodded ruefully, though he thought he detected the hint of a smile on her face before she resumed her labours, leaving him in silence.
Mantalo inspected the bed, sheets snarled and unmade, it was hardly a welcoming sight. He’d never really slept in a bed, not in his remembrance any way. They were too small for one, hardly able to accommodate a fully-grown great white shark. The dorsal fin on his back was another matter. It forced him into such awkward postures that he’d always resolved to lie belly down on the floor. The floor here however didn’t seem a much better prospect. Just walking through the cloth brambles that covered it, he’d stumbled upon boots, drumsticks, and half empty liquor bottles. He wasn’t game to lie down in that scrapheap.
Somehow, turned on his side and curled like a shrimp, he’d managed to contort himself into a pose that summoned sleep. In the waking world, he was subject to mockery and taunt. In sleep however, he was prey to his memories. The only assault he could never escape, he had found, was that of his own mind.
He dreamt of a classroom. It was a dream he’d had a hundred times before, back to harangue him once again. He found himself once more sitting at his desk near the window. He caught sight of his face in the glass, the face he presumed he’d once worn through childhood. Other children peopled the room, their faces lost to his mind, soulessly reciting a poem.
He couldn’t have cared less about them. He stared out the window, restless, longing to escape. He didn’t care where to, anywhere beyond the confines of that chair. He found that no amount of resolve within him could draw his attentions away from the perfect serene of the snow-covered world beyond the window pane. It was winter, a thing he only knew from photographs, and yet there it was, strewn before him…somewhere in his past.
“Dans la nuit de l’hiver”
The students chanted as the teacher bounced a long wooden pointer along words scrawled across a blackboard.
“galope un grand homme blanc”
Mantalo watched out the window as a black sedan pulled up. Three men in long black coats, eyes hidden behind goggles exited its doors. Their heads were shaven bare, exposing skin with hardly much more colour than the winter wore around them.
“c’est un bonhomme de neige”
The men entered the building, marring the snow with their heavy footprints.
“avec une pipe en bois”
The third man stopped for a moment, his gaze connecting with Mantalo’s. He gave a nod of acknowledgment, stopping just long enough that Mantalo could make out the wooden handle of a rifle tucked beneath the folds of his overcoat.
“un grand bonhomme de neige” The children droned on emptily.
“poursuivi par le froid”
The teacher’s shot a glance out the window, then looked at Mantalo. She offered a smile, hallow and grotesque. It was one those artificial expressions people wear as a mask , when they’re about to reveal truth too hideous to be grappled with.
“il arrive au village”
The doorknob turned, and the men entered the room.
“Continuer maintenant“ The teacher instructed, and the children continued to recite in a dreary collective moan, for all the world oblivious to the presence of these strange looking men.
“voyant de la lumière”
The men made their way down the isles of desks towards Mantalo. They lifted his chin, shining lights in his eyes, nose and mouth. He saw his reflection in their goggles, flouncy blonde hair floated about his head like dandelion fluff. Next, these men took to examining his hands. They were small, and pale, but seemed rosy compared to the ashen flesh of these interlopers. One man pulled an instrument from his coat, which he used to measure Mantalo’s skull and chin. Mantalo only laughed, the strange device tickled.
“Why weren’t you afraid?” Mantalo asked of his past self. “Why didn’t you run?”
“le voilà rassuré.” The children chanted.
The men looked down at him, pleased, faces twisting into haggard incarnations of smiles. One of them lifted his goggles, revealing eyes of endless crimson. There was no iris, nor pupil, only a glistening red from lid to lid, like the doctors’ eyes.
“We’re going on a little trip kiddo.” The man had said to him in the language he’d later understand was American English. Then, it had only been a garble of sounds, which made him giggle.
“Dans une petite maison” Mantalo could still hear the children’s voices as he was lead from the classroom, and down the hallway.
“il entre sans frapper”
Mantalo awoke in terror, finding himself unable to move. He looked down to see Shelly, who had propped up a few pillows and was reclining on his belly. He smiled to himself, both at the ridiculousness of the situation, and at how beautiful she looked. There she lay, dressed only in a cotton undershirt and panties. Her exposed flesh turned sterling, lit by the wraith thin light of artificial dawn, which stole through the parted curtains.
Perhaps he was fortunate to be so mutilated. Trapped in this body, robbed of any perceptible sexuality, she viewed him as an article of furniture rather than a man. At least she wasn’t afraid.
“Why didn’t you run?” He thought to himself, “Damn it, why didn’t you run?”
Feeling his eyes upon her, she stirred, turning her head towards his gaze.
“Sorry…” she said with a spry laugh, “but you didn’t leave much room for me, so I had to make due.”
“Doesn’t bother me.” He said through a grin. “I slept just fine.”
“Yeeeeah.” She yawned the word, stretching her limbs and splaying out her fingers and toes. The cotton tank top in which she’d slept lifted just high enough to reveal a glimpse of her navel.
“Why didn’t you run?” He chided himself once again.
“You talk in your sleep you know.” She said, lounging upon his abdomen as if he were a well-worn sofa. “Just jabbing on all night.”
“Sorry.” He tried.
She simply shrugged.
“I didn’t know or I … well I’ve never really had a room-mate to tell me these things before.
“Dans la nuit de l’hiver” She recited, sending a chill down his spine.
“It’s French isn’t it?” She grinned at him.
“I…don’t know.” He admitted. He hadn’t spoken his native tongue in such a long time.
“I went through a big rock progressif phase,” she explained, “so I speak a little.”
He could only stare back in dismay. The thought of his dreams having infected her was too much for his mind to take hold of just yet.
“In the winter’s night” She began her translation.
“A big white man is running.”
Mantalo recalled the three chalk skinned creatures, big white men who had come for him.
“It is a snowman
With a wooden pipe”
His mind flashed back to that man, staring up at him from the snow blanketed streets. Then, to the rifle hidden beneath his coats. He’d been a good boy and complied, never giving the man reason to draw the weapon. Still, they had come, fully prepared to persuade him.
“A big snowman
Chased by the cold.”
She laughed to herself, “It’s kind of cute really.”
He shrugged. It had lost any charm it once might have had to him from years of echoing within his dreams.
She continued her translation, “he arrives in town, seeing some light.”
He had been the light they were seeking. They had come for him specifically, but why? His teacher had been well aware of what they intended for him, but she hadn’t lifted a finger to stop it. The thought infuriated him now. What payment had they offered up to her that she might forsake a child in her care?
“He feels reassured,” Shelly went on.
“In a small house, he entered without knocking.”
Entered without knocking, they had done just that. No one had ever questioned their presence, not even he had thought to do so. He must have been accustomed to these creatures, must have seen them before, but where he could not recall.
“Your natural voice is much nicer than the one you put on.” She declared, sitting up and folding her legs beneath her, “The way you talk, when you’re asleep…”
“It’s a shame I’ll never hear it then.” He cajoled. She gave no reply.
He looked on as she errantly fingered through her sleep rumpled locks. Then, she stopped, grazed by a sudden realization.
“The way you speak, it’s like the Dust Gatherers do.” She marked pointedly.
“Dust-Gatherers?” He repeated the words.
“People from the surface, land dwellers.” She explained to him, her face ignited by the fire of excitement “like the people in movies, or on records.”
She whispered her next words as though she spoke of sacred things and holy realms, “Have you been to the surface?”
“I…don’t know, I can’t remember…” He sputtered the words out. He wanted so much to placate her fascination but it seems she understood his past better than he himself did.
“I want to go more than anything.” She confessed, hiding behind a pall of black hair.
“I want to see the sun rise and set, not just the day lamps, the real sun! I want to watch the seasons change, there aren’t any seasons down here.”
“I’ve seen snow.” He blurted out, at least he thought he had.
She starred at him, as if he’d confessed to kissing the face of God.
“What was it like.” She asked in a voice thinned by awe.
“Beautiful…very white, very clean.” He thought back on the window from his dream, and the ivory blanket that had held his rapture.
“You’re lucky.” She remarked, a touch of pout on her lip. “Hydros almost never get passage to the surface.”
“Hydro?” He said questioningly.
“People like me, people born…down here.” She explained to him.
He wondered at why he’d never heard these terms before. Truthfully, she was the first person he’d held any kind of extended discourse with.
“Why not?” He queried. It seemed a peculiar rule. Obviously the “hydros” had descended from land dwelling men. Why should they be segregated?
“Something about the pressure difference, growing up in a synthetic atmosphere.” She shook her head, not fully understanding the reasons herself. “We need special suits and vehicles to survive up there, and the government won’t approve their use without good reason.”
“Wanting to see a real sunrise isn’t reason enough?” He said, incensed by the idea.
Generations of human beings kept isolated from the world that bore them? There was something which he couldn’t help but find sickening in that. Perhaps it touched to closely upon the seclusion he had known so long.
“Why did they let you go to the surface?” She asked, lying down on her belly, head propped up on her hands. She was ready to entertain whatever tale he might have to tell.
He sighed, thinking for a moment of just how much he ought reveal to her. He was loath to sacrifice this burgeoning friendship by revealing the lunacy that stirred beneath his skull.
“If I tell you something… promise me you won’t think I’m insane?” He begged.
“Said the talking shark.” She snickered, rolling over on to her back, eyes never once leaving his face. “If one of us is crazy,” She said, folding her hands beneath her head, “it’s not likely to be you.”
There was a certain rationality to her words that invited an openness in him. He revealed to her the material of his dreams, and strewn the patchwork of what remained of his memories. Perhaps she possessed the thread that might sew them together again.
When he had finished she looked at him. It was not with the quizzical eye that one dissects a madman, but with genuine intrigue. She had no reason to doubt him, and he no reason to lie to her.
At long last, a smile returned to her face. “What colour was your hair, when you were human?”
“Blonde.” He answered “almost white. They shaved it down pretty close in the lab though…high and tight they used to say.”
He startled himself. It was a new memory, only just now awakened. He could see his hair falling to the floor, hear the buzz of the clippers and the way they teased and tickled his neck.
“But why sharks.” She puzzled, interrupting his thought. “What’s the point?”
“I don’t know.” He confessed, “I didn’t stick around for an explanation.”
She nodded pensively, biting her lip as if trying to dam the words behind it. At last she spoke, “If we found the lab,” she asked, treading carefully about the subject, “do you think they could change you back?”
He was shocked that he’d never considered this before. He’d only ever sought validation for his memories, hadn’t fully believed them himself. Yet this girl did. She believed in them strongly enough that she was willing to seek out this lab, and its red eyes doctors.
It was flattering really, not only that she had such faith in him, a relative stranger in her life, but that she, by her own admission, wanted to see him restored to the human race. He could have snatched her up from the bed and kissed her. In fact, it took a considerable amount of effort not to do just that.
“I won’t be able to draw a crowd like I do now.” He chuckled to himself. “Human drummers are a dime a dozen.”
“Not really worried about that,” she said, rising to her feet and gathering up her day’s attire from the mess on the floor.
She sniffed at one of the rumpled tee shirts, then, crinkling her nose up in disgust, tossed it aside and resumed her hunt. He could feel a smile pull at the crooks of his mouth. She was sloppy, brash to the point of violence, anti-social, and brilliant all at once. It was a volatile mix, but one he found himself unable to get his fill of.