Sidestepping Across The Multiverse: Part Six

“The best and safest thing is to keep a balance in your life, acknowledge the great powers around us and in us. If you can do that, and live that way, you are really a wise man.”- Euripides

Both Tommy Preston (Golden Lad) and William Nemesis

(with a last name like “Nemesis” who needs a superhero moniker?)

subscribed to Euripides’ philosophy, each in their own style, of course. Nemesis was one of the very few beings left on his world who actually acknowledged the great powers left around him – and how unimaginably evil they were. And while Golden Lad was always aware of the great powers that resided in his own consciousness, until this fateful day he refused to actually listen to them. Enlightenment had brought a decisive victory against one of the jailers that had kept him in a sort of fugue state as everything he knew was defiled, but there was a helluva Catch-22: the Lad won the battle but was sidelined for whatever remained of the war.

That left Nemesis to tangle with the surviving indentured servant of The Dark, a hostile party with the most chilling, spine-tingling sobriquet imaginable… Melvin.

“I can’t believe you don’t have Alice in this reality but you douchebags still went undercover as restaurant workers named Flo and Mel,” Nemesis proclaimed as he brought the full might of his telekinesis to bear against the aforementioned servant of malevolence.

Against all odds, the mental snare held fast, much to the bewilderment of The Dark’s watchman.

“How… in Their… blessed name… are… you doing this?” Melvin questioned as he strained to wrap his wicked hands around the young hero’s neck in order to squeeze the sentience from this meat sack. (A brain-dead prize was more ideal for The Dark’s purposes.)

“What can I say?” Nemesis declared with all the bravado he could muster. “My people are like a certain television police lieutenant in a rumpled raincoat that you’ve probably never heard of either… bad guys always underestimate us to their peril.”

“We have Columbo on this world, you flea!”

A stupefied William only had one response. “Seriously?”

The comparison of multiversal fictional characters came to a grinding halt as Melvin was shook with a telepathic revelation: His partner, his mate, his crony, had been terminated. A quiver echoed through his soul

(or the reasonable equivalent)

and a thundering wave of fury overtook him. So intimate was the connection between the two entities that Melvin experienced exactly what Flo did when Golden Lad unleashed the full force of his “high voltage vision”

(“x-ray vision” was already taken)

mixed with the collective essence of a thousand martyred Aztecs and reduced her to less than ash in seconds. He could feel Flo struggle to maintain the stability of her demonic protoplasm, only to fail before being able to even send out an arcane SOS across the planes of reality to their masters’ base of operations. They had been blessed with a holy task; one they had carried out smoothly without impediment.

But that had all changed over the course of a single lunchtime rush.

Capturing this rogue hero was no longer Melvin’s primary objective. No, for his part in this atrocity, this would-be conquering hero had to die – slowly and painfully over the course of a millennia.

“¥ØỮ ĐƗĐ ŦĦƗŞ!  ŦĦƗŞ ƤŁΔĆ€ ŴΔŞ ØỮŘŞ… ØỮŘŞ ŦØ ØV€ŘŞ€€… ŦĦ€Ň ¥ØỮ ĆΔΜ€ ΔŇĐ ₣ŘΔĆŦỮ؀РŦĦƗŞ Ƥ€Ř₣€ĆŦ ĆØŇŞŦŘỮĆŦ!” Melvin’s speech was no longer recognizable as human. The facade was gone, leaving only the malignant spirit to avenge its mate. “ƤŘƗΜƗŦƗV€Ş! ŞĦ€ ŴΔŞ Đ€ŞŦŘØ¥€Đ β¥ ŦĦ€ ĐƗŞ€ΔŞ€Đ ƤØŴ€Ř Ø₣ ƤŘƗΜƗŦƗV€Ş. ŦĦƗŞ… ĆΔŇŇØŦ… ŞŦΔŇĐ!” He screeched like a barbarian of a bygone age

(but not one you’d like to go drinking with like Conan)

as the tk mousetrap that had held him shattered sixty seconds later.

Blinding pain spasmed through Nemesis’ brain box. He crumpled to the Empire Diner’s debris covered floor – though only momentarily. His supernatural adversary grabbed him by his gangly neck and flung him through one of the Empire’s other front bay windows. The horde of gawkers had retreated further down the street, trampling one another as Melvin’s howls echoed across this variant Gotham and so there was no one to hear William’s continuing commentary.

“It doesn’t matter the reality, it doesn’t matter the nature of the fight, there’s one Multiversal constant you can rely on,” he continued to no one in particular as he rose to his trembling feet. “A Nemesis is always going to get thrown out of a restaurant… by way of a window.” William examined his shredded leather jacket and t-shirt and couldn’t help but wish he had encountered a mystic capable of putting a protection whammy on clothing like some of his brothers. Though it left him as heartbroken as heartbroken as Hugh Jackman at the Tony Awards, he discarded his mangled Aviator sunglasses before heading back into the fray.

At least, that was the plan.

Melvin booted the diner’s front door off its hinges and bounded at his prey. Nemesis did his best Spectacular Spidey impersonation and leapt over The Dark’s murderous point man.

(Just because you can take a lot of punishment doesn’t mean you have to.)

“I’m not Rocky, Erebus,” Nemesis taunted as he bolted back into the Empire via its now doorless entrance. “My ring’s inside.”

“How do you know that name?” Melvin howled; Nemesis’ jab having struck whatever passed for a nerve in his manufactured body. But the hunter’s game had already retreated, and so in a reversal of the Man in Black and the Gunslinger, the villain followed the hero, desperate to make him suffer before snuffing out his light forever.



“Trust me, pal,” Nemesis countered. “I understand exactly what I’m doing! This peasant has traversed the Multiverse under his own steam!”

“ĦΔ! ŦĦΔŦ’Ş ¥ØỮŘ βØΔŞŦ? ƤŘƗΜΔŦ€Ş ĦΔV€ ŦŘΔV€ŁŁ€Đ ŦĦ€ ΜỮŁŦƗV€ŘŞ€!” Melvin bellowed as he dispatched a seemingly endless stream of miniature obsidian daggers from his boney fingertips.

No Wall Crawler role-playing this time for Nemesis; he telekinetically pulled every bit of furniture, silverware and even the Empire Diner’s floor to his position to form a makeshift barricade. The slapdash shield did its job and protected him from the coal black projectiles – for about thirty seconds. The pint-sized weapons struck the buffer and instantaneously reformed to become a legion of arachnids. The ebony spiders scaled Nemesis’ defenses in seconds and leapt onto his body. He was covered in the blink of an eye and bowled over before you could say, “Holy Kingdom of the Spiders, Batman!”


(speaking the word always left a vile taste upon Melvin’s fabricated lips that would linger for months)

₣ΔŁŁŞ β€₣ØŘ€ ŦĦ€ ỮŇŞŦØƤƤΔβŁ€ ΜƗǤĦŦ Ø₣ ŦĦ€ƗŘ ĐƗVƗŇ€ Ş€ŘVΔŇŦ!” Melvin pronounced as he trod over the collapsed remnants of his foe’s defenses to inspect his handiwork. The counterfeit spiders had united to form an onyx coffin around their victim. Melvin gestured with his simulated hands and an aperture opened, revealing Nemesis face. His expression evoked a foreign sensation in Melvin, one he had never experienced when encountering a human, especially a superhero.

He was curious.


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Sidestepping Across The Multiverse: Part Five

Before we begin, here’s a hyper-sonic science primer on “g-forces”: Poindexters will tell you that a g-force is a measure of acceleration. 1G is the acceleration we feel every waking moment as the force of gravity keeps our feet firmly planted on terra firma.

The typical mortal can withstand about 5 Gs, which you’ll feel on your average roller coaster at some ridiculously overpriced theme park. Military pilots and astronauts are trained to acclimate their bodies for 9 Gs. Any higher and g-induced loss of consciousness (G-LOC) clicks in, moving blood away from the brain and causing pilots to lose control of their aircrafts.

It’s safe to say that Golden Lad and the acolyte of evil known as Flo were experiencing Gs that would crush any pilot not blessed with invulnerability as they skyrocketed across this variant New York City skyline.

But that didn’t stop them from literally tearing into each other as they weaved around – and occasionally, even through – skyscrapers, water towers, billboards, and of course, scaffolding.

Needle-pointed tendrils spurted like deadly geysers from Flo’s ink-like catsuit, stabbing and puncturing the Lad’s costume and flesh at dozens of points, forcing him to decelerate and slam into a warehouse at the Red Hook Marine Terminal in Brooklyn, some six miles away from the Empire Diner where their clash began. The adversaries crashed as one but separated instantaneously upon impact, ripped apart by the high-speed impact of animate and inanimate matter.

Flo made no attempt to assume a defensive position, choosing instead to flop about like a rag doll before coming to a halt in the middle of a loading area filled with giant crates whose cargo had long since been forgotten. She returned to her feet in seconds, unaffected by the blunt force trauma of breaking through a steel and metal structure. Navigating her way through the rows of boxes like a demonic bloodhound, Flo located her prey in minutes.

“Poor, pathetic, little Tommy Preston. The superhuman who thinks he’s immune to the fires of time your kind burns in, but who will always be the mewling child whose own grandfather sacrificed him to save his wrinkled, weak skin. You have no idea how good you had it, dearie,” Flo hissed. “You could have remained content in your stream of victories over those mortal pissants, inconsequential as they were.”

But Flo’s taunts couldn’t pierce the cacophony of sounds and feelings washing over her prey as he attempted to free himself from the pile of rubble bearing down on his wounded frame.

He only existed for one thing in that moment but Golden Lad couldn’t ignore the steady stream of questions assaulting his consciousness, queries he could barely register as overpowering, almost unrecognizable feelings consumed him.

What is this? Is this… pain? But that’s not possible. Anyone who could hurt me is long gone. Could she be one of Theirs? And what about the others, the foot soldiers? What the hell ever happened to the villains anyway?

Their names flashed in his fractured mind. Misery. (Kathy Bates just came to mind, right?) Captain Swastika. Death Dealer. And a legion of others.

They cast their diseased lot in with The Dark immediately, lured by promises of unlimited power and empires for each of them, to rule as they saw fit. Except that after the heroes lost and the world fell, the villains vanished. As did The Dark themselves.

Not that the world was better off for their supposed absence. Sure, supervillains became extinct, apparently, and rogue nations stopped waging war (most likely because they had suffered too many losses of their own) but street crime became more prevalent than ever. And worse still, any spark of light society had left as a whole seemed to flicker out when the last hero standing in Washington, DC, the Black Terror, collapsed after taking out twenty-five opponents in a final bezerker rage. That left Golden Lad as the final guardian to a planet beyond saving, a watchman who spent every day since asking one question he came to accept would never be answered.

(But enough exposition. Back to the donnybrook!)


Not content to merely verbally assault her victim (she’d been doing that for years as mortals register time) Flo renewed her physical attack. A duo of obsidian projectiles rocketed from Flo’s shoulders, each one bound for a separate corner of a metal catwalk.

In seconds the arcane missiles reached their target, expanding as they did so as if some sort of magical AI calculated the size they would need to be to get the job done. Thorny tips shredded a section of the bridge, allowing gravity to take hold. It descended to Tommy Preston’s position twenty feet below until he was buried beneath a mountain of debris.

But Tommy was too preoccupied to pay attention to his imminent doom.

Ŵ€’V€ β€€Ň ĆΔŁŁƗŇǤ ¥ØỮ, ŦØΜΜ¥… βỮŦ ¥ØỮ’V€ β€€Ň ΔŞŁ€€Ƥ.

The message seared its way into his waking thoughts, shattering years of coping mechanisms. He knew he had heard it before, but it was too much to handle, to accept. So, he submerged it under his work, beneath whatever remained of his mission.

But it could be denied no longer.

“I know it may not feel like it now, sweetie, but I’m doing you a favor,” Flo interrupted in a measured, low voice, her tone barely perceptible over the sound of settling rubble and Tommy’s tortured thoughts.


Tommy Preston’s defense to the thunder in his brain was straightforward. “But I… I can’t let you all go! I just can’t!”

Oblivious to her mark’s internal torment, Flo continued. “As it is in every reality, one of you always gets to survive, by Their decree… and you drew the long straw, honeybunch. Consider this a punishment rather than an execution.”

The psychic communiqué burned hotter, liquefying Tommy’s willpower.


One last plea was all he had left. “I’ll admit. I always knew… what had to be done… but what happens to this world when its’s over?”


She stopped monologuing as something suddenly occurred to the dark angel known as Flo. “Wait, can you even hear me? Is super-hearing one of your abilities, my fair-haired boy?”

That question would go unanswered as a roar radiated from below the mass of rubble.

Golden Lad shot free of his makeshift cell, soaring straight up to the storehouse’s ceiling. He lingered for a brief moment, proclaiming a silent prayer for the world he loved before cutting loose with every molecule of mystical horsepower within him.

A battle cry composed of one thousand and one unified voices filled the deserted distribution center.


Flo instinctively erected her own arcane barricades, literal shields formed of stygian energy, the stuff of nightmares given form.

They fell in a nanosecond.

On an earth that had been stripped of hope long ago the blackest dark fell before the most luminous light, fluoresce discharged from a broken white knight. Golden Lad convulsed as the supernatural force of one thousand souls flowed through him. Flo screamed until her simulated vocal cords were shredded. In thirteen seconds, she was consumed before being completely incinerated.

(One down…)

Depleted beyond measure, Golden Lad plummeted to the charred floor as exhaustion overtook him. But for this fallen


paladin, the end was not here – though it loomed closer than ever…


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Sidestepping Across The Multiverse: Part Four.

Tommy Preston’s mind was roaring as his brain desperately attempted to process the input his bloodshot eyes were delivering.

The tendons in his neck were strained to their limits as he pushed against the telekinetic hold William Nemesis continued to exert against him. He had been pinned to one of the Empire Diner’s aged, cracked walls, one without a direct line of sight to the counter and kitchen where all the action had shifted to. What began as a misunderstanding between two superpowered warriors had become a shocking revelation for one of them, as the real reason the source of Golden Lad’s annoyance and rage had come to this world stood revealed.

As for Nemesis, he was far too preoccupied with backing in his own glory to pay the least bit of attention to the golden age mystery man who was screaming for his blood only moments before.

“I knew you couldn’t resist,” the words escaped his lips through a grin that would have made that cat from Wonderland positively Hulk-like with envy. “All I had to do was get Golden Boy here angry enough to speak Their name for the first time in years and I knew you’d be like flies on the foulest waste ever defecated. What is it with your kind anyway? Why does hearing anyone speak The Dark’s name compel you to break character every… single… time?”

“DON’T YOU DARE!” the waitress formerly known as Flo screamed/spit the warning

(which was far, far too late)

with righteous venom. “YOUR PUTRID LIPS AREN’T FIT TO UTTER THEIR DIVINE DESGINATION!” Gone was her shabby uniform, replaced with an airtight, leather catsuit. Of course, the catsuit wouldn’t have drawn your attention. No, all you would have been drawn to was the rippling, coal-black membrane that had replaced her aged features. It pulsated across her deep-set eyes and full lips. Even her once-lifeless hair pulsated.

As the kids say, it was creepy AF.

Having seen sights even more ghoulish in his lifetime, Nemesis wasn’t thrown by Flo’s true form. And so, his snappy comeback was immediate.

“The Dark! The Dark! The Dark! And oh yeah… The Dark! How do you like them apples, you decrepit, soulless thrall?”

Flo wailed like an animal with a limb caught in a trap that was slowly cutting into its flesh. It was quite unnerving, truth be told.

“ENOUGH! Our calling has been disrupted by this… inconsequential… whelp,” the cosmic slave in black leather – with a visage to match – masquerading as a diner manager the residents of this New York knew as Melvin

(think about it)

shouted. He struggled to even indirectly address Nemesis, so great was his revulsion for the dimension-hopping hero. But he carried on, nevertheless. “Now he must be seized, and his extraordinary capacity merged with that of the others for harvesting.”

The pronouncement was matter-of-fact and direct. Nemesis was nothing more than a fly in their ointment

(but with any luck, he was one that would prove to be useful to their agenda)

one that Flo and Melvin were now dead set on removing – with extreme prejudice.

Their bubbling facial disguises appeared even more grotesque as they smirked while simultaneously leaping over the restaurant’s counter and its hastily abandoned meals, landing six feet away from their prey.

“Nimble little minxes, aren’t you?” was Nemesis’ unimpressed reaction as his new friends began to flank him.


“No offense, Tommy, but even after all these years you still have no idea what the hell’s going on,” was his counter. “But if you stop all the screaming, we can still team up, okay?”

Tommy in simpler, mind-bending times.

“You’re about to spend an eternity shrieking, stripling. You can leave the man-child where he is… he serves a greater purpose,” was Melvin’s edict.

Fortunately, Nemesis was fully prepared for that statement. “Not anymore, you indentured servant. In fact, this little lunchtime skirmish is the swan song for all of you.”

And with that prediction, Golden Lad found himself extricated from his parapsychological bondage and free to indulge his inconceivable fury.

Superhuman warfare on an unbelievable scale. Casualties in the millions. The corruption of trusted allies, The defilement and murder of his beloved Golden Girl.

All of these events and more could be traced back to the cryptic figures known as The Dark, beings no one on this world had seen for a decade.

Ten years.

Ten years of waiting to truly avenge his lost love. The memory of each of those individual days burned in what remained of Tommy Preston’s soul.

Now, finally, he was in a position to strike back at these demons through their supernatural vassals – and he wasn’t about to waste it.

Ignoring his convenient partner’s plea, Preston howled an incoherent battle cry as he flew at Faux Flo

(I couldn’t resist)

with a bloodlust that had been percolating for 3,652 days. His psyche was a frenzied maelstrom, but a single overwhelming thought penetrated that storm for a nanosecond, setting Tommy on a direct path there would be no turning back from.

He ensnared his adversary in an aerial bearhug. Her onyx covered feet left the linoleum floor as the Lad whisked her out of the Empire Diner and outside into the skies of this variant Big Apple.

“Looks like you’ve got an opening for a server, Mel,” Nemesis remarked as he wiped away a stream of blood from his nose and primed himself for what was sure to be one helluva onslaught.


RIP, Golden Girl?
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Sidestepping Across The Multiverse: Part Three.

Tommy Preston, the once superpowered champion of justice known as Golden Lad, refused to leave the few remaining spoonfuls of his beloved noontime chili, opting instead to dissuade a surprisingly persistent pest vocally when it became painfully obvious force hadn’t worked. Yet. “Gotta hand it to ya, kid, you’ve got stones the size of Mount Rushmore… but if you don’t stumble back out of here right now, they’ll be scraping chunks of you off the walls.”

(A mystical Aztec artifact, the “Heart of Gold”, kept the ‘Lad’ locked in chronologically at about thirty when he was really approaching a century of fighting the so-called good fight. So, he was polite but short-tempered. Imagine your grandfather as a Kryptonian.)

“Yeah, that’s not happening, you outdated, jaded son of a bitch.” The delivery was indomitable and intense. This pest was ready to make the prophet Petty proud.

In other words, he wasn’t about to back down.

The bowl and the beaker of milk that always accompanied it were both pulverized by the force exerted against them by the now-truly pissed off paladin. “That’s it. You’re about to become the latest example of why it’s NOT a good idea to interrupt my lunch break, you wannabe side-“

Golden Lad spun around, expecting to see the young would-be hero struggling to maintain his footing after being tossed out of the diner via one of the front windows.

The source of his tantrum, however, was far from spent.

It had been a long time since he’d faced an adversary who could take a hit, especially one delivered with fifty percent of his extraordinary horsepower, and so, the Lad was understandably bewildered by the sight of William Nemesis, his sunglasses discarded and his ad hoc costume torn and filthy but relatively intact nevertheless, in a fighting pose.

“What seems to be the problem, boyo?” Nemesis inquired. “Shocked to be facing an adversary who can take a hit? Even one struck with, if I had to guess… half your battery power?”

(Told ya.)

Nemesis hit the superheroic nail right on the noggin. In the years since an epic conflict between this reality’s actual superpowers there were very few beings of the Lad’s abilities left roaming the streets of NYC. Or anywhere else for that matter.

In fact, as far as Golden Lad knew he was the only one left. And so, the antagonists he faced were of a decidedly less extraordinary nature. Though they now bred and spread across this once gleaming metropolis like psychotic cockroaches, mobsters, terrorists and petty criminals folded like cheap deck chairs against his might.

Until today.

Tommy Preston wasn’t sure how he felt about this realization. Seeing his confusion, Nemesis helped him decide.

“You know, one of the reasons I wanted to meet you was to ask a question that’s been bugging me ever since I started studying your, what do my fellow nerds call it? Oh yeah, your ‘secret origin’.”

Preston tensed, every knuckle cracking as his gloved hands became fully loaded fists.

“Doesn’t the rattle of all those skeletons in your closet ever get to you?  How did you ever swoop around the city, a shining beacon of gleaming American values, knowing that your unlimited power was derived from an artifact empowered by the blood of a thousand martyred Aztecs? Talk about cultural appropriation!”

The Lad began to shake, his taut muscles vibrating as one of his most covert, grisly truths was dragged into the light. “How the hell does he know all this?” The question painfully burned in his broken mind.

But Nemesis wasn’t done.

“And whatever happened to Peggy Shane

(No! Don’t you dare!)

the feisty, teen damsel who somehow got ahold of part of the Heart of Gold? The one who became Golden Girl, your partner-in-crime… and much more I’m guessing?”

Breaking point… reached.

Golden Lad lunged forward, hurling a table directly at his young foe’s head. Seconds later that same table hovered motionless in the air.

“It’s called telekinesis, Tommy,” was all Nemesis had to say before launching the item back at the Lad who promptly smashed it into a million

(give or take)

splinters before charging at the object of his growing rage, roaring like a wounded animal.

Nemesis was so engaged preventing the fragments from slicing his already damaged ensemble and form that he was helpless to bring the Lad to a standstill. Two generations of caped – and non-caped – crusader collided. Both opponents grunted and gasped, their super charged bodies reacting from the blowout. Nemesis crumpled to the Empire Diner’s grimy floor, overpowered by Tommy Preston’s hemorrhaging mania.

For his part, Golden Lad was raining blows on a number of demons of his past. His neglectful parents, who never once questioned their young son’s never-ending absences as he engaged in a double life. His grandfather, who, as it turned out, arranged for his grandson to “stumble” upon a mystical relic imbued with the souls of an entire tribe of slaughtered natives. The Heart of Gold itself, that altered his appearance to friend and foe alike when in his Golden Lad persona, thus destroying any chance of establishing meaningful, lasting relationships as Tommy Preston.

And of course, there was the reminiscence of the vilest figure of them all. Bingo, the Wonder Boy, once a regular, All-American kid named Jerry Jones Jr, who, after finding a genie known as Yama Lama of Ka-Bang, became the “strongest and fastest boy in the whole world!” whenever he uttered the magic words, “KA-BANG!”

(To be fair, it was a different age, though that origin is ludicrous in any era. One can only assume old-time comic book creators drank a lot of cheap booze.)

Once the most trusted ally in the Lad and Girl’s stable of colleagues, his will irrevocably broke as their literal war with the forces of evil dragged on. As a brainwashed acolyte of darkness, his soul completely void of light, he visited an untold number of torments upon Golden Girl before the Lad severed his head from his shoulders as Peggy Shane’s lifeless bag of bones lay a mere five feet away.

Needless to say, neither Tommy Preston nor Golden Lad were ever the same after that day.

Years later, in his bloodshot eyes, it was Wonder Boy that Golden Lad was attempting to beat to an unrecognizable pulp, not Nemesis.

But it was Nemesis who struck back.

One formidable telekinetic blast later, the Lad was pinned against a wall thoroughly covered with crumbly, framed, signed photos of an entire generation of ultra-powered saviors. Though to be fair, the pictures were now a testament to that same era’s complete and utter failure to resist the united might of foes they once vanquished with ease.

He focused every ounce of his magical potency into breaking free of the metaphysical hold Nemesis exerted against him, but Tommy Preston had been rendered immobile – though his tongue was still fully functional.


“Jeez Louise, Tommy… I thought… you golden age guys… were all about being polite!” a run-down, flabbergasted Nemesis declared as he peeled himself off the Empire’s debris covered floor. He examined his shredded costume and muttered under his labored breath. “Man, what I wouldn’t give to have a costume like the Lad’s… one that’s protected from damage by an enchanted antique. Why do some superheroes get all the luck?”

Then William Nemesis recalled all that Golden Lad had been through on this world and a wave of shame overcame him as a crushing wave of reality assaulted his consciousness.

“I’m going to release you, Tommy… but only if you agree to point all that white-hot rage I’ve finally drawn out in the direction it belongs.”


Other shoe… dropped.

The merest reference of the embodiment of mankind’s darkness was all it took to shatter this reality’s veneer. Two distinct ear-piercing, harmonic pitches drowned out Tommy Preston’s ranting, drawing the two battling hero’s curiosity to the Empire’s counter.

“You just… couldn’t listen… could you, sweeeetie?” The inflection was more of a hiss than a voice, barely female, but not fully human either. The tone that emerged from the establishment’s kitchen next was unmistakably male but equally inhuman.

“I’ve told you… their kind never learns,” the allegation came in the form of an inhuman growl. “And that’s why they always fall.”

“What… the… hell?” was all Golden Lad had to offer.

“You’re a wordsmith, buddy,” was Nemesis’ response.

You know the drill by now…

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Sidestepping Across The Multiverse: Part Two.

“We’re not going to have a problem are we, pal?” the boisterous voice was husky, weary and subzero, with only the slightest trace of a youthful, hopeful tone detectable. “Because I assume you know who you’re dealing with?”

The young man at the diner’s counter waited a moment to answer, as the greasy spoon’s limited space was still filled with the clatter of the lunch crowd’s swift exit. This particular hash house’s lunch crowd had seen enough combat between superpowered fighters for their collective lifetime, so they headed for the hills. The Empire Diner’s lunch dishes, silverware and even the chairs were still rolling around the dirty linoleum floor when the query filled the virtually empty space once more.

“I’m not going to ask again, beanpole.”

“Actually…” the remaining patron replied as he swung around on the tarnished silver lunch counter stool, “I’ve done my homework, so I know exactly who you are. You’re Tommy Preston. a.k.a. Golden Lad. In 1945 you were a mere blonde-haired, blue-eyed white boy of eleven who was forced into a child labor situation in your grandfather’s antique shop when you found an ancient, sentient Aztec artifact. The so-called ‘Heart of Gold’ scanned your pure, adolescent heart

(creepy, much?)

and deemed it worthy and devoted to justice. So, the Heart not only gave your powers of super strength, flight and ‘high voltage vision…'” the diner punctuated that specific ability with highly animated air quotes before continuing as Tommy Preston took a seat a few stools away where a piping hot bowl of chili was already wafting for him.

Preston began to devour his lunch when he noticed his unwanted dining companion had taken a pause, and so he shot a brief glare to his immediate right.

And so the golden age origin story continued.

“It even created that nifty costume which appeared every time you enthusiastically uttered the words ‘Heart of Gold!’ Incidentally, I notice you’re still sporting that magical ensemble even though you’re not so golden anymore.”

At this point, I have to interject to pose a question to you, my ten readers: Can you roll your memory bank back to see yourself at eleven-years-old?

(You can? Thank you for participating.)

Now imagine eleven-year-old you, a soaked-behind-the-organic-listening-devices rugrat with the powers of a pint-sized god. You’d be so powerful parental decrees wouldn’t matter a lick, if you wanted to go flying around the city on a school day, that’s exactly what you’d do. All the power in the world without any restrictions.

It boggles the mind to the Nth degree, doesn’t it?

Fortunately for his parents and the world for that matter, little Tommy Preston grew up in an age of innocence. Sure, a global conflict had just ended, but the world was still full of hope and the same purity that made this tween worthy of said powers. And so, he used his newfound abilities to fight for truth, justice, blah, blah, blah. Golden Lad was an anomaly though, a standalone hero who, under other circumstances would have been relegated to junior partner.

For him it really was a golden age.

Golden Lad in simpler times.

But eventually his world went down the crapper as everything around him was burned to the ground. Any other champion would have hung up his tights for good.

But not this superguy.

Indeed, the middle-aged crusader born of another era was still soaring around the Big Apple in an emerald full-length shirt (and matching shorts!), an indigo belt, brown boots and gloves, a sunny colored cape and of course, an amber heart on his chiseled chest. He was a grown-ass paladin with perpetual five o’clock shadow Doctor House would be envious of, but in a uniform you’d swear belonged to his sidekick.

Perfectly styled hair had been shaved down to a military cut. Blue eyes that were now once brimming with hope were now ice cold.

“Huh,” was all the golden-no-longer Golden Lad had to say after listening to this retelling of his life story.

“That’s it? was the stranger in the unconventional superhero getup’s reaction to being summarily dismissed. “I know haven’t got to the best part, but I can’t believe you’re not impressed! I’m a walking Wikipedia! Wait… do you have that here?”

The veteran costumed warrior crushed a few crackers into his half-empty bowl. He gazed into the mixture of beans, dead animal flesh, spices and spaghetti sauce as though it had the answers to his life’s multitude of questions. Then he fired off an indignant frown at his would-be biographer. “I have no idea what the hell you’re talking about, but you can relax. You get an ‘A’ for the book report, buddy. Here I thought you might be an actual threat… when you’re really just another pathetic fanboy.”

“FANBOY?!” That particular term lit a fuse in the Multiversal traveler. He leaped off his stool, ran the lengthy digits of his left hand through the dirty blonde mass of tousled hair atop his dome and took a position behind the object of his exasperation.

Tommy Preston refused to turn away from the sole remaining joy in his tortured existence. “I know this world’s a never-ending nightmare, boyo, but there’s no need to get so stressed. I’m just not in the market for a sidekick… especially one who can’t walk the walk. But I am curious, what’s your handle, junior?”

“You can call me Nemesis, Not-So-Shiny-Anymore Lad, but I’m hardly a fanboy! Far from it in fact. The truth is, I’ve come a long way to…”

Nemesis’ words died in his throat as a pair of sinewy hands clutched his green leather jacket and hurled him across the breadth of the dining room – until he collided with one of the joint’s oversized, curved windows, that is.

The window broke. Nemesis didn’t. Though he did wind up on the unimaginably grimy New York City sidewalk outside. “Guess I shouldn’t have chosen a trade name that means literally means ‘adversary’…” he uttered just under his breath.

Then came the sobering realization that he was surrounded by dozens of horror-struck rubberneckers. Their collective panic should have sent them fleeing in terror, but they were compelled to gawk at him with scrutinizing fascination.

Nemesis put them out of their misery.

“I’m not what you think.” His tone was booming and cocksure but laced with genuineness. “I’m not a part of Them, the bastards who tried to drain this world of everything good and decent. But the enemy you’ve all been living in fear of, the ones that’s kept you all from living your lives for so long now, is in there… and you have no idea how far I’m willing to go stop it once and for all.”

And with that proclamation Nemesis shook the tempered glass off his haggard frame and marched back into the Empire Diner to face his own fears for what he was certain would be the final time.

Needless to say…

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Into The Dark: Sidestepping Across The Multiverse, Part One.

A man walks down the street. It’s a street in a strange world; maybe it’s the Third World, maybe it’s his first time around.

Actually, scratch that, it’s neither. I mean, yes, it’s a strange world, but it’s not the third world he’s been to nor is it his first time around. To clarify, it’s the thirteenth world, no, make that the thirteenth earth this particular voyager has visited and it’s the twenty-third dimension he’s traversed from his own.

And now I’m done with this. As a lifelong fan I can only rip off Paul Simon for a short while before my brain begins to bleed. Now on with our tale.

The days on this specific earth are strange; indeed, it’s cultural, economic and sociological development became stuck somewhere between the Forties and the early Seventies after a war between gods, demi-gods, superheroes and of course, super villains, so you’d only recognize it if you were of a certain age. But I suppose that really isn’t all that important. No, what matters is a certain diner located at the corner of Tenth Avenue and 22nd Street in the neighborhood of Chelsea in the grand metropolis humans across the Multiverse call New York.

It is in this storied establishment that two individuals are about to cross paths and set in motion events that will lead to… well, that would be telling, wouldn’t it?

“Almost finished, dear?” the waitress with the time-worn luggage under her heavily painted eyes quietly inquired of the youthful customer at the end of the dull grey counter crisscrossed with cracks. This greasy spoon, like the city, and for that matter, the world it was a part of, had seen better days. The row of fractured globes dangling from the ceiling only served to illuminate the obvious: This hash house was long past its prime.

Though it did have one redeeming quality.

“Not quite… in fact, I’ve barely started this delicious burger…” he sharpened his gaze while placing a half-consumed Empire Stack upon its plate before scanning the faded nametag that had been as battered by the ravages of time as her face, “Flo? Seriously?” he inquired back in a not-so-hushed tone.

“Yes. What’s wrong with Flo?” was her response, her hackles fully raised.

“Nothing. I guess you’re a bit behind the TV times on this particular mudball, aren’t you?”

“Not sure that that means, honey, but you’re proving my point.”

“What point is that?”

“You’re freaking my customers out… and people are squirrely enough around this burg as it is.”

The customer pivoted and took a good look around at the collection of peepers that were fixated on him.

Dozens of empty, soulless, organic ocular devices scanned him from top to bottom. The scrappiness that comes from living in a place where you have to fight every day for that last seat on the subway, that spot in line, that last slice of deep dish pizza, was gone. All that remained was… fear. 

This eating house’s clientele was well and truly freaked out by the traveler in the green leather jacket, Aviator sunglasses, a black-as-night t-shirt emblazoned with a red lightning bolt and black jeans and boots. If the traveler was affected by the spineless crowd of patrons, he refused to show it. He pivoted back to the server with the moniker straight out of a sitcom no one on this world had ever seen.

“If it makes you feel any better, I’m not a super villain, Flo,” was the only comfort he could provide, though his next sentence undid all that. “But I’m not leaving, and no one here is capable of making me do so. You see, I’m waiting for someone, and I’ve come a long way to see him. A ridiculously long way.”

“So, you’re not a killer? Like one of ’em? Because they took my sister’s boy… they slaughtered that poor child like his life meant nothing at all.”

“Oh, I’ve killed before. Dozens of times, in fact!” he morbidly retorted with gleeful abandon. “But never anyone that didn’t deserve it.”

Flo looked back at her manager cowering in the kitchen. She was about to offer her unbelievably odd and unsettling customer a slice of pie on the house if he’d reconsider when the jingle jangle of the bell above the joint’s front door rang out as it opened, and it suddenly became clear why this strangely attired young man was there in the first place.

“Should I clear the joint out?” she asked the adolescent who had returned to scarfing down his Empire Special Blend Burger.

“That all depends on him, Flo. Is he as welcoming to tourists as everyone else around here?” was his snappy comeback.

The reason our hero with the dashing sense of style had crossed dimensions answered for himself – but his response was drowned out by the commotion of the weak-kneed cluster of diners fleeing for their lives, convinced they were about to be caught in the middle of their worst collective nightmare: A superpowered donnybrook that would consume everything its path.

They were right, of course.

And now, those words we all love and dread…


Hook’s Note: A lot has happened these last few weeks that I should probably share with all of you, but honestly, I’m just not in a proper headspace to do that right now.

So please accept this piece of fiction, set in my Infinite Crossover Crisis universe. It’s taken a monumental mental effort for me to crack my writer’s block and create/share this with all of you, so please… be kind but honest.

Posted in Hotel Life | 44 Comments

It’s Been A Minute, Hasn’t It?

Sorry about the title, I’ve just always wanted to use that phrase, whether it be in real life, or on the screen, so I decided to go for it. Incidentally, I’ve always wanted to use a lot of commas in one sentence too.

So I’ve succeeded on both counts… so it’s been a banner day for me, let me tell you.

No, seriously, it has been a bit since I’ve published anything in this space and I felt it was time. The problem is this…

I don’t have anything worthwhile to share. (Not that that’s ever stopped me before.) It’s just that life has been hectic as hell lately and creatively I’m as blocked as I am physically most days. So let’s do some bullet points and then you nice people can get the hell out of here.

  • Returning to full service at the hotel has made everyone happy; my staff (feels strange to say I have staff), Management, and not that I even really care, but even the guests are happy. Sure, some of them are still stiffing us, but most of them are happy things are beginning to return to normal. It’s been one of the biggest, longest fights of my life, but we’re back and that’s all that matters.
  • Being a manager is great, but it’s a ton of work. You have to try to accommodate your staff’s (there it is again!) scheduling requests, the hotel’s occupancy forecasts, Management’s desire to “run lean” to save money in these uncertain times, and of course, the x-factor, which is always present and will always mess you up.
  • The book is deader than disco on Amazon and so I’ve given up completely on writing fiction and a large portion of my dreams. Though I still hope to someday meet Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt.

Speaking of the lovely miss Hunt…

Actual Conversation At The Bell Desk

CARL: (One of my new guys.) Just read your blog, Robert, you’ve really got a thing for that broad, don’t you?

ME: You mean Helen Hunt?

CARL: No, I mean Mother Theresa! Of course, Helen Hunt! It’s gotta be one of the biggest unrealized ambitions of your life to not have slept with that broad!

ME: Hey, did you really read the post? Helen Hunt in the 1980’s represented my ideal woman. Long before Mad About You, she was the girl next door. The drop-dead gorgeous, caring, relatable girl that you want at your bedside when you’re sick and in your bed when you’re not. The…

CARL: Well, sure! Everyone wants that broad!

ME: And that’s who I married! I wasn’t even aware of this until years later, but everyone at my wife’s work compared her to Miss Hunt. So I’ve been sleeping with Helen Hunt for years! I’ve been married for twenty-seven years… so I’ve slept with Helen Hunt at least twenty-seven times! So I’m a happy guy!

And I really am. My writing career is DOA, but my wife is the greatest gift life has ever bestowed upon me – next to my daughter, of course. I just pray my lovely bride never decides to act on the knowledge that she married one hundred classes below her station.

And that’s all I have. (Told you I was blocked.)

See you in the lobby, kids…

I had no idea what sort of pic to use for this post, except that I didn’t want to follow up some heartfelt sentiments about my young bride with pics of another woman. So here’s a poster for a film that holds a very special place in each of my family member’s hearts for different reasons…


Posted in Hotel Life | 31 Comments

This Is What I’m Saying, Paul Reiser.

I’m not sure if you’ve ever done this, but if you look up a certain creation of yours on Wikipedia, Paul, this is what you’ll find:

Mad About You is an American television sitcom starring Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt as a married couple in New York City. It initially aired on NBC from September 23, 1992, to May 24, 1999, winning numerous awards including four Golden Globe Awards and twelve Primetime Emmy Awards. On March 6, 2019, a limited series revival was picked up by Spectrum Originals for 12 episodes.

When my lovely bride and I were first married in 1995 we didn’t have a lot of money (not much has changed, truth be told), and so, like most newlywed couples, we found ways to pass the time…

No, I’m not referring to just that, all of you perverts reading this. We cuddled up on our couch in Niagara Falls, Canada, and watched television. Can you guess which program quickly became our favorite?

Paul and Jamie Buchman were newlyweds who didn’t have all the answers to the riddle that is marriage and while this scared the hell out of them at times, they never forgot that love conquers all – even a three-part season finale involving two infidelity near-misses. Needless to say, we were hooked from the pilot.

And yes, I used “hooked”. Get over it.

We cringed every time Murray failed to get that mouse. We empathized as Paul and Jamie tried to find time to engage in sexual congress. Like the rest of the world, we became emotionally invested as that weasel Doug Burkess planted one on Jamie, testing the strength of the Buchman’s marriage like never before.

To be clear, I’ve always felt Helen Hunt, the young lass from Culver City, had something I found irresistible, and this was long before you tapped her to be your Jamie, Paul. I’ve never been able to put my finger on it – and my wife would cut it off if I ever did – but Helen has always had that Girl Next Door accessibility. She’s the natural beauty that doesn’t know it, the one you feel comfortable with, even though she can drive you crazy with a simple toss of her hair.

This pic proves my point perfectly, no?

In fact, I was initially attracted to my own Jamie, coincidentally named Jackie, because she reminded me of Helen the first time I saw her.

(I waited awhile before divulging that information, naturally.)

Incidentally, Teri Hatcher is a brilliant actor, its true, Paul, but you captured lightning in a bottle with with Helen Hunt.

Getting back yo my own experience in couplehood, like Paul and Jamie, we had our ups and downs. There were battles over everything from daily minutiae to major struggles; I’m not the easiest guy to live with at times, truth be told.

But no matter what was happening, we always found time to cuddle up on that couch and watch the Buchmans struggle with the dissolution of Fran and mark’s marriage, trying to schedule romantic rendezvous (not sure what the plural is for that word), and a plethora of other challenges. Seven seasons passed, for us, and Paul and Jamie.

Then, as you no doubt remember, the show ended and took its place in television history and your bank account. (Thank God for residual checks, right?)

Unlike the Buchmans, our life together went on. We struggled with infertility and had our own series of adventures attempting to use science to conceive a child. One particularly memorable incident unfolded the first time I had to provide a “donation” for testing. The hospital’s donation room was a dimly-lit bathroom with no magazines or videos, just a photography magazine that contained no pictures whatsoever. To make matters worse, hand soap was the only lubricant available.

We really should have realized something was off when a couple came out of the room together before it was my turn…

In the end though, our little miracle, an amazing girl, was the result of science, love and luck. As you can no doubt attest, Paul, being a dad is like juggling jars filled with nitroglycerin while walking a tight rope suspended above a tank overflowing with ravenous piranha.

Oh, and the rope is on fire.

In other words, I screw up more than I succeed, but I’m always in there swinging, so that’s something, right?

Getting back to our lives, we moved in with my in-laws to save money for the IVF treatments, we had our own series of solo adventures in the working world and we faced one life-changing moment after another as a couple.

All the while, with the exception of the odd rare rerun and viewings of our DVDs of the first three seasons, we never really returned to the Buchmans’ world. But they were always present in my consciousness.

I lost one of my best friends to suicide in June of 2017. He found himself too much in this world and surrendered to the power of the Falls. (They’re as deadly as they are breathtaking, Mr. Reiser.)

There were many moments in the first few days following this tragedy that my mindscape was occupied by memories of my love and I visiting the Buchmans.

We were told my mother would pass from bone cancer over the course of a June weekend in 2018. Instead it took months, during which time she survived solely on bottles of iced tea and the will to live. (Life really is more absurd than fiction, Paul.)

Then, in January 2020, my wife contracted a mysterious respiratory ailment that lasted a month, the longest of our lives. We later became convinced she had developed what the world came to know as Covid. In that time, however, something happened that changed us as a family.

The Mad About You revival finally started airing in Canada. We had been anticipating this milestone for some time but it didn’t look we were ever going to get to experience it. And so, we began to watch the revival as a family as my wife struggled to breathe.

It was more fun than it sounds, Paul.

My twenty-something daughter is a fan of Helen’s film work like Twister and Soul Surfer. (She really needs a name for her diehard fans. “Huntnatics” or “Helenraisers”, maybe?) But Murray is the real draw for our kid.

For my wife and I though, revisiting Paul and Jamie’s world all these years later was like looking in a mirror. Once again, we’re going through the same struggles in the same humorous, madly-offbeat way. There was no Season Nine, but it didn’t matter; the world was reminded of the Buchmans’ amazing chemistry and now reruns of the original run air every day in the Great White North.

And we watch faithfully.

My wife and I have changed over the years (who doesn’t, right?) but becoming mad about Mad About You again has engulfed my Jamie and I in a wave of nostalgia that has proven to be an invaluable comfort as the world implodes around us.

My wife is the light in my darkness, Paul, of which there is a great deal. I look at her sometimes with the same gleam in my eyes I had over twenty-seven yeas ago.

Then she notices, tells me its weird and orders me to stop.

So, I want to thank you, Paul, for creating a world that has changed my world and that of so many others. Mad About You will always represent a simpler time in my life, one free of so much heartache and tragedy. Not only that, but Mad About You is my wife and I on the couch, madly in love, even today, even if we fail to remember that at times.

You can be proud of your legacy, Mr. Reiser, as can Helen, John, Leila, Anne, Richard, and so many others. Even now, you’re all bringing so much laughter and light into a world that sorely needs it.

Thank you all.

Posted in Hotel Life | Tagged | 17 Comments

Dear Ronnie…

Hey, brother,

I know it’s been awhile since we talked, but I’m sure you understand. I’ve been feeling frustrated/overwhelmed/lost lately and so I’ve decided to do what I would have done in the past: I’m venting to the best listener I know.

Putting the events of the last two years into words isn’t easy, to say the least. (I honestly can’t wrap my head around the fact this nightmare has dragged on into a third year.)

As you can imagine, things at the hotel have been… I guess “unfamiliar” is the best way to describe our new status quo. I’ve been working in the Bizarro World version of Niagara for wat feels like forever now and it’s been soul-crushing, quite frankly, my dear friend. And so, the bellmen have been coping with the pandemic the only way they know how: by utilizing madness to dispense service to travelers.

When they’re allowed to, that is. The hotel no longer offers full-service valet or bellmen service so we’ve truly been left at the mercy of our guests.

And as you know, Ronnie, our guests have no mercy.


I honestly don’t know anymore…

There are exceptions, of course.

Like the guest in 1412 who, when faced with the realization that there were no luggage carts left for guest use at check-out time, had to select one of two options:

  1. He could stand around and wait like an idiot for another guest to return a cart. (Something that rarely happens.)
  2. He could (gasp!) engage the exceptionally-entertaining assistance of an actual luggage transportation professional like myself for a modest fee.

Being an American from an unabashedly Red state, he chose a third option after walking away in anger: he stole a maid’s cart, loaded all his bags on it in the most haphazard manner imaginable and rolled it through the crowded lobby on a Saturday morning like it was the most natural thing in the world to do.

He even approached me and tipped me “for the help”, even though no help was actually given.

Sitting at the Bell Desk watching this insanity unfold, my first instinct was to turn to you and say, “Do you believe this shit, brother?”

But your place as my wingman has been occupied by others in the last few years. There are only four of us left from the crew you served with for a decade, Ronnie, and none of us are the same bellmen we used to be. Some people won’t accept change. They just refuse to sign for it.

So they cope however they can. Outright denial. Bitter rants. Turning to vices best left unmentioned. I’m genuinely shocked that some of us haven’t taken a vacation of our own… from reality. In my case, there’s been some personal growth – within reason, of course.

A wish that you held for many years has finally come into existence: yours truly has been elevated to Bell Captain.

I am now Captain Hook at last. Leader of a department that has been marginalized, crippled, and almost stamped into oblivion.


In the midst of the most horrific crusade ever devised to sever a person’s grasp on reality the bellmen have endured humiliation, infighting, financial ruin, etc., and we’re still here.

We are the cockroaches of the Niagara Falls hospitality industry, Rockin’.

Granted, we’ve been sprayed, stomped on and subjected to all manner of attempted eradication – but we’re still here. Though for how much longer is anyone’s guess.

I’m going to wrap it up here, my brother. There is so much I want to tell you, so much I want to say, but the words refuse to leave my addled brain and make their way to the screen via my elongated fingers.

Don’t worry about me, my friend. These days hope is like summer in Siberia; you’ll never find it, and you’ll certainly never feel it, so you have to go ahead and make it. It feels like the bellmen are on a journey whose conclusion is uncertain, and the only thing we have to collectively cling to is hope.

Myself, I hope I can make it across this barren landscape and emerge in the promised land. I hope to see you again someday my friend (though not for years!) and hug you for a week. (I’m secure enough in my masculinity to admit that.)

In the meantime, I hope my dreams are conduits to the Great Beyond and you’re sitting on a beach in a heavenly version of Aruba. Like Ellis “Red” Redding, I hope.


Rock on, brother.

Posted in Hotel Life | 38 Comments

Into The Grey…

You may not want to accept it, but the truth is right in front of you… it’s been there all along.

This world, overrun with billions of souls, has become nothing but a game farm – and it’s always hunting season.

You’d see it if you’d only look past your own selfish desires. You’d hear their ragged, horrific breathing if you’d only shut out all the noise they’ve been flooding you with. You’d feel the pain you’re in if you stopped injecting artificial pleasure into your senses and form.

You live only to serve the dark, disgusting needs of ancient beings so far removed from you they only see humanity as food. And not the tasty kind. No, humanity is the haggis of The Dark’s menu, to be consumed only when nothing else is left in the pantry.

My friends… my family have been fighting for you… but the day is fast approaching when you’ll have to fight for yourselves.

So get ready… get ready to push past your fear, to swallow your selfishness and to live for, to fight for something bigger than yourselves.

Get ready to claw at the darkness until it bleeds daylight.

– Nemesis

Into The Grey, the next excruciatingly cool installment of the Infinite Crossover Crisis… coming, well your guess is as good as mine, truthfully.

Incidentally, reading the above quote with some thrilling, Matrix-style soundtrack in the background heightens the experience. But it’s your choice. After all, it’s your world.

Or is it?

Posted in Hotel Life | 17 Comments