Inaction Man awoke with a start, his consciousness having just moved from one dimension to another. He scrambled out from under the bush that was his wormhole, and in his haste, inadvertently startled two star-crossed lovers, who had been sitting on a nearby bench, contemplating the beauty of the river. Inaction Man had no time to consider anything except his escape.
He ran panting into the setting sun with no idea where he was going but with the certain knowledge that he had to go somewhere. Not being caught, he knew, would require all his powers of indecision. The Dark Lords were sure to try to second guess him and predict where he would hide, so it was only by not thinking about where he was going that he could be sure they would not follow him.
He found himself, about a half-an-hour later, sitting on a bench on a wide street near a park, watching the last shards of daylight disappearing over the tops of the buildings.
On the other side of the road, a small pub was doing a brisk trade. Smokers huddled on the terrace outside, sipping beer and clutching cigarettes, and watched the world go by. Except, of course, for the part of the world directly in front of them; a part of the world that contained a dishevelled tramp in his forties, who rocked to and fro and mumbled nonsense to himself.
Inaction Man watched the people pass in front of the pub and pitied them. He saw them every day, at five in the afternoon, or others like them, moving from work to home, from one box to another, oblivious to the changing world around them.
A man opened a car door nearby and Inaction Man tried to warn him of the dangers.
"Oh lotus eater of the FOG, wrapped up in repetition. You turn to stone. Free yourself of possession!"
"Get a job!" the man spat back, and quickly entered his car, locking it centrally, and then speeding away.
Inaction Man shuddered to think that he too had once been such a man, before he was shown the truth, but he had no time to think about that now. He could not afford to think of the wasted years lost in the FOG.
Instead he had to watch each passer-by with the eyes of a hawk, ever watchful for Shape Changers or Changelings among them. His dream had shown him that he was now top of the Dark Side's 'Most Wanted' list and that they would stop at nothing to kill him.
He was also aware of more mundane matters, such as his hunger. As a superhero, he often simply forgot to eat, wrapped up as he was in the business of protecting Earth from the Dark Forces. Indeed, he had lost quite a lot of weight, but it was not noticeable, since Inaction Man always covered himself up, knowing that the more skin one revealed to the elements, the more susceptible one was to the intrusion of the FOG, and the faster one's body would be turned to stone.
However, Inaction Man felt the need to eat something if he was to make it through the dark night ahead.
The main problem was that Inaction Man was not in possession of any of what mortals referred to as money; a means of exchange without which living in modern society was terribly difficult, even for superheroes. Inaction Man had to waste a lot of valuable time on his quest for truth in trying to obtain money, and he could not understand why the Elementals who had made him a superhero had not had the foresight to also create a superhero bank account for him.
He did not need to live lavishly, but he did have needs, just like everyone else: the need to eat, for example; the need for whiskey to keep his skin water tight and prevent his insides from seeping through to his outsides; and the need to occasionally drink methanolated spirits to promote visions. But now he needed food.
He looked at the bar again and noticed that a man had just been given a cheese sandwich. However, experience had taught him that food missions such as this one can be fraught with difficulties. People, he knew, could be very reluctant to part with things, even when another's need was far greater than their own, and they could even become violent if they perceive themselves to have been the victim of theft. It was, therefore, essential to explain to the 'giver' that they were not merely victims of petty theft, but rather contributors to a greater cause; active participants in the battle of good against evil.
Inaction Man approached the fat man with the sandwich head on, crossing the road and walking up to him with his hand outstretched in a gesture of peace, which Inaction Man had also noted sometimes had the effect of encouraging people to donate cash to the cause.
The man saw and smelt Inaction Man coming and tried not to look alarmed. Inaction Man, however, who had an acute nose for fear, knew straight away that he was disturbed by his presence and tried to calm him.
"Fear not, Fat Man. I may be a superhero, but I was once a mere mortal, like you are now."
"I shall come directly to the point, obese benefactor, for I can see you are a man who appreciates brevity; a man of few words; a man deeply in tune with this age of reason.
"What are ya bleedin' on about, ya dipso?"
"I am Inaction Man; defender of the day; last bastion against the amassing forces of the Night Lords. I hereby charge you, in the name of all that's good and holy, to relinquish your sandwich to me, for I have need of it."
"Get yis yer own bloody sandwich, ya smelly bum! Now, get away ta f**k!"
"I would bid you desist from this verbal abuse post haste and release the baguette unto me, lest you should feel the wrath of Inaction Man."
"The rat o' wot?"
At this point, the baguette found itself in Inaction Man's hand, but he had not taken it. To take something in this way would have been to act, and to act was bad enough in itself, but to act in such a way would have brought disrepute to the name of Inaction Man. A superhero may persuade someone to give, but he must never steal.
Rather, the baguette had made its own way into Inaction Man's hand, obviously choosing Inaction Man over the fat man. In Inaction Man's experience, even so-called inanimate objects can in fact move, given sufficient cause. Further evidence of this was that the baguette then made its way down Inaction Man's trousers, attempting to cement the relationship between them, half of the baguette sticking out of Inaction Man's trousers, flaunting iis infidelity to the fat man.
He did not take kindly to this rejection by his sandwich and deluded himself into believing that Inaction Man had stolen it. In a rage, he clenched his fist and punched Inaction Man on the nose, knocking him backwards. Inaction Man stumbled and fell into the gutter, dazed and confused, bloodied but not broken. He realised that events were very serious and would require all of his powers of inaction.
He lay quite still in the gutter and focused not on the towering angry figure above him, but instead on the stars in the night sky above both of them. He saw a billion points of light, all dependent on him, all willing him to succeed and defeat the forces of dark matter.
He held onto this thought as the fat man kicked him over and over again: in his face; in his ribs; in his stomach. He even vented his frustration on his erstwhile sandwich, and stamped it into mush, determined that if he could not have it, no-one would.
Inaction Man began to lose consciousness, pummelled as he was by the fat man, who had previously had a successful career as a football hooligan and was an experienced man of violence: a breaker of bones, a settler of arguments, a teacher of lessons.
Inaction Man contemplated the irony: that he, a mighty superhero, had been laid so low not by a demon, but by a mere mortal; betrayed by the race he was trying so hard to protect, and all for the sake of a cheese sandwich.
Eventually the police arrived and pulled the fat man away, bundling him into a police car, much to his annoyance, but Inaction Man saw none of this, lost as he was in unconsciousness; contemplating the beauty of the heavens from within the confines of his own mind, entering that zen state of complete inaction, complete inactivity.
He was placed on a stretcher and brought to an ambulance. The stretcher bearers winced at the smell coming from Inaction Man, who knew that all forms of bathing would reduce his superpowers and had not deigned to do so for over a year.
His mottled beard and matted grey hair were now soaked in blood, which was still streaming from his nose and flowing from his mouth, carrying his shattered teeth away from their former home. Under his clothes, purple patches marked his bruised body and covered his broken bones and cracked ribs.
* * *
Time had been stolen from Inaction Man. He was not sure exactly how much time had been taken, or even who had taken it and why, but he was sure that time had been removed from his life.
He surveyed his new environment carefully. He appeared to be lying horizontally in a bed with clean white sheets. It was the first time in years he had woken up in a bed, and although it was a great deal more comfortable than waking up in the gutter or under a bush, it left him feeling disorientated and uncomfortable.
Sleeping in a bed, as every Superhero knows, means that something could be sleeping underneath you, in the space between the bed and the floor, the most dangerous space of all, beloved by ghouls and spectres. By sleeping outside, one eliminated this risk.
The bed was one of many other beds, all laid out in a row, and each one contained a sleeping human, or something that appeared to be human. A good way to test if something sleeping is actually human is to hold the nose of the creature closed, and if they open their mouth to breath, they must be human.
However, Inaction Man had got himself into a lot of trouble in the past administering this test on his fellow street creatures, and he felt it better to suspend any possible experiments until he knew more about his current location. He stayed perfectly immobile, the epitome of inaction.
After about an hour, a man in a white coat approached him, holding a clipboard and a pen. He was in his early forties, and his face wore a slightly world-weary expression, in spite or perhaps because of the forced smile. It was a face that had seen too much, and had long since stopped liking what it saw, but in spite of this, Inaction Man felt reasonably sure he was a real human and not a Shape Changer. He was a strange man, but he was a real man.
"I am Doctor Robert," the man in the white coat began. "I am going to ask you some questions, OK? Firstly, please tell me who you are. When you arrived, we couldn't find any form of identification on you."
"I am Inaction Man, defender of the universe against the Dark Lords," Inaction Man explained immediately, wanting the doctor to realise how important he was, and how he should not be delayed in returning to the streets.
"I see ... and do you have any other name?"
"I was once known as Peter, before the conversion to Superhero, but it was all a long time ago, this mortal life; a different and best-forgotten era. Peter had to die for Inaction Man to be born."
"... And did Peter have any family?"
"... Peter is of no concern, I told you."
"Then does Inaction Man have any friends or family?"
"Do Gods have friends?"
"Are you God?"
"God is dead. He died to create the Superhero. Now, if you would be so good as to return my street attire, there is a breach in space and time that needs to be plugged, and I cannot waste time conversing with mortals."
"Actually, I think you should stay with us a while longer. I'm going to have you transferred to another ward."
"Good medic, it is not I am who am sick, but the world. I am not the illness, but the cure."
The doctor tried to detain Inaction Man, but he was so determined to get up that he couldn't hold him down. He jumped out of bed and pushed the doctor to the ground and ran toward the door. The doctor called for assistance from security, who grappled Inaction Man to the floor, and gave him an injection to make him sleep.
More time was stolen from him.
* * *
He woke up in a different bed in a different room, but this one was much smaller and had bars on the windows, and he appeared to be the only occupant. The room reeked of pain and despair: its walls carried memories and he could hear them crying out, desperate to be free but imprisoned by the walls.
A woman called A. Nurse spoke to him and brought him to another doctor, called Doctor O' Brien, who asked him lots of questions but wouldn't answer any of his own questions.
After speaking with the doctor he was brought to a place called the Recreation Room, which contained about fifteen people, all being watched over by three women in white uniforms; all of whom were called A. Nurse.
Inaction Man did not like the look of them, and suspected they were Shape Changers, but his powers were being affected by the psychotropic medication, and he could not be sure of anything.
The people in the room were behaving rather strangely, and Inaction Man wondered why he had been placed among such obviously deranged company. Some of the people were speaking to themselves, some rocked back and forth repeatedly, and some stared into space and did not move at all.
One of them stared at him unnervingly. She had jet black hair and the greenest eyes he had ever seen. Her skin, in contrast, was as white as a snow cloud. Her long tapered nose and thin pursed lips made her look rather raven-like, and she sat perched on the edge of her chair, as though she would swoop down on him on any moment. She was mumbling something to herself, but Inaction Man was too far away to make out what she was saying.
After what seemed like a lifetime of staring she approached him, sat behind him and spoke to the back of his head; whispering to him and at the same time tapping his ears gently with her rolling finger tips to mark out the rhythm of what she said.
It was an unusual form of communication and one Inaction Man had never encountered before, but it was also strangely pleasant. He wondered why more people did not communicate this way because it really forced one to listen.
"Words of fear draw near you hear
Sights of fright unite in bite
Serpents low unfold all foe
Into darkness must not go"
From that moment on, Inaction Man and the woman, whom he christened 'The Illogical Woman', were inseparable. Inaction Man appreciated the fresh perspective that the Illogical Woman offered on many issues, and her rhyming verse, if difficult to understand, was melodious to him.
They were united in fear of the chemical weapons that A. Nurse was employing against them. Calling it medicine, she watched carefully and made sure that both of them swallowed their allotted venom: clozapine for Inaction Man and zyprexa for Illogical Woman, each carefully concocted by the Dark Chemists to rob each of the Superheroes of their inimitable powers.
They only had to wait about twelve hours before they began to notice the noxious effects of these pernicious poisons. Inaction Man's insights quickly became less acute, and the world grew rapidly greyer, as if someone was turning down the colour setting. The hum of captured snippets of cosmic conversations began to grow silent. In its place came a deadening silence, a freezing silence. He was, he realised, falling victim to the FOG. He could feel himself being rapidly turned to stone. He began to be filled with doubt and confusion, and even started to question his Superhero status.
The Illogical Woman also felt the horrors of the FOG. Before her eyes, she looked on in horror as the quality of her verse deteriorated, and at one point, her darkest hour, she even began to question the necessity of speaking in rhyme and the indispensability of being illogical at all times.
The two Superheroes held an emergency conference, huddled behind the sofa, shaking and twitching while the three A. Nurse witches looked on, glorying in their apparent victories over the Superheroes.
Inaction Man spoke first, trying to hide the fear in his voice and disguise the growing sense of self-doubt.
"Do you note, oh most illogical of women, that your super powers decline; that the visions and insights with which we have been blessed are blurring and fading fast? Speak of this, my Maiden of Illogicality."
"Dopamine receptors block
Antipsychotics mock and mock
Clozapine the darkness feeds
Zyprexa my rhymes it steals"
"Then we agree, my fairest font of wisdom; we agree that the dangers are grave, and we must beat a hasty retreat from this dungeon before we are transmogrified by these vile poisons into mere mortals; incapable of saving the world and fighting the Dark Lords. But fear not, gentle nymph, for I, Inaction Man, Tsar of all inaction, have decided on a plan of action. Tomorrow, we shall climb the giant oak tree and then vault over the wall to freedom! This is my plan. This is what we must do. This is how we must act!"
Illogical Woman spun back in horror, pointing her long tapering index finger at him.
"Inaction Man his powers deny
A force of action he doth decide
A plan he makes
He plots and schemes
Forgetting of the need to dream
Inaction Man hath lost his way
Inaction Man doth die today"
A horrified Inaction Man saw the truth in Illogical Woman's words. He was a superhero for inaction and was bound to fight action in all its forms. But here he was, planning action, committing an act of evil, spreading corruption. However, he knew there was no other solution, and tried to explain it to Illogical Woman. At first she was suspicious of him, but she checked his ear wax consistency with her tongue and tasted that he was telling the truth.
She sat behind him, wrapped herself around him to help them move more quickly, and put her hands over his eyes to help him see more clearly. She rocked him with her rhyme of unreason:
"Fire with fire must we fight
Or else be lost eternal night
Corrupted must we not become
Logical creatures of action stung
Meet we at the goblin tree
Climb the wall and then be free
... So, after lunch, right?"
Illogical Woman gasped at the inadvertent lack of rhyme in the last line and began to gently sob, feeling her powers desert her.
They sat there behind the sofa until lunch, the world's two greatest Superheroes, rocking back and forth together, trying to conserve and share their powers, to wrap each other in a Superhero shield, protecting each other against the end of vision, raging against the dying of the light.
* * *
Escaping proved to be remarkably easy. The Superheroes simply purged themselves of medication through copious vomiting and when no-one was looking during exercise time, they climbed up a large tree and crawled along its branches onto the tall wall surrounding the institution. Hanging from this, they fell to freedom.
As evening turned to night it began to rain and suddenly turned much colder. Both Superheroes were without coats because Illogical Woman feared putting them on might have aroused suspicion in the psychiatric home. Inaction Man pointed out that the other patients often wore coats when they went into the garden, but Illogical Woman was convinced that only wearing a t-shirt on a cold autumnal day was inherently illogical and therefore must be the right thing to do.
Inaction Man, who had been homeless for years and knew what cold could do, wanted to disagree, but his powers of inaction were returning to him and he knew that he should not make decisions.
Through the rain and the biting cold, Inaction Man and Illogical Woman wandered the cold night streets of Dublin, shivering and hungry. Their t-shirts and everything else they wore was wringing wet because Illogical Woman had insisted they should not shelter from the rain but instead challenge it to do its worst. She also challenged several cars to drive on the right side of the road, because she felt it was the right thing to do, semantically speaking.
Inaction Man came to see very quickly that he and Illogical Woman were two very different kinds of superheroes. While they may have been united in purpose, they were divided in methods. While he was a master of disguise, the king of invisibility, the Illogical Woman flaunted her superpowers, recklessly and needlessly incurring the wrath of mortals. More worryingly, she was no doubt alerting every agent of the Dark Forces in all of Dublin to their presence.
Inaction Man knew that this night would be the last night; that they would either defeat the Forces of Evil or be defeated by them. With Illogical Woman there could be no half measures; no more lost years shrinking in the shadows, trying to discern his mission in the fall of a leaf carried on the Death Wind. The night of reckoning was at hand, and he was glad of it.
Through the misty rain and the cold wind they wandered on, eventually finding themselves on the main thoroughfare of the city, O'Connell Street.
Sodden litter blew and shrouded fallen drunks and junkies, but Inaction Man and Illogical Woman knew that the real danger came from the inorganic life forms.
They walked slowly, wary and watchful of the gargoyles hidden inside the stone. These stone monsters were slowly becoming animate, rock turning to flesh, while in the city below, humans were turning into stone.
The Superheroes went to the middle of O'Connell Street, and stopped by the giant silver Spire monument, the Needle, a beacon to the Dark Lords. They stared aghast at this shining symbol of darkness in the heart of the city, this nexus of worlds from which the Dark Lords planned to leave their black hole prisons and consume our world and turn it into their world; the first of the dark matter worlds: Dearth.
The rips in space were greatest above the Needle and from it spewed forth demon after demon. Inaction Man saw them circling above the city briefly before flying off to their allotted rooftop to await the orders to manifest themselves; to attack this world of men and machine and lay waste to everything. All that was required was the order. Everything was ready and only the Dark Lord's fear of Inaction Man and Illogical Woman kept them at bay.
Inaction Man looked deep into Illogical woman's eyes and asked for a plan. They were outnumbered thousands to one. An army of filth was all around them, and soon they would attack. In the distance, they could see Shape Changers in the guise of policemen staring at them; two incongruous shivering figures in wet t-shirts on a cold November evening; both of them staring with wild eyes at the monument and the sky above it.
"The hour is at hand, Illogical Woman. Search deep within yourself and tell me how these Dark Lords can be defeated. For logic tells us we are doomed and all is lost."
"Bikes ride horizontally
No push will lift them vertically
Cast a rock in form of bike
And like David shall you strike
This Spire of Dark Lord semen
A home no more for demons"
Illogical Woman pointed at a passing cyclist with a knowing stare, but Inaction Man still did not quite understood what he had to do. So, Illogical Woman stood in front of a cyclist, holding out the palm of her hand in a signal to stop.
The cyclist, who had been riding quite quickly, braked and skidded on the wet road and came off the bike. He looked up and saw a deranged woman in her thirties, dressed head to toe in black, soaked to the skin, and pointing at him menacingly. She ran to the back of his head and spoke feverishly, tapping his ears at the same time, as was her wont when she felt the need to reassure people:
"Unhand the bike, take mortal flight
And pray the world won't end tonight
We fight for thee and all thy kin
We save the world from endless sin
The man did not have to be told twice and quickly moved away, badly shaken by the fall from the bike and his encounter with what he foolishly took to be two deranged drug addicts.
Inaction Man knew there was no time to lose and followed Illogical Woman's finger, quickly picking up the bike and sitting on it. Illogical woman deftly jumped on top of the pannier at the front of the bike. This blocked his view, but she used her index finger to direct him, and to direct the attack on the citadel of dark power. As a poet, she roused them all with her battle cry.
The Shape Changers, disguised as policemen, saw the danger and took up positions to defend the Spire. One of them stuck his nightstick in The Symbol's spokes, breaking his front wheel and knocking Inaction Man and Illogical Woman off the bike.
Illogical Woman took an instant dislike to the Chief Shape Changer's ears and tried to bite the left one off. His screams and the blood flowing from his ear attracted the other Shape Changers' attention, and Inaction Man took advantage of the fracas to deliver his mortal blow. He ran to the bicycle, lifted it above his head, and with a Herculean effort, smashed it into the Spire.
With this one act of heroism, the perfect symmetry the Dark Lords needed to power their transfer to this dimension was irrevocably broken, and the spectres were sucked back into the vortex and whipped back in to the rapidly closing holes in space and time.
Inaction Man, however, saw none of this. The Shape Changers, enraged by the defeat of their masters, beat him mercilessly with their sticks of power and he was carried away and brought in a van to a police station and then to a high security psychiatric institution.
* * *
One year later, Inaction Man lay trapped inside the body of a man called Peter and longed to escape, but the poison of Lithium kept him hidden. He practically never even reached consciousness now, but lay dejected and depressed in the depths of Peter's unconscious mind; unloved and unwanted, a shameful memory.
He tried to make Peter find out what had happened to the Illogical Woman, but Peter paid him no heed. The once-great Inaction Man grew sorrowful in this environment, and began to fall in on himself, like a collapsing star.
The man called Peter tried not to even think about Inaction Man and those 'lost years' in his life. When he did so, he remembered the discomfort of sleeping rough, the cold of the winter, the beatings, and the contempt he was held in by all who met him, and he was grateful that was a thing of the past.
He returned to his job in the office and returned to the life he had rejected, but the real world is a difficult one to get used to. It seemed such a grey place; a world that moved but had no reason to move.
He was no longer persecuted by demons and no longer believed himself to be charged with defending the universe, but in spite of the horrors of his former life, he could work up little enthusiasm for his present one.
When one has fought demons, it was difficult to feign interest in replying to e-mails that need not have been written, concerning issues that did not matter, from people he did not know nor want to know.
He grew despondent, his work suffered and he was eventually dismissed. It made little impression on him. He was living, but somehow dead inside. Inaction Man would have said that he had been turned to stone, but Peter never listened to Inaction Man anymore.
On impulse, he returned one day to the Spire and stood in front of it. He allowed his eyes to follow it upwards, a lightning bolt of silver from the earth to the sky. For the briefest of moments, he thought he saw something.
He fumbled in his pocket and took out a purple pill. He swallowed. He looked again but saw nothing. He felt nothing.
He hobbled away from the Spire, without reason, purpose or destination.
And we leave him here, this tattered man, walking down the street. He once fought spectres and defeated the Dark Lords, but now finds himself powerless against that greatest of all the Dark Lords: Melancholy.