”The Ranchero of Miracle Mesa” - Glitter And Gold: Part One
“The Cowboy must never shoot first, hit a smaller man, or take unfair advantage.”
New York City, New York --- The Raft Prison Island
”When all the cows are sleeping, and the sun had gone to bed, up jumped the scarecrow and this is what he said.”
Ebenezer Laughton rocked himself on his cot. He sang the rhyme he always did before bed, like he had for the last thirty years. Mother had taught him that one. His cellmate snoozed beneath him. He’d have gotten used to it by now.”I’m a dingly dangly scarecrow, with a flippy floppy hat.”
Ebenezer though he didn’t really
deserve to be here. The glass and cinder walls. Handcuffs so tight they cut off your circulation. He’d killed a few people, sure. That didn’t make him like the rest here. The man from across time. The man who shot fire from his gun. The babbling man in yellow who drove you insane in a look. He was just Ebenezer. Not his fault he was so good at getting out of the other places. Not his fault that it felt so good to do it all over and wind up trying to get out again.”I can shake my hands like this, and shake my feet like that.”
Ebenezer curled up in his bed, pulling the paper thin sheet to his chin. They’d had a new guest here a while, a silver man. Apparently he was tough. Ebenezer didn’t think anyone here was tough. They all acted like it. Puffed out their chests and showed off their fancy powers. Said “don’t mess with me”. “I’ll fuck you up.”. It was like anywhere else. People so afraid of what would happen next that they didn’t show it. That they were just scared little kids who wanted to hide in their cells and cry the days away. The fear that escape would never come. It was delicious. They were little caricatures of how they were on the outside. But in here, it was all real. Their fear was raw, their emotions exposed. Amazing to watch. To twist, to poke, to prod, to stab into… ”When the dogs were in the kennels, and the doves were in the loft, up jumped the scarecrow and whispered very soft.”
There was a rumble in the lower level. It was subtle, from where he was. A shift in that prison air. The scent of smoke just kissing his nostrils, and the sound of distant screams. How fortuitous. Earlier than he’d expected. He swung his legs off the side of his bunk.”I’m a dingly dangly scarecrow.”
He dropped to the floor. The concrete felt cold on his toes. His cellmate grumbled in his sleep and turned away, to face the wall. He heard the steps of their floor guard stop. He was listening for the chaos.”I can shake my hands like this...”
He moved his hands down to his cellmate, closing around his neck and squeezing. His cellmate shuddered and hacked out a cough. Ebenezer squeezed harder. His cellmate’s hands went spastic. He sputtered. Ebenezer squeezed.”And shake my feet like that.”
His cellmate’s protests had grown less fervent by the time the alarm started to whine. It was a low yowl throughout the prison. Heavy footsteps from the guard. He could barely hear them over the alarm.”When all the hens were roosting, and the moon behind the cloud...”
Ebenezer removed his hands. He felt his cellmates sweat between his fingers. Warm. Sticky. He dragged his feet across the ground to the stark glass wall that seperated his cell from the rest. He pounded on the glass. A passing guard, running towards the sound of destruction, paused for a moment to consider him.”UP JUMPED THE SCARECROW AND SHOUTED VERY LOUD!”
Ebenezer screamed. The guard couldn’t see him. All the man could see was Ebenezer’s panicked motions to his cellmate’s unmoving form. The guard furrowed his brow. Sweat was already pouring down his head. His eyes flicked to the readout aside the cell, assessing what he might be unleashing. He swallowed. He keyed the release.
The guard’s flesh came off in meaty chunks as Ebenezer ripped and tore. The guard couldn’t draw his gun fast enough to matter, at this range. No, now it was just Ebenezer and his rhyme left. Drenching his hands in the red. Ebenezer could almost smell the guard’s fear on the air; that lovely mix of adrenaline and cortisol.”I’m a dingly dangly scarecrow, with a flippy floppy hat...”
New York City, New York --- The Offices of Roman J. Solomano
The city was on fire, but Roman J. Solomano didn’t seem to mind. He watched from his skyscraper like Nero as the Spider-Woman fought the giantess. She looked like she was trying to lead gianto-bitch away from the buildings, towards Central Park for their showdown. All the merrier for Solomano; meant he didn’t have to roll out rocket wielding goons to protect his goddamn property.
His last finger had gone without much fuss. There was little fanfare. Just the pain. Crippling pain. The wound still throbbed, even though it had been cauterized days ago. Whoever this sonofabitch was, he was harder to kill than your average dumbshit cowboy. He’d wasted damn near a hundred warm bodies only for the bastard to come out on top. A hundred people
. You don’t just get
manpower like that in this city. And now that he’d exhausted his “pretend-to-give-idiots-superpowers” card, he couldn’t pull a stunt like that again.
At least the people he’d really
given superpowers were making up for the loss. Profits had jumped up more than 300 percent, thanks in no small part to the Spider and Punisher wiping out swathes of the competition. And now, word was that the Punisher was out of town, on some insane tear across the heartland. No skin off Solomano’s back. And on top, it looked like the giant was set to squash the Spider, unless one of her freaky super-pals showed up, like that fire guy from a few days ago.
It disgusted him to look at his hand. What was once his symbol of power, the mark of his lineage, was now an abomination. The three remaining fingers looked like they belonged to an alien. He’d taken to wrapping in in a bandage and tucking it deep in his coat. Even that idiot Big Caesar looked at him different for it. They all tried to hide it, but he saw their looks. The glances and the giggles… At least those stopped after he capped the last few to do it. Now there was solemnity and quiet. Peace and fucking quiet.
One of the remaining fingers on his hand itched. It started the day after his ring finger went. He still hadn’t selected a new hunter. A new finger
as his sniggering goons had taken to calling the poor souls. If he focused he could feel it building. Little bits of sinew being snapped around his finger, preparing for a premature separation. But he had nothing to throw at the damn cowboy, anymore. His top hitman and a veritable legion of thugs had failed. What was left?
Either way, the police and New York’s local yokel ‘hero’ would be wrapped up with that for at least a few days. The Silver Surfer had initiated the largest security breach in Raft History -- probably world history, if Solomano was honest. Super Criminals would run rampant in the streets, making matters all the worse for the Spider, and on top, there were now countless powered ex-cons on the hunt for… Gainful employment. Maybe there was something to throw at ‘Vigilante’ after all.
It was sad to see Frank go. Greg supposed it’d be sad with anyone, but there was a certain kinda companionship with the man. Bonds forged in fire, n’ that. Castle was a man of solid stuff, soldier n’ Greg was, he figured, on account of him not going plum mad once he saw The Spirit. That particular… Ailment was more n’ a little hard to explain. But Frank took it easy and honest, as he seemed to most things.
By his recollection, the ‘Solomano’ character the Hunter’d told them about was some big wig crime guy in New York. But supposedly, he wasn’t near enough powerful to feild anything like this attack, ‘specially on a target so far away. Far as the criminal world went, Solomano wasn’t even knee high to a grasshopper. Frank said that when the time came, he’d be there, but… Well, there was still Warpath to tend to. Greg couldn’t rightly leave these people to stew in their petrified forms to chase down some high falutin bandito.
N’ then, he still had to pick up the pieces here. They’d done
things here. Were
those men? They seemed to be, on some level. But would they have all been fine if he’d let the Spirit whammy them all? Or were they dying already? The question in his head felt like the one he’d grappled with in his early days in Hell, fighting through legions of once-human spirits. “Am I murderer?”
He had his sins piled high enough. Dealing with the Devil was up there far as most pastors were concerned. But to kill innocent boys tricked by a man in a suit? Maybe Mephisto really was in him, after all. But much as he hated to admit it, that couldn’t much matter right now. No matter who or what he was, Warpath needed him. They didn’t have nobody else.
All that was left to do at this point was to sit back in his chair, rifle in hand, and tick the days away until whatever hand the universe threw him next…
New York City, New York --- The Raft Prison Island
William Mowse’s cell was a small thing, devoid of any color or any forms of entertainment whatsoever. Not a pencil or scrap of paper, all he had was his bed frame and his thoughts. He’d tried scraping his ideas into the floor with the bedposts first. Then they superglued tennis balls to the bottoms. He felt like a geriatric waiting for age to claim him while he drove himself insane.
It was always the same chain of thoughts. Escape methods, plans, possible allies. Realization that it was impossible. Dreams of gadgets, and the knowledge that they were impossible, too. Tears. Then starting it all again.
It was a wonder he’d gotten here in the first place. The Raft
! It was New York’s very own Guantanamo Bay. And the rest of the faculty had always thought that Mr. Mowse would never amount to anything, a deadbeat teacher on his third position in as many years. The former titan, the man that stood astride Norman Osborn, Lex Luthor, Tony Stark! A genius! By all accounts! It was a shame that people’s perspectives were so limited. His technology was the future, but paper after paper he was refuted, and farther and farther he fell down the totem pole. People refused to believe in his findings. Objects so ordinary and so blase to typical tests, that review boards across the country refused
to believe their properties.
They were simple things. A rag doll. A pipe. A pocket watch. A silver dollar, and a key. Yet the power they contained was extraordinary! All he needed was a special device, or maybe one of these new metahumans to harness their power. But no. That door was closed to him. If only he’d waited. But trying to convince people of “magik” before the advent of metahumans? Foolish. All that was left to do was to show
them. Try to collect the artifacts. And that was what landed him here. How reluctant SHIELD was to let a mortal man tamper in the world of magic.
So here he was. A meek highschool teacher among murderers, malcontents, and silver gods from other worlds. There might’ve been a certain irony to that, some statement about overly harsh Government oversight and a ruthless prison system designed to attack the disadvantaged. But Mowse had been through those thoughts. Over, and over, and over again. He needed something new, some information to mull over, anything to keep back the tide of insanity, wearing away at the exercises he tried to push his mind through.
Before his senses registered the blare of the prison alarms, he felt a cool presence in his mind. It was at the same time ice cold and warmly comforting. It wrapped all around him and enveloped him… It was like the cosmos itself had compressed and seen fit to flow through his veins. It promised him power. The power to show them that they were wrong
. To take it back from Osborn, from Luthor... To forge the fiery new reputation. The Black Star would no longer be a crime lord… He’d be a God. All in exchange for challenging one little Vigilante...