Cough cough HAGCK
Spray of spit and foam splattering in the sink, Bruce caught his breath, rinsing his mouth out before cleaning off his toothbrush. Wetting down his hands, he wiped at the freshly trimmed stubble remaining on his face. Looking around, he pulled out a razor and a can of shaving cream, pressing down on the nozzle only for it to sputter and die. Shaking his head, he went without. Putting on a pair of light purple shorts, flip flops, a plain button up blue shirt, and a wide panama hat over his mess of brown hair, a pair of hazel eyes lidded, he stepped out of the bathroom into the bedroom. If you could call it a room: it was less a room and more of a storage space for a small, rickety bed and worn down dresser that took up 60% of the floor space, the rest of it walkable in two steps. Those two steps took him to the kitchen and entryway, making up the rest of the house, the floor dingy and worn but not dirty. Most of the light came from the windows, the room becoming brighter as Bruce pulled open the door, grabbing his bike (kept stored inside for safety), and locking up before heading out.
Even in the early morning, the humid sea air and blazing sun of Belize was rough, but nothing Bruce was uncomfortable with. His skin was quite tanned: the pasty lab nerd practically a different person. His routine of biking around this district of the city with its many long paths, along with occasional labor to make ends meet, had given him a little meat on his skinny bones. Though his face was relatively clean now, in the slightly cooler months he liked to sport a beard. Stepping out into the sun, he descended a short stairwell to the ground level, looking out to the rows of small, dingy abodes, none of them older than a few years due to one hurricane or another.
Destroyed and rebuilt. That’s where Bruce was, getting down to it. He was ‘Benny’ now, a down on his luck American currently in Belize City, making it by through helping people out with odd jobs thanks to various skills and expertise, and through various handouts and favors he received from the grateful locals who supported the twice a week English classes he did for free (though he just as often taught so much else). Benny never asked for much more than a chance, and now honestly, he could say he didn’t mind things where they are. He could look up at the sky, breathe deeply, and feel as though things were alright.
It had been years since the Hulk first took to the streets of Navapo on a warpath to El Diablo Air Force Base, inviting the ire of SHIELD. And it was less than a year after that Hulk was seen for the last time, in New York. It was still a blur to Bruce, but it was the past now. Betty was better off with Bruce gone. Everyone was. Because as long as Bruce was gone, there was no more Hulk.
Setting down his bike, he pedaled off into yet another day in this run down stretch of paradise. While he could certainly envision better, nowadays he was just grateful it wasn’t so much worse.
Body reminiscent of used rags, steeped in dried sweat and a faint stink from cleaning sinks, as he walked by the old docks, the wreck of so many ships in this dated port leaving it unused after a hurricane a few decades ago rendered it unwanted, while modernization occurred elsewhere, he rolled his bike along, appreciating the quiet. After his day of work the sea breeze was pleasant. The lack of ships meant that the sea scent was free of any muck or pollution: the wrecked ships and debris actually made for good sea creature habitats which allowed cleaners like mussels to live. Plus, few people were around, so it gave him a bit of quiet town. Bruce appreciated the connections he’d made, but he knew it was better to keep his distance at the end of the day.
Then, the pleasant cool went chill, as he heard a voice. A light sobbing for help. Dropping his bike, he carefully moved, trying to follow the voice. “Hello? Where are you!?”
There wasn’t much on the dockside, and he had no lights with which to aid in his search, only the distant stars and glint of the moon. The voice came on louder though as his call was heard, a pained wail sounding out. Getting hasty, Bruce sped up, walking quickly until he stepped on something. Though it was largely firm, the surface had a give to it. Bruce immediately recognized its consistency as flesh. Heart nearly stopping he pulled back immediately, seeing the faint shape of an arm in the low light. “Oh god I’m sorry,”
he said as he reached out, not questioning why the voice seemed to be coming from lower.
Pulling at the arm, there was no resistance. It was severed, and small, its owner no older than ten. Strangled gasp getting blocked in his throat, he dropped it, recoiling. All sound seemed to vanish as his head swam, then it came back, the panicked crying of the child still out of sight, while a dog whimpered nearby. It didn’t get any closer, the skinny mutt ragged and lost, possibly having been attracted by the scent of blood. Bruce gathered himself, looking over the edge of the dock. Resting on a piece of flotsam that was half submerged, the wounded child lay still, his voice still crying out. Body shaking, Bruce scrambled over the edge, letting himself drop into the water nearby, flip flops drifting off his feet. Testing the stability of the rotted wood, he leaned on it, scooping the child up in his arm before standing. His weight sank the wood underwater, but he still had his footing. Grabbing the lip of the dockside, he found a strength he hadn’t felt in a long time, hoisting them both up and over.
Laying the boy flat, Bruce asked, “Who did this? What happened?”
The boy spoke. “Cartel.” He was still quite out of it. Bruce’s trembling body wasn’t helping any. He hadn’t been one of Bruce’s unofficial students as far as he could tell, but that didn’t matter right now. In him, he couldn’t help but to associate those faces he’d come to know: Luca, Isabella, Micheal, Manuel. Looking up, he saw the largest building in the area, a dockside warehouse, the elephant in the room. This section of the city was often overlooked by the city at large, so protecting it from anything worse was the cartel. Whatever drug trade they did here didn’t matter as long as the people just trying to get by weren’t hurt. Some even found employment there, sent off to other regions with the money they earned coming right back home. Bruce knew of it, but never had he seen or heard of anything like this. One hand clutching his wrist, he held on with a force that would have splinted stone. His teeth gritted, the soft bones threatening to crack in his mouth. He had to rely on that pain to keep him from splitting apart.It’s no good, he wouldn’t want your help anyway.
Cry, scream, it’s all you’re good for.
Pretend you didn’t see anything.
What good have you ever been to anyone?
You never should have existed.
It would be better for us if we were gone. Better for everyone.
Leave him and move on, it’s for the best.
We can’t stay here if we cause trouble.
Bruce’s face was burning with tears. The dog got a little closer, intent on the arm. He couldn’t begin to imagine what the cartel had been doing to this place in silent, nor could he imagine what might happen if the Hulk brought them down. So many possibilities filled his brain, each of them deeply negative. But at the very least he could take him to a doctor. Starting to regain himself, Bruce looped one arm under his legs and another under his upper torso, trying to lift him.
“Friends...where are my friends..?”
Bruce’s blood ran cold. He shut his eyes, the warehouse in the distance vanishing from his sight. But despite his eyes being closed, he could see so much. He started to piece together what happened: a bunch of kids going out, or going home, surrounded by adults who had god knew what in mind. One of them tried to defend his friends, maybe at first, maybe after they started to make a move. So he was made an example of: maimed and tossed aside, disposed of. Bruce released his grip. He wasn’t holding onto anything anymore. Bruce’s eyes opened again, everything enveloped in green. He felt a deep anger bubbling inside of him. A strong desire to hurt, to cause harm. It wasn’t his. I’LL SMASH THEMYou’re just a monster.
Bruce snapped up the severed arm, then shifted to turn at the dog, still inching closer. Out came a deep bellow, the blood curdling roar sending the dog running before Bruce turned off. His bare feet streaked across the pavement in the other direction. Wet footprints quickly became heavy indentations, then outright potholes, green soles crushing the road like it was snow.I LIKE being a monster.
The Hulk leapt into the sky, clearing the slums and reaching busier parts of town, where lights and cars still filled the streets. As the Hulk landed, screams followed the sounds of footfalls smashing down. And what does that make YOU?Me? I’m with you.
The anger wasn’t his, or rather, it wasn’t just
his, nor was it just the Hulk’s. Not one way, not the other. Not this time.
With a wake of fear behind him, traffic stopped and jaws agape, the Hulk smashed down in front of a nearby by hospital. The quiet waiting room became filled with terror as the Hulk came through, bent down to fit, snapping and shattering the automated glass doors that were too slow for him. Unfurling his arms, as he stopped, the noise quieted down. Gently, the green mammoth placed the boy down, the severed arm flopping next to him. There were several cries of shock, calls for help. An air of tension still remained, a collective intake of breath matched with the Hulk standing, turning to go through the doors he’d busted. Stepping out on the streets, onlookers gawked, some took footage, others called for enforcement. Hulk didn’t care, they were small, puny, and couldn’t block his path if they wanted to. Bruce didn’t care, they were quiet, complacent, more inclined to keep out of danger then make any sudden moves.This world has plenty of monsters. We’ll fit right in. And if there’s no room for us, then we’ll just smash other monsters until we find room.”
The Hulk seemed to smile, rolling his neck on his shoulders to the sound of bone cracking that almost sounded like gunshots. It had been a long time since he stretched his legs after all. Sounds like I’m finally speaking your language.
Bruce had never felt so lucid, felt so alive. That he was still here at all was astonishing to him. He’d been of the mind that Jekyll and Hyde could never meet, so the story went. Maybe it wouldn’t turn out for the best, but right now, Bruce didn’t have the heart to care.“GRAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!”
The Hulk’s roar echoed across Belize. Those nearby scrambled for cover, shrieking as the Hulk burst into a run, then a leap, clearing the area as the distance lights of police vehicles had only just been sent into motion. The first in a long wave, ripples of the reemergence of the Hulk that would once again shake the world. With every jump, the warehouse came closer and closer. There, he would smash. Smash and smash and smash.
Until there was nothing left to rebuild.