Read part 1 of “Kill Barrow” here to catch up.
I confined myself to my home yet again.
I tried dialing up the old number of the caseworker that had been assigned to me, only to find that the line was dead when I tried to pick up the phone. No buzz tone, nothing. After much hair pulling and after nearly ripping up most of the house, I discovered one thing: that the line had been cut. Outside. Probably by some pesky neighbourhood kids, but you never could be sure. I guess I could have done it when I’d blacked out. Who the hell knows?
I never wound up getting the problem fixed in those final days, incidentally. I thought that as long as the government kept mysteriously cutting me a cheque, I would be happy. Granted, thinking about that made me worry. It seemed pretty logical to me that it would have been the next thing that could go wrong: the withholding of my paycheque by one of the mechanisms of bureaucracy.
Of course, life was busy making other plans for yours truly.
Some guy from the Comics Journal came around not long after my beating from the Authority wanting to do an exclusive interview. He claimed that he found out about me after I’d been mysteriously spotted in the neighbourhood — no mention being made of anyone “mysteriously” spotting me in the area for the past 25 years. Obviously, the Feds had done good work, real good work, in keeping my whereabouts unknown. Yep. First Mr. Assertive moved into my neck of the woods, and the next thing you know, the whole street was crawling with cub reporters.
In any event, the kid dithered on about how it would be a privilege to interview Kill Barrow, Wheelbarrow of Doom, and he said it with that wide-eyed manga look that fanboys all get. I know that look. It’s the look I get whenever I catch a glimpse of a store clerk changing the bottom half of a female mannequin inside a woman’s clothing store.
“I have absolutely no fucking goddamn clue what you’re talking about, kid,” I said.
I then threw the door shut in his face.
I wondered as I watched the kid slink back dejectedly into the street that, maybe if I had been a better man, a nicer guy, I could have directed him across the way. Now there was an interview subject worthy of a 2,000-word feature: a former hero living all alone, with nary a woman around him, in the suburbs — not some posh downtown apartment like Superman or something. Nope. And if Mr. Assertive wanted that kind of fame and accolade, then he damn well deserved it. Me, on the other hand, I never deserved to be that important.
In any event, I guess it wouldn’t matter much. The kid probably went back, interviewed a few writers and illustrators, then filed some sort of revisionist piece about how evil people were cool again. How they could be anywhere, really. Living next door to you, sitting beside you on an airplane. How to spot them, reveal the peace and goddamn quiet that your everyday garden-variety villain so craves.
As I took another drink of whiskey from the same unwashed glass, I also wondered to myself how it was that kids these days knew way too much about obscure bullshit.
Way too much obscure bullshit.
There is way too much goddamn pop culture in this world. That’s what I think.
Not long after this intrusion on my peace of mind, I started to get acquainted and comfortable with my basement for the first time in a long time. Call it a retreat from the trials and intrusions of the world, if you’d like, but, for me, it was an opportunity to start to pick the tools that I’d use to finish the job that I needed to start: offing Mr. Assertive. Basements, I came to learn during this brief period, were an exquisite lair for evil. One could even argue the same for garages, too, I suppose. They’re dark, dank places where every young villain — from high school shooters to shoe bombers — cut their teeth, got their start concocting all sorts of weaponry out of pipes and various chemicals that could explode when heated.
First of all, I had to truly get back in touch with my old, nefariously evil self. This much I knew to be true. I had to figure out a way to turn myself into a killer wheelbarrow and become an instrument of complete and utter evil. I had to become the monster I once was. And to figure that out, I knew I had to do a little bit of research, look through the old family photo albums as it were.
By that I mean the first — and only — three issues of Amazing Workplace Stories.
It took me awhile to find them, as they’d been burrowed away at the bottom of a cardboard box, one that had been strangely stuffed with all sorts of old tax return records going back to 1992. I discovered it, finally, by looking within a cubbyhole underneath the steps leading into the basement. I was a bit dismayed to learn that the old comics had been covered in dust, significantly yellowed, and had been dotted with rat droppings, as well. Putting them in that comic-book plastic bag might have been a great idea for their own self-preservation, since these were, of course, the only real “baby pictures” of me that I had.
It was a pretty painful experience, going through those old relics.
Flip. There I was, getting all bent out of shape. Flip, flip. That’s me killing all those people so non-proactively. Flip, flip, flip, flip. Mr. Assertive had me by the wheelbarrow handles, spinning me around, about me send me flying off to God knows where. Flip, flip, flip, flip, flip. Oh, there was that stupid advertisement for a government safety brochure that nobody even remembers. God, I looked so poorly drawn. I looked like I was hung over.
Hmmm. Maybe some things never changed?
As I wandered through my past life, remembering battles lost and lost as I went through the pages, I wondered whatever happened to my creators. You know, the artists and writers who actually sat down and had the time to put these three tattered, forgotten issues together. All that I know about them for a certainty is that, unlike me, they’ve at least physically aged. They don’t stand still in a kind of suspended animation like I do. They don’t wander the earth as though they’ve been Botoxed with carbonite, either. In fact, I don’t think any of them went on to doing any further comics ever again.
I was rudely interrupted by another knock on the front door.
“Who the hell is it?” I yelled.
Another knock answered.
I sighed, cursing myself if not my predicament, as I abandoned my comics and worked my way back up the stairs. When I got to the top of the stairs, I was able to spy from my little fish-eyed lens behind the door a man. A man with thick, black horn-rimmed glasses. A man smoking what appeared to be a corn-cob pipe. A man in a really awful, loud tweed business jacket.
My rival? I wondered. Well, show me my rival.
I turned the doorknob to the right, swung the gate into my lair open and pounced on the man with right fist extended. My goal? Take down my bully, my own personal villain that I knew as … .
The guy I lunged at turned out to be my car insurance agent. I’m not lying about any of this. The bastard, despite our troubles in the parking lot, was obviously trying to rook me into buying some kind of new policy. All I got for my trouble was a pulled muscle in my right leg, not to mention needless worry about the dude — who fled the scene frightened out of his wits without saying a word — snitching to the cops on me.
Damn cops, they’re always sticking their nose where it doesn’t belong. I actually fell asleep one night from a pub-crawl in the early ’90s and wound up waking up in someone else’s bushes with a cop and a paramedic standing over me. Insert any jokes about that being a sobering experience, if you will. God knows it’s not like an editor hasn’t tried to do that already. (Ed.’s note: Please refer to AWS, Vol. 1, Issue 2.)
At some point, I retreated into my basement, my lair, determined to never come out of there ever again. Without a butler or the latest weapons/gadgets, it might as well have become my own private jail cell. At some point, it dawned on me that I was becoming a wandering protagonist. I was becoming a protagonist without much direction, or at least much point to exist. Who wants to read a story in which bad things happen to the central character, let alone a character that ambles in and out of situations without moving things forward? Probably about as many people who want to read a detective story about an unsolvable case, or, perhaps, the world’s most useless comic book villain ever. And yet such is the lives of many of those who sit down to write their life story, thinly disguised as it might be through one’s fiction or a comic book. It’s funny how ordinary people can do the most extraordinary things.
Sitting in a chair I’d salvaged from someone else’s garage sale, I brooded. I sorted through the arsenal of broken records that I’d collected from the backyard and moved down into the basement for no other reason that it seemed like the best place to dump it until I decided what was best to do with them.
An idea suddenly came to me. A horribly malicious idea, and one that would allow me to finally get my revenge on the neighbour living across the street. It was such a good idea, at least to me at the time.
Strange how, sometimes, these things look great only when you’re living in the moment.
So here it is, my brilliant idea:
I was going to bomb Mr. Assertive out of his house.
It was a scheming idea. Most of all, it had the hallmarks of a Kill Barrow attack written all over it: it was easy. Building a bomb can be a simple thing — if you know what you’re doing. Every decent person knows you can find some nice recipes on the Internet.
It took me a while, believe me, working straight through an entire day and night to be sure the compounds I was using were just right. (Okay, and I was drinking while I was putting it together. I’m surprised I didn’t blow the house up or something.) But, in the end, I had something that wasn’t too far removed from one of those big, black minesweeping bombs that you see in comic books. It was a nice one, with a nice, reasonably long fuse attached to it. All it would take would be for me to cross the street at night, light the sucker, throw the thing like a Molotov Cocktail and run.
Of course, I had a little problem.
I just couldn’t wait for nightfall.
I wound up taking the thing over in the early morning.
In retrospect, this wasn’t the most intelligent way of doing my dirty work. But what can I say? I was excited. The fire in my belly was back. I was going to be at my most devious. This was what I was meant to do, this was what I was meant to be. Kill Barrow, Wheelbarrow of … !
I’m sure at this point anyone with a brain in their cranium might suppose what happened to me.
One minute, I was crossing the street, making a special delivery.
The next, I had been transformed:
I’d become a wheelbarrow.
And as for the bomb? Oh, it went off, believe me. Despite having no visible eyes or ears or anything, I was still able to sense the world just as I would if I were a warm-blooded human being. (It’s one of those things they never explain away about comics, anyway, how a superhero or a villain might perceive the world differently with a cape around his back or a spider suit around his body.) After feeling myself turn cold, metallic and stationary, the bomb merely fell without grace from my side: it simply bounced down the street to its logical end. In fact, it went off like a firecracker doused in water, which is to say that it didn’t really go off at all. It kind of just fizzled out on the pavement and then did nothing.
Everything was kind of silent for a while, except for the hissing of lawn sprinkles, a dog barking somewhere in the distance, a plane flying overhead. Then, when I thought it was all truly over, Mr. Assertive turned and opened the front door to his home from the inside. He holding onto a cordless phone and wearing nothing but a bathrobe.
So quietly and suburban-like.
Thus ends the tale of how I became permanently stuck as a wheelbarrow. God knows I’ve tried to turn back. Perhaps not hard enough, one could argue. But those days are behind me, over with. It’s not that I’ve had it with being the villain. It’s just that my resistance has been broken. Still, I live up to a new moral code: my own. Which is probably what I wanted anyway.
Maybe that was the whole point of all of those random scattered events leading up to my change? You know, a bunch of things that were meant to mean nothing outside their context, things that I tried to pull together into some sort of meaning that the world was out to get me. I don’t know. I’m always the last one to know or figure things out, which probably is a good reason why I was such a poor villain.
Not that it matters much anymore. I reside now in a happy home — a garage, actually — and haven’t felt this clean, this sober. Masters was even kind enough to remove the circular saw blade and replace it with a regular wheel. I now feel so strangely good, oddly enough. I enjoy rolling around in the mud, dirt and grime, getting my wheel dirty. There’s something oddly comforting, sort of like taking your shoes off as a human, and going running through an open field barefoot.
I’ve spent the past season being wheeled around Masters’ front and backyards throughout, carrying nothing but a load of goodwill on my back: Bricks for a backyard fire-pit, soil for a garden. I must say that it is a relatively peaceful life.
I think I can appreciate the old saying, “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” a lot better now.
There are a lot of loose ends to my story, things I still haven’t figured out. In fact, I’m feeling a little bit like how I did after the comic got cancelled mid-stream: part of the audience, left hanging, unimportant, unsure what had just happened or was about to happen next. In fact, I feel as though I’d been wasting my time: that I’d tuned into some TV show that would be forgotten about and perhaps even left unresolved. (Unless, of course, it met with a DVD or cable afterlife or got memorialized and canonized on some fan’s Web site. As I said earlier, there is just way too much damn pop culture in the world to care about.)
Real life — as I’m only now just finding, all these years later — doesn’t seem to have that two dimensionality of the comic book universe. There is no pure good or no pure evil: just very confusing shades of gray. And that’s when there are any shades to speak of, any pieces of the puzzle that can solve the major mysteries in your life. Maybe horrible, terrible, nonsensical things just happen.
But even though I’m a mere wheelbarrow, a mere tool, this isn’t the end of Kill Barrow. Of this, I’m sure. Even though someone has gone and put a For Sale sign on my front lawn, and the entire front face of my (former) home has been defaced with various colours and brands of spray-paint, I figure I’m just deferring or delaying the next conflict with Mr. Assertive.
I will become Will Barrow once more.
And, maybe if I’m lucky, I’ll get things right next time.
* * * * *
Zachary Houle lives in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, where he works for the federal government as a Project Officer and is also an Associate Music Reviews editor for PopMatters.com, a pop culture webzine that reaches 1.2 million unique visitors a month. He also contributes regular book and music reviews to PopMatters. Houle has been awarded a $4,000 emerging artist grant from the City of Ottawa to write fiction, and was a Pushcart Prize nominee for a novella that appeared in Midnight Mind. His fiction or poetry has also appeared in places such as Broken Pencil, Word Riot, Pindeldyboz, Kiss Machine, The Danforth Review, Girls with Insurance, Thieves Jargon, Friction magazine, Megaera, and many others. His poem “Ode to the Long Lost Mini-Pops Album” was published in the book anthology In Our Own Words, Vol. 7 (MW Enterprises, 2007).
Read his contributions to Snake-Oil Cure here.