the ladder - blueprint (part 1)

The Ladder - An experimental web-only fiction series that spans multiple story lines and characters…Tune in every Wednesday for a new installment!

The doorbell chimed an off-key Big Ben. Eriq stomped down the small stairs – the elephantine racket earned him disapproval, shot across the living room by a woman who could stare down a stampede of Pamplona bulls without flinching – and nearly pulled the front door off its hinges. On the porch of the small side-gabled California bungalow stood a mod young man, twenty-something, short blue-black hair, rugged east European face whose paleness was accentuated by the black jeans and smoothly-cut blazer. Buddha as a well-dressed vampire.

Eriq put out a hearty hug. “What’s up mah niggah?”

“Hey there, honky!”

From the couch, Mrs. Robertson furrowed her brow, creases appearing in her otherwise smooth dark skin, lips tightened together. She set down her copy of the LA Times and looked over her turtle-shell reading glasses, dark eyes serious but not without a twinkle. “I wish you boys would stop that.”

“We’re just taking back the power of words, Mom,” Eriq grinned. “C’mon, Vlad mah niggah, let’s hit the headquarters.”

Bemused yet despairing, Mrs. Robertson watched them climb the creaky stairs to the attic space, shaking her head, then returned to her newspaper when they disappeared from view.

“You’re such a fucking stereotype,” said Vlad when he emerged from the narrow stairwell. The attic space that served as Eriq’s bedroom was a tight space further enclosed by stacks of comics, piles of randomly strewn clothes, and tattered, layered posters of everything from Star Wars to the Hulk movie. It was a slovenly artist’s den; the only reasonable fragment of space was the large drawing table next to which was a cabinet of neatly ordered drawing pencils, sketchpads, and other supplies. Eriq himself was no great embodiment of tidiness. The proud bearer of an old-school Afro and three-day old stubble, he wore carelessly maintained, torn blue Levi’s and a white t-shirt on which was written in thin red letters “ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO US.”

“Yeah, yeah. Fuck that. Let’s talk about this mess you’ve gotten us into.”

A quick phone conversation the night before – Vlad talking at an amped-up pace, barely remembering to breathe. The announcement was shocking, like winning the lottery or finally being rid of a Republican president. After months of carefully cultivating contacts sown at Comic-Con and through various friends at the major houses, Vlad succeeded in arranging a meeting with a muckety-muck who had the power to make shit happen. But that wasn’t the shock. The shock came from learning that the pitch for a new comic book character, vaguely worded and stuffed with lofty visions, had worked. Eriq and Vlad, the artist and the writer, didn’t have long to work up a fully-developed proposal.

“Mess, huh. You’d rather keep doing those cheap porno comics you won’t tell your mom about?”

“That’s low, man. Boobella is not cheap porno.” Then, mumbling, eyes cast down towards a floor covered in a stained beige carpet: “And that was way before we did The Grave Captain’s Chronicles.”

Vlad laughed, muttered something about photocopies distributed to rockers coming out of concerts on Sunset Boulevard, then became serious when it seemed like Eriq would pull one of his notorious mopey faces. That was never a good sign for getting productive work done.

“All right, then,” said Vlad. He looked around for a place to sit while Eriq took to the squat stool in front of the drawing board; Foam stuffing from the stool’s cushion poured out of a tear when Eriq sat down. Vlad merely looked for a place to sit that could be cleared off without touching any of Eriq’s laundry.

“So what did we promise the suit?” Eriq said. “What are we supposed to do exactly?”

“He wasn’t a suit, honky. And let’s please not have the kind of conversation a bad writer would inject into a story. The kind in which two characters obviously know what they’re talking about but talk about it anyway for the benefit of readers.”

Eriq’s eyes, alert and restless, settled on Vlad with an intensity worthy of his mother. Unperturbed, Vlad returned the stare as if possessed of an infinite reservoir of cool.

“All I remember is our mouths going blah, blah, blah and the suit nodding his head and going blah, blah, blah.”

Vlad sighed. “At least you remember we promised to deliver something huge, right? I mean, fucking huge?”

“Yeah, yeah. I know.” All mockery suddenly stripped from his voice, he asked with great concern, “But how are we going to create a better Superman in less than two months? For Christ’s sake…a Superman better than Superman!”

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