the ladder - blueprint (part 2)

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

Vlad’s blue eyes – icy but vivid – were anything but windows to the soul. The writer, who disdained metaphysics as, would have scoffed at the very notion of a soul let alone the idea that a glance into the eyes could reveal character. Eriq disagreed, of course; eyes, he often said, were an artist’s best means of revealing character in the printed page. Vlad would retort that living people weren’t drawings on paper and that “ocular fenestration” was only meaningful in the context of body language. It was one of many arguments they never resolved. But for all of Vlad’s disdain, Eriq could tell his friend was churning with ambition and worry beneath the glacial, haughty expression on his face.

“Superman,” said Vlad, reverently but also with clear distaste.

“Break it down for me.”

Not even Vlad could resist the pull of the Superman mythology or, at least, the idea of a Superman resplendent in his strength and power of flight. The steadfastly good hero all but invulnerable to evil, a desirable mirror image to that of unstoppable malevolence. The powerful saviour of the powerless. Even, of course, with the collateral risks of superpowers, dissected and analyzed countless times in comics and essays, Superman still possessed a kind of irresistible majesty. Vlad, raised on Superman and Batman and all the other icons just as Eriq had been, soaked up the fantastical promise of superheroism while aware that superheroes could just as easily be surrogate gods, harbingers of doom for a dependent humanity, catalysts of profound change. But he hated comics. At least, he hated the storytelling that often made comics little more than soap operas.

“It’s the lack of rules,” he said, animated in the peculiar way that only discussing comics or politics could evoke. “People die, they come back to life. You have magic, and aliens, and science fiction, and all these different genres mashed altogether. The Multiverse? You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. Just totally fucking kidding. It’s an excuse to do anything at any time. It’s ridiculous. Nothing means anything. Why do all stories have to quote ‘exist’ unquote in the same universe? But that’s not life. Right? That’s not life.”

And so on. That Superman was also an alien instead of a human irritated him to no end. “It’s like Von Daniken and his aliens-built-the-pyramids crap. Are humans really too dumb to do anything for themselves?”

“It’s a metaphor,” Eriq said, knowing full well that if anyone metaphor he didn’t like, it was Vlad. Distantly, he heard the phone ring – he didn’t keep one in his room because he hated the shrill disruption of his concentration while drawing. He ignored it.

“Yeah, yeah. Immigration to the US and all that. Of course I understand that. I’d still be in Russia otherwise. But think about it: Superman is superheroic because he isn’t human, and no human could ever hope to be Superman.”

Eriq was about to speak – he had a glimmer of an idea – when his mother’s voice jolted him. “Come down, Eriq! For God’s sake, get down here.”

Puzzled, Eric rushed down the stairs followed by Vlad, who wasn’t in quite the same hurry. They found Mrs. Robertson with the old-fashioned phone receiver in her hand, arm loose by her side. The expression on her face, one of corked anger and despair, put her at odds with the cheery peaches-and-cream décor of the living room. Eriq’s irritation turned to worry, then to resignation.

Mrs. Robertson wept. “It’s Aaron. He did it again. He…”
“That…” Eriq started before choosing instead to swallow the angry expletive. Vlad, who kept his expression neutral, remembered that the Robertson’s car was undergoing repairs at the dealer.

“I’ll drive,” he said.

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