Mark Mallman is a musician of great endurance (he’s performed 52-hour marathon shows consisting of a single song) and great eccentricity (he sometimes appears as his lupine alter ego, Mallwolf). Now, as a companion piece to his most recent album Invincible Criminal (out on Badman and featuring guest vocals from the Hold Steady’s Craig Finn), Mallman has emerged as a great storyteller with a graphic novel due early next year. Featuring Marvel comics-style artwork by Stephen Somers, The Incredible Urban Myth Of The Invincible Criminal is being presented on magnetmagazine.com as an audio book with daily installments throughout the week. Read part one.
“The Incredible Urban Myth Of The Invincible Criminal Part 2” (download):
As I lay in the darkness, the city had somehow burned itself to death. Outside, the streets were a smoking expanse of black cooled lava. Ashes blew across lawnscapes. The boulevard gave way to thunderstorms of gray, dust-deviled cremations. Grotesque skyscrapers melted as Vesuvius sputtered and growled. I looked out the window into the swaying, burning metropolis. A biplane was choking its way through black fog. It was a skywriter, and behind it puffed the word “doom.” How would I ever tour America with the my band amidst that omnipresent doom? The answer was soon to be staring into my face.
Bitterness. Nastiness. Drunkenness.
It came in through the bedroom window. Yes, it was the same monster from earlier in the day, only this time less comical. Its entire shape had elongated. Its porcelain head turning, mannequin-like, as the gangling centipede jerked itself inside the bedroom. Its legs thickened. And there were many more legs this time, each one carpeted in shag hairs. Its face was less fragile, too, more hideous, more mechanical. It was so long that the tail end of its body bent downward out the window farther than I could see. It glided over the bed, each black foot straddling my at the side, pinning my head back against the mattress. The head was twice as large as mine, and its eyes peered inches in front of my own. For the span of what seemed like hours, it held me down on the bed. Its mouth clicked in the same rhythm as the mice that live inside my walls. I broke the silence.
“Don’t I know you from somewhere?” I feigned nonchalance, but peed a little in the process. The centipede spun its head sideways. Slightly, just barely, I could hear a harsh whisper, like someone dragging a rake over hot coals. The voice came from inside the head, not the mouth. It seemed like there was an operator inside. Like whatever it was controlling this beast didn’t want me to see who it really was.
“I … hear you’ve got … the feeling you’ve … been cheated?” It spoke, taking in heavy gasps between words. “I … hope you … don’t expect to … get back … what’s been taken.”
“OK, this has gone too far. Where’s that robot?” But there was no Killer Robot That Senses Fear to save me. It had vanished with the sunset. That, or it was in the kitchen.
“I … hear you’ve got the feeling … ” Its head pulled back half a foot, and the giant insect swayed over me. “You’ve been … cheated!” A slow stream of clear saliva goo poured out from its mouth, coating my face. I gagged a little, but could not open my mouth, for fear of swallowing the thick fluid. Then, the thing started a repetition—”cheated???”—saying the same thing over again—”cheated???”—each time with an increasing volume—”cheated???” The stuff on my face began to sting, and the muscles in my head clenched with each repetition of the word “cheated.” And each time it opened its mouth, I could make the shape of something inside of it. There was the odd sensation that it was a merely costume of some type. “Cheated???” This monster, which I created, this surreal beast that had reached enlightenment by sucking out my hope, found more than a dinner in me. It found a conquest. My blood-red foot hated my guts, and there was a 20-foot-long arthropod pinning me to my own bed. I’d been in worse situations; a Tijuana basement comes to mind. I’d certainly been in weirder. And what did I do in those situations? Of course, I played it cool. Cool doesn’t work in every pinch, but it works for most. Say, prisoner of war—it works for that. And with that cool, I spoke the immaculate words of my forefathers. Two words, when put together, form a most angering, yet undoubtedly fail-safe rebuttal.
I said, “Whatever, dude,” simultaneously swallowing and spitting back the interior slime onto my own face. And with that, the monster vanished. In the kitchen, I could hear the clash and clatter of the confused Killer Robot That Senses Fear. The television softly played the evening news. A depressed calm had returned to my roach-infested domicile. I climbed off the bed and onto the dank floor. “Whatever, dude,” I laughed to myself and rolled my body up in an area rug. It would be the last thing I’d remember about Wednesday. Finally, it was beginning.
Thursday dinnertime found the banshee ghost of Ian Curtis whirring around my living room screeching, “Where will it end? Where will it end? Where will it end?” I counted down the last five minutes of sunset. The usual extra(un)ordinary weekday unfolded. My curly haired death mask was still face down in the pillow. I fell out out of bed and onto the floor, clutching a wine bottle. My eyes had etched elaborate escape plans from the cracks in the floor. It was like listening for a train, classic-rock vibrations from the floor below: the Who’s “Magic Bus,” Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing.” It dawned on me that rock’s curse was that it refused to die. Quack, quack, quack—like that filthy alarm clock, murmuring with an underground agitation immortal. I heard Van Morrison singing “Moondance,” and my anger swelled. These deceptive classic-rock scams snuck up through my gap-toothed dirty floorboards. How could I have been so blind? There was only one solution: I changed into a dressier straitjacket and crumbled into the traffic below. Windows rolled up, radio to 11, cruizzzzzing for meannnning in a mixxxxxxxed up fish bowwwwwl. Ian Curtis sang “Day Of The Lords”: “This is the car at the edge of the road … Where will it end?/Where will it end?”
I opened the bottle in the parking lot and drove to a secret coffee shop where jazz music played. In a booth, alone, I read newspaper obituaries, looking for jazz somewhere in the headlines. Jazz died with class. It didn’t cling desperately like rock did. Across the room spread the fidgety tones of old Kind Of Blue. Jimmy Cobb’s drum set sizzled through all 10 minutes of “Freddie The Freeloader.” Everything blew past me like breath through a brass horn: city buses, winos, garbage cans overflowing, all the art students are pretending to play chess. As the rhythms passed through me like herds of animals, my new lunacy seemed trivial. I wasn’t conscious of it at the time, but I was aurally dehydrated.
Hours later, I bumped into a professor friend. He gave me that impossible freak-show handshake. We talked about a mutual waitress. Then a whisper called me away. We made plans to run into each other again the following night, and I left him at the table, to drink of my cup. My car keys were bent like two ESP spoons. She turned over without a gear slip. My moonlight drive was accompanied by a distortion of pure apocalypse. I looked across neighborhoods and saw a deserted assemblage of dusky primrose and human bones. Where typically one might see a public park was a hollow gravesite of grimy stone and brick. Running parallel to the interstate was a darkened spectacle of industrial revolution. The suburban expanse became a smoke-filled landscape dotted only by crows and colossal furnaces, beating against each other in the dimness. The bare idea of classic-rock radio was nevertheless glistening among the ruins. These hallucinations had opened my eyes up to the fact that there was a beast hiding within all speakers. Rock music was the lubrication, the fuel, the mother’s milk of the invincible centipede in my mind.
With fierce hostility, I crossed the median into the express lane like a jailbreak onto some German Autobahn. I switched the radio station on to something less obscene, Old Blue Eyes himself. Something soothed me then. I can’t remember how or why I turned back. It was the Chairman, maybe his lilting vibrato, the September of it all, that brought me back to terra firma. Three more hours had passed. The sky began to lighten. When I came to, I was parallel parked in a perpendicular universe.
The Killer Robot That Senses Fear was kind enough to unlock the door for me. Not only could it sense fear, but also I guess it could sense when someone misplaced the house keys. I saw longing in its lighted electronic display, a sad memory of fear. On the other hand, the robot seemed a bit jovial with his newfound second sense. I paused for a moment; we had one of those android-to-human moments of staring, where, you know, you both rediscover how very dissimilar the two of you actually are. In my early 20s, I’d shared an intense, albeit brief, game of lawn darts with a cyborg cop named Toby. But The Killer Robot That Senses Both Fear And Misplaced Keys was my first android roommate. O, rather, pet—considering it didn’t pay rent or utilities.
By no choice of its own, the Killer Robot was brought into this mess. If the Killer Robot had not crossed over, I probably wouldn’t have reason enough to fight the insect thief. I felt like real dick, though. So I drank more wine, watching my new robo-pet pace the floor in front of the television, trying to find its way back in.