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 parts one, two and three.
“The Incredible Urban Myth Of The Invincible Criminal Part 4” (download):
When I lived alone, this wasn’t a common experience. Getting drunk and falling off the couch was a common experience. Here sat our antagonists, who both arrived at gunpoint in the following way: one through ignorance, and the other by bloodlust. The robot’s claw clutched onto the doorframe like Leatherface climbing out from behind a broken barn. We were part of an existential spelling bee where contestants are given a random word, and then quickly shot in the face. The robot reached into its chest cavity with a suicidal clanging. Out from its haunted innards, it pulled a small booklet. It dropped the booklet on the floor in front of me as some type of pathetic offering. In tiny lettering, it read, “instructions.” I looked at it with great suspicion. I burned through this secret owner’s manual with a mismatched, backwards confidence. The more I read, the more distant the world between us. In the index of the manual, I’d found nothing with respect to interdimensional vortices through analog television sets. What I learned, basically, is that the automaton was created in a special-effects department of a b-movie warehouse somewhere in the San Fernando Valley, and that it liked cheese. I got the thought in my head that the robot possibly came through the TV set on its own accord. That it was a science-fiction runaway—an exiled, maniacal tool who didn’t want his part in the movie to begin. Was it possible that my nemesis, the shape-shifting centipede, had also sprung to life through the same TV wormhole? Maybe finding away to get the robot back home would reveal a way for to get my stuff back and to kill the insect beast!
Next, we waited, two pieces of dumb dust. Hours passed. Evening was an absurd clown show. A discolored mist cut through half-closed windows. Outside, it was all clean air, so smooth. Midnight waned a deep crimson, and I was speaking generally to the robot about transcendental death.
The hour of 6 a.m. drew near, revealing the true level of my own liquid state. I laughed a little. It was clear to me then that a savage lurked in my blood. The voice of Travis Bickle stuttered from a television across the hallway. “Here is a man who could not take it anymore. A man who stood up against the pigs, the filth, the dogs.” I felt light-headed, doom descended. “Here is … Here is … Here is … ”
How is it possible that a full-grown adult male can be simultaneously dead and alive? Loud thunder crashes lifted me into that off-center Sunday. I blinked, and it was noon. I had written on the back of my hand the night before,”We are king of the animals, therefore we shall claim them.” Apart from these usual brain palpitations, the night had passed without considerable difficulty. I was suddenly hungry for bad chicken.
Outside, neon signs trailed squints of rainbow sherbet across the road. Black smoke smothered rooftops in winter for fugitive birds that refused to dry off in the arbitrary strangeness of dead trees. The lead skyline treaded bleakness across my face. A bird flew into the window and dropped reluctantly. Upon striking the fire escape, it twitched in confused spasms. Two ball-bearing eyes revealed the perplexity of slow death. Her beak opened and closed in sync with the cold, quiet beats of its panting heart. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Eventually, it wound down, like a child’s toy. Click. Alas, our city revealed itself in marriage of deception and steel. I thought about when I was nine years old and I found a young Robin with a broken wing. Thinking I could keep it safe, I put the Robin underneath a flipped upside down, plastic child’s swimming pool. While inside, the sun heated her up, and she died. It seemed arbitrary under these summer conditions that I should find a copse when I returned. It was banal 20-odd years ago, and it was banal still, death. I didn’t even know it, the thing I was learning through all of this dumb life.
The rain had begun to piss. The streets hissed. People huddled together under a bridge. A man turned into a duck. Cops swung both arms about like whistling treadmills. And far off, I could see a slender blur coming up the street towards the apartment building: centipede. Out on the fire escape, thick spiders hung on thick webs, strung closely together, some even facing each in wind-soaked intoxication. I moved my head in real close to the window frame, and I lost myself in a spider’s 333-eyed cool gaze. How does a hunger get so demanding that it sets a trap with guiltless anticipation to feed? It dawned on me, and for the first time I smiled. This was my ticket out! I’d set a trap. I would lure the centipede back into the television using the killer robot and myself as bait. It was like I’d I come across the idea on a brilliant dare somehow. The downpour was thrashing against the outside of the building. Through the flashes, a slender figure was approaching much closer and with great activity. It was advancing with a steady rage. I recognized the swine. This time the invertebrate wore a lengthy trench coat, stomping down intersections to nobody’s line of sight but my own.
Without haste, the trap would be set. I conjured the robot from its digital depression and sped out the front door of my apartment. My TV set had been stolen in the night, presumably to prevent such an occurrence. So we were going downstairs to the storage area where I assumed a plentiful selection. Passing through the lobby, I snatched the Sunday TV listings from an unsuspecting newspaper. The killer robot kept up with great agility, leaping down the stairwell with a ballerina’s calm grace, almost silent. I was simultaneously falling over myself and skimming the TV guide in hopes that Death Machine would replay sometime before midnight.
I barely had the storage area’s door open and the robot was on a flat-out rampage, smashing storage lockers, tout de suite. My jaw dropped as the robot exploded through chicken wire, not like a wild demon, but with the finesse of a great artiste. Each crash of aluminum was a monumental work—each shatter of glass, a fine feather in its cap. With a preprogrammed hatred, and an instinctive need for blood, the machine demolished the storage area in a magnificent terror. I cried, not out of fear, but out of art. Destruction was the robot’s finest accomplishment. My partisan was in his element of expertise, an angelic wrecking ball. In the furthest dusty reaches of the basement, it rested upon a vintage white Zenith color set. The room went rapidly still. The robot whirled its head back at me. I was scanning, in short order, the cable listings for the movie from which it came.
I shouted, “Aha! 8 p.m., channel 43, Death Machine: A man is stalked by a killer robot who senses fear! That’s you buddy!” It belted out a low screech. I said, pointing at the TV screen, “Now how the hell do we get in there?”
Heavy dust was still spinning around us. The robot dropped, from an odd claw dangling between its wheels, a plastic, 1.75-liter bottle of Black Velvet Whisky.
I was dumbfounded. “That? You mean we drink our way into the wormhole?”
My faithful readers, do not confuse me, for I am not some rock demigod. I am very poor, very mean and very ugly. I sleep in a dumpster, and I eat rats. Even then, I was just another man who had gotten the feeling he was being cheated. I was this malnourished chump who, for every day, was merely struggling to achieve simple human decency. But I relinquished and said out loud, “So much for human decency.”
I looked at my cell phone; it said 3 p.m. Five stories above us, the insect was hunting the hallways for its tender prey. I’m certain it went through my bedroom, taking anything that could be pawned later, after the assimilation. Downstairs, I plugged the TV into an orange extension cord, and the thing let out a huge spark. It switched on with a thud. “OK,” I said, “let’s hope this works, Robocop”.
We began drinking the booze. I say “we” not knowing how or why a killer robot becomes intoxicated, but I tell you this, it friggin’ does. We drank some goddamn booze together! One shot, kablow! Two shots, kablaam! Like nothin’, man … like nothin’. That stainless-steel frat boy sure could knock back cheap whiskey. It handed me the bottle. I like to think I’m not so lowbrow when it comes to the brown stuff. Usually, I’m a sipper. But in this situation, I put the bottle to my lips and sucked. By 3:30, we were both totally in the bag. While watching some trash show about how surveillance video captures terrible violence on film, the robot crossed me over. Out from the front panel sprung a long, narrow needle. The anesthetic stung, and a brief spark shot up my spine—no white rainbow, no rush of ecstasy. That’s all I can remember about traveling the wormhole.
From this point on, I could see in only two dimensions. The very fiber of my being was married to the TV pixelscape. Through this “commodifried” lens, a storeowner was beaten with a baseball bat. Next, we were part of a tape of a guy getting attacked in a grocery aisle. It was actually pretty terrible show, I remember thinking. Cut/commercial/resume. Someone could have run across the room and put a salad fork into my hand and I wouldn’t have felt any pain. I found channel 43 to be a laborious institution of murder and low, low prices. The Killer Robot was hiding behind a fake plastic houseplant and wasn’t difficult to spot. It curled its finger inward, as if telling me to lean in closer.
The robot spoke to me. “I don’t know why you watch this crap, because there aren’t even any stories anymore. Just scenes, just modes and one-liners as you humans drug yourselves brain-dry flipping channels. Twenty-five hours of substance-less day, just table scraps of “fiber optic” jewelry commercials and commercials for a new shoe that’s supposed to prevent heart attacks, commercials for hole-in-one antidepressants, 30-minute programs on why it’s so important to have a big penis, 30 minutes on how clear skin will bring you closer to God, 30 minutes on Arizona time-share cemetery plots and girl-on-girl action, wet T-shirts and taxidermy for the young at heart.”
The drunken robot monologue faded into the lighted wallpaper snow, and I fixated on a digital doorknob.