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, three and four.
“The Incredible Urban Myth Of The Invincible Criminal Part 5” (download):
What is it like, you ask, to drink yourself into the CRT tubes of a late-’60s Zenith color television set with a killer robot in the basement storage facility of your apartment building? Let me attempt to illustrate my position in greater detail. Picture this: You’re not a human being anymore. Your being has simplified. Your essence has digitized. You can finally abandon your one-time quest for simple human decency. You’re just an everyday guy who works in a grocery store that gets robbed over and over and over and over again on a security camera. The yin and the yang of being on the digital is the zero and one of it. Visually, everything is in color, but spiritually, it’s black and white. It’s purely a manic state. In my previous state, I’d reverted to some wicked memory of a stench. I was like a half-dead fish floating underneath a pier. I couldn’t commit to actually living a life. The Killer Robot, on the other hand, was too friggin’ stupid to remember anything other than this state being half-dead. It was stupid; therefore it was free.
Soon, the feeling like monster paper cuts began to disappear. “How very Zen of me,” I thought. A slate flashed in front of us, it was 8 p.m. “Holy crap, dude, it’s go time.” The Zenith voice of God spoke: “And now, channel 43 presents the 8 o’clock movie. Death Machine: a man is stalked by a killer robot who senses fear!” The screen scape around us went into absolute black. Low-budget synthesizers purred a demonic theme song. The robot puffed its chest out: “Showbiz!”
From behind a gloomy backdrop, the rock star exploded onto the screen, two wild saw blades spinning from each robot arm. Some maniac cops were its first victims, sliced into six distinct pieces on a murderous spree. It was like Dorothy waking up back on the farm, only bloodier and poorly lit. Maybe like Dorothy on the set of a snuff film just as the drugs are wearing off. Actually I think I own that on VHS somewhere. Anyhow, my work was done, and I needed to get out of the TV set and back into the storage facility. The centipede was next.
I sprinted at the screen and slammed into it. The disagreeable glass wall steadfastly refused my leaving. I tried a varied amount of other foolish escape routes, all of which I am too ashamed to admit in writing. (One, involving a toothbrush and two Jamaican tourists.) It seemed the only sure-fire method of getting out of the TV was to be summoned out myself, like I had mistakenly done with the robot earlier in the week. Naturally, the perfect wizard of this was furrowing its 800 eyebrows five floors above. I stretched my body toward the volume button and began to scream for the centipede.
I yelled like a motherfucker. I howled an ancient call of forgotten eternities. I wailed like Jim Morrison’s final acid bath in that lonesome French hotel. Footsteps stampeded across the ceiling above. But it wasn’t the sound of 300 giant insect feet squirming down 10 flights of stairs. It was all my neighbors coming out of their apartments and down into the storage facility to see who was messing up around with their stuff. I roared the falsetto riot of bizarre church bells. I screamed like turtle soup. Soon the basement was full of pissed-off tenants. It was a decimated junkyard, a broke-down landfill. Bed frames had been crushed into twigs. Boxes were shredded into breakfast cereal. Bicycles hooked together in orgiastic tangles, like aluminum rat kings. The robot had made a catastrophe from what once was our pretty organized, mostly dust free, kinda safe, relatively roachless, basement storage facility in a 98-unit complex. People were so shocked, nobody paid any mind to me screaming out Armageddon from inside the television. Save for the bald accountant from 313. All 350 pounds of him stormed over to the Zenith television set. Just as I was beginning to shout, “No, wait,” he unplugged me. Sonofabitch.
My atoms split. I involuntarily sank into the maze of circuits and wires. I can’t decipher what existence I led after the TV set was unplugged. But it is my assumption, that during the next 12 or so hours in the icy realms of this undefined, all-consuming darkness, I just “wasn’t there.” And in my non-existence, the centipede triumphed. I wish I could have seen what confusion the monster went through in those hours before he deduced where I resided. I bet it was quite mind-rattling. The Zenith TV set would have been a great hiding place, but I was trapped, not hiding. Good thing I had left the TV listings in front of the TV set on the floor, and then there was that empty booze bottle. It only took some freshman-level detective work to realize that I was trapped inside the unplugged television. Duh. I mean, c’mon! The monster finally had me cornered. All it really needed to do at this point was to smash the screen, reach inside and crack the tubes. I would have been stuck. Done deal. Then it could have redecorated my apartment in as many Scandinavian pastels as it pleased. It would then have to, of course, take most of my wardrobe to a tailor to be refitted—plus, I owned nowhere near enough shoes for an arthropod. Who knows, after all that work, maybe the creature would have regretted his madness to begin with, and it would just have got up and headed back underground. Even to this day, I can’t figure out why it did what it did. There was just no logic why it plugged the TV set back into the wall.
But the omnipresent emptiness gently faded. I flickered back up on the screen, looking into its face from behind a mammoth lens. The CRT tubes inside the television projected a soft glow around my horrific enemy. Its claw reached up and tapped on the glass.
“Sooooo … you thought you … could hide forever?” it said.
Remembering I’d left the volume up full blast, I replied in a hushed voice.
“I’m not hiding in here, dumb-ass. I’m stuck.”
“You are?” said the centipede. “Why? Why … are you … stuck? How did this happen … I need to kill you … I’ve come to re- … decorate … I’ve bought a wicker couch and some … pot potpourri from Pier 1 Imports.”
“Well, I’m stuck in here on part because of that killer robot. You see, it wasn’t happy, it needed a blood feast … ”
I caught myself in the moment. Who was I trying to start a reasonable conversation with? What the hell? The centipede spoke once again of interior design.
“The first coat of paint will be … the bedroom … it will be taupe … and then, the kitchen … I plan to use something cheery … like a mint crème … ” The insect was obsessed with decorating. “And I want to go … art deco in the bath. But first … you Mr. M … must be eradicated.”
I put a quick plan together on how to deafen and, possibly, wound it.
“Look,” I whispered softly, as to lure him in, “you’ve been cheating me for over a quarter of a century. And now you can finally kill me. Just unplug the TV.”
I spoke even quieter, so that it had to lean in real close to the speaker to make out my words.
“Go on, the plug is stuck right there in the wall.” His face was pressed up against the glass, as big as a mountain. Then, knowing the volume knob was still turned up full blast, I screamed. “Do it!!! Do It!!! Kill me with a little heart, you creature of Mars!!!!”
The monster let out a wild shriek and jumped back against the storage-facility wall. My trick worked! I might find a way out of my dire situation after all. Ha! It fell back onto the floor, clutching the right side of its head in a handicapped modern dance. The bastard was doing that thing that bugs do when they are on their backs, writhing and wiggling its countless legs. Next, I could hear heard harsh footsteps coming down the stairwell above. The basement door whipped open. The apartment caretaker stormed in with a shotgun. He was wearing only boxer briefs and white socks.
“What the hell is this?” He pointed the barrel at the monster without the slightest bit of shock. “Some sort of bug burglar? All right, take off the costume buddy, you’re busted.”
The creature hissed madly at the fat caretaker. I was quick to speak up, as not to be unplugged again. “Yo, shoot him! Shoot the bastard!”
The caretaker cocked his gun. “You, shut the fuck up!” He started waving the shotgun all around like a third appendage. “I don’t know what kind of weird shit you’ve got going down here, but it’s over. The cops are already on their way.” He snarled, like something he’d seen in a movie, “Sailor, you boarded the wrong man’s battleship. Look at this place! Everybody’s shit is all broken. You fucker’s gotta pay for all this crap.”
He shook his head. “Jesus H.” A small audience of confused tenants was beginning to form behind him. The monster let out a white-noise hiss, clicking its pinchers angrily. But the fat man wasn’t frightened; instead he moved in closer, placing the shotgun to the side of the centipede’s head. “OK, you got 10 seconds to take off that stupid fucking costume, or I’m gonna shoot you and claim self-defense before the cops get here.” He pushed the gun so hard that the beast fell sideways onto the ground with a grunt.
I spoke up. “Yeah, do it.” I was toying with the monster, exacting my revenge. My victory was near.
Reluctantly, its two front-most legs reached up and barely twisted its head. It stopped after a few halfhearted attempts. I’d had my slight suspicions that there was someone else inside of it, operating away, but I doubted highly it was any costume. This thing was, in fact, a being from another realm.
The caretaker now yelled forcefully, “Take off the mask or I’ll shoot your fuckin’ head off.” The group of tenants in the basement had grown. And the majority of the building was down there with us, yelling, too. Amid this crowded chorus of shouting, the creature tugged at its own head. It was prying and twisting to no avail. The shouts swelled, and the gun prodded the poor beast as it pulled and pulled on its own exoskeletal head. It was only a matter of seconds now before the caretaker would pull the trigger, and my hunter would be silent. But then, much to my astonishment, its head began to lift. And with a crack, the mask actually snapped off. The room quickly grew silent. I was aghast. How could it be that the centipede wasn’t the centipede after all?
Through the shadowy basement, someone shined a flashlight onto the devil inside its elaborate costume. One tenant called out from far end of the room, “Hey, that’s 515! That’s the musician dude from 515!” Hearing this, my blood felt still and chilled in my veins. The man’s face was expressionless and bare. My hope shriveled like a black flower in a forest of death. I looked on in astonishment at this flawless bootleg of myself. My own clone lay before me, with a gun to its head. It looked through the pixel screen directly into my right eye. My head filled with wild noise and lightening bolts, but there was nothing I could do. Its cocoon had been sprung open, and the transformation was complete.
“I didn’t plan on having you find out this way,” it said to me. “But then again, things don’t always turn out how you plan them. Do they, Mr. M? My centipede costume was fashioned years ago, for this very result. You were right all along, Mr. M. You were being cheated!”
The caretaker pulled the gun back and yelled at my wicked clone, “Who are you talking to?”
The cat woman from 406 spoke up. “He’s crazy. He’s talking to a television like a lunatic!”
The shoe salesman for 129 chimed in. “He’s probably on drugs!”
I was positioned at the wrong angle to see the police arrive but could hear their radios bursting as they entered the building above us.
“The cops,” said the caretaker. “The cops are here, buddy. You’re busted.” He began unloading the gun. “You can take that friggin’ costume off now”
But my carbon copy paid no attention; it just glared into the television. “Your whole life, you pissed and moaned. You mediated on death. You couldn’t even look at a flower without making some snide remark,” said the evil twin. “Mr. M, you never appreciated what you had, and now it’s mine. It’s mine.”
The one-legged Irishman from 124 was the last human voice I ever heard. He said, “Hey, that’s my TV he’s talking to! I bet he was trying to steal it in that costume, so none of us would know it was him. What a crazy son of a bitch.”
The one privilege a death-row convict has over the rest of us fools is that he gets to say his last words before disappearing into the void. I never got that chance. Instead, the last thing I saw was my own cloned foot crashing towards me, breaking the sky wide open in my 2D dreamscape. I didn’t get any last words. I just disappeared, vanished, into a state of total nothingness.