It was old Jim Weathers that started it. He didn’t even notice, either. Sat on the gate one damp September night, in his little hut, watching Wheel of Fortune on a tiny TV with washed out colours and cursing his thermos flask that never kept his tea warm past three am, he didn’t notice that he’d signed in the wrong column on the form. The truck that should have gone to the biohazard dump rolled out for the regular city dump instead.
But just one mistake wasn’t enough. Like a perfectly choreographed ballet, the driver got confused at his next stop, and left behind the Army bases trash cart, thinking he was taking a full one and leaving an empty one. But he left the dumpster that should have gone to the biohazard dump in a quiet little alley downtown.
It sat there for a few days, quietly bubbling to itself, a faint green glow pulsing out from under the lid throughout the dark autumn nights. On the third day, a woman screeched her car into the side alley, and tearfully slammed her door shut, opened the boot, and emptied everything that was in it into the dumpster. It splashed and fizzled as it ate her meal, not quiet digesting them, but mushing them up and making them hum with light.
The crying woman didn’t notice. She simply snarled “that will show you, you arrogant cheater. Say goodbye to your collection” before slamming the car door and squealing away, leaving exactly as she had arrived.
It was a week later when the trash got its next meal. Buddy Simons was about to get his lunch money taken. Again. He’d tried fighting back, but all he got was slapped about. It was always three on one. So this day, he decided to run. He’d done fine for a while, but they just weren’t giving up. Even with the rain, the storm. He ran until his feet stung and his breath was like sharp, cold needles in his chest. He was all the way downtown, and he was lost. He didn’t recognise anywhere. The rain pounded down and the low, thick clouds coiled about themselves, rumbling like a thousand angry rhinos. He leant against the dumpster, the one that wasn’t supposed to be there, and bent forward as he gulped in huge mouthfuls of air, trying not to drink in the rain. When it happened, it wasn’t like the movies. They didn’t say anything, didn’t speak. They just grabbed him, banged his head against the dumpster, pulled his jeans off, opened the lid and tossed him in. Buddy hit the glowing liquid that felt warm and tickled his bare legs. But the comics that sloshed around in there stuck to him, covered him. They stung. Like clinging, needy things, they covered him and he struggled to peel them off. The liquid was like warm soda; and just as sticky. The comics had been marinating in it, and they attached to him in layers, gaudy four colour print leaves of heroic deeds. The boys slammed the lid shut, and were shouting, calling him names, as they rocked the dumpster, spreading the comics all over him. He couldn’t catch his breath, it seemed so hot in here. The comics covered him, over his face, and he couldn’t breathe. It was too hot. He tried to scream, but only swallowed some of the liquid instead. It ticked his skin, but burnt his throat, and he would have spat blood if the comics weren’t over his face. Instead, he inhaled it, and gulped as he lost his breath. He thought for sure he was going to die, when the lightning bolt hit the dumpster.
A local barber, who didn’t see Buddy go in, but had heard the boys shouting, and saw them rocking the dumpster called the police. Patrol car 47 was nearby, on the way back from a minor call. The car pulled up and Officer Hendricks got out, just in time to see the boys rocking the dumpster, then a bright blue flash blinded him, and a wave of force rocked him, making him lift his arm above his head, threatening to knock him down. He steadied himself as his vision came back from black to blurry, and at first, he thought he must be imagining it, what he saw when his eyes did clear up enough to only be fuzzy at the edges. The three boys were sprawled out in the alley, all of them bent and twisted, all three of them with trainers that released gentle wisps of smoke from their soles. The smoke was fighting to rise against the downpour, and loosing. But that wasn’t the weird thing. The weird thing was hovering above the dumpster. It glowed, faintly, green. And it rustled like dry leaves, despite the rain. It was human shaped, but small. About the size of a boy. But it looked like it was made of comics. They stuck to a rough shape, an outline, but at the same time swirled and bobbed loosely, as if a stack of comics had the idea that they could be a boy, if only they worked hard enough at it. The thing had two bright green eyes, that burnt with flames escaping recessed sockets. And it had a mouth, open and mushy, glistening like fresh papier-mâché. It screamed, once, sounding like a boy choking at the start, but ending sounding like nothing human. Then it extended its arms, and paper that was at once dry yet moved like fluid shot out in streams, covering the two of the boys faces. The flying thing poured bits of itself at their heads until they stopped moving, Officer Hendricks imagining them trying to scream but unable to, and he watched as they scraped their still smoking trainers along the ground frantically, clawing hopelessly at the paper streams that plastered and stuck them to the wall, before they twitched and stopped moving altogether. The third boy, largest, was closest to Hendricks. He was un-holstering his gun as the boy, sobbing, panicking, ran toward him. As he drew level, Hendricks tried to say “get behind me” to him, but the rain drowned it out, and he only got as far as ‘guh’ before the thing from the dumpster coated the running boy’s head in a torrent of slick, flowing paper. Pages from comics, Hendricks noticed, almost absent mindedly, a panel showing the Hawk gliding, silhouetted by the full moon. Then that panel, that page was gone, as the stream of paper unrelentingly poured on to the running kids head. He had stopped running now, of course, and had fallen to his knees, trying to peel the pages that clung to his head off, clearly weak and numb, his fingers struggling to work and his arms heavy and uncoordinated.
“st… Stop! Or I shoot!” commanded Hendricks, aiming his pistol at the flying, swirling mass of boy shaped comics. The teen next to him fell over silently, and was still. The thing that used to be Buddy but now wasn’t looked at the cop and laughed, flying off up into the storm.