Tuesday, June 30, 2015

FLICKER STREET Treatment # 7 - Interstice

This treatment was quite an undertaking. Juggling dozens of characters and plot threads from prior installments led to a rather larger than intended interstice. Still, I think it's successfully wrapped up a first phase, if you will, and subsequent installments should find the world of Flicker Street much easier to digest after these seven initial segments. At least, that's my intention. Enjoy!   

FLICKER STREET Treatment # 7 – Interstice
I. Kanabal Reborn

Gerhardt Vossius had used Kirsten Roeg in 1949 to attempt freedom and for his own amorous needs. He soon rejected her and their daughter Jennifer however. In 1959 the one-legged unrepentant cannibal killer began corresponding with a former teammate from the Silent Seven who'd also fallen far down on her luck – Felicia McGee. The once stunning, kick ass crimefighter Crimson Velvet had become a stripper, then a prostitute, and, at the age of 40, a stag film actress. She formed a sick attachment to the erstwhile Captain Caliban.

At this point, Gerhardt had had years to formulate a plan to gain revenge on his many enemies. Gerhardt once again took advantage of his extremely liberal warden, Mallard, as he had when he engaged in conjugal visits with Kirsten. He and Felicia conjugated several times while Vossius was incarcerated. This led to the 1961 birth of twins Gareb and Luana Vossius.

The final straw was when Kanabal escaped from prison in 1962. This was engineered by Kong, who wished to play Vossius and Ewen Cromwell against each other and eliminate several of their common enemies at once. Kong put up Vossius in a filthy hotel, where he began murdering whores and vagrants and consuming their flesh. His leg grew back, and he grew incredibly strong and youthful looking for his age (then 58).

Kanabal and Carnifex, under Kong's direction, put together a plan to wipe out the Silent Seven (all still alive, save honorary member Sorrow), as well as Dawn, Zachariah, and all of her Clancy children (Gerhardt insisted he get to know his son Solomon). Felicia feared for her life, and that of her babies. She resolved to go to Vance Orlison and Gadgeteer V for help. Before she could act, Carnifex broke into the Clancys' home at night and butchered Zachariah in front of Dawn and their five children – though he flashed a large smile at 15 year old Solomon Vossius. Solomon smiled back shockingly by all accounts. And then Cromwell took the eldest boy with him. “Your hate can take a most wondrous shape, tainted blood of my blood”. As per Kong's orders, Solomon was reunited with his father.

After Felicia's justifiably hysterical warning, Vance conferred with Cary Bradcroft AKA The Shadow Baron, while Richter, Sword, and Bradcroft's young charge Brandon ver Dorn (b, 1937), also known as the Snow Archer (for reasons that will be made clear in a future treatment), teamed to rescue Solomon. Months went by, and in 1963, the reluctant allies Carnifex and Kanabal drew further blood. Vance had been on their trail for some time and one night the two rogues smashed into his stately manor. Before Vance could react, Carnifex had dug his blade deeply into Doc's heart and out the other side. Solomon was again an accomplice; the sanguinary partners were encouraging the younger Vossius to follow in their blood-caked footsteps. By this point, Solomon was already imploring Ewen to train him in all his fighting skills.

II. The Gauntlet Passed

Dr. Vance Ewen Orlison was given a heroic funeral; it was densely attended and an extremely emotional event. “Doc Vance” was considered America's greatest hero and he was showered in accolades and tears. One man that attended, the Brit Cary Ashton Bradcroft, the Shadow Baron, owner of an extremely eccentric curio shoppe on Flicker Street, decided that enough was indeed enough. SkullCorp had to be destroyed. Cary and his undead twin Ashton Cary Bradcroft, now known only as Nocturno, took their long fulminating plans into fruition. As Cary made his way to their manor to map out the brothers' plans, he was accosted by a stocky sideburned man in a bomber jacket. He introduced himself as Captain Thomas Christopher Ledge, a Korean War veteran recently recruited by the government group REACT. After a fog of doubletalk emanated from the cocky Capt. Ledge, Cary broke in and pointed out that the funeral of such a venerated figure as Vance Orlison might not be the right place or time for “official business”. Ledge answered, “I was hoping for something more casual myself... maybe I'm outta line. But lemme share two things, Mr. Bradcroft... first, not everyone in the upper echelons believed “Doc Vance” was the good little soldier boy you do... an' two: you're on our list. High. Good day... we'll be meeting again soon I'm sure”.

A brief digression: Thomas Christopher Ledge was born on April 13, 1929, and was the first-born son of the man born Kaosong Qua and variously known as Caine Ledge, Bromley Chamberlaine, Mr. Drang, and others... but self-identified as ... Kong the Claimer. Thomas Ledge is a key player in our account as future segments will make clear.

In March 1964 (under the sign of Pisces interestingly), the Aggregate was formed. It was funded by the Bradcroft Foundation (established 1960) and was composed at first of surviving, active members of the Silent Seven, as well as the Shadow Baron, his semi-undead brother Nocturno, Ursulin, the Snow Archer, and the mysterious Dr. E. who was clad head to toe in a gold metallic form-fitting armor of sorts. Sword, Richter, Gadgeteer V, the Kraken, Anton Gamble and Bram Vallard in his Saturnine ID (he claimed madly that the Apparition was busy on missions in the Far East) rounded out the team. Sidonie Vossius, retired as the Duellist, ran Vossius Metalwerks with Andreas, and they had made the shift in the company's emphasis from munitions to appliances since their father's death in 1953. The Korean War was the last war Vossius supplied hardware to.

The Aggregate was the Bradcroft brothers' attempt to consolidate and expand Vance's basic concept for the Silent Seven but instead of a small unit of loose-knit vigilantes, the Aggregate was conceived as a larger umbrella outfit, a haven of sorts, for any specially-talented individuals who could be coerced into attacking Skull's power-mad agenda. The eleven founding members were in accord with this objective. While imprisoned by the Obscuros sect and tortured in Exodesia, Cary Bradcroft had an epiphany about such a group.

III. Prodigies

Before any further discussion of the Aggregate, we must trip a small bit back in time to the heyday of Phileas Caleb's vaunted “Operation: Outreach” program for SkullCorp. We have briefly lit on this brightly-monikered operation previously, but three key individuals “discovered” by Caleb as part of this program figure extensively in the early Aggregate saga.

The foremost of these was Evan Eloy Queeg, pegged by Caleb as the “first known Native-American physicist”. Under the direction of Caleb and Donal Rykards, Queeg was immediately put to work on the new Omegan tech brought by Ursulin. Queeg's personal philosophies and theories, which tended to meld quantum physics and Native spirituality, were right in tune with Omegan (and Piscean) transcendental philosophies. He had the strongest grasp of Omegan tech of any human outside of Caleb. Rykards' interest in Queeg's genius marked him as the first human trial of trans-morphic somatics. Rykards engineered a secret test, unknown to Kong, to bombard Queeg's mind (even more brilliant than his own) with the energies later dubbed TSD. This was in 1956, before the trials were perfected such as the 1963 trial undergone by Orphee deLander. The result? “Dr. E” as his students called him, died in a tremendous explosion at the SkullCorp Advanced Sciences Institute building in Augensburg MA. The entire institute was destroyed, costing Skull valuable research and employee's lives (though the latter mattered less to them).

Rykards was sent away to study the alien tech in Asia as his “punishment”. Kong hated him, but felt him too valuable to sanction. Rykards returned in 1963. In Hallmark, the Bradcroft twins' cousin Paige Bradcroft was reeling. She had become emotionally involved with Queeg, and was pregnant with his child, but this didn't deter Skull's Artemus Thorne, who lusted for her himself but who magnanimously “gave” her to Smith Fabricand's son John Paul Fabricand. Paige and John Paul were wed under duress. Nocturno, an avowed foe of the late Smith Fabricand, swore John Paul would pay for sullying his cousin.

Ursulin, often derisively called “Captain Omega”, returned to Earth in late 1954 and found his mother Shun Ti at Feng Qi in China (His father Friedrich Einnhauser was deceased by this time). He stayed with her for a time in secrecy, unknown to the likes of Kith and Carnifex. In 1955, she sent him to find his twin brother, whom he'd never met, Anaximander-Zayan. Zayan was a drifter, who took a variety of human disguises throughout his long life. Posing as a beatnik named Joel E. Moss, he was overjoyed to meet his brother. The two became very close, and Ursulin managed to find work and infiltrate human life in the American South.

The problem Kong and co. had in 1956 was that they needed Ursulin's help in figuring out what really happened at the Institute to Dr. E. Paige's child was born late in the year and was named Kyle Fabricand. Artemus Thorne murdered John Paul soon thereafter and declared Paige his. He raped her, and she shamefully married him. Their son Calvin Artemus “Cal” Thorne was born in 1957.

The brothers Thorne attempted, with Caleb's help, to find the “rabbit hole” Ursulin's Pod had vanished into to seek his help. They found a brilliant young scientist, a prodigy, named Emerson Trent (born in 1937) – who possessed Dr. E's brilliance at assimilating Ursulin's tech with Caleb's help. Trent grew up in a shantytown in Kingston, Jamaica; he was a brilliant scientist, kidnapped and forced to work for SkullCorp before being “rescued” (i.e. kidnapped again, as he saw it) by the Aggregate in 1965. Trent had been told his family was dead, and resigned to toil for good with the Bradcroft Foundation. Trent's family had also been told that Emerson had perished. Phileas Caleb orchestrated these deceptions. Trent's half-brother Euphrates Aquinas Straw was born in 1940, and was brought from Jamaica as assistant to Trent. Straw was not only brilliant scientifically (though not on the level of Trent), he possessed many skills, especially in the martial arts. He was a true polymath. He was captured and tested (and tortured) by SkullCorp in the mid-60s. It was hoped by SkullCorp that Straw not survive his ordeal, but it actually enhanced his already formidable skills. He joined the Aggregate officially after this, and became a key member for years, as was his brother.

Trent, Straw, Ursulin, and Nocturno sought out the vigilante, Snow Archer, in 1961, and soon discovered he was the well-off and highly intelligent Brandon ver Dorn. Archer was the first to encounter a reconstituted Queeg, now composed entirely of explosive plasma energy, who was saved by Trent. Trent would do all he could for the explosive being that had been Evan Eloy Queeg. Ver Dorn, in helping Queeg cope with his lost humanity, made a lifelong friend of the man called Dr. E.

Though the Aggregate was a secret and closed group from its 1964 foundation, Orphee deLander aka The Absurd Tentacle learned of it and often was invited to join but refused unless he could be the leader. The Bradcroft's group then acquired the brawler, genetically enhanced by his relations to Kong, named Thomas Ledge, in 1967. Ledge, as stated previously, was a Korean War veteran and an agent of REACT. He was “assigned” to the Aggregate, and the Bradcrofts tolerated his presence, feeding Ledge reams of mis- and disinformation.

In future treatments members inducted in the late 1960s who do not figure in the mission detailed in Part V such as recombinants Wurm (Benjamin “Ben” Renova), Princesa Verde, Heironymous (Dahlia Mueller), and Gullivar (Enos McClegg) will be covered at length.

IV. The Earth Mother Revisited

Zachariah Clancy's hatred and jealousy of the brothers Stenbrau (Anton Gamble and the Kraken) had lead to his downfall. He had gone to work for SkullCorp where he felt he could make a real difference, but he inadvertently learned that Anton Gamble's warnings were not in vain. He vowed to go public with his discoveries. Kong brought in Carnifex to assassinate Clancy, which was Ewen's plan all along anyway. Ewen hardly minded taking the rap as his hatred of the Vossiuses was legend by now. After Cromwell slew Clancy, Dawn was threatened by her grandsire that she was next and should live in fear til the day came. And then Carnifex and Kanabal took the 15 (going on 16) year old Solomon Vossius and fled, leaving Dawn, trained from birth to take care of herself, feeling more helpless than ever. At least her other four children were unharmed – physically anyway. They all vowed that night that Cromwell, Vossius, and their own brother would pay.

The Kraken, Sword, and the recent Hallmark-based vigilante Snow Archer (to be explored in future segments) combined forces to protect Dawn and her family, at Anton Gamble's and Cary Bradcroft's behest. This was part of an effort on the Shadow Baron's part to forge a new, stronger team in the wake of the Silent Seven – a team which he called the Aggregate .

One of Cary's team took a drastic step in protecting Dawn – Eryk Stenbrau. The Kraken had been falling deeper and deeper in love with her over the years, and, placing the Clancy children under the care of Andreas and Sidonie, he kidnapped Dawn. He was indeed doing this for her ultimate protection, but no doubt hoped he could mend her broken heart. She thought him a fool, and by defeating him in combat, proved she could take care of herself.”But I'm taking care of your whole family. Vance and Cary will get Solomon back.” Dawn thought Eryk naïve; she knew that Solomon was simply wishing to follow in his father's reprobate footsteps. “He belongs with his father; he always has. A mother knows these things”.

But true to form in such fantastic situations, Dawn grew more attracted to Eryk, and she made love with him in order to escape. But she had never really loved one man – she used Gerhardt, used Clancy for status (though she deeply cared for her family with them), and was now using Eryk's love for her to escape. And it worked. But, she realized, there was one man she had come to have genuine feelings for – Eryk's brother, Anton Gamble.

Dawn escaped, and Kraken followed. She found shelter with an old friend of the Clancys – Antoine Grimadi, a bi-racial Italian businessman. She knew she was pregnant with the Kraken's child and when she gave bith, she left the child with Antoine and his wife Chloe. They raised him as their own, Germaine Grimaldi, though Dawn had initially named him Luther Stenbrau. The Kraken tearfully searched for the pregnant Dawn, rendezvousing with his partner Ian Rhys McGregor. But Ewen Cromwell had found them first, and swiftly dispatched them both. He fed their grisly remains to Gerhardt Vossius, who allowed his now 17 year old son to look on as he feasted on his well-cooked repast.

Dawn found Anton Gamble in France in 1965 and suggest they begin a romance. She took him completely off-guard. He was the man she's been looking for all these years, she finally realized. Or was she deluding herself, and becoming ever the amoral opportunist? Did Ewen Cromwell's blood run a bit thicker in her veins than she would've liked? Regardless, she still deserved none of the horrific incidences visited upon her by her grandfather and by her first husband.

Anton and Dawn moved to Germany, where Anton reverted to his natal name Jakob Stenbrau,and the two were soon married in Berlin in 1967. They moved into Chateau Noir (“which they nicknamed Chateau Stenbrau”) , formerly Richter's German HQ but now considered abandoned,a ruin. Richter promised the Stenbraus that he would keep them informed of their enemies – and friends' – whereabouts though they were technically on the lam. On June 23, 1968, their son, Deric, was born . Gamble/ Stenbrau quit the Aggregate, and was overjoyed, feeling that nothing and no one could shatter their happiness. He was deluded.

In 1970, Kanabal and Carnifex, under Kong's direction, ferreted out the Stenbraus. It seems that Cary Bradcroft did indeed learn where they were (from Richter) and he and Nocturno cast a protective spell so they'd not be found. The Avrils and the Fabricands, supervised by Kong himself, broke the spell. By this time the 23 year old Solomon Vossius was undertaking missions with Cromwell and Gerhardt and, encased in a bizarre S & M outfit – an armor/ latex combo, now called himself the Tormenter and had acquired a penchant not just for cannibalism, but rape, torture, and necrophilia. Gerhardt was proud.

V. Noir Holocaust

The three perverse banes of the Stenbraus' existence arrived in May 1970 at the Chateau Noir. Unfortunately for them, the Bradcrofts sent in a contingent of Aggregate agents to put a permanent stop to the aforementioned banes. Carnifex and the Vossiuses planned a swift bloody strike but unfortunately for them, the Aggregate planned the same.

Carnifex and co. carved their way into the chateau, but the Stenbraus stood their ground. They'd been warned mystically by Nocturno, and so gave their child to their friends the Grimaldis to take care of. The Tormenter jumped the gun on the raid and leapt onto Dawn, who sent him hurling into a wall. Kanabal approached Jakob, who he tossed out the first floor window brutally. That was to be the last anyone saw of Anton Gamble. Suddenly the roof caved in, courtesy of Thomas Ledge. Ledge pounced onto Kanabal and then pitched the cannibal through a nearby window, bellowing, “And you pansies gave the Silent Seven so much trouble? Whatta joke!”

A volley of arrows penetrated Carnifex's armor but caused him little pain. Ursulin and Richter appeared on two sides of the hallway. Both fired their weapons; Ursulin's maser causing Ewen far more pain. He blindingly hacked Ursulin's right arm off, ceasing his fire. Saturnine appeared beside his brother and fired several rounds at Cromwell, who simply leapt forward and skewered the madman on his blade. Or so it appeared. “James!!” screamed Richter, who hefted a grenade at Carnifex point blank and ducked for cover. The explosion rattled Cromwell, who was then dealt a harsh blow to the kidney by Thomas Ledge.

The Tormenter picked up Cromwell's heavy blade and hacked at Gadgeteer V. Euphrates Straw disarmed the young sadist and then knocked Solomon down with several kung fu moves. Straw helped up Andreas, who was bleeding profusely. Kanabal came up behind the two like some feral beast, ripped off Andreas' right arm, and began savagely beating Straw with it. Poised above a prostrate Straw, Kanabal prepared to do in the young polymath. But Straw leapt up and kicked him into a back snapping punch from Ledge. Their personal politics aside, Ledge and Straw made a superlative fighting team.

When Kanabal rose, Dr. E was standing before him. While Solomon skewered Andreas Vossius to death with his own electro-rod, Kanabal clawed at Dr. E's sleek protective armor, getting closer to its inner layers until E finally cocked his fist back and planted it square inside Vossius' mouth – snapping off his teeth (fangs really at this point), rupturing his jaw, and, with an explosive plasma burst, blasting Gerhardt's skull apart into so many discreet fragments. Dawn, lying in the corner, smiled, and tried to get up and over to E for protection when Cromwell sidestepped her, sword in hand. She attempted to fight him but he snapped her neck in one stroke. Ewen's lovely, vivacious granddaughter fell to the ground, her life snuffed by Carnifex.

Where was Anton Gamble in all this? Several wondered. Saturnine was missing as well, and Richter raced off to find them. Snow Archer faced down Tormenter, with Ledge behind him. Straw was mending Ursulin's arm. Brandon ver Dorn and Solomon Vossius faced off in a brief but tense martial arts exchange. Ver Dorn clearly had the fighting advantage as Solomon was still in training. Ledge grabbed Vossius, and screamed, “Hey rough trade … you think you got what it takes? Fuck YOU!!” and slammed his spike-helmeted head so hard into the nearest wall Vossius went out cold. Ledge was then pummeled into the next room by the far stronger Carnifex.

Cromwell turned, and the wounded Tressilian brothers bombarded him with gunfire. Suddenly an exploding titanium arrow hit Cromwell square in the mid-spine. As it exploded, it crunched fragments of Cromwell's spine along with his armor, mail, muscle and flesh. A fine spray of blood arched through the air. Dr. E walked up to the faltering Cromwell, and, touching him on the shoulder, ignited a propulsive explosion that sent Carnifex into a fit of finest agony as he caught fire, exploded, and went sailing through the front door, his left leg and right arm snapping off from the force of the detonation.

He crawled away, bathed in flame, and Ledge said, “I know he can heal an' all... so where do you put these creeps when you're done playin' footsie with 'em? If they survive that is....”
We're... working on that”, said Ursulin. “Let's take the two with us... I've an idea you'll quite like, Thomas”.
What about you, buddy? That arm...”
It's... painful, but it will soon regenerate. All of the regenerative powers found in those such as Cromwell can be traced, via Exodesia, to Omegan and Piscean sciences. We are natural regeneraters.
What about Gamble?” asked Straw. “Did you find him, Richter?”
Non”, said Richter, “He's completely disappeared. I can't imagine what could have happened”.
Tell you what happened”, interjected Thomas, “Fuckin' coward's what he was. His wife and gay buddy are over here dead – where's he?? Hell, his frickin' arch-enemy got his head blown clean apart – good work, E – an' “Mister Existentialism” is nowhere - “
Enough, you foul bastard,” came the icy tones of Saturnine, who emerged from the shadows as if from limbo. “Jakob Stenbrau is – was? - more of a man than you'll ever be with your ludicrous posturing”.
Head case chimes in. Duly noted”, tossed off Ledge as he lit a cigar.
Straw said, “You are one cold motherfucker, Ledge – but in a fight you got my grudging respect”.
Cause I had your back, boy - “
- an' you mine. Seen a little combat, you'd know whereof I speak. But you're A-OK with me Straw.”
I'm so fucking honored, bigshot – os should I say 'bigot'?”.

Ver Dorn, weary of the exchange, said, “With real leadership – no offense Richter – this could've been a win-win for us. But we took casualtie. Hard. Just like when Ian and Eryk bought it. Andreas Gerhardt and this poor, poor woman, Dawn – they didn't deserve to die. So let's get their bodies – and these two prisoners – outside. Trent is rendezvousing in the jet with us – any minute.”
Richter said, “I'm staying behind, as is my brother. Effective now, we're out of the Aggregate. For our own reasons. And we would appreciate it if you'd let the world think Anton Gamble perished today.”
In a way, with Dawn's death, I'm sure he did”, said ver Dorn.
I think we can all relate”, said Ursulin. “Even Thomas Ledge”, he smiled.

Trent's jet soon touched down. The deceased and the still unconscious prisoners were all strapped down. “Been thinkin'” said Ledge as they took off on the long flight to Hallmark.
Yeah”, laughed Euphrates, “ That must've been a hell of a struggle”.
It was, “mon”. I was thinkin' we should have a set of permanent holding cells for these assholes when we bag 'em. “
Hardly a new idea among this group”, Straw cynically replied.
Yeah – but we should call it – the Compound”.
Ver Dorn said, “I like it.”

Back at the chateau, the brothers Tressilian tended to an old friend, badly wounded, and awaited medical aid. Their friend began sobbing uncontrollably, “Dawn – Dawn – I couldn't even save her..”
Richter leaned over his uncontrollably lachrymose friend, “It's alright, mon ami. The struggles of Jakob Stenbrau and of Anton Gamble are over. But though you will soon be a new man, the wounds of past lives will pain you for some time”, said Richter tenderly to his old comrade.
We're going to invent a whole new ID for you old friend”, said James, “I came up with the the name Jason Barlowe. Thoughts?”
I like it”, sobbed Gamble, “I think I'd like to be a chef. That I haven' done - “
And just think”, declared a very animated Saturnine : “'Dead at 52: Anton Gamble, visionary author of “Distortion”, “Terminus”, “Sacred Mirrors”, and “The Earth Mother” - a legend in our time taken far too soon'. Hahahahaha....”

VI. The Map to Our Sorrows

Madness is what we thrive on in these times/ Stretching tendrils to the stars/
From nearer suns and distant climes/ It is the map to our sorrows, writ large/
A holocaust of our soul/ It feeds us and it drains us/
A divine madness lovingly wrought/ It always will sustain us/
A broken id/ A carnivale of illumination
But in the dark in the pale/ In this twisted shadow nation/
We merge as we dissolve/ A voice in mercurial pain/
Asks us once/ how much of what we are yet remains?

Excerpted from The Sacred Mirrors, “The Map to Our Sorrows” from the LP “The Palest Carnivale”; music: Richard Dannish Bacon/ Zane Whiteside D'Azai; lyrics: Anton Gamble (Jakob Stenbrau)

Welcome to Flicker Street!

Henry Covert
July 1, 2015

Special thanx to my wife Sarah L. Covert. She is my dawn.
Extra special thanx to Thomas S. Davis, whose childhood imagination inspired me to attempt my own original comix stories. 
RIP Christopher Andrew Pack, 1968-2013, a great editor and a great companion. 

Flicker Street, all images, characters, and story elements are Copyright 2015 George Henry Smathers Jr.

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