Cradles the Brain: A Book of Short Tales

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Pudge the Clown

“Put the money in the bag!” The silicone mask covering her face muffles her voice. The teller shakes against the barrel of Pudge’s pistol as she fills the bag with rolls of change and dirty bills. The bank floor is covered in people laying facedown.

Pudge hears a stifled wail. Swiftly, she whips out another pistol with her left hand. She swings it out at the people, pressing the other gun into the teller’s forehead with more force. Her eyes swivel around to look at the room. The marble floor compliments the dark wood walls. The people on the floor are dressed nicely, especially when compared to Pudge. Cheese dust and crumbs cling to her tights. Her sweatshirt has dark stains under the armpits and the pocket has been raggedly torn off long ago. Pudge’s eyes land on the little boy who is crying. She squints through the mask then returns her eyes to the teller.

“Faster,” she says through gritted teeth. The teller shoves the money in hastily, dropping bills here and there. The mask on Pudge’s face fits her well, almost as if it is painted directly onto her. The blue eye makeup on the mask deepens her brown eyes. Her eyes are set back into the mask, and the creases within the artificial face make her eyes seem colder than they already appear to be. The maniacal grin casts an evil presence across her, and at the center sits a round, red nose; a mockery, as if any joy could exist within this malevolence.

Most supervillains wear a cape, but not Pudge. The hair that sinks past her butt is cape enough for her, reminding her that being a supervillain is not just something she does but something she is.

She glares at the teller, both of her arms spread out in aim. The bulletproof vest under her hoodie itches. She bites her lip to distract herself from the tickling sensation running up her abdomen. Her eyes focus back onto the teller, who holds the bag out to Pudge.

Scanning the room, Pudge puts her second pistol away into the band of her tights and snatches the black bag. She walks over the people on the floor, her grimy sneakers squeaking on the tile. Bending over, she presses her gun to the back of the little boy’s head. He cries out while his mother stays still and silent.

“Buck up kid, at least this didn’t turn into a hostage situation,” she mumbles.

The doors of the bank swing open. Pudge bolts upright and aims her gun. A man stands before the doors. White light seems to emanate about him. His blue spandex suit seems to accentuate every muscle in his body. Pudge gasps. This is not the first time they’ve met.

“Captain Guy, you won’t foil my plans this time!” She walks over the trembling people, slipping her other gun into the band of her tights. The man at the doors shakes his head. She approaches him, and he is unflinching. “Aren’t you going to try to stop me?” she asks, a wry smile can be heard within her voice.

He looks at Pudge. “No, I’m just here to help the people you’ve hurt.” He crosses his arms across his broad chest. His green eyes bore into hers, seeing right through her mask.

She glares at him as she squeezes out the door, his large frame taking up most of the space. He snatches her arm, accelerating her heart beat. She looks from his hand to his face.

“If I ever see you again, you’re done.” The seriousness in his face chills Pudge. She shivers and he lets go.

Running, she turns the corner of the bank. Her shoes slap on the wet pavement, splashing muddy water onto her legs. Her nose runs with the cold, and her mask collects condensation from her breath. Rain lightly sprinkles down on her. Her hair billows behind her as a cape would, but she no longer feels super.

Stopping in front of a dumpster, she gasps for air. She clambers onto the dumpster. Awkwardly balancing on the edge of the metal bin, she reaches up for the fire escape ladder. Her foot slips just as she latches on. She is yanked down but her hands tighten, and she is barely able to hoist herself up. She carries the bag of money by her teeth, grimacing.

Getting to the platform, she quickly charges up the stairs, her footfalls blending with the sound of thunder. Getting to her window, she sighs. With her free hand, she throws open the dirty pane. Ducking down, she slips into darkness. As her feet hit the carpet, she closes the cardboard covered window behind herself and walks in a straight line. Her fingers hook the light switch and a yellow light fills the room.

A small sofa and a coffee table sit in the center of the room. Everything from pizza boxes to Chinese takeout containers litter the floor. Flies buzz around, anxious to get their grubby hands on some of the food waste lying around. A lone noodle hangs over the edge of the coffee table, hardened by time. She steps away from the wall and enters a dark hallway past the kitchen. She takes ten steps into the dark hall then dives into a doorway. She flicks on the light, exposing herself to her own eyes.

In the mirror, she used to see an evil mastermind, sexy and cunning. Now as she looks at herself she can’t help but see herself for who she truly is: a fraud. Her thumb slips under the mask and pulls it up on top of her head. She looks away to the floor. Tears flood her eyes, blurring her vision. She sobs and throws her gloved hands to her face. Running out of the bathroom, she enters her bedroom without turning on a light. The cardboard on her windows is thin enough to allow a dingy light to filter through. Yanking her gloves off, she snatches up a notebook and pen and heads back to the bathroom.

After closing the lid, she sets her pistols on the toilet. Bending over the counter, she writes out a note. With haste, she strips off her dirty clothes and throws them in a heap in the corner. She rips the vest free of herself, listening to the deafening roar of Velcro. Tears wet her face, making her shine.

Pudge steps into the bathtub with caution, her eyes still blurred. She sits in the empty tub. Rust stains surround her, along with an audience of old shampoo bottles. Leaning forward, she grasps the water faucet and turns it on, almost on full heat. Steam soon fills the cold bathroom.

She blankly stares forward until movement catches her eye. A cockroach climbs up the wall across from her, just outside the shower curtain. As the tub fills, she watches it. She sees it reach the ceiling, where it flails. Its body falls to the bathroom floor. Pudge hears the click of its shell slapping the tile over the rushing water.

The hot water soothes her muscles. She relaxes back and reaches over to the toilet. Her eyes stare blankly at the ceiling as her fingers wrap around her gun. She’s up to her waist in water. The wet ends of her hair stick to her body. She pulls the pistol close, hugging the barrel to her temple. She decides against this and opts for the more intimate way. She slides the barrel into her mouth. She tries to keep her tongue from touching it but tastes the metal anyway. Her eyes stare at the white tile in front of her as voices whisper inside her head:

You’ll never be anything more than a piece of garbage.

I’m so ashamed of you.

Why can’t you do better?

Can’t you be like my friend’s daughter? At least she’s normal.

Why are you always in trouble?

Why are you so weird?

I could never love you.

I’m just here to help the people you’ve hurt.

If I ever see you again, you’re done.

She pulls the trigger, splattering her shower wall with the thoughts and memories she once kept. The pistol and her hand fall into her lap with a splash. Her body slumps as the tub continues to fill with water. Red washes into the tub, staining the moving water. The mask on her head now faces forward as her head falls onto her chest, its maniacal grin still intact.

On the counter, her note reads:

To Captain Guy,

I never meant to hurt anyone. I just wanted your attention. Why couldn’t you have caught me like you used to?”

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