Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Spider's Web: Chapter One

Dirty, loud, incandescent signs. Loud, rude, people, with far too many colors and smells and everything else that made Peter want to be in his basement, most of the lights off, alone, with his work.  Peter grabbed his inhaler and heaved, fighting the tightness in his chest. He was late to school, but Peter didn’t care. School was worthless. If anything, he felt dumber leaving the building than when he went in.

Every day was the same. Peter walked into Hillcrest High School, past the metal detectors, past the cops, trying to hold his breath over the smell of other people who clearly had been smoking pot, to his locker, which he had locked with a padlock, right along with the standard lock built into the door. But the standard locks were stupid and were very easy to get into. Not that Peter had ever broken into a locker to vandalize them; he was curious as to how to figure them out. Locks were easier than people and much quieter.

Today, Peter had brought a small device in his backpack. Of course that meant checking it in with the cops, but he clutched the inhaler in his pocket as he produced the paperwork Dr. Allan had given him. Peter had built a machine that could alter the weather on a small scale. The cops fingered it, handled it, sniffed it (what the hell were they doing sniffing it??), and then handed it back. Peter sneered at them as he walked past. The cops ignored him. They had seen that look before.
The day went by far too slowly until chemistry class with Dr. Allan. And even that was slow. Dr. Allan would only go at the rate of someone like Flash, who sat in the back, on his phone. He was probably looking at nudes, knowing him. Half the girls in the school had been with him, by his account. Flash had been benefited by puberty, unlike Peter; he was six feet tall, built like a mountain, and had a rogue-ish red curl on his forehead that never seemed to move. It made the girls wet to look at him.  As Peter glowered at him he found himself touching his own, scrawny, leg. He flinched. 

Dr. Allan looked at the machine at the end of class and smiled. “Good work, Peter, good work! But it’s a little flawed. But if I give you this…” and he fished out a metal out of a desk. “But this will make sure that it doesn’t break down. Replace the copper flakes with this.”

“How… how did you get vibranium?” Peter stared down at the tiny bit of metal in his hands. “This isn’t… this isn’t legal, is it, Dr. Allan?”

“Peter, sometimes in order to progress towards your ultimate goal, you have to break some rules here and there. And please, like I said before, when we’re not in class, call me Charles.”

“Oh… OK, Charles. But how will I get the shaved bits off of a metal that redistributes all force put upon it?”

“You figure that out, and you will have a seat at any institution you’d like by the end of the year.”
When Peter went home he ran straight into his basement, locking the door behind him, not even acknowledging the calls of “Peter!” He’d been thinking about the problem all day. Vibranium would need to be rendered less reactive. He didn’t need much, just to whittle this piece of it down enough to place it in his machine. He knew that, in order to do that, he would have to slow it down on a molecular level… which meant cooling… of some sort.

He was back out the front door, vibranium in its protective case. He hopped on his bike, clearing a few blocks before stopping for his inhaler. He biked on until he came to Inglesia, a restaurant that Uncle Ben had donated his last cent to keep open. Their flautas were perfect, or so Uncle Ben said. Peter hated flautas. Well, Peter hated most friend food in particular, it just smelled horrific. But Peter was welcome into this stinky hell-hole anytime, and so he went there.

“Peter! How’s your uncle?” asked Manny, the head cook, who was currently waiting on tables too. Peter gave out the niceties. Manny smelled bad. Always. Peter had no idea how on earth the place stayed open; the Health Board should have shut this hellhole down years ago. But Uncle Ben saw value in this place…

“Hey, Manny! Do you, uh, have a second?” Peter looked around. He’d no idea where the money Uncle Ben had given this fool had gone, but it certainly hadn’t gone towards a shower. But Manny seemed friendly enough, regardless of… whatever. “Do you still have that… that knife?”

Manny laughed. “The knife from ‘Nam? Of course! What else would I do with an adamantium knife? Why?”

Peter pulled out the package from his backpack. “I’ve got something that only adamantium can cut.”
“Sure, Peter, sure! C’mon in, I can get that done for you!” Peter walked into the steaming kitchen with Manny. Perspiration spawned on Peter as they walked through. Peter hated kitchens. Too much going on. Manny went into his office, all the way in the back of his grungry hell-hole, and pulled a small knife out of a drawer. It was no bigger than a Swiss Army Pocket-Knife’s blade, but Manny was gingerly holding it. Peter handed the bit of vibranium to Manny, reluctantly. He indicated where to cut, and Manny gave a few quick slices. “There ya go, bud! Want a flauta on your way out?”

Peter refused, flat.

The next day was much the same, except it wasn’t. Peter didn’t mind the noise as much as he normally did, and he proudly placed his device (the “Weather-Man!”) into the cop’s hand. He saw Flash and even found himself smiling at the jock. Even he had heard the news within a few minutes of coming into the school: Flash Thompson, the lady’s man extraordinaire, was dating good girl, straw-colored haired Liz Allan! Apparently something about that hot blonde had turned Flash’s head enough to put up with her conservative nonsense. Whatever. Maybe she would rub off enough on Flash to make him not an asshole. After his English class with Mrs. Lapell he ran back to his locker.

But Peter knew who had broken into his locker before he looked inside. Only one idiot would be resourceful enough to get the proper tools necessary to break the lock and yet still flunk all the tests he took. And there was one spot that Flash dumped all his dirty work, regardless of whether it involved sex or not: behind the bleachers. He ran down the hallway, ignoring the warnings of his teachers, pushing past people, causing his chest to heave against his collared shirt. He got to the edge of the bleachers, and loosened his tie a little.

He stopped when he saw what was left of Weather-Man: just the vibranium. Flash was too stupid to see the value of it, of course.

Peter didn’t stop to talk to… Miles… after class. He went straight home, ignoring the greetings, and went downstairs. He didn’t turn the light on, he just sat. And sat. And sat. Eventually the door creaked and he could hear the groaning of the stairs.

Uncle Ben always smelled of cigars. He had quit years ago (Aunt May had made him), but the smell stuck, somehow. And his voice was a deep, calm, smoky sort of a voice. “Peter. I hate to bother you in your super-science lab, but your Aunt… well… she’s a worrier. And she’s worried about you. You came in upset. Is everything alright?”

Peter shook his head. “It’s all right, Uncle Ben, I just… I… Flash Thompson destroyed something I had made. It was a weather machine. It… took… it took a lot of work. An absurd amount, Uncle Ben. I even had to go to Manny for help, but Flash… He destroyed it.”

“And what are you going to do about it?”


“Peter, what do you plan to do about it?”

More silence.

“Peter, what are you going to do about it? Cause there’s a few ways you can go about this. You could let it be. Flash has his own issues. I know it doesn’t excuse what he did, but are you really going to add to whatever may be going on with him, just because he hurt you? I know that’s not the nice answer. If you want to we can report this to the school, if you’d like.”

Peter sat there in silence for another minute. “No, Uncle Ben, you’re right. I wouldn’t want us adding to it. I think I can forgive him.”

Uncle Ben clapped him on the shoulder.  “You’re a good man, Pete. You’re going to change the world someday.” He left Peter in the basement. The sun would come down before Peter follow him back up the stairs. Peter laughed and joked with Uncle Ben and listened attentively to Aunt May's insistence that he was far too fragile a person for those kinds of jokes. Peter washed the dishes for her, much to her protests. He played Scrabble with Uncle Ben and Aunt May (and let Aunt May win every time) and then went to bed. But Peter didn't sleep. Peter hadn't slept more than a few hours a night for years. His mind would never calm, not without absolute exhaustion. He would have gone out to do basketball for the exercise, but Aunt May protested about how fragile he was. Peter almost believed her.

So the next day Peter didn't confront Flash. No, Peter waited for Flash to rush into class, five minutes late, before he asked to go to the bathroom. He got up, walked down the hall, stopped and a locker, opened it, and looked into it for a few minutes. After a few minutes he walked away, spring in his step, to the janitor's closet, for which he produced a home-made skeleton key. He pulled a few fluids out of it and then went back to the locker. A few minutes later he put everything back and went to the bathroom. It took less than a few minutes.

Peter was on his way to gym when he was grabbed by his sweater collar by a familiar hand and dragged outside. As Peter looked back he saw Liz, that straw colored hair in a bun, running after them, yelling at the top of her lungs. Of course they went to behind the bleachers. But that was the way the world worked, wasn't it?

Flash was so red in the face that something... unexpected... happened. Peter laughed. He couldn't help it, Flash looked so ridiculous! His red, curly, hair, his red, angry face... Peter didn't give a shit anymore. He was going to be beaten within an inch of his life, he knew it. But Peter had done it. He had hurt Flash in a way far more powerful than anything Flash was about to do to him.

Flash had stopped yelling and was looking at Peter, expectantly. Liz was screaming? Crying? Peter already had a bloody nose. It felt good. The blood tasted good in his mouth, tangy and sour. "Oh, you wanted me to say something?" Flash stared, dumbstruck. He even let go of Peter and stepped back a half step. "You want me to apologize for taking your pweicous widduh neckwace for goody two shoes Whizzy and-"

He felt his nose break and he laughed. His ribs popped and Peter yelped in pain, but the look he shot Flash made Liz freeze as she ran to pull Flash off him.  She grabbed the top of her head with both hands, and that bun came undone. Golden hair cascaded down her shoulders. Her face was framed in gold. Peter chuckled. "See, Whizzy? Poor widduh Fwash hasn't change much, has he?"

The last impressions Peter had was Liz's scream and the bottom of Flash's shoe.

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