Olivia stands in the doorway. She mops sweat from her brow, an overstuffed and collapsing moving box next to her.
–– You’ve been zombies for days. Would it kill you to help out?
Amidst sounds of zombie slaying, Toby shrugs. Ollie walks up to the doorway and picks up the box, careful (kinda) to keep its innards from spewing all over the entryway. He kisses her on the forehead and carries the box into the living room. She rolls her eyes.
Setting the box down, Ollie stares at the post-apocalyptic alpha male cardboard nightmare spread across what was once Olivia’s living room. Chuck Norris DVD collection. Trophies (mostly second place). Books (auto-hagiographies of sports stars and Donald Trump). Trash bags of clothing (one filled only with white ankle socks).
He pulls a stuffed animal from one of the bags. A one-eyed blue chameleon. He stares into its glassy eye. Fiddles with the feet. He points it at Toby, sitting on the couch, flanked by moving boxes, his attention resting on the digital zombie slice ’n dice.
Greg snatches the chameleon from Ollie’s hand and stuffs it in a box as he heads out the door. Ollie smirks. He pushes boxes aside and sits next to Toby.
–– You took your medicine?
Toby doesn’t respond. Ollie stares at the television screen.
–– You have to help me buddy.
Toby shakes his head.
–– Come on, you said it yourself, about Billy. You were right.
Toby shrugs. Ollie spins his decoder ring.
–– If you help me we can get rid of him. He won’t live here.
–– You helped him live here.
Ollie opens up one of the boxes. Golf trophy with missing club.
–– What’s so special about the Captain America serial?
Toby smashes the X-Y-B buttons. Kill shot.
–– Come on buddy, you know this.
A digital zombie torso is halved.
–– You knew Lionel Atwill was the bad guy from the start.
–– You knew Lionel Atwill was the bad guy from the start. Right. We know who the bad guy is here, don’t we?
Toby’s digital avatar remains still. It swings its weapon, betraying its impatience.
–– I didn’t say anything to your mom. I didn’t help him. I need you to help me, like you said you would. Remember that? But buddy, it has to be exact. If we want to get rid of him, it has to be exact.
Toby pauses the game.
–– He won’t live here anymore?
–– He won’t live here.
Toby depresses the center button and the game system turns off.
–– I still need bristol board.
• • •
Toby runs his hands over the new packet of bristol board on Ollie’s desk. He smiles.
–– Right tools for the job, right? Old Grandpa’s still got a few tricks up his sleeve.
Ollie hands him the crumpled page one script. He pats him on the shoulder.
–– It has to be exact. We’re gonna get him.
Pencil to bristol.
The tireless figure rockets toward an unknown destination. The abusive father. It all comes back to life through Toby’s skill. Every line correct, just like he remembers it. The halftones. The panel numbers. Everything that was taken, and everything he’ll give back.
Ollie sits at the foot of his bed, his old typewriter sitting on a TV tray in front of him. He rolls in a sheet of typing paper. The carriage return accents the scritch-scratch of pencil lead against paper. Rapid fire typing:
1. The SENTINEL extends his hand to the terrified boy.
SENTINEL – IT’S OK NOW. COME ON OUT.
2. The MOTHER hugs her SON. She looks up towards the SENTINEL.
WIFE – HOW CAN I EVER THANK YOU?
SENTINEL – JUST –
Toby hands Ollie the penciled page. Ollie wells up with pride.
Footsteps in the hallway. Not the delicate steps of Olivia. These are the thud stumblings of Greg.
Ollie grabs the typewriter and the page of art and kneels to the floor. He pulls out the “Toby’s College Fund” box, rolls up the artwork and places it inside. He pushes it further under the bed with the typewriter. He pulls himself to vertical as Greg barges into the room. Toby spins in the green chair.
–– Mom told me to tell ya dinner’s ready.
Toby slides off the chair and out of the room. Greg musses his hair.
Ollie ignores Greg’s glare with a bounce in his step.
• • •
Silence around the table.
Ollie devours garlic bread with verve. Toby twirls spaghetti, lost in thought. Greg stares around the table. He leans back, puts his hands behind his head as he chews.
–– Man, this is rich. Heard from Dan at work today. You’re never gonna believe this. Plane hit the tarmac, skidded. But he did just like I told him, and everything turned out OK.
Olivia’s eyes widen.
–– Did anyone get hurt?
–– Nope. ‘Course, if I’d been flying, wouldn’t even had happened. Pilots today don’t have the training I’ve got.
Ollie chomps on another piece of garlic bread.
–– Didn’t know they let air traffic guys fly.
–– Something’ll open up.
Unease crosses Olivia’s face. She looks over at Toby, scribbling with his finger on the table top.
–– So what are you boys working on in there all mysterious-like?
–– Grandpa’s helping me out with a school project. Can I be excused?
Olivia smiles. Ollie breathes a sigh of relief.
The three of them eat in silence. Greg shoves a forkful of spaghetti into his mouth.
–– You know, I think Toby and I are really going to get along.
Ollie puts his fork down. Greg digs deeper.
–– Yep. Just like brothers.
Ollie stops smiling. He stands from the dinner table.
• • •
We’re going to get rid of him.
It’s all going so well.
I, Private Ollie, do hereby swear to guard this comic with my life, or I give Billy my full permission to kick my ass. Ollie.
Ollie reaches under the bed, seeking solace in the work he and Toby created. He pulls the box from its resting place and lifts the lid.
He stares at the two casino chips.
• • •
Greg moves the collapsing box with kid gloves. “Fragile.” He looks up to see Ollie standing over him, the “Toby’s College Fund” box in his hands.
–– Finally decided to help out?
–– Where is it?
Ollie punches Greg in the mouth. The Decoder Ring leaves a red impression.
–– I was going to fix everything you sonuvabitch! I did what you said!
Greg smirks. Massages his jaw.
–– I have no clue what you’re talking about, Old Man. Wow, something really got under your skin didn’t it?
Ollie swings at Greg again. Greg dodges. Ollie falls into the boxes. The contents of the overflowing box spread across the floor. The college fund box falls in with the overflow.
–– Where is it? Where?
Olivia leans over to help Ollie as he struggles to regain footing. He grabs the “Toby’s College Fund” box. She pulls it from his hands.
The casino chips jangle inside. She lifts the lid.
–– I’m going to fix everything.
• • •
Toby watches from the steps, the rolled up piece of art in his hands. He trembles.