My eyes snap open and in that instant, I’m battered by the three-punch combo of a massive hangover, Rosie pounding on my door, and three more dead on my ledger. The hangover will sort itself eventually, the dead are dead, but Rosie will beat the damn door down if I don’t answer. She’s stubborn as hell, is Rosie, and dangerous strong for a female.
I yell down at her to please, for the love of all things small and prickly, please stop pounding. The door’s open, Love, just step inside. I’ll be down in a shake. Could you be a sweetheart and put on the coffee?
The coffee is a dangerous request, Rosie having a quick temper, but she also dotes on me. Truth will out it’s Sonny she dotes on, not me. Loves him with all her heart, a crazy blind love. But Sonny is gone. I’ve taken his place. Taken Rosie as well, and she’s too love-blind to notice the difference.
Don’t worry if you’re confused by all this. You’re not alone. I spend most of my days in a fog that only gets worse once the pub opens.
It was different when we were a team, all of us together. Sonny was our leader. Simple and good he was, everything black or white, rules to be followed and all of that. There was Rosie following him anywhere, starry-eyed in love, Knuckles and Tom Tails standing by ready to thump bad guys, and me.
I’m Sherman. At least that’s who I was before. I was the get-it-done lad, the closer. Rules were never my strong suit, only results. Blended all together, we were unstoppable, or so we reckoned.
Sonny was always going on about defending freedom and stopping oppression. The thing is, he walked his talk. If some badnik took a notion to rough up some poor, defenseless animal, Sonny made sure that same badnik found himself in a world of hurt and right quick, too.
You’ve not seen fast until you’ve seen Sonny when his dander was up. Turned into a whirling ball of blue fury, he did. Bad news for any bad guys that riled him. Not that he was without faults. Being fast made him impatient, especially with folks that were slower than him, which was damn near anyone.
Before you accuse me of speaking ill of him, let me just say that Sonny was as loyal as they come, honest as the day is long, and a creature who kept his promises. He wasn’t perfect, but you sure as hell wanted him on your side in a scrape. Funny thing though, with all his talents, Sonny couldn’t swim a stroke. Sank like a rock, he did.
When you speak of ill things, it’s best to know that there’s evil in this world, people and things so full-on bad that your normal critter can’t come to grips with them. They don’t even care to try, not even a little bit. Better not to open the door in the first place, if you take my meaning. For special evil, the world needs special tools. That’s where our little band of heroes comes into the story.
Mad scientists do exist. They shouldn’t, but madness and science are not mutually exclusive. Take your nuclear scientist with a faulty moral compass, the guy who sells bad technology to some tinpot dictator. He’s bad, sure, but it’s all about the money.
Much worse are the truly evil ones, the kind of madman who won’t be happy until every living being is under his thumb. Those are the bad guys with a capital B, criminal masterminds like Doctor Eggers. That’s the nutcase we were after when things went bad. Don’t get me wrong. We got him, because that’s what we do. But we lost Sonny doing it.
This bad egg discovered an energy source more powerful than all the plutonium in existence. If he managed to get his grubby hands on it, he’d be top dog of the planet. Typical behaviour for one of these megalomaniacs, right?
So, the big fight goes down on South Island, a place you’ve probably never heard of. This isn’t our first rodeo with Eggers, so we know what to expect. They come at us with an army of badniks, a cadre of evil robots, the whole nine yards.
It’s complete and utter chaos. Rosie is bashing badniks left and right, Tom Tails is doing his whirling dervish thing, and Knocker is flattening henchmen like there’s no tomorrow, which there won’t be if we lose. In the middle of it all is Sonny. He opens a can of blue whoop-ass and is laying it down, bad guys flying everywhere.
That’s when it happens. A whole new gang of no-goods appears out of nowhere. I see Sonny go down under a pile of these thugs, so I charge in, guns blazing. The rest of the team likes the hand-to-hand stuff, but I am not averse to firepower.
I blast a pathway to Sonny, and then we’re fighting back-to-back. Sonny and I are a badass nucleus of two, surrounded by evil minions. They charge in a mass and things are looking grim for the home team.
For a split-second I see a seething horde of badniks. A heartbeat later, something huge and powerful is flowing out of the ground, pulsing through Sonny and me like we’re some kind of lightning rod. There is a searing flash of blue that eats the entire universe, a splintering crash like a million china plates hitting a concrete floor, and then nothing.
When I come back to consciousness, I’m flat on my back and my skull is full of pealing church bells. The faces of Rosie, Knocker, and Tom Tails are hovering over me, silhouetted against a smokey sky.
Rosie’s mouth is moving, but I can’t hear what she’s saying. When my ears finally make out her words, my brain can’t understand them. Her voice drifts down to me like I’m at the bottom of a dry well: Sonny, where’s Sherman? Sonny, what happened to Sherman? I tried, I did, but the faces above me started spinning. I’m shaking my head, my eyes blurry with tears, the words stuck in my throat. Then everything goes black.
I was two days coming back to the land of the living. Wish I could tell you where I went, but it’s a blank. Anyway, I come to and the docs are checking me out. That’s when I get my first look at a mirror.
They say seeing a stranger in the mirror can shock a creature to its death. I don’t see a stranger reflected in that mirror, nor do I see myself. It’s Sonny’s face staring back at me. Shock doesn’t come close to describing what I’m feeling, but it doesn’t kill me. Might have been better for everyone if it did. The locals hereabouts would probably agree with that sentiment, especially the dead ones.
The official version of the South Island engagement is that the evil mastermind was defeated as were his badniks, the energy source was secured, and one member of the team was missing and presumed dead. We mourn the loss of our brave comrade Sherman. Sonny and the team are to be moved to an undisclosed location. I didn’t breathe a word of the real story. What was I going to say?
It’s a funny thing about heroes. There’s no place for them in the normal world. Heroes are only needed when a big, bad villain is running amok. Take down the bad guy and the regular folk don’t need the good guy. Then it’s all thanks very much, we’ll take it from here if you don’t mind.
The powers that be shipped the team to a rainy island way off north. I suppose they were thinking if you want to hide something, put like with like. Lots of normal folk on the island, same species as the team, who’s going to notice, right? Well, the locals for one, and right off at that. We fit in about as well as an easter bonnet on a Berkshire sow.
Not only am I trapped in someone else’s body, I’m bored to tears. A quiet life amongst the hedgerows is not my first choice, nor even my last. It’s hell on earth is what it is. The whole of the thing is gnawing at my guts and it does not go unnoticed.
It’s hard being Sonny. He’s just too damn good, something I never bothered with. I’ve got Sherman on the inside, Sonny on the outside, and the combination isn’t suited. I just can’t make it play.
Knuckles and Tom Tails are the first to take heed. The two of them aren’t love-blind like Rosie, so they sense that something’s off with dear old Sonny. Next thing you know, they pull up stakes and scarper. Rumour has it they joined a team led by some Italian guy.
So now I’m stuck out in the shires with naught but Rosie for company. Funny thing, I’m paying her more mind than Sonny ever did. He mostly ignored Rosie while I listen to her prattle. That just sets her off even more, nattering on about our future together. Drive a soul to drink it will, even a doubled soul. That’s where it drove me at any rate, though Rosie don’t really bear the blame. I would have got there on my own soon enough.
I could say it was the drink that done it, but that would be a lie. Even adding in the boredom and my own existential crisis doesn’t pave the way to what happened. The truth, as far as I can see it, is that blending Sonny and me didn’t produce a new hero. No, what it produced was a new villain.
The pint of stout fits right well in my hand, and the whiskey glass as well. The locals ignored me at first. Better for them if they had kept at it.
It’s my second or third night of this when the closing bell rings. I stumble off in the general direction of the den. Many pints are sloshing about inside me, so I stop to have a piss.
I never was the tolerant sort, particularly not with a belly full of stout and my pecker in my hand. Recent events have left me less so. Three of the locals stagger up behind me and their tongues are mighty free in their empty noggins. I may look like them, but I’m not one of them, as they are too quick to point out. I squeeze out the last drops, stow my tackle, and turn to face them.
Backing down would have been the smart play, but these lads don’t have the brains of one between the three of them. The boldest of the trio begins listing my faults, starting off with the way I speak. Foreign talk, he says, shaking his empty head. And what colour does you call yourself? We don’t cotton to outsiders here, not a bit of it. The other two are nodding in solemn agreement. You’re a dirty wog, is what you are, he says, poking his paw into my chest to make his point. That was the last point he ever made.
The peaceful night erupts into a blinding blue shitstorm. The pulsing light is punctuated by shrieks and screams, then gurgles and thuds. When the darkness returns, three bodies are heaped at my feet. I stare down at the corpses, trying to figure out where in the hell they dropped from. It’s a hard thing to say, but in that moment, I feel better than I have since South Island.
I stuff the dead locals into the hedgerow and make my way through the darkness. I’m sober as a judge now, walking with a firm step. The den is empty and quiet when I get there. I lay myself down and sleep like an animal with only one soul, and that one clean.
After that first night, it gets easier. An evening at the pub, a few well-coined phrases dripped in front one or two of the stupider denizens perched at the bar, that’s all it takes. The indignant and ignorant follow me into the darkness and that’s where they meet their end.
There’s a fear stalking over the shire these nights and the locals are keeping close to home. The pub is damn near deserted when I walk in. Any talk goes dead silent as I take a stool at the bar.
They know it’s me. Even these ignorant louts can figure that out, though they can’t prove it. But they will. They will. The clock is running short. Besides, the herd is fairly well culled. This is what’s running through my head as Rosie bangs around in the kitchen. It’s time to go.
That’s what I explain to Rosie once the coffee starts kicking in. I tell her how we’re not a team anymore, not complete without Sherman. We have to go back to South Island and look for him.
Rosie may be blinded by love, be she’s not stupid. She knows I’m not telling her everything. The ace up my sleeve is that Sonny never told her everything either. Why should this new Sonny be any different? But she knows something is wrong. And I know she knows it because I can see it in her eyes. The old Sonny might have ignored her, but he didn’t start every morning with a hangover.
I put everything I’ve got into it, telling her the truth, or at least a version of the truth. We have to go back. We have to find Sherman. I have to find Sherman. I can’t be at peace until I do. This thing is tearing me apart, like right down the middle. That last bit, at least, is the whole truth.
Then I bring out the closer, the bait that she cannot resist. If we find Sherman, or at least find out what happened to him, then maybe we can move on. Maybe we can find a place to settle down, the two of us.
That’s the one thing Rosie has always wanted, just her and Sonny together. So of course, she says yes. I’ve got to be careful. Rosie is no one to mess with. If she finds out I’m not Sonny, or not her Sonny on the inside, there’s no telling what she might do. I am sure it’s nothing I want inflicted on me. I’ll need to watch myself and play the part.
We leave tomorrow, heading off for South Island. One thing I’m not packing is the darkness. I’ve done what I’ve done, but I’ll be damned if I’m carrying that with me. Of course, it could be I’m damned either way. South Island may turn out to be the end of the line.
Who knows what we’ll find there? Each of us will be searching for a part of someone, but not the same parts, and not even the same someone.
Rosie is not looking for Sherman, no matter what she agreed to. She’s trying to find the core of her Sonny, the part of him she cannot find in me. Good thing for Sonny, if he’s out there somewhere, because Rosie will never give up.
Me, I’m just looking for the shell of myself, the thing I can put back on, like an old coat. I don’t want to be all good, like Sonny, and I hate being all bad, which is what I’ve become. I have to be whole again, the light and darkness mixed together, like a familiar shadow.