AN: I took some liberties with Boosh canon here, and a lot of liberties with my "version" of Howard's past, but this was written for a "rewrite/extended scene" fic challenge, so that sort of explains why I did what I did. Not much plot to this; it reads more like a parable. It's also more absurd than funny, and actually a bit creepy in parts. Okay, yes, I'll stop setting it up now. Hugs and thanks to Kay for looking this over and giving me the idea in the first place.
The Beginning of Something Interesting
They are Men of Action. They are the Maverick and Electro Poof, and will one day be remembered in history alongside Alexander the Great, who over-threw the Persian Empire while looking out for his mate Hephaestion, and Richard the Lionhearted, who stole the crown right out from under his father's and brothers' noses but never spawned any children with his Queen, whom he, quite mysteriously, more or less ignored. And let us not forget Lawrence of Arabia, the British spy and archaeologist worthy of Global Explorer. Lawrence would have gone no-where fast if it hadn't been for his pal Dahoum, who was also a very skilled wrestler and a fine physical specimen of man-hood. The Maverick even privately admired Joey Moose, who, despite his failure to save himself from the dripping jaws of Fossil's guard-dog, had nevertheless kept mum when he glimpsed the Maverick throwing Euros at the cage dancers in the Four-Balled Leopard Club.
The Maverick wasn't gay. He was just a liberal guy. Who happened to really, really like his fellow Men of Action.
The Poof was decidedly not a Man of Action. He fussed over his hair and clothing. He spent all of his income on poncy electro records and actually considered glitter to be one of life's biological necessities, similar to oxygen. He didn't drink anything without a paper umbrella in it, and he didn't eat anything that wasn't coated in sugar and fortified with five kinds of fruity flavours. Yet despite these clearly non-Man of Action traits, the Poof still managed, time and time again, to bail the Maverick's bum out of trouble more times than the Maverick cared to count. And he never bailed the Maverick out in a manly way, either -- instead, he would rectify a sticky situation with a hair-dryer and some miracle max, or would placate an angry swarm of bees with a bowl of sugar puff cereal. As if having to be saved weren't humiliating enough, the Maverick's side-kick had to be the equivalent of an effeminate French Duke. All things considered, the Mav was often torn between admiring Electro Poof and resenting him. It was hard times when the biggest Man of Action in sight was not a Man of Action at all.
But still, Men of Action were sparse in the world, and they had no choice but to stick together. Maybe it was fate that linked them up like bread and nutella despite their innate differences. Maybe it was that zany roulette wheel known as chance. Whatever the reason, the Maverick never thought about setting out on his own and down a more noble path of action-hood without Electro Poof by his side. He felt a keen inner-duty to look out for his pointy sidekick -- yes, despite the fact that it was the Maverick himself who usually stirred up trouble, he was nevertheless compelled to keep a close eye trained to his glossy counterpart. And as for Electro Poof, he stuck around the Maverick out of some vague and un-identifiable sense of gratitude. He couldn't think of a single thing the Mav had done that he ought to be grateful for -- surely his offenses in the fashion and music departments were grave enough to out-weigh the fact that it had been the Mav who had guided the Poof into zoo-keeping. The Poof didn't even consider zoo-keeping his true calling, it was just a stop-gap between bigger and better things. But just the same, and for reasons he didn't understand, Electro Poof sometimes stole a look at the Maverick when he was reading, his entire face rapt with concentration, and thought Thank you, thank you, thank you.
The private thought was so powerful, so like the single, clear note of a Roland keyboard, that it made Electro Poof flush and long to hide inside some knitwear. Sadly, he preferred synthetic blends to a good, old-fashioned knit and was forced to live his flush down in the open air.
But these musings -- the Mav's fierce protectiveness of Electro Poof, and the Poof's unquenchable gratitude towards the Maverick -- we're kept very, very private. Indeed, they were kept so private that the two Men of Action would occasionally forget these musings even existed, especially in moments of strife and petty argument. And strife and petty argument were, as it so happened, abundant.
"...that's another story for another time," Vince concluded, looking very smug indeed. Hills rolled by beyond the van windows, the engine's thrum providing an anti-climactic score to Vince's great tale.
"What?" Howard retorted, disbelieving.
Vince stuck out his tongue slightly, as if dealing with a particularly pesky child. "That's the end."
"What do you mean that's the end? That's not. It's the beginning of something interesting." Howard scowled. Real stories didn't end like that, like a television episode with a tantalising "to be continued" scripted over the last shot. Moreover, Vince's story of falling asleep in the forest while surrounding by face-stealing monkeys didn't end like that. Couldn't end like that. Who knew why, but Howard felt as if he'd been waiting for Vince to tell this story for years, and in the waiting had suffered through endless tales of Vince's adventures with Jeffery the two-faced jackal only to finally get to the story of the the Monkey King and have it cut off short. It was like hearing the angry scritch! of a needle being abruptly removed from a really trance-inducing slap-bass record before you even hit the solo.
But it was Vince's way to forever teeter at the beginning of something interesting, and when he declared Howard greedy Howard had no choice but to sigh and change the subject. Maps were studied, directions were given, and Howard, with some reluctance, followed Vince's "thin red road" as the most choice path to the Zoo for Animal Offenders.
Six hours later found them lost and arguing in the middle of a dense forest. To Howard's mind, this trip was, so far, a shining example of how useless Vince was to the cause of action-hood. Neither his raspberry bootlaces, his cowboy hat, or his catalogue of Gary Numan music could save them from this predicament.
"You won't last five minutes without me," Howard predicted yet again, watching in the rear-view mirror as Vince sauntered down Raspberry Avenue, his step jaunty and bum waggling as if in mockery. Howard eyed the gear shift and fought back the urge to pop the van into reverse. Men of Action didn't have time to be dishing out second chances. With a stomp of his foot, he peeled away in a spray of gravel and woodchips.
It was no skin off Vince's pointy nose. He flipped up his collar and, with a carefree shrug, disappeared into a thick stand of trees. The scent on the air was piney and faintly thunderous, as if the soil had been recently upturned by a stampede of wild animals. There was a foreboding undertone to that scent, but to Vince it was immediately recognisable as the smell of his childhood home. He sniffed the air hungrily, as if in greeting.
Is this the same forest where Bryan raised me? he wondered, tipping back his hat and staring up at the endless canopy of foilage. It seemed odd that he would have to ask himself such a question. One never truly forgets the home where they grow up, do they? The forest is the sort of place where a young electro mod learns the basic ABCs -- Alladin Sane, Bolan's Zip Gun, Country Life -- and studies up on the all the great figures from history. Pioneers like Bowie, Eno, and Papa Ferry himself.
Drawn back to his present circumstances by the pinch of his cowboy boots, Vince kicked through the underbrush and wondered if he and Howard would have had their petty argument if he'd only conceded to finish his story as Howard had requested. Vince supposed it might have looked as if he were dangling the story in mid-juice just to get Howard's hackles up, but that wasn't true at all.
The truth was, Vince couldn't remember how the story ended.
He had fallen asleep, and then...
Vince wrapped his arms around his middle and sat down on a low rock. He could remember every richly textured detail of his adventures with Jahooley the leopard, Jeffery the two-faced jackal, and Colto the deaf horse. He could vividly recall how Jeffery set fire to the bus-ticket house and was sent off to the Zoo for Animal Offenders to be rehabilitated. How Colto the deaf horse had taught him how to walk tall, proud, and steady in platform boots. How he'd feasted on warm raw gazelle with Jahooley and then, ignoring the cobra Kalooney's warning, had fallen asleep on Jahooley's rippling belly, which had seemed warmer than hay in the sun. He could visualise the slow, even rise and fall of the leopard's belly that had sent him drifting off. He just couldn't remember what had happened after the drifting.
In fact, the more that Vince thought on it, the more it seemed that his carefree days in the forest had come to an end after that fateful sleepie. Bryan had sent him off to school for a real education, and Vince's experiences in the forest became the thing of schoolyard legend and myth.
"If only Bryan were here now," Vince said out-loud, thinking that his childhood mentor might be able to shed light on how the story actually had ended.
As if in answer to Vince's words, there came a rustling in the thistles.
"Who's there?" Vince called out, coming to his feet.
A figure stepped out from the shadowy ferns, strangely luminous in his creamy tuxedo, his eyebrows blue-tinted and geometrically perfect -- almost like gaffer tape. "Vince, it is I, Bryan Ferry!"
Vince grinned. "No way!" He embraced his former father-figure, and they exchanged warm greetings that more or less amounted to "long time, no see."
"Gosh, Bryan, it's really hairendipitous that I run into you like this," Vince said, patting Bryan on the shoulder. "I was just thinking about all the things I'd like to ask you."
"You mean serendipitous, my child. Now tell me, what are all the things that you would like to ask me?"
"Hm. Did Bowie and Jaggar really have a homosexual affair?" Well, it wasn't really what Vince had been working up to, question-wise, but to be fair, it was one of those things he'd always wondered about.
Bryan pursed his lips together, looking very wise. "The true answer to this question can only be found in the very, very private musings of Bowie and Jaggar... but if it is an answer that you require an answer to at once, then yes, be assured that they got their gay on all the time."
Vince let out a knowing laugh, then scuffed the heel of his boot against a log and grew quiet.
"What is troubling you, my child? If this is about your own sexu--"
"Not that," Vince said, raising a hand. "It's about something I can't remember."
Bryan massaged the end of his jagged chin, looking only remotely concerned. "Continue," he prompted, lighting up a cigarette.
"It's about that time I went off with Jahooley and we ate a tasty gazelle..."
"Continue," Bryan said briskly, blowing out a silvery smoke ring.
"And then I started to get settled in for a nice long sleepie and Kalooney, the cobra, whisked up out of nowhere and warned me not to nod off, or else the monkey folk would steal my face..."
"Continue," Bryan said, somewhat less briskly as he coughed into his tuxedo sleeve.
"And I didn't listen to Kalooney and fell asleep anyway, and then..."
"Do not continue! I must insist that you cease your story here and now." Bryan said with fervor, stubbing his cigarette out on the bottom of his shoe.
Vince blinked in mild bafflement. "I can't continue 'cos I can't remember what happens after that."
"Oh." Bryan shuffled about, visibly uneasy. "If you cannot remember, then it must be for the best, my child."
"But..." Vince licked his lips anxiously, at a loss for words, but then, mercifully, something Howard had said earlier came back to him. "But it's the beginning of something interesting that happened to me, and I want to remember it."
"Vince, Vince, Vince," Bryan said, then shut his mouth and averted his eyes, pretending to study some stag beetles.
Vince lifted an eyebrow. "I think there's something you're not telling me, Bryan."
"There is nothing I would not tell you, Vince."
"Except for this, you mean! How come you sent me away after that day? Was it just 'cos I ate some gazelle? I'm a vegetarian now, you know. Well, I mostly eat sugar. Vegetarian's allow that, right?"
"Of course," Bryan said, giving the pained sign of man who had his genitalia caught between a rock and a hard place.
"So what is it that I can't remember, then?"
Bryan threw up his arms, realising he had no choice but to take drastic measures. He cleared his throat, hummed a few arpeggios, and began to sing. "I could feel at the time, there was no way of knowing. Fallen leaves in the night, who can say where they're blowing?" He slowly advanced toward Vince, his voice gradually taking on the deep, melodic tones it was famous for. "More than this... There is nothing, more than this... Tell me one thing, more than this."
Vince felt the edges of his vision begin to soften and blur as the music filled his ears like a sweet, brain-erasing elixir. Like aural gin or auditory cannabis. What was it he had been asking about? It didn't seem important now, not with the heavenly notes of Avalon's first track cushioning his mind-tank. Who can say where the leaves are blowing, anyway? Vince tipped backwards in a dreamy haze, nearly stumbling over a large tree root, but Bryan suddenly snapped his fingers and the world came back into sharp focus.
"Careful of the mess, Vince!" Bryan exclaimed, pulling Vince upright. "I would have tidied if I had known you were coming."
"Oh, christy," Vince murmured, his tone dazed. "What a beautiful song."
"Yes, it is one of my better ones," Bryan demurred. "In 1982 many men got lucky whilst playing i Avalon /i . Some say it is more seductive than rohyponol."
Vince tilted his head. "What were we talkin' about?"
"Babayago, the green man-witch," Bryan said quickly. "You must be aware of his solo-polo trickery, my child, lest he snare you in his devil's box."
"Devil's box?" Vince bit the edge of his thumb. "That sounds like the sort of trouble me mate Howard would get tangled up in. Maybe I'd best go and have a look for him. We got into some strife, you see. Bit of a petty argument. I ought to offer him the olive branch."
"Ah." Bryan nodded knowingly. "Your mate Howard must be an unfortunate spastic."
"Nah, he's just one of them Men of Action."
"Ah!" Bryan gave a second, even more knowing nod. "A sub-set of men who are very easily led astray." He removed an impressive horn, carved completely from organic ivory, and passed it over to Vince. "Take this horn, and if you are in peril, blow upon it. I will come running as fast as Izzzaaaaard, the transvestite."
"Thanks, Bryan," Vince said, tucking the horn into the back pocket of his jeans. Then he gave a wave and turned to leave.
He only got as far as two steps before something began to nag at him. Wasn't there something important that he'd meant to discuss with Bryan?"
"Oh, right," Vince whispered under his breath, snapping his fingers. He pivoted around abruptly. "Hey, Bryan!"
Bryan looked up from the glow of his second cigarette, his hand snatching out just in time to catch the demo tape that Vince had tossed to him.
Once strife and petty argument had its fill of tormenting the our two heroes, they were often left to reflect on the error of their ways. The Maverick would regret his sharply honed vocabulary, which he flung about like so many spears at the thick head of Electro Poof, who could not possibly understand half of what the Maverick said through his the protective curtain of his luxurious hair. Electro Poof would, in turn, scold himself for ridiculing the things the Maverick held so dear: jazz, bookmarks, and freshly ironed undershirts. Left long enough to their own reflections, they would eventually seek the other out to offer forth an olive branch.
Oftentimes, in the process of delivering said olive branch, the Maverick would find himself ensnared in a steaming heap of trouble. It is, after all, the way of a Man of Action to encounter action wherever he may go, even if it's just to skip out to the post office. In this manner, the delivery of Electro Poof's own olive branch was often hindered, as he would be required to pull the Maverick free from a steaming heap of trouble first.
If the Maverick had known that Electro Poof only ever saved his hide because he was already on his way to apologise, he might've seen their relationship in a new light.
In more of a Alexander-and-Hephaestion light.
Instead, he tended to believe that the Poof rescued him merely for an opportunity to gloat.
Silly Maverick. Electro Poof never needs an opportunity to gloat.
Howard was trapped in a box. Granted, it was roomy enough so that he didn't feel trapped, exactly -- he could even stand up to his full height and have a good long stretch, if he wanted to. Unfortunately, the box was so dark that he couldn't even see his hand in front of his face.
Isn't this lovely, he thought sourly. I can just hear Vince gloating now... 'Thought you couldn't get trapped in boxes, Howard!'
Howard paced in a blind circle, his heels clicking upon the box's concrete floor. If only Vince had finished his story up proper! Then maybe they wouldn't have gotten separated by strife and petty argument. If only Vince had brought along some real food, like beef jerky, then maybe Howard's mood wouldn't have plummeted along with his blood sugar levels. If only Vince were able to tell the difference between raspberry bootlaces and the printed features on a map. If only...
Deep down, a part of Howard knew that it wasn't fair to shovel all the blame on top Vince. It was difficult, however, for a self-confessed man of action to admit when he was wrong. I guess I'd better swallow my pride and find an olive branch, Howard thought, running his hands over what felt like a brick wall.
With a stroke of genius, Howard remembered that he had a box of matches tucked away in his back pocket. They were useful to have about if one was an aspiring novelist. Never knew when someone might think to offer you a pipe. He dug them out and lit one, then held it up, hand cupped around the flame to keep it from guttering out. The faint glow it gave off didn't reveal much, but what it did reveal was awfully peculiar.
"The Nazi Turtle?" he said in wonderment, reading from a sign that was posted over a round, polo-framed window. "The Shire Horse With Parking Tickets?" He pivoted around, holding up the match to the sign directly in front of him. "The Face-Stealing Mon -- ow! " the flame had reached the end of the match and he dropped it, engulfed in darkness once more.
Howard swallowed. Could it be one of the face-stealing monkeys from Vince's story? He pulled out a match and hesitated before striking it. A face-stealing monkey could be dangerous, though he did rather doubt that his own face was in much danger of being nicked. It was a bit too ambient to be appreciated by the general populous, let alone stupid, filthy monkeys. No, Howard thought he was probably safe, and, being the up-right sort of man of action that he was, he bravely struck the match and held it up to the window.
The light didn't reach very far. It's glow passed over some straw that was strewn about the concrete floor, caught on a slimy water bowl, then finally lit upon a pair of hairy, primate feet. He lifted the match slowly, and the glow expanded to reveal a pair of knobby monkey knees, a proud monkey's chest, then, finally, revealed a shadowy face. The face was almost too much for Howard to take in. He caught only a few details before letting out a gasp and dropping the match.
It was a human face. A strong jaw, a hint of a finely-wrought cheekbone, a dusting of dark eyelashes.
"You lookin' at muh face?" came the voice from beyond the window, its tone much deeper and more gravelly than its fine face would suggest.
"Uh, no sir," Howard said quickly, stuffing the matches back into his pocket.
"I stelt it and dealt it, you can't haves it."
"I don't want it, thank you."
There was a pause, and during its duration Howard considered tip-toing away. Curiosity, however, held him rooted to the spot. If Vince couldn't finish the story, maybe the monkey-man could.
"You sure about that?" The monkey finally wheezed. Howard wondered if it suffered bronchial problems for a minute, then realised, with a slow-dawning horror, that the monkey was actually laughing.
"Yeah, I'm pretty sure I don't want a used, second-hand face. What's so funny?"
"You are, Sir Errant. Do you want to join me in muh box? It's got the good landscapin'. Peepee ponds and poopie piles."
Howard grimaced and shuddered. "Gee, sounds like a... nice place for holiday." He reached up and tapped on the glass between them. It seemed very thick. Thick enough to bolster his confidence. "What is this place, anyway?"
"The Zoo for Animal Offenders. What else?"
"Of course. So, you're here because you... stole someone's face?"
The monkey let out another strange, wheezy laugh. "Someone's face. It was someone's, all right. I should be out rulin' the jungle with this face of mine, but that fool Bryan Ferry had me carted away. Thinks he owns the goddammned forest."
At the mention of Bryan Ferry, Howard wasted no time in issuing his next question. He was beginning to get into the swing of things, feeling quite like a more handsome version of Columbo, interrogating a dope-pushing perp. "Are you the same monkey who tried to steal the face of Vince Noir?"
"Ahhhh...Vince Noir. I pegged his face when he was just a slip of a punk. It twas to be mine, and I would rule 'em all."
"Well, you obviously didn't succeed in your mission to steal his face, did you?"
The monkey didn't answer, but Howard could still hear his snuffly, agitated breathing.
"So what happened? You snuck up on him while he was helpless and having a sleepie... and then what?" Howard clinched his teeth in anticipation. Finally, a proper ending to the story!
And the beginning of something interesting, his mind added.
"And then what?" the monkey repeated.
"Er..." Howard wrinkled his nose uncertainly. "No, it doesn't work like that. I ask you what happened next, and then you tell me. See?"
"You tell me," the monkey said.
Howard sighed. Clearly, doing time had wreaked havoc on the monkey's mind.
"What?" the monkey goaded, his tone weirdly knowing. "You mean ya don't remember?"
"Of course I don't remember!" Howard cried out, smacking the window in frustration. "I wasn't there, you putrid primate!"
"But you were."
"I was..." Howard stopped abruptly, his lips soundlessly forming the word not.
The monkey let out a deep, rolling chuckle. "Don't worry, Sir Errant. It's Bryan Ferry's hypnotising voice that whisked your memory-banks away. He's a meddlin' fairy, that Ferry."
Howard turned away from the window and slowly slid down the length of the wall, numbly sitting on his arse and stretching his legs out before him. Somewhere, in the furthest recesses of his memory banks, he could see the sun rising to the peak of the treetops, all while an angel's voice came in on the wind. More than this... there is nothing, more than this...
"No," Howard muttered, balling his hands into fists. He hadn't been there! He couldn't have!
But I was...
He could feel the tide of lost memories surging at the back of his brain, threatening to break and wash over him completely. There... almost there. He could feel the crunch of leaves underfoot as he walked through the forest, the first light of the morning sun blazing a path before him. He tipped his head back, and felt a gentle hand touch the back of his head.
"Aggh!" Howard jumped at the sound of Vince's voice, which had come out of the darkness directly to his left.
"It's only me!" Vince stage-whispered.
"Vince... it's Vince," Howard said, teeth chattering as if he'd caught a chill.
Vince touched Howard's face in the dark. He didn't even have to grope about for it, because there was something about Howard's face that had always drawn Vince in, as if by magic. He liked to study Howard's face as he dozed on the sofa with a book propped against his chest, all the creased worry there easing away as he drifted off to dreamy-world. It was a good face, Vince thought. Not a pretty one, but there was a certain hard-won nobility to it. Vince would watch Howard so closely he almost feared that the power of his blue, steely gaze would wake Howard up, and all the while that strange, uncertain sense of profound gratitude would pulse through him. He felt that gratitude flicker through him now, as his fingers grazed against the stubble of Howard's chin. "Are you okay, Howard?" he asked.
"I remember the end of your story," Howard said, voice curiously devoid of emotion.
"The story of what happened after you fell asleep."
"When I fell asleep when?"
"In the jungle! After you ate gazelle or zebra or whatever wild jungle meat it was."
"Oh?" Vince crinkled his face in confusion. "I don't know what you're on about, Howard, but guess what! I ran into Bryan before that cockney nutjob stuffed me in his box, and he's giving my demo a listen. Imagine that!"
Howard groaned faintly. "Did Bryan sing to you?"
"Huh? I don't know. I guess he might've."
"Then it's no use. You've forgotten again."
"Forgotten what? You're talking nonsense, Howard." Vince reached out and put a hand on Howard's shoulder. "Did that cockney slash you up?"
"No, he didn't. I figured out the end to your story, but it doesn't matter now, because you don't even remember what the story is."
Vince was quite clueless as to what Howard was referring to, but he knew when his mate was feeling forlorn. He scooted close to him, stretching his legs alongside Howard's longer ones. "So, just tell me the story, then."
Howard was quiet for a very long moment, and Vince wondered if he had fallen asleep. But then he abruptly cleared his throat. "The story doesn't matter. What matters is how it ended, and whether that ending is the beginning of something interesting."
Vince rolled his eyes, glad that Howard couldn't see his vague impatience. "Okay, so how did it end?"
"I can't tell you how it ended. I can only tell you how I meant for it to end."
"So tell me how you meant for it to end, then!"
"I meant for it to end... like this."
Howard shifted and Vince automatically pulled away, thinking that his mate might be on the verge of having a breakdown or something. Then he felt Howard clutch the sides of his jacket and haul him closer, his breath a tactile reality against Vince's cheek. Still, he doubted this would lead anywhere. Howard was a Man of Action, who, as far as Vince knew, had yet to engage in that sort of action with another man.
But to his utter surprise, Howard kissed him.
It was a clumsy, adolescent kiss. Full of uncertainty and the painful fear of rejection. Vince's eyes widened in the dark, and he privately cursed himself for holding back all those times when he'd been laying close to Howard on the floor of the keeper's hut, kept wide-awake by those curious desires that seemed to only surface in the middle of the night. Surely, he'd have made a better job of it than this wet mess. But still, it was something...the beginning of something interesting. So Vince kissed him back.
And then all the lights came on.
All the lights.
The Maverick and Electro Poof were fortunate that the Hitcher's solo-polo vision kept him from fully glimpsing their rough-and-tumble snog session. The Hitcher was something of an expert on hot Man of Action-on-Man of Action action, and would have cruelly ridiculed them for their under-practised display of Grecian lust. Instead, the Hitcher foolishly showed-off his slap bass skills, angering Ivan the electro-loving bear, and was forced to run for his life while clad in nothing but skimpy polo pants.
And so the Mav and the Poof returned to their vehicle, both quiet and thoughtful in the wake of what had just happened.
Both of them remembered more than they let on.
The Maverick decided that his memories had actually returned to him when he first glimpsed the shadowy contours of the monkey's face, which was at once so familiar to him, even if he didn't realise it at the time.
Electro Poof's recollections came back to him in the moment he returned the pressure of the Maverick's lips, one thousand fire-flies lighting up the darkest, dustiest corners of his memory banks.
Now, they both knew. They just didn't know what the other knew. Or maybe they didn't know what the other thought he knew the other knew.
It was the Poof who first broke the silence, staring straight ahead at the road as he spoke. "Now that I've got you all juiced up," he said. "Why don't I tell you how the story really ended?"
It was 1982, the year the electro died for Howard Moon.
But before the electro died, Howard had loved it. Couldn't get enough of it, in fact. He liked to play his glam-rock and moog-mood albums at top volume, much to the chagrin of his jazz-loving parents, and when Roxy Music's Avalon was released, he was first in line to purchase it. He loved the sigh that came just before a needle was dropped onto a record, but he loved the sublime moment that followed even more. More than this... there is nothing, more than this.
But there had to be something more than this, or so Howard thought as he lay upon his bed, staring up at his posters of Bowie and Jaggar. It was a personal message from Ferry, he thought. Did he dare to search out for something more than this? Oh yes, he did dare.
So he packed up one day. Shipped out. Took a powder. Hit the road. He didn't belong in this place, where dust-jackets and trumpet solos were regaled above all else. He belonged somewhere where hair could be big and boys could wear lip-gloss. A place where all music before 1970 had been nothing more than tuning up. He belonged in the forest, with Bryan Ferry.
Ferry was the protective spirit of creative, mod-inclined pre-teens such as himself, and Howard had already heard rumours of how Ferry had adopted a boy and kept him in a house made of bus tickets. Howard thought a house made of bus tickets sounded a little dodgy -- what would happened if it rained? -- but he liked the idea of being Ferry's adopted son. He was a little jealous of the boy who lived in the forest, but at the same time hoped the boy wouldn't mind gaining a spiritual brother. To better make his case, Howard took great care with his appearance, teasing his hair to gigantic proportions and outfitting his gangly body in a mod's suit with a matching, pencil-thin tie.
"See what jungle boy makes of that," he said, giving himself a cheeky wink in the mirror. Then he picked up his suitcase, fed his goldfish, and left Leeds behind.
It was a long day or two of travel before Howard reached the forest. He didn't mind. He had an adventurous soul, and hopped aboard a lorry carrying a load of sweet potatoes and had himself a sleepie on a mound of burlap sack. He fell asleep humming the words to Bowie's "Moonage Daydream," and by the time he woke, the lorry had puttered to a stop at the edge of the forest, and the first, stringy signs of dawn's light were creeping across the sky.
Entering the forest was like entering a church. Howard disturbed as little of the foliage as possible, and trekked uncertainly towards what he hoped was the heart of the wood. The disc of the sun was throwing reddish light over the leaves, and when he entered a wide clearing, Howard thought he had finally found what he was looking for.
There was a boy asleep on a low-slung tree branch, curled up against the smooth belly of a leopard.
Howard moved in on tippy-toes, carefully placing his suitcase down as he bent in for a closer look at the boy who would be his brother.
The boy looked unlike anyone Howard had seen before. It almost hurt to look at him, he was so strange, like a new species of human who was at once perfect and unfathomable. His features were a complex series of juts and angles, yet they were placed with a graceful symmetry. His eyes, though closed, would no doubt be huge and arresting when open, and he slept so deeply that his breath seemed to be in sync with the breeze that stirred the rushes. Something twisted in Howard's gut as he looked the boy over, wondering if he, a simple boy from Leeds, could ever find a place in this boy's life.
Also, Howard had a pressing urge to kiss the boy awake.
Normally, the urge would have disturbed him. As it was, in this pastoral setting, it seemed almost natural. And, well, if Bowie and Jaggar had done it...
Before he could talk himself out of it, Howard leaned over the sleeping boy, then slowly lowered the lids of his eyes. Just when his lips were mere centimetres from the boy's own, Howard felt something sharp poke him in the small of his back.
"Gettaway from muh face," a low, rumbling voice said.
Howard's eyes popped open, and with a rising sense of dread he slowly looked over his shoulder. There was a monkey standing behind him, his face fierce and twisted into a scowl. "Gettaway," it repeated, and Howard stood upright at once, backing up a few steps.
"What...what dy'a want?" he stammered, holding his hands up in defence.
The monkey gestured at the sleeping boy with his stick. "Want muh face."
There was a chorus of cackling at the monkey's words, and Howard glanced up and saw that there were several other, smaller monkeys observing from the trees, all of them feasting on bananas as if preparing to sit back to a highly entertaining theatrical programme.
"What face?" young Howard asked, confused and a little afraid. He hadn't thought that Ferry's forest would be full of violent and smelly primates.
"The Noir face," he monkey said, gesturing at the boy yet again. "Gonna steal it. Gonna stitch it on, gonna smile his shiny smile and rule the world."
"You're going to steal his face?" Howard squeaked, utterly appalled.
"You gonna stop me?" The monkey crossed his arms, looking very surly.
"Er, no sir," Howard said, taking another step backwards and giving the sleeping boy a look of quick concern. For the love of Bowie, why didn't he wake up and run away?
"That's right," the monkey muttered, seeming to have forgotten Howard's presence entirely as he eyed the boy with an expression of greed. "Gonna do some face-stealing." The choir of monkeys cackled again, one of them tossing a banana peel down on Howard's head.
"Wait!" Howard said, rather desperate to put a halt to this gruesome display. "Should you really be stealing the face of Bryan Ferry's adopted son?"
The monkey whirled around, giving Howard a sharp look.
"I mean, Ferry rules this forest, don't he? He probably doesn't abide flagrant... face-stealing."
The monkey appeared to consider Howard's words for a moment. "Nah," he finally said, shrugging. "Don't give a boot's toss about Ferry." He began advancing towards the sleeping boy yet again.
"Wait!" Howard yelled again, his voice hysterical with desperation. "Take mine, instead!"
The monkey looked as if he thought Howard had lost his mind. Howard wondered if he had. Offering up his perfectly fine face to a mental monkey who would probably use it to further advance his shady lifestyle of face-stealing? What was he thinking?
What he was thinking, actually, was that he still hadn't kissed the boy, and that he wouldn't want to once the boy's face was stuck on that idiot monkey's body. It was stupid logic, simultaneously selfish and self-less -- just the sort of logic that pre-teen boys excelled at.
"Lemme see that face," the monkey said, lifting Howard's chin with the pointy tip of his stick. He gazed very hard at Howard's face, mumbling to himself as he tested the elasticity of Howard's cheeks and the length of his earlobes. Tears leaked out of Howard's eyes as he underwent this unpleasant examination -- partly from fear, and partly from the sun, which had risen higher and was now casting a glare into the clearing.
"What do the monkey folk think of this face?" The monkey called out to his cadre of followers in the trees above, who immediately burst into a flurry of chatter.
"The face is good, burnished like scotch egg."
"No! The face is not so fine as the Noir face."
"His majesty should take the new boy's face. Faces last longer if they are taken from the willing."
"But that would be charity, not thievery! His majesty is a thief!"
"I liked Columbo's face better."
"Columbo is a stinky."
The monkey waved his stick and the chittering chorus died down. "I have heard what the monkey folk think," he said, then turned back to Howard with a ceremonious bow. "Your face is not quite as fine as the Noir face, but it be pretty good. Especially comin' from Leeds. But why would you save face for Noir? You don't know him, do ya?"
"N-no," Howard stammered.
"What's your story? What ya all about?" the monkey demanded, pacing in a furious circle around Howard. "Ya not a mod like ya think. A mod protects his own face above all else."
"I am too a mod," Howard protested meekly. "I just want to protect Bryan Ferry's son. He's helpless and sleeping. If he wakes up without a face he'll be a right mess."
The monkey stopped pacing and gave Howard a look of sudden revelation. "Ah! You're a Sir Errant."
"A knight. A hero. A Man of Action."
Howard was a bit too flustered to follow the monkey's train of logic, but there was something about the term "Man of Action" that set the hairs on the back of his neck tingling. Man of Action. Yeah, Howard liked the sounds of that -- so much so that he felt suddenly bold. "Are you going to talk in circles all day or are you going to take my face?" he snapped.
"Gladly," the monkey said, swooping in with a glittering smile. "But first, I need to fetch ya a replacement. A face that better suits your personality."
"Gerry has the face of Patrick Swayze in his lunch-box," a tiny spider monkey offered, waving a banana.
"Not that one," the head monkey barked. "It won't last through the end of the 80s."
"Why don't we swap his face with the Noir face?"
"Because then I won't have a new face for myself, ya caca hole!" The monkey looked highly agitated by now, and he paced around for several minutes before raising a finger, as if a bright idea had just occurred to him. "Fetch that face from storage, Georgie. The face of the poet-musician-novelist whose legs were eaten off by marmosets."
The spider monkey looked doubtful. "But the face of that man was much older than this boy's."
"No matter," the larger monkey said, waving a dismissive hand. "Heroes and Men of Action age faster than mods and poofs. He will grow inta it in no time at all. Now... where'd I put that damned scalpel?"
Howard was only half-listening to this entire exchange, because across the way, the sleeping jungle boy was no longer sleeping, and was instead looking on through wide, perplexed eyes. Jahooley, the leopard, had placed a large paw over the boy's mouth to keep him from crying out. Howard gave the boy what he hoped was a reassuring smile. It'll be okay, he mouthed.
And then something came down hard on the top of Howard's head, and everything went black. Somewhere, in the distance, he thought he could hear Bryan Ferry singing.
When he woke up, several days later, he was in his own bedroom in Leeds. Bowie and Jaggar peered down at him from the ceiling, and Howard groaned, physically sick at the sight of them. Their music produced the same sensation of nausea, and one by one Howard broke each of his records, then swept the whole mess into the rubbish bin. His parents, though startled by the alteration in their son's appearance, were so pleased that Howard had given up on that electro-glam-mod nonsense that they very politely said nothing about his new face. They rather liked the new face, in fact. It was much less visually noisy, and was much less likely to twist into sour expressions at the opening strains of a jazz solo.
Howard didn't remember anything of his adventures in the forest. He could see from photographs that his face had changed, but he chalked it up to the bane of puberty. The children at school were less generous, often pelting him with their wellies and asking if he were somebody's father. Even the teachers occasionally passed him a rubbish bin, mistaking him for one of the janitors. The only person who seemed oblivious to Howard's odd appearance was the new boy: a big-haired kid who had badges decorating the lapels of his uniform. His name was Vince, and he sat in the desk next to Howard and occasionally offered him sticks of gum or showed him the carvings he'd made on his desk-top. The carvings were always of strange creatures: a horse in platform boots; a leopard wearing a gazelle's antlers. They reminded Howard of something, but he wasn't sure what.
They were friends after that. Pals despite the fact they argued a lot and liked different things. Vince, for instance, liked the mod look and glam rock music, and seemed appalled when Howard had spat on the ground at the very mention of the word "mod."
"Well, what would you rather listen to?" Vince asked, thinking himself very generous.
Howard scowled, then said, to his own surprise: "Jazz."
"You're jokin'," Vince said, going very pale.
"No." Howard shook his head, and gave his smaller friend a searching look. "Why? Are you scared of jazz, or something?" He smiled to himself, quite smug. There wasn't much that scared Howard Moon. Not anymore.
Of course, what Electro Poof said to the Mav was not nearly so long and drawn out as the above -- the Poof has not the attention span nor the verbal capacity for such an epic retelling, so instead he only said: "I remember what you did for me. Thanks."
The Maverick shifted in the passenger's seat, studying Electro Poof's profile. "You do?"
"Yeah!" Electro Poof grinned. "The moment you smooched me, it all came back."
The Mav felt his face (his noble, hard-won face) grow warm. "It wasn't just a smooch," he murmured. "It was..."
"I know, I know. The end that's not an end, but the beggining of something interesting." Electro Poof looked away from the road long enough for them to meet eyes, their gazes equally knowing.
Neither of them bothered to recount what they remembered. Why bother? They both knew that the other had been there. The Maverick may have lost his face, but he would always have something better: the knowledge that no matter how many times the Poof saved him hereafter, it had always been him -- the Maverick, the original Man of Action -- who had saved him first. And as for Electro Poof, he didn't mind being the original damsel in distress so long as it meant his own face was safe. He was a true mod, after all, and would have died without it.
Half-lost in their own private musings, they shared a tentative smile. Now there was nothing to do but to wait for the beginning to begin.
It would definitely be interesting.