Author's Notes: This began as an exploration of claustrophobia, and is expanding into an exploration of how we deal with pain, through the point of view of perhaps the most physically fragile fighter in a bunch of superheroes: Casey Jones. It is my intention for this to be a personal journey for Casey, him seeking out answers for problems that seem to exist only in his mind.
I had originally put this up as a one-shot in early 2007, but coming back to it, I felt it deserved attention and expansion. I reformatted and reedited the original first chapter; but did not change the content.
After putting it down for nearly 2 years, I am intent on finishing it.
Again special thanks goes out to the folks at Stealthy Stories for some dazzling word prompts. It may not seem like much, but sometimes even the smallest pushes help ideas flow.
This is set more-or-less in the 2003 cartoonverse, but it also draws elements from the comics, and both the original and 2007 movies.
Rating: M for violence, coarse language and non-graphic reference to sexual abuse
I make no claim to the TMNT franchise, or the characters. As always, I enjoyed writing this, and I hope you enjoy reading.
Dreams and Dragons
A look at what drives a vigilante – and what holds him back.
because the vilest villains are only in our mind
Casey wished the water would beat away his worry, wash away his cares and send the pain running down the drain along with the soap, the dirt, and the dried blood. But the water held no magical properties, and at the moment it was only burning his back. Groaning, he stepped out of the stream and towel-dried his red skin.
His head ached in a slow, dull throb. And even though his nose had been reset, it was far from fine, and served to add to the beating red flashes of pain that ran across his vision. He could still see the shit-eating grin of the purple dragon that broke it. He wanted to be angry with that, but it was as if all the energy in his anger had bled out of him into a puddle in the shower, running down the drain.
All he could think about was how steep the stairs looked. Pull yourself together, Casey. You're a vigilante; you sure as hell can climb a flight of stairs. He briefly considered sleeping on the couch, but he knew his back would hate him for it in the morning. Groaning, he dragged his naked, beaten carcass up into his bedroom, into something that served as pajamas, and into bed. He was snoring before his head even hit the pillow.
It all started with a laugh, the same taunting, high-pitched jackal call from the fight. He hadn't realized he was in trouble until that moment - before then it had been business as usual. Raphael had been out with his brothers on some sewer mission, which hadn't particularly bothered him when he set out on his rounds alone.
Overlaying the laugh in his sleeping mind he heard the scream. It was the scream of a young couple in over their heads. He could see their faces clearly, too. College kids, the kinds that spend more time reading than they did running. From the first second he saw them he knew they wouldn't stand up to a half dozen Purple Dragons. But that was what he was there for. To protect people like them.
He twitched in his sleep, his mind replaying the first seconds of the fight, the crunch of his hockey stick impacting with the leader's skull. At least he thought it was the leader at that point. He never in saw the man in the shadows until he turned around, and by that time he was watching a gaudy ruby class ring head at full speed towards the holes in his mask. He could hear the clatter of the plastic on the cement as the mask was stripped from his face; though it had been a mixed blessing. It saved him from a night in jail at the cost of one broken nose. He had taken three of them down, groaning bodies scattered all over the alleyway, and yet the screams continued. A streak of white like an exploding streetlamp crossed his vision as something connected with his temple, and he remembered the world spinning a bit; not unlike when he used to run in circles as a kid.
But he never hit the pavement. Something caught him first, and unfortunately it wasn't a terrapin. The laugh rang out behind his ears as the remaining dragons stripped him of his coat, his golf bag full of weapons, and his shirt. He lashed a few weak punches at them, but it felt like his hands were disconnected from his body. Finally the thick-necked man from the shadows walked out into the hazy pool of streetlight and stood in front of him. In Casey's eyes then and his dreams now it looked as if he was standing on a ship deck that was being tossed by the sea, everything around him was unstable and in motion. The Dragons that could drag themselves to their feet gathered around their leader, each of them cheering for him to use a different place on Casey's body for target practice. In his bed Casey tossed and turned, trying to avoid the punches in his mind, punches that not more than four hours ago were forcing the air out of his lungs and making him spit blood until he had a river of pink frothy drool spattered across his chest from the drips on his chin. He was waiting for them to drag him away, or kill him. Either would have been preferable.
They simply slammed him up against a brick wall, his hands bound behind him, letting his naked back slide against the rough stone as he slumped into a hazy semi-consciousness. But the screams still hadn't ended, and despite the fogginess of his vision Casey picked his head up to locate its source. The boy was being tossed like an unconscious rag doll off to one side of the alley, his pockets and backpack being cleared of valuables and discarded alongside him; but his young girlfriend was still alert. She kept screaming, or at least trying to as they stuffed a greasy rag in her mouth and tore open the front of her shirt. One of the Dragons was telling her how pretty she was, while another one was advising her to simply relax and enjoy the ride. Casey worked his jaw, choking on his own bloody spittle as he tried to move. Behind his back he clawed so hard at his bonds that he bloodied the tips of his fingers. As one of the older dragons walked past him, he kicked his feet out in a desperate attempt to trip him.
The young punk grinned, kneeling beside Casey. His breath was fetid, like rotting fish, which didn't help his nausea.
"You don't get to help, vigilante. You just have to watch." He grabbed Casey by the hair, and turned his face directly towards the woman bent over the trashcans, pulling him back every time he looked away. Casey reached in back of him, grabbing the street punk's shirt and trying to bash him off guard, only to earn another kick in the ribs and another flash of pain. The girl was sobbing by now, her screams turning from terror to pain, from pain to agony and finally to a frenzied last gasp of terror as she faded into unconsciousness as the dragons took turns having their way.
That night it had ended there. The police had come for the disturbance and the punks had run. He remembered slipping in and out of consciousness as the police untied him, and slowly regaining his wits as they sat waiting for an ambulance to show up. Casey had slipped away when the cops weren't looking, stumbling down another dark alleyway. Despite the fact that they hadn't found his mask or his hockey stick, he didn't want to be connected to the scene, so he had dragged himself into the sewers like Raph had shown him, and slumped there against the wall as his vision cleared. But here in his bed he tossed as the sirens rang out and his mind seemed to rewind.
The scene started to reply again, as if he was stuck in a bad playback loop, only this time everything was overlapping. A greasy rag didn't muffle the girl's screams, but they were sharp like an alarm in his ears. All the sounds were overlaid with the ever-present jackal laugh of the Dragon leader, and Casey found himself walking through the streets like a puppet, with strings threaded through his hands and feet. He raised his hockey stick to strike the first gang member and someone pulled the strings, keeping his weapon at bay. Strike after strike he was pulled back before it hit, and the dragons punched him in the ribs over and over again. The same voice crowed in his ears "You don't get to help, vigilante."
He started to thrash about, pulling at the strings until blood welled in great pools from his hands and feet and still he couldn't move… helpless. He tried to scream, but no words came out, only rivers of pink spit, choking off his words and he gnashed like a rabid dog, struggling to gain control… control of his body, control of the situation.
He looked up, and saw the gang leader above him, holding on to all four strings. With an even yank, he pulled Casey upwards, until he was hanging by his puppet limbs, five or six feet in midair. All around his he was soaked in the same fetid fish breath. Reaching over, he tried to gnaw through the strings binding his arms, but every time he bit down all he came up with was a mouthful of ash. Spitting, the black soot stuck to his tongue, and it seemed to soak up the fish smell as the heat rose around him.
Heat? Why was it getting warmer? Casey looked around, watching the screaming girl run down the alleyway. His puppet master dragged him afterwards, and Casey hung like a limp manikin until he saw the flames.
"You don't get to help, vigilante."
Casey tried to yell to the girl, tried to warn her to stop, to not run into the flames, but the flecks of spit that came out of his mouth evaporated into the wind. He tried to close his eyes, but he found he couldn't move - transfixed to watch as she ran, naked, into the burning building.
"You just get to watch."
The strings were cut all in one blow, and Casey Jones fell to the ground of his dreamscape running, streaming a contrail of blood and puppet strings behind him. He knew this building somehow, he knew that he shouldn't go near it, and yet he couldn't stop himself from rushing forward. He could still hear the girl scream, and he couldn't leave her behind. He had already stood by without being able to do anything for long enough. Putting his head down, like a bull does when it's trying to ram something, he dove into the flames.
Somehow it wasn't as hot as he expected inside, in fact it was hardly hot at all. Squinting he could see someone huddled in the corner, waving at him. "Miss?" Finally his voice worked. "Are you alright?"
"Casey, help me!" That wasn't right… how could she know his name? Casey hauled himself over a burning countertop, heading for the back end of the room. "Casey!" the voice came again.
His breath caught in his throat. "Dad?"
"Help me move her, she's hurt!" He was kneeling beside the girl, trying to lift her.
"Dad, you have to get out of here!" Casey pleaded, reaching out for them. Behind him a flash of flame engulfed the roof and the whole structure of the house groaned. "Now, before this thing collapses!"
"Not without everyone!" his dad yelled back. The flames were roaring in Casey's ears, but still he couldn't feel the heat. Then again the girl wasn't moving but he could still hear her screams.
"Then give me your hand, Dad. I'll carry her." He reached out through the wall of orange and yellow, trying to catch hold of them, but no matter how far forward he pushed he couldn't catch hold of his father's hand. "Dad!" He shouted, or tried to, but once again he felt his throat fill with blood, sizzling against the flames as he coughed it out. In his head the ringing laughter was so loud it was like being inside of a bell as it tolled, each new guffaw punctuating another pulse of pain through his temples. Stumbling forward, he searched for his father and the girl, hands clawing against the embers of the countertop.
The roof heaved again and the crack that filled the air was like a mast snapping. Behind him a girder fell, a large chunk of flame reddened wood, blocking his path. He spun, hearing the screams behind him, tripping over the falling debris. "Dad!" The words died in his throat as the roof came down piece by piece around him, forming a cage. Through the tiny slits and flames licking the edges he could see his father writing as his flesh caught fire, watching it melt off as he tried to roll out the flames. Casey clawed at his prison, still not feeling the heat, but unable to overcome his entrapment, screaming wordlessly, and thrashing: helpless.
Piece by piece the building collapsed, forming a box around Casey's form. Around him he could see the flames die away, and the endless long hours as even the embers cooled, and things went silent. He stood, running his hands against the walls of his prison, trying to pull pieces free, resorting to beating his hands against the wood, pleading, praying, soundlessly screaming for release.
All he could hear was laughter. That barking, braying laughter ringing in his ears.
"Let me out!" He screamed, though the words wouldn't make it past his dry lips. In his bed he was tossing so violently he nearly fell out, beating at the box springs as he beat the walls in his mind. Slowly, the laughter faded, leaving him only with the sound of his bleeding fists slamming uselessly against a wooden girder.
Exhausted, he slumped back against the floor, feeling the cold of the steamy concrete sink into his bones, and he panted for breath. Above him, the ceiling of his prison started to sink down towards him.
He never screamed when he woke, save tonight. He snapped upright so quickly that his ribs screamed in agony. The shower was for naught; he felt like his skin was on fire, and his entire body was soaked in beads of sweat.
Usually any dreams he had would dissipate with the snap of consciousness, but not tonight. He leapt from the bed, sporting only his skivvies, and ran to the window. Throwing open the drapes, he sucked in breath as if there was something in the air that needed to be captured or his life would expire. He spun around, staring at the room wildly, and in his mind the bedroom walls started to collapse, with the ceiling falling first. Everything constricted, and he whirled about, unable to get a grip on reality. In the corners of the room he could see bits of flame starting to lick from the cracks in the wall.
He ran through the shabby apartment, flipping on every light switch he could find, until at 3:00 am the place was lit up like a Roman candle. Still his mind was in a fury. He ran downstairs, nearly falling face first down the steps, standing in the wide open living room with the huge bay windows, particularly chosen because he knew he was claustrophobic. The walls receded, and he took a breath, waiting for his skin to cool. As he stood there, his body began to feel numb, and he envisioned stirngs connected to his hands and feet. Panic rose from his gut all they up to his throat and he yelped, his voice sounding hoarse and thin. Turning like a wild dog in a cage, he slid across the linoleum of the kitchen and flung open the refrigerator. Tearing through the moldering contents, he took out a pitcher of ice water, took in a deep breath, and poured it over his head. It was desperation, really, a desperate bid to feel something other than numb, and to assure himself he was still alive.
It did the trick.
He sank to the floor, and his entire body started to ache, his head, nose and ribs most of all. He waited for the remnants of the panic to pass, and the flickers of flame to fade away. He just sat there, frozen and shivering on the floor of the kitchen, waiting for everything to re-align itself.
Exhausted, he walked slowly through the house, flicking off the lights, covering the rooms in the blissful darkness of predawn. The bedroom was still too cramped, too close to collapse for comfort. He walked slowly downstairs and grabbed the pillow and soft multicolored scrap afghan that his Aunt had given him long ago, and lay down flat on his back on the floor, watching the sky slowly fade to light as he let exhaustion overtake him.
At 7:15 he was officially declared AWOL, and at 7:20 April O'Neil decided she had enough. Throwing her hands up, she grumbled to herself "Where the hell is he? If he was going to be late he should have called." She paused and gave a winning smile to her vendor who was standing beside the packaged crates with an impatient look on his features. "Give me just a second, sir. I may have to come back later."
The businessman scowled as April pulled out her cell phone. "I trust that you will actually bring a truck then?"
Another beautiful grin from the antiques dealer punctuated her exit. "Of course, I'll be back soon!" As soon as she was out of his earshot she growled into the phone "Casey Jones, you had better pick up!"
She drove across town with a grimace on her face, swearing she was going to give him enough hell to raise the devil. She slammed her car door in frustration at her unanswered calls and marched into the garage, searching behind one of the wall posts for the spare key. She thrust it into the door like a swordsman running a man through and threw open the front door. All curtains were thrown open. Most of the windows open. The apartment was extremely chilly in the morning air, and April could see her breath form into a fog. Half of the lights in the upstairs were still on. Kitchen floor soaked. And the inhabitant, bruises welling up on his face and torso was sleeping the sleep of the dead; sprawled out on the living room floor, nearly naked, half covered with a multicolored garish afghan.
"What the hell?" April murmured, shaking her head as she knelt down, stroking his hair gently. "What happened to you, Casey Jones?"