I make no profits from writing about the Ninja Turtles.
I owe a huge thanks to the awesome Deirdre for the beta read and all the insight and advice, and for her support and faith in a project about which I had a hundred uncertainties.
Mrs. Parr's Gargoyle
Against the backdrop of darkness, the glow of the lamp on the end table turned Mrs. Parr's window into a mirror. She caught sight of her reflection as she shuffled over to switch it off for the night. Her face hovered above the lamp shade, the illumination from below casting pockets of shadow under her eyes and in her sagging skin, and highlighting the deep lines running from the corners of her mouth to her nose and down either side of her chin in thick, black strokes. The effect made her look, she decided, not older than she was, but rather exactly as old as she was. Although she never cared to acknowledge it, she always felt a bit disgruntled when caught unaware by her own reflection. A small jolt of surprise and peevish disappointment ran under her skin, as if she had, against all reason and common sense, expected to find a younger version of herself looking back.
Irritated with herself, the impromptu mirror, and all harsh white light bulbs, she switched off the lamp. The displeasing reflection winked out - the window no longer a mirror but an ordinary window again, offering a view of the neighboring building's roof. From Mrs. Parr's window, the sight was as immediate and intimate as looking into one's own backyard. Her apartment stood at the same level as the other building's roof, and the alley separating them was so narrow that she might have been able to spit across to the other side, if she had had any practice at spitting.
On the roof, Mrs. Parr saw something inhuman moving and whirling with furious, reckless energy.
She stared blankly for a few moments, puzzled, as her mind tried to match up what she saw with any sort of man or animal she knew. Failing that, a surge of fearful adrenalin flooded her nerves - the instinct to flee from this thing or cower before its violent movements. But she stood as if rooted to the spot, the backs of her knees tight and trembling, one hand anxiously pulling and twisting on the fingers of the other, not knowing what to do and unable to look away.
A single bulb, encaged in protective wire, shone from atop a doorway to the building's stairs. The creature flashed into the pool of light the bulb threw and out again, over and over - its body now briefly illuminated, now dark as a bat against the shadows, and quicker, and just as erratic in its movements. And Mrs. Parr watched, stunned and thrilled and frightened.
The thing seemed to be fighting an invisible enemy. It lashed out viciously. It leapt and dodged with impossible swiftness, at times faster than her eyes could track it. She caught brief, stark glimpses of a broad body, plated and armored, indisputably green. She saw weapons twirl in its hands, but the creature would volley back into darkness before she could make out what they were. Once in darkness, the creature was just an indistinct, violent dervish of a shadow. Of the enemy it seemed to be fighting so desperately, she could see nothing.
It occurred to her that the creature might be mad, or rabid. It no doubt was dangerous. She wondered if perhaps she should call animal control…but no, that was a stupid idea. She couldn't imagine what animal control, with their small nets and catchpoles, could achieve against this thing. In any case, the fact that it carried weapons indicated that it had more than an animal's intelligence
She should call the police, and…and tell them what? There was crazed monster on the roof? They would laugh at her. No, give them a white lie. There was an intruder on the roof, or better yet, two men fighting. Then let the police deal with whatever they found and figure out what it was.
The creature burst into the pool of light and launched into a mighty leap, remaining airborne for far longer than any creature without actual wings had any right to be, finishing off with a furious, crushing kick that apparently vanquished the unseen enemy. It stood still a moment, legs spread in a heroic stance, one hand fisted on its hip, the other pointing to something invisible lying at its feet. Its mouth moved as if saying something to his beaten foe.
Then, to Mrs. Parr's utter astonishment, the creature took a bow.
It turned about, bowing to all four points of the compass and then some. It raised its arms in triumph to receive the thundering acclaim of an imaginary audience. It smiled and waved. It even went as far as blowing a few kisses.
She had no idea what to make of it.
All that ferocious effort and the creature, for whatever reason, had been merely playacting. It suddenly occurred to Mrs. Parr that perhaps she was watching an exceptionally agile and elaborately made up man rehearsing some sort of performance art. That, she thought with a relieved feeling of sanity being restored to the world, actually made quite a lot of sense. As such, the green monster would not even qualify as the most bizarre thing she had ever seen in her life.
She remembered once, years ago, she had gone to see something described as "a provocative piece of performance art." A young woman, dressed in ragged but pricey layers of black silk, had taken a hypodermic needle and, puncturing her forearm, had filled it with blood from her own vein. The girl had then tilted her head back and squirted the hypo's contents back into her eyes, letting it run down her face like the streaks of tears. Of the small audience, some had looked thoughtful, some disdainfully amused, and some merely looked bored. No one had looked shocked. Mrs. Parr had wondered if the girl could get herself arrested for something like that – there should be some kind of law about mutilating yourself with hypodermics.
Compared to that, a man in green make up and an artificial shell was hardly worth noting. Her fears began to dissipate, replaced by simple bewilderment and a growing, powerful curiosity. Now that it lingered in the light, she got a better look at it. It was like a turtle in form. Or maybe tortoise was a better word, since it was on dry land. At least, it had a shell on its back and chest plates like a tortoise or turtle, but it stood up straight and had arms and legs like a man – a very muscular man. The domed head, however, and the very broad cheeks and jaw looked like nothing she knew.
The creature had two wooden weapons tucked into a thick leather belt. Kung-fu weapons - she had once known what they were called, but she couldn't find the word now. She had seen them in a Bruce Lee movie. She remembered with sudden, startling clarity going to a late night showing in Times Square of Enter the Dragon when it was first released. She recalled most of the audience smoking enthusiastically throughout the movie and no one trying to stop them - the management either unwilling to challenge the rowdy midnight crowd or not caring. Mrs. Parr had lit one up herself and through a haze of smoke watched Bruce Lee wielding the exact same weapons. Strange, she could remember that but could not recall whom she had been with.
The turtle-tortoise-man wore a mask around his eyes, like Zorro, but unlike Zorro he had bypassed somber black in favor of bright, insouciant orange. Mrs. Parr couldn't imagine the point of the mask. It wasn't like a strip of cloth could do anything to disguise the identity of a being that looked more or less like a gargoyle come to life. Maybe the mask was intended to be ironically humorous, a joke he had with himself. Or maybe, if he was indeed a performance artist, it was some kind of symbolic statement on the nebulous nature of identity. Or something. Who knew what went through the minds of performance artists.
He had now apparently had enough of bowing to his imaginary audience. He bounded to the door and flung himself down with as much energy as he has used to fling himself around the roof. He sat under the light bulb with his back to the door and snatched up some kind of writing tablet or sketchbook by his side and began rapidly flipping through the pages.
When she was sure he intended to stay put a few minutes, Mrs. Parr left the window. Feeling her way carefully through the dark apartment, she went to the hall closet and rummaged around on the upper shelf, emerging with a pair of binoculars. The tortoise-man was still there after she felt her way back to the window. He looked to be sketching something, though the book was at the wrong angle for her to see what it was. Feeling herself very reckless and daring, and not in the least bit guilty for spying, she trained the binoculars on him.
At close range it became obvious that he was no man in a costume, but real. Once again, Mrs. Parr's sense of rightness and sanity in the world rocked wildly. His broad jaw and cheeks were not, after all, the result of prosthetic makeup, but living, malleable flesh. He poked his tongue against the inside of his cheek, making the skin bulge. The pink tip made an appearance out the corner of his wide mouth. She could not discern anything at all on the green head that passed for ears.
She panned the binoculars down his body, noting the subtle variations in the tone of his green skin, of the colors of his shell, variegated shades of green through brown. What she could see of the shell had a hard used look about it, like old, battered armor. He appeared as if he had been banged up some in his life. The prominent muscles on his arms and legs bore several impressive scars, ridged and pale against the surrounding skin, as if he had been gashed with a butcher knife on more than one occasion. Her instinctive reaction to the sight was pity, though it occurred to her that perhaps he had been the aggressor rather than the victim and had brought his scars on himself.
The creature shifted position, drawing up one knee to rest the sketchbook on it. She caught sight of some other appendage between his legs – a tail or another, more private part of his anatomy, though she hoped to God it was only a tail. Whatever it was, it squirmed like a slug and then came to rest stretched out along his inner thigh. She shuddered in revulsion and quickly looked elsewhere, settling her attention on his feet, which were large with two long dexterous toes on each and were, she noted with a curl of distaste in her throat, quite filthy.
What a strange, unaccountable creature - this scarred and grimy monster, apparently possessing artistic tendencies - this freakish hybrid of man and animal, plainly no stranger to violence, aggressive and brutally swift even in play. She had no frame of reference for something like this except for half remembered fantasy stories from childhood, and even then she had known none of it was real. But this – this was real, this was fantasy made flesh, as grotesque as trolls in the sewers, as marvelous as griffins in Central Park. Mrs. Parr was left with the uncomfortable realization that the world she had lived in for more than seventy years was not at all what she had thought.
After about a half an hour, the creature paused in his sketching, stretched and leapt to his feet. He tucked the sketchbook under his arm and without warning ran to the edge of the roof and jumped off. Mrs. Parr nearly screamed. A notion flashed into her head that all that sketching had been some sort of suicidal epigram and his previous activity had been the manic, last minute burst of energy of someone in the last stages of depression, and he now intended to hurl himself to his death. But even before the thought could finish forming, he landed safely on the far roof, throwing in an exuberant flip after he landed for good measure, and kept running. In seconds he was out of sight.