I'm currently trying to wind up my epic adventure/romance, Love in Shades of Green and Grey, but occasionally these little concepts pop into my head and clutter it up until I write them down. In this piece I explore the darker side of Beast Boy, like I did in Extreme Sanction. Some folks felt that my approach in ES was too dark. Perhaps this will fit him a little better.
"Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?
- Lamont Cranston
Sid Erskine sat at his desk and puffed on a cheap cigar in direct defiance of the no smoking rule imposed by the publisher of the Daily Blatt. He was a short man, fat and balding, with a few wisps of hair remaining in the comb-over he'd been sporting since his mid-thirties. Now in his mid-forties, he wore a cheap suit, dark to disguise the fact that he only had it cleaned a couple of times a year. It was slightly rumpled and, as always, his wide plaid tie was askew.
He smoked with great satisfaction for two reasons, first because he could smoke in defiance of policy, but second, because sales of the Blatt were up for the ninth straight month. The publisher had brought him on a year ago to try to turn around the tabloid that had been failing for quite some time. He'd been warned that they were just six months away from shutdown if something wasn't done, and he'd managed to pull it off.
He grinned as he reminisced. The first three months he'd not managed anything, and then he'd gotten a gift from heaven: those five teenage freaks in the T-shaped building on the Bay.
"I couldn't have come up with a better gimmick if I had designed it on purpose. A space alien, a were-animal, a masked vigilante, a killer robot, and a witch, all living under the same roof, with no supervision: it's like a license to print money!"
The Titans had been front page news every day for nine months. Nine separate origin stories had been ascribed to Robin. Every single possible sexual pairing of the unsupervised teens had been speculated on. Starfire had been accused of being a cannibal. The people of Jump City had eaten it up, buying copy after copy of his paper. He'd turned the paper around, and given that print was a dying industry, he'd pulled off nothing short of a miracle. He glanced at his computer monitor. Today's proof was ready to go to press. He clicked "approve."
In 1928, an architect designing the office building across the street from the Daily Blatt had thought the upper exterior boring. Laying his ruler across the drawing, he added a single line. The building contractor, in turn, had interpreted this line as a narrow decorative ledge. Eighty five years later, the pigeons of Jump City found this ledge one place of many to congregate. One pigeon in particular normally ruled the roost here on The Ledge. The largest of the males, he had made it utterly clear that only he would be mating with the females here. Any food brought up here, he would eat his fill first. This was his ledge, and he was in charge, and all of this confused him when he got back from his morning foraging trip. There, in his spot next to the wall, was another pigeon: a big one. He was perched all the way at the end of the ledge. Sitting almost motionless, he just stared down at the parking lot across the street. The alpha male shrugged, fluffing his feathers. The interloper ignored him, unmoving. Shaking his head, the alpha began to work his way along the wall toward his spot. He'd make short work of this. The interloper might be big but there was no way he was tougher. There were only one or two females between them when the interloper rotated his head to stare at the alpha. His eyes were blank white. No irises or pupils. And, now that he was closer, the alpha realized that the interloper was green. The alpha froze, considering. Maybe the interloper would just leave of his own accord. Yes, it would be best to bide his time. The big pigeon's head rotated back around to stare at the asphalt parking lot some more.
Five o'clock came to the offices of the Daily Blatt, and Sid walked out the front door with pep in his step and pride in his stride. The paper was doing very well, and his bosses were rightfully giving him credit. Not to say that his writers and photographers weren't doing their part, but his leadership was key. As he unlocked his battered sedan, he failed to notice the emerald green pigeon that fluttered down to land on his rear bumper. Had he been watching, he might have seen it shake itself for a moment, and then vanish. Only the most observant would have noticed the tiny green spider that clung there in its stead crawling beneath the bumper.
Sid stopped off at his favorite tavern for a couple of beers, then said, "What the heck," and ordered a steak, to celebrate his strong professional position. Accordingly, it was several hours before he wended his way home. As he opened his door, he failed not notice the green housefly that flew in ahead of him.
A little wobbly from the beer, he really shouldn't have been driving. Sid hummed as he got ready for bed. Divorced, he lived in a small rental bungalow in a tidy little working class neighborhood in the hills across the bay from downtown. The house was furnished in late 20th Century modern furniture, all of it second or third hand. In just a few more years, and it would be "vintage." Sid turned down the bed, drank his water, and slid between the sheets. He turned off the light and dozed off.
Sid woke an indeterminate time later. The room was lit with a harsh, white bar of moonlight streaming in the window. The rest of the room was a dark abyss. And there was someone, or something in there with him. He could feel it. Sweat popped out on his forehead.
"Who – who's there?" he called out.
Then the smell hit him. It was an animal smell. Strong and musky. Not like a farm animal. Those he knew from boyhood summers at his uncle's farm. More like the tiger cage at the zoo. It wasn't exactly unpleasant, but at the same time, scary. Something moved in the darkness. There was a pair of eyes, low over next to the wall. The moonlight glinted white off of them. They began to rise as whatever crouched there rose up. And up and up and up. Whatever it was was enormous. Sid whimpered. The eyes moved closer. Suddenly the bed shifted. Something big had hopped up into the footboard of his bed. The eyes loomed over him. Sid whimpered again. This had to be a nightmare.
"Please let me wake up. Please let me wake up," he murmured.
The eyes settled lower, and the smell grew less strong.
"You're already awake, Sid," said a youthful tenor voice.
"Who, what are you?"
Sid waited, but the intruder said nothing.
"What do you want?"
"You can turn on the light now," the voice finally replied.
It took a couple of minutes as Sid fumbled with the light switch, but eventually the bedside table lamp clicked on, and the warm yellow light revealed the figure of a youth perching on the footboard of Sid's bed. The boy, young man, really, couldn't have been more than nineteen years old, but he looked very strange. He perched comfortably on the narrow footboard with the easy balance of a trained acrobat and moved with the confidence of a mature man many years his senior. He squatted there, hands between his feet, gripping the bed. He wore a black and purple jumpsuit, which was odd enough, but his skin was emerald green, and he had pointed ears, like an elf.
"You," Sid stuttered, "You're that freak, what – Beast Boy! What are you doing here?"
The young man's eyes narrowed. "I don't like that word, Mr. Erskine. You're supposed to be a writer. Pick another one when you talk about me."
"S – sorry," he stammered.
The young man just perched there, staring.
"So, um, what do you want," Sid continued after a few moments, more to fill the increasingly intimidating silence that from any wanting to know.
Beast Boy's head cocked at him, curiously, a single lower fang flashing in the light.
"I need you to do something for me."
"What? What could you possibly want with me?"
Sid's voice grew a little stronger, now that it seemed like he wasn't going to immediately be killed out of hand.
"I don't know much about the newspaper business," said Beast Boy flatly, "but I think that each paper has a writer's guide, a bible. You know, small 'b' bible."
"It tells the writers what the editorial take of the paper is. Whether you spell 'color' or 'colour,' and so on, so that the style and tone of the paper is consistent, right?"
Sid paused, and then responded, "Sure kid," he said, more confident now as the confrontation moved to his area of expertise.
"But that doesn't answer the question of what you're doing in my living room. I should call the cops."
"You do that. By the time they get here, we'll be done with our business," said the young man with great confidence. "I'm here, now, because we needed to have a private conversation. I figure if we talk privately, you won't have to refuse me on principle. I'm not gonna allow you to take refuge in principles, because I've read that rag you edit, and you don't have any."
"Hey now," started Sid.
"Oh please. Killer Robot? Cannibal space-alien?"
"That? That's just punching things up to make them more interesting," Sid replied.
Beast Boy's eyes glittered in the moonlight.
"You're going to edit your 'bible' for me, Mr. Erskine. You're going to remove one word."
"Look," said Beast Boy, "I get it. You've got a job to do. And your job is to make up dishonest crap about people who risk their lives daily so that you can work and live safely."
"That's not what . . ."
"Don't even try to hide behind journalism or call yourself the voice of the people. You're an entertainer. You use other people's lives for fodder. You grind them up and smear them across your front page, and it makes money for you. And I don't care."
"But I . . . wait, what?"
"Write whatever you want about me. A scandal-sheet like yours is beneath me. Cyborg and Robin, the Killer Robot and the Masked Vigilante have thick skins. But Raven's not a witch and you're going to stop calling her that."
"Why just her? And what about the other . . . ?"
"The 'cannibal space alien?' You take your own chances with Starfire. Right now she's oblivious. If she figures out you're insulting her, well, she comes from a planet where insults are reasons for duels to the death, but that's between you and her. Raven's another matter."
"Listen, kid I . . ."
Beast Boy interrupted, "Don't patronize me. I've seen the look on her face when they talk about her on the news."
He brought out a copy of yesterday's Blatt and waved it in front of Sid's nose. The picture showed Raven, cloak streaming out behind her, hands extended, blasting a school bus with a giant fan-shaped burst of dark energy.
"I was standing thirty feet away and at a right angle to the photographer. That bus full of children had been thrown by Mammoth, and Raven's fan of dark energy was been safely catching them, but your caption read, 'Wicked Witch of Titan's West endangers school children.' I'll be visiting other news outlets in the coming days, but you're the worst of the worst. There are other words you can use: mystic, spell-slinger, enchantress . . . Use that imagination for something other than hurting people. And stop hurting my friend. Really, Sid, just stop calling her a wicked witch. She isn't one."
The young man's green eyes bored into Sid's own brown ones. They touched a part of his brain far beneath his intellect. It was the part of the brainstem that remembered what it was like before. It remembered what it was like when humans were prey. Sid shuddered.
"O-okay," he said, flinching.
"Thanks, Sid. I knew you'd be a good sport when you realized you were hurting someone. You can turn the light back out now."
"That's okay, I'll sit up a while and . . . ."
"Turn off the light, Sid."
His hand shaking, Sid snapped off the light, leaving the room once again lit only by the artic light of the moonbeam coming in the window. The bed shuddered. There was something big stepping off of it. Two eyes receded into the darkness, near the wall, shrank down, and vanished. The thick, musky scent in the room slowly dissipated. It was a long time before Sid slept, and when he did, he dreamt of running through a dense, verdant jungle as fast as he could, panting, while something big followed him closely.
When Sid woke the next morning, the sun was shining, the birds were singing, and it was just about a perfect spring day. Bleary-eyed, he shuffled to the bathroom.
"That's it," he thought, "no more whiskey after 10:00 PM. Gives me nightmares."
He looked into bloodshot eyes in his bathroom mirror, then started his morning routine. Grabbing a quick fast-food breakfast, Sid made a mental note to pay more attention to his diet, starting next week. He gave no further thought to his nightmare. He hummed as he walked into the building and jingled his keys. Staff nodded to him respectfully as he moved through the newsroom and unlocked his office door. He hung up his hat and jacket and sat down at his desk. Then he froze.
His desk calendar, a large, desktop blotter type bore for deep slashes, as if a large, powerful animal had somehow gotten into the office and clawed at the blotter, once and once only. The cuts were clean, from very sharp claws, and deep, through the entire blotter and its leather backing. They'd been put there with no effort whatsoever. Through a locked door and burglar alarm. Sid licked his lips. He sat there for a long time, considering, then leaned forward and keyed his intercom.
"Sally," he said with a level voice, "bring me the writer's bible. I'm going to make a couple of changes."