One morning, Isaac the banker awoke from uneasy dreams to find himself transformed into a Norse Warrior. He looked in wonder at his hand, which had just smashed his alarm clock to bits. The hand was twice its normal size, at least, raw and red. The inner palm was calloused to a hard leather as if he worked as a rancher not a money lender.
"By Odin's Gate!" he cried. His voice was a thunderous roar that made the ceiling bulb shake and bits of plaster fall.
"Isaac, get up now..." his mother called on the other side of the bedroom door. "You donŐt want to be late for work...."
Isaac clasped his hands to his mouth and, to his astonishment, found he had grown a long white beard overnight.
"By the saints of Valhalla!" he whispered. Ripping off his bed sheets, he examined his body. It was rigid and muscular. Scarred and veined. His privates were wrapped in a fur pelt of some sort and large iron bracelets ringed his ham-sized wrists.
"Isaac!" his mother called again. "Your coffee's ready! Hurry up now!"
"Be still woman!" Isaac roared, knocking down more plaster and setting off a car alarm in the street.
"Isaac! What's got into you?" his mother said, her voice quavering with concern. Her footfalls stopped outside his door.
Isaac quickly stuck out a foot and clamped it against the door. His mother pushed uselessly against it.
"Isaac? Isaac!" she called, hammering her hand against the door. "Is something wrong? Open up! Are you sick?"
Holding the door secure with one hand, Isaac dragged a chest of drawers over to hold it in place.
"Sick," he said.
"But Isaac you can't miss work. You've never missed work." His mother was panicking. Isaac sighed and sat back on his bed, which creaked noisily beneath him. He drew a small mirror from his desk drawer and examined his face.
His skin was weathered beyond time, his face cragged and ruddy like a homeless man's. His eyes, normally mud brown, were blue and smokey. His hair ran down to his shoulders.
As he sat contemplating what to do, he began to smell breakfast cooking on the stove. He thought of his usual bland bowl of Toastie-Os and how such fare would hardly make a dent. His mother was obviously making a nice breakfast in hopes of luring him out of the room.
Presently, there was another knock on the door. This time it was his stepfather Brian.
"Come on Isaac!" he said. "You can't be so sick you can't put in a few measly hours pushing paper around."
Isaac wondered when was the last time Brian had put in a few hours' work doing anything. Ever since getting laid off from his groundskeeping job six months ago, all he seemed good for was keeping his mother company on the couch watching daytime TV, drinking Bud Light, and smoking discount cigarettes.
A sudden rage filled Isaac. He threw the dresser aside and ripped the door open, burying the handle in the wall in the process. Brian stood goggle-eyed dressed in his usual garb -- a loose-fitting Chicago Bears sweatshirt and gray sweatpants. Just beyond him, his mother almost dropped the frying pan.
"Wh-at?" Isaac bellowed at the sticklike Brian, almost blowing him down. His stepfather scuttled behind his mother who stood transfixed. Isaac sniffed powerfully and motioned toward the steaming eggs.
"Well woman," he said. "Let's have the grub!"
His mother tilted the eggs onto a plate. "Isaac, is that you?" she burbled. "Is this my Isaac?"
Ignoring her, Isaac took the plate and opened his mouth and shoveled it all down in three great handfuls.
"Is that all you have?" he roared. "It gave me but a taste!"
"It's those pills," Brian sputtered from the corner. "He's taking ephedra I bet."
With a swift and powerful thrust, Isaac reached out and throttled Brian, grabbing him by the neck and shaking him violently. His knees snapped back and forth and a pack of cigarettes fell out of the waistband of his sweats.
"Stop it! Stop it!" Isaac's mother screeched, suddenly coming to life. She swatted at Isaac's arm with her spatula.
Isaac put Brian back down but continued to grin at him.
"Shut your mouth, chicken man," he said.
Rubbing his throat, Brian started towards the living room, grumbling under his breath. "Damn kid gonna make me miss Maury...."
Isaac's mother popped in four slices of bread and began cracking more eggs into the pan and adding in some bacon strips. "Maybe you'll feel better after you're all filled up," she said. "Maybe you'll be able to make it in to work today."
"Bah!" Isaac said. He stomped to the back porch just outside the kitchen. He regarded the traffic congealing on Chicago Avenue with disdain. He stuck out a gnarled hand, palm towards the sky.
"By the power of Aegir!" he said.
Moments later, the sky darkened as clouds smashed together. The August sun vanquished, lightning was now responsible for all of the sky's light. It flashed in terrible harsh streaks and made ear-shattering whip cracks. A bolt hit a nearby traffic light and sent it blinking out of commission. Torrents of rain hurtled down, making a quick shallow river of the streets.Isaac returned to the kitchen with a wide smile on his face.
"Work has been called off due to rain delay," he said.
His mother left the stove to inspect the fierce weather and the ensuing chaos. People were running for cover from the blowing winds and rain. While she was absorbed by the purple sky and lightning show, Isaac scraped the hot food into his mouth greedily.
Isaac returned to his room and lay back on his puny bed and closed his eyes. In minutes he was asleep and was soon dreaming about mighty clashes with murderous adversaries and romance with enchanting maidens.
At various intervals, Isaac would awake and catch bits of conversation -- his hearing, it seemed, had become superacute.
"He isn't feeling well today... Yes, but really, he's sick and... Really, you shouldn't..."
Sometime later, Isaac returned to full consciousness. The front door had been opened. There was a visitor. Distinctly, he made out the voice of his employer, Mr. Reynolds.
"No, no... It's no trouble at all," he said. "Let me take these galoshes off... This weather's really something, eh? A cup of coffee? Well, sure, that would be great...."
Isaac heard his mother move to the kitchen saying "Oh, he's quite sick I'm afraid. He's resting now. He's really not at all himself today...."
The TV in the living room resounded with jeers and laughs. Some other abominable talk show was on. The audience brayed like donkeys.
"Really you shouldn't have come," she continued.
"Oh, it's no problem at all, really. Only a short bus ride away."
Isaac's mother returned to the living room and gave Mr. Reynolds the coffee.
"So, what kind of fever does he have?" he asked.
Brian and Isaac's mother looked at each other.
"Oh, he's been pukin'," Brian said matter-of-factly. "He's pukin' sick."
"That's certainly a shame," Mr. Reynolds said. He sipped at the bitter coffee and let his eyes rest on Springer's guests -- Rich Girls Who Marry Hillbilly Trash. "Poor timing too. We're quite backed up at the moment with our lending accounts. Do you think I could talk to him?"
Once again, Brian and Isaac's mother's eyes locked.
"Don't want to catch what he's got," Brian said. "He's pukin' sick like I said. In fact, I think it's time I check the bucket for him."
Brian stood up abruptly. Isaac's mother's eyes burned like laser beams into his back.
"Hey, maybe I'll come with," Mr. Reynolds said, darting up to follow, but neither went far. Isaac was standing in the dining room blocking them.
Mr. Reynolds turned white green and his mouth fell open like a draw bridge. Isaac was gnawing on a piece of cold turkey leg.
"Mr. Reynolds," he spat, "what brings you here? And in such inclement weather as this?"
Mr. Reynolds rattled, "I -- Isaac? Is that you under all that makeup? Why, is it a costume holiday of some sort? Or is this some kind of prank you're pulling?"
In reply, Isaac knocked the bulbous toy head of his employer clean off and sent it tumbling to rest in front of Brian's feet.
"Uh, ugh!" Brian managed, leaping away from the head.
Isaac rested a large hand on his mother's weary shoulder.
"You shan't be bothered again by this unwelcome vermin," he assured her. "Now, dearest mother, it strains my heart to tell you this, but your restless son must again voyage -- the land of Bifrost calls!"
And with that, Isaac swaggered through the door leaving the warm corpse of Mr. Reynolds for them to deal with.
This was not maiden weather, Isaac decided. Once again, he appealed to Aegir, and presently the rains ceased and a huge fiery sun appeared. Isaac started towards the premier swank coffee shop in his neighborhood, a clean well-lighted place called Letizia's.
Inside the warm, glowing confines, about twenty people stood cowering around their java mugs, peering anxiously at the recently venomous skies. Several faces recoiled when Isaac blotted out the newly revealed sunlight.
Isaac entered the shop and eyed the speechless crowd. He spied several fine lasses that would do just fine.
"Aye," he said. "I'm looking for a fair maiden or two to join me on a wondrous sea voyage across the Aegean into the Mediterranean and beyond!"
The only person moving in the shop was the tiny barista who ignored the ogre and continued making cappuccinos.
Isaac's eyes rested upon a pretty, pale but voluptuous blonde.
"I say, you of the fair skin and voluptuous amounts, what of my offer? One cannot travel finer than with the Stormbringer! What say you?"
The girl's mouth opened, but no words came out. A collective sigh of relief went through the room. With the freakish monster's attention so focused on the girl, perhaps they could make it out alive.
"Eh, woman? Speak up! I cannot hear you!"
"I, uh, I have errands to run today," the woman said meekly.
Little fires danced in Isaac's eyes.
"Bah! What is more exciting than a tour with the Legion of Torpor? Will you see the captive monster of Golemdale today? Will you feast at Corpsmort? Will you bask in the splendor of Swineville?"
"Really," the woman said. "I have laundry to do."
"Argh! 'Tis not fit to accompany a cat to a saucer, much less sail with a mighty warrior! If it is not smog you breathe it is the scent of your own decomposition!"
The woman looked affronted but also glad the behemoth's interest in her seemed to be waning. In a corner, a man in vintage eyewear scribbled Isaac's speech into his writing journal. He could probably get it published as a free verse poem in Hollow Concept."
"Any takers? Who has the will and courage to leave this city of devils? I could always use a good oarsman or two." Isaac's eyes shifted between the men in the shop.
"Alas, it looks like ye could hardly hoist a piglet much less compel a sailing craft across the ocean. Oh, to Niflheim with you!" Isaac said, exasperated. He crashed back outside.
By now people were slowly venturing onto the streets again, most of them looking cautiously at the sky. Isaac stomped down Division Street using the roadway as his sidewalk. Cars honked and swerved around him. On his journey east, he stopped only once, at a gas station where he gobbled down a dozen Zagnut bars and a gallon of milk.
When at last he reached the lake, he walked down a concrete pier and stood beside a Latino fisherman. He looked into the distance.
"Is this what passes for water in these parts?" he asked the man.
"Ai, si," the man said.
"'Tis but a trickle," Isaac said. "I have seen more current in a glass of ale!"
The man nodded uncertainly. His young son was bouncing up and down pointing to Isaac. "Esta Hulka! Esta Hulka!" he said.
Isaac lifted the boy in the air, much to the child's screaming delight, then gently placed him back down.
"Eat your venison," Isaac told him, "and you will grow up to be 'Hulka' too."
With that message imparted, Isaac ventured back mainland and inspected a hot dog stand with a giant fiberglass weiner on top of the roof. In seconds, Isaac had the object in his hands and was carrying it away, ignoring the bewildered protests of the vendor.
"Will do until I find a crew to join up with," Isaac said, plucking a green slat out of a park bench to use as an oar. After ensuring the boat was waterproof, Isaac pushed out into the greenish waters and implored Aegir for a strong wind to push at his back.
Isaac was not sure where he should go, so he just rowed directly out until in the distance there appeared a mighty vessel. It was white with blinking lights and an impressive stature. Isaac pointed his meager craft toward it. Who knew what mission they were on -- perhaps treasure hunting or sea serpent slaying...or maybe it was just the U.S. Navy on maneuvers.
Whatever it was, Isaac tingled inside, thinking of the adventure that awaited him.
If by chance you're in Chicago or the surrounding area, join John H. Matthews and the rest of THE2NDHAND crew for the release of ALL HANDS ON 1 July 2004 at Quimby's. Click here for info on the event, and to order a copy of the book using any major credit card, go here.