"Will you marry me?"
I looked down at him upon his knee, my jaw open. He beamed up at me, ardor in his eyes, his heart overflowing and spilling all over the restaurant's sumptuous rug. I smiled, feeling happy tears well up in my eyes, my own heart about to burst and pour out to join his on the floor.
But before I could respond, a nearby table rattled as a man threw back his chair and climbed unsteadily to his feet.
I was incredulous. "James!" I gasped. "What are you doing here?"
"I care too much about you to watch you throw your life away on this bum," he hissed. "This fool with his grand, ridiculous dreams, and his head in the clouds. He's nothing but a writer." He spat out the word with a sneer. "An artist. He'll never amount to anything in the world. But I'll be rich, and you know I will. I'll be vice president soon and I won't be there for long. I'm gonna be the next CEO. The job's as good as mine."
"It's you who have grand dreams, James. You don't get it. All you care about is money. It's all you've ever cared about it! You wanted to give me a home, security. I don't want that! I don't want you. Clint wants to give me love. He loves me, and cares about me. And I love him, more than I ever loved you, more than anyone in the world!" I turned back to Clint, who had risen besides me. "Clint, I will, I will marry you! I love you, with all my heart!"
"And I love you, darling, more than life itself!"
"You're making a mistake!"
"Stop making a scene, James."
He stalked closer, eyes narrowed, his greasy black hair hanging down in shambles over his unshaven face. "Not until I stop you from making the biggest mistake of your life! I'll prove I'm the better man. He doesn't deserve you! You are my woman, and I won't let him take you."
Clint stepped between us. "I'll have you know this is my future wife you're talking to. Don't make me do something you'll regret."
James glowered. "I'll have you know you're standing between me and my future wife."
"I'll never be your wife!" I snorted. "You're insane!"
James stepped up to Clint and looked him in the eyes, as best he could from a foot beneath my fiancé's height. "Am I?" His voice dripped with menace.
Said Clint, "With your permission, darling, I'll----" He let the sentence hang, merely squared his shoulders.
I shook my head. "No. But if he ever speaks to me again, I won't stop you."
James jabbed Clint in the chest. "Oh yeah? I'm speaking again now. What's pretty boy going to do about it?"
What happened next gave us all a start. A thundering crash from outside shook the building. There were screams, gasps, confused cries from the diners. Then all was drowned out by a deep, dreadful bellow. The booms and screams persisted outside, but inside we stood, dumbfounded. Then one man got up from his chair and rushed outside, a river of people following. Clint and I joined the flow. Nothing could have prepared either of us for what we were about to see.
It was a demon. With every step it left a wake of flame and destruction. It tossed cars like softballs, and batted bystanders aside like flies as it ravaged the intersection fifty feet away, its only ostensible motive unbridled malignance.
It stood on its hind legs like a man, but its limbs were thicker than an elephant's. The veins in its neck were as thick as a man's arm. Its spine was spiked like a dinosaur's, with two more projecting from its elbows. Its bald head was worse than any image my nightmares had ever conjured. And in the gleam of its diabolical gaze I sensed sentience, a full consciousness of all the devastation it was causing and a resultant sadistic joy.
It grinned down at the NYPD squad car that had pulled up beside it, and at the officer firing bullets that glanced uselessly off its grayish-green skin. It tossed the car aside like a matchbox, and I didn't wait to watch what it did to the human being.
"What is it?" I gasped.
Clint put his arms around my shoulders. "I have no idea. But I don't want to know. Let's get out of here. Now."
He led me down the street in the opposite direction, staying close to the walls of the buildings as panic-stricken citizens fled for their lives. Cars flew through the thick smoke above.
Then something plummeted from the sky to land with a resonance that drowned out the din of terror and destruction. Something large and green clambered out of the crater it had created and stood up with a roar.
"It's another one!" Clint gasped. "And it's coming toward us!"
"So is the other one!"
Behind, the first behemoth was stomping down the road. Both were picking up speed as they ran toward one another. With no alleys to dart into and no desire to trust to a building such as those which had already collapsed, we chose to run toward the smaller one. That was a mistake.
The two beasts sprang and collided in midair, but the demon's strength was enough to defy the other's and take them both in our direction. Clint forced me into a crouch against a wall and shielded me with his body as they rolled past, wrestling ferociously, showering us with rubble from the asphalt.
Ahead the titans battled, but between us and them there was an alleyway. And that meant escape. But I was frozen with horror.
"Come on, darling," Clint craved. "There's an alley up ahead. We can duck in there and get away from here."
"I--I can't," I gasped. "I can't, Clint! I won't go anywhere near those things!"
He embraced me and kissed me. "It's okay. I'll protect you. No matter what."
He lifted me bodily and ran the stretch between us and the mammoth combatants. I screamed as a taxi flew past, but he kept running. He ran and ran, yet it seemed to me that we were getting nowhere, that the din was only getting louder, ringing in my ears and overwhelming my brain. Death was imminent. We wouldn't get out of this alive. It was only a matter of moments before a flung car squashed us as if we were bugs, or one beast knocked the other down on our heads. A fog shadowed my mind like the smoke of the fires. I could no longer think. I could only hear the crashes, the roars, the deafening clamor of the two macabre nightmares battling.
Then Clint's voice pierced the fog. "Come on, stay with me," he murmured. "The alley's right here! We're going to make it! We'll be okay!"
And then Clint turned and dashed down the alley.
"Keep running!" I gasped. "Just keep running!"
But he didn't. He stopped. And he swore. Ahead there arose a brick wall, blocking our escape. That wall stood between us and safety. And there was no way past it.
Clint put me down. I fell to my knees, weeping tears of terror and desperation. Clint's voice was hoarse and unstable when he spoke.
"I have to find another way. You stay here."
"No!" I shrieked. "Clint, don't leave me! Stay with me!"
"I'll come back for you, I promise."
"No, you won't!" I sobbed. "You'll die out there! If you die, I want you right here, with me! Stay here with me! Please!"
He kissed me. He kissed me passionately. "I love you, darling. And I'll do anything to get you to safety. I'll be back."
I huddled against a wall. Clint ran to the end of the alley, looked back with a reassuring smile, and then vanished. I dropped my face into my hands and sobbed. The crashes, explosions, screams and bellows rumbled on, the sounds of thousands of imps laughing at me, weak, pathetic, huddled alone in an alley to die.
And then, barely audible above the din, I heard the click of a gun cocking. I looked up. There stood James, with a pistol levelled at my head.
"Well, well, what do we have here?" he fleered. "I told you Clint wasn't the right man for you. In your time of need he abandoned you."
"No! He's looking for a way to escape!"
"Is that why he was running as fast as he could away from those monsters? He's a coward. And he doesn't deserve you." His smile was sinister, demented. His gaunt face was contorted with hatred, and a cat-and-mouse amusement. "You should have accepted me when you had the chance. But now you'll die, along with everyone else those things killed, and nobody will ever know I killed you. But if I can't have you, dearest . . . then nobody can."
I hardly understood how it happened. But then there was Clint, his arm around James's neck, the other holding his weapon arm and aiming it away from me as bullets poured from its muzzle. James twisted around in an attempt to get at Clint, but he twisted with him. Then James elbowed Clint in the stomach and threw his head back in his face. Clint reeled, releasing James. And then James rounded on him, a frenzied grin spread across his face, and poured bullet after bullet into Clint's body.
Clint half-turned, stumbled toward me, and fell prostrate at my feet.
"You monster!" I shrieked. "You're more horrible than either of those beasts out there!"
James lifted the gun toward my head. "Yes. Yes, I think I am."
I fell to my knees, wrapped my arms around Clint, and closed my eyes, waiting for death. But it did not come. Without warning, there was a resounding crash and a spray of debris that showered Clint and I. When I looked up, there was only the front half of a torn SUV where James had moments before been brandishing his scythe of death.
I rolled Clint onto his back and looked down into his eyes. They flickered; he was still alive. He smiled up at me and whispered weakly, "I never believed in long engagements, anyway."
I showered his face with tears and kisses. Between osculations, I sobbed, "Oh--Clint! Dear--wonderful--Clint! Don't--leave me! Stay--with--me! I love you!" And the most ardent kiss I had in my heart fell upon his lips.
"It's okay, darling. Everything will be okay. You need to leave me here. You need to get to safety. I'm sorry I can't come with you."
"No, Clint, no! I won't! I'm staying here with you!"
"And you can't make me leave! You're the husband of my heart, Clint. You have to live to make it legal."
"Don't make yourself an early widow, darling. Leave me here. And never look back."
"I can't do that." I kissed him. "You know I can't! Would you?"
"Never, in all eternity."
"You'll wait for me, won't you, Clint?"
"If you wait for me."
His breath was getting shallower and slower. "Clint," I wept, "please----"
"Darling, I'm sorry I failed you."
"You didn't, Clint, you didn't! You're my hero."
He laughed, which turned into a pained cough. "Me? A hero? I'm no hero. That green thing--there's a hero. It was trying to stop the other one."
"You're my hero, Clint. You're a hundred times as brave as that beast. You braved them both without flinching."
He smiled. "I love you, darling. Kiss me one more time." I obeyed, tenderly, fervently; hot tears flowed down my face a river of mingled love, grief, and passion. The kiss was to be our last . . . and I've never forgotten it.
Then he said, "Just promise, if I'm a hero, you'll save glory for the living. Leave my story unsung."
- The End -
I was watching The Incredible Hulk, and I wondered: "What stories do those bystanders have to tell? How badly can a simple trip to the barber go? What birthday celebration went awry? What romantic evening on the town was ruined?" I wondered, and pondered, and plotted, and wrote, and this appeared beneath my pen.
Please, share your thoughts--or HULK SMASH!
From the desk of Nuile: Lunatic Wordsmith
Edited by Nuile: The Daft Wordbender, May 30 2012 - 03:04 PM.