HERCULES GONE MAD

Hercules Gone Mad

PART ONE

RESURRECTION OF THE SIGNAL

 

An Excerpt

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The naked dancer rocked and swayed as she circled her way slowly around the stripper’s pole in the center of the small, uneven stage. With head back, she stared up at the warped, mirrored ceiling and danced without any apparent concern in keeping her slow motion gyrations in time with the music blaring over the ancient sound system. A sole patron sat at a table next to the stage intently, intensely, watching her every move. The scarce few others in the club sat in the shadowy booths along the walls or bellied themselves up at the bar. The dancer, oblivious to all, just held onto the pole and rocked and swayed herself around it as the song heaved and thrashed itself into a relentless crescendo of jerks and spasms, and then ended too abruptly. Without ceremony she drifted off the stage, lauded only by the hollow applause of one.

The club became silent except for the low murmur of unintelligible conversations and the monotonous droning of a generator located in the back alleyway. As the next naked dancer drifted listlessly onto the stage and took her place at the pole, a distant, desperate scream, cut short by rapid bursts of gunfire, rescued the club from the imposing silence and lingered until the next tuneless blare exploded from the sound system.

In the front of the club, up near the entrance, the bartender worked the bar. It was a rare slow night, for which he was thankful. Even though there was always something needing to be done when it came to running a gentlemen’s club, he took advantage of the slack time by finding a shadow along the back wall to lean into. Looking down the length of the bar he saw that there were several empty stools. Probably the weather’s keeping them away, he thought. These damn black storms all the time now got it even colder than usual. Those who were at the bar still had drinks that were near full. He was beginning to get the timing down and guessed that he had a good five minutes or so until they needed tending to. He was a hard-working bartender for the most part, but he always seemed as if he were never quite sure of what he was doing. He kept the bar well-stocked, at least as well as one could in a lawless region like the Outlands, but he never seemed to know what booze he had on hand, and could never quite remember how to prepare any drink except one that was served straight.

And there was something about the way he looked. Most probably wouldn’t describe him as a short man, in fact he was rather tall; but something about him made him appear shorter than he actually was, smaller. It wasn’t so much that he was hunched at the shoulders like many tall people, insecure over their size, often are, but more like he was constantly ducking, or shying away from being hit. And while he wasn’t exactly handsome, it wasn’t as if he were ugly, either. It was more like at one time he had been handsome but somehow parts of his face got altered or shifted around and never quite settled back into their proper place. When you looked at him you would think, does he have a lazy eye, or is one eye lower than the other? But you wouldn’t be sure so you would think, no, it’s not the eyes, maybe it’s that one side of his mouth droops, maybe he suffers from some kind of palsy. But then you’d look at him again and think, it’s not the eyes or the mouth, maybe it’s that one ear lies flat against the head and the other one sticks out. It was hard to tell exactly what it was, but something about his face just wasn’t right. It left you unsettled. But, he worked hard and since his club was the only strip club around, nobody minded much about him.

From the back of the bar, he dutifully watched the dancer swaying on the stage to screaming music that seemed stuck on fast forward. How he longed for some real music to listen to, music with a melody and with singing that didn’t sound like the squealing of a pig being butchered. He doubted if he’d ever get used to the constant ringing in his ears it brought about. But there was nothing to be done about it. It was the only music he had. His eyes scanned the club, looking to see who needed refills, and realized that no one was working the customers. Even though it was slow, the dancers who weren’t on stage were still supposed to be out serving drinks, hustling the crowd. Not much of a crowd to hustle tonight, though. Even so, he knew he should go back to their dressing room and roust them out, just to keep things as they should be kept.

“Word is the Union’s planning on locking the Outlands down, an embargo or some shit like that,” one of the customers at the bar said to another.

Even through the noise, the bartender was still able to make out what had just been said; though it took a second or two before its significance sank in and he realized it was something that needed paying attention to. Glad to have a reason not to have to confront his dancers, he pulled out the towel that he always kept tucked into the waist of his trousers and began polishing the stained and faded wood of the bar. He worked his way down the surface until he got close enough to the two men to be able to hear exactly what was being said. While they talked, he fiddled around with busy work – inspecting glasses for spots, putting out extra napkins – to make it appear natural for him to be standing near them.

The door to the entrance of the club swung open. A piercing wind blew in debris from the street and brought forth a pervading chill that caused every head in the room to turn toward the door in protest. But instead of complaining, each head quickly turned back around so as not to be noticed by the large, intimidating man who had also entered the club along with the cold of the night. Seeing him, the men at the bar began shifting nervously on their stools. Those sitting in the booths attempted to take refuge within its shadows. The bartender, forgetting the conversation about the embargo, stopped pretending to wipe down the bar and hurriedly began preparing the man a drink. The dancer came to life and followed the new arrival with seductive eyes as she began vigorously swaying and gyrating herself away from the pole and toward the front of the stage.

The large man sat at the bar and his drink was set before him. As he drank it down, he signaled for another.

“One of those days, eh Hercules?” the bartender asked as he gave a worried look to several of the other patrons, one of whom threw back his beer, threw down a donation, grabbed his jacket, and rushed out of the club.

“I thought I told you not to call me that,” the man said quietly but fiercely.

The bartender appeared frozen, unable to respond.

“Look, forget about it,” the man said. “Just keep ‘em coming, will ya.”

The bartender quickly obeyed and set the man up with another round. This drink was also downed without hesitation.

“Another,” the man demanded.

The bartender watched helplessly as more patrons scurried out of the club. He set yet another drink before the man and then began nervously clearing his dry throat as he wiped his cold, sweaty hands with the towel.

“You know, Herc—” He caught his error just as the large man shot an angry glare at him. “You know, um…” He began wiping his hands harder on the towel. “I’m sorry. I…I don’t know what to call you other than…I mean, all everyone ever calls you is—”

“Stop with the names, will ya, and just give me another goddamned drink.”

The bartender’s knuckles showed white from ringing out the dry towel. “Well, that’s kinda what I wanted to talk to you about.” He grabbed the bottle of bourbon and, with shaking hands, filled the man’s glass until it spilled over the rim. “You know…uh, sir…we’re still not square on your donations from the last two times you were here.”

The man slid the shot glass toward himself and without looking at the bartender said, “Are you sure you really want to talk about this now?”

“Well…no. I mean, y-you know how it is…” The bartender looked around the club as if seeking support from his customers. “I mean, we all know how it works around here, right? All the kickbacks and bribes I have to donate just to…”

The large man looked up from his glass and stared hard into the bartender’s eyes.

The bartender backed away from the counter, quickly adding, “And th-that’s not even taking into account all the d-damage from…”

The panicked music screamed to a breathless halt and, again, silence consumed the club.

The man pushed himself away from the bar and stood up, towering over everyone. His wrath vibrated throughout the quiet of the club and signaled all heads to turn toward him. In one fluid motion that belied his size, he grabbed his shot of bourbon, threw it back, and then slammed the glass down onto the bar, smashing it into pieces under the palm of his hand. Glaring savagely at the bartender, he brought the bleeding hand before his face and balled it into a massive fist. Next, he brought up his other hand and, with it, formed another massive fist.

“No, barkeep, that’s definitely not taking all the damage into account,” the man warned in a menacing growl. He slammed his fists down onto the bar, driving shards of the broken shot glass into the fingers and knuckles of both his hands. Cracks in the wooden top splintered out from where the fists made their impact.

The sound system began spitting out another discordant, ear numbing beat.

Terrified, the bartender backed himself into the glass shelves that lined the mirrored wall behind the bar. A bottle fell to the floor and shattered. “B-but, hey, you’re right,” he sputtered out. We don’t need to talk about any of that now. I know you’re good for it. You’re good for it, right Herc?”

Without a word, the man known as Hercules grabbed his bottle of bourbon and a fresh shot glass, walked to the back of the club, found an empty booth along the darkened wall, and sat heavily down into it. Two dancers came out from the dressing room and slid into the booth, one on each side of him, and cooed with flirtatious delight. When they saw his bloody hands, they showered him with sympathy as they began wiping away the blood with paper napkins and gently plucking out the pieces of glass. Hercules pulled his hands away from the dancers and, ignoring them, focused instead only on the contents of his bottle.

Damn dancers, the bartender thought. They should be up here serving drinks and working the customers instead of throwing themselves at that maniac like they always do. Every night he’s taking at least two dancers home with him and never a single piece of copper in return for the house. When the bartender realized what he had just been thinking, he had to give himself a sad grunt of a laugh. He was even beginning to think like the manager of a strip joint. He cleared the thought from his head and watched Hercules’s booth for some time before he felt certain enough that there was not going to be any further outbursts of rage. He cleaned up all the broken glass on the bar and the floor, and then went back to his business of mixing and serving drinks to his nervous clientele, still keeping a wary eye on the booth.

But the bartender’s next worry did not come from Hercules’s booth; it came from the sound system when it unexpectedly stopped its blaring mid-song. Cursing, he quickly made his way out from behind the bar and headed straight for the back of the club. He announced loudly for everyone to sit tight and that he would have the music playing again in no time.

That damn generator, he thought to himself. How in the hell could anyone be expected to run a business in this hell hole of a territory without any reliable electricity. He saw the dancer stuck on the stage, the spotlight still shining hot and bright down on her, not knowing what to do. The bartender motioned to her with his hand for her to keep dancing. In silence, she obeyed. At least the lights were still on, he thought. His momentum carried him several steps farther before he had to stop to think a little harder about that. He looked up toward the ceiling. Yes, the stage lights were, in fact, still on. And he could hear the hum of the generator running out back. He scratched the back of his neck. If the lights were still on and the generator hadn’t run out of gas, then the speakers must have blown.

He changed course and walked hurriedly toward the sound system. One god damned hassle after the next, he thought. As he began calculating costs and dreading the thought of having to deal with the Reps and other black market crooks, the televisions mounted on the walls throughout the club, and which had remained lifeless since the Overthrow, flashed alive and began airing images of a man in a suit standing at a podium on a brightly lit stage, a stage centered in the field of a large stadium filled with a cheering crowd.

The bartender walked right into a table. Drinks spilled everywhere. No one at the table noticed. The bartender didn’t even bother to apologize. They all just stared up at the televisions. Their coming to life was something the bartender never would have expected. No one could have expected it. That technology – the filming, the broadcasting, the power grids – practically all technology, had been lost long ago. The only real reason the bartender had left the televisions mounted was to use them as decoration, props to make the club look a little more authentic. He also left them up with the unspoken hope that someday maybe things would get back to normal. That someday there would once again be entertainment for him to enjoy other than an old, beat up sound system that survived only by the Council’s grace; and only so that he could properly front as the manager of a strip club. The Council also authorized him to keep the few scratchy compact disks he’d been able to find on the black market, the few that had survived the purge and destruction of anything even remotely related to the culture of mind-controlling consumerism that they had fought so hard to overthrow. The bartender looked at the televisions and wondered what was about to happen now that the Union had finally regained the know-how to begin broadcasting once again.

Just as abruptly as it had been silenced, the sound system began blaring out a deafening stream of static. Everyone covered their ears in an attempt to block out the painful noise. After a brief, unbearable moment, the static faded away until all that could be heard was the hollow, blowing sound of dead air. And then….

The bartender jumped and nearly bit off his tongue when the thunderous chant of an ecstatic crowd began booming from the speakers.

Rebels for Love!

Rebels for Love!

Rebels for Love!

He walked over to a table near the stage and sat down. The naked dancer, still mindlessly holding onto the pole, stared up in confusion at one of the televisions.

Rebels for Love!

Rebels for Love!

Rebels for Love!

From where he sat, the bartender could see that Hercules was the only person in the club not watching the strange happenings. He seemed to be somewhere else far away as he stared sullenly down into his near-empty bottle of bourbon, and as the dancers sat next to him staring hypnotically up at the screen above their table.

Rebels for Love!

Rebels for Love!

Rebels for Love!

He considered walking back to the bar and pouring a stiff drink of his own; but he couldn’t do anything but look up to watch one of the resurrected televisions. He had to find out what was happening: the televisions suddenly coming to life; the stadium; the stage; the chanting crowd.

The speaker at the podium held up his hands in an effort to bring quiet to the stadium. It took some time before the noise level lowered enough for him to continue speaking.

“And finally, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters in rebellion around the world fighting back against the nihilistic cult of collectivism and redistributionism that enslaved our once proud nation and brought it to its knees in defeat, I ask you to rise up and let your voices be heard for the cause of liberty and independence. I ask you to rise up and let your voices be heard in praise and appreciation for the one man responsible for reigniting the flame of freedom and instilling hope within all our hearts. Brothers and sisters, I ask you all to rise up and let your voices be heard here and around the world in praise and appreciation for the leader of our rebellion and founding father of our new republic, Chairman Love Lovis!”

As the lights in the stadium were brought down, and as the song that had become the de facto anthem of the rebellion began booming over the public address system, the capacity crowd rose to its feet and spontaneously began a new chant:

We Love Lovis!

We Love Lovis!

We Love Lovis!

The bartender couldn’t remember how long it had been since he had seen so many people gathered together in one place. They looked so clean and so happy. They looked like people used to look back before the world went to hell. It wasn’t long before things became even more strange and confusing to him. A soft greenish nebulous glow began to appear in the center of the stadium’s darkened stage.

We Love Lovis!

We Love Lovis!

We Love Lovis!

The glow began to swell and grow brighter. The bartender, entranced, watched in disbelief. It seemed to him as if the light emanating from the screen was growing bright enough to blind him; yet, he could not take his burning eyes from it, even as it continued to grow brighter, brighter, dangerously brighter, until, like a supernova, it flashed into a massive explosion of light. He quickly covered his eyes and nearly tipped his chair over backwards from the perceived force of the shock. When he opened his eyes again, he saw that the television screens throughout the club were whited out from the blast. The chanting of the crowd had turned into what sounded to him like screams of pain and wild shrieks of panic.

He was certain he had just witnessed an act of merciless sabotage, just as it so often happened during the early, Rise Up! days of the revolution, when the population was not yet intimidated enough, fearful enough, to stop gathering publicly en masse. Yeah, this sure didn’t surprise him, the bartender thought. A crowd like that, so many of their kind in one place, didn’t stand a chance. He first wondered how many had been killed. He then wondered how many more were about to die; how many would be trampled to death by a hysterical crowd scrambling to save itself from who in the hell knew what was coming next.

As the scene of apparent devastation unfolded on the screen, many questions ran scrambling through the bartender’s thoughts. What exactly was he watching? How was it being shown? Why was it being shown? Have the rebels discovered a new form of technology? If so, then it seems as if all the rumors that had been going around about them were true after all. Which means they hadn’t been completely wiped out during their counter-revolution like the Union leaders had led everyone to believe; and, far from being defeated, it appeared they had actually been able to rebuild a new society, a society which, by their ability to broadcast a television signal, and by the looks of the well-dressed, well fed, and well adjusted stadium crowd, appeared to be far more advanced than the Union.

Or maybe the Union had secretly set it up to broadcast the rebel event throughout to its own population. By showing that it had the ability to commit acts of terror and sabotage far inside enemy territory it could intimidate and tighten its grip on its own breakaway regions.

The white on the screens began to fade and the scene from the stadium began to reemerge. When everything cleared, the bartender saw that the flash of light turned out to be not a massive explosion as he had thought, but a powerful burst of energy that had somehow transformed into a man, a huge man, a giant of a man, a man who was…glowing. And the screams and shrieks that the bartender heard were not those of panic, but instead were those of wild joy and adulation.

Well, it obviously was not a secret Union broadcast, the bartender determined.

Upon seeing the giant image, many people throughout the crowd began crying rapturous tears; many fell to their knees as if they were in worship of the unexplainable, glowing presence. They resumed their chanting.

We Love Lovis!

We Love Lovis!

We Love Lovis!

Once again, the bartender was witnessing something that his mind could barely comprehend. Was the giant glowing thing really Love Lovis, the rebel leader? All of it was too much. He broke himself away from the televised mystery and took another look around the club. He found everyone still staring up at the screens in complete bewilderment, everyone except Hercules. Hercules was no longer sitting in his booth. He had managed to disappear without the bartender noticing. Once again he had skipped out without leaving a donation.

Tuck Thy Chin To Chest

Well, at least he left without destroying anything major this time, the bartender reasoned. But he couldn’t worry about any of that right now. Right now he couldn’t keep his eyes off the television. He couldn’t resist the call from the crowd.

We Love Lovis!

We Love Lovis!

We Love Lovis!

The giant glowing Love Lovis walked slowly around the stage and acknowledged the adoring crowd with slight, humble bows, which drew from them even louder cheers and applause. They intensified their chanting.

WE LOVE LOVIS!

WE LOVE LOVIS!

WE LOVE LOVIS!

After the rebel leader had paid his tribute to his followers, he, the large enigma that he was, made his way to the podium and raised his hands. The crowd became instantly and reverently silent, and, like their leader, they too raised their hands toward the sky. The glow from the stage became even brighter. And then, at last, Chairman Love Lovis began to speak.

☠ ☠ ☠ ☠

 

☠ ☠ ☠ ☠

 

14 Replies to “HERCULES GONE MAD”

    1. Well, I’m happy to have surprised you with a good read. There will be two more parts to this book. As far as how many books there will be…depends on how well this one is received, I suppose. Thank you for taking the time to check it out, creekrose…and for helping me get things straightened out. I really appreciate it.

      Liked by 1 person

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