Mantra Trilogy Part Two

A Devil's Touch

by Ann Nocenti 10/95

Part two: CRAZE

B/W sketch picture of a burning man shooting bolts of fireSplash

We open on LAUREN SHERWOOD held captive by the hundred groping demon hands, being terrorized/romanced by SCRATCH.

He is whispering to her: Tonight. I'll pick you up at MIDNIGHT. You're my DATE for the WITCH'S BALL, sweetheart.

And if I refuse to go anywhere with such a sleazy disgusting lecher like yourself? asks Lauren.

Scratch: I'll burn your sweet little town to a cinder. Till later, Lauren.

credits and title this page.

page 2

The hands that hold Lauren now toss her out of the car and into the street, the car burns off.

Lauren finds herself near the railroad tracks where she played last issue with RUSH. Establish some kind of station house, with a water pump and hose outside. Lauren stands on the railroad tracks, staring down them as if she wishes a train would come and release her from this confusing, painful world. She cowers there shivering and terrified, feeling violated, molested by something dark. She can't help thinking: He touched me, his horrible smell is on me. But at the same time I felt compelled towards him. Am I sick? Am I a rotten sick person to have such horrible thoughts? Or is that his POWER, the power of SEDUCTION?

Lauren moves to the pump, and begins to vigorously try and wash his smell off her hands. She mourns the loss of her powers. She is Mantra no more. Well, just this morning she wondered if she had any right to use her powers, and maybe she better stop using them. They say one must be careful about what you pray for-- you might get it.

She hears something, a low moan, and scrambles off to hide in some bushes by the station house. She's a lowly human again. Powerless. Forced to hide in the bushes, like anyone else.

She peeks out and sees a smoking, half burnt, boy, about her age, walking as if lost through the woods. (this is the creature from page one issue one) It looks like a hurt, lost animal. Truly sweet, sad, and vulnerable. Suddenly Lauren has a horrible thought-- is this what she zapped this morning with her powers? A human!?

She gathers her courage and comes out of the bushes. Are you okay? she asks, guilty.

Page 3

The burnt boy bursts into flames and launches himself at her, screaming: I won't go back there!

Lauren is terrified, she has no powers, what is she to do? She thinks fast, and yanks the handle down on the pump, opening the nozzle to full blast and dousing the boy's flame-- the water acts like the proverbial cold shower on the boy's rage, dousing his anger. At the same time she yells: I don't want to fight you! Let me help you!

The burnt boy collapses in her arms, crying. Who am I? He wails. I was walking along, and next I knew, I was a burning cinder from hell.

Lauren is moved by this poor boy's pain, and tries to comfort him, but can't help thinking: I battled him without my powers! It was my MIND that found a course of action--is that what SCRATCH was trying to show me by stealing my powers? Maybe he COULD teach me something...

page 4

Cut to Lauren's home. She has just finished making a nest for the Burnt Boy in her attic, and has snuck him up a plate of supper. She has him wrapped in bandages like a mummy. He is a very sad, sweet boy, like one of those big-eyed kids in a Keane painting, almost pathetic, like a puppy or a baby. His doleful eyes seem to beg: pet me!

Do you remember anything? she asks him, as she hands him a glass of something to drink.

All I remember, he says, is rage and fire. I remember it all came out of the TV set. I'm furious at something, but I don't know what!

The burnt boy goes to take a sip of the drink, while Lauren thinks: Did I do this to him? Do I tell him it's my fault? Won't he get mad at me?

Suddenly he spits up what he drank, and yells at her: What is this? It tastes like piss!

Lauren calms him. It's just beer. I thought it would help calm you.

He shoves the glass away. It's piss, he says.

Suddenly they hear Lauren's mother call her to: Where are you, Lauren? It's bedtime for you, young lady. It's a school night!

She whispers to the boy to try and sleep, tomorrow they'll find out who he is. She thinks: I've got my first clue. For some reason he hates liquor.

Cut to Lauren sneaking out her bedroom window. "sorry mom" she thinks, but I just can't sleep.

pages 5 7

Cut to Lauren approaching a children's public playground. There are big jungle gyms in the shape of snakes, colorful animal swings, etc. Silly kid's toys looking scary in the night shadows. This is where Lauren's girl gang meets at night. She is nervous-- ever since she got her powers, the girls have been cold to her, almost as if they sense she is different now, "better" than them.

She sees TRACY and DOLORES in the usual spot, but what truly hurts her is there is a THIRD girl now. Lauren realizes she has been REPLACED. The third girl, BILLIE, is a tough, pretty black chick with cool dreadlocks, who zips around on a skateboard.

Lauren: Hi. How are you guys?

Tracy: You know, S.O.S.

Lauren: You're in trouble?

Tracy rolls her eyes. S.O.S, same old shit. God, do I have to teach you EVERYTHING?

Dolores: So what you doin' Friday night, girl? We got a club meet, right here. Or maybe you're already busy?

Lauren: Look, lighten up, will you? I'm not going to that stupid cheerleader party. I'm no traitor. Listen, I got something I want to talk about.

Dolores: So hit us with it.

Lauren tries to talk, but the hip chick Billie has begun to circle her on her skateboard. Around and around, intimidating. Dolores and Tracy smirk and smile.

Lauren: It's about a boy.

The girls hoot and whistle.

Lauren: Not like that. I met this kid, he's in some kind of trouble. He has no memory of who he is. Like some kind of trauma made him an amnesiac. He's in some kind of suppressed rage state.

Suddenly Billie jerks to a stop before Lauren and stares at her, too close. "I know all about rage. The dude probably had something real bad happen to him when he was little, and he's doomed to be stuck in the mud of it. Experience is fate, man, it can really mess you up."

Dolores: Yeah, like my brother used to pin me down when I was little and drool in my face. I'm probably doomed to grow up and become a serial drooler.

Tracy: In my psych class they called it "explosive reenactment." Like a kid who gets beat when he's little grows up to beat people-- unless he's helped.

Billie again, intense, threatening: Find the dude's original trauma, and you find the key to the boy's rage.

Lauren: well, thanks for your help. I better go home before midnight.

Tracy: whatsamatta? Turnin' into a pumpkin?

Lauren: something like that.

Billie screeches to a stop before Lauren one more time and says, but it's more like a threat: See you Friday night. Right here. We wouldn't want to lose you to the "other side."

Lauren: Would you guys cut it out? I'm not going to betray you for some stupid jocks and cheerleaders. What makes you think I would?

Dolores and Tracy step up and join Billie until the three faces surround Lauren, all glaring at her.

Dolores: 'Cause you been different lately. Changed.

Tracy: Yeah. You LIE to us sometimes.

Dolores: You're secretive. Elitist.

Tracy: Kinda heartless. Think you're better than us.

Dolores: Snobby.

Tracy: We're not even sure we like you anymore.

Lauren is devastated.

page 8

It's five minutes to Midnight. Lauren tosses and turns in bed. Twisting her sheets, beating her pillows. She can't sleep. It looks like the price of being Mantra is that she can't have any FRIENDS. She can't TELL them why she's secretive-- they'd burn her at the stake, just like they did to the witches of old. Maybe the only friends she can have are OTHER witches. Maybe she SHOULD go to the Witch's ball. She tosses and sweats. Her face and stomach burn.

She throws off the covers and goes over to the mirror. The fine mark of SCRATCH on her face that seemed to be faded earlier, is now glowing red.

She looks down at her stomach and sees a scar there too, like the tattoo of a snake-like sash that winds around her waist.

Lauren: That guy Scratch was such a CREEP, but then how come HE's all I can THINK about?

She looks down at her finger and tugs at the Sorcerer's ring, but can't get it off. Great, she think. Some sick bond I've got now with this creep and his creepy ring. Talk about shotgun weddings.

As she wonders about these things, the clock strikes midnight, and she is consumed in a fire that is hot as hell but does not burn. (or any similar wizardly transporting effect that reflects Scratch's "style")

page 9

Large shot, perhaps a SPLASH page with a few inserts:

Next thing she knows, she is dressed in a witchy, elegant, gown, and is on the arm of SCRATCH, walking up a road of fire that licks her feet but does not burn, climbing up to a huge mansion that glows with the light and noise of a party in full-swing. On a date with a devil, going to a witch's ball. It is a costume ball, and Lauren's gown and headgear makes her look like a demonic Angel, whereas Scratch's outfit makes him look like an angelic Demon. (Horns AND a halo, forked tail AND white wings, etc) Lauren's midriff is bare, showing off the sash tattoo. Scratch asks if she likes what he picked out for her. She answers that she could have dressed herself, thank you, but she gets the POINT. No difference between angels and devils, right? You're trying to tell me we're two sides of the same coin? Scratch replies: You're smarter than you look.

They are surrounded by all manner of elegant Warlock and nefarious Wizards and Witches and nether demons on this and the next bunch of pages. Not just Gothic horror stuff, but intelligent, sophisticated versions of witchery where all religious aspects are mixed in too-- Dervish robes, Egyptian ankhs, Shiva's multiple arms, Christ's crown, decadent aristocrats, slumming lords, buddhas, Gurus, messiahs, griffins, jesters, Druids with pins through skin, tattooed men, numerologists, spirits, flagellists, wolfen men, owls, snakes, aboriginals, indians, unraveling scrolls, christ-complexes, madmen, shamen, a rain of mixed and incongruous symbols, floating eyes, tattooed hands, fetishists, bishops, the thorned and the cloven...

Scratch asks her: Do you know who you are? Do you know yourself?

Lauren: Yes, I think so.

Scratch: Would you slice off a man's head, eviscerate a woman, and bring the roof crashing down on the head of a child?

Lauren: Gross! Of course not. What a stupid thing to ask. Ick.

page 10

They stand on the portal of the grand entrance. One of the nether witches, perhaps a delicate, frail, sexy but anorexic looking Jester-witch, who stands at the door, suddenly PUNCHES Lauren in the chest, her fist going right into her body, grabs hold of Lauren's HEART, and yanks it out.

Strangely, Lauren, other than feeling an odd emptiness, is not hurt. She looks at her heart in the Jester-witch's fist and says: Give it back!

Scratch tries to calm her: Cool your jets, sweetheart. That's not your REAL heart, just your metaphysical one.

Lauren lunges for it. "Looks real to me and I want it back!" The Witch holds it just out of her reach, and Lauren watches helplessly as the heart disappears.

The Witch smiles: "Simple slight of hand. Magic 101."

Scratch hustles Lauren along. Just a precaution, he says to her. You're new here, after all. You get your heart back when we leave.

page 11

They walk through the ball, Lauren witnessing all manner of decadence: a party favor is a severed head on a platter, a couple literally dance till they melt, animals seem to be part of sacrificial rights on a slab stone alter, Day of the Dead skeletans dance, steaming eucalyptus is swung to whip flaggelants, confessionals double as torture racks, opium is smoked by a crucified man... etc. Lauren stares at these scenarios in disbelief and horror.

Lauren turns to scratch: What is the point of all this ugly stupid decadance?

Scratch tells her: Ugly? Stupid? Nothing is as it seems here. I want you to understand the unusual "family" you are now part of. You're one of us, now.

No, says Lauren. This can't be the whole picture. You're only showing me ONE side. You're trying to seduce me into something, I just don't know WHAT yet. Besides, I'm only here because I want you to give me my powers back.

Scratch tells her: haven't I shown you how little you know about magic? Without help, without a tutor, a mentor, you could be crushed by even the most minor warlocks at this ball. I am offering to be your teacher.

page 12

An important looking wizard pulls Scratch away for a moment, and the Witch that stole Lauren's heart approaches her.

I'm surprised you came here, she tells Lauren.

Why is that? asks Lauren.

The Witch: You don't know? The longer you stay here, the more you become like them.

She makes a sweeping gesture with her arm towards something vile and decadent that the guests are up to-- an S&M game of throwing daggers at human targets, whatever.

Lauren: If he hadn't stolen my powers I'd be out of here.

Witch: No one can STEAL your power, you can only GIVE it away.

Lauren: It was in my sash--

Neurotica: --That sash? she says, pointing to the tattoo, and it occurs to Lauren that she has not lost her powers at all. "Change Growth..." she whispers--

page 13 - 15

--Power!"

And turns into MANTRA. She goes to fly out of the mansion, and is stopped by a hoard of guards, witches, and party guests in the mood to fight. She fights valiantly and well, fighting her way to the door. Perhaps in here we can have a SPLASH page of her battling. She becomes intangible when someone punches her, uses fire to hold back others, swings her Sword of Fangs, fighting them all away from her, and is just about to reach her goal-- the front door and freedom.

In the process of her last gallant efforts to battle her way out, just as she thinks: "Why am I winning...? this is too EASY..." she is attacked on all sides. She takes a mighty swing with her sword, a wild, reckless swing, and she comes out of the spin to see she has "accidently" severed a man's head, eviscerated a woman, and toppled a pillar which has fallen on a child.

Horrified, she realizes she did exactly what she swore she'd never do, exactly what Scratch predicted.

The fight has suddenly ceased, and all the guests just look at her and laugh, even the headless man and eviscerated woman. As if they all knew. She is part of some preordained script that everyone knows but her.

Suddenly, Scratch is at her side. You made me do that! she yells at him.

No. You wield power you can't control, he answers. Let me be your teacher, the father you don't have, your mentor...

NO! she flies away.

page 16

Scratch smiles and opens his hand to reveal-- she forgot her heart.

Lauren drags herself home at dawn. She is strangely hard, brittle. She looks thinner, more knife-like, and has a glazed look in her eyes, like a zombie. This affect is subtle at first, but gets progressively worse and worse until next issue when she gets her heart back.

She sneaks into the house, only to be confronted by her MOTHER, who assumes she was out partying all night (she was) and not only grounds her for the weekend but gives her a lecture about how the proper dress code for a young lady does not include slutty vamp.

Mom continues: It's hard to discipline you, what with the separation and your Father away so much...

But the word "father" triggers Lauren's rage and she runs off, leaving her Mother to wonder why.

page 17 18

Friday. Six in the morning.

Lauren gets up, too early yet for school, looking scary thin, her hair like wisps of straw, her cheeks pale and sunken, her chest looks caved-in, as if the missing heart were physical and not just metaphysical.

Lauren thinks: I don't care about anything anymore. I'm heartless.

She looks over and sees a CROW on the windowsill, like a carrier pigeon, with a note tied to it's foot. Lauren takes and opens the note, which says: Feel like you don't care about anything? Feeling heartless? Meet me tonight.

The signature is just a crooked red scratch, and Lauren knows who it is from. Creep, she thinks. Now he's reading my mind.

Well, that decides my Friday night. I've got a date with a man who stole my heart. How romantic.

Cut to Lauren in the attic with the Burnt Boy. He's sitting up and looking a little better. We catch them deep in a conversation, obviously they've been talking for a while. The Burnt Boy is telling Lauren about a dream he had. As he talks, he gets sleepier and sometimes winces in pain.

Burnt boy: ..and then my mother was dancing on the top of this bar... the bar was endless, and lined with men. One of

the men was sitting on a bar stool but he was inside a tv set. He was reading from a big black book, and the book was

burning. I knew my mom was in trouble, so I tried to run to her, but the bar kept crumbling under my feet, and then I

had no feet and I was running on just stumps, and by the time I got to her, she had melted away ....

Lauren: Okay. That's enough for now. You rest. There must be clues in this dream, as to who you are. We'll both think about it.

The burnt boy's eyes close.

Lauren: I gotta go to school now. My Mom is are at work, and won't be back till this afternoon, so stay quiet when you hear her come in, okay? After school I'll go look for clues at the railroad tracks, where I found you.

Burnt boy, half asleep, mumbles: You'll be back later? You promise?

Lauren: Yes. I'll be here later, and we'll talk some more.

As Lauren leaves the attic she sees a knapsack by the bed. Must be the boy's, she thinks. Maybe it holds some clues.

Cut to Lauren in the bathroom, searching the pack. She finds a big bottle of pills.

Drugs, she thinks. That can't be good.

She pours the pills in the toilet and flushes them away.

Page 19

Canoga Park High School

It's a sunny, beautiful afternoon as we watch Lauren, at school, sitting on the bleachers at the football field watching the practice. She watches the tanned muscular big blond jocks run and toss the football, watches the long-legged cheerleaders kick high and shake their pom-poms. The football captain makes a smooth catch, smiles a big toothy smile, looks over at Lauren and waves.

In contrast, Lauren looks dark and shrunken, alone on the bleachers, a hat pulled down and a collar turned up to hide her face. Lauren thinks: what is it about cheerleaders and football players? Like some kind of awful heaven you don't want to go to but hate that you're excluded from. Like some kind of clean white perfect world you're too bad and dark and ugly to be part of.

The blondie cheerleader captain turns to Lauren, with her stunningly wide white smile, and waves.

Lauren thinks: It's like they're clean and everyone else is dirty. They're flowers and we're mud. But, like Scratch says: nothing is as it seems.

Lauren thinks: I told that nice nerdy boy Johnny Rome that I'd go to his pizza party. I told Tracy and Dolores I'd meet them at the playground. I told these jocks I'd go to their party. I told the Burnt Boy in the attic I'd help him. I told my mother I'd obey her and stay grounded. Why is it that most of all I want to go to the stupid cheerleader party? Do I think it will give me a new clean life? Make everything okay again?

Page 20

After school. At the railroad tracks.

Looking worse than ever, gaunt and almost mean, Lauren has decided she's gotta use her hounddog magic tracking powers to find out where the Burnt Boy came from.

She follows the residue of the scorched grass, picking up the "scent," and finds once she is "tuned in" to his metaphysical aura, she can follow the Burnt Boy's trail as if it were clearly marked. She notices that she doesn't even have to turn into Mantra to use this skill.

Cut to Lauren standing before a burnt down building (what was an asylum). She approaches the smouldering ruin-- the rows of charred beds looking especially tragic. How many died here? she wonders. She hears a voice:

Can I help you?

And spins to see a watchman.

What happened here? asks Lauren.

pages 21 - 22

As the Watchman talks, Lauren looks increasingly distressed with each word he adds, each new revelation.

Watchman tells her that a wild boy burned the place down and escaped, a psychotic boy they called CRAZE, who was locked up in here for LIFE.

Lauren: What did he do to deserve that?

He killed his own parents, answers the Watchman.

Watchman continues: Poor kid's got some kind of disease-when he gets angry, he lites on fire, or something. No one understands it. Anyway, that's what they say. I think he's just a bad kid with a pack of matches and a morbid fascination with fire. He must be stupid too, cause everytime he starts a fire he burns himself up too. This time he burned the whole asylum down, killed a lot of crazies...

"The kid's on heavy drugs to keep him from getting psychotic. He's out there somewhere, running out of pills ...

...running out of pills...

Lauren bolts away, and as soon as she's out of sight, turns into Mantra and rockets home ....

...but it's too late.

Her home is nothing but a smoking cinder.

She wails in anguish and then, enraged, cries out to Craze that she swears she will track him down and kill him. I'm heartless: she yells to the dark night skies, I'll have no pity or mercy for you:

 

Next: A Devil's Touch concludes, in: FRIDAY NIGHT!


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