The majority of this is dialogue based so please forgive me.
Towie Walters otherwise known as the Ghoul, took a seat, smoking pipe in hand. He cracked his neck slightly and frowned.
"Right." He said. "I hope you're sitting comfortably.
I suppose I should have told you this from the start, but you were young then and you didn't understand how the world worked.
The day that I became the Ghoul wasn't the same day I donned the costume. In fact there were about twenty years difference between the two days, but I'm getting ahead of myself. As you know I grew up in Soho, one of the poorer districts in New York. My parents were a pair of Irish immigrants, Pa was ex-army, I've no idea what my mother was... and other than the gift of life and learning how to look after myself in a fight those two pieces of gutter trash gave me nothing good. Fact is the only thing I really remember getting from them was a beating every morning before school...
Can't really blame them. Times were tough in the nineteen hundreds and I'd be lying if I said I was a good kid all the time.
Like I said, beatings have come often in my life and back then was no different, whether from the neighborhood kids who hated me because I was Irish, or from my dad when he came home drunk and rabid after losing money gambling. My face was always bruised and purple, so the kids at school back then took to calling me 'beetroot Towie', and for some reason that @!$$£% me off more than any busted arm or broken nose.
So eventually I ran away, taking with me whatever I could carry, including my father's revolver for protection. My family didn't really seem to care too much. They never looked for me. I remember going after them a few years after I truly became the Ghoul, but they'd disappeared. Then during that kerfuffle in '47 I ended up learning that they'd died from a gas leak, and for some reason I ended up bawling my eyes out that whole evening... had to lock myself away for a couple of days till I got back in shape, but you were there for that. Even if you don't remember it.
Anyway, back on track.
I ended up finding work in Little Italy, hauling boxes and working behind the till at a small bakery that's still there to this day. The pay was fine, the people were good and the heavy lifting all day, every day kept my bones tough and strong. I was 15 years old at the time. 15 years old when I fell in love.
Her name was Deborah. 'Deb' as she let me call her and she's probably the main reason I'm talking to you today. We'd already met a couple of times while I'd been working, talked a few times and even bumped into each other in the street occasionally. She was a regular customer, beautiful in every way, but one day she stumbled into the bakery with a black eye so large that no make up could hide it. Now... now the man who'd done this was scum. Utter pond scum. I could tell just by looking at him. I didn't ask who he was or why he'd hit her, I just asked Debbie 'Where is he?' and she told me, which looking back on it was probably a mistake. I didn't really know this girl outside of work. anything could have been going on between these two... but I was fueled by an odd mixture of rage and vengeance, so I grabbed my father's gun and I made sure that this sniveling, screaming runt would never hurt anyone ever again.
The look of horror in his eyes still haunts me. We were behind Saint Patrick's Cathedral, the sounds of Choir practice filled my ears and the chill of the revolver shook my grip. The man's hands were trembling as I kept my gun at his skull and his lips just kept flapping up and down as he stammered a slew of promises that he'd never keep. I remember letting him go, watching him run away knowing that he'd never tell anyone, and I remember learning something very important.
Fear is an excellent deterrent.
1920 soon loomed around the corner and I was happy. After my scuffle behind Saint Patrick's I'd become changed. Altered. The world had shown me a glimpse of its ugly nature, something that I'd known had always existed but was just now seeing for the first time with adult eyes.
Debbie had been most thankful once her attacker left town. I never asked what it had all been about and I doubt she would have told me if I had. Although after years of seeing humanity at its worse I'm certain her ordeal was one strictly physical in nature. Whenever she tried to thank me, whether it was at the bakery or when she found me walking home, I simply said that I was just looking out for my customers. That always seemed to make her laugh, but she wasn't having it. She practically dragged me on a date to the uptown area of New York one crisp, summer evening. Which is how I ended up in Central Park.
It had been a beautiful evening. Stars blinked in the sky like a thousand twinkling cameras, and as Deborah gripped my hand tight in her palm as we walked, something crossed my mind. "I don't deserve to be this happy.' Life had seemed to agree with me, casting its looming shadow on an already darkly lit evening. Deb had said something romantic to me before moving in for a kiss, but just behind her something in the shadows had shimmered and caught my eye, a silver light that grabbed me... and before I knew what I was doing, Debbie had been cast aside for a mystery hiding in the bushes.
What I found was a helmet, metal and pulsing in my hands as I pulled it up off the ground. It was heavy, mostly blank silver except for a black visor across the eye piece, and it covered my whole face as I put it on. I don't really remember why I did that... maybe it had been calling to me from inside my mind, Debbie had been yelling at me to leave the thing alone but as the helmet covered my face it filled my vision with pictures, flashing images of the future that I can remember plain as day 30 years later but couldn't remember 10 seconds after I took the thing off!
Two things stuck out to me from everything I'd seen. One of them... the first one, was of a man with burning wings floating in front of a giant, mushroom shaped explosion. That was Icarus failing to catch the Nuke as you know. The other image was of a man dressed entirely in white, carrying a revolver and possessing the blackest eyes imaginable. That one was me, obviously, in my mining goggles. That fortune telling helmet disappeared soon after, it was gone the next time I visited the Park just a few weeks later, and thirty years after that day I've only learned one thing about it.
It was definitely alien.
Debbie left me soon after. She moved to Iowa to look after her mother and left me to deal with the things I'd seen. Back then I'd never even heard of Nuclear energy, or atoms or any of that malarkey. But I'd heard of the apocalypse, and for all I knew the end of the world could have been coming and I was powerless to stop it. The world had just gotten through one great war, I didn't think it could survive another.
Years passed in a snap.
For a time I turned to God, influenced by the flaming wings I saw in my vision, but I found myself dissatisfied with how the church operated and promptly left. For a time police work loomed in the horizon but again it didn't stick. Eventually I just started working odd jobs, and all around me the world seemed to get worse and worse and worse. War eventually broke out again in Europe, people ever so gradually got meaner... and I got scared.
Then 1940 came around the corner and brought with it the world's first superhero. I was in Times Square on New Year's Eve and saw the crashing blimp coming down towards us. It was very hard to miss. There was panic of course, people terrified of what was about to turn a fun filled evening into a mad scramble for survival. People got trampled beneath the crowd, several serious injuries occurred that were largely ignored when the events were reported, and then the blimp stopped. It hovered steadily in place for a second before landing perfectly between the buildings, not hurting a single person and actually going out of its way to avoid them, and that's when I saw the one who'd caught it... the man with the burning wings.
Icarus inspired me to better myself. At first I thought he was the beginning of some sort of invasion, I even plotted to kill him, but as the weeks passed and this man performed countless heroic deeds all around the world I realized not only was I unable to kill him, but that I would never have to."
"So that's how you became a superhero?"
One day I was walking home from work, wallet in hand, when I looked in the window of a clothing store and found myself looking at the bleach white coat from my vision. Something clicked in my mind, snapping like a light bulb, and in a matter of minutes I'd assembled together a uniform very similar to the one that would become iconic. The gloves were a different color... for some reason I didn't think to grab a hat, but for the most part it was the genuine article. At the time I was just recreating the figure from my glimpse into the future, but as I stood in my apartment wearing a white balaclava and the largest goggles imaginable, I remember feeling a growing swell of pride in the pit of my stomach... and deciding that it might be a good idea to actually do something with myself for once.
There was a beat cop named Taggert who lived in my neighborhood. He was a racist and a drunkard, and sometimes when I was walking home at night I'd notice him taking bribes from the local drug dealers. Not uncommon in an officer but something about the man really rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe it was the violent beatings he gave to many of the Japanese-American men that lived in the area when they got a little rowdy, maybe it was the way he walked around town, acting like he owned the place. Regardless, I made him my first target.
I knew where he lived, everyone did. That was the spot people tried to avoid, but not me. I ended up waiting outside his building for a couple of nights, getting ready for when he'd go out drinking as he often did and give me ample time to craft together the scene that I had in my mind. Finally my moment came. Taggert left early one evening, still in uniform, and I made my way up to his dingy little apartment. A swift but firm kick broke his room's lock, and with plenty of time to spare I was free to go about as I pleased.
My father's gun came with me, a backup in case things went wrong, but I wouldn't be needing it. Taggert had left his service pistol on the coffee table, so I grabbed it and swapped the bullets for a couple rounds of blanks that I'd bought earlier. Any other ammo in the place was confiscated, and I turned on the TV's static mode for dramatic effect before hiding out of sight. Taggert knew that something was wrong when he finally got back, yet the alcohol must have made him stupid because he entered the place anyway. He didn't see me standing behind his curtain, but the man was jumpy, grabbing his pistol right away from the table. "The hell is going on?!' He'd yelled, waving his gun around with a strange twitch in his eyes. That's when I'd come out of hiding, shadow cast upon the wall by the light of the TV behind me. I remember my footsteps getting his attention, and remember seeing something rewarding in his eyes as he saw me.
He said nothing before firing his gun, yet the pistol just fired smoke rather than a piece of lead.
'You can't hurt me, Taggert.' I'd said in a low, dangerous voice conjured up on the spot. 'Not like you hurt everyone else.' He fired again and again to no effect, and I was thankful he was drunk because if he'd had a mind to he could have easily overpowered me with pure physical strength. "But you won't hurt anyone else, Joe. Because you know I'm here now.' He slunk to the ground, panicked beyond belief and whispered something I didn't quite hear, so I simply replied with: 'Just another mystery to keep you up at night.'"
"Thank you. I'm quite proud of that one.
Getting home was a bit of a blur, yet when I arrived at my apartment I was breathing heavy and sweating. Sleep was hard to come by that evening, no thanks to my fear that the police would soon be knocking on my door. Every time I heard a siren in the distance was yet another heart attack threatening to break my chest, but nothing happened. Two days later the New York Post released an article about my little home invasion. Taggert had apparently described me as a sort of 'ghoul' to his colleagues and that's the name that ended up sticking. The police issued an arrest warrant for me, but once Taggert was found out for smuggling narcotics it was mostly ignored. The world kept spinning, and I found myself a new part time job that gave me a purpose, and finally helped me feel like I deserved happiness."
The Ghoul took a puff from his pipe, blowing out smoke as he leaned back in his chair, red in the face from many minutes of non-stop talking.
"That's cool." A young voice said, sounding tired as it began to drift off slightly. "So... you don't have any powers or anything?"
Aileen Walters lay upon her bed, dressed comfortably in a pair of Mickey Mouse pajamas as she stared up at her hero with wide eyes that couldn't hide her admiration.
"No." Towie sighed, climbing up out of his chair with a painful groan. "But getting back on track, little lady, your bed time story is officially over and it's time for you to get some sleep." The six year old rolled her eyes as he picked her up gently and placed her under the bed covers.
"Oh come on!" She moaned as Towie began to walk towards the door. "Tell me one moreeeeee...."
"No." The Ghoul grumbled. "That one took long enough already and I skipped most of it!" He placed a hand on the door as he began to ever so slowly close it. "I'll tell you another one tomorrow."
"I'll tell you the one where I fought Colonel Twilight and saved New York."
Aileen let out an exhausted yawn, seemed to nod slightly and rolled over in bed, facing away from the door.
"G'night dad." She mumbled.
Towie smiled to himself and flicked off the light.
"Good night sweetheart."