Blood, Guts and Brains


“Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet” first came to my attention thanks to “States of Terror” editor/publisher Matt Lewis. Considering I wrote a story about the Florida skunk ape for volume two of that collection, I was instantly intrigued to hear about Adam Howe’s “Damn Dirty Apes,” the first of three novellas in this book. It’s a twisted, pulpy Southern gothic adventure tale peopled with backwoods pornographers, ape-centric biker gangs, cryptid-hunting eccentrics, and a damaged-but-unbroken ex-prizefighter at the center of it all. It caroms from grim brutality to cartoonish otherworldly violence while rarely pausing for breath, and there’s a strong sense that Howe’s introducing one of those gruffly likable protagonist who could keep on having these kinds of reluctant adventures for years to come (and since there’s a sequel novel on the way, I may not be too far off in that guess).

The shortest of the three, “Gator Bait,” is a horror noir that’s equal parts James M. Cain and Stephen King in its Prohibition-era tale of a piano-playing ladies’ man forced to go on the lam after getting the drop on a cuckold bent on ending his adulterous days. Of course, stumbling into a new gig at a swampy roadside honkytonk run by a dangerous bootlegger with a gorgeous battered wife can only lead one way for the hapless ivory-tickler, no matter how often he claims to have sworn off the dames. Especially if the alligator in the pond out back has a say in the matter.

Throughout both of these Southern-fried tales, so steeped in the language and specifics of 20th-century hardboiled Americana, it’s easy to forget that Howe’s a Brit by birth. The stories read quick, funny and fun, with that enviable combination of smart satisfying wordplay and evocative imagery, yet with nary a wasted or extraneous word.

But the one that really grabbed me by the nards and wouldn’t let go is the one that gives the book its title. Unlike the other two tales, which are occasionally crude or violent but essentially accessible, “Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet” is one I would not recommend to the even vaguely squeamish. Easily the best horror movie I’ve read in ages, the less I say about its hardcore horror conceit the better, as I don’t want to spoil the immensely satisfying twists and turns it takes with its simple but brilliant “dammit why didn’t I think a that?!” premise.

Suffice to say, fans of old school pulp with a postmodern twist, over-the-top action-adventure lovers, and sick fucks who enjoy stories with as much brains as blood and guts will all find something to love inside Howe’s twisted little worlds.

The Best Book We All Weren’t Buying


These guys, am I right?

By now it’s a given that the Platinum Age of Television began on Jan. 10, 1999 with the premiere of The Sopranos, when indie cinema sensibilities started trickling down into the storytelling on that “vast wasteland” people of a certain age used to call the Idiot Box. After that defining date, cable TV–both premium and basic–began to allow for a model that let tightly contained long-form narratives like Six Feet Under, Deadwood, Mad Men, Battlestar Galactica (at its best anyway) Breaking Bad (and its so-far worthy successor Better Call Saul), Orange is the New Black and even The Walking Dead unfold over shorter seasons, without outstaying their welcome, and often telling stories as worthy of our time and attention as any Great American Novel or Important Awards-Baiting Film. The upside of this is more great entertainment at the click of a button. The downside is constant access to and constant replenishment of the narcotic that’s been my biggest bane since early childhood.

As we move further into the 21st century, a similar phenomenon is occurring in my other favorite serialized storytelling medium. In the funnybooks, the indie comics sensibility has made definite headway into the mainstream, allowing for a greater diversity of art styles, narrative approaches, creators and characters. This is probably most evident in one of Marvel’s most popular recently launched titles, Ms. Marvel, in which a teenage daughter of Pakistani immigrants and a practicing Muslim herself develops superpowers. The subject of personal faith probably hasn’t been this front and center with a mainstream superhero since Daredevil’s Catholicism. But the book’s second boldest choices have less to do with featuring a Muslim female than with its choice to be irreverent, smart, and boundlessly interested in the lives of young urban people coming of age in a way that’s reminiscent of a basic cable dramedy. And the art style is reflective of that in a way that’s hip and indie without losing track of the fact that’s it’s set in the Marvelverse, intricate and detailed without being overly busy, cartoony without seeming juvenile.


Marvel seems to be leading the pack with this kind of book, letting writers and artists who’ve done great work in and out of the mainstream take a book and character and really put a strong creative stamp on them. Hawkeye would be another prime example, a book that felt like a wiseass character-driven cable action comedy series from the first issue, and that has made some of the boldest creative choices of any recent superhero book while keeping things on a mostly small, narrowly focused scale. The most acclaimed issue so far is an almost wordless noirish detective adventure told from the POV of Clint Barton’s recently adopted dog. It’s hilarious, clever, and a masterpiece of visual design.


Both of these books have received attention, acclaim, and whatever passes for reasonably strong sales in the current comics market, but by far my favorite book representing this trend toward smart, funny, indie explorations of the Marvel world seemed to slip through the cracks. The Superior Foes of Spider-Man just ended its run after a mere 17 issues. Granted, that was five more than its originally planned twelve, but when it got the initial extension, I imagine all involved were hoping for an ongoing. I was (and yet also wasn’t!) It’s a curse that’s also a blessing, in its way, because writer Nick Spencer and artist Steve Lieber were granted the freedom to make the book they wanted, and to give it a proper ending. In the past, in comics as in TV, this opportunity to close the loop was rarely afforded, and many books and arcs were left open-ended as their titles died on the vine. Much like a particularly satisfying show that ends while still at peak creativity (many of my friends kept whining for more Breaking Bad but I thought it ended right when it should), there’s plenty to be said for a short-run comic that sets out to tell a tight yet sprawling story and is able to do so within some nicely defined parameters, escaping the trap of treading water and giving in to mediocrity due to creator changeover or simple exhaustion.


Focusing on a new incarnation of the Sinister Six and pretty much eschewing Spider-Man altogether is a terrific choice, because from the title on down, it establishes these characters as the coattail hangers they are. Because this is not just a story about bad guys, it’s a story about losers, about the guys on the margin who are always being beaten down by the heroes, manipulated by the major players and big bosses, and left to fend for themselves when the shit goes down. They may have big dreams and big plans, but they will never be A-list baddies no matter how hard they try. It’s just not in the cards. Personally, having written my first book, The Villain’s Sidekick, about just such a guy, I am of course all about this. And I’m sure there’s a whole other level of fun for Spencer and Lieber just getting to play in this little corner of the Marvel sandbox, where they get to dream up lives and backstories and motivations and nuances for these characters that haven’t been considered or explored in their entire histories, which in the case of guys like Boomerang and Shocker runs to nearly half a century each. A key difference between my story and this one is that Spencer succeeds at keeping his anti-heroes very much on the wrong side of the law. There may be one–the more recently conceived Overdrive–who longs to flip from bad to good like Hawkeye or Scarlet Witch before him, but in the end it’s a pipe dream and he’s just another sorry schmuck whose life is defined by a long string of rotten luck and poor choices.


Many of Spidey’s more infamous gangster-type rogues and bosses put in appearances–from Tombstone, who’s daughter joins the new Sinister Six (who, it’s worth pointing out, only boast five members throughout the series, yet keep the name regardless), to the Owl, to Silvio Silvermane (who’s severed yet still chatty head is both a major McGuffin and constant thorn in the various characters’ sides). There are superfights and action sequences and occasional stakes, but this is really one of those books where it’s all about the largely comedic dialogue (and the amazing, perfectly complementary artwork, which is filled with clever gags of its own). Fred “Boomerang” Myers narrates the book, and despite his many machinations and double-crosses and general not-a-good-guy-ness, I found myself rooting for him to pull out some kind of small victory, even if it was the hollow win of a nefarious plan gone right for once. He frequently introduces a staple character with the dismissive eye-roll line: “This guy, am I right?” If you’re familiar enough with the Marvel stable, you’ll find yourself agreeing time and again.


And just to demonstrate that creating a fun book that asks you to root for the bad guys isn’t as easy as it might sound, I recently attempted to read the first volume of DC’s apparently popular Harley Quinn solo series. Also a comedic farce about a villain’s lackey, the words that came to mind while I tried to wade through it’s soup of moronic slapstick violence, terrible puns and cheap jokes was “hot garbage.” I think Harley’s a great character in the right hands, but this book seemed pitch at a level just south of adolescent. At one point, while she helps an aging cybernetic Federal agent (real name: Sy Borgman; hilarious…) snuff some Russian sleeper agents (who really don’t deserve their horrible, played-for-laughs deaths) they take out a female spy named, get this, Ivana Brekemoff. Again, hilarious! Right? No, me neither.


Suffice to say, if you enjoy the company of wiseass wannabes and amoral a-holes with wicked senses of humor and the scruples of a basement rat, if more than once in awhile you find yourself wondering what the henchmen are thinking, how they live, or what they do with their downtime, you could do a helluva lot worse than giving Superior Foes a shot.

Robin Williams


My best Robin Williams memory comes from watching him perform live, from about ten feet away, at a tiny tiny club in the Mission District in San Francisco called The Mock Cafe. When I first started performing there, I think it sat about 11 people, and two of those seats had their view blocked by a support column. When Robin started dropping by to perform there on occasional Friday and Saturday nights, I think they’d expanded to hold about thirty, maybe forty if they broke the fire code. Anyway, my sketch group kind of accidentally ended up “opening” for him one night, meaning we did our little set and he then went up and erased all memory of us from the audience with forty five minutes of blistering improv’d stand-up. He was sweating like a beast within ten minutes. I had a friend in the front row who was a budding entomologist and had a multitude of gorgeous insect tattoos. Once he saw her, and her ink, his eyes lit up and he did about fifteen or twenty minutes on the life, thoughts and inner monologue of a bug.

Throughout his freewheeling set, whenever he started to lose the thread, he would return to my friend and use her as a springboard for further riffing. Backstage and out on the sidewalk between sets, he was warm and gracious and friendly and as many others have said, treated everyone like an equal. He obviously was energized by being in a place where real comedy was happening and up and comers (and never-quite-wases like me) were getting their feet wet. I remember riffing with him about the odd fact that Martha Stewart and P-Diddy were friends who hung out in the Hamptons together, and I made some crack about them making a gingerbread crackhouse together. He liked the line enough, I thought I saw the glimmer of the joke thief in his eye. I wouldn’t have minded, to be honest.

The first time I met him, outside that same club just a few weeks before, I was just drunk enough to think “When am I gonna be this close to Robin Williams again?” so I hit him up for a ride home. He found a very nice way to say no, because he had to pick up one of his kids and only had the “small car.” “Next time, I’ll bring the big one and we’ll all go!” he said. Then he tried to offer me 20 bucks for a cab but there was no way I was taking his money. I probably should have been embarrassed but he was just so goddamn sweet about the whole thing.

He did a lot of things over the years, between those days when me and my best grade school buddy would sit around listening to “Reality…What a Concept” and memorizing his bits, and the less illustrious film roles that we all couldn’t help but question and mock, but he was a truly funny man and a force to be reckoned with. I’m forever fortunate I got to see him work and sweat up close and bask in the glow just a little.

Dark History


In 2011, my good friend and former longtime writing and comedy partner, Les Milton, got a plumb gig creating content for the Nintendo DS game “Captain America: Super Soldier,” released concurrently with the film “Captain America: The First Avenger.” I haven’t played the game, but I doubt the gameplay is half as subversively hilarious as what Les created in these secret documents, which include transcriptions of recorded meetings between the Red Skull, Arnim Zola and Baron Zemo, correspondence between them, and letters home from a captive GI and a Hydra recruit. Sublimely ridiculous, they tell a dark story of body horror, attempted world domination and shared obsessions with food and sex. Anyway, I believe these should be preserved for posterity for those of you unlikely to stumble across them in the game.

Minutes of meeting between The Red Skull, Zola, and Zemo

 (Transcribed by XXXXX XXXXXXX on XX May, XXXX, via hidden micro-audio devices.)

Red Skull (RS):Ah, at last!

Arnim Zola (AZ):     You are six and one half minutes late, Baron.

Heinrich Zemo (HZ):  Herr Skull, it is a pleasure to see you again.

RS:  And you, Baron. You are looking fit.

HZ:  Thank you. When I stopped eating, the pounds just melted away.

RS:  Come, join us at the table.

HZ:  I’d love to.

The parties walk into the dining hall and are seated.

AZ:  Please forgive us if we eat without you. I’m afraid our schedule makes it necessary to combine our duties, especially since you arrived later than expected.

RS:  Yes, Baron, I hope you are not uncomfortable.

HZ:  Not at all Herr Skull. My…condition…has helped me to…more clearly understand the difference between myself and…lesser men.

AZ:  I admire your powers of rationalization, Baron. I would be tempted to shoot myself were I to suffer from such an indignant handicap, brought about during a humiliating defeat by our most hated enemy. This steak is delicious, Herr Skull.

HZ:  That you might choose the path of cowardice and weakness is hardly surprising, Doctor. It only serves to illustrate my point about lesser men.

RS:  And now that the formalities are out of the way, let us discuss our plans.

HZ:  A most refreshing suggestion, Herr Skull. I assume that you require the use of my facilities and skills.

AZ:  Certainly the former, while the latter are debatable. These potatoes are perfectly cooked.

HZ:  Tell me, Herr Skull. What purpose does the Doctor, here, serve? Other than to repeatedly insult me? And how does his presence help to win my cooperation?

RS:  Doctor Zola, while often grating personally, is essential to our overall plans of complete domination. If I can stomach his odious presence, you should have no problem.

AZ:  Odious…?

RS:  And your cooperation is not to be won, but is rather expected.

HZ:  I was not aware that I was your subordinate, Herr Skull.

RS:  That is not what I intended, Baron. Much of your scientific research has been funded by HYDRA. Many of your more…elusive and exotic scientific components have been obtained for you by HYDRA.

HZ:  And my services to HYDRA, the technological advances in weaponry and communications, have more than paid for its investments.

AZ:  Your arrogance is insufferable, Zemo!

RS:  Sit down, Doctor.

AZ:  Forgive me, Herr Skull, but I cannot sit here while this…this…deformed malcontent treats you like this. Bartering with you…like a commoner!

HZ:  (stands) Zola, you have all the wit and dignity of a baboon. Skull, I will take my leave of you for now.

AZ:  Of course, he runs away! He doesn’t care about your plans, Skull! He only–!


AZ:  Yes, sir.

RS:  Baron, please sit down.

HZ:  I’m afraid it is impossible for now. Let us meet again without this blithering monkey of yours. His presence makes it impossible for rational dialogue. Good night, Herr Skull.

(Baron Zemo exits the room.)

AZ:  That was rather brief.

RS:  That I am not strangling you at this very moment is a testament to my will power, Zola.

AZ:  Herr Skull, the man is unstable!

RS:  That is irrelevant! You have delayed everything, do you realize that?

AZ:  But I –

RS:  I cannot hear your voice any more tonight, or you will surely die. Do not approach me or speak to me until you are summoned. Do you understand?

AZ:  I—

RS:  Just nod, you fool! Good. I have such a headache…

(The Red Skull exits the room.)

 AZ:  Well…that’s just more dessert for me.

(end of transmission)


Letters between The Red Skull, Zola, and Zemo

Greetings Baron,

Herr Skull would appreciate the honor of your company on April XX in order to discuss the implementation of his vision for our collaboration in the service of HYDRA.

Best regards,

Doctor Arnim Zola

P.S. Dinner will be served with a choice of chicken or fish.



We have yet to receive your response to my invitation for dinner. If you are uninterested in ruling the world together, you only have to tell me. There is no place for coyness in any realistic plan for global domination.

Yours in Victory,

The Red Skull


My Dear Colleague,

Please forgive the delay in my response. Once I received your second notice, I discovered that my secretary, unfortunately, had been neglecting her responsibilities due to a case of sublimated hysteria. I was forced to destroy her, but the anticipation of meeting with you has assuaged any last remnants of regret I might have been harboring. I shall be very pleased to see you at the appointed time. I will, however, not be eating, as my recent accident has necessitated that I receive all sustenance intravenously.

Until Then, I Remain Your Humble Servant,

Baron Heinrich Zemo



Herr Skull wishes me to inform you that he was rather displeased with our dinner meeting last week. Your habitual tardiness was, as always, frustrating. But your lack of enthusiasm for our plan has pushed Herr Skull towards a furious desperation. He wishes to meet with you at your castle in one week in order to further discuss this matter.

Here is a list of Herr Skull’s requirements for his stay:

–        Fresh fruit shall be available during the meeting and in his room.

–        None of the staff are to look Herr Skull directly in the eyes or to be left handed.

–        A single bed will be provided, with tussah silk sheets and no pillow.

–        Bavarian chocolate will be found playfully strewn on the nightstand and dresser.

–        Before retiring for the evening, Herr Skull will require a twenty five year old female of pleasing appearance and disposition who stands between five feet, two inches and five feet, six inches in height, weighing no less than 105 pounds, but no more than 125 pounds, along with a bottle of ’28 Knyphausen.

–        As a wake-up call, “Hänschen Klein” shall be played on a lone flugelhorn outside Herr Skull’s window.

–        In the morning, no one is to have breakfast.

Please be certain that all of these requirements are met. You will also benefit from a change in your attitude.


Doctor Arnim Zola



You foolishly assume that I care one whit what you have to say. I have personally slaughtered calves with more interesting points of view.

If Herr Skull wishes to arrange for another meeting, he may contact me himself. Frankly, your sycophantic whining does nothing to persuade me to join your cause. I prefer the company of actual men, so your presence is not required.

Go To Hell,

Baron Heinrich Zemo


My Valued Friend,

I do apologize for the tone in Dr. Zola’s most recent correspondence. He did not speak for me, and while his exploitable talents make him too valuable to exterminate, I intend to reassign him to a distant post at the earliest opportunity. He is a thoroughly annoying toady, whose mere voice is enough to send me into a murderous rage, while every day I diminish my supply of competent domestic help.

Please meet with me in three days at Leuschnerstraße 61 in Stuttgart. I assure you that what I have to offer, and what we can accomplish, will be most satisfactory. The sooner our partnership begins, the sooner our domination of the globe will become a reality. And the sooner Zola and his homicide inducing perturbations will be out of our lives.


The Red Skull


Herr Skull,

No apology is necessary. It thrills me to no end that we share an opinion of the detestable Zola, whose very name causes my soul to recoil in spasms of hatred.   That I might soon be spared the tortures of his company, his grating voice, his questionable odors, his adoration of Carl Von Linde’s advances in refrigeration, is as desirable a dream as ruling the planet. I look forward with great anticipation to our meeting and forthcoming alliance.

Your Loyal Comrade,

Baron Heinrich Zemo

(carbon copy)

My Dear Baron Zemo,

Herr Skull asked me to explain. I am sure, as you stand on this empty plot of land in Stuttgart, reading this letter, your heart is dropping. You probably are now realizing that you have been betrayed, that your life’s work and homestead have been taken from you by men far better suited to utilize the great resources you once controlled. Perhaps you instinctively crave revenge, but quickly conclude in dull horror that your former property is now occupied by thousands of HYDRA troops, its formidable mechanical defenses now turned against you, their very creator. At this point, maybe you have correctly assumed that we’d be foolish to let you live. Perhaps our assassins have not just yet ended your life, and you can hear my laughter echoed in every word of this letter, the last thing you will ever read. You stupid, stupid man.

Auf Wiedersehen, Dummkopf,


Arnim Zola

Correspondence between Madame Hydra and Baron Strucker


My Dear Fraulein Hiss,

I was overjoyed when the Director informed me that you were to be assigned to Operation Kneifenwurst, as I have been named the Project Manager. After repeated viewings of your…files, I have the utmost confidence that your abilities will only serve to hasten our victories over any and all enemies.

I was hoping that perhaps we could meet for a review of our goals and strategies. There is a lovely restaurant in Schleswig renowned for its spanferkel. Perhaps you know it? The manager is deathly afraid of me, so he always gives me a private room.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours in Allegiance,

Baron Wolfgang von Strucker


Dear Baron,

What a pleasant surprise it was to receive your letter. I have heard tell of your great Prussian family and its service to the Motherland over the years. Indeed, when I was informed that I would be heading the Communications and Castigation Departments for Operation Kneifenwurst, I was secretly hoping that you would be…managing the project.

I think it is wise of you to suggest a meeting between us prior to the project’s commencement. Schleswig sounds lovely, but surely there is somewhere more private? My assistant happens to make excellent spanferkel, as I’ve always believed that roasted suckling pig is perfect for any meal. Could you meet me tomorrow night at Bismarckstraße 18? Ten o’clock?

If this is convenient, please don’t trouble yourself to respond. I will simply be expecting you. And I am anticipating the progress we will make together.

Yours to Command,

Agent Leona Hiss


Dearest Leona,

Though writing to you this way violates our professional code, I am unable to control myself. My senses are still numb after our night of passion. Was it a dream? I pray it was not. You were gone when I awoke, but your scent lingered, as did the aching physical mementos of our time together.

Never before have I felt helpless. Never have I lacked total control of every situation in which I have found myself. Even as a small child, the apprehensions which govern the actions of most men were absent from my mind. But in the span of just a few nocturnal hours of pure bliss, you have entered my life like a force of nature, like a lightning bolt from the gods, and I wonder if I shall ever recover my former self.

The fervor of the evening precluded any constructive conversation regarding Operation Kneifenwurst, and so I believe we should meet again at our earliest opportunity. Any time. Any place.

Profoundly Yours,


P.S.      The spanferkel was excellent. You are indeed fortunate to have an assistant with such culinary skills.


April XX, 19XX

Baron Strucker,

I am pleased you enjoyed our time together. I found it both stimulating and cathartic. However, while you seem bewildered by the unusual strength of your emotions, I can offer a clear explanation for them.

As I’m sure you are aware, my expertise in natural and artificial toxins, along with the lethal forms of martial arts, is unsurpassed. But our Director, the great Red Skull, did not believe my reputation in regards to the former. I convinced him to test me. He claimed that, despite your appetite for carnal activities, you consider women to be ultimately disposable, your devotion to the cause always afire, burning off the emotional ties which ensnare less devoted men. You and I are very much alike.

The spanferkel had an artificial compound of my own design within its tender, moist flesh. But there is no need for concern. In less than a week you should have returned to your true nature and will perhaps even share in my amusement. After all, I only used science to do to you what you have done to innumerable women using wine and lies. And you will recover much sooner than they did.

And now I must inform you that there will be no Operation Kneifenwurst. It was a ruse created by the Director in order to test my abilities. You have been assigned to be the Leader of Security and Combat Divisions of HYDRA for our next and most important endeavor: Project Vernichten. I will retain the title given to me for the pseudo-operation, but, like you, I will report only to Arnim Zola and the Director himself. The details of your responsibilities and the relevant timetables are included with this correspondence.

You provided me with a vigorous and rather entertaining outlet. For that, I thank you. As we are to be equals, and as we both are in agreement in our opinions of the opposite sex, I believe we will have ample opportunities be of a similar service to each other as the Project proceeds.

Finally, the Director did not only increase my rank within our organization. He gave me a new name.

Until the End,

Madame Hydra


Dear Madame,

I accept your explanation and the change of plans as any good soldier would. According to my itinerary, we will meet again in three days, and I retain my confidence in our ability to move our cause ever forward and through the remains of those who would stand in our way.

However, I should inform you that, despite your assertions to the contrary, after two weeks since my exposure to your infernal compounds, my feelings towards you have not changed, nor their intensity decreased in the slightest.

You should review your formulas.

Apparently Yours,

Baron Wolfgang von Strucker


Madame Hydra

Diary entries of G.I. prisoner

 May XX, 1944

It’s been four hours since we were captured. I can’t make heads or tails of what kind of an organization they’ve got here. I’m in a small cage with Jackson. He’s in and out of it. I think they stopped the bleeding. I don’t know how they did it, they only had him for 30 minutes and I saw what his leg looked like before they took him.

It’s the weirdest thing. The cage looks filthy. It’s wet, there’s mud and straw everywhere. But there’s no smell. Nothing. I know it’s not my nose because Jackson and I stink to high heaven. It’s like they decorated a sterile environment.

I can’t seem to think straight. Or keep my eyes open. I wasn’t injured badly. Wonder if I was drugged. But I haven’t passed out or had anything to eat or drink. Maybe something in the air. Just need a catnap.


May XX, 1944

Jackson disappeared while I slept. Woke up with a headache and stitches in my abdomen. I don’t know what they’re doing to us.

I know there are other G.I.’s here, but no one answers when I call out.

I was starving, but still reluctant to eat when they brought food, a weird puree of what tasted like lobster in butter and garlic. It was in a very small dish, just a few ounces, but I felt full after eating it.

There are screams coming from somewhere nearby. Howls and barking, too, it sounds like. Strange humming, a large machine, maybe?

Twice in two hours, two different guards came to our block and read propaganda to us in broken English. The first one wouldn’t talk to me, but the second one, a chubby twerp with glasses on his mask, seemed intrigued by my inquiries. He was skittish, looking around as we spoke, probably breaking the rules. He asked lots of questions, where I was from, my favorite movie stars. He seemed lonely, so maybe I can take advantage of that.

I seem to be sleepy all the time. Is it the food? I have to try to resist eating. Staying awake is getting harder.


June ?, 1944

There have been too many visits and too much sleeping for me to write. Jackson has come and gone a dozen times since my last entry. Always when I’m sleeping. He’s here in the cell as I write this. Staring off into space. There’s a small box attached to his neck in the back. It buzzes every time he blinks.

The strange sounds continue. The food is disgusting to look at, but irresistible. The mush I had last night tasted like rib-eye. It’s so good, I don’t even mind the texture. I want to stop eating it, I do. I know there’s something in it that makes me sleep. I refused it twice, but then I started to get sick and shake all over, and I ate. Portabella mushrooms and truffles in olive oil. It was delicious.

The chubby guard has been visiting more often. I thought I might be able to use him somehow, but it’s pretty clear that even if he wanted to help, he wouldn’t be able to. He’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Not much of a soldier either. Obviously a mama’s boy who doesn’t want to be here. And twice he’s been joined by a bean pole who just stares at me and then whispers questions to tubby in German. They even giggle like schoolboys, sometimes. How did they even get in the club?

I’ve got three new sets of stitches. Left calf. Right thigh. Left forearm. They don’t hurt at all and I don’t feel anything beneath the skin. I wish I knew what they were doing. I asked the chubby guard, but he just shrugged and whispered that I should be glad that’s all they’ve done to me. Not very comforting.

I don’t want to eat and I don’t want to sleep. But they’ve made it impossible to resist.


June ??, 1944

Woke up with Jackson strangling me. Jackson was never very strong even when he was healthy, but his grip was unbreakable. I started seeing spots when he just let go and stared for a minute before walking to the other side of the cell. Then I noticed the little man in a lab coat and goggles near the cell door. He was holding a box with a dial and an antennae, and he was grinning. In a heavy accent he said, “That went well, don’t you think?” I screamed something at him, something about his mother, but he just kept grinning as he turned and walked away. Jackson stood at attention and stared ahead. I tried to snap him out of it. Then I tried to remove the little box on his neck, but he screamed in pain and knocked me across the cell. I must have hit my head, because I passed out. Only awake for maybe an hour when they brought in the food. That was about 30 minutes ago and I can’t keep my eyes open. It’s just so damn good.


June ???, 1944

Don’t know how much time has passed. There are large guns being fired. Jackson is gone. New sets of stitches on my right forearm and on both sides of my chest.

There’s a sense of panic. Guards running back and forth. I asked Tubby what was up as he ran by. He looked scared, then his bean pole buddy runs into him and says something about “the Captain.” Tubby says, “No!” Bean pole nods furiously and they just looked at each other for a second before running away.

The Captain. Could he really be here? God, I do hope he is. Because I’m not hungry anymore. And I’m not sleepy anymore. And there’s a small box on the back of my neck. It buzzes every time I blink.

Letters home from HYDRA agent

Dear Mother and Father,

I’m sorry it’s taken so long to write to you. Since communication with the outside world is strictly forbidden, I’m not sure if I will get the opportunity to send this to you, but I will try.

First, I must apologize for my hasty departure. So many things were happening, with my dismissal from the clerical guild and Ladinka breaking off our engagement, I felt an irresistible urge to escape my familiar world with all possible speed. I can’t understand why she left me. I often wonder if it was my near constant critiques of her behavior and appearance. But could she really be so overly-sensitive?

I am now in the employment of a large agency which works with the government on various aspects of the war. I have become a kind of soldier, but please do not worry. My instinctive cowardice has served me well in times of danger. And besides, we are far from the front lines.

Our Sector Superior, who I will call, “the Baron,” has kept us very busy these last few weeks. Occasionally, they allow me to guard a large laboratory. Strange sounds come from there. They unnerve me. I prefer the perimeter duty.

I have caught fleeting glimpses of a mysterious woman in the company of the Baron. Her long black hair is like silk and her clothing, while revealing nothing, leaves little to the imagination. I do not approve of this, obviously, but I endeavor to keep her from my thoughts, and I’m sure she is here for a good reason.

I have made some friends here. They’re not all bad, really. Of course, a good many are criminals and undesirables, and there have been a number of pranks at my expense, but on the whole, I’d say we’re growing closer every day. Our common goal is our bond and it cannot be broken.

The food is acceptable, but I miss your cabbage rolls. Even if they didn’t remind me of Ladinka, they are the best in Bamberg, by far.

With Love and Affection,



Dear Mother and Father,

I have yet to think of a way to deliver my letters to you, but I will continue to write, so when that problem has been solved, you will have a clearer picture of my experiences here.

Ladinka dominates my thoughts. I thought we were so happy. The trip to Naples was unforgettable. True, we were being constantly shelled by the Allies, but the hours we spent together in the shelter, huddled together in the candlelight, were simply magical. I spend altogether too much time wondering why it changed.

Here, nothing much has changed. We spend most of our time guarding the premises and engaging in team-building exercises. I fear the rest of the soldiers have no faith in me. The pranks and jokes have mostly stopped, but no one seems to want to share my assignments. To be honest, I suspect they are jealous of my abilities. It is similar to what happened in my last clerical positions.

There is one fellow, however, who has taken a liking to me. Names are not allowed here, so he calls me, “2-28” and I refer to him as “10-64,” the prefixes of our codenames. Though he is somewhat clumsy physically and socially, I find myself spending more and more time with him. We apparently are of the same opinion regarding popular culture, with only a few glaring exceptions. For instance, while he claims that Fritz Grunbaum is an “overrated bore” – those were his very words – he simultaneously describes the “comedy” of Werner Finck as “sublime.” Ridiculous, isn’t it?

As there is little with which to entertain us here, gossip and rumor are abundant. It doesn’t help that animal sounds are heard not only in the laboratory, but in the Baron’s quarters. Certainly, the level of secrecy has only fueled these speculations; our constantly changing passwords, the codenames, prohibition on outside communications. Some here even believe that Captain America is an actual person, instead of the cheap, lowbrow propaganda that could only come from the cesspool of Hollywood, U.S.A.. I am surrounded by simpletons. It seems only 10-64 and I are immune to these immature flights of fancy.

Well, that is all for now. I must return to my duties, though I am loathe to do so. I trust you are both doing well. Papa, I hope your gout continues to improve.

Affectionately Yours,



Dear Mother and Father,

How are you? I am getting by just fine. There is much time spent alone, on duty and off. I suppose I have only myself to blame. My respect for authority and the rule of law prompted me to report a fellow for sweeping the detritus of his quarters under his bed. He was, of course, summarily executed, but it was his own fault for flouting proper procedure. Most of my comrades have stopped speaking to me altogether, though it hasn’t stopped them from launching semi-solid gobs of spittle in my direction.

Fortunately, 10-64 has remained true. He has also been the target of the others’ scorn and silent derision because of his poor hygiene and loyalty to me, so we are glad to be able to support each other through this difficult time.

Recently, I was lucky enough to be reprimanded by Madame Hydra, the Baron’s companion. I thought for a moment that she was going to either kill me or ravish me then and there.

The sounds in the laboratory grow less identifiable with every passing evening. The screams have become less human. Not more animalistic, just less human.

I have made the acquaintance of an American prisoner. It is forbidden to talk to him, but I cannot help myself. He asks many questions, and I just answer with my own. He says that Rita Hayworth married Orson Welles and that Captain America is real. I don’t know which claim is the more ridiculously incredible.

Has Ladinka asked about me? Does she even care? I can’t imagine my disappearance has gone unnoticed. I can’t stop thinking about her. When we were together, I was frequently and unexpectedly repelled by her breath and her lazy eye. But now I would give anything for her musty scents to pass my nostrils or to stare deeply into that sluggish orb.

I must go now. I have promised to show 10-64 more from my collection of Katzenjammer Kids. As long as he doesn’t dismiss them again as “obviously derivative of Max and Moritz,” I’m sure to enjoy our visit.

Please take good care of yourselves.

Your Son,



My Dear Mama and Papa,

I must be quick. I’m in a closet somewhere in this castle, in the farthest corner I could find. I have seen him! He is real. 10-64 saw him as well, but then the shield. The shield, it was everywhere at once, it seemed. Of course, I immediately feigned unconsciousness, and I watched him walk away. He didn’t seem human until he walked away. But unlike any human, ever. And he is real.

I feel the occasional rumble of an explosion, but otherwise, the sounds of battle have finally faded away. I think I am safe here, until I can decide what to do next.

I will probably not make it out of this castle, no matter who is the victor here today. If you see Ladinka, tell her I forgive her. And then tell her I’m dead. And tell her that if I could, I would hold her voluptuous body next to mine and devote myself to her all over again. But that it’s impossible. Because I am dead.

I’m sorry to make you worry, but I just don’t know what to do. I miss you so much, and I needed to hope that this and the rest of my letters would someday find their way to you, so that Ladinka would know what I went through because of her.

It is truly a terrible world.



hydra soldier


Les Milton is the author of “The Accidental Adventures of Dogget Mann,” an excellent work of original YA scifi and the first in a proposed series, so go buy it and let the guy get his ass to work writing the next installment: