THIS WEEK ON MOONSTONE CLIFFHANGER FICTION-
Moonstone Books and ALL PULP are proud to present a jungle action adventure tale from MOONSTONE CLIFFHANGER FICTION featuring Lee Falk’s THE PHANTOM! This is another slam bam tale by Mike Bullock, longtime writer of THE PHANTOM for Moonstone and current writer of BLACK BAT, SAVAGE BEAUTY, and creator and writer of DEATH ANGEL! This tale can be found in the THE PHANTOM: GENERATIONS trade paperback available from Moonstone at http://www.moonstonebooks.com/
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BY MIKE BULLOCK
Character created by Lee Falk
As I stared downward, ever downward at the smallish puddle of my own life force, pooling on the toe of my boot, I became at once aware of a new battle I must fight. For the very ground itself was seeking to rush upon me. What new deviltry was this? A fight against man or monster was one I could relish, but to fight the very earth itself seemed too much for even one called Phantom.
Succor came by drawing nearer to my opponent, as I descended to one knee and stabbed at the ground with my father’s sword. From here, the clouds cleared briefly from my mind as I heard the voices of those who came before me, in a violent chorus of men among men.
The impact of their words drove my head back upward in a dizzying manner, as if I’d been struck with a mighty uppercut intended to clear the cobwebs from my mental passages.
The voices continued to exhort me despite my body’s best efforts to defeat them. Through clenched teeth, I replied, while pushing myself to attention once again.
“GET UP!” The force of my own voice, echoing into the night, gave me a renewed sense of my current predicament. It was as if I needed to speak in order to reassure myself that I yet lived.
It seemed I was not the lone witness to my outcry, as the monster replied in his own way.
Knowing what fate awaited me, I stared down the blade of my Father’s sword. How many villains had met their fate at the end of this fine weapon? How many lives had this sword seen ended? While killing is not the way of The Phantom, many a man has died in the presence of those who wear the mask. The pirates and brigands who faced my father were no different.
And now, would I still have the strength to end the life of that which stalked me on this night? When the time presented itself, would I still be able to employ this blade to win the day?
As I raised the blade to the air, I knew what must be done. I would wait here, for the beast to approach, then, as so many before me had, I would end this threat to the jungle and those who called it home. For fourteen generations, the peoples of these lands had depended on the Phantom to protect them and exact justice.
These things could not be deferred due to illness, injury or even the mightiest of monsters. No. The beast would die on this very spot. I would make sure of that, even if it meant my life was forfeit.
Young Kit. Will the morrow be the day you finally assume your destiny? Will the boy I remember so fondly become the man I’ve trained you to be?
There. In the fog. Deep within the recesses of my mind I see him. A lad of only five summers, armed with bow and arrow, stalking his prey through the undergrowth outside the waterfall. I watch, with eyes only a proud father can possess. He has tracked his quarry for some time and now moves in for the kill. He steps forward, from his cover, and I instinctively reach out to prevent his error, but it’s too late. His impetuousness has alerted the gazelle, which flees with a speed that Mercury himself would envy.
He turns to me, and with downturned lips, says “Father, I failed…”
I reached out for my son, with a soul rending ache to assure him he had done well-
My eyes opened once again, as the night rushed in, washing my memory of young Kit away and replacing it with the dull pain and lightheadedness that were my only companions on that night. Oh, Kit, you must always know that you could never fail me. You are no more capable of such a thing as I was of failing my father. It simply could not be…
There comes a time in the life of every man when the realization of just what you face rises up. It was not the beast that opposed me, but my own death. The specter of it haunted every fiber of my being, from the pit of my stomach to the front lines of the battle raging within my mind. It was at that moment when I realized I did not fear death, for no real man does, but what I did fear was the thought of no longer living.
I could not reconcile the idea of never again holding my beloved in my arms, feeling her warm body against mine, soaking in the scent of her beautiful tresses, drinking in the ambrosia of her loveliness.
Nor could I come to terms with never again walking shoulder to shoulder with my son, guiding him on his path through life, passing on to him that which had been passed down to me. Where would I be without these two, whom I loved more than life itself?
Where would I be?
I thought back to a time when I first donned the mask. A time before her sweet embrace, before the pure joy of hearing my boy laugh with unbridled vigor, a time before I really lived.
Some say I was more fearless then, yet I know the truth. It was not fearlessness that guided my hand, but reckless abandon, brought on by a kind of selfishness a man possesses before joining in marriage. A knowing that only I hung in the balance of my life. No others would suffer were I to fail.
These thoughts were rooted in an immaturity. Soil that had not yet been tilled with the wisdom of my lineage. For me, becoming the Phantom was a ticket to adventure, a chance to live the lives I had spent many a childhood night reading about in those old tomes. The sheer weight of my calling had not sunk in. Nor did it do so until the day I first heard my son cry out, fresh from the womb and new to this world.
It was then the beast chose to appear once again. I found the corner of my lip upturned slightly at the sight of his face. I had achieved a reckoning in our first encounter, evidenced by the deep wound he bore upon his countenance.
Apparently, my smile did little to please the monster, as he bellowed out in defiance of my spirit. Once again, my ribcage shook from the sheer power of his voice. Many a lesser man had fallen from courage upon hearing the mighty beast announce his presence. But I was not a lesser man.
I was PHANTOM!
As I had done so many times before, I found myself taunting my adversary. Knowing that an opponent who cannot think clearly, cannot fight clearly either.
“What are you waiting for, Beast? Afraid you’ll not be able to stomach a meal such as this?”
He stalked to the left, acutely aware of the sword held out to my right. The crook of the tree I stood against would protect my back, but the monster was still able to flank me somewhat, were he fast enough, due to my useless left arm.
This would be a simple victory for me, had I not lost my guns in our first encounter. However, those pistols were all the beast feared, that is until he saw the flash of my steel once again.
I caught him across the chin this time, drawing blood anew, as he had thought to take advantage of my inability to fight from the left.
This time his bellow nearly knocked me from my feet, as the ferocity of his anger slammed into me like a blow all its own. My sudden recoil did more to further the monster’s cause, as my head collided violently with the mighty tree, sending white flashes through my vision and causing my knees to buckle.
And there was the moment the monster had been waiting for as he lunged forward, claws extended, teeth barred, unleashing all the primal energy his thousand pound frame possessed.
The sound of thunder brought with it darkness… and rest.
Those were the last words of my Father, the Fourteenth Phantom, as he relayed them to me mere hours after his encounter. From his deathbed, he urged me to take up pen and tome, to chronicle his last night on earth.
While many sense impending doom before it strikes, I find that in retrospect, I had no doubt that my father would slay the beast that had slaughtered more than a dozen villagers when the grip of rabies took hold. Never had I thought this aberration of nature would best a man like my father. Despite the rogue lion’s freakish size and hellish ferocity, the thought had never occurred to me that he would bring the end to the one called Phantom.
It was a testament to Father’s mighty will that he survived the initial attack at all. His wounds would have killed a lesser man, outright, and should have laid him low far sooner than they did. I am convinced that his failure to give up in the face of death is the only reason he still drew breath when I found him.
I had taken it upon myself that night to follow my father, believing that even a man such as he would not stand against the mightiest rogue lion the Deep Woods had ever seen. Had my tracking skills been better honed, I might have arrived in time to prevent his mortal wounding and shoot the beast before he could injure my Father.
However, I must take solace that my aim was true and kill the monster I did, preventing him from doing further harm to the man whom I owed everything.
By recalling his teachings, I was able to stop the blood loss and bring him home, where Nuran tended to his wounds and helped him regain consciousness. Once awake, he bid me do three things.
One, tell my mother he loved her, always and forever.
Two, retrieve the latest chronicle book from the chamber and document his tale exactly as he related it to me.
And, three, always honor the mask I would soon wear with bravery, courage and selflessness.
After retrieving the tome, I promised him I would do as he asked and with his last breaths, he told me of his final moments in the Deep Woods.
And this ends the Chronicles of the Fourteenth Phantom, just as it began.
Very soon, the Bandar will gather outside and begin their chant. At that time, I will cloth myself in the uniform of my calling and once I’ve donned the mask, I will step forth into my new life. A life I will lead until death comes for me as well. You see, despite the legends of The Man Who Cannot Die, the Reaper awaits us all. There is little we can do to stave it off, but just as my father did, I will give death such a reckoning that it will know it tangled with a Phantom on that far away day. Only this way, can I truly honor my father’s memory.
But I must attend to matters of today, the chant is calling. Sadly, I shall end this now, and begin my new life. As I do so, I find it only fitting to conclude this tome with the chant reverberating through these hallowed walls right now.
The Phantom is Dead! Long Live the Phantom!
Tune in next week for another great story in MOONSTONE CLIFFHANGER FICTION!