The Undisputed Champions of Texas, Part 18

Aspen’s talented alter ego not only helped with her insomnia problem, but it also opened up a whole new future for her.  She quickly came to the realization that art would be her life, and she dove headfirst into it with a determination that surprised everyone from her parents to her guidance counselor.

“Focus” was never a word that had been associated with Aspen, other than in the context of how dearly she lacked it.  Once she discovered art, however, that changed.

Her parents were relieved.  She was sleeping.  She was happy.  She talked about a future that was non-dystopian.  Whatever supplies she required, they purchased.  They became her biggest fans and encouraged her constantly.

Aspen never told her parents about Art Girl, though.  She understood the superhero genre just well enough to know that her secret identity must be protected at all costs.

But mostly, she didn’t want any grief from them if they decided that turning the city’s streets and sidewalks into her personal canvas was somehow wrong.

That side of her persona was hers alone to cherish, and no one could ever ruin it for her if they didn’t know it existed.

The logic seemed sound.

Because she started putting so much time and effort into her art, Aspen slipped out with her chalks in the middle of the night less frequently.  Ironically, she was too exhausted at the end of the day to find the time for the activity that was the center of Art Girl’s origin story.

When she did find the time to inspire her fellow citizens with chalk art, she took the task very seriously.  She’d often visit the pieces during daylight hours (sans costume, of course) to gauge the reaction of people to her work.

Anytime someone stopped to look at a piece, she smiled.  She had affected a stranger’s life, and in a good way.

It was a feeling Aspen had never before experienced.

During one particularly slow news cycle, a local television reporter did a piece on the mysterious chalk art that had appeared at random intervals around the city.  This was during Art Girl’s Inspirational Quotes Phase as Aspen liked to refer to it.

She’d taken to adding words of wisdom to her art.  The ones featured in the news report were Keep smiling so they know they haven’t crushed your spirit, It’s only a rat race if you decide to stop being human, and Don’t give up hope, there’s always the weekend.

The reporter interviewed people on the street who gushed about how much they loved the art and were inspired by the words.  One of the folks referred to the anonymous artist as a superhero.

Aspen’s parents had seen the piece and insisted that she watch it so she could see the true extent of art’s reach on society.  Aspen was thrilled, honored, and desperate to reveal her secret to her parents, but she held her tongue.

This was her greatest triumph to date, but she couldn’t tell anyone it was her.  Aspen probably would have been more disappointed about that if she’d actually had any friends with whom she could confide her secret.

It was the day after Aspen learned that she had a city full of fans that she discovered she also had an archenemy.

short story, serial, Modern PhilosopherNigel Providence looked like a pathetic Reservoir Dogs cosplayer.  At least that was Aspen’s initial assessment of the man the first time she laid eyes upon him.

He wore a dark suit, a white shirt, and a thin black tie just like the characters in the Tarantino flick.  He was also extremely overweight and sweated profusely.

He had a pressure washer backpack on over his suit, and was using it to wash one of her pieces of chalk art off the sidewalk in front of the comic book shop.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing, Mr. Pink?” Aspen yelled to be heard over the noise of the pressure washer.

Providence wore ear protection and had his back to Aspen, so he neither saw, nor heard her.  Not one to be ignored, Aspen walked up to the stranger and tapped him on the back.

Maybe she shoved him.  It was definitely more than a love tap.

He gave a surprised yelp and dropped the end of the pressure washer that was blasting the chalk with water and cleaning solvent.  Then he turned to face Aspen, who stared at him defiantly, and motioned for him to remove the ear muffs.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing, Mr. Pink?” she repeated louder and with more disdain.

The oddly dressed man looked at her in confusion as he turned off the pressure washer.

“You must have me confused with someone else,” he explained.  “I’m not Mr. Pink.  My name is Nigel Providence.”

“Like Rhode Island?” she asked.

“No, like the protective care of God.”

Providence noticed her blank stare, so he explained his words just like he had done countless times already in his life.  “The protective care of God is the dictionary definition of providence.  And who might you be?”

“I’m a very pissed off citizen, who doesn’t think you should be using your Super Nerd backpack to wash away such a beautiful piece of art.”

Aspen knew she had to tread lightly.  She didn’t want to betray that she was the creator of the image that was being washed away into the sewer, but she needed to make it clear that she would not tolerate such actions by anyone.

“I’m an irate citizen who believes that hooligans should not be allowed to deface city property,” he countered.  “I suppose that puts us on opposite sides of this philosophical seesaw.  However, it looks like I win, since I possess the means to rid our sidewalks of this filth.”

He smiled smugly, which really upset Aspen.  He moved to turn on the device again, but Aspen slapped away his hand from the dial.

Providence reacted as if Aspen had just run a sword through his flesh.  He looked around for witnesses to the assault, but there were none.  To clarify, there were dozens of passersby, but they were all minding their own business as per usual in this city.

“You have no right to strike me,” he stated.

“And you have no right to wash away that art,” she growled.

“One person’s art is another person’s act of vandalism,” he replied.

Providence claimed victory in the debate by turning on the machine and washing away the rest of the drawing.

Aspen stormed off in a huff and plotted her revenge, but not before unleashing a torrent of curse words that would have made the characters in Reservoir Dogs blush.

short story, crime, mystery, Modern PhilosopherIt turned out there wasn’t really anything Aspen could do to stop her nemesis.  As much as her alter ego had the right to draw on the street and sidewalks, Providence had the right to obliterate the artwork.

The police refused to take sides because there were much larger problems to deal with in the city, so Aspen tried to get the masses behind her.  She went to the reporter who did the story on the drawings and asked for her help.  She also appealed to the newspapers and took to social media.

Even with the people behind her, Aspen couldn’t stop the guy in the black suit from erasing all the good she’d done.  Church groups and Conservatives threw their money, support, and influence behind Providence.

If anyone tried to stand in his way, they were threatened with lawsuits and boycotts.

Aspen tried to keep ahead of the pressure washer by going on middle of the night drawing sprees for two weeks in a row, but while she slept the next day, Nigel Providence washed away all her hard work.  And he did it with a smug smile that haunted Aspen’s nightmares.

Aspen’s parents could see that the issue was taking a toll on her, and tried to put it all in perspective.  They didn’t quite understand why she was so passionate about saving the chalk images, but they enjoyed seeing her take an interest in community matters.

“Sometimes, the people with the most uptight views get their way because the rest of the world gets so exhausted from trying to pull that stick out of their you know where that they finally just give up and let them win,” her Dad explained awkwardly one night in an attempt to relate.

“I just think it sucks,” Aspen lamented as she flopped down on the couch.  “What harm is there in positive messages and colorful drawings?  Why do the Nigel Providences of the world get the final say in such matters?”

“It does suck,” Mom agreed.  “I could go on a lengthy rant about how the world isn’t fair and how money and Bible thumping allows people to get what they want because politicians have no backbones, but I’ll spare you the rant.  What I will do, though, is encourage you to grow up to be a voice that isn’t satisfied with allowing those pricks to have the final say.”

“They might win a majority of the battles, but when you survive to dance on their graves, you win the war,” her father explained with a wink.

Aspen didn’t always understand her parents, but that night, she felt like they were on the same wavelength.  She made a promise to herself to always be a grave dancer.

**************************

As it turned out, Nigel Providence and his pressure washer faded into oblivion less than a week later.  No one was ever sure why.  The man simply disappeared.

Without the guy in the black suit to get behind, his supporters quickly forgot about how much they hated chalk art and moved on to the next item on the agenda that offended them.

***************************

Nigel Providence went out for a walk the very same night that Aspen’s parents gave her that pep talk.  He was in a wonderful mood.  Suddenly, he was popular.  People recognized him on the street.  Kids asked for his autograph.  Radio hosts wanted to talk to him.  An article in the Style section of the Sunday paper gave him credit for making the black suit and thin tie fashionable again.  There was even talk of his running for public office.

He whistled as walked.  Maybe that was why he didn’t hear the footsteps.  Then again, he probably didn’t hear the footsteps because the men making them knew how not to be heard.

“Aren’t you Nigel Providence?” a voice called out in the dark.

Providence smiled at the thought of yet another fan eager to meet him.

“Yes, I am,” he replied with a smile as he turned to the voice.  “And who might you be?”

The three men standing on the sidewalk were not smiling.  They wore the colors of the Heathens and were armed as such with a bat, a pipe, and a length of chain between them.

The leader of the trio was known as Raptor, but he chose not to introduce himself that way.

“We’re the local chapter of the Independent Artists Support League, and we’re here to explain why you are never again going to wash away another piece of chalk art in this city.”

******************************

Three days later, upon discharge from the hospital, Nigel Providence threw away his pressure washer.  Then he called the HR Department at his place of employment and requested a transfer to an office in another state.

He didn’t care where they sent him, just as long as the city did not have an Independent Artists Support League.

****************************

A week later, Art Girl drew a headstone on the sidewalk outside the comic book store where she’d first met her archenemy.  Then she added an array of colorful animals around the stone.

Satisfied with her work, she let out a mighty whoop and then danced happily upon her artist’s representation of Nigel Providence’s grave.

TO BE CONTINUED…

About Austin

Native New Yorker who's fled to the quiet life in Maine. I write movies, root for the Yankees, and shovel lots of snow.
This entry was posted in Humor and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to The Undisputed Champions of Texas, Part 18

  1. kristianw84 says:

    I LOVE this!!! The more I read about Aspen, the more I like her!! I love the Resevoir Dogs references, too!

    • Austin says:

      Aspen is a lot of fun to write. When I turn the serial into a novel, I will definitely expand on this chapter and the previous one.

      I want to write more about Aspen’s battle with Nigel Providence, but that would have been far too long for the serial…

      • kristianw84 says:

        I am excited to see where this goes, and looking forward to what you do with the novel version!! I so enjoy discussing your characters and stories with you!

      • Austin says:

        I’m thrilled that you enjoy it. It’s a blast for me to get your feedback and then talk out the chapter with you. Love the enthusiasm and the instant input. Thank you!

  2. markbialczak says:

    These latest chapters are feeling a lot like stand-alone short stories wishing the big picture, Austin. In fact, they’re feeling like episodes in a TV series, or movies within a new franchise universe …

    • Austin says:

      Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

      I was telling Kristian earlier that I definitely plan to expand these last two chapters when I turn this into a novel. I couldn’t go into great detail as part of a serial on a blog.

      The more I write Aspen, the clearer it becomes that she is the focus of the book. Part I could be The Rise of Art Girl and Part II could be The Undisputed Champions of Texas. Perhaps Part III is simply the chaos that ensues when those worlds collide….

  3. beth says:

    isn’t it interesting how characters sometimes seem to push themselves into place in an unexpected way in a story?

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