Author’s Note: And now for something completely different. As you may have noticed from my piece of metafiction, The Arizona Chronicles, I sometimes dabble in fiction writing. Today I’d like to share with you a short story I’ve written based off the TV series, The Incredible Hulk. For those not familiar with the show, click here.
This tale was inspired by the classic episode “The First”. In this story, David Banner traveled to the town of Vissaria where he hoped the research of Dr. Jeffrey Clive could help him find a cure for his condition. At the library, he learned that another Hulk had haunted the town thirty years prior. Eventually David meets Dell Frye, Clive’s former lab assistant, and learns he had been the creature, but Clive had cured him.
What David didn’t know was that Dell Frye was an angry, vengeful man who sought to regain the power to transform or The Strength, as he called it. The episode did a wonderful job mentioning what had happened in Vissaria all those years ago without going into too much detail, so I decided to supply the back story.
This is written purely for fun and I claim no ownership of The Incredible Hulk or its characters.
The Coming of the First
By Christopher Elston
“Sit down, Dell,” said Dr. Jeffrey Clive.
“It’s bad, isn’t it,” replied Dell.
“Dell, I’m not much for beating around the bush. You’re dying. You’ve got a blood disease and it has no cure,” stated Dr. Clive.
That was it then. Although, he didn’t consider the scientist a friend, Dell Frye did acknowledge that Clive had treated him better than most. He’d given him a steady job and even respect. At 38 years old, Frye felt closer to 88. His health had never been too good. He’d been weak and frail as far back as he could remember. This made him a popular target for the bullies of Vissaria. Even today, Dell was constantly needled and he longed to be strong enough to fight back with his fists. Brad Wheeler, Frank Townsend. Oh, how he hoped he could just once put them in the hospital. Make them feel the way he always felt. Broken down and battered. And now he was dying.
Angrily, Frye pounded on Clive’s desk before burying his head in his hands.
Clive came from around his desk and placed his hand on his assistant’s shoulder.
“Dell, there might be one chance,” said Clive.
Frye’s head snapped up and he looked at his employer curiously.
“I’ve long believed that radiation could be used to treat illnesses. If you’re willing, I’d like to use you in an experiment. I must warn you that the test could kill you.”
“Doctor, I’ve got nothing to live for anyway. It’s worth the risk,” replied Dell.
“All right, we can try it immediately.”
Soon, Dell found himself strapped to the table in Clive’s laboratory. Clive was pushing down the lever that was connected to the panels that Dell had helped him install on the roof.
“Putting it simply, Dell. I’m going to give you a dose of concentrated radiation from the sun. If it works as I hope, it may stop your sickness. It won’t hurt,” said Clive.
Dell nodded curtly as Clive activated the machine. For about a minute, Dell was bathed in the invisible radiation. Then Clive shut everything off. He unstrapped Dell and helped him to sit up.
“How do you feel?” asked Clive.
“The same as I always do. Weak!! Damn it! It didn’t work!!!” yelled Frye.
“It’s a new treatment, Dell. It may take some time before the effects are felt. Just give it a chance,” Clive gently replied.
24 hours later. . .
Dell grabbed the heavy piece of equipment and tried to drag it across the floor. He managed to move it a few inches and then he felt his back go out.
“Auughh!” cried Dell as he clutched his back. He felt his anger rise as pain pulsed through his back.
“DAMN IT!!!!” thundered Dell as his rage reached a fevered pitch.
Suddenly he felt strange. Dell’s body seemed to simmer with power.
“Doctor!!!” shouted Dell, his voice strangely harsh and grating.
“Dell?” a concerned Clive said as he entered the lab.
The sight which met the scientist’s eyes staggered him. The irises of Dell’s eyes had turned a strange whitish green. Dr. Clive stood there, amazed, as Dell’s skin also changed color. Deepening in hue to a dark forest green. Then he began to grow. Dell had been of slightly below average height. Now he seemed to grow nearly a foot in a matter of moments. His thin, frail frame seemed to expand, bursting the buttons on his work shirt and tearing out his shoes and socks. His hair grew into a thick mane. His face shifted and reshaped itself.
Within a matter of moments, Dell Frye had been replaced by some sort of creature. The Creature looked at the piece of equipment and promptly picked it up as if it were a feather. It had to weigh 200lbs!! It dashed the machinery to the ground where it shattered from the force of the impact. An unholy roar erupted from its throat.
“Dell?” asked Dr. Clive.
The Creature whirled around, his eyes fixating on Clive while a toothy sneer distorted its face. A flicker of recognition seemed to pass through the beast’s eyes. With another guttural roar, the Creature brushed past Clive and burst through the heavy oaken front door of the house as if it were paper. The Creature was quite fleet and rapidly disappeared into the woods.
Clive grabbed a blanket and began to pursue his transformed assistant.
The Creature bolted through the woods feeling alive and strong. It seemed to delight in the terror it was bringing to the forest animals which scurried out of the beast’s way. With one sweep of its mighty arm, the Creature managed to break a thick tree in half. Sitting on the now fallen tree, the Creature rested for a moment, its act of destruction calming it slightly.
Dr. Clive quietly came upon the Creature, careful not to draw its attention and he watched as the Creature seemed to shrink and deflate. Muscle vanished and forest green skin faded back to normal pink hues. Within moments, Dell Frye had returned. He blinked his eyes as though waking from a dream, tried to assess his whereabouts, and noticed Dr. Clive.
“Doctor?” asked Frye. “What happened?”
“Something impossible,” replied Clive as he draped the blanket around Dell’s shoulders. “How do you feel?”
“I’m OK,” said Dell and then he paused. “Actually I feel good.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t feel as sick as I usually do.”
“Let’s get you back to the lab. I want to take some blood samples,” said Clive.
Clive explained to Dell what had happened to him. But the blood samples revealed something even more amazing. Dell was getting better. Within a week, his blood disease had completely vanished without a trace. Even more, the myriad health problems that had plagued Frye all of his life had disappeared.
Dell couldn’t believe the first day he woke up and actually felt strong and healthy. For the first time in his miserable life, he actually felt happy. Dell went to Clive’s lab and whistled a jaunty tune. The work was now easier since his body had the endurance and energy to handle it. Clive seemed to be working harder than ever. He was constantly getting blood samples from Dell, mixing chemicals, and forever writing in that journal of his.
Clive had repeatedly apologized to Dell for what had happened and said he would help him. Dell couldn’t figure out why Clive thought he needed help. The experiment had worked. Clive had called the thing Dell had transformed into a monster, but Dell had another word for it. . .The Strength. He could still remember that delicious feeling of immense power that surged through him when the change started and wished he could make it happen again.
The following week. . .
Dell was feeling so upbeat after work on Friday that he decided to stop at the local tavern for a beer. As he stepped inside, he saw Frank Townsend and Brad Wheeler. Townsend was a burly, barrel chested man with a thick blond beard and a full head of hair. Wheeler was more powerfully built with a black, bushy moustache and a balding head. The two of them turned to face the door as they heard it open.
“Well, well, well,” said Townsend. “Look who it is, Brad. It’s our old friend, Delly.”
Wheeler snickered in response. Dell kept a grim look on his face, even though inside he was smirking. “It’s going to be different this time,” thought Dell. He stepped to the far end of the bar and ordered a beer.
“Delly, don’t be so unsociable,” said Townsend. He walked over to Dell and put an arm around his shoulder.
“You know, Frank, there’s something I’ve wanted to tell you for years,” said Dell.
“What’s that, Delly?”
“This,” said Dell, punching Townsend in the mouth.
Townsend fell back a couple feet and looked at Dell with his eyebrows raised in surprise.
“Why, Delly, I didn’t know you got in to that type of fun,” said Townsend.
Dell threw another punch, hoping his now healthy body would allow him to take on the bigger man. Townsend was ready and blocked the punch and responded with a heavy blow to Dell’s jaw. Dell fell backwards into the arms of Brad Wheeler who held Dell’s arms behind his back. Townsend then buried three hard punches in Dell’s stomach.
With each blow, Dell felt himself grow angrier and angrier. “I’m still not strong enough!” cursed Dell silently.
Townsend grabbed Dell by the back of his neck and placed his other hand on the waistband of his pants. “This ought to take care of you,” said Townsend, tossing Dell out the back door and into the alley. Dell crashed into some garbage cans and lay on the ground. Townsend laughed heartily as the door shut.
Dell’s anger had escalated to manic frenzy and then it happened again. He felt the wonderful feeling of The Strength come upon him and he began to chuckle.
“Didn’t think that wimp had it in him,” said Townsend.
“Hey, he threw the first punch, Frank,” said Wheeler. “I’m sure he’s fine. Come on. Let me buy you a beer.”
As the two men headed back towards the bar, an inhuman roar echoed through the night. The two men looked towards the back door which was suddenly ripped off its hinges by the Creature. Wheeler and Townsend literally shook at the sight of this horrible thing. The Creature smiled wickedly as it stalked closer to the two men. The rest of the bar patrons cleared out.
Wheeler and Townsend attempted to keep the pool table between them and the Creature, but it grabbed the table and effortlessly threw it across the bar and into the wall. Wheeler grabbed a pool stick from the rack behind him and swung with all his might. The cue broke over the Creature, but it’s only reaction was to glare evilly at Wheeler.
The Creature grabbed the front of Wheeler’s shirt and threw him to the other side of the bar where he landed on the pool table and was knocked unconscious. Then it turned its attention to its real target.
By now, Townsend had regained his wits enough to try to escape from the bar. As he tried to run, the Creature grabbed him, just as he had grabbed Dell only minutes earlier, and it threw him over the bar counter, shattering numerous bottles. Townsend was badly hurt from the impact and the shards of glass that had cut him. He could hear the Creature walking towards the bar, softly growling with each step.
Panicking, Townsend’s eyes fell upon the shotgun that the barkeeper sometimes used to scare off unruly patrons. He grabbed the gun and rolled over to his back just as the Creature rounded the counter.
Cocking the shotgun, Townsend fired at the Creature and managed to catch the thing in the shoulder. The Creature howled in pain as it grabbed its shoulder. Desperately, Townsend tried to reload the shotgun, but the Creature was upon him. It yanked the shotgun from his grasp and snapped it in two. Then the Creature picked up Townsend and held him over his head. It looked Townsend dead in the eye before driving him, head first, into the bar counter. The Creature unleashed a hideous growl of triumph as it wandered to the center of the bar.
The sounds of police sirens wailed. Deputy Carl Decker ran into the bar, gun drawn. His jaw dropped at the sight of the Creature as well as the carnage of the bar. Before he could fire a shot, the Creature ran out the back and down the alley.
The next day. . .
Dell had gone back to Dr. Clive’s that night after The Strength had worn off. Dr. Clive marveled that the bullet wound in Dell’s shoulder had nearly healed. By the next morning, it was as if it had never been there.
The next afternoon, Elizabeth Collins, Dr. Clive’s fiancée, had come to Clive’s home and related the news that Townsend had been pronounced dead at the scene and Brad Wheeler was in the hospital. Clive couldn’t help but notice that his assistant seemed almost pleased with himself when he shared the news with him.
“So Townsend’s dead, huh?” asked Dell with a smile.
“Dell,” began Dr. Clive. “I don’t think you understand the seriousness of the situation. That creature. . .you. . .killed a man.”
“Doctor, I’m not responsible for that. I can’t control that thing. I don’t even know what happened.”
“Dell, aren’t you sorry that Townsend is dead?”
“No, I’m not, Doctor. Townsend was a bully and he got what he had coming to him.”
Dr. Clive was stunned speechless for a moment. He knew Dell was an unhappy and bitter man. But he was now beginning to see that Dell was also very vengeful and remorseless.
“Dell,” said Clive after a moment. “What was the last thing you remember?”
“Townsend had just thrown me into the alley. And I was really mad.”
“And were you really mad right before you changed the first time?”
“Yes,” said Dell slowly. “I was really riled after I hurt my back.”
“So anger seems to be the trigger for your transformations,” said Clive. “Interesting. Dell, I’d like to get an x-ray.”
Minutes later, the two were in the lab and Dell was strapped to the table. Dr. Clive activated his machine, once more bathing Dell’s body in radiation. Then he cleaned a spot on Dell’s arm with alcohol. Dr. Clive then picked up a syringe with some sort of serum in it.
“Dell, this is barium. It will help the x-ray stand out a bit better.”
Dr. Clive injected the serum into Dell’s arm. Within a few minutes, Dell was unconscious. After a minute, Clive shut down the machine and sat down to write in his research journal.
The experiment has led to brief, periodic metamorphoses of the test subject. Triggered, it seems, by either anger or frustration. The test subject becomes, what appears to be, a primitive double with incredible strength. This creature could be particularly dangerous, I fear, due to the test subject’s inherent personality. It is my hope that by subjecting the test subject to the same level of radiation, I can make him susceptible to this cellular growth suppressant that I have synthesized from pituitary extract.
Although the suppressant has properties that will incapacitate the subject for about 48 hours, I foresee no permanent ill effects.
With a little bit of effort and the aid of a wheelchair, Dr. Clive managed to move Dell onto a cot that he set up inside the secret exit in the lab.
“I should really write up my notes about the suppressant soon,” thought Clive as he twisted a knob on the fireplace in the lab to close the wall paneling that covered the exit.
That was never to happen.
The next night
“Jeffrey, you seem so distracted tonight,” said Elizabeth.
Elizabeth Collins, a petite 24 year old brunette, clasped the hand of her fiancée. She had been a shy, somewhat aloof, young woman who enjoyed reading in the park. She had known of the reputation of Dr. Clive. He was considered the town’s resident mad scientist. An inveterate workaholic, Clive rarely came into town unless absolutely necessary. He had met Elizabeth in the park on a rare day he had taken for himself. They had fallen into discussion about the book she was reading. Elizabeth found Jeffrey quite charming and they soon fell in love.
“I’m sorry, my love,” said Clive.
“Is it your work?” asked Elizabeth.
“In a way,” said Clive slowly. “You know I’ve always been dedicated to healing. I’ve given my life to it.”
“Your compassion is one of the traits that made me fall in love with you.”
“I know the people of Vissaria think I’m a crackpot. Maybe I could be more sociable, but the work is so important. If I could find the key to curing all illnesses, I could leave a great gift to the world,” said Clive as he suddenly began pacing around the room. “A short time ago I thought I was on the cusp of a breakthrough.”
“My work led to something terrible, Elizabeth. Something awful.”
“It’s better you don’t know. But you have my assurance that I have been able to cure it. I think I may even be able to use what I’ve learned to lead me down the right path in the near future.”
Suddenly a loud pounding was heard at the front door of the house. Clive and Elizabeth shared a concerned look.
“Clive!! Open up. Me and some of the other folks want to have a word with you!”
“Jeffrey, don’t answer the door.”
“It’s all right, Elizabeth. They’re reasonable people,” said Clive.
The next day
Dell’s eyes slowly opened. He felt so weary. He looked slowly around as his bleary vision came into focus and he realized that he was in the lab’s secret exit.
“What the hell am I doing here?” wondered Dell.
Dell let himself out and heard the sounds of a woman crying. Walking into the living room, he saw Elizabeth cradling a picture of Clive and weeping.
“Elizabeth?” called Dell.
“Oh, Dell!” cried Elizabeth as she fell into Dell’s arms. “Where have you been?”
“Oh, uh, Clive sent me out of town to get some equipment. What happened? What’s wrong?” asked Dell.
“Some people came to talk to Jeffrey last night. They accused him of having something to do with that creature that killed Frank Townsend. There was an accident. Jeffrey fell down the stairs. Oh, Dell, he’s dead!!” wailed Elizabeth as she sobbed into Dell’s shoulder.
Dell felt his anger begin to rise. Not because of Clive’s death. Sure, he felt a little sympathy for him. But he had long loved Elizabeth Collins and took the job with Clive simply because it gave him a chance to be near her. And now the worthless scum of this town had hurt this dear woman and he would make them pay.
Dell’s anger continued to grow and he almost salivated at the thought of The Strength coming upon him once more. And. . .nothing.
Dell didn’t feel the telltale sensation of power. Then he remembered the needle Clive had dug into him and he realized what had happened.
“No! No! Damn it, no!!” shouted Dell as he ran away from Elizabeth and out of the house.
“Dell, wait!!” cried Elizabeth.
Dell ran into the wounds, tears streaming down his cheeks. Clive had taken The Strength away from him. The greatest gift in his mockery of a life and now it was gone.
“DAMN YOU, CLIVE!!!!” Dell bellowed to the heavens.
Dell fell to his knees and wept until a thought occurred to him. Maybe there was still hope.
Dell returned to the lab and carefully examined it. He found a jar of the substance Clive said was barium, but had, in fact, been the cure. He also removed Clive’s journals covering 1950 and 1951 which would have contained notes on the experiment Dell had undergone. He knew he wasn’t smart enough to read them, but maybe, one day, he would find someone who could.
He locked these items in a trunk which he kept inside the secret exit in the lab. Clive had willed the house to Elizabeth who kept Dell on as caretaker which meant he could keep the machines in pristine condition until he could find a way to release the raging spirit that dwelled within him once more.
Without The Strength, Dell’s body once again began to succumb to the infirmities and illnesses he had always suffered from. Although the blood disease never returned, he developed a severe case of arthritis deformens in his hands as he aged.
Dell grew increasingly bitter as he aged and he constantly wished that each day was the day he would regain The Strength.
Nearly thirty years later, Dr. David Banner had been reading some articles on Dr. Jeffrey Clive and his work in radiation and thought Clive’s research may hold the key to his cure. Luckily, he had enough funds scraped together to afford a bus ticket to Vissaria.
To find out the rest of the story, watch the 2 part episode “The First” of The Incredible Hulk