My Heroic Quest is really coming together. I have my Hero in Training (me), I have my Romantic Interest (Rachel), I have potential Traveling Companions (blog followers, writing group members), and I have identified the need to find a Mentor figure.
However, there is a major character in my Story that has yet to be cast. My Nemesis. My Antagonist. The Villain that stands in my way, whom I will have to defeat in Battle to complete my Quest and emerge Transformed. And, although there has always been an ominous, unseen Presence at the scene of every Defeat, every Injury that I have suffered, I have never quite been able to put a name to my Nemesis.
This is a big problem. All of the great Heroes have a formidable Archenemy. Captain Hook. The Sheriff of Nottingham. Agent Smith. The Joker. We would probably still know who Peter Pan, Robin Hood, Neo, and Batman were without their signature Nemeses. But each is made infinitely cooler by defeating a Challenging, Insurmountable, Badass Villain.
The other night, as I was running an errand downtown, I returned to the dark, deserted street where I had parked Rocinante (my fearsome, loyal 2002 Hyundai Sonata) to find that he had been molested. Tucked unceremoniously under his wiper blades, like a flyer for a Nu-Metal band, was an orange, smirking parking citation. Rage! Blind, pulsing rage! I howled, indignant (and quite profane I might say), to the Universe at the assault my Steed and I had just endured.
Just then, I was startled by a tall, thin man in a long coat and funny hat, hovering behind me suspiciously.
“Ah, crap! Where did you come from?”, I nervously queried.
The peculiar man strolled up, examining the scene.
“I followed you”, he explained, naturally, as if that weren’t a creepy thing to say.
I took a step back. “I saw no one.”
He wrinkled his brow and replied, “That is what you may expect to see when I follow you.”
“Did you do this?”, I demanded, pointing to the parking ticket and raising my left leg in preparation to deliver one Deadly Yet Predictable Crane Kick to his throat, or as high as my out-of-shape hamstrings could reach. Could he be my Villain?
The man calmly responded: “My name is Sherlock Holmes. It is my business to know what other people do not know.”
Unbelievable, I know. Play along. Being that I’m a would-be screenwriter, who is undertaking a metaphorical Quest built on a foundation of fictional storytelling tropes, and is inserting himself into fantastical situations with fantastical characters from Literature, Film and TV, well, it’s called suspension of disbelief. In this case, I’ve been reading a lot of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes stories, that is, thinking about reading them. I mean, there are two recent films and two fine television adaptations, so my copy of the Case Book of Sherlock Holmes remains unopened.
Anyways, why not ask the world’s greatest Detective to investigate the Sinister Force that I am supposed to face?
Our Hero: Wow! The Sherlock Holmes! That’s incredible. Hey, you don’t look anything like Robert Downey, Jr.
Holmes (ignoring me): My mind rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere.
Our Hero: Sure. OK. Here is a mystery for you. So, I am supposed to figure out who my Antagonist is. All classic Heroes have to have a killer supervillain. Like how you have Dr. Moriarty.
Holmes (impatiently): Professor Moriarty. You make the greatest criminal mind of his generation sound like a pediatrician.
Our Hero: Anyways, throughout my life, at every turn, there has been an unseen Evil, I think it’s waiting to destroy me. In fact, I think this person is also the one who is responsible for the parking ticket.
Holmes: It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.
Our Hero: But…
Holmes: Data! Data! Data! I can’t make bricks without clay.
I handed him the parking ticket, and he studied it; holding it up to the glow of a streetlight, sniffing it, even tearing off a piece and chewing it.
Holmes: Right. Standard paper stock for a thermal printer, an accessory to an electronic handheld ticket issuance device.
Our Hero: Did they have those in Victorian England? Because that sounds like a continuity error…
Holmes: I require silence! (Contemplating) It is quite a three pipe problem, and I beg that you won’t speak to me for fifty minutes.
Our Hero: Fifty minutes? Um, no. We need to wrap up soon. Elementary is on and I forgot to DVR it…
Our Hero: But…
Holmes: Also, would you have any cocaine? Watson usually carries a stash.
Our Hero: Now you remind me of Robert Downey, Jr.!
Fifty minutes later, the World’s Greatest Detective puffed his last, and tapped me on the shoulder as I took a nap in Rocinante. On his lap was a copy of The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes, which he had fished out from under a Wendy’s bag in the back seat.
Holmes (handing me the ticket): Your suspicions, though lacking data, have proved to be accurate. The person responsible for your parking ticket is the Villain you seek.
Our Hero (squinting to read the ticket): Parking Enforcement Officer Walker? His name is not very menacing… We’ll have to work on that. That bastard! He is behind the whole plot to…
Holmes: I’m afraid Officer Walker is not your Nemesis. We must take your hansom cab to spring a trap for the fiend. Come, the game is afoot.
We drove according to Holmes’ directions, arriving at a familiar two-story home near the airport.
Our Hero: Oh my God. Is my Nemesis here? At my house?
Holmes: It appears he has been and gone. Observe, the unfashionable boot tracks leading to the rear door. Size 12. The wearer is slightly bowlegged.
Our Hero: How can you tell all that?
Holmes: You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear.
We entered my Home stealthily, checking to make sure the Hero family were safe in their beds, unharmed by the Nefarious being stalking me. I grabbed a ping pong paddle to defend myself. As we tiptoed downstairs to the basement, Holmes grabbed hold of my coat.
Holmes (whispering): Now is the dramatic moment of fate, when you hear a step upon the stair which is walking into your life, and you know not whether for good or ill.
He was right. I could hear footsteps just beyond the landing. My Nemesis. I leapt out from the darkness, eyes closed, jabbing my paddle in a blistering attack. Uncovering my eyes, I discovered that there was no one there, just a tall, rectangular object. I strained and squinted to see.
Our Hero: What is that? It’s… the ugliest painting I’ve ever seen in my life. What the hell?
Holmes: Look closer.
I reached in the darkness for the light switch. As the bulb flickered to life, it became clear. It was a mirror. The Villain was me.
Our Hero: What? No, wait. That’s not right. I’m the Hero.
Holmes: Who has attacked you more than yourself? Who has managed to turn Victory into Defeat more than yourself? It is your self-destructive tendencies and self-sabotage that you must destroy.
Our Hero (startled): How can you possibly know that?
Holmes: Elementary. I deduced it. By the general lack of upkeep in the backseat of your automobile, I gleaned that you are chronically disorganized. Also, the book in your car had a scuffed, ripped cover, yet the pages had never been opened; there was a discernible adhesion between each page, and the spine was unbroken. You have owned the book for weeks, perhaps months, but you have not attempted to read it. This is evidence of a person who begins endeavors in earnest, but fails to see them through. For your particular Quest, there is no greater Danger.
Our Hero: But, what about the parking ticket?
Holmes: Still greater evidence of someone who transfers blame for their own failings. There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.
Our Hero: I guess it makes sense. Look at Luke Skywalker in Empire Strikes Back. He went into the cave on Dagobah and thought he was dueling Darth Vader, and it turned out that he was fighting himself.
Holmes: Erm, Skywalker?
Our Hero: Like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Or in Fight Club, when Ed Norton’s Antagonist was himself. Just better looking.
Holmes: I suppose…
Our Hero: So, I’m my own worst enemy. All Villains are really similar to the Hero, they’re just opposite sides of the same coin. And I will face other enemies, like Laziness, Writer’s Block, and most frightening of all, Parking Enforcement Officers.
Holmes: Remember, it is better to learn wisdom late than never to learn it at all.
Our Hero: Thanks, Sherlock. Now that I know who I’m fighting, there are Heroisms all round us waiting to be done.
Several uncertain footsteps at the top of the stairs placed us into defensive positions. I wielded the ping pong paddle, bouncing on the balls of my feet, transferring it from hand to hand. Ready for Heroic Action.
Rachel (groggy, irritated): What the @#$%^&* is going on down there?! You’re going to wake up the kids.
Our Hero: Nothing honey. Just solving a case with Sherlock Holmes.
Rachel: Sure. Whatever. Hey, see if he can help you solve the Case of the Undelivered Takeout. Because you forgot to bring it home.
Holmes: She sounds perturbed.
Our Hero: No shit… you.
Ask yourself, fellow Heroes, who or what is your greatest Adversary? Reply to the Comments link below and tell us all about it.