Rainbow Noir: The Case of Mr. Dismal

Posted on June 4, 2005 by Jenna

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It is at last my pleasure to report to you, gentle audience, more of the history and legends of that magical land of rainbows that is high above the mortal Earth. Certainly you will remember how that land was troubled by the endless machinations of Mr. Dismal, until at last it was cast into shadow and its greatest defender shattered and broken; and you will also remember how, in Rainbow Noir, that defender at last recognized the truths of her own nature and took up the rainbow once again. But what came of her struggles afterwards? I have scrounged the world for this secret, I have plunged into hidden libraries and bartered with eclectic monks; and now, with the final autopsy report on Mr. Dismal in my hands, I think I can explain.

With no further ado…

The Case of Mr. Dismal

Mr. Dismal works in Shadow City. He stamps papers. He files reports. He is a gray little man who moves in a gray little world

It has been seven years since he looked out the window.

It has been seven years since his heart last beat.

But now it is 1952, and out beyond the city, the rainbow stirs.

He hears a sound.

“What is this terrible sound?” asks Mr. Dismal. He listens. It comes again. It is his heart.

There is terror in Mr. Dismal now. There is terror in him, but he must hide it. So he sips from his coffee and he tries to concentrate on his work.

There is a flicker of color at the edge of his vision. He looks south.

Mr. Dismal chokes on his coffee. He staggers away from the window.

“Heaven and Earth,” he says.

The rainbow has returned.

“You are weak, Mr. Dismal,” says Mr. Dismal.

He looks in the mirror.

“Creating Shadow City was necessary,” says Mr. Dismal. “I should not apologize. I must not apologize. And I will not apologize.”

Mr. Dismal’s face is like his suit: pale, cold, and grey.

Barren and cold, he says, “I could not have known.”

It is a bright spring day in 1947, and Mr. Dismal goes to his great grime machine, and he pours translucent crystals in. He stirs, and from the bubbling depths come horrors. These are the horrors that eat apologetic men. They have long arching limbs and those limbs end in hooks. They are like spiders and they are like snarls of twine. They are pale. They are large but they can fit themselves into the smallest spaces. They live in the nooks between the cabinets and the files. They live in the little shadow behind the coffeemaker. They curl up in the tips of his shoes and the corners of untended piles.

And his heart, it does not beat.

There is a trembling and a rattling in the room.

Mr. Dismal walks to the corner. He sits down. He makes himself very small. But it does not help because Mr. Dismal’s nose is very large.

The cabinets fall over.

The door shatters.

“I am here,” says the rainbow girl.

It is 1952, and Rainbow Land is dead. That’s what Mr. Dismal thought. That’s what everybody knew.

There aren’t any colors there any more. There isn’t any rainbow. There’s just Shadow City, dull, gloomy, and drab.

But this girl has color in her. And the room has color in it. And there is a stain of brown coffee on Mr. Dismal’s financial reports, and his skin is the color of smog.

“I do not believe in you,” says Mr. Dismal. “I do not believe in your rainbow.”

The rainbow girl gives him a defiant smile. There is a stirring and a strengthening of the colors in the air.

“It is the weak-minded and cowardly,” she says, “Mr. Dismal, who must deny the truth.”

Mr. Dismal’s nose twitches.

“Go away,” he says.

The rainbow girl shakes her head and smiles.

“I am taking over,” she says. “Do you run this place? Are you the master of Shadow City? Are you the one whom I must topple from the throne?”

Mr. Dismal laughs.

He laughs and he laughs.

“I’m just a functionary,” he says, like it’s the most priceless joke imaginable. “Do you understand that, rainbow girl? You don’t want me.

“Pathetic, Mr. Dismal,” sneers Mr. Dismal.

He looks in the mirror.

“It is an inevitable historic truth that where color flourishes, so flourishes decay. It is color that tempts men and women to lasciviousness. It is color that prompts them to gluttony. It is color that makes the things of the world desirable to us, and it is color that ruins that detachment that allows us to be good. Thus it was necessary. It was necessary and it was important, what I have done. To destroy the the reign of color was worth any price. I must not repent. I must not betray and disavow my principles with repentance. For if I am not constant in my principles then what merit can they have?”

Mr. Dismal’s face is like the world: pale, cold, and grey.

Barren and bitter, he says, “I could not have known.”

It is a sullen winter day in 1949, and Mr. Dismal goes to his great grime machine, and he pours translucent crystals in. He stirs, and from the bubbling depths of the machine come horrors. This time they are the wind-wolves, the horrors of the air that fall on those who admit the flaws in their expressions of morality. They are cold and their eyes are fierce and they are beautiful. When the wind blows, their heads and shoulders stream forth from its gusts. They chase the circling leaves in the streets. They howl in windy nights at the moon. And Mr. Dismal knows that if he should say, just once, that he was wrong, the wind will blow; and the air will chill; and the world will sing with the hunting cries of wolves.

The rainbow girl stares at Mr. Dismal for a long, long time.

“No,” she says. “No. That is impossible. I know your crimes of old. You have always opposed the truth of Rainbow Land. It must be you.”

“He came to me,” says Mr. Dismal. “He came to me, like the King of Shadows reborn, and he said, ‘you strive always to steal the colors from Rainbow Land, without reward, while we work all our lives to give them away for free. Let us compromise. Let us remove this troublesome girl, and drown this land in despond, and sell a tiny bit of color at a time.”

Mr. Dismal’s voice is crisp and precise and he bites out each syllable.

“And I agreed. I agreed because it was right. I agreed because it was good. It was a victory that justified its price. I partake of the profits and I bend my knee in compromise but in the end the acts that shattered you were not mine; and Shadow City is not mine; and it is not my fault.”

“And what of Earth?”

Mr. Dismal clenches his teeth.

“I stole the color from Rainbow Land,” he hisses. “I won. I saved the land. I have always striven to do what is right and what is expected of me and it was not wrong.”

“Did he tell you,” says the rainbow girl, “that I wanted to stop the war?”

“Sniveling worm, Mr. Dismal,” says Mr. Dismal.

Mr. Dismal looks in the mirror.

“How dare you even think of it as crime?”

He’s been staring at photographs of the concentration camps again. He’s been staring at the faces.

“People who can’t live with the consequences of their actions, Mr. Dismal, don’t deserve moral agency. Don’t you dare go thinking that your virtue owes a debt.”

It’s a windy autumn in 1950 and Mr. Dismal goes to his great grime machine. He pours translucent crystals in.

He’s muttering to himself. He’s saying: “There were plenty of other magical kingdoms that could have done something. There were the Bears. There was Voltron. There was God. Wasn’t there? I just wanted to get rid of Rainbow Land’s colors. That’s all I was trying to do.”

He stirs, and from the bubbling depths of the grime machine come the terrible malachite creatures of judgment. These are the things of faces and wings and teeth, great grinding wheels, fires, storms, and ice. These are the creatures that visit themselves upon those who are humble in the face of their transgressions. These are the blades that fall on those who recognize that they have failed to be good. They guard the gates of wisdom and make men believe their own perfection.

“You will kill me,” says Mr. Dismal, “if I falter. If I let myself—”

Then he shakes it off, and he goes to work in the files of Shadow City, portioning out color and the gloomy shadows for yet another day.

His heart still does not beat, and the malachites are watching.

The rainbow girl’s eyes are piercing and sad.

“I want you to go away,” says Mr. Dismal. “Leave me alone. It’s not your place, rainbow girl. It’s not your place to be cruel.”

Then the rainbow girl squats down beside him. She puts her hand on Mr. Dismal’s knee.

“I’m not cruel,” she says. “It is you who have locked away your heart. I’ll free it for you.”

“I did not ask for your help, rainbow girl.”

Mr. Dismal stands up. He is terrified, but he moves with stiff decorum. He goes to his desk. He gathers up his papers. He shuffles them into a folder and begins to walk out the door.

“I am leaving now,” he says.

“You just need a little color to lighten you up,” says the rainbow girl, and she laughs; and the rainbow touches him; and he tastes the rainbow; and the smog of his complexion becomes a pure and shining gold. The dismal garb he wears becomes a rich and textured gray. His eyes sparkle. His moustache shines. And there is something human in his eyes.

The weight of it hits him all at once and knocks him to the floor.

“Oh God,” he says.

The rainbow girl grins. She pats him on the head. “See? Was that so hard?”

He is crying, now, great wrenching sobs.

“Oh God,” he says. And he does not say what he wants. Because what he wants is to find some way to make it right. He wants to give his life in labor and in service and count it as nothing if it should answer the smallest portion of his wrong.

But it would not.

And he does not have that time.

“I’m sorry,” says Mr. Dismal. “I’m sorry I was blind.”

There are noises and there is silence and there is a long, thoughtful pause.

“Huh,” says the rainbow girl.

“It is not meet, Mr. Dismal.”

He stares into a mirror.

“It is not meet for good men to bear reproach.”

It’s almost an hour later when Mr. Dismal’s secretary pokes his head into the room.

“Mr. Dismal?” he asks. “Mr. Dismal?—oh, dear.”

The body is in pieces, and the pieces are in a pile, and the pile is bright with vivid color; and its spine does not work, and its brain does not work, and its kidneys and neck and chest are shreds.

The heart, in the center of the pile, still beats.