"Wolverine House"

Andrew F. Sullivan

Andrew F. Sullivan (he/him) lives in Hamilton, Ontario. He is the author of the novel WASTE (Dzanc, 2016) and the short story collection All We Want is Everything (ARP, 2013). His fiction has been shortlisted for the National Magazine Awards and has appeared in Hazlitt, PRISM, Joyland, and other publications.

“‘Wolverine House’ sprang from the collision of reality TV with the superhero narratives that have dominated mainstream storytelling over the past two decades. The Wolverine plays a disruptive role in these narratives, an anti-hero only brought to heel by his community and the burden of his destructive gifts. Representing just a single facet of the military industrial complex propaganda we know as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Wolverine offers a mask for alienated men desperate to define themselves with an outmoded form of independent masculinity that is viscerally determined by an unending cycle of destruction and regeneration. In a house full of attempted anti-heroes, these lonely men discover there is no leader among them — only a survivor.”
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They kicked the first guy out two weeks into production when someone discovered he wasn’t supposed to be within 500 feet of an elementary school. He tore off his costume on the front lawn while the cameras rolled. He was one of the guys still obsessed with the 90s version of the character, shredding his bright yellow spandex into pieces with his claw until all that remained was a blue jock strap. None of this footage made it into the series.

I never learned his name. We all went by Logan in and outside the house. This was part of the contract, one that we all signed in a well-appointed office none of us ever visited again.

We lost the second guy a couple weeks later when the cops picked him up for public defecation in a park nearby. Apparently, they caught him in the act around midnight. One of the producers broke the news to us over breakfast and we all laughed as if none of us had ever shit in a park before, as if we were true professionals who’d never taped on sideburns after a bout of ill-advised hangover shaving in a rundown hotel suite right before a convention appearance.

When I originally signed up, they told me it was going to be like Survivor. I imagined an island with eight identical log cabins. There would be challenges each week to test our physical abilities, knowledge of the character, and commitment to playing the role at all times. It turned out all they really cared about was staying in character. There weren’t even feats of strength or trivia nights to provide a sense of competition. All of my lore and research ended up useless.

There were no log cabins, just eight men in one house, all doing our best to brush our teeth without cutting our faces in the morning. Some of the guys had retractable claws, the real expensive kind that broke on a regular basis if you didn’t oil the mechanism consistently. The producers agreed we could sleep without the prosthetics, which probably saved the company a bunch of money on mattresses over the course of the production. Even so, we all managed to cut ourselves one way or another. I got used to applying gauze to the hairy arms of my co-stars.

The third Logan to leave met a girl online using a secret cellphone he smuggled inside his jockstrap. He identified as Logan on all his accounts, preferring to pose shirtless and dehydrated to show off his impressive abdominals. It took a lot of crunches and more than a few excursions to local saunas while wearing a garbage bag to achieve that look. He peeled off the sweat with the edge of a credit card. As long as he stayed in character, the producers allowed it.

The girl he met online lived on a farm in another state, according to her short bio. He showed us pictures after dark, sneaking into our rooms to brag about her red hair and the fact that her dad was rich and just wanted her to be happy. You didn’t often meet dads like that when you dressed up for a living. Most of them just wanted you dead. His girl had a wide mouth and white, even teeth and looked like she’d been airbrushed to life. He claimed they were going to get married by a bald pastor in a wheelchair and spend their days teaching kids in an old schoolhouse out there on the prairie. I told him that part was likely a lie and he threatened to stab me right there in the dark, claws hovering over my shaggy chest. There were no cameras present. In the morning, he was gone, leaving only a note behind. They shoulda been filming this in Canada.

With only five of us left, we no longer had to share bedrooms. The one we all called Tall Logan got to have the master bedroom on the first floor, right next to the confessional booth. I wondered if he pressed his ear to the wall to hear me or the other guys complaining about the fact that these geniuses couldn’t even respect the basic height requirements of the character.

Tall Logan liked to do his workouts in the backyard, embracing what he called the “wild” origins of Logan, lifting logs end over end while the camera crew lounged on their phones at the picnic table. He did pushups in the dead leaves and ran laps around the neighbourhood in costume. I don’t think the crew realized they were taunting us whenever they ignored our antics for their phones or each other. We were just desperate for some interaction.

Once a week, we were allowed to make a personal call. Usually, I called Ainsley, who I’d met in Indiana at a convention when she was still doing cosplay. She had a lot of characters, liked to mix it up week to week, depending on the trends and what her fans wanted to see. Sailor Moon. Franklin the Turtle. A gender swapped Goku. I admired her ability and makeup skills. She told me I needed to branch out to truly find myself. When we first met, all I did was pirates.

Two more Logans disappeared after they got into a bar fight. Tall Logan and I both agreed they were the weakest candidates in the group. No chins, barely present jawlines. The crew caught the fight on tape and played it back for us at the house. It was a comedy of errors, sound tracked with broken glass and club anthems. We watched these almost clones of ourselves swing wildly at the local barflies, clawed fists barely connecting with their targets.

“Embarrassing,” the widest Logan said. He talked to his mother each week on his personal call. While waiting for my turn, I often heard him regaling her with his meal plan and workout schedule. She was skeptical of his all beef diet. “This is shameful stuff.”

Tall Logan shook his head. “You guys hired amateurs. No reflexes, no instincts. Look at that haymaker. They didn’t even use their claws. Why start a fight you can’t finish?”

No one ever explained what started the fight, but we all had imaginations. A man in a suit of leather spandex can only walk the earth so long before drawing some unwanted attention. It was part of the game, one we all understood when we signed up for the show. We had all been attacked in costume before, even if it was just on Halloween. Getting into a bar fight was fine, actually. The producers they loved the action. We were embracing the animal side of the character. Losing a bar fight, however, was not okay. You had to stay in character at all times after all. If you started something, the producers said, you had to finish it. You had to win.

There were many other names we could have used. Gulo gulo. Quickhatch. Glutton. Carcajou. Skunk bear. We were meant to be solitary creatures, our ferocity and strength out of proportion with our size. We were loud and vicious to our enemies. It was generally accepted that all the Logans could be rude to people in public, but not children. The widest Logan made the mistake of flipping off one of the neighbourhood kids with his middle claw one morning.

“You can’t be serious,” I heard him scream. “You know what that little shitbird called me?”

I was sitting in the solitary oak out back, trying to figure out how I could smuggle a phone into the house. The widest Logan continued ranting, his rage boiling over into shattered dishes and at least one producer shrieking about his glasses. We were living in an altered state, a transient captivity. Even trips to the grocery store required at least two crew members to accompany you. We weren’t allowed to leave on our own. Everything was monitored, even our bathroom breaks. There was some inherent humour about how we were supposed to wipe. That was the only time I ever wished for the real retractable claws, maybe even cybernetic implants.

At the end, only Tall Logan and I remained. I had the entire second floor to myself. I spent a lot of hours reading old cookbooks, wondering if I should become vegetarian, if it was really healthy to eat so much meat for every meal. Ainsley stopped answering my weekly calls, told me I was losing myself in the character again. She had fallen in love with Captain Jack Sparrow, not this beastly man with knife hands that I’d become. I tried to explain that was part of the show—authenticity above all else. If my mask began to slip, I would be sent home. We were a month over schedule at this point. Tall Logan would win. There was no prize for second place.

With only two of us left, there weren’t many crew members hanging around at dinner. I did my best to show off my new workout for the camera crew before bed, a lot of chin ups and body weight exercises that made me gleam under the bright, hot lights. We had to look impressive. When I went to sleep, I let the sweat sink into the mattress like a feral creature in its nest.

“You wanna come down here?” Tall Logan’s voice boomed outside my door.

All the lights in the house were on as I made my way down the stairs. Darkness outside. Tall Logan stood in the kitchen, fully nude. The stove was on beside him, one element glowing red.

“They never really made us test our abilities, did they? They just assumed we looked the part. I don’t feel like anyone really did due diligence on this. I don’t have any scars. My whole life I never scarred. I fell out of trees. Broke a skateboard over my own head one time. Brother choked me with an electrical cord when we were little. But I don’t carry any marks. How about you?”

His eyes were wide open. I finally noticed they were blue. It didn’t fit the character. Maybe he used contacts during the day. Standing there in the kitchen, Tall Logan only wore his prosthetic claws on one hand. Like me, he didn’t have the fancy retractable kind. Ours were always out. They required less upkeep. Mine were still sitting beside my mattress upstairs.

“What about me?”

“You have some scars, don’t you?”

I shook my head. “Not really. Not anything you could see.”

He laughed. “Well, at least they got that part right. It’s the most important part to me. The only way we get the claws is through healing. That’s how we survive. We’re healers first.”

Tall Logan yanked open a kitchen drawer, pulling out a handful of butter knives.

“This could go on for weeks, you know,” he said, placing four knives on the red element, leaving their handles off the heat. “Months even. I don’t think they thought it through.”

It was too late to run. I watched him rearrange the knives, evenly distributing the heat. I searched his body for scars. It was hard to make out in the dark.

“Right, yeah, might have just been a joke that went too far,” I said, already regretting the words. “I thought they’d at least make us run an obstacle course or something, right?”

“Is this funny to you?” Tall Logan said. “Maybe it is. Maybe to you it is. To me, this is my life. This is how I choose to walk around out there in the world. This is me. This is what I have to offer. I didn’t just wake up and put on a costume, alright? Can you understand that? If I wasn’t Logan, I wouldn’t have lived. I would have given up a long time ago.”

He did look the part, minus the height and the blue eyes. He could have played a stunt double in the movies. Maybe even served as a clone for a streaming special with some brown contacts and the right staging for the camera, hiding just how tall he was compared to the rest of the cast.

“This is just a costume to you,” he spat. I didn’t reply. He smiled. The knives were hot now, easy to bend. I watched Tall Logan push one into his forearm. He barely acknowledged the pain.

“There can only be one winner,” he said. “Whoever stays in character the longest.”

I didn’t disagree. He was right. I knew the rules. We had both agreed to the same terms.

“Go ahead, keep up with me now. Show me your healing factor.”

I took one of the hot knives from him. The last time I’d held one was to smoke hash back when I thought I could afford college, before I’d ever pulled on the yellow and blue. I never read the comic books. My only frame of reference were the cartoons and action figures. The role fit me, but now even the handle of the knife was too hot in my fingers. Still, I didn’t dare let go.

“I don’t think this is what they meant,” I murmured. It had been years since I’d wished I was tall. That was one thing being Logan gave you—pride in your stature. And now this imitator had stolen that from me, so much bigger and faster. “I don’t think they want us to do this.”

“Why did you even want to become Logan?” Tall Logan said, grinning. His arm bubbled around the knife, which he refused to remove. Skin fell away, flesh coagulated, the smell like roast pork in the air. “He’s a survivor, isn’t he? He’s can take all the pain and wake up fully restored. He can take all of the damage for his friends, feeling everything, but emerging whole again. Like a resurrection.”

Tall Logan wasn’t wrong. There were times I wished for those abilities. I yearned.

“I can’t do this,” I said. “You can’t either.”

“No one else is here,” Tall Logan said. “When they arrive in the morning, they’ll know who the winner is, won’t they? You could just leave now and no one would miss you. It would be easier for me if you did, but I’m willing to do this all night. I can do this until the sun comes up.”

I didn’t doubt him. His flesh was already ruined.

“Show me. If you don’t have any scars, show me why.”

There was no other option. He could catch me if I ran, make me show him my ability as he called it. I pressed the hot blade flat against my arm, gritting my teeth. Tears formed in my eyes.

“You’re braver than I thought,” he said, chuckling. Another hot knife now in his free hand, the other one still trapped in his forearm like a spike. “The arm is easy though, isn’t it?”

I removed my blade, watched the skin bubble and froth. “Yes.”

“I thought you’d agree.”

Tall Logan trembled as he smiled. Burning hair and flesh filled the air. The house was ruined. There couldn’t be a way to remove these smells, couldn’t be a way to undo this mess.

“Alright, Little Logan,” he continued.

“Let me show you what it means to heal.”

The second butter knife slide through his skin just below the sternum. His body made a sucking sound. He didn’t scream. His eyes went white, rolling back in his head. I watched him push until only the handle stuck out of his chest, glowing in the red light of the element.

“You see, it’s about dedication,” he murmured. “You have to destroy the old you.”

He reached for the last knife, bright and hot. His hand trembled, trying to bring it down into the rippling muscle of his thigh. He couldn’t complete the motion, knife clattering to the tiles.

“To make yourself something… something new.”

He took a long time to die. There was no landline in the house. Most of the neighbours refused to acknowledge we were there. At this stage of production, no one monitored the overnight feeds. I ran outside into the street, screaming for help, my hair still pulled up in horns, my underwear graced with a big black X in case anyone forgot who I was. Sirens eventually sounded in the distance, matching the cadence of my screams. When the cameras arrived, I was still screaming. My last interview happened on the street, my face alternating red and white.

None of this ever aired. There was no payout. No cast reunion. People pretended the show never existed. The production company folded after a series of lawsuits were settled out of court.

Only a flat, pink patch on my arm knows I won.

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