It was the era of the Great Depression in the United States, and all of the nation’s people started to suffer from it. Work was scarce. Necessities were much harder to come by. And those that could not afford work, a roof over their heads, or an honest living turned to much more desperate measures like crime. But unlike those driven to the end of their ropes to get by in this harsh life, there are those whose intentions remained whole, focused, and determined.
In the region of New Jersey lived a young man by the name of Vic Antonelli. Born to Sicilian immigrants, he learned the ways of making one’s life fulfilling by relying on one’s wits from his father, who ran with the most unsavory of crowds. Not for the satisfaction of self-gain and robbing the less fortunate, but to help to provide those who did not have the means of living in these harsh, depressing times. It was this lifestyle, this code of honor, that Vic took to heart.
For Vic, to go about this life was using a mix of honesty and discretion. He would take up honest work in any odd job or establishments that were meant for the middle or higher class. The discretion came nearly two or so weeks into the job when he would make secret deliveries and drop-offs for his poor neighbors and fellow Sicilians. And before the companies and businesses could find out about his exploits, Vic quickly disposed of any evidence or proof that he was ever hired or worked for them at all, like he had not existed at all. Because of these selfless acts of service for his poor community, while putting himself on the line, those that knew him closely or locally would go on to give Vic the name “Scavenger”; a name that brought hope and reassurance to the poor and unfortunate in this Great Depression. Even with these talents and altruistic outlooks, Vic had never once thought of himself before anyone or anything else. And with said talents, it caught the eye of someone influential within his hometown. A man by the name of Benjamin “Big Ben” Rizzo.
A rugged, portly man born to an English mother and Italian father, quickly rising to prominence in the sophisticated criminal underworld, Big Ben was a man of class, etiquette, and standard in the eyes of the general public. And when he had heard of the valiant, selfless efforts done by this “Scavenger”, Vic Antonelli, Big Ben knew he had found the right man to recruit into his crusade. But for someone like Vic, who had promised himself not to affiliate with the likes of criminals, there was something about Mr. Rizzo that said genuine, charismatic and wanting to be a victor for the people, just like himself. So, Vic took the opportunity by hand and accepted Rizzo’s proposition.
More than a few months passed, and Vic had become one of Ben Rizzo’s top runners and affiliates, taking much riskier jobs that involved infiltrating rival mobs that were up in the pecking order. Just as he has done with working other jobs around his neighborhood, Vic would work under these competitors under the pretense of being a reliable transporter and smuggler of special goods and resources that are denied his poorer, fellow man. In Vic’s eyes, these mobs were no better than the higher-class jobs he had worked under before. And when all was said and done, Vic cut his ties and redirected all resources to his neighborhood. But this time, he was told by Rizzo to run said resources and goods through him beforehand.
This pattern would continue for quite some time. And after many months of risking his neck for the good of his community, Vic found himself elevated from runner to being in Rizzo’s circle. An honor symbolized by Rizzo bestowing a bright, dazzling chain necklace made of sterling silver. Something nearly eye-catching as the chain Rizzo wore; a thicker chain made from gold with a large, faceted ruby hanging from it. The men in the inner circle called it the Crown Jewel, a symbol of honor, respect, and dominion over the mob. Then, Big Ben got up from his high-and-mighty chair of pure leather, placing one meaty hand on Vic’s shoulder, and he said proudly, “Men! I ask you to look at this fine specimen and learn. This is what dedication, loyalty, and persistence will get you in life! Learn from Vic Antonelli. Learn from the Scavenger!”
To hear the cheers and feel many slaps on the back from his fellow mobsters was enough to make Vic feel all warm and accepted. And yet, he wondered if his late father would have approved of this life he had amounted for himself right now.
Much more time would pass, and Vic started to enjoy more of what men in Big Ben’s upper circle had to offer. Every restaurant gives him seats fit for the upper class. Tickets to first-row seats in the local sports games. And the best of all was the respect and praise from everyone in and out of the mob circles, including women. But all seemed to be too well in Vic’s eyes as if it were too good to be true.
Whilst he was out and about on one of his routine patrols around the mob’s jurisdiction, which happened to be close to his hometown, Vic looked around the area to see if all he had done for them while working under Ben’s wing had amounted to anything for them. Much to his surprise, everyone within his hometown still wallowed in squalor and unfortunate poverty. It was as if nothing had been done to help them at all. He had thought for sure that running all the spoils through Big Ben would have still made its way to his home, to his people. Frustrated and distraught at this, Vic made his way back to the Inner Circle, a speakeasy where Ben Rizzo held his power high.
On the outside, it was an old, run-down bar that had been condemned due to the depression. But deep down below, it not only was a sophisticated, classy saloon that would have made it big in the wild west, but it was also where Ben Rizzo reigned as boss and king, and where his word and decision are law.
Vic did not waste any time with the pleasantries the people in the Inner Circle tried to offer him as he marched straight to Rizzo’s office at the far end of the bar. He slammed the door open to find his ‘boss’ lounging back on his chair of high-quality leather, counting away the endless stacks of money arranged in columns. Big Ben looked up to see Vic standing with a straight, yet frustrated look on his face, and he said, “Ahh, Victor. How nice of you to drop by. What brings you here, old chap?”
“Don’t start,” said Victor. “I just wanna know one thing. Why? Why did you lie to me?!”
Ben raised one confused eyebrow and replied, “I am sorry. I have no idea what you are—”
Victor slammed one hand on the table and brushed away the money with the other as he belted out, “You tricked me! Used me! And worse, you have done my people wrong!”
The calm, composed demeanor of Ben Rizzo washed away to reveal a much more stony, sinister one. He glared at Victor with intensity. “I liked you, Antonelli. But now that you know what we all know, I am afraid I cannot leave any loose ends. I am sorry, dear friend, but business is business.”
With a snap of his meaty fingers, a small group of men surrounded Vic, all brandishing billy clubs. Vic tried to get away from them, but their combined strength held him back from escaping. He suffered every beating they gave him until he fell to the floor. Rizzo then ordered his men to dispose of Vic, fearing that he would speak of the knowledge he had of them, for it would jeopardize everything they have amounted so far. So, they took him to the best place for him to lie and rot.
They drove him near the district’s end to a secluded and barren block, where they often left others who threatened to rat out the truth of the real Big Ben Rizzo. Dumping Vic here would be of little concern since there had not been a sign of life or authority around for more than a few years. And there they left him, all alone in the cold space of a dead town. Near death, Vic used what little strength he had left to try and crawl his way out of the dark and damp alleyway. The pain was too much for him to bear, and his eyes started to become heavier with each passing moment. And then, Vic laid his head down out of exhaustion and closed his eyes for what felt like the last time.
Sometime after, Vic awoke to the sound of a couple of individuals hustling and moving about. All the clattering and chatter bounced and echoed off of the empty halls and walls of what seemed to be an old, abandoned factory. From what Vic could make out from his blurry vision, there came a middle-aged man with greying sideburns complementing his already thinning, dark hair on top, wearing a dingy lab coat and thick-framed glasses.
“Do not be afraid, young sir,” he said with a thick German accent. “My name is Doctor Heinrich Brauer. You were very fortunate that we found you out there. Even more fortunate that you will be the first subject in our experiment. This, in return, shall save your life and restore you to your proper self. Do you accept this? Blink twice if you understand.”
Seeing no other option, or having the strength to get up and leave, Vic slowly blinked his eyes twice. The old doctor then gave a slight grin, and he said with a hint of enthusiasm, “Gut! We shall begin with administering the special serums. This might pinch a little.”
As he lay there on the cold, metal slab, he felt the slight sting of three needles in his neck, abdomen, and one of his legs. And from what Vic could make out of the syringes were the strange label designs imprinted on them, most of them resembling that of three animals: a jackal, striped hyena, and a cape vulture. Just then, he felt a stinging and burning pain inside. It hurt him so much, Vic slipped out of consciousness yet again.
Vic woke up yet again, no longer feeling that stinging pain from before. Only this time, he found himself in a much bigger room. So big that it could fit two courtrooms. The silence was broken when Vic heard the familiar voice of Doctor Brauer call out to him.
“Good morning, Mr. Antonelli,” he said dryly. “Yes, we know who you are. How we do should not concern you.”
“Who are you,” Vic yelled, trying to find his way out of this giant room. “Is this some kind of joke? I should be dead!”
“That is true,” replied Brauer. “But thanks to us, we have pulled you out of that hole and given you another chance. Now, if you don’t mind, I request that run a few or so laps around the room.”
Seeing that he had no other say or way out of this situation, Vic decided to humor this doctor for the time being, and he started to run. After about the second and third lap around the room, Vic started to notice some things differently when he saw his reflection in a wall of mirrors at the front of the room. Things such as the change in his physique, having more tone in his muscles, and sporting more of an athletic build. And even more strangely enough that he did not feel withered down or exhausted in the slightest since he remembered barely keeping up with his schoolmates during gym or recess when he was much younger.
As Vic kept doing laps around the room, he was unaware that Doctor Brauer and a few of his subordinates were watching from behind the wall of mirrors.
“As you can see, the first test is coming along just as expected,” said Doctor Brauer to the other scientists at his side. “Using the genetic samples of animals based on the individual’s profile and background, we can see that the serums help restore and amplify a person’s physical being to a higher degree. We shall continue to observe and see what more impressive feats our subject shall continue to show.”
And so, for the ongoing week, they continued to observe Vic. Further observations showed that not only his speed improved, but Vic’s strength and endurance as evidenced by performing far leaps and dodging the swinging hooks and chains hanging from the ceiling. In the eyes of Doctor Heinrich Brauer, the results of this experiment were all coming along a lot better than anticipated. That is until Vic started to exhibit rather odd and changed behaviors, particularly in the craving for raw meat and the aggression that followed after taking it. This, alone, baffled Brauer and his colleagues. But against better judgment, they continued to observe and study where this change in the experiment would lead.
Another few days passed and Vic felt lost in a sea of his isolation, all alone with his maddening thoughts. Not only was the hunger tearing away at his sanity, but the overwhelming and haunting flashes of the day that he was betrayed and left for dead. In that instant, a searing pain shot through his chest, then up to his head. Vic collapsed to the floor, holding both his chest and head as he cried out in pain. Alongside his pain, he started to notice some things changing about him. The hair on his body turned into fur like that of the striped hyena. His arms and hands elongated to an unnatural length, along with his fingers turned into razor-sharp claws. Legs and feet molded into that of a vulture’s talons. Out from his back also came the wings of a vulture, but with a much larger span. The last to change was his head, now taking the form of a jackal with piercing yellow eyes. Vic struggled to balance on his new legs, stumbling his way over to the wall of mirrors, and flinched when he saw the frightening visage in his reflection. He let out a scream; a scream that was a mix of a jackal and hyena’s call, enough to send shivers down the spines of the scientists. All except for Brauer, who was brave enough to step inside the room.
“Mr. Antonelli?” Brauer asked as he stepped cautiously. “Are you all right?”
As Brauer got closer than ever, he placed a hand on Vic’s furry shoulder. Suddenly, a raging thought raced through Vic, and he burst through the mirror wall, knocking down everyone in his path. After finding the exit out of the abandoned factory, he climbed up to the very top to get a good view of his surroundings. With his newly keen vision, Vic saw the Inner Circle from far away. Then, he unfolded his great wings and took off on the wind’s back.
He came to a slow and steady descent as he landed on the roof of the abandoned bar and secret hideout of Big Ben Rizzo. He looked all around the area while scaling the walls of the building until he spotted a handful of men pacing back and forth in front of the bar’s entrance. Quickly and silently, one by one, he picked them all off like a predator in the harsh and cruel wild. He broke into the bar and crashed through the secret entrance leading down into the speakeasy. Everyone present was all shocked and terrified at the massive beast that towered over them. Before they could fire off a shot or beat him with their billy clubs, all of them fell victim to the creature’s razor claws and teeth.
The last room Vic entered was none other than the office of Rizzo, whom he found cowering at the head of the long table. With impressive strength, Vic flung the table away and stepped ever so close.
“Wh-who or wh-wh-what are you?!” Rizzo exclaimed.
“Sorry, old friend,” Vic growled, staring more intensely while baring his sharp, drooling fangs. “It’s just business!”
Without warning, Vic pounced and tackled Rizzo to the floor, sinking his teeth into his fat neck. When he felt the life leave his former boss’s life, he began to rip and tear at his body, devouring his insides with ravenous hunger. And at that moment, the reign of Big Ben Rizzo was no more.
For what seemed like more than a few days, Vic woke up to find himself back in the same room he was kept in, feeling his arms, legs, and neck chained up to the wall. Adding more to this, he felt something in the clutch of one of his clawed hands. And in his hand, he held the Crown Jewel pendant. The only conclusion he could think of is that he took it while in his feral state. His train of thought was cut off when he saw Doctor Brauer step into the room.
“I trust that you are feeling better now?” Brauer asked with concern.
“How, or why, did I come back here–,” Vic wondered, only more shocked at the changed tone in his voice, which had a more British sound to it. “Wait! M-my voice! What happened to my voice?!”
“Now, now, calm down,” Brauer interjected. “If what my studies show from these past days, it seems that you have assimilated the traits of whomever you have devoured that night, adding more to your evolving genetics. Disturbing, yet fascinating.”
“But, how did you know about–,” Vic started to ask but was cut off when Brauer showed him the newspaper detailing the scene of the massacre and the sighting of the strange creature fleeing from there, calling it the New Jersey Devil. Vic cringed with fear, and he yelled out, “What am I? WHAT AM I?!!”
“I do not know,” said Brauer, kneeling beside Vic to meet him at eye level. “But what I do know is this. You are still Vic Antonelli, and also something beyond that. What you decide to do with this is all on you. So, what shall it be?”
He took the doctor’s words close to heart.
With this newfound power and evolution, Vic continued to prowl the nights, hunting down the corrupt and robbing them of their riches, giving them to the less fortunate as he did before. Those within the poor neighborhoods have found their porches and sidewalks riddled with food, necessities, and mounds of money. While they rummaged through all of these gifts, most managed to catch a glimpse of the creature flying above in the night sky. Most within the Sicilian neighborhood where Vic came from often suspected that their kind, all-giving Scavenger, and the New Jersey Devil were one and the same. From then on, they revered the Scavenger, the New Jersey Devil as their provider and protector for generations to come.