What else was there to do but stare up at the ceiling and wait?
I know that’s a vague beginning to a story but I’m not sure what else to say.
My bruised wrists were tender from yanking against my donut-like bonds. Ever been tied to a pair of gymnastics rings and suspended from the ceiling? Beef hanging in a slaughterhouse possessed more dignity. I willed my wrists to shrink smaller so I could slip free but I was no Mister Miracle. Most superheroes never find themselves in such a predicament.
Me? It’s par for the course.
Ever wish for super-strength? I do all the time but I never craved it so badly as I did at that moment.
Then I heard her approaching again.
“You struggle against your bonds, dah?” she asked in a thick Bavarian accent.
“Dah!” I mocked.
I paid dearly for my insubordination with a swift crack of her whip across my back. I stifled my screams but a faint whimper forced its way past my quivering lips anyway.
“You will not cross me again,” she warned. “Do I make myself clear?”
I nodded in utter and complete surrender. I was a failure as a superhero.
“Good,” she purred. “This is what happens to those who fail me.”
“Yes, Mistress Mayhem,” I replied. “It won’t happen again.”
Mistress Mayhem cracked her whip once more. “No, it will not! You let me down. You let many others down. How does that make you feel?”
“Terrible,” I replied truthfully.
Mistress Mayhem paced around me like a vulture sizing up its prey then stopped in front of me. I had to admit she was quite a looker in her thigh-high black leather boots and matching corset. Frocks of platinum blonde hair peeked from beneath her Catwoman-style cowl. She grabbed my face in her left hand and slapped me across the jaw. “As it should! Look at you! Not even a man! Just a pathetic bug begging to be crushed beneath my feet!”
“Ok, now you’re getting personal,” I added.
Still crushing my mug in her iron grip Mistress Mayhem pulled me toward her. “Tell me how you’d like to be crushed.”
“What?” I asked dumbly.
She pushed me away roughly, causing me to swing back and forth like a child on her sadistic playground. It was kind of fun for a brief moment before I tasted the sting of her whip once more.
“Ok! Uncle!” I pleaded. “Please stop.”
My whimpers for mercy netted me none.
“This will teach you to miss another Halloween Special like you did last year!” Mistress Mayhem barked as raised her hellish whip again. Its sharp tongues tore into my flesh once more.
“For the love of Stan Lee, this isn‘t fun anymore!” I cried and when I say cried I mean like a baby with tears running down my face. “I’m begging you. Please stop.”
“I didn’t hear the safe word maggot,” Mistress Mayhem answered as she lashed my backside again.
How could I remember the safe word with her whip carving my pale flesh from my now-exposed paler bones? All I could think was how it was beginning to hurt like bloody Hades. I vowed not to black out. “Mommy.”
Mistress Mayhem grabbed my face again and dropped her whip. She removed her mask. “Ok, Bug! You’re confusing me. Was “mommy” the safe word or do you really need your mother?”
Kids, a word of advice. Never play kinky role-playing games with your girlfriend if she’s too intellectually challenged to understand where the play ends. Dumb Bunny was a good kid and boy was she round and firm and fully-packed in all the right places but as smart as a brick.
“You didn’t tell me you were using a real whip,” I gasped.
“The White Feather suggested it,” said Dumb Bunny. “He loaned me his.”
“The Feather has a whip?” I asked.
Dumb Bunny nodded. “He offered to loan me his riding chaps too but then got all red in the face like he blurted a secret or something.”
“Well while you and I sort out the White Feather’s orientation, we should introduce our first tale. Ladies and Gentlemen presenting the wrap up to the summer’s biggest blockbuster since shaved ice….”
Dangerous Toys Special Ed.
by a host of embarrassed, unsuspecting FDC scribes
(ok, so only David Marshall is embarrassed but he should be used to it by now)
“So now that we have the preliminaries out of the way, let’s get straight to our first tale by that FDC scribe of scribes….
Mikel Midnight!!! Let’s hear it for him ladies and gentlemen……
The man known as Deep Sea Hunter stared at the wreckage of the small town of Innsmouth. He had fought hard in the decades since the 1940's, briefly alongside the All-Star Squadron and in all the years since, his youth sustained by remnants of Atlantean technology; but this had been his most horrifying battle yet.
"Are they gone?" the young woman at his side asked. "Really, really gone?"
"No," he said, "but Mother Hydra's spawn are held at bay for now. They won't be bothering us again for some time. What code name did you say you used, on your own Earth?"
"Deep Blue," she replied, "but please, just call me Deborah. I've never seen anything like them before. I hope they're not under the surface of my own world, too."
"One universe's worth of Y’ha-nthleians is more than enough," he agreed. "And I'd not have been able to fight them back without your help. Have you found a home, here?"
She shook her head. "Not really had time. I ... I don't want to look up the counterparts of my parents here, if there are any, and ... I just found myself in the middle of this situation with you ... and thank you for not locking me up or something, even though I must have seemed totally off my head when I showed up."
"There are few of us humans at home under the sea, I wanted to see if I could help, and you more than repaid my efforts. Come with me, for now, until you find a place to call your own."
She smiled. "Thank you. Gladly."
My bloody wounds were finally beginning to congeal after Bunny set me free so I tiptoed to the kitchen. At times like these I do what heroes have done since the days of Troy. I poured myself a glass of milk and searched for Oreos.
Dumb Bunny skipped into the kitchen. “Sorry about the whip, love.”
I found the Oreos in the pantry and took them out. I shrugged as I opened them. “No biggie. Happens all the time.”
“But that was the first time we ever….. What are you saying Bug?” Dumb Bunny asked suspiciously.
I dipped an Oreo into my milk. “You know what I mean, baby! It’s just something people say, like “How’s the weather?” or “Don’t worry. It’s not contagious!”.
Bunny wrinkled her face as she pondered my explanation. God bless girls who are too dumb to process two excuses twisted into one feeble answer.
“My name may be Dumb Bunny but I’m not dumb!” she replied. “Well, actually I guess I am. My name is Dumb Bunny after all. If I were smart do you think they’d call me Smart Bunny or just Bunny? Then again my real name is Athena, not Bunny. Maybe I should call myself Dumb Athena. What do you think?”
“I believe we should sort this out while our readers peruse this fine work of comic book goodness by Ed Ainsworth!”
“Duh...God'Sakes. Feel like I've been licking out a bloody toilet,” He got to his feet unsteadily, leaning against a lamp-post as the rain drove itself onto his head and coat. He huddled himself up, desperately trying to light the damp, slightly bent, cigarette. Suddenly feeling the warm embrace of the hang-over that drummed through the front of his brain and turned his stomach a complete one-eighty degrees in place.
“Ah, Shit off.” He exclaimed, throwing the cigarette onto the floor and snorting back the flood of mucus that came from attempting to pull back the dull thud of nicotine withdrawal inside his mind. He blew into his hands, pulling his coat tighter around himself until he saw the fallen form before him.
She was familiar, a slender frame with blonde hair, cropped short to her head. He narrowed his eye for a moment, before taking a few steps further. His jaw dropped, as he immediately dropped onto his knee and scooped his arms underneath her.
“Vera? Come on Love, give us a peep,” He cooed, pulling her soaked head into his chest. She was cold. Stone cold. He ripped his jacket off in a single movement, leaving him knelt in a Union-Jack T-Shirt, wrapping his disabled sister up in his jacket. She'd lost the technological enhancements to her arms, leaving her with stumps that ended at the elbow.
“Vera, come on Petal, you're worrying me,” He lifted her up, touching her neck with his fingertips. She had a pulse at least.
“Ain't got time for this mere mortal crap,” He lifted her up in his arms, and made his way towards the nearest shop front. A large hanging doorway that didn't have any homeless people in it. London wasn't exactly the nicest of cities to be stranded in with nowhere to go. Fortunately, he did have somewhere to go.
~Hat, china, I need a pick up. Dunno where I am, but y'can find us, right?~ Manchester reached out with his brain, drawing on his considerable Mental talents to reach out to one of the people he served on the “Elite” with.
“Dozy bastard isn't picking up,” Manchester said, reaching out for any other member of his team. Menagerie, Coldcast. Nobody was talking.
“Buggery.” He slumped against the edge of a shop front and held Vera close to him. Thoughts raced through his mind. Did someone take out the Elite? Was it something to do with him waking up in London, with no memory of how he got there? Although, that in itself wasn't especially odd.
“How did this happen?” He asked himself, finally getting a cigarette lit, the grey smoke wafting from his fingertips towards the shop front.
“What happened to you, Vera? How did you get in this state?” He asked himself, touching his fingers gently against her forehead.
“If I find the bugger what did this to you, I swear to God, I'll break his fingers off and shove them up his arse.”
He leant back, closing his eyes and letting the wave of Nicotine spread through his bloodstream and into his brain. Maybe it was a good idea to get some sleep. Try and work things out in the morning. He'd have a couple of hours kip, and get himself straight in the morning. Get Vera down the nearest NHS walk-in centre and get her looked at. The cigarette hung from his bottom lip as exhaustion and his own slovenly attitude, linked inextricably with his banging hang-over, slowly lowered him into sleep.
Beneath his heavy arms and veil of smoke, his sisters eyes twisted in their sockets. She desperately tried to get out from her own body.
During the event that had dragged them both from their universe and placed into this one, forces unknown had made her fight her Brother. They were both under the influence of an outside force, but Manchester more so than the others. A deadly cocktail of drugs and alcohol had made him dangerous to begin with, coupled with the fact someone was literally playing with him as a puppet made him more than Dangerous.
It made him lethal.
He'd destroyed her arms with the barest of gestures, scattering the technology into super-velocity projectiles that peppered the buildings around them. Then, he'd done something that she'd never seen him do before. He reached into her mind, and locked her within it.
Her body was now her prison, her mind was a barrier she could never move beyond, and she knew that unless Manchester became as off his face as he did when they fought, he'd never invade her mind knowingly. Even he had some standards.
God knows why.
“I feel dirty just reading about Manchester Black!” said Dumb Bunny. “I wonder if he likes whips and chains?”
“I’m sitting right here!” I replied.
“Oh, don’t be so jealous silly,” Bunny replied. “You’re my man.”
I wanted to act all macho but my tender back felt like it had been stung by ten thousand angry killer bees and left me much to sore to strike a heroic pose. Bunny was kind enough to dress me in my favorite silk pajamas and help me to the parlor. She gingerly sat me in my favorite chair but I dared not lean back.
“Is there anything I can do for you my love?” Bunny asked.
I nodded and pointed to my bookcase. “Daddy needs a book.”
“I had something else in mind but if it will keep you from whining like a little girl…” Bunny huffed. “Which one?”
“The big leather-bound volume on the bookstand that looks like the Book of Destiny,” I replied.
“The Book of Destiny?” Bunny asked. “Isn’t that dangerous?”
I nodded. “That’s why I said it looks like the Book of Destiny, not that it really is the Book of Destiny. I bought it from the FDC Bookstore. I call it the Faux Book of Destiny or F-BOD for short.”
Bunny retrieved the tome and dropped it in my lap.
“Watch the legs! You sliced them to ribbons too!” I cried.
“I wonder what Manchester Black is doing tonight?” Bunny asked.
“Never mind that!” I answered. “Now be a pip and get daddy’s pipe!”
Bunny struck a defiant pose with her hands on her hips. “Really? A pip?”
“What’s wrong with that?” I asked.
“Manchester Black called Vera a Petal and all I get is a freakin’ “pip”?” Bunny shot back.
“Will you stop with jonesing for Manchester Black already?” I shouted. “And get me my damn pipe! I’m trying to set a mood here.”
Bunny perked up. She walked her fingers up my leg and leaned into me. Her lips brushed my ear as she whispered in a low coo, “What kind of mood? Bad Bunny likes your moods.”
I pushed her away. “Not that kind of mood. Just get me the freakin’ pipe!”
“Fine,” Bunny huffed as she stormed off in search of my pipe. She finally returned and shoved it into my mouth. “Probably not even man enough to light it!”
I ignored her taunts and settled in with the elegant volume. “Welcome to the House of Mystery, no wait, the House of Secrets! No, the House of Mystery. I think I liked it better!” I said. “I’ve got it! Welcome to the House of Mysterious Secrets! I am your host A. Bug! Tonight’s frightening tale is…”
“Who are you talking to?” Bunny asked.
“Our FDC readers,” I replied.
“Both of them?” Bunny asked.
I sighed. “Yes, both of them. It’s what I do.”
“Why?” Bunny asked. “Do you have mental issues you haven’t told me about?”
I shook my head and sighed. “You know all my mental issues but this has nothing to do with them. I talk to the readers because I’m an omniscient fourth-dimensional character. It’s my schtick!”
Bunny smiled playfully. “I like your schtick!”
“No, you would have liked my schitick if you hadn’t rendered me helpless with the whip of Zorro, the Gay Blade!” I shot back.
“I thought you were introducing another story,” Bunny reminded me.
“Oh yes,” I replied. “Welcome to the House of Mysterious Secrets, gentle reader! I am A. Bug and the following harrowing tale from Mikel Midnight is sure to make your bones shiver!”
Not all the toys brought over arrived on Earth. Elsewhere, a young boy howled his despair, trapped aboard a bizarre cubelike planet which orbited a far distant star in seeming opposition to all known laws of physics. But that is a story to be told another time.
“That’s it?” Bunny asked. “Three sentences? We argue for one and a quarter page to set up three lousy sentences?”
“Three brilliantly-worded sentences,” I corrected.
“What does that even mean?” Bunny asked.
“I’m not sure, but it makes me want to read it,” I replied.
Bunny shook her head. “I’m dumbfounded.”
I nodded. “You should be used to it by now.”
Bunny‘s cute, upturned button nose twitched in confusion. “I’m sorry, but I don’t get it. Why would Mikel send in three sentences for inclusion in this annual?”
“It’s called a teaser,” I explained.
A wave of understanding washed over Bunny’s face. “Like when I wear the black stockings with the seam up the back of the leg!”
“Exactly!” I shouted. “Except the two promise entirely different things!”
“What do Mikel’s three sentences promise?” Bunny asked.
“I don’t know,” I answered. “We’ll have to read his series to find out. That’s why it’s called a teaser.”
“I don‘t like being teased,” Bunny pouted. “I was hoping for a monster story!”
“You want a monster story?” I asked.
I flipped through the F-BOD and found what I was looking for. “Then check out this one from the warped mind of Dale Glaser!”
Rita Lopez had just resigned herself to lip-reading the latest insipid rom-com which was the in-flight movie when the 767, which should have been smoothly climbing to its cruising altitude for the transatlantic flight from Markovia to Boston, lurched to a mid-air halt. As the cabin steadily filled with the sounds of turbine engines straining and rising in pitch as if trying to bulldoze through a colossal wall, the flight attendants rose from their take-off stations and attempted to maintain some semblance of order among the passengers, but to little avail. Several people seated in the central seats jumped up and crowded across the aisles toward the windows, trying to glimpse what was impeding the jeltiner's ascent.
Rita unbuckled her seatbelt and stepped into the aisle just as a petite, wiry Markovian grandmother would have clambered across her and jammed her bony knees into Rita's lap. Rita was more than willing to yield the view out the window, as she grabbed her carry-on from the overhead bin and headed toward the galley near the rear of the 767.
She spared a moment to whisperingly curse Jeremy Horton's name, parentage and extended ancestry, and not for the first time on the trip. She could not bring herself to even think of him as Governor Horton, no matter how many times the people of Connecticut re-elected him, not after all they had been through together. When the world had known them as Young Heroes, him as the telekinetic Hard Drive and her as the shapeshifting Monstergirl, Jeremy had been the leader and Rita had been the follower. And years later, Jeremy's office had enabled him to secure a staff assignment for Rita in the state government, albeit one which necessarily was subservient. But in all of their bedroom dalliances over the years, Rita had been the one on top, and that rendered honorifics like governor largely beside the point.
To be fair, Jeremy was proving to be a better politician than he had been a superhero. He had done a lot of good for the people of the Nutmeg State. But from the moment he had informed Rita of his latest brainstorm to set up a sister-city relationship between Hartford and Markovburg, which necessitated Rita's trip to Markovia's capital, she had hated the idea. Throughout the entire trip she had suffered a low-grade headache induced by the general unpleasantness in Markovburg: the lack of modern amenities, the people's standoffish character, the food that seemed predominantly flavored with dirt. A delay in her flight home was the last thing that Rita needed.
She reached the galley, empty now as the entire flight crew tried to prevent a panic in the passenger cabin, and quickly removed her slacks and blouse. Under the outfit befitting a member of the governor's staff was a greenish-black leotard. Rita unzipped her bag and pulled out thigh-high boots and opera-length gloves of the same shiny material, as well as two huge red shoulder pads with wicked silver spikes. After quickly costuming herself as Monstergirl, she opened a metal cabinet below the galley sink and kicked at its floor. The panel popped easily and revealed the airplane's cargo hold beneath, and Monstergirl crawled into the fuselage's underbelly.
Monstergirl tried not to think about the fact that she knew the fastest way to get out of an in-flight airplane because of Hard Drive. It was the kind of thing he felt made up a good knowledge base for an effetcive superhero, the kind of trivia he had always been trying, annoyingly, to impart to the other Young Heroes. With her thoughts unwillingly but steadily darkening, Monstergirl made her way to the doors of the retractable landing gear and pushed her way out, transforming as she went into a harpy-like creature with ragged gray-green feathers and powerful talons. She flew towards the front of the jet.
A man floated in the air in front of the 767, with his right arm extended and the fingers of his right hand digging into the nosecone of the aircraft. The man was dressed in clothes that were almost but not quite recognizable, creating a distinctly alien impression: a heavy union suit in light gray with darker accents, including markings across the chest that evoked letters without drawing on any Earthly alphabet, a sleeveless hooded trenchcoat of battleship gray with a reflective silver lining, and a headpiece with orange goggle-lenses. Yet, despite the prodigious display of power in holding back a speeding jetliner with one hand, the man appeared human, with Caucasian skin tone, black hair and a black goatee, and an average build.
"Hey!" Monstergirl shouted, swooping towards the man. "That's not how you catch a flight!"
The man turned his dispassionate gaze on Monstergirl, who regarded his stiff upright posture with its almost military bearing and suddenly wished she had instead made a joke about "flying stand-by". Suddenly the man's eyes blazed behind his goggles, and twin beams of pure searing heat lanced through the alpine air and scored direct hits on Monstergirl's chest, flinging her backwards out of control.
To slow herself down, Monstergirl increased her mass, and within a few moments had reconfigured herself completely. Now she was almost half the size of the 767 itself. Her body was enclosed in a spiny bulbous carapace like the shell of a king crab, born aloft on huge tattered moth wings. A dozen undulating tentacles radiated outward from the underside of the carapace, each tipped with a hooked stinger. Her head was now a draconian nightmare, a hatchet-like snout filled with razor-sharp fangs and surmounted by glittering black eyes. She re-oriented herself on the man blocking the 767's path and screamed as she dive-bombed him, "All right, creep, it is totally on!"
“Now that was awesome!” said Bunny. “I knew there had to be a monster story in there somewhere!”
“Guess what I found?” I asked. “Something I think you may really want!”
Bunny looked disappointed. “I’ve already seen it. I thought we were trying to spice things up. That’s why we were playing Mistress Mayhem and the Pathetic Bug!”
Ignoring the obvious insult to my manhood I held up the F-BOD and pointed to another story. “It’s another one from Mikel.”
“More than three words?” Bunny asked.
“Let’s read it and see,” I replied.
The young blond boy looked at the market stall, hungrily. He caught his cousin's eye, and she gave a hesitent nod. Quickly, he grabbed a handful of potatoes and she several apples, and they ran off down the street, weaving in and out of the other stalls and easily evading the pursuing vendor.
Finally, they made it to the squat they had called home. She plugged in a hot plate to set a pot of water boiling, and they threw in the potatoes along with some some sausages and other vegetables they had obtained on a previous run.
"I can't believe it's come down to this," she said, "us of all people ... "
"I don't know what else to do," he replied miserably. "Both our parents disappeared, our friends don't know us ... it's like some mad scientist with a brain machine has tried to wipe out our very existence ... "
"We'll figure it out, though, won't we? We always do, eventually."
"I'm sure we will," he said, though his tone showed nothing but a brave front over despair.
From the darkness, a voice spoke out. "You won't have to."
The boy stood up quickly, to face the intruder. Energy crackled around his hands. "Who are you?" he demanded.
The man walked into the light. He was older, grey-haired, and his expression was that of a kindly uncle. And yet the sheen of the metallic black bodysuit and the oddly pointed ears made it clear there was something unusual about him. The boy narrowed his eyes. "Wait ... we've met before ... before ... "
The man nodded. "Yes Tom ... and this is your cousin Tina, isn't it? ... before everything changed and you found yourselves lost."
"Sir, do you know what happened to us?" Tina asked.
The Spider looked at them both. "I think I do. I don't know whether I can take you both home, but you don't have to continue living the life you are. Come with me, children, we can get you a roof over your head, and food, warmth, and the friendship of other lost ones like yourselves."
“I thought Spider-Man was a Marvel character,” said Dumb Bunny.
“He is,” I assured, “but this isn’t Spider-Man. It’s simply… the Spider.”
“I don’t like spiders,“ said Dumb Bunny while she handed me an index card with a hastily-sprawled message on it. .
“Where did this come from?” I asked.
David gave it to me off-panel while you entertained our readers with Mike‘s Spider-Man story,” Bunny answered.
I sighed and let it go then squinted to read the no-talent hack’s chicken scratch. “Warp… these…. Upn ow? What the heck?”
Bunny took the note from me and gave it her best shot. “W…. I think that’s a W. It‘s the one that looks like two V‘s jammed together, right?”
“The Rosetta Stone you’re not,” I sighed.
She turned her attention back to David’s note and shook her head in surrender. “Explain to me again why they let him write here.”
“Kindness,” I explained. “He’s been here a long time so they humor him.”
“And that’s why they put up with his rambling, plotless stories and harebrained suggestions to “improve” the site?” Bunny asked.
I shook my head. “No they do that because he’s also an editor.”
My voluptuous girlfriend looked stunned. “That‘s disturbing. Which reminds me. Why are we at FDC again?”
“How many real comic books have you appeared in over the last decade?” I asked.
“An excellent point,” she replied.
“I can hear you,” said a voice from off-panel. “Do not mistake my lack of talent for deafness.”
“Oh yeah? I asked. “You killed me off in the last Halloween Special! I’m still plenty pissed about that!”
David stared at me from his word processor. “But a good time was had by all!”
“All but me!” I yelled back. “I was dead! And in HELL!”
Bunny patted me on the back. “There, there my poor dear!”
“Aaagghh!” I squealed like a lobster in a pot. “The back! The back!”
“Sorry, dear,” Bunny patted my head. “Of course you were in hell. You were in one of David’s books!”
“You guys realize we’re on page nine now, right?” David asked. “We need to wrap this up now.”
I grabbed David’s note from Bunny. “It‘s all so very clear now! It says, “Wrap it up now!” Dude, your penmanship seriously sucks!”
“That’s why I use a word processor,” David explained. “Even I can‘t read my own chicken scratch.”
Such a sad admission by a sad, pathetic excuse of a man.
“So how do we end this?” I asked.
“Just introduce my contribution to the issue,” David replied.
“And now from the mind of the incompetent maladroit who brought you our contribution to this issue….”
The job seemed easy which meant it never was but Catwoman enjoyed a challenge. She couldn’t see the invisible patchwork of laser light but knew it waited for some foolish amateur to cross its beams and trip the alarm. She was a professional and ranked among the world’s best thieves – some would say the very best. As such, she was no fool. No one left a diamond that big unguarded beneath a simple glass display without utilizing insane levels of precaution.
She removed a small aerosol can from her utility belt. The odorless, colorless spray wouldn’t win her any awards from the EPA but it worked wonders for exposing the cat’s cradle of hair-trigger light used in such systems.
Whoever set up the system knew a thing or two about burglary. The angles of the light would trip up ninety-nine percent of thieves. Catwoman was fortunate enough to represent the one percentile that could pull off such a caper.
A quick survey of the room ruled out one-hundred and four separate paths to the diamond, although one path tweaked her professional curiosity. It was certainly possible but much more difficult than several other options before her. It would at least make the job more interesting.
No, she couldn’t risk it! The contract was simply too lucrative! Better yet, the client was a legitimate businessman with no previous ties to organized crime. Catwoman had no idea why he wanted the diamond so badly he would risk everything to possess it but his lapse of conscience left him with a lot to lose so he wasn’t likely to double-cross her at the last minute. She could shelve her cat’s curiosity this one time.
The assumption that the floor was pressure-sensitive ruled out several other approaches so she was left with few alternatives if she wished to snatch the diamond cleanly. She had to use care and be light on her feet. Armed with her trusty can of aerosol she retrieved a small compact from her utility belt and advanced slowly through the beams. At times she felt she was dancing the limbo and at others like a circus freak but she inched steadily toward her prize. When she found the way blocked by beams impossible to cross she used the mirror to deflect them.
At last Catwoman reached her destination and lifted the glass display. She grabbed the rock and admired its breathtaking beauty. Even in its uncut and unpolished state it was magnificent! She was tempted to keep it for herself but knew better. This was no run of the mill diamond and it would draw too much attention to anyone in possession of it. She would leave that headache to her employer and concern herself with exiting the building undetected.
She made it halfway across the room when someone appeared in the middle of it. Just what she needed! Some cape ruining her score!
“Just spare me the requisite banter if we’re going to do this,” Catwoman pleaded. “I doubt your wit is original enough to impress me.”
The woman that appeared donned a red-and-black Harlequin costume. Her face was covered in white clown’s makeup except for her eyes and lips which were outlined in basic black. The black around her eyes formed a basic bandit-style mask. A jester’s crown adorned her head. For a brief moment she seemed confused but then threw her arms open wide when she saw Catwoman. “Selena! Oh thank the stars it’s you! I just had the weirdest feeling… ”
The woman took a step.
“No stay there! Don’t…”
The alarm blared to life.
The strangely-garbed young woman performed a series of astonishing acrobatic moves from one display case to another before nailing a perfect landing right in front of Catwoman and then hugging her. “For a minute there I thought you were some stupid cape or something! What’s our gig?”
Catwoman grabbed the young woman by the shoulders. “Who the hell are you and how do you know my name?”
The clown lady feigned a dagger through her heart. “Who am I? Who am I? You wound me, my dear Selena! It’s me – the one and only Harley Quinn, silly! Your bosom buddy and favorite gal pal! Did you bump your head or something?”
Catwoman released Harley Quinn and buried her face in her hands. “My head is fine but my luck seems quite rotten tonight!”
“Come on, Selena! It’s me… Harley,” the woman begged. “Sheesh! It’s worse than I thought! Why don’t you recognize me? Oh, I know! One of us could be an impostor! Oh no! What if it’s me? That would really suck, ya know? If I’m an impostor you have my permission to kick my butt and turn me over to the Batty Bunch, but if I’m an impostor I could be working for them which means it wouldn’t do any good to turn me over to them, would it? Or maybe I’m in some alternate universe where I know you but we’ve never met! Ok, now I’m talking all crazy! Somebody wake me up! Where’s Mr. J’s squirting lapel when I need it?”
Catwoman pointed to the vapors of light in the dissipating aerosol and then up to the piercing cry of the alarm speakers. “Well… Harley Quinn, do you have any idea what you just did?”
Harley beamed from ear to ear. “Two front somersaults followed by a tuck and a layout! It’s a fairly standard maneuver but looks cool, huh? Did I follow that with a handspring and a saddle-split off that display case or did I drop straight from the big, pretty chandelier with a Swedish fall? See this is why they need to consult instant replay in the Olympics!”
“Look, I have no idea who you are Ms. Quinn, but you’ve probably cost me a lot of money and I’m not someone you want to piss off!” Catwoman bellowed over the alarm. “Not to mention that we have all of two minutes before some member of the Bat family swings through one of these windows on a zip line and things get ugly. I really hoped to avoid that scene tonight!”
A light bulb seemed to go off over Harley Quinn’s head. She jerked Catwoman by the hand. “I get it! I get it! No need to yell! Come on, doll! We’re blowing this joint!”
Catwoman tried to resist but the animated young woman grabbed her so quickly she couldn’t regain her footing. Her thoughts returned to the one thing that could prevent the caper from being a total disaster – securing the diamond. She tried to slip it into a pouch on her utility belt but watched in horror as it hit the floor.
“The diamond!” Catwoman yelled over the fray.
Harley Quinn gathered steam as she pulled Catwoman away from the gem. “The diamond is the least of our concerns, toots!”
Catwoman turned her attention away from the fallen diamond to see what Harley was babbling about. They were headed for a window! She tried to protest. “There’s a better way….”
Sometimes living in Gotham really sucks!
“That’s it?” Bunny asked. “The Dangerous Toys brain trust and our entire stable of writers labored for months to bring our readers the genius of Dangerous Toys and you wrap it up with that piece of birdcage liner?”
“I’m a no-talent hack, remember?” David answered.
Such an admission wasn’t too hard to accept given the usual glaring plot holes in David’s regular titles.
“On the bright side I saved something for you, Bug,” said David. “A present!”
Now the hack was talking! He couldn’t write a haiku if you spotted him sixteen syllables but who was I to argue if he wished to bear gifts? “Do tell!”
David reached into a bag marked “FDC Goodies” and retrieved an action figure.
“It’s me!” I cried reaching for the remarkably detailed handsome sculpt. “It’s a work of art!”
I couldn’t believe it! After all these years, some good old Ambush Bug merchandising! It brought a tear to my eye. After all, I’ve even seen Metal Men figures so this honor was well past due.
“I took it from the Toyman’s stash while the janitor cleaned up after issue four of Dangerous Toys,” David explained. “I know I’ve put you through a lot the past few years so I thought it was the least I could do.”
I ran my hands over the stunning likeness of FDC’s most handsome fourth-dimensional demigod. “Is this McFarlane?”
David rolled his eyes. “Get real! This is FDC, Bug. What do you think?”
“A custom! It’s amazing what some fans can do with an unwanted action figure and a little paint,” I replied. “So what figure did they use for a base? Superman? Batman? Captain Marvel?”
“Perhaps it’s best you don’t know,” David answered.
“Come on, tell me,” I pleaded.
We played that game for several minutes before Ol’ No-Talent finally caved. “An old Marx Toys Archie.”
“I like Archie!” Dumb Bunny cooed. “Let me see that!”
She ripped the action figure from my hand and studied it intently for a few minutes, holding it up to my face to ascertain the likeness. “What an amazing likeness! See? It’s all flat-chested and flabby-armed! How tall would you say this figure is?” “I don’t know,” David answered. “About eight inches or so. Why?”
Bunny walked off toward our bedroom.
“Where are you going?”
“Maybe Archie Bug won’t whine like a hungry puppy aching for his momma’s milk when I break out the black stockings with a seam,” she called back. “Let’s find out how dangerous these toys really are!”
I shook my finger at David. “You did it to me again! And this is a new all-time low, even for you! It’s one thing to humiliate me in Halloween Specials no one reads, but this is the bookend for a major crossover! I‘ll be a complete laughingstock! Can we just end this?”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to do,” David replied.
“Then type the @#$% words already!” I demanded.
“Sure,” David replied. “I’ve done enough damage for one story.”
THE MERCIFUL END