The woman wandered, alone, through the echoing hallways. Her dress torn
to shreds, the cameo missing, her hair a mess, her feet bare. The chain
on her locket was broken and so she walked around clutching it tightly in
her hand. She does not know the others. Her voice trembled slightly as if
she feared something and lacked sleep, and stared as if in entreaty at her
locket as she whispered a poem to herself:
"Not with a club the heart is broken,
Nor with a stone
SOLO LEGION OF THE STRANGE
"The Peril of Paperface"
Manhattan Island, the Legion HQ Complex
Niles Caulder's attention was focussed on the Hyper-hat, designed by the super-science
of the brilliant crippled genius leader of the Legion of the Strange to connect
his consciousness with every point in the known universe. He searched, as always,
for newly actualised superhumans, those whose assets would be of use to the Legion
of the Strange. He sensed one ... a child still ... with the potential for great
psychic abilities ... but there was something else, another malefic consciousness
underlying the child's ... and then with a light touch on his shoulder, the link
The Chief sighed, and removed himself from the cerebral link. He looked up to
see his teammate, Kay Challis, aka Elastiwoman. "Kay, is there an emergency?"
She shook her head, "No, Cliff and Larry accompanied Doctor Thirteen in investigating
a rumor of the Mocker's return, but I'm sure it's nothing they can't handle."
The Chief scowled, "They should have consulted with me first. Doctor Thirteen
is a competent scientist, but ... "
Elastiwoman interrupted him. "No, I suggested they go alone. Someone wants
to talk to you."
He furrowed his brow. "Was there a phone message? The Hyper-hat should have
... oh." He stopped when he saw the features of Elastiwoman's face change
just slightly; nothing an outsider would have noticed, a different sparkle in
her eye, a quirk in her lips. The touch of her hand on his shoulder became different,
less familial, more seductive. "Bonjour, mon cheri. Was Laura DeMille a rogue
to assume she would be welcome?" she said in a native-born French accent.
He pulled her down to him, pressing his lips to hers. "Laura, you know you
are always welcome." She curled up in his lap, purring like a French kitten,
and he activated his Comfee hover-chair to head to his private quarters.
As they undressed, she suddenly hugged him tightly, desperately. He stroked her
hair gently, peering at her face. "Tell me you love me, Niles, please?"
She sounded much younger, her accent native to the Indian subcontinent. He kissed
her softly, "I will always love you, Arani, always."
Later, the two of them were in the reading room, sorting through the Legion of
the Strange's fan mail. Niles heard a sigh from the other side of the room. "Something
the matter, Kay?"
She shook her head. "Just more fan letters asking me when I'm going to make
another movie. I wish people could believe I've left that part of my life behind."
He smiled, "You are still very popular, it's nothing to be ashamed of. What
are you holding? It appears to be a legal document."
She flipped through the several pages of the document. "It is ... it's a
letter from a lawyer. I've inherited a house."
Niles Caulder maneuvered his chair over to where she sat, and she turned the papers
over to him. He read through them quickly. "Yes, it appears that you have.
Have you heard of this uncle of yours, Guillaume Beaubier?"
She shook her head. "Vaguely ... I think he married into the family. I suppose
I should go and check it out."
Niles nodded, "Just be careful, Kay."
She chuckled, and her body expanded until she was forced to crouch down, dwarfing
the room. "Oh, I will." Her voice boomed like thunder. She shrunk down
to her normal size. Suddenly she wrinkled her nose in distaste, and pointed at
Niles accusingly, "You had sex!"
Niles sighed, "Yes Rhea, I know."
She sounded like an indignant teenager. "You're old enough to be my father!
That's so gross."
He smiled ruefully, "Sometimes adults like to do things that are gross."
He took her hand and helped her into the Doom Saloon, the Legion of the Strange's
fantastic aerial sedan. "Will you be all right, Valentina?" He knew
which of them was the most accomplished pilot.
She nodded, "Yes, thank you Niles." Her accent was almost impenetrably
Russian, her manner was brisk and professional. "We will be fine. We will
phone you if there are problems, but I am sure it will be ok."
He watched as the vehicle took off, heading towards Staten Island.
Hours later, Kay Challis disembarked from the Doom Saloon. She looked at the abandoned
brownstone. It had a lot of charm, and the construction appeared sound, but the
house had been uninhabited for decades and it showed in its state of disrepair.
She reached into the vehicle and grabbed a flashlight to bring with her. The lack
of maintenance applied to the front gate; it was rusted shut and the key the realtor
had sent her was no good.
She looked around. Nobody on the streets, but no reason to be unnecessarily conspicuous
either. She removed her long jacket, wrapping it around the flashlight for protection
and tossed it over the gate, then contracted her body so that she was only several
inches high. She easily walked through a gap in the gate, then returned to normal
size. She slipped the jacket back on for protection against the cold and walked
up the steps to the entrance. Fortunately, the door key worked, and she let herself
It was dark, but enough light shown through the windows that she could find her
way around. The architecture reflected the styles of the last century, with its
sturdy wood and heavily ornamental touches. Her footsteps echoed hollowly in the
empty rooms. She was exploring the ground floor when she heard voices from upstairs.
She very gently put her feet on the staircase, moving slowly and trying to minimise
the sound. She kept her hand on the railing and eased herself up.
As she crept closer, she could tell it was a child's voice. She followed the sound
down the hallway. She saw a small child, about seven years old and dressed in
a lacy white dress, kneeling with her back to the door. She was facing a small,
empty cabinet. "I'm sorry Teacher," she said."
An apparently middle-aged woman stood with her, at a slight angle but also facing
the cabinet. "Try again, Angel," she said.
The girl started speaking formally, as if she were reciting. "For the Lord
honored the father above the children, and whoever honors his father atones for
sins and ... "
The woman interrupted, her voice curt. "Stupid, evil child! You have it wrong
again! You are doomed to the fires of Hell!"
Kay blinked. That's not right, she thought. "Excuse me," she said, walking
into the room. "You can't speak to a child that way. I don't know who you
are, but -- "
She stopped mid-breath as the pair turned towards her. They were each wearing
masks made of crumpled paper, sculpted to resemble what Kay assumed was their
real face: rounded and angelically innocent on the child's, narrow and stern on
the teacher's. Kay opened her mouth to speak again and the pair vanished.
She muttered to herself, Valentina's analytical mind coming to the fore. "A
family of teleporting mutants? ìåéñòâî
She laughed to herself at her memories of old folklore stories of ghosts. The
Legion of the Strange doesn't have any traffic in ghosts. She moved on, peering
through the upper floors. Many of the rooms were partially furnished. She went
into one, which appeared to be a bedroom. She pushed on the mattress, coughing
as a cloud of dust billowed out. She caught a flash of white out of the corner
of her eye, and heard a series of quick, dancelike steps. She turned slowly at
the sound of a giggle. "Do you think I'll be the belle of the ball?"
Kay spoke very softly, just over a whisper. "I'm sure you will be. What's
The girl, her face similarly masked behind paper, twirled around, dancing an expert
minuet through the room. "I'm Belle, of course." She sounded about fifteen.
"Do you think Thomas will be there? Do you think he'll dance with me?"
Kay smiled despite herself. "How could he not?"
When the other woman appeared in the doorway, waving her hands in irritation,
Kay was not surprised. "It will all lead to ruin, you'll see."
Belle put her hands on her hips and thrust her face forward. Kay could practically
see her thrust her tongue out, though her face was still concealed behind the
paper mask. "The Visiting Lady is back," she said to Kay. "Here
to tell us how sinful we all are."
The Visiting Lady shook her head, the paper rustling about her neck. "I am
not your Teacher, though all you children would probably benefit from listening
to her. Her advice is sound, although I do not always approve of the way she speaks
Belle took Kay's arm and gave it a gentle squeeze, "They are two peas in
a pod, they are. Well, it is boring here." She vanished. Kay turned her attention
to the new one.
"Excuse me ... Visiting Lady? Can you tell me who all these people are? Who
The woman sighed, "I've devoted my life to charitable works among the lower
classes and new immigrants, trying to steer them away from the dangers of alcohol.
I don't know why I have been cursed to spend all my time among these children
-- I have nothing to do with them. Although I worry about the older girls, like
Belle and Little Bird, and Jeanne-Marie. They will waste their lives at these
parties. I fear that drinking will drive the gentry down to the level of the working
class, and the country will be faced with a terrible moral degradation."
Kay nodded, slowly, "I see." She noticed the implication that there
were younger girls, and maybe boys. She wondered whether there had been an orphanage
here which had burned down or suffered some terrible disaster?
She saw another young woman then, sitting alone on the deck of a bay window, reading
a book. The girl's features, as defined by the paper-bag mask, seemed attractive;
she had long dark-blond hair which was kept in a carefully braided bun, each loose
strand fastened by a hair pin. She wore a long dress of pale green broadcloth,
a high collar, and a cameo at her throat. She wore black lace-up boots. Kay went
over and sat next to her, and the woman stared more intently at her book.
Kay glanced at the ectoplasmic pages, saw the name Emily Dickinson. She smiled
gently, sensing the other one's shyness. "Hello," she said quietly,
"my name's Kay. What's yours?"
"Jeanne-Marie," the woman replied just above a whisper. Then, as if
remembering her manners, she added, "pleased to meet you, Kay."
"I'm very pleased to meet you, Jeanne-Marie," Kay said. "Do you
know why you're here?"
Jeanne-Marie paused. Kay imagined that underneath the mask, if she had a real
face, the other woman was chewing on her lower lip uncertainly. "I
I died. Of a fever, I think, with my mother and father at my side. I don't really
understand why I might have a reason to haunt my home or stay on earth as a ghost."
"I'm very sorry to hear that," Kay replied. "What about the others?
Did they die of a fever, too?"
Jeanne-Marie tilted her head in a curious gesture. "What others?"
A voice came from behind her. "Loose the flood, you shall find it patent,
Gush after gush, reserved for you; Scarlet experiment! sceptic Thomas, Now, do
you doubt that your bird was true?" Kay whirled around, to see another young
woman, dressed more plainly. She glanced back at Jeanne-Marie, to see she had
disappeared. Kay sighed, and returned her attention to the new one. "Emily
Dickinson? That sounds like her."
The girl nodded, and seemed to smile beneath her mask. She held her hand up to
her paper mouth as she spoke. "My name's Emilie, like her."
Another shy one, Kay thought, before Elastiwoman's accent shifted and Valentina
came to the fore. "I was named after a poet, too, Valentina Polukhina,"
she said. "You came to speak to me because you wanted to help Jeanne-Marie,
Emilie nodded again. "She's stuck here
we're all stuck here
because she can't or won't remember
Another little paper-faced girl, this one maybe four years old, had appeared and
kicked Emilie in the calf. "Don't listen to her! She's lying!"
Emilie grunted. "That's Papa's Girl," she said to Valentina. She knelt
down. "Sweetie, please, you have to let the grown-ups
Papa's girl struggled with Emilie who tried to control the child, who seemed near
to tantrum. "She's going to say Papa did bad things! He never did! It's all
Mama's fault for ignoring him!"
Another phantom paper-faced girl appeared, this one apparently in her early- to
mid-teens. "He never did," she said, her voice dull. "Mama would
not be a good wife, so we had to be."
Elastiwoman's eyes widened, her hand clutched to her heart as Arani came to the
fore, gasping in recognition and emotional pain. "Oh," she said in understanding.
where did this thing happen?"
Emilie crooked her finger. "I never spoke with God, Nor visited in heaven;
Yet certain am I of the spot As if the chart were given."
Two other children appeared, and grabbed at Papa's Girl, prying her away from
Emilie. "Marie! Little Jenny, let me go!" the four year old screamed.
"She's going to tell her lies!"
Arani followed Emilie down to the root cellar. In the darkness she heard ghostly
sobs and cries, more than a dozen pale figures flickering in and out. She felt
tears on her own cheeks, and knelt down to her knees. "I'm here," she
said tenderly, "and I believe you. I'm like you. Terrible things happened
to me, too, when I was your age. Let me hear your story." She felt a blinding
pain as the spirits entered within her, possessing her consciousness and allowing
her to experience portions of their lives.
Jeanne-Marie was the youngest child of three. She has two older brothers, Guillaume
(5 years older) and Frederic (2 years older). Her mother was quiet and frequently
ill. Her father, to the outside world, doted on his wife and saw to her every
need. To his family, Mr. Beaubier was a man who drank a bit too often, used his
sons as an outlet for his rage and his daughter for sexual 'comforting.'
Jeanne-Marie grew up in a violent home where beatings with a strap were the norm
for any infraction. Her father was stern and prone to outbursts where he would
attack his children without cause. Mrs. Beaubier loved her children but was overwhelmed
by them. Jeanne-Marie especially would cause her mother to burst into tears for
simply being there. As the children aged, Mrs. Beaubier withdrew from them more
and more. There was little to no affection in the home. When Jeanne-Marie was
5, her father raped her. The sexual abuse continued regularly. When she was 9,
her brother Guillaume also began to molest her.
Frederic tried to protect his sister from both his father and brother but ended
up being beaten for the effort. Guillaume stopped abusing Jeanne-Marie when he
married at the age of 21 and left home. Her father never stopped.
Responsible for the care of her mother, Jeanne-Marie was also blamed for her mothers
frequent illnesses (fatigue and nerves). She felt too guilty to ever leave her.
At the age of 18, Jeanne-Marie was accepted to Radcliffe college in Boston but
turned it down in order to care for her mother (and because her father wished
her to stay). She attended Barnard college and earned a degree in Literature in
In her senior year of college, Jeanne-Marie began to date a young professor, Thomas
Goldstein at her college. They had to keep their affair secret, however, because
Jeanne-Maries mother insisted that she never marry (in order to stay with
her) and Jeanne-Maries father would fly in to a rage at the mere mention
of the possibility. The couple talked of marriage though and made plans for Jeanne-Marie
to run away when Thomas began his new job in Chicago in the fall of 1889.
In Nov 1888, Mr. Beaubier found a letter Thomas had written Jeanne-Marie. He dragged
his daughter to the cellar, tied her to steam pipes, and beat her. He left her
overnight and when he returned, her face was swollen and covered with blood, her
back was burned from the pipes, and her feet had been bitten by rats. Mr. Beaubier
put mittens on her feet and a paper bag over her face to hide the marks. He raped
her and left her tied in the cellar for 3 days and 3 nights.
By the time the man had sobered up and come to his senses, Jeanne-Marie was feverish
and unable to stand. He took her to her room, cleaned her up (doing a poor job
of it), and attempted to nurse her back to health. He would not call a doctor
since it would be obvious that she had been abused. After a week, Jeanne-Marie
died. With Guillaumes help, Jeanne-Marie was buried in the back yard, with
a simple wooden marker.
"It was all our fault," the teenager said to her. "We'd strayed.
Papa had no choice."
Elastiwoman raised a hand as if to touch the girl's cheek. Arani and Rhea had
fled inside, unable to confront Jeanne-Marie's pain with any equanimity. Laura
spoke in her French accent, with Kay and Valentina exerting their co-consciousness
and supporting her. "There is always a choice," she said. "And
he made the wrong ones. It was his job to protect you and he failed."
"That's all she knows," Emilie said. "What
what do we need
to do? I dont want to die
I dont want to integrate
with them and lose who I am."
"It doesnt have to be that way," Laura said. "I had to make
more of me, too, to survive. We can all live together and speak in unison when
we have to. But we are all who we are."
Jeanne-Marie appeared, gasping in shock. "It
everything I thought
was true was a lie? My father was
" She fell to her knees.
From inside her dress she pulled out a gold locket with two portraits, one of
her mother and one of her father. With a cry, she broke in two, tossing the portrait
of her father into the darkness. "How could he?"
The Teacher joined them. "He was a sinner, just like we were," she said
sternly. "We shall burn in hell as we surely deserve."
Laura felt a tingling sensation and looked up, a glowing door appearing in the
wall behind them. "No
no, I don't believe that is what's in store
for you. I think you can go now."
The girl called Angel looked up at her, her voice trembling. "Wil it hurt?"
Laura smiled gently. "I don't think anyone will hurt you, ever again."
Afterwards, Kay Challis walked out the front door of the house. She looked up
into the gray skies. She inhaled deeply, and began to expand in size. When she
towered over the house, she raised on leg and stamped it flat. "Never again,"
she whispered angrily. "No child on my watch. Never again."
She left the wreckage behind, reduced in size to re-enter the Doom Saloon, and
made her way home
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