"Outstanding In His Field"
"We're going to lose daylight soon, Ralph."
"I know, but I want to get to Verona tonight. My first panel is scheduled for ten in the morning."
"I understand, honey, but-"
The chiming of a cell phone interrupted Sue Dibny before she could finish. She picked up the phone from the center console of the car and answered it. "Good afternoon, this is Sue." "Yes?" "Oh, I see." "I'm sure he will understand. He'll be a little disappointed, but so long as the second panel and the autograph session are still on, I'm sure that will be fine." "Great. Thank you for letting us know. We'll see you in the morning." As she hung up the phone, she sighed.
"What's up, sweetheart?" asked Ralph Dibny, as he maneuvered the car around a sharp curve.
"That was Nate Cooper, the convention's guest co-ordinator. They had two more guests contact them at the last minute, and they want to squeeze them in. So they're changing the theme of the morning panel session from costumed heroes to psychological horror shows." Sue reached over to lay a hand on her husband's arm. "I'm sorry, honey. I know you were looking forward to it."
Ralph's face twitched in a crooked smile. "Just so long as they don't cut out my panel with Plastic Man and Jimmy Olsen on the value of stretching heroes on heroic teams." He waved a hand around, indicating the colorful woods around them. "And look on the bright side. Now we don't have to push to get there tonight. If I remember correctly, we're only a couple miles outside of Redmond Springs, and there's a great old resort hotel there. Let's see if they've got a room available."
Sue settled back in her seat and smiled. "A Friday night, three days before Halloween, in a little upstate New York resort town? Sounds wonderful."
"I'll admit it, they don't." Sue nodded as she looked around at the dark woodwork and brightly-colored wallpaper. "One of these days, if we finally settle down, we need to buy one of these old homes like this and restore it."
"The owner told me about a nice little restaurant around the corner. And he told me that tonight is the big village Halloween celebration, over at the school. Want to take it in?"
"Depends. Am I going with Ralph Dibny, or with the world-famous Elongated Man?" asked Sue with a grin.
Ralph placed his right hand over his heart and raised his left hand. "I solemnly swear that I will behave myself tonight." As he said this, his left wrist slowly stretched until his fingertips were touching the eleven foot high ceiling.
Sue giggled. "All right, you. Let's get going."
"Oh, this is fantastic, Ralph! I loved these kinds of festivals when I was in high school."
"You and me both, honey bunch. Though we didn't have the woods for the hayrides in my town. What do you want to do first?"
"I know we just finished dinner, but I think I see an apple dumpling stand over there by the corn maze. How about a treat, then we can go and get lost in the maze."
Unusually long fingers entwined with hers as they set off. "As long as I'm with you, Susie, I'm never lost."
They wound their way through the crowds, stopping long enough to purchase their apple dumpling with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. They approached the corn maze, and noted a sign proclaiming a three dollar admission charge. "Hmm, they're charging for the maze?" murmured Ralph. "That doesn't seem right."
"Oh, honey, it's not like we can't afford it," said Sue. She glanced over at her husband. "But you are right, and I can do something about that." She stepped up to the table where a pair of bored-looking teenagers sat. "Tell me, about how many people do you figure will go through the maze tonight?"
The one on the right sat up, and his eyes rolled up into his head for a moment. "Jeez, last week we had, like two hundred people each night. But we didn't have all the other stuff going on, so--"
"You think you'll top five hundred?" asked Sue.
"Five hundred? That would be, like, everyone in town," said the girl sitting on the left.
"Well, there might be a few extra, you never know." Sue reach into her purse and pulled out a wallet, then started thumbing through bills within it. She pulled out twenty one-hundred dollar bills. "Here, thie should take care of everyone for the night."
The boy took the money and counted it, his eyes growing large. "Seriously? Wow, I've like, never seen this much money in one place." He looked up. "Miss Rollins is going to want to know who paid for this, you know, if I open the maze up for everyone."
Sue glanced over at her husband, who was trying to stand nonchalantly behind her. "Tell her it's a gift from the world famous Elongated Man!" she said with a grin. "Come along, dear!"
"Heh. I knew you wouldn't be happy if folks didn't know they had a famous personage in their midst. Now, give me a little snuggle before we're found in here." She wrapped her arms around her husband and leaned into his chest. The idyllic interlude was short-lived, as screams erupted from elsewhere in the maze. "Sounds like the fun is starting already."
There followed more screams, and the loud crack of a gun shot. "I'm not so sure about that," said Ralph, as his head started rising high above the surrounding corn stalks. His neck started to twist into a corkscrew as his head rotated once, twice, three times around, taking in a 360 degree view of the field. "Looks like a commotion in the back part of the maze," he said as he unwound and brought his head back down to a normal height.
"You better go check it out," said Sue as she shifted her purse under one arm. Ralph's body seemed to collapse within his clothes as he stretched out through the collar. With a practiced air, she gathered up the clothes before they could hit the ground. His uniform of red, gold and midnight blue clung like a second skin, such that it had remained un-noticed under his street clothes. "Toward the back of the maze, you said?"
"Yep! Make your way back there, if you want. Or I'll look for you by the entrance." The Elongated Man rose up on legs that were now ten feet long, carrying him across the maze in a dozen steps.
"Whoa, look out man! There's another of them crazy monsters!" A cluster of teenagers looked up at the superhero walking into their midst, one of them raising a pistol with shaky hands. "Get back, man, I'll shoot ya, I swear I will!"
"Easy there, son," said Ralph, raising hims hands palms outward as he lowered himself down in front of the youths. "I'm hear to help. I'm the-"
"The Elongated Man!" yelled an older man in a plaid flannel shirt and worn work pants. "I saw you on the TV a couple times. You were part of the Justice League, weren't you?"
"I sure was. Now, what seems to be going on here?"
The tall, lanky boy who had pointed the pistol put it in a holster on his belt before answering. "Frank and I," he started, nodding toward a shorter, broad-shouldered blonde boy to his right. "He and I, we're stationed behind the busted down tractor back here. When people come through the maze, we're supposed to start hollering and tossing corn stalks up in the air. When the last group came through, we started yelling, then something behind us started to yell even louder. I looked back as we were all running out of there, and this big hairy thing came busting through the cornfield."
"Did it say anything?" asked Ralph.
"No, just a bunch of growls and snarls." Frank nodded in agreement. "That's when we came over here to where Mr. Winchester was playing the zombie farmer."
"And then's when you pulled the gun?"
"Oh, that." The young man pulled it out of the holster again. "It's just a starter pistol, don't fire nothing but blanks."
"Well, that's a relief. Now, what's over on that side of the field, back behind where you were at?"
Mr. Winchester brushed his hair back from his forehead and said "Over on the west end of the field? That backs up against the old trailer park. Ain't been anyone living in there for, what, eight or nine years now."
"Yeah, my dad says Paul Newton bought the place so he could build a new hardware store, right before the packing plant closed down and everyone lost their jobs." The short, dark-haired girl who spoke now looked around to see if anyone disagreed. "I guess it didn't make sense to build a new store when nobody can afford to shop there."
"I heard the trailer park was built over the original town cemetery," said Frank. "That's why nobody ever stayed there very long."
'A cemetery, you say?" The Elongated Man's nose extended a couple of inches and started to twitch. "And we're getting a disturbance days before Halloween? Sounds like a perfect night for it, actually." He looked around, his neck stretching so he could look each of the seven people gathered around him in the eyes. "So, who wants to come with me and check it out?"
Frank and the taller boy stepped forward. "Goof and I are in."
"Goof?" asked Ralph.
"Yeah, they call me Goofy. Long story," said the young man, scratching the stubble on his chin.
"I'll go along," said the dark-haired girl who spoke before. "What about you, Dinah?"
"Sure, Vanessa," answered a tall, red-haired girl. "It's not every night I get to hang out with a real super hero."
Mr. Winchester smiled. "Looks like you got yourself a new team, mister. Hey, Goofy, you wanna take that dog of yours along?"
"Nah, he's at home. Got into dad's smokehouse and ate two whole hams yesterday."
"Okay, gang, let's get moving and see if we can solve this little mystery!"
"I think I see it," said Dinah. "Doesn't that look like someone pushed through?"
"It sure does," said Frank. He stepped up to the space where broken stalks marked someone's passage through the field.
"Let me take a look." Ralphed stretched upward, peering over the corn. "Looks like an old mobile home there."
The stillness of the night was split by a bright flash of light and a deafening shriek, and something came whistling through the air at the Elongated Man. His body snapped back to normal size, but he twisted his head around to follow the path of the object that whizzed overhead.
"What happened?" asked all four of the teens at once.
"I'm not sure," answered the stretchable sleuth as his head and one hand extended to follow the path of the flying object. "Ah-ha! Got it!" Once more, he retracted to normal, this time carrying an old, rusty axe. "I'm guessing that someone over there doesn't want company."
"All the more reason to check it, right gang?" said Frank, with a determined look on his face.
"Oh, I love it when you get all butch, Frank," said Dinah with a smirk.
"Whatever, you two. Let's check it out." Goofy started pushing through the cornstalks. The others eased between the stalks at different places. The Elongated Man moved up to the front of the group, watchful for signs of anything or anyone out of the ordinary.
"Isn't that where Maddie Kelso used to live?" asked Vanessa, pointing at the first trailer that came into view. At a gesture from the Elongated Man, the group gathered together near a large pine tree that shielded them from view.
"Yeah, that's where her mom moved the family after her dad went to jail." Dinah looked over at Frank. "Didn't they live on your block before that?"
"Yeah. I was five or six when the police raided their place. I heard he was dealing drugs up in Utica."
"Do you know if he's still in jail?" asked Ralph, his nose twitching slightly.
"I don't know," replied Goofy. "But now that you mention it, Maddie wasn't in class this week."
They head the sound of an old metal storm door opening on rusted hinges, then slamming closed. Elongated Man craned his neck and looked through the thinning branches at the top of the pine tree, and spotted movement at one end of the trailer. "Looks like he found an old shag carpet in the trailer and wrapped it around himself," he murmured quietly to himself. Returning to the teens, he told them what he'd seen.
"So, what, it's some kind of fake?" asked Goofy.
"Easy enough. An amplifier and speakers for the noise, some flashing lights." Vanessa ticked off the items on one hand. "And a whole bunch of people in the mood to be scared."
"But why?" asked Dinah.
"I'd say he doesn't want anyone around the trailer park!" exclaimed Frank.
Dinah rolled her eyes. "Figured that out all by yourself, eh?"
"No need to be snotty, Dinah." Vanessa looked at the Elongated Man. "So, what do we do now, call the sheriff?"
"I supposed we could, but I don't know that they could do much. We don't know why he wants to scare people off. Maybe we can get a little more information first." Ralph, looked around the group, and a plan started forming.
"No, I'm not going on!" yelled Dinah. "I told you I don't like things like this!"
"Oh, come on, Di. Don't be such a baby!" answered Vanessa in a loud voice.
"Forget it! I'm getting out of here right now!" Dinah turned and started loudly crashing through cornstalks.
Thirty yards away, the door of the old Kelso trailer opened again. The large figure draped in a ragged rug came out and started towards the cornfield. As he stepped away from the door, a black-gloved hand appeared from around the other side of the trailer and slipped into the door. As the creature moved away, the rest of the Elongated Man followed.
Dinah broke through from the corn stalks, followed by Vanessa. As they stepped clear of the field, a bright light flashed and blinded them momentarily. A loud roar sounded as the creature stepped in front of them.
"Hey, Frank, check it out! Looks like the creature from the black lagoon got attacked by dust bunnies!" Goofy stepped out from behind the pine tree where they'd hid earlier, holding the starter pistol he'd had out earlier.
"He's gonna be attacked by something a lot worse if he tries anything," said Frank, coming out from behind another tree. "I don't care what you've got in your hands man, just drop it." There were two thumps on the ground.
Back at the trailer, the windows suddenly lit up with light from inside. "Looks like our friend found something in there," said Vanessa.
"Damn it, what did you have to show up here for?" said the creature, reaching up to pull the carpeting away from his head. Underneath, a middle-aged man with sweaty black hair and several days growth on his jawline scowled. "I thought this place was supposed to be deserted."
"You thought wrong," answered the Elongated Man, appearing behind him. "Frank Kelso, I presume?"
"Fresh out of jail, and figured your family would be happy to see you, eh? So happy they'd come out to their old home to help you cook up a batch of meth?" Ralph's arms drew back to normal size, leading a teen-aged girl and an older woman into the group.
"Maddie!" exclaimed Goofy, reaching a hand for the young lady. "Are you all right?"
"He didn't hurt us," said Maddie. "He showed up last week, expecting us to be happy to see him. We played along, hoping he'd get the hint that he wasn't wanted."
"I made the mistake of mentioning the old trailer we'd lived in after he got arrested, and that we got evicted when the trailer park closed down. He made is show him where it was, and my old key still worked. He locked us up in there, and took my car to go up to Utica. He and some of his old friends there started setting up the lab in here yesterday." As Mrs. Kelso told the story, sue Dibny came crashing through from the cornfield, followed by a number of students, adults and a pair of sheriff's deputies.
"Yeah, and I would have gotten away with it, too," growled Kelso as the deputies cuffed him and started leading him away.
"If not for these kids!" said Ralph with a wide grin.
"And the world-famous Elongated Man!" added Sue, followed by a cheer from the gathered bystanders.