Too Many Long Boxes!
   
   

End of Summer
 

Whatever Happened To Mind-Grabber Kid?

by Harvey Kent

Part One

The bar was hazy with cigarette smoke; it hurt Lucian's eyes as he sat at the bar, nursing his beer.

The jukebox was playing a country song Lucian didn't recognize; they all blended together, for him. His musical tastes ran more to Dave Brubeck and MJQ, but try getting that in a bar in Dover, Delaware. Far and away the major clientele base was airmen from the big Air Force base, and civilian employees thereof. Lucian sighed as he took another sip of beer. At least it beat staying at home, reading John D. MacDonald novels and feeling sorry for himself. Didn't it?

"Hey, sport," a female voice beside him said. "Buy a girl a drink?"

Lucian looked around, not in the direction the voice had come from but in the opposite direction, to see whom the girl was talking to. There was no one there.

"Yeah, you," the voice said. This time Lucian turned to see who was speaking. She was small and slender, but very pretty. She had long, raven-black hair that flowed down her shoulders like chocolate syrup. Her skin was porcelain-smooth, free of any blemish. She was dressed rather oddly for this bar, too. Most of the women who came in here on the make, looking for an airman to hitch up with and draw government benefits from, wore cowboy boots and denim skirts, or some variation on that attire. This one wore a sleeveless black shirt and black leather pants.

"Do I get the drink or not, chief?" the girl asked.

"Oh. Oh! Sure," Lucian stammered. "Ah, what would you like?"

"Whatever you're having is fine," she smiled. The smile somehow made Lucian nervous. He signaled the bartender and ordered a beer for the girl. When it came, she took the mug by the handle, but did not take a sip; she just looked at Lucian over the head of foam.

"I've been watching you for awhile," she said. "Sitting there, moping over a beer, not talking to anyone. Pardon a cliche, but you look like you're carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders."

Lucian sighed. "It shows that much, huh?"

"Want to talk about it?" the girl asked. "It sometimes helps."

"Well, it's a long story," Lucian said.

"I'm not catching a bus or anything," the girl encouraged, still not drinking her beer.

Lucian tried to decide whether to tell the story, then figured what the hell? "Did you ever hear of Mind-Grabber Kid?"


Part Two

"Should I have?" the girl asked, simply.

Lucian shrugged. "I guess not. Well, maybe I should begin from the beginning. My name is Lucian Crawley. All my life, for as long as I can remember, I've wanted to be a super-hero. I used to read about 'em in comics and watch 'em on television; and then, when I was about five or six, the real super-heroes started appearing. I knew that what I wanted, more than anything else, was to be one of them.

"When I reached puberty, and realized I had special abilities, I figured it would be easy to become a super-hero. I have what they call telepathic powers, you know? I can reach out, touch another mind. I figured that alone was enough to make me a hero. I mean, Batman and Green Arrow had no special powers at all, right? So I tried to make a name for myself as a super-hero. But it never caught on. Maybe it was the dumb name I came up with for myself, 'Mind-Grabber Kid'. You should hear some of the ideas I rejected. Anyway, I became bitter that I hadn't become a world-famous super-hero overnight. My admiration for the big heroes like the Justice League of America turned into jealousy. So one night, when my telepathic brain picked up the thoughts of an alien race called the Ur, I had a brainstorm. If I could get these aliens to eliminate the competition of the JLA for me, then I could become the famous super-hero I'd always wanted to be!" Lucian sighed. "It sounded like a good idea at the time."

"So what happened?" the girl prompted.

"Well, the JLA, with a little help from a guy called the Creeper, got out of the trap I'd sprung on them, and convinced the Ur that they were good guys after all. And I agreed to retire Mind- Grabber Kid for good. My parents, scandalized, packed it all up and moved us somewhere far away, where they'd never heard of Mind-Grabber Kid. That's how we ended up here in Dover. That's where we've been ever since."

"Tough break," the girl said. "Well, keep your chin up, Lucian. Things may turn around for you." The girl set her untasted beer back on the bar, lithely slid down off her stool, and without another word, walked out of the bar. Lucian watched her go.

"Weird," he said to no one in particular, and took a big swallow of beer.


Part Three

"Lucian? Is that you?" his mother's voice called from somewhere in the kitchen, as Lucian came in the front door of their apartment.

"It's me, Mom," Lucian called, tossing his jacket over the back of a chair.

"Lucian, I put some community college literature in your room," his mother called. "Please read it through, dear. Thoroughly."

"I will, Mom," Lucian said with a sigh.

"And Mrs. Loockerman called," his mother continued. "Her daughter is coming down from Newark this weekend. She's studying marketing principles at the University of Delaware. You should give her a call, Lucian."

Lucian didn't even bother to answer that. He walked into his room and shut the door. He put a beat-up old Les Baxter cassette in his stereo, and tried to listen to the music through the pops and crackles as he lay on his bed, hands behind his head.

What had happened to him? Where had his life gone wrong? He had remembered something some adult had told him when he was a little boy, a teacher or minister or some such. Everyone is born with a purpose, he had been told. Beethoven was deaf, and he created beautiful music. John Milton was blind, and he wrote wonderful poetry. Everyone has a role to play in the grand design. So what was his? He was given these telepathic powers, and for what reason? To waste his life living in a three-room apartment over a furniture store? To hide out from the shame he had brought on his family by trying to be a super-hero? That couldn't be the design. Could it? A noise outside his window made Lucian glance that way. What he saw made him get up suddenly and press his face to the glass.

Airmen in military uniforms were marching down his street, filling the entire avenue with their marching bodies. There seemed to be no order to them; he saw colonels and majors and other ranks he couldn't recognize but obviously with a lot of shiny stuff on their collars, marching elbow to elbow with AFCs. And there were non-military personnel marching, too; civilian workers from the Air Force base. It was as if everyone at the base had suddenly decided to go out for a stroll.

What the devil was going on?


Part Four

"Hey! What's going on? Where are you all going? Hey, somebody! Listen to me!" Lucian had run out into the street, and was jumping up and down, waving his arms. The airmen and others marching down the street did not seem to see or hear him; they gave no notice of him, just went right on marching.

"Hey!" Lucian yelled. "Are you deaf? Can't you hear me?"

"I can hear you fine, Lucian," Mr. McAllister, the proprietor of the small shoe store across the street, called to him. He had been sweeping the sidewalk in front of his store. "What's on your mind?"

"Mr. McAllister!" Lucian called. "I was talking to these airmen here!"

McAllister's face assumed a puzzled look. "What airmen?"

Lucian goggled. "These airmen! All these guys marching down the street!"

McAllister looked up the street and down it, and scratched his head. "I don't see nobody, Lucian. Maybe you've got a touch too much sun."

Lucian opened his mouth to retort, then closed it again. Okay, something was definitely screwy. A seemingly-endless stream of airmen and other base personnel, marching down the street. They couldn't seem to see or hear him, but he could see them. Nobody else, apparently, could. Oh, yeah. Bad juju.

Concentrating, Lucian did something he hadn't done in years. He used his mental powers. Flexing his mind like a long-unused muscle, he reached out to touch the minds of the airmen. The message he received was loud and clear.

Get out of the base. Don't let anyone or anything stop you. Walk out and don't stop walking until you're in Pennsylvania.

As a further test, Lucian turned his telepathy on Mr. McAllister. There, too, was a clear message. You don't see anybody marching down the street. You don't hear anybody marching down the street. The street is empty.

Lucian frowned. They were being mind-controlled. The base personnel, Mr. McAllister, maybe everyone in town. Everyone except him? Why?

Well, if all the base personnel were ordered out of the base, chances were the answer was at the base.

Lucian hesitated for just a moment, then ran back into his apartment.


Part Five

Inside his apartment, Lucian made a grab for the phone. Then he thought better of it. Who was he going to call? The police? The National Guard? And tell them what? He'd never be able to make them believe it. Like as not, he'd end up in a padded room wearing the kind of jacket that doesn't let you look at your watch. He could always call the Justice League; if he had their number. But he didn't. He wasn't important enough for that.

Lucian heaved a great sigh, and went to his room. He opened his clothes closet and shoved aside hangers full of slacks and sweaters never worn. He found the package wrapped in black paper, taped to the back wall of the closet. His mother had burned the original; three years ago, on a night of too many beers and too much dwelling on the past, he had ordered this one made. Why, in the cold light of sobriety, he hadn't destroyed it when it arrived, he had never known. Minutes later, a small motorbike was tearing down Route 13, headed for the Air Force base. A motorbike bearing a colorfully garbed young man, with a grim expression on his face, his forehead wrinkled in thought.

Mentallo? No. Brain Boy? No. Saturn Lad? Where had that come from? Brainiac Jr? Hell, no! Lucian had reached no clear decision regarding his nom de guerre when he reached the air base. He had only been considering names to keep his mind off how scared he was. His motorbike roared through the gates unchallenged. The place was like a tomb; empty, silent. Lucian reached out with his mind, trying to find another human presence on the base.

Ah. There. In that big hangar, third from the left. Deciding not to announce his presence, Lucian parked his motorbike and approached the hangar on foot. He crept up to it, found the door wide open. Inside he saw a huge, gleaming fighter jet, kind of like the ones in "Top Gun" but different somehow; subtle differences in styling and contour. He also saw a slender young man in a harlequin costume bent over a sheet of schematics laid out on a table, studying them.

"Hello," the clown said brightly, looking up. "I'm going to kill you."


Part Six

Lucian watched the clown produce a pistol and aim it at his chest. "Nothing personal, you understand," the clown said. "I just can't let anyone stop me. You're obviously a super-hero; if the fact that you're immune to my mind-control device isn't a tip-off, your taste in clothes is. Not that I'm anyone to talk. Who are you?"

"Uh... Mind-Grabber Kid," Lucian said.

The clown snorted. "Mind-Grabber Kid? Good grief, you're kidding. I'm sorry, but that's the dumbest name I've ever heard, bar none."

"Oh, really?" Lucian asked, offended. "And what do you call yourself? Clown Guy?"

"Naw, of course not," the clown said. "I'm Punch. You know, as in And Judy? The famous puppet show?"

"Oh, of course," Lucian sneered. "Punch, like the puppet. Yeah, that's much better."

"Don't get cute," Punch warned, waving the gun. "My real name is Sylvester Sepastopol. You see, it's always been my dream in life to be a super-villain. I first wanted to take down the Justice League, but a friend of mine in the business said I could never do it. To prove him wrong I went after the Teen Titans first."

"Since the Titans are still around, and I've never heard of you," Lucian said, "I can guess how that turned out."

"A minor setback," Punch declared. "Now, I'm going to make the Titans pay for it. You see the plane over there?" Lucian nodded. "This is the new XF-34, the most powerful single-man fighter jet ever created! Thank you, Ronald Reagan, for seven years of unprecedented military buildup! It's supposed to be tested tomorrow, but I'm going to take it out for a trial run first. I'm going to turn Titans Tower into the mother of all piles of rubble!"

"You'll have to go through me first!" Lucian declared.

"Whatever," Punch shrugged, and fired the gun.


Part Seven

Lucian's telepathy had told him when Punch was about to fire; he dived away, avoiding the bullet.

"A fast one," Punch commented. "But not fast enough!" He squeezed off two more shots. Lucian knew when they were coming and where they were coming from, but even so he barely managed to dodge them. What could he do? His telepathy was not an offensive power. How could he attack, fight back?

Then it came to him. If he could somehow cancel out Punch's mind-control, the base personnel would return! The MP's could deal with him. How had Punch done it? Lucian searched the madman's mind, trying to find the secret. He saw a device, about the size of a tackle box, that Punch had bought on the black market from someone called the Puppeteer. As long as it remained on, the mind-control was in effect. Where was the device now? Lucian looked around the hangar. Ah, there! Under the table where Punch had been studying the schematics! Lucian made a dive for it.

"No!" Punch cried, firing the gun again. Lucian twisted in mid-dive, barely rolling out of the way. But the bullet struck the mind-control device instead, sending up a shower of sparks and a smell of burned wiring and ozone.

"Dammit!" Punch shrieked. "That cost me five thousand dollars! Do you know how long I had to save up?"

"It's all over, Bozo," Lucian said, getting to his feet. "The MP's will be back, now. Hand over the gun."

"Over?" Punch repeated. "Get real." He snapped off another shot, which Lucian tried to dodge. This time, he wasn't fast enough. He took the bullet in the shoulder, and dropped to his knees, wincing with pain.

"The MP's will be back," Punch said, skipping towards the XF-34. "But by that time, I'll be long gone! Ta-ta, Mind-Grabber Kid! I'll remember you to Titans Tower!"


Part Eight

Lucian stood there, holding his injured shoulder, watching the hatch door of the XF-34 close. What could he do? He couldn't control minds; he could just read them. There wasn't any way he could stop Punch from taking off with this powerful new fighter jet. Titans Tower probably had defenses that could stop it, but what if it did get through? What if they recognized it as one of "ours" and didn't react to the threat until it was too late?

Lucian gritted his teeth as the engines hummed to life. This was his destiny, he told himself. This was his role in the grand scheme. If he hadn't pulled that stupid stunt years ago, his family would never have packed up and moved to Dover. And if they hadn't, he wouldn't have been here today; with his strange mental powers, somehow the only one in town immune to Punch's mind- control device. Every event in his life, every decision he had made, had been to place him here, at this exact moment. And now that he was here, what now?

The schematics. Maybe there was something in them that would tell him how to stop the plane from the outside! He didn't have time to read them now; Punch was about to take off! But Punch's mind! The schematics would be uppermost in his mind now; he was concentrating on what he'd learned, to fly the plane out of here and attack Titans Tower with it. Maybe there was something. Lucian concentrated, reached out with his mind, searched. Found Punch's mind; it was a jumble of aviation diagrams and controls. He picked through, finding the right one. The destruct button. The failsafe in case the jet malfunctioned and came down in enemy territory. Lucian looked around. Ah, yes, there it was, on the console. It would be a big red one, wouldn't it?

Lucian looked up. The jet was taxiing toward the open hangar doors. In a few minutes it would be off the ground. He could let it go, let it get out of range... but the jet was experimental. Untested. Lucian couldn't be sure the destruct control would work from a distance. Besides, the pain in his shoulder was getting worse. There was quite a lot of blood on the floor. He would probably pass out before too much longer.

Lucian sighed. His role in the grand scheme.

Grimacing with every step, Lucian forced himself over to the console.


Part Nine

The explosion was huge, a giant orange fireball suddenly blossoming at the Air Base. Alarms and klaxons went off instantly, filling the air with their cacophony. The flames leapt high into the afternoon sunset, and great billowy clouds of oily black smoke rose over the base.

"Wow," Lucian said, watching it all from atop a nearby hill. "That was one wicked blast!"

"I'll say," Punch said, standing beside him. "Look, it caved in the hangars on either side of it!"

"Yeah, and the fire is spreading," Lucian noted. "Look, here comes a fire engine. Check that, about five of them! They should be able to get it under control."

"Probably," Punch agreed. "Uh, say, Mind-Grabber Kid..."

"Yes?"

"How did we get out here?"

"That sounds like my cue," a female voice behind them said. Lucian and Punch both whirled around.

"You!" Lucian gasped. "Th-the girl from the bar? What are you doing here?" It was her, all right, same long dark hair, so dark you couldn't even see highlights in it; same sleeveless black shirt and black leather pants. Lucian hadn't noticed before how very pale her skin was; must have been the lighting in the bar.

"You know her, too?" Punch asked. "I met her this morning, when I stopped at Hardee's for breakfast on my way here!"

"I met her in a bar," Lucian said. "Her name-- say, I never did get your name."

"Most people call me Dee, for short," the girl said. "But not for long."

"Um... short for what?" Lucian asked, with the horrible feeling that he knew.

Dee only smiled at him.

"Oh, man!" Punch wailed, getting it now. "It wasn't supposed to be like this! It wasn't! I- I've been cheated!"

"Cheated? No," Dee said. "You played a game with life, and you lost. Fair and square."

Lucian watched the fires, and the firemen struggling to get them under control. "Will anyone... know?" he asked.

"What happened?" Dee asked. "No. Mind-Grabber Kid will be unmourned and forgotten. But you saved a lot of lives today, Lucian. And God alone knows how many more in the future, lives that will be saved by those whose lives you saved today. You don't get the fame you always wanted. But you got something else. You got to be a hero."

Lucian smiled. "I think... I like that better."

Dee grinned. "You're getting it," she said. "Now, come on, boys. I've got a busy night ahead of me, and I don't get to punch out at five."

Dee turned, and walked away. Lucian hesitated for just a second, then followed her. Punch hung back for a few moments, staring at the fire, then at Dee and Lucian's receding backs, straining to see what was ahead of them. Finally, he scurried to catch up with them.

THE END

 
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