Too Many Long Boxes!
   
   

End of Summer
 

From The Shade's Journal:

Shadows Of Things That May Come

transcribed by Mathew D. Rhys

Boredom is sadly a common, and grievous, enemy of the immortal. It was 1972 and boredom had once again set upon me. I was in Keystone City at the time. The Fiddler, The Wizard, and I had stolen the city itself and held it all as our own. To the world outside the mystic sphere, decades passed; but months for us.

The ShadeAt first, the time was sweet. We three vile men taunting poor, good Jay. Oh, the fun of gleeful days in contest. Fiddler and the Wizard sought to pad their respective purses, but money was never a need for me. I craved adventure like the banished man craves his own bed. But I was not banished. In fact, I was the only one who could come and go as he pleased. And so I did. I chose to spend a few weeks in the outside world and sacrifice a few seconds in Keystone. A small price it was. (And truth be told I found the frequent companionship of Bowin and Devoe far too mundane and tiresome. For men of such grand schemes as they, they were quite myopic.)

I returned to my home in Opal and to news of Ted Knight's joy: the father of David was now the father of Jack. I was pleased to hear this. In my heart there was, even then, a fondness for Theodore. He was a good man to spawn good men.

I walked the old streets of old Opal in wonder of all that had passed in my many, many years. Ageless as I, the Opal has been my most constant companion. I happened across an outdoor café and chose to sit and enjoy this moment of reverie. The calm of memory lightly took my spirit until I realized that I sat it the same café where I had last spoken with Oscar. I felt saddened by the thought, and began to wonder if my time would have been better spent in Keystone.

Once I finished my coffee, I returned home and poured myself an absinthe. As I drank, I read in the paper of the exploits of the day's breed of mystery men. In the last few years new adventurers had joined the fray. The Justice Experience and their "mortal foes", The House of Pain, played their games in Gotham City. It greatly surprised me that Alan Scott did not end this, as the man was at a total loss for humor.

I was about to set the paper aside when an odd headline caught my attention. "Speed Demon, Bronze Wraith Battle in Woodstock." It seemed this Speed Demon was part of an evil cabal (I use the term loosely) called The Vendetta. The Vendetta did their best to wreak havoc in Metropolis, but were in constant conflict with a hero group under the droll name the Freedom Brigade.

I sat back in my chair and mused over this new-found knowledge. A villain. A thief who stole the lightning. I smiled a languid, wicked smile and made a choice. In this season away from villainy I would play the hero. I chuckled and stood and walked into shadow. When I again emerged, I stood before the Ulster County Jail in Kingston, New York. Much to my surprise, large plumes of smoke gushed from the windows, and policemen and others came running and tumbling from the building. Shouts and cries for help filled the air. It was really quite a scene.

I sauntered over to an officer who appeared to be the desk sergeant and asked (sounding as concerned as I could) what had happened.

After coughing violently, he said, "It's those --ing super-villains." I laughed inside as he coughed again and continued, "The Bronze Wraith brought that damned Speed Demon in on Tuesday. He was taking The Demon to New York, but-- cough-- Sheriff Morrison claimed jurisdiction and locked the creep up in county jail. We've held him the past couple days awaiting arraignment. He barely made a peep the whole time, but about five minutes ago, these arrows started flyin' in the windows and such. After a bit, they started exploding and letting out that black smoke, so we all took to running outside." I would later learn that the mastermind behind the jailbreak was a villainous archer who called himself The Sparrow. At that time Speed Demon and The Sparrow were the best of friends. That was, of course, to change, but I get ahead of myself.

As the deputy spoke, a blue streak flew through the jailhouse doors and blew down the street. I immediately took chase, but not strictly in the literal sense. I created a portal and emerged several miles down the road. I then waited to the side of the road for Speed Demon's approach. Once I could see him, I conjured a score of shadow-demons and set them to attack, for demon on Demon seemed appropriate.

The Demon saw the small army of foes and managed to elude or defeat most of them. He was not as fast as Jay, by far, and that left far less effort on my part. I allowed an easy defeat of my last two demons and stepped forward from my place in the shadows. "Speed Demon," I said with as much bravado as I could muster, "destruction of public property, arson, assaulting Law enforcement personnel, and creating a nuisance. You know I can't just let you get away after all that." He looked at me, both surprise and defiance in his eyes.

He charged me and pulled his fist back to strike, but as he swung I vanished from before him. I reappeared to see him falling over himself and leaving a smear in the asphalt as he slid to a stop. Before he could stand I raised archers from the shadows and said, "Arrows for your release, and now arrows for your defeat!" but before I could set them upon the Demon, a brown fletched arrow pierced my shoulder. Stunned, I turned to find the origin of the shaft, only to receive a like wound through my throat. I collapsed to the ground, my eyes closed from the pain (although I am immortal, pain has lost none of its potency). I opened my eyes to see Speed Demon smile a gloating smile and run away laughing.

I looked at the ground and saw my shadow seeping out. With no small effort, I dislodged the bolts and drew my shadow back into my body. Angered and still sore, I searched for my assailant. I did not have to seek long.

I crept through the shadows and alleys with a wary eye. As I turned one corner, I came face to face with an arrow to match those that had wounded me, but this one was still set to fly. Behind the nock, a masked man with a stern face glowered at me down the arrow. The archer began, "I don't know what you're playing at--"

"Ah, the Sparrow, I presume."

"What?! No!" the brown-clad man said as he raised his head and his disgust turned to shock. "I'm not the Sparrow! I'm one of the good guys!"

"Oh, really, then why did you obstruct my apprehension of the Speed Demon?"

"Well, um, I thought you helped him escape?" He said lowering his bow. After brief pause, he said, nervous and embarrassed, "Look, I'm sorry. All the black threw me, I guess." He extended his hand and said, "I'm the Bowman."

"Hm. The Bowman. How banal. I am called The Shade." I held no meager indignation toward this 'Bowman', but I felt any retribution would be quite unheroic, and heroism was the point of this venture. I coldly, sharply turned from him and took decisive steps away. The Bowman stepped quickly after me with an ebullience that proved his youth despite his stature. "So," I said, "what brings you to this place?"

"I was in Ontario tracking down Doctor Xenon."

"Oh," I said in mock-surprise, "Doctor Xenon. How exciting."

"Yeah. Well anyway, after I got him to the Mounties, I got a call from the CBI. I've got a pal in the Bureau, and his boss wanted me to transport Speed Demon from Ulster County Jail to the New York Office. On my way there, I heard about the escape on the State Police band, I happened to spot him on my on-board radar. Luckily he was headed straight toward me."

"Yes, such a stroke of luck. Especially for me."

The Bowman straightened himself as though he had been insulted. "Hey! I said I was sorry! And it doesn't look like you are in too bad shape, anyway."

I turned to him and, grabbing him by the throat, lifted him from the ground. "Listen very closely, child. The fact that I can heal myself does not eliminate the pain your carelessness caused me. Neither does your apology diminish it." Then I dropped him to the ground and said, "You spotted Speed Demon on your on-board radar. On-board what?"

"KAFF-- My custom '57 Studey Golden-- KAFF-- Hawk," The Bowman said as he stood to his feet and pointed at the alley across the street. I vanished into and out of shadow to the car and looked at the radar screen. "Hey," the archer said as he ran across the street, "what are you doing?!"

"What is the range on this radar?" I asked

"About eighteen miles."

"Excellent. I know you'll forgive me for not fully trusting you. Or not." And with that I caused talons to burst from the shadow beneath the car, and with swift and gleeful violence The Bowman found himself with four tires that refused to hold air. As he stood aghast, I made a casual retreat into shadow.

On The Bowman's radar, I had seen a "blip" moving quite fast east-northeast of us, about fifteen miles away, so I traveled my dark pathway there and found myself in New Carthage, in a jewelry store empty of all but broken glass, alarm bells, and a broken owner. "Everything. Everything's gone," the aged man muttered.

"What happened?" I asked.

"A blue-- wind-- blew in and took my jewels."

I was a bit at a loss for what to do, so I took a guess. "Did the wind say anything?"

The jeweler looked up to me in a shocked-yet-relieved way, like a man who feared that he was-- but just learned he was not-- mad. "Yes. It said, 'Thanks, old man. Now I've got enough for Willard's star plans.'"

I gave the man my best heroic assurances and left him to clean his shop. I was certain Speed Demon had been here, but I had little else to lead me. And what were "star plans"?

I sat down to ponder this at a nearby café, and ordered a surprisingly good cup of coffee. In the distance, I heard a radio report on a sudden windstorm in Calvin City, but thought little of it at the time. I would later learn that the wind storm was the result of a certain high-speed felon racing through town. A number of months prior, he had made the acquaintance of a friend of a very bitter and disagreeable man named Willis Willard. Willard had been a structural engineer who had been employed by Garrison Slate during the construction of the New York City STAR Labs facility. He was, however, lazy, and was relieved of his employment after a very heated and very public argument with Slate. Willard held on to the plans for the facility, however, and as I was pondering my next move, was selling said plans to Speed Demon for a small fortune in gems.

After he acquired said plans, the Demon raced to New York, reading all the way there. Upon arrival, he deftly evaded STAR Labs' security systems and devices and easily broke in to the laboratory for the Alternate Energy Research Division. He walked exultantly over to a lead security case and opened it. In silent joy and victory he pulled out a belt adorned with a large gilded buckle. Speed Demon admired himself in the golden buckle. He spun around in shock, for he had spotted my reflection in the buckle.

There I stood, dark and determined and intimidating-- or some such. I would like to say that I, in my years as a criminal, had developed a clairvoyance for crime, but the truth is far more mundane. Speed Demon's reference to "star plans" brought one Ted Knight to mind, and thereby this morning's reading. A small bit in the paper mentioned a work Ted had been involved with alongside one Leo Morey. It seems Morey had designed a belt constructed for housing "energy receptor cells" which he roughly based upon Ted's own cosmic technology. Having nothing else to go on, I chose to try my luck at STAR Labs. My luck turned out to be good.

So there I stood. I held my cane toward Speed Demon and said, "Put the belt back!"

The Demon quickly strapped the belt around his waist, saying, "You have got to be kidding!" An electric crackle filled the room and the Speed Demon vanished in a blue streak. I was thrown back at least a dozen feet as he raced by me.

I knew he would be out of the building before I could stand, so I 'shadowed' to the top of the newly completed World Trade Center. Constructing a great tower of shadow, I saw Speed Demon racing out across the Atlantic straight toward Metropolis. I created a portal to meet him there.

Somehow, the belt was allowing him to channel speed-energy from beyond himself. It made him faster, much faster, than he had been before. I had little time to ponder this before I saw the spray trailing the Demon as he crossed Delaware Bay. I quickly created a massive shadow-wall. I held it strong, but felt it in my whole form when Speed Demon broke through it at such an incredible force. I stumbled from the shock, and he ran up to me and hit me repeatedly about the chest and head. I allowed myself to fall into a portal to escape, and I decided a change of strategy was in order. Not containment. Not defense. Only attack.

From the shadows I watched him look frantically for me. I realized that by creating a series of portals I could nearly match his speed in these closed streets. I trailed the Demon in his fevered search as he entered a dark alley; and finally emerging from his own shadow, which I commanded to wrap around his feet. He tripped and fell and spun to his feet. He was about to yell out when I struck him across the face with my cane. Before he could retaliate, I vanished to a fire escape above the melee, directing my shadow troops from above.

Seven wraiths arose before Speed Demon. He ran toward them punching and tearing, but for each he defeated, I called forth two more, so within five minutes he faced an army of hundreds, all biting and clawing at him. When I saw him turn to flee, I created a giant beast at the far end of the alley. Stopped in his super-speed steps, I appeared behind him.

"Turn to face me!" I said and he did. He grew visibly weak when he saw my wraiths and demons and monsters gathering behind me. I smiled as he averted his gaze. I raised my hand, and tentacles of shadow bound him hand and foot. Then I ripped the belt from his waist, saying, "Such a waste, really. Think of all the good you could do with your powers, Speed Demon. But you choose to be selfish. You are a disgrace to all of us with gifts."

I turned and walked away, motioning to the shadow creatures to take him away. He screamed and begged as they dragged him into the shadows. I imagine he was relieved when the wraiths deposited him safely in the nearest Metropolis jail cell. I then returned the belt to STAR Labs, traveled to my home, and then on to Keystone again.

Earlier I made mention of The Sparrow, his camaraderie with Speed Demon, and their falling out. I'm afraid that was much my own doing. The two had spent months together planning this scheme. Speed Demon would take the risk (as his speed would lend to an easy escape) and The Sparrow would serve as back-up, as it were. When I went to face the Demon at STAR Labs I was initially opposed by The Sparrow. I frightened him off quite easily with a shadow wraith; and when he found out, Speed Demon held The Sparrow forever responsible for the caper's failure.

Recalling this adventure has given me something to ponder. All I said to the Speed Demon about wasted gifts was merely meant to sound the stereotypical hero. I did not mean it. But from my recent adventures with The Spider and Culp and Jack, I think, perhaps, I believe it now. Regrets are unhealthy things for those that cannot die, but it is not unheard of for even gods to change their minds.

The highly odd Mathew D Rhys is an obsessive storyteller and family man whose wife graciously allows him to prattle aimlessly, and gives him no end of joy in life. He hopes to one day write comics his son can read. You can read his original character fiction at dreamerpress.cjb.net.

 
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