by Drivtaan, Starsky Hutch 76 and GDL629 19136
Ralphie Tyler held up the three-inch hourglass that hung on a chain around his neck. He let his eyes focus on the individual grains of sand, and a smile of anticipation played across his face.
At his command, the grains of sand began to swirl around. As he let the hourglass fall back against his chest, he felt a surge of energy rush through his body.
Ralph turned toward the voice. As he gazed into the darkness, searching for whoever was in distress, he felt a numbing fear try to take hold of him. He gritted his teeth and concentrated.
“Dad wouldn’t be afraid,” he told the darkness, “and neither would Rick.” Ralph closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “So I’m not gonna be afraid, either.”
The man took a determined step forward, and the darkness began to retreat. When the last traces of the darkness faded, he found that he was no longer on Earth.
“Hourman… help me.”
Ralph turned toward the voice a second time and found himself standing in front of a small hut built of smoking brimstone. The cry for help came from inside.
For a brief instant, he wondered what his dad would do, and the answer immediately came to him. He would help whoever was in trouble.
He stepped through the doorway and found himself gazing at what could only be called a demon.
“Funny,” Ralphie said, “the demons in the movies always seem bigger.”
The demon’s skin appeared to be sickly red leather, and its arms and legs were thin and gangly. Tufts of rust-colored hair poked through its flesh in various places. Three pupilless eyes the color of blood stared up at him. The creature was no taller than Ralph’s chest.
“How… how can I help you?” Ralph asked.
The demon pointed toward the floor. When the young man looked down at the floor, he noticed that the creature’s feet were not touching it. “Help me get revenge.”
Ralphie took a step back, a look of shock on his face. “I’m a hero — I don’t help people get revenge. That’s wrong.”
“Oh,” the demon said, “but if you help me, then you really will be a hero.”
Ralph became confused. “I don’t understand.”
“Then let me tell you a story,” the demon said. “One day, not too long ago, I was minding my own business, when I was summoned by a…”
Beyond the realm of sight and past the farthest reaches of reality, where order is nonexistent and chaos reigns supreme, there is an island. Waves of living darkness crawl up its rocky shores, only to turn and slither back down into an ebony sea. It is bleak and desolate.
At the heart of the island stands a keep, dark and foreboding. Its walls reach to a sky of ashen gray, like the claw of a fallen deity reaching for what once was. Mournful winds howl and beat at the gates of the keep. Inside, ignoring the tempest outside, the master of the keep stands gazing into a mirror of polished onyx. Though there is no one to hear his words, he speaks.
His voice is a whisper. “Why do my robes hang in tatters?”
He turns from his looking glass and walks to a low pedestal of woven bone whereon rests a large bowl. Gazing into the brackish water, he looks beyond the container’s depths and into another realm. His eyes hold no emotion as he locates that which he searches for.
In an instance, a creature that could have only been birthed in the foulest recesses of the Abyss appears before him. Its body quivers with rage as it stares through a single eye at the one who called it forth. “What do you wish from me, ‘master’?”
“My robes are in tatters,” the master of the keep says. “Why are my robes in tatters?”
The fiendish creature finds enough courage in his summoner’s confusion to call him by name. “Oh, Teggarimor, wisest of the Nightmare Lords, what would I know of your robes?”
“You are less than nothing, below the lowest,” Teggarimor whispers, “and as such, you listen. You hoard knowledge as though it will gain you a loftier position. Yet, all of the knowledge you have amassed will avail you naught unless you give it away.”
The creature thinks on the Nightmare Lord’s words. “The knowledge I possess must hold great value to you. What do you offer in return?”
Without pause, Teggarimor answers. “I have the power to raise you above your current station.”
Greed begins to dance in the fiend’s eye, replacing the fear and rage. “Deal. Your robes hang in tatters because the source of your power begins to fade.” His heart scarcely has time for a single beat before the fiend finds himself pinned to the wall by the eldritch energy the Nightmare Lord commands.
“My power is more than enough to wipe any memory of you from existence.”
“That is true, O mighty Teggarimor,” the creature whines pitifully. “But as it is with most of your kind, your power originates in another realm.”
“Tell me what you know,” Teggarimor says, withdrawing the energy back into himself and allowing the fiend to drop.
I still live, the fiend thinks to himself, and from that thought begins to grow bolder still. “The source of your power originates on a ball of mud its inhabitants call Earth.”
“I know the world of which you speak.”
“It is the fear that the young ones have of you that sustains you. As the centuries have passed, your, ah, reputation has diminished somewhat. Very few of the inhabitants of earth even believe in you anymore. Your true name holds no power over them any longer.”
Despite the Nightmare Lord’s rising anger, his voice never raises above a whisper. “These creatures no longer even speak of me.”
“Oh, they still speak of you,” the fiend says. “However, they have given you a name of their own creation.”
“By what name do these pathetic beings call me?”
The fiend forgets himself and chuckles. “They have given you the illustrious title of the Boogeyman.”
Through great force of will, Teggarimor holds his rage in check. “Tell me, what must I do to regain my power and mend my robes?”
The fiend senses his summoner’s fierce anger and begs for mercy.
“Tell me what I wish to know, and I shall pay you what I have promised.”
“To repair your robes, you must breach the barrier betwixt here and there and collect the souls of the young. For each soul you collect, a tatter shall be mended. Once your robes are completely mended, you will be able to step fully onto that world and regain your former glory. Until then, however, only those who truly believe in you shall be able to see you.”
“I sense the truth in your words,” Teggarimor says, “and for that, I will release you with my promise fulfilled.”
“And let the inhabitants of Earth again learn to fear me. Let them fear… the Boogeyman.”
As quick as he appeared, the fiend disappears from the Nightmare Lord’s keep and appears in the familiar surroundings of his home. “He lied to me,” he mutters. As he turns to stalk from his miserable home, he finds that Teggarimor kept his word in the cruelest of fashion. For millennia, he is condemned to his loftier position, two inches above the floor of his home.
Rick Tyler was awake the instant he felt his wife’s hand on his arm. “What is it, Beth?”
“I heard something,” she whispered. After witnessing the grisly scene with the dead fox cub at Arthur’s beach house on Santa Catalina Island, a protective Rick borrowed the Star-Rocket Racer to bring his wife and infant son back to their home immediately. Understandably enough, they were still somewhat on edge.
“Stay here — I’ll check it out,” he told her as he rolled out of bed and slipped his pants on.
“Hey,” she whispered, “you’re not the only hero in this house. We’ll both go.”
Rick knew it was pointless to argue. Beth Tyler grabbed her robe and followed her husband from the bedroom. Once in the hall, they paused to listen.
“Rick,” Beth whispered frantically, “there’s someone in Zach’s room.”
Rick and his wife quietly moved to the door of their infant’s room and listened again. Beth was right — they could hear the muffled voice of someone inside.
As Rick threw the door open, Beth gazed over her husband’s shoulder. With her unique vision, she could make out the hooded figure of someone sitting in the rocking chair holding her son. “Rex?”
Rick flipped the light on to find the costumed form of Hourman holding the child. “Dad?”
Hourman paid them no attention. Rick took another step, then stopped. “You’re not Hourman,” he said as he realized that the body shape was different. “Who are you?”
As he took another step, Beth grabbed his arm. “It’s Ralphie.”
“Ralphie,” Rick asked, “what are you doing in here?”
Ralph never replied.
Beth slipped past her husband and knelt down beside the rocking chair. She tried to take her son, but Ralph would not let go. He just sat there mumbling.
“What’s he saying?” Rick asked.
Beth turned toward her husband, a tear forming in her eye. When she did not answer, Rick knelt down to listen for himself.
Over and over, Ralph just repeated the same thing:
“I won’t let the Boogeyman get you, Zach. I won’t let the Boogeyman get you.”
Arrowette walked down a sunny city street, the eyes of city onlookers upon her. Next to her walked her grandfather, the Green Arrow. The two of them laughed and chatted away. She was so happy to finally meet the man she idolized.
He told her, “I used to patrol these streets pretty regularly in the old days.”
“I know,” she said eagerly. “I read up on all of your old adventures.”
Green Arrow smiled appreciatively at the girl, then made a sweeping gesture with one arm. “I can’t tell you how many times Speedy and I rode down this very street in the Arrowcar. I remember it like it was yesterday.”
“I usually stick to the Arrowcycle,” said Arrowette, “but I’ve taken the Arrowcar out for a spin a few times, too.”
He stopped walking and was quiet for a moment before responding. “I know,” Green Arrow said sourly.
Arrowette was surprised at his reaction. “I… I hope you don’t mind.”
“Mind?” Green Arrow laughed haughtily. “Why should I mind? Just because some brat I’ve never even met is plundering my possessions — my very legacy — why should I mind?”
“But… but, I thought you’d be proud…” she said, dismayed.
Green Arrow turned at her. “Proud? Kid, I don’t even know you! It’s not like I trained you like I did Roy. He’s my successor — not you! What gall you have, thinking you can go into my cave and help yourself to my stuff! And what’s that you’re wearing?”
“My costume?” Arrowette asked.
“You mean my costume!” he snapped. “Who told you that you could cut down one of my suits to fit you?” With that, he reached over and yanked it completely off her.
Arrowette let out a shriek of horror, finding herself standing on a city street in broad daylight in her birthday suit. She covered herself with her hands and began running. The sidewalks were suddenly filled with people, laughing and pointing at her as she ran down the street.
“You’d better run, girl!” Green Arrow laughed, casually reaching back to his quiver for an arrow. He drew his bow and fired.
Arrowette screamed as an arrow whizzed past her. He drew and fired again and again, sending more arrows flying past her. When she looked over her shoulder at him, she saw that his eyes had turned red and his teeth had grown pointed. His wide, grinning mouth had row after row of horrible, pointed teeth.
Finally, he drew one last arrow and fired it, this one flying toward her with deadly accuracy. She screamed as it came onward to her face, aiming for the space right between her eyes.
Arrowette awoke, covered in cold sweat in her own bed. She drew her covers over her. It was a dream — just a horrible, horrible dream. She climbed out of bed, knowing very well that she would not be able to get back to sleep that night. She opened her closet door and raised the floorboard where she hid her costume and bow and arrow, intending to go on patrol. As she moved to lift her costume up from its hiding place, a chill ran up her spine as the images of the nightmare played over again in her mind.
He could not see through the thick fog that seemed to be everywhere. It had the greenish tinge of the very gas he used to bring dreams or nightmares. This time it enveloped him, and he was the victim. He strained to make out something, anything, in the clouds.
“Father?” a tiny voice faintly echoed in his mind.
“What?” he asked in a voice that sounded as if it was being spoken at the end of a long tunnel, indistinct from the echo of the childlike voice. “Who’s there? Is that you, Sand–?”
“There’s not much time,” the tiny voice continued with an odd mixture of a small child’s voice mixed with the tone of someone who had lived and seen much. “I have only limited power here, and you and Mother need to be warned. He is coming for me. He hasn’t been able to find me yet… but he will. And you need to be ready.”
The mists began to swirl violently into a twisted mockery of the shape of a man. But the image soon flickered, and the darkness surrounded him. He suddenly felt adrift, as if the fog was all that kept him rooted to the ground.
“You will remember little of this, but you have to try. For the sake of both realms, Father, you can shape the fields. We all can here. Remember, with your own helm they will obey you…” The voice trailed off.
He wondered what the voice meant. He did not have his mask on, and — for now at least — he remembered that it was his symbol of title here.
“Wait! Who are you?” He found himself being drawn to a small flicker of light. As he drew closer, he could make out two sets of small oval lights.
Another voice that sounded gravelly and whispering emanated from the two small ovals of light. “You really need to listen to him… the kid knows what he’s talking about. My master has lots of hope for him in the future. You should be proud. Both of you.” As the voice continued, and the ovals drew nearer, surrounding the lights were gleaming rows of pearls… or were they teeth?
“Don’t screw it up, or you’ll have to face the master’s wrath, and who would know better than me? He made and un-made me several times till he got it right — you only get one chance.”
Another oval of light opened up beneath the twin ovals. They now formed an upside-down triangle of two small mouths over the slightly wider bottom mouth. A fetid stench emanated from the bottom mouth, and a reddish fiery glow began to flicker from it. The bottom oval opened wider, and the hapless dreamer found himself falling into it as if spinning down a whirlpool toward the bottom of the sea.
“You know me,” the gravelly voice croaked as the dreamer spun toward the fiery oven. He also remembered many things, the things he only knew here, the things that he knew he could not take back with him.
The screaming was loud and continued long after Wesley Dodds awoke.
“It was horrible,” Rick Tyler said as he sat, holding a cup of coffee, in his father’s kitchen on Saturday morning before dawn.
“I can imagine,” said Rex Tyler, sitting across from his youngest son. “What did you finally do?” he asked, taking a sip from his own cup.
“What could I do?” Rick said. “It’s not like I could power up and get into it with him to make him turn Zach loose. I had to sit there and wait for his hour of power to time out.”
Rex winced. “That must have been really nerve-wracking.”
“That’s putting it mildly. It was hell.”
“I’ve been afraid something like this might happen.”
“‘Something like this’?” Rick said, his eyebrows rising. “How could you imagine this?”
“Well, not exactly like this, of course, but I had wondered at times if he could use Miraclo… especially after the revelation that it worked with your physiology.”
“I’d wondered that myself,” Rick admitted. “A part of me hoped that — if he ever did — he’d use it responsibly. I mean, it’s not like he hasn’t been able to act responsibly or rationally in the past. He’s held down jobs, for crying out loud, like that paper route.”
“Having a paper route and being a super-hero are two different things,” Rex stated. “I just still can’t believe that Ralphie would steal my costume and Miraclo. It’s not like him.”
“And all that talk about the Boogeyman!” Rick said, shaking his head. “I didn’t know what to think.”
“The question now is — what do we do with him?” Rex said. “If he’s become uncontrollable and has the potential to be as powerful as we are, then he can no longer be allowed to run free and unsupervised.”