by Immortalwildcat and Drivtaan
On the third day she was ready.
The first time it happened, on Friday, the director had chalked it up to the usual hyperactive imaginations that most preschoolers had; she understood it, even treasured it. Imagination was one of the greatest gifts humanity possessed, even if it did sometimes cause nightmares or misunderstandings. When Jeff Keane woke up screaming from a nap, the worker in the daycare center calmed him, laid him back down, and carried on with their duties. None of the other children in the center woke up… that time.
On Saturday, more than a dozen kids woke up screaming, all within seconds of each other. When Paula Ciarotti called her down, the director found a room in chaos. Thirty children, aged one to four, were running around the room, screaming at the top of their lungs, mostly incoherently, though she did hear some of the children say the name Boogeyman more than a few times. It took almost an hour to restore order.
Today, Sunday, she supervised nap-time herself. All morning long she had taken time to speak with each of the children, assessing them, seeking likely subjects. Of the thirty preschoolers laying on the floor now, she had identified six upon whom she could rely. The other workers knew what to do.
It started just after two-thirty. Once again, Jeff Keane was the first to wake up, the cry forming in his mouth before his eyes opened. Paula was at his side, comforting him immediately. He would be of no use to the director. As other small bodies started to stir, she watched. As children started crying, she directed others among the adults to assist them. Finally, one of her selected ones stirred.
She dashed to his side, picking him up and cradling him in her arms as she moved to a private room. All the time she spoke to him soothingly, yet with a very deliberate pattern to her words and careful modulations in her voice. By the time she laid him down on a cot in the small office, Steve Johnson was relaxed, yet wide awake.
“Now, Stevie, what did you see that made you cry?”
“It was huge. Bigger than Mr. Holt, even. With a great big mouth full of knives!”
“I think they were supposed to be teeth, but they looked like dirty knives.”
“Was it a man?”
“I don’t think so. It had this big, fat body and little short legs. It had this really ratty-looking coat on, too.”
The director sat back in a chair. The hypnosis worked better than she had expected, considering how young Stevie was. As she considered her next move, there was the sound of something hitting the door. She got up and opened it, only to view a scene straight out of a horror movie.
Jeff Keane stood on a table, a jagged spike of wood in his hand. Draped over the table was the body of Paula Ciarotti, blood gushing from a gaping wound in her back.
“Dear God, what is going on?” whispered Geri Sloane as she dashed across the room. Never taking her eye from the young boy, she launched herself into the air, her arms wrapping around the boy’s waist as she carried him off the table. She arched her back, bringing her feet up and over so that her short flight ended in a somersault, her feet striking the wall. She landed on her back, clutching Jeff tightly in her arms. He still held the broken-off chair leg that he had used to stab the daycare supervisor. He raised his arm as best he was able, trying to bring the point to bear on Geri’s face. Her left arm came up and grabbed his wrist, meeting with far more resistance than should have been possible with a toddler. Slowly, she forced his arm back, the point of the chair leg turning away from both of them. Finally, she broke his grip, and the spike of wood went skittering across the floor. With that, Jeff’s eyes widened and his mouth dropped open. Seeing her as if for the first time, he wrapped his arms around Miss Sloane, sobbing.
Recognizing that the terror was gone, at least for now, Geri relaxed and let the boy cry himself back to sleep. Others attended to Paula, who was still alive. As they moved her to the floor where the arriving EMTs could treat her, Geri saw that she had been sheltering two small children under her body.
I don’t know what just happened here, thought the director of the Fair Play Center, but I think Miss Terrific is going to need some help to find out!
Al Pratt and Ted Grant sat in a Gotham City hotel suite, waiting for their wives to return from a weekend shopping trip.
“I’m glad you and Mary could spend a couple of days down here, Al. I think Irina gets a little tired of traveling all the time, and it’s nice when she can get out and about with somebody else for a while.”
“Oh, don’t tell me you’re having second thoughts about this marriage already, Ted.”
“Not on your life, buddy.” Ted set his beer bottle on the coffee table and leaned forward. “Best thing that ever happened to me. I just wonder if it’s the best for her. Kind of hard for her to keep up her painting when we’re traveling around. She’s been doing some work in pencils and charcoals, though.”
“Maybe you should consider settling down, then. I know this personal training consultant gig is nice, but if the traveling is a problem…” Al Pratt’s voice trailed off, but his meaning was clear.
“I’ve been thinking along them same lines myself, Al. In fact, I got a call from someone today who I may just start working for, and maybe I’ll be able to keep my keister in one place for a while.”
“Who’s that?” asked Al, as the suite’s doorbell rang.
Ted got up to answer the door, saying, “I think you’re about to find out.” He opened the door, and there was a young, smartly dressed woman standing there.
“Uncle Ted!” she exclaimed, throwing her arms around the big ex-prizefighter. Long, wavy red hair spilled out from under her hat as it was knocked off her head in her enthusiasm. “Thanks for seeing me on such short notice.”
“Geri!” said Al, as he rose to join them.
“Uncle Al? I didn’t know you were in Gotham!” Geri Sloane moved to give Al Pratt a similar greeting.
Ted reached out into the hallway to grab a suitcase that was sitting there, then closed the door. “Got to admit, kiddo, I was kind of surprised when you called. Even moreso when you told me about what was happening down at the center.” As they all sat down, Al asked her what had happened. Geri described the events of the last three days, including the attack one of the children in the Fair Play Club’s daycare center had made on the center’s supervisor.
“She’s in critical condition. I’ve arranged for psychologists and counselors for the other children, their parents, and the staff. But quite frankly, I’m at a loss as to what could be causing it. I called Ted this afternoon, and he told me that the JSA had been discussing reports of similar incidents from around the country.”
“Tell me about it,” groaned Al. “Grant blew away a couple thousand dollars worth of wine at home a couple nights ago, trying to catch a boogeyman.”
“That’s what the children at the center were calling it. I got a description from one of them.” Reaching into her purse, Geri pulled out a rolled-up sheet of paper. Laying it flat, she showed them a sketch of a large creature, clad in a robe of patches, with glowing eyes and a large, fang-filled mouth.
“Damn!” Ted exclaimed. “That’s almost identical to what Hourman’s kid described.”
“Rick saw it?” asked Geri.
“Not Rick,” answered Ted. “Ralphie claims to have seen it, and he suited up in his old man’s costume, popped a Miraclo pill, and took Rick’s baby out of his crib to guard him all night long.”
“Oh, dear. Rick and Beth must have been shocked.” Geri rolled up the sketch and put it back in her purse. “I felt it was best to call you privately, but it sounds like the JSA is already on this case.”
“And we need everybody on it we can get,” said Al. “Is it safe to assume that Miss Terrific will be joining us at the special meeting tonight?”
“Count on it!”
“Mmm… yes, sweetie?”
“Can I talk to you for a minute? About a dream I had last night?”
“Of course you can.” He folded the newspaper and laid it on the footstool in front of his chair. Reaching out, he lifted his daughter into his lap. “What was it about? That pony you asked me for?”
“Well, kind of. I dreamed that you got me my pony, and we kept it out at Granddad’s farm. I was out there, and you were teaching me how to ride.”
He chuckled. The pony had already been purchased through one of his father-in-law’s contacts and would be waiting for Diana on her birthday in two weeks. “You know, I’m not much of a horseman. Maybe you should dream about Mommy teaching you.” For that, he received his daughter’s best you’re being silly look.
“Well, you were the one teaching me in the dream. Then the pony tried to throw me off. You grabbed the straps around his head, and he threw you up in the air.” She sniffled a little, and leaned into his chest. “You went up, and up, and up, and when you came down, you wouldn’t move. I went over to you, and I tried to wake you up. And that’s when he changed.”
“Changed? Who changed?”
“The pony. I turned to tell him he’d been bad, and he was standing on his back legs. His mouth was all big, and round, and full of big teeth. I tried to run, but I couldn’t run fast enough. He chased me, and I ran in the barn, and he broke through the door, and I was caught in a corner, and–” She stopped, panting heavily as if she was running from the horse now.
“What happened then?” he asked softly.
“That’s when I woke up.” She burst into tears against her father’s chest. “I-I don’t think I want a pony now!”
For a short time, he simply cradled her in his arms, rocking her gently, whispering soothing words. Her mother came in and lifted the now-sleeping girl from his arms. He stood, stroking his daughter’s hair.
“Better let her sleep with us tonight,” he said quietly. “That dream she had last night upset her badly.”
“Libby was crying when I went in to wake her this morning, too,” answered his wife, Andrea. He nodded, and she left the room.
As soon as he was alone, his expression hardened. “Something in the spiritual realm seeks to threaten my family. I’ve kept you in check for months since you returned to me. Today, however, you are needed for more than punishing some minor crook or hoodlum.”
Jim Corrigan’s body was enshrouded in a hooded deep green cloak. His slacks and shirt disappeared, leaving a deathly pale form clad in green trunks, boots, and gloves. “Since my return to this world, I have been content to work alone. Now something is at large in the realm of the living that does not belong. For that, I must seek the aid of my one-time companions in the Justice Society.”
Raising his arms, the Spectre soared up through the ceiling and out of the Corrigan home, bound for the JSA Brownstone.
“We can’t stay here and plan this,” Batwing told the still-assembled Junior JSA. “We don’t know if the brownstone will be empty for very much longer. One of the JSA could show up at any moment, and then we’d be in real trouble.”
The newly arrived Kiku was confused. “What are you people doing?”
“Hey,” Damage said, “I recognize you. You were on TV shortly after the Crisis.” After a brief pause he asked, “What are you doing here?”
Before Kiku could answer, Batwing spoke up. “She’s had nightmares.”
The young Badhnisian’s mouth dropped open. “How… how did you know?”
“Because we’ve had them, too.”
“Which,” Superboy added, “is why we need to go somewhere where we can plan what has to be done.”
“Look, Kiku,” Batwing told her, “we have no idea where Johnny Thunder is right now, but if you want to go with us, I’ll explain what you’ve walked into.”
The newcomer thought for a few seconds, then agreed.
The Junior JSA adjourned their meeting — if only briefly — and left the brownstone, each going their own way. Minutes later, and a few miles away, the colorful youths began gathering at a small apartment across town from their headquarters.
“Nice place,” Star Sapphire said. “Is this where you bring your dates, Batwing?”
“For your information, this is one of a dozen or so safe houses Batman set up in case of emergencies.” The young man approached the door. “Give me a second. I’m pretty sure there’s some kind of alarm. If we trip it, Red Robin will know where we are.”
Before he could blink, Whiz Kid stood before him with a handful of electronics. “Here you go, disabled before they could send any signals.”
Batwing opened the door, and the group entered a cozy, little, well-kept apartment.
“Not bad,” Damage said as he headed for the TV.
“We don’t have time for that,” Superboy told him.
“I just want to see what’s on while Batwing brings Kiku up to speed.”
After the situation was explained, Kiku was in full agreement that something had to be done to protect Ralphie.
“Now can we plan this thing, please?” Superboy asked.
Whiz Kid nodded. “If we’re going to do this, we need to do it quick.”
Batwing was just about to tell Damage to turn off the television, when Arrowette jumped up from where she sat on a footstool. “I’ve got it!” she exclaimed.
“Got what?” Coral asked.
“I know how we can get Ralphie out of his house.”
As she explained her plan, Superboy noticed that Damage was still glued to the TV set. “Will you get in here?” But Damage kept ignoring him.
“I’ll get him,” Batwing said. “Damage, come on. We’re almost through planning, and you haven’t heard a word of…” The young man fell silent as he saw what held his friend’s attention. “Turn that up.”
“–is the mother of one of the newborns taken from the maternity ward here at Gotham General.”
“I know her,” Batwing whispered.
“What are you two so interested in?” Superboy asked as he walked up and stood beside the young man.
“Shh,” was all Batwing said.
The mother tried to relate what had happened. “It was something… horrible. It took our babies. No one could stop… stop…” Unable to control herself any longer, the woman broke down and began to cry.
“I saved her a few months back. She’s the one who kept me from hanging up my cape.” (*) The others were startled by this revelation. “She was going to name her baby…”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Batman Family: Batwing: The Night Shift.]
“Jason,” the woman cried out, “I want my precious Jason!”