by Drivtaan and Starsky Hutch 76
“So, Morpheus wants me to help you?” Sandy Hawkins said to the ghostly image floating before him.
Jeff Pierce gave him a sheepish smile. “Actually, you’ve probably been doing this hero thing longer than I have, so I’d better just help you.”
“Same difference,” Sandy said. “Do you have an AKA yet?”
“An ‘Also Known As’ — you know, a codename?”
“Oh, right,” Jeff told him. “I call myself Static.”
“Static, huh?” Sandy nodded. “Air Wave called his pet parrot Static. I’m Sleeper.”
“Brilliant.” Jeff was quiet for a second. “So, Sleeper, good fellow, any idea on how we’re supposed to help Morpheus?”
“Well, the first thing we need to do is enter the Dreaming, or at least that’s what I need to do. I think you’re already there.”
“Do you know how to enter the Dreaming?” Static asked.
“Unfortunately, no,” the Sleeper said. “I can only enter it when I’m asleep.”
“Oh,” Static responded. “Are you sleepy now?”
“Nope. Not now.”
“So what do we do?”
“Maybe I can help,” Dian Belmont said as she entered the room.
The Sleeper made the proper introductions before asking his aunt how she could help. “I can put you to sleep,” she told him, then turned to Static. “When he’s asleep, you need to be his beacon — you know, draw him to you.”
Static grinned. “I think I know just how to do that.”
Dian looked deep into her nephew’s eyes and spoke only one word. “Sleep.”
Gently, she lowered him down onto the couch. “It’s up to you, Static.”
Dian watched as the boy stretched out his hands, closed his eyes, and began to concentrate. With her enhanced senses, she felt a part of Sandy’s essence leave his body. Slowly, he began to materialize in much the same state as Static, beside the young hero.
“Neat,” the Sleeper said as Static opened his eyes. “How did you do that?”
“I can draw electricity into my body, so I simply locked on to the electrical impulses of your brain and drew your dream-self to me.”
“I wish I could do more,” Dian told the two apparitions floating before her.
“You’ve done enough for tonight, Aunt Dian,” Sandy said. “Now you need to try and get some rest — you’re sleeping for two now.”
“Yes, ‘doctor,'” she said as she turned and started out the door. “Just be careful.”
If Dian had glanced back, she would have seen the look of surprise on the boys’ faces as they felt themselves being drawn away to somewhere else.
By Monday morning, Grant Emerson Pratt’s mind was a maelstrom of anxiety and self-doubt thanks to his current circumstances. It was bad enough that he had accidentally blown up Al’s — Dad’s (he was still getting used to calling him that) — wine cellar. By hiding out in an abandoned lab with the rest of the Junior JSA, he was blatantly defying him and the rest of the JSA. In the short amount of time he had been living with the Pratts, they had behaved more like real parents to him than the Emersons had his whole life. Finding out that they actually were his real parents had seemed like some beautiful dream. The idea that he might do something to ruin everything was too much for him to bear. The idea that he might lose the loving parents he had finally found absolutely terrified him.
One of the principles that Wildcat and Red Tornado had instilled in him was sticking by your team through thick and thin, but he was now beginning to regret that. He could lose everything. If only he had been able to convince the rest of the team to see things his way, to take charge, and get them to follow him. Unfortunately, he was all too aware that he had none of Jason’s or Cal’s natural leadership abilities.
He heard a jingling as the door opened and one of his teammates entered. Jason Todd carried a large paper bag and wore a Misfits T-shirt, tattered black jeans, and combat boots. He walked to the refrigerator, opened the door, and pulled a case of beer out of the paper bag.
Grant did a double take. “How did you get that?”
“I’m a master of disguise, remember?” Jason said, winking.
“Oh, yeah, you look real inconspicuous,” Grant said, looking at his clothes, his hair spikes, and his dangling skull earring.
“I didn’t look like this at the time,” replied Jason. He closed the refrigerator door and walked toward the doorway to the rest of the lab.
“You’re not gonna have one now?” Grant asked.
“Naw, I’m gonna get on the computer and see if I can’t get any more info on some of these missing kids. Maybe later.”
“You care if I have one?” Grant asked.
“Knock yourself out,” Jason said. “Just make sure you leave some for the rest of us.”
“Yeah, sure thing,” Grant said, laughing nervously.
Things like beer were no big deal to Jason Todd, who had spent many years living on the street and was consequently a lot more worldly than the rest of his teammates. Grant, on the other hand, had never even had a sip of beer in his life. In addition to being sadistic, abusive assholes, the Emersons had been complete health freaks. There had not even been soft drinks or junk food in the house. He decided he would like to try a beer now, though — anything to get his mind off what had been eating at him. He tore into the cardboard box and pulled out a can of Budweiser, little realizing that he had just made a decision that would have a huge impact on his life in the months to come.
Bursts of near-divine energy and crimson lightning lit the vast expanse of Limbo as a spirit of vengeance and a Badhnisian Thunderbolt clashed in mortal combat. Although the two had been comrade-in-arms for nearly fifty years, each fought without regard for the past.
The power of the Spectre had brought them here to prevent the wanton destruction of innocent mortal lives. Their arrival had sent a wave of fear through the denizens of this realm, causing them to flee for their very existence.
The Spectre knew Cei-U had not resisted being brought here despite what the Boogeyman had — through Johnny Thunder — commanded. “I know you are fighting the command to kill, Thunderbolt,” the Spectre said as they struggled. “It is completely against your nature to do so.”
The Thunderbolt did not — indeed could not — reply.
“You know there is only one way to break the Boogeyman’s hold over you,” the Spectre continued.
Cei-U looked at his friend with pleading in his eyes. The Spectre knew his internal struggle was great, indeed, as the Thunderbolt opened his mouth and forced his words out. “Please… don’t… kill… Master… John.”
The pale ghost suddenly quit resisting his opponent long enough for the Thunderbolt to fall toward him. Spinning slightly to his left, he brought his arm across the back of Cei-U’s neck and trapped him in a head lock.
“I was not speaking of Johnny Thunder,” was all the Spectre said as he exerted the entirety of his God-granted strength. There was a sickening crack heard throughout Limbo, and the Badhnisian Thunderbolt went limp.
William Twotrees, along with Doctor Fate and the Shade, appeared before the dreamscape cabin where they had first encountered the unnaturally young Johnny Thunder and his Thunderbolt. As Doctor Fate reached for the doorknob, the Native American suddenly fell to his knees. Instantly, his companions were at his side.
“Will, what is the matter?” asked Doctor Fate.
As William raised his head, they saw tiny arcs of electricity dance in the corners of his eyes and down his cheeks.
“Father’s dead,” were the only words he spoke.
Teggarimor had, with the aid of Johnny Thunder and his Thunderbolt, captured Morpheus and taken control of the Dreaming. The JSA had then unwittingly delivered Wesley Dodds, the Sandman, into his hands. He gazed for a moment longer at his prizes before transporting himself to his true home.
“I sense our jailer has left.”
“I’m getting that same feeling.”
“He truly believes he is now ruler of my realm.”
“Lord Morpheus, may I ask you a question?”
“What do you wish to know, Wesley Dodds?”
“How were we able to make contact with the Pierce kid?”
“Surely you, of all my agents, have suspected that my realm is more than what you see when you dream. What the usurper controls is only a small fragment of what I rule. We accessed a deeper level of the Dreaming to contact the child. Teggarimor has set up boundaries to prevent such contact, which is why there was such resistance at first, but the child is brave and inquisitive. That is how we made contact — we simply pulled him into a deeper dream.”
“When I arrived and shoved him back into the waking world, you prevented his dream-self from re-entering his body. Why?”
“I have merely taken this opportunity to see if this Sanderson Hawkins, the one who now calls himself Sleeper, is a worthy successor to your position.” Morpheus sensed his agent’s confusion. “Fear not, Wesley Dodds; I’m not replacing you just yet. But surely you do not want to be a dreamer all of your life, do you?”
Cei-U awoke to find himself laying upon hard ground. He raised himself up and rubbed the back of his neck. “Where am I?” he asked.
“You have to ask?” spoke a feminine voice. “Well, maybe you do. We don’t get many of your kind here. Actually, we don’t get any. You’re the first I ever remember seeing in this realm.”
Cei-U looked around and saw a black-clad, white-skinned girl with a wild mop of black hair staring at him. She had heavy black eyeliner of an Egyptian style around her eyes, and around her neck hung an ankh from a leather string.
“Dead?” she finished. She smiled and shrugged. “A good semblance, anyway. Your people can’t be killed in the traditional sense. You’re basically under a spell to make you mimic human death in order to sever your link with Johnny Thunder for the time being.”
“With me gone, I guess the JSA is mopping things up now,” Cei-U said.
“It’s not as simple as that,” she said. “Teggarimor isn’t stupid. He prepared for your eventual loss. He siphoned power from you while he had you under his control. It will eventually run out, but for now he’s stronger. There’s also the matter of the territory he’s stolen from my brother.”
“Then I need to go back and help them!” Cei-U exclaimed, jumping up.
“So he can regain control of you?” Death scoffed. “I don’t think so. For now, your best bet is to stay here and hope for the best.”
Cei-U sighed. “I don’t like being helpless like this.” He sat on a rock and rested his hand in his hands. “Now I know how humans feel.”
“I hate to ask you to do this, Ralph,” Batwing said, apologizing, “but I need you to tell me your dream one more time. I’m certain there is a clue — something simple that I’m overlooking.”
“I’ll try to remember harder,” Ralphie Tyler volunteered. “Maybe there’s something I keep forgetting to tell you.”
As the man recounted his dream for the fourth time, everyone listened closely to see if anything new was added. When he finished speaking, it was agreed that it was the same as before, word for word.
“I’m sorry,” Ralph told them.
“Don’t be,” Coral said. “I’m convinced you’ve told it exactly the way you remember.”
“And you call yourself a detective?” Whiz Kid said suddenly, turning to Batwing.
“What am I missing?” Batwing asked.
Whiz Kid grinned. “I just realized it myself. Ralph’s dream didn’t come from the Boogeyman.”
Batwing smacked his forehead. “Of course!” he exclaimed. “See, Ralph? I told you it would be something simple.”
“Ralph’s dream was sent as a warning,” Whiz Kid continued.
“So,” Damage added, “all we have to do is hope whoever sent him the first warning will send him another one.”
“If Ralph is willing,” Kiku said, “I’ve got a better idea.”
“Will it help those babies?” Ralph asked.
“Hopefully,” Kiku said.
“Then let’s do it,” said Ralph.
“What are you planning to do?” Superboy asked.
Kiku held up her magic dial. “Just watch.”
Everyone gathered around as the girl began to dial the letters H-E-R-O. After releasing the dial following the last letter, the air around the young heroine began to shimmer, and her form began to grow. With a sudden flash of light, Kiku was gone — in her place stood a tall, well-dressed man in a white tuxedo. A shock of black hair poked out from under a white top hat matching his thin goatee. The man bowed.
“Greetings. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Mesmero the Magnificent.”
After several minutes of preparation, Mesmero the Magnificent looked down at Ralph, who was laid out on a table. “Are you comfortable?” the hypnotist asked him.
“Yes,” Ralph assured him.
“Good,” said Mesmero. “I shall explain to you what is about to happen, OK?” Ralph nodded. Mesmero asked, “Do you know what hypnosis is?”
“Yes,” Ralph told him. “When me and Rick were younger, I hypnotized him. I think he was just pretending, but he still acted like a chicken for me. Rick is neat.”
The master hypnotist smiled. “You know this is very important, so you cannot do any pretending — if you do not feel sleepy when we begin, you must let me know so we can try something else.”
“OK,” Ralph said.
“Now,” Mesmero began, “I need you to listen closely to my voice. It is very important that you block out every sound and every distracting thought — focus only on me.”
Almost immediately, Mesmero became the sole focus of Ralph’s attention. He neither heard nor noticed anything else.
“Amazing,” Star Sapphire whispered. “I’ve never seen anybody become so focused so fast.”
“I’ve been with Dad when he’s visited a couple of the schools for mentally handicapped children,” Whiz Kid told her. “Whatever suddenly becomes important in their minds garnishes their complete attention. Dad says that society is too quick to write the mentally handicapped off as non-citizens, but he said that, whether he becomes president or not, this issue will become a top priority once the election is over.”
Mesmero turned to the two teens and signaled for them to be quiet. They silently mouthed apologies and allowed him to continue.
“Now, Ralph,” Mesmero said, “I want you to relax.”
As Ralph listened to Mesmero’s gentle voice, he felt his eyelids begin to grow heavier and heavier. Knowing that this was very important, he offered no resistance as sleep claimed him.
Almost as soon as they closed, his eyes snapped open, and Ralph found himself standing at one end of a long, dark hallway. Glancing down, he found himself once again wearing his father’s costume.
From somewhere in the darkness, he heard Mesmero’s voice. “Ralph, can you hear me?”
“Look around. You should see a door.”
Ralph’s subconscious did as instructed. “Lots of doors.”
Mesmero turned and looked at Batwing. “Something is wrong.”
“What do you mean by ‘wrong’?” the young man asked.
“Since I am guiding him, Ralph should only see one door, not several.”
Batwing thought for a moment. “Go ahead and bring him out of it. We’ll see if we can’t figure out something else to do.”
“I am sorry,” the hypnotist said. “I was sure this would work.”
As Mesmero prepared to awaken Ralph, the man began to wander down the hallway. Stopping in front of one of the many doors, he reached out, opened it, and stepped inside. He never heard the call to awaken.
Ralph now found himself standing in what appeared to be a torture chamber. It almost reminded him of something from the old horror movies he would sneak and watch as a teenager, with a couple of exceptions — it was much cleaner, and there were two tubes floating in the center of the room.
As he approached the tubes, he realized that there were people inside. The first one he examined held a very tall man with white skin and black hair who was wearing a long, black robe. There was something familiar about the man, but Ralph couldn’t quite figure out where he had seen him before.
He moved to the second tube, his eyes widening in surprise when he saw who it was. “Uncle Wesley?” Ralph started to touch the tube when he heard a horrible voice behind him.
“Who are you?” the voice snarled. “What are you doing with my prisoners?”
Ralph spun around and found himself face-to-face with the creature he knew as the Boogeyman.
“You…” Teggarimor hissed. “I should have killed you and your nephew when you were first in my grasp.”
Ralph took a step toward Teggarimor. “You stay away from Zach, Boogeyman.”
The fiend took a half-step backward. “This is my realm, simpleton — here I am in control. I shall do to your precious little Zach the exact same thing I intend to do with the rest of those whining, mortal brats.”
Before he realized it, Ralph was holding his miniature hourglass up before his eyes and watching the fiend through the falling sand. “Now,” he whispered.
As the power surged through his body, Ralph drew his fist back and leaped at Teggarimor. The Boogeyman was completely unprepared for the attack and had only partially turned when Ralph landed and struck.
Ralph’s punch connected with the side of Teggarimor’s head, sending him flying through the door and into the darkened hallway.
Looking up at the approaching Ralphie Tyler, Teggarimor hissed in anger and began to fade away, his final words echoing up and down the hall. “They’re dead! The children are all dead!”
Ralph rushed back into the room and halted before the floating tube that held Wesley Dodds, whom he affectionately knew as his uncle and who was his dad’s best friend. “I don’t know how to help you, Uncle Wesley, but maybe my friends will.” Tears began to run down Ralph’s cheeks. “Right now, I gotta try to find those babies.”
Ralph heard the word in his mind and knew, somehow, that it was the strange man in the other tube. He nodded, wiped his eyes, and ran into the hallway. He never looked back.
“Even though he wore Hourman’s costume, I know that wasn’t Rex.”
“No, that was not your friend.”
“And yet, Lord Morpheus, he seemed familiar. He even called me ‘Uncle Wesley.'”
“He seems familiar to you because he is known to you. It is his father whom he has chosen to emulate.”
“But… Rick has his own costume.”
“After all these years, Dreamer, you still make assumptions in my realm.”
“But if that’s not Rick, then who–? Oh, my God! That was Ralphie!”
“His kind are treated as honored guests when in the Dreaming. My servants always try to make certain they have pleasant dreams.”
“Then what was Ralphie doing here?”
“I summoned assistance — he came.”
“But Ralphie couldn’t help us. He said so himself.”
“I sensed Teggarimor re-enter my realm, this time to kill us. Ralph Tyler just saved our lives.”
“Uh, Sleeper?” asked Static.
The Sleeper replied, “Huh?”
“You wouldn’t happen to know where we are, would you?”
“I was going to ask you the same thing.”
“This can’t be good,” Static sighed.
The Sleeper nodded in agreement. The two seemed to have been floating placidly in mist for a very long time now, although the actual passage of time was difficult to fathom in this realm.
As if to alleviate the boys’ uneasiness, the scenery around them began to change. What was, just moments before, a mist-shrouded, endless graveyard with markers carved in a thousand different languages, now became a pleasant-looking cottage bathed in the rays of a golden sun.
The boys looked at each other. “OK,” they said simultaneously.
When they turned their attention back to the cottage, they found the door open and a white-skinned girl with black hair and clothing standing before them. She gave them a warm smile.
“Welcome to my realm,” she told them.
“Uh, thank you,” the Sleeper said. “I’m–”
“I know who you are,” the girl said, cutting him off. “You may call me… Death.”
“Bollocks,” Static moaned. “We’re dead.”
Death approached the two boys and, arm-in-arm, took them toward the cottage. “Trust me when I tell you that you are not dead.”
The Sleeper exhaled a breath he had not realized he was holding. “I guess you would know for certain.”
“Come,” she said. “There’s someone waiting for you.”
Still somewhat confused, her guests followed Death inside. They found themselves standing in a quaint, little parlor. Sleeper’s mouth dropped open when he saw her other guest.
“Thunderbolt?” Sleeper said. “Wait a minute — what are you doing here?”
“Hello, Sandy,” Cei-U replied. “Oh, Spectre snapped my neck.”
Sandy’s eyes widened.
“It’s OK, though,” the Thunderbolt continued. “He just did what had to be done.”
“Wow,” Static said. “You’re Johnny Thunder’s magic Thunderbolt.”
“Guilty as charged.”
“I’m Static,” the young man introduced himself, sticking out his hand.
“Oh, I know who you are,” Cei-U replied as he accepted Static’s hand. “You’re my ride.”