Doctor Occult awoke to find himself lying across his bed. He opened and closed his mouth several times, tasting the stale air that had settled within. Pushing himself up, he slowly got to his feet.
“I must have really been tired last night,” he muttered. “I normally make an effort to at least remove my shoes and overcoat before hitting the hay. Oh, well. I might as well take a shower since I’m up.”
Stripping down to his slacks, Richard Occult grabbed a towel from the linen closet and headed into the bathroom. While hanging the towel on the towel bar, he glanced at his reflection in the mirror.
“Man, I look as terrible as I feel.”
He turned the water on, and as he did, he felt his blood run cold. Richard suddenly turned back to the mirror.
“I’m not supposed to be here,” he whispered.
He rushed back into the bedroom and grabbed the phone. A few seconds later, he was listing to the ringing on the other end. “Come on, Kelli. Pick up.”
After a dozen rings, he hung up and tried T.J.’s number. The results were the same.
Richard knew that the trip from his apartment to Charleston, South Carolina, could be made in seconds, thanks to his own abilities; he decided to finish his shower and then go see Detective Brian Walker. It only took twenty minutes before he was standing outside of the police station where Brian worked.
“Can I help you?” an officer asked as he entered the building.
A detective coming out of the stairwell recognized the man in the trenchcoat and fedora and walked over to him. “You’re that Occult fellow that visited Brian a few times, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” Richard replied.
“Are you here to collect his things?” the detective asked.
Richard felt his knees begin to weaken. “What are you talking about? Why would I be here to collect his things?”
“I’m sorry,” the detective apologized. “I thought that, since he had no next of kin, you were here to collect his personal possessions.”
“Are you telling me that Brian is dead?” Occult asked.
“Oh, man. I thought you knew.” The detective took Richard by the arm and led him to a bench. He signaled the officer who first met Richard to bring a cup of coffee.
“When… when did it happen?”
“Detective Walker — Brian — was investigating a case a couple weeks ago when he found himself in trouble. Things got bad real fast. We got a call about shots being fired, and when we got there, it was too late. We know that Brian got off at least one shot of his own, because we found a second body not far from where he lay. Ballistics matched the slugs in Brian to the other man’s gun.”
The officer approached and handed Richard the coffee.
“Look, if you need some time alone, I can find an empty office for you to–”
“No. I’ll be fine.” Richard hoped he sounded convincing. “If you don’t mind, I will take his things.”
“Not a problem,” the detective said. “You wait right here, and I’ll go get them.”
As the man walked away, he couldn’t help but feel that this was all his fault.
A light drizzle had begun to fall by the time Doctor Occult left the station. He hoped that Kelli or T.J. were at the warehouse they were using as their headquarters. Despite being anxious to find his friends, the news of Brian’s death took more out of him than he had realized. He decided to skip the teleport and take a cab.
When he arrived, he found the warehouse shut up tight. He paid the cab driver and waited until the car had pulled out of sight. Since he had recovered somewhat from the shock, it took very little effort for him to teleport inside.
Once inside, he turned on the lights and began to look around. Due to the thin layer of dust that was starting to cover the tables and lab equipment, Richard knew that no one had been here for a few weeks.
“If I just knew how long we were in that other dimension,” he said aloud.
Obviously, there was nothing else to be learned here. With that knowledge, Richard decided to try to call his two young friends again.
As he leaned against the desk in the office, he was met with the same results as before. Richard was slowly coming to despise the sound of a ringing phone.
“What have I gotten these kids into?” Richard asked himself. It was a question to which he had no answer.
Doctor Occult hung up the phone. Seconds later, he saw a portal open, and someone stepped through. The newcomer wore a blue and gold costume; a golden helmet obscured his face.
“Doctor Fate,” Richard said. “Thank you for coming.”
“I guessed that it must be serious if you used a telephone to contact me instead of doing it telepathically,” Fate said.
“I have all but exhausted my energy,” Occult explained.
Even without his mystic abilities, Fate could sense that his friend was under a lot of stress. “What’s wrong?”
Richard quickly explained what had happened since he and his friends had left for Spain almost three weeks earlier. “I can’t seem to sense them anywhere,” he said to conclude his account.
“Hang on, and I’ll see what I can do,” Doctor Fate told him.
After several minutes of silence, Doctor Fate shook his head. “I don’t understand it.”
“What’s wrong?” Richard asked him.
“The barrier between the worlds is as strong as ever,” Fate told him, “but I can’t locate them anywhere. I’m sorry to tell you this, Richard, but it’s like your friends have ceased to exist.”
The last of Richard’s strength chose then to desert him. It was only Doctor Fate’s reflexes that kept the man from falling.
Supporting his friend, Fate saw an image of a familiar brownstone in Gotham in his mind, and instantly they were there.
Richard suddenly found himself in a very dark room on a very hard floor. “Fate?”
“Call it fate, call it destiny, call it whatever you want, but you are where you are, and there is no way out.”
The voice in the darkness was cold and hollow, and Richard couldn’t shake the feelings of dread that were creeping into his soul.
The room in which T.J. Dalton awoke was equally dark and equally dreadful.
“Is it really this dark in… wherever I am, or have I suddenly gone blind?” he asked.
“Hopefully,” a voice responded, “it is just the darkness, because I have been wondering about my own sight.”
“Mr. Lane?” the young man asked.
“In a situation like this,” Lazarus Lane said, “I think we can dispense with the politeness. Please, call me Lazarus.”
“I’m Thomas, but my friends call me T.J.”
“T.J. it is,” Lazarus said. “I’ve felt around for Miss Lockhart, but I’ve had no luck in locating her.”
“Hopefully she is with Doctor Occult,” T.J. said, suddenly nervous.
“From what I can tell,” Lazarus said, changing the subject, “we appear to be in some kind of dungeon.”
T.J. stood and, with his arms stretched out in front of him, walked forward until his hands touched a stone wall. As he felt along the wall, he told Lazarus what he was doing. Lazarus held his arms out and walked forward until he, too, was touching a wall. Once the two men had located each other, they started off in opposite directions, seeing if they could find a door.
After a couple of seconds, Lazarus spoke. “I think I’ve found a wall sconce.”
T.J. nodded, then realized his cellmate couldn’t see what he was doing. “I just found one, too. It fells like there is a torch still in it.”
The young man tugged the piece of wood out of the sconce. As he did so, he felt a slight chill. Running his hand up the wood, T.J. let out a yelp and dropped the torch to the floor.
“What’s wrong?” Lazarus asked.
“It’s like I just plunged my hand into the North Atlantic in the middle of winter,” the young man commented.
“Look at the floor,” Lazarus replied, apparently not concerned with his friend’s discomfort.
T.J. looked down and was surprised by the fact that he was actually able to see the floor. It looked as though it was cloaked in twilight, but he could make it out, nonetheless. The burned-out torch lay just at the edge of a small circle of shadow.
Lazarus slowly pulled the torch he had found from its sconce as well. As he held it up close to his face, like T.J., he, too, felt a chill. On impulse, he let it fall. A small circle of twilight appeared at his feet.
“See if you can find any more of these torches,” the man said. “If you do, remove them from where they hang and toss them to the floor.”
Between the two of them, they found six more of the torches and tossed them to the floor. With each dropped torch, the room became lighter and lighter. When the last torch fell, T.J. was finally able to see Lazarus.
“Weird,” T.J. said.
“It seems that these torches produced darkness and cold, rather than light and heat,” Lazarus replied.
“Well, at least now we can see each other.”
“We could,” Lazarus said, “if you were visible.”
“Sorry,” T.J. apologized. “My hood must have ended up over my head when we were put in here. Hang on, and I’ll…” He went quiet.
“What’s wrong?” Lazarus asked.
“The hood makes me invisible when I put it on,” T.J. said.
“And when I went to take it off,” T.J.’s voice fell to almost a whisper. “Lazarus, I’m not wearing my hood.”
“It has been so long, it has, it has, since I’ve seen a human female, that I had all but forgotten how truly exquisite they are. Truly, truly.”
The strange voice banished the last of the cobwebs that clouded Kelli Lockhart’s mind, and brought her to full awareness of her surroundings. The blue jeans and T-shirt she had put on the morning she had entered Mr. Roarke’s room of mirrors were gone. Instead, she now wore a satiny black chemise trimmed in white lace beneath an open-sided surcote of green brocade. Even her hiking boots had been replaced with a simple pair of leather shoes. Talk about damsel in distress, she thought.
“Who are you?” Kelli asked. “Where are my friends?”
“Friends?” the voice asked. “Where are they? Where are they?”
Kelli got the distinct feeling that her captor was not playing with a full deck. She decided that she might be able to exploit this bit of deduction and get him to tell what she wanted to know. First, she had to catch him off-guard.
“Did you like seeing me naked?” she asked.
“Naked?” The voice sputtered. “Naked? Why would I have seen you naked? Why would I? Why?”
“You must have if you changed my clothes,” Kelli answered.
“Not gentlemanly. Not gentlemanly.”
The words were scarcely more than a whisper, but the acoustics in the room easily carried them to Kelli’s ears.
“Did you like what you saw?” Kelli asked.
“I saw nothing. Saw nothing,” the voice said. “Servants changed your clothes.”
“Who are you?” Kelli’s change in conversation caught the mystery man off guard. Almost.
“I am Professor Van… Ah. Tricky girl. Tricky, tricky.”
Kelli heard metal brushing against metal. Apparently, her captor was not in the room with her, but in an adjoining one.
She did take comfort in the fact that he seemed to have a touch of decency about him, even if it didn’t prevent him from locking her in a dark dungeon cell. As she glanced around, Kelli began to piece together what she had learned already. Her captor was male, probably closer to Doctor Occult’s age, if not a little older. He had servants, apparently female. He had an apparent love for medieval things. And, almost as an afterthought, Kelli got the feeling that, despite servants, the professor was a lonely man.
All right, Professor Van, she thought. Let’s see how you hold up the next time we speak.
“Take a deep breath,” the voice told Richard. “It seems like you have had a very bad dream.”
Richard did as he was told. “It was not a dream,” he said. “It was a nightmare… fortunately.”
“That is the first time I’ve heard someone relieved that they had a nightmare,” the voice said.
“The fact that it was a nightmare means that it is possible my friends are all right,” Richard said. “So, where am I, where are my friends, and who are you?”
There was a pause before the hollow voice answered. “Who I am is the easiest of the three questions, so I’ll answer that first,” it said. “I was originally called Robbie by my creator.”
“Your creator?” Richard asked.
“His name was Robert Crane, a brilliant scientist in the field of–”
“Robotics,” Richard finished. “I remember him. We fought together as a part of the All-Star Squadron. Wait a minute. You must be the robot dog he built.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Robbie, the Robotdog,” Star Spangled Comics #29 (February, 1944).]
“If it wasn’t for this infernal darkness,” Robbie said, “you probably would have figured that out without being told. So, who are you? For some reason, my sensors can’t seem to pick you out.”
“I’m Dr. Richard Occult,” the man replied. “What about the first two questions?”
Robbie allowed himself a mechanical laugh. “Well, that is something I have been trying to figure out for quite a while. What year is it? My internal chronometer seems to be malfunctioning.
“It’s 1988,” Occult answered.
“I have been here for thirty-five years,” Robbie said. “Robotman and I had a falling out in 1953, and I left. It wasn’t anything serious, but I was as stubborn as he was.
“It was while I was in Metropolis that I noticed something odd — a man stepped out of a mirror, robbed a bank, then disappeared back into the mirror. Since Superman was nowhere around, I decided to follow the guy. The next thing I know, I’m in this topsy-turvy world having major problems with my systems. During a system downtime, the robber — a guy named Professor Van Ish — found me and tossed me in here. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “In Mirror Land,” Wow Comics #30 (October, 1944).]
“Sometime back, the skies outside turned an odd color, and the next thing I knew, the professor started going nuts — kept running the halls, crying about not being able to get back to someplace called Fawcett City.”
“Mr. Roarke mentioned that this had happened,” said Doctor Occult. “Apparently, a few world-specific dimensions reattached themselves to the wrong Earth before the barriers were put in place. This dimension must have been attached to what we called Earth-S before the Crisis occurred.”
Robbie had no idea what the man was talking about. What he did know was that he apparently had talents that could help him get back home. Of course, they had to get out of this cell first, but for now, that was enough for the robot dog.
“Put your hood on,” Lazarus Lane told T.J. Dalton.
Although T.J. and Lazarus hadn’t known each other for very long, the younger man felt he could trust the older man enough to do as he was told. As he pulled his hood up over his head, Lazarus smiled.
“There you are,” Lazarus said.
“How did you know?” T.J. asked.
“Think about it,” Lazarus replied. “The torches gave off darkness instead of light. Your hand grew very cold when you accidentally touched the flame. Then, as we threw the torches to the floor, and the flames went out, the cell began to get lighter.”
“So, wherever we are, things do the opposite of what they should,” T.J. reasoned. “If that’s the case, then it shouldn’t be too hard to escape from here.”
“There are two possible ways we can escape,” Lazarus said. “Either we lock the door, or we pull on it like we are closing it.”
Since it was the easier of the two suggestions, T.J. put his hands on the small set of bars that made up the door’s window and gave a tug. When nothing happened, he put his face to the bars to see if he could see the keyhole. He could see the keyhole, but not a key. The darkness led him to believe there were more torches in the hallway.
“Any more suggestions?” the young man asked.
“We’ll think of something,” Lazarus assured him.
Gently, T.J. put his head against the door, and it swung open with a bang; the lock was a mangled mess.
As he stood there with his mouth hanging open, Lazarus walked past T.J. and patted him on the back. “Well, that’s using your head.”
T.J. smiled. “I guess so.”
Outside the cell, the two men found a table with Lazarus’ whip laying on it. The man reclaimed his weapon, then turned to his friend.
“Let’s go find the others.”
Kent Nelson awoke with an annoying headache. Sitting up, his bare feet resting on an Oriental rug he had picked up while visiting ancient China, he began to massage his temples. In the bed behind him, he sensed his wife Inza starting to stir. The moment he pushed himself to his feet, her lamp began to glow.
“Bad dream.” Her words were a statement of fact, not a question.
Kent nodded. “Is it that obvious?”
Crawling to her husband’s side of the bed, Inza took his hand and looked up at him. “It was about Doctor Occult, and that team he has gathered.” Again, her words bore no trace of curiosity.
Kent glanced back at her. She had encountered enough of the supernatural for him to realize that there was more to this than met the eyes. “You, too?”
Inza nodded. “Vaguely. I saw Richard and those kids stepping through mirrors, there was a sound of breaking glass, then I heard him call Fate’s name.”
“That is pretty much what I dreamed as well,” Kent said. “The exception, in my case, is that I feel like I was almost walking through whatever dream he was having.”
“He’s in trouble, isn’t he?” Inza asked.
“I believe so.”