The Sandman: Crimson Tide, Chapter 1: Blood Sport

by GDL 629 19136

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“How much more do you need?” asked Stephanie, who was feeling more than a bit dizzy. She only agreed to do this, she reasoned, because she needed her medicine. Her darting, hollowed eyes were drooping as she passed out, never to awaken.

“Just a little more, my dear, just a little more…” said Antoine, who was busy performing the transfusion of blood into an almost-filled, gallon-sized glass jar.

Two small piles of ash lay between the two; the glass jar was aimed above them, slowly dripping down onto the ashes.

***

Wesley Dodds ran.

He felt the putrid breath on the back of his neck; the burning white glow from the creature’s eyes shone past him to light the dank sewer that Wes was fleeing in terror. The buzzing of giant wings resounded through the fetid brick walls as Wes splashed his way into the opening.

“Don’t panic don’t panic it’s just a dream–”

A voice replied, “It’s never just a dream, Wesley. Turn and face the visions.”

Wes whirled around, but the creature was gone. His contemplation was interrupted by the strange commotion around the corner — a strange hissing, a woman moaning, and what sounded like something gulping down a drink, the ferocity of which was monstrous.

Running faster to the corner, Wesley came to the source of the noises. He saw two hooded figures in robes bent over a pale, sickly young girl.

Another man lay beside her, his twisted broken body lay still, and the steam from his corpse was rising in a pale red mist.

As her eyelids closed and her body shuddered in its death throes, the two shrouded creatures howled with laughter.

Wes was horrified.

The girl then rose up, like falling reversed in a movie camera, and laughed with them.

***

Christ, thought Clem Burke. First the %*@# Sandman returns, and now this $#!^!

Clem had heard many stories about the Sandman from his father, Police Lieutenant Anthony Burke — some of them even true — who had a love/hate relationship with Sandman’s meddling, as old Tony put it. According to Tony, the Sandman “helped out sometimes, but mainly got in the way!

The deserted alleyway had been sealed off; the two bodies lay there, horribly mutilated and completely drained of blood.

The girl looked like the far too many junkies that Clem saw at the precinct every day; she was no surprise.

The guy in the red robes, on the other hand, was from a well-off New York family, well-groomed and healthy-looking, apart from being a bit dead.

The family in question hadn’t been notified yet, and Clem wasn’t looking forward to it.

Jesus, gonna be %#$!$% fun explaining this to the Aleisters.”

***

“Was it the dreams again, Wes?” Dian Belmont already knew the answer, yet still felt compelled to ask anyway.

Wesley Dodds sat eating breakfast with Dian on the terrace, absorbed in the morning paper, eyes focused like a laser at the headline.

BODIES FOUND SLAIN IN ALLEY. BIZARRE CULT SUSPECTED.

“Aha!” exclaimed Wes. “That’s the connection!”

“What’s that, Wes?” said Sandy Hawkins, drowsily entering the terrace and rubbing his eyes in an attempt to clear the blurring that often occured when waking. Sandy’s nightly patrol in his new identity of the Sleeper was making it harder to get to bed early.

“Oh, just a new case, Sandy, a gruesome one, at that. I think that the dreams have pointed me towards this one.” Wes sat down with a thoughtful gaze. “Think I’ll have to get some more information at the Morgue.”

***

The silent figure of the Sandman crept along the rooftop of the precinct building, still in need of cosmetic repair from the extensive damage brought on by the Crisis on Infinite Earths nearly a year ago. The Sandman made a mental note of the vents and the exits and jimmied the stairway entrance.

The lunchtime sounds of the precinct morgue yawned in desolate boredom, unaware of their unwelcome visitor. Two forensic workers were plopped in front of a television, oblivious to the Sandman’s approach. Marty and Phil gazed with the glazed eyes of the couch potato at the bizarre soap opera on the TV.

“Hey Marty, check it out — this is where Barnabas rips out Willie’s splee–”

A burst of greenish gas shot out at the two lunchers, and they slumped onto the floor. Phil looked up with a heavily lidded stare at the hazy, insect-like figure above him.

“I am he who haunts the dreams of men. I… am the Sandman.” Wesley never quite understood his compulsion to sometimes speak this way when wearing the mask, but he enjoyed doing it nonetheless.

In his drugged state, the apparition that bent over him terrified Phil. He moaned an unintelligible plea for his life.

Questions. Have you performed the autopsy on the two alleyway victims? Where are they?”

“Muumuus… thhherr… nnn… the… sslllots… thirdy… twooo… ‘n’… thirdy… threee…” Phil barely managed to croak out before crossing into the warm embrace of sleep.

Stepping over the slumbering pair, the Sandman headed for the lockers. With a whisper of freezing steam, number twenty-two revealed the still form of Stephanie Vargas. The corpse, strangely enough, looked to be in amazingly good shape, and in fact almost appeared alive. Despite the reports in the paper, the only fresh damages were two small wounds that adorned her neck.

The Sandman paused to reflect upon this curious state of affairs. It bore no resemblance to an old case of his from the 1940s. That had been many punctures and mutilations; this was similar to a case that his departed colleague Bruce had mentioned in passing during his rare appearances at JSA meetings.

The Sandman mused, Hmmm… perhaps Richard might know abou–

All right, &%#%@*^! Hands up — over yer #%#*%in’ head!” interrupted a coarse plainclothes detective, brandishing a .38 caliber revolver.

Clem Burke was almost expecting something like this, ever since he spotted the Sandman’s return two weeks ago. His desk groaned with reports of thieves, murderers, and other seedy elements being found gassed and gift-wrapped for the police, all bearing a paper origami that held the message:

There is no land beyond the law,
Where tyrants rule with unshakable power.
‘Tis but a dream from which the evil wake,
To face their fate — their terrifying hour!

That didn’t make him any happier about the idea. Now Clem found the Sandman here, rummaging through his precinct house. “You heard me, ya @%&#*@# freak! Drop the gun!

The Sandman slowly dropped the gun to the floor. “Lieutenant Burke, I presume? You look just like your father,” he said, stalling while slowly sliding out a small pellet from up his sleeve.

“Don’t try ta play wit’ me! Pop told me all about you!” Clem Burke stepped closer.

Hopefully not everything, thought the Sandman as he raised his hands to the ceiling, carefully hiding the pellet in his gloved hand.

Anthony Burke had figured out that Wesley Dodds was the Sandman way back in 1940, but luckily saw that they were both on the same side and never pursued the matter. Evidently his son didn’t have the full story.

“I am not sure what your father told you, Lieutenant, but the Sandman is not your enemy!” replied the Sandman.

“Yeah, sure… like breaking and entering a @&#%^@ police precinct’s a friendly action?” Burke wasn’t having any of this crap on his beat.

With a sigh of resignation, the Sandman dropped the pellet to the floor. A burst of gas mushroomed out.

Clem began to cough violently. “Son of a *&%#*%!” he gasped, blindly firing his gun at the clouded intruder.

The Sandman easily ducked out of the way, calmly heading to the door.

Clem had dropped, barely holding on to a desk, and was sliding fast, still coughing. “Hakk… huuugghhh… This ain’t over, ya %#@*$& weirdo!” the second-generation police lieutenant managed to say before he went down.

***

Nightfall brought a gray pallor to the streets of New York City. The streets were strangely quiet, even for a work night.

A pale, auburn-haired young woman, wearing a flowing red gown, walked alone in the worst section of town with a strangely calm demeanor.

The wastrel in the alley wasted no time in approaching her, cackling to himself at his apparent good fortune. “Hey there, whatcha doin’ here alone, babe?”

“Alone?” replied the woman, gliding over to the man. “Yes, I suppose so.” She looked him up and down with a strange look in her eye. “Hmmm… Young, strong, reasonably healthy… Yes, I think that you’ll do,” the woman proclaimed with an air of finality.

“Whattya mean, babe? C’mere, you… I got somethin’ for you…”

“Yes. I know,” replied the sylph-like creature.

The woman whirled around.

The scream was heard for blocks.

***

“Yes, Rex… I can’t really explain it; you’ve just got to see for yourself… Yes, yes… Dian and I had to get our identification all changed. What an ordeal that was… Ha-ha, yes… Listen, Dian and I are on a case right now, and Sandy’s in London — why don’t we all get together once we’re finished? … No… thanks for the offer, Rex, but I think we’ll be all right for now… I’ll let you know if we need any help… Listen, Rex? You’d better tell Wendi, so she won’t be in shock when she sees us… take care, Rex… yes… goodbye!”

Wesley had been trying to reach Richard Grayson, but he wasn’t home. Flipping through the address book had reminded Wes to call Rex Tyler and say hello. He was the first JSA member to know about his and Dian’s unexpected rejuvenation, the first to know that Wes was finally back in the game as the Sandman. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See The Sandman: Season of Mists.]

He turned to Dian as he replaced the receiver. “So what’s in the paper today?” asked Wes. “I’m sure that my dream last night will sadly predict the headline.” Wesley never liked that he could only see symbolic visions of crimes, and not be able to prevent them as well.

“Well, surprisingly nothing.” Dian was as surprised as Wesley, for she, too, had come to accept the dreams as clairvoyancy. “Unless… the police are trying to keep things quiet, after your little encounter down at the precinct house yesterday,” Dian demurely offered. “So how was the next generation of the Burke household, Mr. Sandman?”

“Very much like his father,” chuckled Wesley. “Same choice of colorful expletives, too.”

Dian let out a good laugh over that information. “Oh, my! Some things do go on.”

Wesley straightened up his slouch and adjusted his glasses, meaning he was getting serious again. “Hmmm… Dian, did you find those books I was looking for?”

“Yes, I did.” Dian plopped the heavy tomes on the huge oaken table. “Interesting choices, Wes. The appropriate chapters have been bookmarked,” she added.

Wes looked up and smiled. “Ms. Belmont, what would I do without you?”

“Just don’t forget it,” replied Dian, joking in a stern voice.

Wes laughed, then cleared his throat. “Agreed. Well, it looks like we have a killer who likes mythology, it seems. The victims were completely drained of blood. The bizarre part was that they were reported to have been riddled with cuts and bruises, yet when I examined them, they only had two small punctures on each throat! Now that makes no sense at all.”

“How Lugosian,” added Dian. “Did you get in touch with Richard about this?”

“No, Dian. Alfred, bless him, was there to take the message. He sounds much better than I’ve heard him in a while. It would seem that many of us are getting younger these days.” Wes pondered this for a second, then resumed his analysis.

“From accessing the police computer files, I’ve learned that the crime scene was clean of any signs of struggle, so the victims were not murdered there. The bodies were said to have appeared to been thrown into the alley, so that implies that the assailant or assailants may have been close by; no signs of automobile tracks or exhaust in the immediate vicinity. The approximate time of death was an hour before sunrise yesterday, so the murder could not have been very far from the scene. Let me get the city map.”

Wes drew a circle around a ten-block radius. “We’re looking about… here, in this area! We’ll need the roadster to get around. So… care to accompany the Sandman tonight, Ms. Belmont?”

“But of course, Mr. Dodds,” Dian replied.

***

Times past:

They could hear the soft throbbing, the sweetest call of fiery liquid.

The mugginess of the Louisiana night clung to the dazed figures that approached the slave quarters. The drums had hypnotized them, luring them closer, closer. The pounding was louder now, like the beat of the drums in New Orleans, when they were born into this new existence. They were now the serpents, waiting for the owners to arrive, waiting to strike.

The owners were evil, even in life, but the captives had planned this night. Tonight, they would cast the Du Bois family to eternal damnation. Du Bois himself, the head of the family, would be the first, then his sister, too, would succumb to the curse.

The basket was slightly opened, inviting Du Bois to taste the fruits of his cruel labors.

“That’s it,” croaked the aged form of Auntie Belle, who had served the family for three generations. “Come close, now. You finally get you reward fo’ the kindness to us… the beatings, the flaying, the stealing of our chil’ren… You come an’ get you reward.”

The drums built in intensity; Du Bois stuck his hand in the basket, then felt the sharp sting of the serpents within, sending burning venom into his veins.

Du Bois staggered away from the Quarter, clutching his burning and throbbing hand in agony, as he felt the strands of pain slithering up his arm and into his heart. His sister chased after him, for he was her life, and she was his.

They would be together now, forever…

***

Daylight bled from the New York skyline like an abattoir, the buildings framing the blanket of oncoming night like tombstones. One could feel the growing tension that came with the fall of night.

The sleek form of a 1930s roadster careened through the mean streets of the city. Inside the vehicle, Dian Belmont listened to the police radio while the Sandman prepared his gas and wirepoon guns for action.

A few blocks away, two trench-coated figures approached the thugs waiting on the corner. Even out of the range of the streetlight, the strangers seemed to radiate a luminescence. One of the thugs, clearly the leader, motioned the others to draw their weapons.

The figures hissed at the oncoming street punks, removing their coats to reveal a man in a reddish robe with a hood over his face, while the chalk-white woman with auburn hair was clad in a black nightdress.

The leader of the toughs sneered. “Who the @#$@ are you supposed to b–?”

The robed figure suddenly had him by the throat, lifting him off the ground. The leader flailed at the hooded stranger to no avail, as the hood was pulled back, revealing a hideous sight.

The man was chalk-white, framed by a jet-black receding hairline. His eyes glowed with strands of red veins. The cruel shape of his mouth yawned open, revealing a horrendous stench like decay and two long, curved, pointed teeth. His snake-like tongue lashed back and forth.

Suddenly, the leader of the gang felt the stab of fire into his throat. His limbs were hanging limply as he felt his life flowing away.

The woman lunged at the four stunned remainders of the gang, picking up the first one and burying her face in his neck. The gunshots of the others had no effect. She gulped furiously at the throat of her victim, then tossed him aside. Her pale white skin had changed, taking on a more ruddy appearance.

She turned with frenzied eyes at the three members; tiny droplets of blood trickled down her jeweled lips. “Come on, then! I’m ssstill thirsssty…”

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