The Witching Hour: The Sleepwalker, Chapter 2: Lucky Charm

by Doc Quantum

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After breakfast, I decided to take it upon myself to do whatever I could to find the man responsible for these heinous crimes, and I soon made my way out onto the streets of the city in search of a clue. I wasn’t sure exactly where to begin, of course — I am merely an accountant, I remind you, not a police detective — but I reasoned that each murder scene would provide clues of their own, clues that the local Keystone Cops of this backwater little isle would doubtlessly overlook.

While stopping in at the airport bar by the beach for a refreshment after poring over the scene of the first murder, I bumped into Johnny, the young New Yorker who had given me a ride back into town the night before. He seemed less distracted than before, but looked at me strangely as he asked me how my holidays were going, and he seemed concerned when I explained where I’d gotten my forehead injury. After talking about the weather for a few moments, I confided to him that I had decided to solve the mystery of the three recent murders. At this, he gave me a smile and relaxed somewhat. I suppose he knew from firsthand experience how Mickey Mouse the local police department was, so to speak.

Out of idle curiosity, I asked him about the new brownstone building, and he managed to convey to me, using numerous American idioms, that it was a part of the island-nation’s continuing attempts at modernization. The building would house a kind of embassy for an international organization whose purpose was to protect the island from strange threats — to wit, a super-hero embassy. This confused me. It was nothing but a small island, was it not? What kind of strange threats could Badhnisia possibly face on a regular enough basis to justify such an expenditure? Despite my disbelief, Johnny insisted that such a place was needed, and that Badhnisia’s problems were too much for one hero to handle. Realizing he was serious about the subject, I finally dropped it despite my incredulity.

The distracted look I’d noticed on him when I’d first met him returned to his face for the next few moments, until finally he asked me to save his seat as he visited the toilet. I assured him I would and returned to my refreshment. A lovely young woman with perfect brown hair wandered into the bar a moment later, looking around the establishment with searching eyes. I politely offered to buy the young lady a drink, but was ignored. Taking another sip as I absentmindedly fondled the charm still in my pocket — I must have unconsciously brought it along with me again that day — I looked up to see Johnny returning from the toilet. To my astonishment, the young lady put her arm around him, and the two walked out of the bar, Johnny turning his head briefly to throw a wink in my direction. I raised my glass at him and smiled politely. And then the two were gone.

I found myself in a foul mood by the time early afternoon came along, and decided not to visit the second crime scene. Instead, I began wandering around the tiny little streets of this overcrowded city, and attempted to lighten my mood by getting out of the downtown tourist area and visiting the poorer but culturally rich residential areas, where I supposed the true Badhnisians must live. My wanderings took me all over the city that afternoon, and quite a few sites I did see until I found myself closer to the downtown area. Walking up the hill once more, I decided to inspect the hurricane-damaged brownstone building project still in mid-construction. It was quite a sight, though the so-called super-hero embassy was still some months from completion. My curiosity as to the what the true purpose of the building must be beckoned me closer and closer, but the site was closed to the general public. All I could do was gaze at it from without and wonder.

A few moments afterward, having encircled the lot and seen the building from all sides, I turned to leave for the quaint little seafood restaurant I’d dined at the previous evening for dinner, when from the corner of my eye I saw the young woman from this morning — Johnny’s lady-friend. I saw her only from a distance, as I was around the corner of the lot, and she was stepping from the incomplete building with an armful of papers. My eyes followed her as she walked toward a vehicle two blocks away, and before I’d realized it, my feet were walking in the same direction. Natural curiosity, I suppose. In any event, it was in that direction I needed to go to visit my seafood restaurant, and by the time I’d reached the spot where her vehicle was, it and she were already gone.

That night, as I sat alone eating my dinner, my thoughts returned again and again to Johnny’s lovely young lady-friend, and I found myself quite unable to break my thoughts away from them. It began to anger me that such an ordinary-looking, working-class young man as that, with his ridiculous-looking green suit, bow-tie, and blond hair, should have such a beauty for a girlfriend. Who was this young man named Johnny, anyway, that he was lucky enough to have such a woman, while I had no one — not even any prospects? The little charm that had been in my pocket all day found its way into my hand once more, and I began to stroke it softly with my hands as I thought about Johnny and the brunette beauty more and more. It was unfair — unjust, I told myself. I resolved that I should do something about it.

Mere evening fancies all, of course — nothing that anyone in my situation wouldn’t have idly thought about. My mood lightened even as the sky darkened, and I walked back down to the beach. Instead of going left toward the downtown area and my hotel, I impulsively went right, toward the little village I’d seen earlier. It was there that I’d first met Johnny, of course, and it was in that direction that his lady friend seemed to have been driving when she left that building project. I didn’t have any real intentions, of course, except to see the village while it was still light outside. The last time I’d seen it, it was definitely too dark to see much of anything.

The village was much closer than I’d remembered it. Isn’t it strange how, the second time one makes a trip, it seems to take less time than in the first instance? My theory is that one’s mind is much more focused on getting to a place during the first trip to that place, but once one knows how to get there, one is free to think upon other things during subsequent trips to said place, making it seem as if much less time has passed. It was that way during my walk to this tiny community.

The old temple was indeed the largest building in the little village, of course. I supposed Johnny must have some kind of connection to the temple, possibly as some kind of manual laborer helping with its restoration. Perhaps his lady-friend would also be there, I thought to myself idly. I briefly strolled around the small neighborhood, which held little more than a few residential hovels, a tavern, and a few small shops, until I turned my attention back to the temple, which was the reason I had returned there. It was really the only attraction in the whole village, and if I should meet Johnny’s lady-friend while visiting it, then all the better.

I walked around the temple, noting the rundown look of it, and I supposed it had fallen into disuse in recent years. Making my way finally toward the main entrance, I stepped up to the front door and gave a light, cautious knock upon it. My stomach was all a-flutters, and I half-regretted that I’d done it. It was only a tremendous strength of willpower that enabled me to remain on that doorstep, the thought of her on my mind. Still, no one answered my knock. I pressed my ear against the door and listened, hearing distant music in the background.

My right hand slipped into my pocket once more, and I held my lucky charm in my hands again, unconsciously rubbing it nervously. Already it was getting dark, and I would still have to walk back into the city. A moment of despair took over me again, and I wanted to run, but instead I stood my ground. Resolutely, I raised my right hand, the charm still held within it, and pushed the door.

To my astonishment, it opened! I gasped in a moment of surprise and joy, and with the feeling that I’d gotten away with something, and cautiously stepped inside. The lights were out. Or at least they hadn’t been turned on yet, the blue sky still shining its feeble light through the small windows.

I walked toward another door within, peeking inside to see what looked to be nothing but a normal, empty administration office that had been set up in the ancient temple, and continued to walk down the hallway. The headache that had plagued me off and on during my stay on the island began returning with a vengeance. I passed another couple of empty rooms, keeping one ear perked for any change in the background noise.

The music was growing louder as I made my way deeper into the temple, and though it was still quite distant, I recognized the sounds of Jazz — “It Don’t Mean a Thing” by Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong, I believe. As I crept cautiously down the hallway, I was startled to hear someone faintly humming. I stopped and flattened myself against the wall until I realized the sound was coming from a room two doors down.

The sound of heels click-clacking on the floor prompted me to duck into the nearest abandoned room as I heard someone walking down the hallway past the room I was in, humming all the way. Through the crack in the partially opened doorway I caught a glimpse of pretty, flowing brown hair. I smiled to myself as my hand fondled the charm in my pocket. Perhaps it really was a lucky charm, after all. Perhaps, with it, my wishes really could come true.

I waited for a few moments until I was sure there was no one in the corridor, and then I carefully opened the door of the room and crept back out of it, heading toward the main office, from which a single light now cast long shadows down the hallway. My stomach felt queasy from excitement as I slid along the wall, my head turned and eyes peering for any signs of movement.

After another moment I found my way to the corner of the wall, where two corridors intersected. The office was at the opposite corner on the same side of the wall. The sweet, sweet sound of the girl’s humming caused me to stop and reflect for a moment. How old was she? Seventeen? Sixteen? She could have been fifteen, for all I knew. The anger that had been held so long suppressed erupted in me once more. That bastard Johnny, I thought. What was he doing with such a young girl? He should be ashamed of himself! Hoping she was more like fourteen, I walked toward the office door with more confidence and slowly opened it.

The door did not creak, like you’d have thought it would. No, despite the rundown look of the place, it was obvious that at least the office area was well-looked-after. I soundlessly entered the dimly lit office, where Johnny’s lady friend was humming. I couldn’t see anyone, though, until I stepped fully inside.

And there she was. The young girl whose name, I learned later, was Daisy, was bent over a filing cabinet, her posterior to me with her back arched in a most lovely, lovely way. I felt a red rush come over my face and body, and I could not help myself any further. Dropping the charm — which was still gripped firmly in my right hand — into my pocket, I rushed over to her and placed my hands on her hips, embracing her with my body. She giggled, then, in such a delightful way, that my stomach began fluttering even more. But as soon as she said the words, “Oh, Johnny,” my feelings for her turned to anger, and I gripped her much more tightly. She stopped as if to listen a moment, and then tried to turn completely around to look at me, her face already bespoiled with a frown upon it. My hand clamped over her mouth before she could utter a scream.

I… I can’t remember exactly what happened next. It was all so strange. In one moment, I was exploring the folds of Daisy’s flowery summer dress and what lay beneath it with my hands, and in the next moment I was on the floor, opening my eyes in a brightened room, the gash on my forehead bleeding once more. Several figures stood over me now, silhouetted in the ceiling light, throwing questioning looks at me. Finally, one of them bent down to speak to me. It was Johnny.

I greeted him warmly, happy to see a familiar face in this strange setting, but he greeted me only with a cold stare and a harshly worded question, made all the more startling, since this man seemed as if he rarely ever became this angry. I stared back at him with confusion, and he barked his question at me again — something about his wife? Was Johnny married to that girl Daisy? (*) I frowned, not comprehending what he was saying with the blood pounding in my skull, and I attempted to sit up. He pushed me back down and repeated his question, more forcefully now.

[(*) Editor’s note: See Justice Society of America: Ragnarok Aftermath, Chapter 4: Young Hearts.]

Johnny’s now-furious face seemed to shout at me once more, and I recoiled, catching glimpses of the others standing around me. A startled gasp leaped from my mouth as I saw the others. The young Native American man made of blue electricity I’d seen earlier was present, and he pointed one threatening arm of azure lightning at me, until a young girl wearing some kind of super-hero costume pushed it away and said something to him, pointing at the gash on my forehead with her other arm. (*) But even more startling was a hovering, cartoonish man of pink-hued energy hovering in place and looking like nothing so much as some kind of genie made from a living thunderbolt. As I recoiled in fear, my searching hand gripped the charm still in my pocket.

[(*) Editor’s note: See Secret Origins: The Secret Origin of Kiku and Johnny Thunder: Hectic Honeymoon.]

A strange thing then happened. As soon as my hand touched the charm, it seemed as if my hearing returned to me suddenly, and I could now hear a tumult of shouts from the figures around me, who now, seeing that I was grabbing for the charm, all clawed at me in an attempt to restrain me. My fist, holding the small charm, shot up in the midst of the group, and they were all thrust back from me, silencing them for the moment.

I looked at the little lucky charm in awe, almost laughing as I saw this tiny thing do what it did. Looking at it for a moment as I rose to my feet, the throbbing feeling in my head began to diminish as I thrust it out before me once more. As before, the others were all pushed back and looked shocked at the fact. Realization of the power that was in my hands went through me in a moment of comprehension, and it seemed as if there was no one in that room or anywhere who could stop me.

Then the young girl whispered something to Johnny, who nodded at her unintelligible words. The next words I heard audibly were something that sounded like:

“Say, you oughtta relax.”

The glee I had been feeling gave way suddenly to shock, as, in a flash, the living pink thunderbolt suddenly moved before me, an odd-looking, unnatural grin appearing on this being’s face as it looked at me — looked through me — with those strange electrical eyes. It reached out to me, then, and then it… and then it… touched… it touched… my forehead

I-I’ve got to stop here. This must all sound completely crazy to you, but I assure you that I am not. In fact, if there was one true thing I could say right now, it is that I am the only sane man on this planet… nay, this entire universe. You — you haven’t seen what I have seen, so stop looking at me like that. Stop it! I say again — I am not insane! I do not belong here! Let me go! Unhand me, you ba–

Transcript of first session with patient Clifford Nathaniel Anderson, dated 1988/11/17, ends here.

The End

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