by Martin Maenza
As she rounded the corner of the home, Wonder Woman’s eyes grew wide at what she saw. “By the gods!” Erected in the center of the lawn was a cross that blazed in the night.
Many thoughts raced through her head, but the fact that the fire burned out of control loomed the heaviest on her mind. The cross seemed to be two solid wooden shafts latched together. Rags wrapped the upper portions of the construct, no doubt drenched in a flammable solution to make the fire start fast and burn bright.
I must put out the flames before they catch something else, Wonder Woman thought. She first considered uprooting the flaming cross with her bare hands, but the fire leaped at her in mockery. That fire would easily burn my flesh! She noticed that the bottom, which stuck into the ground, was not aflame. But there is some point to grab onto.
The black heroine pulled the magic lasso from her side and threw one end around the base of cross. She retrieved the end, tying it tightly into a knot. I can uproot it this way, she thought. Using her great strength, she gave the lasso a good, solid tug. The upper portion of the cross snapped from the ground and flew into the air. Wonder Woman directed it so that the flaming portion landed into the street, but the hitting of the ground did not put out the fire.
“I need water!” she announced. Spying a hydrant nearby, Wonder Woman pried off one of the caps, sending a spray of water into the air. Using her hands, she directed the liquid flow so that it doused the flaming cross. In a few moments, the fire was out. “There, it is done.”
Just then, a dark blue pickup sped down the street at great speed. It swerved as it approached the heroine, and gunshots fired from the vehicle in her direction. “Die, nigger!” a man’s voice shouted from the passenger side.
Instinctively, Wonder Woman used the bracelets on her wrists to deflect the bullets just as the Amazons had taught her. Moving at lightning speed, she deflected every shot with no injury to herself. As the vehicle sped down the street at great speed, the heroine took pursuit.
“Cliff, what the hell you thinkin’?!” the driver exclaimed. The man’s skin was white, and he wore a dark flannel shirt and overalls. “We weren’t s’posed to shoot nobody. We’s just s’posed to leave that burnin’ cross on the school lady’s lawn.”
“You’re new to the Phantom Empire, Virgil,” Clifford Barnes replied. This man looked a lot like his new friend, Virgil Thomsen, but was slightly older. “Yeah, that cross was meant to rattle that nigger-lover Honeycut, but I didn’t expect she’d have that black woman at her house.” He glanced down at the side rearview mirror to see if they were being followed, but the roadway behind them was clear.
“Makes you wonder ’bout some folks, don’t it?” Virgil asked. “Who’d want one of them in their house, anyway?”
“Not me! I reckon we caught her off-guard as much as she did us. And since I can hit a cardinal at thirty yards, I should’a nailed her pretty good, too!” Clifford grabbed a cigarette from his pocket and started to light it. “Serves her right, too! Messin’ with our little protest sign. ‘Sides, the only good nigger is a dead nigger!” The man began to laugh.
“I s’pose so,” Virgil replied. He continued to drive down the road for a moment or two more. Then he suddenly slammed on the brakes.
“What in tarnation you do that for, Virgil?!” Clifford exclaimed as the cigarette fell from his mouth. His hands scrambled in his lap to find the lit item before it burned him. “You better not be brakin’ for squirrel again!”
Virgil stammered. “‘Taint no s-s-squirrel! Look!“
Standing in the edge of the headlights was the red, white, and blue figure of Wonder Woman. And she looked angry.
“Run her down!” Clifford yelled. Virgil hesitated, so Clifford slammed his own left foot onto the accelerator. The dark blue pickup truck lunged forward on a collision course with the heroine.
Wonder Woman leaped into the air, clasped her two fists together, and slammed them down hard on the hood of the approaching vehicle. The metal gave way to her mighty blow, driving portions of it into the engine block underneath. The vehicle jerked suddenly as the whole engine gave out under the stress.
“So much for your conveyance, cowards!” Wonder Woman said as she landed gracefully. “Do you dare stand up to me face to face?” She ripped the driver’s side door off with a single tug and tossed it into the ditch at the side of the road. She thrust her right hand into the cab and grabbed hold of the driver’s arm.
“Ow, ow!” Virgil screamed as she plucked him from the truck. “Don’t hurt me. Please don’t hurt me.” Terror filled his eyes as he begged for mercy; Wonder Woman could easily see that this man was more a misguided sheep than a flock leader.
She slammed him up against the side of the vehicle, mostly with enough force to scare him rather than hurt him. Glaring at him menacingly, she commanded, “You’ll stay put or else!” The man fainted dead away.
Wonder Woman started to shake her head as she noticed the other man had bolted from the cab. “Oh, no, you don’t!” she said, dropping Virgil and chasing into the night after the runner.
Ducking under pine branches and barreling through the brush, only one thought ran through Clifford Barnes’ mind — get as far away from that woman as possible.
It wasn’t supposed to end up like this, he thought to himself. It was a simple cross burnin’ to scare that Honeycut woman. She needed to be shown that not everyone thinks like she does.
Clifford leaped over a large root. The Phantom Empire knows if the rich folk started mixing their schools, others’d follow their lead. Not only would there be bussin’ of blackies to the mostly white schools, but then the reverse’d happen, too. And none of us wants our kids goin’ to school with blacks.
He splashed across a small creek. And to top it all off, she had to go and invite that nigger hero down to speak, givin’ them a public forum that the media is sure to cover. Despite all his talk and bravado, there was no denying the fear that Clifford began to feel. Still, after somehow survivin’ been shot at and what she done to the truck, she ain’t someone I wanna take on alone.
I’m gonna need me some help to get rid of heeerrr! The fleeing man stumbled forward, his face landing hard on the ground.
“Ooof!” Clifford exclaimed aloud as he felt a slight pain in his left leg. “Damn it! Must’a caught somethin’!” As he reached down to rub the hurt spot, he realized his pants were torn with a little blood coming from his calf. “What in tarnation?”
A figure stepped from the shadows, a golden sword gleaming in the moonlight held firmly in her right hand. “You plan to continue this game any longer?” Wonder Woman asked. She swished the sword back and forth. “It’s been a while, but I enjoy the challenge of a good hunt as much as anyone.”
“Why, you–!” Clifford exclaimed. He pulled the pistol from his coat pocket.
With a flash of steel, Wonder Woman knocked the weapon from his hand with the flat end of the blade. The gun flew through the air and splashed into the nearby creek. “I didn’t think so. Now, unless you wish to end up as incapacitated as your vehicle, I suggest you surrender now.”
After turning the men over to the police and helping Carolyn Honeycut file a report with them, the two women drank some tea to unwind from the evening’s unexpected events. “Y’all probably want to get some sleep while you can,” Carolyn said. “The graduation ceremony starts at ten.”
Nubia nodded in agreement. “I concur,” she said, “but may I ask you something first?”
“Of course,” the blonde replied, “go right ahead.”
“You did not know those men, nor did they know you. Yet they went to all that trouble to put that burning cross on your lawn. Why?”
Carolyn shifted a bit in her chair. “I guess there are just some people around these parts that aren’t ready for change just yet. Since I became Dean at the school, I’ve been a little active and maybe a bit too vocal in trying to change things that had been a long-standing tradition. Encouraging more ethnic students to enroll in the school by providing scholastic awards and the like hasn’t won me a lot of friends in the community. Some people are very adamant against integration to the point of extreme displays of their disgust. That cross on the lawn tonight was meant as a sign for me to back off.”
“So… many see you trying to help those of color and resent you for it?” Nubia asked. Her hostess nodded yes. “Well, one might wonder then why you have a black woman as a servant in your home. To do so might give the impression to some that you are hypocritical.”
“Not at all!” Carolyn exclaimed. “I pay Cora very well to work for me. I also provide her a place to stay as well. She’s an old, dear friend — almost like one of the family.”
Nubia rose slowly and started for the kitchen door. “Then perhaps you should treat her as such.” She then retired to her room, leaving Carolyn some privacy to think to herself.
The next morning, the sun shone brightly as the graduates marched across Wesleyan campus and took their places in the chairs arranged on the big lawn in the commons. Family and friends surrounded them on this special day of days.
Dean Honeycut took the stage; her makeup did its best to hide the dark circles under her eyes from lack of sleep. After a welcome and an invocation of her own, she introduced the guest speaker. “Students, parents, faculty, and guests, it is my pleasure to introduce our speaker for this year’s commencement. Although I have only recently gotten to know her, this woman who embodies truth and honesty has opened my eyes to a number of things. It is a great honor to welcome truly a wonder of a woman.”
As Wonder Woman took to the stage, the crowd gave forth a welcoming applause. She took her place at the podium, adjusted the microphone slightly, and prepared to address those assembled.
As the applause subsided, Wonder Woman began to speak.
“Your welcome is most appreciated. It is an honor for me to address you all on this important day in your lives.
“Some of you may or may not have heard about the incidents that recently involved me here in your city. I do not wish to tarnish today’s events by speaking to them. All I will say on that is they have opened my own eyes to things I was not greatly aware of before.
“We are here today to honor these young woman who have completed one portion of their lives and are ready to move onto the next. It is a time of joy in accomplishment, and perhaps a time of uncertainty towards the future. While you may have planned for where you want to take your lives next, no one can truly anticipate everything that life will present to them.
“My own upbringing did not mirror that of my Amazonian sisters. Raised on another island away from them, my life consisted of conflict and struggle. My upbringing was that of a warrior, and there was little place for compassion in the role which had been chosen for me.
“But it was the compassion of one of my sisters who turned my life to a new course. Diana, the one you all most know as the first Wonder Woman, taught me many things. She taught me how to face challenges without giving up one’s dignity and honor. She showed me that sometimes the best way to win a battle is to simply not engage in one at all. She taught me that there are times when words can be more powerful than actions.
“And most of all, she knew that there are times when personal sacrifice is needed for the greater good of all. We lost Diana not long ago, but her influences continue to this day in the lives of those she touched. And there are many lives she touched.” Wonder Woman paused for a moment with her head bowed. Then she looked up again and continued. “I am proud to wear the same mantle as she did and to carry forth in the tradition she started.
“So I would ask those of you gathered here today and especially the graduating class of the Wesleyan School for Women to give thought to your own actions and words. Remember that you are all vessels in the great sea of life, and that you all have the potential to change things for the good. You must simply embrace those ideals of harmony and equality, and instill your actions with those very ideals. For indeed, that is one way that each and every one of you will make a large and lasting impression on this world. Thank you.”
The audience applauded as the speech ended. Wonder Woman smiled, gave a brief nod, and returned to her seat. Carolyn Honeycut smiled, too, as a brief tear welled up in the corner of her eye. She quickly dabbed it away and then took the podium to continue the commencement program.
Sometime later, after leaving Wesleyan, Nubia met up with the Martian Manhunter at the Justice League Satellite that circled the Earth at 22,300 miles in space. “It sounds like you had a bit more excitement than originally planned,” he said.
“Indeed, J’onn,” Nubia replied. “Still, despite it all, I am confused by what motivates people sometimes. Where does all this hatred between races continue to come from? Why do white people and black people in America today still clash?“
“It has been about a hundred and ten years since the end of the Civil War that divided the United States of America,” J’onn J’onzz explained. “While one would think that is enough time to erase the memories of slavery and to right the injustices that had been brought upon the black people of that country, there are still many who cling to past beliefs and notions as if they were the very core of their self-being.”
“It is confusing,” the woman admitted. “But this whole incident has made me curious. Perhaps by learning more about the cultures that make up the country in which I now live I can better understand them.”
“That is a good start,” the Martian agreed. “Still, I think you will find that things are not always as simple as black and white. Achieving harmony among different people cannot occur until both sides are willing to embrace it. Only then can something greater come about.”
J’onn reached across the table, plucking something from a plate. “Much like this,” he said, holding up a single Oreo cookie. The two dark cookies with a light cream in the middle had become a favorite snack of the alien.
Nubia smiled at the symbol he offered up. She noticed he raised his eyebrow in a curious way. “Perhaps,” she said. Then, moving unexpectedly, Nubia snatched the cookie from his hand and took a bite. “You do have more where this came from, correct?”
J’onn smiled. “Yes, always.” Together, the two heroes laughed.