by CSyphrett and Martin Maenza
It was the third week of January, the third week of the new school year at the Grimoire Academy of Applied Knowledge. A number of teenage boys, all third-years and all around the same age, sat at the same large wooden table in the study room at Zatara Hall. While they were supposed to be using this time to catch up on their readings and reports, they preferred to spend it discussing a newfound fascination.
“Mrs. Cable has nice legs,” asserted Gray Murphy. His hair was stringy, and his eyes matched that of his first name. “Too bad she has to cover them up with those long skirts in the classroom.” He frowned slightly at that thought, and the others nodded in agreement.
“I saw Power Girl once,” said Alfred Twitchell, his navy school sweater fitting snugly about his round stomach. “She was most…” He held his hands a foot away from his chest. “…impressive,” he finished with a blush.
“She had a rack?” said Murphy, worldly wise at age fourteen.
Twitchell nodded sheepishly, his chubby cheeks a cherry red in color.
“I felt the same way about Phantom Lady,” said Kirk Pike, whose hair was brown and wavy. “Her costume leaves little to the imagination, if you know what I mean.” He had a sly grin on his face, no doubt there due to the image in his head of the dark-haired heroine.
“Well, give me Starfire any day,” said Murphy. “Three more years, and I’ll be able to take her from Nightwing!” All of the boys but one laughed out loud, breaking the silence of the study hall.
Two first-years sat at the next table; the two twelve-year-old boys couldn’t help but overhear the conversation the older boys were having. “Hmmmph,” the red-haired Rick Billings said in a soft tone. “Just listen to them going on. I doubt they’ve even met any of those women.”
“I met Zatanna once,” the bespectacled Tim Hunter said.
“Yeah?” Rick asked. “Seriously?”
“Seriously. Talked to her, too.”
Rick’s eyes sparked with an idea. “Well, then, let’s put some guys in their place!” He grabbed Tim’s hand and pulled him over to the table behind them.
Gray Murphy smirked as the two younger boys approached. “What do you babies want?”
“We’re not babies!” Rick protested. He might have been smaller than the others, but he didn’t let that discourage him. “Besides, Tim, here, has something to say.”
“Well, spit it out, then!” Murphy snapped.
Tim looked down at the floor, scuffing his foot back and forth. He said something softly, barely audible to the group.
“What did he say?” asked Kirk Pike.
“He said he’s met Zatanna!” Rick said. “Didn’t you?” Tim nodded.
“No way!” Murphy scoffed. “He’s lying!”
“No, it’s true,” Tim said looking up. “And Mister E and John Constantine, too. Last year in London.”
“Yeah, right!” Kirk Pike said. “Next you’ll tell me you believe in a Phantom Stranger, too! Go back to your table, babies!” He gave the two younger boys a shove.
Gray Murphy just shook his head. “Can you believe that? What a little liar!” He turned to the last youth at the table, who was engrossed in some papers. “Did you hear that, Cantrell?” asked Murphy. “Hunter claims he’s met the delicious Zatanna!”
Joshua Cantrell looked up from the blueprints he was peering over, his eyes as blank as two brown stones. “What?” Josh asked, blinking.
“No way he’s met Zatanna! What would a fine babe like her be doing around a dork like Hunter?” Kirk added.
Cantrell’s eyes cleared for a second. Annoyance was there as he regarded his classmates. “What are you guys talking about?” Cantrell said, much too loudly.
Their continued outbursts had not gone unnoticed.
“Oh, no,” said Twitchell nervously. “Miss Eve is coming over here!” All the boys quickly reached for their books in a vain attempt to appear to be busy.
The buxom brunette teacher eyed the group as she approached, taking in every detail. She tried not to laugh when she noticed Kirk had his book upside down. “A little peace and quiet for the students actually working, please, gentleman,” Eve said firmly.
“Yes, ma’am,” said Murphy, while the others tried to hide in their books.
“Good!” Eve said, brushing back her dark hair from her face. “As some of you already know, Mrs. Peel is in charge of detention today, and I would hate to turn any of you over to her gentle clutches.” She laughed slightly as the listening boys suppressed a groan. Her laugh had a slight cackle to it, one of the few things that seemed out place on the beautiful woman. Another strange thing about her was that sometimes she seemed to have strands of gray hair that discolored her raven locks; the older boys had occasionally noticed that those gray hairs appeared and disappeared on different days. It was almost as if she was rapidly growing older and then growing younger from day to day, but none of them dared ask her about it.
Miss Eve then walked back to the table in the front of the room. The boys peered over the edge of their tomes, watching her backside sway as she left. Oh, how they loved to watch Miss Eve walk — all except Josh Cantrell, who was already back in the never-never-land he had risen from briefly.
The other boys resumed their talking, but under a hushed whisper this time. It was mostly about the threat that Miss Eve had levied in their direction. Mrs. Peel, the girl’s gym teacher, already had a reputation only three weeks into the new school year. Rumor had that the teacher had undergone brutal training to fight the Nazis on her world, and had gone so far as to adopt their more brutal psychological methods to train her students at an espionage school for girls on Earth-Shin. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: Earth-Shin is Earth-X, where the Nazis ruled for several years.]
“I heard that Guy Corbette had pulled Mrs. Peel last week,” Kirk said with concern in his voice. “He came into the dorm a wreck after his two hours of punishment!”
“Yeah,” Twitchell added. “Nobody even wanted to ask what produced the smell that hung on Guy after that. I hear it took several hours of bathing to get it gone.”
Murphy shuddered at the loathsome memory of the odor. It was worse than the smell of cooked liver and onions, combined with vinegar. No way was Mrs. Peel putting that stink on him; he was determined not to let that happen. “We better keep it down, then,” he said.
Joshua Cantrell stared at the folded blueprints on the table. The administration building was laid out for him to wander through any time he wanted. All he had to do was break curfew, a feat easily done for someone with his creative mind. Josh ran a finger over the paper as he traced several hallways to a dead end in the basement. He checked the measurements and frowned. Something seemed to be off.
“Josh?” said Alfred Twitchell. “Study hall is over.”
Josh looked up, eyes blank. He blinked to clear his head. “Oh, right, Twitch,” Josh said as he gathered up his things quickly and placed them in his book bag. “Let’s go face Miss Psychic’s anatomy exam.”
Alfred was a bit surprised. Here he had been cramming for the test the entire study hall, well, except for when the conversation dragged him in. But Josh hadn’t cracked his books the entire time. All he had been focused on was those diagrams on the paper. He wondered how his classmate managed to do so well on tests when it appeared that he never studied.
“At least we don’t have to cut anything up today,” Twitch said, leading the way out of the room. The two headed off to the classroom and the examination that awaited therein.
Josh Cantrell, the blueprints nestled safely in his book bag, made his way toward Memorial Park. It was late in the afternoon. As he made his way, he avoided the teachers and staff like the plague. His fellow classmates had scattered to their own individual pursuits, which suited him just fine. He wanted to be alone at the quietest spot on Grimoire Island.
Once he arrived at the park and found the place vacant, he retrieved the blueprints and began to study them once more. The seven statues watched over him as he reviewed the paper, their eyes almost oddly focused upon the young teenager. Josh paid them no mind; he figured it was just some sculpting trick or something that made it appear that the eyes watched you from any spot in the park. The older students used to tell the first-years that the statues were alive, but mostly to scare them. Josh knew better.
He turned the paper slightly, musing to himself. There’s something wrong about the basement in the administration building. The measurements seem off! He concluded this based on the measurements for the outside walls versus the interior layout on the paper. What could be hiding there?
Putting the blueprints away, Josh began to glance about the area. In his mind, he marked a route from his dormitory through the administration building. It would be easy to make it unseen at night, as long as he didn’t run across Adam Frankenstein making some rounds. All I have to do is get out of a window and walk across the lawn, he thought. Avoid the teachers’ bungalows and then dash down the stairs, a right and then two lefts. That would get him to the blank wall.
Josh congratulated himself on being so clever. I knew it had been a good idea to poke around the clock room when no one was looking, he thought.
Except someone had seen him poking around.
Days earlier, Josh had gone into the main room in the clock tower to research a report on Egyptian architecture. He had gathered all the materials he had needed while Mr. Belmont was assisting one of the other kids, but not just information on Egypt. He was also looking up information about the layout of Grimoire Island, specifically blueprints. Once he slipped them in with his textbooks and loaded them into his bag, he took them back to Zatara Hall. No one would be the wiser.
It was funny, though. Josh merely had wanted to check out the lay of the land, perhaps find some out-of-the-way places for the group to meet in secret to talk. What he hadn’t counted on was the strong compulsion he got while reviewing the blueprints. It was if they had called to him. At first, it startled the teenager, but he had been coming to Grimoire for a few years now, so the unexpected wasn’t nearly as unnerving as it had been during his first year.
Still, at first he wasn’t sure why the blueprints had called to him. Now he knew why. It was because of that secret room. He had noticed it without thinking, and now he knew it was there.
It was only when Josh had decided to keep the blueprints and try to figure what was going on that a man in a dark cloak stepped from the shadows. It had happened that night just after dinner, on his way back to the dorms alone. Josh had noticed the gold medal hanging on the front of the man’s black suit. The brim of the man’s hat obscured his features with shadows. His eyes were two slits of white.
“The pursuit of knowledge is a laudable goal, Joshua Cantrell,” said the strange man, “but perhaps you should reconsider in this case.”
“Who are you?” said Josh, having met all the teachers on staff. “You don’t work here.”
“I am simply a stranger with a word of caution,” said the man in the cloak. “Some things are best left buried.” And with that, the Phantom Stranger vanished.
Josh had heard the warning but was not convinced to heed it. The draw of the mystery was too much to sway him with mere words. He was bound and determined to find out what was in the basement, and tonight would be the night.