by Martin Maenza
High in the sky, two winged figures soared over the rolling countryside, passing over small lakes and streams. Hawkgirl smiled as she looked upon the colorful foliage of the Green Mountain National Forests. “What a wonderful view,” she remarked. “Those reds and golds are lovely.”
“They are, indeed,” the Atom agreed as he sat perched on the strap across Hawkman’s shoulder. “This time of year is one of my favorites. We get a lot of tourists up in this area in the Fall just to come and see the leaves change.”
“Its breathtaking,” Hawkgirl said.
“I hate to cut your little nature study short,” Hawkman said, “but I believe our destination is down below.” He pointed his finger toward the horizon. Indeed, the heroes were over Rutland at the heart of the state of Vermont. The city, whose population numbered at about 15,000 people, was in sight.
The heroes swooped down, heading for a residence just on the outskirts of town. “Is this the right place?” Hawkgirl asked as they landed on the lawn of a small manor.
“Yes,” Hawkman said. “I remember it from last year. Batman knew how to find it.” Suddenly, the front door opened, and a man with brown hair and glasses ran out to greet them. “And here is our host, if I am not mistaken.”
“Hawkman, Hawkgirl, and the Atom!” Tom Fagan gushed. “So glad you all could make it!” He shook the hands of the males and gave Hawkgirl’s hand a slight kiss.
“Thanks for inviting us, Tom,” the Atom said. “I hope we’re not too early.”
“Not at all,” the resident of Rutland said. “In fact, why don’t you come in for a bit, maybe have a bite to eat before we head into town? The parade starts officially at nine o’clock, after it gets dark.” He showed the heroes inside his home as the afternoon sun was starting to set.
Not many miles away, in a large mausoleum that they had broken into the day before, the trio of villains were busy working on their evening surprise. The Altar of Ratla, a rectangular platform decorated with actual skulls and bones, sat in the center of the crypt. On top of the altar sat the Cauldron of Kordron, a greenish-black ancient pot with mystic inscriptions around the sides. A foul-smelling concoction simmered within it, sending wisps of smoke into the air. Given the poor ventilation of the old crypt, the air hung with a sickening smell to it.
That didn’t seem to faze the villains any. Felix Faust consulted a large book of sorcery and then spoke an incantation. “Rasby, Ghast, Aldevate, hear my call and seek our gate! Chorldon, Magdar, Teristite, your terror-filled reign do we invite!”
Matter Master wasn’t completely sure what he was doing, but he offered the aid of his Mentachem Rod just the same. He waved the device back and forth. The metaphysical implement charged the air about the cauldron with ionized energy with the intention to help aid the summoned demons in their crossing over to the physical plane.
The Gentleman Ghost hovered nearby, keeping an ever-watchful eye on the proceedings. He nodded with approval. Yes, these two would serve his purpose well. Tonight, his foe would receive an unexpected surprise, and he would finally be rid of the ever-present thorn in his side once and for all.
As darkness fell on the city, crowds began to gather along the main streets of the historic downtown district. Not even the temperature dipping into the lower forties on this October 31st evening was enough to deter the crowds. This year was the Twenty-First Annual Halloween Parade in Rutland, held every year since 1960, and the turnout was even larger than those of previous years. People had come many miles, even from out of state, to enjoy the now-fabled celebration. Some, like the four young men from New York, even came dressed in costume.
As the hour of nine struck in the North Church tower, a number of floats began to move out onto the parade route. The high school band played a tune taken off the soundtrack of one of the more popular scary films of the time. It helped to set the mood of the night.
A float decorated in black with pots of dry ice in the corner to create an eerie effect followed the band. The winner of the local contest, chosen Queen of Halloween, rose up from the center platform dressed a form-fitting black gown. She waved to the crowd as her attendants, the other contestants, tossed wrapped candies out to the people. Everyone, especially the children, scurried to pick up the free treats.
The next float was designated for the guests of honor. Hawkman, Hawkgirl, and the Atom rode on this float, waving to the cheering crowd. Around the float danced other Rutland locals dressed in costumes reminiscent of heroes and villains, both real and fictional. They acted out mock battles to the crowd’s amusement.
Hawkgirl smiled at it. “It is good to see such joy,” she said softly. Even her usually serious husband was smiling a bit at the frivolity.
The mood was about to fade.
A man in his early twenties bolted around the corner and directly into the parade route. He was running so fast and with such determination, he didn’t realize he’d cut right into the float’s path. It stopped just in time before running him down. “Help! You’ve got to help!” he cried out hysterically.
Tom Fagan recognized the man. “Doc! What’s going on?”
“The cemetery…” Doc said as he tried to catch his breath. His heart was racing. “A number of us… attacked by demons!”
“Demons!” Hawkman exclaimed. “We better investigate!” Without another word, the two winged heroes and their tiny teammate took off into the night air.
“Can’t you control them?” Matter Master asked as he stood beside Felix Faust.
They watched from a safe distance as a number of hideous creatures were terrorizing some locals amidst the cemetery plots. The creatures, some with horns and others with large ears, came in various shades of sickly colors: purples, oranges, and greens. Some were covered with scales, other hideous splotches of flesh. All of them shared two things in common: a joyous newfound freedom and a desire to raise as much chaos as possible.
“You don’t always have that luxury,” Felix Faust explained. “Sometimes you have to take what you can get. Black magic doesn’t come with quality control, you know.”
“Wh-what good are they, then?” Matter Master stammered.
“They’ll get the job done as soon as we get them into town,” Faust said, though his words were less confident and more hopeful.
“No need,” said the spectral voice of the Gentleman Ghost. “Look!” He pointed his gloved hand to the moon-filled sky as two winged figures swooped out of the sky. “Be ready.”
Hawkman let out a shrill call as they swooped down. He hoped it would get the creatures’ attention, which it did; the demons looked up from the harassing of the locals and the ransacking of the graves to see what the noise was about. One unfortunate demon even got a mace to the face for turning his head so quickly.
“There doesn’t seem to be too many of them,” Hawkman said, taking command of the situation. “Let’s see if we can get them under control first, and then we’ll figure out where they came from.”
“That might be easier said than done,” Hawkgirl said. She clasped her two fists together and swung them as one into the jaw of a green demon. While it fell backward, an orange and a red demon jumped at her from behind, grabbing at her wings to try to pull her to the ground.
“Aaargh!” one of the demons snarled at the heroine, its breath like brimstone.
“Yuck!” Hawkgirl exclaimed, thrusting her wings out and lifting into the air despite the extra baggage. “Maybe some fresh air can help that bad case of halitosis.” The demons still clawed at her despite the rise in altitude.
The avian angel then went into a controlled spin, moving faster and faster. The force of the spin was enough to disorient the demons. A few swift kicks from Hawkgirl’s boot then sent them plunging to the Earth. When they hit the ground hard, they vanished in puffs of brimstone. “They don’t seem so tough after all,” she mused.
The Atom leaped from tombstone to tombstone with a green demon in hot pursuit. “They might not be tough,” he said, “but they are fast!” Two clawed hands clapped together at him.
The demon smiled a jagged-toothed smile, feeling that he squashed the little hero like so much of a gnat. When it opened his claws once more to check, there were no mashed human remains. It bit its lip curiously.
“Don’t strain the pea-brain, ugly,” the Atom retorted as he materialized from thin air and slammed a full weight punch into the demon’s jaw. “Subatomic physics and molecular compression/decompression would be way over your head!”
“They’re beating them!” Matter Master whined loudly. “Do something, Faust! You’re responsible for this!”
“Shut up!” the sorcerer snapped. “Something must have been wrong with the spell or the mystic artifacts!” Faust eyed the Ghost with glaring look. “You can’t blame me for that!”
“I’ll blame you if we get caught and put back in jail!” Matter Master yelled.
The heroes, despite the fighting they were doing with the demons, overheard this last part of the exchange and were able to make out the villains hiding nearby. “I think we’ve found our cause!” Hawkman said as he flew in to attack.
“Let’s get them before they stir up any more trouble!” the Atom said. The three heroes advanced on the villains. The remaining demons saw them scurrying toward others and followed.
A wild battle in the cemetery commenced between the various combatants.
Faust uttered another incantation. “Trimbledor, Hogwarts, Aliberth, strike the bird woman with earth!” Responding to his mystical plea, the ground began to swell and spit forth large chunks of dirt and grass into the air at Hawkgirl. With skill she easily dodged most of them. Even those that did score did little more than sully her uniform. Some of the demons managed to catch up to her once more, so she was forced to fend them off.
“Idiot!” Matter Master yelled. “You need more versatile attack tools!” Eyeing a nearby statue, he waved the Mentachem Rod. A stone angel suddenly came to life and lifted into the air to attack Hawkman. “See? That’s how it’s done!”
Hawkman wrestled with his granite attacker. The statue was heavy and strong, yet moved through the air as fast and nimbly as he did. The angel grabbed for the hero’s throat; he felt the stony fingers trying to close off his wind pipe. As sweat ran down his cheek, Hawkman swung his arms up between those of the stony attacker and tried to break the grip. It wasn’t going to work.
“Ha!” Matter Master said cockily.
“Don’t bet on it!” Faust said, pointing. “Look!”
Hawkman grabbed for his mace once more and began to pound upon the statue. Though he hated to destroy the property, that seemed to be his only option to stay alive.
Matter Master frowned as he pondered his next move. “You leave my foe to me! Take care of his accursed wife!” Indeed, Hawkgirl had broken away from the demons once more and was bearing down on the duo.
Faust started to gesture as she flew in toward them. “Abnezagar, Yblitz, Demonshir…”
“Oh, give it a rest!” Hawkgirl said, bringing down both her fists hard on the sorcerer’s head. His hat shifted forward and caused him to stop his spell in mid-incantation. With another one-two punch, she took the fight quickly out of Felix Faust. As he fell unconscious, the last remnants of his summoning spell faded, sending the demons back to whatever hell they’d been drawn from.
“Gaaah!” Matter Master exclaimed. With one final blow, Hawkman had vanquished his attacker to so much rubble now piled on the ground. “Not good, not good!” He tried to come up with a plan quickly.
“Give it up!” the Atom called as he was now free from some demon’s grasp. Launching through the air on the wind currents, he was quickly upon the Matter Master. With surprising strength, given his size, he was able to snap in two the Mentachem Rod that the villain held in his hand as easily as a Thanksgiving Day wishbone. “You’re through, double M!”
“Gentleman Ghost! Help!” the red-bearded villain cried out just as the Atom’s punch took him out.
“Gentleman Ghost?” Hawkman exclaimed, looking about. His keen eyes caught sight of something slipping through the treetops. “Oh, no, you don’t, spook!” The winged wonder soared after the fleeing villain, his mace drawn. “You’re not getting away!” The hero swung his weapon.
And the mace passed right through its target.
“Ha-ha-ha-ha!” a haunting voice echoed through the night. “You may have gotten my associates, but you will not get me! Another time, old foe!” And with that, the spectral image of the Gentleman Ghost faded into the night.
Hawkman returned to his colleagues, who were tying up the villains. Hawkgirl saw the look on her husband’s face. “He slipped away?” she asked, but she already knew the answer.
“You’ll get him next time,” the Atom said in an encouraging way. “Besides, we stopped the threat of these two magical mayhem-makers. Not bad for a night’s work.”
“Agreed,” Hawkman said. But in his mind, he wouldn’t rest easy until the Ghost was once again behind bars. If it took days, weeks or months, it didn’t matter.