Swamp Thing: What Friends are For, Chapter 2: Strange But Not a Stranger

by Earth Elemental 99, with Martin Maenza

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Later that evening, at Abby Cable’s home in Houma, Louisiana, a young man arrived at her open screen door. “Hello. My name is…”

“Adam Strange!” Abby said from within. She recognized him as the man who had come to see her on Grimoire Island, but who had vanished inexplicably before he could tell her anything about her missing lover. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See The Books of Magic: Ride a Black Horse.]

Strange laughed in a quite festive, friendly, and inviting way as he recognized her as well. “I have a personal message for you… from the Swamp Thing. Hopefully, this time I can deliver it.”

Abby dropped the pen she was using to fill out her acid rain reports for Chester Williams’ ecology management group. “I knew it! Alec is alive! Please, Chester, let him in! We need to talk this over!”

Chester Williams spiritedly allowed Adam Strange inside. Flattered, the space adventurer smiled at his two bewildered hosts. Adam was grateful to finally speak to the beautiful, beloved wife of the honored earth elemental who, many months ago, had ended the distant planet Rann’s centuries-long famine that had plagued and eventually devastated most of its surviving species. It was the Swamp Thing who had given Rann its continued lease on life. That was the reason Adam was here. The hero of Rann was indebted to do his celestial friend a favor as an act of kindness, mutual trust, and devotion.

Adam gestured in curiosity. “When I realized I would be making another trip back to Earth so soon, I assumed I would have to track you down on Grimoire Island again. I never leave a task unfinished, even one such as this.”

Abby sighed, smiling. “Oh, yes. Ever since that day I saw you in January, I’d been working on a way to get away from that place myself, now that I had some hope that Alec was alive. I was fortunate to find at least one person there I could consider a friend: Mr. Belmont.”

“Are you on vacation?” asked Adam.

“No. I’m completely done with that job on the island. I am never going back there again.” Abby shook her head, slowly losing her friendly smile as she thought back on her experiences over the past few weeks. “I had been under a false impression about the school when I was first hired on. Turned out it was not the sort of place where I wanted to be, despite having all those children around. I soon came to learn what type of people were running that place. I never really trusted Gallowglass or Peel. They struck me as individuals only concerned for themselves and not the well-being of the children placed within their custody. Can you believe they actually prohibited the coming and going of everyone?”

Adam nodded. “I think I was on the receiving end of that myself. Gallowglass did not at all seem pleased when I arrived there to speak with you.”

“Yes, of course. Anyway, if it was not for the help of Mr. Belmont, I still would have been on that wretched island. I don’t care at all about breaching an employment contract. I don’t care about any wages that were owed back to me. I just wanted to be away from there and back to my home.”

Adam looked grim and stared out the window at the dark streets and the surrounding swamps beyond. “I am certain your husband would be happy to hear that you are back at home.”

“As am I!” Abby said. “I’ve seen enough horror and craziness forever in my lifetime. No more. No more!

“Hey, Abby, I’m sorry.” Insecurity shook Adam’s mood into dread. “Perhaps I’ve come at a bad time…”

“No, your timing is perfect!” Abby placed her hand on Adam’s shoulders, her fingers clutching at Adam’s flannel winter shirt. “Tell me where on Earth Alec is!” Abby said, fervent passion shining into her beautiful, gentle face.

“That’s just the thing,” Adam said, grinning proudly. “Alec is alive, but he’s not on Earth! The Swamp Thing is adventuring in outer space.”

***

Abby sat across her dining room table from Adam Strange, who was still absorbed in the mood and setting of the Louisiana bayou surroundings, just beyond the small town streets. Two cups of steaming hot coffee on the table between them, and Abby sipped at her cup as she thought about what Adam had told her.

Adam Strange continually stared out the window toward the marshlands surrounding Houma. “Alec must miss those swamps out there almost as much as he needs you, Abby. I hope he makes it all the way back here to Earth!”

Abby grew impatient. “Listen, I can sense other people’s emotions. I’m almost psychic in that way. I can sense you had some contact with Alec. That’s the only reason I’m willing to listen to you. I had no reason to believe Alec was alive when that idiot stalker, Boston Brand, accosted me at Alec’s funeral in Gotham City! I certainly did not believe Gallowglass when he maliciously tortured me with the pain of my loss. Belmont seemed to produce some evidence of Alec’s present existence when you attempted to reach me last month on the island. But what I saw in the clock room was little more than a blurry image and an empty hope! It wasn’t until today that I even believed that Belmont was being honest with me. What I need is some solid, scientific evidence that Alec can survive in outer space without a body, that he can make do even without the Green to sustain him.”

“I figured you’d want some proof about this,” Adam replied, “and I think I have all the proof positive you’ll need to know that I’m telling you the truth about my meeting with Swamp Thing on the planet Rann.” The space hero opened his backpack and drew out his Rannian helmet, jet-pack, and blaster.

“Whoa, man!” Chester shouted excitedly. “Who are you supposed to be, anyhow? Buck Rogers? Flash Gordon? Captain Kirk? The Rocketeer?”

“Just call me Adam. And please don’t touch the gun, Mr. Williams. It has no safety switch.” Adam smiled as he found the object he was searching for. “This is a simulcast holographic projector. Sardath recorded the Rannian council meeting in which we discussed the method by which the centuries-long famine on Rann would finally end. Alec attended. Naturally, he was shy on camera, but most of the time he didn’t notice it.”

Holographic images began to play from the small device sitting on the table. “There’s Sardath. And there’s my wife Alanna looking as nice as ever! And… ah-ha-ha-ha! There’s Alec, right next to me! That big, red cactus-looking creature I’m standing next to, see? There he is. I’ll zoom the view in closer so you can see him better.”

“It sort of looks like him…” Abby commented sullenly. “He was some sort of alien plant?”

Adam laughed. “Yeah! We recruited him to save our radiation-damaged environment. We desperately needed our flora back, and he was the only one who could do it. He produced the first garden Rann had grown naturally in several decades. It only took a week or so to harvest the edible produce. It was a miracle, the future of Rann! Even better was the news that Alanna was pregnant! Imagine: I’m going to be a father, and our world has finally attained its salvation. And all with thanks to the Swamp Thing! So I promised him I’d come here when he left Rann for J-586. Hopefully, the Green Lantern called Medpyll fixed his damaged wavelength patterns. I’ll bet for sure as heck Alec steered clear of Brainiac, though, who was still at large in that space sector at the time.” (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See The Swamp Thing: Deep Space: Meeting of the Minds.]

Abby looked concerned. “So that was all that happened on Rann?”

Adam shrugged. “Oh, there was the usual unexpected menace, of course. A Thanagarian protection racket, no less! Keela Roo, a mob boss in a Hawkmen elite’s style uniform and wings, tried to undermine our confidence. We were already using Alec’s ‘no stings attached’ brand of genuine kindness instead. You can’t say no to a saint! But Lady Hawk didn’t take to kindly to our double-cross, so she countered with a break of her own. Last thing Alec needed at a time like that was a Thanagarian mace put through his head by some winged thug of Keela’s! Certainly Alec needed my help when she turned on him with that neural scrambler! So I covered for him. I nailed Keela’s boy-toy first, then I gave boss-lady a taste of own medicine. She almost had me, but one of Sardath’s liquid beasts finally gave her what for. She literally drowned in her ambitions before she could ever get her filthy hands on our Zeta-Beam technology! Other than that, it was just another day at the office.”

Adam Strange rose slowly from the table. “What I’m saying is the truth, Abby. Alec asked me to come here and tell you that he’s very much alive, and that someday he will come home to you. He just didn’t want you to worry about him, so he sent me along to inform you. I have won your trust, at least. Right, Abby?”

“Oh, yes! I do believe you, Adam,” Abby responded, her beautiful face in tears. “Now I know it’s true. Alec really did survive his assassination in Gotham City. The DDI murdered him, but he survived it! He is out there somewhere in space, and he will return to me, someday! I can’t thank you enough for letting me know this, Adam.”

Abby hugged Adam Strange, and the hero of Rann knew that he had now gained a staunch new friend and loyal personal ally on his homeworld of Earth in the years to come. “Hey, that’s what friends are for. I’m glad I could help. I hope everything works out for you and your beloved.”

Tenderly, Abby kissed the side of Adam Strange’s face. This brief act of affection suddenly reminded him of something very important in his life. “Alanna! The Zeta-Beam home to Rann! I’ve got to get ready,” he said, collecting his items into his backpack. “Look, I hate to cut and run, but I need to make sure I’m in the right place to catch my ride home.”

The trio prepared to step outside, but a beautiful young woman with her short, wet hair styled in slick, combed-back fashion, wearing only a bathrobe and reading glasses, stood timidly before them in the hallway, seeming confused and almost frightened.

“Oh!” Abby sighed and comfortingly embraced the nervous woman in her arms. “Adam? I want you to meet my close friend, Elizabeth Tremayne. She’s been through an awful lot over the past year, just as I have. But she is getting better now. Liz, I’d like to introduce you to Adam Strange. Hey, Liz? Could you look up and say hello to this fine gentleman for me, please?”

Liz Tremayne, a former author and journalist, asked the visitor in her tender, vulnerable voice, “You know Alec Holland? I wrote a book about him once. Not a very good one, but a lot of people have read it.”

“I remember who you are, Miss Tremayne.” Adam gently took her hand. “I was a big fan of yours when you were a celebrity journalist on television a few years back. In-Depth Magazine with Liz Tremayne was a great show! Could you sign an autograph for me?”

“I suppose so,” Liz replied in a shy, quiet voice.

“Zeta-Beam, man,” Chester reminded Adam. The clock chimed midnight, as if to emphasize the point.

“Well, it looks like Valentine’s Day is officially over, at least for you good folks here on Earth! For me, Valentine’s doesn’t really start until I’m reunited with my gorgeous wife, Alanna! Maybe I’ll get an autograph from Miss Tremayne next time I’m on Earth, providing I can make can it out here to Louisiana. It’s been a pleasure to meet all of you.” Adam smiled and said goodbye to Liz. Then Abby and Chester followed Adam outside.

Adam’s tough hiking boots, Chester’s casual tennis shoes, and Abby’s supple, bare feet traveled swiftly over the cold, wet grass several yards beyond the house, until Adam finally halted their forward march.

“OK, it’s time for me to go,” Adam said, unpacking his backpack as he ran to the middle of the field. “Under normal circumstances, all Zeta-Beams reach the Earth only in the southern hemisphere, so I’ve got to be at the coordinates at exactly the right time in order to return to my adopted home. This time it will strike a lake in the mountains of Peru!”

“Goodbye, Adam Strange,” shouted Abby. “I’ll always be grateful for your kind visit! If you ever need anything, you can count on me.”

Adam softened and said, “Remember, there’s nothing more powerful in the entire universe than the love of two people who care about each other. And you don’t have to necessarily be a human being or living life on your home planet to be able to experience it! You just have to believe. Then you’ll know for sure. Wait here for Alec. He will come back. You will be together again someday. Keep the faith, Abby.” Adam looked up to the Louisiana midnight sky and then his watch, and finished adjusting his jet-pack onto his back. “I need to go. Got a Zeta-Beam to catch.” And with that, Adam Strange’s jet-pack blasted him off into the skies, heading south at a terrific speed.

Whoooaaahhh!” Chester exclaimed. “Talk about man from another planet! Man, I’m tellin’ you!”

“The man who just left us told me everything I needed to hear!” Abby said, holding her aging hippie friend close to her. She patted Chester Williams reassuringly on the back and said, “Now that I’m safe at home with my friends, I have everything that I need. I can afford to be patient. I can wait for Alec to find his way home.”

“Say, Abs, is there any way the big guy knows you’re waiting for him? I mean, it’s gonna be an awful long trip.”

“Oh, don’t worry on that account, Ches! I sent Alec a special delivery message to outer space, just like the one he sent me tonight! If John Constantine’s theory of synchronicity holds up, Alec should be receiving the valentine I sent him last month right about now.”

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