"Here There Be Monsters": Part 1
NOTE: All characters in this tale are property of DC Comics. No
money is being made from this story, no infringement is intended.
The thing Sterling Morris could never figure out is why Billy Batson never aged.
For that matter, neither did Freddy Freeman or Mary Bromfield Batson, the kid's two best friends. He'd met Billy before the War, the other two early on in it. They were what?, maybe 14, 15 or so, 16 tops for Freddy.
Now here it was, 1954, and the kids were still kids.
The Ripley's Believe It Or Not people had wanted to do a feature on them, but all three had refused. TV Guide had done a short bit on Billy, printing photos of him taken in 1940 and 1953. Except for the clothes and hairstyle, they could have been taken on the same day.
Well, they were legally adults, and had been for years. Billy had gotten his GED and an honorary degree or two, thanks to his newscasting. Freddy had been earning his living as a newspaper hawker for years, and had just recently gotten a newsstand. It had been bought for him by Mary Batson, who was a rich woman's adopted daughter and Billy's sister. Morris smiled. Mary and Freddy were stuck on each other, to be sure.
He could have chalked the non-aging up, somehow, to a family problem if it had just been Billy and Mary. But there was Freddy, who wasn't related to them by blood. Also, Morris had met a few other Batson family members who had aged normally, including that old creep Ebenezer, who had kicked Billy out on the street. He'd also seen a photo of Merrill and Jocelyn Batson, the parents of Billy and Mary. They were normal, mature human beings.
Nothing like their kids.
Morris wondered, as he did at times, whether or not the three eternal kids could also be the three mightiest heroes of their time. Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel, Jr., and Mary Marvel. After all, there was some facial resemblance between Junior and Freddy, and Mary Batson and Mary Marvel. Plus the correspondence of sexes was right--two males, one female. And the girls were both named Mary.
But there were discrepancies in that theory. For one, Billy didn't look anything like Captain Marvel, and Captain Marvel was a grown man. A kid didn't just turn into a grown man, no matter how powerful, and then turn back into a kid. For another, Freddy was lame, with a crippled leg. He had to walk with a crutch. Morris had seen Freddy enough to know that he wasn't faking the injury. If Freddy were really Junior, why the hell would he have a crippled leg?
The head of the WHIZ radio and television stations looked at a photo on his desk of himself, his wife, and his two kids. It had been taken some years ago, and the slight reflection he saw of himself in the glass covering the photograph showed the wrinkles and the slightly receded hairline that differentiated the Morris of 1954 from the Morris of 1939.
He actually felt grateful.
Perhaps God knew what He was doing when he gave people the capacity to age.
Billy Batson was in his office when Joan Jameson buzzed him. "You've got a call on line 1, Billy. Miss Summerly."
"Thanks, Joan," said Billy, swinging his Keds off the desk. He punched a button on the big fancy phone Mr. Morris had given him and picked up the receiver. "Hi, Cissie. This is Billy. What's up?"
Cissie's voice rushed out in a freshet of excitement. "Billy, I'm getting married. You're invited to the wedding, and please, please, please try to make it!"
The black-haired boy's eyes widened to an incredible degree. "Married? You, Cis? Holey Moley!" He leaned both arms on his desk blotter to steady himself. "How'd this happen?"
"It happened in the usual way, I guess, Billy. Jack Dalworthy is his name. We've been going together for a year or so. He finally gave me a ring last night. Ever since then, I've been ringing up everyone I know. Can you do me a favor, Billy?"
"Uh, sure, Cis, if I can. What's the favor?"
She said, "Can you get Captain Marvel to show up at the wedding?"
"I know it's an awfully big favor, Billy, but he's been your friend for years. Please? Just for me, would you try?"
Billy said, carefully, "I don't know, Cissie. Captain Marvel's an awfully busy guy. I know he knows you, but, gee, it's hard to pin him down on certain things. You never know when Dr. Sivana might turn up, for pete's sake."
"Oh." Cissie sounded hurt.
She didn't say anything. Neither did Billy, for a few seconds. But he was the first to speak, after that.
"I'll try, Cissie," he said.
"Oh, swell, Billy! I knew I could count on you. It's the 15th, at First Episcopal. Both of you be sure and be there, okay?"
"Like I said, Cissie, I'll try," Billy replied.
"Good. And, Billy?"
"Thanks for being a good sport. Bye."
"Bye, Cissie." He hung up.
Billy, physically all of 14 years old, sat at his desk and put both hands behind his neck, resting his elbows on the blotter. It was crazy. Just crazy how life could work, when you weren't watching.
Cissie Summerly had been his girlfriend, some years ago. But things got in the way. One of them was Captain Marvel. Another thing was the fact that Cissie got taller, more mature, more beautiful, and Billy didn't.
She had also wanted Billy to get more serious about their relationship. And Billy didn't want to.
So it wasn't surprising that she told him that she wanted to date around, shortly after that. And, shortly after she told him, she had drifted out of his life altogether.
The old wizard had told them all that, after receiving the Shazam powers, their aging processes would be slowed to a crawl. The three of them would be nearly immortal, to ensure that the Universe would have three guardians of their caliber for as long as possible.
The big drawback was that they stayed kids.
Shazam had admitted once that, if they wanted, he could remove that factor from them and they would age normally. But he had no idea how it would affect their powers in their other bodies. None of them had opted to age, as a result.
Mary and Freddy had been wanting to get serious for years. But they still looked like kids. It drove Mrs. Bromfield, Mary's foster mother, up the wall that Mary was still a young girl in appearance. It drove her over it that her Mary loved a common newsboy.
Time to shake things out with a sky cruise, Billy decided. No matter what, when Life pressed in too hard, he could say the word and all things seemed under control again.
He punched his intercom button. "Joan. I'm going to be out for an hour. Please hold my calls till then."
"Right, Billy," said Joan. She knew who he was, in both selves. She'd known it since she caught him changing on her first day of work. Joan Jameson had been a big help to him since that day. And to his other self, as well.
Outside, Joan knew what was going to happen, and listened closely. Through the door, she heard her young boss say one word. It was unintelligible, but she knew what it was. Then there was a boom of thunder. She heard the window being raised up, and quickly went to the window.
She waved at Captain Marvel, already flying over the buildings of Fawcett City.
He saw her and waved back.
Freddy Freeman steadied himself with his crutch as he knelt with his good leg on the stack of papers and snipped the copper wire.
He sniffed the ink and paper and thought it was the most heavenly scent in the world. If only he had been a reporter. Or even a printer. But the next best thing was to be able to sell the papers and magazines and comic books.
"Mr. Freeman, can I help ya with that?"
The speaker was Denny Smith, a kid whose addiction to comics surpassed belief. He was in a blue sweatshirt and blue jeans and a brown porkpie hat and he had to have a home, because he wasn't here 24 hours a day. But he was working hard on the latter.
"I'll be all right, Denny," said Freddy. He hefted the Daily Gazette onto the front shelf of his corner newsstand and glanced at the cover picture of President Eisenhower.
Denny shifted from one foot to the other. "Mr. Freeman?"
Freddy adjusted his scarf to block out the cold of the morning. "Denny, if it's about the new comics, they don't come in today. You know that, right?"
"Right, Mr. Freeman. I just want to make sure you know to put the right ones back for me."
"Sure. Superman, Uncle Scrooge, Crime Does Not Pay, and Frontline Combat. They'll be here for you, Den, when they get here. If they get here."
"You won't tell my mom about Crime Doesn't Pay, willya, Mr. Freeman?"
"Mum's the word, Denny. Enjoy it while you've got it. If they keep holding funny-book burnings, you may not have any of ‘em before much longer."
Denny looked like a steamroller had squashed his daschund. "That'd be terrible."
"Unpleasant, maybe. Terrible, I don't think so. Terrible is what happens if the Commies or Nazis take over. Or the Sivanas. If they cancelled comic books, we'd still wake up in the same country next morning. It'd be a little duller, though. Denny, wanna do something for me?"
Freddy tossed him a couple of quarters. The kid caught both. "Good hand, Den. Go down to Pop's and grab me a coffee. You can get a cocoa. Hop to it."
"You got it, Mr. Freeman."
The kid turned around to look at him.
"Once you're done with that, go to school. Or I am gonna tell your mother."
"Aw." The kid ran down the street.
Freddy watched him for a second and then turned and hobbled through the door space into his newsstand. He looked out at the world through the back-cover ads for Time, Look, and Mechanix Illustrated. His breath smoked out in the coldness of the new day.
The temperature made his bum leg ache a bit. He massaged it with one hand and closed his eyes.
...The big German in the green suit and the blonde crewcut and the duelling scar is standing up in the boat and he doesn't care that he might swamp it he's holding that oar he's holding it and you can see in his eyes what he's going to do with it he's bringing it down on Grandfather Troop's...
"Freddy," said a voice.
"Um." Freddy snapped his eyes open. "Hi, Chief Bond."
The fireman was holding one of the Gazettes and had three cents in his other palm. He was a regular customer. Freddy took the coins. "Sorry, Chief, just a little woolgathering there."
"Don't feel bad about that, son," said the big, red-faced man. "I've only been here for a few seconds. Just wanted to make sure you weren't asleep, is all. Think Ike's going to run again?"
Freddy deposited the coins in a leather zipper bag. "Sure. If the Republicans could do it, I think they'd have him run as many times as Mr. Roosevelt. Too bad for them they can't."
"If it isn't one thing, it's another," said Bond, snooping through the second page. "Can't see why I read foreign news, anyway. Gets me upset. Now the Reds are kickin' the French in Indo-China. Isn't China enough for ‘em, I ask you?"
The youth shifted on his wooden chair. "Given the Reds, Mr. Bond, I don't think anything'll be enough for ‘em. If they took over all of the world, first thing I think they'd do is build a rocket so they could find another planet to take over."
"Damned if you aren't right about that," said Bond. "But they'll never take over America. The Marvels wouldn't let ‘em."
"You can say that again," said Freddy, as Denny materialized, puffing, with a cup of coffee sloshing in his hand. "Thanks, Den," said Freddy, as he took it. "Did you get yourself something, too?"
"Heck, no, Mr. Freeman," puffed Denny. "Gotta save it till Thursday, for the new comic books. Bye!" He ran down the street.
"Denny!" yelled Freddy. "School's the other way!"
Chief Bond chuckled. "I think he knows, my boy. I think he knows. I got to get to work. See you around, Freddy."
"Sure, Chief," said Freddy.
For the rest of the morning, Freddy Freeman sold magazines, papers, candy, and cigarettes. At times, he sat back and tried to ignore his pained limb and remembered.
He remembered the blonde man who had killed his grandfather and given him the lamed leg.
He remembered waking up in a strange place, with Captain Marvel in front of him.
And he remembered how it felt when the lightning struck, the thunder rolled, and he stood up to find himself dressed in a costume of bright blue, with a yellow lightning bolt on the front.
Just like Captain Marvel's.
"Mary, really, it isn't necessary to stare out of the window while I'm talking to you. The iron deer can't appreciate your attention."
"Sorry, Mom." Mary Batson Bromfield turned away from the window and let the curtains fall back in place. The house that she was living in was one of the most expensive dwellings in all of Fawcett City. But once you've been over it enough times, a house is just a house, even if it has so many rooms you aren't sure of the number.
Mrs. Bromfield, her foster mother, was sitting at a table in the parlor, going over some papers. "The oil stocks still look good, and I want you to promise me that when I'm gone you won't let go of them. Well, not unless they triple their current value, allowing for inflation. Will you promise me that, dear?"
"I promise, Mom." She went back to the 18th Century couch and sat down, holding one knee. Mary dressed demurely, more or less like a schoolgirl, which she appeared to be. But in reality, she had been on this Earth since 1925, and wished to Heaven she could show it.
"The war is over, which is good for everything but business," said Mrs. Bromfield. "But I can live with that. As long as those ruddy Reds stay back of their line, I could care less what happens to our stocks. Actually, I'm lying, Mary, but I don't want my money too tied up with blood."
"They're still making bombs and planes and tanks, Mom, even if we aren't in a war right now," said Mary. "There's good money in steel and oil and rubber and all that."
Mrs. Bromfield stepped up behind Mary and laid a hand on her shoulder. "There is indeed, Mary, and I've invested some of our money in that. If one wants to make money, one has to go where the money is made."
"But you've also invested in farms and dairies and all that, Mom," said Mary. "And don't think I've forgotten about that ag experimentation endowment."
The older woman smiled. "America can't feed the whole world, dear, but someday we may feed a lot more of it than we already do. That's a nobler aim in life, wouldn't you say?"
"Sure," said Mary. "I approve of it, Mom. I just don't have your head for business."
"Well, you'd better get a little more of a head for it, Mary, or find yourself beholden to men who will steal you blind," said Mrs. Bromfield, stepping back from her. Mary turned around and studied the woman. "When Hubert died," Mrs. B continued, "I had to carry on somehow. The money was there, and I had to make something of it, or go back to work myself."
"I'd like to do that. Go to work myself."
"You think so, dear?", said Edith Bromfield.
"I think so," said Mary, and turned back to the window.
"It's not as easy as saying a word, you know."
Mary whirled and faced Edith with a look of horror.
"Mom," she whispered. "Mom, don't tell me you..."
"I know," said Edith, with a sad expression on her face. "Mary, do you think you can live with a person as long as you've lived with me and keep a secret forever?"
"But how did you," stammered Mary. "I mean, I didn't give myself away, did I? Does anyone, anyone else know about this?"
Edith shook her head. "No, you didn't give yourself away. But your face doesn't change very much when you change, Mary. And your other self has the same first name. Your hair color is similar, your height, I would guess your weight as well. Plus, dear, the most important factor. You know what it is."
Mary nodded, sadly. "I know. I don't get older."
"No. You don't." Mrs. Bromfield sat on the couch and motioned Mary to sit beside her. "Will you always be this young, do you think?"
"I don't know. I hope not. I pray not." Mary sat down, smoothing her skirt first. "I mean, Mom....you'd think being 15 forever would be a great thing, wouldn't you, unless you really had to do it?"
"I know," said Mrs. Bromfield. "There's an old saying that youth is wasted on the young. But that's not really true. Youth is there to be wasted, as is age. It's your own decision as to how you waste both."
"I, I wish I had some to waste," said Mary, sniffing. "Oh, God, Mama, I just wish I didn't have to be like this forever..."
Within seconds, Mary was in her foster mother's arms, pressing her face to Edith's chest and crying her eyes out.
Jives the butler stuck his head in the doorway, caught Mrs. Bromfield's eye, and was waved away. He withdrew.
After awhile, Edith got up, placing her still-teary charge against the couch, and came back with a large box of tissues. Mary blew her nose and daubed her eyes. "I'm sorry," she said. "I'm sorry for not being..."
"For not being what, dear? Strong enough?"
"Y-yeah. Not strong enough."
Edith said, "It appears to me, dear, that you've been stronger than any girl in your position could rightfully be expected to be. You've gone through high school, been through college, got your B.A., which is more than your two friends can boast. And for, what, the past twelve years or so you've been changing into a girl with the power to move mountains in her bare hands and flying all over the cosmos. Is that more or less right?"
Mary blew one more time. "Kind of," she said. "Mom, I don't like to talk about it."
"Why not? Don't you talk about it with Billy and Freddy?"
"Sure, but they're different. They're...heroes, too."
Edith said, "So that makes them more than human? What do I have to do to get you to talk to me, wave my hands in the air and become Super-Mom? Don't you think you feel the same way as normal people, Mary? Even when you're being somebody else?"
Mary sighed, and placed her hands in her lap. "I don't know, Mom. I think so. I feel so confused about my life, now. Oh, God, that's such a cliche."
"And acting like you're in a Tennessee Williams play isn't? Come talk to me, Mary. Tell me about who you really are."
She shook her head. "I don't know. I'm here, I've got you for a mom, and you're great. I've got money like most kids would never be able to touch, and that's great. On top of that, I can...change. I can change, Mom."
"I can do something that only two other people can do. I can, I can, you know what I can do, and when I do it, it's like nothing you could ever imagine, if you haven't ever done it before. I can fly through space fast enough to reach the Sun and back inside a day, easy. I can lift just about anything, maybe including the Earth. I can punch through solid steel and laugh off bullets. The whole world knows the other me, Mom, and the other me has done so much good. So much. But then..."
"...But then I have to say the word again, and I'm just me. Plain little old Mary Batson again. And I've got to hide it, pretend, make believe I'm not the other me. Somebody might come and kill you and Jives for revenge, or kill me before I could say the word. Not that they haven't tried!"
"From what I've heard, they've tried quite thoroughly, in the years you've had another self," put in Mrs. Bromfield.
Mary grinned. "Yeah, but they haven't killed ol' Mary yet! Or Ca...uh, the other two of us. Both of the guys think their Sivana is the worst, but I can tell you, Mom, Georgia has got to be the nastiest one of the pack. She's actually killed somebody, do you know that? Took a newspaper editor and shot him in cold blood. They couldn't pin the rap on her, but we know she did it."
"Why don't you put her away?" said Mrs. Bromfield.
"We do, but they never stay in for very long," said Mary. "They know so much. They can always cook up a new way of getting out of jail. In the old days, Doc Sivana could even walk through walls. Can you believe that? Even I can't do that. It's more like, we go out there, we dance with them, and we bring them back home when the dance is over."
"I'd say it's a lot more serious than a dance, dear."
"It is. Believe me, it is. They could take over the whole world, without us to stop them. But it's like Billy said, what can we do about it? We can't kill them. And Sivana and Junior haven't committed murder yet, and we can't prove Georgia has. The first murder the other two will commit, and maybe the only ones, will be the three of us, if they can help it."
Edith said, "Then, do you want to quit and let the boys handle it from here on?"
"I don't know. No, I don't think so. Not for a while yet. But Mom...there is something I want to tell you."
"I want to get married to Freddy. And I don't know if we can."
The meeting place was suitably hidden and suitably functional. It seemed a cross between two movie genres, the science fiction epic and the gangster film. The seats about the round metal table were plush and comfortable, and tailored for the beings that they housed. Not all of their occupants were entirely human.
The master of the group looked upon the assemblage and was not nearly so cute as some newspaper cartoonists had made him out to be. There was something unnerving about him that didn't quite come out in the still photographs. Unless, that is, you came across one that got a good shot of his eyes. One that showed the madness.
Thaddeus Bodog Sivana rose from his chair.
"Ladies and gentlemen, and my own children, whom I'm not sure fit into either category, thank you for making the meeting. We've a great deal to do, and very little time in the doing. But this time, I think we can get the job done promptly and efficiently. As long as you'll hang with me in this endeavor. I can promise you we'll get a lot farther together than we have separately. It's up to you to keep it that way.
"Before we begin, I'd like to pay my respects to our dear, departed colleague, Mr. Mind. Only a worm he was, but he commanded the loyalty of many of us, and many others besides, and gave our greatest enemy some of his toughest times. That is, besides the ones I gave him, of course.
"Now Mr. Mind is gone, to that great worm-burrow in the sky. But his idea lives on. It was a good concept, just perhaps not in the most efficient hands. I believe we have a pair of efficient hands in control now, gentlemen: mine.
"In short, welcome to the first meeting of the New Monster Society of Evil."
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