“Well, Captain Good Guy,” the citizen was saying, “if you do see Billy, please tell him that lunch will be ready in twenty minutes. I’m making his favorite.”
Captain Good Guy nodded gravely and waited until the citizen had gone inside. He let out his breath. She hadn’t known the danger lurking in her seemingly quiet backyard. The playhouse was the obvious choice but the low bushes near the decorative fencing looked too innocent. The Grim Shrieker was near. He could sense the undertones of… he didn’t know what exactly, but it was there, lurking. Suddenly his keen eyesight picked up movement.
“Not on my watch,” he muttered, adjusting his cape.
With a righteous roar, Captain Good Guy made a mighty leap to the lawn and rolled down the short slope toward the bushes. At that moment, the Grim Shrieker’s masked head emerged just enough to lob a small object through the air toward him. It missed by inches and exploded up the slope, spattering steaming lava across the wilting grass. As he watched, the lava began to expand. Soon small molten rivers sped down toward his feet.
He moved on instinct, dodging a new lava bomb with lightning fast reflexes on his way to the playhouse. He knew it was a trap but it was a well-lain one. The Grim Shrieker had done his homework. Angry alligator jaws snapped at Captain Good Guy’s ankles.
“Where did you come from?” he shouted, leaping aside and pulling a Shrinking Gun from his pocket.
He made short work of the alligators but realized he had lost track of the Grim Shrieker in the process. He stilled, using all of his super senses.
“There’s no way you got through all of those alligators that fast,” a voice said in disbelief from behind him.
“Ahah!” Captain Good Guy shouted, spinning and shooting on instinct.
His reflexes were cat-like but so too were the Grim Shrieker’s. Captain Good Guy frowned at the empty lawn. One fence post was shorter than the rest and continuing to shrink. Captain Good Guy put the Shrinking Gun away and pulled out his signature Capturing Net instead.
“I know you’re still here,” he said to the silent yard.
Small hisses greeted his ears from the lava cooling on the slope but no sign of the Grim Shrieker. He held his breath. The Grim Shrieker’s reign had gone on long enough. The balance of light and dark was in jeopardy. The good citizens of this world deserved lives free of the Grim Shrieker’s evil. Far too many had been enslaved to his mind control. Captain Good Guy would not rest until the world breathed free air again.
The Fury Fog hit without warning. One moment he was watching a bush and the next his world went dark. Stumbling forward, hoping that in his blindness he wouldn’t trip across one of the still hot lava flows, Captain Good Guy fought to remain calm. The thing to know about Fury Fog was that the things you felt weren’t necessarily true. Already he was waving his arms around and shouting like a madman. This had to stop. He had to get a grip.
“So predictable,” a voice drawled from nearby. “Honestly, your people should choose their champions better. It’s too easy.”
“That’s what you think,” Captain Good Guy shouted.
He had just found the Clear Sight Spray on his belt. He sprayed it in his eyes at the same moment that he tossed his catching net toward the spot where the Grim Shrieker had been speaking. His smile of triumph faded when the fog cleared and he saw his net on the ground, its only inhabitant a tiny alligator gnawing on a link.
How was the Grim Shrieker staying ahead of him at every turn? A thrill of unease spread through him as he considered some of the rumors that had been circulating recently. He didn’t believe most of them but one… the one about an experimental thought reading device… Laughter was everywhere. He couldn’t pin it down to one location.
“Not only can I read minds,” the Grim Shrieker said, “but I can plant thoughts, too. Are you certain there is lava on the ground?”
Captain Good Guy checked the slope and saw the grass there clean and unburnt. He shook his head and blinked but the vision stayed the same. No channels of cooling lava. No miniature alligators either, for that matter.
“Captain Good Guy, you’ve been in my lab for weeks,” the Grim Shrieker chuckled. “We’ve done this little exercise every day when you wake up and think that you have a chance. It was funny for a while but now it’s just sad. Give it up. Admit defeat and we’ll go have lunch.”
“Never!” Captain Good Guy growled. He wasn’t fooled. “You’re bluffing,” he said, taking a step forward.
“I rule the world and everything in it,” the Grim Shrieker said. “I don’t need to bluff.”
“Not everything,” Captain Good Guy said as he lunged to the rope ladder and raised the Shrinking Gun.
Several things happened at once. The Grim Shrieker’s eyes went wide behind his mask when he saw the barrel of the Shrinking Gun and he leapt from the playhouse in a smooth arc, his cape fanning out like bat wings so he was gliding by the time he neared the ground. The citizen woman, oblivious to the danger streaking toward her, stepped out onto the porch and called, “lunch is ready!” Captain Good Guy’s finger twitched on the trigger, reducing the playhouse to a pile of tiny sticks while he turned to wave the unsuspecting citizen back to the safety of her home.
It was too late. The Grim Shrieker stood beside her smiling wickedly. Captain Good Guy knew that when she turned to go back inside he would see the telltale mind control device attached to the back of her head. He had failed. Never again would her thoughts or actions be her own. The world he’d been sent to protect had one less free citizen.
“Hang up your capes for a few minutes,” the citizen said. “I’ve got pizza and watermelon.”
The Grim Shrieker pulled off his mask.
“Cheese and pineapples?” he asked.
Captain Good Guy stood firm. He wouldn’t fall for another trap. This citizen was mind-controlled now. She’d say or do anything. The citizen nodded and a small breeze wafted sumptuous aromas from the kitchen window. It smelled a lot like cheese and pineapple pizza. Captain Good Guy lost his resolve. Cheese and pineapple pizza really was his favorite.
“Okay but just for a few minutes,” he said, pulling off his mask and following the Grim Shrieker into the house.
“I want to be Captain Good Guy next time,” the Grim Shrieker said while he fiddled with his cape ties. “I have an idea for the Shrinking Gun.”
“I totally destroyed the playhouse,” Captain Good Guy sighed.
“That’s okay, that was my lair and it rebuilt itself with nano robots as soon as you turned around.”
He bit into a slice of pizza and grinned.
Captain Good Guy grinned back. That meant that the lair would be in full working order when he was the Grim Shrieker, and he had plans. Big plans.
The citizen kissed each of their heads and smiled, eyeing the glimmer of a cape through the pantry door. Her boys were safe and that was what mattered most. Still, she hoped they’d hurry up. As soon as the boys were fed she had a universe to get back to saving.