Friday, December 31, 2010

Earth-349: The Last Story, Prologue 1

Earth-349: The House of Mystery
Prologue to the Last Earth-349 Story
by Anton Psychopoulos, Ph.D.

Disclaimer #1 This story is set in a hypothetical parallel world within
the pre-Crisis DC Universe, based on a story in Superman #349, but not
limited by that story or any other.

Disclaimer #2 Some characters appearing in this story are based on
copyrighted characters owned by DC Comics, Inc., Marvel Comics and
others. Their use here is not intended to infringe or disparage those

Disclaimer #3 This story is not recommended for persons under 18 or the
easily offended, especially those who are uncomfortable with such topics
as transgender, transformation, wizardry and beer-drinking.

The immense winged shape descended from the sky, black on black, almost
silent. It released its passenger without quite touching the ground, softly
enough that the woman was able to stay on her feet as she landed.

She turned and looked up at the creature which had carried her to Coast City
and called out, "Cor kcab ot worc," and watched while the dark silhouette
shrank to tiny size, still hovering. The crow flew off, seeming none the worse
for having carried a human being over a thousand miles.

Zatanna brushed down her tailcoat, checked her stockings, pulled her top hat
from a vest pocket and restored it to normal size. She climbed the hill toward
the House of Mystery, admiring the way its slightly canted windows looked like
malevolent yellow eyes as they shone out at the world.

The group was called Vertigo, because it had met for its first year at the
eccentrically-designed Vertigo House in Boston. These days, meetings rotated
among various places of power around North America, ranging from the crypt in
an old cemetery to the inner sanctum of a very unusual church. Tonight, they
were meeting at the historic House of Mystery, at a gathering hosted by its
caretaker, a man who was said to be more than he appeared. But then, in a
group like Vertigo, that was said about just about everyone.

Tim Moone, otherwise known as the Enchanter, was the doorkeeper for this
month's meeting, Zatanna saw. He was wearing a very old green velvet coat
which had once been quite showy and which still had a vague air of distinction
about it.

"Hi, Zee."

"Tim. I like your jacket."

He grinned.

"Recognize it?"

"It does seem vaguely familiar...."

"Think of the Wizard of Oz."

"The book, the movie, or the man himself?"

Moone looked startled.

"You mean there really was...?"

He recovered quickly.

"Think of the movie, the scene in Kansas, where the Wizard is Professor Marvel,
the down-at-heels magician."
Zatanna moved closer and ran a hand over the jacket's sleeve.

"This is the jacket Frank Morgan wore?"

"Yep. More than that, though. For the Kansas scenes, the costumers bought
most of the clothes and props at second-hand stores, to get an authentic look,
make a strong contrast with the Oz scenes. They were especially happy with the
jacket, even before they found the tag inside."

He held the jacket open so that Zatanna could see, beneath the stencil mark
that identified it as property of MGM studios, a faded tag, still clearly
reading "LFB".

"L. Frank Baum?"

"The very one. Authenticated by his widow."

Zatanna felt a chill. This kind of synchronicity was magic in more senses than
one. It was no wonder that Moone was pleased with having acquired it.

While they had been talking, a new figure had approached. At first Zatanna
took the creature for some sort of demon with yellow skin and green hair, but
on closer inspection it was obviously a young woman in body paint and an ill-
fitting fright wig. Besides that, she work only striped shorts, sandals and a
red feather boa.

"Greetings, mortals," the stranger growled in what she clearly hoped was an
inhuman voice, and tried to sidle past the pair.

Moone sidestepped to prevent the woman's passing through.

"Excuse me, Miss. Do you have an invitation?"

She cocked a painted eyebrow at him.

"Bar not my way, O Tim the Enchanter. The Creeper goes where she has need to

She raised both hands and made a threatening catlike gesture that made her bare
yellow breasts jiggle, but Moone was not distracted by either display.

"I'm sorry, I can't let you in if you're not a member or the guest of a member."

The creeper slumped in disappointment.

"I don't get it," she said in a normal voice. "The crooks in Gotham City all
buy my demon act, but you guys who meet spooks all the time never do."

"That's just it," Zatanna butted in. "People who meet real demons are the last
ones who'll be fooled by a phony."

The creeper turned on Zatanna, glaring.

"Beware, mortal -- um, I mean, I'm not a phony! I have superhuman strength and
reflexes. I've beaten Dr. Tzin-Tzin, and Hellgrammite! I --"

"All well and good," zatanna said impatiently, "but you're not one of us. Your
powers smell of technology, and your outfit smells of greasepaint. You go
meddling with real supernatural phenomena, and you might go home to find out
that the yellow doesn't wash off anymore."

The Creeper swallowed hard, and probably turned pale under the paint.

Zatanna made a sudden gesture and the young woman flinched.

"Don't worry. I wouldn't do something that nasty to you. But there are those
who would do much worse, for less provocation than your little bluff here
tonight. That being the case, I don't feel too guilty about sending you home
in -- etairporppa sserd!"

The Creeper looked down and saw that her paint and costume had vanished,
replaced by a schoolgirl uniform complete with white knee socks and a pleated
skirt in a poisonous yellow-green-red plaid. She screamed and ran down the
hill, her pigtails flying around her head.

The two real wizards shared a laugh as they watched the gatecrasher flee.

"I don't think she'll have the nerve to try anything like that again."

"She does, she'll be spending a couple of weeks at a really nasty boarding
school I know about."

Zatanna went inside and found the gathering had already reached its lively
stage. She obtained a mug of beer from a Sumerian priestess who made it
herself acording to the old recipe. Sipping it, she walked around, exchanging
greetings with people she knew or recognized.

A squatty dark-skinned man in slacks and a pullover was talking with Lydia
Tarrant, better known as the Tattooed Lady. Zatanna didn't recognize him until
he turned slightly and she saw the huge star sapphire clinging to his forehead.

"Well, something must be up," Star Sapphire insisted, "or she wouldn't be
late. It's totally not like her."

Tarrant shrugged. She was wearing the shortest, lowest-cut black dress Zatanna
had ever seen, showing off a great deal of her tattooed skin Her ever-changing
collection of purplish tattoos shifted and rustled as they adjusted to the

"Maybe she changed her mind? She keeps saying she's not one of us. And
knowing I'd be here, well, I know she doesn't like the idea of this being
neutral ground where she couldn't try to bust me."

Star Sapphire shook his head.

"I finally convinced her that the stones weren't some kind of intergalactic
science. It took her years to admit it, but now that she believes that our
powers are supernatural, she -- Zatanna!"

"Sapphire, Lydia."

"Zatanna, you've worked with Green Lantern, you know she isn't the kind to
back out of something at the last minute. And she wouldn't be late for no
reason, either."

The small man was looking seriously worried. Zatanna didn't know what kind of
relationship the two of them had, but he was clearly taking Green Lantern's
tardiness seriously.

Zatanna gave a dubious shrug.

"I could try to locate her by magic...."

"No, don't bother. I have better connections with her than anyone else, and I
can't raise her."

Feeling sorry for the man but with nothing to offer him, Zatanna moved on. In
the next room, a group were peering into a crystal the size of a beachball. It
showed a landscape like a fantasy loosely inspired by ancient Egypt, but she
knew it was really the other way around: this was the otherdimensional realm of
the beings once worshipped as gods by the ancient Egyptians, and which had
influenced the development of Egyptian civilization.

A bearded man, flamboyant in riding breeches and a green silk shirt open to the
waist, was talking excitedly to the group looking into the crystal, making
extravagant gestures with both hands.

"So like, they told me they could send me back, but since I'd only just barely
survived the trip out, it'd probably kill me if I went back again as Mitzi
Merlin. So they put my mind in this body that'd been vacated by their Prince
Ra-Amon like, thousands of years before."

Zatanna stepped through the group to lay a hand on the Prince's arm.

"Hey, Prince, so glad to finally meet you in the flesh...the new flesh, that
is. You know, back when you were a woman and I was a man, I had the biggest
crush on you...."

The Prince shrugged off her hand without being obvious about it and raised both
hands in front of him in protest.

"Sorry, honey, but unlike you I didn't change teams -- I still like boys!"

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