Craig ran as fast as his legs could go through the creek. He zoomed past the Trading Tree, bobbing and weaving in-and-out between groups of kids. He heard Kit tell him something, but he was too busy – too excited – to stop and chat. He had to get to the Stump right away.
He’s waiting for me. I can’t make him wait for too long.
He was completely out of breath by the time he reached the Stump, sweat beating across his brow. Regardless of his exhaustion, he was thrilled to see what he rushed all the way there to see: Neas standing in front of his open Type-Z TARDIS with his arms crossed and a smile on his face.
“You made it,” he told Craig.
“I…did…big bro,” he huffed. Once he took a large gulp of water from the bottle he kept in his Purse of Holding, he said to Neas with reinvigorated energy, “I’m finally ready!”
Neas frowned. “Ready for what?”
“Ready to go on a journey with you through the Infinite D.C.!”
“I’m afraid it’s too late, Craig.”
Craig felt the enthusiasm drain from his body again; his hopes and dreams dashed. “What? Why not?”
“I never prepared you for this day.”
“The day when I had to regenerate…become an entirely new person.”
“But it’s O.K. I know all about your regeneration and that you’ll one day turn into Maureen. I totally understand. No matter what, you’ll always be my big bro, remember? You’ll never forget about me.”
Neas let out a heartbroken sigh. “I wish that were true, Craig,” he lamented. “But someday I will forget you.”
Craig was crushed to hear him say this, tears streaming down his face.
Suddenly, Neas’s head and hands began to glow in radiant yellow energy that seeped out from every pore. And then, much to Craig’s horror, he exploded in pillars of fire that shot out from underneath his collar and through the sleeves of his hoodie. The explosion was so intense that Craig could feel it overwhelming his skin, melting it off his bones like chocolate ice cream.
Craig snapped awake in his bedroom, gasping. He thought he was screaming aloud for real, but it was only in the dream…one horrible dream.
He glanced over at his Slide the Ferret alarm clock to check the time.
It was still the middle of the night, and he had only been asleep for a couple of hours. There was no way he was going to get a full night’s sleep after such a hauntingly realistic nightmare.
Two Days Later
Craig had great difficulty eating, sleeping, playing video games, or doing much of anything. He was still haunted by that nightmare about Neas. It triggered a lot of other thoughts that he had about his Time Lord friend and surrogate big brother.
His real big brother, Bernard, sat in the kitchen that morning, eating his cereal while on his phone, as usual.
Their mother, Nicole, was there as well, getting herself some coffee.
“Morning, Craig!” she happily greeted. “Can I fix ya anything?”
“No,” Craig answered in a huff, sitting at the table right beside Bernard. “I’m still not hungry.”
“You sure you’re okay, baby?” Nicole asked him. “You’ve been acting awfully low these past couple of days. You haven’t even been to the creek.”
“And you never miss a day going to the creek,” Bernard said with a mouthful of cereal.
“Bernard!” Nicole scolded. “Swallow before you speak!” Returning her attention on her youngest son, she tried to brighten his spirits. “Well, I know what’ll cheer you up, sweetie. Our new next door neighbor is comin’ over today, so we’re gonna throw ourselves a BBQ par-tay!”
Only Nicole seemed to be the excited one for this event. Craig remained disinterested while Bernard was annoyed. “Why can’t we just throw a BBQ party period?” the latter asked (after swallowing the bits of cereal in his mouth). “Why we gotta have it just because of some old lady?”
“Bernard!” Nicole again scolded. “Now that is no way to speak of our new neighbor. I expect you boys to set a good example for your little sister and behave yourselves when she comes over. Is that understood?”
“Yes, ma’am,” both Craig and Bernard acknowledged.
Craig excused himself from the kitchen thereafter, retreating back into his bedroom to do a video chat with J.P. and Kelsey over his phone. He explained his whole reason for not being at the creek for the last two days, bringing up the details of his nightmare for the first time. Only Kelsey and J.P. understood his dilemma, after their trip through the Stargate.
“Craig, don’t worry,” Kelsey reassured him. “Maureen…er…Neas hasn’t forgotten you.”
“Yeah, remember what she told you?” J.P. recalled. “She said, ‘No matter what, you’ll always be my little bro.’ And then you guys hugged and she kissed you on the forehead and I started cryin’…”
“I was there, J.P., you don’t have to give me the play-by-play,” Craig interrupted. “I just don’t know, you guys. We haven’t seen or heard from Maureen in the last few months.” As much as he hated to admit it, he then added, “Let’s just face the facts: Neas’s forgotten all about me. Going on all those adventures in the Infinite D.C., how could they have time to remember one kid from the creek?”
“Do you really believe that?” Kelsey asked in sympathy for her friend.
“I kinda do, I guess,” Craig answered. “But you wanna know the worst thing about it? I never once got the courage to ask Neas if I could go on one of his journeys.”
“What about that Stargate thing?” J.P. inquired. “Doesn’t that count?”
“I don’t think so, J.P.,” Kelsey disproved.
The Stump Kids’ video chat ended as soon as Craig heard the doorbell resound throughout his house – the new neighbor had arrived. He was prompted to come downstairs by his mother, so that the entire Williams family could meet their guest of honor.
Bernard’s description of her as just “some old lady” was annulled the moment that the new neighbor walked through their front door. As the Williams family discovered, she was a middle-aged blonde with an incredible, athletic physique that she showed off in her summer attire: a green top and tight white shorts. It was slightly concealed beneath a black hoodie that looked to be adjusted to suit her frame.
She introduced herself as “Kara Curtsinger.”
“Welcome to our neighborhood!” Jessica Williams (Craig’s little sister) cheered with literal open arms.
“Why, thank you so much, lil’ queen,” Kara warmly responded.
Craig’s ears tickled from the nickname Kara gave Jessica. There was only one other person he knew who gave Jessica the nickname of “lil’ queen.”
Since the minute she walked in, Bernard’s mouth hung open in shock of how attractive Kara was. She playfully closed it for him, pressing her index finger up against his chin. “Close your mouth, hon,” she said to him. “You’ll catch flies that way.”
Again, Craig’s ears tickled. He knew he heard someone say that to Bernard before.
Kara had already won over everyone in the Williams family with her warmth, humor, and charm. The only objective one was Craig, who merely stood along one corner with his arms folded and eyes toward the floor. “Craig,” he heard his mother beckon. “Say hello to Miss Curtsinger.”
“Hello,” he dryly complied.
It clearly wasn’t the tone Nicole was hoping from him, sighing in disapproval. “You have to excuse Craig,” Nicole told Kara. “He’s been a little testy lately.”
“Oh, I know just the cure for that,” Kara said.
She approached Craig, drawing his attention as she crouched down in front of him. She then took his right hand and proceeded in performing a unique, complex, and fun handshake that ended with her pulling Craig into a hug.
That feeling of déjà vu Craig experienced in the last couple of moments kicked into overdrive after Kara’s handshake. There was only one person who taught him such a unique, complex, and fun handshake that ended with a hug. It was the same person who once carried the same fresh scent in his black hoodie, just like the one he smelled on Kara’s during their hug.
Was it possible for Craig’s new next-door neighbor, Kara Curtsinger, to be Neas in yet another form?
Gotham City (Earth-89)
“I’m tellin’ ya, folks. I am so glad you stuck around to the end on this one, ‘cause I don’t know if I could’ve handled one more racial tirade from Maxwell Kirshner before punching the TV screen. I mean, poor Jack, havin’ that old white dude breathin’ down his neck every sec. That’s like if I had Breather’s head on my…Ugh! I almost threw up in my mouth!”
Sitting in the middle of a set modeled after a haunted house was Elvira, the self-proclaimed “Mistress of the Dark.” Her busty, pale-skinned body – donned in a revealing, gothic, cleavage-enhancing black gown – was sprawled out on her signature red Victorian chaise longue while addressing the camera.
Most of Gotham City had their television sets tuned in to her live broadcast, which didn’t have much time on the air before the local station had to move on with the news. The director made this clear for Elvira when he gestured for her to wrap it up before the camera. “Speaking of upchuck, my director Chuck tells me that’s all the time we have for now,” she finished up. “Until next time…Unpleasant dreams.” She gave a sultry wave to the camera after her signature closing line.
After signing off, the station crew wasted no time in transitioning over to the news, dropping the weather map right in front of Elvira, without a word of warning. It smacked against her makeup-heavy face.
“Thanks for the heads up, fellas,” she snootily told the stagehands, removing herself from the chaise longue. As she headed over to the backstage vanity mirror, she could hear the Action News jingle play in news anchors Becky Narita and Peter McElroy, the former of whom Elvira has had some choice words with every now and then backstage – and the latter was a disgusting flirt.
After a few minutes on-air, Becky began acting strange, laughing at random while Peter was trying to give a serious news report, until she finally and literally keeled over laughing. Several crew members went to her aid.
Elvira watched the whole thing, shaking her head. “The same story every time,” she said to no one but herself. “And cue Joker with the Smylex commercial…” Sure enough, the live newscast was soon hijacked by a corny advertisement for a deadly hygiene product created by none other than the Joker, a criminal mastermind who was only just starting to make a name for himself in Gotham.
Some would’ve questioned how Elvira knew this disturbing commercial was going to play at that exact time. Some would’ve even accused her of being behind it, as well as Becky’s on-air breakdown that culminated in her unfortunate death. But Elvira had her ways of knowing everything that went on in the Gotham City of this particular Earth, being a traveler of multiple Earths.
As much of a pain-in-the-butt as Becky was, Elvira still grieved for her. There was no way to prevent what the Joker did to her – not without Elvira drawing too much attention to herself.
That’s not who you are anymore. You’re just a TV hostess now.
Elvira snapped out of her private thoughts when she heard Joker’s Smylex commercial interrupted itself by static. It hadn’t gotten halfway through its forced broadcast before someone else decided to intervene.
When the static cleared, another clown appeared onscreen.
He was a stark contrast to the flashy, colorful one before, appearing more haggard with his chalk-white makeup that consisted of dark face-paint that blackened the spaces around his leering brown eyes, green hair-dye spread all over unkempt greasy brown hair, and a red slash of lipstick smeared all over a thin mouth with two gruesome scars lined at the corners, resembling a Glasgow smile.
“Evening, people of Gotham,” he spoke in a shaky, unhinged voice that randomly altered in pitch. “Ignore the knock-off Saturday Morning Cartoon villain behind the curtain. He is an imposter. I’m going to show you what a real terror looks like. And it won’t be through some comical scheme like poisoning haircare products or mouthwash. No, no, no, no, NO! What I have in mind will be messy and chaotic! Because what is a world without a little chaos?”
He concluded his broadcast with a laugh that sent chills throughout every viewer in Gotham City.
Even Elvira was left terrified from what just she watched.
“O.K.,” she uttered. “Didn’t see that comin’!”