And The Race Against Time
Al Bruno III
The End is The Beginning
River City hadn’t sponsored a New Year’s Eve celebration in fifteen years so the citizens had long ago resigned themselves to turning their attention across Hallenbeck Bay to their neighbor city of Megalopolis. Every year Megalopolis would put on a free concert and simulcast it on a dozen radio stations. A giant clock would be erected atop the world-famous Olam Tower to display the countdown. Then, at midnight, there would be a fireworks display so extravagant that it could almost be seen from space.
In fact on one occasion it had been seen from space and had nearly triggered an interplanetary war.
Thankfully the masked and caped heroes known as Guardian Force, those sworn protectors of Megalopolis and River City, had been there to keep things from spiraling out of control.
They were just as busy on this night struggling to contain a crime wave. Roy Ramses, Arachni-kid and Cheela of the Jungle were battling polyester-clad jewel thieves in the Megalopolis diamond district. Golem Girl, Dr. Obscure and the Peacenik were trying to protect an experimental space jet from an army of roller-skating gibbons.
That left ShadoMask on his own in River City and his long chase was reaching its conclusion.
The ShadoMobile and the getaway car had crashed into a brick wall leaving both men on foot. The Reddeath ran through the streets of River City, his crimson robes fluttering out behind him, his white mask catching his panting breaths. In one scrawny hand he clutched the crumbling, jagged edged stone that was the Tablet of Destiny.
ShadoMask pursued him. The caped hero was barely able to run. His silver and black costume was torn and bloodied but it still seemed to shimmer by the light of the full moon. His dark cowl covered the upper half of his face, the lower half was oale and bruised. He clutched at his side, experience had taught him that a broken rib had punctured his lung. He grabbed the remaining bolo from his utility belt and threw. The weapon sailed wide of the target.
Somewhere a radio blared, “...that was the band Atrocity Farm with their hit single ‘My Love Is A Unicorn’. I’m your host David Harris and this is the KT-106 FM New Year’s Eve party and we are hear to rock in the 80’s. I can see by the giant clock on Olam Tower that it is almost time for the big countdown.”
The Reddeath stopped running, he turned to grin at his arch enemy, “It’s time. How glad I am that you’re here. I always knew it would come down to us at the end.”
“...stop you...” ShadoMask’s voice was a pained whisper, “...stop you...”
“How will you do that old friend?” the figure in red grabbed hold of ShadoMask’s throat and lifted, “How can you hope to defeat me in my moment of apotheosis?”
ShadoMask kicked upwards his knee catching the Reddeath in the chin. Both men went sprawling. The Tablet of Destiny hit the asphalt of Greenwald Street and cracked in half.
The masked hero dragged himself by his elbows, crawling for the stone fragments, the stone fragments that contained a formula that could undo the world. ShadoMask wished that one of the other members of Guardian Force were here to help him- even the Peacenick.
ShadoMask’s gloved hand landed on the top half of the tablet, he grunted, flipped over onto his back and threw. The five thousand year old handful of stone shattered as it stuck the wall of a tenement building.
“All right cats and kittens!” The voice of David Harris blared out from every television and radio for miles, “Let’s all countdown together and say goodbye to 1979!”
“No!” The Reddeath leapt to his feet and grabbed the surviving part of the tablet, “Not again! You won’t beat me again!”
Somewhere the sound of a siren began to fill the air, it was drawing closer. ShadoMask grinned, his son had gotten the message to the police after all. “Good boy,” he whispered, “good boy.”
Then the Reddeath was standing over him, stomping on ShadoMask again and again. The masked hero tried to fight but he could barely move, barely breathe.
Police cars were skidding to a halt a few yards away.
Uniformed officers began shouting for him to surrender but the Reddeath had turned his attention to the remaining part of the Tablet of Destiny. “Still enough...” he chuckled, “...still enough!”
He read the words, couplets of ancient Mesopotamian verse that were also complex mathematic formulae.
The moon seemed to swell, its illumination darkening to a deep red.
That red flowed across the sky, blotting out the stars and robbing the lamp posts and flashing lights on the police cars of their strength until they were little more than fading candlelight.
There was a sound like thunder. Voices began to cry out. The Reddeath watched as the policemens’ bodies began to shift and change. Their eyes turned black, their faces twisted into vulpine shapes. Their screams became howls and those howls were spreading through River City and beyond.
The Reddeath laughed at his victory, at the thought of a world that was his to control. Then he winced. A fiery pain radiated down through his body.
He held his pale hands up and saw they were twisting into black-furred claws.
“Wait! Not me!” The Reddeath shouted with horror, “Not meeeeeeeee!”