“He will learn,” a voice spoke, thick with unsatisfied vengeance and rage, “And when he is ready, he shall bring back what is meant to be.”
It is winter. A cold winter night. And an Englishman, blonde and unkempt wakes from what could only be described as a horrible dream. Though attractively rugged, the man lacks much in both hygiene and social decorum; his name is John Constantine and there was once a time when merely knowing his name gave him an edge over you.
John wiped his own cold drool off his cheek with the closest thing he could find on his bed - a used gray sock – then sat up and gave his aching back a stretch. He was barely done giving his neck its own clickity stretch when his hands found the pack of cigarettes he had left the previous night on the headboard. Sliding one cigarette out of the pack, he leaned back onto the bed and groped around for the lighter.
“Hey,” a woman’s voice snapped from under the sheets as John squeezed an evident mound under the guise of searching for the said lighter. Raven haired and beautiful, a shapely woman rose from the sheets and stared at her chain-smoking friend and occasional lover with an evident show of distaste on her face. “You do realize, some of us are still trying to catch up on sleep.”
“What?” he replied, though not once did he turn to look at her. He squatted on the sheets and reached between his own legs, checking the nether regions of the sheets where he was sitting on for the off-chance the lighter had rolled down there.
“Arsehole,” the woman sighed and slid back under the blanket, “It’s cold. Don’t hog the sheets.”
John grinned, triumphantly drew the lighter into the open, and flicked it on. Fire rose on command and lit the cigarette John had been holding between his lips for the past few seconds. “Zat… wake up, had another one of them dreams.”
“I’m awake,” Zatanna remarked, though it was evident in her voice she wasn’t that interested in hearing what John had dreamt of this time. There was a time he claimed he saw images of a great hand reaching out from what seemed to be a whirlpool of stars. Then, there was one where a numerous planet earths were seemingly being forced to become one. John had strange dreams, that was clear, and more often than not, they seemed to be absolutely unrelated to anything else occurring in the world. Well, at least as far as what they can sense.
Still, there were those odd times when the dream sang clearly in reference to events that were occurring or yet to transpire in the world. Like the one where John saw a massive war upon the seas, the waters of the world turning red, and a great hawk descending upon a great white shark and using its tongue that burned like sunlight, lifted the predator into the sun. Both dismissed the dream as purely a child of the absinthe and barley they had take the night before only to learn that the Nation of Themyscira had been attacked by strange beings that had long been living in the depths of the Ocean. The Arthurians, as they called themselves, were only defeated when the Wonder Woman used her golden lasso to pry their King from the seas and fling him out of the Earth’s atmosphere.
The Wonder Woman. Zatanna shivered at the thought of her. One of the three that ruled the world. She called herself the Truth, and acted as the judge, jury and executioner in her share of the world. Armed with incredible strength, the ability to fly, enhanced senses, animal empathy, incredible regenerative properties and items of what could only be described as magical in nature, she was the undisputed ruler of a third of the world.
And Zatanna and John both resided in that third.
“Tell me about your dreams, John,” Zatanna straightened up and pulled herself up to a position closer to sitting, then wrapped the blanket around her naked shoulders and chest to fight the cold, “Just in case it happens to actually mean something this time.”
John shrugged and took a deep drag of the cigarette before starting.
“There was a man… pale as ivory… wearing a green cloak…They were searching for some guy… one of those rangers… wilderness guys…. ”
* * *
Timothy Hunter woke up to the frustrating realization that his father had somehow been infinitely stupid enough to forget to close the window of his room the night before. Awakened by what he could only describe as dreams of a being in a gigantic fortress made of ice and crystals, Tim almost screamed out in shock to discover his room was covered in an inch deep layer of frost and snow. He turned his head to see one of the three windows that faced his bed left open, and this time, inhaled a deep breath to allow him to scream as loud as he could.
”Daaaaaaad! You left the window open!”
The early morning winds continued to blow into the room, making Tim shiver uncontrollably from the cold. He found himself muttering obscenities just beneath his breath, never feeling it was proper to speak such things out loud, when he realized he could not stop his teeth from chattering, or his body from shaking from the exposure to the elements. Was he already in some stage of frostbite? Or was he merely suffering the ill effects of sleeping in boxer shorts during the winter with a window left open?
Regardless, all Tim could think of right that moment was to find a way back into the warmer state of being. And if it were possible to have someone else do the work for him, that would be great.
“Dad! Come up here you old,” Tim still couldn’t find it in him to cuss out loud, “…. Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad!”
* * *
Downstairs, Mr. Hunter was fast asleep. With one hand still buried inside the can of potato chips that he was munching on the night before, Mr. Hunter continued to snore quite calmly. He had fallen asleep while watching the telly and was absolutely deaf to his son’s cries for help.
On the television screen, a middle aged man whose hair was slicked back and whose eyes were covered by a pair of dark shades opened his hands in response to the canned applause and pointed to the viewers, “We will be right back after a short break!”
Fairydust danced in the screen and golden letters appeared just before the show cut to a commercial break: You and Mister E
* * *
Tim felt his arms and noted the frightening number of goosebumps all over them. He, for a moment, fancied himself to be some fruit or vegetable and wondered what he would look like had he been much more hairy. He was, after all, barely in his teens. Realising his father was either taking his sweet time heading up, or absolutely failed to hear him calling, Tim decided to try to do something about his predicament instead.
Reaching above his head, he cringed as his fingers touched the icy surface of the headrest. Tiptoeing his fingers like a pair of legs around the wood, he felt his way on the terribly cold surface until his fingers found the familiar sensation of his glasses. Taking them back to him, Tim rubbed the glasses against the blankets and slid the spectacles onto his face.
It was only then he realized that there was no sign of frost or snow at all on his bed or anything that was on the bed. His sheets, though cold, were dry and untouched by the frost. Neither was his pillow.
“Odd,” Tim remarked and sat back up, looking around the room now with much clearer vision and decided he had to do something to at least feel a bit warmer. His toes were starting to feel numb. Taking the blanket into his hands, Tim folded the cloth thrice, making it significantly thicker, before laying it down to the ground for his feet to step on. Using the blanket then like some barrier against the snow, Tim began dragging his feet, one after the other, til he progressed slowly towards the open window. He cussed another time, imagining the many excuses his father was certain to give, most notably a claim that he did not open the window, then reached for the open frame in hopes of shutting the cold out at last.
But it was that moment that a reddish blur slid into view through the wall and clamped both chalk white hands against its own pale bald head as if in a show of apology and shame. To Tim, however, all he saw was some ghost in a red outfit coming through the wall.
“Holy!” Tim gasped and slipped backwards, his buttocks painfully banging against the snowy floor. He inhaled instinctively, ready to scream when the figure brought both hands up as if in surrender and quickly called out.
“Master Timothy! Please! I come in peace!”
Tim caught the scream, forced it back down his throat, and blinked his eyes a few times to see better. His glasses were fogging up from the cold. Reaching outwards, he tried to grab the figure only to see his fingers slide through the red ghost’s leg.
”Egad… what are you!”
“Master Timothy, I have only come to deliver a message. Please. Allow me to deliver it before one of the Three sense my presence here,” the red ghost spoke. Tim realized that the ghost wore a red tight-fitting outfit, much like those leotards gymnasts wore. His face, however, looked like some emancipated corpse. He looked like someone who was dead. A Dead man, Tim decided, was what he would call him.
“What are you talking about? What are you?” Tim gasped and tried to stand back up, but his knees felt far too wobbly. Deadman reached forwards, as if to help him stand, but then realized the futility of the attempt. He wrapped his ghostly arms around himself instead and began to float in the air like a fetus floating in some invisible womb.
“I am a messenger… one from the world of the most recently dead. I have come with a message for you. Listen well.. for I do not have time to repeat it: Open your eyes, you who is born and bred-”
“Wait!” Tim called out and felt his instinctive urge to solve riddles take over his still present yet ebbing fear. He ignored the cold and ran towards his desk, flinging snow all over as he stomped to the table, shoved snow covered books away and returned with a small brown spiral notebook and a pencil, “If you’re going to say it only once, at least let me write it down!”
“Please, there is no time.”
“Open your eyes, you who is born and bred?” Tim repeated as he scribbled it down.
“Know the path is long and many lives you shall tread. Know the rules before you break them, light the flame without fear. Between Life and Intellect you must choose which path is clear-“
“Are all messages always poetic riddles?” Tim interrupted him and tossed a smile, hoping the Deadman would get the joke. The red ghost simply covered his face with his hands as he floated upside down, and waited for a signal to continue. Tim noticed the Deadman’s reaction, sighed audibly, and nodded, “Go on.”
“Understand vengeance and imagination and learn which one to hold, only then shall the greatest wizard return the world as was foretold.”
Tim scribbled the last word into his notebook and suddenly leapt to his feet, “I got it! Harry Potter!”
Deadman stared back at him, not grasping the declaration. Tim sighed, tucked the notebook into his boxers and then felt his adrenaline surge fade away. “Oh my God…” he muttered before falling down to his knees, “You are real.”
The red ghost nodded and suddenly turned to face the window. It seemed to stare at the distance yonder and grow more agitated. “I must leave. You have the message. I have done my part now. I must go.”
“You’re a real ghost!” Tim remarked, still focused on the gravity of it all. He had seen a ghost. A real live one! And he was absolutely certain he was not dreaming. “Oh wow… Dad! Dad! Come up here! Check this out!”
Deadman pulled his legs up, wrapping his arms around his knees like a gigantic baby and suddenly disappeared as if he was sucked into some tiny hole in thin air. With a pop, he was gone. Tim stared at where Deadman was just seconds ago, then leapt back to his feet when the door to his room slammed open. Mr. Hunter stumbled into the room, one hand holding a mop and the other the still half-full can of potato chips. “What… what’s going on?” he asked nervously and looked around the room in shock. “Why is your room covered in snow?”
“Dad! There was a ghost!”
“Why did you cover your room up in snow?” Mr. Hunter asked, slowly placing the mop against the wall.
“I didn’t Dad! You did! You left the window open… Dad, there was a ghost! He came from outside that window-“
“Window!” Mr. Hunter panickedly turned towards the window and saw the open blinds. Leaping over the other mounds of snow, Mr. Hunter reached the window and slammed both blinds closed over it. “Tim! What did I tell you about leaving your window open!” Tim’s father scolded him, much to Tim’s expectations of how his father would be.
“But Dad.. I didn’t-“
“And the window son… the window… the last thing you want is to call the attention of the Truth, Justice or the Way. Don’t ever leave it open again, you hear me? Don’t ever leave it open again!”
Tim pouted. His father was better at the game of passing blame. Did his father really think that he would intentionally cover his room up in snow? What kind of inane idea was that? Stomping his feet, Tim headed back to his bed, leapt onto it and buried himself underneath the pillows. Mr. Hunter grabbed the nearby curtains and drew them over the windows.
“Be thankful that they didn’t notice the window. That they didn’t come over to investigate why someone would have left it open that late. I know, I know there has not been a single criminal activity that has not been dealt with over the years. But still, you know they are always there. Always watching,” Mr. Hunter explained, then sat down on the snow by the closed window. He rubbed his forehead in worry.
“Dad…” Tim tried one last time to talk about the ghost, but his father was more confused on the window. The last thing he wanted was one of the three showing up.
* * *
“And only then can things be the way they were,” John mumbled to Zatanna and turned to face her, hoping she had something to share. Finding her unresponsive, John slid a hand over her face and called out her name a few times. Zatanna’s eyes opened with a start. “What was wrong with you?”
“Hm,” Zatanna replied, as if trying to recall something she had just dreamt of, “Be quiet… there was something in my own dreams…”
”Got envious that quickly?” John teased. Zatanna ignored him and tried to recall the dream even more. She recalled the castle. The three guardians. The brothers. The sisters.
“Zatanna,” John grapped her arm, breaking her reverie, “You weren’t listening to my story. Might I remind you, you asked for that story.”
“Not now John,” Zatanna wiped her brow and checked the time, “The dream you had… its.. I…”
”Maybe we should offer everyone an apology. Explain the situation,” John replied, “Or something… Or warn them. Warn the blokes that the world is ending or something. Maybe it is some sort of second coming? This time instead of a shepherd's son, its some hunter's daughter or something. Or maybe, its talking about the coming of the another alien species. Hunters, Predators, who knows what is out there!”
“John,” Zatanna gasped, “Shut up and let me think.” Zatanna sensed it in her gut that this all made sense somewhow. She felt like they were in some invisible labyrinth, struggling to find their way out by touch.
John fell silent, stared out into the distance, and played what he could of his dream back in his mind’s eye. He remembered the white figure wrapped in a green cloak asking another figure only this time in red if the boy had been found.
“Yes,” the red ghost replied, “The Hunter has received the message.”
John remembered how things were years ago. Back before the Three changed everything. Before everything became so normal. So... mundane. John remembered how there were once greater forces that they so easily tapped into. And that fated day when it all came crashing down.
“It is a name,” John replied suddenly realising something, “The word. Hunter. It is a name.”
“Then it’s a name we shall find to see if your dreams make sense this time, John,” Zatanna remarked and held his hand close. He forced a smile upon his face, then grabbed another cigarette from the pack. “There’s no making sense of this. There’s only trouble.”
And somehow, Zatanna knew John was right.
End of Issue #01
"The Invisible Labyrinth"
written by Tobie Abad
for Ultimate DCU
Title: Truth, Justice and the Way
Tim Hunter is destined to be the greatest wizard of all time, but in a world where magic is nearly dead, and three immensely god-like despots are the Authority over the world, will he be brave enough to embrace his destiny?
Thursday, December 22, 2005
ELSEWORLD STORY: THE TRUTH, JUSTICE AND THE WAY