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Monday, July 20, 2015

Mr. Woods Goes to Metropolis

On my final trip to Leaf Rapids I at last captured a series of high-quality photographs of the isolated ghost town. The weather cooperated, my eye was sharp, and the mission concluded without incident.

But on the journey home, midway between Leaf Rapids and Thompson on the scarcely-travelled Highway 391, something shifted. The decaying asphalt suddenly gave way to freshly paved road. The thick conifers that had been encroaching on 391 vanished, replaced by neatly manicured deciduous trees. And where an instant before my crossover had been the only car on the road, I was suddenly surrounded by cars and trucks of all shapes and sizes.

Alarmed out of my wits, I nearly ran myself off the road, my heart racing. An angry symphony of horns accompanied my efforts to pull to the side of the road and catch my breath. I exited the car on shaky legs, covered in a sheen of cold sweat.

As an avid reader of fantasy fiction, I knew precisely what had happened - I'd somehow slipped between dimensions, journeying from one world to another.

Or - and this conclusion was far more likely - I was having a psychotic break. I waited to see if the delusion would pass, but my new reality remained stubbornly solid.

Then I saw the road sign, in stark green and white:


It was madness, but I was elated. Clearly this was a dream, but of the most excellent sort, the ultimate in wish fulfillment. With a grin I slipped back behind the wheel of my car and merged back into the teeming traffic, bound for whatever marvellous adventures I might find.

As soon as I hit the city limits, however, and as the streets grew thick with traffic, I realized I needed some kind of plan of action. I pulled into a gas station and consulted my phone.

My cellular service, I saw, was still provided by Bell, though I still anticipated horrific roaming charges, having not only crossed into the United States, but a United States on another plane of existence. But I'd worry about that later; such details rarely returned to haunt me in the waking world, and I hoped this time was no exception.

I activated my navigation app and requested directions to 344 Clinton Street - Clark Kent's apartment building. I'd wait outside, tell Mr. Kent who I was, get a couple of photos and then ask him to take me to S.T.A.R. Labs, who would doubtless know how to get me back home.

I thought a moment. It was possible that Superman/Kent might not return home via the lobby. Certainly he had to from time to time to keep up appearances, but more often than not he simply flew in and out of his third-floor apartment through the window at super-speed. I could wind up waiting on the street level for days.

For that matter, I had no idea which continuity I was in. In some stories Superman lived in apartment 3-D, but in others he didn't. For that matter, he might be married to Lois Lane - or not, working at the Daily Planet or the Daily Star or WGBS...worst of all, what if I were in one of the universes with an evil Superman? Suddenly a frank and open approach didn't seem like the most prudent idea. Spending a day or two here might be fun, but if I didn't get back on the road in Manitoba soon, Sylvia would start to worry. I had a few hours' grace during which Sylvia didn't expect to hear from me thanks to spotty cellular coverage in northern Manitoba, but that was it. If she didn't hear from me in about six hours, she'd freak - and after my misadventures in Yukon back in 2011, I refused to do that to her again.

I decided to play it safe - or safer, at least, than my original plan. First, I reviewed some news stories about Superman on my phone:


Each story read as relatively benign, which was a good starting point, but there was still a chance, however slim, that an evil Superman might wield undue influence on the global media. I searched for directions to the Daily Planet, then realized it would be follish to drive there - what were the odds i'd find reasonable parking?

"Taxi!" I called, flagging down a yellow cab.

*  *  *

Twenty minutes later I was looking up the side of a massive skyscraper, gazing in wonder at the rotating Daily Planet globe. "Tourists," someone muttered as they brushed by me, but I couldn't wipe the awestruck grin from my face; in a way, yes, I was the ultimate tourist. But at length I pulled myself away from the vision and walked into the lobby. There was a gilt fountain with a representation of Poseidon, who I realized with a start could be a very real figure in this particular universe, not merely mythology. I gave it a good look as I made my way to the extensive bank of elevators, hitting a call button, still somewhat dazed by my circumstances. With a humble ding, a pair of doors slide aside and I strode into the car. The doors were almost closed when a feminine hand interposed itself between them, followed an instant later with the peripatetic form of Lois Lane.

I knew it was her in an instant. She didn't look like Noell Neil or Margot Kidder or Teri Hatcher, or any other actress who'd played her in my world; it was more like she was a live-action representation of the art of Walt Simonson, Curt Swan, John Byrne and Wayne Boring somehow combined into a whole that shouldn't have worked at all...but somehow she was perfect.

She gave me an odd glance, and I realized that I was staring goggle-eyed. I quickly redirected my gaze to the one of the corners of the elevator car.

"What, is there mustard or something..?" She started rubbing at the corner of her mouth.

"No, no," I said, flustered.

"Something wrong, Earl? You look like you haven't seen me in years."

I froze. She knew me? How?

But in an instant, it became clear. It was the very last thing I expected. I had a counterpart here, in this world. There was another Earl, right here in Metropolis.

Suddenly coming here seemed like a very bad idea indeed. How did Lois know me? Given the context, I must be a coworker, or at least that was the safest assumption. And if that were true, I could very well already be here...

Before I could do anything about it, though, the elevator stopped and the cars slid open, elevator muzak quickly drowned out by the clattering of fingers on keyboard. I was about to hit the button for the main floor and claim I'd forgotten something, but a voice that shook windows bellowed out my name:


"Have fun," Lois said.

My head swivelled to and fro, searching for any sign of my counterpart as I hurried in the direction of Perry White's summons.

"I thought you were sick," he barked just as I found his office door. Well, that was lucky, I thought.

"Uh - " I began.

"Where's your review of Fury Road?"

I thought fast. I was the Planet's movie reviewer? I suddenly envied my doppleganger.

"You didn't get my email?" I bluffed, eyes wide.

"No," he said, already distracted by something else on his computer monitor.

"I'll resend," I said, making my escape. He grunted.

I shut his door behind me and scanned row upon row of cubicles, wondering which was mine. I picked a direction at random and pulled out my phone, searching through my email archives. I'd written a Fury Road review for my blog, and with any luck I could just copy and paste it, send it to Perry, and -

 - I crashed through the door of a supply closet headfirst. My phone went flying and I tripped over my own feet, flailing for support, grabbing hold of a mop only to bring it and the bucket it rested in clattering down around my ears.

I looked up just in time to catch Clark Kent standing there, looking sheepish, his white shirt torn open to reveal the famous red S beneath.

"I can explain!" we both shouted. We looked at each other. From the floor, I kicked the supply room door closed.

"I'll be right back," he said. In a violet blur he was gone, leaving the supply room window rattling in its frame.

Less than a minute later, Superman flew back into the room and slipped back into his civilian guise.

"Sorry. There was a train..."

"Of course," I said. Looking at him was like looking at Lois Lane again; he didn't look like any living human from my world, but rather he appeared to be the perfect summation of every artistic interpretation of the character.

"I guess my secret's out," he said, resigned. He sounded sad.

"No, no!" I said, eager to reassure him. "I already knew."

His eyes widened.

"I mean, everyone knows...wait, wait. Let me start from the beginning. I'm not the Earl you know..."

So I told him what had happened.

"I've seen this sort of thing before. You're from Earth Prime, that place where everyone I know is just a comic book character," he said.

"Well, not exactly," I replied. "I'm pretty sure Julius Schwartz didn't really cross over to this world..."

"You know about that?" Clark Kent asked.

"It was in a comic book...uh, never mind. Listen, I have family back home and they're going to be pretty worried if I don't get back in touch with them soon. Any chance you can get me home?"

He grinned. "I think I can have you a flash."

So about an hour later I was sitting in my car on a specially built super-sized cosmic treadmill with enough room for the vehicle and the Flash himself. The red-garbed speedster looked over at me.

"All I have to do is run until the treadmill's vibrations match the native universal vibration of you and your car," he explained. "At that point, you should theoretically return to your own world."

"Thanks!" I said somewhat lamely. It felt like this was all happening too fast, like I'd barely had a chance to explore a place I'd dreamed about for decades. But the Flash was already nothing more than an oscillating blur, and I had only a second to wave goodbye to a smiling Superman. "Come back again sometime!" he said, and then

I was suddenly back in Manitoba, like nothing ever happened. But maybe there was a way to see if I'd really gone anywhere other than some fevered corner of my imagination...

I pulled over and checked my phone. Sure enough, there were still some archived news stories in my cache - and one in particular was going to come as quite a shock to my wife.

WHO IS THE NEW GREEN LANTERN? the story proclaimed. I grinned. Who indeed? She was going to be so very botherated... 


Jeff Shyluk said...

"I know what you're thinking, John. It can't be, of course, but then here we are, aren't we?"

Commander Koenig scowled. "Humor me, Victor. Tell me what this is."

Victor Bergman shrugged. "It's a house, back on Earth. My comlink's dead, so my guess it that it would have to be sometime before 1999. If I had to say, I think it's 1996. Look at this poster on the wall: Tienanmen. I wonder what that means?"

Koenig paced around the small room, scowling and muttering to himself. "Habitation of some sort. Look at this bed. Old style books, old style digital clock, I think this device was an old style telephone. But why Earth?"

Victor Bergman shrugged. "Temporal-spatial displacement, John. Probably that explosion on the Eagle was somehow harmonized to the exact frequency of the displacement event. Someone from this universe somehow crossed over into ours. We were somehow dragged into theirs, like a pea sucked into a drinking straw."

"Nobody sucks peas into drinking straws," scowled Koenig. Victor shrugged.

Koenig picked up a small box with wires and a blinking light. He scowled, "This looks like some kind of communication device. It's got a microphone built in and a tape drive like Computer back on Alpha."

Koenig tried one of the buttons. "Good morning, Captain," piped the machine.

"Captain?" scowled Koenig, "I'm a Commander. Stupid machine."

"Try one of the other buttons," shrugged Victor Bergman helpfully.

Koenig tapped the RECORD button. Suddenly, the door to the little basement suite flung open and a young man in tremendous agitation bolted inside, ripping the telephone answering machine from a startled, scowling John Koenig.


Scowling, Koenig decided to apologize, but behind the young man were two more men, both enormous, both wearing skintight garments of bright primary colours, both sporting their underwear briefs outside of their clothes.

The young man operated the answering machine, trying to trigger its welcome message, but all it knew to say were the last four words it had heard. The young man's face was a Shakespearean stage for a war of emotions.

"Um," said one of the giants, clearly taken aback by events, "Maybe introductions are in order?" When the young man replied with an icy glare, the big fellow went on, "Hi, I'm Superman, this is Flash. If I'm not mistaken, you're Commander John Koenig and Science Advisor victor Bergman? You're here because of the temporal displacement?"

Scowling, Koenig shook Superman's hand, and The Flash's. Superman added, "And this is Earl J. Woods."

"We've met," grumbled Woods, "Although I wouldn't expect you to remember."

"Death and insanity?" Victor recalled, his eyebrows and shoulders shrugging.

"You do remember."

The phone rang, and the answering machine answered it, speaking dutifully: You Fool Oh No. On the other end of the phone, cackling laughter.

Oblivious to the ramifications of the conversation and eager to say his only line, Flash blurted, "I wonder who the next Green Lantern is?"

Jeff Shyluk said...

I should add: I really like today's Earliad entry a lot!

Earl J. Woods said...

Ha ha ha. An excellent followup, Jeff. Oh, how I lament the loss of that answering machine message...