Strange Tales #4
Randy Lander presents Marvel Rebooted Doctor Strange
By Nate Bliss
The streets were packed full of strangely shaped cars and trucks, the bright, garish billboards almost too painful to look at and made it harder to see the street signs. Wong had a hard time maintaining speed and keeping his eyes on the road. There was just so much to see, hear, and experience. How anyone got a moment of sensory silence in this day and age, he could not fathom. It was as though the commercials between television shows had exploded forth from the small screen and taken over the city, and they were only a handful of decades outside of their own. Wong shook his head with a small snort of disbelief. He could only imagine what the next few decades held. Even more lights, sounds, a bombardment of media.
“Strange,” Wong said. “I’ve about had it with the nineties. Are you sure we’ll be able to get back to the house– and our own time?”
Stephen wasn’t paying attention to the road, he was preoccupied with a mid-sized wooden box as it shook and tried to fling itself out of his grasp. “Damned thing,” he muttered.
“Stephen,” Wong repeated a little louder.
“Yes, yes,” Strange shook his head at the distraction. “I’m pretty sure.”
Wong lifted his brow at that. A moment later he turned the corner and onto Bleecker St. His eyes caught the welcoming sight of the Victorian-style house, and the ever-present empty parking space, and the two men breathed a sigh of relief.
Strange grasped the shaking wooden box in both hands as Wong swung the Plymouth Fury into the spot. They both leapt out of the car and grabbed onto the temperamental crate as they led it to the Sanctum Sanctorum. The moment they both stepped through the doors, the box abruptly stopped shaking and a tiny scream of anguish wove through the air, diminishing like the sound of a police cruiser speeding away.
As Strange wearily took the box to the first floor office, Wong gazed out the front door. He took a final look at this version of Bleecker St. This was the mid or early 1990’s, as he was told. His car was parked right out front, and the street was full of people in colorful, vaguely Jamaican baggy sweaters, cyclists, ripped jeans and mismatched flannel. Little booths and tables of people selling pottery, shell art, tchotchke’s with Yin Yang’s and faux tribal art embossed on them.
With a sarcastic wave of his hand, Wong pushed the door, let it latch closed, and took a slight anxious breath. Slowly, he turned the knob and then opened up the door once more. He saw his car, but instead of the sunny skies and hubbub, it was nighttime, raining, and cold. He saw the same grocer he buys food from, the same ad for Viceroy cigarettes, slowly peeling off the wall. Yep, it was November 1963 again, like it was before Arno Bonfiglio came calling. Wong breathed a sigh of relief, smiled tiredly, and closed the door.
Down the hall, Strange was at the desk in the first floor office. He held his wrists and grimaced. They still hurt, but he shook off the ache and went back to typing. His hands in a state where he could jot down notes, but were not at a place where he could write for an extended period of time. So Stephen had been using his typewriter more frequently, keeping track of what they had accomplished – the strange tales he and Wong had been a part of these past months. He was documenting it all for… posterity? History? He had not decided. He typed on. This had been one of the strangest cases yet. His fingers paused and he look forward, speaking aloud, “Who knew?”
Behind him, Wong had entered and was removing his jacket. “Knew what?” said Wong, looking at his jacket suspiciously. The material that was dotted with the brownish-green was both smoking and dripping. He squinted at the odd sight wondering if dry cleaning would get that out, or if he was going to have to buy yet another coat.
Strange resumed typing. “Who knew that Arno Bonfiglio would become a demon hunter?” Strange shook his head in amusement.
Bonfiglio had been a voice of reason and the closest thing to a friend that Stephen had in his early days of being a Surgeon. Arno was Stephen’s foil, he helped soften his arrogant and cocksure tendencies. When Bonfiglio left for Hong Kong, Stephen was left unchecked… and got worse. His desire to be the absolute best… the VERY best, not only in New York, but the whole of the United States – that compulsion to step over others so he could ride to glory drove him to become a man he, still, loathed. And it caused him sleepless nights knowing that that version of him would always be there, somewhere, inside him. Arno could have been the conscious he needed, but they had taken their own paths. Stephen Strange, the famed surgeon, and, he muttered lightly, “Arno Bonfiglio… demon hunter?”
“a Demon hunting surgeon? Sure, haven’t heard of one of those, Strange.” Wong said with a note of sarcasm. Wong’s initial memories of Bonfiglio were not as sentimental as Stephen’s. The older, softer, caring version of Arno Bonfiglio he saw today contrasted his memories of the man when he first met him in Hong Kong.
Wong’s eyes fell once more on the brownish-green substance on his leather jacket. He liked this jacket. Hopefully he could find another like it. It always made him feel classy and handsome – if he let a few days go by without shaving, Wong would dare say he looked dashing. He rubbed his chin and smirked.
“What about Arno’s nurse, Lynda, eh?” he looked back at Strange and raised his eyebrows with a smile. “She was a looker.”
Strange didn’t take his eyes away from the keyboard, and kept pecking away on the typewriter’s keys “She was good, was very good with the girl. ” Strange paused and glanced at his colleague. “Why?”
Wong shrugged his shoulders. “Just saying, she was something else.” Wong wondered it Stephen was… “Ah hell!” Wong suddenly jerked at a warmth on his stomach. He smacked himself as he realized his new bowling shirt was also coated with the same strange wet and smoking substance as his jacket, which appeared both goopy and intangible at the same time. “Son of a… Hey Strange! How do you think Lux will work on Ectoplasm?”
Strange stopped typing and raised his eyebrows. “That…” he scrunched his eyebrows, and looked off into the distance. “That’s a really good question. I actually don’t know…”
“Damn” Wong rolled his eyes and frowned at his shirt.
Strange pushed away from the desk and stretched with a big yawn. He reached for a leather bound journal at the corner of his desk. “When you find out, let me know. I want to make a note of it.”
Wong began to reply smartly but was cut short. Suddenly, there was a frantic knock on the front door. Wong raised an eyebrow and looked to Strange, but Stephen was thumbing through his journal unperturbed. Wong said, “Don’t get up. I got it.”
“Hm,” Stephen replied noncommittally.
Wong opened the front door and before he could even take in who was standing there with her back to him, his eyes were assaulted by the obnoxiously loud 1990’s street vendors and advertising. He groaned.
At the doorstep a woman wearing nice-yet-practical business clothes spun around, holding a file packed with papers. Her eyes met Wong’s, and then, strolling up to them from the hall, Strange’s.
“Lynda?” Wong said in surprise.
Her brown hair was still pulled into a ponytail, the same piercing eyes and sharp eyebrows. It was the nurse from the exorcism they had just come from, but she was a little older, her eyes a little sharper, and her demeanor a whole lot more tense and insistent than the quiet young woman who had stood at the bedside and watched over the small child as they had pulled the demon from her.
“Doctor Strange, Doctor Wong, It’s Wanda again,” Lynda pleaded. You’ve got to come with me right now.”
“Wanda…?” Wong asked.
“She’s been taken. Again! There is another demon inside of her!”
#4 – “PATIENT”
– – – May 14, 1994 – – –
Lynda was flying high above Yankee stadium. She grasped onto the cloth and paper, and trailing behind her were streams and ribbons of what was left of promotional material for that atrocious Godzilla film. How did it wind up being so bad? She loved Matthew Broderick and Jean Reno. She loved the classic Godzilla movies… couldn’t imagine how a historical event could be trivialized to this ridiculous degree…
It was why it meant so much to her that they were soaring in formation on either side of her now, carrying their own armload of Godzilla posters, subway ads, and torn scraps from billboards.
“We’ll get em! We’ll get em all!” yelled Ferris Bueller, smiling at her in his puckish way.
“S’right! Ev’ry las’ one, mon chere!” She turned to see Jean Reno, dressed as Leon from the Professional.
“How can you be sure?” Lynda shouted over the wind and rustling paper.
“Because,” Ferris laughed, “We have at least a year and a half before this stuff actually goes up, silly goose!
“What do you…?” She looked from Ferris to Leon.
The Professional opened his mouth, but instead of words, a loud shrill buzzer spewed from his lips.
Lynda Carter’s eyes flew open and she slammed her hand down on her alarm clock, but the buzzer kept ringing. She hit it again, harder and groaned in aggravation, “Shut up…” The buzzer grew more insistent and she blinked her eyes struggling with the light spilling into her tiny bedroom. It wasn’t the alarm; it was her door buzzer. She spilled out of bed, plodded over to the box, and pressed the button. “h’lo?”
The reply was clear and sharp, “Hello! It’s Arno Bonfiglio, dear!”
Lynda blinked and tried to process this information. She knew a “Doctor Bonfiglio” – or even “Doctor B”, but it was always “Doctor.” She rarely regarded him by his first name. She paused a moment, and her brain confirmed ‘Yes, your Doctor has a first name, and it is Arno.’
She hit the button. “Am I late to work?” She instantly realized the silliness of that question. Surely he would have called if she were late, or if there were a scheduling mix-up. She rubbed her waking face.
“No dear, I’m so sorry to bother you so early. It’s something different – something rather important. And time is of the essence. This is, obviously, a very strange circumstance, but… Miss Carter, I’d like to show you what this concerns, if you would allow me to. May I please come up and explain further? I would feel very foolish speaking on all of this over your speaker box.”
Lynda paused. She never let people into her home with vague lines like that. Not in this neighborhood. But this was Dr. B. He was a good man, from what she’d been able to gather from her internship. He was an important figure in the local medical community, and he was at her door asking for her help on some special assignment. It was a chance any of the other interns would snap up in a heartbeat.
“Um… Give me a minute, I just got up” She hit the button to buzz him in.
After a flurry of activity to pick up the loose clothes and empty glasses in her tiny living room, there was a soft knock on the her door. Throwing all the loose items into her bedroom and snatching up her robe, Lynda tied up the terry cloth belt and opened the door.
Dr. Arno Bonfiglio, the man who ran the clinic she interned at, stood at the door. He was about her height, he stood about 5′ 7″, he was grey and balding, and had a full beard and wire-framed glasses. She had not seen him outside of the clinic before, but he was dressed in his typical tweed suit. He was carrying an old, beat-up medical bag she had never seen before; it wasn’t the usual black briefcase he brought to the clinic. Upon opening the door he smiled and his eyes glittered. “Thank you my dear, I am immensely sorry for intruding so very early, especially on your day off… but my hands are tied in times of either medical emergencies or possessions.”
Lynda smiled weakly and nodded, stifling back a yawn as she stepped to the side to let Dr. Bonfiglio pass. “Iss no problem, Doctor. I was just…” She blinked and the fog cleared a bit from her head “wait…. did you just say… possession?” Dr. Bonfiglio smiled apologetically and stepped inside Lynda’s apartment.
* * *
Lynda sat on her couch wishing that she was back in her dream flying around New York. She stood a better chance of answering “why she was dreaming about Godzilla & Ferris Bueller” than she did to comprehend the things Doctor Bonfiglio had been describing to her since she invited him inside. Doctor Bonfiglio’s story was. Just. Not. Making. Sense.
Dr. B smiled and kindly pleaded with his eyes, “So that’s basically it, I could really use your help, Lynda. To handle the medical side of things.”
Her eyebrows rose into her bangs. “Medicine side? The medicine side of – of a possession? You need my help with… I’m still just a student! And… YOU’RE the Doctor and…I’m sorry… but POSSESSION?”
He looked down at the floor and nodded. Lifting the worn out briefcase, he pulled out a VHS tape. Without a word, he walked to the TV and slipped it into the player. Lynda’s mouth went dry. She could not protest. She had to see more, despite the fear of the truth of it.
Bonfiglio pressed play on the VHS player, and spoke in his clear educator’s tone, “Her parents are doing their best to maintain the situation while I sought help. They have been dealing with this the best they know how and came to me when it became more than they were able to handle.”
The video crackled on the television. Lynda’s heart sank as reason clashed with the feelings brought up from watching the Doctor’s video. A little girl, her eyes rolling back in the small face. Venom and bile spewing from the girl’s lips. Hateful, dark words babbling out, intermixed with cries of anguish. Lynda shuddered and reached for anything to explain it all. The only explanation she could come up with sounded like a stretch, even as she told it to Bonfiglio. “Do you think she’s acting out? Getting attention? Some thought the girls from the Salem Witch trials were–“
Dr. Bonfiglio finished her sentence “–were teenage girls, living in an oppressive puritanical society, where everyone was scared of their own shadow.” he pointed to the TV, the video now on pause. The tiny girl and her huge explosion of brown curls framed her wild eyed angry face and gnashing teeth. Lynda considered herself an atheist, but the video had an effect on her. It chilled her to the bone. “This is a four year old girl, with a loving family. She loves school, her sister, her coloring, her Mother’s cooking and singing, and her Father’s records… This isn’t pretending or acting out, it’s pain. Something is very, very, wrong here..” He looked at his watch, then back at her. He was not mad, or out of control of his facilities. He was still Dr. Bonfiglio. The man she always likened to Santa Claus was now striking her more like a bearded Peter Cushing. “You are the brightest mind I have come across in all my years working with students. You are capable of more than you realize. I need your intellect and, even more, the sheer determination you display everyday at the clinic. I know that this is a lot to process, so quickly… but Miss Carter, will you help me?”
Lynda attempted to take in everything that her boss was telling her. Possessions. Demons. Other things from the “other side”. Dark magic and – and evil forces at work all around them. She stared at the floor absorbing it all, as Doctor Bonfiglio waited for her answer.
* * *
“I thought you said we were going to Queens.” Lynda said as they got out of the car in Greenwich Village. This area of the City never made much sense to Lynda. It was both incredibly upscale and dirty bohemian at the same time. There were many Rasta-types, white boys with dreadlocks selling glass pipes, dream-catchers from card-tables, in-front of storefronts that sold grossly overpriced clothing to rich well-dressed midtowners.
“We are,” Dr. B assured her. “After this very important detour. He checked his watch, as they stood at an intersection. The light was green; they had the right-of-way, but they were the only people not walking. The last person crossing the street from the other side approached them. Lynda could not seem to focus her eyes on the man or make out any distinguishing features of this man. He approached them and stopped feet away, and still, Lynda could not… SEE… the man fully.
This blurry phantom leaned toward the Doctor and spoke, his voice as indistinguishable as his form. “He’s home.”
Bonfiglio did not reply. He immediately jogged across the street before the light changed back to red. Lynda had not even noticed his departure until it was too late, and traffic started moving. The cars started rolling, and Lynda was stuck on the other side of Bleecker St. She blinked, and spotted Dr. Bonfiglio at the top of a short stoop to a large Victorian home directly across the street. He was standing at the doorway… of…a house… A house? All Lynda remembered from this street were Trust-a-farians, boutiques and buskers. She didn’t remember a house. Or that jet-black vintage car parked out front. Parked? Who can afford street-level parking space in this city? She shook her head to find her senses. The blurry man and now this house from nowhere?
The light changed back to green, and she could have gone across and join Doctor Bonfiglio to get answers, but she could not move. Her own wariness kept her rooted to the corner on the opposite side. Lynda could see that Dr. Bonfiglio was talking to someone at the door. It looked as though the other was trying to invite him in, but Dr. Bonfiglio shook his head and pointed to his watch. A man, thin and tall – he looked like David Niven from this distance – stepped outside into the daylight. Doctor Bonfiglio handed him his old beat-up medicine bag. The man regarded it for a minute, then handed it back to him. Lynda watched as this strange man asked Dr. Bonfiglio some questions, to which Dr. B nodded his head vigorously in the affirmative after each question.
The tall man stroked his chin, then poked his head back into the house. A moment later, another man, in a leather jacket, came outside carrying an overcoat and a shiny new medicine bag. This new man handed the bag to the Niven look-alike. Dr. Bonfiglio beamed and shook the hand of both men. When the tall-man’s hand was shook, he winced uncomfortably. Bonfiglio looked startled and embarrassed, as the tall man patted Dr. B’s shoulder and nodded kindly.
The two men got in that shiny black car parked out front, and Dr. Bonfiglio walked back across the street to Lynda with a spring in his step and a sparkle in his eye. “All right, NOW we can go.” Lynda opened her mouth to ask about the things she had just experienced in the minutes here on the corner of Bleecker Street, but Dr. B hurried to the car before she could speak. “Come along, Miss Carter!” And Lynda knew that there were many more things to experience today that would need answers.
She held her tongue and, with determination, followed the good Doctor.
* * *
The room filled with the wails and cries of four-year-old girl. Her tiny frame shook and shivered from pain, anguish and malnutrition. Her wrists and ankles were wrapped in metal chains and cuffs, slick with raw skin and specks of blood. “BWA… aauugh…” she snorted, and a stray glob of mucus splattered into her lap. Her face screwed tight, eyes closed, teeth clenched and sobbed out “Daaaah-deeeeeee….” as soon as she uttered that word, her cries stopped. She fell silent, her body went limp, her eyes stared up at the ceiling… the only movement was her slow breathing, in and out… in and out… steady as a metronome.
This was the cycle. The little girl would wail in anguish… calling out for help, and after exactly twenty seconds, she would fall into a state of silence for ten minutes that was even more disturbing than her pained cries. It had been like this since Lynda Carter, Dr. Bonfiglio, and the other two men entered the room.
When the four of them arrived at the Valtcheva’s house in Queens, Lynda got to take them in first hand. These men were very odd. They dressed well, but they looked out of place. They looked like they were characters from a Broadway play or from a Pink Panther movie. The tall man, who Bonfiglio had introduced as Stephen Strange, wore blue/grey checked pants, a black turtleneck and had a gold medallion necklace hanging around his neck. He wore a smart brown overcoat that he let hang open, the bright red velvet & gold interior lining glinted as the coat moved around him. The other man was Dr. Kevin Wong, he looked like he was dressed from West-Side Story wardrobe or some Kerouac novel.
“I’ve worked with these men on many occasions,” Dr. Bonfiglio said quietly as they all moved to the bedroom upon arriving. “We have decades of professional history.”
Lynda did not understand. These men were doctors, but these were young men. They had to have been Dr. Bonfiglio’s students, not colleagues. And they didn’t seem to regard Dr. Bonfiglio with the same familiarity that he had for them. Clearly, Dr. B knew more of these men than they of him.
Whatever misgivings Lynda had for these men were pushed out of her mind the minute they walked into the room and she saw the girl for the first time, in the flesh. Lynda’s heart broke at the disparaging tableau: a child, four years old, wet lines from tears slick on her round, soft face, the bloody restraints on her tiny limbs, and a dark, painful atmosphere that crawled over Lynda like a wave. Her medical mind snapped to full. Lynda wanted to help. She wanted to diagnose and heal this poor child.
“This,” Dr. B said to the others, “is Wanda.”
Lynda went to the child’s side and attempted to feel her head, but Wanda lashed out like a viper – hit Lynda with a kind of strength a four-year old girl should not have.
“Lynda!” Dr. B hurried to his student’s side and helped her off the floor.
“Stand back, please,” Dr. Wong said and stepped closer to the bed.
Lynda and Dr. B stepped to the far wall and watched as this Dr. Strange and Dr. Wong loomed over the girl. Lynda look at Bonfiglio and whispered, “What am I supposed to do?”
Dr. B simple touched his finger to his lips and kept his eyes on the pair and the child.
Not wanting to stand idly by, Lynda kept her eyes on the clock timing out Wanda’s possessive fits. Lynda found out the fits stuck to a pattern, and the pattern was consistent. Strange and Wong spoke in hushed tones to one another, as Strange waved his hands over the girl. Wong circled and observed from every possible location in the room. There were stretches of time when they did not even acknowledge Lynda or Bonfiglio. Wanda moaned and cried out in the cycle and immediately returned to her prone, silent respite. An hour had passed.
Lynda grew impatient, but remained against the wall, he eyes on the clock. The next round of fits were about to start again. “You have thirty seconds left.”
“Thank you,” Wong said politely and walked over to the bed and Wanda. He and Strange had produced some of the oddest tools from Strange’s medical bag and the trunk of their car. Wong was holding an ornate silver-and-gold trimmed wand, aiming it just above the girl’s face. Wong struck Lynda as a very stoic and poised man, but the poor girl’s pain was beginning to show signs of effecting on him. His brow was furrowed and he was sweating.
The silence was just as unsettling to him as it was to Lynda, but Stephen Strange appeared unfazed. He stood over Wanda, muttering, waving his hands. He did not even flinch when the girl lashed out, the restraints rattling and digging into her wrists and ankles. He was concentrating so deeply. It was both fascinating, but, for Lynda, somewhat infuriating. Lynda could not understand how the man could not be affected by the girl’s misery as they all were.
Wong spoke tensely, “Strange. For crying out loud.”
“Steady, Wong.” Strange said and stood tall. He stepped to Wong’s side, holding a small wooden box, decorated with black and yellow slanted markings. He was holding his amulet over one eye and was staring carefully at the girl. Strange spoke in a low, serious tone, “It knows we’re all here. It’s digging it’s heels in, but the girl is fighting it.”
“Five seconds,” said Lynda.
Strange softly intoned “Okay. Steady. Wong, get ready…”
The little girl suddenly gasped, taking in a lungful of air, and before she could cry, Strange hissed an order, “Her temple!”
Wong swiftly touched the tip of the wand to the little girl’s temple, and the energy of the room changed. Ice washed over them all, and Lynda coughed at the suddenness of it.
The little girl’s eyes flew open and instead of the sorrowful sobbing of a sick four year old hitting their ears, a low ominous droning of some…THING reverberated thru every solid object in the room, including the bones of everyone present.
“Pull!” Strange ordered. His eyes were locked on the child’s face.
As Wong pulled the wand from the little girl’s temple, a ghostly tendril began to snake out from the side of the girl’s head. Wong kept pulling. It was difficult, and the sweat now dripped from his brow. The tendril grew and grew as Wong’s wand moved further and further from her skull. The tendril became a tail of a fish, or the tentacle of an octopus. Lynda could not take her eyes off the scene.
As the rumbling, thunderous sound emanating from Wanda’s mouth went from a low drone to a high shrill screech, Strange yelled “PULL, WONG! PULL!” Wong tugged and pulled at the creature’s tail. It grew from a single tendril to fins… a wing… a jawbone… a bulging eye… This indescribable creature coming into this plane of existence from the forehead of a little four year old girl writhed and fought to hold onto her face. Wong grunted, and the thing flew free, it’s tail still held fast to the wand. The bizarre ghostly creature flailed around in pain, slinging a brownish-green substance that was both intangible and slimy, splattering Wong and the bed sheets.
“Dammit, Stephen!” Wong shouted, both hands gripping the wand as the monster flapped and flailed wildly. “GET this thing…”
Strange stepped forward and tore open the wooden box. A strong light shone from inside the box and acted like a vacuum for the creature.
It tried to struggle but was not able to resist the pull of this enchanted box. “WONG… AT THE COUNT OF THREE, PULL BACK THE WAND…ONE… TWO… THREE!”
Wong yanked the wand sharply away from the creature and flew back to the floor. The Creature, free from the wand, flew into the box with such force it sent Strange careening back against the wall. When Strange slid down the wall and hit the floor, the little doors of the wooden box snapped shut and the box fell on Strange’s chest.
Lynda stood awestruck. Her mind reeled. She thought to herself ‘THIS IS GHOSTBUSTERS!’ She had just seen Ghostbusters play out in front of her eyes! Her fear and tension were pushed aside at the spectacle, which was the single most amazing thing she had ever seen in her life.
“nnnggh…” a soft moan came from the bed.
Lynda snapped out of her reverie when she suddenly remembered little Wanda. She ran to Wanda’s bedside and brought a stethoscope to her chest and listened carefully. Wanda was breathing heavily, but the gulps of breath started to gradually slow. “Her- her heart rate is going down. Breathing is normalizing.” She put her hand on the little girl’s sweaty forehead. “Her… her temperature is dropping as we speak! It – whatever the hell that was – worked. You did it.”
Wong groaned and tried to pick himself up off the floor. His jacket and bowling shirt was covered in the brown and green… slime? smoke? both? Dr. B helped Wong up and then went over to Dr. Strange who was still seated on the floor, his eyes on the box in his lap, strands of hair dangling in his eyes. “You did it… both of you…” Dr. B shook his head, smiled in both disbelief and relief… “a brilliant operation, Doctor, once again.”
Strange smiled but shook his head. He looked up at Bonfiglio. “Arno, please, don’t call me a…” The wooden box twitched in his hand. “Woah there….” The box was still for a moment, when it suddenly bucked again, almost falling out of Strange’s grip. He held onto it the best he could.
Wong tried to shake the ectoplasm of his sleeve and looked at Strange with concern. “Is it holding?”
“Yes. But we’d better take it back to the house and get the demon fully contained.” Strange stood and held his weird amulet over his eye and looked the little girl head-to-toe. Lynda tried to get out of his line-of-sight. Strange smiled, and he said “Arno, the girl is clean.” He held up the box. “I am very sorry, but, ah…” The box trembled in his grip.
Dr Bonfiglio smiled “Of course, Stephen! Yes, please, do not think twice about it. Go. I will talk with you next time.” He smiled and clapped Strange’s shoulder. The two young men quickly left the room, and Dr. Bonfiglio followed them downstairs.
Lynda grimaced. Doctor Strange and Doctor Wong’s amazing feat notwithstanding, it was a typical sight that Lynda had always been annoyed with: the Doctors leaving the room once their work was done, leaving the patient alone and the cleanup for the nurses. As she advanced in her medical career, she swore she would not let that habit become one of hers.
There was a little sound below her. Wanda blinked awake and looked at Lynda with her huge wide eyes. Lynda brought a glass of water to the girl’s lips, and she drank the entire glass down. There was a new light in her eyes.
“There you go. There it is,” Lynda said gently. “Have another. Drink slowly, now.”
After two glasses of cool water, Wanda looked at Lynda. “Who was that Chinese man?” Wanda asked, rubbing her eyes.
Lynda softly moved a tangled strand of Wanda’s thick curls from her eyes and tucked it behind her ear. “That was a Doctor, his name was Kevin Wong.”
“Who was the Mustache man?” Wanda asked, her voice getting a little softer, but more interested.
Lynda smiled and stroked the little girl’s cheek… “He was a Doctor too. Doctor Strange.”
Wanda nodded and looked after the men. “He was scary,” she said sweetly, as if assessing the man. “But he scared away the monster, so he’s a good scary.” And she smiled her chubby-cheeked smile looking at Lynda.
Lynda’s laughed, her heart soared and broke at the same time. This whole ordeal had been insane. It had all been the most vicious emotional roller coaster she had ever experienced. Magic. Demons. Fantasy as reality. It was madness, and terrible, but the girl was OK now, and it was OK to laugh.
Down the hall, Bonfiglio stood smiling in warm relief as he looked at the faces of Wanda’s family. “Serguei, Gretchen… Wanda is awake.”
* * *
– – – June, 1994 – – –
Lynda ran down Bleecker St. smiling widely, holding onto her graduation cap. Her lungs were cycling large breaths of air, her mind was buzzing happily, and her heart was soaring.
Her family was in town. They had rented out the back room at the Triangle Club on Sullivan. Her mother Janice had been a nurse and was so happy that her little girl was on her way to becoming a full-fledged doctor… Her father Greg, a photographer, beamed with pride. Lynda and he bonded over the fantastic exploits that their world has seen: Captain America, the Invaders, the street heroes that had fought all over New York and had made life a little more tolerable in the 70’s, He felt that Lynda’s desire to become a doctor – a someone to help those less fortunate – proved that some good had come from their heads always being stuck in the clouds with fantasies of those heroes.
All of her friends from her graduating class were there at the Triangle Club. They had all been through the figurative hell of med school and back finishing their pre-med studies, and they were all ecstatic to have helped each other get through.
Doctor Bonfiglio was there as well and was bonding with Lynda’s father talking about the exciting fantastic side of their city. Little did Dad know of Dr. B’s other job, that of Paranormal investigator and demon hunter. Lynda was so grateful to have Doctor Bonfiglio as a mentor. In the month since he woke her and brought her to the bedside of the possessed girl, Lynda had begun a secret life as a paranormal medical practitioner. She felt like they had literally been through hell and back together.
The Valtcheva’s were there too. After freeing little Wanda of the demon that plagued her, Lynda and Dr. B had become a welcome extension of the Valtcheva family. When Lynda would visit, she would simply walk through the door and by the looks on Wanda and her sister Elena’s faces, you would think it was Christmas. It gave Lynda an overwhelming feeling of happiness on such a level that she never thought possible. Being an only child, Wanda and Elena were the little sisters she always wanted.
All of the most important people in her life were here, but Lynda felt compelled to excuse herself from the restaurant for some air, and now, she was looking. She came rushing down the street to the corner of Bleecker and looked up to take in that amazing old house with that sweet black ride parked out front where she had first laid eyes on Dr. Stephen Strange and Dr. Wong. But her smile fell. All she saw was the tattoo parlor, the record shop, and the big blown out section between the two buildings.
Her shoulders slumped a bit as she looked at the empty space and sighed with a crooked smile. Even on a perfect day, there always has to be one thing to bring it down. She’d like to have seen the guys who… kinda… sorta, made this great upswing in her life possible. Those odd, cool guys… She turned to walk back to the Restaurant.
– – – September 1994 – – –
Lynda picked up her large coffee from the less-than-sanitary woman at the counter and sniffed it warily. Before leaving the small shop she poured cream and emptied about 10 sugar packets into it. None of the coffee shops in the area would make a nice mocha latte with extra chocolate. Until something like a Starbucks made it to this neighborhood, she’d have to make do. She stepped outside and started walking to Bleecker St.
Lynda’s coffee intake had risen quite a bit since May; higher than it had been when she was in pre-med. On paper, Lynda was doing her internship qualification at Dr. Bonfiglio’s clinic. But since the exorcism of Wanda Valtcheva, He began paying her under the table for her time at the clinic, and for the overtime hours that were spent researching and helping people with their paranormal problems. She was learning a lot, both for her future in medicine, but also learning about the darker side of the world that few people know about.
Sometimes, following a particularly bizarre or harrowing case, she would come here to Bleecker Street, and wait. Waiting for that odd, old house and the black car – waiting for Strange to reappear. She had brought up the two mysterious doctors to Dr. B., but he would dismiss her questions. “Another time” he said.
Lynda turned off Sullivan and walked down Bleecker. She had coffee and leaned against the building across the street at the empty lot between “Dit & Co Ink” Tattoo Parlor at 179 and “Supreme Stan’s Music & Vinyl” at 175 – the vacant lot of 177 Bleecker St. Just an empty hole. She could see the yellow and auburn trees on the other side of the block through this hole.
Lynda sipped at her coffee. Most of the work she had done with Bonfiglio was research and treatment, but there had been those few cases where she had to truly assist – Those few cases she had to hold an artifact or scroll while Dr. B. attacked the source of possession. Those cases where Lynda had had to get her hands dirty with the sorcery… those had been doozies. They had awoken in her a strength and a fear of this dark new world that had always been, and she would lie awake some nights wondering how she could do it for the rest of her life. She wondered how men like Dr. Bonfiglio had done it for so long.
Often her thoughts would go back to the strange man – the man NAMED Strange – and Doctor Wong. Arno never felt the need to seek the pair’s help on any of their cases, which baffled Lynda. The more the merrier, right? Why not bring them along? Why not bring in the specialist? Doctor B would often say that this was something they could handle on their own… or would say that he didn’t want to “bother him.”
“Another time,” Lynda muttered and sipped her coffee.
Currently, they were deep in research on one of their more grisly case. A half-eaten victim that the Police report called an animal attack, but they had been pouring over documents about ancient Native American legends, and the deeper they went, the more fearsome the possibilities. The fantastic otherworldly powers at work were growing to be more than they would be able to manage. Why not seek out as much help as they could find?
When the coffee was gone, and the gap remained a gap, she threw the cup away and went back to the clinic. She and Doctor B were on their own with this “Wendigo”.
– – – November 1994 – – –
The cab came to a sudden stop, Lynda shoved the door open, and leaped onto the sidewalk ready to sprint away. The driver yelled a series of curse words, and she turned back, hastefully threw some bills in the passenger side door, and hurried away. She turned to the gap at 177 Bleecker.
She clutched the thick folder wrapped with a rubber band in her hand. Half an hour ago, she had seen the case file and felt as though she had been hit with a bolt of lightning. She immediately left the Clinic and took the first cab here.
Things had slowed down a bit in the past month, and while she wasn’t needed for treatment on any cases, she was organizing Bonfiglio’s files for both the clinic and in his secret office; their case documents. She started to make extra trips to the New York Public Library making copies of photos and articles from The Times, The Post, the Bugle, she had even dipped into her father’s personal photo archive for cases involving the heroes of the City. Her Dad had covered a lot of New York’s more fantastic incidents, never realizing that there was even more than the fighting of robots and monsters in those cases. The more she filed away, the more she learned of the world Dr. Bonfiglio had introduced to her. Just when she thought she knew the extent of it, another old case file would open her mind to new horrors and events of the past decades mistaken for natural incidents. She was becoming an expert sorting all of the related material together, beefing up her knowledge base.
The cold, wet night air started to seep beneath her coat. She squeezed the thick folder with the rubber band in both hands and stared at the gap at 177 Bleecker St. She spoke to the space, “Dr. B. always said that he worked with you on many cases…”
Back at the clinic, after Dr. B. had left her to lock up on her own, she had opened up an old beat up copy of “Now” magazine from ‘69, and gasped at a picture that shook her to her core. Now, she looked down at the clipping in her hands.
“BROADWAY DEBUT DEVIATED BY DEVIL”
Below the headline was a photo. Patsy Walker. Damien Hellstrom. “Doctor in the audience” a much, much younger Dr. Arno Bonfiglio, with a lot of color in his hair and beard. A crowd of people, and two men… fading into the background, but to her, sticking out like a sore thumb.
Pink-Panther and Asian Kerouac, the two people she had been trying to track down for the last number of months. Doctors Strange and Wong. in 1974. Looking EXACTLY The same as they did this PAST MAY!
Her horizons had been expanded. Her father’s photos of the Fantastic Four and the costumed protectors of the New York Streets in the 70’s… she knew of that world – loved that world. She had idolized Sue Storm for years! What more could there be beyond the Fantastic Four? Dr. Bonfiglio showed her even more – that Ghosts, demons, monsters, were real. But what is THIS? Is Doctor Strange more like Doctor Who? Is this Time Travel? Is he immortal? It was incredible! She had to know more! Why haven’t there been any stories about Strange? She was desperate for more – more knowledge. More of this world. Dr. B. would only show her so much. Why did he refuse to answer her questions?
Lynda smiled with wild excitement! She stared with rapidly blinking eyes, ignored the cold and her chattering teeth as she stared at the gap of 177 Bleecker willing that old house to appear.
But it did not.
Her thrill was diminishing. Her smile faded with the passing minutes. She wiped her nose and blew into her hands, turned around and hailed a cab.
– – – May 14 1995 – – –
“He has to come help, Dr. B,” Lynda heard the shake in her voice. “He has to.” Dr. Bonfiglio grunted noncommittally and stared across the street. He has to, she thought, and Lynda’s lips were tight and thin as she squinted in frustration and to hold back the tears.
Lynda and Doctor Bonfiglio once again stood at the corner of Sullivan and Bleecker. She held onto his arm tightly. Dr. B. was having a hard time standing since… since…
The light changed. The throng of pedestrians started to walk, but the two of them stood still. The light changed again, and still they waited. More pedestrians gathered, waiting for the red to turn green. It did. And still Doctor Bonfiglio and Lynda Carter stayed put. Lynda looked to the gap of 177 Bleecker. All those times she came her on her own, and never had it appeared. Why? Why was Strange hiding? Was there a certain way to make him appear? Was standing on this corner the way to do it? She quietly berated herself, frustrated and angry that she hadn’t been able to reach Strange on her own, and felt so stupid that maybe she had been doing it wrong the whole time.
She couldn’t believe it when she got the call. Wanda has been taken again. They sped out to see the her. It was different this time. There was an intelligence behind Wanda’s eyes… No. not HER eyes, whatever was possessing her… it was something smarter… stronger, or both.
Lynda clung tightly to Doctor B’s coat as they waited at the light. At this very moment Wanda was screaming in agony, chained once more to her bed. Lynda could have vomited at the very thought of it. How? How could this be happening again? They had tried on their own to stop it, but the demon affected both of them heavily. Dr B. finally admitted that they must seek out Strange, and here they stood, waiting.
All those attempts she had made to find Strange on her own, and it was now that she realized that she had forgotten this detail. She forgot that first time, one year ago today, standing at this intersection waiting for the blurry man. Who was he? He had come to them and told them that “He is in.” Was he some sort of – of secretary to Dr. Strange?
They waited there for 10 light changes, and the blurry man did not appear. They waited longer still, and no shadowy figure. The gap between 175 and 179 Bleecker St. remained a gap.
Lynda’s heart fell through the pavement and plummeted to the subway below. Strange wasn’t in. Whatever was inside Wanda’s soul… it was so… so…. She fought back a tear as Arno touched her arm tenderly – the arm that was keeping him steady. “Don’t worry, my dear Miss Carter.” He smiled widely, and his eyes lit up with an invigorating fire. “If he does not answering our call, then it means that we can handle it on our own.” His smile grew with an intensity in his eyes. He let go of her arm able to hold himself upright. “Come on! Wanda will be OK!”
– – – May 16 1995 – – –
The rain hit suddenly, about an hour previous. It was raining a deep, hard rain. The drops slapped hard on the City, smacking and pummeling it angrily. It was an aggressive and cruel rain that forced the world to remain inside if they had any choice in the matter.
Lynda stood at the intersection of Sullivan and Bleecker, standing patiently – stoically. The rain hit her head and shoulders, but she hardly felt it. The light changed to green, and the few pedestrians who were out in the storm hurried across the intersection with their umbrellas open and protecting them from the downpour. Their colorful Spring clothes glowed in the dark rain. Lynda wore an all-black dress and coat ensemble. She looked at her watch briefly and stood patiently at the corner for another several light-changes.
After the third round of lights, she stepped off the curb and crossed Bleecker when the light finally turned green. She walked calmly, but with a brisk pace, down the street to the gap at 177. The “Dit & Co Ink” and “Supreme Stan’s Music & Vinyl” flanked the gap. The regulars of both locations came to know her as a familiar face, though none of them really spoke with her. She was a strange and frequent visitor of the vacant lot, and maybe, some thought, was interested in buying the land. Most times, she appeared bright and glowing with excitement, and other times fearful and burdened. One of the regulars tried to give a friendly smile as she passed, but the woman only had eyes for the lot.
The woman in black passed the record shop to the gap of 177 Bleecker. The plywood barrier nailed up to the rotting fence posts there was covering the space between the two buildings. The graffiti paint scrawls of gang signs and text, layers and layers thick paint, had long ago lost any meaning. She looked at this gap.
And then, Lynda threw herself against the plywood, pounding it with her fists. Screaming. Screaming. Crying.
A vinyl enthusiast who always tried to catch Lynda’s eye in months past and the heavily inked owner of Dit’s ran to her side, not sure what to do, but alarmed and concerned for this mysterious woman.
“Honey! Honey, please!” the inked owner shouted.
“It’s okay,” the record man soothed as Lynda collapsed into his shoulder. “Hey… hey, it’s – it’s cool, girl. It’s cool.”
The tattooed woman from the ink shop gently put her hands on Lynda’s shoulder as the young guy awkwardly patted her back as she cried. Lynda pushed him away and sobbed at the ground, her tears mixing with the miserable rain. She looked at the inked woman. She slowly pulled Lynda into a hug, stroking her back.
The skinny vinyl collector put down his bag and pulled out his expensive Cellular phone and opened it up with both hands. “Who – um – who can I call for you? Let me – let me call someone.”
Lynda had no energy left to utter a response. She stood in the Tattoo woman’s embrace, the kindness of strangers. They stood there for some time, none of them realizing how long. The rain stopped and still they stood there, until finally, she had the impetus to leave. She slid away and stood sniffing.
“Here,” the tattoo shop owner said as she wrote down a number on a business card. “You call, if you need anything.”
The shy Vinyl collector didn’t know what to say to her, but now was not the time to ask her to coffee. He sidled away sheepishly, leaving her be, ashamed that he didn’t know what he could do to alleviate her pain.
Lynda looked to the gap at 177 Bleecker, and spat at the plywood barrier.
– – – May 21 1995 – – –
Lynda brought the last box of photos and records from the darkened office of Bonfiglio’s clinic, which was now almost completely emptied out. He owned this place, and the city didn’t feel that they could afford to keep it open. So it was now just another piece of cherry real-estate to be exploited.
Arno Bonfiglio had no sons or daughters. He had no extended family, none that Lynda or the other people at the clinic knew about. He left a lot of his material goods and assets to the Belleview teaching hospital, and then there was the entire closet of occult and mystical items that Lynda was privy to and no one else was even aware of – the tools of their alternate lives. The Doctor had left a list of items and instructions for Lynda alone to package and send out west to a private estate. There was a momentary skip of her heart when Lynda saw the names of Damien Hellstrom and Patsy Walker on the address. Two of the superheroes of her youth. And then there was a surge of anger and regret. These were two other capable and fiercely powerful people that could have helped them! That could have helped avoid…
There was no mention of what was to be done with the files and case studies of Bonfiglio’s secret office. The look on Dr. B’s face as he pushed his rosary into her palm, tightly, just before he died a week ago told Lynda all that she needed to know. It was hers now.
“You’re… on your own now, Miss Carter…” Dr. B. had whispered.
Lynda shook her head crying.
“You’re… you’re as prepared as – as you can be, my dear girl,” he smiled weakly.
Her car was packed full of file boxes, bins full of purged artifacts, talismans, potions, and a few weapons (which she kept at the bottom of the lot, not wanting the cops to spot any of this stuff if she was pulled over).
She drove along the expressway to Queens. Her mentor was gone. Lynda did not know what to do now. Her training, such as it was, felt cut short. Now, she felt like she was just drifting free in this world – this damned world where demons were real and attacking everywhere.
As she turned off the expressway and onto Grand Avenue, driving further into Queens, something clicked. The Demons, the darkness, they were going to have to be put on hold. Lynda stopped the car in front of the house and grabbed her book bag. She walked up to the front door. They left the light on for her. She walked inside. The sound of The Beach Boys “Pet Sounds” welcomed her… if Pet Sounds was playing, that only meant someone was still awake…
“LYNDA!” patter feet ran from the living room. A huge mass of curly reddish-brown hair bobbed and sped toward her, and Lynda’s legs were immobilized by a powerful force, the arms of a 5-year old girl. “You’re back!”
“Wanda, what are you still doing up, sweetie?” Lynda pat her head through her thick bushy hair. In a pile by the stereo were her doodle pads, construction paper and a bucket of crayons, each page full of drawings of her imaginary super hero friends.
“Mommy and Daddy said I could wait for you!” Wanda looked up at her with the biggest brown eyes. She looked scared, but relieved and smiling at Lynda, relieved that she was here.
Lynda reached down and picked the little one up. “Okay. Okay sweetie. Well, let me get you to bed.”
“Sweetie, remember what The Doctors said.”
Wanda was already yawing, despite herself. “But it’s scary, and I miss Mr. B”
Lynda felt a lump in her throat. “So do I honey. So do I. So much.”
“Can I sleep in your bed tonight?”
Lynda was starting her residency soon at a hospital in Queens, and after all that had happened and all that she had done, the Valtcheva’s invited her into their home. The Valtcheva’s had made up one of the rooms in the house for Lynda. And there she had slept, a door away from Wanda, the girl who had been possessed… and possessed again… and again…
Lynda squeezed Wanda tightly and fought back tears. What in the hell was she going to do without Dr. Bonfiglio?
“Of course, baby.”
– – – May 14 1996 – – –
Lynda stood at the corner of Sullivan and Bleecker. The light changed from red, to green, and all of the pedestrians started to walk across. When the throng mostly cleared, she saw a pair of men sitting at a small café table on the other side of the street. They were playing chess. One of them turned and looked right at her. He stood up, and Lynda could not focus on him. He was blurry and indistinct.
To anyone else, the man would have been alarmingly tall, but no one paid him any mind. She looked at this man directly in the eyes as he approached. She glared at him, unflinchingly, and gradually, he came into focus. She could see him fully, because she understood his presence and displacement. This person was more than a secretary to the Doctor, and he was certainly not a man. His leathery skin and beady eyes made that clear.
This tall and leathery being walked right up to Lynda and looked down at her with heavy lidded eyes. “Sorry about the doc. We liked him.” He sounded like a thug from a cheap cartoon.
“Did you?” she shook her head. “Didn’t see you at the funeral.”
“We, uhh, we can’t go to those.” He looked a little embarrassed at this fact. If leather could blush, he’d be doing so. “You, uhh… want to talk to da Vishanti?”
Lynda did not pull her gaze; she just looked right at him. “Is he in?”
The big lug nodded. “Yeah.”
Lynda held out her arms. “Then get out of my way.”
The Lummox really WAS blushing. He took off his cap and took a few steps to the side. Lynda walked briskly across the street, and when she cleared the delivery truck waiting at the red light, there it was, the house at 177 Bleecker Street. At long last, there it was.
She walked right up to it, up the steps, and started to pound on the door. She tried to keep her anger pent up and locked away inside, but her knock betrayed her. She pounded on the damned door as hard as she could. Now that she could see it with her own two eyes and touch it with her hands she was not going to let it vanish. She pounded again on the door. Was Strange hiding? Possibilities spun through her head as her fist started to hurt. She clasped her hand and turned around. She had to calm down. She did not want to lose her temper.
Slowly, she turned her back to the door and took a few deep breaths to regain her composure. When she heard the latch behind her, and the door open. She spun around and saw Dr. Wong, looking both tired and surprised, with dripping brownish-green smoky ectoplasm on his bowling shirt.
“Lynda?” Wong said in surprise.
She blurted out suddenly, “Doctor Strange, Doctor Wong, It’s Wanda again! You’ve got to come with me right now!”
“Wanda…?” Wong asked.
“She’s been taken. Again! There is another demon inside of her!”
“Wha…?” Wong attempted, but she pushed past him seeing Dr. Strange approaching. She stepped inside and looked around. Wong and Strange looked at each other with wide and surprised eyes at a loss of what to say.
Lynda looked from one to the other exasperated, but before she could utter another word, her eyes fell upon the box on the stand next to the door – the wooden Carpathian Demon Trap sitting lazily in plane sight there in the entry. Her face grew dark and she turned on Strange, “That – You – How can you simply?” She was at a complete loss for words in her anger. “You have not disposed of that THING!?”
“Miss, please, if you could just –” Strange began, but Lynda would not hear it.
She interjected, “NO! No, you do not get to say anything!”
“Lynda…” Wong began.
“I do not want to hear a word from either of you unless it is ‘Oh gee, I’m sorry Lynda! Sorry I disappeared and was incommunicado for years! Sorry I missed the second and THIRD time – the LAST time Wanda was possessed! Sorry I missed Doctor Bonfiglio’s FUNERAL! He idolized you two, you know that! Did you know that?” She lowered her head and clenched her fists at her sides. She could not look at either of them. Her flaring temper subsided enough for her to take a deep breath and regain herself. “Damn you both. Damn you both,” she said.
Strange did a double-take. Wong looked confused from his colleague to Lynda with a sharp gaze. “Arno…?” He looked at Strange.
Stephen stood tall and straight backed not saying a word or taking his gaze off of Lynda Carter.
Wong took a step closer to the woman and spoke, “What year is it?”
Lynda looked at the man and took a step back, folded her arms, and her eyebrows shot straight up. “I’m sorry…. What YEAR is it? It’s the year I kick your–“
Strange removed the calming-charm he kept on his downstairs desk and stroked it. The atmosphere in the room lessened somewhat, but Lynda’s expression did not change. She was not seething with anger or incredulity anymore, but she was still sharp and focused, and looked at Dr. Strange with a piercing eyes.
“Guys… where the HELL have you been?”
END PART ONE
Jumpin Jehosaphat, Royal Reader! That’s a crazy way to keep office hours! A lot like our sporadic scribe here. Seriously, how long did it take for this issue to come out? Where’s Dr. Strange when Lynda needs him. And where is Nate Bliss when you need a new tale of Marvel Mysticism?
Well, At least in the case of Doctor Strange, the answer is, you can reach him only when you really need him. But is that the most efficient way for the Vishanti to operate? Just who MAKES that call of who gets to see him and when? Strange and Wong seem surprised that 2 years had passed since their last case with Lynda Carter. And things will only get more surprising, as we head into part TWO… right NOW! That’s right! In appreciation for your patience and loyalty to Marvel Rebooted, we now offer you the continuation of Strange Tales #4 Patient.
March on while our Maestros Make More Mystery for you! Make Mine Mv2!
Strange and Wong had a very eventful day… they had successfully completed the exorcism of young Wanda Valtcheva, left Arno Bonfiglio and his new protege to manage the affairs with the Valtcheva family, while he and Wong returned to the Sanctum Sanctorum to file, study, and dispose of the demon. No sooner when they had returned to the house and shut the door had shut on 1994, Lynda came knocking with news from 1996. Strange and Wong sat listening Lynda’s account of the last two years which, to he and Wong, had just been mere minutes.
She told a story of Bonfiglio training her in the mystic arts as a half medical practitioner and half hunter. In no time at all, Lynda Carter had gone from fresh, wet-behind-the-ears rookie to a much more experienced and hardened practitioner in medicine and the dark arts protection. Strange was very impressed by Lynda and her strong, sharp mind, though her emotions were certainly guiding her. Especially when she recounted her numerous desperate attempts to reach out to Strange on Wong.
The most unbelievable point, and the mystery they had to unravel, was that this little girl, Wanda Valtcheva, had been possessed, not just the one time, but three – THREE times in a row, one year separating each possession. It was absolutely incredible. It was unprecedented.
As Lynda neared the end of her story, Strange turned himself and his attention to his desk. He began clicking keys on his old ‘Underwood Champion’ typewriter, taking notes. He had to get his thoughts down. There was much to do.
“A typewriter?” Lynda said with a small scoff.
Wong was standing by the window pouring a glass of water. “Don’t get me started. Mark Twain here loves that old thing. I keep saying he should get updated with one of those new Olympia portables.” He handed the water to Lynda “How is Wanda right now?”
Lynda took the water and sipped it. Her voice had grown raspy with so much talking. She sniffed, “Wanda has not been having an easy time. It’s… it’s terrible. Each time has been worse than the last.”
Wong clicked his tongue. “Three possessions. God, that’s awful. Stephen? Is this… Is this something you’ve…?”
Strange yanked the paper from the typewriter and stood. He walked to the Carpathian Box. Placing both hands on it, he glared seriously down upon the lid and spoke, “I’ve never heard of it – three possessions of the same subject. Quite amazing.”
“Wanda.” Lynda said, and Strange glanced up from his typewriter, to Lynda who exhaled loudly and stood. “Wanda is not some subject, Strange. She’s our patient.”
“Yes yes of course,” Stephen turned and looked at Miss Carter fully. He bowed ever-so-slightly as his face flushed at the cheeks. He felt a twinge of embarrassment. He could not help think so analytically about this. His mind was reeling. He wanted to delve fully into this unheard of circumstance, but he was being callous to Lynda’s feelings. Wanda Veltcheva, not ‘the subject’. “Wanda,” he said softly.
Lynda nodded in return accepting the silent apology. She rose to her feet and said, “Okay, are we off then?”
“I’ll grab my case,” Wong began, but Stephen held a hand out to them.
“No,” Stephen paused and squinted in thought. “Not yet.” He held up the wooden demon-trap, wrapped in the paper sigil. “This was the first demon that overtook the…Wanda” he corrected. “I need to research it – speak with it. We must research this as completely as possible before we proceed.”
Lynda picked up her coat and her files. “Doctor Strange, we need to ACT. Every minute that we spend here…”
Strange smiled politely. “Miss Carter, you do not understand.”
Wong said, “Every moment we spend in HERE does not matter OUT THERE. You have to believe me, Lynda…” Every mention of waiting or of time passing added to Lynda’s stress and worry .”It’s not a problem.”
Lynda opened her mouth to protest, but Stephen cut her off, “We are outside of time here in my home. Whenever we leave, Wanda will not have suffered anymore than you fear.”
Worry wrinkled her brow, and Lynda looked from Strange to Wong, who nodded kindly.
Strange calmly continued, “We need to arm ourselves with as much information as we can get, so that we can put an end to this.”
Lynda looked down, and then shook her head in agreement. “Okay… Do what you have to.”
“Sit tight. Wong will make you comfortable while you wait. Help yourself to anything in the kitchen or the library,” Strange said but then paused. “Well… don’t touch anything in the library that moves on its own.” And he walked swiftly from the study.
* * *
Strange unfolded a parchment that had a protective sigil painted on it, and placed it on the floor. He set out seven candles evenly spaced around the sigil and muttered a handy Cyttor spell which lit all the candles at once. He placed the wooden demon trap-box inside the sigil and reached for it. Slowly, he grasped the iron clasp at the front, turned it gently, and with a soft click, opened the box.
Like steam rising from a boiling pot of stew, copper in color and shapeless at first, a cloud appeared over the open box. Slowly, the multi-eyed, multi-mouthed, and multi-finned demon slithered upwards and around, but never leaving the invisible walls that stretched up like a column from the sigil and candles on the ground.
A sound that could be described as a voice, though more like a scratching of nails over dry wood, filled the room. “Cold,” the scratch spoke. “Hunnnnngry.”
The form turned and it’s face fell upon Stephen’s. Strange looked at the creature as it spoke to him telepathically. He did not break eye contact. Strange did not even blink.
“Eat,” the thing moaned.
“Eat what?” Strange asked with his mind.
The thing took pause. It had not expected a reply. It twisted in the space before the sorcerer and tilted its face. “Timespace,” it growled. “Thought. Action. Body. Ssssssssoul.”
“Why the girl?” Strange asked.
“Why,” it repeated as if it did not understand the question. “The. Girl.” It didn’t seem to comprehend the meaning of these words.
Strange grimaced. “Your vessel.”
The demon’s mouth formed a sickly, awful smile. “Nourishment. Vessel was good. Good find,” it said back, it’s emotionless eyes trained on Stephen. The frank answer chilled Stephen to the bone. “Very rare. Very. Rare.”
Strange moved his hands suddenly and clapped them together. The thing went rigid and shrieked in pain. Its smoky form began to solidify. The thing was becoming tangible and a part of this reality, and the act was agony to the thing.
“You need a vessel like Wanda to come to our plane!” Strange shouted over the devil’s screams. “It doesn’t feel so nice without one, does it? This is the pain you bring that little girl – the pain you bring ALL the vessels you’ve attempted to claim!”
“GNNNAAAAAH!” the thing shrieked louder and louder.
“Bring me the second possessor, and I shall let you free, demon!” Strange demanded.
“Feel the air I breathe! Feel the dirt and warmth of our world you so desire to enter!”
“I SHALL! I SHALL DO IT!”
The thing writhed and twisted, and Stephen let it do so for a moment longer. Then, he clapped again. A smoky cloud coughed before him, the demon returned to its intangible form. Strange watched with no pleasure or remorse as it sobbed. “Bring me the second,” Strange growled.
* * *
“I shall suck the marrow off the bones of Bonfiglio, that scourge. That menace! I shall tear his soul to kindling for casting me away!” The wooden face twisted and gnashed its teeth.
Strange smiled wryly. Knowing a devil of this caliber thought of Arno Bonfiglio as a ‘scourge’ really pleased and impressed him. “You will do no such thing.” Strange sat in an armchair and before the armchair sat a 2 foot by 4 foot piece of wood. Ancient wood, affixed to a heavy iron mount. Upon the surface of the wood was a face that looked like it was carved, it was also moving in jerks and twitched like some poorly animated claymation. Strange knocked on the demon’s wooden forehead. ”Anyone speaking to me from the Plank is forever stuck in the void. You’ve got nothing better to do, so you might as well tell me what I want to know!”
“What do you know of WANT? You know nothing of WANT, you weak in-sig-NIF-i-cant…”
Strange stood firmly in place and pointed at the devil. “How long has it been for you? I know that of ALL the princes of Hell, you are the one most sensitive to the passage of time. The Void must be excruciating to you. And if you will not answer my questions, then I will send you right back there.” The thing flinched at the threat, its mouth clenching tightly. Strange said sternly, “Or you can answer my question.”
“BAH! Why do you care for this whelp?” The demon demanded.
Strange leaned in closer to the wood, fixing his gaze on the carved wooden orbs of this likeness of Mammon. “Why do YOU?” Strange countered.
* * *
A half an hour had ticked by, and Lynda was growing more and more impatient. She understood that there was no time passing, but it didn’t feel that way. She felt like she was wasting so much time sitting and doing nothing while Wanda was in pain. Wong had offered the TV, but nothing came on. It just sort of pulsed with dim black & white light. She switched it off. She looked around the living room, arms crossed, tapping her elbows with her fingertips.
The smell of coffee was in the air, and she followed it to the kitchen. Wong was at the oven, making coffee in one of those… she didn’t even know what to call it – a stainless steel pitcher with a little glass knob on top? It looked like an antique her grandmother wouldn’t even use – quietly seething and gurgling out the coffee aroma. Wong turned to her and smiled. “Haven’t tried that new “Maxim” freeze-dried stuff yet. ‘Instant’ they’re calling it,” he grinned. When Lynda replied with a blank confused stare, Wong asked, “Do they not have instant coffee in the 90’s? The fad not catch on?” Lynda kept staring. Wong raised his eyebrows and said seriously, “Did they find something faster than ‘instant’?”
Lynda looked at him confusedly. “Starbucks,” she said.
Wong nodded, not really understanding what she said, but not wanting to press the issue.
They looked at each other. Lynda asked “I’m sorry, this whole time travel thing is… it’s messing with my brain, and that sort of annoys me. I’m a nerd for this sort of thing.”
“Takes some getting used to,” Wong smiled grimly and motioned for her to sit down. He poured two cups of coffee, slid one to Lynda, and sat down.
“The time thing?”
“All of it,” Wong smiled. He started spooning sugar into his coffee. “As far as Strange has been able to explain it to me, this,” he gestured to the kitchen around him, but indicating the whole house, “the house is rooted in the 1960’s. November, Sixty Three, to be specific.”
Lynda jumped a bit “Kennedy?”
“Yeah, that’s right,” Wong replied, “Kennedy is president.” He calmly took a sip.
For a moment Lynda was shocked that Wong didn’t seem to have any reaction to the month or year. Should she say something? Had the assassination even happened yet? Wong didn’t say what DAY in November it was…
Even if she did say something, was she ALLOWED to say anything? Was this “Back to the Future” rules? “Doctor Who” rules? “Bill & Ted” Rules? was time malleable, or fixed? What story warned against telling someone their future? Or was that Hitchhiker’s? Lynda decided not to say anything. She just looked out the window and said softly, “November 1963.”
“Yep. People seem to come to us from any time, and we can go with them to that time.” He took a sip of coffee. “Since you’re here, if we step outside, it’ll probably be 1994 again.”
“Ninety-Six” Lynda immediately countered, taking a sip of her own coffee.
“Right. yeah, sorry.” Wong put his cup down. “We’re not used to the time displacement either, it seems. We’ve never had a repeat customer before.” he grimaced at saying ‘customer’. All of this is new and fresh in Wong’s mind, but had been two years of hardship for Lynda. “Sorry.”
She shook her head “No, I get it.” Lynda sipped her coffee. Wong seemed to be more aware that his words have impact on others; she didn’t mind his faux pas.
“Once we walk inside and close the door, and we’re finished with what needs doing, that door will open back to the point where we left off here in ‘63,” Wong said, and let out a long sigh. “Feels like it’s been November 1963 for months. Like Strange said, as long as we’re inside, time won’t move out there. That took some getting used to. Imagine coming home at one in the morning, getting a full night’s sleep and stepping out in what you think is ‘morning’ to get some breakfast, but instead walking out where you left off at one in the morning.” Wong tapped the table. “It isn’t easy sharing a house with the Sorcerer Supreme, let me tell you.”
Lynda shook her head. “It wasn’t easy being with Dr. B. sometimes. The things I got to see and do in the past years.” She blew out a breath. “He lifted that veil and tossed me into the deep end. I had to adjust in a heartbeat. He wasn’t going to hold my hand. He just dragged me into all this.”
“These magic folks have a way of doing that, don’t they?”
* * *
“…and that was the end of my very short time at the foot of the mountain,” Wong finished with a snap of his finger. Lynda had the feeling that the good Doctor had practiced the anecdote of his and Strange’s meeting many, many times, and to good effect. It was a very exciting story.
He stood and went to a cupboard, pulling out two sleeves of cookies. He set them on the table and plopped back in his chair. Lynda studied the young doctor with interest. Strange and Wong had not been doing this very long. In fact, she knew now that they had just started their careers as Ghostbusters. Hunters. Whatever. They had not yet lived out the events Dr. Bonfiglio had described. The great many missions and battles with the paranormal had not yet occurred for them. It could be years before Dr. B. knocked on their door again – a younger Arno Bonfiglio working with older Dr. Strange and Dr. Wong.
Lynda had to eat a cookie to distract herself for a moment. Wrapping her mind around all of this was giving her a headache.
“…and seeing what just thirty years later is like? Ha ha! Those clothes! I’ve never seen so many clowns. What is with all the neon?” Wong had been going on.
“What? Oh, the clothes? Yeah, you can thank ‘Saved By the Bell’ for that.”
Wong smiled with interest. He liked Lynda, but every once in a while he didn’t know what she was talking about.
There had been more than one conversation with friends about time travel over the years what they would do. What they would change. She had always said she would find a way to meet two people: Captain America and Madam Curie, two of her childhood heroes. After Back To The Future came out, she always thought it would be amazing to go back and find a way to make money off some huge bet! She could do it once – more safely than what Marty had planned and what Biff did. She would get one large chunk and be set for life!
As she had grown up and developed a little more reasoning, she would think about what she could change. Her imagination moved to that line of thought now.
Dr. B… He’s out there now. In the 1960’s. She could warn him – save him… But… but what were the rules? What would be altered? What could be erased? What would be destroyed in the process?
She took another cookie. No, she told herself. She couldn’t risk it. She couldn’t risk what it could mean to Wanda.
And there it was, the thing she needed to be focusing on. Wanda. SHE was why she was here. The magic of the universe had allowed her to reach Strange, and she would not risk what that meant for the poor girl with some flight of fantasy or desire to prevent the loss of her mentor, as much as she loved him. “Focus” Lynda said silently.
“Are you okay?” Wong touched her hand and brought her out of her deep thoughts.
“Yes, thank you,” she said kindly.
“You’re handling this remarkably well.”
She laughed, “I have a choice?”
He raised his cup of coffee to her. “Well put.”
“Wong,” came Strange’s voice. The two turned and found the sorcerer standing in the kitchen doorway. Lynda went to stand, but Strange held his hand up. “Not yet. I need to step out for a moment.”
“But the time-thing” Lynda said sharply and stood fully.
“I know,” Strange closed his eyes, “but it is essential. There are a few factors I can’t account for, and I have a source that can help.”
“Oh boy,” Wong said.
“Oh boy?” Lynda looked from one to the other.
“I will be quick,” Strange assured her.
Wong scoffed. “You’d better be.”
Lynda squeezed her fists, frustration growing. Strange leaving the house meant that real-time would move forward, and Wanda’s pain would kick in. Strange’s hands touched both of her shoulders. He looked her in the eyes, and she wondered later if he had tricked her into relaxing with some sort of incantation.
“I will be quick,” he repeated. “This is important.”
She looked back at him. She was reluctant, but she trusted him. She had to. Dr. B. did, so she would too. It was for Wanda. She had to.
Strange disappeared in a bang of purple smoke
* * *
Sirens and klaxons blared in Strange’s ears as he ran from the five S.H.I.E.L.D. agents that were hot on his heels. He was thankful that the floorplan, at least, was the same as it had always been. Two gunshots fired behind him, and he ducked in stride. “Honestly! This is all just a little misunderstanding!” he shouted as she sprinted.
S.H.I.E.L.D. has changed! The Agents of the 1990’s were much better equipped and much more short-tempered than the staff from Strange’s home decade. He had made several trips here, and each time – as it was in fact in different times when he came – had been different. Different computerized systems. Different uniforms on the staff. This was his first venture in daylight, and what appeared to be peak working hours. The four men chasing him proved that. Well, that it was peak hours, or that they had really upped security in the past years,
“You didn’t even have what I was looking for! I’m just RETURNING something!” Strange threw down one of the files from his coat as semi-automatic rounds whizzed past his head. “All right! All right! I took ONE thing! But I brought back THREE!”
He rounded a corner dashing out of sight from his pursuers, and without wasting any more time, he opened the dimensional rift and disappeared from the SHIELD facility, leaving behind only purple/pink smoke and the stench of brimstone, quite happy to be done with 1996 Shield, and back in his home.
He materialized in the attic observatory. The time outside would again be in standstill, and he wanted to make sure he got all of his facts and data straight before he reconvened with Wong and Lynda.
* * *
After coffee, then cocktails and a seemingly endless amount of jazz records, Lynda found herself opening her eyes wrapped in warmth on the fully-made couch, complete with pillows and a blanket. She sat up, looked around blearily. A cup of steaming hot coffee was sitting on the end-table near her head. She heard footsteps behind her. She turned, and as her vision focused on the figure, she saw Strange had changed his clothes, now in blue slacks, and a white sweater, his coat hanging on a hook by the door.
The office appeared cleaner than it had been when she first arrived. Well, not cleaner, but more organized though it was considerably more full of books, scrolls of paper. Strange must have worked all through the night. She didn’t even remember falling asleep.
She climbed out from under the blankets, took the cup of coffee, and walked over to the office. Strange smiled and asked “Oh, you’re awake! Would you like some…”
Lynda shook her head and sipped her coffee. “Coffee’s fine.” She raised an eyebrow and pointed her chin at the papers and things laid out on the desk. “What have you got?”
Strange nodded. He looked and pointed to an open book on the desk. “The Demon that we exorcised today.” he paused, smiled and looked back at Lynda. “Yesterday.”
Lynda put the cup on the desk and picked up the book. “Two years ago.” she corrected him. “What about it?”
Strange smirked and continued talking, in a tone much like many of Lynda’s professors. “Right. The one we got by catch-and-trap exorcism is a lesser demon. Not much more than a shark.” He scratched his mustache as he went on. “A shark that feeds on souls of course, but nonetheless, it’s just a feeder. It has no motive or understanding of what is around it, other than eating.”
The artwork in the book showed the creature gruesomely devouring many humans. Bones and blood surround its feet. In its mouth were three babies, all screaming in terror and pain. Lynda dropped the book on the desk with a thud, almost knocking over her coffee. She looked disgusted and horrified. “EATING? Wanda was being eaten?”
Strange held up his hands and tried to appease Lynda. “No! no, it tried to, but it didn’t get very far. It didn’t consume any of Wanda’s soul,” Strange reassured her. “She was too tough for it.”
God, Wanda. She was still out there, in her bed and in pain. Frozen by whatever Time-magic displaced this home, but still captured again by some dark spirit. Lynda knew hardly any time had passed for Wanda, but for her, it had been a whole day. It had been too long to be away!
Lynda picked up her coffee and finished it in one gulp. “Look. Okay.” She put the cup back down and pointed at the door. “We leave, and it’s 1996.”
Strange nodded. “Yes.”
“And whatever you’re about to explain to me, is it the answers we need? Do you know how to end all of this?”
Strange nodded again and smiled. There was a spark in his eyes. He was exhilarated – a hunter ready for prey.
Lynda said. “Okay, then. You wake up Wong. You can tell me more horrible things about what’s trying to kill this little girl while we drive to Queens. I’m not waiting any longer. We have to do this. We have to go now.”
“Yes,” Strange agreed. “Let’s go.”
* * *
“…and devoured the soul of each victim. It was a terrible and excruciating ordeal. None survived. I can only imagine the amount of blood spilled in the land.”
“For crying out loud, Strange,” Wong moaned from the driver’s seat. “It’s too early for bloody massacre talk. I haven’t even finished my coffee yet.”
Stephen had to take pause. He realized that he had been going on and on about all he had discovered in the night for nearly fifteen minutes now. Lynda and Wong had sat in silence as he babbled. They were headed back uptown toward the Queens/Manhattan Tunnel as Strange told them more of what he found. “It is all just so… so fascinating,” he ended a bit lamely.
Strange stopped and peered out the window, not at the passing city, but to refocus and avoid Lynda’s scrutinizing gaze. As interesting as these discoveries were, and how fascinating all of this information was to him, he had to remember that these events were ones that Lynda was involved with – the demons of these bloody tales were beings Lynda and Wanda had lived through and had to wrestle with.
Stephen cleared his throat and slowed his pace. “Arno, Doctor Bonfiglio, must have been at the top of his game. The second demon that he exorcised from the girl had a name and rank in Hell. He exorcised and banished to the void, a devil named–”
”…Mammon.” Lynda finished his sentence in a dark tone. “I know all about Mammon! I was there.” She tapped the page of the book Strange had open that showed a woodblock print of a humanoid with features like a lion and an ape. “A prince of Hell. A devil of greed. He was a chore. Took everything we had. He didn’t want to give her up.”
Strange took the book and closed it. He looked back at her with an edge of excitement. “I’m sure of it. Mammon is the personification of gluttony. Unjust worldly gain! In Biblical literature, he was personified as a false angel, seductive and powerfully handsome and tempting. The subject would have had a very difficult time…”
“Wanda, Doctor Strange. Not ‘subject…’ the little girl’s name is Wanda,” Lynda intoned with an edge of annoyance in her voice ceasing Strange.
“Yes, yes of course.” He felt his cheeks warm and looked away once more.
Strange pulled out a folder with the circular S.H.I.E.L.D. logo on it. Wong caught a glimpse of it. “Ahh. Strange…. Seriously?”
“Relax. It’s not one of their files.” Strange gave Wong a side-long glance.
“It’s not one of theirs, but has their big logo all over it?”
Strange opened the file and leafed thru it’s contents. “These are newspapers and journal clippings that I got from our own archives, not from theirs. I needed something to put them in, so I used this extra folder we had lying around.”
“An extra S.H.I.E.L.D. folder – one we just happen to have lying around,” Wong snorted. “Just holding one of those folders without clearance is probably a federal crime.” Wong turned and dropped a handful of change into the toll bucket.
* * *
As Strange and Wong bickered, Lynda had already begun leafing through the papers in the folder. There were pieces of parchment with Latin, slips of paper with incantations and sketches of hand positions, and underneath those items were clippings and documents concerning a Valtcheva, but it wasn’t Wanda in the papers. She lifted her head. “Wait a minute… Strange, this is all about Wanda’s father.”
Strange turned back and gave an odd smile. “Ah, yes! Serguei Valtcheva – the key to this little mystery. The man is quite an accomplished historian and anthropologist. His historical digs in Europe and the Middle East might–“
Lynda interrupted him. “I know ALL of this already. What does it have to do with Wanda and her demons?”
Strange turned to face her better. “It’s not all about the demons inside of Wanda. There are forces drawn to her because of her father.”
“I’ve spent the last year watching over Wanda and Elena – talking with Serguei and Gretchen,” Lynda said and snapped the folder shut. She handed it back to Strange sharply. There is nothing Serguei has done that could be responsible for this. If you are trying to blame him or– This is pointless. Is this what you wasted your time on all night? We could have returned hours ago!”
“Lynda, we didn’t lose more than minutes of time while you were in the house, I promise you.”
“I get your meaning. We didn’t lose any…” she closed her eyes and rubbed them with her forefinger and thumb. She was at a lost of what to call it “…real time, but while you were locked away upstairs digging up this redundant garbage on Serguei and taking trips to your source, Wong and I twiddling our thumbs.”
Wong called from the front seat “Hey, leave me out of this. I don’t mind a good thumb twiddle.”
Strange pleaded his case, “This information is vital. We need to be armed with as much knowledge as possible–“
Lynda felt aggravation rising. “I was already armed with this knowledge, Strange!” She opened up her briefcase and pulled out the two inch thick case file she kept on Wanda and the Valtcheva family; Strange’s meager file paled in comparison. She counted off her fingers “Serguei is an anthropologist and an archaeologist. Yes, his area of expertise is nomadic tribes of the Middle East and Central Europe. And yes, he had knowledge and has researched some heavy crap that Dr. B felt was pretty important… but NOTHING was kept at the house. Dr. B. actually went over every artifact Serguei had ever gathered and studied, which is kept at his office at Queens College.” She waved the file in her hand. “Serge does not take his work home with him. Everything from Europe is logged, numbered, and accounted for. There are no other forces in the house.” Lynda smacked her hand over the top of her thick folder and shoved it at Strange. “Just Wanda. If I knew that all you would have to offer is information I already know, I never would have bothered with finding you. Dr. Bonfiglio spoke so highly of your skills and talents – talked endlessly some nights about the grand adventures you’ve had together. But maybe that was the OLDER you – the one who HASN’T achieved such greatness yet.”
Strange stared back at her for a long beat. Wong glanced through the rear view mirror in the moment of awkward silence. Lynda felt her heart thumping in her throat, and she broke the glare she was giving Stephen Strange. She had lost herself there for a moment, rarely did her temper flare to that degree. but she didn’t flinch.
After a few tense quiet moments, she said, more calmly than before, “I just want to save Wanda. We have to save her.”
Strange nodded slowly he couldn’t seem to meet Lynda’s eyes. His voice was even, and clear, but spoken somewhat softly, treading carefully. “And that is exactly what we are going to do. I promise you that.”
She looked at him again, and he smiled. Wong nodded through the mirror as well. She just looked at him as they turned down the Expressway.
* * *
“Well, harruph, I say, you make quite the valid point, m’boy. Quite a valid point indeed.”
“I am very glad you see it that way, sir,” Strange bowed his head slightly to the ‘gentleman’ before him.
The six year old girl sat in her red and white PJs on the edge of the bed in her room. She held a cup of tea and sipped from it. The voice coming from her was not of a little girl, but the echoey voice of what sounded like a 300 lb. Victorian gentleman. “You put it like that, and it doesn’t seem fair, no, no, Hrmph. Not fair at all. Not one bit.”
Wong and Lynda stood behind Strange, eyes wide in disbelief, as Strange smiled amiably and kept talking with the spirit taken up residency in Wanda. “I personally feel horrible that your own life ended under such conditions, and I assure you, I will do whatever I can to try to gain you passage to another realm, or perhaps even a WILLING host.”
The spirit laughed heartily and shook the room with the sound. “By thunder, a willing? That is – Your kindness is noted, my boy. I thank you. I most certainly do, my good sir.” Wanda, acting like a blustery British Lord took one last sip of the tea and put the cup back on the bedside table. “There is little more to be said then. I shall take you at your word, Stephen. I will leave this vessel as we agreed! Just give me a moment to adequately acquit myself of the child. Let it never be said that I was not a clean and respectable houseguest – er, body guest, I suppose. Ha!”
Wanda slipped to the center of her bed and laid down. Her breath came in a steady and comfortable pace, and finally, she let a long breathy sigh.
Wong smiled and gave his own big sigh of relief. Strange moved closer to the girl to feel her forehead and her pulse, but Lynda moved in-between Wanda and Strange to check Wanda’s vitals. Wong stood at the back of the room and raised his eyebrows. “That’s it? That’s the exorcism?”
Strange allowed himself a small smile. He wiped his brow with a handkerchief, shrugged his shoulders and nodded. “Exorcism by reasonable argument?”
Wong shook his head. “So… what happened that wasn’t a demon? You relieved Wanda’s pain and…”
Strange shook his head. “Outside of the pain, the only soul in there was one from the lesser levels of hell. Relieving that pain allowed the spirit to speak, and that gave us Sir Edmund there.”
“A surprisingly decent fellow, for someone stuck in Hell.” Wong said and laughed uncomfortably.
Strange smiled and said “First time for everything, Wong.” He went to his case and picked up his journal. “If only they were all so simple.”
Lynda spun around, aghast, stood up and stormed right up to him. “Simple? Simple? Wanda has been possessed three times now, and this was simple to you?”
Strange put his hands up in defense. “We exercised that spirit without any physical spells. We removed him with no further harm to Wanda. She did not even need the restraints after five minutes with the thing. I have to say… that sounds simple to me.”
Lynda looked at Strange with exasperation. “You are so… so… clinical!”
“I am doing my best,” Strange frowned in return. “You are too emotional for this. You’re too close to – to…” He struggled for a word. “To appreciate it.”
“Appreciate?” Lynda snorted.
“Uh… guys,” Wong attempted.
Stephen rubbed the bridge of his nose. “That was a poor word, I admit.”
“Yes, it was,” Lynda sneered.
“I’m going to go speak with the parents.” Strange walked into the hallway, but Lynda followed right behind and stopped him.
He finished his work and was just gonna walk off again. Lynda called him on it. “You mean Serguei and Gretchen, the two distraught parents who have names and a poor girl who just survived her THIRD demonic exorcism?”
Strange wasn’t sure where this aggression was coming from, and despite himself, said, “I would hardly call Sir Edmund a demon.”
“Stephen…” Wong tried to step between them.
Lynda’s temper flared. She screwed her face tight and put a hand on her temple. She muttered, “Screw Sir Edmund! I don’t care if he’s a demon or a doormat, He’s a ghost from Hell and he was hurting our patient, Doctor!”
Strange turned to face her “Lynda, please don’t…”
She took a deep breath and let it out through her clenched teeth. “You know what one of the things Doctor B. admired most about you? Your sensitivity, he said. How you really cared about those you helped.” Lynda sighed, “But I don’t see it.You know, you are just like those pain in the ass doctors at Belleview. Aloof, cavalier hot-shot doctors who breeze in, save the day, and then VOOP! Just cowboy away, leaving the nurses to clean up after them.”
Strange was stung. He stepped back and looked Lynda in the face, searching to find emotion or truth in her words. Did she truly believe that? Was he truly acting that way? With that simple statement, she had summed up exactly the man he used to be – the person he had tried to never be again.
Lynda kept talking in a low hurt voice. “I’m not a nurse anymore. I’m trying to be the kind of doctor people need.” She pointed at him. “You did good. Thank you. Thank you for getting that thing out of her – the THIRD thing that’s latched to her soul. But you need to be more aware of your patient. Think about when it will relapse. WHEN. not IF. What kind of Doctor are you?”
Strange couldn’t look her in the eye. He was annoyed, his temper was rising, he WANTED to help, he just wanted to make sure that everything went as smoothly and efficiently as possible. Lynda’s words irritated him, because he believed he had left his arrogant savior days behind him. But on some level he knew she was right. He repeated to her the things he kept telling himself when he returned to New York after his training in Tibet: “I am not a Doctor. I help wherever, whenever I can. But I am NOT a Doctor anymore, Lynda.”
“Well guess what? You aren’t that great a detective, and you aren’t a superhero, Strange. You might rub-elbows with gangsters and fight demons and monsters, but the people you’re helping, they aren’t ‘clients’, they’re patients.” Lynda said, her voice a little more calm, but still firm with resolve. “You don’t just STOP being a Doctor. It will always be who you are.”
“Guys!” Wong spoke up from the bedroom door, and the two turned to him. His eyes were wide. They could see his breath, and a wave of freezing air rushed over them. Wong swallowed hard and gestured into the room. “Uh… we’re not done here.”
Strange and Lynda hurried back into the room. When they left Wanda, she was laying in peaceful repose on the bed. Now her eyes were open, staring intently on a spot on the ceiling and she was rising off the mattress, beginning to float off the bed. The temperature was dropping quickly.
“Wong… what happened,” Strange demanded.
“She was talking in her sleep,” Wong said as Strange and Lynda moved closer to her, and Wanda began to slowly float higher off her bed, her hands were out at her sides. “I couldn’t make out what she was saying at first – It was still in Sir Edmund’s voice. But the last thing he said was ‘No longer require the vessel. As per our accord, I yield my control to the next.'” Wong looked to Strange.
Wanda was, ‘standing’ on air above her bed. Her eyes began to glow green and an otherworldly grumbling came from her mouth. Lynda asked what was on everyone’s mind “’The next’ what?”
All three of them snapped their hands over their ears as the thunderous bellow echoed around them.
“SSSSSHHHHHHUUUUMMMMMAAAAAA……..” Her voice sounded like a Gregorian chant channeled through a dijurido “HEEAARR MMUAAIIIIII CUUURRRRSSSS…”
The sound was so unearthly and startling it was shocking. Lynda nearly fell to the ground. Stephen reached out and grabbed her by the elbow to keep her upright. She didn’t thank him. She spun to her leather medicine bag full of charms, holy water, and other cursed and blessed objects that she inherited from Dr. Bonfiglio. Wong tried to reach for the girl, but the closer he got his hands lined with frost. He pulled his hands out, clutching it in pain. “I can’t get close, Strange!”
Strange whipped his coat off and pulled up a chair. “I can.” He closed his eyes and started to breathe slowly in and out. All around him Wanda’s infernal chant filled the air, Lynda shouted at him. Strange did not ignore it, he did not push it out of his awareness, he did not tell them to quiet down. He breathed and allowed everything to happen around him as he felt his consciousness start to rise from his body.
Strange’s ectoplasmic, astral self observed the scene before him. Every exorcism was performed adequately, but the problem, the root cause, must not be in this plane of existence. He held his intangible hands before him and pulled them apart from each other moving apart two glistening blue curtains, which opened the room, Wanda, Lynda, Wong, the whole scene, spread apart to reveal a bizarre space of colored bands, ribbons, shifting shapes, odd pieces of broken buildings, floating islands of earth, eyes, jewels, rocks, and shapes that the human mind couldn’t describe with its limited vocabulary.
The Astral Plane.
Strange was intangible, but he felt the weight of the Eye of Aggamoto around his neck. Its power came with him in this form, into this realm. He was drawn to three gleaming blue stones hanging in the white void. He moved close to one; he smelled smoke, felt the warmth of a scotch and heard jazz in his head. He felt his body dancing close to the warmth of a woman, and his mind was also filled with thoughts about a ’62 Plymouth Fury.
Strange moved back. That was a portal to Wong’s mind! He realized what he had to do, but his path did not lie through his friends mind.
Strange moved close to another of the blue stones, and his mind was inundated with facts, figures, latin names for medicines, names of patients, rooms, conditions, treatments, but also with colorful images of costumed heroes, adventurers in strange coats and long scarves, one of them, himself, in a bright red coat. Lynda Carter.
He backed away, and the images left his mind. The solution did not lie in the minds of his cohorts, but in the third stone. He moved close to this stone, and the following scene unfolded around him:
He stood on a bizarre, blasted landscape, knocked down buildings and trees on fire, some of it looking real, some of it looking like it was drawn in crayon. He could not read what signs were left standing. The remaining structures looked vaguely European. Some appeared to be Two Dimensional houses drawn in blue and yellow crayon, by the hand of a child.
In the center of the chaos was a large glowing sphere. Strange moved closer to the sphere, which was suspended over the ground by about 2 feet. Standing in front of this sphere were two spectral figures. The large figure was standing still, and Strange could not make out any of the features on it. It stood, unmoving, staring at the sphere. The other figure was much smaller, it seemed to blur in and out of view, orbiting the Sphere, occasionally stopping, reaching for the orb, before blurring out of existence and trying again from another angle. These two figures… seemed benign. They were just vaguely human-shaped, but the ghosts appeared concerned… not a threat. Strange turned his attention to the giant blue orb.
The Sphere hung in the air like a balloon. There was a rope, or something, tethering the bubble to the ground. Strange peered into the orb, a blue glassy shell that soon cleared of fog when Strange looked at it. Inside was Wanda. Strange moved closer to the blue bubble and she turned her head and their eyes met. She looked more exhausted than tired or scared. But she looked at Strange with her own eyes. Not the eyes of someone possessed, but her own eyes. Wanda was here, trapped in this bubble… but she was HERE. Safe. for the time being. A flutter of movement pulled his attention away from the little girl.
There was a piece of cloth caught on the outside of the orb, flapping in the astral winds. As Strange’s eyes focused, he saw that it wasn’t just a piece of cloth, but a cloak in which a figure started to take shape. A single long, heavy tentacle began to snake and coil it’s way around the glassy blue orb that encased Wanda. Above Wanda’s bubble, in the cloth, was a head – a skull shape, a skull that appeared to be made out of pebbles, bones, chipped beef. Toothless, with one single empty eye socket. Strange heard the deep echoing chant that he first heard coming from Wanda’s mouth back in the tangible world. Here, it was not coming from Wanda, but this enormous disgusting head. This granular, maggoty figure, this head and tentacle abomination in the cloak tightened its grip on Wanda’s blue bubble and the chant intensified.
”GORRRAATHHH, CAAAST YOOOORR SSSHHHHAADDOOWW!”
This demon’s chant shook every molecule of Strange’s astral body. Alongside the deep droning was another sound. A soft velvety sound. Pattering audio that was familiar yet foreign. Strange looked around, trying to hear where this other sound was coming from and what it might be. He saw nothing, but did hear something, he couldn’t quite make out what it was…
“I said… It’s not your turn. You’re jumping queue. Get back in line with the rest.”
Strange had heard disembodied voices before, but there was something different about this voice.
“I’m nothing like the psyches you’ve dealt with before, human. Only thing you need to know, the voice you’re hearing, is of the one in charge.”
For the first time Strange spoke, his thoughts were running the same time as his mouth. “You aren’t in charge. She is. This is her mind. You’re trying to wrest that away from her.”
There was a moment’s pause before the voice responded. “Oh, you’re here to STOP us?” It sounded amused and surprised. Strange felt the molecules pulse and wind around him. He realized he didn’t feel any pain in his arms. he brought his arms up and adopted a defensive stance.
It laughed. Everything in Strange’s field of vision pulsed with each tinny chuckle. The colors shifted and something solid started to materialize in front of him. Instinctually Stephen threw a punch. His vision shook and quivered as more laughter filled the air. “And you want to FIGHT me! Oh, delicious. Your arms may be free of pain here, but they’re even more useless here than they are on your plane, Stephen.”
It knew his name.
“Oh I know more than just your name.”
The air was wet and uncomfortable. His feet hurt in the new shoes Mother bought for the occasion. Stephen is six. The parlor of this house is lit by an oil lamp. Ornate ceramic figures line a wide shelf, a jangly green-and-white harlequin marionette dangles on the edge of the shelf. Stephen touches it, and its face seems to look right at him as it falls from its hanging place, and tumbles down, the lifeless limbs sprawling on him, tangling young Stephen in the wires…
The desolated landscape fogged back into his awareness. “What…”
He steps into his house with the smell of freshly cut grass and the feel of the hot sun fresh in his mind. Stephen is 11. His brisk pace toward the kitchen slows as he hears the soft sound of crying, and heavy footsteps. Mother is on the floor hiding her face. Red dots on the black and white tile. Father turns and looks at him…
“NG!” Stephen snapped back. His senses flooded him, He was hit with wave after wave of memory… disturbingly, vivid memories.
The bag carrying all of his medical textbooks pulls heavily on his shoulders. It is a humid June day. Stephen is 19. Father is impatiently standing by the car, waiting for him as he leaves the lecture hall. There is a pungent smell of bile, urine and refuse… a vagrant sitting under a stoop. Stephen right away recognizes the coloration in his skin and two other telltale signs which could only mean the vagrant suffered from a case of…
“STEPHEN. Let’s GO!”
“But I think I know what I can do for him”
“Get in the CAR. Focus on what matters. We’re late. He’s not worth our time.” He felt the wave of shame and the heat of defiance… the pleading in the old man’s eyes… but what shook his resolve was the fear caused by his father’s voice brought him back to….
Stephen was sweating. He was shaking. He felt short of breath. His heart was racing. He knew this voice was doing this to him. He attempted to focus hard… harder… staying in the moment – here and now and…
“Yes, very good…” the creepy little marionette from Grandma’s house floated in front of him… black hair under a green cap… white face and coal-black eyes carved onto the wooden face. It’s bobbing wooden head facing Stephen’s.
It was dredging up all of his worst memories…
“Yes. And I haven’t even gotten to the REALLY good ones yet,” the stringed puppet giggled cruelly. It was moving in that surreal way marionettes do, but no hand held the strings. “Your Daddy’s been dead for a while… but there are SO MANY MEMORIES to play with here…” The marionette reached it’s tiny hand to Strange’s forehead, Strange’s heartbeat rose… this damn puppet… “You act like a private eye, like a Sherlock Holmes… or a Reed Richards… which is hilarious, by the way. But that’s… not… what… you… actually… are…”
Stephen is 11 years old and standing in the kitchen doorway. His father stands over his crying mother. His father is the green and white marionette…
“You’re just a chip off your Dad’s block.”
Stephen strained, tears stinging the corners of his eyes.
The scene faded, returning to the blasted landscape…. Wanda’s blue bubble prison and the maggoty cloaked demon head seemed so far away now…. the marionette bobbed hypnotically in front of him. It ‘walked’ on the air, closer to Strange. His heartbeat rose… he had to do something soon… “What…what…”
“I don’t qualify as a ‘what’. I am nightmare, Vishanti.”
* * *
Toys, records, broken pieces of wood, flew around the small room. The droning baritone voice coming from Wanda’s mouth shook everything. Wong was taking blankets trying to throw them around Wanda – to pull her down to bed – or at least anchored. He worried that she might just keep floating off, but she just hovered over the bed, as if held by an invisible tether.
Lynda kept her head down and shoulders up to avoid catching a flying object to her face, and tried to shield Strange from the debris. He was sitting serenely at the beginning of his… meditation, or whatever this is… but now his face was twisted in anguish. In fear. Lynda felt a lamp crash on her back, but she wasn’t hurt… at least she didn’t think she was. The adrenaline was keeping her going. “Doctor… Strange… please…”
* * *
“Please,” Lynda’s plea came loud and clear over the drone of the Cloaked Meatloaf Skull. In a piercing flash, Strange’s head was filled with an impossibly huge figure of his father standing tall and imposing in a white lab coat. Strange saw himself, a smaller figure, in the same pose as his father. Smoking, leering, arrogant, cocky, without empathy, emulating the man who shaped him. He turned not toward his cackling marionette tormentor, but at the sky where Lynda’s voice echoed “Doctor Strange… please” Strange sobbed. He clenched his fists, and his body vibrated in anger and frustration, and he shouted…
“I am NOT a DOCTOR!”
* * *
Lynda was shocked. Strange, dripping with sweat, eyes closed, looking as if he was about to break down and cry replied to Lynda. “I am NOT a DOCTOR!” he had cried. He was so torn. She had seen this in patients suffering mental episodes.
She held his head in her hands, patting it. She wiped his sweat away and started speaking gently into his ear, “You are the only chance that Wanda has. What are you seeing?”
Strange was sobbing, “F-father…” His voice was small and weak.
Lynda paused. She knew nothing of Strange’s history or personal life, but she had a family of her own. Stephen sounded like a boy. Lynda held her hand against his forehead. “Strange… you are not your father.”
“I am… I… I don’t deserve…”
Lynda held his head firmly and got in close, and said with conviction “You are Stephen Strange” She never really knew him before today, and didn’t want to sound disingenuous and offer platitudes that he might instantly reject. So she went with her gut and continued “You are YOU… Now.” He didn’t immediately counter with a retort, She was getting through to him.
“You’re a Gandalf. You’re a Merlin. You’re a Timelord. But YES you ARE a Doctor.” She took a leap. “You took an oath – an oath, Stephen – and you cannot back out on that. You are not your Dad. You’ve learned medicine, myth, and magic, and YOU are here NOW– not your Dad.”
Stephen’s breath normalized. She added “Be here…NOW… Strange.”
* * *
The sights, sounds, smells, and feelings that buffeted Strange’s mind did not change, but he felt some stability. He could hold a thought. No. He didn’t hold any thoughts, That was the whole point.
He was able to meditate. Be here. Now. The Ancient One told him that. He always told him to meditate.
“The old fool is DEAD, Strange. You are ALONE.”
Strange took one big breath in…. held it… and let….. it….. go……
The Ancient One was NOT here. This was simply the truth. Nothing to get riled up over. The statement did not carry the effect the Nightmare wanted it to have. Stephen was not rattled. His mind was beginning to clear.
The Nightmare’s distractions were still present, but Stephen himself was becoming more serene. He grew less and less affected. His astral form righted itself. His feet pointing to the ground. He once again felt the Eye of Agamotto around his neck. Strange emptied his mind of thought. His father, or the marionette, or Wong, or Wanda, or Lynda – thoughts would swim up. Strange would acknowledge them, and then he’d let them swim away. Distractions faded. The first lesson he learned since arriving in Tibet. the only lesson that really helped Strange. How had he forgotten? Sometimes you have to re-learn. Strange breathed in.
He was at peace, now.
He was here. Now.
The Marionette was changing shape, fluctuating between many different forms. It was saying words to Strange. It was emitting a sickly blue glow. Beyond him, he saw Wanda encased in her blue bubble prison.
No, there was something else going on here.
Stephen took a deep breath in, and the Eye… OPENED.
* * *
Floating above her bed, Wanda’s eyes opened. The low constant drone, the demonic chant that shook the walls and rattled Wong and Lynda’s teeth ceased and was replaced with a different utterance.
“UUHHHH…. AAAUUUHHHH…. nuuuuuuhhhhhhhhh!”
Wong cocked a smile, it sounded confused? Rattled? Whatever had it’s grip on Wanda… was it losing concentration?
“buuuuuuuhhhhhhhh hhhhhhhhhhuuuhh. uuummmm!”
Wong laughed; it sounded like a drunk who couldn’t find it’s way to the door. He turned to Lynda, hoping to share in the moment, but she was sitting before Strange, forehead to forehead; she was whispering something herself.
* * *
Everything was so much clearer. Strange breathed in… and out… and just took everything in. He did what he did without fretting, plotting, or deducing or hesitation. He was in the moment. Not pouring over the past or trying to outwit the future. He was in the moment.
This moment, he was encased in a bubble. Much like Wanda’s, but his was green. It was plain to him now that Wanda was never trapped in the bubble. The bubble was her shield. HER shield. Wanda had created this magic around her. It kept most of the demons and spirits that had possessed her away from.
Her soul. That’s got to be it. Strange’s green bubble moved closer to Wanda’s blue one. He heard a voice, Lynda’s voice, on the wind. She was telling him things.
The Eye of Aggamoto was open. The red eye shining, but shining white light. The tiny golden orbs, which were part of the golden medallion, now rotated independently around the red eye in a perfect orbit. The Eye was guiding Stephen over to Wanda. His patient.
Stephen’s orb pressed against Wanda’s orb, and the two bubbles started to merge. The Marionette thrashed angrily against Strange’s green orb. Behind the failing figure, he could see, stretching to the horizon, a long line of monsters, hooded figures, warriors, wizards, demons standing in a large line. More possible candidates to overtake Wanda.
Strange’s orb began to press through. Parts of the Maggoty body of the Cloaked Tentacle Skull that hung and draped over Wanda’s bubble yielded as Strange’s orb pushed past. The two bubbles converged. A part of his orb opened, revealing the blue outer shell of Wanda’s orb. It pressed through her blue shell and underneath was a Violet layer. Wanda had multiple layers of protection. He continued through, going through Violet, then a yellow layer, then red, then finally, green. Stephen was now inside Wanda’s center bubble.
Wanda looked at him with big brown, wet eyes. He held a hand to her forehead.
“Wanda, I am here to help you.”
* * *
She originally just reassured him that he’s not his father – that he can DO this. She then started telling him about Wanda – what she was like, what kind of food she liked, what she did to feel comfortable. She told him the cartoons and stories that Wanda drew in crayon in all of her sketchbooks, her superhero imaginary friends, her love of her Dad’s Beach Boys records.
Now she was just breathing and talking. She wasn’t paying attention to what she was saying. She was just reciting words – chanting something that mattered to her. The words just came. She heard Strange occasionally speak, but Lynda kept her breath steady and kept speaking her mantra….
* * *
“You can’t stay in there forever, Stephen.” The Nightmare’s voice was only barely audible through the bubble’s shell. “I am very patient.”
Strange held Wanda’s hand as he used the Eye of Aggamoto, still open and bathing them in light, like a stethoscope, holding it against her chest. Wanda’s sobs had diminished to just a little intermittent sniffle. Strange smiled down at her. She didn’t smile back, but she was more relaxed.
Strange came to understand things. For one, he was able to hear Lynda’s words echoing in the atmosphere. It was difficult to hear her when he was under the Nightmare’s thrall, but now that he was calm and had his breathing under control, it was amazing what his senses were able to pick up. Lynda was telling him about Wanda.
Strange also began to understand magic in general. More than learning what was recorded in books – observing and moving through magic taught him things on an instinctual level. This different energy – these magics – each had a signature. Strange understood this signature as a color. Yellow and Red, Orange and Purple, Blue and Green. He witnessed these magics himself – wielded by himself, by Mordo, Von Doom, his teacher, Brye Goodfellow, the monsters he fought. Each of them utilized these magics.
All of the colors – not just some of them. ALL of them – moved through Wanda. He could see them. She had some connection to all of these energies. This is why the Nightmare wanted her and was using every other power hungry demon to break through Wanda’s natural defenses. All of those demons couldn’t even get through Wanda’s first level of defense.
On the inside, this little girl was the most powerful magical being Strange had ever come into contact with. But on the outside, she was just a 6 year old girl.
He looked to the horizon. The Nightmare had moved over to the huge horde of demons and beings, riling them up, organizing them into a formation. Strange couldn’t fight off all of these creatures. His concentration, which he was ONLY JUST able to reclaim, was only strong enough to allow him to enter Wanda’s protective bubble. Her defensive bubble was incredibly powerful, but it would not last forever.
She would have to be the one to get them out of there.
How does he break this to her? His bedside manner was a present from his father. He trained to be the Doctor his father had been, which was not good in this instance.
He is NOT his father. His only course of action was to just NOT be that sort of man. Don’t be like Dad.
“Can I have a sandwich?” Wanda sniffled.
Strange smiled. “Soon. Soon there will be sandwiches!” Strange was glad that he had been able to hear Lynda’s voice, during the moments he was meditating and maintaining his green bubble sheild. He knew what to say to her. “We’ll have a peanut butter and jelly one, but the way your Mommy makes them – the way you like it, toasted and with apples. How does that sound?”
Wanda sniffled and blew some snot on her sleeve. “Good.”
He put his arm around her shoulder. “Then you can show me your comics… Metal Man…. and…. The Whizzer?”
“Is Mister Whizz a wizard?”
“No, he’s a fast guy” She pointed to the grey shadows down below, still looking up at her floating bubble.
“I see. Well… I bet that they would like to help you now. Metal Man could punch down all the walls in our way, and Mister Whizz could run us all home, couldn’t he? It’s a good thing you’ve got friends like that. I had friends too. A Wizard gave me my green bubble, like yours here.”
“You talked to the Wizard of Oz. He makes green things.”
A lightbulb went off in Strange’s mind. Perfect. “It WAS the Wizard of Oz. You’re right! Do you know him? He taught me this trick in the Emerald City! Do you know who else I met there?”
“The Good Witch. She told me, Wanda, that I’d one day meet a very special girl in a bubble who had special friends. The Good Witch told me that this wonderful girl would be able to fight back all of the monsters.”
Wanda’s head tilted up to him. Her eyes were wide and curious. “How?”
Strange took off his coat and wrapped it around Wanda’s shoulders. “By using this special cape.” He took a deep breath – a tiny pang of worry as he wasn’t sure if this gamble would pay off – and took off the Eye of Aggamoto, it was still open and it shone brightly. “And using this magic amulet…” he placed it around Wanda’s neck.
In that moment, Wanda started to giggle. The cold feeling of helplessness vanished as her giggles echoed around the bubble. Each giggle broke away the bubbles like they weren’t made of anything. Strange worried. The protective bubbles was the only thing keeping the bad stuff out.
The Eye of Aggamoto shone brightly, surrounding Wanda and Strange with a brilliant red energy field. With the bubble gone, the rotting form of the Cloaked Skull fell; each meaty glob falling and exploding to ash the moment it hit the aura of energy that surrounded Wanda, until all of the meat was gone and the tattered cloak fluttered away. For the first time, Strange saw Wanda smiling. Full of energy, and looking truly alive. She beamed, figuratively and literally, at Strange floating to her left. “You’re so silly, Doctor Strange. I’M the good witch!”
The two shapeless figures Strange had seen upon first arriving to this place now took shape, one, a big, silver or platinum man made of metal and the other a small blue and white blur of a boy. These two figures both looked like they were created by a little girl, colorful clothes and capes. Wanda waved with glee; the two figures smiled and waved back at her, and then started to charge at the huge army of demons that the Nightmare was rallying. As her two imaginary friends fought, Wanda laughed as she shot blasts of energy at the demons, offering cover. A moment ago, these demons and ghosts were ready to wage war on a tiny little bubble, and now they all fled for their lives.
As Wanda and her imaginary friends fought the Demons, Strange realized that she was still tethered to the ground – the rope… No, it was… a tendril? A snake? It was green and white. Strange floated down and tried to pry it off her foot. Wanda above them all, giggling and firing off magic at the fleeing demons.
“Pchoo! Pew, pew!” Wanda chirped as she fired tremendous energy out.
“Wanda! Look down here sweetie.” Strange grasped the green and white tendril.
Wanda looked down and understood. She reached down. Her hand left a rainbow vapor trail in the wake of it’s every motion. She grabbed ahold of the tendril. It immediately released Wanda’s foot. No longer connected to the ground, she started to float up and away.
She stopped her ascent and stayed, hovering in mid-air. Strange floated up to her side. Wanda still held the tendril; it started to pull up from the ground, like she was pulling up a weed or retracting tape measure. The long tendril shrunk to the point until it was just a tiny withering little snake/fish form with the head of the marionette. It flailed, flapped around and tried to break free, but Wanda, this little girl – her grip on it was unyielding. The power in this little girl was astounding.
“Wanda, this is the monster that was hurting you so much.”
Wanda looked at it, squinting her eyes and scrunched her nose. She itched her nose with her free hand. “He’s so little.”
“That’s all monsters are. They act big and scary, but they’re all little, in some way.”
Strange was lying through his teeth. This nightmare creature was the most powerful enemy he had yet faced, and Wanda was holding him like a struggling goldfish, flapping and flailing around in her vice like grip. The Nightmare was glowing blue, but Wanda’s fist was glowing like a rainbow. Each knuckle seemed to glow a different color.
This creature couldn’t be allowed to come anywhere near their dimension again. Strange knew a number of spells that could banish a demon, dispel a spirit, but he wasn’t sure what Nightmare was or If he even knew of any spell that would truly affect it. It was what they had to do, though. They had to cast it out using something powerful enough to keep a being as strong as this to prevent it from ever returning.
Wanda looked at it and shook it. “I’m Bigger than you, Monster! You’re a dumb little fish, and you’re MEAN. Go away NOW, and NEVER COME BACK!”
And just like that – with so simple and innocent a phrase – with no pomp or circumstance, the Nightmare vanished from existence. With nothing left to grab onto, Wanda’s hand popped open. The crushing magical power dissipated, and the Eye of Agamotto started to close. The red and white light surrounding the pair started to fade. Metal Man and Mister Whizz were cheering and whooping below. Wanda looked winded, but happy. Smiling up at Strange.
“That’s how the Witch would have done it,” Wanda said with certainty.
Strange laughed “I think you’re right, Wanda.”
“So what do we do now?”
He looked to the horizon. All of the demons had either fallen or retreated to the realm they came from. The blasted landscape of Wanda’s mind was starting to grow with green plants and red fruits. Her mind, clearing. Strange said to her “Now, we get to go home! We can just…”
She held up a hand, “Yeah, I know how to do it.” She smiled and started to kick her feet like she was swimming in the air, but bringing her heels together after each kick. “I see the Broke Cup! I Wanna Go home!” She paddled upwards away from the ground, her cartoon super friends waving from far below. “Call for the Captain ashore! Let me hoooome!” Wanda was only gradually swim upwards in the air, laughing singing her song, one that Strange had never heard. “This is the worst trip I’ve ever been oonnn!” He closed his astral eyes and felt his projection start to return to his home dimension.
* * *
He heard a soft voice, speaking quickly & quietly. “I will not cut for stone, even for patients in whom the disease is manifest; I will leave this operation to be performed by practitioners, specialists in this art.”
Strange was breathing as though he had just run a great distance, and there was a heat emanating from his body. He opened up his eyes and saw Lynda’s face completely fill his field of vision. Her hands were on his cheeks and her forehead was on his.
“In every house where I come I will enter only for the good of my patients, keeping myself far from all intentional ill-doing and all seduction and especially from the…”
Strange opened his cracked lips and fought past the dryness in his mouth to speak,”Especially from the pleasures of love with women.”
Lynda’s eyes flew open, and instantly backed away. “Strange!” She said with a start still holding his face firmly and looked deep into his eyes. Strange was moved until a sharp light pierced his vision.
“OW” Strange recoiled.
“SIT STILL!” Lynda ordered, shining a pen-light near his eye, checking its dilation. She snapped her fingers. “You’re back? You ARE back, yes? Can you hear me?”
“Yes! I’m back! I’M BACK!” Strange started to paw his own hands in front of him. His weak injured hands flapped in front of his face, trying to shoo away Lynda’s penlight or whatever else she had in store for him. “Wong, pull her off me!”
“Knock it off, the both of you,“ a relieved, but annoyed Wong said. “And get over here.”
The room was a disaster, toys, broken furniture, framed pictures, broken and strewn about. pillows and blankets everywhere, except for one tangled bedsheet on the bed, which housed a form, Wong was carefully untwisting and pulling the sheet open, careful to not pull or twist anything too drastically. He managed to find the edge of a sheet and started to pull it away, and a shock of red-brown curls was revealed. The lump in the sheets moved, and a little whimper emerged.
Lynda moved next to Wong, right up near the little girl. She moved the hair away from Wanda’s face and whispered. “I was dreaming, Lynda. I heard you.” She pointed to Wong “I think I heard you…” and pointed to Doctor Strange and smiled… “And you… you were THERE…”
Stephen Strange smiled in return and realized that his eyes were wet.
Lynda was holding Wanda in her arms, rocking her gently, tears fell from her eyes too – tears of joy and gratitude. “Lynda, you’re making my hair all messy,” Wanda Velcheva giggled as a young child should – a laugh of purity and glee. “I’m gonna have snarls in my curls!” she squealed in delight.
“I’ll brush them out, you munchkin” Lynda said through gulps. “I’ll brush them every night, if you want.”
Wanda kept giggling in Lynda’s arms.
Stephen pulled the one good chair left in the room to Wanda’s bedside and sat down. He wiped his slick hair off his forehead. He looked at the child. She looked back at him and smiled. He smiled weakly at her. She had done something in there, on the Astral Plane – something he could not explain. She was a child, and yet her power there…
“Do you want to get sandwiches now, Dr. Strange?” Wanda asked him.
“I’m –” he began, stopping short to clear his throat and swallow. His throat was still sore.
“I’m hungry, Dr. Strange. Aren’t you?”
Stephen nodded and smiled. “Yeah, I am.”
* * *
* * *
It was peaceful in the house, but there was an energy. A palpable sense of relief in almost everyone there. Except in one person.
“It’s no problem, I can help.”
“Doctor, please. I’ve got this” Serguei Valtcheva said, picking up broken toys and debris from his daughter’s bedroom. “Go downstairs and eat, or Gretchen will have my hide.” The gregarious man laughed and clapped Strange on the back. Stephen smiled, nodded, and walked downstairs. A very atmospheric, lively but light song was playing in the living room. Strange turned to the kitchen.
“Stephen! Is something the matter?” Gretchen Valtcheva immediately asked, upon his entering the kitchen. She was at the range, making grilled cheese and grilled Peanut Butter & Jelly sandwiches.
“No!” He smiled. Gretchen put down her spatula and poured a mug of coffee. “Nothing is the matter, I just wondered if –”
Gretchen, smiling, just put the mug in his hands “Go to the family room. You relax! I will bring food soon.”
“Really? There’s nothing that I can –-”
“Go, Doctor, GO!” She said with authority, but with a grin. “Be with the girls and your friends”
Strange walked slowly to the living room, and stood in the doorway for a moment, looking in.
“There’s no way there’s more music on here” Wong said to the little girl with straight brown hair – Wanda’s sister, Elena. He had a CD jewel case in one hand, and an LP sleeve in his other. Elena laughed delightedly.
“Cuz THAT one’s a CD!” Elena pointed at ‘Beach Boys: Endless Summer.’ “And it’s NEWER. It’s got more songs on it!”
Wong looked at both of them, he had a smile, but also looked genuinely perplexed. He looked at Elena and waved the LP sleeve for ‘Beach Boys- Pet Sounds’ and said “But this one is so much bigger! Look.” He held the two cases next to each other. “See?” Elena just threw her head back and laughed, leaving Wong standing there, smiling at the little girl but not understanding what humor she saw “What?”
“Hey” Strange looked from Wong over to the sofa, where Lynda was sitting. She gestured her head, beckoning Strange to come inside the living room. He took a step inside and he saw Wanda was in her lap. Lynda gestured with her right hand for him to come to the sofa, and with her left picked up her coffee cup. “Come sit. I need to freshen up.” Lynda patted Wanda’s head through her massive tangle of curls. “OK squirt, ya gotta let me up.”
Seeing Strange, she sat upright and smiled. Lynda stood up and pat Strange on the shoulder. “Take off your coat. Stay awhile.” Strange sheepishly watched her leave. He put his coffee cup down on the end table, and took his coat off. He folded it and put it on the right arm of the sofa, and sat down.
Wanda put her plastic cup on the coffee table and folded her blanket up, putting it on the sofa to her left, and look up to Strange with a big smile on her chubby face. Strange smiled and playfully socked her on the shoulder. “Hey, Kid.”
Wanda socked him back on his arm and giggled while saying “Hey, Doctor Strange.”
Strange rested his legs out in front of him. The Beach Boys I Know There’s An Answer swelled on the stereo. Elena was now showing Wong their VHS player and their Disney movie collection, and Wong was astonished at the technology this little girl was so cavalier about. Strange scratched his chin and looked back to Wanda at his left. “That was some pretty impressive stuff you did, in your dream.”
Wanda also had her legs out in front of her, and was scratching her chin. “Wellll. You gave me the Good Witch’s cape! And the necklace.”
Strange looked mock-hurt “It’s not a Necklace!” then caught himself and raised his hands up. “Okay, you got me. Who am I kidding. It’s pretty much a necklace.” Wanda laughed. “But I mean it, kid. Everything you dreamed about… you did that on your own.”
Wanda looked at her sister and Wong and asked with a soft voice. “Can I do that in real life?”
Strange also looked across the room. “I don’t know, Wanda. Maybe… Definitely someday… Someday soon.”
Wanda simply remarked “it’s scary.” She didn’t say it with fear or trepidation, just as an observation. As if describing a truck as noisy or a dog as furry.
What a girl. Wise enough to realize that wielding tremendous power IS a scary thing. Strange thought that this 6 year old girl is probably more wise than this world’s Sorcerer Supreme. “You’re right. It IS scary.”
Gretchen and Lynda walked back into the room, carrying more coffee and sandwiches. Wanda looked at Doctor Strange. “But it’s a GOOD scary.”
* * *
* * *
A month and a half later, Lynda Carter was taking files and books out of a box and arranging them at a desk in a tiny office at New York Downtown Hospital. She was dumping a fresh box of pens into a drawer when there was a knock on open door, and a very nervous, puzzled bike courier handed her an envelope. “Lynda Carter? Take it, please.”
She took the envelope and immediately the courier looked relieved – immediately turned on his heel and ran back to the street entrance.
The envelope was old and had no return address. She opened it and two business cards slid out onto her desk. Printed on them was:
177a Bleecker St.
New York, NY 10012
…and… the number zero. No, a circular glyph that had two sets of curved lines, two going up and down, two going right and left. like a stylized pound-symbol on the phone. She looked at the phone on her desk, and sure enough, right between the “0” and the pound button was a button that had that glyph printed on it. She smirked, picked up the phone and pressed the impossible button. It rang three times, and then it picked up.
“Ah, you got the envelope. That was quick. I only just got back from the post office,” Strange’s voice said.
Lynda laughed. The envelope was old and yellowed and water damaged. It must have been on many shelves for many years in many offices to reach her here. “You got a bat-phone!”
“And I got the Post-Office idea from another one of your films.” Strange sounded proud of himself. “Mind you, it took a while to explain to them what I wanted to do.”
“You are so full of it.” She closed her office door. “I’m at my new office. I just started today. My Mom doesn’t even know where I am yet.”
There was a pause. “Ahh, well I might have also put an enchantment on the envelope, just to make sure it got to you.”
“You sneaky fucker.” She laughed.
Strange laughed too. “Don’t lose that card. So long as you have it, you can come to the house, anytime. It won’t be hidden to you. And as you already know, you can call me from any phone. Give the other card over to the Valtcheva’s, if you could.” there was a pause. The phone connection sounded old. Strange must be talking on an old Bakelite phone. It seemed so bizarre that they’re talking from two different points in time. “I don’t want to miss anything ever again. Not a case, or patient, or, heaven forbid, another funeral. Don’t hesitate to call me if you need anything, Lynda.”
She smiled. He was aloof and obtuse at first… but hearing his voice now, this must be the Stephen Strange that her mentor knew so well. “I will. Thank you.”
There was another pause. He spoke again “Uh, Arno visited us last week.” Lynda’s smile faded. “He was younger than when you knew him. It wasn’t your Arno.” Lynda felt a pang of sadness hearing these words. Strange was just beginning his partnership with Arno, going on all those wild adventures while her time with him was done. She wanted to tell Strange to tell him so many things, but as if he anticipated this answer, Strange said “I couldn’t say anything. It didn’t feel right. And he wouldn’t have known who you were.”
Lynda nodded pushing the frog in her throat down and away. “Yeah. I figured.” she wiped a tear away, and she was back in business. “It’s OK,” she said solemnly. Lynda missed him very much, but life moves on. Even if it seems out of order. “So, what’d he need help with?”
“I think it was his first case. If not his first, It was one of his early ones, at least. He was having some difficulty with a demon in a theater. The newspapers turned up. Big Broadway premiere almost went to Hell. Literally.”
Lynda laughed and asked to Strange tell her more about the incident. She sat down and leaned back in her new desk chair. Unpacking the office could wait. She wanted to hear it all, and as Strange began to weave the tale, she made a quiet mental note to dig out that old issue of NOW magazine this evening and see if Strange embellished any of the story.
– – END – –
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