Mind the Gap
By Rowena Zahnrei
"Dude!" Freddy shouted over the fray, swooping down though the dusty haze to join the rest of his superpowered family on the ground: six battling superheroes in colorful, caped uniforms, all with a glowing lightning bolt symbol emblazoned on their chests. "Who even is this guy!"
"He's so big," his kid sister Darla observed, zipping over like a purple flash to stand by Freddy as she watched her older, red-clad siblings, Billy and Mary, work in concert to evade the monster's punches. "His whole body is, like, nothing but muscles!"
"He's no match for these guns," Pedro said, his bearded face breaking into a fierce grin as he flexed his bulging biceps under his green uniform. "Just watch me—"
"RRRRAAAAAHHHHRRRRR!" the muscular giant roared, his thick hand shooting out to grab their brother Billy by the throat and lift him into the air.
"Oh no!" Darla cried. "He's strangling him!"
"He can't do that to our brother," Eugene shouted, striding through the dust of battle like a grey thundercloud to unleash twin bolts of lightning on the monster's torso. Darla raced the sizzling bolts at super-speed, following up their shocking impact with a fierce kick to the shin.
The monster howled, but didn't loosen his grip on his captive – until Pedro leaped up and landed on the brute like a tank, knocking his shaved head back with a powerful one-two punch.
Billy rolled away at once, accepting Freddy's supportive sky-blue arm as he coughed and caught his breath, his face nearly as red as his suit.
"Hey, man, you OK?" Freddy said, wincing as the muscular miscreant launched Pedro into a parked car.
Billy nodded. "Yeah, yeah, fine. That guy's got some grip!" he said and cast his gaze around the scene, taking stock of the situation.
His family had managed to hold their own against the monster so far, but it was becoming pretty clear that they wouldn't be able to stop his raging rampage through the city through sheer force alone. Already, their battle against the baddie had left quite the trail of destruction. Everywhere he looked, he saw shattered store windows, cratered pavement, smashed-up cars, spurting hydrants…
This fight wasn't protecting their city, it was turning the place into a battered ruin.
It was time for someone to take charge.
"Wisdom of Solomon," Billy said, and flashed Freddy a wink. "Keep the others in reserve for me, OK? I'm gonna try a different approach."
Billy flew at the monster before Freddy could speak, his white-gold cape fluttering heroically behind him.
"Hey, big man," he taunted, zipping and floating just out of the monster's grasping reach. "What's the beef? Did you come here because you want something, or do you just like getting your ass beat by a family of awesome superheroes? 'Cause if it's the first, you know, maybe I could help? But if it's the second, and you're just after the pain, man…I don't know, maybe you need, like, some counseling or something…"
The hulking monster sneered, and wiped the blood from his chin.
"So," he snarled contemptuously, his eyes narrowing as he regarded the square-jawed superhero, looking him up and down from his broad shoulders and billowing cape to his gleaming, golden boots. "This is the chosen champion of the wizard Shazam. This is the world's mightiest mortal - the captain of the lightning and the thunder?" He laughed.
"Hey, the guy can talk!" Eugene exclaimed, but Mary shushed him, gesturing that they should pay attention.
The monster smirked.
"Strange strategy, to spread your strengths so thin," he said, gesturing to Billy's superpowered siblings. "How do you expect to defeat me, when you share your powers among these others?"
Billy snorted at the hulking giant.
"Dude, I don't even know you," he said. "How about you tell me your name? Then we can discuss who's got the stronger strategy. You, standing there all alone? Or me, with, like, an entire team behind me."
"Yeah!" Pedro shouted.
"You tell him, Champ!" Freddy cheered.
The monster scoffed.
"I knew the wizard had picked a fool, but I didn't expect you to be so ignorant. So childish!" the man spat, and Billy frowned. "Like you, champion, my name derives from the powers bestowed upon me. The concentrated talents and abilities of four of the most evil, the most terrifying men to ever walk this earth!"
"Only four?" Now it was Billy's turn to scoff. "Dude, I got, like, six. And they're the good guys!"
"So I've heard," the man said grimly. "The wizard transferred to you the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury. But, what are the powers of mythical gods, heroes and kings compared to the monstrosities that lurk within the human mind? The human soul!" The man cackled. "I wield the dreadful terror inspired by Ivan the Terrible, the cunning of Cesare Borgia, the fierceness of Attila the Hun, the twisted cruelty of Caligula!"
Billy counted off the listed names on his fingers, furrowing his brow as he worked out the possible acronyms. "Ivan, Cesare, Atilla, Caligula," he mused. "So…that would make you, what? ICAC?" He smirked and snorted a derisive laugh. "What kind of stupid name is Icac?"
The hulking man's face reddened and he released a roar so terrible Billy winced and raised his arms to protect his face from the spittle.
"Not ICAC, you imbecile!" the monster shouted. "My name is Ibac! IBAC!"
A cloud of fire and brimstone erupted around the hulking figure and Billy immediately swooped in, lifting the man out of the sulfurous cloud and flying him high into the air. Speaking his name had transformed the muscular monster into a wiry old man with wide, startled eyes. The man gasped, but Billy clapped his strong hand over the man's mouth before he could speak.
"No way, grandpa," he said. "I'm not giving you a chance to change back into that muscle headed monster."
"He did it! He got him!" Darla cheered from far below, and Billy glanced down to grin at his family, and the applauding crowd of people starting to make their way out from behind broken windows and chunks of concrete to stand in the sunny street. As his siblings flew up to join him in the air, he said, "Great job, guys. I'm sure the cops will have plenty of charges to hang on this loser."
"I brought this," Mary said, holding out some torn, singed cloth she'd gathered from a ruined display window. "Thought you could use it for a gag or something."
"And I wrote a warning note," Darla said, holding up one of several loose greeting cards she'd caught blowing down the street from the shattered drugstore. "It says: Dear Police, Reporters and Lawyers, Don't let this guy say IBAC. Love, The Shazam Family! See – I drew a heart!"
Freddy and Eugene groaned and shared a smirk, but Billy grinned broadly.
"I like it! Good thinking, both of you," he praised and, with the speed of Mercury, the man who had been Ibac found himself securely bound and gagged and dangling from a storefront flagpole, listening to the jeers of the crowd and the wail of the approaching police cars.
"That'll teach you to tear up our city!" someone in the crowd shouted.
"Yeah, man!" another cheered. "We've got our own superheroes now!"
The people looked up, scanning the sunny blue sky. But, their job done for the moment, the Shazam Family had already vanished into the light.
To Be Continued…