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Maybe the Last Archie Story: Part 1

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Post Mon Feb 14, 2005 12:50 am
darkmark90 User avatar
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Maybe the Last Archie Story

by DarkMark

Characters in this story are property of Archie Comics. No money is being made from this story, no infringement is intended.

********

Betty Cooper was sunning herself at the beach. Pointedly, she was alone.

The place where she lay on a beach blanket was isolated enough from the rest of the crowd to be hers and hers alone, and she appreciated that. She wore a red bikini, the kind of suit that would have Archie’s eyes glued to her, possibly until Veronica Lodge showed up in something even more daring.

That was the way it’d gone for years. Archie, bouncing like a tennis ball between the two of them. Ever since junior high, ever since boys and girls reached the age in which the opposite . became something other than an object to which to make rude noises. Then there was Cheryl Blossom, the girl who’d given both her and Veronica competition for a long time. But...

...well, there they were. All of them, all the gang, had graduated Riverdale High School the week before. Archie, Betty, Veronica, Reggie, Jughead, Moose, Midge, Big Ethyl, Dilton Doiley, Cheryl and her brother Jason. Even Sabrina Spellman, who’d gone to another school but came to their grad party to see them again. They’d turned the tassels on their mortarboards, accepted their diplomas, gotten their class rings turned around, marched off stage, gone to the party, whooped it up, and then stayed out till way late in the morning, reminescing, doing their American Graffiti bit. Then it was time to go. To go home and crash.

To go home and, in some of their cases, cry.

Betty knew she had. Archie had sat between her and Veronica. Reggie, driving, had been seated next to Cheryl, who was seated next to Jug. The backseat arrangement seemed symbolic. Reggie seemed to be getting along fine with Cheryl. And Jughead seemed to be getting along fine with a bag of burgers from Wendy’s. Dilton, Moose, Midge, Sabrina, Jason, and Ethel had taken Moose’s car. All of them had gone to the beach, not far from where Betty was lying right now. They’d thrown a football back and forth, drained a 3-liter bottle of Coke, and talked. Lord, how they’d talked.

“I’m going to State,” said Veronica, matter-of-factly, sitting on the hood of Reggie’s car. “Daddy’s paying my way, of course.”

“Hmm, tried for a scholarship, Ronnie?”, Archie had asked.

“Don’t be stupid, Archiekins. Getting a scholarship would defeat the whole purpose of the thing. Daddy’s supposed to pay for my education.”

“And pay and pay and pay for it,” said Reggie. “Well...what the hey. I’m going out of state.”

Betty had looked at him. “Where to, Reg? I thought you were gonna stay with the rest of us.”

The boy with the incredibly well-kept black-hair leaned back against the side of the car. “That was the plan, Betty. But it kinda got shafted. My uncle pulled some strings and got me admitted to Texas A and M. That’s where he and my Dad went. Since he’s paying the bills...” Reggie looked out into space, folding his arms. “...that’s where I’m going too, it looks like,” he finished.

“Oh.” Moose had said the word, but it could have come from any of them. “D-uh, Reg, does that mean...”

Dilton, sitting on the trunk of Moose’s car in his T-shirt, shorts, tennis shoes, and ever-present glasses, had said, “It means, Moose, that the Old Guard is breaking up. That we shall, at summer’s end, say goodbye to Riverdale, and...though it pain me to say it...to each other.”

It took Moose only a few minutes to work through Dilton’s statement. That was because his friend had taken pains to make it as simple as he could, which, for Doiley, was an effort indeed. When understanding came, Moose’s face broke like that of a little kid watching the death scene in Bambi. “You’re all going away,” he said. “We’re all going away!”

The big guy looked as though he was holding himself back from crying. “Aw, Moosie,” Midge had said, and hugged her man tightly. On impulse, Betty added a hug of her own. She’d always liked the big lug, who was the size of any two average football players and almost as bright as one of them.

“It’ll be okay, Moose,” Betty had said. “Remember, you’re getting a football scholarship to State U, too. Remember?”

“Yeah,” said Moose, contemplatively. “Gee, that’s right. I’ll get to see you, Veronica!”

Resignedly, Ronnie said, “Yes, I guess you will, Moose. Sometimes.”

Sabrina, a freckle-faced gamin whose hair was so blonde as to be almost white, put aside the chicken salad she’d been eating and stood up. “I have to admit, even though I haven’t been around as much as I should have lately, I’m going to miss you guys, too. They’ve accepted me at the University of Massachusets in Salem. I’ll be leaving in a few weeks. But I’ll miss you all. Even you, Jug.” She reached out and gave him a playful hug. Jughead’s eyes flew up to half-mast and it was all he could do to get his current bite of burger to keep going the right way. The rest of the crew had laughed.

“Bree, we’ll miss you, too,” Betty had said, not mentioning the fact that weird and suspicious stuff seemed to happen whenever Sabrina was around. “What’ll you be studying in Salem? Cigarette manufacturing?”

Sabrina made a face. “History. Early American. I’m going to be a teacher, I hope. You, Betty?”

Nodding, Betty had said, “Education degree. I’m going to teach elementary ed. Not your kind of thing, but I think I can do it well.”

Sabrina had smiled. “I know you will,” she said, and put her arms around Betty. “I’ll give you my address when I get there, Blondie. And you’d better write.”

“Believe it, Bree,” Betty had said. “Believe it.”

It was Jughead who had the next verse. “This is cruel,” he said.

Archie had turned to his old sidekick. “What, Jug? Heck, I know it hurts. But it’s not cruel. Separation is, well, natural.”

Jughead shook his head, under his ever-present beanie. “Not from where I’m sittin’, Arch. Look. The five of us have been together since grade school. You, me, Reggie, Betty, and Ronnie. Not like the rest aren’t part of the gang, too, but I’m just sayin’. We’ve been twelve years together. I remember...I remember all those times, Arch.”

“Yeah, Jug, I remember them, too,” Archie had said, softly.

“All the exploring we used to do together,” Jug continued. “You and me and your dog, Spotty. Betty and Reggie and Ronnie, too. All of those adventures. That crazy guy, Mad Doctor Doom.”

A chill had gone through Betty at the mention of that name. The man who called himself Mad Doctor Doom had been a genuine, dyed-in-the-wool mad scientist. As kids, the five of them who formed the original gang had crossed his path once, helped foil him and get him back to the asylum, and then kept crossing his path again and again. Thankfully, he got moved out of state when the lot of them were in junior high, and they hadn’t seen or heard of him in over five years. Betty hoped it would be a lifetime.

But she, too, remembered how much fun they’d had, how many improbable adventures. By contrast, high school was almost normal. Almost.

“Yeah, sweetie, you told me about ‘em,” Big Ethyl had said, squeezing Jughead’s hand. “Even though they’re hard to believe.”

“Twelve years,” Jughead had repeated. “That’s...a lotta history.”

Silence.

Midge had finally made the next remark. “Everything’s history, Jug. Everything changes. Phases end. This one...well...it’s just about to end, too.” She paused. “Whether we like it or not.”

“And I don’t,” Moose rumbled.

“We have no choice, Moose,” Dilton had said. “The door behind us closes, the door ahead of us opens.”

“I can hold any door shut or closed!”

“Not this one, old friend. Not this one.”

Moose had cogitated on that, and had said nothing.

It was getting to the point at which Betty mentally compared it to a term from an old Doonesbury strip she’d read. She was about to yell, “Bummer alert!”. Thankfully, Reggie did a save.

“Hey. Hey, Arch. You remember the band?”

Archie had looked up. “What? Oh, the Archies?” He grinned, sheepishly. “Like I could ever forget, Reg.”

Betty had smiled. The five of the Original Gang had formed a garage band a couple of years back, and turned out to have enough talent to cut a record, “Sugar Sugar”, which became a local hit. A big time record mogul heard it, or one of his talent scouts heard it, which amounted to the same thing. They’d managed to make a national hit out of that one, and had a few more in a short string before life intervened and they’d had to stop making music. They couldn’t tour, anyway, what with school and all. The Partridge Family, they weren’t.

“Well, y’know, we didn’t exactly bring any instruments with us,” Reg had said, casually. “But in case there’s any blues around here that need blowin’ away, we’ve still got a capella.”

“You mean, just singing,” said Archie. “It’s been awhile, Reg. I feel like that was in another world, now.”

“Oh, shut up,” said Reggie. “With you, it’s a new world every morning. Come on, Carrot Top. ‘Sugar...ah, honey honey...’”

“Reg, stop it,” said Archie. “I don’t feel like it.”

“You are my candy, girl...and you got me wantin’ you.”

All turned to the direction the voice had come from. Moose was the one who had sung the line. “I did get it right, didn’t I?”

“You got it perfect, Moose!” Reggie was on his feet. “Come on, now, everybody. Imagine the bouncing ball. Then follow it. Ahhhh...ready? You too, Dilton, Sabrina, Midge, Ethyl. You know the words, and if you don’t, they’re easy to pick up. They’re not exactly Dylan. Ready? Now, ahhhh...”

Archie had stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. “Wait a minute, Reg. Aren’t you forgetting who leads this band? Ah-one-anna-two...”

“Sugar...ah, honey, honey...”

The lot of them united as if it was a year and a half ago and nothing had ever changed since then. The harmony, thanks to the add-on folks, wasn’t perfect, but it didn’t have to be. And when Betty bleated out her trademarked line, “I can make life so sweet!”, she felt a rush of nostalgia so strong she could barely continue. But she did. So did the others.

They went on for another few songs...”Bang-Shang-A-Lang,” and the best of their repertoire, “Who’s Your Baby?”. Archie and Reggie hit hard on that risque line, “And if ya had enough, hey, wouldja gimme some?” But the fun part about it was, they didn’t hit it as hard as Dilton Doiley, who was, in his secret life, a kareoke superstar.

They managed a few more songs, mostly album cuts, a few contemporary ones. Then Ronnie had yawned and said, “Well, what’s next? I mean, we’re just about sung out...”

“And tired out,” Big Ethyl had mumbled, lying face down on the hood of Moose’s car.

“Well, I don’t know,” Archie had admitted. “But there is one I heard just recently and I kinda liked it. Off an Elvis Costello album.”

“Elvis Costello?” Sabrina had said. “Since when are you into him?”

“He ain’t bad, on some things. Uh...” Archie had looked at Betty. “Would you mind if I sang it, Bet?”

“Mind?” Betty had been puzzled. “Why should I mind, Arch?”

“Because the name of the song is ‘Veronica’.”

“Oh.” Betty had hoped she could keep her face from falling to basement level. “Oh. Well, that’s fine by me, Archie. Really, it’s fine. Go ahead.”

“You sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure. Go ahead.”

And he had. Archie sang the song solo, including the line, “You can call me anything you want, but my name is Veronica.” Ronnie’s eyes had lit up at that one. Betty had remained silent. Afterward, the crew had given him a round of applause; he had, indeed, done well by the song. Even Betty clapped for him.

Veronica Lodge snuggled up against Archie and kissed him on the cheek. He put an arm around her, but looked at Betty with some concern. For her part, Betty hoped she had maintained a . face, even though she never played ..

And awhile after that, the group of them piled into the cars, went to their homes, and most of them had breakfast and then slept.

It had been a week since then. Betty hadn’t seen Archie since that night, hadn’t tried to see him, really. She lay on the beach, alone, and wondered. It was probable that she was reading too much into it. Blazes, it was just a song. If there’d been one called “Betty”, he probably would have sung it to her. And maybe she should have gone over and embraced him, too.

But there was no song called “Betty”, as far as she knew. Just as she knew there was no real social competition for Veronica, as far as Betty Cooper went. Sure, Archie had been attracted to both of them. But which of them could offer him more in life? The middle-class family she came from, or the wealthy clan of the Lodges?

There was nothing more to be said about it. She had suspected for all too long that this was the way it would end. Just like Dilton had said, the door closed behind you, the door opened in front of you, and all you could do was go through it. No choice, really.

Except in some things. You could, for example, choose sunglasses when you went out to the beach. And you could go to a relatively deserted part of it. You could also lie with your face on the blanket.

All of those things would make it harder for people to tell if you were about to shed tears, or not.

Of course, from that position, it was also harder—in fact, impossible—for Betty Cooper to see the car which pulled up to a stop on a bluff high above the beach. It was a dark car, with tinted windows. The driver got out, though it looked like it would have taken a couple of crowbars and some grease to fit his huge body behind the wheel. He wore a hat and trenchcoat, and he took a pair of binoculars out of the pocket of the coat. With those, he looked in the direction of the beach.

Then he said, “I see her, sir. Do you want me to intercept?”

From the back seat of the car, a man holding a gold-tipped cane and dressed in clothing that, if anything, was more concealing than the driver’s, made his pronouncement.

“Not yet, Gross,” said Mad Doctor Doom. “Not yet.”

To be continued...

Post Mon Feb 14, 2005 11:06 am
darkmark90 User avatar
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Maybe the Last Archie Story

Part 2

by DarkMark

Alice Cooper had noted that Betty seemed to be trying to fly with a broken wing for the last week. Thus she was glad when her daughter came back in from the beach, and was able to give her the news.

“Veronica wants to talk to you,” she said. “She wanted you to call when you got in, so I’m passing along the word.”

Betty stood there, still in her red bikini, beach jacket, and sandals. “Ronnie wants to talk to me?”

“Sure. Why wouldn’t she, honey? Want to tell me how long you’ve been friends?”

“Oh,” said Betty, stepping further into the front room. “Just about three-quarters of my life. But...”

“Okay,” said Alice, with a . face. “Want me to call and tell her you’re not interested?”

“No!” Betty scampered off to her room. “Don’t worry, Mom, I’ll take care of it myself.” She shut the door behind her. Alice smiled.

Betty, once in her sanctum sanctorum, fell across her bed stomach-down, grabbed the phone receiver off its cradle, and dialed up Veronica’s number. She got through Smithers, the butler, who summoned Ronnie to the phone. “Hello, Betty?”

“Hi, Ronnie,” said Betty, cautiously. She didn’t expect arrogance from Veronica this time. Even the Lodge girl had more class than that, in this circumstance. But if she was wrong—

“Well, it’s great to catch you at home, at last, Bets. How’ve you been? I’ve been worried?”

“Worried? About me?” Betty forced a laugh, kicking up her leg behind her. “You ought to know better, Ronnie. I’ve been catching some sun. Down at the beach. Where’ve you been?”

“Um, doing the same, pretty much. Around the pool. Look, Bets. Let’s talk about it, okay?”

“Thought we were talking, Veronica, dear.”

She heard Ronnie sigh. “Betty, we can’t play innocent with each other anymore. We can’t talk in code, all right? We’ve known each other too long for that. We’ve been friends too long for that. And, Betty, I’m still your friend. Are you still mine?”

“What?” Betty reached for a reaction, but all she could snag was confusion.

“I’m asking if you’re still my friend, Betty. Because I’ll be da— I’ll be switched if you quit on me just because of this. Talk to me, Bets. Please?”

Betty Cooper was dumbfounded. Here was Veronica Lodge, the queen of the sub-debs, finally victorious over her in the Battle of Archie Andrews, who’d be in position to inherit enough money to buy half of Riverdale and a controlling interest in the rest. And now, she wanted her blessings for what she’d done?

Well, blazes. It wasn’t like she wasn’t still a pal.

“It’s hard for me, Ronnie,” said Betty. “For me, Arch isn’t just a trophy. He’s somebody I loved.”

“I hate to tell you this, Bets, but he isn’t a trophy for me, either. If I wanted somebody with money enough to please Daddy, I could go get him. Don’t you think more highly of me than that? Honestly?”

Betty shifted position on the bed. “Ronnie, I think we both know each other better than that. I’ve fought with you for a long time. Most of my life, as a matter of fact. Do you think I would have put up with that from somebody I didn’t like?”

“Not likely, Bets.” Betty could hear the relief in Veronica’s voice, and was glad for it.

“It’s going to hurt a lot,” Betty admitted, sitting upright on the side of her bed. “Honestly, Ronnie, I don’t know where I’m going to find somebody to replace Archie. I mean, Reggie? Come on!”

“Well, Reg isn’t bad. He’s just not Archie.”

“Yeah. Archie’s...a good man.”

“Have to agree with you there, Bets. He really, really is a good man.” A pause. “So...we’re still friends, then?”

“Oh, Ronnie,” Betty said. “I guess we never really stopped. But...I’m hurting, okay?”

“I understand, Bets. If it was me...I don’t know what I’d do. Max out the credit cards, go on a wild spree, make Daddykins mad at me, get dragged back by my heels and have to return most of it. And it still wouldn’t help.”

“Yeah.” Betty held onto her composure. She just wouldn’t let tears into her eyes now. And that catch had to be kept out of her voice. She cleared her throat. “Well. You and Archie been partying hearty this week?”

“Uh...no,” Veronica admitted.

“What?”

“Bets, we’ve had a date. One date, last Monday. Went to the show, held hands. A goodnight kiss. But...” Veronica drew in a breath. “...he wasn’t a hundred percent there. Does that make you feel better?”

“He wasn’t?”

“No. Betty, if it helps, I think he’s hurting, too.”

“Oh. Oh, great. NO! I mean, that’s sad. I mean, I’m sorry, Ronnie, honest.”

“Oh, I know what you mean!”

Betty lay back on the bed, still clasping the receiver to her ear, and felt more relaxed. “So what’s he been doing since Monday, I wonder?”

“I don’t know,” said Veronica. “I mean, I’ve called up and talked with him a few times. Maybe more than a few. But he’s put off making another date. And, Bets, we don’t have that much time before we have to go.”

“Yeah.” Summer might seem forever in memory, but Betty knew how quickly the three months passed. This time, they wouldn’t be going back to the familiar situation. It scared her, at least 20 percent. “You tried going by his house?”

“Not yet. But if I don’t get a heads-up from him, I’m going to have to. Bets? Want to help?”

“I’m...not sure, Ronnie.”

“I understand.” Veronica let the silence last, but didn’t hang up.

Finally, Betty said, “What in heaven’s name do you want me to do?”

“Why don’t you call up and see what’s going on? If he’s out of things, I want to know about it. I want to know what to do.”

And if he’s really reconsidering, thought Betty, there might be one little blonde who could capitalize on it. “I guess I could do that. Maybe.”

“I knew I could count on you, Bets. But remember, no poaching.”

“Wouldn’t think of it. But, Ronnie, there’s one alternative you haven’t considered.”

“Oh, I’ve considered her! But my spy network isn’t reporting much activity on the Cheryl Blossom front. If I’d heard about that, I wouldn’t be calling up like this, Betty.”

“Yeah,” said Betty.

“I’d have been over so both of us could plan revenge.” Ronnie’s tone of wicked joy made Betty grin. They’d hatched enough plots like that, over the years.

What the heck. “Okay, Ronnie. Just for you, I’ll give Archie a call. We’ll see what develops. Will that be good enough?”

“You have to call me! Promise you’ll call, Bets.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll call.” Jeez. Here was one of the most socially powerful girls in Riverdale, and she had to use the likes of plain old middle-class Betty to do her dirty work for her? Then again, that was what friends were for, sometimes.

And, yeah, Veronica Lodge was a friend.

“Knew I could count on you, Betty. Here’s part two: how have you been doing?”

“Hangin’ in there, Ronnie. You know me.”

“How’d you like to hit the mall? With fifty dollars to the tune of my Mastercard?”

Betty smiled. “Maybe. Let’s put that on pause for the moment, okay? Let me see if I can make contact. If Agent Betty Cooper can’t find out what’s what in this situation, nobody can.”

“Great. You have your assignment, Agent Cooper. The fate of all Riverdale rests in your little dishpan hands. Be in touch.”

“Affirmative. Later.”

“Bye, Bets. And...God bless.”

“You too, Ronnie. Definitely God bless.” Betty pushed the plunger to break the connection. She kept her hand there for a few moments, assimilating all the new information she’d received, getting back in equilibrium. Then she lifted her hand, heard the dial tone, and dialed a familiar set of digits. The phone rang twice before somebody picked up on it.

“Hello?” It was Archie’s mom on the other end.

“Mrs. Andrews? Hi, it’s Betty. How are you doing?”

“Fine, Betty. Good to hear from you, too. Give me one guess. You want Archie, and he’s out.”

“Oh.” Well. Minor setback. “You know who he’s out with and when he’ll get back?”

“As for the first, he’s out with Jug. As for the second, if he or Juggy don’t have enough money, when he gets hungry. If they do, probably when he wants to sleep. And no, I don’t know where they went.”

“Message received and noted, Mrs. Andrews,” said Betty, laying back on the bed. “Hey, two things, please. Would it be okay if you had him call me when he gets back in?”

“I can ask him to.”

“Good. And would it be okay if maybe I came over later on and waited for him? Would that be okay?”

“Betty, you know you’re always welcome over here. Right?”

“Absolutely, Mrs. A. I may be by later on. Check you soon, okay?”

“Surely, Betty. And it’s good to hear you in such spirits. Take care, okay?”

“You too, Mrs. Andrews. You too.” Betty placed the phone back on the cradle. Okay. Spadework was done. Now it was time to get into the field.

Betty opened her closet and reviewed the array of clothes critically. Okay, T-shirt, shorts, wrestler, white socks and tennis shoes for this mission. But first, the shower. She grabbed the doorknob, exploded from her room, paused long enough to snatch a towel from the hall closet, and was swallowed by the bathroom.

Looking on, Alice Cooper smiled. Evidently the stars were moving back into alignment, angels were still watching on high, the Union still stood strong, and her daughter was getting her head on straight once again.

Maybe this time, it’d last for more than 24 hours.

-A-

Sometimes, Pop Tate thought his Chok’lit Shoppe was something like Rick Blaine’s bar in Casablanca. Yeah. He seriously thought that, sometimes. There weren’t any storm troopers and Free French having singing duels, but he’d heard enough kids singing along with everybody from Elvis and Hank Ballard down to Hanson and Garth Brooks. Nobody who looked quite like Bogart and Bergman, but he’d seen plenty of romances beginning, blossoming, and sometimes breaking over his malts, burgers, and banana splits. No Dooley Wilson playing piano, but you couldn’t have everything.

There had been marriages born in this place, further generations of kids, babies who were brought up here for their first taste of a chocolate shake, and proceeded through the various stages of foodism year by year. Sometimes they came back as over-twenties, even as over-fifties. But mainly, Pop Tate’s place was a kids’ place. And, truth to tell, he didn’t mind that at all.

Every year, he saw the regular crew age a bit, grow taller, more vital, more crazy and serious all at the same time. Every Friday night in the fall, the inevitable crush after the football game. But no matter what it was, sports or academic matters, seekers of relief from exams or studying or romance, they came to Pop’s. Everybody comes to Pop’s, he thought, with a stroke of satisfaction.

But the ones he’d enjoyed having around most, though he’d never admit it out loud, were Archie and his posse. Sure, sometimes they ran up a tab only the parents could pay. Sometimes they were too loud. But so what? He’d never had to throw them out for being too unruly. He’d never seen any of them drunk, or high, or bloody from a fight, or having gotten “in trouble”. No, Archie’s bunch were the kind of kids who went to church, did the sort of things kids were supposed to do...well, mostly...and, if they got into trouble, no, when they got into trouble, did so because of Archie’s harebrained schemes, or somebody’s harebrained schemes, and usually got out of it without too much damage. None that lasted, anyway.

Now the redhead and his court jester Jughead were manning a booth in the middle of the afternoon, and talking over Serious Matters. Pop Tate knew better than to disturb them. Jughead was working on the third of five burgers. For him, matters were normal. But Archie?

The kid had only wasted half of a vanilla shake, and there was still enough left of his burger to vote controlling interest in a company, if it had one.

Something was wrong with the boy. But Pop Tate knew better than to intervene. One had the front to put up, like a commander in a war. Yeah. Sometimes, with little persuasion, he could consider this place such a scene, almost imagining it in black-and-white, pre-Technicolor glory.

At any rate, if things got too quiet, he could slip a quarter into the machine and play one of the old standards he kept just for himself. “Deep Purple”, maybe. Not the bunch that did “Smoke on the Water”, for sure. “Play it again, Tate,” he said to himself, sotto voce.

Certain that he was at the nerve center of everything that mattered in Riverdale, no matter what others might perceive, Pop Tate took out his bar rag deliberately, and polished the counter as if John Huston was pointing the camera straight at him.

Never look at the camera, directly. Just pretend it isn’t there.

Just pretend.

-A-

“The crew seems to think everything’s settled among us, Jug,” said Archie. “It isn’t settled anyway. No way, no how.”

“Uh huh,” Jughead said, approximately. He had food consumption down to an art, and it sometimes irritated him that Archie and company didn’t always perceive it. Then again, Van Gogh didn’t sell too many paintings in his lifetime. Sometimes, one served best who only stood, or sat, and ate.

“It’s still in flux,” Archie said, clasping his hands above the table. “It’s always been in flux.”

“Well...Archie...if you’ll permit an observation, lemme tell ya, it’s about to be unfluxed. About ten weeks from now, we are outta here.”

“That’s a pretty obvious observation, Jug.”

Jughead scarfed up half an order of fries before speaking, which cost him five seconds. “Sometimes you need somebody to make those observations, Arch. You got to make a choice. People think you’ve already made it. Maybe you have.”

“Maybe I haven’t,” Archie said, quietly.

“You sure?”

“I’m never sure, Jug. Who’d have thought just singing that song would have hurt Betty so much? I mean...”

Jughead shrugged. “You’ve got one. They just come one to a customer, Arch, unless you’re a rock star or a head of state.”

“Yeah. But if I stay with her, it hurts Betty. If I go with Betty, it hurts Ronnie. That’s what’s kept me in stasis, Jug. I’ve never been able to think about who I want the most for very long, because...well...I couldn’t stand to hurt the other.”

“So why choose? Think about something important. Food, for instance. Or school.”

“I think about school a lot.”

“Too bad you don’t talk about it as much as you do girls.”

“Okay.” Archie eyed his burger, took it, and almost lifted it. Then he said, “But school’s definite. It’s concrete. The decision is made about it. And that’s that. Now, about Ronnie, or Betty...I could stay with Ronnie. I mean, that’s what everyone’s expecting, now.”

“Who’s everyone, Arch?” Jughead paused, and then ravaged his fourth burger.

“Everyone except me, and maybe the girls. I haven’t had the guts enough to get hold of either Ronnie or Betty this last week.”

“Then, that is, like, not everyone. Wouldn’t you say?” Jug sucked up the remainder of his cola, set it aside, and held up two fingers to Pop Tate. Obligingly, Pop came over with two more colas. After he left, Archie answered.

“No, not the most important ‘everyone’. But, y’know, Jug...sometimes, what everybody thinks about you, about what you do, becomes the way you think about yourself. Maybe because it’s easier that way. So maybe...I don’t know...”

He paused so long, Jughead had to say, “Go on, Arch.”

“Maybe, this is Fate’s way, or even God’s way, of making a decision for me. It could be that I’m supposed to go with Ronnie. I don’t know. I mean, it could be worse. She’s beautiful, she’s rich, she’s...well...she’s great. Okay, a little spoiled, but not as much as some. So maybe...”

“So, maybe, what?”

The voice was female. Both Archie and Jughead looked up to see a brown-haired vision in halter, shorts, running shoes, and a turned-around cap. Cheryl Blossom smiled at them, knowingly. “Mind if I slip in here, boys? A girl could use some company, in days like these.”

“Uh, hi, Cheryl,” said Archie, uneasily. “It’s just...well, me and Jug were just having some guy talk.”

She slid into the seat beside him by main force, as irresistable as an election landslide. “So just consider me one of the guys. Archie, I bet I know something about you that you don’t know yourself.”

“That wouldn’t be too hard, these days,” Archie said, resignedly. Jughead was eyeing Cheryl with the look one gives a floating mine at sea.

“I know you’re really not decided between the two bimboes, no matter what everyone thinks. So...why limit yourself to them?”

He turned on her with a look of real venom. “They’re not bimboes. Don’t let me ever catch you calling them that, Cheryl. Never.”

“Okay. I’m sorry, Arch. Vicki and Betty are definitely not bimboes.”

“I’d better never hear that word from you again in conjunction with them, Cheryl. Understood?”

“What’s with the hostility? I said I was sorry. Archie.” She dug her fingers into his arm, and he tried to pull back. “I know what you need.”

I need, he thought, to get away from you. Far, far away. Right now.

“You need to go out with somebody who isn’t either one of them. And, hey. I’m volunteering.”

“Uh, thanks, Cheryl, but...no thanks.”

“Don’t prejudge things, Archie. Listen. I’m not asking for anything heavy, just go out, have ourselves a time, blow away the cobwebs, get into some industrial-strength fun. You could use some of that, right? Am I right?”

“Well...”

“Look at you. You’ve been down for a week. I can tell. Make it a scientific experiment, Arch. You go out with me, and if you have a good time, you know that you’re still not committed. Or that you might like a third party. Worth a try, right?”

“Cheryl. I appreciate it, but right now...”

“Right now I have a big car waiting for us. Right now I have a week’s allowance to spend, and I want to spend it with you. Come on, Archie. You chose me once, over both of them. Isn’t it about time we get to see where that leads?”

Archie was about to give an answer when something at the shop window caught his eye.

A familiar blonde hairstyle, brow, and pair of eyes, peeking in over the curtain from outside. He couldn’t tell whether the eyes were widening or not, but it didn’t matter. One didn’t have to be a sage in order to know what they were seeing, and how the brain behind them was reacting.

Archie tried to get up. Cheryl held his arm. “Where are you going?”

“Cheryl, let go. I’ve got to get up.”

“Not until you give me an answer!”

“Blast it, let GO!” The blonde head was no longer visible. Archie hated being rude. But he flatly shoved Cheryl out of the booth. Pop Tate, for his part, gaped. So did Jughead. Pop came almost on the run.

Archie didn’t care. He rushed to the double doors, threw them wide, looked out onto the street.

“Betty? Betty!”

She was nowhere in sight.

Inwardly, he cursed. Cheryl was by his side, almost materializing there. “You saw her?”

“She saw you,” Archie grated.

She considered it for a second. “Good.”

Before he could do something he knew he’d regret, Archie stamped away towards his car. He’d settle up with Pop Tate later.

Some things were even more important than paying bills.

-A-

In her room, Sabrina reflected that, for her, life was unusually good. At least she didn’t have the hassles that the rest of the gang seemed to have. Right now, she was unattached, with a career plan, a college that would accept her, and, probably, a berth right in Boy Central. Plus, she’d be in Salem, where it all began. She could hardly wait.

Then she heard her aunt Hilda cry out. In fear.

Sabrina was out of her room like a shot. Her black cat ran by her side. It wasn’t that far a distance, actually, to the den where her Mom had been watching Wheel of Fortune on TV. But she wasn’t in the recliner anymore, and there were two intruders in the room.

One of them seemed to have a very greenish face. The other was huge, and had a knife poised at her aunt’s throat. Aunt Hilda wasn’t saying anything, and her eyes, understandably, were filled with fear.

Sabrina raised her hands.

“I wouldn’t advise it, Miss Spellman,” said the green-faced man, unhurriedly. “No matter what you do to us, it won’t be in time. My assistant will cut your aunt’s throat before you can accomplish a single thing.”

Sabrina found her voice. “Who are you? What do you want?”

The green-faced man smiled. “We want help, Miss Spellman. The sort of help only you can give us. And you will give us that help, Miss Spellman.

“Whether you like it, or not.”

To be continued...

Post Mon Feb 14, 2005 11:08 am
Rik User avatar
MightyCrusaders.net
MightyCrusaders.net

Posts: 1771
Location: California

Since I am the host, I usually don't comment on the stories posted here.
I don't want to play favorites, but since you asked...

I have never thought about what would happen when the Riverdale Gang graduated.
I always assumed they would remain young forever.
When I first saw them they were older them I was,
now they are the same age as my children.

It was a fun beginning, it was an interesting concept,
It was nice to see the cartoon/band pulled into the story,
since that was my introduction to the Archies.
I was a little surprised that only Reggie and Sabrina were going out of state,
I went to my own State's University and very few of my high school friends joined me there.

I look forward to seeing future installments.
Rik
http://www.mightycrusaders.net
Everything you ever wanted to know about the Mighty Crusaders, from the Golden Age to today.

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Post Tue Feb 15, 2005 2:50 am
darkmark91

Maybe the Last Archie Story

Part 3

by DarkMark

“You see, Miss Spellman,” said Mad Doctor Doom, “you see, the portrait of us as villains from the movies is not far off from the real truth. We are ruthless. It is just that, until the action moves from the silver screen to real life, that you do not know what the term ‘ruthless’ really means.”

“What do you intend to do with me?” Sabrina’s hands were shackled by handcuffs of cold iron, as were those of her aunts, Hilda and Zelda. The metal, a traditional ward against witches, inhibited their powers. Her aunts had been taken elsewhere by Doom’s hireling, the one he named “Gross”...which was, Sabrina thought, not an exaggeration. That left only Sabrina there, sitting in their kitchen in her red T-shirt, blue jean cut-offs, and tennis shoes.

“Very simple,” said Doom, who was in the den just beyond, which was connected by an open doorway. He was setting up some apparatus he’d brought in from his car. It was hypertechnical, but Sabrina could recognize some of the patterns in which he was constructing it. “You’re going to be one of the power sources for my machine, here. The most important one. Miss Spellman, together we shall make history...and make it right.”

A new presence entered the room. It was small, covered in black and white fur, and agitated. The cat opened its mouth. Quietly, Sabrina said, “Salem...shhhh!”

She wasn’t quiet enough. Doom turned from his work to peer in. “A cat. Your familiar?”

“Salem is just a cat,” she said.

Doom stepped quietly into the room. “With a witch, a cat is never just a cat. Come here, kitty.” He held out a greenish hand. Salem began to recoil.

“Run, Salem,” Sabrina said.

Doom made a lunge for the cat. Sabrina threw herself in his path. Salem bounded away, just as Doom struck the girl viciously on the right side of her face and knocked her down. Tears spurted to the young witch’s eyes, but her attacker couldn’t have cared less. He ran after the cat, stepping over obstacles, pulling a .38 Smith and Wesson from beneath his lab coat.

Salem hurtled for the cat door set in the back door of Sabrina’s home. Doom drew a bead on the door that would enable him to shoot the cat within a second.

A pair of well-shaped legs kicked out at him from behind and sent him down, causing him to fire prematurely and off-target. The bolt of black and white leaped through the cat door and was gone.

Doom stumbled to his feet, apoplectic. “You,” he said, gutterally. “You...”

Sabrina, lying on the floor, steeled herself with the thought that Doom needed her to power his machine. That, she suspected, was the only thing that would make the next few minutes bearable.

-A-

Just before she pulled into the driveway, Betty Cooper saw a familiar car parked in front of her house. It was quite a bit larger than hers, quite a bit fancier, and quite a bit more expensive. So was the guy who was standing beside it.

He was quick to trot over to her car as she parked it. “Hey, Betty,” Jason Blossom said, his hands up. “I want to talk.”

Betty swung a well-tanned leg out of the car. “Don’t feel much like talking now, Jason. Especially since I’d use some words that don’t fit in with my religion.” She began walking towards the door.

Jason blocked her. “Betty,” he said.

“Get. Out. Of. My. Way.”

“Betty, I know what you’re thinking, and I—“

“There is no way you could know what I’m thinking. Get out of my way, Jason.”

“Blast it, Betty, I didn’t put Cheryl up to hitting on Archie! I swear it!”

“How big of you.” Betty started to step around Jason. He grabbed her by the upper arm, trying to halt her.

A couple of seconds later, Jason found himself flat on his back on the front lawn. “Don’t ever try that again,” said Betty. “Ever.”

The youth picked himself up to a sitting position. “Okay. Forgot you knew karate. Silly, since I know you worked two years to get that black belt.”

“I’m not in the mood for this right now, Jason,” Betty bit off. “Get back in your big flashy car. Go home.” Her hand was on the door latch.

“What if I could help you get back at Archie?”

Betty’s hand froze. She didn’t turn around, but she didn’t move.

Jason Blossom pulled himself to his feet. “Just listen. Betty, you know how I feel about you, okay? You’re not like some kind of, well, trophy.”

She whirled, her eyes ablaze. “How big of you, Jason. How very, very big of you.”

He moved a little closer, his hands still up. “Betty, just hear me out, okay? Then you can go back inside, or whatever you want to do. Believe me. Cheryl told me she was going to vector in on Archie. I didn’t put her up to it, and I mean it. Okay? Her idea. But that got me thinking about you. About us.”

Her arms crossed, Betty waited and glared.

“So here’s what I’m thinking, Betty,” said Jason, a bit more calmly. “I don’t know if he’s an item with Ronnie Lodge, or if he’ll end up with sis, or what. But I’ve got a counteroffer. What if he saw us together? What kind of scenario does that suggest to him?”

When she didn’t say a word, Jason pushed forward, using the sales techniques he’d picked up interning for his dad’s computer company. “Just consider it, Betty. If—if—he’s hooked up with Ronnie, maybe it’s because of money. Status. That’s what I’d guess, anyway.”

“You would,” she said.

“But supposing...just supposing...he sees you out with me. Consider it, Betty. As far as money, status go, I’ve got that. Heck, you know I’ve got it. My dad’s almost up there with Hiram Lodge, and it’s new money. Silicon Valley, not Wall Street. That puts you on equal footing with him, now. He’ll see it, and he’ll know it. And the old green-eyed monster can work wonders, Betty. We both know that.”

Betty sighed. “And you think Archie will get jealous when he sees us out together and dump Veronica for me?”

Jason smiled. “I never said it out loud, but, hey...it’s a possibility.”

“And what are you supposed to get out of it, pray tell?”

The smile faded from his face as he leaned against Betty’s house. “I get the chance to see if I can really make you love me. That’s all I’m asking.”

A long pause. “A year or two back, I could maybe have done something like that, Jason. Back when it was more of a game, both Ronnie and me going after Archie. But I can’t do that now. If Archie really wants Veronica, that’s his privilege. Also, I won’t go out with somebody just because of the size of his wallet. That’s not me. And it never will be.”

Jason worked his tongue inside of his mouth and tried to think of a good exit line.

Betty said, “But maybe it’s time I started doing things just for myself. You can’t stay in Riverdale forever, and I don’t have too much time left here, myself.”

His eyes came up and met hers.

“I’m free tonight, Jason,” said Betty. “But I’m not going anywhere just to be seen with you. If we go out, it’s just for us.”

He nodded. “Six-thirty all right by you?”

“Yeah, I suppose.” She unlatched the door and opened it. “Keep this away from your sister, okay?”

“I’ll try, honeybunch.”

“You’ll do it.” She stepped inside, closed the door, and locked it.

Jason trudged over to his car and got inside. Then he banged his knuckles together in joy, revved the engine, and burned rubber until he remembered he was in a residential area.

Money might not buy you happiness, but at least it could get you access.

-A-

Reggie banged on the door to Archie’s room. “Hey, Arch. It’s Mantle the Magnificent. You cannot resist my summons. Open up!”

“Aw, Reg,” said Archie, from inside. “Go away.”

“Ain’t gonna,” affirmed Reggie, standing there in his Riverdale letter jacket. “Made arrangements with your mom to ship me sandwiches until you open the door. Give way to the inevitable, Red.”

“What d’you want, Reg?”

“Talk.”

“Anybody with you?”

“Just my own magnificent presence.”

Archie opened the door. He looked like he’d been sleeping in his clothes, or trying to. “Reg,” he said, “come in.”

“Nope,” said Reggie, taking Archie’s arm gently but firmly. “We are going out.” He dragged his friend with him.

“Where?”

“Someplace therapeutic, Arch. The best physical rehab known to humankind. We’re gonna shoot baskets.”

One crosstown ride later, Archie and Reg were, indeed, at the high school gym, shooting baskets. Reggie had arranged for Coach Kleats to let them in, and the two were in tennis shoes, pants, and T-shirts, working up a moderate sweat. Reggie was making at least two baskets to each one of Archie’s, but Arch didn’t seem to mind. He was smiling.

“You’re gonna leave metal stains on that ball, Arch,” said Reggie, dribbling his own basketball expertly. “Ever hear of ‘nothing but net’?”

“Yeah, usually when I play tennis,” said Archie. He bounced one off the backboard, watched it roll around the rim, watched it fall away, hit the floor, and bounce. “Darn.”

He was still grinning. Reggie noted that, and sunk one from the free point zone. “So, Arch. Wanna talk?”

Archie recovered the basketball and dribbled it thoughtfully. “You mean about the girls?”

“Yup.”

“Seems like the whole gang is becoming an encounter group.”

“Hey, it always was.” Reggie ran up, shot one backwards, and made it. “One more demonstration of why the name ‘Mantle’ is always followed by ‘the Magnificent’. But let’s get back to you.”

Archie took the ball under one arm and leaned against the back wall of the gym. “Okay, Reg. You be the latest one to tell me what I should do.”

“Well,” said Reggie, double-dribbling, “I think you should make up with Betty.”

“I’ve tried getting hold of her. Either she’s out, or she isn’t answering her phone.”

“Arch, please,” Reggie said, sincerely. “Show the kind of initiative that would let you get through a revolving door. If she’s pitching a fit, she’s not gonna answer the phone. So we take the direct approach, like I did with you. Let’s go see her.”

Archie smiled, a bit cautiously. “Think that’s the best way? She saw me with Cheryl and ran off.”

“And now,” said Reggie, sinking another basket from half-court, “she wants you to come tell her the truth. The real score.”

“Think so?”

“Know so. Arch, believe me. Women put up the barriers and expect men to scale them. They get disappointed when we don’t. Trust me on this, okay?”

Archie dribbled down the court to the opposite basket, threw one up, and made it in without touching the rim. He turned to Reggie. “Michael Jordan lives.”

Reggie approached him. “Your call, Arch. Should we stay or should we go?”

“Let’s get a shower in first.”

“Hey, Betty plays basketball. She’d understand.”

“But her mom wouldn’t.”

“Good point. Shower first. Then destiny.”

-A-

The shower and change of clothes were followed by a hunger stop at a Wendy’s along the way. By that time, it was early evening, but the team of Andrews and Mantle soldiered on, pulling up before the Cooper residence in Reg’s car. Archie noted that Betty’s car wasn’t in its usual spot in the driveway. Reggie offered to do the honors with the door knocker, but Archie overrode him and did it himself. However, Reg reached over to press the doorbell.

Mrs. Cooper opened the door. “Oh, Archie. Reggie. Come on in.”

“Much obliged, Mrs. Cooper,” said Archie, turning on what charm he could muster. “We’d like to see Betty, if she’s in. Is she?”

Alice’s expression became more resolute. “I’m sorry, Archie. She’s out.”

“Out?” It was Reggie who spoke, in a tone of wariness.

“Out?” echoed Archie. “As in...’out’ out? Or just out doing something?”

“I’d really prefer not to say,” said Alice Cooper. “She’ll be back in later tonight, of course, Archie, but tonight might not be a good time.”

“Oh,” said Archie. “Just great. Listen. Mrs. Cooper. I’ve got to download some information to her, and if I can’t make contact with her directly, maybe I could have you pass it on?”

“Try me,” she said.

Archie drew a deep breath. “Betty saw me with another girl at Pop Tate’s. Not Veronica. But I didn’t go there with her, Cheryl came up to me. She wanted a date and I didn’t give her one. Then I saw Betty at the window, and before I could get past Cheryl to reach her, she was gone. I tried calling her up, but she didn’t answer.”

“I know,” said Mrs. Cooper.

“As for Veronica, maybe I’d better tell Betty myself. But I never meant to hurt Betty. Honest.”

Alice touched his arm. “I know you didn’t, dear. But sometimes, the greatest hurts are the ones we aren’t even trying to do. I’ll tell Betty when she comes in tonight.”

“I’d appreciate that, Mrs. Cooper. Believe me, I would. And thanks. We’ll be seeing you.” Archie turned to go.

“Sorry we missed Betty, Mrs. C,” said Reggie. “Tell her hi from me, as well.”

They left. Back in the car, Reggie said, “Well, so much for plan A. Next step?”

Archie sighed. “What else? Take me by Veronica’s house.”

-A-

And so it was that Veronica Lodge and Archie Andrews spent some more time together that should have been quality, but, instead, was rather moody. Archie downloaded the news of the Cheryl Blossom incident to Veronica, who, to her credit, understood. It was a bit late for the first run of the movies by that time, so they settled on miniature golf, instead. On the course, they met up with a familiar threesome: Moose, Midge, and Dilton. Moose attempted a putt into the windmill and made a new hole in the structure. “Oops,” he said.

“It’s okay, Moosie,” said Veronica. “I’ll help pay for that.”

Archie hefted his club in what he hoped was a nonchalant manner and said, “By the way, gang. Anybody happened to have seen Betty tonight? I was just wondering.”

“Betty?” Moose looked up. “Oh, yeah. We saw her at the show.”

“Moose,” warned Midge, and even Dilton looked uneasy.

“At the show?” Veronica held onto Archie’s arm gently. “Well, I’m glad she’s getting out of the house—“

“Who was she with, Moose?” Archie stared straight on at him. The big man didn’t speak. “Who was she with?”

“Archie, please,” warned Veronica.

“I’d like to point out that this isn’t the best location for this conversation,” said Dilton. “Perhaps, over calmer heads and a couple of malts at Pop Tate’s, we might find a better atmosphere for talk.”

“I want to know,” Archie began, but Midge interrupted him.

“Jason Blossom,” she said. “She was out with Jason. There, now. Satisfied?”

After a pause, Archie said, “Yeah. You have no idea how satisfied. Thanks, Midge.” He turned to go, leaving the rest of the links unplayed.

“Midge,” said Veronica, “I’m sorry. You too, Moose.”

“That’s all right, Ronnie,” Midge replied. “He might as well find it out from someone he can trust.”

Archie was already halfway to the car. Veronica dropped her golf club and ran after him. “Archie. Archie, wait. Aren’t you forgetting? It’s my car!”

“Right now, Ronnie, I wish I could forget everything,” he said, leaning up against the red machine. “I really wish I could do that.”

Veronica contemplated him for a moment, looked around to see that they were the only ones in the parking lot just then, and gave him a roundhouse slap. Archie cried out. “What was that for?”

Her eyes blazed at him. “For one thing, it’s to get you out of that funk party for one you’ve been in. For another, it’s to get you thinking about me. Honestly. Do I mean that little to you, Archie? We’re both Betty’s friends. I mean, she’s not really my social equal, but so what? When did that ever matter? I sent her out to find out what was going on with you, after you didn’t call me for a week, and that went into major botch mode. Now she’s out on a date herself with an unattached male. Like that’s never happened before? Have you never thought of concentrating on the person you’re with, Archie? I mean, really?”

“Ronnie, listen, I’m sorry,” Archie said, putting out his hands and taking her arms. She pulled away.

“You listen to me, Archie Andrews,” Veronica said. “I wouldn’t just slap somebody I didn’t care about. Unless I really, really, didn’t care about them. I’ve got a lot of things to say, and you’re going to listen.”

“I hate to interrupt,” said another voice. “But do you know how hard you people are to find?”

Archie and Veronica turned to the place from which the voice had come. There was nothing but parked cars to be seen. The two of them turned to each other with an expression of mild fear.

A black and white cat jumped on the trunk of Veronica’s car. “My mistress Sabrina’s in danger. She needs help. I remembered you were her friends.”

Archie finally found his voice. “Y-y-you’re a...cat!”

“Guilty as charged,” said Salem. “Can we talk?”

To be continued...

Post Wed Feb 16, 2005 11:49 am
darkmark92

Maybe the Last Archie Story

Part 4

by DarkMark

Archie’s brain was going into overload. The line between dreaming and waking, for him, was broad, well-defined, and distinct. But now...

...well, now there was a talking black-and-white cat in front of him and he didn’t know what to do about it.

“Come on,” said the cat. “We don’t have that much time, and I don’t like talking to you in the open. Know what I mean?”

“Uh...maybe,” said Veronica, standing next to Archie and looking just as flummoxed.

“Ronnie,” said Archie, turning towards her. “Look in front of us. Tell me what you see.”

“I see a black and white cat, Archie. And it’s talking to us.”

“Good. Well, I don’t really mean ‘good’, as in, ‘It’s good a cat is talking to us.’ I mean, it’s good as in, ‘It’s good that I’m not the only person here hearing things.’”

The cat huffed. “I don’t have time for this. My mistress is Sabrina Spellman. A guy named Doctor Doom took her prisoner in her own house. Your name is Archie, and you gotta help me!”

“Doctor Doom?” Archie tensed. “As in, Mad Doctor Doom?”

“There has to be more than one?” The cat looked about as exasperated as it is possible for a cat to look.

Veronica said, “This Doctor Doom has a greenish face? And white hair?”

“That’s him,” confirmed the cat.

Archie bent down and grabbed the cat. “Hey!” it exclaimed. “What’re you doing?”

“Shut up,” said Archie, stroking him. “You look too conspicuous out here alone. Ronnie. Open the car.”

Veronica took the car door opener from her purse, thumbed it, and opened the doors with a familiar two-note squeak. “If this is Reggie throwing his voice somehow, I’ll kill him. I swear I will.”

Both of them got inside and shut the doors, Archie still holding Salem. The windows were still up. “Okay, cat,” said Archie. “Spill.”

“Spill what?” asked the cat. “I don’t need to use the kitty-litter.”

“He means talk,” said Veronica, putting a hand to Salem’s head. “Tell us about Sabrina. And since I heard you talk in here, there’s no way Reggie can be making you talk.”

“Hey, I talk when I want to, to the people who’d understand. You’ve got to come save her. But she doesn’t want any cops.”

“No cops?” Archie blinked. “Why?”

“Because there are things going on that nobody else needs to know about. You have to keep this a secret, but I have to tell you. Swear?”

“I promise,” said Archie, still feeling as though he’d stepped through the proverbial rabbit hole.

“Me, too,” said Veronica. “I don’t swear, but I promise.”

“Okay, then,” said the cat. “Sabrina’s a witch. So are her aunts. I’m her familiar. I mean, I’m not that familiar, in one sense, but I’m totally familiar in another. Ergo, the talking bit.”

“She’s a...witch,” said Archie, trying to fit his mind around what the cat had just said. “Sabrina is a witch.”

“A witch?” Ronnie’s eyes widened. “As in, black magic and does evil things and rides a broom and such?”

“Anything but,” Salem said. “She’s a good little witch. Beneficial magic only. But that’s not what Doom is getting her to do.”

“This is insane,” Archie observed. “I’m in your car, Ronnie, and I’m talking with a talking cat, and it’s telling me—“

“He’s telling me,” Salem corrected. “By the way, my name’s Salem.”

“Yeah, he, not it,” said Archie. “Thanks for correcting me. I remember seeing you over at Sabrina’s. But...WHAT AM I SAYING?”

“Archie.” Veronica lay her hand on Archie’s arm. “Let the cat talk. Okay?”

He sighed, and lay back against the door. “Okay.”

A few minutes later, Salem had given them the details of the story. “So, that’s how it stands,” he said. “Are you ready to round up a posse? I guess that’d make me a posse cat, but hey...”

“A talking cat that makes bad puns,” groaned Archie. “Why me, Lord? Don’t answer that.”

“And you don’t know what this thing that Doctor Doom is building is supposed to do?” asked Veronica.

“He didn’t tell us,” said Salem. “And I’m not exactly a high-tech cat, know what I mean?”

“Ronnie, please turn on the vent,” said Archie. “It’s getting hot in here, and I don’t want you to crack the windows and have somebody else hear us.”

“Okay.” She keyed the electrical system and turned the vent on, bringing in fresh air. “Salem, what do you want us to do?”

“We already know what he wants us to do,” said Archie. “The question is just, how do we do it? Got to go into Coach Kleats mode now, Ronnie. Identify the objective, and achieve it.”

“Easy for you,” she said. “Me, I just had to go through cheerleader routines. Whole different sort of objectives there.”

“But you achieved them.”

“Yeah.” She grinned. “We did.”

“If I could interrupt,” said Salem, “we’ve still got a problem here.”

“I know that, cat,” said Archie. “I’m not dumb, you know. Ronnie, get on the cell phone. We’ve got to round up the gang.”

Ronnie took her razor phone out of her purse and opened it. Archie opened his door. “Where are you going?”

“To get Moose, Midge, and Dilton,” said Archie. “Assuming they’re still here.”

“Want me to go with you?” said Salem.

He looked at the cat for a long moment. “Uh. No.”

-A-

The lot of them ended up grouped about five cars, Ronnie’s, Betty’s, Moose’s, Reggie’s, and Jason’s, in the parking lot across from Pop Tate’s. Salem stayed in Veronica’s car. To the others, Archie and Ronnie had cooked up a story about Sabrina making a frantic call to Ronnie on the phone, one which was cut off after they’d gotten all the details. Convincing them of the need for no cops was harder. They’d just said that Sabrina had insisted on that, and stuck by the story. In the end, which didn’t really take that long, everyone had come around. The cat didn’t talk to anybody else.

“So here’s what I think we should do,” Archie said, leaning against the front of Veronica’s car. “We need to divide up into two teams. Why do I say that?”

“Yeah, Arch,” said Jason. “Why do you say that?”

“Pipe down, Blossom, or you’ll get your first knuckle sandwich from a townie,” rasped Reggie.

Jason took an aggressive stance, but Cheryl stepped between them. “Cut it, both of you,” she said. “This isn’t helping.”

“Thanks, Cher,” Archie said. “Reggie, Jase, put it aside and pull together with us. Sabrina needs us, okay?”

“Got it,” said Jason.

“Likewise,” said Reggie, not looking at Jason.

“Okay, now, please, people, don’t interrupt,” Archie continued. “Reason why I want two teams is, we have to assume Doom has a way of getting in touch with his goon quickly, in case something goes wrong at Sabrina’s.”

“I’ll take care of that guy Quickly,” Moose rumbled, smacking a fist into one palm. “Just lemme at him.”

“Moose, please,” said Midge.

Archie looked at Moose. “That’s why I want you to take the second team, big fella. Sal–that is, Sabrina said the guy who took her aunts is really big, really tough. I know you are, too, but don’t underestimate him. Like he’s the enemy quarterback, but he’s got a lot of sneaky plays. Understand?”

“Got it, Archie,” said Moose, seriously.

“The main thing we need is to get both of Sabrina’s aunts out of there,” Archie continued. “She said to get their handcuffs off, if we can. I’m not sure that we can do that. But I want you to take out that guy anyway you can, the sneakier the better. Hit him over the head with a club from behind, if you have to. This isn’t a football game, and we’re not playing by the rules. Mess up, and...”

There was a long bit of silence, as Archie tried to think of a way not to say the thing he started to say.

(Call in the cops, you idiot, call in the cops!)

“And somebody could get badly hurt,” offered Dilton Doiley.

“That’s it, Dilly,” said Archie in relief. “That’s it, exactly.”

“Archie, I don’t know,” said Midge. “Some of our parents are expecting us home by now. This is crazy.”

Jughead said, “Midge. You’ve been with the gang long enough to know. Things get crazy on a semi-regular basis. Right?”

“That’s true,” she said, regretfully. “But not like this.”

Betty Cooper, sitting on the hood of her pink car, spoke up. “You weren’t there when we met Dr. Doom, Midge. That was back when we were just kids. He and his assistant, Chester, they’d always be hitting the town, and hitting us, with some kind of crazy gimmick. Hypno-robots and things like that. For some reason, we always got in his way. And for some reason, we always managed to stop him. Seemed like he was a lot less dangerous then, though.”

“You couldn’t have told it by me,” said Veronica. “When you’re that young, somebody delivering the pizza can seem dangerous.”

“The stakes are raised, now,” Archie said. “Don’t ask me why. Maybe those years he’s spent in the asylum upstate changed him. Maybe it’s because he found out we’re leaving, and this is the last crack he’ll get at us. I don’t know. All I know is what we’ve got. We’ve got two separate situations, and I need two teams. Here’s what I’m going with.

“Moose.” He pointed at the big youth. “You’re taking point on the other team. I want Dilton, Midge, Jug, Ethyl, Jason, and Cheryl with you. Anybody have a problem, speak up and be overruled.”

“Arch,” said Jughead. “Why me? Why can’t I go with you?”

Archie took a breath and looked at his oldest friend. Quietly he said, “If things go down the way I think they might over there, we’re gonna need a guy who can think his way around corners. Fast. Dig?”

Jughead nodded.

“Okay. That leaves Betty, Ronnie, Reg, and me to try and get Sabrina out. I know that’s four on one team, seven on another, but we can deal. There’s people with cell phones on each team. If anybody gets hurt, or if the mission fails, we call in the cops right then, and an ambulance if we need it. Clear?”

He got a chorus of affirmative answers.

“We need two people to be in communication for the teams, one apiece,” Archie said. “For us, that’s Ronnie. For you, that’s Cheryl. Don’t want to hear any arguments. Agreed?”

“Agreed,” said Veronica.

“I’m fine,” said Cheryl.

“Good,” said Archie. “Okay, Moose’s team, listen up. It’s about 45 minutes from here to Sabrina’s, give or take. It’ll take you just over an hour to get to where her aunts are being held. We’re going to sit tight until we get word from Cheryl that you’re there. Once you’re ready, we both attack. I—“

He stopped. He considered what he was saying. He was just, for cripes’ sake, an 18-year-old kid who’d graduated from high school, and here he was talking like a general in a war movie. George S. Patton of Riverdale. This was insane. Call in the cops, for cripes’ sake. Call in the cops, even if it does mean letting everybody know Sabrina and her aunts are witches.

“Archie.” It was Betty, by his side. “She needs us. We have to go.”

“Yeah,” he sighed. “We have to go. All right, team. Saddle up. God help us all.”

The group broke up and started going for their cars. Dilton Doiley approached Archie. “Excuse me,” he said. “You know, Archie, if this Dr. Doom has any kind of scientifically-based danger in mind, I’d be well-equipped to deal with it.”

Archie smiled at him, tightly. “I know, Dilton. But we need Moose on the other team. And he needs you, big guy.”

“I understand,” said Dilton. “I just had to hear you say it.”

He clapped Dilton on the shoulder. “Get going. We’ll talk about this in the morning. And for the rest of our lives.”

“Archie,” said Dilton, soberly, “I certainly, sincerely hope so.”

As the small, bespectacled guy walked away, Archie called out, “Moose.”

The big football player stuck his head out of the window. “Whatcha want, Arch?”

“Moose, come here.”

Moose Mason complied, getting out of a car that looked as though it wouldn’t contain him. He stood before Archie, the two of them now alone. “Whatcha need?”

Archie opened his mouth, tried to speak. Words would not come. Moose looked confused. Finally, Archie said, “Don’t get hurt, Moose. Nothing’s worth it if you get hurt.”

Moose nodded, and punched Archie in the shoulder. It hurt. “Worry about the other guy,” he said. Then he walked back to the car.

Inside her own car, Veronica said, “Archie, come on. We’ve got to go.”

“Give me a minute, Ronnie,” he said. “Just give me one more minute, okay?”

“We haven’t got one!”

“If I say we’ve got a minute, then we’ve got a minute, blast it!”

Veronica looked awed. So did Salem, sitting beside her. Archie walked over to Betty Cooper’s car and stuck his head inside her window. “Bets,” he said. “Hi.”

“Hi, Archie,” she said, noncommittaly.

“I just wanted to tell you that you probably misinterped what you saw in Pop Tate’s place this afternoon,” he said. “Cheryl came on to me. I didn’t invite her over. I tried to reach you before you could get away, but you were already gone.”

“That’s all right, Arch,” said Betty. “I was out with Jason Blossom.”

“You were...” His jaw dropped for about the hundredth time that evening. “You were what?”

Betty drummed her fingers on the wheel. “You’ve made your choice, Archie. I had to make mine. Isn’t that what we both have to do?”

“Oh, Betty, you can’t...”

“Archie. We’ve got a job to do. Don’t we?”

He couldn’t say anything. Finally, he nodded, and backed away from the car. Betty pulled out and went down the street in the direction of the highway. Archie trudged back to Veronica’s vehicle. He pulled open the door, got in, and slammed it, not looking at the other two.

Salem said, “Hate to say it, but looks like your tail’s hanging down.”

“Trouble?”, asked Veronica.

Archie waved his hand at the windshield. “Drive,” he said.

-A-

It was about 50 minutes to an hour before the three cars bearing Archie, Veronica, Salem, Betty, and Reggie pulled up to within a couple of blocks of Sabrina’s house. The lot of them piled into Ronnie’s car and inched up to Sabrina’s block with the car lights out. There were only a couple of lights visible in the Spellman house, and Archie guessed that neither Sabrina nor her captor would be in either of those rooms.

“Glad that he wasn’t able to hire more than one hood,” mused Reggie. “It’s going to be tough enough dealing with just Doc Doom by his lonesome.”

“Thank God for small favors,” said Veronica, her cell phone open and Cheryl on the other end. “Cher, gimme a report.”

“Ronnie, the place is in sight.” Veronica had the phone plugged into her speaker system by a small but efficient lead, so the rest could hear Cheryl’s voice. “It’s, like, the only house out here in the country, so it’s got to be the one. Okay. Moose is stopping the car right now. What gives, guys? They say we’re going to walk the rest of the way. Uh, Ronnie...”

“I know,” said Veronica. “I forgive you for all those things you said about us townies, Cheryl.”

“No, that really wasn’t what I was going to say,” Cheryl said. “I meant to say, I’m scared.”

Veronica made a face, then said, “I don’t blame you. I’m scared, too.”

Betty was sitting in the back seat beside Reggie with Salem on her lap. She was stroking the cat’s fur. “I can’t believe Sabrina’s cat managed to track you down, just on her say-so,” said Betty. “It must be a remarkably intelligent cat.”

Salem purred and licked her hand.

“Like you don’t know how intelligent, Betty,” said Archie. He grasped the edge of the half-closed window, tightly. Doom had a gun. None of them carried a weapon. The edge was on his side, and all their unit had going for it was the element of surprise.

Cheryl’s voice came back through the speaker. “We’re close enough now, Ronnie. I guess...Juggy wants to know when to start.”

Archie took a look outside, then drew in a deep breath and set his face in a mask. He threw open the car door.

“Starting now,” he said.

The five of them got out, quickly and quietly, and began creeping towards the Spellman house in the dark.

To be continued...

Post Wed Feb 16, 2005 11:50 am
darkmark93

Maybe the Last Archie Story

Part 5

by DarkMark

At a point like this, Archie was glad for his faith. Sometimes his belief in Christ was about the only thing that had held him together, and he knew that the rest of the gang shared his faith, to some degree or another. Dilton might have been the closest to a freethinker, but he still believed.

Right now, as he crept closer to the window of the Spellman house, Archie wondered what the Lord would think about him praying for a witch. Then again, he supposed it was better than not praying for her. And no matter what she was, Archie wasn’t going to leave a friend like Sabrina in danger.

<Even if it puts your other friends in the same danger, Carrot-Top?>, a voice in his head asked.

<Shut up and get with the program,> he retorted.

He was poised beside the kitchen window with a rock. There was no light on there, but some filtered through from another room.

“Arch,” came a whispered voice from his right.

“Reg,” he breathed. “Don’t scare me like that. I’ve got a rock and I’m not afraid to use it.”

“You should be,” Reggie said, crouching beside him. “Look. Let’s use this.” He had a small hammer and screwdriver in his hand. “Mantle the Magnificent is always prepared.”

“Oh, guys, don’t use that!”

Both of them turned around with a “Shhh!” for Betty, who was standing there with Veronica beside her and Salem prowling anxiously at their feet. Betty whispered, “Here. This is the trump,” and held out a credit card.

“That?” Archie looked at it curiously.

Ronnie snatched it out of Betty’s hand, saying, “We don’t have time to argue,” went to the door, and inserted it between the jamb and the lock. Then, holding her mouth right, she fiddled with it.

“Are you crazy?” asked Archie.

“No, I’m embarrassed,” Veronica answered. “I have about twenty of these, Betty has one, and she’s the one who thought of it.”

“How do you think we got back inside our houses when we forgot our keys?” asked Betty. “It was either that, or get an early-morning lecture.” Salem rubbed against her leg.

“Myself, I’ll be glad to be around for an early-morning lecture,” said Reggie. “That means we’ll have lived through the night. Come on, Ronnie.”

“Reggie, unless you know how to wiggle this thing in here better than I do,” said Ronnie, “shut up.”

There was an audible click. At that point, Archie could have testified in court that he couldn’t hear the sound of anyone breathing, including himself.

Gingerly, Salem pushed his nose against the door. It edged open. Reggie looked at Archie. “Smart cat.”

“Down the volume,” said Archie. “From here on in, stealth is the mode.”

He entered first, followed by Reggie and the girls. The Spellman house wasn’t that big. The back room was where the washer, dryer, and water heater were housed. The cat, Salem, was standing in the doorway beyond, through which light could be seen. Archie realized he was taking point. There was linoleum on the floor, and Archie gritted his teeth as his sneakers made a slight sticky sound on it. He stepped carefully. So did the others.

If Sabrina and her aunts were really witches, God knew what things could be found in their home which her friends hadn’t seen. Archie wasn’t looking forward to that. On the other hand, there were other things he was looking forward to even less than that, such as Mad Doctor Doom.

The cat started to move forward, and then stopped, halfway through the doorway. He backed up carefully, turned around, and then jumped onto Archie’s shoe. The redhead held his arms spread at shoulder-level, stopping the rest. “What gives?” said Betty. Archie said nothing.

Delicately, Archie picked Salem up and held him close to his face. Reggie said, disgustedly, “Arch, this is no time to play Marlon Perkins, okay?”

“Mantle, can it,” hissed Archie.

In Archie’s ear, Salem said, “Electric eye. About eight inches off the floor, in the doorway. I almost broke the beam with my tail. Watch out.”

Archie stroked his head. “Good kitty,” he said. Then: “Noticed something, guys. There’s a sensor device about eight inches from the floor, in the doorway. Just noticed it when the cat tried to go through.”

“The cat didn’t go through,” said Betty, wonderingly. “Wonder why?”

Veronica said, “Never mind that. Just...be very, very careful.”

The lot of them stepped over the doorway without breaking the electric eye beam, Archie carrying the cat. Once inside the next room, which proved to be the kitchen, he let Salem down. “Take point,” he said, softly.

Reggie, following Archie, slipped a hand in his back pocket. He found a roll of quarters there, and was reassured. Not quite as good as brass knuckles, but any prep he could drum up on short notice was acceptible.

Betty breathed shallowly, focused her thinking, and remembered what she’d learned about centering herself in her karate classes. She held a black belt, all right, and that was a lot more than what she’d had as a kid when they first meet Doom. But then again, he had to be a lot different, too.

Ronnie, bringing up the rear, flipped open her phone and said, in a graveyard whisper, “Cheryl. We’re in the house.”

Cheryl’s voice responded, and Veronica had never heard the girl sound less confident: “So are we. I...Ronnie. I don’t like this. I...”

“Cheryl, quiet,” whispered Ronnie. “We’re all scared. For right now, we’re running silent except in emergency. Okay?”

“I should’ve sent my bodyguard,” moaned Cheryl, and was silent.

Archie stuck his head cautiously beyond the doorway. The next chamber was a small hallway, with a couple of bedrooms on either end of it, the front room available through a door directly before him, and a stairway near one bedroom leading below. “Salem?”

The cat bounced back on Archie’s foot. Archie picked him up again. “Look, up there in the corner,” whispered Salem in his ear. Archie looked.

A surveillance camera.

“Oh, great,” said Archie, sotto voce.

“They’re in the basement,” said the cat. “I can smell them.”

“Just Sabrina and Doom?”

“Just them. I don’t know what he’s packing, though.”

Reggie was at Archie’s side. “Arch, excuse me,” he hissed, “but what in the heck are you doing taking time out to talk to a cat?”

Archie drew in a breath shallowly. “Salem is a trained cat.”

“You can’t train a cat!”

“Watch,” Archie said. “Salem, you take point. I want you to go to the basement, create a diversion, and distract Doom. We’re coming in right behind you.”

Archie put the cat down. Salem scampered away, cautiously, heading for the basement stairs. He nudged his whiskered face over the first step, sniffed it, backed up a pace, and then flung himself downward, landing on the third step.

Turning to his three friends, Archie said, “Skip the first two steps. Believe it.”

He didn’t want to think about how his insides were about to tie themselves into a knot. The Gang had been into a lot of adventures, some of them with their share of danger. But this time...if they made it out, it was probably going to be the last. If they made it out.

There was a shout of pain and a scream from the basement. Archie hadn’t heard that voice for over five years, but it was all too easy to remember. Without a word, he bounded down the stairs, Reggie, Veronica, and Betty behind him. None of them touched the first two steps.

The four of them had shared a ton of adventures. Some of them, in earlier days, had been against Dr. Doom. But none of them was quite prepared for the sight that awaited them in the basement.

The first thing to draw their attention was Mad Dr. Doom himself, his greenish face reddened somewhat by the scratches Salem had given him. The cat was fighting like a champion, biting and scratching Doom’s hands even as the villain held him at arm’s length. Doom was in a white lab coat and black pants, which was pretty nearly his standard Villain’s Uniform.

Behind him, Sabrina Spellman, dressed in a red T-shirt and blue denim cutoffs, looked weary as she sat at a table with her hands stuck in a strange machine. It was a slightly rectangular cube, either running on its own generator or using Sabrina as the generator. The table, the machine, and Sabrina were surrounded by odd symbols on plastic overlays, arranged around them all. Archie wasn’t familiar with the symbols and was pretty sure he didn’t want to be.

“You...blasted...cat!” yelled Doom, and flung Salem hard against the basement wall. The cat hit, and yelled “OUCH!”

Betty and Reggie gaped. But there was no time for hesitation, even for surprise.

“Curse...you...Doom,” groaned Sabrina, as if saying it had been a great drain indeed.

“Get him, Reggie!” yelled Archie, sprinting for the savant himself. Reggie Mantle had been lunging for his quarry even before Archie spoke.

Doom dodged Reggie’s charge, reached under the table, and dragged out an object lost when he had been fighting the cat. It was leather-covered and had a handle on one end. He swung it with force at Reggie’s head.

“NO!” Archie grabbed Reggie by the back of his collar and dragged him back. Even so, Reg took a glancing blow to the temple and cried out in pain. Without thinking, Archie shoved his friend to the floor, waded in, got under Doom’s next swipe, and planted a hard right on his chin. It knocked Doom on his ass.

But it wasn’t enough.

Betty and Veronica, at Sabrina’s side, were trying to free her hands of the device, to no avail. The blonde witch looked drained of energy, even though the machine had a feel of power to it unlike anything the two other girls had known. Betty said, “Come on, Ronnie, let’s lift it and get her out of here!”

With a madman’s strength, Doom grabbed both Betty and Veronica and flung them back, breaking their hold on Sabrina and sending them to the floor. Archie tried to tackle their foe again, but Doom’s foot came up and smashed into his chest, right at the breastbone. The redhead hit the floor and rolled, holding his chest, closing his eyes in pain, and gasping.

Doom turned back to the girl and the machine. “They’re too late. The power has reached the sufficient level. Brace yourself, Miss Spellman. The voyage begins now.”

With that, he pressed a control on the machine’s surface. Betty and Ronnie had gotten to their feet, and Reggie, rallying, was heading for Doom. But, as they did so, a blue-white flash erupted without sound. It was blinding, and Reggie, closing his eyes, couldn’t stop his momentum. He crashed into the table and broke three of its supporting legs, knocking it down at a tilt and falling over it.

Betty and Veronica, similarly stricken by the light, had to put an arm apiece in front of their eyes and try to blink their vision back to normal. Archie had been facing away from the flash. He had reached the wall and used it to get back to a standing position, his chest still hurting like blazes. Of all of them, he was the only one who could see what had happened.

“They’re gone,” he said. “Sabrina, Doom, that crazy widget. They’re gone.”

“Gone where?” asked Betty, still getting her sight back. “Where could they go to?”

“Oh, Betty, don’t be dense,” snapped Veronica, rubbing her eyes. “They beamed out. Like on Star Trek.”

“Beamed out.” Reggie Mantle said the words in a flat monotone. “As in, they’re not here.”

“Looks like,” said Ronnie.

“And I heard that cat speak,” Reggie continued. “It said ‘Ouch’. Not ‘mrrowr’ or ‘fsst’, but ‘Ouch.’ Arch...you’ve been holding out on us.”

Archie, breathing hard and leaning against the wall, tried to gather the right words to tell Reggie. Salem, stepping with a limp towards the middle of the room, scooped him: “We both have,” he said.

“That cat talked,” gasped Betty. “It’s a talking cat!”

“That’s...Sabrina’s familiar,” said Archie. “Sabrina is a witch.”

Before anyone could make a rejoinder, another voice was heard. This time, it came from Veronica’s cell phone. “Ronnie? Ronnie!”

It was Cheryl, and she sounded terrified. Veronica took the phone from her pocket and flipped it open. “Cheryl. What’s happening?”

“It’s Moose, it’s Moose. He got stabbed, oh, Ronnie, somebody stabbed him, we called 911, Jughead hit the guy with a frying pan and Dilton took it and almost beat the guy to death, and...”

There was the noise of the phone being yanked away. Then Dilton Doiley’s voice came on the phone, clipped, precise, and tense.

“We’re applying first aid as best we can,” he said. “You’d better meet us at the hospital. I’ll tell you where they’re taking him.”

-A-

As it happened, Sabrina’s two aunts had been freed of their iron cuffs by Midge and Jason and were able to help sustain Moose’s life. The group thought their laying-on of hands was a faith healer thing, and Archie didn’t contradict them.

The story was simple enough, and deadly. The crew had stormed the house where the women were being held. Moose, the strongest of them, had taken point. He wasn’t stronger than Doom’s thug Gross, and he wasn’t used to the thug’s fighting tactics, but he held his own, with Jug, Jason, and even Dilton trying to manhandle Gross. The upside was that Gross didn’t pack a gun. The downside was, he did have a knife, and he used it on Moose. He stabbed him once, in the side.

Jughead had been scrambling in the kitchen of the place for a weapon and found it in a cast-iron skillet. An instant after Gross had stabbed Moose, Juggy brought the pan down on Gross’s head from behind. The thug was tough, but even he was hurt. Dilton, of all people, lost it. He grabbed the pan from Jug, smashed the hood in a very tender place, bashed him in the face with it, and proceeded to beat him unconscious. Jason and Jug managed to keep Gross’s knife hand away from Dilton while this was going on. Then they finally had to restrain Dilton, to keep him from beating Gross to death.

The girls were busily trying to free the witch sisters while the battle went on, and then attending to Moose’s wound. Hilda and Zelda Spellman told them Gross had a key to their cuffs, which they found on his senseless body. The cuffs were opened and the old women lay hands on Moose. They couldn’t heal his wound, but they did help slow the flow of blood and put him in a painless trance. Jug’s sweater was used to press over Moose’s wound. They thought hard about getting the big man into a car and rushing him to the hospital themselves, but they decided to wait for the ambulance, and the police. The Spellmans were capable of keeping Gross unconscious with a spell. By this time, of course, they had revealed to all and sundry the secret of their witchhood. They simply had no way of concealing it, if Moose Mason was to survive.

They decided to leave Archie and company out of their stories, when questioned. The Gang would have enough trouble as it was. That decision was relayed to Veronica on the cell phone before the authorities arrived, and the other four reluctantly accepted.

The paramedics arrived and packed Moose and Gross off to the nearest hospital, with Jughead and company left to answer questions for the police, who arrived at just about the same time. The Spellmans confirmed that Gross had been holding them prisoner, that their niece Sabrina was being held captive at their home by his employer Doom, and that Sabrina had gotten word to Jughead and company to save them. Archie and his three friends were out of the Spellman house by then; all the cops found was a broken table in the basement. An APB went out for Mad Doctor Doom, and Sabrina Spellman’s description went out as well.

Archie, Reggie, Betty, and Veronica arrived at the hospital after the emergency patchup job had been done on Moose. In the waiting room, Midge was crying. Jason Blossom was trying to comfort her, and, for once, didn’t look like he was coming on to her. Cheryl was in tears, herself, but held onto one of Midge’s hands. The two Spellman ladies were sitting across from the teenagers, not saying a word, but looking on with concern. Dilton was sitting quietly, with Jughead talking to him. No, scratch that, thought Archie: Dilton was sitting there like a zombie.

This is what I have done, Archie thought to himself. I am responsible for this. Because I wouldn’t notify the police, because I thought it was just another game. And now, Moose may be dying.

“Midge,” he said, stepping towards the grieving girl. “I...”

“Go...away,” she said, between sobs.

He tried to form words, tried to give her a message of faith, something with Biblical import. But right now, he just couldn’t. In no way could he trivialize Moose’s sacrifice, or her grief. Or his blame.

“Arch,” said Jason, “not now.”

But, all the same, he couldn’t leave it at that. He touched Midge’s shoulder, gently. “Midge, when you need me, when Moose needs me, especially, I’ll be there. You know—“

“GO AWAY!”

Archie jerked his hand away as if he’d touched a live wire. Betty was there beside him, taking him by the arm. “Don’t, Archie,” she said. “Right now...don’t.”

“I have to see Moose,” said Archie. “I have to know how he is.”

Hilda Spellman got up from her seat. “You have something else to do,” she said.

“What?” Archie said, and it was echoed by Reggie.

“You four, come with us,” said Hilda. “The others have done their part and more. The rest will be up to Salem...and up to you.”

To be continued...

Post Thu Feb 17, 2005 4:28 am
darkmark90 User avatar
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Posts: 11

Maybe the Last Archie Story

Part 6

by DarkMark

It had been a heck of a long night, and Betty and Ronnie were trying to catch some sleep, both riding in Archie’s car with him driving. Betty had the front passenger seat leaned back and was dozing. Ronnie was lying across the back seat and had her eyes closed, trying to sleep or at least bring on rest.

Hilda and Zelda Spellman and Salem were riding with Reggie, who was following Archie’s car. The two older women seemed alert. Archie thought one of them should have been driving, but he didn’t know if either of them could.

He’d made a call back home while he was at the hospital, as had all of them. His parents had been astonished, naturally, and had wanted him to come right back home. Archie allowed that he’d be back as soon as he could. That gave him enough wiggle room, but he wondered, now, if he’d technically told a lie. Mom and Dad were going to be worried about him. The Gang had their share of strange adventures before, but he couldn’t recall one in which one of them had fared as badly as Moose this time around.

He just hoped neither he nor Reggie would get pulled over on their way back into town. Hilda and Zelda had been insistent that the four of them had a mission to undertake, along with the cat. He considered the reason for that might be the fact that now Betty and Reggie, as well as he and Ronnie, knew that Salem could speak and was Sabrina’s familiar. Archie didn’t feel great about letting the rest of the Gang alone, but if there was danger ahead (and there probably would be), it’d be best that only a few of them were at risk.

Archie glanced at Betty. She seemed to be in slumberland, and he reflected on how simple his problems were a short time ago, when it was just the old love triangle bit. As if it had ever been just a triangle. There had been Reggie, and Cheryl, and Jason to make other hookups possible. But it always seemed to come back to Archie and Betty and Veronica, and his switching between the two girls.

Always.

He stabbed his right thumbnail into his left wrist to keep himself awake. They were still about a mile out of town, and they were headed for the Spellman residence. Not surprising. The surprise would be what Hilda and Zelda had in store for them once they got there.

A few minutes later, both he and Reggie pulled up in front of the house. Remarkably, there weren’t any cops around. Archie wondered if they’d gotten their investigation done during the night, or if the Spellmans had something to do with it, or... Nuts. His brain wasn’t working at peak efficiency right then. He looked at Betty and Ronnie and decided not to wake them up.

Then Hilda tapped at his right window. “Bring them both inside,” said the old woman. “We have beds.”

“Oh. Okay.” He reached out and gently shook Betty by the shoulder. “Wake up, Bets.”

“Mmm. Go ‘way.”

“We’re at Sabrina’s house and her aunts are going to give you a bed to sleep in.”

“Nice.” Betty yawned, stretched, and finally opened her eyes. “Maybe when I wake up this’ll all be a bad dream.”

Archie said nothing. “Come on. Help me get Ronnie up, too.”

Once that was accomplished, the loggy trio joined Reggie, who was looking pretty tuckered himself, and Salem, who also needed some rest, in clambering up the porch steps and into the house. Archie remembered reading somewhere that cats slept 16 hours a day. Did Salem need that much sack time, or were familiars more wakeful?

Hilda guided Betty and Ronnie into Sabrina’s room. Through the open door, Archie noted that Bree had a queen-sized bed, enough to accomodate both the tired girls. Zelda walked between Reggie and Archie, holding one of their hands apiece. She turned to Archie. “Would you mind the front couch, dear?”

“Couch is fine, Miz Spellman,” said Archie. “So long as I get to it before I collapse.”

She smiled, released Reggie’s hand, and walked him to the couch. It was yellowish brown and, though he’d sat in it before, felt as comfortable as a bed to lie in. “Does it suit you?”, Zelda asked.

“Oh...yeah,” Archie said, closing his eyes.

“The both of us love you for what you’ve done, both for us and Sabrina. But we love you more for what you must do. I’ll put your young friend in another room and I’ll be back with a blanket and a cup of broth.”

By the time she came back, Archie was snoring. She smiled, lay the blanket over him gently, sat down herself, drank the broth, and watched him.

-A-

“Smithers?”

“Yes, sir?”

Hiram Lodge looked at his butler quizzically. “Smithers, what happened?”

“Was something to have happened, sir?” The butler, whom Lodge had employed for over 20 years, seemed a bit confused, but not upset. His right hand was in his pocket.

Lodge took in a deep breath, standing on the front porch of his mansion. The limo that Smithers had driven was in the drive. “Unless I am mistaken, Smithers, I asked you to go to the Spellman house, see if my daughter was there, and, if she was, to bring her home. Correct?”

“Oh, I believe so, sir.”

“Well? Was she there?”

“She was, sir. In the company of her friends, young Archibald, Reginald, and Elizabeth. All four of them were sleeping peacefully, sir. I looked in on her myself.”

Lodge’s face was beginning to flush crimson, starting at the neck and rushing upwards. “Well, Smithers, I must give you credit for obeying the first part of my order. But WHY in gosh-darned tool-tinkering dad-blasted heck blazes DIDN’T YOU BRING HER HOME WITH YOU?”

Smithers smiled, nonchalantly. “Because the two ladies of the house assured me that she would be very safe in their hands, sir. And that they would send her home as quickly as they could.”

“They’d WHAT?”

“And they gave me this as a token of their appreciation, sir.” Smithers pulled his right hand from his pocket. It was holding a small, copper medallion.

“That? Give me that!” Hiram Lodge snatched the medallion from Smithers’s hand. By George, he was going to break Smithers for this. If the safety of his daughter...

...wasn’t entrusted to such nice and thoughtful and reliable ladies as the Spellmans, he’d have Smithers’s hide nailed to the wall. As a matter of fact, if Smithers hadn’t trusted his daughter’s welfare to those kindly old ladies, he’d have done the same thing.

“Smithers?”

“Yes, sir?”

“Remind me to give you a raise after this.”

“Yes, sir!”

Wearing a sundress, Hermoine Lodge appeared in the doorway of the mansion. “Hiram? What’s happening? Isn’t Veronica back yet?”

Smiling, Hiram turned and walked towards his wife. “There, there, dear. I’m sure you’ll agree that Veronica is in good hands. Let me show you this...”

-A-

“You can’t use that bathroom, Arch,” said Reggie. “Betty’s taking a bath.”

“Oh,” Archie noted. “Glad I’m not as opportunistic as some people around here, Mantle.”

“Hey, don’t look at me! I’m not gonna break in there and get a karate chop across the neck. You know where the other john is?”

“Yeah, I’ve been here before. You know that.” Archie went down the hallway to the aunts’ bedroom. He closed the door behind him. Reggie leaned against the wall and, apropos of nothing, felt a furry rubbing motion against his leg.

“Oh. You,” he said.

“Yeah, me,” Salem confirmed. “Sorry I blew my cover like that. I know talking cats are a bit out of the norm for you.”

Reggie shook his head. “That’s okay. You’d be surprised what’s out of the norm for me. Uh, how long have you been that way?”

“All my life,” said Salem.

“Okay. Uh, do you know any more about this caper than we do?”

Salem scratched his head with his back paw. “Ahh! Be glad you humans aren’t prone to fleas, man. No, I’m as much in the dark as you are. Remember, I ran off to find you guys pretty early in the game. That green-faced gink was setting up the machine that we saw when I cut out. He did say something that stuck with me, though.”

“And what was that?”

“Something about making history with her, and making it right. Whatever that means.”

Reggie shook his head. “I don’t know what it means, either. Not a good enough detective, I suppose.” Then he leaned his head against the wall and covered his eyes with one hand.

Salem looked at Reggie, cocking his head. “What’s wrong, kid? Need an Excedrin?”

From behind his hand, Reggie said, “I’m talking to a cat. I’m having a conversation with a cat. This cannot be real. I’m still dreaming, right?”

Salem crouched easily on all four paws. “Nope, this is for real, kid. I’m not about to claw your ankle to prove you’re not dreaming. You’ll just have to take it on faith. Okay?”

“Okay. Now, I’m going to let my hand down, and I don’t want you to walk away. Just stay there, all right?”

“You betchum, Red Ryder.”

Reggie lowered his hand and, carefully, looked at the cat. “Say something.”

“Fourscore and several years ago, our foresires brought forth on this continent a whole bunch of kittens...”

“That’s enough.” Reggie looked deflated, a bit. “I’ll just have to accept it. Thanks.”

“No problem.”

The sound of bare feet on the wooden floor drew Reggie’s attention. He looked up. Betty Cooper had exited the bathroom and was walking down the hall towards him. She was dressed in an old brown terrycloth robe of Sabrina’s over her underwear and, to Reggie’s eyes, looking fresh-scrubbed and beautiful. Veronica was visible for a second, a towel over her arm, disappearing within the room Betty had just vacated.

Betty smiled at him, then stooped and fondled the cat behind its ears. Salem purred. “I think we’re bonding,” he said.

“I’ve always had a soft spot for cats,” Betty said.

Reggie shifted, hands in his pockets. “So you can hear him too. It’s not just me in an altered state.”

The bare-legged blonde girl looked up at him. “This isn’t the first kitty I’ve ever heard talk, Reggie.”

He gaped. “It isn’t?”

She sighed, sat on the floor cross-legged, and let Salem into her lap. “I don’t know if you’ll believe me. Sometimes I don’t believe it, myself. But you remember my old cat, Caramel? The one I used to have when we were little?”

“I think so. Was that the orange one?”

“That was her,” Betty said, stroking Salem gently. “One night, and I know you won’t believe me, but I do believe this happened...Caramel talked to me. And Veronica, too. She talked to both of us. She told us about her life before she came to my home. How she’d had babies, lost each of them to a good home, but hadn’t found one herself till she came to us. She showed up one night, exhausted, in a snowstorm and scratched on the door. I let her in, and she stayed with us till she died.”

Salem nudged Betty’s fingers, but said nothing.

“She told us that she could talk to us that one night, when we were kids, because that was all cats were allowed to do,” Betty continued. “I think it may have just been in my mind, because...well, cats’ throats aren’t built for human speech.” She looked at Salem. “No offense.”

“None taken,” said Salem. “You’re right. Most of ‘em aren’t.”

“I’ve never really talked straight-out with Ronnie about that night,” said Betty. “And I’ve never had another cat talk to me again, not counting you, Salem. But sometimes, when she’s been over, and I’ve had another cat, we’ve looked at each other...and I know she knows.”

“Wow,” said Reggie. “I mean...wow, indeed. Talking cats, witches, Dr. Doom coming back, Moose...getting hurt...I’m ready to get back to flatline reality, Betty.”

“Except we can’t, Reggie,” Betty said, gently. “Not yet.”

“Guess you’re right,” Reggie said.

Salem looked up. “Telepathy. Probably all cats have it to some degree. They just use it to back up sign language, most of the time. There’s a few out there who can send like Uri Geller’s supposed to do, if he wasn’t a fake. Psychic pussies. Your cat must’ve been one of them, Miss Betty.”

“I suppose she was,” said Betty.

“And I’m sorry for her. Honest, I am.”

“Thank you.”

Archie came back. “Are we having some sort of hallway summit here?”

Reggie smiled. “Nah, Carrot Top. Just discussing the matter of talking cats. Also, Salem here told us something that Doom said about ‘making history’ with Sabrina, and ‘making it right.’”

“He said that?”

“He did,” Salem agreed. “Have any idea what it means?”

Archie pondered for a second. Then he closed his eyes and bit his lip. “Oh, man,” he said, to himself as much as anyone else. “I hope I’m not right. I really, really hope I’m wrong about this one.”

“Archie.” Betty put Salem off her lap and stood up. “Give us the goods. What?”

“Yeah, Arch,” said Reggie. “I second the motion. What?”

Rubbing the back of his neck, Archie looked away for a second, gathered his thoughts, then turned to the three of them. “You know what I think that machine of Doom’s was?”

“What?” Reggie and Betty spoke the same thing, an instant apart.

“A time machine,” said Archie.

“A time...,” began Betty.

“I know, I know, I know it sounds crazy,” said Archie, holding up his hands. “But think about it. In context. Doom comes here, to Sabrina’s house. He sets up a machine, one only Sabrina can power...because of her magic. He says something about ‘making history right’. Then both of them phase out. As in, they’re not here in our regular time and space. Those are the facts, right?”

“Right,” said Salem. “And...I hate to say it, Red Fur, but I think you might have a hypothesis there.”

“Holy gee,” said Reggie. “Y’know, I think he might be right, too. I mean, like, as far as our physics can get us, I think it’s impossible to go through time. Not that I’m Steve Hawking or anything, but I don’t think we can do it.”

“Yeah, even though I think we might have, sometimes, if we weren’t dreaming,” said Betty. “But magic isn’t like our physical laws, I don’t think. It sort of cuts across ‘em, or goes around ‘em. Not like I know anything about it. Am I completely off here, Salem?”

“Good general description, ma’am,” said Salem. “For a lay person, that is.”

“So, if Doom could get Sabrina to take him back in time,” said Archie, “theoretically, he could change history any way he wanted. I mean, in theory.”

“Yeah,” said Reggie. “And in theory, he could keep any one of us from being born. Or keep from making the same mistakes he made whenever he met us.”

“Or do something to make him ruler of the Earth,” said Betty. “Oh, heavens, I’m sorry. That sounds dumb.”

Archie looked at her seriously. “Believe me, Betty, that doesn’t sound dumb. Knowing Doom, it sounds like the smartest thing I’ve heard so far.”

The bathroom door opened. Veronica, in another of Sabrina’s robes, emerged, brushing her hair. “What’s going on, group? Or should I ask?”

Reggie said, “Welcome, Ronnie. Your next signpost...the Twilight Zone.”

She sighed. “I was afraid of that.”

-A-

Hilda and Zelda Spellman had herded their four guests and Salem down to the basement, where the broken table and the signs of combat were still visible. That was enough to convince the four teens that yesterday night hadn’t been a dream.

“First, don’t worry about your parents’ reaction,” Hilda said to them. “We called up one of those helpful policemen and gave him a handful of our special medallions. He was told to give one each to your families. Once they touch one, they’ll know that you’re all in good hands.”

“I hope they’re right,” muttered Archie.

Zelda said, “You were speaking earlier about a time machine. We believe that is a correct assumption. From the energies we’ve perceived, and please don’t ask us how, we can detect what you’d call a rift in the fabric of time. But the rift is insulated with energies that would make it...rather difficult for the two of us to go through it.”

“So they want you to go through it,” said Salem. “With me as your guide. Besides, I wouldn’t miss a chance to rescue Mistress Sabrina.”

“Luke, I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” quipped Reggie.

“Reggie, shut it,” said Veronica. “Can you...Miss Spellman, can you really send us through time? Without a machine, like Doom’s?”

“It will be difficult, but not impossible,” Hilda said. “Doom has opened the way. It will be a bit easier to reopen it. As to what you will find once there, we have no idea. But if you refuse, Doom will most certainly succeed. And not only will we never see our niece again, but all history may be at the mercy of this Doom.”

There was silence for a long moment. Then Archie spoke up. “I’ll volunteer.”

“Me as well,” said Reggie. “Sign me up for the Time Corps.”

“I can’t leave them alone,” said Veronica. “Before my sanity kicks in again, I’m saying yes.”

Betty said, “I’m as nerved as any of the rest, I guess. But I’m not going to cop out on my friends, or on Sabrina. I’m in, too.”

Zelda smiled. “The four of you are as brave as any warriors I’ve seen. And I have seen many. Very well, then, all of you step to the center of the room, here. That is where the rift was made, and where we may reopen it.”

The four of them obeyed, Salem among them. They grasped hands, instinctively. Salem sat on Archie’s foot. Hilda and Zelda positioned themselves on opposite sides of the group, equidistant from each other.

Archie looked at Hilda. “Uh, ma’am?”

“Yes, young man?”

“You’re not going to, like, make any signs on the floor or anything like that, are you? I don’t know if I’d really feel good about that.”

She smiled. “No, young man, indeed not. All we’re going to do...is this.”

She raised her hands, in unison with her sister.

A second later, there was a flash of white light.

When the two sisters could see again, they were alone.

Hilda looked at Zelda. “So...now, we wait?”

“Yes, sister,” confirmed Zelda. “Now...we wait.”

To be continued...

Post Fri Feb 18, 2005 6:56 am
darkmark90 User avatar
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Posts: 11

Maybe the Last Archie Story

Part 7

by DarkMark

“And you didn’t hear a thing about this, Mr. Clayton?”

“Not a thing, sir,” said Chuck. “Not a blessed thing.”

Chuck Clayton, sitting in a chair at the police station, was glad that he’d never been in trouble before. He was doubly glad his father Floyd, the Riverdale High coach, was with him. He might not have anything to do with the matter at hand, but The Man had a way of making you feel nervous when you were in his presence.

“I believe you, son,” said Detective Oates. “The thing I’m wondering is, why didn’t they let you know? If all your friends were in on this?”

The artist took his time about answering. “I don’t suppose everybody they knew was contacted. Maybe just the ones they’d grown up with, the ones they’d known for a long time.”

“Thank God for that,” put in Coach Clayton.

“Mr. Clayton, please,” said Oates. To Chuck, he said, “Point well taken. All right, Mr. Clayton, that’s all for now. If you hear any more, get in touch. Immediately. Understand?”

“Understood, sir,” he said. Chuck got to his feet, shook hands with the police detective, and went with his father out the security door and out of the station. The entry room seemed cold enough to preserve meat. He was glad to get into the late June sun. Even better, his girlfriend Nancy Harris and their friends Frankie and Maria were waiting for them, standing by Frankie’s car.

Nancy gave Chuck a big hug. “Did it go good, hon’? I know you weren’t involved, but still...”

Chuck hugged back and kissed her on the cheek, even as Frankie reached over to shake his hand. “It went just fine, babe. They’re not after any of us, they just want to know what happened.”

“Yeah, muchacho,” said Frankie. “And none of us know what happened.”

“You’re probably better off not knowing it, kids,” said Mr. Clayton. “Once this breaks, whatever it is, it’ll be all over Riverdale’s paper and TV for weeks to come.”

“They said Moose got stabbed,” Maria said. “Is that true, Chuck?”

He nodded, somberly. “There was a kidnapping, some of the Gang went to try and help, and Moose...got stabbed, all right.”

“So what’s our next step?” asked Frankie. “I’m all for goin’ to see Moose at the hospital, seein’ if he’s all right.”

Coach Clayton stepped up. “That’s a very good thought for a next step, Frankie. But your next step after that should be to go home and stay the blazes away from this thing. Whatever it is, it’s too dangerous for a bunch of high school kids. I want to make sure you all live to go to college.”

After a long pause, Nancy said, “Solid advice, Mr. Clayton.”

“Yeah,” said Chuck. “Just wish Archie had taken it.”

Frankie said, “That’s not the way it can always be, Chuck. Sometimes, when your friends are in trouble, you gotta do what you can.”

“So why didn’t he get hold of us?” said Maria. “We’re his friends, too.”

Chuck looked at her. “There’s two ways of being that kind of friend, Maria. One is to be a good enough friend to let you help. The other is to be good enough to keep you from gettin’ involved.”

“Amen,” said Floyd. “Let’s go to Pop Tate’s. Lunch is on me.”

-A-

“I don’t know what I was doing,” said Dilton Doiley. “I just know what I did.”

Danni Malloy, Dilton’s redheaded girlfriend, sat on the park bench beside him and kept her arm around his shoulders. She’d seen him in many moods before, shared a number of adventures with him, and had to admit that she probably loved him. But she’d never seen Dilton in this state before, and was just as glad she hadn’t. She let him talk it out.

“I’ve read of the berserker impulse in soldiers,” he went on. “Everyone has. But there’s a difference between the academic and...the experiential. Reading in a history book about the Battle of the Bulge, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, the bomb dropped on Hiroshima...how can words, flat photographs, even an interview with a survivor prepare you for the reality? Nothing can, Danni. Nothing but the reality itself.”

“Dilton...”

“I saw what he did to Moose. I saw it, Danni. He hurt my friend. The man who protected me, who stood up for me. I...I saw Jughead strike the man...the thug who did it. He struck him from behind, with a frying pan. And I...”

“Don’t, Dilton,” she whispered, hugging him tighter. “Not if you don’t want to. Catharsis may not be what you need right now.”

“Danni, I wasn’t in control. Not with my analytic brain, anyway. It was like...I snatched the pan away from Jug. Or somebody did, anyway. There was violence. Great violence. I wouldn’t have imagined myself capable of such. I didn’t feel like Hector or Ajax. It frightened me, Danni. But I didn’t have time to be frightened when I was doing it. It just was. When I was done...well, I wasn’t done until they pulled me off him. I had...”

“Dilton, please.” She clutched him, but he clutched her harder.

“I almost killed him,” Dilton said. “I almost took a human life. And that’s not the worst part, Danni. I was...part of me was...proud. I’d stood up for Moose, like he stood up for me.”

“And you know what’s worse than that?” said Danni.

He looked at her for the first time since he’d started talking. “What?”

“That I’m proud of you, as well.”

“Danni...”

“Dilton, quiet. True, you let the savage loose. Would you have rather that...thug...had survived, to use that knife on all of you, rather than just Moose? There comes a time when you have to play the savage, Dilton. If you want to preserve the civilization you live in, that is.”

“I don’t know if I can accept that reasoning.”

“I don’t know if there’s any alternative, Dilton,” she said. “War is a necessity, sometimes. Maybe it’s a necessary evil...but it’s still necessary. And if it becomes necessary, I hope everyone on our side performs just as bravely as you did. Just...keep the savage where he belongs. Can you do that for me?”

“I certainly hope so, Danni. I’ll certainly try. Will you just...be still? And hold me?”

And she did just that for a very long time.

-A-

For a long instant, Archie found himself in terrifying darkness. He couldn’t have even sworn there was air to breathe about him.

Then, the moment of transition passed. And in that, Archie almost wished he was back in darkness.

He found himself surrounded by a sea of grey miasma. There were shapes visible in the substance, things vaguely and disturbingly human, other things not quite so. He thought he heard snatches of his friends’ voices:

“–rch? Arch? Can you h—“

“Betty? Reg? I can’t see y—“

“—of death, I will fear no evil. Thy—“

“—thrusts his fists against the posts and still insists—“

For a long moment, he thought he saw himselves. That was not a misstatement. Before his eyes, there was a kaleidoscope of Archies in the mist. All of them a bit different from himself and from each other, like Andy Warhol’s multiple Marilyn Monroe painting which he’d seen in art class, but all somehow the same. Some had different clothing, some seemed to be from an era before or after his own, and all of them were there too briefly for him to discern much about them. Wide-eyed, he reached out to touch the multitude...

...and fell forward, onto a platform.

Archie cried out. There was a lot of visual information to take in at one glance. Thankfully, he saw his friends, Reggie, Betty, Veronica, and Salem on the platform beside him, just as popeyed and scared as himself. But, thankfully, the surroundings didn’t seem to be a lair of evil.

Instead, they were a well-lit, high-tech installation, with a protective railing about the platform on which they stood and a couple of incomprehensible machines pointing in their general direction. There were technicians at a console nearby, and, in a room visible through a huge archway, a gigantic globe of Earth circled by a model of the Moon, positioned above a circular control center at which another group of techs sat and kept watch. To Archie, it looked vaguely like something he’d read in an old comic book, featuring a guy with an eye-patch (what was his name, anyway?).

Then a redheaded woman with freckles, wearing a short white jacket, a red blouse, and a yellow skirt and boots broke from the mass of techs and rushed towards them. She looked to be almost as much in awe as Archie felt himself to be, and instinctively, he drew back.

“Arch,” said Reggie, “tell me where I am, and how I can make bus connections to get back.”

“Soon as I find that out, Reg, I’ll buy us all a ticket apiece,” said Archie. “Hold on.”

“Betty—“, Veronica began.

Tensely, Betty said, “If you start quoting lines from The Wizard of Oz right now, Ronnie, I’m gonna whack you.” Both women stared at the oncoming figure with wariness.

Salem offered, “Out of the fire and into the kitty-litter.” Nobody had anything to add to that.

The woman started up a short flight of steps to the platform, then stopped. “Forgive me. I forget...the five of you are new to this era.”

“You can say that again, lady,” muttered Reggie. “Just keep your distance, okay?”

“Hold it, Reg,” said Archie, lifting a hand. “Uh, okay, ma’am. We’re newcomers here, all right. And we don’t have the slightest as to where we are. Or maybe even when we are. Do you know us or something?”

The redheaded woman smiled. “More than you might think, though we have never met. My name is January McAndrews. Welcome to the Watchtower, the headquarters of the Time Police.”

“The Time Police?” asked Betty, in awe. “Who are the Time Police?”

Salem cocked an ear at her. “Didn’t know you listened to Frank Zappa.”

“This had better not be a setup to govern track and field results, either,” said Veronica, eyeing January with suspicion.

McAndrews broke into laughter, putting a hand in front of her face. “I’m sorry, but that was one of the stupidest comments I’ve ever heard from a rescue subject. And I’ve heard enough to write another book about it. No, we are agents assigned to correct disturbances and anomalies in the time stream. You are eight centuries away from your home era.”

“Eight?” Archie gaped at her. “You mean, we’re in, like...um...the 29th Century?”

She nodded. “Exactly. You would be Archie Andrews?”

“I would. Uh, I mean, I am. How did you know my name?”

Reggie stepped closer to the two of them, his face showing curiosity. “Holy.... Wait a minute, Arch. I’m beginning to see something here. Look, Ms. Whoever-you-are...are you...?”

Archie turned towards Reggie. “Reg, what’re you babbling about?” January, for the moment, said nothing.

“Can’t you dig it, Carrot-Top? Take a look at her. The hair, the freckles. Now, run her last name through your brain-pan again. Well? How many matches does your search turn up?”

Betty gasped. “Good Lord. I think I know what he’s getting at.”

“Me, too,” said Salem. “The fur, the markings...a definite giveaway.”

Ronnie, getting nearer to the knot of people herself, said, “What gives, Betty? I need information, too.”

January drew a long breath. “I think both of your friends understand. Archie Andrews, you are my ancestor. I am your latest generational descendant.”

“My...descendant?”

She nodded.

“As in, I get married and have kids and everything?”

She smiled.

Betty said, softly, “Well, that’s hopeful.”

Reggie shook his head. “I can’t believe it. One of Carrot-Top’s grandkids gets to be TimeCop. And I thought a talking cat was one for the books.”

Salem turned on him. “Watch it,” he said.

“Sorry,” Reggie offered.

Veronica stepped up to January. “Look. I don’t know if you’re Archie’s great-granddaughter or Leo DiCaprio’s, and right now, it doesn’t matter that much to me. We’re trying to save a friend of ours. Sabrina Spellman. Can you help us?”

“That’s not the question before us, Ms. Lodge,” said January. “You are Ms. Lodge, I take it?”

“You take it right,” said Veronica. “And what do you mean?”

“I mean, the real question is, can you help us? Save the time-stream, that is?”

After a pause, Archie said, “Is there someplace we can talk?”

-A-

“I can tell you this much,” said Jan, seated with her guests in a meeting room. “The discovery of time travel lent itself to abuse as much as use. Thus, to preserve a core timeline and to repair destructive divergences, the Time Police was formed. One of your friends, from the same era but from a different timeline than your own, was recruited to become one of our greatest agents. Security prohibits me from saying more.”

“Wow,” said Ronnie. “One of the Gang is one of your agents? And you can’t tell us which? Not even a hint?”

January shook her head, smiling. “Sorry.”

“It’s not one of our Gang, Ronnie, I don’t think,” Archie explained. “Jan said the agent is from a different timeline. That means whoever it is, is a parallel version of one of us. Maybe another Archie or Betty or Ronnie or Reg, but not the, uh, ‘us’ us.”

“Close enough,” January confirmed. Betty, looking on, thought she saw a bit of sadness in Jan’s eyes, and guessed that whoever it was held some special import for the lady. “But you have been sent to us now, and you will be the agents with whom we work.”

Salem, crouching on top of the table, said, “I like that. Double-O Salem, that’s me.”

“Yeah,” said Reggie. “James Bond with a hairball.” The cat glared at him.

Betty said, “Excuse me, Jan. May I call you Jan? The big thing is, we’re on a rescue mission to find our friend Sabrina, and stop this guy Doom from doing whatever he’s trying to do. And he’s discovered time travel a lot earlier than you seem to have.”

“Indeed,” said Jan. “And we have been feeling the impact of his tampering for a while now.”

“Tampering?”, asked Archie. “Impact? Like, what sort of tampering and impact?”

Just then, an explosive noise that would have put the largest sonic boom in history to shame, coupled with a shock wave that rattled the bones of all present and upset a number of cups of water, juice, tea, or coffee before them occurred. The lot of them literally had to hold onto their seats in order to keep from being thrown out of them.

“That,” answered Jan, once the tremor had passed. “You see?”

“See, yeah,” breathed Archie, getting himself back together. “Understand, no.”

“Oh, heavens, my hair,” said Ronnie, holding on to the edge of the table. “And if this quake damages my nail sculpture, I am so gonna sue this century for damages.”

Salem, switching his tail back and forth, said, “Is Doom using my mistress’s magic to do this?”

“Apparently so,” said January. “We were unable to grasp him in the Limbo Stream when he passed through. But...’passed through’ is a misnomer. We believe he is still there.”

“Still where?” asked Archie.

“In the stream of Limbo. The time between all times. The grey, misty region from which we rescued you,” Jan explained. “What data our probes there have provided us indicate that there is, well, a structure of some sort in as close to a center as Limbo has got. From the paths that the energy bursts we have been receiving have taken, we believe they are coming from that structure.”

“So,” said Betty, “Doom may be within that structure, whatever it is. With Sabrina.”

“He’s using my mistress’s magic to do this,” exclaimed Salem, his tail bristling. “Let me at him!”

Another boom. Another tremor. This time, Salem was jostled down the tabletop into Archie’s lap. “Sorry, Red,” the cat remarked.

Archie stroked him, gently. “It’s all right, Salem.” To Jan, he said, “If these...blasts, whatever...are hitting that close together, I imagine we don’t have that much time, if you’ll forgive me saying it, to get him. What are they all about, anyway?”

Jan said, “We’re not entirely sure. But I imagine these are the initial shockwaves coming from what may be an attempt to restructure all timelines. What goal our enemy has, we cannot know. But, if we are to preserve our realities, we must find him and stop him.”

“Wait,” said Veronica, holding up both hands. “Wait just a minute, Ms. Andrews. I mean, McAndrews. Listen. We’re not a commando team. We’ve had our share of adventures, sure. But...we’re just high school kids. Or we were, till a couple of weeks ago. We’re not up to swimming around in gray pea soup and busting into any structures. We’re just...who we are.”

“True,” said January. “But you have no appreciation of who you are, Ms. Lodge. Any hero is just a normal person, until called upon to do extraordinary things. Our greatest agent of your time is one of yourselves. I doubt you would believe it, should I give you the name. But you must take it on faith that I speak the truth.”

“I don’t take anything on faith!” said Ronnie, standing up. “For gosh sakes, a couple of weeks ago I was getting the tassel of my mortarboard turned. Now Moose has been stabbed, and Sabrina’s been kidnaped, and her aunts are witches, and we’re hanging with a talking cat, and...and...”

“And,” said Betty, putting a hand on her friend’s shoulder, “if we don’t pitch in and help, Ronnie, we’re not likely to have a Riverdale to go back to once this is over. If I’m thinking right.”

“I think you’re thinking very right, Betty,” said Archie. “Doc Doom would have power to make history anything he wanted. No Ronnie, no Betty, no Reg or Jughead, not even a dumb old redheaded klutz named Archie.”

“No Sabrina, either,” put in the cat. “Or me.”

“Or maybe not even a United States,” said Reggie. “Heck, Arch. What were our parents, before they went to ‘Nam? Just all-American teenagers. Like us.”

“That isn’t exactly a reassuring analogy, Reggie,” said Veronica. “In fact, I could use a sponge apiece for each of my palms, thanks to that.”

“But it’s an apt analogy, Ron,” said Archie. “It’s up to us. Either we rescue Sabrina, and stop Doom...or it’s all over for everyone. And everything. I don’t think I can dodge that.”

After a second, Reggie said, “I don’t think any of us can. We’ve done this scene before, January. Tell us what we have to do.”

Not long after that, the six of them, outfitted in special outfits (even Salem), found themselves strapped into a craft that sat on a platform not unlike the one which had received all but one of them from the 21st Century. “Brace yourselves,” said Jan. “The transition won’t be rocky...but it will be awe-inspiring.”

“I’ve had enough awe inspired for the rest of my life,” put in Reggie. “How’s about inspiring somebody else’s awe for a while?”

“Awe, cut it, Reggie,” said Betty.

Archie, holding Salem in his lap, took a deep breath. “Whenever you’re ready, Jan.”

The Time Police agent threw a control on the dash panel of the ship. All about them, a blitz of ill-defined color replaced the sight of the Watchtower’s interior. The lot of them were half-blinded, despite the protection the portal’s filters gave them. With difficulty, Archie saw that the color-burst was fading to grey. The grey of a purling mist.

And from his lap, he heard Salem chanting:

“He thrusts his fists against the posts, and still insists he sees the ghosts. He thrusts his fists against the posts...”

To be continued...

Post Wed Feb 23, 2005 5:50 pm
darkmark90 User avatar
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Posts: 11

Maybe the Last Archie Story

Part 8

by DarkMark

“Josie and the Pussycats, long tails and ears for hats, guitars in sharps and flats...”

The three girls in the skimpy cat-striped leotards and cat-eared headgear ran through their theme song for what seemed like the zillionth time (it was only the 1014th, as Josie knew; she kept count). They were rehearsing in their hometown of Midvale for a gig in Vegas. That was supposed to be where you went when you were finished with your career. In their case, it was just where they could corral some money from the casino bosses so they could make ends meet and afford another tour.

“Okay, girls, take ten,” said Josie McCoy, and put down her Fender guitar. She sighed and sat down on a metal chair in the church basement. Then she hoisted a cola can out of a Styrofoam box filled with ice, popped the top, and drank it. Melody was putting her drumsticks carefully in plastic Baggies, which Josie thought looked dorky, though she didn’t say anything about it.

Valerie Brown wiped the sweat off her brow with her tiger-striped sleeve before unbuckling the shoulder strap from her bass. “Such a long, strange trip it’s been, huh?”

“You got it, honey.” Josie smiled.

Even though their costumes were cut thigh-high, their songs had never been so risque nor their life-style so extreme that they weren’t welcome at the First Baptist, where both Josie and Valerie were still members. They did have to ask Pastor McCallum to keep the kids out of the rehearsal area, though, no matter what their age was.

Melody Valentine arranged herself with crossed legs in another seat, fished a Diet Pepsi out of the Styrofoam bin, picked up a Harlequin Romance and began to read. Then she looked up. “Wouldn’t it be easier if we were guys?”

Josie gave her a quizzical look. “Mel, my only response to that can be: Huh?”

Mel spread her arms. “Just think about it. We have to watch our weight, we have to exercise, have to low-carb our diets so we can look great in these catsuits. But if we were guys, we could let ourselves go and just worry about how we played.”

“Uh huh.” Valerie Brown nodded, with a touch of malice. “Like you wanna turn into Leslie West of Mountain right before our eyes.”

“Hey!”

“Girls, chill,” said Josie, getting between them. “Got to admit, Mel, guy rockers have an easier time of it. But let’s face it: the guys that buy the tickets want to see a leg show as much as they wanna hear the music. Soooo...we pay attention to working our bodies, as much as our body of work. Agreed?”

“Agreed,” sighed Melody. “But it just isn’t fair.”

Josie ignored her and pulled a Beef Stix package out of her purse. She tore the top off, pushed the stick up, and chewed off the end of it. Between bites, she said, “Got anything new on the songwriting front, Val?”

Valerie leaned back in her chair, eyes pointed at the ceiling. “I’m workin’ on a few things, but nothing’s really jelled yet. I know we need a new song for this gig, but right now I’m runnin’ on less fumes than my freakin’ Buick is.”

“Understood, Val,” said Josie. “You’ll pull through.”

Silence for a second. Then Valerie straightened up “You heard about that kidnaping in Greendale, right?”

Josie slipped off her shoes and sat cross-legged on the chair. “A little bit about it. Seemed like a pretty heavy scene.”

“It was heavy,” confirmed Val. “You know that big kid from the Riverdale football team? Moose Mason? Big blonde guy, showed up with his friends at some of our beach sets? He got stabbed.”

“Oh!” Melody threw both hands in front of her mouth, one of them still holding her book. “That’s horrible.”

“Moose?” said Josie, with concern. “I knew him. Give, Val. What’ve you heard?”

Valerie stretched out her long legs and bent over to massage them. “Got a call from Chuck Clayton, a friend of mine down there. His dad’s a coach on the Riverdale team. What it amounts to is, a girl and her two aunts got kidnaped in Greendale. You remember that redheaded kid, Archie Andrews?”

“Oh, sure,” said Melody. “I remember Archie. He’s the kid with that waffle-cut over his sideburns, right?”

“That’s him, Mel,” said Josie. “But you know him better than that. Remember ‘Sugar, Sugar’? It was his band that did that.”

Melody’s eyes lit up. “Wow. Hold on. You mean that Archie was the Archie of the Archies? That’s incredibly grooved!”

Josie chuckled. Then, to Valerie, she said, “Go ahead.”

“Well, what Chuck said, and he only got it second-hand, is that Archie got Moose and a bunch of his friends together and they split up and tried to save the gal and her aunts. They did save the aunts, but Moose got stabbed by some thug. They got him to the hospital in time.”

“Whoo, thank God,” said Melody. Then, looking up, she said, “‘Scuse me.”

“What about the girl?” asked Josie.

“Chuck said she’s still missing,” said Valerie. “Sabrina something. He tried to get hold of Archie, but he’s gone, too. It’s like a mystery with a capital M.”

Josie nodded. “Well, there’s not much we can do. Maybe we’d better get back to Songs with a capital S.”

“Josie,” Melody piped up. “Wait. You know we need a new song for Vegas?”

“Yes, Mel. And?”

The petite blonde leaned forward. “And what if we did a song for Moose?”

“A song for Moose?” Both Josie and Valerie echoed the phrase a second apart.

“Sure,” Melody said. “S’pose we did a song for him. Maybe we pitch it like it’s somebody getting over a broken heart, only it’s really about him getting better from being wounded. We could even give part of the money to pay his hospital bills. Whatta ya say?”

“Huh,” thought Valerie. “A song for Moose. Not that I know the guy that well. But, still...”

“Got any ideas, Val?” asked Josie. “You write the songs that make the whole band sing.”

Melody was already behind her drum kit, taking her sticks out of the Baggies. “What about...I dunno...’Hang On, Moose’?”

Josie ran through a riff on her guitar, the volume turned down low. She looked at Val, who had the look on her face she got whenever a song was starting to work its way into her mind. “Hang on, Moose,” Valerie sang, tentatively. “You got to have some faith so that the pain’ll go away...hang on, Moose...you got to understand that there’ll be a brighter day...”

Looking at Melody, Josie smiled. “It’s working.”

“Shush,” said Mel. “Let genius work.”

And genius and her two partners worked all night, knocking the song into shape. They cut a small demo CD on their portable recorder, broke for breakfast, went to their homes to go to bed, and wondered what the heck a poor wounded kid would think if he chanced to hear his name in a song on the radio.

-A-

As the Time Police craft got nearer to its destination, Archie wondered how he was supposed to tell the passing of time in Limbo.

January McAndrews seemed to understand his concern. She turned to him with a gentle expression on her face. “Even in Limbo, our time-senses are on a human basis,” she explained. “We perceive events in a linear fashion. Most of the time.”

“Well, that’s mostly a relief,” said Archie.

“I regret having to bring you here,” she said. “It...does put you all in considerable danger. But we have no choice at present.”

“Or in the past or future?” put in Salem, still in Archie’s lap.

“I have never felt less empathy with a talking cat than I do at this moment,” said Archie, scowling. “Cut the jokes, Salem.”

“Hey,” said Salem, looking up at Archie. “This is my mistress we’re going after, you two-legs. If I was any more jumpy, Tennessee Williams would write a play about me. I’m just trying to relieve the tension.”

“Sorry, kitty,” said Archie, stroking the cat’s back gently. “I mean, Salem. I mean...nuts.”

Jan reached over and opened a compartment in the floor. “Here,” she said. “Take one and pass the rest out.”

Archie looked inside the squarish space. There were five black, rectangular objects, one end of each being lighter in color. They were about the dimensions of a standard TV remote, and he’d seen enough sf shows to figure out what they were. “Phasers?”

“Stunners,” she said. “Their effectivity varies in Limbo, but they’re the best we’ve got.”

“The best?” Archie held one gingerly, careful not to point the lighter end at anyone.

Leaning over Archie’s chair top, Reggie said, “Carrot-Top, I think she means these are the things we’re least likely to blow our own heads off with.”

Archie grimaced at Reggie. Betty and Veronica looked at each other. Jan said, “Crudely put, but not inaccurate. When you see a target, point the lighter end at it. There’s a button on the right, near the top, to press. It releases the stun waves. Don’t use them in here.”

“Oh, we won’t,” said Betty, holding hers carefully between two fingers and a thumb. “Promise.”

Veronica spoke up again. “Before we do whatever we’re going to do, I have to say something. Everyone, please listen.”

“We’re listening, Ronnie,” said Archie. “Go ahead.” He set his jaw firmly and crossed his arms. Jan McAndrews took note of it.

The black-haired girl took in a deep breath. “I just wanted to say that, if this is the...the last time we get to say something like this...that no matter what, I want us to know that we’re all friends. No matter what happens, or what happened among us, between any of us. There’s something that’s...more than just boy and girl, you know? There’s a...oh, nuts. I don’t know how to put it.”

Betty said, “You’ve put it just fine, Ronnie. There’s a bond. A bond we all have between us. Even with the differences...you rich, me middle-class, Reggie an ego-queen...”

“Hey, just a minute!” said Reggie, good-naturedly.

“...and Archie a klutz, we love each other. And I think we always will. Am I right on that, gang?” She looked at the others.

Reggie said, quietly, “You know it, Bets.”

Archie said, “Never thought I’d see you in a frame of mind like this, Mantle. But yeah, Betty, you’re right. There is a bond between us. And there always will be. Here?” He stretched out his hand in her direction.

Betty, hesitantly, put out her hand. Then she firmly placed it in Archie’s. Reggie Mantle slapped his hand on top of theirs. Veronica placed hers on top of Reggie’s.

“Wow,” said Reggie. “Fantastic Four time, huh?”

Then a fifth hand went over Veronica’s.

January McAndrews said, “Correction. Five.”

Salem got up, ran over Archie’s arm, and placed his paw on the gathering. “Don’t forget about me, gang.” There was a general chorus of laughter.

Archie looked at his descendant, steadily. “Welcome to the Gang, Jan. Just hope you don’t regret it.”

She smiled. “I stopped having regrets a long time ago, Archie. Now, if you’ll strap yourselves in again, we’re about to dock.”

Before they did, Betty gave Ronnie a big hug, and Ronnie returned it. They said nothing to each other. Then they strapped in. Archie glanced at Reggie. He was practicing a Western quick-draw with his stunner. Salem got back in Archie’s lap. “Too bad they don’t make those stunners for cats, eh?”

“Can’t have everything, Salem,” said Archie.

What passed for a windscreen in the timecraft wasn’t exactly a windscreen. It was an imaging system that projected in a flat holograph before them a view of their surroundings. Outside, the grey mists had parted enough for them to see where Jan was taking them.

It was a castle.

But not the kind of castle anyone would have seen on Earth. Some of the architecture looked recognizable, other parts of it were clearly alien. The structure was spherical, like a planet. Towers, walls, and other edifices radiated out from a central point. It was incredible. Archie could barely stand to look at it for very long.

“Wow,” said Veronica. “And we’re supposed to find Sabrina in that?”

“Exactly,” said Jan. “When Doom and Ms. Spellman passed through our zone, they left enough of an energy signature for us to pick up on. The stunners will signal you as to what direction to follow. Now, the button on the left side is for communication. If you speak the name or names of the persons to whom you wish to talk, the stunner will connect you with them. If you wish to contact us all, just say ‘All contacts’. Do not confuse the button on the left with the one on the right. If you wish to know what direction the ship is in, just speak the word ‘Home’. Clear?”

“Crystal,” said Archie.

“Clear,” said Betty.

“I’m clear, too,” said Veronica.

“Got it,” said Reggie.

“If Red Fur forgets, I’ll remind him,” said Salem. “I’m part of this unit, too.”

“Absolutely right,” said Archie. “We don’t discriminate against cats. When do we dock, Jan?”

She looked at him, neutrally. “We already have. Prepare yourselves, we’re about to disembark.”

The hatch door opened, retracting into the side of the craft. Some bits of fog-mist came drifting in. Archie shrank back. “That stuff isn’t toxic, is it?”

“No,” Jan assured him. “Life forms of whatever origin can survive here. I’ll go first.” She disengaged her seat straps, got up, and went to the door. “Follow me.”

Her boots clicked on the surface of the timecraft’s floor. Archie, watching her, wondered which girl he’d have to marry in order to produce her ancestor. At least he’d get married. That was somehow reassuring. Sighing, he loosened the straps holding him in the seat. Salem jumped to the floor and preceded him. The other three were already getting loose.

Jan looked back at him. “Well?”

“Give me a minute.” He silently prayed, then walked towards her. “Let’s go, Jan.”

January McAndrews stepped out of the doorway and onto whatever lay beyond. Biting his lips, Archie did the same, and strode forward a bit so that the others could get out behind him. He felt Salem’s tail whipping against his leg.

They were in what probably passed for a courtyard in the Limbo castle. Beneath them was, recognizably, soil and the equivalent of grass, though it was of a light yellow color. A wall enclosed the courtyard on more than three sides, but in front of them was the castle proper, or at least a wing of it. There were several arches before them...Archie found it hard to count them, as if their number altered from moment to moment...and doors beyond them.

Betty said, “Is there a reason why you landed here, Jan?”

“Yes,” said Jan, turning her head towards Betty. “It’s where Doom’s and Sabrina’s life signs were detected. Each of you, take your stunners in hand. Carefully.”

They did so. Jan said, “Now. Can you feel a light pull on them, in one direction?”

Reggie said, “Yeah. Kind of. I turn it this way, there’s more of a pulse to it. That the direction they’re in?”

“Has to be, Reg,” said Archie. “Let’s go. We’re coming back with Sabrina, or...well...let’s just say we’re coming back with Sabrina.”

Mantle clapped him on the shoulder. “That’s the spirit, Red. Come on. Let’s go be Witchfinders General.”

“Oh, I wish I hadn’t watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer so much,” moaned Veronica.

“Ronnie,” said Betty, tensely, “get with the program.”

The group moved forward. Jan took the lead, walking steadily towards one of the arches. She turned back towards the others. “Remember, we must stay in contact.”

“You don’t have to convince us,” said Archie.

Jan boldly went forward to one of the doors under the arch. It looked to be made of wood, though Archie thought that just might have been what he perceived. The door opened to Jan’s touch, without her having to twist a handle. “Follow me,” she said. The crew could see what looked like a hallway beyond.

The Time Police woman stepped inside.

After her heel went through the doorway, the walls closed in behind her. There was no door anymore. Only a brick wall in its place.

Veronica yelped. “The thing ate her. It’s a mouth. It’s alive!”

“Ronnie, we so did not need that right now,” said Betty. “What’s our next step, fearless leader?”

Archie’s hand trembled a bit. But he held the stunner up before him. The pulse was strong in the direction of the wall. “I don’t know about the rest of you. But I’m going to pick a door and go in.”

“Mantle has a better idea,” said Reggie. “Let’s link hands. That way we can go through together.”

“As long as I can ride with somebody, that’s fine by me,” said Salem.

Archie scooped up the cat and held him in the crook of the arm that held his stunner. “Now, stay cool,” he ordered. Then he gave Reggie his other hand. Reggie took it, and extended his right hand towards Betty. She linked with him and Veronica. As a human chain, they marched forward.

But the door before Archie didn’t open. He kicked at it. “Ow!”

“Smart,” commented Salem. “I don’t think it’ll open for all of us.”

Reggie exhaled. “Great,” he said. “That means we go in one at a time, or not at all.”

“Looks that way,” said Archie, and, reluctantly, let go of Reggie’s hand. He still held Salem, and, as he put forth his free hand towards the door, wondered if he could go through with the cat.

The door opened to his touch. He turned his head towards the others. “Remember, left button to talk, right button to blast. We’ve got to find Sabrina, we’ve got to find Jan, and we’ve got to keep in touch with each other. No matter what.”

Then, before anyone could respond, he stepped over the threshhold. As his back leg crossed it, the door closed shut behind him of its own accord. He could hear it. He didn’t have to turn to know that behind him was only a wall.

“Whiskers out, Red Fur,” murmured Salem. “We’re not in Greendale anymore.”

To be continued...

Post Sun Feb 27, 2005 5:54 pm
Rik User avatar
MightyCrusaders.net
MightyCrusaders.net

Posts: 1771
Location: California

Enjoying your take on the Archies

I fixed some strange error with the quotation marks in parts 4 and 5.
Rik
http://www.mightycrusaders.net
Everything you ever wanted to know about the Mighty Crusaders, from the Golden Age to today.

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Post Sun Feb 27, 2005 10:28 pm
darkmark90 User avatar
Poor
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Posts: 11

Maybe the Last Archie Story

part 9

by DarkMark

Archie wondered if he dared take another step further.

The castle interior before him seemed composed of stone bricks, but the perspective was skewed. If he made a motion to his left or right, forward or backward, it seemed to shift, as if a camera lens was doing special effects. There were...well, there were stairs in the distance that came down from the ceiliing, or down walls, and doors in the floor and ceiling as well. There were arches that were placed where arches were not meant to be, and Archie could have testified that, in some areas, the walls subtly moved.

How in the blazes was he supposed to even walk in such a place, let alone find Sabrina Spellman?

“We better get a move on, Red,” commented Salem, still in his arms.

“Salem, give me a minute,” he said, irritably. “I don’t know where to go in this place.”

“Just like you do any other,” said the cat. “Put one foot in front of the other, and repeat. Now.”

Grimacing, Archie did just that.

He lifted his right foot tentatively, closed his eyes, and slowly put it down. Solid surface. Quite a relief. Archie opened his eyes, saw that the perspective was still a bit off, but that the floor directly before him was reassuringly stable.

“Want me to let you down now, cat?”

“Okay by me,” said Salem. “Don’t think I’m any more used to this than you are.”

“Don’t get too far away from me,” said Archie. “Especially not when, well, a few feet might be half a county away.”

But he did set Salem down, and watched as the cat took its first steps across the surreal pathway. The black-and-white feline was cautious, as if he expected to fall off the edge of the material world (provided this was a material world) in the next second. Nonetheless, he managed to walk forward. All to the good.

Archie concentrated. If this was all a trick of perception, perhaps he could alter his own perceptions enough to comprehend this. And if it was, in part, subjective, it might be possible to will it into logicality, or at least format his mind enough to regard it in a more orderly fashion. He closed his eyes again, silently demanding that the setting before him make sense.

And when he opened them again, the room before him, though as oddly-constructed as it had been before, did indeed seem more solid and logical.

“Score one for subjectivism,” he murmured. Salem was still slowly forging ahead. He took his stunner out, fanned it around, and felt a stronger vibration in it when he pointed it in the direction the cat was walking. “Smell something, Salem?”

Turning his head, Salem said, “I can feel her vibes this way, a bit. It’s not exactly a Geiger counter thing, but I get kind of a sense of her presence. Magic waves, you might call it.”

“Keep those ears and that nose sharp,” warned Archie, heading after the cat. “I want to know when anyone’s coming near us.” He thumbed the button on the left of the stunner. “All contacts,” he said.

“Archie,” came Betty’s voice. “Oh, thank heavens. Can you see me?”

“No, Betty,” he answered. “I think we’re all on our own. Ronnie, Reggie, Jan, sound off. Are you there?”

“Oh, Lord, Archie.” It was Veronica’s voice. “I don’t know what to do. This place doesn’t make any sense. I’m scared.”

“Don’t blame you,” came Reggie’s answer. “I’m trying to figure out whether or not I should walk up a wall. You okay, Carrot Top?”

“I’m fine, Magnificent,” said Archie. “Jan?”

“Here, loud and clear,” said January McAndrews. “I’ve tried the same thing, Reggie. Right now, I’m halfway up one of the walls. It’s as if the castle generates its own gravity throughout itself, but I wouldn’t count on that too much. Could be dangerous.”

“Yeah,” said Reggie. “Ronnie, talk to me. I heard your voice.”

There was an audible intake of breath from Veronica. “I don’t know how to cope with this. I shouldn’t have come.”

Archie spoke into the stunner. “Ronnie, listen to me. Just stay where you are. If we accomplish our mission, or even if we don’t, we’ll come and get you. Jan, can you set your stunner to detect her life signs?”

“I can,” said Jan. “Doing it right now. Hang on, Veronica, I’ll come get you. Then I’ll see about getting you out of here.”

“No,” came Veronica’s response.

“What?” Jan sounded baffled. Archie was about to echo the word, himself.

“I said, no. We’re...all in this together,” said Veronica. “I am not gonna hold you up. I am...getting up...right now. There. Okay. Now I’m, I’m walking forward. All right. One step...two steps...ohhh, you can actually walk on this stuff. That’s amazing.”

“Veronica, I’m still coming to get you,” said January.

“I’m not leaving,” Veronica affirmed. “I may be about to throw up on my Guccis. But I am not gonna wimp out. I am part of the Gang.”

“Ronnie,” came Betty’s voice, quietly, “I am very proud of you.”

“Let me say the same,” said Archie. “Ron, you’ve got more guts than you think you do. More than we gave you credit for. Am I right, Reg?”

“As rain, Red,” said Reggie. “You’re Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Xena rolled into one, Ronnie. I’ll stick Gabrielle in as part of the package, if you want.”

“Ohhh!” Veronica’s tone of humorous exasperation was a major relief. “Shut up, Mantle! Let’s get this job done.”

“That’s the spirit,” said Archie. “Okay. Any pointers, Jan?” He was moving after Salem. Surprisingly, no one had come to intercept them, yet. Or should that be surprising at all?

“Stay in contact, avoid conflict if possible, find Sabrina Spellman and liberate her,” said Jan. “Use your stunners. Once we find her, we reconvene.”

Reggie said, “How do we get out of here?”

“I believe that some of the phenomena we experienced is caused by Doom, using Sabrina’s magic,” said Jan. “Once she’s freed, we should be able to leave without problems. If not...I’ll find a way. Godspeed, my friends.”

“Yeah. Godspeed,” said Archie. “And God help us.”

Archie thumbed off the communicator button. He looked ahead, at the oddness of the Limbo castle. What in heaven’s name was he doing there? This was like something out of Labyrinth, by way of Star Wars. And all he was, really, was a high school graduate from a medium-sized town in New York State.

Yeah. And all he had to do was rescue a friend of his and save the whole freaking world. You’d think the Time Police would choose better reps than him and his friends. But...sometimes you had to deal with what you had.

Right now, all they had was him. Archie squared his shoulders and walked forward, trailing Salem. “What’ve you got, cat?”

Salem switched his tail. “I’m getting some vibes from above. Hold on, let me try something.”

“Like what? Salem, watch out!”

In a trice, the cat ran to the wall before them and ran up it.

Archie gaped. Seeing the stairways that ran down from the ceiling and the doors set in places where people would normally not be able to reach was one thing. Actually seeing a cat scamper straight up a wall, over stone bricks that wouldn’t admit a claw, was quite another. Salem scurried into a doorway in the ceiling and through it. He popped his head back out again. “Well? Are you coming?”

Taking a deep breath, Archie hustled forward. If he took this fast, maybe he wouldn’t have time to think about it. Well, that much, anyway. “If only I got paid for this,” he muttered.

His shoe touched the wall. Reluctantly, he set his other foot a few feet up, flat against the wall. Then, with a breath, he took his other foot off the floor and set it a pace above the other foot.

Instantly, his body reoriented itself, his legs and torso hanging only a foot or two perpendicular to what had been the floor, a few seconds ago. And he was standing on what had been a wall, without falling backward.

“Well?” said Salem.

“Just a minute!”

He put one foot before him, then the other. The orientation of the castle changed, in his mind. Archie couldn’t afford to think too much about it. The brain would be going on overload if he did. With an effort, Archie sprinted up the wall, or across the floor, however you chose to take it, and went through the open doorway.

Salem smiled. “See?”

“I’m just gonna think of this place as stone with velcro properties,” said Archie, his hands trembling a bit. “Lead on, MacDuff.”

The chamber they had entered was pretty much the same as the one they’d left, but, as Archie took a step forward, he could feel the stunner in his hand vibrating with increased fury. Even Salem stopped in mid-step, his forepaw an inch or two above the floor. “You feel it, Salem?”

“Yeah,” said the cat, quietly.

“We must be almost on top of wherever they’re holding her.”

“Either that, or they must have moved it under us,” said Salem. “I have a feeling things are a lot less stable around here than in our world. There’s a lot of energy nearby. Magic and magic-related.”

“Why aren’t we hearing anything?”

The cat sniffed. “Magic isn’t like heavy industry. It doesn’t usually generate a lot of noise.”

Archie thumbed his communicator and said, “Jan.”

“I’m here, Archie,” came the voice. “What’ve you got?”

“Salem and I are right on top of something. This unit’s shaking like a principal’s credibility. Can you get a fix on me?”

“Yes, I’ve got your direction. All contacts: Archie’s closest to home. Go for a rezendevous. Keep sharp.”

Salem was headed for another door. This time, it was parallel to the floor. Archie shook his head as he followed the cat. This time the portal wasn’t an arch, but a closed door. Salem looked back at him. “Want to go through together?”

Reflecting on the way the last closed door had been, Archie nodded. “Jump up here,” he said, stooping over and making his arms into a cradle. Salem did so, and got settled. “Comfy?”

“Sure. Under the circumstances,” said the cat.

“Think she’s behind there?”

“Yes,” said Salem. “And more besides. Be careful, Red Fur.”

Archie bent double to go in the door. It opened of its own accord as he neared it, and he wondered what kind of sensors operated in the Limbo world. What was visible beyond was another brick wall, but there were some flickering light patterns reflecting on its surface. That, somehow, was not reassuring.

“Get ready, Salem,” said Archie, as he stooped and went through the door.

A second later, he screamed as the floor beyond, what there was of it, fell through like raw cake batter. Salem tumbled from his arms, screeching. The stunner, he managed to hold onto. At least until he banged against the wall twice and took a hard, numbing blow to the elbow. It fell from his numbed fingers. The gravity, or what passed for it, in the wall helped to slow him on contact, but his downward momentum was too great for it to compensate very much.

Why in the heck did they decide to go Isaac Newton on me now?, he thought.

The chamber below was large indeed. He saw as much as he planed down the wall, but that was about all he could manage to take in. Splaying his fingers and flattening his body, he tried to make like Spider-Man and stick to the wall. The rough stone scraped his hands and knees and he yelped as he skidded the rest of the way down.

Archie crumpled at the base of the wall, in pain, in a roughly fetal position. Blast it! This was no time to be incapacitated. There were people depending on him. Not just Sabrina, but Betty, Veronica, Reggie, Jan, Salem... Where the devil was Salem?

Someone called his name, weakly. The voice was female. A much rougher, masculine voice said “Andrews”, in a most unfriendly tone. He heard Salem groan.

He opened his eyes, turning his head towards the direction of the voices. Some twenty feet distant, in the midst of the large room, was a contraption of sorts that reached to the very ceiling, reminding him of the setup in the Time Police headquarters. His focus, however, was near floor level. Sabrina Spellman was locked into the device. Her hands were still pent by the machine Dr. Doom had built, which was now part of the greater structure. She was sitting in a seat that seemed to be one with the floor, and, if it hadn’t been for the fact that her hands were in the machine, he doubted she’d be able to sit in it. Sabrina looked dazed, several points beyond exhaustion.

Whatever was being done, it was killing her.

Beside her, looking straight at Archie, Mad Doctor Doom stood. Salem was on his side, trying to get back on his feet. From the angle at which the cat lay, Archie could tell he’d taken a hard fall indeed. The stunner was across the room, against the wall. He had to get it. To do that, he had to get up.

Visualizing the times he’d taken hits in a football game and gotten back up, Archie gritted his teeth and straightened up. A lot of him seemed to hurt, but that, like it or not, wasn’t allowed to be a factor here. He started after the stunner.

“Archie, please...”, said Sabrina, in a weak voice.

Salem was trying to struggle to his feet, but he looked out of it himself. Doom was pointing at Archie and speaking two words:

“Get him!”

The youth’s eyes narrowed. “Get me with what?” He scooped up the stunner, started to aim it, noticed a bit of purling green mist manifesting near the machine...

...and dropped the stunner as a bolt of fire struck it and singed his hand. “Ow!”

Grasping his injured hand, Archie looked at the spot where the mist was still rolling. Visible within it was a red-and-blue-costumed man with a beard and a sneer. He also had a flaming right hand, which he had used to throw the firebolt.

“One of my operatives from a different timeline,” said Doom, coolly. “He is called the Flamethrower. But, as the poet said, ‘Some say the world will end in fire...’”

A freezing burst of cold hit Archie’s hand, counteracting the pain of the light burn, but freezing it in a solid block of congealed moisture. The person who had done it, Archie saw, was a man who appeared to be made entirely of ice.

“‘...Some say in ice,’” finished Doom. “This, by the way, is Ice Cube.”

Archie didn’t say anything. Desperately, he lurched to the wall and smashed his frozen hand against it, shattering the block of ice around it. But his right hand was still too numb to grab the stunner. He went for it with his left.

A black-gloved hand belonging to a man in a green uniform grasped his left wrist and held it fast. Archie threw a punch at the interloper’s jaw before he could see who it was. He felt as though he’d broken his hand. Then he recognized the grinning face before him, though it was mostly hidden behind a mask.

“Reggie! Reg, man, quit the clowning. You’ve got to get Sabrina out of here. You’ve got to help her and me and Salem get back.”

The masked man raised his eyebrows. “Reggie? Sorry. I go by the name of Evilheart. And in case you didn’t know it, Red...”

A great open-handed slap rocked Archie’s world. Sabrina screamed his name.

“...I’m not a good guy,” finished Evilheart.

Dr. Doom laughed, gutterally. “Indeed, you’re not. Now, if you’d be so kind as to bring him over here, I shall have the Temperature Twins fry and freeze him at the same time. They can debate which of them killed him when it is done.”

Archie struggled weakly within Evilheart’s grasp. But the villain who looked like Reggie Mantle had strength beyond the human norm. He felt like Woody Allen trying to break the grip of the Shield.

“I’ve got a better idea,” said Evilheart.

Doom quirked an eyebrow. “And what would that be? We’re on a schedule, you know.”

“Throw him down the Time Well,” said Evilheart. “You know, the place you dragged us through. Only, without a destination. That way, he gets to drift there forever. Or maybe even be raw fuel for the process.”

“Hmmm,” mused Doom. “The idea does have some merit...”

“Oh, come on,” said Flamethrower. “You do that, you’ll never see a body. You’ll never know he’s done, you’ll never get any satisfaction. Bring him over here, Evie.”

Evilheart’s eyes narrowed. “Flamethrower...if you don’t want to eat your own fireballs...never, ever call me ‘Evie’.”

Sabrina, barely conscious, said, “Evilheart...if...if you’ve got anything...anything of the Reggie Mantle I know...please...save us. Save the world.”

The villain in green looked at her, appraisingly, as he strode by her with his redheaded burden held fast. Then, holding Archie with one hand, he used the other to lift the main apparatus up from the floor. He bent Archie over the pit that lay below.

Within was only more of the mist, and it seemed to go on forever. Literally speaking, it probably did.

“No,” said Archie, numbly. “No...”

Evilheart placed one hand on Archie’s collar and the other on his belt. Two seconds later, he swung him over the side, dropped him, and watched him fall until he was swallowed by mist. After that, he lowered the device back into the hole that was its housing.

“Well?”, he said, looking at Doom and the others. “Have we got a multiverse to conquer, or not?”

To be continued...

Post Mon Feb 28, 2005 6:20 pm
darkmark90 User avatar
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Posts: 11

Maybe the Last Archie Story

by DarkMark

Part 10

Jughead knocked on the door of the Andrews house and was very glad when Fred, Archie’s father, answered it.

“Jug,” said Fred, with a very placid smile. “Welcome. What brings you here?”

“Hi, Mr. Andrews,” said Forsythe P. Jones. He glanced at the evening sky. Thunderheads were building to the north, and he didn’t want to have to stay out any longer than necessary. “Just wondering where Archie is.”

“Oh, my boy?” Fred Andrews smiled even more broadly. “Well, I’m sure he’s in good hands. In fact, I’m positively certain of that.”

“Uh.” Jughead adjusted his beanie a bit. “Maybe, sir, you can tell me whose good hands he’s in.”

Fred raised his eyebrows. Behind him, Mary called out, “Who’s there, Fred?”

“Oh, just young Jones, dear,” he said. To Jug, he said, “Well, now, I believe Archie is visiting the Spellman ladies up in Greendale. They’ve had such a loss, you know, what with Sabrina missing and them being kidnapped, and Archie is just staying there with them to keep them company.”

Jughead paused. “He’s staying with the Spellmans.”

“Exactly. Haven’t heard from him in awhile. But I’m sure he’ll be all right. I believe Miss Cooper, Miss Lodge, and young Reggie are with him, as well.”

Jughead started to reach out to touch Fred on the shoulder, then stopped, a few inches away from him. Mr. Andrews looked at him curiously. “Are you all right, son?”

“Mr. Andrews...the question is, are you all right?”

“Of course. Why shouldn’t I be?”

Cautiously, Jughead nodded. “Let me know when Arch gets back. Okay, Mr. Andrews?”

“Certainly, Mr. Jones. Certainly.”

Jughead left the porch and got back in Jason Blossom’s car. Jason, who had given him the ride, said, “Trouble?”

“I think he’s a Stepford Husband.”

Jason whistled. “Have things always been this weird around Riverdale, Jug?”

“Sometimes. Not this bad. You want to follow this through?”

“Hey, Betty’s concerned. You bet I want to follow it through.”

“I want to get some of the Gang together and go to Greendale,” said Jug. “We need to check things at the Spellman place.”

“Ooookay,” said Jason, whipping out his cell phone.

“But first, take me by Pop Tate’s,” Jughead continued. “I have a feeling this is gonna be a three-hamburger job.”

-A-

Betty Cooper had come into what she figured was the same kind of chamber that Archie did, if she understood his messages properly. The up-the-wall staircases, the doors set in the ceiling, the shifting perspective. Like Ronnie, it made her stomach churn for a long moment. But she was a practical girl, and, like Archie, forced her mind to make sense of it. Whether she adjusted her mind-set to the room or vice versa made no difference. She could walk through it, and negotiate it.

A miasma of grey mist came from one area before her. The vibes from her stunner still indicated that Sabrina was in that direction, or close enough, for her to investigate. Betty hesitated a bit. If that mist was, say, acidic, it might not be such a great idea for her to enter it. On the other hand, they’d come through similar mist outside and it hadn’t been any worse than a fog. Tentatively, she approached.

The test was made by holding the back of her stunner between two fingers and a thumb and pushing the front of it into the mist, which emanated from a doorway. Betty drew it back, saw that no harm had come to the device, and sighed in relief. Betty stuck the stunner behind her belt. Then she touched the mist with a fingertip, found no problem, and entered it with her entire body.

She stepped off into open, mist-filled space and was not ashamed that she yelled in fear.

It was like falling down a foggy well. Desperately, she splayed her arms out, her hands seeking something to grab. Her right hand slapped against a wall and stuck there, wrenching her arm and slamming her body against it. Ouch! Every surface of this place, apparently, had gravity. You didn’t feel it unless you contacted said surface.

Or at least you stuck to it like Spider-Man in the movies.

Maybe, she thought as she lay against it with her back to the wall, she could crawl back up the shaft till she reached the doorway. It was worth a try. She pulled her right hand from the wall, twisted her torso so that she was facing it, and then slapped her hand against the wall. It stuck. She righted her lower body, so that she faced the wall entirely. The stunner, thankfully, was still in her belt. But it was as though she had plastic suction cups on her hands and feet. No, more like she was a toddler, crawling on the floor, even though her senses told her she was crawling up a wall.

“Come on, Agent Super Duper Cooper,” she muttered to herself. “Time to get back up there on solid ground. Or at least, what looks like solid ground I can walk on.”

Betty put one hand out, then the next, and crawled upward. She looked ahead, and saw little more than the mist and the wall. Below, it seemed pretty much the same. Couldn’t hurt, she thought, to see what was behind her.

She craned her head around. She looked.

At first there was only mist. Then...

...something seemed to be forming. Not precisely as though it were coming into existence, but as though a focus was being changed and she could see a shape more clearly, coming through the mist.

(Gorillas?)

(Quit making stupid puns, mind!)

The shape was human. More than that, it was female.

More than that...it was blonde. And as it became more distinct, very familiar.

Betty thought she was looking into a mirror. She was looking at someone with her own face, her own hair, her own body...

...except that body was clad in a skin-tight red costume with a heart-shape on the chest, and a white cape. Like a super-hero. The other Betty looked as surprised to see her as Betty herself supposed she might look. It was like looking at someone sprung full-blown into three-dimensional life from the 2D pages of a comic book.

Was this a superhero Betty Cooper?

“You,” she finally managed to say. “Who are you?”

The other-Betty seemed to be trying to answer, but the mists enfolded her again. Another form presented itself.

She drew in a deep, deep breath and saw yet another Betty-self. This one had on a purple jumpsuit sort of uniform with blue trim. The girl looked very fit, ready for action, as if she had to use her body every day at whatever occupation she worked. The other-Betty looked cautiously at her, opened her mouth...

...and faded.

Betty Cooper waited, now. It seemed as though the mist was a theater of the mind.

In quick succession, more Bettys appeared. One wore a dress that would have been fashionable in the Sixties, looked at her, brandished some sort of device not unlike a stunner, and talked into her bracelet before fading. One wore a fur garment that covered about as much body area as a bathing suit, saw her, shrieked silently, and lurched away. One seemed to be dressed in the white bonnet and long black dress of a Pilgrim, and gazed at her in fear, as if she might be an apparition sent to test her. One was a little girl of about six years of age, in a simple red dress, and Betty wondered if she had looked just that way twelve years in the past.

She closed her eyes and shook her head. This had to be an illusion, just as the shifting perspective was an illusion. If the mind could block out that, then the mind could block out this.

After a few more moments, Betty opened her eyes again. She looked into the mist.

There was only grayish fog. No more other-Bettys. Somehow, that left her disconsolate, as if she had betrayed them. As if she were their only bridge into reality, or at least this version of it.

But there was nothing more to be done for it. There was a job to be done, and she wasn’t getting it done by hanging onto the wall.

Betty Cooper turned her head to face the wall, and once again began crawling up.

-A-

Veronica Lodge was wondering which way to start. She hadn’t felt this woozy since she’d attended a kegger on the beach with some friends, swum out, puked in the ocean, and sworn never to have one over her limit ever again.

You walked one way, the scenery seemed to bow up on the left. You walked the other, it did the same on the right. This was not the way houses were supposed to be built. If there were building inspectors in this community, Ronnie was going to get their number and report this place.

And yet, and yet...Sabrina was out there somewhere, and so were the others. The sooner they found her, or Ronnie found them, the sooner they could all return to the world of high school...well, maybe not that, not anymore, but of dates and movies and moms and dads and college plans and showing off on the beach and maxing out your credit cards and everything that made life worth living.

Holding her hands out before her like a sleepwalker, the stunner clutched firmly in her right, Veronica took a step forward, then another, then another. The floor below her was solid and had the texture of concrete, or something like it, covered with plastic. In front of that modern surface was a wall that was as medieval as any old castle’s on Earth. She’d gone to Europe several times, seen some of those very castles. If the surface wasn’t doing a fish-eye lens, she might say they were comparable.

Ronnie reached the wall, put her hands against it, stuck her stunner in her belt, and leaned against it, panting nervously. Her eyes were closed. How in the good Lord’s green Earth was she supposed to find Sabrina Spellman in all of this?

She ran her palms over the surface before her. In some ways, she supposed she was the most adventurous of the Gang...quick to try new fashions, to go new places, to seek out new thrills, as long as they were safe. But in other ways...

(Say it, Ronnie)

...in other ways she felt like a scared little rabbit.

If she needed something, she could buy it. If she wanted a position, such as a job or a student council membership, she could talk to her daddy and he could make a phone call. That was usually all it took. If she wanted friends, there were lots of people of both sexes, both her age and older, who wanted to curry the favor of the Lodge family by making up to her (or out with her). If she wanted a boy, she could have him. Maybe, as it had turned out, even Archie, though she wasn’t sure of that.

And what pleasure could she take in that?

Almost none.

It had been silver-plattered over to her, by virtue of being born into a family with wealth. 99 percent of Riverdale made less money than her father. What she had, all the privelage and status, had been given to her, not achieved, not worked for. Sure, when she’d applied herself, Veronica had almost always surprised herself by the results. But she hadn’t had to apply herself very much. Not when somebody was willing to give you what you wanted, even more than that, just because you had money and looks.

Her dad had increased the family fortune from an inheritance. She didn’t know what she’d do with her share of it, with the trust fund she’d come into soon. Lord knew, she didn’t have Daddy’s brain for business, even though she’d done okay in some small ventures. What could she achieve? Going to State U., joining a sorority, and shopping around for just the right rich boy with the right connections to be part of the Lodge clan, and help run the business?

And doing nothing by herself? Unlike Betty, who’d had to work for every blessed thing she’d ever gotten, and valued it all? Who’d captured at least 50 percent of Archie’s heart just by being as pretty and sweet and resourceful as she was? While being jealous of Ronnie for the stuff she had that she hadn’t had to lift a finger for?

Betty, who, above all the folks in Riverdale, was the girl Veronica envied herself?

She pushed her face against the stone wall and cried.

In fact, she cried so hard that she almost didn’t hear the shoes scuffing against the floor.

Ronnie spun away from the wall and stood with her back to it, open-mouthed. There were two men before her whom she’d never seen before. From the looks on their faces, they seemed to recognize her.

They were dressed in regular 21st Century clothes, nothing spectacular. One was bald and a little on the weighty side. The other, a bit skinnier, had a head of black hair that hung down over his eyes. They were moving towards her.

“I believe the lady sees us, Dr. Noze,” said the bald one.

“But it shouldn’t make a difference, Dr. Demon,” said the hairy one.

Breathing heavily, Ronnie put out her stunner, pressed both buttons just to make certain, and sent a bolt of whatever the thing was supposed to produce straight at them. There was nothing visible, but she heard something of a crackle.

Both men smiled.

“She has a Time Police stunner, Dr. Demon,” said Dr. Noze.

“But she didn’t realize that the static generators in our belts nullify its charge, Dr. Noze,” said Dr. Demon. “Pity, really.”

“Ah, well,” said Dr. Noze. “She looks so much like the girl from our timeline that this really will be a treat.”

Ronnie kept pressing the button to blast the two men closing upon her. It didn’t seem to do any good. She shrank back against the wall and put the stunner back in her belt. After all, she thought numbly, it wasn’t hers and they’d probably want her to give it back when she got through with this thing.

If.

Both of the men were standing before her now, not three feet away. Dr. Demon put up his arm, and Dr. Noze halted. “Just a moment, Dr. Noze. I would explain a bit of our purpose to the young lady before us.”

“As you wish, Dr. Demon,” said Dr. Noze. “But quickly, please.”

“Indeed. Very well, miss. You should understand, really, that what we do isn’t predicated by any personal wish for revenge upon you, yourself. No, it’s more what you represent. You see, on our timeline, the one from which we were snatched by our associate Dr. Doom, a version of yourself stood with a group of operatives and caused our organization a great deal of trouble.”

“The honored organization of C.R.U.S.H., Dr. Demon,” said Dr. Noze.

“Quite, Dr. Noze,” said Dr. Demon. “So you see, miss, that while we will take great pleasure in what we do, delivering you to Dr. Doom, well, more or less intact, you shouldn’t really feel that bad about it at all. It’s nothing personal.”

“And besides, Dr. Demon,” said Dr. Noze, “she is the easiest one of them all to take. After all.”

With that, Dr. Demon reached for her.

Ronnie’s eyes blazed with a fury she wasn’t even conscious of. The stunner didn’t work.

Easiest?

EASIEST?

Dr. Demon’s hand reached for her...

...and she sunk her teeth into it.

The bald man screamed in pain. Ronnie stamped a hard boot heel right into his instep and he hopped on one foot, holding onto his injured tootsie. She rushed behind him, kicked him in the back of the knee of his standing foot, and watched him go down on his face.

Dr. Noze’s mouth was gaping open. Veronica gauged where his eyes would be and, before he could react, scraped hardened, perfectly sculpted, and perfectly sharpened red fingernails right across them. He howled in pain and covered his eyes with his hands. Ronnie backed off a step and kicked him as hard as she could in the stomach.

He went down on the floor and clutched his gut, unable to rise.

Panting, Veronica stood over them both. “My name is Lodge. Veronica Lodge. And whatever you two idiots may have heard....I AM NEVER EASY!”

Dr. Demon, trying to rise, crawled over and grabbed for her ankle, cursing. Ronnie unbuckled her belt, sticking the stunner in the waistband of her pants, and, grabbing the leather end in one hand, gritted her teeth and whipped the end with the belt buckle on it straight at Demon’s head.

It connected. He howled.

A few seconds later, he found it in himself to run for a doorway, with Veronica in hot pursuit. She tagged him several times on the shoulder and butt with her improvised weapon. He ran up a wall (yes, straight up a freaking wall), went through a doorway on the ceiling, and vanished through it.

Ronnie, standing below, raised both her arms and, spontaneously, shouted, “Xe-NA!”

“What’s going on here?”

Turning, Veronica looked and saw January McAndrews, standing not too far from the fallen Dr. Noze. The latter looked like he had reconsidered trying to get up. Jan had a look of amazement on her face.

Ronnie walked back to her, slinging the belt over one shoulder. She smiled.

“We’ve got the situation well in hand, Jan. Now...let’s go find Sabrina.”

Jan raised her eyebrow. “If you say so.”

The two walked up a wall through another doorway. Dr. Noze didn’t try to make a move until they were gone.

-A-

Reggie Mantle wondered if he should try to be a football player or a James Bond type as he cased the joint, scanner held in both hands and pointed at the ceiling. He wished there was a corner he could edge around, weapon in front of him, but there didn’t seem to be much in the way of that.

The place was nutso, worse than the fun houses he used to go into in the carnivals when they were all kids. You had to watch where you put your feet, things might come up around you like a bad special effect from an sf movie that hadn’t paid their cgi wizards enough dough, or just hired green college kids.

Now, that would be a field to get into. Provided he could master the math, had some talent—hah! He always had talent!—he might make some big bucks as a special effects wizard. Get girls, go to parties, hobnob with stars, tell them what was wrong with their funky movies, establish his own business, Reggie Mantle Enterprises, Totally Unlimited, and watch it grow.

Of course, there was just the little matter of getting out of this thing alive, first.

He took note of the surroundings, tried to categorize them. It was like something out of those surrealist paintings Mrs. Grundy had shown him in art class. Stairways going up the wall, doors upside down or in the ceiling, stuff that would make the Winchester Mansion look like a Holiday Inn. So far, the stone walls hadn’t moved around, except for that fish-eye effect (which, somehow, seemed to be lessening), but he didn’t trust them not to.

Irrelevant. Compartmentalize. Like when you had to forget about your love life to concentrate on a football game. That was the ticket. He held the scanner out before him, swept it one way, then the other, turned around, and felt the vibes increasing a bit from one direction. He went that way.

So far, none of the opposing team had shown up. Good. Didn’t mean they weren’t watching, didn’t mean they weren’t in hiding. He thought about contacting the others, but decided stealth was the best mode for right now. Reggie muffled the sound of his steps as much as he could.

Above him, somebody cleared his throat.

Reggie looked up.

There, standing on the ceiling as if it were as simple as waiting for a bus, was a guy in a green and black super-hero costume. Only...the way he looked, Reggie wasn’t at all certain he was of the heroic persuasion.

He pointed the stunner and blasted. The guy took a full hit, sprawled on the ceiling, looked hurt. Score one for Riverdale. Reggie ran like blazes.

As he ran, he realized there was something unnervingly familiar about the guy he’d just brought down. Couldn’t pin it down, though, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to. Forget it. Compartmentalize. Concentrate on running towards Sabrina’s vibes.

Only problem was, he seemed to have run into a cul-de-sac. Well, there was a path on a wall, leading to a door in the ceiling. But what good would that do him? His Time Police suit didn’t have velcro on the boots.

Hesitantly, Reggie put his foot against the wall. Could it work for him? Was he really like, say, the Fly from Archie’s old comic books?

The foot seemed to settle against the wall and stay there as if gravity worked in more than one direction. Okay, time to make a second test of the hypothesis. He put his weight on the leg against the wall and brought his other foot off the floor.

In a second, he was standing parallel to the floor he had left.

“Yow,” said Reggie, thoughtfully, and began walking towards the door before him. His mind reoriented the room. Like Paul Simon almost said, “One man’s wall is another man’s floor”.

He smiled. Mantle the Magnificent was operating again. Sure, he loved Arch underneath it all. But wouldn’t it be the greatest if he was the one to find Sabrina and liberate her? That was the way it was supposed to be. Jocks, especially jock stars, won the games and got the girls. That was the way life was supposed to be.

He plowed through the doorway as if he was in a football uniform, leading the team to burst through a paper banner held by the cheerleaders on the field. Yeah, that was the ticket.

On the other side, somebody grabbed him.

The somebody, the green-suited guy, grabbed his stunner and held him easily in one hand by the shirtfront. He did not look happy. Reggie ventured a kick. With the hand that was holding the stunner, the guy slapped him.

Dazed, Reggie looked up into his own face in a mask.

“Kid, I know somebody who’s me in another timeline was going to be arrogant,” said Evilheart. “That’s forgiveable. But trying to kick me? I didn’t expect you to be so stupid.”

He threw Reggie over a shoulder and headed towards the room where Dr. Doom held court.

-A-

Archie Andrews wondered why he wasn’t falling any further than he was, or if he was falling and just didn’t know it.

He looked upward. Dr. Doom’s engine, the one he had placed in the Time Well, wasn’t getting any further away. It was still a good ways above him, but it wasn’t receding. He splayed his arms and legs out. His body seemed to be rotating, as if he were suspended by something.

Cautiously, he reached behind him, feeling of his back. And...yes, there was something. A line, hooked into the back of his trousers. He grasped it.

“Don’t do that.”

Another voice. It sounded familiar, but hard to place. No, wait...

...it sounded like his own voice, when he’d heard it on recordings. When it wasn’t conducted to his brain by bone, but through the air from a mechanical source.

Was he talking to himself?

“The only thing that’s holding you up is that hook-line in your pants,” the other voice continued. “And right now, you’re about the only one who might be able to get us out of this situation.”

Archie took in a breath, counted three, and let it out. There was fog in here, just as above, but the engine cut off most of the light in this part of the well. “You’ve got me at a disadvantage,” he said.

“Right now,” said the other-him, “I’d say you’re about the only advantage we’ve got.”

He shaded his eyes with both his hands and peered into the foggy darkness. “Who are you? Can you tell me who you are?”

A shape seemed to come forth from the fog. It was human. Male. No, more definite than that.

Archie Andrews beheld his own face, but on a body that looked much more powerful than his own, though it was similar. The other-Archie was dressed in a skin-tight red costume, blue trunks, blue cape, and white boots. It was inescapable: he was facing a superhero who looked like himself.

“My name is Pureheart,” said the other. “And if you want to save the multiverse, you’ve got to do what I say.”

To be continued...

darkmark90 User avatar
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Maybe the Last Archie Story

Part 11

by DarkMark

Hilda Spellman somehow didn’t look surprised when she opened the door and saw the crew waiting on her porch.

“Ah,” she said. “Mr. Jones and his friends. Welcome to you all. How is Mr. Mason?”

Jughead had been the one to knock on the door, but other members of the Gang and its auxiliary had been mobilized: Cheryl and Jason Blossom, Big Ethyl, Chuck Clayton, Nancy Harris, Frankie and Maria, Dilton and Danni. Midge was still at Moose’s bedside. There was barely enough porch for them to fit on.

“Moose has been upgraded from critical to stable, thanks,” said Jughead. “Ms. Spellman, we need to know about Archie, Ronnie, Betty, and Reggie. The last we knew, they were over here.”

“We also need to know about Sabrina,” said Ethyl, who was standing as close to Jug as he would let her. “Can you tell us about her?”

Hilda shook her head sadly. “If we only knew, ourselves. You all performed so heroically in our behalf, especially young Mr. Mason. Would you come in?”

Jason exchanged a look with Jughead, and Dilton seconded it. “We’d be glad to, ma’am,” said Jug. “But...”

Dilton stepped in. “Ms. Spellman, if I may. We know of your...nature...and that of your other family members. Our five recent arrivals are still non-cognizant of it, and we hope to keep that status.”

Frankie looked at him quizzically, as did Chuck. Maria, suspecting something, drew in a breath and mouthed a word: Bruja. Hilda locked eyes with her for a moment, but said nothing. Dilton went on. “Regardless, we’ve seen what has happened to their parents. Were you responsible for such?”

Hilda said, “We can speak about it to Mr. Jones and, if need be, to yourself, young man. But all of you are welcome to come inside.”

Jason Blossom said, “Excuse me, Ms. Spellman. But a lot of us, me included, put our lives at risk to save the two of you from that guy Gross. Moose Mason is in the hospital because of it. I think you owe a lot more of us than just Jug and Dilton an explanation.”

At that, someone else came up behind Hilda in the doorway. “Trouble, Hilda?” Jughead recognized him. It was Harvey, Sabrina’s boyfriend. Not surprising that he was there, but how much did he know?

“No, Harvey,” she said. Hilda Spellman was holding a large black purse in her right hand. She used her left, now, to rummage through it. “Mr. Jones, we’ll be glad to explain things. But I have something for you all, as tokens of our affection. Here.” She held out a copper medallion to Jug.

He looked at it, then waved it aside. “Sorry, ma’am, we don’t have any intention of touching those things. We’re also quite well prepared to spend all night camped out on this porch if you don’t take us inside. Am I right, crew?”

“Affirmative, Jug,” said Jason.

“You’ve got it,” piped up Cheryl. “I can have a camera crew from my movie unit out here in ten minutes, too, if I want.”

Hilda said nothing, but gave Cheryl a look that made the rich girl shiver. Harvey said, “What do you want to do that for?”

“Did you touch one of these medallions, Harvey?” asked Dilton.

“Sure,” he said. “I was down at college for orientation, heard on the TV what happened to Sabrina. Got in the car, wham, I was down here. Believe it, I was worried. But now...well, I know she’s in the best hands possible.”

“That better be the case, hombre,” said Frankie. “That had really better be the case.”

Nancy Clayton said, “Ms. Spellman, please. May we come in? We just want to know about our friends, and Sabrina.”

This time, Hilda’s expression was a bit sadder. “So do we, child. So do we. Come in, all of you.”

And they did.

-A-

“Okay, ah, Pureheart. Just what is it you want me to do?”

Archie felt like an idiot, saying that. Here he was, like a stand-in for Indiana Jones, suspended by a hook in his pants over a Well of Time, and talking to a superhero with his own face. Worse, a superhero who told him he had to save the multiverse. Was that more than one universe? And if so, how was he supposed to do it?

No, wait. He’d already posed that question.

“Listen well, Archie,” said Pureheart, in a voice that Archie was certain echoed in his mind as much as in his ears. “What Doom is after is mastery of this thing you’re in right now, the Well of Time. With Sabrina’s energies powering his machine, he can do just that. That’ll set him up as the new Lord of Limbo.”

“Limbo? What’ll he do, go under a bar just an inch off the ground?”

Pureheart looked like he was counting to ten. “Get serious, or get conquered.”

“Sorry.”

“Limbo is the realm you’re in right now. The space between all timelines. In a very real sense, it’s the source of all time. Usually, this place is just maintained to keep things in order. But Doom could impose a deadlier order on it...one subject only to his will.”

“I think I’m getting it,” said Archie. “He could remake history any way he wanted to. Make himself ruler of the world, right?”

“Right,” said Pureheart. “More than that. Make himself ruler of just about any Earth he wanted to. First in this primary system, then in others. He could also prevent anyone he didn’t like from being born. Or do anything he wanted to them after they were born. Or both. Timelines are variable and divergent.”

Archie rubbed his temples with both hands and was sorry he’d done it, because it made him swing back and forth slightly on the hook-line. And whatever was below, he didn’t want to find out about it first-hand. “Sounds like something from a Moorcock novel,” he said. “Are you like the Eternal Champion?”

“That’s not relevant,” Pureheart snapped. “Let me tell you what is. Doom doesn’t know everything about what he’s messing with. He doesn’t know that dumping you down here allows reverbs from other timelines. You can meet your other selves, and vice versa.”

“So you’re really me? In another timeline?”

“I really am.”

Archie paused. “Then why can’t you get me out of here?”

“Because you haven’t summoned me,” said Pureheart. “Or any of the other ‘me’s and ‘you’s there are in our system. My name means something, kid. It stands for the PH Factor, the power of the Pure Heart. The power of the mind and soul together, in an altruistic fashion. The Archie of my timeline found out about it from a book, and used it to turn himself into me. But that’s not what I want you to use it for.”

“All right. What is it?”

Before Pureheart could answer, Archie felt the material in his belt giving.

Instinctively, he reached behind himself with both hands and grasped the hook-line, tightly. The belt gave way. He shouted. He was hanging above the Well of Time with both hands.

“Kid, listen to me,” said Pureheart, intensely. “Repeat after me what I put in your mind. And believe. That’s the only weapon we have now, the only thing that’ll work: your belief in yourself.”

“I believe it!”, yelled Archie. “Tell me! Tell me!”

And, only an instant later, words and the concepts behind those words began to form in Archie’s mind.

“You can be whatever you want to be. All is possible to he who believes. There is nothing so powerful as a heart that is pure. NOTHING. It is the pureness of heart, what we will call the PH Factor, where the strength lies.

“I call upon the PH Factor...the Power of the Pure Heart!”

Nothing happened, except a slight tingle.

Archie swayed, gently, over the Time Well, its fog wafting up from wherever its source was. He couldn’t even see or hear Pureheart now. Had he blown it? Was it just a sham?

No, thought Archie. Pureheart had said the only weapon he had was faith in himself. But he had more than that. He had faith in a greater power. And another line came to him, at that moment:

“If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, nothing shall be impossible unto you.”

I have faith, he told himself.

I have faith.

“I have faith!” he said, in a louder voice. “I don’t care where I’m at...I don’t care what’s happening to me...I HAVE FAITH!”

And the words seemed to echo against whatever walls the Well of Time possessed. They reverberated, shaking him as if he were a fish on a line. Archie gaped. And his heart...his heart seemed to be beating like a triphammer.

Below him, an unmeasured distance, Betty Cooper, still climbing up the wall of the Time Well, felt the rumblings, sensed the energies, and paused. Her eyes widened, seeing the turbulence before her.

In a hallway of the Palace of Limbo, both Veronica and Jan McAndrews felt the structure shaking about them, glanced at each other in alarm, and wondered what was happening.

On the floor of the central chamber, Salem weakly roused himself, tried to pull himself together, and glanced at Sabrina. Her hands were still within the device of Dr. Doom, and her life-force seemed about 75% gone. But even she, wtih rings under her eyes and her body dripping sweat, took note of the tremors, and wondered what it was.

Reggie Mantle, leaning against a wall with his hands and feet in manacles, shook his head and tried to make sense of things. There was a horde of bad guys in the room, some in costumes, some not. Doom had summoned them from different timelines, or so he said. The six on Archie’s crew would have been outnumbered, outpowered. They wouldn’t have stood a chance.

But now even the bad guys looked alarmed, the way the place was shaking and shuddering. The Demon, a guy in a hat and mod outfit, turned to Doom, who was hanging on at the control panel, and said, “Doc, give. What’s going on?”

“Silence!” Doom yelled. “We are on the brink of total victory!”

Magnet Girl, a beauty queen with magnetic powers in a brief skin-tight outfit and mask, said, “Feels to me like we’re on the brink—of a Number Eight on the Richter!”

The flying CRUSH agent called Birdman took to the air, so as to avoid the tremors. “What’s this supposed to mean, anyway?”

At that, Evilheart smiled, pushed aside a few of his fellows, went to the engine in the Time Well, and pulled upward. “It means, bunkie,” he said, “it’s showtime!”

And, with an explosion of light and fury and force, it certainly was.

Those who had been looking directly at the Well of Time were almost blinded by it. The others were able to see, dimly, what was happening. From the nimbus of white light, two figures were the first to emerge, and they both had the same face. One was the Archie Andrews in the Time Police uniform they’d thrown down the well. The other, holding him, was dressed in an orange costume and flying with belt-jets. There were more than a few super-villains in the throng who knew him all too well.

“Pureheart,” hollered the Bee, cowering in his uniform of blue and gold. “It’s Captain Pureheart!”

“And he isn’t alone!” The voice was a woman’s. Right behind the first two emergents was another look-alike pair: the Betty Cooper who also wore a Time Cops outfit, and a blonde superheroine in a blue short-sleeved shirt with a white heart on her chest, red cape and bell-bottomed pants, and white boots. “Get out of the way, boys, here comes Superteen!”

As soon as the twosome touched the floor, another pair shot forth from the Time Well. One of them had the face of Jughead Jones, complete with beanie. But he wore a blue skin-tight costume with a yellow cape, and, for some reason, had a chest emblem with a hamburger encircled by a heart. In one arm, he carried a woman who looked exactly like Veronica Lodge, and, in another timeline, was just that. But this Veronica was outfitted in a red collared halter, shorts, high boots and gloves, and white cape, and looked in her way every bit as heroic as Superteen.

“And bringing up the rear,” said the one with Jughead’s face, “Captain Hero and Ms. Vanity. If you need a group name, you can call us the Super Teens.”

“Sure, Cap, but get out of the way,” said Ms. Vanity, pulling him forward. “There’s lots more where we came from.”

And there were. A whole contingent of purple-and-blue jumpsuited characters with the faces of the Gang, who called themselves the Explorers of the Unknown. Versions of Archie, Betty, Jughead, Ronnie, and Reggie who dressed Sixties-style and brandished everyday objects that turned out to be deadly weapons, provided by the secret agency known as RIVERDALE. A foursome in futuristic dress, who hailed from the year 3000. An Archie in the garb of a Pilgrim, and one who dressed in an animal skin and carried a club.

There was one version of the Gang who showed up brandishing crosses, stakes, and holy water, along with their fists. There was another whose members seemed to talk as though they were on a forensics detective show on TV. All these, and more, were emerging from the Time Well. Despite the fact that the room was very large, it was getting crowded in there.

Dr. Demon and Dr. Noze, showing the aftereffects of their battle with Veronica, gaped at the newcomers with something akin to horror. Demon turned to Evilheart, who was standing behind the two of them. “What,” he said, “are we going to do?”

Evilheart grinned, very widely.

“What do you mean ‘we’, paleface?” He drew back a fist.

WHOP!!

That was the signal. From all corners, a fracas that would have done an old-time Western saloon brawl proud broke out.

Pureheart slammed Ice Cube and Mr. Glacier together so hard the two of them froze together, front to front, unconscious. Magnet Girl tried a wave of magnetic repulsion against Superteen, but didn’t count on Betty “Wheels” Cooper of the Explorers tackling her from behind. With the villainess’s attention broken, the blonde in the super-costume broke through her magnetic field, grabbed her, and slammed her against the ceiling. It only took another slam or two to render her senseless. Superteen threw her roughly to the floor and briefly lit before the girl in the purple uniform. They shook hands, quickly.

“Nice outfit,” said Superteen.

“Yours, too,” said Wheels.

The two of them broke their handshake and turned in opposite directions, nailing a CRUSH agent apiece with a solid whack to the jaw.

The Reptile, trying to bring his snakelike weapon into play, was abruptly clobbered by the sonic shriek of Ms. Vanity. The Octopus tried to wind his arms around the body of “Red” Andrews, only to get an electric zap from the gimmicked pen of A.R.C.H.I.E. of RIVERDALE and a punch in the mouth from “Spike” Mason, the big blonde stuntman of the Explorers. The Duke of Decay made the floor crumble under Angel, Squint, and Nitro of Spike’s team, only to be dive-bombed by Captain Hero, who made his jaw do a neat job of crumbling itself. The Gang from the 31st Century helped haul their other-Earth counterparts out of danger.

Angel Lodge looked at the Veronica of 3000. “Are you me? I mean...oh, you know what I mean.”

“Doubleplus possible,” Ronnie answered. “Notsame, though. Fashion, youmake?”

“Oh, the uniform? I spruced it up a bit.”

“Triplegood,” smiled Ronnie. “For an antique.”

Angel considered giving herself a karate punch for that remark, but decided against it. “Let’s get back to work,” she said.

The caveman Archie was swinging his club, scattering batches of CRUSH agents in his path. The Archie of the 17th Century stood back to back with the one from the 30th, laying into the enemy. “‘Tis such a strange battlefield,” remarked the Pilgrim Archie, “that I be grateful yon savage and yourself, sir, have the same looks as myself. Else I’d be hard-pressed to know whom to fight.”

“Understood cubed,” remarked the fighter from the future, zapping another bad guy with an energy-whip. “Gratitude tendered to meet you, ancestor mine.”

“Urghhh,” offered Archie I, as he hefted two CRUSH men and threw them into a pile of others.

Evilheart, for his part, went over to where Reggie Mantle was sitting and grabbed the manacles on his wrists. “Make a wish,” he said.

Reggie glared at him. “I wish I knew what side you’re on.”

“That’s easy.” Evilheart shattered the chains between the manacles on Reggie’s hands, and then the ones between his feet. “My own. And when you see the Carrot-Top Kid...you can tell him who stuck that hook-line in the back of his pants.”

Looking past his other-self’s shoulder at the battling Pureheart, Reggie said, “Why didn’t you show your hand earlier?”

“And miss this fight?” asked Evilheart. “Besides, I had to make sure...”

Before Reggie’s eyes, Evilheart began to fade. His body wavered, seeming to become mist. “What’s happening?” asked Reggie.

“I was afraid of this,” said Reggie. “Doom summoned me. He’s sending me back. That’s why I couldn’t act earlier. So long, kid. And remember: don’t be a...”

His vocal cords became too insubstantial for him to finish the sentence. As Reggie watched his other-self fade away, he knew that he’d wonder to his dying day what Evilheart would have given as advice.

Salem, encouraged by the turn of events, struggled to go to his mistress, Sabrina. She caught sight of him and smiled, though it seemed to cost her a lot to do so. “Salem,” she said. “You...came for me.”

“He isn’t the only one,” said a familiar voice.

Salem swiveled his head. Standing nearby them was another Sabrina, but this one wore a red super-costume like that of the Super-Teens. Sabrina, looking upon her, gaped in amazement. The other-Sabrina lifted her arms, spoke ancient words, and sent bolts of power from her hands. They struck the engine of Dr. Doom.

Within a matter of moments, the engine designed to tap the power of the Well of Time was shattered into bits. Fragments of it cascaded down the time well, to be lost in other spaces and times, or perhaps to drift there forever. Sabrina, her hands freed, lifted her own arms and stared at her reddened wrists. Then she began to slump out of her seat.

“Sabrina!” Salem made as if to leap in her lap. But the red-clad girl with his mistress’s face came up behind her, reached under her arms, and supported her.

“Hang on, sister,” she said. “You’re safe now. I think.”

“Who...who are you?” asked Sabrina, numbly.

Super Witch smiled knowingly at her. “You don’t think those guys are the only ones with other-dimensional counterparts, do you?”

Two women appeared in an archway in time to see the destruction of Doom’s engine. Ronnie Lodge was drop-mouthed, seeing the multitude of colorful figures on both sides in combat. “Jan, what’s going on?”

January McAndrews looked at the battle. “This is incredible,” she said. “Somehow, somebody’s managed to open links between separate timelines in our primary system. They’ve gathered parallel-Earth versions of yourselves. I’ve tracked some of them, but others...well, they’re new to me.”

“Some of them look like me!” Veronica followed the progress of a costumed woman with her face who was screaming powerfully at her foes and discombobulating them.

A droopy-eyed, blue-and-gold costumed hero in a beanie flew up before them. “Trouble, ladies? Or did you just come to help out in the fight?”

Veronica saw Jan’s eyes widen and her mouth gape. Then the woman from the future grabbed Captain Hero in a crushing hug. “Jughead, it’s you!”

The Captain looked embarrassed. “Uh...Jughead? Sorry, ma’am, the name is Captain Hero.”

Ronnie shook her head. There was more information being revealed than she really wanted to process. She grabbed Jan by the right hand. “Come on, honey. We’ve got work to do.” She began to pull the Time Police agent away.

Jan looked at Captain Hero wistfully. “You’re not from my timeline, are you?”

“I wouldn’t know, ma’am,” said Hero.

“Oh, well,” said Jan, with a sigh. “Duty calls.”

And amidst all the battle and boister, with heroes that wore the same faces clobbering villains whose faces were being changed, one singular Archie Andrews, the one who had summoned all the rest with the power of the Pure Heart, saw that everyone seemed to be accounted for...except one. Once he noted that fact, he couldn’t escape saying it out loud:

“Doom. Where’s Doom?”

Nobody seemed to hear him. That wasn’t surprising, considering all the ruckus that was being raised. But if Mad Doctor Doom wasn’t visible, it was a safe bet that he was up to something else, something dangerous. Everyone else was engaged in battle. Why hadn’t anybody bothered to track him?

Where was Doom?

THAT WAY. GO THERE.

What?, he said, within his mind. What?

THAT WAY.

Something drew his attention to a stairway of stone that snaked its way up a wall. No one was visible in the archway beyond, but that didn’t mean anything. Archie felt a twinge of fear for a moment: a voice in his mind? Whose voice could it be?

But there just wasn’t any time to worry about that.

Shoving his instinctive fears of walking up a wall aside, Archie ran to the staircase, placed one foot and then the other on it, and stood perpendicular to the floor for a second before rushing up it. Once beyond the archway at its end, he found the floor angling off in a different direction, and several paths leading in different directions. On impulse, he held out his right hand and swept it in an arc, over the pathways.

The third one seemed to pull him hardest, as if he were dowsing for a water well with his arm as a witching stick. Archie sprinted in that direction. Down one hallway, through a doorway, into a chamber with many doors, and, finally, through the one that pulled him most.

The room he emerged in seemed to be a throne room of sorts. But there were only two occupants besides himself. One of them, a green-garbed man with a Fu Manchu mustache and purple headgear, was encased in some sort of transparent tube, apparently paralyzed. Standing about ten feet from the man, drawing a hand-weapon, probably a gun, was the familiar twisted green visage of Mad Doctor Doom.

Archie threw himself forward. Doom was too far away. So was the other man, the one in the tube. Even sprinting as hard as he could, as if he were running for the opposing team’s goalposts in a Riverdale football game, he knew he would never make it in time to either prevent Doom from firing, or to take a bullet, or whatever Doom’s weapon produced, and save the man in the tube.

“Too late, Andrews,” said Doom, as his trigger finger tightened. “Too la—“

Then he cried out as something hit him at knee-level from the side. The shot went wide, just enough to puncture the tube, but miss the head of the man inside it, by a few inches. A hissing sound of escaping gas was audible. Archie didn’t take heed of it. He was covering the space between himself and Doom with warp speed.

In some instances, the defeat of evil requires a hero to throw a magic ring into a molten pit and destroy it.

In others, it requires the hero’s main enemy to throw his employer into a well of destruction to save his son.

In others, the heroes have to blast the power of an exploding sun through a being who consumes whole universes of positive matter, to empower legions of unsuspecting girls with the ability to fight and defeat vampires, to skewer a traitor who has divided a table full of knights and then to have a sword returned to the water-woman who bequeathed it, to find a magic cup, to withstand cosmic powers as a great Ark is opened by one’s enemies, to survive as a multiverse is compacted into a universe.

But in this case, all it took was a strong right hand from an eighteen-year-old kid from Riverdale, U.S.A., coming up in an uppercut that started near the ornate carpet of a strange chamber and ended with a crash against the jaw of a green-skinned man in a lab coat, lifting him off his feet, and depositing him back-first and unconscious on the floor of the throne room of the Palace of Limbo.

And with that act, Archie Andrews saved the multiverse.

He stood there panting for a long moment. The knuckles of his right hand were numbed. Doom lay there on the carpet, his head twisted to one side, his body unmoving. The gun had fallen from his hand. Archie swayed on his feet. He felt, almost, like joining Doom there on the floor.

Except that he sensed the presence of someone besides the three of them in the room.

Archie looked up and saw a young boy.

The boy was dressed in a yellow shirt, blue pants, and red Keds. He looked astounded, even frightened. And yet...he looked determined. As if, when the chips had finally fallen, he’d seen what he had to do and had done it.

The boy had red hair.

Archie drew in a breath. “Hi, son,” he said.

“Hi,” said the boy, tentatively.

“You tackled this guy, didn’t you?”

The boy nodded. “I’ve met him before. A lot of times. I don’t know where I’m at. I just know...something told me to come up here. Something in my mind.”

Archie nodded. “Son...can you tell me your name?”

“Archie,” said the boy. “Archie Andrews.”

The teenager looked at the eight-year-old for a long, long moment. Then he sat cross-legged on the floor in front of him and put a weary hand on the boy’s shoulder. “You done good, kid. Believe it.”

Another voice behind them said, “I’d say we all did. Sorry I was late.”

They turned to see Pureheart, coming through the doorway. “Cap,” said Archie. “It’s okay. Got a friend I’d like you to meet.”

The boy’s eyes went wide. “Are you a super-hero? Like the Shield?”

Pureheart stepped up to them and smiled. “I’m not the only one, son. There are three heroes in this room. And I’m proud we’re all part of the team.”

He held out his hand, backside up. Instinctively, Archie put his own on top of it. Both of them looked at the boy. He hesitated.

Then Little Archie put his hand on top of the other two.

After a second, Pureheart said, “I’ll free the king, here. Think you can take care of our friend?”

Archie looked at the boy and smiled. “Yeah,” he said. “I already feel like I’ve known him for a lifetime.”

-A-

“You would think that I wouldn’t be taken two times by the same trick,” said the King of Limbo. “But I suppose even one such as I can fall victim to his own carelessness, once every thousand years. Or twice.”

Archie, Reggie, Jan, Betty, Veronica, Sabrina, and Salem were sitting in the king’s throne room. There was no telling how long it had been since the battle. All of them had a chance to sleep and eat since then, and their friends and foes had been dispatched back to their correct timelines. All except Dr. Doom, who remained in a time-stasis prison for the moment. For many moments, actually.

“How’s that, sir?” said Reggie. “You mean, somebody else did that to you before?”

“Indeed,” said the king. “One of my own transdimensional counterparts trapped myself and another of my selves in two such tubes. How he learned of this, I do not know. I can say that he caught me unaware, through the power of this young lady.” He gestured briefly to Sabrina, who was holding Salem on her lap. Betty, looking at her, noted she looked tired, but not as drained as she had yesterday...if there was such a concept as “yesterday” here. Sabrina was recovering.

“I’m sorry, sir,” Sabrina said, managing a smile. “I guess you’re not the only one who was caught unawares. My aunts and I will take safeguards to make sure this sort of thing doesn’t happen again.”

“Amen,” said Salem.

“What would have happened, if Doom had been successful?” asked Ronnie. “And...I hate to ask it...could he have killed you?”

The king nodded. “As to the latter, he could indeed. I am physical. I do have a body. In this form, I have no other counterparts precisely like me. It is possible a prior self of mine might in time have discovered what happened, but given Doom’s plans, if he had more...time...” (There was a twinkle in his eye that Archie didn’t miss.) “...that might not have been possible. Tell me...is his name truly Doctor Doom?”

“As far as we know, yes, sir, it is,” said Archie. “Does that mean something to you?”

Their host chuckled. “Never mind. Forgive me. I am so used to heroes from other timelines, I sometimes forget there are heroes whom I have not yet met. Though I must say...” He looked at each of them in turn, even the cat, before continuing. “...this day, you have performed as bravely and as well as any of them. In any time.”

Veronica felt a surge of pride and sentiment even she couldn’t have explained. Betty, sensing it, took her hand and squeezed it affectionately. Ronnie didn’t let go.

“The ones you would call ‘villains’, he brought in using a device I once used to create a group of beings from separate times,” said the king. “That was during the incident in which I was first trapped within the stasis tube. Again, he must have known of that, though I have no knowledge of how he did.”

Reggie shook his head. “Sounds like something out of a comic book.”

“Reg,” said Archie, “please, pal, can it.”

The king was now addressing Jan McAndrews. “The work of your Time Police is not unknown to me. I trust you will be sparing in your incursions into Limbo. I would not like my timespace violated.”

“I understand, sir,” said Jan. “Your castle will be off-limits to our craft.”

“Unless I need you, of course,” the king said.

“Of course,” said Jan.

“As for the rest of you, you will be returned to your own timeline, under bond to reveal none of this to anyone other than each other,” the king went on. “But, among the six of you, all will be known. And all of you will know my gratitude.”

Wow, thought Reggie. A real live king, making nice with us. Wonder if I could ask him to help me get a cushy movie-tech job?

Nah. Probably even he couldn’t manage that.

“I hate to ask,” said Betty. “But, sir, what about Dr. Doom?”

The king looked at her evenly. “I have plans for him.”

“Oh.” Wisely, Betty said no more.

“Sir? Before we go, I have a question.” Archie was the speaker.

“Yes?” The king looked at him.

“Well...why were there so many other versions of us? Why were there...I don’t know...so many people like me and Betty and Ronnie and Reg and Jug scattered through the past and future? Or in different worlds? I mean, super-heroes? Secret agents? Cavemen? I just don’t understand.”

“Right,” chimed in Betty. “We’re just ordinary, everyday people. I’ve worked in a food court, done other things, gone to school. There’s nothing special about us. Is there?”

“Is there?” The king echoed her. “Well, now, miss, that might be a more profound question than you could imagine. Is there anything special about me? Well...” He laughed. “I would certainly hope so. Yet, I am simply doing what I was destined to do, filling a place Time had set for me. Many years ago, I was a warrior, a conqueror. Then I became a warrior against myself. Finally, I gave up war, and came here. Or perhaps I was always here. In this place, the distinction is not easily made.

“As for you being ‘special’...how should that term be defined? Is not everyone, from the lowest slave to the highest monarch, in a position unique to himself? If this is not being ‘special’, then what is?”

Sabrina said, “I understand, sir. I think. But does that give us the reason why there seem to be so many different versions of us, seeded through the multiverse?”

The king shook his head. “If there is a reason, young witch, it is unknown even to me. But I have not been ignorant of your primary system. Indeed, another version of your world seems to diverge every four years.”

“What?” The word seemed to come from all their throats, even from Salem’s.

“But...that can’t be right,” Archie sputtered. “How could that be true? Why...why would we matter that much?”

“It is true because it has happened,” said the king. “Perhaps, in gratitude, I can help you understand.” He clapped his hands.

The wall on one side opened up, eerily enough, and formed an archway. Through it, a man in a business suit walked. He was of medium height, brown-haired, mustached, balding on top. He was carrying a semicircular device in his hands.

“Hello, there,” he said. “Pleased to meet you. I’m from the Temporal Variance Authority.”

“Huh?” Archie looked at him.

“The TVA,” Jan said, in awe. “Out of belief! Only the top agents of the Time Police have ever met with you guys. Oh, sorry. Just a little hero-worship there.”

The man smiled. “No problem, ma’am. No problem indeed. I take it you are Mr. Andrews?” He looked at Archie.

“Yeah, that’s me,” said Archie.

“Hey, man, you talk like an American,” noted Reggie. “What’s going on here?”

“I used to be an American,” said the TVA man. “From Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Went to New York to be a writer and an editor. Job darn near killed me. I got the chance at this job and took it. Glad, too. I saw what happened to one of my counterparts. Not very pretty. Well. Want to take the Magical Mystery Tour?”

Archie looked at the thing he held in his hands. “Do I have a choice?”

The man and the king just looked at him.

“Okay, okay,” sighed Archie. “What do I have to do?”

The TVA official slid the thing over Archie’s head. It hung there, suspended by nothing visible, around the sides of his temples. “Close your eyes,” advised the man.

Archie did.

And saw:

—an Archie who had come of age in World War II, grew up, married Veronica Lodge, served in the Korean War, came home, worked for Lodge Industries, had a family, and, some years back, passed away peacefully in his sleep.

–-an Archie who had gone to school in the early Sixties, went to college in the first years of the Vietnam War, got involved in the civil rights struggle, switched majors, become a lawyer, and married a woman who was nobody he currently recognized.

—an Archie who had attended college in the mid-Seventies, become partners with Dilton Doiley in a business venture, scooped Bill Gates in the home computer market, and made enough money to make Hiram Lodge look like a skid row pauper. He married Betty Cooper.

—an Archie who had attended a seminary in the late Seventies, and become a Christian minister. It was unclear whom he married. He had children and a happy life.

—an Archie who graduated school in time to serve his country during the Gulf War. He came home wounded in body, and beset by phobias. Ethyl, who had become a nurse, had helped cure him, and eventually became his wife.

—an Archie of the early Fifties whose name was slightly different than his own, who was a high school thug, and who ended his life in jail. Thankfully, he married no one.

—an Archie of the early Sixties, with, again, a somewhat different name. This Archie was the most disturbing of all. He was offered wealth, power, fame, and any woman he wished just for the asking. The price was his soul. He accepted, and, one night when a good man was looking on, the price was collected.

—an Archie of not too many years ago, who became the beloved of Cheryl Blossom and shared in her fortune till she tired of him. He was left with little of his own, but managed to cope, and stayed single for the rest of his life.

There were other Archies, most of them less distinct than these. An endless parade of them, going back to the times of the Archie caveman, going forward to the year 3000 and beyond. Some, he sensed , were his ancestors. Others were in different worlds entirely. It was incredible...

...and, somehow, humbling.

Was he one of an endless assembly line of Archies? All of them like automobiles, turned out by a factory line? Some specialty vehicles, most as standard as Model T’s?

No.

Each one of him was unique. Each Archie had his own identity, linked to the others by certain traits, yet individual in his era and responses. And each had to make his own destiny.

Knowing this, he saw the face of yet another Archie. One who, a few weeks in the future, would be entering high school with his own Reggie, Veronica, Betty, Jughead, and all the rest of the Gang. Including some who would be unique to himself.

One who, in a very real sense, was about to be born.

The torch would be passed, again and again and again.

He realized that he was about to pass it.

“Had enough?”

He opened his eyes. The TVA man had spoken to him. “Have you had enough, Mr. Andrews?”

“Yeah,” said Archie, quietly. “For the rest of my life. Thanks.”

“No problem.” The man took the device away from Archie’s head. “Remember the TVA. We’re the guys they call on to fix the big time problems. You all, take care. You too, sir,” he said to the king. Then he walked through the doorway, which closed behind him.

Reggie sidled up to him. “What’d you see in there, Red? What’d you see?”

Archie shook his head. “A lot, Reg. A whole lot. Uh, sir? Can we go now?”

“You may,” said the Limbo king, and raised his hand.

“Wait,” said Jan McAndrews, holding up her hand. “Uh, sir, if you could just give me a moment?”

The king stopped, his hand still held high.

Fishing in her belt pouch, January came up with a small box. “Here,” she said, handing it to Archie.

He took it. “What’s this?”

“Please,” said Jan, putting her hand on his wrist. “Don’t open it before you get back to your timeline. Just consider it...a gift. From someone who owes you...very much. I...I can’t tell you a great deal. But I can say that you will make a decision. Very soon. This will help.”

Archie looked into Jan’s eyes. He didn’t say a word. But he didn’t have to. Both of them understood.

Looking on, Betty and Veronica, and possibly the others, understood as well.

“Are you now prepared?” said the king.

Jan nodded. “I think we’re ready, sir.”

“Then, think of this as you leave,” he said, his hand beginning to glow. “Many things remain a mystery, even to myself. But if so many counterparts of yourselves exist, in so many timelines, in your primary system...

“...Then someone, somewhere, must have decided that your world will always need an Archie.”

-A-

In the parlor room of the Spellman house, Hilda was holding court with Jughead, Cheryl, Jason, Ethyl, and Dilton, while Frankie, Maria, Chuck, Nancy, and Danni cooled their heels in the front room with Zelda and Harvey. The arrangement made the latter think of themselves as Outer Circle, and the others as Inner Circle. The Outers tried to hide their dismay at Harvey’s placid behavior. Zelda tried to avoid questions, only saying that they hoped for the return of Sabrina and her four friends as soon as possible.

“But where have they gone, Ms. Spellman?”, asked Frankie.

“Away,” said Zelda.

Maria was trembling. “Bruja,” she said, finally. “Witch!”

“Maria,” said Frankie, reaching for his girl’s arm.

“No!” She stood and pointed at Zelda. “This woman has sent them away by magic. Where did you send them, witch? To Hades?”

Harvey seemed a bit disturbed. “Now, Maria, that’s really not a very nice thing to say. I’m sure...”

“Give me the keys, Frankie.” Maria held out her hand. “I’m going to the church. I’ll be back with Father Flanagan.”

“Maria, sit down,” said Frankie.

“Frankie—“

“SIT. DOWN.”

She looked at him, about to lash out at him for a definite breach of sexist behavior. Then she looked at his eyes, and knew that he wasn’t about to be pushed any farther. She sat beside him on the couch and eyed Zelda warily.

“Is it the truth, Ms. Spellman?” asked Nancy. “Are you a witch?”

Zelda smiled gently and sipped from her teacup. “Isn’t this beautiful weather we’re having, for a summer?”

“Ms. Spellman. I asked you a question. Are you a witch?”

“Harvey.” Zelda turned to her houseguest. “If you’d be good enough to rustle up some sandwiches for everyone, I’m sure you’ll find fixings in the fridge. You know where the bread is, and we’ve got chips in the cabinet. Should be some Diet Coke in there, too.”

“Will do, Ms. S,” said Harvey, and left, whistling.

Nancy was just about to jump out of her seat. Chuck held her back. “Ms. Spellman, I’m with the ladies on this. There’s just been too much happening lately, and not enough answers for us. We weren’t in on that rescue gig, but we need some explanations. We want to know what’s become of our friends.”

“And if you don’t tell us,” said Danni Malloy, taking a cell phone from her purse, “I’m going to call the cops. Your choice, ma’am.”

Zelda looked like a cornered cat. The silence in the room dragged on, second after second, broken mostly by breathing. Finally, Danni stabbed her finger at the number pad. Two digits, three...

A whooshing noise came from the basement.

The sextet looked at each other, for a moment. Then the charge began for the basement stairs, with Chuck in the lead. In the hallway, the contingent met the Inner Circle, also on the run, Jughead in the lead. “Outta my way, Jones,” snapped Chuck, not slacking his pace.

“Nuts, Clayton,” said Jug, leaping towards the stairway. “I’ve got first rights.”

“You’ve got a pair of left feet and a stupid-looking beanie!”

“Nobody insults my hat!”

Jug grabbed for Chuck and both of them tumbled down the stairs, the others yelling and in hot pursuit. “Oh, my,” said Zelda, one hand to her mouth.

“Oh, come on, sister,” said Hilda, elbowing her in the side. “This is the most fun we’ve had in months!”

The tumbling, tussling team of Jones & Clayton, holding onto each other and crying out in dismay, went rear-over-teakettle down the stairs, not missing a step. “Ouch,” proclaimed Jughead. “Ouch, ouch, ouch, and further ouch.”

“Agreed,” said Chuck, who was still holding onto him. “Sorry about the beanie, okay?”

“Apology accepted. But...”

Ethyl and Nancy, the first two behind them, stood a step up from their entangled friends. They weren’t looking at them. Jug said, “Eth...what is it?”

She pointed.

In the midst of the basement, near the spot where the table had been, stood Archie, Reggie, Betty, Veronica, and Sabrina, the last of whom was holding Salem.

“Wow,” said Archie. “I mean...wow.”

“Affirmative, Arch,” said Reggie. “There’s no place like home, eh?”

“Even if it’s someone else’s home,” confirmed Veronica.

“Oh, we’re back,” exclaimed Sabrina, with joy. She squeezed the cat in her arms. “Salem, can you believe it? We’re back!”

“Uh...meow?” offered the cat.

At the top of the stairs, just in front of the Spellman sisters, Danni Malloy finished dialing the number on her phone pad. The connection was made. “Police department. Sgt. Pansky speaking.”

“Sergeant,” she said, “my name is Danni Malloy. They’ve found Sabrina Spellman and her friends. They’re all back.”

“What?”

“Talk to you later,” said Danni, and snapped the phone shut. She looked across at Dilton, who had come up beside her. “Should we go down together?”

“Let’s,” he said, and linked arms with her as they started down.

-A-

In a hospital in Riverdale, Moose Mason had two new visitors. He recognized one of them.

“Jug,” said the big man, sitting up as much as he could in his bed. “Hey, man, how’ve you been? Look, honey, it’s Jug!”

“I see him,” said Midge Klump, sitting by Moose’s bedside. “Hi, Juggy. Who’s your friend? I don’t think we’ve been introduced.”

“She’s a friend,” said Jughead, reaching out his hand and taking Midge’s. “We need to be in the hall for a couple of minutes.”

Bewildered, Midge went with him. Moose looked at the woman who had come with Jughead. “Hey, where’s he goin’? And who are you, lady?”

She smiled. “Both of them will be back in a moment. Just lie back, Mr. Mason.” She held out a device which sent up an audible hum. “As for who I am...just call me Jan.”

A couple of minutes later, both Jan and Jughead were walking down the hall of the hospital. “So how’s he doing?” asked Jug.

“Much better,” said January McAndrews. “With that treatment, he should be ready to go home in a week.”

“Solid, Jackson!”

She looked at him. “Where’d you pick up that expression?”

“Oh, I used to hang around old jazz guys when I was learning the drums,” he said. “He’ll really get better?”

“He really will,” said Jan. “I had to pull a lot of rank with the TP to get authorization. But after what they told me he did in this case, there was no way I couldn’t help him.”

Jug nodded. “So. Where to now?”

“We both go back to our own timelines,” she said.

“I can’t even stay here and meet the guy I am in this one?”

“Nope. Sorry.”

“Okay. But next time, include me on the case. All right?”

“Will do, Juggie dearest. Will do.”

An orderly saw the two of them go around a corner. Visitor’s hours were over, and he knew his duty. He strode after them, about to tell them it was time to go.

He rounded the corner and saw an empty hall, except for a nurse’s station. The gal on duty hadn’t seen anybody come around the corner.

The orderly briefly thought of a Stephen King show he’d seen about a haunted hospital, then put it out of his mind and went to talk to his superior.

-A-

Standing in the elevator, with his portfolio in hand, Carl C. Doom wasn’t certain sometimes that all his memories were true.

Was he an amnesia victim? He wasn’t sure. He knew he’d awakened a day or so ago in an apartment on the poorer side of town, with a drawing board, a large stack of Bristol board drawing paper, and various art supplies, plus a large assortment of comic books in a box. He knew he was an artist. He had some talent. He could draw things. But a lot of his prior life seemed hazy, lost in grey mist.

Some things he could remember. A few of the comic books in his box, he’d recalled reading earlier. They were super-hero books from the Seventies. One such series, covering “earth’s mightiest heroes”, had been about a group of good guys being trapped in Limbo and having to free its king from a masked villain and a bunch of time-snatched villains who, in the heroes’ time, were dead. Seems that one had given him ideas, when he’d read it. But he couldn’t imagine just what.

At any rate, he was out of a job, he knew what he could do, and he had to find a way of doing it. That was why he was in the elevator, on the way up to the office. He sighed and shifted his grip on the big portfolio.

The secretary made him cool his heels in the outer office for at least half an hour. Finally, the editor came out, shook hands with him, and introduced himself. Once they were in the editor’s sanctum sanctorum, the man said, “Okay, let’s see whatcha got.”

Obediently, Carl had opened his portfolio. Most of it was superhero stuff, but he’d also done some pages of horror, Western, romance, even teenage and funny stuff. A lot of the last categories had gone out of style, but it was important, he knew, to show you could draw in a lot of different genres.

The editor had looked them over. “Not bad,” he said. “Not bad.” But his interest seemed to perk up when he got to the funny stuff. Some of it was family sitcom-oriented, some was kid stuff like Peanuts. It was the latter that the editor spent the most time on. Finally, the man looked up.

“We don’t do much superhero stuff these days,” he said, “and a lot of our regular features are already booked up. But we do have an opening on one strip. Little Archie. Want to try?”

“Little Archie? Little Archie?” Carl C. Doom’s breathing came faster. He was having a panic reaction. And, for the life of him, he didn’t know why.

The editor looked alarmed. “Hey, something the matter? If you don’t want the job, I understand.”

Doom’s hands were trembling. He looked at them, and wondered why the normal flesh-tone seemed, for a moment, to be alien to him. But that wasn’t something he could afford to worry about right now. He had to put bread on the table, to keep the rent money coming, to keep his old clunker supplied with gas.

Carl C. Doom stuck his hands in his pockets and put on a brave face.

“Nah, it’s okay. When do I start?”

-A-

Sabrina and her aunts had thanked all of the Gang individually and politely suggested they leave, as they wanted to have a private reunion to celebrate Sabrina’s return. Most of the crew had gotten in their cars and left. Sabrina had asked Archie, Betty, Ronnie, Reggie, and Jughead to stay with her for just a few moments, and they did. The lot of them, Salem included, assembled in the front yard. Hilda and Zelda watched from the open doorway. Harvey was behind them.

The young witch searched for words. Ronnie felt empathy for her and spoke up. “Really, Bree, it isn’t necessary for you to make a big speech. You’re tired. Why don’t you...”

“No, Veronica, it’s all right,” said Sabrina. “It’s just...hard for me to find a way to say everything I want to. Everything I have to.” She paused and looked at each one of them in turn. “I would have died in that machine. I would have died, if it hadn’t been for you.”

“Sabrina...” Archie couldn’t think of what to say, after her name.

Tears were welling up in her eyes. “God bless you all, and I really mean it.” She put her arms around Archie and Betty, who were the closest to her. The other three closed, instinctively, for a group hug. Salem, pawing at her leg, wanted to say something, but didn’t dare. Jug didn’t know what he was, and he intended to keep it that way.

“If there is anything I can do, ever,” said Sabrina, through her sniffles, “just call me. Please. I’ll be there for you, like you were there for me. Don’t ever forget it.”

“We won’t, Bree,” said Betty, fighting back tears herself. “Believe me, we won’t.”

“And, hey, Sabrina, if you ever need a hand,” said Reggie, “make sure the first one you call on is Mantle the Magnificent.”

“Reg,” said Jughead. “Sometimes you are so pathetic.”

“But in the best way, Jug,” said Reggie. “Always in the best way.”

“Amen,” said Archie, and slapped his old friend on the shoulder.

Veronica was the next one to speak. “We have to go home,” she said. “I hate to say it, but we have to. All our parents are waiting for us.”

Archie broke the hug. “Going home can wait. You four, I need you to come with me. Now.”

Reggie looked at his friend, inquisitively. “Where are we going?”

“To the beach. Don’t worry, you won’t need any swimsuits. We just need to talk. That’s all.”

“To talk?” Betty Cooper looked at him.

“Yeah,” he said. “That is, if Jason can wait.”

Betty paused a long second. Then she said, “He can wait forever.”

Veronica Lodge looked at her, and grasped Reggie’s arm in sympathetic reaction. Reggie didn’t know what to do, so he did nothing. Jughead looked on, in silence. Then he said, “See you, Sabrina.”

“Good bye, all of you,” she said, wet-eyed and holding Salem in her arms. “And...good luck.”

-A-

The moon was well out by the time they arrived at the beach. Nobody else seemed to be around, and that was just the way they wanted it. There was some light coming in from a couple of closed beach stands. Mostly, though, it was the light of the full moon they went by. Archie stood outside his car and waited for the others to pull up. When they had, he led them to a place that had been one of their favorite spots.

“Okay,” he said. “If the rest of you would sit down...’cause I don’t know that I’m going to be able to. And please, give me time to say what I have to.”

“You’ve got it, Carrot-Top,” said Reggie, sitting cross-legged on the sand.

“Reg, shush,” said Veronica, putting her hands in her lap and clasping them tightly together.

The four others sat in a semi-circle, first Betty, then Reggie, then Ronnie, and finally Jughead. Archie stood there, pacing a bit, kicking at the sand. The others waited. Finally, he turned to them, his hands in his pockets.

“First of all, what I say to you isn’t just about love. It’s about choice.”

Veronica breathed shallowly, her eyes bright in the light of the moon. Betty sat straight, not daring to make a sound, taking in everything before her. Especially Archie.

“Betty, Ronnie, I’ve known you both since we were kids,” Archie continued. “I don’t even remember when I started loving you both. Don’t ask which one I loved first, ‘cause I wouldn’t tell you even if I could remember. Yeah, I wanted you, Ronnie, a lot. But Betty never gave up, and I wanted her, too. And I’ve dated other girls, too. We know all about that. Ah...nuts. Am I boring everybody yet?”

“Arch,” said Jughead, “I wouldn’t miss this for a year’s worth of the Food Channel. Keep going.”

“Okay,” said Archie, standing still. “Awhile back, when both of you girls had a faceoff, Cheryl Blossom showed up as a third party. And I won’t deny I had the hots for her for awhile.”

“Hey, you’re only human,” said Veronica. Betty sent her a wave of silent empathy.

“Thanks, Ronnie,” Archie said. “We all know what kind of package Cheryl has. She’s rich, she’s got looks, she’s a . bomb. The guy she gets is going to live on Easy Street for the rest of his life. That’s quite an arrangement. But there’s one thing both of you girls have, that she hasn’t got.”

They waited for him to say it.

“She doesn’t have as much of a heart,” he finished.

Betty took and squeezed Reggie’s hand without thinking. For his part, Reggie noted that her palm was sweaty. But he said nothing. On the other side, Ronnie squeezed his other hand as well, and Jughead took her left hand, sympathetically.

“I’ve thought about both of you a lot in the last few weeks,” said Archie. “It must’ve been a zillion times that I’ve gone over in my mind the way I’ve loved each one of you. Different ways, different areas for each of you. Don’t ask me who gets more love, or who gets less love, because, like I said, even if I knew, I wouldn’t tell you. It ought to let you know enough that...well...I’ve loved you both so much that I couldn’t tell myself.

“But Jughead and I had a talk recently, and he reminded me of something I really should have admitted to myself before now. Sometimes, like I said, it isn’t just about love. When it comes down to the final results, it’s about making a choice.

“And I have to make a choice. I wanted you all to be here with me tonight, because we’ve been through so much together in our lives. If the girl I choose doesn’t accept me, well, that’s fine. No, it’s not fine. But I’ll live with it, and I’ll try to understand. Agreed?”

He looked at Betty, and at Veronica. Both of them said, in turn, “Agreed.”

Reggie’s face was set in stone. Even Jughead, behind his droopy eyes, looked tense.

Archie was silent for a long moment, breathing and looking at his four friends. Then he said, “Veronica.”

Ronnie’s mouth dropped open. Reggie could have sworn she stopped breathing. Betty’s face, Jughead noted, immediately registered terrible emotional pain.

“You know how much you’ve meant to me, Ronnie,” said Archie. “You know how much I’ve loved you. You’re beautiful, you’re rich, you’re intelligent enough, and you’ve got a lot more guts and talent than anyone’s given you credit for. I’ve been after you for a long time. By this time, I even think your dad would accept me as a son-in-law. And, let’s face it, marrying into your family would give me a guaranteed career. Or at least, a guaranteed income. Also, I can’t deny it...I’ve wanted to make it with you for ages, Ronnie.”

Veronica was breathing hard, unable to speak. Archie was hauling something out of his pocket. He said, “Jan McAndrews gave me this. She told me I had a decision to make, when I got back to Riverdale. When I saw it, I knew what kind of decision I had to make.”

He opened the small box in his hand.

Ronnie and Reggie saw what was within. It was a silver ring, with the biggest, shiniest diamond on it Veronica had ever seen on such a ring in her life. Even bigger than the one her mom sported.

Betty Cooper had buried her face in Jughead’s shirt and was softly crying. Awkwardly, Jug had his arm around her. “Bets, don’t cry,” he said, hugging her. “Please, for the life of me, don’t cry.”

Archie said, “There’s no reason for her to cry, Jug.”

Betty looked up, her mascara in several stages of ruination. “What? What?”

She didn’t know if she could credit her eyes. Archie was coming over to her, with a deliberate tread, holding the box with the wedding ring in it in his right hand. He stopped in front of her. Veronica, for her part, couldn’t do anything but listen in astonishment.

“Betty,” said Archie, holding the ring and box before her eyes. “You’re beautiful, sure enough. You’re also loving, more than just about any girl I’ve ever known. Everything you’ve ever had, you had to work for. You weren’t given any advantages, but you made them for yourself. Just about anything you want to do, you’ve shown you can do. And I have to believe that goes for marriage, too. And love.”

This can’t be happening, Betty thought, her eyes not wavering from the ring. It simply cannot be taking place.

“It’ll be a tougher life for both of us, if we do this,” said Archie. “Financially, you’d be better off with Jason, and I might be better off with Ronnie. But we’re from the same kind of people, Betty. And I think that whatever we have to do, whatever we have to be in this world, we can make it work if we do it...both of us...together.”

He got down on one knee.

“Betty Cooper, will you marry me?”

She wrapped her arms around him as if he was a post in the middle of the ocean and she was a drowning woman. She kissed him, bore him to the ground, and didn’t let up. The box fell from Archie’s hand.

Silently, Veronica Lodge got up, took the ring from the box, and placed it on Betty’s hand. Archie, still locked in the kiss, looked at her sadly. She said nothing as she turned away. To Reggie, she said, “I want to go home.”

“I understand, Ron,” he said, and helped her to his car.

Jughead watched both of them go, then stood up. Archie and Betty were still in lip-lock. He stooped, took Archie’s hand, and shook it. “Good luck,” he said.

Archie waved. Jughead went to his own car and drove off.

He had a feeling it’d be awhile before the Andrewses and the Coopers heard from their offspring tonight.

-A-

“Archie?”

“Mmmph?”

Betty rolled over on the sand. “Sun’s coming up.”

“Mmmm.”

“Called my folks and your folks last night to let them know where we were. I did.”

“Mmhmmm.”

“They’re gonna be opening things up pretty soon around here, Archie,” she said, resting her hand on his chest. “We need to get home.” She poked him playfully on the sternum with her fingernails. “Wake up, sleepyhead.”

“Betty,” he said, trying to open his eyes. He reached out for her. Obligingly, she put it around her shoulders. She lay back beside him and sighed.

“Nobody’s ever gonna believe we didn’t do anything out here,” she said, smiling.

“Nope,” he said, eyes still closed.

“But I don’t care what they believe,” she went on. “And, y’know, if what we’ll do after the wedding is as nice as this, plus something else, I can’t wait.”

“Uh huh.”

“You want me to drive us home, sleepyhead? You want me to drag your heavy bod and put it in my passenger seat? I’ll do it.”

“Might be good idea.”

She snuggled closer to him. “Maybe you can find a song named ‘Betty’ after all. Yeah, I know, ‘Black Betty, bam-a-lam,’ and ‘Betty’s Bein’ Bad’, but they’re not appropriate.”

“Nope.”

“I’ll even forgive you for singing a song about Veronica first.”

“Sang a song about you before that.”

“What?” Betty sat up beside him, encircling her legs with her arms. “What are you talking about, Archie Andrews?”

“Didn’t you know? Didn’t I ever tell you?”

“What?”

“‘Sugar, Sugar’. Wrote it for you.”

Betty went limp. “Archie?”

“Mmmhmmm?”

“Get up. I think you’re going to have to drive me home, instead.”

-A-

And it came to pass that, in a realm that was not Limbo but bore some similarities to it, three figures watched a wedding processional in a view that was provided by magic. The threesome were watching in a library. About them, sorted in ways that would have rent asunder the concept of the Dewey Decimal System, were cases of books and records and wax cylinders and 8-tracks and CD’s and film cans and videotapes and forms of storing communication that Man had either forgotten or had not yet conceived. Even the Library of Congress had no such collection. For this library contained not only all the books that were written, but all the books that had been dreamed, as well.

The librarian bent towards the master of their realm, who sat before the viewscreen. “If I might be permitted, sire, the two of them make a well-fit couple. Well-fit, indeed.”

“They always do, Lucien,” said the pale man in the throne. “And, regardless of the coupling, they always will.”

A raven, on a perch beside him, spoke up. “I don’t get it, boss. How come you’ve tuned in on these guys? They’re not exactly, y’know, the kind of people you keep up with, I wouldn’t think.”

Without looking at the bird, the monarch said, “Because, in times far prior to their history, Matthew, the one of them who was a cave dweller did me a beneficence. In exchange, I promised that his story would live. And so it has. And so it will.”

The raven scratched his head with his wing. “I remember reading about them as a kid. But isn’t there more to it than that, Boss?”

Lucien the librarian looked warily at the black bird. “It is not a wise thing, Matthew, to press the master for an answer, at times.”

“Sometimes, that is true,” said their master. “But in this case, Lucien, it is not so hard a thing to tell. It is true, the stories of the great and powerful, of those who have might beyond mortal ken, and those who can alter the course of mighty rivers and bend steel in their hands, have a degree of excitement. But it is also true that the merely mundane, the mortal level, the human, if you will, can be just as entertaining. The lives of the everyday man and woman of your former kind. Or of boy and girl. The comedy, the tragedy, the love, the hope, sometimes writ small that it may be writ large in one’s heart...that, too, is a thing worth considering.”

So Matthew considered that. “But what about those characters from the alternate timelines? The ones who turned out to be super-heroes, or secret agents, or Time Cops, or something? What about them, Boss?”

“Well,” said the king of their realm, “sometimes, one needs a little variety in one’s diet.” He waved his hand. The vision of the wedding of Archie Andrews and Betty Cooper faded.

He waved it again. This time the viewpoint was that of a high school. No, not just any high school. Riverdale, with its proud colors of maroon and gold. Riverdale, on whose main building was a banner welcoming freshmen students to their halls of learning.

Riverdale, on the steps of whose registration building a young redheaded man with a black sweater bearing the white letter “R” and a load of books under his right arm, stood, somewhat nervously.

“Hey, Archie!”, came a voice that turned his head. “Where ya been?”

The youth smiled. Converging on him from several directions were a kid in a beanie hat, an arrogant-looking athlete in slicked-down black hair, and, finally, a blonde girl and her brunette friend and rival.

In his realm, the master of dreams also, very slightly, smiled.

The raven was smiling much more. “Ten on Veronica this time!”

“Fifty on Betty,” said Lucien, with enthusiasm.

“You’re on!”

The pale lord watched for a while longer. Such were the dreams of man, at times. The human was as inspiring as the superhuman. At times, even more so. Even he couldn’t guess all the turns this latest life would take. But of one thing, he was certain. For a good long time to come, perhaps a virtual eternity...

...there would be no last Archie story.

********

The king of Limbo is the property of Marvel Comics. The Sandman and his cast are property of DC Comics, Inc. All the rest is the property of Archie Comics.

********

For these guys:

John Goldwater
Bob Montana
Dan DeCarlo
Bob Bolling

...and all the rest, who gave us a character we just won’t let die. Thanks a whole bunch.

DarkMark

2 / 28 / 05


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