Happy Halloween, Phantom Stranger
It's unbelievable. I've barely sat down and suddenly this caped bastard with terrible shoes hurls himself into my living room. Does he apologise? Does he my ass. He just rolls around on the carpet in front of me like some sort of flapping fish, shouting "I'm appearing from nowhere! From nowhere!" over and over again, and then says that if I don't tell everyone that he appeared from nowhere in a puff of phantasmic smoke then I'm really gay. Just as I'm explaining the fine points of suing a guy for smashing a window while claiming that he's coming out of nowhere in a puff of smoke, he starts staring off into the middle distance - he just keeps looking away at one of the sofa cushions until I tail off - and then he turns around and starts bellowing at me in this big, deep, booming voice.
"Your bizarre story reminds me of a strange tale that happened to me ten years ago. I call it... The Window That Was Not Broken!"
Then he goes off on this huge tangent about when he appeared out of a puff of smoke to talk to this billionaire occult antiques dealer who had a magic window that kept breaking and then magically repairing itself, expect it turned out to be the work of a sinister double glazing salesman who was his half-brother who wanted to claim a million dollars by saying the window was haunted or some ridiculous crap like that, and this story went on for two and a half hours. I went to go fix myself a microwave meal halfway through. Anyway, at the end, he's all like "That window magically repaired itself... perhaps this window will as well... for I am the Phantom Stranger!"
I know who you are, dingus. You're the asshat who broke my window in frigging October at the dead of night and now expects the bits of it to magically reform themselves. You gigantic bitch.
Anyway. I'm about to ring the police when somebody kicks my door down. As if the smashed window wasn't enough. And who should it be but Dr Terry Thirteen, who I'd hoped was finally dead after he'd allegedly spontaneously combusted in some kind of snottiness-related accident, but who had evidently punched his way out of the afterlife while claiming that the entire vale of Heaven was just a mass hallucination or a mirage because that's how he rolls.
Terry being Terry, he doesn't once apologise for smashing my new lock to pieces and causing another couple of hundred bucks' worth of damage. No, he starts in on the Phantom Stranger as usual. "Pah! You might be able to fool Dibny with your phony 'magic', Phantom Stranger, but you can't fool me! That window was already broken - and you only appeared to smash it by projecting a movie camera onto a sheet! The rest was merely our minds filling in the blanks, in the same way that a primitive caveman would believe lightning was crafted by Zeus or that a deer nailed to a log was in fact the risen Lord Jesus! But I've devoted my life to the twin goals of foiling superstition everywhere and looking exactly like Rip Kirby and so I have no option but to expose your scheme!"
The Phantom Stranger isn't going to take this kind of crap lying down, mostly because he's a world-class prick. "Mortal man," he intones patronisingly, "once again you attempt to use your pathetic 'science' to deal with that which you do not understand. I appeared from thin air in a puff of eerie smoke, and as you can see, Ralph Dibny is at this very instant going all goggle-eyed and saying 'Why, he appeared just like a g-g-ghost!'... Ralph? Ralph! What are you doing with that whisky? Get out here and say I appeared just like a g-g-ghost. Or you're gay."
Terry chuckled dryly, as though he were about to open up a secret panel in the wall of my apartment and reveal a tape recorder that had been cunningly set to make spooky noises. "Ha ha ha, you blind fool. Why, this reminds me of something that happened to me in darkest Haiti, where a voodoo Bocor thought that he'd smashed a window kicking a football, but it was all a scheme by an unscrupulous glazier... a story I like to call... It Was All A Scheme By An Unscrupulous Glazier."
At that point I decided to cut my losses and head out to the nearest bar to enjoy a couple of beers in peace. When I got back, Terry's appalling story was still going on - he'd just got to the bit where he explained to his wife for the seventeenth time that all his ancestors had been famous debunkers of the supernatural, apart from all the ones who were burned at the stake for being incredibly supernatural - and it looked likely to keep going all night. Why these two assholes think that the way you solve a mystery is to tell a long rambling story about how great you are, I have no idea. The way to solve a mystery, geniuses, is to elongate your body to tremendous lengths as any student of the form could tell you.
I must have dozed off in my chair, because the next thing I remember the story was over and Thirteen was moving right along to the next part of his modus operandi - the punching. He'd grabbed the Phantom Stranger's hat off his head and was waving it around, screaming "This isn't even a real hat, you phony! You've cunningly projected the image of a hat onto the empty air using a sophisticated movie camera! I'll expose you if it's the last thing I do!" And then he hurls the hat on the ground and starts leaping up and down on it, which kind of disproved his movie-camera theory because the thing flattened like a pancake. Anyway, that's when the Phantom Stranger grabbed hold of one of my empties and smashed it over Thirteen's head. He was shouting something about using the mystic power of the Tetragrammaton to restore his friend's sanity, but it looked more like assault with a deadly weapon to me.
Maybe it was the drinking, or the severe depression, or maybe I just wanted to see Terry's head beaten in by a large man pretending to be a ghost, but I found myself unable to muster the will to stop the terrible scenes of violence that followed, as the Phantom Stranger pummelled Dr Thirteen about the head and face, the latter howling that he was sustaining no damage at all as the entire fight was being faked by hypnotism - and he could prove it! Finally the Phantom Stranger ran through the remains of the doorway, screaming "Look the other way! If you don't look the other way I can't vanish!" as Terry bounded after him with a new hammer I'd bought to put up some shelves, shrieking "Your hidden projector will be smashed! Smashed! Smashed!". It seemed to provide a coda not only to the scary night of the 27th of October but also to my entire wretched life. Unfortunately I'd run out of Chupa Chups to stick in the gun barrel so instead I let myself sink into an uneasy sleep.
But the most eerie thing of all was that when I woke the next morning, there was no sign that any of the activities of these two strange undead spectres had occurred... apart from the broken window... and the door was still off its hinges. And the coffee table was broken from when Dr Thirteen had punched the Phantom Stranger onto it. And I was missing my hammer, although it later turned up in an abandoned pram.
But apart from my completely destroyed apartment, it was as though none of it had ever happened... or had it? Or... had... it?
According to my solicitor, it had, and if I can convince a court of law of that then I can probably walk away with every penny the Thirteen family owns, and that expensive-looking hippy pendant the Phantom Stranger always seems to be wearing. We'll see.