Welcome to the 2022 April A to Z Challenge! Each day (minus Sundays) in the month of April will feature a short work of fiction based on a random word beginning with the corresponding letter of the day. Those random words will be provided by various friends and family members throughout the month. Today’s word, ransom, was provided by my friend, Nicole. Each story is loosely connected to the one before but will make more sense if you read them all in order. To go back to the beginning to see where this madness began, click here…
Winslow Schott stood at the front of the school bus as it sped through midtown Metropolis. He laughed in an almost giddy fashion as he held a modified Super Soaker to the head of the bus driver. The criminal that the Daily Planet referred to as Toyman had warned the driver that the water gun was loaded with sulfuric acid. That threat certainly encouraged the driver to do as he was told.
Unfortunately it allowed Toyman to take control of a school bus with 27 third graders, two chaperones, and one teacher. They had been on a field trip and on their way to Centennial Park for Superman Day. Everyone’s excitement about the prospect of meeting Superman turned into terror when their bus was commandeered by Schott.
“Sir,” said one of the chaperones, a father named Greg, “please, you don’t have to do this.” Greg stood from his seat with his hands in front of him.
“Shut up!” shouted the Toyman. “Shut up and sit back down!”
“Please,” Greg quietly pleaded, “you’re scaring these children.”
Schott didn’t say another word. Instead he aimed his Super Soaker at Greg and pulled the trigger. Acid sprayed out, hitting Greg’s jacket. The bus filled with the screams of 27 children as Greg panicked in an attempt to quickly remove the jacket before the acid could eat through the material and seriously injure him. He was lucky the acid didn’t hit his face. Or any of the kids, for that matter.
“I trust you all understand how serious I am now?!” asked Toyman, his voice rising a couple of octaves. “How far are we from my factory?” he asked, turning back to the driver.
“I don’t know,” said the man behind the wheel, “maybe another ten minutes.”
Toyman leaned in so close to the driver’s face that he had to recoil from the stench of Schott’s rotten breath. “You’ll make it five if you know what’s good for you!”
The villain had changed over the years. When he began his criminal activities, his target was Lex Luthor. Really, his target was any corporation he felt was responsible for putting independent toy makers, like himself, out of business. Then he realized it wasn’t completely the fault of large business conglomerates. Children were no longer interested in the kinds of toys he could build with his hands. They wanted video games. They wanted tablet computers. They wanted screen time.
Toyman could not abide this.
Now he took out his anger on the children. This time he would hold a busload of children for ransom until he received what he was rightfully owed.
The bus came to a stop behind Schott’s old toy manufacturing facility. It had lain empty for the better part of the last decade. In fact, now that he considered it, none of the children on this bus were alive the last time he put together a line of toys in this building. The nostalgia brought a genuine, but brief, smile to his face.
“Thank you for your service,” Toyman said to the driver. He then slammed the butt of the Super Soaker into the back of the driver’s head, shoving his face into the steering wheel and knocking him unconscious. “Everybody off the bus and into the factory!”
He nearly shoved several of the children out the door of the bus as he directed them toward the factory door. Greg and his son, Dave, were the last to get off when Schott grabbed Dave by the collar and told him, “I think I’ll keep you close by.” He looked at Greg and said, “If you don’t mind?”
Greg had learned his lesson and refused to talk back. He made eye contact with his boy, desperately trying to convey to him that everything would be all right.
Suddenly, children began to vanish one by one. Toyman’s eyesight wasn’t what it once was, but he could have sworn he saw a faint blue blur in the split second it took for each hostage to disappear.
“No!” he cried. “No! No! No! NO! NO!”
Toyman pushed his way through the remaining crowd of hostages, dragging little Dave along with him. Making his way inside the abandoned factory, he looked down at the child and asked, “I don’t suppose they’d give me a couple million dollars for just you?”
Dave could only shake his head as a peal of creepy laughter filled the darkened room.
The laughter startled even the Toyman and he shouted into the darkness, “Who’s there?!”
From shadows emerged a pale, slender figure wearing a deep purple suit. Little Dave recognized the clown’s face from watching the news. Upon recognizing the Joker, he lost control of his bladder.
“Aren’t you a bit outside your territory?” Toyman asked as the Joker approached.
“Aww, Winnie, is that any way to greet an old friend?” said the Joker as he grabbed the Super Soaker from Toyman’s grasp. Schott was amazed at how quickly the clown had been able to reach for the water gun.
“Filled with acid, I assume?” Joker asked, giving the toy weapon a once over. “A little gaudy for my taste. But what do I know? My gimmick is clown make-up.” Saying this caused the Joker to burst into laughter once again.
Joker walked in a circle around Toyman and his hostage. Stepping up behind Dave, he put his hands on the child’s shoulders. “And who have we here?”
“D-D-Dave,” stammered the kid, terrified of what was happening to him.
“Well, D-D-Dave,” mocked the Joker, “would you like to hear a joke?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “Of course, you would. How do you abduct a unique child?”
Dave shook his head to indicate that he didn’t know the punchline.
“Unique up on him!” Cried the Joker before descending into even more maniacal laughter than before.
Toyman rolled his eyes. “Is that supposed to be funny?”
Joker continued to laugh but responded by punching Toyman in the face, nearly dislocating his jaw.
“Run along, D-D-Dave. The grown-ups need to talk.”
For a moment, Dave was frozen where he stood. Was the Joker really saving him from the Toyman?
Frustrated, the Joker shouted, “What are you waiting for?! Go! Get out of here before I change my mind!”
Dave ran back through the door that he had entered only a few minutes before. He was greeted by police officers aiming guns and Superman quickly getting in front of him in case any of those cops had itchy trigger fingers.
“He-He’s in there!” Dave said to Superman.
“I know,” Superman said calmly, trying to soothe the traumatized third grader. “Don’t worry, everything is okay now. You’re dad is just over there waiting for you, okay? This EMT is going to take a look at you just to make sure you aren’t hurt.”
Dave nodded and walked toward an ambulance with the first responder. Superman turned to the police, “Inspector Turpin, I’m going in. I’ll give you the signal once it’s safe for you to follow.”
Dan Turpin chewed on the stump of his cigar and nodded at the Man of Steel. He’d been to enough of Superman’s crime scenes to know when to let the blue boy take lead. But within 30 seconds, Superman had re-emerged from the old toy factory.
“They’re both gone.”
“Both?” asked Turpin, confused.
“The Joker was in there with them before Dave came back out,” said Superman, having watched the scene unfold with his X-ray vision. In the moments before Dave was released, Superman debated whether or not he should just burst through the door with his super speed. But with the Joker’s dangerous proximity to the boy, he decided not to risk it.
“The Joker and Toyman are teaming up,” Turpin grunted, shaking his head.
Superman seemed lost in thought. “Maybe… but maybe not. They can’t be too far away, Inspector. I’ll do a sweep of nearby buildings. Hopefully if we all work together we can come up with something.”
Turpin agreed and began ordering his men to canvas the area. They needed to know if anyone had seen anything suspicious. Specifically, they needed to know if there had been any killer clown sightings.
Superman took to the skies. His assumption was that the Joker had been able to enter and exit the building through some kind of underground tunnel. But so much of the Metropolis underground infrastructure was lined with lead, it made X-ray vision useless. I better let Bruce know about this, thought Superman as he continued to scan the neighborhood.
These characters are not my own. Superman, Toyman, the Joker, and all related characters are the property of DC Comics. This is a work of fan fiction and is just for fun. Please don’t sue me.