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The Superhero Masked Ball

Deep beneath Wade Mansions, multi-billionaire William Wade, also known as The Nightwrangler, is preparing to host his very secret Christmas ball. Even by his standards, it boasts an extraordinary and exclusive guestlist…

[Arthur, Wade’s wheelchair-bound and octogenarian manservant, is pouring champagne in the Nightlair, Wade’s hideaway and centre of operations. The expanse of the Nightlair comfortably accommodates a host of fantastic vehicles, several multi-storey computers, and a dozen laboratory benches, upon which some experiments are still visibly in progress. Wade enters, sliding down a transparent chute with his arms crossed over his chest. He lands feet-first, right in the very centre of the cavernous Nightlair. Wade is wearing a white tuxedo, a bow tie, and a sequinned mask. Arthur tuts.]

Arthur: Sir, you’ve creased your jacket. Why didn’t you just come down the elevator with me?

Wade: There’s not enough time, faithful Arthur. Evil never rests, and we superheroes must be ready for action at a single moment’s notice. Also, it’s more fun to take the chute.

Arthur: Ahem. Well, we had better hope that evil takes the night off this evening, or else your get-together will be cut short.

Wade: Good point, well made, my loyal Arthur. I must admit that I’m counting on the villainry of Conurb City to be winding down during this last week of the year. You know what they’re like. They always overindulge at Christmas. Then they leave it to the New Year to resolve once more to take over the world. And then they spend the whole of January getting back into shape down at the gymnasium, following it up with a burst of evil-doing around February, coinciding with none of them ever receiving any Valentine’s cards.

[Suddenly a klaxon blares into life, many rotating beacon lights swirl and a female voice is heard over the tannoy, repeating the word ‘Attention’ over and over.]

Wade: [Leaps to the computer display of a nearby console.] What is it, Arthur? Is there a crime in progress?

Arthur: [Sighs] No sir. I believe it’s our first guest of the evening. Perhaps we should switch off the proximity alarms?

Wade: Right you are, my dependable retainer. You see to the alarms. I’ll let the guests in.

[Several superhero guests wait outside. They all came together because they were paranoid that the invites were luring them into a trap. The heroes are standing in a forest glade, across from a roaring waterfall.]

Arachnoguy: Is this the right place?

Cyberneticon: My GPS says yes.

Fluidia: It’s a beautiful waterfall… I like it here. Now we just need to find the doorbell. What does it say on the invitation again? I’m sorry, I didn’t bring mine – I would only have got it all soggy.

Cardsharp: [Reaches inside his jacket] I have my invite. This sounds like the right place. ‘Wooded valley, by a waterfall…’

[The waterfall stops pouring. A drawbridge, that had been hidden behind the waterfall, descends from the cliff face. Wade walks across it to meet his guests.]

Wade: Hello and good evening! Welcome! You must be… [points at them as he says their names] Cyberneticon – half man, half machine, all hero – the thread-dangler himself: Arachnoguy, Cardsharp, master of… erm… throwing razor-sharp cards, and Fluidia, Queen of the Amorphous, though that title hardly does justice to the mouth-watering figure you present in that dress.

Cardsharp: And who would you be?

Wade: Why, I’m your host. The Nightwrangler.

Cardsharp: [Looks more closely] Yes you are. Normally I’d recognize you, but you’re not wearing your normal costume.

Wade: But you’re all wearing your regular costumes… you know, you didn’t need to wear your work-clothes. This is meant to be a party after all.

Arachnoguy: The invite said it was a ‘masked ball’. The masks and the suits go together.

Cyberneticon: When it comes to masks, I can’t actually remove my visor. It’s attached to my head.

Cardsharp: So it seems that The Nightwrangler is none other than William Wade, multibillionaire commodities trader…

Wade: [Looks surprised, reaches his hands up to his mask] What would make you think that I am William Wade?

Cardsharp: Two things really. First, we’re standing on your estate. There’s nobody else who lives around here. Second, I have eyes. You look just like William Wade.

Wade: I’m afraid to say that you are very mistaken. I’m not William Wade. I’m… somebody else entirely.

[Fluidia suppresses a giggle.]

Cardsharp: You look exactly like William Wade. That mask isn’t much of a disguise. You might as well try to change your appearance by putting on spectacles.

[Cyberneticon lifts his arm and points it at Wade. A dart fires from his fist into Wade’s neck. A light on the end of the dart flashes red and green. Wade pulls it out and throws it to the floor.]

Cyberneticon: Processing… processing… my probe confirms it – your DNA is a perfect match for William Wade.

Wade: [Annoyed] Okay, you’ve discovered my secret identity. Just don’t tell anybody, will you?

Fluidia: Don’t worry, handsome. We can keep a secret. Let’s just hope your other guests can, and that they get too drunk to see you properly.

[Fluidia takes Wade’s arm and escorts him inside.]

****

[All the guests have now arrived, and the party is in full swing. Wade is working the room, trying to ensure everybody is talking.]

Fluidia: [Aside to Arachnoguy] Don’t look now, but Wade’s bringing over the Dorkestra.

Wade: [Walking up to them with another guest] Fluidia, Arachnoguy, please let me introduce you to Cacophony.

Arachnoguy: Pleased to meet you.

Fluidia: Actually, we’ve met. Excuse me, I need to powder my nose [Walks off hurriedly.]

Cacophony: [To Arachnoguy] It’s nice to meet you too.

Wade: What in heavens is the matter with Fluidia?

Arachnoguy: Superheroes, huh? They’re always getting into superfights… [looks knowingly at Cacophony].

Cacophony: I have no fight with Miss Fluidia. [Awkward silence] So you like to hang around upside down, dangling by a thread from the tops of tall buildings?

Arachnoguy: That’s one of my hobbies. I also keep exotic fish and I play in goal for my local soccer team. And what do you do in your spare time?

Cacophony: I sing and I make music.

Arachnoguy: Really? In a choir?

Wade: [Chortles] Miss Cacophony is a choir in her own right. Later we’ll get her to sing some carols in the style of Aled Jones before his voice broke. In fact, Miss Cacophony can perfectly reproduce any noise or music, be it a police siren, birdsong or a full-blown marching band.

Arachnoguy: Oh, so you’re like that guy off of Police Academy?

Cacophony: Err… yes. I suppose so.

****

[Arthur opens the door to some late-arriving guests.]

Arthur: Who is it?

Norman: The name’s Norman, Para-Norman. Plus one.

Arthur: I’m sorry sir, only people on the guest list are allowed to enter. [He looks dismissively at Norman’s friend, who is very obese.]

Norman: Look it’s Christmas, and he’s got nowhere else to go. Show some charity.

Arthur: [Turns to Norman’s friend] You do look familiar.

Bacon: I’m Frank Bacon.

Arthur: [Shocked] I know you! Frank Bacon, alias Eat-O, alias The Human Pig. You’re a criminal, and you’re not welcome here. [Looks angrily at Norman, then back to Bacon] And now you know the location of our secret command centre [huffs].

Bacon: Well, duh. Where else would William Wade keep his lair except in his basement? For myself, I do all my evil scheming in my den. I stick my hi-fi on, crack open a brewski and start sketching out ways to cause untold mayhem and destruction…

Arthur: William Wade? [Coughs] This party has nothing to do with William Wade…

Bacon: Puh-lease. You think I don’t know that William Wade is the Nightwrangler? Wade and the Wrangler look identical. I’m fat, not stupid. A cheap mask and some eye make-up isn’t going to fool me. Wrangler’s got the most pathetic disguise since Cryptogeek went to Specsavers and started pretending he was different people each time he changed his glasses.

Arthur: You still can’t come in. Go away!

Norman: Look, I promise he won’t cause any trouble. He’s lonely – why do you think he eats so much? Pal, it’s Christmas. This is the time of goodwill to all. Let him come in, make some friends, perhaps we can get Frank here [puts his arm around Bacon’s shoulder] to come join the good guys. And if it doesn’t work, I promise I’ll wipe his mind at the end of the evening, so he’ll have no recollection of any of this.

Arthur: I can’t allow him to come in.

Norman: I knew you were going to say that.

Arthur: Predictable, am I?

Norman: No, precognition is one of my powers. Well, I tried reasoning with you… [Norman raises his hand to his forehead. He stares intently at Arthur. A few seconds later, Arthur’s demeanour has changed utterly.]

Arthur: [Servile] Please, gentlemen, come in. Mr Bacon, Mr. Norman, let me take your hats and coats. Come this way and I will introduce you.

Bacon: [To Norman] Thanks pal, I didn’t want to be alone tonight, not at Christmas. [Gives Norman a hug.]

Arthur: Mr. Wade, ahem, I mean The Nightwrangler is this way…

Bacon: Can you just take us straight to the buffet instead?

Norman: I knew you were going to say that.

Bacon: Yeah, you have the power to read minds.

Norman: [Looks at Bacon’s belly] Something like that.

****

Cardsharp: [Eyes a beautiful young woman and crosses the room to speak to her.] Hello, I don’t think we’ve had the pleasure, and I’d remember, because the pleasure would be all mine.

Julia: Does that mean there would be no pleasure for me? [Smiles wryly] I’m Julia [Offers her hand to shake].

Cardsharp: [Shakes hands but is confused] Excuse me, what’s your name?

Julia: [Still shaking hands] Julia.

Cardsharp: [Still shaking hands] That’s a beautiful name, but I thought this was a party for superheroes?

Julia: Oh, I have powers. Try this… [grips Cardsharp’s hand firmly and sends a burst of electricity through it, causing him to jitter and cry out in pain]. Pretty good trick, huh? And look, [she holds up the palm of her hand] there’s not even a buzzer attached.

Cardsharp: [Takes a moment to catch his breath.] I see [blows on his hand to cool it down]. But you should have a hero-name. They should call you ‘Electrogirl’ or ‘The Zappstress’.

Julia: My name is Julia. It’s tacky to have a hero-name.

Cardsharp: I quite like mine: ‘Cardsharp’.

Julia: Tacky.

Cardsharp: [Laughs it off] You’re right. Wait a second, what have we here…? [Reaches towards Julia’s ear and, by sleight of hand, pulls out a sprig of mistletoe.]

Julia: [Giggles] I guess you’re good with your hands…

Cardsharp: [Holds mistletoe above them both and steps closer.] Not just my hands…

[Their mouths come together… and a spark from Julia’s lips hurls Cardsharp backwards across the room.]

Julia: The problem with hero names is that they can be so misleading. What were you saying about being sharp? Mess with me and I’ll leave you flat…

****

[Captain Improv is helping himself to some food at the buffet. Arthur is leading Frank Bacon and Para-Norman towards the buffet table, until Bacon gets too impatient and pushes past Arthur and his wheelchair in order to get to the food sooner.]

Bacon: [Loudly, to anyone in earshot] I’m starving.

Captain Improv: You don’t look it. [Has a double-take] Wait, is that you, Eat-O? The man who literally ate all the pies, after first stealing them in the Great Bakery Scam of 2008? I thought this was a party for heroes, not greedy crooks.

Bacon: Captain Improv… always trying to have the last laugh. I’ll wipe the smile off your face [raises a fist].

Captain Improv: Fat chance.

Norman: [Butting in to calm things down.] Now, now. We don’t want to spoil the party. It’s Christmas. Peace on Earth. A time to set aside our differences.

Captain Improv: You’re right, Norman. There’s no need to make a meal out of this.

Bacon: Hey?

Captain Improv: I’m just agreeing that we should all keep calm. Frank, it looks like you’ve been under a lot of stress. You’ve obviously had a lot on your plate.

[Bacon socks Captain Improv in the mouth…]

****

[Having escaped Cacophony, Fluidia is standing around on her own for a moment, off to one side, leaning against a laboratory bench. A strange-looking man materializes right next to her. He hands her a drink.]

Strange Man: You look like you need a top up.

Fluidia: You’d be surprised how often I need replenishing. [Takes the drink.] Don’t I know you? Aren’t you the guy who makes microscopic black holes appear at will?

Strange Man: That’s my twin brother, Quantum Singularity. I’m Quantum Shifter – I can teleport from place to place… [he disappears from one side of Fluidia and reappears on the other side].

Fluidia: I met your brother once, we were both caught up in a fight against The League of Really Unpleasant People. Is he here?

Quantum Shifter: Oh, Singularity doesn’t much like parties. He tends to keep himself to himself.

[The sound of an intense fight erupts from the other side of the Nightlair.]

Quantum Shifter: Hey, sounds like trouble, we’d better get over there…

Fluidia: [Puts her hand on Quantum Shifter’s shoulder.] Take it easy. It’s probably just Dorkestra – I mean Cacophony – doing her party piece. She like to do those Kung Fu sound effects just like that guy who was in Police Academy.

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