By Jon B. Knutson (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Summary: An imp from the fifth dimension bedevils Metropolis.
At first, Clark Kent thought he was still dreaming.
After all, nothing in his experience had ever prepared him for the sight at the foot of his bed when he woke up that morning. Clark rubbed his eyes and looked again: The strange apparition was still there.
"Stop rubbing your eyes… I'm not a dream; I'm as real as you are," the apparition said.
Forced to accept it as reality until he had any proof otherwise, Clark examined the apparition closer.
It was apparently male, if the appearance gave him any guide. It was humanoid in appearance, although the arms and legs were much thinner than Clark would expect giving the size of its torso. He (assuming it was a he) appeared to be just short of four feet tall, with a balding head surrounded from ear to ear with a shock of white hair. There was a definite leprechaun quality to his appearance, so far as the face went. He wore an orange skin-tight outfit with purple gloves and boots, and a purple derby was set on his head, slightly off-center.
"Who… or what… are you?"
The apparition, which had been sitting cross-legged on the foot of Clark's bed, stood up and began to pace in mid-air, his hands grasped behind his back. Out of nowhere, a cigar appeared in his mouth, already lit, and leaving a thick trail of smoke that formed a ring as the creature paced. "Now, that's a very good question, one that deserves an answer. I'll tell you what, you're a journalist, I'll give you the four W's and a H. What I am is the easiest to answer: I am a resident of another dimension which lies parallel to your own, one in which all its residents have been blessed with abilities your dimension would call magic. Where I am is obvious, even to one of your dimension. How… well, let's just chalk that up to a rare dimensional interface that allows me to transfer from my dimension to yours once every, oh, three months or so, approximately."
Clark sat up in his bed, and put on his glasses.
"Who I am… now, I could tell you my name, but knowing one's true name gives you power over them, so I won't tell you my real name. But you need to call me something, so… "
With a gesture, the creature caused a Scrabble game to appear in his hands. Another gesture caused a paper bag to appear, into which were dumped all the letters. The creature made a great show out of reaching into the bag and pulling out a handful of the tiles, which were flung into the air… where they floated in front of Clark.
"There we go, that'll be my name, as far as you're concerned: Mr. Mxyzptlk!"
"Mix-yez-pittle-ick?" Clark asked.
"That'll work fine. Now, where was I?" The newly-christened Mxyzptlk resumed his midair pacing. "Ah, yes! Why I'm here! To have fun, of course! But I see that that's not enough for you… very well, I'll explain further."
Mxyzptlk paused in midair, raising an elbow up as though he were leaning on something that wasn't there. "The problem with my home dimension is that since everybody has magical powers, there's no fun to be had… so, when I discovered the dimensional interface, I popped right through to see what kind of fun I could have in a universe where nobody has my powers.
"For a while, I was enjoying myself, playing pranks here and there, such as causing traffic jams to occur for no reason whatsoever, creating computer glitches, affecting election results, keeping people away from good movies in droves, and messing with television network decisions, but I started to get bored after a while, because nobody knew I was performing my pranks, and there was no challenges! But then, just the other day, I saw a television news broadcast that changed my life: There, big as life and twice as beautiful, you were!"
"Me? But I haven't appeared on television… I'm just a reporter at the Daily Planet."
Mxyzptlk tapped some ashes off his cigar, which vanished before they could hit the floor. "Pish and posh… a pair of glasses is the most ridiculous disguise in the world, you know… I'm talking about Superman, you ninny! I know you're a strange visitor from another planet, with powers and abilities beyond those of mortal men… and that makes you a challenge worthy of me!"
"I'm not sure what you're getting at."
"Let me spell it out so that even your meager intelligence can understand, then." A gesture of one purple-gloved hand caused a grandfather clock to appear on the floor. "At nine o'clock this morning, just a few short hours from now, I will begin a serious of practical jokes in your fair city, and I will continue to do so, unless you can trick me in return. That's more than fair."
"Okay, as long as I can trick you, you'll stop?"
"Give the man a cigar!" Mxyzptlk said, and a large cigar appeared in Clark's mouth. Before Clark could spit it out, the cigar exploded, leaving Clark's face covered in soot. "But you can't just pull any trick… that would be too easy… let's see… you have to get me to write or speak my name backwards, and then I'll leave your backwater dimension. That'll work!"
"But…" Clark started to say.
"No buts, Superman… get me to speak or write my name backwards, and I'll be out of your hair… at least, until the next dimensional interface." He tipped his derby to Clark. "And with that, I'm off to prepare! Toodles!"
With a puff of smoke and an audible "pop," he was gone, and the grandfather clock with him.
"I've got a bad feeling about this," Clark said.
"Why are you so jumpy this morning?" Lois asked.
Clark had been reacting to every single little unexpected sound or movement since he'd arrived at the Planet a half hour ago.
"I guess I've had too much caffeine," Clark replied lamely.
"No such thing, Clark… trust me on that. Something's got you on edge, but if you're not in a mood to share it with your best friend, there's nothing I can do."
Clark was surprised at Lois' mood… most of the time, she wouldn't be quite that receptive to his moods… and even then, she wasn't likely to mention it, if she did.
"It's nothing important, Lois, really." That was the understatement of the century, Clark thought, looking at his watch… just under half an hour to go.
"Then why have you been looking at your watch every three minutes?"
Okay, she's going to press after all, Clark realized. "I'm expecting a very important call at nine," he said. "But it's about something embarrassing, okay?"
Lois finally gave up. "Fine, be that way. I've got better things to do this morning than try and figure you out."
When nine o'clock finally came around, Clark kept his eyes and ears wide open for any sign of Mr. Mxyzptlk's mischief, but didn't seem to spot anything out of the ordinary. Maybe I'm getting paranoid, he thought, why should I expect the tricks to start at nine sharp?
At 9:05, mail was delivered to the newsroom employees. Clark didn't recognize the person delivering the mail, but then, he didn't really know the mail room staff anyway, so he dismissed it at first, thinking the person was new to the Planet.
That lasted until he reached the elevator, when he took the time to wave to the newsroom staff and say, "Toodles!" before entering the elevator.
"Toodles?!?" Clark asked. That's what he said before he left, Clark thought. Quickly, he scanned the mail that had been delivered with his x-ray vision, finally spotting a letter in Lois' stack. The contents of it read, "Dear Lois: I have a big scoop for you… Clark Kent is Superman!"
Clark quickly made his way to Lois' desk, purposefully stumbling against the edge, knocking her small pile of mail onto the floor. "Oops! Sorry about that, Lois," Clark said, bending over to pick the stack up (while crumpling the offending letter into a tight ball).
"When did you get to be such a klutz?" Lois asked.
"About five seconds ago."
"Never mind… here's your mail, good as new."
"Fine. So why did you come over here?" Lois inquired.
"Ah… I forgot. I'd better get back to my desk, then… maybe I'll remember later."
I'll never figure Clark out as long as I live, Lois thought.
The elevator doors opened again, and a tall man, well-muscled, with black hair stepped into the newsroom. He was dressed in an all-white suit, stylishly tailored, and white shoes.
"Can I help you?" an intern passing by asked.
"No, I doubt it," the man said, walking purposely towards Lois' desk.
"Excuse me, Miss Lane?" he asked.
"Yes, I'm Lois Lane."
"Allow me to introduce myself… my name is Ben DeRoy. I have some information that you might find newsworthy."
Great, why do all the good-looking guys turn out to be kooks? Lois thought. "Well, Mr. DeRoy, perhaps you should speak to my partner, Mr. Kent, as well." I'll be damned if I'm going to deal with this guy myself, she reasoned.
"That will suit me fine." DeRoy and Lois went to Clark's desk.
"Clark, this is Mr. DeRoy, who says he has information that would be newsworthy," Lois said. From her expression, Clark could tell that Lois thought DeRoy was going to be less than informative.
"And what might that be?"
"It's a story that will make your careers… Superman is really Clark Kent!"
Lois doubled over with laughter. "Clark is Superman? Sure, and Perry White is really the identity Elvis took when he faked his death," she spat out between peals of laughter.
Clark began to look at DeRoy strangely.
"I can prove it," DeRoy said, determined. He suddenly reached over to Clark and tore his shirt open, sending buttons flying across the newsroom, and revealing Clark's bare chest.
Thank god I didn't wear the costume under my street clothes, Clark thought.
"Oh, really?" Lois asked. "Well, Clark's got some nice definition there, but he's no Superman… trust me, Superman's muscles are much larger than Clark's."
DeRoy's face colored… and then he began shrinking and changing, morphing into Mr. Mxyzptlk. "I don't know how you figured that one out, but you won't stop me that easily!" he said.
"What the — ?" Lois started.
"Allow me to introduce myself, Miss Lane," Mxyzptlk said, suddenly becoming courteous, taking off his hat and bowing. "I am Mr. Mxyzptlk, here to make Metropolis a fun place!" Straightening up, he looked around the newsroom… until his attention was caught by Jimmy Olsen, who had the misfortune to enter at that time. "Well, well, what do we have here… a junior reporter? You'll never get anywhere with that kind of appearance!"
Jimmy, too surprised to even consider the unlikelihood of the extra-dimensional alien commenting on his attire, looked down at his clothes. "What's wrong with my clothes?" Jimmy was dressed in a collarless button-up shirt, dress pants and brown shoes.
"They may be fine for the average kid your age, but in a major metropolitan newspaper? Piffle!" Mr. Mxyzptlk made a gesture, and Jimmy's clothing was transformed. Jimmy suddenly found himself wearing a checked green sports coat and matching slacks, a white dress shirt, and a red bow tie. "Yuck!" Jimmy said.
"Nonsense… the clothes make the man… but in your case, more work is needed… let's see… that hair is strictly nowheresville, and you need more character… how about… " another gesture "…red hair and freckles!"
"Hey!" Jimmy complained.
"Now, that's my idea of a cub reporter!"
Perry burst out of his office, hearing the commotion. "Great shades of Elvis, what's going on out here!"
Mxyzptlk poked a thumb Perry's way. "Sheesh, what a grouch! You gotta learn to relax… don't let things get to you! You look like you could use a few changes yourself!"
Another gesture, and Perry found himself suddenly wearing a white Nehru jacket, black pants, boots, and love beads. His hair suddenly grew to shoulder-length, and he found himself wearing granny glasses with mirrored lenses.
"Groovy, man," Mxyzptlk said. "You're a real swingin' cat now… or am I mixing up my idioms?"
Nearly the entire newsroom was stunned silent at the demonstration of the extra-dimensional imp's powers, except for Clark. "Change them back!" Clark ordered.
Mxyzptlk floated over to Clark and wagged a finger in his face. "Tch, tch! If you want things returned to normal, I have to leave your dimension… and you know what that means!" He floated away from Clark, laying on his back and kicking gently, as though he was swimming, his arms behind his head for a pillow. "Well, gang, don't think it hasn't been fun — because it hasn't! I'm off to make the rest of your fair city a wilder place to live in!"
Mxyzptlk kept floating away; when he encountered a wall, he simply passed through it like a ghost.
"Clark," Lois asked. "What the hell was that about? Who is this Mix-pickle-ick guy? And why does he know you?"
Thinking fast, Clark said, "That's Mix-yez-pittle-ick… I was speaking to Superman this morning, and…"
"You were talking to Superman?!? About what?"
"About ways we can get a hold of him when we need to… but that's not important. While we were talking, Mxyzptlk appeared in front of us, and told Superman that he was here to use his magic to play pranks, until he can be tricked into speaking or writing his name backwards."
"Oh." Lois said. "You know, Clark, Metropolis has become a lot more interesting since Superman showed up."
"Lois, you don't know the half of it."
Clark shortly suggested that Lois go out to keep an eye on Mxyzptlk if she could. While Lois was doing that, Clark was going to go to his apartment and change into a shirt that still had buttons in it, and then he was going to try to reach Superman.
Lois was still too surprised at all that had just happened in the newsroom to protest. The two of them left the newsroom, leaving Jimmy still shocked at the change in his appearance, and Perry making peace signs and trying to arrange an impromptu love-in.
As soon as Clark had separated from Lois, he flew at top speed to his apartment, too quickly to be seen as more than a blur, and changed into his Superman costume, once again thanking the instinct that told him to leave the costume in his apartment.
Superman didn't have to search very hard to find the imp's latest location.
Cackling wildly to himself while sitting cross-legged in the air, Mr. Mxyzptlk had transformed the wooden horses of the merry-go-round in Metropolis Park into real horses, which took their young riders on a wild ride through the park, jumping over benches and smaller bushes.
"I haven't had such a good time in years!" Mxyzptlk said, slapping his knee.
"Your idea of fun is threatening people's lives!" Superman shouted as he flew past Mxyzptlk, chasing after the horses.
The wind of Superman's fly-by sent Mxyzptlk spinning in circles, and sending his purple derby flying away. As Superman collected children from the backs of the charging horses, Mxyzptlk casually stretched an arm out to ten times its normal length to snatch the hat from the air.
Superman deposited the children safely back in the amusement portion of the park, then went to work corralling the horses, thanking his parents mentally for teaching him how to deal with horses on the farm.
After several minutes work, Superman tied the tethers of the horses to trees and lamp posts and headed back in the direction of Mr. Mxyzptlk.
"Ah, you're no fun, you big blue cheese!" the imp complained. "Let's see you deal with this!"
A gesture of his hand caused the park's roller coaster to pick up speed, not stopping for a new load of passengers, and becoming faster and faster. Superman realized that if it kept up, the stress would be too much for the structure to bear, and the cars would likely come off the track.
"Well, Superdude, it looks to me like you've got your hands full for a bit… so I'll be off!"
Superman was too busy to hear or respond to Mxyzptlk. At his fastest safe speed, he flew to the out-of-control roller coaster car, which rounded a turn and broke loose of the tracks. Darting underneath the cars, Superman took hold of them and brought them down to ground level safely, if a little roughly.
Superman was about to look for where the imp had gone to when he heard a familiar voice. "Superman!" Lois called as she broke through the crowd that was congratulating the Man of Steel on his rescue. She held up a small radio. "I've got the police band here… you'd better get to the waterfront right away!"
"Thanks, Lois," Superman said as he took off.
Lois watched him fly away while listening to her radio. When she could no longer see him, she started running to the park exit, determined to catch up to him again to continue covering the story. Once she'd reached her Jeep, she started the engine and headed to the waterfront. On her way, she called Clark's apartment on her cellular phone, but there was no answer. "Clark, you'd better be doing your part to cover this story!" she said, determined.
Meanwhile, at the waterfront on Hob's Bay, Mxyzptlk was enjoying himself even more. He'd started by changing all the rope and chains holding ships in place at the Port of Metropolis to rubber, causing the ships to start floating away from their piers. He continued his fun by making fork lifts, which had been involved with unloading cargo ships, run berserk, chasing after dock workers who jumped into the bay for safety's sake.
Ignoring the ships for now (since he'd seen tug boat crews already moving to maneuver ships to safe positions), Superman concentrated on the fork lifts, which moved as though they were animated cartoon characters, dodging and weaving as he tried to grab them in his hands.
Taking another tack, Superman flew to a fishing boat, collecting several large nets from the deck and ensnaring the forklifts in them, and then using leverage to turn them on their sides, where the animated fork lifts were as helpless as a turtle turned on its back.
Once the forklifts were no longer endangering pedestrians, the dock workers began to climb out of the water and onto the pier again, shivering and dripping water everywhere. Superman shot a very brief blast of low-level heat vision at them, just enough to dry them off and warm them up.
Then, he took a remaining net and threw it at Mxyzptlk, who was soon entangled in it, but still floated in the air.
"Nice try, but no cigar!" Mxyzptlk said, vanishing in a puff of smoke, which caused the net to fall to the ground.
"That's what I get for letting my temper get the best of me," Superman mused. As he tried to work out his next move, he spotted Lois' Jeep approaching the pier. "She's making good time today," he thought. It then occurred to him that it might be worth it to take a step or two to preserve his dual identity. Before Lois could park her Jeep, Superman darted to the other end of the pier, to a pay phone. He quickly dialed (using his calling card number) Lois' cellular phone.
"Hello?" Lois answered.
"It's Clark… I've been trying to catch up with you all morning! Where are you?"
"I'm at Pier 6… but it looks like I'm too late. Where are you?"
"I'm about halfway between my apartment and Metropolis Park… do you know where Mxyzptlk is now?"
"I don't know… hang on a second, Clark!" Lois put her police band radio to her ear and listened for a few moments. "The police band is reporting major traffic snarls around Eighth and Siegel… that's not too far from you, I think… do you see anything?"
"Not yet, but I'll be there as fast as I can… thanks!"
Superman hung up the phone and flew to Eighth and Siegel. As Lois said, the traffic was very snarled… every signal light for blocks in all four directions had all turned green, and there were accidents at every intersection. Emergency vehicles were unable to get through, due to the backups.
Superman began at the first accident, checking the occupants of all vehicles to see if immediate medical attention was needed. Where it was, Superman applied first aid until paramedics could get to the scene on foot. Fortunately, only one person was seriously injured; a man who was trapped in his car. Superman pulled the door off its hinges, and bent the steering column up to free the man, who had suffered several broken ribs. Treating the man as best he could, Superman bound the man's ribs with a torn-up blanket provided by the driver of another vehicle involved in the accident. When paramedics were able to make it to the scene, Superman was able to provide them with detailed information on the injuries, thanks to his x-ray vision.
"What a paramedic he'd make!" one of them said as Superman continued to the next accident.
Once the immediate emergency was dealt with, Superman flew up over the Metropolis skyline in an effort to spot the next disaster caused by Mxyzptlk's warped sense of humor. I can't keep just reacting to what he's doing, Superman thought, I'm getting so distracted that way that I haven't come up with a plan for getting him to leave.
Suddenly, an idea occurred to him. "Mxyzptlk! If you want to prove how much smarter you are than I am, meet me at the same place we first met!" he shouted loudly enough that it echoed in the streets below.
With that, Superman flew to Clark Kent's apartment at his top speed.
Not too long after Superman arrived at his apartment, Mxyzptlk popped in. "Well, I must say that I'm surprised you've given up so early… I'd hoped you would have proven to be a bigger challenge to me," the imp said.
"Well, I guess us non-magical people just don't live up to your standards," Superman said. "But I've got to say that I don't think your challenge was really fair, you know."
"Fair?!? I was more than fair!!" Mxyzptlk protested.
"No, I don't think so… you yourself said that 'Mxyzptlk' wasn't really your name… so trying to get you to say it backwards didn't really mean anything. Mxyzptlk was just a random drawing of Scrabble tiles… I bet you couldn't pull out the same tiles again."
"Hah! Trying to trick me, I see… oh, very well… where's the bag?"
"Right here," Superman said, holding the bag in front of him.
Mxyzptlk reached his hand in the bag, grabbed a handful of tiles, and threw them into the air, where they spelled out "Mxyzptlk" again.
"I thought you'd try to fool me… using your heat vision on the tiles so that the palindrome of each letter was on there, instead of the original one… but I fooled you, didn't I? All I had to do was feel the letter on each tile! Ha ha ha!"
"Ha, ha, ha… I guess you're just too smart for me… unless you'd care to look at the other side of the tiles?"
The tiles rotated as though they were fastened together on the sides, resembling a rotating sign… and revealed that on the other side of the tiles, the palindrome of each letter of the imp's name was written, spelling out "Kltpzyxm."
Mxyzptlk turned red with frustration… Superman was amused to see smoke coming from the imp's ears. "Drat! You tricked me anyway! But I won't be so easy to fool next time!"
With that, the imp vanished in a puff of smoke.
"There's going to be a next time?" Superman said.
Clark returned to the Planet shortly, meeting Lois there.
"Clark, where the hell have you been?"
"Actually, I was just talking to Superman… he gave me the scoop on Mxyzptlk."
"He did?" Lois asked, disappointed.
"He did. The imp's gone now, for at least three months. Superman managed to trick him, and it appears that no matter how bizarre Mxyzptlk's sense of humor is, he does play by the rules."
"That's a relief."
"And it appears that now that he's gone, all direct effects of his magic are gone with him… Perry's no longer one of the 'beautiful people,' and Jimmy's back to his normal self, too."
"Everything's back to the status quo?"
"You took the words right out of my mouth."
"He did have a warped sense of humor, though… imagine, trying to convince me that you were Superman."
"Imagine that… but, of course, you weren't fooled for a minute, were you?" Clark asked, smiling a secret smile.