Wally West (a.k.a. The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive) sat eerily still on his couch, his only movement: his hand moving from the popcorn-laden bowl on his lap to his mouth. The flickering images on the television—the only light in the room—cast a strange glow across his face. On the couch beside him, the cordless telephone suddenly sprang to life, cutting through the butter-flavored air like a shrill alarm. Absently, he reached over and picked up the phone.
"WallyWorld! What’s up, man?"
"Hey, Kyle. What’s goin’ on?"
"Nothing, man. Absolutely nothing." The frustrated tone in the current incarnation of the Green Lantern’s voice told Wally everything.
"Ah… Monitor Duty, huh?"
"Ouch. So… what’s happening in the world tonight?"
"Not much. A little scuffle in Kurdistan, the Dow closed 200 points down and… uh… Ooo! One of the Backstreet Boys just went into rehab."
Wally adopted a tone of mock surprise and concern, "Oh no! Better call in the team! We can’t have one of America’s foremost idols of squeaky-clean goodness corrupting hordes of pre-teen girls with his lecherous ways…"
Kyle laughed. He knew he could count on Wally to cheer him up.
Wally chuckled knowingly. A slow night at home could be boring. A slow night on JLA Monitor Duty could be brutal. "One of those nights, huh?"
"Seriously! Ya know, the big stuff never happens when I’m on Duty. Oh sure, J’onn gets White Martian uprisings and Arthur gets major meta-prison breaks but I’m stuck with eight hours of global economist interviews and ‘Hardball with Chris Matthews.’ There’s only so much loudmouthed partisan temper tantrums one man can take."
Now it was Wally’s turn to laugh. "I hear ya."
"So, what are you up to this fine evening?" Kyle asked, wanting desperately to change the subject. "I’m not like interrupting you and Linda or anything am I?"
"Nah. It’s just me. Linda’s out of town on business this week."
"So you’re ‘bach’-ing it ‘til Friday?"
"Sweet Deal! So how are you spending your quasi-freedom? I mean, aside from rescuing your bestest green buddy from the evil clutches of League Bullshit… "
"Actually, I’m sitting on my ass doing nothing," he answered with a laugh. "I’m eating popcorn and watching Jackie Chan."
"Jackie? Ooo! What station?"
"Uhh.." Wally picked up the TV remote and hit the "enter" button, the station number appearing in the corner. "Uh.. TBS, I think. But I have no idea what movie it is."
"Cool," Kyle replied tapping a few keys on the Monitor Womb’s keyboard. In a matter of seconds, one of the multitudinous screens covering the room flickered and Jackie Chan popped up on the screen beating the stuffing out of someone with what looked to Kyle like a box of video tapes. "Ah! ‘Mr. Nice Guy!’"
"Is that what this is?"
"Yep. Another great one. Course, it’s on basic cable, so it’s probably edited to hell."
"Wait," Wally interrupted. "Where are you?"
"The Monitor Womb…"
"And you can get regular cable TV in there?! Since when?!"
"Well, not cable but satellite. This place is leeching off of every satellite signal that comes off the planet. How do you think we get all these news reports up here…"
"Yeah, I know that, but I thought all of the monitors were hard wired to particular stations!"
"Well, yeah, most of ‘em are, but there are some back doors to opening one of the monitors."
"How the hell do you know that?"
"C’mon, Steel put this system together. Do you really think he would spend weeks on end up here if he didn’t have some way to catch his dailies."
"Yeah, his soaps."
"Wait, Steel watches soap operas?!"
"Oh yeah! It’s like he’s addicted to ‘em! It’s frightening. Don’t ever go near him on a day that he missed an episode of Days of Our Lives. Trust me. You thought J’onn was bad with his whole Choco’s thing. That’s nothing compared to a soap-deprived Steel!"
Wally laughed again, then continued his original line of questioning. "Ok, so that’s why it’s there. How do you know about it?"
"Well, I’m not really supposed to tell, but since the kitty’s already out of the proverbial bag… I left a book up here one night after Duty and I came back up the next afternoon to pick it up. I figured I’d look in on whoever was sitting Duty. So I walk into the room and there’s Steel, feet up on the console, a bag of Doritos on his lap and Days of Our Lives on one of the monitors. I swear, he was so engrossed in the show that he didn’t even realize I was there until I was about two feet behind him." Kyle laughed at the visual memory: catching Steel, Steel jolting in his seat and flinging Doritos all over the floor.
"Anyway, after I scared the crap out of him, he started bumbling around and sputtering, frantically punching keys on the keyboard trying to change the station."
"Man, I can’t even imagine what that must have looked like," Wally chuckled.
"Yeah, it was actually kind of surreal," Kyle confirmed. "So then, he started apologizing and trying to come up with some kind of excuse. I finally told him it was cool with me. He begged me not to tell anyone! He said he was certain he would never hear the end of it from the rest of the Leaguers. I told him I would keep it quiet…"
"As long as he showed you how to switch the channels!" Wally completed the thought.
"You do realize that you’re now going to have to teach me how to switch the stations…" Wally urged conspiratorially. Monitor Duty would be a hell of a lot easier with a distraction like that available. He was mostly surprised that Kyle had kept this golden nugget from him for this long.
"I… I dunno man…"
"Oh, c’mon. Don’t hold out on me, bro!"
"Well, we’ll see… I tell you what: The next time you’re on duty and there’s no one else there, give me a ring. We’ll talk about it then."
Wally adopted his cheesiest Stand-up Comedian voice and responded "But, Kyle, you already have a ring…"
Both men added a verbal rim shot in unison. "Ba Dump Bump!"
"Ugh. Wally, that one was really bad." Kyle groaned through his laughter.
"I know, I know. They tend to get worse when Linda’s not around."
A few weeks later, Kyle Rayner sat in his apartment, working diligently on his current comic strip. Actually, that’s what he had just told his editor. What his editor didn’t know was that Kyle’s definition of "working diligently" differed somewhat—ok, greatly—from what most of the rest of the civilized world would consider "working diligently". Kyle’s interpretation of that phrase included blasting the stereo and warbling at the top of his lungs while he scribbled pointless doodles on scratch pieces of paper.
"Na na na. Na-na n-na na. Na na na. Na-na-n-na na. Na na na. Na-na n-na na. Na na na. Na-na-n-na I just can’t get you outta my head…"
"Gah, I’m gonna kill Wally for this!" Kyle spat to himself as the Australian Diva’s infectious voice cut through his apartment. Not exactly what Kyle normally listened to, but Wally’s insistence on calling him that damn name got the song repeatedly stuck in his head. He’d finally run out and bought the album, then listened to the same song over and over for the last four hours straight. He picked up the CD case from his desk then read over the list of titles.
Can’t Get You Out of My Head he read to himself. "How fuckin’ appropriate. Well it’s no Locomotion, that’s for damn sure." He tossed the case across the top of his desk, muttering curses under his breath. The case skipped across his sketching tablet, hopped a few times like an expertly tossed skipping-stone across a calm lake, hit the top rim of the desk, flipped up on end, then landed with a clatter somewhere on the floor between the desk and the wall. Kyle stared in wide-eyed amazement at the far edge of the desk where the empty case had disappeared.
"Shit!" he yelled at his desk, then again to the now vanished case. He sighed heavily, then stood and walked over to the side of the desk. Crouching down under the desk, he began fishing around behind it, fingers probing desperately for any sign of the aggravating piece of plastic. He paused for a moment, the acoustics under the desk providing a much different sound to the song now invariably stuck on repeat in his stereo as well as on the jukebox in his brain. The vocals were much more muffled and the bass was much more pronounced from this aural vantage point. He noticed something else, too. A strange ringing sound floating under the vocals. It didn’t even really seemed to fit the beat of the song. It sounded more like a ringing bell. Or a…
"Phone!" he spat to himself, rolling his eyes. He shot up from his crouching position on the floor and immediately slammed the back of his head on the edge of the desk. "Ow! FUCK!" he screamed as he stood up carefully, his right hand grabbing the back of his head. He fumbled around on his desk for the remote control to the stereo and pressed Stop, the shrill ringing of the phone filling the air. He glared down at the plastic Superman figure holding the phone receiver. Jade had bought him the phone months ago as a joke and he enjoyed a sick sense of superiority having Superman resigned to holding a telephone receiver on his work desk. Now, though, Superman’s smug smiling face just sat there and mocked him. Grumbling, Kyle snatched the receiver up with his left hand, knocking the plastic Man of Steel over on the desk in disgust. The Superman didn’t care, just sat there still smiling up at him.
"Hello?!" Kyle grunted into the phone, his right hand still rubbing his now throbbing head.
"Kylie?" The joking voice spilled through the phone.
"Argh! WEST!?!? You Son-of-a-BITCH!"
"What?!" Wally replied defensively.
"This is all your fault!!" Kyle yelled into the phone.
"Wha..? What are you talking about? What’s my fault?!"
"THIS!" Kyle shouted, releasing his head long enough to pick the stereo remote back up, press the Volume Up button a few times and then press Play. Immediately, the offending song poured out through his speakers as he held the phone receiver out toward them. He let the song play for about twenty seconds, then cut it back off, pulling the receiver back to his ear. He expected to hear "I’m sorry." He expected to hear a litany of apologies that would rival a fifteen year old caught smoking an illegal substance. He expected a level of groveling the world had never seen before.
What he got was laughter. Long and sustained howling laughter. Here he was, standing in his apartment, now back to clutching the growing lump on the back of his head, the squeaky vocal stylings of Kylie Minogue blaring through his brain, and his desk covered in pointless scribbles and the one man responsible for ALL of it was on the other end of his phone line laughing his ass off. "Fuck you" was all he was able to mutter through his fiercely gritted teeth.
"Oh, c’mon, man," Wally choked through his hysterics. "It’s funny! You mean to tell me that you’ve had that song continuously stuck in your head for like three weeks now?"
"Not continuously, jackass, but every time you call me that, it comes floating back like a bad rash!" Kyle spat.
"Jesus, Rayner! If I knew it was affecting you that badly, I would have stopped a week ago…" Wally chuckled, adding a quiet "…Kylie" before cracking up again.
"Yeah, keep it up, Speedy!" Kyle spat, actually starting to laugh himself.
"Wait a minute… you mean to tell me that after having the song stuck in your head for a few weeks, you finally broke down, went out and bought the CD?"
"YES! Not only that but I’ve been listening to that one damn song over and over for the last…" he glanced over at his desk clock before replying "…four hours!"
Wally laughed again. "Geez, man, what is this, Obsessive-Compulsive Week in the JLA?! I swear to God, between you and Plaz…"
"Plaz?!" Kyle interrupted. "What’s up with Eel?"
"You haven’t heard?! Oh man, you’re gonna love this! You remember that night we all came back up to the Tower after seeing Cat-Tales."
"Well, Eel decided that night that he absolutely had to go see the show. After a few weeks of searching, he finally snagged a ticket for like two weekends ago. Well, after the show, he marched up to the Box Office and demanded that they sell him another ticket for the next night. They finally relented and sold him a standing ticket for the next show. He went again. And again. And again! He’s been to see the damn show like every night since then!"
"Holy shit!" Kyle chuckled.
"Oh yeah! He’s like completely obsessed with it now. And not only the show, but Her! He’s totally infatuated with Catwoman. It’s freaky…"
"Damn, we’d better step in…"
"Well, I think the Great Kibosh has already landed on his head. Diana caught him trying to do the whole… ‘Barda Trick’ the other night…"
"Wait," Kyle interrupted. "The Barda Trick?"
"Yeah! C’mon, you remember. Back when we were trying to find those White Martians masquerading as humans," Wally prompted, trying to jog his friend’s memory. "We split into teams and went down dressed as ‘normals’ to try and confront them. And Plaz disguised himself as Barda’s dress…"
"Oh yeah! Now I remember. She almost strangled him with his own body!"
"Yeah well, old habits die hard, I guess. Diana walked into the Rec Room a couple of nights ago and found him morphed into a slinky but elegant red and yellow dress hanging up with a delivery tag for Selina Kyle’s dressing room."
"Oh, shit…" Kyle chuckled.
"Yeah. Big D went ballistic on his ass too!"
"Oh yeah. That was two nights ago and from what I understand, he’s still trying to un-knot himself."
"Damn! That was a bit harsh, don’t you think?"
"Yeah, no kidding," Wally replied. "I don’t know what’s up with her, but I swear, her fuse has been getting shorter and shorter!"
"No kidding! I dunno what’s going on, but she’s been getting worse and worse since that whole thing with Arthur went south…"
"Hey, what the hell was up with that? I was seriously out of the loop on that one! What happened between those two?"
"I’m not sure I know," Kyle replied. "All I know is that for a while they were all googly-eyeing each other at the meetings, then all of a sudden it’s like they can’t stand being in the same room together. I dunno what happened, but something went down…"
"Yeah, and I bet it wasn’t her," Wally chuckled.
"Ugh! Oh man! Did you have to go there? That’s a mental picture I really didn’t need!"
"Hey, you said it…"
"I didn’t mean it like that! Dammit, I’m not gonna be able to look into their eyes at the meeting for like a month now! Ewww!" Kyle shuddered.
"Heh heh heh. My job is done."
They both laughed lightly before Wally changed the subject.
"So anyway, the reason I’m calling…"
"You mean, other than to completely fuck with my head again," Kyle interjected.
"Yeah, other than that. Listen, I’m up in the Tower on duty and I’m bored out of my friggin’ skull! You gotta tell me how you change the stations on these things…"
"Yeah, well… about that. I don’t think I can do that, man. I mean, if Steel finds out…"
"Aw, c’mon Kyle! You’re killing me! Just tell me how to do it! Look, if I get caught, I’ll just tell ‘em I found it by accident. I’ll tell em I was bored and started playing around and found it. No one’ll know!"
"I don’t know…"
"C’mon, man. I’m dying up here!"
"Alright," Kyle conceded. "I’ll do it. But you have to promise me you won’t tell anyone that you know about it!"
If ever in the history of the known universe there were ever a perfect photograph to illustrate the concept of the "Shit-Eating Grin," that picture would look exactly like Wally’s face at the precise moment that he muttered the phrase…
To be continued...