All characters in this story are property of Marvel Comics. No money is being made from this story, no infringment is intended.
Maybe you've read the book I wrote about the Marvels. Most likely, you just looked at the pictures.
If I'm lucky, you may have read the prose book I wrote some years after that, telling you all about myself and my more-or-less ankle-high interactions with them, over 30 years or so. But there are a few stories I left out of the book.
This is one of them.
I'm going to do a recap for you of one incident, in case you missed the book.
It started back in 1965 when I caught our two little girls, Beth and Jenny, sneaking scraps off their dinner plates. Well, not exactly caught. I just noticed it, assumed they were stealing food to feed some stray dog or cat that wandered around, and pretended I never saw anything. They pretended they didn't see me pretending.
They had found a stray. I found out what kind a few weeks later. It was during a Mutie Scare. I was almost all the way home one evening when I saw a band of men, several of my neighbors among them. They were armed with shotguns, clubs, knives, even, God help me, a pitchfork. One of the men was Arthur Lindstrom, who lived on my block. He told me to go get my shotgun and join them. I asked him what was happening. He told me in one word:
That was all I needed.
I ran home as fast as my overworked photographer's legs would manage.
A month prior to that, I'd had my first encounter with the X-Men. I didn't like them. Neither did a lot of other people, and we all seemed to fear them for the same reason. They were the next step after humanity. They'd been born with their powers, and we'd been born without them.
We were the Edsel, they were the Ferrari.
They were going to supersede us. We and our children would become obsolete, maybe slaves, maybe extinct.
Don't ask me if I analyzed them in that minute a fashion when I saw the five mutants. All I know is that a brick found its way into my hand, and I threw it. I flashed on a truly insane thing as I did it, Ignatz Mouse lobbing a brick at Krazy Kat in the old comic strips.
Only this brick hit the Iceman square in the head, and it hurt him. I was lucky it didn't kill him. I was even luckier it hadn't hit one of the others, or it might have really injured them.
He didn't look much like Krazy Kat after it hit him.
Instead, Iceman cried out in pain, and yelled something at us. In the voice of a normal, teenaged boy. I'd like to think there was a part of me that was horrified, then, by what I'd done. But if I was more honest (as I will force myself to be here), I'd have to admit that my real reaction was just--surprise.
But the one with the glowing red visor, the one whom I later learned was Cyclops, held his partner back and said something that I never forgot:
"Forget about it. They're not worth it."
The next thing I knew, Cyclops turned his head, put a hand to the side of his visor, and let loose a stream of red power that made the mass of us cry out and shrink back. I thought of Gort in THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL and wondered if he was going to disintegrate us like that big, creepy robot. But no, he just blasted a hole in a brick wall of a dead end, and the five of them, the X-Men, got away.
I was numb, or thought I was, but I felt a weight in one hand and I looked at it.
I'd picked up another brick.
After a second, I let it fall to the pavement.
That was replaying in my mind as I ran to my house to get my shotgun. Muties in the suburbs. They didn't have any right being here. A man had the right to arm himself, to defend himself against intruders, to defend himself especially against the next wave out to swamp humanity.
But as soon as I stepped in my door, Beth and Jenny ran up to me, their faces slate-blank with horror. "Daddy, Daddy," Beth said, throwing her arms around me as I knelt down to pick her up. "Don't let them hurt her, Daddy."
Jenny, who was a year older, came up to me but wasn't able to speak. Her chest was just heaving, as if she either wanted to cry or was too far gone to attempt it. I asked them who this "her" was, and who was the "them" trying to hurt her.
That was when my wife Doris walked in, and told me, "I think you'd better see this, Phil, down in the basement."
So she took me down, and I saw.
It wasn't a stray dog.
It was a stray mutant.
A little girl mutant.
A little girl, just about the size of a four-year-old, even though she was eight. A little girl in a tattered blue dress and sweater, and white tie-up shoes that didn't seem to quite fit her.
A little girl, whose face resembled a skull with fleshtones painted over it, with huge globular eyes that seemed all pupil, with almost no hair on her head except two tufts at the sides, which were tied with pink bows.
A little girl who was sitting there, knees clasped to her chest, looking very scared, and crying.
Jenny finally found her voice. "We found her in the park, Daddy. After that big storm. She was all wet and cold."
The little mutant girl spoke up. She had a normal, eight-year-old voice, a little on the squeaky side. "I was hungry, mister," she said. "Or I'd have kept hiding."
She told me that her father had gotten fired from his job, that her mother cried all the time, that they claimed what had happened was all her fault, and that they had left her. "They went away," she said, and she looked at me. "Are you going to send me away?"
I didn't know what to say. There were men out there, the men with knives and pitchforks and guns, and they would burn this house down like Klansmen if they thought it harbored a mutant. I would die, and all my family with me.
Beth, who was sometimes the wisest of us, spoke. "She's nice, Daddy. She plays with us."
I looked at the little girl's eyes again.
I had another flashback, but it wasn't to a comic strip or a movie.
It was back when Patton had liberated a concentration camp, and he'd thrown up when he saw what was inside, and made the people of the town nearby march through it and see what they had hidden from their eyes for years.
I took pictures of the camp and its inmates. I threw up, too. But afterward I kept on clicking.
Something in the inmates' eyes, and this little girl's eyes, were similar.
So I looked at my wife's own eyes, which held a million questions, or one important one, and I said the only thing I knew to say.
"Dear God, Doris, she's just a little girl."
Beth and Jenny both grabbed hold of me and hugged me very hard and said something. Doris stood apart, breathed, and said nothing. And I looked at the little girl mutant, and she was still crying, but she snuffled and said, "Thank you, mister. God bless you."
I was damned if I knew what to do.
So, for awhile after that, a matter of a few weeks, Maggie (for that was the little girl's name) hid in our basement, slept on a cot and then on a small bed we'd bought for her, telling the man at the second-hand furniture store it was for our kids, fed her, and talked to her. Doris tried to be nice to her. God knows, she tried. But she still held back, didn't like to touch her, and Maggie knew.
I didn't like touching her, either.
But Jenny and Beth were all over her, playing games with her, throwing a ball and chalking out a makeshift hopscotch grid in chalk on the concrete floor, pitching jacks, playing Old Maid, reading to her out of Little Women or one of their Fantastic Four comic books. You'd think she'd have identified with the Thing, but she didn't. When Beth and Jenny played super-heroes, as they always did, Maggie took the role of Sue Storm.
I think she was good at it.
But I didn't know what I was going to do with her.
Could I keep her down in our basement, for the rest of her life? Could we keep on sneaking her in a closet when the gas man came to take his reading? What could we do when we went on vacation, or even all had to leave the house at the same time? Could we depend on Maggie not to be seen?
What the hell was I supposed to do? Sell her to whatever circus still had a freak show? Get brave, take her to school, and demand the principal accept her in class? Call the ACLU or the NAACP or the United Jewish Appeal or Johnny Carson?
I saw her, Beth, and Jenny bouncing a ball on the basement floor one night. I went up to my office room and placed a call to the FBI. I asked them, cautiously, if they had any pahmplets or such on what the general public should do when encountering a mutant. The agent on the other end said that if I had a mutant sighting to report, they'd have a team of agents down there right away.
I told him no thanks, nothing had happened, and hung up. I hoped--no, I prayed God--that they hadn't been tracing the call. Thankfully, they hadn't.
Later on that week, I hung around in Greenwich Village on my free time. I'd heard the X-Men had been sighted there a lot. Maybe they'd know what to do. Maybe I could ask them to give Maggie a home. She couldn't fight Magneto or Unus or any of their villains, but she was a mutant. She was one of them.
Not one of us.
A Cadillac that was really an Edsel.
I was lucky. I saw two of them, one of them the Iceman, the other of whom was in civvies, but he had to be the Beast with the feet I saw on him. They were bursting out of some coffee house like they were out to fight a fire. I lifted my hand, and I think if I had yelled, they might have heard me.
But I heard the words of Cyclops come back to me:
"They're not worth it."
Not. Worth. It.
I let my hand drift down, and I didn't say anything, and the Beast and Iceman were long gone by that time.
There were other things that summer, like the Fantastic Four wedding that all the heroes and villains went to, and the new Avengers lineup, and the usual cape-basher stuff. I took a lot of pictures. You've seen some of them in my books.
But the thing that shook me most was the next wave of Mutie Scare.
It started the night Bolivar Trask and Professor Charles Xavier had the big debate on network TV. It was all about--you guessed it--mutants. Professor Xavier took the affirmative side, saying we didn't know what caused mutations, that your own kids could be mutants, or maybe even your next-door neighbors, and that they were humans despite the alterations in the gene fabric. He sounded good, but he didn't make much headway with the crowd with whom I was watching it.
Then Trask got up, said he'd invented something to take care of the mutant problem, and had it come in. It was a giant robot, looking a lot more dangerous than old Gort, and it grabbed Xavier by the arms and yanked him out of his chair. Some say that proved he was a mutant. Others say Trask was just getting tired of debating him.
The rest of the story, as far as the X-Men goes, you probably know.
What you may not know about is the Mutant Riot that started just afterward.
If you think you know what a riot is from reading about one or seeing a film clip on TV, you're wrong. You don't have a clue. A riot is probably the scariest experience you'll ever have. Take it from me: I've been there.
A riot is worse than a mob of vigilantes with guns. A riot is a bunch of people who don't know what they're hunting, who are just mad as hell, and who'll bash and crush and burn and kick and stomp and kill anyone or anything in their--in its--multitentacular path. A riot is a demon with many heads. A riot is something you can't contain, only hope that it burns itself out before it gets to you or anything you love.
I hadn't been to Watts that year, but I didn't have to. Somebody threw a rock through the window of the place in which we had our party, and I knew.
The riot was out there.
The riot was busting windows and heads with clubs. The riot was setting things on fire. The riot was screaming "MUTIE!" at the top of its lungs, along with a lot of other words, none of which the Daily Globe would print.
I went out in the street and snapped photographs. That was what I did. That was my automatic response. I'm a photographer.
The riot had apparently decided that a young black man, out on the town for something or other, was the Mutie. The riot chased him down, cornered him in an alley, beat him down with beer bottles and sticks of wood and rocks, left him bleeding up against a trash can, and moved on. It had a lot more people to beat up that night.
As it turned out, the young black man was named Willie Carmody and he was on his way back from a movie. Willie lost the sight from his left eye and some of the mobility in his left arm. He never showed any mutant tendencies, before, during, or after.
The riot had just designated him the Honorary Mutie, and had done its thing.
I learned a lesson from the riot. A lesson of terror. But among the burning and beating and screaming, I heard someone calling for help. It was a lady pinned under a fallen beam. It had fallen across her legs, and she thought one of them was broken.
I helped her up and it turned out she wasn't injured, just badly bruised, and could walk on her own. But both of us interrupted our movement when we looked up and saw what was in the skies.
Flying over us like they were the destroying angels from the book of Exodus, and all of us were caught without blood painted on our doors. Or perhaps only the muties were the ones that couldn't celebrate Passover. Tortured associations, I know, but that's what I was thinking of.
I wondered, wildly, if they would decide I was a mutant, grab me by the arms just as they had the man in the wheelchair, and cart me off to their version of Auschwitz.
Then I remembered who they probably would go after.
I caught the train from Penn Station and prayed, oh God I prayed, that Doris and Beth and Jenny were not home. I even prayed that Maggie would be too small to find, but I doubted that could be managed. My main prayers were for my family, and who can blame me for that?
I could. I still do.
I ran from the station all the way home and saw the lights on and managed to get the keys in the door and throw it open and see my Beth and my Jenny hanging on tightly to their mother, my Doris, who was stooped down to hug them both. I asked what had happened.
Doris freed one hand and picked up a note on the floor, held it out to me.
It was written in green crayon. I still have it.
Thank you for everything but I have to leave. I do not want your family to get hurt because of me. I took som food. Thank you for the new clothes.
She was out there. Alone. On this of all nights.
And I looked at my family, and thanked God, absently, for keeping them safe.
You know this from my book, Marvels. You might know the next line:
"And we would never know what happened to her."
I'm sorry, but that's not really true.
This is true:
Just on the cusp of the Galactus incident, the Fantastic Four got involved with a group who were, I think, very much like mutants, but who called themselves the Inhumans. The Four had tried to hush things up. But when you had things happening like a guy walking up the side of a building by kicking toeholds in it as he goes, or Dragon Man flying around with that 20-foot wingspan of his, or talk of a giant bulldog who can pick up a steel girder in his jaws like it was a Dog Yummy, it's hard to keep it on the q.t.
So. Just after Galactus came to town and left, I went on freelance assignment for Barney Bushkin of the Globe and tried to dig up what I could on the Inhumans. A friend of a friend of mine in the police department put me onto news of a disturbance that had been reported some weeks back on the Lower East Side. The disturbance, if local residents and a few winos could be believed, involved the Fantastic Four, several oddly-costumed people, and the aforementioned dog.
The latter had to be the Inhumans.
Nobody but the F.F. knew who the Inhumans were, up to this point. The cops had cordoned off the area in which the mess had been made, which included a rotting building that had been given a cursory inspection. They hadn't found anything the first time, and they would most likely be back to give it a better going over later on that week.
It was evening and there wasn't much going on in that section of town as I poked around a bit. The old Leica was around my neck and I was taking chances. It'd bring enough bucks in somebody's pawnshop to pay for another bottle of Muscatel, and there were probably a few characters in the neighborhood who'd considered parting me from it for such a reason. I didn't carry a gun, and I didn't have a partner with me at the time. Stupid.
But I got through the yellow cop tape okay and was finding approximately as much as they had. Since I didn't think either Bushkin or Jameson would pay me for pictures of dying buildings, I was about to hang it up. Then I saw something.
It wasn't visible for very long, but it moved like a rabbit and didn't appear to be a lot bigger than one, from my viewpoint.
I only hesitated a second, no more than that, before curiosity was lowered into my driver's seat like the guy in the Hertz ad and I gave chase.
I ran past some concrete rubble and burned wood. I stepped over a stewbum and threw back "Excuse me" over my shoulder, but he didn't appear to notice. I could barely notice a small shadow cast on a building wall in an alleyway near me. So, onward charged Phil Sheldon of the Light Brains Brigade.
Speaking of light, when I turned the corner, I saw some.
It was coming from a most unexpected source: what appeared to be the cab of something like a service elevator, which was going down while two doors hinged to the ground around it and camouflaged on top with rock, dirt, and crud were closing over it. I had no idea how the little shadow had activated it.
All I knew was that I might have a chance for some photos that would make the cab trip there and back maybe worth it. Provided this wasn't the underground lair of someone of Dr. Doom's caliber, of course.
I'd been there when the Torch and Sub-Mariner slugged it out over the city in '40, and lost an eye then from a flying brick. I'd covered the action in Europe, when the Invaders and the regular army rolled back the Axis lines. I'd managed to catch the tail end of Captain America's fight with the Red Skull at the UN in 1953, and as for all the early Sixties stuff, I'd seen more than I cared to remember.
None of that, of course, was going through my mind as I rolled into the descending cab just before the doors fully closed over it. I tumbled down to the metal flooring of the cab on my back, yelped, wondered how badly I'd hurt my back, and kept my hands wrapped around my Leica.
My eyes were shut with the pain for a few seconds, and that was just how long it took for the cab to reach bottom. I rolled over to get up, on the wrong side to see the cab's other occupant scurry out and run away. By the time I pulled myself up and got out of it, the scurrier was nowhere to be seen.
But a lot of other stuff was.
The interior of that place was straight out of an Irwin Allen movie. Designs and furnishings that didn't look, well, human. A number of super-scientific gadgets, including one hooked up to a TV screen that probably picked up things other than UHF. A big water tank, smashed to pieces, with the floor still stained all about it. Dominating the whole area was a large bas-relief of an open-mouthed demon on the wall, whose open mouth was the large passage to the next room.
I heard something go thik-thak in the next room.
I had to be cautious. There's nothing more dangerous than an animal when its cornered, unless it's a human being in the same predicament. But I made sure I got some snaps of the scenery, just so I knew I'd have something to show for it. Then I walked, very carefully, very slowly, into the adjoining room.
There was a large marble slab that had been split in half right down the middle, as if by a jeweler's chisel.
There were seats and scrolls and various other accoutrements of living. Whoever had come here, had outfitted it as an apartment.
There was also the equivalent of a couch, and I was conscious of some muffled whimpering coming from behind it. I stopped in the middle of the room. No sense in making it feel any more threatened than I felt.
"I'm not here to hurt you," I said. "I won't even take your picture if you don't want. I can turn around and walk away if you'd like. But I'd really like to see you, and see if I could help you."
I don't know how persuasive I was. Or if it was just the sound of a recognized voice that was the convincer.
But I knew who I was going to see an instant before it sneaked part of its head and an eye around the edge of that couch.
My mouth was working, but my heart was too low for it to pump any will-power to my brain's speech centers. All that was functional was my eye.
The little scurrier slowly edged more of her face from behind the couch. She spoke.
"Is it you, Mr. Sheldon? Is it really you?"
I sank to my knees.
"It's me, Maggie," I said. "It's really, really me."
To be continued...