THE SMILE FADES
THE DEATH OF KOOL-AID MAN

By Billy aka "Bill-Aid Man" (or not)

The summer of 1983 was one of the hottest ones in the memory of Smalltown. That year though, it wasn't so much the sun, though it obviously played a helping hand. Living in rural America you just learn to deal with the hand in hand marriage of summer and the relentless heat. No, that summer left us all parched for a completely different reason. The way I remember it, everything started after our little league practice game had wound down. The coach let us all go home, reminding us to stay ready for the big game the next day. It was to be our team, the Smalltown Sluggers, against some bunch of faceless losers from another district, like some kinda bad comic book cliche.

Not a cloud hung in the sky that day, and the game ran long, so by the time we were finished we could barely drag ourselves over to Sam's Snax, the park's local snack bar. I trudged up, dollar in hand, thirst stinging the back of my throat, the thought of a cold soda bringing me joy. Disappointingly though, the window was down and the lights were off. My friends quickly gathered behind me, unhappiness on their faces too. Fact is, Sam NEVER closed early, we knew him well from years of playing at that park. Impatiently I reached up and pounded on the glass, but no one answered.

"Sam's Snack bar is closed?!" I said to myself in dismay. Our left fielder, Sigmund Smart, was already at the water fountain a few feet away, having given up on Sam's return. He flipped the lever, but nothing came out.

"...and the water fountain isn't working!" He cried out.

"What's going on here?" I said aloud, trying to peer over the counter. I could have sworn I heard laughter from inside the shop when Sigmund yelped about the fountain. I wasn’t very big as a kid so I didn't see much, even standing on my toes, since the counter was well above my head, but I had a funny feeling something was up.

"Gloria, Cynthia, gimme a boost." I said to the two girls on our team. Cynthia was our redheaded shortstop, while Gloria was the mandatory tomboy that manned first base. Another comic cliché I always joked much later.

"I don't think anyone's there..." Cynthia sighed.

"Don't gimme that, help me out man." I said. It took a little convincing but they boosted me up just in time to see the dilemma. Inside the shop, Sam was gagged and tied, surrounded by strange dancing creatures. There were four of them, spiky yellow skinned demons, their long green tongues hanging from their mouths like overheated pitbulls as they congratulated themselves. Shocked, I was at a loss for words. What did these evil creatures want, and why would they close down a snack shop to do it? My questions were to be answered shortly. With a loud crash, the left wall of the shop exploded as a huge form flew into the room, and with that, the man who would define the formative years of my life.

He was beyond words, maybe as strange looking as the demons. He was nothing more than a giant glass container filled to the brim with red liquid and ice. Only his size, his arms, and his legs made him any different than what I’d find in my own kitchen. But it was the face I remember the most, that HUGE grin that never once left his features, merged as they were somehow with the glass that made up his shiny body.

"I knew you low-down Thirsties were behind this! You enjoy spoiling kids fun! That's why I'm here to save the day! OH YEAH!" He bellowed happily.

The portly figure wasted no time, plowing into the little monsters, laughing, talking, and winning, all while holding a smaller pitcher that, like himself, was full of red liquid and ice. Remarkably, even with all the impossible acrobatics, he didn't spill it, not a drop.

"Head for the hills! It's Kool-Aid Man! No Thirsty is safe with him around!" One of the demons screamed, making a break for it as the big red guy nabbed two of his pals. Kool-Aid man, I thought to myself. I’d heard of the drink myself, some kind of powdered drink mix that was catching on all over the country. But a man made of it?!

"Hey, where do you think you're going?" Kool-Aid Man asked, grabbing the fleeing demon as well.

"Uh...would you believe we're late for a violin lesson?"

The big red man laughed at such a lame attempt to get away, but as I would find he did often, he came back with a groaner of his own.

"You boys better change your tune! You've fiddled around enough today!" Thinking quickly, Kool-Aid Man grabbed a long string of frankfurter links from a cooler, using them to chain the dazed yellow demons together, dropping them to the floor.

"What's going on in there? What's all the noise?" Gloria asked impatiently, snapping me back to reality. I realized I'd been standing there dumbfounded the whole time, unable to do much other than watch. Suddenly the window snapped open and Sam appeared, side by side with his big red savior.

"Unless something's wrong with my glasses," Sigmund exclaimed, "it looks like Sam's Snax is open again!"

"Thanks to Kool-Aid man!" Sam smiled, patting the hero on his back, or what served as one. I felt the support under my feet give way as Gloria and Cynthia became as shocked as I had been. Sam ushered his savior out as we lined up to stare at him, odd-looking guy that he was.

"Kool-Aid man, I'd like you to meet my friends. Sigmund Smart."

"I'm the brains on the team!" Sigmund interjected. I guess he figured glasses and grades made him the resident genius. If you’ve been reading his dialog you might think otherwise, but hey, maybe that’s just me.

"Cynthia Crystal, Gloria Greene and Mickey Richardson." The three of us just smiled at talked to each other quietly.

"Wow, he's some kind of superhero." Cynthia said.

"And he's really strong too! Like the Hulk." I added.

Kool-Aid man just smiled and handed us all paper cups, which he filled with Kool-Aid from his pitcher. I watched it carefully, noting that even as he poured each of us a drink, the Kool-Aid level never dropped. I have to tell you, that first glass was awesome. Fruit Punch flavored smack for kids, with a sugar rush you wouldn’t believe. I was hooked from that moment on. After he was sure we'd all had enough, he just waved and turned towards a helicopter, which somehow we'd all missed the landing of.

"It's been great meeting all of you, but I’ve got to get back to my Secret Headquarters to continue my never ending battle against the insatiable Thirsties."

"Thirsties...?" I said to myself. So that's what they were called. Well I suppose if I could accept a walking, talking, helicopter flying soft drink, I could believe in them too.

"Hold Everything!" Kool-Aid man shouted suddenly. "Why don't you guys come back with me in my Cool Copter?"

"Wow! Really?" Sigmund said. "As long as we're back in time for dinner, it's a deal!" He exclaimed, Somehow I doubt he cared one way or the other about food at that moment.

So we took off, and true to his word, Kool-Aid Man showed us his ‘secret’ HQ. When I think back on it, I don't really know why he bothered to call it secret at all. The thing was a freaking building shaped like him, residing at 1 Kool-Aid Plaza. When you're a kid, these things don't always pop into your mind, but I have a million smart aleck questions I’d like to ask him these days. He gave us the royal tour, the place had everything, a supercomputer, Thirstie Alarms, and television screens in massive numbers. Most unbelievable is that he told us he invented it all!

I looked at the monitors, which showed kids in various outdoor places, obviously dying of thirst from their activities. Back then I thought it was neat, but these days it gives me the creeps that he invented a secret array of spy satellites to watch every softball game in the world. While we were there, another situation came up and we tagged along. I guess that was the informal start of things, because after that, the Thirsties targeted us regularly, out of spite I figure. They always had Kool-Aid Man outnumbered and out-powered. They could shoot light rays, increase heat, all sorts of things, but they could still never stop Kool-Aid man, and he became our beloved hero and friend.

Unfortunately this all came at a time in my life when I was going through lots of changes. After our first adventures, we stayed together, even after baseball went away, but I never really had the sense of awe like I did that first day. As the years went on I became a teenager, and that brought rebellion on a level my other friends never really experienced. I suppose life is a little different for a black child growing up in this country. I’ve found my temper is easier to think about in abstract thoughts, but hard to control when it comes up in my day to day activities. Back then, I grew frustrated and angry with the inequality that was still everyplace, whether or not if it affected me personally in such an ideal town. I began to hold this against others and they noticed, but they didn't know the real reason, which I kept to myself. The only thing that really kept our gang together was that slim sense of team unity we had as part of Kool-Aid Man’s group, but that was all to change shortly after my fifteenth birthday.

********

The Thirsties had been using an orbital platform they called the Thirstar as their base. Simple as their plans were, they actually had complicated technology which, thankfully, they usually didn’t use. From the Thirstar they could communicate with their leader, Big Thirsty, back home. By this point we had figured out they were an odd race of aliens that had some unknown reason to travel thousands of light-years and torture other species by making them thirsty. Near the end they had been stepping up their troops and attacks, pushing Kool-Aid man to the limits of his giant glass body. In a desperate move, he set off for space, telling us all to stay behind due to the danger, but I wasn’t about to have any of that! We were a team, and he wasn’t going in alone!

While the others monitored his ship from the control room, I put on my rocket pack equipped spacesuit and snuck aboard, stowing away for the mission. Unaware of my presence, Kool-Aid man happily hoped on board and strapped in for our launch to the Thirstar.

"Here I come you no good Thirsties! We’re gonna have a blast…off! OH YEAH!" He shouted as we took off, forcing me to hush my groan at his ever-increasing puns. In a few minutes we were hurtling through space towards the orbiting menace. With amazing accuracy he pulled his ship right up to the dock bay of the Thirstar and leapt straight through the heavy metal doors. Seeing that he had gone, I snuck out after him, forgetting all the cameras on board. I could hear Sigmund and the others calling for me over the intercom as I hurried towards the hole Kool-Aid Man had left, but I ignored them all. I followed his path down the hall, passing a few dozen defeated Thirstie soldiers. Farther down I could hear the scuffle, and I jogged forward, determined to help if I could.

I got there JUST in time it seemed. Kool-Aid Man had vastly underestimated the numbers awaiting him, and now he was held steady by at least a hundred of his heated yellow enemies.

"Ho ho ho, Kool-Aid man, it seems the tables have turned." Came a dark voice. In front of him, displayed on a large monitor, was the ugly Big Thirsty himself.

"I don't know much about turn tables but you sound like a broken record. It seems to me your troops are all washed up! OH YEAH!" Kool-Aid Man exclaimed, upending the pitcher in his hand on a few of the troops, who promptly fell off him and writhed on the floor as the pitcher magically refilled itself.

"Bah! You fool, you don't have nearly enough time to get them all, but I could hardly care anyway!"

"What do you mean you callous creep?" Kool-Aid Man asked.

"Only that more soldiers can be trained, but the demise of Kool-Aid Man is priceless! Goodbye you soft drink flop!" With that last cackle, the commanding Thirstie pushed a button and a door opened by remote. A door that led straight to space!!!

"OHHHH NOOOO!" Kool-Aid Man gulped as he and his captors were quickly swept out into the void. As they went, I saw him glance at me and wink, as if he had known I was there all along and had a plan. I stared in horror, but I didn’t have much time to help. I barely managed to grab a pole as the rushing air quickly caught me. It pulled at me with tenacious force, but I managed to hold on. Kool-Aid Man was safe in space, but he wouldn’t be able to move without…that was it! Sparing a hand I un-strapped the rocket pack on my back and it quickly flipped off, flying through the portal. So I helped big red, but my fingers were beginning to slip on the smooth metal of the pipe as a result. I clawed as desperately as I could, but soon I lost the force battle. Within seconds I was dragged free and flung toward that door. I would have been in space like the others if the doors hadn't happened to slam shut right then.

"Ho ho? Another one?" Big Thirsty laughed, safe thousands of light-years away. "You think you can succeed where that giant red buffoon failed?"

"Ho ho yourself you jerk! You may have gotten Kool-Aid Man, but you took out all your guys too!" I yelled back.

"Ha! You think I would send so few of my army such a long way? You are a fool boy!" Big Thirsty cackled. Doors all around me opened, hundreds of those little yellow bastards swarming in the hallways outside.

"Destroy him!" The Big thirsty commanded. I stood ready to fight, but I knew that in all truth I was doomed! All at once they ran at me, their sharp claw poised to take me apart…or at least make me very very thirsty.

BANG! The ship rocked wildly as the metal walls exploded inwards, a familiar form leaping through.

"OOOH YEAH!" Kool-Aid Man was back! Before I could even react he rocketed between the Thirsties and nabbed me, the rocket pack blaring full blast as the air, choked with Thirsties, began to empty out into space again.

"I got you kid!" Kool-Aid man yelled, leaping for a place to hang on as the rushing wind caught up with him, nearly yanking me from his hands.

"Curse you Kool-Aid Man! You fools let him escape again! Fine! You can all die with him!" Big Thirsty seethed, turning to someone in the room with him. "Start the countdown!"

"30…" Said a dark voice that echoed through the ship.

"Get back to the ship Mickey!" Kool-Aid man told me

"But I…" I started to protest.

"29….28…" the ship’s voice said as I argued.

"Hurry, I’m just gonna change the Thirstar’s orbit so it doesn’t play ping pong with the Earth." He replied hurrying back towards the control room, now filled with panicked and frightened Thirsties, abandoned by their leader.

Reluctantly I took his advice, it was useless to try and argue with Kool-Aid Man. I ran towards the ship, hoping none of the Thirsties had tried to get on board. Thankfully, they seemed to have their own line of dwindling escape pods. As I ran down the hall I spied a group of them bitterly discussing something. Ducking back, I peered around the corner, seeing them standing in front of one of the few remaining escape pods.

"Listen, I'm telling you, he just sucked them out into space like it was nothing. Now he’s punishing us for it by trying to blow us up?!" One of the little monsters griped.

"Yeah, but what are WE supposed to do about it?" Another one said.

"I’m tired of this." The first said again. "It’s time we push back! BOTH of them have been a pain in our sides since we got here."

"8…" The voice sounded.

"Let’s go." They all agreed, hoping into the little ship. Behind me I heard the heavyset footsteps of Kool-Aid Man.

"Let’s go Mickey!" He said, charging past me to our ship. "Let’s beat it before we're beat. OH YEAH!" With so little time left I didn’t even think and made the mad scramble back to the ship with him. As he took off I could see what Kool-Aid Man had done, the booster engines of the Thirstar going full blast, hurtling the massive ship away from Earth. We got away from it just in time, flying off as the Thirstar crumpled in on itself, exploding into a massive fireball. Unsure of what Kool-Aid Man was going to say to me for disobeying orders I looked at him. It was the first time I had ever seen him frown, and I could tell it wasn’t just because of me.

When we got back, things didn’t get any better. The second we got off the rocket I caught hell from the others. I could understand how they were upset that I got that great adventure and they didn’t, but everyone kept ignoring the fact that I practically saved the day while they just sat there.

"Listen. Get after me all you want. I saved him up there." I argued.

"But you also ignored him telling you to stay behind." Sigmund chastised

"Yeah, and then he'd be floating up there right now while the Thirsties raided Earth, you four eyed jerk!" I yelled.

"Oh yeah well let me tell you something you…you…idiot!" Sigmund yelled in frustration. He always lost his head and vocabulary in an argument

"Calm down boys. It’s okay, everyone’s fine." Kool-Aid Man tried to intervene.

"Listen! They’re planning something big! I heard them on the ship!" I yelled.

"Oh yeah right, ha ha." Sigmund scoffed.

"I’d have to agree, they’ve never been all that crafty." Kool-Aid Man said, and it hurt that he wouldn’t take my side. I could tell he was only smiling by habit now.

"Mickey what’s gotten into you?" Gloria asked, sticking her nose where it didn’t belong.

"Yeah, you’ve been giving a lot of attitude these days…" Cynthia said, and that hurt coming from her. She never criticized anyone. I stood gaped jawed a moment.

"Aw, to hell with you guys! To hell with all of this!" I said throwing my space helmet to the ground where it shattered, running to the doors with rage and pain in my heart.

After that I never talked to Kool-Aid Man, or the rest of the group, again. I didn’t want to face them, partly out of anger, partly out of shame. It didn’t matter, after a few months they all realized that without the Thirsties, there was no reason too keep meeting either, and soon they went their separate ways as well, though I know they’re all still friends, the team just kept us all closer. Kool-Aid man gave up on the Super Heroics soon too. When he first came into our lives, he had started his Kool-Aid factory to help finance his battle with the Thirsties. The free publicity was killer for business, but it soon faded. Without the exposure they gave him, he needed to turn his attention to his company full time. Aside from a few commercial appearances, he stays out of the public limelight.

*******
3 YEARS LATER

"Mickey, can you go to the store? I need to get started on dinner." My mother yells up the stairs. I hate my name, it grates on me, but I know better than to bring that up with her again. I’m tired of arguing.

"Yeah mom..." I sigh as I turn off the T.V. I throw on a T-shirt and my shoes, heading out the door, grumbling, shaking my head as I walk down the street. What the hell happened to this city? Smalltown seems a darker place than before, it's no inner city, but all those ideal things I remember from my childhood are gone. The buildings and streets seem dirty, littered with trash. The people seem more angry with their fading town but unwilling to help. The Baseball field is a mess too. I stop to stare at Sam's Snax as I pass, the condemned building empty since Sam died a few years ago. That seems fitting, so many of my memories started there, a past as lifeless as the shop.

"Hey Mick." Jason says as I enter Andy’s Groceries. He’s one of the few guys I talk to these days, mostly in passing though. "Mom’s groceries again?"

"You got it."

"What’s up? You look down."

"Man I don’t know…" I say as my eye comes across a new flavor of Kool-Aid, it’s brilliant packaging a stinging reminder of my problems. "Aw what the hell." I say as I grab it and add it to my stuff. I still love the junk. Busy picking out food, I pay no attention as the door opens and another customer walks in, I have no reason to.

"Gimme all your money!" A man yells. I spin around in time to see him brandish a gun. "Give it to me!" He screams, adrenaline pumping through him. He’s an odd guy, and not one smart enough to wear anything resembling a disguise, only a hat to block the video monitors.

"H..hold on." Jason stammers, popping the cash register open.

"Into the bag now!" The robber yells, throwing a sack to the cashier. With shaky hands Jason finally manages to get the moneybag ready and nervously hands it back to the thief. Grinning wildly, the thief turns around to run out the door.

SLAM! Smack into another man who stands in doorway, the sun back-lighting him so it’s hard to make out any features.

"Andy. Are you okay?" I hear this new person ask.

"Y..yeah but my names not…" The Jason stammers.

"You’ve been struck by a smooth criminal, but he’s mine now!" The man interrupts, his soft under-spoken voice ringing with a mechanical quality. Gripping the stunned criminal by the throat, he walks forward so that Jason and I can see him. The metal that composes his body is brilliant in the store’s white lights. Crops of gleaming metal curls sprout from his head, and I gasp as I recognize the slender face.

"Whhu…who are you?" The thief begs, scared as hell, with tears rolling down his cheeks. The gleaming metal man just cocks his head at him slightly and drops the man to the floor.

"The whole world knows me! Just Beat it!" He says, staring down at the frightened man. Within seconds the robber hops top all fours and scrambles around the metal hero, right out the door, leaving his gun and the money where it dropped. The metal man smiles wildly. "AH HE HE HE!" He laughs, sliding out the door in an unreal and fluid motion. I glance at Jason to see his reaction, but he’s still in shock from the quick turn of events. Me, I leave the money for my groceries, pick up my stuff and utter the unmistakable hero’s name as I head home. I watch him walk slightly ahead of me, as he hops up on his two gravity defying toes, spinning around rapidly.

"Michael Jackson."

And then he was gone!

A few days later when I retell my story to my mom, she suggests I take a long walk. The first time she probably just shrugged it off, but after the next two I think she figures I’m delusional. Oh sure she can accept a kid running around with a big pitcher of Kool-Aid, but a metal Michael Jackson? I’d still like to know what he’s doing here, singers don’t usually drop their tours to break up Smalltown robberies. But then they also don’t turn into robots very often. By this point he was getting major national coverage in a few big time crimes he’d stopped, but my mom wasn’t into reading the paper. I’ve decided to follow her advice, though with every step I get a little more depressed by the sad state of the city. About fifteen minutes into my exercise though, I hear a familiar voice.

"Mickey?" Cynthia asks softly. Surprised I turn and see the whole gang sitting on the steps in front of Cynthia’s apartment. I hadn’t even noticed I walked into this neighborhood.

"Oh hi…" I say. They sure have changed, all of them taller now, like me. "What’re you guys doing?" I ask nervously.

"Nothing really" Gloria says. "Just reminiscing about Kool-Aid Man. He was the best."

"Nah man, you seen Michael Jackson? He’s awesome." I say.

"Sure sure, but he could never top Kool-Aid man." Sigmund scoffs.

"Man what you talking about?" I retort. "Ever since he beat those little yellow freaks, he ain’t cared about us or anything else but his damn money."

"T..that’s not true." Sigmund says, but I can tell he’s thought the same thing, he just won’t admit it like me.

"Oh yeah? Then how come he let Smalltown turn into this hell. You racists can’t even admit a brotha’ superhero gets it done." Before I’m done speaking, I regret even uttering the b word, it’s not what I really felt.

"Hey we’re not racist Mickey, where do you get off calling us that."

"Maannnnn…" I didn’t really know what to say. I didn’t mean it, I was just angry and lashing out at my old frustrations. As if on cue, Michael came into view, far down the street, his shimmering metal skin reflecting the sun that hung low in the fading daylight. He seemed to lurch unevenly towards the abandoned soda factory that was left on the street from better times.

"Hey, there he is." Gloria says.

"Hey, he doesn’t look so good. Think he’s malfunctioning?" Sigmund responds.

"I didn’t hear he was made out of metal…since when is Michael Jackson made of metal?" Cynthia asks, confused by the sight.

"Beats me." Sigmund replies.

"Come on…let’s see what’s wrong." I say suddenly. As we walk towards the building I can’t help but smile inwardly. Here we are once again, acting like friends. But I wasn’t about to say anything about it.

*******

I’m writing this in my journal so that I never forget the details, as that would be unfair to everyone involved. From the moment we saw Michael, things moved so fast, I could hardly keep my head straight. Maybe this will help me sort things out…

"What’s he doing in a dump like this?" Sigmund had said WAY too loud when we entered. I still don’t know where he got off calling himself the brains.

"Shhhhh." I hissed. "You hear that?" They all shut up, listening intently. There were voices, lots of them. Intrigued we snuck forward, hiding behind the giant empty crates as we moved towards the sounds. When we came upon the clearing, I noticed the lights. This building didn’t have any power in it, most of the buildings in this area didn’t. It was like some sort of light being reflected all over from the open area. I peered around a box and my eyes grew wide.

"Excellent…the test runs were PERFECT!" A Thirstie laughed, the unreal brilliance of his body growing with each chuckle, reflecting off Michael’s skin and lighting the warehouse. "Kidnapping Jackson and controlling his robot self was easier than I ever imagined!"

"Yes. I didn’t think we’d pull it off, but we’re finally ready!" Another one said. As I looked around I could see dozens of them, all far brighter than they had been in the past, all sounding more evil and cruel than before. These were the escapees!

"Then let us move to phase two!" The leader shouted. "The destruction of Kool-Aid…"

"ACHOO!" Sigmund sneezed.

"Sigmund!" Gloria yelled.

"You guys!" Synthia complain, but slapped her hand over her mouth.

"Damn idiots…" I whispered to myself. Luckily I had decided to go ahead and hide farther away from them. Before they could move, Michael upended the box they were hiding behind, leaving the kids exposed to the Thirsties and their slave.

"Well well…if it isn’t the ‘Kool-Aid Gang" The leader laughed as Michael Jackson grabbed all of the kids.

"Spies for Kool-Aid Man?" One of the others asked wildly.

"No, they broke ties a long ago, that idiot doesn’t even play superhero now."

"Ha ha! Now we have the perfect trap for that giant red fool" The leader laughed.

"Hey, wasn’t there another kid…the one from the spaceship?" Another suggested. But by then I was only hearing the end of the conversation as I snuck out the door. I would be of no use trying to stop all of them, but I knew someone who would always help.

*******

1 Kool-Aid Plaza. It had changed too. I had to sneak by the guard gate at the front, it had never been there before. I could still see the helicopter-landing pad, but the Cool Copter was gone, replaces by something sleeker, newer. The parking lot too, was full of cars, employees probably. Back when I first arrived here, there had been maybe two at a time, now they stretched as far as the eye could see.

I ran through the building, following the signs to Kool-Aid Man’s office. The inside had changed too, with much of the equipment gone, replaced with offices and workers. I followed the path into a waiting room with his name on the door. Ignoring the receptionist entirely I ran to it.

"Sir you can’t go in there, Mr. Aid is going to be conducting a meeti…"

"To hell with you!" I shouted, flinging the doors open. Dozens of faces turned towards me in shock.

"That got my hopes up." One said.

"I know what you mean, our contractors are making a fortune." Another grumbled.

"What in the name of Westly Willis is going on here?!" I screamed. Then I heard the familiar rumbling.

"Here we go again." A man at the end of the table sighed. The left wall crumbled outward, not so much exploding as it fell apart under force.

"Oh yeah?" Kool-Aid Man said. "Hold on." He paused and moved to the left slightly, adjusting the cell phone at the side of his head. "Okay, I can hear you now…uh huh…oh yeah…uh huh…."

I didn’t know what to say. There was the man I came to find, but he wasn’t what I had expected or hope for. A ponytail sprung from the back tip of his pitcher head, a fancy Armani suit covering what it could of his big body as he tapped his expensive shoes impatiently, all the while talking to a client on the phone.

"Sir…please….MUST you do that every time?" The closest man asked, his reply coming in the form of a hand held up by Kool-Aid man to silence him.

"Yes that right. Alright. Oh yeah. Yes sell…okay. Bye." He finished, flipping his phone face closed and slipping it into his front pocket with ease. He lifted the Kool-Aid filled pitcher in his other hand up. "Gentlemen I think we’re in business."

"Sir really, we must get underway. Your wall breaking, and your receptionist’s inability to keep riffraff out of our meeting room…" A man started as Kool-Aid Man paused to sip his pitcher.

"Riffraff? Who you calling riffraff honkey!" I yelled.

"I’m sorry sir. He just slipped past me." His receptionist apologized, come in to try and lead me out.

"Mickey?" Kool-Aid Man asked, shocked to see me.

"Yeah! Kool-Aid man! You gotta help!"

"Sir really we don’t have time for this, our profits are down 12 perce.."

"Hold on Jim. This kid is a friend of mine. I trust all of you enough to start things, excuse me a minute." He said gruffly, walking towards me and ushering me out the door as he walked along side.

"Kool-Aid?" He asked, holding up a paper cup.

"No I don’t want no Kool-Aid! I need your help!"

"So Mickey, what’s up?" He asked.

"They’ve got em!" I said, panicked and worried that I had already wasted so much time.

"Who? Who’s got who?" His deep voice asked.

"The Thirsties. They got Sigmund, and Cynthia, and Gloria and…and Michael Jackson is working for them and…" I panicked.

"Woah woah kid. You’re not making any sense. We beat the Thirsties years ago, you were there remember."

"Yeah I do, and you wouldn’t listen to me then….and then you gave up on us."

"It wasn’t giving up, it was growing up, we all got past our uses then. That day made me realize the true horrors some people are willing to commit to stop me. I can’t be out there putting people in danger like that. That day…it stopped being fun. I do more good here, making people happy with Kool-Aid and donating to the needy." Kool-Aid man said in a tired voice. His face reminded me of the way it looked on our last day together, the pain hidden by that big smile.

"But K.A you gotta help! The Thirsties’ll kill em! They’re not the same! They want you dead!" I yelled, his sadness shocking me.

"I can’t Mickey. I quit for a reason. I’m past my prime. I can run and jump and laugh like that anymore. It hurts to even walk through anything more than plywood somedays. I’m not a hero…"

"You gotta help them! You’re the only one who can do it!"

"I’m sorry kid…I can’t…I have…things to do." He said, standing up. "Go to the police. If what you say is true maybe they can help."

"Y…you’re giving up without even trying?" I stammered, but he didn’t respond as he walked slowly back towards the meeting room, his pitcher dropping to his side, fruit punch spilling to the floor.

"Y..you coward!" I screamed at his back. "I’ll never forgive you freaking coward!" He didn’t even look back. It all looked hopeless. Little did I know that relief was on the way.

*******

HIGH ABOVE SMALLTOWN

IN THE PRIVATE JET OF A SECRET ORGANIZATION

"I’ve found him." Came the friendly but grizzled voice. "Nothing but hate and…death." Light piano music seemed to hang behind him as the man lifted a pepsi can to his lips. "Uh huh."

"The equipment says he’s right below us." Came the response from a woman sitting before a console, scanning for trouble. She smoothed out a wrinkle in the frill of her fancy maid costume before looking back at her instruments.

"Then lets give ‘im the old one two PUNCH!!" Another voice chimed in a high pitched shout, issued from an albino skinned dwarf. A loud bang ensued as he shadowboxed a little too close to the wall, denting it.

"Man chill before punch another hole in the ship!" The man at the piano said.

"Don’t worry about that! We have incoming projectiles!!" The woman yelled. Her warning was too late.

"Grrrrrrrrrrraaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!" Said the last speaking member of the group, a large white bear. Everyone joined it’s panicked yell as they began to fall, the ship literally torn in half by the explosive force.

*******

After wasting my time with my fallen hero, I decided to run back and see what I could do. I figured the last thing the police would believe is a 16 year-old kid talking about yellow thirst demons from another planet. When I got back I was stunned speechless. The entire block was GONE! Oh sure a stray beam or plank remained in their place, but mostly it was a giant dirt filled crater.

"H…how?" I asked, dropping to my knees. "How is this possible? Who?"

The Earth shook and a brilliant light shone from far away. Through the rumbling I could hear one voice, and I knew. "Jackson!" Not thinking, I ran after him, only concerned with my friends.

Far away, another man struggled with his own dilemma.

*******

Kool-Aid man walked into the dark room, the long unused lights coming alive, highlighting the dust that settled over everything. He sighed and placed his pitcher on a table, walking over to his super computer.

"On, oh yeah." He said quietly. The monitors came alive.

AWOOOOGA AWOOOGA! The Thirsty alarm sounded. The screens switched, the hazy rubble of Smalltown appearing as Kool-Aid Man sat down heavily in his chair. He could see it all, the three captive young adults being dragged along to watch the horrors spawned by their yellow captors. The mind controlled pop sensation danced along, burning people and structures with ease, massive blue bolts shooting from his fingers.

Kool-Aid man gasped as a small group of warriors amassed in front of Jackson, standing around the wreckage of their private jet. He had hoped they would show, that they would rescue his childhood friends, but he slowly realized his old superhero allies would never be enough.

The image that hurt him most of all was that of a young black man running after it all, desperately trying to change the situation, despite his limited chances. All of them were going to fight, yet none of them had any hope of winning.

Kool-Aid Man lifted a picture frame before him, a snapshot of the entire gang in their prime, laughing and happy like they always were.

"I’m not a hero." He said. "I never was."

*******

I arrived just as another group literally fell from the sky, landing before Michael Jackson and halting his path. They were to say the least, odd and imposing.

"Alright you crotch grabbin’ punk! You ain’t getting past the Soft Drink League of Superheroes!! PUNCH!" The diminutive Hawaiian Punch mascot yelled, flying at Michael with incredible speed. His fists collided with the singer’s face, a loud crack that shattered every window for miles. I still couldn’t hear as the glass began to rain down, forcing me to duck for cover.

"You wanna be startin' somethin'?" Michael asked, whipping his arm out and snapping it back.

"Why are you doing this Mike?" The somber man with the soda can asked, tapping the ivory keys of a piano he had somehow lugged onto the street.

"If you promise you'll understand, I cannot contain myself! AH HEE HEE!" Michael yelled, snapping his leg up and back in preparation. "How can you stop me now?"

"We got teamwork." Replied the gray haired black man, straightening out his white tuxedo jacket. "And Diet Pepsi! Uh huh." He laughed, holding a Diet Pepsi and bobbing his head as he tapped the keys with his other hand.

"Quickly! Take him by force!" Yelled the Minute Maid, dressed in her bright orange maid outfit. She charged to strike a blow along side Punchy. The rest of the League followed suit, the giant Coca-Cola Polar Bear swiping his claws along the metal backside of their opponent. Michael’s head spun as another robot, Japan’s Pepsiman struck a firm blow as well. Meanwhile a little Red Dot danced on his head and I asked myself why they even let a loser like Cool Spot in their group. Still, with such overwhelming numbers how could they loose?

"I’ve gonna shake you up and break you up! AWOOOOOOOOOOO!" Michael yelled, spinning around rapidly, tearing his attackers off and stopping on the tips on his toes.

"What in the..?" Punch started to say. Before he could finish Michael whipped around in one fluid motion, kicking the diminutive spokes model, sending him careening through a building. Unbalanced by all the movement, Cool Spot just fell to the ground where Michael unknowingly stepped on him, unaware of his caffeine-free presence.

"Punch! Cool Spot!" Minute Maid screamed.

"Just leave me alone girl!" Michael shouted, a bolt of blue electricity sparkling from his hand and slamming into her, sending the fabricated orange queen tumbling head over hills into a pile of rubble where she lay still.

"Oh no!" Ray Charles yelled, stopping his piano playing. "Minute Maid! Did he get ya!? It sounded like he hit you…hit you like the great taste of Diet Peps…"

"OWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!" Michael screamed, flinging his arms out and then grabbing his crotch with one hand, a giant blast of blue light flying at Ray.

"I may not be able to see, but I KNOW Pepsi ain’t paying me enough for this!" The musician gasped, using his extrasensory powers to roll away from his piano as it shattered into a thousand pieces

"Now I know you didn’t just promote Pepsi in front of me Ray." A bitter Jackson said, decking Pepsiman with bitterness and knocking him out with one punch. With a simple crack over the head the Polar Bear went down too, and Michael Jackson stood amid the defeated League.

"AH HEE HEE HEE!" He sang, moonwalking over the destruction he had caused.

"Ha ha! The Thirstie leader laughed as he loosened the rope binding my friends. Sure of their release, they all scattered away from him, running towards me. "I had thought to have him kill you all like sitting ducks, but I think it would be more fun to let you try and survive!" He sneered.

"Michael!" I screamed as he stalked towards us, leaping on top of a car that was his way. "Don’t do this! They’re controlling you!!!" I begged.

"Don't try to understand me, Because your words just aren't enough!" He sang "AWOOOOO!!" With massive force he punched the windshield of the car shattering it. Rolling back, he quickly bent down and lifted the auto over his head, his eyes gleaming as he faced us.

"No…no!" I yelled as he swept his arms back in preparation for the throw.

It left his hands, but not in the direction he had intended. With a speed I’d never seen before a giant red shape bounded on the vehicle, the extra weight making it tumble from Michael Jackson’s grip.

"Who?!" The singer asked aloud as the car fell, resting on its side. Suddenly it burst in half, flying across the barren street.

"OOOOOH YEEEEEAHHHHHH!" Kool-Aid Man yelled, ambling through the wreckage. "Forget it Mike, the…hack...truck stops…hack..truck stops he…cough…hold on…" he said, the smoke from the car overwhelming him for a moment.

"Don’t take your eyes off me! I’m Dangerous!" Michael yelled as he stretched out and kicked. Kool-Aid man barely managed to grunt, the full force blow sending him careening into a building. "The way you came into the place, I know it right here and now! Your ass is mine Kool-Aid Man! AHH HEE HEE!" The deranged singer laughed, sending a bolt of blue light into the building. The force of the explosion knocked all of us off our feet. We slowly recovered to stare at the flaming destruction.

"N..no…Kool-Aid Man!" Cynthia sobbed. We could see the Thirsties laughing.

"Quickly! Let us move to phase two while these fools mourn their heroes death!" The leader giggled as the fled.

"AWOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" Michael screamed in self-congratulation.

"It stops here mister. No more puns, no more lives!" Kool Aid Man yelled, leaping from his apparent grave and gripping the unsuspecting Michael’s arms tightly from behind. Drops of perspiration dripping down his shiny glass body, his battle smile fading as the strain grew stronger.

"I’m beginning to understand why those no good Thirsties picked you Michael."

"…and why is that?" The grinning villain asked as he struggled for freedom.

"Because who better to fight Kool-Aid Man than the King of Pop." Kool-Aid Man laughed. I suppose it was good to see his sense of humor remained. "I’ll knock YOU off of your feet pal! OH YEAH!" Kool-Aid Man responded, decking Michael from behind.

"Why you wanna trip on me?" Michael retorted, sweeping the giant beverage container off his feet, easily lifting him above his head. "You've got more problems than you'll ever need!" Michael laughed as gallons of sweet red fluid poured over him, spilling from Kool-Aid Man’s overturned head, cascading over the metal monster like a horrible waterfall, ice plinking off his hard skin like hail.

"Look out!" Sigmund yelled, grabbing my arm as Michael Jackson hurled his opponent at us, using our own friend as a dangerous projectile. We barely managed to dodge Kool-Aid Man as he slammed into the concrete, chips of his body breaking off and littering the ground, spurts of his fruit punch center gushing from the damage low on his base.

"You guys get away fast as possible. I’ve got to stop him now!" Kool-Aid Man huffed, standing slowly as Michael stalked towards us.

"But Kool-Aid Man…" I started to say.

"Go!" he interrupted, his stern eyebrows lowering.

"Kool-Aid Man…" I stammered, ashamed as I looked at him now. Web like cracks swarmed up the stress points of his casing, red droplets flowing freely from missing sections. One eye seemed permanently closed, a large white scratch cutting across it. The damaged hero breathed heavily as Kool-Aid dipped freely down his face, staining the glass, blurring his sight.

"GO!" It’s up to me now!" He shouted, turning towards Jackson. "Many have died, but now…" He spat as he launched himself at the metal menace "Jackson gets his."

"Wait….come back." I pleaded. "Come back…"

"Nobody tears my city apart and gets away with it! I don’t know what show you cancelled to ruin this town, but I’m sending you back! OHHH YEAAAH!" They collided with terrific force, flying straight through the Smalltown Bank and out the other end, taking most of the building and the vault with them. Morbidly concerned, Sigmund and I ran around to watch. Jackson had Kool-Aid Man pinned, his fist raised and ready to strike.

"Though you fight to stay alive, your body starts to shiver! Give it up Kool-Aid Man!" he chuckled.

"Can’t…" Kool-Aid Man managed as he was lifted and driven spout first into the ground with such tremendous force and speed that he disappeared from sight, plowed straight through the pavement.

"Kool-Aid Man!" I shouted as I mindlessly ran towards his impact crater.

"No! Stay back Mickey! We don’t need to get that close to watch!" Sigmund yelled.

"I don’t care about watching! Kool-Aid Man’s in trouble…and I intend to help him!" I screamed at the top of my lungs.

"I don’t think you’ll get the chance. He’s coming this way!" I looked up to see Jackson rushing towards us, ready to strike

"Move while you can Sigmund! I’ll distract him!" I yelled at my bravest. Of course, I’d never been so scared in my life.

"Keep your hands off those kids Jackson! " Kool-Aid Man shouted, leaping from the ground with a loud boom and swinging his Kool-Aid filled pitcher at the singer. Since the day I met him I had never known that tall glass to leave his hand for more than a few seconds. Even during this fight he had managed to keep it upright through some supernatural ability. So I watched in shock as he cracked Michael Jackson over the head with the pitcher that had never once left his side, the mighty container bursting into a thousand pieces, fruit punch spraying like a fine mist across the battleground.

"Just leave me alone!" Michael said as he tumbled to the ground. With great speed he rolled up again and pulled a fedora out of no place. It matched his odd 1930’s get up, which I had been overlooking due to the fact that this was a metal Michael Jackson! With amazing accuracy he flung the hat at Kool-Aid Man.

"ARRR!!!!!" Kool-Aid Man shouted as the razor sharp headpiece sliced through him, shearing off a large chunk of his spout and handle, sending them to the ground where they broke apart like normal glass. "Hat…so sharp…he cut me!"

"My friend you haven’t seen nothin' Just wait 'til I get through!" Michael laughed.

"No! No more!" The red hero yelled. Kool-Aid Man leapt forward, grabbing Michael’s gloved hands and squeezing tightly.

"OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOhhhhhhhh!" Mike screamed in pain, flailing back as Kool-Aid man crushed his sensitive hands.

"Yes! I’ve finally managed to hurt him!" Kool-Aid Man panted. "But I have to fight until he drops!"

"You leave me no choice!" Michael said weakly. With a sudden explosion Kool-Aid Man flew back. Slowly recovering, he watched as Michael began to transform, his head seeming the sink into his body.

"What?" Kool-Aid Man asked in shock. Jackson’s body began to grow massively in size, wings sprouting from his changing arms, a cockpit becoming visible as the transformation into a spaceship completed.

"My masters are on a mission in the everlasting light that shines. A revelation of the truth and chapters of our minds!" The Jackson ship sung, a large beam-gun of some sort popping out of the top of the ship as it started to lift off. "I’ll destroy the entire planet!"

"NOO!" Kool-Aid Man yelled, leaping on top on the ship, his heavy weight bringing it back down, the energy charge in the gun already building, glowing brilliant white.

"No! You’ll kill us both!" Jackson screamed.

"Oh no." I said.

"Oh no…" Sigmund echoed.

"OH YEAA…..!" Kool-Aid Man bellowed, jamming his arm into the gun’s mouth as everything grew a brilliant white. The explosion destroyed three city blocks. All of us would have perished if at that moment a Black Grand Piano hadn’t slammed down in front of us, absorbing the blast. Ray Charles frowned as he used his powers to hold it together, shielding us and the League from certain doom. Horrible sounds echoed all around us, as we waited for it all to end.

The light faded and as the resulting smoke finally began to clear, we could see giant metal shards slicing deep into the ground. Peeking around the piano, we saw more of the wreckage, and amid it all lay the still form of Kool-Aid Man.

"Kool-Aid Man!" I screamed, running towards him, the shrapnel in the ground tearing through my shoes, but I didn’t care.

"No." I could hear Ray Charles say.

"We…we didn’t make it in time…" Minute Maid said quietly, burying her head in the blind musicians arms.

In the years to come, a few witnesses will tell of the power that final blast held, of the Earth shattering force of their blows. But most will remember this sad day, as the day the proudest, most noble man they ever knew finally fell. For a world to live, a man had given his all and more.

"Hang on K.A. Just hold on. Please." I whispered as I came upon him, kneeling beside my friend.

"Michael Jackson…is he…is he…" Kool-Aid Man’s bent and shattered form asked, barely above a whisper.

"You stopped him! You saved us all! Now relax until…"

"Oh yeah…"

"No save your strength…you need it." I said, tears building, blurring my sight.

But it was too late. I felt him shudder one more time as the last few ounces of fluid in his frame dripped away, his glass body caving in on itself.

I called him a coward and he still came. He came and he saved all of us. I want to tell him how wrong I was, how despite his reluctance, he was the bravest of us all.

I want to, but it’s too late.

For this is the day…

That a Kool-Aid Man died.

Continued in the Adventures of Kool-Aid Man #8, Funeral for a soft drink.

Adapted loosely from:
The Adventures of Kool-Aid Man, Marvel, 1983