9. L’AMOUR MUET: Caliga Dextra

Walter didn’t want to be a wolfman. He just wanted to be a runner.

Fifty years ago, there were not so many werewolves around. Maybe just three billion in all.

Back in those days, a cute young boy would play with his father in the English highlands just behind their home, trotting up and down the hills under the hot spring sun. And this boy, one day, asked his dear father, in an accent which, as I only realized in hindsight when I edited this piece, must reflect my unfamiliarity with Britain, but which I find, ultimately, so vital to this work that it cannot be threatened without sullying the good name and integrity of Invisible Werewolf Dracula meets Vampire Mummy Frankenstein, “Doddy, hoy doy yough royn so foyst? Can yoy toych moy hoy toy royn?”

“Yes, my son,” said his father. “I will teach you how to run.” He bent before his child and pointed to his little legs. “First you’re going to put out your left foot.”

And so he did.

“And next, you’re going to put out your right foot.”

And so he did.

“Now you’ve got it! All you’ve got to do now is whip them legs real fast back and forth!”

“Woy!” gasped young Walter Whipple. “Thoynks, doddy! Oi’m goyng to boy the foystest royner oyver!”

“Yes, yes indeed, you can. Maybe the fastest ever born on the earth…”

Beaming with pride as that father was, he still could not staunch the hot tears from running down his face and onto his boy’s shoulders. It was time to have him face the truth.

 “I…I’ve talked it over with your mother, Walter—it’s time that we all three go and get the werewolfinization surgery done.” He breathed a deep sigh. “Everyone else in the community has, and we don’t want you to be bullied by the others for not fitting in.” He sniffled and wiped his face. “It’ll be fun, the government has even offered free mini-moons—”

“Woywolves!?” shrieked Walter. “Joyminy croykets!”

In his shock, he whipped those legs of his so fast that he cleared three foothills and disappeared into the distance in a matter of seconds. All that was left of him was a long cloud of dust trailing after him.

He ran fast. He ran long. He ran as far as he possibly could that day, because if he could run quick enough he could get away from anything. He’d run away from becoming anything he didn’t want to be. He didn’t want to be a wolfman. He just wanted to be a runner.

Now in his ragged mansion, Walter, just as he had long ago, whipped them aged legs.

His Olympic stands were Dracula and Adam, the former gripping firmly the latter’s shoulder, as if he would never let go again. He willed the only thing he could will: that his once-dead friend would pay strict attention, for this may well have been the final time the world’s fastest man took a run.

The Pharaonic Frankenstein watched, he did, but he also prayed deep in his heart. To which god (possibly Ra or Osiris) no one knew, not even himself.

Who but a god could reach Walter now?

The laser flew at the speed of light, but Walter, with speed beyond compare, disappeared.

The sprinter flew through the epic remains as if he were weightless. The world became a dark blur around him, forcing him to cup his hands around his eyes to see through rushing winds and hammer-force snow. He glanced over his shoulder. The laser bullet was gaining on him.

“Oh, you think you’re so hot, huh?” he shouted, in a taunt that nobody could hear—he had broken a barrier, entered a mach speed that no one had even invented a name for. “Well, in that case, why don’t I learn ya a little! This old man’s got somethin’ left in the tank!”

He pushed his legs harder, whipped them still faster. Another speed barrier shattered around him with a deafening crash. He’d entered the paradise of velocity. His cells pulled strength from a primordial energy left by his forefathers, his stomach became full, his body was cleansed of dead skin and oil, his heart forgot all his traumas and heartbreaks!

His physical form shrank back to his prime, his twenty-third year, the year he won the Olympic games. No! Even younger than that; he was back in the race! The South African chill became the sunwarmth underneath that open-dome sky. Here was the arena, packed to the brim with the shouts, cheers, and jeers of more people than he would ever see again in his life. Far too many of them carried signs that barked “NO MORE HUMANS, WEREWOLVES ARE BETTER” in every language known to man, and some known only to the future.

Just for today, though, they did not matter. None of the controversy mattered. Walter was so far ahead of the other runners that he won it all before the rest had even come halfway.

He raised his arms in the air! He, simultaneous breaker of worldly bounds and bester of Alice’s bullet! The blade of light was shrinking behind him—he was getting even faster! The victory tape at the end of the track was unfurled hastily to meet a man it had sorely underestimated. Champion Walter braced for the impact of ribbon hugging him for a split of a split of a second to welcome him, to signal the rise and rebirth of a new gold medalist, in front of the entire world…right before he heard Adam’s words:

“YOU SHALL CRASH INTO THE WALL AT THE OTHER END OF YOUR GUEST ROOM, MR. WHIPPLE! YOU MUST VEER RIGHT OR YOU MUST VEER LEFT TO AVOID THAT LASER BULLET!

“B-b…but I can only run forwards,” said Walter. “I can’t get out of the way.”

He hit no finish line tape; only the solid and unbroken wall. His fantasy shattered with his body. Then the bullet caught up and finished the job, flooding him with thousands of fuchsia volts. He collapsed onto his side, and smoke poured from his mouth, nose, and ears. His body had not changed after all, and he reflected bitterly that he must even have retained the depressing glint in his eye which time had bestowed in lieu of cataracts.

“I…I thought that I could whip up m’legs and run from everything in my life. Even discrimination,” he said in as shallow a voice as can be imagined. “But I was wrong. It was…just too fast for me. How could…just losing a race…make me feel so…bitter?”

The sensitive vampire ears, strained to their limit, picked up every word.

“MISTER WHIPPLE! NOOOOOOOO!” Adam bellowed. Dracula fell to his knees with his forehead pressed to the invisible barrier. Alice spun her pistol, blew off the smoke, and pocketed it. Meters off, Robert lay unconscious and battered in the snow; mercifully, he had not witnessed this death. Trials emerged from the basin sink, stunned by the explosion she’d heard, blinking through crystal snow.

The remaining werewolf troops—around fifty—amassed their numbers and tramped into the little entryway, raising their fists and guns against the vampire duo. Even if the ‘pires retained their physical strength, their wilted hearts left them momentarily weak.

Adam stared away from his foes, into the permanently frosted earth. “This cannot be the end,” he moaned. “Have we all failed? Shall our goal go unsatisfied, honestly and truly? Was this the fate I was reborn so near ago to fulfill? A life of frustration, rotting forevermore?”

There was a pregnant pause.

Alice said through a megaphone, “YES. FULL SPEED AHEA—”

Trials took a five-foot leap and knocked Alice in the face with the brunt of her whole body. Alice steadied herself, grabbed the cat, and instinctively enacted her judo flip, but this only threw Trials toward the crowd of every single remaining conscious soldier!

One of them turned saying, “What the bark?”

“Rocks Crocs Tocks!” she meowed, and a storm of pebbles materialized around her, orbiting almost like her very own mini-moons! She whizzed into the crowd, which, knocked in heads and faces by the flying rocks, was forcibly cleared for her. Thus she entered with as much ease as a video game spaceship with a revolving shield around it.

As Trials left the last of the wolves and her forehead-nailing rocks behind, soaring nearer to Dracula and Adam, it seemed as if surely she would plop upon her side and skid. With a magical moment’s twist, however, she was on her soft feet, in plush snow, standing comfortably between them. This, at least, was a relief.

“ENOUGH BALDERDASH!” Alice cried. “AT LEAST WE’LL KILL THE CAT. FIRE!”

Nothing happened.

“Oh,” she said, “they’re all knocked out.” The megaphone retracted. She hesitated, turning away to collect herself. She created and destroyed a gum bubble. “Wait a second,” she exclaimed. “Of course. That’s it. If you can’t kill them, arrest them.”

“Arrest him, you mean,” Dracula boldly declared, his voice echoing in the guest room’s ruins. He was standing at the mansion doorway, bold as a shadow—totally alone, with no allies behind him. “We all know that your feud lies squarely with myself. With my help and powers beyond your comprehension, two of my allies have made it to safe quarters.” The abilities in question: nothing but Adam’s papyrus, his tentacles and slithericles repurposed into legs for a quick, jogging getaway. Dracula paused, however, catching a whiff of horror. “But as for Robert…”

“Me, alright!” wailed the man-like fish. He was never unconscious after all; he had played dead! With his remaining power, he, battle-scarred, had pulled himself across the snow and, like a scaly rug, snuck up most covertly behind Alice “Didn’t, want, say, anything. Wanted, surprise, attack, but…that, okay.”

“Your safety—” Dracula’s melancholy cast, impossibly, grew a shade darker—“your safety is more important, Robert.”

Robert’s eyes shimmered.

“Not to me,” Alice butted in. “Well…I must say, I don’t care for you alive or dead, Fishman. You’re too weak for your life to be any matter to me. You may think you have gumption, but two weeks in the D.C. prison would soften you.”

Robert struggled close enough to grab her, but at that point Alice merely abandoned him, marching up to the doorway. She positioned herself inches from Dracula’s nose. Her golden mini-moon all but scraped his forehead on its circuit.

“Rather bold,” said Dracula quietly. “Rather impudent.”

“You don’t run the world.”

He raised his cape, and thence came to life a flurry of bats that took wing with flutters and blood-curdling squeals. They flew into the snowy sky like petals of Dracula’s ever-flowering night.

“Perhaps I do,” he said. “What say we put this to rest here and now, and end this blood-tinged battle?”

It was on Alice to make the first move, to either invite Dracula in or herself cross the force-field boundary. Instead, she appeared to stall. From a back pocket she outdrew a short list, an official one from FINTERPOL. The “F” stood for “future.”

“Count Dracula: hundreds of years of stealing the blood of others, and first-degree murder. Robert Fishman: murder and assault.”

“Those were in self-defense,” growled Dracula.

“Trials: sixteenth-century witchcraft and wizardry.”

“That was only illegal within the sixteenth century!”

“Frankenstein: the murders of five people.”

“His name is Adam!”

“Walter Whipple: repeatedly refusing government mandates, and tax evasion.”

Dracula’s eyes turned the color of the blood moon. He thundered, “I DID NOT KNOW HE DID NOT PAY HIS TAXES!”

“To the public eye, you are monsters. Rightly so; you terrify us because you refuse to follow the societal norms that keep us moving forward happily and safely. You remnants of the past simply need to disappear.”

“And what of yourself?” challenged Dracula.

She shifted her gaze to the snowy ground. “I can adapt,” she said, “for I have committed no crime. But you all need to pay for yours, the same as us werewolves do.” Alice turned to her wristmmunicator and requested, “Send in a ‘Forty-Three Skiddee.’”

“A what?” said the woman on the other end.

Alice hissed, “That means ‘descending satellite with military-grade firing squad as backup!’ Review your codebook, soldi—I mean, ma’am! Madam? Oh, botheration. See what you’ve done? Now Dracula knows and everything!”

This is how Dracula knew to look up. Above, the snowstorm dissipated, making way for a satellite larger by far than Walter Whipple’s estate…quite possibly even larger than the chunk of earth and ice they called South Africa. Solar panels smothered its sides; they had sopped up sunlight for years like crackers in soup. The antenna tip in its miles-wide bowl glowed white-hot, preparing to fire a ray of light, the caliber of which none on the planet could replicate. Dracula also heard tank treads approaching from afar, no doubt carrying all the ammo they could muster.

Alice asserted, “Tonight we settle your dues, Dracula!”

“Aye, you and yours definitely shall,” he rebuffed. He lifted both arms to the sky, fully outstretched, fingers like spines. “Robert, fear not…but avert your eyes.”

Robert, tearful, closed them.

“The reason I send my friends away is that this—what I am about to perform—is a maneuver no man nor wolf should wish to see. So you shall not.

His fingers snapped; he became the mist. The snow in his approximate location whipped up into a whirl, and he let loose a wild wolven howl.

***

A great creature went heaving across the frigid wilderness. He was no wolf; he was Bistritz, the brave bat who in today’s travails had been far overtaxed. He raced past boulders the size of battleships—all nothing compared to him—and through a blizzard that seemed to have intensified.

What’s more, the bat now raced through a smattering of battery, the militia come to execute Dracula. A battalion of tanks, each as small as one of his paws, fired a few rounds at his husky hull, but none did him more than a scathing; the biggest rounds were for his master.

So Bistritz went on and, maugre the cold, he was panting, sweating bullets metaphorically just as much as literally. His tongue lolled as he ululated a gargantuan, “HOOFH! HOOFH!”

Innardly, a bewildered Adam and a ruffled Trials huddled in the dark of the cellar of Castle Dracula. Packed in suitable arrangement were thousands of barrels containing fine winery, extending in date to before the Common Era! Actually, most of it was blood. But they were in no state to think about that. This was the most secure shelter of Castle Dracula, and if things outside went too far south, they would be thankful for it. Everything thumped and rollicked, too, with the rhythm of an unsettled Bistritz.

“This situation doth not suit me one bit,” quothed…Trials?

“Why, land of Goshen,” Adam said. “The very same words sat on mine own tongue. Could our natures be closer than I thought?”

“So predictable…and yet so earnest,” she said to the floor. “No, Frankhotep, I’m makin’ fun o’ you.”

“The name is A—”

“Adam.”

They wobbled.

Then Trials said, in the voice of a game show host, “I see it’s a ‘no’ on Walter. I just hope they save my fish dinner.”

Adam’s eyes went saucerine. “How can you be so crass, you, you…chuff-cat?”

He, untutored innocent, did not know: awful puns and banter are how comedians in dead-end bars speak of the dead, revere them.

And Bistritz, fully horizontal but with the speed and aspect of a desperate mountaineer, clambered to the coast of Cape Agulhas. Then he leaped into the water, for an explosion was coming that otherwise would have flung him into the aether—if not torn him apart.

***

Warm grass. Temperate ocean. A gentle mist, and nighttime rainbows stooping to earth. This was no Galapagos isle, nor was it a dream. Well…indeed it would be the source of many penguin nightmares, having changed a comfortable ecosystem into what was, for them, surely a hellscape. But for the purposes of our story, it was beautiful.

Had Adam stuck his head out of Bistritz’s mouth during the chase to observe, he would have swooned. Bistritz, however, had found an underwater cave housing an air pocket. Every half-hour he rattled off more echolocation, fully confident that Master Dracula with his special ears would track them down soon.

Now it was the cusp of morning. Dracula’s deed had long been done. He only took time to meditate, and feed.

Somehow it felt wrong to suck blood mere hours after the death of a friend. For this shame, Dracula chided himself. Walter would have wanted him to preserve his health. Why should consuming the blood of his enemies diminish anything?

All across a mansion in utter ruin, and beyond even that, never again to stand at attention, were bodies. The bodies of obedient werewolves, now humans, with mini-moons long since crushed under Dracula’s pacing bootheels. Their rifles, too, were powder.

Dracula had crushed Alice’s golden moon, and afterward pocketed the dust. Money, after all, was a powerful thing. Her corpse was here, somewhere.

And a mist passed over the bodies. Any blood in pools or corpses it passed, it slurped, saying “mmm,” “slllllurp,” and “schleeeyerp mmmyumyumyummy.” Soon the blood was gone—and Dracula was full, sated from sip where he stood.

And he stood, mustache billowing, by the fallen satellite, which had been cut nearly in two as if by a seismic fissure. Dracula’s fissure. Without warning it snapped clean in half, producing the sound of a 1920’s car running out of gas.

There was one body he could not bear to visit.

Robert Fishman did not possess that body. From nearby came the sound of scales and suit fabric dragged across floor and earth. Here came the man that time forgot, crawling but, fortunately, not so bloody.

Dracula did not immediately turn to face Robert. He simply looked at the ground, all grass, shattered concrete, and puddles of melt. If one were to see him without knowing what had transpired, one would think his affliction was vague distraction.

Robert stopped, lifting himself on his forearms. “Vlad…Vlad,” he was panting. “Let’s…go…home. They…waiting.”

For many seconds, Dracula did not budge. The world had warmed, but he stood frozen in grief.

Then something made his bleak heart to shake. It drifted through the sky, which yet was marred by drifting debris, and landed in his hand quite delicately. He was not meant to visit Walter again; it was Walter who had come to visit him, in the form of a sneaker.

With a note attached:

“Thanks, Drac. Looks like I won’t be needing this thing anymore. You need it more than me. Don’t be a loser—win that gold. For all the misfits out there.”

Dracula could barely read through the haze of tears. They were vampire’s tears, as crimson as his irises, his heart.

Hours later, Dracula found Bistritz’s undersea cave. He had carried Robert here, over his shoulders; and their path to shore was a line of slow-trickling blood, from the fish-man’s wounds, from the vampire’s face. He had zig-zagged between tanks, all ruined, ruptured, and smoking by his hand.

His reunion with Bistritz was that of a veteran father and his war-hero child, for Bistritz too had been through the trenches today. Pride was strong between them. Despite not having seen Walter Whipple before his passing—or perhaps because of that—the bat, too, was mournful. Still, the mere presence of Master Dracula and Friend Robert brought some light and cheer back into Bistritz. Lucky to have such a steed, they were; on this adventure there were always new places to go, new scenes through which to scrape, to scuffle, to lose hope, to catch stars.

As the castlebat flung himself from Cape Agulhas’ waves with a vast and drippy wingbeat, another mysterious object whipped its way in: the second sneaker. Miraculously, it floated through Bistritz’s innards on the hints of various tradewinds before entering the castle’s ventilation system and alighting on Dracula’s uninhabited sleeping coffin. The sneaker’s side, though worn with the ages, retained some writing:

“From Count Dracula to my most gracious speedman. I am glad to announce you now have a new matching pair of running shoes. Do well not to forget: it is never too late to move forward.”

***

A word on the fate of the farm animals:

Before he left, Dracula set all the animals loose from their bio-dome, gave each one a gift of $100 for travel expenses, and allowed them to go their own ways, to make their destinies come true.

As dawn arose and the rainbow arches entered their full splendor, farm animals turned their eyes to waning stars. Grievingly they all remembered…Walter Whipple…before spreading out, following paths to wherever they might lead. Into their futures.

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Author: Joi

I write, I draw, I do it all

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