LA TETE DE MORT
In the early morning hours of July 3rd, 3001, a strange object dropped from the sky and landed off the coast of the most important city in the world: New York D.C. Matter-sensing radars and satellites detected a tiny rubber object attached to some organic material, and thereafter the object was explained as a toy that had been scooped up by a hurricane or storm, tossed about, and sent on a return trip to Earth, picking up a couple of dead insects along the way. However, some of the coastal radars were visual, capturing photographs and videos of the Atlantic shoreline and all that landed therein. No doubt one employee, at least, noticed that no machine had managed to snap a photo of this object. One received proof of a splash in the water at the right time and in the right place—a splash caused, according to footage, by nothing.
To ascertain the true nature of this wrongly-identified falling object, we must go back in time a space to a slightly earlier morning hour (or, rather, a morning minute, for the fall of the WIFO was swift). It was then that Dracula and Alice hurried to the castle’s garage, where a big orange raft from the camping room had been set before the door and between two interesting cars that, sadly, were too disrepairsome to use during this adventure. The cars also could not travel through watery sewers, detracting further from their utility.
Dracula jabbed a button on the wall; the garage door began to roll up, and whipping winds from the indigo sky lashed the hem of his cape. “Ready?” he shouted over the gale and the door’s mechanical moan.
“Almost,” assured Alice. In her hand was a glass bottle of drink with a tag around the lip which read, “DRINK ME.” This “DRINK ME” drink, combined with her “EAT ME” eats, rounded out her arsenal of stealth-helping japes. By drinking the drink, she could shrink; by eating the treat, she grew feet (of height). These aliments were a secret rarely shared, and not just to hide them from potential robbers. She was a little ashamed of them, for they came from Wonderland, and she had tried for so long not to admit the usefulness of the irrational.
She uncorked the drink, then opened the valve of the raft and gave it a good sip’s worth. Soon she and Dracula would take their own sips, allowing them to enter NYDC somewhat inconspicuously.
But one problem remained: with all the futuristic security about (namely the high-definition cameras), how could they infiltrate without being seen for who they were, albeit at confusing, mouselike size?
The answer came from the castlebat Bistritz, who maintained a power heretofore hidden from readers. At the anointed moment, Dracula gave a stern “eek,” which was the cue for Bistritz to become invisible. Not incorporeal; merely undetectable to eyes both mortal and im-. As he faded, so too did his passengers and innards, and in this way Dracula and Alice became as close to undetectable as possible, as they would remain for precious minutes longer!
So the tiny raft-riders dropped for many thousands of feet, perchance to plunge, their vehicle flopping end over end. So they fell into morning as the sun threatened rise. But Bistritz would not keep flying by, as was his wont and habit; he would have to make landfall soon in the heart of enemy territory.
…Mere minutes before, in those same early morning hours of July 3rd, 3001, in that time that was as good as night, somewhere in Bistritz’s castleback, Adam, standing solitary in the chamber of blood and operations and failure, gathered his bearings.
A few moments alone, as it turned out, were all he had needed to fully recall his nightmare. The final puzzle piece that made his past! It was not such a devastating thing, not anymore…since he had relived it night after night. It was less of a stab in the chest, and more of an albatross, there on the neck to hang for all his years.
He did not take more vials from the wall; he did not want to chance it, for without Dracula’s help he was not certain how many contained the werewolf blood he now pledged to avoid. So when he left, traversed the castle, and opened the door to the pilot’s cabin, he remained nearly as dizzy as he had been upon waking.
But despite Adam’s assumption, Dracula had not come here with Alice. Instead, Trials was the current captain, sitting on top of the wheel quite casually, not even facing the window.
There was a dead bird in her mouth. She dropped it at the sight of him. “What’s got you down in the dumps? You look like something I dragged in…like that bird.”
“What’s with you and apologies?”
“Apologies,” he rectified, “to your ears for the words they hear, Trials. I am weak, just a touch weak.”
“Would you like a bit of bird blood?”
“Ah…do not mind if I do.” He bent to collect the bird, and he fought an urge to cradle it. Outside the window was nothing but indigo, the stars having faded with the slow march of dawn. “Do you happen to know where Count Dracula has gone?”
“Don’t you—oh, right, you must’ve been asleep when we had that meeting. He’s about to jump.”
“Jump? What madness is this?”
But this inquiry took Adam no further. No sooner was it loosed from his lips than Bistritz began to tilt downward. Trials, treading along the edge of the wheel to spin it, was bringing them slowly into a nosedive—which was bizarre, considering the wheel could only turn left and right!
Adam fell against the wall, and the bird “flew” from his mitts. Trials, however, remained standing on the wheel despite her precarious angle and the diving bat (thanks not to some natural catlike balance, but to the Balance-Talents-Salads spell). Then the window became the floor, and Adam thunked against the glass, almost through it. He watched in terrified, terrific awe as Bistritz flew through the clouds like an arrow, cottony greys bursting against the clear surface.
And Adam could not tear himself away from the sight of a city from a bat’s-eye view!
You will recall that Adam had rarely chanced to see an airplane, let alone peer out from the window of one. For him, the shock of seeing a city in lights from above was doubtless far greater than you, dear reader, can imagine! (At least that is true for me; you cannot even guess how many flier miles I have!) New York D.C, across seemingly every inch, blazed yellow, pink, blue, all bubblegum colors that burned dark streets and trees into oblivion, so that they were only the faintest traces of ash. Even the Brown House, lump of dark fur, was swamped by lamplight. Adam and Trials had no chance of mapping the city even if they tried.
Adam flung his head to the cat, his message for her delivered by scream. “Trials! Surely we’ll crash! Surely they’ll see us!”
“No airstrip? No problem.”
He replied “what is an airstrip,” but even if he had known what was an airstrip, he would have pointed out the remaining visibility issue. That, too, was no problem, for in an instant Trials disappeared before his eyes. The walls and wheel disappeared before the same eyes. The window had been transparent to start with, so it maintained its former appearance. Adam disappeared too, in case you were wondering.
Bistritz—and all grateful to inhabit his gracious back—had gone invisible.
But still, but yet and still, they hurtled, and Adam swore he could feel wind pricking past him in a mortifying rush as they plummeted ever closer, the lights becoming lamps among roofs—among hard roofs that would not be kind to bone.
This behemoth bat was the second strange object to land in New York D.C. that morning, and unlike Dracula and Alice, he went totally undetected, falling, as he did, in a low-priority area for security and its radars. When the bat was just moments away from colliding head-first with Alice’s penthouse, Robert, seated bravely in the corner of his mouth, fed him a measure of the “DRINK ME” potion. Thus Bistritz shrank and, moving like a hook, curved sideward and upward on a dime, through the sliver crack underneath the penthouse door. Giving Adam the fright of his life, I might add.
Trials would explain their invisibility, their miniscule size, and their plan—however loose and half-formed—quite soon. But right now, in the quiet of their landing, she looked across the vast veldt that was Alice’s wooden floor and purred with valiant anticipation.
The time had come! The trumpets of war had sounded, the olive branches of peace now raised! Emerge, you warriors, from a bat into hell! All to the kennel, now—prepared, if need be, to pound the dogs!
Rare is the werewolf who fears the sun. In former years, ‘twas the moon they hated, for the full moon not only changed their bodies, but made them feral, replete with undirected wrath…made them worse than wolves, for a wolf has its honor, and a wolf has a pack, there to share in sorrow and victory alike. Who would lick the werewolf’s wounds? Who, what friend—when the lunar madness struck, and when the home, with its fruits of domesticity, was torn to shreds and memory—what friend would stay for the werewolf? What friend would dare stay, risking their own mutilation?
A happy sun spread its arms across the horizon to embrace New York D.C., for the city too busy to sleep, too busy to hate, that dared not stop, claimed never to close its eyes. Igor was the werewolf’s second friend, for the sun had always been their first, there to dab the eye when they mourned the victims of their own lunacy. The sun was progress like the new invention, but while daylight was a temporary cure, Igor’s proudest medical finding was a permanent one. The public did not know whether or not werewolfism could be reversed (to call it a “cure” was outdated terminology), but the madness that came with moonbeams was the true plague, and had been eradicated.
The sun did not reserve itself for the glimmering city alone. It shone alike on tower and sewer, and it is on a stretch of the latter’s murky water, passing overground for an unattractive stretch and made almost pretty by yellow rays, that we turn our attention.
Roving between the rapids that were NYDC’s discard, on a river of every color and substance, frequently drenched in the refuse, and wielding tiny makeshift oars which were really popsicle sticks, were tiny Dracula and Alice on their tiny raft. The former had bound himself from head to foot in black bandages to save him from the sun, which showered werewolves with tenderness but showed most vampires only enmity. The bindings did not save him from the horrible garbage smell, though.
Fortunately, their raft came ashore under a humble bridge made of holosteel, a material which could never be dirtied and, when there was any light at all, contently twinkled diamundy. This gave them shelter as they nibbled portions of the “EAT ME” cakes and shot up to normal height. The raft and oars they left to drift on with the other trash.
Now Dracula ripped the bandages away and cast them into a briefcase which Alice had brought here, ‘fed,’ and made to grow. Under his wrappings were civilian clothes befitting a tourist: Walter’s sneaks, custom jean shorts, and a floral shirt vaguely suggestive of island sojourns. Similarly, Alice tossed her nasty longcoat away, along with her army fatigues, underneath which was as bland a shirt-and-pants combo as can be imagined.
For the brief moment during which Alice removed her shades to clean them, Dracula looked her in the eyes and thanked her. The holosteel walls were like a jewelly cavern, winking.
She tossed him a mini-moon, delicately white, and it jumped into orbit beside his brow. He began to jog in place, accelerating the werewolf power. Then Alice gave herself a moon, and in an instant her human self was gone.
While he exercised, she said, “Remember: until we hit the Brown House tomorrow, nobody can know who we are. Out here we whisper, always. And try your absolute darnedest not to speak to others.”
Though these tips repeated what he had long known and practiced, Dracula thanked her again.
Now that both were lupine, it was clear that they still smelled like pits of wet nasty garbage. No problem; Alice set a perfume bottle on the grass, poured some “DRINK ME” into it, and a moment before it grew she said, “Hop in.”
Dracula is not the only teller of tales around here. Not long before, Alice had shared with him the history of their next teammate, but, as she can be kind of a bland storyteller, I take it upon myself to share it now in her stead.
Have you heard of Project Rainbow, also known as the Philadelphia Experiment? If so, I am not sure whether to be pleasantly charmed by your broad breadth of historical knowledge, or tearfully empathetic, for you know something of war and woe. During World War II, American military personnel decided that if they could perfect cloaking technology, hiding their ships from all manner of detection, they would take a giant leap toward ending the fight. Such was the goal of Project Rainbow.
The cloaking technology was tested on a single warship off the coast of Virginia, resulting in the ship’s complete and utter disappearance, and its subsequent reappearance near Philadelphia. By some marvelous accident of technological imperfection, it had teleported hundreds of miles away! Not only that; during the event, many of the crewmates aboard found themselves able to walk through walls, equipment, anything at all, as if it were thin air!
Tragically, as a result of walking wantonly through walls, many of these people became stuck inside as the ship and its people re-became corporeal. One man, however, fell off-deck into the ocean.
Even such a one as Dracula shuddered to think who this sad son of a scientific gaffe might possibly be. An oceanic specter, walking through water and walls with equal ease? Some hybrid creature in the Chthonian mold? Or possibly something with jaws? A shark, mayhaps?
Put yourself in the shoes of a werewolf trickster, a trespasser who has come after hours to the most impressive zoo on Earth. You have come to the edge of a tank, you kneel, and the mini-moon sets a light into the tide. There is a predator lurking underneath, he smells you, but he does not hunger for your flesh...
When he looks up at you, he sees it: the graphic on your t-shirt, the promise, illusive, of a burger. The graphic is a post-ironic statement on the American dream, but he knows little beyond war and hunger.
You are not long for this planet now. The predator races like a submarine missile with his eponymous jaws spread wide. His mighty back fin cuts the waters, and thrashing just as furiously come his human legs…
There was something about the sea animal trainer at the Supranational Zoo. Dracula could tell that immediately, even from such a great distance, from his spot among this anxious crowd of quotidian werewolves. This despite the fact that the trainer herself was a werewolf, outwardly identical to the rest. He knew it would be suspicious to watch her, so he focused, as well as he could, on the pool of water she idled next to. They had five minutes before the delightfully named “New York D-‘Sea’ Ultramarine Fun-in-the-Sun Rockin’ Sea Bash” began; the trainer examined her bucket of fish.
He was glad to have a confidante. “That werewolf is not training mindless drones,” he whispered to Alice. They had added floppy sun hats to their outfits, which helped, a bit, to shield Dracula from the sun. “These so-called creatures, pent up in their tank—these are people! How can I not have known this was happening in the world capital?””
“Had you heard of this zoo?” asked Alice.
“Yes, of course.”
“What did you think they kept here?”
He thought this question over. Having traveled directly from the sea to sewer pipes and then to backways in the zoo’s underground tunnels, and up a stairwell to merge into this crowd, he had no sense whatever of how the zoo actually looked. Finally, he coughed out a laugh. “Is this a trick question?” he said. “They keep nothing but the most exotic creatures they can get their hands on.”
“Correction: nothing but the most exotic and dangerous animals they can get their hands on. That’s the real reason why Jaw and countless other cryptids are imprisoned here.”
Dracula huffed. “’Keep your friends close and your enemies closer’ indeed.”
“But look in the water.”
He raised his head above shoulders to peer in with his special eyes. He expected to see Jaw, that very striking great white shark. During Project Rainbow, a shark and a soldier fused into one…and developed other strange secrets and powers. At the very least Dracula expected the distinctive doughboy helmet that, according to Alice, crowned his head to the present day, a constant companion in front of his dorsal fin.
But all he saw was that trainer kneeling to feed a hairy man in the water. A wolfman.
A snarl of disgust overcame Dracula! He struggled to keep his complaints to whispers. “Werewolves coming in droves to see werewolves! So this is how much they hate us—hate to look at us—how much they hate anyone not like them!” He hissed to Alice, “No offense!”
“Oh, I understand,” she said. “They refused to look at me, too, until I gave in to the treatment. It’s most illogical, until you get into studying modern werewolf psychology. I have some good books on that, if you’re interested.”
“I would rather endure your fifty-seventh Wonderland chronicle.”
She shrugged as if to say ‘suit yourself.’ “In any case, what’s important to note is that that’s not any old wolf. That’s Jaw.”
He blinked again.
“See that doughboy helmet?”
“You are serious,” he said.
And she was.
Quite a change—a strange change to us, but a natural one to the 31st-century werewolves who witnessed it—had swept the planet’s biggest cities about twenty years prior to Dracula and Alice’s day at the zoo. Werewolves, ever more disgusted with non-wolvian forms, had started to shun animals. The goose, the rat, the giraffe, the python, and even the startlingly werewolf-like dog and its ilk—their endlessly diverse shapes all had to go. And they did go, city by city, town by town. Soon, it was hoped, when vaccine production and finances allowed, the beasts of the wilderness would be made just as lycanthropine.
All the animals here were werewolves.
Dracula was overcome by this revelation—shell-shocked. The last vestige of color would have drained from his face, were he not himself a wolf. (Which fact in itself was now mortifying.) “So the werewolf from a minute ago who tried to suck my arm…”
“That was a mosquito,” Alice answered, deadpan.
Dracula was scared. He could not believe he was scared! He, the Count, the king of the night, former tyrant of terror? Scared by the multiplication of pups? What a joke, he would have said moments before! Not on your life, he’d have jeered to the jester!
But he had underestimated the human ego.
He snapped, “Put my mind on something else.”
“Okay. How about the trainer?”
Yes! Good choice! The trainer, guzzied up in an old-fashioned striped swimsuit. There was some strength and royalty about her, as if she believed the world was hers—as if the world agreed.
“Which one? The voice on the other end of your wristmmunicator, or…“
“They’re the same person.”
Another shock! “All the same!” he breathed. “That is Helen? The Helen? The First Lady, reduced first to your operator, and then to feeding fish? That is, reduced to feeding our fellow creature-men, who in her eyes are merely fish?”
“The way she sees it, it’s not reducing herself at all,” informed Alice. “The First Lady likes to have her hands in every level of this city. Everything she does seems to be what she wants to do, and is a hit with everyone, young and old, rich and poor. Once she toured with a traveling circus—didn’t you hear?—just because she wanted to do it. Igor didn’t mind. (It helped that circus profits in any given area had a direct, positive correlation to his approval rating that month.)”
“And she is not our next teammate?”
“Not at all. She’s too loyal to Igor and to the city.”
Dracula nodded in acceptance. “It is said,” he recalled, “that Helen is ‘the strongest werewolfwoman in the world.’ Any truth to this?”
But Alice was surprised. “I’ve never heard that. Sure, she works out, but the strongest?”
“Perhaps the only strong thing about her,” Dracula said loftily, “is her approval rating.”
Far ahead, First Lady Helen rose with a fish in her hand. Jaw the wolf-man, totally average (if naked), leaped from the waters to snap it up. Dracula’s heart went out to him—not just to him as a shark transformed, but as a man transformed. A man who had liked hamburgers…who missed them so much that, as Alice had recounted, he devoured an innocent in an attempt to eat the mirage on their t-shirt.
He and Alice had agreed, however, not to free him yet. They were here to stake out the place, nothing more. Yet the cogs did whirl in Dracula’s wizened head, and they scraped against the bedrock of limited patience. They had only one day left, after all…
When the two of them separated, shuffling through the crowd to stand at the far left and far right of the audience, the cogs only turned quicker, the smoke of thought driven by unstoppable sympathy rising. He could not help but conceive a plan!
Shark, hamburger. Shark, hamburger.
“Hamburgers!” cried a convenient voice not two feet away. A werewolf vendor, cart-bound, peddling edibles. “Hambu- I mean, WOLFBURGERS! Get yer wolfburgers here!”
Now the plan began to sizzle!
Barely a second later, First Lady Helen corralled the crowd’s attention. “Wolfladies, werewolfgentlemen, and all other werewolf parties,” she announced, “I now present our city’s finest attraction: the ‘New York D-‘Sea’ Ultramarine Fun-in-the-Sun Rockin’ Sea Bash!’ Starring the Loch Ness Monster!” She held a hula hoop before her; a dutiful werewolf bounced out of the water and arced through it. The audience whooped! “And Jaw.”
“I could do that,” said one wolf to his wife, “but I’m still impressed because it’s the Loch Ness Monster.”
Ah, so Jaw was an accessory to the star attraction, as were Big Samuel the killer whale, Dorcus the blue whale, and that charming pink dolphin of the Amazon, Silly Martha. As these animals performed flips under Helen’s guiding hand and the guise of wet werewolves, Dracula whispered an apology under his breath, to Alice, for breaking from the plan to watch and wait; as it turned out, the possible double agent nervous to disprove her double agentness was not the first to violate the trust between them. Then he snapped his fingers and went invisible.
“Wolfburgers!” howled the burgermeister. “Get yer—aroo?” One of his burger bags opened and its sammich drifted out, evidently of its own accord. But it was all Dracula’s accord, for the mist could move light objects. “Hey!” screeched the vendor at this invisible hand of commerce. “At least leave a tip, ya…ya ghostly hooligan!” Luckily, Dracula had the forethought to take ten dollars from his pocket when he transformed, and these he placed on the burger cart; but the dollars, sadly, were invisible, and the good marketeer never saw payment. They also dissolved completely, being mist.
Dracula and the burger wafted high on the wind. He may have been see-through, but the burger, the drippy grease now splashing on some poor tourist’s head, and Jaw’s nostalgia for bygone days were thoroughly opaque.
Helen saw the flying burger and knew it was trouble. She dropped her arms, stood stock-still, and her eyes widened.
“Uhh, everyone? We’re having technical difficul-“
A single head splashed out of the water. A head with a doughboy helmet.
The audience, just as stunned, followed Jaw’s gaze to a burger that was levitating—and rising even higher! How could those commoners have known that what cradled the burger was both a wolfman and the vampire to end all vampires…!?
The mist held that burger proudly, and its Transylvanian voice, undisguised, said, “Yes, my friend, come and get it!”
Screams, like streamers and confetti, popped loose! Firecracker feet, running scared! The crowd tried to disperse, but the crowd got in the crowd’s own way, and none could escape fast enough—they tripped, fell, crawled, stampeded, because Jaw, Jaw like a jet from the water launched straight into Dracula’s meal! No rocket’s red glare, just the grease busting in air, grease pelting the people like a shower of burning truth, as Jaw writhed in the sky, scarfing down the treat long forbidden him. Wolfing it down? No, for he was no wolf in spirit! He was a shark-blooded American in a world where virtue was rare, but—now that Dracula was on the case—well-done!
Incredibly, the shark, with no help from Dracula, remained airborne and nearly stationary beyond his not-blood-but-burgerthirsty thrashing. Project Rainbow had given him a power of ghostly flight!
Then—an odd sound; a sound like a flying disc cast away. But neither dog nor shark would dare chase this. Dracula’s mist, manifesting all its strength, had just bopped Jaw’s moon out of orbit and into the tank below.
Another wave of whoops surged from the crowd beneath as Jaw’s former form came to light. He was a whopping great white, large even for his species. The terror he engendered was not even diminished by the dangling human legs which protruded from his stomach and threatened to tear through that tender flesh, and evoked images of children’s footy pyjamas.
Now Dracula made himself known, in case his voice was not warning enough. A crowd of bats had been flying toward the zoo for about a minute now, summoned who-knew-how and from who-knew-where by the power of their master. When he became corporeal, these minions were there to anchor him in sky, their teeth and claws biting his cape, their fluttering wings some protection against the burning sun. Then a second mini-moon was gone—Dracula’s own, which he pocketed swiftly. Werewolf no longer.
He was officially face-to-snout with a beast five times his size. And he was not intimidated in the slightest. In fact, he maintained a benevolent smile, and manners rivalling the greatest of all sea animal trainers.
“I am not your captor,” he assured with a light touch on Jaw’s nose. Now he felt Jaw’s trembling—a fierce tremble. Fury, child of fear. “Stay calm and I will take you away from here.”
The Count figured that during this escape, Jaw would attempt to kill his captors or even the blameless zoogoing guests. Never did it occur to him that Jaw might direct any rage toward his savior.
The truth is, Jaw’s rage in that meeting was aimless. He wanted to open his mouth and blast rainbow-powered spectral lasers at the world, and once the burger was gone, Dracula simply happened to be the first part of that world in his path.
Imagine that a lightning bolt like a thin white sun is blaring through your face. Now imagine that you are a vampire. I will not ask any more of you, for to force others to conceive the pain Dracula suffered—physical and psychical—ought to be a crime.
He got such a wild sunburn.
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