10. LE REVENANT: The Siege of Rice

The Count cleared his throat to say, “Thank you…but at this moment, I seek no compliments, no…embraces, no condolences, no…reassurances. I seek to move forward. But first, I seek a meal.”

No longer was it chilly without. Only within.

Sad is the heart that beats without blood, churning nothing but the open air. Sad too is the body so emptied; though its parts may be capable, it sits, as it must, in stasis, waiting for the eventual rot. Yes, an injured arm can be patched up, but when blood stops its flow, stops racing through the brain, what shall that arm do?

How long would Dracula stay sleeping? His slumber was, by all rights, his reward, but there remained a twiddling doubt in Robert’s mind, a worry that he would remain in slumber or at least in depression, that he might never again be able to move them on.

These past few hours, after a rest of his own in the medical bay, Robert had put himself to as good a use as could be put to; with Adam’s help, he had organized the captain’s quarters. It was a simple affair, now that Bistritz was on cruise control above meadowlike clouds. When it was done, bookish cabinets flanked the room coolly, and Robert decided to bring Adam to the wheel for an educational moment.

“Now, son,” he said (here meaning “son of Frankenstein”), “you, know, how, steer, if, anything, go, wrong.”

“Oh, this is nothing,” said Adam buoyantly. “This is a wheel in the old style.”

“Let’s, learn, again, anyway.”

The refresher was unnecessary but, truth be told, both Robert and Adam were glad for it; this mundane business distracted them from recent grief, the body of a man.

When Dracula padded up the steps, he dragged himself, not with an elderly stagger but with the languor of a child half-awake in the middle of the night—this despite having slept for a full fourteen hours. The man was clearly deflated, paler than before, with widening wrinkles and a hunch to match Igor’s old look. At least he was wearing the sporty sneakers he’d been saddled with, which gave him a sort of ‘foxy grandpa’ look.

When he came, no one heard him; when he moaned “good eventide” whilst wiping one eye, Robert and Adam turned with a jolt. The initial fear and startlation passed; both rushed to his sides, eager to help him—or distract him—whichever was needed.

Adam, despite his continued insomnia, was all smiles and energy: “Sir! Count Dracula! You are looking fairly well this night. But you should not be here, piloting the bat—we have taken care of that—”

But Robert calmly rested a hand on Adam’s shoulder, and quieted him.

Indeed, Adam had failed to enliven the Count, who cleared his throat to say, “Thank you, thank you both…but at this moment, I seek no compliments, no…embraces, no condolences, no…reassurances. I seek to move forward. But first, I seek a meal.”

“Meal!” said Robert. “Trials, taking, care, of, that.”

Dracula’s eyes twitched wider. “She is?”

Robert pointed down the stairwell, toward the dining room. “Maybe, didn’t, see, dining, table.”

They downstepped, and the entire room was dark, uncheered by the hearth that had blazed for former meals. Everything here was a cold, deep blue, unwelcoming as bogland peat, and the armor on the walls shone a little with the eerie dreg of moonlight dripping through the captain’s window. They felt they did not need to come closer to the table to know that there was nothing on top.

Next to the stairway was a little cat bed containing a little cat, comfortably curled. Robert woke her up; though he considered nudging her with his foot, he ended up squatting to jostle her little cat shoulder. She yawned back to life, stretched lethargically, and asked, with a yet-sleepy mouth that seemed half glued together, “Whaddaya…?”

“Trials,” said Robert with efforts at patience, “any, food, for, Dracula?”

The whiskered old crone stood up, only to stretch, arching her front half down again. How self-indulgent, Robert thought. “Oh. Right. I picked out some canned soup from Drac’s pantry.”

“Canned, soup. That, really, all, you, did.”

“Well, I did set it out on the table.”

“’Tis true,” Adam called out; having circled the table, he could confirm that, while not lavish, it was by no means empty, harboring, as it did, four cans. Even Robert noted the faint glow of Adam’s eyes as he looked out from Dracula’s eat-place.

“I was gonna do more when Drac woke up. Look, Rob, didja really want me to warm up food immediately and then have it lying there for ages?”

“Trials, that, not, point. Dracula, woke, up, while, you, sleeping.”

“It was a catnap!”

“Where, your, hospitality?”

“And,” added Adam, “would it not have been grand if you magic’d up food?”

But Dracula stopped this vocal crossfire, his pale hand risen like a white flag. “I beseech you, give it a rest. Trials has done what you asked of her, Robert; actually, I am not sure it is fair to ask any more of any of you. But more on that as we nosh.”

Dutifully, Adam stoked the hearth. It was decided, tacitly, that the soup would not be warmed in the kitchen, but heated up on the spot. They balanced their soup cans on the ends of cast-iron fireplace utensils, with Adam doing double-duty, holding soup for Trials. Thus they crowded around the fire, all criss-crossed except for the cat.

For the first time, Trials noted Dracula’s trendy sneaks. “Goin’ for a night out, Drac?”

“I may not look my best at current,” Dracula acknowledged, the fire doing its level best to add strength to his features, “and this is only our first major setback in the face of many to come. I cannot move backward, but I also cannot force all three of you to fall headlong into death, as Walter Whipple unfortunately did, due to my own selfish desires. I will have you know I harbor no intention of letting anyone else expire in my care. All of you are permitted to leave this mission if ever and whenever you desire, even at this very moment.”

With his free hand, in nimble fingers, he flashed two objects from his handy cloak: a vial of the remains of Alice’s moon, mingled powder-gold and lune-dust, and a vial filled with brownish blood approaching the color of shag carpet. “I will give money generously, and even administer the werewolf serum, should any of you want to fit in for the first time in your lives.”

Adam had no wish for riches; for him, ‘twas the shag that captivated. Here came the vision of him—even him!—walking among the common folk, learning their manners to hide his lesser nature! Words leapt to his throat, and three letters, grabbing his tongue, launched themselves to the forefront of his mouth! Reader, you may think you know what those three letters were, as did Adam: “I do.” But what he actually said will surprise you and him both.

He blurted out, “Why…?”

The fire sizzled, giving the metal lacquer of their soup cans a nice browning shell, letting labels flake and fall in the ash like leaves.

“Why should I want to join the society that just killed our virtuous friend? Again and again I have borne witness to the depths that werehumanity will reach…starting even with my entrance into this world, I daresay, my attempted apprehension without explanation.” What he left unspoken was the cowardice he sensed within himself—for he had wanted to fade into that crowd, turning complacent and complicit.

He turned to Dracula now. “My heroic host,” he said, “I will stay by your side until the end.”

“The end, you say,” his host replied. “By which you mean, for the next three days.”

“That, soon, huh,” Robert say-ask-repeated. Squinting at his can, he pulled it from the flames. The two vampires followed suit, for their cans were all covered in a satisfying black crunch. “Me, get, can, opener.”

“No need,” said Dracula; he was scraping a fireplace shovel along his can’s lid.

Soon all soups had been oped, all long utensils set to the side and all short spoons in hand. The group remained sitting around the fire with their cans on the carpet. It fostered something to eat this close together, as if they all were the couple, in their younger days, from Citizen Kane. But it brought out something else too, something like claws, and it is easy to lash out with such proximity.

“So Drac,” said Trials, “you said we could get out anytime, even this very moment.”

Dracula sipped a spoon of low-sodium condensed blood. “That is correct.”

“Are you kitten me? We’re ten thousand feet in the air. If I got out right now, even I couldn’t land on my feet.”

Robert cast his spoon roughly into his soup, and the can toppled and spilled! “Oh, hush, up,” Robert growled. “Don’t, you, know, Dracula, being, serious? This, not, time, for, jokes!”

“Uh, excuse me, I, was, being, totally, serious, ahuh-huh-huh,” Trials fired back in mocking gasps. “You still aren’t smart enough to put together complete sentences, but at least I have enough brains to know when to bow out. This whole trip became a huge drag once that old fart died. I’d rather go back to my nice safe Stonehenge and keep watching the moon disappear for good than stay and watch a bunch of old Halloween costumes get beaten up by wolves.”

“I, had, up, here, with, you,” Robert griped, miming how high up he had had it with her by putting his hand up pretty high. “Best, flaky, cat, like, you, leave, early. We, never, possibly, work, together, well!”

“At least we can agree on that, fish-face.”

Adam begged them, “Why, oh why, can we not all simply getteth alongeth, ye travelers?”

“Oh, can it,” she said, and he did, sadly sipping soupy supper. “Who do ya think you are, anyway? Shakeyspeare?”

“That is enough bickering,” Dracula hushed, though sounding feeble. “Trials, I understand and respect your decision. Robert and Adam, please do the same. I shall set a course directly for Stonehenge and drop you off there, my furry friend.”

The entire cast and crew sighed a lethargic air out from their chests, and Dracula moved to take the wheel in its new direction.

Robert shook his head. “Don’t, see, how, we, save, aliens, just, three, people.”

“Not my prob anymore, Bob,” said Trials.

“We will cook up a way to accomplish our feat, to be certain,” Adam assured, gulping a gob. “What far more consumes me, as I consume this consommé, is: how ever could those werewolves in South Africa give Bistritz such leave without even attempting to attach him to the ground, take him into official custody, or even at the very least drape an overlarge tarp over him to ensnare him?”

“That danger has passed, and those fears are of no consequence anymore,” said Dracula from the pilot’s deck, hollering mellowly down the stairs. Though he found that the wheel was caught and stuck somehow, no worry was conveyed in his voice. “I assure you, Robert, more allies can be found… Oh dear. This is the cause of the steering-wheel snag. It appears someone has put a bicycle lock on the wheel. No wonder I cannot adjust it.” Indeed the wheel was locked in place; the chain was hot pink. “Did one of you affix this lock and forget to tell me?”

“Hmm, curious,” Adam said, sipping more soup. Then he fell backward, his meteoric soup can flying, and he tumbled into a violent coughing fit! His eyes bulged and his skin was turning a tomato-like shade of red (possibly beet-red, but definitely some sort of vegetable color). After a moment’s raging, he spat up an entire clove of garlic!

He spluppered, “Oh Trials, did you accidentally put a garlic in my soup?”

“But,” Dracula revealed, “I do not keep garlic in my kitchen.”

“But,” Alice revealed, “I do.”

A door next to the hearth swung open. She had been standing behind it the entire time. Alice removed her edgy sunglasses (for only then could she see) and hung them on the neck of a secret agent trademark: the black overcoat. Her human, unharmed, fair-skinned human face placed her age around thirty-five. Blond human hair extended to her shoulder blades, tied back with a red ribbon. With so many recognizable character design elements, it was more a wonder than ever why she usually kept the werewolf on.

Her wristmmunicator, its speaker and microphone cranked up hyper-high, not only picked up everything Alice heard, but also broadcast words from the World Capitol itself. But not from Igor.

“This is Commander Alice Liddell speaking,” said Alice, raising the ‘mmunicator to her lips just for show. “Everything is in top shape.”

“Woof! I mean, excellent,” said a feminine voice with an odd metal sheen, an imperfection which seemed to betray the limits of even the most spectacular watch technologies.

Every other body in the room went rigid.

The words of Dracula slid down the stairwell like swamp ink: “So Igor’s people are trickier than I thought.” In a flash, the Count himself was back, staring Alice down again. This time his allies and the fireplace sat between them, Trials riled, Robert rising—and Dracula told them, “Stand ready to strike, my friends, but make way.”

“H-hack…cough!” bluttered Adam, who yet wiped garlic from his tongue. His present condition was his own fault, in a way, for Alice had fed him garlic by opening and resealing his soup can. We might still pity him; his era was not familiar with craft glue.

“Here stands the murderer of a sworn friend. This is why I do not tend to associate with the non-vampiric: they’re always coming over uninvited.”

“The only time you’re wasting with your speeches,” Alice said, “is your own.”

Dracula, in one deft and fluid movement, whirled forth and thumped his forehead into Alice’s, eyes swirling in a typhoon of color. She was drinking in the Evil Eye!

But then a beacon lit the room—beacon of death! Just as soon as Dracula used the Eye, he reeled, as if forced to withdraw his blade by the weapon of a different enemy…for the sun had lanced his back! Light streamed through that single window in the pilot’s room, striking him with one long cylinder. Bistritz, his trajectory locked by that unholy bike chain, had broken through to the dawn.

The eyes of the buckling Count lost their tantalizing glamor, and his bodily strength departed with the dark. As he writhed on the carpet, that solar lamp blared across his chest, his face, his terror-stricken eyes.

While he struggled in this state, Alice kneeled and reached into his cloak to pluck out the vial of golden moon. She rose, leaving him as little more than a withered man, re-aging.

As soon as Alice popped open the vial, the gold within surrounded her in a halo. A trace of sunlight was caught in its glint, with a dread arcoiritic effect.  How did the moon gather in this way? It was magnets in the moonstone did the trick! As time crawled by, the halo would clump together again, and the moon would become as it once was.

Alice intoned, “It’s not murder if they’re criminal. It’s execution.”

Through his vast twitches and wormy sweat, Dracula tried, of all things, to boast and banter. Sad display! He stammered with a vibrating smirk, “It ap-p-pears my own powers have been r-r…restricted…”

Robert roared into action, racing toward Alice. “This, not, stand!”

But Alice, with a flick of the wrist and nary a glance, seared his chin with a purple laser blast, sending him almost into the fire, the deep-seated phobia! He crashed onto the brick and thwunked to the floor. Trials pulled away her soup can just in time.

Adam, too smackjawed by the flurry of action to speak (and pinkish from the chokesome garlic), at least could begin to fight back. His mummy wrappings coagulated on his headdress now; two tendrils became false arms, propping Robert up against the wall, and the others moved to strike. Twenty lashes came together in facsimile of meat tenderizer and flew for Alice—hitting nothing but a microwave-ready bag of rice, tossed from Alice’s pocket. Rice, like a white firework, spritzed everywhere on the rugs and castle stone! Trials pulled away her soup can just in time.

Suddenly the tenderizer went slack, and collapsed into piteous paper.

“Curses!” Dracula belted out with a jolt upright, a move as shocking as if from a corpse. Was this a second wind? No…it was something far more curious. “Oh, curses, what a mess,” he continued, crawling to a few grains of the rice. “So…many…grains of…rice. E-excuse me, all, let me count these up. I must know precisely how many grains there are.” By compulsion he picked up the grains, one by one, to arrange in neater piles of ten, all on his hands and knees.

“Oh, rice,” muttered Adam, sounding exhausted. He dragged himself to Dracula’s side to help…help him count rice, that is. Actually, he was making himself a burden, taking some rice from Dracula’s piles to bolster his own.

“Stop that,” Dracula said, and he took some back.

“Hm! That old trick works even better with two vampires,” Alice observed. “I’m a woman who knows all your weaknesses. Call me superstitious if you must, but I have been raised among far stranger beings than you lot!” With hands plunged into her nefarious pockets, she turned to the fish, then the cat reluctant. “Fire for fish, water for cats. Correct?”

The two could not suppress their audible gulps!

Alice lobbed a vial of holy water at Trials, but Robert, diving before her, absorbed the blow, taking it like a succulent. “Ree!” he shouted in his famous wild-boar tone; glass and his body shimmered on the carpet.

“Me-yow!” cried Trials. “Looks like we’re outta here. Transport Blood-Sport Tennis Court!”

Nothing happened.

“Thought, you, could, just, make, up?” said Robert, fish of frustration.

Alice had just unsheathed a flamethrower, a fold-out model which went from pocket size to over-the-shoulder bigness, when a strange twinkle-twinkle sound punctured the room…almost like that puncturing sword of light now hovering inches from Dracula, except this time for the ears. The sound hung in the air. The commander now stood frozen, terror-stricken. Robert and Trials watched her and gulped, but it was a gulp of a different color, one of vigilance.

They heard a coming patter of tiny feet.

Alice stared ahead, at the wall. “They’re here for me,” she whispered.

“Who?” said the metal voice in her wristmmunicator.

She screamed, with a fury beyond anything even the World President had witnessed, “Wonderland!

“Rice,” breathed Adam. Dracula slapped his hand.

“Oh, no,” rasped Robert, shoving himself off the floor, “not, Wonderland!”

“Wonderland!” Trials repeated with some elation, remembering it as the home of a feline relative (Uncle Smiles).

Robert mumbled with rollened eyes, “Maybe, good, you, join.”

Then the patter reached the room: nothing but a tiny squirrel in adorable human clothes, running on two legs. Clearly he was only passing through—in delightful fashion. “I’m late!” he was chirping. “I’m late! Somebody follow me out of curiosity, or to make sure I safely reach my destination! I’m laaate!

Too many times had Alice followed squirrels, rabbits, and similar tardy animals; she well knew that whosoever followed that furry psychopomp would be led to Wonderland, a place of utmost nonsense. No, they did not even need to follow; if the squirrel’s offer had no takers, he would grow tired of the game, his character would change, he would be forceful and devious…as had been experienced by many a soldier in her employ. Treating the squirrel like a lobbed hand grenade, she fled the scene by twirling into a closet.

Trials also knew the dangers, but, evidently, did not mind or care…for when the critter passed by, she was off, kicking up carpet in her wake!

“Oh, you,” Robert moaned, and whatever the opposite of humor may be, it echoed in his voice. He watched her chase the squirrel into the hall, heard the faint beginning of a spell—and then they were gone. And still Alice hid, as if some fallout left by the squirrel needed to die off before she would risk emerging. Ah, well…

Robert knew that Alice was anything but defenseless. Rather than go for a foe he could not beat, he surely needed to pack some heat—or find some other Alice-harming wolfsbane. So Robert, too, disappeared into Bistritz’s depths, only in a direction entirely other. And the vampires remained counting, counting.

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