12. LE REVENANT: The Queen of Hearts

“These monsters, these weaknesses, this stake-stopping papyrus…none of it…”
“…Makes any sense?”

Success! Adam, having crawled into the raging hearth, was being ravaged by fire! Now this was a horror movie!

“But you forget, dear Alice,” said Dracula, who himself was mere inches from the same hearth, only prevented from entering by the space Adam’s body took up. Which fact was very painful for him, for if he had access to the rice in said hearth, he would have counted far better. “Adam is a man of the sun! Indeed, the one thing in this world that cannot extinguish him is fire!”

“It still hurts,” said Adam. “But that is okay.”

“Well, that’s maddening,” huffed Alice, still wringing out soaked clothes. “But try this.”

She took a few rice granulets from the floor and tossed them on Dracula’s back. Adam reached for them with a volcanic hand! By the time Dracula twisted in a vain attempt to count the rice himself, his cape flared, the fire quickly spreading. Then the inferno consumed Dracula too. “YEOWCH!” he cried.

Adam began to sob, his tears instantaneously drying up. “Dracula, no!”

The senior vampire crumbled! Only partially; still, seeing him covered in a fine but growing cover of dust-that-was-not-dust was not heartening for Adam. Dracula fell to his side in agony, teeth gritted. Flopping about in the ash, he screeched between lurches of inconceivable pain, “Hurts…so…much…but…still…only…turns me to ash…which……..regenerates!”

“Phew!” said Adam, and though he remained greatly upset, the rice still had him in a swoon. “Twenty-five, twenty-six, twenty-seven.”

Alice knew Dracula’s claim to be true; she’d read his book, after all. For as terrifically awful as the vampires’ pain was, especially commingled with their depressing efforts to count all that darn rice, both seemed oddly exultant. That was why Alice could hardly bear to watch.

“Well, bother it all!” she cursed. With a sturdy boot she kicked Dracula’s shin. Unfortunately for her, the flame helped itself to her boot. She shook off the fire and cursed again. “I suppose I’ll have to wait for the—”

“Shears arriving,” said Helen from her wrist.

“You’re still on?” said Alice. “The ‘mmunicator didn’t short?”

“It’s waterproof.”

“Oh, right, it’s future technology, splendid.”

With a contemptuous eye toward Dracula she said, “I forgot for a moment that our world runs on logic. But these monsters, these weaknesses, this stake-stopping papyrus…none of it…”

“…Makes any sense?” Dracula, flaming head bent even now to the rice, snickered. “Of course not. Us ‘monsters,’ as you love to categorize us, do not find ourselves tethered to the rules of sense you so fancy, Ms. Liddell. We dwell in a realm beyond your wildest travels.”

This struck a nerve. “Shut your mouth, Dracula!” she fumed. “I bet you’ve never even been to Wonderland! You’re too soft for it! I’ve taken down demons darker than your deepest night terrors so I could face a brighter day. I won’t let you ruin the earth’s chance of eternal happiness, I won’t!”

“I am sorry,” he said gently, “but do speak up, for I am in the middle of counting this rice.”

“Oh, go to where I was!”

Forthwith, and with a glassy crash, a pair of silver gardening shears exploded through the castle window and tumbled in via the stairs. Jagged and banged-up they were, thanks to the fall. Still, Alice took what she got, and with the girthy shears clenched in her hands, she zoomed up close to the infernal Count!

Locking the shears into a single stakelike point, she thrust them into his yet-blazing back—a moment too late, for Dracula, with amazing batlike reflexes, grabbed the point, whipped it and her over his head, spun them around five times, and then flung them into the four empty soup cans. Alice hurtled through the tin, banged into the back of a chair, rolled up that chair, slid across the table, hurtled off, banged gonglike against a suit of armor, and then was collapsed on by said suit of armor. The shears dropped beside her.

“Temper, temper,” advised Dracula without even a glance her way. “You cannot give into rage in battle unless you are channeling it into the finishing strike. You tried, but, ha…better luck next time, yes? I do apologize for the mess and the condescension, but while you are one of the oldest werewolves, I far out-age every one of your kin and carry experience from wars you have never even read about. From before I even became a vampire.

“Now, if you will excuse me, I must count rice. Counting. It’s what I do.”

Supreme Commander and Head of Defense Alice Liddell, flustered, embarrassed by a fish and a cat and old dudes with a pathetic ricey weakness, felt like leaping right out of the mouth of the bat. But in her mind she told herself, “Stay put and think, for goodness’ sake!”

“…Helen,” she said into her wrist, sounding uncertain at last, “bring down some cages, would you?”

But a band of wolves—wild forest four-legs wolves, led by their alpha male—stormed the dining hall, their numbers and growling hum as overwhelming as a biker gang! Leaving Dracula, his friend Adam, and his trusty table unharmed, Dracula’s wolf armada knocked the armor off of Alice before stomping all over her battered form. She moaned as if leaking ooze.

As the children of the night settled and left Alice a clearing, Dracula nonchalantly said, “Oh yes, I thought I sensed the wolf room being opened.”

Alice’s outrage was kindled afresh when, looking up from the floor, she saw two riders on the back of the alpha male (he was two times larger than the head of the pack, and wearing an eyepatch). It was Robert and Trials! Fish and cats, riding together! “You two?” she gasped.

“We’ve had much worse than laser blasts in our time,” Trials boasted. “Like, burn much?”

“Ha! I got shot with at least three harpoons in my day!” riled Robert.

“But…but Wonderland.”

“The first trip’s not so tough,” he said. “I quite enjoyed turning into a pig wearing a bonnet.”

“And it was fun to see a world of fellow weirdos, right?” told Trials.

“Right you are.”

“What was that?” cried Adam. “I cannot understand, as I am watching rice currently, and I find it consumes my attention.”

Not to mention the flame consuming his body! Trials, shocked by the sight of the frying oldsters, used her Water Daughter Otter spell to splash the flames away. As the fire was splattered out of existence, Dracula’s ashes happily regrouped, congealing into undead flesh and fermenting blood. Though the Count remained weak due to the dining room’s continuing status as a box of afternoon sun, his suffering had been cut in half. He buried himself in a blanket made possible by the Blanket Trainkit Anklet spell.

As our two favorite fiends sighed in drippy relief, Alice, dirtied and trampled, lay in dry desperation. It was not hard for her to think of near-future plans. Given enough hours of scrimming and scrumbling about this castle labyrinthine, Alice had a fair chance of subduing everyone in this room. Countless rational thoughts sprang to life— “just take them all out,” “consider the odds,” “don’t you dare let yourself be overwhelmed” —and yet Alice remained on the floor like a deboned cod, her mouth open while her eyes stared up. What so captivated her, and left her gaping, was the unbearable sight of a companionable Robert and Trials! A lively pair who, not long before, had been at each others’ throats!

Friendship! What sweet alchemy?

Her heart stopped a moment…and then revved on as it never had before. It buzzed, then bellowed! Its engines worked with a speed and intensity unmatched by any other moment in her life. It was filled with a thought. “A thought?” I hear you ask, perplexed. “Does a heart think?” Of course! It thinks of, and hopes for, the only thought it can: love—!

It was illogical, simply irrational—revolutionary! That strangeness, that fremditude, is what made its impact crater-deep, for only an idea counter to our long-held truths can change us from within. While her heart hoped and rejoiced, her mind thought of loneliness which stretched for all her years. She had planned to live alone despite the pain, for loneliness was a puzzle which could not be solved by earthly logic. And Helen could not do it, no matter how many coffees she hand-delivered to Alice’s cubicle. The Brown House could not do it; puzzles are not solved by their pieces.

Alice stood up in a flash. “Somebody please get me a mop.”

A wolf ruffed, “Arrrn?”

“Right away, Alice,” said Helen, which would be odd in hindsight, since Alice was about to betray the World Government to which both she and Helen had sworn loyalty, and since it also begged the question of why the silver shears had taken so much longer.

The mop trundled down the stairs—and in the same moment, Alice cast her wristmmunicator into the flames, where its zero-waste polymers cracked apart and dematerialized.

Alice, moving delicately through the sea of quadrupedal wolves, mopped up all the rice. She dumped it into Dracula’s fifteenth-century vintage garbage vase. Dracula griped, “Hey, I was counting that.”

“I surrender!” she announced, and she hurtled into a speech for monster-friend candidacy. As she spoke, facts and pseudofacts and reasons aligned with a thirst for love, surrounding her like a kind of armor.

“I simply do not have the power, nor the tactics, to defeat your group. You are all simply too experienced and gifted. Rather, I see you all succeeding in your journey. Instead of fighting against the changes you’re attempting, I have decided to aid you on your quest so you can bring them about more efficiently.”

She plucked her golden moon from the atmosphere that was her head, and chucked it in the garbage vase. Dewerewolfinized, metamorphosized.

“Even after finding a home in this werewolf world we all live in today, I still harbor feelings for the human world we left behind. I know that you yearn for the old planet Earth, and your old hometowns, just as I do. Together, I truly believe we can return our world to normalcy.

“I, Alice Liddell, will give to you my wondrous skills, in warfare as well as espionage, to make your coup against the government a success. As a bonus gift, to replace the manpower I so callously wiped out in South Africa, I will share secret intel on another being who, I am convinced, has the same wish for a bygone Earth, and will make a fine ally.”

Dracula came to his feet and stroked his chin. “I hate to inform you that my original goal was to simply prevent the spread of werewolfism from leaving this world,” he explained. “Bbbuuuuut…”

Adam took him by the arm. “Dracula, please! Make a place for her. Be thy heart a stone? Or the brain a scone? With her, we can make our dreams come true—without her, only alien dreams.”

Robert took him by the other arm. “Dracula, please! We can’t take her. When it comes down to it, she’s still the enemy. I’m sure there’s not a single skill of hers that we don’t have ourselves.”

Trials was still standing on the alpha wolf’s back; he was slurping up rice water from the garbage vase. She suddenly felt the room’s attention on her. “I’m not feelin’ it. Too bitter, especially her jokes.”

“Good humor does not equal a good heart,” said Adam, and Trials knew this to be true, for Adam’s own sense of humor was lacking. “The way I see it, our prime option is clear!” he cried with a hand outstretched. “She is a friend in need. Dracula, did you yourself not call her the most pitiful creature of all?”

Dracula tilted his head. “Wwweeeeell…”

As Alice awaited their decision, a wolf approached to lick her fingers with a friendly lap! Adam and Dracula saw this with growing smiles.

Robert looked on with stony disapproval, as if seeking to deny his children their coveted Christmas puppy. “But that’s not proof of anything,” he said, “quit losing your heads!”

Trials sauntered into place beside him, taking a seat. “Looks like we got a new monster on our side,” she said; she might have added a “tsk, tsk.”

“Two monsters, you mean,” said Alice. “I’ll introduce you to Jaw, the Monster Shark of Philadelphia.”

Dracula met the news with a gregarious grin. “I like him already.”

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