Illustrations by Nathan Scheck
“It was a dark and stormy night.”
Wilberforce lowered his binoculars wearily, “What was?”
His companion, never taking his eyes from the alleyway before them, merely shrugged.
“In that case, I’m not sure I understand,” Wilberforce winced as he said it. He felt that this particular statement was a bit on the redundant side; it was something he had been pointedly not saying all week.
Again, a shrug, “It felt like it needed to be said.”
Wilberforce sighed to himself; he would like nothing better than to pretend that this exchange, despite all evidence, had not happened. There was still a part of him that wished it could pretend that the person sprawled underneath the eviscerated trash bag beside him was a complete stranger. Unfortunately, Wilberforce was not terribly skilled in the art of self-delusion; the best he could manage was to consider him completely strange, which was close, but not entirely helpful, nor for that matter particularly difficult. Delusions aside, he still had a job to do and Aunt Ophelia would be rather annoyed if he skimped. So he slipped a notepad out of his jeans and jotted down the aforementioned remark and the place and circumstances surrounding it- 1:24 p.m. under trash bags, surveying Sheoletic alleyway. He considered a moment and added, sunny.
Most people got normal jobs over the summer. When his cousin, Nora, had asked after his immediate plans he had written and told her that he needed to help out at home and, therefore would be employmentless. He had neglected to mention that “helping out” would mostly consist of gallivanting about babysitting Herbert Von Schapselhiemer. It wouldn’t be so bad if all he had to do were slouch around holding his hat for him and make sure he never got his hands on any nitroglycerin. But unfortunately, Wilberforce also had to hang on his every word and compile a complete transcript once each little outing was over and spending days hanging on Herbert’s every word tended to do strange things to the brain. It didn’t help that Aunt Ophelia clearly cared more about her charge’s random utterances than whether or not he wandered off and demolished a post office, so while Wilberforce was provided with a generous supply of pencils and note paper, she had never really given him any useful supply or instruction as to how one controls someone like Herbert. He entertained a growing suspicion that part of the reason Herbert had been foisted on him for the summer was that his aunt didn’t actually know herself.
“He’s a self-styled hit man, you two should have fun together,” She had told him. “Just make sure you write down everything he says that does not seem to make immediate sense, it could be important.” Then, as something of an afterthought, “Oh, and don’t let him blow anything up if you can help it.”
This was not terribly surprising though; his aunt had rather an odd relationship to the world at large. For example: when broached on the subject of some public atrocity or other, unless she was paying quite close attention, Ophelia Himmle would come out with something along the lines of “Oh, was it fun, dear?” Wilberforce wasn’t sure which unnerved him most, the way she naturally assumed that atrocities were fun, or that he obviously had a hand in them.
When he had asked her what she meant by “important” his aunt had only shrugged and said it was complicated.
Wilberforce’s musings were cut short by a hesitant shuffling behind them. Glancing round over his shoulder, he found himself looking up at a fairly dirty oldish man. He was wrapped in a fairly dirty oldish flannel shirt and fairly dirty oldish blue jeans; most of the rest of him was hidden behind a fairly dirty beard. He also appeared to have a fairly dirty oldish dead rabbit slung over his shoulder. The area on his head that possessed less than the usual amount of hair was giving Wilberforce a quizzical look.
“Oh great, he’s going to ask me what on earth we’re doing,” he thought desperately, mentally eyeing their asprawl, plastic-wrapped forms. “What am I going to say? It’s not as though I can tell him the truth.” He paused, and found that he was giving the rabbit a thoughtful look. On the other hand, I don’t think anyone has out-weirded a creepy homeless guy before, came an unbidden voice from somewhere in the dark recesses of his skull. Generally, Wilberforce liked to think that his skull was a rather cheerfully well-lit sort of place, but after five days alone with Herbert, he had felt that particular bone structure become recessier. Making up spur-of-the-moment terminology was one of the clear symptoms. He felt an evil smile stretch across the back of his mind.
“Hello,” he said brightly, before the poor man could get a word in edgewise, “my name is Wilberforce and this good fellow in the hat is Herbert Von Schapselhiemer, my aunt’s pet psychopath. We’re here to kill a blender.”
Miles away, canine nostrils flared, searching.
Rupert clutched the old baby monitor in an attempt to stop his finger’s nervous drumming. As far as he could tell the only thing standing between the milling, gangling bodies and him was the scent, and if they failed to pick up the trail they were after, he could easily imagine being devoured. He was not fond of this impression, and wished it would take a hint and stop trying to be so bloody ingratiating.
The scruffy figure simply stood there, gazing benignly down at him. “Blast!” Wilberforce thought desperately, “Now what.”
Persistence and endurance, came the reply, those are the most feared attributes of the creepy people you meet on the street. If you seriously intend to lock weirdness with this man, you’ll have to do much better than a single thrust of your manifest circumstances. Elegant, I grant you, but it would not have stopped even a normal person; they would still be trying to work out the pun at this point.
“First off,” Wilberforce recommenced with dogged cheerfulness, “let me assure you that we are not insane. (Good one.) The device in question has grown more evil than is entirely safe for the general populace and requires termination. (“I thought so.”) This is nothing new, you see, nearly all sources agree that every item designed for the comfort and convenience of the human race possess a disturbing tendency toward antithesis. (I particularly liked the inherent irony.) So really it’s only a matter of time before things get out of hand and your waffle iron starts plotting world domination on top of spreading goop all over your counters and burns all over your hands. (“I thought you might.”) And that is where Herbert here comes in, he spends a vast amount of time bugging and monitoring suspect homes for nefarious activity. (It’s completely what a crazy person would say in the first place, but you said it not because you were crazy but because you needed to sound like you were, but this does not mean you aren’t crazy; because you are. It’s something like applicability cubed.) Precisely how he can tell is still a bit beyond me, to tell the truth; I only started helping out this summer. (“I am not crazy”.) I am,” Wilberforce rummaged hurriedly through his memories, trying to find the term he had made up last week whilst being remarkably bored, “the Undersecretary to the Office of Avatar Affairs; my aunt gave me this position. (If you don’t mind my saying so, you are currently holding two separate and simultaneous conversations between two people, one of which has yet to open his mouth.) I mostly follow him around and take notes for her; she is a bit strange I must admit.”
One beast prowled over toward Rupert, but only sniffed at the monitor again as if to double-check the smell. It executed a sharp turn and paid a large dumpster particular attention for a time. A growl rose into the realm of audible sound from somewhere just forward of its hips, ambling good-naturedly toward the creature’s throat. Rupert relaxed slightly. The pack began to move.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Wilberforce continued, slurring slightly from his upturned milk crate of a seat, “the whole unseen-sentinel-protecting-humanity-from-evils-unimagined thing doesn’t really bother me much; let’s face it, everyone wants to do that at one point or another in their lives,” He took another swig from his bottled water, swaying a bit. “I’ve never really understood the people who get all mopey because they have superpowers and sneak out at night to fight ghosts, or vampires, or –I don’t know- bicycle repair men,” he muttered almost more to himself than the man sitting politely on the crate opposite him. To own the truth, Wilberforce was growing a touch worried. Faking drunkenness on the spur of the moment was something Herbert would do. In fact, he could not recall Herbert ever drinking, but he could remember several instances where he had become intoxicated when the aesthetics of the moment seemed to warrant it. (That last being a point of opinion, there was nothing aesthetic about Herbert von Schnapsleheimer being drunk, genuinely or otherwise.) “I mean, so what if people don’t understand you, you traipse about killing monsters in your pajamas! I call that quite adequate compensation!
So, you would think this would be perfect way to spend a summer, but it isn’t. Sure we are guardians against the forces of evil, but what are we really doing? He sits in a corner for hours on end listening to baby monitors, and I sit in an adjacent corner writing down every little thing he mutters. And when the time comes to finally go out and do something we break into some poor blighter’s house, steal their crock-pot, and smash it with bricks. And that’s it! How, I ask you, can you go about your day to day lives feeling secretly superior to the world if you are nothing but a cat burglar crossed with an appliance repair man crossed with a horse doctor!?”
Wilberforce realized he had been ranting, took another swig of water and continued more calmly, “But all of this isn’t nearly as bad as my first outing with Herbert here, that’s when things got about as horrible as they could possibly get.”
He didn’t know why he was telling all of this to the bearded effigy before him. Usually Wilberforce tried to forget about that night as best he could, but this quiet grimy man seemed to inspire confidence and comfort. Wilberforce felt he could talk about his worst experiences here and find the healing he so badly needed. Either that or he had eight weeks worth of venting to do and really couldn’t care less who got in the way. It was one of those two.
“I had only just gotten back home from school when my aunt Ophelia came into my room and told me she needed me to help Herbert with a little errand. Apparently there had been some sort of incident at Eliza Myriad’s house and we had to clean it up. She was a friend of my aunt’s and lived only four blocks away, so even though it was something like a quarter past twelve we headed out.” Wilberforce shuddered as the memories came flooding back.
“Cue the ripple dissolve,” Herbert muttered. Wilberforce ignored him.
“So what happened?” he asked Herbert as they trudged down the yellow bathed sidewalks of the darkened neighborhood, “Did cats get into her garbage again? It’s usually something like that.”
Herbert laughed darkly, “Not this time, this time we must face dark forces and otherworldly powers. We must risk our very souls in the defense of mankind.”
“Oh, where precisely did Mrs. Myriad come across dark forces?”
“My dear Wilberforce, your aunt has been tutoring her in magic for years now. It was only a matter of time before something like this happened.”
Wilberforce walked on in silence, he was vaguely disturbed that his first thought in response to this revelation had been, “Well, she would.”
“Yep,” resumed Herbert casting an indicatory hand toward Eliza Myriad’s street, “she has learned to create golems.”
It was a sight Wilberforce would never truly forget, however much he tried afterwards. Towering some fifteen feet tall, the monolithic figure strode towards them past the rows of cheerful mailboxes. The contours of its roughly humanoid body undulated like a sea of angry snakes, reflecting the pale light of the half moon into a glimmering, silver aura. Two pinpricks of wyrd light regarded them from the depths of the thing’s head with a gaze compounded of hate and a cold hunger for destruction.
Wilberforce felt the old agony rising up within him until he could contain it no longer, “It was TOILET PAPER!” Wilberforce cradled his face in his hands and muttered on through his fingers “Apparently the local childlife had toilet papered her house and Mrs. Myriad had gone berserk.”
“Do you want to know the worst part?” he asked, “It tried to kill me. Have you ever had toilet paper try to kill you? It is the most disturbing experience in the world. It tried to strangle me with waves of dire tendrils derived from the very core of its being, but the shear effort of wrapping them around my neck was enough to break them. It tried to crush me with full weight of its body, which couldn’t have been more than five pounds; on top of which, given the thing’s relative mass, a decent breeze would have sent it airborne!
Can you not understand just how wrong it is to be fighting arcane entities in a life and death struggle for the safety of your hometown, with nothing in your mind but the thought that you should have brought a book!?”
Wilberforce sighed, “In the end we hosed it down and left it as a pulpy mess in one of the front lawns.” He stared into the mouth of his water bottle, “Sometimes when people around me are jerks, I catch myself thinking, ‘What do they know? I have slain toilet paper.’ At which point I want to find a dark corner somewhere and kill myself.”
Wilberforce took a deep breath, “but life goes on, and so you find us here” (He threw Herbert a nasty look.) “doing nothing. The doomed blender lives in that house on the left, but we can’t go after it yet, because somebody took it into their head that the dumpsters in this alleyway were probably full of undead appliances. These dumpsters are, after all, the gateways to the appliance’s Place of the Dead so to speak, so the notion makes sense,” (He cast another glare at his companion.) “Sort of. Anyway we can’t move out until we can be sure that the nosferatu from the world of the modern kitchen won’t jump out and try to eat us.”
The rabbit man seemed to sense that Wilberforce had finished splashing his soul across the pavement. He gave the two of them a polite nod and rose to his feet, padding imaginary dust off his trousers (all the real dust stayed precisely where it was). He solemnly slung the bedraggled rabbit back over his shoulder and with equal solemnity delivered this parting remark, “Only on Tuesdays.”
Wilberforce watched the scruffy figure recede around the corner, he shook himself and turned to Herbert, “I actually feel better now.”
“Me too,” his companion replied, discarding his plastic apparel and pushing himself to his feet, “Today is Monday. Let’s go.”
Herbert led the way down the ally, over the back gate, and through the back yard. They stopped only briefly at the rear entrance while Herbert rummaged around for a good-sized stone. Once found he stuffed it into one of the much-abused socks that lived within the recesses of his volumous leather overcoat. That done, Herbert beat his way though the glass panel which roughly constituted the upper half of the rear door. They made their way through a sort of laundry room and into the living room. From there an open entryway, which led to the kitchen, was apparent, Herbert stopped.
“We are going to go in back-to-back, I need you to cover everything I can’t see.”
Wilberforce blinked; this was new, “Is there something besides appliances in there?”
Herbert grabbed him by the shoulders and spoke almost more earnestly than maniacally. Almost, this was still Herbert after all. “This is vitally important. Don’t blink. Don’t even blink. Blink and you’re dead. They are fast, faster than you can believe. Don’t turn your back, don’t look away, and don’t blink!”
Herbert released him and patted him briefly on the back, “Good luck.”
With that they headed awkwardly into the kitchen.
Wilberforce spotted their target immediately, “It’s plugged in to that outlet on the counter.” He reported over his shoulder.
“We will approach slowly,” came the reply.
“No, really Herbert, why are we being so careful all of a sudden? Nothing untoward has happened before and I don’t think that is going to change.”
“I wouldn’t count on that,” Herbert muttered darkly, “The action is due to rise any minute.”
Wilberforce raised his eyebrows and pulled out his note pad. He scribed down the odd remark, but when he raised his eyes from his pencil he found that the blender was gone.
“You stopped looking at it, didn’t you?” Herbert broke formation and stepped to the counter, bending down to examine the outlet, “It’s still got its cord, so-“
“I know,” Wilberforce hissed, “You don’t need to tell me every time.”
“But no one ever remembers.”
Wilberforce gritted his teeth, “Trust me.”
“Now is not the time for that.”
“Your poor attempt at roguish charm does not inspire confidence.”
Wilberforce felt the beflusterment rising, “But I was trying to inspire confidence!”
“Now really, young man, we both now what that phrase is used for, and believe me, it’s perfectly futile. I am, after all, the one with the beard.”
“What do beards have to do with it?”
“If you don’t know, than that just proves my point.”
Get a grip, will you? Interrupted his head, If you’re going to go through life getting affronted every time someone belittles your roguish charm, you are, and forever will be, in serious trouble. Wilberforce drew a deep breath, “Need I remind you that we just broke into some stranger’s home bringing flames and fury to bear upon one of their lone appliances? Now is not the time to debate something as completely irrelevant as my relative charm quotient verses my trustworthiness! So just leave it!”
Of course he actually has a point, the two attributes are mutually exclusive in their essentials. So- “And you too!”
Wilberforce coughed a bit self-consciously, “I don’t know, I’m sure you’ll set one on fire eventually.”
Herbert seemed genuinely taken aback, “Goodness no, that would be far too dangerous!”
It was Wilberforce’s turn to be taken aback, “Oh, I hadn’t thought that angle would have occurred-“
“Electric beings have quite the affinity for fire; it would be unbelievably rash to try immolating one. Unless you’ve forgotten, they do that to themselves quite frequently.”
“Oh, right.” Wilberforce rolled his eyes briefly and straitened up to survey the kitchen. “I guess we just spread out and start looking behind stuff?”
The pack was stopped again, and Rupert was not happy about it. He stood as far off to the side as he possibly could while every single member of the group took turns sniffing at some old smashed egg-beater they had found in the street. What they wanted with it he had no idea, but he hoped their interest would be short-lived. If he wasn’t finished by this evening, he was going to be in serious trouble.
Suddenly a cupboard behind him burst open. Wilberforce only had time to glimpse something vaguely reflective and whining angrily before he was slammed against the refrigerator with rather more force than his skull was quite at home with. When his senses finally returned from their jaunt in the land of kaleidoscopes, Wilberforce found that there was an electric cord rapped quite viciously around his neck and left forearm. This explained why his knuckles were jammed into his left cheek, he had been wondering about that.
“Oh, good grief, I remembered,” He muttered blearily.
“Where did it go?” he asked as Herbert knelt to assist in removing cord from his neck, “And how in the world did it get into that cupboard?”
“I don’t know, it dropped off the cord when you failed to throttle properly,” Herbert replied, helping Wilberforce to his feet, “As for the cupboard,” He laughed grimly, “Speed, telepathy, and an ability to turn up packed in places you don’t remember putting them and certainly can’t imagine them fitting; appliances are much more akin to vampires than most people want to admit.
“This one is a rather clever example and it’s going to stay until it’s killed us; we will have to be decisive.”
Herbert unhooked his pink-white umbrella from his hip; he thumbed the push button on the handle and its shaft telescoped with a snap-hiss. He pulled a second umbrella from the recesses of his overcoat and tossed it to Wilberforce. This ones was not a compact, it was one of those moderately cheap one you get from drugstores with the wooden duck heads and cheerful color schemes; this one was red.
There came the dim whining of a small electric motor revving up from somewhere behind the stove.
Wilberforce pulled his attention back from the stove to Herbert, “Yes?”
“Say your lesson.”
Wilberforce exhaled heavily through his nose in a manner that alleviated frustration and couldn’t quite be called a snort. However, Herbert was far less trouble if you just humored him. Wilberforce planted his feet apart, held the umbrella upright before him like an overly dramatic claymore and began,
“I do not aim with my hand; he who aims with his hand has forgotten the face of his nanny.”
The swarm of canine forms was in full gallop now surging down sidewalks and through intersections. Rupert brought up the rear as best he could, attempting to keep his morbid fancies to a minimum. This was not terribly easy to do whilst crossing streets at a flat run, in complete disregard for traffic regulations.
“If I get hit by a truck,” he thought desperately, “Aunt Margaret is going to kill me.”
The sound of the blender’s motor was nearly constant now but was very little help in tracking the thing. One moment it would come from above the refrigerator, then it would fade and spring up again on the other side of the kitchen, behind the counter.
“It’s like a velociraptor with a tambourine,” Herbert mused.
“This is ridiculous,” Wilberforce thought desperately, “I’m being taunted by a blender, what did I do to disserve this? No one in their right mind breaks into houses to do battle with domestic implements!”
Oh, cut it out! The back of his mind suddenly snapped, You killed a toilet paper golem, remember? Stop pretending this is out of your league. The absurdity of the situation doesn’t bother you in the least, and that is what really bothers you.
“It is not!”
But what bothers you even more, the voice continued relentlessly, is that you are doing battle with a domestic implement, and losing.
“Just leave me alone!”
Herbert looked vaguely surprised, “I beg your pardon?”
“That noise,” Wilberforce growled, “Is seriously getting on my nerves.”
He stepped into the center of the kitchen and began tracking the sound of the motor, slowly pacing after it each time it changed location.
“It certainly thinks it’s clever,” he muttered, “but when was the last time it had to deal with someone who actually credited it with an intellect, I wonder?”
The whine had stopped jumping erratically, it was now working its way across one wall, jumping from one cabinet to the next, and working toward its inevitable end at the cupboard it had emerged from last time.
“Oh, you have got to be kidding,” he hissed.
He stood facing the final cabinet, waiting as the sound of the motor faded one last time.
I do not aim with my hand; he who aims with his hand has forgotten the face of his nanny.
And turned smartly on his heel to face the counter behind him.
I aim with my annoyance.
There was the blender preparing to leap.
I do not strike with my hand; he who strikes with his hand has forgotten the face of his nanny.
“You’ll have to do better than that,” Wilberforce remarked as he swung his umbrella as hard as he possibly could.
I strike with my contempt.
Even as the blender leapt, its little spinning blades screaming defiance, the umbrella connected and shattered the greater portion of its flask. It tumbled out of the air and landed heavily on the tile floor at his feet. But the thing was far from defeated as a burst of electricity pierced both his ankles. Wilberforce fell to his knees in front of the blender; he actually felt it snicker.
I do not kill with my umbrella; he who kills with his umbrella has forgotten the face of his nanny.
“Self-satisfied, megalomaniac of a banana mangler!” he snarled, gripping the handle of his umbrella with both hands and driving the point straight down into the whirring, sardonic blades.
I kill with my fed-up-ed-ness
There was a crunch, an electric sputter, and a clicking noise of metal on ceramic as the umbrella connected with the kitchen tiling. Then there was silence.
“Did I just epic-stab an angry blender with an umbrella,” Wilberforce looked down at the shattered remains, “effectively?”
“Well of course,” Herbert replied matter-of-factly whilst rummaging for a dustpan, “It couldn’t have been epic if it hadn’t worked.”
Makes sense. “If you say so.”
Wilberforce pushed himself to his feet with the umbrella. Normally he would not have trusted his weight to such a thing but it appeared to have punched right through a blender without taking any serious hurt. He had always had the impression that umbrellas spent most of their time breaking. Certainly, his aunt’s were always in good shape, but he always assumed that this was because she took fanatically good care of them. Wilberforce rather doubted that running appliances through fell under the heading of “good care”, but the umbrella itself seemed to genuinely not mind.
I should take Herbert seriously more often.
“Herbert, I’m only speaking to normal people for the next few days.”
Good luck on that.
“Well at least we can finally get out of here,” He thought as Herbert took the dustpan of dead blender to throw ceremonially into the ally.
Wilberforce heard the door slam and found Herbert hurtling back into the room where he began attacking the couch. “I don’t do live stuff!” came the slightly muffled yell as he ran back towards the back door, his arms full of cushions. Wilberforce followed him for lack of anything better to do and found that his errant companion was in the process of pilling everything in sight, including (but not limited to) the couch cushions in front of the door.
“Herbert, we can’t barricade ourselves in someone else’s home.” Wilberforce began, but at that point he caught a glimpse outside through the curtains that still covered the broken glass door panel. He paused a moment then checked out the kitchen window. He frowned slightly and paced into the living room. A moment latter he was back in the entryway.
“Herbert, why is the house surrounded by poodles?”